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Energy crisis

“To preserve hope in our world makes calls upon our intelligence and our energy. In those who despair it is frequently the energy that is lacking.” –Bertrand Rusell

The know-how may be less crucial than the want-to and the get-up-and-go. The will to action can be tough to summon. But it’s often the first step—the leap, the getting up and getting started—that stalls us.

Even if you don’t feel like it, just get started in some small way on your grand plan for making the world better or on your humble dream to be a better version of yourself.

Fake it if you have to. Act like you already are who you want to be. Forward movement builds momentum and renews energy you didn’t know was there.

Don’t wait till you’ve got it figured out to get started. You’ll never have it figured out. It’s only in the doing that the thinking can take flight.

Feeling a bit hopeless? In despair? Just start.

Things fall apart: The Second Law and the meaning of life

I keep coming back to this feature I read last year on the scientific term or concept that scholars think ought to be more widely known. Here’s the scientist Steven Pinker’s response explaining why more people should understand entropy as described by the second law of thermodynamics:

Why the awe for the Second Law? The Second Law defines the ultimate purpose of life, mind, and human striving: to deploy energy and information to fight back the tide of entropy and carve out refuges of beneficial order. An underappreciation of the inherent tendency toward disorder, and a failure to appreciate the precious niches of order we carve out, are a major source of human folly.

To start with, the Second Law implies that misfortune may be no one’s fault. The biggest breakthrough of the scientific revolution was to nullify the intuition that the universe is saturated with purpose: that everything happens for a reason. In this primitive understanding, when bad things happen—accidents, disease, famine—someone or something must have wanted them to happen. This in turn impels people to find a defendant, demon, scapegoat, or witch to punish. Galileo and Newton replaced this cosmic morality play with a clockwork universe in which events are caused by conditions in the present, not goals for the future. The Second Law deepens that discovery: Not only does the universe not care about our desires, but in the natural course of events it will appear to thwart them, because there are so many more ways for things to go wrong than to go right. Houses burn down, ships sink, battles are lost for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Poverty, too, needs no explanation. In a world governed by entropy and evolution, it is the default state of humankind. Matter does not just arrange itself into shelter or clothing, and living things do everything they can not to become our food. What needs to be explained is wealth. Yet most discussions of poverty consist of arguments about whom to blame for it.

More generally, an underappreciation of the Second Law lures people into seeing every unsolved social problem as a sign that their country is being driven off a cliff. It’s in the very nature of the universe that life has problems. But it’s better to figure out how to solve them—to apply information and energy to expand our refuge of beneficial order—than to start a conflagration and hope for the best.

(Pinker’s massive new book, Enlightenment Now, is about this very topic and explores in detail how much progress we have made in imposing order on a disorderly world.)

My layman’s mind doesn’t quite get the scientific nuances at play here. But I get that things in the universe fall apart (the stars are literally falling away from each other right now) and will continue to do so with only minuscule bits of resistance.

Those seemingly insignificant and likely futile efforts to “fight back the tide of entropy”, though, are our keys for living a meaningful life.

Steven Pressfield in his excellent book The War of Art calls that apparently malevolent force that pushes back against our efforts to grow and improve and create “the resistance”. But, maybe that force is just entropy, the natural inclination of the universe toward disorder. It’s our effort to overcome entropy and make progress against this relentless current pushing us toward chaos and decay that could instead be called “the resistance”. We are freedom fighters battling against an overwhelming tyranny.

It’s been too easy to believe that progress is inevitable, that humanity will just naturally grow smarter and gentler, because that’s what we’ve seemed to witness in general over the last couple of centuries.

But, progress is not the default. The default is disorder, not order, not improvement. Left on their own, things fall apart.

Organize your sock drawer on Sunday, and, without at least a little attention and effort, it’s likely to be a mess again by Friday. The lawn won’t stay mowed. Stop exercising and you’ll get weaker almost immediately.

The tide of entropy is relentless. Our very existence—all of biology, for that matter—is owed to fighting against that tide, to digging in and making something that will stand and endure long enough for the next wave of resistance to relieve us.

Progress, for individuals and for our species as a whole, depends on diligent, unrelenting striving, pushing against the natural default of disorder.

It’s all ultimately futile, I suppose, in the really big scheme of things. The sun will die its natural death eons from now. Our species will likely be long gone well before then. Even a mere two centuries into the future, who will remember your name or care that you lived?

But instead of sinking into despair about our fate, choose to rise with courage each day to go into battle and fight for meaning and truth and beauty while you can.

Individually, this should remind us to embrace discontent, to keep searching and stretching, and to be vigilant in our efforts to move our lives forward. Get stronger physically. Eat real food. Expose yourself more often to discomfort. Get off the well worn path regularly and venture into surprise and serendipity and uncharted territory.

Be intentional about building and strengthening the relationships in your life. Life is all about relationships. Especially don’t let what seem like good relationships that you value coast along untended. Everything falls apart without some tending.

And get busy making something with your life that will add value to others. Focus less on what you can get and more on what you can give. What can you contribute? Where can you give back? What unique contribution, no matter how small, can you offer in this noble effort to move humanity forward?

Build systems, habits, and routines into your life to stay ahead of the pull of entropy. Come up with a battle plan, of sorts, for taking on this challenge week by week and day by day.

The writer, Annie Dillard, was getting at just this:

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.”

Of course, don’t resist what already is. Accept reality as it is right now. But do resist the pull toward chaos that would otherwise define our existence.

I’ve shared this before, but a character in Walker Percy’s novel, The Moviegoer, issues a fitting challenge:

“I don’t know quite what we’re doing on this insignificant cinder spinning away in a dark corner of the universe. That is a secret which the high gods have not confided in me. Yet one thing I believe and I believe it with every fibre of my being. A man must live by his lights and do what little he can and do it as best he can. In this world goodness is destined to be defeated. But a man must go down fighting. That is victory. To do anything less is to be less than a man.”

Putting up a fight is victory, no matter that we’re all going down eventually.

Engage with life. Be excellent. Shine while you can.

Favorite new thing: AirPods

Last summer I used the Father’s Day gift card I received from my family to buy a pair of Apple’s wireless AirPods.

It was a bit of a splurge, but they weren’t much more expensive than the Jaybird Bluetooth earbuds I had been using previously. And the Jaybirds regularly let me down. The battery life was a mystery, and they would too often lose their connection.

Several months later, the AirPods have become an essential part of my daily carry. The case is brilliant. It keeps the AirPods charged without me having to think about it. I charge the case once, maybe twice a week. The case is a delight in the hand. The size and shape are perfect. Each AirPod clicks into place inside the case with a satisfying magnetic plop. Thanks to the nifty case and no annoying wires, I keep them in my pocket at all times.

I’m no audiophile and don’t use these to listen to music. The audio quality is great for my purposes, though. I really only use these for podcasts, audiobooks, and phone calls. And I usually only use one AirPod at a time while I’m driving or talking on the phone. If I’m out for a walk, I’ll put them both in. But by only typically using one AirPod at a time, I’m effectively doubling the battery life.

The built in mic is impressive. Siri understands me better through AirPods than when I’m just talking to my iPhone.

The only quirk is the fit, or actually my ears. Turns out my left ear has a different shape than my right ear. (That was news to me, too.) The right AirPod fits great. The left one, not so much. It just barely stays in. Since I one-AirPod it regularly, though, it’s not much of a problem. The right one just gets most of the use. I bought some cheap rubber ear hooks to use when I’m exercising with them to make sure that left one stays put.

Since I consume so much information from audiobooks and podcasts, AirPods have been a wonderful addition to my daily routine. A lot of new technology products, especially in somewhat new categories, take a few iterations before hitting their stride. But with AirPods, Apple hit this one out of the park on its first try.

My favorite audiobooks of the past year

Listening to books became a more regular thing for me last year. I’ve got a monthly Audible subscription and download a new book each month. I favor biography and history for audiobooks. I’m not sure why, but I’m not as interested in listening to fiction. I would rather read it.

It does feel kind of like cheating to “read” books by listening to them. But the oral tradition of storytelling goes way back before the printed word ever existed. So, I’m treating my recent audiobooks obsession as getting back to our ancient roots sitting by a fire listening to the tribal storyteller.

Plus, it’s a very efficient way to consume more good books in an otherwise busy life. I listen as I drive and as I walk the dog and while doing work in the yard. Some of these books were such a delight that I was inclined to drive the long way or go slower or sit in the driveway for a few minutes to get to a natural break in the story.

And I wore my dog out while listening to the truly remarkable books on Lincoln and Grant I list below. “Come on, Mosley, let’s go for another long walk and hear how Mr. Lincoln wins the nomination for president…”

I was even extra enthusiastic about working in the yard: “Honey, I’m going to go outside and mow the lawn and learn how General Grant captured Vicksburg. See you in a couple of hours…”

Here are my favorite audiobooks from the past year:

  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin – So good! I was already on team Lincoln, my favorite person from history, but this book took my affection for him even higher. Goodwin (who wrote a couple of other great books I’ve enjoyed about the Kennedy family and the Roosevelts) makes a fairly familiar story come to new life by weaving in the stories of the key people around Mr. Lincoln. The narrator was excellent, and the story, though we all know how it ends, was so moving. Got a lump in my throat at his death. 41 hours of audiobook/history-nerd bliss.
  • American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant by Ronald White – What a nice surprise. I knew very little about Grant other than what everyone knows about his military accomplishments and that his reputation seemed a bit sullied by his tenure in the White House. This book rocketed Grant up near the top of great Americans in my view. He was a leader of unparalleled character, steely determination, and endearing humility. He came practically out of nowhere to be the indispensable man in securing the Union’s victory in the Civil War. His leadership as President is underrated. He was ahead of his time in pressing for civil rights and opposing racism while standing up to the Ku Klux Klan. He had the misfortune of being surrounded by some unscrupulous friends and subordinates, though, who took advantage of his trust. The story of his race to write his memoirs to save his family from financial ruin while he was dying of throat cancer and spurred on by his friend Mark Twain… Remarkable. And those memoirs turned out to be one of the great pieces of autobiography in American literary history. (Also, the narrator for this audiobook was particularly good. A good narrator makes a big impact on the listening experience.)
  • The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt – A little bit of Roman history and philosophy inside the story of a Catholic Church bureaucrat from the Middle Ages who discovers a long lost and transformational manuscript.
  • The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution by David Quammen – I knew little about Darwin’s life before listening to this relatively short biography. It focuses mostly on the slow and careful approach he took to grasping his theory and then, finally, sharing it somewhat reluctantly with the world. Darwin comes across as a genuinely thoughtful and kind man who loved his wife and children dearly. His meticulous methods in his work allowed him to see patterns in nature that led to arguably the biggest breakthrough in the history of science.
  • SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard – This one starts slow in detailing what can be known about the founding of Rome and its early history. But it picks up steam in describing the Republic and the beginnings of the empire.

This one wasn’t a recent listen, but I can’t mention audiobooks without a plug for one of my favorites: Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin. Martin reads it himself and even plays the banjo between chapters in telling the story of his career as a stand-up comic. Aside from sheer entertainment, it’s worth a listen as a primer on what it takes to craft a great career.

Currently, I’m back and forth between two audiobooks: Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow and Henry David Thoreau: A Life by Laura Dassow Walls. The Washington biography was a slog early on. He’s not as endearing as Lincoln or Grant. But it’s picked up as the story moves into the Revolutionary War. I’m putting Thoreau on hold until I finish with Washington.

Reading has shaped my life more than any other habit. When I was frustrated at the lack of time I was making for books last year, turning to audiobooks salvaged my year as a reader. I still read traditional books and keep a novel on my nightstand. But getting more books into my life through audiobooks has been a delight.

The spectacular now

I’m reading Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now. He makes the compelling case that the world has never been better for humans than right now.

In, say, 200,000 years of human history we have never seen such low levels of violence, crime, war, disease, or famine.

In 1800, the average life expectancy was less than 40 and had been that or lower for millennia. These last two centuries have seen amazing breakthroughs that have given us dramatically longer lives and better quality of life as well.

If you just read the news or social media, you would think we’re doomed. The news business has a financial interest in keeping you worried and tuned in and clicking links.

But zoom out to take in the big picture and you will see we are very fortunate to be alive right now.

Sure there are challenges to confront and puzzles to figure out, but there is abundant cause for hope that we can keep trending up as a species.

On not aiming for fame

I saw this New York Times column by Emily Esfahani Smith last fall and filed it away to reference later. I ended up reading her book, The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed with Happiness.

She makes the case that a good life is one that most likely looks quite ordinary and unexceptional. You don’t need to live a life that makes the headlines or history books in order to consider yourself a success. If that’s the measure, very few will ever make it. And we all know of too many famous people whose lives seemed to be especially unsatisfying.

The good life that’s in reach for the vast majority of us, though, is marked by authentic human connection and small, mostly unnoticed acts of kindness and meaningful contribution.

Aiming for fame will frustrate and disappoint, whether you get there or not.

The best bet, I think, is to focus on what you can give instead of what you want to get.

In her column, Smith cites this moving line from George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch:

“the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Unhistoric acts of kindness and beauty by those unknown to us have filled our world with much of its goodness. We can pay that forward to the benefit of all while safeguarding our own best chance at a life well lived.

 

Change happens

“Change leads to insight more than insight leads to change.” –Milton Erickson

We overestimate, especially in January each year, how much we can, or, more accurately, will initiate change. Best intentions of a new and better you usually remain merely intentions.

But some kind of change is going to happen—likely change you can’t foresee, much less desire.

Be prepared, then, to use whatever may come as an opportunity for new insight and growth. Embrace everything—everything—that happens to you as if you had chosen it. (This approach doesn’t exactly come naturally. Some hard mental jujitsu is necessary. I’m still a white belt here.)

But resistance to what already is is futile, so it would make sense to accommodate yourself to changing circumstances rather than getting flattened by them.

Paraphrasing Darwin, it’s not the strongest or most intelligent that survive. It’s those who are most adaptable to change.

Change is inevitable, it’s relentless, and it’s coming. At least use it to propel yourself forward.

How we spend our days

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” –Annie Dillard

A few years ago I committed to posting something on my blog every day for an indefinite time period to see if I could keep it up. And I did, for a long time. Many days I would get to the evening with no ideas for a post and simply find a quote to share with a brief comment, just to keep my commitment to posting something, anything, to keep from breaking the string.

Other days I would latch onto an idea early on, and it would suffuse my whole day, giving me something delightful to puzzle on and sparking connections and possibilities I hadn’t imagined when the idea first appeared.

The challenge to write and publish every day wasn’t as much of a burden as I had imagined. Knowing that I was committed to sharing something daily kept my antennae up in a way that made those days more engaging, more filled with wonder and possibility. I woke up each morning knowing I had a quest before me, and I seemed to move through those days with a greater sense of awareness and curiosity. And fun. Being intentional about searching and then sharing gave those days more juice.

I was writing less for some unseen audience out there than I was for my own benefit. I’ve found that actively trying to express myself helps me to see and understand in ways I don’t when I’m in my default passive mode. What’s the line—“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” And “the best way to understand something is to try to express it.”

But knowing that someone else out there might read what I write adds a bit of oomph to my efforts. As an author explained, it’s the difference between cleaning your house just because you need to versus cleaning your house when you know guests are coming to visit. Writing in public pushes me towards clarity and purposefulness in ways that merely writing for myself privately in a diary never will.

I’ve not only not been posting daily recently, I’ve just let this blog lie fallow for most of the past couple of years. Occasionally a friend will ask when I’m going to get back to it, and I’m always caught off guard that anyone actually had been reading it.

But at the heart of my drift is, I think, the general melancholy of the times. “What do I know?”, I say to myself. What can I write that would add any real value in a world that seems especially off kilter at the moment?

Well, when the world seems particularly unexplainable or even hopeless, that should be motivation to act—to write or organize movements or volunteer or make something lovely. Do something that might bring a little clarity or kindness or joy in order to stymie, even if momentarily, the relentless pull of entropy, the invincible law of physics that ultimately all things fall apart. But striving against that pull of chaos is our calling. It’s how we got here and survived to this point.

So, I’m back at it, writing here regularly for my own benefit, and possibly for yours.

Not every day will be marked by brilliant prose or moving poetry. Most posts will be forgettable. Some cringeworthy. I’ll be lucky to have even ten percent of my posts turn out to be something I’m proud of. But I’ll be proud just to put my fingers to the keys regularly again.

Making creative expression a daily expectation and a daily habit will mark my days with curiosity and wonder and probably some frustration and disappointment. A fair trade.

I want to spend more of my days than not in the intentional pursuit of truth and beauty. This little corner of the internet is my stake in the ground for that and a daily exercise in attempting to live a more excellent life.

On noticing when you’re happy

From a 2003 speech to college students by the author Kurt Vonnegut:

And now I want to tell you about my late Uncle Alex. He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Wouldn’t it be great to have an Uncle Alex around to regularly remind you to notice happy moments?

Or maybe you should be Uncle Alex, reminding others and yourself to notice the usually unnoticed small delights and kindnesses of daily life.

We are surrounded by wonder and deep mystery and the potential for little bits of joy that mostly get passed by in our dazed distraction or overwhelmed by the crush of complaints and worries that seem to consume our attention.

It’s easier to find something if you’re looking for it. Look for these moments. Notice when you’re happy.

Remind others, too.

“If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

By-the-way happiness

“Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.” –John Stuart Mill

What if your happiness is to be found only incidentally—by the way—as you focus instead on the happiness of others, on something beyond yourself, on some pursuit that is an end in itself rather than a means to some hoped for end?

What if instead of looking for what you want or what you can get, you instead put your greatest and highest effort toward maximizing what you can uniquely give, what you can contribute?

You might just find yourself surprised by the kind of meaningfulness and happiness that you could never find by direct intent.

Purpose

“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.” –Robert Louis Stevenson

The only competition that matters is the competition between the version of who you are now and the version of you that you can become.

How is the you one year from now, say, going to be a more fully realized version of your potential than the you of today?

Will future you be able to kick the ass of current you?

What will it take now to begin becoming what you are capable of becoming?

Writing it down is a good start. Express in detail the kind of character you want to live your way into, the kind of life a person with your potential might live. Point yourself in that direction and begin the journey.

Shine with all you’ve got right now.

But get busy becoming.

Fulfill your potential.

Good Government

“Not being able to govern events, I govern myself.” –Michel de Montaigne

Good for Montaigne.

He certainly had the right idea, and I don’t doubt that he had more success than the average person in governing himself and avoiding the futility of worrying over things outside his control.

How simple it is to understand that the vast majority of things that have happened, that are happening, and that will happen are beyond our control.

How challenging it is, though, to genuinely accept our very limited role in the unfolding of events.

Stuff happens. You can see events as happening to you. Or you can see everything—even, or especially, undesirable events—as happening for you, as opportunities for you to choose wisely how to respond and how to govern yourself.

Baffled, amazed, undone

“If we are not sometimes baffled and amazed and undone by the world around us, rendered speechless and stunned, perhaps we are not paying close enough attention.” –Ben Marcus

Perhaps we are sleepwalking through life, trudging obliviously through the pattern we’ve grooved and smoothed to protect ourselves from the unevenness, from the surprises of reality.

Moments of genuine, bracing presence shine in my memory for their rarity.

You can’t live in perpetual amazement. (Some do, I suppose. Mystics or saints or those we deem crazy and avoid on the sidewalk.)

But even occasional doses of bafflement—with the infinite sky, with the joy or anguish of an open heart, with the sheer oddity of being alive and aware—would be a potent enough tonic for our numbness.

Pay attention. Come undone. Be amazed.

Delete yo’ self: Aziz Ansari’s unconnected life

This recent GQ interview with Aziz Ansari highlight’s the comedian’s unconventional approach to the Information Age. The interviewer seems incredulous as he comprehends just how much of an outlier Ansari is:

I heard you deleted the Internet from your phone. And that you deleted Twitter and Instagram and e-mail. No way that’s true, right?

It is! Whenever you check for a new post on Instagram or whenever you go on The New York Times to see if there’s a new thing, it’s not even about the content. It’s just about seeing a new thing. You get addicted to that feeling. You’re not going to be able to control yourself. So the only way to fight that is to take yourself out of the equation and remove all these things. What happens is, eventually you forget about it. You don’t care anymore. When I first took the browser off my phone, I’m like, [gasp] How am I gonna look stuff up? But most of the shit you look up, it’s not stuff you need to know. All those websites you read while you’re in a cab, you don’t need to look at any of that stuff. It’s better to just sit and be in your own head for a minute. I wanted to stop that thing where I get home and look at websites for an hour and a half, checking to see if there’s a new thing. And read a book instead. I’ve been doing it for a couple months, and it’s worked. I’m reading, like, three books right now. I’m putting something in my mind. It feels so much better than just reading the Internet and not remembering anything.

What about important news and politics?

I was reading all this Trump stuff, and it doesn’t feel like we’re reading news for the reason we used to, which was to get a better sense of what’s going on in the world and to enrich yourself by being aware. It seems like we’re reading wrestling rumors. It’s like reading about what happened on Monday Night Raw. When you take a step back, it all just seems so sensationalized. Trump’s gonna get impeached! No, he’s not. None of that shit’s happening. But you are going to read all the articles. So if you take yourself out of it, you’re not infected with this toxicity all the time. Also, guess what? Everything is fine! I’m not out of the loop on anything. Like, if something real is going down, I’ll find out about it.

Yeah, but take yesterday’s insane breaking story, for example.

Wait, tell me what it is. I don’t even know if I know what it is.

You didn’t hear about Pence stepping down?

Mike Pence stepped down yesterday?!

Dude! Yes. Mike Pence is no longer the vice president. He resigned because of the Russia investigation.

Wait, wait, wait. That really happened?!

No. It didn’t.

Okay, see! [laughs]

But that could happen! And you could have missed it.

No, see, I would have found out now—like, now. I would have found out, and then I’d be like, Wow, that’s crazy.

But you’re choosing to be uninformed.

I’m not choosing ignorance. I’m choosing to not watch wrestling.

Ansari’s career seems to be on a roll. Bringing Tom Haverford to the world through one of my all time favorite shows, Parks And Recreation, is a heck of an accomplishment on its own. But he also created, writes, and stars in his own critically acclaimed TV show, Master Of None. He’s producing quality and quantity at a high level. And he’s not paying attention at all to the constant flow of “new things” most of us fill our time with.

I’m guessing the most prolific creators and most productive knowledge workers take an Ansari-like approach to their time and attention. They at least carve out distraction-free days, times, and places to get things done or just to have moments of calm and quiet. One of author Jonathan Franzen’s rules for writers: “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.”

How much of significance would you really miss if you deleted even a few of those internet portals that consume your attention?

And how much could you learn and grow and produce and connect authentically if you freed up some of your head space from the attention suck of your flickering devices?

Do you even remember what it feels like to be bored? Can you, as Ansari suggested, “just sit and be in your own head for a minute”?

Can you engage in a long and winding conversation with a fellow human being without glancing at a screen or flinching at that buzzing notification in your pocket?

I deleted Facebook and Instagram from my phone a year ago. I don’t miss them. At all. I used to open The New York Times and The Washington Post every morning to check the headlines. I haven’t done that in a year. (I still have a Twitter problem. It’s my internet version of “treat yo’ self”. I’m no Aziz Ansari. Yet. I still have some Tom Haverford in me.)

Delete yo’ self (forgive me) from those things that suck your time and attention—basically your life—without offering worthwhile value or meaning in return.

The serendipity of discovery

“I can’t begin to tell you the things I discovered while I was looking for something else.” –Shelby Foote

Same here.

This describes most careers, most love stories and deep friendships, and probably the bulk of the greatest ideas and discoveries. Looking for something else, but found this wonder instead.

It’s such a delight to stumble across possibilities unimagined and unbidden.

But you’ve got to be looking for something. The serendipity of discovery does not happen if you’re not actively searching.

Action is the X factor. You don’t have to be certain of your destination. In fact, you shouldn’t be certain. Just don’t sit there waiting for the wonder to come to you.

When in doubt, simply get moving on the search for something. Anything. Pick a direction and go.

Make something wonderful

I’m a sucker for an Apple product announcement. Yesterday’s event inaugurated the Steve Jobs Theater at the new Apple campus. The theater looks stunningly gorgeous, as you would expect from the world’s most prominent design-centric company.

The products announced were almost overshadowed by the venue and by the touching tribute that opened the keynote. The first voice heard as the event began was that of Steve Jobs himself. It was a recording of what I’m assuming was an internal speech Jobs gave to Apple employees years ago. It’s worth watching just the first five minutes of the keynote to appreciate this moment.

Here’s the text of that opening message:

“There’s lots of ways to be, as a person. And some people express their deep appreciation in different ways. But one of the ways that I believe people express their appreciation to the rest of humanity is to make something wonderful and put it out there. And you never meet the people. You never shake their hands.You never hear their story or tell yours. But somehow in the act of making something with a great deal of care and love something’s transmitted there. And it’s a way of expressing to the rest of our species our deep appreciation.” –Steve Jobs

A lovely thought. To express your appreciation for all you’ve been given by others, “make something wonderful, and put it out there.”

Do your part for humanity. Make good art. Be a craftsman of your work. Give your full attention and your best effort to whatever has been entrusted to you.

Shine where you can. Be awesome.

It’s a small price to pay in gratitude to those who’ve given their best art, who’ve made something wonderful and put it out there for us.

Defying gravity

I get The Daily Stoic daily email. Today’s email quoted this passage from Walker Percy’s book, The Moviegoer:

“I don’t know quite what we’re doing on this insignificant cinder spinning away in a dark corner of the universe. That is a secret which the high gods have not confided in me. Yet one thing I believe and I believe it with every fibre of my being. A man must live by his lights and do what little he can and do it as best he can. In this world goodness is destined to be defeated. But a man must go down fighting. That is victory. To do anything less is to be less than a man.”

I read this and smiled and got up from my desk with a little more courage.

Lately I’ve been feeling a little less sure and a little more lost than normal.

I don’t seem to be getting wiser as I get older. I’m just becoming even more aware of how little I truly know. Or maybe that’s what getting wiser is all about. If so, wisdom is not living up to the hype.

Regardless, I do know that I can live by my “lights”, by my meager understanding of what it means to be good and to do good.

I know how it feels to come alive, even momentarily, and shake off the half-hearted, half-asleep caution that most of us cower behind perpetually.

I can fight. I can attempt to rise, knowing I’ll still go down sooner or later. But in merely making the attempt I will prevail and fleetingly defy the gravity that aims to keep us from escape velocity.

Make the attempt. Shine where you can. Get up and get going and put up a fight. Be the hero of your own life.

Darwin’s plodding path to brilliance

I filed away this Farnam Street article and just now read it. It’s a great take on what made Charles Darwin such a transformational thinker.

In short, Darwin wasn’t gifted with an off-the-charts IQ. He was no Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein. But he could focus intently on minute details and stick with an idea for a very long time. And he was relentless about fully considering any contrary evidence, any doubt or kernel of hesitation about his own ideas.

He clearly had what turned out to be a crucially valuable ability to sit with the discomfort of not knowing, of probing deeply into how he might be wrong.

Most of us are inclined to be content with our own opinions and never entertain contrary viewpoints. Blissful ignorance is a thing.

So much of current public discourse makes no pretense of genuinely trying to understand the opposing view.

Criticism is painful to absorb, and I know I don’t seek it out.

But Darwin squarely faced any sign that he might be in error. And with diligence and vigilance he sought to test and to prove and to meticulously weigh every argument that challenged his thesis. 

He could have published his landmark theory many years earlier than he did, but instead he patiently pursued the long game to be certain his idea had the full weight of the most compelling evidence. 

Talent tends to be overrated. Raw intellectual horsepower is a wonderful gift. But it is effort and persistence and a willingness to trudge through adversity and obstacles that just might vault you into a level of accomplishment that mere talent alone will not. 

Wired for story

“After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” –Philip Pullman

Humans are wired for story. It’s what knitted us together into a tribal species and ended up being a key to our eventual dominance of the planet. We built our culture on stories, useful fictions that allowed us to unite into communities that propelled us exponentially further than we could have gone on our own.

The quality of the stories we consume and tell can determine the quality of our lives.

If you lead others, what is the story that will bring out the best in those you serve? What is the big picture? What direction, what quest, what heroic call to action will move them and supply meaning?

If you’re simply trying to lead yourself, what kind of story would be worth telling with the way you live your life? 

Too often we are victims of lousy stories—whether it’s that we’re stuck living out someone else’s story or our own failure of imagination is giving us a story unworthy of telling.

Make your story one worth talking about, one that you will delight in telling and delight in living.

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