Everyone who needs to will be reminded of your infinite value

There was a time when the young, naïve and paranoid version of you wondered to yourself.

How did you get here? What are you even doing here? Can you believe you got away with this? Is this a coup or what?

Resulting in the final pressure cooker thought of, wow, you better be good.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Happened to me well into my thirties. But there will also come a time when the older, more experienced and calmer version of you won’t wonder at all.

Because you will know in your bones exactly how you ended up here, what your true value is, and that you are exactly where you’re supposed to be. You will have hit your stride, and nobody will be able to take that away from you.

This ability to trust yourself takes many years to build. There is no proven formula, and it can’t be rushed, taught or bought. Only earned and realized.

Carlin once did a related bit on the problems of bald guys. He joked about how shaving their heads was ugly and repulsive and disgusting. If people really want to have no hair, he said, they could do what we did. Wait a while. In the meantime, there was no excuse for running around looking like a freshly circumcised dick.

Meaning, in time the doubt will fade. The trust will blossom. The imposter will leave the building. And one day, you will realize that life no longer feels like a town where everyone knows you don’t belong. Because you will already belong to yourself.

One day, the urgency to prove your worth and earn approval will fade, because everyone who needs to will already be reminded of your infinite value. Especially yourself.

It’s a glorious feeling, belief in your own efficacy. It will help make you more productive and achieving.

And even though doubt and failure will still creep in like an uninvited guest, your reservoir of resilience will limit the damage and ultimately help you bounce back with speed and grace.

Where are you not able to take action and change situations where you felt powerless before?

With their hands held out like bellboys hoping for a tip.

Watching nametags go viral in real time is a fascinating thing.

It’s happened to me hundreds of times over the years, from everything to weddings, conference, bars, offices, street parties and a number of other public events. It all starts with patient zero, yours truly, who is responsible for the initial transmission of the idea.

One guy who is silly enough to put on the sticker and risk being ridiculed. Now, because a meme is the basic unit of imitation, in other words, a piece of information that copies itself and get created in other people’s minds, here’s what typically happens next in the virality process.

Somebody’s first impression of the nametag meme demands further investigation. And so, they approach me, greet me by first name, ask what the deal is, and if that story resonates with them, they ask if they can have a nametag too.

Of course they can. Here you go. Have fun!

This person is essential. They are my first follower, and they have a critical role. To sell my nametag idea to everyone else. To show others how to follow.

It reminds me of one company holiday party from a few years ago. There were six hundred employees from fifteen countries at my startup, many of whom were meeting for the first time. Myself included.

Matter of fact, it was only my first week on the job. Combine that with the language barrier, and you’ve got one hell of a communication problem.

Unless you bring nametags. And so, about twenty minutes after that critical first person came up and asked for a sticker, there was a palpable increase in momentum. Strangers who didn’t speak my language were marching right up to me with smiles on their faces and their hands held out like bellboys hoping for a tip.

Where’s my nametag? Do you have any more nametags? My coworker got a sticker, and I want one too!

The highlight for me was when the drunken Russian goddess in the red dress who looked like a femme fatale from a bond movie, tapped me on the shoulder and simply said.

You have nametag for me?

Yes. Please don’t shoot.

By the time dessert was served, over a hundred people at the party had nametags on. It was awesome. People still talk about that night to this day.

Here’s what’s critical to this story.

Over time, the nametag wasn’t about me, it was about them. My followers, so to speak, weren’t following me as much as they were following each other. And at a certain point, they were missing out on the fun by not joining in.

Who’s following the people who follow you?

80% excitement, 20% percent embarrassment

Ripley’s is known as the sprawling collection of curiosities.

From shrunken to unusual animals to human beings that hammer nails into their noses, they catalog just about everything you have never thought of.

It originally launched as newspaper cartoon in the early nineteen hundreds, but since that time, the franchise has adapted into a wide variety of formats, including radio, television, comic books, a chain of museums, and a book series.

The most compelling part of their publication is, they deal in bizarre events and items so strange and unusual that readers might question the claims. Hence the moniker, believe it or not.

When my nametag story was featured in their annual book series, my reaction was eighty percent excitement, twenty percent embarrassment. Because on one hand, it further adds to both the hilarity and credibility of my story. On the other hand, the man whose picture appears next to me in the book is a guy known as the human pin cushion, as he’s famous for hammering nails into his own face.

Isn’t that the beauty of life? There’s always someone weirder than you.

There’s a powerful lesson within this story. Ripley’s, this sprawling collection of curiosities, is one of the few places where abnormality is celebrated, not scorned. Each freak in this community, myself included, breathes rarified air because of the very uniqueness for which we have been so ridiculed.

Isn’t that the beauty of life? There’s always someone weirder than you.

And that’s the nature of remarkable ideas. They are often easily dismissed at first, but before you know it, people can’t stop talking about them.

It’s like one of those vintage game shows where panelists were presented with three contestants and must identify which character was not an imposter, despite their most unusual occupation or experience.

Remember, most ideas are ignored. If people pay attention to yours, especially because it’s so strange and unusual that they question its validity, then you’re probably doing something right. It might just take a little longer to catch on.

Hopefully you’ll still be around when the world is finally ready for you.

Will your story survive scrutiny long enough to be told to more people?

It’s almost always lightning in a bottle

Brodie writes in his book about the virus of the mind that a meme can be any idea, behavior, practice, symbol or piece of media that gets imitated. Its existence influences events such that more copies of itself get created in other minds.

Meaning, memes are small movements. They spread from person to person via social networks, blogs, direct email, news sources, or face to face interaction. Either one to one, or one to many.

Considering that definition, my nametag idea is a meme. Which was certainly not the intention at the outset of my experiment twenty years ago. I was a lonely guy who wanted to make friends, not make history.

But such is the nature of evolution. Ideas evolve, whether we want them to our not.

Sure enough, the nametag meme has grown in ways beyond my wildest dreams. The meme has been featured in thousands of news stories around the world, been the subject of textbooks, case studies, psychology experiments and college courses, secured a sport into the hall of fame of ripley’s believe it not, and most excitingly, is listed on every ugly tattoo list on the internet.

This not a list of humble brags. This is a lesson in how ideas spread.

Godin writes in his groundbreaking book about ideaviruses that things become viral because the audience wants them to be viral, not because of the person who created it. Nothing deserves to be viral. Memes cannot be premeditated or tracked or quantified or profited from. It’s almost always lightning in a bottle. Things only go viral if the selfishly motivated consumer spreads the word, not because some marketer calculated it.

Considering everything that happened over the last two decades, the nametag idea never could never have been fabricated in a boardroom.

My twenty year old brain was far too dumb to have been that strategic. It’s just a sticker.

My twenty year old brain was far too dumb to have been that strategic. It’s just a sticker.

And yet, that’s why it spread. That’s why it continues to spread. The place it came from was pure. It was never forced or faked. It’s personal, human, simple, playful, honest, earnest and transparent.

Which is precisely why it’s so memorable.

What small movement of yours is most often imitated?

Whose blood was as rich with cynicism as with iron

There’s a simple acid test to determine what kind of attitude a potential job candidate has.

When the shit hits the fan, do they focus on what they can to do improve their situation, or do they find more excuses to justify their problems?

Optimists will typically choose what’s behind door number one. They will reveal a resourceful, abundant, forward thinking and life giving approach with their circumstances. And that generative energy inspires persistence in the face of obstacles, both for themselves and others.

Pessimists, on the other hand, will typically choose what’s behind door number two. They will hold a sterile, scarce, regretful and victim based posture towards their circumstances. And that poisonous mojo will drag down the momentum, both of themselves and others.

Which candidate would you rather have on your team?

Clearly, the person behind door number one. These individuals are clinically proven to have stronger coping skills, better stamina, greater resilience and, in general, add more joy to the organization.

Sign on the line which is dotted. Welcome to the team.

But none of that is new or surprising information. What is more compelling is the lurking interpersonal challenge that happens next.

Once an optimist comes on board, how will that person deal with the inevitable contempt and hostility from their pessimistic counterparts?

Once an optimist comes on board, how will that person deal with the inevitable contempt and hostility from their pessimistic counterparts?

Because make no mistake, this is a very real thing. Hope scares people. Enthusiasm is strangely threatening.

Having worked at four different companies of varying sizes in the past several years, I can attest that the curse of optimism is no joke. And it’s not specific to any one industry or geography. It’s everywhere. And it’s very difficult to deal with.

One coworker of mine famously took me aside one afternoon and told me that I was laughing too much during the day and it was starting to stress out the other employees. Perhaps I could take my positive energy into the other room so it wasn’t such a disruption.

Now there’s something they don’t teach you in business school.

Kierkegaard famously wrote that for without possibility a man cannot draw breath. That’s ultimately why companies hire optimists. That individual’s full bodied yes to life oxygenates the organization. Possibility will have no trouble finding room for them.

But lest we forget, the other thing that finds optimists is that very human, very visceral resistance to their beaming white hope.

Just be ready. Steel yourself. Find a way to trample all over people’s cynicism adorably. Have faith that your love will wear them down eventually.

And if all else fails, just remember that this isn’t about you.

Are you focusing on what you can to do improve your situation, or are you finding more excuses to justify your problems?

Pushing past the gravitational pull of what isn’t working

Is the reason you began doing this still valid and as important today?

Weiss asks this in his book about life balance. It’s a simple and candid question that honors the inevitable changes human beings undergo in life. Challenging us not to hold ourselves hostage to accreted detritus solely out of our sense of obligation or a need for consistency.

And so, the sign that we’re always on the lookout for is, this isn’t working for me anymore.

Because everything in this world has a lifecycle. As our needs change, so do our reasons for doing things. And there is nothing wrong with jettisoning them.

In fact, the humility and bravery to name, frame, claim and aim those things is our greatest asset. It could be a stale relationship, an obsolete job, the community we’ve outgrown, or the city we’ve aged out of.

We all have things in our life that, at this very moment, have clearly run their course. Things that have outlived their usefulness. And unless we learn how to push past the gravitational pull, then we’ll never fulfill our potential.

Back to the original question.

Is the reason you began doing this still valid and as important today?

Unfurnish the overcommitted nervous rooms of your life. Stop allowing guilt to clutter your life with things you do not love or no longer need.

If not, let it go. It’s going to be okay. Unfurnish the overcommitted nervous rooms of your life. Stop allowing guilt to clutter your life with things you do not love or no longer need.

Reminds me writing the fated ten page letter of retirement to myself. My first career as a public speaker had run its course. The need was no longer there, and the even want was no longer there. My reason for beginning that journey was no longer valid and important. It was time to walk away.

And although it took a few years to officially fight the pull of gravity and transition into act two of my professional life, eventually, there was no looking back.

My potential was once again gloriously unimpeded.

This is what’s possible when a person does their absolute best to articulate what has fulfilled its lifecycle.

Will you choose not to force something if it’s no longer working?

Free yourself from the tyranny of pessimism

We have a tendency to make things harder on ourselves than is necessary.

Mostly through the vehicle of pessimism. Instead of interpreting our troubles as transient, controllable and specific to one situation, we tell ourselves the story that our suffering is our fault and will certainly last forever.

Seligman’s research on learned optimism found this story to be the key differentiator between those who flourish and those whose flail. People take much more responsibility for bad events than is warranted. And they have an endless supply of reasons why each of their successes is actually a failure.

That’s simply their way of explaining events to themselves. Either by default or by design.

But although there is a sad little death of hope and optimism that happens every time something tragic and unforeseen goes down, the good news is, all of us can exit out of our pessimistic mindset and into a more flourishing attitude.

Will this truly be an insurmountable barrier, or is it a temporary obstacle?

One method that’s been helpful for me is to ask questions to point out just how absurd my cynical thinking really is.

  • Is this really dangerous, or are you creating a catastrophe that is simply not there?
  • Are you actually about to fall off a cliff, or are you just going over a small bump?
  • Will this truly be an insurmountable barrier, or is it a temporary obstacle?

It’s a reminder to myself that, look, this is not what you want to be spending your thought process on. Insert some rationality into your thought process. And trust that whatever suffering may come to pass, tell yourself a story that reminds you that it’s not permanent, it’s not pervasive and it’s not personal.

Free yourself from the tyranny of pessimism.

Let the light of truth drive out the shadows.

And if you drive people crazy with your relentless optimism, but it all works out for you, then that’s not your problem.

What will reaffirm the faintest glimmer of optimism in your failing spirit?

Between the clashing waves of past and future

Our sense of fulfillment is contingent on how we relate to the present moment.

Whatever pain we are experiencing, odds are, it has nothing to do with what’s happening right now. That suffering comes from somewhere else.

Perhaps the past, aka, the painful archive of our imperfections, aka the rabbit hole of useless rumination.

Maybe we messed up the hotel reservation that we made three months ago. Or we accidentally pronounced a client’s name incorrectly during a conference call.

Dwelling on these past moments only kidnaps us from the present moment. It blocks our ability to feel joy right now.

Is that worth shredding ourselves into pieces with ruminating bouts of merciless scrutiny? Of course not.

Dwelling on these past moments only kidnaps us from the present moment. It blocks our ability to feel joy right now.

Another place our suffering comes from is the future, aka, the enchanted place that holds our happiness hostage, aka, the time when the mystery will finally be answered.

Maybe we envision a phase of our lives when everything is easier and all of our problems are solved. Or we postpone our happiness until we finally earn the right to feel joy.

Is it worth rejecting the present moment just to disappear into that fantasy? Of course not.

Tan, the meditation coach for the most powerful company in the world, frames it in the following way:

To feel regretful, we need to be in the past, and to worry, we need to be in the future. Meaning, the house we need to build cannot be built anywhere other than right now. Any time we are caught in rumination of what no longer is, or in the dread of what might exist, we are lost.

If we are to find our way back to joy, we must say yes to the present moment.

Are you living your life kidnapped from reality?

Everything collapses and he lives with an alarming happiness

James tells us in the scriptures:

We are merely a vapor like a puff of smoke a wisp of steam from a cooking pot, which is visible for a little while and then vanishes into thin air. 
As such, why squander what time we do have being miserable? Life is about optimizing for joy, not climbing a ladder. 
Our goal is to take full advantage of, rearrange our life for, and modify our experience around, that which makes us feel more alive. Without justification, without shame, without permission and without regret. 
Allow me to list a few of my personal favorites. 
Laughing out loud at cheesy jokes until my face hurts. 
Taking pictures of reflective puddles on the street that most people ignore. 
Singing karaoke at the top of my lungs on the commute to work. 
Watching a movie and taking furious notes on the best lines in the script. 
Keeping a running list of ridiculous names of rock bands that will never exist. 
Ordering anything on the menu that has the word diablo in the title. 
Making whimsical purposeless art that gets trashed immediately. 
Stopping my workday to watch a music video that makes me weep. 
Indeed, true happiness often comes in small grains. Keep pulling your triggers for joy, as my therapist would say. Keep building a fulfilling life on the foundation of our true nature. Engage in the activities that are uniquely appealing to you. 
What if you stopped living life out of a sense of obligation and start optimizing for joy instead?
It may sound overly mathematical, but approaching fulfillment quantitatively is quite helpful. It’s a formula. We can literally train ourselves to spend as little time as possible on things we didn’t care about, that way we no longer have to feel guilty about spending time on the things that we do care about. 
The hard part is the permission. Being able to announce to ourselves, fuck it, it brings me joy. 
Not to mention the trust. Knowing that our happiness is the best gift we can give the world. 
But once we solve that equation, define joy for ourselves and seek it in our own way, life becomes a whole lot lighter. 
In weight and in spirit. 
Are you the kind of person who always seems to wrest joy out of the most unfortunate circumstances?

Tonight the final curtain drops upon my short life’s precious play

If you’re not even around when people discuss your legacy, then what’s all the fuss about? 

Perhaps it’s time to call legacy for what it really is. Yet another denial of death. 
People torture themselves day after day trying to create notch after notch in their precious little legacy belt, because they’re afraid of not being remembered when they’re gone. It’s the specter of insignificance. Our complete inability to confront the impermanence of all life. 
And ironically, it’s making millions of us miss out on the very life we’re so desperately trying to preserve. 
We’re so focused on leaving a legacy after we die, that we’re forgetting to live our lives while we’re still here. Our ego is so obsessed with posthumous recognition, that we’re forgetting to access the miracle that is this glorious moment. 
Becker famously wrote in his award winning book that all humans use their ideas for the defense of their existence and to frighten away reality. They don’t want to admit to themselves that their life may be arbitrary, and their own way of existence may be just as fundamentally contrived as any other. 
Eagleman has a related philosophy, which suggests there are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time. 
Therefore, our thought experiment is as follows. 
What if there were no such thing as legacy? What if all we had was now? How might that change our daily life? 
Eisenhower, through various wars and battles, famously carried around the following poem in his pocket about an indispensable man:
Sometime, when you’re feeling important, sometime, when your ego’s in bloom. 
Sometime, when you take it for granted, you’re the best qualified man in the room. 
Sometime, when you feel that your going, would leave an unfillable hole.
Just follow this simple instruction, and see how it humbles the soul. 
Take a bucket and fill it with water, put your hand in it up to the wrist. 
Pull it out, and the hole that’s remaining is a measure of how you’ll be missed. 
You may splash all you please when you enter, you can stir up the water galore. 
But stop and you’ll find in a minute, it looks quite the same as before. 
Don’t think of this as the practice of nihilism, the trance of unworthiness or the cynical rejection of meaning.
Think of it as an invitation to liberation. A skeleton key to unlock extraordinary untapped aliveness waiting for you when you no longer have to worry about what lives on beyond you.
Follow this simple instruction, see how it humbles the soul.
Does your obsession with legacy improve your life, or distract you from living it?
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