Personal Advice for 2020

Arrive early.

To bed. To work. To dinner. To your meeting.

Imagine a world where you are slightly early for one thing per day. Or maybe even two things per day. Isn’t that a happy thought? Wouldn’t you be proud? Isn’t that a world you’d like to live in? The only way to achieve this tidbit is to…

Choose not to.

Watch that extra episode. Spend that extra 20 mins on your phone. Check your email.

“Squeezing things in” is the antithesis of calm. However, we are often so insanely over-committed that we have no choice but to squeeze in the things on our to do list, just to delay falling behind. But what’s more important than our to do list? Maybe we should…

Create a not-to-do list.

We all have an equal amount of one daily resource: time. As a result, choosing one thing on our to-do list is an exercise in prioritization, values, and excision. Excision…as in removing…as in getting rid, throwing out, or excluding. For every item on your grander “to-do” list of your year, there is a resource-crunch, an opportunity cost, a time bank from which one will withdraw.

So…maybe…just maybe…the easiest way to allot resources to your BHAG or your once-and-for-all is to re-allocate your time resources form all the piddly little things that don’t deserve a piece of the budget. What’s the worst that could happen? TOO MUCH free time? Unlikely as that is, there’s  chance you might just…

Create room for Bad-Assity

Most of us are not in the fortunate situation to be able to wake up 7 days a week and decide, in the moment, what to do with that day. In fact, we’re so over-scheduled that I’d venture to say those freestyle days are often more anxiety-inducing than the regimented ones. This is a problem. Bad-assity (herein defined as doing or creating something extravagant, difficult, and soul-feeding) comes primarily from two resources: freedom and inspiration.

With freedom but no inspiration, one becomes a chronic life-waster, apathetic, disingenuous. One picks up their phone, checks their email, is says “yes” when Netflix asks if they’re still watching.

With inspiration but no freedom, one becomes repressed, angst-filled, and over-idealistic. “If only I had time” turns into “I need a different job” turns into “but I am too old/young” and eventually becomes “forget it, it’ll never work”.

BUT, with both freedom and inspiration, the table is now set for the perfect meal. Inspiration can come from anywhere, but freedom, room, and time only come about by action. Your job is to make room.  To unschedule yourself. To become a bad-ass. To create room for bad-assity.

And once you have room at the Inn, you can gather with the important people and…

Ask your loved ones hard questions

There’s nothing quite like feeling “in synch” with your world. The people around you really get you and you get them. Everyone and everything around you knows what makes you tick and does their best to feed you the fuel you need. Not too busy, not bored. Not underwhelmed, not overwhelmed. Not crushed by social expectation, not alone. You’re god damn Goldilocks with her perfect porridge.

But, here’s the thing. Most of us don’t feel like that. Our porridge doesn’t taste quite right. So what the hell is even wrong? How do you know? Do your loved ones speak your love language? Do you speak theirs? Knowing that people can/will make or break the meaning and reward of your life, it behooves us to all get on the same page. It’s time to stick a thermometer in that porridge you’ve been chugging. Deep understanding of each others character and desires is scary, but also empowering. So, here’s a list of questions to ask the important people around you and have them ask you the same.

  1. Without me having told you, what do you think my wildest dream looks like?
  2. If you had to guess, what would you say is the most important thing in the world to me?
  3. If I were holding myself back, what excuses do you think I’d be telling myself?
  4. Why do you think we’re friends (or lovers or great coworkers, etc)?
  5. Do you think I am delivering everything I’ve got to my world?
  6. If you had to pick my future, what would you pick for me?

I still remember several instances where I asked people these questions (or something similar) and was outright appalled at their answers. Between my ears ran a shocking whispered dialogue, “You think THAT is what I want? That would be the most stressful existence I could imagine” or “You think that’s what goes on in my head? Wow, I must really sound like an asshole to you” or “I had no idea I was that important to you. Now I feel sheepish for every single time I’ve ignored a text from you”. Full disclosure: I have also had some of the most amazing and insightful conversations of my life at the behest of these inquiries.

Not only is there a lot to be learned about yourself in this exercise, but it forms the framework for your next step, which is to…

Train your circle.

Most people are somewhat compassionate. Most people don’t want an argument. Most people want to be liked.

As a result, people are going to talk to you as they THINK you want to be talked to. We’d like to believe that people are impermeable to our attempts at forming their opinions, but the reality is that you have TRAINED everyone around you. You’ve trained them to treat you, perceive you, and talk to you in a certain way. Just like training a dog, every interaction is training. When someone suggests Panera or Bread Co and you, being gluten-free and all, don’t make an alternate suggestion, you have trained this person to overlook your preferences. When an employee is late and you let it slide repeatedly, you are training that person (and all that know about it) to treat your time as a negotiable resource (which I hope it is not). Every reaction is training. Every withheld reaction is also training.

People are going to treat you as they perceive you. Plain and simple. Most people want to please you, to befriend you, and to be closer to the real you. This is awesome. The problem only arises when the real you doesn’t show up to every conversation, usually because you don’t want to cause an upset. Over time, you are in a situation where, strangely, everywhere you go, people think of you differently. Your hockey team thinks you’re a slacker. Your employees think you’re hard ass. Your kids think you don’t care. Your wife thinks you’re compassionate.

By trying to control others’ perception of yourself to serve your goals and outcomes, you’ve done a great job of essentially creating endless “versions” of yourself, all of which are quite disparate and very inaccurate. You’ve trained each person in your world to treat you differently and your relationships only seem to be genuine with those select few people who have seen through your attempt to control perceptions, yet agreed to treat you as you are, not how you want to be perceived. All others, you have trained out of proper perception. You’ve trained them out of the ability for compassion, vulnerability, and deep closeness by trying to look a certain way.

So here’s an idea. If you want to train your circle to treat you as you want to be treated, you need only do one thing…

Show up as you are.

Be forewarned, this makes a LOT of people uncomfortable. When most people ask “Hey how are you?” they do not want a reality-based answer. They want to check the box of having been a nice person in this interaction. For the grocery clerk, give ’em whatever. No need to awkwardize that situation. But why are you giving your boss the same answer? Why your kids? Why your wife/husband?

This is especially important on GOOD DAYS. “Hey how are you?” can be met with “damn fine” or “spectacular” or I’ll let you know after I drink this coffee” just as easy as the reflexive and practically monosyllabic “goodhowareyou?!?!! [please love me! It’s more important that you think I am nice than genuine!!!!].

On good days, this is easy. But on down days are when those empathetic friends and those who are open to meaning show up in spades. So let em have it. It’s worth freaking out a few peripherals to form a few meaningful contacts and feel at home around a few more people…unless you’re a hot-mess that looks to others to validate their emotions, in which case…

Learn mind control.

There are people with whom I do NOT want a meaningful relationship. Generally speaking, these people have given over their driver’s seat to emotion. We’ve all got baggage. We all have bad days (bad years, even). But letting emotions drive the car is just as bad as throwing them in the trunk and pretending they don’t exist. And emotions in the driver’s seat seem race in the same club as glaucoma-grannies with lead feet. Crash and burn waiting to happen.

So, if you’re going to go into this year aiming for meaning, connection, and genuine progress, you should probably make sure you’re not going to accidentally tell your waiter about your ex-wife’s new boyfriend or your time in the ‘Nam. These topics need to be talked about, but choosing the when and where is a skill that requires a volume dial instead of an on/off spout. Check yourself before you wreck your relationships with inappropriate oversharing or undue stoicism/coldness.

The easiest way to do this? Learn to meditate. The act of meditation is not the act of emptying the mind of thoughts, nor is it the act of focusing on one and only one topic. It is the act of training the mind to choose. It is learning the act of control. Meditation, in the most basic sense, is the act of self-mind-control.

The result? You can choose(ish) when your emotions come out to play and when they don’t. You’re not afraid of them nor controlled by them. They’re not hidden behind a wall of perception-regulation, nor are they vomited in the lap of any person in the room who made the mistake of asking about your weekend.

But hey, maybe things are going fantastically for you. All your relationships are maple bacon and all your business ventures went perfectly Lucky Charms. Booyakah. In this case…let’s be friends.

Love you guys.

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