I Became My Own Competition

“The best way to complain is to make things.” Last week a listened to a women at my yoga
studio bitch to the receptionist about the smell. She told us the carpet was in
dire need of a cleaning, the mats were old and stale and the towels needed to
be replaced. Then she had the audacity to pontificate about practicing
non-attachment, and how the smell didn’t really bother her that much. Really,
Siddhartha? Is that why you just spent ten minutes complaining about it, just
loud enough so everyone else in the lobby could hear  you? Get over
yourself and go make something. There are better outlets for anger than other
people’s disinterested ears.

became my own competition.”
 I’m probably the least competitive person alive. But no matter how crowded the marketplace is, there’s always the internal battle of me against me. I am my own worst enemy. I am forever competing against
my own irrationalities, my own addictions, my own self-loathing tendencies and
my own bottomless need to achieve more. It took me a good seven years to
realize this, but once I did, once I gained clarity on the personal liabilities
I was up against, business got a lot better. Inspired by Oprah’s
commencement speech.

ideas up in the air like confetti and then run under them.”
 I’m a big fan of intellectual
vomiting. Purging all the ideas out of your head and into the open. To me, there’s
no better way to begin the creative process. It’s democratic, because you’re
not judging ideas yet. It’s cleansing, because you’re not keeping ideas
repressed. It’s comprehensive, because you leave no idea undocumented. And it’s
strategic, because you allow the subsequent steps in the creative process to
flow easier. Inspired by an interview with Ray Bradbury.

“Smart had been the locus of my manhood, but it was no longer
getting me anywhere.” 
Two of life’s great realizations. First, the
moment you discover that what got you here won’t get you there. Second, moment
you discover that it’s okay to be known for more than one thing. And yes, it’s
painful to leave that part of you identity behind. There’s probably a grieving
process involved. But when you trust yourself and trust the process, what lies
on the other side is usually worth it. Thanks for the heads up, Jonathan Franzen.

Punch Windows In The Walls Of The Self

“Careers are things you can only look at in reverse.” Who would want to work one job their whole life anyway? By the time my generation has grandkids, we’ll look back at our careers and see a plethora of jobs, occupations, work trajectories and professional experiences. But here’s my hunch. As diversified as our careers become, as powerful as technology gets, and as evolved as our identities become, we’re still going to be the same. Whoever we were at age five, remnants of that same kindergartner will always manifest. Inspired by anvideo interviewwith Mitch Joel.

“The privilege of having yourself as a
 Every artist needs to save something just for themselves. Some expression, some output, some passion––unencumbered by the pressures of quality and audience and commerce––that we can do whatever we want with. For me, it’s songwriting. That’s the one place where I don’t have to answer to anybody, I can be whoever I want, do whatever I want and never have to worry about any yeah-buts nipping at my heels. Very healthy.

“Punch windows in the walls of the self.” Love this interview with Anne Carson about artistic identity. Years ago, my mom coined a term for this––living larger than your labels. Literally and figuratively. It’s a reminder that we don’t have to brand ourselves into a corner. We can tell our minds that there are other things, other outlets, other mediums, other pursuits and other passions. Between you, me and the Internet, I never thought I’d work for someone else. But sure enough, here I am. A bona fide employee. And I couldn’t be happier. And it’s only because I called bullshit on my beliefs and gave myself permission diversify my identity.

“I felt like I got through a door just
as it was closing.”
 I know that feeling too well. Part the reason I left the world of publishing, consulting and public speaking is because of the state of the state. I didn’t like what the industry had become or where the industry was going. Too saturated, to incestuous, too systemized. Too many experts, too many mediocre books and too many amateurs playing dress-up at pointless networking events. So I left. And in the year that I’ve been gone, I’ve never looked back. 
Inspired by aninterviewwith Hunter S. Thompson.

“Ditch the pitch and start an energy
It’s all about infection. Transferring the passion and excitement and meaningfulness to the other people in the room. That trumps everything. The theater of presenting the idea is just as important as the idea itself. We have to gift happiness as part of the sales process, otherwise the client will never buy. Inspired by a research report on memes.

Nature Has An Agenda

“If you can’t have religion, there are big absences that you have to find somewhere else.” The word religion means “to link back.” Forget about gods or churches or temples or prayers. Religion is the organizing principle, the iron rod at the center of our lives, that everything else links back to. We don’t need to believe in god, we need to have a system for refilling our reservoir of meaning. Otherwise life starts to feel real emtpy real fast. On my computer desktop, I keep a visible list of my religious repertoire, as it were. Activities, pursuits, practices and passions that are guaranteed to provide me with the experience of meaning. That way, any time waves of anxiety, unhappiness or disappointment come crashing in, I know exactly what to do. Inspired by Salman Rushdie’s famous interview.

“From a very early age, I wanted to be scared.” Fascinating conversation with Stephen King on Fresh Air. His life could be a case study on the formative power of our earliest longings. Isn’t it amazing how the experiences we gravitate to as a child manifest in our adult lives? I’ve always said that the older I get, the more I remind myself of the younger version of me. Inasmuch as people change, I think there’s always a component of our original identity that never leaves us.

“Make peace with your pile.” As an entrepreneur, you’re working against an infinite pile. There’s always a million things to do because you’re the only person around. So you work and work and work until the day is done, even if it feels like the pile hasn’t moved an inch. But as an employee, you’re working against a finite pile. There’s only so many things to do because your role is more specific. So you learn to ease into the work, to pace to yourself and to take more care with  your limited amount of tasks. Inspired by a conversation with my old publishing buddyBob Baker.

“Nature has an agenda.” I sweat more than any human being alive. By the time yoga class ends, there’s a sweat lake encroaching in on my mat. It’s annoying and embarrassing. But it’s also healthy. It’s how my body functions. And the idea of getting Botox injections for excessive perspiration is ridiculous. Why disrupt nature’s course? It’s bigger, smarter and better than me. And if I’ve learned anything from watching action movies, it’s that the guy who stand in nature’s way almost always gets crushed by a falling redwood. Inspired by Carolla’s take onbee stings.

“If the movie is really good, it doesn’t matter how well it does.” Big launches are highly overrated. It’s not about killing on opening weekend, its about making something meaningful that you’re proud of. It’s about doing something awesome that kicks open the door of opportunity so you can do more of that thing in the future. I’ve written books that nobody cared about initially, but later went on to inspire new audiences I never would have anticipated. You just have to give the work time. If the quality is there, people will find it.

Loss, Theft, Damage Or Mysterious Disappearance

“Loss, theft, damage or mysterious disappearance.” In the personal property world, that’s what they call comprehensive coverage. I learned that when I bought insurance for my fiancee’s engagement ring. Turns out, the most common claim filed by women who lose expensive jewelry is “mysterious disappearances.” Such a great phrase. I imagine a committee of 1950’s insurance executives sitting around a table, smoking heavily, trying to coin a term for this phenomenon. And then my wife said her wedding ring mysteriously disappeared. Johnson! That’s it. You’re a genius. That’s what we’ll title this claim. Mysterious disappearances.

“Maybe we just find a cold trail.” It’s the strangest phenomenon. You email back and forth. You chat on the phone. You meet in person. You send over a contract. Both parties are excited about the project, and it’s so close to being real that you can almost taste it. Then a few days go by. Then a few weeks. Then a few months. And eventually, despite your greatest efforts, despite your certainty that this project wasthe one,it … just … goes away. No explanation. No follow up. No apology. It just goes away. And there’s nothing you can do about it. In this instance, it helps to have zero expectations. For everything. Yes, you can have good intentions. But no expectations. The sooner we learn to accept these kinds of disappearances as inevitabilities of life, the happier we will be.

you cannot delude yourself into thinking your work is significant, find another
It’s not about loving every part of the work, it’s about finding the small corner of the work that we can touch, making it perfect, and setting it free. Even if the client is annoying. Even if the project is stupid. Even if the brand is dying. We have to carve out morsels of meaning to keep us alive. Otherwise we’ll never rebalance ourselves above the precipice of meaninglessness. Inspired by my favorite video series about thedesktopsof smart people.

“I’m in the business of writing books, not selling them.” I heard a fiction author make this statement at a writer’s conference, and it always stuck with me. When you’re a kid and you want to become a writer, nobody ever tells you that writing is the easy part. It’s not until you have fifty cases of books collecting dust on a palette in your storage locker when you suddenly realize,oh shit,now I actually have to sell these things. Then the real fun begins. Daily trips to the post office, schlepping boxes across town, shipping books to foreign countries and paying their retarded customs fees, dragging sample cases through the airport at midnight, stressful conversations with your printer because there’s a typo on the back cover, friendly cockroaches nesting inside a case of books but not making themselves known until the client opens the box at their office, a septic tank flooding whereby four boxes of books drowned in a river of human excrement … ah, memories. Good riddance.

“There was a tool I wanted to use that didn’t exist.” Love this interview with David Karp from Tumblr. Proves my theory that art is wildly selfish. We make things for ourselves, that we want to use, that we want to see in the world. From apps to books to movies to albums, what we make is for the maker. And the irony is, the more personal the art, the more universal the appeal. 

That’s Where I Feel Most Excited About The World

“I wish there was something wrong with you so this would be easier.” That’s how my friend Wendy described her first time firing an employee. She said it tore her up inside because the guy was so talented. Makes total sense. Humans hate playing the role of the heartbreaker. There’s something in our blood that’s averse to inflicting emotional pain upon others. And when we know we’re about to devastate another person’s world, we reach for reconciliation. We try to make it okay with ourselves by looking for justification that they deserved it. Even when they didn’t. 

“That’s where I feel most excited about the world.” When I started mynew joblast year, I made a conscious effort to monitor my motivations in everything I did. Does this project give me energy? Does this task make me want to skip lunch? Does this role stoke my work fire? If the answer was yes, I knew the output would be meaningful. If the answer was no, I knew there we better uses of my time. Simple as that. You can’t argue with biology. Your body never lies to you. Follow your effort, not your passion. Inspired by Marc Cuban’s geniusarticle.

“You’re out here to be somebody, nobody’s just living.” Nobody does it just to do it anymore. Instead of enjoying the adventure of the moment, falling in love with the process and soaking in the stillness of the work, everything is vehicle. Another opportunity to act like a mercenary, always trying to get somewhere, never trying to do something great, only hoping to exit. Mihaly writes about this distinction. He calls it exotelic activity, doing something not because you enjoy it but to accomplish a later goal, and autotelic activity, having no reason for doing something other than to feel the experience it provides. I’m all for the latter. Inspired by Bruno Mars’ unfortunate comment about living in Hollywood. 

“By pursuing actualization and avoiding absorption, you may create something bigger than yourself.” Grant Snider’s cartoons are so endearing, they make me cry. But they also make me think. For example. When I worked for myself, scale was a scarce commodity. My work was only as big as my abilities. Like a solo songwriter who refused to play with a band, there was a musical ceiling I could never surpass. But now that I’m working with a team of designers, developers, technologists and makers, the equation has changed. Our work is greater than the sum of its parts. The sky is only the beginning. Sweet.

“People without a life raft all linking arms together instead of swimming.” Thisarticleabout the pointlessness of social media made me smile. Especially when Bruce says the idea behind LinkedIn is a place where unemployed people can go ask other unemployed people for job. Freaking perfect. That could be an Onion article. God, I’m so over social media. Such a cesspool of bullshit. Such as incestuous game of inside baseball. I think I’ll find other sports to play, thank you very much.

The Tsunami Of Generosity Is Too Strong To Say No

“When you gamble on yourself, it’s an asset you understand.” The last time I gambled, I won a hundred bucks on blackjack. Later that night, I got a speeding ticket for the same amount. Pretty much ended my career as a card player. And then I started a business. Which meant I had to gamble on myself. Completely different ball game. Now, I could control the dice. Now, I could place smarter bets. Now, the odds were in my favor. And although I had my share of bad hands over the years, at the end of the run, I came out up. Take that, Casino Queen. Inspired by a fascinating discussion on taking risks. 

“Even when the issue isn’t worth the effort, they still want to win.” I can’t stand editors. People plagued with the pathological need to improve on, argue with and add value to everything you say. Your thoughts are never enough, their ideas are always better, and there’s nothing you can do to stop them. They just can’t leave well enough alone. Let me just say this. Somebody needs to comandeer these narccissists, cover them with a thick blanket of agave nectar amd let loose a swarm of yellow jackets to feast on their pretentious, hyper competitive, terminally certain flesh. The world would be a happier place. Inspired by an oldie but a goodie.

“The tsunami of generosity is too strong to say no.” Most of us are never taught how to receive. Only how to give. And when we encounter people who refuse to let us leave empty handed, we don’t know what to say. The correct answer is, yes, thank you, I would love three pounds of stuffed mushrooms to take home with me. Doesn’t matter if you’re hungry. Or even like mushrooms. You have to allow yourself to be the recipient of their generosity. Just let the wave wash over you. Don’t rob people of their joy. Inspired by memories of family dinners.

“I’m okay with being unimpressive, I sleep better.” Proving yourself is an exhausting enterprise. It’s an ego addiction that fucks with your psyche, and nobody warns you of the possible side effects until you’re already in the thick of it. Hopefully, though, you’ll reach a point when you’ve finally done enough to be okay with yourself, and you’ll stop chasing that dragon of achievement. Which doesn’t mean you’ll stop achieving, but it’s amazing how much your posture shifts when achieving isn’t your whole identity. Inspired by watching one of my favorite movies ever.

“His value cannot be quantified by statistics alone.” Each of us brings an arsenal of intangible assets to whatever team we join. Whether it’s energy, humor, compassion or attitude, we all sling arrows from soft quivers. The hard part is, organizations are servants of the bottom line. They want people who produce, who execute, who deliver and who perform. And being the nicest guy in the office who always shows up on time and occasionally bakes cupcakes doesn’t necessarily convert to the hard numbers that matter. Bummer. Inspired by the retirement of the greatest point guard in the game.

It’s Hard To Face Change Alone

“Surrendering birthed amazing things.” Don’t you just love the moment when you relax into your vulnerabilities and accept life as a perpetual series of happy coincidences? So peaceful. So otherworldly. Letting go is such sweet sacrement. Inspired by a podcast about Tig Notaro’s battle with cancer.

“It’s hard to face change alone.” My whole thing about change is, once life becomes different, I adapt quickly. But until then, until the pain of staying where I am outweighs the pain of switching, I don’t move. I wait until I have a gaping hole in my sandals before buying another pair. And even that’s not enough sometimes. Thank god I found myself a change companion. A storm weatherer. A hole spotter. Someone to remind me that my heel is hanging through the leather, and it’s time to move on.

“Changing so much that it was not his naturally inherited domain.” In the same way that I don’t remember the world without cell phones, I don’t remember my previous life as an entrepreneur. Not that I regret it. Or that I’m trying to forget it. But there’s this inevitable amnesia that comes with the package. It’s part of personal growth. And we have to trust that our memories forgive us. Triggered by a fascinating obituary of an iconic actress.

“Theology has always had a vested interest in foolishness.” What I dig about science is, ideas that seemed foolish at the time were later proved to be factually accurate. Unlike religion, whose ideas also started out as foolish, but endured because they were too convenient to be killed. Perhaps our emotional want for narrative trumps our mental need for logic. Inspired by the wisdom and wit of Roger Shinn.

“There’s talent everywhere, but our city had an outlet for it.” You don’t need to move to a big, expensive metropolis to make it as an artist. What you need is to work in a place with a natural platform. Somewhere with access to audiences. Somewhere that embraces the weirdness you have to offer. The Internet is a fine start, but eventually, you need the physical public. Pulled from an article about the legendary Roland Janes.

Put That Through The Spouse Filter

gives me a craftsman’s pleasure.”
I am forever attached to the poignant scraps that
flow through life. 
At any given
moment, ideas flock to me like iron fillings drawn to a magnet. From every
source imaginable. And the next thing I know, I’m borrowing energy from the
ideas themselves, riding on little waves on language, completely tuning out the
rest of the world, lost in my linguistic vortex until something is resolved on
paper. It’s like responding to a psychic summons.
Inspired by an interview with John Banville.

“Trying to pull back on the reins of his ambition.” I used to set a hundred goals every year. Fifty personal, fifty professional. Kept a copy of the list in my wallet. Until one day, it occurred to me that I had done enough to be okay with myself. The drug of accomplishment didn’t have the same effect that it used to. The buzz was wearing off. And now, for the first time in a long time, there was a part of me that was resting. Which, ironically, was euphoric as hell. Inspired by The Rolling Stone interview with Bruno Mars.

“Put that through the spouse filter.” The hardest part about shifting my pronouns is resisting the urge to make decisions unilaterally. Whether it’s scheduling a workout, cooking dinner, going on a man date or getting a haircut, there’s a new coefficient that didn’t used to be there. And if I’m not conscious of that number, the whole equation goes to hell. Inspired by a conversation with old married people.

“Massage your worried mind.” I was a daily meditator for ten years. The practice kept me sane, kept me healthy and kept me focused. Now, I hardly ever do it. And I miss the ritual, but at the same time, the fact that I don’t need to do it is a positive sign. Funny, you move to the biggest, craziest, fastest city in the world, and all of the sudden, you’re more relaxed than ever. Didn’t see that coming.

“Finally clawed our way to stability.” Yesterday I went to LaGuardia for the first time in six months. Possibly my longest stretch without air travel in years. And I couldn’t be happier. Traveling loses its cache after a while. Especially when you can’t even remember which city you’re in. Reminds me of that John Mayer song, Homelife. Who knew staying put could be so profitable? 

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