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Uncommon Sense with Breck Costin






Dreams and Fantasies

We all have dreams; those that are very different and diverse from one another. And then we have fantasies associated with those dreams. Fantasies, rich with revenge and virulent excess, create potent images of what we will do, who we will be and how people will respond to us when those dreams come true. It only takes us minutes to put a fantasy together, and the internal detail can be quite prolific. Dreams, on the other hand, can take a lifetime.

A fantasy is intoxicating, it has us long for an experience that is altogether untrue. However, the fantasy is fueled by fabricated social media and marketed lies. The experience that a fantasy promises does not live in a fulfilled dream. In order for a dream to come into existence, the desire for the fantasy/experience has to dissipate, and the desire and hard work to build a dream has to come into focus.
This is the reason so many never fulfill on their dreams: because the addiction to the fantasy is far more alluring than the sobriety of a dream.

“Your fantasies have to die in order for your dreams to come true.”

Lost and Found

There are certain qualities that we come into this world with. Whether those qualities are decreed by our genetics or by our environment, they did not require effort or examination. They were our “Givens”.  

There are some people who have a strong work ethic. And there are people who have the ability to make us laugh, while others have the ability to move us deeply. Some are good with numbers, while some are savvy at having other’s number. Some have the ability to think outside the box, while other’s design the box.

We all have different innate abilities that we are blessed with. It is easy to rely on these inherited traits; and if they monetize and yield a certain cache, we think that they will sustain us forever. There is, however, a finite value to these innate qualities. At some point, after you have sucked all the marrow out of those “Givens” you find yourself in need. That’s where true character begins. It is not things that come easily, it’s where you have to really work for qualities that were not part of your inherited self.

The reason that developing a new trait is so difficult is because the moment you introduce the notion of a new paradigm, you threaten an existing one. With how much mileage is yielded from those innate abilities, it is hard to turn your back on a consistently reliable resource.

You can’t get rid of something that is innately you, but you can move it out of first position. Understanding when something which used to feed you is now killing you and needs to be retired, is a sign of wisdom. If that quality has ruled despotically for some time, then you have been lost for some time. Time to put another quality in first position and archive this old friend.

A life dedicated to evolution understands that you are introducing and retiring qualities constantly.

The Great Romantic Gesture

The Great Romantic Gesture belongs to another time…

There are romantic expressions and romantic actions but a true Romantic Gesture has certain criteria, and we do not live in a world that is conducive to the Great Romantic Gesture. We live in a world that is riddled with fear and the addiction to staying alive. A true Romantic Gesture has to bypass all reason and requires some sort of considerable threat in order to qualify. The threat can come in many forms: emotional, financial, your reputation impugned or life-as-you-know-it forever altered. We are all too interested in building or holding on to our way of life for a Romantic Gesture to occur. It’s all well and good to fly someone to Paris on your private jet for the night; as exciting and unusual as that is–– if you can afford it–– but it’s not a great Romantic Gesture. For it to be a real Romantic Gesture you have to have some skin in the game, meaning risk is involved; for no risk means no reward.  
Many glorifying examples live in movies and literature. For instance, John Cusack in Say Anything. Despite him having nothing to offer nor does he qualify to be dating this girl, he is smitten, so he bypasses all logic in the face of being completely diminished by the girl’s father. He puts it all on the line for love. And in the end, he stands hoisting his ghetto-blaster high above his head in triumph, not for having won the girl, but for having triumphed over himself. A winning act. Both Romeo and Juliet gave their lives for the ultimate Romantic Gesture. They died having known what that felt like. These heroic acts used to live in life, but now they are relegated to the screen or the page.

I can’t help but think there is a yearning to know what living was like in halcyon times. There seemed to be an imperceptible net that allowed for the cavalier freefall of those bold Romantic Gestures. There is certainly no net now, whether real or imagined, but these acts–– if in fact they happen at all anymore–– belong to the foolhardy.

 Chivalry isn’t dormant or hibernating, it’s truly dead. Entitlement, however, is alive and well. –BC

Authority vs. Credibility

There’s a difference between imposing your authority and having credibility. We tend to confuse these two all the time. There are places we have credibility; where we have worked for it and we have earned it. In these places we have a senses of ease regarding it.

Authority is assumed––not earned. Authority presumes, that because I have credibility in one area, it gives me a hall pass to all areas. There is an arrogance to authority­­; a need to be recognized.

We all are vulnerable in particular areas (ie: intimate relationships, health, money career) where we are more prone to strut out our authority. In the area of intimate relationships, I would argue to the death to prove a point, firmly convinced I knew what I was talking about.

When it comes to mixing up authority and credibility, time is not always the great teacher in this regard. Someone could spend their entire life in a specific situation and still have not have learned anything. Authority doesn’t have the capacity to learn, it only has the capacity to dominate. The only pathway from authority to credibility is by way of humility––a true understanding that you don’t know what you are talking about.

“Just because you have expertise in one area does not give you a global passport to all areas.” 


As I look back and I look forward, I am both heartbroken and grateful for my life. I have come to a better understanding of my anxiety and its many changes.  For the longest time, I have been trying to make sense out of all the conflicting backwash, more trying to get to calmer waters. There is only the sea, with me bobbing up and down on the swells. Life is difficult on any terms, but if you throw yourself into it head-on, you are going feel everything, all the time. The joys, the sorrows, the laughter, the play the heartbreak, the hopes; you will feel all of it. I don’t know if we are equipped to live like that, if it is our natural design; but I have come to understand I have no choice. I might have something to say about how I experience the surges, but I understand I have nothing to say about how or when they come.

I am getting older; like so many of us, I just never thought that would happen. When I look around, there seems to be people who are more comfortable with that transition, like a good suit that fits well. I am not that comfortable, maybe it’s because I still have my hair. What I do embrace about getting older is my heart is full, I feel more gratitude and connection to those I know and love and to those I don’t know and love.

From the beginning of my life, I have been trying to be MORE. More of everything; that has manifested in arrogance, hyperbole, lies, entitlement, competition, putting others down. As I get older, it manifests more in where I feel limited in my ability to protect and provide. The issue has never changed, only how it moves through the world.

Understanding your contribution in the world is part of being grateful. Grateful for what you are and what you are not.
Some people’s contribution is money; they make a lot or inherit a lot, so they can impact other’s lives financially.
Some people’s contribution is resources; they have the ability to provide opportunity for others.
Some people’s contribution is skill; they have skills that the world and people in the world benefit from.
Some people have talents, and that enhances other’s lives.
I am still in the process of discovering mine and mostly I let others determine if and how I have contributed to them.

 The generosity and love that is given to me on a daily basis is beyond understanding. It is beyond deserving and it is beyond me. But I am forever grateful.

Happy Holidays 2016

There is so much being thrown at us on a daily basis it’s hard to keep up, it’s hard to stay connected. It seems that the world is giving us a lesson. And it sure seems as if the world has its own conscience in dealing-out these lessons in very harsh ways. We have never been good with loss. Our own personal losses continually shock us; we are certainly anesthetized to the world’s losses. It seems that understanding that loss is an intrinsic part of life is the lesson that the world is pounding into our hearts. We are also being forced to face the absurdity of life and what we think we can claim as ours. The recognition that we are living on shifting sands and all is in question, its having us learn a whole new form of balance. The world is our teacher and it goes beyond the people that make up this planet. Like an omnipotent force that has always had its eye on us, it seems that force has taken up a different narrative, leaving us staring point-blank down the face of a barrel.

I don’t feel afraid; I feel more loving. It is an interesting paradox to feel more loving in the face of complete uncertainty. I think about what I can give and how I can maintain an open heart. We are all absurd and we all have our own brilliant ways of getting through and aberrant behaviors always belie the truth.

It is my attempt to continually talk to the best part of people, to not be so quick to react as if I am being offended. To create a new context, one that will Sheppard me through the next twenty years; a context that uplifts those around me. I am reaching out, not so much to the stars anymore, but more to a hand that is right next to me.


Have a safe and grateful holiday.

The Death of Democracy

The model for our children for the past year has been poisonous vitriol, aimed at everyone and anyone who stood in the way. This unqualified bully, stupid and with an inability to complete a full sentence, has been elected president. He has modeled the worst possible behavior and this will teach the ignorant to think it is the path to success. His children are nothing more than pay-rolled lemmings with no ability to think for themselves, who think that climate change is just weather and that killing endangered animals for sport is somehow manly. Ivanka, an advocate for women’s rights, has stayed silent throughout the campaign about her Father’s misogynistic attitude and behavior towards women. This is a statement about the America we live in, where disgusting behavior is rewarded and incompetency is over-paid. (Pollsters are just another piece of evidence that we pay dearly for incompetence.)

So many of us are in shock. Like any shocking loss there is that time of disbelief and desire to believe this didn’t happen. And like the stages of grief, it is the road we must travel. Disbelief, anger, bargaining, depression and eventually acceptance.

The hardest in this case is the last, acceptance. But without asking you to skip steps there is profound value in acceptance. We are being asked to accept the America we live in today, not The America of Yesterday or even The America of Tomorrow, but today. Acceptance does not mean resignation. It does not mean giving up. It does not mean stop fighting for higher principals or stronger ethics. It means to understand and accept the direction in which the train is moving and to get in front and lay some track.

America is a naïve country, which makes it very easy to market to. Marketing to America is a very simple recipe: put in some greed, vanity, and a healthy pinch of entitlement and you have America every time. We are a country divided and we have been divided for quite some time; now it has just been formalized.  Donald Trump in his own arrogance and need for attention is ignorant to the political landscape, he doesn’t understand well enough to know that when you divide a country it will becomes vulnerable. And we are vulnerable. Russia know this all too well, as it has already watched its own country fall apart to division. Putin is a happy guy with the outcome of our election.

There will be many pieces written on the campaign and on this election. There will be college courses for years to come, marking this as a precedent setting case study. This for me is not a time of protest but a time of bed rest. We must look to the people we love. We must look to the families we need to protect. There is nothing to get up in arms about today, rather today find something or someone to wrap your arms around.

Another Pivot

As we are on the precipice of a major pivot, I am reminded; I have had five major pivots in my life and the sixth pivot is calling my name. Those pivots have been ontological and structural as well as emotional.

The first was my stepmother.  As an out of control (I am certain an ADHD) child/adolescent I was untethered and she offered love, guidance and a fresh start. I made a mess out of my educational life and she found a college in Florence that offered up a new beginning and a repertory company, and most importantly, the Dean (Dr. Adamany).

The second pivot being Dr. Adamany. Dr. Adamany was Lebanese; he did all his undergraduate work and advanced degrees at the University of Chicago. His Ph.D was in English literature and more specifically, Shakespeare. After seeing me act in “Long Day's Journey into the Night” he told me to stop acting and to study with him. Even at the worst of times I have always love to read. He formalized that love and gave me direction, he was my mentor and my first real loss. He died of cancer a year after I left Florence and had returned back to NYC. If I look at this in more metaphysical terms, he died of a broken heart. Attempting to do a gracious deed for my academic future he was betrayed by his colleagues who had always been jealous of his spirit. But that’s a longer story…

The next pivot was when I was approaching twenty-nine and was once again out of control; in the throes of a divorce and being a particularly narcissistic father to my two-year-old baby girl. I was supposed to do a movie but instead ended up in a motivational seminar where I was up to my old tricks of seduction and destruction. Tracy Goss, a brilliant seminar leader/educator/critical thinker was running the seminar and called me out in front of 250 people. She said to me, “You’re at a decisive moment and you have a choice to continue being an asshole or change the direction you are going.” I studied and trained with her for years and it was there I found my calling and my life’s work.

The fourth pivot was when I met Jen (my wife). Once again I was in the throes of destruction and coming out of my second marriage. I met an angel who had the capacity to chew-up my poisonous ways and yet still become more beautiful and pure. I was confronted with issues and traumas that I had been running away from all my life.

The fifth has been my children. Finding the importance of Character over Reputation, Integrity over Charm, and Parenting over Entitlement.

The sixth pivot is in its infancy: Surrender. The giving up of control, understanding where I have nothing to say but much to listen to and truly letting go. I see my life in pivots and I see my life in the people who have given so much to me. There is no intrinsic right for someone to contribute their time, love and money to another's life.  It is an existential act of love. There are many more people and many more conversations that have changed the course of my life- too many to mention. I am grateful and I am humbled by the love and generosity of others.

A Magical Summer

As school starts and the summer of 2016 becomes a silver box memory, I am happy that we have a pictorial account of our 5 weeks in Europe.

Jen (my wife) has had, for quite some time now, very strong intentions for us to spend an extended period of time in Europe. I wasn’t resistant to the idea, naturally, but more reluctant, uncertain of how I was going to manage it all while I was away for so long. Basically, give up some control. Jen had three very strong intentions for the trip: 1)  To expose our kids to a different culture- Actually get some manners. 2)  For Jen and I have more time together, unencumbered by our very busy lives in LA. 3) And for me to let go of the reigns a bit and see if I could work more remotely.

I think those 3 intentions were certainly realized, and so much more.

We boated and floated in Croatia; all hosted by the gracious generosity of Stephan and Caroline. We ferried from Croatia to Venice, even the Italian heat and the multitude of tourists did little to quell the magic that is Venice. We saw CARMEN (the kids first Opera) at the Arena di Verona. We trained from Verona to Lago di Garda, a beautiful lake region in Northern Italy. Jack (my 12-year-old son) and I saw the girls (Jen and Gigi-9 yrs) off at the Milan Train station, which double as the airport. They went to Paris and we stayed in Milan. Jack and I then trained to Innsbruck. The boys got to spend time together while the girls did Paris. We all rendezvoused in Echleiten which is Stephan and Caroline’s Schloss outside of Vienna. Our final stop was London. In an existential act of generosity, Simon and Angelika, whom we just met, lent us their flat in London. We hiked. We walked. We biked. We ate. And mostly we were grateful. Grateful for such generosity shown towards our family.

As we transition from the magic of summer to the uncertainty of the next two months (the elections only being months away), we find ourselves at a beginning. People have different reactions to beginnings; many of us like to be at the end, we like to read the end of the book and then go back and read the entire story. Somehow it puts us at ease if we know the outcome. But conclusions give us nowhere to go, as a beginning gives us a fresh start. And we can all use a Fresh Start.

The world is watching us, the world is always watching us. Whether that is because America needs the attention or because we are never static. We are a 3 ring Circus; and it’s hard to look away. We are a Country that dwells in unchartered territory and here we are again. The first women candidate and the first clown. And we all know clowns are scary.

We are a country that was founded on revolution and we somehow do well under chaotic conditions. So as we enter into the new order of things we enter with trepidation and holding our breath. Underneath all that uncertainty is a heart that beats true, that I know for certain; and I trust in that certainty.

No Accounting for Spirit

There is usually only one person who makes it out of a family and evolves beyond the family dysfunction. Now there is no evidence for this postulation, just my own personal observations over time. There are, of course, exceptions to this where all siblings do well and perform at high levels and contribute to the greater good despite their familial malfunctions.  I am not talking about unicorns and other mythological creatures; I am talking about the rule, not the exception. Only-children are no exception to this rule, as there are only-children who evolve beyond their circumstances. In their case they are the one and only who made it out alive.

There is no accounting for spirit. That spirit which sees beyond the pain and anguish and either transcends their original wounds or alchemizes those wounds into a positive expression. There are countless stories of heroic acts and remarkable achievements that counters a horrific beginning, however, there are not a lot of stories about those that are left behind. When I say there is no accounting for spirit I mean that there is an accounting of success; why one person succeeds and another doesn’t, but there is no accounting for why one is imbued with that spirit and another is not. Why one person looks from 30,000 feet and another has Vaseline on their eyes and all is blurred. Why one continues to live from a paradigm of what they didn’t get and blames their parents and/or circumstances, while another takes those wounds and it turns lead into gold. Or why one is emotionally imprisoned and victimized while another is liberated and open-hearted. Or why one is delusional about their talents and skills and is out to prove something and lives with their foot nailed to the floor while another is creative and has nothing to prove but much to contribute.

People who have found their way beyond their past have similar attributes. They don’t blame their circumstances but they use them to their advantage. They are open to hearing what’s not working, they reach out and get help where needed. They give credit away so their creative channels stay open. They build powerful partnerships and teams. They go through life grateful and with a sense of humor. There’s no way of accounting for spirit, but maybe there’s a way to unleash it.