Get unstuck, get unplugged, and take a swing

Using the internet can get to be like drinking from a fire hose. You’re attentive, reading, laughing, posting, messaging. But soon the web becomes a tangle of sticky strands. The internet is always open, holding many, many, many bits of data. Empty calories at an all you can eat buffet, leaving us hungry. Opinions are amplified and in your face. After a time, you shrug off the sarcasm and insults. Soon, the rest become blurred, too.

Billions of people defined by their pictures, their forwarding, their quoting, their lecturing. There’s a megaphone for everyone, like a crowded bar you’re tired of shouting in. The people are friendly enough, reliable little nodes for information, streaming you everything from everywhere, so you stop digging in, because it all looks good, and you just don’t have the time. So you graze, taking just a taste, and move on. Like walking down a busy Manhattan street with the honking horns, the engines rumbling. You get jostled, so you stop seeing people, instead looking at the fringes to carve out where to walk as you glance into the shop windows. But you don’t try anything on. You just observe as you go by. Surrounded and alone.

But we can unplug whenever we want. And you know that. So you do. And you walk out that door.
Look there.
A person.
Smile.
You get a smile back.

And then you remember.
You remember what it’s all about.
So, reach out.
Step up and take a swing.
Why not? Hear the clock? Tick-tock. It’s going to stop sooner than you think.

You are the leader you’ve been looking for

Leaders don’t check their culture for approval. They have the awareness of what’s going on to determine the right direction and start a movement towards it. It’s lonely, but it begins with a trust in human nature. Not the group’s nature, but individual nature…your nature. The group will not like your idea to change, unless it’s a slamdunk positive gain for them. Otherwise, they may think you’re going in the wrong direction. Or, more likely, they’re afraid of the change or pessimistic that things will improve.

Leadership begin with self-awareness. It begins with having the courage of your convictions. But it is more than pointing out all the wrong things. Or blaming one group over another group. The leader needs to extend his courage to the group. We must have the courage to trust people. To trust their potential, to empower people to do the right thing.

This courage is particularly important today, when people see two political parties and no real difference. And yet we are scared to vote for anyone else, because we don’t have the courage in our fellow citizens that they will do the right thing. And so we continue to vote based on who is more likely to win, and not who is more likely to do the right thing once in office.

And so nothing changes.

“I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” -Ralph Nader

I agree with Ralph.

So be a leader.

Start a conversation about where you think things are headed and where you think the right direction lies. Listen, don’t lecture. Exchange ideas. If we don’t, then money will determine who wins elections, just as we feared.

And it will be our fault that it continues.

The secret to truly changing yourself

When I was in middle school, I noticed that I was smaller than most of the other kids. And I hated that. I hated my skinny arms and legs. So I started lifting weights. And eating… and taking supplements. I got bigger, but I always found fault. Even throughout college, I compared myself to other guys.

For years, I forced myself into this lifestyle until it became a habit… until one year. I stopped working out. I had met someone, the first person who showed care for me. We moved in together. I soon realized that I had never been training for me. Now, years later, I exercise for myself, for the good feelings I get. And I focus on getting fit, not big.

Changing something in your life means taking control. And where does that control come from? Your personality, values…your attitude, right?

So the first step in changing our actions is finding out what values are driving them. Is it because we’re unhappy with ourselves? Because no matter how much you “improve”, you will never become happy with yourself if you’re not already content with life.

Once you gain this self-awareness, then whatever changes you want to make aren’t hard, because…well…because you want them. When my goal changed from getting validation to being fit, it was almost unconscious. I didn’t obsess over becoming healthy. I didn’t hold myself to a strict program. I didn’t read books about why it was better to be more fit. I didn’t do those things because I didn’t need to do those things.

A measure of the value of a goal is how much you want to do the grunt work. But if the drive to change comes from inside you, you will embrace the grind and it will cease to be one. Facing the challenge of something new will become exciting, not paralyzing. The sacrifice won’t feel like a sacrifice.

But it won’t really work if you’re doing it because you think you must or you have no choice. You can’t do it if fear is driving you, or if you’re forced to.

People do change. We evolve. Just don’t force it. Evolution is natural. Other people and your environment can supplement a change in your values, but the truest values, the ones that drive us to do the right thing, always come from the inside.

So what’s the secret to really changing yourself?

Let go of what you think you need.

Free yourself. Because no one else will.

We were meant to evolve. And we have the self-awareness and freewill to do exactly that.

Taking off the blinders requires learning how to ignore

I have trouble sitting down to work sometimes. My focus is on many things, and so it is on nothing. Then I realized how to let go. And it was more than simplifying and prioritizing. It was the realization that I needed to acknowledge and then ignore many things. In order to get stuff done, I needed to ask myself throughout the day, day after day, week after week: “What do you want? What are you doing?”

The other day, I was returning from the bathroom to continue my writing and saw the new handheld vacuum I had purchased recently. I like tools, and this was a bright, shiny new one. Soon, I was unplugging it, having just swept the kitchen. I stopped suddenly and thought, “What am I doing? Why am I not writing?”

Vigilance is key

Neil Gaiman has a great analogy for making tough decisions in life. If your goal is a mountain, make sure your decisions are taking you towards that mountain, not away. The mountaintop is far so it’s ok if it takes you a long time to get there, as long you’re making your way to it.

My experience would make me add this to his analogy, “Make sure you’re not circling that mountain, neither going towards it or away from it.” To this end, I think it’s vastly important to reiterate to ourselves, “What do I want? What am I doing?”

The day I started ignoring things was ironically the day I took the blinders off. I looked up from the solid foundation I was laying and noticed all the options that were open to me, from professional to social, and then I decided to stop and ask, “What do I want?” It is overwhelming, but the possibilities appear around you, and it is the first step towards accomplishing what you want.

The saying that ‘ignorance is bliss’ isn’t true. We’re not animals. To achieve bliss we must be conscious of our surroundings and taking a stand and making choices and adapting. And this requires taking the blinders off and asking ourselves repeatedly, “What am I doing? What do I want?”

Let go of what you think you need

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” -Thoreau

Most of my life, I didn’t have a problem with building castles in the air. Instead, I was laying solid, immovable foundation, hard and fast… on a swampy marsh. But I was totally invested in that career path to be a doctor. The familiar path. Without realizing it, I became that path. My identity was becoming that one thing, and all other things were unacceptable. Other options would be failure. Mindless, thoughtless, I was putting down a foundation for the foreman in charge, society at large, the unseen owner, for his approval, for the reputation, for my ego. I might as well been a bank thief, because I was taking something. Rather, I was a Wall street bank executive, because I was violating a trust. But I was violating my own trust. My self’s needs, and freedom. I was so focused on the goal, I lost sight of the why. The most important question of all. Why do you need it?

Let go of what you think you need. And then you won’t be afraid to risk big in order to get what you really need.

What, or who, do you need to let go of? Or what have you already let go and where has it taken you as a result?

Comment and let me know.

Neil Gaiman tells graduates how to make it

“Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut, and sometimes it will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you are doing the correct thing, because you’ll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work, settling for what you can get.

Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.

And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.”

“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”

Occupy yourself

Don’t think and the days go by, never to be done again, except in our heads. If only I’d done this, if only I’d done that…

But doing what? I’m often busy doing things as the days go by, but not really any thing. I’m buying things. Moving things. Cleaning things. Trying to maintain a steady state of constant activity. A mind occupied by everything but my self. Activity is the appearance of production, like a big leafy top to a little carrot.

More important is YOUR thing. That which will make you happy. It will leave you smiling at the end of day. But then I think too much on my thing, and the same situation is created. Stymied by thoughts and words. The paralysis of analysis. I find the best is when I plan. Then do.

The thinking comes first, so that the doing will flow… eternal, unconscious and unrestrained.

The summer smells good

The intoxicating smell of comfortable warmth and movement and change. Of sun rays beating down, of future acts, exciting unknowns, shirtless, of liberation from consumption by creation. It smelled of possibilities.

I stopped thinking of what I had to do today. The urgent stuff that wasn’t truly urgent. I sat down and embraced this small area where I would bang out my 1000 words for the day. This would be my bunker. I put the thoughts of everything else out of my head. I willfully -albeit with quiet kicking and screaming- entered this solitary confinement. In this quiet, I stopped holding. The energy of my thoughts moved onto the digital canvas. I knew I hadn’t moved, but I was changing things. What had not existed, now did. People acting, realizing, feeling, and growing. My characters and I took turns leading. When the words were spent, I emerged from the dark cramped environment. I felt liberated. I immediately thought ahead: I must go here, and check this to buy, and then go here and have them fix this, and then I need to go the gym, and then…and then.

And then I stopped the planning. and just as I had when I crawled into my foxhole, I started thinking, “What if?” I started thinking, “Let’s see what happens.” Because life isn’t a series of situations. Life is what I choose. It’s what I create. And my creation started off quite well today.

The summer smells good.

Who do you trust?

I was at the Nelsonville Music Festival this past weekend, at what may be the most underrated music festival in the whole of our United States of America. Under glorious clear skies, I walked around watching everyone sharing the campgrounds. There was no harassing, no thievery. You met others, shared what you had, and enjoyed yourself. There was a feeling of trust. A trust that is missing in many of the places we live.

Trust is powerful. It allows us to flourish. Trust builds friendship. It allows us to talk with others and expect to be respected. It gives us patience with life. But that’s just the start of it.

Trust makes you do the right thing

When you trust that others will do the right thing, then you will do the right thing regardless if that doesn’t do much to change the big picture, like if you choose to abstain from eating animals when most everyone else does not. Or being honest with the company expense account while others skim a little. Or moving your money out of Wall St banks when most other continue to use them. Or voting for a third party while most do not because they think it’s “throwing a vote away”. If everyone doesn’t trust others to do the right thing, then everyone will continue doing the wrong thing.

Trust brings about prosperity

When we work together, each with our expertise, we do great things. When we specialize in our areas of mastery, we can share the fruits of our labor equally in a collective society. Trust makes others know you will come through for them, just like they will come through for you. And the appreciation from others gives us a feeling of purpose. A reason to feel important in a world where it can be confusing to know what truly is important.

Matt Ridley makes a great observation of this in his book, The Rational Optimist: Self-sufficiency is associated with less wealth, while specialization with more wealth. And self-sufficiency takes a lot of time! The leisure time most of us have today is significant. And in a way, this leisure is more important than trust. This past weekend, it was this leisure time that allowed me to see trust demonstrated by interacting with others, by building a small community of respect and value.

How we use our leisure time is important, but it all starts with building confidence in our fellow human beings. Trust is having courage in the face of the unknown. It’s knowing that whatever happens, it’s going to be ok.

I felt that trust this weekend. I was reminded of how it made life better. It also reminded me that without it, we are likely lost.

After enough time, even important things fade into the background

Things fade into the background if they’re no immediate danger to us. The aging nuclear power plant that provides power but is not in compliance with safety regulations and sits near an earthquake fault line (like the Indian Point nuclear reactor outside of NYC). Or the cost of war in lives and money that doesn’t effect you… yet. Or the bank that continues to go into debt making risky bets because the government bailed them out by also going into debt. And without making cuts in government services…yet.

Last week the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, made an interesting announcment. The company lost over $2 billion dollars continuing their risky betting. Now, this is a fraction of their hundreds of billions of dollars in income. (Income, not profit: They have 3 times as much debt as assets.) So is Dimon preparing us for worse to come? Maybe. Or is he trying to establish an environment of acceptance of risky betting? Dimon said the investments were a “terrible, egregious mistake” but “we maintain our fortress balance sheet and capital strength to withstand setbacks like this.” Was this a PR move to instill trust in a market that is losing it?

In 1912, JP Morgan, the founder of this company, was speaking in a testimony with Congress. He was asked whether banking debt is based on money or property.
He answered that it was about character, “before money or anything else. Money cannot buy it…Because a man I do not trust could not get money from me on all the bonds in Christendom.”

Do you trust a market where you buy things like a television? How about a market that buys…money? There’s a big difference that needs to be appreciated. One is in the business of creating cheap goods and services for money. The other is in the business of creating money. One is less government driven and difficult to corrupt, while the other is more government driven and much easier to corrupt. What they have in common is that the consumer decides whether to buy their goods or services.

And that consumer is you and me.