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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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When Anxiety Becomes Overwhelming

The other day I stumbled upon a post I wrote several years ago. The post is titled How I Deal with Anxiety, and I tried to remember what I was experiencing at the time.

Whatever it was, it feels like a lifetime ago. But the advice, originally offered as a pep talk to myself and then shared with readers, still feels fairly relevant.

Over the past few months in particular I’ve been dealing with a lot of recurring anxiety. At times it feels acute (intense and sudden) and other times it feels chronic (enduring and ever-present).

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The Light of the Oncoming Train Strengthens the Mind

train Dear Self,

Your problem is that you think everything matters. The things that you do every day, the tasks that occupy your mind and draw on your energy—you think they are helping you make linear progress towards a significant destination.

And maybe you are making progress. But what if you’re just making linear progress on something that is ultimately inconsequential?

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“It Doesn’t Matter How Long Your Life Is… What Matters Is How You Spend the Time You Have”

"How long your life is really doesn’t matter. What matters is how you spend that time.

Why keep waiting? The perfect time is right now.

I just want to build unique experiences. I think of them like trophies of the soul. It may sound weird but that's what it's like.

That's what I live for ... it's creating those moments."

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The 50-Mile Race vs. The Cliff Jump

Cliff Jump Imagine two scenarios that each require you to take on a monumental task.

In the first scenario, your task is to run a 50-mile race. You’re not quite out of shape, and you exercise regularly, but you’ve never ran anywhere close to that distance. It’s a daunting challenge, likely the most difficult physical activity of your life, and you haven’t even had breakfast yet.

Despite the tremendous challenge, you set off, determined to overcome the odds. You draw on whatever motivation you can muster. Maybe someone told you that you could never run a single mile, so you think of those comments as you place step over tired step on the ground, one foot in front of the other. Maybe you picture your arrival at the end of the race, with a crowd of supporters cheering your accomplishment.

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How Goals Change Over Time, and What to Do About It

The other day I was cleaning out my home office, and I found some old notes. The notes were from more than eight years ago before starting this blog. At the time I was planning to undergo some big changes and attempt a new career as a writer.

As I looked through the notes, I smiled in recognition of many of the items I’d listed so long ago. I’d been to about 70 countries then, and was officially beginning the quest to go to all of them (193/193). I achieved that goal almost three years ago.

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The Snake in the Road: A Lesson in Fear & Perception

Over the past few months, when I haven’t been preparing for my book launch or flying around the world, I’ve also been learning a lot more about “inner work.”

Admittedly, this is an area that is very new to me. I’m pretty good at all the things I’ve used to succeed in life and work thus far—but I’ve come to acknowledge that I lack the skills I need for what I want to do next.

I'll share more about this as I go through a series of processes, both on my own and with some help from a few friends. For now, here’s a story that originally comes from the Buddhist tradition. I've been thinking about how this applies to some areas of my life. Maybe it applies to some of yours, too.

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“Taking Risks” Is Not the Same as “Doing Hard Things”

Recently I’ve been noticing that I haven’t been taking enough risks. I don’t want to be complacent! And I always want to be challenging myself.

I’ve also been saying that I don’t feel like I have a big idea or am doing something hard. For a long time, I could immediately identify a major goal I was pursuing that required a lot of attention, investment, and sacrifice.

But in trying to move forward and make some changes, I think I’ve been making a mistake: taking risks and doing hard things are not necessarily the same.

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If You Lost Everything, Would You Look Back or Look Forward?

I went to the hotel gym one morning while I was traveling. When I finished on the treadmill, I went back to the elevator to head down to my room... except there was just one problem. Yep, once again I’d forgotten my room number.

I spend 100+ nights a year in hotels and still haven’t perfected a system for remembering where I “live” on any given night. Sometimes I carry the little check-in envelope around in my pocket, and sometimes I take a photo of the door, but at least once every dozen nights, I start to walk back toward my room before realizing I have no idea where it is.

This time, I tried to retrace the steps that took me out of the room and to the gym. Was it 1406? I thought it was. It sounded like the right number.

I went back to floor 14 and everything felt familiar. I turned down the hall and came to the room, which looked like the right one. The door was slightly ajar, and I assumed I’d mistakenly forgotten to close it all the way when I left. Not ideal, I thought, but it happens.

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