Someone broke into my car the other day and I’m feeling a lot more insulted than violated.
Saturday night, we went to Chinatown and I dropped Jill off to wait for a table while I looked for a parking space. I’m a city boy, so the hunt for a free space on a side street is one of my constant adventures. Also, being a city boy, I always lock the car when I leave; except for this time, apparently.
After dinner, I went to retrieve the car and discovered a ton of stuff on the shotgun seat. The center console was open, as was the sunglass holder, and the car was a mess. Clearly, someone had been looking for valuables to steal.
And here is where I got really, really offended. My invader didn’t find anything worth taking. Apparently, my shades weren’t hip enough and Jill’s spare glasses were the wrong magnification and even our taste in granola bars wasn’t up to the foodie standards of this ne’er do well.
So I started thinking that I’ve gotta up my game here. Yeah, I need to lock the car door next time, but I also need to buy cooler stuff and have the kind of car that thieves really want to break into and the kind of treasure they’ll really want to steal and…
Wait a minute.
Am I so insecure that I care what this guy thinks about me? Am I so needy that I crave the approval of a petty thief? Apparently, the answer is ‘yes.’
Even worse, it was the second time this happened. Several winters ago, some guy stole our car so he could drive to his halfway house—really—where he dumped it. Again, nothing in our car was good enough for him to steal, other than the car, of course. C’mon, man, I had cassettes from Neil Diamond and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap and a top-quality plastic windshield scraper. No interest? Dang.
We all react like that at some point or another, giving someone else the power to judge us and convincing ourselves that we deserve their scorn. We succumb to our need for acceptance from someone who isn’t important to us, someone we don’t respect, possibly someone we’ve never met. And yet, for some reason, we fall into the trap of needing their approval, their support, their acceptance.
For all of us, there is a “they” with more influence than they deserve in our lives. It could be a person who owned us in high school, an ex, a co-worker, or a Tik Tok star. It could be a group of people who are hipper or smarter or richer or prettier than we are, at least on the surface. Whatever defines “they” for us, we tend to give them a ton of deference.
For me, this time, it was a petty thief. When you think about it, though, it’s always a thief of some sort. It’s always a person who finds a way inside our heads, messes up our minds, and leaves us to deal with the damage. And they always steal something from us, often at our silent invitation.
Going forward, I’ve got to be more vigilant about keeping the wrong people out of my car. More important, I’ll be working to keep the wrong people from claiming a place in my head.
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My annual performance review continues, and it’s a grueling, 10-day process. Even more challenging, I won’t know how I did until this time next year.
I’ve never been the most observant member of my faith, but one aspect I take very, very seriously is the Ten Days of Awe, when every Jew is called upon to account for himself as the High Holidays begin on Rosh Hashanah and close at the end of the Yom Kippur fast.
Our goal, of course, is to conclude the Days of Awe with a promise that we’ll still be here next Rosh Hashanah. It’s either incredibly poetic, or impossibly devious, that we won’t know if we’ve made the cut until we’re back in the next performance review, asking for one more shot at getting it right. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?
As I cycle through the Days of Awe each year, I recognize the absolutely unassailable value of an annual performance review; not a review of my activities or my possessions, but of my value as a human being. I'm not being measured by any standard standards; instead, I'm rated on a table of Cosmic Benchmarks.
Most of the year, I forgive myself for all sorts of trespasses, but I’m more demanding about my Cosmic Benchmarks, both because the issue is life or death and I am not the One delivering Judgment. Yes, I realize there might not be a God and there might not be a Book of Life and this whole process might not have any relationship to the year ahead. Still, there’s something to be gained from considering all of it to be literally, brutally, eternally True.
Every year…so far…I’ve gained new perspectives, new insights, as a result of my performance review. Even if I’m really talking to myself, I emerge from the Days of Awe with a renewed sense of mission, a revived spirit, and a bit of added momentum. I’m more appreciative of the time I’ve been given and more aware of the time to come. I don’t know what is coming next, but I am more intent on being worthy of each new day, each new breath.
We all tell people there’s more to life than money or possessions or careers, but we tend to focus on those transitory artifacts much more than we emphasize the overarching purpose of Life. I’m grateful for the yearly reminder of what’s important, why I’m here and the work I still must do…assuming my annual review goes as hoped.
Wish me luck, and follow my progress, by clicking here to subscribe to our weekly updates at Dad Writes.
High Holidays post
My annual performance review continues and it is a grueling process.
Seriously, is there any holiday more depressing than Labor Day?
It goes without saying that our last summer holiday comes much too early, but this year we have the special bonus of leaders who are furious with the lazy, shiftless, unproductive, ungrateful, useless mopes who make up the American workforce.
Most years, politicians will issue proclamations about U.S. workers, the bedrock of our nation, pursuing the American Dream, yadda yadda bull bull bull. Not in 2021, though. This year, they're all screaming just one question: Why doesn’t anybody want to work anymore?
It's a legitimate question, since millions of people, from bartenders to rocket scientists, are taking extra time to return to the workforce. From entry-level serfs to highly-sought techies, the hesitation is broad-based and troubling.
Still, let's be honest about the whole thing. All the politicians and pundits aren't asking about the people who decided to retire last year, a number that apparently doubled to more than 3 million. And they aren’t asking about the people who are earning enough to thrive on one income instead of two.
No, the vitriol is reserved for the poor, semi-poor, nearly poor and the millions who are just getting by in the land of plenty. Entire industries, from restaurants to ride shares to daycare, depend on people working for low pay and, often, zero benefits. Pretty much every industry in the country is facing staffing shortages, but we’re only angry at the people who are at the bottom of the pyramid.
Fun Fact: None of us wants their jobs, either. Really, when was the last time you woke up and said…
“Gee, I wish I could wash dishes for the next ten hours,” or
“Wouldn’t it be fun to spend the day cleaning an airport bathroom,” or
“I love taking calls all day from people with problems I am not authorized to resolve.”
Anyone who wants one of those jobs can get one, because millions of people have moved on to greener pastures. Any takers?
Of course, this is how capitalism works. Supply and demand drive prices, free markets create new opportunities and every resource seeks its maximum returns. Most of the time, those resources are steel or oil or rail cars, but this year the scarce resource is people. Real wages for most workers have actually declined over the past 40 years, but it looks like 2021 is the year that everyone is getting a raise, including the dishwashers.
Personally, I think it’s worth the tradeoff. I’ll end up paying an extra dime for my coffee and a dollar for my pizza, but maybe we’ll be seeing fewer homeless encampments under the expressway. Maybe fast-food workers will finally be able to buy some of the food they make. Maybe working moms will still have a few bucks left over after they pay someone to watch their kids for ten hours a day.
Now, if only we could stop being so furious at the people who are getting a chance to move up a rung on the ladder, Labor Day could be just a bit less depressing for everyone.
Our labors would be much more rewarding in the coming year if you just click here to subscribe, and it won’t even require a minimum wage increase.
One of the worst bits of advice I ever received was, “Consider the source.” Yeah, it seemed like great advice when the car salesman said he was giving me his best price and the real estate agent said it was the perfect time to buy a house and the Secretary of Mining from Nigeria said I could trust him to send me the money. Beyond the obvious stuff, though, that once-great rule isn’t working for me anymore.
The problem, not surprisingly, is politics. My tribe good. Your tribe must die. You get the picture.
A few weeks ago, a reporter for a cable network asked an embarrassing question about someone’s behavior during the pandemic. There’s absolutely no question about the hypocrisy of the exchange, especially when we consider the way that network has responded to similar behavior by the people they support. Still, the question was legitimate, because it’s legitimate to ask whether a leader is upholding the same standards that leader demands of others.
No one will be surprised to learn that the answers started to divide along party lines. And absolutely, positively, without any shadow of a doubt, we will not be surprised to learn that nobody actually answered the question.
Because we are considering the source.
We’re being pretty stupid these days, at our great expense. We aren’t fixing the weaknesses in our economy, we aren’t inoculating people fast enough, we aren’t reducing violence, we aren’t improving our kids’ education, we aren’t making government more responsive or effective or efficient or transparent, or or or… We aren’t making progress, in large part, because we cannot and will not discuss ideas. We identify the source, support or reject accordingly, and then move on to our next post.
In The Time Before, I went to a program about the way elections are handled in the United States, a session that covered everything from voter registration to gerrymandering to allocation of Electoral College votes. The speakers raised some good points about the ways our system fails to reflect the will of the people and they offered some solutions for our consideration. When the meeting ended, the guy sitting next to me leaned over and said, “He sounded like he might be a Democrat.”
That was it. The conversation was over. My neighbor doesn’t think his views are represented in government, but he wasn’t going to consider any solutions that might be offered by Democrats.
He was considering the source.
He didn’t care about the ideas, just the team that owned them. Four years from now, he’ll still be complaining that the government doesn’t respond to the will of the people, but he’ll be glad to learn that no Democrat solutions will be imposed.
And that kind of reaction makes him a chump. He isn’t alone, of course. Our leaders have learned how to deflect blame and responsibility and refuse to make progress for the nation by simply labeling ideas as socialist or populist or fascist or leftist or radical or Republican or Democrat.
You know why we aren’t making any progress in this country? It’s because we talk about sides instead of ideas, tribes instead of visions. We’ve decided we’re okay with suffering, as long as the other guy suffers more. We’ve decided we don’t care about leaving a better world for our kids if it means the world will be better for our rivals’ kids as well.
We have met the enemy, as Pogo said, and he is us.
Because we are considering the source.
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A guy I know is doing very well in his career, but he is out of sorts lately because he has to give up the activities that helped him build his business in the first place. He started out as a salesman, but now he’s a manager, which is not nearly as much fun and not nearly as good a fit for his personality.
I’ve written before about the changes we all go through as we move through life, and the lessons of resilience are a constant, but there’s no denying that he has lost a part of himself in the transition. His identity as the guy who could outsell everyone else is being displaced by coach and cheerleader for other reps. He once basked in the glory of a million attaboys, but now he’s the guy who gives attaboys to all the other boys and girls on the team.
The more we talked about it, the more I realized he was in mourning. A part of him, a part of his identity and career had died and he was feeling the loss. Shortly afterwards, I had some conversations with friends who were going through other life changes---divorce, moving, job change—and the patterns were the same. Nobody had actually died, but everyone was mourning a significant loss. It didn’t matter if the changes were their choice or not, or if they recognized the transitions as a move for the better. They were shedding a skin, and their new skins didn’t quite fit.
Maybe that’s a good way for us to look at all the changes in our lives, large or small. We don’t need to get dramatic about it, since it’s not really a death, but recognizing the patterns can help us better with our adjustment.
I had always thought it was George Carlin’s idea, but it turns out it was Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who came up with the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. As I talk with my friends about their own transitions, each of these stages seems to be present at one point or another. The order of phases isn’t always the same, but that’s probably normal. Just as there is no right or wrong way to mourn the death of a loved one, there probably isn’t a correct way to grieve over the loss of a job or a hometown. Whatever the pacing, the key is to reach acceptance and peace.
That also shifts the burden of friends and family to keep our mouths shut about how to deal with the death of a life phase. It’s pretty much never appropriate, or welcome, to begin a sentence with, “What you should do is…” and that’s particularly true in the big transitions of life. Truth be told, we really don’t know what someone else should do and we don’t have to live with the consequences of our advice.
I’m eating my own cooking on this one, resisting the urge to share my infallible wisdom about all issues of human endeavor. More than once, I suspect, keeping my opinions to myself has saved me from mourning the loss of yet another friendship.
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I showed up at the final exam about half way into the class, dropped my books and started digging into the essay. After the instructor called time, I told one of my classmates I was late because I had run out of gas on the way to the test.
“Well, you won’t make that mistake again,” he said, and it made me cringe, because it was the second time I’d done it.
It wasn’t the first time, and certainly it wasn’t the last instance of me repeating a stupid mistake. Over the years, I’ve found a way to do the same dumb thing over and over, always vowing and always failing to know better the next time.
Somehow, I am not as bright as a lab rat.
We all like to think we learn from our mistakes, but most of us find a way to resist the wisdom life throws at us. I laugh at the guy who keeps falling for the latest investment craze, but I still think I’m going to get home faster if I get off the expressway and take the side streets. I shake my head as a friend tells me about a new relationship that sounds identical to the last hundred blow-ups, but every so often I’ll think it’s a great idea to split tens at the blackjack table.
I’m intrigued by my uncanny ability to absorb some lessons instantly and emulate a box of rocks about others. What is it that makes us both brilliant and chumps at the same time? Whatever the deep meaning behind our foolish consistency, it’s just another way for God to keep us humble.
We like to think of ourselves as wolves, always learning and always surviving the threats around us. More commonly, we’re dogs, repeatedly running into the patio door. Unfortunately, we never seem to be quite as happy as the family dog appears to be.
My own journey is a triumph of hope over experience. This time will be different. This time I’ll avoid the trap. This time I’ll make it work. Now that I’ve figured it all out, I’ll break the pattern. Ultimately, it turns out, my most infallible skill is my ability to fool myself.
There’s some comfort to be found in knowing that I’m not alone on the journey. As good as I’ve become at recognizing my own destructive tendencies, I’m even better at spotting those patterns among other people. Of course, it goes without saying that their repeated missteps are excessively irritating and impossibly obvious. Meanwhile, I’ve found, my own consistency of errors is charming, possibly even endearing.
Why are my flaws more cuddly than theirs? Hard to say, really, but it’s absolutely true. Regardless, I’ll try to find a way to tolerate all of their failures while making an effort to, um, refine my own charming idiosyncrasies.
I’ll give it more thought later, but meanwhile I have to polish off this pizza and finish a few more beers before I head back to the casino. I know that worked out badly for me in the past, but this time will be different.
It’s never a mistake to subscribe to Dad Writes by clicking here and, even if it was a giant error, it’s one of the most charming mistakes around.
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Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.