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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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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The First Day of Your Life

Image of East Beach, Norfolk by shoebappa

Here’s something to consider:

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

You’ve heard that before, right? Maybe it’s like Time Is Money – something we nod our heads to before we get back to all the stuff we have to do.

Hearing that today is a new, unique day at the beginning of a new week naturally implies both good news and bad news. In the spirit of realistic optimism, we’ll take the bad news first.

Bad News: You’ll never get today back. Once it’s gone, that’s it. On to tomorrow.

Good News: Right now, the day (and the whole week) is ahead of you. The choice is up to you: spend your time doing things that are unimportant or uninteresting to you, or spend it on things that move you closer to who and where you want to be.

It’s not much more complicated than that, although the actual implementation can sidetrack the best visionary or GTD guru. What can be done about this?

Today, the Beginning of Your New Life

On one hand, we have obligations and responsibilities. Not all of these bad – we have obligations to our loved ones, for example, that we would not want to break. The problem is that we tend to look at all obligations as non-negotiable requirements, when in fact many of them are unnecessary. We take them on because we like to be busy, we like to be needed, or because we’re not actually certain what we should be doing every day.

Instead of being completely mandatory, I’ve found that most plans can be canceled. Most obligations can be deferred without the world coming to an end. You really don’t have to do what other people expect you to all the time.

Some people think these kinds of metaphors are silly. I say, use whatever works for you. If motivation comes your way, take it. Don’t ask questions. There are enough skeptics out there already.

What if you know you’re on the wrong track?

I have one suggestion: change course as quickly as you can. Don’t wait. Someone said in the comments last week that complacency is like the “slow dying of the soul.” I couldn’t put it better myself. If the job is dead-end, if the college track isn’t working out, if you don’t like where you’re living, change it as quickly as possible.

Assuming you are on the right course, then the danger is more that you’ll be distracted by all the obligations and unrelated tasks that crop up along the way.

To combat this kind of resistance, answer these questions:

  • Is there one thing you can do today that goes beyond your regular to-do list?
  • Is there one thing you can do this week to work towards your 5-year goals?

  • Is there one way you can help someone that no one else is able to do?

If so, I suggest that’s how you spend your time this week. It rarely works out to 100% efficiency, but the two steps forward, one step back approach gets us to the finish line eventually. The power of a single action, or a single action for each question above, should not be underestimated.

And when you get there, you’ll have done more than fulfill obligations. You’ll have more than money, and more than a well-stamped time card. You’ll be able to say that today was the beginning, and this week was an exceptional seven days.

Are you ready?


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Beware of Potential

Image by houseoftext

I’ve known a lot of artists, writers, and musicians. Without fail, they all had some degree of talent and skill. There is no shortage of talent in the world. But I’ve noticed that something happens along the way with a lot of these talented people.

With a few notable exceptions, most of them give up on their goals at some point.

As a fellow creative type, this really troubles me. Why do talented people stop working on what other people say they are good at?

I don’t have all the answers about this. In fact, it’s something that I’m intensely curious about, and I might take it up as a longer project later.

But for now… I do think I know part of the answer. What many talented people lack is the ability to keep going when external rewards are minimal or non-existent.

At the early stages of working on something, hearing that “you have potential” can feel rewarding. But it’s a slippery slope, because the world expects more than just potential. At a certain point, you have to raise the bar and start delivering.

I’ve quoted Paulo Coelho before – “When you want something, the entire universe conspires to make it happen.” This is completely true. But I think it’s also true that when the universe bestows talent on you, you need to start working with all you’ve got to make something lasting of it.

140 Rejection Letters

We often hear stories of how some of the most successful artists encounter a series of great rejections prior to finally becoming an “overnight” success. Here are a few of my favorites:

• Jack Kerouac carried his novels with him for seven years before they were published. Seven years!

• Madeleine L’Engle's A Wrinkle in Time was rejected 25 times.

The Diary of Anne Frank was sent back with this note: "The girl doesn't have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the 'curiosity' level."

But here’s the grandmaster: Jack Canfield, the guy who started the whole Chicken Soup series. Yes, I know that the business beyond these books has gone far beyond any reasonable branding - see Chicken Soup for the Single Christian Woman or the Teenage Soul series, for example.

The first soup book, before things got crazy, was rejected a total of 140 times. Yes, 140 “no thank you” notes for Chicken Soup for the Soul, which has gone on to sell 40 million copies in at least 20 languages. That guy had more than just potential. He had unbelievable persistence.

Every writer gets rejected, sometimes over and over. But the ones who only have potential stop submitting (or just stop writing) somewhere along the way. They get discouraged and feel beat down.

And then, before you know it, they’ve become someone who used to be a writer. Or someone who wanted to be a writer.

I’m picking on writers because writing is the art form I’ve chosen, but the lesson extends to any art form. The forced accountability of this project is good for me, because if I were to stop posting one week, you'd know that I’ve slacked off. Then you could say I had potential—the verbal death blow that strikes so many creative types.

But hopefully I’ll have more than just potential, and you will too. You’ll adopt tenacity in place of mere talent, recognizing that talent is helpful but will only take you so far.

In the end, you’re in a room with a notebook, an easel, a computer, or whatever your medium is. You’re probably alone, because that’s what it takes. Are you willing to go beyond the potential that others see?


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Productivity and Vacations

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Have you ever gone on a vacation only to come back feeling more tired than before you left? It’s not a good feeling to need a vacation from the vacation, but many of us have experienced that kind of let-down.

The secret to overcoming this feeling is planning some good, productive blocks of “work time” into your restful vacation.

No, I am not a workaholic. The key difference is that the work you do on vacation needs to be the kind of work that brings you energy… not the kind of work that tethers you to your cell phone or PDA.

While people not interested in lifestyle design may not appreciate this idea, I suspect that many AONC readers will not find the combination of vacations and productivity to be strange at all. The goal of most vacations is to relax, but we often go about it the wrong way. We binge on relaxation the same way we binge on work. It feels good the first day, but by the third day, you may have the same burned-out feeling you get from working too much.

Without a clear set of goals for your vacation, you may not come back feeling relaxed.

That’s why I advocate a process of goal-setting and GTD for vacations that is fairly similar to what I use for the work-week. The projects on the list are much different than work-week projects, but the system is the same.

At the start of any vacation, I set a few goals for myself -- usually just two or three big ones, along with a few small ones such as journaling every day. If you adopt this system, you should set goals that make sense for you, but feel free to steal some of my ideas if you’d like.

Here’s a Few Ideas

-Complete a bigger “weekly review” than usual. This could be a quarterly or yearly review. For several years now, I have completed a full annual review each December while on vacation. It is the most important thing I do that week, and I plan everything else around it.

Later this year, I'll explain more about that process in real time -- but for now, you can create your own review by looking at the major aspects of your life and planning anything you want to change. There are also many good books that can help with this - two of my favorites are Wishcraft and Finding Your Own North Star.

-Work on one or more writing projects. The good thing about being a writer is that I can work anywhere. I don’t even need a laptop all the time (although I do usually take one with me) because I do a lot of my initial work in a paper notebook before transferring it to computer. But even if you’re not a writer by profession, chances are you have some writing projects to work on, and these are usually a good fit for a relaxing week. You’ll likely find you get a lot more done without interruption, and the work is usually free of the stress that comes with being online all the time.

-Exercise Goals. I try to eat sensibly wherever I go, but I do usually end up eating a bit more while on a real vacation. That’s why I always make sure to set some simple goals of exercise during the week, which also helps maintain my regular habits of taking care of myself. I like to run, so my exercise goals revolve around that, but depending on where you are vacationing, you may also be able to swim, bike, or just take long walks.

Live from Alaska

By the way, I actually wrote the notes for this short essay in June while on vacation myself, from a cruise ship on the Alaskan inside passage. And in between all those big dinners and bread pudding desserts, I set aside a morning to run a full marathon (26.2 miles) while on the open sea. You can read the whole story here, but the short version is that it was an intense, crazy experience that I probably wouldn’t repeat, but I’m tremendously glad that I did it.

I knew I would have a good story to tell, and I enjoyed the bread pudding a lot more afterwards. Then, I went back to my room and did some more writing.


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