Vanity, Pride, and Self-improvement

Pride and Vanity are almost the same thing, they rely on the same mental muscles, vanity just has one more mirror to bounce it’s signal off. Pride is what you think of yourself, if you were on the outside looking at you, it’s what you think you’d see. Vanity is what you think you’d see if you were not-you. If you believe you’re a diamond in the rough than vanity is the rough and pride is the diamond.

It’s still self-estimation but it’s not pure and simple. You can be proud of things you know no one else cares about and temper that pride when faced with the gaze of the world, talk to a toy train collector who downplays their giddy enthusiasm with a it’s silly but I love it at the end of a brief discussion when the opportunity thrillingly pops up and you can see they are proud but not vain.

Talk to that collector who angrily recites the value of their trains in an attempt to correct your estimation of their hobby and you’re seeing vanity.

And if you’d like to tap out early in this post just substitute trains for whatever dumb shit you’re into and don’t be that guy and my work here is done. For the remainder the post is about the importance of a well balanced vanity and the danger of pride without it, it might get nowhere, let’s find out….

Self-esteem is one of the many important, useful phrases ruined by sarcasm’s flamboyant need to misappropriate. If your self esteem, your self-estimation, seems inaccurate to others you’ll be the subject of mockery or shaming. Society tells you this mockery or shaming should be ignored, that it’s their problem not yours.

This is wrong. And it arouses contempt in the collectivist heart.

One under-used, as yet unruined phrase, I love is don’t be that guy. We can 2018 it and make it don’t be that person but for my purposes I’d prefer don’t be that friend.

And I’m using the term friend in the loosest possible way here because don’t be that peer wouldn’t sparkle, sunshine.

Thinking about what other people think of you, trying to see what other people see when they see you, is treated as pathetic in this self obsessed self esteem culture. Everything is you-do-you and fuck the haters.

But maybe people hating you is a sign you’re a dick.

Do you want to be a dick? Do you want to be that friend?

We all know too much pride is a problem, sure. What’s odd is that we treat any vanity as a worse problem. Thinking people hate you can be a source of pride in the culture that spawned Kanye West but liking the idea that people like you is considered a shameful weakness.

But what’s the difference between wanting to be liked and wanting to be a good person? Some people try to be liked by pretending to agree with everyone but that’s just terribly short sighted because everyone sees through that. People who want to be truly liked have to have qualities of greatness.

And I’m using this in terms of a great guy not a Great Man (Sorry for the gendering but the phrase She’s a great woman feels so different than he was a great man and there’s nothing I can do in the scope of this post). One great means big, far reaching, like Alexander. The other means supremely likeable like your friend Bob. Bob’s a great guy. We can all debate if Steve Jobs was a great man but everyone thinks Bob’s a great guy. It’s strange that we use the same word for both because there’s something quite humble about being a great guy.

And how do you be a great guy (or the equivalent cool chick)? It has to matter what other people think, it has to matter how other people feel.

When I was in high school there was a great guy named Nick Swayok. He’s the only person from my year at River View High School who’s first and last name I remember. He treated social outcasts with polite friendly respect while his athletics and his garage band would have given him the social carte blache not to. By not thinking about social status at all he elevated his above everyone who did, the zen of high school politics.

Wanting to be seen as good (and not wanting to be seen as one of those guys who’d treat people badly because he could) can make a person good.

And a big part of transforming yourself into something you want to be is thinking about what you want people to see when they see you.

If you want to feel pretty you have to get a little prettier, you can’t just bully people into ‘accepting’ you. You can get close and an entire generation seems built on the idea that you can but I can promise you it will never feel real, you won’t be able to turn that vanity into pride.

Posted in Pragmatism

Writing About People

“If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” – Anne Lamott

This quote made me feel better, it reminded me that I’m in the right. In the history of this blog I’ve been treated like I contributed equally to a conflict by not keeping it secret. There are things I should have done differently but being open and honest isn’t one of them.

The truth only hurts shitty people.

Now I don’t believe in shaming someone as a way to try and correct they’re behavior and I’ve never tried to do that, and I’ve never tried to propagandize the blog – I’ve never said something I didn’t believe in the hope that others would. I’ve just tried to be a historian of one tiny life.

People confuse neutrality with objectivity. They love to have opinions on worldly matters they know little or nothing about but when it comes to ethical questions in their own life suddenly there’s no way to say what’s really right or wrong. They’ll tell you what should be done about the Middle East but they won’t call a friend out for lying.

Furthermore this all speaks to my philosophy about life that you have to behave – at all times – in a way that you want to be remembered, or at least you wouldn’t be embarrassed to be known.

This goes back to a story I’ve told before in which a friend was putting a ton of effort into lying to his mother about smoking because he “didn’t want her to worry” and I said “You wanna know the simplest way to convince your mother you don’t smoke? Don’t smoke.”

Rather than trying to control the story of your life by controlling what other people say, or write, control the story of your life by not doing things you think are shitty enough to be worth hiding.


Posted in Pragmatism

The problem with carrot/stick motivation

On the podcast, Jocko was talking about how negative reinforcement – teaching through punishment of bad behavior – is the worst form of leadership. People will work just hard enough to avoid punishment and that’s it.

I’d add that eventually you’re working harder at specifying and enforcing punishment than you are at actually leading or doing your own job – which is more than being a baby sitter I’m sure.

I’d also add that the same problem is true of positive reinforcement, sadly. If you lead people by having contests and constant visible rewards people work only hard enough to get them. You might get good results out of them during the contest or in the wake of some high praise but then they drop off and the person now feels that the normal level of their job is no longer rewarding enough so they start to get resentful or slack. You’ve given them the drug of praise and can’t ween them off. Now you’re in the same position as before that instead of doing your own job you’re a full time cheerleader for people who need a pat on the head just to meet the standards.

Yet because teachers and parents do this to little kids it gets internalized and people end up doing it themselves.

So much misdirected energy goes into thinking about how and when to reward oneself That people on diets actually buy more junk food than before. It’s because they’ve been ‘good’ all day and feel like they’ve earned a treat by the evening. It even works in the course of a single grocery trip. The healthy food is on the right (which is where people in North America instinctively go first, no one knows why) so people think healthy thoughts then feel like they can go ahead and junk it up when they leave. They’ve earned it.

But the constant self reward doesn’t make you happy does it? You’re back at baseline almost immediately, standing in your living room wishing you felt something more than a need to turn on the TV.

We tend to believe that the world is cruel and it’s important to be nice to ourselves. Really it’s childhood training again, if you’re parents promised you bike for getting good grades you got them bike no matter what, ‘for trying’, because they didn’t want you to be disappointed. Because they’re weak and think you’re weak too.

The thing is we live in the polite society of a customer service economy and your day-to-day world is actually extremely nice to you. You focus on the one jerk you encounter in a day but the fact is you crossed paths with a thousand people and you all wordlessly step out of each other’s path, held doors, moved your legs, smiled, nodded, co-existed delightfully, hurray Canada. You’re existential nagging that society is indifferent to you as an individual is not the same as the world being harsh, society wants you happy, healthy, and safe so you’ll spend lots of money, society is desperate to cater to your mere whims.

You have the absolutely unique position of knowing how hard you can be on yourself because no one else can be or will be. Your friends won’t push you to be better out of nice, your boss won’t push you to be better because you might quit and go get one of a million identical jobs. But you can’t take offense if you call yourself names,  and getting into an ego battle with yourself can’t make you resentful and passive aggressive, you can never mistake your own firmness for a lack of love.

You can be your own Drill Sargent. You wanna be tougher? Be Tougher.

Posted in Pragmatism, Uncategorized

The Healthy Way To Stay Angry

I don’t know when I learned the word sublimation but I’ve always had the impression via context that it was a bad thing.

Turns out it’s the best coping mechanism there is. There’s a story told in Surviving Survival about a couple that get mauled by a bear. Recovering in hospital the wife has panic attacks while the husband finds creative ways to smuggle in food and blend it because his jaw is wired shut. She wants to go home, he wants to go ice climbing. She stays home and researches bears, he takes up wind surfing. Her life stops, he builds them a house and furniture. She commits suicide 20 years after the attack having never gotten over it. He keeps going.

Despite all the pop culture focus on letting it out and exploring and not denying your pain, the psychologists in the book agree that if you can compartmentalize your trauma and keep doing new stuff you can rewire your brain. The book has a woman who moved to India, which is the biggest act of compartmentalization possible because you’ve compartmentalized the world into the half where you were traumatized and the half where you’re someone new learning Hindi.

And there was a woman who knit for sometimes 8 hours a day after being shot by her husband (I think she was the one who got shot by her husband, there was a lot of animal attacks – shark, bear, husband, it all blurs together). Which sounds like addictive, compulsive behaviour because it is. The positive side being that she was working on something constructive, easing her anxiety, meeting people within the knitting community (yep, it exists. It exists like a motherfucker, people love getting together to knit as it turns out), and everyone got a bunch of nice scarfs and sweaters. The knitting tapered off (is that a pun? I don’t know) as the time went by and the positive aspects kicked in. That’s the difference between sublimation and escapism.

Escapism and wallowing actually have a lot in common. Escapism isn’t really an escape, it’s just a hiding place, you’re not going anywhere just as if you were wallowing in it. Healthy sublimation is whenever that little light in your brain, whatever cue you have to feel bad, goes off you acknowledge it and tie it to something good.

Just don’t wallow and don’t escape. Once you start escaping you can wind up escaping your whole life, escaping into smaller and smaller spaces until all of life is out there and you’re totally alone in here. It’s junkie life. And don’t wallow, your pain isn’t a baby, it doesn’t need constant care and feeding. Don’t make trauma your identity, don’t even let it be your hobby, in fact – get a hobby totally out of character just to show that your pain isn’t who you are. Wear pink and go windsurfing, no one in a ton of pain would or could do that.

I put a lot of thought into forgiveness and acceptance thinking that was the only path to true, free, happiness. And of course like all things I over-did it. Forgiving and accepting turned into a chore and I was a slave to it, it made me happy at first and then remembering to forgive every time the pain-light went on it just became another thing to feel bad about – that I still wasn’t great at forgiving and accepting. I got mad that I was still mad and I got depressed that I was still depressed.

I have to let myself be selfish and angry sometimes and there is a healthy way to do that. Let your righteous anger get you to the gym, or the sewing circle, or the volunteer sign up sheet. Let your pain make you kind.

Posted in Depression & Suicide, Pragmatism

Solid simple advice

1. The best advice is to take advice. Every worthwhile thing has been said, some of it thousands of years ago, so stop reinventing the wheel of your self indulgent sorrow and just take the advice that’s out there. Wanting to figure it out for yourself or do it your own way is just your ego wanting you to be smarter than recorded history, take the short cut, learn from other people’s painful mistakes rather than continuing to make your own.

2. The single most important thing in life is to not let anything be the single most important thing in life. It’s a romantic notion that loving one person or one thing with all your heart is a purer, specialest ever kind of love but really you’re just setting yourself up on a roller coaster and when you look back the years will seem wasted because in the time you were obsessing on thing A you were ignoring thing B which of course you’re obsessed with now. People who stay mad at exes for years just want to blame someone for the fact that they stopped working on themselves – or anything – the entire time and now have an 8 year gap on their emotional resume.

3. Know we weren’t meant to stay happy. We’re the only creature with a concept of too easy. The human brain is meant to to search; for food, for mates, for shelter, we are meant to build, to hone, to strategize. There is no happily ever after except happily going after new adventures. Just getting slightly better at things you think you suck at will make you happier for longer than the big house or trophy spouse you think will fill that hole inside you. Stop imagining yourself happy and start being happy.

Posted in Pragmatism

Things about drinking

This sobriety binge has been a lot easier, totally undramatic as expected.

I actually didn’t notice I was sober until trivia night and now it’s a little more present. Because that and the open mic were the first times this year that I’ve hung out at the gate and everyone was able to notice and question my not drinking.

The only thing I’ve noticed is the lack of laughter in my life. People think, basically correctly, that I’m quite dour. I’m one of those people who gets asked what’s wrong when everything is perfect neutral or even better than fine because that’s just how I look. I’m a happy drunk though, I’ve heard from a number of people that they’ve never seen me laugh so hard as an average night out drinking.

But the absence of fun, of silly joy, is abundant now. I feel joy sometimes while running or lifting or swimming, I feel happy playing final Fantasy on the weekends, I feel happy going to the bookstore with Liv, but never that reckless silliness that makes a man laugh.

And as I’ve pointed it before we are partly a product of our expressions so the lack of laughter, of smiling, can create emotions and feed the darkness even though nothing is wrong.

I focus on taking pride in the discipline, I even enjoy a feeling of righteous fury sometimes when a work out is really killing it.

Socializing all feels shallower now and I don’t mean fake in anyway but literally that it just doesn’t run as deep. There’s a half-numb emotional distance between me and everyone.

I went out to a show and to karaoke on a Saturday night and had a good enough time, fueled by chaga coffee. Oddly my sobriety seemed to make other people more uncomfortable than it made me.

As usual when I’ve made a promise like this I feel no temptation. I don’t crave beer or wonder if I might as well drink. Giving up booze is easier than giving bacon. For some reason the beer in my mind is flat and slightly warm. When I think about what I miss about drinking it’s a dignified scotch or lawn chair afternoons listening classic rock.

I certainly don’t miss the fatigue and the drag on motivation that came after drinking. And I’m glad for the clearer, younger-looking skin, and less body fat. And let’s take it for granted that sobriety is the only reason my savings account isn’t empty as usual.

The wrap up to this will really be when it’s time to have that first drink again. Will the cycle start anew or will it be kept in it’s place now that I’m emotionally tied to how good sobriety is?


Posted in Uncategorized

The danger of purpose of life

I do an astounding amount of stuff in a day. I’m baffled by myself. I work out twice a day, I swim, I’m training for a marathon, I’m memorizing The Great Gatsby, I’m writing everyday, I’m killing it at work, I’m reading tons, I’m doing math every night, I go for floats every two weeks, my savings account is growing, I’m in the midst of 60 days off drinking, I host trivia at the Gateway, I play the open mic, I go to shows, I play squash, and I don’t eat carbs.

And I have to do it all to feel baseline good, to use up all the cognitive and spiritual energy I have for the day. I had no idea my tank was so full, that I could be so productive because when I was putting all my energy into music and it was still going in fits and starts I blamed myself and thought I was lazy.

Really though, those fits and starts were the growing pains that every area of focus is going to have. But because I had nothing else it was this constant feeling that life had ground to halt and was meaningless and there was nothing I could do about it because I was already giving 100%. Or at least I thought I was, I was actually just giving the same 50% twice.

I’d always thought putting all the focus into one thing was a sure-fire way to make that thing successful but it doesn’t work that way. I thought channeling everything through my identity would give it lazer focus but actually it just amped up how much things hurt without getting any more results out the other side.

Tim Ferris, when he’s counseling tech start ups and there’s billions of dollars on the line he teaches them power lifting. So they have something else to work on get good at and feel good about.

When I was desperately living a life a purpose I pushed everything else out of my life because I thought I had to, having anything else was proof of being that most dreaded of all things the hobbyist.

And despite my loathing of them I see that hobbyists are quite hardy. I think that’s why the music scene ends up so tepid, the passionistas burn out but the hobbyists can roll on forever because they burn slow and low like a good crock pot.

In trying to eliminate desire to eliminate suffering I found that I became a hobbyist in all things, I’m a hobbyist at life.

With everything I’m doing now there isn’t any pressure on my identity because I don’t aspire to have one, I can cast a wide harvestable field with lifting, swimming, running, squash, kettlebells, yoga, and dieting, and if all that somehow plateaued or failed me all at once I still have a dozen intellectual pursuits operating.  Hell I’m glad when something falls through because I’ve always got something waiting in the wings to get worked on.

I always knew that if I battled my depression it would be a full time job. I didn’t think I had the time. Well, once everything blew up and I had nothing but time I started wishing I put the time in before anything else.

The one thing this current life can’t give me is a sense of purpose. I’m actually living more selfishly now than ever before, everything I do I do to feel good. What I wanted before was a legacy. I wanted to make songs that became important to people, that touched as many people as possible, because then I could fade away. I didn’t have to matter if the songs mattered.

Now I have faded away. I’ve faded into a great life and I’m trying to be more than, or anything other than, the shadow of my former self, but trying not to crave a sense of purpose is a high wire act, it’s surfing above the wave of my own deepest feelings.


Posted in Depression & Suicide, Pragmatism