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.

Breathe Life Into This Moment

It doesn't matter how much you love what has passed. It doesn't matter how perfect this moment is or how much you want to hold on to it. It's gone. Everything that has been, is gone. Everything that will be, is gone. All that remains, for an impossibly brief and ever-fleeting moment, is now, empty, pure, full of potential, a pile of dry kindling awaiting a spark of inspiration.

There is no permanence in anything but change, but change, like fire, must be fed with the breath of life.

So accept each and every moment as a golden opportunity, a moment that you've been given, a chance to do anything you want, or, if you so choose, a chance to sit idly by, daydreaming about what has been or what could be, losing yourself, and that moment, in exchange for absolutely nothing, a dull lifeless stare at a dull, cold, and lifeless pile of kindling, sacrificing precious moment after precious moment, never to see them again, until one day you arrive at the end and look back, upon this frozen and unchangeable wasteland of unused potential, missed, neglected, lost.

So open your heart and open your mind. Breathe life into this moment. The future awaits your hand in its creation, right here, right now.

Look not backward with nostalgic sadness into the frozen sea of changelessness, but forward with blissful gratitude into the warm arms of unwritten possibility.

Forge Action

There seemed to be some misunderstanding around the message in my previous essay, You are not what you read. My point was that we need to forge action.

In this age of information overload, our cup of life is overflowing. Yet we continue pouring stuff into it, hoping for better answers, greater inspiration, and more clear ideas, waiting for the perfect opportunity to get started.

We read, watch, connect, and communicate with an endless number of things while quietly misleading ourselves into believing that these activities are a form of productive action.

They're not productive. They're just an excuse for not practicing.

Action makes stuff happen. Action is the fire, not the firewood. Action is the growth of a tree and the budding of a flower, not the soil or the nutrients. 

Action is the wind, not the high and low pressure systems that create it. Action is the crashing of a wave, not the water that makes it. 

Action is the marathoner breaking a sweat, not the marathon being run. Action is the writing of history, not the memory of history itself. 

Action is practicing what you preach, not the preaching of what you practice.

You won't find action in books or ideas or even in the wisdom of a teacher. You won't find action in your thoughts or your visions or even in your experiences. You won't find action in these words.

Action is the seed of change stirring within you, coaxed to life by the nutrients that encourage its growth. These nutrients contribute to the realization of action.

Ideas give action hope.

Vision gives action direction.

Intention gives action focus.

Inspiration gives action strength.  

Thoughts give action structure.

Experience gives action validation.

All contribute to the instigation of action, but they are not action. Thoughts, ideas, inspiration, experience, vision, and intention mean nothing if they're not focused towards action.

You can sit in a cubicle all day reading about stuff that inspires you, but unless you follow through with action and spread the roots of change -- unless you break a sweat on that new fitness goal or make that decision you've been putting off -- nothing is actually going to happen.

Water remains still and motionless without action. Fire stays dormant, flowers don't bloom, trees don't grow, and wind doesn't even exist. Time forces your life into action by aging your body, but that's all it does. The rest of life is up to you.

And this action part? It takes time. It takes commitment. It takes dedication and focus. It requires sacrificing some of that other feel-good nutritional stuff while you're busy cultivating action. 

If you wish to explore your full potential, you cannot consume and create at the same level. You cannot read everything, watch everything, and meet everyone that requests your attention, no matter how inspirational the content or how wise or experienced the person.

As Bruce Lee said, "empty your cup so that it may be filled; become devoid to gain totality." If our cup is always overflowing, we cannot take the time to cultivate something meaningful with its contents.

We can pour and pour and pour and tell ourselves that we're taking action, but until we stop pouring and apply ourselves, nothing will happen; all that potential will overflow and evaporate.

The here and now is the realm of action; the past and the future are sterile environments where action cannot breathe life. Instead of doing stuff, just do. Instead of trying to be someone, just be.

Instead of cultivating, cultivate.

Instead of living, live.

Forge action.

Notes: Deconstructing Celebrity and Accessing the Human Scale

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.

Losing Focus Through Association

Where is my focus? Am I focusing on the right thing? Am I putting too much effort in the wrong direction? Am I inadvertently stunting my growth?

These are questions I ask myself quite frequently. I'm not sure when I started asking these questions or even why, but I do know that asking them often leads to recognizing areas of my life where I'm stagnating or where I'm otherwise unconsciously holding myself back or underutilizing my potential (or simply walking in the wrong direction).

The world is full of people who want to tell us how to do things. And I don't think that's bad. I don't think they're doing it with malicious intent: sharing what we know is an innate human quality. I also don't think it's bad to listen to what others have to say: I've grown so much in my life thanks to the advice and experiences shared by others.

But I think there's a danger in following too closely, in listening too intently, in modeling our life too closely around the lives of others. We lose a bit of ourselves through association. If we permanently associate with anything but our true selves, we will easily forget why we're doing things we're doing. We will lose sight of what feels innately important to us.

To really get at the core of what matters, to really focus our energy on growing in the right directions, we need to strip away everything, all the labels, the assumptions, the role models, and the beliefs. 

Who am I? 

When I strip away everything, I just am. And when I approach life from that state, I become a paint brush and everything else becomes the paint. There are no labels, no genres, no niches, no must-haves and have-nots. There are no limitations, no restrictions, no "this is who I am" or "this is who I am not". There just is, and pure potential.

The Potential to Cultivate

An oak tree may produce thousands of acorns before a single seed finds fertile soil. It may live for two hundred years producing acorns and waiting for random chance to carry one seed to germination.

Each acorn contains the potential of an entire oak tree along with thousands of more acorns. All that's missing from each acorn is an intelligent force of cultivation.

We possess the gift of cultivation. We possess the ability to plant a single seed with intention, tilling its soil and carefully nurturing it to maturity.

This is our human gift, the gift of cultivation. When we plant seeds, how much isn't nearly as important as the focus of our intent.

It's not how hard we work, but rather how our work helps others.

It's not how much money we make, but rather how that money is spent.

It's not the length of our exercise routine, but rather the intensity of each exercise.

It's not the volume of our experiences, but rather what we learn from each one.

It's not how many words we publish, but rather the intent behind those words.

It's not how much time we have, but rather what we do with each moment.

Increasing volume will not increase our potential to cultivate. We don't need to wait for chance to plant roots and grow; our goals and dreams will spout when they're cultivated. Focus on the quality and cultivation of each action and leave volume to the trees.

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.

Heart Growth

Trees do not grow by greedily snatching the rain from the sky. Instead they cradle each drop, patiently ushering them one by one to the earth below. Only after filtering through the soil and collecting nutrients does the water get absorbed by the roots, carried back up through the trunk, and finally pushed out to the very same leaves and buds it passed on the way down.

Without firmly planted roots and strong trunk, the life-giving potential of the water would be dispersed, misguided, and lost in a splash of confusion. Our individual growth is no different. The wisdom of our teachers -- the inspirational leaders, fearless explorers, and great writers who inspire and motivate -- will only help us grow if we choose to digest their wisdom through our core, channeling and guiding their wisdom through our essence.

When we grow and reach for the stars, we need to grow and reach from that place deep inside, that place where the very essence of our existence illuminates the path ahead. Real growth does not originate from grabbing wisdom and slapping on inspiration but rather through digesting, filtering, and absorbing the nutrients of wisdom through our heart.