As You Wish; or How to Lead Like a Pirate- Part I

One of my all time favorite movies happens to be The Princess Bride, which debuted in 1987 (also my debut year), so when it was showing in my hometown for $3 dollars a ticket, of course I went. I’ve been experiencing this thing recently concerning movies from my childhood where upon watching them as an adult, I realize how dated they feel, or how poorly written they were, or even how offensive (stereotypes, racism, sexism, etc.) compared to modern standards they seem.  This phenomena is fairly common, in fact, I’ve read a few articles recently of people tearing apart movies from their childhood that they now find unwatchable.

That’s not what this post is about.

For me, the Princess Bride mostly lived up to my memory as being a fantastic movie. To be honest, I’ve watched it probably once every couple of years since I first saw it, so it’s not like my memories of the movie were even that old to begin with. I did, however, try to watch it with a more critical eye this time around. If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s basically a children’s fantasy story about a sword fighting pirate as the hero trying to rescue his true love, Buttercup, before she is first killed by kidnappers, and then later, forced to marry the evil Prince Humperdinck. This is all framed through a grandfather reading a book (The Princess Bride, which was actually a book before the movie) to his sick grandson (Fred Savage, aka Kevin Arnold from the Wonder Years, also a favorite from my childhood), adding a sentimental dimension to the telling of an already heartwarming tale.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I recommend you go watch it, as there will be (Spoilers Ahead). Also, they rest of this post will make more sense if you are familiar with the characters and storyline.

I want to focus on the main character of Wesley, or as we come to know him, The Dread Pirate Roberts. He is the hero of the story, but to me, there is a lot to be learned from his style of heroism, in particular relating to leadership theory. Wesley displays many of the characteristics I find to be inherent in a good leader. His character arc can be used as a template for leadership development. Allow me to explain.

When we first meet Wesley, he is but a poor farm boy who wins the heart of Buttercup by being a servant and showing a willingness to take orders while displaying a loving disposition, even though at first she seems a little demeaning towards him. Every time he is asked to do something, he responds with “As You Wish”, effectively proving to Buttercup his humble nature and ability to put the needs of others before his own. These are important qualities for a leader to have.  Humility and a willingness to serve should be developed early in the leadership process.

As in any good story featuring a hero’s journey, Wesley leaves home with the goal of self improvement, in his case seeking enough wealth to return to marry his one true love. Of course, we come to find out that his return is delayed when his ship is attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR for short) and Wesley is assumed dead. It turns out, he isn’t dead, but rather is being kept hostage by DPR with whom he eventually becomes friends before taking over his title as DPR when the former retires. In his time as first mate of DPR’s ship Wesley works hard to learn from his mentor, studying fencing, fighting, logic, as well as other aspects of what it takes to succeed as a swashbuckling pirate. This brings us to the the next steps to becoming an effective leader, education and mentorship. A good leader has a passion for learning, as well as a willingness to learn from others who are further along on the leader’s journey.

Moving on in the story to Wesley’s pursuit of Buttercup’s kidnappers, which takes place after Wesley has assumed the role of DPR and at this point is thought to be dead, we see yet more examples of great leadership in his encounters with Inigo Montoya, Fezzik, and Vizzini.

Inigo is a Spanish fencing master, hired by Vizzini for his swordsmanship, but who is also on a revenge pursuit of the six fingered man (six on his right hand, so I guess he is really the eleven fingered man) who killed his father when Inigo was a child. Wesley and Inigo partake in a classic sword fight in one of my favorite scenes of the movie. This takes place at the top of the Cliffs of Insanity, a great setting for a duel between two masters of swordplay. Inigo has a chance to kill Wesley before he even reaches the top of the cliff (he has the high ground) but swears on his father’s soul that he will let Wesley reach the top unharmed so they can face each other in a fair fight. Inigo even gives Wesley a chance to catch his breath before they begin fighting, allowing time for Wesley to hear the tale of how the six fingered (eleven) man killed his father, thus causing Inigo to relentlessly pursue the study of fencing in hopes to one day exact revenge on his father’s murderer. After the telling of Inigo’s story and once Wesley is feeling recovered enough for battle, the two exchange one of my favorite lines of the movie. Inigo: “You seem a decent fellow, I hate to kill you.” Wesley (as DPR): “You seem a decent fellow, I hate to die.” The battle commences.

I tell you all this to show how even when faced with an obstacle, or in this case, a person who is trying to kill him, Wesley displays a humble respect for his opponent. He understands the context of the situation. He doesn’t see Inigo as an enemy, or villain, but rather as what he is, a hired swordsman doing his job while ultimately seeking justice for his father. Wesley defeats Inigo, but doesn’t kill him, showing mercy to a man he sees as having great potential. This is made apparent when later in the story Wesley asks Inigo to take on the mantle of being DPR (more on that later).

Leadership requires being able to understand context and seeing the bigger picture. It also calls for an honest assessment of the obstacles to success, as in not overreacting or vilifying the people or things that stand in your way. Wesley displays his competency in the actual defeating of Inigo, which is crucial on the path to becoming an effective leader, showing your skills and accomplishing goals, essentially proving your worth.

To be continued in part two…

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I live in a fantasy world (and so do you).

I want to tell you about two things that have been on my mind recently. One is a book, which I’ll get to in a second. The other is consciousness. You may not realize it, but you’re living in a fantasy world, and so am I. Allow me to explain what I mean.

A friend of mine was reminded of a TED Talk while we were discussing a book we had recently read (this is the book I will soon be telling you about) so he sent me the link to watch it. This TED Talk, which was given by cognitive neuroscientist Anil Seth called “How your brain hallucinates your conscious reality” explores the idea of human consciousness and what goes on in your brain that helps to form what you know of as reality (the world around you) and self (your inner world).  I encourage you to give it a watch as well.

Without getting into it too much, the idea is basically that our brains ultimately hallucinate what we know of as reality and self (I know, it’s the title! Talk about a spoiler). Anil refers to our brains as predictive engines constantly guessing at what is going on around us, creating a reality that may not be completely accurate. This is what I want to point out, how our realities are not completely accurate. Even if we try really hard to make accurate observations, there will always be areas that our limited brains will fall short in terms of perception. Hold that thought.

Now, the book. It’s called Fantasyland. It was written by an author named Kurt Andersen and I thought it was brilliant. Andersen explores America’s 500 year history, laying out his theory of why America developed a culture that is truly unique in the world today. He starts with the first wave of settlers searching for gold in the new world, and travels all the way to 2017 with Donald Trump as President.

I don’t want to get into the details of the book so much, but I wanted to share with you what both my friend and I came away asking ourselves after reading it. How many Americans would be able to finish this book without getting overly offended? We agreed that a lot of people we know would be challenged by Andersen’s ideas and perspective and may be hesitant to read it. It’s a tough book to finish as it is, being over 400 pages.

Why would people have trouble reading it? What is his premise? Well, in a nutshell, Andersen argues something along the lines that American Culture has developed this idea that we are all free to choose our own reality and no one can tell us otherwise (Remember, the TED TALK from earlier? It’s not exactly what he’s talking about, but you can see how they’re connected). Think “alternative facts” or “my truth” as phrases related to this idea. Basically, he calls out a lot of Americans as living in a Fantasyland where truth takes a back seat to beliefs and facts are a matter of preference.

Like I said earlier, I don’t want to get into the details of the book, but I do think the book had enough merit to try to start a discussion. So, here’s my challenge to you. If this book sounds interesting to you or even if you think you might be one of the people who would be offended by this book, I challenge you to read it. Go ahead, step out of your comfort zone and see what Andersen has to say. I dare you.

Thanks for reading and let me know what you think!

P.S. I wrote this while listing to a station on Spotify called: Chill Lofi Study Beats. Check it out if you’re looking for something relaxing that also feels like being underwater.

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The Glass Is Half Not Real

I have a question. How much time do you think you spend worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet? I’d say the answer for most people would be some form of “quite a bit”. Often we spend hours imagining how a scenario will play out, even though we have no idea what will actually happen. In my experience people generally have a pessimistic view when it comes to the future. I’m not necessarily talking about the “capital F” Future. I’m just talking about everyday life. I do it too and you know what? It takes a lot of energy to be negative. And that negative energy is contagious.

On the other hand, maybe I’m wrong and there are more optimists out there than I think. Well they can be frustrating too. I’m not saying it’s bad to be optimistic, or that there isn’t power in positive thinking. But as with most things in life, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. My problem with those people who are always encouraging others that things will be okay is that they often are wrong. The same with the pessimists, they’re wrong too. Life isn’t all positive or all negative. It’s more complex than that. I try not to view the world in such simplistic terms. My days aren’t either “good” or “bad”. That’s not to say that some days aren’t more enjoyable than others. But what are we really measuring here?

I want to talk more about this idea of being either pessimistic or optimistic and how it frames your worldview. I’m going to try my best not to use the word “realistic”. I think that when we approach life through our preconceived lenses we do ourselves a disservice. We are limiting our ability to accurately assess what is going on around us. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe we can actually know and understand the world around us apart from the make believe narrative in our heads, but that discussion is for another day.

All I’m saying is that I’d like to be as objective as possible when trying to understand my surroundings. I know that I am talking in very general terms right now, but I’m trying to make a broader point. When it comes to daily interactions or how I go about constructing my thoughts about the future, I would like to do less worrying and more observing; less hyping, more grounding. I’m sure I could keep writing about this, but I think that’s enough to think about for now.

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Check Your Ego.

I’ve recently decided to explore ways to get better at what I do. For those who don’t know me, I coach track and field athletes for an NCAA D2 college. For me, coaching is a professional pursuit and should be approached with intentionality and purpose. To be an effective coach requires a lot things, including education, introspection, organizational skills, to name a few. It’s not all about workouts and physiology.

One aspect of coaching that many times is overlooked is the importance of communication. My job involves many types of communication. I communicate with other coaches, with athletes, with the high school students I am recruiting. Sometimes the communication is verbal, sometimes written. Often it’s non-verbal in the way I stand, or the amount of eye contact I make, my facial expressions, etc..

Through all this I’m finding it can be easy to be critical of others for what is perceived as not doing their job or not following through with what has been communicated. Whether it be an athlete’s poor attitude, or being late to the bus for a competition, my natural disposition is to point fingers and blame others for not meeting an expectation.

I have often attributed ego as a huge obstacle to a person’s ability to get better at their craft. It’s tough to admit when we don’t know something or are in need of assistance. Many times when I’m frustrated with a person’s behavior, my internal response is annoyance or I feel the need to confront them and accuse them of not paying attention. In these instances the phrase “Check your ego” seems appropriate, but whose ego are we talking about?

It would be easy to blame the athlete for their poor attitude or behavior and that wouldn’t be entirely off base. But like I said earlier, I’m looking for ways to get better at what I do.

Instead of placing the blame on others, maybe I need to ask some questions of myself first? Questions like have the expectations I’ve place on others been clearly defined? Am I modeling behaviors that are consistent with these expectations? What steps can I take to develop relationships that foster trust and openness?

When you start asking these types of questions, you find a lot of gaps between your perceptions and reality.

This is what I mean by looking for ways to get better at what I do. It’s easy to say “I’ve done my job, it was the other person who didn’t follow through”. But how does that make me a better coach? If I want to improve I must own the process, learn from my mistakes, admit where I’m lacking. It’s up to me to set my ego aside and do the necessary work. And it starts with being a better communicator.

Of course, this is easier said than done. It’s going to take time. But it can start with being mindful of my words and natural communication style; finding where I fall short and learning new techniques to improve; highlighting my strengths and utilizing them appropriately. It’s going to be a long process, a never ending process if I do it right. But I am up for the challenge.

 

 

 

 

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love’s function is to fabricate unknownness

“True love casts out fear.” I saw this in a book I’ve been reading and I know it’s paraphrasing the Bible (1 John 4:18, actually) but the author was talking about intimacy and the idea that fear has little place in a healthy relationship. He was talking about his need for control in a relationship and how it was keeping him from experiencing intimacy. He would picture his love life like a movie, romanticizing a relationship and then try to convince himself that this is what he needed to reach the intimacy that he desired. In reality, his attempts at creating intimacy through controlling the relationship were actually hindering him from experiencing intimacy.

And then I was at the airport (still am) and decided to read some poetry, which I sometimes do, so I opened my 100 Selected Poems by e.e. cummings and read one of my favorite poems called “love’s function is to fabricate unknownness” and my mind immediately related this to fear and control and how they get in the way of intimacy and love.

Unknownness is very much opposite to control. True love gives up the need to know what’s going to happen next. Knowing what will happen, or trying to make something happen is a way of controlling the situation. To be clear, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have a plan, or that it’s wrong to have an idea of the direction in which you would like to see your relationship heading. But in a relationship in which you are trying to experience intimacy, you must remember that there are two people involved. You cannot experience intimacy with someone if you are trying to force them to be intimate. Once again, control has no place in intimacy.

An aside: Love’s function is to fabricate unknownness. What I like about e.e. cummings’ poetry is there is so much packed into each line that you can spend hours or days dissecting one sentence. Talk about a deep thinker (or should I say feeler), reading e.e. can cause your head to spin if you are really trying to take in all that he has to offer. I still haven’t moved past the first paragraph of the aforementioned poem. There’s just so much to think about in those four lines that I don’t want to move on.

Anyway, back to fear. I’d say that most people would associate unknownness with fear. How can it be love’s function to create unknownness if love is the opposite of fear and unknownness creates fear? That seems contradictory. I think a lot of us have a flawed idea of what love is. Maybe I’ll write about that next. What is love and how does fear hinder our ability to experience it?

By the way, Happy Holidays!

 

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I’m Done with Fear

Sometimes when I’m working on a new post, I don’t do any writing. What I mean by this is a topic or an idea can bounce around my head for awhile before I decide to turn it into something I could share with others. For example, I wrote the title of this post two years ago and am just now sitting down to write about it. That doesn’t mean I forgot about it, or that I’ve moved on from thinking about fear. It’s usually the opposite. It’s usually that I’m not done thinking about the subject, or that I’m still working through an idea, not ready to put my thoughts to paper. Very rarely do I have an idea of something to write about and immediately sit down and start writing.

Many times when I start a draft it’s usually only a few sentences or key words or sometimes even just a title. As I’m writing this, I have twenty-seven unpublished drafts on my blog, twenty-seven ideas that I may or may not choose to actually write about.

I tell you all this because for the past two years I’ve been working through this idea of fear and how we often let it dictate how we live our lives. And quite frankly, I am done with it. Fear has no place in my decision making process.

I went to a haunted house this year with my girlfriend (Hi Sarah!) and my brother and his wife and it got me thinking about fear again, but this time with a slightly different mindset. I’ve always enjoyed scary movies, haunted houses and ghost stories, but not because I like to get scared. I like going to a haunted house and trying my best to not get scared. To some this sounds like a waste of money since the point is to get scared, but for me it’s an exercise in self control. I’ve even found myself laughing in a haunted house, walking through with a smile on my face like a crazy person.

I think the point I’m trying to make is that a lot of the time the things we worry about in life or the things we think we should be scared of are not legitimate fears. Just like staring at a guy dressed up in a scary clown costume, spending time worrying about whether or not we’ve chosen the right major or career path doesn’t get us any closer to reaching our goals (or the end of the haunted house). We must move past our fears to find out where we are truly headed and if we are happy with our decisions or not.

Haunted houses are supposed to be scary, but only because we’ve told ourselves that they are. The same holds true for important life decisions. Because they are important, we tell ourselves that they are also scary. Is this really true? Is the guy in the clown mask truly threatening your pursuit of happiness? I’m pretty sure you can still live a fulfilled life even if you made a decision that ultimately didn’t turn out to be what you wanted.

Many people fear changing their career, or ending a relationship, or even starting a relationship. Don’t you think that staying in the same dead end situation, living a life that feels unfulfilled is more threatening to your happiness than making a decision that could change your life, even if it might be seen as risky? More on that later.

I know that the title of this post is “I’m Done with Fear”, but I don’t think I’m done writing about it. I want to see where this is going and I’m not afraid to leave it open for now. Stay tuned for more on how thinking about fear has shaped the way I live.

Until next time,

Peace.

 

 

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My Secret Life as a Russian Spy

I just finished season one of an amazing show, and I can’t wait to start season two; but before I do, I thought I’d take the time to reflect on some thoughts I’ve been having.

First, The Americans. If you haven’t watched it, you’re missing out on great television. I’ll sum up the premise as best I can: It’s set in the 1980’s in the D.C. area during the Cold War and centers around the lives of two KGB operatives (Russian Spies) who are undercover living in the United States. These spies are not only posing as American citizens, but they are playing the part of husband and wife, raising their two American children (who have no idea their parents are in the KGB); and were “married” to add credibility to their cover, as ordered by their commanders back in Mother Russia.

You can see how this dynamic would make the relationship between Elizabeth and Phillip (those are their American names) extremely complicated, not to mention all the other roles they play as spies outside of their faux suburban home life, namely conning other people in order to obtain the necessary intelligence to carry out their mission. Often times sex is used as a means to gain information, an effective yet destructive tool that further muddies the waters in an already convoluted marriage arrangement.

There are other characters too: an FBI agent (who happens to live across the street); Nina from the Russian embassy who is feeding information to the FBI; and Martha, the secretary in the FBI office who thinks she’s in a relationship with Clark (one of Phillip’s personas), but is being played for information. All these characters interact with each other on various levels and it’s the uncertainty and instability in the relationships that become the driving force of the series. On a show of spies and FBI agents, it’s hard to know when someone is being honest or when they are playing a character in order to manipulate the situation. Many times both are true.

So, how does this relate to real life? Watching the Americans got me thinking about the dynamics of my relationships, how differently I may act from one social group to the next or even from person to person. In a way, we are all playing different characters of ourselves throughout the day, for example, acting one way in a professional setting and playing a different role at home or with friends. If I think about it, there seems to be countless versions of me, all of which vary slightly according to who I’m with at the time.

I’m not saying this to make myself sound disingenuous, or am I admitting that I intentionally con people. I’m just pointing out the complexity in our daily interactions with others and the dynamic nature of relationships in general. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about who I am as a person and I’m sure you’ve asked yourself the same thing, but what does that even mean?

Who am I?

The question doesn’t seem to be as meaningful when you recognize the fact that we are always changing and adapting. To define yourself in a single moment in time is pointless because time is not static. We are not static. Maybe it’s better to ask where am I going? What is my life’s trajectory?

In literature, a character is often defined by how they change throughout the story. A good narrative focuses on a person’s journey through conflict. She is struggling as a waitress, but eventually works her way to Broadway; or he goes to prison for stealing a loaf of bread, then ends up a respected mayor in a small french village before being outed as an escaped convict. If we only focus on one point in a character’s story, we miss out on so many details that inform the context of their life’s trajectory.

I say all this because lately I feel like I’ve been pulled in a lot of different directions when it comes to the trajectory of my life. Part of me is interested in one path, another part in a totally different direction. While most of this struggle has been internal (being pulled from within), there are other characters in my story who ultimately play a part in the direction I choose.

How this relates to a Russian spy leading a secret life is this: until I have chosen the path I want to take, it’s important to continue to play all the roles, even the ones I will eventually give up on.

This is the part in my writing where I usually get stuck. I could say so much more about the different personas we portray or the different paths we have to choose from in life. I could go on about the intricacies of our various roles and relationships and how they themselves are like stories with their own trajectory. I could try to convince you to embrace the complexity of the relationships you’ve developed in your life and to stop worrying about what others may see as inconsistencies in who you are.

Or I could just stop writing and let you come to your own conclusions.

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