Winner and Losers

Have great answers to better questions. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

Finish
Photo courtesy of Philo Nordlund on Flickr

In the Middle Ages, the king was the winner. He lived in a castle with legions of servants who brought him the best food and wine.

The king didn’t have air conditioning or aspirin or deodorant or a smart phone. You probably wouldn’t trade places with him, because his quality of life was quite low by the standard you enjoy.

However, he lived a much better life than the people around him, and everyone knew it.

That’s how the king won.

Imagine that you live in a mansion, and that you have a million dollars. It sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Again, the life of a winner.

But now imagine that everyone you know has 5 million dollars and a much bigger mansion than yours.

Suddenly, you’re not the winner anymore.

Comparing ourselves and our fortunes to the character and lives of others leads inexorably to a world of winners and losers.

The winner finishes first and takes the prize. Everyone else is a loser.

If the world is really about winning and losing in this simplistic way, the truth is that most of us are losers.

And, yet, the lives of the “losers” today are objectively better than the life of a Medieval king. And the king was a winner.

Today’s winner will be tomorrow’s loser, because even if he doesn’t change the world around him will.

Winning like a king is arbitrary, not absolute. It’s a made-up thing.

To win at baseball, you must score more runs than your opponent. Baseball is a made-up game with made-up rules.

Life is not baseball.

If you compare yourself to others, you’re not living your life—you’re living theirs. Or, rather, you’re trying to live their lives, but in a bigger, better way.

Winning is important. No one wants to be a loser. The question “What does it mean to live a ‘winning’ life?” is a good question.

Unfortunately, the world gives us many bad answers.

Winning at life begins with asking good questions and finding good answers.

Today is the luckiest day of the year

Go ahead, make your day. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

Astrology
Graphic courtesy of zeevveez on Flickr

Yesterday my mother sent me an email with the subject heading “tomorrow is the luckiest day of the year….” That means today is your lucky day.

The question is: what are you going to do to take advantage?

I don’t understand how the motions of planets have anything more to do with my fortunes than, say, the ocean currents or the flights of birds or the placement of the stones on the sidewalk. Or anything else that exists in nature.

But if you treat every day as the luckiest day of the year, there is a 100% chance that one day you’ll be right.

If you treat today as the luckiest day of the year, you’ll likely be a little more bold, and a little more intentional, because you are preparing yourself for something good to happen.

Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. The only certainty is that when you’re not prepared, and not preparing, opportunity passes by.

On knowing your limits

Everything is impossible, until it isn’t. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

Weightlifter
Photo courtesy of Peter Reid, Flickr

What would it be like to live in another era, or another country? What would it be like to live your life as a king, as a slave, or as the opposite sex?

What would it be like?

The many answers to the many forms of this question may be less interesting, and less useful, than the observation that most of us never bother to answer it.

One of the most powerful insights into our human condition is the tendency of our species to live within the limits.

– the limits of our physical endurance and strength
– the limits of our understanding
– the limits of our beliefs
– the limits of our intelligence
– the limits of our will, knowledge, and comfort

There are names for those who test limits.

The weightlifter who can comfortably lift x pounds sets a goal to lift x+10 pounds.

The runner who can complete 3 miles in 25 minutes determines to run 3 miles in 20 minutes.

These people are called athletes.

The person who imagines what it would be like to wake up as a giant cockroach, and who writes a book about it, is called an artist.

The athlete wages a battle against physical and mental limits. The artist confronts the limits of imagination.

There is no name for the people who never test their limits, because they are simply ordinary human beings.

Limits show us where the possibility of growth exists.

The limits of political will define the status quo. Will is the wall that encircles every social order.

The politician says “that’s impossible,” when what he really means is, “I lack the will to do it.”

Don’t accept the world as it is, because it will be that and nothing more.

Questions push up against the limits of what is known. The answers lie beyond. Don’t ask questions, and you will forever live within the limits of your current knowledge.

There are emotional limits, mental limits, physical limits, psychological limits.

Fear, lack of confidence, comfort, doubt, resignation.

Everything has an absolute limit: but since we so often accept the given limits as if they were absolute, we don’t explore the realm of the possible.

What is impossible? Airplanes, medicine, going to the moon. A 2-hour marathon. Time travel. The line between what is and what could be is a line we are re-drawing every day.

Artists, athletes, explorers, innovators, and philosophers do not accept limits. They identify that which is unknowable, undiscovered, unseen, unthinkable. They know, discover, see, and think.

Find a limit and push against it. Accept nothing as it is, and it will soon be something else.

Time to trick your brain

Think outside the watts. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

Brain

Your brain is lazy. Here is the proof.

Take a piece of paper and a pen. Make two dots. Below the dots, draw a line. Like this:

Smile

Your brain decides immediately that this is a face and files the information accordingly. But two dots and a line could be any number of things, or nothing.

We know it’s not a face, but we can’t not see a face. The brain is a tyrant.

Your brain, the lazy tyrant, takes the easiest route.

Every piece of information that the brain receives is treated in the same way, usually without your awareness. It organizes the world into boxes, whether you like it or not.

In a perfect world, from your brain’s point-of-view, nothing new or strange ever happens. Dots and lines are forever going to be faces. Your brain is not interested in whether or not it’s really a face. It’s interested in putting the information into a box, already.

Everything is assigned by the brain to pre-fabricated categories determined by assumption, prejudice, routine, familiarity, and efficiency.

To do this, your brain needs less than 20 watts of electricity.

According to Moore’s Law, the power of computers will double every two years. A computer as powerful as the brain would consume 10,000,000 watts of energy, about the amount required by a small city.

Your brain is more interested in efficiency than it is in insight or innovation. It has evolved to make quick decisions in potentially life-threatening situations, with minimal expenditure of energy.

The brain thrives on routine.

And so, we are creatures of habit, set in our ways.

The script in our head keeps us from considering new ways of seeing and being. The brain is happy to remain set in its ways. This is efficiency.

To change your life, you first have to overcome the lazy tyrant that is your brain.

Go somewhere you have never been before—a country, a neighborhood, a part of town. Surround yourself with unfamiliar people and languages. Eat new foods, redecorate your office, shake up your routine. Make your brain think new, more healthy thoughts.

Reinvent yourself and reinvigorate your life by making your brain do something it doesn’t like to do—break out of the routine.

This is the meaning of your life

When you die, the people who loved you unearth your significance. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

There we all stood, looking at the man’s tattoo. We knew what it was, but no one could think of the word caduceus.

Everyone knows what a barber pole signifies, few know what it means.

No matter how long your life, it can be reduced to a sentence.

Joe is funny—he’s a man who will always help a friend: he has a big heart.

Significance and meaning.

The word fossil means something dug up. Many bones were dug up before their significance was known.

For centuries, astronomy was the reigning science. The word paleontology was invented in 1822, at a time when the significance of the earth sciences was finally understood.

Until the nineteenth century, we looked to the heavens for meaning. Then, geology taught us to look down.

We forget the dictionary meaning of things because that is not their significance. A barber pole signifies that “I can get a hair cut here”—a caduceus (because it is often confused with the Rod of Asclepius) that “I can get medicine and be well.”

While we live, we struggle with meaning. When we die, the people who loved us unearth our significance. They are the paleontologists of our lives. They are the experts.

Imagine what you want them to say, and live accordingly.

What I’ve learned by looking at trees

Tree

HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED, as I did recently, what determines the seemingly random pattern of tree branches?

A case of “every which way,” it appears. One branch projects confidently toward the sky—another launches tentatively in one direction, suddenly adopting a new trajectory.

A life is the same.

I know this, because I can see my own life in these branches. That little ragged outgrowth that goes nowhere? That’s a girl I dated in high school. The long, straight branch which stops suddenly? An office job I once had. The fat branch with many small off-shoots? My writing career. The trunk? That represents my upbringing: the formative experiences which established my values, outlook, and dreams.

To this day, my trunk is nourishing the new branches which sprout in my life.

I noticed that there are a lot of dead-ends on a tree: but look at those branches, and you’ll see many outgrowths. Again, I think of the times I’ve come to the end of a path. Maybe it was a goal I didn’t reach, or a job I didn’t get.

When you’re standing at the end of a path you thought and hoped would go farther, you only see  losses and failures—the job you didn’t get, the money you won’t make, and the things you won’t be able to do and have because you won’t get that paycheque.

Looking back, you can see that those endings are in fact launching points, like new shoots from a branch. My first business, which I created in high school, was the result of having the doors to gainful employment shut in my face. Within a month, I had more business than I could manage. I made more money and was far happier than I would have been in a job, but I felt depressed and defeated all the same when my plan to be hired by someone else didn’t work out.

What I learned by looking at trees is that you can reverse engineer the process, applying it to your future. You can look forward as well as back. Today I see “dead-ends” and “failures” as intrinsic to the organic process of creating a path of your own.

A tree is the sum total of its experiments in reaching the light, and rarely (if ever) is this effort a straight line from vision to reality. We humans, however, seem to be addicted to the idea that life works (or at least should work) as follows:

Aspirations ———> A Well-Laid Plan ———> Goal Achieved!

I know this kind of thinking has often been applied by me. Many times, I’ve been disappointed and discouraged because I haven’t been able to draw, and then pursue, a straight line from Point A to Point B. Even when I’ve “known” life is more complicated than that, I’ve acted as if it weren’t.

The prime directive of a tree is to reach the life-giving light. All that apparently crazy, here-there-and-everywhere is in service of the tree’s need for sun. And that’s why I’ve changed my thinking, as well as my way of creating a path.

You see, the tree is on to something—and I think I know what it is.

I’m not talking about creating 10 new businesses or launching 50 new projects. I’m not suggesting you should run, willy-nilly, in every direction. That’s certainly not what I do. Instead, I focus on activating as many potential trajectories in my life as I can, by nourishing relationships in my life and business. Just as the prime directive of a tree is to reach the life-giving light, my prime directive is to nurture my community, every day.

The second thing I do is to introduce as much variety into my life as I can. I take long showers. I go for walks in the woods. I meet with, and talk to, as many interesting people as I can. When I really need to be productive, I get away from my desk.

Because here is the worst way I’ve found to be productive:

Sit at Computer ———> Work Eight Hours ———> Get Results

And yet that’s still how we see work, as a linear process.

The fact is that we are addicted to straight lines and old ways of doing things. I know how hard it is to let go. I’ve made painful adjustments. I used to believe in things like:

Go to School ———> Get An Education ———> Work Hard ———> Succeed

or

Get an Agent ———> Find a Publisher ———> Write Books ———> Make Money

or

Get Hired by a Newspaper ———> File Stories ———> Get Paid ———> Retire

None of these things have worked out as advertised. I’ve only been miserable and unfulfilled pursuing them. It took a painful adjustment, and months of study and effort, to let go of the old ways of thinking. And that was after years of emotional work, gradually getting to the place where I could admit that what I was doing wasn’t working—and would never work.

Going in a new direction is hard. You may have a decade invested in that branch of yours. It may be the favourite branch on your tree. Maybe it’s the only branch. You probably imagined it soaring one day above the canopy, into the full and glorious life-affirming sun of a new day. But what if it doesn’t?

If you build your life on the principle of abundance, each day nurturing a wide network of relationships, being open to many possibilities—sending out many branches—you’ll never have this problem. You’ll soon realize that your life is, like a tree, the sum total of its trajectories, explorations, and so-called “dead-ends.”

A tree, like a life, is nothing less than the sum of its experiments.

1/2 of self-published authors earn under $500: I’ve figured out how not to be one of them

makeup
WELCOME to Christmas, the time of year when people dress up like serious adults, to go to staff parties where they act like drunken toddlers.

I can has more? (Click here for more!)

Above All Else, Keep Failing

skateboard

WHEN I LOOK over my life, I see failures. You’ve heard the sayings: “success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm” (Winston Churchill), “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” (Thomas Edison), “we are all failures – at least the best of us are” (J.M. Barrie). The only alternative to failure is to not try, and once you’ve made that decision you’ve placed your chances of success in the realm of absolute certainty, at zero percent.

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