What has meaning

So, what has meaning and what doesn’t?

Whenever I share a book/article/recommendation with people, I always ask them to share what they learnt with me. It rarely happens. But, it gives me great joy when it does. This morning, a friend shared a profound portion of David Foster Wallace’s awesome “This is Water” speech.

 if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down. Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it. This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship.

This was a great reminder. A large portion of our lives is spent responding to everything that happens around us. So, for the most part, it is just us learning to roll with punches.

The beauty about this is that we get to consciously decide what has meaning. That freedom comes with responsibility. And, it is on us to wear it well.

Day Traders or Venture Capitalists

We have a unique opportunity in front of us today – to choose between being day traders or venture capitalists. However, the opportunity comes with a twist (doesn’t every opportunity?). Few realize that the opportunity exists and fewer know that the default option is day trading.

Day trading requires us to engage with all the goings on in the day. The nature of the day dictates our mood. We like good weather and good news and generally struggle to find motivation otherwise. We invest in the now and avoid crazy swings. It is the default option and works just fine.

However, a few realize that there’s an alternative. When we play venture capitalist, we look at things differently. Yes, we’re engaged with today but, really, we’re focused on building for a few years from now. We’re on the lookout for opportunities to invest in ideas and people who might building something of value. They key word is might, of course. There are no guarantees. Unlike in day trading, there’s more risk and more volatility. But, there’s also tremendous excitement about possibilities.

So, today, we get to choose if we want to live this day and week as a day trader or venture capitalist. One feels safe and the other feels full of tension, discomfort and risk.

Then again, sometimes avoiding risk is the greatest risk of them all.

Trees of green

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you e

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world


We have before us an opportunity to connect with everything Louis Armstrong sang about today. Trees of green, flowers, clouds, skies, friends – these aren’t hard to find.

Or, we can spend our time today fretting about things we don’t control, poring over news feeds and email and waiting for a miracle to give us happiness.

Our choice.

Dealing with the unresolved

I wish there was a class on learning to deal with the unresolved. But, since there isn’t a good one that I know of, here’s what I’ve learned from the school of hard knocks.

The first step to dealing with the unresolved is accepting that there will always be something unresolved in our lives. We will always have to deal with the unknown, experience the fear of launching something new and walk into a game with trepidation knowing we are at a seemingly obvious disadvantage.

Sure, we can choose to worry. But, worry does nothing to solve the problem except make it seem worse.

Scott Peck beautifully pointed to the wisdom in accepting that life is difficult. As he eloquently put it, “once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

It works the same with dealing with the unresolved. We need to take the first step and accept that we will always have to deal with it.

There is no second step.

Life happens in unexpected ways

Amy Krouse Rosenthal died a few days ago. If the name sounds vaguely familiar, you might have read her beautiful piece – “You May Want to Marry my Husband.” There are few things more powerful than a reminder of our mortality and that life happens in unexpected ways. And, Ms. Rosenthal’s note provided that for the a large section of the 5 million odd people who read her piece.

In her piece, Amy says – “I want more time with Jason. I want more time with my children. I want more time sipping martinis at the Green Mill Jazz Club on Thursday nights. “More” was my first spoken word (true). And now it may very well be my last.”

And, writing about those lines, Bryce Roberts (whose blog I enjoy reading) wrote a post called “The Time Thief.”  In it, he said –

Notably she wasn’t asking for more time with her phone. Or with the brands that she’d built a relationship with.

They say that there is a war being waged for our time and attention. That companies of all kinds are competing for little spaces in our days and in our brains and in our shopping baskets. As with every war, there are winners and there are losers. If the brands, and social networks and media outlets win, who loses?

Maybe the reason for my ugly cry was that I know who loses.

And who is losing.

Our time on this planet is limited. And, it is ever so easy spending our limited time checking our social feeds, mulling pointless corporate politics, indulging our egos or feeding ourselves mental/emotional/physical garbage.

Here’s what I’ve noticed – in the final analysis, I’m yet to hear someone who wished they’d spent more time doing that. Of all regrets, there are two that I’ve heard and read about time and time again. First, they’d go out on a limb and take that risk they felt strongly about. And, second, they’d spend more time with those they love.

Not better, more. Better does matter. But, it only counts when there’s enough.

This is probably not new to any of us. We’ve probably read this somewhere before. But, if we’re not doing it, then we’ve not learnt it.

Well, its about time.

Life happens in unexpected ways.

So, there might just less time than we think.

Let’s make it count.

Wrong stakes

One of the marks of an unconscious approach to life or business is to get the stakes all wrong. This approach has two modes – a mission critical mode and an unconscious mode.

The mission critical mode involves words like “crisis” and, well, “mission critical” and could last long periods of time. The unconscious mode serves simply as a lull between two crises. The stakes seem non existent and the activity is uninspired.

In reality, however, both these modes rarely exist.

Most of us are never really in “crisis” mode. That’s just a result of the proliferation of battle terminology in business (which spills over to life). As long as we aren’t shipping life saving drugs, things are generally going to be fine. There’s really no need for the drama. Creating conditions of unnatural pressure for long periods of time isn’t a recipe for long term well being or success. Give people a chance to work toward a true calling or mission (e.g. I want to build an electric car that will actually make it mainstream and reduce our world’s reliance on oil) and they’ll do the work with limited push.

Second, even if the stakes aren’t as high as we sometimes make it sound, there isn’t such a thing as a low stakes life either. The stakes always exist  in the “no drama” zone and the things we do always matter. We touch many people every single day and affect their happiness. The work we do, the art we create likely does the same as well. Sure, we might pine for bigger impact but, if we look carefully, the number of people we get to impact impact in meaningful ways over the course of a normal lifetime adds up to large numbers. Pretending that it doesn’t matter is an abuse of privilege.

It is a privilege to be alive. And, now that we’re here and functioning, what we do and say matters.

We can choose to do it well, to make it meaningful and count. We can choose to commit to doing the small things with extraordinary love.

Needless to say, the unconscious approach is easier and lets us off the hook. The tough part about these choices is that we must find strong intrinsic reasons to do it – regardless of the stakes. It isn’t easy to pay attention in our lives. And, it is very hard to keep applying consistent effort because, for the longest time, it feels like all the effort counts for very little.

Until it does.

Stuff that matters

Sometime during the week, we’ll be pulled into thinking about stuff that doesn’t matter. It may start with that crappy meeting or unhelpful conversation. But, it could lead us to think about the many things that we don’t really care about – status, the thing after the next thing, riches or earning plaudits from someone who is deliberately hard to please.

It is hard to avoid that. But, life is so much better without that noise and pointless rumination.

So, one way around it is to start the week by thinking about all the stuff that actually matters to us: good health, nourishing food for the stomach, mind and soul, the feeling of our heart beating rapidly after a sprint, the touch of a loved one, our love for the team we work with, and progress toward change we believe in.

Today is an opportunity to focus on the stuff that actually matters. And, maybe, just maybe, we’ll remember to start more days this week with the same focus.

But, we’ve got to begin somewhere. And, that’s today. That’s why we call today a gift – the present.

It is an opportunity like no other.

Let’s make it count.