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A Field Guide to Wandering in the Wilderness of the Soul

When you’re wandering cobblestone streets in Europe, stopping at cafes and making unexpected discoveries, it’s fun to lose your way and wander off the well-trodden path. You’re on an adventure! When you’re out on a long run and don’t mind if you take a wrong turn or two, you know that the extra distance is good for you.

But here’s the thing: you’re not really lost in those situations. You’re exactly where you wanted to be, even if you didn’t know it before you took the detour. That’s why "getting lost" feels oddly welcoming.

When it comes to wandering in the wilderness of the soul, however, it’s a different situation. This is the wilderness where you feel truly lost. You lack direction, enthusiasm, or purpose—or maybe all three. You don’t know what to do, and every option you can see feels like two steps backwards.

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The Movie of Your Life, Part II

A while back I wrote about the idea of your life as a movie, with you as the director. When you go through your archives in post-production, you might stumble on a scene that feels particularly surreal.

In those times, you may want to ask yourself, “Why did I put this scene in my movie?"

With the benefit of perspective, I realize that some of the scenes in my movie are a little surreal. Looking back on those scenes, it's easy to wonder, “Did that really happen?”

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If Everyone Becomes a Non-Conformist, Won’t We All Be Conforming?

I used to get this question a lot, sometimes framed in skepticism but other times just curiosity. The simple answer is that not everyone wants to become a non-conformist, or any other particular means of self-identification. Plenty of people are happy with the way things are, which is the definition of conformity. It’s not always a bad thing.

It’s also like asking, what if everyone wanted world peace? It would be wonderful If everyone wanted world peace, but not everyone does. People generally operate in their own interests, and some people benefit from conflict and strife. It’s no surprise that the world is full of constant conflict.

Being a non-conformist, or just a rebel in general, isn’t about fighting for the sake of fighting. Nor is it usually about rejecting an orthodoxy or culture. When it is about those things, the rebellion is usually superficial and short-lasting.

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Revisiting Montana, 25 Years Later

If you didn't love your childhood, you probably don’t love the place where you grew up. Maybe you tried to get as far away as you could. Years later, maybe you realized it wasn’t the place that was so bad, it was just the experiences you had at the time. Or maybe your beliefs were confirmed: that place really was designed to produce misery, and if you have any say in the matter, you’ll never go back.

These thoughts were on my mind as the Delta Connection plane from Salt Lake City touched down in Bozeman, Montana. I felt jumpy and anxious on the short flight, as if I’d had too much coffee or not enough sleep. This being book tour season, both of those things were probably true, but they weren’t the only source of the discontent.

See, I lived in Montana—the eastern, flat part—for several years as a child. I have very few happy memories from that time, and most of those involve playing video games or riding my bike around town by myself. They are memories of escapism, not of friends or community or anything that felt like “belonging.”

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Everything’s Great, But Could I Get That Breakfast I Ordered?

My hotel breakfast server was very friendly. It took a while for him to come over after I was seated, but when he did, he was all smiles and exuberance.

I ordered eggs, coffee, and a smoothie (thanks, Starwood). “That’s a great idea!” the server said, and seemed genuinely happy about my order.

Over the next twenty minutes, he came back several times to check on me. There was just one problem: my breakfast never arrived.

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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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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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“I Can’t Be Jealous of the Past. I Can Only be Jealous of the Future.”

I recently went to see Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict, a curious film in the sense that it focuses much more on the subject’s love life than it does her love of art. Still, it was good overall and I’m glad I went.

The film showcases the development of several abstract and other non-traditional artists, including Jackson Pollack. I've always liked Pollack’s work, but I don’t think I understood the audacity of it until seeing this new film.

I often feel inspired when I hear about larger-than-life figures who pursued big ambitions. People like Pollack, and Peggy Guggenheim, did big things.

Then I went home and I thought: “What big thing am I doing?”

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A New Year’s Wish for the Wanderer

Every evening the sun sets, then rises again a few hours later.

Yet something feels different about this particular sunset and sunrise. Oh, that’s right ... it only happens once a year.

Yep. It's time to stop writing the old year’s name whenever you fill out the date for something. For the next 365 days, the world has a new number.

If you wander out and about today, you may receive wishes of happiness from your barista or whoever else you encounter. You may notice the gym is especially full today. A new crop of well-meaning people with good-intentioned “resolutions” are off to the races.

Online, people are talking about “new year, new you” and you’re like … okay. How does this new year somehow make a "new me"?

And yet. It is a New Year, after all. Something is different. So why not use it as a catalyst for something positive?

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


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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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The Light Outside My Window on the Morning After Launch


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Some past reflections and enduring lessons learned during the launch process:

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This morning I woke up at 7:20am, and it felt so late. There was a touch of light outside—what was that? Oh right, sunrise.

For the past few mornings I’ve been getting up at the entirely unreasonable hour of 5:30am or sometimes even earlier. My breakfast place opens at 6am and I’ve been at the front of the line shortly thereafter. The sun rose two hours after I’d been awake.

Two nights earlier, I went to bed with my laptop on the nightstand. Yep—it was another product launch week.

As I made another cup of coffee on the morning after having slept “so late,” I thought back on the launches over the years. How many have I done? I honestly don’t remember ...

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2012 Annual Review: Overview

Greetings! Every year I devote an entire week—and usually several weeks of blog posts—to an Annual Review, where I look back on the previous year and make plans for the coming year. Many of our readers now do the same thing, some by following the same structure I use and others by modifying it to suit their own needs. This year the review is considerably abridged, mostly due to my recent tour of India. When the option came to decide about the trip, it was a tough call. I don't think it would always be the right decision to shorten the important Annual Review process, but in this case I was so excited to visit India that I decided to switch it up a little.

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