Friday, March 29, 2013

The Only Way Is Through -- Writer's Poke #438

If you visit Jamaica, you might end up at Dunn’s River Falls. And if you do, I won’t think any less of you. The idea behind this attraction is neat enough: Start at the bottom and climb your way to the top. Is it worth $50 a person for the experience? I’ll leave that up to you and your budget to decide; keep in mind that the cost includes the ride there and back, which can be a fun adventure in itself. However, it doesn’t include a lot of “hidden” costs…

Other than the high price of admission, the problems with Dunn’s River Falls are many. First, prepare for it to be insanely overcrowded. On days when cruise ships are in port, as many as 7,000 tourists will be trying to make their way to the top with you that same day. In other words, you will be holding hands with strangers from top to bottom, and you’ll probably be more preoccupied with people than you will be with the “amazing experience” you would be having if you were by yourself or with a small, intimate group. As long as you’re not tempted to think about how nice the Falls would be to visit without shiploads of people, maybe this won’t be an issue for you…

Second, expect the locals to hold you upside down and shake you until all of your money falls out. Yes, you pay $50 to climb to the top, but at the bottom of the Falls, guides magically appear, and they will eagerly offer their assistance and encouragement. They’ll even offer to take your picture, hold your valuables, etc. Well, maybe “offer” is the wrong word. They provide their assistance to you whether you want it or not, and at the top, it’s very well understood that you will show them appropriate appreciation. Anything less than $5 per person would be seen as an insult – that goes without saying, although they won’t be too humble to tell you how much to tip.  Look at it from their perspective. After all, all tourists are rich. They could afford to make the trip to Jamaica, and they could afford to pay for the excursion. Obviously, they can afford to be generous with their gratuities to the hard-working locals. And maybe you don’t have any issue helping the local economy. Just go into the climb knowing that you will be paying the salary of your guide. Apparently the $50 you paid earlier goes to a company, and these individuals at the Falls are simply “independent contractors.”

Finally, know that when you make it to the top, you’ll only have 15 minutes to enjoy the rest of what the location has to offer. So you will most likely just want to walk back to the van that will take you back to your cruise ship. Your van guide warned you not to be late, and out of respect for your fellow passengers, you want to make sure you arrive on time. Keep in mind, however, that while it was a straight shot in to the Falls, you will have to walk the gauntlet to get out – nobody bothers to tell you this, but I just did, so remember me, okay? A maze of vendors and shops stand between you and your van. And guess what? There are no exit signs and no maps to point you in the right direction. For the most part, black faces will be moving immediately in front of you, and you’ll be trying to do your best to follow the white faces just ahead of them, hoping that they are moving in the right direction. For all you know, you’re all  moving farther away from the van, but all you can do is move forward. The only way is through.

If you like mazes, consider it part of the $50 experience you paid for. Just keep in mind, again, that the vendors do not receive any of that money, and they will look to you to feel obligated to buy their merchandise. After all, you don’t want their families to starve, do you? You’re not that type of tourist, are you?

How do you handle traps?

“Man is the only varmint that sets his own trap, baits it, then steps in it.” – John Steinbeck

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Happy Accidents -- Writer's Poke #437

Serendipity, by definition, implies “happy little accidents,” and no one plans for accidents, right? Accidents, by definition, just happen.

The serendipity of success, however, isn’t quite as accidental as it may seem. Success may be serendipitous, but if it is, most of the time there’s an underlying element of planning involved.
Successful people, in other words, work to be successful. They plan to be successful; they are motivated to be successful. Could someone accidently trip over success? Perhaps, but how likely is it that such success is long-lasting? Not very likely, I would say.

So how did the painter Bob Ross have so many “happy little accidents?” He had them by actively painting. He wasn’t seeking mistakes, but if he made them, he turned them into opportunities. Some people might immediately stop painting and start over with a new canvas. Ross didn’t. He simply incorporated the mistake into the painting, and the painting was inevitably all the better for it. 

This is a life lesson we could all benefit studying. First, be active. Second, learn from your mistakes. Third, appreciate the mistakes, and incorporate them into your success.

 What happy accidents have you learned from lately?

“Any time ya learn, ya gain.” – Bob Ross

That Smarts -- Writer's Poke #436

I used to have a simplistic view of what it meant to be smart. If you knew a lot of stuff, I thought, then that probably meant you were smart. Then I started to understand that knowing a lot stuff didn’t mean much. To be smart, you had to know what to do with that knowledge. You had to be able to apply it in useful ways. Knowing stuff, and knowing what to do with what you know – that’s what makes someone smart. 

What if you know a lot of stuff, but you can’t express that you know it? Or, maybe you can even apply your knowledge in unique ways, but not in ways normally acknowledged by standard measures. Can you still qualify as being “smart”?

When we’re in school, how smart we are is generally measured through our ability to test well. Tests are generally in written form, and so as long as you are able to translate your knowledge into standard responses, you’ll be able to demonstrate just how smart you are. 

Actually, I don’t have a problem with this. For the most part, traditional tests probably do an adequate job measuring smartness. Over the past number of years, however, different folks have come along to suggest that our notion of smartness is incomplete. In fact, some people have been labeled as mentally retarded when they actually were smart in alternative ways, as demonstrated through alternative testing measures. 

What does it mean to be smart?

“Be smart, but never show it.” – Louis B. Mayer

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Beyond the Tree -- Writer's Poke #435

In Disc Golf, a player throws a disc at a goal. Sounds simple enough, but often times, the person throwing the disc must avoid trees and other obstacles. Avoiding a big tree should be easy enough, but when the focus becomes the tree and not the goal, “ironic effect” error can come into play – much to the detriment of the poor tree.

Why is it so easy to focus on the obstacle or the problem rather than the goal or the solution? Well, in the case of the tree in the above example, it sometimes becomes the most obvious place to focus. It may, in fact, literally hide the goal from view. The goal is there, but it’s out-of-sight.

When I first started playing Disc Golf, one person taught me to turn my back to the goal. Visual the goal in your mind, he said, and approach the shot mentally. Know where the obstacles are, yes, but don’t make the obstacles the focus. Make the goal the focus.

Blind people play Disc Golf, and some do really well. I’ve often thought that the blind might have an advantage, as they cannot succumb to the temptation of peeking at the obstacles along the path. Yes, they need to know they’re there, but it seems like they have a natural advantage to avoid catching a glimpse of the tree in their peripheral vision.

I still have trouble avoiding the trees from time-to-time, but sometimes I avoid them by throwing with my eyes closed.

Have you ever experience “ironic effect” error? What do you do to avoid it?

“I don’t focus on what I’m up against. I focus on my goals and I try to ignore the rest.” – Venus Williams

Expert in Training -- Writer's Poke #434

Who are more dangerous: A) people who know quite a bit, and feel confident in what they know, or B) people who know quite a bit, but who also recognize the limitations of their knowledge?

Confidence. It’s a good thing, right, but confidence can lead to arrogance. Arrogance is not such a good thing, is it? Is it possible to determine when someone, maybe even yourself, has crossed over the line from confidence to arrogance? Maybe, but not always.

Now, think of what it means to be skeptical. Skepticism may develop through expertise, or it may develop through ignorance. Either way, skeptics should know what drives their skepticism, but how many think of doubting in those terms?

One more point to consider: Assumed expertise might be the most crippling form of ignorance. Unfortunately, since many people trust the views of those they assume to be experts, assumed experts have the ability to spread ignorance to the confidently unenlightened.

What’s the solution? Be aware of what you think you know, and how you think you know it. Be careful not to too easily credit others with expert status. Trust the views of “experts,” but be willing to verify their true level of expertise in any given subject. And when you believe yourself to be an expert, be sure to keep in mind that you don’t know everything. 

What is your area of expertise?

“Never become so much of an expert that you stop gaining expertise. View life as a continuous learning experience.” – Denis Waitley

And Crawl If You Must -- Writer's Poke #433

I like that science can demonstrate limits. For example, physics can show that the farthest a batter could ever hit a baseball is 748 feet. Keep in mind that no major league player has ever hit a ball farther than 565 feet, and that record has stood for 60 years. Nevertheless, science knows that an ideal pitcher could throw a ball 111 miles per hour, and a 6 foot 8 inch, 247 pound batter could hit a ball 748 feet. That’s cool.

Many times in life, we don’t know the limitations. Fact: many of us don’t realize that the limitations don’t apply to us. They might exist, but they should have nothing to do with us striving to maximize our potential. In other words, we are often our own worst limitation in life.

Why don’t more people try to achieve their dreams? Why is “I can’t” such a common phrase? To a certain extent, “I can’t” is something learned from the experience of immediate failure –  it’s something, immediate failure, that little kids pick up on quite quickly. Why? Because potential requires effort. Thank god most kids are willing to fight through “I can’t” when it comes to learning to tie their shoes, or else a lot of adults would be going around tripping on their shoe laces. Somehow, kids learn to tie their shoes and ride their bikes. Kids learn to read, add, subtract, etc.

Keep in mind: all of these activities require effort, and they all take hours of practice. We see someone riding a bike, and we see the product of the effort; how often do we assume that the person is a “natural” when, in truth, they faced the same struggle that anyone else faces when learning the process?

Don’t let yourself be the obstacle to your success. And don’t forget that the only limitation in your life is not being willing to try.

Why are some people able to overcome limitations in life?

“Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours.” – Richard Bach

Repeat -- Writer's Poke #432

If you go into your favorite restaurant, do you have a good idea what you’ll order before you look at the menu? Even so, you still look at the menu, right? Why? Social convention? Or, is it actually possible that you might order the Spam and peanut butter sandwich?

If you’re at home and need to go to the store to pick up some household items, where do you go? If you normally go to Target for these items, how likely is it that you will, on a whim, decide to go some place different? Have you ever ended up at Shopko if you always shop at Target?

What about when you wake up in the morning, and you need to get ready to go to work? Is it pretty likely that you have a developed routine that you more or less follow? I bet you even know how much time you need to complete this routine. And if you drive to work, you have a designated route, don’t you? How often do you try different routes? For that matter, how often do you think to carpool or walk or bike or take the bus? In other words, even though you have other options available, you don’t utilize them. You probably don’t even consider them.

People – yes you too – are predictable. That Spam and peanut butter sandwich might be heaven on a bun; you might save hundreds of dollars a year shopping at Shopko; and think of all the new friends you might make if you took the bus to work. But you’ll never know, because you aren’t the type to try anything out of the ordinary.

Who is?

How predictable are you? Does it bother you?

“One you become predictable, no one’s interested anymore.” – Chet Atkins

Monday, March 25, 2013

Perceptions of the Popes -- Writer's Poke #431

I’ve been thinking about two ideas: “Honeymoon period” and “Lame duck.” Strange concepts, both, but both quite psychologically real.

Take the position of the Pope, for example. The new Pope is in a honeymoon period. Almost every day, it seems, a new story comes out about the Pope, and most people seem to like what this new guy’s about. He makes his own telephone calls, he pays his own hotel bills, and he washes the feet of inmates at a youth prison. He says he wants to be the “People’s Pope.”

Anyway, people love this guy. Catholics and non-Catholics alike think he’s great. Some call him a “step in the right direction,” and others call him “a breath of fresh air.” Question: Are his policies all that much different from the old Pope? It doesn’t seem to matter if they are or not. He is, after all, in the Honeymoon phase of his reign, and people aren’t focused on his policies. They certainly aren’t concerned about his “legacy.”

The lame duck, however, does have a legacy to worry about, and even if he isn’t the one fixated on how he will be remembered, others are doing the fixating for him. Do you recall any good stories about the old pope? I don’t, and certainly I don’t recall any good stories coming out on a daily basis. Instead, it's more about what he didn’t accomplished; it's more about the problems with the Church he didn't correct and that sort of thing.

What, really, is significantly different about these two men? They’re roughly the same age, and they roughly have the same beliefs. Will the protection of the Honeymoon phase eventually fade, or is it possible that the new Pope is all that people hope that he is?

Have you ever been in a “honeymoon phase”? Or, have you ever felt like a “lame duck”? If so, describe the experience. Did you really “change,” or was it someone else’s perception of you that changed?

“There is no truth. There is only perception.” – Gustave Flaubert