Tag wisdom

The Thing Is to Become a Master & In Your Old Age to Acquire the Courage to Do What Children Did When They Knew Nothing …*

The Thing Is to Become a Master & In Your Old Age to Acquire the Courage to Do What Children Did When They Knew nothing ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

I have been reading Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life-a treasure-trove of meditations on the creative life culled from Tharp’s long career as one of the world’s most acclaimed choreographers. Each chapter relates to a different aspect of creativity–think: Skill, Ruts and Grooves, Rituals of Preparation– and is accompanied by a handful of exercises to practice flexing your own creative muscles. It’s a quick, lovely and insightful read, which I highly recommend.

I’d like to highlight Tharp’s insights on one of the fundamental paradoxes faced by artists and rethinkers everywhere–that of finding the fragile equilibrium between seeking expertise and cultivating a beginner’s mind.

Every artist faces this paradox. Experience–the faith in your ability and the memory that you have done this before–is what gets you through the door. But experience also closes the door. You tend to rely on that memory and stick with what has worked before. You don’t try anything new. Inexperience is innocence, naïveté, and humility. It is a powerful ignorance that is summed up for me in an obituary I read of the All-American football player Ellis Jones. Jones, who died at age eighty in 2002, lost his right arm in an accident when he was eleven years old. But that didn’t stop him from playing guard offense and linebacker on defense in the 1940s at the University of Tulsa and later in the fledgling National Football League. “I played football before I got hurt,” said Jones of the accident that cost him his right arm. “It never occurred to me that I couldn’t keep playing. I guess I was too dumb to think I could not do it.” Inexperience provides us with a childlike fearlessness that is the polar opposite of the alleged wisdom that age confers on us, the “wisdom” telling us some goals are foolish, a waste of time, invitations to disaster. In its purest form, inexperience erases fear. You do not know what is and is not possible and therefore everything is possible.

It is that perfect moment of equipoise between knowing it all and knowing nothing that Hemingway was straining for when he said, “The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing.” You cannot manufacture inexperience, but you can maintain it and protect what you have.

This balancing act–between confidence and humility, knowing and not knowing, fear and courage–is intimately tied to the concept of mastery.

Mastery is an elusive concept. You never know when you achieve it absolutely–and it may not help you to feel you’ve attained it. (Alexander the Great wept when he had no more worlds to conquer.) We can recognize it more readily in others than we can in ourselves. We all have to discover our own definition of it. 

I particularly love Tharp’s definition of mastery–mastery as courage and optimism to face the unknown and faith in your own capacity to transform your discovery into something of value.

More than anything, I associate mastery with optimism. It’s the feeling at the start of a project when I believe that my whole career has been preparation for this moment and I am saying, “Okay, let’s begin. Now I am ready.” Of course, you’re never one hundred percent ready, but that’s a part of mastery, too. It masks the insecurities and the gaps in technique and lets you believe that you are capable of anything.

Mastery then, in the creative realm at least, is more mindset than benchmark, like that of the child at the edge of the forest, excited and a little nervous to get lost in the woods but confident to face and transform what she will find.

Source: Tharp, Twyla. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Print.

{ The Power & Potential of Stories } “I Was Seen By Many but Actually Known By Few | Every Single Life Matters Equally & Infinitely”…*

“I’ve learned about the poetry and the wisdom and the grace that can be found in the words of people all around us when we simply take the time to listen.[…] What else have I learned? I’ve learned about the almost unimaginable capacity for the human spirit to forgive. I’ve learned about resilience and I’ve learned about strength. […] And I’ve been reminded countless times of the courage and goodness of people and how the arc of history truly does bend towards justice”

– Dave Isay

This week’s Friday Link Fest theme–the power and potential of stories–was set by my teammate Jenna with her post on Monday about the artistry and potential of storytelling–for learning, for empathy, for social activism, for relevance and self-empowerment. I then received the latest issue of New York Magazine, their fifth annual “Yesteryear Issue,” a collection of vignettes about old New York and delighted in losing myself in stories of a New York I have longed for but never known. Then two TED talks kept repeatedly popping up on my newsfeed, Monica Lewinsky’s talk on the price of shame and StoryCorps founder Dave Isay’s talk where he shares his TED Prize wish:

“that you will help us take everything we’ve learned through StoryCorps and bring it to the world, so that anyone, anywhere can easily record a meaningful interview with another human being, which will then be archived for history.”

I loved the contrast between both talks, one about the risks and dark underside of a digital archive in a culture bent on shaming and public humiliation, the other on the immense potential of the Internet to act as a digital repository of human wisdom, dignity and compassion. Both talks were brilliant and urgent calls for courage, empathy and connection.

In her TED talk, Monica Lewinsky bravely opens up about her experience of being “slut-shamed’ and publicly humiliated in the nascent era of online news and calls for a collective rethink of our contemporary culture of shame and humiliation which enables cyberbullying.

“Public shaming as a bloodsport has to stop. And it’s time for an intervention on the Internet and in our culture. The shift begins with something simple, but it’s not easy. We need to return to a long held value of compassion; compassion and empathy. Online, we’ve got a compassion deficit and empathy crisis. Researcher Brené Brown said, and I quote, “shame can’t survive empathy.” Shame cannot survive empathy. I’ve seem some very dark days in my life. It was the compassion and empathy from my family, friends, professionals and sometimes even strangers that saved me. Even empathy from one person can make a difference.

[ … ] 

“We all want to be heard, but let’s acknowledge the difference between speaking up with intention and speaking up for attention.”

– Monica Lewinsky

“Over the past couple of month, the team at StoryCorps has been working furiously to create an app that will bring StoryCorps out of our booths so that it can be experienced by anyone, anywhere, any time. Remember, StoryCorps has always been two people and a facilitator helping them record their conversation, which is preserved forever. But at this very moment we’re releasing a public beta version of the StoryCorps app. The app is a digital facilitator that walks you through the StoryCorps interview process, helps you pick questions and gives you all the tips you need to record a meaningful StoryCorps interview. And then with one tap, upload it to our archive at the Library of Congress. That’s the easy part–the technology. The real challenge is up to you. To take this tool and figure out how we can use it all across America and around the world.

This is the key point, echoed in both Lewinsky and Isay’s talk, that technology is just a tool, a tremendously powerful tool, but that its power and potential comes entirely from us, the people that use it. Are we going to create a digital archive of shame and humiliation or a repository of empathy, dignity and human wisdom? The choice is ours and both talks remind us of the very tangible weight and responsibilities inherent in this choice.

“At this moment, when so much of how we communicate is fleeting and inconsequential, join us in creating this digital archive of conversations that are enduring, and important. Help us create this gift to our children, this testament to who we are as human beings. I hope you’ll help us make this wish come true. Interview a family member, a friend or even a stranger. Together we can create an archive of the wisdom of humanity. And maybe in doing so, we’ll learn to listen a little more and shout a little less. Maybe these conversations will remind us what’s really important and maybe, just maybe, it will help us recognize that simple truth that every life, every single life, matters equally and infinitely.”

How might we start going about nurturing these types of conversations? Isay shares a few excellent ideas:

“Imagine, for example, a national homework assignment, where every high school student studying U.S. history across the country, records an interview with an elder over Thanksgiving so that in one single weekend an entire generation of American lives and experiences are captured. Or imagine, mothers on opposite sides of a conflict somewhere in the world sitting down, not to talk about that conflict, but to find out who they are as people, and in doing so begin to build bonds of trust. Or that someday it becomes a tradition all over the world that people are honored with a StoryCorps interview on their 75th birthday. Or that people in your community go into retirement homes or hospitals or homeless shelters or even prisons armed with this app to honor the people least heard in our society and ask them who they are, what they’ve learned in life and how they want to be remembered. “

My 81 year-old grandfather is flying in from France next week and I absolutely can’t wait to try out the StoryCorps app with him!

{ Tools for Empathy …* } Cowbird – A Public Library of Human Experience

{ Tools for Empathy ...* } Cowbird - A Public Library of Human Experience | rethinked.org

Screen Shot of Cowbird Website

 

Awesome resource alert –> Cowbird an online repository of human experience. I first discovered Cowbird last week, when it was mentioned in a design thinking workshop I attended, and I haven’t been able to stop browsing this treasure trove of human moments.

Cowbird is a public library of human experience. Our mission is to gather and preserve exceptional stories of human life, so the insight and wisdom we accumulate as individuals can live on in the commons, as a resource for others to look to for guidance. We offer a simple set of storytelling tools, designed to encourage contemplation and depth — for free, and without ads. Currently, 41,908 authors from 183 countries have told 77,523 stories on 27,456 topics. We invite you to join us and contribute your stories.

On Cowbird, you can contribute your own stories; respond to simple storytelling prompts; find guidance on thousands of topics; browse stories by place or date and connect with authors from all corners of the world. And should you feel overwhelmed by all this choice, just hit the “Serendipity” button which will surprise you with a wonderful story. It’s far too cold, in New York at least, to spend much time outside people-watching, Cowbird is the perfect replacement to get your fix of insightful glimpses into the lives of others and our shared human experience.

discover, delight & rethink …* 

Learn to Identify, Cultivate & Deploy Your Unique Character Strengths to Live A Full & Authentic Life …*

Learn to Identify, Cultivate & Deploy Your Unique Character Strengths to Live A Full & Authentic Life ...*  | rethinked.org

“Herein is my formulation of the good life: Using your signature strengths every day in the main realms of your life to bring abundant gratification and authentic happiness.” -Martin Seligman, 161

Last week we looked at the idea set forth by Martin Seligman in Authentic Happiness, that engaging in experiences that produce flow may be a way to build psychological capital. You might recall that achieving flow depends on several factors, key among which, the matching of a challenge to engage your unique and personal strengths. Today, let’s look at what Positive Psychology has to say about these strengths –how we identify, cultivate and exercise them.

CREATING A TAXONOMY OF CHARACTER STRENGTHS 

Given the importance of deploying one’s character strengths in as many situations as possible throughout life to live fully and authentically, Seligman identified the need to create a comprehensive taxonomy of good character. He assembled a team and together they started poring through hundred of ancient texts from various times and cultures -“we read Aristotle and Plato, Aquinas and Augustine, the Old Testament and the Talmud, Confucius, Buddha, Lao-Tze, Bushido (the samurai code), the Koran, Benjamin Franklin, and the Upanishads–some two hundred virtue catalogues in all.” (132) What they found were some ubiquitous virtues, valued across time and culture. These virtues, of which there are six, are: wisdom and knowledge; courage; love and humanity; justice; temperance; spirituality and transcendence. (133) Seligman and his team use the word ubiquitous rather than universal because there are some rare exceptions.

It is true that very rare exceptions can be found; the Ik, for example, do not appear to value kindness. Hence we call the strengths ubiquitous rather than universal and it is important that examples of the anthropological veto (“Well, the Ik don’t have it”) are rare and glaring. This means that quite a few of the strengths endorsed by contemporary Americans are not on our list: good looks, wealth, competitiveness, self-esteem, celebrity, uniqueness and the like. These strengths are certainly worthy of study, but they are not my immediate priority. My motive for this criterion is that I want my formulations of the good life to apply just as well to Japanese and to Iranians as to Americans. (140)

Of course, all of these virtues can mean many different things to different people and there are many ways of achieving them. Since Positive Psychology is based on empirical and scientific study, Seligman and his team had to push further and establish a system by which to identify the measurable and acquirable routes one takes to achieve the virtues–the strengths of character.

To be a virtuous person is to display, by acts of will, all or at least most of the six ubiquitous virtues: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence. There are several distinct routes to each of these six. For example, one can display the virtue of justice by acts of good citizenship, fairness, loyalty and teamwork, or humane leadership. I call these routes strengths, and unlike the abstract virtues, each of these strengths is measurable and acquirable. (137)

SOME COMPONENTS OF STRENGTHS

The first step then in creating a taxonomy of good character is to define the characteristics of the strengths. Seligman starts by highlighting the difference between strengths and talents:

Strengths, such as integrity, valor, originality, and kindness, are not the same thing as talents, such as perfect pitch, facial beauty, or lighting-fast sprinting speed. They are both topics of Positive Psychology and while they have many similarities, one clear difference is that strengths are moral traits, while talents are nonmoral. In addition, although the line is fuzzy, talents generally are not as buildable as strengths. True, you can improve your time in the hundred-meter dash by raising your rump higher in the starting position, you can wear makeup that makes you look prettier, or you can listen to a great deal of classical music and learn to guess the pitch correctly more often. I believe that these are only small improvements, though, augmenting a talent that already exists. Valor, originality, fairness and kindness, in contrast, can be built on even frail foundations, and I believe that with enough practice, persistence, good teaching and dedication, they can take root and flourish. (134)

Strengths are voluntary and involve choices about when to use them and whether to keep building them, but also whether to acquire them in the first place. Meanwhile, talents are relatively automatic, involve some choices, but only of those of whether to burnish it and where to employ it. Seligman then highlights eight additional criterion by which to identify strengths:

  1. Strengths are traits (137)
  2. Strengths are valued in their own right (137)
  3. Strengths are what parents wish for their newborns (137)
  4. Onlookers of strengths being displayed are often elevated and inspired rather than envious or jealous (138)
  5. The culture supports strengths by providing institutions, rituals, role models, parables, maxims and children’s stories. (138)
  6. Role models and paragons in the culture compellingly illustrate a strength or virtue. (138)
  7. Some of the strengths have prodigies, youngsters who display them early on and amazingly well. (138)
  8. Conversely, there exist idiots (from the Greek, for not socialized) with respect to a strength. (139)
  9. The strengths are ubiquitous. (139)

EXERCISE: IDENTIFY YOUR HIGHEST, WEAKEST & SIGNATURE STRENGTHS

My favorite positive “intervention” is merely to ask you to take the VIA Strengths Survey, then think about which of these strengths are the ones you own and how you might use them every day. Quite astonishingly, your own ingenuity and your desire to lead the good life often take over from there, even if I step aside. (137) 

Head over to the Authentic Happiness website and under the tab labeled “Questionnaires” you will find the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. You will need to create an account on the website and there is a fee to take the test, I did it and thought it was worth it. You will receive a 30 page detailed report of your character strengths in rank order. You will also learn about the benefits of each of your signature strengths, ways to cultivate them and avoid the pitfalls of mismanaging your aptitudes. 

Once you have taken the survey, Seligman’s next exercise is to evaluate your results–do the strengths the survey identified feel authentic to you?

Typically you will have five or fewer scores of 9 or 10, and these are your highest strengths, at least as your reported them. […] You will also have several low scores in the 4 (or lower) to 6 range, and these are your weaknesses.

Look at the list of your top five strengths. Most of these will feel authentic to you, but one or two of them may not be the real you. My strengths on this test were love of learning, perseverance, leadership, originality, and spirituality. Four of these feel like the real me, but leadership is not one. I can lead quite adequately if I am forced to, but it isn’t a strength that I own. When I use it, I feel drained, I count the hours until it is done, and I am delighted when the task is over and I’m back with my family.

I believe that each person possesses several signature strengths. These are strengths of character that a person self-consciously owns, celebrates, and (if he or she can arrange life successfully) exercises every day in work, love, play and parenting. Take your list of top strengths, and for each one ask if any of these criteria apply:

  • A sense of ownership and authenticity (“This is the real me”)
  • A feeling of excitement while displaying it, particularly at first
  • A rapid learning curve as the strength is first practiced
  • Continuous learning of new ways to enact the strength
  • A sense of yearning to find ways to use it
  • A feeling of inevitability in using the strength (“Try and stop me”)
  • Invigorating rather than exhaustion while using the strength
  • The creation and pursuit of personal projects that revolve around it.
  • Joy, zest, enthusiasm, even ecstasy while using it.

If one or more of these apply to your top strengths, they are signature strengths. Use them as frequently as you can and in as many settings. If none of the signature criteria apply to one or two of your strengths, they may not be the aptitudes you want to deploy in work, love, play, and parenting. (160)

THE VIRTUES & CHARACTER STRENGTHS – A BRIEF OVERVIEW

{ WISDOM & KNOWLEDGE }

The first virtue cluster is wisdom. I have arranged the six routes to displaying wisdom and its necessary antecedent, knowledge, from the most developmentally basic (curiosity) up to the most mature (perspective). (140) 

  • Curiosity / Interest in the world
  • Love of Learning
  • Judgement / Critical Thinking / Open-Mindedness
  • Ingenuity / Originality / Practical Intelligence / Street Smarts
  • Social Intelligence / Personal Intelligence / Emotional Intelligence
  • Perspective

{ COURAGE }

The strengths that make up courage reflect the open-eyed exercise of will toward the worthy ends that are not certain of attainment. To qualify as courage, such acts must be done in the face of strong adversity. This virtue is universally admired, and every culture has heroes who exemplify this virtue. I include valor, perseverance, and integrity as three ubiquitous routes to this virtue. (145)

  • Valor & Bravery
  • Perseverance / Industry / Diligence
  • Integrity / Genuineness / Honesty

{ HUMANITY & LOVE }

The strengths here are displayed in positive social interaction with other people: friends, acquaintances, family members and also strangers. (148)

  • Kindness & Generosity
  • Loving & Allowing Oneself to Be Loved

{ JUSTICE }

These strengths show up in civic activities. They go beyond your one-on-one relationships to how you relate to larger groups, such as your family, your community, the nation, and the world. (149)

  • Citizenship / Duty / Teamwork / Loyalty
  • Fairness & Equity
  • Leadership

{ TEMPERANCE } 

As a core virtue, temperance refers to the appropriate and moderate expression of your appetites and wants. The temperate person does not suppress motives, but waits for opportunities to satisfy them so that harm in not done to self or others. (152)

  • Self-Control
  • Prudence / Discretion / Caution
  • Humility & Modesty

TRANSCENDENCE

I use “transcendence” for the final cluster of strengths. This term is not popular throughout history—“spirituality” is the label of choice—but I wanted to avoid confusion between one of the specific strengths, spirituality, with the nonreligious strengths in this cluster, like enthusiasm and gratitude. By transcendence, I mean emotional strengths that reach outside and beyond you to connect you to something larger and more permanent: to other people, to the future, to evolution, to the divine, or to the universe. (154)

  • Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence
  • Gratitude
  • Hope / Optimism / Future-Mindedness
  • Spirituality / Sense of Purpose / Faith / Religiousness
  • Forgiveness & Mercy
  • Playfulness & Humor
  • Zest / Passion / Enthusiasm

Source: Seligman, Martin. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology To Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press, 2002. Print.

“Challenge the Known & Embrace the Unknown” – Advice to Your Younger Self (That Your Present Self Can Put Into Practice) …*

"Challenge the Known & Embrace the Unknown" - Advice to Your Younger Self (That Your Present Self Can Put Into Practice) ...* | rethinked.org

LinkedIn is running a series of articles entitled If I Were 22, where they ask various influencers to share the advice they would give to their younger self. I’ve gathered some of the ones I like below. What about you? What would you say to your 22 year old self? I was thinking about what type of advice I would give to my own younger self and this is what I wish I had known at 22 (and wish I would reliably put into practice now):

Don’t fear or resist change, it will happen every single day for the rest of your life. Learn to be adaptive and nimble. Be open to learning from new situations—realize how much power you have in how engaged you are in something or not. Learn to reframe uncertainty into opportunity. And when you are afraid, know that it generally means you need to take a risk.

Be kind –in thought and action. You will jump to conclusions, you will make assumptions, your brain will try to find and create meaning in all situations—it’s human and you have no control over that. You do however, have the choice of selecting the kinder assumptions, the kinder conclusions. Choose kindness, you will have a happier and more fulfilling relationship to the world and to yourself.

My final and perhaps most practical piece of advice is: hey, take it easy, Martha Stewart! While I applaud and cherish your untarnished enthusiasm in the face of enduring and repeated cooking disasters, take it easy with the million cooking and baking ware. That pan you don’t have that’s for a very specific dish? Adapt! (see point number 1). Don’t go out and buy the bloody thing. You will move in and out of many apartments over the next decade, and when you find yourself sitting in the center of a room with boxes surrounding you, packed floor to ceiling and stuff still everywhere, know that this is in large part—my dear–the cooking and baking. Remember: nomad.

*

When you’re just starting out, it may seem tempting to settle quickly into a career path, just because it seems reasonable or stable. But I encourage all 22-year-olds to do the opposite. Go out and explore. Start figuring out what you’re really passionate about, what really makes you tick. Hone your talents and pick up useful skills. And if you find yourself in a place you don’t really want to be, go out and look for something different.

Mike Feinberg, Co-Founder at KIPP

*

Looking back, there are a few things I would have told my 20-something self to do differently.

Connect with people outside your major or discipline. I was so focused on being an industrial designer, I didn’t hang out with engineers or business students or artists or writers. I didn’t know what other opportunities were out there for burgeoning design thinkers. Thankfully, the Internet means today’s grads have more context and greater chances to collaborate with people from different backgrounds. Seize every opportunity.

Know that the culture of where you work is as important as the work you do. During school, I had an enviable internship at one of the trendiest design studios in London. Known for its cutting-edge product designs, the studio leads were brash, macho, live-on-the-edge types who believed in the lone creative genius. I was wowed by their work, but didn’t find my time there creatively rewarding. I craved collaboration and teamwork. It wasn’t until I started to work with Bill Moggridge that I learned just how critical the culture of a workplace is to one’s creativity. It’s one of the main reasons I’m still at IDEO.

Make time to travel. I went straight from undergrad to grad school. I wish I had had the confidence to take a year off and explore the world, to add some life experience to my academics. It was only after I graduated that I started to travel. It might be a cliché, but getting out of your own culture makes you more mindful and observant. You question everything you once took for granted. When my own children are trying to figure out what’s meaningful to them, what direction to take their lives next, I tell them to take out their passports. It’s time to book a trip.

Tim Brown, CEO at IDEO

 …*

Challenge the known and embrace the unknown. Accepting the known and resisting the unknown is a mistake. You should do exactly the opposite: challenge the known and embrace the unknown. Now is the time to take this kind of risk because you have less to lose and everything to gain. Great things happen to people who question the status quo.

Be brief. Contrary to school, in the work place there are few minimums. In my entire career, I can count on one hand the instances when an email, presentation, or report was too short. The perfect length for everything is when it is “complete”—more is less, and “shock and awe” doesn’t work in business or war. Here are guidelines: email—five sentences; presentations—tens slides and twenty minutes; report—one page.

Tell stories, do demos, and use pictures. The most enchanting people tell stories, do demos, and use pictures to influence and persuade others. They do not belittle or berate. They paint a picture in people’s minds whether the medium is social media, email, in-person presentations, phone calls, or video conferences. There is only one Steve Jobs, but if you want a shot at being the next Steve Jobs, learn to communicate using stories, demos, and pictures.

Continue to learn. Learning is a process not an event, so you should never stop learning. Indeed, it gets easier to learn once you’re out of school because the relevance of what you need to learn becomes more obvious. Indeed, the day you graduate is when the real learning begins.

Guy Kawasaki, Chief Evangelist at Canva

*

So the advice I’d give to young people today is this: don’t just climb the ladder of success – a ladder that leads, after all, to higher and higher levels of stress and burnout — but chart a new path to success, remaking it in a way that includes not just the conventional metrics of money and power, but a third metric that includes well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving, so that the goal is not just to succeed but to thrive.

– Arianna Huffington, President and Editor-in-Chief at The Huffington Post Media Group

Neil Gaiman: Make Glorious & Fantastic Mistakes, Break Rules, Leave the World More Interesting For Your Being Here …*

Now go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes, break rules, leave the world more interesting for your being here, make good art.” – Neil Gaiman

I’ve finally had the opportunity to watch Neil Gaiman’s splendid commencement address to the 2012 graduating class of The University of the Arts In Philadelphia. In his speech, Gaiman shares some of the things he wished he had known starting out and the best piece of advice he’s ever received and completely failed to follow. To the extent that [ being | becoming ] an artist is about developing one’s voice (and perhaps, most critically, the courage to share and own that voice) this is an essential talk for any individual invested in living up to their full potential. I’ve transcribed some of my favorite bits below in case you don’t have the time to watch the video just yet, but I highly recommend watching it in its entirety when you get the chance.

watch & rethink …*

Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012 from The University of the Arts (Phl) on Vimeo.

[ E M B R A C E   S H O S H I N ]

First of all, when you start out on a career in the Arts, you have no idea what you’re doing. This is great. People who know what they’re doing, know the rules and they know what is possible and what is impossible. You do not and you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the Arts, were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can. If you don’t know it’s impossible, it’s easier to do. And because nobody’s done it before, they haven’t made up rules to stop anyone doing that particular thing again.

[  K E E P   W A L K I N G   T O W A R D S   Y O U R   M O U N T A I N ]

Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut and sometimes it will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you’re doing the correct thing because you’ll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work, settling for what you can get. Something that worked for me, was imagining that where I wanted to be, which was an author, primarily fiction, making good books, making good comics, making good drama and supporting myself through my words—imagining that was a mountain, a distant mountain. My goal. And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain, I’d be alright. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money, because I knew that attractive though they were, for me, they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come earlier, I might have taken them because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at that time. I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work.

[ M A K E   M I S T A K E S ]

Fourthly, I hope you’ll make mistakes. If you make mistakes it means you’re out there doing something. And the mistakes in themselves can be very useful. I once misspelled Caroline in a letter, transposing the A and the O, and I thought, “Coraline,” looks almost like a real name.

[ M A K E   G O O D   A R T ] 

When things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician–make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor—make good art. IRS on your trail—make good art. Cat exploded—make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before— make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, eventually time will take the sting away, and that doesn’t even matter. Do what only you can do best: Make good art. Make it on the bad days, make it on the good days, too.

[ C R E A T E   &   L I V E   A S   O N L Y   Y O U   C A N ]

And fifthly, while you’re at it, make your art—do the stuff that only you can do. The urge, starting out, is to copy and that’s not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people. But the one thing that you have, that nobody else has, is you—your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build, and play and dance and live as only you can. The moment that you feel that just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself, that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.

[ E M B R A C E   U N C E R T A I N T Y ]

 The things I’ve done that worked the best, were the things I was the least certain about. The stories where I was sure they’d either work or more likely be the kind of embarrassing failures that people would gather together and discuss until the end of time—they always had that in common. Looking back at them, people explained why they were inevitable successes and when I was doing them, I had no idea. I still don’t and where would be the fun in making something you knew was going to work? And sometimes the things I did really didn’t work. There are stories of mine that have never been reprinted, some of them never even left the house. But I learned as much from them as I did from the things that worked.

[ L E T   G O   &   E N J O Y   T H E   R I D E ]

So when I agreed to give this address, I thought, “what is the best piece of advice I was ever given?” And I realized that it was actually a piece of advice that I had failed to follow. And it came from Stephen King. It was twenty years ago, at the height of the initial success of Sandman, the comic I was writing. I was writing a comic people loved and they were taking it seriously. And Stephen King liked Sandman and my novel with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens, and he saw the madness that was going on, the long signing lines, all of that stuff and his advice to me was this: he said, “this is really great, you should enjoy it.” And I didn’t. Best advice I ever got that I ignored. Instead, I worried about it. I worried about the next deadline, the next idea, the next story. There wasn’t a moment for the next fourteen or fifteen years, that I wasn’t writing something in my head or wondering about it. And I didn’t stop and look around and go, “this is really fun.” I wish I’d enjoyed it more. It’s been an amazing ride but there were parts of the ride I missed because I was too worried about things going wrong, about what came next, to enjoy the bit that I was on. That was the hardest lesson for me, I think—to let go and enjoy the ride. Because the ride takes you to some remarkable and unexpected places.

[ F A K E   I T   T O   M A K E    I T,   I F   Y O U   N E E D   T O ]

Someone asked me recently how to do something she thought was going to be difficult–in this case, recording an audio book. And I suggested she pretend that she was someone who could do it. Not pretend to do it, but pretend she was someone who could. She put up a notice to this effect on the studio wall and she said it helped. So be wise because the world needs more wisdom. And if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise and then just behave like they would.

*

{ Growth Mindset } The One Thing I Wish I’d Learned A Decade Ago …*

{ Growth Mindset } The One Thing I Wish I'd Learned A Decade Ago ...* | rethinked.org

Last week I wrote about a question- What’s the one thing that you learned in the last decade that you had wished someone had told you 10 years ago?– that Wooster Collective posed to several graffiti artists and curated some of my favorite responses. I’ve been thinking about how this question applies to my own experience of the past ten years and started brainstorming a list of possible key insights. After sitting with my list for a bit, I realized that most of the items on it were directly related to the concept of growth mindset, championed by Carol Dweck. Growth mindset is the belief that capacities—whether intellectual, emotional, physical, etc.–can be learned and acquired with effort over time. That potential is unknowable. Thinking back on the past ten years, I have no doubt that if I had known about and embraced a growth mindset, I would have saved myself much heartache and worry. I would likely have taken more chances and been more compassionate and patient with myself and others. I wouldn’t have been so bogged down by an unattainable quest for perfection, which means I would have procrastinated a lot less and not engaged in as many other self-sabotaging behaviors to save myself from facing my crippling fear of failure. I would likely have been able to keep things more in perspective. Learning about the growth mindset was an utterly transformative experience for me. It allowed me to translate what I know about motivation, effort, and goal-setting into tangible behaviors. But most importantly it has set me free emotionally—free to experiment and fail gloriously and free to find the strength and will to try again. In the words of Carol Dweck, “It’s a learning process—not a battle between the bad you and the good you.”

What about you? What’s the one overarching thing you wished you’d known a decade ago?

reflect & rethink …* 

How Do We Live A Remarkable Life In A Conventional World? Start by Pushing Past What You Know…*

{This is the first article in a series of posts synthesizing my experiences and insights from the 2013 World Domination Summit }

rethinked.org

This past Thursday I took off for Portland, Oregon to attend the third-annual World Domination Summit. Even on the plane ride over, I still was not entirely sure what WDS was other than that it centered on the key question “How do we live a remarkable life in a conventional world?” and the themes of community, adventure and service. Founder Chris Guillebeau and his team made clear in their communications that this was not a business mixer nor a convention but rather, a “coming together of unconventional, remarkable people for a weekend of adventure.” I was excited and a little bit apprehensive to find out just what that meant.

Weeks before the summit, we were asked to think about and articulate some personal goals for the event. My main goals were to get outside my comfort zone, and disrupt my routine.

On Friday afternoon I made my way to Director’s Park to register, hoping I would get a better sense of what this was all about. As I stood in the D-G line, waiting to get my pass, I noticed a man one line over in a full gorilla bodysuit, overheard another attendee explaining to an inquisitive Portlander that WDS is about establishing a new world order, “corporations are over and it’s time for everyone to wake up to that reality.” When I finally made it to the top of the line, I was handed my name tag, a collection of notebooks, maps and a schedule, and a sheet of ten stickers to “customize” my badge. I began to have serious doubts about the summit, worrying that this was not my brand of ‘remarkable’.

That evening, at the Oregon Zoo for the opening ceremony, I made the acquaintance of a delightful man named John. John was kind, friendly, passionately curious and easy to talk to. I finally started to relax. In the course of our conversation, he made an intriguing observation that resonated deeply with me. A local Portlander, he was sharing his love of the city and the thrill of being able to go skiing year round. I told him that I was a dreadful skier and he corrected me saying, “you’re not a good skier…yet.” Several times during our conversation he reframed what I had said with this little ‘…yet’ framework. He asked me what my goals for the summit were and I shared with him how I had hoped to get outside of my comfort zone.

As I sat in my hotel room that evening wondering why I had been feeling so negative all day, I realized that the discomfort was stemming from my uncertainty–I was in a completely new city (in fact, it was my first time on the West Coast), attending an event that persisted in evading definition, with some die-hard WDS fans who considered themselves part of a tribe and many of whom seemed to already know each other. I am quite shy and felt overwhelmed with meeting so many new people in one go.

If you have spent any time on rethinked…* or checked out our Twitter stream, you know that embracing risk and uncertainty is a very big theme for us. I am constantly reading, writing, talking and thinking about the importance of being fluid, adaptive and open to the potential of uncertainty. But here is my dirty little secret, while I am knowledgeable and well-informed about the immense potential and opportunities that embracing uncertainty creates, I have an incredibly difficult time translating that knowledge into action in my own life. Dominic defines wisdom as the ability to translate one’s knowledge into impactful, salient action, and the truth is that I am not very wise when it comes to embracing risk and uncertainty in my every day. I have a very low threshold for uncertainty and when I find myself in situations that push past that threshold, my primary goal becomes getting back to my comfort zone. One of my strategies for doing that, I’m dreadfully embarrassed to admit, is to dismiss what I do not know, to refuse the possibility that I may learn something and grow from embracing and exploring that unknown.

As I looked down at my name tag, still hanging around my neck, prominently displaying my name and “traveled 2475 miles”, it became very clear that I had a choice to make. I could keep playing it safe, dismissing these different views and frameworks, or I could embrace this opportunity, realize that there was no actual risk or threat to my being and go with the flow. I chose the latter, because I had traveled across the country for this opportunity, but more importantly, because I knew I would not be able to deal with the uncertainty of wondering, once I had returned to New York, what may have been if I had opened myself up to this experience.

The rest of the weekend was a blast, I met fantastic and inspiring people and was exposed to a whirlwind of intriguing ideas, many of which centered on the very theme of embracing and redefining risk, failure and uncertainty, such as Jia Jiang’s brilliant talk on reframing and embracing rejection (more on those ideas in the following post).

On my last day in Portland I decided to visit the Japanese Gardens (which, alone, are well worth a visit to Portland). I went to the Visitor’s Center in the hopes that they would be able to help me make sense of the MAX, Portland’s transit system. The lady at the counter was very helpful and provided me with maps and a detailed explanation of how to reach the gardens. We chatted about the Washington Park station, which is the deepest subway station in the whole of the United States and she promised that I would get to experience the fastest elevator ride of my life (at which point, I turned a bit green). As I was thanking her and getting ready to leave she asked me where I was visiting from. When I answered, Brooklyn, she burst out giggling and looked at me with a sense of genuine surprise, exclaiming, “Oh my gosh, a friendly New Yorker! Imagine that!” I laughed along with her, feeling awash with gratitude and excitement. Pushing past what I knew and rethinking…* assumptions–my own and helping others, in however small a way, rethink…* their own–was what a weekend of “community, service and adventure” had meant for me.

Friday Link Fest…*

READ

A creative future for education ~ Tim Brown on the essential role of creativity in education. via World Economic Forum, published February 6, 2013

Learning From Failure ~ via The New York Times, published February 1, 2013

Adaptive Innovation: Create, Learn, Repeat ~ via Change Observer, published February 6, 2013

Think Deep, Work Lean: Blending design thinking with lean start-startup methods ~ via PSFK, published February 3, 2013

Why Innovators Love Constraints ~ via Harvard Business Review, published February 4, 2013

You Are Therefore I Am: How Empathy Education Can Create Social Change ~ via Oxfam, published July 2008

How Mark Changizi conquered colorblindness with glasses ~ via io9, published February 6, 2013

LOOK

The World’s Tweets Light Up the Globe in Stunning Live Visualization ~ Tweetping by Franck Ernewein. via Wired Design, published February 2, 2013

The Year’s Most Outstanding Science Visualizations ~ via Smithsonian Magazine, published February 5, 2013

Kids Collaborate to Create Awesome Spaceships ~ via JunkCulture, published February 1, 2013

WATCH

Barry Schwartz on Our Loss of Wisdom ~ via TED-Ed, published February 2, 2013

A Delightful Surprise Light Performance At New York’s Grand Central Station via Design Taxi, published February 6, 2013

Seventh grade girl builds rocket, sends Hello Kitty into the upper atmosphere ~ via io9, published February 5, 2013

Synchronized Porta-Potties Create Music When In Use ~ via PSFK, published February 7, 2013

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