Light and knowledge

Diwali, in Hindu tradition, is the festival of light. It was among the most special festivals growing up because it brought together people, good food, and fun in a special way.

On Diwali day, we meet our loved ones, eat delicious food, and light lamps as a collective reminder that light and knowledge triumph darkness and ignorance.

It is a tradition that feels particularly important this year. We’ve all dealt with a vast array of challenges this year and, for many of us, can’t even meet the people we love. Everyone has been hurting in some way.

So, it is worth reminding ourselves that even this will pass. Given time, knowledge and light will shine a way through.

Hope you continue to stay safe and well.

Happy Diwali to you.

I wonder vs. this is what I think we should do

After identifying a potential opportunity recently, I wrote an email to a few folks with the phrase – “I wonder if we should do xyz.”

I got feedback from someone who works closely with me that my use of “I wonder” could be interpreted as passive aggressive and inauthentic. Their advice was – “Don’t say I wonder if what you are really saying is This is what I think we should do. Say it as it is.”

It was great feedback because that wasn’t my intention – my subconscious instinct was to try to be polite. But, I could see why the attempted politeness could be perceived as inauthentic. Say what you mean – as often as possible.

Well-timed feedback is a wonderful gift.

Ronald Read

I love every reminder I can get about the story of Ronald Read.

Ronald Read worked as a gas station attendant and janitor at JC Penney’s. He was known to be a frugal man. After losing his wife at 50, he lived alone for the rest of his life and enjoyed chopping wood.

After his death, folks in his community realized he had left two million dollars to his stepchildren and an additional six million dollars to local library and hospital.

How? He consistently invested his savings in (an eventual portfolio of 95) blue chip companies whose businesses he understood and held their stock for the most of the rest of his life.

There are many fascinating lessons from his story – making a life by what we give vs. get, the importance of savings rate, time in the market vs. timing the market, etc.

But, to me, one that always stands out is the transformative power compound interest can have in our life. Small consistent investments in all important areas of our life – health, money, learning, relationships – compound in magical ways over time.

Here’s to making one such investment today…

Noticing that inner disturbance

Pay attention now:
No matter how much you know or learn about syntax, grammar, and rhetoric,
This small internal quaver, this inner disturbance,
Is the most useful evidence you’ll ever get.
Someday, you’ll be able to articulate what causes it.
But for now, what’s important is to notice it.
Noticing is always the goal.
Actually, the goal right now is noticing that you’re noticing.
One day merely noticing will be enough.

<a few sentences later>

Soon you’ll know exactly how to find the things that are going wrong
As well as the things that are going right.
But until then – and even long after – you’ll find it easier to detect a problem by the disturbance is causes you.

Verlyn Klinkenborg in “Several short sentences about writing”

These notes are about writing. But, they could easily have been about decision making .

Much of learning how to make better decisions in our lives is listening for that disturbance within. We may not always know why. But, noticing and listening to them saves us a lot of pain and heartache in the long run.

“Noticing is always the goal.”


Out of ideas

Every once a while, I find myself out of ideas for the day’s post.

So, I inevitably find myself scrolling through my favorite feeds, going through my Feedly, and/or just clicking about hoping for some serendipitous inspiration.

It works from time to time.

Often enough for it to be something worth trying.

That’s until I remind myself that the solutions I seek are probably not out there.

Instead, they lie within.

I just need to remind myself to pause, take a deep breath, and think.

Socrates’ legacy

I’ve begun reading “The Socrates Express” by Eric Weiner.

Eric Weiner’s style is to take us on a journey around the world and make us smarter about something with a healthy dose of humor along the way. In this book, that something is philosophy. Every chapter in this book is thus about a famous philosopher and their contribution to philosophy.

At the end of a chapter about Socrates, he made an interesting observation. Nearly every great philosopher made their impact by sharing powerful observations about the world and the human condition. They had their own distinct style and approach to making these observations. Some did it with a lot of emotions, others with characteristic pessimism or self deprecation, and so on.

Socrates, however, was unique in only leaving behind a method. Socrates’ legacy isn’t about what he wrote. In fact, he wrote almost nothing. Everything we know about him is thanks to his student Plato,

His legacy, instead, is defined by his approach to thoughtful conversation – the “Socratic method” that relies on questions to spur critical thinking.

It is a powerful way to think about legacy. A legacy that is defined by the how instead of the what.

Soaking in lessons

My notes for the day in the past four days came from one speech.

I wouldn’t have done this a few years back. I would have posted all four anecdotes in one day.

It is one speech after all. Why does it need four posts?

I’ve come to appreciate the importance of soaking in lessons. I could have shared all four stories in one post but I’d have forgotten about them just as quickly. By thinking about these lessons every day for four days, I’ve absorbed them better.

It can’t end here either. I need to re-tell these stories a few times to others and write about them some more. Assuming I do that, maybe, just maybe, I’ll remember them at a time when I need them.

Maybe I’ll remember that I shouldn’t get too upset about being a sugar cookie for the day or to sing when I’m up to my neck in mud.

And then maybe I’ll remember these stories again in a similar situation the next time. And again.

I will only have learnt these powerful lessons when they become part of how I operate. To learn and not to do is not to learn.

Soaking in them is a helpful first step in that process.

Circuses and changing the world

Today’s post is 4/4 in the series on Admiral McRaven’s wonderful commencement speech at UT Austin (click for part 1/4, 2/4, and 3/4).

Every day during training you were challenged with multiple physical events — long runs, long swims, obstacle courses, hours of calisthenics — something designed to test your mettle. Every event had standards — times you had to meet. If you failed to meet those standards your name was posted on a list, and at the end of the day those on the list were invited to a “circus.” A circus was two hours of additional calisthenics designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit.

No one wanted a circus.

A circus meant that for that day you didn’t measure up. A circus meant more fatigue — and more fatigue meant that the following day would be more difficult — and more circuses were likely. But at some time during SEAL training, everyone — everyone — made the circus list.

But an interesting thing happened to those who were constantly on the list. Over time those students — who did two hours of extra calisthenics — got stronger and stronger. The pain of the circuses built inner strength, built physical resiliency.

Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.

But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.

In each of these stories, Admiral McRaven refers to wanting to change the world. He had a nugget on that too.

“Tonight there are almost 8,000 students graduating from UT. That great paragon of analytical rigor, Ask.Com, says that the average American will meet 10,000 people in their lifetime. That’s a lot of folks. But, if every one of you changed the lives of just 10 people — and each one of those folks changed the lives of another 10 people — just 10 — then in five generations — 125 years — the class of 2014 will have changed the lives of 800 million people.

800 million people — think of it — over twice the population of the United States. Go one more generation and you can change the entire population of the world — eight billion people.”

Awesome speech. Thank you, Admiral McRaven, for putting together this masterpiece.

Up to our neck in mud

We’re onto post 3/4 in the series on Admiral McRaven’s wonderful speech (click for part 1/4 and 2/4)

The ninth week of training is referred to as “Hell Week.” It is six days of no sleep, constant physical and mental harassment, and one special day at the Mud Flats. The Mud Flats are area between San Diego and Tijuana where the water runs off and creates the Tijuana slues, a swampy patch of terrain where the mud will engulf you.

It is on Wednesday of Hell Week that you paddle down to the mud flats and spend the next 15 hours trying to survive the freezing cold mud, the howling wind and the incessant pressure to quit from the instructors. As the sun began to set that Wednesday evening, my training class, having committed some “egregious infraction of the rules” was ordered into the mud.

The mud consumed each man till there was nothing visible but our heads. The instructors told us we could leave the mud if only five men would quit — just five men — and we could get out of the oppressive cold. Looking around the mud flat it was apparent that some students were about to give up. It was still over eight hours till the sun came up — eight more hours of bone-chilling cold.

The chattering teeth and shivering moans of the trainees were so loud it was hard to hear anything. And then, one voice began to echo through the night, one voice raised in song. The song was terribly out of tune, but sung with great enthusiasm. One voice became two and two became three and before long everyone in the class was singing. We knew that if one man could rise above the misery then others could as well.

The instructors threatened us with more time in the mud if we kept up the singing but the singing persisted. And somehow the mud seemed a little warmer, the wind a little tamer and the dawn not so far away.

If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person — Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan, Malala — one person can change the world by giving people hope.

So, if you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in.

Another beautiful beautiful story from Admiral McRaven.

This story triggered a memory of a blog post from a few years ago where I’d observed something similar. When we’re stuck in shitty situations, it is easy to underestimate the power of some humor and cheer.

Small things can go a long way when we’re all up to our neck in mud.