Archive for January, 2011

The New Normal

Posted in Life's Ponderings on January 25, 2011 by Bright Lights

Money Money Money

New York City has always been story of “Haves” and “Have Nots.”  However, the gap between rich and poor continues to widen.  According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, “income gaps in New York are greater than those of any other big American city.”  Based on the statistics, the top 1% of New York City residents earned nearly 45% of the city’s income in 2007.  Compare this to national data where the top 1% of earners earn about 23.5% of all income.

It is no surprise that the “Have Nots” and even middle class would like a taste of the so-called good life.  Further, we may find it hard to believe that the “Haves” are not perpetually happy.

Many of us have heard about a celebrity suffering from depression and thought “what does he/she have to complain about?”  Media and popular culture would have us believe that money solves all problems.  It was recently romanticized in this popular song:

In August of 2007, we learned that Owen Wilson had attempted suicide in his Santa Monica home.  Time magazine did an article (written by Rebecca Winters Keegan) called The Darker Side of Owen Wilson as quoted below:

“…the hospitalization this week of Owen Wilson, 38, after police responded to a report of a suicide attempt at his Santa Monica home, astonished anyone who knows him simply as the affable, blonde man-child from Wedding Crashers and You, Me and Dupree.  To us outsiders, Wilson’s partying seemed to be of the happy-go-lucky, nobody-gets-hurt variety. While other stars got DUIs, Wilson always appeared to have a ride home with one of his cool actor-brothers, Luke, 35, and Andrew, 43, or someone as blonde, pretty, rich and famous as he, like Kate Hudson.”


We all know that celebrities have problems just like us normal people.  But for a long time, I couldn’t quite reconcile how a homeless man eating out of the trash can find the strength to push on for another day while Celebrities (who have mansions, nice cars, and can rub elbows and other body parts with models) might decide to commit suicide.  I believe the this can be explained by a concept called The New Normal.

I believe that humans, as a species, are quite resistant to change.  Further, I believe that most of us lead our lives in a bubble, and that bubble has expected parameters of what makes a good day, and what makes a bad day.  It is when our bad day falls below the expected parameters that humans have a problem coping with reality.  As such, for a homeless man, a good day may be when he eats one meal, a great day 2 meals, and a bad day no meals.  All of those probably happen on a regular basis and he is able to keep within his expected parameters.

With the high and mightly (like celebrities), there is seemingly endless room to fall on the downside.  But also, they already live a life of luxury, so the upside becomes less exciting.  For example, if you already have a BMW and a Porsche, will you be that excited if someone gives you a Mercedes?  A Mercedes might be a dream come true to a woman living paycheck to paycheck, but it is within the realm of normality for a celebrity.

What Does This Mean

As people reach a new plateau, they eventually recalibrate their own personal new normal.  Along with that, parameters are adjusted as well.  For example, a homeless person can accept not eating a meal for one day because that is part of his/her parameters.  But if a professional (like an accountant) couldn’t afford a meal for one day, it might shock her to the core.  The realization that she could not afford basic needs would impact her basic sense of security and likely cause a severe reaction like panic or depression.

In a New York Minute

New York City is regarded by many as the financial capital of the world.  As many of you know, Wall Street firms were amongst the hardest hit during the early stages of the great recession with firms dropping like flies on a daily basis (Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and AIG to name a few).

Many firms found a way to stay alive via acquisition or bailout from the government, but the landscape was dramatically changed seemingly overnight.  With that, the New Normal for many thousands of New Yorkers also changed.

* Job security.  What’s that?

* A decade of profits in my 401k.  Where did all my money go?

* Christmas presents for the kids.  When did money get so tight?

The New Normal had changed so dramatically for so many people at once that it could be described as a paradigm shift.  We all learned either through out own situation, or our friends and family, what it is like to fall below our parameter floor.

Conclusion

In understanding the concept of the New Normal, we can better understand the human condition.  From Luke Wilson to the bum on the street, we can recognize the patterns of their reactions.  I believe that the state of our society is best summed up in a quote by Tyler Durden, the character in Fight Club.

“I see all this potential, and I see squandering.  God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars.  Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man.  No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives.  We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars.  But we won’t.  And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

I believe that by embracing the concept of the New Normal, it can help us (as a society) recognize that there is no perfect life.  Millionaires, movie gods, and rock stars have problems too.  They have further to fall and their pain is real.  Happiness is truly not a function of a number in your bank account.  It is about a complete picture of being accepted and knowing that the people in your life actually care about you.

Lets be honest, Tiger Woods tapped it ten ways till Tuesday but pretty much none of those women cared about him.  And if they did, he’ll never be sure.

To my readers, as you climb the ladder of society, I wish you nothing but happiness.  Just remember not to look down because you may have a long way to fall.

Bright Lights, Big City.

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Adventure in America

Posted in Life's Ponderings on January 12, 2011 by Bright Lights

When You Were Young

When I was a little kid, it seemed like the ultimate day involved embarking on an adventure.  Whether my day involved exploring a dangerous ravine in the nearby nature preserve or riding my bike to an area of town which I had not yet explored, it was undeniable that I felt the need for exploration, new experiences, danger, and adventure.

As I think about my current life, and the lives of those closest to me, a question comes to mind.  What the hell happened?

Checking a Box

As we have grown older, it seems that life has become about winning.  Many of us are all too focused on the destination, rather than the journey.  And even when we do focus on the journey, it has become commonplace to want to place our footsteps where others have, rather than finding our own path.  One example would be going to Paris and visiting all the tourist traps so that you can “check a box” and know that you have seen the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.

In fairness to those who are satisfied seeing only the most famous sights of the world, there are already too many amazing things to see in this world to ever see them all, so it can be construed as a waste of time to go looking for beauty not yet seen.  I think its important to make an important distinction between traveling to see the world and adventure.  I’m not saying the two are necessarily mutually exclusive, but they can be.

I have admiration for people who have looked for lost treasure in deep dark places or people who travel to the ends of the Earth in search of new species of animals.  Imagine discovering the Okapi (half zebra/half giraffe).

America The Judgemental

American society places a huge emphasis on staying within the lines that have been drawn by the last generation.  One example would be the way American companies view a large gap in one’s employment.  In most European countries, taking 6 months off from work to travel the world would be viewed as a positive thing.  Learning about different cultures and having a greater understanding of the world are characteristics that are welcomed and encouraged by European countries.  In America, you will probably just be viewed as lazy, and the company considering you for employment may consider you sort of a flake.  To be truly adventurous is to be considered unstable.

Times They Are A Changin

When our parents and grandparents were growing up, times were very different.  For one thing, travel to distant lands was not as commonplace as it is today.  Family vacations were likely via automobile rather than plane.  In short, the older generation placed an emphasis on realizing the American dream which was to succeed:  To win.  The journey was not what it was all about.

As a young professional living in New York City, I find that I am around people who travel very often.  It’s a combination of factors such as higher incomes, education, and the overall momentum to “get out of the city” on weekends.  As discussed in prior blogs, many New Yorkers get away to ski in the winter and get away to the beach in the summer.  But since most New Yorkers don’t have a car, they are often just as likely to fly somewhere rather than spending $300 on renting a car for the weekend.  Despite all of this momentum, the tides tend to push ordinary people towards ordinary activities.  I don’t know about you, but I am ready for the extraordinary.

What Can You Do?

As we look upon 2011, think about the things you have always wanted to do.  Look beyond that roads that are well marked and live out the dreams you had as a child.  Back when dreaming of adventure was a daily activity.

Lower Calf Creek Falls, Utah

More importantly, if we are going to change America’s view of taking time to explore the world, we are going to need to start a grass roots movement.  Discuss it with your co-workers and take a stand against these very American negative views.

Bright Lights, Big Adventures.

Lessons From Skye (Not Skype)

Posted in Life's Ponderings on January 4, 2011 by Bright Lights

Background

When I was a freshman in college, I made a friend named Skye.  Skye was not her real name, but rather the name she went by.  Skye once joked with me that her therapist and psychologist would have preferred she picked a more grounded name since her head was already  in the clouds.

Skye was certainly a troubled girl, but she was also one of the kindest people I have ever met.  At the time when I met her, I was a huge fan of the Lemonheads, and they had just released an album called Car Button Cloth. One of my favorite songs on the album was called If I Could Talk I’d Tell You which mentioned the act of flushing Zoloft down the toilet.  Back in 1996, the internet was not readily available on 6 different devices within 50 feet of me, so I chose to ask my friend Skye what kind of drug Zoloft was.  Sure enough, she knew.  In fact, I believe she actually had some Zoloft of her own.

As I got to know Skye better, I realized that the simple victories of my life that kept me smiling and happy on a daily basis were vacant from her life.  Many of my friends were not interested in getting to know Skye, and I recall that one of them referred to her as “crazy as the day is long.”

Puzzled by her angst, I went for a long walk in the quad with my friend to try and make sense of her depression.  It was then that I came to an epiphany that benefited both of us.  Skye was not depressed because she couldn’t get what she wanted in life.  She was depressed because she literally didn’t know what she wanted in life.  When I said this out loud, she said that I had provided insight that years of therapy could not.  Then she did something that no one had ever done for me before.  She called me her hero and swore her loyalty to helping me in life.  I don’t remember exactly what she said, but that was the jist.

The Lesson

That was 15 years ago, and we have completely lost touch.  It should come as no surprise that our dysfunctional friendship had to overcome many problems.  For one thing, Skye was an idealist whereas I was/am more of a realist.  But despite how things are now, I will never forget that fateful day that she told me I was her hero.   It is my hope that this story will give my readers some insight into why someone they know is always down.  Or at the very least, allow those of us with goals and dreams to appreciate that we are not stuck in the clouds with no compass like Skye was.

Analysis

As we grow older, time becomes less and less on our side as it relates to fulfilling our dreams.  Many of us take for granted that a young and intelligent boy or girl would know what they want out of life, at least generally.  Back in college, most of us could be fulfilled by thinking about the weekend, parties, or a romantic interest.  For others, sadly, it just was not enough.  I foresee that the lesson from the Tale of Skye will again become applicable as many of us change careers, or begin again in a substantial area in our life.

Thank you Skye.  I hope the view is still nice up there.

Bright Lights, Big City.