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The story of Nike: Phil Knight’s epiphany


I just finished reading Nike CEO Phil Knight’s memoir, Shoe Dog, which tells the story of the creation of his now iconic company.

Knight’s story is compelling and candid and gratifyingly straightforward. He makes himself vulnerable and doesn’t pretend to be a sage or saint.

I was hooked in the foreword by his telling of an epiphany moment, when in his early twenties out for a run in the woods he decided how he wanted his life to unfold:

 “I had an aching sense that our time is short, shorter than we ever know, short as a morning run, and I wanted mine to be meaningful. And purposeful. And creative. And impor­tant. Above all . . . different.

I wanted to leave a mark on the world.

I wanted to win.

No, that’s not right. I simply didn’t want to lose.

And then it happened. As my young heart began to thump, as my pink lungs expanded like the wings of a bird, as the trees turned to greenish blurs, I saw it all before me, exactly what I wanted my life to be. Play.

Yes, I thought, that’s it. That’s the word. The secret of happiness, I’d always suspected, the essence of beauty or truth, or all we ever need to know of either, lay somewhere in that moment when the ball is in midair, when both boxers sense the approach of the bell, when the runners near the finish line and the crowd rises as one. There’s a kind of exuberant clarity in that pulsing half second before winning and losing are decided. I wanted that, whatever that was, to be my life, my daily life.

…What if there were a way, without being an athlete, to feel what athletes feel? To play all the time, instead of working? Or else to enjoy work so much that it becomes essentially the same thing.”

Lovely, right?

And it’s a great start to the book, propelling the reader into a story that is filled with the kinds of ups and downs you might expect in a career and a company of such magnitude.

The book is devoted mostly to the Nike origin story and the people Knight surrounded himself with in the very beginning in the 1960s and 70s as they created the worldwide juggernaut that Nike eventually became.

Nike came perilously close to not making it out of its infancy. But Knight and his team were resilient and persistent and savvy enough to beat the odds and create a company that resonates beyond even its products.

As business books go, this one is refreshingly readable with some worthwhile insights whether your aim is to be a titan of industry or just the captain of your own fate.

Measure yourself

“You measure yourself by the people who measure themselves by you.”

Nike founder Phil Knight, in his memoir Shoe Dog, quotes this line from the movie Bucket List.

By whom do you measure yourself?

And who sees you as the measure, as a model, as an inspiration for their aspirations?

The happy discoverer

“When I begin a poem I don’t know—I don’t want a poem that I can tell was written toward a good ending… You’ve got to be the happy discoverer of your ends.” –Robert Frost

Just get going without concern for the precision of your ending point.

It’s in the going and the doing that you are likely to make your best art and discover your true self.

Don’t overthink it. Don’t expect to have the answers before beginning.

Be open to detours and delays and scenic overlooks.

And be open to surprise.

Just get going.

Sunday night Stoic: Satisfied

Meditations 7.54:

Always and everywhere, it depends on you piously to be satisfied with the present conjunction of events…

Accept whatever you are facing. 

Embrace “the present conjunction of events”, even if it’s not the particular conjunction you would have chosen. Be satisfied with this moment. 

It’s pointless to rail against what is. What is, already is. 

But, what could be… 

That’s where you can make use of the present conjunction of events as material to make something new, something better. 

Cal Newport: Quit social media

Cal Newport has a knack for counterintuitive insight.

His book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, was a compelling challenge to quit trying to find your elusive vocational passion and instead focus on obtaining the kind of mastery that leads to genuine career fulfillment. (Pick a career path you wouldn’t mind getting really good at and stick with it for a while.)

His most recent book, Deep Work, is a wake up call that most of us are doing work wrong. Busyness is not the same as effectiveness. He exhorts us to escape the trivial distractions that drain our time and attention and instead block out time and space for focused, deep work.

Now he’s shared his recent TEDx Talk that is a provocative encouragement to quit social media altogether.

He makes a solid argument. Social media is primarily entertainment. And it’s particularly, deviously addictive and distracting.

Weeks ago I deleted the Facebook and Instagram apps from my phone, and I don’t miss them. 

Tweetbot, though, is still on my home screen and is my most used app by far. Whenever I get even the slightest bit restless, it’s off to Twitter I go. I can disappear there for a long time, mindlessly scrolling, hypnotized by whatever others are tweeting at the moment, clicking links that lead me further into interesting if not important diversions.

I have unearthed some real insights this way, but most of my time browsing internet time-sinkholes is sadly unaccounted for by meaningful results. 

I’m not ready to delete my social media accounts. But I can put a hedge around my attention and structure my time more rigidly to get real work done. 

I’ve found that my best work comes after I’ve spent around 30-45 minutes ramping up my focus without taking breaks to check email or Twitter. It’s like I need that warm up time before flow sets in and then magic can happen. 

Two hours can fly by once I get in that zone. And that zone is a happy place to be and exponentially more productive and more fertile for breakthroughs than ten times as much time spent flitting about the internet. 

Quit social media? Maybe. 

But at least shrink its hold on your attention and on the little time you have to make something worthwhile each day.  

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. 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:


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. 


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. 

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