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The story of Hubble’s Deep Field image

The Hubble telescope’s Deep Field image from 1995 is one of the most important images in human history.

I’ve been fascinated by it since I first heard about it in a talk by the neuroscientist, David Eagleman. (Great talk. Add it to your must watch list.)

I regularly bring up the Hubble Deep Field image when I speak to audiences, especially high school students. It never fails to get a reaction when I tell the story then display the Deep Field slide.

Vox.com posted a video feature last week telling the story of how the Deep Field image was captured.

In an empty speck the size of a pinhead in the night sky Hubble found thousands of galaxies.

It showed us just how vast and gloriously, mysteriously interesting the universe is.

If you need a dose of perspective, look up into the night sky and see how small you are. But see also that you are part of — a wonderfully conscious part of — a grand universe filled with more to learn than we ever could in the limited time we have.

 

Sunday night Stoic: Freedom is the only worthy goal

“Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control.” –Epictetus

So much of what weighs on me is beyond my control. Maybe most of my worries, actually.

You do have control over your initiative and effort and mindset and what merits your attention, and over your response to things that lie beyond your control.

Turn your attention away from the noise of events outside of your control. No need to fret over the news, constantly hitting refresh on your news feeds to see what additional calamity you need to stress about.

Look closely at what you can control, and get busy putting your attention and effort there. 

And find freedom there.

The worst way to come up with new ideas

Screen Shot 2016-09-21 at 4.23.30 PM.png

Yet, this is standard procedure for most of us.

(I, at least, leave my fluorescent lights off while I aimlessly browse the web. Nothing but the warm glow of a desk lamp to light my forays into creative futility.)

Nice post on the UGMONK blog to remind you to regularly change your scenery: “How I Stay Inspired and Come Up with New Ideas”

Get up. Get out. If you’re going to aimlessly browse, make it something not built of 1’s and 0’s.

Sunday night Stoic: Follow Nature

Meditations 5.3:

“If an action or utterance is appropriate, then it’s appropriate for you. Don’t be put off by other people’s comments and criticism. If it’s right to say or do it, then it’s the right thing for you to do or say. The others obey their own lead, follow their own impulses. Don’t be distracted. Keep walking. Follow your own nature, and follow Nature—along the road they share.”

Follow your own nature.

And follow Nature.

I’m convinced that capital “N” Nature, and my own nature which flows from it, should be my guide.

Stay in sync with the way things are. Don’t try to force a system of someone’s devising onto the model that Nature has so elegantly and organically displayed all around.

When in doubt, look to the real world. You are not an alien. You are product of this reality, even if you have the illusion that you are somehow separate.

Nature is our source and can be our guide. It is in you as much as you are in it.

Don’t be distracted. Keep walking.

Mike Birbiglia’s excellent advice

The comedian and filmmaker offers his unsolicited advice, ostensibly to those who want a career as a performer. But these tips apply to anyone who wants to make something meaningful on their own terms.

Here’s his final tip:

6. CLEVERNESS IS OVERRATED, AND HEART IS UNDERRATED

Plus, there are fewer people competing for heart, so you have a better chance of getting noticed. Sometimes people say, “One thing you have to offer in your work is yourself.” I disagree. I think it’s the only thing.

Sunday morning Stoic: Why before how

“Why?” is THE question.

Drill down to your Why. 

You may find you have to rethink everything. 

Discard the superficial answers—the ones handed to you by others and the ones that don’t hold up to the scrutiny of brutally honest inquiry and genuine, everything’s-on-the-table curiosity.

Once you’ve found answers to your Why, answers that are legitimately your own, you have a foundation that can help you persevere no matter what circumstances you encounter.

*Two things: Victor Frankl walked the walk as a concentration camp survivor in World War II. His book, Man’s Search for Meaning, is a true gem of insight and wisdom. 

And, this @dailystoic Twitter stream is excellent. It’s connected to Ryan Holiday’s forthcoming book, The Daily Stoic, which is a sort of daily devotional of Stoic wisdom and encouragement. 

Checkmate

On the drive to school with my sixth-grader this morning, I asked her about some of the school activities she was considering.

I suggested the chess club. “Too many boys”, she replied. 

I came back with what a great mental discipline chess can provide—mastering strategy and learning to think a few moves ahead. 

She veered into a tangent about how some people see life like a game of chess, planning their moves and competing to win. 

I said, “But life is not a game that you win. You just get to enjoy playing.”

She responded: “But dad, YOU are winning at life.”

Me: (speechless)

Checkmated by an 11-year-old. 

If this is it

What if this is it? 

Paradise—right here, right now.

As far as we can see in this vast universe, there is no place like this planet, no place like our home.

It’s filled with abundance and wonders far greater than the cruelties and sorrows.

Too many of us are living for something beyond this life—head in the clouds and hope deferred.

But what if we lived like this is it, like this is our only shot and we only have each other?

Sunday morning Stoic: Change is the constant

Meditations 4.36:

“Constant awareness that everything is born from change. The knowledge that there is nothing nature loves more than to alter what exists and make new things like it. All that exists is the seed of what will emerge from it. You think the only seeds are the ones that make plants or children? Go deeper.”

Change is the rule, not the exception. The appearance of stability and constancy, wherever it may seem to exist, is an illusion.

You like the way things are? Brace yourself. This won’t last.

Dissatisfied with the way things are? Patience. This won’t last.

I can try to resist this reality (and I regularly do—we all do), but that approach is an exercise in futility.

Better to ride the waves of change than swim against them.

Beware of advice

“Beware of advice, even this.” –Carl Sandburg

via Scott Berkun

Learn all you can from the experience and wisdom of others, but ultimately you have to live your own life as best you can on your own.

Or not.

Career goal: Spark more smiles

I laughed with delight when I first saw this tweet. 

It made me think fondly of people I know who light up a room with their kindness or humor or enthusiasm. 

And there just aren’t enough people who are like that. 

The thing is, though, everyone could be like that. 

Why so serious, bro? Why so numb to the wonder and the possibilities all around you?

How can you be that person that sparks smiles and generates even little jolts of joy?

“O wondrous creatures, by what strange miracle do you so often not smile?” –Hafiz

Parents as gardeners, not carpenters

Psychology professor Alison Gopnik has a book coming out tomorrow about the parent-child relationship, and her recent essay, A Manifesto Against ‘Parenting’, in The Wall Street Journal is brilliantly provocative.

She suggests that too many parents see themselves as carpenters, mistakenly thinking they are shaping and building toward a finished product. Instead, she says, parents are more like gardeners, nurturing and protecting and making space for children to grow into their unique potential.

From Gopnik’s essay:

Instead of valuing “parenting,” we should value “being a parent.” Instead of thinking about caring for children as a kind of work, aimed at producing smart or happy or successful adults, we should think of it as a kind of love. Love doesn’t have goals or benchmarks or blueprints, but it does have a purpose. Love’s purpose is not to shape our beloved’s destiny but to help them shape their own.

This resonates with my experience as a parent and as a leader in any capacity. Create the conditions that bring out the best in your kids and in those you serve as a leader. Then get out of the way as much as possible.

There’s a stanza in Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet that has stuck with me since long before I became a parent:

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

 

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”

Sunday morning Stoic: On getting away from it all

Meditations 4.3: 

“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 getting away from it all—like that. Renew yourself. But keep it brief and basic. A quick visit should be enough…”

I just spent the past week getting away from it all at the beach with my family. Coming home is bittersweet. Bitter, for the loss of the carefree leisure. Sweet, for the return to the comfortably familiar.

But the tranquility of getting away is always just a breath away. Right here, right now. 

No beach required. 

My beach read: The Name of the Wind


I had been shuffling through an increasingly large stack (hard copies and e-books) of partially read books, dipping in and out without making much progress on any one book.

For my week off at the beach, though, I decided to go all in on this fantasy novel, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. 

And it’s been terrific. This was the debut novel by Rothfuss, and it’s living up to the near universal acclaim it received. 

It is beautifully written with clear, evocative prose, and it tells a compelling story filled with characters worth caring about. 

When the world seems too much with you, there’s nothing like a change of scenery. Take a vacation if you can get away. But at least, give your imagination an adventure with some invigorating fiction. 

Sunday night Stoic: Welcoming wholeheartedly whatever comes

Meditations 3.4:

“Someone like that—someone who refuses to put off joining the elect—is a kind of priest, a servant of the gods, in touch with what is within him and what keeps a person undefiled by pleasures, invulnerable to any pain, untouched by arrogance, unaffected by meanness, an athlete in the greatest of all contests—the struggle not to be overwhelmed by anything that happens. With what leaves us dyed indelibly by justice, welcoming wholeheartedly whatever comes—whatever we’re assigned—not worrying too often, or with any selfish motive, about what other people say. Or do, or think”

What if I accepted whatever already is as though I had chosen it, that it was somehow part of my master plan for improving my character and furthering my evolution?

Resistance to what is is futile. I only have control over how I respond to what is.

So, when something dreadful has occurred—or even something that’s just simply annoying—I can choose to welcome it wholeheartedly and make the most of it as an opportunity to learn and grow and move forward.

Conversations aren’t contests: Good listening is more than just waiting your turn to speak

Adam Grant recently tweeted a link to this Harvard Business Review article, What Great Listeners Actually Do. It’s based on research on what truly effective listeners consistently do.

Excellent listeners don’t just listen quietly, nod occasionally, and summarize what was just said. Instead, they engage and ask thoughtful, encouraging questions. The research suggests being a trampoline, not a sponge:

While many of us have thought of being a good listener being like a sponge that accurately absorbs what the other person is saying, instead, what these findings show is that good listeners are like trampolines. They are someone you can bounce ideas off of — and rather than absorbing your ideas and energy, they amplify, energize, and clarify your thinking. They make you feel better not merely passively absorbing, but by actively supporting. This lets you gain energy and height, just like someone jumping on a trampoline.

It’s not about simply politely waiting your turn to speak while giving the impression that you’re trying to understand the other person.

I know I think I’m pretty good at nodding and seeming engaged while in my brain I’m crafting what I’m going to say when it’s my turn to talk.

I have the best conversations, though, when I’m genuinely present, when I listen to truly understand without much thought given to being understood myself.

Most of us probably think we are better listeners than we actually are. What most of us are good at, though, is appearing to be good listeners.

Listening takes effort and discipline. Next time you’re face to face with someone, ramp up your focus. Tune in as closely as you can to the other person. Ask excellent questions as you attempt to get at what they mean and where they’re coming from.

Be a trampoline that enhances the energy they’re giving you and takes you both to a higher level of understanding and connection.

 

Relax already: David Letterman on ego and perspective

David Letterman reflects on no longer having his television show:

“We did this television show—my friends and I—for a very long time. It’s probably like anyone else’s professional pursuit. When you are doing it for so long, and for each day—I have always likened it to running a restaurant—because you get response to the day’s endeavor immediately. Either from the audience or the ratings, but you know as early as the next day how you did.

And because of this introspection, you believe that what you are doing is of great importance and that it is affecting mankind wall-to-wall. And then when you get out of it you realize, oh, well, that wasn’t true at all. (laughter) It was just silliness. And when that occurred to me, I felt so much better and I realized, geez, I don’t think I care that much about television anymore. I feel foolish for having been misguided by my own ego for so many years.”*

When you are in the middle of a thing—your job, an organization, or some silly drama—it seems gigantic and so obviously important.

But if you could zoom out and view it from some distance of time or space, that thing that seemed like a big deal would be revealed for what it is—a tiny blip, a miniscule drop, an otherwise insignificant thing in the vast scheme of all the things.

Not that when you’re in it you shouldn’t give it your full attention and your best effort.

Just know that everything changes, and every thing, ultimately, is quite tiny in the context of all that is.

The thing that stresses you or weighs you down as you trudge home or as you start your day is probably not as big as you imagine.

This, too, no matter how important it may seem in the moment, shall pass.

The center of the universe is everywhere, but you are not the center of the universe.

Relax already.

 

Humans are the worst, and the best

Often, when I hear some terrible story about what someone has done to someone else, I exclaim to my wife, “Humans are the worst!”

And because we are supposed to be a rational, conscious being with a conscience, we really ought to expect better behavior from our fellow homo sapiens.

In the big scheme of things, though, we humans are just toddlers on the world stage.

The dinosaurs ruled the planet for millions of years.

Modern humans have been around a mere 200,000 years, and we’ve been at the top of the food chain for only a very short while.

Our direct ancestors were just another species of animal (of course, we still are merely animals), and not a very imposing or impressive one, for most of our timeline.

We didn’t figure out agriculture until 10,000 years ago.

And science didn’t begin to take hold until just 500 years ago.

Our big brains evolved into this wondrous asset that empowered us to conquer the world and write poetry and experience awe and joy and laughter. It also enabled us to suffer and inflict suffering like no other species on the planet.

Certainly, we’ve come a long way in a relatively short time.

But it has been a short time. We’re new here.

We are only now beginning to find our footing. We will stumble and go backwards here and there and routinely make a mess of things.

But we are not who we used to be. In spite of the headlines, the reality is that humans have never been more at peace with each other than they are now. (That may say more about how primitive and brutal we have been than about how enlightened we have become.)

If we don’t destroy ourselves before we get it together, we surely will eventually get it together.

Here’s hoping the better angels of our nature mature quicker and evolve faster than the parts of us that give our species a bad name.

Humans are the worst, but we have it in us to be the best.

You are the message

“Your kids… They don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” –Jim Henson

via Austin Kleon

What you consistently do and how you act, that’s your message.

What you say is pointless if it’s not in sync with who you are.

Even kids—especially kids—can see through empty words.

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