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What’s Next?

Presumptuous negativity comes from the same source as Pollyanna positivity: A failure of imagination.

When our sense of possibility is diminished, we compensate by placing blind faith in our negative assumptions or by convincing ourselves that we need to make positive ones.

Instead of placing blind faith in your negative assumptions or forcing yourself to believe positive assumptions, try making zero assumptions.

It doesn’t matter if your conclusions are positive or negative if you’re jumping to them. The key is remembering not to jump at all.

Sometimes it’s simply enough to be open to what’s next.

The Permission to Go Small

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Take a brief moment and think about something that’s really interesting to you.

Be specific.

Instead of picking something general like “life”, think about some specific aspect of life that intrigues you.

Got an example?

Here’s the bad news and the good news about your example:

The bad news is that there are probably millions of people who think you picked an uninteresting answer.

The good news is that you don’t need any of those people to find your answering interesting in order to do interesting things that are inspired by that interest.

Run this exercise for your favorite movie, book, celebrity, or politician. If you do a little research, you’ll easily find millions of people who either feel hate or indifference towards any example you pick. That’s a comforting thing to know.  We have a lot more room than we think to be uninteresting and irrelevant to people.

“Making a difference” doesn’t have to mean “making a difference to the majority of people in the world.”

What would you create if you gave yourself permission to only satisfy a small audience?

The Credit Is All Yours

This is the screenshot of a tweet I woke up to this morning.

My talk at the event she refers to had nothing to do with making videos and creating cosplay content. I don’t know how to do either of those things. It was about learning to become the predominant creative force in your own life. Mackenzie took that message and ran with it in the way that works best for her. I couldn’t have taught her to apply those insights in this particular way. She had to do the work of going within and finding her own internal compass.

While I’m truly grateful for every single moment in which someone expresses appreciation for a positive role I’ve played in their lives, her post illustrates a belief I hold deeply about all advice: The radical and the revolutionary is rarely to be found in the advice we give.

The world doesn’t change because of gurus as much as it much as it changes because of people who have the guts to go their own way.

It’s much easier to be someone who walks around confidently sharing your opinions on life than it is to be someone like Mackenzie who chooses to face her fears and define her own possibilities.

Please don’t mistake this for self-deprecation, but I sincerely believe that if I hadn’t shown up to speak that day, she would have found another way to give herself permission to be free. That’s how it works. No one can make you free in spite of yourself. And no one can stop you from finding out what you need to know once you “get sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

We might prefer to listen to one person’s style over another’s, but the information we need to transform ourselves is already out there. When we’re ready to confront our demons and open our hearts to change, life will use even the clumsiest of characters to help us remember what our conscience has already been telling us.

Mackenzie, it feels good to have a moment where someone shows appreciation for the work you do. However, I’d like to use my moment to reflect it all back to you. Just as the change was yours for the making, the credit is yours for the taking.

An Honest Pessimist Is as Good as an Honest Optimist

Photo by Andrew Butler on Unsplash

Statement #1: “Things will never get better.”

Statement #2: “Things look pretty bleak right now.”

On the surface, both of these statements seem negative or pessimistic. Neither one is going to bring a smile to your voice, but if you look closely you’ll two important differences.

1. The first statement is declaration about the way things *are* and the second statement is about the way things *appear*: In this case, the first statement leaves you with a definition of reality that you’re forced to accept. The second statement, on the other hand, leaves open the possibility that there may be more to reality than what you can currently see. This allows room for new perspectives and counter-intuitive insights to slip through.

2. The first statement has a relationship to time that’s permanent. It describes how things are going to be forever. It implicitly denies the possibility that tomorrow might bring a little ease. The second statement locates the negative situation in a temporal state. It allows room for the knowledge and hope that can come with the passage of time.

What we have here are two negative statements, but two different attitudes. One is an attitude of permanence and the other is an attitude of possibility.

It’s easy to dismiss all talk of negative things as “being pessimistic”, but even the optimist has to acknowledge negative truths in order to express his or her dedication to making the world a better place. After all, why seek to make the world better unless you believe there are ways in which it falls short? Why seek to make people better unless you believe there are ways in which they’re not living up to their potential? Our positive pursuits are nothing less than an implicit concession of the fact that our world, in its current state, is not good enough to be left alone.

True optimism isn’t about refusing to acknowledge “negative” truths. It’s about choosing to acknowledge “negative” truths in a way that’s honest enough to admit these more fundamental truths:

1) There’s always more to reality than we can see,
2) The fact that there’s more to reality than what we can see is not a fact that magically disappears when what what we can see happens to look very bad,
3) There is a future,
4) As a species, we are very bad at predicting the future, and
5) Our ability to predict the future doesn’t magically improve just because we’re in the mood to make negative predictions.

When it comes to “being negative”, there are two extremes to avoid:

1) Being the kind of person who refuses to acknowledge negative truths because you’re afraid it will turn you into a negative person.
2) Being the kind of person who assumes you’re being honest just because you’re “telling it like it is.”

If you’re refusing to acknowledge where people are hurting, you compromise your ability to help.

If you’re using “I’m telling it like it is” as a trump card, you risk forgetting that “telling it like it is” isn’t the same thing as “telling everything there is to know about what is.”

If you’re an optimist, the key is to be honest about the truths you don’t like.

If you’re a pessimist, the key is to be honest about the truths you don’t know.

And what that really means is that we all have the same responsibility: to be honest in whatever way we need to work at being honest.

The Gift That Keeps Giving

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

For now, give what you can.

For later, improve what you can give.

For now, do your best.

For later, make it a point to get better.

For now, share what you know.

For later, learn something new.

You’re good enough to make a difference now, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for being good enough.

Generosity isn’t just about showing up for today. It’s about living in a way that increases your chances of showing up in the future.

One of the best gifts you can give to the world is a version of yourself that never stops growing.

In all your giving, don’t forget to give a little respect to your potential.

You’re good enough to start small, but you’re too good to play small.

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