With a benign neglect cultivated over years of unremarkable civil service, the woman picked up the faded pink plastic handle of her trusty hole puncher and eviscerated my New York Driver’s License leaving a gaping ironic hole where the expiration date once laid idly reminding everyone of a distant future yet to be realized.
I had not anticipated the groundswell of melodrama a simple trip to the DMV would have evoked within the tattered remnants of my soul. The DMV veteran handed back my mutilated identification and I was whisked down a long highway of memories. I remembered taking the photo at a random DMV in Peekskill, NY in 2006 after a scenic country drive to a small town next to Briarcliff Manor for reasons still known only to very few. This mugshot-esque photo would serve as my identification for the next decade. The photo is a monochrome and expressionless portrait of the person I once was, youthful features offset by steely eyes (the effects magnified by oh so fashionable gray contact lenses.)
Like too many other things in my life, my new license was built on a lie, reinforced with an omission and finished with a veneer of pithy optimism manifesting in the form of a well worn grin. (They encourage smiling in your driver’s license photos in this state. WTF?) All of a sudden as abruptly and unceremoniously as I had left the Empire State I was similarly done at the DMV. Off into the sunshine with a hole punched into my former ID, a piece that will forever missing. Perhaps the same piece that has always been missing. The insatiable void that no amount of money, infamy, gluttony, debauchery or glory real or imagined was ever able to fill.
RIP George Michael.
The classic carol by Wham! fueled many emotional trips down memory lane many lifetimes ago. This time of year often brings a tidal wave of reminiscences and Scrooge like bouts of what ifs to plague the mind. 5 years ago I was gifted an ingenious little book entitle the Happiness project. A daily one sentence journal to capture the essence of every day for five years. Despite all of the things that I’ve done, all of the things I haven’t done and all of the many things I should and should not have done, I have religiously and dogmatically logged my entries into this tiny tome of idle thoughts. Somehow this sturdy 370 page journal has survived this apocalyptic roller coaster ride with me since Christmas Eve 2012.
Just a handful of years have bore witness to more experiences than I ever expected in this lifetime. To be able to sift through the texture and nuance of each granular moment throughout this journey is a kaleidoscopic sensory delight and emotional jack in the box. Each page is also accompanied with a quote which lands differently every single year. “The days are long, but the years are short.” “In the tumult of daily life, it can be hard to appreciate the ordinary day, to realize how precious it is, and how fleeting.”
There have been so many moments I would have traded anything for those handful of other moments. Yet I find myself having traded everything for these moments and these will shape the rest into eternity. The wheel continues to turn whether it’s a car tire, a grindstone or a hamster’s treadmill remains to be seen.
Now I know what a fool I’ve been, but if you….
What is the opposite of freedom?
Three years ago I had it stripped away out of the blue. A mentor once taught me “handle your details or they will handle you.” My details kicked my ass and continue to do so. Uncertainty breeds fear, yet we all come into this world certain that we will leave it, and generally uncertain about when.
In all of that time between the entry and the exit we have an endless array of choices to choose from. By we I am referring to those of us fortunate enough to win the genetic lottery and be born into a segment of global society which has the wherewithal to read blogs. The amount of good fortune, infrastructure and free time already puts us in an extremely elite slice of humanity.
We have been granted the right to opine and emote in the digital ether. We aren’t dodging cluster bombs, IEDs or guided missiles. We get to roll around in our bona fide first world problems which hundreds of millions if not billions of other souls would kill for. There are moments where I am truly ashamed of how I have squandered my freedom in the relentless pursuit of the hypothetical, the theoretical and the aspirational.
But I definitely believe in second chances even third and fourth ones because I have wasted those as well. Basking in my simulacrum of freedom on the anniversary of a dark day. Life certainly knows how to tell a joke.
Scott Adams the hilarious creator of Dilbert called the Trump victory in an interview on the Tim Ferriss Podcast over a year ago. He described how the powers behind the now president elect orchestrated a perfect clinic in Neurolinguistic Programming, one so powerful that it has systematically used the system to trounce the system. Conspiracy theories aside, everybody loves a winner, and the machine that is President-elect Trump has cranked out a victory that very few saw coming.
What comes next? Lord only knows.
I remember reading the Art of the Deal, my biggest takeaways were; hire attractive secretaries, and the story about being over 900 million dollars in debt. I’ve managed to create quite a mess of my own life using those valuable lessons. Real estate developer, casino magnate, gold course tycoon, shameless self promoter and now president elect of the United States of America. Truly a testament to the power of the American Dream. Somebody with no business being in politics and no experience as an elected official is now the leader of the free world and now holds the highest elected office in the land. The little engine that could, maybe not should, but definitely did. Definitely inspirational?
I often tell tales of how my father found every possible way to fail in businesses where everyone else would make a fortune. He sold three properties on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg to buy in Far Rockaway (in the 80s), talked his way into a nationwide exclusive forklift dealership then never sold any forklifts, rejected the rights to the entire NYC metro area to sell the first cell phones to focus on his route of pay phones…
Over and over again he swapped the golden goose for the wild goose chase. Growing up I would snidely regale my friends with stories of his nearly comical misfortune. After flaming out in half a dozen businesses myself despite an excellent albeit unfinished education, endless personal development and libraries of businesses books I finally see the hubris and arrogance that has destroyed my ventures time and time again.
Knowledge is not power, knowledge is crap that you put on a blog after you’ve failed to apply it in real life. My personal pattern of failure generally begins with lighting myself on fire with enthusiasm. I genuinely feel it too, the same way a degenerate gambler feels rejuvenated when he has a fresh stack of money. This time it’s going to be different. I’ve finally figured it out, this business has learned from the mistakes of countless other failures and will generate consistent powerful returns with a limited downside. I can’t promise you that it will be the next Facebook, but you can only lose what you put in and the upside is uncapped.
As your skepticism recedes ever so slightly and you lean in just a little closer I continue stacking the benefits of this new venture. I’ll share with you my failures and admit my limited ability. I’ll make a joke and you will laugh then I will show you the numbers and you will pretend to understand. There’s risk, if there wasn’t I would be lying to you, but you and I are going to take this risk together. At the very least we will be looking out for each other and that’s a lot better than you’ll get anywhere else you park your money.
This unflinching blend of authenticity and transparency will light you up from within and you will feel the light of hope grow. It will become friendship, kinship and before long you will be an evangelist of the cause and carry the banner of our new business with pride and we will charge forth into the unforgiving market and we will make money, lots of it until we don’t. Then the money doesn’t stop right away. The light goes out first. Then the darkness seeps through your veins and your old ways reinfect your being and the armor cracks and ultimately fails.
Once again you will find yourself lost and alone in the desert wandering and lamenting. Dragging one foot in front of the other you will begin to be grateful just to be alive and take deep breaths of fresh air and look up at the blue sky. You will fortify yourself with the silence and your steps will become strides. As you move towards the oasis in the distance the failure fades into a memory, at least it will make a good story some day. Now with confidence powering your steps you move ever more confidently in the direction of your dreams. This time it’s going to be different.
Usually I can fall asleep on a dime. I have fallen asleep on top of speakers blaring music, in mid sentence, while driving, and especially within seconds of hitting the bed. Yet I find myself wide awake tonight watching reruns of Seinfeld, Friends and the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. When these episodes first ran, so did my life. I was still in high school pining over problems that high schoolers do, lovesickness, heartbreak, college prep exams, looking for an identity that worked. I never quite did get the girl or get into the school, but somehow I made it all the way to today.
Sitting in a random hotel room reinforcing my bubble of isolation. I am tired, and finally too tired to sleep. Physically I’m better rested than I have been in literally years. I have been waking up only when I’m done sleeping. I haven’t taken any meetings I didn’t want to take and have been reassessing what I really want out of the life I have left to live. For far too long I have had my priorities screwed up. The main thing hasn’t been the main thing at all. Somehow I have dealt with the fires in my life by starting new ones and spraying water on irrelevant ones. The resulting inferno has consumed my old life mercilessly.
In the aftermath I’ve found greenshoots of possibility, an array of choices that I’ve always had yet have always ignored. My blessings are plenty and they outpace even my many many mistakes. Grace is a powerful force and mercy even more so. I think the real reason why I can’t sleep is that I’m finally enjoying being awake.
This song really captures it perfectly. Thanks Tim.
In an age of unprecedented connectedness, true isolation has become a decadent, almost obscene luxury. It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve unplugged from the matrix. How did I do it? I turned off my cell phone, not vibrate, silent or airplane mode.
I can feel you shivering just thinking about it. Without the digital shock collar lashed to my wrist I felt a wave of nauseating anxiety practically drown me for the first two days. Then something strange began to happen. I began to regain my attention span. Driving, cooking, walking, simply breathing became enjoyable. But it was a timid happiness lurking like a battered and abused refugee escaping his tormentors for the first time in decades. I caught myself still flinching at the hyper reactive mental scars where I was most plugged in. If I heard other people’s ringtones I would still feel a rush of panic rise in my chest. Being unplugged in a world where everyone else is still doggedly plugged in is surreal to say the least.
Everywhere I went I saw people glued to their devices, security guards, diners, parents, joggers, baristas, waiters, moms, nannies, dads, grandparents and especially drivers (everybody drives and texts…truly disturbing.) We are all stumbling around with our attention divided between the real world and the digital realm where we are interfaced with hundreds or thousands of daily distractions from our lives. The aggregate effect is a general purgatory like trance where we are all neither here nor there more self absorbed than ever before. The tyranny of incessant demands for attention from everyone and everything must be eating away our souls.
If I were the paranoid type I would say this is the first assault by Skynet to domesticate their future biochemical batteries.
So I am ironically “unplugged” by not having a smartphone or even a cell phone. Yet I am still hacking away at this blog hoping that the message reaches those who still have the capacity to disconnect. I urge you to try it if even for 48 hours. Just turn off the smartphone and reconnect with your humanity.
Who knows how much longer we will have the option?