Tag Archives: Matt Damon

10 Statements That Shaped My Life | Perhaps They Can Yours, Too

Julian Fellowes’ superb historical piece drama, Downton Abbey, is chock-full of pearls of wisdom if you listen closely. A Season 4 episode has Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) telling young Tom Branson (Allen Leech), “Life is all about solving problems and then you die!”

By no means exhaustive or ordered, I recently compiled 10 statements, which over time and through life’s ebb and flow have transformed into 10 pearls of wisdom.

1. “Focus on the grass”

To understand this statement a farming image and true story from Mooi River, South Africa, might be most helpful. You can then apply the principle to your personal situation.

How to turn a profitless, underperforming dairy farm in a tight economic market, into a competitive contender and revenue generating one?

The answer? Focus on the means of increased milk production–grass. Everything on the farm took a temporary secondary position to the primary. The farmer increased his time, effort and resources on pasture. Good grass meant happy cows, resulting in increased milk production and a healthy profit margin.

*I wrote at greater length on this in Frazzled, Frustrated or Fearful? Focus on Your “Grass”.

2. “Walk on the grass but don’t make paths”

You’ve seen the signs on groomed landscapes–“Keep Off The Grass.” Who would have ever thought they convey a life message? This is the response I got from my South African PhD mentor when I asked him to tell me his philosophy of life.

Transliterated–

“In your search after life’s meanings and truths, courageously risk veering off from your too-familiar life path, and into a pathless wilderness, which might appear at the outset murky, messy, even ominous. Risk the journey, whether it be into the depth of human thought, or the much more unsettling kind: face-to-face encounters with people different.”

3. “Writing is in the editing”

On my Research, Writing and Teaching seminar’s first day, my professor was wise to warn us, “Start your term papers early, because if you want an A-letter grade, good writing only happens in the editing.”

If truthful, we each and all aspire for instant success. It’s not mere vanity, but reflective of our daily struggle to balance life’s demands over and against a 24-hour clock.

In life, like in writing, we want each first act or draft to be near perfect. This is even more true for anal-retentive persons.

So no matter how much we might pursue instant success in life, relationships, vocation, politicking, et cetera, remember that like writing, life is in the editing, in the falling down and getting back up, or in the dogged determinism to keep taking one step forward, even though you know it frequently will result in two steps backward.

4. “Do no harm!”

Fact–In life there are assholes too numerous to count or categorize. This realization and personal experience prompted Stanford University professor of management science and engineering, Robert Sutton to write The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t.

The important point here is that you don’t have to be an asshole! And the way to avoid being perceived as or labeled one is to live, think, love, speak and act by the credo, “DO NO HARM”–to yourself, to others, to the environment.

5. “Think and hope the best of people, but be prepared for the worst”

Aka, Mental Health 101. It’s a truth that has helped me avoid incarceration when my life has been persistently frustrated by Robert Sutton’s subject matter above!

People are essentially good––definitely, at least, “more good” than bad. What “evil” they are or possess is much more reflective of nurture (environment and neuroplasticity) than of nature. In fact, it is this positive perspective of human nature that enables one to think and hope the best of people, yet be prepared for the worst.

6. “You can’t parent or love well if all you have to give are your leftovers”

Everyday and ever-present is a ghost of the so-called Industrial Revolution. Industrialization initiated many new mechanized and now technological wonders, but one intangible yet irrefutable feature it brought to all peoples is a rapid change of pace and way of life.

We seem to learn only after fallouts and break-ups that meaningful life relationships take an immense quantity of time, effort and shared experience. If you’re in the process of falling out but haven’t quite yet fallen down, then please read statement #6.

7. “For every new responsibility or relationship you take on, you will have to sacrifice another”

North Americans have a very “can do” mindset. It’s reflected in the slogan of the U.S. Army, “Be All That You Can Be,” and in our willingness to work excessively hard and long hours so as to attain and maintain an accustomed way of life.

The hard truth is this: With too full lives already, for every single new event, role, responsibility and relationship that we choose to involve ourselves in or with, some previous event, role, responsibility or relationship will suffer neglect.

8. “All you need is 20-seconds of insane courage”

You likely will recognize this statement from the movie We Bought A Zoo. It was Benjamin Mee’s (Matt Damon) explanation to his children of how he found the courage to walk up to a total stranger at a cafe and introduce himself. She later became his wife and the mother of his two children.

Every day and in many ways I’m reminded that it only takes 20-seconds of insane courage and action to change negative circumstances, contexts or dour moods into positive ones, and even if the change is small and less-than-transformative, at least it might be big enough to help you re-engage life and its struggles for one more moment or day.

9. “Break the overwhelming into bite-size pieces”

Likely you’ve heard the expression, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Like focus, this, too, is an especially hard statement to put into practice. College graduates remember only too well the first day of the academic year and perusal of each course’s curriculum requirements. Panic!

Every professor seemed to think s/he was our only class. Professional work pressures soon made college expectations seem like child’s play. Yet the same lessons learned apply–break the overwhelming into bite size, daily tasks, and you’ll pleasantly be surprised how much can be accomplished.

10. “What’s the worst case scenario? Can you live with it?”

Aka, Mental Health 201. Fear is a, if not the greatest paralysis. While this statement of question likely provides small comfort to someone given a terminal diagnosis (at least initially), it does provide a modicum of relief for that “punched in the solar plexus” feeling, which makes for a grievous and sleepless night, and which likely resulted due to unwelcome and unexpected news, such as a termination letter or a lover’s betrayal.

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Filed under Family, Life, Memories, Mental Health, Mentor, Pedagogy, Perspective, Relationships, Religion and Faith, Success

4 Life Takeaways from “We Bought A Zoo”

If you can overlook that the actual zoo, Dartmoor Zoological Parkis in England instead of Southern California, as well as the fact that Matt Damon, aka Jason Bourne, is simply a widower with two young children versus a trained assassin or a futuristic car thief / Robin Hood, then you might (like me) agree with We Bought A Zoo‘s 3-star rating and enjoy watching or re-watching it.

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I recently re-watched the last half with my two younger daughters, and took away 4 reminders:

1.  “Sometimes all it takes is twenty seconds of insane courage . . . And I promise you, something great will come of it.”

It seems that being human is to opt for the easy and convenient over the hard and difficult. What prompted you to read this blog? Its promised “4” takeaways?

If we resolve to lose weight, consistently exercise, run a marathon, climb a mountain, learn a language, become a millionaire, ace the SAT/GRE/or MCAT, or even something as mundane as cleaning house or “doing” the yard, we typically seek out the short-cuts.

If only we took seriously, were ever mindful of the residual power in seconds or small steps; especially those first few, which are critical in helping you overcome the inertia of inactivity and progress toward an established habit and discipline.

I don’t have a “Yard of the Month” yard, but I have succeeded in growing a healthy lawn and ten double knock-out rose bushes, which total strangers have been known on more than several occasions to stop their cars, get out, walk to our front door, ring the door bell, and ask what I did to produce such lush, green grass and beautiful red roses.

I have no quick-step answer other than a little bit of effort and a lot of sweat spread out over many days, weeks, months, and now almost four years. I don’t use weed killer. I simply am relentless in pulling up a few weeds each and every time I walk the perimeter of my yard. Truthfully? I think they (the weeds – especially the nut grass) are afraid of me! 🙂

Let’s view achievement / greatness as a series of small steps, or as the sum of many steps (small acts), and learn to silence the inner voice (demon) that insists we leapfrog ahead or use a cheat sheet.

2.  Like the animals but love the humans.

I grew up in East Africa and many of my happiest childhood memories revolve around animals, whether pets, such as our two Vervet monkeys, or family excursions to famous national reserves like the Masai Mara or the Serengeti to witness the annual 1.5 million wildebeest and zebra migration.

I still love animals, but like Fanning and Johansson, I’d choose people over animals if I had to.

If polled, I wonder if most Americans would agree?

It often seems that equally or more money, time, kindness, love and respect is shown to pets, than to children, the elderly, the immigrant, the unemployed, or the hobo.

Lately I’ve been struck by how many Austin drivers let their pets “drive with” them in the front driver’s seat. Meanwhile my kids fight over which of them get to ride in the front passenger seat, even if the distance to be traveled is less than one mile!

What about you? Do you give equal or more time and affection to your pet than to your child, spouse or friend or neighbor?

3.  “The secret to talking is listening.”

We’ve all read enough Dear Abby-type relationship advise columns and books to know that men are typically less verbal when it comes to expressing matters of the heart (emotions, vulnerability, et cetera), yet more verbose when it comes to fixing problems: your problem, their problem, anyone’s problem.

Wise men have learned that the way to a girl (Elle Fanning’s) or a woman’s heart (Scarlett Johansson) — or even in matters non-romantic, to achieving greater organizational synergy (defined by Stephen Covey as “valuing difference” or “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”) — is through more listening, less talking.

Many men simply don’t care whether their percentage of speech to listening is skewed, however, because they’ve either achieved some senior management position in an organization and can’t be bothered by any underling, let alone a woman’s suggestion or advice, or because hearing the sound of their own voices and perspective has become habituated over time, in large part because men traditionally have held the monopoly on positions of power.

Now, I risk voicing a truism; namely, that women are very capable of talking and thoroughly enjoy doing so! Research demonstrates they generally are more verbal, and not infrequently more verbose than men.

A difference between the sexes seems to me to be: Men typically talk to resolve; listening with more an ear to actively fixing whatever might be wrong or perceived to be wrong, rather than listening with all one’s senses so as to hear the many unspoken words / emotions that speak themselves through glistening eyes, quivering lips, faltering voices, rapid and defensive / angered responses, etc.

4.  Grief and mourning can be delayed, but not bypassed . . . If, that is, you want to re-engage life and living.

For 10 of the last 13 years I have worked in a senior management capacity with non-profit organizations in South Africa that focused on mitigating the cause and effects of violence and HIV/AIDS.

A recent article A Save-the-World Field Trip for Millionaire Tech Moguls describes one man, Scott Harrison’s “sexy” effort to provide clean and plentiful water to those in the world without. Through his non-profit, Charity: Water, he has managed to facilitate the drilling of thousands of water wells and the installation of an equal number of hand pumps.

Incidentally, and perhaps reflective of the demographics of his donor base, each pump has an attached metal plaque with each donor’s name etched on it. Desire for legacy, recognition, seems to me a decidedly American fixation, as is our so-called exemplary charitable generosity, which in reality would not be near so generous if it did not hitch a ride on the coat tail of income tax reduction.

In contrast to “sexy” development work, coming alongside and participating in life with hurting people, particularly those who have suffered or soon will suffer loss, as well as trauma of any variety of types and degrees is far from “sexy.” Yes, your name is surely invisibly inscribed on the hearts and in the lives of those you shared vulnerable life moments with, yet seldom is there any acknowledgement of your sacrifice, no public recognition for being a “Well Member” – a donor, who pledges $24,000/year to Charity: Water, for three or more years.

My point is this:

It’s much easier and less demanding to give money to the needy of the world, than time, toil and tears (lest you misunderstand me, yes, social development organizations need both, including the Charity: Water’s of the world).

Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) lost his wife and struggled daily through a labyrinth of inconsolable grief (e.g., avoiding looking at photographs of his wife, certain grocery aisles, as well as previously favorite coffee shops). It took years and the collective, consistent and caring support of family and zoo staff friends for him to travel through grief to a place of acceptance and re-engagement with life and living.

I welcome “life truth” wherever it reveals itself. I’m grateful to movie and cinema for important life reminders.

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A Tribute to Our Son “Matt Damon,” aka Jason Bourne

Many individuals not only aspire to act and become like so-and-so celebrities, but look like them, too. Recently in El Paso my girls and I watched a week’s worth of Family Feud, in which “celebrity” participants included Hillary Clinton, Bono, Martha Stewart, Nicole Kidman, Robin Williams, Will Ferrell, Joan Rivers, and Jennifer Aniston.

My son’s look-alike, doppelgänger, is Matt Damon. After seeing a few comparison photos you might disagree. Seeing (in person) is believing, however.

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With my eldest daughter

I can’t recall a single day in which I went out and about to town with him that at least one person – usually more – didn’t either comment directly on his resemblance to Damon, or who took an initial furtive glance, then a second, more studied look at him.

For instance, when the Bourne movies debuted several years back, movie cinema ticket sales persons at Bedfordview Mall, Johannesburg, South Africa, came out from their ticket cubicles, asking if they could have their picture taken with him. Last week we ate at a Kirby Lane Restaurant, and afterwards browsed through an adjacent Amish furniture store. The store manager approached my son, noted his resemblance, and remarked how he could be Damon’s brother or son.

A month ago my son accompanied me to Client Rights at Austin State Hospital. After introducing my son to my work colleagues, he then left in search of coffee and internet connection. Two colleagues immediately and independently turned excitedly toward me, remarking on his uncanny resemblance to Damon, with one jokingly asking, “Can I get his autograph?!” At his university alma mater, and currently at Dell Children’s Hospital’s ER his nickname is “Bourne” or simply “Jason.”

Arguably, my own doppelgänger might be Bruce Willis, even Corbin Bernsen — particularly if you’ve had a few drinks too many, or you’re a partygoer at a November post-election celebration in Colorado, where cannabis just become decriminalized.

My family and I admit that it’s kind of fun having a “celebrity” in our home. We catch and absorb secondary attention!

In all seriousness, however, despite my genuine respect and admiration for the real actor and person, Matt Damon, I’m grateful my son takes his “celebrity status” in stride. In fact, he appears a degree or two sheepish with his unsolicited fame.

As firstborn, our son has developed well despite all our rookie, even veteran parenting missteps. For instance, we used to be pretty hard-nosed when it came to putting our newborn early to bed in the evening. If he was fed, bathed, had a clean change of diaper/outfit, and no evident ailment, we would allow him to cry himself to sleep if he was not happy to lie in his cot alone, cooing contentedly.

At the time we were living with my 85-year-old grandfather, Daddy D, who had begun dating a MUCH younger woman (59 years) – see Grandparents | Person and Place Specialness. One evening Daddy D’s girlfriend was there for dinner and our son had been crying for an interminable period. She offered my wife her own experienced motherly counsel, “When my son was 2-weeks old, he cried and wouldn’t sleep. You know what I did? I cooked mashed potatoes, green beans and fried chicken. I fed that boy! And he slept!

I could and will eventually write a tribute for each of our five children, but it’s more opportune for my son, given his transitional period of life and vocational aspiration.

2012 - our family inc son-in-law

2012 – our family inc son-in-law

You see, despite him not having the life memoir and day-to-day hardships of, say, a Sudanese Boy Soldier, he’s proven his mettle through several life experiences. One being, that by 9-years of age he had undergone 13 ENT surgical procedures, ranging from adenoidectomy to tonsillectomy to mastoidectomy.

These experiences did not diminish his interest in medicine, nor his love for and ability with languages.  While his nearest-in-age sister might be more grammatically proficient, he is conversationally fluent in Spanish, and during his senior year of high school traveled alone to Berlin, Germany, where he took a 10-week German immersion language course. Unbelievably to me, by week eight, when we talked by phone, he engaged in German-only conversations with my wife.

Currently my son is seeking to gain admittance to medical school; a profession that well suits his character, temperament and life experience. It’s not been a quick or easy aspiration, yet he’s persevered day-by-day-by-month-by-year, developing his knowledge, skills and exposure to the world of medicine through medical internships and a challenging ER job at Dell Children’s Hospital.

I think it’s apropos that he’s working at a children’s hospital, particularly since he’s always had a sensitive and kind disposition toward children, especially many in South Africa.

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Especially apropos, though, is that he has been an older brother par excellence to his four younger sisters.

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“Mano,” as he’s affectionately referred to by them, has a number of endearing qualities, including: he’s long-suffering (allowing sisters to practice “hair” on him – see pic below), he’s funny (so says my youngest daughter), and he’s easy to talk to and adept at cheering you up (so says my 4th born).

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As parents, an attribute of his that we’ve come to appreciate and respect with each passing day is his willingness to risk vulnerability, to hear, listen and talk about and through ANY difficult subject matter.  It might be the risks of aspiring to own a motorcycle, or the personal discomfiture of dating, sex and marriage, or how much is too much drinking, or the struggle of finding one’s vocation and social place in the world, or whether religion and church attendance are of any value any more, et cetera.

And while I would be honored to have the real Matt Damon, aka Jason Bourne, as a friend, even relative, I’m glad Daniel is his own person and that he’s our son.

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