The world is kind to those who don't "give a fuck".
Habits, Philosophies

Be Yo’ Self

“When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” – C. S. Lewis

I’ve quoted this before. It’s re-emphasis is not without purpose. You see, I’ve known many incredible people in my lifetime, and what continues to strike me is the frequency with which they insist that they were, at one point, “too embarrassed” to look silly.

It’s a poignant remark in my eyes because (and this is not bragging), the idea of looking silly is one that has not entered my mind in probably a decade. The concept that anyone would be embarassed by who they are, afraid to express their thoughts or personality is mind-boggling. We are who we are in the same way that a pear is a pear or a tree is a tree, nothing can change that.

So truly what requires more effort? Being yourself in the face of possible ridicule, or maintaining an unnecessary and futile facade? How much energy are you wasting a day being someone else when you could be the beautiful, powerful you?

Think about it.

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What do you think? Are you You or are you trying to be Someone Else? Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook.

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Commentary, Philosophies

We Can Build It, We Have the Technology

I’m a self-help and productivity junkie; on that there is no argument. I’ll try any to-do list app, download calendar programs that make me breakfast, and use flashcards to memorize my strengths and weaknesses. During my perusing I came across two very interesting ideas: 1. Dreaming is usesless without doing and 2. social media is not a gathering, but a stage. The former is easy an extremely important idea, the latter a paradigm shift in the way we “act” in our lives, and the implication is a simple question: what are we really doing with our lives because of these truths?

The aforementioned calendar applications I have their uses, but the reality is that, until recently, I had been living my life for productivity. The flaw with this method, of course, is that productivity and creativity are not the end goals in themselves; they are the vehicles for greater action. For example, my unflappable determination to find the best to-do list has been long-developing and had, in its own rite, turned into a hobby of sorts. I would sift through the app store, mentally crossing off all the solutions I had tried and discarded. Once I finally found the holy grail (Any.DO, I highly recommend it), my immediate response was to go back to the app store and see if anything was better! Really? I had to ask myself “what am I really trying to accomplish here?” and, since answering that question, I have since been happier, more productive, and less broke on 99 cent apps.

Part of my new, more productive lifestyle was the utilization of news reader services, which led me to another truth that impacted my life significantly. Sifting through the news feeds of my favorite websites, I stumbled upon (using reddit, ironically) an article pointing to research that suggests that, though our methods of communication are more numerous/ubiquitous, our actual number of friends and meaningful activities had greatly declined (by as much as 40-50% in most cases). The research concluded that social networking of all kinds are not really a substitute for our in person interactions, but instead a platform upon which we may express ourselves in the presence of others. The principle makes sense: what requires a greater and, hence, more meaningful expenditure of personal resources? “Liking” a comment or going to have coffee with someone?

So I considered it and I came to a pretty confounding question: if tools facilitate action, and action dictates substance, why aren’t we using our tools to their fullest potential? Think about it: we can instantly exchange messages with friends, why not message them that their favorite band is playing right now? If we can post links on each others’ walls, why don’t we post the website of a restaurant we could go to? Extend the principle past social networking: if we can access the Library of fucking Congress, why can’t political junkies get their American history straight? I would never disparage pictures of cats (because I love them), but if we can instantly chat with someone of another nationality instantly, why aren’t we using the tool to become fluent in a new language?

Are we really using our tools to their fullest potential? Furthermore, are we really exercising ourselves to the fullest potential? I believe that we are not disinterested, but distracted; lost amongst the constant stimulation and too burdened by light-hearted entertainment to confront the real questions in our lives. Unable or unmotivated to learn and grow our intellectual garden, why not invest in and utilize the proper tools?

It’s really not a question of why but when. We have the tools, we have the information, and dreaming about our favorite endeavors is as useless as throwing coins in a fountain without the action to make them a reality. So consider, while you watch 300 and consider how bad ass Leonidas looks, why not work out? When you watch a cooking show and think “boy that looks good…” why not learn how to cook it? The world now more than ever is oversaturated with potential energy, the question is, when will you get up and start moving?

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What do you think? Are you ready to get started? Have you already started? Join the conversation on the Facebook and Twitter pages.

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Commentary

Dogeared: A Love Story

Ever since I was a high school sophomore, I have wanted a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. The multi-volume, utterly (and, perhaps, overly) comprehensive work documenting the history and hilarity of our English language is as venerable as it is voluminous. Regardless of its actual utility in my life, I cannot help but be gripped by the history and authenticity that such a work represents; an academic pyramid of Giza, standing tall as a symbol of the human race’s commitment to knowledge.

But then I stumbled upon this article. Yes, it’s two years old but who the hell reads The Telegraph? Britains? We all know they aren’t really people. Anyway, reading the Telegraph article, I experienced a sensation whose closest analogue I can only imagine was shared by aspiring astronauts at the announcement of the termination of the Space Shuttle program. This pinnacle of human knowledge and achievement, of academic refinement and time-defying aspiration was suddenly gone.

Yes, I mean gone. The multi-volume print edition is, barring a meltdown of all Kindle processors, gone. The English language still exists, the OED3 is still due for release in electronic form, and the knowledge will still be available to the academic elite, but in my heart, this isn’t enough. Without the great bound works of knowledge, it feels like we’ve let go of something very real and very precious in our society. I continue to flail, kicking and screaming against the end of print books because they represent something beautiful in our world.

Facebook has digitized human interaction, and cheapened it in the process. Text communication has dumbed down our vocabularies and emotional IQs. What is a book without the experience of the meandering bookstore discovery, the substance of printed paper, and the physical connection that comes with turning the pages and smelling the other-worldly glorious odor of a freshly printed page? Simply churning through media without regard for the visceral journey of reading or experiencing it just feels vapid and, above all, tragic.

The convenience is great, yes. The ubiquity with which print media can now make its way into the hands of young children and even knowledge hungry adults is akin to Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. But even so, do we need to abandon the majesty of a printed book altogether? We do not digitize teddy bears for a reason: because in many cases, there are still intense and important emotional and physical sensations to be felt from physical contact with something of substantive worth. I hope that in our quest to become a more informed society, we do not lose sight of that very human component of ourselves.

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Where do you lie in the debate? Comment on the Facebook page or at Twitter!

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Inspiration, Productivity

I Am, Therefore I Think

Staring at a blank page, exhausted and taxed, it’s easy to conceive why we may be, at times, uninspired. Even coming up with words in this very moment is a struggle the likes of which I have not faced this millenium. But in a situation like this, three things come to mind.

The first: A little effort, day in and day out, no matter how small, makes a difference. Even if the end product is short, even if you only clean one dish, even if you only learn one word in Japanese, you made a difference today.

The second: habits are liberating. The decision to sit down and write this morning was an easy one because I have made writing a priority. In this way, the cognitive burden of choosing whether or not to put in the effort was made before I even woke up this morning, freeing my mind for more challenging tasks.

And the third: acting when uninspired or doing when bored are powerful creators, in the same way that smiling when sad creates happiness. Our moods and motivations are a two-fold tango of underlying mood and action, and the interplay between them works in both directions. We may be moved to smile by something that makes us happy or create by something inspiring, but the physical act of smiling also causes us pleasure and creating something breeds inspiration.

When you’re tired, work out. When you’re bored, do something. The truth is that restlessness is simply your hungry brain, standing in front of a full fridge, deciding what it wants to eat.

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What about you? What do you do to get motivated? Join the conversation with CFiST on Twitter and Facebook!

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Commentary, Philosophies

Ideal Craftsmanship

I’ve been obsessed for a while now with an outdoor goods company called Best Made Company. The enchantment is owed as much to their unobtainability (the products themselves are quite expensive) as it is to the allure of the products themselves. The pictures of each product allude to their quality, not just in product design but in aesthetic. But the question is, what pulls us in about goods like this? What is it about an aluminum, red first-aid kit with a lower case “x” in the middle that gets is hooks in us, rendering consideration for price and competing products a trivial conversation next to their intrinsic gravity?

The answer has to be price. I mean come on, it’s a simple formula: an attractive product with a prohibitively expensive price = instant purchase from anyone with some room on their credit card. We’re creatures who love our exclusivity. We demand exclusivity to the point that even validation of our tastes can result in a dulling of the sheen our objects of affection emanate. We find confidence in our selections especially when no other being in our social circle makes the same selection.

But that doesn’t work. I mean, the first thing I do when I check out the Best Made Co. website is search for affordable options; things I can justify purchasing to myself. I don’t need a $490 set of nautical flags, nor do I need a $300 axe. I don’t find these items any more appealing because they would empty my bank account, that’s just simply not the case.

Well then it’s gotta be the fact that I don’t own these things already. Grass is always greener, always. I don’t currently own a decent first-aid kit, so why not get an attractive one? I don’t own a jug of maple syrup, so I need one. Even if I have one stocking cap, this one is different. Different color, different material, different feel. It’s just different okay? I need it because it’s different and that has to be better.

But even typing that feels ridiculous. I take one look at that stocking cap and think “nah, I already have a stocking cap that’s functional and stylish, I’m good.” Similarly I just can’t add a set of playing cards to my cart, pay shipping, wait several days, and then use them if I can just drive to the grocery store and get the stupid things while finding out the top 50 ways to please my man. Onward and upward.

Presentation. Presen-fucking-tation my friend. Just look at the website for Christ’s sake. Well designed, attractive, the products laid out nice and cleanly, no attempts to hint at a lifestyle you could or could not possess. The imagination can run wild, project, hold the damn ram’s horn cups, fly the hand-made American flag. The whole catalog is my oyster, laid out cleanly and neatly, inspiring confidence and coolness, practically beckoning me into its beckoning arms. (beckoning)

No. No. And no. No. The website is gorgeous, yes. Even the design of the basic products is alluring, but I haven’t made a purchase solely based on a pretty pitch since that dating website claimed that Natalie Portman lived in Des Moines. I enjoy the colors but I don’t feel compelled by them the same way that I do by a Wal-Mart bargain, and we all know that nothing pretty happens at Wal-Mart.

So what is it? What allows me to accept higher prices as reasonable? Unpossessed products as worthwhile goals? A perfect presentation as an accurate description of the goods themselves?

The answer, is honesty.

You see, Best Made Co. is a rare thing in our society. The goods, as you can see by this video, are handcrafted by American laborers. Their quality is unmatched, the spirit imbued in their creation is passion. The website gives pictures of goods, a price, and nothing else unless requested. No spin up front.  Further information is available upon request, but even the information given is a simple description.

For that reason, prices are higher because they deserve to be, they are not lower because of over-farmed land. The location of their creation is known and their customer service team is a group of indivduals with real names, not Peggy in Turkmenistan. There is no pre-amble or editorializing upfront, the antithesis of a contemporary news cast. Their quality is intrinsic to the products themselves by way of manufacturing, thought, and intent, the same way that NPR considers time-honored journalistic principals when reporting political events and your loved ones tell you how wonderful you are to them instead of forcing you to assume and rely on yourself.

The heart of it is that heart counts. Shiny ideas, expensive cars, and well-drawn powerpoints can only do so much; it is only the opposite intersection of all our contemporary marketing fool’s gold that makes an idea worth listening to, a product worth purchasing, and a smile worth sharing.

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And you look good doing it.
Habits, How-To

Read Dammit

Read.

No fancy lead-in, no great anecdote, just do it. Reading is not only intellectually stimulating, but entertaining and extremely calming.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Pick a topic you are interested in

I love philosophy. Whether I get it or not, I enjoy how cereberal the entire experience of reading philosophy is. Some of us like cooking, some of us like computers, some of us like history. Regardless of what you like, pick it and delve into it. There are literally thousands of books on every topic known to man and the added bonus of your interest will make the habit more rewarding and easier to establish. Do what you love!

2. Start small

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Furthermore, no one likes staring at a 500 foot tall mountain and thinking “I have to climb that?” So give yourself a break when you’re first getting started and  (after choosing something you like) pick something you feel comfortable with! Picking up a 700 page novel can be an exhilirating challenge but if you aren’t in the habit already, start with something you can finish to give yourself the ever-rewarding dopamine prize of an accomplishment.

3. Have fun

Yes, it’s a cliché but it’s also true. If you aren’t enjoying what you’re doing, then why are you doing it? Being open-minded is important, as is having the discipline to keep working on a rewarding book, but if you aren’t deriving pleasure from your liesure activities, then there really isn’t much point in doing them.

It’s a new year, read a book. It’s no secret formula or hidden ingredient to success (or is it?), but I promise, you’ll thank me.

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Architecture: where design meets humanity to the betterment of both.
Philosophies, Productivity

Design 4 Life

Sitting on my couch watching the visionary design documentary “Objectified” (seriously, check it out, and keep your damn mind open), I was struck by how many things in our world are touched by design. Everything from the cardboard flap on a Cheese Nips box to the volume knob on our computer speakers have been considered carefully and manufactured with the intent of meeting our needs and/or satisfying our wants. 

My mind then considered, is there any way that we can apply design in our daily living? Of course we can, otherwise this would be a pretty short article. The concept is simple: take the principles of design and apply them to our daily actions and choices.

For example, a prominent concept in design is negative space. This almost paradoxical concept, that empty space deserves as much weight as space filled by text, is highly valued by designers and, unbeknownst to us, our brains. You see, when we see a clean, white desk, we begin to think immediately of what we could accomplish on that desk. When we see an empty calendar, we begin to consider what we could do on those unfilled days. The same goes for silence; when no one is talking, we consider what we might say.

This idea, that leaving space open can be beneficial, is a powerful one. In calm moments, TV off, no other noise, we begin to hear what we feel and what we desire. When we leave our days open, the world is full of possibility. People and things will want you to fill up that space, but don’t listen to them! Turn off the TV, let the sunshine in, and give yourself an afternoon here and there to figure out what you really want.

Another example of designing our lives: typography. When you see the American Apparel logo in glorious Helvetica (it is the greatest font of all time and I will equalize anyone who disagrees), we immediately think clean, fashionable, simple and elegance. When we see Coca-Cola’s classic script on a can, we think of tradition, fun times, bubbly sweetness, and happiness. The way in which words are expressed makes as great a difference as what we are expressing.

Apply this in your own life. The next time you go to say something in an email, a conversation, or whatever-medium-in-particular, think about what you are saying and who you want to say it to. Think about how your words could most benefit them and communicate your message. Consider your tone. All of these are the equivalent of utilizing typography to get your message across.

The list goes on, but what’s the fun in design without discovery? Think about how the graphic or physical elements of the products or brands you love affect you and consider, how can I design my life? Chances are pretty high that you’ll benefit, and those you interact with will benefit without others even realizing the cleverness of the choices you made.

Pretty cool huh?

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