Habits, Philosophies, Productivity

Act

Growth. It is what brings forest to being, rockets to space, and love to one another. It’s a powerful, powerful force. But I’m not here to talk about growth. I’m here to talk about its brother: destruction.

Okay, let’s dial back the theatrics a bit. By destruction I do not mean Armageddon, but instead simple failure. Shortcoming, insufficient effort, the lack of success, whatever you want to call it; it’s present and, to be perfectly honest about our condition, it’s here to stay.

The general rule of thumb is to see failure as, well failure. But I propose an alternative perspective. What if we strip the emotional and personal judgment from the term entirely? What if we remove the ego from the process and simply look at failure as, well, failure? What we get, is the very opposite of failure: opportunity. The potential for growth, the antithesis of inadequacy, and the very converse of a closed door.

So let’s take stock of what has happened here: by seeing our actions, not as extensions of our self-worth, but instead as the honest, good-natured efforts of people doing their best in the world, then we really only ever do one of two very positive things. We either grow, or we see potential for growth. That folks, ain’t bad.

So act. If this is our true situation (and it is) then the only negative choice is inaction. The doldrums strand good sailors and inaction stalls growth. In either situation we have the sails, it’s just a matter of putting them to the winds.

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Habits, Philosophies, Productivity

Strengthen Your Core

If you’re reading this today, I have a simple question for you: who are you?

It’s something we think we know. We attach a name and a job and an address to our identity but our principles, loves, passions, cares, and dreams can go completely ignored. These accessories to our lives, the “identifications” of our clothes, location, and career are little more than fruit of a tree and identifying our core values, nurturing that tree, leads to healthier, more bountiful fruit. Fruit of confidence, fulfillment, personal accomplishment, and long-term, sustaining happiness.

So, at least for today, consider your metaphorical tree. What ideals and character traits are important to you and which ones comprise you? What truly makes you, you?

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Philosophies

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon this article. It’s a Lifehacker piece about helping those that are grieving. Being someone without any recent deaths or friends with recent deaths, it wasn’t exactly topical but I decided to read on anyway. I didn’t expect to find anything, but what I did find has become profoundly helpful for many people in my life, including myself.

The tip I’m referring to is the phrase, “You don’t have to have the answers right now.” The basic message is that healing will take time, but on another level it makes the suggestion that it is okay to not feel perfect. We spend a lot of time trying to change our emotions. We believe that by focusing on the symptoms of our personal ailments, that we can treat their root cause. But what if the cause is beyond our control, like a physical disease or a stressful time at work? Clearly, acceptance is a more helpful path than rejection of our very natural feelings.

And when I say acceptance, I very explicitly mean acceptance of ourselves. We don’t have to have all the answers right now, we don’t have to feel better right now, and, as a result of this, we do not have to dislike ourselves or our circumstances for making us feel less than perfect. Understand your circumstances and uncover potential solutions if they exist, but above all else, accept yourself.

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Commentary, Habits, Philosophies

Is This Real Life?

Context: this particular post was written a couple of weeks ago while the misses was away for a business trip and my work was exceedingly stressful. The commentary is, however, no less universal today than it was then.

Barring a stroke of pure genius, welcome to my ham-fisted introduction, pounded out beligerently on the keyboard well past my bed time on a school night. I’m tired, my head hurts, my eyes are extremely dry, and the cat will, not stop, jumping, into, my lap. At this point, it’s hard to appreciate my tea or find the patience for studying Japanese, my physical circumstances simply don’t permit my attitude a sliver of optimism or enthusiasm. Yet, at the same time, I cannot ignore that my perspective as a self-improvement junkie, aspiring polyglot (knower of many languages) welcomes the reluctant learning as a badge of honor; a moment when my willpower and intellectual curiosity won out over my physical circumstances.

You see, today was a difficult day. Besides the brow-beating a 9-to-5 work environment can regularly lay on unsuspecting victims, the absence of my paramour (business trip) has made maintenance of my usual (pardon the term) “swagger” exceedingly difficult. Physically drained, emotionally exhausted, and mentally taxed beyond my usual burn-the-bitch-at-both-ends work style, normal circumstances simply aren’t what they would be in the right lighting. My persistent pesimism born of a physical inability to muster a smile makes crackers bland, tea uninteresting, and conversations labored.

On the flip side, my usual sunny demeanor has its benefits, pardoxically serving as a hindrance to my dispassionate evaluation of the world around me. The same day, viewed with a good night’s sleep, a warm hug from mah bebe, and a fresh batch of esoteric albums to listen to would taste the same crackers with delight, sip the same tea with appreciation, and lead to joke after hilariously delivered joke (I’m a God damn delight). Unfortunately, what this means is that regardless of the circumstances, you and I both are bound and determined to have our subjective evaluations swayed more by our physiology than by the flavor of crackers in front of us (I’m really hungry and all we have are crackers).

So what defines us? Clearly we aren’t serial killers one day and happy-bunnies the next. You see, the common thread that runs through all of our perceptions is our perspective. The perspective that comes from many years of living our own lives, walking in the shoes of others, and having cultural experiences that expand our minds. No matter how pissed off you get that X didn’t do Y or Z doesn’t taste like Q, down at your core you know who you are: a person capable of patience and empathy, unwilling to rely on heartburn and assumptions when making judgments or decisions. You are capable of doing better.

I’m not saying it’s easy, God knows it isn’t. But seeing the world objectively, not attaching a label or a positive/negative evaluation to everything you perceive will help you be a more calm, secure, and happy person. I speak from experience. Look beyond your assumptions and ask yourself, what is happening in this moment? And when you’re done, come back here and tell me about it because once my knee stops hurting and my complexion clears up, I will be a person that wants to hear about your life.

And you will be to.

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Commentary, Philosophies

Beauty as Necessity

I am not running for Congress, that much is clear. I’d like to begin with this statement because the following piece is going to seem like a pretty bald-faced “art in schools” speech. I’m not protecting the glee club, I’m not pushing for bigger arts budgets, and I’m not campaigning for mandatory music and art education.

Then again, maybe I am.

I’ll let you figure it out. Over the past several months my already kindling interest in graphic design, art, music, and photography has grown exponentially. I’ve found websites to stoke the flames, engaged in conversations with friends that cultivated my young ideals regarding the topic, I’ve even entered the creative “conversation” myself with my music and writing. The result has been difficult to ignore: either by accident or as a consequence, my demeanor has calmed, my relationships with others have grown more profound, and my appreciation of the little things in life has grown. In short, I’m discovering the fourth human necessity.

My interest began with a graphic designer and musician by the name of Scott Hansen. His blog, ISO50, featured unconventional art and photography, regular music posts, case studies of design in consumer products and publications, and a consistent and inspiring thread of fulfillment. Scott Hansen doesn’t just observe art, it is an extension of him.

For this young artist, his moniker, “Tycho” and the art that stems there-from, are as much a part of him as his right hand. The beauty he perceives in the world is as much a confirmation of his character as it is a satisfaction of his tastes. When he looks at a sunset, treated in a vintage filter and blurred to a dreamy state, this is how he views the world; that same calm that he experiences becomes him.

Art has a tendency to do this to people. Like Cameron in the Chicago History Museum, works of creativity have a way of staring into us, picking out a trait within us that we may be afraid to confront, proud to promote, or unaware of entirely. This knowledge of ourselves grows and makes us more confident, stretching into our engagements with others, manifesting as compassion, connection, and wisdom.

And when we see these displays in gaudy frames in an art museum, we begin to see their fingerprints everywhere. An especially beautiful picture of a sunset in Maui causes us to see our sunsets for their colors and meaning. A song about a subway station causes us to hear the sounds of the train tracks and ramblings of doomsday preachers in a different way. Our life becomes fuller, more meaningful, acting like a foley artist in a film, which brings to the forefront all of the things we would otherwise ignore.

I am more a believer now that I have ever been that the fourth human necessity, aside from water, food, and oxygen is beauty. The significance of our existence, our relationships, and our actions knows only chemical bonds and the passage of time without the inherent quality of beauty. Looked at subjectively, we are slaves to perception. Looked at objectively, we are little more than molecules. But looked at in conjunction, both through the lens of the human eye and within the rules of our physical world, ideas and transactions become meaningful, giving us purpose and peace.

Say what you will about Chinese math scores and the brain drain of the US economy. Without purpose, our calculations have no meaning. Beauty is as essential to our existence as the flesh of our bodies and, regardless of your artistic talent, you too are capable of both creating it and appreciating it in a way that will change the course of your life, right this very moment.

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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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