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Tag Archives: Inspiration
“There was a hermit monk living in a cave in the mountains of Japan.
He was a talented artist, and over time he painted a picture of a tiger on the wall of the cave. He was extremely meticulous in his work, and it took him several years to finish. When it was finally done, the tiger was so realistic that when he looked at it he became frightened.”
Excerpt From: Goldstein, Joseph. “Mindfulness.”
How much of our day is spent on “Painted Tigers?” In this Zen story, the monk becomes frightened of his own creation. But, not just his creation, what the creation represents. If it is indeed an image that becomes real in his mind, it could certainly eat him now or if he stays in his cave, it could eat him in the future.
Can an image kill you? Of course not, or can it?
What you hold in you mind, an image from the past that hurt you, an image that makes you apprehensive of the future will define your reality. I’ll take myself for example. Cold calling artists I would like to work with fills me with dread. Why? Any time I reach out to someone I do not know already, who doesn’t know my work, there is always the possibility of rejection, and that is a painted tiger.
I remember all the times I called people in the past and they rejected me – painted tiger. Never mind that I’m relatively successful and I have also reached out with great success. But, in the moment I don’t remember the successes, only the failures. Rationally I know why, because they cause psychic pain!
Our minds are optimized for two things: to seek pleasure and to avoid pain. Of the two, avoiding pain (like being attacked by a Tiger!) is the stronger of the two instincts, and on a primal level your mind doesn’t differentiate between a tiger and a phone call. So, it becomes easy that in our attempts to avoid pain we paralyze ourselves.
The kicker is that paralysis also causes pain. The pain of failure and regret for having not acted in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle. But, even as the cycle may have started many years ago with real pain, it is now and into your future only being perpetuated by a painted tiger.
You have a choice: You can continue to stare at your painted tigers and scare yourself into inaction. Or, you can choose to see it for what it is: an image from your past that is ruining your present and future.
By doing so, you paint over it and reclaim your power. What are your “painted tigers?” Declaring them publicly is a way to cast them aside. Feel free to use the comments to share.
Have you checked the wind direction lately?
Where are you going?
Are you still on course?
Did you decide along the way to head in another much more desirable direction than where you first intended to go, but suddenly find you are still headed towards your first destination?
Has a storm risen up, forcing you to set down for a while to wait for better conditions?
Have you followed a tributary inland and now find yourself fighting your way upstream?
Has the sea totally dried up and you find your boat aground?
After you choose a destination, it’s easy to not notice what’s happening around you if the first part of the journey goes smoothly. You think you’re focused, but focused on what? It’s easy to wait until it’s too late to change course. We have so many distractions, so many things trying to get our attention that it’s no wonder that obvious changes to the environment can take us by surprise.
Any port in a storm is often a mistake. It’s preferable to sail through the tempest. You may know you don’t have the skill set to enter the storm, but if you can survive you will have the skills forever after. No storm can then frighten you and you may even welcome them as they put you at your best.
Just be careful not to create storms where they don’t exist. They come from changing your destination from week to week because you can’t see past the horizon. That boat just sails in circles.
Check the wind direction, set the sails, push off and stay the course. But, remember that the only constant is change. Conditions may change to the degree that you abandon your ultimate destination for another. It’s life, we all need to do that from time to time, just make sure you are not compromising your truth or the desire of your soul.
So, have courage, be adaptable, watch the sea carefully and listen to the breeze as it whispers. The wind will tell you everything you need to know.
In the “Untethered Soul,” Michael Singer brings up the following concept: Picture a blind person with a red tipped white cane walking down the street. They move the cane back and forth tapping. They are not trying to find where to walk, they know where to walk. They are determining where not to walk. By staying on the middle path of their trajectory, they are staying safely between any obstacles.
We have a terrible tendency as humans to swing between extremes as we make our way. We hit obstacles at the edges and swing back the other way until we find an obstacle at the other extreme. These obstacles tend to be the sharp rocks of our own fears, biases, neuroses and perceptions. You find gossip, disrespect, paranoia, rejection and bullying there. Do you want to know why people get hysterical at work? They are out on one of the edges.
We’ve all known co-workers who are addicted to drama. Well, that drama is found at the edges. As they are getting scraped up by immovable objects, they are also doing all they can to drag others there as well. Before long, they will soon careen to the other extreme and beckon you there also. Left to these swings, a effective, energetic workplace can soon turn toxic.
There are many workplaces that will mistake this for progress. It’s not progress, it’s reactive, needless activity that in and of itself is wasted energy. It pushes people out or burns them out.
I’m not talking about the strenuous and rewarding action of forward momentum. I’m talking about impediments to forward momentum. A person on the edge is moving side to side, not forward or backward.
It’s most easily seen in our political climate. The polarization is this endless careening from side to side. One side holding their position on the edge against the other at the other edge. When administrations change sides, so do the parties. It creates intractability and stasis and it’s the people who lose. Where there is no middle, no progressives, there is no progress.
I think everyone, in every workplace, on every crew, has the best intentions of acting in the best interest of helping the endeavor be the best it can be. But, we’re human. Our natural tendency is to serve our self interest first. Once we do that, we’re headed towards the edge.
So, the trick to moving forward is to walk past the drama on either side of you and remain focused on progress. Check your own drama and correct course when necessary. In this sense, the middle way becomes the only way. If you stay in the calm middle, you can keep moving forward, even if in your peripheral vision you can see someone thrashing about on the edge. It doesn’t mean you have to join them there.
If you want work effectively and you want to get things done, take the middle path. Beckon others there also. Take the middle path.
Let go. Yes, that’s it, let go. There comes a certain time where you have to let yourself fall into whatever it is you need to fall into. It could be organization, it could be disorganization. It could be progress, it could be regress. Only you know the answer to the question.
Anger is pointless, fear is pointless, so is joy if you are not walking to the edge and then falling through the barrier that you have set up for yourself there. This is business, this is life.
Sometimes, letting go is walking through the fire and sometimes it’s just walking away. Most of the time, the barrier looks like a dense forest that appears beautiful in its complexity, but too difficult to ever make your way through. It’s funny how we see accomplishment as pushing, pushing, pushing, when it is really relaxing into your fears and letting go of the barriers to success that exist only in your mind. The barriers that you’ve developed through years of positive and negative experiences that have taught you where the boundaries are. The boundaries appear to protect you from too much pain. But, they also protect you from too much joy, too much accomplishment and too much peace.
Walk up to those boundaries, relax and walk through. Let go.
There is a saying: be nice to assistants, receptionists and car valets. One day, they’ll be green lighting your projects.
There are many ways of doing business in Hollywood. The stereotype is the Agent as Shark. Plowing a way through the ocean, eating everything in sight and generally causing havoc. When you have the leverage, it’s easy to do that. But, with experience you learn that you should rarely do things because you can. Doing things because you can has no view of the long term. Instead, you do things that will be fair to everyone involved now.
You’re not kind to those under you because someday you may be under them, you’re kind because it’s right. Because, whether you realize it or not, when people are working under you, the way you conduct yourself teaches them how to treat those that will be working under them someday. It’s like the cycle of abuse. You can perpetuate it or you can break it.
You have a choice. You can continue Hollywood’s bad behavior or choose to take a moment, think about it, and make the choice between coldness or empathy, bullying or mentoring. Almost always, people are doing the very best they can. Berating them won’t make them better. It will freeze them where they are. In the end, if people disappoint you, you probably haven’t done a good enough job of teaching them what they need to know. Such is the mystery of power.
Kindness and understanding is not situational. It’s an operating system.
Around the WPA offices, I am sometimes called Obi-Wan. I try not to take this as the old, decrepit and hooded Alec Guinness of Star Wars, but rather, the sage, father figure and hooded Alec Guinness that is all at once serene and powerful. I suppose we all tell
ourselves the stories we need to hear.
When I was a young agent in New York. Well, a younger agent, I was prone to getting angry about the weirdest things, little things, big things, anything really. One day, I actually got a call from the head of the agency in Los Angeles, informing me that if I kept throwing my phone headset against the wall and breaking it, I would have to supply my own. Fair enough I thought at the time.
I’m not sure when I realized what a waste of time my emotions were becoming or when I realized the amount of mistakes I was making sans calmness, but at some point I turned over a new leaf. As I think back, I wonder if it was inexperience that made me angry or my fear of failure when I found myself in unfamiliar territory, or an addiction to the drama of it all.
I think I calmed down for good when one day, on a negotiation I said something out of anger to a producer, who instantly used it as leverage and not only beat the hell out of me in the deal, but then he (of course) used the comment to deride me to my client. I ended up losing that client, even though what sparked my outburst in the first place was my feeling the client was being insulted and taken advantage of. Hard lesson.
Once I turned the corner, I was left with a few undeniable philosophies:
- We’re making movies, not saving the world. We’re white collar executives, not Seal Team 6. No one dies in what we do if we are close to competent. In the movie industry, it’s only the extreme hubris of a Ryan Miller that will kill a Sarah Jones. 99.999 percent of the time we are perfectly safe.
- If your client will walk away from a negotiation, you can go hard because you have all the leverage. If your client is desperate, you’ll have to accept what they give you and there’s no use in being upset about it. Supply and demand.
- At this point I’ve seen so many people get into trouble through their emotions that it’s hard to miss the lesson. I have passed on so many clients after hearing their reputation as a screamer on set or unreasonable in negotiations. It means at the least that they don’t understand principles 1 or 2. At the most, they are just assholes. In a business based on repeat business, they will have a short shelf life. Sometimes, they are in the “so talented, they’ll be around forever category.” But, that just puts them in my “life’s too short category.”
I’m left with the image of Abe Vigoda’s Tessio in the Godfather as they put him in the car to drive him to his execution. They told him it wasn’t personal. It was just business and he understood with a resigned calmness. For him, it was life and death, well pretend life and death anyway, but again, in the end it was just business.
Now, when things start to get heated at work, I take an imaginary step to the left and let the other person’s emotion pass by me instead of through me. If there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that the person who is more emotionally invested ALWAYS loses a negotiation. It’s a simple success model, be the calm one.
I have a scar on the knuckle of my left thumb. I got it when I was in 7th grade and it was the first of many. It’s very faint now 40+ years later but it’s still there. There was a kid in my neighborhood named John Coakley. He was two years older than me and he had a penchant for terrorizing younger kids. One day, outside a store in town, I came upon him pushing around a friend that was a year younger than me. I stepped in the middle and told him to stop it. He asked: “What are you going to do about it?” I hit him with a solid roundhouse from the left side and I caught him square in the teeth. Unfortunately for John, he didn’t expect that particular answer from a smaller kid, but he also wore braces and I think he assumed the unwritten law of “no hitting kids with braces” was in effect. It wasn’t. So the blow ripped open the inside of his mouth as well as my thumb. He ran off yelling at me with blood flowing into his hands. He never bothered us again.
All these years later, I have plenty more scars. Physical, emotional and even spiritual I suppose. I was reminded of it this morning when I got out of the shower and looked in the mirror. I had surgery for a separated shoulder three weeks ago so I have a beauty now. About 4 inches long, red and angry looking. It runs from the top of my shoulder down almost to the top of my chest. The result of another misadventure between man and horse.
I have some on my right shoulder from a Labrum repair, a few on my stomach from Gallbladder surgery and others here and there that I don’t even remember how they came about.
It begs the broader question: what are the cost of my scars? See, horseback riding is a contact sport. Contact with the ground, with hooves, with dicey terrain and gaps in my horsemanship. The Gallbladder scars? Bad eating habits. My emotional scars are from incessant worrying about my wife and children, the death of my father, mistakes, rejections, business failures and stepping up to do the right thing when I knew it would hurt my business and my finances.
But, now I realize that every scar means something to me. It’s the cost of standing up to a bully. It’s the cost of having the sense of adventure to get back on horses that invariably will throw you into the woods now and again. It’s the cost of doing business with integrity when others can’t or won’t, and those people will find the justification to call you inhuman, ruthless and worse when you show them the door. They will multiply your scars by poisoning what they can long after. It’s the cost of loving someone who won’t be here forever and that particular scar will be where no one else can see or understand it. That scar is on your heart.
I’m proud of my scars. I’ve earned them. They mean that I tried. They mean I stood for something. They mean I’ve loved some people and said goodbye to others. They mean I had courage and I wasn’t afraid to fall down and fail. And all those things put together ultimately lead to a successful life.
So, a big thanks John Coakley. I hope you learned something from your scar too.