Proactive, Reactive and My Sketchy Science

The video from my last post about being more active/proactive in my life has been rattling around in my head ever since I recorded it in Shanghai.  For one, that concept of being proactive really locked into something I had been feeling for a while without expressing as well as I could – namely, that I had been letting life happen to me without taking an active stance on what I wanted out of life.

But the second reason it really hit me didn’t become clear until I was looking through my notes in Evernote on the flight back home.  I came across a note from September 5, 2010 from when I was reading Stephen Covey’s classic book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“.  I couldn’t believe the serendipitous timing of recording that video and then seeing this exact note a few days later:

The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of a proactive person. Reactive people are driven by circumstances, feelings, conditions , environment. Proactive people are driven by their values – carefully thought about, selected and internalized values.

As a person highly focused on my own values and trying to live them as best I can, it seems the concept Mr. Covey described in his book never really left me, but had decided to lurk for a while in the back of my mind, waiting for the most opportune moment to rise again… or at least to be kicked to the front of the line by some catalyst of thought.

So what’s the point of all of this?  Simply this: My own personal level of happiness and satisfaction is highly correlated (and maybe even directly tied) to how active I am in living to my values.  If I am reactive (or worse still… inactive) about all of this, I am far less happy.

Prowler pushes = 100% proactive.

I realize that there is much of this that isn’t earth-shattering news on the level of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian dating.  I mean, that’s just important stuff for all people of the world to ponder deeply.  Anyone could easily say, “Really Kev?  You are a values-driven person and you aren’t happy when being focused on your values?  How is that surprising in any sense to you?”  And anyone who did say that would be pretty on point in asking those questions.

But here’s where I think it gets interesting and something I return to again and again – it’s very easy to let the daily buzz of life, work, busy-ness, family, friends, baseball games, hustle, bustle, goat farming, charity work, car maintenance, yard work, laundry, assimilation to the Borg and whatever else takes up your day to draw attention away from what is truly important.  It doesn’t excuse losing sight of what’s important, but it does one hell of a job explaining why.

That’s my assignment going forward – the mindfulness on this.  It’s actually something that is ascending to the level of a truism in the Pantheon in my head… that when I am being proactive and really mindful of expressing my values through my actions, I am 100X happier.  When I don’t, I find myself flopping around like a fish on a dock.  Not a pretty picture.  Another truism is that if I get sick with a cold or any other nasty little bug, it’s almost always during a period of higher-than-usual stress.  It’s uncanny.  Hmm… the funny thing may even be that I have higher-than-usual stress when I am not proactive about my values… never even thought of that.

So there you have it, my friends!  Be proactive in your values or catch colds.  Irrefutable science… just without all of those pesky double-blind studies in peer-reviewed journals to muck up all my fun.

Vlogging Abroad: Fierce and Mighty Goes to Shanghai

Traveling "Rough"
My idea of traveling "rough"

I got back into the good ol’ U. S. of A. yesterday evening after spending a nice chunk of the week in Shanghai, China.  It’s my second trip to China and first time Shanghai, a city which a friend of mine described as “China’s Paris”.  Now, while I didn’t get to see anything in the city that struck me as very Parisian, I did come away with an appreciation for a few things:

  1. Shanghai. Is. Massive.  At a population of 23 million, it’s the most populous city on the planet.
  2. The city has a fairly amazing skyline.  The vlog post has a shot from the roof deck of my hotel and that will give you a pretty good idea of what it looks like at night.  Pretty amazing – they love their lights on buildings in Shanghai.
  3. While not Shanghai specific, I like to travel “rough” in the sense that if I’m going to be on a plane, I will have on some combination of (a) baseball hat, (b) t-shirt, (c) sneakers and (d) pullover.  Oh and there is no possible way I am shaving either.  This photo is proof to all of the above as I sat in BusinessFirst on United.  If you thought for a second that traveling “rough” to China involved being crammed into an impossibly small seat… umm… no.  Not so much.

Anyhoo, today’s vlog is about perspective (surprised?), funkiness and living life active vs. passive.  Please do enjoy – this is my first attempt at an iPad-generated vlog.  Hoping this works out as planned.  Also, I was able to build up a few post ideas during the trip that I will be doing over the next few days.  Rejoice unto the heavens and cry hosannah!

The Outer Limits of Comfort and the Value of Dissonance

Thinking, Thinking, Thinking...
Thinking, Thinking, Thinking...

Are you ready for a small slice of truth to close out your Thursday evening?  Good.  Me too.

It’s hard to have original ideas when you are surrounded by people who all have the same experiences as you.
Jonathan Harris

And there we have it.  If you are anything like me, you want to be creative and let your mind freely expand to take on new thoughts, ideas and concepts.  Heck, one of my favorite things to do is to find a connection between two seemingly disparate notions.  It can be like a game or puzzle to carefully thread ideas together, to see potential connections which are not readily apparent.  It’s actually quite fun.  I mean, maybe not quite as fun as full-contact mah jongg, but that would also be setting the bar pretty damn high.

But what happens when you seek to expand your thinking when surrounded by people who look like, talk like, sound like and live exactly as you do?  Maybe it’s who you work with every day.  Think about how your department or company probably handles recruiting new members – cultural fit is always a big thing.  Heck, I am HUGE believer that cultural fit may matter more than specific skill sets in many ways.  If someone just doesn’t “get it”, they can possess the intellect of Newton, Spinoza or Descartes and it’s going to be an utter clusterf… umm… it’s going to be super bad.  Yeah, let’s just go with super bad and move right along.

Except how do you come up with something new if everyone is the same?  What causes the deviation from the norm?  The bolt out of the blue?  The zig when everyone zags?  Unless the culture is to seek out the differences (an all-too-rare cultural trait for many groups, I find), there is nothing to inspire the new to be born.  And why would there be?  The group was brought together because of “like-ness” and similarity, not uniqueness and dissonance.

Just a little something for all of us to remember: comfort can be a wonderful thing.  It can bring a greater sense of shared understanding and it’s just a pleasant experience… but ahh… when you need something new, fresh and different?  Comfort does us a disservice.  We match, but we are stale.  We get each other, but don’t stretch each other.

Comfort is not a bad thing and can cause a great deal of harmony.  But when we seek to boldly break into new ground without a map to guide us?  Take on the iconoclast, bear out the awkwardness and let new thoughts come forth.

 

Dissatisfaction and The Value of Your Life

I’ve never seen the movie “Network“, but I’ve seen the pivotal scene from the film more than a few times and I was drawn to finding it today on YouTube.  If you’ve never seen it, here it is:

But what was it that brought me to this?

This is seemingly the 3rd post that jumps to mind for me that deals with some kind of rage (see “Choking On Our Own Rage”) or being pissed off (see “Non-Stop, Full Tilt, Every Day Mayhem” with Ray Lewis’s speech on being “pissed off for greatness”) or today about being mad as hell.  Am I just some kind of bitter angry person?  One of those cranky old curmudgeons who shakes his fist on his front porch at the kids to gell off of his lawn?  The guy who finds nothing to be happy about, but more than a little to complain about?  Thankfully, no… I am none of these things… although who doesn’t enjoy a good moment of declaring how things were so much tougher/better when they were growing up and how kids have it SO easy these days?  It’s damn therapeutic, I tell ya.

Shake it up!
Determined to shake myself out of lethargy

However, the video came to mind for me as I thought about the power of never feeling too satisfied with the state of things.  We all get incredibly busy with work, family, friends and rushing around at a hectic pace.  I may be just imagining it and maybe its just my own life, but everything feels to be at an accelerated pace over the last year or so.  More to do and less time to do it.  Doing this for a few days or weeks is manageable, but over longer periods of time, it’s easy to forget about everything going on around you… because you haven’t really stopped to take a look.

And that’s why… every once in a while… we each need to feel truly dissatisfied and maybe get mad as hell.  Not angry in the sense of being pissed off at your fellow man or mindlessly shouting to the heavens for some kind of ephemeral justice.  No, it needs to be that dissatisfaction with our own lots, lives or situations where we get pissed and think, “No more senseless autopilot… there’s got to be something better out there…”  Or in the words of on-the-edge news anchor Howard Beale in the video above, you need to say “I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value!”

Because when you get to that point of being dissatisfied, you suddenly improve the opportunity for a change to really occur.  Really and truly to happen.  The alternative is to just feel that nothing will ever improve and whatever you are experiencing at this moment is just as good as it’s going to get.  Is that what you want?  I don’t want that for me and I certainly don’t want that for you.

So the next time you feel that gnawing sense in your gut that you should be able to have something better… there should be more than what is immediately in front of you… don’t stifle it out as a kneejerk reaction and don’t feed it as anger for the sake of anger.  Both are senseless and can be destructive (or in Stars Wars, lead to the path of the dark side).  Instead, let’s make it that extra push to shake us from our complacency and get a little more for ourselves, our families, our friends and anyone else we care about.

The present may be tough, but since the only constant in life is change… why not make that work for us?  We’re human beings.  Our lives have value. And settling belittles all of us a little bit at a time.

Life Shall Give Thee No Mulligans

Bonsai ballGolf is a delightful game.  Sure, it’s completely maddening and harder than almost any other sport I can think of, but when approach with a good attitude, it is treeeemendous.  And yes, that’s how I am spelling that word right now.  You want to spell it differently?  Start your own snappy blog but on this blog, we sometimes like to mess with English.  Just because we can.  We also like to use the pronoun “we” even though this blog is the effort of one person… me.  Again, see previous disclaimer on getting your own damn blog.

I got to play for the first time this past season on Good Friday and what a good day it was.  Granted, my level of play varied from “Sweet mother of God… don’t look straight at that shot since you may turn to stone!” to something akin to transcendent beauty (at least in my eyes).

One of the things that came up with the guys I was playing with was whether we would be using any mulligans since it was the very first round of the season.  For those of you not steeped in the rich tradition of golf parlance, a mulligan is just an exceedingly fancy word for a do-over.  Yes, besides being an utterly challenging game, golf thoroughly enjoys a language all its own that conjures up all sorts of snooty country club images.

The decision was to allow one mulligan per 9 holes.  I ended up using one after a drove one into some godforsaken part of the course from which the ball would never return, but my honestly?  I tend to hate mulligans.  HATE them.  I let one slide this time, but even then I didn’t like it all that much and for one simple reason:

When you give yourself do-overs, you never know where you really stand.  And that makes me crazy.

Perhaps I should explain.  If I am going to play a sport, I really don’t like shortcuts… because at some point and in some place, I may be competing… and there are few things worse than an inflated sense of self.  When I play golf, I want to count every single shot and I want to putt out every putt to completion.  When I lift weights, I don’t want to do partial lifts just so I can brag about all of the Interwebz about my  gargantuan strength (hence my vlog post on “Many Steps Back” where I talk about rebuilding one of my lifts after hitting an all-time best).

Maybe this is just part of my job as an ethics officer rubbing off on everything else I do, but I want to know how good I am as precisely as possible… not so I can measuring myself against others, but really so I can measure against myself.

And for one more reason – life gives no do-overs.  Ever.  The moments that slip past you will never return again.  If given the chance, do I want to half-ass it just so I can brag about an empty accomplishment?  Yeah, not so much for this handsome kid over here.

Are people who use mulligans somehow weak or bad people?  Oh hardly at all.  If it makes you enjoy golf all the more (and it’s not being used to cheat against others), go crazy.  You won’t find me playing morals police with how you choose to enjoy the game.

I just never want to fall into a habit… in anything… of relying on a second chance, especially one I created to give myself an insincere pat on the back.  I’m OK with less-than-perfect or even fall-on-my-face failures the first time around since even when ugly, they are all mine.

I will take owning my own failures every time over faking my own successes. Every.  Single.  Time.

Non-Stop, Full Tilt, Every Day Mayhem


It’s probably not surprising that I enjoy a very well-done inspiration speech.  Certain people who truly have the gift – whether by virtue of being blessed by the gods of Olympus from birth or through, careful, meticulous practice over time – really capture my attention.  The ability to move inspire people to do more and be more than they thought possible just fascinates me.

But something about Ray Lewis’s speech struck a slightly different chord with me when I watched it.  I still had the chills and felt fired up at the end… but a few minutes later, I found myself pausing to think about what he said from a slightly different vantage point.  Ray starts off with:

If tomorrow wasn’t promised, what would you give for today?  Forget everything else.  Forget everything else.  Forget that there was any sunlight left.  What would you spend today thinking about?

The reason this got me to thinking was twofold.  First, it’s about taking nothing for granted today and if tomorrow is never promised, how will you live today.  Second, it also got me thinking about the motto of this blog: Relentlessly push yourself forward.  These two ideas taken together basically add up to an idea of going non-stop, full tilt, every single day.  All good things, right?

The Road to Ribblesdale
Photo Credit: Luc B via Compfight

But can we really do that?  Should we expect ourselves to really and truly do that?  I don’t mean that in some absurdly constructed argument sense where someone says, “No one would live that way since they would make horrible choices, spend all their money and live like lunatics if they 100% committed to that day being their last on earth!”  But what I mean instead is… can you go 100% every single day?  Furthermore, should you even try?

The reason I got to thinking about this was not to say that embracing utter sloth is somehow a good idea, but to wonder how to pace this effort… how to handle the daily ebbs and flows of time, energy and desire.  No one is going to be “ON” 24/7 – not even the most dedicated and motivated.  Burn out would be inevitable with a blistering pace like that.

But hard effort every day?  The best attitude you can bring to the table every day?  Doable without a doubt.  Will your best on a rainy Monday with all-day meetings be as good as your best on a sunny Friday with bluebirds serenading your every step?  Probably not, but that’s fine.  It’s the daily practice that matters.

And that’s where the importance of finding inspiration – whether in a speech, book, song or conversation with a good friend – matters so much.  For in those moments, you can see the possibility of moving a few steps past what you thought was your upper limit.  And when you get past those sticking points to a new, brave place… then you have progress and you have moved yourself forward.

I can’t say how this day will turn out, but I am going to take Ray’s advice and be “pissed off for greatness”… for I can feel a little bit more mojo pushing me to that place beyond what I knew possible.  Time to hustle.

Many Steps Back

Hard Work

It’s a pretty common refrain to speak of taking a step back to make two steps forward.  It’s not a bad thought – every now and again we probably need to take stock, reset where we are on something in our lives and then let that step back lead to even better progress than when we started.  The tricky piece is that even when you logically know that you will be better off after the step back, it’s still sometimes a challenge to do that.  Why?  Because who doesn’t want to be advancing all the time.  We like progress – we fight against regression.

Today’s vlog is about how I am not taking one or two steps back, but perhaps many.  It’s not easy… not at all.  Personal pride is a very powerful force, but I think it’s going to be right for me in the end.

As an added bonus, you get to see me act like an utter lunatic for a few seconds. Sunday fun for the whole family!