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“Knowledge Is Not Understanding” — The Case of the Backwards Bicycle

I loved this video from Smarter Every Day, where host Destin Sandlin learns to ride a bicycle that has been custom welded to reverse the handlebars.

It sounds easy—all you have to do is think left when you normally think right, and vice versa. Can’t be too hard, right? But it is hard... very hard.

After he learns to ride the reverse bicycle, he then has another big problem: how to switch back to an ordinary bicycle. It turns out that's really tough, too!

Lesson: “Once you have a rigid way of thinking in your head, sometimes you cannot change it, even if you want to."

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“Most Ambitions Belong to the Past”: Reflections on A Neurosurgeon’s Final Year of Life

I recently stumbled upon an essay from Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who died earlier this year at the age of 37.

I read the whole thing several times and was struck by several passages, including this one:

"Everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past.

The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described, hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed."

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Hate Paying Taxes? It Could Be a Lot Worse: You Might Not Have to Pay Them

I do wish it were simpler. I was surprised last year to learn that I agreed with Donald Rumsfeld on something.

Part of it is my own fault: I keep starting new businesses and entities. I have a tax return for my career as an author, another for my entrepreneurial work, another for WDS, another for the WDS Foundation (a separate organization), and now another for Pioneer Nation. Who knows what else I’ll have next year!

Why can’t Amazon or Zappos or Apple figure this out for the federal government? Imagine the possibilities.

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To Cross the Railroad Tracks, Go Against Everything You’ve Been Told

One time, long ago, I had a hard year while living in Memphis, Tennessee.

Ever since then, especially when I’ve been at events throughout the south, I’ve met a lot of people who also lived in Memphis for a time. When the subject comes up, once in a while I mention something about my hard year there, and I always add a disclaimer: “Probably it was just me.”

There are good people everywhere, and you never want to insult someone’s city. More than once, though, they’ve said “I had a hard year in Memphis too!”

As the song says, maybe it was Memphis, but maybe it was just me. Whatever it was, it wasn’t only a hard year: it was actually a terrible year where I felt very alone and afraid.

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Paradise by the Runway Lights: Notes from Childhood and 25 Hours of Flying to Melbourne

It was long ago and it was far away, and it was so much better than it is today.

I had an eclectic taste in music when I was a kid. Much of it came from my dad, who introduced me to Bob Dylan before I became more of a fan than he was. There was also Tom Petty (early years), Warren Zevon, and Bruce Springsteen at some point.

I was growing up at least ten or fifteen years late, in other words.

But our generation had an edge on the previous one when it came to technology, or so it seemed at the time. I'd saved for a Sony Walkman, a prized possession acquired at age eight, and over the next few years I recorded songs off the radio for later listening. Late at night, I’d play myself to sleep on many of those songs.

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Win the Way You Won Before

When you encounter a setback and need to regroup, think back to a time when you won. You mastered a skill, navigated a tricky negotiation, or otherwise came out on top.

Can you use the same skill or strategy now? Can you adapt that skill or strategy to a new situation?

Sure, circumstances may have changed. But you haven’t always lost or struggled, so think about that time when you got it right.

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Visiting the Hidden Speakeasy in Downtown Sydney, Australia

Searching for a great cocktail in Australia is a quest of its own. For most Australians, a cocktail means "gin and tonic" or "margarita"—they have great wines in this part of the world, but legit mixed drinks are hard to come by.

That just means you have to look harder, of course.

I found a modern-day speakeasy hidden away in the Central Business District of Sydney. Finding the general area wasn’t difficult, but there was a trick to finding the speakeasy itself: you had to avoid an imposter bar located right outside. The imposter bar looked fine—just a normal pub with the typical overpriced drinks of Sydney.

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There’s Always Time to Write a Book

From Laura Vanderkam's busy year:

"I have never believed that book writing needs to be all-consuming. It wasn’t for Toni Morrison writing The Bluest Eye at night after her kids went to bed and let’s face it, we’re not likely to produce anything like The Bluest Eye no matter how much time we spend writing. Books are projects like any other.

Incidentally, you can make time for the rest of your life too. I’m always amused by the lines in book acknowledgements in which authors (generally, male authors) thank their families for putting up with all their missed dinners. Not only am I not missing dinner, I’m generally cooking it."

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Sometimes Life Sucks, So You Might As Well Do Something About It

I've always liked Trent Hamm's tagline: "All I care about is making your life not suck." This is what good bloggers, and good people of all kinds, do well. If you're trying to figure out the next step for your blog... or your life... think about how you can make other people's lives not suck.

Taking action on it will probably make you happier, too.

A couple people have suggested that the phrasing of Trent's motto is poor. Can't you make it more positive? they ask.

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The “Crisis Text Line” Helps Thousands of Young People Each Day

The Crisis Text Line provides free support and “active listening" for teens through the method of communication that many people now prefer. Volunteers are available around the clock and communicate with thousands of users in need every day.

The organization’s quantified approach, based on five million texts, has produced a unique collection of mental-health data. C.T.L. has found that depression peaks at 8pm, anxiety at 11pm, self-harm at 4am, and substance abuse at 5am.
Counselors are trained to put texters at ease and not to jump too quickly into a problem-solving mode. Open-ended questions are good; “why” questions are bad. Also bad: making assumptions about the texter’s gender or sexual orientation, sounding like a robot, using language that a young person might not know.

If you need help, you can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting START to 741741.

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To Be Happier, Go to the Library

If you liked the Japanese tradition, here's another one from this side of the Pacific:

“Older people often draw as much happiness from ordinary experiences — like a day in the library — as they do from extraordinary ones.

For people who have not saved enough or have broken into their savings because of lost jobs and health crises, the findings offer a glimmer of hope. If you can cover basic expenses, pursuing inexpensive, everyday things that bring comfort and satisfaction can lead to happiness equal to jetting about on international trips in your 70s and 80s."

Personally I'm still a fan of jetsetting about on international trips, so I don't think you have to choose between travel and "ordinary experiences"—but yes, a day at the library can bring a lot of joy.

Link: Affixing More Value to the Ordinary Experiences of Life

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The Japanese Tradition That Encourages Us to Be Present

More supporting evidence for my new focus on units of momentary happiness:

"Japanese tradition tells of ichi-go ichi-e, a concept fortified over centuries of practice that says we only have one meeting, at one time—our experiences with one another stand alone. Every encounter we have—a dinner, a shared bottle of wine, a late evening of conversation on an old red couch—will happen once, and then will never happen again.

The circumstances surrounding an encounter, the people involved and their exact dispositions and history make each event unique. We may interact with the same people, within similar circumstances, but ichi-go ichi-e says that each interaction is an experience all unto itself, never to be re-created perfectly."
Since each encounter lasts but once, how will we choose to treat it?

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Beware the Power of Bad Advice: A Lesson in Life and Plumbing

Holly Finch founded the LightBox Collaborative, a San Francisco-based consultancy for non-profits. Lightbox has eight “collaborators” but no employees. When I asked Holly what she should advise someone hoping to follow her path, she said: “Do it your way—but check the math.”

She explained that this means you should always apply someone else's lessons in a way that makes sense to you, but you should also make sure that your happiness allows for enough money.

Speaking of advice, here's what Holly had to say about relying on “professional" advice... and why those who give such advice should be careful.

After weeks of apartment hunting, my husband Hal and I had finally found “The One.” It was our San Francisco dream flat. The only sticking point was the water pressure in the shower, which was little more than a light spittle. The lackluster morning shower and our resulting crankiness became a black cloud over our otherwise happy new home.

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What Do People Say At the End of Their Lives?

If given the chance, what do people choose for their last reflections and comments? A veteran hospice chaplain gives an unflinching answer:

"They talk about the love they felt, and the love they gave. Often they talk about love they did not receive, or the love they did not know how to offer, the love they withheld, or maybe never felt for the ones they should have loved unconditionally.

They talk about how they learned what love is, and what it is not.

This is how we talk about the meaning of our lives. That is how we talk about the big spiritual questions of human existence."

Link: What People Talk About Before They Die

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