As I raced along the side of the road, I heard the rumbling of the massive engine behind me. Little did I realize that I was moments away from receiving an open, bleeding wound.
I tried look inconspicuous. As though I weren’t in any hurry at all.
But in truth, I was 100% focused on beating that machine.
Specifically, the school bus.
Every weekday afternoon during my first two years of high school, my routine was the same. The bus dropped a few of us off at the three-way intersection at the end of Meadow Road.
Then, as we walked our separate ways, the bus began the cautious routine of backing up… lurching forward… and turning around to speed off, from whence it came.
Meanwhile, my house stood 100 yards away. My feet weren’t as swift as a vehicle on wheels. But I had the head-start. I considered it a race. With an unspoken rule: I couldn’t actually look like I was racing. No, I had to appear aloof and above it all. “Oh, did I beat the bus to my house? Funny how it just happens like that…”
So, that afternoon, I power-walked along the road, monitoring the rumbling behind me. I knew that, as soon as the engine’s shrill picked up to a fever pitch, I’d lost. The bus would blast straight past me, and charge up the hill to victory.
But that day, it sounded farther behind than usual.
I scampered onto my driveway, and then up my steps.
The shrilling began reverberating behind me. Too late for me to win? No, not if I hurried.
Up four more steps. I grabbed the screen door handle, flung it ope…
As I realized I yanked the metal edge of the door straight into the right side of my forehead, the bus roared behind me. I pretended it was business as usual… figuring that at a distance, nobody would realize what I’d done.
But I knew, so I rushed inside, and into the bathroom, to survey the damage.
The pooling blood, and dangling skin, confirmed I’d given myself a minor scalp injury.
So, the wound didn’t come from the bus…
… but my own stupidity, curtesy the misuse of a screen door.
After a brief reminder of the human body’s fragility – and washing myself off – I applied a band-aid. The next morning, even though I didn’t need it, I put on another band-aid. I figured that’d look better than a weird head scab. I don’t remember anyone asking me about it.
About 15 years later, there’s still a subtle scar.
This afternoon, when I looked in the mirror at the Denver International Airport, just before a flight to San Jose, I was reminded of its existence. Not my first head scar either. The earliest – and far more noticeable – is directly over my Third Eye. Story for another time.
Until then, here are a few lessons I got reminded of, while looking into that mirror.
Nothing bad happens to a creator. Every little – or not so little – ding and dent help shapes your ability to create something worthwhile. It makes you less inert, so you can become the catalyst you were meant to be. This is the more real-world version of Nietzsche’s quote “That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.”
Many times, when I read that quote, I remember a certain episode of The Simpsons. Homer, after suffering a heart attack, asks Dr. Hibbert, “Yeah but what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger, right?”
“Oh no quite the opposite! It’s made you weak as a kitten,” Dr. Hibbert replies.
Homer’s doctor might be right about your health. But what doesn’t kill you, can make you a better creator.
I was so desperate to beat that bus, I hit myself in the head with the door I was trying to yank out of my head’s way.
This example makes it easy to see how stupid it is to scramble.
When the scrambling is subtler, catching yourself in the act is trickier. Like if you’re desperate to get a job, and inadvertently repel employers. Or you scramble to find the right team member, and you drive away an A-player from ever working with you.
In those situations, you lose the benefit of the immediate whack to the head, so you never realize you were yanking too hard, and not paying attention.
You were using force instead of being empowered.
This is where the skill of discernment comes in. You must move your observation through time and space, to unearth the cause and effect you’re missing. Just writing this, reminds me of how difficult this is. Especially if you’re trying to resolve something causing you pain. Yet this is one of the most valuable skills on this earthly plane.
(Just now, as I paused from writing mid-flight – the captain announced to fasten our seatbelts. We shot into the worst turbulence I’ve felt in many dozens of flights. My stomach flip-flopped as if barreling through a roller-coaster ride. I wondered if the pilot were hiding the truth – that something was very wrong, and we’d plummet to the earth soon. I considered my options, remembering that being centered counts more in a crisis. Could I stay rational? Yes. At least, so far. Chances are, what you’re reading is not a posthumous publication, from a recovered Microsoft Surface Pro from the crash site – so we came out fine.)
Hitting my head caused barely any pain. But the evidence remains, years later.
Some agonizing events – like 2nd degree burns on my hand and foot – are now invisible to the naked eye.
Same with your psychology. Sometimes, it wasn’t the devastating humiliation, or the attack, or the betrayal, that changed your wiring. Instead, it was a symptom. The real trigger was a mere snowflake, that caused the avalanche.
So who cares? Perhaps because this can help shift your mindset from “I’m working to resolve this big, horrible thing” to “I’m re-writing a tape in my head, which is a challenge but I’m certainly up to the task.”
“I get up every morning around 7AM…”
San Diego. March 2016. I think.
I was standing with a group of mimosa-sipping business owners, when someone asked about my writing schedule.
“First I shower. Then I meditate. Then I sit down to write.”
I described my process, and how I feel at a visceral level when I need to take a break from writing.
After that, I continued: “Then, I get up… walk over to my modem… plug it in… and start my day.”
“Wait, what?” one of them asked. “Your modem is unplugged?”
“Oh yeah!” I answered. I didn’t realize that was so weird. “Every night, before I go to bed, I unplug my modem. And my phone is already on Airplane Mode. Heck it’s pretty much always on Airplane Mode. I’m unreachable unless someone knocks on my door. And I usually don’t answer.
“That way, I can’t even check my phone or get on the internet when I first wake up. I just write. And I assume my day is pretty much going to go to hell as soon as I plug in that modem. Because sometimes it does.”
Lately, I’ve been experimenting with a similar afternoon session. I’ll march over to my modem and rip the plug out of the wall. Then I’ll plop down in front of my laptop, and begin Round 2. Or 3 or 4 or whatever. I’m thinking of doing a more formal nighttime session like this, after my evening meditations and right before I go to bed.
This is augmented discipline.
All the blips and bloops your computer emits, as well as your phone’s screeching, are designed to distract you.
They want to pull you off your task and check on them instead. Otherwise, the apps behind the blurps would get less attention, fewer uses, and couldn’t command advertising rates as high. They certainly don’t want you prolific or fulfilled. It’s not relevant to their interests.
You can fight their influence with your willpower. And you have to, to avoid your apps entirely. But you can augment this discipline by making it a tiny bit harder to access them. Sort of like keeping ice cream, chips, and soda out of your kitchen. If you have to drive to the store to get it – or order it – then it’s harder to mindlessly nosh on it.
If your schedule doesn’t allow a morning marathon session of unplugged work, then schedule one later in the day. At the appointed time, rip your modem power cord from its socket. Turn off your phone. Then, you can’t check distracting apps, even if you wanted to.
Start practicing this, and you’ll experience something fascinating:
Your productivity is no longer linear. Your relatively short blocks (aim for half-hour blocks if you’re new to this, and increase) of work will launch you lightyears beyond people doing the same work on a distracted schedule.
Test it and see how augmented discipline works for you. You’ll begin producing so much, you might feel guilty about finishing so much by early afternoon.
One spring morning in 2010, I woke up, ambled over to my computer, and discovered my partners cheated me out of a business.
I didn’t find out by receiving a long email. Or even an angry phone call.
Instead, it was because I checked on something that seemed slightly amiss. The day before, one of my business partners had neglected to send me an article. We had a routine. Every weekday, one partner wrote an article. The second partner edited and approved it. The third – me – sent it to our list of subscribers.
Had he forgotten?
Maybe I missed something?
First, I decided to log into our email-broadcasting software, to see if anything had been sent out, at all.
I typed in my username, password, clicked…
… and it said my login information was incorrect.
Not a rare occurrence. My fingers frequently fumble. So I tried again.
“We’re sorry, but the username and password you entered did not match our records…”
One more time. Same result.
“Wait a minute…” I thought to myself.
I typed in the URL for our shopping cart software system. Then, I tried logging in there.
For the past few weeks, one of my business partners and I were getting more pissed at each other. A couple days earlier, he tried to schedule a phone call. I was getting sick of holding meetings about meetings, so I wrote I wasn’t interested.
“Interesting,” was his reply.
I didn’t think much of it. Later that evening, during a seated meditation, I briefly saw him, facing me. He sort of puked my way. And it was gone. I didn’t think much of that, either. But I wondered…
… and that morning, I figured things out.
He changed all the passwords.
And he already controlled the bank account and merchant account. He’d drawn up the corporate papers.
I considered my options for about 2 seconds. And I decided to start over, and go on with my life in a separate direction. After one half-hearted attempt to patch things up – that’s what I did. My two former-partners kept all my advertising copy, the sales structures I designed, customer base, business assets, and ongoing revenue. I never visited the website again. I have no idea what happened to either of them. My best guess – aided by brief asides from mutual acquaintances – is that the business bobbed up and down like something strewn into a river, before gently sinking into nothing.
Many people write and talk about “firing negative people from your life.”
I’ve said many things to that effect.
That’s wrong, in a subtle way.
If you’re stuck with an asshole in your life, there’s a reason.
You’re either an asshole too, or a victim. Or both.
It’s true that you should fire assholes from your life.
But, chances are, you won’t. Or, if you do, you’ll get a replacement for the open position, in record time.
Here’s how I know this:
I was a terrified, ego-driven, asshole. So guess what I attracted? An odd soup of predators, idiots, victims, and a whole slew of people who, let’s say, “lacked conscious awareness” to a similar degree as me. It was tricky to see at first, because everyone was so different. But there was a subtle regression to the mean, in terms of everyone’s collective development.
Unless someone bounced away from me, they were just as fucked up as me – in their own unique way. For the vast majority of the human population, this is the social dynamic. At least, after puberty. From then on, most people stake their psychological claim, and attract their peers. It may not be smooth sailing from there, but it’s choppiness within the same ocean.
But I was initiating internal changes. And stepping into different waters, to continue the metaphor.
Several months before this business break-up, I began practicing an intense form of meditation.
I’ll tell the story another time, but here’s the short version: It almost wiped away my crippling, suicidal depression, and began waking me up in ways I’d never predicted or even considered.
Little did I realize, my life would pluck apart and rearrange itself.
First, a random event forced me out of the condo I’d been living in, for almost four years. Weeks later, the same thing happened with my business with two partners. Then, a few weeks after that, the same thing happened again with a business group I was a part of.
And yet… I didn’t feel like I’d tumbled into some bad patch in life. Instead, I felt more alive and awake than ever before.
Because I’d been enlivening myself and awakening myself more than ever before.
As a result, I didn’t need to fire any negative people from my life.
Instead, they fired me!
Because the resonance between us, evaporated.
This is why “firing negative people from your life” is wrong, in a subtle way. When you work on yourself, you don’t need to pay much heed to getting rid of bad influences. At the proper time, they’ll bounce off you. You might need to nudge the ball rolling. Maybe.
I’ll get to the specifics of nudging in a moment. First, here’s how to work on yourself:
There are as many ways to meditate as there are to exercise. Probably more. Sample as many different kinds as possible to find one that’s a match for your disposition, at this time and place. Sitting and observing your thoughts… standing and quieting your mind… deep breathing… guided visualization… affirmations… chanting… slow walking… tai chi… chi gung… nei gung… yoga… HIIT… push hands…
… dive in and do one. Every day.
The United States is suffering from an epidemic of “triggering.” I rarely heard that word until about a year ago. It seems similar to getting rattled, except “triggering” has a sinister edge to it. Like, “if you upset me, you’re pulling my trigger, and I’m going to shoot you.”
People who get off on getting triggered, and riding the wave of feeling simultaneously superior and mentally unchained, are beyond hope. But if you’re someone who just gets rattled too often – observe why. What throws you off? You’ll find that merely observing, begins to dissolve its power and expands your comfort zone.
If shitty people surround you, don’t fertilize them. Don’t give them a reason to poke at you, express their doubts, or sabotage you. Don’t tell anyone about good stuff you’ve got cooking.
Now onto nudging…
If you’re working on yourself and making progress, the dissonance between you and negative people will push hard on your behalf. And it can push harder than you.
If you’re at a party, and you’re trying to avoid eating chips and soda, some “friends” might goad you into breaking your willpower. They’ll tease you. They’ll throw fake concern your way. You might give in. either way, it won’t be fun.
But if you’ve been meditating and working on your psychology, and the wrong foods for you no longer lure you (a common result) then your “friends” will sense it. Maybe not even consciously. But they’ll just know you can’t be tempted anymore. They won’t even try. If they make any feeble attempt, you can just shrug your shoulders and shake your head.
That’s the nudge.
Same if you’re starting a business. Or embarking on a new career. When you’re changing internally, they’ll see it in your eyes. Chances are, you won’t know because of what they say. Instead, they’ll just stay out of your way…
… or support you, because maybe they’ve been changing internally, as well. It’d be sad if you pushed away true friends.
No need to fire those who try to hold you back. Keep working on yourself. Eventually, they’ll either shut up or fire themselves.
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.
I focused on the gaps between my footfalls – when I floated through space, and my spine lengthened and aligned. Then, when my feet landed, coiling like springs… I focused on blasting off again, from my hips.
It was around 8AM, just south of downtown Baltimore, at the Inner Harbor. I sprinted up the corner of Federal Hill. It’s a manmade hill cut like a trapezoid, overlooking the harbor and buildings.
During a nighttime thunderstorm over 156 years ago, General Benjamin F. Butler led a thousand Union troops to the hill, where they secured a fort. They dug their heels in, for the entire Civil War.
That morning, I used the unnaturally steep incline to challenge my muscles, lungs, and nervous system.
The effort triggered a gush of growth hormone through my system.
And all kinds of pleasurable brain chemicals began flooding as I did some chi gung afterwards, amidst the trees. Usually playing with one tree.
Back when I lived in downtown Baltimore, that was my Saturday ritual. Usually, I’d sip some water mixed with a pre-workout stimulant, while walking to the hill. Later I discovered it was spiked with amphetamines. No wonder I felt so amazing.
I regret not performing the ritualized workout more often. These days, instead of taking a full week to recover, I do stair sprints every 3rd day. If only I’d kept up this pace in Baltimore. I imagined how much less stressed I would have been, how much more creative, and how much healthier.
While pondering this, I decided to list out a bunch more regrets. But not one-off opportunities I didn’t take, or single mistakes I made. Or anything to do with predicting the future. Instead, I wrote only about habits. Here they are:
Already covered this one above.
I was too lazy, didn’t see the value, assumed they’d take my energy away from other projects, or feared I’d run dry on creativity.
None of this turned out to be true. Once I kicked the laziness to the curb, I discovered putting energy into writing that’s fulfilling, delivers me more creative energy. And rather than running out of things to say, I’m downloading more. Much to the chagrin of many, I’m sure.
I used to let myself sleep in, and wake up “naturally” – figuring this would give me more energy. But instead, it settled me into a subtle malaise. Now I set a wake-up time that’s just a little bit “too early” and I feel more energized.
This year, I’ve been fascinated in how tight and misaligned my hips have been for decades. And how much emotional gunk has been trapped in there.
Relaxing and aligning them (with virtually zero stretching involved) has been exquisitely slow. Like a flower blooming. Fun to witness. But I regret not starting sooner.
(Notice how these first four regrets revolve around energy, with a focus on health?)
When I lived in Colorado for the first time, I was shy and egotistical and terrified and made almost zero friends. I drank. I cried. Then I went bankrupt and crawled around the bottom for a few years.
My second time in Colorado, I met friends and friends of friends, and now maintain a MasterMind in the industry I love. Great connections, answers, vendors, and clients are an email away. I get special access and prices (sometimes this price is free – or I get a valuable service nobody else could even pay for). I have zero fear of becoming financially destitute again (unless we experience a devastating global financial catastrophe, and I’m still working on that fear). This (almost total) lack of fear isn’t derived solely from my income, or even mostly. It’s the knowledge that I have relationships with great people.
For years, I coasted by on writing that was “good enough.” I could have stayed that way. And lived on a relatively stable income. Now I see I was turning my nose up at sharpening my skill, because I feared the work and the new territory. No more.
I hated company parties. So I hated myself for hating them.
I worried about my zany thoughts, so I kept them to myself.
Nowadays, I simply avoid the stupid party – if it’s too loud to hear people speak. Otherwise, I tolerate it just fine.
And now I blurt out my thoughts. People either engage, or we both learn we’re not a match for each other.
However, my thoughts were not always blurt-able. Some still aren’t. Which is why I regret…
From someone competent. Someone great.
Because the best therapy is someone empowering their psychology to help you detox yours.
The benefits are exponential. When your brain is optimized for what you want to feel and experience, all your results come easier.
Positive-minded coaches are fantastic to help you drive ahead. But sometimes you get stuck from moving forward until you work out the psychological vines twisted around your ankles.
I’m glad I still feel a tinge of regret for everything I wrote about here. Because it reminds me to keep doing them. More. I wonder what I’m not considering now, that I’ll regret next year? Or five years from now?
How about yourself. What habits do you regret not doing a year ago? Five years ago?
What habits and rituals would you BEG your children to do?
Are you doing them now?
One early morning, while it was still dark outside, a friend of mine bolted awake in a cold sweat.
Even though he lived under a roof with his wife and five children, he felt completely alone. Because, instead of providing for them, he was leading the entire family into a death spiral of debt.
Just a few months earlier, he’d quit his secure job to start his own consulting business. His savings evaporated. He burned over $90,000 in expenses, while earning only a few grand in return.
Financially, he was steering himself right off the cliff, and taking his family with him.
Years later, we had dinner together.
He told me he chose the right path. According to my friend, the shock of losing that illusory safety net, was exactly what he needed to get his ass in gear.
I struggled to believe he was right
Hindsight is – supposedly – 20/20. It’s usually sharper than your vision in the moment, at least. And who knows what could have happened, from taking a different path?
Nevertheless, I thought my friend was nuts. Because I jumped straight into being an entrepreneur, without a full-time job as a safety net. It kicked my ass.
So is it always a bad idea to leave your career cold-turkey to start your own business? Should you moonlight instead? Or… perhaps… is breaking your handcuffs as an employee, your only hope?
Rather than declare one as “the” truth, here are five reasons to stay at your job, and five reasons to quit.
Five reasons why it’s insane to quit your job
Despite what some motivational gurus might say, putting your back to the wall in a situation of near-panic, rarely inspires genuine and healthy creativity. Especially for making money. Instead, it spurs you to take irrational risks and blinds you to opportunities.
As old acquaintance once told me over a decade ago, about business, “Things like this always take longer than you think.”
I replied, “Yeah and sometimes they happen faster!”
I was much younger then.
He shrugged and nodded…
… and he probably continued to make millions of dollars while I went bankrupt a few years later.
Things take longer than you think. They’re more expensive. This can be a problem when you have limited seed capital. Especially when you’re also using it to buy food and shelter.
When I worked for a gold-buying business five years ago, a fellow employee gave two weeks’ notice. She asked the owner if she could ever come back, if things didn’t work out at her new job. He said yes. She said something to the effect of, “Oh good so I can have you as a back-up!” He almost fired her on the spot. She meant no harm or disrespect. But any time you transition, there’s no guaranteed you can push the factory reset button.
Think you’ll be fired up to take action, because you got rid of your safety net and claimed all this free time? Ha! Don’t be surprised if you park your butt in front of your television instead. Your brain will come up with all kinds of soothing excuses for sitting on your duff.
You need a bit of relaxation…
You’re letting the creative juices stew…
You’ll work later in the day (and you never do)…
You’ve got other responsibilities, like cleaning your fridge for the third time…
You’re hiding from fear.
You’re avoiding the discomfort of doing something new.
You’re fortifying yourself well within your comfort zone.
In this case, your free time works against you. It convinces you that you can relax your pace. You’ll lose your sense of urgency. You’ll be like the hare, taking a nap as the gainfully-employed tortoise slowly catches up…
If you’re an employee at a functional company, then you’re getting paid to attend a magical business school. Every meeting, project, criticism, test result, and interaction is a chance to learn how to grow a company. And you’re getting paid to learn it all!
Same deal if you’re working at a dysfunctional company. You get to see what causes meetings, projects, criticisms, test results, and interactions to fail. Take careful mental notes (or even written notes and turn it into a book!) of what goes wrong and why.
But if you quit to start your own gig, you miss out on these lessons.
Now the flipside. Here are…
Five reasons to leave your soul-sucking job
Building a business is tough enough, without a bunch of crabs reaching out with their claws and clasping your legs, dragging you back into your shared dungeon. This is where making a clean break could be a life-saver. It’s hard for “friends” to make snide comments or lead you astray, when they can’t get ahold of you. Or, more realistically, it’s just a tad too difficult to get ahold of you, for them to overcome their laziness.
Do you have it so good that the big, scary world of entrepreneurship is just a little too foreboding for you to make the leap? Then you might have golden handcuffs syndrome! The cure may be to focus on your level of personal fulfillment, and recognize no amount of security or income can fill that bucket.
Or the cure could be just ripping off the band-aid.
If you stumble home mentally exhausted every night at 10PM, then you don’t have the momentum you need to start something new. This was why my old sign-spinning job was so perfect for me. I’d stand on my feet all day outside. Very little mental effort. Then, I’d come home and engage my brain at night.
Sometimes, having your back to the wall actually does work. More to the point, it’s the only situation that works for you. If so, start some fires and let them push you towards that wall!
Sometimes, a shitty job can inspire you to climb out of it. Other times, it strikes just the right balance of shitty-ness, easiness, and mindless routine to destroy your oomph. In this case, consider simply changing your job, rather than diving off the entrepreneurial cliff to see if you’ll fly.
And here’s a bonus #6 for both options:
Consider how valuable your networking opportunities are right now. Huh, I get a little “blech!” reaction every time I type the word “networking” but, well, shit… it’ll do. Anyway, your current job might be giving you valuable opportunities to meet potential partners. Without as much time pressure. And you’re getting paid to do it. That’s a very good reason to stay at your job.
On the other hand, maybe your job is occupying your time and mental space in an industry completely different from what you want to dive into. So it’s actually barring you from the networking (heh, I’m starting to like that word again) that’ll help you.
So which route to take? We’re back to the age-old question asked by frustrated employees yearning for more:
“Should I quit my job and jump into building a business full-time? Or build my business in my off-hours, while keeping my job?”
What’s the true answer? Because I listed reasons going both ways, I bet you can guess…
As the perpetually-chilled-out denizens of Thailand like to say, “Up to you.”
People hate that answer. Especially non-entrepreneurs (take note of that). You need to diagnose your situation and identify which choice will work best for you.
Me? After diving into the deep end – and hitting my head on the bottom – I eventually got a job… and back on my feet. Then I seamlessly transitioned to self-employment. And now I’m also building a business.
My friend? After getting beaten up enough, he figured out how to grow his consulting business. Now it runs on word-of-mouth. All his children have moved out. I think he’s a grandpa now. And he doesn’t spend even a microsecond worrying about money.
Which is right for you?
“Up to you.”
The school hallway loomed as large as an airplane hangar as I paced towards the Principal’s Office. Without the crowds of kids shuffling from class to class, or dashing out the door to busses, everything felt eerily quiet and empty. Especially to a small nine-year-old.
I was in trouble for something. Most of the time, I didn’t know what, until someone told me. Then I remembered. It was usually because of a fight.
After arriving at the main office, they directed me to wait on a bench. All too soon, I found myself called into the Principal’s Office, where I sat and stared up at him, as he read through some files about me.
He was so bald, his head shone, and he sported a big, wacky, bushy beard.
He spoke with a booming voice that was too jubilant to be God-like.
He fussed with the papers a little more. Then he turned, looked down at me, nodded his head, and boomed, “You’re a… you know… YOU’RE A GOOD KID.”
Okay, I was a good kid.
I had never consciously considered the idea, one way or the other. But in that moment, a perfect storm of psychological sparks came together. I was visiting one of the most authoritative figures in my existence. I was scared, but my guard was down because I deferred to him.
And he declared something about me with complete conviction.
His words didn’t just seep into my consciousness.
They zipped inside like light beams shooting through the universe.
Invisible until they hit something.
Sure, I had my problems for years after that. Awful ones. But what’s striking is how I never stole cars, dealt drugs or abused the hard ones, or became a criminal. Some of that was probably because I was too alone and lacked the creativity… but I wonder how much the Principal helped that day. Along with everyone else who affirmed I was inherently okay.
Thank you, Principal, for reminding me of a truth I needed to hear.
It’s horrible that some children hear the opposite. A sick tragedy. They’re growing and absorbing as much information as they can… completely unable to sift and sort like they should… and someone tells them they’re bad.
The programming slips right in… folds itself into a deep crevice… and runs for the rest of the child’s life. Into adulthood.
Unleashing yet another cycle of pain.
I still need to remind myself that I’m a good kid. It’s interesting how one’s self-image can vary so much, based on splintering one’s life into sections. Money. Sex. Appearance. Parent. Boss.
But the reminder is so simple. If your heart’s in the right place, you’re okay. You’re human. Yeah, you make mistakes.
But… YOU’RE A GOOD KID!
A couple evenings after launching Should You Date Nate, I stood in my bedroom doing a brief standing meditation. Similar to a practice called zhan zhuang.
After a couple minutes, I sensed a peculiar, pleasant energy flowing to me from all directions. And from many, many different sources. As if I were standing in the middle of a packed stadium, feeling the rumbling crowd resonate through the air to envelope me.
Suddenly, I found myself thinking, “So that’s what he meant.”
An old teacher of mine had said over and over, “Celebrate your critics and naysayers because they give you energy.”
I’m sure virtually everyone who heard that, assumed he meant critics can motivate and inspire you to prove them wrong, and keep you “on your toes” (a funny and mostly dysfunctional position for a grounded response, now that I consider the phrase).
He was pointing to something deeper. I know, because that night I had the visceral experience of what he actually meant.
I was curious to discover what inner healing and empowerment I’d experience. Already, some hate mail from my ad was flowing in. I knew the tsunami was warming up.
The campaign changed my perspective on talking shit about someone. Now, whenever I’m tempted to “know” the story of someone else, I stop to wonder if my assumptions are true. And if the information is true.
Another seed was planted in my mind, when a more recent teacher, Lama Tantrapa, taught me “Yi dao, chi dao.”
Where attention goes, energy flows.
That seed sprouted right before my official “get up” time one morning, a couple weeks ago.
Our society is addicted to talking shit. Most people take perverse pleasure in hurting others, so they can feel the effects of a brain hormone cocktail. However, some criticism is valid and helpful. Both for the object of your critique and, in the case of, say, a politician, a warning to others.
So how to tell the difference?
I came up with a useful rule to gauge.
Here goes. Before you criticize, ask yourself this:
“If writing, or even thinking about this person I want to criticize, gives them positive energy… would I still do it?”
If thinking about what an asshole that guy is, actually sends him a tiny blessing – straight from you – would you still devote your mental energy to it?
If gossiping about someone at work who you think is doing a terrible job, actually enriches her life in some small way – would you still say anything?
Changes your perspective, doesn’t it? And your priorities.
Even if you think the idea of transmitting any kind of energy through communication or thought or emotion is silly, consider this idea’s usefulness as a framework. It gives you a system to objectively measure whether to spend your time and effort to criticize someone.
This question is a polished mirror you can use, to see the value of what you’re doing.
You’ll see how pointless your thoughts are. Or even how they help foster the opposite of what you want.
But sometimes the answer will be different. When you ask: “If writing, or even thinking about this person I want to criticize, gives them positive energy… would I still do it?”
… you might decide yes. Because your criticisms might serve as a fair warning to others. If you’re a commentator with a platform, you can alert people to corrupt politicians, unethical businesses, or even lousy restaurants.
In these cases, the light you’re shining on them, might be worth the chance they receive some positive energy. That’s for your judgement.
However, you can now see – and perhaps experience in a tangible way – how useless and backwards virtually all criticism, gossip, and arguing truly is. Every comment on social media. All mindless chatter at work. Your thoughts about people you can’t stand.
What if you were secretly, and inadvertently, empowering all those people?
What if this triggered you to finally stop? Or at least direct your energies more diligently?
Yi dao, chi dao. Where is your attention going? Your energy?
I know I’m more careful. I’m learning to withstand other people sending me helpful vibes. And being more considerate of where to send mine.
“It’d be nice to be locked in a prison cell,” I thought.
I sat in my condo in Boulder, Colorado, facing a television set. Tuned to some blaring nonsense. Papers were strewn about my floor. Outside chirped a world full of distractions.
I was pondering productivity. Going deep – mastering something.
“If I were locked in a prison cell, I’d have nothing to do but focus on just a couple simple tasks. Writing. Meditating. No distractions or obligations to interfere with my progress.”
This was a bullshit assumption for a couple reasons (both obvious and not-so-obvious ones) which I’ll cover in a moment. But there was also a grain of truth.
The most pervasive bullshit often has some wisdom mixed in. That’s how it survives and reproduces.
A couple years after thinking this, I called my cable company and switched off my service. Then I donated my television set to Goodwill. After two days of withdrawal, I noticed how much calmer I felt. I stopped compulsively checking to see if it were 7PM, or 8PM, or whatever time my favorite shows were on – a habit which took a while to subside.
I used my freed-up time to meditate. And write.
I never went out because I was too broke and shy. For several years, I didn’t see a single movie. No travelling except sometimes for Thanksgiving. All savings went towards business.
This was when I discovered a prison cell isn’t a panacea. Prison sucks because you can’t leave. It’s dangerous. And it’s not a meal ticket to productivity.
Because you can eliminate all your distractions and still steer clear of what you want to accomplish.
Think of it like a piece of paper for a writer or a canvas for an artist. If it’s already filled with writing or drawings, it’s useless for creating something new. But a blank page, or canvas, can be just as useless if you’re intimidated by it.
An inspired writer with fortitude can compose a novel during lunchbreaks. Or transform a line at the bank into a writing nook. A devoted artist can make a napkin worthy of framing.
But wannabes who’ve freed up all the time in the world, and eliminated distractions by going on a retreat? They can still fail to create. Just like someone can waste away in a prison cell, even with all the time in the world to practice mindfulness and meditation.
They’re both shackled.
If you can free yourself – and you’re on your own, there – then time restrictions or clutter are mere trifles.
With that in mind, here are three ways to deal with them:
Before you do, list out all the positives and negatives of this action. On the positive side, you’re eliminating an expense and saving money as a result, you’re eliminating a source of disheartening and fear-inducing misinformation, you’re deleting a major distraction to more fulfilling activities, and you’re creating a more peaceful environment in your home. On the negative side, you’re… uh… well maybe you can think of some negatives.
I know it’s fun to read about sports or politics or gossip or whatever you humans enjoy. Arguing about them is even better. It triggers pleasurable brain chemicals in just the right way to keep you addicted. If you’re okay with being an addict, have at it. Otherwise, go clean and reap the benefits.
There’s rarely a need for some self-important “I’m only checking email once per day” message. Just check it only once per day. Observe how nobody cares.
Take a moment to consider how much of your daily time is eaten up by a cycle of checking your email… your social media pages… reading about politics and current events… arguing about politics and current events on said social media pages… and checking email and starting the cycle all over again. While your television is blaring in the background.
Actually, instead of just taking a moment to consider this, measure it in real-time. Write down how many hours (I bet it’s hours) you devote to this cycle. Then write down the benefits of engaging in this daily cycle.
Is this how you want to spend your life?
In the past, I meditated for 3-4 hours per day. Right now, I’ve cut back to just 1 hour. For now. I also write. Both marketing and a journal and various personal-development notes and this blog and correspondence and plans for my business. And research. And work with clients. And exercise every day. And read. And travel. And, more recently, go on dates. And I’ve got plenty of free time to relax.
Not having a spouse or children helps. So much so, that I’d feel funny preaching productivity tips to those raising a family, without acknowledging that damaging admission. So there you go. Still, if you have a family to take care of, then consider whether television, websites, or your emails are more important than cherishing time with them.
When you say, “I don’t have time” make sure you’ve already thrown your television in the garbage, stopped visiting useless websites, and check email only once per day. But that excuse will be dead to you anyway. Because you’ll be too busy experiencing the richness of life, for you to devote any energy to bullshit excuses like “I don’t have time.”
*Bonus tip: In the past, I’ve read articles like this and then stewed about how they didn’t apply to me because I had [insert seemingly special reason here].” I wonder how much time I wasted with those complaints?
Back in 2009, I remember driving from Boulder, CO to my relatives in Massachusetts for Thanksgiving. Past endless corn fields, elegant New York woods, and plenty gas stations in between.
I was broke and scared
Both the conscious and subconscious parts of my brain were wired for fear and panic. Creatively, I was completely shut down and pervasively ruled by my ego. This ego was so adept that I had no idea it was in control.
As I rolled across the country, I played the audiobook Think And Grow Rich in my Nissan Altima’s CD player.
Over and over again, I’d listen to self-development audios like this, and read the usual books. Sometimes they’d jazz me up. Sometimes not… but I always felt like it was a good habit. Something that, whether I felt was immediately useful or not, it’d nourish my future.
I fell into a trap millions of desperate people are caught in. Years later, I still couldn’t quite put my finger on it… and I’m still trying to suss it out.
As I began to truly crawl out of the financial hole I’d dug myself into, books like Think And Grow Rich loosened their grasp on me. I began to wake up and realize, “Hey wait a minute, this stuff isn’t the end-all, be-all, and merely listening to it does NOT help… and, come to think of it, taking action on it doesn’t help either. Wait, what action do these books even recommend taking?”
This was when the veil began to drop.
“Well, wait a minute,” I said to myself, “Maybe the reason you feel this way, is because you graduated from these books, and you internalized their lessons.”
I’ll play nice for a moment, and argue as if that’s true.
Fine. Then why does there exist a culture that obsesses over self-help and positive-thinking books touting how to make millions, treating these materials like endless companions? Aren’t they just one little stepping stone, something to quickly hop over before you really get to work? (And if you used them with success as a stepping stone – that’s wonderful – and I’d wager the success had everything to do with you, and little to do with the book.)
More to the point…
Don’t these people realize that by immersing themselves in such material, they’re preventing themselves from growing into and beyond it?
Here’s an example.
Let’s say you want to master the game of tennis.
So you pick up a couple books on the mindset of tennis. Aha! Because that’s where the real key is. You spend time every day reading about overcoming fear of tennis… how you’re secretly self-sabotaging your tennis efforts… and how it’s important to develop the success habit of playing tennis.
Whenever you’re feeling down, you grab your trusty tennis books, and the mere act of reading triggers pleasure hormones to gush through your brain. Ah, much better! You’re back on track.
You seek out other books on tennis and devour them. You build – with pride – a whole library of tennis books.
Perhaps you even attend seminars on the inner game of tennis. They claim they’re going into more depth than the cheaper books. Good – it’s always beneficial to attend seminars proclaiming to go in-depth into things.
You worship the presenters at these seminars and the authors of these books. Not in a crazy sort of way, of course. You just know – deep in your soul – that following their teachings is the way to success. The only way. So, to stray outside of them is stupid. Insane. And anyone who doesn’t follow their teachings is stupid and destined for some cataclysmic failure that you can’t quite identify but you’re sure will befall them.
Meanwhile… completely outside your awareness… your next-door neighbor has taken a different approach
He also developed an interest in tennis.
So he grabbed a racket, and joined a club. He devoted hours to playing. Working with coaches, teammates, and entering competitions. Always making little tweaks here and there. Sometimes suffering humiliating losses. Far more than you’d think. Then, eventually… growing and competing at higher levels.
You never meet your neighbor. For one reason or another (perhaps relating to your methods of learning and growth), you just never enter the same social circles. But – outside your awareness – he’s actually got a couple acquaintances in common with you.
He knows the authors of the books on tennis you worship. In fact, he’s been approached by them to do interviews and speak at events. But he turns them down. He thinks the whole industry is a little silly. He’d say something like, “I mean… it’s pretty simple. You practice. You find people who can help. You play with those at your skillset. And you help others who aren’t as far along the learning curve. Then it’s just a matter of how obsessed you can be while remaining open to improvement. You have to customize your own lessons based on your self-awareness.”
The authors and presenters plead with your friend to teach this wisdom. “That’s great stuff! Yes, please come share at our events how important it is to take action on what we sell!”
“But…” he replies, “I don’t think that’s the real problem…
“I don’t know if the issue’s the kind of customer you attract or the culture you create. Maybe it’s both. But, somehow, you keep people stuck. Your entire paradigm of learning is actually non-learning. You’re actively preventing mental growth while verbally affirming mental growth is necessary, and getting your audience to nod along with you. Maybe they never have a chance to succeed at what they want so desperately, but you sure as heck aren’t their key, even if they do have a chance.”
For a while, as I turned this idea of self-help books being bullshit over in my mind, this was all I could come up with. Something was missing. Probably more than one thing. I know there’s more wrong with this paradigm.
Another piece of the puzzle fell into place when I stood inside an old building in Baltimore, on the phone with a man who teaches businesses how to grow, and sometimes invests in the companies.
He explained to me how he wanted to advertise people who wanted to start businesses, and deliver them training online.
It’d been seven years since my cross-country trip where I bathed in the soothing self-help affirmation, and after actually accomplishing what those books preach… I’d developed a more skeptical mind.
“I’ve seen businesses in the ‘make money’ niche establish themselves online. And from what I’ve seen, they attract a customer who isn’t really capable of building a business. The marketing itself acts as a filter, only attracting the wrong type of customer. That’s my perspective, but I’d like to hear yours.”
He understood my concern
He replied with a few good points. One of them became another piece of the puzzle for me:
He doesn’t teach how to make money, or even emphasize that aspect. Instead, his focus is on teaching how to build and grow a business.
If an advertisement (or a culture, or a paradigm, etc.) emphasizes making money or getting rich… who is attracted? Those who feel the most frustration surrounding money, and are most desperate for it. Most of these people are not ready to actually create and build a business. They’re still too bogged down in psychological pain surrounding money, commerce, and selling.
But what if an advertisement emphasizes building a business?
Who is attracted? Those who have already gotten over their frustration surrounding money. Or are at least in the process. They are ready to create a business, because they understand it’s the next logical action-step. They’re over their inner pain. Or perhaps they never felt it. And as far as riches are concerned… it’s automatically implied that building a business will generate income. To emphasize that point would be ridiculous… crass… laughably-obvious… and perhaps even a creepy signal that someone hasn’t reached the necessary level of psychological development required for building a business. I wonder if there’s a single word for what I’m trying to get across?
Whatever it is, that word would be kryptonite for anyone in the bullshit self-help space.
Another piece of this puzzle fell into place when I read the Albert Einstein quote:
“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
A book about some law of attraction, or explaining how to set goals, keeps you stuck at the same level as your problem. Most of the time, the author is stuck at the same level. Or they’re a sociopath who understands they can make the most money – within the limits of their skillsets, ethics, and behaviors – by keeping you stuck at that same level. And never telling you to put down the book.
Close to midnight. Thursday, October 12, 2017. Feeling melancholy.
I sat on the light rail at Denver International Airport, headed downtown. Finally coming home after almost a month of straight travel.
… and back.
On the flight from Cabo to the layover in LA, I talked with a nice woman on her way home to Vancouver. She was reading a book by Ray Kurzweil. We talked travel, introversion, career…
One of the first things I asked her was “Any suggestions where I should move?”
“Well… who are you?”
“Hmmm… I’m a marketing-obsessed, capitalist pig who’s into health and meditation.”
“Ha! … New York?”
After landing, we navigated the international check-in.
“How close is Vancouver to Seattle?” I asked her.
We almost made it to the gates. Then I saw the TSA-pre line. Time for us to part ways.
“I’m sure we’ll run into each other on the other side,” I said.
We never saw each other again. It would have been nice to say goodbye.
A couple hours later, I sat on the light rail as it rested on the track, reading an article on my phone, waiting to go home. A kind-looking man sat down next to me, and asked a couple questions. I nodded.
He kept asking about the light rail, and making comments. I could tell he wanted to talk.
Years ago, I would have kept to myself and hoped the person would get a hint. More recently, I’d still keep to myself, but always with a vibe of love and respect. Even more recently, I changed again:
“Nate, I know you can be perfectly content sitting in silence, but this guy sat next to you for a reason. Listen to him. Whether you hear something amazing or you simply lend someone your ear, it’ll be worth it.”
I asked him if he had visited Colorado before, and listened.
He told me a story of perseverance. Near the end I took notes.
“By the time I got to the Denver Mint, tickets were completely gone…”
The man was visiting from Texas, just 10 miles from the Mexico border. He wanted to tour the Denver Mint… and wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
When he found out tickets were gone, he moseyed into the gift shop. And asked about tickets.
“I knew they’d say no.”
They did. So he asked where people with tickets were supposed to wait. They told him… and affirmed he couldn’t get in.
So he set himself up where all the ticket-holders were, and began asking everyone in line if they had an extra ticket. Nope.
“I did the same thing at a Paul McCartney concert in Scotland. I managed to get tickets for me and three friends.”
Finally, he spoke to a manager. He explained why he couldn’t get there early enough to get a ticket that morning, and asked if he could get in if someone didn’t show up.
The manager said everyone was there.
He said he noticed someone didn’t show up. He had no idea if this were actually true. They let him in.
“I told them a story. I was very nice. They turned away a dozen people before me. But they let me in.”
He got to see the Denver Mint.
For the rest of the light rail ride, we talked about travel, commuting, crime, empty buildings in China. Then we arrived at Union Station. Before parting ways, I properly introduced myself to him.
Then I walked home.
By this time, it was Friday, close to 1AM, October 13th, 2017. I meandered across the quiet city of Denver, thinking about the man on the light rail. Thinking about the woman on the flight from Cabo. And wondering where I’d call home in a few months.