Joey McIntyre’s Boilerplate Encouragements

You know the song “Stay the Same” by Joey McIntyre?

I hate it. Hate, hate, hate.

I get that it’s supposed to be uplifting and inspiring, but for me, it smacks of lazy, unexamined, unicorns-and-rainbows positivity. The title suggests that staying the same is the way to go, but the whole song itself doesn’t build on that; in fact, it seems to totally contradict itself. The way the lyrics are written and put together sounds like someone just randomly took a bunch of Hallmark cards, cut them up, and pasted them together to make a rhyme.

The Chorus: A Dangerous Affirmation

Consider the first few lines: “Don’t you ever wish you were someone else; you were meant to be the way you are exactly.” Right there, it sounds like the generic encouragement that a friend who’s only half-interested in your problems would throw at you because he or she tuned out halfway and doesn’t want to bother understanding your issues.

If you’re meant to be the way you are exactly, what’s the point of changing? What’s the point in trying to do anything? Let’s just stay on our comfortable little plains and plateaus built on platitudes, and just take the opportunity to love ourselves. The world doesn’t expect any more, and it doesn’t owe us any less.

Then Joey warbles on: “Don’t you ever say you don’t like the way you are; when you learn to love yourself, you’re better off by far.” The first part, I can get behind because if you let your self-hate cripple you, then it’s all over. I get that. But what I can’t stomach is the sweeping statement that learning to love yourself is better, period. I mean, what if you’re a total jackass or loafer? Are you supposed to be okay with being a pest and a leech, just because you already “love yourself”?

That’s only the first step. You’ve got to love yourself to the point where you realize you can be awesome, you’re not at your best yet, and then work your way up and forward from there. You’re not meant to be the way you are exactly; you’re meant to become.

The chorus ends with “And I hope you’ll always stay the same, ’cause there’s nothin’ ’bout you I would change.” Either that’s a lie, or the singer just isn’t thinking very hard.

The Verse: It Gets Worse

The first (and only) verse starts with: “I think that you could be whatever you want to be.” Sounds promising. Sounds similar to “if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything”, the line which makes “Back to the Future” my all-time favorite sci-fi movie.

But then the verse goes on: “…if you just realize all the dreams you have inside.” Big problems with that writing. Like, where else would your dreams be but “inside”? Do you keep them outside, in a jar on top of the refrigerator, or in your back pocket where you might carelessly leave them on laundry day? Is your mind outside your body? And the whole statement, “you could be whatever you want to be if you just realize all the dreams you have” smacks of tautology. Of course you realize your dreams when you are whatever you want to be; why didn’t I think of that? Thanks a lot for giving the most helpful advice ever, late ’90s pop song!

And didn’t the song say earlier (at the very beginning, actually), that you shouldn’t wish you were someone else? So why say anything about becoming whatever you want to be? That’s what wishing you were someone else is. What do you want? I’m so confused!

The next lines (“Don’t be afraid if you’ve got something to say; just open up your heart and let it show you the way”) are pointless and just contradict the idea of “staying the same” for me. If you are honest and expressive, don’t censor yourself, and don’t keep yourself closed in, then you open yourself up to conversations, discussions, and ultimately, opportunities for growth and change; the fact that there’s a “way” that your heart shows you suggests that there’s a journey you must take, and you’re not meant to “stay” anywhere. So while Joey tells us to stay the same, he’s still flip-flopping and advising us to not be stagnant.

The Bridge: Taking Us Nowhere

Then there’s the bridge: “Believe in yourself; reach down inside; the Lord above will set you free.” It might be because of my agnostic, leaning towards atheistic tendencies, but for me, you either believe in yourself or believe in the Lord to set you free. Either work your own way through your own problems, or wait for a divine bailout. Any advice that gives both recommendations sounds like a speaker who’s hedging his motivational bets.

The rest of the bridge (“Believe in yourself; you will come alive. Have faith in what you do; you’ll make it through”) seems to hammer home the same point made earlier about getting through obstacles to get to a goal. But again, for me, it addresses a totally different problem from someone wanting to be different from who they are. It’s the last line in a long, meandering, falls-flat-on-its-face attempt at inspiring people to…

…I don’t know, really.

In Summary…

So basically, that’s why I hate the song “Stay the Same”, and there’s plenty about it I would change. You can still listen to it if you want, but I defy you not to cringe at the message, or lack thereof.

You know what? Just listen to “Man in the Mirror.” Whether you like Michael Jackson’s take or James Morrison’s, it’s a damn good song with a message written right.

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On Discipline and Satisfaction

The thing about discipline is that it’s got this connotation of being just this tedious, repetitive, mundane activity that only bores, bureaucrats, and the anally retentive will get any measure of satisfaction from. Discipline is about restraint. It’s about lines that you’re not supposed to cross, or color outside of, or deviate from. It’s about rules that will, supposedly, hinder you or another in some way or another. And that’s not cool, man. Like, totally not cool.

We NEED Structure

But what a lot of people don’t realize (or maybe, what everybody doesn’t realize most of the time) is that discipline is what builds the framework around which we build everything. It’s the trellis that vines grow around. It’s the highway systems and railroads and trails that you follow as you backpack through Europe. It’s the pentatonic scale that your voice bounces along on as you attempt to hit those runs on your awesome rendition of “And I Am Telling You” or “Let’s Get It On”.

So when someone says that discipline is not their thing, and they’ll have nothing to do with it because it hinders them as an artist, or otherwise interferes with whatever inexplicable energy-based, mood-dependent activity or creative endeavor that they are pouring their passions out into, it might be good to remind them that hardly anybody starts off being great or a genius. You don’t just pick up a guitar, then feel a magical connection based on its feeling “just right” in the crook of your arm, and suddenly come out with this great, tear-jerking cover of “Let It Go”, your fingers plucking the strings as if they were red-hot, the chords ringing out like bells in the silent space formed around you by a spontaneously generated, awestruck audience that whip out their smartphones, taking videos of your feat and uploading it onto YouTube, where it gets like 999 million hits, and then turns you into a star overnight (whether that’s the time it takes before you become a star or the duration of your stardom, it’s anyone’s guess, but if it were mine, I’d guess the latter), and you are happily crowned as the miraculously musical prodigy of your generation.

Pleasure without Pain? Dream On

You know what the more statistically likely scenario is? It’s that you won’t get it right the first time. Or the second time. Or the third. It’s going to be an ego-crushing, humiliating, why-the-hell-am-I-doing-this marathon that will never seem to end, during which time you will continually question the sanity of going back and doing it over. On that score, the complainers probably get it right; there’s very little satisfaction to be gotten during that grind, that place and time when no matter what you do, it hardly seems to get any better.

But that’s the thing about satisfaction: more often than not, it’s delayed. Gratification that comes without effort is a myth, I think. Or, more likely, when you find yourself gratified with hardly any effort on your part, it’s because of the effort of other people who are carrying your hedonistic, McHappiness-seeking butt.

Behind every superb meal is a team of chefs, sous chefs, sommeliers, and other professionals who spent years learning about every nuance of the food that you’re about to consume, and you’ll probably have no more intelligent comment on it than “This is pretty good”.

Every great movie that tugs at your heart and fires up your soul is the product of thousands of man-hours spent by talented and creative workers (whose talent and creativity are honed, not inborn), more than nine-tenths of which will never be seen on the silver screen, left as nothing more than cellulose acetate ribbons on the cutting room floor, or dormant MOV/AVI/MP4/name-your-format files on some no-name videographer’s hard disk drive, never to be found or even sought out.

Every “miracle” drug (I put “miracle” in quotes because drugs don’t just happen)┬ácomes from millions of dollars and hours’ worth of research, quality control, regulation, administrative cost, failed experiments, and sleepless, coffee-fueled nights in the laboratory spent by people in lab coats who spent decades of their lives learning what they know, and earning the right to learn more about things that you’ll never even wonder about.

My point, I guess, about discipline, is that it’s a necessary cost. There are no miracles. There is no sorcery. There’s only input, work, and output.

What’s Your Discipline? Go and Find Out

So whoever you are, whatever you’re doing right now, I suggest you go out and find that discipline that will give you the most satisfaction. Find that one thing that you won’t mind mindlessly pouring weeks, months, and years into. Find the grind that will sharpen you rather than wear you down. Recognize how much it will take from you, and be prepared to pay for it.

If you’ve already found your discipline, kudos to you; you’re better off than I am, and probably 99% of the world’s population.

And what if you haven’t found yours, and probably never will or can?

Well… condolences, and welcome to the club.

Worse than Thieves

I saw a news article regarding an unconscionable scam. Some people, seeking to exploit the heartfelt sympathy the world feels for Japan, have set up fake sites claiming to be collecting funds to send to the disaster victims.

This is an act of twofold theft. First, obviously, comes from the fact that money meant for the victims never reaches them. Second, however, comes from the fact that well-meaning people are discouraged from donating altogether, thinking to themselves that their money will likely be stolen anyway. One bad apples spoils the bunch; one ersatz fund-raising site discredits the honest ones. Ones that are well-established may have no problem–surely everyone knows about the Red Cross–but if there are websites set up by con artists who claim to be collecting proceeds on behalf of said organizations, then there is an equally possible, if not greater danger of deception.

I wanted to learn more about these incidences, and came across this article warning people not to be fooled. One recommendation it makes is to check whether the charity meets certain standards for accountability set by the Better Business Bureau. I’ve never even heard of that organization before now. The thought of having to read a set of 20 standards and comparing a charity to said criteria before feeling secure in making a donation is disheartening. It must be equally disheartening for honest charities, who then have to focus part of their attention and resources on assuring sponsors of their good faith and intent. It just makes the donating process confusing, and likely causes some delay in getting the donations to those who need them.

These scams are being implemented so easily because of the power and convenience of the Internet. Anybody can set up a website, and they do not have to make it traceable to themselves. They can claim to provide certain services, using online users whose glasses are tinged with the idea that global connectedness necessarily leads to altruism and a shared desire to lend a hand. Faceless and nameless, they can set up a stage to divert the financial aid of countless cyber-samaritans into their own pockets.

I have no numbers on how many people are doing this. I have no idea how many such sites are up right now. But I’m struck dumb by this harsh reminder that it is not just familiarity that breeds contempt: anonymity does too.