Tag Archives: Breaking Bad

The Lessons of ‘Breaking Bad’

Walter White from AMC's Breaking Bad. Bon voyage, awesome show. Thanks for the lessons.

Walter White from AMC’s Breaking Bad. Bon voyage, awesome show. Thanks for the lessons.

Author’s Note:

  1. There are no spoilers in this post.
  2. I know everyone’s talking about this show and annoying all of you who don’t care. I’m sorry. But it’s just that good.

Breaking Bad is the best television show with commercials that has ever been.

I say “with commercials” because HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax do amazing things with their original programming.

I’m new to the show. I didn’t start watching it until after my ex-wife moved out this past April.

So, I consumed all five seasons within the past five months via Netflix and watched the final eight episodes on my DVR culminating with last night’s outstanding series finale.

Perhaps it’s the timing of everything going on in my life combined with when I watched Breaking Bad. But to my memory, no show has ever made me as contemplative and introspective as this one has.

What Is Breaking Bad?

The main character in Breaking Bad is a man named Walter White.

When we are first introduced to him, he is a high school chemistry teacher.

He’s a husband. A father to a teenager with cerebral palsy. There’s a baby on the way.

Walt is a bit nerdy. A bit socially awkward. But smart. Liked by his peers and family, but maybe not respected by them.

A company he helped create but is no longer part of has grown into a multi-billion-dollar enterprise.

It eats at him because Walt makes a subpar high school teacher’s salary. And he works a second job at a local car wash.

We learn right away that Walt has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, and that he may not live long.

He worries about how his family will survive financially once he’s dead.

Walt’s brother-in-law works for the DEA—the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Because of that relationship, Walt learns how much money there is to be made in the drug business. Walt decides to partner with a former high school student of his—a known small-time drug-dealer—to cook crystal methamphetamine to save up a decent nest egg to leave to his family after his death.

Because Walter is a brilliant chemist, what he creates is the crème de la crème of crystal meth.

It’s in high demand. From users. And from dealers, big and small.

And that’s when the money starts to roll in.

Walt gets a taste of unlimited money. Almost easy money. But now he has a new thing to protect. Riches.

Walt gets a taste of greatness. What it feels like to master something. But there’s always a bigger fish. A threat.

Walt gets a taste of power. But when you’re powerful, you become a target. And so does your family.

The meek, nerdy, dying, down-on-his luck underdog is easy to root for.

Then, slowly, one little incident at a time, Walt loses a little bit of his soul. He must protect his secrets, his money, his family and himself.

In order to do so, he must do bad things. Very bad things.

And it’s up to us to decide how we feel about those choices.

And it’s up to us to decide what lessons can be gleaned from the powerful story.

The Lessons

1. There are no shortcuts to success

Cheating has consequences. Dire ones.

But I’m not sure that’s more important than the notion that success requires sacrifice. It requires going the long way. It requires a daily commitment to excellence. It requires making choices that are both positive and wise.

You’re not going to get rich quick.

You’re not going to ace your college final without knowing the material.

You’re not going to win a gold medal without enormous work and sacrifice.

You’re not going to get promoted without displaying a long-term commitment to excellence.

You’re not going to get physically fit—or more importantly, stay physically fit—without that same effort.

You’re not going to have an unbreakable relationship with your partner without investing emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually in them.

You’re not going to have an amazing relationship with your children without demonstrating unconditional love and earning trust and respect through daily sacrifice.

I didn’t need to watch Breaking Bad to recognize this truth. But the show did an excellent job of reinforcing it.

Take the long way. The slow way. The hard way. The challenging way. The sustainable way.

Please.

Make a commitment to positively changing your life in some way, big or small. Don’t look for the shortcut. Just do a little research on the best way to accomplish your goal.

Maybe it’s losing weight.

Maybe it’s building stamina to run a marathon.

Maybe it’s learning a new language.

Maybe it’s fixing a broken relationship.

Nobody said it was easy. They just said it was worth it.

2. Everything in life is a tradeoff

In the end, what do we care about most?

Money?

Sex?

Love?

Houses?

Cars?

Power?

Fame?

Freedom?

I don’t like to talk about “feelings” too much. They betray us. Often. But I submit that HAPPINESS is really what we’re all after. That amazing feeling when things are just going right. When you feel on top of the world with hardly a care at all.

Will money make you happy?

Will sex? A better job? Fame and recognition?

What if you have your dream job (which might not actually be a “job”), your dream house, $100 million in the bank, and the daily freedom to do as you please with whomever you please? Are you happy then?

What if you have all that, but you find out you’re going to die in two weeks? Or two months? Or even two years?

Are you still happy then?

Walt had a nice family. Everyone loved each other and really came together to rally on his behalf once he was diagnosed with cancer.

As he morphed into a new kind of man throughout the course of Breaking Bad, he gained the money and power he craved. But he lost many other things.

It’s the eternal tradeoff.

And it always exists.

Your bigger house is going to be great. But your house payment and property taxes increased, you have more lawn to mow, you have more rooms to clean and you’re at a heightened risk for burglary.

Your new job is going to be great. But you have way more responsibilities, your bosses will hold you accountable now for the results of your individual endeavors and the team projects you manage. Your hours will be longer and harder. Your free time, less. You’ll think about work more when you’re home. You’ll have to answer phone calls and emails on family vacations. You’ll have to tell your children you’re too busy to play right now.

There’s really no end to the examples.

Anytime you add some benefit to your life or make some major change, you also forfeit something else.

Every. Single. Time.

It’s worth thinking about those things.

And it’s worth asking the question: Will this thing I really want actually make me happier?

Sometimes it will! It’s a question worth asking. But it will never be without a cost of some kind.

3. Lies are poison

If you’re doing something you can’t tell people about, you’re poisoning yourself and all of your relationships.

I don’t believe there are many exceptions here.

If something you’re doing must live in the shadows, it’s probably not making your life better.

It might be making an aspect of your life seem better. This is what happens when we start using “feelings” to justify bad behavior.

How many times must we see examples on TV, in the news, in the lives of others and our own before we make a commitment to honesty?

This isn’t something we need to do for others. It’s something we must do for ourselves.

4. No one knows the future

Walt’s transformation takes place over a two-year period. No one could have predicted he’d become what he became.

I like who I am.

But there are things about my life I don’t like.

I want more money.

I want female companionship.

I want fewer time constraints to travel and pursue personal passions and interests.

What could the pursuit of those things do to me if I allow myself to be compromised? If I turn my back on my personal code of conduct?

Could I turn into someone I no longer recognize?

Could I lose myself?

Could I become a monster?

Yeah, maybe.

Unless I remain committed to honesty. And living in the light. And serving something greater than myself. My son. My friends. My future partner. My God.

Putting those things ahead of my personal wants and desires. Always putting their needs first.

I feel confident that if I can maintain that commitment, that I’ll never lose myself.

That I’ll always be someone I can be proud of. Someone my son can be proud of.

And that I’ll always recognize the guy I see in the mirror.

That’s important to me.

5. It is never too late to break good

Redemption is one of my favorite words.

I like how it sounds. But mostly I like what it stands for.

After not being the kind of husband I wish I would have been during the early part of my failed marriage, I feel really good about the effort I gave in the final two years.

Those two years changed my life. They made me a better person.

It was redemption for myself. So that I can sleep at night, knowing I gave all I could to making it work.

I showed a lot of grit.

And now I know what I’m capable of. On the inside.

And now I know what kind of man I want to be.

I want to be a good one.

I don’t know what Walter White was at the end of Breaking Bad.

I don’t know whether he was a good man or a bad man. I guess that’s for each of us to decide.

Just as we get to decide who we want to be.

Every day we wake up is another opportunity to make the choice to be better than the day before.

To not look for the easy way out. The shortcut.

To recognize there are always tradeoffs when we make certain choices.

To remember to be honest. To avoid doing things we can’t disclose to the people we love.

To realize that the future is uncertain. Tomorrow is not promised us. We might not wake up. To take nothing for granted.

And that today, if maybe you’re not feeling so good about yourself and your life choices, you can choose right now to break good.

To try something new. To let go of fear and anger and sadness and regret.

And replace those horrible things.

With fortitude.

With love.

With honesty.

With peace.

With hope.

Being good makes you happy. But don’t try to be happy. That’s impossible.

Just try to be good.

Thanks, Breaking Bad.

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Good Shit

You know it when you see it. You know it when it's there. Like Michael Jackson "Thriller." Like Farrah Fawcett hair. It's good shit.

You know it when you see it. You know it when it’s there. Like Michael Jackson “Thriller.” Like Farrah Fawcett hair. It’s good shit.

You might think I lack self-confidence.

The entire theme of Must Be This Tall To Ride has a sometimes serious, sometimes tongue-in-cheek I’m-just-not-good-enough vibe about it.

But I don’t want to mislead you.

While I do lack self-confidence about dating as a 34-year-old divorced father, and do get stage fright any time I’m trying something new in front of an audience, I am pretty sure of myself about many other things.

I like to say: I have a very high opinion of my opinions.

Not so much on life’s major issues. I recognize I don’t have all the answers there and respect everyone’s differing and often passionate viewpoints.

But on the somewhat irrelevant stuff? Music, movies, food, beer, wine, liquor, et cetera? I respect differing viewpoints much less.

For example, crunchy peanut butter is superior to creamy. And crispy bacon is superior to chewy. Oh, you like blush wines? Prepare to be judged and eyed suspiciously.

There’s a little bobble-head figurine at my office. Someone taped a small photo of my face on it. The “award” name is a spinoff of my last name.

To earn it, you have to say something sort of snobby or pompous. If someone catches you doing so, the bobble-head gets planted on your desk for a while.

The joke started after our entire department—about 20 strong—went on a group lunch. At that lunch, I ordered a fish sandwich. The hoagie roll on which it was served was stale. More importantly, it was refrigerated. Totally cold. Totally shitty. Unforgivable. I didn’t eat it. And like a good fishing story, it has gotten worse over time. Now, when I tell it, the bread had mold spores and was time stamped 1986.

The real irony is that the entire idea for the office award was concocted by the one guy at work who is actually snobbier about the irrelevant stuff than I am. He’s also my friend.

I like to say it’s not snobbery. It’s merely having refined tastes. Decide for yourself.

Farrah Fawcett Hair

It’s good shit!

At least, that’s what Capital Cities says on their mostly unknown, yet super-fun song Farrah Fawcett Hair off of their semi-new album In a Tidal Wave of Mystery.

National Public Radio’s Frank Tavares narrates as Capital Cities shares with you random things they think are awesome.

I like it.

And because I like it, I decided to do my own version.

Good Life Tips

You may agree with this stuff. You may disagree.

It’s entirely possible you won’t care at all.

But, in one writer’s occasionally not-so-humble opinion, your life will be enhanced by the following:

1. Drinking Bonarda

This is for all you Malbec fans out there. This red wine variety is also from Argentina’s kick-ass Mendoza Province—which is the country’s most-important wine-producing region.

Malbec is amazing because you can get fantastic bottles of it for $10. Bonarda is better. The problem? It’s harder to find. Unless I order it online, I have trouble finding it. But like my occasionally spectacular music tastes, it’s only a matter of time before this wine has a major breakthrough in the United States, and hopefully, beyond. It’s that awesome. Drink some. It’s good shit.

2. Grating your own cheese

You’re at the grocery store perusing the dairy aisle. I want to make tacos!, you wisely think to yourself because tacos are awesome.

And then you grab a bag of pre-shredded cheese. I’m standing next to you thinking: Hahahahahaha! Look how dumb that person is! I’m half kidding. Listen, I know you’re lazy. I am, too. You’re also thinking: It’s all going to melt anyway! No one can tell the difference! Stop right there. You ever look closely at pre-shredded cheese? Notice that spotty white layer of weird, oxidized film that grows on the outside? Yeah, that’s bullshit. I’ll take the Pepsi Challenge with your pre-shredded cheese any day of the week. Pause. Take a breath. Look to your left and right. You’ll notice some blocks of cheese. Buy that instead. Then take out your cheese grater you never use and shred your own cheese. It’s cheaper. It will take exactly 90 more seconds. But your food will taste 100-percent better. Grate your own cheese. It’s good shit.

3. Listening to Lord Huron’s Lonesome Dreams

I mention this band briefly in The 50 Lays Project, Vol. 2 post. I’m not saying Lord Huron is the best band in the world. I don’t even listen to them that much as I’m eagerly awaiting whatever they’re writing now. However, this is a band that the vast majority of people I talk to have never heard of. And it’s a shame. This band takes me places. They make me want to ride horses in the Old West, and sleep under the stars beneath a massive Wyoming or Montana sky. Lonesome Dreams was my favorite album of 2012—not because it was the best—but because it was the most unexpected. What’s better than a pleasant surprise? Nothing, right? Listen to this album. It’s good shit.

4. Watching Breaking Bad

If you already watch, you already get it.

If you don’t, you either don’t care or are someone who is tired of hearing about it from your friends.

But if you’re on the fence? Watch this show. There’s an important lesson here, and it has nothing to do with drugs or criminal behavior.

Thinking you’re going to die can eliminate a lot of fear and compel someone to live with a heroic, courageous purpose. To take the bull by the horns, tap into your inner Jesse Pinkman and say “Not today, bitch.”

We’re all going to die. Let’s not wait until it’s imminent before we start living courageously.

Or maybe I’m thinking too deeply about it. Maybe it’s just a kick-ass show about dudes cooking meth. Watch Breaking Bad. It’s good shit.

5. Volunteering once a week

You think your life sucks? I do too, sometimes.

We can all use a nice, fat serving of perspective once in a while.

I know a place where about 150 people line up for a free meal every night. Afterward, all the men have to shower in the same room and wear hideous pajamas supplied by the shelter. Then they sleep on horribly uncomfortable three-inch-thick mats that can’t smell very good next to one another on a floor because it’s better than whatever other living arrangements they have. Ugh.

Do something for others, even if it’s just for an hour a week. I think you’ll find you’re not just helping them, but also yourself.

Volunteer. It’s good shit.

6. Pouring your beer into a glass

A brewmaster taught me this when I was writing a magazine feature on pairing beers and cooking with them. Maybe you think it seems tedious. Maybe you think the beer already tastes good in your bottle or can. It can taste better. You release the energy within and the full potential of your beer when you let it splash against the bottom of your glass as it’s poured. You can see the beer working, the carbonation dancing from the bottom of your glass to the top. Those are little magic bubbles of awesome waiting to mate with your taste buds.

Do the right thing. Pour your beer into a glass every chance you get. It’s good shit.

7. Soaking your vegetables in water and vinegar

Fill up your sink. Dump some vinegar in like it’s dish soap. Toss all your fresh produce in there and let it soak for a few minutes. Then, refrigerate it, chop it up, or whatever it is you’re going to do with it. Vinegar is an amazing all-natural cleaning agent. I swear, there will be ZERO vinegar taste in your food. I despise the taste and smell. What you will also find, is that the vinegar soaking will prolong the life of your vegetables as they sit in your refrigerator. About twice as long, in my experience. Try it. See for yourself. Soak your vegetables in vinegar water. It’s good shit.

8. Frying your own taco shells

Oh, you like flour shells? Fine, I do too. At least you’re eating tacos like a smart person. But if you need a little variety once in a while, it would behoove you to try frying your own taco shells.

Step 1 – Buy soft corn shells. They’re inexpensive and come in large bundles.

Step 2 – Pour some Canola oil into your frying pan and turn the heat to medium.

Step 3 – Using a pair of tongs, fry both sides of the shell for a bit, then fold in half like a traditional taco shell. It might take a little practice. They’re so inexpensive, you won’t be pissed if you mess up one or two.

Step 4 – Prop them up on some paper towels upside down by leaning them against something. I just use an upside-down coffee mug. Let them drain and crisp up a bit.

Step 5 – Eat. If you already fry your own shells, you’re nodding right now. If you don’t, your mouth will orgasm, especially if you grated your own cheese.

Fry your own taco shells. It’s good shit.

9. Praying the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

I don’t care whether you believe in God. Just read the words and respect the message:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

It’s my favorite prayer. I try to say it every day. I have it hanging up in my closet. Give it a shot. Or at the very least, contemplate the message. It’s good shit.

I can’t think of a good No. 10 right now, and I want to go play with my son. So, that’s what I’m going to do.

Everyone already knows being an attentive parent is a good thing.

Love your kids. Be in the moment with them.

It’s good shit.

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