Why “Being Yourself” is Actually Good Advice

I’ll be honest. I’ve always hated the advice, “Be yourself.”

Before a big speech or presentation or job interview, the last words echoing in your head are usually, “Be yourself.”

(Not so much if you’re about to act in a play. Then you don’t want to take that advice.)

But I always wanted something more from my supporters, like some grand philosophical entreaty from the Greek gods.

But I was always left with, “Just be yourself.” And why did I hate that? Because honestly, I’ve always kind of hated myself.

I hated my voice, my cereal gut, my bald spot. I’ve had some serious insecurities. So much so that not too long ago I deliberately lowered my voice to sound more like Bear from Armageddon. 

m9k6k8a3ar9s9m6r

As a result, a supervisor at work repeatedly asked if I was okay and said that I sounded like I just heard the truth about Santa Claus. After a week my wife lost it and told me to stop and that it’s annoying.

Recently my best friend wrote me something which kind of took me back. He spoke about how I have this gift of storytelling and evoking emotion in people when I speak. The truth is, the information I deliver may be utter bullshit, but I have this Steve-Jobs ability to make people feel, despite how annoying I think my voice is. My friend ended on this note:

And so, my advice to you is to learn to open up. Tap in to that inner place in your heart that is hidden from everyone else. Let the darkness see the light. For it is when we are most vulnerable and raw that we can truly impact the emotions of others. Because…you can actually influence others to be on your side. Storytelling is a way to relate to others and a way for them to relate to you. It’s a way for us to feel human. And before long, we find out that we all have similar journeys and experiences and that, despite what we may think, we aren’t in it alone after all. 

So yeah, I might get plugs when I hit the jackpot, and I can promise myself for the millionth time that I’m going to stop eating cereal and lose weight, and I can change my voice to sound like the Green Giant, but none of that will replace my skill of changing opinions through my orating, influencing ideas, and guiding peoples’ emotions like a crossing guard.

So when people tell you to be yourself, tap into your strengths. They’re not saying to lift your shirt and expose your fat, or to point to your twitching eye, or to walk around with a sign over your head saying, “ACCIDENTAL SLOB,” or “SUCKY CONVERSATIONALIST.”

They’re saying to be the best things about yourself. BE that confident speaker. BE that wonderful artist. Let your voice ring through the concert hall. Let your fingers fly across that piano.

Here’s the thing. We all have insecurities. They’re about 60% of who we are. Our confidence ranges from about 5-10%. The other stuff is just what we’re okay with.

When you’re told to be yourself, they mean to check the 60% at the door. Go in there and inflate your 5-10% to 70%, because now you’ve got a 60% gap to fill. If you’re awkward talking to people, capitalize on it. Point out that you’re awkward, be comfortable enough to joke about it, but make sure that what you have to say is going to knock their socks off.

Think about why your friends are your friends. They’re not friends with you because of your thin hair or your personal hygiene or because you have to drop a deuce  every half an hour. They’re friends with you in spite of those things. They’re friends with you because they love the 5-10% of what you’re so often trying to bury underneath your 60%.

That 5-10% of awesomeness is what draws people to you. It’s what gets you ahead.

And it’s what you need to focus on expanding and bringing to the forefront. No one cares that I’m balding, even though I do. But if I can forget about it and check it at the door, I then can make room to be more of my awesome self instead of my insecure self.

So today, go out there and be yourself. Really dig into that 5-10% you’ve been hiding from everyone and just let it out, and then you’ll find that you’re not as awful as you once thought. Because, as my friend said, we’re really just all the same.

Happy Birthday, Kat!

My favorite little girl on the planet turns three today.

She can drive me up a wall at times, and I’ve had my share of losing my cool, but she knows that she’s daddy’s most prized possession.

We drove two hours north to IKEA yesterday to pick up a kitchen set for her birthday. (In fact, as I write this, I’m sitting on the living room couch, listening to her and her brother waking up in their room. In just a couple of moments, she’s going to totter out here and stumbled upon the kitchen set I have set up for her by our living room windows.)

img_0453

 

She has no idea what’s in the big box I purchased for her, because at IKEA, you never know what you’re really getting.

We’ll be having donuts for breakfast from our favorite bakery down the street. It’s going to be  good morning. But really, it’s been a good three years. A lot of bad things happened last year, and the waters have been rough for quite a while, but my daughter has always been a constant. It’s guaranteed that she’ll laugh if I tickle her in just the right spot, and that she’ll always want me to kiss her goodnight even if we’ve had a bad day.

She loves the things I obsess over (chips and salsa, ice cream, Toy Story), and her dancing always makes me laugh, even if life seems too much at times.

I never really knew what it was like to be proud until we brought her home from the hospital, and now I get to experience that feeling every day as I watch her grow, learn, speak, and sing, and discover who she is a little more each day.

I can hear her brother trying to coax her out of their room. I better get the light on…

img_0455

 

Why We Don’t Tell Our Kids They Can be Anything They Want

It’s preached everywhere: “Believe, and it will happen.”

“Trust and you will find.”

“Try and you will succeed.”

“You can be anything you want to be and more.”

Once you get to a certain age you realize that’s all crap. Because, you know, when I was little, I believed I’d be an astronaut and go to the moon (there have only been twelve manned moon landings since 1969). I also wanted to be a cartoonist for a newspaper strip, but that was before I learned that Jim Davis already had the market cornered in that department.

The problem with me, then? Well, I believe there were two issues.

  1. My expectations were unrealistic. I hate science and always have, so any chance of me becoming an astronaut were doomed to begin with. And, even after some art classes, my cartoons were mediocre at best.
  2. I wasn’t consistent. I bounced around from one cool potential career to the next, whichever sounded most appealing at the time. Usually I was inspired by pop culture, and never really tapped into what I – little Andy – really wanted to do with my life.

Now that I’m a dad, I’m careful not to tell my kids they can be anything they want to be when they grow up, because let’s be honest: My daughter is too tall to be an Olympic gymnast. My son is too sensitive to be a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys, and so far his hand-eye coordination is as great as his dad’s – never mind hitting the broadside of a barn, we’re lucky just to make the ball past the fence.

I love the movie Wreck-It Ralph. Ralph didn’t want to be a bad guy anymore, and no matter 982468_032how many medals he won or good deeds he performed, he was always going to be a bad guy. But he learned to make peace with it.

An even better one is the bold Monsters University, where young Mike wants to be a scarer, but he really just sucks at it. He’s small, puny, and pretty funny looking.

No, as much as I would like to change things, our kids cannot be anything they want to be. It’s just not realistic, and beyond that, it’s a lie.

That’s not to say that if they worked and studied hard enough that they can’t become doctors and lawyers, business owners and CEO’s, or any other profession that requires a large degree of panache and brains. And as their parents, we’ll support them in every way.

But if my son dreams of making it on Juggling with the Stars in sixteen years but he can’t juggle any more than his daily chores, then I’m going to be flat-out honest with him and suggest that maybe he could coach someone to juggle or something.

But whatever they set their mind to, it is my hope that not only is it achievable within their skill set, but that they stick with it and don’t give up.

Let’s Resolve for a Better 2018 (Yes, 2018)

I think I know why New Year’s resolutions don’t work.

It’s because we expect change to be immediate.Like, we plan to lose thirty pounds next year. That’s great, but we’re just now coming out of a candy-crusted, cookie-frosted, eggnog-chugging month.

Guys. We can’t go from heavy creamed-based mashed potatoes to carrot juice and Power bars over night. Seriously.

And yet, year after year, we think it can be done.

Or what about people who are like, I’m going to make a million dollars next year! That’s fine and great, and I applaud your spirit, but you made that vow last year aaaaaaannnd… here you are sitting at your same computer reading this same blog about to make the same promise, which will eventually lead you to this exact same spot exactly one year from now.

But what if.

What if, instead of making our traditional New Year’s resolutions for 2017, we instead resolve to prepare for a better 2018?

Stay with me here.

I think about 3/4 of the world can agree that 2016 sucked, right? I mean, we lost a bunch of beloved celebrities, the elections were going to be bad either way, and it seems like everybody lost a loved one, and if they didn’t, it was just a really crappy year.

I want to label my toilet and every toilet at work “2016” and just crap in it all year long. Okay, that’s achievable:

img_0385

My first resolution is that, one year from now – nay, ten years from now – I look back and say that 2016 was easily the darkest and worst year of my life. (Unless of the course the zombie apocalypse happens first, then that might be considered the worst year ever. Maybe.)

And one step to ensure that happens is to make 2017 the year of…progress. As in, “We’re not there yet, but we’re making progress.” It’s the year to rebuild on the ruins of 2016.

We can’t fix everything over night. And the older I get, the more I realize that most things take more than a year to fix or build.

So let’s build toward an incredible 2018. Let’s get in the habit now of eating better, casual exercising, socializing more, spending less, writing more, whatever.

If your resolution is to stay married next year, focus more on how to stay married so that in 2018, you can resolve to improve your marriage even more and make it even a better year.

If you really want a new job, don’t just settle for the first dead-end job that offers you an out from your current situation. This is tough, but spend 2017 polishing up your resume, taking classes to improve yourself, sharpen your skills, so that in 2018, you can seriously be ready to apply for a newer, better job.

So, here’s to 2018. May 2017 be the ladder that leads to a greater year.

 

Who’s Your TV Daddy?

Alan Thicke’s passing leaves many of us reminiscing back to calmer, gentler evenings where the family gathered around the TV every night to watch the next installment of their favorite sitcom. And for many families that sitcom was Growing Pains. 

growing-pains-cast4-jpg-size-custom-crop-850x591

I wasn’t as invested in the show as I was others, but I can still hear snapshots of Dr. Seaver yelling at his son for screwing up or trying to sooth over an argument with his wife. I remember I wanted his job because he never had to leave his house since his office was built in the guest room.

His passing got me thinking about other TV dads and how we all kind of have one or two that we believe act as our surrogates in some virtual way. For instance, Uncle Phil was definitely my surrogate uncle because I needed his discipline and loud yelling to get through to me and my stupid antics.

Tim Taylor from Home Improvement was definitely my TV dad. Probably because my own dad loves his tools and frames houses for a living. Unfortunately I identified with Jonathan Taylor Thomas’ dramatic arts-loving character, so I had a hard time identifying with my dad. It was just good to see it work in a TV world.

I think it’s kind of cool that we have these shows to look back on and adopt certain people as members of our virtual families. When Robin Williams died, I remember my best friend crying through a text message that he was the uncle he never had. We loved him, and yes we cried.

These actors leave an imprint on us. They’re magicians who breathe life into a character who otherwise would never have existed, and these characters live on well after the cameras shut off.

Who’s your TV dad? Danny Tanner? Mr. Cleaver? Homer?

Leave your answers below along with your favorite Growing Pains moment in honor of Mr. Thicke.

December Isn’t the Only Time We Lie to Our Kids

real-santa-claus

Christmas. The time of discounts and icy roads and beautiful…lies.

For us storytellers and pathological liars, December is the time of year where we have a free pass to lie to our families.

We can lie to our spouses. “I’m going out to fill the car up.” But we’re really hopping over to Target to pick up some gifts. (Or, if you’re me, browsing the DVD section to see what’s on sale.)

“What’s in that bag?” asks your spouse. “Oh, some bars of soap and warm socks.”

And the most popular: “If you’re good, Santa will come bearing gifts.” (Or, as he’s called in our house by our toddlers, “Ho, ho, ho will come bearing gifts.”)

It’s a timeless debate. Should we lie to our kids about Santa? Will they trust us when it comes to anything else? Will they start believing they can sprout wings and fly and jump off the roof? 

I’m no parenting expert, but here’s my take on it:

I lied to my kids when I read them Peter Pan. Every time I put in Wreck-It Ralph because the movie suggests that video game characters exist outside of our control and have feelings and lead lives when the game consoles shut down. I have never once said, “Kids, this is make-believe and Wreck-it Ralph and Fix-it Felix don’t really exist.”

I’ve never once said to them, “People can’t really fly,” or “toys don’t really come to life.” Instead, I buy them Woody and Buzz dolls with built-in voice boxes that suggest that they’re real.

I’ve also asked them every morning this month, “Did you hear any elves running around the house last night? Where do you think he’s hiding today?” You know what I’m talking about.

Image:

I don’t think telling your kids that Santa is coming is a bad thing. If I did, then I have no business letting them read books about talking dinosaurs. I don’t think any of us suffered any psychological trauma having been told about Santa when we were younger. In fact, if we’re really honest with ourselves, we didn’t honestly believe Santa was real even when our dads dressed up and we were encouraged to leave cookies and milk on the fireplace mantel.

Otherwise, why did we so blindly accept the truth about electricity but we bogged our parents down with hundreds of Santa questions? We never had solid proof. It was mists of teasing. We can recall the smirks our parents threw at each other when they said the Santas at the malls were just his helpers. We can recall how their answers to our endless questions were nonchalant like, “Eh, he just kinda shimmies down those chimney. I don’t know, the reindeer have pixie dust. Um, Santa’s probably a thousand years old.”

Think about it. You knew something was up. Our parents had a bigger reaction to the weather than to some world-traveler breaking into the house to leave mysterious boxes under the tree. I mean, those presents could have been bombs, or crazy sex toys.

But we also remember the feeling of magic and sentiment we felt when our parents were “in on it” with us. For one month out of the year our parents chose to believe what we wished was real.

What stands out to me the most about the Santa story is the themes of innocence and safety. The Santa story makes strangers friendly, the unknown pleasing and pleasant, and elves not so creepy. It also fights against pop-culture and film theories claiming red is a good and comforting color.

In short, the Santa story sets things right. I don’t swear to my kids that Santa is real, and I don’t make them sign some contract binding them to be good for Santa’s sake. But I’m not going hide them from any image of Santa and insist that he’s not real. Instead Sarabeth and I take a neutral stand. If they choose to believe in Santa, then who are we to stop them? I’m not going to rob them of that magic I felt growing up. They’re smart kids. I know deep down they don’t really believe the elf hops down off the shelf on his own every night, and they know that the reindeer at the zoo aren’t going to just up and fly away.

We all have chosen a side in this great December debate. I’ve chosen my side because I can’t stop the world from being dark and terrible, so I’m going to fill them with as much talking fish and wardrobe magic and Santa lore that I can.

Twenty-Seven Ways You Can Die

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love hearing a good sob story. Like stories about when you found out Santa isn’t real, or pathetic reasons you got fired from your job. Or how you found out that everyone will die. Here’s my story.

I was maybe six or so. I remember my family and I took a trip to some historical park. I don’t remember where. Over the years I’ve accepted that we drove up from Southern California to Washington State. I don’t remember that trip if it ever happened, but I remember being behind the backseat of whatever station wagon we were driving through whatever historical park we were visiting.

The following moment was so surreal that all else faded from memory.

I just remember my mom, dad, and sister were in the car. And maybe my grandparents.

The historical park (or wherever we were)  had several bronze statues of historical figures. You know, those eleven-foot statues set up on brick cylinders? I remember looking up at one of them (probably of Thomas Jefferson, or some colonial figure because he had the ruffles and the tricorne hat) and wondering how a statue is made.

I was curious enough to ask about it in the back of the car. “How do they make those statues?” I asked. “Who are they?”

“They’re of famous people who’ve died,” came the response from the front.

Now, before I go any further, I need to explain the difference between what parents say and what children hear. Observe:

Parent says: “Don’t touch that glass doll.” Child hears: “Touch any other glass doll.”

Parent says: “If you pull on the Christmas tree it will fall over and kill you.” Child hears: “If you pull on the Christmas tree it’s going to make a mess and there might be blood!”

So when my parents said that those statues were of famous people who died, I heard, “When you die, you get turned into a statue.”

Immediately I imagined being encased in an iron cast for all eternity. Then I asked the next fatal question: “How did they die?”

The answer: “Some got sick, some got old, some died in wars.”

(At this point, I need to remind you that I didn’t know yet that death was inevitable. I thought those were just really unlucky bastards who struck out big time. Like, don’t go to war, duh. Go to the doctor, duh.)

Then I said, “That’s sad.” I didn’t mean it was sad that they died. I meant that it was sad that they were encased in an iron shell, tormented by eternal stillness and stiff muscles for all eternity like Han Solo.

Then someone said: “It’ll happen to everyone sooner or later.”

At this point, the violins I was hearing were interrupted with a scratchy record and my eyes popped open. “What?” I asked.

“Well, everyone dies.” I wished adults really did sound like the Peanuts grown-ups so I didn’t have to hear that.

“Everyone?”

“Everyone.”

“You mean, you’re doing to die, Dad?”

“Yup.”

“And you, Mom?”

“Yup.”

I asked everyone by name if they were going to die. And then I asked the inevitable: “Am going to die?”

“Someday. But not for a long, long time.”

I didn’t care that it wasn’t going to be for a long time. All I cared about was that one day I was going to be turned into one of those statues, helpless as I watched people walk past in droves pointing at me, birds pooping on me, being left out in the cold every night.

So the violins started back up in my head and I burst out in tears. That’s pretty much all I remember from that whole trip.

You know what I did next?

After my family told me everything would be okay and that people don’t turn into statues when they die (unless you’re in Narnia), I then started counting all the possible ways people could die.

Sickness. Old age. Getting hit by a car. Flying into a window (because my knowledge of death was limited to dogs, squirrels, and birds apparently). I also included drowning and holding your breath too long for the fun of it and stubbing your toe so bad that you die.

I came up with about twenty-seven ways a person could die. And these were twenty-seven things I tried to avoid doing from then on out.

You know what I should have done instead? I should have thought about all the different ways to live.

Twenty-seven years later I guess I still have time to change my thinking. You know, before I turn into a statue. So here’s my new list:

Ways to Live: