The Barrel

So many people have started here. Great people. Famous people. Unknown people. This blank page, this blank screen. Nothing separates us. Sure, we have our differences, but here, at the beginning, we are all equal. We are all staring down the same barrel into ourselves. It’s inspiring. It’s terrifying.

How do you know you’re not a writer if you don’t try to write?

Why this isn’t scary. It’s not scary because you can’t screw up. Go ahead, try. If fear of failure is stopping you, write about your fear of failure. Use it. If lack of “original” ideas blocks you, write about the ideas you’re ripping off. Here I am, stealing from Austin Kleon right now.

Think about this. How many unknown writers do you know of? What is the risk?

I will tell you the truth. There is another fear. Fear of success. Fear of being held accountable and responsible. If you don’t write you’ll never have to defend something you’ve written. If you don’t succeed there will be no pressure to level up and do more, do better. If you choose this path, you are hiding. Hiding is not an option.

In order to succeed you must believe that you can succeed and, more importantly, that you deserve to succeed. Don’t we all deserve to succeed? What’s stopping you? Write them down right now, those things that are stopping you. Done? Now, kill them. Take your pen and scratch them out. Done. Nothing stops you.

Maybe you don’t have a story. “What do I write, I can’t think of a story?” you say. Then don’t write a story. Document what you’re doing. It’s as easy as that. You do things, you live your life, you have some skill of some kind. Write it down. Instruct, teach someone else how to do that thing you’re good at.

I’m learning how to write. I am also learning how to teach people. My goal is to contribute to society at scale. What contributions would I like to make? I want to eliminate mindless, unnecessary work. I want to inspire people to become self-aware, to stop working for a wage and start working for themselves. I want to teach people. I want people to believe in themselves.

What do you want?

Musings

Here’s how it happens, for me. I’ll be doing my thing, walking around, driving my truck, playing with my boys, cutting trees near high voltage power lines. Normal things, good things. I’ll feel a tickle in the back of my head. Not really an itching sensation, more like soft fingers strumming the occipital lobe of my brain. A quiet vibration. It’s at this moment, the thoughts come. Ideas. Call it inspiration, motivation, creativity, or a muse or a genius. This is how I got here, right here right now.

After hearing Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk, I understand that I do not have a mental disorder (at least not one that’s currently recognized in the DSM-V). If you’ve got 19m24s listen to Elizabeth. It’s not a problem, I’ll wait for you.

Right here right now.

It all comes together. It’s the muse, as clear as day whispering. I am not a religious man. I am not superstitious. But I am telling you this is real. The things I write, the creativity, this is not me. It is an outside force working through me. This is crucial.

Back in the war, it was every man for himself. If you got chopped down, you were stupid. If you survived, you were smart. Years and years of the war led to the internalization of whatever label you were unfortunate enough to earn. You were so brainwashed that you continue to fight long after escaping our physical incarceration. You are a failure because you fail. You are a success because you succeed. YOU are.

I argue that you are not. You are not a failure because you fail. You are not a success because you succeed. Don’t let them keep labeling you, don’t keep internalizing their scripts, don’t let it go to your head. You are a human. If the muse is responsible for your work, you are absolved, free to continue on your path. You cannot fail. You cannot succeed.

“That is a depressing thought.” No, it isn’t.

Depression is internalization. Expression is externalization. The opposite of depression is expression. Stop the internalization. Start the externalization, the expression. “Of what?” Of anything. Start expressing anything. And work at it. Work harder than you ever have in your life. It’s worth it.

Forget about success and failure since either way it’s not your fault. These are competitive terms, words which pits you against others. Removing yourself from the race you’ve been trained to run your whole lives is not easy. Just do it. Now what? What do you have left when you’re not racing to prove your superiority, not fighting to get more for yourself? You have freedom.

You are free to pursue virtue. You are free to do great things. To care. To trust. To work together. It takes two armies to wage a war. We are all in the same army. The sooner we realize this, the quicker we can battle our real enemies.

Ignorance.

Poverty.

Violence.

Illiteracy.

Slavery.

What else should we target?

War

This is war. I fight every day. It’s not me, it’s a projection of what I think they want me to be. I do well. I survive. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Caged. That’s what we are. We can leave but few of us leave. Our lives depend on it. Livelihoods count on it. Happiness and success dangle. Sticks and carrots both jab and both hurt. It’s war, baby.

There are really only two options here, two choices, if you can call them that. The first is to lay down. The second to stand up. The ones who lay down are rewarded. The ones who stand up are gunned down. You end up on the ground either way, so I choose the dirt. I put my nose in it, breath it in and get angry. I channel the frustration into work, focus, quit asking why (‘why’ is not on the test) and answer correctly. I get rewarded.

I have guilt. I am guilty. I help others. Tell them the answers. Hell, I give them away. It’s not a fair system, it’s not you’re fault you don’t know, the whole battle is rigged anyway. If you don’t know you’re in a fight it’s hard to fight. No amount of beating will change that. I see it, so take what you need to get through. Even the guy that used to beat me, it’s not his fault. It’s the war, one day you’re enemies, the next day your allies. Why? They said so.

The competition. The problem: if you win I can’t win. If I win you can’t win. Scarcity. There’s not enough to go around so only the best survive. If you’re not one of the best, well, hit the dirt.

Look back while pretending to look ahead. He did that so now I have to do this. Being proactive. Or reactive. It doesn’t matter, we’re all dead in the end.

The survivors are held up for the next to worship. The winners are given shiny things. Apotheosis achieved. War won.

Those who didn’t make it? Losers. Failures.

f-report-card

How incredibly unfair it is to label another human being a failure.

Life Your Work

Life is work. There. I said it. I don’t mean that life is putting in 18 hour days slaving at a job that repulses you to make money. I mean that living life, day to day, is work. It takes effort. It takes energy to get out of bed. Scheduling your social activities requires your attention. Raising your children is a challenge. Cleaning the dishes. Walking the dog. Breathing.

When we separate our lives into boxes and identify one activity as “work” and another as “play” we are living a dangerous lie. You may differentiate work and play by highlighting that what you do for work is done for a wage, for an employer, for someone else. Play might be something that you do for yourself, for fun. This is at the crux of the matter. When you work for money you are exerting effort to earn what you need to support your family, your life, yourself. When you work you are actually doing it for yourself. Yes, it may be true that you have chosen to spend your time working for an employer who uses your labor and your ideas to make a profit. Did you see it? The word in that sentence? You have made a choice to sacrifice your time and labor for an agreed upon price. You have chosen to work to live.

But work isn’t fun. Why not? If what you define as work doesn’t get you excited, doesn’t entertain you, doesn’t engage you, why do you choose to do it? Why not do something else that you love, that you can put your energy into? Why not do something that you refuse to call “work” because you enjoy it so much? Let’s be clear. Life is work. It takes a lot of investigation, self-analysis and energy to find The Thing. It may take a day, a month, a year or more to find it. Isn’t it worth investing in yourself instead of choosing to spend the rest of your life working? Is that even a choice?

Try something. Write a list of the top 5 things you spend your time doing that you don’t think of as work. As an example, here is my list:

  1. Spending time with my family
  2. Cutting trees
  3. Finding ways to help people, increasing effectiveness
  4. Learning, reading, writing
  5. Photography

Now, why not exert some energy and choose to do something that makes life your work?

the-men

Good at work

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This is one of my first clear, vivid memories. I’m in early grade school. It’s a hot day in late September. It’s Terry Fox Day. We are outside and to honor Terry and we’re running around the school. There’s no set number of laps we have to make, we just run until the time is up. Some kids walk. Some kids run. I’m not fast. I refuse to walk. I grind.

I can feel the heat welling up around my neck as the sweat tickles my back. Soon the tickle disappears, I know that’s because my shirt is now Saran-wrapped to my back with sweat. The sun feels like it’s scalding me, so hot, August hot. It feels like my shoes are sticking in bubble gum but really they’re melting into the asphalt.

I don’t have a set goal, a specific number of laps I need to make during our time in the oven. I don’t care if I’m first or last or somewhere in between. I want to work and running is the work which lay in front of me. So I work.

I’m not deaf, I hear the other kids, wondering out loud why I don’t just stop and walk. I don’t respond so they call me a machine, a robot, a number of things. I don’t care. I’m grinding them down. Grinding them out. They may have quit but I won’t. I can’t stop, this is what I was put here to do. To work. I smile.

I don’t have any special gifts or talents. I’m not lucky like that. My one “skill” if you can call it that is my ability to work. Not just to work, but to enjoy working hard, to savour the grind. I’ve shoveled debris in knee deep sludge for 8 hours through the night in a sawmill (every weekend for 5 years). I’ve descended The Hill with a bucket truck and chipper in the dark in a blizzard (and then worked 55 days straight of extreme manual labour to get the job done). I’ve fallen a 7′ diameter Douglasfir tree. I was married and incorporated my own company in the same month. I started a second company while running my first company full time with three boys under 4 years old to take care of. Bring it.

I guess what I’m saying is that you can do it. It might sound daunting to some, impossible to others. I’m not deaf, I hear you. Terry made it. So can you. So will I.

RIP Terry Fox. PS – I’m still running for you.

Bad Habits

I may catch some flak for this, but I feel that in order to become an elite, a success, you have to strip away the bad habits accumulated living life as an ordinary citizen. By “bad habits” I’m talking about things like smoking and drinking, any activity that detracts from one’s good health, physically, spiritually or financially.

A long time ago, I decided I wanted to get to the next level and have managed to keep myself away from bad habits. When my wife and I were looking to take up a new hobby, boating (and boating-related activities) came up near the top of the list. We do live on an island, and there are many family-friendly activities a boat offers. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the cost of a boat, until I considered our (lack of) bad habits.

For example, let’s take alcohol. Many reward themselves after their workday with a 6-pack of beer. In Canada, that will run you (roughly) $12. If you were to consume a 6-pack every day, you would be looking at a bad habit budget of approximately $360/month. Keep in mind I’m simplifying here. We could substitute or mix in any combination of cigarettes, expensive coffee, fast food, marijuana, etc, any bad habit that detracts from long term health. If one were to eliminate the bad habit, one could easily support taking up an equally expensive good habit (or save their money to reward themselves at a later date).

Back to the boat. In the end, we purchased a boat. It’s sitting in our driveway right now. Every time I look at the boat, it reminds me of how extremely fortunate we are. It also reminds me of what you can do if you focus on long term health, and kick your bad habits.

Bad Habits.jpg