Spend too much time in unprofitable amusements

The term protestant work ethic was coined in the early nineteen hundreds.

But it wasn’t until about seventy years later than a pair of clinical psychologists created a scale by which to measure it. Here are a few of my favorite questions from the framework:

*People who fail at a job have usually not tried hard enough.
*Our society would have fewer problems if people had less leisure time.
*Life would have very little meaning if people never had to suffer.
*The credit card is a ticket to careless spending.
*There are few life satisfactions equal to the realization that one has done one’s best at a job.
*Most people spend too much time in unprofitable amusements.
*A distaste for hard work usually reflects a weakness of character.
*The person who can approach an unpleasant task with enthusiasm is the one who gets ahead.

Fascinating stuff.

Not that we should be badmouthing ourselves about our lack of discipline, but it’s still fascinating nonetheless.

Because some people’s worth ethic is beast mode from day one. While others take decades to hone their discipline.

My mentor once told me that discipline is not a response to some external should but a part of an inner strength. And so, my questions have always been, then how does it get there?

Does somebody give it to you like present? Is work ethic modeled and instilled by one’s parents early in life? Is it passed down through religious or cultural values as the path to eternal salvation? Or is it a function of your own internal locus of control?

Personally, my family modeled a strong work ethic growing up. And that provided with me a foundation for which I’m eternally grateful.

But their actions alone weren’t enough to kick start my own ambition and sustain my sense of discipline. The osmosis of desire was there, but it was only one ingredient.

Thinking back, my work ethic as working professional probably had more to do with various young adult activities that required repetitive, monotonous, daily practice.

Learning guitar, playing on the football team, working at the radio station on campus, these endeavors built the foundation from which my work effort grew

Do you need more discipline, or a more disciplined approach?

The first step in building your meaning making machinery

If you don’t make a name for yourself, someone will make one for you.

This has been a mantra of mine ever since my first book went viral, which led to my appearance on a nationally syndicated news program.

Millions of viewers saw my debut interview, which had the following job title underneath my head.

Nametag wearer.

How proud my parents must have been. Four years of college and that’s what my degree yielded. And not that the producers were wrong.

Twenty years ago, the title of nametag wearer accurately encapsulated a significant aspect of my life.

But today, while the nametag identifies me, it doesn’t define me. It’s a part of me that used to be the heart of me.

And that’s the thing about the self. Not only does it constantly evolve, but it’s also this thing we get to determine and manage on our own terms. Certainly, our sense of identity is shaped by interactions within social groups, but at the end of the day, we are the ones who get the last word on who we are.

We don’t have to allow others to determine our priorities for us. Each of us can define happiness for ourselves and seek it in our own way, if we choose.

Now, in my experience, if there was a single organizing principle of human identity, it would be meaning.

Frankl famously wrote that ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for. His philosophy suggests that if authentic living is truly important to us, then we should actively build a system for making meaning that is uniquely appealing to our values.

Big word there.

Do you know what your top values are? Could you recite them from memory right now if somebody asked?

That’s the first step in building your meaning making machinery. If you haven’t taken the time to whittle down your list of values in the past few years, it’s a low effort high reward exercise that’s worth doing.

Because once you know who you are, the vast majority of your decisions become easier, cleaner and faster.

Which job should you take? Should you meditate today? Is this relationship healthy for me? Does living in this city serve my soul?

It might sound silly to think of knowing thyself as a form of leverage, but it really is. People who have deeply meaningful and fulfilling lives almost always have a tight grasp on their values. They don’t need to validate their decisions against anyone else’s standards and practices.

My colleague was lecturing me on this recently, but not in a bad way. She gave me some advice about my new software venture, cautioning me not to fall into the trap of externally driven rules, but to hold strong to the internally grounded soil of values.

The question she left me with was a powerful one:

Can you feel successful with this business, even if your definition of success doesn’t match everyone else’s?

Certainly hope so, although only time will tell. Maybe she should ask me again a year from now.

Until then, I’ll keep chanting my favorite identity mantra, if you don’t make a name for yourself, someone will make one for you.

It was true on my first day of wearing a nametag, and will likely still be true on my last.

Hey, my name might not be perfect, but at least it’s still mine. 

Are you committed to a path that will drive you towards success on your own terms?

Words don’t mean anything until we give them the power to say everything

There is no success or failure, there is only what happens.

Consequences of our actions.

Right or wrong, good or bad, win or lose, positive or negative, these are just words. Mental constructs. Socially inherited labels that we attach to our experiences. They have no moral and objective meaning. There is no tribunal that decide which result is the best.

Sadly, human beings love to compartmentalize. It’s embedded in our biology. Labeling is an evolutionarily adaptive function. And it’s quite useful to a certain extent.

How else are we going to make sense of the impossible complexity of human life? How else are we going to digest the infinite quantity of stimuli that drops into our senses on an hourly basis?

But outside of the primary utility of compartmentalization, labels ultimately divorce us from reality.

Whorf, a renowned linguist and engineer, called this phenomenon linguistic relativity. His research found that words we use to describe what we see aren’t idle placeholders, they actually determine what we see, and limit our possibilities thereafter.

In essence, the more we adhere to labels, the less present we are in the moment, the more rigid we are in the face of life’s many changes, and the less room we leave for evolving human complexity.

For example, one century ago, practices like masturbation, suicide and homosexuality were all considered sins, disorders and crimes.

Isn’t that crazy? Can you imagine being thrown in jail or burned at the stake for something like that?

Thankfully, our culture jettisoned some of its outdated, puritanical strongholds and actually made room for reality. And in modern times many of wonderful colors and nuances of the human condition are expressed freely.

Today, you can masturbate, be gay, and kill yourself, all in the same afternoon if you really wanted to.

Because they’re just words. Labels don’t mean anything until we give them the power to say everything.

Personally, my love hate relationship with labels is a tricky one. Particularly as the only person in the world who has worn nametag every day for twenty years. Clearly labels are important to my life in some respect.

Although I’m learning to let them go more and more as I mature.

When I live with the beta launch of Prolific, my personal creativity management platform, it was tempting to categorize my work as success or failure. Having put in many years of deep work to bring this product to fruition, it was hard not to.

But as my friend reminded me, in the world of tech, so much of success and failure is undetectable. When you’re a founder, you won’t always know what’s working or not, and that can give you a pit of despair and a crisis of confidence. All you can do is be present to reality and accept the consequences of your actions.

Whatever happens is not good or bad, right or wrong, it’s simply what is.

Are your labels making you more rigid in the face of life’s many changes?

The kind of relationship we have with milestones

Thor, the god of thunder, was given a memorable piece of advice from his mother:

Everyone fails at who they’re supposed to be. But the measure of a person, a hero, is how they succeed at being who they are.

Her words suggest a question that most of us have probably never asked.

What kind of relationship do we have with milestones?

That’s a big word in our culture. We’re constantly searching for all these external markers to reassure us that the proper path is being followed.

Roman road builders originated the term a few thousand years ago. They used actual stones to record the name of the reigning emperor and demarcate the distance traveled.

Today, milestones are still installed on our highways as metal markers, although for the most part, the term is used symbolically.

On one hand, this norm of progress serves a positive function. Milestones help people navigate this absurd, complicated and agonizing world. In fact, some people are highly motivated by milestones. Those markers inspire them to achieve great things, and that’s great.

The danger is when we start expressing real and persistent distress over not being where we think we are supposed to be.

The danger is when we grow constantly neurotic about the remaining distance to our destination.

Because both of those anxious urges take us out of the present moment and devastate our opportunity for joy.

We miss tons of beautiful experiences, simply because they aren’t labeled as milestones. The channel is blocked. The nerves tighten with every tick of the clock.

Are your values and identity inextricably tied to the sociocultural zeitgeist, rather than being rooted in who you really are?

If so, find out a way to protect the piece of your identity that makes you go for what you want with total confidence. See if you can reframe your absolutist shoulds into simple preferences.

Because there is no rush. It’s not a race. And nobody is counting.

Give yourself permission to disregard the clock and free yourself from the constraints of inauthentic and irrational milestone deadlines.

You won’t be able to wield the power of thunder, but at least you’ll enjoy the rain.

If you didn’t have to worry about who you’re supposed to be, how might you succeed at who you are?

Changing just one core rule in the universe

Science fiction and fantasy writers typically start their novels with the answer to the following question.

What happens if you change just one core rule in the universe?

Authors do this because they’re creating limits for their fictional world, and they have to make sure the story stays accessible and believable to their audience. Because once you change one rule, it effects everything going forward. You can almost hear the godlike voice over for the movie trailer.

In a world where artistic expression is outlawed, one rogue cop tries to stop citizens from taking drugs that suppress their emotions.

In a world when decades of human infertility have left society on the brink of collapse, one scientist tries to help a woman escape the chaos and repopulate the earth.

In a world where public execution gauntlets are staged as a televised game show, a wrongly convicted trumpet player must try to survive to be reunited with his deaf son.

You get the point. My real life version of this narrative device was casually deciding at the age of twenty to start wearing a nametag every day.

It’s not quite as dramatic as those movie examples, but was powerful nonetheless.

Because nothing else in my world was altered. Just the sticker. That was the one core rule of my universe that changed, and the rest of my life followed suit.

The most immediate shift was that the nametag added this new layer of vulnerability to my daily life. It immediately allowed me to be affected by the world around me in a very specific, human way.

Suddenly, strangers were giving me attention, using my name and starting conversations with me, whether I liked it or not.

That is not an insignificant change. In fact, the first year of my social experiment was probably the most awkward year of my life. As if being twenty years old wasn’t already confusing enough, sticking myself out there, literally and figuratively, was a physical, emotional and social risk.

And not just for me, either. Some of my friends wouldn’t even stand next to me. The collateral damage of my vulnerability was simply too much for them, and they didn’t want to get sucked into my sticky orbit.

And I don’t blame them. Would you have wanted to hang out with me?

But over the next few years, the upside to my newfound exposure started to pay off. That’s the thing about vulnerability. It’s a daily practice. The more often you stick yourself out there, the more comfortable and confident you become with who you are.

And the more comfortable and confident with whom you are, the more your truthful expression inspires people to do same.

Think of it as emotional jaywalking. It’s the definitive metaphor of social permission. At any given street corner, all the pedestrians are just standing there on the curb, looking at each other, wondering who’s going to be the first one to creep out into the street and break the law.

And all it takes is one. One enthusiastic person who’s willing to step out into the street and risk getting a ticket or run over by a milk truck.

But once the coast is finally clear, other people follow suit. And they’re so glad they didn’t have to go first.

That’s why wearing a nametag everyday works. By changing this one core rule in my universe, I’ve reclaimed my right to be vulnerable.

The sticker allows me to go first. To take the first step out into the street, risk looking dumb and being rejected or getting hurt, trusting that at least one other person out there is silently thinking to themselves, oh good, now it’s my turn.

Are you depriving yourself of breaking out in order to protect others from who you really are? 

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