Running Around the World

I’ve been a dedicated runner for about five years now, and a casual one for several years before that. I find that running is the best overall exercise I can do, and the minimalist in me enjoys the fact that running is very low-tech. All you need are some decent running shoes – no fancy…

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What They Say About Winners


Congratulations to the great Lance Armstrong on his third-place victory in Paris yesterday.

I'm aware that third place is not a real victory. Lance knows this too, and said so himself in the post-race interviews. However, when you've been out of the tour for four years, you broke your collarbone a few months ago, and you're more than a decade older than the teammate who ended up winning, I think that third place is pretty good.

Lance is still a winner in my book. He's already planning to come back next year, and I'm pretty sure he won't settle for a mere third place out of 180 riders in 2010.

I talked with someone recently about Lance, and he brought up all the reports of drug use that Lance has had to deal with over the past decade. “I was glad when he was finally proven innocent,” he said. “Now, everyone knows he is clean and no one can falsely accuse him again.”

I really do wish it were that simple.

Unfortunately, there are still a great number of people who think that no one can be awesome without having an unfair advantage. When Lance said he was coming back, the head of the Tour de France said he was “embarrassing” the tour. How can a 7-time champion who's never been proven guilty of anything illegal embarrass the tour? Personally, I think the embarrassment will come next year when Lance kicks everyone's ass and wins the whole race at age 38, but I digress.

There are still groups that believe man did not walk on the moon forty years ago. Some people think climate change is hype. Obama couldn't have been born in the U.S.

It's a hard battle against these kinds of mindsets. Facts and logic will not change their minds. No amount of negative tests will convince some people that Lance doesn't need drugs to win.

Or, You Could Just Knit Socks

You don't have to be a champion athlete to find your share of nutcase critics. Go and read this post from Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (the Yarn Harlot) to see another recent example of insanity.

Some people were skeptical when I wrote earlier this year about how you can be planting flowers for world peace, and someone will get pissed off. Is it really that bad?

Well, Stephanie writes about knitting. No offense to the knitting community (I know from close exposure to one of their tribe that they take themselves seriously), but from the outside I view knitting as a pretty tame activity. I don't quite understand why anyone could become so enraged about sock-making, but I'm also not completely surprised.

When people ask why I don't write very much about my family or home life on this site, I say it's because of situations like this. One nutcase can do a lot of damage, unfortunately, and not everyone asks for a public life.

Getting People to Hate You

This quote from Hugh MacLeod puts it well:

“To get a lot of people to hate you, all you need to do is make a lot of money doing something you love.”

You can also replace “make a lot of money” with any number of other phrases that reflect success:

“...all you need to do is have a lot of fun....”
“...all you need to do is help a lot of people...”
“...all you need to do is be better than everyone else...”

This week the New Yorker tells the story of a man who decided to donate his kidney to someone he didn't know. In the recovery room after the surgery, he answers the phone to an irate caller. The caller tells him she hopes his other kidney will fail because he should have donated to her husband instead of the stranger he chose. He gets the hospital to turn off the phone, but before he's discharged, the newspaper publishes an editorial questioning whether it was ethical for him to be a voluntary organ donor.

To me, this is the height of absurdity. Someone checks into a hospital, has part of his body cut out and given to someone he doesn't even know, and then someone else says he should die because he helped the "wrong" person. But again, I'm not that surprised.


I don't wish to scare you off from doing great things and winning your own battles. Please, please, don't stop doing what you're good at.

I remind you of these things because winners need to be supported, not attacked. Specifically, here's why this is important:

  • Criticism is often motivated by the discomfort some people feel when others succeed. It's easier to bring winners down a notch than it is to rise to their level. Winners who possess self-confidence and focus are often labeled as arrogant by those who lack both.

  • Winners attract other winners. I like hanging out with winners, including many of you who care about what I have to say. In addition to the nutcases, you'll also attract a lot of fun people when you win.

  • The thing about proving people wrong – be aware that it can be a dangerous motivation. As mentioned, many of them will never be convinced no matter what you do. When you're lying in a ditch after crashing your bike and breaking your collarbone, you'd better have your own motivation to recover enough to come back to the Tour de France three months later.


Congratulations again to Lance Armstrong and the Yarn Harlot for shaking off their critics and continuing to be awesome.

Also, congratulations to YOU. You're a winner, right? Be prepared for the things that some people will say. But don't give in.



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Weekend Update: Writing Contest, Social Web, + Portland Meetup

There’s a heat wave in Portland! It’s 93° today, but I managed to survive my weekly long run this morning. I love running in my home city, especially when I don’t get lost. *** A few announcements for this weekend update: Our Unconventional Writing Contest has now ended. A trusted adviser from Australia is going…

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Video Update: Why Visit Saudi Arabia?

This video update was recorded at sunrise in Kowloon Park, Hong Kong – but it’s actually about Saudi Arabia, the last stop of my recent global tour. It clocks in at 3 minutes and 55 seconds. If you can’t view the video, here is a quick summary — What can I say about Saudi Arabia…

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Personal Responsibility and Showing Up


To be truly awesome, you have to go above and beyond the efforts of those around you, look for alternative solutions, and refuse to back down from the truth. There's a whole article about it for those who are curious.

But it all starts with showing up. Or, as a friend of mine puts it:

"I'm sorry you feel bad about not meeting your goals-- what I would suggest is that you begin meeting your goals, in order to feel better."

Insight such as this is difficult for some people to accept. Just imagine the excuses you'd hear:

But that's not fair! But I tried to do it and something else came up! But some things are out of our control!

You can probably think of other excuses - in fact, you've probably heard them many times over. Thankfully, for those of us who do take responsibility, there's good news on two levels. The first good news is that we automatically stand out. In a world of buck-passers, those who decide to take responsibility are unusual. Yay. You get the yellow jersey by default. (You still have to win the race, but no one is surprised when you do.)

But on a deeper level, the bright side of taking responsibility is that you can own your own success. Sure, other people helped you get there, but you were the one who actually crossed the finish line. You showed up. You did it. If you have to own the struggle and failure, integral parts of any goal worth pursuing, surely you can also own some of the success.

Remember this: many people can help you achieve success, but no one else is RESPONSIBLE for your success.

It's okay to be proud of your accomplishments. Really.

When I think about people who rocked my world and redefined the course of my life at key points along the way, they fit into two general categories: those who took a chance on me when others wouldn't, and those who turned me down or gently steered me elsewhere when something I wanted wasn't right for me.

First up, I really appreciate the people who took a chance on me when others wouldn't. Most of them are not on Twitter, they don't have blogs, and they wouldn't want a public shout-out. I know they are out there somewhere, probably taking other chances and helping other people. Good for them.

Because of what they did for me, I try to do the same for others wherever possible. Freely receive, freely give, right?

The second group – the people who declined my request for assistance, or who steered me elsewhere when something wasn't right for me - goes a bit deeper. Without exception I was always initially disappointed in these encounters, but I was usually better off for them in the end.

In 2005 I applied to a graduate program in the U.K. Until the day I received the form letter thanking me for my application and offering regrets “due to many qualified applicants,” I was certain I'd get in. When I read the letter, I was crushed. I had scheduled my life around this opportunity, and then it was gone.

Surely this was a mistake! How had they misread my brilliant application?

I didn't get in, I didn't get waitlisted, and I never heard from them again. Thankfully, it wasn't the final story. The final story involved spending a fourth year in Africa, strengthening many relationships there, working with the president of Liberia, moving to Seattle, setting up a new life in the Pacific Northwest, going to a graduate program that was better than the one I had hoped to go to earlier, traveling to all kinds of fun places, and eventually leading me to begin the career I have now.

I have no doubt that things would have been very different otherwise. It's hard to say what exactly would have developed, but it's fairly safe to say I wouldn't be writing you now from Korean Air flight 017 (ICN-LAX) after two weeks of roaming the world. I like Korean Air just fine. I'm glad I didn't miss out on this adventure.

In retrospect I can also see that I was drifting a bit during the time of that application. I was doing good work, but my overall purpose wasn't clear. I think I viewed a university year in the U.K. as a way to defer life for a while. Being turned down required me to let go of the idea that an external force (in this case, a university) would carry me along instead of me figuring out what I really wanted.

Sometimes people let you down because they suck. Sometimes you're just not ready. Other times, they let you down to give you the chance to be great without their help. Being pushed out of the nest is a good thing. It forces you to readjust your expectations: “Oh, this person isn't actually going to be responsible for me. I guess I'll have to be responsible myself. I guess I'll have to find a way to meet the goals in order to feel better."


When we find ourselves stuck in a situation and unable to move forward, something has to change. It is unnecessary and potentially fatal to rely on others to create change for us. Who's responsible for creating change? You are.

What's your job? Show up and bring something unique. I'd wish you good luck, but luck isn't up to you. Luck is like a winning lottery ticket – if it comes your way, might as well cash it in. In the meantime, better to focus on what you can really influence.

Instead of luck, take heart. Take courage. It all starts with showing up.


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Continuous Improvement, Malaysian Edition

I’m home! What a great trip – I had a nice swing throu South America, successfully avoided deportation in Saudi Arabia, and met with friends and readers at five stops along the way. On the last leg of the trip I picked up what I call “swine flu lite” – I’m not dying, but I…

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Going to Extremes

On the flight back from South America last week, the airline was showing Yes Man, a film starring Jim Carrey. Left to my own devices, I rarely finish a movie, but I watched the first two-thirds of this one and thought it was great. The premise of Yes Man is that a guy who usually…

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Site Update: July 2009

Greetings from Malaysia, my home for most of this week before heading back to my real home on Thursday. After nearly getting deported from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia a few days ago, I managed to deport myself a few days later to fly this direction. It’s a really long story, one that I look forward to…

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AONC Is Now a Top 5,000 Web Site (+Update from Chile)

Greetings from the mobile version of World Domination HQ, currently roaming throughout South America on my recent tour of the known universe. Thanks to everyone I’ve met so far on this trip – Alastair, Karen, Ryan, Angela, Gabe, Toby, Ellie, Alan, Emily, Eileen, Gonzalo, and Alberto. Traveling is a lot easier when you have friends…

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This Is How it Begins

I previously wrote about how a long trip begins from Seattle. I didn’t have a car there either, but public transport required a high threshold of patience and pain. In Seattle it took up to two hours to begin a trip, which was especially interesting when the first flight was at 6:00 a.m. From my…

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