Allow your plan to change

Among other books, I'm reading The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S. Thompson. It's a collection of essays, some published, some unpublished, all Thompson. One of the essays is the jacket copy from his classic book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

I've read Fear and Loathing, but I read it in paperback, which means I didn't get the jacket copy when I read the book.

It's a good reminder that the book started out as an assignment for Sports Illustrated, which wanted Thompson to write a 250-word caption for a motorcycle race in Las Vegas.

That's right. It's a sports book.

It's also a true crime book. The lawyer on the trip was an L.A. lawyer Thompson was using as a primary source on an investigative news piece about a shooting by sheriffs in the Hispanic community, and because Thompson wasn't a member of that community, it was clear to the reporter the only person who wanted him interviewing the lawyer was the lawyer.

Thompson took him to the motorcycle race so that they could get out of the community and could talk.

There were plans for the trip highlighted in the book, and while maybe the objectives laid out – the investigative news piece and the race caption – were achieved, at some point for Thompson the plan changed and the book that became the legacy of that trip was something else altogether.

Just because it wasn't the plan, doesn't mean it didn't get accomplished. In fact, something bigger came out of it.

The lesson here is that you need to allow your objectives to evolve.

I saw this with some running this week. I was going to see how many days in a row I could run for 30 minutes, but it only took two days to realize that wasn't a sustainable plan. Day 1 I ran for 30 minutes and some change then couldn't get much of a resistance workout in because I was just done. Day 2 I did a great resistance workout and puttered at 17 minutes of running.

Rather than let it get to me, I've changed my goal to 120 minutes of running a week for three straight weeks. I don't care how far I go, or how fast, the cardio, joint and muscular endurance are important to me.

Day 3 I knew two things: I was returning to the tennis court for the first time in 15 months, and I was dropping my car off at the shop. So what I did was drop my car at the shop and run 15 minutes to work, then after work I ran 15 minutes back to the shop. That gave me plenty of rest and recovery time for tennis, and got me 30 more minutes for the week.

That left me 43 minutes of running to do in 4 days; an easy enough average that I could take a rest day (or 2!) and still hit my goal.

I adjusted my goal downward, yes, but certainly didn't make it easy on myself.

Start off with a plan, but don't quit when it looks like that plan isn't going to work out. Be willing to evolve with the circumstances, otherwise you're just going to keep running into a wall.

The weekend's coming. Don't forget to do something important and to make the time to create something.

Create something

Rodney Mullen is an icon from my youth. He was the first to do a lot of things with a skateboard. From a public eye standpoint, he was usually overshadowed by Tony Hawk, but from a skating standpoint, the two were complementary – Hawk did a lot of power moves: high air, lots of twists and spins, while Mullen did a lot of board flips and slides and tricks that take place over a short jump.

While Hawk worked on getting a little more hang time so he could get one more rotation in, Mullen worked on getting his deck to do something different, like ride on its side or do a couple of flips with a rotation while he was in the air.

But this is not about Tony Hawk vs. Rodney Mullen.

This is about creating something.

If you're the kind of person who's into presentation, Mullen's TED talk isn't going to do anything for you. But the content of the talk? Wow.

Mullen's the kind of innovator who never needed a large stage, or a drawing board, or conventional tools. He took the thing he loved doing, and did things with it nobody'd ever done.

Because he wanted to.

Because creating is fun.

So go out, and create something. Because creating's fun. Do it for the sake of creating something. Don't worry about the rest; just go out and do it. And do it with purpose. If you're not ready to create something big, create something small. Let it grow. It doesn't matter what your scale, just create.

In defense of misery

There are an astonishing number of people in the U.S. on anti-depressant medication. There are a lot of positivity blogs out there. We've covered choosing your attitude here. There are even whole businesses dedicated to making you feel better through smiling.

Often, that positive face we put is just that – putting on a face. We sell it to ourselves as much as we sell it to others.

But we're not always happy. In fact, I think we're typically not happy: I'm betting our default feelings are somewhere between bored and content with a bit of annoyed thrown in.

Happy is further up on the spectrum, and it's the end of the spectrum we prefer to interact with people on.

There's that other end of the spectrum, though, and I think it's really useful. Let's talk about that other end for a moment.

Misery. Heartbreak. Devastation. These are really useful feelings.

They are feelings that spur people to action. They drive creativity. They drive motivation. They drive an attitude of TURN IT AROUND. Happiness just drives an attitude of maintenance. If you're there, you want to stay that way. If you're miserable, you want to get out of it.

The next time you're miserable, feed off of it. Rather than getting out of it as quickly as you can and maybe faking your way to happy – when, inevitably, you're going to just crash back down – figure out what you need to shake the misery. Put a plan together. Grow out of it. Understand it may not happen overnight. In fact, it may happen so slowly you didn't notice stops along the way. But it's a sustainable way to shake it.

Embrace where you are, not where you wish you could be. You'll get there. Just know it'll take work.

Find Your Greatness

When I was in high school, there were two factions with regard to Nike. In one, you might shoot someone or get shot for a pair of Air Jordans. In the other, you wouldn't touch a pair of Nikes and you wrote letters to headquarters about their overseas labor practices.

There wasn't much in between.

Once we got past that time, Nike got beyond their corporate reputation and focused on their branding. They had some pretty cool ads for a while, but then they did something I love: messaging.

Like in the Michael Jordan failure ad.

Jordan isn't exactly someone we associate with failure.

"Find your greatness" is a no-brainer with the Olympics. Olympic athletes are great, and one of my favorite things about the Olympics is the ability for me to watch sports I don't get to see often. Handball. Water polo. That kind of stuff.

Great athletes play those sports, and while they might be as athletic as Michael Jordan, they'll never reach his level of fame, wealth or just general ubiquity.

With that, though, is a series of ads featuring regular people finding their own greatness. Like an overweight 12-year-old from London, Ohio, trying to drop some pounds getting into jogging.

While I see a lot of athletes in my day-to-day life (pro athletes, people who run marathons and do triathlons for fun like it's their life), more than two-thirds of the people I see are like Nathan.

They're finding their own greatness.

Let's be clear, too, that this isn't just about sport, it's about life. Your greatness is within reach, you just have to find it.

Great job, Nike. I'm digging your campaign.

Do it like it’s your life, not like it’s your job

We have this expression in the U.S., to do something "like it's your job." The slang dictionary has a great entry on it:

To show extreme dexterity at a certain skill, such as "That guy at KFC ate chicken like it was his job."

OK, so the example was a little weak, considering depending on why the guy was at KFC, eating chicken might actually have been his job.

But why are we using our jobs as the marker of effort and ability? Stop. Now.

Don't get me wrong. I work my ass off at my job. Someone else is paying me money to do so. I know if I were paying someone to do something, I'd want them to work their ass off at it.

But I'm pretty fucking awesome outside of my job, too. I work just as hard to be an amazing person and enjoy my life outside of work. There are things that are more important than work, even if you have a really important job, like firefighter or something.

Proposal: Start doing things like they're your life. If you think your life is drab, boring, not important or less than your work, reconsider your priorities and start living better, harder, faster, more. Like your life depends on it, because it does.

Do it like it's your fucking life.

Three rules for setting goals

As I was getting ready to start my week last week, I tweeted that my goal for the week was 30,000 NikeFuel points, which would have been my best week ever.

As you can see from the screenshot above, I did it.

[If you're not sure what the heck I'm talking about, read my thoughts on the Nike FuelBand here.]

This little success was not without some unintended consequences; I guess I didn't plan accordingly for that.

Thursday was a rest day, but take a look at that chart again – I earned somewhere in the 3500 fuel for the day. Men in their 30s who have the FuelBand (and thus probably skew toward the more active) average about 2200 a day. I had a rest day that beat the average by more than 50%.

My workout Friday was awful. I intended to run 4.5 miles and lift heavy. I quit running after 1.5 miles and then lifted about 30% lighter than normal on several fewer lifts than I had planned.

Sunday I just didn't feel like moving at all; the 1800 fuel I picked up came largely as a result of an outing to Chittenango Falls for some important stuff.

I set a goal. It was achievable but a stretch. I reached it, but didn't plan for the fallout of reaching it in the manner I reached it.

Here are three rules I'm going to follow with regard to goals from now on. Let me know if you have other tips!

1. Outline a plan that doesn't require vast amounts of recovery (whatever that recovery is from or for).
2. Be willing to miss your goal to keep more important stuff in play.
3. Have a plan beyond reaching the goal – if you do reach it, what's next? Hopefully not just more of the same, because that's just quantity, not growth.

How do you plan for success?

That's an honest question. I have to admit I'm scared shitless of the idea of success.

A lot of people are afraid of failure. I'm not. I know what it looks like. I know I could fail worse than I've failed in the past, but failing is not all that difficult. It's pretty easy to look around you and figure out what the basic things you need are, and then to figure out how to get them (I understand that's more difficult for some people than for others, but stay with me here).

If I need to eat and a I have a couple of dollars in my pocket, I can find some rice and beans that, when cooked, will last me the next three or four days. If I need a job, I can walk into a coffee shop or restaurant and ask. If I need housing, a vehicle, whatever, I know where to go, and if I need help I think I've built up enough good will around me that, if people were to see my desperation, they'd have my back.

But I don't know what to do with success.

Success is relative, I understand. I live in a nice house in the suburbs with a woman I love and a dog who knows how to turn around a bad day like nobody's business. If I miss a meal, it's because I was too busy to remember to eat, not because I couldn't afford food.

I read some pretty motivational blogs. These are people who have started their own companies, and a lot of them focus on "you can do it, too!" with some regularity.

I've been saving these posts for a few days now, with the intent of writing this post and sharing them here. They don't answer the question for me, but I think they're important.

As good as it gets, from Mitch Joel. It's where I got the video of Henry Rollins talking about how he got where he is. Joel summarizes it, so if you're not in a position to watch it, go read this post. The two biggest takeaways: "Write everything down twice, show up early, shut up and listen" and "When luck comes your way, take advantage of the opportunity."

Failing to succeed, by Matt Cheuvront. This is what actually got the wheels turning on this post. Cheuvront started his own business not long after college, and I like his take on doing what you want to do, mostly because it's somewhat muted by reality. A lot of "YOU CAN DO IT!" people have a late-night television infomercial vibe about their writing. He just reminds you, "hey, if you're not happy, you have a way out." In this post, he introduces the idea that failure isn't an end, it's just a miss.

Quit doing your best, by Marc Ensign. "Oh well, I did my best" is not an excuse, writes Ensign. Don't expect a pat on the back for failure. Succeed instead. If Cheuvront got the wheels turning on this post, Ensign certainly took this opportunity to remind me that if I keep wondering what the plan becomes if I succeed at whatever it is I'm doing, I'm probably never going to succeed, and I'm never going to be great. I started, but that's never going to be good enough. Onward!

There's always someone better than you, also by Cheuvront. It's a reminder to never stop growing. Even if you do get to success, even if you do keep improving, someone will always be quicker, better, stronger, or more successful than you. Again, onward!

We are nothing if not present tense: 4 steps from “I’m gonna” to “I am”

"Someday, I'm gonna..."

I just clicked the "submit" button on a creative non-fiction writing contest. I'm pretty sure the piece is fundamentally unpublishable – the voice changes frequently, the pacing is remarkably varied for such a short piece, and, let's face it, the only person who really cares about a personal travel diary is me.

But I clicked the "submit" button, and that's the part that takes me from talking about becoming a writer and actually working on becoming a writer.

Let's get something straight: I used to be a writer. I performed my own poetry and wrote both traditional journalism and opinion columns for a few years. My last writing day job, while definitely geared toward making money for somebody else, allowed a fair bit of creativity – at least until Google became my primary audience.

This here is my blog. I get to choose my topics, my words, and if you don't like it, you just plain old don't have to read it. I long ago crossed that line between trying to win you back if you stopped reading my blog or stopped following me on Twitter and just being me and if you like me and what I have to say, you'll read me.

For the past couple of years, since I stopped being driven by The Almighty Search Ranking, I've been either a former writer or an aspiring writer. I'm not sure which is more dangerous of an attitude to take. "I used to do this," or "someday I'll do this."

We are nothing if not present tense.

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield introduces Resistance. It's a force that keeps you away from projects at all levels. It stops you from starting. It stops you from finishing. It stops you from perfecting. And it stops you from telling anybody about your project. Resistance takes many forms, from "I'll do it after I read the paper" to "I'll do it after I play fetch with the dog" to "Aww, Sweetie, that's cute. Come have dinner with me and your father."

Pressfield's Do the Work extends the battle against Resistance. You have a sword, Resistance is a dragon, and at every turn, it's up to you slay the dragon at each turn.

A note about Pressfield, author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and some other stuff: Here's a guy who was an over-the-road trucker living in a shack with a closed-up typewriter who ate dinner outdoors with a cat who refused to take food or shelter from Pressfield, only stood there and watched him before skulking off to wherever he went. Pressfield lived this life until he finally made the decision to sit down and write. And then even after that, because he wrote, and couldn't bring himself to submit his work.

And that's where he brings us in Turning Pro, and it's where I'm bringing myself with the submission.

There's a line. On one side are the people who say "I'm gonna" and "I used to" and "I wanna" and "I wish I could," and on the other side are the people who say "I am."

There are varying levels of success on the "I am" side of the line. At all those levels, there are people in danger of crossing back to the other side of the line. It's a very real danger. I'm committing to pressing the "submit" button a minimum of once a month. That gives me enough time to hone new work, but still makes me work on a tight enough deadline to not allow Resistance to fill up the room.

Call it commitment. It's more important than effort. "I tried" may be more important than "I want to," but "I did" is more important than "I tried."

You should go get this free audiobook. The novel is hysterical. And it comes with a lesson. You have to stick with it a while to get the lesson, but it's amusing enough that you'll get there.

You should also go get this free book. You'll come out of it with a broken coffee mug, but you'll also come out so much stronger.

4 steps to reaching the other side of the line

How do you get to the other side of the line?

1. Start
2. Keep going
3. Finish
4. Show people

It sounds simple, but it's really, really not. I want to hear your stories – success, failure, it doesn't matter. If you can do steps 1-3, I can be step 4 for you. Hit me up in comments.

What do you have to offer your heroes?

You can let that video run while you read this; it's primarily audio. To sum up so you don't have to check for the visual cues to figure out what's going on, Usman Riaz is a 21-year-old percussive guitarist. He plays the first song. He learned the art by watching YouTube videos of one of his heroes, percussive guitar master Preston Reed. Reed plays the second song. The third song is both of them playing together (if you know anything about playing music, that'll shock you when you hear it). There's a little chatter, then a 3-minute jam session between the two of them.

That Riaz can stick with Reed and even make it fun for Reed is just fucking awesome.

It's easy for most of us to name some people we might call "heroes" or "inspiration." It's another thing altogether for us to be able to offer them something if we ever have a chance to meet them.

I may not be writing professionally at the moment, but I'm still a writer. But what could I offer Tom Waits, or Chuck Palahniuk, or even someone like Chris Guillebeau? I'm a decent conversationalist. I know my way around town and could certainly hold my drink even with anybody. I doubt I could give them seven solid minutes in co-performance with them. Which means I'm the one who's lacking and need to grow.

That's not a slam on myself there, it's just a recognition that I'm still a work in progress.

What about you? Think about who you count among your heroes, why you do that, and what you're doing to emulate them. What do you have that you could offer them to keep them interested for 10 minutes – alone, or in front of an audience in their chosen field?

Tips for choosing your attitude

First, a reminder that opinions here are mine, not my employer's.

We've all heard the phrase "choose your attitude." Most frequently, it's used in response to people who complain about work. Here are some tips for choosing your attitude, particularly at work.

Let's start with some givens. We all have frustrations at work. The number and intensity of those frustrations varies greatly from individual to individual. You're working because you're in a situation that requires you to earn money (that sounds judgmental, but really it's just a fact – if you didn't need the money, you'd either be working at something that had no frustrations or not working at all).

So, here we are. You're frustrated. Now what? Here are tips for choosing your attitude at work.

Figure out what you can control and control it. This one's really hard to do. There are a lot of things you feel like you have control over, but the fact is that you don't. There are things you definitely control, though, things like the amount of effort you put into your work, the way you interact with co-workers and customers, and whether you can make things easier by, say, showing up 10 minutes early or getting up 20 minutes early and having breakfast.

Corollary 1: Figure out what you can't control and let it go. If you're working for someone else, you can't control a lot of things. (Remember that leaving is always an option; there are other jobs out there, and that is something you control.) Figure out what those things are and go at them with the expectation that you simply cannot do anything about them, so you're not going to worry anymore. If linen deliveries are on Tuesday and you're out of linens at noon on Monday, you're just not going to have any linens until tomorrow. You can't worry about it.

Corollary 2: Figure out what you can change and change it. Maybe this requires the assistance of a supervisor or co-worker. Maybe it simply requires a break from tradition, like storing something in a different place or changing vendors. Maybe it's brighter lighting so you don't feel like you're in a basement all the time.

Think about the positive things at work. If you can't list any, you're doing the wrong job. Seriously. Just go pour coffee somewhere; you get people at their crankiest and turn them into productive creatures for the day. It's pretty rewarding on a small scale, and it gives you the chance to think about what you should actually be doing. Personally, I work at a gym. It takes one person smiling over 20 pounds lost, or one story about 80 pounds gone in a year, or one person walking in the door smiling hopped up on pre-workout to lift heavy stuff asking for a fist pound to make 7 hours and 59 minutes of frustratingly bad day worth it. [And let's face it, I rarely have that much frustration, primarily because I've followed my own advice.]

Adjust your priorities. Work is just work. You're there for two reasons. One, to make someone else happy. Two, to give you time to do the important stuff. Figure out what's important to you, and figure out how to make those things happen.

Want an example of this stuff in action? It's Wednesday morning at about 5:45am. I go into work at 7. I have management responsibilities, so I'm open to getting calls, texts and emails whenever the gym's open. There's a water main break in the neighborhood, so we don't have things like showers and water fountains. It doesn't matter whether I'm sitting at my desk at home or sitting at a desk at the club – there's nothing I can do about the water main. So I'm writing this instead of rushing in. I'm in touch with a staffer who has concerns, but there's nothing I can do from the gym that I can't do from home. So I'm home, getting ready to take the dog for a walk and have breakfast before I go in, and I'll gladly have my smart phone on me throughout the morning to help keep things under control.

I get to do the things that are important to me (write, eat breakfast, spend time with Rufus). I don't try to control the things I can't control (the water main break), but I do control the things I can control (interacting with staff to keep them calm and on task). It's actually really easy to do (*sips coffee*).

What are your tips? How do you choose your attitude at work?