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.

Life Is A Game Of Economics

A couple of days ago, over Spanish lattes, I waxed philosophical with a close friend. Both of us are Biomedical Engineers, and the only reason we became friends is because we arrived early to class one day, realized we never really… talked to each other, and then when it came up how we were both Business Administration minors, we figured, yeah, we should be friends.

The start sounds pretty superficial, yet our current conversations are anything but. A recurring theme from these caffeinated chats is how life is a game of economics. Let me repeat that. In bold.

Life is a game of economics.

Out there is a definition: Economics is the study of scarcity and choice.

Out there is a TED Talk: Bjorn Lomborg: Global priorities bigger than climate change – go watch it. This is one of my favorite TED Talks, shifting the discussion from global problems to global solutions, and then discussing how to use a limited resource, money (scarcity), to fully implement specific global solutions (choice). Here’s a hint for the rest of this post: take a shot every time he mentions prioritization.

Let’s think about scarcity as applied to what you put into life, and what you get out of it. ‘Scarcity Thinking’ assumes there is not enough in the world for everybody; it is fear-based.

Look at that guy over there. He’s so rich and cool and happy. He has it all. Why can’t I have it all? He sucks.

Scarcity Thinking is oh so negative, and is the opposite of what is espoused in ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne, which is ‘Abundance Thinking’. This reframes how we give value to reality via a mindset where there is enough in the world for everybody, including you; it is love-based.

Look at that guy over there. He’s so rich and cool and happy. He has it all. I might not think I have it all right now, but I will. He’s alright. (And so am I.)

These are two ways to think about what you get out of life, where the idea of there not being enough is a depressing thing. When applied to what you put into life, ScrumOfOne contends that indeed there is not enough, where this is both a realistic and empowering outlook. (Empowering? Yes. Stay with me.)

One more opposing juxtaposition: Scarcity Thinking for consequences of your life actions is fraught with limiting beliefs (heck, by definition). Yet when applied to the life actions themselves, it’s these same limiting beliefs that reflect the reality of what you can give at any one time; you only have so much time / focus / attention / energy / chi / cash / other resources.

Let’s put it all together. When thinking about your future (life outputs), think big: Abundance Thinking. When thinking about now and what’s next (life inputs), think small: Scarcity Thinking.

Let’s now think about choice regarding how to use the above list of what you have, which we’ll call funds: using the fund of cash, using the fund of focus, etc. (I’m phrasing this in an abstract manner to show they can all be thought of and treated the same way.) When you choose to use the money fund for a pair of shoes, you are also choosing to not use this same money fund for a fedora. When you choose to use the time fund for a few episodes of your favorite show on Netflix, you are also choosing to not use this same time fund for the latest movie in the theaters. Thus, the allotment of any of these elemental funds comes at a cost, which economists call an opportunity cost.

Every damn decision, every damn day, has a damn opportunity cost.

Let’s rephrase. Life is the result of not just what you choose to do, but what you chose to do in the context of what you chose not to do.

If you had an unlimited supply of time and money right now, an abundance of each elemental fund right now, you could end up doing all things. I’m not talking about how much of these elemental funds you could have in the future (nudge nudge, we’re practicing Abundance Thinking for that, remember?). I’m talking about right now. If you choose to buy a pair of shoes instead of a fedora, you are choosing a pair of shoes over a fedora. You might want to get both some day, but right now, you are choosing one first, over the other. Acting on your preference is acting out your prioritization.

That, ladies and gentlemen (girls and boys, children of all ages, and all the ships at sea), is the point of this post:

Life is a game of economics, a game of being comfortable with scarcity to make choices via prioritization.

How is this empowering? (Thank you for staying with me.) Once you realize you can’t do everything right now, this takes the pressure off; you can only ever do the next thing. That is what is under your full control: the now. Yes, complete small steps with the purpose of completing a larger step, enjoying the smaller completed accomplishments along the way, but realize the focus is on now and next. Embrace the scarcity of your funds right now, and make choices for now and next, using prioritization.

This makes me giddy because this life-level prioritization is a key component of ScrumOfOne, and it’s really been empowering me to find all this fun in the game of economics life.

Especially over Spanish lattes.

Sum Of Your Parts

You’ve heard how something is more than the sum of its parts? Well, so are you; however, it helps to think about you in parts. So let’s think about your parts.

No! Not like that!

Last week (I’m shifting to blogging just once a week for hopefully more quality per post), I mentioned the idea of partitioning out areas of your life, and then changing these one or two at a time. These are the ‘parts’ of your life. All the things (ah, those abstract things) you want to do in life will most likely be associated with one of these life areas.

Using Scrum terminology, and some fancy footwork, replace ‘things’ with ‘Backlog Items’ and ‘life areas’ with ‘Products’. Poof. Magic. Tell him what he’s won, Johnny!

You can now be thought of as a package of products, each with its own backlog.

Or not. You can think of yourself however you freakin’ want. I recommend you try it, though. There are awesome payoffs, especially if you’re curious about the Scrum way of thinking of things. Let’s use an example. Take a guy. Random guy. Let’s call him… Merrill. He’s quite a number of wonderful things:

  • Merrill, the physical homo sapiens.
  • Merrill, the financially responsible.
  • Merrill, the musician.
  • Merrill, the ScrumOfOne thought leader. (Whoa! Were those angels singing…?)
  • Merrill, the home dweller.
  • Merrill, the guy who gets paid to break expensive things at work.

He’s oh so much more than the above, of course, but let’s treat each of these ‘life areas’ as a product. Thus, there is a Product Owner for each product, prioritizing stories based on a vision. Sure, Merrill could set a vision for himself as a whole person, but just as you might do that for yourself, I’ll bet this vision would end up being phrased in terms of some area(s) of your life. Thus,

Awesome Payoff #1: One awesome vision per product… many products per you… many ways you can be awesome!

Does this connote a lack of direction and focus? Nay, fair citizen. Dreaming out a better you is now not just dreaming big, but dreaming multiple dreams, and only the dreams you care about. Merrill, the watch-maker, isn’t exactly a Merrill that Merrill particularly cares about, especially not relative to the other Merrills listed above, so the direction is now better defined. We can now better address each life area, I mean, product, via some familiar Scrum-a-licious ideas.

Awesome Payoff #2: Grouping stories into releases per product leads to paths of punctuated evolution in each area of your life!

In evolutionary biology, as most memorable childhood stories begin, this is the idea that covers how phenotypic changes might be observed with relatively low frequency, even though genotypic changes are constantly occurring. In words a little less Grimm, you can continue putting in work, under the hood, although you won’t really see results until enough of these new pieces come together to ‘release’ a new piece of functionality. You keep evolving, with something novel punctuating the journey every once in a while: punctuated evolution.

Back to the example of the purely hypothetical Merrill, in this case, the martial artist, a release might be to achieve a yellow belt in the martial art of karate. This involves a number of steps (find a dojo, set aside funds and time, enroll, stretch regularly, practise that first kata without stopping, then with good form) that eventually, once all these stories are complete, unlock an achievement. Each ‘release’ for this product represents a punctuation in the evolution to becoming a fifth-degree-black-belt-super-dude, in line with the vision of being able to fend off enemies from attacking my Merrill’s village using a fifth-degree-super-stare. Now to find matching shoes…

I, I mean, Merrill can work on this while working on another product, say, Merrill, the home dweller. If that vision includes waking up to a cove in Maine, perusing Craig’s List’s Down East section may be a story. See how this works? All the things you want to do in life turn into stories onto backlogs of your ‘productized’ life areas. Have one area in life you feel needs some work more than others? You can manage this in the context of seeing the opportunity costs in front of you: the other stories in the other backlogs.

Awesome Payoff #3: Reduced overwhelm!

Or not. Maybe seeing all the things you want to do in life freaks you out, or as you’re working living through sprints, you feel you’re not moving fast enough. Well, you can only move as fast as you can (Merrill’s not cutting any corners by buying a yellow belt, especially without matching shoes…), plus, you’re the ScrumMaster role, too, in this ScrumOfOne model of personal development, so you can work on being more efficient (mastering the ‘how’) now that you’re more effective (mastering the ‘what’).

This is why I say there will be fewer feelings of being overwhelmed: your backlogs are prioritized so you know you’re working on the most important thing now or next, and that’s the best any one of us can do: knowing that all parts of you are taking up space on this floating blue marble in a way that is most aligned with how you want to deep inside.

Awesome Payoff #4: A more wholly enjoyable now!

Admittedly gratifying payoff: This post closes a loop opened about five months ago.

Blogging Break

Hello, Internet. Are you celebrating the Extended Winter Solstice season? You bet your sweet tushie I am, too. So are the Mayans. So are the zombies. So are any number of over-sized monstrosities waiting to wreak havoc on your favorite over-sized metropolis. Enjoy the show. It’s a celebration. (And if you’re waiting for Jesus, don’t hold your breath – that’s happening in 2443, as per Futurama.)

I’m going on a sprint-long (or so) hiatus to finish up deciding on Christmas presents, purchase Christmas presents, wrap Christmas presents, give Christmas presents, receive Christmas presents, unwrap Christmas presents, whinny like a pretty pony with glee grunt like a caveman with cool indifference. This will take a little over a fortnight (or so).

As I look back on this sweet ScrumOfOne blog o’ mine, I grunt with glee (like a cavepony?) at how this writing endeavour has fulfilled one of its requirements, which was to document the evolution of my approach to and focus of ScrumOfOne. Starting over half a year ago, I pushed to publish a post twice a week (or so), where I over time shifted away from the ScrumMaster side of software personal development, to spending time talking about what is the Product Owner arena: setting the vision, prioritizing stories, and balancing a ‘forward’ motion with the flow of life, taking on more Taoist concepts as of late, and most recently reflecting on lectures by life coach Martha Beck.

From here, I have a couple of concepts I can’t quite comfortably reconcile, although MB’s work seems to have given me… an answer? The two thoughts:

  • There is an approach that feels very Western. Scrum talks about taking a vision for your product, or in my spin, your self, and implementing pieces of ‘potentially shipable’ functionality (new things that you are / have / can do) in a prioritized fashion. All this while embracing change (you don’t exist in a vacuum, life happens around you can’t help but interact with it) as well as practices that promote transparency, inspection, and adaptation. I am a Certified ScrumMaster and thus have a decent understanding of this philosophy.
  • There is an approach that feels very Eastern. Taoism talks about the essence of things, how we’re all one, and a bunch of concepts that sound quite deep. Applying some of these to personal development translate to getting out of your own way to discover your essence, and then do that, which will end up being without effort. This is doing without doing, action without action, or wei wu wei.

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.

I want to live it, to then give it.

There are 20 draft blog posts waiting to be fleshed out, and I can’t wait to dive in. After, of course, a break that will surely be relaxing (or so).

Cleaning The Bathroom Is Perfect For Me

Let me set the scene.

It’s a Monday evening in the middle of November. I make it home from work, happily down warmed-up left-overs, and change. The heat’s on, but it’s still a little chilly, so the WPI Superfan t-shirt is accompanied by some cozy PJ pants, but because I’ll be standing in the bathtub, the pant legs are rolled up to my knees, preserving warmth and simultaneously setting a daring fashion trend. I step into the shower, spray, wait, and scrub.

Oh man, there are sooo many other things I’d rather be doing:

  • Beatboxing with my KP3
  • Writing another blog post
  • Clearing up my desk
  • Making a sandwich
  • Eating a sandwich
  • Watching ‘How I Met Your Mother’ on Netflix
  • Reading that book I started a while back
  • Drinking a cappuccino
  • Purging my inbox

Nope. I agreed to do this. So I should just shut up and do wha-

My head keeps racing, though. The thought of a cappuccino AND reading that book seems fantastic; such a simple joy, such an immensely better joy than the scrub-a-licious activity at hand. My appreciation for the value of an hour grows considerably while in the shower …not showering. It gets me wondering if I could exchange something I have, like money, for somebody ELSE to do this …service. Heck, James Bond probably doesn’t clean the bathroom. He also doesn’t ever GO to the bathroom, unless it’s to kill somebody. Maybe he sweats and bleeds it all out. Then again, he probably somehow pays to have other people do that for hi-

That’s when a phrase hits me. It grazes my elbow, but I get the gist of it. There is a life coaching technique out there where whenever you’re in a situation that is sub-optimal (mind the light euphemism), ask yourself:

How is this perfect for me?

Reframe that sucker. Dig deep to find that silver lining. Be creative in determining how this is actually good for you, like medicine. Start the unfathomable sentence, then finish it, like so:

Cleaning the bathroom is perfect for me …because… it brings me into the present moment and into my body (as I partake in the minutiae of scrubbing grout).

Sure, I’m panning for gold, but hey, you know what else I get from cleaning the bathroom?

Another blog post.

PRE-APOCALYPTIC POST-SCRIPT:

Let me set another scene.

I’m in the cafe I frequent. I’m not arugula a regular. I’m a super-regular. I’m sitting at the bar, where everybody knows my name. I’m not kidding. In my ear is a whisper. I say, “Thank you, dear,” and decide to append to the above with the following.

There was a cold fact: the bathroom was being cleaned by me. On its own, this fact is rather… impersonal, emotionless. Up until the whisper, I associated one story with the experience, then another. My first story was, “Dag nabbit, dog gonnit, what the firetruck, this is all kinds of no fun, and I hate my life.” My second story was, “Here I float on a cloud… ah, such levity and freedom… and yet I am grounded, connected with the rest of existence… wholly present in sensing every last detail of the current event of which I am an active part… oh, how wondrous is this life.”

Pffffffffft – just kidding; that second story was nowhere close to what I was able to pull off, but was the direction in which I was going.

The whisper shed light on how these two very different stories, associated with the same one experience, were two very different perspectives, thus two very different realities of the same one experience.

OK. Seriously. I can’t believe how much I am squeezing out of this. Cleaning the bathroom was perfect for me!