Betrayal

notrespassingWhen somebody betrays your trust and breaks all the promises they ever made you, it’s easy to overgeneralize and lose faith in all of humanity. It’s easy to become callous and swear to never again let anyone trespass on your soul. After all, what’s to stop others from turning on you in the same way?

Maybe that would protect you from ever feeling that heart wrenching pain in the future.

But instead of intense stabs of unbearable torture, your soul will go through a slow decay until you’re completely numb.

And I don’t think that’s worth it.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
― C.S. Lewis

How to Change Your Life

When you hear a new idea, particularly one that conflicts with your preexisting beliefs, there are two ways you can respond:

1. You can argue against the idea and point out everything that’s wrong with it. Then you can move on with your life with the peace of mind that you don’t have to worry about anything that makes you uncomfortable.

2. You can take some time to consider the idea and suspend judgment until you fully understand it. You can explore the possibility that it might just be a good idea and maybe even try it out in your own life. If it doesn’t work, you can move on with the confidence that you didn’t miss out on anything. If it does, you’ve now made your life a little bit better.

It’s hard to admit when you’re wrong. But unless you want a stagnant soul that’s overgrown with the putrid filth of tradition, you have no choice.

While ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished.

Dismissing an idea is so easy because it doesn’t involve any work. You can scoff at it. You can ignore it. You can puff some smoke at it. That’s easy. The hard thing to do is protect it, think about it, let it marinate, explore it, riff on it, and try it. The right idea could start out life as the wrong idea.

Jonathan Ive/Jason Fried

Youtube Comments

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Note to self: Don’t waste one more minute of your life reading Youtube comments.

I think that’s where all the repressed anger of the world is released.

When people talk about the vile pit of hatred and ad hominem arguments that is the comment section, they usually blame it on the anonymity and impersonal nature of the Internet. I’m sure that’s partly true—people use words that they would never dare to speak out loud and insult people in ways they could never get away with in a face-to-face conversation.

But there’s more to it. Such repulsive vitriol and utter contempt for the feelings of others doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s hiding inside people, pent up by years of suppression, only to erupt as caustic tirades of hurtful words. That’s because people never learn how to have a healthy outlet for their emotions. With all the obsession with “positive thinking” and being polite, we’re taught that negative emotions are unacceptable. But just because we ignore our emotions doesn’t mean they’re going to go away. It just means they’re going to find another, often unhealthy, way out.

As kids, we aren’t allowed to express anger. We learn that it’s not acceptable and repress it deep into our subconscious. We never learn that—just like any other emotion—anger can be healthy when expressed in a productive way. Until we remove this taboo on being open and honest about our feelings, we’ll never be able to live in harmony.

I’ll end with a powerful quote from TK Coleman about how to harness your anger for creative productivity:

All emotions are forms of energy and are therefore capable of being assimilated into the creative process. Instead of attempting to “purify yourself” of anger, explore the possibility of channeling it along productive lines.

Frustration, when bottled up and suppressed, corrupts the soul. But when redirected away from what is unwanted towards what is wanted, it becomes a most powerful constructive force.

The same fire which can burn a house can also be harnessed to cook a meal.

Like the forces of nature, our emotional energy can flow in more than one direction and serve many ends.

The next time your emotional fires are stoked, look at it as an opportunity to harness the activity of Spirit.

In the same way you might use a burning candle to light a dead one, actively seek out ways to transfer the spark of those emotions towards an area in your life that needs to be ignited.

We are not left to choose between resenting our moods or being stuck with them. What we call negative feelings can function as our greatest allies in manifesting the life we desire when we learn to work with them and not against them.

Solving the Paradox of Choice

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Have you ever gone to pick up a tube of toothpaste and been staggered by the wall of possibilities before you? You just wanted simple mint toothpaste, and now you have to worry about all sorts of ailments you never imagined your teeth could get. After pondering your options for a few minutes wondering what tartar is and whether you should be more worried about that or cavities, and if fluoride really does cause dementia, you finally just select the one right in front of you. Why should such a simple task be so complicated?

Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as “The Paradox of Choice.” Although many brands act like there’s no such thing as too many options, studies show that consumers tend to feel overwhelmed by an excess of choice that makes them feel like they don’t have enough time or information to make the best decision. This may lead them to feel unsatisfied with their decisions, or to forgo making them altogether.

Some people blame the paradox on Capitalism. I don’t follow politics, but I’ve heard rumors that certain politicians think that central planning could solve this—assuming that a few people who are far removed from consumers and have no competition or incentive to make the best choices could somehow figure out what it is that people need. We’ve seen how that turns out.

The great thing about the (not-really) free market is that when there is a problem, there is also an incentive to solve it. It’s fascinating to see the creative ways that businesses are relieving choice paralysis.

Apple is my favorite example of a company that has understood this principle for a long time. Instead of taking the popular approach of constantly “improving” their products by adding more features and more variety, they chose to stick with a few products that they could make the highest quality. This is one of the main reasons that I bought a Macbook. Even though I probably could have gotten more quality (and a touch screen) for the same price, the challenge of sorting through all the options and the dissatisfaction from always wondering if I could have found a better deal was not worth it to me.

Another intriguing solution to the Paradox of Choice is the subscription box business model that has recently exploded. These services deliver boxes of things like makeup, razors, or gourmet food to monthly subscribers. When I first learned about this phenomenon, I wondered why so many people would want to entrust their choices to others. What if the subscription sends them something they don’t like? At first I wondered if this was an outgrowth of consumerism, where people feel like they always need to accumulate more and more stuff in order to be happy. But I don’t think that’s always true.

Now that I work for a company with a subscription box service of artisan-made products from around the world, I’ve had to think more deeply about what makes the business model so successful. Along with the convenience of home-delivery and the excitement of receiving a box full of surprises, I think the main value addition of subscription services is that they absolve the customer of the dilemma of making a choice and forever wondering if they could have found something better. It’s saying, “we’re experts on these products, and we’re confident that this is the best product for you.” Of course, the model only works if the company has strong credibility with its customers. If a brand can establish that level of trust, then it has the opportunity to provide exceptional value.

So we have subscription services succeeding where central planners never could. Isn’t that exciting?

How I Work

Jumping on the bandwagon with this adult-version of those surveys I used to love.


Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Current gig: Digital Marketing Contractor for GlobeIn, Freelance Translator
Current mobile device: iPhone 5
Current computer: Macbook Air <3
One word that best describes how you work: Detailed

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Calendar, Evernote, Google Drive, Voxer, Google Translate, Multitran.ru, Linguee

What’s your workspace like?

Since I work remotely, I work in a variety of places. If I’m at home, I either sit in a comfy chair or use my standing desk (actually a bookshelf). When I need to get out of the house I go to coffee shops and libraries around Pittsburgh, or sometimes I sit out on my back patio. I always like to mix things up and take lots of breaks so things don’t get too monotonous.

What’s your best time-saving trick?

Don’t multitask. Focus on one thing at a time until it’s done.

Also, get as much sleep as your body needs.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

A combination of Evernote, Reminders, and my Calendar.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

My phone and computer are the only electronics I regularly use. I prefer to read physical books, although that could change if I got a tablet of some sort.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?

Admitting when I’m wrong. Being honest with myself and avoiding sugar-coating things. I’m pretty good at seeing through bullshit and getting to the root of the problem so that I can find a solution.

What are you currently reading?

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff.

What do you listen to while you work?

If the work doesn’t require much thought, I can listen to whatever I’m in the mood for. If it’s more demanding, I’ll either work in silence or listen to one song on repeat so that there aren’t any surprises to distract me.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

Most people would label me an introvert, but I find that dichotomy extremely limiting. I have lots of friends and enjoy spending time with them, although I usually prefer 1-on-1 interactions to group settings. I spend quite a bit of time alone and enjoy it immensely. I used to feel pressured to spend my weekends being social, but I’ve grown out of that and now I’m perfectly content to spend my Saturday nights home alone reading or working on something.

What’s your sleep routine like?

I try to go to bed before midnight and wake up around 7. I feel most productive in the mornings, so if I stay up any later, then I’m either tired the next day or I sleep in and feel like I’ve wasted half my day. I like to go for a walk every morning to get the blood flowing and activate my brain and then get right to work.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see ______ answer these same questions.

Nobody. I don’t think anybody else should be able to get away with this lame excuse for a blog post.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t mistake the path of least resistance for the one most likely to bring a full life.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Experiment with different things, see what works for you.

Does Art Have to Be War?

The-War-of-Art_Pressfield

I’m working through Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art, as part of my personal development project. As the title suggests, the book describes the process of making art, and writing in particular, as a constant battle against the inner forces of “resistance.” He defines it as “an engine of destruction, programmed from the factory with one object only: to prevent us from doing our work.” Resistance will never go away, so successful writers must simply get used to it and learn how to consistently overpower it.

The artist…has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take more pride in being miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.

Certainly not the most encouraging advice for a budding young writer like myself.

But what’s interesting is how much this idea contradicts several of the books I’ve been reading recently. These books take a Buddhist psychotherapeutic approach to the relationship with the self, prescribing compassion and self-love as the panacea for inner demons. They explain how inner critics will sabotage our efforts and prevent us from achieving greatness in a desperate attempt to get us to introspect and hear what they have to say. If we could only listen and give them the credit they deserve, then these enemies would become our closest allies, propelling us towards greatness. By listening I don’t mean giving in or letting them control you, I just mean being attentive and cultivating compassion for them. Of course, becoming friends with your enemies is no easy task, and these books describe the arduous journey of self-knowledge required to get there.

So who’s right? Should we fight our inner demons, or should we love them? Or is there some other option, perhaps some combination of the two?

I can’t say I know the answer. I do, however, have a hunch. I know that I don’t like war, whether it’s in real life or in my head. I know that healthy relationships do not involve a power struggle, and that the best way to solve conflicts is through negotiation. I know that punishing children into compliance when what they really need is someone to soothe their fears merely exacerbates the problem and causes lifelong trauma. So maybe we should take the same approach when dealing with those unfriendly voices in our heads. Either that, or we gear up for a life-long battle.

On Creativity

instagramsunset

I’m that person. That girl who takes dozens of pictures of every sunset, every pretty view, just so I can find the perfect one to post on Instagram along with some inspirational quote.

It turns out, a lot of people don’t like that person. News has been trending recently about a camera that supposedly “prevents cliche pictures” dubbed “Camera Restricta.” This camera uses GPS tracking to find out how many pictures have been taken at your location. When it decides that number is too high, it will block the shutter from opening again until you move to a new location. The video describes it as “a disobedient tool for taking unique photographs”—the idea is that it forces you to be original, to photograph places no one has ever gone before.

Sounds like a great idea, right? Considering how viral the video has gone, a lot of people seem to think so. The world doesn’t need any more pictures of Buckingham Palace or the Eiffel Tower, right?

Wrong.

Think about it. Are any two pictures ever exactly the same? They may look similar, but nobody has ever stood in exactly that spot at that precise time, under that exact lighting and with those particular clouds. Even more importantly, the person who takes the picture has never been in those specific circumstances or that state of mind. Sometimes a picture serves to capture an experience more than anything else. Not to mention that you might want to take a picture of a person who has never been there before. When you think about it that way, every picture is unique.

This invention and its popularity illustrate everything that is wrong with the way we think about creativity.

There’s this idea that nothing is worth doing unless it’s completely unlike anything that has ever existed. They say pop music is unoriginal because most songs use the same 4 chords. You know what? Those chords resonate with us for a reason, and they also allow for a huge variety of melodies and harmonies. They say movies that recycle plot lines are ripoffs. Really? Maybe that’s because there are reoccurring themes in the human condition. These ideas set nearly impossible standards for originality, implying that creativity is only accessible to the select few who are able to escape the crowds and be struck by some sort of divine inspiration. It’s enough to discourage anyone from attempting anything new.

Thankfully, that’s not how creativity works. It doesn’t happen without influence. More often than not, the best creations come from normal people making changes to something that already exists. We’re all building with the same materials.

The video series Everything is a Remix demonstrates how so many of the great masterpieces of film, music, and technology are nothing more than novel combinations of preexisting work. Star Wars draws heavily on elements from numerous other films. Led Zeppelin took many of their lyrics and melodies from Blues songs. 74 out of 100 of the highest grossing films have been either sequels or remakes of earlier films or adaptations of stories from other sources. Even the inventions that have changed the world, like the personal computer or the industrial assembly line, were discovered by combining and transforming other ideas. Thus, the three foundational elements of creativity: copy, transform, combine.

Anyone can be creative. When you create things, you’re creative. To be human is to have that potential. There’s no magic to it—it’s simply a matter of making the effort to learn about what has made a difference in the past and then building on that by making connections and putting things into a new context. I believe that creations shouldn’t be judged by some ridiculous standard of “originality,” but rather by their meaningfulness and influence.

That’s why it’s okay to start a blog, even if you feel like all your ideas have been said before by someone else. Maybe you’ll be able to phrase things in a better way or reach someone who would never have been exposed to those ideas otherwise. Or maybe you’ll simply develop the skills and credibility you’ll need in the future when you do come up with a great idea.

So don’t feel guilty about taking the millionth picture of a palm tree with the sun hitting it just right. Just make it meaningful.

How to Meditate

To me, meditation feels like SEO. You read about these simple steps that will bring you a never-ending list of benefits—but when you implement them, there’s no way to tell if you’re doing it right, and you have to wait indefinitely to see the results. Sometimes it seems like it’s not worth the effort, but all the cool people are doing it, (cool=people I respect) and I desperately want those results that all the science is proving.

I’ve tried it using Headspace, I’ve tried using guided meditation audio from Youtube (the kind with the tinkling nature sounds) and all sorts of other ways. It’s frustrating when you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, and you’re not even sure where you’re supposed to be going.

Whenever I’ve asked for advice on how to meditate, I usually get an answer like this: “You just do it. That’s how Steve Jobs was able to be so creative. Just sit there for 20 minutes and clear your mind. And don’t stress yourself out over it.” So I can just sit cross-legged on my floor for 20 minutes every night and become the next Steve Jobs?

I appreciate the effort, guys, but I need more detailed instructions.

Finally, something clicked from one of the books I’m reading. The book describes meditation as a way to train your mind to acknowledge stimuli and impulses without responding to them. You feel an itch. You acknowledge the itch, but you don’t scratch it.

It’s the ‘it itches, I must scratch’ reaction that is at the root of most of our suffering. But you can just notice that it itches and not have to do anything about it. You can realize that you are having a conditioned reaction to a sensation. You don’t have to take it personally. You don’t have to react to it.

If you learn once that you don’t have to react that way, you’re free of it. You prove to yourself that you won’t die and you won’t go crazy and parts of your body won’t fall off. You can just be there and be perfectly fine. Then something hurts and you can sit through that. It just becomes interesting. You’re not resisting it anymore. It’s just kind of fascinating how it hurts there and pretty soon it hurts here and then it doesn’t hurt at all.

Eventually, it all beings to quiet down.

I think that’s what freedom is. The freedom that gives you the power and peace and compassion to be the kind of person you want to become. Imagine possessing that.

Maybe everybody else already understood this and I somehow missed the memo. Nevertheless, I’m glad to be on the right track now—and we’ll see what kind of mental traffic increases this gives me.

Live with Unorthodox Curiosity

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It means admitting that you don’t know it all, that maybe you don’t even understand the beliefs you proclaim as your identity. It’s an intellectual humility that frees you from the ego-driven power struggle of feigning knowledge you don’t have. It’s an acceptance of ignorance that requires self-confidence rooted deeper than your reputation.

It’s that burning itch to relinquish your ignorance and then fill that emptiness with knowledge. It’s the thirst you have to quench with answers to questions you never even knew existed. The passion to scrutinize your beliefs down to their very foundations and abandon those that don’t hold water.

It’s that faint spark of doubt in the back of your mind that authorities tried to smother in order to control you—a doubt that questions the virtues of obedience and duty. It means fanning that spark into a flame of curiosity that will shed light on the mysteries obscured by shadows of faith.

It’s the fire that drives you to relentlessly pursue truth no matter the cost, to overcome the obstacles of stigma and popular disapproval.

It’s the empathy that inspires you to listen, truly listen, with a desire to understand rather than simply confirm your preconceptions. It’s a compassion for others as well as yourself that waits to judge until you fully comprehend the emotions and their reasons.

It’s a willingness to depart from the trodden path of orthodoxy, to follow the light shining through the forest that will lead you into the sunshine of freedom and enlightenment.

How to Stop Being a Greedy Capitalist

Ever since the Occupy movement of 2011, popular media have proclaimed that “Capitalism has failed.” They point to growing poverty statistics, an increasing wage gap, and wealthy corporations exploiting their workers. Progressives generally blame these problems on a lack of regulation in the market and advocate for increased government intervention in the economy to take power away from greedy businesses and distribute wealth to those in need.

When faced with such a public outcry, libertarians and laissez-faire economists are always quick to chime in with logical rebuttals to the progressives’ claims. They explain that the current economic system lies far from the free market envisioned by Adam Smith and is better dubbed “crony capitalism” or “corporatism”—a system where corporations gain unfair advantages through access to political power. They show all the facts and figures about how increased government intervention like a higher minimum wage and progressive taxation will wreak havoc on the economy.

Yet the debate goes on and on as both sides talk past each other. They fail to move forward because they are missing a crucial factor. They are missing the hidden cause of the failure of Capitalism that is festering inside businesses of all sizes, a failure found in practices so common that we don’t even think to question them.

Think about a typical job description posted on a job board. It lists the skills and experience required for the position, and perhaps some personal characteristics desired. Hiring managers generally choose candidates based on those criteria and then place them on a “team” of other employees with nothing in common but a few qualifications, where they must refer to themselves as “we.” Once on board, the employee is expected to come to work day in and day out in return for a meager salary worth much less than the value he is creating for the company. Managers may incentivize hard work with bonuses and promotions, or they may just threaten slacking with the loss of privileges or the job altogether. Endless meetings, bureaucracy, and unquestionable orders from authority are all anyone lower down on the totem pole has to look forward to for the rest of their career.

It’s no wonder employees feel exploited.

All political questions aside, we must not dismiss the sentiments people express when they talk about exploitation. These feelings are a powerful signal of a disastrously widespread problem in the workplace. Not only does it make employees miserable, but it also reduces productivity and organizational success.

Why would anyone feel good about devoting their life to building a fortune for someone else? Young dreamers often set out on their career path in pursuit of a passion or a higher calling. For many, those aspirations get stripped away when they settle into a corporate job in order to pay the bills. Then they find themselves trapped inside a life they have little control over, where every day is spent longing for the weekend, and the weekend is spent dreading the week to come. Only after slaving away for months on end do they accrue a few measly days of vacation time.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The solution is for businesses—and all organizations, for that matter—to treat their employees like real people: with respect, trust, and empathy.

It sounds simple, yet it is shockingly rare. If you do it, you can increase productivity, reduce turnover rates, and in general make the world a better, happier place. So, what does that mean? How exactly do you make sure your employees do not feel exploited?

Start with Why

Every business should have a mission beyond just making lots of money—a fundamental belief, the reason they exist that inspires them to take action. If you don’t have one, you need to figure that out before you do anything else. Then you need to make sure everything you do and everyone you hire aligns with it.

When it comes to building a team, the first and most important characteristic of every member is that they share this belief. If everyone on the team shares a passion for what drives the company, then they will be united under that cause and will want to help each other achieve it. The common goal will connect the team more than the empty camaraderie they get because they happen to be under the same roof.

More importantly, if the leader consistently reinforces the company’s higher purpose, then the employees will feel that their career has meaning and that they are not settling for something just to pay the bills. Most people care about making the world a better place. If you help them see how their work at your business is doing that, then they will enjoy a more fulfilling career and care more about their work. Feelings matter.

Many company leaders say that their first priority is their customers. However, if a leader makes it her first priority to inspire everyone else in the company, then they will extend that passion to customer relationships and all of their work.

In his book “Start with Why,” bestselling author Simon Sinek explains how certain companies far exceed others with the same exact resources simply because they focus on their core belief before anything else. He uses Apple, Inc. as an example of a company that doesn’t define itself by what it makes, but by what it believes. “Think different.” Challenge the status quo. Sinek explores how this practice shapes the company’s brand and builds a loyal customer following, along with how it cultivates a company culture where everyone feels inspired to be making a difference in the world—not just making computers.

You can see a job as laying bricks, or you can look at it as building a city. You can see a job as mopping floors, or you can look at it as making a pleasant environment for everyone around. You can see a job as analyzing data, or you can look at it as helping people make smarter decisions to achieve their goals. If the job is worthy of being done, then a philosophical perspective on its significance can turn someone from an exploited cash cow into a part of a world-changing operation.

Trust and Freedom

Many companies keep their workers on a leash, restricting them to certain tasks as dictated by managers. No matter how passionate someone is about the company’s mission, they have no freedom or incentive to pursue that goal whenever they feel confined to specific responsibilities. Yet managers often do not trust their underlings enough to give them this freedom.

The solution is to only hire people you can trust. Don’t hire someone unless you can trust them to talk with customers, handle sensitive information, and make important decisions. Then, once they have been appropriately trained, grant them the trust they deserve. Give them the freedom to take any steps they believe will benefit the company without asking for permission.

Employees who know their mission and are free to take whatever path will get them there will be driven to creatively innovate and contribute to company growth. Remove the limits on your expectations for them and they will strive to reach their maximum potential. Develop practices that encourage innovative problem solving through both tangible and intangible rewards.

One company has taken this philosophy so far as to eliminate managers altogether—to essentially make everyone their own manager. And this is no small company. In fact, it is the largest tomato processor in the world. The Morning Star Company prides itself on its organizational structure of “self-management.” With no managerial hierarchy, each individual has a personal mission statement which guides his responsibilities. He is free to acquire resources, training, and cooperation with other employees as necessary in order to fulfill his mission. People are compensated not based on a title, but based on their contributions and their level of expertise. As a result, everyone takes great pride in their work and has a strong incentive to master new skills and ensure company growth.

This decentralized structure is closer to the way most people live their personal lives. When making decisions for ourselves, no one tells us how much money we can spend or how to spend our time. We evaluate the available information and act accordingly. We negotiate with other individuals when necessary. We choose to live like this because humans thrive with freedom. It unleashes the creative entrepreneurial spirit in all of us and lets us express who we truly are. Why would we not take the steps to create an environment where we can all be at our best, all of the time?

We often feel powerless in the face of widespread injustice when the means to promote institutional change lie out of our control. But the phenomenon of exploitation in the workplace is something we can influence. We can start treating those around us like real people, showing them empathy, respect, and trust. Whenever we have the chance, in whatever organization we find ourselves, we can encourage environments that inspire people and give them the freedom to shine. When people no longer feel that working for a corporation entails selling their soul, both businesses and people will thrive.

Perhaps Capitalism has failed. And maybe we can fix it.