Authenticity.

The only way to truly connect with people is to be authentic. To be authentic requires vulnerability; to be who you really are.

I saw this plainly a few months ago…

A friend of mine who is in the entertainment industry threw a party. She’s an actress and the room was filled with lots of her actor and actress friends. It was everything you’d expect from a Hollywood shindig. Beautiful people, glamorous outfits, make-up, the most professional looking selfies I’ve ever seen and phrases being tossed around like “omg we HAVE TO do lunch”.

I sat with a friend observing and discussing how fake it all felt. Yet, I could not help but seeing how familiar it was. All of these Hollywood hopefuls were at work, networking with the hopes that one conversation could lead to their big break. And that’s when I realized that my own work environment was not all too different.

On a day-to-day basis, actors put themselves in front of casting directors ready to be judged based on what they physically portray. More times than not, they are rejected and the reasons are many: too thick, too thin, too short, too tan, too pale, etc. If you define yourself based on how you look, this rejection can breed some serious identity issues.

In my 9 to 5 desk job, people are judged on another set of defining qualities, their intellect and ideas. To succeed, you must have a voice at the table and attempt to push your agenda through. But you have to be prepared to have those ideas shot down or die in a web of corporate politics. If you define yourself based on your ideas or intellect, be prepared to struggle when the group doesn’t like your idea.

The fear of having your identity rejected builds walls. When walls are up, real connect cannot exist. The 9 to 5 version of these are empty conversations about the weather by the water cooler and jargon filled meetings about TPS reports. And I’m sure any other industry has their version.

So this is a reminder as much to myself as it is to anybody else. If you crave a real connection, be real. To be real, have the courage to be honest. And to be honest with anyone else, you must first start by being honest with yourself.

“Know Thyself” – Socrates

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Finding My Voice

I’m sick of the voices inside of my head. No I’m not a psychopath, let me clarify.

Attention is the most sought after commodity we all have. And more than any other time, demand for that commodity has outpaced supply. The average day of the mid-twenty year old American will consist of a barrage of push notifications, emails, YouTube ads, pop-up ads, phone calls, text messages, snapchats, instagram comments, netflix episodes and facebook friend requests.

The warm glow of the computer, TV or smart phone screen draws our attention like a mosquito trap ready to zap away any original thought we have and fill the void with the latest product to buy or the 10 Reasons You Need to Read This list you absolutely need to click on.

My poison of choice have been books and podcasts. There is a glimmer of being able to identify with an authors point of view and see a new perspective on how we should all be playing this game called life. It’s nice to feel like there are others out there trying to figure it all out too.

However, after consuming my fair share of advice from self-help guru’s, I’ve realized that the same general message has been packaged and repackaged in new book covers for decades all the way back to when Dale Carnegie was telling people how to Win Friends and Influence People.

What I want to hear is my own voice. Not the voice I think sounds ugly in recordings, but the other one. The little one that when I was 6 told me dinosaurs were cool and that becoming a ninja was a realistic career path. It’s the one that said I should draw and build forts out of couch cushions. The voice that said liking something is enough of a reason to do it and not because it leads to a stable job with a retirement plan.

I miss that voice. And so the next time I’m in line for the bathroom, or I step on an elevator, I’ll resist the urge to pull out my phone and instead stand in silence. Because maybe then, as the fear of a missed text or tweet subsides, I’ll be able to look out at the world in front of me and realize something much more terrifying…

That the floor is lava.

The Joy of x

X’s…whether a past relationship or something in algebra that you’re trying to solve for, are most often times a source of headache, heartache and frustration. There have been plenty of books written on reconciling the baggage brought about by a past relationship, but surprisingly few written with the intention of shedding a new light on those mathematical unknowns that you were forced to wrestle with in high school.

That actually surprises me because if you ask someone to look back at a past boyfriend or girlfriend they’ll probably be able to recount at least ONE nice memory with him or her. But if you ask somebody to tell you about the time they took calculus you’ll probably be looked at in disgust or boredom. I can’t think of many other phobia’s so pervasive in today’s culture. Even the strongest food aversion catches more breaks than math class.

The current book I’m reading, The Joy of x by Steven Strogatz, seeks to turn the tide on some of that mathematical anxiety (a real thing according to wikipedia) and reintroduces the subject to adults who may look back in despair when they think of trig functions or word problems. The book starts at the most fundamental building blocks even teaching why there’s more to the seemingly obvious idea that 3×7 is the same thing as 7×3. Strogatz is able to achieve what very few others can to do and take complex, abstract ideas and pare them down into something a 3rd grader can digest. I find it beautiful when the smartest minds care to meet people at eye level rather than speak pompously above anyone without a PhD.

On a personal level, I deal with this aversion all of the time. When I tell somebody that I majored in math or that I do “mathy business things” in my current occupation, I’m usually met with a look like I’m an alien from another planet. But in my opinion the subject is elegant and beautiful and significant change needs to be made in our education system in order for other students to see it that way.

A huge step in the right direction starts with answering one question…”why?”. Rather than forcing students to grapple with equations out of the gate, there should be time spent answering the two biggest roadblocks facing somebody who takes on a math class:

  1. Why am I learning this?
  2. Why does all of this stuff work? (hint, it doesn’t come out of thin air and much of it is grounded in intuition)

When I got to college I struggled badly in my math classes, going so far as to fail my second quarter calculus class. As somebody who was being referred to as a math wiz just one year before, you can imagine my world spinning a bit. But whether it was ego or just plain stubbornness, I stuck it out and got through those “weeder-out classes”.

I can thank Professor David Weisbart for reinvigorating a love for the subject that was slowly dying. It was not until I got to his  class called Analysis that everything clicked for me. Dave, as I now call him, is one of those aforementioned guys who is a math genius but can package a concept and communicate it in a way that doesn’t sound intimidating. Just as important in my future success as a math major, this was the “why” class. And I learned that almost all of the “why’s” are grounded in intuition and not handed down in mythical doctrine etched on stone tablets. It should not take 15 years of school and half a math degree to get to the “why” class. And with books like The Joy of x, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in thinking so either.

Thank you to my 4th grade math teacher Mr. T, my 12th grade calc teacher Mr. Kemple and my friend and college professor David Weisbart for helping me to find joy in x during each stage of my formal education.

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For someone else doing great things to alter math education check out Dan Meyer’s famous TED Talk: Math Class Needs a Makeover.

And if you’re interested in seeing mathematical beauty in action watch Steven Strogatz: The Science of Sync.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Standing on the shoulders of giants is such a great visual and is the intention behind my creating this blog. I’d like to credit those teachers who have been an inspiration to me at each stage of my life. Without their willingness to share the frameworks they’ve used to make sense of the world, I don’t know where I’d be. I see it as a duty to follow their lead and share the tidbits of knowledge and wisdom that I’ve gained over the years.

Most of what I write about will probably be concerned with what I call the three houses or as they’re more commonly referred: the body, mind, and spirit. I will also attempt to avoid writing anything that remotely sounds like “content”. And lastly I’ll be course correcting and changing things as I learn more about writing in this medium.

I’ll end today’s post with a quote that has stuck with me for many years and should help set the tone for where my head is…

“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise, seek what they sought.” – Matsuo Basho