Today is the day we write pithy words of thanks and gratitude. Right before the mad dash that is the holiday season.
I, too, owe much gratitude to those around me for their kindness. Their time. And the opportunities I have each day. It’s remarkable what each of us have even when we’re clamoring for more. I have to remind myself of that too.
It’s no secret this has been a weird and trying year on so many fronts. For this day, though, a simple thank you. A chance to slow down and savor the moment. To breathe in the warm scents of a juicy, freshly roasted Turkey. Happy Thanksgiving all.
It’s been a decade since the first iPhone and most of us now constantly reach for our devices to keep up with the world. It’s displaced so many industries via businesses built around the utility of apps. And replaced much of what we carried around with us to navigate daily life – and continues to do so from music to pictures to credit cards and money. Yet it’s also fostered disconnection with the physical world as we can no matter where we are, engage with our phone rather than the real human next to us.
The promise of convenience is having a detrimental effect on our kids and us that we’re beginning to recognize. My daughter – like many teens – can get caught up in social media where everything teens do is shared and you can see what missing out on. Parties. Trips. Shopping. Same goes for the curated lives most of us post on Facebook. It affects your self esteem.
Living in the analog world is becoming hip for some. I can tell a difference when my daughter steps away from her phone. I can feel a difference when I get lost in the day, not concerned about what’s going on in the digital realm. The flutter of updates and gamification of our lives is a seductive and powerful business model. It’s worked brilliantly to capture our thoughts and attention. I think there’s an opportunity for a business to innovate in ways to make such engagement healthy. Many years ago a creative consultant I worked with talked about future primitive where in we reach back into our past to find balance. This notion is much more real today than when she shared it.
It is noticing what we’re doing. When we’re reaching for our devices and why. It’s learning again to sit with ourselves. To sit with quiet. To be intentional rather than distracted and reactive. Out of this comes better thinking. Better creativity. A sense of well being. Happiness. And making digital work for us.
Shall I acknowledge it’s been nearly a year since I’ve posted here? It’s pretty obvious and yet I feel I need to do so for you, dear reader.
Why is it that at the end of each year we take that step back to evaluate what we did and didn’t do over the year? Goals set and not achieved. Or set and actually exceeded?
It isn’t that I haven’t posted ANYTHING online for the year. Rather, I’ve kept up my daily photo and a few words about the day over at Mundaily. Using my trusted Fuji X100f each day, I’ve flexed my visual muscles and the workflow of downloading, editing and processing an image for each day. Some days have been visually richer than others. Some I just need to check the image off the list.
As I usually do each year, I think a lot about what I want to do when I grow up. Seems I am in a perpetual stage of growing up! It’s the journey really and embracing that is what I enjoy. It’s about possibility. It’s about engagement. And I’ve realized more than ever, it’s about being intentional.
I won’t make promises that I will blog daily, weekly or on any schedule yet. The proof will be in the pudding so to speak. Yet I am eager to flex my writing muscles to improve. To share what’s going on. To share the possibility I feel in spite of all we read each day.
In the spirt of focus and building on last year, here are three words I’m using to guide me in the year ahead. Last year’s were so simple, but still hard. I often forgot about them. Yet I smiled when I went back to them late summer and noted the first one, again – Do. Earlier in the summer I attended the Do Lectures. Maybe it’s serendipity or maybe it’s a stretch to connect the two, but I hadn’t thought of this word when I signed up in the Spring. I would like to think putting the word out there contributed to being there in some small way. What words will you use to guide you this year?
2016 was a year of intense self exploration and awakening leading to some significant changes in 2017. When the ball dropped on 2015 to usher in the next year, I had no idea what lie in store. It was during this year that I went through the key stages of change – Endings where you’re in denial and feeling sad, then the neutral zone where you have much anxiety and confusion and chaos, and finally New Beginnings with a renewed sense of purpose. It’s not been all linear. Sometimes I went back through these stages. But we’re now at the end of 2016 and I’m poised for reinvention. Maybe it’s an awakening, but I think it’s something more. It’s the start of a second act perhaps. Bold? Pompous to say? Perhaps. I’ve been sitting with this for awhile and am committed to reinventing myself to be the best self I can possibly be. Much better than the old. And a self that can offer so much more to those around me because I do feel I have much to give. So here we go.
This isn’t necessarily something new for me as I’m always exploring the cities I travel to for work. But I like this word for what it promises. It feeds my keen curiosity for life and people and how things work. And may provide some focus to how I explore the world around me. It’s not just places either, but feelings – getting out of my head, where you’ll often find me spending much time. And letting go of perfectionism to try cooking new things, pursuing new sports (for me) like cycling – I have an eye on Cycle Oregon 2017. But then running may overtake that with a goal to run one 1/2 Marathon per month. In any case, to explore means to be open. To pay attention to the moments and experiences – especially the little ones that can add so much depth and texture to your day. No matter where you are, explore what is around you. You may be surprised at how much you discover in the process. And what you’ve missed before.
There’s so much mediocrity around us. It’s easy to be average. Whether it’s customer service or the communications we send, we do so much on auto pilot. Focus on checking things off the list more than ensuring they have the impact we want to make. And so I want to elevate the concept of being exceptional. Choosing something to master and create wow and delight. To be better than average because that’s where you can make a difference. And after 2016, who couldn’t use a dose of exceptional? In a job market filled with oodles of college graduates all producing resumes filled with much the same gobbledygook – I read many of them – it’s more important than ever to rise above. So here’s to being exceptional in 2017. In how we communicate. How we write. How we show up. Be exceptional.
It’s no secret we’re facing momentous change given the election results. Like many, I never thought this would come to pass and have had to pick myself up out of depression for what this means for our country. Whereas Obama gave us hope – and delivered on that promise for all intents and purposes – we now face divisiveness and ugliness. My initial desire was to pretend it was a bad dream. That it didn’t really happen. But it did and it’s out of our control. Running away isn’t an option. But focusing on what we can control is. It may not always be easy. Few things worth doing are. As a consummate thinker I process possibility. I visualize the good, the bad and everything in between.
Outside of the election, 2016 has been a year of change for me and will continue to be well into 2017 – that I am certain about. Spending more than a few hours above 30,000 feet during the year affords much time to envision the future. To reconcile what’s working; what’s not working. To think about all of the mistakes I’ve made. And no doubt I’ll continue to make more as long as I navigate this circuitous path called life with more intention and authenticity than perhaps I’ve done in the past. None of us can go back. But we can move forward. You can either let change blow you around willy nilly. Or you can stare it in the face. Grab ahold of it. Throwing a pity party isn’t going to feed your soul. I’ve awoken this year in ways that are tough to articulate. It’s as if I finally got the memo. But then I am a guy and sometimes we’re a little slow on the uptake.
The election aside –I still have to compartmentalize that disaster – I feel more at peace. More alive. And more hopeful than I have. Part of it is through acceptance; letting go. And part of it is a desire to live the best life I can going forward. Why not? The Do was instrumental in this. As is much of the reading I’m drawn to. In fact, it seems books show up at the most serendipitous times. I’m currently working through ‘Designing your Life’ by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans – just out this fall! I recommend you work through it too. It’s about surfacing options rather than accepting the one solution staring at you. It’s about applying design thinking to your life. You don’t need to be a designer to do this and it can help spark positive change.
I often share this article on why most change initiatives fail: it’s because change causes physical pain in the brain and only through focus and repetition can you transfer this new change from one part of the brain to another. Remember how hard you had to think when learning to drive? It’s like that.
Even as I write this and ponder possibility – I am a dreamer at heart, and innately curious – I know there will be bumps on the journey. And it is always a journey. I’d like to call this texture. But I believe it’s how we face such bumps that makes us stronger. Here’s to navigating such with grace and style.
The Do Lectures are hard to describe. Some say it’s like Ted meets Burning Man on farm. Others will say it’s about uniting the Doers of the world and sharing stories. Whatever you do, don’t call it a conference though. Where else can you go sleep in a Tipi with strangers, shower outside and hear the most amazing stories?
Whenever I travel for business I try to explore the city I’m in by taking walks before and after taking care of business. Naturally I take a camera with me. Jay Maisel always said that if you always have a camera with you, you never have to go out to take pictures. Certainly I always have a camera via my phone and I use that extensively, posting those images to Instagram and Mundaily. However, for what I’ll share on in this space, I’m making a rule that none can come from a phone but from a proper camera.
In most any city, you can find interesting places. Last October found me in Vienna, which happens to be visually richer than many and thus I was more prolific. Most are in and around the city, however I had a beautiful fall Sunday to explore the Wachau Valley west of Vienna on bike. It was nothing short of magical.
In this edit, I enjoy assembling juxtapositions of color and subject that add more personality to the images than if they were shown singularly. They’re all about light, color and gesture – three qualities Jay impressed upon me during a workshop long ago in Aspen, Colorado.
Each February for the past four years you’ll find me in Amsterdam. I spend the day I land walking the city with camera in hand, looking at how I can see and discover things I hadn’t in previous trips. There’s a lot you miss when first visiting a new city; particularly one as visually rich as Amsterdam. I love this city’s architecture and saw it differently on this trip, although I’m always drawn to the areas around the canals.
In 2014, inspired by others who do the same, I started thinking about the three words that would guide my work and life in the coming year. Here are the three simple – but potentially hard – words to live by this year.
I spend much time thinking about things and visualizing outcomes, good and bad. I try to consider all possible scenarios in the hopes that I can avoid pitfalls, overcome obstacles and ensure positive results. Planning is good. Avoiding irrational, hasty decisions is also good. But the reality is that you can’t predict the future. No amount of visualization and thinking will account for every possible outcome. Only by doing will you achieve your goals. Thinking begets more thinking. So after I think, this year I must do.
Seth Godin wrote in Linchpin about the importance of shipping. We can always make excuses for why we can’t finish something. There’s always one more thing we can and should do before we let something go. But that’s just our brains making excuses for why we can’t finish. And I’m as guilty of this as others. There are many unfinished personal projects I put off until tomorrow because they’re not ‘finished’. Or I make up reasons for why I can’t finish them today. It’s time to ship or delete the project.
In all the thinking and visualizing about the future I tend to do, I forget to enjoy the moment. In the past, I’ve called this being more present. This one was inspired by “Miracle in the Andes” by Nando Parrado, which I read last week. It’s the story of the 72 days survivors of a 1972 plane crash endured on glacier. In the book, Nando wrote about how every day he could take another breath was another day he was alive. Before this, he took much for granted. In the midst of doing and shipping, I commit to enjoying the process.
I can’t say I’ve been entirely successful the past two years with my three words. They’re a framework for living and something I think about from time to time. The more we do things, the more they become a habit and thus I continue with these three new words for 2016.
Many have researched the elusive pursuit of happiness. A couple of the more notable include Martin Seligman and Gretchen Rubin. Our consumer culture tells us we’ll be happy if we just buy more stuff and more exclusive tonics. Rinse and repeat.
It’s much simpler than that. You can find happiness by focusing on what makes you unhappy. You already know what makes you unhappy. By removing these things you’ll find yourself much happier in short order. It’s a subtractive process.
Before you think I’m a genius for the solution, I must share that this was one of the ‘oh duh’ moments that came from reading Nassim Taleb’s provocative book, Antifragile. He uses the concept of ‘via negativa’ versus ‘via positiva’ to solve our most perplexing problems.
Another key is to avoid toxic people. We know who these types are. Seek those having a positive outlook. Build friendships with those that are happy for your success rather than envious or competitive. It’s less work for you to remain positive and happy when you can be yourself. Immersed in negativity, it’s easy to get sucked in.
At work it’s a little harder. Sometimes we have to interact with toxic colleagues. Especially in workplaces where there’s an absence of the No Asshole Rule. In these cases, you can try to limit exposure and go in ‘feet first’ as one person does in her work place. This refers to being ejected from your kayak in the rapids where you want to stay feet first to avoid bonking your head on the rocks.
Most of us have too much complexity in our lives. And too much stuff. Simplifying through subtraction is relatively easy to do. Finding happiness by focusing on unhappiness is a small piece of Antifragile. It’s one of those books that changes your worldview.