A few years ago I wrote the forward to a short story collection by an author I admire and respect. I want to share with you the first few paragraphs of this. Stick with me here. There is a reason for this.
He looks like any other person, hair a dirty brown, eyes of blue, maybe a Texas Longhorns cap on his head, some shadowed whiskers on his chin. He may even look like the guy next door or that Kiefer Sutherland fellow, but without the intense stare. He sits at a table on the patio of some barbecue joint or coffee house, beverage of choice in front of him (I’m willing to bet it’s the barbecue joint, and the beverage of choice is an ale called Arrogant Bastard, which is somewhat of a contradiction if you know him).
A lady sits across from him, dark-haired, olive-complexioned, eyes a soft brown. They chit and chat about life, the day behind them and the one before them, kids and animals and work and money and probably the Astros. Craig Biggio may come up in the conversation. Yeah, if he were still with the Astros then just maybe…
They look like the average couple in America. And they are. But then she asks one question, her voice like music to his ears, and the conversation becomes less like the average couple in America and more like two business partners discussing strategy. In this case, they discuss storylines.
“So, what are you working on?” she asks, sipping her tea (or maybe she likes that Arrogant Bastard as well).
He shakes his head, smiles. There is mischief in the gleam in his eyes, in the upturn of his lips. He ponders for a moment before speaking. Is this something she really wants to hear? Is this something that’s going to make her gawk at him, her eyes wide, jaw open and ask, “What the hell is wrong with you?”
He shrugs and puts his hands out as if he is going to tell about the largest fish ever caught. “There’s this guy and he’s kind of a jerk to his kids and wife and he kicks the crap out of them just because he can. He’s a real douchebag. But, what he doesn’t know is that there is this creature…this thing…watching him from the mirror and…”
And the story, which was nothing more than an idea moments earlier, begins to form as he talks, his voice growing more and more excited. He wipes his lips with one hand. “Hold on, Babe,” he says and pulls a notepad from his back pocket and a pen from his shirt. “I need to write this down.”
This is the way it is for Kevin Wallis, the average man with above average dreams; a man who pens his darkness onto paper…
I wrote this introduction for Kevin Wallis for his collection, Beneath the Surface of Things. It’s a fabulous book of stories and I was honored to get to work with him on it, and blown away when he asked me to write the intro. When I sat down to write this, I wanted to relay something to the readers that I felt was important, and that was that Mr. Wallis was an average Joe with a wife and a job and a life. He’s just like you and just like me and just like that person sitting in Starbucks with his red cup and reading Stephen King. He’s a person with dreams and ambitions and fears and likes and dislikes. He loves someone and she loves him back. He works hard. He raises his kids the best he can. He’s the average Joe, like you and I.
What’s the point?
At some point in life, we were all the average Joe or the average Jane. We started out simple enough, most of us with the innocence of youth blinding us from the realities of this world. Then we started making our way in life, following paths chosen for us at first and then that we chose later on. We found our niche and that’s the direction we go. Some of us stay average. Some of us go above or below and some of us just excel so far beyond average.
But what’s the difference between average and above average and phenomenal? Well, I believe one of those things is determination. Another one is desire. But I think the glue that holds determination and desire together and sparks the engine that runs the car to success is expectation. The higher the expectation the higher you can soar (and, yes, the harder life can crash back down).
Expectation is a mindset. That’s the best way I can put it. If you have low expectations for yourself, don’t think you’re going to go very far. But if you believe in yourself and your abilities, your expectations are going to be at a higher level. They will also be harder to achieve, but that just fuels the determination and desire to keep working and reaching for those lofty expectations.
If you don’t believe you can do something, then guess what? You’re right. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t think they could do something achieve what they think they can’t do. The average Joe can have an above average expectation for himself. Every single person who has succeeded in the world had expectations for themselves, and most of them were high, expectations that weren’t necessarily within reach. They didn’t settle for average.
There’s this group out there who sings this song. You may have heard of them: the X Ambassadors. The song? Renegades. I love the lyrics, but I especially dig this part:
All hail the underdogs All hail the new kids All hail the outlaws Spielberg’s and Kubrick’s
It’s our time to make a move It’s our time to make amends It’s our time to break the rules Let’s begin
If you ask me, the song is about determination and doing something to change the way things are done. I’m probably wrong, but that’s what I get from it.
Expectations dictate what you do and how you do it. If you don’t believe in yourself, then your expectations are terribly low. If you want to achieve something great, you have to change your mindset, you have to change your expectations, you have to be willing to reach higher.
Before I go, let me tell you a little bit about someone else.
There’s this guy. He doesn’t sleep all that well. He loves his coffee and his wife and kids, not necessarily in that order. He believes in Christ. He has dark hair and blue eyes and a constantly dislocated thumb. He works hard for a living at a job he sometimes likes. He loves milk. He loves strawberry Kool-Aid. His favorite big music group is Pearl Jam. His favorite local groups are Prettier Than Matt and Deleveled. He’s a huge University of Michigan fan. He likes to laugh and often tells corny jokes. He has regrets and pains. He is currently typing this blog, but by the time you read it he will be on to something else. He—I—am the average Joe and I’m an underdog and I break the rules and for the longest time I had average expectations, and my results have been average, at best.
I no longer expect average of myself. My expectations are higher, and sometimes that makes working a daytime job more difficult. It makes not being where I want to be a little more frustrating. It also makes me work harder to get better and better with each story I put out. I expect phenomenal things and they are coming. Please, come along with me. Hop in the car. Let’s take this ride together. I’ve already put the key in the ignition and the engine is rumbling. It’s time to put this baby in gear and get rolling. Buckle up. It’s going to be fun. Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.