Monday, September 27, 2010

The Definition of Success

I had a friend recently ask me, "What is your definition of success?" I had to contemplate that question for a while and think about the things that validated my life as worthwhile.

Originally, I gave a cop-out explanation that it was dependent on the individual and what that individual defined as important in their individual life. I saw it as a cop-out because under that logic, well, success could be anything the person wanted it to be. While that technically is true, I think our definitions of "wants" and "desires" always need to be investigated beyond what we're conditioned to believe. Why do we want the things we want? Why do things like money, recognition, titles, accomplishments or whatever, define who we are? Why do we give value to these things?

I guess the point I was trying to make was that I felt we needed to understand if it came from a place of living in accordance to our own expectations or the expectations of others. Do we want that car and that house because our neighbor has that car and that house? Do we want that accomplishment just so people will acknowledge our accomplishment? Even our "noble" intentions: Would we still be motivated to act on the behalf of others if nobody applauded our efforts?

It's not to say that these things shouldn't be part of our lives. Every underpaid teacher deserves a reminder that they're changing someone's life. A humble display of gratitude to an overworked social worker probably aids their service to others. But it shouldn't be the core motivation behind our choices. External validation should be a supplement to our driving principles, not at the core, and I just think finding that core is a much more complicated and painful process than what we have probably invested. More often than not, we're still operating from an expectation of others (at least I know I am) and I think that is how success eludes us.

In the end I answered that my definition for success was the ability to pay back your dues. I don't know if I believe any longer that we should strive towards the things we enjoy. In some ways it's incredibly selfish to think only of our personal fulfillment. I'm beginning to see that many of these things I'm able to realize are due to opportunities I've been given in life, so I think a large part of my definition is related to the ability to pay back what I owe. That is the driving motivation behind most of my choices. Which choice will put me in the best position to repay that which I owe? And even that needs to be questioned of its true intentions. I'd like to think that it comes from a place of personal belief, but I clearly haven't reached a full level of sincerity if I still find the need to post it on a blog.

Who knows, in two years time, my answer will probably change. But I'm starting to accept the fact that each epiphany I too hastily label as a universal truth has a smaller lesson packaged inside of it. And I think this time the hard lesson is that sometimes you don't do things because you like them; you do them because you have to.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I make a lot of analogies with boxing and life because for me, I see life inside the squared circle. But I usually try to find the stories of gentle kindness to exhibit the humanistic side of the Sweet Science because I think boxing gets a bad rap as a barbaric, brutal bloodsport and I just feel it deserves a fairer shake. And it does. Paradoxically, most times boxing allows the compassion in a person to flourish.

But to be honest, there is also a very dark side to boxing. After all, it is combat packaged into a sport. This is evident in the feeling of you have when inside the ring, that one moment when you're staring your opponent in the eyes, right before the opening bell rings. You two are pegged in battle: one will come out the loser, and the other the victor. That other person is literally trying to take something from you. They are going for your heart, they are going for your soul, and when faced with the hypothetical of "me or them?", the core question of every match is:

"What will you do? Will you fight for it, or will you give it up?"

That is why boxing reveals the true nature of a person. How you react is a precursor to how you live your life. What is it? Fight or flight?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

In Defense of SELF

I've had close friends in my life say to me with venomous ardor that I am a condescending "elitist" and that I think I'm better than other people. Because of that, I’ve gone a good portion of my life thinking that people generally don’t like me. It's a strange feeling to have before you approach every new person in life, a feeling that you just don't fit in anywhere (and no, this isn't one of those "I don't fit in anywhere because I want to look cool," type feelings), but rather a true sense of loneliness, like you are unloved in this world. It's a pretty crappy feeling to carry around really. Truth be told, it just kinda hurts.

But instead of actually confronting these questions, I always ran to the scapegoat explanation that, “I don’t need other people. I don’t want to be reliant on external validation,” which is true, but only when it comes from a place of sincerity and not a desire to quickly cover my unanswered inadequacies with something profound I heard but didn't yet understand. You have to distinguish the differences before you can move on.

I’ve had this belief for most my life in Seattle. I don’t know where it started exactly but this is the reason why I keep wanting to leave the country. Spain was the first place where I realized that people could actually like me for who I am. It was the first place that allowed me to reinvent myself, but by then it was already too late. My identity had become defined by being critical, on separating myself from others because they were the ignorant ones, not me. It wasn't until Costa Rica that I realized all the "ignorant" people around me were enjoying their lives, while I sat in a disgruntled rut, angry with every possible thing in the world. Maybe I was the ignorant one all along.

Akey told me that this realization was a catalyst to a long journey of self-hatred and loathing before I finally learned to love myself again. For the longest time I kept wondering what it meant to love yourself and if I could finally say that I did. I just wanted that painful journey to end.

I started making myself agreeable to people. I wanted to be liked. I'd bite my critical tongue around those I didn't know, and would even nod in agreement with things I was fundamentally against. I felt sick to my stomach with disgust when the curtains closed, but hell, I was no longer being "elitist" anymore right? All I had to do was be liked by others and then I could learn to love myself, right?

No. That's what you call being a fucking tool.

Loving yourself is loving your ideals, your passions and having the conviction to stand for your beliefs despite the disapproving gaze of others. Loving yourself is a willingness to put yourself through the pain and uncertainty to explore those dark places of your inner being because you love yourself enough to make sure you are being led by the SELF, not by the ego. It is learning how to maintain a respectful dignity in your stance because you've realized that the intention behind your beliefs isn't about being right, but about the principle behind them.

If you've TRULY dived into yourself and came out with the conclusion that you're not an elitist, then you're probably not. At the end of the day, that's really the only person you need to prove it to.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Ultimate Rejection

They say a good salesperson is hard to come by, probably because honestly, how many people want to be in their field? How many people want to deal with rejection on a daily basis? How many people want careers where you are evaluated based on how other people feel about you? No, we'd rather have the same comfy job where we don't have that kind of pressure. We want our value to come from something less, or at least conceivably less, superficial than "what other people think of us". But is it because we truly believe it is shallow or because we are afraid to be rejected by other people?

Think about that. If success was a guarantee, how many of us would choose to be models or entertainers or involved in any field where our success was dependent on the judgment of others? How much of our decision to pursue our path is rested on the mere assurance that we won't fail?

That is how I used to play Warcraft and Starcraft. I only played the games I knew I would win, and I played those levels over and over and over again. Those games are actually extremely intricate. Experts gamers calculate hit points, hit damage, the strengths and weaknesses of each character and how to exploit those weaknesses with their own strengths. Basically, the game is way more than building units and ransacking the enemy, like how I played it. It's really a complex game of strategy and I realize that I did not know ANY of the strategy for those games. That just proves my laziness and fear. I was always afraid of competing with someone who could potentially beat me.

That's when I realized that I am afraid of competition. It is not the job, but the competition. Don't get me wrong, there are definitely jobs that just don't click with people, but it's because of the nature of the job itself that turns them away, not the passion for the job. If you love the work but hate the competition, the rejection, or whatever part that is a reflection of an insecurity, then do it. I say that anytime the sole reason you're not pursuing a career is because a personal insecurity scares you, then that's probably the job you should do. It means that nothing about the job itself has stopped you, and instead your mind had to create a reason to stop yourself from not having what you want. Those justifications aren't real. They're made up in our heads. How much power we give those justifications is an indication of how bad we want it. And that's the ultimate rejection:

"I don't want it bad enough."