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.

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.

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.

Against the World

Sometimes, I resent the world for spinning.

I look around and I see people getting dizzy, falling down, and being crushed. I see them tumbling into the valleys so they can’t see over the mountains anymore, arms reaching up as the clouds move over them and plates shift under them.

With an ear to the ground, I can hear all the heartbeats, speeding up and slowing down, and so I plant my feet in the sand and push back against the mountains. I turn around and put my back into it, feet slipping in the dust.

“Can’t you see us?” I yell up into the sky, unable to keep my footing. “Can’t you see what’s happening?”

But the earth’s slow spin stays painfully consistent, like a low note vibrating under an orchestra that’s never played together before.

So I dig in harder, rocks against my back, sweat, tears, and sand making their design on my face. And, though there’s beauty that’s been placed all around me, I hate the rocks and the plates and the clouds, the grass that grows up and over everything that remains still, the wind and the sun whispering in conspiracy.

I turn to face the rocks that make up the mountain, wondering whether they’re innocent, trying to see that beauty. And then I tuck my shoulder, lower my head, and ram the mountain with everything I have, over and over, taking on an eerie rhythm that fits right in with rest of nature. And the mountains and the grass and the sun and the wind seem pleased as I look back over my shoulder into the valley for any sort of movement.

Rain, Spiders, & Mosquitoes

Upon realizing it was raining on the way down to take out the trash, my daughter asked me, “Why do we have the rain… and mosquitoes and spiders and all that? Why can’t it just be ladybugs and humans?”

Answering a child’s questions helps us tackle profound topics with simple logic so I took the bait…

“Well, this world isn’t just about humans. It’s not just about you. Some people like spiders. Rain feeds the ground. Mosquitoes… I’m not sure about mosquitoes.”

The truth is my daughter is smart enough to realize all of these things. In fact, she’s a Science geek but that doesn’t stop her from wishing things weren’t as they are when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable for her. She pushes away facts for feeling, like the rest of us.

So what if it means insects take over the world! Or all the plants dry up and turn to dust, or someone you don’t know loses a love.

By the bottom step, my daughter was back to reality, appreciating gravity as she dumped out our recyclables.

She held out her hand to catch a few droplets and then ran back upstairs.

When it comes to comfort and progress, we can be selfish beings, pulling the blanket off our partner in the middle of the night, eating the last bowl of cereal, wishing away the rain as we start our day.

I could just start to feel my slippers soaking through on the bottom.

And then a door slammed shut a few houses down, yanking me out of my head. I watched as a little girl broke free from her mama’s grip, ran for the curb, and jumped with both feet into a pothole filled with muddy water. Mom wasn’t happy.

Our desires are innocent enough, part of being human.

But, if you can pull away from yourself for a moment, you who resents the weather, you who dislikes the dampness in your shoes… you will see the girl down the street, or across town, or in another city, splashing with both feet in the puddles. You will see the plants turning green. You will see the spider eating the mosquito.

And your soggy slippers won’t matter as much.

Sharing Space

Touch is easily the most underutilized of the senses…

I learned this from a colleague when I was doing Admissions for a private vocational college. One of the programs was massage therapy and whenever I had a question for the program director, she would roll her chair across the short expanse of the cubicle hallway and put 2 fingertips on my knee before answering. If she was standing next to me, it would be my elbow instead of my knee, and as we got to know each other, it was my shoulder or lower back. It was an extremely light touch, almost like it wasn’t there at all. She wasn’t using me for support, rather just the opposite.

I asked her about those 2 fingertips.

“Touch is powerful,” she said. She always spoke like that. “I want you to know that I’m sharing space with you.”

She didn’t do this with everyone. She had a sense of who could handle it. (Touch is indeed powerful enough to harm a relationship as well as reinforce it.)

I noticed that no matter how hectic her day when she came over to answer my question with her palm flat on her own knee and her outstretched fingers reaching silently across the divide to make contact, she not only gave me her full attention but I gave her mine. Her touch placed us inside a bubble that blocked out sound and blurred the background.

We got so much done in that bubble.

I don’t know the science of 2 fingers on a knee but over time our connection grew extremely strong. We became allies. We braved many storms in that place. We made the space our own.

I never outstretched my own fingers. I guess offering the knee was enough.

A Secret Among the Self-Actualized

Even for the ones with the jobs so many others wish they had- the actors, the entrepreneurs, the authors, the working artists, the travel journalists, the spiritual guides, the 4-hour-work-week day traders, the tropical-island scuba instructors, the yogis, the CEOs, the coaches, and all of those people who proclaim love for their work… The truth is they’d still prefer to not be working.

Even the best job in the world can’t deliver absolute openness.

No one, not even the most self-actualized among us, desire obligation more than free time. It’s like being in a gorgeous building. No matter how vast the rooms or ornate the ceiling detail or wonderfully cool the air conditioning, eventually you want to get outside where there are no walls, to walk in the woods or lay on a hill and look up at the sky.

But the light doesn’t last long out there either.

However memorable the sunset, the weather cools down, the bugs come out and, eventually, it gets dark, so you return to your building. Now, whether it’s a beach house or a shack is irrelevant. It’s serving some sort of purpose in your life. But don’t try to figure that out, just know that it’s true and instead of comparing your work life to your leisure life, try to seek solace in the coming and going between the two.

Work… free… work… free… If you look for it, there’s a balance in this back-and-forth. There has to be. That equilibrium can sustain you. And it will lead you to appreciate the weight on both sides of the scale.

Conversation Vacation

Looking to get away?

The next conversation you fall into, let go of everything you know, even the notion that you already know the person in front of you. Listen to their voice ask they talk, the vibration, the up and down of it. See their face, how much their mouth moves, how their body moves.

Instead of replying, invite them to go deeper. You can do it with silence, or a question, or the lift of your eyebrow. The deeper they take you, the further into uncharted territory you go. It doesn’t matter if this is your partner or the person on the corner. It’s a new day and you don’t know them fully.

Get into someone’s thoughts, a few layers down, and you can escape from your own for a while. You can free yourself from the circles you run in. You can find warmth in someone’s heart.

Stay or Go?

Staying in the same job for several years can almost be like falling into a depression.

It swallows you up and that’s all you see. It’s not so much whether the job is good or bad; it’s just that you can easily lose the ability to compare your surroundings to those of other situations. You begin to believe there is only one way of doing things, or, even if you know there are other ways of doing things, you haven’t experienced them in so long, it’s hard to believe they exist.

Like depression, long tenure is all-encompassing.

I’m not saying you should leave but you should definitely see what else is out there and discover other ways of doing what you’re doing, for your own sake and for the sake of your employer. Be a tourist somewhere else to shake up your paradigm.

Whether you stay or not, is irrelevant.

You’ll climb out of the chasm. You’ll see farther and shed off the claustrophobia you didn’t know was there. And with deeper inhalations, a lot more is possible, wherever you are.

Beautiful Trance

I used to think CREATIVITY was about creating stuff. That’s what it looks like on the outside, but if you really look at a person who’s creating, you can see it’s more about chasing a feeling.

Artists – the most committed creators among us – are constantly wishing they were in that creative space. It’s almost painful, like lying in a bed in the middle of the night and trying to get back into a dream. That’s the catch. After living in that CREATIVITY, other parts of reality don’t seem to bring as much bliss. Conjuring light becomes more exhilarating than standing in it.

All of us have access, but some clamber in front of the doorway more than others, eager to please whatever God guards that door.

And you can’t half-ass it either. You have to full-ass your way into that beautiful trance. Once inside, you really don’t dare comment, reflect, or adjust; you just keep doing whatever it is you’re doing. Screw the analysis. For now, create, create, create…

Paint the next line, fold the next corner, sing the next note. Invoke that light in your small room. You don’t need to see very far. You don’t have to know any more.