Aged 30…

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

A couple of nights ago, I suddenly had a hankering to hear a song that I hadn’t thought about for years: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” by U2. I can hear the hipsters tutting already but, like T. Swift says: haters gonna hate hate hate.

It’s normal for TF to be written during the course of a commute but that’s traditionally been on trains. This week is slightly different in that I’m typing away while sitting in a cramped window seat on a Bombardier Q400, somewhere over the Irish Sea. It’s a clear spring evening outside and the sun is just dipping below the horizon.

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After take off – when I was allowed to put my earphones back in – I put my new tune on. I’ve listened to it a couple of times now and I’ve reached the conclusion that Bono isn’t looking for something which can be found just by looking for it (like a set of keys). I think the lines about “climbing the highest mountains” and “scaling city walls” are about looking for something intangible.

I know what he means – as I’m sure many of you do. We spend a lot of our time looking for things which, no matter how hard we look, we may never find – things that have to find us, so to speak. That can be religion, a career, the ideal home – anything.

At the moment, I am looking for a home. Not that I don’t have a home, you understand; I’m just looking for a new one. I’ve been telling people that there’s nothing out there and I’ve jokingly said I’m giving up the search. However, watching the sea, sunset and blue sky outside I’m reminded that there is a place out there which feels like home but which cannot be found in Scotland. Maybe I found what I was looking for a long time ago and that’s why nothing I’m seeing now seems quite right.

So where does that leave me? Because the captain has just said it’s 10 minutes until we land and I need to wrap this up before I’m told to put my phone away.

I’m reminded of a line I heard recently when I was watching a documentary about a media mogul who’s empire was at its height in the 1930s – William Randolph Hearst. The film starts with William’s father (George) working away on a small mine, trying to make his fortune.  Ultimately, George decides to  gather his possessions and leave the place of his birth. The narrator says: “aged 30, he went to California.”

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I’m beginning to think that Operation Zorro needs to look further than one year ahead. Unlike Bono, I might have found that intangible thing which has sparked something in my soul. Maybe that’s why I spend an inordinate amount of time watching  planes flying west and wondering whether they’re going to San Francisco. Maybe one day…

It’s not really a Tash but a big dream deserves a large amount of facial hair. Thanks for the inspiration, George Hearst:

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Have a great weekend folks.

As ever, I ask you: what’s next?

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Trust Your Power

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

This week marks the beginning of what will hopefully be the return to normal service of TF. I say “hope” as editions may not appear every week but it wouldn’t be TF if we didn’t at least give it a go. You know, daring greatly and all that.

I wonder if any of you know who this chap is:

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His name is Derrick Coleman – he won the Superbowl with the Seattle Seahawks last year.

What’s interesting about Mr Coleman isn’t that he won the Superbowl (loads of folk have done that) but that he’s been deaf since he was three years old. That’s a problem in a sport where a key part of the game is hearing and implementing a particular play. If you’ve ever seen an NFL game, you’ll have seen the coaches giving instructions from the sidelines and plays being called on the field.

You’d think that a deaf person would find it difficult to play football at any level; let alone in the NFL. You’d be right. Derrick Coleman was told from the beginning that he couldn’t play. Even after he’d played in college, NFL teams didn’t think he had what it took and none of them picked him in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Looking back on those who said he’d never play in the NFL, Coleman said: “I’ve been deaf since I was three, so I didn’t listen.”

He was in an excellent series of Duracell adverts called “Trust Your Power”. It’s worth a watch:

I like that phrase: “trust your power”. I like it even more when you add “it’ll take you anywhere you want to go”. I take it to mean that if you back yourself and your own ability to get where you want to be; you’ll get there. The other point is that if you don’t trust your own power, and your own ability, no-one else will.

The other interesting point about Derrick Coleman, at least from my perspective, is that he’s almost exactly the same age as my younger (but bigger) brother.

Unlike Derrick Coleman, my brother isn’t deaf. He doesn’t have a Superbowl winner’s ring either. However, he has recently beaten very daunting odds by trusting his own ability and persevering when others would have either given up or compromised. His achievement is testament to the fact that hard work will take you literally anywhere you want to go.

There is one further similarity between my brother and Derrick Coleman in that most of us would love to work in their offices. Coleman’s office is a stadium but my brother’s office will look like this:

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Congrats, pal – you deserve it.

All that remains is to roll out this week’s Tash.

He did a different type of flying but, who knows, maybe the Wee Man will do a bit of flight instruction when, sometime in the distant future, he packs in the jet-set lifestyle. This week’s Tash is Tom Skerritt, aka Mike “Viper” Metcalf from Top Gun.

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Have a great weekend folks!

What’s next?

It’s not about space

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

Alas, this week’s edition does not mark TF’s return to normal service. Hopefully that will come in the New Year. Until then, consider this a Christmas card.

My birthday was a few weeks ago and my brother gave me the exceptional present of a book containing pretty much every TF that has ever been written, all the way back to April 2011. It’s a great thing to have and I’ve been showing it off to anyone who swings by TF HQ:

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Apparently, when my brother took the book to be bound, the woman in the shop asked “you mean he’s written 66,000 words about moustaches?” Putting it that way, the whole thing does sound ridiculous. However, as I trust has become clear over the last three years, TF isn’t really about Tashes at all.

Around the same time as my birthday, I had the pleasure of seeing Interstellar. The IMDB synopsis for Interstellar reads: “a team of explorers travel through a wormhole in an attempt to ensure humanity’s survival”. There’s so much more to it than that. It’s a film which can easily be spoiled by a mis-placed comment but describing it as being about “a father’s desire to get home to his children”; or “a documentary on physics and interplanetary travel” would be equally accurate and equally mis-leading at the same time.

Even though it doesn’t involve space or wormholes or fifth dimensions, this picture sums up Interstellar for me:

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Similarly, the traditional meaning of Christmas bears very little resemblance to the commercial behemoth which we are all experiencing at the moment. For many of us, it means time off work; a few decent nights out; food; presents; and stress (?) rather than a celebration of the birth of Christ.

In the same way that TF isn’t about Tashes; Interstellar isn’t about space; and Christmas isn’t (for most of us) about religion, life isn’t just about the simple exercises which make up our daily existence. It’s about so much more than that, isn’t it?

Unlike editions of TF, films and even Christmases, we can’t look back on life after it’s finished and work out what it was really all about. By the time we get to that stage, it’s too late to do anything about focussing on what is actually important. However, I wonder whether one way of taking stock and evaluating priorities is to think back on the memories that we cherish the most. If we have plenty of memories that we look back on fondly, we must be doing something right,

It’s for that reason that I’m not really giving my normal array of (outstanding) presents this Christmas. Instead, where finances allow, I’m giving envelopes. Inside the envelopes will either be tickets, or the means to buy tickets, to some kind of experience which I think/hope the recipient will remember for a long time. I’ll perhaps do another TF in the New Year on whether folk prefer getting envelopes to something which they can unwrap…

Speaking of presents, this week’s Tash was particularly pleased when I emailed him with my wish-list and mentioned that he would be featuring the end-of-year TF:

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I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a memorable 2015!

As ever,

What’s next?

This could be the last time

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

In the past, TF has said that dealing with perceived defeat requires nothing more than picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and moving on. That’s too simplistic.

Let me give you two examples of what I mean – they’re both from The Shawshank Redemption. The story of Andy Dufresne’s  imprisonment after he was wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife has become a classic movie. You’ll also probably remember that the other main character in the film was Ellis “Red” Redding.

At first glance, you might imagine that it would be Andy who would have the most difficulty in dealing with his situation. However, he comes up with the phrase “get busy living or get busy dying”, which seems to give him the encouragement he needs to press on.

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Andy was faced with a tangible obstacle to his happiness – prison walls. In a way, a prison wall or another tangible barrier is easier to overcome than a mental barrier. It’s like looking into the abyss and realising that there may be a path around it. Knowing that there is something tangible on the other side of an obstacle can give a person hope that, one day, they will overcome. Sometimes, thinking to ourselves “get busy living or get busy dying” will be enough for us to pick ourselves up from whatever has gotten us down.

Red, on the other hand, had a different problem. After spending decades in prison, Red became – to use his words – “an institutionalised man”. He was faced with a physical and a mental barrier in that he had spent so much time in prison that his mind couldn’t contemplate anything else. He had stared into the abyss for too long and he needed more than self-motivation to help him survive his freedom. Many of us will have times in our lives when we need the support of others in the same way that Red did.

So what saved him? Well, Red’s thoughts after he left prison give us a clue:

“I find I’m so excited that I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel. A free man at a start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.

I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.

I hope.”

Like Chris Moltisanti in the Sopranos, Red is looking at his future as a journey which he wants to start. Like all of us, he hopes that he gets to where he wants to go. However, crucially, Red has identified that seeing his friend is an essential part of that journey and, in a way, would mark the end of it.

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The point of these three editions of TF is that ambition and resilience are not all that’s required to be successful (in the widest possible sense) in life. The third – and perhaps most important aspect of success – is what old John Donne said: “No man is an island, entire of itself”. LCD Soundsystem put it another way in the TF anthem “All My Friends” (which charts a person’s life) by ending with the words: “where are your friends tonight?”

Like Red, the time has come for this Tash Appreciator to embark on the next long journey. Rather than simply being excited, it’s a fairly scary proposition and all I can do is give it everything I’ve got and hope that it turns out ok. Unfortunately, the start of the next journey means the end of TF, at least for now. Part of the reasoning behind this final TF has been to acknowledge the help and support that I receive from many of you – I really do appreciate it and I am lucky to be able to say that the expression on Red’s face when he sees Andy on the beach in Mexico is one which I understand and probably quite often mirror. I hope that in return TF has added something to your Friday mornings over the last three or four years.

Also like Red, I have plans to reach the blue Pacific ocean but, until then, I will make do with the blue of Blue Dog in Glasgow at around 9pm. I’m hopeful that a few of my friends will be there tonight – you are all most welcome.

I shall leave you with two things. Firstly, this week’s Tash, which of course is Morgan Freeman:

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And secondly, the question which I hope will continue to challenge all of us, regardless of whether TF is around to provide a weekly reminder:

What’s next?

If you’re worried about the weather then you picked the wrong place to stay.

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

When we’re young – let’s say between the ages of 15 and 18 – we’re asked what we want to be when we grow up. We’re usually then told to take that notion and pursue it for the rest of our lives on the basis that we’re following our dreams by doing so.

I can see the logic of that in some respects. After all, when we’re young we tend not to be encumbered with cynicism or, put another way, a sense of reality. I used to be very interested in the idea of pipe dreams and whether it was naive to pursue them. I ended up spending a few months putting that to the test.

The evidence I found suggested that pipe dreams weren’t pipe dreams at all – they were just aspirations that we hadn’t quite reached yet. I found that we tend to be limited by barriers of our own making rather than impossibility.

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On that basis, I could tell you that if you want something badly enough then you can achieve it. I could go on to say that if you find something impossible then you’re simply not working hard enough.

But that’s not life, is it – it’s not that simple.

I’m not persuaded that the aspirations we have when we’re 15 or 18 become impossible in later life. Maybe we realise that we have developed different aspirations as we get older. We might say that our old aspirations have become impossible as a way of getting ourselves off the hook for not pursuing our childhood dream.

Even that’s too simple though. Sometimes, we do everything possible to achieve what we want and we still don’t manage to get where we want to be. I don’t have any explanation for that other than the truism that life isn’t fair.

It doesn’t seem satisfactory for TF to simply say that life isn’t fair and that sometimes we won’t achieve what we want. This week’s Tash, Friedrich Nietzsche, said:

“Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

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In the same way that we shouldn’t wait for something to happen before we engage with life, we also shouldn’t let something which has happened hold us back. Our lives do not stop the moment that something unfair happens or when we don’t reach a goal which we set ourselves. Life carries on regardless.

If we spend too much time gazing into an abyss of disappointment or wrestling with the inner monsters which tell us that we have failed, then we risk being overcome by disappointment or a sense of failure. The only answer is to not dwell for too long on perceived failure or disappointment and to press on with whatever comes next.

It’s also worth remembering, in the same way that what we wanted when we were 18 might not be what we want now, that our aspirations will continue to change and there will be another target at which we can aim and gain satisfaction. As we talked about last week, life is full of pivotal moments and we have to pivot with them. We may not always perceive what life throws at us as being “fair” but we can choose how we react and whether we move forward.

The difficulty which so many of us find is in freeing ourselves from our inner monsters and avoiding the gaze of the abyss. I’ll offer a view on that in Part 3.

Have a great weekend folks!

What’s next?

How it starts

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

In season one of The Sopranos, Christopher Moltisanti – the youngest member of the Soprano crime family and desperate to be a “made guy”  – tries and fails to write a screenplay. The frustration he feels in not being able to write the script mirrors the frustration he feels in relation to the rest of his life. He realises that the narrative arc which he cannot create in his screenplay matches what he perceives to be the lack of an arc in his own life. He thinks he’s getting nowhere.

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One of the many great facets of The Sopranos is that we identify with its characters, even though their behaviour is far removed from our own experiences. Many of us will, at times, feel like we’re getting nowhere. What Christopher soon finds out is that life isn’t like in the movies – we don’t have one pivotal moment where are lives are changed and our “real” narrative begins. Our lives are full of pivotal moments and it’s up to us to notice them and take action to either use them as opportunities or correct our course.

In the real world, our lives can change on account of the most unlikely and seemingly insignificant things. For example, I wonder what would have become of this fresh-faced young man had he not decided to sport a Tash and go into show-business?

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As this is TF, we have to say that we don’t think he would have been so successful.

Equally, I wonder what could have happened to this week’s Tash had he not taken steps to change his life after this picture was taken?

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That’s Tim Allen in 1978, shortly after his arrest while carrying 650 grams of cocaine. He would later be convicted of drug trafficking and serve just over two years in prison. He was released in 1981, 10 years before the start of Home Improvements, the show which would make him famous and propel his career and his life in a more productive direction.

The point I’m trying to make is that Christopher Moltisanti was wrong – he thought that he had to wait for something to happen before he could start living. What he didn’t understand was that we control our own narratives. Sure, there are unexpected twists and turns along the way but that’s what happens in life and it’s up to us to make sure we stay on track and get to where we want to go

This week’s TF is the first of a trilogy. We’ve now talked about how we get started, the next step is working out what to do next.

Have a great weekend folks!

What’s next?

Shut Up Legs

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

I’ve been making my way through a series of documentaries on the initial training of Navy SEALs this week. The series followed one class from the beginning to the end of their training.

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It turns out that SEAL training, particularly the first three weeks of it, is even more horrific than I had previously imagined. They call the first phase “two weeks and one long day”. The “one long day” refers to the third week of training, also known as Hell Week, where those wanting to become SEALs get up very early on Sunday morning and next go to bed on Friday night.

The purpose behind this torturous form of training turns out not to be a test of physical ability – these guys are already in good shape – it’s to teach them a lesson. The lesson is that their bodies are capable of withstanding more than they think possible and that the only thing holding them back is their mind.

To put the lesson in context, the first two weeks involve a series of “evolutions” which are carried out by boat crews of six. The evolutions range from each boat crew doing exercises while holding very large logs above their heads; to paddling rafts through/over impossibly large waves; to lying in freezing cold water for long periods of time.

Hell Week involves doing all of that for five or six straight days.

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As far as I’m concerned, surviving Hell Week should be impossible. That view is supported by the fact that the vast majority of those who start Hell Week do not make it past day two or three. However, by the third day, you can see that the prospective SEALs have simply stopped thinking about the pain and the fatigue. They no longer think; they simply do. They have gone beyond the mental barrier which in normal circumstances would have caused them to stop and they just get on with it.

In a less hostile environment, something similar happened last night. Jens Voigt, the 43 year old German cyclist, pushed his body to its limit by cycling a staggering 51.115km in one hour. That’s 400m further than the previous record.

I’m quite certain that Jens could have been a SEAL if he’d wanted to be. He’s well known – and incredibly popular – among cycling fans for his no-nonsense approach to riding and his seeming indifference to pain.

For those who haven’t heard of “The Jensie”, he retired last night but all year he’s been racing in a team where he’s been a pro longer than most of his team mates have been alive. But despite his age, the punishing pace which he sets when he’s racing is one that few can keep up with. That’s not because he’s physically in better shape than other riders (he’s clearly not), his ability comes from his mental strength. When his legs are screaming at him to stop, he simply says “shut up legs” and presses on. Seriously.

Not everyone can work at the level of Jens or SEALs – most of us will find that our brains will take over at some point and say “that’s enough”. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep taking ourselves to our limits and try to push them just a bit further away. In some cases, even where logic and reason says that something is impossible, we find that it is not. Sometimes glass ceilings can be smashed through and closed doors can be knocked down. I found that notion reassuring this week.

As for the Tash, Jens obviously rocked one:

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and it turns out the SEALs have been enjoying the benefits of a Tash since 1992 at least:

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Have a great weekend folks!

What’s next?