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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Humanity Has Problems And We Will Turn Up To Fix Them

“Be ten cents more trusted, not ten cents less expensive.” Most neighborhood bodegas are cash only, or have a minimum credit card balance. But since I don’t always carry cash, and since I love snacks like pretzels, peanuts and apples, shopping can be a stressful experience. Sometimes I run across the street to get money. Sometimes I buy a bunch of groceries to hike up the bill. Sometimes I just walk out and buy my food at a bigger chain store. Either way, it’s hassle. But every once in a while, I meet a shop owner who suggests another option. An easier, friendlier, more memorable exchange. An approach to business we don’t see anymore. You come back tomorrow, you pay me then, he says. That’s service. That’s human. That’s the way business was done long before credit cards were invented. And I always do. Even if it's only fifty cents. Because it’s not about the transaction, it’s about the trust. That’s what I like about a cash only policy. It gives people a chance to be people.

"You can still be a consistent star, even if you’re not the center of the universe." In the dance of human interaction, we tend to focus is on how other people experience us. It’s our selfish wiring. But there’s a deeper, more empathetic layer we also have to consider. Namely, how people experience themselves in relation to us. How interacting with––and talking about us––makes them feel. As communicators, we’re encouraged and taught and inspired to be eloquent. But that isn’t always enough. Eloquence might make the audience want to write down everything we’re saying, but honesty makes our audience want to write down everything they’re thinking. See the difference? If someone can walk away from the interaction feeling better about themselves, both people win.

"Humanity has problems, but something will turn up to fix them." Here’s the reaction I love the most. I’m walking down the street, I pass a guy who’s talking on his phone, he spots my nametag, interrupts his conversation, covers up the microphone, says hello to me, and then goes back to his call. The exchange only lasts a few seconds. And I’ve gotten so used to it that it barely even phases me anymore. But yesterday it happened again, and I couldn’t help but realize something. This person, this complete stranger, went out of his way to chose physical over digital. This is a beautiful moment. Any time we take the human path, the one that requires us to slow down, look into people’s eyes, touch their skin and feel their reactions, we are very much alive. It’s humanity at its highest. And technology howls in protest. Nametags for everybody.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

You Do Better When You Try Easier

"Show me how you get clear, and I’ll show you who you are." Understanding how you approach ambiguity is an good thing to know about yourself. When you’re feeling scared or anxious or confused or overwhelmed, the best thing you can do is find your territory. The place you go to make sense of the world. The closed feedback loop that brings you back to center. For me, writing is what I do when I don’t know what to do. The process of purging my thoughts, stringing sentences together, scattering papers across the floor, doodling on the walls, listing out my feelings, fleshing out ideas and finding connections between disparate thoughts, this is my territory. This is where I do my best work. This is where I feel most alive. If I go too long without locking into this mode, even for a few minutes, I don’t feel like me. So occasionally I have to remind myself, they need you to be you. You take yourself with you, wherever you go.

"You do better when you try easier." Every time I get an envelope that says important information enclosed, a huge smile sweeps across my face. Junk mail is the definitive reminder of just how real psychological compensation is. Especially from an organizational perspective. When paychecks come in the mail, they don’t tell me how important they are. They don’t have to. I can literally see the money through the transparent window. When birthday cards come in the mail, they don’t tout their value. They don’t have to. I recognize my grandmother’s handwriting on the address. So I open the envelopes immediately. But with companies, it’s different. They know what they’re sending is junk. So they overcompensate by telling me how important the information is. And I recycle the envelope as soon as I get upstairs. The point is, if a company has to tell me they are, they probably aren’t. 

"Prosecuting ourselves for crimes past." Nobody comes home from working thinking they’re the idiot. The human instinct is to externalize blame. To find all the ways everybody else was wrong, thereby making ourselves innocent through process of elimination. Which probably helps us sleep better. The only problem is, if we all think this way, there’s a diffusion of involvement. If everybody assumes somebody else will take action, nobody takes action. I try to find ways to make it my fault. Even if it wasn’t. It’s a healthy exercise in humility, efficiency and self-awareness. It’s an easy way improve my own performance. Plus it gives me license to say how stupid everybody else is without feeling guilty.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Their Joy In Having Found Each Other Is Obvious

“Tell a story that makes them proud to take the first step.” I've been asked about my nametag over than fifty-thousand times in the past fourteen years. And whenever someone brings it up, I’m always conflicted. On one hand, I so badly want to be heard, so desperately want my life to have witness and meaning, that my first instinct is to vomit all over them. To launch right into my amazing story, with all the passion and pride in the world, making sure they never forget who I am, hoping they go tell all their friends about me. On the other hand, people aren’t as interested in us as we want them to be. And when it comes to downloading information and digesting story, people don’t want to drink from a fire hose, they want to sip a glass of water when they’re thirsty. We have to pace ourselves. We have to let the story unfold according to their clock, not our ego. We have to take people on a tour of what convinced us to believe, so they can follow in our footsteps and believe the same thing. Proselytizing through purging doesn't have the same effect.

"Their joy in having found each other is obvious." When you love someone, you should want to parade them around the room. Not to brag about your conquest. Not because they’re your property. Not because you want other people to be jealous. And not because it makes you feel better about yourself. You parade them around the room because you don’t want your life to be explainable without them. You parade them around the room because they are your reason for everything. Because they are the missing ingredient that makes you into a whole person. Because when you’re together, the world can literally see the life dripping off of you. It's just good old fashion gushing. It never goes out of style. And it's one of the most beautiful forms of sharing that humans do. Who we love should be our worst kept secret.

"When love is at stake, you don’t waste time on rest stops." The problem with romantics is, we fall in love with our rebounds. We get so happy and flattered and revitalized that someone new has brought us back into the game, that we give our hearts away to highest bidder. Confusing love with infatuation, we say I love you, when what we really mean is, I love the version of me that you reflect. And it’s not just personal. We fall in love with professional rebounds too. Jobs, careers, geography, projects and other life endeavors. Like the new blog with only three posts that forever remains a monument to a rare burst of enthusiasm. Or the new job that's everything we've always wanted, and by that we mean the first company who called us back. The point is, confirmation bias is a dangerous bedfellow. We have to be careful in turning what we find into what we want. Just because we wear our heart on our sleeve, doesn't mean the first person to see it holds the key.



Sunday, September 22, 2013

Love Is Location Agnostic

"Love is easier to experience before is has been explained." Courthouses aren't exactly romantic. Most of them are cold, sterile, boring government buildings that smell like old paper and make you feel itchy. Then again, it all depends on what you're doing there. And who you're doing it with. And why. A week before our wedding, we were required to go to the courthouse to get legally married, since our officiant wasn't an ordained member of a religious institution. Pretty standard stuff. Our assumption was that it would be a rather loveless experience. I mean, how memorable can a municipal building really be? But when we walked into the great hall, we witnessed one of the greatest displays of love we'd ever seen. Waiting in line were hundreds of couples, of every age, color and gender, holding hands, hugging, kissing and taking pictures, awaiting the moment when their number would be called and their lives would change forever. Now that's what I call romantic. If making out in a courthouse is wrong, I don't want to be right. Two hours later, as I carried my new wife over the threshold, out of the building and into the first moments of our married life, I remember thinking to myself. Love is location agnostic.

"Create an epidemic of joy." I don't use product. It's too much work, too much money, too much hassle and my hair doesn't need it. I come from a long line of thick manes. The men in my family go all naturale. But every five weeks, all that goes out the window. Because my stylist obsesses over product. She lives for the stuff. It's how she geeks out. Lana loves nothing more that talking up new brands, raving about their innovative ingredients, applying the strange goo to my head, artfully sculpting each hair and standing back to gaze at her creation, as if to say with all the pride and fulfillment in the world, this is what I do. Who am I to take that moment away from her? Who am I to rob her of that joy? So I just let her go to town. And my hair usually ends up a little crunchier and waxier than usual, but it makes her happy. Which makes me happy. It's a circular transaction. The point is, we have to let people be who they are. If we're lucky enough to discover what sets someone on fire, we should respond with gas, not water. Giving someone the chance to lock into their element, even if for a moment, is an act of love. 

"Part of the act of creating is in discovering your own kind." When someone says your name came up over dinner last night, it's usually a good sign. Unless you're me, in which case, there's always another story about somebody saying what a weirdo I am. A girl I know was telling me about conversation she had with her sister. Turns out, she kept seeing some guy walking around town wearing a nametag, and it was bothering her. "You mean Scott?" Carrie said. "Sure, I know him. We practice yoga together. He always wears a nametag. Even during class." And her sister responded, "Yeah, but isn't that a little weird?" Well, of course it is, dummy. That's the whole point. I'm not interested in catering to the normal. People who don't get the joke are dead to me. I dig weird. I'm at my best when I'm weird. And I like enabling others to become weird themselves.

"We came through the door fists and hearts first." Our house had a purple door. That was the first feature we noticed when we initially came to check out the apartment. And I remember thinking to myself­­––even before we stepped inside for the tour––this is the place. This is our new home. We’re totally moving here. The color said it all. Purple, the symbol of passion and imagination and mystery. Purple, the expression of individualism and unconventional thinking. Purple, one of only a handful of words in the dictionary that nothing rhymes with. It couldn’t have been more fitting for two people like us. I was pretty much sold by the door, but my significant (and smarter) other thought it would be a good idea to physically walk through the property we were about to blow all our money on. Fair enough. The minute we walked inside, I knew my intuition was right. The place was perfect. We wrote a check that day and moved in two weeks later. And we’ve been here ever since. Couldn’t be happier. And, there’s an interesting postscript to the story. A few months after we got settled, the landlord told us that every one of the couples that lived in the building before us, eventually got married. And as of two weeks ago, we became one of those couples. The moral of the story is, follow the color of the door that speaks to your heart. What lies behind it is worth it.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Small Times Long Equals Big

"Songs you have to sneak up on like a rare bird." Creativity is a negotiation. A conversation between art and artist. A battle between resistance and expression. And it’s an exchange that requires a certain amount of coaxing. No matter how swiftly and frequently inspiration shows up, many of our best ideas need to be bullied into shape. Recently I was working on a song that would not budge. The melody wasn’t sticking, the rhythm was too slow and the lyrics refused to lock into place. So I stopped for a moment to have a chat. And I said to the song, “Now you listen to me. You’re the last one on this train. Everybody’s waiting for you. So how about getting your shit together? Because without me, you don’t exist. Understand? Sure enough, the song began moving in the right direction. And within a few days, the finished product was one of the best I’d ever written. Sometimes you gotta show the work who's boss. 

“Small times long equals big.” Prolificacy is not a mysterious proposition. We just have to learn to be incrementalists. To make our art like a mosaic, adding one small piece at a time. Which sounds terribly cliché and blowhardy, but that approach is as simple as it is effective. And if we're truly interested in creating a meaningful body of work, I can't think of a better approach. In fact, it’s the writing formula I’ve used for years. Five hundred words a day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year. That usually nets out to about five books every twelve months. All from one page a day. That’s not mystery. That's not mastery. That’s just math. And I’m amazed more artists haven’t hooked into this way of working. Regardless of our medium, regardless of our mood, incrementalism is a simple matter of prescribing ourselves a daily quota and never breaking the chain.

"Once language changes, outlook, behaviors and priorities will follow." All revolutions begin with language. That’s the magic of words and manifestos and crystalline expressions of human thought. They illuminate what’s possible. They inspire us to expand to our full capacity. But revolution doesn’t always have to come in the form of political upheaval, cultural rebellion or economic shift. Sometimes it’s a simple change in the way we talk about ourselves. After all, revolution is a term comes from Latin word revolvere, which means to roll back. Maybe that’s all a revolution is. The rolling back of our old skin. The shedding of an outdated way of speaking about ourselves. Using new language to describe who and how and why we are. It's like when we got married. We started saying the words husband and wife. And to our heart's delight, there was a palpable shift in the way we experienced ourselves. We felt more adult. More human. More connected. More legitimate to the world. And that all started with language. Revolution, indeed.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Take Action On Your Intuitive Leads

"Let me give that no thought." I used to have a bad habit of counting my chickens before they hatched. The minute a request would come in about a prospective client, a new project or a potential business opportunity, in my mind, the deal was already done. Sounds great. Count me in. Sign the contract. Put it on the schedule. Tell the world. It's happening. That’s how I’m wired. Ever since I was four years old, I was the easily excitable, overly optimistic, fundamentally affirmative kid who had the answer before the question was asked. I couldn’t say yes fast enough. Which is cute when you’re four, but when you’re trying to run a business, counting your chickens before they hatch can really fuck up the coupe. There’s the stress of holding too much expectation before it happens. There’s devastation of having your hopes crushed when it doesn’t happen. There’s the humiliation of having to recant big news because it didn’t happen. And there’s self-torture when you dwell on why it should have happened. All the more reason to expect nothing. To notice opportunities, but not necessarily appraise them. And to do your victory dance, but not until the game is over.

"The impulse to make things is a primary characteristic of human beings." Everything I know is written down somewhere. In my experience, if you don’t write it down, it never happened. Ideas are impatient like that. They show up unannounced. They don’t take things personally. They have zero qualms about disappearing into the ether if they aren’t properly respected and documented. They wait for no man. On the other hand, there’s something beautiful about those never before/never again moments when we give ourselves permission to create off the record. To make things without the burden of evidence. It’s a helpful way to keep our creative practice balanced. Music is my savior in these moments. As disciplined as I am about documenting every note, anytime I’m hard at work on a new song, I always take a few minutes just to noodle around. To play and sing and flow with no obligation to produce. It’s liberating as hell.

"Take action on your intuitive leads." The other day our yoga teacher called in sick at the last minute. By the time I got to the studio, fifteen annoyed students were standing in the lobby, looking at their cell phones, wondering if anybody was going to show up. It was hot. It was dark. It was seven in the morning. And nobody was interested in missing their daily practice. Including me. I called the owner, but nobody responded. I waited a few minutes and called again. Nothing. The clock was ticking. People were staring. And the top of the hour was rapidly approaching. Somebody had to do something. “Okay everybody, here’s the deal,” I announced. “Don’t worry about signing in. Class is free today. Just lay down your mats, grab your towels and head inside. We're starting in two minutes.” I changed clothes, grabbed my laptop and walked in the room. Located the audio version of the yoga series I often listen to when I travel. Turned the volume to eleven, set the computer down in the middle of the carpet, and started class. And. Everything. Went. Perfectly. We had a great practice. Finished right on time. Nobody was late for work. I even got a nice round of applause after final savasana. Except from this one guy. He was so infuriated that there wasn’t a real instructor, he walked out of the room five minutes into class. The moral of the story is, flexibility is only fifty percent physical. Let someone steal your peace, and you're the loser.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Born And Raised On The Big Canvas

"The most important skill in success is knowing how and when to switch to a game with better odds for you." Publishing isn’t a dying industry, it’s a dead one. That’s why I walked away. The marketplace had become overcrowded, incestuous, mediocre and unprofitable. My business had reached a point of diminishing returns. And I knew that if I didn’t opt out to play a bigger game, I would rob myself of the opportunity to evolve. I knew that if I didn't leave the party at midnight when the festivities were at their peak, I would get stuck on the couch at four in the morning when people started making bad decisions. Sorry, but my work is too good for those odds. I may have been made in that scene, but I wasn't made for that scene. was born and raised for the big canvas, and I want to build a life I wouldn't trade. So I retired from freelancing as a full time gig, organized my body of work to live independently of my effort, flipped my professional life upside down, and didn't look back. And I've never been happier. Turns out, there are just as many games worth playing as there are people to play them.

“Depression is for those who can afford it.” I’ve had my bouts with anxiety, stress, unhappiness and disappointment. Even a few bonafide panic attacks. But the interesting thing is, every time I get busy burning calories, thinking hard, working hard, moving my body, creating art, making meaning, helping others, taking care of my family, actively engaging with my community, spending time with friends and working on the project of building a life, I notice that I no longer have time to be depressed. There's simply too much meaning to be made. And not to be insensitive to the mental health struggles of others. When I hear people's psychological horror stories, I believe people are experiencing what they’re experiencing. I believe biological things happen inside the human brain. I also believe that when we start making meaning instead of monitoring moods, when we start burning calories instead of being sad, life gets a lot less depressing.


"Pride is that wonderful feeling you experience between the time you have a great idea and the time you show it to someone else." One of our goals in life is to make ourselves proud. To decide to bite into something, do it really well, and then stand back and nod our head at the finished product. There’s nothing quite like it. Finally, something lasting and uniquely ours. Something we have complete control over. Something nobody can take away from us. Nothing beats that dancing smile of satisfaction. Nothing. Meanwhile, there’s an opposing force. The archenemy of our magical moment. The one that pins us down with other people’s obligations and expectations and chores and work that stands in the way of the pride we deserve to take. And if we're not careful, we end up spending our life being everybody else’s dream machine. For me, it always goes back to one question. Is this an opportunity, or an opportunity to be used?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What Are The Limits Of Your We?

"Kindred spirits will find each other." And when they do, they will recognize one another through an insider signal. A decoded moment. Some tiny detail that triggers a whole world, acts as shorthand for a shared culture, captures where the people have landed and encapsulates their edges. To me, this moment is sacred. Probably because it doesn’t happen that often. So when it does, it’s all hearts on deck. When I smell out someone’s identity, one that resonates with my own, I start missing them in my past. I curse the world for not connecting us earlier in life. I see them as the friend I always wanted to have, and hope that they feel the same way. I’m not a stalker, I swear. The beautiful part is, all of this happens in an instant. Even if it feels like a lifetime. It’s relativity at its finest. The dangerous part is, sometimes it happens so fast that we fail to recognize it. And we miss an opportunity to connect with someone special. We have to keep our specs peeled.

"Finding friendship with someone whose creative path parallels our own is a rare gift." The hardest time to make friends is when we feel bad about ourselves. Whether we’re experiencing pain, sadness, depression, loneliness, insignificance or a full blown existential crisis, nobody wants to start a new relationship with a train wreck. It’s simply not an attractive feature. People want to make friends with happy people. Which is ironic, because that’s precisely when we need friends the most––when things work the least. Looking back, I bet most of us would agree that the biggest withdrawals from our human capital accounts seemed to occur when life was at its lowest. Funny how that works. All the more reason to dig our wells before we’re thirsty. To make friends before we need them. Because the only thing worse than feeling like shit is feeling like shit in a corner.

"What are the limits of your we?" Belonging is a complex experience. I used to think it was a simple matter of feeling like you fit in. But I’m learning that belonging is about a bigger, broader and deeper we. It’s about the entire reality of our connectedness with other people. It’s about the role we play in the human family. And it’s about what we’re part of that’s bigger than just us. The hard part is, if we want to fully inhabit our ideal we, belonging will confront us with the places we have to stretch and grow. I remember when I transitioned from the freelance world to a team environment, I was sick for the first two weeks. Working alone was all I knew, and when the status quo was disrupted, my body shut down. Who knew playing well with others was such a taxing mental and physical experience? The point is, I eventually adjusted. Just a few growing pains in the process of shifting my pronouns. It’s all part of the broader experience of what it means to belong.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Break The Box Around Yourself And Let People Like You

"Your identity is your vector." Thoreau famously said the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. But let’s not forget the other problem of leading a life of crowded misidentification. Charging through the world at such a volume and velocity that we never take the time to slow down and get in touch with the deeper currents of ourselves. That’s what brings our species down. People not knowing who they are. It eats away at the fabric of human identity, lowering the overall batting average of worldwide happiness. And I understand that not everybody reflects. Introspection and contemplation aren’t second nature to a lot of us. But they’re still part of our nature. Establishing a sense of identity is a central task in human development. In fact, that’s what separates us from the other primates. The ability to figure out who the hell we are. I wonder what would happen if more of us have a better understanding of how we decide, why we work, who we love and where we make meaning. By keeping our fingers on the pulse of our individuality, maybe we could elevate the collective game of humanity.

"Break the box you’ve put around yourself and let people like you." Friendship takes work. We can’t just introduce ourselves, exchange a few pleasantries, connect on a social network and sit back and expect our seed to blossom into a meaningful, mutually valuable friendship. It’s a process. A courtship. A romance. And that includes everything a romantic relationship does, save sexual intimacy. We make playlists for each other. We send silly text messages to each other. We break bread with each other. We find common passions among each other. We brag to our other friends about each other. We share hopes and dreams and vulnerabilities and failures with each other. We create memorable experiences with each other. And we look for opportunities to be there for each other. If we want that, we can’t sit back and wait for people to like us. We have to date our friends.


"Good stories don’t happen by accident." Yesterday this guy tells me that the rabbi at his congregation used my nametag story for the sermon during holiday services. A few thousand people were in attendance, and the moral of the story had something to do with applying my nametag method as a way to make personal connections. Neato. This isn’t the first time that’s happened. Over the years I’ve received hundreds of emails just like that. But what’s interesting is, while the story remains the same, the moral is always different. Sometimes it’s about belonging, finding your place in the human family. Sometimes it’s about communication, building social capital. Sometimes it’s about branding, making your identity stick. One time it was even about evangelism. Apparently nametags are the perfect tool for spreading the gospel. The point is, people enjoy stories they can superimpose their own meaning onto. Our job is to live those stories in a way that invites people in. That rewards them from any angle. That meets people where they are and makes their own experience available to them. Otherwise it's just another movie people walk out on.

"Music loosens the lid on the jar." I’m obsessed with natural acoustics. Apartment stairwells, old churches, long hallways, historic tunnels, hotel bathrooms, post office vestibules, these are the magical spaces where our voices carry like bells and our footsteps echo like gunshots. And everyone walks through them differently. Some of us don’t even notice, we just keep on walking. Some of us accidentally make a sound, only then noticing the echoes. Some of us sheepishly make a sound or two, hoping nobody hears. And some of us start singing and making noises, playfully jamming with the beauty of reverberation. But then there’s a fourth camp of people. The crazies. The experimenters. The opportunists. The ones who refuse to let good acoustics go to waste. The ones who show up a week later with their instrument and a recording device, and play for hours to whoever happens to walk by. Because the space deserved it. Like a match waiting for a spark. I want to hang with those people.

Friday, September 13, 2013

When In Doubt, Show Up In Person

"The shortest distance to the heart is through the body." If there’s something you want to feel, if there’s an emotional experience you want to work through, you can actually back into it by changing your sheer physicality. I’m reminded of the first time I tried yoga. I was terrified. Especially when we came to camel pose, the deepest backbend of the series. That’s the posture that fully exposes your throat, heart, belly and crotch, all at the same time. Yikes. Doesn’t get more vulnerable than that. I actually sat out of that posture the first few months. But the more I practiced, the more my body adapted. And after about a year, I finally found my way to the full expression of the pose. Interestingly, I also started noticing greater vulnerability in other areas of my life. My openness to risk and uncertainty and emotional exposure dramatically increased. And I started crying in public a lot more. Because as the body goes, so goes the heart.

"Anything that gets in the way of my focus to create gets cut out of my life." Focus needs a new focus. We’re told not to do gazillion things at once, not to have too many balls in the air, not to start too many projects, lest we spread ourselves too thin. But what’s wrong with that? I didn’t know there was a straightjacket on human potential. Besides, it doesn’t matter how many different things we do, it matters that we’re the same person when we do them. Interestingly, the word focus has the derivative for the word fireplace. And the definition means, “a point of convergence and a center of activity and energy.” In short, putting our fire at the center of everything we do. That’s what the word should mean. Focus should be identity based, not activity based. We should spread ourselves as thin as our hearts desire. As long as the basic ingredients are still the same.

"When in doubt, show up in person." People will do almost anything to get a job. Contract their own billboard, submit a chocolate resume, ship themselves as a piece of freight mail, wear a fluorescent suit, purposely leave their wallet behind the toilet, stand outside of the door with an accordion, order pizzas for everyone in the office and send a child’s sneaker to get their foot in the door. We hear these stories all the time. They’re creative, memorable, quirky and funny. And sometimes they even work. But the problem us, employers have seen it all. A thousand times over. In fact, the only thing they haven’t seen is the one story we never hear about anymore. The one where a guy walks into an office, flat out asks for job, and refuses to leave until somebody gives him one. Simple. Smart. Human. Brave. Unexpected. Unforgettable. And nobody does it anymore. Which is exactly why it works.