Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Inspiration’

I took the above picture Monday morning, at the peak of Runyon Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. I knew by Sunday evening I needed to be here. You see, I’m a 49er fan.

Sports fandom is a fascinating phenomenon. While there are a minority of sports aficionados who watch for the artistry of sport, a majority of the public watch sports to support athletes on our team, whether the Niners, the Ravens, the Yankees, the Lakers, or whoever, all because, for no other reason, they wear a specific jersey. Our jersey. A minuscule minority of us will ever know any of the athletes personally, and yet we embrace these gladiators, living vicariously through their triumphs and downfalls. We revel in their victories and weep in their defeats. No societal phenomenon can summon the fierce passion from otherwise sensible people like sports can.

Yet if we look at the greater picture, being a fan of the home team is often a losing proposition. The NFL has 32 teams, which means 31 teams end their seasons either with a loss or missing the playoffs entirely. The most dominant professional sports team in America, the New York Yankees, won 27 World Series titles, which means their fans have tasted bitter defeat for 85 seasons, or three-quarters of the Yankees existence. If being a fan means tying our pride to championships, then we’ve assured ourselves of disappointment 75% of the time AT BEST.

Last night’s Super Bowl loss reminded me of the fragility of our ego. When we invest our personal selves, attaching our character to something beyond our control, we put our egos at risk, knowing that failure could leave us shattered. When we define failure to an event that objectively occurs often, like losing, we guarantee ourselves a life that is constantly broken.

Which is why I needed to hike to the top of Runyon. A therapy to help me reattach my ego to sturdier stuff. Stuff that doesn’t fail 75% of the time. Like breathing. Or the warmth of the sun. Or the taste of ice water after a workout. Or receiving the immensity of the world.

I find when I define my life through these life-affirming constants, somehow life no longer seems like a series of failures, but like a place of wonder. A place where I get to see children grow, receiving the lessons they will carry throughout their lives. A place where I get to make real a story that was once a mere thought in another human being’s imagination. A place where I get to witness from thousands of miles away a rookie quarterback making his 10th career start in the Super Bowl, nearly leading his team to what would have been the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.

Hiking to the peak of Runyon doesn’t change past events. But it does help change my perspective on them. A perspective that better reflects who I truly am. A perspective that more accurately defines what I can control and what I can’t. A perspective of quiet appreciation.

Congrats on a great season, Niners.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

courtesy of wikipedia

Carlton Pearson, image courtesy of wikipedia

In one of my very first posts, I wrote that Julia Kozerski needn’t worry about losing herself while pursuing her goal of losing weight. My logic was that her movement towards a healthy body is inherently a dramatic, radical change, which, even if the change is positive, could feel like losing oneself since she was accustomed to defining herself by her unhealthy weight. One requirement of pursuing a big goal is re-evaluating how we define ourselves, and being prepared to release long-held beliefs if they become obstacles to our mission. I still believe that a pursuing a noble goal with a fulfilling journey is immeasurably valuable, and therefore worth pursuing at any cost, but one story educated me on how high that cost can be.

Last month, National Public Radio’s This American Life broadcast a story on Carlton Pearson, a once-superstar fundamentalist preacher and board member of Oral Roberts University who, in 2002, began to preach that all people, regardless of deeds, sexual orientation, or faith, will go to heaven. What would be known as the Gospel of Inclusion, Mr. Pearson discussed the night that convinced him to diverge from his fundamental theology:

“I was watching the evening news. The Hutus and Tutsis were returning from Rwanda to Uganda… Now, Majeste was in my lap, my little girl. I’m eating the meal, and I’m watching these little kids with swollen bellies. And it looks like their skin is stretched across their little skeletal remains… And I, with my little fat-faced baby, and a plate of food and a big-screen television. And I said, “God, I don’t know how you can call yourself a loving, sovereign God and allow these people to suffer this way and just suck them right into Hell,” which is what was my assumption.

And I heard a voice say within me, “So that’s what you think we’re doing?”

And I remember I didn’t say yes or no. I said, “That’s what I’ve been taught.” 

“And what would change that?”

“Well, they need to get saved.”

“And how would that happen?”

“Well, somebody needs to preach the Gospel to them and get them saved.”

“So if you think that’s the only way they’re going to get saved is for somebody to preach the Gospel to them and that we’re sucking them into Hell, why don’t you put your little baby down, turn your big-screen television off, push your plate away, get on the first thing smoking, and go get them saved?”

And I remember I broke into tears… I remember thinking, God, don’t put that guilt on me. You know I’ve given you the best 40 years of my life. Besides, I can’t save the whole world… And that’s where I remember, and I believe it was God saying:

“Precisely. You can’t save this world. That’s what we did. Do you think we’re sucking them into Hell? Can’t you see they’re already there? That’s Hell. You keep creating and inventing that for yourselves. I’m taking them into My presence.”

And I thought, well, I’ll be. That’s weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. That’s where the pain comes from. We do that to each other, and we do it to ourselves… I saw how we create Hell on this planet for each other. And for the first time in my life, I did not see God as the inventor of Hell.” – Carlton Pearson, This American Life, “Heretic”

Mr. Pearson followed his heart, despite decades of believing otherwise and the material wealth that came with it. How high was the cost?

Russell Cobb Finally, in 2004, in an official ceremony, The Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops formally named him a heretic. Carlton’s congregation, once 5,000-strong, dropped to around 200 people with some very worldly consequences.

Carlton Pearson I mean, my offerings dropped $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a week.

Russell Cobb $30,000, $40,000, $50,000?

Carlton Pearson Yeah. My offerings, my Sunday morning offerings, about half a million dollars a month almost. I mean, salaries of $100,000 a month. You know, how can you operate if I’m paying $100,000 a month in salaries?” Transcript, This American Life, “Heretic”

His congregation left him, the greater fundamentalist community shunned him, and now he was saddled with debt. Was it worth it?

“My friend, Bishop Yvette Flunder of Fellowship International in San Francisco, is a same-gender-loving female who’s been with the same partner for about 18 years. I spoke for one of her conferences two or three years ago. Most of the people that were there, if not all of them, were gay, but followers of Jesus and spirit-filled, tongue-talkers, deliverance, the whole thing.

When I finished speaking, and this has never happened to me in the history of my life, when I finished preaching, they stood and applauded me. I preached the Gospel of Inclusion. They stood. And she asked me to walk down through the center aisle and let the people hug me because she knew I had been bruised from my other people that had kicked me out of the charismatic world.

So these people start hugging me, and holding me, and loving me, and shaking my hand, and where everybody was crying and stuff. And when I turned around, she had come off from where she was. And they had a little vat, a little something, a container with warm water in it. And they asked me to sit down and take my shoes off, and they washed my feet. She washed my feet. That’s one of the holiest moments of my life.” – Carlton Pearson, This American Life, “Heretic”

I won’t attempt to quantify these events to measure whether his radical philosophical shift was worth the hardships that came with it, but the fact Rev. Pearson continues to preach the Gospel of Inclusion speaks volumes. His story also makes me consider how wealth, fame, and power amplify action, and the burden that comes should such resources reinforce an action in conflict with our own heart’s desire.

Whether we agree with him or not, Rev. Pearson valued his own truth over the material benefits of someone else’s. I don’t know which path is harder to follow, but I do know the value of going to bed having lived that day following your heart’s desire. I pray Rev. Pearson has many such evenings.

Read Full Post »

courtesy of maxpreps.com

“It’s not about money and it’s not about a paycheck. It’s about a mission, and it’s about walking away from this life making your little acre a little bit better than when you found it.”– Coach Bob Ladouceur, at a Jan. 4th, 2013 press conference where he resigned as head coach of the De La Salle football team

If you followed any kind of Bay Area high school sports, you knew about the legendary De La Salle Spartan football program. Named high school national champions 7 times, 12 times as best the team in California. When California finally instituted a state championship bowl game in 2006, De La Salle appeared in all seven, winning five. Coach Lad never had a losing season in his entire 34-year career at De La Salle, including 19 perfect seasons, most of them strung together in one mythical run that captured headlines across the nation when De La Salle did not lose for 12 years (1992-2004).

Many have made pilgrimages to this Mecca of high school football, looking for some kind of shrine to football greatness, adorned with banners, trophies, a state-of-the-art weight room, maybe even a stadium that could rival a top Division I college program.  But if one were to walk onto the De La Salle campus, no such shrine exists. No banners. No trophies. No remarkable locker room or stadium. No idols of football greatness to be found. It would be like going to Warren Buffet’s house in Omaha and expecting a 10,000 acre mansion, and finding a modest 5-bedroom home that was bought for $31,500 in 1958.

That level of understatement is just how Coach Lad wants it.

It’s not about the streak, or being the all-time winningest. I appreciate the benchmark and the recognition of the long haul and my hard work, but it’s about being a positive part of so many young kids’ lives. It’s pretty humbling.” – Coach Bob Ladouceur, “No secrets to De La Salle’s success,” ESPN.COM

So how do you motivate teenagers to excel without the carrots of gold and glory?

“I think the key is not focusing on the wins because wins are outcomes and I keep telling our kids that if we’re going to gauge our success on how many wins we accumulate or how many losses we receive, they’re just not good indicators. We look for other things: learning of life skills, whether these kids can come together and truly respect each other and admire each other, and hopefully, in a certain sense, learn to love each other.”HS Coaching Legends: Bob Ladouceur, Football

So what does one do after receiving such motivation?

“Preparation is a high priority. It’s also about offseason hard work. I tell the boys that in order to succeed you have to be working to get yourself into a position where success is possible.”
“Preparation is not fun. It’s hard work and difficult, but doing something difficult builds character. It’s difficult to have fun with drudgery and repetition. The fun is on game night, making it pay off.” – Coach Bob Ladouceur, “No secrets to De La Salle’s success,” ESPN.COM

Moving beyond the limited perspective of one’s self and individual accomplishment and focusing on the intangible, the spiritual, on supporting the team and one another. Focusing that motivation into a daily regiment of difficult, challenging, consistent practice, just looking for improvement every day. Such “drudgery” makes me believe success is only awe-inspiring from the outside; from the inside, success is the simple, daily combination of tremendous effort and the satisfaction that one has moved closer to something greater.

Read Full Post »

another_sad_christmas_by_sindesire

Photo Credit: isthisrevolutionary.com

Sitting on my couch on this Christmas Eve in the home where I was raised, I can’t help but reflect upon the holiday season. Personally, it’s my favorite time of year. I revel in the Christmas cliches: presents, decorations, kids running around, family photo shoots, feasts at the dinner table, the whole nine yards. But as I’ve matured I find that just as I’m about to enter holiday ecstasy my brain puts on the emotional brakes.

Part of this impulse come from the memory of those holiday highs of my youth quickly turning to bouts of depression when the presents were opened, relatives left, and the Christmas lights turned off. But I also find a healthy dose of perspective is both essential in recognizing the true value of our blessings and a tool to building a stronger, more compassionate community. Several years ago at my sister’s wedding, the residing priest encouraged us to pray for those seeking love, hoping to repair broken relationships, an eloquent yet stern reminder that the most joyful of celebrations can be excruciating for those witnesses on the outside. The insight to recognize and address such silent suffering amid such joy must be tremendously profound.

This time around, my perspective-building logical side asked: “Will the holidays joyful for everyone?” Considering the news of the past week, that’s an emphatic no. Of course, the holidays never are. Even if the horrors at Sandy Hook never occurred, there are thousands still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, others grieving for lost loved ones, more without a home to return to, or worse, without a family.

I find simply recognizing those struggles alone bring a greater gratitude and meaning to the gifts of Christmas. This year I want to take it a step further. I’ve made it my mission to find a place to volunteer a few hours on Christmas Day. In previous years I would merely contemplate the idea of volunteering before retreating, but this year I’m following through, calling up a few of the homeless shelters and breakfast programs in Oakland and Berkeley. A few hours won’t solve all the challenging circumstances of those in need, but I hope that, at the very least, I can turn a few witnesses into participants in my celebration, if only for a few moments. In return, I’m hoping to gain some perspective. Now that would be a great gift.

Read Full Post »


“Pursue fame and fortune and victory at all costs… but make it a contest, a ritual, a spectacle, and honour your antagonist afterwards for his strength and bravery. Abandon reserve and live urgently, vitally: surrender the abstractions of the mind to the primacy of the body… They have engaged in the most baldly punishing and yet most human of all pursuits—chasing the high pitch of gesture and glamour to which all artists aspire, creating beauty through the body in the face of inconceivable pains and dangers.” – Oli Goldstein, “Violence and the Sacred

Last Saturday I watched in horror, along with the entire Filipino nation, as our Manny Pacquiao, our Fighting Pride of the Philippines, succumbed to a destructive Juan Manuel Marquez right hand. In a fight where Pac boxed his best rounds against his storied rival, where he was knocked down for the first time in 13 years only to respond with a knockdown of his own, where he rained rights and lefts upon his opponent’s head with conviction, staggering and bloodying his foe, making a strong case for a convincing victory of his own, a conscious-shattering counter that annihilated our hero, leaving us with an image we thought we’d never see: Manny Pacquiao, lifeless on the canvas.

“…it hurts kind of beautiful.” Shivaree

As an artist, I live to create compelling masterpieces. Performances that will be honored and remembered throughout the ages. Pieces of art that speak to our humanity. But what makes a masterpiece a masterpiece? What makes anything universally human? Deep down inside, as painful as it was to watch, I’m certain that the battle I witnessed last week was a masterpiece, and in my opinion Manny’s greatest fight in the last 10 years. Somehow, this hurt is an integral part of the masterpiece equation.

I don’t pretend to know much about boxing. I’ll let the experts argue the technical qualities of Manny’s fights. All I know is that since knocking out Miguel Cotto in 2009, I felt Manny had technically solid performances, but were mostly forgettable overall. The typical post-2009 Pacquiao fight would consist of Manny feeling out the first couple of rounds, then definitively scoring combinations to win rounds 3-8, only to coast to a victorious decision, still winning late rounds but clearly fighting not to lose. Watching Pac fight during this time frame would be akin to watching Pavarotti in concert and expecting Nessun Dorma, but instead getting his backup vocals to the Spice Girl’s Viva Forever. A good performance from one of the greatest of all time, but he’s clearly capable of so much more.

After losing a split decision to Tim Bradley (a bad decision by the judges, but Pac’s coasting had cost him), and a potentially lucrative superfight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. yet again postponed, something changed. Instead of waiting for the superfight (and guaranteed fortune) that seemed to never come, Manny took the courageous route and risked all the momentum of a Mayweather superfight and accepted yet another fight with Marquez, a man he had yet to defeat definitively.

Manny could have approached the fight like his recent bouts, tentatively picking his spots, doing just enough to win each round. That would’ve been smart. But this fight went beyond a simple win, beyond the opinions of three judges at ringside. This was about legacy. This was about ending the dispute over who had TRULY won the past three meetings. This was about defeating a rival in the manner that had catapulted Pacquiao to superstardom. He had to knock Marquez out. This wasn’t smart, but it’s very human.

For six rounds, Manny was Manny again. He unleashed his arsenal with unrelenting speed and power. He pushed the action even after dominating the round. He responded to getting knocked down with even more aggression. He saw blood dripping down Marquez’s nose, and he saw the end in sight. He took his chance, with only 2 seconds left in the round, in front of the entire world, allowing himself to be vulnerable for one more attack, and lost it all.

There is an honor in being true to ones self, unleashing both one’s great power and vulnerability for the world to see. For 17 minutes, 58 seconds, Manny was his true self, a ferocious attacker, willing to take a punch to give two. Marquez also stayed true to his core as an elite counter-puncher, bravely withstanding blow after blow as he patiently waited for an opening to unleash his devastation. What resulted was a boxing masterpiece, an epic struggle of two men providing their absolute best in the face of destruction.

As an actor, I have the luxury of risking everything for an ideal of a person in an imagined world, living in a temporary danger while keeping my personal self safe. Boxers like Pacquiao and Marquez don’t have that luxury. If such people are willing to dedicate their entire lives to cement a legacy, or to climb massive walls, or to find God, then the stakes in the imagined world must be just as high for artistic masterpieces. Works of art that allow people experience moments of extreme struggle and immeasurable risk to help inform the real struggles and risks in real life. Sounds like fun.

Read Full Post »

https://i0.wp.com/cdn0.sbnation.com/uploads/chorus_image/image/2671901/jake_the_snake_roberts.0_standard_352.0.jpg

When I decided to write this blog about how to achieve success and great achievement, I felt it was important to acknowledge that travelling the road towards success is really hard. I didn’t want to be just another guy who put up inspirational quotes or feel-good stories of amazing feats; to feature only great victories would dismiss all the other stories of people who are in the middle of their journey, who are still in the thick of extraordinary adversity upon which great success is founded. I wanted to feature stories where the outcome was still in doubt, where the protagonists are still trying to find their way, where the demons are still alive and well.

For such a story, I go back to the world of pro wrestling. If the story of Eddie Guerrero is one of a man who found redemption, then the story of Jake “The Snake” Roberts is of one still trying to find his way out of the wilderness.

The wrestling exploits of Jake Roberts, considered one of the greatest in-ring performers of the late 80’s and early 90’s, have been overshadowed by his battles with alcohol and drug addiction. His troubles were documented in the 1999 film Beyond the Mat (a real-life precursor to Mickey Rourke’s critically-acclaimed 2008 film The Wrestler) where Jake was being interviewed while on crack. Internet videos of Jake’s intoxicated stupors at independent wrestling events have sprouted over the years, the most infamous appearing on TMZ in 2008.  Reports on wrestling news websites of Jake’s attempts to rehab, only to relapse again, appear with tragic regularity, a sick reminder for all to how far such a beloved icon had fallen.

Jake’s most recent attempt at recovery, however, is showing some promise. “Diamond” Dallas Page (DDP), a former wrestling protege who gained viral fame after helping a man lose 140 pounds in 10 months, brought Jake into his Atlanta home where, through a steady program of diet & yoga designed by DDP, they hope to get Jake in shape for one final run in pro wrestling.  To occupy his time constructively, Jake is learning to use a computer, and has even created new Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts. One touching YouTube video features Jake discussing what he is grateful for on Thanksgiving. So far, Jake has been sober for almost a month and lost 40 pounds.

In November, about two weeks into DDP’s program, Jake gave a candid radio interview about his rehabilitation and how he once contemplated suicide:

You start looking at yourself at that point and you hate yourself…I had a lot of shame, a lot of anger, a lot of freakin’ anger, basically I had given up. I didn’t want to live. I had no hope. I had no dreams. I hope nobody out there gets to that point, but when you quit dreaming, when you quit having hope, it’s a pretty goddamn horrible place to be. You don’t care if you breathe. You don’t care about anything.” – Jake Roberts, Big WrestleShark Show, 98.4 Pulse FM, UK

I’ll save the commentary for today and allow you to draw your own lessons, but for now I urge you to read the full story on Jake’s rehab with DDP. Here’s to hoping that Jake’s long journey ends with the redemption he’s always desired.

Read Full Post »

For the last six years I’ve been ever so fortunate in that out of all the survival jobs actors take to support themselves, I get to teach chess to kids. It never ceases to amaze me how children can embrace such a complex, nuanced game that baffles most of the parents who pick them up after class. Which is why I was especially intrigued by the critically-acclaimed documentary Brooklyn Castle which follows the most dominant middle school chess program in the nation, that of New York City’s I.S. 318, a Title I school where more than 65% of the students live below the federal poverty line.

The featured players all have their own compelling stories. Alexis sees chess as a stepping stone to support his immigrant family. Bobo is the most boisterous and charismatic, tying his chess ambitions with his own political aspirations (including a run at the class presidency). Rochelle aspires to be the first African-American female chess master. Justus is already a chess master as a 6th grader and enters IS 318 with heavy expectations. As a student with ADHD, Patrick uses chess to build his concentration and confidence.

At the center of this program is chess coach Elizabeth Vicary Spiegel. I was especially curious about her perspective on success on how to teach it, especially since she must walk the fine line of pushing her students to perform at the highest of standards while helping them cope with the volatile emotions that come from both the pressures of high-level competition and the tumultuous years of adolescence.

On the one hand, Ms. Spiegel (who at the time of filming was still the unmarried Ms. Vicary) stated that a child’s success comes from values we’ve mentioned in previous weeks: hard work, perseverance, determination. She once had a student who lost his first 21 chess games and after two years of sheer doggedness placed first in his section at nationals.

On the other hand, however, she also encourages “a level of negative thinking”:

One [great thinking habit from chess] is this practice of double-checking yourself relentlessly. That you can play really well for fourty (sp) moves, and then you make one miscalculation, and your opponent sees it, and you lose…a level of negative thinking, of finding the problems in your thoughts—and not being like, “Oh, I have a great idea, I’m fantastic.” You know, you have an idea, and you’re excited about it, and then you go and try to find every possible thing that might be wrong with it, and make sure it’s really correct.  – Elizabeth Spiegel, The Creativity of Chess: a Conversation with Elizabeth Spiegel

This seems to run directly counter with my own philosophy on immediately acting upon one’s inspiration. Of course, improv and chess aren’t exactly the same. One is an art form propelled by the strongest choices, and doesn’t really deal in the realm of correctness. The other is a game with discrete rules and a defined objective, where correct moves bring one closer to that objective and incorrect moves take one farther away. It’s at this point where we might ask what does real life more closely resemble: improv or chess?

But upon further examination, I think this question implies a false mutual exclusivity. Great improvisers constantly dissect their performances and look for opportunities for stronger choices. Chess players must often rely on their inspiration as they move farther away from established opening lines and into unfamiliar positions where the “correct” move isn’t obvious. So if there isn’t mutual exclusivity between these philosophies, how can relentless evaluation AND spur-of-the-moment inspiration co-exist and lead to success?

I can’t give a simple answer, but we can start by imagining situations where each philosophy shines. Relentless evaluation works best in situations where time is not a factor, like playing mid-game in a chess tournament, receiving notes after an improv show, or testing the structural integrity of a skyscraper. And the evaluation must consist of objective judgments on a performance, and not indictments of personal character. Ms. Spiegel reinforces the power of objectivity:

“You know—you’ve lost, and you’re crying—and what chess teaches is that understanding what just happened does make it easier.  And I think that’s an important thing for [the students] to understand in life, as well. Nothing is really so terrible once you figure it out—and that working through something does make it better.”  – Elizabeth Spiegel, The Creativity of Chess: a Conversation with Elizabeth Spiegel

This objective study provides the foundation so our creativity and inspiration can shine.  We rely upon inspiration when time is of the essence and we can’t afford to hesitate, like when we’re playing chess with a minute left on the clock, or we’re improvising a scene, or we have an epiphany on how the world works. We need these bursts of creativity to expand the limits of what we already know. Once the urgency that birthed the inspiration has passed, evaluation takes over again, thus restarting cycle of constant study and performance. And while material award and fear of failure can provide motivation, I’m inclined to believe that the cycle itself is its own reward, since the infinity of the cycle is one of the few things that can fulfill the human heart.

I.S. 318 continued to dominate long after Brooklyn Castle finished filming. In April of this year, even after facing program-threatening budget cuts, I.S. 318 became the first middle school to win the US Chess Federation High School National Championship. Knowing what these kids have overcome, do we have any excuses?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »