Saturday, March 25, 2023

Konnikova is on the mark

At a certain point during The Biggest Bluff, I looked up and thought, "Am I the mark here? Am I being manipulated into liking this book?"

Y'know, if you can't spot a sucker at the table, then you're the sucker.

Eh, even if I were the mark, I enjoyed Maria Konnikova's 2016 psychological look at poker and how she burst on the poker scene. Parts of The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, And Win reminded me of the WSOP-winning escapade Positively Fifth Street (2003) by James McManus.

Let's just be honest: A lot of us have some sort of dream of making a splash in the poker world, and these two books play into that.

A few things separate Konnikova and The Biggest Bluff from other rush-driven poker books. She's a woman in the testosterone, douche driven poker world, and she's got a PhD in psychology. She also hooked up with poker legend Erik Seidel as her mentor, and their relationship and his insights were definite highlights of the book.

One of Siedel's mantra's throughout the book is "less certainty, more inquiry," and I love that. I believe that guiding phrase would work in life in general, and as a recovering "know-it-all," I wholeheartedly subscribe to it.

The pacing of The Biggest Bluff kept me on my toes. The way the book progresses, Konnikova puts us in her mind through her exhilarating ride with a lot of ups, but inevitable downs. However, I must point out that about 99 percent of gambling stories are about big wins. Only 1 percent are about losses. So while the book has many more killer wins than reality, her psychological approach makes it worthwhile.

I don't buy a few things in the book, including that she knew absolutely nothing about poker before she started playing. I guess that fact doesn't matter, but it just seems that she wouldn't go into poker if she "didn't even know how many cards were in a deck." Eh, that seems like a bit of an exaggeration. But so what?

When she is playing in Monte Carlo, then winning in the Caribbean, it sounds like a fantasy, and it's fun to read. Perhaps that's what poker is — representing something that isn't real. Especially in bluffs, that's what we're doing.

Could her ride be as glamorous as Monte Carlo and the Caribbean? I don't think so. I've seen poker rooms; they can be gross. And, mathematically, they're full of losers.

So I guess the big takeaway is: What is truth? I'm not suggesting that The Biggest Bluff is fiction, which it is not. But in storytelling, we reveal only what we want and what makes the best story. We don't include the sad, inevitable pain that poker ultimately is. Or is it?

I must admit I was envious of Konnikova's reality. Maybe I need to learn to master myself — and win.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Duke book — a good decision

During the World Series of Poker, an opportunistic capitalist created a "Bad Beat" counseling table. If you exited the WSOP, you could pay a small fee and explain your poker injustice to the bad-beat counselor.

I always thought the Bad Beat counseling table was for those who didn't quite understand poker, odds or reality, and Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts (2018) by poker pro Annie Duke helped confirm I was right.

Thinking in Bets is entertaining and thoughtful, and I loved reading it. It made me realize how so many people engage in resulting when it comes to decision making and then don't fully understand a good decision vs. a bad one. They focus too much on a good result vs. a bad result.

Too often, we look at the result, or hindsight, to rate our decisions, and we disregard the information we had at the time. We can use hold 'em poker as an example. Let's say you believe your opponent has a pair of pocket jacks pre-flop, and you hold pocket kings. If you get in all your chips before the flop, it is an excellent decision, no matter what happens.

If your opponent flops a set of jacks and knocks you out of your tournament, it remains a good decision. But, unfortunately, our emotions often cloud how we perceive the decision. Just because we just lost doesn't mean it was a wrong decision.

We do this in life all the time. When something bad happens, we often assume we made a bad decision. When something good happens, we often assume we made a good decision. We disregard all of the information we had at the time, and chances are, we live a life making constant good decisions, based on the information we had at the time. (At least I do, I think).

Thinking in Bets isn't really about poker, but Duke made me realize that poker is more about life than chess. In chess, we see absolutely everything happening right in front of us. There are no surprises.

In poker, we don't have all the information. We don't know the next card. We don't know what our opponent has, but rather, we know their pattern and tendencies and how we perceive that opponent. That is how life actually works. We rarely have all the information we'd like to have, but we still must make a decision and do our best with that lack of information.

Duke also pointed out the logic behind my lack of gambling. Yes, I love playing poker with friends (but not in casinos), and I also run a football pool and play fantasy football and fantasy golf. That's the extent of my gambling. I don't like to gamble because, statistically, loses hurts twice as much as winning feels good. Emotionally, it just doesn't add up.

I also remember how Duke explained how people often fall into a trap of confirmatory thinking instead of exploratory thinking. We might find ourselves looking at select facts that help us confirm an outcome we desire or something we want to be true, but we don't often just explore with a blank slate of a mind.

I've often thought maybe I should take poker more seriously and play in some tournaments, but, nah, I don't want to be seated at a table that long. I'd rather play golf. I believe there is something in me that wants me to compete, and I loved that Duke shared some of her expertise in Thinking in Bets.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Millennials: A deeper understanding

"You Millennials are so entitled!"

"Can you Millennials do anything without your phone? Can you even make a phone call?"

"Do you even know what work is, Millennial?"

Well, OK, Boomer, I used to hear those type of Millennial-hating statements, and as a Gen Xer, I must admit that I found some truth in them. But I failed to look at Millennials from a wider view, and Malcolm Harris helped me do that in Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials (2017).

Harris' main point is that Millennials are working more and getting paid less than any previous generation. Their generation is by far the most educated in history, yet is projected to make less than their parents. Basically, capitalism maximizes labor and diminishes lives away from consumption. In the advent of technology with "smart" devices, Interweb cookies and data in their hands as children, Millennials have been commoditized like no previous generation.

Harris points out that economic success is stacked against young people, and he's right. He delves into the student-loan crisis, and I respond to what he writes about our schools. He writes that the schools get kids to work, work, work under the vague disguise of a "pedagogical mask." Again, I couldn't agree more. It's just so much work, and how much if it is actual education?

Honestly, the schools are pretty obvious about this. They explicitly have kids choose career paths as early as high school, and kids and parents either unwittingly, or wittingly, jump quickly into being human capital. High school can be a dystopia of excessive competition, stress and fear of the future.

What ever happened to actually being educated to become a well-rounded human being? Why do the kids have to be human capital so darn young? What happened to childhoods?

Another huge insight Harris provides is through the lens of human capital and what that means to Millennials. By being commoditized as children, they then can be constantly commoditized their entire lives. Not only will they have tech jobs, but they "unwind" and find their entertainment through tech and their sharing their data with corporations and conglomerates.

Yeah, they might work from home, but that often means they never can turn off work. Sure, they have benefits of technology, but in the work place, they face a mountain of tasks and emails that are neverending. Work stays in their mind and at their fingertips 24/7. There is no turning it off.

This hyper-capitalized, tech youth experienced by the masses just doesn't have an economic payoff. Maybe we Gen Xers have been confused at what comes off as entitlement from Millennials because they never really had in-person childhoods. They just consumed digitally and consumed more digitally, and they worked and worked in school. And where's their wealth? Crypto?

If you look at the numbers and look at wealth distribution, it's easy to conclude that the American Dream never worked for the masses. Sure, it may have worked for a few who busted their tails to achieve some crumbs from the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers, but we have a glut of human capital that will continue to be exploited — as is the way of our capitalistic system.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

It's The Four's world

It's hard not to like Scott Galloway, who eloquently rants on Real Time with Bill Maher, makes common-sense capitalistic points and seems to overflow with insight.

I listened to his podcast a few times and embraced The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google (2017). I like when "The Professor" is being "The Professor," when he is wry and direct. Yes, old man, tell us what the kids today need to know and do!

So there was a little of that in The Four, such as Galloway's assertions that to be successful an individual needs emotional maturity, curiosity and ownership of your task, project and business. 

That sounds right to me. But I would add that you need drive. I'm not so sure I have it in me to be a full-fledged, battle-it-out entrepreneur because I don't have the drive to do it. But it might have been a much different story when I was in my 20s and 30s.

The power of FANMAG — Facebook, Apple, Netflix, Microsoft, Amazon and Google — is so utterly enormous that The Four is a read I consider necessary, and, of course, I learned a lot about Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.

Although it's so obvious, I didn't realize that Apple is a luxury brand. When Galloway spelled that out to me, I felt embarrassed that I used to think it was a mere tech company. No, no, Apple's all about the packaging and branding and ability to have me think it is on the cutting edge of technology and style. 

The fact that Apple comprises 7.1 percent of the S&P 500, and Amazon, Facebook and Google have ginormous market shares force us to understand what these companies do and their economic and social power. As time progresses, they are becoming increasingly more powerful.

I believe all of us, Democrat and Republican alike, see that the Big Four's power as so vast that something needs to be done. But what? I guess small victories and a sense of justice is all we can ask for, but it's as if they're so powerful that nothing major can happen.

To me, the huge problem is how much commerce must go through The Four. Right now, I'm writing on a MacBook Pro (Apple) on the Blogger website (owned by Google), and I'll post this on Facebook. Maybe Amazon isn't as obvious, but I started my day with an Illy espresso, ordered from Amazon.

Monopolies always have been prevalent in the United States. In fact, one of the first games any of us learn is Monopoly. With Big Tech, monopolies build exponentially, and from their perspective, it's their virtual world, and we're just living it.

The Four sparked an interest in the inner workings of corporations for me, and I remain vastly under-informed with how they operate. But the book helped. I'm happy I got that education, but perhaps I wanted more of Galloway's dynamic personality in it.

When he focuses on the OODA loop, the four-step approach for decision making that is observe, orient, decide, act, I loved it. That came from a military strategist, and it makes total sense in decision making. So I loved Galloway's common-sense advice, which also included this gem: Stay loyal to people, not organizations.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Is anybody crazy with money?

However much I push it down
It's never enough
However much I push it around
It's never enough
However much I make it out
It's never enough; it's never enough

I don't see a cure for how a lot of Americans treat money, but The Psychology of Money at least points out the attitudes we have toward money and why. Because the book was wildly popular, I was skeptical of it, but it delivered with a lot of counterintuitive points about money and at times felt like the Outliers of personal finance books.

"Chapter 3 — Never Enough" stays with me the most. One huge problem many face is ever-moving goalposts with wealth. What are your financial goals, and why? Then, what happens if you ever reach those goals?

It turns out that many people constantly move their goalposts and never feel a sense of satisfaction or never experience the freeing feeling of financial independence. It's a reason why some foolish multi-millionaires continually risk too much or end up ruined.

One overarching point in The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed and Happiness (2020) by Morgan Housel is that humans aren't machines. They have emotion. They have histories and generations. Our attitudes and feelings toward money, and investing, connect to our experiences. We might scoff at how different generations treat money, but that's because we have different experiences and points of reference.
Huge major points continually come throughout the book, including the differences between "rich" and "wealth" and how getting wealthy is much different than staying wealthy. I also walked away understanding how recessions, and big stock market drops, are common. I realized how it's crucially important not to have a financial approach determined by extreme events or outlier events.

Unfortunately, it may be human nature to see extremes that happen and then be affected by them. It's a reason why so many people sell low in a recession or buy high in a bull market. It's also important to know that individuals' goals differ so much that the advice of "absolutely buy this stock" or "dump that index fund" don't make much sense. They could only make sense within the context of that individual's goal.

A few other rarely discussed points about our psychology toward money include how we often discount how we'll change throughout our lives and the man in the car paradox. That paradox is that people often buy luxury cars for status, but then those people aren't noticed or envied. If anything, it's only the car that is noticed or envied, and the person is forgotten.

Finally, in the final few chapters, Housel explains what he does financially, and it's nothing exotic. He owns his house outright and has a few index funds. He also ends with a brief history of how money has changed in the United States.

And herein lies another major lesson. Our financial world is so young and ever-changing that all of us need to accept how relatively young it is and be prepared for changes, although we don't know what they will be.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Big hat, no cattle

Gentlemen, it has come to my attention that a breakaway Russian Republic will be transferring a nuclear warhead to the United Nations in a few days. Here's the plan: We get the warhead, and we hold the world ransom for ... ONE MILLION DOLLARS!

When Austin Powers came out in 1997, one million dollars wasn't what it used to be. So now in 2023, it's not that bonkers either, but it still is — pinkie on the lip — ONE MILLION DOLLARS!

The fact that The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko came out in 1996 made it a long shot that I'd actually read it. The fact that it I highly, highly recommend it also is surprising because, well, I prefer books from this century.

But my god, the book deserves the accolades and hype it attracts because of how clearly it explains what true wealth is and how to obtain it.

"Big hat, no cattle."

That's a phrase that sticks with me from The Millionaire Next Door about how there are so many people with gaudy displays of what they think show wealth. But in reality, it's just a facade, and they could have hardly any savings, retirement or even be in debt.

With this book, I now know what the offense and defense of wealth are. Offense is what you pull in, and defense is what you spend. Too many Americans have poor defense. They just spend, spend, spend. Fortunately, I had the value of smart spending instilled in me, so my defense isn't too shabby, thank God.

I also understand the difference between PAWs, AAWs and UAWs. That's the difference between prodigious accumulators of wealth, average accumulators of wealth and under accumulators of wealth. Thank God, I'm a PAW, always saving at least 15 percent of my income and "paying myself first" before even getting to spending.

Looking back on my financial journey, I must give props to former Press-Telegram restaurant critic Al Rudis, who gave me sound financial info when I was in my 20s. Al, my man, I haven't seen you in about 20 years, but thanks for impressing on me the importance of 401Ks and Roth IRAs. Al, you da man!

For a lot of Gen Xers without Al Rudis, I bet they found themselves in a financial sea of work, work, work without a paddle. At least with Al's advice and the self-disciplined mindset promoted in The Millionaire Next Door, pretty much anybody with a solid job can get on a path toward wealth.

But as the book points out frequently, income is far different than wealth. In fact, another quote that sticks with me is the risk of entrepreneur. A lot of people assume that it's risky to be an entrepreneur, and of course, there is risk involved. But what is more risky, to be paid by 600 different people to your business or just one employer who can easily replace you?

I come from a working-class city, Cleveland, and on some level, will always have a working man's aesthetic. I've worked hard for my wages, and, hopefully, I've saved 15 percent of them. If I were a youngster, I'd consider having a start-up, but if I really wanted to do that, I suppose I would today.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Stamped for all readers

"Dad, you talk about race too much," my daughter said. "Not everything is a race issue!"

OK, fine. I'll believe my daughter on that. But what's a Polish-American guy to do, when he soaks in a bunch of books that give a fuller history of the United States from a non-white perspective? Who am I suppose to tell that historians say Thomas Jefferson owned more than 600 slaves in his lifetime and had at least six children with Sally Hemings?

Today, I recommend Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You (2020) by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. I also highly, highly recommend Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (2016) by Ibram X. Kendi.

I have a self-imposed rule only to recommend one of any author's books in my 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend project, but today the rule is broken. I already recommended How to be an Antiracist by Kendi. So I officially give the record-keeping recommendation to the remix of Stamped because it gives some props to Jason Reynolds. The remix is marketed to teens, and if you're a non-reader, it's surprisingly entertaining and easier to handle than the 511 pages of the original Stamped from the Beginning.

Stamped, the remix, perhaps makes the subject matter more palpable for fragile or skeptical whites. The original Stamped delivers on being the definitive history of racist ideas in America that it sets out to be. Stamped is an absolute tour de force. I read the teen book first then the masterpiece. Honestly, I guess I was experiencing a bit of white fragility for not just jumping first into Stamped

Simply put, the fabric of the United States structure is systemically racist. Kendi walks us through this history in a compilation of hardcore facts structured as a narrative. Whereas the definitive Stamped has five major chapters titled and focuses on key figures in America's racial history — Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois and Angela Davis, the remix doesn't call the chapters by those leaders, and it condenses the points.

Both versions provide history lessons that would benefit anyone. In the original, I respond most to the sections on Thomas Jefferson and Angela Davis. I believe that is because I've learned about Jefferson throughout my lifetime, here and there, and his relationship with slavery rarely, if ever, came up.
With the Angela Davis section, we're talking about exploring a gluttony of racist policies, rhetoric and Supreme Court rulings during my lifetime. One takeaway from this section is how television and common narratives fail with truth and often promote overt, or covert, racist messages. I remember hearing about crack babies, for example, in the 1980s. It turns out there were no such babies, and it was just racist rhetoric.

One of Stamped's goals is to point out strategies antiracists should stop using. The three oldest and most popular strategies are white self-sacrifice, uplift suasion and educational persuasion. It turns out that when whites sacrifice their own privilege on behalf of black people that does not work. What it does is perpetuate the myth that whites benefit from racism. They do not.

Uplift suasion is the idea that black people can teach whites not to be racist by behaving exceptionally. Not only is in ineffective, but it suggests that black people have to be perfect or play some sort of role. It takes away any responsibility of changing racist beliefs from whites.

Educational persuasion is the idea that if facts are presented, then we could eradicate racism. Well, W.E.B. Du Bois tried that as early as 1894 and quickly found out it doesn't work and gave up. Racism education has been founded on a false construction of the race problem, that ignorance and hate lead to racist ideas. But in reality, self-interest leads to racist policies, which then lead to ignorance and hate. 

At the end of the day, there is no simple answer, but working on a local, neighborhood level is the best tactic. We can hope that lawmakers and people in power will push an effective antiracist agenda. However, that happens so rarely that it is hard to be optimistic.

Stamped overflows with so much information that I feel limited with this brief review. Please take the time to read the book, or at least the remix, if you haven't yet.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Are you an antiracist?

Someone recently posed a question on Facebook that got my attention: "Who was the best black male teacher you ever had?"

As I thought and thought, I read some responses and realized my answer was what many replied. We never had a black male teacher, and we didn't even realize that.

Although I never met him personally, I consider Ibram X. Kendi a much-needed teacher to me. I highly recommend Kendi's How to Be an Antiracist (2019).

When I was growing up, I lived in racial ignorance and power-structure ignorance. I thought racism was a choice. Some people were kind and not racist; others were mean and racist. Boy, I hardly knew anything and acted like I had answers for something I knew nothing.

You're either racist or antiracist, and those traits are not fixed. You can be racist one minute and antiracist the next. To me, that's a huge point in my effort to be an antiracist. At first glance, it might appear simple, but in reality being an antiracist is complex and fluid.

Perhaps my biggest takeaway from Kendi's book is how little I know about the actual diverse lived experiences of African-Americans. Philosophically, I think I understand a lot. I understand that "systemic racism" and "institutional racism" are redundant. However, I don't know if I can fully understand the microaggressions against and internalized racist feelings of African-American individuals because I don't experience those myself.

I responded to the social commentary part of the How to Be an Antiracist, but perhaps I responded to Kendi's lived experience even more. He explored the intricacies of his life and dealing with cancer. I appreciate his honesty and vulnerability and his explanation of the complexity of his identity.

Gosh, I suppose that hints at what I responded to so much. While it might sound simple to be an antiracist, our identities are so complex that it is not that easy. And can we actually separate ourselves from our racist systems, or better yet, can we actually improve those racist systems?
Pick a system. The criminal-justice system, health care, education, corporate America, the list goes on and on. I can't think of one that isn't inherently racist. I want to be optimistic, but improvement appears so daunting, it's pretty darn difficult.

Personally, I sometimes get mad at myself for how myopic, and sheltered, of a view of race I used to have — and still have on some level. I have learned not to go out of my way for awkward race talks because nobody wants a race talk initiated by a middle-aged Polack. I am making a concerted effort to listen more and absorb what I can. Striving to be an antiracist is part of my identity. 

At first, I resisted the basic premise of How to Be an Antiracist. Is it that simple? Either you're a racist or antiracist, no other options? But as I read the book, I realized it is correct. The opposite of racist wouldn't be "not racist." It indeed would be antiracist.

The book came out before the George Floyd tragedy and before Black Lives Matter got its merch on Nike apparel. Kendi's point is right: You're either for Black Lives Matter or you're not. I say get BLM merch in the corporate world as much as possible.

Of course, the United States could be lauded for being the capitalistic, economic power that it is. But to get here, we've had an ugly history of violence, oppression and cruelty. Hopefully, we are no longer hiding from that history, but understanding it better and taking antiracist actions that actually work.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Hey smart kids, create something

Many know Andrew Yang for his 2020 presidential campaign, where he was a rare Asian-American politician with common-sense, pro-business policies. He then ran for mayor of New York City and became an analyst on CNN, and he snagged some fame for his "MATH" merch — Make America Think Harder.  

I wasn't sure what I was getting into with Yang's Smart People Should Build Things: How to Restore Our Culture of Achievement, Build a Path for Entrepreneurs, and Create New Jobs in America (2014). I must say that it affected me when I read it, but the more I think about it, the more I realize how important the book is — especially for hard-driven, high-achieving students.

Yang focuses on the sad, dead-end path of our nation's elite students. They'll likely either go to law school or work in finance or enlist in Teach For America. Before they know it, they'll undoubtedly feel as if their life isn't their own and they're just working, working, working.

Yang's argument is that these elite students should stop the cycle of hard work, elite college, hard work, elite job, hard work, burnout.

Instead, these elite individuals should be entrepreneurs. They should start companies, fail at them and keep trying. To Yang, a potential job candidate who has a failed business is much more attractive than someone just grinding it out in finance.

As I've realized who actually holds the wealth in America, I couldn't agree more with Yang. If wealth is your real plan and you're young enough, it's not bad advice to quit your job, or quit school, and start a company. But that assumes you're hungry, self-motivated, elite and "smart." (Most kids really aren't that. They're just digital consumers nowadays.)

I say go ahead and get a degree — maybe even an elite agree. But the moment you find yourself taking out student loans for law school or working for a bank or investment firm, understand that is a mistake. Create something. Create something America needs.

Schools, and formal education, have a glorious disconnect from work. Many high-achieving students show up to the workplace without a clue about what to do and how to problem solve. I remember connecting a lot to a question Yang posed at one point: How do you teach problem solving on the fly?

I do not believe starting a business or being an entrepreneur is a panacea for finding meaning in one's life, or solving a lot of serious issues our nation — and world — face. However, with so many elite students pursuing capitalistic nothing-burger positions, I believe going Yang's route is much better. At least you're trying to contribute something that potentially could improve our country, or world.

Our colleges often spend way too much time in the theoretical, so when kids graduate, they are unhireable. I remember this line standing out in Yang's book: "A good company isn't about who has the best idea, but who can deliver day after day after day."  

My dad, the XMan, was an attorney, and he learned quickly that he would be much better off creating his own law firm as opposed to busting his tail for someone else. I love that he did that. A tough lesson a lot will endure will be the realization that they are busting their tails, and giving their lives, for a corporate entity that couldn't care less about them.

As capitalists, we need to create value as opposed to just renting space and shuffling around assets. I hope there is a newfound stress for products built in America, and we actually build things instead of being so reliant on imports. We need new, fresh companies, not lawyers and investment bankers.

If our kids actually are going to improve this country, Yang may very well be right. Positive change might only happen through new companies where innovation isn't a buzz word, but actionable.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

College admissions: Arbitrary and unfair

My oldest daughter recently got accepted to UC Santa Cruz, and she may go there. We are waiting to hear if she gets into UCLA or UC Berkeley, so the question is: Which UC will she attend?

We'll take it. That was our plan — to take advantage of the UC system as California residents. No matter where she ends up, I'm totally at peace because I fully understand how arbitrary, crazy and erratic the college admissions process is. Whatever.

Jeffrey Selingo helped me double down on that feeling with Who Gets in and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions (2020). I think I have a solid grasp of the college landscape, and I've learned that people have as many different attitudes toward college as they do toward money.

Most people look at college as a trade school to put students on career paths. I don't see it that way, but I have to accept the trade-school truth. I like to think of college as a place for self-discovery, growth and an education in various subjects. It still can be that, but I know I'm in the minority with that view.

Selingo spent time in college admission offices getting an up-close view of the college admissions process. That was cool and all, but I felt the strength of the book was the useful facts peppered throughout the book. He threw a few haymakers of surprising statistics at his readers I must share.

No. 1 — Only 10 percent of college graduates consider themselves on a career path in their 20s.

No. 2 — Thirty percent of freshmen drop out before their sophomore years, and 40 percent of college students do not graduate.

No. 3 — The average age of financial independence for Gen Xers was 26. For Gen Z, it is projected to be 30.

Because there is such a disconnect between the workplace and college, I would advise many kids not to bother with college if they're only looking for a career path. Pretty much "every job is a tech job" nowadays, so students will have a difficult time finding relevant classes in college because tech changes so rapidly.

What I notice in our schools is that students go to college by default. They don't know what else to do. They defer working at Starbucks four years, and, do de doh, they go to college pretending they're the center of the universe or pretending they only exist in the digital world. They then have a rude awakening when they have zero prospects for employment, hardly have an education and use the word "adulting."

In Who Gets in and Why, Selingo points out that kids in their 20s fall into three categories — sprinters, wanderers and stragglers — with how they enter the workforce. I was a sprinter, and I thought I was doing the right think. However, I realize that future earnings, and potential, could benefit wanderers and maybe stragglers. Many kids put pressure on themselves to become financially independent ASAP, and that can hold back career options.

Selingo also stresses the difference between digital awareness and mere digital usage. He says that the qualities that get young adults hired across industries are digital awareness, curiosity, creativity, grit, contextual thinking and humility.

Some advice that comes out is how critically important internships are as well as cultivating weak ties. Usually, it is mere acquaintances who help with obtaining jobs, not close friends. Also, college debt is huge but often confused. Only 1 percent of undergraduates have more than $100,000 in debt. Student-loan debt truly comes from post-grad degrees, PhDs, law school and medical school.

Dina and I both enjoyed our college experiences and found them fulfilling and educational. We are hoping our kids have that, too. I believe they somehow have learned to enjoy the overwork-a-thon that high school is, and it's good to understand what our kids are facing. Despite all the competition, stress, late nights and cost, I hope they enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

The Inner Life of Teachers

"Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness. They are able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves."

That's just one of many quotes I find inspirational in Parker J. Palmer's The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life (1998). The mood of the book is calm and loving, and Palmer drops constant truth bombs in a gentle manner that helps teachers develop their own inner lives.

The book builds off the premise that good teaching cannot be reduced to technique. Rather, good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher. According to Palmer, good teachers share one trait: "They are truly present in the classroom, deeply engaged with their students and their subject."

I couldn't agree more, and while I wouldn't throw technique to the wind, the integrity of a teacher and being present absolutely is more important than whatever awesome, creative lesson the teacher has concocted. (But who doesn't love awesome, creative lessons?)

While reading bell hooks, I stumbled across some Palmer quotes and thought, "Hey, I should read this guy." He delivered — and then some. Teachers truly have to cultivate their inner lives, or they risk burnout, misery and might say things like, "Only three days to Friday."

Sadly, it may be harder for new teachers to develop their inner lives and even stay in the profession nowadays. At last look, 44 percent of teachers leave the profession within the first five years. It's a demanding job, a grind. Self-care is huge as is the ability to connect with kids, others and one's self.

I truly believe that Palmer's thesis about identity and integrity is right, and he also explores the culture of disconnection that occurs in schools and classrooms. He talks about an obsession of objective knowledge that needs to be replaced by subjective engagement. To correct the excessive regard for the powers of the intellect, we need the powers of emotion to free the mind.

Honestly, I see this 100 percent in our schools. There is such a stress on the intellect (or the pseudo-intellect) that the whole teacher and whole child is neglected. Palmer repeatedly makes important points, but at the same time, points out the paradoxes of teaching and learning. He writes that, yeah, he may have knowledge from 30 years of teaching, but that goes hand in hand with being a rank amateur at the start of each new class. So true.

Teaching takes place at the crossroads of the personal and public, and to teach well, you have to stand where those opposites interact. Whether teachers admit it, or like it, we project our souls and health onto our students.

By cultivating our inner lives — beyond our intellects — we provide a crucial service to our students and ourselves. We remind our students, and ourselves, that we are much more than a worker or human resource. We are human beings with depth, connectedness and souls.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Positive thoughts, words and deeds

Perhaps we've all found ourselves floating in clouds of negativity.

"Did you hear what she did now?"

"Jim is so unreliable. What did you expect?"

"Only three days to Friday."

Oh my gosh, identifying negativity in the workplace — and especially in our schools — is so easy. It often feels like a perpetual drumbeat.

"You wrote your name in the wrong spot. Minus two points!"

After identifying how negative and punitive our schools are, then what? Well, that question led me to Positivity: Discover the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life (2009) by Barbara Frederickson. The book helped me with setting specific positive intentions and following through with actions that match.

I used to think positivity was a mere mindset. While that is true to an extent, a positive, healthy lifestyle takes positive actions and intention. It makes me think of the Zoroastrian mantra "good thoughts, good words, good deeds."

To me, positivity involves thoughts, words and deeds. It's hard to have one without the others.

One huge point from Positivity is how we humans are wired for survival, and its modern-day offshoot is negativity. Back in primitive times, our brains used to shoot out cortisol when we were threatened by a tiger in the jungle or faced a tribe attacking us. In modern living, our brains may release cortisol when we're slighted or cut off in traffic or when something we don't like happens that is far from life-threatening.

We must recognize this unnecessary release of cortisol and strive for positivity. But how?

Frederickson explains that we can shoot for three positive thoughts to one negative, meaning that eliminating negativity isn't possible but we don't have to remain stuck in it. She also has identified 10 positive emotions worth striving for, and those are joy, gratitude, serenity, hope, inspiration, love, amusement, awe, interest and pride.

I'm wondering if I need more of an action plan toward consistently obtaining Frederickson's 10 positive emotions. Plus, 10 emotions seem like a lot.

Maybe I should pluck out three I really find important, such as gratitude, serenity and love, and focus on those because I bet it's much harder to experience those through happenstance. I guess I'm just brainstorming, but, eh, maybe I got to be more deliberate about this positivity.

I put this book in the teaching category because I've found some classrooms void of emotion, and quite honestly, I just don't know how those can work. Then, if classrooms do have emotion, sometimes they are rooms of accidental negativity, and that's even worse.

Plato once said, "All learning has an emotional base."

We educators need to make sure that emotional base is positive and not fear-based. I'm hoping that educators take their jobs seriously and fight to make their students' experiences better than theirs.

We learn our best when we experience awe, amusement and interest, not when we're in fear of a bad grade or disappointing our parents or when we're swirling in negativity. Let's get unnecessary cortisol out of our lives and schools. Let's tap into serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

I give you Permission to Feel

If you ask any high school graduate what they learned about emotion from grades kindergarten to 12th grade, they most likely will shrug, have a blank stare or look at you like you're crazy.

A gaping hole keeps expanding in our education system with how students, and adults, understand and deal with their emotions. So we continually turn out emotionally stunted, academically compliant students on the path to lives that could be much more enriching and emotionally meaningful.

In a professional development one day, I saw the Mood Meter (below) and, soon after, showed it to my students. They responded to it and seemed to learn and label their emotions. I would ask them to do a self-assessment for how their energy level is on a scale of 1 to 10 and how pleasant they feel on a scale 1 to 10.

I discovered that Marc Brackett created the Mood Meter and wrote Permission to Feel: The Power of Emotional Intelligence to Achieve Well-Being and Success (2019) to explore emotions and promote emotional development and education with teachers.

I am 100 percent sold on Brackett's message, and I agree with him that training teachers in SEL (social emotional learning) is more difficult than it should be. Many administrators and teachers have so many responsibilities that promoting SEL often sounds like another added responsibility to them. However, I feel it's the opposite. SEL sets up the teacher, and student, for authentic connection that deepens the classroom experience for both.

Permission to Feel focuses a lot on RULER, which is a mnemonic for recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing and regulating emotion. I love this! The Mood Meter comes into play with labeling, and I found the chapter on regulating emotion, in particular, was helpful. RULER is my favorite guide I've run across with how to deal with emotions.

Brackett offers five strategies for emotional regulation, and my favorite is cognitive reframing — shifting our perception. Mindful breathing, forward looking, attention shifting and taking a moment, a Meta-Moment is what he calls it, all are helpful strategies.

I think it can be hard for teachers and educators to separate fads that will come and go and strategies that will have staying power. SEL is no fad. Hopefully, our classrooms have been engaging in SEL before we called it that.

Honestly, the labels might be new, but I don't think the approach is if you ever encountered a totally with-it, connected teacher (or maybe that's a unicorn for you). The term "emotional intelligence" was not coined until 1990, so it makes sense that some of our terms are new nowadays.

Permission to Feel affected me so strongly that it may be the No. 1 teaching book I'd recommend to all teachers. Some of my other favorites are bit more intellectual, but to me, this one is for everyone. I took away so much from it that I feel obliged to give a few more highlights.

I had never heard of emotional granularity before this book. That is putting feelings into words with a high degree of complexity. Often times, even adults are stuck in "happy, mad, sad" to explain their complicated feelings. Our feelings go beyond those rudimentary words. Right?

Attribution bias also stuck with me. That is assuming others feel how you do. Guess what? They don't. If someone says, "I hate this place. Everyone is so depressed," that likely means oh, OK, that person is depressed.

In a 2014 Gallup poll Brackett cites, teachers and nurses tied with the most stressful jobs on a daily basis, so that group truly must know how to deal with that stress and their emotions. They need to be emotion scientists as opposed to emotion judges.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Community replaces control

Aww, bell, yeah! The thought of bell hooks splashes a huge smile across my face because I love her work.

I guess my smile connects to a fundamental point about teaching of what students remember. They may not remember the details of specific material, but rather, they'll remember the feeling they had when they were in that teacher's classroom.

Bell hooks taught me a lot of helpful, necessary material. But because her focus often is the importance of the emotional and spiritual sides of educators and students, I feel so warm when I think of her.

I've read multiple bell hooks books and put Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope (2003) at the top of the list. In classrooms, teachers must stop perpetuating education's cold system of dominance and control. Rather, they must build communities where the teacher and student work in partnership.

While this idea may seem pretty darn basic, I must say that it sadly is over the head of many teachers who may not reflect deeply enough. Others embrace dominance and control and call it "classroom management." They are like, "I was dominated and controlled when I was a kid, and that's what they'll need in college."

Lol! ... Once we as teachers understand that dominance, control and mere rule following is not at all education, then we can maybe do something worthwhile for both the teacher and student.

However, I'm only talking about the thesis of Teaching Community, and hooks gets into many crucial aspects of teaching that need to be addressed more. She does that through essays in each chapter. One chapter I especially respond to is spirituality in public school classrooms.

Teachers typically are trained to not talk spirituality, or religion, in the classroom, and this is a disservice to themselves, students and society. Rather, teachers need to bring secular sacredness into their classrooms, and by sacredness, bell hooks means awareness and wholeness.

By denying the spiritual sides of students, it promotes disconnectedness from one's self and others. So a potential reason why our schools are so disconnected could step from this spiritual denial.

Other huge topics that I respond to in Teaching Community are hooks' commentary on race and emotion. Hooks writes that teachers are often the most reluctant group to acknowledge the extent in which "white supremacist thinking informs every aspect of our culture including the way we learn, the content of what we learn, and the manner in which we are taught."

So true. Our history books and our curriculum come from such an obvious white perspective that districts and educators truly must understand and accept this for any hope of progress. Unfortunately, hooks' basic point often remains unacknowledged, and so schools are stuck in the past.

With emotion, hooks underscores that a teaching space must open itself up for emotional growth, and if it doesn't do that, ultimately it will remain stuck in dominance/control mode. Of course, there is much more intricacy to her points than my overview here, but at least I'm pointing out a few basic points.

Hooks passed away in December 2021, and after that, some of her work saw a resurgence. In fact, All About Love (1999) has been in The New York Times top 10 of nonfiction books for close to a year.

I was happy to have found her work while she was still with us. She absolutely, positively deserves the attention and accolades she receives.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Booze: Outdated Poison

"Drinking is for losers."

My daughter said that the other day, and I couldn't agree more. The fact that alcohol has been around me my entire life makes it difficult to stay away from it — but not impossible. Thank God youngsters are drinking less than previous generations. That's a huge step in the right societal direction, and I'm jumping on that bandwagon.

One fact mentioned in Not Drinking Tonight is the percentage of college students who have had a drink in the past month.

The answer: 54 percent.

What?!? I thought it would be way higher than that. When I was in college, beer seemed to be the fuel of the students. Apparently, it isn't that way any more. and my preconceived notions of drinking are off.

Not Drinking Tonight: A Guide to Creating a Sober Life You Love (2022) by Amanda E. White is a book I saw on the new shelf at my El Dorado Park Library, and it called to me. Although it is geared more toward a female audience, I couldn't put it down, and it's helped me cut down my drinking and understand huge facts new to me.

Most of the book isn't about alcohol. Rather, it's about exploring the underlining causes that bring people to drink. Early in the book, it points out an outdated view many people have on alcoholism. A lot have an "all or nothing" stance. Either you're an alcoholic or not, but in reality, it's not so tidy.

Many have alcohol disorders. People drink when they're stressed, in social situations, as a routine,  "to unwind," etc. They might not belong in Alcoholics Anonymous, but they have a disorder. They would be better of if they drank less or didn't drink at all.

Personally, I don't want to drink that much. I'm getting older, and it just doesn't feel that great when I drink. I've cut down.

So much information in Not Drinking Tonight resonated with me that I wish I had run across it earlier in life. White explains the idea of "reparenting," and it blew my mind. I was like, "What? Huh? You mean you can do that? With yourself?"

Mind blown.

I liked all sections of the book, but especially responded to Part II: Reparenting. The four chapters in that section are about mindfulness, emotions, self-care and boundaries.

Each of those chapters then offer a lot of ideas I never considered. Putting a name to emotions is huge, and White offers the acronym "nailer" for understanding one's emotions. That stands for notice, allow, investigate, label, explore and release.

Anger, fatigue, discouragement, whatever — it's OK to feel all of it. Do it. Allow it. Then, explore it, and release it in a healthy way. Don't escape it with booze.

With self-care, I learned that it goes well beyond bubble baths and naps. In fact, there are eight areas of self-care — emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, social, professional, financial and environmental. The body-blaster that many do instead of self-care is drinking. Ugh. That's messed up. Alcohol is poison.

When Not Drinking Tonight walks through what alcohol does to the body and brain, it stayed me. It turns out that alcohol is such a poison that the entire immune system must attack it. If we feel a rush from drinking, it is adrenaline kicking in to keep the poison from hurting us.

We likely drink because of the initial adrenaline rush, not the depressant of alcohol. At least that's how I interpret it. We then "chase the dragon." We keep looking for that rush with more drinks, but it just never comes again.

So, yeah, alcohol was, or is, part of our Gen X lives, but when you talk to Millennials, such as Amanda White, and Gen Z kids, you realize that most have evolved past drinking. We should too.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Compassion and acceptance — radical actions

"It never hurts to think too highly of a person; often they become ennobled and act better because of it."

I wrote down that quote from Tara Brach's Radical Compassion and try to live it. Culturally, I feel we often divide ourselves, or sort ourselves, and I think that loses the wondrous essence of whom we are as human beings.

I respond to both Brach's Radical Compassion (2019) and Radical Acceptance (2003), and after reading those, I've come to love her podcast, which features loving lectures and mediations. I recommend both books, but will officially recommend Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAIN because it's newer.

Nowadays, I'm hardly reading any personal growth, AKA self-help books, but not too long ago, I devoured them. Growing up as a "pleaser," I accidentally indoctrinated myself into culturally typical ways of thinking and living that weren't that healthy or caring. I tried to put everybody before myself, which I thought was Christlike. But what about myself? How genuine could my compassion and acceptance be for others, if I didn't have that for myself?

Brach's books helped me grow and let go of a lot. They helped me reset and focus on what is actually important and healthy in life. I would say my demographic of "fallen away Gen X Catholic" carries a lot of baggage. I feel that me, officially moving away from Catholicism, was the right move, but then I walked around with a spiritual hole for most of my life.

Brach is an engaged Buddhist. That means she applies Buddhist teachings to social, political, environmental and economic suffering and injustice. She was raised as a Christian Unitarian and is a clinical psychologist PhD, and for me, she speaks my language of how I see and relate to spirituality.

It's not only Radical Compassion and Radical Acceptance that work for me, but also Brach's wisdom and podcasts. I responded once to when she was talking about slowing down our lives. "When you walk half as fast, you see double," she said. It's so true. I have no time to rush.

To pay attention is to love, and four flags of not being present are obsessive thinking, judgement, distraction and moving fast. Gosh, life is just so much more fulfilling when I slow down, get out of my monkey mind and savor experiences.

Brach is helping me embrace my natural imperfections, and as a teacher, I've learned the balance of looking at others' potential while accepting them as is. She is big into RAIN — recognize, allow, investigate and nurture — to help free ourselves from our limiting identities. However, I must say that I didn't respond to the practice as much as the wisdom.

Is it possible to be a non-practicing Buddhist? At this point, I probably would fall into that category. Perhaps I'll take some steps forward as I understand that personal growth often leads us to Buddhism or God.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Operation: Generational wealth

"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now."

That Chinese proverb shined off a page in Make Your Kids Millionaires, and I couldn't agree more. With personal finance, it's never too late to get on the right track and plant investments.

With parenting, it's also never too late — or too early — to give kids a financial education, which is glaringly absent in schools.

If Make Your Kids Millionaires: The Step-by-Step Guide to Lead Children to Financial Freedom (2022) by Loral Langemeier and Kyle Boeckman weren't on the "new nonfiction" shelf at my El Dorado Park Library in Long Beach, I would have never read it. The fact that it made it into the top 10 parenting books I recommend is a mini-miracle because I rarely read books right off the shelf. Maybe I need to do that more; I don't know what I don't know.

Make Your Kids Millionaires is a mixture of financial advice for parents and a roadmap of age-appropriate money lessons and facts to teach our kids. I read this a few months ago with my daughters already teenagers and wish I read it when they were younger. However, I found the financial advice for parents much more useful than the teaching plan of finance.

One major thing I completely didn't realize was part of Chapter 4, which has the Chinese proverb about planting trees. I was supposed to open a Roth IRA for my daughters at birth. Ugh. Well, better late than never!

Some of the lessons and timeframes on what to teach kids makes total sense, such as when to get them debit cards. Honestly, I am not exactly an entrepreneur, but am open-minded to it. Similar to the Roth IRA, I can't go back in time and open an LLC to pass off to my kids. But I should've done that too! 

Kids truly need to know how money works and what it takes to be wealthy or at least be on a path to wealth. I've often wondered why money talk is taboo for so many people. Maybe it's because of the bombardment of advertising and how we live in a culture of consumption. Maybe it's also because so many families live paycheck to paycheck, are in debt or may not experience financial hope. 

Just like golfers think they're better than they actually are, Americans think they're richer than they are. They have misconceptions of wealth, like the car they drive or neighborhood they live or their occupation is somehow wealth. They fail to see it's about the numbers and achieving actual financial goals as opposed to some old-timey belief about status.

The good news is that we can do a gap analysis on our knowledge of finance and fill in the holes and make up for our mistakes. With our kids, so many important lessons come through discussions of money. Those include personal discipline, the importance of planning and saving, setting realistic goals and much more.

It's also important know how fluid the financial world is. Roth IRAs did not come into existence until 1997, and so if you missed the boat on opening one for your kids, just do it now and don't beat up yourself.

I's a pretty slick parenting move to give your kids non-taxable $1 million (or more) when they turn 59 1/2. And it's a pretty good lesson on how compounding interest and investments work. It's never too early to teach our kids finance. And it's never too late to understand that it's not about what you make, but what you keep.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Gen Z's sleepless suffering

I can nag with the best of them.

"When are you going to put those boxes away?"
"Make sure to actually eat during the school day."
"Please, please, please, get a good night's sleep."

My nagging doesn't work, and I bet any parent of a high schooler — and potentially younger kids too — can relate to the third nag. These kids are NOT getting enough sleep!

Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright have a full book about that called Generation Sleepless: Why Tweens and Teens Aren't Sleeping Enough and How We Can Help Them  (2022). I saw it on the shelves in my local library, felt it looked interesting and couldn't put it down. Should we parents take solace in the fact that it's not just our own kids who are sleep deprived, but the entirety of Gen Z?

My initial criticism is whether this topic warranted a full-length book and if there would be enough material for one. I found enough solid info new to me that I give it a thumbs up. Plus, I find our sleep-deprived kids a hugely important topic that deserves more contemplation and action plans.

Overworked academics, omnipotent technology, developing brains and early start times are the main reasons why Gen Z is sleepless. As parents, we have to assume that most schools will remain stuck in time and do nothing to address this, and it may even get worse.

I recently had two friends complain about the overload of homework their kids were receiving, and — get this — the kids were a kindergartner and first-grader! Homework probably should not exist in all grades, but especially not fourth grade and below, according to me.

So what can we parents do for our sleep-needy kids? Well, modeling helps. Generation Sleepless made me realize that parents often model poor sleep patterns and engage in ineffective communication with their kids. Nag, nag, nag. Totally ineffective.

The authors made me realize that a huge step with hoping my kids get better sleep was to have open, listen-focused conversations. Ultimately, I can't will them to proper sleep, but at least we can identify and label the problem.

Another big thing I realized from Generation Sleepless was how sleep is a process. We prepare for it before we actually sleep, and a lot of people look on their phone, or iPad, all the way up until actual sleep. That practically guarantees poor slumber. The brain can't cool down when that's happening.

Although I would try not to look at my phone in bed, that always didn't happen. I realized that the first thing I picked up in my day was the phone and the last thing I put down was the phone because I used it as an alarm clock. Generation Sleepless convinced me 100 percent to at least get an old-school alarm clock, and I absolutely love it.

I keep my cell phone out of my bedroom now, and I must report that my anxiety level is way down. I can't give full credit to the alarm clock and cell phone hanging out in another room, but that definitely has helped. 

So much occurs during sleep necessary for healthy living that I've learned not to take good sleep for granted. Thank God, I typically have restful, healthy sleep — especially when I have zero drops of alcohol in me. Caffeine messes with sleep, too, and I have a time cutoff for that.

Unfortunately, our kids put their schoolwork above sleep or think they're unwinding with their abundance of screen time. They're not. I guess Big Tech succeeded with getting our kids' attention, but we need to get our kids' attention back on themselves and their health.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Light shines through stumbling

All These Wonders is one of those books that just stayed with me for an eternity until I finally cracked it open — and then I couldn't put it down. I had previously trudged through How to Tell a Story from the Moth storytellers, and so I was gun shy about another Moth storytellers book.

Honestly, I hadn't heard of the Moth storytellers before I ran across these books. The Moth is an organization in New York City that helps individuals tell highly personal spoken-word stories. They get celebrities, movers and shakers and everyday folk up on stage with a microphone.

Whereas How to Tell a Story (2022) is prescriptive about storytelling, All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown (2017) is a compilation of 45 stories originally performed as spoken word.

My gosh, so many of the stories were poignant and affected me. When we face the unknown, wonder often occurs. What might appear to be something horribly scary often deepens us as human beings. My big takeaway is that a truly worthwhile story is one in which the speaker realizes something he wouldn't had if he didn't reflect and tell the story.

In All These Wonders, some star power glistens as Louis C.K., Hasan Minhaj, Tig Notaro and John Turturro each tell stories. I found Turturro's story, "Stumbling in the Dark," especially meaningful because it tackles mental illness from the point of view of a family member.

Turturro's brother, Ralph, is in an institution and has pretty much every mental illness out there. As John says, "You name it. He's got it."
Turturro's story takes place in New York, where there is a blackout and John is picking up his brother to take to a restaurant. As he walks up eleven flights of stairs in dark, he shares these words:

"I'm thinking what a roller coaster mental illness is. Not just for the patient, but for everyone else involved. It's a sentence that you're given, and it's a life sentence. And there's all the things you have to go through: the doctors, the drugs, the violent outbursts, the destruction (literally and emotionally), the police coming to your house, the shame that you live with. It just goes on and on.

It's not like those movies like A Beautiful Mind where someone reaches out and says, 'All you need is love.' You know?

Love is a given, but it's a war of attrition. It really is. It's a long, endless baseball season that never, ever ends. It goes on and on."

Turturro's words hit home to me and gave me permission to let go, and better understand, people close to me who struggle with mental illness. I love them, but it is just so draining and difficult.

Many of the other 44 stories also affected me, from Hector Black who forgives the murderer of his daughter, to Amy Biancolli who deals with the suicide of her husband. The subject matter is often difficult, exceptionally personal and honest, and it's impossible to give many of the stories the attention and accolades they deserve in this brief write-up.

It takes courage to tell these stories. But it also takes courage to truly listen to difficult life situations that many of us will never face. Perhaps tragedy and comedy are one of the same coin as are joy and suffering. Maybe that coin is called "life."