Categories for "Life Lessons"

June 15, 2017

Avoiding the downhill

I sometimes think about dying. But not in the suicidal way. I wonder what it’ll be like in the end; will I die in a fiery, explosive exit, or will I wither away from disease or old age? Will I leave life fully spent, having given away everything I can?

If life is a mountain, I’m on the climb: I’m enjoying my career, I started a new company, I love the life that me and my wife share (and our travel wish list continues to grow).

But I sometimes wonder what the downhill will be like. Is there an age when I’ll look at a problem or an opportunity and think, no thanks, I’m too old for that? Will there be a day when I decide not to learn something new because I can see the end ahead of me, and maybe I don’t feel like it’s worth my time? Will I choose to make my way down the mountain and retire quietly, having never reached the summit?

I hope not.

But then I remember that this mountain’s peak is as tall as I want it to be. I can keep climbing. Maybe the summit could reveal a new, taller mountain. But in the end, I can choose to keep going. I can choose to keep learning and setting new goals. When I’m 80, I can decide to write that next book or song, and maybe it’ll be my best.

Consider the story of a woman named Audrey Crabtree. At age 99, she finally received her high school diploma, 80 years after leaving school one credit shy of graduation. There’s a very cynical part of me that thinks, “but why bother?”, but I realize that people like Audrey, no matter their age, are climbers. Audrey’s early life regret turned into an opportunity to plant her flag late in life, and she didn’t turn to head back downhill and abandon her dream.

Be like Audrey. There’s a mountain ahead of you, so climb. Also, don’t look down.

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The problem is that they don’t know their own story. They’re living it; they don’t think it’s a story worth telling, so they ignore the fact that their successes, failures, and lessons learned could inspire others and provide insights into what many are seeking.

When we can look back over any period of our lives, recount the narrative, and wrap it up into something that can be shared with others, it’s a recipe for books, talks, projects, or companies.

Ben Chestnut took his expertise in email marketing, packaged up the valuable parts of his narrative, and turned it into MailChimp.

You have a story to tell; it might be one that’s​ new to many people. Take the time to dissect the threads of that story, package it up, and tell it to the world in a way that creates the greatest good.

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May 27, 2017

Life Currency

We all have a life currency—an area of our life (not including money) which, when we have it in abundance, we consider ourselves wealthy.

Some people’s life currency is in relationships. They attract friends easily and feel most accomplished when they develop a large friend community.

Others choose a life currency in travel. They feel most at home on the road or exploring the unknown. Their richness is derived from experiences.

Some choose to build their life currency from a career. They dedicate most of their time and energy to a cause or an organization, and they consider themselves wealthy from their professional accomplishments.

Others choose to build life currency in family. They set out to raise a happy and healthy children and dedicate most of their time to family upbringing.

With this in mind, remember that we all have our own idea of life currency. Not everyone shares your values or dreams, so be careful not to judge others if they’re not chasing your preferred life currency.

Also, like money, life currency is best used when given away. If you’re pursuing a career, build your skills in an effort to serve others and meet their needs. If you’re traveling, use those experiences to give back and enlighten the world around you. If you’re building relationships, build those relationships out of love, not out of a desire for acceptance. And if your currency is in family, raise a family built on values, so that those you raise can go out into the world and make something good of it.

Whatever life you choose, live it richly.

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May 25, 2017

The Great Directives

I believe that in life, there are three directives that are unavoidable and essential for a quality life. These Great Directives choose us from the moment we’re born, and we risk squandering life if we ignore them.

The Great Directives are as follows:

Use money for good

Money chooses us. We can’t avoid it, but many of us fear and misunderstand it. It comes into our life out of necessity, but often leaves our life through waste.

But to achieve a full life, we must choose discipline and control over our money.

Choose to use money efficiently and effectively. Choose to give it away when there’s a need. Choose to use it as a tool for good rather than a means of self-worth.

Become a wise master of money or risk becoming a slave to it.

Embrace your health

Our body is the greatest gift we’ve been given, and our health is the greatest gift we can give ourselves.

Our health reveals our discipline, passion, and vitality. While some may lose their health to age or misfortune, to knowingly abandon our health is to abandon our potential.

Improving your health is the only selfish act that creates a selfless outcome: to be healthy is to be present, mindful, and useful, and the world desperately needs more useful people.

Care for others

We live on a planet of 7 billion people, yet many of us choose to focus our life’s attention on just one — ourselves. No matter who we are or where we live, our life was created, influenced, and will be remembered by other people. We’re raised by a family, given knowledge by teachers, find passion in lovers, and inspired to greatness by leaders. To go through life without compassion for others is to forfeit our humanity.

Be compassionate, serve people, and celebrate life by caring for others.

Avoid these directives at your own peril.

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In 1999, NASA lost a $125 million Mars spacecraft due to a simple math error.

The navigation team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory used metric units of measurement (meters, newtons), while the engineering team at Lockheed Martin used the English system of measurements (feet, pounds).

Rather than slipping into a stable orbit over Mars, the mismatch in measurements led to the spacecraft burning up in orbit.

There are two lessons to take away here.

First, check your work. Pay attention to details and avoid making assumptions. Re-read that email and make another pass at editing that paper. Better yet, get someone else to do it for you.

Second, unless you too are a rocket scientist at NASA, don’t take your mistakes so seriously. Those two engineering teams set the screw-up bar extremely high back in 1999, so you’re unlikely to make a mistake that extraordinary in your lifetime.

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Regardless of your current mood or situation, make a point to give people a pleasant experience. Smile when talking to them. Give them your attention. Actively listen. Offer a genuine compliment. They won’t forget interactions like these.

Leave people better than you found them.

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April 4, 2017

Don’t Ruin the Game

In video games, there’s a concept called “God-mode”, a cheat code that gives your character unlimited money, unlimited powers, max health, no restrictions.

And without exception, “God-mode” ruins the game.

At first, it’s fun to run around as an omnipotent being, breezing through the game without obstacles. But soon, you realize that having no obstacles means no fun. Being given a limited set of resources and having to find a Win scenario creates the hook of a good video game.

See also: life.

Don’t go looking for your real-life version of “God-mode.” Don’t try to fill your life with more money, power, or possessions, and don’t avoid challenges. Crossing to the other side of difficult challenges and making the most of constraints can smooth the rough edges of life.

Start that company. Finish that book. Revel in your constraints and learn from them. Solve big problems, and enjoy the game.

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March 7, 2017

Learn from Everything

It’s likely that you’ll come across many problems in life that have no realistic solution. Maybe your boss is a jerk who lacks basic leadership skills. Maybe your project is doomed due to an upper management oversight that’s beyond your control. Maybe your country is going through some difficult changes that are affecting you and those around you.

Since we feel powerless in these situations, our natural tendency is to take control of what little we can—we get angry, resentful, and maybe even lash out at others.

Instead, I offer an alternative, and that is to learn from everything.

Learn from every difficult situation that’s beyond your control. If your boss sucks, study him or her closely to see where you can do things differently when you get an opportunity to lead. If your project is doomed, learn why it’s doomed so you can communicate those red flags next time you foresee a project going down in flames. If your country is in peril, learn from the circumstances that led to that outcome, and work to inform others of how to guard against another such outcome in the future.

You’re not as powerless as you think. Your greatest asset is the ability to observe, reason, and learn when you’re up against the wall. From there, you can take those lessons to make a better future for yourself and those around you.

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Over ten years ago, I stood in front of my bedroom mirror with my pawn shop acoustic guitar and strummed three chords, hummed a tune, and called it my first song. I had no idea if it was good or not (it wasn’t), but I’d finally crossed a line into being a creator.

Over the next 10+ years, I’d craft songs for fun, play in bands, record EPs for friends, and hone my craft into something I can be proud of. Here’s what I learned along the way.

In the beginning, you’ll be bland and rip off other artists’ work

The wonderful, but terrifying thing about creating any sort of art is that there are, in theory, an infinite number of combinations and outcomes when putting pen to page, so to speak.

The average guitar has 138 playable notes and an estimated 2,341 chord combinations. Not only that, but simply holding your guitar in different ways can yield different sounds.

With this in mind, we typically approach new art forms with the help of frameworks. I learned guitar by memorizing basic, popular chord patterns and pop songs. I was instructed by teachers to hold my guitar a certain way. From there, I moved into learning scales and absorbing guitar method books.

We turn to these resources because we’re lost and overwhelmed by the possibilities. We want to create something, but we don’t know how to go about creating it.

So, when starting out, you’ll mostly be ripping off other people’s work and/or making bland art. What you need to know is that this is totally okay and part of the creation process. Rip people off all you want, but know that you’re capable of much more.

Inspiration is a mix of influence and accident

Last I checked, I have over 150 song samples in a folder on my computer, dating back over 5 years. Of those, only 12 were developed into full songs. While that’s far less than the output a full-time musician might have, it illustrates that you’re not going to get it right the first time.

I’ve written full songs after months of trial and error, and I’ve written full songs after 2 hours of goofing around on my guitar. There’s no tried and true system, except that you absolutely have to put in the work and fail repeatedly.

Additionally, building a backlog of influences is incredibly important. As you explore your craft, you’ll gain insights from studying other artists, each of which can teach you new tools for expanding your art. If you don’t appreciate other artists, you won’t be appreciated by other artists.

Not only that, but if you’re in the habit of saving all of your old drafts, you may even find yourself being influenced by your past self. I find this practice of saving old work to be invaluable, as I’ve often discovered that my past self had some interesting ideas that just needed time to bake.

If you’re afraid to seek feedback, you’re not ready

When I write music, I send an early draft to two longtime friends to get their feedback.

I do this because, as a creator, you experience your work in a way that no one else ever will — you’ll see the flaws, you’ll have your favorite nuances that no one else notices, you’ll remember the entire story of how your work came into being.

In short, you’re married to it.

You need to give it to someone who can experience it as it’s meant to be experienced. If not, it’s nearly impossible to know if your work is actually accomplishing what you want.

Also, getting feedback on your work is scary and hard. It puts you in a vulnerable position of sharing your flawed creative process.

And trust me, you’re going to create some garbage that you’ll believe to be a work of genius; it’s humbling to hear this isn’t the case. At the same time, it’s exhilarating when you discover that it’s really connecting with people.

Thankfully, the process of requesting and receiving feedback becomes much easier to stomach over time. You’ll eventually develop a sense for what’s actually good and what’s garbage, but it’s important that you never stop looking for feedback from those you trust and respect.

If you’re afraid to take this step and expose yourself to constructive feedback, you’re not ready to reach the heights to which you aspire.

You should love the final drafts

When you create something that matches up with what you want to express, you’ll love it. It’ll be the pinnacle of your self-expression, and you’ll consider it an extension of yourself (and you should love yourself, right?).

If you don’t love what you’re creating, go back to the drawing board. Rewrite it. Store it away for later. Re-use it in a future work, and reshape it into something better.

Stop publishing art you don’t love.

If you’d like to hear my music, head over to my Soundcloud.

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February 20, 2017

“In one sentence…”

Years ago, I was involved with an interview panel for a candidate who couldn’t seem to articulate his thoughts and viewpoints. While his answers to our questions were acceptable, he lacked candor. With the hopes of leading the candidate to more revealing and focused answers, one of my colleagues asked him a simple question, “in one sentence, what do you want from this job?”

The candidate offered up all the correct answers he could come up with—”to become a better developer; to learn how this company works and make it better; oh, and for the challenge; to be awesome; to do great work; to solve difficult problems.” His multiple responses only soured our opinion and diluted what could’ve been a great answer.

In the end, we didn’t move forward with the candidate. It was tough to gauge his viewpoints or skill based on his responses, which taught me a valuable lesson:

Words are powerful, and often, using fewer words makes the biggest impact.

Next time you’re in a position that requires a careful choice of words, try to deliver those words with brevity. Take your time, think, and articulate.

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