“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

Godfather

I just revisited the movie, The Godfather, and this line shared by Marlon Brando and Robert DeNiro coincides with a recent measure I’ve enforced on myself, making myself an offer I can’t refuse. I’ve given myself no choice. I must be present, I must show up, or I fail. More and more people are doing it every year, and it’s happening across the world: We are addressing our primal need for danger and challenge.

Surfing, skiing, mountain biking, mixed martial arts, powerlifting, Crossfitting, entrepreneurship. These require your full attention. Your diligence. And once there, you find yourself in the ecstasy of presence, of productive bliss, of conquering and understanding. Of truth.

And you don’t need to go skydiving to experience this. What I’m talking about is getting focused at your task, like when the coders were “wired in” in the movie The Social Network. It’s called the flow state, as coined by psychologist Csikszentmihalyi from the studies he’s done with people. It’s a primal state of clarity. It’s simply when you flow from decision to decision, without fear, without confusion. You are wired in. You are fully present, and experiencing life.

So one way I put myself on the line is simple, harmless, but highly effective: I set a timer for 15 minutes, or 20 minutes. For each task I have: writing, a work task, reading a chapter, cooking. I click the timer and I go. I am “on the clock.” I don’t have any other options once I click that timer. And it works. There’s no time to think. Your bike crests the hill and gravity grabs you, nature takes hold, and there is no turning back.

The flow state is where we aren’t thinking of any other task but the task at hand. Anxious, fearful, impatient, embarrassed? Then you’re not in flow. Flow means we’re focused, we’re present, and we’re totally invested. There’s no time to worry. You’ve isolated a slice of your life. I’ve given myself a 15 minute mini-life. You see ‘death’ coming up, the end, and there’s no time to procrastinate. No time to think, “maybe this won’t work, maybe this will suck”. You just need to push off down that hill, you need to grab that breaking wave, and go, go, go. There’ll be time to judge yourself after you act.

The cost of not getting into flow? No bliss. Marginal levels of happiness. Imagine crawling when you could be running. Imagine a potted plant on a window sill compared to flourishing in the full sun of a meadow.

Can we soak up all the experience in our life? Can we live it like it’s going to end?

Of course we can. It’s going to end anyway, right?

Because we’ve all been given an offer we can’t refuse: Death.

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“We change, but always at a cost: to win this you lose that.”

manwithblinders cartoon

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.

“Do you want in?” she asked.

Mr burns

“What’s that?” I said.
“We’re buying powerball tickets.”
“Ah, no thanks,” I told her.
Then I heard some of my co-workers talking about what they’d do if they won the money.
“The first thing I’d do is pay off my house..” one man said. “Then I’d set aside money to pay for my kids’ college, and then..I’d figure out what I really want to do with my life.”
I felt kind of sick to my stomach after hearing this.

In this day and age, having our biological needs met, the things we think we need are now the things we think we need to pay for, which is quite the opposite of the truth.

Career has become a situation of the estranged…a process to acquire money, a separate experience that is not about developing the self, but about developing a portfolio. A job that is donned, like a coat, and then taken off at the end of the day. Or maybe we never take it off, because we’re scared to look at ourselves naked.

We may even enjoy playing that dressup, but we’re tethered to that custume, it has become our birthday suit. We come to embrace our raises instead of our colleagues, and perhaps we only tolerate them because we cannot will ourselves to jump off the safety of this ship. We think we don’t have the strength and the stamina to swim to a place where our career ceases to be work, where we stop working to live and instead start living to work.

But our ability to compromise is powerful. It’s one of our greatest strengths, and maybe also our greatest weakness.

Work hard. Play harder… because without it, work becomes an uninspired trial, waiting for the play of the weekends and vacations. But make work and play inseparable, and you are in the best situation of all, waiting on nothing, and instead living every minute.

As much as it hurts, you’ve gotta fall to get higher

indoor_bouldering_utah

I was climbing yesterday. I sat at the wall and watched with envy as a guy calmly twisted his way up one of the most difficult routes. His body was almost parallel with the ground at times! It was beautiful. And I was jealous. Afterwards, I started talking to him and learned a lot, not from what he told me, but from what he did afterwards. I learned that my envy was misdirected towards what he did, and should’ve been towards what he didn’t do.

“Did you just do that black and purple route?” I asked.

“Yea,” he nodded. He had tight curly hair that covered his head and came down to form a neat beard around his face.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone complete that,” I said. “I don’t even think I’ve seen someone try it, but it’s hard to tell.”

He smiled. “It’s tough. I worked at it though. I did it so many times that now I know exactly how to do it.”

I was jealous. I was inspired, too. But I thought more about how he did it, and how I couldn’t. I didn’t think about how it was good that someone from the crew here at the wall had practiced and mastered that route. My insecurity hummed loudly in the back of my head so I didn’t really listen to what he said.

I tried another route, one that I’d been trying to get. Failure. I reached for that hold, the problem one. Slip. A short fall to the padded ground.

I sat down and let my throbbing shoulders and forearms recuperate. The guy I had been talking to was now going up another difficult route. I watched expectantly, as he reached carefully and methodically, pulling himself up. A small hold that required significant grip strength was the next one, and he reached for it. And missed. He rolled into his fall, and got back up. He said nothing and sat down. He tried again. I knew he would make it this time. But he failed. But he tried again. And failed again. And then again. Fail. And then again. Fail.

I often hear that failure makes you stronger. I hear it, but like many things people tell you that are good and right and you should do, I nod and don’t act on it. Maybe because of ego, maybe laziness. Then I have the opportunity to see someone who is skilled and how he failed. Again and again and again. And I’m reminded of how failure works:

Failure sucks. You fall. And it hurts.

And it doesn’t matter what you’ve accomplished before, because at present, you’re failing. But that’s the point. If you’re not failing, you’re sitting, watching the wall, or going over and over the same places you’ve gone before, and you’re not getting better. And you know it. But at least you’re not getting hurt. At least you’re not losing face, right?

We focus on the success. I looked at what the guy did, but what made me appreciate what he did was what he didn’t do afterwards. On the second route, he didn’t make it up to the top. He repeatedly didn’t make it. And I didn’t see him make it that day. But he kept trying.

I tried my route several more times yesterday. I never reached the top. But I will. Because if you’re paying attention, failure teaches you, and then you make it. It teaches you to put in the time. Consistently. Over and over and over. And maybe that time gets you to the top of a climbing route. Or graduating from school. Maybe it’s finishing writing a book. Maybe it’s doing a lifting regime to strengthen your body, or a meditation practice to settle your mind.

Maybe most importantly, failure teaches you that things aren’t alright, and they never will be.

There’s always going to be that new route that you’re not going to be able to do. And you learn to accept that. Or maybe you learn to accept your father’s judgments, because sometimes, people don’t change. Or maybe it’s facing up to your own faults, accepting yourself so that life stops being a competition to win, and instead it’s an opportunity to learn. To help others. To spread the love, instead of hoarding it all for yourself because you just can’t afford to let any out.

And even if you don’t make it, you know something now. You’re no longer a spectator. Because you’ve put in real, intelligent effort, and you have skills that the consumers and the critics who are only watching may have some idea about, but they don’t really know like you do. Because you decided to wade into the mess.

Congratulations. You’re no longer afraid to get dirty, afraid to fail, or too lazy to try.

You are in it now.

And this is where life gets good.

“Once the plan gets too complex, everything can go wrong.” -Walter Sobchak

Technology and prosperity give us many options, from what to buy, where to go, who to communicate with, and the “how many” almost reaches infinity given the internet. We have a lot of power to do more as an individual and put a dent in the universe. The one danger of techonology and access is the distraction. And this distraction could be in the form of Facebook or it could be information overload. Too much data can create an abundance that leads to redundance and overanalysis that leads to paralysis.

The simple idea with effective use of tools allows us to do more for less.

The amount of work for a task will grow to fill the time you set aside for the task, based on all the different things you can study and do in preparation. Sometimes we like busyness, because it delays the real work. I’ve done that with my writing, making unnecessary outlines and reading how-to’s when the action of writing is what I needed to get into. All the references at our fingertips certainly gives us the opportunity to stay busy.

The one thing that is clearly quantifiable, more than how much analysis and preparation is proper, is this: We will accomplish nothing if we don’t do something. And Walter was right: “Once the plan gets too complex, everything can go wrong.”