Find Your Path via Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver is a Pulitzer Prize winner of a poet. In 1992, she wrote The Summer Day. Pause after the last two lines.

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

You’re saying my one life is ‘wild and precious’? Hmm, waking up day to day is now colored so strikingly and ephemerally. Ponder that question. I know I am.

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 Cracked.com

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.

Teddy And The Newb

Time for a little humility: I would like to take a moment to congratulate myself on becoming a n00b. For those curious, Urban Dictionary defines it thus:

A inexperienced and/or ignorant or unskilled person. Especially used in computer games.

If you’re a newb, you’re new to the game. Most likely, you suck at whatever game we’re suddenly talking about. (Jai Alai? How am I supposed to know? I just started working on my psychic skills! Geez…) Over time, you, most likely, get better, but meanwhile, you suck. More importantly, you’re in the game. I like how Theodore Roosevelt said it in a 1910 speech:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Thanks for the pep talk, Teddy. And your use of semicolons. (Handball?)

My newly minted newbishness came about from following a piece of my own advice and pumping out a Proof Of Concept… a Version One. Without realizing it, I realized what that blog post said would happen: I crafted a story with a definition of done where I became convinced that a seemingly lofty goal is indeed attainable. (Sepak Takraw?)

So as I sloppily newb around, I shall think of our beloved Teddy and whole-heartedly embrace a truly cringe-worthy and confidence-boosting Version One of my seemingly lofty goal: to create and share music.

What’s your game? Are you in it? What’s your Version One?

Superachievers

When I write a book, it is going to have a short title, like ‘On Raising Polar Bears in Saudi Arabia’. Well, see, even that is too long, and way too interesting (they were very gracious backgammon players).

If you’re Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield, you would write a book entitled The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do And How They Do It So Well, which is, well, yes, quite long, and also quite interesting, at least as per what little I read and saw of the interview on Business Insider.

It sounds a little like my favorite song lyric and second favorite contender for tombstone epitaph. Ladies and gentlemen, Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band:

It’s not what you look like,
When you’re doin’ what you’re doin’.
It’s what you’re doin’ when you’re doin’,
What you look like you’re doin’.
Express yourself.

Dubbed ‘the most successful and productive people’, here are the highlights:

  • Grow from failure. They meet it not with blame, but with self-awareness and introspection, which lead to reinventing themselves.
  • Commit to dreams. They wrap their lives around their inspiration, with everything in the service of this end.
  • Channel negative emotions. They might get knocked back, but they keep their eye on the prize.
  • Go for broke. They forgo fearing failure.

What I take away from that is a two-part Art of Doing:

  1. Have a vision and a burning desire to wholly lead your life per your personal inspiration.
  2. Know that life will give you lemons and that they won’t stop you.

Tying back to the ScrumOfOne system I hold so dearly, #1 relates to the Product Owner and #2 relates to the ScrumMaster. The Product Owner sets the direction: vision and strategy. The ScrumMaster guides the team through the Scrum process, which includes the Retrospective, which in itself covers that first ‘Grow from failure’ highlight above. At the end of your Sprint, you take a look at anything that may not have gone as planned, ultimately adapting – reinventing yourself.

To me, that last highlight is tricky, ‘Go for broke’. When you’ve got your eye on the prize because you are unabashedly immersed in living your dream, I’m guessing ‘failure’, or fear of it, doesn’t register / exist in that frame. If you run into a wall, you pause, regroup, pivot, and continue trail blazing. That sounds like a major change in mindset for most folks who fear failure in pursuing their dream. Now I want to see if the book has more on this topic.

Take a page from the Internet’s favorite OTT bad-ass. When life gives Chuck Norris lemons, he makes orange juice.

Life In Your Years

Until I typed out my Blogging Break post, I didn’t really realize what this blog was about. It hasn’t been about applying Scrum principles to personal development, and then documenting my journey living this philosophy. Although that is how this started, it has moved into publicly scratching an itch.

I am convinced that all the advice we hear about how to live a better, more fulfilling, more ‘successful’, higher functioning life are all facets of the same gem. This is what I’m trying to understand. And then apply. And then share.

So every time a sparkle of this gem catches my eye, I can’t help but share. This past Sunday’s New York Times business section, in the Corner Office column by Adam Bryant, he interviewed Kon Leong, head of ZL Technologies, which archives emails and files. Leong gives advice to those graduating college.

If you experiment in different jobs and functions in those two or three years out of school, you will have a much better shot at finding your sweet spot. And the sweet spot is the intersection between what you’re really good at and what you love to do. If you can find that intersection, you are set. A lot of people would kill for that because, at 65, they’re retiring and never found it.

So don’t put so much emphasis on initial compensation. Don’t listen to all the harping from the family. Try to find your sweet spot and, once you find it, invest in that. You don’t want to get degrees just to do work you don’t really like. If you’re miserable, even if you make a lot of money, that’s still 40 years of your life.

Booyah! That’s powerful stuff, and I don’t think I’ve heard it phrased like that: you can’t get back that time. I like how Abraham Lincoln said it.

In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.