Saturday, September 29, 2007

Inspirational YouTube Video

Check out this video. It's an inspirational show of love and commitment by a father (Dick Hoyt) who does triathlons with his disabled son, Rick Hoyt. It made me misty-eyed and I'm not usually prone to water-works.

It's really one of the most moving videos I've seen on YouTube.

  • Any others you can suggest?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Your Last Lecture?

Last week there was a column in the WSJ about a computer science professor, Randy Pausch, who was recently diagnosed with liver cancer and was delivering his last lecture.

"They had come to see him give what was billed as his 'last lecture'. This is a common title for talks on college campuses today. Schools such as Stanford and the University of Alabama have mounted 'Last Lecture Series', in which top professors are asked to think deeply about what matters to them and to give hypothetical final talks. For the audience, the question to be mulled is this: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance?"

At 43, and a father of 3 young kids (ages 5, 3, 1), he focused most of his lecture on LIVING and has been determined to not let the diagnosis impede his vitality (he did some one armed-pushups to prove it!). With this truly being his last lecture, his sense of humor and perspective are all the more valuable:

"I've experienced a deathbed conversion," he said, smiling. "I just bought a Macintosh." Flashing his rejection letters on the screen, he talked about setbacks in his career, repeating: "Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things." He encouraged us to be patient with others. "Wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you." After showing photos of his childhood bedroom, decorated with mathematical notations he'd drawn on the walls, he said: "If your kids want to paint their bedrooms, as a favor to me, let 'em do it."

Here I want to give props to my parents who actually let me paint my walls growing up. I wish I could say I was working on non-euclidean geometry, but it was more or less a mess of finger paints and random decoupage. It was an interior designer's nightmare, but it was all mine. Thanks MOM and DAD!
  • What advice would you give in YOUR last lecture?

Influential Books

Those of you who know me can attest to the fact that I'm always reading, and usually several books at once. I like books because they give you access to wisdom or perspectives that you otherwise wouldn't come into contact with. It's like having your own personal tutor or sitting in on a great lecture, but on your own time.

Eventually, I'd like to post summaries so you can get the big ideas without having to read them. More importantly, I'd like to save you frustration by separating the wheat from the chaff (there are a ton of really bad books out there in the leadership/ personal development section).

I wanted to kick it off with a list of the books that I thought were great and have been influential in my journey to "figure things out". They're a mix of business books, leadership books, and books on personal development. Here they are in no particular order:
This is just a condensed list of past books I'd recommend, either for people in the business world or for those figuring out their lives (you can read the descriptions and pick the most relevant). There are a lot more out there with great bits and pieces, so look for more books lists and summaries to come!
  • What books have influenced you along the way? Anything you can recommend to add to my future reading list?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Finding vs. Creating Ourselves

Unfortunately, I've inherited my mom's gene that makes me want to collect stuff. In the last few years, I've tried to live simpler and clutter-free (less is more!), so I'm always fighting my temptation to save trinkets, mementos, and what I call "bits of potential" (things that could be used creatively for a future project).

I've been better about it, but with this new business I've justified the collection of all things inspirational - usually magnets, greeting cards, journals, etc. all with a pithy quote somewhere. I sometimes can't stand that I like this stuff because it's so cheesy, but other times it serves as a good reminder. Here's one from a greeting card that I like:

"Life isn't about finding yourself, it's about creating yourself."

It helps me remember that life isn't about passively waiting to uncover or discover something, but rather it's about taking the responsibility to positively affect the future. Even though we might feel lost at times, I don't think the answer is digging deeper to find what's hidden; instead I think of it as building up the mountain of who/what you want to be.

There's a lot of power in knowing that you can create opportunities for yourself. Especially when your situation in life changes, if you wait around for the "answer" to materialize, you'll probably feel a lot less in control. We each have the ability to positively affect our future through the decisions we make (big and small), which means that everyday we are choosing/creating our lives.

"Finding yourself" also implies that there's a right answer or a desired end-state out there for you, which isn't really the case (unless the desired end-state is something generic like being happy or having a career you enjoy). I believe that we continually evolve and develop over the course of our lives, so there isn't really one answer as to "who we are" because aside from our core beliefs and values, we are always trying to improve and better define who we are.

Maybe instead we should say we're "finding ways to create ourselves".
  • Am I splitting hairs or do you agree?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Is Balance Really Possible?

As overachievers, we have high expectations for the idea of balance in our lives. Because we believe we can do everything, balance for us is when all areas of our lives are operating at 100%. We don't really understand that balance might mean sacrificing a little to make sure we're not driving ourselves crazy.

I went for a jog today and of course I couldn't help thinking that I should go running more often. I beat myself up for a few minutes about not being disciplined enough to wake up early every morning. Then I thought about all the other things that I wanted to incorporate - eating healthier, getting more work done during the day, learning to speed read, sort through my bills when I get them (instead of letting them pile up), spend more time with family, etc.

There's so much to do just to try to stay on top of everything and "in balance". But how to accomplish all this? Something's gotta give - sleep less, work longer hours, take time away from my hobbies or friends, ...? But then I'm not in balance anymore and am stressed trying to do everything.

I started thinking that there were 2 models for thinking about balance, just like there are different approaches to filling your car with gas - the "Top Off" method or the "Almost to E" method.

I know I usually let my car (and areas of my life) get almost to Empty and then head to the station to replenish. This has taken the form of sending a bunch of "How've you been?" emails in one day, or running everyday for a week, or eating an entire head of lettuce in one sitting (true!). But I find that I'm swinging to extremes in different areas of my life in a strange attempt to maintain a balance on a longer time-frame (e.g. over a few consecutive months).

I admire the people who take the "Top Off" approach - it seems like they're balancing their lives on more of a daily basis. It takes a lot more discipline to keep all aspects of life in check - i.e. talking to your friends/family every week, consistently eating healthy, working an extra hour here and there, etc. Maybe these types of people are naturally more regimented and organized, or perhaps just more realistic about how much they should bite off at one time.

It reminds me of an article I read in Fast Company, entitled "Balance is Bunk". It's an interesting read, albeit a bit long. The basic premise is that balance is nearly impossible and it's better if we stop trying to reach this unattainable idea of "balance" and just be happy with how we do things. Being from the "Almost to E" camp I might have to agree :)

  • Are you an "Almost to E" or "Top Off" type of person? Is balance really possible? (...please comment!)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Fear of Failure

I just started reading the book "What Happy People Know", written by Dan Baker and one of the primary messages of the book is that our fears keep us from being happy above all else (I'll tell you if the book is worth a read when I post a book review for it here).

Specifically, he points to fear of not having enough and fear of not being enough as keeping us from living our ideal life. Both the fear of not having enough and not being enough are similar to what I think holds back a number of overachievers: the fear of failure. Why are we afraid?

  • We've been taught that failure is bad
  • We don't want it to tarnish our glowing record of achievement
  • There's the social pressure of others judging us based on their expectations
  • We have high expectations for ourselves and would be disappointed in our abilities
  • Our sense of self largely comes from our accomplishments.
Failure is largely an unknown experience for overachievers. It's an area we don't understand and I think it's the biggest contributing factor to our fear of it.

It's no mystery that we haven't failed much - we've gone to good schools, done well in our activities, and usually have had some kind of safety net to keep us from really failing. Because we haven't had much exposure to failure, we shy away from things that might be risky or lead to failure - starting a new business, taking up a new hobby, or competing seriously.

If we have a fear of water or don't know how to swim, we stay away from pools, oceans, and other risky situation. Similarly, we shy away from situations that might present us with failure because we don't know how to swim in those waters.

I say that we should practice failure so we're not afraid of it. It would be really hard for us knowingly choose failure as an outcome, but we should be open to it and embrace the things that don't go our way. I've often thought of creating "Failure Camp" so overachievers can practice failing in a safe environment. With a mix of difficult situations/activities, the focus would be on taking risks, dealing with failure, and then "bouncing back".
  • Would you attend Failure Camp?
  • Do you think most overachievers are held back by their fear of failure?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Good People, Good Energy

Yesterday I had a chance to talk to one of my old high school friends that I recently became re-acquainted with. We had a great chat - catching up on all the stuff going on in our lives. Over the course of the conversation, I felt myself getting more inspired and excited about the same stuff I was just blah about an hour ago.

I don't think it's anything she necessarily said, but rather her contagious positive outlook. It's like when one person yawns and everyone else around them starts to yawn. I think it's the same when good people connect with each's like a spark that causes a reaction. After I hung up the phone, I had that vibe and started working with renewed motivation.

It's interesting the effect that different people have on you. I'm sure you know of some "negative nellies" and everytime you're around them, they seem to drag you down. After being around them for a bit, you find yourself complaining, gossiping, or in a bad mood. I find it more revitalizing to be around people who are passionate and spunky about life, people who get you excited about something and make you feel like more is possible.
  • Who brings you up?
  • Do you have enough "good energy" people in your day?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Mine Goes to 11 (Happiness +1)

Most people know that scene in Spinal Tap where the guy says that his amp is so awesome that goes up to 11. I felt that way today when I was walking over to my local Saxby's coffeeshop.

I almost never listen to music as I walk because I'm usually only going a few blocks and it's not worth the effort of turning on my ipod and untangling my headphones. But today I had my iphone in hand and was waiting for a call so I put on some tunes.

I couldn't believe the effect it had. Just one song and I was floating along, smiling at people and feeling like I wanted to share it with everyone. The weird thing is that before that, I was already pretty happy and didn't think it could get any better. It was like I was at a 10, and didn't even know that I could go to 11. I wonder how many other things in life are like that. You don't even know that you can go to 11, except when it randomly happens or someone shows you the way.
  • When have you found yourself at Happiness+1?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Should You Disclose Your Beliefs?

Today I wrote down my beliefs so I could better communicate who I am to my current and future clients. It was a great exercise that really made me think about what I personally believe, and also what was important to tell others as part of a professional working relationship.

Coaches, managers, teachers, parents, counselors, leaders, older siblings, etc. all play a role in someone else's life. One would hope that the individuals in those critical roles are the types of people who nurture and empower others. But for better or for worse, and whether they know it or not, these mentors are presenting elements of themselves that will impact how others grow and develop. For that reason, I think it's important for them to be up front with what they believe, especially to the people they might influence.

Some managers, coaches, teachers, leaders, etc. may have never officially disclosed their philosophies, but have developed a lore over time about who they are and what they believe in - Teacher X is a really hard grader, Coach Y insists on being on time, Manager Z demands high-quality work, and Mom is a stickler for a clean room and chores. But, wouldn't it be nice to know what these people are all about, up-front?

  • Do you think coaches, managers, teachers, leaders, parents, etc. should outline their beliefs and communicate them to the people they interact with?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

This blog will...

Building on the idea of "I am a part of all that I have met", it's interesting to think that each one of us has our own story - who we are, our personal trials and tests in life, our achievements, our perspectives, and the experiences that have brought us to where we are now. What's interesting is that although we are unique in so many ways, we're similar in that we're all striving to be happier, know ourselves better, and get the most out of life.

I don't know about you, but I feel like all of that (learning about myself, pursuing happiness, etc.) has taken much longer than it should have (and of course, it's never over). It's also felt a bit haphazard because a lot of influential things have either dropped in my lap or have come out of left field. What if I hadn't run into that person on that particular day? What if I took a different book off my uncle's shelf? What if I choose to stay home instead of going on that weekend trip? I feel lucky that I managed to get where I am today, despite all the randomness that comes in creating who we are.

Especially during some of those transition times when I felt lost and un-moored, I often wished that someone I trusted to have their head screwed on straight would've shared their influences and inspiration with me. I might not necessarily agree with them, but it would be good to know what others before me have used to help them along the way. I slowly pieced together ideas from friends, family, books, philosophy, and other perspectives to help inform my own life, but it wasn't easy.

So, to create what I wish I had access to earlier and in the spirit of knowledge sharing, I'm creating this blog to help us figure out life together. I know I've come across a number of things that have helped me so far (amazing people, thought-provoking books, challenging experiences, valuable activities, etc.) that I'd love to share to help someone get where they're going a bit faster. Also, through the comments of this blog, it would be great if you would add your own observations, challenges, thoughts, resources, and inspiration that has helped you in your own pursuit of happiness.

Thanks for reading and being part of it. You'll be helping someone by sharing your thoughts and contributing to the discussion, so don't be shy!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

I am a part of all I have met

I was struggling with an appropriate intro for this blog, but I think Tennyson did a good job for me in this excerpt of his poem Ulysses:

I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breath were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

I'm no poetry-buff, but IMHO, he captures the idea of living an inspired life. Admittedly, I had to read it a few times to get the gist of it, but this poem uses the character of Ulysses to describe what an inspired life is like.

Ulysses starts off by saying "I am a part of all I have met" which poetically says that we are a compilation of our experiences, the people we've interacted with, everything we've learned, our challenges, our successes, etc. The same things that helped create who he is also show him that there's more ahead, "Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world" and there will always be more ahead as we continue to go through life, "whose margin fades for ever and for ever when I move."

There should never be an end to our experiences - "how dull it is to pause, to make an end" and those who do would "rust unburnished" and not "shine in use!" I can definitely think of a few periods in my own life where I felt I was rusting unburnished... Ulysses says that just breathing does not mean we're living, rejecting the uninspired definition of life of "as though to breath[e] were life."

I get lost in the middle a bit (feel free to help me out in the comments!), where he talks about "life piled on life", but I like the verse "every hour is saved from that eternal silence" as a reminder that life is short and that every hour could be a valuable "bringer of new things."

The "grey spirit yearning in desire" could easily be any of us, especially when we're feeling trapped in our cubicles/offices. Then he creates this image of us chasing "knowledge like a sinking star," which is less about learning a lot and more about the deep stirring of our spirit to seek out more knowledge (experience, wisdom) as part of our journey in life, and perhaps the driving force in how we approach life.

The last part "beyond the utmost bound of human thought" creates a feeling of unbounded potential; we don't even know what's out there but we're going to search for it.

Quite an inspirational and exciting description. Those poets sure had a way with words :) Thanks, Tennyson.