I shouldn’t be here…

It’s all so completely arbitrary – who, how, where, and what I am.

When I start to think of all the things– the chance, the luck, the chaos, the opportunities, and missed connections – that have brought me to here and now… well by all accounts, I shouldn’t be here.

Not to say that I am a complete puppet in all of this. I have done. Acted. Created. Impacted. I have made certain things happen based on where I find myself, taking ownership and interacting in my own unique way.

Yet, in the grand scheme of things – in the sheer mind-boggling magnitude of the series of systems and events that culminated in life as I know it?* I’ve had a pretty miniscule amount of control, let’s be honest.

     •   •   •

I want to do everything remembering that I am entitled to nothing.

I’ve found acknowledging my lack of control to be really powerful. (When it’s not overwhelming… practice makes that a bit better, each time.) I feel like living in graceful humility, without losing my agency, will be my life’s work.

Understanding context and being grateful-out-loud helps. Because honestly, everything is a privilege; a fascinating happenstance. I’m sometimes dumbfounded just thinking about it.** I shouldn’t be here…

But I am. And so, I’m determined to work and play and breathe and be in a way that merits the incredible mix of randomness that’s formed this life I’m living.

~ H

* Nationality. History. Policy. Economy. Freedom. Citizenship. Rights. Gender. Home. Family. Influencers. (…)
**
And I’m only thinking back in a very limited scope – just one generation, and parents’ immediately personal histories.

Connected:
• Q & A with Malcolm Gladwell about Outliers
Bah, Humblebrag – New York Times

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One absurd practice we could all question…

As I see it, the sentiment is quite widespread.

• Offered to someone starting a new chapter, whether it’s a new year of life (hello, birthdays!) or an exciting travel adventure.
• Thought by many a well-intentioned parent, guardian, and friend.
• Hand-written in cards and notes of all sorts.

I feel like it either (a) comes from a good place or (b) is expressed ‘just because’ – it’s socially acceptable, essentially expected at times.

Either way, I propose we all immediately put an end to this ‘polite practice’ of wishing one another “nothing but the best“.

"I wish nothing but the best for you."

Sounds good, right? (Source.)

Why?! It seems appropriate. Kind. Certainly polite. Generous, even.

Yet having and living “nothing but the best” robs us of context – without which we cannot really truly understand, cannot grasp reality, and cannot truly empathize. A life without context is absurd, to me.

Life without context is living in blindness, ‘blissfully’ unaware. If “the best” is all we know, then our perspectives are uni-dimensional, inexperienced, untethered, out-of-touch, unintentionally ignorant… Frankly, I think these skewed perspectives are an insidious danger, to both ourselves and for those around us.

So instead, I propose we all do one another (and ourselves) a favor and take to the habit of wishing one another “enough“.

•  •  •

“(This is) a wish that has been handed down for generations. My parents used to say it to everyone.” (…)

“When we said ‘I wish you enough’ we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with just enough good things to sustain them”.

“I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
//
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
//
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
//
I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final good-bye.”

(Modified and abridged from this post.*)

•  •  •

“Enough” reflects reality. “Enough” gives us a well-rounded perspective, encompasses a spectrum, keeps us in check. “Enough” helps bring us to what I consider an ‘ideal state’: head in the clouds & feet on the ground.

Otherwise, we human beings have this pesky tendency to habituate, to compare up, to take things for granted, and fall into the bottomless pit of entitlement. ‘Nothing but the best’ can (and does, as I’ve seen it) spoil us.

Seems like sound advice. (Source.)

Seems like sound advice. (Source.)

So I leave you with “enough”, as a suggestion. Wish yourself enough instead of ‘the best’. Wish enough onto others. Swap out the vocab – swap out the sentiment – and see where it leads.

Humbly,
~ H

What do you think? Is moving towards wishing for ‘enough’ something that you agree with, or is this all crazy-talk? Do you see any applications in your experience? Any ‘exceptions to the rule’?

Connected:
Ivan Illich – To Hell With Good Intentions
Nurture vs. coddling – on a.musing.
How to make everyday great

~ ~ ~

* In curating my inputs over time, I’ve amassed quite a few online resources that inspire me to spontaneously reflect, question, rethink, pause, innovate and integrate. I’ve designed these habit triggers into my everyday, via all my social media channels. My Twitter feed, Facebook news feed, Instagram roll, Tumblr dashboard… each constantly delivers value and interesting content whenever I log on — it’s a cross-pollination haven. I have The Idealist on Facebook to thank for the discovery of this little tidbit.

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.

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.

Do

You can’t just think your way to clarity.

•   

I was the overly-cautious type. Constrained in my exploration. Afraid to show imperfection. Shackled to past decisions. Hesitant to change. ‘Talking so I didn’t need to be walking.’

I have been changing. Slowly but surely. Intentionally & accidentally alike. By focusing inward and in giving to others.

My direction is to grow further into creativity. Revel in exploration. Take even more chances than I have so far. Consistently set intentions into actions. Execute on ideas.

Because I am always curious. More comfortable with myself. Ever-growing. Able to respond, rather than react, to challenges. Still a planner, and now one who can roll with the punches. A creative human, doing.

•   

Many things have been brewing in mind and heart, in scribbles in tucked away pages. My gift to myself in the coming months will be to unleash a few more of these, all the while reveling in the process. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, a relevant favorite tune that merits a share. (Lyrics.)


Nature always did leave me in inspired awe. Here’s to living out “Go Do”. Enjoy.

Humbly, ~ H

Who *were* you? What has been happening for you lately? Who are you now? Who do you wish to become?

Related:
Building identity-based habits (on LifeHacker)

In sync, en masse: wrapping up & looking forward

Source: pinnacleperformancechampions.org

Source: pinnacleperformancechampions.org

I’ve chatted with multiple people lately about how much I love the holiday season. ‘Consumerist-frenzy’ aside, there is this sweet sweeping harmony of everyone making the honest time and effort – pulling our heads out of our collective, self-absorbed asses as it were – to really take pause and focus on what’s important. There are those sweet moments amidst all the apparent chaos, where people en masse turn to: good food, making fond memories, exuding dignity and respect, and doubling over in laughter with family (chosen and/or biological).

I especially relish those few sweet days between Dec 26th and Jan 1. It is the one coveted week, out of 52, where the majority of the people I know will be vibing on the same wavelength which I now seem to call home; the one unspoken week devoted to checking-in, reflecting, crafting goals, and declaring those ever-earnest “New Year’s Resolutions”. (Some argue that this trickles in to the first week or so of January too, before the tides of time sweep the crowd away again for another 360-ish days.) Marvelous.

But there’s a sting that comes along with this sweet honey. I feel like most people have known, at one point or other, what it’s like to look at the “New Year’s Resolution” list when March rolls around, and feeling any of:
– “oh, crap – I suck”
– “oh, well – there’s always next year”
– (fill in your usual response here)

Seems like New Year’s Resolutions are made to be broken. Lofty lists & motivation are clearly not enough. (Actually, motivation isn’t the answer – see BJ Fogg‘s work).

12.16 The definition of insanity

Source: yummymummyclub.ca

So, try something different. As 2012 draws to a close, draw out your big picture as that foundation, the tether. Craft a vision and/or mission – your overarching strategy. Then jump in to the nitty-gritty.

big picture – New Year’s Intentions

> Point your compass: start with why (Simon Sinek).
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you  do it.”
Same goes for self-persuasion. Sometimes the fine-grain struggles can be overwhelming. Re-framing an immediate ‘what’ (e.g. 10-page report to the board tomorrow) and anchoring it to a bigger ‘why’ (e.g. data-driven sustainable decision-making → impact clean water project on the ground → safe drinking water for a community → lives saved) reminds us exactly why we’re doing what we’re doing.

> Choose ‘areas of focus’ instead of goals (Peter Bregman).
In the heat of “achieving the goal”, we can sometimes we get sucked in and lose sight of that bigger ‘why’ behind it all. Downsides? Temptations to take shortcuts (sometimes unintentional!), or being blind to the fact that our lives may call for the ‘what’ to shift. Then, even when we get to the end goal, something feels off — not the best feeling to remember going forward to future goals.
Instead, having distinct areas of focus (e.g. physical and mental health; strong family relationships; steady income) allows a directional clarity while leaving the exact ‘how’ to best fit your situational mold (e.g. run 1 mile, 3 times per week or park farther and walk the last 3 blocks to and from work every day).

> Figure out how you want to feel rather than what you want to do (Danielle LaPorte).
That dream vacation to Phuket for a week? That might actually boil down to a yearning to discover a new, relaxing place where you can unplug, recharge, and spend some quality time with someone special. If those are all the must-haves, then a well-crafted staycation or trip to an island closer to home could hit on those very same things, no? Take that step back to clarify what you’re striving for on the inside, before starting to map out & negotiate the intricate logistics of a single goal.

action planIntentions to Reality

Once you have the strategy, the overall direction in place – that’s when you light the fire to ignite “The 2013 Project”.
> Make those lists.
> Wrap them into project plans; schedule things.
> Find methods that keep you accountable.
> Follow through.
> Celebrate as you see fit.

Now you have strong goals (tethered to intentions) that you can chase with fervor – enjoying every step of the pathways there. Powerful.

Also, get started today. There are still 2 full perfectly good weeks left in 2012 – take full advantage! Kick-start your new year right by setting those habits now. Trust me, it feels great.

Humbly, ~ H

The big dots of the post

Make your own start date. “December 16” looks just as good as “January 1”
Focus less on achieving the final outcome, more on accomplishing throughout the total journey.
Live in your heart and mind first; live in your plans and calendars thereafter.
Your goals; your way. Find the methods that work for you (good old trial and error does the trick).
The glass is half full (e.g. stop working from a deficit model). Celebrate what you do, rather than where you’ve fallen short.

What will you do in the next 14 days to set a strong foundation to rock the new year the way you want to?

Resource:
Lululemon Vision & Goal Setting

So you want to change the world…

Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.

Image source: Safe Defense

H circa 2009 was a (surprisingly?) wise young woman. Here’s something penned on March 19, 2009 at 12:30am. (I was always the meticulous one.*)

•  •  •

Reflect on those less fortunate and feel not guilt, but gratitude. In an age where inaction toward a(ny) cause may draw raised eyebrows from judging peers, feel not obliged to act out of pressure to conform to this new social norm if it does not come from a conviction within you.

Rather, begin by acknowledging your privilege, and all that it affords you.

gender  race  country of origin  current residence  sexual orientation  education  wealth  status  “beauty”  age  ability  wisdom  support  religion  opportunity  possibility

Be conscious of your advantages. Be grateful for them.

This is a start. This is enough. More than money thrown to a cause can ever do. Because this could spark true understanding; deep appreciation.

Appreciate the power of words.  Appreciate the power of small actions. Never stop questioning. Learn curiously. Learn concern. Learn humility. Learn gratitude. Learn kindness. Learn the art of negotiation. Learn the value of communication.

Learn to love. Love to learn.

•  •  •

Stumbling upon this entry of mine was so refreshing, because it was a tacit reminder of both how much I’ve grown, and how very much I’ve stayed the same. Reading through it, the following thoughts comically strung together:

“I want to be this person.”

. . . “I was this person.”

. . . “I am this person.”

There are, of course, other things I would add to that quick list I’d blurted out 3 years and 8 months ago (e.g. mobility, security, spirituality, agency, connection, freedom, technology…). There are, of course, nuanced thoughts and great complexities merely caressed by those words, that remain unexplored above.

But from where I’m sitting, that simplicity and imperfection is what it’s all about. So, from where I’m sitting, it’s simply perfect.

Yes, I’m out to change the world. (I will, I guarantee it.) I’m starting with me.

Humbly, ~ H

The big dots of the post

“Change is a process, not an event.”
Working on “me” first is even an airline industry concept (oxygen masks, anyone?)
We give our past selves less credit than is due (and our current selves more credit than is deserved). Note to self: stop that.
“Everything in moderation.” Reflection is powerful when it feeds into action; don’t get too stuck in either.
Action based on a solid foundation – of self, of knowledge, of cultivated empathy – is so much more impactful (IMHO). Pretty much unstoppable.

Do you still feel guilty when you’re faced with an issue you’re not currently “fighting”? How do you cultivate that much-needed strong inner conviction?

*Looking back on my calendar, it turns out I had come home sick from school that day. In the throws of work/papers/midterms/exec commitments that week… it was a rest day. Chased a recuperating nap with an 8 hour paper-writing stint – with these thoughts pouring out of me around the halfway mark. Funny how that works…

Related:
• Susanne Conrad’s “Above / Below the Line” concept visualized.
• “I Want to Be An Aid Worker” – on cultural tourism (a.musing)
• Taking care of the care-givers.
• Lehrer on The Virtues of Daydreaming.
• Bump that track; turn up the love.

What sticks.

Image source: Annie’s Treasure Trove


What do you remember?

Forget the prompts. Forget the notes and scribbles. Don’t look at your planner or calendar. Don’t look at your photo albums (ahem, physical or digital). Do not look at your Twitter stream or media bookmarks.

What do you remember?

I’ve always had a naturally swiss cheesey / sieve-like memory (i.e. I forget a lot of things, have a hard time retaining information with one-pass, etc.). This is something that I have to work to overcome.

Enter: calendars  notebooks  souvenirs  photos  sticky-notes  coloured pens… (Stationary obsession? Is this why you exist?!)

But, in my humble opinion, there is (a) healthy dependence and then there is (b) crippling dependence. Slippery slope.

these are my confessions:
I have this dangerous reliance on my GoogleCalendar. To the point where sometimes I will have forgotten what day something happened, or what I’d done the previous Thursday. So I will look back to check.
Or (and I know I’m not alone in this) – some kind of request on my time comes my way, and I defer the decision with a quick (accepted, and understood) “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.”

Stop. What the hell are we doing? I wonder how much of this ties in to this epidemic of defaulting to “I’m busy“…

try this: Take the 168 hours of the past full week, Monday – Sunday. (Ok, sleeping, showering, pooping, etc. gets you a pass.) What do you remember?

A rogue thought that keeps re-visiting me is this: maybe those are the only things that count.

Are they? Let me think about it… (and not consult my notes).

Humbly, ~ H

The big dots of the post

Point of contention: if it doesn’t stick in your memory, is it truly worth remembering (long-term)?
There’s a difference between collecting moments and hoarding memories.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. Forgive forgetting. It’s allowed sometimes.
If we can’t keep track of our lives, maybe it’s a sign we’re doing too much yet being too little…

Do you have a hard time remembering without the myriad of tools at our disposal? Is it time we start flexing that brain muscle to be the primary keeper of our memories?

Related:
• “Pictures or It Didn’t Happen…” on Truth and Cake.
• There are industries built on preserving memories. Take photography, for one. Apparently, this is the latest trend in the couples / wedding photography industry… #ThingsThatMakeYouGoHmmm
How Timeline could shape our memory of our lives.
• Ellen plays with others’ Facebook.

P.S. I don’t think it’s right to talk about remembering, specifically in November, without respecting history and remembering the lessons taught by our collective history. This year, I hope you’ve made the time to make “Remembrance Day” your own, whatever that looks like. Finding a veteran, or family members of veteran soldiers, to hear their stories; doing some research into the history; understanding the causes and effects of war. Do something that represents these big things in a way that resonates with you. Make it matter past a post or a tweet. Give a damn. My respect to the fallen masses, without whom I would not be living the life I am today. “We stand on the shoulders of giants.”

Shortcuts to possibility

Sometimes upside-down is the right side up.
(Image source: 123rf.com)

Just over one year ago, on October 12, 2011, I turned my world upside-down. Literally.

It was a Wednesday. Mid-way through a week that saw me living 28 hours volunteering on amazing events with incredible people, spending a day training for a new job, making time for some quality catch-up with 5 wonderful friends, and conspiring with an incredible travel agent to lock down the details of my two-month “trip of a lifetime”.

I don’t remember what exactly possessed me to do it. But on that Wednesday, after my twice-a-week at-home mini-workout (so endorphins, maybe?), I did.

I walked over to face the wall and planted my hands on the floor. My head followed suit, making a tripod with my hands. I took a breath and pulled myself into a teddy-bear headstand. Then I went that crucial, uncomfortable step further – I worked my legs straight up.

Headstand.

It was probably far from graceful, hardly controlled, and likely too precarious to have an audience that would be able to stifle a laugh. It was supported by the wall.

But I didn’t care. Over 10 years of saying “I can’t” – overcome. Just like that.

Cheeks flushed, elated that I’d done it, I bounded giddily to tell anyone that would listen. I got a “aw, that’s so cute” reaction from my sister. A confused-yet-affirmative smile from my mom. And this “I can do anything” glow from within me. I may as well have jumped out of an airplane.

There are those little things in life that are symbolic of something much bigger.

A wedding ring. A candid photograph. A hard-earned degree. A cherished book. They are symbols of process; of promise; of possibility.

This momentous headstand, alone at home on a Wednesday, is one of mine. For me, it was the tangible start of a new chapter – one in which I challenge long-standing, unquestioned “that’s just the way it is” notions with gusto and a curious “why not?”.

Today, I hardly go a day without inverting. If I miss it, I catch myself thinking “I haven’t been upside-down yet”.  A headstand, a handstand, hanging upside-down from monkey-bars, cartwheels… a little something to shake me, flip things, change my perspective, and get my blood pumping. A reminder of what I can do.

A reminder of possibility.

Humbly, ~ H

The big dots of the post

Do it. Remember that once, that used to be an “I can’t”. Celebrate.
Do it again. Celebrate again. Build a little habit.
Use it as a foundation. Extrapolate. Feel awesome.

What are your shortcuts to possibility?

“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? 

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