Rethinking Life

After a long flight, travelers gather around the baggage claim area to pick-up their luggage — a piece of who they are.

– Often, some travelers pick-up the wrong suitcase because its just like everyone else’s.

– Similarly, there are the travelers who pick-up the nicer piece of luggage wishing it was theirs.

– There are the impatient travelers anxiously waiting for their suitcases, fidgeting, pacing, huffing and raising their tone.

– There’s always a suitcase that bursts open, spewing out all the personal contents for everyone to see.

– Then, when all the travelers are gone there inevitably always is the lone suitcase that remains unclaimed.

You might have guessed it. The luggage claim is a metaphor. We’re all travelers and the suitcase is our life, a piece of who we are and what we stand for. We all look to claim luggage.

Some of us look to have the exact same life as those around, others, embarrassed by their raggedy belongings pretend to have something better. Some of us are frustrated, waiting for life to come to us and sometimes life blows up in our face, revealing more than we would like.

I think the most tragic are those who have left what’s theirs behind.

It doesn’t have to be the prettiest or the strongest or the most expensive. It can be flawed, broken or torn, but its yours. Sure you can work on it and improve it. But the first step is claiming it.

It’s yours, own it.

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Everyday we make different choices: should I wear the brown or the purple socks? Should I go right or left? Should I take the 8:16 train instead of the 8:01 train or better yet should I play hooky just call in sick? Should I quit my job? Should I get the oil changed? Should I, should I, should I… You could say that life is a series of choices.

We make choices based on different factors — upbringing, experience, education, values, faith, beliefs, assumptions. Some people even say that we repeat the same patterns and choices generation after generation until someone breaks the cycle.

The thing you need to understand about choices is that they’re extremely selfish. Once you’ve made it, whatever the reason was, you and you alone have to live up to it.

You walk alone. Once you’ve decided on a path don’t expect others to follow. We have our own choices to make, our own lives to live.

Granted, your choices can impact others, but you and you alone has the responsibility to live up to them. And the truth is most people won’t care. A few will hate them and tear you down, others will love them and put you on a pedestal, but most just won’t care.

That’s all scary, but liberating as well. It’s liberating because, if no one cares about your choice, then you are free to go ahead and take control. Take a risk, do what’s important to you. You have the entire responsibility to make choices that will make you happy.

Sure, there will be tough times, but guaranteed the toughest thing is choosing based on what you think others want. If you’re going to walk alone, it might as well be down the path you choose.

As for me, this morning I took the 8:16 train instead of the 8:01. I’m a rebel what can I say.

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It’s tempting to get offended when someone speaks or acts against something you hold dearly — a project you care about, a deeply held belief, your experience, your ideas. It’s easy to get angry, get frustrated, become dismissive and close yourself off.

The thing about taking offense is this:

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

Sure your ego is hurt, but maybe you tied too much of your self-worth to that idea or project. And maybe anger and frustration has worked for some, but I believe that the best response, is to open yourself up. Build on your idea, improve your project, expand your beliefs.

It’s not easy. It requires you to be strong and vulnerable, but in the long run I think the most difficult thing is to let yourself be closed off.

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A few days ago I came across this definition of an artist:

As artists, our job is to help people see things that perhaps we don’t see on the surface.
— Louie Schwartzberg

Artists are the ones dedicated enough to look below the surface, the ones that work to understand the mechanics and relate it to the rest of the world. The artist is the one who shows the rest of her team the possibilities the new work process can offer, the artist is the one who helps her classmate understand the math problem in another way.

Artists are not only painters, sculptors, poets and photographers like Louie. No, they’re all around, in your office, in your classroom, at the small store down the street, in the nonprofit you support.

Everyone is an artist, you just need to find your canvas. We need you to create your art.

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A few days ago I came across this definition of an artist:

As artists, our job is to help people see things that perhaps we don’t see on the surface.
— Louie Schwartzberg

Artists are the ones dedicated enough to look below the surface, the ones that work to understand the mechanics and relate it to the rest of the world. The artist is the one who shows the rest of her team the possibilities the new work process can offer, the artist is the one who helps her classmate understand the math problem in another way.

Artists are not only painters, sculptors, poets and photographers like Louie. No, they’re all around, in your office, in your classroom, at the small store down the street, in the nonprofit you support.

Everyone is an artist, you just need to find your canvas. We need you to create your art.

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It’s easy to blame them for your failure. It’s tempting to say the voters didn’t get your platform when you lose the election, or the customers didn’t get your product when you go out of business or the students don’t get the material when the class fails the midterm, or the boss didn’t get your talent when you get let go…

The answer of course always lies with you — you weren’t clear, you overestimated your capabilities, you misunderstood their needs or reality.

The choice you have then is this: do you put yourself out there, accept your shortcomings, learn from your mistakes and become better or do you run for shelter, place blame on others and walk down the same road next time.

It’s awful tasting medicine, but it’s what the patient needs.

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It’s frightening to put out a project, a story, a design, a song, an idea out there in the universe. It seems dangerous to present something new, something different, something no one has seen before. It’s terrifying to run your own race, listen you your intuition, listen to your calling.

It’s terrifying because it hasn’t been done before. If it’s your race, there is no map, no one has set down that road before, no Sherpa to guide you. There are obstacles to overcome, wrong turns to correct. You’ll stand alone. Sure some will support you, but most will ridicule you.

We get quite good at finding reasons not to head down that path. Stay safe. We strive for perfection, knowing that a perfect project doesn’t exist. We poke fun at those who do head down their path, it makes us feel better about not doing it ourselves. And maybe above all we wait for permission. We wait for our boss, our wife, our teacher, our mentor, our hero to acknowledge us and tell us we can do it.

We say “I can’t do it, I don’t have the title,” “I don’t have the salary,” “these decisions come from up top,” “it’s not in my job description,” “he hasn’t said I could do it.” All excuses. Ways to stay safe. Of course some positions make it easier to do certain things. That’s not the point.

The point is this. There’s only one person in charge of heading down your path. It’s scary. I know; it’s something I struggle with. I wish there was an easier way but there is good news. The only thing you really have to do is start. One step today, another tomorrow. There will be setbacks and that’s OK. No one will know, you’re drawing the map. You deserve it.

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It’s tempting to aspire to be the lonesome cowboy; the hero who stands alone in the face of adversity and puts him needs aside for the greater good. We glamorize individual achievements as though success is deep rooted in that person’s DNA.

Of course aspiring to be the hero, the one who scores the game-winning goal is a cop out. For each hero, there are hundreds of people that have helped along the way without who no success would have happened. I say it’s a cop out because he doesn’t exist. Like perfection, it’s an excuse to not go for it.

I think it’s easy to say “I’m not strong enough,” “I don’t have the skills” or “I don’t have the guts” and give up. Of course you don’t. No one does. True, some have more gusto than others, but know that there’s always someone willing to make you stronger, teach you and support you.

True courage is to have a goal, yes; but also to set out to find the lifters and thrusters that will propel you.

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My weekday routine usually looks like this:

  1. Wake up around 6 or 6:15;
  2. Quick high intensity workout;
  3. Breakfast;
  4. Read various articles and blog posts while having coffee;
  5. Get ready for work;
  6. Listen to Podcasts as I walk to the train;
  7. Write a short post on the train;
  8. Work all day;
  9. Read a book on the train ride back;
  10. Listen to Podcasts on the walk back home from the train.

I’m a big fan of routines. They’ve allowed me to read more, write more and be more creative. Routines reduce the amount of energy spent on menial tasks in favour of what matters. They’re almost meditative and encourage the discipline you need to get through the day.

Of course they aren’t for everyone and they won’t turn you into a superhero. In the end, how you tackle the important work is up to you.

As long as it gets done.

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Early on we’re taught to run sprints — the next exam, the next presentation, the next project and now the next tweet and the next post. The thing is, what truly matters tends to be marathons. Relationships, careers, businesses, children; longterm adventures.

Yet most of us are stuck treating our careers, our business, our children as a series of sprints.

Once in a while though someone takes a look back and realizes that all those classes, all those exams, all those projects are just stepping stones to something bigger. Not individual end goals, but simple stepping stones.

That’s what makes all the difference.

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