Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Be You, Do What You Do

I was called a celebrity for the first time in my life today. Someone who heard my radio show the other day was apparently very impressed with me and the music I played.

Of course there was the split second where my brain attempted to go into Ego Mode, but then the portion of my brain that's cordoned off as a "Reality Check Zone" immediately reminded me that I'm anything but.

Still, it was nice to be called that, even if the credit's misplaced.

It did serve a purpose, though. It reminded me of things that I've been thinking about lately. I've actually been having an internal monologue with myself for several weeks now. It all started when I was talking to a friend about a relationship problem. We were talking about how some things hold you back and make you be less of a person than you know you can be.

And there's not just one thing that can hold a person back. It can be pretty much anything: a job, a relationship, a friendship, a habit, a mindset... anything.

I spent four years in a relationship that held me back. I don't blame her, because she's a good person at heart, and she didn't mean to. But this girl wanted me to settle down, and when I say "settle," I don't necessarily mean it as in finding a niche in life, having a family, and whatnot. I mean "settle" as in "accepting less of a life than what you could have," or "sacrificing your potential for a safe level of mediocrity." It wasn't the only part of the relationship that was holding me back. There were several things. But at the time, I just didn't realize it.

I was also held back by my previous job. Part of that had to do with said girlfriend demanding that I keep the job and not look for a new one (so as to gain longevity and supposedly stability.)

But more than any of those, I was holding MYSELF back. I can't really blame the ex or the job in anywhere near the same degree as I blame myself. Because, honestly, if I had found the drive to succeed, I'd have told them both to get lost a long time ago.

99 percent of the people in this country live in complete mediocrity and are happy with it. They're content to do what it takes to get by and little more. They ignore their potential to the point where they forget that they have it. They sit back, settle in, and accept less. As time goes by, so do they, and in the end, they die without having lived.

And of the 1 percent who are not satisfied with mediocrity, half of those are nothing more than TALK. They want a larger station in life, but they spend all their time discussing it (and often boasting about it, as though it had happened already) and never actually go about to achieve it.

The remaining 0.5 percent of America are the ones you know. The ones that actually make the world turn.

I remember having this thought when I was young: "I wonder how people can stand it not being famous?" Because my intent as a youth was to become a famous person. Growing up, I let circumstances and laziness on my part change those ambitions. It got to a point where I repeated my previous thought in tones of derision, mocking myself.

For a long time, I thought the following things about myself:

(1.) You're just not good enough to do it.
(2.) You're going to be beaten out by other talented people.
(3.) Don't sing so loud. Other people might hear you.
(4.) Hide your writing. Nobody's going to like it.
(5.) You're second best. Everyone around you is second best. And that's the way it'll always be.

It never occurred to me that the following things had happened throughout my life:

(1.) I graduated high school with a 4.0
(2.) I was published before I even finished junior high.
(3.) People were begging to hear me sing.
(4.) People (the collective noun and the magazine) read my writing.
(5.) There were folks that REALLY liked my writing.
(6.) Magazines REALLY liked my writing.
(7.) I write a blog that gets read by thousands of people each week.
(8.) I can do one radio show and have people thinking of me as a celebrity.
(9.) I once held my own writing a song with someone who has now gone on to win ACM Song of the Year.
(10.) Musicians and American Idols now contact ME to have me interview them.

There are more, but I'm not trying to brag. These are just things I realized about myself, and I am willing to bet that each of you reading out there, if you would sit down and think about it, could come up with a similar list. But these are the things that have been revealed to me, and I'm no longer satisfied with being just so mediocre.

As Mikalah Gordon from American Idol 4 told me, at some point in life, you either have to grow up and work on yourself, or die from the excruciating pain. The only option is really to move forward.

I'm here to tell you that the only thing that is keeping you from being a superstar at whatever you choose to do is yourself. If being a marketer is what you want to do, then the only reason for you not to be the most asked-for marketer in the world is sitting in your chair. If you're a singer, then the only thing keeping you from getting out there and tearing up the charts is your own drive. If you're a lawyer, the only reason you can't be Perry Mason is if you're ruling against yourself. I truly believe that. Of course there are going to be hardships and obstacles, and it will be hard not to give up and difficult to surmount them, but I believe that if you have the drive to do it, you can.

So that's my challenge to you all out there. Don't just be the best you can be at what you do now. Strive for the mountaintop. Transcend where you are. Rise above. Make sure that when the day you die comes about, you'll have actually lived your life.

Let go of those things that are holding you back, too. If it's a relationship, then you have to tell that person goodbye. You can't sacrifice who you are as a human being and what God meant for you to be on the basis of dating someone. If it's a habit, let that go too. The rest of your life is worth more than a guilty pleasure or immediate gratification. If it's a job, find another one. If you work means nothing to you in the grand scheme of things, what have you accomplished when you pass on to the next life? If it's you, let yourself go. Let go of all those negative thoughts. Let go of those fears that keep you hanging on white-knuckled, too fearful to put yourself out there, too scared to actually make a difference. Let go of the voices in your head that tell you you'll never amount to anything. Let go of those around you who downplay your importance.

Live. Waste not that precious moment called life, lest it be over before you've had a chance to make it count.


At 10:58 PM, Blogger Kristin said...

Such a good post, J.D., thanks for the nudge.

At 11:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 6:41 AM, Anonymous Mike Sansone said...

Thanks for sharing this motivating post, JD. And you're so right. Before a balloon can rise, it must rid itself of things weighing it down....before a ship can sail, it must release anchor.

Sometimes, it's physical, sometimes it's our own self-talk. Recognizing it is the first step.

Stay contagious:-)

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Cami said...

How inspirational. Glad you ignored the negativity and did you thing. Nice post.

At 2:12 PM, Blogger Sailorcurt said...

I guess the question would be: "what exactly constitutes living up to your potential?"

I fall into the category of people who are satisfied with less. Sure, I'd like to have the big house, the fancy cars, be able to spend money without worrying about being able to pay the bills etc.

But I have no misconceptions about how much effort and work it takes to get to that place.

I have friends in that place and what sacrifices did they have to make to get there? Am I willing to make those sacrifices?

I live in an average house, I drive a 14 year old car (and a 6 year old motorcycle), I make enough money to put (good) food on the table and pay the bills. We have some extras but aren't rich by any means.

But I also don't have to put in 10 and 12 hour days 6 or 7 days a week. I don't have to give up my vacations or my weekends watching football with my wife. I was actually involved in my kid's lives and have good relationships with them now that they are out on their own. I get to enjoy seeing them flourish and carry on with my grandchildren.

I have the time to enjoy the little extravagances that I can afford, versus the people I know who have the fancy big houses with in ground swimming pools that they never have the time to enjoy.

I guess the bottom line is this: I know I have the potential to be more, but am I willing to make the sacrifices to do so?

Am I less of a person if I choose not to make those sacrifices? Will I be less happy if I choose to live life one day at a time rather than sacrifice today for a planned benefit tomorrow?

I would never say that someone who IS willing to make those sacrifices and live that life is doing anything wrong...heck, if it weren't for that .05%, I wouldn't have a stable job that enables me to enjoy my life of relative leisure (but, then again, if it weren't for the 90+% of us "average" people, they wouldn't have the "drones" they need to get the grunt work done either...someone's got to take out the trash and clean the toilets).

I guess some of my attitude indirectly came from my father. He was raised in a very poor family. As a result, he worked very hard to prepare for the future. I really didn't know him all that well, he worked 10 hours a day, 6 days a week at the factory and then another 4 or 5 hours a day on the farm. He scrimped and sacrificed and saved to put money away for his retirement.

He died at age 65 of cancer. His retirement consisted of three years struggling with the disease that columnated in his death.

So what was the reward for all of his sacrifice and hard work? I guess he got do die knowing that he had lived up to his potential.

I'm not bitter about it. I simply have decided that I'd rather enjoy today than get all wrapped around the axle about a tomorrow that may or may not come.

Just my two hundredths of a dollar.

At 2:53 PM, Blogger J.D. said...

Sailorcurt, it's good to see you still around! Does this mean the blog is coming back soon too?

I do understand what you're saying, and yes I know that the 0.5% can't function without the "drones" as you put them. My thought, though, is that I don't necessarily want to be one of those. I guess maybe I'm coming from a different perspective than you, since I have no family of my own. I'm sure priorities become different in that situation. Still, I think everybody should use the talents they're given.

Glad to see you back, buddy. Been missin' ya!

At 6:28 PM, Blogger Brownsoul said...

So that's what you sound!

It's okay to allow yourself to get a big head as long as you can bring yourself down after a moment or two.

I'm glad that you realized how much you had accomplished and what you could accomplish and good for you shedding those things that held you back.

I personally don't want to be unhappy and stuck. My biggest fear is settling for something that seems constant and safe, but makes me completely miserable.

Great post.

At 7:03 AM, Blogger Sailorcurt said...

I plan to start blogging again eventually, but not yet. It just takes up too much time and I've got other priorities right now.

Sorry if I sounded overly negative, I didn't intend to, but reading it over again, I think it does. I wasn't trying to slam your post, your points are well taken.

I guess my point is that what matters is doing what makes you happy. Life is short and we never know when it is going to end. Making yourself miserable for a goal that you may never live to enjoy seems to me like a waste of valuable time.

That doesn't mean that I don't do ANYTHING to reach my goals, I just have limits to what I'm willing to sacrifice, therefore, my goals are simply not as high as the goals of others.

I know I'm capable of more. I ran a very successful business for a while. I could have continued that and probably would be very well off right now. The problem was that I was investing so much of my life into making my business successful that I didn't have any left over for myself or my family. It just wasn't worth it to me. There are more important things than living in a $600k home or driving a new car all the time. My 50 year old $200k home is very comfortable, thank you very much, and my 14 year old car gets me where I need to go just like a brand new one would.

I am saving for retirement, I've got a Roth IRA, a 401K and some other investments...but I'm not going to sacrifice today for a tomorrow that may never come. If I want to take my wife out for a nice dinner, the IRA investment might just get skipped this month.

For some people, the effort required to become successful is what makes them happy (some are less happy after they achieve their goals than they were during the struggle to reach them). That's fine if that's what makes them happy. Some people (like me) are simply happy with less. That doesn't make us inferior or piteous, it just makes us different. I have different priorities than the Doctor or Lawyer or successful businessman. That's fine. I'd never expect my priorities to be anothers, I just don't expect another to try to push their priorities off onto me either.

If I'm happy as a drone, let me be a drone. Someone's got to do the work that illegal aliens won't do.

On the flip side, if you EVER hear me crying or whining about my plight (won't happen), slap me in the back of the head and remind me that I'm where I am because of the choices that I've made. It would be pretty stupid of me to expect to reap the benefits without being willing to make the sacrifices.


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