To quote the man Burns, the best-laid schemes o' mice an' men, gang aft agley. No matter how much you prepare, plans often go awry. And that’s when you either make excuses, or make more plans. Often, I think, it’s not the present environment that’s causing problems, but your past.
There are two instances this week that have inspired my curiosity. The first from a friend decrying his current employment situation (lack of strategic objectives and simply talent of his current managers). Was the failure by others though his opportunity to shine? Sometimes yes, but through disappointment, anger and frustration at those less talented pulling ahead of him in the company, he cannot see the light. Re-phrasing, he will not see the light. For him, his chemical make-up, his ‘this is how I am’ and identifying the errors of others is where the blame is. This I cannot countenance. You’re the master of your own ship, no one else. You cannot change the sea or wind, but you’re holding the tiller.
The second example came from a friend’s past ‘fight or flight’ scenario in a relationship that has sown a seed – in this case, emotional euphoria attached to a memory guiding future decision making without even realising it. It may well be a valid conclusion, it may well be nonsensical, but in either case, unless you spend time with yourself, on self-analysis, on the why you do things, you’ll never know. Then whatever the outcome, comes self-healing and some self-love.
For me, in a topsy-turvy week as a product has neared launch, there have been overtures from different parts of the business that potential to plunge the project into madness. As it is, we’re still ploughing away, dodging and weaving, coercing stakeholders at every point whilst not losing sight of our goals. Constantly conjuring ideas has actually been fun rather than taxing, and I owe this in part to James Altucher – for all his ‘higher energy’ twaddle, I have stuck to trying to develop ten ideas a day. This encourages brain nimbleness (maybe) when presented with problems. As a colleague questioned whether our sanity could take another week of change, the response was simple: these are the critical tasks for the week, each can birth a multitude of omnishables (or cacophony of clusterfuc*s, for the alliteration). Be ready. And bring some biscuits, naturally.
Am now in the process of writing my second. Doing this in alignment with a full-time job can be slow going, like a mason chipping away at a delicate sculpture whilst being booted up the arse by a goat every day. Am also working on my similes.
My first opus took a long time. To paraphrase the great Blackadder’s Prince George when celebrating Dr. Johnstone’s completion of the first ever dictionary, which took him ten years, ‘well, I’m a slow reader myself’. For my part I struggled to find my writing style and therefore came up with what seemed to be a pretty damned excellent approach – put my computer away and barely write for the next two years, spending money on fast booze and slow women. The rest of it, I wasted. It’s not exactly a tried and tested method, I grant you.
However, abandoning ship just meant the ideas fermented slowly, and writing pulled me back in the end. It’s a cyclical oddity that you can’t write because you haven’t found your voice, but you can’t find your voice without writing in the first place. Writing short pieces in the interim made things far easier, as too has blogging consistently to establish a rhythm. So, whether it’s writing letters, writing blogs, writing poetry or writing anything, you have to practice.
The notable difference this time (other than not being hungover constantly) is the amount I read. I’ve consumed more books in the last three months than I have in five years. This is simply sharpening the tools of the trade, reviewing the styles and wordsmithery of published and successful authors. I never thought of reading books as study for writing, but it is in the most literal sense (hardy ha ha). If you’re imbibing from the deep wells of knowledge collected over hundreds of years across cultures and countries, how can this not benefit?
I have several friends that have books in them, but they not only lack the discipline, they lack the desire. Although everyone will re-iterate that the former is far more important, defining a routine and a schedule, I would side with the latter. If you have the desire to write, you barely need a routine as you’ll be drawn to it. But whatever your aims, keep writing. Now, whilst the rain belts down, some tea and biscuits await. They obviously help in some way ha ha
I have slowed down my reading for January, not because of any particular want, simply because the tomes I’ve picked up have required more of me. The self-improvement ones always me to do things, which is quite frankly a pain in the ass. Just as a slight addendum, if one was necessary, it doesn’t involve inserting books into anuses in the literal sense . . . that would be, unwelcoming. But the thing about being asked to do things, is that part of me thinks I’m already reading the bloody book, how much more of me do you want of me?! It turns out – and you may want to sit down for this a donut pillow for this - you don’t turn your life around simply by reading about it and not actioning anything. Who knew?!
There are other common themes too. Whether it’s Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Work Week, John and Claudia Altucher’s The Power of No or James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh, the message is the same: it all starts with self-reliance. The inner strengths and core belief in yourself to make things happen, starts with getting off your ass and doing something, dedicating some aspect of your time to organise your life to get things done. It’s all well and good talking, but if you come home, sit in front of the television with a couple of beers and wonder why your life isn’t changing for the better, then I think you have your answer . . . unless of course your actual job is to watch television and drink beer, where you are handsomely rewarded for your opinion on both topics. In that case, hats off to you, and please let me know if there is a vacancy. For the rest of us mere mortals, it takes graft.
There are three variations on a theme: the first is to do things; the second is to do things right; the third is to do the right things. Everyone can be busy, which is why regularly reviewing your direction is necessary. Keep asking ‘what’s the goal? what is the end state?’ To borrow from the excellent 7 Habits of Effective People:
"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." You can quickly grasp the important difference between the two if you envision a group of workers cutting their way through the jungle with machetes. Managers are behind them, sharpening their machetes, writing policy and procedure manuals, holding muscle development programs . . .the leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, "Wrong jungle!"
The most useful method heard recently was envisioning your own epitaph. What do you want it to say? Would you be happy with your lot? In any project I've ever worked on, you know the result you want to get out of it, so why not in life as well? Another method is that if a doctor relayed that you only had one year left on this sweet earth, what would you do? . . . as for me, I’d probably ask for a second opinion.
It’s Australia Day, huzzaahhh!!! Australians like nothing better than a paid-day off work, especially if it’s summer, occurs during the Australian Open Tennis on Melbourne’s doorstep and falls favourably to make a long weekend. Since I work a nine-day fortnight anyway, this makes it an extra-long weekend. Double huzzaahhh!!!
Yesterday I spent a glorious sunshine-filled day pottering around wineries with my girlfriend and friends, eating my bodyweight in cheese platters. During the week the mercury skyrocketed to 41C/105F degrees, causing friends in wintery London to jealously wish me a slow and painful death without realising no one leaves the house in that temperature. Then again, they probably don’t either after imbibing 67 units of alcohol a week during the festive season, which launches Dry-January efforts nationwide viewed in the same light as rescuing orphans from minefields. That doesn’t seem fair - what if the orphans were carrying kittens as well? Or had leprosy? Leprosytic kittens! One argument goes that it's so depressing during the winter months, what options are there but to assuage your aching soul than through alcohol? Sweet Jesus! What next, crying because it’s drizzling? Bouts of farting because it’s a bit windy? Alcoholics anonymous are around if you need it.
In the last year I try to dedicate my weekends to relaxing and being more present with the people I love, and mentally it’s been a lifesaver. I never make new year’s resolutions, but instead make plans and review regularly. Making one plan for the entire year seems to lack ambition. So, here’s a 2019 update on my to-do lists I published three months ago:
Well done Osaka! Come on, Nadal!
According to the New York Times, American adults watch five hours and four minutes of television per day. That’s THIRTY-FIVE hours a week, a whole working week purely watching television. I’m not saying you can’t learn anything from television, but holy fudge!! I enjoy the odd film, but staggered just how much people can imbibe. Trivial Pursuit’s Entertainment section is my black hole of Calcutta, a prison of nothingness! The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, Peaky Blinders, Seinfeld, Game of Thrones, The Wire, Lost, 24, Law and Order, Dexter, ER, Grey’s Anatomy (jeez we’re going back!), Breaking Bad . . . you name a show over the last twenty years, and I probably didn’t see it!
For those that want a break from the talkies for a while, here’s a link of favourite resources I use to grab free books. Yup, free. Costs you nothing. Rub shoulders with Ernest Hemmingway, Tolstoy, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Socrates (not the Brazilian footballer, although he has a costly autoiography), Seneca, Marcus Aurelius . . . the collective knowledge, stories and lessons from the last two thousand years at your finger-tips!
If you can I would heartily endorse your local library, you can even borrow real life books from them - remember those papery things that you hold in your hand and turn pages and everything?! You can even borrow books online from libraries too. Admittedly, “hey kids, let’s check out what’s going on in the library!” isn’t a phrase you hear that often. Perhaps it just needs a bit of marketing.
If you want possession of an e-book for your very self because possession is everything, check out a few of the links below. Happy reading!
BFG Poster - Hopefully Roald Dahl and Disney won't mind me borrowing their image
Oh Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, you beguiling bastard. The author, Robert Pirsig, gave warning when treading into the philosophical allegories of this book that it was not going to be comfortable. Bob is indeed a man of his word. It was like picking up dog poop: you know it has to be done, but it just doesn’t feel right. Unless of course I’ve stumbled upon your hobby, then ignore that. And wash your hands. Perhaps your hobby would look less suspicious if you even owned a dog?
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not that content sifting through self-rhetoric, or dog-poop, and also not at ease with researching dialectics and Sophism. I can just about use Microsoft Word. I get the attainment of quality, of self-reliance, of reason and logic, of duty towards self, but a hundred pages trim would have done the volume no harm. Then again, this is a modern classic, selling millions, and Robert achieved worldwide fame for his honesty and intelligence, weaving three separate stories in their own right into an excellent tome . . . so really, what the hell do I know? Thankfully, 121 publishers rejected the volume before Robert found success. So, really, what the hell do we know?
There are a couple of lines though that made me put down the book and gaze out the window, mouthing to no one in particular ‘Yeahhhh!! And another thing. . .’ like some kind of lunatic. To quote "You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun will rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s always because the dogmas or goals are in doubt."
Essentially, the more fervour someone has and indignant they become, the more they’re trying to protect against any consideration of an alternative which is probably equally valid. Just ask any football team chanting ‘we’re by far the greatest team, the world has ever seen!’ every weekend.
Whilst there is, I think, an immense amount of Robert himself in the book, and despite being sometimes a long affair, it is an exceptional read. And the afterword is heart wrenching. But I’ll end this week on an up-note with a lovely whimsical quotation from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Remember to be kind to yourself and others.
‘How can happiness be defined? How can goodness be defined? Happiness and good are not objective terms. We cannot deal with them scientifically. And since they’re not objective then they just exist in your mind. So, if you want to be happy, just change your mind’
Music reference now it's in my head!
Am finding Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance a moribund affair, I must confess. Interesting, but stagnant. I have never invested hours ruminating on the definition of ‘quality’ before, and indeed will never again. It’s of no surprise the author had a mental breakdown, and is actually relating an autobiography of sorts as he rides across America. It’s the minor nuances that plough on for pages that wear you out. As Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘crikey, he does go on a bit!’
It has though given my mind plenty of time to canter away to more interesting things, one of which was leadership discussed by hard-ass Navy Seal in the Tim Ferris and Jocko Willinck podcast. There were two key leadership skills according to Jocko: detachment and feedback. Incidentally, if you listen to the podcast, there is always an extended delay whenever the colossus Jocko answers a question, which makes Tim extremely uncomfortable – proper schadenfreude stuff!
Detachment comes in the form of stepping outside of yourself to review the situation more dispassionately. I love the idea of this, and it’s perhaps the slow inhale of breath and giving himself more time that Jacko is inherently practicing during the podcast. Take time to gather your thoughts, rid yourself of emotion, think before you speak. In a combat zone I guess this could be best summed up by the excellent Kipling ‘if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs’, potentially saving your own life as well as others. Thankfully corporate offices are a little less exacting. For example, it’s been several weeks since a public execution was required for double-booking a meeting room.
Secondly Jocko thinks leaders constantly seek feedback and are always very ready to receive it, analysing, assessing and implementing. Simply, they listen and act accordingly. Despite the ardent beliefs of my girlfriend (hey darling!), I prefer to listen more than talk. As a leader, you can do one of two things: speak first, resulting in immediately coercing others to drive a general consensus; or speak last, letting others drive that general consensus. I use both, depending on what outcome I’m trying to achieve. An even better balance would be to perhaps split the topic at hand, asking different team members on sperate aspects so as not to pollute opinion. But that’s all very, erm, zen. The debate though would undoubtedly be of the highest quality.
There are people out there that really need The Power of No. If someone is on the edge of the abyss, as the authors - James and Claudia - clearly have been, this is the book I would proffer. It’s like an insight into a depressive hell, albeit from my standpoint with a cup of tea and mouth aghast, spilling said tea.
The essence of the Power of No is simply taking control of your life by doing things that you actually want to do, that are valuable to you, as opposed to those tasks we feel encumbered to do. To borrow a lovely phrase from the book, avoid ‘superfluous distraction’, such as watching television or reading the news. Or, since it’s Christmas, spending shitloads of money on stuff you don’t need, on people you don’t like, for a day that means nothing. Shalom! Ha ha This basic tenet of the book (saying no, not the grinch bit) is exceptionally straight forward. It’s then a matter of plucking up the courage to take that first steps. The expansion to this is not giving excuses, not giving reasons or having to lie when invited to participate in something you don’t wish to. You simply say ‘no I can’t make it.’ It’s immediately implementable. What a lovely gift of freedom that is!
Then there’s the next layer to The Power of No, pumping up the tyres of spirituality, of divine whispers, of a divine plan. To quote, 'surrendering in order to live a life directed by divine forces is the ultimate goal of a person whose energy has risen’. For me, this is a bit too stretchy-pants-spirit-animal-finding-yourself-oh-there-you-are type of thing, but each to their own. These sections are reserved for those that trapped in such a dark place that no rhyme or reason or logic can lift you out of your despair, and that somehow feeling God or higher powers have a plan for you will help. Thankfully I am not there, and woe betide those poor bastards that are. Yup, bit of a downer, sorry about that. It can’t all be penis jokes every week, can it? If you have a problem, and no one else can help, and if you can find them, contact the A-Team. Otherwise, try this book.
There are lovely ideas though, some I already possess in my armoury and others I’ve adopted: becoming an ‘ideas generating machine’ where every day you write down ten ideas (quality isn’t important) which I think is great for a start-up and problem-solving mindset; of spending several minutes every day in complete silence, letting your mind catch a breath and letting the tensions of your day wash away; and lastly of letting go of the anger or guilt in things you said ten years ago – these things cannot change, it’s useless and unhelpful to give them any thought.
The last idea the book discussed was being thankful, and that’s something I’ve never lost. And so, for the last post of 2018, a year that I accomplished a dream I’ve had for eleven years, in which I focused on being present, where I read more than I had in years, improved my Spanish and video editing skills (the latter was at level zero, so learning anything was good!) I am extremely grateful: for my friends and family’s unwavering support, intelligence, kindness and compassion, I am delighted and fortunate that you are part of my life. Happy New Year!
I am a duck. At least, that is how my parents refer to me: serene and calm on the outside, underneath paddling like bloody hell. At least I think it’s that, or my webbed feet and love of bread. Either or, really. In my new team my calmness was the first thing people noticed (that and my quacking). It’s not a bad thing to be noted for. This, as with everything, comes with practice.
In work I have been fortunate enough to have excellent leaders imbued with a calmness of authority, always unrattled no matter the circumstance. I knew I wanted to be that person. When I joined my current company, on the induction day I met a fellow man from Wales who related an anecdote that I’ve regurgitated for years. In a fairly typical humdrum day, he went about his business as usual, said hello to his staff and got on with his work. After a few hours one of his team approached his office cautiously and kindly asked if everything was ok. Slightly bemused, he asked why they thought something was wrong. The reply came ‘usually when you’re happy, you whistle, and today you didn’t whistle.’ Unbeknownst to him the entire team had noticed this trait, and he realised just what leadership meant. From that point on, no matter what happened or how his day was actually unfolding, he whistled.
No team will voluntarily follow a leader that is running around kicking and screaming. Remain calm, collect your thoughts no matter what. Your team will thank you for it, as too will your mental health. And so this Christmas try to give yourself the gift of calm: allow your mind some peace and quiet; take a walk outside in the countryside, lapping up the sunshine (southern hemisphere!); say no to a few things you don’t want to do to give yourself some time; and relax. Out of all the presents you buy, perhaps try for yourself one of the calming meditations apps like Headspace – that dude has a voice like honey, I tell you!
I will I sign-off this post with another quotation from the excellent James Allen (voiced on Youtube):
The strong, calm man is . . . like a shade-giving tree in a thirsty land, or a sheltering rock in a storm. That exquisite poise of character that we call serenity is the last lesson of culture. . . how insignificant mere money-seeking looks in comparison with a serene life. Tempest-tossed souls, wherever you may be, under whatever conditions you may live, know this: In the ocean of life the isles of blessedness are smiling and the sunny shore of your ideal awaits your coming. Keep your hands firmly upon the helm of thought. . . self-control is strength. Right (positive) thought is mastery. Calmness is power. Say unto your heart, "Peace. Be still!
Take care of yourself this Christmas, remember you’re the most important thing you’ll ever possess. Invest in yourself. Hugs, Reed.
Success is a phantasmagorical swine. In chess, the rules are relatively simple, the world is black and white, and you know what success looks like. You know what you need to do win. But in life, it isn’t so simple: diving into a swimming pool of money? Leading corporate empires? As simple as shared love, perhaps? There seems to be no single formula as we don’t know what the game looks like. We know what the end looks like – death! – but in between that, you know, as we tread the long march towards death (jeeezz, what a downer!), success evolves entirely to a question of personal choice.
It’s amazing how many famous people, dead or alive, celebrity or scientist or comedian, we would label successful and yet battled crippling depression, anxiety and self-doubt. Winston Churchill famously wrote about suffering from the ‘black dog’, now common parlance for the affliction. Abraham Lincoln, Peter Cook and Spike Milligan, and since it’s almost Oscar time and At Eternity’s Gate is showing, the infamous and plagued Vincent Van Gogh. Hero’s are often depicted as trying to prove others wrong, yet it seems the real battle is within: forever trying to prove themselves worthy of their own love, which no matter their lifetime achievements, remains elusive.
Self-love and compassion for oneself isn’t based on achievements or goals or tasks ticked off during the day – he says, looking at his post-it note of lists with adjacent ticks. Perhaps it’s the success of knowing that you tried your best with your gifts, bestowed or acquired, and that perhaps you made someone else’s life a little bit happier, no matter how trivial it seemed for that fleeting moment you were acquainted. Out of the all the books I sourced this week which got me quite excited - John and Claudia Altichore’s The Power of No, Peter Thiel’s Zero to One and Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends Upon It by Kamal Ravikant – it’s the latter that inspired me to reach out to the author and thank him for sharing his story. Zero to One is also excellent by the way, the ex-Pay-Pal CEO has a singular vision and drive which strides from the pages, finding a niche in his book that others rarely talk about i.e. finding that niche for your start-up. Jumping into a competitive marketplace is hard, jumping into one that doesn’t exist makes much more sense. In listening to venture capitalist Mike Maples on a Tim Ferris podcast, since 93% of start-ups are successful only after a pivot, it almost doesn’t matter what the company’s initial vision is. Find the niche, find your niche.
As with the last few weeks I’ll leave you with an excellent quotation from James Allen:
‘The vision that you glorify in your mind, the ideal that you enthrone in your heart -- this you will build your life by; this you will become.’
Writing and writing...