How I've Been Sweating the Little Things

I tell myself that I don’t sweat the little things, that I’m really good at letting things go, but if I’m frank with myself and I take a hard look at the evidence, it’s clear that I do hold on to lots of little things. Many small, rather insignificant things that prevent me from growing and moving forward.

I came across a column article called How We Get Better, written by Steven Pressfield. Steven tells the story of his friend Paul who recently had a writing breakthrough and accidentally discovered his writing voice.

Steven explains how we get better by sharing the observations he made of his friend’s breakthrough. The observation that I found most interesting was number four: “This new voice was not the ‘real’ Paul; it was the artistic Paul.”

When I read any of my old writing, especially the writing that I feel is good, it never sounds like me. It’s as if there was someone else writing it. Was it because I was writing with my artistic voice and not my normal voice (i.e., the voice that I identify with)?

And if there was an artistic voice within me, what was holding it back when I wanted to write? Where was the resistance coming from?

Intrigued, I started scanning my collection of old unpublished drafts. I don’t know why I started there, but intuitively something told me that’s where I should go next, so I listened.

Within a few seconds I came across something that I had written nearly two years ago about not sweating the little things. The draft included two incomplete stories of events that caused me to start writing the draft.

While the stories were incomplete, I immediately remembered the events in great detail and recalled the importance and impact of their lessons.

In both events I had run into situations that seemed impassable. There seemed to be no possible resolution that did not come with repercussions.

But instead of stressing out, worrying, and taking premature action, I took a deep breath and released the situation to the universe.

Almost immediately the situation changed in ways that I never thought possible and both problems were resolved, like a magical missing piece to a jigsaw puzzle falling into a place that I didn’t know existed.

As I read this old draft and recalled the story and the lessons I learned, I realized that the resistance I most often experience actually comes from getting in the way of the natural flow of things.

The problem isn’t that I’m incapable of making more money, producing better writing, improving my social skills, or learning how to cook. It’s that I’m holding myself back from progressing forward by spending valuable time sweating the little things.

When I’m trying to learn how to cook, for example, I hold myself back by giving credence to thoughts of insufficiency.

Instead of looking up recipes online, buying ingredients, and then experimenting, I choose to worry about making something that won’t taste good, or wasting ingredients, or that my being too analytical isn’t compatible with cooking.

(In the past few weeks I’ve overcome a lot of this resistance and discovered that I love cooking, but more on that another time.)

When I’m trying to write, I resist forward progress by holding myself back by giving attention to needless thoughts.

“What if people don’t understand what I’m trying to say? What if I don’t know what I’m trying to say? What if my point is missed and my writing is criticized? What if I do more harm than good in my haste to publish?”

These thoughts, these unrelenting doubts and worries and questions, never seem to let up. They appear to be waiting for one thing and one thing only: for me to give up.

I’m realizing that the key isn’t to challenge these things that present resistance but instead to ignore them, like a raging river ignoring a large rock and flowing around it.

We get better by not sweating the little things but by letting them go and moving on to the next step with fearless bravado. It’s only when we try to take on the whole world, to shoulder responsibility for getting every single thing perfect, that we hold ourselves back from getting better.

Notes: The Inner Artist and the Inner Businessman

I posted the following thoughts on Shanna Mann's blog post, My Art Is My Business-- And Now Both Are Stuck!, about how I've been dealing with my inner artist and my inner businessman since starting this Journal:

What I've been doing is listening to what works and what doesn't, keeping my artist and my businessman separate enough to learn from each other (as opposed to combining them and trying to find compromises). For example, late last year I started monetizing my creative writing for the first time and since then both my inner artist and my inner businessman have learned a lot.

The artist has learned that having people paying monthly for a subscription to my writing is actually a huge distraction: I feel obligated to create and publish at a certain frequency because people are paying me monthly and a lot of extra energy goes into overcoming that pressure and simply creating when I'm ready to create.

The businessman has learned that creation is an absolute necessity and that perhaps offering an annual subscription at a lower price-point would be more harmonious with the way the artist creates. It would also give the artist a huge block of time (one year) to create and to provide value in exchange for that subscription.

All of this, of course, is specific to the way I create. Others may be able to create and publish something every day. I know that I spend more time diving into topics in my head and reflecting on ideas before I publish them.

What I think is important is that the artist and the businessman learn to communicate and share information with each other. For some, that could mean the artist needs one full week of creativity to create his or her art, entirely free of business tasks. Then, perhaps the businessman or businesswoman comes in and switches to business-mode (or hires someone else to take care of the business and marketing aspects altogether).

It's important to continue experimenting, to continue trying new ways of assigning responsibilities and time to the inner artist and the inner businessman/businesswoman.

The Resistance is Present

For most of my life, I've only written and shared things post-experience and post-reflection. When I started this journal, I did so with the intention of giving myself a platform from which I could share my experiences and reflections with you as they were happening. However, I gravely underestimated just how difficult that would be.

I've learned that when I'm traveling -- when I'm opening myself to new experiences and spending time in deep reflection -- it's extremely challenging to create and share from that space of exploration. Only after I've processed and reprocessed experiences, stories, and conversations do I feel comfortable sharing them.

But maybe that's my problem: maybe I'm too comfortable.

I tell myself that I'm remaining true to myself by sharing only when I'm ready to share and writing only when I feel compelled to write, but maybe I'm confusing truth with comfort and fear with patience.

One of my journal subscribers recently cancelled her subscription because she felt I wasn't publishing frequently enough. My first thought was fear-based. "What if more people start canceling? Oh, no! I should publish something immediately!" 

But then I stepped back and looked at the situation objectively.

My idea of "frequently enough" is not the same as everyone else. This particular subscriber publishes her own work far more frequently than I'm comfortable with; in fact it's too frequently for me. 

My enough is not her enough and that's okay; I shouldn't chase her enough and abandon my own (which can happen quite easily if we're operating from fear).

As I realized this, I also began asking myself if my recent low publishing frequency was really the result of 'remaining true to myself', or if I was in fact creating excuses and succumbing to fear and resistance. 

If we don't get uncomfortable on a regular basis, growth will stagnate. It's comfortable to lay down and relax on a plateau, but scaling the next mountain and climbing to the next peak should make us sweat. We need to sweat.

(Discomfort and pain are not the same thing; I don't believe pain is necessary, but all growth requires some level of discomfort because growth challenges the natural decay of things.)

At the beginning of this year I conducted a short experiment where I published to the journal every day for ten days straight. It was an uncomfortable but empowering experiment. In conclusion I surmised that I had overcome any previous resistance to publishing here. 

It's clear to me now that resistance is still very present and I have much work ahead of me; I need to get uncomfortable.


Travel Notes

I began a road trip almost two weeks ago and while I have been keeping notes on various experiences and conversations, I haven't been publishing much more than a few short thoughts.

I've always told myself that I don't like writing about travel from a travel writers perspective. "I'm not a travel writer", I would tell myself over and over. And while it's true that I don't enjoy writing long essays about travel, as a traveler I inevitably make observations as I explore and move around. 

I'm realizing now that my aversion to being called a 'travel writer' has been holding me back from recording and sharing these observations (talk about a self-limiting belief).

Starting with this road trip I'm going to start sharing my 'Travel Notes' through the Notes section. You can expect several such travel notes to arrive in your inbox tomorrow morning.

Pushing Through 'The Dip'

I believe that I'm at the point in this experiment that Seth Godin would refer to as 'The Dip'. It's the point at which one feels no upward progress is being made and where one feels momentum has stalled. It's where continuing further doesn't feel worth the effort.

Seth says it's where most people quit. It's the reason great ideas and businesses often fail. They don't fail because the idea or business was no good, but rather because the person keeping the venture alive decided to give up. They weren't patient and persistent enough. They didn't push through the dip.

As I experience the dip in this experiment, I find myself questioning more and more the purpose of it. I find myself looking for an out, trying to convince myself that nothing of value is being produced and that I'm wasting my time. But I know none of that is true and it's almost comical to watch myself go through this phase.

I'm able to look at these feelings objectively because I made my decision not to quit before I started. 

I accepted that no matter what, there would be value in this experiment. Even if all I wrote was narcissistic gibberish -- something I knew my perfectionist, value-based side wouldn't allow for anyway -- I knew there would be value in finishing.

Knowing I would come up against this resistance, I gave myself just two rules: One paragraph, ten days. These rules were optimized to get me through the dip. I knew that even my perfectionist self should be able to share that much.

And as it turns out, I need only look to the previous seven days for proof: More than three thousand words shared and lots of resistance overcome.

Leaning into the Flinch

What's the difference between the people who are remembered by history and those who make up the silent majority who simply live and die? 

I don't believe history remembers people by chance. I don't believe some people are born with better ideas or more capable skills or that it requires a unique set of circumstances to do great things.

Many of us -- perhaps most of us -- have incredible ideas, world-changing visions for how things could be better. We think many of the same thoughts that memorable people throughout history have thought. 

So why aren't we doing anything? Why are we just living out our lives, caught up in the daily grind?

I think the answer lies in our reluctance to believe in ourselves and face our self-doubt. We see the possibility in our idea and we get scared that it just might work. As Julien Smith calls it, we flinch. We see the possibility and then pull back from going any further.

I read Julien's new ebook today (it's short and free [edit: it's not free anymore, but you can easily find it for free by Googling 'the flinch']; a great read) and there were lots of things about his idea that rang true for me. For example, in one part of the book he talks about leaning into the flinch and allowing that instinctive desire to retract to point us in the direction we should push forward.

The last time I clearly remember leaning into what I would've normally pulled back from was when I wrote my first ebook, Small Ways to Make a Big Difference

The idea for the project came suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere. I was sitting at my laptop in the kitchen of my hosts house, only a few days after arriving in Kathmandu, Nepal. 

It certainly wasn't the first time I'd had a spontaneous idea for an ebook, but what followed the idea this time was much different. Instead of over-thinking and considering all the reasons I shouldn't do it, I immediately sent an email to 60 people inviting them to participate in the project.

That one action, that leaning into what I normally would've pulled back from, essentially opened the door to the completion of that project. It took three weeks of obsessively working on it every single day, but there wasn't a single moment in that entire three weeks where I thought of quitting. I kept leaning into the flinch until I was done.

I think the people who are remembered by history are the ones who don't stop pushing. They see something, or have an idea, and instead of doubting themselves or the possibilities, they lean into them. 

Despite the entire world pushing the status quo onto them and doubting the usefulness of their rebellious nature, these few people push back. And they don't stop pushing. Ever.

Failure doesn't make them flinch because they're leaning into failure. They're walking in the direction they expect to fail while holding onto a belief that what lies ahead is something worth it. And they're usually right. What lies on the other side of failure is usually what helps them change the world.

Stepping into the Darkness

Himalayan Mountains, Nepal 2010

With each step, the ambient light from the house dissipated. The ground was cold and my eyes strained to see where I was going. I dared not turn around or look up, too afraid that doing so would cause a giant creature to materialize from the darkness and swallow me in one gulp.

I was nine years old and although I had long since overcome my fear of the darkness inside the house, the dark forest surrounding the yard still held me hostage.

It was holding me prisoner, preventing me from exploring those places that my siblings wouldn't dream of going. I wanted to take that next step. I wanted to conquer darkness altogether.

One evening, without telling anyone in the house, I opened the back door and stared into the forest. The darkness was incredible. It shrouded everything in mystery, turning the daytime-yard that I was so familiar with into an unknown world of terrifying possibilities. 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

The Revolution Starts Here

"He had an Afro and he was wearing big pink sunglasses... he said he was a Vietnam vet and that he had been stocking up on canned food in his trailer-park home for the past two years."

"I have no idea why you would be talking to a drunk guy with pink sunglasses at the bar, but anyway what was he afraid of? What was he planning for?"

"He just came up to me and started talking. He said there's a revolution coming and the whole world is going to change. He's getting ready and planning for the worst. I wasn't really taking this guy seriously, but I've heard a lot of people talking about a revolution. Rumors mostly, but lots of people seem to think something is going to happen."

"Yeah, there's a lot of messed up stuff going on and something needs to change. I don't know. A revolution might happen but I don't think people are going to be on the streets with guns shooting and robbing each other." Continue reading