What's a 'meaningful project'? A meaningful project is a project free of ulterior motive that empowers people more than it distracts them.
Sui Solitaire recently released Kindness Sprouts, a collaborative ebook of kindness and self-care. (She's generously giving all proceeds directly to charity.)
Sui invited me to contribute to the project and asked me to answer the following question, How do you show yourself kindness? This was my response:
I show myself kindness by having the courage to eliminate things from my life that are causing me distress and dissatisfaction. I spent many years feeling caged by my job and caged by my lifestyle. I pushed off doing what I knew needed to be done and sacrificed my own happiness, and for what? For the satisfaction and comfort of everyone else? To conform to what others thought was the best thing for me?
I began showing myself kindness when I started listening to and caring about what my heart and soul were telling me. I began showing myself kindness when I found the courage to be brave and challenge what others expected of me.
When I gained the confidence to believe in my own dreams and stand up to the expectations of others, I discovered that I also needed to learn how to stand up to my own self-imposed expectations. I love technology and I spend many hours of the day working at the computer. When I find myself getting agitated with how much time I've spent in front of the screen, I don't let myself justify the discomfort by saying “that's just what I do.” Instead of being unkind to myself, I walk outside, put my hand on the trunk of a big tree, look up at its outstretched arms, and allow myself to reconnect with mother nature; I allow myself to really feel one with the universe. I'm immediately reminded that being kind to myself is being kind to the world.
Interestingly, ever since writing this for Sui's project I've been going out of my way each morning to spend time in the forest. I drive about twenty minutes to the local state forest and just walk, usually for at least an hour, with my phone turned off and my mind open. My day feels more complete when I start it walking in the forest.
Evita Ochel interviewed me for her Evolving Beings in Action series several months ago. Recently, she published an excellent ebook, Evolving Beings: This is Your Year, in which she curates bits of wisdom from 52 evolving beings. I'm including my contribution below.
I was sitting at my desk looking out the window at the Boston skyline when a bird flew past and soared off into the distance. I stopped what I was doing and let my eyes and my thoughts follow him. Was this it? Was the rest of my life going to be a repeat of yesterday? Was I going to spend the remainder of my time on Earth playing it safe and making choices based on what society thought was best?
The thought of that spark dying inside scared me to death. Not doing anything at all became more risky than risking it all. Later that evening I wrote an email to my boss and told him I was leaving in two months. I proceeded to sell everything I owned and, inspired by many who shared online their stories of nomadic travel, I formulated a rough plan to spend six months traveling through India, Vietnam, and Nepal with all my possessions on my back in a small 32L backpack.
I didn't have a lot of money to spend (I lost the three rental properties to the sub-prime mortgage crisis in 2007 and filed for bankruptcy the following year), so I budgeted $3,000 for the entire trip. I had no idea how much traveling on a budget would affect the way this journey changed me. The small budget forced me to stay outside of the big cities and living close to the locals opened my eyes to the inequality, the poverty, and the sheer contrast in reality. The misplaced priorities of many of those living in developed countries, including myself, became blindingly obvious.
While I was buying houses, surfing the Internet, and fixing computers, entire families were dying of hunger and living on sidewalks. Children were scrounging for water and sitting in piles of trash. And not just a few people either, but nearly a billion people!
Yet despite all this, most of the people seemed happy. They seemed grateful to just be alive. Their possessions represented necessity, not fluff for simple pleasures, or junk for impulsive wants. Stuff in their lives had meaning and purpose.
It became incredibly apparent to me that in terms of stuff, I needed very little to live a happy and fulfilled life. Things were simply a distraction from what was real and my ability to make a difference in the world was severely limited by how much physical, emotional, and spiritual baggage I held onto.
I have committed to living a frugal, minimalistic lifestyle in all realms: physical, emotional, and spiritual and the freedom this enables allows me to explore all areas of my life with an open mind, an open heart, and an open soul.
Wisdom I Share With You
- Recognize your completeness and the utter beauty that surrounds you and exists within you. Search for the lesson in each situation and donʼt allow fear or pressure from the status quo to enslave your life.
- Find peace and contentment within each moment and be grateful for everything and everyone: we are all connected and each person contributes to supporting the existence of everyone else.
- Free yourself of attachment to things and learn to recognize universal truths. The most valuable things in the world cannot be bought or sold and you already possess everything you need to obtain them. Ask how you can do more with less.
- Look forward, look far into your future, not to create plans or set goals but to anticipate how you will wish you had spent your time. When you die, how do you want the world to look different than today? Is there something that you want to change more than anything else? Go do that. Search for the first step that leads in that direction and then start walking. Ask how your choices affect others and accept responsibility for making the best choice.
- It's easy to get distracted and weighed down by time, but it can either be your friend or your enemy. Time can either be a vessel for change and exploration or a prison for a stagnant and lifeless existence. The choice is yours and the responsibility to do something meaningful with your life is also yours.
My highlights from Joel Runyon's Impossible Manifesto:
Some time between our teenage years and adulthood, people strip away the possibilities from us. We're told what we can do and what we can't do. What's possible and what's not.
We're made to believe what we should do and what's simply irresponsible. Somewhere along the line, we forget that we control a lot of things.
It's your life. You get to decide what happens. There are a million different influences around you every day trying to get you to buy into what you "should" do, but ultimately you really can do whatever you want.
You get to write your story.
Are you telling a good story with your life? The emphasis is on the word "good", because whether you like it or not, you're telling a story. No matter what you do, with each decision you make, you're writing your story every day.
Whether your story is an adventure-filled page-turner or more boring than a 50-year-old-textbook is up to you. But, you get to decide.
When you want something, make sure you want something worthwhile.
Because eventually you are going to have to fight for it.
And it better be worth it.
Wanting to live vicariously through others takes relatively little effort. You can sit back and watch TV or scan the Internet, reading about people doing interesting things with the click of a button. But, because there's little effort involved, there's little conflict.
There's also little reward and little meaning.
The more worthwhile the cause, the more Impossible it tends to be. The more Impossible something tends to be, the more conflict the character invites in. But the more conflict the character invites in, the larger the story arc becomes and the more potential it has to suck you in because it's so compelling.
Living a good story is an amazing reward by itself.
Even if nobody knows what you're doing, you're enriching your life by immersing it in a story. Instead of having arbitrary goals and accomplishments, by living a great story, you create narrative for them. A context. A purpose.
Instead of just crossing stuff off a list, you're experiencing a story. You're living an adventure. One that's worth writing about.
One that's definitely worth living.
The really great stories are about pushing the limits and seeing what is possible. Not stopping ahead of time because the challenges seem too great, but rather pushing forward exactly BECAUSE they seem so daunting. You see a massive conflict ahead, but realize that victory is just going to be that that much sweeter.
When you start to challenge what's Impossible you begin to realize a whole new world of things that aren't actually Impossible. They only represent the limitations of other people's imaginations.
Once you've shot through the limits that are placed on you by other people, you begin to realize that there are still things beyond your limits that now seem within reach. So you keep going and going and keep discovering new so-called "Impossible things" that are now somehow doable.
Every time you challenge the Impossible, you gain a new understanding of what is actually possible.
You realize how small a world you had created for yourself with your own self-imposed limitations in the past. And how big of a future is possible. Pretty soon, even the most ridiculous things in the world don't seem out of reach if you really want to achieve them.
It's hard to imagine owning your own business when you're stuck working at UPS getting chased by dogs in the snow. It's hard to imagine running a marathon when you can barely jog a mile without heaving up a lung. It's hard to imagine traveling the world when you haven't even been out of the state.
You have to gain perspective.
It's hard to make huge jumps sometimes and imagine yourself in a completely different world living a completely different life than you are now. But that's because of your perspective. Your current perspective colors your subjective version of reality.
Push the boundaries of Impossible and you'll see that it expands. Keep pushing and you'll see that your subjective version or what's possible isn't as accurate as you think it is. The boundaries of the Impossible are constantly expanding. So keep pushing them.
Do something. I said this earlier but it bears repeating. The easiest way to confuse the feelings of accomplishment with the feelings of inspiration is to forget what accomplishment feels like. If you've accomplished something recently and remember what it feels like, the lure of watching someone else do something isn't nearly as attractive.
No one will live your life story for you. No one will make your life one worth reading about for you. No one will challenge what's possible with your life for you.
No one that is...except for you.
Chances are, you probably already know what you need to do. That thing you have in the back of your mind. That thing that gets you excited about life. That thing that keeps you up at night, but you're scared to try because everything might fall apart. That's the thing you need to do most.
The need for courage
The great myth of fear is that you overcome it. Fear isn't a barrier and it isn't something that you overcome. It's simply a constant.
You don't learn to get over fear. You learn to coexist with it and press on anyways, in the midst of it's presence.
That's why you need courage.
Courage allows you to look fear dead in the eye and tell fear to suck it.
People who do great things don't have an absence of fear. They have an abundance of courage, which allows them to do the Impossible, in spite of the fact that they're scared out of their mind.
It isn't all about you. Lots of people have lived great stories, but the ones that have the most impact are the ones where the authors look back to see how they can help other people tell great stories as well.
You can download the full manifesto for free over here: Impossible Manifesto.
Craig Mod writes about his experience working in Silicon Valley and riding his bike through Steve Jobs' neighborhood:
As I’ve written previously, Silicon Valley is where the gods very much eat yogurt with mortals. And Steve was no exception. His house has no visible security, no gate. It is modest. Nestled in a very tony neighborhood. But not so tony as to exclude three enterprising rag-tag entrepreneurs from also living here. The blinds are almost always open (as most tend to be in Old Palo Alto). TVs flicker at night. Lights go on and off. There is no mystery. Humans live there, certainly.
Time and time again, I found myself biking past Steve’s house — simply by the nature of it being on my path home. And time and time again I found myself drawing tremendous inspiration from the hyper-reality of his presence.
I’ve always felt — the quicker you can kill a dream by making it real, the quicker you see bigger, more important dreams once blocked by the first. The same goes for celebrity: the deconstruction of celebrity removes excuses. With mystery, and thereby celebrity gone, so also goes the pedestal. Their achievements can be more easily assessed at human scale.
A few months ago while living in California, I was working on my laptop outside a cafe when an older man walked by and remarked on my Apple laptop. We started chatting and come to find out, he helped invent some of the technology in the very laptop I was using. He also played a part in the invention and development of technologies like the mouse and the printer.
That short interaction reminded me just how human all these people are, from famous inventors to presidents to movie stars. All of them are just like me, perhaps on a different path in life, yes, but still human. Their achievements are not out of reach. They're not gods. They're human.
A middle-aged man struggled to slide the heavy door open and behind him a line of people were piling up, waiting to get onto the train. He hauled the door open and stepped through, passing the job of holding the door onto the person behind him: a young lady chatting on her phone. The young lady passed the job onto an elderly man, who passed it onto a middle-aged woman, who passed it onto a young man.
The train door was designed to close itself, but if pushed just a little further the door would catch on a latch and stay open. All of the people getting on the train were regular commuters and I was certain they knew how the door worked, so I was puzzled that nobody put in the extra effort.
That's when I saw a young man in his late twenties come through the door. Instead of holding it for the person behind him, he pushed the door just a little further and propped it open.
As dozens of people walked in, I realized that although they were all oblivious to what the young man had done, his extra effort was still having an affect on each and every one of them. It was the gift that kept on giving, a generator for good karma.
When you lend a helping hand, aim to do more than hold the door: prop it open. When you do your work or create your art, do more than enough. Those who follow may not notice your extra effort, but like a magic pot of gold that keeps on giving, the fruits of your labor will be magnified by each person that your work empowers.