Thursday, May 7, 2020

Managing the Curve

I was talking to my buddy Phil earlier about the nearly ideal conditions being presented for day drinking, which is basically my single favorite activity.  I told him that my new-found ability to sleep until 8:30 or even 9am has had some incredible consequences;  there are days when I can start drinking less than 3 hours after I wake up, and the extra 2 to 3 hours of sleep I get after waking up at dawn basically can kill off any semblance of a hangover.  It's wonderful.  It's like I'm a new me.  Never you mind that I am abusing NyQuil and taking double the suggested dose of melatonin on a daily basis, or that I just ordered four packages of edible gummy bears.  Never you mind that at all.

So anyway Phil and I are talking and I told him I had some days when I was propping at Hustler about a year ago where I was off and literally would wake up at 2am (on days I was on my alarm was set for 12:48am, and I had to get out of the house by 1:14 to get to my shift on-time at 2:00) and just couldn't do anything.  Like...nothing is open.  All the bars in Laguna had literally just closed.  And it wasn't like I could do much of anything in my apartment.  I felt guilty even walking around, it was the middle of the fucking night!

So obviously a few of these days I end up going to "breakfast" at either the White House or the Cliff at 8am and just start drinking immediately.  I mean, we're talking like waiting for them to open level here.  It was great.  Phil then relayed to me a story of his greatness.

"Yeah I did that once for the world cup final at 8am.  Probably had 6 drinks in two hours, then the waitress called me a pussy for not ordering another one.  So we split a bottle of wine, then decided to go out sailing.  Ended up getting towed in by the coast guard"

"My.  Man"

"We were never that hammered but upon review we obviously weren't operating at 100% lev"

"Yeah, eventually it's like calculus.  The area under the curve matters, not just the current height"

"Oh, you don't have to tell me that.  Managing the curve is probably one of my top 10 skills.  #flattenthecurve"

"Phil Johnson:  Flattening the curve since 2003"

And that got me thinking about, well, a lot of stuff.  And I couldn't really figure out where to go with this post and it sat here for a day and a half literally 15 words ago until Phil gave me the punchline.  And he's right, it's a good punchline.

It's REALLY hard to be REALLY good at something.  Anything.  I played a lot of Duke Nukem as a kid, and it lead me to the following truism:

No matter how good you are, there's someone better than you could imagine ever being.  And no matter how bad you are, there's someone worse than you were the day you picked up the activity.

Think about it.  And there's two ways to go here....you can either think about things that you consider yourself "good at", or just a random activity and how good the best people in the world are.  Either way it's mortifying.  I don't consider myself to be much of a writer, but even I'll admit I have to be like top 20% or something.  Stephen King writes for several hours EVERY day except (sometimes) Christmas.  No matter what you think of him you have to admit he is prodigious and has sold a ton of paper.  This book is fascinating, and it explains a lot about how he came to be...well.  Himself.  At one point he's talking to someone and takes him down to his basement library, which is the entire bottom level of his large house.  The man asks if he's read every one of the books.  King looks confused and then says "I guess there are probably a few I've only read once?"  You see if you want to be a good writer you almost have to be a voracious reader.  And he's perhaps the most voracious of all time.

The level of dedication to a craft that is required to reach the highest level is mind-boggling.  But the natural talent required is perhaps equally stupefying.  There is no amount of work, no amount of dedication, no amount of sacrifice that would allow me to have become, say, a world class pole vaulter.  Because what do you have to be before you can become a world class pole vaulter?  A world class pole vaulter!

That's exactly right.  It's dumb, but it's true.  You think there's a universe in which I could have been Phil Ivey?  Absolutely not.  Could I be a lot better at poker than I am?  Sure.  But could I be Phil Ivey?  Not a fucking chance.  Just not the way it works.

So that's how you get these incredible outliers, the combination of absurd natural talent and other-worldly work ethics.  Know anything about Michael Phelps?  His coach was accused of abusing him as a child.  Stuck with him.  He's gotten in trouble for drugs and alcohol on a few occasions.  Not a problem.  He swam two a days for for 20 years to become who is he, which is basically a goddamn monster.  Same deal with Jerry Rice.  His workouts were the stuff of legend.  But could anyone else have been him, no matter what?  Nope.

And the reason for that, I think, is that talent and work aren't additive, or at least they don't project that way when you get to the highest levels of activities.  They're multiplicative.  Hard work gets you more when you're absurdly talented.  When you're up in that rarefied air gaining ground on your competition becomes almost impossible.  They are already so good, and most of them are working just as hard or even harder than you and becoming better everyday.  Or if they aren't there are new younger stronger people on the way up to replace them.  And they are all naturally gifted.  If you want to really stay in the top 1% of anything you need to be gifted AND work hard basically forever.

So yeah, I guess that's a little depressing if you think about it too long.  Hard work can really only get you so far;  the distribution of talent is uneven and unfair, and there isn't much you can do about it.  Except perhaps try to focus your efforts on things where you do have some natural ability, because by doing that your hard work will get you further.  I've read a few books, about this concept, and it goes something like this.

First of all, you need to figure out what you're good at.  People sometimes have a hard time assessing what they have talent for because, typically, those things have always been easy for them.  Other times people just assume they are good at everything and overrate their skills across the board (they say that only the clinically depressed can accurately assess their own abilities).  The point is it's kind of hard to know what you're good out without outside advice.  

Once you know what you're good at, just try to build a life that takes advantage of those skills.  This may seem obvious, but it goes counter to a lot of corporate culture these days.  Employees are encouraged to address the weaknesses on their performance reviews in order to get promoted or in general just level up.  Now don't get me wrong to some extent this is useful (if you're just a rude asshole that's going to hold you back; you need to work on getting up to basic 4/10 people skills if you want to succeed), but as an overall strategy it is somewhat misguided. 

Instead of focusing on the things where you have lots of room to improve (and therefore probably don't have much natural ability), consider focusing your efforts on improving your strengths even further and getting into situations where those strengths are extremely valuable.  If you can achieve that, even to a small degree, you'll find that your life has basically been set to easy mode, since you'll be constantly solving problems that feel easy to you (even though they really aren't).  And wouldn't that be fucking wonderful?


Saturday, April 25, 2020

That moment when you know it's fucked

We've all been there.  I've been there 5, maybe 6 times.  You know it's just completely fucked, the whole thing, there is no way out.  What do you do in that moment?  Whatever it is, it's not a small thing.  It matters.    It's a job.  A girl.  A person.  Something.  But it's fucked and you cannot get it back.

People who are good at life know exactly what to do.  Relationship, job...a fucking cat.  Doesn't even matter.  When they know it's fucked, they cut bait and run.  Because it's completely fucked...they know they can't fight their way out, and even if they could what would be the point?  It's fucked. 

Then there's me.  I don't quit, I don't give up on anything.  Ever.  Ever.  How's that worked out for me, you ask?  Real bad.  Real, real fucking bad.  Pretty much in the history of my life I can't think of a time I should have quit and didn't.  It's a damn shit show, I miss every off ramp every time.  I get hurt again and again.  Or I fail, again and again.  Then I get left.

So once that happens 57 times in a row you have to ask yourself....are you trying to get hurt?  Are you even trying to protect yourself?  Surely you can't be that stupid....But I am that stupid, and it's a huge "character" flaw.  Apparently I like to "play the victim", and that's horrendous.

So...I'm gonna work on it.  And you should, too.  When it's fucked, it's fucked.  Don't hang on to something that's not there.  Just do something better.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Priorities and Crutches

The apocalypse really gives you some time to think.  I tried to write yesterday but I just couldn't make anything stick to the page.  Hopefully today will be better (I feel like I say that literally every fucking day).

We all have things that are important to us, be it values we learned as a kid or maybe decided were important along the way (for me they are things like kindness, honesty, and humility), or actions and achievements we value (generating financial independence, running a 6 minute mile, or fostering an animal).  These are our priorities.  The one thing I can think of worth mentioning is that it's really valuable to actively identify your priorities and values through conscious effort, then analyze if your day to day life actually lines up with holding those things in high regard.

For example, I have this out-dated priority of achieving financial success through poker.  It's not that that's still not important to me; it is definitely somewhere on the spectrum of my priorities.  But my actions the past year or two (maybe longer) aren't really congruous with it.  If it's my number 1 priority (as by my time allocation would appear to be), why does it not give me pride?  Why does it not make me happy?  And why have I not mustered the energy to do the extra things (like studying, learning, reading, hand reviews) that would allow me to continue to succeed at it?  Don't get me wrong, succeeding at poker used to be my #1 priority and it used to make sense.  But lately I think I've just been limping along because I haven't replaced it with anything else.  Inertia perhaps?  It's easy to do the same thing again and again.  Or it's not and we turn to crutches.

What's a crutch?  Some people I guess might call it a coping mechanism, and it's something or someone you use or do to help you cope with other, less pleasant, aspects of your life.  I had a couples therapist who called them "escapes".  Obviously the ideal is to generate a life that you don't need to escape from, one that requires no or very few crutches and coping mechanisms.  Back here in reality we accept the need for some of those things (we call them "me time" or "self care") and I think they are completely fine.  Having a glass of wine and a bubble bath?  That's self care and that's great.  Getting blitzkrieg drunk at a bar for no reason on a weeknight?  Probably less good....

As I was thinking about this post (and the one I failed to write yesterday) I realized something.  The reason I failed yesterday and the reason I'm still going today is that today I have a fucking point, something to tie the whole thing together at the end.  That sounds absurd now that it's out on the page, who starts writing without a point, but for someone who has close to 800 blog posts and doesn't know how that's even possible maybe it's not obvious.  Anyway, here's the point.

Crutches are OK as long as you treat them like crutches.  As long as you use them as intended, they can be a perfectly healthy way to keep yourself going (that's the whole self-care thing).  The problems creep in when you start treating crutches like priorities, when they start getting in the way of you doing things that are actually important to you.  Hopefully you see where I'm going with this, but here are some examples.

You like to drink, but you've started scheduling your life around your ability to get blitzed with your friends.  You are often hungover the next day and can't work effectively.  You can't get into shape because of the excess calories.  But still you make sure you find a way to get to the bar with your friends as often as possible.  Your crutch is being treated like a priority.

You play a dumb internet game on your phone.  You used to really enjoy it, but now you're just going through the motions and it's eating away at time you could spend doing other things.  It's fine if you need a distraction now and again, but you should know when too much is too much.  What are you really getting out of it, anyway?  You're prioritizing a crutch.

You're in a stagnant relationship that's not giving you what you need or really even want.  It has become a crutch to avoid feeling useless and lonely.  Obviously at some point it was giving you those things, or else you wouldn't have gotten into it in the first place.  Maybe it has changed, or least it's forward projection (what it could turn into in a perfect world) has, or maybe just your priorities have shifted.  Who fucking knows.  It's OK to stay in something like that so long as it's not interfering with your priorities, but it's important to make sure you know what those priorities are.  Do you want something more, something different?  Are the good parts worth the bad?  It's always easier to limp along than make big changes, trust me that I of all people get that, but here's the thing.  If it's a crutch you have to treat it like a crutch.  You can't make it a priority.  If you do you're just selling the rest of your life short, and that's no way to live and will eventually eat you up.  But in this case....if your relationship isn't a priority, then I mean.....is it really a relationship?

So yeah that's all I've got.  Take the time and effort to decide what your priorities really are, and make sure you live your life in such a way that the majority of your efforts and energy go towards those priorities.  It's OK to have crutches, but you have to limit them to just helping you re-focus on your priorities.  You can't let them become priorities themselves.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

And then it got real

Everyone I've talked to this whole time has KIND OF understood how real this is.  Kind of.  Myself included.  But now it's finally real for me, and that's because I've accepted that I won't be able to convince anyone how long this is going to last.  I can't, just like I can't convince anyone who voted for Trump that he's literally a danger to "the free world". 

This current situation, the quarantine, the don't go outside, the "stay home" stuff?  That's not going away.  It's going to last probably a year or 18 months.  Maybe with breaks, but only if we had some competent asshole at helm, not this literally retard lemur.  I hope a million americans don't die, but I'd bet the over.  It's going to be a shit show.  We are stone cold fucked.  The response was too soft, too late, and it's going to be bad.  So bad.

But what do I do now in the interim?  Do I just stay at home and hope?  Do I find someone, anyone, willing to accept me into their small social circle?  Is that safe?   Can I survive 18 months without touching another human being?  Should I have intentionally infected myself while good medical care was available, so that I could work to help people after I recovered?

Fuck man.  Fuck

Saturday, March 28, 2020

So like Tuesday?

A good friend of mine posted something on Facebook recently about why we are not being super productive during this pandemic.  The basic conclusion was that like everyone is feeling a lot of anxiety and during times of anxiety you spend a lot more energy just trying to be yourself and you actually regress to a premature emotional state because that takes less energy and you just kind of sit there and try to survive.

I thought about it and I was like yeah.... So that's like Tuesday. 

Seriously though in like a kind of weird way this whole disaster has reduced a lot of people to like my general way of being.  There's only so much anxiety that I can feel there's only so many nine out of tens that I can deal with.  When I get them twice a week I don't really know what to tell you now that the world is in jeopardy.  I can't feel that much worse.

So next time you have a panic attack about this pandemic... Don't minimize it or anything. Just realized I've spent two out of the last seven days for seven out of the last 10 years feeling exactly like that.