Smoke ’em if ya got ’em!

smoke em if ya got em

When my dad was in basic training for the army, every time they’d take a break, someone would yell out: Smoke ’em if ya got ’em!

(This was in the early 1950s, when it was assumed that the only reason someone wouldn’t smoke during a short break was because they’d run out of cigarettes!)

At the end of the 15 minutes (or however long the break lasted), it was back to basic training. The window of opportunity for cigarettes was officially closed, whether or not you’d smoked.

Although I’ve never been a smoker and definitely don’t encourage the habit, this line does make a great metaphor for other areas of life. I see it as a reminder to use the talents, skills, and opportunities available to you while you have the chance.

(By the way, if you’re put off by a military/smoking metaphor, you can think of this in terms of a business that allots its departments a “use-it-or-lose-it” budget — money that has to be spent before the end of the year, otherwise it won’t be accessible at all.)

Whatever metaphor you choose to think about, this principle can apply to many situations in life.

For instance, a world-class athlete (or potentially world-class athlete) might have only 10-20 years during which their body is capable of performing at an elite level. (The window is much smaller for some athletes, such as Olympic-caliber gymnasts, who seem to peak in their mid to late teens — and are generally “washed up” by their early to mid 20s.)

But you don’t need to have Olympic aspirations to experience this phenomenon. In everyday life, opportunities often present themselves for a limited time only. For instance:

  • A job offer might be made…but then rescinded (or offered to someone else) if not accepted within a specified time frame.
  • Romantic possibilities might present themselves…only to slip away if not pursued.
  • You might have a flash of inspiration (such as an idea for a book, movie, business, invention, or other creative project)…but never follow through on it.

To summarize the lesson here in a five-word cliché: Strike while the iron’s hot! (Or, as Steve Winwood sang, “While you see a chance, take it.”) Because if you don’t, oftentimes that chance will disappear, the parade will pass you by, the window will close, the iron will cool off.

(How’s that for a parade of depressing clichés?!)

You might experience this as the waning of enthusiasm. Perhaps an idea that you were once passionate about no longer excites you — or at least not enough to actually follow through on it. You might find that you’ve moved on, you’re in a different place in your life, or you’ve lost the thread of a long-neglected idea.

Sometimes the proverbial window closes permanently, but sometimes it doesn’t! Sometimes you still could follow through on an opportunity or inspiration, but for one reason or another (or for no good reason at all), you just don’t. And that, I feel, is the even bigger tragedy.

This is where exciting possibilities enter the realm of the “would-bes”:

  • Would-be books that never make it past the notes-and-ideas stage.
  • Would-be services and contributions that never make it out into the world.
  • Would-be creative expressions that never get expressed.
  • Would-be realities that never get realized.

The good news, however, is that many cooled-off sparks can be reignited. Sometimes, giving an old idea or project your renewed attention can rekindle your enthusiasm for it. You might even find that the time away has given you a valuable perspective, new inspiration, or increased determination not to let the possibility languish any longer.

Other times, however, you might find that certain windows shut permanently:

  • Someone else gets the same idea…and actually follows through on it.
  • Changes in technology (or fashions or the general zeitgeist) render your once-cutting-edge idea passé.
  • That wonderful person you had a first date with (but, for no good reason, never contacted again) has the audacity to go off and marry someone else.

But even these seemingly wasted chances can help you in the long run. If nothing else, they serve as reminders to pursue inspiring opportunities that present themselves in the future. And rest assured, they will present themselves! You will get new ideas, offers, and opportunities.

And this time around, you’ll be ready for them! You’ll pursue your passions. You’ll follow up on those leads. You’ll act on those flashes of inspiration.

You’ll remember that while some opportunities are always available, others aren’t — which makes it that much more important that you pursue them while you still can.

Or, as they used to say during my dad’s army breaks, Smoke ’em if ya got ’em!

Have you ever had the window shut on an opportunity that you didn’t follow through on…but wish you had? Is there any chance of rekindling that spark now? If not, what new opportunities ARE present in your life right now — and how will you act upon them?


Your Biggest Addiction

Unless I know you fairly well, I don’t know what addictions you do or don’t have. I don’t know if you smoke, drink to excess, gamble compulsively, binge eat junk food, or bite your nails.

I also don’t know if you have any positive addictions (or, if that feels too much like an oxymoron, we can just call them good habits). You might meditate every day, exercise, drink green smoothies, or do anything else on a regular basis that helps you feel better — and that, if you were to stop suddenly, would make you go through withdrawal (or at least feel […] Continue Reading…

How Do You Solve the South Pole?

As ludicrous as it might sound, what if your friend told you that they wanted to “solve” the South Pole? (And no, they weren’t talking about global warming — and no, they’re not a penguin.) Imagine the ridiculous conversation you might have:

Friend: I’ve got a big problem: Every year I go to the South Pole, and I always get really cold — even if I bundle up in the warmest clothes I have.

You: Well, then just don’t go there!

Friend: But that doesn’t solve the problem! That’s just avoidance!

You: Exactly! I think that you should avoid going to the South Pole! Maybe instead, […] Continue Reading…

Getting out of the Mental Mud

The biggest change in my life over the past few months is that now, unlike before, when I realize I’ve made a wrong turn, I don’t keep driving down that road!

I’m not talking about literal wrong turns (although it’s true for those as well).
I’m not talking about figurative wrong turns — actions that lead you someplace where you didn’t want to go. (I’ve already written a post about that — and what to do when it happens.)
I’m talking about mental “wrong turns” — thought patterns that take you off your intended path…perhaps even into an inner “ditch.”

It’s not a big deal to have unintended thoughts. In […] Continue Reading…

What’s Your Word of the Year? (Here’s Mine)

For the past few years I’ve practiced my own personal New Year’s tradition:

On January 1, I pick a word for the year and write it on my bathroom mirror — where it stays for the next 365 days.

I write the word in bold, blue Sharpie and position it so that whenever I look in the mirror, I see it just above my head (or, if I’m standing with particularly good posture, as if it’s written directly on my forehead).

Each time I see the word, it reinforces its meaning, its power, and its role in my life — so I’m careful to choose a word that […] Continue Reading…

New Year’s Manifestations (NOT Resolutions!)

HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope that you had a wonderful end to 2014 and a happy New Year’s celebration — and that 2015 is already starting off great for you!
So, it’s that time of year again: time to turn over a new calendar page, turn over a new leaf, and make your New Year’s resolutions.
(Or not.)
When you think of New Year’s resolutions, do you think, “Yay!” — or do you think, “Ugh!”. Or do you start off thinking, “Yay!” (in January) and end up thinking “Ugh!” (by February, if not sooner).
If you’ve ever gotten excited about a New Year’s resolution — […] Continue Reading…

Be Like a Kid on Christmas Morning

Here’s something you can probably imagine, even if you don’t celebrate Christmas or have kids…

Think of a kid on Christmas morning — before they open presents…or even see them.

How do you think they feel? Bored? Excited? Or do they not feel much of anything at all until they actually open their presents?

Most likely, they’re bouncing off the walls with excitement from the minute they wake up! (That is, if they managed to sleep at all!)

They don’t wait until they actually see their presents until they feel excited. They don’t wait until they open them. They don’t wait until they […] Continue Reading…

You WILL Find What You’re Looking For

(In several posts I’ve been tempted to simply write a sentence or two — or even just leave it blank except for the title. This is probably the closest I’ve come to actually doing this, but I decided that, rather than explain or elaborate, I’d simply offer some examples to reinforce the title’s point…)

If you’re looking for reasons to feel good, you’ll find them.
If you’re looking for reasons to feel bad, you’ll find them.
If you’re looking for reasons why your life is great, you’ll find them.
If you’re looking for reasons why your life is terrible, you’ll find them.
If you’re […] Continue Reading…

But That’s What Really Happened!

When I started looking into creative-writing programs, I got a book called The Creative Writing MFA Handbook.

It’s a guide for people applying to MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programs, covering everything from choosing the best-fitting school and submitting your application, to making the most of the experience once you get there — especially during the workshops, which are at the heart of most writing programs.

The author’s #1 piece of advice for being workshopped (i.e., having your piece critiqued by fellow students) is: Don’t get defensive!

Aside from not criticizing readers’ feedback (which harbors ill will and stifles honest discussion), he also discourages […] Continue Reading…

Step Right Up! (…or don’t)

Have you ever been to a carnival where the carnies call out to you from their rides or games: “Step right up! Right this way! Two throws for a dollar!”?

Maybe they’re trying to lure you over to the ring toss or some other game (that probably looks easy but is next to impossible to win). Or maybe they’re trying to coax you into taking a ride on a roller coaster or a Ferris Wheel or the Tunnel of Love or the Haunted House.

Many of the games or rides might appeal to you. You might be very happy that the […] Continue Reading…