You’re Allowed

Bill Watterson is the guy who did those Calvin and Hobbes comics. He gave a commencement speech to Kenyon College in 1990. From it is an excerpt that made it onto some webpage that then landed in my Facebook feed. I can’t find that page, but I think I found the excerpt:

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

I especially like that last bit – establishing your own life’s path starts with giving yourself permission, sometimes permission to not climb the success ladder that’s such a sacred structure of our environment.

That awesome life you want starts with realizing… you’re allowed to live it.

Hunt for the Red September

I reached enlightenment. More on that, in a bit.

For about two weeks, I’ve been hanging out with this guy named Craig. My fiance is OK with this, though, ’cause she knows I’m only after him for his List, and oh what a list. We are out-growing our awesomely located one-bedroom in Boston’s Back Bay, and were looking for a two-bedroom in Cambridge, just across the river.

So, I start casually perusing this list for possibilities, making a collection of potential abodes. I email and/or call the associated realtors, asking to see what I think will be my next home. “Yeah, so, um, it’s taken, sorry,” I hear.

So, then I set aside some time to seriously eye-ball this list for my next home, keeping in mind we have already shared with our current landlord that we will not renew our lease at $150 more per month. We’re hearing horror stories from folks looking to make our current mini-palace their next home, those lucky bastards ducks, stories of how rent is going up 20% in Boston & Cambridge, and how good housing options are quickly disappearing. I set up appointments with realtors. “Yeah, so, um, the internet is out-of-date, I should’ve removed that post, it’s taken, sorry,” I hear.

So, now I’m not just eye-balling Craig’s List, I’m getting physical. I’m upping my game. I’m getting emails. I’m getting numbers. I’m looking over pictures. Like it’s my job. I am training myself to become a full-fledged artist and picking up my next place of shelter. Failure is not an option, I am not going home to a cold bed (…I need a roof over it).

This fire under my butt led me to thinking sleep was a waste of time. So was eating. So was work. I’m serious. As animals, we supposedly need food, clothing, and shelter, and to this end, my hunt for the September rental was all-encompassing.

(Stick with me, the enlightenment part is coming up!)

On Tuesday, I was lined up to see three places, blank check in pocket and prepared to sign a rental application. I saw the first place, and while the realtor essentially lied about what came with the apartment (c’mon, there either is or is not a dishwasher, big difference, don’t tease me like that) (…as you can see, I haven’t been able to let that one go), I liked everything else about it and took it off the market.

Put me on an aircraft carrier in a jumpsuit behind a podium: Mission Accomplished.

Bonus: on my way to fill out the rental application, I see that our favorite cafe/bakery is relocating to down the street from where we’ll live. ZOMGWTFBBQ. Too cool. Zeus is indeed smiling down on us from Mt. Olympus.

As I sit at a counter, waiting for my celebratory beer, I realize I have no thoughts. None. This scares me. I think hard. I’m looking for thoughts. Maybe if I start writing, thoughts will fumble out. This is what I am able to produce:

This is what.
This is what?
What is this?
No, this is… what?
I think I have nothing in my mind… have I reached enlightenment? I’m… flowing.
I’ve been wanting something fervently for so long, and now that I have it… I’m done… wanting?
What’s next in the flow?
So… just do that, without stress.
Just do ‘now’s.

This scares me a little more. Am I allowed to feel this free? Let’s get real, here: I searched for and found a rental apartment. Big whoop. Yet these past few days have been more… flowy, and less… stressed. That’s undeniable. I just identify what’s next on my daily backlog, and then… make that my ‘now’, do that ‘now’, be totally in that ‘now’.

And now, for the rest of my double cappuccino. It’s never tasted so damn good.

To Be A Better Person, Do Anything

A little birdie sent me the following link, thinking this is the type of thing I’d write about:

David Wong‘s End Times Report: 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person, for

Challenge accepted.

This message of tough love was viewed over 8 million times and I’ll talk about it as a whole. Before I do, here are those 6 harsh truths:

#6: The World Only Cares About What It Can Get from You
#5: The Hippies Were Wrong
#4: What You Produce Does Not Have to Make Money, But It Does Have to Benefit People
#3: You Hate Yourself Because You Don’t Do Anything
#2: What You Are Inside Only Matters Because of What It Makes You Do
#1: Everything Inside You Will Fight Improvement

He starts it off by talking about markets, covering a point by Chris Guillebeau in ‘The $100 Startup’, where you can follow your inner compass and do what you love, but unless it is of value to somebody, and Chris G. refines this to lessening somebody’s pain or growing somebody’s happiness (he further refines this to not selling what you do, but teaching what you do), you’re only pursuing a hobby. The example given is enjoying pizza. Is somebody going to pay you for eating pizza?

Now, I don’t know about you, but I think I might subscribe to the blog of a pizza afficionado – a one-man Yelp of all things pizza. Heck, think of the detail you could go into…

The secret to the unique texture of the Cooney Island pizza lies in, yes, the water. Its signature flavor peaked in 1954, with hints of cranberry making an appearance if allowed to rest on the tongue, a good year which reflects optimal summer rains, minimal sewage treatment runoffs, and maximal body disposals.

Such gastronomically intriguing critique aside, the point is that there has to be somebody who cares enough for what you’re doing to perceive it as valuable, and valuable enough to trade ya for it, usually with money.

Since stuff like money does help out with living, we acquire this currency via doing things of value for others, usually at a job. Since it’s natural to define ourselves by how we benefit society (how we give value to others), we are defined by our job, and this Wong guy says that actually, you are your job. You can be a nice person, but nobody is paying you to be nice, or at least not as much as they’re paying you to do your job. (And if being nice is your job, then man, I’d love to read your blog; you must be really really REALLY nice…)

So, now that we’ve gotten driven into our heads how humans need things, and how we are defined by our ability to supply a demanded product or service, he approaches our value from an angle I haven’t really seen. The second half of the article talks about inertia and how it relates to our value. See, the only way to be a part of this market of human supply and demand, besides demanding, is supplying: y’gotta do something. I like how he puts it:

Don’t like the prospect of pouring all of that time into a skill? Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the sheer act of practicing will help you come out of your shell — I got through years of tedious office work because I knew that I was learning a unique skill on the side. People quit because it takes too long to see results, because they can’t figure out that the process is the result.

The bad news is that you have no other choice. If you want to work here, close.

And by ‘close’, he means supply a human demand. Create and share. Output.

It’s easy to demand. It’s easy to want. It’s also easy to judge what others supply, what others make. It’s easy to be the critic. It’s harder to make something and suffer through the suckage which comes with the process of perfecting the craft of however you’re making value. This inertia, this… force that pushes back on you, this… laziness, is actually built in – it’s part of your biology, at least as per this Wong guy.

Happiness takes effort, but you can’t get criticized for what you make if you don’t make anything, and this fear aversion (what’s biologically built into us) is comfort. Comfort is easier than happiness, and it’s another form of doing nothing, not participating in the human market, and thus not adding value on this large, mostly blue rock.

So what does this Wong guy recommend to be a better person? Do something. Think it’s what inside that counts? Only if it gets you to do something: share what’s inside with others. Can’t think of something you can share with others? Do something that’s impressive to other people.

And that’s how he ends it. I read that last bit as do something exciting, which I’ve come to understand is happiness.

Challenge completed.

Thank you, little birdie.

Agile Family

This blog documents the adventure of applying Scrum principles to my personal development.

I started a ScrumOfOne because I found it helpful with logistics as I moved into my own space in Boston’s Back Bay. (I carried my cheap bookshelf across town during a late January sleeting ’cause I guessed fewer folks would be out on the roads – I was right.)

Focus then shifted from dwelling development to personal development as I rediscovered pieces of myself. (That February, I was offered extra money to pull extra hours to get a couple of projects done, which I managed by sleeping on a yoga mat at work, not the newly purchased mattress at home. When the last thing you see before you close your eyes is the underside of your desk, you start questioning your choices.)

Having come to terms with what would bring me the most daily joy, what’s left is removing limiting beliefs, getting my butt in gear, and showering you with remixes of Wham’s Careless Whisper, all the while transparently tracking progress towards my vision, frequently adapting. (Adapting the stark abodal palette of browns and greys to oranges and giraffe heads with the addition of my loving partner in fun.)

Now, I can’t help but find the ScrumOfOne in what I read and hear and see, and it’s not so hard when it’s a TED Talk by Bruce Feiler called ‘Agile programming — for your family‘. The talk is much more than an application of Scrum (his last line is powerful), but here’s a primer:

The key idea of agile is that teams essentially manage themselves. … It works in software, and it turns out that it works with kids.

This is essentially family development through Scrum, and it is mentioned in his book, The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More.

Do you want a happy life? Try.

Find Your Path via Flow

Every once in a while, I’ll refer back to the ‘Find Your Path’ series of my blog posts, and today I’d like to add one more. There is a TED Talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly entitled Flow, the secret to happiness, from February 2004. In it, he talks about how it feels to be in flow. So while the video may not show you how to get there, I took some notes, and these should enumerate some of the salient landmarks once you do get there.

  • Completely involved in what we’re doing – focused, concentrated
  • A sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality
  • Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done, and how well we are doing
  • Knowing that the activity is doable – that our skills are adequate to the task
  • Male Enhancement – 100% satisfaction guarantee!
  • A sense of serenity – no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego
  • Timelessness – thoroughly focused on the present, hours seem to pass by in minutes
  • Intrinsic motivation – whatever produces flow becomes its own reward