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Dropping the narrative

Okay, you don’t like what your boss did yesterday or last week or last month. But today, right now, sitting across the table, what’s happening?

Narrating our lives, the little play-by-play we can’t help carrying around, that’s a survival mechanism. But it also hotwires our feelings, changes our posture, limits our possibilities.

What does this human feel right now? What opportunities to make a connection, to grow, to impact exist that we’ve ignored because of the story we are telling ourselves about them?

The narrative is useful as long as it’s useful, helping you solve problems and move forward. But when it reinforces bad habits or makes things smaller, we can drop it and merely be present, right here, right now.

Fully baked

In medical school, an ongoing lesson is that there will be ongoing lessons. You're never done. Surgeons and internists are expected to keep studying for their entire career—in fact, it's required to keep a license valid.

Knowledge workers, though, the people who manage, who go to meetings, who market, who do accounting, who seek to change things around them—knowledge workers often act as if they're fully baked, that more training and learning is not just unnecessary but a distraction.

The average knowledge worker reads fewer than one business book a year.

On the other hand, the above-average knowledge worker probably reads ten.

Show me your bookshelf, or the courses you take, or the questions you ask, and I'll have a hint as to how much you care about levelling up.

The ripples

Every decision we make changes things. The people we befriend, the examples we set, the problems we solve…

Sometimes, if we're lucky, we get to glimpse those ripples as we stand at the crossroads. Instead of merely addressing the urgency of now, we can take a moment to focus on how a quiet insight, overlooked volunteer work or a particularly welcome helping hand moves so many people forward. For generations.

How did you get to where you are? Who is going to go even further because of you?

Thank you for passing it forward.

Wedding syndrome

Running a business is a lot more important than starting one.

Choosing and preparing for the job you’ll do for the next career is a much more important task than getting that job. Serving is more important than the campaign.

And a marriage is always more important than a wedding.

It’s tempting to focus on the product launch, on the interview, on the next thing. Tempting, but ultimately a waste.

Our culture is organized around transitions, but they’re a distraction. What it says on your wedding invitation doesn’t matter a whole lot in the long run.

Spectator sports

Every year, we spend more than a trillion dollars worth of time and attention on organized spectator sports.

The half-life of a sporting event is incredibly short. Far more people are still talking about the Godfather movie or the Nixon administration than care about the 1973 World Series.

Billions of people buying tickets and investing countless hours on something of absolutely no significance.

It turns out that this insignificance and the ephemeral nature of sporting events is the heart of their appeal.

Instead of having passionate arguments about things that matter, issues with consequences, topics where one can be wrong or right, organized sports are a tribal opportunity to vent without remorse.

We've taken that pleasure in insignificance and transferred it to celebrity culture as well. And then on to just about everything else, including science and governance.

Hence the challenge–because when we start to treat things of significance as if they're a spectator sport, we all lose.

Soccer hooligans are a real problem. But hooligans in science (yelling about their opinions, denigrating their opponents) or in world affairs do none of us any good.

Anxiety loves company

Somehow, at least in our culture, we find relief when others are anxious too.

So we spread our anxiety, stoking it in other people, looking for solace in the fear in their eyes.

And thanks to the media, to the microphone we each have, to our hyper-connected culture, it’s easier than ever to spread our anxiety if we choose. And when someone who seeks power offers to hear our anxiety in exchange for attention or a vote, it gets even worse.

It’s worth noting that there’s no correlation between the real world and anxiety. In fact, it’s probably the opposite–when times are good, people with a lot to lose start to get that itch.

Absorb the anxiety if you wish, spread it if you must, but understand that it’s an invention, and it’s optional.

Looking for the trick

When you find a trick, a shortcut, a hack that gets you from here to there without a lot of sweat or risk, it's really quite rewarding. So much so that many successful people are hooked on the trick, always looking for the next one.

SEO, for example, had plenty of tricks as it evolved, ways in which a few worked to get rankings and links without deserving them.

Or consider the act of publishing a book. One approach is to spend a lot of time and money tricking the system into believing your book is already successful, which, the trick says, will lead to it becoming actually successful. 

Or the simple trick to avoid belly fat, lose weight, get a promotion, find dates or make money overnight.

I could list a thousand of them, because the web is trick central, a place where, for a short while, the people apparently at the top of whatever heap you aspire to got there by finding and exploiting a trick.

There's a meta-trick that's far more reliable. One that works over time and doesn't depend on avoiding being out-tricked: Make great stuff. Satisfy needs. Do the hard work that leads to growth which leads to investment on its own merit.

It turns out that the trick-free approach is the best trick of all.

 

Skills vs. talents

If you can learn it, it's a skill.

If it's important, but innate, it's a talent.

The thing is, almost everything that matters is a skill. If even one person is able to learn it, if even one person is able to use effort and training to get good at something, it's a skill.

It's entirely possible that some skills are easier for talented people to learn. It's entirely possible you don't want to expend the energy and dedicate the effort to learn that next skill.

But realizing that it's a skill is incredibly empowering and opens the door of possibility.

What are you going to learn next?

For the weekend…

New podcast with Brian Koppelman

Classic podcast with Krista Tippett

Unmistakable Creative from 2015

And a video of Creative Mornings and their podcast

The Your Turn book continues to spread. Have you seen it yet?

Early-bird pricing on the huge Titan collection ends in 9 days.

Widespread confusion about what it takes to be strong

Sometimes we confuse strength with:

  • Loudness
  • Brusqueness
  • An inability to listen
  • A resistance to seeing the world as it is
  • An unwillingness to compromise small things to accomplish big ones
  • Fast talking
  • Bullying
  • External unflappability
  • Callousness
  • Lying
  • Policies instead of judgment
  • …and being a jerk.

Well, once you put it that way, it's pretty clear that none of these things are actually signs of strength.

In fact, they are symptoms of brittleness, of insecurity and of a willful disconnect from the things that matter.

Individuals, organizations, brands and leaders all have a chance to be strong. And can just easily choose to be jerks.

Because it is a choice, isn't it?

I think it's up to us not to get them confused, and to accidentally trust the wrong behaviors or the wrong people.

Strength begins with unwavering resilience, not brittle aggression.

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