Dreaming in Secret

The dream is private. The pursuit is public. This distinction alone explains why many people never get around to following their dreams.

Being a dreamer is safe. No one criticizes you, or misunderstands you, or gets mad at you, or abandons you, or feels disappointed in you merely for having dreams. We all have creative ideas and as long as they remain safely tucked away in our imaginations, we have hope of maintaining our peace with the world.

Once you give expression to your creative impulses, there’s no going back. Once you put an idea out there, you’ve projected a portion of your personality and philosophy into the physical world. And that makes you vulnerable. For every adventurous personality who dares to diverge from the beaten path, there’s an old classmate or acquaintance somewhere who’s busy trying to figure out why their old buddy went off the deep end. That’s who you’re going to be if you step out  and start creating.

But what’s the alternative? Listen to Jason Fried’s description of a person we’ve all met in some form or another:

“We all have that one friend who says, “I had the idea for eBay. If only I had acted on it, I’d be a billionaire!” That logic is pathetic and delusional. Having the idea for eBay has nothing to do with actually creating eBay. What you do is what matters, not what you think or say or plan.”

You can be the person who creates something awesome at the risk of being misunderstood. You can also be the person who keeps their ideas hidden from scrutiny at the expense of becoming delusional.

If you really have interesting ideas, you deserve to give yourself the chance to see what would happen if you acted on them. Don’t be content to create the next eBay in your mind alone. Let the world get a taste of your ideas. We’re waiting.

Creativity Needs Fuel

I once heard James Altucher say the following: “I have to read a lot in order to write a little. If I’m going to write 2 hours worth of stuff, it’s almost like I have to read 10 hours worth of books.”

When i spoke with Jeffrey Tucker at ISFLC last year, he said he reads twice as much as he writes. For a man who publishes substantial pieces every single day, that’s a lot of time for him to devote to reading. When I asked him why he reads so much, he said “creativity needs fuel.”

Ray Bradbury agrees:

If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting. I wake early and hear my morning voices leaping around in my head like jumping beans. I get out of bed to trap them before they escape.

Methodological solipsism, it seems, is the death of inspiration. The creative process can’t be approached as if the private content of one’s individual consciousness is sufficient. If you want to have good ideas of your own, you have to step outside of your personal framework and make sure you’re engaging the ideas of others. Other people’s ideas are like matches that light a spark when we strike them against our minds. A single provocative concept can set your entire worldview on fire.

The important thing to remember is this: Reading isn’t about internalizing ideas. It’s about interacting with them. “Stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays…” not for the purpose of regurgitating preexisting material, but for the purpose of stirring up your soul so deeply that your own stories are eventually aroused from their slumber.


A Pedagogy With Passion

The soul of any worthwhile pedagogy is the teacher’s desire and determination to lead by example. Educators cannot inspire a love for learning in others if their own hearts haven’t been enraptured by that very love. One must know what it means to caress an idea if he or she has is to have any hope of conveying it with conviction.

Before wisdom can be imparted, it must be embodied. We embody wisdom when we cultivate a visceral understanding of what it’s like to be moved and transformed by ideas; when we can say with sincerity that we have tasted the experience of being provoked by literature and enlightened by history; when we can teach art and language because we have been genuinely inspired by art and empowered by language; when we can teach math and music with the empathy of one who has been tortured by math and intoxicated by music; when we can communicate philosophical concepts from a place of having been challenged and comforted by those philosophical concepts for ourselves.

The teacher’s relationship to the mind of the student should be nothing less than an extension of the relationship he or she has to their own sense of wonder, to their own process of wrestling with the great questions of life, to their own life-long practice of coming to grips with the problems, paradoxes, and pleasures of learning.

We are not here to stuff facts into people’s brains. We are here to encourage, by the example of our own affinity, humanity’s innate passion for understanding the world.

Do You Know What Your Epistemology Is?

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with questions about what constitutes knowledge, rationality, justified belief, etc. Your opinions about how we know things, the limits of what we can know, and what constitutes a good standard for evidence are the elements that comprise your epistemology. Everyone has an epistemology whether they consciously reflect on it or not. When people say things like “there is no truth” or “the truth is absolute,” they’re expressing a very specific epistemology. When people say things like “truth can’t be known” or “beliefs are only rational if they’re backed by science” or “science isn’t the only way to know truth,” they’re expressing their epistemology.

It is literally impossible to not have an epistemology. Whenever people argue or make claims about the world, their claims are based on very specific understandings about the nature of truth and knowledge. This is an inescapable aspect of all forms of reasoning. Different people can have different views about what constitutes good evidence. Different people can have different views about what truth is and what it means to know something. A religious person who accepts what the bible says, for example, has different epistemic presuppositions than an atheist who rejects the concept of divinely inspired books. These differences are rooted in their respective epistemologies. That’s largely the basis of their disagreement and debate.

To say that someone is making philosophical presuppositions isn’t an insult or a criticism. It’s just a simple fact that logically follows from the very nature of reasoning and communicating. Philosophy underlies everything we do. That’s not inherently bad. It just is what it is. To say things like “we don’t need philosophy” betrays a misunderstanding of what philosophy actually is. You may not need to declare a major in philosophy at a university. You may not need to read Plato and Aristotle. That’s all fine. But it’s impossible to not do philosophy. We all have fundamental ideas about the nature of reality, the nature of knowledge, the nature of morality, and the meaning of life. Philosophy is nothing less than the investigation, analysis, or application of these fundamental ideas.

Philosophy is inherent in all we say and do. You may not do it consciously, but you’re doing it. You may not like using the word “philosophy,” but a rose by any other name is a rose still the same. Even when you say “philosophy is irrelevant,” you’re making a philosophical statement about what matters in life. We can do philosophy badly or we can do it well. We can do philosophy consciously or we can do it unconsciously. It’s up to us. The important thing to remember is that we have a choice.

We can’t avoid philosophizing, but we can choose to think consciously, critically, and creatively when we do it. When we do philosophy that way, we tend to get more out of it. And when we get more out of our philosophy, we usually get more out of life.

Finding the “I” in “Write”

The blank page functions as a mirror for the relationship you have with yourself. If you’re not reading, meditating, paying attention to life, seeking out adventures, nourishing your soul, loving deeply, dreaming wildly, processing your feelings, playing around with new ideas, meeting people, engaging the world, collecting experiences, or just doing things in general that make you feel more alive or more connected to the essence of who you are, all of this will be made plain to you when you sit down to write.

There’s something about the creative process that demands an honest confrontation with your soul. What have you been filling your heart and mind with? What have you been neglecting and suppressing? How true have you been to what fires you up? How distracted have you been by the things that no longer serve you? Are you learning anything new? Are you falling in love with anything new? Are you still evolving? Are you telling yourself the truth? Are you lying to yourself?

It’s one thing to answer these questions with your mind. It’s another thing to listen to what your heart has to say about these things. Writing is a way of listening to the heart. If you want to know the differences between the story you’re telling yourself and the story you’re actually living, you should write. Writing will not only reveal who you are to others, it will reveal who you are to yourself.

Don’t Hide Behind Practice

Practice is only meaningful when it’s done in a context where the trainee is receiving continual feedback from their participation in the real thing.

To be an effective practitioner, you have to ask yourself, “What are my practice sessions preparing me for?” Then you have to go do the thing you’re preparing for, before you feel prepared to do it, and get your ass kicked. After that, reflect on your experience and use your rehearsal period to work on the areas of incompetence revealed by your performance.

If you’re using practice as a way to protect yourself from having your weaknesses exposed, you’re doing it wrong. My favorite definition of learning is this: “the process of doing something that you don’t know how to do WHILE you don’t know how to do it.” This is where mastery comes from.

Practice doesn’t prepare you for the real thing. The real thing prepares you for the real thing. Practice is just a way of reinforcing and refining what you learn from the experience of real failure and real success.

You’re not a Businessman, but You’re a Business, Man!

“I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man. -Jay Z

There remain too many people among us who do not see themselves as being involved in business. I’m not talking about stay-at-home parents or volunteer workers. I’m talking about the millions of people who go to work everyday with an underlying sense that they are “just” an employee.

“My boss is a businessperson, but not me. I’m just a worker.”

There are some who even feel proud of this mentality. They imagine themselves to be above the petty and superficial concerns of business if they don’t spend lots of time thinking about money.

“I don’t really think about business. I just don’t focus on that kind of stuff. I show up. I do what I’m told. I mind my own business. I don’t make any trouble.”

Unless you’re an independently wealthy person who doesn’t engage in any kind of labor for hire, you’re in the business of selling something to customers. You may not be inclined to think of yourself in this way, but it’s true. If you receive a regular paycheck, however small, that’s not an act of charity. You’re getting paid as a reward for the perceived value you’re creating. You’re not getting paid just because you got dressed in the morning and showed up to work. You had to do some very specific tasks to earn that paycheck. Those specific tasks are the services you’re in the business of offering. You may not be very impressed with the work you’re doing, but the work you’re doing makes enough of an impression to warrant a paycheck.

Let’s say your job is to clean up the office everyday. Well, you get paid because you’re in the business of helping your customers maintain an orderly and organized environment. Yes, that’s right. Your employer is your customer. They pay you for a service you provide. That’s what customers do. I know that’s not the way we’re conditioned to think about our jobs. We tend to look at our employer as the person who has the power to fire us if we’re late to work or if we fail to pay attention to important details. But that’s something that self-employees and entrepreneurs have to deal with as well. In business, you get fired every time a customer chooses to stop doing business with you. And just like some of the bosses we’ve all worked for, customers can seem unfair or unreasonable at times too. We’re all servants to our customers. None of us can get paid unless we do a good job of satisfying our customers. Everyone has a boss and it’s the customer. That’s not some sort of special condition that applies to people at the bottom of a hierarchy. That’s the heart and soul of what it means to do business. If you get paid, you have a customer. If you have a customer, you have a boss. The idea that you have to be free to call all the shots before you can be a businessperson is simply not true. If you’re not accountable to the needs and wants of someone else, you’re not doing business at all. You might have a business card, but you’re not doing business until you’re dedicating time and energy to making someone else feel satisfied with your work.

I hear people say things like “I don’t have a product or service that I offer, so I’m not a business.” I get where they’re coming from, but it’s an attitude that significantly undersells the value (and truth) of what they do. When you look at yourself as some sort of slave to “the man” or as a powerless errand boy/girl who’s professional life is dictated by some great overlord you call “boss”, you unnecessarily deprive yourself of the psychological and professional advantages that come with marketing your skills and experiences as they truly are.

Whether you get paid as much money as you’d like or not; whether you own the building where you go to work or not; whether you answer to a supervisor or not; whether you have filed paperwork for an LLC or not; whether you’re proud of your job title or not; whether you own a business in the textbook sense of the word or not, you are a personal brand and you are in the business of satisfying customers with whatever skills you bring to the table. Some people respond to this kind of message by saying “I’m more than just a brand.” You are. You are infinitely more than a brand, but you’re not less than a brand. You are at least a brand. And if you’re going to be a brand, it might behoove you to start describing your professional services with respect, pride, attention to detail, and a sense of enthusiasm.

No one can love, appreciate, respect, or get excited about what you do for a living if you don’t even think the value you bring is worth more than mumbling a few words about some building you have to go to.

You may not be a businessman, but you’re a business, man. You might as well have some dignity about it.