Watch and See

In 2005, U.N. Secretary General Koffi Annan was struggling with a series of scandals and other challenges in his administration. I read this short quote in a magazine interview with him and wrote it down in my notebook: Question: Senator Coleman says you are ‘damaged goods.’ What do you say to him? Answer: Watch and…

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Notes on a Full Life, Live from CX 883

Hi everyone. I’m high on life and writing in from the Cathay Pacific LAX-HKG flight. I’m fading fast, but with 13 hours to go until arrival, there should be plenty of time to a) sleep and b) write this note to you. It’s been a full week in my world so far. On Sunday I…

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Authenticity: You Has It

At any given time, most of us have no shortage of challenges we’re trying to work through or overcome. Entrepreneurs must create something out of nothing — a process that is both fun and tiring. Ambitious people who work in organizations have to work with colleagues in pursuit of collective goals. Sometimes the colleagues aren’t…

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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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Introducing the Unconventional Writing Contest (Your Chance to Write for AONC)


It's here by popular demand! Today I'm opening a new writing contest to feature the unconventional ideas of other great people from our community.

The winning entries will be published on the site for all to see, and naturally I've got some (other) great prizes as well. Here are all the details.

The Background

People ask me every week about writing a guest post for AONC. I've never said yes, mostly because I want to be careful about managing the workload. Most bloggers I know who regularly work with guest writers say that editing the guest posts takes as much time as writing their own posts.

I have enough writing projects right now to know that I can't become an editor, and I also don't want to get into the messy (but necessary) role of saying yes to a few people and no to a lot of other people.

Therefore, I still won't offer traditional guest posts here, but my hope is that the writing contest will allow a few more voices to be heard without my taking on a new job as editor.

How It Works

You write a short essay of 500-1200 words describing an unconventional life topic of your choice. A panel of anonymous judges (I'm calling them the Supreme Court) will review the entries and select a short list of finalists for my review. I'll choose the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners. The winning essays will be posted on the site for all to see, and there will also be some great prizes.


Remember, this is an unconventional writing contest and the site is called the Art of Nonconformity – so you don't really need a lot of instruction. Do what you want; just make it excellent.

However, if you're stuck, think about these principles:

*Essays should be helpful in nature and seek to explore provocative issues. Don't be boring.

*How have you or someone you know successfully challenged authority or overcome adversity?

*How can other people make unconventional choices? How can people overcome the fear of change?

*Highly practical, interesting lifestyle design content is also welcome.

(Again, those are guidelines, not rules. The Supreme Court will award the short list designation to the best possible essays based on content and original ideas. )

The Deadline

You have until Saturday, July 11th to submit your entry. Don't wait too long!

How to Submit

Include your essay in the body of the email (not as an attachment!) and include the following info at the top:

1. Your Name
2. The Title of the Essay
3. Your Web Site (if you have one)
4. A Two-Sentence Biography

Send the info to this email address (the address is really long – blame Google).

Alternatively, if you already use Google Docs, you can also upload the file to your own account and then share it with Either way works just fine.

The Exposure

I've never had a guest post here, so the winning contest entries will be the first ones published here in our 16-month history. The site is currently ranked in the top 10,000 blogs by Technorati and slowly inching towards the next 5k benchmark. For the past three months there have been more than one million pageviews each month.

After it's posted, the winning essay will go into the AONC archives for all of eternity the foreseeable future. The posts will include a link back to the writer's site, and I'll also promote them through Twitter, LinkedIn, on billboards throughout each major city in North America, etc.*

*The billboards may not happen, but everything else will.

The Big Prize

I know that people would submit entries without a prize, but I also think that a great contest needs a great prize. Therefore I decided to "go big" and give away something that will have a real impact.

Grand Prize Winner: Complimentary Business-Class upgrade on any American Airlines flight.

If you're going to fly on a U.S. airline, you might as well do so at the front of the plane. This upgrade is valid on any long-haul flight in the AA network, and can also be applied to domestic connections that get you to the hub where the long-haul flight originates from.

If you're traveling between the U.S. and Europe, the U.S. and South America, or the U.S. and Asia (Tokyo and New Delhi) in either direction over the next year, this upgrade will help you arrive in style. Lounge access in any OneWorld airline lounge is also included, so you can hang out, drink free cocktails, and watch the planes go by in a quiet place before your flight.

Depending on how you use the upgrade, it's worth anywhere from $500-2,000. I'll also provide free travel optimizing services to the winner. [Click here to read more about AA's Business Class.]

(Alternative prize: If the winner has no current plans to travel, I'll give them 25,000 Frequent Flyer Miles on American, Air Canada, Delta, or United, which they can use for a round-trip domestic ticket anytime in the next two years. If the winner lives outside of the U.S. or Canada, no problem - we can use the miles to book a codeshare flight on British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, or almost any major airline.)

The Grand Prize Winner will also receive:

The “I Want it All” combo pack that contains the complete versions of all the Unconventional Guides. This currently sells for $197.

The Combo Pack includes Working for Yourself, Art and Money, Travel Ninja, and Discount Airfare.


A new journal from Piccadilly Journal. This moleskine-alternative is what I've been using recently. It's better than moleskine and half the price, which makes my life easier since I'm paying for the prizes.

I do most of my writing with pen and paper before transferring it to a computer. Even if you don't operate the same way, these notebooks are fun for journaling, to-do lists, or looking cool in the coffee shop.

Props and respect from the universe. You'll get the table by the window wherever you go, and the only tradeoff will be all the autograph seekers. (Value: Immeasurable. You'll be famous! Sort of.)


Second Prize Winner: *The “I Want it All” combo pack that contains the complete versions of all the Unconventional Guides.

Third Prize Winner: A free copy of the complete version of any one Unconventional Guide (winner's choice).

The Fine Print

1. Your essay must be completely original. This means it can not have been published elsewhere, including on your blog.

2. If your essay is selected as one of the winners, you grant AONC non-exclusive rights to publish it. All winning essays will be edited prior to publication.

3. If your essay is not chosen as one of the winners, the rights will return to you and you can post it on your blog or send it somewhere else.

4. Winners are responsible for any taxes associated with a prize.

5. A note to American Airlines employees - I verified my ability to offer the Grand Prize upgrade as a gift for the winner through the Executive Platinum desk earlier this week. The upgrade can not be transferred further. If you have any questions, please contact me at the phone number listed in my profile.


My goal with the contest is to add quality ideas and content to the site by promoting original voices. I'm looking forward to what some of you have to say!

Oh, one more thing - if you have any questions, please post them in the comments section here. To be fair to everyone else, I probably shouldn't offer specific feedback by email. For the same reason, I won't review entries prior to submission. Just make it excellent and you'll stand out.

What do you think -- are you in?



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Video Update: Learning from Everyone

Hi everyone, here’s a video update live from PDX International Airport before a recent flight to Los Angeles. Highlights include more news about Escape from Cubicle Nation, what Yoga Journal and Outside magazine have in common, and my middle seat (grrrr) on Alaska Airlines. In short, I believe I can learn from everyone. There are…

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How to Write a Life List


What if we could come to the end of our lives with true fulfillment, looking back on a rich history of experiences, relationships, and accomplishments?

Either metaphorically or literally, we could point to a list of steadily-pursued dreams that turned into accomplished goals as we moved through different phases of life.

The sad alternative, of course, is to come to the end of life unfulfilled – something best phrased in this intense quote from Thoreau I’ve been pondering a lot recently:

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with their song still in them.

I don't usually like to assume, but in this case I'm going to assume you don't want that. If so, one of the ways we can overcome the “quiet desperation” is by clearly identifying the activities that help us to be more alive.

In other words, writing a life list can help us to live. This article will show you how to do it.

What’s a Life List?

A life list is simply a list of long-term personal goals, often expressed as “X things to do before I die.” Life lists are related to, but also different from the Ideal World scenario, the Annual Review, and your ongoing list of active projects.

These lists have become fairly common due to the popularity of the web site 43 Things. On this site, users create and share a personal list of, well, 43 things they want to do. You’ve probably seen some of these lists around the internet – if not, the site is at least worth a quick look.

While I appreciate any resource that gets people thinking about goal-setting, I’d also say that 43 Things is a “lite” version of goal-setting. This is not really a criticism of its design; it’s just a reflection of the way most people use it to think about their goals. Because it’s so easy to set up and add goals that other people have chosen, you can literally set up your life list in 5 minutes.

My philosophy is that goal-setting is not a casual practice. I intend to actually complete the goals I set, so I want to spend more than 5 minutes writing them down. If you agree and want to go further with building your own life list, keep reading.

Why Have a Life List

You don’t need a life list, but if you’re struggling with direction or just want to be open to personal growth, a life list can definitely help.

A good life list is an anchor. It grounds you in your purpose, gives you hopes and dreams for the future, and helps you understand more about yourself.

There is no right or wrong way to make this kind of list. You simply devote an hour, or however long it takes you, to thinking about your life. What do you want to do? To have? To be?

Again, there isn’t one way to do this, but it may help you to examine or revisit a few key concepts about lifestyle design.

What Goes On the List?

Many of the goals chosen by 43 Things users are “fuzzy” or representative of general desires instead of passions to pursue. Some of them are essentially desire habits rather than goals. “Drink more water,” for example, is a good habit, not necessarily something that should appear on a life list.

Here are a few vague, non-measurable goals (all taken from the 43 Things site):

  • Travel the World
  • Be Happy
  • Eat Healthier
  • Be In Shape
  • Have Better Posture
  • Save Money
  • Make New Friends

In addition to being vague, you can probably see a trend there – all of them are aspirational goals related to personal well-being. Hold that thought and we’ll come back to it in a moment.

On the other hand, here are a few measurable goals (also taken from 43 Things users, which shows that not everyone follows the crowd):

  • Meet the Dalai Lama
  • Become an Ordained Minister
  • See the Northern Lights
  • Go on a Road Trip with no Predetermined Destination
  • Learn American Sign Language

Think Realistic Big and Discard Fear

As you compose your own life list, remember that the basic rule of brainstorming is “Don’t limit yourself.” You should also avoid thinking about your present situation. This is your whole life list; it’s meant to be something you work on and refer to for your whole life.

In other words, throw out realism… or more precisely, what you initially think of as realism. As you go through the journey over a long period of time, you may very well find that what you thought was reality was actually quite limiting.

As much as possible, you should also throw out fear when you write your life list. The fear of failure, and even the fear of success, holds us back from attempting many of the things we secretly wish for. In the practice of actually achieving goals, it takes some time to work through this – but you can start by blocking the fear from entering your life list. If you have to, just tell yourself “It’s only a list.”

Adventure vs. Non-Adventure Goals

If you’ve been reading the site for a while, I realize you probably know all about vague versus measurable goals, as well as thinking big. Let’s take it a bit further.

In addition to the “be happier” goals that crop up, “adventure goals” are another frequent theme on most life lists I’ve seen. I define adventure goals as any goals that are physically challenging or involve adrenalin. Examples include climbing mountains, racing cars, swimming in lakes or oceans, completing athletic events, and so on.

When some people set out to write a life list, the majority of items on the list end up being these kinds of goals. I’m not entirely sure why; perhaps this is because their current lifestyle is more sedentary than they would like, or perhaps they just like being outdoors and overcoming physical challenges.

While I agree that physical activity is important in overcoming the “quiet desperation” of conventional living, I also think that focusing strictly on adventure goals is a bit basic. I have a fair number of adventure goals on my list, but I also have a lot of other goals.

When trying to figure out what to put on the life list, think carefully about the question, “What do I really want to do?” Remember, the idea is to dream big and avoid limitations. You can be in the Formula One and write a novel. The fewer limits you place on your list, the better it will be.

Again, this is a personal practice, so if you’re an adrenaline junkie and all of your items involve climbing Mount Everest or competing in the Olympics, go right ahead. Most of us, however, will want to think beyond adventure goals.

These categories may help you brainstorm:

Friends & Family, Travel, Business, Spiritual, Health, Service, Learning, Financial (Earning), Financial (Giving), Financial (Saving)

(Note: These categories are from How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review. As that article explains, the categories are suggestions and not meant to be exclusive. Additional categories for a life list might also include “Unusual Experiences” or “Big Achievements,” since most lists include a few things that are done only once.)

Experiences versus “Stuff”

Writing and thinking about life lists can often cause us to evaluate the way we spend our time and money. Interestingly, most of the items that end up being on the typical life list involve life experiences far more than things we wish to own.

This can reveal an imbalance in how our resources are actually spent. If the p on our list of ultimate goals consist primarily of experiences, but we know that we spend most of our time working to earn money, we’ve just discovered a source of discomfort or “quiet desperation” within us.

I’m not being judgmental – if someone really values owning “stuff,” then perhaps it’s best for them to focus on earning money to pay for it. I do think it’s fair to say, though, that most of us find the ownership of “stuff” to be somewhat fleeting in the end. As they say, you really can’t take it with you when you go.


Accomplishment is something worth being proud of, but the pursuit of significant goals is valuable by itself. In a couple of interviews I’ve done recently, I’ve heard the question. “What will you do after you’ve visited every country in the world?”

At first, I was perplexed by the question. After a few seconds of awkward silence, I finally learned to say that whenever I finish that journey, I’ll probably set another big goal. I also think at least as much about the process of the goal as I do about the eventual, hoped-for achievement.

Many challenging life goals require a great deal of process. Running a marathon (26.2 miles) requires at least 420 miles of training. To go to every country in the world requires spending a lot of time in airports and bus stations. At a certain level, you have to enjoy the process and the accomplishment.

Publishing Your Life List

What do you do with your life list when it’s finished? If you’re like most people, you put it away and forget about it. Of course, you’re not most people – you want to actually complete the list, right?

If public accountability would help you take your life more seriously, consider putting your life list online. Here are a few people who have published their life list for the world:

John Goddard (one of the original, 127-item lists) Stephanie Roberts Project 183 Yanik Silver Mighty Girl Bill Riddell Rob Cooper

Publishing is optional, of course. I haven’t published my full life list online, but I spend a lot of time writing about some of the bigger goals (visit every country, write a full-length book about unconventional living, and so on).


Done offhandedly, life lists can be vague lists of dreams and desires – but when taken seriously, a well thought out life list can be deeply meaningful. While there may still be some benefit in thinking about goals even on a basic level, John Goddard, one of the original list writers, first wrote his list of 127 goals at the age of fifteen.

From exploring the Congo to typing 50 words a minute, John has gone on to accomplish most of the goals he set decades ago and even forge a career out of the experience. Naturally, the mere presence of a list is not enough. But I think that identifying the goals at a young age and striving to live consciously had a lot to do with John’s success.

By the way, like a lot of life design exercises, the structure is there to help you. If it doesn’t help, discard it and do it your way. It’s your list, after all. You’re the one who is going to make the goals come to fruition, so you might as well have them written down in a way that makes the most sense to you.

If you’ve never written a life list before, consider taking an hour or two to chisel down your dreams. I think you’ll find it extremely insightful, inspiring, and maybe even motivating enough to shift where you put your focus. As mentioned, life lists can be private or public. If you'd like to share some or all of yours, feel free to do so in the comments. I can't wait to see what some of you come up with!

Have you made a life list? What are some things on your list?


Related AONC Articles:

How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review
Lifestyle Design and Your Ideal World
The Art of Radical Exclusion

External Resources:

Ten Things to Do Before This Article Is Finished (NYT)
Creating a Bucket List (Squidoo)
The Smithsonian Life List



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Influential Following


Once there was a student preparing to send in an application for admission to the local university. She spent hours answering the questions and preparing the additional materials, but stopped when she came to the final question:

“Are you a leader?”

She felt like she had never led anyone before, so she answered the question with an honest “no” and sent in the application. She knew the university was looking for leaders (they had said so in their advertising), so she did not expect to be admitted.

A few weeks later she received this response from the admissions committee:

Dear Applicant,

This year the university will admit 1,455 new leaders to our incoming class. We thought all those leaders would need at least one follower, so we are pleased to grant you admission.


Wherever you look, you’ll find no shortage of leaders and would-be leaders. Amazon offers more than 300,000 books on leadership. You’ve got charismatic leadership, primal leadership, guerrilla leadership, and countless other adjectives wrapped around the pursuit of leadership.

It's not strictly a Western phenomenon. From walking the streets of places like Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Cambodia, I can report that these kinds of books are highly sought after around the world. The secret, it seems, is to put the word “leader” in your title to make it more successful.

Everyone wants to be a leader, it seems, but here’s an idea: why not be an influential follower?

More than anything else, changing the world requires strategic, dedicated action, but your strategy can be greatly improved through research. In the early stages of my legacy project, I did a lot of following. I was impressed with Steve Pavlina’s work and a number of the LifeRemix writers. I wanted to share from my own perspective, of course, but I knew there was a lot I could learn from watching these experts.

Since I just returned from ten days in Africa, I wasn’t able to attend the SXSW conference where the entire Internet is meeting this week. While I was in transit somewhere, however, I decided that I had to at least go down to meet up with some of the people I follow. I’m headed to Austin this morning and I’ll be back late tomorrow night.

I’m grateful that as my influence has grown, I’ve been able to help some of these people and add value to their own network of followers. Some of them consider me a peer now, which I’ll take as more evidence that I’ve fooled the world. As much as anything else, I trace this to careful listening and following.

The Smartest Person in the Room

To find the balance between leading and following, it's helpful to ask yourself, "Am I the smartest person in the room?" Hopefully, the answer is no -- because if you’re not being challenged by those around you, you won’t be able to grow until you make some changes. Look for people who have more influence, more intelligence, and more courage than you do.

Growth is easy for me, because in my room I am far from the smartest person. Many of the people who comment on this site are much smarter than me. I learn from everyone who writes in and many of the people I connect with on Twitter.


By the way, leadership is not an either / or position. People debate the meaning of leadership, but one thing that everyone agrees on is that leaders exercise influence. Once you have followers (of any kind), then you are a leader. Voila! You can have influence without a title, and some people with titles have very little influence.

On the other hand, a leader without any followers is just out for a walk. There is nothing wrong with starting small – we all do. But instead of talking all the time, why not take the time to listen for a while? Authenticity is a prerequisite to good leadership, at least the kind of leadership I’m interested in following.

It’s okay to be a follower, and you can even be an influential one.


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Friends and Enemies


I’m sitting in a bar in Washington, D.C., listening to another writer talk about the untimely demise of her blog. The blog in question started at almost the same time as The Art of Nonconformity. When I first read her writing last year, I knew she was going places. The posts were crisp, funny, and helpful at the same time.

In fact, when I read almost any of her writing, I thought it was better than most of mine. Then, after a few months of steady content, one day she stopped writing.

Naturally, I wondered, “Why? What happened?”

After she missed another few posting deadlines, I wrote her to ask what was going on. The answers I heard back were vague. “I’m taking a break for a while,” she said at first, and then a couple of weeks later, she said she needed to spend more time on paid work. I thought those would have been acceptable answers from some people -- but coming from her, I wondered if there was another story.

Nine months later, I’m in her city and have successfully tracked her down. It’s great to meet up. We drink beer and talk about life, business, and our mutual friends.

But the whole time I’m wondering – what happened with the blog?

That’s when she tells me the whole story. Yes, she had some personal things going on, and yes, the day job got busy for a while. But what really caused her to stop writing was one highly-negative comment an anonymous reader sent in.

I’m not talking about constructive criticism or merely a disagreement. She was used to disagreements and the occasional snarky person – that’s part of the job – but this comment went further. It was a personal attack that failed to contribute anything of value. Unfortunately for all of the rest of us who read the site, she took it so personally that she stopped writing. The world lost the ideas and input of a great writer.

Goodbye, blog. Thanks for all you've given us, but it's over now.

The Personal Responsibility Factor

I know what you’re thinking: How can one negative comment cause someone to stop doing the work they believe in? When something like that happens, shouldn’t we just suck it up and go on?

In short, yes, I know we have a responsibility to keep going and ignore these kinds of things. In the long-term, there is no other option. My friend knows this too, and she’s working on it.

However, rejection and negativity are serious demotivators. This is far from the first time something like this has happened -- in fact, I think it's safe to say that it's a fairly common experience. So even while I challenged my friend to get past the hurt and return to what she was good at, I also felt angry towards the random person who caused her to put the whole project on hold.

If someone who gives up bears some of the responsibility themsleves, so does the person who influenced the decision. That’s why it’s also fair to begin challenging the people who do this kind of thing… and that’s why I need to do a better job of explaining who my friends and enemies are.

Enemies? Yes, while I wish I could love everyone, I refuse to love people who derive their value from harming others. In fact, I have almost no patience whatsoever for this kind of behavior from these kinds of people.

Friends and Enemies

See, every good social movement has an enemy. You need friends, naturally, but when you set out to create real change, you also need a common enemy.

In previous entries about building a small army and being awesome, I haven’t done the best job of explaining this principle. You deserve my apology, and you can expect to see further improvement in this area. Let’s start here:

My friends are people who want the change the world. My enemies are people who want to stop them.

I’m going to explain it further, but that’s probably a good summary.

Friends – over the past year I’ve connected with all kinds of people who read the site. I don’t like to categorize people, but many of them are artists or entrepreneurs of some kind. Others are fellow travelers or expats, others are students trying to figure out what to do with their lives, and still others come from different walks of life that are vastly different than mine.

I am pro-diversity, and I am not in the business of telling people what to do. As far as I can tell, the common thread among us is a frustration with the status quo and a desire to live life on our own terms.

Enemies – On the other hand, my enemies are critics, cynics, and gatekeepers who wish to keep people from being free. These people add no value to the world -- in fact, they subtract value by bringing other people down.

You might think these are easy targets. No one likes negative people, right? Well, let me assure you that these kinds of people are everywhere. You can usually achieve short-term gain by being an asshole, and most people won’t call you on it.

Most people, of course, are not the kind of people who change the world. For those of us who do want to create positive change, it’s time to come off the defensive. This is a wrong that needs to be righted. We can’t allow people to win by shutting us down. They don’t deserve that much power.


I left the bar and took a long walk up Massachusetts Avenue back to my hotel on 14th Street. Twenty-four hours later I’m writing these notes from Dulles airport -- not usually a place that goes hand-in-hand with gratitude.

(Side note: I seriously wonder what my international friends think when they fly into this crazy airport in our nation’s capital. It’s kind of like landing in Moldova, which is not really the kind of environment you expect when you travel to a country like the U.S.)

Anyway, despite the eeriness of IAD, I’m tremendously grateful. My life is superb. I’m looking forward to the months ahead, and I'm always up for making more friends. But I am also going to be more honest in the future and calling it like it is. I hope you’ll stick around, but if not, I understand.

Regardless, as you are recruiting army and pursuing world domination, you’ll need to define who your friends and enemies are. And as we’ve seen here, you’ll need to watch out for people who suck. Don’t let them get the best of you.

Oh, by the way - my friend is going to start blogging again soon. Once she gets going, I’ll tell you about her site. I know if she sticks with it, she’ll have even more of a following and can achieve all the goals we talked about last night. That’s her responsibility, and I think she's up for it.

As for me, I want to help people who are out to change the world – and I really have no patience for those who are out to stop them.

How about you -- what side are you on? Have you encountered this problem before?



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Expanding the Pie


It’s time for a confession: lately I’ve been stuck in a mindset of scarcity. Instead of focusing on abundance, I’ve been thinking about petty things. Naturally, I don’t like this, but I’m not sure how to fix it.

One of my heroes is Dean Karnazes, the Ultramarathon Man who runs 200-mile relay races as a solo competitor, runs 24-hours straight on treadmills in Times Square, and generally just runs a lot. Like anything else like this, some people “get it” and some people don’t.

I recently listened to a podcast interview with Dean where he was asked about some recent criticism. Apparently some people are upset that other people think he is awesome. Instead of responding with “WTF?” – a response I would have found suitable -- Dean gave a very cordial and thoughtful answer:

I’m not trying to take more of the pie for myself. I’m trying to make the pie larger for everyone.

This is a beautiful example of the abundance mindset. Expand the pie.

Fighting over a Small Pie = dumb idea, rooted in scarcity, fear, and small-mindedness.

Expanding the Pie = abundance, rooted in a belief that there is enough for everyone.

Way to go, Dean. I will follow that example. I will break the scarcity thinking in my life. But first, I need to not get stressed out over the trip to the grocery store. Sigh.

My Two Years of Being a Genius

For a brief period of life, I made a lot of money. At the time, I attributed this success as a sign that I was a genius. Maybe not quite a genius, but I still thought, wow, I’ve made this happen. Great.

Then, while many things were indeed amazing about 2008, my significant decline in income was not one of the amazing things. I noticed that I had looked internally for the source of my previous success, but I looked externally for the source of the problem when the money slowed down.

I realized later this is pretty much how it works for most people in these situations: make a lot of money, attribute it to direct factors -- primarily your own genius. Lose the money you’ve made, attribute it to indirect factors – the market, the economy, the competition, whatever.

However problematic it may be, this thinking is convenient for whichever side of the fence you’re on. I don’t know many people who move beyond this frame of reference, and I can tell you from experience that believing my validation in income or wealth is a surprisingly difficult habit to shake.

Cognitive Dissonance Gets Me Every Time

When so many other things in my life are going well, why am I troubled? I think it's because I have begun to identify a gap between what I believe and what I do. Very important: when you see this pattern forming, make no mistake – it’s a big problem. It also does not usually get better on its own.

As I see it, here are a few distressing signs of my mixed behavior:

Increased concern over inconsequential things. I get upset more often than usual for no good reason. Each time I say I won’t do it again, but then I do.

A failure to think about expanding the pie. I find myself thinking about my slice of the pie. If you don’t like pie, this may be a tough analogy… but just remember, the more pie for everyone, the better.

Declining percentage of money I give to charity. Like everyone else in the dismal economy, I’ve had to cut back on a lot of things, including the amount and percentage of money that goes to charity. I don’t like this, but I’m not sure what to do about it.

Jealousy over the success of others. This one really bothers me, as it runs directly the opposite of what I know to be true. Lately I have been troubled by the success of some of my friends and mentors. I want to be happy for them, but all I think is, “What about me?”

These are the signs I can see in my own life that show me I should be worried. I’m not proud of them. (Not at all.) The only good thing is that I recognize the problem.

Advice from Friends

I asked 1,400 of my closest friends what they thought about this problem, and here’s a selection of things that I heard back:

teepoole Take inventory of your environment, write it all down. You'll identify where trouble really is, and also isn't.

DanielMcclure Give something away. Feel you lack money, then donate some, if you're lacking confidence, compliment someone. Try It!

vinylart RE: abundance - Actions are more powerful. Abundant is as abundant does.

nickcharlton It's far easier to dwell on the bad than enjoy what is good. I'm noticing this slot myself right now.

joblessmuse Scarcity thinking dies hard. And the media supports you in thinking that way. Gratitude journal is good starting point.

chloewrites Maybe if you consciously allow the scarcity mindset for a little while, it will dissipate?

planbservices Focus on others rather than yourself. How can you help them? Give your time, effort or money. Make someone else's day.

duffmcduffee Also realize that the financial system is built on scarcity, not abundance. Until currency changes, abundance is mental.

GarfieldHerriot Write down your negative thought on a piece of paper, cross it out and write the polar opposite. Then burn it & take action

GraceJudson You can't "decide" how to feel. But you *can* question the beliefs & thoughts that appear to cause your feelings.

creativevoyage give away $5, make bread from scratch, get out a stack of books from the library, phone your friends

jonathanmead Best way I've found to experience abundance is to give yourself away freely. Time, money, knowledge, attention, compassion.

[Gratitude Interlude: You people are amazing! Every day I think about how cool it is that I get to write for all of you. Thanks for your support!]

So, What Can Be Done?

The Twitter advice is all good. I do notice the obvious themes of focusing on others, giving of myself, question beliefs, etc. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best ones.

My gratitude journal is a bit random – it consists of entries like “Clearwire highspeed internet = MUCH better than Comcast” and “OneWorld fares are 10% off for 10 weeks!” – but hey, it’s MY LIST. Go and write your own; it should take less than one minute a day.

As a contrarian, I also like the approach of taking opposite action. When people threaten to sue you, give them what they want and walk away. When faced with declining income, give more money away.

Fighting over existing resources is definitely not an abundance-minded activity. It is an activity rooted in scarcity. Abundance-minded people are interested in creating new resources, yes? Artists create new art and entrepreneurs create new businesses. What new resources are you creating this week?

Tests and Questions

From time to time in life, we are put up to a variety of tests. We can argue over whether there is divine providence behind this fact or not, but regardless, the tests will arrive. Count on it.

When we face such a test, how do we respond? What kind of resolution do we seek? I recommend intentional living. Taking an inventory, as Tee Poole said earlier. For a few months last year I journaled my daily answers to two questions:

1) How am I feeling?

2) What do I want?

I kind of fell off the wagon for a while, but this is as good a time as any to get back on. Here are my answers:


Anxious, uncertain, and frustrated with myself for not displaying the gratitude I want to show (but simultaneously eager, fulfilled, excited – life is not usually so easily defined).


I want to have enough money. I don’t want to ask my wife, “How much did that cost?” whenever she comes back from the grocery store. Sometimes it’s OK to sleep on the floor of the airport, but other times it would be nice to get a room at the airport Hilton.

I want to wish others well. I want to be thrilled at the success of other people seeking to change the world on their own terms. I want to support them without recognition and help them do great things.

I want to give freely, live freely, and spend my time on good work. I want to expand the pie through my legacy project. In short, I want to lose the mindset of scarcity and reclaim the mindset of abundance.

(Important Qualifier: I do NOT want a life of leisure. I want to work hard on work that matters. I believe if we don’t enjoy our work, it’s because we’re doing the wrong work.)


When scarcity meets abundance, abundance wins – but sometimes it takes a while. Friends, if any of you feel the same way, we’re in this together.

We have to get past this. It’s extremely important, both for our own well-being and also for the people whose lives are closely linked with ours.

Yes, scarcity thinking dies hard, as Barbara mentioned earlier. But we have to get to it or it will get to us. The opposite of hate is love. The opposite of greed is contentment.

The opposite of scarcity is ABUNDANCE. That’s what I want.

Isn’t that what you want too?

What do you think? I haven’t resolved this issue completely, and I’d be grateful for your help.



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