Photo by Joakim Hjelm. More spectacular prints sold at: http://joakimhjelmphotography.instaproofs.com/store/
Ever been out on the ocean? It’s overwhelming at first, but after a few days, months, years, it’s just a huge bathtub of water you’re on. Life is like an ocean. You can stay close to shore, in the bay, where it’s calm, where you can see the bottom, and you know exactly what you’re going to get, you know what to expect. Or you can venture out into the deceptively unremarkable, rolling expanse of blue.
The ocean is vast like life, and if you live it conservatively, on the surface, skimming along half in the water, and half out, you miss all the beauty and interaction below.Every moment of your walking around, there’s a veneer of the everyday stuff, the ordinary. But under that surface of ordinary blue, gently repeating waves of life, beyond the traffic of endless cars, streams of people walking by, the stores opening and closing, there’s a special experience, if you just punch through the surface, strip off the coat, go a little deeper, and explore. How to get there? Ask how someone is doing. Genuinely. Then ask them what they’re doing. And really listen to them. It’s simple, but that’s the point. Everything extraordinary is simple.
Everything that was special becomes ordinary, your new car, the latest and greatest cell phone, even your partner can become unappreciated…so couldn’t a good argument be made that everything ordinary is special, if you’d just look at it differently? If you’d push back on that daily trek around your little world and get out of your flight path. Instead, extend your boundary beyond the shallows of your ocean, the place you’ve acclimated to, and made your home, where everything is visible, calm, and repetitively risk-free.
Life is going to end, our chartered boat is rented and it’s going to be reclaimed by the earth, whether we like it or not. It would be a shame if we didn’t take her out there into that wide beautiful expanse of blue world, throw an anchor down every so often, and dive into the currents. Exploring, underneath it all, beyond the traffic of endless cars, the streams of people walking by, the stores opening and closing. On the surface, all this is ordinary, until you get past it, and see what supports it all: The people, the relationships, the connections, decisions, hopes, desires, and frustrations of humanity. All the ordinary stuff that’s extraordinary once you’re swimming in it, too.
Everything special becomes ordinary, so everything ordinary can be special.
Don’t ignore the ordinary.
I recall all the time I spent in the gym as a youngin. Two hours easily gone, almost every day. And the exercises weren’t even for fitness as much as appearances. We’re so busy today, time devoted to the gym is a super valuable commodity. Ron Burgundy was so pressed for time that he was forced to sculpt his guns at the office! I’m still trying to find that uvulus muscle of his…
Also, my title is a lie. I don’t have a single best exercise for the gym. What exercise you need depends on what you want. Big arms? Try a mix of testosterone-inducing squats and deadlifts mixed with bicep curls and tricep extensions and rows, all on the standard 3-sets per exercise with a minute or two rest between them. General fitness? Circuit-training: moving between exercises without rest, hitting all the major muscle groups, Men’s Health has some greats ones, see the Spartacus workout for a good example. Pure cardio, for a healthy heart? Interval sprints mixed with steady state running or ellipticalling or whatever interesting leg-gyrating machine your gym has these days (Except for the stationary bike, those are useless. A joke..but it would be my last choice of all the upright machines.)
But what if the gym is more than just exercise?
My time in the gym was back in the days before everyone had earbuds and their own personal radio station going in their head. When I was in the gym, we talked. There was a communion of sorts. Today, the gym is still a great source of connecting with like-minded individuals. You just have a slight barrier of rubber and plastic buffering you from hearing most everyone else. The trend though, is having a shared experience. We are shifting to Crossfit, and yoga, and even hot yoga (because yoga was just too easy, right?!)
But we’ve each got a life. Some of us want to get into the gym, do our business, and get back to our life. I’m definitely in that camp, now that I have so much more I want to accomplish than I did in my twenties. So what do I lose if I plug into my mobile and put a blinder to my surroundings?
We miss everything. Not only does sound get blocked, but what little residual attention we have goes to listening to our podcast, or music, or audio book. And for me, the gym is often the place I catch-up on that podcast or a few chapters of a book. The question is how much time am I actually spending in front of the screen or plugged into my earbuds?
To get this, we sacrifice that. And that could be something we didn’t even know we lost, because we just aren’t paying attention. An interesting conversation, a business opportunity, a romantic opportunity, or simply getting too distracted from what’s in your ear so that you can’t put 100% in your workout…whatever it is. It’s gone.
Can we take care of both body and mind? Surely.
Just stay aware..and leave an earbud out and let a little life in.
A representation of reality.. surrogate for living. The digital opium of friends mashed up into a little screen. A concentrated blasting of relentless emotions, passions and boredom, false truths and true facts, passive aggressive sarcasm, takers, givers, and inspiration.
You make us feel good.
Ironically, you make us feel connected.
Nick eats eight meals a day. He has little containers of food that he brings to work. He goes to Sam’s Club to buy the big bags of broccoli and diapers.
Kevin takes long bike rides with a group. They stop at a buffet after their rides.
Rick has 2 dogs which he misses every day when he comes to work.
So my story is… these people. Their stories become part of my story. The story of our lives is the background in our lives. The stuff that gets blurred out as we acclimate to the noise or don’t bother to ask.
As we get more focused on getting from point A to point B…apartment to house, house to bigger house, less pay to more pay, this partner to that partner, single to married, searching for the cool place to go and hang…we miss all the infinite points between. Those points are the people, places, and opportunities. They form the canvas of our life. When they’re connected, they become our life drawing.
That’s why when our actions are made without context, without others, without a why, without looking around first, then those actions become indefinite, their borders hazy, and after years of this, our life ceases to be meaningful.
The aim is not make a straight line. The point is not to hit each point, each milestone, checking the box, then seeking the next one. The point is to expand over our canvas, not stay isolated in our office, career, home, or family. The intent is to learn, and absorption doesn’t work unless you’re listening and putting yourself out there.
We do need goals. But what are the goals? Career, personal life, family life…how much effort to spend in each bucket? The tangibles can be met fairly easily, especially here in the US, but what happens when you realize that you’ve lost years of experience, potential friends, lovers, and new places, because your goals became your life, and living the moments fell off the list?
“We change, but always at a cost: to win this you lose that.”
– Geoffrey Wolff
Choose carefully, but just make sure you choose. The tangibles are easy to measure. The intangibles are not. Thing is, we’re here for the intangibles.
I sat down to meditate and felt a whisper of a touch on the hand resting on my knee. It was the shy cat, I called her Demure Swat (about that name, I’ll tell you later). She had avoided me for days, until now, but now I was still and quiet, and she showed up. I think this is how many of the wants that escape you finally come around: When you’re still, focused, and controlling your energy from the bounding waves.
It seems then, that all you need to do is wait for what you desire. But I’m not talking about the Secret, where you visualize and think positive thoughts and hope for the best. What I’m talking about is the discipline to stop and tune out everything else – the girlfriend, boyfriend (or the search for one!), the house that needs cleaned, facebook, and all those emails.
My meditation was the perfect way to attract a shy pet, but it’s not the way to create something, or learn to play soccer, cook a tasty meal, write a book, build a product and sell it…those things require work. However, all these things need discipline to stop running around and focus.
At a certain point, we must ignore the crashing waves of distraction, get our ass in the seat and start paddling our boat. That way, we’re controlling things, and not at the whims of everything else in the sea of life.
After over 10 years of research, experience, trial and error, I’ve found it. The essence of the good life. I’ve distilled it down, but it’s already quite simple, although not easy. It will not fatigue you, but not doing it will. Not doing it will wear you down until you are a compromised shell of the real you, living not for you, but for the distractions.
The key thing you need to do in order to be happy is…
Yes, I know…
The question is, How?
Realize that we’re all going to die.
With that perspective, how can you worry about much at all?
Start doing stuff.
For a reason.
Not because, “I don’t know.” Find a reason, using your reason. Whatever reason, that’s up to you. Something meaningful for YOU.
And do it with abandon. Because you’re going to abandon everything you have anyway, whether you like it or not.
Being a true creative takes consistent courage. The courage of curiosity…of untethering the boat from the moor and seeing what lies in the confines of your brain and imagination. It means risking sinking into the darkness of the mind to find the light of your product.
Creating is floating free in a brainstorm and seeing what you find. Hardest of all maybe is letting go and accepting all the imperfections that come from you.
Hemingway: “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”
You harvest the good stuff, not caring that there was so much rubbish churned up in the process. Limiting the flow, editing your thoughts before they emerge into a whole is like getting in your boat with a plan but never casting off.
Boats were not meant to stay in the harbor.
If you want to create something you’ve got to cast off and see how your ideas float in the tumultuous waters of the real world. Limiting yourself is a fearful practice, a practice of no true creative.
To have discipline, training yourself almost like an animal, while fostering the creativity and imagination of being human is one of the grand struggles of humanity.
And creatives are the ones who step up to face this challenge.
Creatives don’t get embarrassed.
Facts change. And they grow in number as life and technology evolves. But truths are eternal. They stay the same, whether you percieve them or not. And as your perspective grows and you become aware of them, they will be new to you, as if they had never existed at all.
Seth Godin: “I’m all in favor of self-driving cars and advanced robotics that will change everything. But few of us get to do that for a living. Mostly, we find new ways to do old things, better. No need to fool yourself into holding back just because your innovation or product doesn’t contain a flavor that’s never been tasted before or an experience previously unimagined. Find something that will touch us, move us, improve us or change us. Then ship.”
The things that “touch us, move us, improve us” are all based on fundamental, immovable truths of being valued, by honesty and communication, and growth. Tap those in what you’re making -your art, your product, your service, your life- and what you do becomes infinite as well.