Turning Adverse Thoughts

Gapingvoid - never give up

  • Hope is fuel, it moves us forward and it amplifies our best work.” – Seth Godin Hope and expectation

World Wish Day today. A time to celebrate your hopes and dreams and aspirations. For the skeptics out there, there is actual evidence that wishing and dreaming can provide real, documentable benefits. Robert Rowland Smith in his article “Does daydreaming serve any purpose?” explores this dynamic with its own tinge of turning adversity to advantage…

  • “Sigmund Freud argued that daydreaming is a form of fantasising, fantasising is a form of imagination, and imagination is the basis of art. Hence creative writers. He did add a proviso, however, to the effect that daydreaming is a sign of unhappiness. If you have to fantasise about something else, it means you’re not content with your life as it is. So artists and writers might produce great art, but are constitutionally miserable. A later psychoanalyst, Hanna Segal, had a more positive take. She suggested that daydreaming and imagination were ways of turning unhappy thoughts into something creative. They are signs of good mental health. They might even alleviate depression. And a third psychoanalyst, Christopher Bollas, implies that the distracted or abstracted mood we’re in when daydreaming provides the mental downtime necessary for us to be able to focus again. When the mind wanders, it refreshes itself. Daydreaming is a holiday that restores our ability to think acutely.”

Given my ongoing series on the “Death of Dreams” you might be inclined to think that my marking of this day would be muted. On the contrary, dreams occupy that duality of both upside and downside. And while my failure embracing side advocates the letting go of faltered dreams, it is only so new ones can thrive in their place. Hugh MacLeod said it best when describing his piece shown above…

  • “It’s not that you must never, ever give up on your dreams, sometimes dreams don’t happen. I once dreamt of living in Tokyo, for example. It never happened. It’s OK, I got over it. I found new dreams instead. It’s when we lose the capacity to dream, I think, is when the rot seeps in. When we stop giving ourselves permission to make the world a better place, even on a modest scale. It’s dreams that make life seem actually real to us.”

Witty Failure


If people never did silly things nothing intelligent would ever get done.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

Wittegenstein’s birthday today. Famous for his brilliant logic, some of my favourite wisdom of his is the counterintuitive embrace of stupidity.

  • “Our greatest stupidities may be very wise.”

He also embraced the failure of knowing…

  • “Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.”
  • “If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.”

Purple Rain Harder

Can you make it rain harder?” – Prince

Everyone is sharing their Prince stories this week with his tragic loss. Lori and I once passed Prince in the streets of Boston one evening. Just ambled past by himself. We were a bit shocked that he was strolling the streets of Back Bay, but he had a series of concerts that week and must have been out getting some fresh air. He is obviously someone who remained humble (the essential personal quality of embracing failure) despite his stratospheric fame and achievement.

He also was someone who was happy outside…no matter what the conditions. As his legendary performance at the Super Bowl XLI Halftime Show dramatically showed. Super Bowl Production Designed Bruce Rogers recounts about his performance…

  • It felt surprising.  It felt spontaneous.  Whatever script you might have had in your head for ‘ok, here’s what he’s going to do’ [in response to the rain], he didn’t do that.  Musically, it felt very loose.  He played big epic Prince-style guitar solos.  Turning the bad weather to his dramatic advantage.  It was almost like a special effect.  He could totally lean into that and make it seem ‘Sure it’s raining.  I would have wanted it to rain.  I ordered that.”

Comic Heroes


The Queen’s Birthday today is the time celebrate Britishness with all manner of street parties, etc. And one of those British qualities to celebrate is its embrace of failure. Specifically in its comic heroes according to the grand doyen of British comedy, Stephen Fry. In the clip above he asserts that all of the British comic heroes are failures. “Our [culture] is bathed in failure, but we make a glory of our failure. We celebrate our failure.”

He contrasts it with “American optimism” where the Yanks maintain a “refusal to see oneself in a bad light”…

  • “If you go to an American bookshop, by far the biggest section is self-help and improvement”

(thanks Isley)

Learning to be Violins

John Ciardi - Wish Tree

  • Examine the lives of the best and most fruitful people and peoples and ask yourselves whether a tree that is supposed to grow to a proud height can dispense with bad weather and storms; weather misfortune and external resistance, some kinds of hatred, jealousy, stubbornness, mistrust, hardness, avarice, and violence do not belong among the favourable conditions without which any great growth even of virtue is scarcely possible.” – Nietzsche

Arbor Day today celebrates trees for all their fruit, lumber, shade, beauty, oxygen and other gifts they give our world. They also provide life lessons for people who examine these enduring creatures. I particular enjoy the reflections Father Brian D’Arcy shared in BBC’s “Pause for Thought”…

  • “I love the story of the old violin maker who always chose the wood for his instruments from the north side of trees. He believed it was that side which was beaten and buffeted by the hardest and fiercest winter winds. When the winds blew, the bending trees groaned under the storm. Yet the violin maker didn’t feel sorry for them. ‘Listen,’ he would say, ‘the trees are learning to be violins’. When life is dark and difficult and when the winds of change break open our hearts, we become stronger through weathering the storms.”

Embracing Boos

Jonathan Papelbon embacing boos


He’s no pitcher, he’s a belly itcher!

That’s embracing “boos” (not “booze”) which has become a source of inspiration for Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jonath Papelbon as NBC describes in “Jonathan Papelbon to Phillies fans: Bring on the boos

  • “After blowing a save on Monday and taking a loss on Tuesday, Jonathan Papelbon was greeted with boos from Phillies fans before he took the mound in the ninth inning this afternoon against the Giants. He threw a perfect inning to lock down his 24th save of the season and told reporters after the game that the boos didn’t bother him. In fact, he says bring it on. ‘I enjoy it,’ he said. ‘I just think that it’s fun. It just brings a little bit of energy and life to the park and gives me a little bit of something to look forward to do every day.’ Papelbon regretted that only half the ballpark booed him. ‘I heard some of them,” he said. ‘But that’s it? Maybe we can get the whole park going here soon.’”

Theft of Dreams

  • “If you care enough about your work to be willing to be criticised for it, you have done a good day’s work.” – Seth Godin

Education Day in the USA today celebrates the advocacy of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who, As Clinton’s Education Day proclamation read, “understood the importance of nurturing the heart along with the mind. Throughout his long and rich life, he believed that the education of our young people would only be successful if it sought to build character as well as intellect, if it taught the lessons of honesty, tolerance, and good citizenship, as well as language, math, and science.”

Own of my own respected reformers, Seth Godin, has himself evangelised a cultural change in how education is approached. The Ted talk above, “Stop Stealing Dreams” is inspired and he shared two further videos on the subject of education which make for compelling viewing.

At the heart of his message is the critique of rote, methodical learning of the “right way”. His experience stems mostly from the USA, but I can attest that the same dynamics are alive if not worse in the UK. I’ll never forget when our son Chase was writing an essay about Hamlet in secondary school. He had come up with an interesting perspective articulated with a creative metaphor. As someone who aced his AP Shakespeare course, subscribed to the Boston Shakespeare Company and watch about a dozen renditions of Hamlet, I could stand on some familiarity that his analysis was as insightful as it was apropos. Frustratingly, he was marked DOWN on his essay for including it because it was not one of the approved “standard” points that the standardized exam graders would be looking for. The experience did not promote Chase’s intellectual growth, but instead deflated and demotivated him in this subject where he had strong skills and interest.

Godin’s insights are not just about education in school, but the day-to-day education derived at all points along life from pre-school playing with toys to post-school maintaining our cars. He notes that Lego was originally a much more creative medium than kit model airplanes and electronic sets. But modern Lego is now dominated by elaborate paint-by-numbers Star Wars and, well, more Star Wars kits.

In the grown up world, Seth comments about, in essence, my concept of the “black boxing” of the world. He refers to it as “no user serviceable parts inside”….

  • “What we did is we built culture about doing things right. About getting a car where we don’t need to change the oil, where we don’t want to change the oil, where we are unable to change the oil.”

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