Friday, November 4, 2011

Why the U.S. Sucks at Soccer (Or "Why Producing and Consuming Isn't Enough Nowadays")


As the world inches closer to the precipice of a financial meltdown, I thought I’d take a minute to look at why America is royally dicked in the coming years.

Industrial society is organized around producers and consumers.  Producers transform raw materials into something more valuable (called a product), which is then sold to consumers, who make the judgment that they value the product enough (as compared to the price) to spend their hard-earned dollars on purchasing it, or at least purchasing the right to use it.

A nation full of consumers is doomed to failure because nothing new is produced; the population ends up shifting its focus to obtaining more money to buy more products without mind to anything in particular.  At some point, collecting more things just becomes “the name of the game,” and it IS a game of sorts for those that want to play it; keeping up with the Joneses, getting newer, faster, shinier crap to show off or play with.  Sure, I appreciate the finer things in life just like anyone else, but the finer things should be a rare treat or serve some larger purpose than simply trying to fill whatever gaping void these people feel in their souls.

Of course, the government’s solution to this problem is to produce more stuff, and though that’s more in the proper direction, it’s still off the mark.  You could decide to ramp up car production all you want, or make shirts or shoes or whatever good that you want, but odds are that at some point all of those products will become either replaceable, or able to be constructed automatically, either by robots or through nanotechnology or advanced, 3D printing techniques.  Or a nanorobot with a 3D printer, even!

What this country needs more of is INNOVATION (See there, I even wrote it in big letters so that you couldn’t miss it).  We are now a nation that has become afraid to fail.  “Teach to the test.”  “Don’t step out of line or you’ll be cast aside.” “Do exactly as the coach says.” “Don’t make waves at work, or else you’ll never get promoted.”  “You have a well-paying job, why not just stay there and live ‘the good life.’”

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Instead of working at something that’s just “okay” to live the current “good life” in your few off-hours, your work should always be to somehow raise the standard of living worldwide, and make a difference.  In order to do so, you have to be creative and take risks.  But creativity is frowned upon in a world filled with X’s and O’s and expository essays, with standardized tests and institutionalized procedures. 

True, as an economy, this country does need products to succeed, and people to buy those products, but where are all of those new products going to come from?  There’s only so much marketing you can do to convince people to spend money on shit they don’t need (though we’re certainly testing the outer limits of that assertion at the moment with crap like the shake weight). 

It’s the same reason that the U.S. gets killed in soccer worldwide; our youth coaches demand that kids play a system and follow their instructions exactly.  “Their way” is the exact way to do things, and any kid that says otherwise is “difficult to coach” or just plain bad.  Creativity, ingenuity, and impulsiveness are frowned upon and weeded out.

Meanwhile, millions of kids in Rio de Janiero play with makeshift inflated condom balls wrapped with string, largely without adult supervision, and are allowed to figure out the game for themselves.  Once they get to be of the age where serious competition starts, you have a variety of unique talents that can be coached in certain respects, but still retain enough of that individualistic “something” to set themselves apart from their teammates.  America is assembling robots from kits; Brazil is handcrafting playmakers from marble.

The most damning instance of this phenomenon is in the public school system, which now preaches teaching to the test while cutting ancillary programs like art, music, and even phys ed.  We encourage memorization and repetition in our children when these are the exact things that machines CAN do much easier, faster, and cheaper than people. 

What should we be encouraging instead?  Activities that utilize creativity, problem solving, and questioning the way that things have always been done while maintaining the open-mindedness to appreciate why things are currently done a certain way.  We need to teach kids to think like individuals, not machines.

We need to teach them to do what they love, but even that's not enough; once you find what you're passionate about, innovate, change things, push the envelope.  Make people think and feel things that they haven't thought about or felt previously.  Better the world and the people that inhabit it.

“But D.J., if you do that, you’ll end up with a bunch of dumb people daydreaming and nothing getting done!”  First of all, I think a lot of “dumb” people could easily be trained to think much more efficiently and creatively; they just have it beaten out of them by the school system and (admittedly) give in far too often to stupid distractions.  Secondly, if you’re a bum for fifty years but then come up with an idea that transforms the world, or inspires someone else to do so, then isn’t that far more worthwhile than the guy that never even tries to come up with anything earth-shattering, and dies after a comfortable, middle-aged existence, not even a blip on this rock that will eventually return to stardust anyway.

At least if you learn to think creatively and find something that you’re passionate about, you can make strides in that field, and hopefully make life a little better for current and future generations along the way.  That’s worth something, isn’t it?

Anyway, thanks for hearing me out after my extended hiatus from the blogs.  Think I’m an idiot?  Just want to say hi?  Leave me a comment or hit me up on twitter or e-mail below.

D.J. Gelner is an attorney-turned-writer in St. Louis, Mo.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or e-mail him (djssuperblog@gmail.com) if you have any questions.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

An Announcement

We've been through a lot together on the ol' Superblog, haven't we?  It's been a wild ride, and I hope I've been able to provide at least some useful advice while honing my ability to put my thoughts into writing.


This isn't a farewell post, but it is an announcement that I'll be cutting back a bit in the coming months, probably at least until the end of the year.  I recently accepted a position as the Rams reporter for insideSTL.com/KFNS 590 in St. Louis.  


I'd like to say that it feels like the culmination of a long, hard struggle toward self-discovery, and in many ways, it is.  But the truth is, even though I'm really excited for the new job, I can't allow myself to rest on my laurels.  


A journey toward self-actualization is never complete until you draw your final breath on this planet.  You may be able to get damned close before then, but until that singular moment, the "The End" on your life, you have to continue to try to grow and learn personally, and educate others and improve society as a whole.  As best as I can tell, that's the meaning of life, folks--follow that and the Golden Rule and you'll go far in this world; maybe even far enough to ponder the mysteries of the universe and figure out what the real meaning of life is.  


So, my plan is to try to update this site a couple of times a week with different kinds of material.  One post will be on the usual "lifestyle design" bent.  I do want to continue the "Lessons From an Alien" series, and I'll syndicate it over here, too.  Aside from that, I may try a more satirical, Onion-like feature for the third post, though maybe on a less-regular basis.


The point is, the blog is going to change.  You won't have as much to read during the week.  This may ultimately prove to be good, as the quality of the remaining articles should improve.  But recognize that change is neither inherently good or bad--it happens.  This change happens to be pretty good for me, so it would be easy to make the "change is good" generalization, but that's bullshit--sometimes change sucks.  All you can do is try to minimize the effects of the bad changes in your life, while maximizing the number and effects of good changes.  What you can't do is minimize change generally; it's going to happen, one way or another.  But if you see an opportunity that intrigues you, that you are truly passionate about, no matter how much of a longshot you think it is, instead of resisting change and falling back on the status quo, why not try for it next time?  


When I quit my old job in April, I thought there was no way in my wildest dreams that I could have come this far this quickly.  Being a sportswriter/analyst is one of my biggest dreams, and I'm finally going to realize it.  At the same time, I only got the job because I sent in an application to an open call on the front page of the website, thinking that it was a longshot, but hey, "Gretzky, miss 100% of the shots you don't take, blah, blah, blah."  Once I was in the running, all I could do was write the best spec articles possible and make sure that I "left it all out on the field," to borrow a sports term.  And you know what?  It paid off.


So though it's the end of the brief "daily post" era of this blog, it's the dawn of (another) exciting new chapter in my life.


And I feel great.



D.J. Gelner is a writer and entrepreneur in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com. Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What to Do When You Fall Off the Wagon

I know that to a lot of people, it seems like I lead a pretty charmed life.  I work out constantly.  I eat a very good diet.  I am able to work on my various projects all day, basically uninterrupted.  Yet I have one thing that you all should say to me next time you see me…

“Fuck you.”

Truth is, I’m obviously not perfect.  I don’t work out every day.  I sometimes cheat on the old diet.  I still enjoy a drink or five, and I’m not always the most positive guy in the world if you hang out with me, though I think people find me to be entertaining, for one reason or another.

The thing is, at least I realize this and I’m trying to make changes to my life.  It’s never easy: I’m not perfect, and you (probably) aren’t either.  But I realize that there’s a greater ideal to strive for in this existence, and I’ll be goddamned if I don’t try to pursue it while I’m here.

Still, when I try to make changes to my life, there are invariably times when I “fall off the wagon.” We’re all just animals when it comes down to it, and we’re all subject to “being too busy,” or otherwise giving into a moment of weakness when we should otherwise be productive.

Your initial reaction may be to punish yourself for being “weak.”  Fuck that.  You’re just as human as anyone else.  Any kind of a failure shouldn’t be met with wallowing despair, but rather with a newfound determination to make yourself into the person you want to be.  You can’t change the past (unless you’re Superman, in which case I have a few problems that you could help out with), but you can easily chart your path from here on out.  Drop the pity party and look for solutions.

Secondly, set a milestone for the next week that you can maintain, even if it requires a bit (or a lot) of restraint.  Tell yourself, “I’m not going to _________ for the next week.”  It might seem impossible at first, but after a day or two, you’ll be in much better shape than you would’ve been otherwise.

Finally, direct your latent energies toward something worthwhile.  I guess this sort of depends on if you take the “experience life” versus “societal improvement” route.  Far be it from me to dictate whether you should believe in one or the other: I actually think you should strive for both.  But no matter which philosophy you adopt, embrace it and live it.  Want to experience all life has to offer?  Take a trip.  Do something you’re otherwise terrified of doing.  Grow.  Live life.  Want to improve society?  Volunteer.  Work on a project that’s larger than yourself.  Do SOMETHING to advance our species on this planet.

Next time you find yourself eating a sundae or falling off of the path you set, don’t spend the next few days laying in bed, feeling sorry for yourself.  Instead, pull yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back in the game.  And if you skinned your knee, or otherwise think you’re “deeply” hurt?  Rub some fucking dirt in it.  Get back on the horse.  Whatever you do, don’t waste time worrying about or (worse yet) mourning your situation.  There are few things worth worrying about in life—it would be a shame to spend some of your precious time thinking about something that really doesn’t matter.

D.J. Gelner is a writer and entrepreneur in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com. Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Are You a Giver or a Taker?


[Ed.’s Note: I’m going to only go with three posts this week—Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  I have an exciting new idea for the Tuesday post, but, quite frankly, not enough time to implement it for tomorrow, so hopefully by next Tuesday you’ll be able to see what comes of it.  Enjoy! –D.J.]

I like to boil things down to absolutes on this site.  In that way, it mirrors life quite nicely.  Everything is either good or evil, black or white, with us, or against us.

All kidding aside, there is one area that is actually pretty “zero-sum.”

Are you a net giver?

Or are you a net taker?

Givers think of other people before themselves.  They try to give more to society than they take from it.  Givers are the types of people that bring far more beer to parties than they intend on using, and that are there to bail out their buddies in a pinch.  Givers clean up after themselves, and value not only their own stuff, but that of other people.  But perhaps most importantly, givers help friends and family through tough times with prudent, well-thought-out advice.  Basically, givers want to leave a situation better-off than they entered it. 

Unfortunately, America seems to be on a course toward a society with more takers.  Takers are shitty houseguests that come over, eat all of your shit, and leave.  Oh, they maybe bring a sixer over every now and then, but if they do so, they act like they’ve given you a million dollars, and will loudly proclaim that “they just brought beer over!” for the next month.  Takers are like the aliens in Independence Day, moving from planet-to-planet, strip-mining each stop for all of the resources they can fit in their ships before moving on.  Takers always ask, to quote The Departed, ”What can I use ya’ for?”, using friendship as a springboard to get something out of you that they need, be it business or “borrowing” a lawnmower, or something else entirely.

I’ve always tried to live my life as a giver, though I’m sure I’m oblivious to the ways in which I can be a taker at times.  I suppose the question then becomes “how can I ensure that I’m a net giver as opposed to a taker?”  I think it comes down to several small things.

First, live by the Golden Rule.  I’m not a religious man, but this simple saying transcends religion, an easy phrase that embodies the concept of empathy.  “Do unto others as you would want to be treated.”  It’s not that tough—just do it.

Second, get used to offering things without expecting anything in return.  This is an incredibly foreign concept to a lot of people, but it’s absolutely one that people in America need to get used to.  Are you that guy’s friend because you’re trying to get business from his company, or because you legitimately enjoy his friendship?  Do you bring over food to a party because it’s expected, or because it’s “the right thing to do?”  Stop making a tally of all of the times you’ve done things for others and let go of the “you owe me” mentality.  There’s also a difference between not expecting anything in return and becoming a doormat.  The first is done out of generosity, the second, out of fear.

Finally, go above and beyond the call of duty.  Find ways to provide more value in your current position than you are tasked with doing.  If you find yourself in a position where you don’t regularly find yourself doing so, or have tried to do so only to be met with resistance, it may be time to find a new position.  But more generally, get a little bit more food for a party than you actually think you need.  If someone asks you for a favor, don’t just half-ass it, but think what they might want a step or two down the line.  Really put your all into everything that you do, and you’ll end up contributing more to your friends, family, and society than you take away, and you’ll find that generosity and helping others will get you far more goodwill than the alternative.

D.J. Gelner is a writer and entrepreneur in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com. Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Links 7-22-11

This NFL Labor situation is quickly reaching fiasco levels.  I tend to believe the owners on this one; it makes the players seem dumb to argue that the owners tried to "pull a fast one on them" by including new terms in the document without telling anyone what those "new terms" are.  If it happened at all, they're probably minor tweaks to ancillary language, but the NFLPA just has to beat its chest on this one.  ESPN isn't blameless, either--they seem to be making this a much bigger deal than it really is.  Come on, NFLPA, sign the thing and let's have some football.  Enjoy the links!


Proposed CBA Terms.  Speaking of which, SI has broken down the proposed terms for the new CBA in an easy-to-understand, bullet point format. If you have even a casual interest in the business side of sports, it's an entertaining read.  (@CNNSI). 


Why the Lockout is Still Going On.  An excellent analysis from a familiar commentator over at our sister site, Blogmogger. (@Blogmogger).


Are Vegetables and Exercise Causing Childhood Obesity in China?  An interesting article from The Atlantic.  It really makes you think about causation and correlation--is it because the vegetables are stir-fried, or is it because different gut bacteria thrive under different conditions?  Hmm... (@The Atlantic).


Legacy Projects and the Love of True Friends.  Not as corny as the title makes it sound, but it is interesting to see which friends are supportive and which couldn't care less when the cards are on the table.  (@The Art of Nonconformity).


The Best Way to Find Your Vocation.  I think this lines up well with yesterday's article; find something that you feel strongly about or enjoy, and then try to find challenges that interest you within that field.  (@Art of Manliness).


The Price of Integrity: How My Column Cost Me a Job.  I'm a big fan of Justin Adams on insideSTL.com, but this article is definitely not St. Louis-specific.  One man's tale of how he maintained his integrity in the face of idiotic pressure from a prospective employer.  (@insideSTL).


D.J. Gelner is a writer and entrepreneur in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com. Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What You Were “Meant” to Do


A lot of people talk about their “calling” in life.  Tiger Woods was ostensibly put on this planet to tear through blondes like Hugh Hefner be the best golfer in the world for over a decade.  Warren Buffett was born to make money.  Steve Jobs had something innate inside him that helped revolutionize countless industries, ranging from computers to music to phones.

Each of these people obviously had talent within their chosen field.  Maybe they were actually the most talented people on the planet at their chosen activity.  What people often don’t realize is that the ultra-successful also put in a lot of hard work, are driven to be “the best,” and have the stones to pull it off.

I’m sure there are probably a few things that come easily to you.  You might even consider yourself “a natural” at one or two of them.  But until you make the conscious decision to maximize this potential, you’re wasting your valuable talents.  Did you put in the extra legwork on that side project of yours, or did you choose to play videogames instead?  Do you have the confidence in yourself to keep knocking on doors even when people are telling you to “go to hell,” over and over again?  Do you have that extra charisma or chutzpah to get your foot in the door, where so many others have failed to do so?

I guess what I’m getting at is that there’s not necessarily one thing on this planet that you were “meant” to do.  There are things that you have a natural aptitude for, and things that you probably should never really pursue in a million years.  Even for those activities where you possess some measurable, distinct talent, there are probably a few where you simply don’t have the drive or passion to give it “your all.” If you choose to make one of these activities a career, though you may see some professional success, other areas of your life will be sorely lacking.

What you should do is pick one or two areas where you have some natural ability, work on maximizing that ability, and make that your profession.  I think this is what people are getting at when they say they “love” their job; what they really “love” is the unique set of skills that they bring to their job and enjoy using to solve unique and challenging problems.  If you find yourself in this situation, congratulations, you’ve found what you were “meant” to do, at least in one reality.

What you were “meant” to do doesn’t even have to be a career.  I know plenty of people that have jobs that they find “okay” enough, and allow them to otherwise pursue their passions on the side.  This is totally fine, too.  Generally, these side projects are some kind of “art,” be it purely creative (painting, drawing, etc.) or more functional (elaborate woodworking projects, fixing up antique cars).  What you were meant to do need not be a full-time gig, though, I’m not going to lie, if you can swing it, it’s pretty tough to beat.

But if you find that work is a slog, and it is repeatedly unrewarding or hinders your pursuit of an activity where you think your true talents may lie, it may be time to at least give something else a whirl.  After all, how are you going to know if it's what you're "meant" to do until you give it a good, honest try?

D.J. Gelner is a writer, entrepreneur, and former attorney in St. Louis, Missouri. You can e-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com. Follow him on twitter @djgelner. Friend him on facebook here.