Cafe Witness

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Limitless Abundance and the $1.50 Cup of Coffee

I had an eye-opening experience this evening.

I was sitting in an Eat 'n Park (a Pittsburgh-area version of Denny's, but brighter) with Dan Stripp (aka Jack Boyd on STBD) and his wife Erica, two old friends who had gotten married, had a baby, moved away and now were back for a visit. They and their now 3-year-old were eating dinner and discussing their jobs and future plans. Both of them recently received raises and were actually working a little less than they had been before.

All in all, life was good.

Meanwhile, I was sitting there drinking water because I don't have enough money in my wallet or bank account to cover the cost of $1.50 cup of coffee.


Because for the past two years, my priorities have been awfully misarranged.

You Can't Put the Cart Before the Horse if There's No Horse

In 2005, I quit my job to produce STBD full-time. The catch: STBD wasn't making money yet. So, I gave myself three months to get the show off the ground and into the black.

Two years later, STBD still isn't making any money.

Meanwhile, I've been working various freelance jobs to pay the bills -- video, audio, writing, voiceover work. But buy "pay" I mean "barely scrape by," and by "barely scrape by," I mean "occasionally fall behind." And by "occasionally," I mean usually, often or always.

My realization, sitting in Eat 'n Park, is that I'm profoundly uncomfortable with the way I'm living my life right now.

What Came First: Depression or the Egg?

As anyone in debt knows, nothing stays on your mind like money owed. Not even love, though it's a close second. That's because love is an uplifting feeling; even unrequited love is an inspiring promise of what could be.

With debt, the only promise is that if things don't get better quick, they'll keep getting worse. It does more than "occur." It lingers.

It's become apparent that a mere change of priorities won't be enough to steady the ship, but it's certainly a move in the right direction. However, the bigger fault lies in my thought process: I'm perpetually aware that I'm in debt, and therefore, it colors my mood quite drastically.

At this stage, it's impossible to tell if I'm frequently depressed because I'm in debt, or if I'm in debt because I'm frequently depressed. It's difficult enough to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, but doing so while under the thrall of worry, doubt and other non-productive emotions isn't especially motivating.

Fateful Attraction

I recently came upon a blog posting mentioning a new film called The Secret. Much like What the #$*! Do We Know?, The Secret is a film that tackles, in quasi-documentary fashion, the connection between our thoughts and the world around us. Evidently, the actual secret is very simple:

Like attracts like.

When I was in high school, my mom became interested in metaphysics, and I ended up reading many books by one of her favorite authors, Emmet Fox. The general principal of his books seemed to be:

Like attracts like.

So, by that rationale -- explains The Secret -- the way out of debt, depression, boredom or other general dissatisfaction with life is simply to think positive.

After all, if we're endlessly focused on our debt -- or that project that's never done, or that relationship that's forever on the rocks -- all we're doing is reinforcing our current negative emotions about the situation, and therefore, we shouldn't be surprised when we encounter more of the same.

Subconsciously, "we asked for it."

New Age or Common Sense?

Part of me rejects this theory outright. Why? Because, at its base, it seems too easy.

Granted, maintaining a positive frame of mind during the most trying of circumstances is anything BUT easy, but if attracting wealth, health and contentment into your life is as easy as wishing for it and then steadfastly sticking to that mindframe...

Does anyone else see where my doubts are justified?

Beyond that, it's also a fabulous excuse for not getting involved in the lives of others. In fact, in one quote from the film, one of the talking heads essentially suggests that you need to stop paying attention the world around you (to avoid the negativity) and focus solely on what it is that YOU want. Somehow, this seems like the most selfish and counter-intuitive instruction ever...

And yet... in the bigger picture, it does also seem to make absolute common sense.

Pseduo-Scientific Soiree

Let's say there's a guy at a party. He's got great energy, he's kind, he's attentive, he listens when you speak and he remembers people's names. He's a charmer, but his charm is natural, not falsified: he's having a good life. No worries. No stress. He's not bringing you down.

Who wouldn't want to be around that guy?

And, because that guy can essentially have his pick of people to associate with -- after all, he's a hot social commodity -- wouldn't he also want to be around people whose association provides him with what he needs? So he surrounds himself with positive people, fellow listeners, people who take action.

Like attracts like.

(Meanwhile, if you glance around the party, you'll notice that the cynics tend to group together as well -- who else can they mock the crowd with?)

Free Refills

The universe, according to The Secret, operates on one common law: like attracts like. If we focus on what we want and where we want to be, instead of what we don't have and where we are now, we'll naturally move toward our goals. Our minds are programmed to attract to us those things we're focused on.

By that rationale, it does me no good to feel bad about the fact that I can't currently afford a cup of coffee.

Instead, I should be focusing on a bottomless cup of coffee -- or, more importantly, the means through which to acquire a bottomless cup of coffee for life.

That doesn't mean I don't need to take action to get from here to there. It just means I should take action both outwardly and inwardly. It's hard to appreciate the upward climb when your mind is still focused on the depths below.


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  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Christopher, at 10:07 AM  

  • By Blogger Christopher, at 10:08 AM  

  • I'm impressed by the recent steps you're taking to monetize STBD. The new custom videos idea is great and should get you one step closer to your bottomless cup of coffee.

    But who's to say you're not already successful? Even though I've only know you for a few weeks, you immediately came across as a connector (ala Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point), someone who connects a wide array of people and creates great things, whether it be a web series or technology conference. So while you might sometimes feel like you're holding an empty coffee cup, others might feel your cup runneth over (with friends, respect, good karma, etc).

    Besides, coffee is over-rated anyway. It's all about the tea.

    By Blogger Jia, at 10:13 AM  

  • I've deleted my comment three or four times in this box. I don't know what I want to tell you.

    It all starts inside. There's nothing outside that will change what you've got on the go.

    re "like attracts like," analyze for a moment the character arcs in your story: service industry or no jobs, sarcasm, crumbling relationships, crumbling businesses (WANT). Viewers are watching people who have complex, frustrating lives.

    Is that the sauce? I don't know. Why do people watch 24? Why do they watch Heroes? What do those people desire, and what will they get?

    Much love, Justin. I want you to be a star. But more, I want you to feel comfort and solace with your insides.

    By Blogger Chris Brogan, at 12:16 PM  

  • ChrisBrogan:

    You know what I watch for those times when I don't want to watch short form stuff like podcasts? I store exactly three movies on my laptop:

    Superman Returns
    Batman Begins
    Revenge of the Sith

    In a time of need - and this is one - people look for heroes, for icons, for inspiration. When real life presents no leadership, entertainment can. Look how many movies, shows, and pop culture items are turning up featuring superheroes after a long drought. X-Men. Superman. Batman. Spiderman. Nuanced, with more grey than previous incarnations, but at the end of the day, saving the day.

    If it's escapism, then by jove I want to escape and come back feeling great, ready to bring out the hero in myself.

    By Blogger Christopher, at 1:23 PM  

  • Thanks for all the feedback, everyone. I appreciate the kind words. And Chris Penn's post makes complete sense.

    Jia: It's true, success is subjective. But survival is not. I have to cross that bridge first, in order to lay the foundation for success.

    Brogan: Also true. But then again, Clerks and The Office are hardly paragons of uplifting virtue, and they strike a chord with people too.

    Perhaps success -- and, by default, survival -- are all about striking the right chord with the world at large.

    By Blogger Justin Kownacki, at 2:24 PM  

  • Justin-
    You are a great and talented guy. There's just a lot of myopia and deaf ears that are making it harder than it should be for people to see your unique point of view.
    Trying to dissect what's working and what's not is really hard. I do think things like Strengthsquest helped me ID what I was best at- sometimes it's not always what you think, either.
    Send me an email, and let me hook you up with this, on me, if you're interested. Hopefully it will help.

    ldpodcast AT

    By Blogger wsh1266, at 9:18 AM  

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