Rethinking Life

A blank page, a roadblock, a delay…

Why do we get stuck?

  • Because we’re afraid. Afraid that what we do won’t work. Afraid that it will be subpar. Scared of being embarrassed. 
  • Because we’re elsewhere. We’re supposed to write, but we’re thinking about our finances. We should be writing the report, but we’re thinking about vacations.

Being asked to jump the high jump is intimidating if you’ve never jumped it before. It’s even more intimidating if you used to train but stopped. So we procrastinate, delay and stall.

The remedy then is to train – continuously work on improving. Training makes us more comfortable with failure and allows us to push through.

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When the waves pick up and your boat suddenly starts rocking back and forth, you immediately notice to motion. Soon, though, if the movement persists long enough, it becomes the new standard. You tolerate the discomfort and learn to go through the motions.

The longer you go through them, the more complacent and oblivious to the situation you become. This isn’t resilience. This is submission.

Why is it that sooner or later we end up going through them, no longer aware of each step, each turn, each detail?

At which point do we go from paying attention to the details, to merely day dreaming through them?

Maybe the answer is less important than the solution. Maybe it’s more important to take note of early and subtle shifts that takes place when you submit: a skipped beat, a justification, a dismissal.

All signs that complacency is setting in.

From there, I think it becomes easier to start noticing the motion again.

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I enjoy managing my own investments. I’ve had some decent over the past year which is when I first started. I’ve performed better than a few benchmarks, but I’m no Ray Dalio.

Investing is unrelated to the core of what I do. I have 15+ years experience in digital marketing. Yet I enjoy it enough to put in some effort.

For all the time I spend improving my digital marketing skills, this is a welcome break.

Branches are important. I think single focus wears you out in the end. That doesn’t mean the goal is to be scattered. The ultimate aim is still to do great work. Finding branches helps you do that.

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Preoccupied seems to be the general state of mind these days (in the West anyway).

  • Why are my kid’s grades slipping?
  • Why can’t I get ahead?
  • I need more money.
  • I just can’t get to work on time.
  • I think I’m getting fired today.
  • Why did I say that at lunch today!?!
  • That was a stupid mistake! I’ll get reprimanded for sure.
  • I can’t do a project like that.
  • Will my kid drop out?
  • I’ll never get out of debt…
  • And the list goes on indefinitely.

The thing about being preoccupied is, as the word indicates, whatever you’re thinking about hasn’t occupied you yet. You’re imagining the worst case which means it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy: The more we worry and ignore what really is, the stronger the preoccupation gets and eventually becomes and all-consuming occupation.

The first thing to do really is to call out the pre-occupier. When you call out your debt, your child’s slipping grades, your mistake, you start to realize that it’s simply a situation you can remedy.

The second step is to take action. What concrete steps will get you out of debt? What can you do to help your child? How can you make sure this mistake never happens again?

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To name it is to clip its wings. An unnamed frustration, a block, a disturbance has the power to infiltrate any project and make it derail. It can change to course of a relationship. It can wreck a lifetime of work.

But if you name it, it withers and dies. If you state your frustration out loud, write about your block, talk about your disturbance, then you can identify it for what it is: a fact of life. No life is smooth and easy. There’s always trauma, there’s always a wall, there’s always a discomfort. They’re part of life just like breathing, sleeping and eating.

When you remain silent, however, then they become more than that. They take on a life of their own and become part of you instead of remaining a fact. Calling them out, puts them in their place and liberates you and allows you to become their parent, the mentor, the boss, the employee you need to be and do work that matters.

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It’s easy to be unhappy: to complain, be negative, feel self-pity. So easy in fact, it can creep in without warning. It can seep in, unnoticed like a leaky pipe can damage a house drip by drip.

I don’t know if there’s any way to prevent it, but seeking to mitigate unhappiness is a good place to start. You begin by working on discovering the drip before the damage is too vast.

The good news is that while happiness is much harder to attain, we need to remember that the only things that are ever worth doing are difficult to start and to maintain.

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On January 1st, I decided to start journaling. I missed a few days here and there but I write most nights.

Going over the first three months worth of entries, I noticed just how lucky I was. I have an incredible life. To paraphrase Gary Vaynerchuk, you might be able to equal me on happiness, but you can’t be happier than me.

I would recommend journaling to everyone. It’s an amazing way to deal with stress and sleep better by helping you take note of how trivial and made up life’s challenges are and learn to be grateful for what you have.

It takes me 5 minutes a day on average. By far one of the best investments in myself.

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The problem with taking offense is that it’s really hard to figure out what to do with it after you’re done using it.

Better to just leave it on the table and walk away. Umbrage untaken quietly disappears.

— Seth Godin, Taking Umbrage

I can’t think of a time when losing my temper helped out in the long run. More often than not, you get upset or take umbrage, not because of the situation or person you’re taking offence to. It’s because you’re angry at yourself – a perceived ineptness, shortcoming or deficiency.

That’s why, eventually, when you’re done taking offence, all you’re left with is your insecurity and whatever collateral damage was caused.

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There’s a difference between living in the moment and holding on to it. By definition, the present is fleeting. Living in the moment means accepting that.

When we breathe a sigh of relief when Lee Se-dol finally beats Google’s DeepMind AI at Go (even if just for a little while) or when Google’s autonomous car had its first fender bender, we’re holding on. “Ok, we’re still driving our cars. Life as I know it is unchanged.”

Of course, that type of thinking is futile. Burying your head in the sand will not prevent cars from driving themselves or computers to get better at replacing us. What it all means isn’t always clear, but what’s certain is that tomorrow will not look like today.

More fruitful I think is to accept and make the most of it. Your car will drive itself; complex human tasks will get replaced.

No matter how big or small, accept it. Move past it. Build on it.

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Sometimes small is everything. You want your processors to be smaller and smaller to power your iPhone longer and better. The details matter because that’s where the devil is. You want to focus on small incremental steps to change a behavior because Little Bets work better.

But other times small doesn’t cut it. When you’re setting out to change your customer. Bold moves are required. When you’re going to challenge the status quo, we need to notice. When you’ve decided to step into the arena and they come at you with all they got, standing tall is the only response.

Being small is a way to hide, a way to give in to the lizard brain. Sure small feels safe. “Maybe they’ll overlook me if they can’t see me.” Or “if I don’t look threatening they won’t bother.”

But this is precisely when small won’t work.

Sure we need to be humble. And sometimes we need to “speak softly and carry a big stick” as Teddy Roosevelt would say. I’m not saying we need to boast and cry wolf. But when you’ve made the choice to no longer be a cog, to step out from shadows and be different, you’ve made the choice to take hits and consequently you’ve made the choice that small won’t work.

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