When the Machine Breaks Down

Ever notice that the audience laughs louder or claps harder when the machine breaks down?

Take Saturday Night Live, for instance. The best parts are when the comedians can’t stop laughing at their own jokes. You can hear the studio audience cracking up the whole time. Or, at the circus, if the highwire acrobat stumbles on a jump, on their next attempt you can bet they’ll get bigger applause than anyone else the whole night. Or, when a keynote speaker forgets her next line and admits she lost her place; that’s when we stop Tweeting and sit up in our chair.

When running their routines smoothly, experts can be almost too perfect, so flawless, they stop being human. We appreciate the content, but we can’t relate, and so our interest falls to the background.

Without flaws, entertainers and lecturers become like digitized recordings, like robots – efficient and predictable, on some predetermined path and we, the audience, are merely onlookers without the power to influence.

We have no skin in the game, no hand in the outcome, and we almost feel like that person in front of us, so perfect and polished, isn’t even in the room with us, like they’re behind a screen, manipulated by levers that reach far off the stage.

Yes, we can benefit from their knowledge, we may indeed ooh and ahh, but they’ll never really reach us from there. The act remains an act.

Until something sputters or smokes, we’re both just playing our parts.

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Bare Minimum

When I’m sick I have what I call “Bare Minimum Days.” This means I set out to do just the bare minimum to get through the day: eat, sleep, poop, email, and 1 or 2 phone calls – the bare minimum amount of work possible to keep my life from running off the rails and waking up to a train wreck in a few days.

Sometimes that’s all I can do.

But sometimes I do more than that, find myself just a few hop-scotch squares farther along. Sometimes, I even forget for a moment that I’m sick.

Setting small goals makes it possible to achieve big ones, even moreso than if you just set out to win big from the beginning.

Cleaning the kitchen begins with organizing a drawer.

The secret is to do less. We can build kingdoms if we concentrate on laying down a single stone.

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Stones Become Fishes

I have this cycle I go through whenever I have an appointment with a client.

About an hour ahead of the appointment, I start to get anxious. Well, not exactly anxious. If I am to be honest, I would say it’s more like resentment that I have this appointment at all. It’s going to interrupt my flow, pull me out of the beautiful trance of writing resumes and working on business development stuff.

In other words… I’m in the zone, baby. And I don’t want to get out!

But this new thing is pulling me in a different direction and the current is getting stronger, so, I pop open the client’s intake form and begin reading their life story.

It always draws me in.

As I learn about crucial events, goals, insecurities, and sources of real pride, the client materializes before me. These anecdotes and insights, like fishes in an aquarium, begin to come together, catch the light, and reflect a pattern back to me. What was once just a few dark shadows, minute by minute, turns into something more. The first and last name in my calendar become a person, with something to offer and obstacles to overcome.

By the time I get on the phone, I’m in. All the way in.

There is potential for this cycle to play out in other aspects of my day as well: the woman at the traffic light, the Facebook friend of a friend, the store clerk, the wrong number… all shadows waiting to shimmer.

And since I don’t have an intake form to hand them… I have to initiate in other ways if I want to begin to see the patterns.

It’s my choice: These folks can stay shadowy stones in the current, or they can become brightly colored fishes that light up the water.

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Old Friends

Oh, what great fortune to have old friends!

Old friends who make you laugh with a word, who tell you like it is, who call you on your shit, who wave to you from your memories…

Old friends have watched you drop your breadcrumbs; they know where you’ve been and how far you’ve come, the tragedies that have made you, the false starts, the unexpected wins. They know all your nicknames, your ghosts, your hairstyles.

To be known and to be loved is often enough to wake up to.

How many times do we think of old friends in our busy lives and smile, consider a call, and then get wrapped up in something else?

That’s okay, they probably do it too, with you, and how wonderful to consider that, occasionally, when the smile is big enough, you’re both doing it at the same time.

Perhaps right now.

Hello, old friends.

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The Arena

Powerful people are unfaithful commentators. The story they tell is bound together by the desire to retain their pedestal. Who would give up a VIP box seat to sit in the bleachers? No one wants to do that and so power begets power – sometimes intentional, sometimes not.

So, us truth-seekers, we look to the powerless, the oppressed, the ones who have nothing to lose and everything to gain, the ones sitting in the bleachers, the ones whose chanting chorus in the arena is drowned out by the carefully engineered and expensive sound system piped into the VIP box.

But the vision of the oppressed is skewed too.

It’s tethered to a need to vindicate each other, which usually means vilifying the other, in other words, storming the VIP box and stealing the microphone. However, more voices in the arena don’t make for easy harmony, and coming into power is not, in and of itself, a qualification to lead.

As the voices conflict with each other and the words become unintelligible, some of us long for the simpler days of the singular voice, some of us love the din, and some of us wish to leave. But what we all have in common is that we’re fearful of what may happen next.

We can feel the roar of the voices crescendoing and splitting farther apart, the walls of the arena wavering, hands pushing on our backs and necks, as we look around for an exit and a savior, while clambering to hold our space, arms locked with the people we came with.

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Trapeze Act

Transitions are hard.

Like a trapeze artist suspended in the air, immediately after letting go of one bar and reaching for another, it’s a matter of time before we start to fall.

It’s scary. Take away that second bar and it becomes downright terrifying, which is often what it feels like when we’re leaving ourselves open to something new: like a freefall.

It’s easy to want to leave our body at this point, to abandon our pursuits and long for the safety and security of the platform, back there, before we leapt.

Jumping is hard, but letting go the second time is harder because we’ve already learned how it makes our stomach feel. It’s Science. Gravity is non-negotiable. We have to fall a little if we want to move on.

Some of us can make falling feel like flying, but that’s a less important skill than staying present.

Arms extended, eyes open. Remember that timing is more influential on the outcome than talent. The bars are already in motion. Falling and flying are in your future. The only way you can fail is to keep holding on.

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Never Lost

When we leave a job or a partner, or a residence after so many years, that feeling of being lost is bound to surface. Options overwhelm. Distance suffocates.

The mistake we often make is in where we look to reorient ourselves. We tend to look out into the woods for a marker or the right path. We look for another person, a so-called expert, and make them our guide.

This is dangerous. There are plenty of ways into the forest and they all lead to different places. The guides will lead you to their favorite place, not necessarily yours.

The key is to stop looking out at the jungle and instead look inward. Don’t worry about what’s out there for you, pay attention to what you want to do next and who you want to become. Figure out your frustrated wishes, your interests inside and outside of the old routine, the talents you want to continue using, and the skills that you want to develop

This is your map. It doesn’t matter how deep the woods go, once you find direction, the spark of hope will swell within you.

Always, look in, not out, to discard the illusion of being lost.

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How To Get Smarter

The smartest person in the room is the one who is talking the least.

It’s a simple calculus:

Listening is how you gain knowledge. If you’re talking, you’re not listening, therefore, as the math plays out, those who choose to listen collect more knowledge than those who choose to speak.

We should view speaking as the absence of listening as if you’re switching the vacuum from suck to blow. And, once you choose the blow setting, the absence of knowledge begins!

It starts before you open your mouth. It starts once you make the decision in your mind to speak because often you’re preparing your speech while others are talking.

We’ve all been there, refining our great lecture underneath someone else’ words, planning our opening, picturing the mic drop. Meanwhile, great insights and new knowledge are floating by above our heads and seeping into some else’ mind, not ours.

It’s fine to talk. It’s important to contribute, but shutting up and listening is the smartest thing you can do.

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Powder Blue

We go through such great lengths to paint the inside of our rooms… It takes all day, we risk destroying furniture and floors. Taping’s a bitch. It gets much worse before it gets better, and it always takes longer than first envisioned.

But it’s worth it, don’t ya think?

Color is a catalyst. It has great influence over whether we play, work, chill, or sleep. Sure, you can relax in a bright red room, but it’s much easier to achieve the same result in a powder blue one. Blue symbolizes confidence, calm, depth, and stability. These are the traits we want around us when we’re seeking relaxation and productivity.

So we corral the furniture into the center of the room like farm animals and lay out the tarps. We’re willing to disrupt our lives for that color, and ultimately for the feeling it evokes.

Remember this the next time you lose your shit, when you drop into that red state of mind, when the walls go red and your tongue is fire, and your mind boils. The first thing you should think to do is not to force your way out, not to hunt for a solution, and not to deconstruct the problem; it is to figure out how to make the room blue again.

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Accelerators

My toddler twirls in front of the TV.

“Look at me, daddy. Look at me.”

A refrain we carry into adulthood in both actions and words. When we cry, when we march, when we tweet, when we design, when we present…

Much like entrepreneurs pitching investors, everything important that we do eventually leads to seeking validation from others. We’re all building our masterpieces and looking for funding. The creating part we’re all very conscious about, but I think we forget that we’re investors too.

We have the power to accelerate the things we love and believe in, simply by looking at them.

Your partner, your friend, your neighbor is more likely to dig deeper if you comment on the ditch they’re digging and revel in what they’re uncovering deep inside. Our positive words, thin and slight, stack up like dollars to encourage more work and more commitment.

Love calls ingenuity. Attention fosters progress.

Just as startups pivot their way into greatness, my daughter’s dance gets more intricate each time she spins around and sees me watching.

“Look at me, daddy. Look at me.”

And I invest.

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