“If you have ever lost a loved one, then you know exactly how it feels. And if you have not, then you cannot possibly imagine it.”
– Lemony Snicket
Over the weekend I lost a friend and continue to mourn the void he left. Today because of my bullheadedness I fear I pushed another friend away. As I forced to have a conversation with a young man that called the departed his best friend. A term that develops a more sacred meaning the older I get. Our conversation was more of a fight and then silence than the talk I had hoped for. It had become apparent that it is easy to push people away when emotions are high, for who’s sake I’m still not sure. Although very sobering thought has just occurred: if I didn’t pursue years of mindfulness training would be just as angry with the world as the young man I tried to talk to? Currently my eyes are moist and want to believe yes; as I tell myself its because of excessive yawning wanting to fight off sleep for a little longer to better organize these thoughts. But, it would be more accurate to say stumbling on an old album has summoned up a bevy of raw emotions in me.
I’ve said goodbye to grandparents, teachers, and friends before. But, when you watch someone grow up for more than a decade; like an uncle you’re invested in seeing them grow up and do great things. When the unthinkable happens you know exactly how it feels, and you need loved ones more than ever because no one else can possibly know how it feels.
Recently I had a chance listen to an interview with Eric Thompson, you know the “How bad do you want it?” guy; if you don’t here’s a video, I’ll wait… (approx 5min)
Now the interview itself was a surreal reminder to the master procrastinater I considered myself I have a long way to go. The thesis of Mr. Thomas’s story can be distilled down to: When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breath, then you’ll be successful. It was strangely refreshing for me to hear; because it reminded me when engaged I can go for days focused on a project; letting the results (good or bad) fuel the venture. But, like many motivational videos/ interviews the feeling faded, and a few days later the thought of his story edged back into my mind. As several friends all hitting the New Year wall early and asked “How do you stay motivated?”
In the back of my mind I was trying to translate the story.
“There was a young man, you know, who wanted to make a lot of money and so he went to this guru, right. And he told the guru you know I wanna be on the same level you are and the guru said if you wanna be on the same level I’m on, I’ll met you tomorrow at the beach…”
I didn’t get very far. For one: I don’t have the heart to or attention to disclose to them my recent snatch ‘PR’ and other wins have from wanting ‘it’ more than most people are comfortable admitting to themselves; two because motivation is a game that explaining the rules in their entirety is more disservice than gift.
My belief on motivation in short is its personalized and comes after bouts of success, failure and burnout with a daunting explanation that borders on new agey. Yet, I fumbled through an explanation that was reminiscent of a Rocky monologue, and equally as elegant, but at least they got the picture: Life works in seasons and don’t curse your waning motivation, find a way to recharge and press on.
A little disappointed that wasn’t Thomas’s true thesis, or even what I exactly believed myself. Only in the end it offered what they needed, and surprisingly an understanding why they sought me out for. “Thanks Senpai!” Hit my inbox again and again.
The word I stopped using when I hung up my gloves and retired from fighting had be come a fully viral meme. Bookish nonathletes accepted the name and an epiphany struck me like the 3/4 upper cut I threw once upon a time. The term ‘Senpai’ and specifically the cry to be “noticed by senpai” has entered the internet Zeitgeist and has become a meme thanks social media.
Finally, I could hear vividly in that moment what I what my advice and thoughts to my younger friends, should be. Of course it came though as an impression of ET (Eric Thomas):
You tryin’ to get motivated!? You want get senpai to notice you? Why’re you even worryin’ ’bout that? Of course senpai isn’t going to stop and notice you; their too busy grinding! Finding their way in the world! Don’t wait around for senpai, find a sensei! Get yourself a teacher that can give you the foundation you need, work hard and an then senpai will pay attention to you.
I can only wish capture a fraction of the energy E.T. has when delivering a speech or just going off on some student. But, after that moment I understood the microcosm of Senpai/Kohai trope: I was an de facto Senpai. Also the irony doesn’t escape me that I began writing as a way to refine my thoughts and create my own voice online, much like my mentors before me… Yes I want senpai to one day notice me too. And, this is where I’d like to share with the uninitiated a quick definition to what I am going on about, so you won’t feel compelled to search google about this concept and potentially terrifying Reddit posts that boils down to we all seek little bit of validation, growth, and mentorship we all need without noticing it. “Senpai/Sempai” is a Japanese honorific term used when addressing someone with elevated social status schools, sports, clubs, etc… but not exactly an authority figure like a teacher or manager; “I hope Senpai will notice me” very plainly is an anime trope to express unrequited admiration.
I sincerely think there’s a reason to why so many people have made chasing after the approval of thought leaders a cultural obsession. Or conversely why studying celebrity culture is so much more rampant. Not just because of the ubiquity of famous people streaming their lives. Likely because everyday people don’t recognize the mentors in their lives and accept life lessons from them, but know they need life lessons to someone who made it. And this is something that I feel needs to change. The mentor – apprentice paradigm is in my all too American DNA: from a life multiple high school sports, martial arts, learning public speaking, to sale I’ve always had someone that would even if they loathed me answer my tough questions. And, sometimes make me realize why I’m so hungry to learn and strive to make it to their level. Today I never noticed until now but you’re doing a good job my diligent kohais out there.