Tag advice

“I believe in and surrender to solid quality, serendipity and nomadism.” – Our Interview with Dominic Randolph, Head of School & Rethinked Co-Founder …*

"I believe in and surrender to solid quality, serendipity and nomadism." -Our Interview with Dominic Randolph, Head of School & Rethinked Co-Founder ...* |rethinked.org

I may be a bit biased here but I could not be any more excited to share Dominic’s interview today. Dominic Randolph is the Headmaster of the Riverdale Country School, where he has been prototyping various ways to rethink what it means to learn to and for change–notably by exploring the intersections of Design Thinking, Integrative Thinking and Positive Psychology with education. He is the co-founder of our team and, on a more personal note, my father and one of my very best friends. Connect with Dominic on Twitter @daar17.

What was the last experiment you ran? 

Changing spaces where I work. Finding small “in-between” spaces to work with my computer. Changing work spaces all the time. Not being in a fixed spot.

 

What are some of the things that you fear and how do you manage your fear?

Life is fear and finding ways to embrace fear. I believe that we all have a “Woody Allen voice” in our heads constantly narrating our anxieties. I think you achieve things by listening to the voice indeed, but basically ignoring it. Things tend to turn out most of the time quite well, but the little voice assumes the worst. Acting positively and confidentially mitigates the voice’s affect on one’s decisions. And yet, without the voice, the fear, life would not be as amusing nor would one do anything really. It is the comparison between the status quo of the “little worried voice” and taking action that makes you feel a sense of achievement.

 

What breaks and delights your heart? In other words, what do you believe in and surrender to? 

I believe in and surrender to solid quality, serendipity and nomadism.

 

What is the most provocative idea you’ve come across in the past decade

Carol Dweck’s “Growth Mindset” is one of the most provocative, elegant and most difficult to employ idea that I have come across in the last decade. The other one would be “design thinking” that I read in Dan Pink’s book A Whole New Mind and on Tim Brown’s blog “Design Thinking”. The concepts of human-centered design, prototyping and divergent thought as elements of design thinking have changed my life.

 

Can you tell me about a transformational moment in your life?

I often think that the most transformational moments are not the most groundbreaking or the most striking. They are small moments that lead to change. The most transformational moments in my life were dinner debates with my aunt, mother and brother while growing up and meeting, Kris, my future wife, and Elsa, my future daughter, at a small gallery in Sarlat, France.

 

 WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

Finding meaning and purpose in one’s life leads to living a good life.

 

 COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THE ART OF BEING HUMAN?

Empathize with others–really try to put yourself in their shoes and listen well. Also, draw your thoughts out on a regular basis. Drawing is deeply human.

 

WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

How can I be my better future self? What legacy will I choose to leave on this earth?

 

 ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU RECOMMEND?

Movies: Withnail and I by Bruce Robinson, En Sus Ojos by Juan Jose Campanella, Mifune’s Last Song by Soren Kragh-Jacobsen, The Trip by Michael Winterbottom, Naked by Mike Leigh

Books: Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, Le Citte Invisibili by Italo Calvino, Distant Relations by Carlos Fuentes, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos by John Berger, In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin, Any short story by Alice Munro, La Peau du Chagrin by Balzac…

Music: GoldbergVariations played by Glenn Gould, Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones, Every Breaking Wave by U2, Ink by Coldplay, Heysatan by Sigur Ros, Wait it Out by Imogen Heap, Afterlife by Arcade Fire, Bien Avant by Benjamin Biolay, 400 Lux by Lorde, Creep by Radiohead…

Images: Morandi still lives, Piranesi etchings, Cartier-Bresson photographs, Cindy Sherman portraits, Klein blue paintings, Henry Moore sculptures…

THANK YOU, DOMINIC!

. . .

“Shed the burden of re-thinking the past; be conscious of the present; be surrounded by people interested in talking” – Our Interview with Professor Maria-Luisa Achino-Loeb …*

"Shed the burden of re-thinking the past; be conscious of the present; be surrounded by people interested in talking" - Our Interview with Professor Maria-Luisa Achino-Loeb ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman Randolph

Today’s interview is very special to me as it comes from one of the teachers who has had the most dramatic and lasting impact on my thinking and understanding of the world. Professor Maria-Luisa Achino-Loeb is an Adjunct Lecturer at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Studies and Co-chair of the Culture, Power, Boundaries Seminar at Columbia University. She is a cultural anthropologist whose work focuses on the study of ideology and its connection to power and identity. She has developed and taught courses on Silence, Language and Culture, Migration and Identity, and Globalization. Her course on Silence and Identity has been one of the most paradigm shifting learning experiences of my entire academic career. Her work has been published in several journals, including American Anthropologist and Theory in Psychology, and in the absolutely fantastic volume she edited, Silence: The Currency of Power (Berghahn Books, 2006).

discover & rethink …* 

WHAT WAS THE LAST EXPERIMENT YOU RAN?

Thinking about silence. Going beyond the empty spaces it suggests at first and finding its role in human communication. And what I found, as you know, is that silence is at the root of meaning formation and of ideological manipulations.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU FEAR AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR FEAR?

My fears change form and substance depending on the unfinished business of day to day living versus long term plans. I deal with them with a combination of repression and understanding their underlying [here is the silence, again] causes.

WHAT BREAKS AND DELIGHTS YOUR HEART? IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN AND SURRENDER TO?

A job well done.

WHAT IS THE MOST PROVOCATIVE IDEA YOU’VE COME ACROSS IN THE PAST DECADE?

The fact that atoms –and therefore we—are made up of mostly empty space, barely inhabited by electrons, etc.-  I refer you to a blog by Matt Strassler, a theoretical physicist who manages to open the world of quantum physics in conversational tones.

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT A TRANSFORMATIONAL MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?

Each time I manage to witness the present.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

Shed the burden of re-thinking the past; be conscious of the present; be surrounded by people interested in talking.

COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THE ART OF BEING HUMAN?

Yes:  Listen.

WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

All of the above.

ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU RECOMMEND?

Jane Austen’s novels; Sharon Olds’ poetry; The film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” we both saw; and all films by Kaslowski, particularly his trilogy “White, Blue, and Red”

. . . * 

THANK YOU, PROFESSOR, ACHINO-LOEB!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “Minister to the world in a way that can change it. Minister radically in a real, active, practical, get-your-hands-dirty way”

On May 29, 2105, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave the commencement address to Wellesley’s graduating class. With her characteristic insight and power, Adichie asks the class of 2015 to help rethink and redefine feminism and what it means to be in the world as a woman, “Feminism should be an inclusive party. Feminism should be a party full of different feminisms.” I’ve transcribed some highlights below, but highly recommend watching the full speech. 

. . . *

 

Try and create the world you want to live in. Minister to the world in a way that can change it. Minister radically in a real, active, practical, get-your-hands-dirty way.
. . . *

 

Think about what really matters to you. Think about what you want to really matter to you.
. . . *

 

All over the world, girls are raised to make themselves likable; to twist themselves into shapes that suit other people. Please do not twist yourself into shapes to please. Don’t do it. If someone likes that version of you, that version of you that is false and holds back, then they actually just like a twisted shape and not you. And the world is such a gloriously multifaceted, diverse place that there are people in the world who will like you. The real you, as you are.
. . . *

 

I don’t speak to provoke. I speak because I think our time on earth is short and each moment that we are not our truest selves, each moment we pretend to be what we are not, each moment we say what we do not mean because we imagine that it’s what somebody wants us to say, then, we are wasting our time on earth. I don’t mean to sound precious, but please don’t waste your time on earth.
. . . *

 

Never, ever accept, “because you are a woman” as a reason for doing or not doing anything.
. . . *

 

Girls are often raised to see love as only giving. Women are praised for their love, when that love is an act of giving. But to love is to give and to take. Please love by giving and taking. Give and be given. If you’re only giving and not taking, you’ll know; you’ll know from that small and true voice inside you that we females are so often socialized to silence. Don’t silence that voice. Dare to take.
. . . *

{ What Breaks & Delights Your Heart ? } Ask Someone About Their Heart. Ask Them About Their Fears, Their Moments, Their Stories …*

{ What Breaks & Delights Your Heart ? } Ask Someone About Their Heart. Ask Them About Their Fears, Their Moments, Their Stories ...* |rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

Artist Unknown

A note on the upcoming interview series by way of yet another Camino anecdote (can you tell I’m getting restless?) One evening, in a minuscule town out in the countryside, I met Antonio. I went outside to take in the splendid night sky and there he was, rolling a cigarette in his blue poncho. I said hello and as he would immediately reply, I “went straight for the kill.” I asked him what broke and delighted his heart. He said I came on too strongly. You don’t just ask people about their hearts. Part of me understands and agrees, you have to earn people’s stories and their trust. But part of me thought why not? I’m sick of talking about the weather. For whatever reason, I didn’t relent. I think this sudden and uncharacteristic burst of boldness may have been linked to the remannts of adrenaline I still felt from my encounter a few hours before with a snarling unleashed and unaccompanied German Shepherd in the middle of the forest (the second of the only two times in the course of the entire Camino that I felt afraid–the first was on my very first day, when completely alone, I ran into a pack of cows the size of small dinosaurs standing in the middle of the road, complete with horns (be honest, did you know cows had horns?)) Anyway, back to Antonio and his blue poncho, who by now had lit his cigarette and was laughing at my child-like determination. He turned my question around and asked me about my heart. After I opened up and shared with him things I don’t get to talk about half as much as I’d like to with the people I actually know, he told me a splendid story about his childhood dog who had run away and when all of his family–all but Antonio–had given up hope of ever seeing her again, she showed up at the door. She died the next week, but as Antonio told me, it was a happy ending, because they were reunited.

The questions I’m asking for these interviews are quite loaded. In fact, “what breaks and delights you heart?” is one of them. I’ve heard back from a few people that they simply don’t have answers to these questions but I’ve also received very enthusiastic, vulnerable and authentic responses from people who want to engage with these charged but essential questions we all grapple with. I encourage you to do the same. Ask someone about their heart. Ask them about their fears, their moments, their stories. The worst that can happen is they’ll politely decline. The best is that you’ll feel something real and wondrous as another human being gifts you with their stories and moments.

To get you excited for next week’s inaugural interview in the series, here are the questions I’m asking:

  • What was the last experiment you ran?
  • What are some of the things that you fear and how do you manage your fear?
  • What breaks and delights your heart? In other words, what do you believe in and surrender to?
  • What is the most provocative idea you’ve come across in the past decade?
  • Can you tell me about a transformational moment in your life?
  • What does it mean to you to live a good life?
  • Could you share one piece of advice about the art of being human?
  • What is your driving question?
  • Any books or movies you recommend?

Paola Antonelli: “Design Is A Way To Enter the World. It’s the Interface Between Whatever Idea You Might Have—Scientific, Technological, or Even Artistic—& Real Life”

Paola Antonelli: "Design Is A Way To Enter the World. It’s the Interface Between Whatever Idea You Might Have—Scientific, Technological, or Even Artistic—& Real Life" | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

One of the aspects of life post-academia that I most enjoy is the increased exposure to a wide range of phenomenal, interesting, creative and courageous women. Remember this image? I wasn’t much aware of it at the time, but since graduating from university, I’ve noticed a shift in my heroes. Whereas my teenage years and early twenties were spent looking up to mainly dead, or terribly old, white men, I’ve now discovered a whole tribe of contemporary, dynamic and tremendously inspiring women. One of them is MOMA curator, Paola Antonelli. I just came across this great interview which she recently gave to The Great Discontent’s Tina Essmaker. It’s definitely worth a read in its entirety, but here are three topics that Antonelli explores that I thought would be of particular interest to rethinkers.

discover & rethink …*

{ O N   C R E A T I V I T Y

I cannot believe that anyone would ever tell you that creativity was not part of their upbringing. I think there’s creativity everywhere. In some parts of the world, there are much more urgent matters of survival, so maybe creativity takes a backseat or gets channeled towards basic needs—we have to be honest about reality. But, frankly, I believe creativity exists everywhere and manifests itself in different ways. For instance, I was always quite stunned by the ease and comfort that New York has with contemporary art, which was definitely not the case in Italy. I grew up in a place where the comfort was with design, food, and ancient art. Here, it’s contemporary art.

{ O N   D E S I G N,   I D E A S   &   R E A L   L I F E 

I find it absolutely limiting that people think of design as cute chairs and cars and posters—it’s so crazy. To me, it’s amazing that some parts of our cultural establishment move away from design when the most established artists look to design as a way to make their ideas become a part of life. Design is a way to enter the world. It’s the interface between whatever idea you might have—scientific, technological, or even artistic—and real life.

[ … ]

I’m dangerously distant from an esthetically-pleasing, more formal kind of design. I say dangerously because I don’t want to burn my bridges with that kind of design, but I feel compelled to deal with real life—and real life is not about being able to afford a $10,000 chair.

[ … ]

I always find a way to realize at least some of the ideas that come to mind. I like to say that ideas are a dollar a pound, but it’s the ones you decide to make happen that really count. It’s tough, but there’s always a way to make them happen.

{ A D V I C E   T O   A   Y O U N G   P E R S O N  S T A R T I N G   O U T }

If you really believe in it, go for it. The thing I like about this moment is that you don’t have to immediately define yourself as an artist or designer; you can try different avenues. I really love it because ambivalence, ambiguity, and these in-between states are so conducive and perfect for creative people. I had the luck of being able to test different waters, and I think that’s the best thing that can happen to someone creative. It’s not for everybody; some people need a more defined path. But if you have a curiosity to see where you can really shine, I think this is a wonderful moment.

Source: Paola Antonelli Interviewed by Tina Essmaker April 28, 2015 via The Great Discontent

Milton Glaser on Why Doubt Is Better Than Confidence, How How You Live Changes Your Brain & How to Surround Yourself With People That Energize You …*

I was thrilled to discover Milton Glaser‘s essay, 10 Things I Have Learnt, which he adapted from a talk that he gave at a conference for the American professional association for design in 2011. While the lessons Glaser learned over the course of his long and immensely successful career are aimed primarily at other designers, many of his insights (which I’ve previously featured here and here), speak to all individuals compelled by the desire to live full and meaningful lives. I have selected some highlights from three of the lessons that Glaser shares, which I found particularly relevant to rethinkers * but be sure to head over to Design Indaba for the full essay, which is well worth a read in its entirety.

Enjoy

 DOUBT IS BETTER THAN CONFIDENCE

 

Everyone always talks about confidence in believing what you do. I remember once going to a yoga class where the teacher said that, spirituality speaking, if you believe you have achieved enlightenment you have merely arrived at your limitation. I think that is also true in a practical sense. Deeply held beliefs of any kind prevent you from being open to experience, which is why I find all firmly held ideological positions questionable. It makes me nervous when someone believes too deeply or too much. I think that being sceptical and questioning all deeply held beliefs is essential. Of course, we must know the difference between skepticism and cynicism because cynicism is as much a restriction of one’s openness to the world as passionate belief is. They are sort of twins.

HOW YOU LIVE CHANGES YOUR BRAIN 

The brain is the most responsive organ of the body. Actually it is the organ that is most susceptible to change and regeneration of all the organs in the body. I have a friend named Gerald Edelman who was a great scholar of brain studies and he says that the analogy of the brain to a computer is pathetic. The brain is actually more like an overgrown garden that is constantly growing and throwing off seeds, regenerating and so on. He believes that the brain is susceptible, in a way that we are not fully conscious of, to almost every experience of our life and every encounter we have.

I was fascinated by a story in a newspaper a few years ago about the search for perfect pitch. A group of scientists decided that they were going to find out why certain people have perfect pitch. You know certain people hear a note precisely and are able to replicate it at exactly the right pitch. Some people have relevant pitch; perfect pitch is rare even among musicians. The scientists discovered – I don’t know how – that among people with perfect pitch the brain was different. Certain lobes of the brain had undergone some change or deformation that was always present with those who had perfect pitch. This was interesting enough in itself. But then they discovered something even more fascinating. If you took a bunch of kids and taught them to play the violin at the age of four or five, after a couple of years some of them developed perfect pitch, and in all of those cases their brain structure had changed.

Well, what could that mean for the rest of us? We tend to believe that the mind affects the body and the body affects the mind, although we do not generally believe that everything we do affects the brain. I am convinced that if someone was to yell at me from across the street, my brain could be affected and my life might change. That is why your mother always said, “Don’t hang out with those bad kids.” Mama was right.

I also believe that drawing works in the same way. I am a great advocate of drawing, not in order to become an illustrator, but because I believe drawing changes the brain in the same way as the search to create the right note changes the brain of a violinist. Drawing also makes you attentive. It makes you pay attention to what you are looking at, which is not so easy.

SOME PEOPLE ARE TOXIC. AVOID THEM. 

In the 1960s there was a man named Fritz Perls who was a Gestalt therapist. Gestalt therapy derives from art history; it proposes you must understand the ‘whole’ before you can understand the details. What you have to look at is the entire culture, the entire family and community and so on. Perls proposed that in all relationships people could be either toxic or nourishing towards one another. It is not necessarily true that the same person will be toxic or nourishing in every relationship, but the combination of any two people in a relationship produces toxic or nourishing consequences. And the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much, but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energised or less energised. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. If you are more tired, then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy, you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.

Source: Milton Glaser’s “10 Things I Have Learnt”

Roadtrip Nation – Prompts & Advice For Individuals Who Want To Define Their Own Roads In Life …*

Roadtrip Nation - Prompts & Advice For Individuals Who Want To Define Their Own Roads In Life ...* | rethinked.org

Screen shot of the Roadtrip Nation website homepage

Roadtrip Nation is a brilliant and much needed movement that aims to “support, empower, and encourage individuals who want to define their own roads in life.” I think the last statistic I came across on the subject predicted that people of my generation would have up to fourteen jobs in the course of their career. Meanwhile, babies born today will likely be performing jobs we have not yet imagined. The old framework for success is crumbling and this massive paradigm shift is generating a lot of uncertainty about how to create authentic, salient and fulfilling futures for ourselves and our children. With this uncertainty comes great possibility but also great fear. Everything is being questioned, from what the university of the future might look like to whether or not college degrees are even relevant anymore? Is it possible to create a future which fulfills our financial needs as well as our existential needs for meaning, purpose and passion? What might that future look like? How might we begin to create it? What does the concept of a career mean in the twenty-first century? How might we rethink it?

Roadtrip Nation began in 2001 as an idea Mike, Nathan, Brian and Amanda, four friends fresh out of college, formed when they were not sure what to do with their lives. Initially, the scope of the plan was relatively small – climb aboard an old RV, paint it green, and traverse the country with the purpose of interviewing people who inspired them by living lives that centered around what was meaningful to them. Along the way, the four realized that the conversations that they were having on the road could not remain within the confines of their own RV, but held relevancy that could be shared with a world that was losing the know-how of living lives that pulse on personal passion rather than someone else’s expectations.

These days, Roadtrip Nation has grown into a full fledged movement whose continuing mission is “to get people to participate in the Movement by empowering them to find what they love, contacting people that live a life that inspires them, gather a team to interview those people in order to learn from their stories, and to share these experiences with others.” Their website is a veritable treasure trove of excellent resources for the seekers and uncertain amongst us. Head over to browse their blog posts, watch their video series, explore the interview archives with fascinating, inspiring  thinkers and doers and learn how to participate in the Roadtrip Nation movement.

Educators delight, Roadtrip Nation has a splendid (!) education initiative, The Roadtrip Nation Experience, which aims to empower students to map their interests to future pathways in life.

The Roadtrip Nation Experience was launched in 2008 to help students more effectively engage with their futures and view education as relevant and important in their lives. Developed through ethnographic study of thousands of hours of footage from the Roadtrip Nation television series and documentary film, this school-based program provides a framework for students to “define their own roads in life” through 12 online multimedia lessons, access to the web-based RTN Interview Archive, companion workbook activities, guided classroom discussions, and a culminating Roadtrip Project in which students work in groups to identify and interview leaders in their own communities. To date, over 100,000 students from 22 states have participated in the Roadtrip Nation Experience.

Also be sure to check out Roadtrip Nation’s upcoming book, Roadmap: The Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do with Your Life which will be available March 6th, 2015 and is now available for preorder.

This welcome antidote to the fusty, no-longer-relevant career guide answers an old question—”So, what are you going to do with your life?”—in a groundbreaking way. From the team behind the inspirational TV series and campus and online resource, it is presented in a motivational format that gets young people excited to think deeply about how they want to enter and thrive in the workforce by detailing how to take Roadtrip Nation’s interest-based approach and apply it to one’s life. Prompts for write-ins are interspersed throughout, making the reading process interactive and the discoveries personally impactful, and full-color charts and graphs offer a unique visual learning experience. With actionable, realworld wisdom on every page, it’s an essential tool for today’s young professionals and the parents, educators, and advisors seeking to inspire them.

Roadtrip Nation - Prompts & Advice For Individuals Who Want To Define Their Own Roads In Life ...* | rethinked.org

Screen shot from the Roadtrip Nation website

“A Benchmark Anchored in Reality Forces You to Articulate a Clear Point of View About What’s Truly Important”

"A Benchmark Anchored in Reality Forces You to Articulate a Clear Point of View About What’s Truly Important" | rethinked.org

“Always going back to a benchmark anchored in reality forces you to articulate a clear point of view about what’s truly important.” – Diego Rodriguez

I found this excellent insight from IDEO‘s Diego Rodriguez as his contribution to LinkedIn’s Best Advice series. Recounting a time at IDEO when his team had produced a wide array of dazzling prototypes, Rodiguez shares how they felt stuck in deciding which one to select:

IDEO founder David Kelley strolled by to say hello and to watch us demonstrate our ideas. He listened patiently as we explained our dilemma, and responded with one simple question: “What’s the best alternative available to people today? Choose compared to that.”

Behind David’s powerful question is the best innovation advice I’ve ever received:

Compare to reality, not to some imaginary standard of perfection.

The truth was that even our least amazing prototype was miles ahead of the competition. It also happened to be the simplest concept, and the one that most tightly addressed the actual needs we’d heard from people we had interviewed and observed. Even if it didn’t fulfill our fantasies of perfection, we chose that option as the way forward, and we ended up nailing it: our award-winning design sold like hotcakes. Fifteen years later, it’s still in production, making people happy.

This is a key insight which speaks to one of the core tenets of design thinking: that the solution be created from a point of deep empathy and understanding so that it truly serves the need of the target audience, not the ego of the designer.

Some say that rooting your choices in reality is a sure path to mediocrity, but nothing could be further from the truth. Dedicating yourself to understanding what people really want — how they’ll experience a product in the real world — forces you to get away from your desk and make a tangible difference. Instead of just talking about a grand paradise of what might be, putting in the effort to understand people’s day-to-day lives, and then actually producing something that works, is what separates a true innovation from a merely good idea.

Great innovators dream, but they are also relentless about comparing those dreams to the real world, and acting accordingly.

Source: Best Advice: Want to Achieve Excellence? Compare Ideas to Reality

“The Etymology of Courage Relates to Wholeheartedness” …*

Here’s another lovely short interview with Debbie Millman (whom I’ve previously featured on rethinked * here, here and here). I love how honest and open she is about some of the deepest darkest fears that we often wrestle with in the solitude of private moments. I think it takes an admirable degree of courage, perhaps not coincidentally one of Debbie’s favorite themes, to open up publicly about one’s fears and insecurities, which she always seems to do with great insight and generosity.

In the video below, Debbie shares her views on design; branding; aspiring to overcome her fear of failure; and her admiration of Maira Kalman. Yet, what really caught my attention is an intriguing point about the difference between aiming to cultivate courage versus confidence, which Debbie makes while answering what living a good life means to her:

“Well, I’m going to spew all sorts of things now that are things that I aspire to, they’re not necessarily things that I can tell you, with my whole heart, I do. I just know that I’d like to do them more. And that is, to try to live without fear of failure. And so I like to think, I like to aspire to a place in my life where I wasn’t acting out of fear, I was only acting out of personal power. But that’s an aspiration, I am by far not doing that. I’d like to be able to live without feeling that it’s the last time I’m ever going to get an opportunity, because then that also creates a lot more insecurity—and you have to do this and you have to do that, and you have to do that because it’s never going to come your way again. I would have said a couple of months ago, I’d like to live with more confidence but I was talking to dani Shapiro, a great great writer; and Danni said that she actually doesn’t really think confidence is the key, that overly confident people or people with a lot of confidence tend to be really obnoxious and annoying. And that what’s more important is courage. So I’m sort of saying that, that I’d like to live with a sense of courage as opposed to fear. So those are the big things that I think about when I think about leading a full life.” – Debbie Millman

At this point in the conversation, one of the people at the table interjects, “Yeah, I was going to say that the etymology of courage it relates to wholeheartedness, so doing things wholeheartedly.” 

I loved this notion of courage and wholeheartedness stemming from the same root. I did a quick Google search to see for myself and one of the top results was this quote from Brene Brown, published in her bookI Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”:

“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as “ordinary courage.”

 . . . *

Debbie Millman on why design matters from Dumbo Feather on Vimeo.

[hat tip: Maira Kalman Lives From Courage via Explore]

Reflect on What You Can Put Your Agency Behind, On What You Can Be For, & Through Hard Choices, Become That Person

Far from being sources of agony and dread, hard choices are precious opportunities for us to celebrate what is special about the human condition.That the reasons that govern our choices as correct or incorrect sometimes run out and it is here, in the space of hard choices, that we have the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive people that we are. And that’s why hard choices are not a curse, but a godsend.” – Ruth Chang

In this splendid TED talk, philosopher Ruth Chang examines the misconceptions and unexamined assumptions that govern our understanding and handling of hard choices. She invites us to rethink how we frame the act of choosing between unequal alternatives, where each option is better in some ways than the other but neither is better overall. Rather than agonizing over trying to uncover the “right” option in such a situation, we should celebrate and enact our agency in creating the right reasons for ourselves. This is a modern take on Giovanni Pico della Mirandola‘s Oration on the Dignity of Man. Way back in 1486, Pico della Mirandola unhinged mankind from the Great Chain of Being, highlighting the agency we each possess in choosing and fashioning our own nature. It is this very agency, this power we have to choose who we shall be[come], that is the defining characteristic of the human condition, he argued. And it is through the hard choices we make, claims Chang, that we enact this great human power we all have to shape our being and embrace the fullness of our humanity.

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I think the puzzle arises because of an unreflective assumption we make about value. We unwittingly assume that values like justice, beauty, kindness, are akin to scientific quantities, like length, mass and weight. Take any comparative question not involving value, such as which of two suitcases is heavier? There are only three possibilities. The weight of one is greater, lesser or equal to the weight of the other. Properties like weight can be represented by real numbers — one, two, three and so on — and there are only three possible comparisons between any two real numbers. One number is greater, lesser, or equal to the other. Not so with values. As post-Enlightenment creatures, we tend to assume that scientific thinking holds the key to everything of importance in our world, but the world of value is different from the world of science. The stuff of the one world can be quantified by real numbers. The stuff of the other world can’t. We shouldn’t assume that the world of is, of lengths and weights, has the same structure as the world of ought, of what we should do. So if what matters to us — a child’s delight, the love you have for your partner — can’t be represented by real numbers, then there’s no reason to believe that in choice, there are only three possibilities — that one alternative is better, worse or equal to the other. We need to introduce a new, fourth relation beyond being better, worse or equal, that describes what’s going on in hard choices. I like to say that the alternatives are “on a par.” When alternatives are on a par, it may matter very much which you choose, but one alternative isn’t better than the other. Rather, the alternatives are in the same neighborhood of value, in the same league of value, while at the same time being very different in kind of value. That’s why the choice is hard.

Understanding hard choices in this way uncovers something about ourselves we didn’t know. Each of us has the power to create reasons. Imagine a world in which every choice you face is an easy choice, that is, there’s always a best alternative. If there’s a best alternative, then that’s the one you should choose, because part of being rational is doing the better thing rather than the worse thing, choosing what you have most reason to choose. In such a world, we’d have most reason to wear black socks instead of pink socks, to eat cereal instead of donuts, to live in the city rather than the country, to marry Betty instead of Lolita. A world full of only easy choices would enslave us to reasons. When you think about it, it’s nuts to believe that the reasons given to you dictated that you had most reason to pursue the exact hobbies you do, to live in the exact house you do, to work at the exact job you do. Instead, you faced alternatives that were on a par, hard choices, and you made reasons for yourself to choose that hobby, that house and that job. When alternatives are on a par, the reasons given to us, the ones that determine whether we’re making a mistake, are silent as to what to do. It’s here, in the space of hard choices, that we get to exercise our normative power, the power to create reasons for yourself, to make yourself into the kind of person for whom country living is preferable to the urban life.

When we choose between options that are on a par, we can do something really rather remarkable. We can put our very selves behind an option. Here’s where I stand. Here’s who I am. I am for banking. I am for chocolate donuts. This response in hard choices is a rational response, but it’s not dictated by reasons given to us. Rather, it’s supported by reasons created by us. When we create reasons for ourselves to become this kind of person rather than that, we wholeheartedly become the people that we are. You might say that we become the authors of our own lives.

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So when we face hard choices, we shouldn’t beat our head against a wall trying to figure out which alternative is better. There is no best alternative. Instead of looking for reasons out there, we should be looking for reasons in here: Who am I to be? You might decide to be a pink sock-wearing, cereal-loving, country-living banker, and I might decide to be a black sock-wearing, urban, donut-loving artist. What we do in hard choices is very much up to each of us.

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