Remarkable Day

10 05 2016

Taxi_App_Carousel_1

 May 5th was a remarkable day.

I wrote this at 5:04 PM, after what seemed to be a race with unpredictable ending, sitting on the exact train I was supposed to be on to get from NYC to my daughter’s Jr. National Honor Society induction.

In a hurry to get to a meeting downtown and after already being late due to ridiculous traffic, I decided to exit the taxi in a hurry and just walk the remaining 10 minutes or so to where I needed to be. Since I tend to get car sick in the back of taxis, I had decided to meditate to the best of my ability and simply have my credit card ready once we arrived so as to save those precious 10 seconds it would take for me to pull out my wallet and pay the fare.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, as it may turn out), I left said wallet in the back of the cab and realized it too late. After calling 3-1-1, taxi cab receipt in hand, being provided the cab drivers’ number from the dispatcher and trading phone calls, it turned out that the wallet had been taken and was gone. While definitely starting to panic, weirdly, my initial reaction was how relatively easy and helpful it was in reaching out to and getting help from both the taxi dispatch and the driver.

As someone who has been reading a lot lately about one’s “Buddah nature”, I breathed deeply (several times) while still engaging in the meeting and as time allowed, started to cancel various credit card accounts online, to the best of my ability. I had given in to the fact that the wallet was gone and that my attachment to this outcome was of no help to me. I had to “speak” to myself the way in which I would to a friend. And this is where things started getting interesting.

As anyone close to me can tell you, I have a hard time- a real hard time – holding on to things when I travel – wallets, glasses, books, license, credit cards – you get the picture. No matter how much it seems I try to organize, remind myself etc, I lose things more times that I am comfortable admitting. My inner dialogue always goes something like this: “I am such a loser. Why do these things always happen to me? Oh, yeah – it’s because I’m a loser.”

What I realized this day though was that I have been framing all of these incidents – not just losing things – but everything, good and bad, in the wrong way. It’s not “why do these things always happen to me.” It’s “why do these things always happen for me.”

There are no coincidences. As I have written about before, I personally don’t subscribe to the notion that everything happens for a reason but I do believe that things happen for a lesson, which is more graspable.

Here is what happened next:

  1. I am at lunch with work colleagues when one of them has to ask to have her salad “to go” because she has to go to Fordham University to see final presentations from the senior class, which leads to a conversation about Fordham and the campus.
  2. During this conversation, I feel a vibration on my cell phone, which is in my pocket, but do not immediately look at it as to not appear rude during the discussion.
  3. Once the topic changes and there is a natural pause, I look at my phone and it is a Facebook message that says “found your wallet in a cab. Please call ….”
  4. I call the number provided and a guy tells me where he is located and I arrange to pick up my wallet at his office building later in the day. (I profusely thank him, like too much.)
  5. I look up his profile (or what I thought was his profile) on Facebook and it says his name is Tom and he is a graduate of…wait for it….Fordham University.
  6. Then, there is a mildly boring period of getting back to the business of work meetings and I head to the subway to make my way to pick up the wallet, (after canceling a drink with someone I was supposed to meet up with – more due to the meeting going over than the lost wallet).
  7. I get on the right train, wrong direction – end up in Brooklyn.
  8. Get on the train going back but now unsure of myself ask a woman sitting next to me (we were on a train stuck on the tracks for a while) about my route which convinced me to get off, though it turned out to be right all along.
  9. I then get back on the next train going in the right direction and make my way to the office.
  10. Turns out it was not Tom who found my wallet, but his friend, Travis, who was using his phone.
  11. I get my wallet back and rush to the subway with 35 minutes to get from downtown to Penn Station and here I am.

While on the subway, I pulled out “Rising Strong” by Brene Brown which I am reading. I turn the page and she is talking about her vulnerability during a visit to a special place in Texas, Lake Travis. What? She then talks about a scientist (on the same page) with the same last name of someone who just happened to email me recently out of the blue.

What is going on here?

I am not looking to make something out of nothing but c’mon. The universe is telling me something. I think the universe actually has a wicked sense of humor. Maybe by finally “letting go” of this idea of control, it’s the most straightforward way of knowing that the universe really does have our backs. That day could have gone in so many different directions but every single interaction – from the taxi driver through dispatch, was leading to something bigger than the sum of it’s parts.

I boarded the train in the morning and the evening as planned. However, what happened in between was anything but. Isn’t this the best metaphor for life? We are born and then we exit but what really matters are the unexpected, wonderful, tragic, elaborate, simple, mind-boggling, boring things that happen in-between and what we take from them. That is truly remarkable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Self Help for the Helpless

20 01 2016
selfhelpless

I couldn’t pull off that look – even now. One day though. I’m on a 6 step plan now.

I am a reticent self-helper. I am not one to take in a program and follow it to the letter of the law. I have tried a few times but it becomes too programmatic for me and too prescribed.

I need self-help for the self-helpless. 

Recently, I was forwarded a 10 day program from a friend and since it was the New Year, I figured it couldn’t hurt. I am (supposed to be) on Day 6. I have tried listening to this 10 day course by Jack Canfield. Emphasis on the word “tried”. You may know him from his Principals of Success series or more likely, the Chicken Soup for the Soul series that propelled him to international fame. His personal story is compelling but I cannot help but feel like I am being programmed when listening or viewing his videos/audio recordings. I know that if he is not hurting anyone and people are benefiting from his programs, what harm is there?

Maybe I am lazy. Maybe I am having trouble overcoming my natural comedic tendency to be cynical (or parody what I am witnessing). Why is it that I have so much trouble being that guy? You know, the one that carries with him the 5 things he is working on, or the change he wants to become or equations like E+R=O (Event plus Response equals Outcome)?

I mean, I get it. I do. There are lots of nuggets of learnings in self-help books and programs and if you are one of the lucky ones where it has changed things profoundly for you or even luckier where you are able to turn these into programs worth millions of dollars, then good for you. But there is a part of me that feels a little like these are preying on people who will always be constantly searching for the wrong thing.

There is no harm in organizing thoughts, behaviors, goals and actions in a way that can make you more successful, however you may define “success” (which is a whole other issue of discussion as this is so often associated with money only). However, each individual comes into these programs from a different set point. If you are not self-aware, or somewhat confident in who you are, your strengths, weaknesses, etc. – no amount of goal setting, daily rituals, action plans and self-improvement milestones is going to account for what might be a fundamental lack of human skill sets that are required to both make progress and, more importantly, deal with failure so that you can move on.

These types of things seem to always be lightly touched upon. For example, Canfield espouses the importance of not blaming others and changing these behaviors by filling out a worksheet listing out 5 things we blame others or situations for and then what a more positive approach to those situations might be. That’s great! But, c’mon – talk about oversimplification. These are ingrained, and in many accounts, culturally institutionalized behaviors that require more than a list, a reminder and a pat on the back. I feel like this type of thing lets down many people when they do not achieve nor receive the type of response they require. 

I can’t help but wonder if a lot of this program is geared toward not only taking responsibility for one own’s life but also to provide a response to those who pay big bucks for these seminars and end up disillusioned or disappointed. I mean, let’s play this through. Someone pays a pretty penny for a 3 day seminar and a year or two year later, is no better off. One of Canfield’s lesson is that the response to the event dictates the outcomes. Is this perhaps a subtle way of saying that it is all on the attendee as his/her response was not adequate enough to elicit the sought after outcome? Perhaps. See where that comedic cynicism comes in, now?

I’m not a hater, just a truth seeker. Canfield’s programs have supposedly worked tremendously for thousands who have followed them. I am simply sensitive to the promise of motivational programs to provide us with the skills it takes to make the change we are seeking. The tools? Sure. The skills? That takes a lot more work. It’s the difference between understanding music theory and actually practicing it and for me, anyway, this nuance is sorely lacking or at a minimum, glossed over.

Then again, I am the self-helpless. Maybe I just haven’t found the right program.

Until next time,

Marc





Bullying, Looking in the Mirror & Changing Leaves

30 10 2015

Another lesson from one of my kids..

Another lesson from one of my kids..

I had a conference with my daughter’s Gifted Teacher today to review her progress in the program and so far in her 7th grade school year. The project they have to work on this year is in developing a Public Service Announcement (PSA). My son did one two years ago against smoking and my daughter has chosen bullying as her topic – writing, directing and acting in the final product.

In discussing this, her teachers said that, whereas at other times my daughter might take her time to figure out a topic or strategy, this time, she knew what she was going to do for her PSA as soon as she was asked. Her teacher asked her how she knew so quickly. Apparently, my daughter explained to her that she had witnessed someone getting bullied in the hall and felt bad for not intervening. She wants to finish her PSA and then show it to that student.

My daughter has a high level of empathy and this moved me a lot. Who hasn’t been in a situation before where you should have spoken up but didn’t for whatever reason? This is a 12 year old girl and she was able to both acknowledge this and do something about it.

I can’t say I blame her. My mouth has gotten me into trouble in the past. Over the past decade or so, as I have let wisdom take a front seat instead of back seat, I have been much better about letting things go or just trying to measure my words, though I have a long way to go – as my soon-to-be-ex (or her mother) will attest to, I am sure.

I understand where my daughter is coming from. She’s a little thing. She doesn’t bother anyone. She’s a good student. She is not Rizzo from Grease. I am not a non-confrontational person by nature but it made me think about what types of bullying we deal with as adults and how do we stand up for ourselves or others, especially when there are big things at stake like jobs, marriages or other types of relationships?

Not all bullying is as direct as having your books knocked out of your hand at your locker in the middle school hall. Sometimes it is being told that you are not good enough or don’t know enough or don’t fit in – either directly or through a veil of arrogance. Sometimes we bully ourselves with our thoughts and actions (or lack thereof). So, how do we combat these?

The first thing is to be able to say to ourselves that not only is bullying happening but we don’t have to accept it. Then, you have to speak up. In some fashion. You have to politely interrupt the discussion – at the conference table, at the dinner table or in your own head – and state your opinion, correct the misperception and then move on. This “move on” part is the most difficult because this is where we confront our fears and ultimately, bullying is all about intimidation and fear.

Move on. Understand that you don’t want to be surrounded by people who are there to bully you – subtly or directly. Understand that you are not a sum of what others see or perceive but the thoughts you allow to enter and grow. This means you may need work toward a better job, better relationship or better self-awareness (or all three).

I took a walk after work yesterday and the color of the leaves in the Northeast this year are beautiful. I am not sure that a leaf gets to choose it’s color or vibrancy any more than we can choose our true nature but I do know that there are many factors that are influential – the amount of rainfall, soil moisture, summer and autumn weather, as examples. We have a lot of influential factors, as well, but it is not easy. It is up to us to manage our thoughts, assumptions and, for me, response to fear in a way that lets us show our true colors and vibrancy. That’s the best response to bullying – from others or ourselves – that I know of.

Until next time,

Marc





My Comedy Uniform

28 08 2015
No live bananas were harmed in the taking of this photo.

No live bananas were harmed in the taking of this photo.

When I was a kid, I used to stay away from my mom when she had no make-up on and a rag in her hand. I knew that in her “cleaning uniform” there was probably a good chance she wasn’t going to be in the best of moods. And after spending a lot of time cleaning my own place in preparation for selling, I definitely understand why.

On the corollary, she had her “going out uniform”. That meant hair, make-up, nice clothes – it meant we were probably going shopping but out of the house anywhere where there wasn’t a laundry list of things yet to be done was a good thing.

I often categorized myself in the same way and for me, it was just normal, but I realized that it was a big reason when I went from “work uniform”, (clean shaven, decent outfit, quaffed hair to the best of my ability) to “home uniform”, (jeans, t-shirt, unshaven and unruly hair). This latter was what was to become my “comedy uniform” for better or for worse.

As much as I read about comics who stand apart with their wardrobes (Jerry Seinfeld, Sinbad, Amy Schumer), I haven’t exactly gotten to any other separate uniform for comedy yet.

Yesterday, I did an outdoor show in New Jersey. It was great. I had a great time despite being relegated again to the spot of going on first. I still don’t know if this is a compliment or a nice way of saying “we still think you’re funny but just in case…”. Anyway, it was great.

One of the best moments of the night, though, was talking with the comics after the show. I met a new comedian who, like me, has had a corporate career (and I still do) and got her MBA, as well. We were talking about how much more comfortable we are with other comics, how these are “our people”. It was so amazing hearing my thoughts come out of someone else’s mouth – from the perspectives that we have about being around people who claim to be self-aware but are anything but to living within the mental confines of suburbia. It was so refreshing.

It occurred to me on the ride home that I never really had a comedy uniform. My “comedy uniform” is really the authentic me. I have been wearing other uniforms – dad at the baseball game, dad at the school play, dad at the bus stop, husband, employee – you get the picture that were different than my real one.

The more and more I “do comedy”, the more I realize that this isn’t about an end game at all. It’s about wearing the uniform that fits me best. And it feels right. What’s your natural uniform?

Until next time,

Marc





Leaving Your Old Life Behind

5 05 2015

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I have been deliberately not thinking about the future lately – or at least my future. I think a lot about my kids’ futures – will divroced parents put them at a disadvantage for establishing healthy relationships themselves? Will the world they inherit be a healthy one, mentally and physically, and be empathetic to their individual struggles? Will I help guide them to find their true north and be authentic to who they are and find their passion but still be able to instill upon them the importance of practical work?

I listen to TED Talks via podcast (and recommend it if you don’t already) and heard one titled “Champions”, focused on those who have accomplished amazing feats of strength and willpower, such as Dyan Nyad the 60+ swimmer who swam for 53 hours straight from Cuba to the Florida Keys. These stories are amazing and the one that really got to me was that of Amy Purdy, the paralympic snowboarder, who went on to almost win the entire Dancing with the Stars competition. Her story was heartbreaking and inspiring – an avid snowboarder who, at the age of 19, lost both legs (among other things) to meningitis. In the interview she explains that as devastated as she was, at some point she realized that she had to leave that old Amy behind and focus on the new Amy.

I had a similar experience with a young woman from Wisconsin who, after a horrific car accident, was on life support, not being given even 24 hours to live, now living with a traumatic brain injury (TBI). She is still living with a TBI and in her interview, she, too, said that she wished friends of old would get to know the “new her”.

I find this type of self awareness fascinating. It is not mired in pity but acceptance. This is something that I need to learn myself. When I first confessed, right before the new year, to the fact that I am going through a divorce I ended my blog post by simply stating that it is just another descriptor to who I am.

Things are not always neatly packaged. Most of my friends in my age group are married, and happily, I hope. I see a journey that mimics what I thought mine was – raising kids, fixing up the house, posting family photos of vacations and milestones on Facebook, etc, etc. That was me. That is the “old Marc.”

The new Marc is a single dad who is having new experiences with his kids, enjoying comedy and friends more than ever and struggling through this journey day by day. My struggle is one of millions and not so bad. When you’re going through a divorce, every guy you meet seems to have a wedding ring on. But, we all have our own journeys and we all have many descriptors. At some point, maybe leaving the “old you” behind is a chance to reincarnate in this life and what emerges may be a “new you” that was always there but not able to emerge in the first place. Be forewarned, though, while you accept the “new” you, it may not be as easy for those who know the “old” you.

Here’s to whichever “you” you are. Embrace it, accept it and take stock of your purpose.

Until next time,

Marc








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