Wreathing through on an everlasting spiral

Graves, a pioneer in human consciousness theory, explained that we are always engaged in the process of becoming something more than we were, and not yet what we will be.

When challenges come up that we can’t solve at our present level of being, he says, we make a leap to a newer, higher order system biologically, psychologically, socially and spiritually.

He dubbed this theory spiral dynamics, since the psychology of a mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating process marked by progressive subordination of older, lower order behavior systems to newer, higher order systems as a man’s existential problems change.

Now, there is a ton of thick language there, but the gist is, we shift the relationship with the self to a new level.

It’s both curious and exhilarating when it happens.

Typically, there is a sudden contrast that presents itself. We get a new job or move to a new city or start a new relationship, and suddenly, we feel like a new person, yet more like ourselves than ever.

Or we come home for the holidays or attend the class reunion, and realize, oh wow, we are not the same people that we were the last time we were here.

However it happens, we detect some awakening of one or more new dimensions in ourselves. That’s the spiral dynamic. Because we are always growing, yet never covering the same ground, not merely an explanation of the past, but also a prophecy of the future.

And while the spiral defines and illuminates what has already happened, it is also leading constantly to new discoveries.

Isn’t that extraordinary? Knowing that our redundancy is a physical impossibility? Trusting that we can awaken a more elaborated version of ourselves on top of what already exists?

Emerson addressed this issue more than two centuries ago in his book about nature:

There is a trance of delight that beams and blazes all through the realities around us. This knowledge is like the breath of morning landscapes to the soul. Nature is wreathing through on an everlasting spiral, with wheels that never dry, on axles that never creak

Indeed, our spiraling is the start of a new movement in the symphony of our identity.

Will your consciousness grow through boxes you smash?

The city was growing so fast, they printed the phone book twice a year

Institutions, organizations and bureaucracies of any kind seek the same thing. People who comply, not grow. Which makes sense from an operational perspective. Compliance is extremely easy to measure, test, teach and scale. That’s what any of us would be doing if we ran a multimillion or billion dollar organization.

Buckminster, the legendary innovator and visionary, once observed that governments, religions and businesses would find it devastating to their activity to have humanity a success, as such institutions are predicated on people being an inherent failure.

It’s not quite a conspiracy theory, but there is enough productive paranoia in his sentiment that it’s worth delving into.

And not that complying is a mortal sin, either. Let’s not shit ourselves here. We all do what we have to do in order to survive. Everybody conforms, at least in small ways, some of the time.

But all lapses in integrity aside, what this concept does is point to a choice. One that not everybody has, but one that is certainly available.

It’s the choice to grow. The choice to morph and change, despite pressures from our environment that erode our sense of self and our confidence.

The choice to celebrate each of the steps of our growth as we take them.

The choice to develop and honest pride in how we have grown.

The choice to share that growth journey and adventures with those we love.

Reminds me of a line from my favorite fictional military policeman:

The city was growing so fast, they printed the phone book twice a year.

Wow, we should all be so lucky. Because as long as we keep growing, as long we keep changing, that means we are unpredictable, impossible to pigeonhole and difficult to control.

Remember, even if the strides of our growth take a while to compute and count, any time spent doing so is still sacred. 

Are you ready today to fight off whatever may stop you from growing?

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, you better fucking 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:

Shaving your head is ugly and repulsive and disgusting. If people really want to have no hair, do what he did. Wait a while. In the meantime, there is 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?

We got a guy for that

Years ago, a producer from the biggest morning show in the country sent me an email.

She was shooting a segment about wearing nametags, and seeking an expert to offer commentary on the topic. Initially, nobody came to mind. And since she was on deadline, they almost abandoned the piece.

But then the producer did some quick googling on the phrase nametag expert, and only one person came up.

Yours truly. Which made for a pretty straightforward negotiation.

In the end, the segment went live the next week (watch here!) with great fanfare.

Looking back, the experience felt like the human version of the annoying but truthful technology cliché, there’s an app for that.

Somebody thinks to themselves, okay, we have this very specific problem, but in this amazing world that we live in, there is an accessible solution.

Seinfeld would say something like, yeah, we got a guy for that.

This transaction is a simple but profound lesson in brand equity. Whether you’re a person, a smartphone app, or an organization, each of these questions point to the same thing.

What are you known for? What are you known for knowing? What are you known as? What is everybody always asking you about?

It doesn’t matter what it’s called, it matters that people call. And that you’re ready to answer.

Which, by the way, may not be for another decade. That’s the part nobody talks about. The one that requires patience and continuity and resilience.

Because it will probably be a long time before what you’re known for finally catches on.

Question is, how long are you willing to do it before the right people notice?

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

What is the thing that happens every time somebody touches your brand?

We are the weight we carry from there to here to there

Trauma isn’t exclusive to military combat, sexual harassment or catastrophic events.

Trauma, by definition, can simply be something out of the ordinary for you. A therapist once gave me a definition of trauma in six words.

Too much, too soon, too fast.

Meaning, most of us have been probably been traumatized in one way or another. Because we all have found ourselves overwhelmed in some out of control and incomprehensible and unpredictable situation.

But the dangerous part is, few of us give full weight to the experiences that happened to us. Not because there’s no dramatic score in the background to inform us how we feel, but because we engage in something called trauma denial.

We say to ourselves, this can’t be true, it’s not possible, and it could never happen to someone like me.

This is a natural part of the human coping cycle. When we don’t see something, that protects us. That creates a sense of coherence in our lives. Our assumption is, whatever trauma we experienced will sink away into eventual forgetfulness.

But as the doctors say, the body keeps score. It remembers everything.

For example, it never even occurred to me that my first career was a form of trauma. But ask any of my close friends or family members, it was too much, too soon, too fast.

Thanks to the viral nature of the internet, I got taken for a ride before I was ready to go on one. My emotional, existential, physical and biological foundation wasn’t robust enough to support it. Hence the multiple hospital visits.

Turns out, though, we are never totally free of our traumatic past. We can’t just wallpaper over it. All trauma is trapped inside the body. That stress has to come out somewhere. If we don’t give weight to our experiences, they will give weight to us.

For me, that came in the shape of anxiety and panic attacks. Some were minor waves of free floating fear, others were full on biological events.

Vanderkolk, the psychiatrist noted for his research in the area of trauma, explains in his book how common this type of reaction is.

Long after a traumatic experience is over, it might be reactivated at the slightest hint of danger and mobilize our disturbed brain circuits and secrete massive amounts of stress hormones. This precipitates unpleasant emotions intense physical sensations, and impulsive and aggressive actions. And these posttraumatic reactions feel incomprehensible and overwhelming.

This is the danger of not giving weight to our out of the ordinary experiences.

Anytime something feels like too much, too soon, too fast, it counts. The body is keeping a tally. We cannot hide from that.

Trauma is not what happens to us, but what happens inside of us. 

If you knew that people all around you were carrying the burden of traumas you’ve only fleetingly imagined, how might you treat them differently?

Broadening our perspective of our wrongs

In those moments when we bring the hammer down the hardest on ourselves, is precisely when we should be the most compassionate.

Bringing love and acceptance into our lives where they are typically painfully absent, this is a gift we give ourselves.

But it’s hard work. Forgiveness is not something we do naturally. In fact, we are genetically predispositioned against it.

Debotton, my favorite modern philosopher, explains how humans weren’t properly equipped by our histories:

The whole idea of compassion and forgiveness wasn’t evolutionarily advantageous, so it’s not something we got good at. We are frightened creatures always looking out for signs that we have grown soft, he writes. We are aware that, by being kind to ourselves, we may overindulge our undeserving characters, miss valuable insights and ruin our potential.

Makes sense, right?

Let’s take a look at my greatest hits album as a case study.

Forgetting appointments, missing alarms, losing possessions, breaking dishes, making social blunders, smashing my fingers in the door, these are just a few of the experiences in which my inner voice becomes more negative than normal.

Resulting in calling myself awful names that a friend or family member would never dare say to me.

Can you relate to that?

And yet, in these moments, there is a change to broaden our perspective of our wrongs. Instead of deciding our sense of competency has been undone by a single mistake, we can play a more loving and curious script inside our heads.

What if you aren’t a stupid person, simply a person who has acted stupidly?

What if you are not a good or bad person, simply a person who has good and bad traits and who does good and bad things?

Clearly, it’s not natural to ask these questions of ourselves.

But the script our genetics have given us may no longer fit the story we want to live. That old voice inside our heads doesn’t have to be the arbiter of our reality.

We can forgive ourselves for being human.

We can deliberately act lovingly rather than critical toward ourselves.

It takes the same amount of energy, it’s simply a matter of channeling it into the most compassionate direction. 

What if deliberately forgiving yourself for not being perfect comforted you?

Champagne for my real friends, and real pain for my sham friends

What does it take for friends to stay close for the long haul?

How do we develop strong, significant bonds that transcend the inevitable life phases and geographical shifts and emotional changes that we all undergo?

Well, like anything else that matters in life, it’s a process. One that requires commitment and patience and real work.

Because friendship as an institution that is as important as any other.

I wrote a book on this a few years ago:

Less Alone Than We Think: 366 Daily Meditations on Creating Connection, Setting Boundaries, Nurturing Relationships, Building Community and Cultivating Belonging.

Since then, I’ve continued to write about the topic.

Here is a collection of my latest ideas, insights, strategies and tactics to help you stay close to the friends that matter most.

First, it’s true that friendships involve their own versions of economic systems that people make investments in. But keeping a tally is petty, exhausting and shows a lack of trust. Burn your scoreboards. Give people lifetime passes. Spend less time taking other people’s inventories and more time being a good friend yourself.

Second, don’t feel bad bucketing people into historic friends, common interest friends and stage of life friends. Each of them serves a different but meaningful purpose in your network of connections. Even your high frequency but low intensity friendships are valuable. Seeing the same person at the gym or dog park each day lends a soulful texture to everyday life that’s invaluable. There is no amount of friendship that is insignificant.

Third, accept your friends in all of their complexity. The changing tides of your relationships will cause frustration, sadness, insecurity, jealousy and even resentment. And all of those feelings are normal, healthy and valid. But don’t let any of those emotions overpower the one feeling that matters most in this life, which is the fundamental human longing for connection. It’s hard to accept that both of your lives are different from the way they used to be. But if you’re more upset at the ones who ghost you than you are grateful for the ones still in around you, you’re the problem.

Fourth, keep making new memories with old friends. Every adventure ties a knot in your relationship that nothing can ever loosen.

Fifth, you’re never done making new friends, so you may as well get good at it. And you have to make a conscious effort to change friends as you grow. Not all friends are meant to be part of your life until the end of time. One way to maximize your opportunities to meet kindred spirits is by filtering your activities by commonality of constitution. Pursuing interests that give you a high probability of creating connections with those who have overlapping interests. You might find friends in places you never thought to look. And you’ll notice that when you repeatedly connect with individuals who choose to make meaning in similar ways as you, most of the heavy lifting is already done for you.

Sixth, one of my mantras is, you’re never alone in this world unless you want to. If finding new friends is not a priority in your life, you are going to feel very lonely.

Seven, don’t make it hard to be your friend. Return people’s calls, emails and texts with a reasonable degree of speed.

Eight, social media tells you everyone has more friends than you do. But the reality is, as we get older, there are fewer opportunities to be with friends, and the ties with close ones tighten. We start to realize that we don’t need as many friends as we once thought. Nor would we want as many. To quote the greatest mobster of all time, better to have four quarters than a hundred pennies.

Nine, when you’re feeling blue, you don’t need more you. Before isolating yourself in your pain or despair, let social connectedness fortify you. Think about how what you’re doing could involve other people. Is there someone you could call to join you? Who would love to accompany you on this next adventure? And is there somewhere you could go where the ambient humanity would help you process and heal your pain?

Ten, not everyone is willing to accept the burdens and risks of friendship. But isolating yourself is just as risky. May as well choose the option where you can laugh with another person.

Eleven, set healthy boundaries. If you’re a friend to everyone but yourself, then that’s worse than being alone.

Twelve, never forge friendships grounded in neediness. If a person is getting all their needs met at little expense to themselves, but at a high cost to the other, that’s manipulative and kind of a dick move. Focus on giving. Nobody wants to be friends with a taker.

Finally, when it comes to forging new friendships, be more patient than you have to be. Give the feelings of intimacy and closeness with people a chance to take root and eventually blossom. True connection can’t be faked, forced or rushed. Although it’s completely possible that modern advances in artificial intelligence will eventually prove us wrong. We can talk more about that during the robot apocalypse.

That’s what it takes for friends to stay close for the long haul.

May you develop strong, significant bonds that transcend the inevitable tides of life. 

How could what you’re about to do involve other people?

Be an example of joy in motion

Ellis once wrote that perhaps the only sensible way of making a global rating of an individual is on the basis of their aliveness.

James similarly asked the question, what is this mysterious force that jolts a human being into such wakeful aliveness from which greatness blossoms?

Both of these insights center around the fundamental element of the human condition, the experience of joy. The one thing that is around us, waiting for us to allow it in and own.

But make no mistake, the practice of joy is much harder than it sounds. Because the very capacity to feel joy is what makes us vulnerable to pain. The courage to swim upstream against a tide of cynicism, the nerve to be happy and the heart to be hopeful, this is scary for most people.

It means taking their guard down. Which, evolutionarily speaking, makes sense. This defense mechanism has been hardwired into our brains.

Must not rejoice, otherwise the tiger will eat us. There are people looking for vulnerable people, better keep moving. Our naïveté will make us food for the predator.

Even if we feel sorrow for not having expressed our own aliveness, when we come to the razor’s edge of experiencing genuine joy, we start backing the truck up.

Instead, we hide into negativity for protection. We stop ourselves from stepping back into life by criticizing every part of it.

Like when it starts pissing rain like cats and dogs twenty minutes into the annual company picnic and doesn’t stop for the next hour.

We could huddle under our broken umbrellas and sopping blankets and complain about this frustrating act of god, pretending like we’re not getting soaked, and then march home in a fit of rage and vow never to participate in another stupid team building exercise again.

Or we could surrender to the storm, let the rain own us for a few hours, accept the ruthless absurdity of our existence, use this precious moment as a human binding agent and rejoice in the fact that we all get to make this memory together and share it forever.

It all depends on what kind of relationship we have with joy.

Amidst all the hurry and tension of life, challenge yourself to plumb the depths of full aliveness. Be an example of joy in motion. Be willing to make the investment, even if it makes you vulnerable.

And before you know it, the mysterious force that jolts a human being into wakeful aliveness will make itself available to you.

And if you’re fortunate enough to share that joy with others, that only amplifies it.

Have you lost the sense of your own inevitability of being alive?

Great stories don’t happen by accident

Startup culture is, for better and for worse, human.

Which means we have an opportunity to do things, with and for each other, that serve our senses. Things that actually create moments that invoke powerful and lasting memories.

Otherwise, the activity we’re partaking in is just another professional obligation. A tortuous and awkward event we have to wrangle our way through.

Let’s be real. How many forced lunches and office happy hours can one employee really do before it all starts blending in the background?

It’s one of the reasons for my interpersonal mantra:

Make new memories with old friends.

Instead of sitting around telling stories about shit we once did, let’s go out into the world and make a new story. Something that we can talk about next time we’re together.

It works for friends, coworkers, family members and even romantic partners alike.

Reminds me of the scientists who created a video that illustrates how the brain makes memories on a molecular level.

According to the study, within fifteen minutes, molecules form within the brain cell and travel to its fingerlike projections, called dendrites, in order to synthesize the protein. This protein strengthens the connections between brain cells by altering the brain’s shape.

And that’s how memories are made.

The trouble is, that sacred electricity won’t spark every time we do something. Unless we intentionally create a remarkable moment, it won’t produce a heightened emotional state, and that experience won’t be imprinted onto our memories. The moment will disappear like breath on a mirror.

Here’s what we have to ask ourselves:

Are we actually creating new memories, or just having a good time? Are we building something special into our collective history, or just stepping into one of our rote habits and processes?

Fortunately, we have some control over this. We can give the people around us more chances to make memories. We can go out of our way to create a heightened sense of eventfulness in everything we do.

Neuroscientists explain that episodic memory, things and events that happen to us, can be triggered. There are nine clinically proven properties that enable long term memory formation.

For example, they typically represented in the form of visual images. They represent short time slices of experience. And emotion tends to increase the likelihood that an event will be remembered vividly.

Proving, that we can’t force memory, but we can create conditions conducive to more memories forming. And if we are intentional about it, the knots will grow tighter on the rope that binds us.

Remember, memories are a source of inspiration and fuel. They are the invisible umbilical that creates a unique history that exists exclusively between us, one that we can lie back and bask in.

And once the soft circuits of human memory are inflamed in the right way, they can never be erased.

Unless, of course, we binge drink until we black out, vomit, and pass out on the street. 

Are you creating memories or just grinding away at life?

Two by two, door by door, god loves nametags and he wants some more

Mormon missionaries are unique in that they’re the only evangelists required wear nametags at all times in public.

It’s one of the most recognizable visual features they carry.

According to the church’s official wardrobe guidelines, they are required to wear their nametag on the outermost layer of clothing so that others may clearly identify them.

What’s fascinating is, the badge not only dons their surname and appropriate title, but also the name of the church itself. Reminding them that they are part of a family, with a reputation to uphold. They are to treat people with politeness, striving to have god’s image in their countenances.

Regardless of your opinions on religion, it’s difficult not to admire the beauty of this gesture.

Because these people have introduced an apparatus of accountability to both themselves and the world. By wearing the church nametag at all times, there’s less incentive to get away with bad behavior. It’s a social construct that forces them to sign their work, so to speak, and take a stand for their identity.

Can you imagine how much better off we would be if more people walked through the world like that?

My manifesto, which made a sociological case for why everyone in the world should wear nametags, all day, every day, forever, stresses this very issue.

A nametag is a structure that bankrupts bad behavior. It’s social contract. We resign it every day. And we wear it on our chest for all to see, public, so we can’t run away from it.

When you sign your name to it, you own it. It’s accountability through attribution. By directly tying our actions to our real identity, by connecting the individual to what they do, and making that connection explicit to the rest of the community, we make better decisions.

We think before acting. We consider the potential repercussions that arise from direct accountability.

How would your daily engagement with the world transform if you were required to wear a nametag at all times in public?

Might you relate to people differently, yourself included?

After all, everyone is an evangelist for something. It just depends whose image you want in your countenances.

Orlando, I love you!

How are you taking a stand for your identity?

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