The Big Leap, a Book Review and Beyond

I am re-launching my self improvement newsletter with a review of one of the best books I’ve ever read on the subject, The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level, by Dr. Gay Hendricks. If you only read one more book for the rest of your life, read this book.

But please don’t read just one book for the rest of your life. Reading is one of the fundamentals of self-improvement and you owe it to yourself to read on a daily basis.

I have been reading self-improvement books for ten years, and this one excites me more than any of the others.

So What Is So Special About The Big Leap?

Dr. Hendricks does a brilliant job of doing these fundamental things necessary for lasting change:

  • Explains why you should want to change
  • Identifies the source of the problem holding you back
  • Lays out the steps necessary for anyone to fix their problem and move forward

Here is a summary of the points made (but I urge you to read the book, and I’ll explain why, later).

Why You Should Want to Change

The fact that you’re reading a self-improvement article suggests that you have some interest in change. Hendricks presents an argument for a change that I’ve heard many times before — because it’s a commonly held belief — that the American Dream is not necessarily working a job, hoping for a raise, and saving money to retire. We all probably had dreams of something we wanted to do when we grew up, and life got in the way of doing that. Or we did something fun as kids that we wish we could still do again, but now we’re stuck with a job and a mortgage and there’s never enough time or money to just have fun.

Is that the American Dream?

And that thing we may want to do, it doesn’t have to be a big endeavour, like win a Grammy or cure cancer. Both of those things are worthy goals, but baking cakes that bring joy into the lives of loved ones is also worthy. Developing a talent and sharing it with the world is always worthy (except maybe farting the National Anthem).

In The Big Leap, Dr. Hendricks walks you through exercises that help you identify what that creative gift might be. It’s your little bit of genius, so it won’t be like anybody else’s. You should figure out what it is.

What is the Problem Keeping Your Little Bit of Genius Down?

The Big Leap does a great job of helping you identify the problem holding you back and brilliantly teaches that shedding light on that problem will dissolve its grip on you. He calls this the Upper Limit problem, and there are four basic versions:

  • False belief that we are fundamentally flawed and we don’t deserve to enjoy good things
  • False belief that we will be disloyal to our beliefs and people in our life if we succeed
  • False belief that we are a burden in the world, and should remain quietly in our place
  • False belief that we must not shine too brightly or we will make others in our life feel bad about themselves

If these sound familiar, take heart, because reading the book will help explain how these false beliefs took hold of your life, and how to identify where it grips you. I can identify with three of these even after ten years of self-impromovement practices. (I wish I’d had this book back then!)

How to Fix the Problem and Move Forward

These false beliefs are deeply ingrained in our psyche, and don’t turn to ash like when you expose a vampire to sunlight. No, these problems are more like burrs you pick up when walking in the woods, and you’ll have to carefully track them down and get rid of them. (Also, you may pick up ticks or fleas out in the woods, and you really have to get after them.)

The Big Leap talks about daily practices you can do that help track down the places in your life where these false beliefs are attached. It involves mediation, mindfulness, and consciously working on what matters to you.

My Own Book

The book I wrote a couple of years ago, Boss Lessons, deals with many of these same practices, but The Big Leap does a much better job of expressing why you should want to change, the root of the problem, and the solution. And—for the record—my book does a pretty good job of it. But Dr. Hendricks is a clinical psychologist with many years of practice in therapy, and I have to doff my cap to his book.

Take Care of Yourself

Christmas is coming, so do something nice for yourself, and read The Big Leap. Then take the lessons to heart and care for yourself from now on.

Building Something Awesome In Spite of Yourself

There are a few man-made things that stand as a positive testament to what humans are capable of creating. The pyramids and the great wall of China are some of the larger monuments you will see, and, depending on your religious inclinations, you may look to churches and cathedrals as being among the more impressive, and I always thought medieval Europe was responsible for building the biggest, and most spectacular cathedrals. But I was surprised to learn, recently, that the largest cathedral in the world is here in America.

Cathedrals are Really Big Churches

In the dark ages, building a cathedral took a great deal of dedication. The construction technology was not like we have today. A six horse power engine meant you had attached six horses to a cart. But that little six horse power engine could drag a ton of stone from the quarry in Italy across the alps to a town in France.

Because humans were the most plentiful resource for building anything, but not the fastest, the construction of anything on a monumental scale took a lot of people a lot of time. It took several lifetimes to create some cathedrals, so that a craftsman might be born on site, raised to carve stone, or construct the structure, or work on the interior elements. They might spend the rest of their life working on just one aspect of the cathedral, die, and be buried there on the grounds, without having seen the final results of their lifetime of labor.

It Probably Wasn’t a Walk in the Park

Granted, making something big and awesome with primitive technology may use up the human capital at an alarming rate, and indiscriminately. I’m certainly not saying that history’s great achievements were worthy of the lives that may have died in vain in the effort.

If watching The Ten Commandments every Passover with my family taught me anything about the Hebrews, it’s that being enslaved to the Egyptians wasn’t a walk in the park. Just as Yul Brunner could condemn to death anyone not making bricks fast enough with a swish of his horse-tailed crop, I’m sure plenty of lives were lost prematurely hauling seventeen ton blocks of limestone into place.

Similarly, I suspect there were more Chinese laborers lost building the Great Wall as there were Chinese labors lost building railroads, digging mines, and constructing dams in the American West. And let us not forget whichever people it was that dug the Panama Canal (seriously, I can’t remember if it was Chinese imports or natives from the region).

All’s Well That Ends Well, Even in Death

That is not to say that their life was squandered. They were part of a family, and part of a larger movement with a seemingly divine inspiration. If they were lucky enough to enjoy the trade and craft into which they were born, they may have spent the better part of their life doing something they loved. The filth, disease, hunger, and lack of dental care aside, they lived a relatively good life.

I mentioned that the world’s largest cathedral is in America, in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. It’s construction began in the 1870s. Given the abilities of American industry back then, you might think it was a quick build, but that Cathedral has been under construction for more than 100 years. It’s truly a modern version of an medieval cathedral, because many of the people that worked on it did not live to see its completion.

They were part of a process, and they contributed to a much larger meaning than just what they understood in their own lifetime.

So it is with us in our own lives.

We Define the Meaning of Our Life

You may strive at many things — some easy, others difficult — and may wonder what the striving is all about. There are no easy answers. People will offer answers, but not to the questions you are asking.

We have to decide for ourselves what is the meaning of our life.

That is a great responsibility, and the weight of the answer to that question may be too much for us to answer. But to decide to not define the meaning of our own life is to risk falling into an abyss from which we can not escape. We must also avoid adopting a meaning from someone else without truly considering if such a meaning suits our values, beliefs, and morality.

Great. Now What?

Having chosen a meaning, and having come to an understanding of our own values, beliefs, and morality, we may be able to find a larger purpose to serve. One that can not be so simply achieved that we solve the problem and complete the task, like watching a marathon session of Breaking Bad over a long weekend.

We can build our own cathedral.

No cathedral was built in a day. You might join a group, and dedicate part of your life to feeding the hungry, slowing down global warming, or providing clean water to those in thirst.

You might focus on your own family, and pass along the traditions of your ancestors to your children and grandchildren.

Pass It On

I hate the YMCA billboards that mention a vague concept and then direct us all to “pass it on.” They are trying to associate their own organization with the do-gooder notions proclaimed. It’s pretentious and preachy, as if they are saying, “we do this all the time, and you should too.”

The billboards are correct in that we should, in fact, pass such good intention on in life. It’s still annoying to be told.

So Do Whatever the Hell You Want To Do

I am suggesting to you that you get to choose. You can choose to work on some pretentious sounding, but vague conceit. Or you can be a self-serving narcissist. Or you can find a passion in which you deeply believe, and bring joy and meaning to your life as you pursue that passion.

I am not preaching because I have struggled with finding such meaning all my life. I really don’t know if I’ve figured it out yet.

This is just what I think I know.

It is all well and good to develop our own skills and work on our own piece of the puzzle. In fact, it is imperative that you work on your craft and livelihood with all the passion you can muster, because it is the combined efforts of thousands of people, generation after generation, that creates a monumental human institution.

The cathedrals you build may not be completed in the course of your life; but if you choose projects based on the common needs of humans, you can be reasonably confident that others will continue the work, and the world will be a better place because of your efforts.

And I think I know that making such choices will help you define the meaning of your life.

Good luck.

What Would You Save From Your House in Case of Catastrophic Disaster?

We lead reasonably safe, secure lives here in America. But in the past few weeks, the shit has hit the fan more than once. The first time was figuratively when the Chechen-American terrorists bombed Boston, and the second time quite literally when a fertilizer factory exploded, destroying much of a town. If your world changed in a moment of madness, what would you save from your house?

American abundance leads us to accumulate many, many things — most of which we don’t need to survive. For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume you have enough to survive after the disaster strikes — you have access to food, water, shelter, and other facilities (you have a place to go poop!). So what, from your American abundance would you want with you to start your life over again. I actually look forward to this exercise because I am tormented by the amount of things we have accumulated.

If a fire chases me from my home, or a tornado knocks it over, or an earthquake takes it out from under me, what would I need.

Pens, Pencils, and Paper
I can do a lot of planning, writing, and rebuilding with pens, pencils and paper.

Computing Machine
I keep a large part of my digital life in the cloud (or several clouds) so my family photos and videos are out there, and my music collection is out there, and many important projects and data files are out there. It’s nice to have copies on a laptop though, or access to them through a machine available to me.

String Box
I am learning the ukulele. I’ve had one for almost two years, and the past six months I’ve really worked at it. I’m not good, but keeping up with it makes me feel good about the world.

Books
I don’t have all my favoriet books on Kindle or Nook yet, and there are some books on my shelf I like to look at. What I’m saying is that it does my soul good to have access to books, and I’d want a few of them to start over. I have a couple of poetry books and art history books that I’d want around, so it wouldn’t all be novels with the sexy parts highlighted.

Camera
My fascination with pictures from my life and past may actually be a symptom of a larger problem I have, but taking pictures is important to me. In this experiment, I think it’d be important when rebuilding to take photos of the efforts made, and the challenges faced.

To sum up, I’d want books, and music, and art and photography in my life as I rebuild. I’d be creating that part of my life along with the comfortable living part of my life.

It Happens
Two years ago, one of my neighbors lost their house to a fire. No one was hurt, but the place burned down to the foundation. Total loss. Before that, an acquaintance of mine at work lost their home to a tornado. The wind tore the place down and scattered their possessions over a wide swath. And a few years before that, my Aunt was chased from her home near Pittsburgh when heavy rains flooded it to the second floor. She lost everything.

I’m not trying to tempt fate by talking about it, but I am trying to remind myself of what possessions I truly care about. If my family is safe and sound, then I’m not going to lose sleep if a recliner, or a sofa, or a china cabinet is lost, especially if I can begin rebuilding my creative life as soon as possible after a catastrophe.

How about you?

How to Not Be Funny

For the few people who read my blog regularly, you may know that I try to be funny. I haven’t blogged a lot lately because I’ve been working on a novel, but my resolution this year was to be more consistent with humorous writing, especially over at my other web site, Dying Is Easy. Comedy Is Hard. One might think that I’d learned a thing or two from my preachings here about learning from my mistakes, but I gave myself another chance to learn. It was one of my more embarrassing literary moments.

I wrote an article last week that I thought was very funny. It was a homage to “Game of Thrones,” the fantasy epic on HBO. I love that show. I love it the way Seth Bullock loved Alma Garrett on the HBO series “Deadwood.” I love that show the way Finn loves Princess Bubblegum on “Adventure Time.” Sometimes love like that skews your judgement.

Love, I have come to learn, messes with your brain. It’s for a good cause, and I don’t regret a minute of it. I forgive myself for any transgressions committed while in love. However, in the case of this article about “Game of Thrones”, what I did is as close to unforgiveable as I care to go.

It was not funny. It was not funny the way M.A.S.H. was not funny after Henry left the show. My article was not funny the way any sitcom starring Tony Danza was not funny after Tony Danza left “Taxi.” My supposed-to-be-funny article jumped the proverbial shark somewhere around the first sentence and didn’t have the decency to be eaten by the shark.

I write unfunny things all the time, even when I try to be funny. There is no sin in not being funny (if it is a sin then my wife is doomed in the afterlife). My lack of humor could have been forgiven except for the fact that I submitted it to the New Yorker for their section called “Shouts and Murmurs”.

“Shouts and Murmurs” is where Woody Allen, Steve Martin, and David Sedaris publish when they feel like writing something funny. I wanted very much to be like them, and I was convinced that I had truly hit upon something funny. But the rejection letter informed me otherwise. It said: “We don’t feel this piece is appropriate for Shouts and Murmurs. Shouts and Murmurs are supposed to be humorous.”

I get it. That was a joke. A joke at my expense. I didn’t think it was very funny.

Untitled Political Rant That Totally Ignores The Republican Candidate’s Obvious Flaws

Wherefore

I was raised in what is best described as a hawkish, right-wing, racially paranoid home–pretty typical for large swaths of the midwest in the ’60s and ’70s. Our suburb was diverse, but in a really white way. There were white people of German descent, and white people of slavic descent, and a few white people of hillbilly descent.

There were no more than two blacks in our suburb at the same time. It almost seemed like there was a law against more than two blacks at one time, but I’m sure there wasn’t such a law. I’m pretty sure. There were fewer Jews than there were blacks. I only knew what it meant to be Jewish from the jokes my uncle told at parties. (Apparently, Jewish people complained a lot, were often martyred, and sex was a burden to them.) Later, when I was on a travel hockey team one year, I finally met some Jewish boys (and a couple of black kids) and realized they were a lot like me. When the Puerto Rican families from Cleveland picnicked in the city park behind our house, my father raked the lawn near the fence like he was on border patrol. In hindsight, I realize now that our town was more than a bit medieval.

Introduction to Politics

My father voted Republican, and I was coached to do the same. I voted for Reagan and H.W. Bush. I read G. Gordon Liddy’s book. That’s who we seemed to be; I tried to be like my dad.

I briefly considered a career in the military because I wanted to fly jets as my father had done. But my eyesight was imperfect and pilot school was not an option; I became distracted as I mulled over what it would be like to be a missile officer with the reponsibility of launching a very, very deadly attack. I parted ways with the Air Force. Most of my classmates in ROTC were very nice, but a few of them seemed, to me, to be assholes.

Awake, Sweet Prince

I soon found myself attracted to the news reporting and human interest stories on National Public Radio. My brothers teased me for listening to such liberal crap, but if caring about stories of people with specific needs, and suffering specific troubles meant I was a liberal, then, so be it. My father was deeply concerned when I subscribed to Mother Jones. He thought I was considering becoming a communist.

I did not then, and I do not now, think of myself as a communist. I like having my own place to stay and my own bathrooms. I wish I had a house with more bathrooms, in fact, because I’d like a little more privacy. (I wish I had better Internet in the bathroom, but that’s another story.)

I worry when I hear political positions explained in broad terms. Ferris Buehler was suspicious of “isms,” and so am I. So when Republicans suggest that people need the opportunity to stand on their own, and that those same people with said opportunity can then either enjoy the fruits of their labor or suffer the consequences of their failure, I worry about a lot of people. I worry because the vast majority of us are not going to succeed very much in life without help. Very, very few of us stand entirely on our own.

The American Way

My parents helped me get into a college, Air Force ROTC got me part of the way through that college, and my parents helped me get out. A friend helped me get a job. That’s a lot of help. The sum total of all that help was that I could be mediocre at what I did. (Most of us are mediocre; that’s how mediocrity works.) I have not enjoyed anything close to the fabled definition of free-market success. But I still consider myself lucky. I got enough help to find good jobs and I have contributed to the economy while enjoying the stability of America.

I think it’s right to help people down on their luck. People lose jobs most often through circumstances beyond their control. Most people lack the foresight and the initiative to anticipate economic trends far enough in advance to change careers as the free-market economy dictates. I think it’s a good thing that American policy dampens the effect of the market economy by offering refuge to the out of work or under-employed through subsidies for their income, food, or well-being.

I occasionally hear conversations that are steeped with indignation over the free-loaders of society, as if people working minimum wage jobs but also getting free cheese have it too good, as if all of them planned this, somehow, as the ultimate scam. It seems to me that some Republicans are like angry teenagers, incensed that a sibling is getting something for nothing.

I’ll Fly If You Buy

I like parties that start with beer and food provided by the host but that, later on, pass the hat when the keg runs dry. I like to feel that I help others have a good time at the party, even though it ain’t my party, when I drop a fiver in the hat. My fiver might get me a six-pack of Schlitz, but the sixty bucks collected is enough for the keg (assuming the idiots returning the empty keg don’t decide to roll it down the hill to see how far it goes, and then manage to drop it in the river, but that, too, is another story). I like how, by pooling our money, we can all have a little more fun together. And the people that leave, rather than contribute, were probably just there for the free stuff, rather than to have fun.

I have developed a liberal attitude to many, many things in life, but that’s not why I vote for Democrats. I mostly vote against Republicans who seem to be fostering too much of a B.Y.O.B. attitude for my liking. Many of them seem downright fascist to me in their insistence on conformity to paternal dictates. I don’t want to tell people what they should believe, but I would like to ask them to kick in a fiver so that we can keep the party rocking.

Bully

One hundred years ago, Teddy Roosevelt started the Progressive Party partially in response to what he saw as a corruption of leadership in both parties due to special interest groups controlling them with their funding. His speech (http://www.ssa.gov/history/trspeech.html) was a call for reform at the top, and a call to support the lower and middle-classes, who, to his mind, were the true body and soul of the country. If they flourish, then the country can grow and be strong. The arguments are strikingly familiar, and remind me that what occurs in our modern political debate is not new, and won’t likely go away soon. But it helps me with my resolve for my own beliefs.

I like to share my time, talents, and resources whenever possible to help others. I don’t necessarily empty my pockets when someone on the street asks for money (I may be a tree hugger, but my heart doesn’t bleed that much) but I do give to charity, help in my community, and I pay my taxes without begrudging those who might benefit from social programs.

Narcissism Is an Ism

In spite of my fear of “isms,” we all fall into categories. I think of myself as a humanist, one who empathizes with those who are suffering, and hopes that each of us might strive toward our dreams, and find a safe, productive life along the way.

I think most people vote for Presidential elections based on emotional reactions to the candidate’s position on touchy issues. That is really not a bad way to approach, as the President sets the tone for Congress, and suggests things, and can control how certain things are enforced or implemented. Most things are out of their control. We should all consider which of those issues we are reacting to, and consider our own complex backgrounds as to how we came to arrive at those reactions.

Finally, which ism is bothering you the most?