Today, I got to try on that I might be neglecting some things in my life.
I tend to keep busy with a flurry of activity, which doesn’t always contribute to my overall well-being, and has me putting some important things I need to deal with in the “later” pile.
Now, to be fair, this has changed quite a bit with my trip to Calgary. Having arrived exhausted, I spent this past week getting more rest in favor of reconnecting with everyone I know. And I will continue to be watchful of my health.
But I can see how this might apply to a couple areas of my life, not just my well-being. And now I’m sitting with it.
As I continue to go through a yearlong leadership program, my objective is to get my life. And so, I can see that all areas of life are worthy of consideration.
I don’t intend to neglect anything anymore. I intend to create space for new possibilities.
When we celebrate a birthday, are we celebrating new life and rebirth, or are we celebrating that we are one year closer to death?
It’s not that one is right, and the other wrong. But it is an area worthy of speculation because there’s an opportunity to create what you want, instead of kowtowing to societal norms.
In terms of celebrating new life and rebirth, it has long been understood that age is but a number. Everyone’s journey is unique, and there are no “milestones.” You can’t guarantee marriage by 18, kids by 25, a house with a white picket fence by 27, a golden retriever named Charlie by 28, and an executive level position by 30. It doesn’t work that way. Most journeys are wandering and circuitous.
40 isn’t any more significant than 30, and 30 isn’t any more significant than 20. It only is if we make it so. It has everything to do with how we create it. Not to mention, it’s not about how long you’ve lived – it’s about how much living you’ve put into your life.
So, another year is just another year. Look closely, and you will see that you don’t know your beginning any more than you know your end. Which can only mean the present is infinite. It has to be.
When you were born, you were celebrated. Not by all, but by some. Why should that change just because you’re turning a new number? Couldn’t you celebrate the monumental event that was your birth?
In terms of celebrating being one year closer to death, this is our default way of celebrating birthdays. Even well wishes are often thinly veiled “I just hope you acknowledge my birthday next time,” “I’m not going to give you a gift, so here’s a shoutout on social media,” or worse, “I don’t like you and I wish you would die.” If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read yesterday’s post. There’s a clear contrast between the clean, filtered version of ourselves we present to society, and the real, down and dirty judgment we cast onto others and hold as truth (which is really just our perspective).
Look, this isn’t necessarily wrong. We don’t always celebrate death in North America (sometimes we do), but in other cultures they celebrate the transition. Yes, the “transition” is ambiguous and unknowable (often driven by what has been perpetuated by holy texts and scriptures), but it can be quite beautiful, especially if you create it as such.
Celebrating death can also be empowering in that there are things we wish to shed and transmute. Heartache, pain, difficulty, challenge, problems, trauma, and more. What if you took your birthday to let go and allow all that is? What if you made it your mission to stop resurfacing familiar pains and stories about yourself and what they meant, and instead created a new possibility, and a new world for yourself when your birthday arrived?
I’m not necessarily presenting solutions. But I’m asking. Which type of birthday do you want? What does a birthday really mean? Is it as consequential and monumental as we make it out to be? Or is it just a part of this thing we call life? And would we enjoy ourselves more if we just thought of ourselves as ourselves, not as a number?
You are. That’s all there is. Everything else is just made up.
Is exactly how you handle yourself in every area of life.
Of course, your knee-jerk reaction is going to be, “that’s not true – I have disproportionate results in X area, while Y area suffers.”
But look closely again.
You will see that you are always tempted to quit – or do in fact quit – at a certain point regardless of the relationship, business, fitness goal, or otherwise.
Likewise, where you do well, you tend to do well in every area of life.
We should not be discouraged by this. Instead, we should use it as a mirror to identify where we frequently find ourselves stopped, wanting to give up, or otherwise struggling.
By doing so, we can create plans that allow us to move passed the familiar and into the unknown. Because in the unknown is where breakthrough happens.
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What do you value most in life?
Throw a digital pebble, and you’ll hit thousands of writers who say, “money isn’t everything,” “relationships are hard,” and “you get bored of travel and dopamine highs eventually.”
So, is life about spirituality? Well, sort of.
Many will tell you that life is about finding meaning. They even claim this meaning helps you improve your writing.
Here’s why that’s simply not true:
1. You’ll Find Yourself Writing About the Same Things Over and Over
Writers often say to “go and live your life so you can fill up that idea well.” That way, you’ll return to writing with a renewed sense of purpose and new ideas to share with your audience.
That’s true, at least to the extent that new experiences, realizations, and breakthroughs can cause you to look at people, events, and circumstances in new ways.
But if you try to find meaning in your new experiences, you will automatically rely on old experiences, realizations, and breakthroughs to interpret the new ones. That’s what it means to “find meaning.” It’s all about attaching your own meaning to what has already happened, when what happened fundamentally does not mean one thing or the other.
From that space, the only thing you can do is talk about old things in a new way or new things in an old way.
Wouldn’t you love to share about new things in a new way? Don’t your readers deserve it?
If you’re busy “finding meaning,” or adding meaning to every experience, it will always be from a past reference point. Congratulations, you’ve found a way to talk about new things in an old way.
The real trick is to disappear meaning. Then you’ll be able to share about new things in a new way.
Getting too comfortable in our identities leaves us unable to change our opinion, expand our worlds, or transform.
2. Your World Will Only Shrink
What happens when you assume and presume to know all there is to know about your own experience?
To be fair, you are the most qualified person to tell your story.
That said, your story can mean anything you want it to mean. And this is what most writers don’t realize.
My father died when I was 13. That is a true story. The impact of my father’s death was far reaching, and early adulthood was a struggle, in terms of identity, relationships, vocation, finances, and more.
Ah, but is that part true? Or am I just using dramatic language to draw you in? Maybe I have a specific intent in tugging at your emotions. Maybe I want to sell you something, get your attention, or for you to feel sorry for me.
Sounds manipulative, but we must realize we do this in our writing and storytelling all the time! Which is fine if you’re a marketer.
But I could tell that story about my father in an entirely different way, and it wouldn’t be any less true. Let me show you.
My father passed when I was 13. But in that moment, I realized that life could end at any moment and I didn’t want to waste another minute. I went onto start my own music career, build an online business, and write five books, three of which became best-sellers. What my father instilled in me was a sense of discipline and worth ethic. And I will forever treasure that.
This version is also true. I have not told a lie.
And there are many other versions worth exploring…
The point is that if you can’t see both sides of the coin, you’re only ever going to be explaining one side of it. And your view of the world will only continue to narrow, as you keep referring to the same circumstances and events in an increasingly limited way, out of complacency and laziness. How else would you explain it when you’re unwilling to look at old circumstances in a new way?
3. You Won’t Have Breakthroughs
Everybody says you’ve got to persist. Do something every day to work towards your goals. Goals are built on small daily actions. So on and so forth…
It all sounds good in theory.
But if this is our attitude towards writing and life, then is breakthrough even available?
We might see the occasional windfall, but generally, there is no breakthrough in doing the same things the same way expecting different results. This should not be called insanity, but rather, incremental progress.
There is nothing wrong with incremental progress, or for that matter, being disciplined and dedicated to your craft.
But life is the meaning we attach to it. So, if we keep repeating to ourselves that goals are hard, they take time, they require dedication and sacrifice, is it any wonder that’s exactly what we should experience?
Breakthroughs don’t come from what you already know. They don’t come from what you know that you don’t know either (e.g., I know that I don’t know how to speak German). Breakthroughs come from the vast, nearly unlimited space of what you don’t know that you don’t know. Especially since you don’t even have access to it!
To get access to what you don’t know that you don’t know, you must be able to drop all the meaning you have accumulated around a person, event, or circumstance, and begin to look at it away from your default, status quo listening of it. Only then can you see it anew.
Meaning is exactly what’s been getting in the way of you writing breakthrough material.
Once you’ve learned how to drop meaning, you will eventually gain a new skill – the ability to play with meaning.
And a writer who can play with meaning is a masterful writer. They will gain access to a whole world of creative wells never noticed before.
They won’t just be more open minded. They will become better communicators, persuaders, and marketers. They will create the kind of stories people want to read and share with others.
Ah, but why bother with that? Why challenge yourself? Seems like too much work. Just stick to your meaning. It’s working for you.
(That was me playing with meaning.)
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Life is all about finding meaning, isn’t it?
We know that money doesn’t make us happy…
Relationships are fun for a while, but they almost always come with challenges…
And you can spend all your time pursuing dopamine rushes (i.e., traveling), but even that will cease to produce the same results after a while.
So, life must be about meaning.
Here’s what I’ve realized for myself. You can take it with a grain of salt if you wish.
Human beings are meaning making machines already. We make a meaning out of everything. It happens automatically, without any help or support on our part.
So, my question is, why would you want to add so much meaning to a mind that’s already swimming with it?
The delivery guy was late, so you assume he got lost or there was just too much traffic.
Your friend’s phone hangs up mid-sentence, so you assume their device’s battery died.
Your significant other leaves home before you wake up, and you assume they’re mad at you.
Oftentimes without so much as confirming or completing any of it.
And by “completing” I mean things that bug you. Things that run you and your behavior, sometimes without you even knowing. Things that change the way you communicate with others, because of the assumptions you’ve made about them.
These are things you can complete. And we should all be in the habit of completing them. Otherwise, they tend to live with us indefinitely.
That’s a constrained life. It’s a life built on beliefs (past based) rather than faith (future based).
Imagine harboring resentment for your significant other for months and years because of something they did or didn’t do, and the way you interpreted it.
You probably don’t even need to imagine it because you’ve had that experience.
Where did that come from?
It came from the meaning you made of a conversation had or not had, actions taken or not taken, assumption made or not made.
So, why pursue meaning? What exactly are you looking for?
High-performing human beings are those who set aside meaning. They come from nothing, so that they can be present to others and their communication. Instead of listening from “so and so is always this way,” or “people stay the same,” they hear what’s being said.
And this is a different kind of hearing. Not just hearing what’s being said but also hearing what’s not being said that’s important to the person saying it. You can’t listen to others that way with a head full of meaning. It’s just not going to happen.
Once you give up meaning, you can stop spending so much time communicating from the head and begin communicating from the heart. You can be present, not just to others, but also to life.
The other day, I was standing in front of a friend’s house, waiting for her to come out. I had a freaky experience, because for once, I was present to life.
I could hear the ferry off in the distance. Construction happening in another direction. Cars moving about the neighborhood. Birds singing in the trees. The vibrant colors of the grass. I could sense it all, even though it was not all within the scope of my vision.
Imagine being so present to what others are saying that you don’t just hear the words being said – you hear what their motivations, convictions, and goals are in life. You can listen from what’s important to them.
You can pursue meaning if you wish. But I have found it to be empty because it leaves you unable to create anything new. You end up basing everything off something you already know. So, you keep creating within the realm of what’s familiar, while becoming further constrained to the meaning you add to it. Your world gets smaller and smaller because of all that meaning.
You end up listening to others to judge them, not to hear them from a new space. And that’s in your own listening. It’s not your friend’s fault that you’re hearing them as you’ve always heard them, despite the transformation they’ve gone through. It’s because of how you’re listening to them. You’re not present.
Again, this is one man’s opinion. But high performers are generally those that drop what they think they know, and instead listen from nothing.
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