Sticky Lips and a Loose Memory: My TEDx Journey

I told myself a few days earlier I was going to treat this like a weightlifting competition.

“None of this really matters in the grand scheme of things. Clear your mind, go out and rip it, then you can forget about it.”

That seemed great in theory, except with weightlifting or other sports you can throw all that nervous energy into the bar/ball/opponent’s face. But when giving a speech there’s no real acceptable outlet to place all that anxiety at once, lest I start screaming at the audience or begin bustling through the talk at breakneck speed. 

My turn finally arrived (after needing the stagehand to convince me that my mic was indeed on) and I walked out on stage. And despite drinking water most of the morning, I began to feel my lips and mouth dry up immediately as I walked to my mark.

“Hope that doesn’t become a problem,” I thought.

Audition #1

One early morning last spring, I zombily relocated my body from bed to couch, and checked Facebook.

There, I saw a post from TEDxMileHigh, the Denver-region organizers of a number of different TEDx1 events. They were accepting applications for speakers, which I assumed required me to submit peer-reviewed research, a boastful investment portfolio, or newspaper clippings about my startup’s IPO. 

But the application seemed simple enough: some standard personal questions, one about what my ‘big idea’ was, another about my public speaking experience.

It didn’t take me long to figure out what I could talk about: 90 Strangers In 30 Days was something that not only had a big impact on my life, but based on the emails I was still receiving long after the fact, clearly had a big impact on a large number of other people, too. Social skills in general are one thing I can talk ad nauseam about, and a rough outline of a potential speech began to form quickly. 

I put it on my to-do-list for that day, submitted the questionnaire, then forgot about it.

First Contact

A week or two later, I received an email from a @tedxmilehigh.com address. Like so many internship and job emails that have tried to let me down soflty over the years, the message began by thanking me for applying. As I began to temper my expectations, I read on, and to my surprise they were instead lifted:

So today was good. #tedtalks #ted #tedex @tedxmilehigh

Una foto publicada por andrewelsass (@slassy) el


The only thing grounding my excitement was the audition date, which gave me just two weeks to write, develop, memorize to some degree, and make slides for an 8.5 minute “sample” of what could become my full speech if accepted (the TED format allows speeches to be up to 18 minutes in length).

Reality not fully set in yet, I pored over my notes from when I read Talk Like TED, watched some TED talks about what makes a good TED Talk, sketched a rough outline, and then a first draft.

My first run-through ran something like 14.5 minutes, included way too many anecdotes exemplifying the same thing, a heavy dose of self-deprecation, and in general wasn’t ordered in any sort of fashion that was going to help me memorize it quickly.

I trimmed heavily from there, and by the time audition day rolled around I had some solid meat on my outline bones, a few slides I thought adhered to TED’s recommendations, and a note sheet with pictures I hoped would help me quickly regain my place if I were to lose it during the audition.

Due to it being April in Denver and snow still being a thing, my girlfriend and I dodged an incoming storm by staying in a nearby hotel the night before. My audition time the next day was mid-morning at a fancy downtown coworking space.

When we arrived, lingering around were a number of my fellow auditioners: a calm, stoic looking lady that undoubtedly was a professor in some field I never had to take a class in; a pacing, middle-aged man nervously fiddling with his iPad; and a guy closer to my age wearing headphones. I guessed he was auditioning for a performance role, as he would occasionally bust out a badass dance move that made me question my own audition approach (“maybe I should dance…”).

Then there was me, bouncing like a pogo stick over by the complimentary coffee and danishes.

I was ready: I held a focus group with friends a few days before; I had scribbled “I will give a TEDx Talk” over 100+ times in my journal the past few weeks; and even meditated daily by a nearby creek (not kidding), envisioning myself onstage at Denver’s Ellie Caulkins Opera House, thunderous applause creating cracks in the building’s foundation as I walked off, the people demanding an encore performance of my speech…everything I thought I was supposed to do, really. This audition was mine.

Finally, I was called into a small room at the end of the hall. To demonstrate that I wasn’t a fraud in regard to my topic, I introduced myself to the three panelists waiting inside and made small talk about the crazy weather. Then, the clock started.

I felt that rush of hyper-aware yet simultaneous calm focus that only public speaking, weightlifting competitions, and marching band (shut up) has given me, and finished a little faster than I had practiced, right around eight minutes. They thanked me, I thanked them, and I left the room content.

I told myself since I had prepared and performed the best I thought I possibly could, I wouldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t make it. But that turned out to be a lie, as two days later I received an email saying I wasn’t a fit for their 2016 program. The bit in there about being just one of 40 to audition out of over 600 applicants only made me feel slightly less mopey, but I couldn’t help but mope nonetheless.

I comforted myself that night with Chinese food and playoff hockey. Then, in a day or two, I forgot about it.  

A Second (And Third) Chance

Flash forward six weeks later. Somewhere on my hard drive, I stumbled across my speech notes, and I got curious.

After some quick searching, I found out there were TEDxColorado Springs (where I live) and TEDxDayton (where I’m from) events, and that both just happened to be accepting applications at that very moment.

I had done all that work to iron out my idea and memorize eight minutes worth of speech; why let that all go to waste?

The application questions for both were similar to the one for Denver, except Colorado Springs also wanted me to submit along a video of me performing my speech.

Dayton liked my application and invited me to come audition, however it wasn’t possible for me to travel there on short notice, so they said I could also send in a video audition.

As I learned, every TEDx event likes to do their audition process a little different. Colorado Springs capped their videos at 8.5 minutes while Dayton’s was somewhere in the 4-5 minute range. Feeling only slightly overwhelmed, I worked up until the deadline for both, creating two new versions of the speech (neither of which I had completely memorized by the time I went to film).

Ready to get it over with, I recorded both back-to-back in one take each while balancing my phone on a ladder, then submitted them to the appropriate parties. 

A few days later I received another email with the familiar line thanking me for auditioning, but then also an again-surprising second line inviting me to formally audition for TEDxColorado Springs. The audition would be in just 10 days, and this time they wanted to see a “full” version of the speech, up to 18 minutes in length.

Not wanting to add in new parts that I didn’t have solidly memorized, I went in and delivered basically the same speech I had delivered in my Denver audition and in my video. The setting was similar (a co-working space), but this time I was auditioning for something like 7-10 people that covered the complete gamut of human emotion (minus crying) while I auditioned: two women I thought might have been statues if I hadn’t greeted them when I walked in, a few more-thoughtful looking listeners, and an extremely comforting man on my right that was nodding along with everything I said (and that even chuckled at my dumb jokes).

The panel then asked me a few follow-up questions during which I demonstrated that I had used up all my capacity for eloquence and conciseness during the actual audition. I was complimented on my shoes on the way out by my new head-nodding fan (which I took as either a good sign or as that guy’s way of letting me down softly), and forgot about it.

But I couldn’t for long this time.

Meeting My Fellow TEDdys 

Later that same evening, I received a call from one of the friendlier women in the room saying they would love to have me in their program this year.

A few weeks later we had our first official TEDx meeting, held at a local art gallery. While there, I got to meet my fellow speakers: clothing company president Jan Erickson; graphic designer Jenny Schnell; stage actor and director Jesse Wilson; life coach Jill Davis; world champion Paralympic discus thrower Kevin Broussard; social entrepreneur Kevin White; digital marketing consultant Lauren Hug; and social scientist Mary Boardman.  

For the first time since I was next to the breakdancer and the college professor in the TEDxMileHigh holding area, I started to question my credentials and place at the event. These were all extremely brilliant and accomplished individuals with letters after their names and medals with their names on them. I on the other hand, wrote about 900-words that a bunch of redditors clicked an up arrow on over three years ago.

But after everyone had given a short preview of their talk and received a cool plaque, the time came to mingle, and something happened that would become a reoccurring theme of sorts: people (including my fellow presenters) kept coming up to me saying things like “I wish my nephew/daughter/students could hear your speech”, and “I hope you know that your message is an important one.” I hadn’t really heard praise about 90 Strangers like this in-person before, and it felt good.

plaques

While there, I also met the speech coach that was assigned to me: Ed.

Ed was a fast-talking Long Islander that had countless years of public speaking during his time as a high-ranking official in the Navy. He was also, as I pegged him quickly, an extrovert.

Given the topic of my speech, I wasn’t sure how this relationship was going to work. How could this guy who probably had countless crucial conversations and tense, fate-of-the-world-in-balance negotiations aboard nuclear submarines possibly relate to my message and help me amplify it?

But I decided to trust the assignment, and sent Ed my transcript to look over. A day or two later, I received an email from him full of great feedback on my speech. Maybe extroverts were able to articulate and relate to #socialskillsprobs more than I gave them credit for.

From there, we were mostly left up to our own devices. Ed and I decided to meet bi-weekly when we could, up until a small group rehearsal that was scheduled in August.

These first practices mostly took place in an empty conference room at Ed’s office. There I would run through the entire 14-some minute speech two or three times, Ed fervently scrambling notes on my transcript as I did, feeding me my lines when I would blank on them (which happened often). Several times he recruited his co-workers (one who was a former TV writer) to come listen and offer their feedback, too.

At the mid-August feedback session, we gave a run through of our entire speech in front of our fellow speakers, their coaches, a few past speakers, and some of the event organizers.

Running the show was a consultant that had everyone write their feedback on different slips of scrap paper. On one piece we were to write warm fuzzies (e.g., “I love how you wander around every inch of allotted space while you speak”). On the other, we wrote “critique” that was stated in the form of a question (e.g., “What if you didn’t make all those corny jokes?”). After everyone read their feedback to us, we took home the pieces of paper so that we could later sort through and decide which ones were helpful and discard the ones that were not.

August came and went, and the actual event still seemed impossibly far away. But as the leaves changed, so too did the tone of my voice when I would tell people “oh, it’s not until November 5th” to “it’s on NOVEMBER 5th”, as in less than a month away.

The Struggle Was Real(ly Just Three Things)

My one-to-two week breaks from practicing began to dwindle into just a few days off here and there, and Thursdays at lunch or in the evening became regular practice time with Ed. Tweaks were constantly being made and while I could see improvement every time we met, I would still have bouts of frustration with three things in particular:

1. Memorization: No matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to surpass the 95% memorized mark. There were a few spots I would struggle to remember consistently, and during practice these would turn into long pauses and stares at coach Ed.

All I would need is a single word to prompt me into remembering where I left off, but nonetheless it was frustrating. Closer to the event date, our full run-through practices turned into running the same section of speech over and over, sometimes five or six times in a row and drilling down on every phrase and every sentence.

2. Inflection: Many schools of public-speaking thought highly discourage memorizing your speech word-for-word, instead encouraging you to have a set opening, interchangeable ‘body parts’ that can be arranged in the moment as nededed, and then a set closing.

But as a writer, I carry the burden of obsessing over syntax and thus want to say things exactly as I wrote them down. That’s not such a bad thing because I’m far from being a good off-the-cuff speaker, but a consequence of it is that it can make what I am saying sound overly-memorized and monotonous. During parts where I frequently went on autopilot and my emotion would flatline, I’d try my damndest to inject more inflection and enthusiasm. But while in my head I sounded like Mickey Mouse on crack, to Ed it still sounded like Eeyore on downers. Chalk it up to being a ‘chill’ guy I suppose.

3. Slides: I had a few slide ideas I thought would be pretty cool if I could them pull off well. But I also received a lot of feedback along the lines of “you convey your message so well, you probably don’t really need slides”. And so, I put off doing these pretty much as long as I could. 

After a few rounds of feedback, I had slides remaining that I felt happy enough with, but by then the event was just a week or two out and I had to memorize a whole new non-verbal element of my speech: timing my slides to my speaking. Also, one of the organizations I requested permission from to use their logo denied me about a week out, sending me scrambling to try and cover up the hole they left.

The event date continued to creep closer, and as people would ask me how I was feeling, my stock answer became a half-joke/half-truth that “my biggest concern is what to wear so I guess that’s a good sign!” or a more deadpan “It’s like trying to memorize a really long song.”

Memorize This

The Saturday prior to the big day, we had a full dress rehearsal at the actual event venue, Stargazers Theatre. I had been to Stargazers once before for a small concert, but actually being on stage made the venue feel more cavernous than intimate. After being given some details about what the actual event day was going to be like, speaker Jesse led us all in a goofy ‘get loose’ warm up, and then it was time do a full run-through of the show.

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Out of nine speakers, I was penciled in for fifth (despite my low .OBP and never really being much of a power hitter).

My memorization was now up to about 97% in most of my run-throughs. To get that last three ticks, I tried everything from just saying my speech over and over as I was driving around town, to listening to a recording of myself while washing dishes or eating lunch.

What helped the most was using sort of mnemonic memory devices with certain parts of the speech. For instance, near the end of my talk I say this sentence:

More ridiculous perhaps is not that social skills aren’t taught, but is that they can be taught easily and at minimal cost.

I associated the word cost with a Target logo in my head (Target is a store which sells things that all have a cost), which reminded me of my next paragraph:

While talking to random people in the stationary aisle at Target like I did for my experiment might have limited “real world” utility, if you can muster up the courage to just do as much as say ‘Hi, how are you?’ or anything else to a stranger 90 times in a month, I can guarantee that next networking event or party is going to feel a lot less scary, and a lot more fun. Moreover, this idea is infinitely scalable–for someone that’s an even harder case than I was they could simply do 30 Strangers In 30 Days, or while not as catchy, Make Good Eye Contact with 30 People In 30 Days, then build from there.

I associated the word build with a staircase, symbolic for the idea of self-improvement, which reminded me to say:

Over the course of those years as my social skills improved

And so on. If I had to do it all over again, I would probably try memorizing the entire speech using this method from the moment I started practicing it.

So I went on to the roar of the three volunteers in the crowd at this practice rehearsal, and…crushed it. 100% memorized, feeling completely in control of every body movement and inflection of my voice, and I even got laughs in parts of the speech I wasn’t expecting to.

The countdown was now at under seven days, and from day one when we met as a group back in July, we were warned not to practice during this week. So what did I decide to do? Practice once more of course, a run-through the Thursday before the show for some friends that weren’t going to be able to make it to the event.

There, the wave of confidence I was riding came crashing down. In front of my friends I blanked on parts that weren’t in the 3% I hadn’t had completely memorized before, flip-flopped the order of others, and skipped a good 30-45 seconds of the middle. Not practicing didn’t feel like an option after that, and Friday was spent frantically trying to ‘map’ those parts of the speech that I had glossed over deeper into my consciousness.

Despite worrying that I had peaked too early and needed another four months of prep to get back to proper speech form, Saturday came. I felt one part kid-on-Christmas-morning, one part disbelief that the day was actually here, and one big part shit-my-pants-nervous.

I showed up at the theatre and we went through the same ‘be silly’ warm up (which I highly recommend before giving speeches, going into a job interview, in the dentist’s office, anywhere) and then it was showtime.

“Dude, you gotta breathe.”

Backstage, it was interesting to see people’s different preparation methods: some preferred to zone out with headphones in; others chose to pace outside; and some just preferred to chat casually with everyone around them like it was no big deal. In order to prove to myself that I did have this thing memorized, I chose to go in a small hallway and say my speech quietly to a wall at about 2x normal speed.

And then, after a brief application of makeup (though I’m told I can’t call it makeup because it was just powder), I waited. Backstage we had access to anything we could possibly need just short of a bowl of only-red M&M’s. As other speakers went on, I passed the time mostly by trying to decide if I was actually hungry or if my nerves were making my stomach eat itself. After about the first three speakers went on, I settled on something small to eat and began to go into hardcore preparation mode.

I went to scribble a few positive affirmations in my journal, and it was this moment I realized how much trouble I was having trying to calm myself down. If at my Denver audition I was a pogo stick, here I was a runaway jackhammer.

I tried listening to music, breathing deeply, getting fresh air, saying positive affirmations aloud, pooping, and repeating the few trouble parts of the speech to again convince myself that I knew them. Yet when it came time to get mic’d up while the speaker before me was giving his talk, the audio guy took one look at me and said “dude, you gotta breathe.”

By now, I had probably run through this speech (late additions such as my intro notwithstanding) somewhere in the ballpark of 100 times. I walked out, felt my throat and lips turn to desert, did my opening gimmick, and muscle memory took over.

Talk: Why don't we teach social skills

At this point it was kind of an out-of-body experience in the way that on one side of my brain, I had my internal teleprompter running through the speech:

Say this…do this with your hands…pause and smile so they know I am joking…

And then a sort of self-observing (and judgemental) third eye on the other side:

This is *actually* going ok…it’s really not as dark as I expected in here…they’re laughing at *that* part?…you hit your slides early jackass, just go back and keep talking…

I don’t have much more to say about what being on stage was like, because honestly, other than trying to pick out different people at the front tables to talk “to”, then realizing I was doing that maybe a little too much, then trying to talk more to the back of the house, I don’t remember much else.

I sailed through the parts I was struggling with easily, and once I hit the homestretch my inner monologue began celebrating too early, and I ended up skipping a small joke about my days as a video game message board vet. I realized this right away, but couldn’t invent a good way to loop it back in naturally, so I chose to just wrap up the speech as intended.

And as I did, the first thing I felt when I walked on stage came back to haunt me–while trying to slow down and e n u n c i a t e my closing for e m p h a s i s, my dry lips started to stick my teeth. I fought through, prayed there wouldn’t be a close up on my face at that point in the final video, waited for applause, resisted the temptation to bow or curtsy, and walked back off.

I high-fived the next speaker (the amazing Mary Boardman), was de-mic’ed, and slam dunked draft 11 of my transcript in a trashcan.

Back in the speaker room, I was greeted with congratulations (in my head that was short for “congratulations, it’s over!”) and was interviewed by the event videographers. I was told they wanted to do this right after so they could capture the speakers’ “euphoria” fresh off the stage, but I think what my interview captured were pattering nerves and a brain trying to calibrate back to normalcy.

I rambled off some answers, forgetting that I should be looking at the interviewer and not deer-in-headlights into the lens, and then I was officially off the hook of having to speak eloquently.

Ed came and congratulated me, and I watched the rest of the speakers from the upper deck of the venue, head mostly slumped on my girlfriend’s shoulder out of exhaustion and relief.

I felt a kind of eery weightlessness, eight months of stress freed from the back of my head where it had balled up and made a nice little home for itself. A few strangers congratulated me and told me that they agreed with my message and that their niece/son/coworkers needed to hear it, and after some celebratory meatballs and a beer at the afterparty, I went home.

And then I kinda forgot about it.

The Snarky Aftermath

In the weeks that followed I struggled to answer the “how did it go?” question.

In situations where I needed to answer concisely, I decided that, “It went like something that I practiced over 100 times was mostly supposed to,” would sound snarky at best despite its earnestness, and instead settled for, “Well, no one booed or threw anything at me so I guess that’s good.”

While those answers were technically true, more true was that I had trouble coming up with words to describe this thing I did in which every word was scripted.

Speaking at a TEDx event was something I put on my bucket list that I never expected to accomplish or even consider trying for until I was a mid-thirty something and had written a few more books, was more ‘established’, and opened a chain of drive thru-barbershops. Although I know this is a bad line of thinking, it was sort of this pinnacle on a pedestal I felt I would reach when I had ‘arrived’ and made significant contributions to some hyper-niche field, or maybe one of my #ideaaday-s that I post on Twitter would catch on and I’d get to explain how my inspiration was equal parts grogginess, coffee, and needing to scribble something in my journal so I could get on with my day.

Little did I know that TEDx was instead going to represent the beginning of my contributions, and I already knew exactly in what field those would be.

Now that I’ve gone ‘public’ (in a way more than just a blog or reddit post) with some of my feelings and experiences about the state of social skills in our society, I feel I have a level of accountability (read: a kick in the ass) where I have reached a point of no return, and need to make a more serious investment in doing what I feel I have known for years now should be my life’s work: helping others become socially stronger.

Beyond the 90 Strangers in 30 Days guidebook I am currently pitching, I’m not exactly sure how that might be just yet. I’ve thought about doing an online course, Skype coaching, a YouTube channel, or even getting a master’s in developmental psychology.

Whatever it ends up being, I like to think I possessed the drive to do all of this someday anyway without needing the affirmation of a few hundred people at Stargazers to know who I am and what I am about. But even though I pride myself on my stubborn independence, I’m not ashamed to admit that…I did.

Now that I reached that pedestal that TED was sitting on in my mind, I can now look behind it and see that if nothing else, it was just a gatekeeper to the climb and real work that lies behind it.

Instead of being the landing strip I thought it would be, TEDx was instead the launching pad.

And I’ll never forget it.

Photography by Jay Billups

42 Things I Learned From 21 Books In 2016

Check out my lists from 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. Idea originally inspired by this list of Julien Smith’s. 

Another year, another bunch of books read. I try to read at least 20 every year and to make some of those fiction. I’m much better at doing the former than the latter.

And like I do every December, I like to skim through my notes and list out my favorite two passages or things I’ve learned from each book I read.

Text in quotes is taken straight from the author:


On Writing Well by William Zinsser

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1. “Still, plain talk will not be easily achieved in corporate America. Too much vanity is on the line. Managers at every level are prisoners of the notion that a simple style reflects a simple mind.

Actually a simple style is the result of hard work and hard thinking; a muddled style reflects a muddled thinker or a person too arrogant, or too dumb, or too lazy to organize his thoughts.

Remember that what you write is often the only chance you’ll get to present yourself to someone whose business or money or good will you need. If what you write is ornate, or pompous, or fuzzy, that’s how you’ll be perceived. The reader has no other choice.”

2.Nowhere else in nonfiction [than in travel writing] do writers use such syrupy words and groaning platitudes.

Adjectives you would squirm to use in conversation–‘wondrous’, ‘dappled’, ‘roseate’, ‘fabled’, ‘scudding’–are common currency. Half the sights seen in a day’s sightseeing are quaint, especially windmills and covered bridges; they are certified for quaintness.

Towns situated in hills (or foothills) are nestled–I hardly ever read about an unnestled town in the hills–and the countryside is dotted with byways, preferably half forgotten. In Europe you awake to the clip-clop of horse-drawn wagons along a history-haunted river; you seem to hear the scratch of a quill pen…. [and] chimneytops sing their immemorial song of welcome.”


A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson

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3. “It is no accident that the first highways in America were called parkways.

That’s what they were envisioned to be: parks you could drive through.”

4. “I still quite often go for walks on the trail near my home, especially if I am stuck on something I am working on. Most of the time I am sunk in thought, but at some point on each walk there comes a moment when I look up and notice, with a kind of first-time astonishment, the amazing complex delicacy of the woods, the casual ease with which elemental things come together to form a composition that is—whatever the season, wherever I put my besotted gaze—perfect.

Not just very fine or splendid, but perfect, unimprovable. You don’t have to walk miles up mountains to achieve this, don’t have to plod through blizzards, slip sputtering in mud, wade chest-deep through water, hike day after day to the edge of your limits—but believe me, it helps.”


The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb

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5. “Being an executive does not require very developed frontal lobes, but rather a combination of charisma, a capacity to sustain boredom, and the ability to shallowly perform on harrying schedules.”
6. “[Philip] Tetlock studied the business of political and economic “experts.” He asked various specialists to judge the likelihood of a number of political, economic, and military events occurring within a specified time frame (about five years ahead). The outcomes represented a total number of around twenty-seven thousand predictions, involving close to three hundred specialists. Economists represented about a quarter of his sample.

The study revealed that experts’ error rates were clearly many times what they had estimated. His study exposed an expert problem: there was no difference in results whether one had a PhD or an undergraduate degree. Well-published professors had no advantage over journalists. The only regularity Tetlock found was the negative effect of reputation on prediction: those who had a big reputation were worse predictors than those who had none.”


How Soccer Explains The World by Franklin Foer

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7. “As everyone knows, Italian men are the most foppish representatives of their sex on the planet. They smear on substantial quantities of hair care products and expend considerable mental energies color-coordinating socks with belts.

Because of their dandyism, the world has Vespa, Prada, and Renzo Piano. With such theological devotion to aesthetic pleasure, it is truly perplexing that their national style of soccer should be so devoid of this quality.”

8. “As the Protestants celebrate a goal, they’re egged on by the team captain, a long-haired Italian called Lorenzo Amoruso, who has the look of a 1980s male model. Flailing his arms, he urges them to sing their anti-Catholic songs louder. The irony is obvious: Amoruso is a Catholic.

For that matter, so are most of the Rangers players. Since the late nineties, Rangers routinely field nearly as many Catholics as Celtic. Their players come from Georgia, Argentina, Germany, Sweden, Portugal and Holland, because money can buy no better ones. Championships mean more than religious purity.”


The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs by Tristan Gooley

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9. “Rainbows do not exist without an observer and there are as many rainbows created by as many people looking in the right conditions, each one subtly different. The reason for this is that rainbows are formed in an exact position relative to each observer and they have a precise shape.

Whenever our shadow is shorter than we are tall, we can say with certainty that the sun is higher than 45 degrees. Therefore if our shadow is shorter than we are tall, we will never see a rainbow.”

10. “The easiest method for finding the North Star is by finding the easy-to-identify group of seven stars known as the Big Dipper to Americans and the Saucepan to many others.

Next you find the “pointer” stars—these are the two stars that a liquid would run off if you tipped up your “saucepan” by its handle. The North Star will always be five times the distance between these two pointers in the direction that they point (up away from the pan). True north lies directly under this star.”


The Wander Society by Keri Smith

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11. “When we constantly fill up all our “empty” time with stimulation in the form of electronic devices, games, and distractions, our brains become disengaged and the thinking process is effectively halted.

We never get to hear our own inner voice—we don’t develop a relationship with ourselves and our minds. We don’t get to know who we are because we’re not listening.”

12. Per·e·gri·nate (verb): travel or wander around from place to place.

The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson

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13. “The desire for more positive experience itself is a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.”
14. “The rare people who do become truly exceptional at something do so not because they believe they’re exceptional. On the contrary, they become amazing because they’re obsessed with improvement. And that obsession with improvement stems from an unerring belief that they are, in fact, not that great at all. It’s anti-entitlement.

People who become great at something become great because they understand that they’re not already great—they are mediocre, they are average—and that they could be so much better.”


Born For This By Chris Guillebeau

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15. “A few tips on figuring out which real world problems you can solve, and how:

1. Solving problems of daily life is usually the easiest and most successful approach

2. Solving specific, measurable problems is much better than attempting to create huge behavior change

3. To avoid getting off track, always ask, ‘Why should people care about this?'”

16. “In Alexandria, VA, a personal finance advisory company has an unconventional sabbatical practice of its own. The Motley Fool, which has around 300 employees, sends one of them on a “mandatory vacation” every month. In keeping with the company’s culture, it’s called a “Fool’s Errand”, and each month the lucky employee is chosen by lottery (with long-term workers receiving multiple entries based on their number of years service).

The winner gets two weeks off and $1,000 to spend however they like, but there’s one strict rule: the employee must leave immediately and have no contact with the office while gone. Winners are also encouraged to do something that contributes to the Motley Fool’s overall mission (“to help the world invest better”), but aside from not checking work email or phoning into conference calls, there’s no restriction on what people can do.”


The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

glass-menagerie-cover

17. “It is only in his work that an artist can find reality and satisfaction, for the actual world is less intense than the world of his invention and consequently his life, without recourse to violent disorder, does not seem very substantial.

The right condition for him is that in which his work is not only convenient but unavoidable.”

18. “I have been corrupted as much as anyone else by the vast number of menial services which our society has grown to expect and depend on. We should do for ourselves or let the machines do for us, the glorious technology that is supposed to be the new light of the world. We are like a man who has bought a great amount of equipment for a camping trip, who has the canoe and the tent and the fishing lines and the axe and the guns, the mackinaw and the blankets, but who now, when all the preparations and the provisions are piled expertly together, is suddenly too timid to set out on the journey but remains where he was yesterday and the day before and the day before that, looking suspiciously through the white lace curtains at the clear sky he distrusts.

Our great technology is a God-given chance for adventure and for progress which we are afraid to attempt. Our ideas and our ideals remain exactly what they were and where they were three centuries ago. No. I beg your pardon. It is no longer safe for a man to even declare them!”


Stand And Deliver by The Dale Carnegie Institute

standanddeliver

19. “For a speaker, sincerity is the wild card that trumps everything else. Deep, genuine sincerity is the first characteristic of all credible presenters. No audience can deny the truth of emotions that you feel at a deep level, nor would any audience care to deny them.

On the contrary, they want to feel what you’re sincerely feeling. They want to share the experiences of your life for the few moments that you’re standing before them.”

20. “Magic Formula (best for short, motivational talks):

1. Share a vivid, personal experience that’s relevant to the action you ultimately want your listeners to take. This should be a story that led to a positive change in your life. This will take the most time.

2. Call directly on the audience to take that single, well-defined action. Make it seem easy. This should take you only 2 minutes to explain.

3. Clearly and convincingly describe the benefit that listeners will get by taking the action. This will take the least time; as little as one second.”


Olympic Weightlifting by Greg Everett

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21. “Proper [squat] depth is full depth; full depth means full depth. That is, full depth is not breaking parallel, nor is it breaking parallel—it is squatting to the lowest possible position without surgical alteration of body parts while maintaining correct posture.

To simplify, we want to close the knee joint maximally while maintaining upright posture and a correctly arched back.”

22. “Part of the myth that weightlifting stunts growth can be attributed to flawed logic, similar to that which persists with regard to gymnastics. Because elite gymnastics and weightlifters in lighter weight classes tend to be smaller in stature, many people assume that their training has limited their growth.

This is a classic logical fallacy—post hoc, ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this). In other words, because following sport training these athletes remain short, it is assumed that this training was causative of the athletes’ stature. This chronology however, in no way demonstrates causation.”


God’s Debris by Scott Adams

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23. “If the penny’s consciousness were like human consciousness, it would analyze the situation and conclude that it had free will.

When it wanted to come up heads, and heads was the result, the penny would confirm its belief in its power to choose. When it came up tails instead, it would blame its own lack of commitment, or assume God had a hand in it.”

24. “Conversation is more than the sum of the words. It is also a way of signaling the importance of another person by showing your willingness to give that person your rarest resource: time. It is a way of conveying respect.

Conversation reminds us that we are part of a greater whole, connected in some way that transcends duty or bloodline or commerce. Conversation can be many things, but it can never be useless.”


The Martian by Andy Weir

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25. Despite the fact that we haven’t been there (on foot), most of Mars’ major topographical features have already been named, and many as long ago as the late 1800s.
26. ASCII can be used to communicate in a pinch when space and time are at a premium.

The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

tidyingup

27. “By using this principle you can make contents looks far more exciting:

Hang heavy items on the left side of the closet and light items on the right. Heavy items include those with length, those made from heavier material, and those that are dark in color. As you move toward the right side of the closet, the length of the clothing grows shorter, the material thinner and the color lighter.”

28. “Attachment to the past and fears concerning the future not only govern the way you select the things you own but also represent the criteria by which you make choices in every aspect of your life, including your relationships with people and your job.”

The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday

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29. “Certain things in life will cut you open like a knife. When that happens—at that exposing moment—the world gets a glimpse of what’s truly inside you. So what will be revealed when you’re sliced open by tension and pressure? Iron? Or air? Or bullshit?”
30. “There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.”

The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway

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31. Dentuso is Spanish slang for something with big, ugly teeth (like a shark).
32. “But he liked to think about all things that he was involved in and since there was nothing to read and he did not have a radio, he thought much and he kept on thinking about sin. You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, he thought. You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?”

Take Your Eye Off The Puck by Greg Wyshynski

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33. “At the 2013 Sloan Sports Conference, authors Eric Tulsky, Geoffrey Detweiler, Robert Spencer, and Corey Sznajder presented evidence that showed carrying the puck over the blue line generated roughly twice as many scoring chances as dumping and chasing it.”
34. “Buffalo Sabres general manager George “Punch” Imlach was ticked off about how tedious the [draft] process was, so he decided to cast one of most hilarious protest votes in pro sports history. In the 11th round, with the 183rd pick, Imlach selected Taro Tsujimoto of the Tokyo Katanas in the “Japanese league”.

Technology being what it was in 1974, there weren’t many ways for the NHL to check the credential on this “star center”, according to Imlach. The league rubber-stamped it; rival NHL general managers immediately wondered who this mysterious rookie was.

Weeks later, Imlach came clean. There were no Tokyo Katanas–“Katana” being Japanese for “sabre”–and there was no Taro Tsujimoto. Imlach was exasperated by the length of the draft and decided to have a laugh at the its expense. So he made up the pick and submitted it.”


Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

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35. Puss in Boots was a European fairy tale character around long before Shrek 2.
36. [Wikipedia]: “The Great Stink was an event in central London in July and August 1858 during which the hot weather exacerbated the smell of untreated human waste and industrial effluent that was present on the banks of the River Thames.

By June the stench from the river had become so bad that business in Parliament was affected, and the curtains on the river side of the building were soaked in lime chloride to overcome the smell. The measure was not successful, and discussions were held about possibly moving the business of government to Oxford or St Albans.”


Beginning Songwriting by Andrea Stolpe

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37. “There is one chord in a major key that doesn’t sound particularly happy or sad, but more suspicious, confusing, or even simply ‘wrong’.

This is the diminished triad that results by playing a triad starting on the 7 of the C major scale, the B. When we stack the B, D, and F, we call it a B diminished chord, or Bdim for short.”

38. “Crumpled Paper Songwriting Activity: Have each songwriter take out a piece of paper. On the paper, everyone writes something they deeply want to tell someone, but are afraid to. Crumple up the paper, and throw it in the middle of the room.

After everyone has contributed a paper ball, have the songwriters each choose a crumpled paper and unfold it. Each songwriter will write a song based on the idea they chose, perhaps even using the language on the paper as the actual chorus section of the song. Have everyone perform their songs next time the group meets.”


Antarctica by Claire Keegan

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39. Fred and Rosemary West were English serial killers that buried at least 12 victims in their garden and cellar in the 1980s and 1990s without their neighbors knowing.
40. “The air spiked her lungs. Clouds smashed into each other in the sky. She hung her head back to look at them. She wished the world could turn into a fabulous, outrageous red to match her mood.”

Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett

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41. No matter what version of this story I read, I will always picture Scrooge as Michael Caine and every one else as Muppets. 
42. “Was he not enjoying the solitude he had sought his entire life? He was, and that was the bitter realization. For he was so competent, so driven, so independent that, in a temporal sense, he had never really needed anyone. This ability was now his cruse, for he craved a friend in his final hours.

His earthly assets, all of them, were down in the street in the counting-house, measured in ounces and pounds, and by morning, he would have lost his grasp on them. He did not even have a will, having been dissatisfied with simply giving his hard-earned estate to one who had not worked for it. He yearned for someone to tell him his life had been successful, to affirm that the single turn he had gotten upon earth had been well spent.”


What was your favorite passage from a book you read in 2016?

365 Days of Being Grateful

As a kid, my least favorite thing about Thanksgiving was when some cheeseball would inevitably suggest that we go around the table and say one thing we were grateful for. I loathed having to take part in such a campy exercise, and I’d usually resort to my fail-safe answer of ‘modern technology’. 

Ironically, I now force myself to do that very eyeroll-inducing thing three times every morning.

Gratitude is one of the latest self-help trends. Being grateful supposedly improves your self-esteem, mental strength, relationships, productivity, helps you sleep better, and even keeps you from getting sick.  

Basically, if you believe everything you read, being grateful makes you superhuman. 

Despite many of these claims being backed by science, I was skeptical. Even though I was only a sporadic journaler two winters ago (compared to now), I was hesitant to add in yet another supposed-life boosting habit to my daily routine. 

Then, the subject of being grateful daily popped up on an episode of Tim Ferriss’ podcast (I can’t remember specifically which one, though he talks about it again in this episode). What he calls “five-minute journaling” was part of his own morning routine, which even spawned a similarly-named product.

Since following the advice in Ferriss’ first book changed the course of my life, in February 2015 I decided to give being grateful every day a try. In addition to just seeing what all the fuss was about, I used it as a way to also “trick” myself into journaling more regularly. Writing three things in my life that made me happy everyday seemed like a manageable minimum daily “standard” to meet, and if I did feel the need to vomit my soul onto the pages, I was already in position to do that, too.

Even after I began, I wasn’t convinced I would be able to sustain the habit for long–how many different things could I possibly be grateful for?

I get asked this a lot when I talk journaling with people. While at first I tried to avoid repeating things, eventually I gave myself permission to be grateful again for something I had already listed before. For instance, I couldn’t help but laugh at how many times I was grateful that I “caught up on sleep last night” or “let myself sleep in” when I flipped through the previous years’ pages.

What also surprised me was that it was never really difficult at all, and that I have more to be grateful for than I could have ever imagined beforehand. Some were esoteric and sappy; others were trivial and minute, but I can’t recall ever being unable to come up with three things. Soon, the habit became an unconscious one that I have stuck with for over a year now.

I’m not going to say that expressing gratitude has outright made me an overall happier person (and certainly not made my sleep better), but I don’t think pausing every morning to write down three good things in my life has ever started my day off on a bad note. Instead, my brain feels primed to look for more good things to be happy about during the rest of the day.

Finally, reading back through old entries helps me revisit times in my life just as if I had written detailed entries about the day’s activities. Seeing that I was grateful for X on a particular day triggers all sorts of great memories from that day that weren’t explicitly written down (similar to what the 1 Second Everyday app does).

For those that are still a little confused at what their own gratitude journal could look like, I wanted to share some (ok, many) entries of my own from my first year of “appreciation training”. I certainly don’t intend for anyone to read all or even most of these since it is such a large (and personal) list, but I wanted to include as many examples as possible to demonstrate the scope of just how many different things there are to be grateful about. Omitted are many of the duplicate entries (such as the many pertaining to sleep) and ones that make zero sense out of context.

I tried to organize them into different categories, but many of these distinctions are muddled and overlapping. Either way, most of them are as raw as they were when I initially wrote them and are representative of some of my best days, along with some of my worst.

And if the words ‘self-affirmation’ make you dry-heave, now would be the time to click away (or avoid reading the last section).

From Feb. 10, 2015-Feb. 10, 2016 I was grateful for:

META AND THE ESOTERIC

2/10/15: That I am trying this five minute journal thing.
5/12/15: The fact that the world is only imperfect relative to a perfect image that doesn’t exist (Owen Cook quote, not my own)
7/02/15: For everything I am and have, here and now, at 8:40AM MST on July 2nd, 2015 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States, North America, Earth.
7/17/15: That I am finally truly grasping (I think) the concept of impermanence.
10/07/15: Those ‘where the fuck am I’ moments in life, like I had most of yesterday, but especially at happy hour at that table with people from all around the world

THE LITTLE THINGS

2/11/15: Living in a city where I know what is going on and where the places “to be” are
2/11/15: That I can go from listening to sports talk to Sinatra to standup in 20 minutes
2/25/15: My apartment and the pink sunrises I get to see in the morning while I write
3/17/15: That people loan me books
3/27/15: Folk punk
4/01/15: That I seemingly won’t ever get sick of eggs
4/05/15: ER Doctors
4/07/15: Getting out of bed early and getting shit done
4/10/15: Casual Fridays (what every day should be!)
4/30/15: My work laptop, despite its flaws
4/30/15: This journal, regardless of its origin
5/08/15: The rain (except when it congeals into slush that slides into my trunk when I open it)
5/18/15: Music I can listen to for 10+ years and not get tired of (Streetlight)
5/22/15: Four-day workweeks/holiday weekends
5/28/15: Days with few meetings.
6/03/15: Fat, thick, nasty, house basslines.
6/05/15: Taco nights
6/12/15: Cool, rainy mornings
6/12/15: Casual Fridays
6/12/15: Busy weekends
6/13/15: That I love something as much as I do music
6/19/15: The new meditation ideas I learned in Be Here Now
6/23/15: People like Ralph Smart
6/31/15: New music from great bands
6/31/15: Living in a country where women’s sports are celebrated (comparatively)
7/07/15: The amount of amazing road trips I’ve had in my lifetime
7/09/15: That I plan on getting my hair cut today
7/10/15: reddit and all it has taught me
7/10/15: Fridays
8/01/15: That the US’ domestic soccer league is such a great thing to attend
8/04/15: MC Lars being such a down to earth person and inspiration
8/04/15: That August is going to be a great month
8/07/15: That so many people I talk to have some sort of ‘tie’ to Panama
8/11/15: My laid back work environment and no boss this week
8/21/15: That creative genius is so easy to share via the internet
8/21/15: Long lunch breaks and visit to the library
9/04/15: That there’s still places like high country Colorado that still exist relatively undisturbed (all things considered)
9/06/15: That my car has seemingly gotten me all the way home without issue
9/12/15: For the awesome backyard I had to play in when I was younger, and that I have to sit and reflect on in and now.
9/12/15: Getting to experience cool, Ohio fall mornings for the first time in years, where you wake up and the windows are open and your hands feel borderline icy inside the house, but you’d much rather just throw a hoodie on than shut the windows.
9/12/15: Getting to watch Ohio State football with my family again.
9/13/15: Facetime and all the other technology we have today to stay in touch with friends, family, and SOs
9/14/15: The abundance of places like coffee shops that provide solitude, a cheap enjoyable beverage, and a place to be productive
9/14/15: Ohio in the fall
9/14/15: That I paid off my credit card in full yesterday
9/16/15: That there is a place 5 minutes from my parents’ where I can do Olympic lifting
9/29/15: Modern technology and how it can assist in travel
9/30/15: The advent of things like AirBnb that which have made comfortable (and sometimes stylish) travel so affordable
10/01/15: This childhood home I got to grow up in and still visit, particularly how it feels in the fall and winter
10/03/15: Ohio State football and the community that comes along with it
10/03/15: EPL being the adult version of Saturday morning cartoons
10/09/15: Not being deported
10/09/15: How similar hostel life is to college dorms
10/13/15: That everyone here vibrates with a similar “energy”
10/16/15: That my biggest concerns of late are things like “should I go snorkelling or swim in the pool”, “there’s so much glare on my computer screen” and “I hope my girlfriend I talk with and receive adoration from every day doesn’t lose interest in me in < 3 months”
10/20/15: That I am 3/3 with hostels so far, with no horror stories to speak of
10/21/15: That the U.S. isn’t the only country whose kids get to enjoy the benefits of marching band
10/22/15: That something like getting to go over the portfolios of other freelancers and take notes makes me excited to get out of bed in the morning
10/22/15: You know what? I am grateful that the WiFi has been out the past 18 hours or so at the hostel…it has allowed me to see that it really was affecting my mood
10/25/15: This hostel I am at where everything is close, I have met some awesome people, and I don’t feel overly stimulated or pressured to constantly be doing something…and the free coffee
10/26/15: That I’m on a schedule where I can stay up late talking to my girlfriend and then sleep in as needed without consequence, because I can always work more later in the day.
11/02/15: You know what? I’m grateful that sport serves as a connection to home for me here
11/03/15: That I realized yesterday why (part of the reason) I love travel, sports, and people is that I love being around people and events that exude pride about where they are from. I suppose this goes along with being attracted to presence.
11/06/15: The lows before the highs
11/8/15: That my screen is only damaged in the top right corner and not the whole thing.
11/09/15: The energy of cafes/delis/eateries near campuses no matter where in the world you are
AirBnB and the brilliant minds behind it. Along with that,simple quiet rooms, any bed above a twin, and laundry machines
11/16/15: Uber
11/18/15: That Medellin has built itself into what it i today after its past
11/18/15: That not everywhere in Latin America has to be balls hot/humid all the time
11/18/15: Awesome blog post comments from older people telling me I’m on the right path with how I am living my life
11/20/15: That meeting interesting people is and probably always will be as easy as checking into a hostel
11/23/15: Families that enjoy taking in students from all around the world
11/24/15: The view I have from my host family’s balcony that keeps distracting me from my journal
11/25/15: People like Casey Neistat that re-assure me that it’s ok to love work and be happiest when I am working
11/29/15: That I just had a steak as big as my foot and about as thick as a brick with two drinks for $13.
12/09/15: Facetime
12/10/15: Spontaneous invitations–I feel like those are rare in the States
12/10/15: That in Colombia you just pick your city based on what season you want to feel
12/19/15: That I am about to get another stamp in my passport
12/21/15: That you can cook eggs in the microwave
12/27/15: Panamanian hotel breakfasts and their, at-minimum, three types of meat
12/27/15: Things like Facetime, Maps.me, and Uber that have made this trip 1000x easier
12/28/15: That there are now a small number of non-U.S. cities I feel comfortable navigating by the back of my hand.
12/29/15: That I am going to work out today
12/29/15: That I am going to trim my beard today
12/29/15: That I might not leave the hotel today
12/30/15: That WiFi at this hostel or coffee shop didn’t work and I am able to slow down and just journal instead
12/30/15: That I am going to go to an old book museum!
12/30/15: That I have so many things to be grateful for
1/09/16: The Way of Life app which I think will increase my daily habits even more in 2016 (excited to see the data)
1/14/16: All the creators and inventors that have come before me and made this such a great time be alive in history
1/21/16: That I get to touch a barbell today
1/23/16: That hopefully before I die we will have self-driving cars for mass use
2/05/16: Your Import Car Dr. and their awesome service
2/01/16: Even though it has no bearing on me as a freelancer…snow days!
2/06/16: That my car problem was cheap compared to what it could have been
2/08/16: Coffee.
2/10/16: That I have no obligations or plans to day until 7:30PM

FAMILY, FRIENDS, AND RELATIONSHIPS

2/12/15: Being able to talk about sports with people from any corner of the world
2/19/15: Having a good relationship with my parents
2/19/15: Having friends that text me random questions
2/25/15: Friends I see only a few times this year but always hit it off with when I do
3/4/15: Dating someone I feel like I don’t have to impress with extravagant nights out
3/6/15: Having a friend I can talk to that instantly makes everything better
3/18/15: Parents that are accepting of my future travel lifestyle
3/22/15: Friendship that lead to random nights like last night
3/24/15: That I have random people ask me to look at their writing
3/25/15: I know people who have travelled that can give me backpack recommendations
3/25/15: That I have a knowledgeable and (seemingly friendly) CPA
3/26/15: My siblings
3/27/15: That people reach out to me for advice
4/10/15: My siblings
4/13/15: That my parents have become so supportive of my plan to travel
4/28/15: That I can argue with my brother and it not be a big deal.
4/28/15: Friends sending me old funny pictures
5/1/15: My friends
5/1/15: Nights like tonight where I have four things going on to choose from
5/10/15: Having a friend like Daniel that puts my little “problems” into perspective
5/11/15: My mom!
5/21/15: I have friends that want to share their writing with me
5/26/15: The opportunity to go to places like Portland and meet my friend’s friends
5/31/15: I have someone to be neurotic about
5/31/15: She is not my world and I have so much else going on in my life
6/1/15: Friends like Alicia
6/2/15: Elaine and our conversations and memories
6/5/15: Time spent with Elena
6/7/15: That I can make friends anywhere I go
6/13/15: That what I think are big problems in my head sound ridiculous when I say them to Elaine or Christina
6/15/15: That all my parents and siblings are still in my life
6/19/15: That I care so much (about the right people)
6/19/15: Getting to witness and be in my good friend’s wedding
6/30/15: Ben and I’s early morning phone calls
6/30/15: That I have friends like Ashley that can just drop in to talk about feelings and stuff
6/30/15: Early morning texts from friends
7/1/15: That I have friends to watch soccer with
7/1/15: That friends want me to look over their resumes
7/7/15: The look on a woman’s face when you tell them that you love them for the first time
7/8/15: That saying and hearing “I love you” for the first time is something that only happens a handful of times in one’s life
7/17/15: That in relationships I am an accountable person
7/29/15: That I can emotionally vomit to my girlfriend and it’s no big deal
9/5/15: That I have places across the country to stay with people and witness different lifestyles and ways of living (making me grateful of my own)
9/6/15: That after I stay with people or do things with them I get texts afterwards saying it was good to see me, etc.
9/8/15: Despite small annoyances, getting to live/belong to a such a sane and together family, one I am never really hesitant about introducing people to
9/9/15: That my parents both work two jobs…I guess I didn’t realize this in those exact words
9/11/15: That I can dip my feet back into the waters of weed/booze now and again (just to say I visit) and not drown.
9/17/15: That I have an awesome brother and sister-in-law with an awesome house to stay in and have a good time with others
9/18/15: Elena arrives tonight! And that this week has gone so fast and that we’ve had contact every day!
9/18/15: I get to sleep with my girlfriend in my childhood home tonight in my arms.
9/19/15: That saying bye in the airport was so hard
9/19/15: But that we are (I think) going about this whole thing rationally and maturely
9/20/15: That I’m not embarrassed in any way to take people to my home or introduce them to my family
9/24/15: That the amount of people I know that want to see me feels like a burden #firstworldproblems
9/25/15: That I know so many people still in the amazing city of Columbus
9/26/15: That my parents are getting their passport applications turned in today
10/1/15: That even though it’s gotten me behind on some work, that I am taking the time to try and sit/hang out with mom and dad.
10/3/15: That I get along with Ben’s friends
10/4/15: Really, the support from 99% of the people in my life regarding this trip
10/4/15: That my biggest “nitpick” about my family is that their energy/optimism level isn’t the same as mine, which is silly since not everyone can be like that.
10/4/15: That my girlfriend and I are equally sentimental to each other and equally committed in making this work. And that moments and what made us ‘us’ is as equally as important to her as it is me.
10/8/15: Friendly people in hostels that, whether they are doing it consciously or not, take me under their wing to a degree
10/8/15: That I have someone I am loyal to.
10/9/15: That feeling of knowing someone your whole life when really it’s been 24 hours
10/27/15: That there are people like Frank in the world where my brain actually feels alive after talking to
10/28/15: That the world is a small enough place that I spent the morning talking to the man in the bunk next to me who lives a mile away from where I did in Colorado Springs
11/2/15: That my girlfriend says sentences like “that’s why I had to stop playing Pokemon”
11/5/15: That I have friends that text me like I’m not 2000 miles away, but still hanging out with them every night.
11/11/15: Erin’s coming today!
11/12/15: That my sister and I have become closer
11/17/15: All the amazing characters I have met on this trip that may have sent me messages on Facebook or connected with me in some way
11/20/15: New friends that feel like old friends
12/6/15: That I have friends to share both my niche and major sports interests with
12/6/15: That I know people all over the world
12/6/15: The beauty and serendipity of fleeting human interaction–just how quickly most people enter and exit your life. I like the lack of attachment associated I guess? But then it just goes to make those fleeting instances into something more that much more special
12/10/15: That my family has so many Christmas traditions
12/14/15: That, as the Argentine girl volunteering at the hostel put it, travel is the best school.
12/18/15: All the great people I have met in Colombia
12/29/15: That I am going to see my family in <72 hours
1/8/16: That I love my family and I am always welcomed home indefinitely (within reason)
1/9/16: That I have so many friends I don’t skip a beat with and that I have to reminisce about the past with
1/15/16: That I have met–and allowed someone to remain in my life that makes me so incredibly happy
1/15/16: That the wait is over
1/19/16: That we decided to try long distance
1/19/16: That is wasn’t that hard all things considered
1/22/16: That I know so many great people here that it’d be a chore to catch with them all quickly
1/26/16: I have someone to be goofy with in the morning
1/31/16: That I get to live and further share my life with such an amazing person that I love so much
2/9/16: I get to live with and somewhat take care of a cat.
2/10/16: I know so many interesting people and places that would make good stories

OPPORTUNITIES

2/10/15: Getting to work for a big time client that I think can take me places
2/12/15: The amount of freelance work I have to do
5/4/15: That my job has enough variety to have me be cranky about not being able to get into a groove (sometimes)
5/6/15: That my biggest complaint about my job is that I have too many meetings
5/27/15: That my freelance clients have been imposing deadlines on me, making me a much more efficient writer
5/29/15: That I get to go to South Dakota
6/6/15: Getting to work international sporting events (World Archery Youth Championships in Yankton, SD) and interact with people all over the world.
6/10/15: That I have the challenge of managing someone
6/28/15: That I’m about to jump out of a plane
6/29/15: That I said ‘fuck it’ and went skydiving
7/1/15: When the muse visits
7/7/15: The investments my employer makes in me
7/23/25: That I get to go to a float tank for my birthday present!
7/30/15: That I get to go to Seattle!
8/5/15: Every freelance assignment I get
9/12/15: That I get to live under the roof of my adoring parents, rent free, for this period of time and that I am seeing them more now than if I were to come home for the holidays like I had been doing.
11/8/15: That I was able to end up yesterday in some place that I am knowledgeable about and is safe.
11/18/15: Living with a 60 (?) year old German-speaking Colombian woman in her beautiful apartment that she mops for seemingly four hours a day while listening to meditation music
11/19/15: How cheap travel is if I weren’t doing the Spanish schools
11/22/15: That today I am moving into a scary experience yet one that will be great for me
11/26/15: That, including work-to-be-done, I am something like $50 away from reaching my goal of quadrupling my income for the year.
12/13/15: That I have a life where I can just be like “ehhhh I think I’ll go to Curacao for a week”
12/16/15: The awesome people and places I keep encountering through AirBnb.
12/18/15: That I have the dilemma of taking more regular work for slightly less money
12/20/15: That Medellin/Colombia spoiled me
1/3/16: For the adventure behind.
1/3/16: For the adventure ahead.
1/8/16: That more and more my life is shifting toward just being filled with what I want to do, when I want to do it.
1/12/16: I am getting to experience cozy, snowy days inside my childhood home again
1/18/16: Freelance life and that this is exactly how I like to work and start my day
1/28/16: This period in my life and the the uncertainty before me
2/2/16: Freelancer life
2/10/16: That I live someplace that people want to visit
2/13/16: That COS (Even if it’s just COS) is exposing me to new things like kava

SELF

2/10/15: Loving who I see in the mirror each morning
3/15/15: How I can think I am socially hopeless not even a week ago and now feel close to my socially strongest
3/20/15: My openness to new music
3/20/15: Even though I go through periods where I have trouble staying with it, my overall persistence with meditation
3/23/15: That I don’t settle
3/24/15: That I put pressure on myself to be better
3/27/15: That I am not that jealous a person anymore (at least compared to who I used to be)
3/29/15: Realizing I need to cut out alcohol and certain groups of people
4/1/15: That I was just like “Ima write a poem” and then I did
4/8/15: My ability to be alone.
4/15/15: My resilience, even when I try and convince myself I am not.
4/17/15: That I question my value and place in the world
4/20/15: My life as it is now.
4/20/15: Being grateful for #1
4/20/15: That I pursue what I love most.
4/29/15: My body
4/29/15: My mind
4/29/15: My spirit
4/30/15: How much I’ve grown
5/1/15: That I have become self-aware enough to know to “reset” my brain (sleep, meditation, cutting out distractions)
5/4/15: That (I think) I am learning to do less, or at least put less pressure on myself to do more
5/5/15: That I feel like I am leveling up
5/7/15: My kickass morning routine
5/7/15: That I think I have finally eradicated a large portion of the jealousy I used to carry with me…some that mindset, some because I’m so happy with who I’ve become
5/14/15: My life
5/14/15: My energy
5/14/15: The fact that I will be ok, always
5/18/15: My strength to overcome negative emotions and thought patterns
5/29/15: That when I really like someone I put a lot of effort into dates
5/30/15: That I have someone I care for enough to worry about a couple of sentences I sent in a conversation over three hours ago
5/30/15: ^^That I’ll get over this, too.
5/31/15: I seek knowledge about my neurosis and how to overcome them
6/2/15: How diverse and well-rounded my life is
6/2/15: How fast I can bounce back from a “down day” and get the “spark” back
6/3/15: For my gumption/balls/idiocy to do what many talk about and never do and buy the ticket.
6/8/15: My analysis and self-reflection, even if it drives me batshit a lot of the time.
6/10/15: My height
6/18/15: The progress I have made with meditation
6/18/15: That people want me to do writing for them.
6/22/15: That I am starting to focus on doing less
6/25/15: Everything in my life
7/14/15: This moment in time where I have a guaranteed source of income, a solidified social circle, comfortable dwelling, and love.
7/15/15: That I am taking a step many only dream about
7/15/15: That it’s not easy to do (meaning I have had a good time here)
7/15/15: That I am able to recognize when it is time for me to go
7/22/15: That I’m not dreading turning 27 soon
7/22/15: That putting in my five weeks has started to make me look (even more) at what I value most
7/28/15: That leaving is hard, not easy
7/28/15: That I know how to pick myself up and feel better in just a few a days
7/28/15: That I have ties in both the MLS and Olympic worlds
8/10/15: That I find it relatively easy to get rid of my belongings
8/11/15: That I am a hopeless romantic
8/14/15: That I am a happy person overall
8/15/15: That I feel minorly obsessed with learning Spanish
8/17/15: That my childhood self would be proud of me
8/17/15: Who I’ve become and who I will be
8/28/15: MY LAST DAY AT USADA
8/28/15: That I don’t have to sit in a cube for at least a while
9/5/15: That I feel like I can help and inspire people
9/5/15: That I basically view my life as one big video game map to explore with a shit ton of NPCs to interact with
9/6/15: That I am not shy about eating or exploring places by myself
9/11/15: That I can see how I have grown every time I come back to this town
9/12/15: The heightened awareness and vivid clarity I gain from just 11 minutes of sitting, especially considering I still have many things to “learn” about meditation
9/14/15: That I’m not old enough yet where 3 beers gives me a *complete* hangover
9/17/15: That I will continue to pay off my credit card every month in full form here on out
9/18/15: That I am not going to get my haircut this week, as I feel like I lean on it too much as a way to draw satisfaction from an external source
9/18/15: That all things considered (and barring financial catastrophe) I am in a good spot
9/18/15: That I haven’t stressed hardly at all over my texts like the last 36 hours or so…hopefully this anxiety will just be another one of those things I’ll look back on and laugh about in the future.
9/19/15: That I am starting to get into a frugal mindset
9/20/15: That I enjoy reading classics
9/24/15: That I am a seeker: for what I love to do, where I love to be, and for someone great to love that is good for me.
9/24/15; How comfortable and confident I feel in (most) bar settings
9/28/15: The ability to think rationally (or what I think is) about short versus long term gratification
10/6/15: That I am somewhat wildly uncomfortable now, in that my tongue feels tied and my ears plugged whenever I try and talk to someone
10/6/15: That I made this happen…from daydreams in a cubicle to actually buying the ticket to eating steak for breakfast.
10/8/15: That I am ok with not vibing with everyone.
10/17/15: Fuck it, that I am going to change the world
10/20/15: I am going to throw myself into learning Spanish at all costs
10/21/15: That I am meeting more people at this hostel now and that really my social skills are to the point where most people I vibe with I will find, I moreso just need to relax and do me as opposed to exerting any sort of actual effort.
10/22/15: That I enjoy/don’t mind cooking for myself
10/25/15: That whenever I seemingly have (unwarranted) doubts about relationship things, a slew of tests or other forms of contact ease my worries (though even when there’s periods of times where there aren’t those types of things I feel more at ease)
10/27/15: That I am going to have a lifetime full of interesting stories and experiences–I have too much momentum and a taste for it now.
10/30/15: That every older person I meet (and I guess all ages) speaks with admiration about what I’m doing. I know it was just a decision, and I know it was a very good one for me to make, but it’s a little nice to have affirmation and support from strangers.
10/30/15: That my “low” moments don’t seem to last that long/I know ways to generally pull myself out
10/30/15: That I have something like writing I can always turn to when I’m say, happy, in need of a distraction, etc.
10/30/15: That I can’t imagine not writing now that I have begun
10/31/15: That even when I think my social skills have faded, I can switch back on and feel so damn comfortable in skin with complete strangers
11/1/15: That I am unashamedly independent and there are others like me
11/1/15: That all things considered, my Spanish is improving and at times it’s ‘unconscious’
11/2/15: That I get to tell people I am a writer
11/4/15: That I read things like The Zahir that tell me exactly what I need to hear right now in terms of letting go of the past, if you tell a story a certain way about the past you haven’t moved on, or if you say it another way then it’s like you’re talking about a different person, which shows you have moved on immensely.
11/10/15: Meeting a fellow digital nomad re-confirmed again everything I was reading/telling people last week
11/11/15: That I don’t feel good when I don’t work out
11/19/15: The amount of personal work I am getting done and how hard it is for me to tear myself away, the point where it makes me late for things
11/21/15: How easy it is for me via technology to “surround” myself with the voices and work of highly creative and inspirational people.
11/21/15: That I am in the midst of one of the most creative and productive times of my life at the moment.
11/24/15: That I have to try and start thinking in Spanish before I am even remotely awake
11/29/15: That everything will be ok work-wise and that I am crazy enough to take the leaps of faith I have taken in my life.
12/1/15: That I self-examine often why the fuck I drink. More and more I question it’s place in my life and I bet it will have an increasingly smaller place in my life as I get older.
12/2/15: That last night I am pretty sure I had my first dream sequence in Spanish.
12/3/15: That I am me.
12/11/15: That I made the choice to do this–all of this. Freelancing, quitting, travel…everything.
12/13/15: My propensity to seek out and try new things
12/13/15: That I am living my dream
12/14/15: How much I enjoy reading and doing my annual books post
12/20/15: That I can recognize (usually, I think) when I am just being hangry/annoyed by stupid shit like a sick guy on the plane touching my shit, taking my seat, and a rude customs agent
12/21/15: That I know what my mission: To help other people live better lives through writing
12/23/15: That I know when I go back I will be building myself on top of a stronger foundation
1/3/16: That I did this
1/8/16: That I do like cooking for other people now and again and that I can just look at a recipe and “go for it”
1/9/16: That I started meditating that autumn afternoon 3+ years ago
1/9/16: How overall I am pleased with myself and life situation at the moment
1/11/16: That I went ahead and shared my 2015/16 review post on FB even though it makes me feel like a narcissistic douchecanoe.
1/22/16: My life, always, but especially these days
1/23/16: That I can express my frustration at situation and not at people
1/27/16: That it’s my half birthday, I guess?
1/27/16: That the first 2.5 years I lived here I put myself out there or at least put myself in the right groups
1/28/16: That I overanalyze as opposed to underanalyze
2/11/16: A simple diet (and fast metabolism) that lets me snack seemingly all day with little consequence to my appearance
2/12/16: How energized I feel socially by having so much time to recharge and not be around people I don’t want to be around all day.
2/13/16: Fuck it, that I like cats and like caring for them

What are you grateful for today?

2015: A Year In Review and 2016 Outlook

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” 

–Rumi

Last year I went a little overboard with my year-end goals, especially because one of my biggest ones—quitting my office job in order to go travel—turned my life situation on its head a little bit.

Grand in theory, I had made whole a list of goals in different categories of my life (inspired by Chris Guilleabeau’s Pursuit of Happiness), and then set quarterly reminders on my Google Calendar to check in and see how I was doing. While I did exactly that at the end of March and found it somewhat helpful, the travel goal and everything that went along with it kind of put everything else (including check-ins) on the way side.

Not that I am complaining of course.

Really, my only goal is to make the current year better than the last, and there’s no debate that 2015 was easily the best year of my life (so far).

In the end, as narcissistic as I feel sharing this type of thing, I like doing these self-check ins for a few big reasons:

1. Writing all this down and putting it in a public forum puts pressure on me (the good kind) to actually keep doing things worth writing about and to put in real work toward my goals

2. It’s becoming a sort of digital journal or scrapbook I can look back on for fun someday (2012/13, 2013/14, 2014/15)

This year, I reverted back more to semi-following Sean Ogle’s YIR format in addition to giving myself about an hour to write freeflow in my journal about the year just to see what kind of thoughts and details emerged. That included about two-pages worth (meaning about every square inch of the page, dramatic grade-school girl style) of just random memories that I know I will value having the rest of the my life.

Sparing the details of all that though, here is an abridged  and organized version of that freeflow.

Six 2015 Goals I Accomplished

1. More than quadrupled my freelancing income

Keep in mind that this is a 9 vs. 12 month comparison (since I officially started freelancing in April of 2014). Nevertheless, things have developed faster than I ever thought possible, to the point where I am now officially a fulltime freelancer (and I guess no longer have my starving writer cred). In addition to getting to do work for a variety of interesting organizations, I was also lucky enough to be able to edit a friend’s first book.

More than just money though, also improved was my writing ability as a whole—facing deadlines 4-5+ times a week allows little time to procrastinate or have ‘writer’s block’, and I noticed my first drafts of pieces for clients get exponentially better throughout the year, drastically reducing the amount of time I needed to spend editing my own work. Hopefully that will transfer for over to writing things quicker for my own site…

2. Quit My Office Job

As I’ve said before, my last office job was fantastic and I couldn’t have dreamt of anything better for me at that stage in my life. Which is why it was so hard (and scary) to cut the cord and quit so I could write and travel more. Really, I now probably work the same amount (if not more), but the difference is that it’s all on my own terms (and often in my blogger slacks).

3. Traveled Outside My Country For The First Time

Much more will be written about this, but I took a three month trip to Panama, Colombia, and Curacao that helped me shake an irrational, unfounded, and insecure feeling that I was less of a person for never having traveled.  It was everything I hoped and more, and while I don’t think the perpetual ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle is for me (maybe a month-long trip once or twice a year), I think it’s a time in my life I will look back on as a kind of rite-of-passage.

Plus my Spanish is now functional (aka I didn’t starve) and slightly above Peggy Hill-level.  

4. Wrote the Next Book

It’s an extremely (extremely) rough draft, but on the aforementioned trip I was able to write the first draft of my next book in a frantic (manic?) 2-3 week period. It’s in the “sit in a desk drawer so I can distance/hide myself from it for a few weeks then go back and see just how rough it is” stage, but I look forward to slaughtering it with red ink in early 2016.

5. New Habits

In early 2015 I began and stuck with* two new habits that I shamelessly ripped from The Tim Ferriss Show.

The first was keeping what he calls a “five-minute journal” where at minimum, I write answers to three short questions (the same ones every day) each morning and two at night. I had been pretty good about journaling in the past, but it was more intermittent as opposed to a true daily habit. Following the format over at FiveMinuteJournal.com made it so that even if I didn’t feel like writing that day, I knew I could scribble something down and get the task out of the way in two minutes or less. The questions are open-ended enough so that I can also go off on one thing for a page or two without feeling like I am breaking any “rules.”

The second is that I started taking ice showers first thing every morning (*this was pre-trip; there wasn’t a lot of ice water in the pipes to go around in South America). Among the many benefits I experienced from just 30 seconds each morning, I felt that it reduced my need to drink as much coffee (always a goal of mine) in order to wake up. I also didn’t get sick once in 2015 so who knows if that played a part.¯\_(ツ)_/¯

6. Bucket List Progress

Went to five new states, putting me at 35/50 Went to a new continent (now 2/7) To the dismay of many family members and small timid animals everywhere, I grew a beard. Went skydiving

Go skydiving Went to MLS games in two more cities (now 6/20) Went to Ohio State at Indiana, (3/14 Big Ten stadiums)

Five Random Awesome Moments or Memories

1. My First Night Ever Out Of My Own Country

I started to describe what this was like in detail but realized it should probably just be a post of its own. But one particularly great moment was the involuntary ear-to-ear smile that came over me when I was realized I was sitting in a Panama City hostel courtyard 2,000+ miles from home drinking .50 cent Balboas with:

• Two South African surfers who obsessively tracked down to the penny how much they spent each day
• A lifetime traveler from Milan
• Four Venezuelans who came to Panama for work
• A Swiss girl that has the people she meets on the road sign their name, where they met her, and their favorite song
• A guy from Alaska that normally doesn’t stay in hostels, but instead just slings his hammock wherever he can find two secluded poles
• And of course, many Aussies

For the rest of my life, if I am ever in need of inspiration for characters to write about I am just going to check myself into a hostel, for this type of ensemble became a routine encounter at just about every place I stopped.

2. Clean and jerking 100kg (220 lbs) for the first time

I had been chasing 100 seemingly forever so I was extremely pleased to hit it in a competition (and in the 77kg weight class but only weighing in at around 73kg, to boot).

3. Seeing Some Of The Most Amazing Places On Earth

…several with someone I am madly in love with (too much?):

  • The Panama Canal

Canal

  • El Peñón de Guatapé | Guatapé, Colombia

Guatape

Sunrise-at-Maroon-Bells

  • Great Sand Dune National Park | Alamosa, CO

sandunes

  • Delicate Arch | Moab, UT (Wikimedia Commons photo)

800px-Delicate_arch_sunset

…and several others.

4. Kicking It With My Favorite English Major Rapper

Ahead of us going to see him at Warped Tour and as a surprise birthday gift, my girlfriend sneakily emailed one of my biggest influences and favorite musicians, MC Lars, with a special request. During his final song, he welcomed me by name on stage and told me good luck in Panama. One of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me (her and him).

5. The Trip

I wanted to do a solo trip where I just worked from my laptop ever since I read the 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss in 2012. While digital nomadism is far from all it’s cracked up to be and I think I have scratched that itch hard and good for the forseeable future, I’m of course incredibly glad I did it for more reason than I could begin to list.

Plus, it gave me a ton of material for new posts, and some ideas which I may even pitch to some travel magazines/sites.

Five Things I Failed (Or Otherwise Sucked Hard) At

1. Social Experiment III

I tried putting it out publicly online so I’d feel pressure; I told friends about it; hell, I even started it—but after about four days I threw in the towel on doing my third social experiment. It was a decent idea, I think—just not for me.

With everything else I had going on, I wasn’t particularly inspired or challenged by it at the time. Maybe I’ll give it—or something even better—another go sometime this year.

2. Being Too Routine Reliant

I love me a good routine. And during three months of travel that was something very hard to establish.

There is something to be said for doing things (in the morning especially) that set you up to be in a good mood for the rest of the day, but I feel that many days I sort of just threw in the towel both socially and mentally because I wasn’t able to eat my five cage-free scrambled eggs and grass-fed potatoes slathered in salsa and sunbutter after my morning sunrise salutations and bed of fire nails walk the way wanted to do it.

In short, I felt like a whiny bitch a lot of the time. The funny thing is I can remember feeling like that in my pre-trip life after three or four days, so it’s definitely something I think I need to “wean” myself off of just in terms of not basing my mood so much off of external sources so much.

3. Social Stagnation

Thanks to things like 90 Strangers and generally obsessing over the topic, I like to think I can talk to anyone, anywhere. However, I feel that sometimes that thought itself has put my actual motivation to do so in a backslide. As in, that just knowing I can talk to anyone is just enough, and that I miss out on starting some could-be interesting conversations simply because my brain is like “Eh, I could chat up this dude with a cat on their head, but I just don’t feel like it right now”.

I am well past the “I HAVE SOCIAL SKILLS I MUST TO TALK TO EVERYONE” stage (which frankly gets exhausting and counter-productive after a while, more on that in my book ;)…), but I think sometimes I get a little too lazy with it.

4. Chilling the Fuck Out

Rarely having issues with motivation (to work on writing and related projects) is a double-edged sword. On one end, I do get a lot done. On the other, I still often feel like I get nothing done, thus pushing me to either want to work on things or think about working on things most of the day.

I am fortunate that I love to work (on clients’ projects and my own) and that it doesn’t really feel like work in the first place. But when it keeps me from being as engaged in conversation with friends or enjoying a movie or whatever as much as I feel like I should be, I think it’s become a minor problem.

5. Not Drinking Coffee After 11AM

I don’t know if I anticipated that I would be setting foot in Colombia or Panama when I made that goal last year. 

2016 Goals

When I was journaling about the year, I felt it was much more positive to write goals in terms of “it’d be awesome if this happened” as opposed to the traditional way which I feel somewhat instills a failure mindset.

So, 2016 will be extra-awesome if I (but if not then totally like whatever)…

1. Increase my freelancing income by 2.5x (you can help me achieve this here…)

2. Acquire a publisher for my new book (or just release it for free)

3. Share more of my personal writing on here and on Instagram–we’ll say 20 posts on each

4. Overhaul AndrewElsass.com (at least the homepage) to communicate my services and products quicker

5. Visit at least three new states (looking at you Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma), three new countries, and one new continent

6. Watch one movie a week

7. Read 25 books (at least five about writing)

8. Never answer the question “how’s it going?” with that awful humblebrag, “Busy.”

9. Continue using the Way of Life app to track a number of daily habits I hope to do for 90% of the year: three cups of coffee or less, no alcohol, meditate 10 minutes, read 20 minutes, journal, complete 100 Anki Spanish flashcards.

10. Call people more for no reason; think less when writing texts; smile more; volunteer for something or several somethings; stretch more; keep the phone in my pants when with friends; don’t feel self-conscious about sharing your work (like this post) with people; nurture the friendships I have instead of chasing ones that I think could be ‘something’ someday; do more things not because they are pragmatic toward any overarching goal but just for the sake doing it; enjoy the familiar and take pride in it; let go; and always keep in mind John C. Maxwell: “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.”

And more than anything (which goes against much of what I have written above), try and live by the words of Tim Kreider:

42 Things I Learned From 21 Books In 2015

Also check out my lists from 2012, 2013, and 2014. Credit to this old post of Julien Smith’s for the idea. 

Every year I make it my goal to read at least 20 books, and thanks to ample travel time in 2015 I was able to hit that mark for the third year running.

As I read, I like to take notes in Evernote which can be anything from quotes, the main ideas of a chapter, to entire passages. I can then easily skim over these if I want to remind myself of a book’s message or if I need to find something I want to reference in my own writing.

It’s also fun for me every December to look back on these notes and share two of my favorite snippets or observations from each, and also possibly introduce to someone a new book they might enjoy. Text in italics is taken straight from the author:

Rework by Jason Fried

1. The real world isn’t a place, it’s an excuse. It’s a justification for not trying. It has nothing to do with you.

Rework

2. The startup is a magical place. It’s a place where expenses are someone else’s problem. It’s a place where that pesky thing called revenue is never an issue. It’s a place where you can spend other people’s money until you figure out a way to make your own. It’s a place where the laws of business physics don’t apply.

The problem with this magical place is it’s fairy tale. The truth is every business, new or old, is governed by the same set of market forces and economic rules. Revenue in, expenses out. Turn a profit or wind up gone.

Startups try to ignore this reality. They are run by people trying to postpone the inevitable, i.e., that moment when their business has to grow up, turn a profit, and be a real, sustainable business.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

3. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.

the-alchemist

4. Now that I see how immense my possibilities are, I’m going to feel worse than I did before you arrived. Because I know the things I should be able to accomplish, and I don’t want to do so.

Redefine Yourself by Michael Moody

 5. Editing a book  is every bit as exhausting, exciting, and rewarding as writing one is.

Redefine

 6. When changing a habit, most people try to erase the whole formula and completely remove themselves from the habit (not just the bad routine but the cue and reward as well). Unfortunately, the reward and cue are too ingrained in us to simply extinguish. Even if we try to escape it, there may always be something in our environment that triggers your routine. We need to insert a new routine, keep the old cue and deliver the old reward. 

Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

7. One night she came back from her daily walk stunned by the revelation that one could be happy not only without love, but despite it.

marquez

8. He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past. But when he stood at the railing of the ship… only then did he understand to what extent he had been an easy victim to the charitable deceptions of nostalgia.

The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton

9. Nowhere is the appeal of the airport more concentrated than in the television screens that hang in rows from the terminal ceilings to announce the departure and arrival of flights, whose absence of aesthetic self-consciousness and whose workmanlike casing and pedestrian typefaces do nothing to disguise their emotional charge and imaginative allure. Tokyo, Amsterdam, Istanbul; Warsaw, Seattle, Rio…

The constant calls of the screens, some accompanied by the impatient pulsing of a cursor, suggest with what ease our seemingly entrenched lives might be altered were we simply to walk down a corridor and onto a craft that in a few hours would land us in a place of which we had no memories and where no one know our name. How pleasant to hold in mind through the crevasses of our moods, at three in the afternoon… that there is always a plane taking off for somewhere, for Baudelaire’s ‘anywhere! anywhere!’: Trieste, Zurich, Paris.

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10. Why be seduced by something as small as a front door in another country? Why fall in love with a place because it has trams and its people seldom have curtains in their homes? However absurd the intense reactions provoked by such small (and mute) foreign elements may seem, the pattern is at least familiar from our personal lives.

There, too, we may find ourselves anchoring emotions of love on the way a person butters his or her bread, or recoiling at his or her taste in shoes. To condemn ourselves for these minute concerns is to ignore how rich in meaning details may be.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher

(Who knew I would have such an affinity toward a modern adapation of something written in old English…)

11. [They shoot, Greedo dies.

[To innkeeper:] Pray, goodly Sir, forgive me for the mess.

[Aside:] And whether I shot first, I’ll ne’er confess! [Exeunt.”

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12. Trooper: I prithee, speak, how long has thou these droids?

Luke: ‘Tis three, or mayhap four full seasons now.

Obi-Wan: We are prepar’d to sell them, should thou wish.

Trooper: Pray, show me now thy papers.

Obi-Wan: –Nay, thou dost

Not need to see his papers.

Trooper: –Nay, we do

Not need to see his papers.

Obi-Wan: True it is,

That these are not the droids for which thou search’st.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

13. If you care about being thought credible and intelligent, do not use complex language where simpler language will do. My Princeton colleague Danny Oppenheimer refuted a myth prevalent among undergraduates about the vocabulary that professors find most impressive. In an article titled “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly,” he showed that couching familiar ideas in pretentious language is taken as a sign of poor intelligence and low credibility.

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14. Mutual funds are run by highly experienced and hard-working professionals who buy and sell stocks to achieve the best possible results for their clients. Nevertheless, the evidence from more than 50 years of research is conclusive: for a large majority of fund managers, the selection of stocks is more like rolling dice than like playing poker. At least two out of every three mutual funds underperform the overall market in any given year.

More important, the year-to-year correlation among the outcomes of mutual funds is very small, barely different from zero. The funds that were successful in any given year were mostly lucky; they had a good roll of the dice. There is general agreement among researchers that this is true for nearly all stock pickers, whether they know it or not — and most do not. The subjective experience of traders is that they are making sensible, educated guesses in a situation of great uncertainty. In highly efficient markets, however, educated guesses are not more accurate than blind guesses.

Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut

15. Vonnegut invented the iPad and the internet before either existed (and featured it in this book).

Galapagos
16. “For some people, getting pregnant is as easy as catching cold.” And there certainly was an analogy there: colds and babies were both caused by germs which loved nothing so much as a mucous membrane.

It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be by Paul Arden

17. Do not put your cleverness in front of the communication.

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18. Do not try to win awards. Nearly everybody likes to win awards…they create glamour and glamour creates income. But beware. Awards are judged in committee by consensus of what is known. In other words, what is in fashion. But originality can’t be fashionable, because it hasn’t as yet had the approval of the committee. Do not try to follow fashion. Be true to your subject and you will be far more likely to create something that is timeless. That’s where the true art lies.

The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna

19. Picasso had incredible talent, but the secret to his genius was this—Picasso’s life blended seamlessly with his work: What he did was what he was. What he did was what he was.

What if who we are and what we do become one and the same? What if our work is so thoroughly autobiographical that we can’t parse the product from the person? What if our jobs are our careers and our callings? In this place, job descriptions and titles no longer make sense; we no longer go to work, we are the work.

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20. So now what?

Just get up and work every day?

Yes.

Alone?

Most likely.

For what?

Unclear.

For whom?

Yourself.

For how long?

No one knows.

Why?

Because you’ve got to.

But what if I fail?

You will.

And then what?

You get to decide if you keep doing this.

Is this a bad idea?

There’s no such thing.

But what if it’s horrible?

Stop doubting. Start doing.

Will we have this conversation again tomorrow?

If you wish.

Where does it all lead?

Grab the nearest tool. Work. And in time, you will know.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

21. Part of the appeal of Jim Henson and the Muppets to the show’s creators, in fact, was that in the 1960s Henson had been running a highly successful advertising shop. Many of the most famous Muppets were created for ad campaigns: Big Bird is really a variation of a seven foot dragon created by Henson for La Choy commercials; Cookie Monster was a pitchman for Frito Lay; Grover was used in promotional films for IBM.

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22. When two people talk, their volume and pitch fall into balance. What linguists call speech rate—the number of speech sounds per second—equalizes. So does what is known as latency, the period of lime that lapses between the moment one speaker stops talking and the moment the other speaker begins. Two people may arrive at a conversation with very different conversational patterns.

But almost instantly they reach a common ground. We all do it, all the time. Babies as young as one or two days old synchronize their head, elbow, shoulder, hip, and foot movements with the speech patterns of adults. Synchrony has even been found in the interactions of humans and apes. It’s part of the way we are hardwired.

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

23. I glance over at Jamie. He is unflappable, never looks confused, but also never seems to entirely grasp what is going on around him. Maybe he should be a writer.

Poets

24.  He is at least 80 pounds lighter. The suburban sprawl that used to spill over his substantial belt has been zoned out of existence, and standing in front of me is a guy in size 33 Wranglers, craggy, gaunt and gray, like one of those aging Grand Ole Opry stars right before they die of lung cancer.

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

25. An editor is ruthless in making every word count. Instead of saying it in two sentences, can you say it in one? Is it possible to use one word where two are currently being used? There are two basic questions the editor should be addressing to the author: “Are you saying what you want to say?” and, “Are you saying it as clearly and concisely as possible?”

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26. What if businesses eliminated meaningless meetings and replaced them with space for people to think and work on their most important projects? What if employees pushed back against timewasting e-mail chains, purposeless projects, and unproductive meetings so they could be utilized at their highest level of contribution to their companies and in their careers? What if society stopped telling us to buy more stuff and instead allowed us to create more space to breathe and think? What if society encouraged us to reject what has been accurately described as doing things we detest, to buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like?

What if we stopped being oversold the value of having more and being undersold the value of having less? What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?

Escape Plan: Working on the Road by Nora Dunn

27. Traveling full-time can actually cost far less than it does to live in one place. This is due to a number of cost-saving factors, ranging from volunteering/working in trade for free accommodation, to using frequent flyer miles, spending time in places where the cost of living is cheaper (sometimes), and judiciously monitoring your spending (by not playing the tourist and treating your lifestyle as a vacation with tours, buying souvenirs, and other vacation-centric activities). 

In general, you will find that the faster you travel, the more money you’ll spend, and the less time you’ll have to balance your work requirements with soaking in the ever-changing sights.

escape plan
28. I carry a USB stick at all times with my pertinent information on it. Not only do I have digital photos of all my identification, but I also have important phone numbers, banking information, and passwords. It’s all encrypted, so if the USB stick goes missing, nobody can access this information without the master password.

Not only that, but I carry the USB stick in a special small pocket underneath my clothing, along with some local currency. It is a true last resort in case I lose absolutely everything.

Be Here Now by Jason Fried

29. So: I can do nothing for you but work on myself…you can do nothing for me but work on yourself!

BeHEreNow

30. And you finally understand, the message you communicate with another human being has nothing to do with what you say, it has nothing to do with the look of the musculature of your face, it’s much deeper than that. MUCH DEEPER!

IT’S THE VIBRATIONS THAT EMANATE FROM YOU

If your vibrations are paranoid, that’s what’s being received. And when you’re around pets (birds or cats particularly) or very young children or very flipped out psychotics they will know you immediately you can come and say ‘hello dear, how are you?’ and the dog will growl….you can’t come on because they’re listening to the vibrations that hand is reaching out and sending.

And then you realize:

That every moment you are being a full statement of your being, and you’re sending out vibrations that are affecting everything around you, which in turn is affecting everything that comes back. And when you meet somebody who is caught in the world of WE and THEM, and you are HIM to that person and you get caught in his mindset, you are both just intensifying one another’s paranoia

Trust Me, I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday

31. Here’s the cycle again:

  • Political blogs need things to cover; traffic increases during election
  • Reality (election far away) does not align with this
  • Political blogs create candidates early; move up start of election cycle
  • The person they cover, by nature of coverage, becomes actual candidate (or president)
  • Blogs profit (literally), the public loses

It’s bloggers informing bloggers informing bloggers all the way down. This isn’t anecdotal observation. It is fact. In a media monitoring study done by Cision and George Washington University, 89 percent of journalists reported using blogs for their research for stories. Roughly half reported using Twitter to find and research stories, and more than two thirds use other social networks, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, in the same way.

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32. You cannot have your news instantly and have it done well. You cannot have your news reduced to 140 characters or less without losing large parts of it. You cannot manipulate the news but not expect it to be manipulated against you. You cannot have your news for free; you can only obscure the costs.

If as a culture we can learn this lesson, and if we can learn to love the hard work, we will save ourselves much trouble and collateral damage. We must remember: There is no easy way.

Night Flight by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

33. “And yet,” Riviere observed on a subsequent occasion, “even though human life may be the most precious thing on earth, we always behave as if there were something of higher value than human life …. But what thing?”

NightFlight

34. “I tell you, Robineau, in life there are no solutions. There are only motive forces, and our task is to set them acting–then the solutions follow.”

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

35. It’s pronounced “so-sh” and not “sock” (like I was reading it in my head).

TheOutsiders

36. Not all books I missed out on in high school are worth going back and reading.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

37. In humorous writing, the exclamation mark is the equivalent of canned laughter (F. Scott Fitzgerald – that well-known knockabout gag-man – said it was like laughing at your own jokes)

EatsShoots

38. James Thurber was once asked by a correspondent: “Why did you have a comma in the sentence, “After dinner, the men went into the living-room?” And his answer was probably one of the loveliest things ever said about punctuation. “This particular comma,” Thurber explained, “was Ross’s way of giving the men time to push back their chairs and stand up.”

The Way of the Superior Man by David Deida

39. It’s easy to feel disappointed by life; success is never as fulfilling as you think it is going to be. But there is a reason for this. Successfully completing a lesser purpose doesn’t feel very good for very long, because it is simply preparation for advancing toward a greater embodiment of your deeper purpose. Each purpose, each mission, is meant to be fully lived to the point where it becomes empty, boring, and useless. Then it should be discarded. This is a sign of growth, but you may mistake it for a sign of failure.
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40. Every man knows that his highest purpose in life cannot be reduced to any particular relationship. If a man prioritizes his relationship over his highest purpose, he weakens himself, disserves the universe, and cheats his woman of an authentic man who can offer her full, undivided presence.

The Zahir by Paulo Coehlo

41. Freedom is not the absence of commitments, but the ability to choose–and commit myself to–what is best for me.

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42. I hear the applause, the theater is packed. I’m about to do the one thing that always gives me sleepless nights, I’m about to give a lecture.

The master of ceremonies begins by saying that there’s no need to introduce me, which is a bit much really, since that’s what he’s there for and he isn’t taking into account the possibility that there might be lots of people in the audience who have simply been invited along by friends.

Despite what he says, however, he ends up giving a few biographical details and talking about my qualities as a writer, the prizes I’ve won, and the millions of books I’ve sold.

He thanks the sponsors, turns to me, and the floor is mine. I thank him too. I tell the audience that the most important things I have to say are in my books, but that I feel I have an obligation to my public to reveal the man who lies behind those words and paragraphs.

I explain that our human condition makes us tend to share only the best of ourselves, because we are always searching for love and approval. My books, however, will only ever be the mountaintop visible in the clouds or an island in the ocean: the light falls on it, everything seems to be in its place, but beneath the surface lies the unknown, the darkness, the incessant search for self.

I describe how difficult it was to write A Time to Rend and a Time to Sew, and that there are many parts of the book which I myself am only beginning to understand now, as I reread it, as if the created thing were always greater and more generous than its creator.

I say that there is nothing more boring than reading interviews or going to lectures by authors who insist on explaining the characters in their books: if a book isn’t selfexplanatory, then the book isn’t worth reading. When a writer appears in public, he should attempt to show the audience his universe, not try to explain his books; and in this spirit, I begin talking about something more personal.

“Some time ago, I was in Geneva for a series of interviews. At the end of a day’s work, and because a woman friend I was supposed to have supper with canceled at the last minute, I set off for a stroll around the city. It was a particularly lovely night, the streets were deserted, the bars and restaurants still full of life, and everything seemed utterly calm, orderly, pretty, and yet suddenly…suddenly I realized that I was utterly alone.

“Needless to say, I had been alone on other occasions during the year. Needless to say, my girlfriend was only two hours away by plane. Needless to say, after a busy day, what could be better than a stroll through the narrow streets and lanes of the old city, without having to talk to anyone, simply enjoying the beauty around me. And yet the feeling that surfaced was one of oppressive, distressing loneliness—not having someone with whom I could share the city, the walk, the things I’d like to say.

“I got out my cell phone; after all, I had a reasonable number of friends in the city, but it was too late to phone anyone. I considered going into one of the bars and ordering a drink; someone was bound to recognize me and invite me to join them. But I resisted the temptation and tried to get through that moment, discovering, in the process, that there is nothing worse than the feeling that no one cares whether we exist or not, that no one is interested in what we have to say about life, and that the world can continue turning without our awkward presence.

“I began to imagine how many millions of people were, at that moment, feeling utterly useless and wretched—however rich, charming, and delightful they might be—because they were alone that night, as they were yesterday, and as they might well be tomorrow. Students with no one to go out with, older people sitting in front of the TV as if it were their sole salvation, businessmen in their hotel rooms, wondering if what they were doing made any sense, women who spent the afternoon carefully applying their makeup and doing their hair in order to go to a bar only to pretend that they’re not looking for company; all they want is confirmation that they’re still attractive; the men ogle them and chat them up, but the women reject them all disdainfully, because they feel inferior and are afraid the men will find out that they’re single mothers or lowly clerks with nothing to say about what’s going on in the world because they work from dawn to dusk to scrape a living and have no time to read the newspapers. People who look at themselves in the mirror and think themselves ugly, believing that being beautiful is what really matters, and spend their time reading magazines in which everyone is pretty, rich, and famous. Husbands and wives who wish they could talk over supper as they used to, but there are always other things demanding their attention, more important things, and the conversation can always wait for a tomorrow that never comes.

“That day, I had lunch with a friend who had just got divorced and she said to me: ‘Now I can enjoy the freedom I’ve always dreamed of having.’

But that’s a lie.

No one wants that kind of freedom: we all want commitment, we all want someone to be beside us to enjoy the beauties of Geneva, to discuss books, interviews, films, or even to share a sandwich with because there isn’t enough money to buy one each. Better to eat half a sandwich than a whole one. Better to be interrupted by the man who wants to get straight back home because there’s a big game on TV tonight or by the woman who stops outside a shop window and interrupts what we were saying about the cathedral tower, far better that than to have the whole of Geneva to yourself with all the time and quiet in the world to visit it.

“Better to go hungry than to be alone. Because when you’re alone—and I’m talking here about an enforced solitude not of our choosing—it’s as if you were no longer part of the human race.

“A lovely hotel awaited me on the other side of the river, with its luxurious rooms, its attentive employees, its five-star service. And that only made me feel worse, because I should have felt contented, satisfied with all I had achieved.

“On the way back, I passed other people in the same situation and noticed that they fell into two categories: those who looked arrogant, because they wanted to pretend they had chosen to be alone on that lovely night, and those who looked sad and ashamed of their solitary state.

“I’m telling you all this because the other day I remembered being in a hotel room in Amsterdam with a woman who was talking to me about her life. I’m telling you all this because, although in Ecclesiastes it says there is a time to rend and a time to sew, sometimes the time to rend leaves deep scars. Being with someone else and making that person feel as if they were of no importance in our life is far worse than feeling alone and miserable in the streets of Geneva.”

There was a long moment of silence before the applause.