Get uncomfortable: Stop the mediocritization of America

I know we did a bunch on Joe Rogan's podcast with Mike Baker in the problem with US politics post last week, but there was another thing they touched on a for a while that I wanted to discuss.

Around 56 minutes, Baker transitions the conversation to changes coming to Monopoly, then the two move into a discussion of youth sports — the first few years of organized sports, they don't keep score. The kids all kept score in their heads, but the adults wouldn't want them to experience losing.

"We're getting to a weird point," Rogan says, "where we're trying to coddle people, to not let them feel defeat." Those people are now in college, and, adds Baker, "they think that being contradicted means they're being persecuted."

Losing, feeling uncomfortable, Rogan points out, is how we grow.

And he's right, I think. If you're never uncomfortable as a child, you won't deal with it well as an adult — and there are plenty of opportunities to feel uncomfortable as an adult, whether you want to or not.

This goes way beyond being politically correct, but let's start there.

I think I'm part of the generation somewhat at fault for political correctness. In high school, we demanded recognition for everybody. We changed language. In the religious services we performed, we either took out masculine language or anywhere Biblical men were listed in prayers, we added their female counterparts. We rebelled against our parents' feminism, which we found to be a search for female privilege, favoring instead "equalism."

Sometime after the mid-1990s, though, things went off the rails, and today, it seems that if people disagree with you, you think you're being bullied. And if someone doesn't learn 30 new pronouns and ask you each day which one applies to you, you're being marginalized.

Colleges and universities are offering "safe zones" and telling professors to watch themselves under threat of firings and lawsuits. It used to be you'd learn activism via liberalism or conservatism from professors. Now if an educator holds an opinion that's contrary to anyone, the biggest worry is being labeled a bully.

It seems mental or emotional discomfort is equated with a feeling of being unsafe.

Look, if you're always comfortable, you're never going to grow.

And while you should certainly spend as many years of your life as possible living in such a way that allows you to feel physically safe, we need to understand that not getting your way all the time is not a physical threat. Remember hearing, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me"? Now actually take a look at what those words mean.

I'm totally good with the notion that new words crop up and that words that didn't used to be offensive become that way. But in the same way you don't want to learn the names of 30 types of trees that are new to you, I don't want to learn 30 new words that each describe two dozen people in the world. I'd rather just not have those 600 people in my life. And if that's the sort of thing you want your educators worrying about, you're contributing to the fact that more college grads than ever are finding themselves unemployed.

But let's move on from political correctness.

Let's talk about discomfort.

Let's start with "moving outside your comfort zone." This is entirely valid. It's a great way to start to grow. It's being critical of others with your real name on your social media accounts and comment profiles. It's running your first mile. It's quitting the Propecia and shaving your head.

After you've had a taste of the growth that comes from stepping outside your comfort zone, you can actually start getting uncomfortable. Lift some weights. Run your first 5k. Or your first half-marathon — take the chance of getting hurt, or actually get hurt. See that it's not that bad.

Are you doing pretty well on your side gig? Maybe it's time to take that jump and go off on your own. What's the worst that can happen? You need to find another day job?

Eliminating competition as a child and taking out emotional discomfort as a young adult makes for adults who are scared to play with fire, scared of failure, afraid to lose.

You can't win if no one loses, and winning never feels good if you don't know what losing feels like. Success might feel good, but it feels so much better if you have previously failed.

And if you have previously failed, or lost, or been hurt, the corresponding success or victory or survival is leaps and bounds stronger than it would be without having first been down.

Remember your U.S. history? America was started by people who were so uncomfortable they got up, left, then fought with guns against their oppressors. They could be killed for practicing their religion. They were subject to high taxes without having a say in their government. They were locked up for being who they are. Now, we just want the people who want us to think to be fired and bankrupt.

Let's all raise our bars. Let's all get uncomfortable, then let's all grow and conquer. Don't let's all meet in the middle. Let's meet at the top or not at all.

Take a little motivation from Amelia Boone (@arboone11 on Instagram)

Have your mind blown in just two hours: Walter O’Brien on Tim Ferriss’ podcast

You may have heard the name Walter O'Brien in your sitting-on-the-couch moments. It's the character played by Elyes Gabel in the CBS television drama "Scorpion."

Also, he's a real dude. "Scorpion" is his nickname, and also the name of his company. It's a company that does a bunch of stuff, including inventing a lot of the systems you see on the show — notably a device that feeds oxygen to the blood so that you don't have to breathe, giving you, say, 20 minutes or so underwater, as long as you remember not to try to bring air into your lungs, thereby swallowing water.

Scorpion was his hacker name back in the '80s, when, as a child in Ireland, with a 400-baud modem before most of us had heard of the Internet, he downloaded mechanical drawings of the space shuttle. The U.S. one. From NASA. From their "secure" servers.

Imagine his parents' surprise when he produced an extradition waiver from his book bag, since he figured law enforcement would be knocking on his door.

He turned 41 yesterday; it's not like he's been at this stuff for all that long.

In case you're wondering, and I imagine by now you are, his IQ was measured at 197.

He recently talked to Tim Ferriss. It was amazing. Let's talk about three pieces, specifically.

One is the possibility of head transplants.

O'Brien notes that the purpose of our bodies is really to keep our heads functioning, and more specifically, our brains. Our brains are essentially wired data networks. While we have memories that it's easy to think about as data, like computer files, they also have a bunch of software in them, if you will. The brain keeps the heart beating, the lungs functioning, and moves our limbs, without conscious thought.

It stands to reason, then, that all that data could be backed up, the way a hard drive is backed up. O'Brien thinks we'll be able to get a brain's worth of data on a chip in about 10 to 12 years.

Pair that with some of the work that some transhuman groups are carrying out (for example listen to Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Research Foundation talk to Joe Rogan about the future of life extension), and we could keep our brains going, perhaps, forever.

How? Clone yourself with stem cells, change the programming on the telomeres so that you get to about 20 years old in, say, four years before you slow the aging process back down, then simply do a data transfer from brain to chip to brain.

O'Brien tells Ferriss we should be able to transplant (such as it is) a brain with 80 to 85 percent reliability in the next 15 years or so. Ferriss' question described "success" as being able to make the new body walk and write with the dominant hand. It sounds, though, like O'Brien thinks those successful transplants might do better than that.

The second piece I want to mention is something that O'Brien talks about when explaining another of his businesses, ConciergeUP. The tagline for that business is "Any funded need." Basically, if you want something done, it's not against O'Brien's ethical code and you're willing to pay for it, you can hire ConciergeUP.

He tells the story of a billionaire dad whose wealthy son was the target of a gold-digging scheme. He wanted to stop the impending marriage without his son knowing he had anything to do with it.

It took a long time, but suffice to say it included enough actors that one point everyone in a full Starbucks except the perpetrator was working for ConciergeUP. You have to hear O'Brien tell it — it's the sort of thing that makes you think Osama bin Laden really could be alive if someone wanted badly enough for him to disappear but keep breathing.

The third thing is O'Brien's discussion of IQ (intelligence quotient) vs. EQ (emotional quotient). He's of the opinion that there's only a certain amount available in total, so people with higher IQs often lack emotional connections (like empathy), and that having an IQ over, say, 120, might start to be an impediment to getting a job or finding a good relationship. If you've watched the show, you'll recognize the character Paige, played by Katharine McPhee, who helps explain normal emotional interaction to a bunch of out-of-touch, really smart people. He's actually had to hire people like that.

I hope I haven't said so much that you're not going to listen to it now. It's so amazing I had to share.

Quit waiting to die

It occurs to me that the title of this post might sound like an encouragement to suicide. It's not. I promise. It's a call to quit sitting idle, waiting for your time to be up.

This is the main focus of Duncan Trussell's conversation with musician Emil Amos.

Go give it a listen. While you're listening, make a list of all the things you think – or thought – you'd might like to do someday. Everything. It's a 2-hour discussion. Then go check one thing off the list.

It’s incumbent upon us to keep creating

How did you feel when you learned David Bowie had stretched his last limit?

When you learned Hunter Thompson had penned his last story?

When you heard Tupac was out of rhymes?

Jeff Buckley could give us no more love?

George Carlin's wit would no longer bite?

How about the death of Kurt Cobain? Or Robin Williams? Heath Ledger? Michael Hutchence? David Foster Wallace? Lemmy? Mitch Hedberg? Jean-Michel Basquiat? Bill Hicks?

Did you cry for these people — these people you'd (probably) never met? For their families, whom you'd also never met? Or did you cry for you, for the end of the art?

It's that last bit — the end of the art — I get worried about. We need to remember to keep creating. No matter how much genius passes before us, no matter how much of it falls away, it's incumbent upon us to keep the legacy of art alive for our contemporaries and for our future generations.

Create.

“Tonight I will be in my bed”: Chris Sacca on getting through today

Venture capitalist Chris Sacca took some time to answer listener questions on Tim Ferriss' podcast recently, and one thing really struck me.

A listener asked about an Ironman Sacca completed recently (for the not-so-inclined, that's a triathlon that includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mike bike race and wraps with a full marathon). How did he make it through? He kept repeating to himself, "Tonight I will be in my bed."

No matter how much pain he put himself through, at the end of the day, he'd find himself in his bed.

The pain doesn't have to be extreme athletic adventure. It really can be anything.

Bad traffic? Tonight, you will be in your bed.

Beating yourself up over a lost client? Tonight, you will be in your bed.

Lost a loved one? Tonight, you will be in your bed.

You can get through anything. Just know that tonight, you will be in your bed.

David Bowie and Charles M. Shulz: Life’s work and legacy


"Look up here, I'm in heaven I've got scars that can't be seen / I've got drama, can't be stolen / Everybody knows me now" — David Bowie, "Lazarus"

David Bowie died Sunday, two days after turning 69 and releasing a new album, which includes the song "Lazarus." The track is a farewell. Bowie was fighting cancer and knew he was making his last record. The Telegraph did a nice piece on it.

I'm not going to post a bio or history. If you don't know who Bowie is, go do some Googling. Listen to some music. Watch some movies. His career was long and varied. It was also very creative and very intentional. He almost passed up working with Bing Crosby because he didn't think "Little Drummer Boy" was the right song for him. So, he and Crosby did the now-famous "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" a month before Crosby died.

Bowie was able to do something a lot of us should aspire to: go out having said a recent goodbye, his legacy speaking for itself.

It calls to mind the death of "Peanuts" creator Charles M. Schulz, who died hours before the final comic appeared in papers.

My friend Matt, who is both a musician and cancer survivor, has an interesting take on mourning musicians we've never met, and on Bowie's death, specifically.

You know, admittedly I sometimes feel a little silly to feel so personally affected when a famous artist or musician...

Posted by Matthew Larsen on Monday, January 11, 2016

In addition to firming up their legacy right up to the time of their deaths, both Bowie and Shulz worked their respective crafts right up until the end of their lives. We should all be so lucky.

I think my friend Seth says best how you can honor Bowie. He wanted this work out in the world, and it's out. Listen to it.

Legends with caveats: Keep showing up

On a recent podcast, Joe Rogan calls Lance Armstrong "a legend with a caveat," putting him in the same category as Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson was a highly productive, highly influential writer with one helluva daily drug routine.

I recently re-watched Alex Gibney's Thompson biopic, "Gonzo." I was having a bad day. Maybe it was more of a bad week. I needed a reminder that even the great ones slip sometimes. Sometimes, they slip far. They make mistakes. Things don't always go as planned. But if you keep showing up, things turn around.

So, I decided to keep showing up. I guess if it worked for Thompson, who finally quit this world when his body wouldn't let him show up anymore, and if it's working for Armstrong, who might have been a cheater but he was the best of the best at it for a long time (I bet if you took away all the cheating, he'd probably still be the best of the non-cheaters over that same period), it can work for a bad day. Or week. Or month. Or year. Or decade, it seems.

I think I like this concept of "legends with caveats." It brings to mind the image of the flawed hero — also important in that everyone has flaws — but without the pressure of being a hero. A legend? We should all be remembered. And we should all have caveats.

The best way to be remembered? Keep showing up.

Happy New Year: Highlights from the blog

Last year I wrote a fairly epic post wrapping up what was a fairly chaotic year.

This year was much less chaotic and much more growth-oriented. Last year, we landed in a new city in December. We've had a year to explore the city and move to an apartment that better suits us as people. I got a small ebook out to the world. I ran my first half marathon.

And 2016 is going to be a great year, if things go as planned. Yeah, we're so planning that we're not talking about anything. So there. Here are some of my favorite posts from 2015 – posts that I need to come back to every now and then to remind myself. Maybe they'll be useful for you, too. Happy new year.

You CAN control your next step
Bring conversation back into your life
Know what you're good at, know what you're bad at
Stop looking for what's next
Love people, even if you think they're wrong
Perform life as an act of love
Be your own cause
You have a right to work hard. It doesn't entitle you to anything

Christmas family activity: Tim Ferriss talks to Jamie Foxx

Looking for something for everyone? Take a few hours, sit around the computer, and listen to Jamie Foxx on Tim Ferriss' podcast. Listen to it at normal speed, too, or large chunks will be lost on you.

Foxx talks about networking before social media, how to imitate Kermit the Frog and how to slide from Kermit to Sammy Davis Jr., and, most important in today's world, being adopted at seven months old by a grandmother who, as a religious black woman from south of the tracks in a rural Texas town, taught tolerance and how to cross lines. He also talks about fear and controlling your own narrative. There's so much in it.

Two examples stick with me from his grandmother, and I'm paraphrasing because it's been a while since I listened to it and I'm too lazy to actually look up the quotes.

(1) When a pastor, in the 1970s, preached "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve," she stood up and said, "Hold on. Stop with that. God makes sissies, too." She ran a daycare, and forget the word that you might consider unenlightened, look at the sentiment: Homosexuals are also God's children. That's radical in some communities now. Imagine what it was 40 years ago.

(2) This is an extension of the first. Foxx described asking her, 10 years later, what she meant. She said you have to open the umbrella of religion all the way. If it's raining and you only open the umbrella a little bit, you only keep yourself dry. If you open it up all the way, you can keep more people dry. Same thing with religion. You can either accept a few people under the umbrella of your worldview, and you suffer from that. Or, you can open that umbrella up and let everybody come under the love.

I'm going to steal some notes from Ferriss' show highlights.

• What is automated dialogue replacement (ADR)? [08:13]
• How did Jamie break into music? [09:32]
• How did a then-unknown Jamie Foxx got into Puff Daddy’s parties? [09:57]
• Before social media, Jamie had a unique way of staying connected with people, which involved comedy shows, cue cards, and text messages [11:59]
• Why nobody leaves Jamie’s house without performing [16:56]
• How Jamie learned the nuances of performing on both sides of the tracks (literally and metaphorically) when he was a kid [23:59]
• Life lessons Jamie learned from his grandma [33:38]
• Jamie’s parenting style [41:27]
• What Ray Charles told Jamie was possible if he could play the blues [43:15]
• What’s on the other side of fear? [50:42]
• Why do some standup comedians lose the ability to make people laugh? [01:17:15]
• Jamie talks about how social media has taken away the power to control our own narratives [01:34:51]
• What would Jamie teach a class of 9th graders? [02:07:22]
• Advice Jamie would give to his younger self. [02:15:04]
• The time Jamie told Mike Tyson jokes but didn’t realize Mike was in the audience. [02:23:55]

There's so much more in there. Give it a listen.

Bella: 4 lessons from a 3-legged dog

One afternoon, a man, let's call him Bill (since we didn't ask him his name), was driving down a country road in Georgia with his wife. Eh, let's call her Christine, since we like names. They saw a dog — a small black Lab mix — in the road, looking thin and dragging a leg. They had some crackers in the car, so they gave up their snacks and went back to whatever they were doing.

Through their errands and their dinner, Bill and Christine were, separately, thinking about the dog. When, on their way home, they got back to the spot where they'd seen the dog, they stopped and spent time looking for her, but couldn't find her.

For more than a week, they thought about the dog, and kept looking for her.

***

For a while, Mr. J and I were having coffee weekly. We missed a few here and there, and you know how that goes — suddenly, you just let it go. But we've been back at it about every two or three weeks. He asked if I was fre for coffee one Tuesday recently, and he asked if he minded if his wife, Miss B, came along. It so happened my own wife, Miss J, was off work, and so we grabbed our bikes and set out to meet Mr. J and Miss B.

We got the bikes outside but when I went to close the door, there was a little dog I hadn't seen before sitting in the doorway with a leash in her mouth. "Who are you, and why are you bringing me a leash?" I asked.

Miss J asked what I was talking about, and I said there was a three-legged dog in the stairwell. That's when Bill walked out of the apartment upstairs.

***

About 10 days after they'd seen the dog, Bill and Christine were driving down another rural country road. Christine was on the phone, and for whatever reason, Bill looked to the right, and there, sitting in a ditch, was the dog.

"I'd been given a second chance," he told us.

He put the dog in the car and brought her to a veterinarian. She had over 40 ticks on her body along with several hundred fleas, and at 22 pounds, she was way too skinny. And she was still limping on that leg. The vet got her cleaned up, but was heading out of town for several weeks. He sent her home with Bill and Christine, clean, and with her shots.

***

One of the Yankee traits I'm always going to have is a desire to be on time when I make plans with people. But one of the things I love about Southerners that drives some Yanks nuts is the ability to tell a story. Most of my errands I make sure I have 10 minutes of padding around. Some errands, I make sure I'm prepared to spend an extra hour.

I pulled out my phone and texted Mr. J, since this was one of those times someone was telling a story. We were going to be late, but we were going to enjoy this story.

***

Now that the dog had a home, she also gained a name: Bella. Over the next few weeks, while Bill waited for the vet to return, she continued to drag her right hind leg around, but never once complained audibly. She put on some weight. Despite whatever her previous life had been, she came to enjoy being around people.

When the vet returned, he discovered someone had shot Bella. The bullet was still in her leg, and she had enough nerve damage that she couldn't feel the leg, which is why she was dragging it around. He decided the best option would be to amputate the leg.

***

When we met Bella, she must have been about 10 days or so out of surgery, based on how much fur had grown back on her right hindquarters. She was up to 40 pounds, though she could probably use another 10; I'm sure she'll get there. She's moving around great on 3 legs, bounding up and down stairs with a leash in her mouth. She wasn't shy at all about meeting Miss J and me.

Bill, for his part, was so happy to have found her that second time, and was generous with his story and with sharing her for some smiles.

***

What can Bella teach us?

It might stink to be in the position, but you can rely on the kindness of strangers. Bella must have been able to find some food and some measure of safety on her own, but she came out to ask for help at least twice — Bill and Christine gave her crackers once, and the other time, she might have been in a ditch, but she was visible from the road. Remember that when you think you're at the end of your rope, someone not only can help you, but will. You just have to be willing to ask.

You can complain, but nobody's going to listen. Bella had a bullet stuck in her leg, and she couldn't feel the leg to tell when she was putting weight on it. If that were me, I'd probably be screaming to high heaven about it. She didn't even whine with pain or look longingly at the leg. There was something visibly wrong. Either it was going to be taken care of or it wouldn't. Remember that when you've made people aware of a situation that's troublesome to you, either it's going to be taken care of or it's not. If you keep complaining about it, you're just going to make people dislike you.

Be happy with what you have. Bella has 75% of her limbs, and she's running up and down stairs, carrying a leash, looking for a walk and some petting. She's probably never going to get that leg back (I suppose there's a chance for a prosthetic, but even then, that'll just be for balance — she won't ever feel it), but she's looking forward and doing what she can with what she has. I'm sure you can do the same.

Take someone for a walk. You'll get some good oxygen, some exercise, and you notice a lot of things if you're willing to walk and use your eyes.