What It Means To Be Great - #81

Alan Turing is the Godfather of Modern Computing.

Why I couldn't get that out when waxing philosophical with some new friends at work is ironic. I'm endlessly excited by the mathematician's ideas and what they mean for spirituality and human communication, and still I came up with the wrong words, talking at a pace fast enough to skate past my fumbling.

It's ironic because of a little thing called the Turing Test. We like to imagine that human beings have an unmistakable soul of sorts that makes us more than the inanimate objects and animated machines around us. With the Turing Test, that's not so clear. If you were to sit down and chat on a modern computer with a robot sophisticated enough to convince, or rather trick, you into thinking it is a human on the other end, it is no different than a human being. Why? Because, as Turing would argue, human beings can't prove any other person's consciousness. We simply gather the facts of our interactions, our art, our emotions and everything else, and decide how to perceive the outside world. I don't think my fumbling speech had my colleagues convinced I was a malfunctioning robot, but my desire to seem cool, educated, and engaging backfired when I couldn't spit out the right words to describe Alan Turing and why he interests me so much.

Somehow I was more in tune with Turing's theory when I met B and Laura at a pool party this past weekend. Once past the standard work-speak, Laura asked what else I like to do and I told her I write. What exactly, she asked, and I pieced together an answer. She said it sounded like a public journal and the more I thought about it, the more that concept made more sense. Explode into Space is my public journal for collecting ideas on how to be great. 

The new description gave me that tingly feeling when I thought of it and later heard it resonate through Macklemore's lyrics in the song "Make The Money" when he said:

"See, life is a beautiful struggle, I record it, 
Hope it helps you maneuverin' through yours."

When it comes down to questioning myself too much, though, it becomes a battle over greatness. I want to change the world and I want to change my world. When I can't prove that to everyone else around me, I make myself sick. If some weeks go by without me doing more than the routine mixture of fun, work, and journal entries, I feel like a failure. What's the catch? What's the cure?

I found myself back to taking the Turing Test when I had an ideological conversation via text-message with a friend. It was a regular thought I was laying on her; I wasn't sure how to realize my potential for greatness in this world. Quite the quarter-century dilemma. And she said this: "You don't have to be recognized to be great and you don't have to be great to be loved. All you should try to be is yourself, best, truest self. If that person writes something - cool. If not, you are still worthy of love and belonging because you are human and you exist."


It hit me like a punch in the gut. It may not make sense to everyone, but I've found it in my mind to believe that great artists and inventors and figures of all kinds have to suffer for their work. You don't have to be accidentally swallowing paint dripping from the Sistine Chapel ceiling, but there is an amount of pressure it takes to be more than your average bear. It's just too easy to float through life letting other people tell you what to do while wishing to your God you were doing everything else you wanted.

And then she followed up against my defensive questioning with this: "Stop thinking that you have to be more important than anyone else." Is it a competition? Is it vanity? Is it right or wrong, we'll never really know. I was just left scratching my head. It begged the fundamental question for me whether or not some people are fundamentally more important than others. Is Einstein more important to us than Obama? Judy Garland more important than Katherine Heigl? Bourdain than Paula Deen? Carlin than Dunham? 

It's hypocritical for me. I believe everything in this world is interconnected and important, and yet I think some people can make a larger impact that it resonates with a wider community. 

With my shields up and my own philosophy wavering, the other part of me realized I'm sick of feeling wrong. If it's true I don't need to be great, why do I feel that way?  It could be comparing myself too closely to my heroes or focusing on the wrong lines on my resume. Nothing is "wrong" with me, it's just perception. I'm experimenting to find the right way to feel alive. What does it mean to be alive? I'm starting to see how my outward suffering sounds less like that of a struggling artist and more like that of a defeated person.

The challenge rears its ugly head when pushing the boundaries of normal turns to suffering. I take so seriously what Tim Ferriss echoed in his book The 4-Hour Work Week: "A person's success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have." There is a difference between the two: suffering and being uncomfortable.

Whether or not I need to be successful to be great or loved or anything else, I want it for me. Putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation opens the door to truly understanding who you are and sharing your true self with the rest of the world. If you hold too tightly, you'll have no idea. It might be time to let go.

My public journal will be full of hypocrisies as life goes on. I hope my challenges help to bring yours into the light and into perspective. It could be why we're here after all, right?

Until next time...
I explode into space.



To Be or Not to Be is a Bad Question - #71

Dear Readers,

It happens to me pretty regularly when I wake up bright and early on my day off from work. Without enough plans, I ask myself what to do and, quickly, the list flies off the handle. Twenty-four hours are never enough to cram this incredible amount of activities into all of them. Normally, I end up running thankless, forgettable errands, carving away a bit more at my jiu-jitsu game, and visiting my friends halfway down the state. It's still great although it seems there could be so much more to the day.

"What to do?" is not specific and not helpful. Asking the big question of what to do is easy to answer with plain old stuff to pass the time. You can keep yourself dusting the whole damn house to answer that busywork question. What I find more appealing and fulfilling is a practice I re-discovered trying to slug through Tony Robbins' Personal Power II CD series again: Ask Better Quality Questions.

Whether we notice it or not, our brains are exploding with questions from the time we jump out of bed. Trouble can always begin here. Ask yourself the wrong question and you'll get an answer. Ask your brain why your day sucks and it finds an answer. Ask your brain why you feel awesome and it finds an answer. The truth of the conclusion doesn't matter nearly as much as what state your mind and body are left to survive in.

Turning the gun on myself, I realized just asking about activities was not going to cut it. I decided to ask a better quality question for my day off: "What can I do today to pull my dreams closer to the present?" Now, the scope narrows its focus. My dream is to make a living off my ideas. Dusting is not going to do it. Writing? Possibly. Better question, better answer. 

Too often life feels like a failed experiment. We can remind ourselves that mistakes are to be made but sometimes it doesn't always feel so great. Whether we are measuring ourselves against celebrities without mortgages or desk-jobs, or we're unable to manage our time to sleep, exercise, and eat properly in the span of a day, why not take a moment to really appreciate what is a success in your life right now? Don't bullshit yourself, there is plenty to be happy about in this life, right now. I'm not talking your favorite television show or after-dinner dessert. I want to know what in your life lifts you up. Are you learning to cook? Are you getting better at your Zumba routine? Are you soaking up the Spring weather? Are you a kick-ass friend, or sibling, or significant other?

Often questions like this end in The Happiness Trap. Pardon the heresy. After doing my daily exercises with Tony Robbins, I've been devouring Daniel Gilbert's skeptical and inquisitive Stumbling on Happiness. The more pages I turn, the less certain I am that I know what happiness is in this life. And, you know what? It's cool. Side-step the question of happiness, it's too subjective. Tim Ferriss may have made it clear to me, albeit temporarily, a long time ago, when in The Four-Hour Work Week he said, "Happiness can be bought with a bottle of wine and has become ambiguous through overuse."

The idea is perspective and you can have it, like Journey sang, any way you want it. Sharpen your questions and answer them with everything you have. Let the sparks fly!

Until next time...
I explode into space.