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Just keep going

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ht Jason Silva

Times are tough for you? Patience. This will pass.

All is well? Life seems good? This, too, shall pass.

Anxiety, elation, frustration, satisfaction, boredom… No feeling is permanent.

It doesn’t matter how you feel. Just keep going. It’s what you do and how you respond that matters most.

Can you simply observe your emotions and your thoughts without getting lost in them? Me, neither.

But those who are masters of mindfulness have described a state where you can watch your thoughts and feelings flow by as if you were in that empty space behind a waterfall. Sign me up for a comfortable chair in that blissful spot.

Observe and inhabit all you think and feel knowing it’s all impermanent. Don’t get down on yourself for being unable to control the torrent. Learn to observe and be curious. And just keep going.

Data, data everywhere…

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*From a Jeremy Waite tweet

And there are a lot of stars in the sky.

We are traveling in uncharted territory. The information age we are creating has us swamped with more to read and see and hear than humans have ever encountered. We are constantly consuming words and images and ideas. I find it a challenge to just sit or do anything not requiring complete attention without reaching for a device to beam some more info my way.

I am grateful to be living in the future. I live to learn and grow. But I’ve got to build in some quiet, some space carved out from the noise of the nonstop flow of information. Maybe meditation is the way to go. Or a daily walk sans earbuds.

What’s the balance between consuming and creating and just being? What systems and habits do I need to build into my daily life to better navigate through the sea of data we’re all swimming in while still living an authentic, present, fully human existence?

Only nine weeks left to make 2014 awesome

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It’s Wednesday. As of today there are only nine weeks left in 2014, one week down in my ten week countdown to make 2014 more awesome.

What will you have to show for this year? How do you want to finish? Schedule some time for a meeting with yourself on New Year’s Eve to assess the year, to review what was great about 2014 and what could have been better. Really, go put this on your calendar now. I just added it to mine. (By the way, I use Fantastical, a killer calendar app for Mac and iOS. So good.)

I’m imagining Wednesday, December 31. There will be football on TV and a family gathering that night probably. But that morning will most likely be a quiet time to get away and reflect on the year and on these last ten weeks especially. I’m hoping I’m stronger (I’m one week closer in the hundred pushups challenge) and a bit smarter (my book reading plan is slow go for now, though). I plan to have written something I’m proud of, and I’m counting on having even better relationships with the people I love.

What can you do to finish well? What actions can you take this week that will create momentum for the habits and routines you want to build. Systems trump goals, and these final weeks can give you a good foundation to build systems that will endure and that can truly transform your life over time.

Nine weeks is plenty of time to make remarkable progress on something you truly care about. Don’t wait till there are only eight weeks left to get started on finishing strong in 2014.

Start. Now.

Claim your place on the internet

Everyone should claim their place on the internet. Go grab the URL of your choice for just a few bucks a year and own your online identity.* Why not? We are living in the future! The internet offers the chance to express and connect in a way humans have never been able to before. Don’t sit this out.

Of course, I think everyone should write. Even if you create a site that no one other than your mom ever visits, it’s worthwhile for your own benefit to have a platform to build your ideas and share your creations. The attempt to create something, to express yourself, will help you see and understand in ways that just thinking passively never can. And posting something publicly, that anyone in the world might come across, will focus your attention more finely and compel you to hone and craft your ideas with more care. Kind of like how you clean your house so much better when you’re expecting company, writing something with the awareness that others might read it will lead to clearer thinking and better work.

Writing something with the awareness that others might read it will lead to clearer thinking and better work.

Young people, especially, who are just getting started on their careers, should be expected to have a thoughtful online presence. To heck with your resume, show me what you’ve done. If you want to go into marketing or advertising, for example, wouldn’t it be more impressive to show a prospective employer your blog filled with posts analyzing marketing and advertising instead of just your grades in classes. If you’re passionate about public health, why not chronicle what you’re learning about health policy. If you’re an artist, make and share your art.

The college students I work with are getting it. From a design student to a mass media student to a fashion merchandising student, they know that they should go ahead and start acting like and creating like they are who they want to be. Sarah, the fashion merchandising student, was in a college class I spoke to a few weeks ago. After my talk she came up and told me she’d been wanting to create a web site about her interest in fashion. The next week, she sent me a link to her new site, and it’s terrific. And it’s going to help her figure out what she really cares about and what’s worth sharing and how to express her ideas more effectively. And when she’s pursuing career opportunities she will have a tangible body of work to share, not just a resume. Or maybe her web site will become a career. It happens.

Write the internet you want to read.

But don’t see your online presence just as a means to an end, as a sort of obligatory extended resume. The best stuff on the internet is created as an end in itself, for fundamental reasons rather than instrumental reasons. Write the internet you want to read. Craft and share work that delights you intrinsically without any expectation of a payoff and see if you don’t make better work than if you were trying to get some extrinsic reward.

You don’t need permission to do work you find meaningful, nor do you have to wait till you’ve earned a degree to get busy getting better at what you want to do. Even if no one pays you for it, ever, go make something and share it with the world.

 

*I use WordPress.com and pay them each year for my custom domain name. It’s a hassle-free, low-maintenance option that I’ve been happy with.

Toughen yourself

Looking back through my highlights in Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way, I found this:

You’ll have far better luck toughening yourself up than you ever will trying to take the teeth out of a world that is—at best—indifferent to your existence.

It’s the same sentiment as this from Ramana Maharshi:

WANTING TO REFORM THE WORLD WITHOUT DISCOVERING ONE’S TRUE SELF IS LIKE TRYING TO COVER THE WORLD WITH LEATHER TO AVOID THE PAIN OF WALKING ON STONES AND THORNS. IT IS MUCH SIMPLER TO WEAR SHOES.

Setting out to change the world seems noble, but the direct path to epic transformation is as simple as changing yourself, steeling yourself against the blows that are bound to come in this world. And helping others do the same would surely change their world.

Epictetus on choices and living artfully

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My wife put a lamp by the deeply cushioned chair in our bedroom last night to make a new reading spot in our house, and I gave it a go. I sat down to read from an actual book, made from paper. It was my hardcover copy of The Art of Living, Sharon Lebell’s collection of the best of the wisdom of the first and second century Stoic teacher Epictetus.

Epictetus had been a slave who earned his freedom through his excellence as a student and, eventually, a teacher of Stoic philosophy. Nothing he may have written survives, but his students collected and saved his teachings, which went on to influence everyone’s favorite philosopher king, Marcus Aurelius. (Marcus was an emperor, not a king, of course. Philosopher emperor was beyond even Plato’s imagination.)

The single sentence on the opening page above is as good an exhortation as anyone could need. But it’s followed on the next page by this jewel of simple yet often neglected common sense:

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We always have a choice about the contents and character of our inner lives.

We don’t have much control over what happens around us and to us, but we do get to choose our response. Easy to understand. Hard, though, to own that choice standing in the often very small, poorly lit gap between stimulus and response.

I’ve got to at least be more aware that I am making these choices. I am responsible – able to choose my response – and not made to do or be anything not in my choosing. No one or no thing can make me angry, for example. I may choose to be angry in response, but it’s my choice, whether I own up to it or not.

I need these reminders regularly. Searching to share something insightful every day has been a great way to live a more adventurous inner life and to remind myself to do better, to grow and improve. These notes to self that I share publicly have become a daily discipline that I hope will keep me sharp and curious. I recommend this to anyone looking to make better sense of their own thinking and their place in the universe. Oh, that’s everyone. Of course, everyone should write.

We all are artists creating a unique life, a life that’s never been before and never will be again. Choose to craft yours as though you’re sculpting a masterpiece.

Life is asking us a question

From Ryan Holiday’s excellent book The Obstacle is the Way:

The great psychologist Viktor Frankl, survivor of three concentration camps, found presumptuousness in the age-old question: “What is the meaning of life?” As though it is someone else’s responsibility to tell you. Instead, he said, the world is asking you that question. And it’s your job to answer with your actions.
In every situation, life is asking us a question, and our actions are the answer. Our job is simply to answer well.

The question to awaken possibility

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What if you asked “What if …?” like it was your job?

What if you put no limits on the answers?

What if you asked this about your work, your relationships, your dreams for who you want to become?

What if asking this became a habit, a part of your weekly, or daily, routine?

What if you become known for your embrace of possibility?

What if you helped awaken possibility in others?

What if you actually did something to make even a handful of those possibilities become reality?

The end (of the year) is near: The ten week challenge

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The end is near. Ten weeks till December 31. The year is in wind down mode. But how can you gear up for a strong finish, so you can look back on 2014 as a remarkable year in your life?

Ten weeks is enough time to build a habit, to craft a routine, to hone a system.

Me, I’m going back to my hundred pushups plan. It will be rewarding to finish the year physically stronger than I started it. I’m also going to focus on tightening my daily habits for reading and writing. I want to aim for a bigger writing project than posting on this site daily. And I’m going to be intentional about more quality time with my family.

It’s easy to slack off as the holiday season approaches, to defer discipline and hard things to the new year. But imagine how you hope to feel on December 31. What project have you put off that would excite you if you did it? What relationship in your life needs attention? Is there a worthwhile challenge that scares you a bit? Which habit can you form that would make a big difference?

Open a document or grab a marker and some paper and write: “What if…?”

Respond quickly to that question with as many possibilities for the next few weeks as you can imagine. Then go through that list and focus on the possibilities that elicit the most excitement. Now put a plan in place to make them happen and get busy.

Schedule an appointment with yourself for December 31 to review your year and to begin planning your adventures for 2015.

How can this be your best year yet? A lot can be done in ten weeks. It’s not too late to take action and finish strong.

Presenters: Prepare for AV to fail

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I did a talk to a student group last night and the AV didn’t work. It was in the main classroom building on campus where I’ve never had any AV problems before.* I had just created a new version of this presentation earlier in the day and hadn’t taken the time to rehearse, so when I didn’t have the slides to guide me I was a bit lost. But I winged it and jumped in with enthusiasm. I knew my stories and points well. I wasn’t solid on the new structure and flow, though. It was an audience eager to engage and smile, so they were very forgiving of my somewhat disorganized delivery.

A presentation is not about the slides, of course. It’s about the interaction, the connection between the presenter and the audience. And seeing an audience like last night’s was so encouraging. It makes me want to make the effort to be the kind of audience member who gives presenters engaged attention and smiling eyes.

About halfway through last night, one of my brilliant friends in attendance (Thanks, Sheryar!) got a version of my slides to work, so I shuffled through the deck and made them fit where I was in my talk.

This experience reminded me to walk into every presentation with the assumption the AV won’t work and to be prepared to go without any visuals at all. I let this audience down by not being ready to give my best no matter what happened with the AV.

Here is a PDF of the slides that I didn’t get to fully use. Next time, I’ll be ready to roll with or without them.

 

*I present using Keynote on an iPad mini connected by a VGA adapter to the projector. My remote control to advance the slides is Keynote on an iPhone. Usually, connecting the iPad to a VGA input works perfectly. Not this time.

Showing my work: FAB 4

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Showing my work helps remind me what a rewardingly messy process creation is. An audience typically only sees the well honed final creation, but it’s worthwhile to share openly the process that creates the product. I take heart when I see an artist show the rough drafts and discarded wrong steps.

I’m remixing a presentation for tonight. I’m speaking to a group of college freshmen and sharing wisdom I’ve learned from a career working with campus superstars. I’ve got a handful of ideas and stories I rely on for these kinds of talks, but this morning I decided to scrap a version of the talk I’ve used recently and rethink the structure and design.

I turned my chair around, away from the computer, and took some markers to the jumbo scratch pad on my desk. I mapped out the most important ideas and rearranged the flow before turning back around and designing the slides in Keynote.

It helps to change tools and switch from digital to analog to jump start a fresh approach. And it’s worthwhile to take something you’ve got down pat and jumble it up and start over. New possibilities appear that otherwise would have been hidden behind old, safe patterns.

 

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Dig deep

Meditations 7.59:
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Digging is hard. It’s easy to just stay on the surface. But the good stuff often is buried down deep and will require some effort to get to. But the good stuff is worth the effort.

That hard conversation? That creative project? The vision you have for the kind of person you truly want to be? Dig deep and conquer the resistance keeping you from the goodness buried below.

John Gruber tells the Daring Fireball story

Daring Fireball is a daily must-read for me. And John Gruber has one of the most consistently distinctive and quote-worthy takes on Apple and all things tech. I’m a fan and have a couple of Daring Fireball t-shirts I wear proudly. (I’m normally a plain-t kind of guy, so it’s a big deal for me to sport someone’s logo.)

Gruber has a great story about how he made his blog into his full-time career, and he told it on the XOXO Festival stage recently:

If you think you’ve missed the boat, that it’s too late for you to get in on the possibilities created by the internet, you are wrong. It’s still early. We are just at the edge of the frontier. But don’t wait around thinking about it. Claim your stake online now. Buy that domain name. Get started on WordPress or Squarespace or Tumblr. Make something you’re proud to share with the world. And keep doing it. And keep getting better.

Be the CEO of your life

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You may not be anyone’s boss. You might have a whole corporate ladder of bosses above you. But you are your own boss whether you’re self-employed or not.

You might just have only a puny little cubicle from which to stake your claim on great work. But make the most of where you are. Fully inhabit that cubicle like it’s the corner executive suite. Be awesome right there.

Own your job. Master your roles. Work like a boss. Be the CEO of your life.

Putting the work in

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“When writing, I adhere to the old adage that if you want to get hit by a train you better go stand on the track. There’s no substitute for just putting the work in and writing with a very concerted, focused effort. At the end of the day it all comes down to synthesizing a whole host of ideas, so you better have a lot of ideas at the ready when it comes time to put the little Frankenstein monster together.” –St. Vincent’s Annie Clark

An Austin Kleon tweet pointed to this excellent interview with the musician Annie Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, about her creative process.

This jibes with everything I’m finding lately about creative people. Inspiration is for amateurs. Pros just do work. They show up and get busy whether they feel like it or not.

Our star-filled neighborhood

 

This photo of the Milky Way by astrophotographer Robert Gendler is stunning:GSC_6273_289

Click on this photo to enlarge it for full awesomeness and existential stupefaction.

Phil Plait wrote about it on his site yesterday. Look into what seems like a cloud and realize you’re looking at countless individual stars and their glow. How tightly packed these stars seem to be. Each one a massive wonder in its own right, a peer to our sun, maybe with Earth-like planets orbiting. So much mystery and possibility in this fabulous photo.

There are probably more than 200 billion stars in just our galaxy. And there are probably at least one hundred billion galaxies in the universe.

We are so, so small. A speck in a vast sea of wonders. But knowing how small we are makes us grander than we have ever been as a species. Embracing our place in the universe is the first step on the path to understanding and expressing the epic magnificence of reality.

Having a bad day? A little star gazing is good for the soul and will recalibrate your perspective while crushing your puny so-called problems. Just look up.

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Life ought to be about living

More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings and conferences, study groups and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but you truly love them.  –Henri Nouwen

I feel weighed down by undone tasks and projects looming behind distractions and delay. Being productive, being busy, is made out to be the virtue that validates your worth. But life ought to be about just living, not accomplishing. And I need to just be with people – my wife and daughters, my coworkers and students, my friends.

I do delight in just wandering through the office and making small talk and checking in on those I work with. It’s management by walking around. I don’t aim to disrupt, but I’m eager to enjoy a conversation when the opportunity is there and acknowledge that we are in this together.

Some of my most joyful moments are spent not in getting anything done, but in just enjoying connecting with a fellow human. Pull up a chair next to a friend. Cuddle with your love. Play with your kid. Share a meal and a laugh. No agenda. Nothing to prove or accomplish. Just spread some love and some kindness and revel in being alive in this moment.

Aim to peak at 60

IMG_1247.PNGI was telling a group of college students last night they should aim to peak at age 60. They stared blankly at me. I’m not sure if they were processing the thought or erasing it as ludicrous. When you’re 19, 25 seems old. And 30+ is even hard to imagine.

“But hear me out”, I said. If the decisions you make today are guided by the long game, by the intent to improve consistently over a long period of time, imagine the perspective that will offer you. Instead of attempting to rule the world by age 30, you can slow down and focus on being the best you can be in this moment. No pressure. No need to compare yourself to others and measure your worth by the fleeting and fickle whims of our culture and what “success” means superficially.

Put some blinders on and just focus on getting a little better each week. Use your 20’s to just start figuring out what it means to be an adult, to start mastering something valuable in your work life and in your quest to be fully human in your intellectual and emotional growth.

Build a solid base in your 20’s and you’ll be in a good place for the opportunities bound to come in your 30’s and 40’s and 50’s. Imagine the kind of person you hope to be when you’re 60. Live your way into that vision slowly and surely.

 

 

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