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It’s been a week since Mercury went retrograde* and things are all out of whack. At least, that’s what the SuperOptimist keeps hearing from many quarters. Meetings cancelled, elevators stuck, phones malfunctioning, promises broken, limbs broken, blood clots revealed — it seems everyone we know is being affected.

In fact, just trying to type this post, our laptop went on the blink and we had to hit “Restart.”

We have been warned not to take on any new projects, or buy major appliances, or sign contracts…in fact, it’s probably best to just stay indoors with the covers pulled over our heads until the bad juju passes. After all, just look at the people we know who have been felled by the mighty gods of astrology.

This book on astrology is quite intriguing.

But there’s a positive aspect to the zodiac zeitgeist that people fail to take into consideration: Mercury retrograde is a great excuse to not do anything we don’t want to do. We look for this kind of rationale all the time. Now we have one!

We can turn down the cocktail party invitation from that colleague who bores us to tears. We can claim “computer trouble” for continuing to miss the deadlines the boss gave us. While we’re at it, we can postpone doing chores around the house and cancel our plan to wade into weekend traffic to visit the relatives.  It could all go haywire, so better to leave well enough alone.

Probably wise to take to the hammock and stay there.

Understanding that 90% of people on the planet know their astrological signs, and 70% read their horoscopes regularly, there’s a wide berth for saying “Christ I wish I could ______________ , but you know, it’s Mercury Retrograde.”**

(Meanwhile, if some weird shit happens to you during this period, look at it as a positive: this planetary event is drawing attention to some part of your life that you’ve been ignoring. Rather than avoid the issue, embrace the upheaval and see if you don’t come out better for it on the other side.)

Can’t hurt to read this either.

*Every four months or so, the planet Mercury goes into “apparent retrograde motion,” where planets appear to temporarily reverse the direction of their orbit from the point of view of Earth. And yet, since Mercury is 48 million miles away and often obscured by sunlight, no one really sees this occur — even astrologers employing a 3 inch Newtonian reflector telescope with 300 mm focal length lens. 

**This particular cycle ends on October 18th.  So plan accordingly.

What do you mean, you don’t know who Charli D’Amelio is? She’s only the most popular personality on TikTok, with 76 million followers and counting! (The number changes constantly, there’s a live feed of the count here.) So what does Charli do to earn these followers? Dispense sound financial advice? Speak out against racial injustice? No. She dances to pop music, mostly around her parents’ house in Norwalk, Connecticut.  And she’s damn good at it too. Why, she’s become so popular that she even has a line of official sportswear, in case you need a new hoodie:

Charli D'Amelio hoodie

You may not have 76 million viewers on TikTok, but you can wear her sweatshirt.

Now it’s easy to look at Charli dancing in her bedroom, decide that it would be great to become a big star by dancing in our bedroom, and make a few 6 second videos in a quick quest for fame and fortune.  The reality? Though it sounds like a fairy tale, 17-year-old Charli didn’t just switch on her iPhone camera and become an overnight sensation. She’s been a competitive dancer since she was 3, was raised by a fitness enthusiast mom and a businessman dad who sweated over her career, and spent years working on choreography and routines away from the limelight.  She’s also an optimist, gazing out at the world and not being intimidated by other dancers, celebrities, and cat video uploaders all jockeying for our somewhat divided attention.

So how can you follow in Charli’s dance shoes? There’s a common saying in many professions that you should “fake it until you make it.” This applies to jobs from fashion modeling to selling used cars to pursuing social media likes. When you are new in a job you don’t have the confidence and skills, but you can develop some aspects of competence by mimicking those who do.

This notion is popularized in treatises expounding laws-of-attraction thinking, like that of Rhonda Byrne in her book “The Secret” and its subsequent cottage industry of conferences, coffee mugs and a current spin-off movie on Netflix.

As Byrne preached to her acolytes: “How do you get yourself to a point of believing? Start make-believing. Be like a child, and make-believe. Act as if you have it already. As you make-believe, you will begin to believe you have received.” But this is nothing new, as Madame Blavatsky, Norman Vincent Peale and Zig Ziglar attested before her.

Today this idea is the go-to trope of countless parents, personal coaches, and positivity gurus. Unfortunately, “Fake it till you make it” also has a negative side — while the make-believe approach may enable .01% of the people to rise above, it can’t work for everyone. That’s why every handshake artist in a business suit doesn’t become a CEO, why 99.5% of writers never have a bestseller, and why every teenager dancing on TikTok won’t get their own reality tv series.

The essential problem that blocks “success through a positive attitude” is a little thing called reality. Yep, reality is a real cock-blocker of make-believe. It’s amusing that Americans, once among the most practical people in the world, have become “reality deniers.” Whether it’s living our lives through the lens of social media or questioning medical science during a pandemic, we think we are are able to bend reality like magicians or morph into an image of perfection for our “followers.”

As the current Covid count is proving, reality ultimately triumphs over delusion.* The SuperOptimist encourages you to embrace the truth about yourself, both the good points and the not-so-good. If you get comfortable with reality now, it will serve you well in the future. Once you have a firm grasp on the facts (“I’m lousy at math. I’m good at crosswords. I enjoy frozen desserts. I’m a developing a slight paunch due to frozen desserts.”) then you can face the world with the determination to overcome your weaknesses while playing to your strengths.

And if you do want to get famous on social media like Charli, then embrace what it takes to succeed: talent, luck, timing, and consistency.  Good luck!

*Only the President of the United States and his apologists are not convinced of this.

 

 

 

 

It’s clear that humans like creating contests — and picking winners. There’s a huge number of competitions ranging from small local prizes to large international Grands Prix, judging what makes for success and failure, good and bad, winners and also rans. A lot of comparing goes on to decide who is “better” and who is “worse.”

People can go batshit crazy comparing themselves to other people. Is the winner really better than you? Do they have superior bloodlines? Did they go to an Ivy League college? Do they have deep skills you don’t? Why do people like hanging around them more than you? Is it their shoes? Do they have rich and powerful friends? Do they go skiing with famous people? Pure insanity!

The only competition you should care about is the internal competition with yourself.  Look at what you were doing five years ago and see if you’ve made any progress. If you do an honest analysis and have made no progress towards better work in the last five years – great! This realization means your progress can start today.

Take it from some accomplished artists: you never know what might set you on a new course.  Artists from Picasso to Gerhard Richter have radically changed their styles seeking a better way to express themselves. This kind of evolution is also available to you right now — free of charge — if you only give yourself permission to change what you’re doing and go “off recipe.”

Experimenting with a new style or process means going off the map into the unknown, and possibly taking a turn down a mysterious dark highway and ending up with one last $10 chip in a Northern California casino. But most people (reliable airline pilots excluded) are supposed to crash occasionally.

Here’s how Mr. David Bowie (the musician, not the spider), framed it:

“…if you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”

Are your feet touching the bottom? Wade out farther. Now isn’t that better?

Note: if you’d like more recognition for your efforts, we recommend purchasing a trophy for yourself.  The bigger, the better. When anyone asks how you got it, you can tell them “I’m a winner at life.” Who can argue with that?

In 1927, Charles Lindbergh received acclaim for piloting The Spirit of St. Louis across the ocean — the first non-stop transatlantic flight between New York and Paris.

Yet two weeks before,  French aviators Charles Nungesser and François Coli also attempted the journey in an effort to win the Orteig Prize. Strapped into their byplane L’Oiseau Blanc, they took off from Paris for New York, only to disappear before arrival.  The remains of their plywood and canvas-covered plane have never been officially recovered.

A sad story of failure? The tragedy of a near-miss? On the contrary. To this day, the disappearance of L’Oiseau Blanc is considered one of aviation’s great mysteries.  Creating a great mystery is an amazing accomplishment in anyone’s book, and 80 years later their attempt continues to be the source of investigation and conjecture.

And how many pilots from yesteryear are celebrated with a rooftop restaurant in Paris named after their doomed byplane, featuring a delicious “pâté en croûte” complemented by artichoke and foie gras from Aveyron?  Further proof that bad outcomes do not equate with failure, but lead to fine dining opportunities in the world’s most romantic city.

As the SuperOptimist knows, it’s in the attempt that life is best measured.  All hail Nungresser and Coli, true heroes who tried their best!

“I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.” – A. Einstein

Sure, we all know the classic E=mc2. But did you know Albert worked with with fellow physicist Leo Szilard to develop a more energy efficient refrigerator (shown above)?

At the time, traditional ice boxes were being replaced with modern machines that ran on electricity. Unfortunately (for the people able to afford them),  they relied on poisonous gases like methyl chloride, ammonia, and sulfur dioxide as refrigerants.  When newspapers reported the death of an entire family in Berlin due to toxic fumes from a broken refrigerator seal, Einstein and Szilard set out to find a better solution to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

The need for irrational thinking helped them circumvent the standard wisdom of the day and use a heat source to provide coolant, with thermodynamics driving a combination of gases and liquids through three interconnected circuits.

Unfortunately, none of Einstein and Szilard’s alternative designs for refrigerators ever became a consumer product due to the expense of manufacturing them.*  It was the introduction of freon in 1930 that propelled refrigerators from death traps to non-toxic storage units for cold cuts, ice cream, and leftover Chinese food.

*The good news? Today there is renewed interest in their designs due to the impact of freon and other chlorofluorocarbons on the ozone layer. The need for alternative energy sources means humanity may yet benefit from the Einstein-Szilard Fridge.