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By Any Means Necessary

February is Black History Month in the United States, where we recognize the achievements of African Americans and honor our culture of diversity. A lot of attention during this time is focused on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and rightfully so. Above my desk is one of his most famous quotations: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is this: what are you doing for others?”

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Site Update: February 2010

Greetings from home base in the great Portland, Oregon. Yesterday I ran 10 miles, a fact I was happy about until I went to a dinner party and met an ultrarunner who runs 80 miles a week. She also has two young children and a full-time job. I felt suitably shamed. Ultrarunners and any other endurance athletes out there, you have my respect ... but not my company for training runs.

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Art and Plumbing: The Indispensable Interview with Seth Godin

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of author and change agent Seth Godin. I’ve been reading his books since my years in West Africa (2002-2006), and he continues to produce excellent work almost every day on his great blog. I had the chance to speak to Seth’s “Alternative MBA” group last year, and when the invitation came, I rearranged my schedule and dropped everything to fly to New York. (Never pass up a major opportunity for personal growth.)

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Sitting Out the Global Recession?

Sitting-Out-Recession

I’m about to get on a plane and head out to Washington, D.C. by way of Seattle and Chicago. After a few days there, I’ll begin a longer journey to several countries in Southern Africa. Expect more about the trip later. For now, something else has come up – specifically, the small matter of the global economic recession.

Unless you live on another planet (you never know), I’m going to assume that you’ve noticed it too... and there are probably as many opinions about what’s happening as there are readers of this post. Today I want to look at one specific question:

"Is it possible to completely avoid the effect of a serious global recession?"

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Creating a Legacy Project

creating-a-legacy-project

In the spring of 2007 I was feeling stuck. As amazing as they were, the four years I had spent in Africa were fading off into the distance. In my new life I had migrated to Seattle, entered graduate school, started a new business, and began traveling independently to faraway places during school breaks.

These were all good projects. Grad school, check. New city, check. Business, travel, volunteer work, marathon training, check. But despite the fact that these were worthwhile ways to spend my time, I knew something big was missing:

I had no legacy project, and it really bothered me.

I thought of a legacy project as something I’d create that would outlast me; something I could point to years from now and have more than just memories to show for it. In other words, I wanted something tangible and documented for anyone who wanted to see it at any time in the future.

As I was looking for a new focus, I considered a few options that initially seemed to be good choices ...

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What to Do When It’s Not Working Out

complacency-not-working-out
Image by SladeGibbs

From countless encounters with failure, I can tell you that not everything works out the way you hope it will. If you keep trying, you’ll get where you want to go in the end, but there will undoubtedly be many stops along the way where you encounter a dead-end.

First, how do you know when it’s not working out?

Here are a few signs:

  • You approach the project with neither excitement nor dread. You just don’t care.

  • If it's a group project, discussions and planning become circular. People say the same things they said last time, and the time before that. There is plenty of conflict, but little resolution.

  • You feed off crisis. The crisis drowns out everything else. When you have no crisis, you invent one or just wait for another to arrive.

  • Most importantly, NOTHING EVER CHANGES. This kind of thing doesn’t usually get better on its own.

That’s pretty much how you know it’s not working out. So what do you do? The good news is that your options are limited. Specifically, you have only three:

1) Do Nothing
2) Quit
3) Change Something Major

Option #1: Do Nothing

Doing nothing is the most common response when confronting apathy. You suck it up and live with it. You keep going through the motions, dutifully showing up without actually doing much. You attend the meetings, wondering more about what kind of cookies will be waiting on the table than what will be on the agenda.

The agenda? Speaking of that, there may be a written one somewhere, but there is no driving force. Remember, it doesn’t usually get better on its own.

Effectively, you stop all pretense of caring what happens. When I worked in Africa, we used to call this “checking out.” Someone would be coming to the end of a long time in a difficult job, for example, and they had lost their motivation. They had “checked out.”

“Can we ask Steve to do this?”

“He’s checked out.”

“Oh.”

Time to move on to the next guy, because when someone checks out, it’s hard to get them back. If you're the one who has checked out, see the next two options.

Option #2: Quit

When you quit, you walk away as quickly as possible, consequences be damned. You’re in the wrong job, on the wrong team, working on the wrong project, pursuing the wrong goal. Or maybe you’re what’s wrong – but either way, you can quit.

If you start to feel guilty about it, or if someone questions you, you can give the age-old response: “Lots of other people are doing this too.” This response seemingly justifies any behavior, from smoking to discrimination or whatever.

But sometimes, option #2 may be your only choice, if for no other reason than to retain your sanity. When it comes down to that, I think hanging on to sanity is worth whatever guilt you feel for quitting. And if you were the problem to begin with, well, maybe things will be better for everyone else after you leave. You never know.

Option #3: Change Something Big

If you can’t stand the status quo and don’t want to give up, this leaves only one option: something must change. It has to be something significant; even outsiders should be able to look and say, hey, this is different.

Change is the lifeblood of innovation and the salvation of complacency, but beware: no one really likes change, and that’s why it can hard to introduce something that is significantly different after apathy has set in.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, however.

What can you change? Ideas include:

  • The reason why you do this thing to begin with

  • The way in which the goal is measured

  • The group leader (if this is an independent project, see Option #2)

  • The format of the meetings

  • The responsibilities of everyone who is involved
Apathy is easy to diagnose but hard to treat, so there is no guarantee that Option #3 will work. For guarantees, do something easier.

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Your One Place

Here’s a fun game to play: think about one place in the world that you’d like to visit someday. You don’t have to make a long list, just think of one single place.

Even including people who don’t travel that much, most of us can think of somewhere we’d like to see before we die.

There are a couple of easy rules for this game:

1) You only get one place

2) It has to be somewhere you haven’t been yet

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Creating and Living by Your Own List of Values

Everyone lives their life by some sort of internalized moral code, but many people don’t take the time to sort out what they really believe in. Because of this disparity, we often feel conflicted when deciding how to make regular choices about time, money, and personal decisions.

One definition of integrity is how closely your life aligns with your values. In other words, do you do what you say you do? Do you live your life according to what you believe in?

This definition is somewhat incomplete, because it allows for you to do pretty much anything you want to do (even harm other people, which most of us would not consider to be a good thing). But there is still some truth to the idea that integrity relates to how you live by the standards you have set. If you don’t do what you say you do, how can you say you practice integrity?

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The Decision to Be Remarkable

re•mark•able [adjective]: worthy of being noticed, especially as being uncommon or extraordinary *** If you want to break out of the mold of average, the first thing you need to do is to make a decision to be radically different. Most remarkable people are people of action, and for a good reason: if you don’t…

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Defining the Outcome of ChrisGuillebeau.com

A couple of months from now, I’ll go live with a more public launch, but until then I’ll be adding content, tweaking the design, and getting the site together. Right from the beginning, I thought it would be good to state for the record what I hope to accomplish here. A goal is good, a measurable goal is better, and a publicly measurable goal is best of all.

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