Archive for the 'Living richly' Category

Do you even know what the goal is?

Friday, November 16th, 2012

Don’t feel bad if you don’t. In my experience, many talented, ambitious people — even successful ones — don’t really know what they’re after. Or, if they know, they’re not willing to admit it and go for it. So if you’re unclear of your goals, realize that you’re not alone . . .

. . . but then get up and do something about it. I wrote my most recent CareOne column specifically to address this challenge:

How Will You Know When You Win?

Years ago, I learned a business lesson that’s as valuable as it is simple: When you’re setting out on a project, you want to have it very clear in your mind — and in the mind of anyone involved in the project — how you’ll know when you win.

In sports, it’s simple: you have a better score than your opponent when the game is over. If you’re a salesperson, it’s the straightforward question of whether you met your quota or not.

But not everything can be so simple.

So how will you know when you win in your own life?

I encourage you to read the rest on the CareOne blog and then let me know what you think.

Image source.

Just for an hour or two.

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Tell the world to go away.

Focus on the most important thing. Don’t debate with yourself overly about what that is — it’s the one you’ve been putting off, the vital one, the first domino in the row, the big beating heart of your dreams.

For an hour, or a Sunday afternoon, set everything else aside. Turn off the television, ignore your inbox, and block out the noise. Beg off from life’s minutiae. Someone else can be on diaper duty, at least for an afternoon.

Then do that thing. Screw up your courage and do that thing.

Never apologize for doing the most important thing.

Image source.

Commonplace: Rohn.

Monday, August 13th, 2012

“Either you run the day or the day runs you.”

–Jim Rohn

(I was on the wrong side of this one today. Tomorrow will be better.)

My best advice, in weekly column form.

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

I’m a bad self-pimper: I forget to share my weekly columns for CareOne here.

CareOne helps people deal with their debts, but my role is to provide encouragement and advice about the other parts of life — fitness, relationships, and so on. In this week’s column, for instance, I talk about the need to make decisions:


There’s a lot more where that come — I’ve written more than 140 weekly columns for them now. You can find most of what I’ve written on their Life Balance blog.

And if you happen to have feedback, I’d love to hear it — either here or there.

The gorgeousness of handling things only once.

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Maybe you know the organizational acronym “OHIO” — “only handle it once.” It’s a good piece of advice, especially for things like mail, e-mail, and household clutter: you encounter something, make a decision about what needs to happen with it, and then do that thing. If you did that all the time, your inbox would never be overloaded and you’d have a place for everything and everything in its place throughout your life.

But OHIO can also conjure images of a sterile, Type-A world that doesn’t have room for creativity and what we might call “productive mess.” A lot of creators benefit from a certain amount of room for ideas to ferment. Maybe you have some notes for an essay, or sketches for a painting, that you carry around with you in a notebook. You consult them from time to time, add to them, subtract from them, splice them with other ideas, and so on. Sometimes creative notions take a while to germinate, send down roots, and then flower.

But if you’re going to balance the processes of creation with the rest of a busy life — day job, family, handling your finances — my advice to you (and myself) is to take the advice of OHIO and embrace it as something deeper.

Luscious, Transient Experience

Think of a Zen garden — well-ordered but ever-changing. Think of the ecstatic experiences of mystics who find deep and extraordinary meaning in the most fleeting of moments. And then consider how you and I could bring that into our quotidian lives of housekeeping, cubicle work, paying the bills, — or moments of creation.

The idea is simple: when something comes to hand, immerse yourself in the experience of it right then. Deal with it deeply. If you have resistant feelings about it, acknowledge those as well. But fully experience whatever it is — the writing, the laundry, the fresh pile of work e-mails — and go all the way through that experience in one sitting.

Let’s get specific:

  • You receive a difficult e-mail from a colleague or a client. Get quiet in your mind, figure out what’s best for the business, then handle the e-mail accordingly. The answer might be to file it without a response. Or you might need to write an apology. Or schedule a lunch out of the office so the two of you can make it right. Or escalate the issue to the right decision makers. But rectify it, right then.
  • You have an idea for a poem. Instead of only jotting down the title and a key image or two, sketch out a draft of the whole thing. In this case, OHIO doesn’t mean producing a finished work in one sitting — but perhaps it should mean sticking with the idea long enough to give yourself a real starting point for revision and improvement. (If you’re anything like me, there’s a world of difference psychologically between having “an idea” for a piece and having “a draft” of a piece.)
  • You’re going through your old papers and finding some of your dead-end projects from the past. Instead of fretting, clinging, or beating yourself up for what you didn’t do with them, you move each one forward. Maybe some you throw away in disgust. Maybe some you give a respectful burial. Perhaps a few are worth turning into proper finished works (in which case, see the preceding bullet point). But you handle each one, instead of letting them sit there as a mass that weighs down your mind.
  • Now take everything I just said about old papers and apply it to old clothes, old plans, old hobbies, old relationships. Make decisions and be at peace with them.

To repeat: Make decisions and be at peace with them. Work cleanly in this moment. Tomorrow will have enough problems of its own; don’t let yourself remain “encumbered with your old nonsense.

Do this, and you’ll be so much freer to work without worry and create without fear.

Join me?

Image source.

Half a month down in 2012: Are Your Priorities Showing?

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

This is a topic I covered a while back in a column on showing, rather than telling, your priorities, but here it is in a nutshell . . .

There’s no sense in bothering with excuses — least of all to yourself — for what your priorities have been. Just acknowledge that your behaviors have reflected what your priorities actually were.

Don’t even waste time feeling bad about it, but admit that whatever was most important to you at the time (your goals, your family, your fears, the chance to take the easy road, . . . ) drove your actions down a particular path.

So think back over the past two weeks — just 4% of this year, but a potentially tone-setting 4%. Have your real behaviors reflected your stated priorities?

My assessment for myself:

  • Good progress on projects at work.
  • So-so effort on athletic training, but not enough planning to account for a super-hectic schedule at the office last week.
  • Not at all adequate effort or planning for my own writing projects.

What about you? What paths have you gone down in the past two weeks? Where are you going to move the needle the rest of this month?

Image by Alyson Hurt.

Cooperating with Time.

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Do you fight time? Do you waste it, or lose it, or constantly wonder where it went?

I assume it’s not just me.

The trigger for writing this post is Chris Brogan’s “Finding Time.” Chris is a sharp guy who’s super-productive, but he takes the time to be thoughtful, too. You’ll be doing yourself a favor to read his post — it’s quick — and think about how you can apply what Chris says to your own struggles with time.

But what I want to talk about is the state of struggling itself. When you’re at odds with your time, it’s like you’re walking through a swamp. Indecision, self-doubt, and worry turn every logistical choice into a chore. You don’t move freely; your thoughts aren’t supple. Maybe you stew about it, maybe you avert your gaze, but the outcome is the same: “Where did the time go?”

When this is happening, it is so tempting to think that we’re struggling against external circumstances. But it’s not so. As Chris says, we all have the same 24 hours in the day. (He credits Gandhi for saying it first.)

The real struggle is against ourselves. We make ourselves slog through not only our practical limitations (I don’t have a voice for opera, for instance), but more importantly the impractical limitations we impose upon ourselves with the ways that we think.

Your Choice

There’s good news, though: if you’re wading through a swamp of your own (subconscious) devising, you can stop anytime you want. You can drain the swamp and walk on dry land. In the context of time, you can start relating to this external, unchangeable thing — the flow of time — the same way you relate to the sunrise or the tides: it’s just so, and there’s no reason to rue it.

Once you do this, you can start to look at yourself and your foibles with clear eyes to see what practical changes you can make to move in the right direction. That’s the point where all the life hacks and time-management systems should come in. (But don’t waste too much time on that, either. As Chris says in another post, you already know what to do.)

Otherwise — if you don’t take this approach — you’re set up for misery, not only because you’ll do less with your time, but because you’ll expend so much energy fighting it and regretting it and wondering what the hell is wrong with you.

(This raises a separate question: for introspective people is the real struggle the struggle with self-loathing? It could be.)

Fight it no more. Regret no more. Wonder no more about your failings — you’re probably just fine underneath it all.

Above all, don’t struggle. You’ll only end up deeper in the swamp.

Just move on to dry ground.

Photo by Nico Zeißig.

Where does happiness come from?

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011


“Happiness comes from within.”
–The Buddha

That’s the idea I had in mine when I wrote this week’s Life Balance column for CareOne, “Happiness From The Inside Out.”

Too often we let our external conditions dictate how we feel — but in fact those feelings come from within, and we have a huge amount of influence over our own state of mind and well-being at all times.

For more of my thoughts on this, please head over to the Life Balance blog.

Image by Tarah Dawdy.

What Will You Wish?

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

Five years from now, what will you wish you had written?

When your future self is on its deathbed, what will it wish your current self had done with its abilities, energy, and time?

I know, I know — the deathbed thing is so overdone. But it will always be relevant because we will always be mortal. You’re going to check out someday, and it will be better (for you, for your loved ones, for the universe) if you have done more with what you have been given.

Thinking this way doesn’t need to be morbid, or even introspective. In fact, writers and other artists are often prone to be too morbid and introspective: the same sensitivity that allows the artist’s mind to capture the fine details and emotional nuances of life makes it prone to fall into navel-gazing funks . . . during which art isn’t created. So be sure to skip that part.

Instead, do a priority check on yourself, taking into account your feelings of today — because they have something valuable to tell you — as well as the reckoning that you’ll make of yourself in five years, in twenty years, or at the end of your life.

You will wish. I venture that you will wish you had painted the picture or written the novel that you feared was beyond what you could accomplish. You will wish you had taken better care of yourself — financially, physically, emotionally — from day to day so that you could get more good work done on an even keel. You will wish you had stuck with it.

Today, right now, you have the chance to play the role of fairy godmother, granting the wishes of your future self. I suggest you take up that role with gusto.

What will you wish?

Commonplace: Godin.

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

“[I]f it’s not worth doing and if it’s not frightening,
think twice about whether it’s worth spending your day on it.”

—Seth Godin (from an interview with Steven Pressfield)


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