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Sunday, June 28, 2020

Wasting your time and energy trying to resurrect the dead

Within the interpersonal realm, surrender is the willingness to leave our position to join the other. 

To make the empathetic leap and see things from somebody else’s perspective. 

But in the intrapersonal realm, meaning, that which goes on exclusively within our own minds and hearts, surrendering means something different. It’s the willingness to leave our ego and join the only reality there is. 

And make no mistake, this is a skill. Surrendering is a muscle. It’s something we have to practice on a daily basis, both in the macro and the micro. 

Here's a quick assessment to help you assess your own relationship with surrender. 

Do you obsess about things that don’t go your way, or do you move on with your life quickly and without guilt? 

Do you debate trifling issues that are irrelevant to your current situation, or do you stay focused and unperturbed by the debris? 

Do you whine about interruption and create a swampy backwater of unproductive energy, or rise above the noise and forget it ever happened? 

Do you feel instantly abandoned and devastated at even the slightest rejection, or is your beingness so solid that the routine of everyday life does not derail you? 

Clearly, this is not a scientific tool. But if your answers tended towards the first part of each question, perhaps your relationship with surrender could benefit from some additional attention. 

It’s certainly a better use of your time than fighting reality every step of the way. 

Remember, the more you let go in your life, the less stressed you’ll be. 

Are you ready to leave your ego and join the only reality there is?

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The dream finds itself reduced to a mere parenthesis

Age and ambition have a complicated relationship. 

There are certain people who, as they get older, will stop dreaming, period. 

Others will put their dreams in a box so they never spoil. 

While others will actively kill their dreams out of fear or guilt. 

And my personal favorite, the people who do dream big, but have literally zero intention of ever even beginning to lay the groundwork for making those dreams a reality. 

Now, there is one other camp of dreamers on the list. People who do still dream as they mature, but with significantly less attachment and expectation. 

Very different posture. 

Having recently found myself in this last camp of dreamers, allow me to share what it feels like. 

Instead of believing that happiness depends on getting something or becoming someone in the future, we are more honest and realistic about ourselves. 

Instead of acquisitively driving our dreams from a place of ego, we accept and delight in the fact that our dreams are humbler than we originally thought. 

Instead of demanding the world give us everything we desire, we adopt a more realistic attitude about how to attain the things we want, or if they're worth attaining at all. 

Instead of harboring illusions that our dreams will save us and set us free, we find the majority of our fulfillment en route to the goal. 

Instead of forcing ourselves to accomplish things by society's arbitrary time standards, we abide by our own sense tempo and rhythm and velocity and trajectory. 

Proving, that we’re still dreaming, but with less baggage. 

What’s more, our dreaming process is more spacious. Meaning, we keep slack in the system. We keep whitespace on the dream canvas. 

Because who knows what will happen? 

Life rarely conforms to our wishes, and it’s important to allow for some emptiness so there is room for the unexpected dreams to pop up and steal our hearts away. 

Those dreams we never could have predicted but realize we can’t live without. 

Will your dreams remain dreams when you insist on their being fulfilled instantly?

Friday, June 26, 2020

Tie me into a bow and sail off into the sunset

People leave your life sometimes. 

Not by dying, necessarily. They just go away. 

And it isn’t a thing you can control or predict. All you can do is react. 

Reminds me of my favorite coming of age movie. Gordy says of his two best friends from middle school:

As time went on, we saw less and less of each other, until eventually we became just two more faces in the halls. It happens sometimes. Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant. 

The question is, how do you react when people leave your life? Do you become upset that you never got the closure you were looking for? 

Maybe you get angry that you don’t fully understand everything there is to be understood before somebody turned their back. Or you interpret that person’s exit as a horrendous violation of the rules of friendships and a callous disregard for your emotional wellbeing. Or you demand a final airing of grievances, so you can have the last word. 

Maybe you don’t actually want closure, but vindication. A nice tidy explanation that clarifies why you’re the one who was wronged. 

Look, all of these reactions are normal and healthy. Nobody appreciates being ghosted. Who among us doesn’t want to tie every friendship up in a neat bow and sail off into the sunset? 

If only human beings were that black and white. If only our expectations didn’t get in the damned way. 

But the reality is, people leave our life sometimes. And in fact, if somebody has clearly made the decision to move on, even without your input, you can fight as much as you want, but eventually, you’re going to have to trust their decision and let them go. 

It’s not fair, but it’s also not about you. 

People are going to do what they’re going to do. 

Are you waiting for somebody to provide with an excuse, just so you can find a way around it?

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Fled out to afflict mankind, filled with hope.

Shawshank is my favorite movie of all time.

It was a film about institutionalizing people. 

Not only physically within the walls of the jail, but also mentally and emotionally and psychologically. Inside their own heads and hearts. 

Brooks, the elderly prison librarian, finally finds out that his parole is up after fifty years. But his first response is to grab a fellow inmate in a chokehold and put a knife to his throat. He cries that killing someone is the only way they'll let him stay. 

It's the most heartbreaking scene in the film. Brooks is officially institutionalized. 

Red's haunting speech says it all:

Man's been here fifty years. This place is all he knows. In here, he is an important man, an educated man. A librarian. Out there, he is nothing but a used up old con with arthritis in both hands. Couldn't even get a library card if he applied. Believe whatever you want. These walls are funny. First you hate them. Then you get used to them. After long enough, you get so you depend on them. That's institutionalized. They send you here for life, and that's just what they take. The part that counts, anyway. 

Brooks is the despondent personification of how organizations, not just prisons, but many large institutions, are committed to the dulling of the individual. 

To paraphrase the great folk song:

They can be so cold, they'll hurt you and desert you, they'll take your soul if you let them, but don't you let them. 

The problem is, the fish often don't know they're in water. One telltale sign is their relationship to permission. 

Here are a few examples. 

If you're the passive naysayer who comes to meetings solely to shitting on other people's ideas, you might have been institutionalized. But if you're the impatient initiator who creates contagious energy, generously amplifying the work of others, you're not.

If you're the distrustful cynic who has a long list of all the things we're not allowed to do here, you might have been institutionalized. But if you're the brave creator who would rather ship something risky and beg for forgiveness later, you're not. 

Shawshank has another great scene at the end of movie about this. 

Red, now a free man, asks his new boss at the grocery store if he can take a restroom break. 

To which his boss replies, listen, you don't need to ask me every time you go take a piss. Just go. Understand? 

Prisoners like him don't know any better. Thirty years he's been asking permission to piss, and can't squeeze a drop without say so. He's an institutionalized man. 

The good news is, it's never too late to unlearn. You're never too old to be free. 

Yes, it took your heart and mind a long time to get this way, and it will probably take a while to unfuck them. 

But it is possible. 

Have you liberated yourself from the prison, or merely switched to a different institution in which you are not free?

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

To what extent is your journey one of internal control?

Cults are scary because they suck you in, but also because they don't let you leave. 

There is simply too much psychological pressure. 

Members can’t just come and go as they please. People are strongly encouraged, and often times physically forced, to be committed and obey the rigid rules of conduct. 

It's like that aggressive store owner who doesn't let you leave without buying something. Or when you go to cancel your contract for some technology service, only to find out that all your website data is deleted, and the company denies you access and ownership to your account, making it impossible for you to leave them for another vendor.

Of course, this is not about cults. This is about coercion, power and pressure. 

Particularly in a social setting, where the tribal energy can be very difficult to resist. 

Think about the last time you were part of group, a club, or an organization, either personal or professional, that you decided to leave for whatever reason.

Were you afraid the people would criticize and judge your decision? Did you feel shame and sadness for not following through on your implicit commitment? Or perhaps you felt trapped under the weight of expectations? 

That’s completely normal. And healthy. Hell, only sociopaths don’t have feelings like that. 

However, one of the ways we set healthy boundaries is by staying strong in our decisions despite social pressure. Embracing our inner confidence to have certainty about our decisions, whether or not they disappoint others. 

It’s really hard. Not everybody is comfortable resisting majority influence and subverting social norms. What’s more, some people in your group will demand to know why you’re leaving so they can mend their heart and have clarity with the situation going forward. They will insist you tell them why you’re leaving because they deserve closure and resolution. 

But sadly, closure doesn’t exist. Boundaries do. 

Goldsmith calls this halting the journey. In his book about creating meaning and achievement, he writes:

Like cross country skiers, we're stuck in a set of tracks that someone else has created with a particular route in mind. But the evolutionary journey from surviving to thriving requires a sort of global positioning system. You have to understand how to seal the doors behind you. 

It doesn’t mean you should act callously and inconsiderate of other people’s feelings. But it does mean that you should make your journey one of internal control, not outer. That you should be vigilant about excising out of your life any investment you truly believe has reached a point of diminishing returns.

Better to courageously abandon something you have clearly outgrown than to stick around too long and pay a premium on opportunity cost. 

What support would you need to have in place in order to remember that you have a choice?

Monday, June 22, 2020

Begin with the worst possible situation and let it flood your senses

Seneca once wrote that the greatest peril of misplaced worry is that in keeping us constantly tensed against an imagined catastrophe, it prevents us from fully living. 

Perhaps it’s time we found a better place for that worry. 

To make the mental railroad switch, so to speak. 

Because even though it’s toxic energy, it's still energy. Which means it can be channeled in a productive manner. 

Ellis tells his patients to begin with the worst possible situation and let it flood their senses. It’s a cognitive technique for desensitizing themselves to a diversity of frustrating situations. 

Instead of pretending not to be worried, they try following their irrational thoughts as far as they can possibly go. Because it might just prove to them just how ridiculous they’re actually being. 

For example, let’s say you’re running five minutes late for an early meeting at the office. 

How far can we follow that worry? 

Here we go. 

By running late, the client will get upset and close their account, which will piss off your boss and result in you getting fired, leading to your unemployment, which will send you into a pathetic spiral of depression, at which point your wife will walk out on your sorry ass, leaving you behind with no money, job prospects or friends, forcing you to move back in with your parents, who will resent you for disrupting their blissful retirement, which will soon create so much guilt that you will have no choice but to off yourself in the bathtub. 

All because you were five minutes late, you pathetic loser. 

Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? 

Next time you feel the weight of worry bearing down on you, go for broke. Go through your own hierarchy of mildly, moderately and intensely anxious scenes, and you might find yourself more relaxed than enraged. 

How are you developing your ability to endure difficult feelings and learn from them?

Sunday, June 21, 2020

People come here to make it, not make friends

The older we get, the trickier friendships become.

After a certain age, our schedules become more compressed, our priorities become more focused, our energies become more limited, our filters become more discerning and our values become more secure. 

Meaning, there is a finite number of new relationships we have room for. 

And so, we have to learn to approach our relationships with a sense of acceptance and trust. 

A few examples. 

We accept the changing tides of our friendships. Trusting that certain people come into our lives for a season for a reason. 

We accept there will be companions that we outgrow who we don't know how to replace. Trusting that by letting go, we create the space in our hearts for new ones. 

We accept that soliciting new friendship is going to make us feel deeply vulnerable. Trusting that the process will pay dividends in the long term if we put ourselves out there. 

We accept that many people are unwilling to accept the burdens and risks of friendship. Trusting that when we reach out to them, it will be more meaningful that just sitting at home perpetuating our own disconnection and loneliness. 

We accept that some periods of solitude will be inevitable. Trusting that the more we know what matters most to us, the more we'll become a beacon to people who are looking for a friend like us. 

It reminds me of something a friend once said about moving to a huge city in his thirties:

People come here to make it, not make friends

Maybe so. But lest we forget, we're never alone in this world unless we want to be. There are no strings attached except the ones we choose to tie. 

Yes, the older we get, the trickier friendships become. And yes, the voluntary nature of friendship makes it subject to life's whims in ways our other relationships aren't. 

But there's no reason to sentence ourselves to a destiny of loneliness. 

We just have to try harder. 

What's your system for keeping your relationships alive?

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Compounding the sluggishness of your evolutionary crawl

There's a difference been adaptation and evolution. 

Adaptation is a specific process of adjusting ourselves to become better suited to our environment. It's undergoing modification to fit our new circumstances. 

Evolution, however, is a broader term that refers to any change in anything over time. It's the gradual development of something from a simple to a more complex form. 

But the two ideas work hand in hand. Despite their differences, the theme of both concepts is the same. 

Letting go. 

It's about not getting stuck on something we first envisioned for ourselves. Because if we insist on consistency all the time in all things; if we are over reliant on our winning strategy for every endeavor, we will never adapt or evolve. 

Personally, my mistake was being way too religious about how I earned my money. It's my stubbornly entrepreneurial and relentlessly independent personality. Profitable as that may have been, it also put limits on where my success could come from. 

And the epiphany was, oh wow, working by myself has finite earning potential. Not to mention a cap on overall job satisfaction. 

And in order to become better suited to the changing environment, in other words, to adapt, my career needed to diversify. Which meant working in a real office at actual companies, joining teams and collaborating with other human beings, in addition to running my own enterprise. 

It was far more complex than sitting in my living room in my pajamas making art all day, but ultimately more satisfying and less lonely. 

Such is the nature of evolution. We stay consistent in the micro, honoring our skills and talents; but we change in the macro, remaking ourselves as we grow and as the world changes. 

What do you need to let go of to keep moving the story forward? 

Once you figure that out, just know this. Each of us needs to find the balanced commitment to whatever our primary goal is, but with a willingness to pivot quickly when necessary. 

Because evolution doesn't necessarily favor the strong, it favors the most adaptable to change. 

If we can learn to do that slowly and constantly, we will triumph. 

What has always been heroic about your work that is now preventing you from growing?

Friday, June 19, 2020

At the peril of your soul, we take this to satisfy ourselves

The was a famous legislation passed in the seventies that provided enforcement for something called a satisfaction guarantee warranty

After all, the customer is always right. This act stipulated that businesses would have to refund the full purchase price regardless of the reason for dissatisfaction. 

Carlin famously named this the advertising lullaby, meaning, the whole purpose of marketing is to lull consumers to sleep. And it may have been revolutionary at the time. But fifty years later, there is massive proof of just how ubiquitous our satisfaction guaranteed consumer culture has become. 

That worn and tired phrase is more than just fine print at the end of an advertisement, it’s an entire mythology. Since the legalization of the satisfaction guaranteed concept, people have become deeply demanding of fulfillment in all of their interactions, not just their retail purchases. 

Each of us keeps mental ledgers of our disappointments and diminished expectations, and demand payback when the debit column gets a little too high. 

We embark on this quest for unrealistic satisfaction, poised in a great ballet of expectation, only to get our hearts broken again and again. 

But that’s the challenging part. Life is not a retail shop. Once our experience fails to match up to our impossibly high standards, we don’t get our money back. The product is not replaced within thirty days of purchase. 

How do we cope with that? 

Cameron’s book on finding inspiration urges us to ask ourselves a question to become more intentional around the idea of fulfillment:

What choice can you make right now that would fill you with pride and satisfaction? 

Her question is a hopeful reminder that although life is not set up to meet our meaning needs, we can still wield some control. We can still engage in the enterprise of paying singular attention to something we really want to bring into existence, big or small, no matter how shitty everything else is at the moment. 

Perhaps it’s time to amend that famed legislation to something a bit more realistic. 

Satisfaction is not guaranteed. 

The only thing we are guaranteed is the possibility of satisfaction. 

Where can you express appreciation instead of expectation?

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The dull mist of worry hanging in front of his eyes

The four most liberating words in any language are:

Not my problem anymore. 

Like the entrepreneur who sells his company, but still gets phone calls from old customers who have complaints about their products. Not my problem anymore. 

Or the longtime board member who resigns from her volunteer role, but still gets emails about mundane issues that need voting on. Not my problem anymore. 

What about the property owner who sells his condo, only to learn about real estate tax hikes and waterline construction. Not my problem anymore. 

Or the broke and drained painter who gratefully takes a stable day job but keeps hearing news stories about how the gallery marketplace is tanking. Not my problem anymore. 

Each of these little moments of freedom happen for the same reason. 

Somebody somewhere set healthy boundaries. 

They bravely accepted that their golden goose was done laying eggs, and they made the risky choice to get on with their life. 

Whyte names this experience daring to rest. He says how to rest is to give up on the already exhausted will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals. To rest is to give up worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there to put it right. 

This is the type of rest that awaits us on the other side of surrender. It's the reward for the difficult work of letting go. And it’s completely liberating. 

The best expression of this freedom is the departure of an outgoing president. 

The nation’s newly installed chief is escorted by their predecessors out of the capitol after the swearing in ceremony. They gather on the stairs on the east front of the building and wave to the whole world. 

And while the new president waves to the crowds, putting on his best executive face, but secretly terrified how the hell he is going to do this impossible job, the former president looks around as if to say, not my problem anymore. 

What can you let go of right now so that you can regain your freedom?

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The calendar of ebbs and flows of the soul

Most of us don’t change until we have to. 

But the best time to prepare for change is before we need to. 

And so, why wait until things get visibly shaky? Better to habituate ourselves to the inevitable loss and uncertainty and fear that change brings. Better to train ourselves to make those small, effortless and irrelevant changes on the regular. 

That way, when the big kahuna comes along, we’ll be in a better position to ride it. 

Senge writes in his pivotal book about the dance of change our sense of surrender can make this process much lighter:

The notion that everything is in motion, in process, can relieve us of the pressure to have everything fixed and worked out. The only reliable thing we can know is that this situation shall change. And we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that whatever we are experiencing is not forever. 

Imagine if you adopted that mindset. The prospect of change would not only become less cumbersome, but more attractive. 

It’s just a weather pattern. How long can it keep raining, anyway? 

Hawaii definitely has a few cities with the most consecutive days of rain in the country. But that happened back in the late thirties, when it rained for two hundred days straight. A meteorological anomaly. Outside of that, it never rains for more than a few days. Maybe a week. 

Thoreau once called this the calendar of ebbs and flows of the soul. He wrote in his legendary journals:

The mind is subject to moods, as the shadows of clouds pass over the earth. Pay not too much heed to them. Let not the traveler stop for them. They consist with the fairest weather. 

His concept not only applies to matters of the mind, but to matter itself. 

Change is taking place everywhere at every moment. And we can wait until it taps us on the shoulder to take action. 

Or we can throw our arms up in the air, surrender to the ebbs and flows of the soul, change before we need to, and have faith that the rain is going to pass eventually. 

Once you learn that small changes won’t kill you, what big changes might you try?

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

We've noticed some unusual activity on your account

Most credit card companies are vigilant about watching for unusual activity. 

Their algorithms constantly scan accounts and purchases, flagging any suspicious activity, and alert customers about any questionable transactions. Their computers know our spending habits better than we do. 

If we're suddenly buying a thousand dollar handbag, but the average charge on our card rarely exceeds a few hundred dollars, be ready for the notification. 

We've noticed some unusual activity on your account and are concerned. Everything okay? Please call if you have questions. 

When this happens, customers feel scared and surprised, but also safe and cared for. Considering credit and debit card fraud is one of the biggest financial fears people have, fraud notifications offer us peace of mind. 

Wouldn't it be great if people could receive similar notifications for every area of their lives? 

Just imagine, any time our behavior dramatically deviated from our normal patterns, it triggers a red flag. A computer analyzes every permutation in our history, measuring biofeedback such as pupil dilation, heart rate and body temperature; along with geolocation, cell phone data and other relevant data points, calculated against the standard variation, discovering if the activity is unusual and suspicious. 

The human seems to be experiencing genuine shock and surprise. Pupil dilation. Elevated heartbeat. Deploy response team!

Technologically, this is possible. With the capabilities of artificial intelligence, we are closer to this reality than we realize. 

Culturally, however, we may not be ready for this yet. It's a little too close to one of those science fiction thriller movies. 

But in the meantime, this a useful exercise for each person to ask themselves. 

What triggers a red flag for you? What qualifies as unusual or suspicious activity? 

Credit card companies, for example, have certified identity theft risk management specialists who look for the following spending patterns:

Shopping away from your home base, making several purchases quickly, buying something small and then something big, charging travel expenses in multiple geographic locations on the same day, and so on.

What red flags are on your personal list? What if you shared that list with the people closest to you, and they were notified in the event of unusual or suspicious activity? 

It might prevent people from going down some dangerous roads, creating greater levels of accountability and integrity within relationships. 

Look, they're already watching our every move anyway. May as well use it for our benefit. 

Who is notified when your behavior suddenly becomes unusual and suspicious?

Monday, June 15, 2020

The weight of myself on my shoulders

It's true that the heaviest burden is having nothing to carry. 

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas of our lives where a lighter touch might be called for. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some part of us that has been bursting to rid itself of all this psychic weight. 

Here’s a scary thought experiment:

Where in your life you feel most burdened by the weight of expectations? What commitments have been eating away at your soul for a long time that you’re just dying to release? And if one burden could be removed from your life today, what would it be? 

Start from that place. All those obligations and crusades and responsibilities you once said yes to, that now make your life so heavy. Odds are, they are the stones in your pack that are dragging you down. The time has come to jettison some of that bulk, so your life can take on a lighter quality. 

Look, humans are meaning making machines, which means we can both invest and divest our meaning as we see fit. We’re grown ass adults who can do whatever we want. 

And the best part is, when we finally rid of all this stuff, we will be lighter for the journey in front of us. Which is not only a gift for ourselves, but everyone we encounter. 

It’s like cleaning out your closet or garage. One dedicated afternoon of purging all the crap you shouldn’t have kept in the first place, and by the time the sun sets, you physically feel lighter. 

Just imagine feeling like that, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. 

That’s is the true benefit of deleting expectations, both yours or other people’s. They add up quickly. But because we never question their validity, we fail to calculate their total psychic burden. 

And we end up carrying the weight of ourselves on our shoulders.

What if you released the onus of taking responsibility for the rest of the world?

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Putting ourselves at the mercy of people's opinions

Have you ever given up on ideas, projects and even beliefs just because of one asshole's unsolicited judgment? 

Sadly, it happens to the best of us.

Instead of choosing how much weight we grant other people’s opinions, we collapse faster than a cheap soufflĂ©. 

This is one of the great joys of getting older. 

Once you know exactly who you are, then you put exactly zero weight in other people's opinion of you. 

Once your life is where you want it to be, you don’t have to listen to anybody. 

Most codependency questionnaires include a question or two about this issue. Something like:

Are you always worried about other people's opinions of you? Are the opinions of others more important than your own? 

Clinicians name this excessive impression management, or external referencing. It's form of manipulation and control, and it's completely exhausting. 

Kind of sounds like the first fifteen years of my adult life. Thinking back to the number of sheer calories burnt trying to manipulate people into seeing me in the ideal light, it's a wonder that I ever had time to work. 

How much light and freedom and joy would you feel if you simply ignored everybody? 

That is an option. As an adult, you don't actually have to listen to anybody. 

Each of us has the right to choose how much weight we grant other people’s judgments. 

But that's just my opinion. 

What is your sense of self overly reliant on?

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Perspective arrives in the form of slightest swing

Reacher perfectly explains the notion of perspective
in his latest adventure:

It's like being on a train, stopped next to another train in a busy railroad station. Your train begins to move. It picks up speed. And then all of a sudden, it’s not your train moving. It’s the other train. Your train was stationary all the time. Your frame of reference was wrong. You thought you train was moving, and the other person thought theirs was

Think about the last time you were in that situation. 

Somebody, something or some experience stopped you in your tracks and made you think to yourself, huh, would you look at that

When this moment of perspective occurs, it's disorienting, but subtle. It's not like we're teetering on the edge of some astounding epiphany. 

Typically, what we think is an epiphany is merely reality. It's the other train moving. Subtle, quiet and sudden.

And when this perspective washes over us, the healthiest response is to express gratitude. 

Because although we're all waiting for that one huge cinematic and epiphanous moment with fireworks and banners and trombones that will changes everything forever, most of the time, perspective arrives in the form of slightest swing. 

Are you willing to accept that there may be a bigger reality asserting itself through you?

Friday, June 12, 2020

We're all trying to out special each other

How was your specialness insulted? 

This is the issue underlying the majority of our suffering. We are terrified of not being unique and not standing out and not being congratulated on how remarkable we are. 

Or maybe that's just me. 

Either way, one of the fastest ways to puncture our veil of specialness is with a physical ailment. 

Years ago at a checkup with my urologist, the doctor told me that the pain in my groin was the result of an abdominal hernia. 

Shocked, I asked what might have caused my condition. Lifting weights? Singing too loudly? Working too many hours? Exercising too much? Making passionate love to my wife? 

The surgeon responded very matter of factly:

You have a hernia because you have testicles. 

Huh. Well then, that makes sense. 

My doctor explained further:

Look, you're a man, and men are vulnerable to this kind of injury. It happens all the time. One out of every twenty males suffers a hernia in his life. And so, it's very routine. We perform over a hundred hernia removal surgeries every year. You're going to be fine. 

Instantly, waves of relief flooded me like light, bathing me in almost celestial glory. It never felt so good to be so unremarkable. To be so exquisitely ordinary. 

It's funny, we live in this culture where we're all trying to out special each other, tripping over ourselves trying to prove to each other how extraordinary we are. 

Durden's classic monologue comes to mind:

You're not special. You're not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You're just the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We're all part of the same compost heap. We're all singing, all dancing crap of the world

That's the best part about getting injured. 

It makes us less interested in the story we tell about our own specialness, and more interested in our common humanity. 

What if you let go of the pressure you put on yourself to be special and great?

Thursday, June 11, 2020

We rarely remember what we missed it for

One of my mentors spent his second career building and moderating leadership forums with executives from hundreds of different organizations. 

Arthur's philosophy is, life's journey happens one pebble at a time. Growth is continuous improvement in incremental moments. 

One of the pebbles that always stuck out for me was about the opportunity cost of a career. 

Meaning, what we give up to pursue our dreams of professional achievement. 

During one forum he advised the group:

We often remember what things we missed for work, but we rarely remember the things we missed them for. 

Like the anniversary celebration, the school play, the soccer game, the family holiday or the community fundraiser. Those events stick in our minds forever. 

But the all nighters at the office and the presentations to the prospective clients who weren't going to hire you anyway, those supposedly important events disappear faster than a flat screen television in a crack house. 

This proves just how we misalign our priorities. 

It's like the movie character, typically a man, who puts in an insane amount of effort for a big promotion at work. But once he finally receives it, he loses everyone who was important to him along the way. And left standing in the closing scene before the credits roll, he discovers that whatever he wanted, it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. 

It's more than a trope, it's a truth. 

We rarely remember what we missed it for. 

In fact, most of our deepest regrets are failures of priority. 

All of those greedy, narcissistic, dysfunctional moments when professional achievement became more important connection. Shame on us. 

Where are you meeting other people's priorities at the expense of your own?

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Being a good patient does not mean being a silent one

One time after a surgical procedure, the nurse handed me the standard set of patient discharge instructions. 

It's a packet of educational sheets that provide information to manage my own care. 

Once the anesthesia finally wore off, I sat down and flipped through the folder. One passage in particular caught my attention:

Being a good patient does not mean being a silent one. If you have questions about the pain you may feel after surgery, let your caregiver know. Patients have the right to asses and manage their pain

As it turns out, this is standard patient bill of rights language. Healthcare organizations nationwide use the exact same phrase. 

And what's interesting is, you could easily substitute the word patient for just about anything. 

Employee. Husband. Customer. Member. Student. Manager. 

Being a good one does not mean being a silent one. 

Because each of us has to advocate for ourselves. Nobody is going to stand up for us. 

Honestly, looking back, what I regret most about my life are my silences. Christ on cracker, there are so many thousands of moments where using my words would have been a better solution.

Breaking the silence marks a milestone on the healing path. We don't have to keep quiet if we're in pain. 

Dare to speak up and see what happens. 

Where is your silence not serving you?

Monday, June 08, 2020

Grasp for the gift that's already inside ourselves

The question is not whether we should receive credit, but rather:

What is receiving credit going to give us that we do not already have? 

The warm feeling of being safe? The proud sensation that we were right? The soothing relief that we didn't fail? 


Turns out, once we actually tease out our own list of what we think our precious credit will buy us, we slowly discover that all these things we are working and striving for, we already possess. We're grasping for the gift that's already inside ourselves. 

As the mystics used to say, standing on a whale, fishing for minnows. 

Getting someone to give us credit, that's just a means to an end to. It's an intermediary. 

Godin writes about this issue his innovative book about tribes:

Real leaders don't care about receiving credit. If it's about our mission, if it's about spreading the faith, about seeing something happen, not only do we not care about getting credit, we actually want other people to take it. They want the community to grow however it can.

But the frustrating part is, some people simply don't trust this. They are suspicious when we say that we don't want credit. 

You encounter this archetype quite a bit in the agency and startup worlds.

Wait a minute, you're going to stand there and tell me that having your name mentioned is not as important than becoming an integral part of the team? We're calling bullshit. 

This has happened to me many times. Apparently, my generosity scares people. And that's fine. They don't get the joke. And they never will. 

Because here's the real punchline. Enough people already know my value, and enough people already respect my work. What matters now is that the work spreads, becomes an enabling force for other people's talents and keeps our story moving forward. 

Forget getting credit. Create from your primal center, not your grasping ego. 

Bask in the anonymous glory of knowing that your work matters. 

If that can be enough for you, you win. 

Are you still taking the long route to fulfillment when there is a shortcut?

Sunday, June 07, 2020

It's not a big thing, it's a hundred little things

When my grandmother turned eighty, we decided to move her into a senior living facility. 

It was a tough transition. Edie naturally had a lot of sadness and apprehension about the move, as any person would. 

Can you imagine assimilating into a new community at that stage of life? You're out of practice making friends, feeling shy about being the new kid, and coming into a strange environment where everybody else already knows one another. 

As if growing old wasn't scary enough. 

But my grandmother, someone who never met a stranger in her whole life, decided to be proactive. She asked me to write out a stack of hundred nametags that she could wear around the facility. 

Always the comedian, she told me, look, most of these old farts have memory problems anyway, so let's do them a favor. 

After all, my grandmother laughed, she was only eighty. Edie was one of the young ones. 

Fast forward about a month later, my family stopped by for a visit. And not surprisingly, every single resident and staff member already knew my grandma by name. She was like the mayor. The executive director even came up to us and shared some stories about how our grandmother was the only person whose name the other residents could actually remember. 

Lesson learned, approachability isn’t a big thing, it’s a hundred little things. It’s less about labor and time and more about intention and attention. Expending emotional energy for people and delighting in the humanity of personalization. 

Next time you find yourself a stranger in a strange land, do people a favor. 

Give them one less thing to worry about. 

Give them one less thing to remember. 

And they'll never forget you. 

What's your nametag?

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Save your pouncing for my throat

Some people are like cats. 

They make you work for their affection. 

You don't have the right to just walk up and interact with them, they allow you to interact with them. 

Because they don't trust anything but their own eyes. And if you don't wait for them to set the pace for contact, then they will consider your actions a threat display, run away, show disdain and spray you in the face with pee. 

That really happened to me once. You’d be surprised just how salty cat piss really is. 

But enough about my bachelor party. 

Point being, these cat people are exhausting. Each time you interact with them, you feel unworthy of their consideration. Like you're not authentic enough to pass their little test. There’s too much suspicion and too little trust. 

Kind of like an old coworker from my first ad agency job. He was a cat person of the highest degree. The rest of the team wanted nothing more than to say to this guy, look, there is a time for skepticism and accountability, and we appreciate when you do that, but enough of this aggressively authentic, hyper critical, calling bullshit on everything that crosses your path, captain of the integrity police behavior. 

Not every goddamn moment needs to be criticized and picked apart within an inch of its life. 

Congratulations on your feline ferocity, but the rest of us are tired of you sticking a pin in every word we say and taking all the magic, mystery and potency out of our interaction. 

Look, sometimes an ounce of asshole does go a lot way. 

But it doesn’t have to be the default setting. 

Save the pouncing for the jungle. 

Is talking to you a relaxing experiencing?

Friday, June 05, 2020

On twenty years of wearing a nametag everyday

On most days, it barely even occurs to me that I’m wearing a nametag. 

It’s such a fixture at this point. Something that’s been such a part of me for so long, it doesn’t even stand out anymore. 

Unless, of course, I find myself surrounded by a new group of people on a regular basis. 

Like starting a new job or joining a new club or moving to a new neighborhood. Then it’s back to square one, no pun intended. Answering basic questions, satisfying intense curiosities, assuring people of my relative sanity, and so on. 

Why do you wear a nametag all the time?
What about in the shower?
Do you handwrite each label?
What does your psychiatrist think about all this? 

It’s good times. Twenty years of this madness, and it still hasn’t gotten boring. 

Actually, the most fascinating part of the whole experiment is viewing it through the eyes of different people. The perspective is priceless. 

Years ago my new office mate, for example, came into work one morning and shared his user experience, so to speak, of telling my story to his roommates. Apparently his friends turned on a dime when they heard about it. They suddenly became quite angry, arguing what a stupid idea the nametag was, and how much it must suck to be working with a guy like that. 

One roommate even joked to my coworker, wow, this nametag guy must really take himself seriously. 

And my coworker was taken aback. He did not anticipate the magnitude of people’s negative reaction around something like a nametag. But it really does happen. More than you would think. Wearing a nametag triggers people’s resentment and even rage. It’s the strangest thing. 

And the arc of understanding typically goes one of a few ways. 

Some people stick with their initial negative reaction and give me zero benefit of the doubt forever. 

Some people dislike the nametag at first, then meet in person one day, and realize that it’s actually quite useful and fun. 

But my favorite personality is when somebody resents the idea for months or even years. Doing everything in their power to resist it. 

But they reluctantly come over to my side. 

Lesson learned, stick around and continue to be yourself and the correct people will find you. 

Or hate you. How do people experience you?

Thursday, June 04, 2020

When we can break though our control programming

Surrendering is not the same thing as deserting. 

Accepting our lack of control doesn't diminish our passion for practicing. Quite the opposite, in fact. Because once we are willing to accept how not in control we actually are, we're free. 

Once we learn to trust the process and engage with the world without forcing it to bend to our will, we've won. 

When my tech startup announced they were doing corporate layoffs years ago, it was scary, sad, confusing and lonely. Especially for our team, since my office was located six hours west on a completely different continent than the rest of the organization. 

We felt like the last dead limb off that tree to fall in the yard. 

Those last three months were awful. Every week another one of our coworkers would be abruptly cut from the team. With very little closure or clarity around the decision. People just started disappearing like autumn leaves. 

But as painful and disillusioning as that transition was, it was also profoundly freeing. Because it was only a matter of time before the rest of us got the chop. 

And so, why torture ourselves over petty dramas and useless arguments? Why waste an entire hour debating whether or not the pantone color of our display ad was brand consistent? Why kill ourselves trying to win the approval of a callous executive team who were about as loyal as a sardine on a taco? 

Better to just focus on what really matters in this moment, which is navigating this transition with as much grace and wisdom as possible. 

From getting our affairs in order to updating our portfolios to handing off our projects to saying goodbye to searching for new job opportunities, this was our work now.

And by accepting what we couldn't control, namely, our jobs and the company's direction; we made room for greater ease and efficiency over what we could control, namely, our attitude and our leverage potential. 

Remember, acceptance over what we can't control creates space for joy with what we can. 

Surrendering the illusion of control sets us free to enjoy what each new day brings. 

What if you accepted your adverse condition and let go of all resistance to it?