Camera: iPhone 12
Location: Hugh Taylor Birch State Park; Fort Lauderdale, Florida, United States
Camera: iPhone 12
Location: Hugh Taylor Birch State Park; Fort Lauderdale, Florida, United States
“We try to find those people or at least one person who we can share ourselves with and how to open up our ‘little weird worlds’ to them without being judged or criticized or made fun of.”
There is a touching scene in one of my favorite movies, ‘Good Will Hunting’, which focuses on Sean (played by Robin Williams), a former prodigious mathematician turned psychologist, who is mentoring Will Hunting (played by Matt Damon) but also providing guidance to a young man going through a tough time. Will is gifted but also has suffered physical abuse and mental trauma having lived with different foster families who did not treat him well. Sean notices Will not really sharing who he is fully and that is not just the case with Sean at first in their sessions but also with Will’s new girlfriend, Skylar.
Will is afraid to let his guard down and shows there are different levels or facets to he is but given his personal history, is afraid to let others into his world because he is worried that he’ll be hurt or abandoned again like his foster parents did to him. Sean tries to get through to Will on multiple occasions and so does Jerry, Sean’s old friend, who believes Will has great mathematical talent but is unwilling to work with him on his personal issues, which came to a forefront when Will got into a street fight with his friends and ended up assaulting a police officer.
In order to get Will to open up to him more, Sean attempts to tell Will why it is so important to show our true self or as I would like to call it here, our true face when we can because deep down that’s who we really are and it’s special to let someone in when we are vulnerable to get to know our full personality and who we are as individuals. Sean, in his personal anecdote, relays the story of how his dearly departed wife would fart when she was nervous and that only he as her husband would know that about her. Sean would sometimes hide the truth from her by saying it was him who farted even when it was so loud that it would wake the dog up when they were all sleeping in bed together.
“It’s the little things like that, that I miss the most.” Sean doesn’t reminisce primarily about their wedding, how they met perhaps, or about what they would do together on a date night. He would think about the things that made her his wife that no other person would know. In other words, Sean would see his wife’s true face or self because of how intimate of a relationship they had as husband and wife. Those little ‘idiosyncrasies or tics or habits that Sean knew about his wife is what made it such a special relationship even when she had passed away. Sean was encouraging Will to open up more to Skylar because it’s no use going through life without showing somebody you love your true self or face, which you likely hide from other people.
Will has friends, has his Mathematician mentor, Jerry, and his psychologist turned confidant, Sean, but these are different faces he presents to all of them, and the one true face Sean is encouraging him to show is with his girlfriend, Skylar. While Will can drink, talk construction, and reminisce with his buddies, he can’t show him his whole personality or face. In addition, Will can solve complicated Math problems and challenge himself intellectually with Jerry, he can’t do that with his friends. While Sean is a friend to Will and they can talk about sports and relationships and life, Will has a hard time confiding in Sean about his past and what he wants from himself.
I think all of us can relate to a movie like Good Will Hunting and a Character like Will Hunting. We try to find those people or at least one person who we can share ourselves with and how to open up our ‘little weird worlds’ to them without being judged or criticized or made fun of. It’s why we show different faces to our loved ones and our friends than we would with our work colleagues or a stranger. It’s hard to open up but we must do our best to be vulnerable with those we trust and whose relationship matters to us most. We can go days, weeks, months, or even longer without connecting with someone on a deep level, which is why it becomes even more special when we can share our peculiarities, our oddities, or the ‘good stuff’ as Sean would call it with someone we truly love and care about.
Similar to the character of Will Hunting, each of us can be hardened by life and find it difficult especially as we age to be vulnerable, to let people in to see the real ‘you’ without holding back, and to be accepted for it. A lot of times, we may be pretending with our other faces to please our boss, to support a colleague, to crack jokes with a friend, and even help a stranger out. It’s good to have those faces in public but it’s who we are in private with someone we care about or love that is our true face.
Thinking of the expression, ‘to put on a good face’, we often must withhold part of who we are at school, at an office, or at the local restaurant or bar, to hold back from showing 100% of what makes ‘you’ you. It’s not easy as Will and Sean illustrate in scenes from ‘Good Will Hunting’ how to show your real face and real personality to someone fully, especially if you have been burned before in the past and been hurt physically or mentally as a result.
We strive to be perfect and to not make mistakes in our daily dealings with others in both professional and personal interactions. However, it can be easy to forget in our lives to not be afraid to let our true face or our true self shine through as we each have our own flaws and our own ‘peccadillos’ that we set us apart from one another. The key challenge or opportunity in life, depending on how you look at it, is finding someone that we can be truly open and vulnerable with without putting on a different face.
Being able to let your guard down, share yourself fully with another person without fear, doubt, or anxiety, that can lead to some of the deepest joy or happiness in life as Sean had explained to Will in the film. While we may not be able to fully express ourselves day in and day out to most people we meet or interact with, hopefully, we can find the right person to spend as much time with as possible and for whom we can be 100% of who we are and what we are deep down inside.
Camera: iPhone 12
Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida, United States
“Life will throw an innumerable number of challenges at you. It will test you day in and day out and create obstacles and problems that you will have to solve. You will be challenged both mentally and physically to make it through while preserving your calm and your resiliency.”
Life will throw an innumerable number of challenges at you. It will test you day in and day out and create obstacles and problems that you will have to solve. You will be challenged both mentally and physically to make it through while preserving your calm and your resiliency. When you think of what ‘frame’ is in the psychological sense, think about what makes up your personality. Are you cool under pressure? Are you able to maintain your calm when things are unraveling or getting out of hand? Can you persevere when faced with both known and unknown problems?
If you answered ‘yes’ to those rhetorical questions, then your frame is solid and on a good foundation. Having a solid frame is not just about housing or for a building’s physical structure, but it can be extended to people and our emotional makeup. When your frame is solid, you will be able to meet challenges head on and even if you fail or fall short, you will have met the challenge with resiliency and perseverance. Having solid frame is primarily not what happens to you but how do you deal with what happens to you, especially when things are not going your way.
An example of a person with a solid frame does not get discouraged easily, does not overreact, and keeps their emotions under control even when internally, they may be struggling or dealing with the multiple emotions bubbling under the surface. That does not mean to not show emotion at all but to hold it in control and be able to hold them in check to not let your emotions get to you and cause you to crumble under pressure. In an emergency or a life-threatening situation, that is where having a solid frame will come most in handy and could mean the difference between life or death.
For example, when you are on a flooded road in pitch black darkness and there’s no one around and your car isn’t starting, what do you do? Do you shake the wheel in anger, punch it in frustration because the car won’t start, and let the waters consume you while you lash out? Or do you take advantage of the minute or less available to unhook your seatbelt, crack the window wide open, and create enough physical space so you can get your body out fast before you are unable to get out with the water filling up to your head leaving you vulnerable to drowning?
Being able to maintain your emotional state even under intense pressure will set you apart from others and help solidify that frame so that when the time comes and something terrible happens, you will be able to handle it without losing emotional control when you need it the most. You never think about your emotional state until it is being engaged by outside pressures and when it’s being challenged by internal or external factors, sometimes both at once. Think about those jobs where your frame needs to be solid almost 100% of the time whether you are a firefighter, police officer, soldier, paramedic, etc. Having a solid frame is key to making it through the day without an error or issue that could be fatal if serious enough.
Now, even if your day job or school life is not as engaging to your emotional state, you still need to be able to handle tasks under pressure or stress whether you are driving in ‘rush hour’ traffic or attempting to make your way out of a rambunctious crowd at the end of a rowdy concert with thousands of people fumbling to the exit together. Your solid frame needs to be engaged as much as possible even when you don’t think you’ll need to use it. A disaster or an emergency or a problem can sprout up when you least expect it so it is important to be consistently practicing how to strengthen your frame of mind when it will be tested.
Having a solid frame also extends to your friendships and relationships so that you will be able to handle any potential issues or conflicts that will need to be worked out. This is especially the case when there’s years of past relations or friendship at stake. You must be able to not let your emotions get the best of you when it comes to how you feel about the person(s) but rather to handle the issue rationally as much as possible with your best interest in mind. It is important to not lose your temper or get distraught because of the issue when you’ve been through a lot together with that person over the years, but you should treat the problem you’re having with them as separate from how you feel about them to deal with it logically.
Being able to process and control your emotions in a healthy manner is the main part of having a solid frame. Being primarily concerned with the problem or issue rationally and how to figure it out logically without the issue becoming too emotional will save you a lot of grief, heartache, and even your life. I do recommend trying to plot out how you feel about stressful situations in retrospect and if you were able to maintain a solid frame or not. Think about if you were able to keep your emotions in check or did you lash out which caused the situation to spiral negatively?
If you are in a pattern of personal behavior when your consistent responses to stressful or anxious or tense situations leave you emotionally drained, and you were not able to solve the problem(s) effectively as a result, you will need to work on solidifying your frame and working on your overall emotional state. Sometimes, changing your emotional state involves writing out how you would react to hypothetical situations. You may also need to act out such situations with a trusted friend or family member or even a psychologist.
Any of these examples would be able to see where you went wrong or how the stressful situation could have been handled better. Above all else, a solid frame involves thinking before you act, deep breathing, and evaluating as quickly as possible a course of action rather than lamenting or despairing on why you are in the situation to begin with. Without establishing a solid frame, you may not be able to handle what is thrown at you in life. Your emotions may continue to get the better of you when you do not have them under control to begin with leaving you vulnerable to a more stressful and chaotic life.
“A lot of times in life, things won’t be handed to you, opportunities won’t just present themselves to you, and relationships or friendships don’t just form out of thin air.”
A lot of times in life, things won’t be handed to you, opportunities won’t just present themselves to you, and relationships or friendships don’t just form out of thin air. You must be making the effort more often than not to take the initiative to do all those things I just mentioned. It is not easy and can cause you rejection, stress, and even heartache, but if you just expect your life to just progress on its own without putting in the work, you will be sorely mistaken.
Making that initial effort will make the difference as you devote 80-90 or even 100% to get the return you were looking for. You may expect others at work, at school, or in your personal life to meet your half-way or 50/50 after a while but you may find that it’s a running theme in that instead of finding it as being equal or meeting them halfway, it’s likely to be more 60-40 or 70-30 in terms of your effort versus theirs. Now, that does not mean you should be taking the initiative all the time to ask for that promotion, or be open to developing a friendship, or seeking a new relationship but you’ll be better off from driving the effort rather than by taking a backseat.
Having more of the effort initially won’t just make an impression on the person but it will also develop your abilities, your relationships, and your professional / educational future more so than if you had made less of the effort. You should be conscious that the initiative you are taking is worth it and that the time you are putting in gets the result(s) that you are looking for. Your hard work, effort, and perseverance should lead to the other party putting in some conscious effort after a while. If it is just a one-way street in terms of that effort months or years later, I think that relationship, job, or friendship is likely to be doomed to fail.
It would not be fair or just for you to be constantly taking the initiative especially when that person isn’t reciprocal at all or even 30-40% of the way in a friendship or relationship. If you are giving all of the effort and feel like you’re not getting anything back from it, you may be dealing with an ‘emotional vampire’, who you may enjoy their company and like them but the fact that you are putting in all the work to keep things going and them not doing anything to reciprocate is not only a form of manipulation but it is also a sign of someone who only wants to take advantage of you.
They may lack certain qualities including introspection or self-awareness so they may not think they are at fault but if you believe that nothing is going to change, your time and efforts aren’t being valued adequately, and you are not getting as much in return from them, you may need to cut them off or just take a break from being with them or working for them. I encourage proactivity, being extroverted, sociable, and wanting to take on new goals, but if it is draining you and the results professionally or the relations personally you get as a result are not satisfying from that 60-40 or 70-30 set up, it may be best to move on to another person or opportunity.
To cite some examples, if you are good at reaching out to friends or acquaintances and just checking in to see how they are doing or even making the effort to see them and spend time together, that’s a positive initiative to take and shows you care about keeping that relationship going even if it had fizzled out a bit. However, if you feel like you are constantly the one making the calls, setting up the plans, or checking in on them, and they are not doing the same to you on that 30-70 or 40-60 balance that I mentioned, then it may be best to cut back on making the initiative there. If they truly cared about you, they would seek to make plans to see you by their own initiative or they would call to check in every now and then to see how you have been doing. Again, you should not be doing that all the time and if you find that it is becoming a pattern with that person, it may be best to stop seeing them so much since it looks like more of a one-sided friendship or relationship rather than a balanced one.
Another example professionally would be if you’re looking to boost your career and would like to learn new skills, then you should take that initiative with a training or a workshop or a conference that can make you more valuable to your employer. Similarly, if you take it upon yourself at work to learn a new skill by taking courses or attending seminars or providing trainings to others, it should be recognized not only to develop your career but to also further yourself in your role with better compensation or to be promoted to a new role because of the skills / abilities you acquired. If you take the time to volunteer, to be trained, to train, and to become a better worker, your employer or company should realize that it is also not a one-way street so there should be a proper recognition of your having taken the initiative to be more valuable to the firm in question.
However, if you find that after multiple trainings, skills developed, or competencies improved upon, that you are not getting the desired career promotion or compensatory boost, it may be that your initiative, while recognized, is not being formally appreciated. You made the most of the opportunities given but the other party involved doesn’t seem to recognize the new value or abilities you can provide. In this kind of situation, it may be best to start looking elsewhere professionally with those new proficiencies in your work to find a firm, company, or organization who will do their best to meet you halfway or maybe 40-60 so that you know that they care about you staying with them into the future and that your presence is both valued and appreciated, which is actually shown in different ways, a promotion, a raise, or otherwise.
Personally or professionally, you should consistently be looking to take action or initiative to improve your life in either way. However, it should not give the other party free reign to not give anything back in return or to provide their own initiatives or actions for you to take part in after they start it up. If you invite your friend to a barbecue, hopefully they’ll reciprocate in the future by having you over for a birthday party. If you do a skills workshop for a week to improve your competency at work, maybe your company or firm can reward you with a promotion to apply those new skills you picked up. It’s not always 50-50 in life and you may have to do most of the work, especially at the beginning of a new job or friendship. However, if it is you who is giving 100% and them putting in 0% in return on a consistent basis without the other party realizing it, it’s a toxic kind of relationship and you should be cutting ties with that person or entity as soon as possible.
Camera: iPhone 12
Location: Capital One Arena; Washington, District of Columbia, United States
“Happiness is fleeting, comes and goes, and can come from a variety of sources, sometimes unexpectedly. I want you to be sure, dear reader, that you can diversify your happiness as much as possible.”
It’s important that I give my readers a little bit of tough love every now and then. I don’t do it to be negative but to give some advice that may help you out in the future. You can think I am wrong on this one, but I’ll be sure to defend where I’m coming from here. ‘Don’t Rely on Others for Your Happiness’ is what I am wanting to get across to you if nothing else. Happiness is fleeting, comes and goes, and can come from a variety of sources, sometimes unexpectedly. I want you to be sure, dear reader, that you can diversify your happiness as much as possible.
To put it simply, you need to be always cultivating both your internal happiness as well as your external happiness. You cannot have one form of happiness without the other and you should be continually trying to exercise both forms of happiness when you can. Happiness must be experienced, and it can be a futile emotion to pursue. It comes naturally to us, often when we least expect it, and can come from both within us and from those around us. Being happy because someone made you smile, someone made you loved, or even someone made you laugh is just as important as being happy from your own accomplishment(s), your own spirituality, and by being around the right environment.
In my view, happiness should be experienced both internally and externally. It can also be a bit of a balancing act but to neglect your own internal happiness especially or the ability to create your own happiness without others’ input is a key trait that you should always have available to you. If other people can give you happiness and then take it away just as easily without you being able to create that happiness that they took away, then you’re going to be in trouble in terms of your emotional state. Depending on another person or even another thing for all your happiness is a recipe for disaster.
It can be invigorating at first for someone to add on to your happiness by leaps and bounds. You never knew perhaps that you could be that happy or feel as happy as often. You’re basically on ‘cloud nine’ and you owe it to someone else. This can be an emotional kind of apex that gives your life that much more enjoyment and contentedness. While this kind of life event whether it’s a new relationship, a new friendship, or even a new role in society that others rely on you before, it should not take away from your own way to generate happiness internally.
I don’t discourage you from maximizing your happiness but if you rely on someone else such as a lover, a friend, a family member, etc. for all your happiness to be generated then that can lead to a very negative place. You should remember that if someone can give you all your happiness and heighten it to a new level; they can easily take it away just as fast and leave you without any of that emotion left if you let yourself be wrapped up in their adoration, love, or friendship. What I encourage you to remember is that it is good to be happy from what others share with you and what they help you enjoy about life, but don’t let yourself be at the whim of their ability to give you happiness…or not at all.
Always keep some of your own happiness in a personal reserve that cannot be taken away from anyone else regardless of what they mean to you personally. While external validation, love, and warmth is beautiful to enjoy, you should let it be the end all be all your emotional state. It is vital to look within yourself to generate your own happiness even if it comes less often to you or is as not as intense or long-lasting as that external kind of happiness. Internal happiness tends to take discipline, patience, and even action on your own part. It is often not given to you like external happiness but must be done by your own self without any support or encouragement.
When it comes to creating your own happiness, look to yourself to find joy and pleasure in other ways whether it’s a stroll in nature, a goal you’re seeking to accomplish, a new place to travel to and enjoy, or even being able to manage your life well by cleaning your place or by eating healthy. The better you take care of yourself, the happier you’ll be as a result. It’s important to not neglect yourself in your pursuit of happiness externally. Some of the best gratification and contentedness can come from reaching your own goals, having your own unique experiences, or having your own accomplishments that you achieved through hard work and effort.
If you are not able to generate your own feelings of happiness, it is going to be much harder to have external happiness from others as well. If you are not able to laugh, to dance, to celebrate, to enjoy, etc. without it being done with another person by your side, then that is a slippery slope towards not having any happiness at all. While it is great to having both internal and external happiness come together, if you cannot have your own internal happiness first, there is no way in my view for you to have the external happiness to come next. Forming some internal happiness first is the key step to being able to share in being happy with others.
You also should not look to become a total hermit and only take in happiness internally. It is good to share moments of happiness with other people so make sure to get out there once you have that sense of your own happiness that can be generated on your own to seek that external validation within reason to make your life even more content and joyful. To conclude, it does no good for you to have one without the other when it comes to happiness so make sure you work on cultivating both internal and external happiness but if you can only choose one that comes first, make sure you don’t rely on others for your happiness alone and to start with your internal sense of what it means to be happy first.
“Above all else, it is a story of a ‘serious’ man who wants to be taken seriously and seems unable to be granted that not only from his teenage children but also from his estranged wife and it seems from religious leaders in his suburban Jewish community.”
Man can be tested again and again but how exactly he deals with life’s challenges and his overall resolve and mettle will be seen as the measure of his true character. If I had to sum up the excellent movie, ‘A Serious Man’, it is a dark comedy but also a human drama regarding fate, fortune, and whether the role of a higher being can ultimately affect our destiny. Above all else, it is a story of a ‘serious’ man who wants to be taken seriously and seems unable to be granted that not only from his teenage children but also from his estranged wife and it seems from religious leaders in his suburban Jewish community.
‘A Serious Man’ (2009) is an excellent modern-day film directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, who I would imagine have had a similar childhood to the lead character of Larry Gopnik (played by Michael Stuhlbarg), which is the inspiration for this adapted screenplay, which is brilliantly written and relatable even if you’re not of the Jewish faith. The Coen Brothers both were raised and grew up as Jews in 1960s – 1970s Minnesota near the Twin Cities. It is likely they had to deal with being religious minorities in a mostly goyim (non-Jewish state) as well as with the growing counterculture and changing attitudes towards parental authority, sex, style, personal responsibility, and other societal upheavals including regarding race, gender, and politics.
While the Coen Brothers have had successful movies before and have won Academy Awards for movies such as ‘No Country for Old Men’, this film, ‘A Serious Man’ is quite unique given that it combines both comedic and dramatic elements, usually in the same scene. Overall, it triumphs as a film in doing that and is also laugh-out-loud funny and additionally heart-wrenchingly sad and melancholic. This film was universally praised and as I re-watched the film again after many years, it stands as one of the best films of the 2000s. Not only is the screenplay and writing engaging and insightful but also the acting is top notch thanks to the hard work of Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, among others in the film.
When you consider the main themes of ‘A Serious Man’, you think of several of them that deal with human nature such as upholding your morality under stress, taking care of those closest to you, dealing with adversity and unforeseen hurdles, and how to deal with questions of faith when you feel that you have been abandoned. As I mentioned earlier on, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) wants to be taken seriously given the way he has lived his life and he has strived to do so with his academic and professional accomplishments. Sadly though, he is not only not able to get as much success with his professional pursuits, but he also struggles to hold his personal life together.
Despite how ‘serious’ of a man Larry thinks he is, those in his life can’t help but not take him seriously or choose not to. Instead of reassessing his actions and trying to make some behavioral changes or work on any personal defects he may has in addressing his challenges, Larry instead challenges his faith in God and wonders if the Rabbis of his synagogue will have the answers to the questions God has challenged Larry with.
As the film starts out, Larry appears to be relatively successful as a Physics professor waiting to be tenured. He teaches his classes, does research (albeit has not published anything), and enjoys the work he does. Larry is married with two teenage children and a modest house in the suburbs. Him and his family want for nothing, and it looks like he has everything you could want out of life on the surface.
As appearances can be deceiving, the film breaks down how one man’s life can be turned upside down and inferring what events beyond Larry’s control could have tipped his fortune to be negative, as in a curse, years or centuries ago. It is a series of events that tend to turn Larry’s life upside down even when he has not done anything wrong. A Korean student in his Physics class tries to bribe Larry to get a better grade and leaves before Larry can return the money and punish him for the illegal act.
Larry also comes home to his wife, Judith, who asks him for a divorce and for a ‘gett’ or permission to do so she can remarry within the faith to Sy Abelman (Fred Melamed) who everyone takes seriously as a ‘Serious Man’ except for Larry. Larry is envious of Sy to some degree and feels like he has everything given to him whereas Larry has had to work hard for his success. Suddenly, ‘the domino effect’ of one negative event after another happens including Larry losing his home, access to his bank accounts, his marriage, and even his relationship to his teenage children become estranged.
This string of unfortunate events has Larry looking to cast judgment on God and questioning his faith in Judaism. Larry goes to three different rabbis whose advice and counsel does not help him any further. He cannot relate to what they tell them especially as the eldest, he considers to be too unavailable or unwilling and the youngest rabbi being too inexperienced or immature, who end up wasting his time. The 2nd and wisest rabbi give him the advice through an allegory, that while fictional, has a good message to it ends up helping Larry the most that God can only provide the questions, but you must find your own answers. The best way the 2nd rabbi implies to Larry is that he must “help himself by helping others.”
Essentially, Larry Gopnik must look beyond his own pain and selfish wants and look to control what he can and do what he can to get his life back on track. Larry can also do ‘mitzvahs’ especially regarding his own family. Larry’s younger brother, Arthur, is homeless and not mentally sound so Larry tries to get him on his feet but struggles to find the money or the resources to help his brother with his many troubles. He still attempts to maintain better relations with his kids, his soon to be ex-wife, and with his work colleagues. Without spoiling the rest of the movie, Larry understands that he must look to help others rather than looking to God to intervene. While ‘The Boss’ is present to give questions, the answers must come from within.
How Larry stands up to challenges and adversity is like the Torah’s stories about men like Job and Jonah who had their lives thrown into upheaval but were able to get over the anguish by holding true to their faith in God but looking inwards in their own strength, knowledge, and belief in morality and good will to make it through on the other side better than before. Life throws challenges at us every day and how we react to them and try to get through it with our God-given wisdom, kindness, compassion, patience, and reasoning will decide how far we can proceed in life to get back to being successful. Fortune is not everlasting, and faith will not provide good fortune. What can provide good fortune is to do your best, help yourself and others around you, and look to your own inner beliefs and values to guide you through the tough times.
‘A Serious Man’ is about a man who considers himself to be serious but has to struggle for others to call him ‘serious.’ In an effort to be taken seriously, Larry does end up struggling to fulfill the other important parts of his life that require his attention. He can forget to be loving and caring to his wife, attentive and helpful to his children, and more involved within the Jewish community including at his son’s Hebrew school. Larry is not a bad man but the cracks in his life cause some bad events to happen including events for which there is no logical explanation. Larry does his best to be a good man and although he is flawed, bad things happen out of nowhere to him.
The test throughout this excellent film is how do you claw back from adversity and try to give yourself the best shot at having good things happen in your life. Even if your family may appear to be cursed or have a string of bad fortune dating back to the shtetls of Eastern Europe, how do you turn it around so your son or your daughter don’t deal with the same tragedies and setbacks? There are no easy answers in ‘A Serious Man’ but the Coen Brothers make it clear that it is not wise to look to God to solve the problems for you or provide the answers.
The central message of this film is not just for Jews but for all people. God may have provided life’s questions for you to answer but it’s up to you alone to answer them throughout your life. While you may lose faith in hose providing counsel or advice or in the religion itself, the film makes clear that you have to believe in yourself, to help yourself pull through the pain and sorrow, and to help other people, especially the family and friends closest to you, who are going through tough times as well, whose aid and assistance you can provide may be able to help you get to the right direction in life again and to lead you to a better place than you were before.
“Now, it can be easy to overlook the small stuff because of how tedious and unrewarding the small details or tasks can be sometimes. However, to build up to handling the big things in life, you can’t sweat the small stuff.”
In other articles, I have stressed the importance of focusing on what you have control over in your life and not worrying about what is out of your control. I also have discussed why you should start each day by tackling small you can do to build confidence and belief in yourself such as making your bed each morning or being able to cook meals consistently each week. Now, it can be easy to overlook the small stuff because of how tedious and unrewarding the small details or tasks can be sometimes. However, to build up to handling the big things in life, you can’t sweat the small stuff.
In this post, I am going to focus on how to make the small ‘stuff’ or ‘tasks’ a little bit easier than before. While you may have no choice to get the small stuff done so they don’t become big problems later, I do believe it is easier now than ever to get the small stuff done as quickly and as painlessly as possible without sweating it too much. I am going to cover three different ways where you at home can get the small stuff done and to be done well with no issues. Between automation, making list(s) / calendar tracking, and keeping a consistent weekly or daily routine, you won’t have to worry about the small stuff because you’ll have a system ready to go that is organized and efficient to handle all your menial tasks.
Step 1: Automate, Automate, Automate
When most people think of automation, they think of giant robots handling packages in a factory or a counter where you can order McDonald’s without talking to a human being because they’ve been replaced by an interactive screen; while that is automation, that’s not the kind of automation I am talking about. You can automate many menial or annoying tasks or chores these days with the palm of your hand.
There are multiple mobile applications or websites where you can automate your payments whether its’ your mortgage / rent, your utility bills including Internet, electric, gas, etc. or even when it comes to your retirement, insurance, or other long-term commitments. You no longer need to send a check or use the mailing system to automate these chores or tasks. Bills are among the most annoying of the small stuff that we must take care of but even though we still have to pay them, it’s easier now than ever to set up a system that month to month, year to year, takes care of it for you with minimal effort.
In addition, there used to be a lot more work involved to rent a car, to get your driver’s license, to apply for a passport. I believe many of these tasks, while still tedious involve less bureaucracy than before and are more technologically advanced where you don’t need to go to the DMV, the post office, etc. You can do most of these menial tasks from the comfort of your home and that makes the ‘small stuff’ much less to sweat about.
Step 2: Making List(s) / Track with Your Calendar
Related to automating your small tasks, it’s easier now with the Internet or the digital age in general to create new portable lists or having different kinds of calendars to track your daily, weekly, and/or monthly tasks. You can easily categorize your lists by kinds of tasks whether it’s for errands, bills, family obligations, travel, work items, business tasks, etc. and keep track of what you need to still do with check lists. The best part is with the digitalization, you can keep your lists with you on the go rather than having to carry a notepad or small book with you everywhere you go to remind you of what’s on the list(s).
Similarly, to the digitization of lists, using digital calendars to mark down different work, personal, school, travel, family events is key, and you can also color code them to not mix them up. You can use various applications to set up your calendars and to set reminders, so you won’t forget the tasks, obligations, or other ‘small stuff’ you need to take care of. The best thing about calendars is you can also mark them by time and place and to put them in chronological order to not overlap.
Calendars used to be big sheets of white paper that were physically based and a bit hard to read depending on the person’s handwriting. Now, similar to lists, you can take your calendars with you on the go. It is good for the environment too as you waste less paper too when you put your lists and calendars on your phone or laptop rather than a piece of paper. Just remember to protect your privacy and make sure your personal lists and events remain personal.
Step 3: Stay Consistent with Your Routine(s)
This last step may seem a bit redundant, but you are your own worst enemy or best friend when it comes to keeping consistent with your routines. You can set them up however you want but just make sure they work for getting all the small stuff in your life done well. If you’re better at doing a bunch of things in one day, then you should do it. If you are instead a master at spreading out tasks over a week or even a month, that should be your route to small stuff completion. I recommend going through a trial and error to see if a daily routine or a weekly routine, or even a monthly routine for certain tasks would work best for you.
You should not get frustrated if you need to add to your routine(s) or take things away when you no longer do them. Maybe you prefer automating grocery delivery on a different day instead of going on a Saturday when you have karate practice; you should be comfortable with adapting your routine as new tasks and even new hobbies fill your schedule. The key to consistency is to keep doing what you have to do every day, every week, or every month to keep life going right as much as you can control. Making sure your bills are paid on time, saving up for your rent or mortgage by keeping a set budget, or showing up to your soccer practices each week and not skipping will all make huge differences in your life.
To improve your overall life satisfaction, I believe it’s necessary especially as you get older to embrace these three steps to help you overcome the small stuff that could end up derailing you in life if you don’t take care of them and don’t do so consistently. You may think you only need one out of these three steps, but I think all three steps are great to utilize to some degree.
They also really complement each other as well as you can set your calendar to what bills you pay through an automated application each month and make a routine of following that system you set up for not just a month but a year and beyond. To not end up sweating the small stuff, you got to plan and strategize in advance to make sure you don’t even have to think about the small stuff in the future because you’ll already have planned to have each menial task, chore, or errand set up to be taken care of without waiting until the last minute.
“I would also extend to calling out those transgressions where someone is trying to take advantage of you or doing something illegal or unjust when they know it’s wrong but refuse to do anything about it.”
It can be difficult to step in when it comes to witnessing someone commit a transgression, which goes against societal norms and values. A transgression is an act, often small or basic in nature, that goes against a rule, law, code of conduct and causes offense to others in the society. While you may witness these transgressions as a bystander, you have it within your rights to call it out when you see it within reason. While I am not an advocate for self-policing and calling out random strangers for bad behavior, I do believe that it should be allowed especially in matters of public health and/or safety.
I would also extend to calling out those transgressions where someone is trying to take advantage of you or doing something illegal or unjust when they know it’s wrong but refuse to do anything about it. To give you some basic examples, if you are living in a city or a town and see somebody littering or throwing trash on the ground in front of you, I believe it’s worth calling them out for doing it because your tax dollars are going towards maintaining the cleanliness of your community and for hiring those local employees who help keep the streets clean.
The person causing the offense must be held accountable or at least giving a stern reprimand because while they may think they get away with it, everybody including yourself witnessing it is paying for it in extra tax money or effort to pick that trash up later. When you call out a transgression, be stern, make your point, and move on. It does not do any good to escalate directly with that person since you’re not enforcing the law yourself as your duty but rather express your concern as an ordinary citizen.
Other transgressions that come to mind include not picking up after your pet when they do their daily business, which you should call the person out for if you witness it and to report it after privately if you know where the transgression occurred. Also, another increasingly common one in certain cities is to see a group or a few individuals shoplifting and if you see this serious transgression, let a store person know to apprehend them or even call the police who can catch the individuals if the store or place has cameras.
You must keep your eye out for these kinds of transgressions because if there are no consequences for acts like littering, trespassing, not picking up after your pet, shoplifting, etc. which can result in heavy fines and even mandatory community service, those offenders will feel more emboldened to continue doing so and even commit even more violations of the laws and rules that our society is built on. If some people are abusing these basic morals and values with their transgressions, no matter how small they are, they must be held accountable for them in some form or another.
Think of our society as pillars holding the foundation together that binds us all under the same rules, laws, regulations no matter who we are. When one of those pillars starts to falter, in this case, being when little transgressions go without reprimand or punishment, it can start to crumble the entire foundation and weaken the other pillars as well. When these violators cause infractions and don’t get a stern slap on the wrist or a scolding at least, then they will be emboldened to do it again or even commit worse offenses, which we should be mindful of as a society.
The COVID-19 pandemic made me think about these small transgressions especially when you’re abiding by a mandate on public transportation, for example, and others refuse to abide by the mandate, and for which is not being enforced. When you follow the temporary mandate especially in a bus or on a train and others don’t, it does create a sense of entitlement to for those people who think they are above the rules and that the mandate should not apply to them even when it is a ‘mandate.’ I often ignored those people who would not abide by the mandate but there was one instance where I had to say something when the only people not wearing a face mask on the bus were sitting next to me and it was an entire family. They were oblivious to the fact that everyone else on the bus had a mask on at the time and even the driver had one on. This was before the vaccines were being distributed.
I would rather the bus driver had enforced the mandate himself but if you’re sitting next to me without a mask and I’m abiding by it, I don’t want my health to be put at risk by your lack of acquiescence. It was the only time I spoke out about it to a group of people as it puts you in an awkward spot but when it comes to public health, mask mandates on a bus, train, or a plane at the time should be the same for everybody especially when 90-95% care enough to abide by the temporary measure.
Unfortunately, those who impose the mandates are not able or willing to enforce them, which is doubly annoying for those people who abided by them each time and yet had to see other people flaunt the rules like it was no big deal without being held accountable for it. This kind of transgression is particularly disturbing when you realize that it could have public health consequences and those who set up such a mandate to begin with lacked the follow through or the care to enforce such a mandate making it rather useless and abusable.
Another transgression I’ve noticed is some people jumping the fare gate at the metro system or going in right behind someone who has paid their fare ahead of them and not paying it because they sneak in before the gate closes. That situation happened to me as I paid my fare to enter the metro station and go down to the train like any usual trip and there was a young guy behind me who bumped up right behind me and invaded my personal space. I noticed he came in right behind as I paid the fare and the gate opened for me. I also noted how he didn’t pay the fare since he wanted to use mine without paying his own way. I was mad about this to the point that I sternly reprimanded him and told him that he was abusing the system by not paying his fare like the rest of us.
He made a lame excuse in saying that he was in a rush and had to catch the next train. I kept my cool but informed him sternly that was not an excuse to not pay his fare and that some of us pay taxes and the fares each time to keep the system running well. The offender didn’t get it, of course, and weaseled his way onto the next train and I kept my distance from him. Sadly, he is a violator of the metro system like others who feel like they can jump the gate or not pay by bumping up against someone like me who pays each time.
These hooligans who do it unfortunately don’t get fined or reprimanded by the metro system officials very often, if at all, which is quite unfortunate and even detrimental to the larger society. When fare-beaters and anti-maskers get away with breaking the rules without consequences, it makes the rest of us sad that we are carrying all the weight for them, and they are mooching off the system based on mutual trust, benefit, and adherence.
As I mentioned earlier in the article, the rules and laws are meant for everyone and when the smaller ones are abused or not followed, these transgressions can lead to bigger issues in the general society. It leads to a lack of trust, a breakdown in norms, and an inability to keep track of how many people are abusing the basic laws and standards that keep the society running well. It erodes the pillars over time that keep the foundation of our shared society afloat. I’m not arguing for self-policing since that tends to not solve anything, but we need stricter enforcement for everyone to avoid these little transgressions, so they don’t lead to bigger problems that form later for all of us when the accountability and transparency is gone.