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.

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.

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

“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.

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?