Unreasonable Optimism

Warning: this post is full of rainbows, ponies, sunshine and kumbayah.  Proceed at your own risk.

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I am sunshine made solid. And cuddly.

I’ve talked to a few friends lately that are kind of beaten down. Defeated.  Whether it is from dating rejections, failed job interviews, or personal goals that just haven’t panned out, the result is the same: they are ready to just crawl into a cave and give up.

They have taken one too many hits.  It’s not just one setback, it’s a whole string of them.

It’s not just stubbing your toe, it’s Rocky getting pummeled by Apollo Creed, Ivan Drago, and Clubber Lane all at the same time, while also experiencing erectile dysfunction, incontinence, and bankruptcy.  Also, that very morning?  His cat died.

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Why, Fluffy? WHY???

Sucks.

It sucks to watch: these are fantastic people, capable of greatness.  It’s trite and cliché to point out that you can’t see the picture when you are inside the frame, but it’s very true.  These people just don’t see their massive awesomeness.

It’s also trite and cliché, but no less true: optimism leads to success.

I’d like to take that further: Unreasonable Optimism leads to greatness.

To clarify: the world will send you many messages, lots of data for you to sift through.  Some of this will be negative (I don’t date short guys, you don’t have the skills we are looking for, you aren’t strong enough to achieve your goals), but many of them will be positive (the girl who finds you funny and engaging, the employers interest in the first place that got you the interview, the progress you’ve made towards your goal).  It’s your job to select what data you let in and what you don’t.

It’s easy to let the bad in.  It’s a very safe thing to believe the negative.  You’ve been poked with a sharp stick and it hurts, so you’d like to avoid that in the future.  It’s safe and easy.  Even though it feels bad, it’s a dull ache instead of the sharp, burning, embarrassing, emasculating, sting of failure. So you accept the messages: “you aren’t meant for this, you don’t belong here, this is not for you.”  Just give up, already, go do something else.

You accept it the same way you accept “it burns my hand when I put it in fire, so I won’t do that anymore”.

It’s unreasonable to ignore this kind of data.

Here’s the thing though: these negative experiences are NOT the same thing as your body telling you “dude, don’t put your hand in fire”.  They are nuanced, situational, and highly related to circumstance.  They can be changed.

Overcome.

Conquered.

The biggest thing you can chose is your attitude, and it’s probably the most important aspect of success as well.  Optimists succeed.  They succeed because they dare to try.  They believe that something is possible.  They believe against what common wisdom says.

In dating, someone who sees potential, excitement, and adventure, will always be attractive.  The one who tries eventually succeeds.

In careers, someone who is optimistic will make others think “this is a person I can give a difficult problem to, they will figure it out”.  The optimist will lead to greater things.

In personal goals, optimism pushes you that extra mile, pushes you past where your mind or body thought you could go.

It’s tempting to string together negative data as a trend, as proof that you should be looking at this data and going “ah, this is really proof that I’m barking up the wrong tree.”  This is where pessimism becomes realism.

I’m not giving up, I’m just being realistic.

Screw realistic.  Realistic gets you a mediocre life, a vanilla existence, a safe position.  Avoiding pain leaves out the greatest chances for pleasure.

Instead, try Unreasonable Optimism.  Realism takes in the available data and makes a logical decision based on interpreted facts.  But that’s a bunch of crap because you are a terrible interpreter of your own facts.  You experienced that pain and you think that makes you an expert on what you should do.

Nope, it makes you scared and shy.  You are a terrible judge of what risks you should take simply because you listen to the negative data.

Unreasonable optimism will push you to continually believe in more.  You actively reject the negative data.  You choose to believe again, at the risk of being hurt again.  Only then can you push past your own (self-imposed) limitations.

People who achieve the most in life are completely unreasonable in their optimism.

Henry Ford failed at business and went broke five times before he found success with Ford Motors.  Fred Astaire, at his first screen test was noted as “can’t act, can’t sing, slightly bald, can dance a little.”  Oprah was fired from jobs in her early career, being deemed “unfit for TV”.

Whether it’s Steve Jobs pushing people to design something simpler and more beautiful, or Edmund Hillary climbing Everest, the greatest success stories in the world have at their root people who rejected every message of “can’t be done, don’t even try”.  They rejected all the negative data, and believed instead in their own unreasonable optimism.

This way of living is scary and leaves you open to failure and ridicule.   It is also energizing, powerful, and ultimately extremely attractive.  Think about your own reactions: do you hire the person who is flatly realistic, or the person who can see beyond and believes that things can be better?  Are you attracted to people who give up easily, or to those who see unrealized potential and adventure?  Do you achieve your most when you set aggressive, almost unreachable goals, or when you set a realistic, very achievable goal?

But what about all those failures?  Should you just ignore them?

No.  They are all learning opportunities.  You can use them to become better.  They are not there to tell you “you can’t do this”, they are there to make you reflect, question, and improve.

Dealing with negative data is simple.  Ask yourself: is there anything I can learn from this?

  • If yes: learn that, then try again.
  • If no: reject the data as situational, a one-off occurrence, and continue on.

To answer that crucial question, use friends or any other external feedback you can get.  They see your picture differently, and sometimes more clearly, than you do.  Remember: you are inside the frame.

You always get rejected by women?  Talk to friends who will help you figure out how to change your approach.  Also be open to the possibility that those women actually just suck, there’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t string together the data and think “welp, I’m just unattractive, guess I’ll sit at home and eat a tray of brownies every day for the rest of my life.”crying-eating

You didn’t get the job you interviewed for?  Or the five before that?  Again, get feedback.  Does your resume convey the wrong thing?  Are you nervous and fidgety in the interview?  Do you actually need to learn a bit more before interviewing for that kind of job?  Or did the interviewer suck?  Is it actually their problem?  I’ve done my share of interviewing and sometimes (too often, really) the interviewer sucks that day and the wrong call is made.

Important: rely on friends and co-workers for feedback. Do not rely on them to decide what you do, what is possible, what your dream is. That’s yours, and people will tell you that you are being unreasonable.

Embrace that.  Unreasonable optimism changes everything.

Once you’ve reflected, put the experience behind you and relegate it to its proper place in your history, which is just that: history.  It’s gone, behind you.  The present and future stretch out with unlimited possibility.  And the Unreasonable Optimist will achieve the most from that unlimited possibility.

It is scary.  You are consciously choosing to put your hand in the fire again.

Against all reason.

Against all data points.

It’s completely unreasonable.  And it’s awesome.

Unreasonable optimism is a frightening way to live.  In my experience it’s the only way to live fully.

Spanish Class – Week 2

So, as previously mentioned, at five hours a day, plus living with a Mexican family, I should be fluent in no time, yes?

Oh reality, you are a harsh mistress.

My initial thoughts were: sure, I’ll have some problems at the start, but they’ll be easily overcome with the help of my teachers (Maestros).  Problems like “oh dear me, I said ‘le’ instead of ‘la’.  Ha ha, yes, that’s a silly mistake” <clink of glasses as we jest in Español>.

This is week 2. Reality has set in.  This is a lot of work.

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Verbos Infinitivos.  Reflexivos.  Palabras Interrogativas. If you put a gun to my head and demanded that I conjugate the verb “to go” (Ir), I’m pretty sure you’d end up calling for a clean-up on isle 12.

However, there are some bright spots:

  • I can order food at local restaurants with a minimum amount of confusion and wild gesticulating involved.
  • I can understand about 12% of what my teachers are saying during class, and my questions have dropped from 1 per second to about 1 per 4 minutes.  Much to the relief of the Maestros.
  • The scowl of concentration for 5 hours per day has left some lovely deep furrows on my brow.  I think it makes me more distinguished.

Meanwhile, living with a family has yielded some unexpected opportunities for practicing Spanish.  For example, once a week the mother comes in and cleans rooms while the students are away.  This happened the other day, and when I came back from class I was unable to find Meebus.

Imagine trying to construct a well formed sentence that runs a balance between thanking someone for cleaning your room without you even asking, while also politely inquiring if they happen to have found a stuffed monkey and perhaps, maybe, assumed it belonged to one of the kids in the family, thus it ended up in an upstairs toybox?  Perhaps?  Maybe?

The best I came up with is: “gracias por limpiar mi habitación. ¿Por casualidad para descubrir un chango de juguete mientras se limpia?”  For someone who can only really retain a single verb at a time, this proved to be too much to hold stable in my head.  So I shortened it to:

“Gracias por la limpieza”

followed by

“¿Encontraste un chango de juguete?”

Both of these might be possible to contain in my head for the trip upstairs, so I recited them over and over on my way up.  Before I knocked on the door though, I panicked.  What if I’m accidentally being very rude?  Maybe I should wait until breakfast when the other students who’s Spanish is FAR superior to mine can help straighten out any faux pas I make?  Maybe it’s best just to let Meebus live his new life?  Maybe he’s happier here.  What kind of future does he have to look forward to with me after all, dangling by a clip from my backpack, being posed for inane pictures, packed into pockets, forced to beg for space change when the money runs out?

I went back to my room, defeated.  Before going to bed I looked through a few pictures of Meebus, remembering the good times.

Then, when packing up my clothes to take to the laundy, I found Meebus squatting in the bottom of my backpack.  My bad.  Glad that I chickened out at the door, no idea HOW I would have explained that I was sorry for falsely accusing anyone of stealing my toy monkey, and it was in fact my fault the entire time.

Meebus: I blame you.  Stay put, you wayward Monkey.

Spanish lessons

I’ve been to Mexico before.  I loved it.  That’s probably not a big surprise, ’cause here I am starting my adventure in Mexico.  So, let’s move on.

The main thing I wanted to do on coming here was to learn Spanish.  Well, okay, I also really wanted to just bake myself on the beach in perfect, warm, sunny weather.  And, sure, I was really craving going to many different taco joints to sample the pastor, the chorizo, the pescado.  Oh, and to have guacamole with every meal.  And sure, there was the excellent night life here, which I haven’t gotten around to posting about.  Except about tequila.

But I’m getting off track!  So -ONE- of the things I really wanted to do, was learn Spanish.  I always hated feeling like an ignorant American, too arrogant to bother learning the language of the country I’m visiting.  Also, I’ve always wanted to be at least bi-lingual; you have so much more capability to talk to people all over the world.  I took some French in high school, but never got serious enough to actually retain anything useful.

So: here’s my opportunity I thought.  I will LIVE in the country for an extended period.  I will take an immersion class as my primary job while there.  5 hours a day, 5 days a week.  I’ll be fluent in no time!  Then I’ll make fast friends with the locals, write a novel en Española, and become an international sensation.  Perfecto!  And on my second month I’ll be all ready for Spain.

So, I’m a few days in already.  Let’s recap reality, shall we?

First off, the school I’m attending is called Solexico and it is pretty awesome.  Not your normal school.  For example, this is my classroom where four of us plus the teacher sit and talk:

outside:
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inside:
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And here are the common grounds where “students” walk between “classrooms”.  I put these terms in quotes, because I’m used to both being associated with far more dour surroundings.
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And here is where they park their “transportation”:
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So, yeah; not your common, everyday school environment.  It’s pretty much as they advertise: “Learn Spanish in paradise.”  In breaks between lessons you hang out in hammocks, play a little volleyball, or get a freshly made quesadilla from the open-air “cafeteria”.  Fluorescent lighting?  Rigid teachers?  Drab hallways?  Torturous desk-chair thingies to sit in while you get lectured at?  Not here!  This is how learning should always be.

However!  There is trouble in Paradise.  Here’s how it works: you pay for school on a weekly basis and go for as many weeks as you’d like.  When you start, they will give you a test (both written and spoken) which determines what level of class you go to.  For me, this was my first lesson in humility.

The written test basically looked like someone had thrown a bunch of characters on sheets with words that all ended in “o” or “a”, and sentences that had upside-down question marks at the beginnings.  I filled in a few answers: “le”, “los”, “las”, and “je ne sais pas” and then gave up.  I basically could have gotten a better score by writing “Ich no hable ton moon-language” on the papers and then folded it into a paper airplane and shot it at the garbage (basura).

The spoken exam was a lesson in real-time humiliation.  I’m transcribing from memory here, and I may have gotten some of the spelling wrong:

Teacher (Maestro, en espanol): “Buenos dias, come esta?”

Me (confidently): “Bien, muy bien”

Maestro: “garble frob bamble stoop?”

Me (a bit shaken): “Er… no comprendo?”

Maestro: “garble frob bamble EL stoop?”

Me (sweat glands engaged): “Er… si?”

Maestro: “Oh, si, tu garble frob bamble zoop moodle twasten sow!”

Me (panic sets in: what have I done?  This must be a class for natives!) “er…”

Maestro: “tu moobleso bando doa bleangliano?”

At this point I decide silence is the best course of action and simply smile and shake my head, trying to convey how sorry I was for wasting his time.  In the back of my mind I wonder how I can communicate my request for a refund.  El refundo?  Por favor?

He lets me off the hook and explains in perfect English that I’ll be starting with “Lesson one” and shows me to my class.  I am relieved and settle into the warm little hut and await the rest of my classmates.

Long story short: there were three people who started the same day as me, but those two proved to be some kind of prodigies and were placed in higher classes.  So I’m in the beginner class, but the 3 others folks in it with me have already had one week under their belt.  If there would have been more beginners like me, they would probably have spun up another intro class, but with just one of me, they deemed it wise to put me in the already-running class, assuming I could catch up on one week.  What’s 25 hours of instruction between friends?

Come to find out, quite a lot.  One of the first words I learn is “escuchar” which roughly translates to “shut your foreigner mouth and just listen for once while the people who already know a thing or two talk.  You will absorb our intelligence via osmosis through your ears.  Trust me.”

I may have taken liberties with that definition.

So, it’s been a few days of me doing some intensive “escuchar-ing” and attempting to read up on things I’m missing when I can.  I haven’t taken this many notes by hand since I was in… well, no; I was going to say high school, but I was a terrible student then.  So, we’ll just say “never”.

To be perfectly fair: my teachers (Maestros) are wonderful.  The morning teacher, Monica, speaks in only Spanish.  She will not use any English to help you along, so you are forced to think and struggle and guess and be wrong and eventually learn.  The afternoon teacher, Leon, teaches us conversational Spanish and intersperses his discussions with details about culture, etiquette and more.  The other students, while all powerfully younger than I, are quite willing to take the old man under their wing and give him a bit of help.

I can’t recommend this enough: if you ever want to learn a language, put yourself in a situation where you have no choice. My head is swimming each day, and as I review what I’ve written each day, I’m surprised that I can start forming useful sentences already.  Soon I get out of the hotel that the Elder and I are staying at, and will go live with a Mexican family where I will have absolutely no lifeline for English.  Wish me luck.

Final preparations

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Thursday.  My last day in the states.  Filled with finalizing last minute things:

  • Health coverage (the paperwork nightmare must end!)
  • Malaria pills (wish I could just pack one of those mosquito-zapping lasers)
  • Hep A and B round-2 shots
  • Handing off the car to Fashion Athlete
  • Seeing my friend’s latest show (her name is Hate, if you knew her you wouldn’t ask why)
  • Being dumped off at the airport at 1am, in prep for boarding a plane at the wee hours of the morning.

So, here’s what the final load-out looks like:

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In here we have all the things that will be necessary.  Shorts, shirts, running shoes, sandals, underwear, socks (only used for running, otherwise it’s sandals all day long), sunscreen, vitamins, Kindle packed with reading material (and fodder for later posts), brand spankin’-new Surface Pro with pressure-sensitive pen for drawing (current scribbles are too embarrassing to post, hopefully I improve over the coming days), windbreaker, coat, jeans, belt, toothbrush, floss, toothpaste, backup glasses (I lose things), ibuprofen, pens, more sunscreen, steri-pen, swimming trunks, goggles, a harmonica and a deck of cards.  ’cause, what if I need to strike up an emergency poker game as well as provide rousing blue-grass accompaniment?  One must be prepared!

All this in one mammoth backpack that will kill small children if they are unfortunate enough to be standing underneath it when I set it to rest.

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So, with this strapped firmly to my back, I’m ready to take on the world.  Bring on your worst!  Thunderstorms and lightning, I’ve got that covered!  Burning sun and sand?  No problem!  Invading swarms of disease-bearing devil-bugs?  There’s a pill for that!

Wait, what’s that?  Squirrel beer?  Beer that is served… from the taxidermied body of a squirrel?

Come on, world.  Stop.  Just… stop.

The tooth of the matter

Cleaning out an apartment, getting rid of all your world possessions gets down to lots of strange things you may have carried around for far too long.

In my case, it was a tooth.

To be specific, it was a tooth with a gold grown.  My wisdom tooth.  Extracted from my head forcibly in 2002 I think.  It lived in a little manila packet in my closet for years as I intended to go sell the gold and recoup some amount of whatever exorbitant expenses I originally paid to have it installed.  The rigors of every day life always put it 42nd on the list though, so in the closet it stayed.  It moved with me, and as gold prices skyrocketed over the last couple years it would murmur at me from behind closed doors: “probably oughta sell me soon.  Prices are bound to crash again.”  Silly teeth, they are terrible market predictors.

Now, however, I was getting rid of everything.  The tooth had to go.  In the mad rush to get everything out of my apartment, it eventually moved from closet, to counter, and then finally on the last day as I was cleaning my apartment, into my coat pocket.  It stayed there as I took my trip down to Oregon.

Now southern Oregon, as it turns out, seems to be at least half supported by the purchasing of gold.  Everywhere I drove in Medford, you couldn’t swing a dead tooth without hitting a sign saying “WE BUY GOLD! TOP DOLLAR!!  WE PAY MORE!”  So, finally I was cornered: I had time, I had places to choose from and I had the tooth.

I decided to choose the most reputable-seeming shop: the coin merchant in the mall.  The rest of the pawn shops and strangely newly-appropriated buildings with banner signs that sagged seemed like they might be shady, and I didn’t trust my precious tooth to them.

So it was, that I found myself attempting to sell gold, feeling a little shady myself.

Me: “so, I have a tooth with gold in it”

White-haired man: “filling or crown?”

Me: “er, crown.  I think.”

whm: “not a problem, grip the tooth with a pliers, then take a hammer and it’ll come right off.”

me: “and you guys buy the gold?  How does that work?”

whm: “we weigh it and give you spot price for it.”

me: “seems pretty straight forward.  I’ll be back”.

The following day I asked my father for a hammer and pliers.  I expected him to ask what for, but he just hauled out a number of instruments and presented them to me.  On seeing what I was attempting to perform, he suggested, in a manner that suggested this was commonplace, that two pliers might be a better solution.

Note to those who may attempt this sometime in their lives: a tooth that has been sitting around without a head to nourish it, dies.  Becomes a bit brittle.  Also: gold is slipperier than expected when attempting to grip with a large-toothed set of pliers.  Net result: the tooth basically disintegrated into bone powder, the adhesive that held the whole mess together remained a gooey blob like gum on the sidewalk, and in the end I walked away with $38.12.

Tacos are on me.  Kids: remember to floss.

Big decisions.

Warning: this post requires you to do some work.  The upside: you could change your life if you go through with it.  Plan your reading accordingly.

I’ve had several people express that they have dreamed of doing the kind of thing I’m doing.  Since I held this dream for a couple of decades, I know how that feels.  Looking back on how I got to this point makes me realize that there’s really only one thing you need to do, everything else is just mechanics and details.

The one thing you must do, and as cliché as this sounds, is the hardest to do:

decide to do it.

That’s all.

Once you make this decision, you are down to mechanics.  I will cover all the mechanics I went through in case it is helpful in a later post, but the only thing keeping you from doing what you want is making the decision to do it.  For me, there were many things I could list that were holding me back:

  • I have a great job, one other people would kill for, why throw this away?  I’ll never have a job like this again!  I’ll regret this!
  • Will I be throwing away my chance at a good and lasting relationship?
  • What if I’m not here for my friends or son when they need me?
  • Isn’t this just a horribly selfish thing?  This self-indulgence can’t lead to any lasting good.
  • I’m spending all the money I have saved, what if I don’t have enough to retire properly later?
  • What if something happens to me in some remote country?  Something disastrous?  How will I cope?
  • I have no idea what I’m doing or how to get along in foreign countries!  Better to just stay safe with what I have now.

If you dissect all the above statements and worries, they all come down to one core thing.

Fear.

At the core of all these is fear of worst case scenarios, or fear of potential future consequences.  If you have a dream you aren’t acting on, make a list of the reasons you have to not go after it.

No, really.  Make a list.  I can wait.  After all, I’m just a web page, I’ll be here when you come back.  GO!  Write that list!

Don’t worry, I’ll enjoy a little libation while you work.

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Seriously.  Spend some time getting it all out.  What is every reason you can dredge up from the bottom of your brain, heart and soul why you aren’t doing this?  Your list should be long.  It should have some crazy things (like: I don’t want people to think I’m a flake!  I’ll miss McDonalds cheeseburgers!  What if my trick leg acts up?  What if aliens invade and I’m not home to man the howitzer?).  Make sure you get it all out.

Got it?  Really?  No cheating.  Use pen and paper.  Use an audio recorder and dictate to it.  Or use my favorite tool: Excel.  If it can’t be done in Excel, it probably doesn’t need to be done.

Okay, I’m going to move on, but I’m trusting that you’ve made this list.  Don’t let me down here.

Once you’ve spewed all that out, you’ve got your concerns codified.  Excellent.  Now, consider each separately and ask yourself if the core of this concern is really just fear, or do you have a legitimate concern?  I’ll wager most of issues are fear-based.  Cross those off.  Don’t feed fear.  A life lived by the dictates of fear is less than half a life.  Also, you’ll find when you move towards fear there’s something awesome in it for you.  Embrace fear.

For the ones that are real concerns, you’ve got a couple questions:

  • Is this concern a time-based thing?  If so, there is a date at which this concern is not valid, and you can start planning towards that date.  Example: I wanted to ensure I had raised my son to be an independent person before I did this.  He graduated, decided college was not for him and went right to the work force.  I gave him notice that in 1 year the apartment he and I were living in would no longer be an option.  He took this to heart and moved out in 9 months.  I’m proud of him.
  • What would it take before this is not a blocking concern anymore?  Don’t imagine the ultimate solution, imagine what it would take to make this concern lessened to the point that it doesn’t actually block you anymore.  For example: health coverage was a concern for me.  Thinking about what I really needed here was to keep myself healthy (diet and exercise), and have catastrophic coverage in case my leg fell off or my kidney revolted against me.  Researching that, I found I could get catastrophic coverage for myself and my son under $200 per month.  I worked that into a theoretical budget and this no longer blocked me.
  • Is this concern something people in your life can help you with?  I’ve been extremely lucky with the mechanics of this adventure, and the more people I talked to about doing this, the more people offered assistance to resolve many of my major or minor issues.

If you’ve played along, you’ve got one of these outcomes:

  1. Nice post, suckah, I’ve read similar things before.  Get a job, hippy.
  2. I now have a specific list of things keeping me from living my dream.  I can use this as a task list to work towards accomplishing my dream.  If this is you: congratulations, you are VERY close to tipping over and making the decision that will change your life.
  3. Man, I want a cheeseburger now.  Thanks a lot for ruining my diet.  You’ll be hearing from my lawyers.

This puts it all in rather simplified terms and I realize that your reality won’t feel this simple.  It took me years to finally make my dream real, and this decision was one of my most gut-wrenching ever.  In addition, I have a lot of advantages (financially stable, healthy, etc).  However, I also constantly sabotaged my dream by listing reasons why it was okay for someone else to do this, just not me.  Don’t compare your situation to anyone else, just note what is keeping you from your dream.  If you want to talk through your thoughts in more depth, leave a note here, or send me mail at koreyk-at-outlook-dot-com.

Good luck, move towards your fears, embrace your dreams.