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Brad Pitt’s abs, Jeff Goldblum’s shoes, Michael Jordan’s fadeaway jump shot.
These are images branded in men’s minds when we think of fitness, style and excelling in every possible way. These men are considered the greatest at what they do, and yet we feel it necessary to compare ourselves to them all because in some ways we aspire to be like them. We all compare ourselves not only to the people closest to us but sometimes the very best of all time. And while aspirations are good to have, we should only have one person we’re in competition with.
Competition is tricky. While it can inspire us to be better and set goals for ourselves, sometimes those goals can be relatively unrealistic and thus unattainable. Not because we’re not good enough, but because every single person is on their own trajectory with a different way of arriving to the destination.
Although, Brad Pitt does have an Oscar, and MJ does have six rings so maybe they’re a little better if we’re being honest. But then again, maybe you don’t have the same aspirations for yourself, nor should you necessarily. Who knows, maybe you’re ten times the kite flier they’ll ever be.
One terrible habit I have — there are plenty more where this came from — is to compare my success to others I look up to based on whatever age I am. So when I turned 30, I looked at my role models to see what they had completed by the time they were 30, and immediately, all my accomplishments felt deflated. The upside is it motivated me to publish something of my own, and within a year, I had my first book published. But by 31, I looked to see how successful others ahead of me were and I completely neglected the fact that I had written and published a book and instead focused in on its lack of success. So I wrote another the following year, and I was even harder on myself, despite it being vastly better than my first attempt.
So how is that a healthy way to live your life?
There will always be somebody better than you, and as humbling as it can be, it’s not a fair comparison when everybody has a different set of tools, a different upbringing and any number of variables that differentiate their situations from yours. Meanwhile, there’s a highly successful novelist out there, banging their head against the wall after comparing themselves to Stephen King. It’s just not the most productive perspective to have.
The only smart competition to be in is the one against yourself. Am I better than I was last year? What have I improved on in the last 5 years? What are some things I used to suck at that are a total breeze to me now? What am I still struggling with? Which regrets do I have, and have I made it right with them? Am I happy with the trajectory of my life? Is it moving upwards or am I backsliding?
These are the questions you should be asking yourself.
If you play intramural basketball and spend the whole game comparing yourself to MJ in the 1998 Finals, no result is going to make you happy by the end of the game, no matter how good you play. He’s Michael Jordan. There are docu-series about his legendary career. Why should you compare? If you’re in shape but your abs aren’t chiseled like Brad Pitt in Fight Club, that’s OK. Some people might think you’re nuts if they were. Sometimes I like to have fun with it and imagine that it’s all CGI or painted-on. As far as Jeff Goldblum’s style is concerned, it’s never going to happen for you, although we recommend practicing his bold confidence sometime.
You are who you are, and that’s what sets you apart. The only thing that will make it better is to improve upon the skills you’ve been working with, develop new ones and expand your horizons into new territories you never dreamt possible, focus on not only maintaining but strengthening your relationships and being a better person than you were the day before. And most importantly, love what you do and do it to the best of your ability, as often as you can.
The other major pitfall is comparing yourself and your success to that of your friends. When you accomplish something major in your life but can feel their jealousy rather than excitement, or when they give you good news and your initial reaction is all about you instead of them, that’s not friendship. That’s a mind game nobody is going to win.
We needn’t be better than our friends or make those closest to us feel less than. Having diversity in the group, as well as your family, is what makes them special in the first place. Our job is to be the very best version of ourselves and use that positive energy to lift up those around us. Again, it’s not like you’re all playing with the same set of tools and rules so there is no point in keeping score, not even against your brother or your father, no matter how much DNA you share.
As you move throughout your years, look back in the rearview just long enough to see how far you’ve come. You’ll be proud of where you’ve been and excited about where you’re heading. Don’t stay too long, keep your eyes focused on the road ahead but always keep moving in the direction that feels good — with the sun on your face and the wind on your back, propelling you towards better versions of yourself.
And maybe one day before we leave this place, we can look back and say to ourselves: I have done something.
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The coming months will shape the coming years, and, for many, this will be their turning point or their breaking point.
So which is it for you?
Now that we’re into October, it’s safe to say this month, along with the following two, will force people to make decisions about the direction in which they want their lives to go. A moment of truth. Will your life be a continuation of the relentless struggle we’ve been through over the last seven months, or will we change course towards something hopeful and hopefully better? Will we lean towards that truth or not?
A lot of it has to do with perspective but never before has the good of man been so at stake and so necessary. As we’ve said in regards to the importance of voting, we’re not telling you who to vote for. Rather, we’re giving you the facts so you can make informed decisions for yourself.
What kind of world do you want to live in?
Think about the quality of life you have right now. Is it better than a year ago? How about four years or ten? Studies show American anxiety has never been higher, suicide is on the rise, people claim poorer sleep quality and even dentists claim they’re fixing five, sometimes ten, times the number of cracked teeth from people stress-grinding at night.
Many people are out of work (and thus, health insurance) while others are forced to work double as homeschooling teachers to keep their kids from falling behind. Many folks are removed from their home because of wildfires while others haven’t left in more than half a year because of a pandemic. So many are peacefully protesting while others incite violence and hatred, trying to keep people from standing up for what they know is wrong and continually plaguing our society.
It just doesn’t feel like we’re moving in the right direction.
Have you ever run your hand down a wood table against the grain and come up with a handful of splinters? That’s a lot like life these days. When we go in a direction we know we shouldn’t be heading, one in which inequality, bigotry and violence are not only condoned but encouraged, we end up in agony.
Rather, it’s time we sanded that sucker down, move with the grain and smooth out some of our rough edges. Between the culmination of events and connecting strictly via social media, our edges have become very hard and rigid. We need to start making decisions that get us back to that softer side of living, the kind of days when we can breathe calmly, sleep easily and simply enjoy life. Not this constant state of suffering and paranoia that makes us think we’re going a little crazy.
This month is an excellent moment for us to not only enjoy the changing seasons but for us to sit in nature with ourselves and our loved ones and make decisions about what we want for our future and our future generations.
Some may see November 3 as a D-Day of sorts in which doom will strike us all if we don’t respond accordingly. In a lot of ways, that’s true. But in another sense, we have to remember to keep a positive perspective. This doesn’t have to be the breaking point for our environment, our health and safety, our children and our Black community. With the right attitude, this can be a turning point, a moment in which we turn it all around.
We can bend things, but it doesn’t mean they have to break. We tried something new that many thought might work, but clearly the longer we continue down this path in which we allow our forests to burn, our Black communities to be abused and our elders to be endangered, the worse and worse we feel.
It’s easy to be cynical with what we see on the news, and without our friends and family around to bring us back to center, the easier it becomes for our cynicism to become our norm. Negativity rewires our brain for the worse, but positive thinking and gratitude can help us turn it back towards the light.
There is nobody who isn’t hurting right now, and we honestly can’t think of another time that’s been true. That alone should be a sign we’re going the wrong way.
Collectively, we are responsible for what happens next. Are we going to keep bending this thing until it does break? What then? Or are we going to make this moment count, marking a turning point where we find our way back to peace?
We’ll make it simple: More of this unending nightmare of misery? Or back on the road of happiness, only stronger and with everyone who wants to join onboard?
We don’t know about you, but we choose the turning point. A lonely winter with no Christmas just sounds pretty bleak.
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Despite all the coming & going madness and sadness of September, there’s one thing that shouldn’t be going anywhere — suicide prevention awareness.
While it’s good to have a week, even a month, dedicated to this ongoing struggle, it’s not enough. Not even close.
For the longest time, messages surrounding suicide and suicidal thoughts have been ones of “affliction” for the “mentally disturbed.” It seemed as distant as it did foreign.
“It may be someone you know,” they’d say, as if it were a rare bird you only see in particular regions at specific times of the year. But this is no Madagascar Pochard, folks, it’s not the spotted owl of sicknesses. It’s here often as the sun and the moon, a daily struggle everywhere you turn. And it’s only getting worse.
In August 2020, the CDC reported that nearly 1 in 4 young Americans were having suicidal thoughts in the previous 30 days alone. One in four. That’s just between the ages of 18 and 24, while the US population, in general, was running close to 11 percent, along with Black and Hispanic adults closer to 20 percent. With more than 300 million people in America, that’s a lot of very dark thoughts.
This kind of prevention and awareness, however, isn’t the same as tipping your cap and dropping loose change to the Salvation Army bell ringers at Christmas, sorry to say. It’s relentless and it’s pernicious, and that’s before people were disconnected from their lives, stuffed inside their homes with no work, no insurance, and a deadly virus strolling the streets. As the division, frustration and polarization of this American life expands, so does its anxiety, which is seeing its highest recorded numbers in history, a one-way road to the same dark place for many.
In 2018, the National Institute of Mental Health reported suicides had gone up 35 percent in the last 20 years, and men had nearly four times the rate as women, more than 48,000 in total for just one year.
I grew up in a small midwestern suburban Pleasantville where nothing bad ever happened — one time there was a robbery — and the biggest concern of the police was what the teenagers in the local Hardee’s parking lot were up to. It wasn’t until I left and came back that I could see what was wrong with it — the illusion of perfection.
So many people living for themselves, scared of anything different, giving back to very “white” causes and judgmental of anyone who struggled. Never once did I see a homeless man walk the streets. Some might call that safe suburbia, but all I see now is a facade that looks down on diversity.
It wasn’t until I left for Arizona to finish college that I got a good glimpse of the world, and after several downhill moments around a couple dark curves, I knew what anxiety, depression, being perpetually lost and hopeless felt like. There were moments I didn’t think I could make it back up from where I’d fallen, and several times I didn’t see the point in trying. It’s easy to get trapped in a place where you find it impossible to see to the other side of where we’re at, but a lot of people still get their mail there (that’s to say, it’s a permanent address for many).
But it was in reaching out and speaking extremely openly and honestly that I found countless others who’d been stuck in the same holes I’d been in, a little too deep to climb and not enough light to see another way out. It’s dark and it’s scary and had it not been for the courage to put myself out there, to write about it, maybe I’d still be there.
How to Help
Many people are still there, much deeper than I could ever imagine. Maybe they don’t have the supportive family I have, the caring friends who know when something is wrong and have the decency to hold out a hand, the community, the good health, the advantages I’ve had. Take those away, and I’d be drifting far from shore with plenty of proverbial water in my lungs.
We are each other’s life rafts. If you find yourself floating by someone who looks like they’re drowning, reach out.
In a time when the curation of this perfect illusion is the top trend of social expression — everything is all good all the time, really? — it’s our job to speak up and notice others struggling, whether we’re walking down the street or doom-scrolling our way to sleep. When the pandemic began, many of us were quick to play catch-up with those we’ve lost touch with. But maybe that shouldn’t just be when things are bad for you. Because many of us will find our next “normal,” but there will still be those suffering, and now more than ever, we all could use a thoughtful touch.
It’s OK to not be OK — not everyone hears that enough — and it’s in voicing it that within our tiny communities that we gather together around the idea that we’re all in this together.
So how will you help someone today? Who will you write? Who’s going to get an unexpected video call from you this weekend? Whether you know it or not, there’s always a dark side of the Zoom that’s hard to see.
Check out our Man Enough episode on anxiety below.