Never let someone convince you that your passions and dreams are unrealistic or unworthy of your pursuit. It's those dreams and passions that make you real and give meaning to your life. If you let someone take that away, there won't be any you left behind to live and love life.
Yesterday I walked to the Salamanca Market in Hobart, Tasmania, a street market that opens every Saturday. Much like everything else I’ve experienced here in Tasmania, the market had ‘calmly dramatic’ feel to it, filled with three hundred stalls and bustling with thousands of people, yet not feeling one bit chaotic or rushed.
There were lots of street musicians strewn about. There was a teenage girl on the flute, a young man singing to an acoustic guitar, an older gentleman attempting to play the ukulele, and another selling CDs.
After walking around a bit, I noticed the young man with the acoustic guitar had joined another young musician. The two men, who did not seem to know each other, started playing as one, carefully watching each other as they tried to find a rhythm.
A few of these musicians seemed comfortable performing, but there were many others who made it obvious they were struggling with stage-fright. I remember seeing a young man sitting on a bench through one of the stalls, set back away from the crowds as he quietly sang to himself and tapped on his guitar. I wondered what he was thinking.
At one end of the market there was a young girl, perhaps ten or eleven, holding a violin and glancing around nervously. She found the courage to start playing just I walked past her and several people turned as they heard the music, their faces going from curious to astonished when they saw her age.
Walking down Kennedy Lane, into Salamanca Square where families gathered to relax around a water fountain, there was a young boy band playing. One boy on the drums, one on the keyboard, and two more standing up with guitars. The lead singer wasn’t more than eight, his flushed red face and closed eyes telling me he didn’t want to see all the people stopping to smile at him. His singing was horribly off pitch, but his soul made that irrelevant.
Down the other end of Kennedy Lane, down the quiet narrow end with tall stone walls on either side blocking the already diffused sunlight, there was another musician standing in the shadows. I recognized him immediately from my walks around the city earlier in the week. But I had never seen his face. Or was it a girl? I couldn’t tell. He wore a expressionless white mask, baggy jeans, and a faded blue sweatshirt with the hood pulled over. The only thing more unsettling than his ghostly appearance was the tune that he added to the scene. Picking gently at a closely clutched guitar, he played with the sound of each string ever so carefully, clearly having more experience than a casual passerby would notice. Perhaps that’s why he wore an expressionless white mask.
I walked around the market a few more times, not really knowing where I was going or what I was looking for. Around the middle of the market, at the end of a closed street, there were two men playing music and generating a crowd. Not being much for crowds myself, I stepped off to the side, a bit behind the musicians. There I noticed several guys in black suits sitting on the ground, with bags of wires and instruments and other musical equipment sitting on the street around them. As they laughed and watched the crowd, I realized they were next in line, awaiting their turn in the spotlight.
It was here, facing in the same direction as the musicians, that I noticed a man in the crowd step up and throw some money into a guitar case. He smiled and stepped back into the crowd to continue watching. There was something about his posture that told me he was standing there simply to encourage others to step up and give. Not many did.
Every single one of the musicians I had walked by, from the young girl playing the violin, to the person picking at the guitar in a white mask, had a bucket or instrument case in front of them collecting donations. But I hadn’t given anything.
As I ate breakfast this morning, I reflected on all the musicians I walked by and I felt bad for not giving anything, especially not to the children. I realized that even if I had given money to every single one of the musicians, it wouldn’t have amounted to more than a few dollars.
But how much hope and validation might I have given in the process? What if my giving something meant that one of those children felt inspired to see their dreams through? How could any amount of money be valued higher than that possibility?
Perhaps the problem lies in my relationship to money. Perhaps deep down inside there is still a lot of insecurity and scarcity that I’m not recognizing, a part of me that is reluctant to give because I’ve spent so much of my life living in fear of not having enough.
I do have enough. In fact, I have more than enough.
Next week I’m going back to the Salamanca Market. I’m going to give something to every musician that I can find. In fact, maybe I should make this a permanent habit, to always give something to street musicians. Unlike beggars, they’re clearly offering something in return. Instead of just asking, they’re creating something and hoping that you’ll find value in it.
But more likely than not, they’re also asking for you to support their dream, to show them that it’s a dream worth working towards.
All dreams are worth working towards and I believe there is no better way to invest in others than to help them achieve those dreams. What’s your dream and how are you working towards it? Let me know and I will send you something. (Please include your PayPal email address.)
We all die. We all get hurt, make mistakes, and experience pain that seems impossible to overcome. Life isn’t safe, but a life spent trying to avoid all risk and discomfort is the best way to avoid living at all.
It’s true that some risks are not worth taking, but most risks will mean the difference between living a life on repeat and creating a life forged in sweat, on the steps to a breathtaking summit.
So believe in something impossible. Dream. Search for meaning in your actions. Apologize and forgive. Find harmony in moving forward. Risk. Take action. Do something worthy of your own admiration. But most of all, love, and embrace who you are.
Life is short, and it’s fragile, but it’s worth it.
Three years ago I was commuting in bumper-to-bumper traffic when I saw a duck in the grass and felt jealous of its freedom. Yesterday my office was a cafe near the Sydney Opera House. Today I went off-roading in "the Australian bush", visited the largest deep space radio telescope in the southern hemisphere, and walked among wild kangaroos. Think outside the box. Release preconceived notions of reality. The heart can only stretch if the mind is willing to let go.
It is my hope that by the end of this essay you will look to the sky and see airplanes a bit differently than you do now. It is my hope that by the end of this essay you will hear the roaring hiss of a jet engine and look up with a new sense of admiration for who you are.
I’ve watched thousands of airplanes fly over me. I’ve flown in hundreds of them. I’ve watched the earth float by beneath me, studied how these machines work their magic, how humans build their wings, and how pilots master their controls. I’ve even been lucky enough to pilot one myself.
But when I hear one going by, no matter what I’m doing, I still stop and tilt my head to the sky with a childish sense of wonder and watch this mechanical work of art float past (a rather dangerous distraction when I’m driving; I’ve lost a hat this way).
On several occasions in the past few months I’ve found myself on the beach, gazing at the birds and watching as they glide across the ocean. Seconds later I’m presented with the opportunity to observe a similar bird, this time a manmade one, its shiny metal body and heavy engines pushing itself across the sky.
How are these manmade creatures of flight different from those found in nature? They’re both built for the same task: to fly, to temporarily defeat gravity and make use of an invisible force, to float through an invisible landscape.
The natural creature is certainly the more elegant and it’s far more attune with its surroundings. While it blends into the landscape and reacts to the flowing currents of air, its clumsy mechanical counterpart pummels through with sheer force, relying solely on the most basic and most fundamental principals to stay aloft.
One creature was created by nature, the other was created by us, a creation by a creation, a new species of flying creatures designed, engineered, and built entirely by humans. We saw birds flying through the air and we wanted to experience that flow, to obtain that mobility.
For thousands of years we tried manufacturing feathers. We tried making ourselves as light as possible. We tried jumping off cliffs and making contraptions that seemed to mimic the wings in nature.
Everything failed and many lives were lost, but we continued building, testing, risking, and experimenting.
As we began to understand the invisible landscape, we learned to combine visible shapes with invisible forces. We manufactured structures from whatever materials were available and even began inventing and shaping materials that didn’t exist naturally.
Elegance wasn’t nearly as important as function. What mattered was obtaining flight. And so we took to the skies in birds made of wood and metal, eventually refining our models and smoothing our designs.
When I look to the sky now and I see an airplane flying over me, what I see is an example of what it means to be human, that innate desire we all possess to recreate the things we hold with respect and admiration, that need to prove to ourselves and to others that nothing is beyond our ability.
We create because that’s who we are. We live our lives making choices and decisions based on hopes and dreams because we believe. We believe that even the remote possibility is entirely possible, that despite all the odds, the impossible is only two steps away from possible.
To create, to turn thought into action, to push and fight and struggle against all logical reason and bring life to visions and ideas, to shape hopes and dreams into tangible moments of reality and string them together one by one, to learn how to fly when we were born to walk, that is what it means to be human.
In The Laziness Paradox, Scott Young writes about something that I've always had a hard time putting a finger on: why short-term estimations often fail and long-term plans often turn out to be inadequate.
I believe optimism, hope, ambition and all that general self-help pabulum work best as far beliefs. That is, being overconfident works best when it is a generalized ideal you use to think about the long future, not when you're planning your to-do list tomorrow.
The truth is, most people make two errors in their judgement. They are overly optimistic in the short-term, because inherent overconfidence and the illusion of control convince them they can achieve more than they can. But people are also too unimaginative about the future--we tend to imagine the future as mostly resembling the present.
I suggest two cures: first, acknowledge your short-term laziness more. If you know you're lazy, you can work around it. Most people don't because we like to think of ourselves as being industrious and in control, not easily manipulated automatons. Second, be more imaginative about the future, even small ripples can turn into big waves over time.
I often allow my imagination to run wild when thinking about the future. I really do think anything is possible. I believe that civilian trips to a colony on Mars will occur in my lifetime. I believe that the standard of living for all human beings can be vastly improved within my lifetime.
But while dreaming and believing in those dreams are big first steps, they're not enough. How to act in a way that works towards them is arguably the more challenging task.
If you always felt you were born to do something big, something really, really big -- something so big that your existence would end up shifting human history and leaving a dent in the fabric of time -- what would you do?
Would you think about what your best career options were, what things you were good at, and go from there?
Would you stress out over money or financial concerns or hunker down and save your money?
Would you focus on doing things that made you comfortable or ensured that people would like you?
Would you limit your focus to things that you could achieve this lifetime?
Would you be realistic?
Or would you think about the biggest, most crazy thing you could imagine? Something that seemed so unlikely for a single human being to achieve but that, when you thought about it or talked about it, filled you with spine-tingling, eye-watering, goosebump-making surges of energy that seemed to emanate from some unknown source deep inside?
That thing that despite being so unrealistic and crazy lingered on your mind, hour after hour, day after day, week after week.
If you ever asked me in person to share my biggest dream, I'd probably tell you that I would like to reach the end of my life and see humanity more connected and forward-looking, to have an end to poverty, hunger, and inequality at least somewhere in sight, and to know that my actions played at least a small role in making that movement happen.
But if you asked me again, what's my biggest, craziest, most wild dream, I'd likely change my answer.
I'd tell you that I'd like to see humanity not only more connected and in tune with nature, but also exploring and stretching off planet Earth. I'd want to stand on planet Mars before I die and feel that humanity as a whole finally recognizes its precious potential.
I'd like to witness the beginnings of humanity-level cooperation taking place, pushing the human species forward together to eliminate silly things like poverty, hunger, and inequality so that we, as a species, can move on to bigger and more important things like exploring the universe, not just the universe around us, but also within us.
This is Star Trek type stuff, yes, but if you really asked me what my biggest, craziest dream was, that's what I'd honestly tell you. I'd like to know that I played a part in moving the human race forward, towards something that my intuition tells me we'll eventually arrive at anyway.
But you'd never guess any of that reading my writing or even communicating with me online. In fact, very few of my actions in life really reflect that level of thinking.
Because I gave up on that dream long ago. It was too unrealistic, too "out there". If I was going to use my potential for something great, why would I throw it at something so preposterous?
Following that thinking was always a series of justifications, a train of logical reasoning to back up the impossibility of that thinking:
"I'd need to become heavily involved in entrepreneurship and business and investing and money... I just don't like any of those enough to do something big with them."
"I'd probably need an engineering degree and that would be too much of a time commitment... I'm too old and my time is running out fast."
"If I failed to achieve my dream, I will have wasted my time and energy."
"If I fail, all my potential, my whole life, will have been for nothing."
"Nobody else is doing this kind of stuff -- or even attempting it -- so it must be unachievable and silly to even consider."
I've gone through this process more times than I can count -- throughout my whole life -- often justifying the process itself by telling myself that some dreams really are just too big, but that it's healthy to think about them anyway.
However something changed in the past year. Before I returned home from India last year, I won a chance to see one of the last Space Shuttle launches in Florida.
That experience led me to connect with a whole new circle of friends who were passionate about space and who lived with those futuristic dreams on their minds every single day.
Those events led to my learning about Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal who, with a real passion not focused on being entrepreneurial and making money but for making humanity a multi-planetary species, went on to found SpaceX, now the leading private space company in the world.
Yes! That's exactly what I should be doing! But (and here's where the fear and self-doubt steps in)...
"That's just not me..."
"Space exploration is so disconnected from the immediate humanitarian needs here on Earth that I really care about..."
"I can't possibly focus on addressing world poverty if I'm focused on getting people into space..."
"Elon Musk was rich and had tons of money to start with... I'd be starting with nothing and that would make it impossible..."
But Elon is moving the human race forward.
He's chasing his seemingly impossible dream because that's what he believes he should be doing. He's running his business the way he believes it should be run, telling employees and investors face-to-face that he and his business are not in it for the money but for the legacy of humanity.
In the past year I've connected with so many people who are fascinated with space and I've learned about people like Elon who are taking their dreams and pushing them forward.
All of this has rekindled within me the "impossible" dreams that I've held inside for so long. It's made me reconsider them and start asking myself questions about what I'm doing and why I'm here on Earth.
Why can't I become someone who builds businesses that determine their success not based on monetary profit but rather on the welfare of the human species as a whole?
A space company that addresses humanitarian needs? Why not? So what if nobody else has done it or if nobody thinks it would work.
Steve Jobs said, "stay hungry, stay foolish". Perhaps to really stay hungry we need to chase dreams that are unrealistic and seemingly impossible; perhaps to stay foolish we need to believe in dreams that seem a little crazy but that call to us, like a whisper from the future, asking us to do the impossible.
A caged bird unable to fly will go crazy and pluck its own feathers, leaving patches of skin naked and raw. Feather-plucking represents self-inflicted destruction in response to the stress of captivity and loneliness.
Like a captive bird, your dreams will commit ritual suicide if they're held hostage in a cage of reason and self-doubting routine. If held back from realizing their potential, your dreams will turn to cannibalism.
Don't let that happen. Lose yourself today. Free your wildest dreams from the cage that is your logical, must-be-serious subconscious. Give your dreams permission to leap into the abyss of potential. Give them permission to spread their wings and soar through the skies of possibility. Ask yourself, "What if?"
I had an interesting dream a few weeks ago but haven't had a chance to write about it until now (I jotted down the main points to remind of the details). I don't dream often, but when I do the dreams are vivid and full of detail.
I was somehow thrown into an alternate dimension where Earth's history had taken a different path (must have come from FMA!). When I came to, I found myself in a forest at the edge of a dirt road. Suddenly, I heard the sound of horses approaching and hid behind a thick bush. The horses were mounted by these creatures, wearing all black and sitting very ridged; very little movement. As they passed, I noticed blue lights on the side of their heads but couldn't figure out what they were (cyborgs perhaps?). I followed the road for a bit and it eventually lead to a tunnel in the side of a mountain. Just as I entered, I heard something behind me and before I could turn around, I felt a sharp pain on the back of my head.
When I woke up, my head hurt like hell. I looked around to find myself in a dimly lit prison-like room, with wet stone walls and big metal doors. I was a bit surprised to see a girl in the room with me (she looked very much like a girl that works at the register in the Whole Foods near my workplace). Apparently, she was the one who knocked me out. She explained the tunnel was crawling with guards and that she was trying to save me from being caught by them -- she seemed to know that I came from an alternate world. When I asked about the lack of technology she laughed and said there was tons of technology. She explained the blue lights I saw on the horsemen were from the bluetooth headsets they were wearing!
Then I woke up (for real) and realized that was a cool dream. So I went back to sleep to see if I could continue it...
The next thing I knew, I found myself in a giant mall. It looked a lot like today's malls except that it was the size of a small town. I was being chased by a group of government agents who knew I was from an alternate world and didn't want me to disrupt their control over the citizens. The girl who "saved" me in the tunnel was apparently part of a resistance of sorts. She was undercover and was trying to help me escape from the "men in black" (while maintaining her cover).
I found myself running up gigantic 5-story escalators, hiding inside random stores that seemed to always have a front and back entrance, avoiding random people in the mall who thought I was crazy, and looking for differences in technology between that world and my own (I couldn't find any differences!).
Then I woke up again and realized that imaginary dreams, no matter how adventurous, were still dreams and that real life work is more important.