Craft

Below is a chapter release to my next book, Redwood. I’m releasing each chapter as I write it, as a part of my 2016 Writing Quest.

Redwood is a book on how we can optimize our environment and our habits to create remarkable lives. As John Steinbeck once wrote, from redwood trees come silence and awe. We have the power to create this same remarkability in our own lives.

Want to receive each chapter for free? Sign up below as I release new chapters each week!


 

Understanding Passion

At 22 years old, my best friend in the world passed away in his sleep. We were set to move in together just one week later in Dallas. The most energetic, loving, and passionate person I ever had the joy of knowing had been ripped from my life and countless others’ lives. As deaths go when someone of this attitude and aptitude passes away, we decided to celebrate his life as much as we could. Part of this process involved remembering his life with one simple phrase.

“Live life with passion!”

It became the signature of his life, and a phrase that his friends and family will remember him by forever. He embodied the term, and everything that it represented – a thirst for life, a desire to grow, and a love for people. He did not pursue passion. He LIVED passion. And there is a big difference…

Passion, this somewhat elusive and undefinable word that is woven into our society, requires some debunking and refining before we can jump into how it relates to our craft. So it’s best if we get it out of the way upfront. Passion is very en vogue these days, and for good reason. The more and more our society becomes cursed by workaholism and connectedness, the more enticing the idea of turning our passions into our life’s work becomes. The wave junkie becoming a surf instructor. The homelessness activist starting a non-profit. The young backpacker becoming a travel blogger. At surface level this all sounds amazing, and seems like something worthy of pursuing. But what the passion equation leaves out is the most critical piece to our long-term happiness…

Work is still work. We must enjoy the process over the passion.

The thing about passions is that we’re used to digesting them in chunks. The surfer gets her weekend rides in. The activist serves at the shelter a few times per month. The backpacker snaps a few photos per day. The beauty of digesting things in chunks is that they’re easier to enjoy! Because at that point they aren’t work at all. They’re a hobby, and we don’t spend enough time in them to ever get sick of them. So what happens in our minds is we use the logic of “If I like doing it a little bit, then surely I’ll LOVE doing it all the time!” And this is where the passion equation falls short. No matter what our day to day work is, whether it’s something mundane or something we’re passionate about, at the end of the day it’s still work. The surf becomes work when you’re up at 5am in ice cold water day in and day out. The activism becomes work when people start to become numbers on a spreadsheet. The photography becomes work when the pictures become the focal point instead of the world they’re capturing. What starts out as a passion, quickly turns into a paycheck.

Understanding Fulfillment

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, esteem takes its place in the 4th slot on the pyramid, sitting atop physiological needs, safety needs, and belonging needs. What Maslow was saying, in essence, is that once our food and water needs are met, once we know our survival isn’t at risk, and once love and a social circle has a place in our life, the next most important fulfillment in our lives is esteem. Put another way, achievement is engrained in our being right up there with survival and community.

We are driven to achieve.

And thankfully so for our species. If not for our desire to achieve, we wouldn’t have agriculture, medical cures, life-saving technologies and countless other advancements that make today’s world what it is. Achievement is in our DNA, and if we grasp that we’re wired to achieve, we can start to understand where passion falls short.

If we accept that esteem, and by necessity achievement, are fulfilling to us as humans, then the next question to tackle is how we acquire them. Think about achievement. It is simply achieving a goal or being recognized for our work. In the former we literally achieve something we set out to do and in the latter we acquire the feeling of achievement through recognition and praise. So if achievement feels good and leads to esteem, it would make the most sense to do this as often as possible. How do we achieve things regularly?

We do things we’re good at.

Because when we do things we’re good at, we achieve things or acquire the praise of achievement more frequently. And when we achieve, we’re motivated to continue improving and achieving. Each success builds on itself, and we simply get better and better at what we’re good at. This increases our esteem and helps us acquire one of the most vital foundations of the human experience. And this is precisely why passion so often eludes us only to leave us unsatisfied. While we may care about things we’re passionate about, that doesn’t necessarily make us good at them. And if we aren’t good at them, it means we aren’t being fulfilled by achievement in them. Being a passionate surfer is very different from being a good surf instructor. Being a passionate activist is very different from being a good non-profit manager. And being a passionate traveler is very different from being a good travel blogger. When we mistake our passion for our career, oftentimes we minimize our ability to achieve because we’ve chosen something for the sake of enjoyment instead of the sake of fulfillment. In the world of happiness, fulfillment trumps passion every time. And fulfillment comes from achieving at things we’re good at.

Your Work Is Your Craft

I hate the word “job”. Okay, that’s not fair. Hate is a strong word. I think there are better options for us to use than the word job. Why? Because job has baggage attached to it. It could be good baggage or bad baggage, and that is likely determined by the emotions and beliefs we have attached to jobs in the past. We have the baggage of our own experience with working – a job that we hated, a job that we loved, a job that we wanted, etc. Then, we have the baggage of our friends and acquaintances’ experiences with jobs. And finally we have the baggage of our parents, and whatever their relationship was with jobs. An example? Someone who grew up with a mother or father as a successful entrepreneur will attach totally different meaning to the term “job” than someone who grew up with a parent who did manual labor for a living. So I want to move us beyond jobs when talking about our work, and instead talk about our craft. Is it semantics? Sure. But our words are everything, and the ones we choose to use matters.
I like to view our daily tasks, the things that we apply ourselves to day in and day out, as our craft. A craft, by nature, has hard work, appreciation, and attention to detail attached to it. It goes beyond some mundane job that we go to just for a paycheck, and it takes on a personal narrative. It attaches ourselves, our beings, to the work, and this fundamentally changes how we approach it. Maybe you don’t actually enjoy your day-to-day work. Maybe you’re looking for something new. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t still craftsmen and craftswomen in what we accomplish each day. We craft our attitudes. We craft our conversations with others. We craft our ability to stay positive. We craft our work ethic. We craft the purpose behind what we do. When we remove our craft from our daily tasks, it is minimized to a job. But none of us want a job. We want a craft and a purpose that we can apply ourselves to. It has nothing to do with whether or not we have a boss. It has nothing to do with whether we’re filing papers or selling widgets. It has nothing to do with the to-do list in front of us. It has everything to do with our approach to it. This is our craft. It’s shaped by our own two hands.

Have you ever had an experience where you observe someone in their work and you think to yourself “This person is fully engaged in their work. They are a true pro at what they do.” I have many times. I’ve seen this in bartenders and servers. I’ve seen this in sales reps. I’ve seen this in doctors. I’ve seen this in countless positions, regardless of what that particular “job” is. Time and time again what I’ve noticed is these people is not that they’re overtly passionate about their work, but that they are intentional craftsmen at their work. They pay attention to the details and focus on delivering superior work. They don’t rely on emotions like passion to drive them. Instead they rely on the innate satisfaction that comes from improving upon and perfecting their craft. This is what happens when our work becomes our craft. It is agnostic in regards to passion, but omnipresent in regards to fulfillment.

What Is Your Craft?

Now that we’ve demystified what passion is and isn’t, and we’ve unpacked what building our craft should look like, let’s discover what our craft truly is. It starts with a very simple question.

What are we good at?

Notice I didn’t say “great” at. Notice I didn’t say “the best” at. I simply asked what we’re good at. This is our starting place for discovering our craft. Remember when we talked about the fixed mindset versus the growth mindset? The fixed mindset would jump to the conclusion that we already need to be great at something in order to turn it into our daily work. The growth mindset would jump to the conclusion of “give me something to start with and I’ll improve from there.” When it comes to finding and honing our craft, we must approach it with a growth mindset if we want to find fulfillment in our work.

To use continuity with our prior examples, just because the surfer is good at surfing doesn’t mean the surfer is good at teaching. Just because the activist is good at empathizing with the homeless, doesn’t mean that the activist is good at raising money for the annual budget. And just because the traveler is good at finding hidden destinations, doesn’t mean the traveler is good at writing about them. To find our craft, we must start with something we’re good at.

Oftentimes when we’re in the search for meaning in our lives, we overlook the things that we’re good at for fulfillment. I remember a conversation with a good friend in Costa Rica not too long ago, who is building a web-based business. He was on the ever elusive search for meaning in his work, and was avoiding at all costs what he was actually good at – designing websites and logos. Why? Because in his own words he wasn’t passionate about doing those things. So instead he was taking the high friction and high frustration path of building a business based on things he wasn’t good at. Through hours of incredible conversation with each other, unpacking and discovering what he was truly seeking, he decided that designing websites and logo was the perfect springboard to building the business he wanted to build. What was it he was truly seeking? Fulfillment. As the saying goes,

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by his ability to climb a tree, he will live his whole life believing he is stupid.”

Much like the fish shouldn’t spend his days trying to climb a tree, so should we not spend our days fighting the uphill battle of passion and trying to find fulfillment without achievement. Our daily craft is a matter of mindset. When we view our work as a vessel for positively impacting ourselves and those we interact with, the actual tasks become a moot point. Instead it’s the energy we put behind the tasks that matters. We craft those tasks and those interactions, and by nature of treating this work as a craft we positively impact those in our wake. Passion can kick us into gear, but we must never mistake the passion for the work. A craftsman’s mindset is what creates great work, and great work is what creates fulfillment. By starting with things that we’re good at, we give ourselves room to grow, room to craft, and a regular occurrence of fulfillment through achievement and recognition. This is an optimal environment in which we can grow and improve daily. Think of it as the Maslow-approved approach to building a remarkable life. We are all geniuses, but if we don’t give ourselves a chance to swim, we too might find ourselves believing we’re stupid.

The Company We Keep

Below is a chapter release to my next book, Redwood. I’m releasing each chapter as I write it, as a part of my 2016 Writing Quest.

Redwood is a book on how we can optimize our environment and our habits to create remarkable lives. As John Steinbeck once wrote, from redwood trees come silence and awe. We have the power to create this same remarkability in our own lives.

Want to receive each chapter for free? Sign up below as I release new chapters each week!


 

Who Are Our Five?

In a recent interview on the CreativeLive blog, Tim Ferriss was asked what the best advice he’s ever received was. His response?

“The best advice I’ve ever received is ‘you are the average of the 5 people you associate with most.’ I’ve actually heard this from more than one person, including bestselling authors, Drew Houston of Dropbox, and many others who are icons of Silicon Valley. It’s something I re-read every morning. It’s also said that ‘your network is your net worth.’ These two work well together.”

Tim Ferriss is one of the most celebrated authors and entrepreneurs of the 21st century, but this alone isn’t what makes his advice above interesting. What makes it interesting is that Tim’s life work has been studying the success of himself and others, and distilling that into the most actionable advice possible. He is an incredibly intentional writer, thinker, and modern-day philosopher. And whenever someone has produced the prolific amount of work that Tim has, it’s best to listen up when they have solitary pieces of advice that can create major impact in our lives.

As stated in his quote, Tim certainly isn’t the first person to come to the conclusion that we’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with. As best as I can tell the advice originated from Jim Rohn, one of the greatest motivational speakers and personal development coaches in history. So why do so many influential people, Tim and Jim included, tout this advice as critical to our success?

The Mindset We Keep

The mindset of the successful is oftentimes very different than the mindset of the unsuccessful. This is obviously somewhat of a generalization, but I have found this to be the case time and time again in my own life. There are many factors that lead to an individual’s success, but one of the most common threads is a mindset of growth and positive beliefs about the future. In a nutshell, they believe that they can improve their position in life through growth and they believe that their future looks brighter than their past. Mindset is not something that stays isolated to ourselves. It bleeds over into the lives of those that we’re regularly around. And this is precisely why surrounding ourselves with people that have mindsets of growth and positive beliefs directly impacts our own mindset whether we realize it or not. I have a true story that illustrates the impact this can have, both for better or for worse.

Not long after I had graduated from college I was living in Dallas and working part-time at a high end gym. There was an obese woman (literal, not just figurative) that worked out several times per week with her personal trainer at this gym. After months and months of casually observing her coming in and working out with her trainer, I noticed her progress wasn’t budging much. I was pretty good friends with her trainer so I decided to ask him what was holding her up. His response shocked me, and has clearly stayed with me until nearly a decade later.

“She actually doesn’t want to lose weight. That’s her words, not mine. She said all of her best friends are also overweight, and she feels like if she lost weight she would isolate herself from them. So she just works out to feel better, but has no desire to lose any of the weight.”

That response left me dumbfounded, but it also clearly illustrated how much the company we keep can elevate or deflate us, whether we know it or not. If the five people this woman spent the most time with were highly motivated and healthy individuals this would have likely dramatically affected her desire to improve her own position in life. Mindset is infectious and we need to be intentional about the mindset of the people we surround ourselves with day in and day out. If their mindsets are ones of growth and positive beliefs, it makes it that much easier for ours to be as well. If their mindsets are ones of status quo and negative or neutral beliefs, it is as if we’re trying to move forward in quicksand – trying to step forward but not making much progress.

The Habits We Keep

In tangent with mindset being infectious, the habits of those we spend the most time with are also infectious. Think about the most practical application of this. If the five people you spend the most time with are more likely to be found at a bar on a Wednesday night than in the gym on a Wednesday night, where do you think you’re most likely to be found? If your closest friends are swapping stories about The Bachelor instead of a new book they’re reading, what do you think your recreational activities are more likely to consist of? Humans are intrinsically drawn to be included in a group. Part of that desire and drive to be included involves doing the things that lead to inclusion. If doing a specific activity, or creating and keeping a specific habit, creates inclusion into a group of people then we are by our very nature incredibly motivated to participate. It satisfies one of the most basic needs of being a human – feeling a part of a community.

The mindset of those around us shapes our own mindset. The habits of those around us shapes our own habits. We can either accept this reality and use it to our advantage, or we can brush it off as something we can overcome. If we choose the latter we are most surely going to face an uphill battle of creating a reality in our own life that is separate from the reality of those around us. While it may sound simple enough on paper, it is incredibly difficult to do in practice.

Being Intentional About Our Five

Some of us might read this as “ditch your friends if they aren’t serving your highest self.” But this isn’t the case. It’s a question of quantity more so than quality. We all have friends and family that will be a significant part of our lives forever, regardless of whether or not that benefits our own personal development. And that’s how it should be to be honest. There’s value in those relationships as well. But this topic is a question of quantity. Who do you spend the most time with? Do the hobbies you share together, the habits you create together, and the conversations you have together drive you toward a better version of yourself? If the answer is no, it’s simply a signal that you have a massive opportunity to increase the caliber of close relationships in your life. This sort of evaluation helps you figure out if you’re on a path toward improvement or stuck in that same quicksand from above. When the majority of our social or working hours are spent with people that don’t elevate us, we’re participating in the habitual stunting of our own growth. To change it, start with intention – an intention to give yourself the best possible chance at success. Is there room to add new positive influences in your life? Is there room to elevate the mindset and habits of those around you, in turn elevating your own mindset and habits?

Put in the simplest way possible…write down the five people you spend the most time with. Choose the most average person out of those five people. Is that who you want to be like? If the answer is no, it’s time to evaluate the company we keep.

Between The Ears

Below is a chapter release to my next book, Redwood. It is a part of my 2016 Writing Quest.

Redwood is a book on how we can optimize our environment and our habits to create remarkable lives. As John Steinbeck once wrote, from redwood trees come silence and awe. We have the power to create this same remarkability in our own lives.

Want to receive each chapter for free? Sign up below as I release new chapters each week!


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction

  1. Latitudes
  2. Between The Ears

 

BETWEEN THE EARS

“If you choose not to grow, you’re staying in a small box with a small mindset. 

People who win go outside of that box. It’s very simple when you look at it.”

~Kevin Hart

When The External Affects The Internal

Like we talked about in Latitudes, a city can provide positive, negative, or neutral energy into our daily lives, which affects our environment and our ability to grow. But the simplest way to sabotage or support our environment actually has nothing to do with the external and everything to do with our internal.

It’s our own mind.

Have you ever noticed how some days you wake up ready to take on the world, full of positive energy and feeling great? And then you fast forward to the next morning and you’re waking up sluggish, somewhat defeated, with very little desire to take on the day ahead of you? Oftentimes we can’t really pinpoint what the difference in these two mornings is. We feel like we’re being pushed and pulled by the current of life, and can’t figure out why some days we’re at the top of the mountain and other days we’re beat up and limping at the bottom. What happens is simpler than we might think. We’ve let our external world affect our internal mind.

I’ll give you a very basic example of my external affecting my internal. If I rewind the clock several years, I was living in Denver and loving everything about life. My city and environment was refreshing, motivating, and inspiring. One morning I was walking from my car to a cafe to grab some coffee, enjoying another perfectly sunny and beautiful Denver day. It was a Sunday during football season, so I was wearing my Chiefs shirt like I always do on game days. As I’m walking back to my car I pass a guy about my age on the sidewalk that I’ve never seen or met before. He looks at my t-shirt, then looks at me and says “Nice shirt douchebag” just as he passes me.

Internal joy, meet external asshole.

I wish I could tell you my mindset was so sound and aligned that I let it go in one ear and out the other without skipping a beat. Instead, the comment immediately made my blood boil and stayed with me the rest of the day. You could have been a fly on a wall inside my head eight hours later and I would have still been thinking about it. I should have hit the guy. I should have made him regret ever saying something to me. Little thoughts like this consuming my mind for the better part of my day. I had allowed my external world to disrupt my internal environment. We find ourselves falling prey to this constantly. This external disruption of the internal is draining to us, and most of the time it’s draining us subconsciously. Hence why some days we just don’t have the juice. We’ve expended it all on the mental energy required to fight our battles of the mind.

It has been estimated that we have between 20,000 and 80,000 thoughts per day. The citations are scarce when trying to find any sort of accurate number, but it’s not really the actual number that matters. The bottom line is that we have a massive amount of thoughts every single day, and most we aren’t even aware of. (Can you recall the 20,000+ thoughts you had yesterday? Good, neither can I.) This doesn’t bode well for us when we allow those thoughts to affect our energy. So how do we remove or reduce our mind’s ability to sabotage our environment? The next two sections will show us how our mindset can use every thought and circumstance in our lives to our own growth advantage.

A Growth Mindset And Giving Ourselves A Break

Carol Dweck, professor of Psychology at Stanford, popularized the idea of fixed mindsets and growth mindsets in her book appropriately titled “Mindset: A New Psychology of Success”. In her own words from an interview about the book,

“In a fixed mindset people believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset people understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”

This definition of fixed mindsets and growth mindsets at surface level doesn’t seem to be correlated to my story above about letting some fleeting comment disrupt my joy. But let’s dig a little deeper. When I spent the day frustrated by my encounter I was never delusional about the fact that this was something silly to be upset about. I knew it was ridiculous, but that didn’t change the fact that it upset me. Like Dweck said in her definition about the fixed mindset, I didn’t want to look dumb, and at that moment I felt dumb. I had a fixed mindset about the situation, and believed in a nutshell the old adage of “I am who I am”. I was irritated, and that’s all there was to it. How would the situation have looked different if I was aware of the fixed mindset I had about the interaction? What would a different version of myself, a growth minded and improved version of myself done? In short, I would have recognized the anger in myself and used it as an opportunity to improve. My internal dialogue would have gone something like this.

“Adam, you’re pissed off right now. What an asshole that guy was. This could easily ruin my your day. But why? Use this as an opportunity to grow. If you simply let go of the anger right now you’re going to turn your day around for the better, instead of letting the anger simmer like it has so many times in the past.”

My situation without a doubt would have improved because of a simple shift in mindset. Instead of approaching the anger with a fixed mindset that believed I was wronged, looked dumb, and I was who I was, I would have approached the anger as an opportunity to grow and improve. A simple awareness of our ability to do this is oftentimes all it takes to turn our mindset around. The growth mindset, in essence, allows us to give ourselves a break. If we’re frustrated, upset, angry, or simply drained, a growth mindset lets us view the emotion as an opportunity to grow instead of state we need to live in. Those days when we wake up drained and we don’t know why? There’s a good chance we’ve had a lot of mental chatter going on lately, and we haven’t given ourselves enough breaks, viewing each and every situation as an opportunity to grow.

This Sucks, But…

The growth mindset doesn’t just apply to our internal world. It can be just as valuable when we apply it to the external as well. Take setbacks, obstacles, and heartache for example. A fixed mindset would tell us that these things are negative and we simply must endure them. A car accident, a death in the family, a job loss – to the fixed mindset these are all unfortunate occurrences that we have to live with because well, that’s life. A growth mindset, in contrast, views everything as an opportunity to grow and improve, both internally and externally. The car accident becomes an opportunity to practice gratitude that everyone walked away uninjured. The death in the family becomes an opportunity to celebrate a life and appreciate each moment we have above ground even more. A job loss becomes an opportunity to improve our skillsets and seek out a more fulfilling role.

In his best-selling book “The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage”, author Ryan Holiday summarizes this topic succinctly and elegantly when he says:

“The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.”

The thing that is perceived as a setback by the fixed mindset becomes an opportunity and our new path through the growth mindset. It is our perception that changes, not the situation, and this perception has the utmost power to help us grow or hold us back. I’ve experienced the power of this truth time and time again in my own life.

In 2014, my wife and I were pregnant with our first child. Our baby boy was already stitching memories in both of our minds and we were ecstatic over what the future held. Life had different plans for us however, and those future memories would never actually come to fruition. Due to a genetic condition that we didn’t know our son had until he was born, his time on earth only lasted a couple of days. This little baby that held so much of our futures in his hands, was quickly rewriting the script for our lives. Just 36 hours into his tiny life, we held him in our arms as he took his last breath. Our world had its first permanent crack in it.

Oftentimes in a marriage, the death of a child can lead to the dismantling of the marriage. A couple’s world is forever changed, and many times they simply don’t know how to operate together in this new territory. After Cade, our son, passed away I became acutely aware that this could happen to my wife and I. This initial tragedy had the power to spiral downward into my own personal despair as well as our relationship’s despair. A fixed mindset would have surely triggered and supported this downward spiral.

At this point in my life I was aware enough of my mindset to approach our loss with intention. I viewed the pain, loss, and heartache as a chance to grow. It was an opportunity to express empathy of not knowing what others are going through. It was an opportunity to process my own emotions and come out better on the other side because of them. It was an opportunity to strengthen my wife and I’s bond. It was an opportunity to be there for other couples going through heartbreak. It was an opportunity to experience even greater joy and appreciation for our next child. It was an opportunity to use my writing as a positive outlet to impact others. In short, it was simply an opportunity to become a better version of myself, albeit through the most painful process possible. What could have led to destructive habits, divorce, and depression instead led to opportunity to impact the greater good of myself, my family, and the world around me. It’s worth noting how incredibly grateful I am that my wife also utilized a growth mindset through our loss, whether or not she was aware of it, and has since positively impacted countless women going through loss and infertility struggles. Had we not both used a growth mindset to process our pain, it’s tough to say where we’d be today.

Internal and External Harmony

Even when our external environment, the city and community we live in, fosters our creativity, positive energy, and growth, it can still ultimately be derailed by a fixed mindset. We can be as motivated and inspired as possible by the people and places around us, but if we still aren’t aware of, and recognize, each moment and situation as an opportunity for growth, then we will stay on the outside looking in. We’ll be watching the world around us improve while we sit idly by. However, when we can couple our positive, external environment with a growth mindset that views every circumstance and interaction as an opportunity to improve ourselves, we have a recipe and foundation for creating a remarkable life. The external environment creates the springboard for growth, and the internal harmony with that environment keeps us on the growth path. Perhaps that word, harmony, is the ultimate thing we’re seeking between our external and internal environments when it comes to growth. Harmony is by its very nature frictionless. Our city and community provide us the canvas on which to paint our remarkable life, and our mindset improves upon the painting as we go. But we cannot paint to our full potential without both. A poor canvas will limit the beauty of the final artwork, and a fixed mindset will never stretch our abilities. But when there is harmony between the two, with the canvas and mindset in alignment, our creation that we call our “life” has the opportunity to be more remarkable than we could have ever imagined.

Latitudes

 

Below is a chapter release to my next book, Redwood.

Redwood is a book on how we can optimize our environment and our habits to create remarkable lives. As John Steinbeck once wrote, from redwood trees come silence and awe. We have the power to create this same remarkability in our own lives.

Want to receive each chapter for free? Sign up below as I release new chapters each week!


 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction


 

CHAPTER 1 – LATITUDES

The Wrong Latitude

With a doctor standing over me and an EKG report in his hand, I exhaled a sigh of relief knowing that I in fact was not having a heart attack. I was only 23 years old at the time, and I was convinced that the roller coaster ride that was my last year of life had led to my early demise. It turned out to just be stress induced heart palpitations, albeit of the extreme varietal, and at that moment I knew my environment had to change. I was living in Dallas at the time, and although I had plenty to be grateful for, including an amazing girlfriend and some of the best friends in the world, I felt constrained in my life. “Trapped” is most apt summation of my daily existence at the time. Fast forward one year later and I found myself breathing in fresh Rocky Mountain air with a new lease on life. My stress and anxiety had melted away virtually overnight, and it stayed that way for the entirety of my next six years of living in Colorado. Sure, the beautiful mountains and nearly unlimited supply of sunshine played a big part. But it was more than that. It was the energy of the people, congregating from all walks of life and all parts of the country in this one city at the gateway to the west. It was the entrepreneurial and pioneering spirit that made you feel as if anything was possible. It was the nonconformity of the city and its’ people that was just the right amount of weird. This was a place that I could thrive, an environment that would not just allow growth, but encourage it. “Trapped” had no place in my existence here.

Choosing the city we live in is the low hanging fruit of optimizing our environment. It is a big impact decision that can completely change the course of our life, for better or for worse. The tough thing about this is that there’s no book or website that will tell us where our ideal place is. It’s an entirely personal decision that’s based on our personalities, our ambitions, and our triggers. The energy of New York City can be fuel to one person and kryptonite to another. The waves of Santa Monica can be an artistic spark to one person and idle dullness to another. The place does not make the person. The person does not make the place. But the person plus the place together makes something entirely different. The only way I know how to gauge what the right place is for myself is by the energy it brings me. It either lifts me up, deflates me, or keeps me in the middle. I don’t want anything to do with the last two options, as I know they’re not enabling me to be the best version of myself possible. If you’ve ever felt the itch to move, or had that internal nudge that tells you there just might be more out there, that’s your cue to give your location some critical thought. You’re craving an injection of new energy into your life, and oftentimes a new city can provide that.

Freedom From the Expectation of Others

If there’s one thing you take from this chapter, it’s this reality. When we live in a place where we have a history, whether that’s our hometown or elsewhere, we have existing and limiting expectations of the person we’re supposed to be. And these expectations are very, very difficult to overcome.

Take myself for example. I have some particularly fond memories with my fraternity brothers from college. We spent some of the best years and times of our lives together, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. For better or for worse most of those memories have the common thread of partying woven through them. In short, we knew how to have a good time. Fast forward my life ten years to right now, and that version of myself is still how that most of that group of people know me best. They don’t know the Adam that has been through immense amounts of pain. They don’t know the Adam that has been through equal and opposite amounts of joy. They don’t know the Adam that strives each day to be better than yesterday. In short, they don’t know this Adam, the Adam of today. If I would have tried to create my current reality while surrounded by people that have expectations of a different version of me, it would have been very difficult to overcome. This isn’t just my story either. They are all different, and improved, versions of the people they were in college. And just like they’d have expectations of myself relative to the “me” they knew, I have the same for them. I fully expect our time catching up to be over a dip of Skoal and a Natural Light, even if that’s not who either of us are anymore. Those memories and expectations of who we’re supposed to be are imprinted on our brains, and displaying a new imprint creates friction where we crave continuity.

It is much easier to paint on a blank canvas than it is to redo an existing painting.

Freedom from expectations allows us the freedom to create ourselves. We can always take these new and improved versions of ourselves back to our former lives, but only after we’ve made them. It is the creation that is the difficult part. And separation from pre-existing barriers, boundaries, and beliefs is what provides us that freedom to create. We are all the artists of our lives, and our city is one of the best supplies we have at our disposal.

When Home Isn’t Where the Heart Is

Home can be the toughest place of all to leave, if you are in fact drawn to live, grow, and thrive elsewhere. Home is safe. Home is familiar. Home is where we know the names, the faces, the streets, the restaurants, and what to expect from our time there. In a word, home is comfortable. We can be ourselves there, the way we’ve always been. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with never leaving our hometowns. If that is the place that gives us the energy to create, explore, and improve, home can be the perfect place for us. But for many of us that’s not the case. What if we’re not happy with the person that we’ve always been there? What if we feel that internal nudge to explore and remake ourselves, but the comfort of home outweighs the fear of the unknown? We feel like there is a new version of ourselves out there waiting to be created, but it’s a daunting task to think about leaving the old life behind. If you fall into this camp, my encouragement to you is that nothing is permanent. Home will always be there waiting with open arms if and when the time comes to return. If you allow that fear of the unknown to hold you back from ever exploring what could have been, you will never reveal parts of yourself that can only be discovered in uncharted territory. The simple act of having to meet new friends, learn new roads, and create new routines helps us to learn things about ourselves we wouldn’t have known otherwise. The vulnerability of being in a new place can be incredibly powerful to our own personal development. But the only way to access it is to go.

At the risk of losing readers to a terribly cheesy song reference, Jimmy Buffett was onto something when he sang “These changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, nothing remains quite the same.” Changes in latitudes, without a doubt, do lead to changes in attitudes. And nothing remaining quite the same can be a very good thing. We should never feel stuck in the place we are, because the power to change our situation is in our own hands. Much like a redwood could still survive if planted in a suboptimal environment, the same goes for us. We can survive in a city we’re not excited about living in. But why simply survive when we can thrive elsewhere? Our location can be a springboard for our own development, and if we recognize that our current latitude isn’t serving us, it’s on us to change it. If we get the city right, building the rest of our optimal environment becomes easier. But it starts with a map, a pin, and a person. Where to?

Integrating Into A New Latitude (or An Existing One)

A city, in and of itself, is not intrinsically wired to help us grow. Even if we feel the positive energy of a city reverberating from every street corner, we still have to proactively capture that energy. Like a book holding powerful information and knowledge on its pages, we have to open the front cover to access it.

The first month of my new lease on life in Denver was spent in the mountains. I set up shop in a family friend’s vacation home in Evergreen, Colorado. It was, and still is, one of my favorite spots in the world. With no cell phone service, an unbeatable view of Mount Evans, and elk as my neighbors I couldn’t have asked for a better mountain setting. Just 30 minutes outside of Denver I thought it was the perfect parlay into my new world.

But what started out as idyllic quickly settled into isolated. I found myself driving to Denver coffee shops every day just to meet new people and plant some roots in my new home. I was in a new place but not really “in” that place. A month into my time in Denver, I finally settled into a house with my wife just a week after getting married. We had moved to the Washington Park neighborhood, surrounded by 20 and 30-somethings living and loving life in the Mile High city. As soon as I moved down from the foothills and into the city, everything changed for the better. My wife and I joined a gym, joined a volleyball league, got involved in the tech startup community, and starting truly planting roots in our new city little by little. That gym became our second home for the next six years and produced some of our closest friends to this day. That volleyball league evolved into endless hours spent in recreation at Wash Park. That tech startup community led to shaping both of our careers, producing nothing but positive outcomes along the way. We did not just move to Denver. We became a part of Denver. And there is a massive difference. No book can tell you what the best way to get involved in a new place is. That has to come from you. What are your favorite things to do? What are your hobbies? Who do you want to be? Here’s a good mental exercise to help you think through your own city.

Imagine your perfect life five years from now. You have your dream job or own your dream company. You do the things you want to do. You make the money you want to make. You spend your days exactly how you want to spend your days. Where would this version of you spend your time? What hobbies would you have? What company would you keep? Now go spend time in those places and do those things. It’s as simple as that. The easiest way to become a new version of yourself is to simply start being a new version of yourself. If old you spent Tuesday nights at the bar, but new you wants to race a triathlon, spend your Tuesday nights on a bike as the new you! There’s not a soul around to expect anything otherwise. Life in a new city, or gaining a new lease on life in your existing city, is the perfect opportunity to make quantum leaps toward the person you want to become. And it starts with the ways in which you interact with that city.

The latitudes don’t initiate momentum one way or another for us. But they do support or suppress that momentum once we get moving. If your current latitude is suppressing the ultimate version of yourself, by all means find a new latitude. If your current latitude has the power to support the ultimate version of yourself, it’s on you to initiate it. The soil is fertile. We just have to plant the tree.

Redwood – Introduction

This chapter release is part of my quest to write and publish 4 books in 2016. Want to be a part of my quest?

Click here to learn more!


 

“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe.”

~John Steinbeck

Redwood trees are the largest trees on the planet. They can live for thousands of years, and their sheer size cannot be grasped in a photo or written word. Having visited a redwood tree forest myself, any description I put here can never replace the in-person experience of having one tower over you, another jaw dropped in awe at the sheer power of a single tree. Redwood forests have been a destination for people from all over the world, with the experience being equal parts selfish joy and selfless wonder. Something so big and ancient that makes us feel so small and infantile. It is a similar feeling to that of being surrounded by endless ocean or towering mountains, and having a moment of clarity and realization of just how truly miniscule we are. The power of the redwood to either move us to silence, or as I’m doing, move us to words, is by definition remarkable.  

Like every tree, redwoods need a specific environment in order to thrive. They need abundant rain for most of the year. They need temperatures that are neither too hot nor too cold. And they need fog to protect them from the summer heat. One of the most fascinating things about a redwood’s environment is their root system. Redwood roots don’t grow very deep, which you’d think they’d need in order to stabilize their sheer height. Instead they have shallow root systems that stretch for one hundred or more feet from the trunk, growing close to other redwoods, and allowing their roots to intertwine. This shallow and intertwined root system strengthens and stabilizes the entire group. What is lost in depth is gained in spades by their own community of redwoods – one of the many nuanced factors that help a redwood become what it is capable of becoming.  

But what would happen if you grew a redwood alone in a pot?

For the first year or two it would be just fine, growing a few feet per year. But after that the tree would naturally outgrow its’ potted surroundings and would have to be planted in the ground. If it stayed in the pot the redwood’s growth would stunt and eventually it wouldn’t survive. With a simple change in where it’s planted the redwood would go from one of the most powerful, awe-inspiring sights on the planet to something much less remarkable.

Humans are much the same way. Our growth as individuals is dependent upon where we plant ourselves, and the environment we provide ourselves for growth. Thankfully for us, we get to choose these conditions. As Elon Musk puts it,

If you want to grow a giant redwood, you need to make sure the seeds are ok, nurture the sapling, and work out what might potentially stop it from growing all the way along. Anything that breaks it at any point stops that growth.”

This book explores the idea of our own human potential, and is broken down into three sections: Environment, Growth, and Remarkability.

The Environment section explores the external factors in our lives that have internal implications. Everything from the city we live in, to the friends we keep, to the media we consume shapes our mindset and therefore shapes our reality. It is easy for us to think that our growth is purely dependent upon the willpower we force upon it. That we can use work ethic and sheer determination to overcome our surroundings. But this thought is inaccurate, or at best incomplete. Much like a redwood’s growth will stagnate outside of its optimal environment, so will ours. Surviving isn’t the same as thriving, and environment is how we move from the former to the latter.

The Growth section goes one step beyond environment, and into the habits, resources, and tools we have at our disposal to go from leading a small life to leading a big life. Environment can be considered the foundation of a life well lived, and growth is how we amplify and accelerate that foundation into the best possible version of ourselves. We live in a time when virtually any information we could ever dream of is at our fingertips. And that information is power. Power to transform, power to grow, power to become. When you combine a positive, energizing environment with intentional pressure applied to growth, the possibilities for what our lives can become increases exponentially.

You may have read those first two section titles without pause, and been caught off guard slightly by the last – Remarkability. Redwoods aren’t the only trees in the world that need a specific environment and conditions to grow. In fact that’s pretty much every tree. But what makes redwoods what they are, after their environment has fostered their growth, is the sheer remarkability of them. As Steinbeck put it, “from them comes silence and awe”. This is not just the insignia of a remarkable tree, but also the insignia of a remarkable life. We’ve all encountered people in our lives who leave us wondering what it is this person possesses that others don’t. They leave you intrigued long after the fact, and their life stands as something to emulate or strive for. Most of these people that touch our lives and leave us with this positive state of awe are not the people we might think, like athletes, celebrities, and anyone else in the spotlight (although they certainly can be). Instead most of these people are like you and me, who at first glance appear to be leading a mostly unremarkable life, but when the layers are peeled back the sheer enormity and power of their life leaves us with jaw slightly open, wondering how they got to where they are, and inspired to become that better version of ourselves. These are the traits of the remarkable.