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Grab the Books That Grab You

It doesn’t matter how good “they” say a book is if you’re not going to read it.

Put that “great” book down and pick up one that compels your attention.

Great books are like great ideas: It’s better to actually engage a mediocre one than to merely fantasize about a great one.

Am I a Writer? Are You? Does it Really Matter?

I have never troubled myself with a preoccupation over the following question: “Am I a writer?”

I simply write.

Sometimes I do a decent job. Sometimes I do it poorly. At ALL times, I do it in ways that could use some improvement. The most important thing to me, however, is that I do it at all.

For me, to write is to have something to say and to face the challenge of trying to get your point of view across.

I have something to say. I’m willing to face the challenges involved with saying it. So I choose to write.

Does that make me a writer? I have no clue. That’s other people’s question to answer. Some will affirm it. Others will deny it. But I will have nothing to do with those discussions.

My job is to do the work, writing or otherwise, that my heart compels me to do. My job is to keep finding ways to say “yes” to what makes me come alive.

It’s not my job to convince others that I deserve some kind of special label or title for what I do. And it’s not your job either.

Instead of defending your status as a writer, as a creative, as an entrepreneur, or as a whatever, why not use that time and energy to show up for the work your soul summons you to perform?

It’s far more important to do the work than it is to debate your status as someone who does that kind of work.

Actual participation in the creative process has way more value than any in-group label you could chase.

We all have interests and ideas that we want to explore, but sometimes we get stuck in an identity game of thinking “I need to be the kind of person who does X before giving myself permission to experiment with X.”

That’s a trap.

You don’t need to define yourself as someone who does interesting things as a prerequisite for doing the things that are interesting to you.

You don’t need to know all the answers about who you are before you can begin being true to what fascinates you in the present moment.

You can create BEFORE you settle the identity debate.

And here’s the paradoxical thing: you’ll come up with better ideas about who you really are by trying to create things than by trying to figure out if you’re the kind of person who has the right to create things.

Notes from Death of a Salesman

Last night I attended a production of Death of a Salesman at the Footlight Players Theatre

Here are some thoughts and takeaways from my viewing.

1. Think about your career in terms of “Windows of opportunity.”

What’s hot right now might not be hot in the future. Today’s connections may be no good tomorrow. The people and practices that were good enough to get you where you are might not be sufficient to sustain you at a later time.

Don’t take your talents, opportunities, and potential for granted. Seize the day and leverage it for all its worth.

Your time to shine might not be as timeless as you think.

2. “Attention must be paid.”

These were the words spoken by Linda Loman to her two boys about the gradual and easy to overlook decline being suffered by their father. They also serve as words of caution for our own lives.

Each day presents a choice-point between what is right and what is easy. The losses and gains of life are rarely dramatic. In order to live with agency, attention must be paid to the things that seem to demand our attention the least.

3. Be honest with yourself

We all have a story. We find freedom and peace by taking responsibility for the stories we tell and by using our storytelling abilities to enhance our lives, not escape from them.

4. Vulnerability is universal

It’s easy to tell ourselves a story like “If you do all the right things and make all the right decisions, everything will go well,” but unanticipated suffering is part and parcel of life.

To cope with suffering, we have to accept that it comes with the territory. Vulnerability is not an outrage. It’s the human condition.

5. We are not our dreams

We all have dreams and we should pursue them to the best of our ability, but there’s more to life than our ability to live the ideal. It’s easy to love ourselves when it feels like we’re winning, but we have to learn to love ourselves even when we don’t turn out to be the people we thought we’d become.

6. Know who you are (or at least try to figure it out)

At one moment, Willie Loman’s oldest son Biff utters the following words:

“I realized what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been….Why am I trying to become what i don’t want to be? What am I doing in an office, making a contemptuous, begging fool of myself, when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am!?”

So much of our struggling is the result of our striving to live a story that doesn’t belong to us.

While it’s easy to condemn those who spend their whole lives trying to become what they’re not, it’s harder than it looks. Eventually, all of us will be tested by time and temptation. In these moments, we have to fight to remember (or recognize) what is truly capable of sustaining us.

When you see someone who appears to be losing that battle, don’t be so quick to say “Look at the old fool selling his soul for easy answers.” It’s better to be mindful of your own forthcoming battle.

7. “The jungle is dark but full of diamonds”

These were words spoken to Willy by his older brother Ben who challenged him to leave his comfort zone and take some entrepreneurial risks.

Those words haunted Willy throughout his life. Were better possibilities waiting for him? That’s a question each person has to answer for themselves.

The phrase refers to the rare treasures discoverable by those who dare to embrace the wildness of the unknown and unconventional. Later on, it develops a darker meaning as Willy’s doubt about his own life choices deepens.

One possible lesson here: wrestle with the tough questions early. We all have a dark jungle to face if we want to find the meaning of our own existence. Best to face it sooner rather than later.

8. Have a little empathy

None of us will turn out to be everything we thought we’d be. None of us are perfect. None of us win every important battle. We all have a little good in us. In some sense, we’re all doing the best we know how.

The more we can practice remembering this with others, the more hope we have of remembering this for ourselves.

I may have to do this exercise again in ten years. It’ll be interesting to see how more experience will shape my views about the life of the Loman family (and my own).

Stay Ahead of the Frenzy

The frenzy state makes fools of us all.

If you want to be a good decision maker, problem solver, or generator of creative ideas, build your life on a foundation of rest, nourishment, & orderliness.

The mind is at its best when it works from a state of composure rather than reactivity.

A Small List of Things You Can Give Besides Money

Words of encouragement
Words of appreciation
Perspective
Empathy
“How-to” knowledge
A helping hand
Connections
Stories
Laughter
Company
Attention
Compassion
Good book recommendations
Good music recommendations
Good podcast recommendations
Recipes
Possessions you no longer need
Good conversation
Handwritten thank-you notes.
Sincere questions that give people the opportunity to talk about what interest them.
The gift of expressing and sharing your talents with the world.
The gift of your own personal development.

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