Enlightened Conflict

persistent setbacks

May 10th, 2017

 setbacks persistent alone



“We all have a personal pool of quicksand inside us where we begin to sink and need friends and family to find us and remind us of all the good that has been and will be.”



Regina Brett



“Making the best of things is… a damn poor way of dealing with them.

My whole life has been a series of escapes from that quicksand.”



Rose Wilder Lane







We all encounter setbacks in our lives. Some people call that ‘life.’


setback speed bumpThe positive psychologists just call the setbacks “obstacles” as if they were some hurdles you just learn to either leap or get around.


In other words … it is assumed if you stick to your guns no setback is a dead end but rather simply a speed bump.

In other words … we are offered some simplistic discussions about overcoming obstacles.


If you really really think about this … this advice is kind of nuts.



You may have to think really hard to come on to my side of this argument.


You may have to work hard because as soon as you are old enough to comprehend words you get bludgeoned with advice and wisdom with regard to ‘overcoming obstacles.’


In its most simplistic form it is uttered as “if you believe, you can overcome anything” or even the famous “it’s not the mistake that matters it is what you do with that mistake.”


You get pummeled with things like this:


===============medication over medictaion problemsolving2

“Do not fear the conflict, and do not flee from it; where there is no struggle, there is no Virtue.”





When you start living the life of your dreams, there will always be obstacles, doubters, mistakes and setbacks along the way.


But with hard work, perseverance and self-belief there is no limit to what you can achieve.”


Roy Bennett






I don’t doubt the sincerity of this advice but what all of this trite wisdom, mostly offered by wealthier & whiter people whose setbacks are slightly different … okay … exponentially different, then not only the everyday schmuck but those who are in more vulnerable environments seems to overlook is that A setback is manageable … persistent setbacks are a whole different game.


I love virtue but after a while you cannot sustain yourself, mentally and physically, on virtue alone when faced with persistent setbacks.


What I mean is that we treat setbacks as if they were like a cold … with a little time and some fortitude and some chicken noodle soup you can overcome it and move on.


But sometimes setbacks are like a virus … this virus is more like ‘persistent setbacks.’


setbacks persistent quicksand


And, yes, this is different than what I call “quicksand” or “quicksand setbacks.”


Quicksand setbacks are more often in a defined period of time and comes to fruition mostly in a helpless unraveling before your eyes.

It’s like in a football game where one fumble leads to an interception which leads to the other team running a punt back for a touchdown. Everyone fights as hard as they can … but the setbacks stream in a way that drives you deeper and deeper into a hole. Most times quicksand setbacks stop and depending on the quicksand you are in a deep dark fucking hole or just a hole <or something in-between>.


A hole is a hole. It sucks.

But most times if you do get your shit together, get your head on straight and maybe get a little help you can get out of the hole <regardless of how deep it is>. And once you get out of a quicksand hole you actually find you have learned some stuff and … well … most times you see future quicksand and avoid it.



And then there are persistent setbacks.


problems overcoming obstacles

….. and, yet, the opportunities can only be found in darker deeper holes ………..


They are brutal.

Fucking brutal.


You face a setback.

You pick yourself up, recover and get going again. And maybe just as you get going again … well … you get another setback.


This one hurts a little more because you knew you had invested and you knew you had done it right … and you still got screwed again with another setback.



You figure … what the hell … I did it once and I can do it again and you pick yourself up again and get going, recover and you are starting to put the last setback in your rear view mirror and … doh … another setback.



This one hurts. Hurts bad.


But … you know you have no alternative but to get up, try again and get going.

This time is a little different though. This time you are a little more tentative.

Maybe even doubt a little more. You still put energy into it and you are working hard but this time your head is more on a swivel.



And then another setback happens.


Most will get up and go again. But this time doubt is your companion and while you are trying your best … you are most likely not really your best.


And then another setback happens.


This is where the trite positive ‘pick yourself up’ people sort of get things wrong.


It’s not that you don’t have the desire … you just have lost hope that you will ever get a break or that it will finally be someone else who will have a setback and not you.




I read this quote somewhere:


“Time to bet on yourself, big, huge, gigantic bet on your genius and abilities to change the world for the better because nothing is going to stop you, no force is going to hold you down or get in your way and make you lose your inner motivation again.”





kitchen-table-study-problems-concerns-home-life-leadThat sound good … really good … but persistent setbacks are a whole different game. You can be motivated, you can bet on yourself and all of those things <which are usually necessary for any success> but … well … what happens if you have to keep on going back to the well again and again and again?


What happens when Life just seems to provide one more setback after you have just recovered and gained some momentum for the last setback … which you had done after the setback before that one and … well … you get it.


There is only so much anyone can take before they get tired … start having doubts … and then simply lose hope.



Everyone can pull themselves together after a setback.

A quicksand  setback is a little trickier but depending on deeply you sink … most people can pull themselves together.


But persistent setbacks? Whew.


You aren’t looking for a big break … you are just looking for A break.


When in a persistent setback cycle … it is relentlessly exhausting.


Your plans all seem to not go as planned.


You can do your best, and it may actually be pretty good, and it can still fail.


You can be really smart, have a smart idea, articulate it smartly, and it can still be rejected or ignored.


You can work harder than anyone else and pour your heart & soul into something and it can still go unnoticed.


And all of that gets exponentially harder to take with each ongoing setback.


In addition … persistent setbacks take on a darker hue if you start looking around you and see mediocrity winning and rising and some of the least qualified not facing the setbacks you are.




I did some research.

And I found how we deal with setbacks depends on how much control someone feels they have over a situation.


The study found that changes in certain brain areas were related to persisting with goals after encountering setbacks.


Participants more often persisted with their goals, choosing to try again to earn the same academic degree, when they perceived they had control over a setback than if they perceived that they did not have control over a setback.


What’s more, activity in a brain area called the ventral striatum was related to persisting with goals in cases where the setbacks were controllable. Participants who showed greater decreases in brain activity in the ventral striatum when they encountered a controllable setback were more likely to persist with their goals.


On the other hand, changes in a brain area called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex were related to persistence when the setbacks were uncontrollable. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is involved in regulation of emotions, and the new study suggests this brain area helps people cope with negative emotions in order to persist in the case of uncontrollable setbacks.



drowning no water lifeIn other words … when setbacks are uncontrollable they affect us in a more emotional way.


Yup. When persistent setbacks seem to continue in ways that are out f our control … well … they fucking kick the shit out of you mentally.



I say that because I think most of us overlook how persistent setbacks affect the mind.


And while I just outlined how I believe it affects an individual … there is also an effect on the people around you.


Say you are a parent and you are in this doomed cycle of persistent setbacks.

As a child that is all you see. That is all you hear about. That is what you start thinking Life is more like than what you see on TV with regard to ‘work harder than anyone else and your dreams can come true <or you can do anything you want>.’


Let me tell you what I mean by showing you some research numbers I just saw.


Among the dozens of research studies post 2016 election I found some number about the working class and education that made me sit up a little and think about this whole ‘persistent setback’ issue and how … if it is affects a swath of the population long enough … can affect their larger attitudes.


In an analysis by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic 54% of white working-class Americans said investing in college education is a risky gamble … this includes a whopping 61% of white working-class men <white working-class voters who held this belief were almost twice as likely as their peers to support Trump>.



That is bad. But it gets worse.


This belief is even more prevalent among white working-class Americans under 30.


This belief means that they are not buying into the idea that if you do work really hard, if you do study and go to school, you will be able to get ahead.


In my persistent setback theory we have an entire swath of America who has given up hope that they can ‘overcome the setbacks and get ahead.”


“The survey shows that many white working-class Americans, especially men, no longer see that path available to them. … It is this sense of economic fatalism, more than just economic hardship, that was the decisive factor in support for Trump among white working-class voters.”

<Robert P. Jones, the CEO of PRRI>



I don’t really want to discuss Trump voters and white working class people today but I do want to make a point about persistent setbacks and how they affect people’s attitudes.


Black, white, Asian, American Indian, whatever … persistent setbacks are an equal opportunity hope killer.


Any setback sucks. I don’t care how old you are … a setback is a setback and lovers quarrel life and medepending on where you are in life a setback can be crushing.


All the positive encouragement to pick yourself up and get going again kind of misses the mark. I don’t offer a solution today I am just making a point and bitching.


And all the bitching aside.


Everyone just needs to recognize that setbacks come in all shapes and sizes, not all setbacks are created equal, setbacks can be deceiving in their appearances and if you don’t recognize all that you run the risk of missing what someone else is enduring with regard to persistent setbacks.



Ride it to the buzzer

January 12th, 2016

Bad outexecuting Chaos_to_structure




“Ride it to the buzzer.”



a bull rider




I love this phrase.


I love it with regard to how to live Life as well as how business should be conducted <projects, initiatives, programs, internal employee & external sales activity>.


In a rodeo there are no results for progress … you simply ride it to the buzzer or you do not.

Even better?


Watch a bull rider ride. The buzzer sounds at 8 seconds … but the ride itself goes on for seconds more … they ride THROUGH the buzzer.






I will admit upfront … I am not a milestones guy or a ‘stage goal’ guy. Show me the end zone, tell me how much time I have to get in the end zone and let me get there.


<be aware … I am now officially mixing sports metaphors>



I think I became this was because I viewed some important behavior patterns in business people fairly early in my career:


lists goals aim

– A milestone was treated like a touchdown and not a first down.



What I mean by that is a milestone is … well … simply a step toward the ultimate objective. And unlike football this ‘first down’ doesn’t earn you another set of downs … it is simply a false ‘win.’




That was harsh.


Maybe it is simply a reflection of progress. But progress in and of itself, in business, is not the objective. The objective is some result. Partial results don’t equal a partial win they simply equate to a failure to reach the objective.


And, yet, milestones were treated almost equal to the ‘objective win.’




– The end zone line was treated like a stopping point.


knowing when to stop

What I mean by that is that everyone ran to the end zone line itself and not thru the line and into the end zone.

This may sound silly or wasted energy … but I could argue that most projects are not discrete. They typically beget something else – another task, project or action.

I always preferred focusing the project to end on the ‘completion+’. The “+” being an array of “what’s next” type thoughts and tasks.


But, that’s me, what I kept seeing <and still see today> is a weird rush to the finish line with a contradictory slowing down at the same time to insure going no further than the objective.



So … how did I mentally shift to something other than what I was seeing <and di not believe was the best way of doing it>?



Ride it to the buzzer.


Its 8 seconds on a bucking bronco or a beast of a bull. Isn’t that what business is like? And don’t give me the ‘it’s only 8 seconds and projects in business can take months.” Time is relative and I am actually focusing on finishing.



A long project can be energy draining and there are points where you seek to conserve energy to have the energy needed when it is needed. But that’s not really the point. 8 seconds, used wisely, is a lifetime.



A bull rider is the human athlete in the man-versus-beast sport of bull riding.


When a bull rider is still in control of the ride when the eight-second buzzer sounds it is called a Qualified Ride and therefore earns a score.

A qualified ride is 8 seconds. The clock starts when the bull’s shoulder or flank breaks the plane of the gate and stops when the rider’s hand comes out of the rope, the rider touches the ground or the rider’s free arm touches the bull.

I think business needs more of a bull rider mentality.


I think living Life needs more of a bull rider mentality.



I think more leaders should lead, and manage, not only with a bull rider mentality … but with a ride it to the buzzer mentality.






I can guarantee you pretty much one thing if you bring this kind of mentality to your professional life.


You will be successful.where are you moving better



Mostly you will be successful because you will ‘run through’ the objective while others are pacing everything to stop at the objective.


But I could suggest you will be successful because you will not need milestones or stage goals. Why? Because you don’t need them … you are riding until the buzzer.

And that’s all that matters.

senseless nonsense and serious nonsense

August 9th, 2013


“Thinking again?” the Duchess asked. serious nonsense woke up and

“I’ve a right to think,” said Alice sharply.

“Just about as much right,” said the Duchess, “as pigs have to fly.” – Alice in Wonderland



This is about the impossible versus what is possible … and the absurd discussions that take place around it.

Let me begin where I will end <just in case you don’t want to read everything in between>.

Impossible versus possible is the ultimate Life conundrum <at least for this article>.

The ‘let me tell you what is possible’ people are most strident in identifying ‘the possible’ utilizing something called ‘an objective knowledge approach <‘the world as it really is’>. They seek to provide their beliefs from ‘nowhere & everywhere’ or maybe better said … by providing perspective by looking at it from all angles. Well. Someone named Donna Haraway called this “the God trick.” In other words … it is impossible.


In order to explain and clearly define ‘what is possible’ <therefore by doing so … by a process of elimination … defining a set of ‘what is impossible’> someone needs to … well … do the impossible.



Now there is a Life truth to ponder.



With all that senseless nonsense, or was that serious nonsense, out of the way … let me move forward.


If you ever want to have a seriously nonsensical discussion with someone just bring up ‘impossible.’

And as soon as impossible is brought up you may as well quote Alice in Wonderland … ‘I think of 6 impossible things before breakfast.’


Personally … I have a love/hate relationship with the impossible.

I truly understand that some things are impossible. Yup. Believe it or not … there are truly some of those out there.

But I also have heard so many times ‘that is impossible’ only to find out it was … well … actually possible <assuming you spent some time breaking apart the head on straight thinkingimpossible and putting it back together again in a way that is possible … kind of like the Rubik’s cube style of thinking> that I am quite cynical of impossible.


I also admit that I find impossible interesting … certainly more interesting than the possible. Likely my interest is they both, mixed together, can seen from two different and opposite perspectives.



Alice in Wonderland <and the Looking Glass> are outstanding examples of how to have serious nonsensical discussions on impossible.

And it is a good reminder that while it may seem like senseless nonsense <wasted time> to us old folk … it is important serious nonsense to young people.


Alice <as in wonderland> is but a 7 year old in literature … but metaphorically she symbolizes all that the youth has to offer … she questions everything  … all questions seemingly directed through an intrepid attitude and constantly  using her intellect to solve problems. Oh.  And she always speaks her mind.


In fact … the lesson she shares is in her growing belief that very few things “indeed were really impossible.”


A message all young people have at the forefront of their minds.


It is also a message most old people have in their mental waste can.serious nonsense only f you believe


Just as all youth in today’s world … Alice is plucky, undaunted, and impervious to the dangers that may lie in world. These attributes typically lead the young to eagerly and  curiously delve into a world seemingly challenged by being stuck only in what is possible.


And … just as the young have an aggravating habit to do … Alice literally has to open the door for herself.


Alice finds herself at the Duchess’s door and knocks, but to no avail. This exchange between Alice and the Frog – Footman follows:

“But what am I to do? ” said Alice.“

“Anything you like,” said the Footman, and began whistling.

“Oh, there’s no use in talking to him,” said Alice desperately: “he’s perfectly idiotic!”


And she opened the door and went in.


What a marvelous thought with regard to impossible … and possible.


Ah, so what am I to do?  … anything you like.


The elder generation <the Frog doorman> doesn’t limit possibilities by suggesting impossibilities but rather opens up opportunities to what is possible … and empowers thinking.

The answer opens up all possibilities for her. She begins to question following tried & true <accepted> beliefs and wondering by just following ‘rules’ it will get her nowhere and that it is within her power to do anything she wants … to achieve her desired results.

In this case?

She opens the door.


Once through the door?

Alice experiments as she realizes that all the traditional rules and ‘possibilities’ serious nonsense impossiblearen’t necessarily the only way to do things … and by experimenting not only does she make shit happen … she experiences new things <impossible things>.


Basically she is challenging what I believe philosophers call logical possibility and impossibility.

I probably do not have this exactly right but this philosophical thought is something along these lines:


–          There are some things that we simply can’t imagine regardless of how hard we try, since they’re inherently contradictory or nonsensical. And then there are many other things that we improperly judge to be impossible for no other reason than that they don’t conform to our established ideas about how the world normally goes <Hume called these ‘matters of fact’>.

Matters of fact constitute one of two categories into which Hume sorted the things about which people make inquiries and exercise their reason. The other category is relations of ideas. Relations of ideas pertain to the truths of mathematics <2 + 2 = 4>, pure logic <frogs are frogs> and “every affirmation that is either intuitively or demonstrably certain.”

Therefore Hume suggests because the negation of any true statement of this sort is impossible it’s unimaginable <like 2 + 2 could add up to anything but 4>.



Imagination is essential to this type of thinking – Alice’s as well as the young.

In many ways imagination is the same as … yet opposite at exactly the same time … reality.


Just as the impossible is simply some warped version of possible.


This may all sound absurd … as does anything that seems impossible.

Impossible rationally discussed remains in the impossible category … unfortunately … it is only when you think irrationally that impossible becomes … well … possible.

How absurd is that?


Ambrose Pierce wrote in the Devil’s Dictionary:

Absurdity: A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one’s own opinion.


That which is deemed impossible is often simply a thought encapsulated within one’s own opinion.


Which is nonsensical in itself.


Making sense of the nonsensical is serious stuff. And it takes some imaginative thinking.

Because, frankly, most nonsense about ‘impossible’ is actually provisional … circumstantial. In other words … change the circumstances and you can often discern a completely new & unexpected rule of cause and effect which ultimately makes the initial impossible … well … possible.


We often get frustrated by that which we expect just to … well … ‘be’ … as we challenge what we understand is the natural order of the world or the ‘accepted rules of what is … and what will be … if you follow this thinking.”

I know it is frustrating to me <but I like ‘impossible things’>.

All that said.

It makes the everyday world is frustrating to those who challenge impossible things because this type of thinking challenges most people’s desire to fit experiences in a logical framework where they can not only make sense of the relationship between cause and effect but also draw up a list of rules to insure impossible is clearly defined <and can be avoided>.

And, yet, a quest for true knowledge would suggest ignoring those ‘impossible rules’ as often as is feasible.


<that all made my head hurt>


Back to Alice as an example.

Alice is on a quest for true knowledge. Wonderland <or youth> is a place where one can release inhibitions, to release preconceptions of ideas and to start really questioning to gain true wisdom and … I assume … true knowledge.

In its youthful insanity, in its complete separation from the world of adults, one can begin the long journey to true knowledge and defining truth in that impossible things are often quite readily possible.


Please note.

This is being written as a reminder to us old folk to think about this shit more often … and for my young readers who seem to post the

weheartit impossible

weheartit impossible

“possible is found in impossible’ image incessantly on tumblr  and weheartit.



Making the possible from the impossible is a journey. With obstacles and twists and turns … and often some discussions that will make your head spin like the girl in The Exorcist and spew forth green stuff:


In fact … Alice shares a discussion like this:

“… I believe I can guess that,” (Alice) added aloud.

“Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?” said the March Hare.

“Exactly so,” said Alice.

“Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on.

“I do,” Alice hastily replied, “at least – at least I mean what I say – that’s the same thing, you know.”

“Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter.  “Why, you might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’!”

“You might just as well say,” added the March Hare, “that ‘I like what I get’ is the same as ‘I get what I like’!”

“You might just as well say,” added the Dormouse, which seemed to be talking in its sleep, “that ‘I breathe when I sleep’ is the same thing as ‘I sleep when I breathe’!”

“It is the same thing to you,” said the Hatter, and here the conversation dropped, and the party sat silent for a minute, while Alice thought over all she could remember …



What a delightful episode in Wonderland … or is this a business meeting I was in?


We old folk can twist words using preconceived thoughts to design impossibilities better than anyone. And the young struggle to unwind the tangled web of reasoning because … well … ‘impossible’ is a roadblock they aren’t willing to admit exists until they actually run into it.

The young rarely hesitate to discard preconceptions <those roadblocks> when they come across situations that seem to obviously refute them.

In their youthful vim & vigor they display a consistent readiness to encounter reality on their own terms. An attribute, or character trait, essential in the discovery of truth … and the abolition of the impossible <we older folk have stated as truth>.


Obviously … I am overstating the youth versus older folk. Because we older folk serious nonsense cheshire catdon’t come up with our ‘that is impossible’ crap willy nilly. Our ‘matters of fact’ beliefs are based on what we have experienced … seen, smelled, touched, and tasted. It is impossible <oops … didn’t mean to use that word there> to observe a future objectively this way. It was Hume who suggested that the only reason we don’t think that the world will radically change tomorrow is that it hasn’t ever changed in this way before.

It was also Hume who believed all of our beliefs about ‘unobserved matters’ rest on the one key assumption that the future will resemble the past.

This may sound irrational … but there is no rational way of convincing someone they are wrong about this … or as a corollary … that tomorrow will be different.


You are stuck.

Stuck in what is possible and the impossible behind some door you cannot see behind.

<back to Alice>

What does Alice do in this case? She literally opens the door for herself.


What am I to do?”

The Frog Footman’s response … “anything you like.”

The response opens up all possibilities.

She has the power to do anything she wants. She has the opportunity to define what is possible.


Possibilities are like opening a door that you have either been told will not open or you hesitate to open because of some preconceived notion <like in Alice’s case … she seeks permission>.


Anyway <here is the big close>.


The Duchess keenly observed, “Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.”


The moral of this rant/observation/babble?serious nonsense alice type


I am not sure I am qualified to offer a moral to this story.


But maybe a thought on the impossible <or a couple of thoughts>.


First thought.


While there are certainly ‘impossible’ things … there are far more possible things than we believe.

In fact … maybe the problem is that most of us struggle with the infiniteness of possibilities and therefore seek to expand the ‘impossible’ to decrease the possible <and make it slightly more palatable and less stressful>.

Sound nuts? No more nuts than arguing something is impossible only to find out somebody made it possible.

Second thought.


Logical thinking about impossibilities is actually illogical <if you want to think about t effectively>.

Logical thinking shouldn’t see possible or impossible but rather possible but inappropriate actions and decision.

I say this because we are ultimately confronted by an infinite number of possibilities.

Sometimes we can resolve them through simple rules and yet sometimes we need additional rules to decide which of the simple rules to use.

And when completely unfamiliar situations arise we have to imagine new rules <or use what has been believed in the past> that include or discount the previous ones therefore either redefining rules or creating new ones <in a never ending cycle>.

Using that kind of logic … the only mistakes we can truly make are in our application of rules … choosing one over another.

And maybe the only mistake is to believe something is impossible.

Third thought.


Impossible is all about fear.

Yup. Because the possible is comfortable. It is the known.

It is the pleasant company of friends in a warm comfortable room with your favorite drink in hand speaking of this and that. The impossible is the unexpected factor. It is … well … fear.

Fear as the sudden shattering discovery of a reality that while it may only decide to reveal itself at the moment … has always been present, simply unseen, in your warm comfortable room.

It is a fear embodied in a crushing end of an ignorance … or simply an uncomfortable disruption of easy comfort.

Impossible means being swept into a vast emptiness of bottomless black depths of oceans where, as you are driven deep, you have the unpleasant certainty that your feet are far from any steady ground.

It is a fear in which unlike a dream <or nightmare> you are unsure you will awake and see the familiar you left behind when you fell asleep.

Enough poetic descriptive … impossible is about fear. serious nonsense create is to destroyAnd overcoming it.




Remember <please>.


In order to explain and clearly define ‘what is possible’ <therefore by doing so … by a process of elimination … defining a set of ‘what is impossible’> someone needs to … well … do the impossible.


Which begs me to conclude with some words from my friends at TopModels:


‘Begin by stopping. Stop believing every study you read. Stop believing every platitude <capitalism need growth, education is the key, etc.>. Stop believing there is such a thing as objectivity – you will always find somebody who thinks exactly the opposite is ‘objectively true.’ Start to be curious – and critical – about the attitudes <and beliefs> of others and about your own.”


Enlightened Conflict