Please accept my apologies for not getting the daily blog out lately. I have just returned from an intense conference in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  I am back now, though! So back to it. In the future, if I’m about to head out for a conference, I’ll give a heads up. I had no idea my networking activity would be so demanding.

A consistent theme I saw while networking was competition. The entire time I was there I witnessed it – competition between schools for ranking, between journals for prestige, between students for job placement, and between colleagues for publication. (I’m preparing to go into academics.) The takeaway: I’m about to set forth into an incredibly competitive climate.  But I have a secret weapon; that is, the awareness between the difference between hierarchy and territory.

In Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art it’s said that “In the animal kingdom, individuals define themselves in one of two ways – by their rank within a hierarchy (a hen in a pecking order, a wolf in a pack) or by their connection to a territory (a home base, a hunting ground, a turf).”

To sum up Pressfield’s argument, most of us define ourselves hierarchically, and it’s likely that we don’t even know it. This is because school, advertising, all of the materialist culture tells us that we need to define ourselves by others’ opinions.

He says that this definition of our identity, which you will notice breaks down in places with a ton of people like Manhattan, is detrimental to our creativity. You will witness the development of the following characteristics:

  1. You become caught in a vicious cycle of trying to elevate your position in the hierarchy and defending against those beneath you.
  2. You come to define your happiness by your rank in the hierarchy, feeling satisfied at another’s defeat.
  3. You treat people differently based on their rank rather than other, more important, factors.
  4. You act, dress, speak, and think for others.

So we must live territorially.

What’s a territory?

  1. It’s the place that gives us sustenance, the core element of our soul’s nourishment.
  2. We love our territory alone. We don’t need anyone else to claim it. The work itself satisfies.
  3. It is something that takes work to be claimed. It doesn’t give, it gives back.

I’m going to leave his line of reasoning here. There’s more to it, but for the rest, I suggest you read the book.

In close, don’t get caught up in the competition. Just do the work your passionate about. Try not to think about the competition. Just have fun. Don’t care how praised someone is or where they stand in whatever fabricated pecking order exists. Just search for two things. First, who has interests that overlap with you? And second, are they a good person?

 

 

 

Yesterday I may have gotten some things wrong. Bloggers often speak about topics they may not have the qualifications to speak about. But I think that’s okay.

It’s okay, at least in this instance, because I admittedly don’t have the answers. I have my best guess, but that’s all I can offer. I can provide you with my best educated shot at what’s going on in the world. It’s likely not much yet, but I’m really, really striving to make it something. And that should count for, well, something.

I made a lot of assertions. I realize some of them might be controversial. They might even damage some career prospects. But I think that’s okay, too. Because there needs to be more people willing to give a thoughtful perspective. There needs to be more of a meaningful dialogue about important issues of our time.

A lot of folks keep their head down. That’s all right. I worry, though, that it might stop them from reaching their full potential. I fear it might cause a life of mediocrity.

I really care that people are judgemental and that their behavior is antithetical to a more connected, inclusive society. And I really care about global inequity. History is riddled with exploitative practices, and we aren’t given the personal toolkit to have a considerate conversation about the real implications or normative principles undergirding them. To not share that perspective would be a disservice to humanity.

I want to be clear that I’m not opposed to different perspectives. In fact, I sincerely welcome – even crave – them. The day I allow myself to live in an echo chamber is the day I’ve died intellectually and philosophically. It’s the day I’ve let myself down for comfort.

I think a part of living rightly is being willing to take a stand on some issues, particularly ones with such far reaching externalities like corporate greed. If everyone stood idly in fear that they wouldn’t get hired, the bad guys (and girls) would triumph unopposed.

I hope that we can foster a culture where professionals can be more than replaceable cogs in bureaucratic machines. I hope we can create a culture where they’re considered well-versed facilitators of cogent values. Not necessarily champions of a cause but moderaters who offer thoughtful lenses or ethical paradigms with a keen eye toward the disenfranchised.

We must consider the human. And professionalism needs empathy.

 

A lot of adults go to therapy because of problems stemming from their childhood. I’m convinced this is because many people grow older and never learn to reconcile their past. They just get better at hiding from their feelings or distracting themselves with media or drowning out the pain with substances.

Acts of dysfunction like violence and abuse arise out of an inability to communicate our innermost thoughts and feelings. I’d go so far as to say most people lack the self-knowledge and reflective discipline to conduct regular psycho-emotional system status checks, so they can’t tell they’re driving through life with their check healthy emotional regulation light on.

In school, they should teach us applied ethics. Teachers are so caught up with teaching facts they fail to develop well-rounded, cognizant individuals. Imagine if we had daily meditations on the relationships between social conformity, misaligned societal norms, and unrealistic media portrayals. Or the rise of industrialism in America and how Andrew Carnegie and Rockefeller destroyed families and people’s health to become evil tycoons. Or how anti-trust laws are becoming weakened and the consumer protection bureau has no teeth. Or thoughtful interventions regarding the nuanced discussion that should be had about historically prejudicial race and gender relations.

Kids can’t be kids. Those high school actors are in their twenties. And I know a grandma who remembers when women were finally allowed to wear jeans in America.

What would it be like if as early as age 13 girls were welcomed to a discussion on the pressures of feminine mystique and Western culture’s sick propensity for hyper-sexualization and the selling out of our kids’ well-being through objectification?

Shocking, I know, to try to provide an anti-venom to the viral Internet.

There are no role models. There are no leaders. The moral vanguards are hidden behind the gates of academia because ethics ain’t profitable. Shout out to Matha Nussbaum and Peter Singer. There is no voice of reason, yelling from a bully pulpit the urgency that is our kids’ well-being.

But, please, accept these thoughts and prayers.

We’re so caught up in keeping up with Joneses (or Kardashians), chasing the almighty dollar, our own emotional issues, our fear of lawsuits, getting by on jobs we hate so we can afford things that don’t satisfy us, the selfishness of our neighbors, earning social media likes, becoming famous, or finding the next big thing that we never stop to consider the damage we’re doing to each other.

Here are some facts that we should be talking about probably on a weekly basis:

1. Despite the social hierarchy, we all fundamentally want the same things.

2. These things are acceptance, inclusion, belonging, and love.

3. Even though we want this love, most people expend way too much energy judging the inadequacies of others, most likely because people tend to operate on a vicious cycle of ego-tripping.

4. We’re not happy, and no one is being honest about it.

We’re letting the media decide our debates. Caravans of immigrants aren’t the problem. Political corruption is a distant issue. Instead, leaders need to be addressing the fact that:

  • The majority of the wealth being generated in the world is going to a fraction of a fraction of the global population;
  • Millions are going to die because of corporate greed destroying the earth;
  • Corporations can anonymously funnel money into campaigns;
  • Great, unbiased journalism is threatened internationally by assassination, hot takes, and pandering for views;
  • Almost 1/3 of the global population doesn’t have access to safe water;
  • And poor Americans can’t afford quality dental care or access to mental health resources.

We’re eating dinner alone. We’re lonely. We’ve stigmatized mental health but we celebrate the grotesque fakeness of pop icons. They’re packaged. They’re surgically improved. It’s all smoke and mirrors. And too many of us are eating right out of the hands of these savages.

We don’t know how to fix ourselves.

And no one is talking about it.

So talk about it.

A friend recently told me “I feel like I’m walking a tight rope of razor blades. On one side is a path of righteousness. The other is a path of evil. I feel like I can’t fully commit to the path of goodness because the good man can’t do any good. Good requires the ability to do evil, to harm if necessary.”

This is not an uncommon belief, that life is all shades of gray. This is true to a degree. There will inevitably come times in our lives that any decision will hurt someone. This dilemma has existed for thousands of years. The Hindus say that the solution is to strive for pure, good intention and eventually we will free ourselves from negative karma.

Here’s my take: goodness does not necessitate a gray area. Goodness is merely a commitment to the virtues. We can be good and still eliminate bad by following the virtue of justice. It’s a continual striving, a continual reflection, a continual battle. In times when it is hard to differentiate what is just and what is merciful, it is necessary to surround yourself with a good-natured, trusted counsel who can shed some light. These are your friends and mentors who are walking kindred paths.

It will be hard, but the mere act of striving places you on the good side of the tight rope. Learn and follow the ways of virtue, and don’t fret over the possibility of falling victim to evil. As long as you seek the good and have fellow travelers for accountability, you’re going to be fine.

You may not always get it right. That’s okay. You’re still good. You’re just in the arena.

There’s this moment as an artist. You enter a flow. You might experience a familiar flow in the work you do. In high school, I experienced it flipping burgers at Steak n’ Shake. At first, the work would be terrible, but as the tempo accelerated I went into a mode of concentration where the time just flew. In college, you experience this with papers. You dread the writing. Tap by tap you pick away in the beginning, not knowing quite what you’ll say or how you’ll get to the end of the paper. But, somehow, you enter the flow. The talent takes over. The work gets done.

As an artist, it is the same flow but way better. Brian Koppelman talks about it in his latest podcast about how to be creative. He says that he wanted to write about finance but didn’t know how, so he studied the finance game until he got it and when he finally did … boom. I experienced this for the first time before I started blogging daily by watching Jon Bellion work. Check out this video to see him in his process. Look at his pure joy. Watch as he gets into the groove and becomes captivated with his own creation. Watch, in other words, how he enters the pocket.

The pocket is this place of elation. The pocket is where we experience the greatest part of our creations. It’s where we’re living our greatest potential, and it’s revealed by ecstasy – the weightlessness of pure expression of soul or genius. I want you to be aware of it because if there’s some calling in you, you should know what you’re missing out on by not striving for it. You’re missing out, plainly, on the fullness of life.

 

This is an unorthodox post. There’s not an idea I present. Instead, I just wanted to share with you the latest album I’ve been listening to: NEOTHEATER by AJR. AJR made a splash in 2017 with their album The Click with songs like “I’m Not Famous” and “Weak.” Their style was unique because it infused catchy pop beats with ostensibly authentic confessionals.

This new album, which I’ve already listened to about five times, is an augmented version of The Click – more insightful and human with better, bigger beats. While it’s mostly a general exploration of the band’s evolving 20-something existential struggles, it also provides a keen representation of their conceptions of their new fame their last album earned them, the propensity to drown out depression and angst with novel entertainment, and the ease of selling out.

Check out this song for a great taste of the album.