Never Eat Alone – What’s Your Mission?

One of my favorite chapters within Keith Ferrazzi’s book.

I have been thinking about the concept of goals and mission statements a good deal lately, going on a tirade about how I have grown sick of them and see them as rather limiting. But perhaps that’s because goals need to come from a much grander place than they often do:

“’A goal is a dream with a deadline.’ That marvelous definition drives home a very important point. Before you start writing down your own goals, you’d better know what your dream is. Otherwise, you might find yourself headed for a destination you never wanted to get to in the first place.”

The problem with many goals is that you’re always in a pre-failure state until you achieve it. However, if you understand that the goal is a stepping-stone towards your dream, then everything changes.

To find your dream and begin to set healthy goals, first look within yourself to determine your loftiest mission:

“There are many ways to conduct a self-assessment of your goals and dreams. Some people pray. Others meditate and read. Some exercise. A few seek long periods of solitude. The important thing when conducting an internal review is to do it without the constraints, without the doubts, fears, and expectations of what you ‘should’ be doing. You have to be able to set aside the obstacles of time, money, and obligation.”

Once you have looked inside of yourself, then it’s time to look outward and figure out what you can begin to do and who you can surround yourself. The author reminds the reader that this is the way towards growth:

“Human ambitions are like Japanese carp; they grow proportional to the size of their environment. Our achievements grow according to the size of our dreams and the degree to which we are in touch with our mission.”

If you find yourself thinking that being a ‘dreamer’ isn’t enough, you’re right. Yet you shouldn’t disparage the act of dreaming itself. Instead, strike a balance:

“Disciplined dreamers all have one thing in common: a mission. The mission is often risky, unconventional, and most likely tough as hell to achieve. But it IS possible. The kind of discipline that turns a dream into a mission, and a mission into a reality, really just comes down to a process of setting goals.”

To create the path forward for your life, create dreams with deadlines and grow.

Tribe of Mentors – Steven Pressfield

One of the first chapters of ‘Tribe of Mentors’ is one of my favorites, advice from the author of ‘The War of Art’.

For anyone worrying about growing old and not making an impact, Pressfield advises not worrying at all:

“Be a cowboy. Drive a truck. Join the Marine Corps. Get out of the hyper-competitive ‘life hack’ frame of mind. I’m 74. Believe me, you’ve got all the time in the world. You’ve got ten lifetimes ahead of you.”

What matters more than making all of the right decisions and seeking success at all costs, is betting on yourself again and again, and doing the work:

“I’ve never invested in the stock market or taken a risk on anything outside myself. I decided a long time ago that I would only bet on myself. I believe investing in your heart.”

‘Investing in your heart’ is so much better than ‘investing in success’, and honestly, investing in success is a fake ideal to begin with. On unwise recommendations he hears:

“Bad advice is everywhere. Build a following. Establish a platform. Learn how to scam the system. In other words, do all the surface stuff and none of the real work it takes to actually produce something of value. The disease of our times is that we live on the surface.”

He concludes with some words that struck me as deeply true:

“I always say, ‘If you want to become a billionaire, invent something that will allow people to indulge their own Resistance.’ Somebody did invent it. It’s called the Internet. Social media. Real work and real satisfaction comes from the opposite of what the web provides.”

Ouch.

Reminds me of: ‘The Grand Opening’, ‘The Quiet Dangers of Complacency’, and (obviously) ‘The War of Art’.

Big Magic

Elizabeth Gilbert’s excellent follow-up to her TED Talk on ‘elusive creative genius’.

Gilbert talks at length about a poet who lived a fairly elusive life and held a position at the University which she took after he departed. She held the man in high regard, and latched on to a statement he made to a student that impacted her:

“One afternoon, after his poetry class, Jack had taken her aside. He complimented her work, then asked what she wanted to do with her life. Hesitantly, she admitted that perhaps she wanted to be a writer. He smiled at the girl with infinite compassion and asked, ‘Do you have the courage? Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.’”

Asking ourselves if we have the courage to create may be one of the most important questions we ever ask. Gilbert recognizes this truth, and shares a story from her teenage years of overcoming fear:

“Around the age of fifteen, I somehow figured out that my fear had no variety to it, no depth, no substance, no texture. I noticed that my fear never changed, never delighted, never offered a surprise twist or an unexpected ending. My fear was a song with only one note—only one word, actually—and that word was ‘STOP!’ I also realized that my fear was boring because it was identical to everyone else’s fear. I figured out that everyone’s song of fear has exactly that same tedious lyric: ‘STOP, STOP, STOP, STOP!’”

Fear isn’t unique. It’s boring. It’s also not the only thing to overcome. Once we get over our anxieties, there are fresh anxieties waiting for us. If we allow ourselves to be creative beings, we then must recognize that creativity comes and go. Here’s how to live with that tension:

“If inspiration is allowed to unexpectedly enter you, it is also allowed to unexpectedly exit you. Don’t fall into a funk about the one that got away. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t rage at the gods above. All that is nothing but distraction, and the last thing you need is further distraction. Grieve if you must, but grieve efficiently. Better to just say good-bye to the lost idea with dignity and continue onward.”

Gilbert calls the art of allowing ideas to come to us ‘big magic’, and sees the concept of creation to be an important and unique part of our humanity. She challenges us to understand that we are all creative beings, born to make things:

“If you’re alive, you’re a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers. Decorators, tinkerers, storytellers, dancers, explorers, fiddlers, drummers, builders, growers, problem-solvers, and embellishers—these are our common ancestors.”

We create because we are built to. Nothing more, nothing less. Here’s an ethos to hold onto:

“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all.”

Reminds me of: ‘The Artisan Soul’ by Erwin McManus.

Discipline Equals Freedom

Jocko Willink’s ‘field manual’ to living.

“When negative people talk behind your back, ignore and outperform. They’ll focus on what I’m doing wrong, I’ll focus on what I can do right. When you look around and realize where you are and where I am, you’ll realize you have nothing to talk about. Outwork and outperform.”

Great reminder that the obstacles that most often stop us are self-imposed. Humans are incredibly resilient, and as such, anything that’s stopping you can be overcome.

“Stress is generally caused by what you can’t control. The worst thing about incoming artillery fire is that you can’t control it. You have to accept it. If it’s something you can control, that’s a lack of discipline and ownership. Get control of it. Solve the problem. Relieve the stress.”

“Discipline is the way.”

Reminds me of: ‘Tribe‘ by Sebastian Junger

A Pattern Language

A Pattern Language’ is an absolutely fascinating tome from the 1970s, intended to be a ‘working document’ for architecture.

Instead of coming at it from a highly technical perspective, the book is instead of composed of chapters which take on an oddly beautiful abstraction.

Some examples:

Magic of the City (10). “There are few people who do not enjoy the magic of a great city. But urban sprawl takes it away from everyone except the few who are lucky enough, or rich enough, to live close to the largest centers.”

Every aspect of the city (from its whole structure down to each storefront) should be considered to provide the magic to all.

Old People Everywhere (40). “Old people are so often forgotten and left alone is modern society, that it is necessary to formulate a special pattern which underlines their needs. Old people need old people, but they also need the young, and young people need contact with the old.”

A city that forgets to connect generations and provide for each, then, is a failure.

Holy Ground (66). “What is a church or temple? It is a place of worship, spirit, contemplation, of course. But above all, from a human point of view, it is a gateway. A person comes into the world through the church. He leaves it through the church. And, at each of the important thresholds of his life, he once again steps through the church.”

I love this concept of what a church is in modern society. Where we have turned it into a place to attend a weekly service, this book wisely understands that it is a holy place to mark life’s most important moments.

Sleeping in Public (94). “It is a mark of success in a park, public lobby or a porch, when people can come there and fall asleep. In a society which nurtures people and fosters trust, the fact that people sometimes want to sleep in public is the most natural thing in the world. But our society does not invite this kind of behavior. In our society, sleeping in public, like loitering, is thought of as an act for criminals and destitute. The fact is, these attitudes are largely shaped by the environment itself.”

It’s fascinating to see a city planner see the homeless not as a problem, but an opportunity to provide goodwill.

Secret Place (204). “Where can the need for concealment be expressed; the need to hide; the need for something precious to be lost, and then revealed? Make a place in the house, perhaps only a few feet square, which is kept locked and secret; a place which is virtually impossible to discover—until you have been shown where it is; a place where the archives of the house, or other more potent secrets, might be kept.”

The appeal of this book is the secret places that it encourages, the secret places that it reveals. I will always think of this pattern language whenever I create or design a space going forward.

Reminds me of: ‘Walkable City‘ by Jeff Speck, ‘The Past and Future City‘ by Stephanie Meeks, Gretchen Rubin’s episode on The Tim Ferriss Show (where I heard about this book)

Several Short Sentences About Writing

This is the best book I’ve ever read on the subject of writing.

Author Verlyn Klinkenborg’s book takes on a poetic form, breaking paragraphs into sentences to make you (reader and potential author) understand how important each and every one is. The book makes it clear that the rules you know about writing are bad rules:

Consider the bad habit of typing, preliminarily, two or three words—
A natural start to the sentence, you think—
And then waiting for the rest of the sentence to reveal itself.
But after two or three words the sentence is already foredoomed,
Its structure predetermined.
Two or three words, and you’ve already reduced the remaining choices
To a small, depressing handful.
It’s shocking to realize how quickly you become wedded to those two or three words,
How hard it is to abandon them for an alternative.

What do you do once you’ve wrangled the art of the good sentence? Well:

So revise toward brevity—remove words instead of adding them.
Toward directness—language that isn’t evasive or periphrastic. Toward simplicity—in construction and word choice.
Toward clarity—a constant lookout for ambiguity.
Toward rhythm—where it’s lacking.
Toward literalness—as an antidote to obscurity.
Toward implication—the silent utterance of your sentences.
Toward variation—always.
Toward silence—leave some. Toward the name of the world—yours to discover.
Toward presence—the quiet authority of your prose.
And when things are really working,
That’s when it’s time to break what already works,
And keep breaking it
Until you find what’s next.

Reminds me of: ‘The War of Art‘ by Steven Pressfield, the ‘Smooth Soup’ episode of Wonderful (where I heard about this book)

Ninety-Nine Stories of God

A book of absurdities imbued with a sense of great depth.

Three conclusions from three of my favorite stories in the book:

“We can only know what God is not, not what God is. We can never speak about God rationally, but that does not mean we should give up thinking. We must push our minds to the limits, descending even deeper into the unknowing.”

We cannot ‘know’ God.

“You should have changed if you wanted to remain yourself, but you were afraid to change.” – Sarte to Camus

We cannot ‘know’ ourselves.

“The God who is with us is the God who forsakes is. Before God and with God, we live without God.” – Bonhoeffer

Even when we connect with God, we are without him.

Reminds me of: ‘Testament‘ by Nino Ricci, ‘The Prophet‘ by Khalil Gibran, ‘Illusions‘ by Richard Bach