Category Archives: Risk and Growth

un-dumb frog

The Best Advice So Far - un-dumb frog

With age comes wisdom,
but sometimes age comes alone.
~ Oscar Wilde

As I start this post, there are just a few more hours left until my birthday.

Birthdays for me are still a time of celebration. They are also a time of reflection:

Where have I been?

What have I done?

Where am I going?

This time around the sun, I find myself thinking about the life advice that’s been passed along to me and that I have, in turn, passed along to others over the years. It’s an ongoing process. Sifting. Sorting. Testing. Honing. Much has been discarded. What I’ve kept has become all the more precious.

From books to broadcasts, seminars to sermons, political missives to posted memes — everyone seems to have “truer truth” than everyone else. I can’t help but wonder, amid the onslaught of voices, why anyone should be inclined to listen to mine. How’s anyone to know what to believe when it comes to advice?

What is factual — and what’s no more than loudly proclaimed opinion?

Somehow, all of these thoughts coalesced into a scene from my childhood. Or rather, I should say scenes from my childhood and adolescence; some tend to blur together on account of their repetitious nature.

There I am, sitting in a church pew. The side pieces are white, trimmed with dark-stained, ornate armrests. The back side of the pew in front of me is the same near-black wood, and at intervals along its length are matching outcrops that hold hymnals with gold foil lettering and faded maroon covers made of cloth that makes a zzzip! sound when I run my fingernails lightly over them.

Oscillating block chords emanate from the organ, reverberating from high ceilings, only to be pulled back down into the pits of stomachs by the weight of pulsing bass tones played on long, black foot pedals.

As the last echoes retreat, a suited man with slick hair solemnly ascends crimson-carpeted stairs and stands before a ponderous, stark white pulpit that matches the end-caps on the pews. As hymnals thud back into their places, the pastor’s eyes dart to parishioners, cowing any last whisperers into awkward silence, until he is sure he has everyone’s full attention.

His speech is slow, measured, punctuated with pregnant pauses. Authoritative. He knows what others do not — could not — know, mysteries that the masses would have no hope of understanding unless by his impartation.

He begins with an object lesson, as a principal might to abashed school children who had played hooky. He tells us that a frog placed into boiling water will jump out; but a frog placed into a pot of cool water that is heated slowly, degree by degree, will sit motionless, unaware, until the water reaches a boil and…


adventure

The Best Advice So Far - adventure

In May of this year, the dare-based television show Fear Factor was revived by MTV. I don’t think I ever watched a full episode of the show during its original run from 2001 to 2006, though catching snippets at a friend’s house or while at the gym was virtually unavoidable.

I recall an episode where one person from each couple/team had to lie down in a glass coffin which was subsequently locked. A few dozen tarantulas were then dumped on top of the person through a chute, followed by a hundred or so live crickets.

Outside the coffin, more live crickets were fed continuously through another chute into a blender-type mechanism with a tap of sorts at the bottom. And only by chugging down glass after glass of the fresh cricket guts — fast enough to get the blender level to dip below the halfway mark — could the second contestant from each pair pop the latch on the coffin and release his or her teammate from the feeding frenzy of spiders.

My aversion to the show, believe it or not, wasn’t due to any particular disgust at the situations, but rather to something closer akin to irritation. However, that’s beyond the scope of this post.

People would pull pained faces or shudder and exclaim, “I can’t imagine ever doing this stuff, no matter how much money!” Meanwhile, I’d be thinking things like…


superstition

The Best Advice So Far - superstition

It was Thursday, well past the witching hour. I was on my way to the gym, the silent back roads lit only by the cold white light of an occasional street lamp. As I approached an intersection, something darker than the surrounding night dashed out from the woods in front of my car, stopping just long enough to fix bright green eyes on me before continuing into the thick brush on the other side.

A black cat.

And it had crossed my path.

Of course, being a rational person, this didn’t cause me to turn back the way I’d come and find an alternate route. Yet I was clearly still aware of the superstition associated with the incident. And it occurred to me that this awareness did have a subtle effect on my emotions. I drove onward as I normally would have; but some part of me felt I was doing so despite the superstition. And that would seem to indicate that the superstition had credence, if only in a residual way.

In other words, it seems to me that we don’t do things despite other things, unless those other things are perceived to hold some power or sway.

We wouldn’t say, “We had the picnic despite the forecast” — unless we perceived that the forecast had at least the potential to disrupt our plans.

Back to the example of the black cat crossing our path, it’s almost as if some small part of us feels we’ve accepted a dare, and that by crossing that path, we’re somehow giving the proverbial finger to the universe, proving we’re not one to be controlled by such nonsense.

No one could deny that we don’t have the same reaction when, say, a squirrel or turkey crosses our path. It wouldn’t even occur to us to think such a thing. Why? Because, well … we really don’t believe squirrels or turkeys crossing our path makes a lick of difference.

I guess what I’m saying is that all of us are affected to some degree — maybe even more than we might be aware — by …


golden ticket

The Best Advice So Far - golden ticket

I’ve got a golden ticket
I’ve got a golden chance to make my way
And with a golden ticket, it’s a golden day …

OK, so the ticket wasn’t golden. It was orange.

And it wasn’t a free ride to the Chocolate Factory. It was a $40 ride to the poorhouse.

I drove up to Boston recently, to take part in a celebration dinner for a graduating class of opticians I’d taught as a guest lecturer back in the fall.

Driving in the city doesn’t bother me in the least. It’s the parking that gets me. I’d only ever been to the location with my best friend, Dib, who drove each time. And even with her knowledge of the area, parking had never been easy. So I’d set out two hours before the event, to give myself more than adequate time to find street parking or a nearby garage.

To my surprise, I found an open spot by a meter, not even a block from the school.

The digital message on the meter informed me that operational hours were 6:00AM to 6:00PM. It was 6:05. Kismet!

Still, ever the conscientious sort, I inquired of a passerby who said he lived in the area. “This meter says it’s only operational until 6:00. Is there any reason you can think of that I shouldn’t park here?” The man assured me that I was good to go.

However, when I returned to the car after the event, there it was: the bright orange ticket, placed under a wiper.

I was aware of my pulse rising, feeling it in my throat, just under my Adam’s apple. I unfolded the citation: Resident Parking Only. $40.

Resident Parking Only? With furrowed brow, I looked both ways along the sidewalk. Nothing to the rear. Ahead, perhaps 30 feet or so, was the metallic back of some kind of sign. I walked to it and read the other side: Metered parking 6:00AM – 6:00PM. Resident Parking Only 6:00PM – 6:00AM.

I’d done my due diligence. I’d even asked a resident. How could I have guessed that a back-to sign way up the sidewalk applied to a metered area … or that the metered parking became resident parking after a certain hour?

Here, I faced a choice …


two and five

The Best Advice So Far - two and five

My brain has been in a perpetual fog for the latter half of this week. Any semblance of a regular sleep schedule has been obliterated since Wednesday, when I made the choice to stay up all night. I had my reasons. They seemed good reasons at the time. But the result was that I wound up going about 36 hours without sleep. Since then, I’ve been wide awake when I should be sleeping — and tired only when I can’t be.

Being this off kilter when it comes to sleep makes me feel “buzzy,” like my skin has a low-level electrical current passing through it. It’s particularly annoying in my head and face. This is paired with the sensation that the world is what I call “slidey” — that things in my peripheral vision are sneaking around, dashing back to where they were only when I look directly at them.

Some people think writing — particularly writing a blog post — is easy. I can only say … it’s not. I would estimate that each blog post takes an average of three-and-a-half hours to complete, and that’s only from the time I start typing. It doesn’t account for all of the mental planning that goes on during the week about what to say and how, an ongoing process that takes considerable time and energy all on its own.

Last night was another largely sleepless night. I went to bed at 11:00 (quite early for me), with the hopes of getting at least a solid six hours. But not even three hours in, I woke up with a start and was wired. My mom admonished me to just stay in bed when this happens. I tried. I really did. But it was just not going to happen. So I got up, threw on some shorts and …


100% approval rating

The Best Advice So Far - 100% approval rating

I’ve been around the world. From Beijing to Bohol to my own backyard, I’ve had personal dealings with thousands upon thousands of people from all walks of life.

What’s more, I don’t just write about the power of choice. I practice it. I put it to the test with people. I’ve experimented with what works and what doesn’t where it comes to human relationships. I’ve honed my interpersonal skills. I’m known for being accepting, patient and kind. And I genuinely like people, so I’ve got that going for me as well.

Based on my travels and extensive interactions with people the world over, I’ve collected and analyzed vast amounts of data. And I now wish to share with you today — for the very first time — my complete list of surefire tips and tricks that will allow anyone to achieve …


chance

The Best Advice So Far - chance - silver car, green house and dice on the Monopoloy 'Chance' space

I’ve used the word “kismet” quite a few times lately. It’s the only word that seemed to fit several series of events that have had my head spinning in the very best of ways.

Let me tell you about one of them.

If you read my last post, then you’re familiar with Joe — the hard-working overnight crew member at my gym. Well, as diligent as he is, every so often, he does still take a break. It was during one of those breaks that I saw Joe reading a book.

Being an avid reader and writer myself, I asked, “What are you into there?”

Joe stuck his thumb between the pages to hold his place and flipped the book over to show me the cover. Some peaceful golden sunset colors. Maybe a beach. I think there was a bird flying across it as well. “It’s, like, a book of life wisdom. Just short quotes,” Joe explained. “You could open the book anywhere and read it and then just think about it for a while and get something.” He handed me the book as he said this, with the clear implication that I should put this last bit to the test. My own thumb became the new bookmark and I flipped a page or two forward.

I read a two-line entry at the top of the right-hand page. I don’t remember exactly what it said. Something about Fate. It had an Eastern feel. I remember that I had agreed with the central idea. But at the moment, I was focused on Joe, curious to know more about why he had chosen to read the book. “Why this book?” I asked as I passed it back. “Is it something you’ve chosen to read? Or maybe something for a class?”

“Oh, not for a class. I’m just interested in learning more about life and philosophy, stuff that makes you think, y’know?” Joe said.

“And what do you do with the thoughts you’re pondering while reading this, after you’ve read them,” I asked.

Joe paused. “Ummm, I don’t know. Just kind of think about them and try to find the truth in them.”

Hmmm, I thought.

“Joe, if you’re into this kind of book, I have a recommendation for you. I’m not meaning to be the pushy salesman type, but … I’m actually a writer and author, and my current book is based on collective wisdom. It’s about living life in a way that matters. It’s called The Best Advice So Far.” I brought the Amazon page up on my phone to show him. “Each chapter has a central thought, just like the book you’re reading. And also like that book, you can skip around if you want; you don’t have to sit and read it straight through, cover to cover. Only my book is different because it doesn’t quite fit into philosophy or self-help or inspirational. It’s a lot of true stories, some of them pretty crazy, from my own experience, and the stories sort of illustrate the advice. Then it gets into how you can actually put the advice to good use in your own life, starting immediately.”

Joe squinted at the phone screen, seeming genuinely interested. “I’ll have to check it out. That’s really cool.”

Then an idea hit me. It occurred to me …