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When to Compromise and When to Hold Your Ground

8581789342_d849c00856_z At some point, most of us end up settling in a major part of our life. We compromise and make tradeoffs.

We can’t always get everything we want, of course. We can’t always be in total control. But we can certainly get a lot of what we want, and if we prioritize what's most important to us, we can probably get the top things on the list. Just because we can’t always be in control doesn’t mean that we're never in control.

This truth presents a natural question: when should we compromise, and when should we hold our ground and keep fighting for what we really want?

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How to Live in Fear

Are you tired of being courageous and fed up with bravery? Seeking an alternative to risk-taking?

Not to worry. Choosing to live in fear is both easy and safe. Simply follow a few simple guidelines, and you'll live comfortably ever after.

Keep calm and carry on. Beware of danger, true love, and real life.

Play it safe. Never charge down a mountain. Don't run, don't leap, don't go too fast. Be wary of opportunities and new perspectives. Above all: stay the course.

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Let the Wave Crash Over You: One Year Later

Readers: One year ago today I lost my brother, Ken. This new post contains my one-year reflections. Like the first time I told the story, it’s written as a direct letter to him.

***

Dear Ken,

I’d say that it’s hard to believe a year has passed, but the greater truth is that it’s hard to believe it happened at all. When I think of it now, as I do every day, my mind still runs to the same place of shock and disbelief.

There were days during the year when I thought about it less than others, and maybe some days when I began to look forward. As today’s date approached, though, I reverted to that place of disbelief where everything feels suspended in time.

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If You Have No Challenges, Maybe It’s Time to Change Your Life

Have you ever walked around endless airport highway ramps for more than a mile? When it’s after 10pm and you’ve got your carry-on bags with you?

Yeah, so I did that the other night. Short version: when you arrive in DFW and are staying at the off-airport Hyatt Regency, you’re supposed to take the SkyTrain to the C gates, and then hike through the parking garage to the entrance. I’ve done it that way before, and it’s not terribly difficult.

This time I was hanging out in the D terminal, working from my favorite U.S. airline lounge, and I decided to walk outside and skip the whole SkyTrain thing. How hard could it be? I’ve been to DFW, oh, I don’t know—several hundred times if not more. Sure, it’s a big place, and there was that time I got lost trying to return a rental car and missed my flight, but still.

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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.

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Reflections at the End of a 30-City Tour (At Least For Now)

Just a couple of weeks ago I was going from city to city, a different one every day.

I had the routine down: every afternoon I’d roll into a new place, usually arriving by air and then transferring to Uber or taxi to my hotel. Settling in, I’d do an hour or so of work and catch-up, then change my clothes and head to the venue.

Sometimes the venue was a bookstore, other times a co-working space, and every now and then a theater. The 6pm-10pm was usually fully occupied with the event, which runs two hours start to finish but for me there’s always pre- and post-work.

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It’s Not About Overcoming Your Fears; It’s About Acknowledging and Moving On

How do I overcome my shyness? How do I conquer my fears? I want to take a big leap, but I can’t bring myself to approach the ledge… what do I do?

These and similar questions fill my inbox on a regular basis. Many of us long to overcome fears and limiting beliefs, because we think that these are obstacles in our way.

And here’s the thing: it’s not about overcoming. If you're shy or introverted by nature (I am, too) you don’t “get over” these things. In fact, they aren’t things that you’re supposed to “get over.” They’re part of who you are, and they can be weaknesses or strengths depending on what you do with them.

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Hope, Expectations, and Winning the Lottery

" Most people know that the lottery is not a good investment plan. It’s not rational to invest large amounts of money in lottery tickets, because you’re almost certain to lose no matter how much cash you spend at the gas station or convenience store.

Buying a single lottery ticket or two, however, is actually quite rational. Most of us don’t play the lottery as an investment in anything other than dreaming. For a few minutes after you buy the ticket and before you scratch off the numbers, or maybe even for a few days if the winning numbers aren’t announced until later, you have the opportunity to walk around with a dream in your pocket.

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Revisiting Montana, 25 Years Later

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.”

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The Resumé of Failures

For every success, there are countless failures. Yet when we look at someone from the outside, especially someone who’s been particularly successful, we may not see the failures.

Scientist Melanie Stefan issued a challenge for academics to share their “CV of failures,” a formal listing of all the programs from which they were rejected, the funding they didn’t get, and the journal articles that weren’t published.

Here’s how she explains the idea:

"My CV does not reflect the bulk of my academic efforts — it does not mention the exams I failed, my unsuccessful PhD or fellowship applications, or the papers never accepted for publication. At conferences, I talk about the one project that worked, not about the many that failed."

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There’s No School for What You Need to Do

At one of the stops on my current tour, the bookstore host introduced me by saying in part “... and Chris earned a master’s degree in International Studies from the University of Washington.” It surprised me a little because no one else has ever mentioned that in any introduction that I can recall.

Sure, it’s public information, but who cares? No one reads my blog because I went to college. No one buys my books or comes to an event because I earned an advanced degree, or any degree for that matter.

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The Historian Who Couldn’t Escape from Alcatraz

In the introduction to one of the chapters of my new book, I wrote about escaping from Alcatraz. If you’re trying to get out of an unfulfilling job, it can sometimes feel just as difficult as getting out of prison. I used the Alcatraz story as a metaphor, but a reader who wants to remain anonymous passed on a story that I really liked. Here’s the story.

My uncle was a historian at the Maritime Museum in San Francisco. He gave me a tour of their private collection once, items that were too delicate for public display.

In a large metal drawer, he showed me the fake human heads made of soap that the escaped inmates had used to fool the nighttime guards. Can you imagine? Collecting the tiny end slivers of soap after a shower. Getting them back to your cell. Finally saving enough to create a head. They also made a makeshift drill out of hair clippers and a screw. You get really creative when you need to escape!

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The Black Spot in the Painting

Consider a painting by one of the European masters. Somehow you’ve discovered this painting in your grandmother’s attic. It’s worth a fortune, or so say the appraisers who come to your house to inspect it.

They’re going to take it away for auction, but before they do, you insist on keeping it on your mantle for a month. Every day you look at it with pride. This painting has been in your family for centuries! Soon it will bring you wealth, but first it brings beauty and elegance to your living room.

The painting is spectacular, with thousands of careful brush strokes and just the right blend of colors. The artist had clearly spent decades mastering his craft. Of the dozens of his paintings that were still known to exist, you sense that this was one of his favorites.

Except for one thing. Just off-center, in the midst of perfection, lies a single black spot. The spot isn’t huge, but it’s not tiny either. When you look at the painting, there’s no missing it. How did it get there? Surely, you think, it was a rare mistake. Perhaps the painter was tired at the end of a long day and accidentally splashed a dash of black in the midst of all the color. Or maybe some well-meaning apprentice came along later to retouch the painting and ended up making a mess.

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Letter from John Wayne Airport

Dear Ken,

It’s been nearly ten months since you went away. Still, every day I think of you, I miss you, and I wish we could get you back. I started making a list of memories we shared, and I’m trying to learn more about the parts of your life that were unfamiliar to me.

I’m thinking of you more than usual this week, because my new book is out and I’m on the road every day. You and I didn’t really travel together that much, but whenever we did, it was a lot of fun.

Looking back, I wish I’d taken you to Bangkok or Dubai. I remember one time when you were traveling in your army uniform and got upgraded on a short domestic flight. You texted me to say how excited you were. I laughed, because flying First Class on a short U.S. flight isn’t much to rejoice over. I used to send you photos of me jetting around the world on much nicer airlines, and you’d always reply with a thumbs-up or an enthusiastic comment.

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