Filed under "Life Lessons"

January 20, 2017

It’s easy

It’s easy to condemn others. It’s difficult to go out among them and understand them.

It’s easy to stand in one place. It’s difficult to step out into the world and see the unknown.

It’s easy to lose hope in the world. It’s difficult to go out into the world and give it hope.

On a day like today, let’s pursue what is difficult.

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January 19, 2017

Before you bend the rules…

Before you bend the rules, follow them.

You can’t know the full capacity of your creativity until you understand and embrace your constraints.

Said another way, chronic rule breaking makes you a nuisance. But mindful rule bending, after first understanding the why behind those rules, makes you resourceful.

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January 18, 2017

In the arena

If you’re in a particularly challenging stage in your life and navigating your way towards a difficult goal, you’ll undoubtedly encounter resistance. Whether this resistance comes from enemies, critics, or unsupportive peers, remember that it’s you who’s chosen to take bold steps.

You’re the one in the arena.

Consider the following words from Theodore Roosevelt,

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Strive valiantly, dare greatly, and know victory.

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Open your mind to other perspectives

Everyone has lived a story you’ve never heard. Spend time listening and empathizing with other ways of thinking; you don’t have to abandon your own views and beliefs to accept someone else’s.

Multiply your skills

Improve your writing, learn to code, take a woodworking class, take up public speaking opportunities. Skills such as these not only can improve your career, but also provide new opportunities to donate your time and experience to work that matters.

Get out of debt

Your money’s no good if it’s already spoken for by banks and lenders. Debt constricts our ability to give generously, and with the added stress of debt payments, your focus is easily shifted away from joy and gratitude.

Declutter

Following the tracks of the Minimalist movement, make a decision to minimize the belongings in your life that don’t bring joy or value. Many of us are burdened by too much stuff. Choosing to sell or donate those superfluous belongings lowers stress and may reveal the things that really matter in life. With this realization, gratitude grows, and with gratitude comes an increased desire and capacity for doing good for others.

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January 14, 2017

Digital decluttering

Over the past few years, my wife and I have steadily made our way towards a minimalist lifestyle. We got rid of our second car, paid off all our debt, and downsized our stuff to fill a one-bedroom apartment (a side-effect of moving to a small town in California).

Even after purging much of our stuff, I still feel mentally overwhelmed from time to time. But instead of this feeling coming from an overload of stuff, I’ve realized that most of my frustration stems from an unhealthy relationship with my electronics. My phone is never out of reach, and it’s the first thing I do each morning. I literally adjust my morning vision with the help of my phone screen.

It’s a miserable addiction. Digital overload is a real thing.

Digital Minimalism

I’ve realized the answer to my mental overload may be in taking a minimalist approach with my digital space, or digital minimalism.

Here’s how Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, defines digital minimalism:

Digital minimalism is a philosophy that helps you question what digital communication tools (and behaviors surrounding these tools) add the most value to your life. It is motivated by the belief that intentionally and aggressively clearing away low-value digital noise, and optimizing your use of the tools that really matter, can significantly improve your life.

In an effort to define my priorities and use tools that are most valuable to my life, I’ve made the following changes:

  • I took the step of completely deleting my Instagram account, leaving only a single personal social media account—Twitter.
  • I’ll be limiting the Twitter accounts I follow to around 30. Any more than that, and I find myself not reading my timeline at all.
  • I’ll be keeping my LinkedIn account to allow me to vet new candidates for my team and connect with former colleagues.
  • I’m currently at Inbox Zero.

With these steps in place, I’m making my way towards digital minimalism, a natural extension of living a life with less, but better.

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I remember dreading my college Speech class since third grade, when I first heard it would be a required course. Public speaking has always been a fear of mine, but my experience with Speech class actually demonstrated the true worst case scenario for public speaking. Thankfully, it didn’t involve me.

Let me tell you a story about this other guy who totally bombed his speech.

It was speech day; we all came together in the early weeks of the course to give our first round of speeches. I was terribly nervous, but my turn came and went without incident. No sweat. But shortly after me was a guy who we’ll call Jerry. Jerry hated public speaking, a realization made by everyone as soon as he began his speech. And I say began lightly, because Jerry never actually started speaking. He stood at the podium, hands gripping its edges, and rocked back and forth nervously for sixty dreadful seconds. Occasionally, the teacher would offer up some advice, “you can do it. Go ahead. Whenever you’re ready.”

He’d look down at his notes, work up his nerves, glance up, then go back to rocking back and forth.

Oh Jerry, I will never be as nervous about anything as you were during that speech about, I don’t know, whales.

The teacher eventually told Jerry to have a seat. He never came back to the class. I wouldn’t either, Jerry.

Jerry taught me that, even if my voice is fluttery or I forget what to say, the true worst case scenario for public speaking might just be not speaking at all. Don’t sweat it, Jerry.

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January 10, 2017

You have two options

In reviewing my own New Year’s Resolutions Essentials throughout this month, I’ve been confronted with the typical distractions and excuses that we all deal with. But what if I don’t have time? What if I can’t commit to it?

When faced with resistance of any kind in pursuing your goals, keep in mind that you only have two options:

  1. You can stick with it
  2. You can stop

That’s all there is to it, and there’s no need to complicate things. By 2018, you will have completed you goal, or you will have moved on to something else. Which would you prefer to happen?

End of post.

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January 9, 2017

The Conviction Pyramid

To carry strong convictions is one of the many defining aspects of humanity. But not all convictions are created equal, and it’s crucial to understand where the love you have for your favorite sports team stacks up in relation to, say, your religious views. Let’s dive in.

The Conviction Pyramid

Social Convictions are flimsy, and may change as frequently as the seasons. They’re usually established by inconsequential social cues or personal observations. They also should have little to no bearing on the way you see and interact with the world at large. If you drive in 100 miles in any direction from anywhere, you will find that some, if not most people don’t share your same social convictions to the same degree. Examples include your opinions on those in your social circle, your love for your favorites sports team(s), or your favorite TV shows. Nevertheless, these convictions help shape our personality and daily decisions in a small way.

Cultural Convictions are more deeply rooted than Social Convictions, but they don’t shape the foundations of who we are. These convictions represent our place in the world at large; they define how we vote in elections, where we choose to live, and how we interact with those around us, but they should be malleable enough to reform over time to better orient us to new environments. If you were to move to another country, these Cultural Convictions would likely no longer be relevant.

Core Convictions define who we are as people. Once established, they might change only once in our lives, if at all. These are primarily religious convictions, as well as convictions we hold about our own self-image. In many cases, our Core Convictions strongly influence our Cultural and Social Convictions, but there may be deviations based on the depth of our Core Convictions.

Why this matters

First, understanding these various levels can help us better empathize with those around us. As we form connections with others, we initially base our friendships on our Social Convictions — how we feel about that popular TV show, our opinions on mutual friends, or our deep love for that sports team. As our friendships grow, we can often track the depth of the connection on our alignment of Cultural Convictions — we find that we share a bond on our political views or share a love for a part of the country where we grew up. Once we reach alignment on our Core Convictions, we may have developed a lasting bond with that person. This is the stage that is the basis for lasting marriages and life-long friendships. In my experience, this explains why my wife and I share common religious views (Core), slight differences in political views (Cultural), and tend to make fun of each other’s favorite TV shows (Social), all wrapped into a happy, healthy marriage.

Next, danger arises when we lump our convictions into the wrong categories. If you believe, more than anything in your being, that Breaking Bad is the best show on television, and your friends disagree, you will undoubtedly start fights with those friends and have short-lived friendships. People often confuse their love of a favorite movie, cultural icon, or sports team with a deep, core belief. This shouldn’t be the case. We should always be willing to move past petty opinions and preferences in favor of deeper connections around, say, Cultural Convictions.

Additionally, we often confuse Cultural Convictions with Core Convictions. This most often takes the form of die-hard loyalty to political parties. When we consider that the American founding fathers established our government to be an ever-changing system that replaces those in power every few years and sees reversal of prominent parties a few times per decade, it’s easy to see why our political views are best relegated to Cultural Convictions. When we hold these views as deeply as religion over the course of our entire lives, we risk getting lost in the current of cultural changes. Instead, our political views should be re-examined every few years as the rise of new technology and cultural issues muddy the waters of what we may once have considered a clear viewpoint. It’s not always Red; it’s not always Blue; but it’s always gray, and one man’s Good is often another man’s Bad.

Lastly, I believe that the effectiveness of man or woman is governed by the strength of their Core Convictions; it’s the old saying, if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything. A Core Conviction plants us on a path that may span throughout our lives, and often leads to people making dramatic life changes mid-stream. It’s what drives some Christians to set off on missionary journeys; it’s what led a man on a 10-year journey to achieve early retirement; it’s what leads people to ditching their cushy job to move to Hawaii to sell ice cream. (On the destructive end of the spectrum, it’s what leads violent dictators to commit atrocities in the name of their Core Convictions.) These convictions define us, and through them, our world-view is shaped and prepares us to leave our mark on the world.

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“The first draft of anything is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway

I’ve had many uninspiring firsts in my life.

I wrote my first song in 8th grade. I slapped together three power chords and showed it to a friend who told me it sucked. We’re not friends anymore.

I wrote my first novel when I was in 7th grade. It was a spy novel about a shadowy organization that produced a globally destructive bomb called LifeStop. It spanned 97 full pages in my spiral-bound notebook that doubled as a place to keep notes from Science class. (Honestly, I’m not embarrassed. It’s to this day the most complete piece of fiction I’ve ever written.)

The first time I tried to kiss my college girlfriend, she pulled away; you might even say she recoiled.

In all cases above, that first endeavor resulted in steaming garbage. But we’re not supposed to get it right the first time.

Thirteen years later, I still write music, and I’ve produced a lot of work that I’m proud of.

I kept filling my notebook with fiction throughout my high school years. I eventually found my voice and learned to entertain my classmates with my goofy stories.

I later went in for another kiss and, well, we’re married now.

First failures are the bedrock for future successes.

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As 2017 begins, it’s a great time to do some hardcore goal setting. No doubt you’ve established some New Year’s resolutions, but where those resolutions normally take the form of new diets or lofty or vague goals, I’ve found it helpful to instead ask myself a simple question in my pursuit of 2017 betterment:

What’s the essential thing I should focus on in 2017?

At first glance, that’s already the approach many of us take in our New Year’s resolutions. But where resolutions fail in comparison is the fact that essential goals require our immediate and unwavering focus and are not optional.

(As a side note, you’ll want to make sure this essential goal doesn’t include the word “more” in it — travel more, save more, exercise more — as “more” goals are totally vague and destined for failure.)

It’s also worth noting that defining what’s essential often means ignoring what’s not. In my latest reading of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, I’ve come to understand that there’s massive payoff in pursuing an attitude of, as the author puts it, less, but better. When we’re stretched thin among multiple people, jobs, or other obligations, there will always be something that goes without our needed focus.

My advice? Pursue one thing, and pursue it as though it’s absolutely required. In 364 days, you’ll look back on your decision today and feel great knowing that you stuck to what’s most important.

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