Sometimes, Failure is a Smart Option

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Okay, okay, keep your shirts on. Though it may look like it from the title, this blog post is not about leaving the Winners’ Circle. It’s about learning from missteps, mistakes, and recognizing your shortcomings. That said, you can stop reading because everything else supports this thought process.

Oh, I see that you’ve decided to venture a bit further and I can appreciate that. Thanks for sticking around and daring to delve further into the recesses of my twisted mind. I have a lot to say on the subject.

I just got back news that I will not be claiming the top prize in a rather prestigious literary contest. Oh, boo-effin’-hoo! I actually kind of LIKE the fact that someone else won it and not me.

No, I’m not some sort of closeted masochist, nor am I a glutton for punishment. What I realize is that this gives me a chance to congratulate the winner while rechecking my coordinates. It allows me to go back to the drawing board and come up with a better formula for winning.

I write, therefore I am. I don’t write for the sole purpose of making money, though we know, as Wu Tang says, Cash Rules Everything Around Me (C.R.E.A.M.). I write for the passion of it. I tell stories because I have much to say. So, whether there is a golden carrot being dangled before me or not, still shall I scribble, dammit!

It’s what I do.

Some years ago, I entered an even BIGGER contest. The monetary award was substantial. More importantly, the exposure that the winner would receive was worth even more than the financial gain. I wanted the exposure.

I had just written a zombie novel the year previous and hoped that, with all the buzz concerning the undead eaters of human flesh, my book would be a shoo-in. However, Prince always talked about being ahead of the trends, not always doing what was currently popular. Of the 10,000 submissions, I made it through the first round of eliminations, which cut 8,000 authors out of the loop. I got excited, since my odds of winning had just substantially increased.

When I got the news that my book had been eliminated in the next round, it felt like somebody had deflated my tires. I sat around with my lip poked out for a few hours before my wife had a few choice words that sent me back to the drawing board. It made me strive to be better, not necessarily to win contests.

The key to finishing a marathon is to keep moving forward. Got a stitch in your side? Walk it out? Caught a cramp in your calf? Limp while shaking it out, but don’t stop moving. Though I’m sure it’s a cool thing to say you won the marathon, it’s still a triumph to say that you didn’t receive a single medal, but completed your mission, anyway.

A failure can do one of two things, depending on how you process it:

  1. Knock you completely off your nut, laying you out flat, making you give up and curse ever throwing your hat into the ring.
  2. Accept that there was something you could’ve done differently but not let the failure defeat you.

Didn’t win the race because you were too slow? Learn to run faster. Your dish wasn’t picked over the other chefs? Study the masters, then innovate. Didn’t claim the grand prize in a writing contest? No moping or long faces allowed; pick up your bottom lip, pick up your laptop, and keep pecking.

Fail today, use it as a springboard for improvement, strategize, and come back hard as hell. ‘Nuf said!

Dancing for the Organ Grinder v. Pursuing Passion for More than Money

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A few nights ago, my daughter was watching some run-in-the-mill reality show about wannabe Hip Hop stars. The program featured ladies wanting to break into and make strides in a male-dominated field. One of the greatest who ever did it, MC Lyte, was there to help them set up a concert.

For those that don’t know, Lyte was one of the few ladies in the game in the early 1980’s, getting equal respect on the mic as did her male counterparts. So, for her to be on set to serve as a guide for those women wanting to break into the rap game was a serious matter.

But they weren’t ready. When left to them to determine the order, they got into a huge, unproductive disagreement about who was going on first. The argument was that the first few acts wouldn’t get the exposure to the crowd, since some folks tend to show up late.

What they were really revealing was how ill-prepared they were and how little they believed in their own talent. By not seizing the opportunity to start, they were pinpointing their fear and reducing it to a money game.

Passion is about more than money.

Imagine if I would ever be so blessed as to wind up on a panel with the likes of Toni Morrison, Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, and Walter Mosley. Picture them telling me I had to go on first, reading some of my relatively unknown work, preceding those living, literary legends gracing the stage. But, instead of seeing the benefit, I begin to get afraid that their more proven talent would outshine mine. And, in a juvenile move, I incite an argument, showing how little I believe in myself, even in the face of giants.

Some of the best music groups and motivational speakers began giving their all to nearly empty venues. There are preachers who started out honing their craft in front of tiny congregations during a weekday service. However, any potentially great performer would know that people need to hear their creative output, just as speakers know a small audience still needs to be encouraged, just as preachers know there are souls to be saved.

The Bible states that those who are faithful over the few will be made rulers of the many. By not being ever-ready only proves it’s amateur night instead of opening night.

The passion inside has to be so intense, it doesn’t matter if you have to put on a show for a handful or a venue as grand as Wembley Stadium. Playing Carnegie Hall starts with the unshakable belief that you can and will eventually sell out those seats.

I was recently hanging out with a friend over the course of a weekend. He was surprised that, whenever we weren’t doing wings and drinks at the local sports bars, I had my laptop nearby, so I could constantly be writing. He began to think himself a rude host but I assured him that I am a writer and this is what writers do. Whether someone is making a big hype or nobody is around, I’m scribbling, jotting down ideas, and developing plot lines. If you were to sneak up on me, you’d probably catch me writing something.

Find the thing about which you’re passionate. If you have so much devotion to that thing that you do it whether or not money is involved, that’s probably key to your destiny. Don’t be afraid to practice it, hone it, and showcase it at every opportunity. When called upon, don’t hesitate to share it. Be ready and be motivated by more than just money.

After all, only monkeys dance when the organ begins to grind.

Transcending the 8-Hour Workday and Embracing the Hu$tle

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Good Things Come to Those

Ever wonder why people come to our country from foreign lands and make out better than we do? It’s because, by comparison from whence many of them have come, America’s street’s truly are paved with gold. The difference is their point of view. They see the opportunity of being able create several streams of income, whereas we make excuses with empty pockets.

In the United States, most of us experience challenges unique to the First World (I wrote about this in a previous blog post called Zero World Problems). To the average person surviving in the upper middle class, the WiFi connection going down is a major game changer. Typically, within a few blocks or miles of our comfortable homes, some people are sorting through trashcans and living in boxes.

Regardless of who takes the Presidency or which two teams are going to the Super Bowl, I believe that most of us can transcend our existences and actually LIVE, provided we see things outside our traditional jobs. You see, a job (which to some is an acronym for “just over broke”) is there to take care of basic necessities: food; shelter; clothing; modes of transportation. However, I think when the work day ends, the hu$tle should begin.

Here’s the typical day for the average American:

  • Get up in the morning to go to a job we can’t stand
  • Sit around at said job bitching, complaining, and wishing we were somewhere else
  • Return home to gripe some more about what went on at work
  • Eat dinner, usually in front of the TV; still murmering about the job during commercial breaks
  • Go to bed only to start the cycle all over again
  • Pray for the weekends which tend to pass too quickly

However, by slightly changing our point of view, this is how it goes:

  • Get up in the morning to fulfill our work day
  • Because we’re grateful to be working, we do our jobs while imagining the day our side gigs will allow us the opportunity to choose to how we go about making our money
  • Return home ready to start investing in one or more hu$tles
  • Sometimes, dinner is on the run or doesn’t happen at all because we’re grinding
  • Go to bed, sometimes a little late; dream about the future we’re forging for ourselves
  • See our weekends as an opportunity to get more things done

Let’s face it: America is the new Rome. Our empire is the dominant super-power and we’ve become lazy. We allow ourselves to be spoon-fed heaping helpings of processed foods and hours of mind-numbing TV, while imagining more ways to waste our money on the latest technological upgrades. We sleep too much, eat too much, and complain too damn much. We’re more concerned with building someone else’s dream instead of defining and realizing our own.

Ask yourself: If I carve two hours out of my day to build my own business and invest in my family’s future, where will I end up 5 years from now? 10 years? 25 years? Is my legacy one of excuses and gripes or of freedom from unnecessary debt and financial security? What do I want to pass on to my kids, nieces, nephews, and godchildren?

I am writing this on a glorified three-day holiday weekend. While everyone else is scrambling over what to bring to the barbecue and which teams will be playing, I’m moving my figurative chess pieces forward. Not knocking sports or good food, but I have a dream to build and a destiny to fulfill. You should be doing the same.

The dream is free. The hu$tle is sold separately.

Get hu$tlin’.

Because I Said So, Dammit!

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Snail

Being a kid is rough. Relatively speaking, anyway. With only a few short years under the belt, it’s difficult to compare it to anything else. Parents dictate everything you do, where you go, and how long you can stay. They roll out a list of chores that are as long as football field and seriously limit your play time.

The toughest thing to hear is the reason why you are relegated to follow their rules: “Because I said so.”

End of discussion. Actually, there is no discussion. And baby, that’s just how it is!

However, when you finally grow to adulthood, you find out that childhood was a piece of cake. Yeah, parents seem like ogres but it’s not because they never wanted you to have fun; it was to protect your dumb ass for doing some really stupid things!

And their reasoning, which stonewalled any possible suggestion and shut down any inkling of protest, seemed to be something just shy of a death sentence: “Because I said so.”

When you get to be grown (which is not based so much on a particular age as it is the time when you completely relocate to a place of your own and remove your hand from your parents’ pockets), you may discover that the very words that seemed a verbal backhand is actually your salvation. Suddenly, there’s no one making you go to bed at a reasonable hour, eat your Brussels sprouts, or wake you up in time for work. It all operates as an act of your pure will: it’s because you said so.

I recently found my clothes fitting differently. I was straining to get into jeans that used to fit loosely and sucking in my gut while putting on my shirts. I looked fat in photos that had been snapped. Yeah, as an adult, I’ve always been a big guy, but this was damned ridiculous, and some radical changes had to be made.

I’d blamed my thickening gut on all sorts of stuff, mainly an ever-changing work schedule, which offered little stability with my personal time. It really wasn’t that; I had simply become a lazy ass.

There was nothing wrong with me, outside of my will. I ate the things I did, sidestepping healthier choices for sweets BECAUSE I SAID SO. Well, maybe because I didn’t say any differently. After all, it’s incredibly easy to sit around, popping bonbons into your fat mouth, watching mindless television shows, while having the nerve to bitch about change not happening.

I had settled. Settled into my life of mediocrity, occasionally doing something slightly above to ensure I still had a heart. The problem was, my heart was struggling to beat through a layer of fat. Too much good living, too much lazing about, and too much talking without putting things to action had taken place.

I looked into the mirror and my swollen midsection was testament to the fact that, instead of being hungry for the hustle and grind, instead of making and taking opportunity, I had settled into being just another goober. And, if you keep doing the things you’ve always done, you’ll continue to get the same damn things you always got.

It was time for radical change, because I willed myself to not be the run-in-the mill loser. It’s because I wanted something better for my family and for myself. It was time to be audacious and bold, not hiding behind excuses and complaints.

So, when I told my buddy I would start working out again with him, I was serious. Even though I’d gotten off work and dozed off briefly before he called, I had given my word. Though the bed felt so good and, after a hard day’s work, part of me felt I deserved a nap, I had a body to whip into shape.

I had a fuller, healthier life to live.

I had to rise above simply existing.

I had to step out of what my lazier self wanted to do by default.

I peeled my girth up off that bed, put on my workout gear, and told my partner I was on my way. And you know why? BECAUSE…I SAID SO, dammit!!!

Off the Top of My Head: The Diamond Mind

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There’s a problem with fools who don’t realize the potential value in uncut diamonds. They tend to get caught up in praising dirty chunks of pyrite-inflected concrete and glorifying petrified pieces of shit, thinking they’ve struck gold.
Those of us who have tried in vain to school the ignorant can only shake our heads, cherish our pocketful of precious stones, and keep it moving. After all, there is little time to waste in this life when there are so many treasures yet to discover.
Capable of producing both gems and a bunch of rubble, our minds are our mines. Be wary of what you present and put on a pedestal. Mind your mine and mind your business.

Dream to Action

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Chris

I’m no mathematician, but here’s a simple equation for you:

Dream + (Determination x Doing) = Dominance

I went to a concert last night that was sponsored by the Jazz Legacy Foundation. Some heavy hitters represented: El Debarge proved that, though he has aged and has lived a hard life, he has lost nothing in his amazing voice and Gerald Albright raised the roof. However, the last performance was from Brian Culbertson and his band. They. Cut. A. FOOL!!!

Okay, okay, so I am a bit biased, because my brother, Chris Miskel, is the music coordinator and drummer for the group. But that gives me some insight. It wasn’t my first time seeing the animated Culbertson work the stage with several instruments, playing the keys upside down at points, and blessing the audience with his unique amalgamation of Smooth Jazz and Funk. AWESOME show.

Whenever my brother plays and I am in a nearby city, I go see him do his thing. What’s cool is that Chris has been drumming out beats since he could pick up sticks. When we were little, it was typically a pair of pencils or chopsticks, and he was banging on pots, pans, oatmeal boxes, and the oven door–whatever he could get his sticks on. So, before he was able to form a proper sentence, he was defining who he was to be.

Lesson #1: If you dare to dream it, you can be it.

Before they hit the stage, a friend of mine and I ran into my brother in the lobby. He was holding court, sharing some laughs with fellow musicians. When my buddy asked Chris how it felt to be touring and playing for a living, he remarked, “I love it. I don’t know anything else!”

When we were coming up in church, many folks doubted Chris could ever play. There was an unofficial heirarchy, at which my older godbrother, Reggie, sat at the apex. Years later, Reggie would play sideman to famous artists who blew through town. Everybody marveled at his talent and the line formed to the left with young boys who wanted to learn to play. Chris was the youngest and smallest of them, and was therefore underestimated. However, he was patient. He sat next to Reggie on the drum kit every church service (and believe me, there was a lot of services!), mimicking his movements. Reggie saw in Chris a young protege and mentored him. Eventually, Chris would outlast the other hangers-on and became a lead drummer at several churches.

When Chris came to adulthood, he continued to lend his talents to various choirs, churches, and groups. He gigged at bars and clubs, playing everything from R&B to Jazz to Hard Rock. There was nothing he couldn’t do behind a drum kit. Though he had to work a dead-end job to pay his bills, he invested in continuing to hone his craft and build his reputation. He constantly said he was going to play for a living. He eventually did.

Lesson #2: Dogged determination is not just in the conceptualizing, but in the doing. Make your dream a priority and give feet to your faith.

Chris’s words came true. He lives a life of which many could only dream: he tours, exercising his passion. He is lauded as one of the best in his field. He is respected by his fellow drummers.

Lesson #3: Once you have had the audacity to dream it, then put your dreams to work, dominance in your chosen field is sure to follow. Be caught honing your craft while the other guy sleeps.

Chris Miskel is sponsored by and exclusively uses Vic Firth sticks and Pearl drums.

Time Lottery

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This is something I just came up with and wanted to use to get you to thinking.

You just won the lottery. However, the jackpot isn’t one of money, per se. Here’s how it would work:

For a period of one year, you will be free of distractions. Anything that causes unnecessary drama in your life will be put on hold. You will not work your current job, but you will still be paid the same amount. Your bills will be paid automatically–no need to call for extensions, late payments, etc. Your vehicle, if needed, will be upgraded to the same make and model. Your rent will be take care of. Your groceries will be brought to your door. You can come and go as you please and are not limited in that regard.

HOWEVER, the lottery does not suddenly grant you the life of your dreams. THAT part is up to YOU!

Considering all your talents, gifts, abilities, creative ideas, etc., how would you live for that year? How would you make use of your time each day? What would you accomplish by the end of that 12 months?