From time to time, my wife and I like to give ourselves challenge. It helps us feel like a team, accomplishing some big goal together and it also let’s us see a little clearer what’s of value to us. Our challenges range from spending every Sunday reading the paper at a different coffee shop, to spending a month without eating sugar, cooking every meal for a week, re-watching an entire tv series together.
Our latest challenge was No-spend November. It came after an expensive Summer of getting married, honeymooning and a change in job situation which left me making less money. This month should have been an easy one: we were traveling to Chicago for a wedding and Thanksgiving was just behind that. Our rules were simple: we’re allowed to buy groceries once or twice a week. Recurring utilities and bills like the gym or subscriptions don’t count. And together we have a combined $100 of “just in case” money. That’s it. No other spending.
For the first three days we would come home and high five at the ease in which we didn’t spend money. Pre-packed lunch. No coffee. No happy hours. We signed up for 3 different dinners-in-a-box companies over 3 weeks, which give you the first box of meals for free (FYI we liked Plated the best. #NotAnAd). The challenges are never hard in the first couple days. It’s always easy when it feels novel and you have a partner to remind you to stay on track. It’s especially difficult if you’re social and like meeting new people. Right now, specifically, when I have more time and doing a little bit of jobbing (I never call it a job “search” which feels a bit thirsty like you don’t know what you’re looking for; that’s a topic for another post). So I’ve been meeting about 3-5 new people a week, which can get pricey in coffees, lunches, happy hours and dinners. On day four I went out to a lunch with a potential employer. We chatted work and future projects and the chemistry was feeling right. When the bill came, I had thought it was going to be obvious– he picked the place and we talked almost entirely about his work and what I could help out with. And then he spoke those three words I was hoping not to hear… “down the middle?” Ok no big deal. Day four and I’ve already spent $20.
Traveling to Chicago for a long weekend was supposed to be cost-free. Spending time with family and driving around site-seeing. Getting to and from the airport, we always take the train and the bus, and this trip was no exception… Except on the way back our flight was delayed and we landed just after 11pm. Google estimated a 90 minute train ride home, or a 22 minute taxi ride. Given we had to be at work the next day, we opted for the taxi, which set us back $40 and went against everything in our bones about how we like to spend money. There was an accidental coffee and a beer that was unavoidable, but we’ve got a few more hours left in the month and we’re under our allotted $100.
There are a few takeaways for me from this month’s experiment. First of all, it’s nearly impossible to see people in NYC without spending money. Even harder in the winter. But you’re always grabbing coffee or beer or meals that you may not even want to have in the first place, but the purchase implies that you have some sort of “right” to use table space. But if the goal is just to talk and get to know someone, or catch up, or visit, then there should be nothing stopping a meeting in the park, going for a walk, or just sitting and not needing to order (that works better in some coffee shops than others, and almost no restaurant).
One big observation is that the people we love, also love this challenge. Our friends, when we were more honest about it, responded so positively and were willing to change plans or help us figure out something more creative to do. We didn’t limit our social calendar because we weren’t spending money. Instead, we spent more time in houses, opening bottles of wine we already had, or bringing food over to cook with our friends. Or going on a bike ride or sharing a home-made lunch In a park and in an office, instead of dropping $20 on a sandwich I could have made. It also felt incredibly easy and empowered to not need anything. Specifically shopping. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, even just a regular Wednesday where I happen to be bored for an hour when I happen to get an email from J. Crew. The things I have are enough (for now) and this month won’t last forever. But I really don’t need any of that. Our bank statement and credit card bill makes us feel good. We were able to save almost double what we normally save in a given month.
It’s not quite a sustainable lifestyle, but it was a really healthy reminder about how dependent we are to spending and thinking that spending money is so necessary. One interesting sidenote and outcome from this month was an increased sense of generosity. While it was easy to feel “cheap” and Scrooge-like, there was something inside us both that made us want to be more generous. We donated to several places after the election to support values we believe in, we donated to friends’ causes and to family fundraisers. Much more than we normally would have, and that feels even better than buying a coffee a day.
The human mind is built for easier. Whatever takes the least effort, the shortest path, the lowest barrier for access, that’s the route it will naturally take. That’s default mode. But easier is not always better. In fact, most times easy and right choices are often the opposite. The harder choice is the one that’s going to lead to more reward. The longer route is the more memorable and meaningful one and the one with the highest barrier leads to higher feelings of accomplishment and confidence.
In the Odyssey, Odysseus ties himself to the ship and pours wax in his ears so as to not hear the song of the Sirens, which is so beautiful it draws men to steer their ship into the rocks that will crash it. Whatever it takes, that song that plays to your most basic need will drive you off course.
So while the tv might be calling your name or you have the thai restaurant next door on speed dial (ok, maybe it’s more like you’ve bookmarked their page on seamless) or the couch feels so good, steer clear. Pour the metaphorical wax in your ear and avoid it for just a little while longer– it will pass. Instead, have that conversation you need to have. Call your brother. Confront the challenge at work that seems hard. Spend time with your wife. Or parents. Go to the gym. Journal. Do something that is hard by design. Get good at choosing hard.
Today, I’m starting a chain… of no pornography. I’m not obsessed with pornography, but I, like most men with access to the internet and a personal computer, look at it on a semi-regular basis. On the one hand, porn is a way to realize our fantasies and visualize them. Men, it’s been studied, are much more visually stimulated than women. So porn serves the function of appeasing men and our visual needs for stimulation.
The internet has made it incredibly easy to find and watch porn, with no consequences. Incognito mode, private mode, clear history, delete cookies. Porn lives on nearly every platform on the internet and with so much money in the porn industry, they haven’t skimped on SEO and innovation. There’s porn on Instagram and Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. Google it. Porn in VR and porn conferences. The biggest problem with porn, and the reason to cut it out of your life is that it’s destructive. It’s destructive to relationships, to sexuality, to your career, even. That’s because at its core, pornography plays into gender bias and reinforces misogynistic ideals that women are (sex) objects and they should be treated as such. And the boundaries between what porn tells us and what we do in our lives gets very blurred.
The internet, as Louis CK put is, hates women. And the way we’re influenced by seeing women treated as objects, sex slaves, degraded, and valued for being such, has such a profound negative effect on how we see women not only in other forms of media, but in our daily lives and jobs, and especially in the bedroom of our own homes. Speaking from experience, I know that the things that “they” do in porn, are almost never realistically pleasurable to a real experience with a real woman. And the idea that we don’t need to communicate with our partners because we know best because we have decades of experience (watching porn) and not understanding that every woman is different is so harmful to our own sexual lives and personal relationships. Plus, our own desires become shaped by what we see online, even if they’re not personally pleasurable or what we believe.
We, as humans, try and mimic the people around us and fit in to be “normal” and when we see porn so often, it becomes normalized. So the sex acts that regularly happen in porn end up being the ones that we think are “normal” and we should be doing because everyone else is… even if our partner doesn’t find them enjoyable (let alone pleasurable) and even if we don’t, either.
So today is the beginning of a chain. The best way I know how to keep habits going is to make a chain. Let’s see how long I can keep this one going. And with length comes depth: having deeper conversations and understanding about my own sexual relationship. Deeper introspection about what I like and what I want, and what my partner wants and likes as well. Taking that energy that was being put into porn and redirecting that into my own relationship and sex life will only benefit us both in the long run. So here goes another link in a hopefully long-running chain.
Lauren and I got engaged last weekend and we couldn’t be more excited. Her therapist told her that sometimes people get engaged and second guess the decision and the person and have a hard time with the realities of it. Not us. Not yet at least. We’re still basking in the love glow of the ring and the news and the vision of our wedding and future. In sharing the news with people over the last week, we mostly called around. Went down our list of who should know and had really meaningful short conversations as we delivered the news. What surprised me most was how many people called us out for having a phone call. They thanked us and felt honored and touched that we would call instead of what they had experienced with other couples. A mass text or mass email, an online chat conversation or a Facebook post.
In a call to one of Lauren’s single friends, the conversation went a bit long as they caught up over other news as well. She shared a recent story about a guy who ghosted her after 2 dates. Are you familiar with that term, “ghosted”? It means you just slowly or suddenly disappear without a word. You stop returning calls and texts and stop communication and dating because you don’t want to face the confrontation of breaking up or saying you’re not that into someone.
This week also brought up a huge project we recently won, where I have to lead a workshop for a new client in a way I’ve never done before. I spent a day or two mapping out the desired goals and outcomes and drew up a few plans to organize the day. But I really didn’t understand how to do what they wanted. So instead of reading minds and pretending like I was an expert, I went to my boss and asked for help. Admitting inexperience, I sought his help in collaboration and understanding what the assignment was. It turned into a great conversation and helped me feel closer and more trusting of him.
The lesson in all this, for me, is to be more human. I’m not a newspaper, or a ghost or a mind reader. We’re empathetic, compassionate beings full of emotion and expression. We react and we respond to other humans, we build relationships on trust and you build trust through risk, vulnerability, support and other intangible things like eye contact, touch and quality time. The digital world might feel like it’s real and by all means, it is easier. But that’s the point. Being a human is hard. Making a phone call, confronting a hard conversation or being self aware is not easy and is not answered on Google or experienced on SnapChat. But the value of doing things the hard way and being more human pays off in the relationships you’ve forged, the character you’ve built and the experience you’ll gain to be a better human along the way.
The most dangerous ideas are the ones that can’t be executed.
“I’m thinking about writing a book,” you may have said to your friend over lunch. Or you may have thought that you should go back to school or have a baby as a single person because, gosh, we’re all getting older and there’s not much time left, so better have a baby. Right?
Let’s start at the very beginning. Let’s define what an idea is. If we think about an idea as a seed, we can start to imagine what that might look like if it grows. Suddenly, we’re caught up in daydreams about swinging from branches and sharing the fruits with our grandkids and partners when we’re old. We envision a sturdy trunk with lush branches that cast shade in which we’ll lie and live and love.
That is one sexy tree.
No but seriously. Sell me the tree and I’m ready to buy. I’m with you on that vision. I want branches and shade and fruit and love and a trunk to carve my name into. Yes! Give me the tree!
Except you don’t have the tree. You have the seed. And the seed needs the right soil. And the seed needs the right light. And the seed needs the right water, and time and protection. The seed needs you to work and wait, and work and wait, and nurture it. Or it will never be the tree.
So now back to your book. Or your grad school. Or your idea to have a kid. Or let’s get real: the idea to not let Muslims into the US, or to build a wall across the Mexico border. These ideas are all incredibly dangerous. These ideas are selling us the tree and ignoring the costs.
We often climb up trees and swing from their metaphorical branches, basking in the shade and fruits they bring without thinking about the years of time, the hours of labor, the care that went into its growth.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s the tree that ironically fuels the work of the seed. It’s the dream of the fruit that propels us to water and nurture, whispering encouraging thoughts to our seed, making sure it grows strong.
But don’t forget about all that work, all the cost that goes into an idea to make it not an idea anymore, but a thing. Turning an abstract concept into something you can touch and see and feel. That’s where the magic is and that’s why we keep creating. The power and magic that comes with turning nothing into something is the force that makes us go back to the studio, to pick up the pen, to buy another notebook, to stay up late and get up early. That’s where the magic is.
Just remember that the idea isn’t THE thing. It’s not even a thing. It’s the seed that will lead you to the tree you’re dreaming of. So it’s great that you even have one to begin with. But remember that that’s a dangerous thing without a plan. Show me the shovel and the watering can. Show me the dirt and the fertilizer and the fence that will make your idea real.
Because if you want to swing from the branches, and you want to sell me on the shade and the fruit and the initials I carved into its trunk, I want to hear about the sweat and the dirt too.
Because without those, there is no tree.
You don’t always get to choose when you’re going to peak. Some people get lucky and a piece of work or something they do blows up and they’re suddenly the most famous person on earth at 25. Or maybe you work your whole life towards something, improving with every project and relationship until your 50s and 60s and then your body of work becomes the thing you’re known for. You can’t plan for those things. Fame and success sort of happen on their own.
But let’s say you could. Lat’s say you’re in control of when you peak in your career. Do you choose success at 20? And then spending the rest of your life in the shadow of that success riding it out and feeling entitled because, after all, you created that thing that everyone knows and loves. Or, do you choose to peak at the tail end of your working career? To have become such an expert and create a body of work that showcase true dedication and ability. I suppose it’s also possible that you choose to peak in your 30s after a decade of service and work, or your 40s, to be followed with several decades of riding that wave.
Let’s say you can’t create that peak for yourself. You need press and followers and fans and attention in one way or another. But what are you in control of? (Is this a question just for creative people?) You’re in control of the risks you take and the jobs you buy into. You’re in control of your resources and where you invest your time, thought and money. You’re in control of the network you build and the outreach you make. All of that stuff influences success and notoriety.
So if you want to be Mark Zuckerberg and peak in your 20s, then what are you staying up late at night thinking abut, making, and doing? Who are you surrounding yourself with and how are you taking risks that might pay off even bigger than you’d expect?
Now’s the time.
Last week, a student of mine asked for some creative advice. I scanned my brain for thoughts on ideation, process, partnerships and landing a job. And the only truly valuable advice I can give right now about being creative and putting together a portfolio is “Do the kind of work you want to be doing.”
But the work in your portfolio should reflect the kind of work you want to do because that’s the kind of work you’re going to get. I’ve thought for a long time about Nick Felton and what he was doing before he made annual reports. And then he created something which is now the basis for his entire career now (I assume). Everything he speaks about or travels to work for is personal data visualization and Quantified Self. JJ Abrams. Shepard Fairey. The people who are most known for their own style and a single category and are working the hardest have carved a niche out for themselves and making work for themselves, really, not anyone else.
The kind of work you want to be doing for the rest of your career is the kind of work you need to start doing now. And better on you if you can articulate what kind of work that is. Define it for yourself so you can brand yourself as that kind of creator, and define it for yourself so you can be picky about the work that you look for and the work that comes in. Be picky. What’s the kind of work you want to put in your portfolio? Because that’s the kind of work you’re going to get.
You’re sitting around a table at brunch, or maybe it’s a bar. Yeah. A dive bar. And someone asks “Have you seen Making a Murderer?” And some hands go up, some form of passionate agreement happens, and maybe even someone brings up that Steven Avery’s story was already covered years ago by Radiolab. The non-believers will jump to their phone and look for the answer, and sure enough…
We’ve gotten pretty bad at asking questions, as a generation and culture. Google has trained us to ask questions with a quantifiable, simple answer. Having smart phones in our pockets have ended the bargument and we’ve reduced ourselves to asking questions that don’t require thought.
I’ve noticed that dozens of people in my life are going through a crisis of purpose. A few years ago we may have called it a quarter life crisis, but I don’t think it’s that. These friends and old co-workers of mine (and I was there about 2 years ago myself) have realized that what they’re doing isn’t interesting or important to them anymore. And suddenly they freak out and want to change everything. I have to break up with my girlfriend. Leave this job. Quit and travel and I’ll figure out what I want when I’m in Thailand. Sure, part of that has some truth. Traveling and being far from your current life can give you perspective and objectivity to evaluate and make a new plan. But I think being better about asking questions can solve that problem in a much more meaningful way.
I was at a bar a few weeks ago and one of my friends asked, “Do you guys have any idea how big Russia is?” And people start to chime in with various answers and interpretations. Square footage, people, number of time zones, the fact that it borders Finland AND North Korea. It’s a pretty simple question but the answers came in layers. It was something that made you see Russia in a new way and started me thinking about asking better questions.
A question itself can give you purpose. My friend Dev told me a story of a week he spent in Malaysia where he went to see some sea turtles. But when he got there, he discovered that the turtles had stopped coming to the beaches to mate and lay their eggs. He started asking people, “What happened to the turtles?” and that lead him all along the coast of several islands with this quest. Now, the simple Google answer is “Plastic.” But the multi-layered answer that took a week (and probably some more time of asking and researching and intervieweing) is much more about the story of how the resorts are now deserted and the people are suffering and the economy is shifting and the resources are becoming scarce. It’s a deep answer. Dev isn’t devoting his life to turtles. It was a question that gave his life direction and purpose for a week, and he left Malaysia with a deep understanding of what’s going on there and of himself.
What if we all were asking better questions? What if we were more in the habit of asking questions about purpose, about priorities, about “enough,” about values, about identity? These are the kinds of questions that get brought up over drinks and dinners and coffees and late night calls for weeks and weeks and can’t be solved or answered with the internet or your smart phone. They take thinking and depth and time.
And if we got in the habit of asking better questions, maybe we wouldn’t rush to quitting our jobs and moving and traveling and breaking up and freaking out about our lives. Maybe we would all be having conversations about our purpose and finding meaning in our lives through work, relationships, community, art and personal development. Maybe we’ve just lost the art of asking better questions.
Are you willing to ask better questions to find a deeper purpose?
My favorite artist is Chuck Close. He paints these amazingly photorealistic portraits of the people in his life. Each one is gridded out from a small photograph and meticulously painted one color at a time, like a screen printer but by hand with a brush. Not only that, but Chuck Close is paralyzed. In his 40s he suffered a spinal artery collapse and became confined to a wheelchair. While his work style and process may have changed, his work ethic has not.
He says, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and work.”
I think if anyone were going to teach us about work ethic, it’s him. Austin Kleon talks about the habit of work and Chris Guillebeau talks about writing a page a day, so by the end of the year you basically have a book. Work, especially creative work, is not about doing it when the time comes or about inspiration and it’s definitely not about being in the mood. Doing work is making a habit out of it and just showing up every day, even if your contribution for that day is small.
The work doesn’t care if you’re in the mood to put the effort in, but like Elizabeth Gilbert has said, if you show up, your muse or genius will do its part and show up to. The work is called that because it takes effort. Putting in the work means forming habits to push through blocks, because they will happen. Making work is about doing work, putting in work and showing up to do the work. Whether you’re in the mood or not.
Keep Going: Elizabeth Gilbert, Your Creative Genius
It’s human nature to protect our ideas. We’ve been taught that people might steal them or take credit or whatever might be worse than that. An idea feels ownable and delicate so we’re generally pretty careful with whom we share it.
These last two weeks, I’ve had a pretty big idea for a company of sorts and I’ve been sharing it with whoever listens. The amazing thing, is that people want to help and make it better and if I’m open to it, change the path into something easier and more doable. Sharing your ideas is the best way to be accountable for them, to bring them to life, to practice explaining what the idea is in the first place and not just something that popped into your head in the shower or while you were driving. Start putting it out into the world and people will not only be finding ways to bring it to life, but it’s also the best way to come up with more ideas. Some of the things you share will fizzle and never be made. That’s okay. But some will!
And the more you share, the more you’re forced to come up with more. Coveting ideas makes them feel scarce and precious, like you’ve never had a good idea before. But giving them away, you need to keep refilling and innovating and thinking (imagine that). So give your ideas way, share them with the world, start making some and start killing others. I think you’ll be amazed at how quickly you come up with more.
I met a woman last night who moved to New York and spent her first month deciding if she was going to stay. Every night before she would get into bed, she would write a yes or a no on a calendar indicating whether or not she would want that day repeated again. At the end of the month, she looked at her calendar and saw more yes’s than no’s and decided to stay.
When it comes to decision-making, we have to weigh two sides. Our rational and our emotional sides: one option feels better while the other option looks better. Or, in this woman’s case, one option includes hard data like number and “proof” of some sort, while the other option was just soft data–instinct, intuition and feeling. Neither are right, but understand that when your decision comes down to it, how you make it is entirely dependent on what kind of person you are: to listen to hard data or soft, to go with your rational side or logical side.
Listen to what they’re telling you. About your decision and about yourself.
Your inbox is never empty. You’re always going to have new things to do and new projects and assignments that you give yourself or just appear magically and left for you to solve. When you think you’ve crossed one big hurdle, it comes with three more to do it right or fully complete it. The big one is usually the first one. But if you add smaller hurdles leading up to the big one, the biggest one doesn’t seem so big and you keep running in stride, not missing a beat. It’s when you get to the ones that excite you that you run full speed or even add hurdles to make sure you’re working on it for longer. It’s these projects that need to be sought out and spent time on. The rest of the work will get done eventually.
My new favorite inside joke I have with Lauren is something we call “future reminiscing.” We narrate what we’re currently doing as if we’re in the future and we can’t believe how great we had it. It started as something pretty ridiculous: we were walking around the west village one evening and I said something like “Remember when we used to live in New York and just decide to go for a walk around the west village just because we didn’t have anything else we wanted to do?”
And we do it a lot now, actually. It makes us laugh but it also gives us perspective and reminds us that we are, in fact, lucky. Not only could we be in a totally different situation that other people living in New York are facing right now (homeless, overworked, unhappy, lonely) but even more than that, there will be a point in our future where we won’t be able to do that stuff.
I hope we’ll always go for walks and not have too much stuff to do, but a future that involves children and most likely living outside New York means that we actually will be saying those things we joke about now. While they’re still inside jokes, reminding us to enjoy the moment we’re in, I’ll keep laughing.
If you’re anything like me, preparing and overwriting are a big part of a presentation or lecture. This week, however, I was challenged to come into class without any preparation. So with less than 10 minutes of thinking and notes, I walked into a class that I would normally devote 2 to 3 hours of prep. How did it go? Well, as an indicator, two students stayed after class to talk and brought up what a helpful and practical class this last one was. Pretty cool. The lesson was actually for me. That I’m enough– I can trust myself to do the work I already have spent years thinking about and executing. And that there are other ways to teach than to lecture. When you’ve already put in the work, doing extra work won’t get you there better or faster, necessarily. You may surprise yourself if you trust that you are already enough and let the experience be your preparation.
Without noticing the shifting definitions in our lives, words grind up against new definitions like tectonic plates. They move daily but seldom feel them, and when we do they rock our world. Aftershocks of slowly moving earthquakes in definitions of “friendship” and “fun.” What used to be the person you obsessed over, wanted to be like, spent every minute with and called every night pushes against the plate that represents “work” and “home” and friendship has turned into something you do over an activity to catch up on how work has been and who’s the last person they went on a bad date with. The new definition of fun is splitting off, like The Great Divide in The Land Before Time– an infinite chasm widening with time. Because for years, fun meant drinking and staying out late and going on irresponsible adventures through a city, meeting new people and eating bad food, laughing all the way. But on the other side of that chasm, the word “fun” has split off into a second definition. Fun means truly connecting with someone you love. It means long conversations and meals that are well-made and just slow enough to appreciate. Fun is learning something new and being challenged in how you think, expanding not only the definition of fun but the definition you had of yourself, too. What side are you on? In a shifting world like ours, we don’t always notice the movement of words and definitions until the earthquake. That is, until they make their change known. But these words are constantly changing. Definitions fluid and ever-moving. Until one day–after a night that you never planned turned into a night you were reminded of being your parents, too adult to ever be recognizable as the definitions you’ve had before–you wake up and say, “last night was fun.”
I opened up my shade this morning to see that it’s pouring. 7:30am and Hurricane Joaquin is approaching. Just a week ago, I was sweating through shirts and buying iced coffee. The weather plays into a city’s collective attitude, and in New York everyone is hustling. I believe that most of this has to do with seeing change and movement all around us here. Seeing changing weather, and seeing a constant urban motion tricks our brain into thinking that more time has passed than it actually has. And that makes us feel like we’re losing time and needing to work more and harder to catch up. Everyone else is working hard or making change, right? So we better be working hard and making change, too.
The only way to measure time without a watch or calendar is to see change. Change IS time. When people go through big changes in their lives, be it a change in jobs, a breakup, a marriage, a move, or even a diet, they make conscious efforts to create change in order to feel like more time has passed.
After a change in jobs, it’s customary to buy some new clothes. A breakup can often lead to a dramatic haircut or massive home cleanup. A marriage results in lots of new gifts and items to change the way you live. A move is all about throwing away old things and rearranging what’s left. We can trick ourselves into believing that more time has passed by creating more change in our lives.
The rain outside is a reminder that Summer is actually over and Fall is very vocal about her presence. And as the world outside me is changing, it’s a good reminder to make sure that I am too. Constant movement and change, with regular pauses and inward reflection to make sure that the direction I’m facing when I move is always forward.
This year could be seen as not the best one. I could talk about Papa dying, Auntie Judy being diagnosed with brain cancer, and finding out that Natalie Sun has breast cancer. I could talk about the shingles I got from stress or the part where I didn’t like my job for 4 months plus. There’s also the Jordan breaking up with his ex and flipping out at the family. This year included paying over $1000 more in rent than I’ve ever paid before and not landing two jobs that I thought I was perfect for.
Except that’s not how I see this year.
I see it as the year I moved to NY and found a pretty unexpectedly cool job where I get to run the creative department. It’s the year Lauren and I became closer and really worked on our relationship in the same city. The year she confirmed her Judaism at the Mikveh and the year I started You’re Better Than Brunch.
It’s not about changing your mind. It’s changing your mindSET. Not that people are mean and the world is out to get you. If you change your mindset and believe that people are having a tough time, and the world wants to support you, you feel differently about your daily interactions and you reframe the negativity. I love this idea of Pronoia, that the world is conspiring to hep you.
You can look at things a lot of different ways and focus on the stuff that doesn’t matter. Or you can look for the good. Just shift your mindset.
Keep Going: Derek Sivers, Fixed vs Growth Mindset
I belong to over a dozen small private Facebook groups. I am on several Twitter lists. I’d talk about Google Plus circles if that were relevant anymore too. I won’t even downplay real life groups. I’m a fairly social person and feel like I belong in several groups of friends– from my creative accountability group, to the group that traveled across the country together or a group of old coworkers who moved from LA to NY within the last 2 years.
These groups are a way to feel like I belong somewhere, but more than that, they’re a group of people that has an excuse to have fun together and fill a date in the calendar. Sure, that’s important.
But the thing that we’re missing is community. Like, real, back-in-the-day, pre-internet, pre-television community. I’m talking about the kind of community where 100 people know your name and you know theirs and you know their business and they’re in yours. The emotional support that comes from that, where people know how to provide you with comfort and encouragement after a breakup, before a job interview, or during pregnancy. A network of people who share their network with you. Community is a group of people that selflessly give and blindly share because you’re extended family to them. That doesn’t exist.
Millenials (ugh, I hate that I used that word) are shying away from religion because it’s expensive, they believe it’s not relevant to their daily life, and because they want to be free thinkers and not just do what their parents did or are asking them to do. And with that departure comes a lack of in-person, community as family, leadership, support and guidance with a dose of purpose.
You can see it with the explosion of EDM culture and music festivals. It’s one expression of a group of people coming together to share an experience, connect on an idea and issue and feel a part of something ritualistic, meaningful, relevant and fun. There’s a void right now in our world and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to create community again.
If you’d like to be a part of something meaningful and supportive, email me. I’m not sure what I’m building, if anything, but there’s something to be built.
We live in a world of constant information and stimulation, it’s amazing we get anything done at all. I found myself (even now as I write this) checking Facebook or veering off to refresh my inbox just to make writing this a little more exciting than starting at black letters on a white page.
So this week I downloaded a tool called Pomodoro. It’s based on a method of working in 25 minute sprints with short breaks in between and a longer break every 3 cycles. It’s been proven to increase productivity and attention. I actually love it and in the last couple of days have gotten more work done and felt better about the quality of my work than most other weeks.
The hardest part was not switching to a new method though or even trying something unfamiliar. The hardest part was just admitting that I can’t focus on my own and, therefore, need help. I find that people give themselves too much credit that they’ll focus when they have to, eat healthily and regularly, exercise just as hard or even find the right partner, all on their own. Myself included in that.
But it’s ok to ask for help because outside help will get you there faster and better. Outside help teaches you to trust, teaches you about yourself and your weaknesses and therefore how to get better. And outside help comes in a lot of forms. Download an app, talk to a friend, join a club, sign up for an online dating website or even make a list and keep it up.
Use the stimulation that’s around you for good. Help yourself to the buffet of information and sort through it to find the things and people that will help you. Realize that we’re all imperfect and working to be better, and then reach out to get the help you need.
Team building needs a new name. It’s boring and functional as a pair of words right now but the actual activity itself is so necessary. Building a team is a lot of work and when it’s done right, the people involved don’t want to break up the team. They enjoy coming to work together and pull more of their own weight to contribute because they don’t want to let the team down.
It needs a new name because… ughhh a team building exercise? We’re going to a team building event? Gross. No thanks. But when you’re going out to drinks, planning your summer party, bringing donuts into the office or planning a workshop, aren’t you building strength within your team? Aren’t you making your workplace a little bit better to be at? Aren’t we trying to make our team a little bit happier?
So why not call it something a little more appetizing? The summer party. Funday Monday. Friday breakfast club? I don’t care. It honestly doesn’t matter what you call it as long as the people planning it know that the intention is to build a stronger team through trust and fun, creating memories and better communication among your team.
Yesterday my team and I went to a trapeze school where we learned how to swing through the air and do tricks, and then we spent 3 hours having drinks and sharing stories. It was great and I love my team that much more because of a couple hours of memorable activitiy and open communication.
There’s no right way to do it, but the wrong way just may be to call it a team building exercise and make it feel like work.
I’ve been told the secret to a great life but I don’t believe it.
It’s this idea that all you need is one thing. One thing is all you need to pour your life into, to find your purpose, to light you up on nights and weekends–it’s one thing that you can really nerd out on. And sure, that makes sense. If you got really into surfing and it was your passion, you find ways to take lessons from it and live a better life. There are tons of parallels from surfing into every day life: waiting for your wave, committing to it once you’re too far in, everyone falls at the end you just have to learn to get back up and do it better next time. It’s easy to show the same thing when it comes to religion or children. That one thing that people get really into and live their lives for.
Truth be told, I don’t consider myself religious nor do I have children. But I don’t agree with that whole “one thing is the secret to a great life.”
I pride myself on being a well-rounded creative person. I look up to people like Jim Henson, Paul McCartney, Albert Einstein; people that are known for doing multiple things. Henson wrote, directed, performed, but also spent time as a teacher and a father. McCartney has painting besides music and Einstein was known to play a little tennis and go for bike rides.
See, creativity is all about making new connections. Metaphors are the lifeblood of creativity, says Twyla Tharp. It’s about making new connections and unlocking a greater truth. So while getting really into surfing might be the path to a great life because you understand more and because it gives you purpose, I think it’s more than that. It HAS to be getting into more than one thing. It might be having your surfing, but you gotta be interested in something else on the side to draw parallels and connections that will bring a new creative energy to your life and make it truly great.
Keep going: Derek Sivers, Meaning of Life
In order to ensure success, every company has some kind of board of directors. The board acts as a regularly meeting community of members who have expressed commitment and interest in guiding the company to success. They consult, they inspire and they help make difficult decisions.
It’s an idea that has existed for centuries. I can’t imagine that King Arthur pulled the idea of the round table out of nowhere, that something must have existed like this long before he gathered his knights.
It’s proven to work.
And while we’re not all entrepreneurs, running our business and deciding where our next investment is going to be, we are all running our own lives. Do you have a personal board of directors? Do you have a group of people who help you make decisions and chart a path towards success.
You should. And maybe you already do and don’t know it.
The trick is to make sure the people you surround yourself with, the ones whose opinion you ask for, are truly invested in your success and the best outcome for you. Because if you’re ultimately having to be the one to make, you better not be taking advice from someone who may or may not want to sabotage or experiment with you instead of see you succeed.
Think about parents, siblings, mentors, teachers, spouses, coworkers, neighbors and friends. Collect your personal board of directors. Keep it small and keep it to loyal people. And then call your first session.
Here’s a short thought that might change your mind about being generous. What if instead of talking about what you or your company does and the services you provide, you actually gave away one of your services? What if you solved a small problem that needed to be solved like getting people around your office building to meet each other? Or take a break for lunch? What if the slow and crowded elevator had rules to follow or there was a way to have more people take the stairs?
Part of your job, no matter what kind of company or person you are, is to change people’s minds. The best way to change someone’s mind is to make the change seem easy. So rather than have them connect the dots that you provide x service and oh wait! They need x service soon. So they should call you and have a talk about how to work together, show your thinking in action. Show that service applied in the world. Go do something for people. And you’ll be surprised how a small act of generosity will change people’s mind and bring them your way.
(Maybe I just did it to you…)
One of my all time favorite movies is Finding Nemo. In case you haven’t seen it (and what a tragedy that would be), a father and son fish are separated and the father swims across the ocean to find his son Nemo. I’ve been thinking about one scene in particular this week: when Marlin, the father, has to follow the turtles on the East Australian Current. It’s a fast-moving jet stream that seems to be somewhere in between a high-speed highway and a water slide roller coaster through the ocean.
We live our lives in an ocean, surrounded by currents; fast moving waves of people all doing the same thing. The trick is to realize whether you’re in an ocean or a current. It’s easy to surround yourself with like-minded people all on the same path and believe that you’re in the middle of a current, instead of a school of fish. Go to a conference, join a Facebook group, sign up for a mailing list. These groups will sometimes feel like you’re in the middle of a fast-moving water slide roller coaster. You just go with the flow and it will take you, like everyone else, through your path until wherever it is you’re “supposed to be.” But maybe you’re just in a school of fish, everyone just trying to be like the next one just so you don’t get eaten by a shark. Maybe the water around you is static and you’re just fooled that the movement of the people is the movement of the ocean.
A real current is your calling. When you find something that you’re passionate about and aligns with your values and talents and skills. You won’t be able to control the momentum of your trajectory. You’ll be moving so fast, enjoying the ride so much that you won’t second guess where you’re going or where anyone else is on their path.
The key is to recognize where the motion of your ocean is coming from. Who’s pushing you forward? Or what? Is it the people around you imitating a strong current, or is it a flow moved by your desires and talents and values? Where are you in your ocean, where is the movement coming from? And then, only then, you should go with the flow.
Remember when you were an intern or at your first job? That first week, you’re so excited to go into work and meet lots of new people and you’re asking questions and being helpful. “Is there anything else you need me to do today?” You were so hungry for work and to feel important and needed. And over time, you stuff yourself day after day with a full plate of email and desk lunches and you satiate yourself with all the work you can do at once. And you go back for more on the weekends and late into the night. So much so that you’re just not hungry any more.
Is your boss force-feeding you?
Are you taking more even though you’re full?
Are you going back for seconds of work because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do?
It’s important that you know your limits and not overeat every single day. It’s crucial to you wanting to ever eat again that you can step away and give yourself time to get hungry again. Take a little walk, go on a vacation, have the weekend away from your computer, don’t check your email for a whole Sunday. Whatever it takes, find a way to not eat at the never ending work buffet every single second. Because no matter how good that cake (or new client) looks, if you’re so full that you can barely remember what it was like to be hungry, you shouldn’t go for the cake.
And when your boss makes you believe that even though you’re full, this giant piece of steak should be seen as a dessert and don’t worry because they’ll pick up the check, sometimes you just have to excuse yourself from the table and let it digest. Take a nap, go for a run, watch a movie, spend a night on a date. How are you making sure you stay hungry?
Keep going: Can you Stress Yourself To Death?
All along the east coast, across Massachusetts lives a bird like no other. The plover is a shore bird that builds its nest on the beach, except this bird is clever. Over the years, it has learned to find ways to protect its eggs and build its nest in unusual places–like lobster traps. And it’s perfect. The trap properly protects the eggs and allows shelter for the mother while she nests. But if a plover were to ask a lobster, “is this a good place to build a nest?” the lobster would freak out. “NO WAY! THAT THING IS CERTAIN DEATH. STAY AWAY!” But the plover doesn’t listen to the lobster, does it? Nor should you. We are birds living in a world of lobsters, asking the wrong people to look at our work and give us their opinion. The lobsters in our lives don’t believe what we do, don’t see the world in the same way and they make us scared and change our mind.
I did an entire project in 2010 around an article I read about Dunbar’s number. It’s a sociological theory that says we can only maintain about 150 relationships at once. And the people you have in your life now are different than they were a year ago, even moreso 5 or 10 years ago. And the best part about this theory is that these 150 people are unique to you. ONLY you have this particular combination of 150 people, which got me thinking… the people in our lives shape who we are much more than we thought. These 150 people are why I am unique, because they all affect me in different ways and I am a unique combination of their influence.
So think about the people you keep in your lives, who you spend time with and who ends up affecting you. Choose people that make you better. Stay with the birds and as much as you can, build your lifestyle without lobsters.
If you had the choice, would you rather be the dean of Harvard University or the personal assistant to a celebrity? You can have either. Right now. You’re still thinking about it? A recent study showed that most people turned down Harvard. Ok, fair enough, I don’t know exactly what a dean does and I have a better idea what I’d do as an assistant. But I the point is our desire for celebrity. We want the spotlight without knowing what we’d do with it. We want fame without thinking about its cost. They’re right at our fingertips, just out of reach. If we only had that one video that went viral, or that tweet that got picked up by some big named celebrity or that Instagram account everyone has to follow. So we continue to strive for celebrity without thinking about what or what we’d do if and when we ever got there.
Maybe a better option, maybe what we really want (or need) is to be known. Being known means that you matter to someone. Being known means you have a reputation and credibility. Being known comes with purpose.
Jonathan Fields, who runs Good Life Project among many other amazing and worth-your-time writing/podcasts, gave a talk yesterday about The Art of Becoming Known. Without trying to water down a 3 and a half hour talk into 3 and half paragraphs, my takeaway was that being known can be a choice and it’s work. What do you want to be known for? To whom? And why? Who already is known for what you want? How can you do it better? What is your medium and where can you find the right people and place to work to be known for what you want?
So think about your goals and write them down. Do you really want to be a celebrity? Or do you just want to be known for something great to a certain group of people?
And remember,if you’re going to be digging 10 wells, it doesn’t help to have all 10 in different stages of unfinished. If you focus on one well, you will get the water that will sustain you and allow you to keep growing to dig the rest.
You have a choice.
It’s our job to be creative for a living. It’s our job to solve problems, come up with new ideas and solutions to communicate messages that will make people see something in a new way. It’s our job to create and shape and change culture. There’s an inherent problem with this (which is great, because like I said, we’re problem solvers).
The problem is that there are two directions to go when we’re shaping culture. One way is to create something that adapts and reflects culture. Go with the flow and trends, get on board with society thinks and behaves. The other way is to go against the grain. To recognize problems with current trends and movements and create work that wakes people up to a truth or reality that shifts culture in a new way.
I’ve been thinking a lot about technology lately, specifically our phones. They’ve become this slot machine of random rewards in our pocket preventing us from having one second of non-stimulation and monotasking. They’re potentially a dangerous tool as a way that shapes culture into a world where people need constant engagement with technology, constant access, and a desperation for indirect contact with people that are busy doing other things with real people in real life. So when you’re creating an idea for an app, for an advertisement, for anything where you’re suggesting “This is how I want people to use their device and how technology should be used” you’re making a statement. You’re answering very important question, and it’s something we should be thinking about every day.
Do I like where the world is headed and want to continue to drive way people believe and behave? Or do I want to create a different world and change the way people think and act?
Will you go with the flow and use trend momentum to push the world further in the direction its headed? Or will you swim upstream and change the course of our cultural movements?
You’re in control and stronger than you think.
As you get older, your brain starts to harden. Literally. The soft tissue once flexible and spongey begins to harden. Figuratively, it also means that as we age, we become more closed minded and stuck in our ways. Learning becomes much more of an effort and has to be much more intentional. No more sponge.
It’s harder because age tends to make us more confident and sure-footed, more closed minded and more set in our ways. We’re less comfortable feeling dumb or starting over or feeling lost. It’s not part of our lives the way it’s so tied to being a kid and going to school every day and being in an environment where not only you but everyone around you is in a place designed to learn.
So how do we adapt as adults? Try putting yourself in a position to learn. Allow yourself to feel stupid, to ask questions and to be wrong. Go to meetups and classes and places designed for learning. Another way is to evaluate after something is finished to look back and learn something from it. A project, a week, a relationship, an experience. Don’t be afraid to challenge your brain, challenge the way your body is aging and keep things soft and flexible. Even hard materials can be molded, carved and sculpted. Some of the best artwork is made of marble, iron, bronze and stone. It’s not too late. Mold your brain, shape your mind. It’s good for you.
In 1996, The Sixth Sense was released to much critical and popular acclaim. A child is able to see dead people and his therapist, played by Bruce Willis, (spoiler alert) turns out to be dead at the end. This twist makes you see Bruce’s character in a new way. It takes the familiar character and makes you see him in a novel way. You play back the movie in your head, and suddenly the whole movie is seen in a new way.
Part of what makes all great work qualify for the category, is that it makes you see something in a new way. Think of all the best films, advertising, art, books, photography… think of the best technology and apps and designed experiences. They make you see something in a new way. Said differently, part of innovation is making the familiar novel, or creating some sort of familiarity in the novelty of new. Let’s talk through some new and classic examples.
The recent success of documentaries such as Food Inc or Fed Up are making us see food consumption and production in a different way. A great photograph can show you a relationship in a new way, or a situation across the world in a familiar way with a novel twist. I find recent developments in technology, from Oculus/VR to SnapChat, are all trying to make something incredibly novel and different, based on an insight about something familiar. VR is obviously trying to take the experience of being somewhere, a fundamental concept, and make it feel new. SnapChat takes the way we have conversations in life and mimics the experience in a new way: fleeting moments of who we are, shared with friends. The best ones you want to write down or remember in some way. Not ever-documentable.
Innovations that are entirely novel don’t do well. They’re too foreign. And technology that is the same as another experience isn’t innovation at all. It’s when a piece of work shows me something in a new way, turns the familiar into novelty or makes something novel parallel to something familiar, that the work is truly great. Not always, but with some great work, we learn something new, see something in a new way… and suddenly our world changes. All because of a film, an app, an experience. Let’s go make that kind of work.