When you're working, you're not out seeing a new city. You're stuck in a room, probably at a computer, churning away.
When you're working, you're not out meeting new people. You're stuck with your coworkers, or possibly no one at all.
When you're working, you're not out in the sun enjoying the weather and the nature around you. You're stuck inside under lights, probably flourescent ones.
When you're working, you're not doing physical activity, strengthening yourself and making yourself more healthy. You're sitting still, typing.
To train any animal, you follow a simple process. You somehow indicate what you want it to do, and then when it does it, you give it a reward. Maybe in some cases you punish it if it doesn't do what it's supposed to do. Then you repeat until the animal is trained. When it comes to training ourselves, though, we come up with a million weird and ineffective ways to do it.
Why is that? Maybe it's because we don't want to face the truth about what it takes to train ourselves, so we hunt and hunt for shortcuts. As someone who has trained himself to do all sorts of things, I think that the solution is much easier.
The first fix is to drop this idea of looking for a shortcut. Often times people will spend years trying to find that shortcut to losing weight, learning a new language, or developing a sense of optimism. Maybe they save a month or two, but they would have been a lot better off just doing it the hard way to begin with.
When people tell me that they're going to change, the number one indicator I've found to predict whether or not they'll succeed is how quickly they start. If they start right now they have a much better chance of succeeding than if they start, "after this pack" or "on January first" or "as soon as I'm settled in". If you don't want something bad enough to start immediately, you may as well give up and not waste your time on it. Obvious exceptions are when there's a concrete logistical reason to start later like, "I'll start training for skiing in the winter, because that's when there's snow".
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.
NEW: Video link added to the bottom 12/14
NEW: Second video link added to the bottom 12/15
Haha... two secret posts in a row. I have a mental list of stories I want to write here, and somehow this one had slipped off of it. Luckily, a UT Grad who goes by "The Reel Deal" posted a comment reminding me about the story. So here it goes, with a little history first.
I never thought I'd go to UT (The University of Texas, not Tennessee). Ever since I was in middle school, I always knew that I'd go to MIT - it was where the smart geeky people went, and I was one of them. When it came time to do applications for schools, I mailed two of them. One for MIT and one for WPI, a lesser known technical school in Massachusetts. I had abysmal grades, due in a large part to my refusal to do most homework and having never actually studied for a test. I always thought it was interesting to see how much of the material I'd naturally retained. Let's just say it usually wasn't over 80%.
Two months ago I was on a cruise ship making its way through the Mediterranean towards the Atlantic. My friend Brian and I sat down to dinner and were surprised when we were joined by two girls our age, Lucia and Andreea. Cruises aren't exactly known for hosting people under forty, let alone pretty Romanian girls.
Fast forward two weeks and we say our goodbyes without remembering to exchange contact information. There's a dreamlike atmosphere aboard a cruise ship that makes you forget about practical things like that.
I visit a friend for a few hours in Miami, and then he drops me off at the airport. I've got about ten minutes to kill before boarding, so I fire up my web browser and start digging through sites I'd been neglecting on the ship. TheFlightDeal is one of them, and there's a huge headline about an obscure European booking site charging about half what it should for all flights between the US and Europe.
I hate to see a good deal go to waste, and Romania is on the mind. There are questions that could be asked, like: will I be able to get in touch with the girls before I get there? Is Bucharest miserable in the winter? Will they even be in town? Will they want a visitor they've only known for a couple weeks?
I've never been a big fan of the phrase, "Live Every Day Like Your Last". If I was going to do that, I would book the most ridiculous multi-leg flight possible, and go try to see my loved ones one last time. On the plane I would work on my will and write people tons of letters.
That would make a fine last day, but doing that every day would leave me broke and leave my friends and family very confused. On the plus side, I bet my penmanship would improve considerably.
I get the sentiment, though: life is short, and if you put things off for too long, you may never get around to doing them. Maybe there's a better cliche to follow, though: "Live Every Day Like Your First".
Imagine that you just now gained consciousness of this person you call you. You get to keep all of this person's previous memories, knowledge, and experience. You poke around this person's head and quickly assimilate all of his or her desires, goals, fears, and ambitions. Because you're a smart and rational consciousness, you know that you've got some time to work towards those things. What do you do?
I was at a party earlier tonight, talking to a guy who had lived in rural China for a while. The girls there, he told me, were naturally very beautiful, but didn't take care of their hair or skin. All I could think was what a huge opportunity existed for those girls: be the one girl who breaks convention and spends a bit more time on those things, and you could be the prettiest girl in your town.
No, my advice for young people isn't to be the prettiest girl in town. Hang on...
Opportunities often hide behind rocks of convention. Women, traditionally, haven't made up more than a few percentage points of poker players. But when a woman DOES play, she actually has a significant advantage, because the men she's up against will assume she's not very good. Sure, she still has to be a good player and learn the game, but the rewards for her effort are probably higher than a man's.
When I tell people I ride a motorcycle, they're either really excited (because they ride too), or horrified that I would take such careless risks with my life. Just how dangerous is motorcycle riding, though? Before I bought my first bike I did some research and came to the conclusion: not very.
Let's look at the data.
In 2006, there were 35 motorcycle deaths per 100 million miles of distance traveled by motorcyclist. That means that, on average, for me to die riding a motorcycle, I'd have to ride 2.8 million miles, assuming I'm an average rider. Last year I rode somewhere around 1000 miles, giving me a .035% chance of death.
That's a lot of riding, and not a lot of death.
I've been on an awesome run of trips recently. I've gone to China, Peru, Mexico, and Japan, and have paid $1350 total for all four flights. That's roughly the cost of the normal price of just ONE of the more expensive flights on that list. I have a few tricks to share with you which are responsible for these four flights.
FlyerTalk Mileage Run Forums
You may already be aware that there's a group of people online who are completely obsessed with miles and status on airline frequent flyer programs. They all congregate on a site called FlyerTalk.com and discuss mileage runs, which are flights so cheap that it's (nearly) worth going just for the miles. In fact, many members go on trips that last for just hours before they get back on the plane home.
You may not want to take trips like that, but you can use their forum to find extremely cheap flights (and get miles while you're at it). Just go to the Mileage Run subforum and search for your home airport. You can also check out this thread which has deals that are still very cheap but don't earn enough miles to qualify as a mileage run. Sometimes that's because the price is a bit higher, but often it's because it's an obscure airline with a crappy frequent flyer program or a fare class that doesn't offer miles.
Have you ever noticed that adversity is often a good thing when spoken about in the past tense? I wrote a story a long time ago about how I got in way over my head exploring a cave in Austin. Being stuck in that cave was probably the hardest thing I ever had to do. When we reached the end of the cave after eight hours, our muscles were failing, we were out of water and food, and could barely move. And we had another eight hours to get back out. I assumed I'd make it back out-- I just couldn't imagine how.
From the bowels of the earth, it didn't feel glorious. I was in pain and mentally and physically exhausted. I didn't want to be there and would have done anything to magically be whisked back to the surface. But as soon as I got out, I was very glad that I had done it. Not just glad to be out, but glad that I was there in the first place, and glad that it was difficult. Triumph over adversity is intrinsically appealing. Without adversity, triumph doesn't really exist.
When you look at it critically, adversity is actually a good thing to have. It's a method to bring out your best. At the end of that cave, I remember thinking that I didn't have the strength to make it back to the mouth of the cave. But I did have that strength. Adversity gave me no choice but to find it. Even today, nearly ten years later, I draw upon that memory to remind myself that I'm capable of pushing myself farther than I know.
Things happen in our lives that we recognize as being good. When that happens, nothing is required on our part to benefit. Something happened, it was good, end of story. Bad things are different, though. A bad thing happens, and then it's up to us. We can use that adversity as an opportunity for triumph, or we can be passive and allow ourselves to be run over by it.