Existence by Absence: A Response to Avtomat Khan’s Guest Post

“Authenticity” and the idea of living an “authentic life” have become buzzwords, and like most buzzwords, the fundamental question becomes: what does it mean?

What makes a life “authentic” or “real”? It’s a question that seems to vex professional thinkers and the rest of us a like. 

Personally, I always thought of the concept as a combination of doing what you believe is best for you with a rootedness in timeless values. But the first part is what I’ve found the trickiest to define:

  • Is “doing what you want” inherently selfish?
  • If so, how can you mitigate this?
  • What’s the balance between “authenticity” and “obligation”?
  • Isn’t it strange that the idea of  “authenticity” itself is often packaged and sold as a commodity?
  • “Authentic” to whom?

And then I got thinking about how we can sometimes define things by their absence or negation. Let me explain:

As stated in my introduction to guest posts, I’d like to offer my take on what Avtomat Khan of The Hidden Dominion covered in his guest post, “Staying Authentic in Trying Times.” In it is a passage and a diagram I really like:

Consider this: If you place a high value on what others think of you, it will manipulate your personality and conclusions, either to find approval or avoid disapproval.

How can someone claim to be genuine if their values are so easily distorted based on who’s listening? It masks your true self. And in turn, it promotes the idea that we should “hide” who we actually are, in favor of whatever the latest bandwagon is.

That’s a good diagram, right? 

So more on negation: Sometimes we get a feeling that things are not right, a sense that how we are living is misaligned with who we are. It’s difficult to articulate this, but you know it when it’s not there.  Continue reading “Existence by Absence: A Response to Avtomat Khan’s Guest Post”

Let Them Lose: Four Lessons from Defeat Kids Need to Learn Early

“Just let him win.”

I am in the middle of game 12 or 13 of Chutes and Ladders with my four-year-old son when my wife says this. At issue is my son’s moaning because he wanted to spin a 4 to land on the huge ladder on square 28 that would take him up to square 84, but he spun a 5 instead.

Me, I’m somewhere near the top, a few more chutes in my path serving as potential pitfalls, but still a good 50 or so squares ahead of my son. He’s won some games, I’ve won some games, but in his little mind, losing at all is a cause for extreme frustration.

And losing does suck. But we all have to learn how to do it.

My son wants to keep spinning until he gets that 4. I tell him I don’t want to play otherwise; after he insists and spins until he does get a 4, I keep spinning until I get the number want.

“You can’t play that way!” he tells me.

“Why not?” I say. “You did. We either play by the same rules, or the game is no fun.”

All of which prompted my wife’s plea from the kitchen.

“Okay!” says my son, throwing his hands in the air. “I won’t do that any more daddy. Let’s play again!”

I nod and smile. I know he would get the concept. It just had to be explained to him.

*     *     *

Extreme? Why should I try to win against a four-year-old? Shouldn’t I just grow up?

I am not trying to win against him. I am trying to teach him how to play by the rules, how to lose, and how to win honestly.

I don’t know if this is a father/mother gender difference, harshness versus nurturing or whatever, but I think my son is old enough to start understanding these concepts.

At a certain point, letting kids win teaches all kinds of the wrong lessons. And if we want mentally tough adults, we have to start young.

I am not trying to be cruel to him, or to achieve any sort of victory over a little kid. I am trying to teach him how to handle adversity and overcome it.

Take a look at this piece from an 1861 issue of The Atlantic called “The Advantages of Defeat” written after the Union Army’s defeat at the Battle of Bull Run during the American Civil War:

The honor lost in our recent defeat cannot be regained,—but it is indeed one of the advantages of defeat to teach men the preciousness of honor, the necessity of winning and keeping it at any cost.

Bull Run was the first major battle of the Civil War, and the Union, thinking it would waltz to an easy victory, got whomped.

Now, we know how the war turned out, but the Union was really on the ropes for a while there at the beginning. Many bitter lessons learned through defeat–and what they did with those lessons–made all of the difference.

Am I really comparing playing board games with my son to the American Civil War? Yes. Because the same lessons are at play.

Learning how to lose is just as important as learning how to win.

Continue reading “Let Them Lose: Four Lessons from Defeat Kids Need to Learn Early”

Hardship and Inspiration

Is hardship necessary for you to be an inspiration to others? 

I had this thought listening to Sonnie Johnson‘s podcast. Sonnie, who is black, discusses politics but she also highlights ways that the black community can improve itself and features interesting guests. 

Most of them preach a message of self-responsibility and capitalism, and prove that in the US, anything is possible if you have the drive and the courage.

But another commonality is that most of her guests overcame difficult upbringings; in other words, the proverbial “life on the streets.”

Like it or not, blacks in America still have it a lot rougher than whites, and many need to work twice as hard to escape horrifically dangerous dead-end situations. 

These voices are inspirational, even to me, a white guy from rural New Hampshire who grew up quite comfortably in the cage of safety. If people with the circumstances stacked against them can make it and serve as an example to others, what’s my excuse? Continue reading “Hardship and Inspiration”

The Money Making Game

As someone who grew up in a cage of safety, I fully admit that dealing with money has been a struggle throughout my life. 

When you grow up comfortably, it’s difficult to realize how affluence is not the norm.

What do I mean? Just that I’ve (a) always had someone to bail me out when things get tough, and (b) believe that there’s always more money waiting to be made. 

The latter is true, and is it a bad thing to have. But there’s also the Millennial curses: (c) being raised with a belief that the good times will keep rolling on, and (d) a sense of entitlement. 

Yup, I’m admitting to being an entitled bastard. 

Oh, not anymore. I outgrew that years ago, and any lingering sense of entitlement exploded after my son was born. 

What this adds up to, though, is a lack of respect for money. This culminated when I went back to school recently after learning my job was soon to end and having to pay bills. What I ended up doing was selling almost all of my musical instruments and other gear, not to mention many other possessions I’d rather have held on to. 

Talk about humiliating. 

Conversations with the guys at the music store were not pleasant:

“Whoa, this is some nice gear! Mind if I ask why you’re selling?” 

“I have to make my car payment.”

Awful. 

I had no savings because I had been on the debt treadmill for a long while. Big mistake. But I’ve learned a lot of lessons since then, and I also made some important mindset shifts prior to pulling the trigger and selling this stuff. So here goes my take on trying to get better at the money making game:

Stuff is just stuff and can always be bought again. This was the big one. Yes, as a musician it hurt to sell my instruments. And some of them have irreplaceable sentimental value. But at he end of the day, will my old guitars really be that much different than the new ones I plan to buy? How important is that stuff, anyway? Continue reading “The Money Making Game”

Millennials: We Are a Symptom, Not the Problem


When you have children, your thoughts turn towards the generation gap. The most visible example of this is the current case of Millennials versus everybody else.

Hello Im a MillennialFull disclosure: I was born in 1981, so depending on who you ask, I’m either a Millennial or a Gen-Xer. But my parents were young Boomers (too young to be hippies) who had me at a very young age, so I tend to lump myself in with the Millennials despite being a good 15 years older than many of them. As such, I’ll be using the pronoun “we” when referring to Millennials.

“They’re spoiled!” the conventional wisdom goes. “They’re entitled! Mentally fragile!” And so on.

In other words, it’s trendy to bash Millennials. We all do it. But stop and think: We didn’t emerge from the womb the way we are.

In fact, it’s pretty clear that bad choices made by the older generations have created the millennial “monster” they now fear. And that monster doesn’t like them either.

And you know what? The older generations totally deserve it.

Further, it seems like a lot of Millennials are waking up and getting wise to our situation and how to make it better.

In order to fix a situation, you need to diagnose the problem. The issues facing Millennials are those that have formed every person since the dawn of time. People are a product of their parents and the society in which they live.

Parents

The parents of Millennials meant well in a lot of ways, but to be fair, did overly coddle their kids. But these parents–many Boomers, some Gen-Xers–were coddled by their parents, who also can’t escape blame.

A large part of this coddling is the belief that the good times will continue forever just because, and you’re owed a decent standard of living for just existing. 

Bad habits get formed. The wrong lessons get taught. Safety and security become virtues.

Yesterday’s rebels became today’s conformists when it came to raising their children.  Continue reading “Millennials: We Are a Symptom, Not the Problem”

Stability vs. Opportunity: The Importance of Where You Grow Up

There are certain elemental things parents do for their children: Feed them, shelter them, keep them safe from harm. 

There are also nonmaterial aspects to parenting like moral and educational instruction, emotional support, giving advice, and other intangible, though vitally important, things. 

But what about where you raise your kids? 

We are products of our environment after all. And it’s proven that some environments are better than others for certain things. 

The question for parents becomes: Which do you choose? Stability or Opportunity?

What’s New In Baltimore?

I thought about while listening to one of my favorite artists of all time, Frank Zappa. I have read his wildly entertaining autobiography, as well as other books a out the man, several times for the same reason any of us read about famous and influential people: To find out how they got to become who they became. 

Zappa’s case is interesting, because while he was born in Baltimore and moved to Florida when he was six or so, the family packed it’s bags shortly thereafter and headed out west to California.

Yes, California in the 50s and 60s. California, the state where pretty much every single celebrity, musician, and actor seems to come from or end up in, comparable perhaps only to New York City. California, which has fired the imaginations of Americans–and the world–for generations.

Given the timeframe in which the Zappa family made their move, is it any wonder that the curious, rebellious, and quirky Frank ended up as a musician?

But what if his family never left Florida for California? He says in his autobiography had he not become a musician he probably be a chemist or something. Great! Maybe he would have enjoyed that life too, but the world would be a far more boring place and he never would have realized the potential within him. 

When you have children, your thoughts turn towards things like this. Continue reading “Stability vs. Opportunity: The Importance of Where You Grow Up”

Book Review: The Way of Men by Jack Donovan

The Way of Men by Jack Donovan

Men are in trouble.

Not in a physical sense, but as an idea. I don’t need to reiterate how the very concepts of masculinity and manhood have been minimized, marginalized, denigrated, and misunderstood over the past few generations. Many more qualified have written books about that. But it’s undeniable that so-called “toxic masculinity” is blamed for everything from the lack of women in the STEM fields to the shootings in Orlando. Masculinity is even blamed for harming men themselves.

In light of this, what’s a man to do? How are men supposed to deal with their very nature?

And more importantly, what does it mean to be a man?

Enter Jack Donovan.

Published in 2012, The Way of Men stands out like a beacon of clarity in the dark sea of confusion. Donovan not only defines masculinity and what it means to be a man, but instead of merely diagnosing the problem and calling it a day, Donovan does one of the most masculine things he could:

He offers a solution. Continue reading “Book Review: The Way of Men by Jack Donovan”