On Motivation

I recently saw Black Swan and it reminded me of the quote below. The full video is also here for anyone interested:

"The human ability to adapt, it's an interesting thing, because people have continually wanted to talk to me about overcoming adversity, and I'm going to make an admission. This phrase never sat right with me, and I always felt uneasy trying to answer people's questions about it, and I think I'm starting to figure out why.
Implicit in this phrase of "overcoming adversity," is the idea that success, or happiness, is about emerging on the other side of a challenging experience unscathed or unmarked by the experience, as if my successes in life have come about from an ability to sidestep or circumnavigate the presumed pitfalls of a life with prosthetics, or what other people perceive as my disability. But, in fact, we are changed. We are marked, of course, by a challenge, whether physically, emotionally or both. And I am going to suggest that this is a good thing. Adversity isn't an obstacle that we need to get around in order to resume living our life. It's part of our life...
So maybe the idea I want to put out there is, not so much overcoming adversity, as it is opening ourselves up to it, embracing it, grappling with it, to use a wrestling term, maybe even dancing with it. And, perhaps, if we see adversity as natural, consistent, and useful, we're less burdened by the presence of it..."
-Aimee Mullins

There's something about failure that puts people off. Actually, it's even more basic. There's something about struggle that puts people off, and I think it's the possibility of failure. The fear of failure is real and, probably the most unforgiving disability we can suffer. Unfortunately, we rarely recognize it for what it is.

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Uninspiring Our Youth

[Read Time: 3 minutes]


Photo Credit Stephen Poff

[Read Time: 3 minutes]

What's that?

Oh, [raised my hand to reveal this. And this.]

What's it for?

Have you guys heard about [opened my mouth to reveal this. Basically, bully-related suicide among teens]?

Bullying and that kind of stuff is just stupid. It's like, "I've worked on this thing for a long time" then someone just comes and tries to tear it down without a thought [entire group agrees and talks for a few minutes].

[5 more minutes pass as each of the five people at the table say what song they've chosen that describes their life and why.]

I chose "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley and these lines are why:

"My heroes had the heart
To lose their lives out on a limb
And all I remember
Is thinking, I want to be like them

Ever since I was little
Ever since I was little
It looked like fun
And it's no coincidence I've come
And I can die when I'm done
But maybe I'm crazy."

People just meet me and don't even try to get to know me and think I'm crazy.


Alright, so here's the deal: this person isn't crazy, in fact he's very smart and very passionate about what he does. Perfect combination, right? Well, the majority of Paul's teachers and tutors don't seem to think so. I help teach in a high school a couple days a week and this is part of a conversation I had earlier today with a group of five high school sophomores.

Paul is difficult and confrontational most of the time and makes sure everyone knows that he has the answers, even when he doesn't. He'll dismiss your attempts to help him and makes you feel stupid for even trying. It doesn't even seem like he gets anything from the help people try to give him. So...have fun dealing with him.

Well, I don't believe this BS but it's the only thing I've heard about him from other people who have also worked with him (with one exception). Sounds like people have pretty low expectations of this kid, hu? Well, imagine you're Paul and re-read that last little paragraph. I'll wait.

Now imagine that this is what the people who are "trying to help you learn" think about you, and that it's what they tell other people about you. Maybe you're like me and Paul, and you're inspired and motivated by your heroes--you have a sense of purpose and passion for what you do. And maybe people don't take your passion seriously, and they see you as someone they just have to "have fun dealing with."

The thing is, we're adults (or at least that's what we're supposed to be) but Paul isn't--Paul is currently in perhaps his most formative years as far as the outlook and approach he'll adopt towards life, people, and challenges.

Teens have an amazing capacity to be inspired but there has to be something there to inspire them, and I mean something consistent. It's not enough to tell them wise words. They'll get it and appreciate it if you say it in the right way, but hearing and appreciating good advice doesn't cut it, they need consistent positive reinforcement like the rest of us.

Many of us think that the bullying problem is caused by mean kids, bad parents, inadequate enforcement, etc and those things may be at play here. But low expectations--like the ones that Paul has to put up with--deprive kids of the inspiration they could and would use to empower themselves and get through their dark times.

So don't feel sorry for these kids. Of course, feel sad that this is happening (I certainly do), but don't feel sorry for them. Instead, be the source of inspiration they can use to lift themselves up. Pity only makes the problem worse; action is what fixes things, so act! And if you don't know how to act, I'll personally help you figure it out.


I should mention that there are some amazing teachers and tutors at the high school I work with--I don't want them to go unappreciated because inspiration is their cash and currency. They're not the ones who need to hear this. [Written October 19, 2010.]

Education Ahead of Our Time: "How Education Must Evolve with Tech"

Great discussion between Isaac Asimov and Bill Moyers (1988) on how education ought to change in light of tech (esp. computers).

Isaac Asimov discusses the democratization of education that he saw as congruent with the development and proliferation of computers. Not only ahead of 1988, but of 2011 as well.

Why Intelligence is a Problem

Photo credit Aidan O'Sullivan

I just recently came across John Dewey's conception of intelligence and really like it.

This is how I've always thought about intelligence, and I think its also why I feel uncomfortable with the standard of referring to someone as an "intelligent person." Intelligence isn't an attribute that a person does or doesn't have, it's an activity that we do or don't participate in:

"...mind is not a name for something complete by itself; it is a name for a course of action in so far as that is intelligently directed; in so far, that is to say, as aims and ends, enter into it, with selection of means to further the attainment of these aims. Intelligence is not a peculiar possession which a person owns; but a person is intelligent in so far as the activities in which he or she plays a part have the qualities mentioned."

-Democracy and Education

This reminds me of Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk during which she (very beautifully) suggests that much of the torment/psychological problems that tend to be associated with "genius" or creativity may be a result of our internalization of these things (creativity, intelligence, etc) and the conflation of them with our own identities.

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We Feel Fine


Photo credit JKönig

Think for a second. About beauty I mean, think about beauty. We don't do it often and it seems like it's becoming more and more difficult to talk about beauty without feeling uncomfortable.

This seems weird to me...like, bad-weird. But the kind of beauty I'm talking about isn't the way that roses are beautiful, and it's not the way that movie stars are beautiful. It's what you see in a coffee shop, or getting off an airplane, or in a conversation with a friend: it looks familiar but you can't remember it's name, so you awkwardly avoid it hoping that it won't notice.

But of course it notices, and it can't help but be a bit offended that you don't recognize it anymore. Now you think its name is "sadness" so you shy away from it, but it's really not at all, it's name is still beauty and I guess you've just forgotten or something. That's alright though, it happens to the best of us.

That's what I really think our relationship with beauty has become now, as a society. I'm not sure why but I feel this too. Like the sight of an injured soldier returning to his family. It looks sad, but the more we look, the more beautiful it is. Well, I mean, the more beautiful we realize it is, I guess. It hasn't changed at all, we just start to remember what it seems we had forgotten. It's all about perspective...or something like that.

So here, do a little practice:

We Feel Fine is a story-telling project. It searches the web every few minutes and collects feelings from all around the world that real people have felt and written about. Click the top of this page to select your gender and age group, then spend a few minutes reading the feelings of people just like you.

Think about what this means to you and see if you can recognize beauty when it rears its ugly head.

Here are a few of my favorites from the last few hours:

"I have had a great change both physically and mentally with my fitness level and I now feel like I am more 'training' than just moving my body trying to loose weight." - Sabine, 35 minutes ago

"I love to speak my mind via writing, so feel free to follow my blog, just be aware that it may offend you." -Alex, 1 hour 20 minutes ago

"I approached every chemotherapy, every dose of radiotherapy, every herceptin treatment with a feeling of 'I'm quite confident I can do this but just not completely certain.'" -Stephanie, 24 minutes ago

"I was feeling a bit bonkers and a movie about the psych ward was just about perfect for me." -Steven, 7 hours ago

"I feel very blessed today." -Jackson, 51 minutes ago

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