Trees of green

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you e

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world


We have before us an opportunity to connect with everything Louis Armstrong sang about today. Trees of green, flowers, clouds, skies, friends – these aren’t hard to find.

Or, we can spend our time today fretting about things we don’t control, poring over news feeds and email and waiting for a miracle to give us happiness.

Our choice.

Dealing with the unresolved

I wish there was a class on learning to deal with the unresolved. But, since there isn’t a good one that I know of, here’s what I’ve learned from the school of hard knocks.

The first step to dealing with the unresolved is accepting that there will always be something unresolved in our lives. We will always have to deal with the unknown, experience the fear of launching something new and walk into a game with trepidation knowing we are at a seemingly obvious disadvantage.

Sure, we can choose to worry. But, worry does nothing to solve the problem except make it seem worse.

Scott Peck beautifully pointed to the wisdom in accepting that life is difficult. As he eloquently put it, “once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

It works the same with dealing with the unresolved. We need to take the first step and accept that we will always have to deal with it.

There is no second step.

Life happens in unexpected ways

Amy Krouse Rosenthal died a few days ago. If the name sounds vaguely familiar, you might have read her beautiful piece – “You May Want to Marry my Husband.” There are few things more powerful than a reminder of our mortality and that life happens in unexpected ways. And, Ms. Rosenthal’s note provided that for the a large section of the 5 million odd people who read her piece.

In her piece, Amy says – “I want more time with Jason. I want more time with my children. I want more time sipping martinis at the Green Mill Jazz Club on Thursday nights. “More” was my first spoken word (true). And now it may very well be my last.”

And, writing about those lines, Bryce Roberts (whose blog I enjoy reading) wrote a post called “The Time Thief.”  In it, he said –

Notably she wasn’t asking for more time with her phone. Or with the brands that she’d built a relationship with.

They say that there is a war being waged for our time and attention. That companies of all kinds are competing for little spaces in our days and in our brains and in our shopping baskets. As with every war, there are winners and there are losers. If the brands, and social networks and media outlets win, who loses?

Maybe the reason for my ugly cry was that I know who loses.

And who is losing.

Our time on this planet is limited. And, it is ever so easy spending our limited time checking our social feeds, mulling pointless corporate politics, indulging our egos or feeding ourselves mental/emotional/physical garbage.

Here’s what I’ve noticed – in the final analysis, I’m yet to hear someone who wished they’d spent more time doing that. Of all regrets, there are two that I’ve heard and read about time and time again. First, they’d go out on a limb and take that risk they felt strongly about. And, second, they’d spend more time with those they love.

Not better, more. Better does matter. But, it only counts when there’s enough.

This is probably not new to any of us. We’ve probably read this somewhere before. But, if we’re not doing it, then we’ve not learnt it.

Well, its about time.

Life happens in unexpected ways.

So, there might just less time than we think.

Let’s make it count.

Wrong stakes

One of the marks of an unconscious approach to life or business is to get the stakes all wrong. This approach has two modes – a mission critical mode and an unconscious mode.

The mission critical mode involves words like “crisis” and, well, “mission critical” and could last long periods of time. The unconscious mode serves simply as a lull between two crises. The stakes seem non existent and the activity is uninspired.

In reality, however, both these modes rarely exist.

Most of us are never really in “crisis” mode. That’s just a result of the proliferation of battle terminology in business (which spills over to life). As long as we aren’t shipping life saving drugs, things are generally going to be fine. There’s really no need for the drama. Creating conditions of unnatural pressure for long periods of time isn’t a recipe for long term well being or success. Give people a chance to work toward a true calling or mission (e.g. I want to build an electric car that will actually make it mainstream and reduce our world’s reliance on oil) and they’ll do the work with limited push.

Second, even if the stakes aren’t as high as we sometimes make it sound, there isn’t such a thing as a low stakes life either. The stakes always exist  in the “no drama” zone and the things we do always matter. We touch many people every single day and affect their happiness. The work we do, the art we create likely does the same as well. Sure, we might pine for bigger impact but, if we look carefully, the number of people we get to impact impact in meaningful ways over the course of a normal lifetime adds up to large numbers. Pretending that it doesn’t matter is an abuse of privilege.

It is a privilege to be alive. And, now that we’re here and functioning, what we do and say matters.

We can choose to do it well, to make it meaningful and count. We can choose to commit to doing the small things with extraordinary love.

Needless to say, the unconscious approach is easier and lets us off the hook. The tough part about these choices is that we must find strong intrinsic reasons to do it – regardless of the stakes. It isn’t easy to pay attention in our lives. And, it is very hard to keep applying consistent effort because, for the longest time, it feels like all the effort counts for very little.

Until it does.

Stuff that matters

Sometime during the week, we’ll be pulled into thinking about stuff that doesn’t matter. It may start with that crappy meeting or unhelpful conversation. But, it could lead us to think about the many things that we don’t really care about – status, the thing after the next thing, riches or earning plaudits from someone who is deliberately hard to please.

It is hard to avoid that. But, life is so much better without that noise and pointless rumination.

So, one way around it is to start the week by thinking about all the stuff that actually matters to us: good health, nourishing food for the stomach, mind and soul, the feeling of our heart beating rapidly after a sprint, the touch of a loved one, our love for the team we work with, and progress toward change we believe in.

Today is an opportunity to focus on the stuff that actually matters. And, maybe, just maybe, we’ll remember to start more days this week with the same focus.

But, we’ve got to begin somewhere. And, that’s today. That’s why we call today a gift – the present.

It is an opportunity like no other.

Let’s make it count.

What to do versus who to be

A close friend emailed Hunter Thompson’s letter “On Finding Your Purpose.” I’d read this a while back but I’d forgotten about it. And, it resonated very deeply this time around. The part that resonated was his distinction between what we want to do and who we want to be. I picked out my favorite notes below.

As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors — but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal.

Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know — is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

I feel I’ve been stumbling at the fringes of this idea in my years writing here without ever explaining it with such clarity. Its beauty lies in its simplicity. The conventional approach to life is to focus on what we want to do. We, then, shape who we want to be in accordance. If we end up in a job that requires us to work 90 hours a week, so be it. We’ll give up those dreams of valuing health or family. It assumes no thought or intention.

Instead, decide who we want to be and seek to find a career that conforms. This is hard. Who knows what we want to be?

It turns out we don’t really know what we want to do either. For the most part, we just start with an unconscious hypothesis and keep moving forward. The only difference is that we seem to be following millions of others who are doing the same thing. It is easier.

And, as always, let’s not confuse easier with better.

2017 Themes

I had 3 “look back” posts in the past ten days or so that all built up to my annual review. After all that looking back, the time has now come to look forward. I don’t like new years resolutions as I’m not a fan of “goals” based thinking. Instead, I prefer thinking in terms of direction and process. So, I prefer thinking of the new year in terms of themes.

My theme for the new year is engagement. I believe engagement is the answer to the debates around managing energy versus managing time. As with most important things, it isn’t an either/or. And, I also believe engagement is a principle that a good life is anchored around. And, as with all life principles, it is very hard to consistently live it. Also, I think of engagement and consciousness (the ability to be aware and to choose) as sister concepts. They share the same core.

While engagement is the high level theme, my audit and reading pointed to 3 sub themes.

The first theme is – “Seek to understand and then to be understood” – from my holiday re-read of “The 7 Habits.” I am way too impatient and, as a result, interrupt far too much than I’d like. I’d like to do better, a lot better. This isn’t something that’s easy to measure. So, I intend to just check in with myself every day for starters as I build my instincts around this.

The second theme is health. As I grow older, the idea of being very fit grows increasingly more appealing. I haven’t done as bad a job at this so far. But, there’s plenty of room for improvement. I used Mr Money Mustache’s excellent post on “Staying fit with no gym in sight” to reflect on this and piece together my health plan. The first part of this plan is to moderate my diet better – my diet is still pretty carbohydrate heavy (I love rice!). And, having just discovered the benefits of doing a full body work out during the week, I’ll aim to keep that going through this year.

The final theme is information. Again, there are two pieces. First, I’ve been working on streamlining my information diet over the past couple of weeks. I massively cut down on my news consumption and went through a review of every source I regularly consume on Feedly. I also took a good look at my work email flow and consumption habits and have made a few changes. The idea here is to be a lot more conscious about this as I still check my email and feeds far more than I’d like. The second piece of this theme is doubling down on reading books. I have a reading list that I cannot wait to get to. And, I’d like to spend more time on deep book reading over shallower sources.

I expect to see a step change in my level of engagement/consciousness if I work through these sub themes. But, as with all good processes, the journey is sure to be filled with learning. While seeking to understand will help me improve on my interactions with others, I see my approach to health and information as crucial. The better my health and information diets, the more energy I expect to have to be engaged through the day.

Lots of work to do. Onward.

PS: Peter Koehler, a reader, has done a nice job co-creating “The New Years Reader” – to be read aloud and shared with your close friends and family. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did. I contributed a thought to it as well. The theme should look familiar to you. :)

“We are a by-product of our questions. Perhaps we stop asking ourselves about how we can be better/best at something this year and, instead, ask ourselves – “How can I be engaged every day? How can I make sure I am being conscious about my decisions?”

All this would take is a commitment to spend 3 minutes to ask yourselves these questions at the start of your day, every day. And, a calendar reminder to re-commit to this habit every weekend.

Wishing you more engaged, more conscious days this new year. As we live our days, so we live our lives…”