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Hiatus

My wife and I are headed out for a week-long adventure and a much needed getaway for just the two of us.

As excited as we are for a vacation together, we are truly sad to leave our kids for a week. We’ve never been apart from them for more than a few days. This little week will fly by for all of us, I’m sure, and bring us back together refreshed and with renewed appreciation for each other. (Or lifelong bitterness from our kids that they were stuck in school while mom and dad were frolicking in the sun on a tropical getaway.)

For this week, though, I also will be taking a hiatus from posting here daily.

I challenge myself to post daily. And I find it to be a worthwhile practice. I begin each day with the expectation that I need to find something worthwhile to share. This intent adds a juicy tension to my days. My antennae are up. Knowing I need to find something to write even a few words about before the day is done, my mind is on a constant search for ideas and insights. I’m a hunter-gatherer of possibilities. Most days don’t deliver any profound poetic breakthroughs. But occasionally I’ll stumble across something that resonates and reshapes my imagination in even a tiny, but meaningful, way.

And then the practice of trying to craft the words to express myself, as hard as it continues to be, brings this painfully earned satisfaction. Writing never feels easy. But it’s a worthwhile struggle.

When doing a guided meditation the instructor may at some point tell you to intentionally let your mind wander away from your breath for a moment. Then, after that pause, you’re guided to bring your attention back to your body and to your breath.

That hiatus and then coming back is a reassuring reminder that you have control. Falling off the path for a moment does not mean you’re lost. It’s the getting back on, and knowing you will get back on the path, that matters.

I just might still post while I’m away this week, but I’m not sticking to my daily discipline. I’ll start a new string of daily writing after this brief hiatus.

Aloha!

 

Michener’s Hawaii: Pairing reading and travel

  

My wife’s company is sending us to Hawaii for a week as a reward for her great sales performance in the past year. 

I’ve never been to Hawaii, but it’s a place that’s always been near the top of my dream destinations list. 

To get myself in an island state of mind I started reading James Michener’s epic novel, Hawaii

So good. 

Michener reaches way back as he begins with the geological history of the place and the story of the volcanic eruptions that eventually launched the islands from deep within the Pacific.  From there he gradually builds a narrative of the first people to find the islands, and it’s an incredible story of risk and courage and skill. I’m locked in to this great book and eager to immerse myself in all things Hawaii as we plan for our trip. 

When I visited Italy years ago I re-read I, Claudius, the masterful novel set in first century Rome. Like pairing wine with a meal, it’s a delight to pair fiction with an upcoming journey. You see the place you’re visiting with an enhanced imagination, primed to absorb the experience more vividly. 

I’m intent to savor this trip to Hawaii. This novel is helping me dial in the tone of the place ahead of my visit and will hopefully help me better appreciate what may be a once in a lifetime experience. 

Thich Nhat Hanh: Understanding is love’s other name

“Understanding someone’s suffering is the best gift you can give another person. Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

Via BrainPickings.com

If you truly understand someone, you can’t help but love them. 

Consider making the attempt to understand the perspective of anyone you feel you don’t, or can’t, love. 

Even if you could never approve of his actions, understanding—seeing the world even for a moment the way he does—will give you compassion for him. 

No pointless actions

Meditations 8.17:

“If it’s in your control, why do you do it? If it’s in someone else’s, then who are you blaming? Atoms? The gods? Stupid either way.

Blame no one. Set people straight, if you can. If not, just repair the damage. And suppose you can’t do that either. Then where does blaming people get you?

No pointless actions.”

Warren Buffett and the “avoid at all cost list”

Cal Newport shared this Warren Buffett story, which was passed on by someone else and may be only apocryphal. But the point of the story certainly seems in line with what we know of Buffett’s philosophy:

Buffett wanted to help his employee get ahead in his working life, so he suggested that the employee list the twenty-five most important things he wanted to accomplish in the next few years. He then had the employee circle the top five and told him to prioritize this smaller list.

All seemed well until the wise billionaire asked one more question: “What are you going to do with the other twenty things?”

The employee answered: “Well the top five are my primary focus but the other twenty come in at a close second. They are still important so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit as I’m getting through my top five. They are not as urgent but I still plan to give them dedicated effort.”

Buffett surprised him with his response: “No. You’ve got it wrong…Everything you didn’t circle just became your ‘avoid at all cost list.’”

Focus. Do less, better.

“The difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” –Warren Buffett

Ordinary laziness

From the @AlanWattsDaily Twitter stream:

I’m torn between the desire to get big things done and make a dent in the universe and the inclination to chill out a lot more often, to just play and ponder.

Balance, right? The down times, the lazing about, can give fresh energy to the dent-making endeavors.

Most of us, though, lean hard away from, or at least try to appear to lean away from, the “pleasant mellowness” of ordinary laziness. Got to look busy, you know.

Movement and play and real life

Today I took my daughters to the swimming pool for the first time this year. It was a warm, sunny afternoon, and they were so eager to swim after such a long time away from the water.

And it was a delight. That first plunge into a cool pool is such a sensory pleasure. Time stands still. You feel your body, momentarily weightless. Your skin tingles. Your inner compass spins. Your physical presence comes alive after a long hiatus of being bound to just the ground.

We played silly games in the pool and stretched our limbs and soaked in just a bit of sunshine.

And we smiled. My kids were smiling and laughing and actually enjoying each other with a freedom I haven’t seen in a while. Disconnected from screens, with nothing but water and their bodies, they played and wearied themselves the old-fashioned way. With movement.

Our bodies are too often just the vehicle for our minds. We are so busy thinking, mostly about things not truly worth thinking about, that we rarely feel even the weight of our bodies, much less the subtle interactions of our senses.

But jump into the water and you will rediscover that you are more than just a worry-fillled mind.

I need more movement, more mindful movement at least. To feel the ground under my bare feet, to actually taste and smell the food I eat, to float and splash and play.

Physical play, I think, is our default state. Being a dad has returned me to real play, and I need more of it. Swimming and freeze tag and tickle fights. Movement. Touch. Laughter. This is real life. Not passive staring at screens and sitting. So much sitting.

Take off your shoes and jump into real life this spring.

Thursday night Stoic: Wanting what you have

Meditations 7.27:

“Treat what you don’t have as nonexistent. Look at what you have, the things you value most, and think of how much you’d crave them if you didn’t have them.”

This is a great way to focus on wanting what you have instead of having what you want. Assess your life, and realize how much good is in it.

 

 

A book that goes the distance: Born To Run

Born-to-Run-

I have a stack (a virtual stack, that is) of unread books that I am genuinely interested in reading. I often go through long periods of dipping in and out of different books, making little progress on any one book. My potentially unlimited access to almost any book I want at any time is a bit overwhelming and regularly keeps me from actually reading a book all the way through.

However, Born To Run pulled me in and kept me intrigued all the way to the end and beyond. When I opened my iBooks app in the past week, I didn’t hesitate to open Born To Run, and only Born To Run. I didn’t stray or skim through another title in indecision. All Born To Run, all the time. It was a delight to read, and it was a delight to find a book that had the magnetism to hold my attention and push all other reading material behind it.

The author, Christopher McDougall, did a masterful job of weaving together a fascinating group of characters (real people that I found intriguing enough to google and explore further) into a narrative that was truly compelling. And I’m not even a runner.

But this book has sparked a new appreciation of distance runners and a curiosity about the science and engineering and anthropology behind truly great running form. I even, in preparation for an upcoming trip, bought a pair of the Luna Sandals whose design was inspired by the story in this book. And I have definitely never been a sandals guy. At all. (Though, the similarity of these particular sandals to what I think gladiator/Roman emperor sandals would have looked like makes them a bit easier to accept.)

A book that entertains with a page-turner of a story that also educates and challenges assumptions and has you trying a new approach to your basic daily habits (and buying sandals, of all things)… A fine accomplishment for an author.

I see that McDougall has a new book coming out this month with a similar vibe: Natural Born Heroes. Pre-ordered.

 

Tim Kreider’s manifesto on the merits of idleness

Tim Ferriss is featuring an audiobook version of Tim Kreider’s book, We Learn Nothing, on his podcast. He posted a sample of the audiobook with a free chapter, Lazy: A Manifesto.

The sample chapter is a terrific essay on the crazy obsession our culture has with being “busy”. When you ask someone how they’re doing, “Busy” is a common and depressingly acceptable, even admirable, response.

Go listen to that free chapter. It’s so good. And Kreider will have you questioning your own addiction to at least appearing to be busy.

From the book:

“Yes, I know we’re all very busy, but what, exactly, is getting done? Are all those people running late for meetings and yelling on their cellphones stopping the spread of malaria or developing feasible alternatives to fossil fuels or making anything beautiful?

This busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness: obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are *so busy*, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. All this noise and rush and stress seem contrived to drown out or cover up some fear at the center of our lives.”

And this:

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence, or a vice: it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

There is not enough idleness in my life. And most of my busyness is probably not accomplishing much in the big scheme of a 13-billion-year-old universe.

“I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.” –Tim Kreider

Do less, better. That should be my mantra. What does matter? What will count for something worthwhile when I look back on it? What makes for a really good day? Focus on the quality of those things that will send me to bed each night with the satisfaction, not of having been busy, but of having spent my time wisely and joyfully.

TED inspired speaking advice

It seems the fundamental advice about how to give a good speech is pretty obvious by now. How often can you repeat the basics of effective public speaking?

But I saw two articles recently that had fresh takes worth reading, both inspired by the TED Talk experience.

5 Secrets of a Successful TED Talk highlights solid evidence that how you say what you say trumps even the most meaningful content in its impact on an audience. In a survey of viewers watching TED Talks with the sound turned off, those talks that had the most animated, confident looking speakers rated the highest. And that actually correlated with the popularity of those talks when the sound was on as well.

Smile, use your hands, turn your physical energy up, don’t come across as scripted, and you will have the best chance of connecting with your audience. And it starts immediately. The audience is making a judgment about you and your message in just the first few seconds.

And this article, A TED speaker coach shares 11 tips for right before you go on stage, is filled with thoughtful tips about the mental and physical approach the most successful speakers adopt.

Here’s tip #3 from the list:

Use your body’s nervous energy for good. Don’t try to contain all your nervous energy. Let it move through you and energize you for your talk. Do isometrics while you waiting backstage if it helps. Shake your hands out. Barnett remembers one TED speaker who found a private corner backstage to put on headphones and dance — and that speaker walked onstage feeling like a rockstar. And, if nothing else, always remember TED star Amy Cuddy and how to power pose.

I remain convinced that anyone can have charisma in front of an audience. Care about something enough to have the courage to fully express just how much you do care, and you will be charismatic.

Spending on experiences offers more value than buying things

From a FastCompany.com article, The Science of Why You Should Spend Your Money on Experiences, Not Things

There’s a very logical assumption that most people make when spending their money: that because a physical object will last longer, it will make us happier for a longer time than a one-off experience like a concert or vacation. According to recent research, it turns out that assumption is completely wrong.

“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation,” says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University who has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades. “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”

There have been things in my life, whether they’re still in my life now or not, that still glow in my memory for the happiness they sparked. But it’s true for me that unique experiences endure and resonate far more vividly.

My summer abroad in college was a singularly great adventure that even now is satisfying to recall. Vacations and shows and fun family outings, even trips to the local movie theater, continue to be sources of joy long after they happened.

Apparently, even unpleasant experiences have value:

One study conducted by Gilovich even showed that if people have an experience they say negatively impacted their happiness, once they have the chance to talk about it, their assessment of that experience goes up. Gilovich attributes this to the fact that something that might have been stressful or scary in the past can become a funny story to tell at a party or be looked back on as an invaluable character-building experience.

This is a great reminder to live my life. To fill my days with experiences worth remembering, not things that will be forgotten.

The book as a souvenir of ideas: Elle Luna’s new book

IMG_6550I received The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna today. I read the essay that ended up being the seed of the book earlier this week, and the book itself is a delight to hold and page through.

Books like this are why ebooks will not put an end to printed books. Beautifully crafted with striking colors throughout and hand-drawn illustrations, Luna’s book is a gift-worthy gem of a souvenir, a souvenir of ideas that will have more value because of the style that conveys the substance.

IMG_6552

Books like this offer an experience, not just information. The art is in more than just the words. The visual hooks connect more intensely than words alone could.

When I think back on some of my favorite reading experiences, the form of the book often is a vivid part of the memory. Even books that have no art other than the cover make a memory through their heft and their physical design. Recalling the thick paperback copy of Anna Karenina I read in 1991, I can still picture the cover image, and I remember the general feel and thickness of the book and even the position (left page, upper half about a quarter of the way through) of one of my favorite passages.

Picking up a Dr. Seuss book with my kids rockets my memories back to seeing those same whimsical drawings as a kid myself.

IMG_6553

Form matters. And you can make your ideas stick better and longer with art that resonates with the senses. Certainly visual appeal is important, but even the feel of the paper or the weight of the cover of a book can make a difference. It’s why Apple works so hard designing the boxes their devices are sold in.

I enjoy using slides when I present for this reason. Uncluttered, memorable images can make ideas pop and stick and can set an emotional tone for the delivery of a narrative.

I still mostly read ebooks. They’re convenient. It’s amazing to have a whole library a touch away no matter where I am. But beautiful books like Luna’s and Seth Godin’s most recent are reminders that a book as a work of art and as a tangible vehicle for compelling ideas has a bright future.

 

 

 

Notes to myself

These are the notes I wrote on the board for our student staff meeting today.

I was reminding them of what I think are some key principles when connecting with all the visitors we encounter every day.

  • Make the audience the hero – It’s not about you. Put yourself in the mindset of those you’re speaking to. How can they come out of this encounter better and happier?
  • Style & substance – Offer more than charm and wit. Your style needs to support meaningful content, not just entertain superficially.
  • What’s your gift? – Don’t stand before an audience wondering what you can get from them – laughs, applause, approval.  Instead, focus on what you can give to your audience. What value can you add to those you encounter?
  • Do less, better – Focus on the essentials. Cut the excess, even good stuff, to shine a brighter light on what’s most important.
  • Be impeccable – Aim for perfection. Be careful with even small details. Get it right. Keep pushing yourself to constantly improve.
  • Shine! – Don’t be afraid to be awesome. Be bold and confident.

These are notes to my staff, but they’re just as much notes to myself. I need to be reminded regularly to not be content with good enough. Why not be extraordinary?

Elle Luna: The crossroads of should and must

This epic essay by Elle Luna was posted almost a year ago. I discovered it only today when Seth Godin linked to her new book that came from that essay.

The book looks beautiful. Purchased.

In this essay (and now in her book) Elle tells her story of finding her calling by resisting the path of Should and instead embracing the path of Must. Most of us are guided by what we think we should do while ignoring the call of our deepest desires and what we must do to be fully alive.

“What if who we are and what we do become one and the same? What if our work is so thoroughly autobiographical that we can’t parse the product from the person? What if our jobs are our careers and our callings?” –Elle Luna

I have struggled, though, with the notion that we have some innate passion we have to find and follow. Maybe it’s just semantics. What an authentic life needs is to be true to what you genuinely love and to make an art of it, to do it as well as you can.

Pick a path the excites you, that seems like fun, but that also will challenge you and will compel you to mastery. Course correct regularly. Change your mind. Try and fail, but stick with something long enough to know.

Elle Luna closes her essay with a strong call to choose Must over Should, to have the courage to live the life that is calling to you:

“If you believe that you have something special inside of you, and you feel it’s about time you gave it a shot, honor that calling in some small way — today.

If you feel a knot in your stomach because you can see the enormous distance between your dreams and your daily reality, do one thing to tighten your grip on what you want — today.

If you’ve been peering out over the edge of the cliff but can’t quite make the leap, dig a little deeper and find out what’s stopping you — today.

Because there is a recurring choice in life, and it occurs at the intersection of two roads. We arrive at this place again and again. And today, you get to choose.”

Born To Run: Christopher McDougall’s TED Talk

I am reading Christopher McDougall’s book, Born To Run, and it is fascinating. So much so that I’ve been Googling characters from the story and found the author’s web site and got lost in videos on his site today.

Again, I’m no runner, but the story McDougall tells is intriguing. It’s beyond just an exposition of running fundamentals. It gets to the heart of our potential as a species, physically and socially. What we were. What we’ve lost. And what still resides within and can be reawakened by getting in sync with our primal nature.

And the book is simply a good story, well told. And it will make you want to ditch your overly cushioned athletic shoes.

Here’s the book’s author giving a short talk about the key themes in his book:

Monday night Stoic: Take Antoninus as your model

Meditations 6.30:

“Take Antoninus as your model, always. His energy in doing what was rational … his steadiness in any situation … his sense of reverence … his calm expression … his gentleness … his modesty … his eagerness to grasp things. And how he never let things go before he was sure he had examined them thoroughly, understood them perfectly … the way he put up with unfair criticism, without returning it … how he couldn’t be hurried … how he wouldn’t listen to informers … how reliable he was as a judge of character, and of actions … not prone to backbiting, or cowardice, or jealousy, or empty rhetoric … content with the basics—in living quarters, bedding, clothes, food, servants … how hard he worked, how much he put up with … his ability to work straight through till dusk—because of his simple diet (he didn’t even need to relieve himself, except at set times) … his constancy and reliability as a friend … his tolerance of people who openly questioned his views and his delight at seeing his ideas improved on … his piety—without a trace of superstition …

So that when your time comes, your conscience will be as clear as his.”

Whether Antoninus (Marcus’s predecessor as emperor) was really this together or not, this description provides a great model of character for anyone to aspire to.

Books in the queue

I just finished two Walt Disney biographies, and I’ve started the new Steve Jobs biography. Those two men, Disney and Jobs, compare and contrast very interestingly, and it’s particularly compelling to read their stories back-to-back.

I can’t seem to stick to just one book at a time, of course, and I started another book this weekend: Born To Run by Christopher McDougall. I had heard of the book a few years ago, though I’m not a runner and have no plan to become one. But it has gotten rave reviews both for the phenomenal story and provocative ideas as well as for the excellent writing. I just started reading it yesterday, and it’s already grabbed my attention and will be a nice change-up from the Steve Jobs book.

My consumption of fiction is down significantly from last year. I need some good novels to mix in with all this non-fiction.

I continue to have plenty of unread books in my iBooks app. Some have been sampled. Others have been begun and put on hold. And a few are untouched. (I’m probably, though, on my fifth reading of Meditations.)

Just looking at this stack of books to read delights me. There’s such potential for new ideas and possibilities yet to be awakened and, certainly, the anticipated pleasure of the reading experience.

The unread book count doesn’t hold the cognitive burden of, say, your unread email count. It may be just the opposite kind of tension in the way that “Here it comes!” compares to “Here it comes.”

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