Unity of vision

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The rabbis tell the story of a student of the seer of Lublin, a wise and religious man.

The student decided that in order to be closer to God, he would fast (no food or water) from the end of one Sabbath (Saturday at sundown) to the beginning of the next (Friday at sundown).

As the next Sabbath approached, the student was very thirsty, and, as he walked to his teacher's house to welcome the Sabbath, he passed a well. He stopped at the well, and then told himself, "If I have a drink of water now, I will have wasted the rest of the week." He walked away without a drink.

As he continued his journey, the student felt proud of himself, and recognizing the sin of pride, rushed back to the well, saying, "better I should fail in my fast than to feel pride." When he got back to the well, however, he was no longer thirsty, and continued on to his teacher's house without taking a drink.

When he arrived, the seer admonished him for his patchwork approach to getting closer to God. "You should go into your fast with unity of soul."

This translates so well into our want-to-do-everything world. Beyond #FOMO ("fear of missing out"), we have a problem wherein we want to be seen as so many different things — indeed to do so many different things.

It's fine to do a lot, but do it with unity of vision. Do it with a sense of purpose. Do everything with an eye toward being your best you. And if something is leading you away from that path, stop doing it. Now.

Want to know if you're on the right track here? Open your calendar. What did you do last week? The week before? What's there for the next week? How about the week after? Ask why about everything that's on there. Can you come up with an answer that makes sense to you? If not, maybe consider reconfiguring your calendar a little.

Start saying no to stuff that you feel like you have to do but that don't suit your purpose. Be one with you.

Oh, and have a great day.

Lessons in working hard and reining it in from Bert Kreischer and Robert Kelly

Sometimes I listen to a podcast with the expectation that it's going to be really fun, and instead of laughing a lot, I find myself saying, oh no, now I need to listen to this again with pen and paper nearby.

Comedian Robert Kelly was on Bertcast — the podcast of comic and Travel Channel personality Bert Kreischer — and it really turned into something you need to hear.

Here are my takeaways from the episode:
• Help your friends out, but also hold them accountable
• Know the things you want and need to be your best — and demand them
• Learn how to cut off the fat
• Learn how to say no
• Don't say anything you can't take back (Kelly is sometimes on Comedy Central's "Roast Battle," a show on which the point is to make fun of other comics; the lesson here is some things are off-limits — know how you can tease people, but know what's too far)
• Spontaneity isn't always good
• Don't put in the work if the payoff isn't there
Hard work is hard
• We are in a period of excellence and variety
• Don't let emotion get the better of you
• What is your peak? Are you willing to keep going on the other side of it?
Sometimes it's worth the risk
• It's worth doing exactly what you want, but do it for you, and do it your way
• You don't know where it's going, but it's definitely not going anywhere if you don't do it to your expectations
• Not everybody is going to be a rock star
• Have measured expectations
• Be realistic about where you are
Try to be better
• Do what you do; you ever where it's going to get you
• Don't let expectations weigh you down
• In a saturated market, how do you stand out?
• You're worth what you're worth. If you get $X and someone's only offering $y, you can still love them honestly but say no
• Don't jump in a big pond just to be a small fish. Kelly's actual quote: "Why do I want to be the pepper in your chop suet? People want chop suet; they don't care what's in it."
• It's up to you if you stay or go – not the audience, not your mother, not anyone else
• Bring people with you

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What is context and why does it matter?

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In 1871, Otto von Bismarck engineered the unification of Germany. When he was forced out of power in 1897, he said that things would probably start to collapse within 20 years, and that a European war would probably break out thanks to "some damned foolish thing in the Balkans."

In 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria decided to go check out the provinces and hold a parade on a day of national significance to the colonized Serbs. He was assassinated, and World War I broke out, which led to World War II.

This is not to say von Bismarck was a miracle worker or could predict the future. He merely understood the context of the situation.

Learn something: Dan Carlin's Hardcore History, Blueprint for Armageddon Episode 1 »

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Navy pulled a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Territory (Hawaii was not yet a state). The attack marked America's entry into World War II.

It also marked the beginning of the end of the America First Committee, a large anti-war group that shut down on December 10 of that year.

This wasn't the tie-dyed hippie peace, love and understanding anti-war movement we all know from movies about Vietnam. And it wasn't the "hate the war, love the troops" anti-war groups we know from the more recent American wars.

This was a "we're white Protestant Americans, screw everybody else" group. They were hard-left isolationists. They wanted to make sure America didn't bail out Europe (you know, again, like after the first World War). They wanted America to turn away Jews fleeing the Holocaust. They wanted to shut the borders, cut off aid, and rely on homegrown everything — avoid all international trade as long as possible.

This was an organization claiming 850,000 paid members. 850,000 people who wore pins and carried signs and hung posters that said "America First."

So you'll forgive me if I can't get behind Republicans using "America First" this campaign cycle.

Significantly, we'll remember the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor a month after the presidential election.

If you think I'm being over-sensitive about this context, look back on how World War I got started: A government official went into a territory that wanted to be independent without being cognizant of the history of the date he picked.

Context is everything.

What is context?

It's content outside of of a vacuum.

Think of a rainbow. On a t-shirt. A purple t-shirt.

In the 1950s, nobody would have made that t-shirt. It didn't mean anything to anyone. Now, it'd be popular, especially with a particular segment of the population. Why? Context.

A Red Sox cap would have meant nothing to anyone in 1840. "Why is there a 'B' on your cap, sir?"

When Kelvin and I started our podcast, we started with the premise, "A black guy and a Jew walk into a bar."

We can use that premise not just because we are a black guy and a Jew who occasionally enjoy going to a bar when we're in the same town, we can use it because of some context.

First of all, "a [blank] and a [blank] walk into a bar" is a common setup for jokes, so it has some cultural meaning.

Secondly, we're not sensitive about our cultural identifications — our "othernesses."

If you were to randomly walk up to a black guy and a Jew and greet them as such — "HEY! It's a black guy and a Jew!" — you'd better hope they have good senses of humor.

That's context, and it's important.

The Selfie Stick would have sold horribly in the 1980s. Nobody was taking selfies.

Marketing? Maybe. Timing? Maybe. Cultural context? For sure.

While I'm not a proponent of "political correctness," I'm also not a proponent of hurting people intentionally to prove a point. But above all, I'm a proponent of understanding context. If you don't understand context, you don't get to criticize people for feeling how they feel.

For instance, you don't get to tell Dana Schwartz she's overreacting when someone calls her a "filthy oven-dodger" if you don't have the context of people trying to kill everybody like you.

You don't get to belittle the relationship between adoptive parents and children if you don't know firsthand what it's like to be part of a family that might be called "non-traditional."

You have no context. Get it? Good.

Small decisions are the difference between good enough and great

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I was running south down Drayton Street, along Forsyth Park, on yet another high-heat, high-humidity day in Savannah.

It seems like every time I've looked down at my phone's weather application the past two months, it says something on the order of "92°, feels like 109°."

I'd been frustrated by my inability — really, lack of true desire — to push past two or three miles (I'd been running two or three times a day sometimes to get some time in on the pavement).

That particular day, I had set out to run five miles, and here I was, about 2.25 miles in, drenched, sagging and miserable. Up ahead about a quarter mile — well within my view — was a corner.

I could turn left, and get home in about a mile, or I could turn right and keep going. I could go home, get comfortable and tell myself I was going back out later, or I could push myself through.

Let me note here that in general, five miles is not a stretch for me. I'll run my second half marathon this fall, and I've set a running goal of 1,000 miles this year.

At 10 minutes per mile, a quarter mile is two minutes, 30 seconds. That's not a long time if, say, you're driving to Baltimore. But just sit there and count off two and a half minutes. Go ahead. Bet you last about 15 seconds and say, "OK, I get the point."

Two and a half minutes of norepinephrine nudging me to the left, saying, "hey, three-plus miles on a really hot day isn't all that bad!" And a piece of my brain, feebly frying in the July heat, meekly responding, "no...I'm...running...five...today."

Kelvin and I did a podcast on this yesterday.

It's these bouts of internal arguments that make the difference between settling for good enough and going for great.

It's these little corners — turn left or turn right — that make the difference between the comfortable status quo the uncomfortable moments required for growth.

It's these decisions you make — be good enough or turn toward greatness — that define who you become.

I ran a touch over 5.6 miles that day. Which way would you turn?

Work-life balance for the perpetually busy: Join my Circle

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Before you read this, you should go learn about Creative Coast Circles from the other two charter hosts, Andy Cabistan and Casey Herrington.

Look, we all struggle from "busyness." We're all employees or employers or entrepreneurs or parents or husbands or wives or children or siblings or, more likely, some combination of all of those things. We all need sleep, exercise, food and a bunch of other things for healthy living.

Before you get mad about being asked to do one more thing, remember the old Zen proverb, "You should sit in silence for twenty minutes a day, unless you are too busy, in which case you should sit in silence for two hours."

On the second Wednesday each month at 1 p.m., I will host a Circle at Gallery Espresso, on the southeast corner of Chippewa Square in Savannah. We'll limit the group to seven participants, and we're willing to be flexible on the time and location after a few meetings, BUT understand that The Creative Coast requires commitment for this: you must attend each month.

We'll discuss things like routines, understanding the difference between important and urgent and in general flush out how everyone deals with the everyday challenges of being able to enjoy your life.

Our first meeting will be August 10. Fill out this form to RSVP. Hope to see you there.

Seth Godin on decommoditizing yourself, dropping your entitlement, and the loss of head starts

I've been working my way through the 30 Days of Genius interviews on CreativeLive, and, surprise, Seth Godin's stood out to me.

If you're not familiar with Seth Godin, please go spend two days watching and reading some of his stuff. This all right here is not important; it's just talking points from this interview.

Godin's altMBA »

Chase Jarvis, photographer and founder of CreativeLive, interviews Godin. Here are some of the points I think are important.

• There is no secret; there is no right answer.
• Genius is an ancient term for the voice in your head. No one's a genius, we all have a genius.
• Fear is hard-wired into us, but sometimes it's just wrong — a presentation at work is nothing like the Spanish Inquisition, even though we have the same reaction to it.
• Most people are talented. If you're doing banal work, you're afraid to use your talent.
• Overwhelm a platform with generosity. If you stay off the ship because you're worried about a wreck, you're still off the ship when it's successful.
• We live in a world right now where we don't need to be picked — by an employer, by a publisher, etc.

Jarvis: I love that your prescriptions are so simple.
Seth: But hard to do.

• Are you just doing something to get more famous? If so, why? If you couldn't see your numbers, would you still do it? For example, are you only trying to grow your Twitter followers because you can see the number of Twitter followers you have?
• We're living in the most crowded creative time ever. You're not entitled to attention or leverage, but you can earn it.
• Build art that doesn't work unless you share it. The first guy who had a fax machine couldn't do anything with it until someone else had a fax machine.
• Anything worth doing is worth doing because you changed someone else. If we don't make a change happen, what did we do? Sharing will happen naturally when you change someone. "The Laramie Project" was a play about gay rights, and you and I have heard of it because it changed the people who saw it and they wanted to share it.
• Our public education system isn't designed to create innovation. It was started by industrialists to grow a workforce with similar education who is trained to sit at a desk all day, and hasn't changed since. We have summers off because we needed time to pick crops.
• [To work around the problems of public education]: Parents need to tell kids that straight A's aren't the point. Ask, "What problem have you solved today?" Kids have to answer that before they're allowed to do their homework.
• If you can't buy into "it might not work," you have to trick yourself into it.
• Have a practice. If you go in for surgery, you want the surgeon to do things the same way every time. Similarly, when it comes to daily practices, there's no one practice that's demonstrably better than another, but having a practice is important.
• Now that the world has changed, don't get frustrated. If you want to be treated like a non-commodity, don't act like a commodity.
• Take responsibility for what you do. It's not your boss's fault, not your parents' fault.
• Don't do great things tomorrow, do them today.

The ongoing fear of success

I was pretty smart four years ago when I asked, "how do you plan for success?"

I'm dumber now, I guess, because I just read that piece and learned something from it.

Maybe I'm not dumber. Maybe I just needed a reminder. Clearly I haven't spent the four years learning the entire lesson.

I was reminded of problem of fearing success when Joey Diaz had Matt Baker on his podcast last week.

Diaz, the actor and comedian, and Baker, a second-degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, are on the mic with producer Lee Syatt. They're talking about Diaz getting into comedy, and about his fear of getting onstage.

Scroll ahead to 34:19 if you want to hear this exchange; go before that if you want context.

Syatt: Were you worried you were going to bomb? Is that what you were most worried about? Or were you worried that you were going to do well?

Diaz: I was worried I was going to find the answer to all my problems.

"I was worried I was going to find the answer to all my problems."

What are you not doing because you're worried it will eliminate your ability to complain about anything?

Gentrifying religion: Bringing the high thinkers together


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Alex and Allyson Grey visited Joe Rogan last month.

The Greys are the founders of the Church of Sacred Mirrors, a church (yes, with IRS certification and everything) centered around sacred art and that sort of thing.

They have a discussion with Rogan starting around 27 minutes into the podcast (you can just start there on the video above) about what is essentially getting the riffraff out of religion.

Rogan argues that "most people" think religion is outdated, based on myths and incorporating traditions that are highly outmoded. Objectively, he's incorrect — some 84 percent of the world's population identifies as being affiliated with a religion.

The Greys assert that religion is still important. It doesn't matter what you describe as God, but it's humans that give some religions a bad name. I'll just mention Catholic Church sex scandal and Islamic terrorism and let you deal with whatever happens in your brain.

Artists move into poor, often crime-ridden neighborhoods. They do this because, especially as artists attempting to get established, these are the places they can afford to live. Being full of creativity but lacking in some of the things they need, the artists open cafes where they can discuss art, galleries where they can show art, markets where they can buy food and somewhere to go for eggs and toast after a long evening at the easel.

As these places open, people with more means move in to enjoy the new community, and as time goes on, the artists are sometimes forced out because the neighborhood has become unaffordable, and they move to new communities and the cycle begins somewhere else.

This process is called gentrification, and often carries a pejorative connotation. But maybe organized faith can use some spiritual gentrification. It's worth a discussion, I think.

On using existing wheels


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"How long would it take to create a simple website?" someone asked me recently.

"Depends on the website," I replied, "but really simple would be an hour or two."

It turns out that the website the person had in mind wasn't a simple website; it was a large secure database with multiple client types repurposed for a single client.

"You wouldn't do that," I said. "You'd just buy a subscription to" the existing site. And, I didn't add, if it's not worth the money to buy into that subscription, it's certainly not worth recreating it.

There have been some improvements on the wheel throughout the ages, but most of those are just modifications for more efficient use — the incremental innovations we've built much of our world on. We've also done a fair bit of repurposing the wheel throughout the ages. I think that's a more nifty sort of innovation. "Oh! It does that, too!"

I admire true innovators — the Elon Musks and Peter Thiels of the world. Maybe I should just say Elon Musk and Peter Thiel. It's not like there are many people enough like them to put them into some box loosely labeled with their names. I admire them because I don't know anything about the stuff they do. I see what comes of it, but I don't understand what goes into it.

But the kind of idea synthesis that makes me smile and say, "Damn! I should have thought of that!" is what James Altucher calls idea sex. Take two existing good ideas and combine them to make a great idea. Think peanut butter cup ice cream. Ice cream? Great idea. Peanut butter cups? Awesome idea. But peanut butter cup ice cream?! Obviously that's a simple version, but it's a clear illustration, I think.

What if we took Wheel A and Wheel B and made a really awesome Wheel C? We don't need a new Wheel A, but people are going to love Wheel C!

Onward.

Get out of your own rut: Everything in moderation, even Wednesdays


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This is not a hump day post. There are no camels here.

Wednesday is the last day of my workweek. It is also the only day I wake up to an alarm.

Many of you know I work 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. I do so from home (or wherever I happen to be). I typically am asleep within 15 minutes of the end of my shift. Most mornings I get out of bed about 8:30 without an alarm, take an hour or so to check my email/Facebook/Twitter, have some coffee, get my body moving and throw some workout clothes on. I go out for a run and/or lift something. I come home, eat something, grab the dog and do whatever.

Wednesdays, I wake up to an alarm a little before 8. I take the dog for a walk, and I go to 1 Million Cups. It gets the creative juices flowing, and they hand out coffee.

After that, I head over to the United Way. My synagogue participates in a Backpack Buddies program. Around 9:30 or so Wednesday mornings, a few people head over to the local food bank and load their cars with about 2,000 pounds of food. Around 10:15, we all get to the United Way at the same time. We have a little cage with shelving and a long table in the basement.

We carry the food downstairs, sort it, and we carry up bags of food volunteers the previous Thursday have put together. The bags go to local schools, where they're distributed to children who are likely to miss meals that week.

Then, I go do something for me. It might be a trip to the beach, or a jump. Then I go home, walk the dog, and take a nap. I don't turn on the computer until a half hour before I go to work. When I wake up on Thursday, I have a weekend.

Here's why I'm telling you about my Wednesdays. By far the most popular post on my blog is called 6 tips for just getting on with your miserable fucking life. Every month since I wrote it, it's accounted for between 10 and 15 percent of my website traffic. People read it for four times longer than they read other posts. They're on that page long enough to read it five times at least (I've timed it to see if I could figure out why people are staying there so long).

That post is about how you get yourself out of a rut. I wrote it in anger. I was out of my rut and sick of hearing about other people's ruts. I wanted to give people a way to get out of their ruts. Or six ways, really.

Wednesdays are how I get out of my rut and transition into actual life, rather than the work-life cycle.

But everything in moderation, right? We get into ruts because we're not doing the things we do in moderation: we do them too much.

Here are a couple of more tips for getting out of your rut.

Take your vacation time. I found out last November I had to use or lose four vacation days before the end of the year, and on top of that I was carrying 16 days into 2016, in addition to the time I would accrue this year. That's FOUR WEEKS my company would have paid me for not working, but I chose to work instead. I vowed to have no use-or-lose days in 2016. I'm on track for that, I think. I'll have to revisit in September.

And if you're self-employed and haven't accounted for any vacation time for yourself, start. Start NOW if you can. Make your quarterly budgets 12-week earnings instead of 13. Make your annual earnings goal a 46-week goal. You're not self-employed because you wanted to slave away. You wanted some freedom. Take it.

Do one thing a month you've never done before. Even if it's trying a new restaurant or reversing the route you typically walk or run, just changing up your habits a tiny bit will give you new perspective. It's OK to stick to your guns on some things: I don't care what you say, I'm not putting ketchup on my hot dogs. That's a mustard meat, even if you're adding chili. Go stand on top of something. Run into a toy store and press all the "try me" buttons, then leave. You'll only annoy people for 45 seconds. Look at the stars. Just try one slightly new thing a month.

That's it. Just mix it up, and take some time for you.