One Day

Planning ahead, whether to the next week or the new year, always has me asking a familiar question: what do you want?

That's a question that propels me into the future, a place where it's easy to live, where there's endless potential and where anything is possible but nothing really happens, that place where we can pretend to make choices and pretend to know their consequences but experience the truth of neither.

Imaginary choices have no real consequences.

Life doesn't happen in the future. It happens here, today. Life is an adventure made one day at a time. How you spend your days is how you spend your life. The next week, the next month, the next quarter, and the next year are all made up of days.

What choices can I make today that will positively influence my future?

If that question propels you back into future-thinking, bring yourself back to the present by asking "What's next, right now?" The answer doesn't need to be perfect. It just needs to be good enough, for now.

What do you really want?

Unless you know what you want, you can't get it.

Want is the only prerequisite for getting what you want.

This may not feel true if you've ever gotten something without really wanting it, but here's the thing: you got it because somebody else wanted it for you.

What do you want so badly that you're willing to suffer for it?

You're going to suffer in life one way or another, so you may as well be suffering for something that feels worth it.

What are you willing to sacrifice precious time to obtain or achieve?

This life doesn't start over. Time goes in one direction. You might get another chance in another life, but this chance happens only once.

So what do you want? It doesn't need to be a grand thing. It doesn't need to be a world-changing thing. It only needs to be something that you really want, something that's meaningful enough to change your life in a positive way.

It's okay to be selfish with this step because if it's something that's truly good for you it will be truly good for others too—nothing ever only affects you.

Be specific. Write it down. Start small, but start. Take it seriously. It doesn't need to be perfect, but it does need to be specific.

If you want everything, you'll get nothing. If you want nothing, you'll get what everybody else wants for you. But if you learn to start with something, if you learn to be specific, if you learn to achieve clarity around whatever it is that you really want, then you can get anything.

Start by moving towards something. The journey, no matter how short, will expose you to new perspectives that will reveal bigger and better things.

But you won't even see what you can get until you start moving, until you decide and clarify what you really want, right now.

The Big Picture

Its been a while since my last update to this journal. The monthly payment notifications that I receive from subscribers like you feel to me like little nudges, reminders that I haven't published anything in some time. I apologize for not keeping you as updated as I should be.

My life priorities have shifted a lot since the birth of my daughter, who, at three months old yesterday, is at this moment bundled in a soft pink blanket sound asleep in my left arm, my iPhone in my right hand typing this in between glancing out the airplane window at the Earth far below. We're somewhere over Delaware right now, en route back to Boston after spending two weeks in Florida. She has done amazingly well with flying and hasn’t cried at all. In fact, she does better flying than she does driving. Maybe it has something to do with how she flew fourteen times before she was born.

I say that my priorities have shifted, but maybe that's not true. I feel the weight of responsibility in my life has shifted dramatically, yes--suddenly it's no longer just me that I need to think about--but I still have the same personal goals and ambitions as I did before Ananda was born. I still want to write and publish. I still want to find a way to contribute to humanity. I still want to travel. I still want go to Mars.

Sure, I have family responsibilities now--father and spousal responsibilities--but everything else is still there, everything else is pretty much the same. None of it is number one of course, but it's not all irrelevant or unimportant either.

In many ways what has been the biggest challenge for me is finding a way to continue pursuing my personal goals--or for that matter, just finding the focus to work on something--while having someone else in my life to whom I am a father, someone who depends on me and who will, over the course of her life, look to me for wisdom, support, attention, and love.

I'm a big picture thinker. I’m always considering the long-term implications of a decision or an action, but since the day I learned that I was going to be a dad I've felt the need to stay away from the big picture, to not worry so much about the future. It feels too big now, too complex and blurry.

Yes, my decisions and choices will directly affect Ananda as she grows into her own person, but she will be her own person, someone who will make her own choices and blaze a path through life that is uniquely her own. I feel the best thing that I can do for her as a father is to provide her with what I feel are the best tools for trail blazing and to be there for her when she needs me, to be present when I’m present.

It's her future, not mine. It's her big picture and I'm just the lucky dad who gets to make sure that she has the best tools with which to create her life.

Raam and Ananda

To Fly When We Were Born to Walk

[Photo] Airplane at sunset, landing in Cairns International Airport, as seen from Yorkey's Knob Beach, QLD, Australia.

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.

Notes: The Laziness Paradox

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.

Notes: How to engage in lifestyle design

Vic Phillips invited me to contribute to a post he was putting together called '20 Ways to Engage in DIY Health and Lifestyle Change – Advice from Digital Thinkers'. I'm including my contribution below, but please check out the full post for lots of other great advice.

If you desire lifestyle change, envision what your life would look like today if you were already living that change. Instead of working from the outside in — instead of thinking about how much your current lifestyle needs to change to get where you want to be — work from the inside out. What would the changed you do today? How would that person act, think, and behave?

Imagine your entire life instantly transformed, all your ambitions, goals, and dreams fully realized. What might you then consider important? How would that person look back at the you of today and what advice might you offer yourself? Now using that perspective, ask yourself what you can do today to step towards that lifestyle. You might discover that what previously felt like insurmountable challenges suddenly feels almost trivial.

Following Through

In martial arts, instructors teach us to punch and kick through our target. Instead of aiming for the bullseye on the kicking pad, we're told to aim for the area six inches behind it so that when our fist or foot comes into contact with the pad, we won't slow down or hold back our strength.

This lesson is especially important when learning to break bricks. If we don't drive through the area that appears to be the stopping point, the bricks won't break; our fist will.

In life, we need to aim for something beyond the stopping point of death. We need to aim for targets and goals that we cannot actually realize within our lifetimes but which through aiming for will ensure that our potential is fully realized.

If we go through life undervaluing our potential and holding back, our life will be filled with waypoints of disappointment and a sense of loss will accompany the passing of each easily achievable goal as we release it to continue moving forward.

If instead we set goals with the understanding that we're capable of so much more, then our short-term goals will feel more like meaningful steps along the path and the achievement of those goals will come with a sense of joy, fulfillment, and anticipation for what comes next.

Death is an easy target. It's a focus point that we can all assume we're headed towards, whether we aim for it or not. But that's no excuse for undervaluing our potential, setting short-sighted goals, or passing the buck to the next generation. Life shouldn't stop short of death, it should follow through it.

Envisioning the Future

When Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned a future America where the color of his skin didn't determine his rights as a citizen and as a human being, he couldn't see the path between that point in history and the election of a black president. But did that stop him?

When Mahatma Gandhi envisioned a future where India was free and independent, he couldn't see the path between that point in history and a free country with the largest democracy in the world. But did that stop him?

When Nelson Mandela envisioned a future South Africa with a multi-racial democracy, he couldn't see the path between the 27 years he spent in prison and the day he became elected president of that country. But did that stop him? Continue reading

2011 Annual Cultivation: Year of Nurturing

Photo: Corn Fields in Balche, Nepal

I was originally going to call this post the 2011 Annual Planning, but then I realized that doesn't make sense. How can I plan for something that I know nothing about?

Like an empty field awaiting cultivation, this year holds lots of potential but needs to be tilled and planted before it will grow.

So instead of creating a plan, I asked myself what kind of field I wanted to see at the end of the year. What kind of life do I want to be living one year from now?

By the end of 2011, I want my life to reflect the following:

  • Financial freedom; shifting focus to growth
  • A strong global network of friends; deeper connections
  • Travel planning based on charitable opportunities instead of available funds
  • Lots of hiking experience; familiar with search & rescue, first aid
  • Comfortable with my health and fitness level; maintenance mode

The next thing I asked myself was how can I cultivate this year in such a way that the seeds of change I plant are given the best opportunity to grow? How do I need to live my life in 2011 so that I'm more prepared for 2012?

With those questions in mind, I came up with several seeds to nurture this year: Continue reading

Navigating the Annual Review

Cargo Boat in San Francisco, CA

A ship's captain doesn't spend time staring at the ocean behind him; where the ship is going is a lot more important than where its been. If the captain is preoccupied with what's behind him, he won't see the obstacles ahead in time to change course.

But that doesn't mean he ignores where he has been. He keeps his focus on what's ahead but also maintains the ship's log and refers to it when he needs to look back.

Annual reviews work much the same way. We shouldn't dwell on our prior failures and successes in life but we should keep a running log of where we've been.

By recording our goals and then reviewing what happened, we gain valuable insight into how we respond to changing conditions of life. Every year we get a little better at navigating the ocean of existence and adjusting our course for the future. Continue reading

Carrying the Weight

Summit of Mt. Monadnock

It was below freezing and I was sweating profusely. A light snow dusted the ground, hiding small patches of ice that littered the rocky trail and made each step questionable.

It wasn't supposed to be a tough hike, but the weather, the extra clothing, and the weight on my back were all adding to the challenge.

I generally hike alone and for a short trek like this one I wouldn't have brought a backpack. However, a friend came along this time and insisted that one of us bring a bag for food, water, and extra warm gear.

I always prefer a challenge so I asked to be the one to carry the bag. But halfway up the trail, sweating, and out of breath, I suffocated my ego and handed the bag over to my friend.

Without the bag, my body felt so light. I began hopping from rock to rock, practically running up the mountain without so much as an elevated heart rate.

The freedom was exhilarating.

And then I landed on a patch of ice and almost slipped. Continue reading

Starting the Journey to Ithaca

Boat on the Beach in Gokarna, India

In the past six months I have lived in four countries and called more than twenty-six places home. I've traveled more than twenty-five thousand miles using cars, buses, jeeps, trains, airplanes, rickshaws, taxis, motorcycles, and my own two feet.

I've gotten lost walking at night in Bombay. I've watched thousands of giant bats descend on the great city of Udaipur. I've walked through clouds, surrounded by fields of corn and I've climbed ten-thousand feet into the Himalayan mountains, covered in sweat, sand, and sunburns.

Sitting down to write a summary of the most incredible six months of my life, I found myself faced with the task of telling a story of epic proportions, one that felt on par with the Lord of the Rings and The Odyssey. I considered limiting it to the story of my inner journey, but then I realized that was even more grand than the physical one.

As I reminisced and pondered what to write, my journey reminded me of these words by the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy, written almost exactly one-hundred years ago: Continue reading

Why You Matter The Most

Sunset over Lake Pokhara

For days after returning to Pokhara, my stomach was upset and my body refused everything I fed it. My head was on cloud nine and my body was endlessly tired. My inner energies were dissipated and my life felt out of whack.

Any attempt to reply to emails, work on writing, catch up with social media, or even explore the city, was met with solid mental and physical resistance. All I could focus on was eating healthy and resting until my health improved.

I could have struggled. I could have sucked it up and battled through it. I could have ignored the fact that my temple was in need of repair and instead focused on work. I could have ignored my own needs and told myself that I needed to sacrifice.

But what good would that have done? How would being selfish towards myself help me in my quest to help others?

The words "be the change you wish to see in the world" are easy to say, but the danger behind the simplicity of those words is that changing ourselves is not an easy task. It's a complex and oftentimes difficult endeavor. In fact, it can be so difficult that neglecting ourselves and choosing to help others is often the easier option! Continue reading

Keeping an Eye on the Bigger Picture

Family Billboard in Vietnam

My bladder was about to burst.

Just a few more minutes, two more pages and I'll stop and run to the restroom.

OK, back to work. I'm on a roll. No time for lunch today.

And so went the three weeks that I spent putting together my first ebook. When it comes down to it I can be very stubborn, even obsessive. It's a quality I struggle to put to good use, but when it finds good use it's amazing what gets done.

The staff at the cafe knew me by name -- some of them even have my phone number. When I arrived, they knew what I would order and where I would sit. Sometimes they would inquire as to what I was working on. Sometimes they would leave me notes telling me how impressed they were by my diligence.

When the cafe closed at ten, I would walk back to my hotel room, past the crowds of drunken tourists who were loudly making their way into one of several clubs, where even louder music was blaring, filling the streets of Kathmandu with sounds that didn't quite fit with my idea of rugged and romantic Nepal -- a country at the top of the world, home to the tallest mountains on the planet.

I would plug in my laptop, lay down on the bed, and continue working until two in the morning, wrestling with unreliable WiFi and the occasional power outage while the sound of monsoon rains trickled in through my window. Five hours later I would wake up and repeat the entire process again. Continue reading

What is Your Life Gravity?

Gravity in Action

At least in this dimension, everything relies on gravity. Even the creatures that have learned to cheat gravity by flying still require a place to set down; a place to feed, reproduce, relax, and recharge.

Breaking through our own preconceived limitations and discovering new heights is vital to growth, but to perch on our newly discovered ledge and reassess our new position, we still need gravity -- we still need a link to Earth.

Our life gravity can come in many different forms. It could be a vision or a mission. It could be the welfare and happiness of our family, a set of specific goals, or even the advancement of a career. It could be a set of core values or principles on which we base all our decisions. Continue reading

One Year Without Black Coffee

I love coffee.

I drink it black. No cream. No sugar. Ever.

It has been extremely tough to quit but today marks the one year anniversary since I went cold turkey on black coffee.

One year ago today, I stopped drinking it. Not caffeine, but black coffee. I didn't eliminate caffeine -- that wasn't the goal -- just black coffee. I still allowed myself expresso as long as it was diluted in something other than water. (Since I'm vegan, that only left soy milk.)

At first I switched to tea. Then I experimented with soy lattes (an espresso diluted in steamed soy milk). Eventually, I removed all sources of high caffeine.

Now I drink water, tea, and the occasional Earl Grey Soy Misto (Earl Grey tea with steamed soy milk).

I no longer wake up in the morning feeling the need to power myself by ingesting a foreign substance. Continue reading

Goals for 2010

For the past few years I have compiled a list of "New Year's Resolutions" to work towards. While there is nothing wrong with having resolutions and working towards them, I feel that I'm outgrowing them. A resolution is defined as "a firm decision to do or not to do something" whereas a goal is "an aim or desired result". Having an aim and achieving a specific result is becoming more and more important to me than just checking things off a list.

This year I'm taking "resolutions" to the next level. Borrowing a system from Chris Guillebeau, I've defined several goals by category -- Lifestyle, Health, Learning, Writing, Blogging, Financial, Travel, and Business -- and, using a spreadsheet, I will keep track of progress throughout the year.

What follows are several (but not all) categories from my annual review spreadsheet. I intend to review all of the goals in each category at the end of each quarter (April 1st, July 1st, October 1st). This will allow me to see which goals I need to reevaluate and which I need to focus more on to make progress.
Continue reading

Possessions: The Closing of a Chapter

A chapter of my life is coming to a close. It's been a chapter of personal discovery and new awareness, of material possessions and excessiveness; it's been a chapter of alternate paths and of decision making, of introspection and stepping out of comfort zones.

In the past decade, I've gone through living in over a dozen different places, including tiny attics, basements, offices, studios, and entire floors of houses. I've spent outrageous money for rent ($950/mo for a 450sqft studio), utilities ($500 heat bills), and other bills (cable, broadband, etc), all in the name of independence.

I've owned lots of stuff. For the first seven years of having a drivers license, I had a different car each year. For six years I was a landlord with three multi-family houses. I took care of all the property maintenance myself which meant owning lots of different tools. I had several TVs, various computers, gym equipment, a kayak, mountain bike, and the list goes on. To make things worse, the plentiful storage space provided by the properties easily masked the volume of "stuff" I owned. I feel as though I've had nearly everything material that I could have wanted. Oh, and I slaved away to afford the stuff, sometimes working 60 - 80 hours a week, sometimes working three jobs.

But why? The lifestyle I've always wanted to live can best be described as that of a nomad; someone who travels from place to place with no permanent residence (or at least can travel). Such a person wouldn't own very much. They wouldn't own a house, a car, a desktop computer, or a TV. They would only own what they can carry with them. Living such a lifestyle would allow me to freely move around and spend more time exploring and learning things of interest. Less time would be spent trying to pay expenses and care for material possessions (storage, maintenance, etc.).

I've always wondered what the purpose of life was and the reason for my existence. If you asked my dad, he would tell you that I was asking those questions when I was five years old. While my dad always seemed to have answers to my questions, they never satisfied me (which my dad agrees is a good thing). I believe we each need to find our own purpose and blaze our own trail through life. No one can give us a map or an instruction manual (and if they try, beware!).

Earlier this year I came to the conclusion that finding my purpose would be much easier if I had less material stuff cluttering and clouding my world. At the very least, having less stuff would give me more freedom and less to worry about (a feeling I got a taste of when my three houses were foreclosed on and I no longer had to worry about maintaining them).

So I've decided to change my lifestyle and transition to a more nomadic one. I've begun selling or giving away all my remaining possessions, a process that will continue for the next few months. I've found a cheap room to rent that's close to work and I'm living with roommates for the first time in my life, something my highly individualistic personality has always been opposed to. My end-of-the-year goal is to be living with only the stuff I can carry on my back. Even my pickup truck will eventually go (that will be the last page in this closing chapter).

The direction I'm headed in the next chapter is almost exactly where I envisioned myself being in ten years nearly a decade ago (perhaps even longer). But none of it was planned. Everything just sort of fell into place, the same way the tires on your car propel you forward without you fully understanding exactly how pressure from your foot translates into moving several tons of metal. It's a strange feeling; to know you always had an idea of where you wanted to be and somehow, through all the possible things that could have happened, you're ending up there.

There were so many decisions I made that ended up not working out for one reason or another (investments, relationships, business plans, etc.), and those unexpectedly resulted in my life being pushed closer and closer to the path I'm now on. Even though I never knew how it would happen, I also never lost sight of the direction I wanted my life to go. Now I can clearly see myself headed there. 🙂

Going Cold Turkey on all Liquids Except Water and Tea

A few months ago when I went cold turkey on coffee, my goal was not to eliminate caffeine altogether, just black coffee. Many people who learned of my quitting coffee were confused when they saw me drinking a soy latte (which contains expresso), so I had to explain to them the difference between black coffee and coffee diluted in soy milk. As much a I love coffee (yes, love, not loved; I still love coffee!), I have suppressed all the urges (as ridiculously strong as they may have been) and my mouth has not seen a single cup of black coffee in over four months!

Although I did not quit black coffee to eliminate all caffeine from my diet, the negative side effects of high caffeine consumption that I was experiencing from drinking lots of black coffee was my main motivation. However, the past few weeks I have unconsciously been increasing the number of lattes I drink, thereby increasing my caffeine intake, increasing the negative side effects that I originally quit black coffee to avoid, and decreasing the money in my wallet.

So today I decided I'm going cold turkey on all liquids except water and tea (and possibly soy milk for protein shakes), until at least the end of the year. I really need to escape this caffeine addiction (yes, it's addiction, no matter how much I don't want to admit it). It's ridiculous, unnecessary, and costing me way too much money. I quit black coffee, so this should be easy.