Sometimes The Best Thing You Can Hear Is “It’s Going to Be Okay”

goh-rhy-yan-686763-unsplash

I’ve had a few people write in to ask me if I’ve stopped blogging. Nope—but I’m sorry! It sure looks that way.

I’ve just been on hiatus while writing a new book. I’ll tell you about it soon, and I very much look forward to getting back to regular posts here. (In the meantime, the daily podcast continues.)

For now, I thought I’d pop up and express something that’s been on my mind. Every now and then, I see a post offering “Advice for My Younger Self,” and I’ve been asked to share mine in interviews from time to time.

I’ve been going to therapy for more than two years now, and one of the models I’ve explored is the concept of a younger version of ourselves remaining part of us as we age. This younger self needs to be cared for, since it’s not able to do so on its own, and it can influence our adult decisions in all sorts of ways.

The question I’ve learned to ask, when working through various issues, is, “What is six-year-old Chris feeling right now?” It’s an interesting practice, at least to someone like me who doesn’t naturally think this way.

If I could go back in time to talk to a younger Chris, though, I’m not sure it would be the six-year-old version. I think it would be a version somewhere in the 11-14 age range.

And I think I would say just three things, besides “Put all your money in this thing called Bitcoin whenever it comes out.”

Those things would be:

1. It’s going to be okay.

This is hard to believe right now, but it’s true.

You’re very afraid much of the time now. You don’t like yourself and don’t see an end to what seems like impossible situations. Guess what: there will be an end to those situations. And one day you’ll be proud of getting through them. If you believe nothing else, believe this.

Hold on for one more day, just like you hear in the Wilson Phillips song that is currently playing on the radio all the time.

2. Don’t allow your rebellious spirit to be broken.

It’s there for a reason and will serve you well for decades to come. Sure, there might be times when “reining it in” is the better option. But there will be many other times when your inclination to look for alternatives, pursue a different path, or even just cause trouble will end up being the far better choice.

Therefore, when in doubt—think and act for yourself. Don’t be afraid to push against rules that don’t make sense or institutions that exist merely to enrich themselves. If anything, push harder.

3. Don’t worry about the things you aren’t good at.

You’ll never learn math, and it will be fine. You’ll never acquire many mechanical skills, and it won’t matter.

In fact, the more you try to improve at things you have no interest in but think you are supposed to be good at, the more frustrated you will become. Striving to become unremarkably average will get you nowhere you want to go.

On the other hand, what will matter is that you hold fast to what you believe in, make it through the difficult times, and find your own way.

If you focus on the gifting you have, your ability to persevere, and the “don’t ever count him out” quality that you cultivate and cherish, you’ll become much stronger. This will be your north star. Follow it whenever you get off course.

Oh, and here’s some bonus advice, for twelve-year-old Chris and anyone else out there who identifies with him: try to worry less about what other people think of you. You’ll be much more successful, effective, and happier when you don’t.

###

Image: Goh Rhy Yan

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

A Field Guide to Wandering in the Wilderness of the Soul

bradley-davis-128161

When you’re wandering cobblestone streets in Europe, stopping at cafes and making unexpected discoveries, it’s fun to lose your way and wander off the well-trodden path. You’re on an adventure! When you’re out on a long run and don’t mind if you take a wrong turn or two, you know that the extra distance is good for you.

But here’s the thing: you’re not really lost in those situations. You’re exactly where you wanted to be, even if you didn’t know it before you took the detour. That’s why “getting lost” feels oddly welcoming.

When it comes to wandering in the wilderness of the soul, however, it’s a different situation. This is the wilderness where you feel truly lost. You lack direction, enthusiasm, or purpose—or maybe all three. You don’t know what to do, and every option you can see feels like two steps backwards.

Amenities are limited in this wilderness. You sprain your ankle on those picturesque cobblestones. Cafés serve overpriced, burnt coffee, and the servers are rude. All you want is to get back on the path, but it’s not so simple. The teacher appears when the student is ready, so they say, but you’re ready to drop out of class.

You curse the landscape, your traveling companions, and most of all yourself. You try to fight your way out, but any opponent you select is a straw man, any battle a proxy war that only ends up delaying your exit further.

No one chooses the wilderness; the wilderness chooses by its own logic. And once you’ve entered, your ability to determine the time and location of exit is beyond your control.

***

Let’s say you’ve recently arrived in this unpleasant no-mans-land. Perhaps this isn’t your first time here, so you try to get your bearings. You survey the landscape, recognizing familiar signs and features. With a shrug of your shoulders, you think, Well, I’ve done this before. I just need to lace up my boots and start hiking.

But each wilderness of the soul has some unique shape or challenge to it. You notice that the tools you used the last time have become rusty, or maybe even defective. The wilderness is mocking you, telling you that if a quick fix was available, you wouldn’t have encountered each other again.

As you ponder your options, you think, Where am I? And, How did I get here? And most of all, Where’s the off-ramp from this wilderness?

But that’s where you find yourself frustrated again. The off-ramp isn’t on the map! The very definition of a wilderness is a place where you find yourself wandering, most likely going off in the wrong direction multiple times. Your path out will be anything but direct.

Eventually you sink in and accept your fate. Damn. I guess I’m officially lost in the wilderness!

It’s at this point, or soon thereafter, that you finally learn something. First, you learn that you are not in control. The longer you fight this lesson, the longer you remain in one place.

It’s not that you have no autonomy whatsoever. You have skills, and you have life experience. You can draw on those times in your life where you had to do hard things. These memories and experiences won’t take you all the way, but they’ll help.

When you stop panicking, it gets easier. It’s hard to make wise decisions when you feel so desperate.

freddie-marriage-100212

Speaking of decisions, somewhere in the wilderness there’s a decision you need to make. Before you can escape and get back on the path, you need to find your way to that decision point.

That choice you must make is not obvious or easy. Whatever the decision is, there are no two ways about it. Trying to have it all only leads to a muddy compromise that further delays you.

Once you navigate that point of no return, it gets easier still. You find a rest stop somewhere. You find an unexpected guide or companion. You see the beginnings of a trail.

Note: try not to get too excited at this point, because it might not be over yet. There’s always that “Darkest hour before dawn” thing to look out for.

Clues appear that lead you along the way, bread crumbs drop from the sky to give you sustenance. At first these feel like the bare minimum of rations, but somehow the crumbs lead you to a place of comfort. You begin to take joy in small pleasures again. The coffee becomes much better, and the servers even smile once in a while.

Finally you emerge from that wilderness, dusty and haggard, face set toward the sun and the path that leads you forward. Maybe you look back for a moment and feel grateful for the lessons you’ve learned. Maybe you shake off the dust and vow never to return.

Or maybe you just pause and say, “What the hell was that about?”

***

There’s no “5 ways to escape the wilderness” guide. If it were that simple, it wouldn’t be a true wilderness.

But understand this: acknowledging that you are in the wilderness is oddly empowering. Admitting your powerlessness can build resilience.

You probably know the quote well, having seen it on bumper stickers and Instagram captions the world over: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Where does that come from? Oh, right, it comes from the human condition. The reality of life, love, and adventure. The choice to truly live, and to risk with no guarantee of return.

When you find yourself lost, release control but never give up hope. Always know that life is worth living no matter how hard things get.

And never doubt that there’s an off-ramp from the wilderness, even if that exit seems impossibly far away.

###

Image: Bradley, Glen

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

The Movie of Your Life, Part II

fabrizio-verrecchia-180319

I used to worry a lot about what people think of me. I felt that I could be damaged or even destroyed by someone’s words, or my failure to achieve an arbitrary level of success.

I tried to present the right image in each encounter. When something went wrong, I would run and hide.

I still worry a lot, of course. But now for the most part I worry about different things. If there’s anything good about getting older, it’s that I care much less about people seeing my faults.

Now—at least sometimes—when I encounter a situation that might bring me down, I tend to think who cares? Get a life, man. I have one.

A while back I wrote about the idea of your life as a movie, with you as the director. When you go through your archives in post-production, you might stumble on a scene that feels particularly surreal.

In those times, you may wonder, “Why did I put this scene in my movie?”

I’ve been thinking about this lately as I continue my journey. With the benefit of perspective, I realize that some of the scenes in my movie are… well, a little surreal. Looking back on those scenes, it’s easy to wonder, “Did that really happen?”

Sometimes the reflection is positive:

“Wow, I still can’t believe I did that! I had an idea and I made it happen. I followed a dream and I’m so glad I did.”

And sometimes it’s negative:

“Wow, that was bad. Was I really that wrong about such a fundamental situation? Was I that wrong about myself?”

It’s only with hindsight that some things make sense, and it’s also true that at a certain point you worry less about the ones that never will.

Still, why do we put these scenes in our lives?

###

Image: Fabrizio

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

If Everyone Becomes a Non-Conformist, Won’t We All Be Conforming?

I used to get this question a lot, sometimes framed in skepticism but other times just curiosity. The simple answer is that not everyone wants to become a non-conformist, or any other particular means of self-identification. Plenty of people are happy with the way things are, which is the definition of conformity. It’s not always a bad thing.

It’s also like asking, what if everyone wanted world peace? It would be wonderful If everyone wanted world peace, but not everyone does. People generally operate in their own interests, and some people benefit from conflict and strife. It’s no surprise that the world is full of constant conflict.

Being a non-conformist, or just a rebel in general, isn’t about fighting for the sake of fighting. Nor is it usually about rejecting an orthodoxy or culture. When it is about those things, the rebellion is usually superficial and short-lasting.

Rebels aren’t anarchists. The anarchist just wants to burn things down and walk away. The rebel wants to build.

The rebel seeks to create transformation and positive change, whether in broader society or (just as importantly) in an institution they already participate in.

“In life one must have a goal.”

This is why if you want to change the world, look around. School, work, church, mosque, synagogue, state, community, business—your opportunity for influence is waiting for you.

True rebellion, therefore, is ultimately about a deep desire to belong, just not at any cost. Like all of us, the rebel wants to be loved.

Not everyone will become a non-conformist. But if you don’t like what you see and you want to be part of building a different world, start thinking for yourself and asking questions of others. As I have said for eight years now: you don’t have to live your life the way others expect. You can chart your own course, and you don’t need anyone’s approval.

###

Images: 1, 2, 3

[widgets_on_pages id=”Born For This Tip”]

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

Revisiting Montana, 25 Years Later

Montana

If you didn’t love your childhood, you probably don’t love the place where you grew up. Maybe you tried to get as far away as you could. Years later, maybe you realized it wasn’t the place that was so bad, it was just the experiences you had at the time. Or maybe your beliefs were confirmed: that place really was designed to produce misery, and if you have any say in the matter, you’ll never go back.

These thoughts were on my mind as the Delta Connection plane from Salt Lake City touched down in Bozeman, Montana. I felt jumpy and anxious on the short flight, as if I’d had too much coffee or not enough sleep. This being book tour season, both of those things were probably true, but they weren’t the only source of the discontent.

See, I lived in Montana—the eastern, flat part—for several years as a child. I have very few happy memories from that time, and most of those involve playing video games or riding my bike around town by myself. They are memories of escapism, not of friends or community or anything that felt like “belonging.”

I remember being very cold all the time, no matter how many clothes or pairs of socks I put on. I remember a school I hated and a church I was forced to attend three times a week.

Not all of that is Montana’s fault, of course. And it really is true what you hear; there’s so much natural beauty in parts of this state. It was only when I came back on my 50-state book tour in 2010 and spent the night in Missoula that I understood it.

There’s a clear division, though, between the western mountains and the eastern prairie where I lived as a kid. Mountain side: worth the trip. Prairie side: stay away.

Fortunately, my Delta flight was headed for the mountains. When I landed in Bozeman, it was as though the universe had conspired to break my resentment: the horizon was incredible, soaked in sunshine and fresh air. I rented a car and found a great restaurant for lunch. At each interaction, from hotel check-in to the server who brought my veggie burger to the outdoor patio, I was told how lucky I was: until that morning, the whole week had been rainy and cold.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my brother on this trip. I spent four years on the “never again” side of Montana, but then I skipped out to live with my other set of parents nearly 2,000 miles away. Ken had only two parents who still lived together, so he stayed behind and spent at least six more years on his own.

Here’s the thing, though. The very moment he could leave, at age 17, he bolted. He drove to Alabama, where our grandma (Nana) lived, and gradually settled in. After he left Montana, he never came back. There was something (maybe more than one thing) that he never wanted to remember or experience again.

I wish that Ken had the chance to see the better side of Montana. Maybe he’d feel like me: “Wow, it’s beautiful here.” We could have had beers at the brewery and laughed at all of the grizzly bear memorabilia for sale.

While I was there I thought about going back to that small town where we used to live, at least two hours away from all the beauty. Maybe there’d be something I could confront, or some way of memorializing him there. But then I realized the obvious: why would I memorialize someone in a place we both despised? If he never went back, why should I?

Later that evening, I drove to the book event 20 miles away. Small as the town was, the turnout was fantastic. We had more people (a lot more) in attendance than I did in Salt Lake City the night before. As a bonus, I even managed to snag a cupcake to take back to my room at the end of the night. I had it together with a glass of whiskey I brought up from the downstairs bar and thought through all these things.

I had no regrets on returning to Montana. I’m glad I went, and I’m glad the universe conspired to make it a good day. It’s just that the time feels so short. Some things we can recover or rally from, and some things we can’t fix no matter what we do. As far as I can tell, wisdom is all about understanding the difference, so that you know when to fight and when to accept.

###

Image: Amy

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

The Light of the Oncoming Train Strengthens the Mind

train

Dear Self,

Your problem is that you think everything matters. The things that you do every day, the tasks that occupy your mind and draw on your energy—you think they are helping you make linear progress towards a significant destination.

And maybe you are making progress. But what if you’re just making linear progress on something that is ultimately inconsequential?

Your problem, in short, is that you have mistaken productivity for vision. You are a highly organized machine. You would perform very well in a factory. You would be very good at making someone else’s widgets. You would improve their efficiency and always deliver on time. Then you would collect a mediocre paycheck and be remembered as the person who was good at following instructions.

What you need, dear self, is a real vision. You need a life mission that goes beyond an adventure or even a quest. You need to be able to point to something and say, “Hey, I did that. I made that. It was mine.”

And sure, eventually everything will come to an end. The great pharaoh Ozymandias once proclaimed his wealth and architecture to a world that followed him. “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair,” he said.

“Nothing beside remains,” the poet observed.

But maybe the problem is that Ozymandias didn’t make the right things! Maybe he shouldn’t have stored up treasure in earth, but instead worked toward creating something that would endure.

There are a lot of things you don’t need to worry about, self. It’s okay if you make mistakes, and it’s also okay if you fail. You should worry about how you’ll handle success, however success is measured, and you should worry about losing your true self along the way.

Like all of us, there’s something out there for you to discover, to create, and to become—and you must do everything you can to grab hold of it once it appears on the horizon.

Because there will always be distractions and temptations along the way, but in the end the greatest obstacle to achieving this potential lies within you. No one can take it from you unless you willingly hand it over.

There’s a saying, “The light of the oncoming train strengthens the mind.” It means that you gain clarity as you mature, and as you become more aware of both life and death. Because sometimes you have to wait for the train, and other times you have to cross the railroad tracks.

So that’s what you should think about as you work so hard. What is it all for?

###

*My new book, Born for This, will be available everywhere starting tomorrow. You can order from Amazon.com, BN.com, or your favorite local bookstore.

Image: Will

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

Everything’s Great, But Could I Get That Breakfast I Ordered?

Breakfast

My hotel breakfast server was very friendly. It took a while for him to come over after I was seated, but when he did, he was all smiles and exuberance.

I ordered eggs, coffee, and a smoothie (thanks, Starwood). “That’s a great idea!” the server said, and seemed genuinely happy about my order.

Over the next twenty minutes, he came back several times to check on me. There was just one problem: my breakfast never arrived.

“How is everything so far?” he asked.

Not sure yet, I don’t have my food.

Five minutes later:

“You okay over here?”

Well, the tap water is great. Any chance the coffee might come soon?

The host was passing by, so I made eye contact and she realized I didn’t have anything. Five minutes later, I was all set—and then I never saw the friendly server again. Whoops.

To be clear, it wasn’t exactly a crisis. I ate food the day before, and presumably there would be another meal coming later in the day.

Eventually the coffee showed up, 15 minutes later, and finally I got my eggs. The smoothie never made an appearance, which wasn’t a huge deal at that point. I needed to leave and head out to begin my day.

Thinking about it later, I realized the server got everything right except the main thing. He was prompt and friendly. Unfortunately, though, he forgot the breakfast.

And that’s what I’ve been thinking about as I consider the changes in our online world and prepare to launch a big new project. I think I’m doing everything right, but am I missing the main thing?

For eight years and counting, the main thing has been you, that person on the other side of the screen. It’s not my job to bring you breakfast, which is good because I’d be much worse than the guy who forgot to get my coffee. But it is my job to be helpful and interesting. You read this blog or otherwise follow me for a reason, and I hope you continue to find it worth your time.

I’ll have a lot of posts for the book over the next few weeks, because I believe in its message and want to get it out to the world. But in the end, it will only be successful if you, that person on the other side of the screen, cares enough to a) buy it, and b) tell other people about it.

I guess we’ll find out very soon. Can I get some coffee?

###

Image: Sergey

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

The Snake in the Road: A Lesson in Fear & Perception

3823166354_c279908dba_b

Over the past few months, when I haven’t been preparing for my book launch or flying around the world, I’ve also been learning a lot more about “inner work.”

Admittedly, this is an area that is very new to me. I’m pretty good at all the things I’ve used to succeed in life and work thus far—but I’ve come to acknowledge that I lack the skills I need for what I want to do next.

I’ll share more about this as I go through a series of processes, both on my own and with some help from a few friends. For now, here’s a modified version of a story from the Buddhist tradition. I’ve been thinking about how this applies to some areas of my life. Maybe it applies to some of yours, too.

An apprentice monk was walking down the road, his thoughts turned to the startup he was working on with his fellow monks back at their Airbnb. A mile or so from home, he sees a snake lying in wait in the middle of the road.

The monk was familiar with the latest technology and had downloaded lots of great apps on his phone. He also knew how to make videos on YouTube, and he was even pretty good at earning Frequent Flyer Miles while attending faraway monastic conventions.

Still, though: this was a snake. A big, scary one.

There was no other path to take, and no real way to backtrack. The monk waited for the snake to leave, but as the sun began to set an hour later, the snake continued to show no movement.

The monk finally realizes he has no choice but to approach the snake, hoping to scare it off or at least go around it. As he does, he sees that the snake has been transformed: it’s merely a coil of rope. There is no snake after all!

Laughing at himself, he shakes off his fear and keeps going down the road. Later he downloads the latest version of Angry Birds, forgetting all about the whole experience.

Like a lot of Buddhist stories (and Christian parables, or stories from other traditions), there are multiple lessons you can take from this story. Perhaps the most obvious is that the things we’re afraid of aren’t always that bad, at least once we decide to face them.

Another lesson might be that our fears actually transform or even back down as we gain the courage to face them. In this interpretation, it’s not that the snake was a rope all along, it’s that the snake became a rope as the monk moved toward it.

This reminds me of the Catholic belief of transubstantiation, how the sip of wine at communion is transformed into a divine presence when one approaches the altar.

Maybe a simpler lesson is that we just need to start walking toward the snake, because we can’t keep standing in the road as the sun sets.

###

Image: Nebojsa

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

If You Lost Everything, Would You Look Back or Look Forward?

15161734_39ed84dda3_b

I went to the hotel gym one morning while I was traveling. When I finished on the treadmill, I went back to the elevator to head down to my room… except there was just one problem. Yep, once again I’d forgotten my room number.

I spend 100+ nights a year in hotels and still haven’t perfected a system for remembering where I “live” on any given night. Sometimes I carry the little check-in envelope around in my pocket, and sometimes I take a photo of the door. But at least once every dozen nights, I start to walk back toward my room before realizing I have no idea where it is.

This time, I tried to retrace the steps that took me out of the room and to the gym. Was it 1406? I thought it was. It sounded like the right number.

I went back to floor 14 and everything felt familiar. I turned down the hall and came to the room, which looked like the right one. The door was slightly ajar, and I assumed I’d mistakenly forgotten to close it all the way when I left. Not ideal, I thought, but it happens.

When I walked in, I was sure it was the right room. Then I turned into the bathroom and saw that it had been cleaned.

That was fast, I thought. I’d only been to the gym for less than an hour.

But then I noticed something else: everything was gone. From my bathroom bag to the desk with my laptop and writing supplies to my clothes in the closet, all of my stuff had disappeared.

At first I felt more disoriented than scared. If I’d been robbed, why was everything so clean? Did someone steal my belongings and then make the bed?

This is some very thorough housekeeping, I thought.

I knew I had to have the wrong room, but since it looked exactly the same as mine, the disorientation was severe. There was the same view, looking down on a roundabout with swarms of cars and motorcycles in rush-hour traffic. The layout, which featured a comfortable bed and desk positioned at a unique angle, felt intuitive, as if I’d just left it an hour ago.

I walked back into the hallway and went on an excursion to the 13th floor. Maybe I was off by one floor? But room 1306, exactly one room below from where I thought I lived, was locked and unresponsive to my key card. When I heard voices inside I quickly tip-toed back to the elevator.

Having exhausted all alternatives, I did the walk of shame back to reception. “Sorry, I’m an idiot,” I told the clerk. “But can you tell me which room is mine?”

She scanned my card and confirmed what I should have known all along: “You’re in 1806, Mr. Guillebeau.”

1806! Of course—not 1406, and not 1306. I went back upstairs and found the right room. All of my stuff was there. It was exactly the same as the room I’d snuck into, except nothing had been touched. I breathed a sigh of relief, but I also felt oddly wistful.

“What if I’d lost everything? What would I do next?”

I considered this scenario over and over.

It wasn’t the survival part that worried me. I could survive if I lost my stuff, even in a foreign country. Eventually I could get a new passport, a new phone, more cash, whatever.

What I was more interested in was much deeper than that. That empty room felt ominous, as if it was not only “stuff” that had been lost but something much greater. What if it wasn’t just a computer that disappeared, but a life—and all of a sudden, I had to start over?

In such a situation, I realized, I’d essentially face a choice: do I seek to rebuild what I’ve lost, or do I take advantage of the opportunity for change and build something entirely new?

I was glad to be reunited with my stuff, but I wished I’d spent more time in the empty room. Thinking about what you’ve lost, or what you are losing, is hard. But maybe it can help you to live better, too.

All through the rest of the day I thought about that room. I changed hotels, like I often do when I’m in the same city for more than two days, but even as I settled into the new spot I couldn’t stop remembering the empty space.

Look back or look forward? I never did decide which was better. I just knew that I had to keep moving.

###

Image: Tim

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

“I Can’t Be Jealous of the Past. I Can Only be Jealous of the Future.”

PeggyGuggenheimArtAddict

I recently went to see Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict, a curious film in the sense that it focuses much more on the subject’s love life than it does her love of art. Still, it was good overall and I’m glad I went.

The film showcases the development of several abstract and other non-traditional artists, including Jackson Pollack. I’ve always liked Pollack’s work, but I don’t think I understood the audacity of it until seeing this new film.

the-flame
The Flame, 1938 by Jackson Pollock

I often feel inspired when I hear about larger-than-life figures who pursued big ambitions. People like Pollack, and Peggy Guggenheim, did big things.

Then I went home and I thought: “What big thing am I doing?”

I’ve done big things in the past. But the past is … the past. It’s not something that can be reclaimed or relived.

In an interview for her biography that was later used for the film, Peggy said:

“I can’t be jealous of the past, I can only be jealous of the future.”

And I thought that was a pretty good way of thinking about it. What’s done is done, in other words, so you’d better make something of yourself in the days to come. Or at least that’s how I interpreted it.

So what big thing am I doing now, I wondered.

white-light
White Light, 1954 by Jackson Pollock

The natural objection is to say that not everything has to be big, which of course is true. But this observation misses the point. First of all, if you can do something big, why wouldn’t you?

Second, “big” doesn’t have to refer only to size. Moving to a tiny house could be a pretty big idea for many people. A lot of small businesses and charities have big impacts on those they serve.

So big doesn’t necessarily mean “huge”—but it does mean impactful, audacious, groundbreaking, and—I think—challenging.

So yeah, I have to step it up. And maybe you do, too?

Otherwise, you have to accept that the best was in the past, and that seems depressing. When apathy is the alternative, it’s time to think big.

###

Image: VIFF, Jackson Pollock paintings

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

A New Year’s Wish for the Wanderer

14052722087_97d529bc84_k

Every evening the sun sets, then rises again a few hours later.

Yet something feels different about this particular sunset and sunrise. Oh, that’s right … it only happens once a year.

Yep. It’s time to stop writing the old year’s name whenever you fill out the date for something. For the next 365 days, the world has a new number.

If you wander out and about today, you may receive wishes of happiness from your barista or whoever else you encounter. You may notice that the gym is especially full. A new crop of well-meaning people with good-intentioned “resolutions” is off to the races.

In your online conversations, people are using phrases like “new year, new you” and you’re like … okay. How does this new year somehow make a “new me”?

And yet, it is a New Year, after all. Something does feel different. So why not use this time as a catalyst for the new direction you seek?

Because if you’re anything like me, wanderer, you know that something will be different about this year, and it’s not just that it has a different number in its name.

Maybe you’re on the cusp of a big change. There’s a stage of transition coming up on the horizon, with an end point that isn’t as precisely clear as you might like. But make no mistake, wanderer: there is definitely an end point. You know there’s something waiting on the other side.

You’ll take what you’ve learned from the last year. You’ll take what you’ve experienced—all of it. The pain, the pleasure, the joy, the sorrow, and all of those WTF-was-that-about moments.

And as you reflect, you realize that you don’t even know what the lesson is for some of those things. Why did it have to be so hard? Couldn’t there have been an easier way? But you take the experiences nonetheless, because you know they’ll help you become your true self.

Yes, there is change ahead in this year, of that you are sure. All you have to do is find it.

But first you have to wait. And it’s true what they say: the waiting really is the hardest part.

You’re not even certain that you’ll fully understand what the change means before the moment passes you by. But the odds are ever in your favor, and like those well-meaning people in the gym today, you know that you’ll give it all you’ve got.

Happy New Year, wanderer.

###

Image: Matthias

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

“Most Ambitions Belong to the Past”: Reflections on A Neurosurgeon’s Final Year of Life

2485037454_4a41747b33_z

I recently stumbled upon an essay from Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who died in 2015 at the age of 37.

I read the whole thing several times and was struck by several passages, including this one:

“Everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past.

The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described, hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed.”

There’s also a short film on his perspective of time in the final months of life:

 

Link: Before I Go

Obituary: Stanford Medicine

Image: Robert

###

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

The Light Outside My Window on the Morning After Launch

4399776574_b13f556d3f_z

Some past reflections and enduring lessons learned during the launch process:

***

This morning I woke up at 7:20am, and it felt so late. There was a touch of light outside—what was that? Oh right, sunrise.

For the past few mornings I’ve been getting up at the entirely unreasonable hour of 5:30am or sometimes even earlier. My breakfast place opens at 6am and I’ve been at the front of the line shortly thereafter. The sun rose two hours after I’d been awake.

Two nights earlier, I went to bed with my laptop on the nightstand.

Yep—it was another product launch week.

As I made another cup of coffee on the morning after having slept “so late,” I thought back on the launches over the years.

How many have I done? I honestly don’t remember.

I’m thinking the number is close to 100. Probably not quite that many, but it’s in the neighborhood. I’ve launched books, guides, products, courses, websites, and events—and potentially a whole category of things I’ve forgotten.

I’ve had some big successes, some colossal failures, and plenty of experiences in-between. You learn as you go in these things, but you also don’t ever completely master them—or at least I don’t.

And I think that’s what keeps it fresh and fun. At the end of the day, you try to do two things:

1. Make something you’re proud of

2. Message it the best you can

You try to put heart and soul into something that matters. You know it will always be flawed and imperfect in some ways, but you try to reach that magic point of saying, yeah, well—this is actually pretty good.

And then you try to pitch it as best you can. It’s not just enough to have something you’re proud of; you also want other people to care. So you have to hustle. You don’t want to be a martyr.

But in the end, the outcome lies in others’ hands. That’s where things get interesting.

###

Working from the Road: The Unconventional Guide to Full-Time Freedom, is now available.

Image: Tim

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

2012 Annual Review: Overview

2012! WTF!

Greetings!

Every year I devote an entire week—and usually several weeks of blog posts—to an Annual Review, where I look back on the previous year and make plans for the coming year.

Many of our readers now do the same thing, some by following the same structure I use and others by modifying it to suit their own needs.

This year the review is considerably abridged, mostly due to my recent tour of India. When the option came to decide about the trip, it was a tough call. I don’t think it would always be the right decision to shorten the important Annual Review process, but in this case I was so excited to visit India that I decided to switch it up a little.

Anyway, enough preamble. Here’s how it works:

Reflections

For a good overview of the Annual Review process, see the original outline I wrote way back in 2008. An additional overview from 2009 may also be helpful. In short, I look back on the year and ask myself a series of questions, journaling the answers in a paper notebook. The questions start very simply:

What went well this year?

What did not go well this year?

The main part of the planning session focuses on the year to come, but before looking forward I spend at least one of the days reflecting back on the year that is ending. I can usually identify a number of answers for each question—successes and failures, times where I was happy or proud and other times where I knew I fell short.

Next, I’ll review all of the goals that I set the previous December, and write out the results. Did everything happen as I expected? Probably not, but it’s interesting to compare results with expectations and see what overlaps and what diverges. In addition to personal lessons, I’ll also write down a list of business lessons I learned during the year, and a roundup of all the countries and cities I traveled to.

This leads to the next, longer stage of the planning process where I look ahead to the forthcoming year, carefully thinking about which projects I’d like to pursue and which actions I need to take to ensure their success.

What Went Well in 2012

Since this is an abridged review for me this year, let’s start right away. 2012 was another big year! Looking over my notes, I was surprised at how much we packed in. (But as I’ve said before, when you do things you love and regularly challenge yourself, you shouldn’t be surprised that you can do a lot.)

Here are a few highlights from the year:

*The launch of my second book, The $100 Startup, and the tour to 30+ cities (so far!). I’ve worked on this book for more than three years, and I was thrilled to see it debut well. Thanks to the support of our great readers, the book was a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestseller, staying on each list for at least five weeks. The book continues to sell well, and more importantly, every day I continue to hear from readers who have applied the lessons from the book to their own projects.

*The local team and I hosted our second annual World Domination Summit in Portland, this time with 1,000 attendees from at least two dozen countries. From start to finish, all of us were very proud of the results. (You can see the trailer here. The final ticket sale for the 2013 event will be held in January.)

*At the end of WDS, we gave away $100,000 in cash as a $100 Investment in each attendee. WDS would have been a success without this surprise (and we won’t be repeating it in the future), but I’m glad we took the risk on it. We’ve been hearing many stories from attendees on how they’ve put their funds to good use, and we’ll be featuring some of them for next year’s WDS.

*I’ve almost finished visiting every country in the world! File under: Whoa. I haven’t even counted up the new countries I made it to this year, but I’m sure it’s at least a dozen. In addition to the dozen new countries, I visited at least another dozen countries I’ve been to before.

*I signed the agreement for writing the next book, which is all about QUESTS. I’ve now begun the research process and am looking forward to the writing process in 2013.

*I ran the Chicago Marathon despite chronic undertraining. All’s well that ends well, I suppose.

*As mentioned, I got the chance to tour India in support of the book. Meeting readers over that way was great. I’m glad I took the trip, and it was especially good to travel with Jolie to a country we have both long admired.

What Did Not Go Well in 2012

Thinking about what did not go well is just as important as reviewing the highlights. As with the successes, this list is somewhat abridged, but I do try to share openly and transparently with those who follow AONC. Therefore, here are a few things I regret or feel troubled by.

*Poor follow-through on a few business projects. I don’t feel like every aspect of my business is fully aligned with my life, and this bothers me.

*Though I love it, I’m exhausted from the few previous months of travel. Getting to Guinea Bissau (and back) was especially rough. More than once I thought: if this were country #150 instead of #191, I’m not sure I could continue at this pace.

*It’s been hard being away from home more than I’d like, and sometimes I feel that I’m not the greatest friend and family member. As mentioned in The Goal recently, I want to be in harmony with all relationships, and constantly being “everywhere” is tough for that.

Pretty much all of these things relate to the same core issue: I’ve become somewhat frustrated with myself even while fulfilling some pretty big goals. I feel like I’m not doing the best job with convergence, something I write about fairly often.

I’ve never been interested in life-work balance, but I am interested in overall alignment. That’s what convergence is about, so as I look ahead to next year I’ll want to pay attention to these concerns (while still pursuing big goals, of course).

That’s My Story … What About You?

Please let us know a few highlights and—if you’d like—a few challenges.

Reader comments here.

Oh, and Merry Christmas Eve / Happy Everything to each of you!

While thinking through the Annual Review, I’ve also been thinking about what a big honor it is to have the chance to write for so many amazing people. More on this later. 🙂

– Chris

###

*Another great (and also free!) yearly planning resource comes from Susannah Conway.

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.