On the day of the ribbon-cutting ceremony for my friend Angela’s first pizzeria, her two sons—one sixteen years old, one eight—got up to say a few words.
The older boy spoke first: “Congratulations, Mum. You’ve worked so hard, and we’re all really proud of you.”
The audience smiled at the polite teenager. Then the younger boy broke in.
“Finally!” he shouted. “I never have to eat pizza again!”
Angela laughed and hugged her plainspoken son. She understood his relief. Ever since they moved from Detroit to Austin for her husband’s tech job, the two boys had been Angela’s guinea pigs. They had taste-tested dozens of doughs, scores of sauces, and a seemingly endless array of sausage, pepperoni, garlic, and mozzarella. Angela had set out to make the perfect Detroit-style pizza, and her sons—unlike her well-mannered friends—were her most candid diners. If a flavour or a texture wasn’t right, she could always count on shouts of “Ew!” and “Gross!” Conversely, if she had hit the mark, the boys would happily gobble up half their weight in pie.
Angela’s restaurant was one of the first Detroit-style pizzerias in the south. The deep-dish, sauce-on-top pie garnered stellar reviews, and spawned a loyal fan base.
But there was a problem: People kept trying to order thin crust. This was around the time low-carb diets were all the rage, and not everyone was thrilled by the inch-thick layer of dough beneath their toppings.
After the buzz of opening night died down, customers dwindled, and Angela began to worry. She weighed her options. She could stay the course, serving the best Detroit-style pizza in Austin, and hoping the rest of the city would catch up to the trend. Or should could rethink her concept and expand the menu.
She went with the second option. The next night for dinner, she placed three paper-thin pizzas on the table. “Boys,” she said. “Eat up. You’re gonna help me develop the best thin-crust in the city.”
Fifteen years later, Angela has three pizzerias, proudly serving Detroit-style, thin-crust, and a handful of heavenly baked pasta dishes. Reviewers often refer to Angela as a “triple threat” of casual Italian cuisine.
I asked my friend how she felt during that first, dicey year in business. “It was scary. Most of our life savings were in that restaurant. But I never let myself feel defeated. I stayed in Beta.”
Being in Beta was a phrase she had picked up from her husband, the computer geek. In programming speak, Beta refers to the first phase of testing open to a public audience. Beta versions are usually crude and unattractive, but they get the job done. Many times, the Beta version will reveal design flaws and quirks. That’s the whole point—to try something, to see if it fails, and if it does, to try again.
I asked Angela to expand, and she outlined for me the seven steps of Beta:
1. Knowing your goal.
3. Overcoming Perfection.
5. Using Resources.
7. Constant Improvement.
In Angela’s case, staying in Beta looked like this:
1. Knowing your goal. (“I’m going to open the best Detroit-style pizza in Austin.”)
2. Failure. (“Oh no! Not everyone likes Detroit-style pizza.”)
3. Overcoming Perfection (“It’s okay that not everyone likes this pizza. We’ll expand the menu.”)
4. Testing (“Boys, try these three varieties of thin-crust, and tell me what you think.”)
5. Using Resources (“Mum, the sauce is gross, but the crust is great.”)
6. Listening (“I’ll keep the crust, ditch the sauce.”)
7. Constant Improvement (“Boys, here are three more pizzas. What do you think?”)
Think about your own life. Are you in beta? Do you set clear goals for yourself? Are you hungry to improve, or are you satisfied with standing still? Do you surround yourself with friends and colleagues who are pushing to be better, or is your social circle full of people who are always talking about doing something but never seem to get anything done?
I used to work with a guy who would send an email to all his co-workers at the end of the month. He would ask how he could improve in certain areas of his work. This guy was always in Beta, always improving. Before long, the trend caught on. Soon we were all exchanging emails and meeting in small groups. We would set individual and collective goals. Then we’d pick each other’s brains, determining how far we had come. If we fell short, we learned from our mistakes and tried a new strategy the next time. If we succeeded with flying colours, we’d set our sights higher.
There’s a lot of talk about “being the best version of yourself.” That’s a pretty tall order, isn’t it? Get over perfection paralysis. Forget about being the best version of yourself, and start being the beta version of yourself.
Try, fail, try again, fail better.
Be in Beta.
I’ve been noticing an unsettling trend of late. A lot of small businesses are pretending to be much larger than they actually are. What is the purpose of this, I wonder. To attract customers by emulating larger operations? To appear self-assured and untouchable? To come off as aloof and hipper than thou?
About a year ago, I witnessed this trend up close when my (one-time) favourite yoga studio changed ownership. I was drawn to the studio in the first place because of how intimate and homey it felt. I’d often arrive early or stay late just to catch up with instructors and other students. We weren’t just people who happened to go to the same gym; we were a community.
But when the studio changed hands, everything changed. The new managers instigated a rule wherein all instructors had to wear identical blue shirts, emblazoned with the name of the studio. Walking into a room full of blue-clad yogis struck me as bizarrely clinical. This place that had once felt like home suddenly resembled a fast-food chain. It was charmless and cold. It did not make me want to do a sun salutation; it made me want to run for the hills.
None of the instructors liked the shirt rule. When they asked what the purpose of the uniform was, they kept hearing the same refrain: marketing, marketing, marketing. The new owners had hopes of expanding, and in order to do that, they needed to “promote the brand.”
The changes didn’t stop there. The owners’ next move was to “streamline” the class schedule so that no two instructors ever had a break at the same time. They wanted to maximize in-class hours in order to boost attendance and profits. As a result, co-workers saw less and less of each other. Where they had once spent time debriefing sessions or just chatting about their lives, they now were rushing from one shift to the next, with barely a moment to say hello.
After months of blue shirts and breakneck schedules, the instructors were fed up. They missed the old studio. They missed a slower pace, where they could take time to talk and connect. Quite frankly, they missed each other.
So they quit. More precisely, they marched into the manager’s office and resigned as a group. They then formed their own studio. Many of the regulars—including me—followed them.
The new studio was lovely. It was small and peaceful. It was intimate. The students and instructors were able to commune with each other without the intrusion of corporate culture. No one was there to build a fitness empire. We had gathered in the same room in order to practice yoga together, to move and breathe together.
Why would a business purposefully distance itself from its customers? It seems ridiculous until you think about it on an individual level. How many of us have held ourselves at a distance from people we care about, people we love? How many of us have put on a mask (or a blue shirt, as the case may be) in order to project an image? If we keep other people at arm’s length, we reason, maybe we won’t get hurt.
Or maybe we will. Without intimacy, we’re cogs in a machine, repeating the daily grind. With intimacy, though, we can build relationships. We can foster community. We can develop sympathy for others and a deeper understanding of ourselves.
But how do we create this intimacy? It’s not something that can happen overnight, and it takes commitment from everyone involved. It requires careful listening, generous sharing, and radical vulnerability.
Let yourself be affected by those around you. Let yourself cry in someone’s arms. Let yourself laugh with someone until you’re both on the floor.
Are you feeling distance between you and your friends? Go on a retreat together.
Does it feel like you and your romantic partner are living in different worlds? Take a long hike together.
Do your children not open up to you? Tell them a revealing story from your own childhood.
And what about business? How do we bring intimacy into that equation?
Start by understanding that the opposite of intimacy is not isolation. The opposite is the quest for connections at the expense of connection.
This is not semantic. The size of your address book says nothing about the quality of your relationships. Some people lose themselves in the chase for greater and greater status—the appearance of power, the carefully constructed façade of the good life. To this way of thinking, honest connection is the enemy of success, because intimacy has no value that others can perceive.
However, perceived value is powerless in the face of actual value. And those who succeed in business are the ones who have real relationships. They actually care about the people they work with.
They answer the phone when someone wants to talk to them. They don’t route the call through a dozen intermediaries.
They take the time to write hand-written letters. They don’t hide behind an impersonal corporate bulletin.
In our personal life and our business, we have to risk being as vulnerable as the next person. Don’t try to market yourself as the biggest, most powerful game in town. Allow yourself to be a small, yet vital, part of the human ecosystem.
Be human. Connect with people. Build Relationships. Be Intimate.
I make it a point to vary my workspaces. Some days I work in my office. Other days I duck into a coffee shop. On this particular day I had found myself in a supermarket canteen, which is a great place to people watch.
I looked around and noticed that I was the youngest person in the room. The other patrons were quite elderly. Right next to me sat an 80- or 90-something couple sharing a sandwich and reading the newspaper. At one point the man offered me the sports section. I politely declined, and turned back toward my work.
I had a mountain of writing to do, and I was in the zone. I was crushing through the day, and ready to burn the midnight oil. I was feeling good. Disciplined. Productive. As the couple gathered their things to leave, the woman winked at me and said, “Don’t work too hard.”
She then reached out her hand to help the man get up from the table. The man didn’t get a good grip, though, and he remained cemented to his chair. He tried again, his legs trembling, beads of sweat gathering on his brow. He had only risen a few inches before plopping back down into the chair again.
This is when it dawned on me: Why am I not helping them? I’d known this couple for less than an hour, yet they’d already been kind to me. He had offered me the sports section; she had given me a wink.
I sprang from my table, and helped the man rise and anchor himself. The couple smiled, thanked me, and made their way out the door.
I kept replaying the scene in my head. I’d been so focused on my own work, I’d forgotten about the people around me.
I consider myself a strong person, physically and mentally. But the fact of the matter is, I won’t be young forever. At a certain point, my body will betray me—just as yours will betray you. Not a single person on the planet is invincible. I don’t say this to be negative. On the contrary, it’s healthy to remember that aging and death are as much a part of our journey as any other.
There’s an old saying: “Once a man, twice a child.” We came into this world needing someone to take care of us, and if all goes well (i.e., if we have a long life), we’ll need care again. But whereas we lavish babies with love and attention, we tend to regard the elderly with indifference or disdain. It’s a cruel irony. The moment a person transitions to their final stage of life is the same moment society turns its back.
I challenge you today not to turn your back. Embrace relationships with people around you. The next time you see an elderly person, really see them. See the wrinkles on their faces and spots on their hands. Ask them to tell you about their lives, and really listen to what they have to say. Let them know that they’re not invisible. If they need help getting up, be the first to stretch out your hand.
But don’t think of helping elderly people as charity or, worse, a chore. Think of it as part of the cycle of life. If you’re able to help someone right now, why not use that ability?
Open a door for someone or carry their bag. Offer to pick up groceries and prescriptions. Volunteer at an assisted living facility.
Because someday, you’ll be the one who’s old and feeble. You’ll be the one who needs a hand. You will, one day, be a helpless baby all over again.
I don’t watch a lot of mainstream films. Romantic comedies, summer blockbusters—these stories are supposed to provide an escape from the day-to-day grind, but I always leave feeling frustrated.
To hear Hollywood tell it, life’s path is a straight, upward-moving line. It consists of relentlessly pursuing a goal, overcoming a series of obstacles, finally achieving said goal (success!), and then living happily ever after.
This narrative is a lie. It is far too straightforward. Yes, we should strive to simplify our lives, but that’s only because life itself—the circuitous labyrinth that winds from birth to death—is so very complicated.
How often are we bombarded by the notion of success? “I landed my dream job! I bought my own home! I got married! I got my big break!” It is dangerous to believe that success can be boiled down to One Pivotal Event that Changes Everything. This kind of thinking will always leave us feeling inadequate. It will trick us into ignoring life’s small joys.
Think of all the “successful” people you know who are terribly unhappy. The rich investor who can’t stop watching the stock market long enough to enjoy a meal with his family. The tenured professor who dreads walking into her classroom everyday. The famed artist who grows jealous each time one of her peers garners a good review.
What do all these people have in common? They have focused all their energy on chasing money, status, and/or power, and in the process, they have lost sight of their emotional success. A million dollars won’t buy mental stability. A giant house won’t provide shelter from anxiety. A promotion at work won’t elevate our sense of inner peace. Money, possessions, and power might give us a short-lived rush of excitement, but what about all the other hours, years, and decades we’re on this planet? How do we fill our days with satisfaction and serenity?
I recently went to a going-away party for a friend of mine. She’s heading to New York City to pursue a career in acting. After dinner, several people got up to give speeches. I listened, and sure enough, the success narrative started to creep in. Everyone was talking about fame, fortune, and “making it.” Not a single person, though, mentioned happiness. Not a single person reminded my friend that everyday contentment is what sustains us as human beings.
Then I got up to speak. Here’s what I said:
“Once you arrive in New York, you’ll be faced with decision after decision. Where should I live? Who should I reach out to? How will I make money? How will I stay healthy? As you make these decisions, ask yourself, ‘Will this increase or decrease the overall happiness of my life?’ Pursuing fame is an option, but it is distinct from leading a fulfilling existence. By the same token, success will not guarantee happiness unless you redefine success as happiness itself.”
For better or worse, you’re not a protagonist in a Hollywood movie. You can achieve a singular goal, but what happens after the credits roll? You must keep striving for happiness. You must develop a heightened consciousness about what feeds you.
What is my definition of success? What is my definition of happiness? Are my answers at odds with one another?
What makes me happy? What can I do to achieve or maintain happiness?
Do I indulge habits that make me unhappy? Do I indulge habits that provide fleeting, as opposed to ongoing, happiness?
What strategies can I implement in order to attain emotional success?
Success-as-happiness is no easy pursuit, but believe me, it’s worth the effort.
“The only thing I’m scared of is being in a pattern I can’t break.” I overheard the man whisper.
It was the prolific author and scholar, John Grinder. His words bear repeating:
The only thing I’m scared of is being in a pattern I can’t break.
From our earliest moments on earth, we cling to routine: the infant’s pacifier; the toddler’s security blanket; the kindergartener’s nightlight.
When my cousin started middle school, she developed an interesting trick. Any moment her hands weren’t occupied, she would absently tug on a strand of her hair. It was a teacher who noticed the behaviour first.
She brought it to her parents attention, but they were unconcerned. My cousin had just transferred schools, so they reasoned that a harmless coping mechanism was just that—harmless. After a few months, though, a bald spot emerged where a widow’s peak once was.
It took a full year—and dozens of meetings with a range of psychologists—to finally put an end to the hair-pulling.
In a way, my cousin was lucky. Her bald spot was tangible evidence of a negative pattern. It was unsightly and embarrassing, which motivated her to quit.
Most habits, though, eat away at us so gradually that they are barely perceptible to the outside eye. A friend of mine is a world-renowned nutritionist. His clients often complain to him about getting older. He reminds them that aging is a natural part of life. He clarifies, though, that aging badly is the cumulative effect of repeating bad habits.
These habits can run the gamut from well-known vices like smoking and drinking, to more innocuous-seeming patterns—having that extra cookie, checking your email every ten minutes, taking the same route to work every day.
After the incident with my cousin, I recall her parents saying that they were finally “out of the woods.” All I could think was “Not so fast!”
Human beings are pattern machines. Once we break ourselves out of one unhealthy routine, there’s always another temptation lurking around the bend.
Being able to change is the single biggest way to take control of your life. Do not become a prisoner of your own routines.
Take a moment now, and think about ways you can free yourself.
If you wake up at eight, try rising at six and taking a long walk in the morning air.
If all you read is the newspaper, dare yourself to check out a book of poetry.
If you’ve never had a real conversation with your great aunt, ask her to tell you the story of her life.
Travel to a place you’ve never been.
Have a dinner party and invite people you barely know.
Eat a chocolate-covered cricket.
And if you feel yourself falling back into an old routine, picture a bald spot appearing at the top of your head. Picture it, and say to yourself, “It’s time break the pattern. It’s time to make a change.”
How are you going to use today?
It’s an opportunity to take a step, just one step, towards anything you want to accomplish.
And after you do it you’ll feel great. Imagine what you could achieve in one year. Amazing things I’m sure.
So where do you start? Well, what can you do in ten minutes?
Anyone can find time for a positive ten minute habit. If you are totally strapped for time, you could even combine activities.
You could take 10 mins of walking whilst talking to a loved one, you could spend 10 mins stretching whilst listening to an audiobook, or you could even drive to work whilst dictating a new idea for your blog.
One thing a day adds up. You can build something effortlessly if you break it down and stick to it.
10 mins of fast paced walking – burns roughly 100 calories
7 Days = 700 calories in a week
52 weeks = 36400 calories in year
If 3500 calories = 1 pound, then…
10 mins of exercise everyday (keeping the diet the same) could shift 10lbs
10 mins of writing a blog post – creates a moment of self expression
Over a week = an increase in thought development
Over a year = an enhanced connection with like minded people
10 mins of deep breathing and meditation- creates a moment of less stress.
Over a week = shifted to a better mood.
Over a month = a noticeable increase in flexibility.
Over a lifetime = longevity and better mobility .
Once you can use the power of one day, you realise how important time is.
You become more aware of how just a few minutes can add up and less prone to wasting them – you’re able to start doing more and living more.
Get yourself a routine. And before you know it, you’ll not only have reached your goal. You’ll have learnt a great deal about yourself in the process.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao-tzu
Who are you? Are you the things you own? Are you what you’ve accomplished?
Think of the dizzying arrays of thoughts you have in a day, inspired by something someone said, an advertisement you saw on a bus, or your own desires and fears.
How much control do you have over those thoughts?
Is your life is lived with the intent and purpose it deserves or are you often side tracked by such distractions?
I know I have a solid plan of who I want to be and where I want to go – but I also know my plan can be derailed as easily as a rusty train.
So here’s what I do:
I set goals. And I use every opportunity to remind myself of them.
I have three yearly goals, three monthly goals, three weekly goals and three daily goals.
There are three simple steps I follow that increase the probability of achieving them:
1. In the mornings I review the goals I’ve set and the steps I need to take to move towards them.
2. My day is conducted in relation to this. I follow clear action steps that define exactly what I need to do to.
3. In the evenings I record my progress and plan out the following day.
This is a simple, fool proof structure. Without it, I found myself susceptible to being swayed away from what I wanted to achieve.
Following this system has kept me grounded and allowed me to stay mindful and focussed. Essentially, I am making my goals unmissable.
Here is the point: We are a product of our environment. If we spend the day thinking about the TV shows we want to watch or the clothes we wish we had or worrying about what other people think of us, we will become defined by these things.
We generate our own environment. Create one that moves you in the direction you want to go. Take Charge. Live Intentionally because anything else is wishing and hoping.
How many of us are caged in a career path we chose when we were only 18?
Maybe some of us waited, at best, until 22. I don’t know about you, but when I look back at that time of my life, I don’t think of myself as worldly or experienced or knowledgeable to be making decisions that should still affect me.
But what are we supposed to do, when pressured to figure out such life choices. Who do we have to guide us?
How many of us sat across a desk from a Career Councilor and be given boiler plate advice? Or perhaps you got no advice at all?
The whole idea of a Career Advisor has forever been undermined. I’m sure we all have a similar picture. Some overworked, undertrained shlub drowning under a mountain of paperwork, handing out painfully misguided cookie-cutter advice to impressionable students. And doesn’t it seem like whoever gets these jobs only ended up there because they couldn’t figure out what they wanted to do with their own life?
Now, schools are even disregarding this position in favour for an online test – can an algorithm really tell you how to conduct the rest of your life?
Can any specific thing tell you how to conduct the rest of your working life?
There is no shortcut – the pressure from schools and society to short change ourselves and make decisions before we’re really ready ultimately leads to a less fulfilment and an endless waste of talent.
Yet, we could still use a guide. Someone who helps us tap into the resource of ourselves. Someone to steer us onto a path of introspection, while giving us the confidence and reassurance that with time and the right execution we will find what we are best suited for and be able to give back and live more meaningfully.
Without this guidance, students are more likely to follow occupations most obviously available to them. For many of us, a functioning careers advisor could help provide a path to a whole new life.
Isn’t it time schools asked the tough questions:
What is the purpose of a careers advisor?
What outcome are they seeking?
How would the world be if careers advisors were efficient and accurate with their suggestions?
The truth is that nobody can give you a shortcut to knowing what you should do with your life. But there are tools to understand ourselves to help us navigate the kind of work we will contribute to this world.
For me, there are three fundamentals:
Know What You Want
Have a clear vision of where you want to go, without this, the execution won’t pay off.
Track Your Progress
Be alert and keep your senses open – what’s working and what’s not?
Adjust and Adapt
Develop the ability to be flexible and keep changing until you get what you want.
I believe we are all here to contribute to the world in a meaningful way, our life’s journey is discovering what that is – a path littered with the accumulation of experiences, ideas and thoughts.
Think of someone you love – a family member, a friend, a significant other…
Go ahead and picture them in your head. See their face. And let this person smile at you.
They are happy to see you. Happy you are here. They want you to do well. They wish the best for you.
They want to celebrate you success and commiserate over your failures.
It’s good to picture this person.
And this is how we often picture people. We imagine the best version of the person we love. It’s very nice of us. It’s flattering even.
the trouble comes when we expect to see the idea of someone, but we actually interact with the reality. We see people on off days and distracted days and downright awful days.
So we spend all this time trying to change a person, hoping to mold them into the version we have in our head.
Maybe instead of changing the person, we need to adjust our idealised version.
Imagine your person again. And this time, put them in the room with you. Find a chair to sit in. Or place to stand.
Give them something to do – maybe checking their phone, reading a book or rearranging your stuff.
And this time imagine not just all their charming attributes but also their faults.
Your job is to love these faults too.
Affection for an idealised image is easy, caring for the actual person is real love.
And now that you’ve taken the time to shift your perspective, maybe you should give that person a call or an email or any other thing to show them you care.
London has it’s negatives, but at the heart I love my city and am happy to play host and tour guide when someone comes to town. Sometimes it goes better than others.
Julian came for a visit, not only to hang out with me, but to introduce his new fiancé. Theirs was a wild romance – only six months together before the engagement. It was clear they loved each other, but their relationship still had that new car smell.
When touring people around my city, I want to show them a good time and with a city this diverse, there are choices to cater for everyone…
Most people come to town with their own must-sees, be it the Tower of London, the National Gallery, or the Sex Pistols haunts. But a few, like Julian and Julie, seem happy to be lead around wherever – each suggestion is met with a shrug and a “sure that sounds great.”
So I carefully planned some spots that felt like winners, taking them to get a pre-dinner drink at this upbeat bar with a live band, alive with people and offering craft cocktails for cheap. At first it seems like everything is going well… but I could feel it – it wasn’t hitting the spot, and their slight smiles were just to humor me.
If I had sensed they would have liked a mellower scene, there is this charming jazz club downtown…
But we were onto our dinner reservation, a seafood place that has one of the best raw bars I’ve ever been in, and I remembered Julian having a thing for oysters… although it turned out that Julie didn’t really like fish, but neither of them mentioned that until after we ordered. They didn’t want to cause a fuss. So they didn’t speak up.
It felt like the whole purpose of the trip, the chance for us to get to know each other, was vein undermined. Being easy going has it’s place when you don’t have many options, it means you can make the best of what you’re given. But when there an array of possibilities and you are given the opportunity to develop a relationship, it’s time to speak up and reveal who you are.
This couple had good intentions, they were polite and they didn’t want to feel like they were intruding, but instead made our lives more difficult and the whole episode unmemorable.
Relationships are built on communication. If you want to develop, speak up, express your ideas, say who you are, communicate. This is what being well-mannered is about.
I had a professor, that from the first moment of the first class, I wanted to emulate. He was fiercely, even brutally intelligent. At that point in my young life he was, by far, the cleverest person I’d ever met. He was someone, clearly, who understood how the world worked.
He approached the lessons as if the material was plainly obvious. His aloofness and above-it-all attitude felt like an approximation of earned coolness.
I doubled down in my studies, to earn his respect and avoid the chiding that came to those who misunderstood.
But as the semester wore on, his act began to wear thin. What had appeared as wit, now felt gilded by meanness. I began to think that when, I become as clever as him (and I swore I would) I would show a little more charity.
There was a girl in class (three seats away from me) who received high marks in other classes, but struggled here. One stormy day she came in late, clearly caught in the weather – I remember her standing in the doorway looking like a drowned mouse, holding her books that had spilled out of her torn book bag.
Before she could take a seat, the professor chose that moment to quiz her on last nights homework. Clearly flustered and embarrassed, she couldn’t answer any of questions. Before he let he go he said something I distinctly remember: “Don’t worry about ruining them, they weren’t doing you any good reading them.”
She held back tears, before she left that class and never came back. The professor had this expression on his face, that read “Good Riddance.”
And I thought. I don’t want to be like him at all.
We’ve all been instilled with the feeling that coolness and cleverness is essential. There is certainly a value in intelligence, even in wit, but if you asked me what I believe in…
I believe in rapport, in kindness, in an emotional connection over any amount of smarts.
For me, being kind is about showing compassion. From sympathising with people, to understanding their world view and beliefs, and taking actions that are considerate to them.
When I reflect on the past, I recall situations where only a slight change in perspective would have lead me to benefit the people around me many times over.
And with that shift in our thinking, we can all, effortlessly improve the lives of others.
Start by looking at your role models – who is the kindest person in your life?
In what ways do they show their kindness? What do they do to improve the lives of the people around them? How can you emulate them to help the people you see and talk to everyday?
London can be a vast and mean city, with continually acts of mundane cruelty.
Last month, I saw a woman with two suitcases struggling up the staircase from the tube. People streamed by, not one offering to help, a few even bumping her as they hustled past.
I offered her a hand getting to the top of the stairs. Her momentary bemusement and suspicion quickly faded. She seemed so relieved and looked at me with this big, honest smile.
And I felt this smile of my own spread across my face.
After I helped her up the stairs and into a taxi, the image of that smile stayed with me. So much so, that whole day I found myself beaming to co-workers, to people on the street, to people in the elevator – they didn’t see it coming. It’s as is if, for a moment we were reminded that everyone around us is human.
Research pushes the drastic benefits of smiling to our health, that connection of a smile can break the impact of loneliness.
It’s no surprise that people who categorise themselves as lonely have a shorter life span. The shocker is that these people aren’t necessarily alone – well over half were married, indicating the benefits of investing in the nature of our interactions.
A smile is just that outward sign of happiness. And happiness has its dividends – less colds, less heart disease, less chance of a stroke, less chance of diabetes, and on and on and on…
Although too often we are so busy chasing the big deal that we forget the intricacies of life, the things that makes us feel loved, the things that makes us feel human.
What can you do? How can you shock some good into society?
“Wear a smile and have friends; wear a scowl and have wrinkles.”
– George Eliot
Maybe it’s a crazy uncle, maybe it’s that one friend who you manage to see between her trips, or maybe it’s that person you only met once at a party – we’ve all encountered people who tell thrilling stories of their life.
My goal in life is to leave behind good stories – rather than material success – my approach to each day is dictated by this and as they pass, I feel greater fulfilment.
If I’ve learnt anything from the people that have lived before us, they rarely regret the things they did – but the the things they didn’t.
We know that living an adventurous life equips us with the ammunition to tell great stories. But do we know how to live an adventurous life?
What if it’s the other way around?
What if telling great stories leads to treating life like an adventure?
I had been discussing this idea with my friend Tom, who is both a writer and an instructor. A few days after our conversation, Tom called me up.
“I realised that a lot of the lessons to create a good story aren’t that different from lessons on how to create a good life.”
He was more than happy to walk through his syllabus and we talked about what might be applicable. This is what we came up with:
Characters who take action are more interesting than those who are passive.
Tom talked about how beginning writers fall into the trap of modeling characters off themselves. Often the problem is that most people view their life as things that happen to them. In a very telling exercise, Tom has his students create a main character do something they would never do.
The take home is, if you want to be the center of your own story, you have to be willing to be bold – don’t wait for a good project, an interesting conversation, or a curious adventure, make it happen. It’s not the goal that matters, it’s the pursuit.
Focus on the effort, rather than the outcome
Often failures are more interesting than the successes. In stories, we like to see people striving and trying to do the right thing, whether they succeed is often just a bonus. A story about someone who is always right and easily gets their own way would be boring. And often the moment of the lowest low is followed
We all have moments where everything goes wrong. If we can concentrate on our own valiant attempt, rather than outside successes, we will always have a good story. This is no storytelling tropes, I’ve found my breakthroughs have often comes after periods of duress. The feeling of frustration is usually a sign I am close.
Act, Learn and Re-try
Characters evolve. Watching a character change from the first page to the last is often the heart of a story. In screenwriting there is a term: the First Attempt. This is when the character has started on the adventure and they take a stab at what they want.
Often this First Attempt fails, or only partly succeeds, or succeeds at something the main character doesn’t truly want. Not only is this a sign that the character should try a new tactic, but often means the character needs to dig deeper, try harder and risk more.
Learn from each attempt you make. How are you not risking enough? What new action can you take to get what you want? How have your adventures changed you? How can you create an adventure to make the change in your life that you need?
Embrace Cause and Effect, Serendipity, Coincidence and the Unwanted Surprise.
Stories are often highly efficient. To paraphrase the playwright Anton Chekov – If you introduce a gun in Act 1, it should go off in Act 2. One event triggers the next like a series of dominos. And by the end all the different elements come crashing into each other.
Whatever you feel about fate, embrace those moments where things seem to magically come together.
The people who live their life like a story probably don’t even do any of this stuff consciously, because they’ve been doing it for so long. But we can learn a lot from them, by purposely putting these story tactics in our life.
Can you touch your toes?
Wasn’t that always one of the markers of health we were taught as kids?
Do they still teach kids to touch their toes? I hope so, but more than for the obvious reasons.
Recently, I’ve had to work at flexibility.
I was struggling in yoga class. Only being able to tough my right toe with my right hand but not my left.
Nobody else had this issue and I started to wonder if it just wasn’t possible.
Maybe I wasn’t built to be a person who had flexibility.
Isn’t that the way it goes? We let these barriers build up in our mind and convince ourselves there are just some things we can’t do.
Well, eventually I started to wonder: What exactly was my barrier? How far could I reach? I measured it specifically.
If step one is deciding on a goal, step two is finding a way to measure your limits.
How high can you jump? How far can you run? How long you can go without checking your email? Put it into time, put it into distance, put in a scale of 1 to 10 difficulty.
Once I find my measurable limit, the next time, instead of worrying about the end goal. I just tried to push past my own boundary – break my own record.
When I hear someone talking about something they aren’t able to do. This has become the analogy I use. Because at this point, not only can I touch my toe, I can wrap my hand around my foot.
When I keep pushing my boundaries, focus on beating my last record, I often surprise myself with what I can do.
Watching the Winter Olympics I’ve been awed at athletes competing in sports with a ice skate-thin margin for error.
Just two or three shots at the gold and if they are a millimetre off they are face down in the ice, dreams dashed.
Failure. It happens…
Success comes from how we respond.
It’s easy to respond ignorantly and hard to look at failure with an unbiased eye.
We succumb to ignoring problems or, even worse, blaming other people, the weather, the alignment of the stars, anything but ourselves.
No matter how things turned out, or how much of an influence we think we’ve had, we can always recognise the actions we took, no matter how minuscule.
I cannot empathise this enough: Take the time to self-reflect.
Why do these athletes get better and better?
They are continually using every tool at their disposal to track their performance: from slow motion video technology to aerodynamic contouring.
These aren’t wild guesses, they reflect and react to well honed data from years of practice.
So next time things go wrong or right for that matter, take a moment to figure out how else you could have shaped the situation.
Seriously, write a list. Write two.
1. What went wrong? (And how did it go wrong?)
Be brutally honest with yourself – what did you do to cause it?
By brutal I don’t mean be hard or unfair, I’m saying respect yourself enough to tell yourself the real deal.
Not a story or an excuse but the honest scenario.
What did you do or not do?
2. What could you have tried differently?
Brainstorm anything, from a simple shift in attitude to a complete change in approach with a different set of actions.
You’ll find these ideas easily translate into strategies for the future.
If we just act, we become vulnerable to repeating the same mistakes and reaping the same results.
Take the time to reflect and then react and you’ll find yourself weaving a new path – one that’s more likely to end in success.
I was gleefully doing what they tell you not to do.
Last weekend, I began work on a side project. With friends. They wanted to keep everything on the up and up, like we all do.
One of the first things they mentioned, was trading legal documents, meaning, of course, CONTRACTS –
-meaning REALLY LONG AND COMPLEX CONTRACTS WITH LOTS OF MEETINGS TALKING ABOUT CONTRACTS. All in effort to be “really secure about it.”
I had a natural aversion. And I told them so.
When you start obsessing over something as complex as a contract, it takes time. It takes effort. It’s a drain of your energy.
A drain of the energy that could be going towards the actual project. And the almighty Contract becomes the focus.
Tossing contracts back and forth, trying to protect yourself from any possible scenario, creates distrust and can kill the relationship before it starts.
If you’re going climbing, you make sure your rope is secure and you trust the person holding it for your safety. But ultimately you accept there’s a chance of finishing with a knock or scuff here and there.
Even with the most binding contract – there is always a risk.
We have a choice: we can spend all our time trying to eliminate any possibility of getting hurt or we can climb the bloody mountain.
If experience has taught me anything, it’s this: Contracts have loopholes. The more time we spend looking and sweating over contracts, the more loopholes become apparent.
So here’s how I deal with Contracts:
The Quick Contract
Can a contract be a document to aid communication, rather than a binding piece of personal legislation?
I’ve found a way to make contracts in a helpful way in the beginning of creative process.
I’ve started using this online tool.
It asks for a minimal amount of information and can help you knock out a contract in ten minutes.
This is my ultimate point. I’ll say it with cap locks for emphasis:
DON’T LET A CONTRACT STOP YOU FROM STARTING.
A contract can do a few things remarkably well. It clarifies communication. It pushes a collaboration forward.
Since it’s impossible to make a contract insurance against everything bad that could possibly happen I’ve ended up with a motto:
Less Contracts, More Collaboration
If you are not a hacker, befriend one.
Hacking comes from the computer subculture in 70s, 80s and became associated with criminals.
Roughly speaking, a hacker was someone that could beat the system.
Now, everything has changed.
The term hack has been repurposed to every field people can manage. Lifehack, mindhack, bodyhack, travelhack, you name it, you can hack it.
…If you life hack, it means you find inventive ways to deal with commonplace problems.
…If you travel hack, it means you circumvent the conventional ways of traveling. You travel your way, your route, your style and to work for your budget.
…If you mind hack, it means you’re in charge. You’re in control of your mind, your understanding of it and exploiting it for a specific purpose.
But what on earth do we actually mean? What is hacking?
Well it helps to know the mindset of the hacker isn’t new… Flip the calendar back more than a century.
Henry Ford was stuck. He wanted his automobile business to grow but the conventional way of building cars – by hand, one at a time – was inefficient. Production levels were low and the price of the car remained high.
Ford needed a better way. He knew if he could mass manufacture and systematically lower production costs, he could sell more, and for a greater profit.
He needed to hack the system.
Henry took the cars and decided to build them on benches and move from one team of workers to the next, but this still wasn’t fast enough.
So he turned to automation, his team of engineers started building machines that would do the labour for them and eventually invented a whole host of manufacturing techniques that could build almost every part.
With the new manufacturing process he took his companies production levels from just a few cars a day to a record of one car every ten seconds.
He was able to pay his staff more whilst cutting prices and making even more profit. He grew his business, made the automobile affordable to the masses, and found a better way to create something we all use everyday.
Brilliant, right? Ford understood business-as-usual, but instead of just grinding it out, he made profound changes that disrupted everything.
That’s what a hacker is – someone who knows the game, the rules, and the end point. But, instead of playing along, they can change the game to create their own unique successes.
So, how do you adapt the hacking prerogative?
Here’s what hackers know:
There are always problems to solve. Hackers have that heady mixture of curiosity and action. The world is amazing, go find the thing that fascinates you and try to make it better.
Sharing makes friends. Don’t make other people figure out what you just spent months on. We’re moving the whole field forward together. Let other people build on your solutions and you can build on theirs.
When in doubt, automate. Don’t get stuck in repetitive tasks. Your job is to innovate.
Be your own Boss. I mean this figuratively. You need to be in a position to make your own schedule and pursue what you feel is important.
Don’t get “boxed in.” Stay open to solutions that might seem crazy at first.
Work Backwards. Take things apart and learn how they work.
Take it to the Lab. Experimentation and Trial-and-Error are your best friends.
Give it Everything. Everyone has a knowledge base that’s as unique as a fingerprint. Your parents, your friends, your teachers, your hobbies, everything could help you get an idea to solve the problem.
Being a hacker isn’t about rebel posturing… It’s about beating the system though solving problems, sharpening skills, and intelligently thinking outside the box.
Just because there’s a system already in place, doesn’t mean you can’t find a better way.
A long while back I had this flatmate who would stay up all hours, working. He had a perpetual unkept look.
Sometimes, he worked so hard he would forget to eat meals and then wander into the kitchen, hungry. (Often, I would witness him polish off a family-sized pizza in a matter of minutes.)
But after periods of intense effort, he’d crash – for weeks at time – and barely have energy to do much of anything.
Every time I saw him engage in this unhealthy routine I’d wonder: Why was he doing this?
To really understand my flatmate, you need to know his hero: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
He wanted to model himself on this “icon of doing good.”
Frequently I was regaled with Gandhi’s exploits, which most of us are at least vaguely aware…
Ghandi went on hunger strikes and walked insane distances, he was tortured, beaten and imprisoned time and time again. But since some of us have been away from history class for too long (or the 1982 movie), maybe it’s worth a reminder.
On several occasions imprisoned Ghandi protested British Rule by refusing to eat. His captors had no desire to let a man of Ghandi’s stature die, but equally had no willingness to give into his demands.
The result: A high stakes game of chicken.
In February of 1943, he went without food for 21 days.
My flatmate professed; “If I could apply a fraction of that discipline to my own life, imagine what I could achieve.:
…But would you really called Ghandi disciplined?
When I think about those hunger strikes I’m blown away. Can you imagine that? 21 days.
Most people I know get grumpy after one missed meal.
In 3 days, the body burns through the supply of glucose. After that it starts proceeding body fat and by 21 days the body’s eating into muscles and vital organs for fuel.
To do something like this requires something special. And a lot of it.
I’d argue that Ghandi was fuelled by something more than discipline, something meaningful, something from deep within.
A purpose, an understanding and a desire to make a change.
Sure, he was disciplined, but what helped him do the impossible was a solid understanding of WHY he was doing what he was doing.
For as much as my flatmate idolized Ghandi, he missed this essential idea.
My flatmate relied on discipline. He was hardworking and made an effort to push himself, but he lacked clarity on why he was doing what he was doing.
So when things became tough and he needed that extra kick to break down the obstacles in his way, discipline fell flat on it’s face and he burnt out.
Discipline isn’t sustainable. It’s the icing, not the cake. It might help you get up early or pull an all-nighter but when bigger obstacles arise – discipline get’s trumped.
My flatmate needed clarity, a vision and a sense of purpose.
We all do.
Through deepening our understanding of why we’re doing what we’re doing, we increase our potential for making an impact.
If you are in Chicago with $40 bucks, you can take a tour of the city by boat, sliding down the river, and get a revelatory tour of the buildings of the Windy City.
The Architecture tour is one of those revelatory experiences, like the ghost tours in New Orleans, that shift your understanding of metropolis by showing you everything hiding in plain sight.
For an equally shocking experience have a couple designers and an architect over for dinner and have them tell you about your stuff.
To design something is to make a series of decisions that shape an experience for the user. Bright colours or muted tones? Angular or Round? Simple or multifaceted?
The answers to these design question depend on the experience being created. These choices are not only aesthetic, they are operational.
Design doesn’t just make things pretty, it makes them work.
All those clicks and whirrs on your iPod were put there by a designer to mimic the feeling of operating an analog device. All in effort to make the ipod bridge the gap from analog to digital whilst feeling intuitive.
Good design is transparent. It’s a gateway to the message. We feel it. But often, we don’t see or appreciate it.
And that’s the whole point. We’re not supposed to notice it. We’re supposed to use it.
We are all designers by nature. We are creating experiences everyday and we have the power to change the people around us.
What do you do that is invisible?
In what subtle (and obvious) ways, can you shape your interactions to provide a specific experience?
How do you want people to feel?
What do you want them to think?
Where do you want them to go next?
“Ninety-nine percent of who you are is invisible and untouchable.” —R. Buckminster Fuller
When it started raining, it turned into one of those experiences so awful you can only laugh.
It all started when Sheila and I first bonded over a shared love of David Byrne. When I admitted I’d never seen him live, she was appalled. So when he came through on a tour, she told me she was buying us tickets. I offered to pay, but she insisted.
Regular tickets were £20, but for £28 you could get a VIP ticket that let you skip the queue, get better seats, and order drinks. But Sheila thought it wasn’t worth it. I even offered to pay for the upgrade. No dice. So we rock with the normal tickets.
To get to the venue on time we forgo getting dinner and we show up an hour before. The line to get in was still curled around the block.
80 minutes later we’re closer, but still a few dozen people from the door. We can hear the muffle through the brickwork. And then, as you know, it starts raining. And the work rain does not do it justice.
Torrental downpour comes closer. We’re both sopping wet, her outfit is practically ruined, and I’m on the verge of catching pneumonia.
In another ten minutes we watch the queue shuffle forward as a couple more people go inside.
And so we cut our losses. We decide to skip the gig and grab something to eat. Sheila apologised over and over.
I told her not to worry about it - these things happen.
I kept her distracted as we toured through my favourite spots in London and with that, we were able to turn the night around.
Although, I couldn’t help but wonder why these things happen.
Even if we had waited it out, how much money would we have actually saved?
£8 – for 90-100 mins of our time? At a risk of ruining the show?
A city girl working for a top law firm. Now, I’m sure she earns a lot more…
But we’re human. We are bargain hunters. We don’t want to pay for unnecessary extras and we love a good deal.
And too often we sell our time for the sake of few pennies. We fuss over each and every last dime and yet we give away hours.
I follow the £10 rule – If it’s £10 and it will make you happier and your life easier – buy it.
So the next time you are sweating a small purchase (like trying to decide if you should take a taxi or jog-walk a mile to get to the movie on time), do yourself a favour and worry a little less about spending cash and more about spending minutes.