A guy on Twitter asked a pretty good question the other day: "Why do you worship productivity so much? Honestly? (I am currently sitting at a ski hill with an ear-to-ear grin from powder turns.)" I gave him an answer, but I think the question deserves an answer longer than one hundred forty characters.
Something I've been circling around a lot recently is the idea that my own experience doesn't really matter so much. Happiness follows the law of diminishing returns, and I'm so happy all the time that making myself more happy is pretty useless. I've had so much fun and had such a breadth of experiences, that, for the most part, I feel like having one additional one is insignificant.
I'm an imperfect human, of course, so I do still do things "just because I want to" sometimes, but when I take a step back, look at the arc of my life, and think about the time I have left, I mostly think about ways that I can impact the world. If I can spend some effort and make someone who's not so happy a little bit happier, help someone who hasn't had so many cool experiences have a few, or help someone become more productive themselves, maybe that's a better use of my time.
None of that means that I think I'm some sort of great person. I'm completely aware that probably a lot of my real motivation stems from ego or from wanting the satisfaction of knowing that I had an impact on people. I get emails sometimes from people who tell me I've changed their lives, and that sort of blows me away every time and makes me feel really good.
I have a group of friends that I have dinner with every Sunday. One of them owns a chocolate factory / cafe called Dandelion Chocolate, and another owns Three Babes Bakeshop (side note: best chocolate and pies ever, respectively). Once in a while the conversations swings to business, and the rest of us get a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to run a brick and mortar.
Last night they were talking about hiring more people, because both of their workloads have increased during the holiday season. The one skill they specifically sought: the ability to actually get things done.
People email me once in a while for advice, which I like to give if I haven't overloaded myself with other work. A good portion of those emails make it clear that the person has no idea how to just get things done. They ask questions whose answers would be immediately obvious upon any amount of independent investigation.
It's funny to me that in this age of computers, people have become computers themselves. Most are able to follow instructions, but as soon as anything even slightly out of the ordinary comes up, the person freezes and waits further instructions. And if there are no instructions, nothing happens at all.
Being comfortable should be a warning sign. It's not that being comfortable is a bad thing by itself, but if we agree that growth comes from pushing your comfort zone, then any time we're within our comfort zone we're not growing. Whenever you find that you're comfortable, ask yourself what you aren't training. The answer will vary from case to case, but the question to ask yourself is: would being comfortable or training be better for me?
I'll give you an example. Six weeks ago I was bundled up in my jacket and hoodie, walking through Beijing. I was warm, and I was... comfortable.
The opposite of being comfortable is training. What could I be training by giving up that comfort? Well, I could be getting used to cold weather, which would mean that I could feel warm in a wider range of climates and possibly even pack less clothing. That seemed like a win, so I took off my jacket. As I walked, looking for a restaurant, I noticed that I was warm again, so I took off my hoodie.
And that's how life's been for the past six weeks. I remove articles of clothing until I'm wearing just pants and shirt, or until I'm slightly cold. Already, it's working. I spent Thanksgiving in D.C. and Virginia, and even though I brought it everywhere with me, I didn't wear it once. Most of the time I was a little bit cold, but if the wind was still enough, I could be okay even when it was forty-five degrees.
I'm on a Southwest Airlines flight right now, heading from DC to San Francisco. The way food works on Southwest is they hold out a big basket full of snacks, and you take whatever you want for free. None of the snacks are healthy; it's crackers and cookies and chips.
I have to admit, I was really tempted to take a pack of Oreos. The justifications are easy to come up with: I've already paid for those Oreos, I'm coming off a long trip where I was off my diet, one small packet of Oreos doesn't really matter.
No Oreos for me, though. The huge basket was dropped on the middle seat next to me, I saw all the glistening blue packs of Oreos, and I avoided taking them. I don't always make the disciplined decision, but I make it a lot, and I'm getting better at it all the time. The trick, I've found, is to consider the aggregate long term in every decision.
Oreos are a short term play. For a period of thirty seconds or so, I will have the pleasurable biological response of eating something fabricated specifically to elicit that response. It's not about hunger or nutrition, it's about very short term pleasure. That by itself isn't so bad-- taking momentary pleasure in the joys of every day life is an excellent practice.
Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday. The other ones are weird religious inventions or consumerized hijackings of religious inventions. And sure, the origins of thanksgiving are a bit murky, but it's hard to argue with such a simple holiday: spend some time with your family and/or friends, and be thankful.
I especially like that it's about appreciating what we already have, taking a break from the distraction of every day life, and thinking about all of the good things that make it up.
Today, as I spend time with some of them, I've been thinking about how thankful I am for my family. I've always gotten along really well with my family, but since most of them were around by the time I was born, I'm sure I have a tendency to take them for granted. As a kid I always just assumed that everyone had a great family and that their family was behind them supporting them all the time. Then, as I grew up, I saw situations where that wasn't the case, and I realized how good I have it.
I have three fantastic siblings, any or all of whom I enjoy spending unlimited time with. We each live in different cities now, but when we're together it's like we're best friends. Besides a scuffle over a plastic ninja sword as a kid, I can't think of a single fight I've had with any of them.
I've written the equivalent of about 50 blog posts in the past couple weeks for a new habit book I'm writing, so you'll have to excuse the off-topic post today. I can only write so much about serious stuff in a short time!
We got very lucky on our cruise. You're assigned to a table in the dining room, and who you get to sit with is completely random. Our table was the two of us, two Romanian sisters around our age, and a great older British couple. Everyone had a great sense of humor, so most of dinner was spent telling stories and laughing.
Given such good humor, we thought that a small prank on our tablemates might be in order. Every night a newsletter is delivered to each room, along with an occasional supplementary letter or flyer. How hard, we wondered, would it be to make our own rogue newsletter and deliver it in the same fashion to our new friends?
A few days ago reader "jd" had a great suggestion for a post: what's the point of traveling? Seeing that I'm at the end of a long series of trips, it's seems to me that it's a perfect time for a post like that. Like anything, people travel for a whole host of reasons ranging from relieving stress to escaping the law. I can't speak to all of those reasons, so I'll share my own.
I began really traveling due to panic, which may not have been the best reason to go. I had always thought of myself as the type of person who would travel the world, but at twenty-six, I had gone to only a handful of countries, and had never even been to Europe. Realizing that other people my age were traveling a lot, and I wasn't, I sold everything and left with my friend Todd.
That first trip lasted nine months and fundamentally changed how I thought of travel. I set out in search of adventure and the title of "person who travels", but I got a lot more out of it.
When you stay in your home country, it's easy to completely avoid thinking of life beyond its borders. The way things were in America, I figured, was pretty much the way they were everywhere. Typical vacation travel also reinforces this view, because it hides the grit of every destination and serves up a sanitized version that largely reflects the country from which the vacationers came. In the worst cases, only a small injection of caricatured culture makes its way through the walls of the resort.
I haven't been writing travel stories recently, but since I've been through so many different cities in the past month, I figure I should share a few little notes on each, just in case you're heading through one of them soon.
I just can't get into Beijing. It's not a bad city, but it's sprawling, smoggy, and a little bit faceless. This time I stayed in the hutongs (alleys), which was pretty interesting. Forbidden city is really neat, but the park right behind it is at least as interesting. Climb to the top for a great view. The only reasonably healthy restaurant we found was Saveurs de Coree, a Korean restaurant. Everything was pretty pricey, except for the bibimbap set meal that comes with little Korean appetizers, fried tofu with onions, bibimbap, and cinnamon tea. Not perfectly healthy, but the best I came across.
I've found that there are two different mindsets that I can be in when I'm trying to get work done. One is the mindset that always accompanies a new project: excitement and the drive to make something incredible. The other, which sometimes creeps in after a while, is the feeling that the job must get done.
I used to accept both of these modes as part of the natural course of a project. You work when you're excited, and you work when you're slogging, but either way it gets done. After seeing the results of work in different modes, though, I've begun to think differently.
Now I imagine that I'm building the frame of a house, and that the lumber I put in when I'm in "get it done" mode is bad lumber. You could build a house with a certain amount of bad lumber. Too much and it collapses, none and it's great, a little bit and maybe you notice, and maybe you don't.
Building any project is the same way. A certain amount of uninspired work is realistically going to need to be put in, but if too much of the project is spent in that mode, it will harm or even ruin the project.
In the last post, where I wrote about how much I like working from cruise ships, I mentioned that I could share my method for booking really cheap cruises. I'm going to do that here, and share some other relevant cruise tips.
Getting Cheap Cruises
First, start at Cruise Sheet. There used to be a site called Cruise Hot Sheet that had similar information, but it stopped working, so I built Cruise Sheet.
The best cruises to look for are repositioning cruises. They are the most interesting, have the most sea days, and tend to be very inexpensive. In the fall there are a lot of repositioning cruises from Europe to the US, and in the spring those same ships reposition back to Europe.