Why I Don’t Keep My Promises

Promises are interesting phenomena. We all make promises — to our children, to our parents, to our significant others, to our friends, even to ourselves — and sometimes (maybe more often for some of us), we break them. We can’t, realistically speaking, keep every single promise we make. The only surefire way to avoid breaking promises is to refrain from making them altogether.

So, why do so many of the promises make end up broken?

In her Huffington Post article mentions that some people continue to break their promises because “saying you are going to do something feels just as good as actually doing it.”

I consider myself a man of my word. I’d like to think most people know that when I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it. This is probably because of the conviction with which I assert things. If I declare with confidence that I’m going to do something and it sounds legitimate, why not believe it’s going to get done?

That being said, I can’t count how many times I’ve told myself I’m going to go for a run today and simply haven’t done it. A lot of times, I even mention to coworkers how I’m going to run later to try to solidify my plans, but I always end up looking like a lazy, Oreo-guzzling piece of shit when they ask me about my “run” the next day.

Now, going for a run is a small-scale example; it doesn’t affect anyone but me if I do or don’t exercise, and it really doesn’t even affect me that much. Come to think of it, most of the promises I break only affect me, small and large-scale.

This is why I want to focus on the promises I make to myself. These are the ones that affect only me by design — the ones that, if broken, disappoint me and only me because others hardly ever know I make them. These are the promises made on a bigger scale, or at least they seem that way. Perhaps I put more weight into them because they are that much more important to me than going for a run.

I’m talking about the promises I make to myself that truly challenge me as a person. I’m talking about the ones that are hard to keep not because they’re impossible but because I know myself too well.


 

Awhile back, I promised myself I would write more frequently. But, because I’m lazy, uninspired, and afraid of publishing anything less than “perfect” (in my eyes), I have been writing sporadically at best. To shed some light on this point, I started this post about promises over two months ago.

According to Robert Wicklund and Peter Gollwitzer’s Self-Completion Theory (1982), we engage in behaviors that reinforce specific identity goals to which we are committed. So, I want to write more frequently because I consider myself a “writer” and the only way to prove to myself and others that I am a writer is to write.

A few months ago, I made a “25 Before 25” list with some coworkers, detailing twenty-five goals I want to accomplish before I reach the quarter-century mark. I may have completed several of the things on that list already, but I don’t expect to accomplish much more. The worst part is that I knew I wouldn’t do some of these things when I made the list. In fact, I only added certain items to the list to pad my stats, so to speak. I essentially filled a bucket list with things I had already done to make it look like I’d accomplished something in my life. After all, I can’t break a promise I’ve already followed through with.

My best and most recent example of a broken promise is my vow to stay positive. Unlike my “25 Before 25” list, which I only shared with my coworkers, and my personal pledge to write more, I publicized this commitment to positivity to any close friends and family members willing to listen. (So, like three people total.)

It took me a lot longer to break this promise than I thought it would. I’m not sure if it had to do with the scope of the pledge, but for a few good weeks, I was committed to being positive. Or at least I thought I was.

See, what I mistook for positivity turned out to be a neutrality that was uncharacteristic in and of itself, but — when compared to my usual pessimism — seemed groundbreaking. So, rather than displaying true positivity for this span, I was fooling myself with my lack of negativity.

While vowing to stay positive sounds beneficial on the surface, I made the biggest mistake any of us can make when I made that promise. I did it for the wrong reasons.

I can try to explain why I break promises I make to myself and others through psychological terms and thirty-year-old theories, but the real reason is plain and simple. When I make a promise for the wrong reasons, I am extremely unlikely to keep it. And this is probably true for all of us.

I compiled that “25 Before 25” list to give myself something to reach for, and I self-sabotaged my chance for growth. I tried to write more often because I believed it was something I needed to do to maintain my identity, and I found myself with nothing to write about. And I decided to try on my positivity hat for a few weeks because I thought I could trick myself into being happy. Perhaps that was my worst mistake.

I viewed happiness as a goal rather than a state of being. This is dangerous because: 1. I classified my well-being as a temporary goal and 2. How can we measure the success of an objective that is completely intangible? What is the metric for happiness?

Earlier in this article, I mention that the only way not to break a promise is not to make it in the first place. But after analyzing all of the recent broken promises I’ve made to myself, I’ve realized that the best way to avoid breaking promises — and maybe the only way — is to make them for the right reasons.

Death As We Know It

My grandmother passed away recently, making both of my parents orphans, in turn leaving my brother and me grandparentless. She was my father’s mother; his father passed away early last year. I never had the pleasure of knowing my mother’s father because he died months before I was born. And we lost my other grandmother in 2010 — she was better known as “Nanny.”

Fortunately, my parents never had to explain death to my brother or me when we were young. Nanny was really our first loss of somebody very close to us, and my brother and I were fifteen and nineteen years old at that point, respectively. I’ll say again that these circumstances are certainly fortunate, but I feel that they also contributed to my parents skipping an extremely important conversation with their children.

From what I recall, my first real experience with death — that is, attending a wake and/or funeral — was in third or fourth grade. One of my classmates had lost a brother who suffered from a crippling medical condition since birth. I remember hearing it was a relief, in a way, because my friend’s family didn’t have to watch their loved one in pain anymore. They no longer had to witness him being subjected to that type of lifestyle, clinging onto the withering hope that his condition would improve. Since we were in a Catholic school, the entire class attended the funeral mass and sat in the back of the church out of respect for our classmate and his family.

I would say my parents laid the proper foundation for my brother and me to understand the concept of death, but we never got the chance to have that talk about what death is — what it actually means when somebody dies. Perhaps it’s easier that way, allowing kids to formulate their own conceptions of life and death.

Of course, there is no way to know for sure what happens when we die, but this doesn’t stop kids from being curious, from asking questions. It shouldn’t stop us from being curious either, nor should it stop us from trying to comprehend what death truly means — and through experiencing death, comprehending what it truly means to live.

I have a five-year-old cousin who has much more experience with death than I did when I was her age. But still, I don’t believe she genuinely understands it. (Do we genuinely understand anything at the age of five?) To my knowledge, this upcoming wake and funeral will be (at least) her second experience of the sort. She was present at our grandfather’s wake and funeral last year, even though she didn’t have a relationship with him. However, my cousin had a very close relationship with our grandmother, which makes this situation particularly delicate.

Does she feel sad? Does she know to feel sad? A five-year-old is going to ask questions about her grandmother, and yes — it’s important how we answer them.

Is it right to tell my cousin that Grandma fell asleep and is never going to wake up? Wouldn’t that make her afraid to fall asleep? We can’t tell her: “Everybody dies, and someday you’re going to die, too.” That would traumatize her, however true it may be.

So, what do we say to a five-year-old?

Do we lie? Do we involve our religious beliefs and tell her that Grandma went up to heaven and is now an angel watching over her? Isn’t that just a way for people to avoid accepting death’s permanence?

How do we clarify that death is permanent? We can’t just tell a five-year-old she’s never going to see her grandmother again. Can we?

Do we make it a dialogue and say, “Haley, what do you want to know about Grandma?” Do we answer all of her questions candidly, even if it means responding “I don’t know”? Would she accept “I don’t know” as an answer and understand that sometimes there’s no way of knowing something for sure?

Or do we avoid the situation altogether? I know my family is good at that, so should this conversation wait until my cousin is older and more mature?

Maybe I’m asking the wrong questions here. Maybe instead of wondering how should we, I should be thinking how could we. If we don’t even know what happens when and after we die, how could we explain the concept of death to a child? What knowledge about death could we possibly have that makes us more qualified than a five-year-old to field existential questions?

What we know about death (pertaining to life as we know it) is limited to the fact that 1. it is inevitable and 2. it is permanent. All of the other details — the ones kids tend to ask about — get a bit fuzzy after that.

So, unless we want to explain how to organize a funeral or how to purchase a coffin or how to close bank accounts or how to write an obituary, maybe we should just stop trying to explain death to our children. Maybe we should just let them ask their own questions and form their own beliefs. And the way we do that is by simply answering honestly: “I don’t know.”

These are some great resources I found about this subject (obviously, every situation and every child is different, but it doesn’t make these any less useful):

Explaining death to a child – The Washington Post

Talking to children about death – National Institutes of Health

My Wet Dream

We all want something. Some of us know exactly what we want and exactly how to attain it, others know what but are iffy on the how, and some — myself included — are still trying to figure out how anybody can claim they know anything.

I asked myself a simple question: Why do we postpone pursuing our dreams?

I pondered this question for hours, developing a “brainstorm web” (recalling when middle school teachers used to tell me to create a web of ideas before writing an essay). My web included potential reasons for the postponement of dreams, as well as possible consequences for putting these dreams on hold. After reflecting on my own dreams, I decided to pose the same question to some family, friends, and acquaintances. Several people responded with the idea that maybe people don’t postpone their dreams. Maybe our dreams change based on life occurrences that are out of our control. But this notion didn’t sit well with me.

We all have dreams — that is to say, aspirations. I’ve read that goals are a way of making our dreams become reality. If we don’t set realistic, attainable goals, then dreams are just… dreams. For example, I could dream of changing the world someday, but that’s awfully vague, isn’t it? How could I possibly measure whether or not I’ve achieved it, let alone whether or not I’m even working towards it? Reshaping that dream into a goal of participating in a charity event and donating x amount of dollars to breast cancer research each year is much more perceptible. With less abstract versions of our dreams, in the form of goals, we can sort of figure out what we want out of life and ensure that every action we take moves us closer to achieving said goals.

I agree that dreams can change. But, like with basically everything else in this world, a fire burns inside me, asking: Why?

When I originally webbed out the potential reasons people postpone their dreams, I thought about why I, personally, would ever push my aspirations aside. (Now that I have written the previous sentence and read it aloud, I realize how depressing it is for me to have actually brainstorm-webbed the concept of “postponing dreams.” People are out there feeding the hungry, curing the sick, and getting laid — getting laid, man — and I’ve mapped out a web that can tell you why people give up on what they want in life.) Tying into the idea of life “happening” and changing our dreams in the meantime, one of the reasons I came up with was responsibility. Sometimes, we have to rearrange our priorities based on the well-being of others, ie. children and other loved ones. And that is completely understandable.

But what if I played devil’s advocate for a moment and argued that this responsibility and “prioritization” wasn’t the real reason people put their dreams on hold? Maybe — just maybe — this is a means for justification of their actions, or lack thereof. Some of us do postpone our dreams; it’s no secret. Some of us are hesitant to commit to goals because we fear everything from rejection to regret to failure. The reasoning behind this is tough for me to pinpoint — whether it is a confidence problem, a comfort zone issue, the crushing weight of expectations, or a combination of the three. But the truth is, this lack of commitment to our goals is failure.

Sometimes, postponing our dreams eventually leads to giving up on them, and that’s the worst part to think about. Because, when we give up on a dream (or when we allow it to “change”), maybe it means we never really wanted it in the first place — or maybe we never really believed it was possible.

To me, allowing a dream to change because of “circumstances” is inconceivable. A dream is a dream is a dream. Sure, some are outlandish and farfetched even, but if we really — and I mean really — want something, what’s stopping us?

Is it the aforementioned lack of commitment caused by our fear of failure and regret? Is it our hesitance to venture out of our comfort zones, or the fact that some of us feel anchored down by feelings and people and people’s feelings? Or is it our past experiences that seem to serve as warnings, cautioning us not to dive head first into anything without first dipping our toes in the water?

This experience that forewarns us of any potential danger usually protects us. After all, we are the sum of our life experience and without it, we wouldn’t know much of anything. But perhaps this experience — the same experience that reminds us not to stick our hands into a fire because hey, fire is hot and the same experience that advises us not to venture into relationships with people who are eerily similar to our exes because hey, there’s a reason we broke up — is actually holding us back.

This is why I believe children are so important and downright fascinating. They haven’t developed this umbrella of experience that unconsciously shields them from bad weather. Instead, they dare to dream and they don’t get bogged down with the details — they just play in the rain.

Maybe we can learn from them.

On “Putting It Into Perspective”

I know how to solve everyone’s problems but my own. I’m usually a pretty good person to talk to about any sort of dilemma. I’m practical, I analyze (sometimes over-analyze) every possible repercussion to every action, and I talk things out to get down to the bottom of the situation. I am very good at separating myself from the circumstances and giving advice from an objective standpoint. And then I always provide my subjective opinion for good measure.

But when it comes to my own problems? Ha.

“Ryan, shut up. You don’t have any real problems.”

Maybe I don’t. And maybe that’s my problem. Maybe I make mountains out of molehills and when I don’t have anything real to complain about, I begin to critique every little thing in my life and begin to feel unsatisfied. Maybe in my quest for the top of the world, I’ve forgotten the ladder I have to climb to get there. Maybe my “perfection or bust” mentality makes me forget that it takes a lot of time and work to be successful at anything – not to mention that nothing and nobody is perfect.

Maybe my biggest problem is that I’m bored. I always say I want to stay out of drama, but maybe some drama is exactly what I need. I need some excitement. Maybe I need to do something unpredictable. Maybe I need to do something stupid so I have to face the consequences and regret it and defend myself.

I miss being the one apologizing. I miss being sorry. I want to be sorry for something. I want to take a risk and make a mistake. I miss having to defend myself. Defending my arrogance, defending my lack of a filter, my occasional tendency to act out of character. I was never completely spontaneous, but I engaged in spontaneous behavior every so often. What happened to that? Somewhere along the line, I became confined to the front and back covers of a book; and in this book, I know exactly what’s going to happen next.

I don’t think I like that. Don’t get me wrong – I like having an idea of where I’m headed, and I usually love making a plan. But where have my plans gotten me? Plans are unreliable. They never pan out like they’re supposed to. They change.

If and when plans change, we have to decide whether to change with them or to push hard enough to make the original ones work. That’s where I’m at right now. My circumstances have obviously changed, and I’m not exactly where I expected to be at this point. So, do I adapt to these changes and roll with it, or do I continue with my original plan and power through adversity?

My dilemma is not that I don’t know how to answer that question. (I don’t, but…) My problem is that I don’t know which direction any specific action will take me.

I can’t seem to figure out if anything I do will be running away from something or running towards it.

I should probably just follow my own advice on this one and stop thinking so much. Don’t think. Just do. I should take whatever action feels right at the time and not worry about the consequences. If I regret it later, then maybe I’ll learn something about myself. Maybe I’ll get to defend myself again.

The problem with that idea is that while I enjoy defending my actions against the criticism of other people, I’m not sure if I would be able to defend them against my own criticism. I’m the only person I can’t fool in that respect. I know when I’m being genuine and when I’m bullshitting. I walk that fine line on a daily basis. I’m completely honest with everyone else, but I’m lying to myself. Or vice-versa. What I need to do is find a balance between the two.

And that’s exactly what this blog is.

A Needle in a Haystack

(The following is an essay I wrote during the spring of 2009, my freshman year of college. The reason I am posting this now is because I feel like it is extremely relevant to current events, and I may be piggy-backing on points mentioned in here in the near future. Plus, I got an A.)

Keeping Truth in Sight: Analyzing the Threat Posed by Bullshit

We now know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb.” –Thomas Edison

Americans tend to get by in modern society. Wading through all of the bullshit piled up around us, we somehow manage to survive by making use of that one grain of truth that remains in our country. Sometimes we are forced to search for this very speck of truth on which our existence leans, much like trying to find a needle in a haystack. But once we dive into the haystack and find the truth, we can crawl out, wash our hands of the bullshit, and continue on with our lives until we face another haystack. It is this determination and dedication that keeps Americans going in contemporary society; like Thomas Edison’s quote about the light bulb, we know a thousand ways to lie and bullshit, but the one way to tell the truth is all that matters to us.

Now, bullshit usually gets a bad reputation for its complete disregard for the truth.  However, the bullshitter’s intention may not always be so horrible.  Many individuals believe that bullshit is not only a disregard for the actual truth but also a disregard for people’s feelings. Whether these individuals mean a disregard for the feelings of the bullshitter or the bullshittee is not exactly clear, but I am forced to disagree regardless. Sometimes, bullshit is actually meant to improve people’s attitudes and provide its audience with faith and inspiration. Religion and government both fall into this category because they are meant to improve the quality of life of anybody willing to accept them as true.  So, while bullshit is not necessary for survival in modern society, it occasionally provides Americans with more hope than truth might provide; however, if and when this inspirational bullshit is found out to be false, its effect turns out to be counterproductive.

Truth in Decision-making

It is impossible not to care about the truth. It’s as simple as that— we need information that is based on facts, statistics, and data to analyze a situation and make a final decision. Every bit of knowledge we possess is based on truth; otherwise, we wouldn’t know anything. We would think that we know certain information, when in reality, it would all just be bullshit. Then we would all turn into bullshitters, and that haystack hiding the truth would grow to the point at which we wouldn’t even be willing to dive in anymore. This is why bullshitting is such a slippery slope.

When it comes to making important decisions, we have to be sure that we are using the most factual information we have at our disposal. It would be impossible for us to make a decision that we would not later regret without using fact as a basis for analysis. For example, the United States of America invaded Iraq on the basis of their supposed possession of nuclear weapons. However, it turned out that there were no such nuclear weapons in Iraq. So, now we are left with the question of whether President Bush made his decision to invade Iraq based on bullshit or he listened to his own bullshit long enough to convince himself that it was factual. And so begins that slippery slope….

Kenneth A. Taylor discusses the concept of confirmation bias in his essay “Bullshit and the Foibles of the Human Mind” in the book Bullshit and Philosophy: “Confirmation bias helps to explain the imperviousness of already adopted beliefs to contravening evidence and it also helps to explain our tendency to overestimate our own epistemic reliability. If one believes some proposition, then one typically will also believe that one has good reason for believing that very proposition.” (2006, p. 52)  Taylor suggests that we have a tendency to believe that our reasons for believing something are reliable, in turn implying that we believe the information on which we base our decisions is also reliable.  Once the dependability of this information is questioned, we begin to doubt everything we thought we knew and become incapable of making decisions out of fear of regretting them in the future.

The Truth about Bullshit

Contrary to G.A. Cohen’s views in his essay “Deeper into Bullshit” and Sara Bernal’s views in “Bullshit and Personality,” I am not concerned with where or how bullshit occurs but rather why it occurs in modern society. So, rather than dealing with the two distinct types of bullshit Cohen mentions, bullshit in everyday life and bullshit in the academic setting, or Bernal’s two types, indirect implication of falsehood and distraction, we will deal with the three types of bullshit (in my mind), classified by the reason which they occur:

  1. Bullshit for personal gain. People often bullshit to save themselves from trouble or to improve their own reputation.
  2. Bullshit for the apparent benefit of others. People sometimes believe that they actually help others out by concealing the truth from them and/or spreading information that has not been proven true.
  3. Bullshit for the sake of bullshitting. Some people just make it a habit.

Now, to narrow down the discussion even further, I am particularly interested in the second type of bullshit aforementioned. People attempt to “do others a favor” by spreading information that often ignites hope or inspires others to have faith in something. Of course, these bullshitters have an admirable intention, but the end result is exactly what makes them bullshitters. While they believe that they are truly enhancing someone else’s quality of life, it merely appears that way; because, once questioned and proven false, the bullshitter’s audience suffers worse than it would have without the bullshit in the first place.

Take the instance of James Frey’s fraudulent “memoir” A Million Little Pieces being popularized by the Oprah Winfrey Book Club. Oprah’s audience, and Frey’s audience for that matter, was under the impression that it was reading the story of a recovered drug addict and helping the inspirational cause by paying for the book. As Consuelo Preti discusses in his essay “A Defense of Common Sense in the book Bullshit and Philosophy, “Everybody felt good about supporting and being a part of a story arc that in American culture, particularly, has legs: surrender, degradation, realization, recovery; and, of course, inspiration.” (2006, p. 22) Sure, everyone who believed the tall tale of Frey’s recovery felt inspired at first; however, once they learned it was not based on fact, what could have possibly happened to their hope?

How could they, or we as Americans, believe and find inspiration in any stories similar to Frey’s if our beliefs have already failed us once? It is this very doubt that proves that truth is necessary in the world we live today, in the country we live today.  Once we have experienced the failure of our beliefs and sources of inspiration to stay true, everything and everyone we turn to for hope is questioned. The credibility of all we “know” or believe to be true goes up in smoke.

The Danger of Bullshit in Religion and Government

This lack of credibility is the case with both religion and government in contemporary American society.  With respect to religion, stories are spread to spark some type of faith in its audience, but nobody actually knows them to be true. This does not mean that religion is based on lies; if it was, somebody would actually need to be aware of the truth. But these stories cannot be considered the truth either, because there is no factual evidence supporting them. This leaves only one category under which to classify religion: bullshit.  Now, religion should not be considered bullshit with a bad intention because it is quite obvious that it falls under the second type of bullshit aforementioned. Religious beliefs are spread for the benefit of others— to give people faith in a pleasant afterlife and a kind God, to give people hope in better things to come their way, to give people a reason to feel inspired even when they feel like they have hit rock-bottom. However, if these beliefs were ever to be questioned and proven false, religion’s effect on believers would be extremely counterproductive.

The situation with the United States government is very similar. Simply put, we Americans rarely receive the full truth from our leaders; most of the time, this bullshit is said to “protect” us. But truth isn’t what the government should be protecting us from—bullshit is the real danger. With regards to credibility, the United States government has lost much of its integrity since events such as the Watergate scandal and practically the entire eight years of the George W. Bush administration. So, as U.S. citizens, we question a decent amount of the information that our government conveys to us. For example, many Americans question whether or not passengers heroically crashed United Flight 93 in a field in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. It seems just as likely that our government ordered United 93 to be shot down over an empty field to prevent further destruction and tragedy. Of course, the government will never reveal the truth about this matter; but in reality, it is impossible for anybody who was not on that plane to know the whole truth. So, if we do not know the exact truth based on fact, then we must consider everything we think we know bullshit.

Finding the Needle in the Haystack

As Americans, it is imperative that we always seek the truth. Bullshit has already invaded our country and our world, and it exists at an overwhelming rate. Some types of bullshit are more of a threat than others, and sometimes the intention with which we bullshit is of good nature. The United States government and religious leaders of the world often bullshit to give people something to believe in or hope for, but when the truth about the matter is uncovered, all credibility goes out the window and all hope is lost.

We need the truth about the subject at hand to ensure ourselves a more honest and structured way of life. Decisions we make must be based on nothing but the truth, even if believing the bullshit at hand seems like it may benefit us. Because when it comes down to it, even though bullshit appears to enhance our quality of life, it only builds us up to break us down when it is proven false. A genuine true story about a recovered drug addict who has changed his ways or a heroic group of passengers standing up for what they believe in provides Americans with actual hope, hope that an exaggerated movie or fabricated “memoir” cannot provide.  This is why truth is necessary in modern American society. If we get too caught up in the bullshit around us, we begin to believe it to be factual, and in turn lose sight of the actual truth. And if this happens… That needle might as well be another piece of hay.

My Two Cents

Change is an interesting concept. It may be the only universal truth because we are constantly experiencing it. Everything changes around us, and we even go through changes ourselves. But my question regarding change is whether it is an active process or a passive one. Are we changing or is it just a series of experiences we are going through?

To even begin pondering this question, we must first understand whether or not people are capable of change. Physically, we know people change over time. But when it comes to deep-seated beliefs, are we capable of reconsidering them and changing them altogether?

The structure of the way we think/feel is fairly simple:

On the surface, we have our opinions. These are the outward expressions of our attitudes. Our attitudes are the way we feel about certain stimuli, ie. other people, current events, and political issues. We form these attitudes based on our beliefs, a foundation that includes our values, our morals, and our faith.

I was taught in Public Relations that opinions are the easiest of the three to change. When you work in advertising or PR, your goal is to alter people’s opinions of your client/product. To accomplish this, you might try to appeal to their attitudes or beliefs. If you are able to get someone to question their morals, you’re probably really talented at what you do, but you are also probably a terrible human being. (If you work in PR, it is already assumed that you are a terrible human being.)

Now that we know how basic beliefs are constructed, we can assume that people are capable of changing these beliefs. We modify our priorities as we age, recognizing that different aspects of life are more important today than they were yesterday. But again, we are faced with the question: Are we doing this consciously, or is it something that just sort of happens?

If change was an active process, people would be able to change on a whim. There wouldn’t have to be any reason for it, and people’s behavior would be just as inconsistent as their beliefs. Right? We wouldn’t need prisons to reform murderers and rapists and criminals; they could simply wake up tomorrow morning and decide, “Eh, molesting kids isn’t for me anymore.” Drug addicts wouldn’t need rehab because they could just say, “No, no, no” to drugs (like Amy Winehouse should have).

But are these points I’m making actually proving that change is a passive process, or are they merely suggesting that there are some things you can’t change?

If change is actually a passive process, this discussion can encompass the “Nature versus Nurture” debate. Is change part of human nature, or do we adapt due to environmental factors? In a vacuum, would we continue to adjust our behavior and ways of life, or would we remain the same forever? If change is truly just something that we are going through, we must figure out if it is an intrinsic process or a result of external pressures.

Physical change is natural. We get older, taller, hairier, grayer, more wrinkled – we can’t really prevent any of this. But it seems as if our priorities and/or beliefs change only during important situations. Once our circumstances change, everything else follows suit. It might be safe to conclude that if change is passive, some of it is natural while some is environmental.

Also, the point that there are some things you can’t change can help explain how the process of change is passive. The key part of this argument is the word “you.” There are some things you can’t change. If this is true, the concept of change would rely on both natural human processes and environmental factors – nature and nurture.

I’m the type of person who needs a reason for everything, but who also refuses to believe that everything happens for a reason. I realize that some questions don’t have any answers (because I watched all six seasons of Lost), but I believe that it never hurts to try to figure these questions out.

On Settling

“What am I doing with my life?”

This is something I ask myself every time I wake up, but only recently has it become such a perplexing thought for me. What kind of direction do I have? Where is that drive all of my professors talked about? Maybe this is just a difficult time in my life/the world, and I need to be patient and seize opportunities when they come my way. But ever since Chumbawamba broke up this year, I find myself getting knocked down, lacking the passion and the ambition to get back up again.

As many know, I recently began working as a sales associate at JCPenney. Of course, it was rough at first, but I picked it up rather quickly. After all, it’s not rocket science. It’s JCPenney. I happen to be quite good at the job, it turns out, and my fellow employees seem to enjoy having me around. This position was introduced as a seasonal position, but I know management will keep me if they feel that they can trust me.

My problem is this: I don’t know if I’m more worried about hating this job or if I’m more worried about liking it. (#firstworldproblems But seriously…)

If I hate the job, it’s not really a big deal. I know I need to find something more permanent that I can make actual money doing; it’s just that I tend to stay in my comfort zone. I’m confident that I could rise in the ranks at JCPenney and be some sort of manager in no time. But is that what I want? Absolutely not.

If I like the job, it shouldn’t really be a big deal either. However, everything can be a big deal with me. My biggest fear is not failure or anything like that – what I am truly afraid of is settling. The last thing I want to do is get stuck in a job like this, one in which the only reason I don’t quit is my potential to run the show. And of course, it’d be easier than continuing my train-wreck-of-a-job-search.

You can pretty much tell what kind of person someone is by the way they answer the following question:

Would you rather be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?

In other words, some people prefer to stand out in a small crowd while other people prefer to be a part of a larger crowd. You might have more distinction as the big fish, but you don’t have as much competition. As the smaller fish, you usually have more room to grow and adapt to your surroundings, in turn making you the best you can be.

JCPenney is a small pond. Simply put, being the best employee at JCPenney is like being the tallest midget.

Part of the reason I fear getting stuck in a job like this is the multitude of conversations I’ve had with JCPenney employees. Many have told me that they began the job as a seasonal sales associate, meaning for it to be temporary. “But that was, oh… about twelve years ago.” If I’m still working at JCPenney in twelve weeks, I want my family and friends to slap me in the face and sit me down for a talk. Intervention-style.

If I hate the job, I’ll just be an unhappy employee until I find another place to work. I’ll continue to search for jobs that I’d enjoy doing, jobs with a base pay greater than $8.50/hr. I’ll eventually find an employer who responds to me and offers to pay me monies to write/advertise things for him/her.

But if I like it…

If I like the job, I’ll become complacent with my situation and forget about the rest. I’ll be too comfortable with my life to notice that I’m not actually experiencing the “real world,” and I’ll seemingly enjoy my view from the small pond that is JCPenney. I won’t even notice any potential unhappiness at work because it will carry over to my home-life, leaving me just as cynical as the other employees who originally intended for their jobs to be temporary.

As I say in my post, Don’t Think. Just Do., there is nothing wrong with being content. This is true, but only until our complacency begins to halt our progress as people, which in turn hinders the progress we make with the world around us. For us to make the world better, we all must perform at our highest levels. And for us to do that, we must feel like we’re valuable in one way or another.

Sometimes, the only way to feel like you’re worth something is to make yourself worth something. And a big fish can’t do that in a small pond. Sure, I know the “real world” is going to kick the shit out of me. But I’ve been knocked down before, and something tells me I’ll get back up again.

I Couldn’t Care Less… Or Could I?

Yesterday, my mother used the expression “carry a torch for,” which means to have romantic feelings for a person who does not share the sentiment – usually someone from a past relationship. Somehow, I had never heard that expression before and had no idea what she was talking about.

This led me to the realization that we use countless ridiculous phrases on a daily basis, some of which don’t even make sense (ie. “hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth” and “it’s raining cats and dogs”). Other expressions we use possess multiple meanings and confuse the shit out of foreigners trying to learn our language.

You never know – these people might actually come from countries where things cost “an arm and a leg.” Or for some of them, “sitting on the fence” in a specific situation might land them in INS custody. Keep in mind: these people come here thinking life will be easier. And when it comes to the indoor plumbing, the freedoms, and the minimal genocide, it is. Everyday communication, however, is a different story…

The expression “let yourself go” wields two completely different meanings:

  1. You’ve stopped exercising and shaving, and you eat Doritos and watch reruns of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air all day.
  2. You’ve probably done drugs and have stopped worrying about outside pressures, and you are in a state of bliss.

The expression “give yourself up” also has a few meanings that have nothing to do with each other:

  1. You’ve had enough of the chase and have surrendered yourself to authorities for robbing that liquor store and then physically assaulting a nun.
  2. You’ve allowed yourself to cry when Rose watches Jack’s frozen body sink into the ocean and “My Heart Will Go On” starts playing.
  3. You’ve consented to sexual intercourse – perhaps for money, perhaps not.

The phrase “come out” can have serious repercussions when its meanings are confused:

  1. You are going out to a bar with your friends so not to be called “lame.”
  2. You’ve decided that enough is enough – that the closet is making you claustrophobic, and that your Barry Manilow obsession is not temporary. You are a “fan-ilow.”

The expression “tell me about it” is sure to confuse people who don’t know much English:

  1. You’ve been through this type of situation before, and you don’t want to hear about someone’s romantic struggles.
  2. You are genuinely interested in how Stella got her groove back.

These two meanings are literally the exact opposite. And depending on the way the expression is said, it is easily mistakable if the listener is not fluent in sarcasm (especially if the conversation takes place via electronic communication).

If a heavy majority of arguments occur as a result of miscommunication, these expressions we use constantly obviously don’t help. They might be catalysts to the disagreements that we have and – about halfway through – forget what we were even fighting about in the first place. Sometimes, it is extremely interesting to analyze our language and investigate the ways miscommunication hurts our relationships with people. Is there another good expression, phrase, or idiom you know with multiple meanings? Tell me about it.

If I Rub People the Wrong Way, Why Do All of These People Keep Letting Me Rub Them?

Caring is, without a doubt, a good thing; but there is a such thing as caring too much – especially when it comes to caring about what people think about you. In that respect, there’s a fine line between caring enough and caring too much. And while walking the tightrope of that line is quite the challenge, falling onto either side of the line is sometimes difficult to classify.

Caring too much and not caring enough often look the same. The girl with the extremely short skirt, the guy who looks like he just rolled out of bed, the dude in the Speedo at the beach, the woman with too much makeup, the woman with not enough makeup. Any of these people could fall into either category. I’ve presented this point through physical examples, but we can look at it from a behavioral standpoint as well.

About a month ago, somebody told me that not a lot of people appreciate my humor. As somebody who enjoys making people laugh, this statement pushed me to look in the mirror and truly think about the things I do and say. I worried that I cared too much about people’s opinions of me. But after about a day of doubting myself, I concluded that I do the things I do to make myself happy, and I say the things I say to express the way I feel.

Sure, sometimes I’ll do/say things to make people laugh; and sometimes, I’ll get absolutely no response. But if you know me, think about it – when has that ever stopped me? When has telling an awful joke made me shut the hell up? [Sentence about how I’m hilarious 95% of the time anyway removed.]

There is another reason I didn’t allow that one comment to keep bothering me. Some people probably just don’t understand me. They might not understand my point of view, how I present it, or why I even think that way. I know that, as a guy, I’m supposed to be this simple creature with only one animalistic desire. Instead, I’m this complex human being with ideas and emotions and stuff – and that one thing I’m supposed to be concerned with doesn’t even crack my top 5 list of things I’m after in life (probably a close 6, though). Having said all that, I can’t hold people accountable for not understanding me; but at the same time, it’s not something I should have to worry about.

And to make things clear: it’s not that I don’t care what people think about me at all. I just have unrealistic acrobatic aspirations regarding that fine line of caring, and a fear of heights to go along with them. Everybody wants to be liked. It’s completely natural to yearn for the acceptance of your peers, your family, and members of the opposite sex (or same sex?). However, some people live their lives as if this is the most important thing. (As we already know, it is obviously love… or peanut butter.)

I came across this blog entitled “How to Not Rub Someone the Wrong Way” on eHow.com, and it actually made me laugh. The fact that people care this much about other people liking them is unfathomable to me – and the fact that somebody actually wasted time writing about it is just as ridiculous. (And the fact that I’m writing about it right now might be just as silly.)

We live in a diverse environment. Everybody is after something different in life, and that’s our prerogative as human beings. People have different tastes, so you can’t please everyone. Some people make that their ultimate goal – it just doesn’t happen to be mine.

My point is that you should be able to make yourself happy. Connecting with other people is fantastic, and mutual respect and acceptance are wonderful as well; but you need to like who you are. You need to do things because you want to do them – other people just need to be able to accept that.