Making things happen vs. forcing things to happen

There’s an important difference between making things happen and forcing things to happen.

When you make something happen, you might act as a sort of catalyst to something that would have happened anyway. Maybe you put the pieces together. Maybe you create the right environment. Maybe you formulate a plan. Good results tend to flow from this.

When you force something to happen that means you are presumably up against some opposing force. It’s like trying to fall upward or run into a gale-force wind. It’s really hard work, often fraught with peril and disappointment.

Now this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to overcome big problems by sheer force of will or beat long odds to achieve success. That sort of wherewithal is very necessary when the stakes are high and failure is not an option.

But some pursuits just aren’t worth the trouble. No matter how badly you want to eat the fruit from a Ginkgo biloba tree, you’re much better off knowing that the tree does not bear fruit.

That’s when it’s time to pick a new battle.

What makes a smart gambler?

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run

— Kenny Rogers, The Gambler

You’ll have to pardon me if I lack a certain entrepreneurial spirit. After a few spectacular flame-outs I’ve lost my taste for risk for the time being. Given what has happened in our economy it would be hard to blame anyone for being a little gunshy right now.

In fact when I see people taking big chances I believe that I actually panic vicariously through them.

Risk is not merely a financial concept either…there are many types of risks. You risk your life whenever you get behind the wheel of a car. You risk your health whenever you eat an indulgent meal. You risk injury whenever you play a sport. And you risk your sanity when you enter a relationship of any kind on any level.

Some of these risks are unavoidable — or at least they are less risky than the alternative. For example, if you never get behind the wheel of a car then you might never get to work, and you stand a much greater risk of financial distress. So risk is also relative.

That brings me to a dilemma. How do you know when it’s worthwhile to take a big risk? Is it when you stand to receive an excellent payoff? Is it when you are confident that you can win? Is it when you become desperate and have nothing of value left to lose?

And if you’ve already taken the plunge, how do you know when to call it quits? Do you quit while you’re ahead? Do you give up when you’ve lost more than you can afford to lose? Do you stop when you realize you’ve become addicted to the intoxicating rush of it all?

Just as many investors are sitting on the sidelines and staying out of the stock market I am also trying to insulate myself from a risky environment.

Gray area is just a nice way of saying minefield

The Berlin Wall was a pretty imposing and horrible structure. On the east side of the wall sat East Berlin: a place gripped by poverty, despair and totalitarian government. On the west side of the wall sat West Berlin: a modern, affluent, democratic society. People were maimed and killed trying to climb over from East Berlin to West Berlin.

Still, with that wall there people always knew which side they were on. There was no room for interpretation and ambiguity. There was no gray area, and that wall was more or less impenetrable.

But what if, instead of a wall, there was an unmarked Berlin Minefield? Would you try to cross it knowing that either you could run to freedom or die instantly depending on where you stepped?

In my life I have dealt much better with black and white issues than with gray areas. In a gray area you don’t know where you stand. You don’t know who may be offended by your actions. You’re left to feel things out and guess, and I am a terrible guesser.

So if you’re dealing with me, please do me a favor and be crystal clear about what you expect…because otherwise there may be some unfortunate accidents.

What happens next?

I was talking to an old friend yesterday, and she asked me a question.

“So what’s next for Daniel?”

Trying to avoid answering her real question, I believe I said something to the effect of, “Lunch. I’m starving.”

But why was I avoiding the question? Was it because I knew the answer and just didn’t want to face it? Was it because I didn’t want to think that far ahead?

I think it’s because whenever I start to look ahead I get so paralyzed by the obstacles ahead that I don’t really set good goals for myself. Because, after all, failure is inevitable, right?

No, it isn’t. 

Now does this mean I have a clear vision about what happens next in my life? I really don’t. But those words in bold are a step in the right direction.

So what happens next?

Whatever I want.

Is Meghan McCain the hot new voice of the GOP?

Last night I watched Meghan McCain, 24-year-old daughter of 2008 GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), have a nice, civil discussion with the very liberal host of The Rachel Maddow Show. McCain and Maddow even mentioned in the interview that they follow one another on Twitter (and now I follow them both…how very 2009 of us).

Although McCain is a Republican like her father, she and Maddow share a common bond in that they both have a beef with Ann Coulter. McCain is a self-professed moderate Republican but admits that she has been accused of being a RINO (Republican in Name Only).

In reference to Meghan McCain, Rachel Maddow quipped “guess who inherited the maverick gene.”

As a liberal Democrat, I of course selfishly hope the GOP remains enslaved to the extreme and polarizing rhetoric of Ann Coulter and  Rush Limbaugh. But if Republican leaders aren’t smart enough to listen to President Obama, they should at least be smart enough to pay close attention to so-called RINOs like Meghan McCain and David Frum, who seem to understand where their party went wrong.

Perhaps if John McCain had paid closer attention to his daughter he might have fared better in the last election.

P.S. At least according to her latest Twitter status, if Meghan McCain isn’t the hot new voice of the GOP, she is content to be “Bootylicious,” a word I don’t often hear from Republicans.

An open letter to the girl from the elevator

I do not know your name or specifically where your desk is, but I owe you an apology.

This morning when you boarded the elevator I was riding on, you became the unsuspecting victim of some gastrointestinal distress on my part. I am sure that this did not go unnoticed because when you entered the elevator and the doors closed, I heard a large, deep sniff.

You unwittingly left me with a difficult dilemma. When I had released the toxic fumes I assumed that I would be riding the elevator alone. At the last moment, however, you came walking at what seemed like a desperate clip trying to board the elevator.

I was torn…should I hold the elevator for you and expose you to this ghastly scent or should I have let the doors close (for your own good)? Neither option was appealing.

I would like to let you know that this odor is not a perpetual one from me. No doubt you have faced similar dilemmas yourself, but perhaps none as vexing as this one was for me.

So if we meet again I hope it will be under more fragrant circumstances.



Keeping a deliberate pace

I am likely to miss the main event
If I stop to cry and complain again
So I will keep a deliberate pace
Let the damn breeze dry my face

Fiona Apple “Better Version of Me”

When your life goes through a difficult transition as mine has recently it’s easy to sit by and stew in your own juices. I am famous for this.

But clearly this is not productive. Rather than distract myself from everything troubling, the troubling things in life have had a way of distracting me from the good things in life.

It’s one thing to learn from your mistakes, but people who know me well have told me that I have allowed my past failures to create a self-fulfilling prophecy by [mis]guiding my future decisions.

So, like Fiona Apple, I am planning to pick up the pace in my life. Some people think that I already live at a frenetic pace…but as long as I have time to sit and get stuck inside my own head I will make a concerted effort to find a form of self expression. Whether it’s writing a blog, practicing the piano, immersing myself in work or being social I will be sure to let the damn breeze dry my face.