“I feel like a 90-year-old man trapped in the future.”
“I feel like a 90-year-old man trapped in the future.”
Nothing brings back the tasty memories of a home-cooked meal than the distinctive sound of a dull butter knife scraping across the face of blackened toast while being held over a kitchen sink.
My mother, God rest her soul, was not a natural born chef in the kitchen. She possessed, as they say, other important qualities. As a child, you tend to expect the outside world to be similar to the one you grow up with at home. The sights, the sounds, and for me the more-often-than-not morning toast blackened with love.
American food was genuinely foreign to her. Emigrating from Scotland as a 21-year old adult, she left behind a menu of curious dishes so exotic and unusual the rest of the civilized world decided never to adopt. Food served in a sheep’s stomach, steak and kidney pie, and heavily salted and dried fish.
Unfortunately, my mom would occasionally get a bit emotionally weepy for her homeland and put some old world dishes on the kitchen table. And to our American taste buds, the ones already inducted into the world of salty fast food, her dishes tasted as bland as chewing notebook paper from a three-ring binder.
Toast, however, was a regular staple in our home. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Only as an adult did I recognize my mother employed a loaf of bread and stainless steel toaster like her own personal Swiss Army knife.
Toast and oatmeal for breakfast, a piece of toast with a slice of American cheese layered on top of a spread of butter for lunch, and a peculiar imported dish consisting of a boiling pot of grated cheddar cheese, odd spices, and half a can of beer mixed in while cooking.
Don’t get me wrong; my mother could work her way around the kitchen. We never starved as a family. But we did, at times, tilt our heads a bit sideways like a dog picking up an far away whistle. And then we would dive in.
But the truth is my mother’s best servings at the kitchen tables came in the form of long one-on-one conversations. Across the circular wooden table, she drew us into first-person stories of her waking up in the morning to seeing a nearby house – the one her friend lived – flattened from an overnight German bombing raid. Or helping put together a jigsaw puzzle, one with the United States on one side, the countries of the world on the other. From there she would hold a piece and transport us with tales of different worlds and enchanting ways of life. And then there was the morning she announced the Beatles were breaking up.
This week I heard the sound of burnt toast being gently scraped by a butter knife above our kitchen sink at home. My wife rarely burns toast and feels embarrassed each time. What I don’t think she realizes though is how the staccato sound of a butter knife scraping across a piece of blackened bread is music to my ears.
How can it be we are all average, but none of us are the same?
In what seems like a clever riddle, the answer is rooted more in the outcome of our choices than our circumstances.
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn is credited with saying that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. And while some debate the point, the logic is difficult to completely dismiss by looking around us. Daily life is full of examples difficult to ignore.
What Rohn means is we tend to hang around those who inspire, shape, and emotionally reward us. This can be good and bad. Good choices elevate you; poor choices push you down or hold you back.
Rohn didn’t have to crack a secret code to land on this conclusion. Culture is populated picked with witty phrases supporting this conclusion. Misery loves company. Winners hang with winners. Birds of a feather, flock together (my mother’s favorite).
Again, Rohn’s logic is designed to reinforce how our decisions impact our outcomes. We are in control and not some mysterious force lurking behind a bush in the mist.
As I’ve over five decades under my belt, I gave myself a bit of self-examination through the lens of Rohn’s now famous phrase. And surprisingly, I found his words held water in my life.
When I was in school, hanging out with those who were more interested in cutting class and challenged the value of school, set an inherently low bar. And in my gut, it never felt right. Soon afterward I was peeling away people with whom I questioned didn’t line up with like removing layers from an onion.
But when rebuilt my circle with people where more interested performing well in any task placed before them, my personal performance moved upward. My new circle fed my both my emotional and psychological hunger. And my life changed dramatically for the better.
Interestingly, this is an ongoing process. Along the way, you might pick up a spouse and a few friends. And due to careers or family changes, many will come and go. But in the end, you find yourself more carefully selecting with whom you spend your time.
We’ve all repeatedly performed the peeling of the onion exercise in life. But do we do it with purpose? Do we craft our choices to feed the hunger, thirst, and emotional needs we hold? Or do we simply remain holding onto the past, fearful to let go of non-nourishing relationships?
I love my friends. And my best friends are nothing short of an eclectic mix of interests, personalities, and pathways in life. But they do share certain core values important to me – thus feeding my emotional needs. All are highly curious and respectful of the world. They are also deeply honest and committed to their friends and family. And they all smile easily laugh deeply, and love life like it was going out of supply.
And among them, I am proud to be average.