On the News

Consuming the News; a Methodological Approach

What we think we know is much less important than making sure that we have a reliable method for coming to knowledge.  This idea, that there exists a method for knowing the world, is the basis for the scientific method, a concept and process which has made the world an immeasurably better place to live and which has vastly accelerated our understanding of the world.  As we enter into a new era of media ubiquity, it occurs to me that it would be useful to borrow from this idea and create a codified method for knowing things when it comes to the consumption of information.  We live in a new world where we are bombarded on all sides by messages of dubious provenance, and without a method of knowing how to source and evaluate information, we will find ourselves picking without a method for our choosing.  

What I am proposing here is the use of a method for determining how to know if things about our world are true.  This has never been more important.  We live in an age where seeing may not be tantamount to believing, especially when it comes to photo and video we find online.  We are at a place where we find ourselves in real peril when sources purport to offer news while instead working to further an agenda.  To be responsible citizens of the world, to make rational decisions, we have to establish a method that avoids these pitfalls and which is, like the scientific method, both repeatable and reliable.  

Inform yourself intentionally, never accidentally.   

This is both absolutely vital, and spectacularly difficult.  As we move through our digital lives, we are bombarded with messages, most of which we will not take the time to fully, critically absorb.  These are the most dangerous messages that we encounter because their repetition, absent engagement with our critical faculties, leads us to believe things as more intrinsically likely before we have applied critical thinking standards to them.  The antidote to this is to make it a point to only consume important information, in full form or headline, as part of your intentional news gathering process.  You will have to avoid all sources where news may be part of your viewing or reading life that happens casually.  This means avoiding following, liking, or subscribing to any news or people who post news on social media accounts  You will need to hide people who post stories, links, and memes about politics and current events.  Your friends, even your well intentioned, educated friends, who post news and current events will, by repetition and because you are sympathetic to their views, color your views and slant your worldview.  Social media should be for puppy pictures, gender reveals, and braggy fitness messages; it is not a credible place to find details about what is happening in the world.  

Vet your sources.  

It is very challenging to know for sure what sources to trust, but there are some tests that you can apply which will weed out bad actors.  For any source that you are considering for trustworthiness, that source must pass the following tests:

    Do they have a physical office where employees work?  

Poor sources do not spend money on office space; they are entirely digital because lies are cheap to produce.

    Does the source have a revenue model that makes sense and appears sustainable?  

Can you buy a physical version or digital version of their product?  If you can’t buy it, beware of how they are making enough money to pay for quality reporting.

Do they have ad revenue from large companies?  Large companies sponsor quality news sites because they understand that their brand reputation is linked to who they advertise with.  If the ads on a page are junk, so is the reporting.  

Is the site full of pop ups?  If so, this is a junk site.  Quality news is paid for by subscribers and ads from major Fortune 500 companies.  They don’t need to spam their page with pop ups and junk from no-name companies. 

Are their reporters identified and can you read about them and their credentials?

Quality news sources hire talented reporters, and like any company, their reputation is built on showcasing that talent.  These reporters are identified and will yield results when you search for the author.  They will have gone to school to learn their trade and they will likely have worked at other reputable companies. 

Do not confuse news with opinion. 

Know the difference between news and editorials, opinion, and analysis.  Opinions, editorials, and analysis should not be considered news. These are a supplement to news, and should not be thought of as synonymous with news itself. Be wary of steeping yourself in analysis, opinion, or editorial pieces.  A high volume of opinion journalism will color your views with other people’s thoughts rather than provide you with facts to consider on your own.  No matter how satisfying it may seem to read material which analyzes the news in ways that you agree with, doing so in quantity or at the expense of consuming fact driven news will damage your ability to think critically. Do not consume analysis or opinion pieces unintentionally. Opinion or analysis pieces, even humorous ones, should be consumed only after you have identified what direction the author is taking and you have a baseline understanding of the underlying issues being discussed. Avoid any source which masquerades opinion as news, they are a blight on the information landscape.  

Be extremely careful of consuming “primary sources” without a full understanding of context.

The internet is full of video that, because of editing, may lead viewers to believe something which is not functionally true.  Examples include video from which important details or context have been removed, video which is mislabelled, video which is in a foreign language and which is inaccurately subtitled, and video which cannot be corroborated to be from where it purports to be sourced.  Evaluating primary sources accurately is very difficult, and the internet has made it much, much harder.  Do not trust your skills in evaluating primary sources if you are not trained to do so.  

Watch for incendiary language

Remove sources from your trusted news provider list when that reporting is laced with unnecessary, gratuitous, or inflammatory language.  Pay attention to how the source you are evaluating uses adjectives, adverbs and verbs.  Are they choosing terms which seem intended to incite emotion?  If so, be wary of this source.  If this is a trend, that is not a credible source and should be avoided.

Look for citations

Does the source cite its own sources and do they provide names, dates, and links to relevant corroboration whenever possible?  Sites of dubious intent and veracity make claims using nebulous language intentionally to avoid specificity.  When news organizations are required to be specific, that means that they are making claims which can be checked by outside sources.  Poor quality news sources will avoid writing with specificity and without clear sourcing because this allows them to avoid third party fact checking.  While some sources may publish VERY OCCASIONAL pieces with anonymous sources or authors, those pieces should be extremely few, and the anonymity should be noted in the article and credibly explained.  

On experts

The world is an increasingly complex place, and no one is educationally equipped to evaluate claims made within  fields they are not personally trained in or without a formal education in that field. You will need to rely on subject matter experts to help you make sense of the world. While there is nothing wrong with this, you must have a method for determining which voices are credible. First, look for credentials specific to the source of the claims. If, for example, someone is a general practice doctor, they are not a subject matter expert on disease mitigation and public health, those are separate disciplines.  Real expertise is specific.  Be wary of those using tangentially related expertise to claim specific knowledge, those are not credible sources of information. 

Look too for consensus when reading news about claims which have a high degree of complexity.  The greater the consensus of field experts, the more likely that information is to be accurate. Similarly, be wary of experts who act as a lone voice in a sea of opposing consensus. That lone voice is not, historically speaking, likely to be correct. Always remember that you are unlikely to be an expert in this field yourself, so make sure that the expertise you rely on is credible. 

Do not trust your feelings  

If you avoid consuming news as an accidental process, and if you avoid confusing news with editorials, opinion pieces, and analysis, you will, over time, become less emotionally reactive to the news that you consume.  You will, as a result, grow less likely to consume news in a way that serves primarily to reinforce a viewpoint, and you will become a better and more objective consumer of facts and information.   It is our natural inclination to consume views and seek out facts which agree with how we see the world and which reinforces our biases.  You have to be very aware of and guard against this.  Most true things exist and are reported on in multiple, credible locations.  Credible, honest stories will appear in many places.  Anything you can only find in one location is very unlikely to be true.  

You are not a good person

You are not a good person. The point of this blog, the point of so much of my thinking, of my writing to you, involves this idea of what it means to be good men, and it seems more important now than ever to tell you this. Being a good person isn’t something that you are boys, it’s something that you do; it’s something you have to do again and again every single day. Your moral character cannot skate by on what you did yesterday. Every hour of every day is a new referendum on your character. It has to be. There are no cheat days for being good. Every morning that you wake up, every hour that passes by in your life, that hour, that day is what decides your character. Not only is being a good person, a decent person, a person of character and integrity something that requires your attention and action, but it is indistinguishable from your actions. You are not a good person just because you woke up today. You are not a good person because you think the right thoughts.
You are not a good person just because you are not actively bad either. That sucks, but it’s true. Being a good person is not a passive thing; it can’t be. Being a good person requires that you think about others, that you act on their behalf, that you be willing to sacrifice your time, your attention, your resources for the betterment of other people. You cannot be good just because you have avoided being actively bad. To be good means that you must direct at least some of the resources of your time and attention outwardly to others.
That’s not to say that you aren’t going to make mistakes. You will. I have. Everyone has, but I want to be very honest. When I make ethical mistakes, those mistakes matter. They are a dark spot on my character that do not go away. I am less good as a person for having made those mistakes. They not only affect the way that others view me, but they do, and they should, affect the way that I view myself. My actions are who I am. What I do, how I treat people, the decisions and actions that I undertake, that is who I am. That is who you are boys. You are not good just because you were good yesterday. You are not inherently good. You are not your thoughts or your opinions, and you are most certainly not your excuses or your unmet good intentions. Imagine if, every day, a replay of your actions appeared above you and ask yourself, would I be proud of myself today? Did I do right by the people I am obligated to in my life? Don’t give yourself an “out” on bad behavior; don’t excuse behavior in yourself that you would not excuse in others.
When you make mistakes, do not forgive yourself without understanding why you failed and changing the parts of you that caused you to fail. When we act in ways that are lazy, that are selfish, that are unkind, that are inconsiderate, we have to do the work of taking stock of what that means about who we are. Our failures should change our understanding of ourselves; it should be harder to look in the mirror. After we have failed, we must undertake the process of sober moral reflection because a failure to be good and to act well is a failure not only to those around us, but it is failure to ourselves, a failure that lessens who we are. Reflect on your failings in direct, honest ways without excuses. Allow yourself forgiveness, but recognize that forgiveness is provisional on change. An ethical failing without a commitment to fix the parts of us that caused us to fail is just an after the fact excuse.
I know that this is harsh. It’s supposed to be harsh, but boys, it’s true. What matters about who we are is what we do, and every day of your life matters. You cannot act well 100 days in a row and fail on the 101st and pretend that it has no effect. We are what we do every day; there is no bank of good actions you can withdraw from to cancel out your missteps. Hold yourself to high standards boys in all things, every day.

On Beginning Intimacy

Nobody wants to hear their Dad talk about this stuff.  I get that.  But if nobody talks to you about this stuff, then you’re going to have to figure it all out yourself, and that’s not ideal.  So bear with me guys.  

At some point in your lives, you’re going to have to contend with navigating how and when to begin a physical, sexual relationship with someone.  I want to offer my thoughts here on this, not in a mechanical, birds and the bees sort of way, but rather to address with you the issues you’ll face interpersonally as you move through this part of your life. 

Relationships are exciting, and the physical aspect of that is not a small part of that excitement. This is part of the joy of dating people, and I am not at all suggesting that it be overlooked.  But I want to warn you first and foremost about starting physically intimate relationships with people before you are ready.  First, becoming sexually involved with someone is likely to significantly intensify your perception of the strength and connection in a relationship.  Particularly when you are young, the novelty, the excitement, the newfound sexual outlet, will collide with a rush of hormones and chemicals which can make you believe that you are more deeply compatible and connected with someone than you would otherwise believe yourself to be.  Sex and sexual activity releases a flood of hormones that are intended to make you feel bonded.  In a mature relationship, this is a great thing, but in a young relationship, this often results in your body clouding your mind and your heart.  Just because things feel good, doesn’t mean that things are, in fact, good.  Having “The Sex” when you are young or your relationship is new will make it more difficult, nearly impossible I would argue, to understand if the relationship you are in is what you want. 

Beginning an intimate relationship with someone will also complicate, deeply, your relationship.  Young relationships are fun, and part of the reason that they are fun is because the stakes are relatively low.  As you meet and date new people, you are learning with each experience how you want to be treated and how you want to feel with someone.  You are learning what makes you happy, and what drives you nuts.  You are also learning how to make someone else happy, how to show off the best side of who you are, when to let your guard down, how much of who you are to reveal and when.  You are learning when to trust people and how to let others trust you and to be worthy of their trust.  When you are brand new to dating, you should avoid getting into serious relationships because you are not ready for them.  You need time to explore yourself, to learn about other people and how they fit into your life and how you will fit into theirs.  If you begin having “The Sex” too early, you won’t have the opportunity in the same way to be casual, to have low stakes encounters with people, to figure things out and make mistakes and have mistakes made with you in ways that are not harmful.  Because sex is consequential both physically and emotionally, sexual relationships will likely feel deeper and more important during a time in your life when you simply lack the experience to navigate truly consequential relationships. You also run a greater risk of having encounters which hurt you emotionally.  Again, sex will bond you and your partner, but the highest likelihood is that encounters that you have when you are young will not stand the test of time.  As these relationships naturally fall away, you will find yourself more deeply heartbroken than necessary if your relationship was sexual than if you enjoyed a less physically intimate connection.  

Also, when you are young, the people you date will continue to be a part of your social circle, likely for years.  Casual dating relationships when you are young frequently become friendships with little difficulty.  Less casual dating with more sexual activity makes converting someone you dated into a friend much more complicated and increases the likelihood that that relationship will become unnecessarily strained.

Sex also can make people feel possessive, which is particularly bad when you are young.  When we are young, we feel our emotions in deep, intense ways, and lack the context of a lifetime to sort through these feelings.  When we bond with someone sexually, young minds in particular can interpret this bond in ways that cause us to feel possessive or jealous. Possessiveness and jealousy without maturity and life experience will only make you and your partner miserable.  

So when should you begin having “The Sex” with someone?  Clearly, the answer is not, never.  Having a meaningful, satisfying sex life is part of any good relationship and part of a good life, and as much as I want you to avoid life’s pitfalls, I also want you to embrace life’s joys.  While there’s no age I can suggest for you where I think it makes sense to begin having a sexual relationship with someone, I think some criteria should be met before you start down this road.  First, you should be able to protect yourself and your future physically without needing anyone’s help.  What I mean by that is that if you are not old enough, mature enough, or independent and confident enough to go the store and buy condoms, you are not old enough, mature enough, or independent enough to have “The Sex.”  Second, you should have dated, casually, several people over the course of several years.  You should have some experience dating and breaking up and being broken up with, without the complications that sex adds to your relationship.  Finally, once the first two conditions are met, I think you should have spent enough time and have enough maturity, personally and within the relationship, to talk to each other about sex before you have it.  Too often, people too timid to talk about “The Sex” begin having “The Sex.”  This leads to no end of problems.  When you are young, frank and honest conversations about the sex are the only way you can make sure that your needs and concerns and her needs and concerns are being really heard and understood.  If you can’t talk about it, you aren’t ready to do it.  

One other note.  As boys, you will likely be on the driving end of initiating and escalating sexual behavior.  There’s a fair amount of social pressure on boys to escalate from one stage of sexual contact to another.  Don’t bow to this pressure.  There’s nothing about having sex which makes you more mature or more manly.  There’s nothing about moving from one “base” to another which changes, in any way, who you are.  To the extent that you feel pressure to escalate from the outside, do your best to ignore that pressure.  With regard to your partner, be respectful of her and her feelings.  Remember that I said that you should be able to talk with your partner about sex before you have it, and that part of talking is listening.  Don’t pressure your partner to escalate anything, and make sure as you move along this path that she feels safe, that she feels respected, and that she is having fun too.  If at any point, ever, you sense reluctance, pause and talk.  Read the room boys, but when you are young, read the room and talk.  

You will be bombarded by messages, important messages, about the mechanics of sex and how to stay physically safe.  Pay attention to these messages, and take notes for sure, but what is more often overlooked is how to keep yourself emotionally safe.  I want you to build the kinds of habits of your minds and hearts that lead you to healthy relationships where you feel fulfilled.  When we begin having “The Sex,” whenever that is for us, we run the risk of beginning to develop patterns for how we relate to people, and these relationships often set the tone for how we relate to people throughout our lives.  Too often, we accept partners and behaviors that aren’t good for us because it’s what we are used to rather than because it’s what we want or what is good for us.  Keep the stakes low while you are young and give yourself breathing room to learn and to make mistakes.  Protect yourself emotionally and learn to build good habits for your hearts.  Trust me on this boys, if you do the work and learn how to build healthy relationships with a minimum of emotional baggage the more serious relationships that you do have will be much more rewarding, much less likely to go catastrophically badly, and you will, I promise, have much more of “The Sex” in the end. 

On Loneliness

I spent most of my life profoundly lonely, so I know a little bit about it.  There are many ways to be lonely, and many reasons to feel lonely, and as we move through the normal course of our lives, it is natural and inevitable that you will find yourselves feeling lonely.  While there’s no way to guarantee that you can avoid this, there are concrete steps that you can take to minimize its impact.  Loneliness, particularly when extended for long periods of time, can cause us to create or maintain behaviors which don’t serve our best interests.  

Fundamentally, loneliness is the gap we feel between our desire or need for connection, and the connection that we actually experience.  Everyone’s needs regarding connection will vary, so you’ll need to understand your needs in this arena to understand if you are experiencing both the quality and quantity of connection that you need to feel satisfied and avoid being lonely.  

I also think that loneliness comes in a few varieties, each a little different.  The first, and one of the most fundamental types of loneliness is physical loneliness.  Everybody has a certain desire for touch. To be very frank, as boys, your access to casual physical touch will be limited during parts of your life. You are likely to be hugged less, cuddled less,and casually touched less than your female friends.  You will likely have fewer opportunities outside of romantic relationships to both touch and to be touched than you may like.  Be both aware and wary of this.  Because you may have less touch in your life than you might like, you may place an outsized importance on the need to connect physically with romantic partners.  While needing to be touched by your romantic interest is fine, a lack of understanding of this need may cause you to remain in relationships that are not otherwise satisfying because they offer an outlet for touch.  Don’t do this.

 There is a difference between touching and being touched, each of which relates to connection.  Touching someone else is, among other things, a signal of someone else’s acceptance of you.  When you touch someone else, part of the reason this fuels connection is because it signals to you that your touch is welcome, that you, in fact, are welcome, and that the act of being touched by you offers that person something they welcome.  

Being touched, by contrast, is a signal that someone wants you, and this allows you to draw comfort and affection from them.  Both types of touch are important, and they are both different.  Touch is important to your life.  You will want to understand your desire both to receive touch and to give touch in order to understand your need for connection here.  

Another way that loneliness, the connection gap, may be noticed stems from our need for understanding.  Like touch, it is important both to have people in your life who understand you, and whom you understand.  Again, both components are essential.  You will need people in your life that listen to you, that see and hear you, and, importantly, have the tools and life experiences to understand how you think, how you feel, and where those thoughts and feelings come from.  

Similarly, you are going to need to understand others to avoid a connection gap.  You are going to need people in your life to care about, to seek to understand, to comfort and to praise.  You are going to need people that you in turn are entrusted to see and to hear.  You will need people to think about, to feel for, and to love.  

Finally, I think there’s a kind of loneliness associated with physical space and shared goals.  I think we need, to greater and lesser degrees, people to work with, to grow with, to play with, and to share experiences with. We need people that understand the work of our minds, of our hands, and of our time, and who find joy in the same pursuits.

Everyone falls somewhere on a spectrum with respect to loneliness.  As you grow and mature, and as your relationships grow and mature, you may find that you move along this spectrum.  That’s fine so long as you understand yourself well enough to identify any connection gaps you feel, why you feel them, and how, ideally, you would like those gaps to be filled and by whom.  

There are things you can do about being lonely.  There are, as with most problems, actions you can take once you understand yourself, that will lessen the connection gap.  With respect to physical loneliness, you may find that long periods of time may pass where you neither touch nor are you touched.  This can lead to a kind of touch starvation.  Touch starvation is not good for your health, physically or emotionally.  

If socially appropriate, hug your friends hello and goodbye.  Even these brief moments, even the “bro-hug,” offers some contact.  Get a haircut or massage.  Touch is a need, and your body will release calming chemicals into your body when you are being touched.  Your body doesn’t know that the masseuse or the salon-worker isn’t a friend.  The calming environment and sustained physicality of the experience can help fill the need to be touched.  Spend time with a pet.  This really only satisfies part of the need for physical connection because you are the one doing the touching rather than being touched, but during a period of touch-drought, it can be very helpful. 

If you are feeling like you are not being seen, heard, or understood, invest in your relationships.  Practice listening, actively, to those you are connected to.  Ask after their well being and attempt to connect with them on a deeper-than-surface level.  Make note, physically if need be, of important dates and events of those around you.  Without exception, celebrate other people’s victories with them, and remember too the times when they might need support.  Don’t be afraid to care, openly and genuinely, about the people in your life.  Taking an active role in the lives of those you want to connect with will encourage deeper relationships and increase the likelihood that others will invest in you.  

There’s another secret I can share with you here.  Many more people than you think are in the same boat.  I think it can be tempting to think that, because we are lonely, we are the only ones feeling that lack of connection.  The truth is though, that everyone at some point will feel this way, and that at any given time, many more people than you think feel this way right now.  Most people will welcome your attention.  Don’t be so afraid of rejection that you reject yourself first.  

However, there may be times in your life where this is difficult, where you don’t have many friends, or when your friends are not available to you on a deeper level.  There may be times in your life when you are short on deep friendships.  During these times, you may want to talk with a therapist.  While there is nothing that replaces a personal connection with a friend, there’s no shame in connecting with a professional whose role in your life is to listen.  We need to be heard and to be seen.  

If you are feeling a lack of connection around activities and shared goals, you will need to seek spaces where people who share your values and hobbies gather.  Seek physical spaces whenever possible.  We are bodily creatures, and being physically present does matter.  If possible, seek to share activities and spaces with others repetitively.  Being together frequently gives you more opportunities to learn about others, and frequency of interaction also lessens the stakes of each encounter.  Building relationships and understanding others doesn’t happen by simply willing it into existence.  The process of connecting over shared experiences is cumulative, which means you’ll need to put in a sustained effort. 

Do things that give you an opportunity to be with the kind of people you want to get to know.   Don’t blockade yourself into only connecting over a narrow set of interests.  If you like games, think about what other spaces exist where people play games and attend those spaces.  Expand your repertoire to include games you might not otherwise have played, and give everything a fair shot.  Physicality and space matters.  Common goals matter.  Repetition matters.  The more time you spend together, the more you will know, understand and appreciate someone, and the lower the stakes of any given hour will be.  Try aspirational activities, do the things that people you want to meet do.  Be willing to share not only what you care about, but also that you care about things.  The loneliest people in the world are those who are too cool to care about things. Don’t be one of those guys.  

Remember too boys, that you have family.  As you grow, the role of your family will change, but your family is alway here for you.  There is no world where you will ever want for a hug, for words of affection, or for my love and attention.  Loneliness is something that can sneak up on us, and that can insidiously become a part of our lives.  Watch for loneliness, know it when you feel it, and take action to correct it whenever possible. 

On Purpose

On Purpose

I’m going to be very blunt; there is no objective purpose to your life. But the key word here is objective.  All that means is that the purpose to your life isn’t something set forth from on high, but something instead that has to come from you, something that you yourself will choose and define.  While that might seem like a lot of pressure, it should also be very freeing.  There are no outside standards beyond your own, no judgmental cosmic overlord dictating for you what you should or shouldn’t be doing.  The purpose to your life is yours to choose, and I’m going to offer some help on how to make these choices.

A life lived in accordance with your purpose will be easier to manage in hard times; it will be easier to sleep at night, and you will understand, intrinsically, what to do with the days and hours of your time.  Too often, particularly when we are young, we look for meaning and purpose as if it’s an actual answer we can find, and once found, settle into.  We look for one singular purpose because we have one life, and the question itself seems to invite singular answers.  For most of us, this is a trap.  For most of us, there won’t be one answer to the idea of our purpose, and the answer will change and mature as we do.  With very rare exceptions, most of us will find that the answer to the question of a life’s purpose is a multifaceted and pluralistic answer.  The real question boys, isn’t what is your life’s purpose (remember, if we ask the wrong questions, we always arrive at the wrong answer).  The questions we should spend our lives reviewing are, “How do we know our life’s purpose?” and “Am I living in accordance with the principles of my life’s purpose?”  I can’t help you with your life’s purpose boys, but I can help you understand how to find it.

A life lived with an eye toward purpose will have several important themes:  meaningful relationships, humor, satisfying work, attention to your health and well-being, a search for novel experiences, and time spent improving yourself and others.  Let’s start with meaningful relationships.  Simply put, you’re going to want to cultivate relationships in your life defined by respect, trust, and mutual admiration.  You’ll need people in your life boys that not only do for you, but you’ll need people in your life that you too can serve.  There’s a tremendous amount of joy to be found in the service of others, and no life without service will feel truly meaningful. Serve the right people boys. Serve people who respect you, who love you, and to whom your service will have an impact and where your service will be appreciated. 

You’ll also want to find ways to embrace humor into your life.  What you find fun and funny is up to you to decide and that will, mercifully, also change with time and maturity, but boys, you get one life without do-overs.   Don’t take things too seriously; life is, most of the time absurd, even when it is tragic.  Find and appreciate that absurdity; embrace it and revel in it.  Don’t be afraid to laugh when you are afraid, or lonely or scared.  Don’t spend a day if you can help it, without laughing or smiling. Find joy and humor in even the darkest times and your life will not only feel lighter, but you’ll be better able to adapt to change and hardship.   

If possible, find work that is satisfying.  This is a tough one.  Most jobs will, in and of themselves, not be satisfying on their own.  That’s ok, and that’s to be expected.  If you have work that is not intrinsically satisfying, you’ll need to draw a line in your mind from the work itself to what the work allows you to do.  If your work is what gives you the ability to care for your family, find a way to equate the work to caring for those you love. If your work is what gives you personal autonomy and independence, draw a line from the work to what the work allows you to do with your life. Find satisfaction in a day’s labor when at all possible.  Your work will chew up most of the waking hours of your adult life, don’t squander that time.

In your search for purpose, do not forget your body boys.  Your physical health, fitness, and well being is a prerequisite to happiness and success, don’t neglect the physical self.  Challenge your bodies, be mindful of your health, and care for your physical selves.  You’re going to have to live in those things all your lives guys. Be kind to them.  

Cultivate a search for novel experiences; do new things and go to new places.  Challenge yourself by meeting people with different thoughts, experiences, and ideas.  Find new experiences that cause you to rethink yourself, and that make you see things with a fresh perspective.  Be intellectually curious about the world, and be genuinely curious about other people. Spend time caring about things.  Be in awe as often as possible.

Finally, in pursuit of purpose, you’ll need to spend time focused on improving yourself and on improving others.  Don’t be content with your faults if you think you can rise above them.  Don’t be happy gliding through your life boys.  A life is meant to be lived and actively experienced.  Be a participant in all the moments of your time, be mindful and present and share what you learn with others.  

There’s no purpose to your lives’ boys, at least not from the outside, but that’s good news, not bad.  That means that you are in control; you are driving.  The purpose of your life is what you make of it, but you’ll have to do the work of making something.  Remember, nothing good happens by accident, without your guidance and aim, nothing much will happen at all.  Don’t let the lack of a guiding external force trick you into thinking there’s no reason or purpose to your lives. The purpose of a life is to live that life, to do it well, and to do it with real intentionality, guided by what feeds you. 

On the Problem of Being Right

Here’s something crazy boys. Being right can be a real problem. Being right can, in fact, poison relationships and stunt your thinking. Being right can even make it difficult to see what’s true and make it more difficult to resolve conflict. Being right can be the worst thing you can be.

We all want to be right about things. We want to know what’s right ethically. We want to behave in right ways with ourselves and other people. We want the right things to be done to us and the right thing to be done by us. The idea of what is right is important. Without it, we would have no moral North, no way to know if we are headed in the right direction.

Which is why it seems crazy, but focusing on what’s right can actually create moral dilemmas and lead us to behaviors that, ironically, hurt and alienate ourselves and others. This is because, quite often, what’s right is an ideal rather than a practical or workable truth. And because we exist exclusively in a physical world of less than perfect systems and interactions, and because we ourselves are less than perfect, seeking to pursue what is right can often lead to outcomes which are less positive than pursuing compromises based on the actual, rather than what should be.

Let me offer by way of explanation, a few examples. Let’s say you and a friend frequently buy one another lunch, and both of you do this as an expression of affection and you both seek to be fair in your turn taking. What would be the perfectly right thing to do? If you were seeking to be fair, you’d have to keep score, at least mentally, so that you both knew whose turn it was to buy lunch. But not every lunch is created equal. Say you bought lunch when you happened to be at the steakhouse downtown and your friend bought lunch at the drive thru on a road trip. Clearly, the cost of one meal will vastly outweigh the other. The right thing to do then might be to not only keep score of who bought the last meal, but the value of those meals, and then to divvy and dole out who pays when for what to try to maintain some parity in the arrangement.

Except that would be awful in practice. The truth is that keeping score like this is exactly the least likely technique to show or build affection and to be happy. Easier instead to be grateful for the opportunity to show generosity to someone you love and trust that a time will come when generosity will, in turn, be shown to you. Focusing on what’s right will not make you happy. It will not make your friend happy. It will not make your friendship stronger. Being right, by having a system that keeps and maintains score, would be exactly the wrong thing to do, even though it would be more technically fair.

Let me offer you another example. Often, there will be problems that you will have to face that present to you only unfair or less than ideal solutions. Sometimes, you’ll even know that better solutions exist, and that all the options you have are all bad. Sometimes, you won’t get to pick the right thing because what is right is not on the menu. This will actually happen to you more often than you might like to imagine.

Suppose that you are in school and you have to choose a teacher for fifth period Chemistry. You know that the best teacher is Mrs. Argon. She’s the most qualified, she just won Teacher of the Year, you’ve met her before and she was able to explain difficult concepts to you in ways you clearly understood, and her name happens to also be one of the noble gases. Naturally, when it comes time to pick your classes, you know that you want to pick Mrs. Argon. In fact, you should, because she would be the best teacher to pick. The outcome you are aiming to achieve, to learn Chemistry, would be best achieved if Mrs. Argon taught you Chemistry. Imagine further though, that Mrs. Argon, at the end of last year, switched her area of interest and now she isn’t teaching Chemistry. She’s teaching Introduction to Charcuterie three towns over at the women’s prison. Your choices now are two teachers you don’t know.

The right teacher is still Mrs. Argon. But your choices don’t include her. You could skip taking Chemistry, but that’s not a solution to learning Chemistry. Instead, what you will have to do is to pick from choices that are not ideal, that are, in fact, not the right choice and then hope for the best. This will happen to you a lot, and it kind of sucks. The answer to this is to not pretend that there is a dilemma. There isn’t. A dilemma is a choice with solutions or options that are hard to pick from. Not getting what is right and settling for what’s available is not a dilemma, it is simply an unfortunate reality of how choices are made in the real world. Don’t make the mistake of failing to make choices because the solutions on offer are imperfect.

Let’s take it one step further. Let’s say that you took Chemistry and the next year, you want to sign up for Chem 2, hydroelectric boogaloo. You should take this because you did very well in Chemistry 1, and you have decided you want to be a chemist. Your uncle is a chemist at ChemTacular LLC and can get you a great job after you graduate; he even put your sign on the door and got you business cards. So you go to sign up for Chem 2 only to find out that it is only offered at the same time as your Remedial English for Internet Users class. You have to take Remedial English or you can’t graduate at all, and Remedial English is only offered at the same time as Chem 2. You go to your guidance counselor and you try to sign up for Chem 2. You know you don’t actually need the English class. You know that you’ll do fine speaking the language of chemists. You’ll have a good job when you graduate without Remedial English.

You really do need the Chem 2 class more than the English class. The Chem 2 class would benefit you more. Taking it would be the right thing to do. Your guidance counselor, as much as they might prefer otherwise, cannot sign off on your class schedule because the system won’t allow them to sign off on a schedule that won’t get you to graduation. The system here is probably not ideal. An ideal system would allow the guidance counselor to take your circumstances and opportunities into account and sign off on what you need rather than arbitrarily insisting that graduation rather than education is the goal. That would just be better. That would make more sense.

But that’s not usually how things work. More often than not, people are required to work within and for systems that are very obviously less than perfect. You can look right at them and see that there are better ways, smarter ways of doing things, but knowing that you are right won’t mean anything. It won’t change the system.

So what is there to do? Probably something really imperfect. Perhaps you’ll have to delay the ideal class schedule and get your Chem 2 credit by taking summer school. Maybe there’s some other class that’s not as good that you’ll have to settle for. Maybe you’ll have to pay more and take Chem 2 privately, or spend another year in school before you graduate. All of this will be unfair and you’ll be absolutely right that none of it should happen, and that better options were staring you in the face the whole time. Still, what you cannot do is to disengage, to drop out, and you can’t take out your rage or frustration on the guidance counselor. Being absolutely right won’t matter. Being right won’t change the system. Systems take huge amounts of time and energy to change and more often than not, the choices you are confronted with will need to be dealt with before change is made. To achieve the results you are aiming for, you’ll have to accept that you’re right and that you got screwed anyway.

There are going to be many times that you will be confronted with problems and situations where what should be won’t be what happens. You will be immersed in relationships and situations and systems and time after time you will see, as clear as day, that you are right about something and you’ll have to make a choice about whether acting on being right will do anything positive in your life or the lives of others. How do you know when to do this?

It’s simpler than you think, though it has taken me much longer to understand this than I care to admit. First, check yourself. Be sure you’re actually right and not simply feeling aggrieved. Often, when we feel aggrieved knowing if we are right or just hurt can be difficult to separate. Second, if you are right, ask yourself how much this matters to act on. Sometimes, it can be enough to know that we are right, and we don’t need to act. If you feel that you are right and that you need to act, think about what you want to accomplish. Don’t be right for its own sake. There are no Platonic ideals. Being right is not in and of itself virtuous. Be right for the right reasons. Be right to accomplish something, to stand up for yourself when it matters. Be right because your values require it. Be right when anything less would make you or someone you care about less happy. Finally, and I learned this from Haeley and I carry this with me everywhere, ask yourself, “Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?” In any situation, know which answer you need to move your life forward. You will rarely get to be both.

On Privilege

Most of who you are you don’t deserve.  Nearly every really important thing that will shape the outcome of your life, you didn’t earn.  That’s ok.  We’re going to talk about this in detail, but let me start by saying that you need to abandon the idea of “deserve” and embrace the fact that who you are is mostly a combination of things you had nothing to do with.  Most of who you are will be determined by forces you can’t control and which you will have to consciously work in order to see.  That’s also perfectly fine because it’s true for everyone.  We’re going to talk about what that really means, why it’s important, and what that means for how you should live your life.  

 

Think about this for a second.  I like the taste of black licorice.  Many people do not.  I did not choose to enjoy this.  Black licorice is not chemically or physically different for me than for you or for anyone else, yet I enjoy it and others hate it.  Why?  Chance.  Some combination of physical forces (the way my brain wired to perceive the chemicals in black licorice and associate them with pleasure rather than disgust), and social forces (eating black licorice in a setting with loved ones where the smell and taste created pleasant associations), wired my mind to believe that black licorice is good.  That I like black licorice, while it is a feature of my preferences, is neither reflective of some objective fact about whether black licorice tastes good, nor is it something that I chose about myself. It is, instead, just one silly example of the complex byproduct of how forces outside our control shape our choices, preferences, and desires.  

 

Most of life is like this.  Think about a few other examples.  Think about some things that we admire in ourselves or in others.  Some people are born very, very smart.  Why?  Because they deserved it?  What did they do to earn it?  Does some characteristic of the self we do not choose or control make us more virtuous?  What’s funny is that all of us recognize two contradictory things.  One, that of course smart people didn’t choose to be born smart, and so they didn’t earn it.  At the same time, we also mock those whose circumstances of birth didn’t provide them that same advantage.  We have a hundred derisive adjectives to mock and belittle people for not having had the good luck and good fortune of others.  Being smart is not a choice, it’s not a signal of someone’s virtue, it’s not something someone deserved because it’s not something you have to earn.  

 

Another example.  Think about looks.  Some people are just born really attractive.  They have good skin, symmetrical features, and bodies that grow into the proportions and shapes we are wired to find alluring.  Most of this is, again, just good luck, a spin of the genetic wheel that lands in just the right position.  It’s not a choice or a signal about someone that conveys any meaning reflective of someone’s character.  It’s as random as a coin flip.  

 

Think about whether someone is funny.  We all know that person who, from the time they were young, had a quip or retort ready at hand.  Think about that.  These people have been funny their whole lives.  Being funny is just a lucky happenstance of the way some people are wired.  If you don’t believe me, think about people you’ve met who are just super serious, and have been since they were small.  Again, this is not the result of choices.  These characteristics are the result of chance, both social and genetic, which shaped the way some people learn to respond to others.  

 

Some people are naturally social.  Some people are naturally detail oriented.  Others are anxious, and still others seem to have no problem shedding worries and cares.  Some people have an ear for music, others can’t tell one note from another.  Some people form beautiful mental images in their heads, others close their eyes and see very little. Some people have a natural sense of physical balance, or an affinity with words; there are people who can read the slightest shift in body language and others who can’t read non-verbal cues at all.  Some people have a high tolerance for risk, others are nervous without the comforts of routine and predictability.  The list goes on, but I think you get my point.  Most of who we are is not the result of our deliberately made choices, and if the idea of deserving means anything, it has to be tied to the idea that you deserve something because you made meritorious or deleterious choices.  But that’s just not how the world works.  

 

It goes a little deeper.  Think about where you live.  From the moment you were born until you reach adulthood, where you live was not your choice.  That means not only the country you were born into, but the state, the neighborhood, the social, economic, and racial makeup of your home; you had no way to choose or influence these things in any way as children.  Whether your parents were stable or chaotic, loving or abusive, whether you never wanted for a hug or were left to fend for yourself, whether you were able to join the swim team or whether you had to walk through an unsafe neighborhood to get to school, none of this was the result of any of your choices.  None of your parents or their parents or their parents ever made these choices when they were growing into adults either.  

 

Most of who we are is a combination of forces determined by chance that we have no control over or say in.  A person cannot just wake up and decide they will be able to be taller if they are not.  We can’t decide we were born into circumstances of opportunity if we weren’t or that we are naturally graceful, or decide to be sharp and quick witted if we are more careful and deliberate with our thoughts.  

 

Funny people don’t deserve to be funny.  Smart people don’t deserve to be smart.  Attractive people don’t deserve to be attractive.  Americans don’t deserve to have been born here.  Kids with loving parents don’t deserve love more than kids with less loving parents.  Being who we are is not, in significant ways, up to us.

 

So what does this mean?  Well, it means a lot of things.  First, don’t idolize or vilify any trait or characteristic that is not earned.  Don’t look down on those whose lottery numbers didn’t come out as well as someone else’s.  Don’t look up to someone whose ticket just randomly afforded them more opportunities.  The world is easier for some people than for others and it will always be that way.  We’d all like to be smart, to be funny, to be attractive, to never struggle with illness; we’d all like to have every opportunity and to be surrounded by love and stability, but that simply won’t be the case for most of us.  Most of us will have some of these privileges but not all.  Some people will have way more than is fair.  That’s true, because that which is determined by chance will never be fair.  Others will get screwed at every turn.  That’s a horrible reality of a world ruled by chance.  

 

But let’s revisit some of our earlier examples because you do have some responsibility to your privilege.  The first is to recognize and acknowledge where you are privileged.  Be grateful rather than proud. Celebrate your good fortune without laying claim to these privileges as if they were virtues you earned.  

 

But where you are privileged, you have responsibility.  Take the case of intelligence.  Sure, there are natural variations in intelligence and you can’t do anything to change that.  What you can do however, is to maximize where you are strong.  You can work to overcome your natural deficits with additional effort.  You can capitalize on the places where you have natural gifts to make them work for you.  But I want to be really honest.  Work cannot bridge every divide.  That’s ok too.  Your responsibility isn’t to be something you’re not.  You are only responsible to be the best version of yourself possible.

 

Think back to attractiveness.  Like I said, much of that will be good luck, but you can spoil that luck through neglect and abuse of your body.  Don’t do that.  Don’t waste any advantage through neglect of yourself.  Even if you’re not gifted with big wins in the looks department, you can attend to the strengths that you do have; you can exercise, have excellent hygiene, dress your body in a way that flatters you.  What you should not do is to neglect yourself because you are not perfect.  No one is perfect; there is no ideal.  

 

Think too about a few of the natural traits of personality I mentioned.  Some people are just naturally anxious.  If that’s you, you can work on that anxiety, build tools and strategies to cope with it so it doesn’t hamstring you and prevent you from finding joy and seeking new experiences.  Again, this is something those who are privileged to live without anxiety do not have to do.  That’s great for them; they are lucky.  That’s what privilege is. 

 

Learn to identify the places where effort can fill in the blanks that luck has left.  You can’t change everything about who you are boys.  You shouldn’t try to.  But as you learn more about who you want to be, find the places where luck left you short and decide if there are ways you can supplement luck with effort to get you closer to your goal.  

 

A few other notes on privilege.  First, privilege exists because of inequity.  That’s literally what it means actually.  Privilege stems from the fact that we are not all granted the same body, the same mind, the same family, the same community, the same education, etc.  The unequal distribution of bodies, minds, and experiences is at the heart of why some people have advantages over others.  For those privileges which exist that can be eradicated through social change, you should fight to erase privilege even if you are its benefactor because underlying all privilege is inequity.

 

Most privilege isn’t something you can decide you don’t want and choose to give back.  I can’t just decide tomorrow that I’m not a hetrosexual white male, or that I wasn’t born with certain advantages.  There’s no receipt, there’s no one to return these privileges to, so don’t try to hide the fact they confer to you significant benefits or pretend you don’t have them.  

 

You should also understand that If you accept and embrace your privilege, you must also accept the responsibility of that privilege.  You cannot accept and extoll the joys of a privilege and bemoan it’s downsides.  That’s a bullshit way to live.   Think about it like this.   Imagine if you were lucky enough to be born clever and quick witted, and as a result, you were surrounded by people who enjoyed your wit and humor.  You never want for friends and companions and people seek out your company, validating you with smiles and laughter.  You enjoy this and so you hone the skill through use and repetition and the social advantages of this behavior reinforce your use of this skill.  It becomes part of who you are and how you are known to others.  Still, that same reputation may mean that it is hard for people to take you seriously, or they may want you to ‘perform’ which may at times make it hard to be authentic or serious.  Would you trade in being quick witted if you could?  Almost certainly not.

 

Most of the time, we would not, even if we could, trade in our privileges.  You don’t see lines outside plastic surgeons offices full of attractive people seeking to be made less attractive.  Like most of life, there are downsides even to things which are, in other ways, massively advantageous.  The nature of privilege means though that the advantages outweigh the drawbacks.  Don’t be the guy who accepts all the benefits of something and bitches that those benefits are imperfect.  Remember, the nature of privilege is that it is an advantage others do not have, so don’t complain about your good fortune because it is imperfect.  

 

On Not Changing Others

I spend a lot of time in these blogs teaching you boys how to be the best versions of yourselves you can be.  I believe, I have always believed, that much of who we are is up to us to choose and to create. But some of who we are isn’t up to us.  Some of who we are is just part of our general nature. It’s a set of proclivities, things about us that we tend towards. Our nature is the parts of us that we are without thinking, the parts of us we retreat to in times of trouble.  Our nature is the subset of how we work, how we love and want to be loved, it’s our natural temper and temperament, it’s how we prefer to play and to relax and recharge; it’s our energy levels, and our patience. Our nature is all of these things.  It’s probably much more, and while I have and will continue to preach to you that you can choose most of who you are in the world, including many aspects of your nature, this entry is about what you shouldn’t try to change, the nature of others.

In terms of learning how to be happiest and most successful interacting with others, almost nothing gets people into trouble more than not heeding this lesson, and while a lot of people think they know this, most don’t.  To put it very plainly boys, you should not ask someone to work, play, love, or behave against their nature. And there are a ton of ways that social circumstances favor some elements of human nature over others. These social preferences will set you up to believe, if you are not careful, that, for some people, being something more preferable is a matter of willpower.  That doesn’t matter. Never try to change someone’s nature boys. Understand who people are and either accept it or don’t, but do not try to change who people really are.  

I want to give you a few examples of what I mean.  You’ll hear terms like introvert and extrovert thrown around, mostly wrongly.  Where these terms have some use is in helping us understand, in broad terms, how people recharge, how much interaction with others they require, how generally social people prefer to be.  People tend to fall somewhere on a continuum between extremes. I think it’s useful to understand your nature with respect to these terms and ideas, but importantly, it’s useful to understand others in the same way, and to respect where they in turn fall on this continuum.  

Interestingly, much of the world prefers extraverts.  Extraverts are, generally, more readily socially rewarded, and the reasons why are obvious.  But what is also interesting is that we tend to understand that it’s a lot to ask an introvert to behave as an extravert.  It’s a lot to ask an introvert to attend a party, or to socialize for long periods. It’s a lot to ask an introvert to have social obligations back to back to back.  

However, it is equally difficult to ask an extravert to stay in and watch movies, or to be less social for long periods of time. Because staying in and relaxing appears to take less work, it is often presumed that it’s a lower bar ask.  It is not. Understand that any ask which requires someone to work against their general nature can only succeed in the short term, and will take a significant toll on the person asked to adjust.  

Another important thing to understand is that people have different requirements when it comes to work and energy.  Some people need frequent breaks, others need to finish a task before feeling comfortable stopping. There are those who can work massive amounts of hours without taking damage, and others who cannot without paying a heavy price.  There are those who can focus deeply and intently for long periods of time, who have a natural attention to detail and a preference for working until something is perfect. Others need to change tasks frequently, are inspired by completing a task rather than perfecting one.  There are those who need to work on bigger picture tasks or topics. Some people will require some physicality in their work to be satisfied, some need quiet, some chaos and others organization. You cannot expect someone to work the same way you work, to work at the same pace, or with the same preferences for completion and perfection.  Throughout your life, you will always be working with people.  

And I’m not just talking about work in the workforce.  You will work with coworkers for sure, but you will also work with friends, with your partner or spouse.  Working might be cooking together or coexisting in a household and sharing chores, it might mean being on a team with someone, or collaborating on a project for school, or even how you solve a level in a game with others.  Work takes on many forms. Know how the people in your life work and give them room to be who they are, to work how they work. Don’t expect others to behave the same way, have the same standards, work at the same pace, or have the same preferences.  Many people want others to work the same way they do because they intuitively , confuse working the same way with working as hard. Don’t fall into this trap boys, it’s easy, but it’s unfair and you will be the one to pay that price.  

Know too what to expect of people when it comes to how patient they are, and how much or how long they tolerate difficulty before losing their cool.   Everyone has their limits here, and some are much higher than others. Remember, you cannot expect people to exceed their abilities. You cannot push someone past their natural level of patience, nor can you punish someone for being unable to be more patient than they are.  Similarly, just because you have lost your own patience does not mean that some perfectly objective line has been crossed. Life is full of hardships, inconveniences, strifes, inequities, pains and discomforts. All of us have different tolerances for all of these. Don’t hold others to your level of reaction here, but also do not imagine that just because you have reached your own personal limit that the limit has, in fact, been reached.  All of us have to choose how much patience we need from the people in our lives. It’s perfectly fair to reject someone as a companion if they are more volatile than you are comfortable with, or if they have too little tolerance for your own limits.  

People also tend to have a certain requirement for attention, for affection, for physicality in their interactions. These are things you should assess and be comfortable with when you choose to have someone in your life. Know how much time they need, how much space. Know how much reassurance and attention they need to be happy, and to feel secure. Know how much or how little privacy someone needs. These are elements on a continuum, but for most people, they are generally set at a certain level. You will need to understand what people require rather than try to change their requirements. 

The larger point here is this, be responsible only for changing that which you control, and realize that you cannot and should not control other people.  It’s fair and reasonable to hold people to account for who they are, to decide to be choosy about the people we associate with, and to make changes to your decisions when you come to know someone better.  But where you will set yourself up for misery and failure is if you attempt to force someone to be who they are not. The goal isn’t to make others conform to our standards, that path will only yield resentments and failure.  The goal is to make choices in our relationships based on who people are, rather than on who we want them to be. 

On Being Seen and Being Invisible

You could be forgiven for believing, as most of us do at some point, hell at many points in our lives, that the world is watching you.  Turn on any video or movie and the world is very neatly divided into two kinds of actors, The MAIN CHARACTERS and THE EXTRAS.  The MAIN CHARACTERS are the ones who drive the story, the ones whose lives, whose minute and trivial trials and tribulations, whose sufferings and joys, infuse the story with  heart and movement.  THE EXTRAS, are of course, forgettable.  They clap in the background. They dine at the tables adjacent to the action.  Extras are in the frame, true,  but two seconds after the scene shifts, you will have forgotten them.

I’m going to tell you something here that may sound harsh, but which is nonetheless true and, if you really digest it, should offer you tremendous comfort.

You are an extra.

Nearly everyone, most of the time,  is an extra.  Right now, at this very moment, there are but a tiny handful of people in the world who may be thinking about you.

Maybe that sounds harsh, but it’s not.  Here’s what I mean.  Just because you are the leading men in the story of your own lives, does not mean that yours is THE STORY being told. Your story is, mostly, the story you are telling to yourself. The audience of your story is much more limited than you intuitively believe.  Most of the hours of most of your life, the primary audience for the story of you, is just you.  What this means is that most of the time, even if someone sees you, they aren’t not invested in you, forming opinions of you, or incorporating you into their story.  There is a name for this, and it’s called the spotlight effect, and it is the mistaken belief that you are being noticed more than you are.

And it goes a little further than that.  More importantly than the fact that you are not being noticed, you are not being remembered.  Think about it like this.  How much of your time do you think about yourself?  About how you feel, your plans, your worries, your joys?  How much time, honestly, do you spend thinking about people you don’t know, about people who happened to be somewhere you happened to be at?

We think about the people in our lives, that is certain, but we think generally, about how they interact with us, how we interact with them.  We think about their impact on our lives, our impact on theirs, we think about our conflicts, our loves, our obligations, about what we want from people and what we want to give to others.

And if that’s how we think, that’s how everyone else thinks.  Which means that, just like you don’t remember THE EXTRAS in your story, no one remembers you when your role in their life is fleeting, when you are THE EXTRA.

What this means is that, more often than not you are effectively, socially invisible.  There are some very notable exceptions to this.  The first are places where the social order is well defined by virtue of your age and the context of your interactions.  Here, think about school, where putting hundreds of kids in the same place all day creates a need for the development of cliques and where the requirements of finding romantic partners creates pressure to catch the attention of a romantic interest.  Think too about the workplace, where, unless you work from home, you will need to be visible to your coworkers, bosses, clients, etc.  Your coworkers, clients, bosses, they will  indeed see you.

So here’s the gist of it all boys.  In your everyday life, you will need to make choices on your level of visibility.  When you are just going about your day to day life, you can rest reasonably well assured that you are, for everyone around you, THE EXTRA.   It doesn’t matter overmuch if you slip and fall, or spill a little coffee on your shirt.  If anyone notices, they won’t remember.  To prove this, try to remember when that happened to someone you didn’t know.  Chances are good that, unless the situation was rather extreme, you don’t remember.  You are, for most of the people in the world, someone they don’t know, and someone they are not paying attention to or forming memories about.  This invisibility means that you can go about your life more secure, more confident, more self contained.  You are, to most people, most of the time, background noise.  Revel in the freedom and confidence that being invisible gives you.  For most of the people you meet, you are THE EXTRA.

Just as importantly, there are times when you need to know that you are very much not invisible.  Know when you are not THE EXTRA, and adjust your expectations for yourself for those situations when you are not a bit character, but when you have a more central part in someone else’s story.  There are times you want to be seen, and when you will be seen and remembered even if you don’t want to be.  There are also times when  you will need to be seen.  Know the circumstances of your life well enough to know when being socially invisible is desirable and when being visible and making impressions on others is required of you.  When you are required to be visible, be conscious of your visibility, of what your appearance says about you.  Make sure that you are in control of those impressions by controlling your manner of dress, your hygiene, your style, and your manners.  Tailoring the way you act to be perceived in the best possible light is not dishonest, it is a social requirement that all successful people match, whether it’s in the workplace, in a social or romantic setting.  Be yourself, but always try to be the best version of yourself possible.

I think I can summarize what I mean like this.  There is far too much social anxiety in the world boys, and most of your life, if you just remember a couple simple things, I think you’ll be much happier dealing with it.  No one is watching you anywhere nearly as closely as you are.  Keep track of yourself and your image, know your audience, and rest assured that everyone is just as scared as you are.

 

On Attention and Value

One of the most fundamental needs we all have is the need to be seen and valued.    To be seen, we have to rise to the attention of those we are seeking validation from, and how we do that, and the messages we send in that process are what I want to address here.

When we seek attention, we do so with the hope of being seen by those whose validation will count to us, will feed and fuel the social desire in all of us to be identified  as someone who is themselves, valuable.  This means that there is a relationship between the actor, who is us, and our audience, those we are seeking attention from.  An audience can be a single person, a peer group, an authority figure, or a broader social group, but any ask for attention is an ask to an audience.  When we seek attention, we are communicating to our audience a message about who we are, and very specifically, we are telling our audience what to value about us by telling them what we value in ourselves.

This is very important.  If we seek attention for the wrong things, our audience will value us for the wrong reasons and we won’t be fully seen.  It’s true that negative attention is still attention, but negative attention is no less effective in communicating to the audience what to value about you.  For example, if you seek attention by being shocking or outrageous, you are telling your audience that what you say or do matters less than your delight in being seen to do it.  You are telling your audience to see you only as a source of drama or frivolous entertainment.

Be mindful of the patterns in your need for attention as well.   Remember that the effects of the relationship between attention and how we are valued tend to accumulate.   For example, if you consistently seek attention for shallow things, your audience will assume that you are shallow, that your values match the self you are asking to be validated.  If you seek attention through negativity and complaining, your audience will assume that what you value is negativity and you will be thought of accordingly.  Know that the more you do something, the more you establish a trend, and the more entrenched in your audience’s mind it will be that that patter is who you are.  You will never be able to convince people that you are not your actions.

Seek attention then for the best parts of you.  Ask for attention for your achievements, for the things you are proud of about who you are and what you have done.  Ask the world to see you for what you offer to others, for the milestones you’ve crossed, for the hard work you’ve put into something.  Seek attention for your moments of strength of character. Highlight the times in your life when you showed your substance, when you were appreciative or loved, when you were grateful, when you were big-hearted.  Ask your audience to notice you at your best, and they will value the best parts of you because they will see what you yourself are proud of.

One important distinction.  There is a difference between asking for attention and asking for connection.  When you are asking to connect with someone, you will need to offer yourself to that person with less reservations.  You will need to be able to voice your concerns, to seek help and comfort, you will need to be able to show someone the side of you that is not always your best and, indeed, sometimes your worst.  When we connect, we have to be vulnerable, and vulnerability necessarily involves offering yourself to someone in ways that sometimes show a truth about who you are that is ugly, or raw.  This is different than seeking attention, and we’ll talk in another post about how to be vulnerable in ways that deepen your connections with people.

By all means boys, ask the world for attention.  Put the world on notice that you exist,  but do it the right way and for the right reasons.  Make sure that when you are asking to be seen that this is a moment you want your audience to remember, and that the message you are sending is one you want added to the story of who you are.