Tagged: creativity

Don’t Do Stuff You Hate

don't do stuff you hate

A new book project is almost done!  I’m pretty excited about this one.

Don’t Do Stuff You Hate is not just the title and theme of this book, it’s the philosophy I have striven to live by for the past decade.

Mitchell Earl, someone who has made bold, risky decisions to removed hated stuff from his life, joins me in putting this collection together.  It’s a welcome relief for those who feel overwhelmed by the idea of “following your passion”, finding purpose, or carving out a calling.  Forget all that.  What makes you come alive might be unknown to you and it might not even exist yet.

Instead we argue that the best way to build a great life is to break down a bad one, piece by piece.  What obligations, activities, relationships, and mindsets are draining the sense of life from your daily experience?  How many things do you do that you don’t actually enjoy?  Stop doing those and the rest will come into focus.

The best part about this approach is the mystery.  It’s exciting to think that the best life is one you can’t yet imagine.  You won’t find it by trying to plot a perfect path to some defined point called “success”.  Remove the dross and be surprised every day by the cool stuff that emerges when you make space for it.

Thanks to Julia Patterson for the awesome cover design.

Get a free preview of the book and get updates as soon as it’s up in Kindle and paperback on Amazon.

If You’re Flaky, Be Good Flaky

Some people are flaky.  Always flitting from thing to thing, idea to idea.  By the time others get on board they’ve already moved on.

If this is you don’t fear.  You don’t need to curb your curiosity or appetite for change in order to be successful.

Flaky can be a good thing.  I know people who channel this ADD tendency into amazing productivity.  They get excited by a lot of different things and their attention shifts rapidly, but they act on that excitement immediately.  These are people who no sooner get excited by an idea and they’re blogging about it or buying three books on Amazon.  They read the subject, launch the club, have the conversations, and start the project.  They may leave loose ends and sometimes move too quickly, but they leave a beneficial surplus of ideas and energy in their wake that gets picked up by others.

Good flaky shifts attention rapidly but “ships” just as rapidly.

Flaky can be a bad thing too.  I know people who have the same ADD tendencies but with each new interest it’s only talk.  They constantly talk about what they’re going to do, what new thing they’ve discovered, the newest solutions, movements, cures.  They always have something in progress or “almost ready”.  Articles they want to write, websites about to launch, events they are planning with their friend, some new thing or another.  They get you excited but don’t deliver.

Bad flaky shifts attention rapidly and never “ships” anything.

Productive flakes are fun and can be a boon to a team or cause.  It’s pretty easy for people to know their strengths and limitations.  They don’t do well in long-term managerial roles, but they are great for creative projects and rallying people around short-term visions.  They are the kind of people who get away with breaking rules.  People accommodate them and don’t demand as much predictability and consistency.  They can be late.  They can drop communication sometimes.  They can forget things.  These are annoying but known traits that become tolerable given the constant production.  Just when you’re about to get mad that a ball was dropped, a brilliant piece of work you never expected emerges.  Getting sh*t done covers a multitude of eccentricities.

Unproductive flakes are frustrating and drag projects and people down.  They have the same exciting energy and stream of ideas at first, which makes the failure to deliver all the worse.  The roller-coaster of expectations and disappointments gets old fast.  They get ignored.  They burn through social capital.  Their emails don’t get responses.  Ideas and a fun attitude are not enough.  If you’re not shipping they become annoying.  The bad flake turns their greatest asset into a liability.

It’s pretty simple.

If you know you have ADD tendencies, be a good flake.  Immediately act.  Don’t let the moment of inspiration go.  Your lack of long-term focus doesn’t have to ruin you.  But overcome the fear or insecurity or laziness or whatever holds you back and act on your inspiration immediately, always, every time.  You’ll amass a great body of work, gain a solid reputation, and have a lot of fun.

Whatever you do, don’t talk about your latest passion unless and until you’ve shipped something to show for it.

(If you’re not at all prone to flakiness, this post isn’t for you.  Sorry.  You have a different challenge with too much cost-benefit analysis or an obsession over options.)

Praxis and the PDP

One of the core building blocks of the Praxis educational experience is the Personal Development Project, or “PDP“.  A PDP is simple: a self-chosen 30-day challenge with tangible benchmarks and outcomes, documented and demonstrated.

Project based learning – tackling a challenge that the learner has individual, intrinsic motivation to tackle – is the most valuable method for transforming your mind and habits and building your personal capital.  It bypasses dichotomies between theory and practice by focusing instead on desired outcomes.  It’s about who you want to become, and what in your unique situation is most likely to help you get there.  This is the way most people approach physical health and fitness, but it’s surprisingly rare when it comes to mental and emotional intelligence, character, and skills.  It shouldn’t be.  It works.

So how do our participants get started with a PDP?  My favorite method is to let your obstacles take the lead.  Obstacles often hide or disguise themselves, so first you have to find them.

Jot down some bigger picture outcomes or goals or descriptions of the kind of person you want to be.  Maybe, “I want to be a published writer”, or, “I want to travel 6 months out of the year”, or, “I want to earn a living as a freelance designer”, or, “I want to be a go-to expert on nanotechnology that people interview”.  Think in terms of who you want to be and what kind of experiences and outcomes you want to have, not in terms of titles or labels.

Now that you have a handful of these big picture goals listed, pick one and ask yourself what is keeping you from doing or being that right now.  Maybe you’re writing isn’t sharp enough, or you are too insecure to submit to a publication.  Maybe you can’t afford the travel, or your design skills aren’t hireable, or you know nothing about nanotech.  Try to get specific in terms of what’s keeping from these goals.  “I’m not organized enough to handle multiple clients”, or, “I procrastinate too much” are good examples.

Now you have your obstacles.

Your obstacles are invaluable because they inform you as to what kind of activities are going to be valuable to you.  If procrastination is one of your major obstacles you could build a very basic yet incredibly powerful PDP where you, for example, read one chapter from “The War of Art” and write and publish a blog post every day for 30-days.  The mental tools in the book combined with the no-escape activity of daily blogging will absolutely and dramatically improve you ability to create even when the mood isn’t right.  You will become a better person in that 30 days and you will chip away at one of those obstacles – maybe even obliterate it altogther.

This is just one example.  Maybe you commit to reading five books on a topic in a month.  If you read five books on any topic you will immediately be in the top 5% of people with knowledge on the topic.  It’s surprisingly easy to make huge gains.

Whatever goals, obstacles, and activities you identify, the most important thing is doing it.  You must make progress on it every single day.  The beauty is, anyone can do something for 30 days.  It’s hard, but not so hard that you have any excuses.  You must make the activities measurable and demonstrable.  You must setup an accountability method.  At Praxis we do this by asking participants to build a personal website and publicly share their PDP activities and then document them as they complete it.  Thier advisors are there to coach and challenge them as they craft and complete the PDP’s.

In the end they have tangible evidence of how they increased their value that month – based on their own goals, not anyone else’s.  More importantly, they become more of who they want to be.  The principle of compound interest is powerful and it applies to more than money.  Improve yourself by 1% every day and soon nothing will be out of reach.

Whether a hard skill, soft skill, body of knowledge, a network, a mindset, or a habit: if you want growth and transformation – what real education is – I cannot recommend a PDP enough.

Try building your own.  If you have a hard time getting started, try one that we created at Praxis as an excellent entry point.  See if you can stick to it, making progress every day.  It’s a lot harder than you think, and far more rewarding than you can imagine.

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Intellectual Property and Incentives

The standard theory behind support for creating a legal monopoly for certain ideas, processes, and inventions is that absent such promise of monopoly there would be far less innovation.

It has a surface level logic to it.  People respond to incentives.  Legal monopoly means more money for the one who has it.  People tend to like the money incentive.  Therefore, more people will innovate because they have the incentive to capture greater rewards by securing a monopoly on the production or sale of their invention.

The weird thing is it doesn’t play out like this in the real world.  Something is missing.

Inventions typically spring from technicians and masters at a craft.  These are the types who are driven by a passion for what they do.  They want to solve problems, discover things, build things, and create things.  So they do.  If they seek a legal monopoly on their invention this happens after the fact.  It is hard to imagine many innovators saying, “Oh wow!  Think of possibility of solving this chemistry problem and discovering an entirely new way to do X!  Wait…get a lawyer in the lab before I go any further.  I refuse to make any discoveries without proof that I’ll be protected from competition once I do.”

And innovation doesn’t look like that.  You can see this by observing areas without the ability to get legal monopolies on their inventions.  Fashion, food, and football are a few of my favorites.  You can copy, borrow, and imitate fashion designs, recipes, and defensive schemes with abandon.  Many people do.  Yet each of these fields is as dynamic as any industry, constantly evolving and introducing new things.  Apparently the innovative offensive coordinator, cook, and designer don’t require the promise of monopoly to entice them to innovate.

People do respond to incentives.  This is a fact of life and one that need not be overturned to overturn the belief that IP laws are required for innovation.  Any good economist will tell you that incentives are many, and value is subjective.  The innovators are certainly responsive to money incentives, but 1) legal monopoly is not the only or best way to earn money for inventions and, 2) money isn’t the only incentive driving invention.

As for number one, consider how many people are typically working on a similar innovation simultaneously.  With the current IP regime, only one can get the monopoly.  If we want to take incentives seriously, what kind of incentive does this create for all the others?  Furthermore, the one most likely to get the monopoly is the one with all the lawyers and accountants and resources and willingness to take others to court, not the one with the greatest contribution to the discovery.  This would seem to drive upstart innovators away from the task for fear of being sued by the big guys as much or more than it would drive them to innovate for the possible promise of securing a patent.

As for number two, while the promise of monopoly may be the dominant incentive for lawyers and R&D departments, it’s not the dominant incentive for inventors.  They innovate first, driven by a passion for the task, the desire to solve a problem, create their dream, help a colleague, or improve their own daily life with some small innovation.  Yes, they want and seek money for the invention once successful, but the absence of a promise of monopoly does not stop them from creating.

Understanding incentives is crucial to really understanding how the world works and how to change it.  But an elementary look at incentives that examines only dollars and cents and only their intended, not actual, beneficiaries will not get you very far.

For more on the problems with intellectual property laws, check out “Against Intellectual Monopoly“.  It’s excellent.

Taking a Walk as a Revolutionary Act

Here’s a really fun article TK Coleman and I wrote for a new publication called Design 4 Emergence.  Check out the beautiful layout on the original!

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Isaac’s Take: The Mind a Blender

It was cliché. I took a walk on the beach and my life changed forever.

I like to imagine ideas as tiny physical objects sloshing around in my skull. The heavier ones sink to the bottom and the rest separate based on weight and viscosity. They mostly find their resting place and stay put, or at least in the same stratum.

Yet in order to create, make personal progress, discover who we are, and do what makes us most alive we need ideas to bump into each other. We need more than prefabricated plans and processes. We need disparate concepts to pair in unlikely, unpredictable ways. We need ideas to not stay in their place.

The rhythmic jostling of a good walk is like a blender. All the layers of ideas begin to move and shake and mix and mash. Walking is like a stirring up of the brain and the soul. Just 20 minutes into a quiet walk and you’ll begin to notice weird things happening. Seemingly random thoughts and thoughts about thoughts will move up and down, side to side, from the back to the front of the mind.

Back to my story.

I was frustrated, restless, and in a rut. Even though it was inconvenient and disruptive to my busy day, I made myself drive 15 minutes to the beach and go for a walk. I needed that endless horizon. I had no specific goal for my walk, which is kind of the point.

Five minutes in and I looked up at the horizon and saw in my mind’s eye a word floating in all caps just above the water.

PRAXIS

The bouncing of my steps had shaken this word loose and on its way to the front of my mind it had bumped into a bunch of other ideas long dormant. My decade-long dissatisfaction with the higher education system. My personal knowledge of dozens of entrepreneurs who were hungry for young talent. Recognition of my own skillset and network. It was too perfect. How could I have failed to see this for so long?

Within minutes an entire business model came into view, crisp and clear. I ran to my car, drove home, sat at my laptop and typed for a few hours straight. What is now my business and my passion was born.

Looking back, it all makes sense. I disliked my own college experience and envisioned a radical new model some 12 years earlier. I didn’t know where to go next with my idea so I put it on the shelf and pursued other things. In the dozen years that followed, I mostly pursued whatever was interesting to me personally and professionally with no long term plans. I managed to accidentally accumulate a near perfect mix of knowledge, skill, experience, outlook, and a network to launch what eventually became the higher ed. alternative I once dreamed about.

But I didn’t know any of this stuff was in there. It was all hiding in its own layer. Some nestled deep in the subconscious. Some associated with entirely different aspects of myself. I could never have purposefully made the connections necessary to see what I was capable of building. It had to emerge.

I took a walk. It’s the best way I know of to create the space for emergence in your own life.

You live much of life on a conveyor belt. It’s a structure created by others beginning with school and following you even onto the Internet as your newsfeed is curated based on assumptions about what’s important to you. But you’re hatching ideas and ideas about ideas all the time, whether you know it or not. The trick is accessing them and giving them space to mingle.

All the networks and technology at our fingertips is amazing. But it cannot on its own bring about the great epiphanies and acts of creation.

You can’t deliberately plan emergence. But you can remove obstacles. You can create conditions conducive to it. For me, that’s the simple act of walking. An act as old as our species.

Let your steps stir up your soul.


T.K.’s Take: The Mind an Ocean

One of the concepts that radically changed my life is an idea called “noble boredom.”

According to Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man noble boredom means, “No anticipation of action. It means having the ability to be present without needing something to happen.”

You don’t need to live very long to discover that busyness is the bearer of many luxuries. Being busy makes you look important. It gives you a good excuse for avoiding unwanted commitments and helps you deal with guilt, inadequacy, and the belief that you’re not working hard enough. Busyness protects from messy confrontations with the thing you fear the most: boredom.

When you consider the primary form of expressing boredom (“I don’t have anything to do”), it’s no wonder that we seek salvation in the experience of perpetual preoccupation. We dread running up against the fact that we often have no idea where we’re going and why we’re traveling in relation to all the stuff we do. If we stop being busy we’ll be bored. And if we become bored, we’ll see how uninteresting and uncreative our lives really are.

But inactivity need not be boring. The stillness and solitude that we look at as evidence of us not being creative enough is the very source of creativity.

Our subconscious mind is like the ocean. Our everyday waking-state consciousness is like the surface of that ocean. The activities of the mind and the external events that demand our attention are like the wind and the waves. Go to the shore of an ocean on a windy day and what do you see? You see the waves on the surface but what lies beneath is invisible.

The ocean is teeming with life, filled with all sorts of exotic and interesting forms waiting to be discovered. But as long as the wind is blowing and the waves are doing their dance such things remain hidden to the observer.

What if you return to the ocean on a quiet and calm day? The ocean doesn’t change but your experience of the ocean would be profoundly different. When the surface waters are still you see into the depths. You encounter astonishing things. You can reach for things that you previously didn’t know were there.

This is a metaphor for the relationship we have to our own  interior depths. As much as we hail the marvelous powers of imagination, that power is often drowned out by all the external noise and busyness of day-to-day life. Our souls are not empty. They only seem to be because we haven’t learned how to look beyond the surface.

The simple act of taking a walk creates a bridge from busyness to stillness that allows us to penetrate the depths of our mind without completely disregarding our strongly conditioned need to “do something.” Some teachers of meditation describe walking as a mantra for the body. The purpose of a mantra is to get our reactive thinking and the incessant activities of the reptilian brain out of the way. It’s like giving a dog a bone. The dog ceases to make noise and it has something to do. This allows you to get on with your work.

Walking allows you to get into a rhythm or a groove that makes it easier for your reactive mind to settle down and open itself up to deeper insights and creative ideas. Many people try various forms of meditation only to find themselves uncomfortable, bored out of their minds, or quickly falling asleep. This is often the case because we’ve come to associate meditation with making the body still. The essence of meditating isn’t, however, about being in the lotus position or bragging about your ability to close your eyes and sit still for an hour. The true purpose of meditation is interior stillness.

You could say that walking is nature’s meditation hack. By involving your body in the act of meditation through casual walking you create a gentle transition to inner stillness. This kind of walking is different from the kind of walking you do when you’re trying to get somewhere. This is the walk of noble boredom. It’s a form of boredom because you’re not doing anything in the typical sense, yet it’s noble because this simple act of non-doing holds the promise of offering greater meaning, creativity, efficiency, and substance to all you do.

I’ve spent many years studying and practicing various forms of meditation. From Osho’s First & Last Freedom to Jean Houston’s The Possible Human, I’ve experimented with many different ways of exploring my own consciousness. All of the methods I’ve tried have been useful to some degree. As a student of philosophy, I love approaches to contemplation that emphasize the importance of taking a break from the world and sitting in silence. As an entrepreneur who enjoys the pressures and challenges of creative life, however, nothing has provided a better balance of satisfying both my need to relax and my impulse to be on the move than the fine art of walking.

When I played basketball in grade school my coach would often say “walk it off” in response to one of the players catching a leg cramp. That advice stills rings true. When I have a problem or puzzle I need to resolve, I walk it off. When my thinking is cramped, I walk it off. It’s never failed me yet.

What I Learned from Writing Every Day

A few years ago I started blogging every day.  Then I stopped to focus my energy on launching Praxis (so I told myself).  My productivity and happiness began to lag so I started daily blogging again.  Then I stopped again because I wanted to take the time to write more long-form pieces (so I told myself).  My productivity and happiness began to lag again so I started again.

The first stint was six months of unbroken daily blogging.  The second stint, after a six-month hiatus, was a year of unbroken daily blogging.  I just started up again after less than a month off because I couldn’t stand it any longer.

A few of the more valuable things I’ve learned from the practice of daily blogging…

Selfishness

Seems like it would be impossible to have something to write every day.  In fact, it almost feels arrogant to try.  The voices inside began to mock, “Oh sure, everyone really wants to hear what you have to say every single day!”  If I get stuck asking what everyone (or anyone) else wants I’ll never produce anything.  Not happiness either.

I shut out the voices by reminding myself that I write because it changes me.  I don’t write as a mission to the world or a gift to humanity or a calling card for business or to impress my wife (lord knows that doesn’t work) or to prove my point to anyone.  I write for me.  I write because doing so every day makes me more of the person I want to be.

Self-Knowledge

Writing for me might overcome the internal objection to posting my ideas daily, but it doesn’t solve the need for content.  Every day blogging means I’ve got to have something you want to say every day.  It’s not as hard as you might imagine.

I think everyone has plenty to say.  Most of us just don’t know what’s in our own heads until we’re forced to get it out.  How many thoughts go through your head every day?  Brain researchers claim upwards of 50,000, plus all the things you dream.  You make observations, form theories, develop insights, and share many of them in conversation.  You just don’t know it.

Writing every day has taught me more about myself and what ideas are bouncing around in the attic of my skull than any practice I can imagine by forcing me to give them voice.

Killing the Critic

Something weird happened when I started writing every day.  My capacity for lazy criticism damn-near dried up.  When I read articles or watched movies I rarely found myself tossing out unbacked claims like, “That was lame”, or, “What a weak argument”.

The casual signaling of disapproval that passes for commentary is a brain-rotting, happiness-and-creativity-killing habit.  I was good at it.  Daily writing put wrench in my call-outs.

This happened for two reasons.  First, I need content!  Watching a movie I don’t like and sharing my reaction in a simple Facebook post declaring, “Meh” is like washing your hands with the last liter of water in the canteen while crossing the desert.  I need fuel to feed the daily writing and my brain just processed an entire two-hour spectacle full of ideas and implications.  Surely there is something in there that can be turned into a post!

The second reason the critic in me got neutered was simply perspective, or if you wish, empathy.  I know what it means to create something and ship it out to the world, how many or few they may be.  It’s hard.  It’s brutal some days.  And everything I create is not my best stuff.  But the pride I feel when I churn out a post on a bad day, even if I know it’s a weak post, is amazing.  When I see other people create I can’t help but internally cast a knowing nod their way.  Who cares about the flaws?  They’re doing something.  Plus, if they’re like me, they’re probably already…

On to the Next One

I don’t have comments enabled on this blog.  I never read the comments on Medium or other outlets where my stuff is published.  I rarely read or engage Facebook comments on my articles.

Before you think I’m a total condescending jerk let me just say it’s not you, it’s me.

I have nothing against comments or commenters.  I love that people want to engage some of the ideas I produce.  But I’m a pretty weak-willed person in many ways.  It’s hard enough to blog every day as it is, without the backward-looking draw of yesterday’s work.  If I get caught up reading comments I will not be able to do it dispassionately.  It’s my writing, so it’s close to me.  I’ll become vested in the outcome of the conversation, which is like being vested in Sisyphus getting that boulder to stay up there.

It also runs the risk of getting me hooked on the quick dopamine hit of a “like” or positive comment, which is the beginning of the end if I want to maintain my goal of writing for me.

I’ve learned to immediately distance myself mentally from my writing the minute I click “publish”.  Blog for the day is done.  Great.  Let’s move on.  What’s on the agenda?

This practice has been so necessary for my mental health it’s hard to overemphasize it.

Not only that, when you don’t treat your writing as so precious it deserves a week of fawning after completion it frees you up to produce lots of other things and allows you to improve as a creator much faster.  If I’m totally wrapped up in the fate of yesterday’s piece it will be harder for me to see its flaws and improve.  Or, worse yet, I might become overwhelmed and embarrassed by its flaws and never want to write again.

Instead, I tell myself to shut up and ship it.  Don’t look back, look ahead.

OK I’m done.  See you tomorrow.

The Discontent Optimist

I’m an optimist and a big believer in consciously adopting an optimistic outlook.  I’m also a huge fan of discontentment.  I see these attitudes as complimentary, not contradictory.

Optimism is a belief in the possibility for a better future.  It’s about seeing opportunity in every situation.  A chance to improve the present condition.  It’s an eye trained to see the way in which the most good can be extracted from everything.

Discontentment is a restlessness with the status quo.  It’s a refusal to leave well enough alone or make peace with, “that’s just the way things are.”  Ludwig von Mises describes discontentment with present circumstances as one of the three preconditions to any purposeful human action.

Discontentment coupled with pessimism can make you depressed.  Discontentment coupled with optimism leads you to create the world you want.

It’s not all roses.  Which means there is an amazing opportunity to plant some.

I’m Not Qualified

I don’t have a high school diploma.  I’ve never taken the ACT, or SAT, or GRE.  I can’t even type properly – I used one finger on each hand.  Who do I think I am to write books and blog posts, give talks and podcasts, and run a business?

I don’t think I’m anybody.  The thing is, I don’t think anyone else is anybody either.

I’m not qualified.  Neither are you.  No one is.  That’s the big secret.

I’ll never forget the day I first realized that no one knows what they’re doing.  I was sitting in a classroom at Western Michigan University and feeling stressed about how I was going to get a job and figure out how to survive in the world.  I had imposter syndrome.  I’m a fraud!  I don’t know how to do anything.  I’ve faked my way through everything.  I BSed essay answers on tests.  I pretended I was reading music during my piano lessons when I was really playing from memory.  I took shortcuts and found the quickest ways to avoid pain and boredom.  How could I gain enough mastery of anything to navigate the world?

The professor droned on. (It was a particularly boring political science class where the professor, who must have been at least at old as the Declaration of Independence, wrote the $150 textbook and taught word for word from the chapters he had written.)  I looked up from my desk and around the classroom.  It looked like the biggest bunch of half-witted, half-sober, half-pajama’d, half-serious degenerates I’d ever seen.  Kids talked loudly to each other over the oblivious professor about how “schwasted” they were, where they puked the night before, and where to go do it again today.  They scrawled incoherent sentences on essay questions I had to decipher when it came time to “trade and grade”.  They chuckled and bragged about who they knew in the infamous “Crime Beats” section of the college newspaper.

If I’m worried about how I’ll cut it in the world, what will these kids do?  How will they survive?  I recall one of them said he wanted to be a dentist.  How could he possibly?

Then I remembered a dentist whose office I had worked in recently, installing a telephone system.  They guy made good money and ran his own little small town office, but he was a big goofball.  He snuck into the back room every few minutes, making patients wait mouth agape, to day trade stocks.  He was clearly an addict and a thrill junky without a serious bone in his body.  He joked constantly and loudly and always wanted to get lavish lunches with alcohol….

Holy crap, this kid is going to be a dentist!  And that girl is going to be a lawyer.  And that other guy will probably be a government bureaucrat.  Most of the rest will end up teaching middle school (Western had a lot of future public school teachers.  It was common after flunking out of majors like “Communications” to switch to elementary education).

I realized in that moment I was going to be fine.  More than fine.  Not because I had any special ability.  It hit me that everyone is making everything up.  The bar isn’t actually that high.  No one knows how to be a proper adult, or worker, or parent, or researcher.  There’s no magic permission slip or grant of expertise that makes you qualified for anything.  You just have to do it.

If you find a way to create value for people, you’ll be fine.  And there are a surprisingly vast array of ways to create value for people.  The demand for human minds and hands is so great that even these party-loving students would be gainfully employed.  They’d probably be doing my taxes or taking an X-Ray for me some day.

Don’t worry about your lack of qualification.  You’re not qualified for anything really.  Neither is anyone else.  You are, however,  more qualified than anyone else in the world to do the things that are uniquely you.  Go for it.

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*If you are a teen or you have a teen that’s interested in entrepreneurship, creative thinking, and out of the box living, check out the Praxis Teen Entrepreneurship Course!

Praxis Teen Entrepreneurship Course

2015: A Personal Year in Review

Four great reads!

 

Alright, my good friend and Praxis colleague TK Coleman convinced me to share this personal recap in a blog post after I shared it with him in an email.  It feels a little weird or narcissistic, but I guess a little reflection is permitted this time of year.  Besides, I had nothing to write today and I’m not going to miss my daily post!

Praxis is the main driver of my activities and goals, and our continued growth, amazing network of business partners, totally awesome alumni and participants, and expanded offerings (about to be announced!) make me proud of what we’ve done in 2015 and excited about 2016.  Beyond the business, I also have a few personal goals, all still very much related to my mission of freedom and progress.

What was my 2015 like?  Mostly laying groundwork and exploring new ways to create.  Here’s some of the stuff I accomplished that I’m most proud of:

  • Blogged every day.
  • Launched a podcast and released 64 episodes with 40 different guests.
  • Started writing on Medium and gained over 250,000 article views and more than 5,900 followers.
  • Did more than 30 (can’t remember exact number) of interviews on podcasts, news outlets, etc.
  • Gave more than 20 presentations in 15 cities.
  • Published two more books, bringing the total to four.
  • Recorded a song for the first time ever!
  • Read about 30 books.
  • Travelled with the family to Florida and Pittsburgh, and spent a week in Jamaica with my wife.
  • Published in more than 20 different outlets.
  • Launched a monthly newsletter.
  • Gained more than 2,000 new social media followers.
  • Ran a successful KickStarter campaign raising $5,379 for a $4,850 goal.
  • Booked a six-week trip to Ecuador for the family.
  • Ruthlessly removed even more stuff from my life leaving me less stressed and less crunched for time than I’ve ever been.
  • Had a total reach of 491,652 though the podcast, blog, and articles I have data for. (This one gets me.  My goal for the year was 500,000.)*

I certainly had some shortcomings in 2015.  I missed my goal to do one form of exercise a day probably 5% of the time (which is embarrassing when you realize I consider even a few pushups sufficient.)  Though I hit my daily blogging goal, too many days I churned out something less than what I think I could have in terms of quality.  I didn’t read as many books as I wanted to, and almost no fiction, which I planned to read a lot of.

Most of all, I feel like my efforts at being a good, peaceful, calm unschooling dad fell short in everything but theory.  I now know clearly what kind of parent I want to be and why (both huge improvements over the last few years trying to figure it out), but I still struggle every single day to translate that head knowledge into daily habits and behaviors.  Hopefully my kids are as resilient as I suspect they are.

Again in 2016 Praxis is the focus.  Outside of my family, it’s what I live and breathe and I’ll be focusing even more tightly on our goals for the business and everything we stand for.  I do have a few personal goals I’m thinking about for the year ahead as well.  Possibly another book, growing the podcast, perhaps changing up my writing routine to do longer pieces weekly instead of shorter posts daily (still trying to decide on this one), etc.

Regardless, thanks to every single one of you who has read, clicked, liked, shared, listened, commented, loved, critiqued, and even openly hated what I’ve been creating.  I’ve always said I do this for me, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it feels great to connect with people over the ideas I love!

(In case you’re wondering, by far the most popular piece in 2015 was this article on why playing LEGO is better than learning algebra.  The most popular podcast episode was this interview with my son on being unschooled.)

*UPDATE: 12/31/15 – For unknown reasons, a few old posts of mine got picked up again and generated a ton of views right after I wrote this.  Just after noon on December 31, I broke the 500,000 mark.  Here’s to a goal being met!

Don’t Give Up Your Power for Attention

My friend has a theory.  He thinks when people ask unbelievably dumb questions it’s not because they don’t know the answer or couldn’t find it themselves.  They’re capable.  It’s that they want the attention that comes from being answered more than they want their own power to independently get the answer.

There are a lot of examples of playing dumb as a way to get attention.  Emailing questions that are already answered on a website.  Asking how to listen to a podcast that’s already linked in the post being commented on.  Pretending to not notice when someone does something nice for you just so you can demontrate your surprise later in a more attention-grabbing way.

It’s a weird thing, and disempowering.  It’s actually kind of gross to observe.  I think a big part of it comes from the schooled mindset.  When you spend the first twenty or so years in a system based on pats on the back and ribbons and Dean’s lists and other forms of manufactured recognition by authority figures you learn to seek that kind of psychic and emotional reward.  There are few things teachers and experts and authorities with official sounding titles like more than being reminded that they know more than you.  They love an eager, pliable pupil.  When you ask them how to do things, raise your hand for clarification, ask them to expand on a point, or request a refresher on their material, you get positive attention.  So you develop a kind of learned helplessness.

It’s stupid and you should identify and shed it right away.  Operate at full power.  If you can discover or do something without anyone else’s assitance, do it.  If you can achieve goals without appealing to experts and authorities, all the better.  If you can create your product, start your business, write your song, or publish your book, do it.  You don’t need to focus group your supposed betters or ask every person you look up to to coffee for feedback.

It’s great if people like you and what you create.  It’s great to learn from others.  But get their attention by being the most you you can be.  Create something new and powerful, don’t pretend to be powerless in hopes of luring them in for a quick hit of, “She talked to me!”.  This is why mentorship can be dangerous.  Spend all your time seeking awesome mentors and you’ll forget to master what’s uniquely you and just build things.

Don’t play dumb.  The attention isn’t worth the loss of power.