Monday, January 12, 2015

Say a Pray for the Pretender

I've been to some crazy places over the past year; the deserts of Egypt, the sweltering humidity of South America, incredibly remote corners of the Australian outback, and Houston.

Ok, that last place while not as exotic as the spots, but they all have one very important thing in common with the others, people.  Of course, in Houston it's LOTS of people.  Not so much in South America, and virtually desolate in Australia.  Still, there are people there.  Don't think that's amazing?  Well, let me put it into perspective for you.

I know where I came from.  I was born in a tiny, culturally stove-piped, town in South Mississippi.  I know how I got to where I am now.  I know where I went to college, why I took my first big boy job, how I transferred from place to place, and how I ended up in Southeast Texas.  My journey is unique to me.  If I really wanted to bore someone to death I could break down each decision point that led me to where I am.  Most likely, the poor person forced to listen to this story would agree with some decisions I've made, but still disagree with others.  It's those points of disagreement that are really interesting.  You see, if by chance we were born in the same place, with the same upbringing, skills, talents, and opportunities, those decision points are where their life story would veer off of the path I've taken, leading them to unknown and unforeseen outcomes.

That's what is so amazing when you consider all of the people you meet on a daily basis, no matter where you meet them.  They have a story that started in some similarly boring fashion and the compounding debt of the decisions they make on a daily basis brought them, for better or worse, to a place where your paths intersected.  Boring so far?  Give me a second, I'm getting there.

Let's take this phenomenon and put it in the back of our minds for now.

We live in an amazing time.  Travel is easy and relatively inexpensive.  Technology is moving faster than you can imagine, and communication with even the most remote outposts on this planet is seamless.  The stage is set for humankind to make amazing breakthroughs in medicine, music, business, thought, and even religion.  But do we?  Do you?  When was the last time you were innovative and at the forefront of your field?  What's holding you back? I can almost see your shoulders shrug....

Something is going to happen to you.  It happened to me, and if you're lucky it will happen to you too.  Somewhere along the way in your life you're going to begin to ask very hard questions with even harder answers.  You're going to realize that life is fleeting.  It doesn't seem like it right now, but once those calendar pages begin flying off with increasing speed and decreasing self-worth, you'll recognize it.  So what happens first?  Panic.  You'll probably look at your spouse, your job, where you live, what you drive, what you wear, and how you spend your time.  You'll try and measure these things to see if they're worthy of how you spend the fleeting time you've been given on this earth.

You know, when your mom and I got married people told us "if you can make it past 5 years, you'll make it" or " most marriages fail at the ten year point."  Ominous, right?  Staring down an expiration date on a healthy marriage is not a sane way to exist either.  I have a different theory though.  I think most marriages begin failing when one or more of the participants reach this existential crisis in their life and think that somehow the other person is responsible for their unsure nature, guilt, pain, or fear they have over where their life is currently or how it will unfold.  They never make the connection that the key may just lie in their own mind and heart.

So let's take a left turn.  Why do people live in Louisiana?  Or Calgary?  I'm not asking why people live there now.  I'm asking why on God's green earth did settlers travel for thousands of miles, reach a god awful swamp teaming with disease, bugs, alligators, and suppressing heat and suddenly conclude that their journey was complete.  Or in Calgary, how does -30 Celsius and ten feet of seem like somewhere fit for human beings?

The really important question is not why did they stop, but why did they ever leave?  What possessed these people to pack their belongings into a wagon and ride off into the great unknown?  Despotism? Cruelty?  Land?  Riches?

What if that's the childish answer?  What if what led them to take these incredible leaps was something much deeper.  They didn't have the luxuries of distraction that we have today.  No water bill kept them on the hook to go, day after day, to that job that they hate.  No silly reality shows to keep their minds idle long enough to waste the day away.  What if they had enough time to consider that they only had one shot?  What if the fear that you feel when that thought creeps in is the same fear that led them to venture out into the unknown?  Were they fulfilled when they got there?  Who knows?  But, somewhere along the way they accomplished great things.  They reached new lands and experienced real things.

So how do their adventures apply to you? Well, they sought something.  Of course, they were lucky in that there was a great unknown out there for them to explore, and it was a literal place.  I'm not recommending that you seek out unexplored lands, filled with dangerous and exotic people.  But when the time comes; when you begin to panic over your existence; when you start to inventory the things you've collected to find your station, then I want you to seek.  Seek out who you really are, where you are, what you know, what your fears are, and what you want your mark to be.

 Do not go gentle into that good night….especially not in your damn thirties! 

Seek to reinvent yourself.  Don’t be convinced that you’re only talent is that thing you’ve always done.

Seek to master a skill, even if it is something no one else cares about but you. 

Seek to learn traditional skills, the ones your great grandparents used to survive. 

Seek out knowledge.  Read.  Don’t get stuck on one book.  Read them all.

Seek to create.  I don’t care if it’s a poem, a song, a shirt, a candle, a piece of furniture, or a booger collection.  Make something.  Learn for yourself how hard it is to start with nothing and care for something enough to give it value.

Seek out new relationships.  Meet and love lots of people.  What’s the point in discovering new people to hate?

Seek the world.  Travel.  Even if it’s only to the next town over, get away from what you know and see what’s out there.