You're Not In Anyone's Shadow

But you sure throw your own - regardless of where you stand

Imagine being the child of your favorite actor. Or musician. Or athlete. Haven’t we all dreamed about it? What would it be like if my family was famous?

I think it would be fun - for about the first 15 years of your life. Then, you’d realize that, no matter what you do, you’ll always be “Martin Sheen’s son” or “Madonna’s daughter,” and that history was actually rigged against remembering your name.

I can only imagine how depressing that must feel to some. Others might embrace it and lead quiet lives. And then, there’s Jaden. Talking about his son turning 21, Will Smith says:

“He's one of the only individuals I've ever met that absolutely, thoroughly, and completely, authentically does not give a damn what somebody thinks about him.”

Jaden Smith grew up in a very public family. All of the Smiths have their own entrepreneurial or entertainment ventures, led by his powerhouse dad, who’s one of the world’s biggest actors, a music icon, and, let’s face it, a global brand himself.

Naturally, Jaden was drawn in early on, acting alongside his dad in The Pursuit of Happyness and After Earth, as well as The Karate Kid. I’m not sure when, but I guess that, some time after one of those movies flopped, Jaden realized:

I will never get out of my dad’s shadow if all I do is try to be like him.

And so he stopped trying, instead just using his immense freedom and privilege to create his own things he cares about.

Like Just Water, a company creating paper-made water bottles that don’t end up in the ocean, like the ones he spotted while learning to surf. Or taking three years to make a music album in his own style. Or becoming the lead for Louis Vuitton’s new women’s line and celebrating it by cutting off his dreadlocks and carrying them around.

Of course, Jaden’s haters just see a rich kid acting out and hold all of that against him. But I know Will is a smart and honest man. So I believe him when he says:

“I’m lookin in his eyes and I’m like: You’re not pretending, you really don’t care what I think!”

You’re not in anyone’s shadow, but you sure cast your own.

The sun shines equally on all of us. So, whether we like it or not, a trace will fall behind us. What that trace looks like and what the world will think of it is up to us. Not our families or friends and not our idols or enemies.

In the end, it’s our actions that count. So we might as well stay true to who we are.

Maybe, we’ll even inspire those who inspire us. Like Jaden, as his father admits:

“I’m learning as much from my kids about being authentic as I’ve ever learned from anybody.”

-Nik


About No Sense Friday: Most people live for Friday. Relaxing on the weekend is fine, but we can’t just waste it away every time. That’s why Friday is the most important day to call out things that make no sense. Because in a way, the concept of ‘Friday’ itself makes no sense.

A good life is lived every day, not just once a week.


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Behind The Curtain

Thought Experiment Thursday

In the late 90s, Jim Carrey was the most famous actor in the world and also one of the best-paid. But then, about 10 years later, after Yes Man and Bruce Almighty, he sort of, just, went away.

When he shows up today, to a talk show, an interview, or public event, he seems very happy and calm but also quite mysterious and out of touch. He might spot a huge beard, go deep out of nowhere, or tell an odd story.

It feels like something has happened to Jim Carrey, but I think Jim Carrey has happened to us. He’s had a realization that his acting went way beyond the screen:

“As an actor, you play characters, and if you go deep enough into those characters, you realize that your own character is pretty thin to begin with. You have this separation and go, ‘Who's Jim Carrey? Oh, he doesn’t exist, actually.’ And at a certain point, I realized, ‘Hey, wait a second, if it's so easy to lose Jim Carrey, who the hell is Jim Carrey?’”

What Jim has done is let go of being the Wizard of Oz for everyone. He’s now happy to be “the sweaty guy behind the curtain.” Still working. Still performing. But with less attachment to his real-world character.

This behind-the-curtain analogy goes further. The great philosopher and speaker Alan Watts has a wonderful description of it:

“When the curtain goes down at the end of the drama, the hero and the villain step out hand in hand, and the audience applauds both. Because they know that the hero role and the villain role are only masks. And so you see, behind the stage too, there is the green room, where, after the play is over and before it begins, the masks are taken off.”

Everyone you know is wearing these masks. You, me, your family, partner, and friends.

As Jessica Wildfire writes:

We perform different selves for different people. Your coworkers see one side of you. Your friends another. Your lovers still another. You’re all of these, and none of these — all at the same time.

This is actually good news. If you look at it from the right angle, it’s liberating. It helped Jim step past worldly success:

“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer.”

There are more than psychological consequences from embracing your acting nature. In a study called Counterclockwise, researcher Ellen Langer created an environment in which over-70-year-old men could live and pretend like it was 20 years earlier. As a result, their physical health improved. They became younger. It all comes down to this:

You don’t need an identity to have a life. You can change who you are at a second’s notice. But if you don’t believe it, if you don’t embrace the fragility of who you are, you’ll constantly be exhausted from pretending. Eventually, keeping alive a character we don’t feel like being will get to us. In Watts’s words:

“In reality, under the surface, you are all the actors. Marvelously skilled in playing many parts, and in getting lost in the mazes of your own minds and the entanglements of your own affairs, as if this was the most urgent thing going. But behind the scenes, in the green room, in the very back of your mind and the very depth of your soul, you always have a very tiny, sneaking suspicion that you might not be the you that you think you are.”

As much as this provides food for thought, it’s, most of all, an invitation to practice empathy. Because everyone, everyone is sitting in the green room of their mind. Wondering. Doubting. Waiting. Hoping that you might come along and pull up the curtain. Hoping someone will see who they really are.

So remember: Everybody’s acting. And there’s always more than what you see.

-Nik


About Thought Experiment Thursday: Einstein said we can’t solve our problems with the same thinking that created them. Science estimates we have about 35 thoughts per minute. That’s a lot of chances to change our thinking. So on Thursdays, that’s what we’ll practice.

A question opens the mind. A statement closes it. Let’s keep ours wide open.


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Forgiveness Wednesday: The Confession

“Aren't you supposed to ask me that after we started?”

“We have started. Have a seat.”

“Here?”

“Why not? Confession's meant to be good for the soul and no one's ever said anything about it having to be done in a little dark box.”

When Mike Ross goes to his former pastor and teacher to tell him about his crimes, the priest reacts surprisingly…human. Completely unbound by religious conventions. I’m not sure why he does it, but it’s refreshing.

Maybe, it’s because he knows Mike isn’t religious, and it’ll take a human, not a priest, to help him. But Mike doesn’t really seem to want advice. He wants forgiveness. Without regret, however, Father Walker can’t give it to him. So he keeps digging.

Eventually, Mike gets angry. He’s upset. He gets up. He wants to leave.

But Father Walker just keeps asking the same question, over and over again:

“Why are you here?”

And with each new fake answer, Mike’s armor takes another blow. Until it cracks.

“BECAUSE I’M AFRAID!”

He slumps. From here on out, he’ll be a puddle of sorrow. But that’s what it took for Father Walker to be able to build him back up.

In our own lives, we may not always have someone to confess to and we may not all want to go to church. But we can all relate to this scene: Before we face what’s really going on, the healing process can’t begin.

Often, “because I’m afraid” is a big part of the answer, if not all of it. We’re afraid of being found out, of being left alone, of failing in public and being laughed at. Few of these things ever happen, but our fears are still real.

Like Father Walker, I can’t offer any reassurance. It’s tough. Some things you have to face and bear alone. What I can say is that, no matter how afraid you might be, the person in the mirror is still worth loving. Even if you’re just telling yourself.

That’s all you need to confess, really. A quiet moment in your mind. Confession is good for the soul. You can do it anywhere, any time. You’ve started already.

What would you like to say?

-Nik


About Forgiveness Wednesday: No matter how the week starts, by Wednesday, we’ve had enough time to kick ourselves. We’re human. We make mistakes, we regret them, and we blame ourselves. But the only way we can keep moving on is if we forgive ourselves and those around us. So every Wednesday, forgiveness is what we’ll practice.

Let’s be kind to ourselves so we can succeed.


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Gratituesday: You're Still Here

green leaf plant sprout

You were born as an accident. Or during an accident. Or with an accident. You were definitely born through great pain and suffering. But you’re still here.

You were raised in a poor home. A dysfunctional home. A home that clipped your wings and left you with deep scars you had to mend much later. But you’re still here.

You had a tough childhood. You were the runt of the litter. The middle child. The big brother with all the pressure. Maybe, you were all alone. But you’re still here.

You didn’t always get what you wanted. The other kids in school were mean. The boys never called back. The teachers had it in for you. But you’re still here.

You wasted a lot of time growing up. You couldn’t figure out what you really wanted. You dealt with disease, disadvantage, depression. But you’re still here.

Your body never gave you an easy time. It didn’t gain weight when it should have or lost any when it shouldn’t. It doesn’t want you to be fit and lean and healthy. It craves junk food and ice cream and popcorn. But you’re still here.

You were rejected when you put yourself out there. You showed vulnerability and honesty and compassion, and someone else spat in your face. But you’re still here.

You’ve inherited your dad’s gambling problem. Or your mom’s excessive spending habits. You struggle to make rent, to save money, to keep your dollar bills together. But you’re still here.

Your company failed. So did the big event at work, the 5th grade dance recital, and the opening of your art gallery. But you’re still here.

You made a mistake. You know you messed up, and you know it’s your fault. You don’t even know how to fix it. You just know you feel like you have to. But you’re still here.

You don’t know how to be happy. Life is confusing. It’s big and complicated and there are way too many options for everything. But you’re still here.

Life is and sometimes it isn’t. But it’s short for all of us. It’s a unique and crazy experience, and there are no do-overs, no second season, no late-night rerun tickets.

Every day is special. A once-in-a-lifetime chance. Another reason to be grateful. And you’re still here. So today is a good day.

-Nik


About Gratituesday: By Tuesday, we're deep into thinking about what we seek. That's why it's a great day to remember what we already found. Gratitude has many benefits, but, mostly, it's an exercise in shifting our perspective. Instead of focusing on what's missing, we can focus on what we have.

And we'll be much calmer for it.


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Monday Zen: A Bag Of Peanuts

Every morning after breakfast, the Zen master gave a short lecture. He talked about all aspects of life, but he always ended on the same note:

“Be simple and easy. Take things as they come.”

One day, some of the students went into town. As they walked around the market, they spotted the master, bargaining fiercely over the price of a bag of peanuts.

They walked up to him and said: “Master, you told us to be simple and easy. Then why are you haggling with this man?”

After agreeing on a price and exchanging the goods, the master turned to his students and paused for a second. Then, he said:

“I said be simple - not a simpleton.”


“He was a simple man.”

Countless stories start with this sentence, but, paradoxically, it’s not a simple line. Because here are some of the synonyms we might use to interpret the word ‘simple’ in this case: stupid, poor, lonely, hardworking, natural, kind, frugal, and ascetic.

That’s a lot of room for interpretation - and a lot of potential to make false assumptions. The truth is ‘simple’ could mean any one of those things or all of them at once. It could also mean none of them.

What’s simple depends, like all things, on its context. Simple is one end of a spectrum. But what’s on the other end? Hard? Complex? Lavish? Complicated? Wasteful?

Seneca was one of the richest men in Rome, owning multiple estates. But he was also a philosopher and thinker, spending most of his time thinking, writing, reading, speaking. Does that make him a simple man or not?

At the end of the day, simple is up to you. You can choose to be simple in owning few belongings, but reject the idea of overpaying for any one of them. You can choose to keep your business simple and hire few employees, yet go on to service millions of people. You can choose a simple workout regimen, but still buy expensive equipment.

Be simple, not a simpleton. Because life is never as plain as it seems.

-Nik


About Monday Zen: Most people hate Monday. Why? In a good life, it’s a day like any other. At the very least, it shouldn’t be worse by default. That’s what Monday Zen is for: To make sure you start the week with calm, poise, and determination.

Let’s not derail our trains of thought before they leave the station. Let’s enjoy the journey.


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