‘Unconventional’ – it’s not pretty, and it works. Start now.

Living, working, being ‘unconventional’.

It’s definitely not safe. It will necessarily be polarizing, and can seem like utter madness.

It is not ‘normal’.

Yet if we take the leap, take it with heart and from a place of respect and curiosity, of service and dignity onto others – remarkable things can happen.

(Source.)

(Image source: Steal Like An Artist.)

This requires us to divorce ourselves from an overwhelming need to be liked. It pushes us toward being OK with living in a certain degree of uncertainty and doubt. It flirts with the possibility of hitting rock bottom.

It demands that we stop making excuses and start owning that what we have right now is enough to start.

•  •  •

We were lucky to have Mark Brand speak his story at TEDxVancouver 2012 in October. Having lived quite the eclectic story growing up, Mark brought his fire to Vancouver in 2006, and pours everything he’s got into his now soul-home(s) in Gastown.  I actually only watched his talk for the first time last week. (Funny how leading the action Front Of House and being so close to the event actually led to my missing out on the very talks that TEDx is all about… But I digress. That’s what labors of love are – sacrifice in service sometimes comes with the territory).

Make 17 minutes in your day to watch & listen to Mark’s thoughts and words on “The Impact of an Unconventional Solution”. Listen to what a story of user-centric design and ‘living your work’ can looks like. Listen for the difference dignity makes. Listen to the full story – not just the ‘highlight reel’. Listen for the real.


There is nothing more invigorating than understanding how flawed you are, and still believing that you can do good. – M Brand

•  •  •

If the incredible souls mentioned in Mark’s talk can do what they do, you can sure as hell do what you’re yearning for.

The question is not whether it will be easy. (It won’t be). The question is: is it worth it? If your answer is “yes!” then I say – whatever that leap looks like for you – do it.

Leap, already.

Humbly,
~ H

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5 simple steps to: push uncomfortable, make a connection, and grow empathy.

Intentionally or not, we rob ourselves when we overlook the challenges others face in those situations that we find ourselves breezing through. As a complex and incomprehensibly diverse society, growing ever more connected, this is a consistent issue that none of us can afford to ignore.

The solution? Empathy, of course!

empathy-300x211

Empathy: give me a dose of that. (Source.)

Cultivate empathy. Ok. Got it.

… How?

Here’s an everyday exercise, in five simple steps.* Feel free to put this into action immediately. 

Inadvertently invite a conversation for which you are not equipped. 
Prerequisite: Barely know the language.
Bonus points: If your appearance / position makes it an “obvious” assumption that you would be fluent in said language.

Struggle.
Search for words and terms. Be at a loss. Apologize. Smile lots. Feel awkward.

Understand.
How frustrating it can be to truly represent yourself & communicate in a foreign language. Know in your heart of hearts that you know so much more than what you’re able to articulate.

Hope.
That people ‘get’ and appreciate that you’re not some bumbling idiot. That your stammer and struggle does not overshadow the fact that you’re actually extremely interesting, inquisitive, insightful, and witty. Usually.

5 Be humbled.
By how hard others have to work to be understood in even the simplest of contexts, when outside of their element. By how much we don’t know, when things can’t be communicated. By the untapped – separated by a chasm, inadequately bridged by broken phrases.

•   •   •

Whether the unfamiliar language is English, Mandarin, Portuguese, professional jargon, Python, or an underlying cultural narrative – not knowing how to communicate in a certain medium can make things frustrating. Difficult. Awkward. Staccato.

Yet as native speakers, our fluency, ease, and command can make these struggles easy to overlook;  easy to take for granted.

These five simple steps are an exercise in empathy, broken down. Of course, there are countless permutations, nuances, and opportunities to practice empathy on the daily. Yet sometimes, a good old break-it-down-for-me list is a good reminder of how these imperative human skills aren’t restricted to workshops and grand situations for learning.

It’s in the everyday. It’s the little things are the big ones.

Humbly,
~ H

Have you been in a similar situation – hoping for a bit of understanding and compassion for your little struggle? Has someone else recently looked to you with that same hope? Did you notice?

*Inspired by a simple encounter. This adorable elderly Punjabi lady – silwar kameez, oversized sweater, floppy touque, sneakers, and a semi-toothless grin – joins me in the standing-room only Transit skytrain car. No-one offers her a seat. My thought process: “I’ll ask someone to give her a seat.”

Immediately followed by internal dialogue. “Hold it. Agency. Dignity. No assumptions. Maybe she doesn’t want to sit? Ask her first.” I ask her first. In Punjabi. (A simple, single sentence I can do, no sweat. Before a conversation exists, there’s time to think, search for the right words, and rehearse.)

No, she’s good.

“Ok.” Smile.

“Busy today isn’t it?” she asks. In Punjabi.

Hmm… I had not thought this one all the way through. (Language comprehension outperforming speaking ability in this arena. By a lot. Neither of which are impressive.)

I stumble through my clunky conversation with her. No more than 3 minutes, our entire ‘chatty’ encounter, before we once again became two silent bodies riding in a metal tube towards our repective destinations. She made an impression on me, though. It was awkward. And it was worth it. For that, I thank her.

Those special days.

When your face hurts from genuinely smiling so much. When your heart aches from being so full, and all you can do is grin it out. When you shake your head in disbelief at how lucky you are to be living what you’re living, and how many incredible people surround you. You are proud, content, secure, and grateful.

Get curious about those days; you’re probably on to something.

• • •

Who were you with?  What is your history with them? How do they make you feel? Who do you become when you are around them? Why?

Where were you? What were the comforts surrounding you? The challenges? The sights, smells, and sounds? Who were you because of those cues?

What was happening?  Doing? Being? Learning? Sharing? Making? Thinking? Feeling? Why?

• • •

Sometimes the answers are far from obvious. Dig deep. Get to those really ninja things that we can so easily overlook.

For example, Colin Farrell hit on the underlying dots when he connected his old drug habits and his current Bikram Yoga practice: they both satisfy his need for ritual.

When you’ve got your answers, that’s when it gets fun. That’s when you get to use them as your tools & starting blocks, as you become an intentional architect of your own life. Here, you can design your everyday so that more of those special little things are peppered throughout. Slowly yet suddenly, those special days then become the default rather than the exception.

Just make sure you’re ready for the pain. Great risks, great rewards.

Humbly,
~ H

(This post was inspired by my day at the 2013 UBC Student Leadership Conference.)

The big dots of the post:
• Be aware. Notice. Question curiously. Adjust. Repeat.

Related
• Brene Brown on The Power of Vulnerability.

A lesson in growing up: SLC edition


Stop chasing what you want and start chasing who you are. Magic happens when we approach life this way. #2013tips

The UBC Student Leadership Conference was this past weekend. As my 5th SLC experience, it ranks in my heart as the best yet; I struggle to articulate how blessed, humbled, and catalyzed that day has left me.

A bit of context.
I’ve been lucky to play different roles at the SLC since 2008 (day-of volunteer, workshop presenter, panelist, full-day delegate, alumni mentor…) – most years I was more than one. Translation: “always on & hustling from one thing to the next”. Non-stop all day; exhilarating and exhausting.

Each time, a part (if not all) of my intent was like a hungry child unleashed on a buffet: the focus was me. What could I get from these incredible workshops to satiate this hunger? What secrets could I learn from these extraordinary speakers? What did I want delegates to walk away with from my workshop? In short:

Full of entitled expectation.
“What’s imperative for me to get and give?”
Devour and deliver accordingly.

Case in point: SLC 2011. It was the first year (1) as an alumni presenter (2) partnering with a dear friend, creating something ‘all our own’ and (3) presenting a workshop of independent content (i.e. not tied to / dictated by a place of employment). All exciting things. Yet, in all honesty — my eyes were also on a certain prize. The conference has these “Best of the SLC” awards; I wanted one.

So we designed and delivered an un-workshop called “Flip” – to challenge assumptions, and rethink buzz-words & cliché concepts. No doubt, the process and product were both good. I wouldn’t trade the experience in for anything. Yet, in having that award as a disproportionate driving motivation while not admitting to it (hello, denial & dissonance!), I robbed myself and everyone involved of something great.

I know this because I remember sitting in tentative hope at the closing ceremonies while the award winners were revealed. I remember feeling disappointed and confused when we didn’t win (the former for obvious reasons; the latter because I wouldn’t let myself admit to the former). I remember smiling at the winners, feeling happy for them, and simultaneously small within myself. Fueled by the fundamentally flawed focus on an external reward, I’d fallen into playing tactics and dressing them in noble robes. By being dishonest with myself, I sabotaged the very thing I was after.

Success sabotage, and how to avoid it.

• • • Fast forward to this past Saturday • • •

For the first time, I attended this conference with a solid understanding of who I am and what I believe in. The focus was “what are delegates looking for, and what value can I deliver to this end?” It’s like my brain transitioned more fully from “leadership as selfish” to “leadership as service”.

With this shift from “me” to “everyone else”, I presented a session called “Two peas: the keys to unlocking limitless leadership.Magic happened.

 I felt settled and powerful in being vulnerable, living the content, sharing openly, and leading by example.
The possibility of impact is worth any personal discomfort or embarrassment.

 Overwhelming support showed up in the form of a couple of young women I respect, and am so proud of.
They can chat with me at anytime. They could have capitalized on the workshop buffet today, and they chose to be here so we could create a unique ‘us’. (Thanks for being there, ladies!)

Power showed up as a heartfelt comment and a hug at the end of the session, turning someone who was a stranger 50 minutes prior into a face I won’t soon forget. Another small comment humbled me to my core.
They may not realize how much of any impact they have just had on me. (Thank you, gents.)

 The best feeling showed up as my little sister coming to one of my workshops for the first time ever.
She actively does not listen when we talk about these things at home in our jammies, and she chose this session today – over all the others – to support me and hear what I’ve got to say.

In summary: the experience fundamentally changed when I was no longer out to be remembered, and was simply out to be a messenger. Just like that, the message and the content became more important than the fact that I was presenting. The audience – their wants & needs – were now at the forefront of every decision, and risk-taking with authentic design now trumped any question of “what would make the session look good… so that I look good”. Best.

The day somehow kept getting better, as I made space to live it as it felt right (pushed by intention rather than pulled at by obligation). Wrapping up the session, sat solo and jammed to the session playlist as I reflected on what had just happened. Proceeded to find and chat with 3 incredible women over lunch. Wandered and reconnected with familiar faces. Attended a workshop. Had a 3-hour conversation with 2 lovely souls about… everything in life. Fawned over amazing people at the Awards Ceremony. Had a heart-to-heart with Luca ‘Lazy Legz’ about the meaning of unintentional leadership. The day wrapped with dinner in such great company it makes my mind spin. (Seriously, life. Save some ‘incredible’ for the next day…)

Oh, and – surprise! I was awarded a “Best of the SLC” this year. Funny how, when it was the farthest thing from my mind and completely unexpected, this incredible gift chased me down. Dr. Frankl, you were so right.

So much gratitude, and huge congratulations, to the SLC team of 2013. Co-chairs, directors, coordinators, countless day-of volunteers, staff advisors, and all the rest: you created space for magic to happen. It was a hell of a day.

Humbly,
~ H

* Clarifying note: I think it’s absolutely necessary to travel through “leadership as selfish” to work to reach “leadership as service”. You can’t be of service to others if you don’t take care of yourself first. My journey took years of leadership development both in theory and practice, and is a work in progress always.

Other #UBCSLC talk
E – one half of the Passion Project founding duo – on her love affair with the SLC.
Matt – one half of crowd fave #TheCorkers – on how much of a BDF this SLC was.
Mel says stuff about her SLC experience.
• SLC thoughts by Paul Lee.

“Less talk, more walk”: on ninja habits & gratitude.

A visual aggregate of 365 days’ worth of reflection, using Wordle.

It’s Canadian Thanksgiving tomorrow! In the spirit of celebration, I dug through my personal archives for a very precious (and unintentional – hence the “ninja”) project, that became a defining piece of me for a time. The below is based on the daily practice from January 26, 2011 – January 26, 2012 (365 day span) that I kept up on Facebook. Each day, I would physically type out something positive that happened / something that I was grateful for, always starting with “Today I…”.

I have, since writing this back in February, deliberately moved away this daily habit (so some things make more sense in past tense). Regardless, most of the principles still hold to the present day.  So without further ado…

~~~

After crossing the threshold of one full year of daily updates, the data nerd in me got a bit curious. So, I decided to get *really* meta on this reflection thing. Here are some of the results, and the background info.

Top 5 “Today I…”
1.  … remembered that you don’t have to wait ’till something is gone to know what you’ve got. Realize. (July 31)
2.  … caught myself saying “I can’t”. So I stopped, and instead used “I can” & “I will”. Boom. (September 26)
3.  … left behind family, friends and the fully familiar. Adventure time. (November 19)
4.  … rediscovered the danger of a single story, and the liberation that comes with the discovery of multiple perspectives. (November 24)
5.  … experienced an inexplicable feeling of excitement, calm, gratitude, possibility… all mixed in to one. One thought that crossed my mind earlier about sums it up: “This is my life right now. And I absolutely love it.” (August 10)

BACKGROUND
“My Daily” (as I refer to it my head) is my conscious effort to focus on one positive aspect unique to the day that just came to a close.  WHY?

It makes me pause. There are days so jam packed that it’s tough to stop and really think, if even for just a few minutes. My Daily forces me out of the now, to somewhat meaningfully reflect on my past 24 hours.

It keeps me on my toes. Any man who knows a thing knows he knows not a damn thing at all” – K’naan Sometimes something happens early in the day that I think “this is it – what I’ll post about tonight”. But life happens, and reminds me to never, ever assume. The beautiful unpredictability of life is that, good or bad, unexpected can always happen: something that means more to you than what has already passed. There’s no real way to anticipate that, but being aware of this is huge for me; my Daily is a tangible reminder of this.

It is usually not easy. These posts are always authentic. Making shit up would just be me lying to myself and anyone reading.

the good Some days so many good things happen that I don’t know what to post about – that builds a ridiculous amount of gratitude. Most days, it just reminds me how obscenely lucky I am in the grand scheme of things, and that I’ve really got nothing to complain about. Instant whine-stopper.

the bad Just like anyone else, I have those days. One shitty thing happens after another / you’re hit with so much apathy that you can’t get yourself to accomplish anything / you’re hurting / tears are involved, etc. They’re tough, because sometimes it’s hard to pick myself out of that. But pain, loss, anger, frustration… just parts of life. I find confronting them / acknowledging them (or even ignoring them for the time being) and focusing on one positive thing pretty empowering.

the ninja Then there are the ‘whatever’ days. The ones that leave me feeling like “nothing really happened today. I just went through the whole day with nothing remarkable (good or bad) to differentiate it from any other.” Those days are probably the toughest; I really need to dig deep to find something to authentically post about. No matter how long it takes (once it took me a good hour+) I don’t stop ‘till I get it done.

It is a foundation. This exercise is a now-solidified routine in my life. I’ve since been able to use it as a springboard & reminder for other habits. Baby steps.

BENEFITS OF ‘GOING PUBLIC’:

1. I have an ulterior intrinsic motivation to post. Not only for the process itself, but the tangible product – a post a day; something to show the world. Also, it’s measurable data. Nerd attack.

2. Anything I’ve done that I viewed in the “just for me” silo has never stuck. Eventually something more social (work, school, family, relationships) would take precedent. Self-development on Solo Island isn’t for everyone. I now feel like My Daily goes beyond just me — but I’m still getting what I want & need out of it every day. Win-win.

3. It’s hard for me to consistently stay accountable to myself long-term without some external influence sprinkled in the mix time & again. Public posting was an easy way for me to mitigate that – even if nobody actually reads it, the mere possibility of others consuming what I put out there was enough for me to feel supported & accountable.

4. It’s become one of my ‘things’ now. I’ve always been pretty hyper-aware of others’ perceptions of me. Since I can’t be sure how many people (if any) are following the post on any given day, a neglected post could be very visibly missing. Image maintenance is a powerful thing, and I’m basically harnessing my need to be viewed a certain way into something that benefits me. Plus looking back at this consistency now makes me one happy clam.

5. My posts have become a catalyst. Whether a specific post or the “Daily” habit itself – good conversations with friends & acquaintances have come of it. Talking about pop culture, memes, food, politics, world issues… it’s all well and good. But oftentimes, more meaningful conversations for me involve the driving forces behind everything – aspirations, ambitions, hopes, fears, challenges… the ‘deeper stuff’. Everything stems from the human condition. I love it, and will happily talk about it ‘till the cows come home. This makes it that much more likely.

6. My ‘practice of pause’ has made others do the same. That’s why I keep most of my posts “horoscope-like” vague; too specific to me, and they lose personal relevance to someone else. Some of the most memorable conversations I’ve had stemming from posts involved someone’s radically different interpretation of my post as applied to their own life. If by publicly sharing something I do anyways can impact someone else positively, even remotely, then a thousand times yes. It’s pretty selfish of me to be honest – makes my life more interesting.

…I did this first and foremost for my own benefit, and honestly didn’t intentionally start it to be a long-standing habit.

POSTS
Total daily postings missed: 8
Total status ‘likes’: 464
Total status comments (not including my own): 151

PEOPLE
Unique individuals interacting: 139
Impacted enough to use this as a model for own daily reflection: 2
Things I hope to get out of this: Questions. Challenges. Conversations.

~~~

As is the unfortunate reality in many of our comfortable & privileged lives, we tend to focus on the gaps & what is missing rather than reveling in what we have – and it inevitably takes something jarring or tragic to focus on what really matters. My catalyst was a health-scare with my dad – a close-to-home reminder of the fragility of life. It started me on a different mental path, which grew into a daily gratitude practice. I can honestly say it changed my life.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Humbly (and with thanks), ~ H

P.S. The above was edited/added to for length & relevance. If you’re curious enough for the full, unedited version as I wrote it in February 1, 2012, it lives here.
P.P.S. It’s kind of funny, looking back, to realize that I was blogging before I gave myself permission to be a full-on blogger. Ain’t that always the way?

The big dots of the post

Constant practice will make a truly lasting impact. Ergo, be aware of what you constantly do.
Figure out your own strengths & weaknesses, and exploit the heck out of that knowledge to get what you want.
There is always, always, always something to be thankful for… It’s almost intoxicating.
Sometimes doing something for yourself is doing something for others, too. You can never quite know who’s watching, or how far your ripple will reach.
 Habitual practice over one-time shows. Every time.

How do you practice gratitude? 

Related:
Past behaviour is the best predictor of future performance (on behaviour-based interviewing)

How to make every day great

Have you ever noticed how sometimes the best days are those completely arbitrary ones, like that random Tuesday in March? Those days that don’t hold much expectation for anything extraordinary happening per-se – and nothing particularly extraordinary (in the oft-defined sense) happens – yet the resulting joy is somehow completely ninja and so special?

Making yourself inviting means letting go of your attachment to the outcome of your desire. When you can engage with someone without expecting any particular result, you can receive any reply without taking it personally.

(Marinade in that for a bit.)

Some things that jumped to my mind? Soliciting feedback on something (that first attempt at making roast lamb / leading a 250-guest event). Asking someone out. (These are the people-focused ones.)

I also extrapolate this to engaging with something – a day, an event, a book, an experience, a trip – without expecting any particular result. The “reply” can then be how a road-trip plays out, what you get out of a concert / conference experience, how that dinner party went that cutie the other night, etc.

Hopping back to the opening idea of ninja-happy days, I propose a few examples:

Your bestie surprises you with a small and incredibly thoughtful gift. (This could be the gift of uninterrupted time on a phone call amidst mutual schedule chaos.)
It’s a wonderfully sunny day.
Some stranger you’ll never see again initiates a pleasant conversation for a few minutes during your day.
Your partner clears their Thursday evening so that you can both do anything – or do nothing at all – together.

Warm & fuzzy, right?

Now imagine the impact of each of the above if:

It’s your birthday.
It’s your wedding day. Outdoors.
You’re at a mingler event.
It’s your anniversary.

Do things change? Should they? The happenings, unchanged, suddenly range anywhere from being just a “drop in the bucket” to absolute day-makers… and I contend that it’s all on us, as the recipients. We actually have full control. (Awesome.)

Note: I distinguish between (a) not being attached to a specific expectation and (b) not having any expectations, period. The latter I view as extremely useful, especially when striving towards a goal or ambition. It’s a fine line, but I’m more swirling in the former, which for me equates to letting go of a sense of entitlement.

So I propose:

Enough of the unhealthy expectations.
Enough of the vice-like grips on that one result / outcome.
Enough of the entitlement.

Instead, live with a wonderful lack of expectation just a little more often. Take in life with open eyes and gratitude. Reclaim “ordinary” and tack on the “extra” yourself.

This plugs into the whole “the journey is the reward” concept for me. By being more inviting (living & interacting more flexibly in our expectation of outcomes) we make it much easier for ourselves to see the extraordinary in the everyday. I see so many good days ahead.

Humbly, ~ H

The big dots of the post

Expectations are not so bad. It’s when they morph into entitlement that we sabotage great days.
Take back ordinary. Marvel in what’s around us all the time.
Redefine extraordinary. Try living your next big event (anniversary / Mother’s Day) as “just another day” and see how incredible it becomes.
Be a little unconventional. Don’t wait for the “special” day to do something for others. (Those days are expectation booby-traps anyways). Delight someone with a birthday-caliber surprise on any old Wednesday.
If you hit “change something” in the flowchart above, here’s the empowering tidbit: the thing we change is us — total control. BOOM.

How inviting vs. entitled do you think you are? In this wonderful mess called life, how do you balance this notion of “letting go of expectations” with being “ambitious and driven”?

Related:
A note from the ever-lovely Amber Rae

~~~

The above quote was one of two striking lines from an article written by Charlie Glickman. You can read it here. The second line is waiting its turn for the next post – for the sake of brevity, and to give these thoughts the space & time they deserve. So, connect away. More from me next week.

It’s never the right time

Always Earned | Never Given

Image source: bonusbling.com

We’ve all been guilty of wishing away our time away at some point or other. Wanting, yearning… but never quite getting – something else, something better.

We look forward to the vacation. Graduation. The next stage. The next project. Life after I quit this job. Life after I get a job. When I meet “that someone”. When the kids are old enough. The new year.

*Bubble-pop* There is no perfection period in life where everything just gets easy. I think if you really want it, it’s worth the work. (I feel the need to add: I’m popping my own bubble on the daily. “The Good” and “The Bad” are two sides of the same coin.)

“But…” “That’s a nice thought, but I’m just too ____ right now”. Busy. Cash-strapped. Over-stretched. Under-rested. (Fill in your bit here.) “However” is just a fancy but.

I’ve been lucky – making my way down an unconventional path sans “typical” time & resource constraints, I’d made it easier for my brain to break down (and rebuild) ingrained thinking and monotony by breaking out of routine. No longer a full-time student or employee, now living the life of a freelance / contract worker, I began figuring out this thing called life and how it works for me. And yet it didn’t all just magically come together. (What the hell, life? Didn’t you get the memo?…)

The grass is always greener… It’s like being an adult watching kids that wished they were grown-ups and shaking your head thinking “if you only knew…” (how good you have it / what it’s really like, etc.). In my case, “be careful what you wish for” couldn’t be more true. My life is full of peak highs & deep lows. I won’t bring you through the full roller-coaster today, but I will share the terrifying realization I came to a few months back:

I’m holding the reigns.

For the first time ever, I am actually fully autonomous in the education & career realm of my life. No-one to congratulate – or blame – but myself. Let me tell you, after years in school and work, being truly responsible for everything, including how to spend the majority of my day — is equal parts incredibly awesome and completely petrifying. And it shone the spotlight on a fact that was true all along – what I wanted to be doing, but wasn’t yet (fill in your blank here) had more to do with me than I let on; it wasn’t my situation “holding me back”.

The Lesson
Don’t romanticize. Even if external situations change dramatically, the situation we want to break out of (that uneasiness) can stay the exact same. Common denominator? Us. More specifically, our habits.

So, action plan?

> Start today
Start small, but start. Define “enough”. Define what you even want. Figure out why. Make a plan. Then start.

It doesn’t have to be a massive overhaul. You don’t need to quit your job / drop out of school / sell all your possessions and run away. Life doesn’t work like that for everybody. What does work is mastering the art of tiny shifts. These are actually the most powerful and sustainable. Check out Professor BJ Fogg’s work on tiny habits – you can start this today. It’s free. It barely takes any time. No excuses.

Don’t put it off until school starts. Or until school ends. Not until you land that job. Not until you put a few more years into that job. Don’t earmark it for your birthday, or for the start of the month, or the new year, or the next season. Don’t wait until you have that vague “enough”.

> What is enough?
Define it. I mean, really DEFINE IT. Put pen to paper and write it out: time, money, contacts, knowledge, experience. Even if it’s fuzzy, it’s better than nothing. If that’s all you can muster right now – well, then that’s enough.

> Next steps
Get creative. Get ruthless. How can you start moving towards some of those things starting this week? Break it down. Focus on what you have instead of what you lack. Make it happen. Again, Fogg’s tiny habits are great as baby steps.

An example
> My spending has been, let’s say, lean for the past few months. Other than essential bills (mortgage, smartphone, internet at home, groceries, transit pass, student loan repayments, etc.) I’m pretty thrifty. In short: I can’t afford Bikram Yoga rates.
> I love the practice, and feel it’s on the cusp of want / need — tipping to need. What to do?
> Trade the currencies I am rich in, even when the bank account is lean – time and talent. Toss in a case of right place, right time (mixed with a bit of hustle, and the all-important step: ask) – I brought regular practice into my life without spending a cent.

~~~

Whatever your goal, whatever your style (chip away at it or take a grand leap) – just do it already.  Often the biggest thing standing between that “right time” and the present moment: you owning it.

So the liberating thing about it never being the right time?

It’s actually always the right time.

It’s now and it’s never. “Now” is usually much more exciting…

Humbly, ~ H

The big dots of the post

“Always” takes work. “Never” is easy. The former is worth it, and easier than we think sometimes.
 Today is as good a day to make it happen. Don’t keep waiting for that mythical “right time” — it’s not something that anyone is handed on a silver platter.
Baby step #1 counts every bit as much as a huge leap towards making “it” happen.
Create an environment & situation that helps you get to where you’re trying to go. Start in your head. Work outwards from there.

What have you been putting off for “someday”? Have you ever explicitly defined “enough”? If you care to share, I’d love to hear it.

The tiny shift that changed my life

What’s this about? A simple little substitution with ridiculously disproportionate effects in my life – for the better. Will it change your life? Probably. What is this magic, you ask?

The shift

“I have to…” → “I get to…”

That’s it. It digs into one of the points from my last post – that our thoughts and words often play a bigger role than we sometimes realize (or admit to).

The effect
The power of this is that it re-frames… everything. It immediately takes something from obligation → privilege. This is what gratitude in practice looks like for me.

• I don’t have to pay my bills. I get to – because I actually have a smartphone, access to transportation & the Internet, a place to live, etc.
• I don’t have to figure out my life. I get to. How many people have this freedom to steer their life trajectory?
• I don’t have to go to the bank or the grocery store. I get to – because I actually have money of my own to deal with and easy access to food.

Note: I still complain about these things sometimes – I’m human. I’ve just gotten better at realizing when I am, stopping, and going through the reframe-for-gratitude process.

Fair warnings
Making this shift will change your relationships – and this can go either way.
“Ugh, I have so much stuff to do tonight” ← this is relatable. “I get to clean, cook, write a report for work, and do my readings; I’m so freakin’ lucky” – not so much. (It might earn you one of these.) Of course what it actually means is: I recognize that I have a home to clean, food to prep, a job to contribute to & earn from, and the privilege of education… But where I’m from, defaulting to misery & complaining is always a lot easier.

So expect a few feathers ruffled when you’re going against the masses. You might become irritating to some. Obnoxiously positive to the point of extremely annoying, even; any current relationships based primarily on co-miserating will have to adapt or die. But that’s what happens when you think different. That – and being viewed as someone with a rainbow stuck up their butt – was a risk I was willing to take. I’m just doing my due diligence to let you know some of the consequences of taking this advice. There are too many up-sides for me to do it any other way.

Putting it into practice
Still want to do it? Brill. It can be simple, but I found it hard to do at first. Assuming you’re coming from the same “woe is me” privileged sense as I, you’re up against re-programming a habit ingrained through years of practice. There’s no flick of the switch that will undo that – it just takes cultivating a new habit to override the old one.

Bad habits are overcome by learning new routines and practicing them over and over again. – Timothy Wilson covering Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit

While we’re at it, let’s step back from a quick assumption: that “tiny” = “easy” or “inconsequential”. See: butterfly effect.

Step 1
: Take a few days to just become aware of how often / seldom you say “I have to ___”. The toughest step is usually to recognize that. Count if you must.
Step 2: Start subbing in “I get to ___” instead, and go down the quick path of ‘what that actually means’. Resist the urge to roll your eyes at yourself. (It can seem ridiculous when you’re in the throws of an all-nighter to stop and think “I get to study for this, because I’m lucky enough to be in school. Do it anyways.)
Step 3: Repeat steps 1 & 2.

Don’t just take my word for it
I Googled “i have to i get to” after drafting this post and lo and behold – someone’s thought this exact thought already. Beauty. So if you’re on the fence about taking my word for it, perhaps backup from a New York Times best-selling author holds more clout for you (it’s a spot-on post, I suggest a read). Many others have thought the same, of course. Sometimes it’s not about who you choose to believe, as long as the message gets across. I always gladly connect people to other great thinkers if the alternate source will be taken more seriously. I’m just trying to make change happen.

So read. Believe. Do.

Humbly, ~ H

ps: Another wildly powerful “little swap” was when I got more deliberate about “I don’t / I won’t have time” → “I don’t / won’t make time”. BOOM. More on that next time…

The big dots of the post

Think in a certain way long enough and I swear you’ll start to believe it – for better or for worse.
Co-miserating is usually easier than co-marveling. The latter is way more worth it.
Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. It always starts small.
It’s about being happy with, and grateful for, “now”, even as we look forward to different things “one day”.
Yes, it might actually suck. Who said privilege was supposed to be easy?

What do you get to do? What do you make time for? Any other powerful swaps that have been game-changers for you?

Related:
#firstworldproblems
Everything is amazing and nobody is happy (start at the ~2 min mark)

Baby Steps+

There are baby steps.

Then, there are “baby steps” that, for the person doing the stepping, are actually pretty giant leaps. You may know what I’m talking about – to anybody else, what you’re about to do – or are doing, or have just done – is just a little thing. Another line item on the To-Do list. Practically inconsequential and potentially met with an “Oookay… great. You did that. Good for you!?” from others, punctuated with the “?” of their confusion as to why you’re making such a big deal out of it.

These are what I mean by Baby Steps+. They’re the “little big things” that keep getting bumped, keep not getting done… and usually not because we lack the know-how to make them happen. I seem to have had this conversation with a lot of different people lately. It could be pitching that client. Trying that yoga class. Cleaning out that closet. Putting pen to paper and drawing. Applying for that grant. Sending that email… Here’s a small selection out of a buffet of my recent Baby Steps+ (as they came to mind, in no particular order):

Go snowboarding for the first time Attempt a back hand-spring Donate my hair Get contacts  Start a blog

They seem simple enough, no? Innocuous, even. Here’s why they were more than “just a line item” for me, in brief:

Boarding Despite living a hop and a skip away from Whistler, this was 7+ years in the making. Seriously. (Right?!) My biggest hurdle was not the boarding itself – I’m a bit of a speed junkie & thrill-seeker. My biggest hurdle was actually “I can’t afford it” – negotiating my mental relationship and invisible scripts around money & value. There’s a long story behind this, of course, but it essentially boiled down to this: Spending a couple hundred dollars on a one-time ‘frivolous’ adventure (gear rental, lift ticket, travel, food) that I’ll have “nothing to show for” afterward was _____ (irresponsible, unreasonable, not realistic…) considering everything else that money should be earmarked for.

Hand-spring Long history on this one, too. I’d never been in gymnastics, dance, or sports as a wee tot, and recall being a somewhat cautious kid when it came to anything physically out-of-the-ordinary. Both feet off the ground, physically suspended in mid-air? Definitely qualifies. Paired with a conservative Eastern cultural upbringing (this “kind of stuff” is not for girls, it’s hardly lady-like, you’ll get hurt/bruised, what’s the point?, etc.) and believing the “window of learning” had long-since closed for me, this meant that a back hand-spring (or even falling into a back-bend, for that matter) was something to behold in awe when others did it, but not something I could do.

Hair On-again, off-again, I’ve had what I consider to be an unhealthy dependence on my hair. At times I’d cling to it as a major sign of my femininity & something that was beautiful; other times as a differentiator or an accomplishment. (Since I think that sounds weird, I’ll explain.) I wasn’t a fan of the way I looked growing up, and don’t consider myself to be particularly ‘pretty’ – but having nice, long hair was a tether. And I hung on TIGHT. Plus, growing / maintaining it takes a certain commitment & dedication, and I got a lot of compliments when it got stupid-long. It’s always nice to feel accomplished and be noticed / complimented…

Contacts A “pffft” point for many – but I’d been afraid of putting things in my eye since as far back as grade school. Why? Who even knows. What I do know is that my blink reflex has always been stuck on ‘hyper-drive’ and I was mad uncomfortable at the prospect of the whole process. (Sticking something in your eye? We have this blink reflex for a reason, people…) And what if you can’t get it out?!

Blog Excited, but extremely anxious & terrified. ‘Nuff said.

What made all these things fall into the big-hairy-monster “+” category? A few commonalities:

1 “I can’t”

Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.
Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.
Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.
– Author unknown

This quote may be very familiar to you, but it’s so true it hurts and I’d post it a hundred times more. It’s funny we sometimes don’t even know how powerfully persuasive we can be, just by repeating something: silently, then out-loud, then in our actions… and how they turn into our beliefs. (Advertisers & marketers have been on to this for decades, if not centuries…) For all five of the “little big things” above (and so much more!) I kept thinking “I can’t”… so I kept saying “I can’t.” So I didn’t. I shut myself down before I even gave myself a chance.

2 Those lurky, “ninja” bits that I held as ‘a-given’s – and didn’t even know

There was always something bigger behind any supposed “baby step” that blew it out of apparent proportion – and kept me from doing it, even when I wanted to. Boarding wasn’t about boarding – it was about money and guilt. Contacts and acrobatics weren’t about wanting to see clearly and flip around – they were about my convincing myself I couldn’t, based on some outdated beliefs. These “iceberg-under-the-surface” bits were usually things established years ago, dangerously left unexamined and unchallenged, that still effected some of my ‘today’ decisions. (In my defense, I didn’t know! The mark of a good ninja on the lurky bits’ part.)

3 “What if…”

Whether closely tied with “I can’t” or as a stand-alone, “what if” always crept in at some point, the leader of a barrage of doubts and worries. It pushed uncomfortable boundaries and poked at insecurities – but in a bad way. Often followed by “… I’m not ___ enough?” (rich / strong / pretty / careful), it was also a great way to catastrophize. (What if I couldn’t get them out? And they got infected? And I went blind? I’ll put up with blurry if it’s my eyesight on the line, thank you…) “What if….” is usually laced with implications and really cares what other people will think – I’m too old. It’s too late. I’ll look stupid. I might fail.

• • •

I went snowboarding for the first time in April. I attempted my first (and second and third and fourth…) back hand-spring in February. I chopped my locks and donated 12″ in January. I first got contacts back in October 2010. I started two blogs this month. BOOM. How?

• • •

Incremental progress over (a long!) time. (Sorry, if you were looking for some magic bullet – there’s no such thing). The trail & error eventually turned into a framework of tiny habits. Anytime I’m faced with a new Baby Step +, I try to live through my learning that came by doing (and then reflecting):

Say it. Out loud. To myself at first if that’s all I’m comfortable with. Something that I don’t think I can achieve, that sounds completely ridiculous to me. Something that I really want. I say it in the positive. I say it on paper / on screen.

Swap out little words. I don’t shut myself down before I even start; I stopped saying “I can’t”. First I sub it for “I’ll try”. Then down the line, “I will”. And eventually I do. My words have so much more power than I ever gave them credit for. I used to think it was fluffy and all the rest, but my life has shown me otherwise – little words, big impact. (Note: I start at “I will” much more than I used to. “I can’t” often creeps back in. I just have to go through this “can’t → try → will” cycle for each new big scary thing that comes my way.)

Dig deeper. There are likely still some deeply-held beliefs / fears of mine that won’t jive with what I want to do. In my defense, they’re very ninja, and I don’t often know that they were behind my actions / inactions right off the bat. I believe that I can’t change something effectively until I understand what’s going on, enough to take the appropriate step. So now whenever I get stuck, I get brutally honest with myself as to why I’m not doing the things I want/need to – am often surprised by what I find – and then get to steppin’. (Don’t be fooled if this sounds pretty; it can still be a long, tough, ugly process. It’s just worth it.)

Break it down. Potentially obvious, extremely important. I’ll turn any giant leap into a series of what I (not someone else) actually consider to be legit baby steps, no “+” allowed. Even if I’m just moving a hair forward – it’s better than sitting still or spiraling backwards. Knowing what I’m actually stuck on (by having dug deeper) helps me move in the right direction, at my pace, by focusing on the right things.

Share it. To me, including other people makes it real. It holds me accountable. So I share my Baby Step+ with someone I trust. Then with a few more people. I’ve found it’s a great way to built that foundation of support & encouragement, since that’s the type of crowd I’m surrounded with. (And I will say – I’ve found it important when in my fragile “someone batting an eyelash at me will shut me down” phase, to tell the right people first. Build up enough gusto. Seek out some tough love to get a balanced view. Then do.)

 Link it to something bigger. Anything to remind me why I want this in the first place, why it’s important. I tend to tether things to my values (e.g. following through on something / keeping my word to someone).

Slap on a “by when”. Sometimes it’s a milestone. Other times an arbitrary date or time. Having some point in time to work towards it makes things (1) less daunting and (2) more real. My sister’s destination wedding was my catalyst for the contacts. A gift certificate expiration date got me on the mountain. A somewhat-sudden group decision had me flipping over backward by the end of that class.

Not all of my Baby Steps+ have needed going through all of the above, nor necessarily in that order. Sometimes one of the above turns into a Baby Step+ of its own (e.g. telling someone else). In the end, these are just some of my tried & true that I wanted to share with you. Maybe it helps you as you do your incredible things. Even when the world sees it as nothing more than a baby step – we know it’s something much more than that, don’t we?

Humbly, ~ H

The big dots of the post

What’s easy for you isn’t easy for someone else, and vice versa. Work on you.
Our thoughts and words often play a bigger role than we sometimes realize (or admit to).
Achievements are our habits manifest. Drill down on the habits and awesome things will follow.
Build in tiny wins & celebrate them. They’re huge, and often lead to snowballing.
Create a framework to guide your “conquer Baby Steps+” process. Make your own, borrow mine, remix what works…

Have you hit any Baby Steps+ lately? What’s your approach to getting past the roadblock?  Any tiny-win celebrations to share?

So, what are you…

As I stretch and settle into this blog, I’m still searching for my voice. This post is maybe a bit more story-telly & me-centric than the tone I’ll strive to hit. Or it could be the magic right here right now. Regardless, it comes straight from the heart, as the first has and the rest will. So, I post – in all its imperfect glory. A day not challenged is no way to live.

My recent past has been filled with conventionally-questionable activity. A quarter-century into this adventure we call life, I am not in school, nor am I working full-time – both of these by choice, and much to the chagrin of my well-meaning South Asian parents. (Don’t get me wrong: I love them, they love me, and they want what’s good for me. I know this and am so grateful; it’s just tough to negotiate that gratitude with the challenges & tensions that come from me going off the beaten path and not quite having a satisfactory answer on lock.)

So what am I doing?
I ask myself this question sometimes every morning now. (I should have been asking it more often before this little adventure started, but that’s for later.) A snapshot of my life as of today looks like me living, learning, and working by:

Ÿ Reprogramming many of the habits & personal scripts that had historically held me back – proudly doing some major damage to my bucket list & life goals as a result.

 Following a cross-disciplinary, self-curated curriculum consisting of online courses, conferences, seminars, workshops, events, books, scholarly articles, websites, videos, TED talks, blogs, conversations with incredibly intelligent people… learning more diverse content than ever before and honestly just becoming a big life-nerd.

Ÿ Doing lots pro-bono work with some great organizations.

Ÿ Getting creative (e.g. bartering) to keep things I value in my life during a time where my budget is quite… exclusive.

Being better to my body than maybe ever before, by making sure I eat, sleep, and sweat – well, and enough.

Ÿ Nurturing relationships with countless ridiculously amazing people who I’m somehow blessed to have as friends, family, mentors, thought-twins, tribe members, co-conspirators…

Ÿ Having many barrier-shattering, candid conversations about the stuff that really matters, with people I used to have my “Everything’s fine! I got this!” facade on around – and realizing that true strength lies in being really vulnerable & vulnerably real.

So, the more fitting question would be “what am I being?” since the common theme has essentially been “figuring out this thing called life & learning how to BE.” Specifically on the career front (the thing on the front-burner of my obsessive mind), I’ve been:

Ÿ Honing in on that sweet spot where my passions, knowledge, and skills intersect. (I feel like I’ve figured this out for the time being. The fun part is – it’s always going to change. Consider it a never-really-checked-off item on the life To-Do To-Be list.)

Ÿ Quieting the voice inside that keeps nagging at me with “you think you can actually do this?” and to just go out there and DO, guns blazing (having researched proper firearm use & safety precautions; I’m nothing if not thorough).

That last little point has been my biggest hang-up. I roughly know the steps I need to take. I’ve got a solid skill set to start with, a good foundation of knowledge, enough sense of direction to forage forward; I have value to offer. I just need to put myself out there, occupy my right-now niche, and find my audience (oh you elusive bunch!).

For better and for worse, this is one of the most important parts that my reprogramming hasn’t quite addressed yet: undoing ~20 years’ worth of training that helped me be a little too good at being loss-averse, at minimizing risk & avoiding failure – the exact things that need conquering to really live life out loud. Blazing a trail and creating something new – in relationships, in work, in life – is equal(?) parts romantic and terrifying. I’m still living somewhere in the negotiation process, as I have been for a few months now. When getting disheartened or frustrated, I remind myself that things worth doing are rarely easy, or quick.

Luckily, I also have the love and support of many wonderful, intelligent, no-nonsense (WINNing) people that push me to see myself as they see me (you know who you are, and you should know that I can’t get enough of you). They are my champions, who hold me to greatness so that I can reach my true potential.

[If we overestimate and overrate man, we promote him to what he really can be…] (Idealists) are the true, the real realists… If we take man as he is, we make him worse. But if we take man as he should be, we make him capable of becoming what he can be. – Viktor Frankl quoting Goethe, circa 1972. Check out the video – so spot on.

I am an instigator. I strike up conversations about passions. I catalyze people getting to their “point B”. I share everything I know with anyone open to hearing it. I feel like the conversations I’ve been having with said WINNing people, and the mutual lessons we’ve shared and reinforced, are just too important not to broadcast so I’m just bringing real-life me online. If this brings you, questioning & pondering the same things, into the conversation or acts as a starting spark, then I’m a happy puppy. I’m certainly not the only one creating community around this, and maybe not the all-round “best”. But this is as selfish as it is selfless, and is uniquely m; that’s enough for now.

Humbly, ~ H

Ps: In writing this big post, I found (of course) that specific phrases sparked giant thought tangents that could easily fill up entire other entries. Adopting a sane method, I will thoughtfully package & post each in turn, rather than turn this one into an encyclopedia (losing my 3 readers in the process). So, look out for the future postings that I know will inevitably link back to this one.

After all, thoughts are dots; the connections are everywhere.

The big dots of the post

Regularly checking in with yourself and asking the “What am I doing / being” question should really be mandatory of everyone. Personal opinion.
Letting go of ‘should’ and being really vulnerable & vulnerably real is one solid path towards success. Being held to greatness is another. (Once you get over the little – or HUGE – hurdle of terror at the prospect.)
Great ideas are timeless.
Struggling with putting ‘work-in-progress’ and ‘imperfect’ out to the world is still a vice. I stare right at that fear and charge along anyway.
There is not a chance that I could do any of this without much support & encouragement. No man is an island, and I owe oceans to countless; my cup runneth over.

Where do you think you fall on the un/conventional spectrum? Is there something about yourself that you’d love to reprogram? Thinking about your own champions… have you told them lately?