People Over Things

I’m going to link this blog post from Vitaliy Katsenelson. The gist is ‘what would you do if you knew you had 6 months to live’. He shares some great insights – ones I hope to act on even today with my kids.

In the post he cites the story below, which is what I really want to share even if you don’t click over to Mr. Katsenelson’s blog. It’s the first-person story of Randy Pausch, a 46-year-old (same age as me) professor who has only six months to live – he has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Here is an excerpt:

Once, about a dozen years ago, when Chris was seven years old and Laura was nine, I picked them up in my brand-new Volkswagen Cabrio convertible. “Be careful in Uncle Randy’s new car,” my sister told them. “Wipe your feet before you get in it. Don’t mess anything up. Don’t get it dirty.” I listened to her, and thought, as only a bachelor uncle can: “That’s just the sort of admonition that sets kids up for failure. Of course they’d eventually get my car dirty. Kids can’t help it.” So I made things easy. While my sister was outlining the rules, I slowly and deliberately opened a can of soda, turned it over, and poured it on the cloth seats in the back of the convertible. My message: People are more important than things. A car, even a pristine gem like my new convertible, was just a thing.

I’ve been thinking recently how easy it is to be selfish and material, especially in America. I’m watching out for my own well-being, helping my kids through school and hopefully to college and off on the right foot in life, planning for my retirement, outlining travel trips I want. I contrast this with friends who are constantly reaching out to me and others, checking in, asking to make plans, willing to set aside their own needs, actively seeking ways to bring comfort to others. They embody the social support that makes us feel connected and loved.

Then there’s the video made by my daughter’s middle-school teachers, each self-isolating at home, and one of them edited a series of 30-second clips of each teacher recording themselves saying hello to their students. So evident how much these people love their kids! They exemplify prioritizing people over things.

So, too, do the brave health care workers who are out on the front lines taking care of sick patients, like my friend Brian who is a hospital physician in Philadelphia. People are more important even than personal safety.

Today’s daily blog post from Seth Godin challenges us to consider what our principles really are. “What makes it a principle is that we do it now, even though (especially though) it’s hard.” If my principles value people over things, what am I going to do today, even if it’s hard even in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, to live that?

Taking Action

I used to think, if I wanted to start something new, that I need a “big idea” to make it worthwhile and increase the chances that it will be successful. Most of us will not conceive a lottery-winning “big idea”. And even if we did, there’s really no increased chance of success just because of that. The idea still needs to be implemented and that could mean talking to people, getting funding, building skills, i.e. doing stuff.

It seems that taking action is the difference, even with small ideas. Everyone can come up with many small ideas. I may not be clear what the total future potential of the idea is, but I can take action on it now, see where it goes, and then evolve. Success is a process.

Will It Matter

Wintery weather this week and I fired up the wood stove in the family room. I remember when that stove first got installed many years ago, I think there was some issue with the product being back-ordered, and then maybe the installation crew wasn’t available or they were missing some parts, then I think there were delays with the inspection. The waiting was so frustrating, and I walked around feeling surly and snappish. Now I can’t even remember what the fuss was about! What a waste of energy that was.

Now when dealing with a frustrating situation I try to recall that perspective: “Will it matter a year from now if this happens today or tomorrow or next week?” If it won’t matter (and most of the time it doesn’t), then relax. Spend that valuable energy on things that matter.

I find the same is true with when dealing with a decisions: “Will this matter a year from now?” If the answer is no (which tends to be most of the time), make the best decision I can and move on. If the answer is yes, then it makes sense to invest more time and resources and then make my best decision.

Closed Eyes, Open Eyes

I close my eyes. I think about everything that’s most important to me: family, friends, home, career, music, etc. Then I imagine that it’s all taken away. How does that make me feel? I quickly realize that what I already have is so much more important than what I don’t have. I realize how fortunate, successful, and happy I already am. Then I open my eyes. My life might not be what I consider “perfect”, but it’s already pretty great.

What I Value Most

It’s been a long process to get clarity on these 5 aspects of being alive which I value most. I think I’ve been working toward this for my entire adult life, and it was finally during the 2019 holiday season that most of this finally fell out in my morning journaling. I suspect many people do this naturally and subconsciously, and I envy them. For me the conscious act of writing it out has been empowering. I find myself using these as filters to make decisions about what I want to do with this one wild and precious life. Activities I plan or events I attend, how to spend my free time and vacation time, career decisions, who I spend my time with – all of these are better informed through the lens of these filters.

What I Value Most (my definitions)

Community – Bringing people together. Usually working together on something.
Freedom – Uninhibited flow: personally, professionally, financially, emotionally, physically.
Adventure – Avoiding routine. Making each day feel longer because my brain is constantly stimulated in different ways. This is a way to slow down time; to extend life by staying awake and turned on.
Mindfulness – Self-awareness of who I am, what made me this way, what choices I am in control of, and how to let go of the things I can’t control.
Love – Heart glowing. Romance. Children, friends, family. Sacrificing my needs for someone else’s. Offering support for another’s hardships. Being tamed and taming another.

What if I organized my life in a way that everything I do filters up to at least one of these passions? What would THAT feel like?
Even back off from that a little – what if 90% of my life was spent doing things that align with these passions? Wouldn’t that be an incredible way to live?

That’s my next step of this journey. Getting to 90%. Some actions I’m taking in 2020:
– Resigned from the Transportation Advisory Board. This is meaningful work that is valuable to the community and is often very satisfying. But it doesn’t align with my definition of COMMUNITY, so I am leaving this post in February.
– I love riding my eBike to work. Yes it’s good for my health, and for the environment, and for my pocketbook. But the real motivator is FREEDOM and ADVENTURE.
– Networking into the local running group at the office and organizing a running relay team in 2020. Inviting friends and musicians to play music every Wednesday. This is how I can help build COMMUNITY.
– Reading, watching TED talks, attending seminars, and meditating are all part of my internal process toward MINDFULNESS.
– Regarding LOVE, well I’m checking in with my kids and with my girlfriend on this one. 🙂

I feel clear and energized and can’t wait to see where this goes in 2020.

As point of reference I’m recording these mental notes of tools that helped me get clear:
– ‘My Passions’ Cards
– Advice from a speaker I once heard: “Where do you spend your money? What do you make time for even when there is no time?”
– This blog post about reverse-engineering your life style (Know how you want to live, and then fit a career around that vision.)

It’s Temporary

I’ve heard about not being attached to outcomes. But how about this sensible statement I came across last week: It doesn’t make sense to get upset or frustrated or angry if the current situation doesn’t match what I expected, because it’s going to change anyway.

The delta between what is really happening and what I expected would happen, or what I hoped would happen, or what I believe could or should be happening, can be small or large. If the delta is small, then I’m happy or content – things are going the way I want. But if it’s large, I find myself imagining how much BETTER this could be if only things were going differently. I know, I know! This robs me of actually experiencing what is here and now, but it’s so hard to let go (that has been my experience).

But what if it’s all going to change anyway? Doesn’t matter if it’s going the way I wanted, or if it’s not. This circumstance is temporary and it’s going to shift. Just wait a little while and stuff will be different.

With that perspective I’m finding it easier to be content with what is. Doesn’t mean I don’t make decisions to move this direction or that, following a path that I think fuels my passions or serves my mission. But it does mean that right now, tonight, even though my kids are out with their friends and my plans fell through so I’m alone for the evening, I don’t need to feel frustrated or lonely. It’s just the circumstance right now. It’s temporary and it’s going to change.

Overthinking

Been pondering the role perception plays on my life. Problems rarely turn out to be as big as I think they are. Or said differently, problems turn out to be exactly as big as I think they are.

So often my brain takes a circumstance – like a problem at work – and starts to turn it over and over, looking at it every different way, drawing from past experience and trying to draw conclusions. Attempting to anticipate how every other person will react if I choose to take one action or another.

Overthinking.

Perceptions are the problem. Perceptions are this layer of interpretation, created by my brain, based on the collective experiences of my life, and put forth as “information”. They may be helpful or they may not, but the insight here is they are not real. Perceptions are not part of the current problem or situation. So they must be taken with a grain of salt. Depending on the situation and my personal experiences, maybe a VERY BIG grain of salt — to the point that maybe those perceptions/thoughts are not really helpful at all. Realize these thoughts created by my conditioned mind could actually be getting in the way; they could be making the situation seem bigger or worse than it actually is. And this is happening exactly at the moment when it would be far better to focus on what is immediately in front of me.

Much better to:
1) Recognize those thoughts for what they are – just a product of my mind which has been conditioned by the particular experiences of my life.
2) Realize my thoughts might be wreaking havoc making this problem seem bigger than it is.
3) Understand that I have the power to choose to let those thoughts go.

The 5-Hour Rule

This article, called the 5-Hour Rule, makes a fascinating assertion: that the world is shifting so fast and physical products and services are being demonetized so rapidly that the best investment to make today – in fact the currency of tomorrow – is knowledge. Our ability to learn will be what differentiates the most successful people from the less successful ones. People who identify skills needed for future jobs and quickly learn them are poised to win.
“We need to stop thinking that we only acquire knowledge from 5 to 22 years old, and that then we can get a job and mentally coast through the rest of our lives if we work hard. To survive and thrive in this new era, we must constantly learn.”
This is worth the read.

The Gift of Acabar

The Gift of Acabar is a book by Og Mandino published in 1978. It’s a very short book, only 114 pages and a fast read.  Yesterday I re-read it on the plane. Here are my notes and takeaways.


Every human has one very special power: the power of choice.
Although there have been millions of people, through the centuries, who have used their power wisely, the majority choose to spend so much of their precious allotment of life feeling sorry for themselves.
We all fall victim to this mindset, but it does not serve us. If you wish to change, you must choose to do the work to change. Change comes from within.
Along with the power of choice there is another very special gift: the spark of life. With this gift comes an opportunity – another choice – to apply your own special talents, whatever they may be, to leave this world a better place than you found it. This is the true meaning of life. Billions of humans have failed in this and wasted their lives. And this is our choice that we make on a daily basis – to fulfill our destiny or waste our lives. The only thing we have to do to fulfill our destiny is use the talent the universe gave us to make this a better world.
That’s it. Simple. Use the gifts you have to bring more light into the world. It doesn’t have to be a big light, you don’t have to be famous or wealthy or a genius. All that is asked is that you use whatever gifts you have to the best of your ability. If your skill is with a hammer, build! If you have a knack with a hoe, plant! If you are happy on the water, fish! If a pen does your bidding, write!
Adversity is not a curse – it is a blessing. To struggle is the only certain way for anyone to achieve their full potential. The brightest stars are those who have been tested in the fires of tribulation.
We live in a world that is filled with people making excuses for their failure because it is always easier to quit than to keep trying. Do not walk that path of despair.
Instead, choose to fulfill your destiny: use your gifts persistently, never stop trying, keep pushing forward whatever the adversity, and work to make the world a better place.


This reading sparked a follow-up thought in me:
When I see people – especially kids – plugged into their phones and screens, I am saddened because they are not fulfilling their true potential, they are not making the world a better place; instead they are wasting their lives; wasting their spark. I am not immune to this, I do the same thing to unplug and unwind and sometimes I fall into the trap and lose my way. When we can’t think of anything else to do, when we lose track of our purpose, then we have squandered our greatest gift – the spark of life.

Last Post For A While

This will be my last post for a while. This blog has always been an experiment for me – what does it do to my brain to capture a new idea every single day? Can I say one thing every day I’m willing to stand behind? I wanted to find out the effect that could have.

My original thought was to continue this until October, for one year. However, through this experience I’ve realized the mental bandwidth used Continue reading “Last Post For A While”