Inspir(ed)(ing) by Brian Hildenbrand

It's a funny thing, inspiration.  We draw it from celebrities, role models, passionate stories of struggle and perseverance, but maybe most importantly we find it in our peers.  In our friends we find our most moving stories of reinvention, dedication, love and pain.  Perhaps the most crucial truth we each can take from that realization though, is that you, to someone, are an inspiration.  I don't say that in a futile attempt to boost people's confidence or fluff your egos; I say it because I know it's true. I of course find myself exceptionally blessed in this regard.  I've been fortunate enough to be surrounded by such an incredibly talented, loving group of people that I'd be blind not to realize it.  I've had supportive, loving parents who've somehow found ways to reinvent their creative lives, a sister who cares for others more than I'll ever know how to, a brother who's pursued every creative outlet he happens to dream of, and friends who've built their own successful businesses after persevering for the better part of a decade, friends who've quit their lucrative jobs to find more fulfilling lives,  friends who've found themselves in dark times and found it in themselves to pull themselves out, friends who've fought cancer and refuse to do anything but love everything around them, and friends who've revamped their lives in order to travel the world doing what they love.

What I've struggled to understand through all these amazing people though, is that I, to someone, am inspiring.  I left a stable career in NYC to find a life that made me happier, and through plenty of struggles since, have continued to strive for that.  Despite my own self-judgment and criticisms, I know someone who knows me finds that admirable.  I'm writing this down and sharing it because I often forget that, and I think a lot of you probably do too.  I think realizing that we have the ability to be inspiring to other people encourages us to be better people.  So I suppose this is just a reminder: we are each inspiring, and we should take positive advantage of that.

Soccer was my music. by Brian Hildenbrand

Recently, in conversation with a friend whose younger years were not spent obsessed with an inflatable ball likely hand-stitched by someone half a world away and half my age, I slipped into a reminiscent profession of my love for the beautiful game, and what I missed so much about it.  More importantly, I found myself defending why I can be such an unforgivable snob when it comes to playing casual, recreational soccer.  The analogy that came to mind was music.  After all, when everything comes together just right...a perfect through-ball, the deftest of touches to fool a defense, or simply calming possession play...it feels like music. Now, I realize this may come across as merely putting a fresh coat of paint on truths we're all well aware of, but I think perspective matters.  It's no enigma that athletes in any sport seek out other talent and strive to play with the best team they can.   The simplest objective in any game is to win, so we might as well give ourselves the best chance to do so.  It's probably even safe to say that playing alongside more talented teammates can make you a better player.   But let's be honest, at this point in my life, my best playing days are far behind me, and I personally am not one to take the rec. league standings all that close to heart.  So if all that's true, why not just strap on my boots and grab a hat-trick each weekend in the local pub league?

Well, firstly because I probably couldn't, let alone want to.  But here's where the analogy came clear to me.   I would never fault a musician for wanting to surround his or herself with others of their own caliber.   You can't exactly expect a novice guitar player to slip into beautifully complex harmonies while you're jamming, or chime in with a nasty little solo when you set him up for it.  But man, isn't it a glorious thing when that does happen?   Try imagining Led Zeppelin without Jimmy Page or Robert Plant, Simon without the Garfunkel, or even Mick Jagger without Keith Richards...chemistry, harmony is what made them the unforgettable artists we love today.

There's a reason the words teamwork and harmony are considered synonyms.  For example, Barcelona has become one of the most popular clubs in the world throughout their recent string of dominance, but not simply due to their success.  They are so loved because when Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta combine, it brings music to our eyes.

Soccer was never just about winning to me; it was about making music.  Granted, my music likely more closely resembled a middle school jam band than U2 or the Rolling Stones, but I could feel the music, and that's what I loved and miss so much about the game.  I'm of course not too much of a snob to jump in a casual pickup game, but sometimes I just wanna play with some folks that can make music on the pitch.

To all those I had the chance to play with in the past: thanks for the music.

Value of "cheap" Likes by Brian Hildenbrand

Social Media Managers are tasked with a seemingly simple, yet often surprisingly difficult challenge: Engage your followers to the point of interaction in 5 seconds or less. Let's be honest, 5 seconds is on the generous end of the time you get to convince your audience that what you're telling or showing them is worthy of that little click of a button that essentially says to the rest of their Facebook community "I endorse this post, you should check it out, too!" Very early on in my profile management days, I found that the quickest way to get such an endorsement was through social media's favorite replacement for 1,000 words: pictures! As a manager who took pride in the copy I wrote and my ability to engage a fan base through creative and clever anecdotes, I was borderline offended that the photo I took while at a stop sign for 5 seconds would encourage more engagement than my carefully crafted one-liner that I'd edited 15 times before posting. I soon came to realize that I was being a prideful fool.

Facebook rewards posts and pages that encourage interaction. That means when I post some cute picture of a little girl standing on top of a mountain that gets 100 likes, not only are thousands of people going to see that photo as it pops up in my fans' friends' news feeds, but the next day when I post some relatively uninteresting update about my clients' new hours the next day, I'm far more likely to have a greater audience than had I not posted that cute photo.

This of course does NOT mean that likes are a sufficient measure of engagement when analyzing the success of your Facebook marketing efforts, but it should remind us that those quick "likes" are potentially much more valuable than the "like" itself. Really, it's just further proof that there is no one way to properly measure social success.

Climbing: It's only natural. by Brian Hildenbrand

When I first had the idea to delve into the [unnatural] beauty of soccer in a previous post, I had planned to juxtapose the two biggest passions I've had in my life, rock climbing and soccer.  I hoped to highlight their uniquely natural and unnatural qualities, respectively.  In the end I found it more appropriate to address them separately. Now I am not naive enough to claim that climbing is the most physically natural activity for a human to take part in.  That title of course belongs to the long-distance runner, as was so eloquently articulated in Christopher McDougal's Born to Run.  I would argue however, that as a holistic activity, you won't find anything more natural than climbing.

First off, climbing incorporates tools like quickdraws, shoes, and rope.  Given our limited physicality, our species wouldn't make it all that far without tools.  This quality in itself of course holds very little weight, since nearly any other activity can claim the same.

Secondly, climbing incorporates a unique mix of desire for achievement and communal support.  We as people are inherently selfish (or at least that's what Plato taught me).  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but our motive for action, whether driven by greed or a desire to "feel good" about ourselves, is inherently selfish.  Climbing allows us to pursue each of the most basic desires related to accomplishment.  There is of course the opportunity to challenge ones self and pursue personal goals.  There is also often a sense of communal achievement, most notably in the case of multi-pitch climbing and mountaineering.  And finally, there is the opportunity to help others (the most unselfish self-serving desire).  Particularly when bouldering, there is a reason the routes are referred to as "problems"; they need to be solved, and helping someone else solve their problem can be equally as satisfying as sending it yourself.

Lastly, I'll address the physical.  Is there any other sport that is so obviously an attempt to recapture physical attributes of our ancestors?  Climbers for years have quite literally studied the movement and techniques of apes in order to perfect their trade.  Climbing efficiently may not be where evolution has taken us, but it is truly incredible how successful some have been in imitating our evolutionary cousins.  It would be difficult to find a more striking ape impression (apart from Andy Serkis) than Dan Osman, seen below.

Whether you agree or disagree with my claim, I don't think it makes climbing any more or less special.  It's in our nature as climbers though, to continually ask the question "WHY in the hell do we do this?!".  I suppose this was my feeble attempt at an answer.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wy3SuhEQHVg]

Is the Truth or Fallacy of Global Warming really what's important? by Brian Hildenbrand

First of all, I do believe global warming is, regrettably, a very real problem that will eventually lead to some horrific obstacles to our culture’s way of life.  As far as I can tell, the science is irrefutable and denying it seems to simply be a way to justify our damaging habits.  That said, what I’m curious about is how the existence or absence of global warming became such a point of contention, and what it is exactly that doubters intend to accomplish by disproving it.  When's the last time someone watched a documentary on global warming, immediately decided to change some daily habit because of what they learned, and was then ridiculed for the damaging new practice they'd acquired. Most such lifestyle changes in fact, are not only likely to help slow global warming, but often have several other positive side effects.  So, if these changes are all good and positive, what exactly are we arguing over?  Since this is a blog, not a book, I’m going to highlight just a couple commonly discussed issues which are often brought up in the context of global warming: DIET:

Reduce Meat Consumption?:  It has been claimed that approximately 18% of all greenhouse gases are related to livestock, due partially to methane's effectiveness (20x that of CO2) in trapping heat in the atmosphere.  This knowledge, coupled with health and animal rights movements, has helped reduce the average American's meat consumption by 10% since 2004 (keep in mind our population continues to grow, so this does NOT translate to a 10% reduction in gases produced).

Environmental Benefits: Reduced greenhouse gases

Other Benefits:  Reduced risk of heart disease and other chronic illnesses, Financial benefits

Downsides:  Less stuffing our faces with animals

Buy Local?:  Shopping local should be a no-brainer (at least when possible).  This applies to goods far beyond food, and is generally preached in regard to bolstering the local economy.  Shopping locally is important with food specifically because local very often means Fresh.  So much of our produce is picked from the plant far before it's ready, and ripened with calcium carbide and ethylene gas, among other methods.  These methods not only limit the food's vitamins and nutrients, but have not been proven to be completely safe either.  The best way to avoid this is by shopping from local, organic producers whose produce you know is fresh.

Environmental Benefits:  Reduced greenhouse gases via decrease in shipping distances

Other Benefits:  Boost to local economy, More nutritious and flavorful food

Downsides:  Sometimes more expensive than mass-produced alternatives

FOSSIL FUELS:

SUPPORT NEW ENERGY, NOT OIL?:  This is where we get into much bigger government policy and funding issues, lobbyist interference, foreign relations etc.  The intricacies of which are admittedly above my pay grade.  The simple truth however, is that fossil fuels are finite.  Any politician is aware enough to at least provide lip-service to the idea of developing means of alternative and sustainable energy.  Unfortunately, we are a culture that needs immediate results, and a policy change that would result in greater funding for new energy while increasing fuel costs would be far too much of a political risk.  Even if the masses were capable of understanding and supporting such a change, oil companies have far too much leverage for that to happen.  Basically, everyone knows we should, but not enough of us are willing to make sacrifices in the meantime.

Environmental Benefits:  Reduced greenhouse gases, Cleaner air, Less polluted oceans

Other Benefits:  Future economic security by leading new energy development, Increased health via less exposure to pollutants, Lower energy costs in long-term, Maybe even more exercise from not driving your car when gas prices go up

Downsides:  Possible increase in energy costs in short-term (gasoline, heating etc.)

MY THOUGHTS:

If all of the steps we can take to reduce our impact on global warming are resoundingly positive changes on several fronts, how about for once we focus on what we all agree on rather than our differences?  Hoax or Truth, efforts to slow global warming will be beneficial environmentally, economically, nutritionally, and socially.

Conversely, if in fact global warming were proven to be a hoax, the fallout would be nothing but detrimental.  People would feel less responsibility for their own actions, momentum behind developing alternative energy would decline, and the entire environmental movement would suffer a tremendous setback, leaving future generations with a horribly polluted and dying world that we had a chance to save.

Let's focus on the future, rather than this pointless, fruitless witch-hunt.

Uniquely Beautiful (thoughts of soccer) by Brian Hildenbrand

Until the age of 22, I defined myself as a soccer player.  From the time I first touched a ball, there was seldom a time when I was happier or more comfortable doing anything else.  Looking back now with fresh perspective, I find that rather odd, if not unnatural.  Not that there's anything wrong with the sport we affectionately refer to as "the beautiful game", but because there is no real natural reason for humans to be adept at doing much anything with their feet apart from running (and maybe climbing, but I'll get to that in a later post). Tracing back to the first Olympics, competition was a more direct reflection of practical skills.  Boxing and wrestling for instance, are obvious alpha-male type competitions, while javelin to this day is still a display of hunting superiority.  It was only natural for games to progress, and as cultures longed for more entertainment and activity through sport, creativity knew few limits.   Fast forward to present-day sports like golf, basketball or baseball, and it becomes difficult to see ties to ancient competition.  A common thread prevails however, and that is the fact that the vast majority of these games rely on extremely fine-tuned skills that humans were (arguably) supposed to have.  Golf and baseball for instance, rely on our ability to make and use tools; a 5 iron may be a far cry from a rock used to crack nuts open, but it's a tool nonetheless.  We were of course meant to be able to throw things accurately, so football and basketball make sense, and the list of course goes on.  The only major sport that troubles me in this regard, is soccer.

There are hundreds of theories as to why soccer is the world's most popular game, but perhaps it's because it is uniquely unnatural.  There is no real evolutionary reason for a person to be incredibly gifted and talented at kicking a ball 60 yards, artfully bending its trajectory, or juggling a ball on one's head.  Soccer is a game of great skill, but it is also a game based on training your body to do something it was never meant to do. Practically speaking, any skill developed specifically for soccer, generally does not translate to every day life, now or hundreds of years ago.

Why this unnatural quality of a sport would translate to popularity, I don't know.  Maybe it was just that; the inherent disbelief that an entire sport could essentially be played without your hands was universally intriguing.  Maybe the complete disconnect between a game and every day life was refreshing, particularly in the case of manual laborers who used their hands all day.   Or, perhaps the fact that sheer physical prowess did not necessarily equal success, encouraged the masses to try and defy preconceptions of athletic excellence.

Regardless of the reason for its popularity, the fact remains that at least among other mainstream modern sports, soccer is uniquely not human.

For entertainment's sake, the world's finest example of how non-human "the beautiful game" truly is:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGjgvHKKrEc]