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.

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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?

It’s never easy. But damn, is it ever worth it!

Image source: randomblahblahblahs

This quote by Paulo Coelho, visualized, is my current desktop background. I see it, smile, and silently agree – each and every day.

There are those times in life when something comes at us at just the right time, resonating so loud & clear that we can’t help but latch on. A friend had posted this to my Facebook wall on August 29. A clean, simple, innocent visual; an incredibly fitting representation of the lessons my life was teaching me at exactly that time. There was no way it would slip into faint memory (thanks, David!).

At the end of August, I was at a pivot point, struggling with thoughts & feelings of “I’m not doing anything”. Today, I’m on the flip side, struggling (and loving it!) to “keep all the balls in the air”, as it were.

Both states of being are incredibly difficult. Each has it’s own glory points, perks, pitfalls, dark days, and lurky gremlins.

And hell, am I ever thankful for all of it – the whole beautiful, ugly mess. It has brought me to where I am today, has made me as ‘strong of will’ as I like to think I am, has taught me how to deal with things I never even knew would be a challenge.

I feel like I’m finally growing up (“Mommy, wow! I’m a big kid now“). More and more, I find myself immersing in the uncomfortable, disquieting, uneasy parts of life – stewing in them, feeling whatever there is to feel, understanding myself through them – instead of running away by throwing myself into things I could control in one form or other. (Cue: perfectionism; pride in the self-proclaimed & publicly-supported ‘busy bee’ label; achievement addiction; title-chasing; …etc. Standing still slaps all of these things in the face.)

Life has many ways of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all or by having everything happen all at once.

Mr. Coelho: so poignant, so right. We will always be tested. In one form or other, in at least one of multiple given aspects of life we are striving to ‘attain’ or ‘master’ – we will always be tested. My thoughts and actions have finally synced in with the “so why not use challenges as sharpeners?” mentality.

My inner No. 2’s are being whipped into fine-tipped shape, one struggle at a time. Bring on the scantron, life.

Humbly, ~ H

The big dots of the post

The “nothing happening” state is a quiet battle, every bit as difficult as its “everything happening” counterpart.
Facing both – living, breathing, feeling them – that’s what the big kids do.
Reveling in the struggle, not running from it, makes the most room for learning.

Which do you find more tests your will – the “nothing” or the “everything” scenario? What do you do to make it great for you regardless?

Related:
• A few weeks ago, I was feeling so guilty about falling off the “post regularly on Sundays” routine-wagon. It’s funny how things shift when I manage my expectations – the fact that I’m posting on a Monday instead this week barely bothers me (perfectionist H is still in here somewhere, after all). The difference? I made a very conscious decision about where my time was going this past week and weekend, and decided not to post on Sunday. It was an intentional, above the line choice. #happy

• I’m big on inputs. What you surround yourself with shapes you – some things obviously, others covertly (sometimes insidiously). Whatever the case, I think we’re fooling ourselves if we say that our environment does not have a very appreciable impact on who we are and what we do. (Try it yourself. If you usually hang around a low-key, home-body group of friends, get yourself into a high-energy, always-getting-out-there-and-doing-things crowd – or vice versa – for 3 weeks. Observe your behaviour, where your energy goes, etc. Changes? How so?) This quote is one of my daily visual inputs. What are yours?

• “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, it’s green where you water it.”

“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)

Success is: connecting.

Riding on last week’s ideas of letting go of entitlement & being inviting, I love this second line from Charlie’s post:

Making yourself inviting means enjoying the conversation, in and of itself. Even if that’s the only interaction you have with someone, that doesn’t mean that it didn’t go anywhere. Let go of the notion that success means anything other than a good connection.

(emphasis mine)

My mind  links it to the following “notes to self” that I visit often:

1. Be here now. Enjoy something for the sake of it. Don’t keep looking to “what this is going to get me” or “where is this going to go”. The “where” is here, and the “what” is now. Dive deep. Engage fully. That is enough.

2. “Producing, ergo worthy” can be a damaging belief. I’ve struggled – and still do at times – with “having something to show for” what I choose to spend my time on. It’s become second nature to tie my worth to roles, titles, products, achievements, awards… that’s a tough bond to break.

Connecting to self
Sometimes, though, the most important work – being alone, engaging with thoughts, reading to absorb ideas, diving in to meaningful conversation – doesn’t produce anything immediate & tangible to easily “signal success” to the whole wide world (or the world wide web).

It can be hard to live out that knowledge in our hyper-connected, achievement-driven present, where it seems almost ridiculous not to keep an interaction going, given all available channels. (Phone, text, email, Twitter, Facebook… “stay connected” is essentially the default expectation.) Add to that a layer of “entrepreneur culture”, and you’ve got a recipe that thrives on FOMO – where every conversation & connection needs to be followed up on, lest we miss out of something that might come of it.

A recent story
Last  Wednesday, I took part in the SFU Public Square event “Our Voices: Creating a Connected Community”. The day-long conference was extremely well-run (hat tip to all involved in organizing!), and lunchtime was a fantastic conversation with a great woman and fellow attendee. She came up and sat beside me; we proceeded to bond over common beliefs, ideas, and experiences (and thoughts on the great food  – here’s a plug for Potluck Café Society, a non-profit social enterprise & registered charity doing great things in the DTES since 2001).

Our chat touched on issues of feeling isolated & lonely in a crowd, of culture clashes in connection, of how Vancouverites seem to glib past each other like ships passing in the night – in broad daylight. I fully enjoyed the conversation, in and of itself.

Wrapping up at the end of lunch, we both seemed to choose not asking for / offering any contact information. It was a very deliberate and somewhat difficult (in)action on my part – one I had to actively think about not doing, as the definition of “connection” was probed throughout the day.

Maybe she and I will cross paths again. Maybe we won’t. What I do know is that I wish her well, that I think she has a kind heart, that I hope she and her husband keep enjoying life in Vancouver as it sounds like they do, and that she continues being involved in the things that make her heart beat. Choosing to leave our interaction where and when it happened, pristine & impactful, was me living the knowledge that respect for the already-shared connection is not negated by the choice not to pursue further connection.

I spend hours and hours in conversations – challenging, stimulating, illuminating, terrifying, humbling, uplifting, uncomfortable… most with those I know, some with strangers passing through my life. These conversations are incredible, and they are my inputs: what I have to show for them is who I am. That connection to myself through others – that’s my measure of success; that’s my “enough”.

Sometimes “then & there” is where the value of an interaction is seeded; the continued value lives in us, and how we were shaped by that connection. Keeping that in mind, I find it easier to live “the beauty of letting go”.

Humbly, ~ H

The big dots of the post

Sometimes connecting demands letting go.
There’s a certain joy in fully experiencing the moment, with no ulterior motives or further expectations.
Defining our experiences as “success” or “failure” based on something other than future outcome can be extremely liberating.
“Connecting” can mean many things; the notion of “staying connected” is but one definition.
We don’t always “have something to show” for what we’ve done; this doesn’t negate the worth of what we’ve done, nor our worth as the do-ers.

Do you struggle with leaving a moment or connection behind? Can you see success in letting go, do you think that is a missed opportunity and that I’m jabbering non-sense?

Related:
JOMO! A favorite blog post that flips FOMO on its head.
Achievement addiction – which I think has trickled right down through to childhood.
• Feelings of social isolation are prevalent in Metro Vancouver. The Vancouver Foundation has done some community-based research to back this up with data. So no, we’re not imagining it, and yes, it’s a big issue. You can read the results here.

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.

That time I was guilty and fessed up: today.

Perfection overboard: taking the joy out of play

Perfect? Or painful?

So I did it again. Getting ahead of myself, in a not-so-good-way, I chased myself back into one of my vices: perfectionism. The result this time? I stopped blogging consistently. Ok, at all.

I have ideas dancing through my mind constantly. Life experiences begging to be captured in words, shared. Posts banked up in various forms of draft, some nearly ready to go.  A post a week coming along nicely for over a month.

Then a Sunday went by when I didn’t post.

Slippery Slope
It began innocently enough. It was almost there… but not quite. There were a few more dots to cleverly connect; a slightly stronger, more effortless flow to be achieved; a better overall package. Then life, in all its unplanned glory, happened and Sunday evening came and went – “perfection” unachieved and Publish button un-clicked.

“I can just post retroactively this once. The beautiful, blue-hued glow streaking the Sunday column will continue, uninterrupted, on the lovely little sidebar calendar. No-one will be the wiser.”

Oh hello, guilt & scheming. Here I am, suddenly thinking of ways to cover it up. (Red flag: justifying an action that would go against what I say I’m about – living out loud.) In the grappling process, I let it grow into a bigger mess – begging more guilt & scheming.

I may sound like a crazy person at this point to some, but if you’ve ever had a notebook you’re hesitant to start writing in for all that it implies – you know what I’m talking about here. In any case, I am positive that we’ve all lived through the underlying “guilty & quiet” situation at one point or another, ranging from mundane to intense.

Here was my process for learning through this experience:

Step 1: Does it even matter?

Sometimes we do (or neglect to do) something, and could care less / face no consequence. Sometimes it’s freedom from an imposed criteria, situation, or schedule (by self or by other) that makes us realize that we didn’t actually want or need to do “the thing”. (Having personal values & priorities defined helps a lot for this step.)

I knew that this was still important to me because it’s been nagging in the back of my mind, even as I was happily engaged in other things. Feeling guilty, with no-one holding me to this but me, and simultaneously missing the whole process.

So the first important question is “does it even matter?” If the answer is no, happily drop it. If yes, proceed to:

Step 2: Figure out what went wrong

In sitting back and reflecting (asking the tough questions; asking “why” seven times) I know where I went wrong in this specific situation. Specific systems were missing that I needed to make this work. Oh, I had the mechanics set – post on Sundays, draft on Thursdays, time blocked off to write & edit… but I didn’t build in the human part into it, the part that would tether me against my mental pitfalls. This left me wide open to my vices, that are always all too ready to rear their ugly heads if I let them. They are all right up above there: more. stronger. better. The not-so-good thoughts that held a good, strong, valuable piece from seeing the light of the inter-ether.

Step 3: Figure out what to do differently

If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.

Systems. People. Conversations. Environments. Habits. Figure out what you need & build those things into your life. Figure out what holds you back & drop ’em like they’re hot.

Step 4: “Shout it from the rooftops”

The single most powerful thing is to own it. So here I go:

My archives will forever show 4 blank Sundays in Aug-Sept 2012 that did not see me post. This is my confession, untempered with the “but” of any excuses. In my books: I made a mistake, I let it turn into something bigger, and didn’t make it a priority to “fix” until now. I plan to keep this blog up for years; those 4 little blanks are now 4 little lessons, 4 little reminders, 4 little forevers.

Step 5: Do it.

~~~

Sliding along the spectrum of perfectionism is, and will always be, a constant journey for me. This was just another little life lesson teaching me how to deal. Not that the order of the steps will always be the same, but the above are definite stages I move through for any time when I’m slammed with “guilty & quiet”.

It’s so good to be back.

Humbly,  ~ H

The big dots of the post

 There is a such thing as too much of a good thing – including planning, hoping, forecasting.
“Failing is OK” only holds true if you own up to it & extract the learning from it. Sitting back and doing nothing while pointing to a plaque that reads “failure is part of learning” does not count.
 Sometimes “failing” is part of the process. In the long run, it’s not failure.
 Covering up a stumble just to look good is cheating – yourself above anyone or anything else.
Owning up to something takes strength and feels freakin’ fantastic (even if not at first).

Have you been guilty of something lately? If so, did you fess up or cover up? Either way, how’s that going for you right now?

Related:
• ...When the pursuit of success turns toxic

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)