Be More Unrealistic

“Let’s be realistic,” is a dream killing phrase, and I hate it. Don’t be realistic. Be foolish.

Do that thing everyone says don’t do. Try that crazy idea that everyone says will fail. Go to that place everyone tells you not to go to.

Failure is better than regret. With the former you learn. With the latter you only wallow.

In a “realistic” world we wouldn’t have personal computers, iPhones, Google, the internet, beautiful art, music, all of the things created by innovators, artists, and those unrealistic dreamers that we all love so much.

In this world where everything seems like it’s going to fall apart at any moment, where it’s unsafe to go out—dream. Create a new world inside of your mind.

Dream big. Dream small. Whatever you do cast your thoughts into a pool of possibilities and wade in it, bathe, swim, play. Submerge yourself in it. Emerge baptized and new.

And when you arise, attempt that “unrealistic” thing you dreamt. Try it. Make it.

You’ll likely fail, but keep at it, learning with each failure.

And who knows you may fly, create the next big thing, realize your dreams.

But whatever happens, you can be sure of this.

You won’t be the same.

You’ll be better.

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Mistakes Are One of the Best Things You Can Make

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is making no mistake at all.

Learning new skills, trying new things, growth, solving problems all involve some sort of failing.

So don’t be afraid to make mistakes; be afraid of never making anything.

See, to create, to get better at a craft, you start by making crap. At first what you make will sound wrong, look bad, feel off.

But that doesn’t mean you’re a failure. No.

You’re just in process. And making mistakes is a part of that.

But as you proceed, you’ll get better, you’ll learn, you’ll progress.

And if you continue, you’ll find with each miss, occasionally you’ll hit the mark. Until one day you never fail to hit it.

Mistakes don’t make you a failure. They make you succeed.

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Just survive

Thriving is great, but sometimes surviving is the best you can do.

Because, you know, life gets crazy.

Jobs get lost, companies go out of business, relationships break, people leave us, we get sick—pandemics happen: crazy: Those are the moments that aren’t controllable and cause us great pain.

Right now, the world can feel like it’s ending and you’re sitting at home worrying. But that only makes things worse.

Worrying makes you despair. But do not do that. Resist. Move forward.

Moment by moment, walk if you can. Crawl if you must.

Start doing what it takes to stay alive. Survive.

Sell that car, extra house, go to a food pantry, self-quarantine, wear a face mask. Do what it takes to live another day.

Who cares if people think you’re doing badly. Who cares if they point and laugh? This isn’t about them. It’s about you.

It’s about you making it to tomorrow, living day by day, getting a fighting chance. That’s it. So appearances be damned.

Make it through today.

These are terrible times. Don’t let your pride or the opinions of others or even your own opinion of yourself stop you from getting through this season.

Take that handout, ask for help, make that request.

Find a way through the crazy.

Survive.


Books to help you survive:

The Outsiders (affiliate): This classic young adult novel will help you get your mind right in this difficult times; it has helped me. And, to be honest, it distracts me from my own struggles so I don’t dwell on them. It’s a great story and wonderfully written and is about the survival of rich and poor kids, who battle each other, but are finding that they both have their own struggles. I hope it serves you well and that you enjoy it as much as I am.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (affiliate): The author, Angela Duckworth, puts forth the idea that talent or genius isn’t what fundamentally drives success. It’s grit. Now, I haven’t broken into this book yet, but it is on my to-read list and comes highly recommended by the people I follow. I mean, grit sounds like something we all need a little bit more of these days.

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Get things done when working from home (even with kids)

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Working from home can sound fantastic, with all of that freedom and no commute, but it’s not always easy.  Sometimes it can feel impossible. But it’s not. 

Yes, you get to roll out of bed and be at your desk in a couple of steps without even needing to put a shred of clothing on to make a living, which is glorious, in theory. But getting out of bed to get to your desk across the room can be a challenge.

And there aren’t the usual social motivators and interactions that we get in an office, like other people looking busy in their cubicles, serendipitous meetings, or random water cooler conversations. Working from home can be lonely, especially if you live alone.

If you have kids, you may not have enough aloneness. No, you have constant distractions throughout the day. Not that you don’t love your children. You do. But they do have an amazing knack for yanking your attention away from your work when you’re all at home, say, during a pandemic. 

Even before the “shelter in place” order was given, I have been working from home for years and love it, even with our two lovely and very active boys. 

But I need little hacks and tricks to make it work well and help me be more productive.

Here they are. 

Abuse your calendar 

Schedule what you will be doing every day, all day. Seriously.

Use your calendar—hard. When will you be at your desk producing? For how long? When will you have that call with that client, your coworker? When will you eat lunch? Mark it all down. 

Doing this is the digital version of having social expectations except you’ve put it on your online calendar. Doing that gives you just a bit of accountability, at least to yourself. 

If you need that extra boost of fuel, share the calendar with others. It doesn’t need to be with your boss or coworkers. An outspoken friend will do. You know, the one who will call you out and FaceTime you just to make sure you’re at your desk when you said you would be. 

Set better goals 

We often set goals like “get work done,” but that’s not specific enough to be helpful, especially when you’re at home where it’s like the Wild West of working and anything goes because there’s no one watching. So setting the right kind of goals is critical to your success.  

First, you should note what task you want to accomplish or what project you want to start and how much of it, broken into smaller tasks, you want to complete during a block of time in the day. Doing that will revolutionize the way you think about how you spend your time. 

Second, don’t make big goals; make them small and bite-sized, something you can accomplish in an hour or two. Don’t make them aspirational so it’s a challenge to accomplish them. No.

Make them easily accomplishable. That way, you won’t get demoralized and you will feel and be productive.

You’ll be surprised by how much this will increase your productivity.  

Get the bed out of you

Some of us have a hard time getting out of bed. It just happens.

If that’s you, you don’t just need to get out of bed, but you need to get the bed out of you. You need create the social pressure that will break that habit and start a new one.  So do this.

Schedule early morning phone or video calls. 

If there’s a coworker or client or friend that you need to talk to, schedule a video call with them at the beginning of the day.

That will get you out of bed, because no one wants to look like a schlep buried under their duvet with bed head in a professional context. That will force you to at least look presentable from your waist up. 

Sometimes, there’s nothing like embarrassment to get our bodies out of bed. 

For a less shame-driven method, ask your partner or that outspoken friend, from earlier, to make sure you’re up. And you should consider sharing your calendar with them. 

Take breaks 

If you’re a person who loves to work, that’s great. But sometimes it can be to our detriment. 

There are times when you just need to take a minute and relax. You know, do nothing, stare out the window, listen to music, drool, call a friend. Put it in your calendar: “Drool, 2:30pm to 3:00pm.” It can be for an hour or just half that. But do it. 

It replaces the random water cooler conversations and gives our mind’s the reboot that it needs. It’s the breather that provides us the energy to attack our work with a refreshed mind, a new lens, renewed vigor. 

Noise-canceling headphones 

Good headphones are a must, especially if you have a family. Really. 

I love my children but sometimes they are loud. They like to bang on things and run up and down the halls—and SCREAM. And, with schools canceled for who knows how long, any extra tool that helps me focus and get into a flow state is gold. 

These are the headphones I use (affiliate). They are 24 karats of pure goodness. I’ve tested almost all of the other ones and these have the best sound and noise-canceling quality. 

If you’re not a listening-to-music-while-you-work type of person, that’s great. Don’t play music on them when you work. These headphones will give you the silence-is-golden-space you seek.

The noise-canceling feature is magical: They shut out all external sounds, making you feel like you’re on some serene mountaintop with Buddha doing downward dog with him next to a blossoming cherry tree. Really. 

Set your kids’ expectations

It sounds cruel to tell your kids that you need to do work and can’t be disturbed, but it’s actually good for them. 

Our eldest is in kindergarten and he’s insatiably curious and extremely social. We cherish him for it. 

But when I need to work, those characteristics we appreciate aren’t very conducive for me working. He wants to ask me questions about what I’m doing. He wants my attention. He wants to hang out, even when I have my golden noise-canceling headphones on (which don’t block out his tapping on my shoulder, by the way).

So I talk to him about work and let him know that when I have my headphones on, Daddy is trying to focus on something. It’s not a one-time conversation, but it happens far less now. 

We also gave him his own work, which includes writing and reading and math lessons that he does while mommy and daddy tend to their tasks. 

Closing thoughts about working from home

Many of you may be working from home for the first time. And it’s not easy to get into it in the beginning. But after you use some of these tools and figure out others that work well for you, it is one of the best ways to maximize your time and gain unparalleled freedom. 

Yes, these are extraordinary times. But they are also an opportunity to learn new skills and expand your ways of working. 

For more information about working from home, check out Remote: Office Not Required, a book about working remotely (affiliate). The founders of Basecamp, the project management tool, wrote it. They allow their entire team to live and work wherever they want. 

But no matter where you’re working, whether in cubical or in your undies at home, I hope you grow every day. 

And most importantly, stay safe and well. 

Lots of love,

John


 

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Experience we all need

“Experience” is just another word for making a lot of mistakes. Everyone prizes experience. So go get it. Try things. Break things. Do things. Don’t try to be perfect. Try to be effective. Contribute. Make things. Create value. And after a while. You can say that you’ve done this or that.

You’ll be experienced.

By Sarah Kilian on Unsplash

The power of starting

With every second that passes, you are one moment away from changing your life. Really.

That project you always wanted to do, the career path you always wanted to pursue, growing more fit, exercising your faith, becoming a better person are all before you, right now, this instant.

All you have to do is this: Start.

That’s it.

The problem often lies in the belief that starting isn’t enough; we believe we should be finished when we’ve just started. We’re impatient.

But thinking like that will get you nowhere. Because when you begin, you have to accept the fact that you are a beginner. And that’s ok. That’s good.

Being a beginner is key. It’s how you get to the finish line. It’s how you win: one step at a time.

That’s how I lost fifty pounds in my forties: I started by walking in the mall and getting lapped by seventy-year-old grandmas; it was embarrassing, but I began.

That’s how I started my companies: I had no idea what I was doing and just talked to smarter people than me, and an opportunity came along that gave me liftoff.

That’s how I started blogging: I always believed that I was a terrible writer, but I still wanted to say something and began banging away at my keyboard until what I had to say seemed like something worth listening to.

Today, right now, this second is an opportunity for you to grow, get better, succeed. It’s not even about finishing or winning; it’s about progressing.

And before you know it, you will be transformed.

When unlearning is the greatest lesson

Unlearning is sometimes the best learning you can do. For often you limit the understanding of how high you can climb or how far you can go or how great you can become; but those thoughts are often untrue, wrong. Examine them. Dismantle those limiting notions, the dark stories from your childhood, those demeaning words someone spoke to you, that embarrassing thing that happened to you at school, those experiences that shaped you and taught you who you think you are. That—that’s what needs to be unlearned. You are more capable than you know. See yourself anew; and teach yourself to learn beyond what you’ve once thought you knew. Unlearn to learn your greatness.

Keep your New Year’s resolution by thinking like this

The size of your resolution isn’t what causes you to quit. It’s because you’re going too fast. If you slow down, you’ll have a better chance at keeping your resolution.

Let me explain.

Maybe you want to get super fit, or land a massive promotion, or make millions in your new business. Those are big resolutions, and that’s great. You should. That’s not the problem.

What is is this. You want results now, or tomorrow, or next week. But that’s not how you reach big goals. That’s not how it works. It’s not fast. It’s slow.

It takes time to get healthy, lose weight, gain muscle, lean out. It takes a lot of work and wins to get a promotion, land that corner office, win that title. And most businesses take years, even decades, to build.

When you rush to achieve that resolution, you will feel defeated when you don’t make the progress you were hoping for after too short of a time. Instead, you need to set your expectations rightly. Extend your timeline—practice patience.

No one wants to hear that, I know. But it is the truth. The good news is that resolutions are achievable. All of what I lined out can be done. You just need to give yourself enough time to accomplish them.

You need to slow down. Take one step at a time. Set your internal clock accordingly, and you won’t feel like a failure because you didn’t lose twenty pounds or gain ten pounds of muscle or start running a 10K yet. You can be content with making those small steps and realize that you are playing the long game. But you’re playing to win.

A lot of reaching your resolutions is in building habits. And those take more time than we’d like to admit. Wendy Wood (affiliate), a research psychologist who’s spent the last three decades studying habits, has seen that different habits take different amounts of time to codify into one’s life. The more complex an act is, the more time it takes to make a habit.

Most of us have heard that it takes thirty to sixty days to create a habit. But Wood found that simple actions like doing some pushups every morning may take that amount of time, but going to the gym and doing a series of workouts would take more, like four or more months.

Habits are powerful. I’ve seen it in my life. Much of what I do that’s good for me is automatic. Doing my workout in the morning, intermittent fasting for twenty hours six days a week, reading fifty pages a day, writing this blog post are all built into my daily routine. I do it without thinking.

Sure, fasting twenty hours every day sucks. And I want to eat breakfast with my family, but it’s a lot easier than when I first started. But when I began forming that as a habit, I fasted for much shorter periods and took my time to get to where I am now. In short, when I started, I expected less of myself.

And I think that’s where a lot of our resolutions get shipwrecked. They are dashed on the rocks of our expectations. We expect ourselves to be much further ahead than we should, and when we aren’t where we think we should be after struggling for a month, we get discouraged, deflated and stop.

Instead, take your time, but also start smaller. Take smaller steps. If I would have tried to fasting every day for twenty hours, at first, I think I would have given up and stuffed my greedy face with all of the food I could find. But, by making my goal ten to twelve hours in the beginning, I was able to build confidence and, more importantly, the habit of intermittent fasting.

As you round out the first week of this fresh new year, you can reach your goals and fulfill your resolutions, even the big ones.

But don’t go fast. Slow down and form habits.

And win.

You need to know that you’re more than just you

“Just” is a word we should use sparingly with ourselves. “I’m just a mom,” or “I’m just an employee,” or “I’m just a woman,” or “I’m just a child.”

“Just” limits you. It strips away the potential you have, what you can reach. You aren’t just you.

You are becoming, always. You are changing, growing, learning, experiencing. And if you aren’t doing that well, you can, anytime.

It’s a choice. Reaching your potential is always before you and you can choose it today, now.

You’re not just an associate; you can become a partner. You’re not just an employee; you can become an owner. You’re not just a mom; you’re molding the future. You’re not just a kid; you can be wise as a sage.

It will take work, risk, overcoming challenges, facing fears. But you can do it. You just have to do it, go through the pain, face the fear, read that book, glean that lesson.

“Just” doesn’t do you justice. It’s small and keeps you low. That’s just what it does.

You’re more than just the present you. You can always become the future you.

You’re never just you. You can become a better you. Choose it now.

Choose it always.

This is how you make better decisions

We all want to make smart decisions. And you can, by living in the tension.

Now I’m not talking about the daily decisions like eating a sandwich or salad (get the half and half, of course), or to like a photo on Instagram or not.

Let’s talk about big decisions, like looking for a new job or not, marrying this person or not, moving to a new city or not, breaking up with that person or not.

Those decisions are hard, and scary.

Because they can really change how you live, you take them seriously. You don’t want to derail your life and become a trainwreck.

But instead of trying to figure out what is the best way forward, it’s so tempting to do nothing. You decide not to make a decision. You keep on dating that person that you’re not so sure about, stay at a job that just doesn’t quite seem to be the best fit, keep doing what you’ve been doing even though you hate it.

But that is a decision. Indecision is a decision.

So you might be asking, What should I do instead? Good question.

Everyone has their practices for making decisions: prayer, meditation, journaling, walking, fighting, driving, etc. I won’t tell you which method is best. Everyone has their own style, gait, way. You do what feels right there. But I will tell you this.

To make smart decisions, you need to sit in the tension.

That means sitting in the push and pull of the possibilities, the pros and cons, the uncertainty. You have to straddle the choices and hope nothing jumps up and smacks you in the groin. And you have to stay there.

The only issue is that we hate living like that. All of us want certainty. Everything in us craves it like a stray dog slobbers after food. So we end up making stupid decisions because we want to rid ourselves of the pain of not knowing.

To do that, many of you do the opposite of indecision: You make a rash choice because sitting in the tension sucks. It’s so tense. To make the unknown known as quickly as you can, you just decide even before you really know what you’re doing.

You get engaged even though you see enough red flags to make you feel like you’re walking around Beijing, take that job even though the new manager seems like an ass, move to a city even if you’re not confident it’s the best place for you.

One of the primary mindsets that causes you to decide too quickly is that many of you idealize what something can be, telling yourselves that such and such will work out. So you jump in. But the truth is that things often don’t work out. Marriages break up fifty percent of the time, more people than not hate their jobs, and a lot of people live with regret.

Instead of being idealistic, some of us can demonize an option, not because anything is really that wrong with it. You just think that nothing works out, so why should this be any different. You tend to be a glass half broke type of person. So you turn down anything that comes your way, thinking of all of the negative things that could happen to you. But you’re likely being overly pessimistic, because things rarely go as badly as we think they could. (As much as we think the zombie apocalypse will happen, it probably won’t.)

Regardless if you’re overly optimistic or pessimistic, making rash decisions isn’t a good decision-making process. It’s gambling.

Sure, you can make a quick decision, and sometimes that works well. Life does require assessing risk and taking risks, but it shouldn’t be treated like a roulette table, where we put all of our chips on red just because it feels right. You can get lucky, but that doesn’t mean your decision-making process is good. That doesn’t mean you will consistently make a great decision.

To do that, besides straddling the options, hoping that nothing bops you in the private parts, you need to search for the truth.

To know the facts about the options before you is key. But to do that, you need to do the work. You have to pick up a shovel and start digging. Ask the hard questions to those around you that are relevant to your decision. If you’re looking at a job, look at Glassdoor and read the reviews, talk to people in your network and ask them what it’s really like to work at that company—keep digging.

If you’re thinking about getting engaged but you have your doubts, you need to look at them. Be honest with yourself. When it comes to love, we tend to have rosy glasses on. We do that because we want to spare ourselves and the other person the truth that you shouldn’t be together (knowing that is terribly inconvenient). But you’re afraid of being lonely, so you just wander into an engagement that is convenient but genuinely uncomfortable. It sucks, really. Don’t do that. Shoveling past the smelly crap you are telling yourself will force you to see that you both would be miserable if you take one more step forward in your relationship. And you will likely do the one thing you know needs doing: Breaking up.

Shoveling to find the truth is hard work. It’s painful. You get blisters when you dig long enough. But there’s gold in them hills.

You can also get callouses and feel tempted to dig forever. That’s just going back to indecision.

To mitigate against that, create a deadline. Sometimes one is given to you by a potential employer in an offer letter, or something like that. But when it’s not, make your own. Mark it in your calendar. Tell yourself that you will decide by the time you set.

Of course, make sure you have enough time to dig below your dung pile. That layer can be quite thick sometimes, you know. We can tell ourselves a lot of lies. So give yourself the time to find the truth. And then you need more space to pray, meditate, journal, walk, fight, drive, or whatever you do to make your decisions. So account for that.

While you are deliberating, know that you can’t make a perfect decision. That does not exist. Remember that you are blessed to even have such choices before you. But if you practice sitting in the tension and digging for the truth, you will have a better chance of making a great decision than a poor one.

And you won’t find your life derailed from your decisions. In fact, you’ll realize you’re not even on a train. You’re not a passenger.

You’re an explorer. You’re in a forest. And you’re blazing your own path.

So decide the best way forward for your life.

Then go onward. Life is an adventure.

Decide.