Failure is the first step toward trying?

I've been talking to the kids a lot about being prepared.

Simply being prepared. Not just in the easy survivalist way of having blankets and knives and books and art supplies.

A super survivalist-looking mountain man stands in the forest, surrounded by silence, and about to start his chainsaw.

In the sense of being mentally prepared to handle stressful situations where you start to panic, and the importance of thinking ahead about how you can respond in as clear-headed a fashion as possible and make the best decision available in that circumstance.

As with many things parenting, there is a wide gap between telling your children how to do something well, and modeling that thing well.

I was at a recent event; an event which led me into the paths of various people. Many I did not know. Some I did know. There were others whose faces I recognized but couldn't bring up a name, and others whose names I had heard but couldn't place with a face.

And then there were the ones whose names and faces I knew, because I try hard to remember those things. But this certain category of person is in the category of People I Know Who Should Probably Know Who I Am, But Don't.

The reason I say this is because she was a former student at a school I had taught classes at for over six years. She had never been in my class, but I knew her name, and greeted her in the hallways, and so forth.

This was from several years ago, and I had seen her occasionally at some youth sports functions and greeted her and her infant child, then a second. My greetings were brushed off, which is mostly fine...

...although acknowledging the presence, and

remembering and using the name of someone is a skill, a learnable skill

that is always in vogue. If something is always in vogue, it means it's timeless, classic, and should be a founding principle of living life.I typically remember people's names more than they remember mine. Not always. Sometimes I forget. But I'm able to remember what I do for one reason:

because I try. 

Because I try.

Hint: everyone can practice doing so instead of repeatedly using ONE OF THE WORST ONGOING EXCUSES IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD. It is this:

Sorry, I'm SO BAD with names

There are two things wrong with that.

Number one,

if you're bad at something, then you have a choice to either a) get worse or b) get better.

Because nothing stays the same. Everything, nature reminds us, eventually decays. Including skills and relationships. If you don't practice them or work on them, they decay.

They don't stay the same. They get worse. It's kind of like voting: choosing


 to vote is still a choice that affects the outcome. Choosing to


stand up at a particular point in the face of injustice is still a choice. Inaction is a choice. If I sound worked up, I am. Doing nothing is a choice. And sometime's that choice is fine. Sometimes it's okay to let things happen around you. To be the chill, cool person who just rolls with whatever vibe. I do that sometimes.

That was a lengthy number one. Basic thing is: if you're bad at something, that means you have the opportunity to become better. And that is your choice. Not something sunk in stone for the rest of your life.

evening run for meds to the store; soundtracked by Run the Jewels. boom.

Number two,

when most people say that phrase, they're saying it to make a social situation less awkward. But when you say 

sorry, are you doing it as a one-time or occasional memory lapse? Or are  you saying it preemptively to head off getting called out for not remembering someone in the future, because you have no intention of actually trying any harder in the future.

I don't like that. I still apologize for not remembering people's names. Plenty of times I don't. I apologize for needing to ask, because I would like to be able to a) use their name in whatever brief conversation they have, b) let them know I am trying, and c) get my brain some extra practice in filing and archiving important information. And people's names are important information.

Maybe not every single person you meet. But that's the point: that in refusing to make an ongoing choice to at least try and improve your memory recall with names, you are saying that information is not important.

You are not that important.

My sister and I used to joke - in a non-humorous way - about this one guy who had met each of us multiple times, and yet could never remember not only our names, but seemed to have barely any recollection of who we were. This was someone who was in a professional post-grad program, had plenty of friends in the crowd he hung out with, and whose general intelligence and memory seemed to function fine in other ways. So it came down to him making

no effort

to remember people who didn't seem important to try remembering.

I try to make it easy on people a lot of the time and proactively introduce myself:

Hey good to see you, Leonidas! Joseph Long here, been a while!

And of course they nod and smile and say

of course I remember you!

And sometimes they're telling the truth. Point is, regardless of how judgmental I sound above, I cut people slack when they forget

when they can at least bring some basic respect and friendliness to the table, give their attention for a short period of time, and be present in whatever short interaction they have. 

It feels good to have people use your name.

It feels good to be remembered.

My dad's always been good about using people's names in greeting and talking with them in both his personal and professional life. My mom too, but Mother's Day weekend is coming up so I'll probably say other good things about her soon and let the old man have some solo props.

My buddy Rachel worked in a library for over 15 years. I saw her over and over greeting patrons by name and the way their faces lit up when she'd make them feel wanted, special, and important by their very presence...and by the fact that she remembered and used their names.

My wife Becca is so good about giving her warm and sincere attention to those she meets, and to a couple groups in particular - children and the elderly. Two populations that frequently get treated, by adults, with condescension, patronization, and often minus the use of their names. It matters to remember. If nothing else to make the effort.

I've heard that Keanu Reeves is super cool to work with and makes sure and learns the names of a lot of the crew. Don't know if that's true or not, but I'd like to think it is. The guy is Neo, he rides motorcycles, he's got another killer trilogy (John Wick), andhe's a kind soul who remembers people's names? Can't be true. Hope it is.

So this woman, early 20s, comes up to me with two young ones in tow and informs - or asks? - me:

Hey, aren't you one of the Long brothers?

Of course this is an identity I am proud of; to be identified in the community of any or all of my four brothers is an honorific I accept with pride and enthusiasm. Even when it's minus the dignity of a name...


it bothered me a little more than usual, as I had memories over the last several years of occasionally running into her, going out of my way to be friendly, and always using her name.

Because I remembered.

Because it feels good when people remember your name.

It truly is one of the great steps toward success

in any field

I would encourage a person to take:

practice learning and remembering people's names.

Anyway. I informed her that

yes, I am; I am the one called Joseph.

The attachment of a name to my identity seemed of less importance to her than the fact that I was a member of the Long Family. Okay.

After accurately informing her that I was, in fact yes, one of the Long brothers, followed by the revealing of my name, an irrelevant fact she quickly discarded, she dived into the follow-up question.

Was it

so what's keeping you busy these days?

Was it

do you miss teaching? 

Was it

so how are your little ones doing?


It was this :

Are you on Facebook?

I fumbled,
Yeah, sometimes I guess. 

So you're not on very much,
she decided quickly for me.
Okay, then I'll need to get your phone number.

My brain was still playing catchup, which is no excuse for how I handled the next thirty seconds.

All of the conversations and preparation and training I've done with our kids about

thinking clearly under pressure and preserving your wits in stressful circumstances, et cetera et cetera... all deserted me in that decisive moment of choice over whether to a) panic or b) not panic.

I went with Option A. Panicked. How so?

I gave her my phone number.

She thrust her phone into my hands, and I froze.


I do not know. I simply do not know. Could I have just asked

why do you need my phone number?

Sure. Just like I could also have accurately said

actually, we are already Facebook friends and I think that's a good place to keep our friendship for the time being. At the bare minimum until you can correctly recall my name. 

But no. I panicked. It may not have appeared so to anyone looking on. But I did. I take responsibility in this most ridiculous of circumstances for simply

not thinking clearly and doing the opposite of what I meant to do. Which was : not hand over my phone number.

late evening trek to the store for meds; soundtracked by Run the Jewels.

Is it a big deal that I did? No, not really. But it's the principle of it. I wasn't thinking, and I got inexplicably flustered and distracted, and did the opposite of what I

preach and evangelize about,

which is basically along the lines of 

don't get bullied, flustered, pushed, or pulled into doing something. When someone tries to do so, time is on your side. Simply say no, decline, or find a polite-ish way to not even respond on their timeline. Do it on yours. Not theirs. If they're pushing you for something, don't even respond on

their timeline.

That's what telemarketers and aggressive salespeople and really good PTA presidents do: they hound you and hound you and get you flustered and try to convince you that you need to make a decision on whatever it is they want...and you need to make that decision NOW.

No. You don't. And I knew this. I threw it all away, sadly and inadvertently, when I gave up my digits.

Upon being gifted this information she had no right to have, she launched into an ensuing conversation about children, in which I learned that immediately after high school she began having unprotected sex, which was something she acknowledged she could have handled better, as it led to the birth of her first child.

And second child.

And third.

All of which was not received well by her family because of her ongoing health issues and so forth. *disclosure: I know exactly what those health issues are, as she conveyed to me what they are, but as a former CPR-trained medical professional, I am highly-attuned to HIPAA protocols and therefore will not be including any details concerning her sex life and contraception methods, both which I which I know a bit about now.

In the end, there's only one word to describe how I handled this interaction: panic and failure.

I thought I was prepared, but I wasn't.

That's it. I have decided to make this post an abrupt ending. I embedded heavy-handed advice and judgmental observations all throughout, so I'm just gonna quit now.

I panicked.

I did the opposite of what I teach to do.

That makes me a hypocrite.

I acknowledge it, and move forward.

As my brother James says frequently,

Trying is the first step toward failure. 

More failure, here I come. Bring it.

I may get old, I may rust and die someday...but I will not entropy myself into oblivion through non-action.