Digital AND analog

This talk by master penman Jake Weidmann about the dying art of penmanship is fascinating:

Weidmann’s talk makes me care about penmanship. He’s got a great stage presence and makes a somewhat obscure topic something worth talking about.

I have terrible penmanship. I’m left-handed and struggled as a kid trying to use a fountain pen. My gnarled death grip on the pen would have me smudging the wet ink with my hand. I remember being frustrated and a bit embarrassed about my sloppy writing. The only average grades I ever got were in 5th grade for handwriting. (Most schools today don’t even teach, much less grade, handwriting.)

So, I later took to a keyboard with enthusiasm and became a decent typist. To get in to the journalism school in college I actually had to either pass a typing test or take a typing class. I passed the test and can write pretty fast with a computer keyboard. (I think the journalism school not only dropped the typing test a year or two after I graduated in 1986, but probably even shipped out all the typewriters soon after as they made room for computers.)

Now, I find myself resistant to writing anything more than a few sentences by hand. I’ll use my phone or iPad or computer keyboard when possible. They’re convenient and fast and guarantee a neat, legible, electronic copy of what I write.

However, I do switch to thinking through some ideas by sketching out mind maps on my whiteboard and on the big notepad on my desk. I’ve got a clear separation between the digital and analog work spaces in my office. It’s nice to change gears and brainstorm with a marker in hand then turn back to the computer to input and polish and tweak.


The digital side of my workspace



The analog side of my work space (My family came in this afternoon and added their own touches to my work. My daughters cannot resist writing and drawing on the whiteboard.)

This talk about penmanship is a good challenge to care more about how well and how often I write by hand. Maybe I’ve been holding a pen all wrong all my life. My wife has lovely handwriting and is meticulous and careful about making her writing just right. She should have a font named after her.

I don’t think you need to ditch your handy digital tools. We don’t have to choose sides. You can use both. And if you’re lost in the distractions of your electronic life, try grabbing a pencil or some colorful markers and a big sheet of paper or massive whiteboard. They’re all just tools. Use them to bring out your best.


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I was clicking through interesting links last night and tunneled my way through the internet to this great Art of Manliness post: The World Belongs to Those Who Hustle. It’s worth reading if you need a kick in the pants to get going or feel you are lacking in talent. Talent is overrated.

Excellence is yours if you’re willing to put in the effort. In fact, the odds of doing something extraordinary are in your favor because most people are content with ordinary, with safe and secure but not remarkable.

There’s actually more competition for average than there is for awesome, because awesome takes effort and persistence and courage. And only the few will choose that path.

No excuse will suffice if the only thing keeping you from being the person you dream to be is  your commitment to hustle.

*The quotation above could very well be misattributed to Lincoln. Not sure if the word “hustle” had this connotation in the mid-19th century. But the sentiment of this thought certainly seems to fit what we know of Lincoln’s character and his rise to prominence from a poor, illiterate family.



Slow down and do it right

Daring Fireball linked to this article by a former Apple design leader, Mark Kawano. Deadlines are a big deal inside Apple. They never publicize far in advance when they are releasing a product, but internally they are driven by deadlines.

BUT, if their product is not satisfactory by the deadline, they don’t just ship it anyway. They are not opposed to moving deadlines to better serve the creation of a product that meets their high standards.

Many tech start-ups especially seem to prefer the opposite approach. Just ship something and then iterate to make it better later. But as a customer or user, I don’t want a half-baked product. I don’t want to be a beta tester providing useful feedback for the next iteration.

Kawano refers to Facebook beginning to change their approach to product development:

Take Facebook, which recently killed its famous internal mantra: “Move fast and break things.”

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, told a crowd of developers earlier this year that he had made a decision to kill the motto after learning that speed does not equal success. “What we realized over time is that it wasn’t helping us to move faster, because we had to slow down to fix these bugs and it wasn’t improving our speed,” Zuckerberg said.

Instead, Zuckerberg said, Facebook was going to slow down and do it right.

Having a due date will force action. Circle a date on the calendar you plan to have something done. Make an appointment with your team or friend or spouse to show them your creation on that date. Then, if it’s not good enough, set another deadline to perfect it.

Set a deadline. Take action. But slow down and do it right.

“Details matter. It’s worth waiting to get it right.”
-Steve Jobs


Act as if you were absolutely perfect

All you get by waiting is more waiting. Absolute perfection is here and now, not in some future, near or far. The secret is in action – here and now. It is your behavior that binds you to yourself. Disregard whatever you think yourself to be and act as if you were absolutely perfect – whatever your idea of perfection may be. All you need is courage.
My grace is telling you now: look within. All you need you have. Use it. Behave as best you know, do what you think you should. Don’t be afraid of mistakes; you can always correct them, only intentions matter. The shape things take is not within your power; the motives of your actions are.
–Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

I found this in the book 365 Nirvana: Here and Now, which is a profound collection of insight and wisdom I used to keep on my nightstand.

This thought seems stunning: “Absolute perfection is here and now… Act as if you were absolutely perfect.” Acting as if conjures almost magical powers. Action is the key.

Do something! Stop thinking and waiting and hoping and wondering. Have a picture in your mind of who you want to be? Even if you’re not sure or you’re afraid you’ll change your mind later, go ahead and start acting like you are that person you envision.

Wake up each day and intend to be the perfect version of the human you imagine yourself to be. You will screw up, likely before you leave your room. It doesn’t matter. Your intent is what counts. Keep coming back to the actions that you desire.

Don’t judge yourself by some distant goal. Just be perfect in this moment. Act like you are who you want to be.

Turning obstacles into fuel

From Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations:

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“The obstacle is the way” is such encouragement when facing adversity. And when aren’t we? Your nature calls for you to embrace difficulty and failure, to turn “obstacles into fuel” to propel yourself further.

Things not going as planned? Unforeseen problems appearing? Failure seems certain? Excellent! Use those obstacles to grow stronger, to reorient, to see previously unimagined possibilities. Seek out a path you know will be difficult if you want to grow and improve and live a life that burns brightly, that shines with the fire of your resolve.


A tiny splinter of pain

When I’m having a moment in my life that should be pure joy, it rarely ever seems complete, never purely blissful. Even in the most delightful, carefree times, there always seems to be a tiny splinter of pain in my consciousness or a small, indefinable ache of sorrow that tugs at the moment.

What is that? The fleeting nature of the present moment? The awareness that change is the only constant, that everything is ultimately terminal?

Experiencing beauty and joy and authentic moments of connection reminds us that we can never truly possess those moments or freeze things the way we yearn for them to be.

Maybe this is what impels the creative impulse in us. We try to capture the moment of beauty or rapture or even heartbreak as best we can so it can be preserved to summon that feeling again or to understand it better. To immortalize somehow our mortal and ever changing experience of the mystery we all are living.

This Jason Silva video reflects on the dilemma we all face as finite beings searching for meaning and joy:

“This is one aspect of the basic human predicament, that we are simultaneously worms and gods.”
–Abraham Maslow

How to put on socks

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden began the first practice of every preseason with a lesson in how to put on socks.

He carefully demonstrated the proper technique while the new freshmen on the team were watching and likely thinking, “Why is coach doing this? I’ve been putting on socks all my life…”

Wooden went on to explain that if the players aren’t mindful in smoothing out the creases and wrinkles in the socks before they put their shoes on, they will be more prone to blisters as they begin training. And blisters will prevent them from practicing at their best.

Small things matter. Details determine outcomes. Wooden was a master of details, charting each practice session meticulously and knowing each player’s practice stats as well as their game stats. His leadership and his tightly organized system, of course, led to an unprecedented ten national championships.

One of Coach Wooden’s mantras was “Be quick, but never hurry.” Be efficient, but don’t be sloppy. If you hurry or are sloppy putting on your socks or doing other small things, you will be less likely to be awesome in the big things. 

If you’re leading others, don’t assume they’ve got the basics down. Revisit them regularly. Be relentless in emphasizing the whys, but don’t skimp on the hows. 

Strive to be impeccable in all that you do. Care enough to be awesome in the tiny, routine habits that will affect the quality of each day.

AP Photo

Chris Hadfield: “Don’t let life randomly kick you into the adult you don’t want to become.”

Everyone’s favorite Canadian Astronaut, Chris Hadfield, has written a really good book, The Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. He tells the improbable story of how a kid from Canada grew up dreaming of going to space and ended up as the most well known astronaut of his era. The book is filled with lessons he learned on his quest but that are relevant to those of us who will only be astronauts in our imagination. Hadfield has been a prominent and relatable voice for space exploration and science education. And he just seems like such a good guy.

ZenPencils created a great illustration of this response from Hadfield in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything”, which he did while orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station:

Decide in your heart of hearts what really excites and challenges you, and start moving your life in that direction. Every decision you make, from what you eat to what you do with your time tonight, turns you into who you are tomorrow, and the day after that. Look at who you want to be, and start sculpting yourself into that person. You may not get exactly where you thought you’d be, but you will be doing things that suit you in a profession you believe in. Don’t let life randomly kick you into the adult you don’t want to become. –Chris Hadfield

Act like you are who you want to be. Do the things that the ideal version of you would do. Live the life you have imagined.

The best things

Steve Jobs once was asked which product he was most proud of. He said it was not the Mac or the iPhone, it was Apple, the company. He hoped to leave a legacy with the company and its culture that outlived him and any single product. So far, so good.

How did he plan to keep that going, even after he was gone? There’s an article in the New York Times about Apple’s secretive training program for employees that is designed to perpetuate Apple’s philosophy and culture and continue their run of success.

Culture is everything for an organization. A great company or non-profit or family, even, has to be intentional about connecting its people with what it considers its essential values and principles, and doing it continually and effectively. Don’t take anything for granted about what your people know about your whys and hows. Be relentless in telling the story of what made your organization what it is, but also in searching for opportunities to grow and rethink and shed what no longer resonates. Keep skating to where the puck is going, not where it is.

And consider this quote from Jobs in the article:

“Expose yourself to the best things that humans have done, and then try to bring those things into what you’re doing.” –Steve Jobs

That’s good advice for all of us. Seek out the best of what’s around (DMB reference for the win). Read the best writing and see the best movies. The classics are classics because their quality stands the test of time. Follow those at the top of your field. Be a connoisseur  of quality in the things you surround yourself with. Appreciate the grace of great things and use those things to bring out the best in you.

“The future is a hoax”

From Alan Watts’s intriguing and challenging The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are:

Unless one is able to live fully in the present, the future is a hoax. There is no point whatever in making plans for a future which you will never be able to enjoy. When your plans mature, you will still be living for some other future beyond. You will never, never be able to sit back with full contentment and say, “Now, I’ve arrived!”

Your life is now. The challenge is to live where your life is and not where you think or hope it’s going to be in the future.

Diana Nyad’s audacious pursuit

I’m spending this weekend at the lake with my family. It’s a final summer getaway before my girls begin the school year on Monday.

Being on, around, or in water is good for my soul. Yours, too. There’s even a popular new book, Blue Mind, that explores the science behind why water makes us happier.

As I was swimming in the open water of the lake this morning, I thought of Diana Nyad, the great distance swimmer who recently, and finally after four failed attempts, conquered the daunting 100+-mile swim from Cuba to Florida.

She decided to revive her swimming career only after turning 60 and then put herself through as difficult a physical and mental challenge as you can imagine. She swam through shark infested waters and nearly died from horrific box jellyfish stings on a failed attempt, and then gave it yet another try.

She’s done a couple of dynamic TED Talks that tell the story of this seemingly foolhardy quest. Here’s the most recent, after achieving her goal:

Her previous TED Talk is inspiring as well.

Nyad has an ebullient, charismatic stage presence. She lights up the room. Her enthusiasm for her daring approach to life is infectious.

What will you do with your one wild, and precious life?


Mike Rowe: “Become indispensable”

Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame was asked by a fan for career advice. His response is frank and direct and awesome. And he closes with timeless advice for anyone trying to find their way in the world of work:

“Stop looking for the “right” career, and start looking for a job. Any job. Forget about what you like. Focus on what’s available. Get yourself hired. Show up early. Stay late. Volunteer for the scut work. Become indispensable. You can always quit later, and be no worse off than you are today. But don’t waste another year looking for a career that doesn’t exist. And most of all, stop worrying about your happiness. Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.” -Mike Rowe

This is consistent with the advice I shared for those facing life after college. You don’t have to figure out your career. Pick a job where you can get picked, and then go be awesome. If you don’t like it, try something else. But stick with something long enough to get good at it, and at least learn what it means to truly work.

Be kind to everyone


Be kind to everyone, even those who seem undeserving, who do not seem to have much kindness in them.

Who knows what burden they’re bearing or what has drained the kindness from them?

You don’t have to yield or give in. You can be strong and kind. But be kind if that’s all you can give. Your kindness may awaken some dormant spark of goodness that just needs a smile or gracious word.

Craft a routine for creative spontaneity

I’ve often taken pride in a seat-of-the-pants approach. With Indiana Jones as a model – “I’m making this up as I go!”winging it seemed a virtue.

With age, though, I’ve developed an appreciation for order and structure and routine. And I’m far from disciplined in actually applying order to my daily life.

We expect creativity to be mysterious and ecstatic, and we wait for it, hoping it will grab hold of us. We delay, waiting to be inspired.

But it’s been my experience that waiting for inspiration leads to a lot of doing nothing. What if it’s the other way around? What if routine and structure, showing up and taking action regardless of your emotional state, were what summoned the muse?

Here is William James as quoted in the excellent book, Daily Rituals, by Mason Curry:

“The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work. There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation.”

Interestingly, at the time James wrote this he was struggling with the misery of indecision he describes.

As a new school year is beginning, it’s a great time to craft a fresh, new routine for your days. Create a structure of when to arise and exercise and work and eat and read and play and when to turn the lights out. Stick to the schedule. Automate easy decisions, taking them out of your brain and opening space there for more challenging, creative endeavors.

Routine can spark spontaneity. Make a plan, show up consistently, and see if inspiration notices your pattern and begins showing up, too.

Paying for quality


You pay for quality.

If it’s poor quality you’ve purchased, you pay again with annoyance or frustration and regret and possibly lost time and maybe repairing or replacing.

High quality purchases may typically only require the initial payment.

Things are ultimately just things. But great things can add value and beauty and more consistently satisfying moments than things that are merely cheap.

It’s much better to have fewer things that you find useful and beautiful than to have a lot of things that ultimately do not delight you past the purchase price.

Supplying our own light


A clear-eyed pessimism to inspire action. Kubrick’s perspective may seem bleak, but like the Stoics, he expects no external motivation, whether it’s there or not.

Whether you imagine the universe to be indifferent, against you, or on your side, do what you can to make your life meaningful, to shine brightly where there is darkness, to “rage against the dying of the light.”

ht Brain Pickings

Get away from it all

Nice Sunday morning thought from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations:

People try to get away from it all—to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: you can get away from it anytime you like.
By going within.
Nowhere you can go is more peaceful—more free of interruptions—than your own soul. Especially if you have other things to rely on. An instant’s recollection and there it is: complete tranquillity. And by tranquillity I mean a kind of harmony.

So keep this refuge in mind: the back roads of your self. Above all, no strain and no stress. Be straightforward. Look at things like a man, like a human being, like a citizen, like a mortal. And among the things you turn to, these two:
i. That things have no hold on the soul. They stand there unmoving, outside it. Disturbance comes only from within—from our own perceptions.
ii. That everything you see will soon alter and cease to exist. Think of how many changes you’ve already seen.
“The world is nothing but change. Our life is only perception.”

Head out on “the back roads of your self” when the world seems too distracting, too full. Unplug for a while and be intentional about finding a moment of tranquility. No vacation necessary.

Kyle Maynard reminds us what awesome looks like

I met Kyle Maynard briefly when he came to his freshman orientation at my university ten years ago. I was running the program at the time and have met thousands of students over my twenty-plus years working in higher education. But Kyle remains one of the most memorable and remarkable students I have encountered. He wouldn’t remember me, but he is unforgettable.

I knew of him even before he arrived on campus. I had read his admissions application and knew he had lived a remarkable life already at such a young age. Kyle was born without full arms and legs. Yet he had an extraordinary record of accomplishment throughout high school, including success as a member of his school’s wrestling team.

College orientation is filled with self-conscious freshmen nervously finding their way. Awkward moments abound. However, I watched Kyle light up every room he entered that day. He was gregarious and confident and eager to put others at ease. He moved in and out of his wheelchair and was the center of attention at the orientation dinner party. This young man, born without arms and legs, seemed more able and mature than his peers.

I sat next to Kyle at one of the orientation lectures. The speaker was the head of food services, and he was explaining the biometric scanners that controlled access to the dining halls. He launched into his usual joke that with the hand scanners, students would always have access to enter the dining halls even without their ID card, and he’d never heard a student complain that he had “forgotten his hand”.

Kyle leaned over to me and said, “Well, I guess he’s never met me.” And then he smiled and laughed.

Kyle has gone on to become an author and speaker and life adventurer. I was reminded of him recently when Tim Ferriss shared this amazing video about Kyle’s attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

Most of us cannot imagine living Kyle’s life. Watch this video and let the petty complaints we have and lame excuses we make get crushed by the remarkable life Kyle is living. Thanks for being awesome, Kyle!

Begin now

Ira Glass did an interview with Lifehacker filled with details about how he works, his routines and tools. It’s a worthwhile read for insight into how such a prolific creator gets things done.

His final response is a compelling call to action for anyone who wants to make something:

Don’t wait for permission to make something that’s interesting or amusing to you. Just do it now. Don’t wait. Find a story idea, start making it, give yourself a deadline, show it to people who’ll give you notes to make it better. Don’t wait till you’re older, or in some better job than you have now. Don’t wait for anything. Don’t wait till some magical story idea drops into your lap. That’s not where ideas come from. Go looking for an idea and it’ll show up. Begin now. Be a fucking soldier about it and be tough.

–Ira Glass

ht  Grant Huhn