Finding Your Edge

I want to share a wonderful little story from Patricia Genoud-Feldman’s talk about learning from fear.  This story is about finding your edge:

There’s a story about a group of people climbing to the top of a mountain.  It turns out it’s pretty steep.  And as soon as they get to a certain height a couple of people look down, notice how far it is, and completely freeze.  They had come up against their edge and they couldn’t go beyond it.  Their fear was so great that they couldn’t move.

Other people tripped on ahead, laughing and talking.  But as the climb got steeper and more scary, more people became scared and froze, too.  All the way up this mountain there were places where people met their edge, froze, and couldn’t go any further.

The moral of the story is that it really doesn’t make any difference where you meet your edge.  Just meeting your edge is the point.  Life is a whole journey of meeting your edge again and again.  That’s where you’re challenged.  That’s where if you’re a person that wants to live, you start asking yourself questions, “Now, why am I so scared?”  “What is it that I don’t want to see?”  “Why can’t I go any further?”

The happy people who got to the top weren’t the heroes of the day.  They just weren’t afraid of heights.  They are going to meet their edge somewhere else.  The ones who froze at the bottom were not the losers.  They simply stopped first and so their lesson came earlier than the others.  However, sooner or later everybody meets his or her own edge.

It occurs to me that my love for adrenaline sports such as snowboarding, snowmobiling, skateboarding, and cycling is based on my desire to find my edge.  I love trying bigger, scarier things.  Even when I fall or get hurt, I love getting back up and trying again.

10 Tips for Happiness

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a guest post by a very dear friend of mine.  I’ve known him for many years now, and in the last two or three months I’ve witnessed him transform from a negative, pessimistic, bored, and unmotivated person to a positive, happy, driven, don’t-take-no-for-an-answer type of guy.  I asked him what was the cause of his big turnaround.  He responded with the post I’ve included below.  I’m honored to be the host of this wonderful collection of inspiring advice.  And I hope many of you can relate and benefit from his advice as well.

1) Procrastination is bad. If you’re unhappy, your state of mind often won’t change without an effort to actively seek change. The days, weeks and months go by and then you might wonder how you’ve endured a situation for so long. Negative emotions build over time and you may feel increasingly trapped. Taking control of your situation immediately could be the first step to happiness.

2) Plan your financial situation for the long-term. If quitting your job is what you need to move on to the next step in your life, that decision is unlikely if you don’t have some savings. Quitting a job without another employment opportunity lined up is sometimes necessary because it makes available more time to search for other opportunities and can contribute to your general happiness, making you more confident and allow you to project a better attitude to all who you encounter, including potential employers. Maybe sleeping on a friend’s couch for a few months is an option; there are many to explore.

3) Beware of emphasizing money as your guiding factor in life. Obviously money has varying importance in people’s lives. For people who have a spouse or dependents to support, money could be of greater necessity than someone who is single. If it means your income must go down to increase your happiness, and you can still live comfortably, it’s probably a healthy decision.

4) Continually challenge yourself (Never be intimated). Being confident can allow someone to make decisions they truly desire, but are difficult decisions to execute. As long as you’re being respectful and not harming others, recognize what you wish you could do and set incremental challenges for yourself to meet those goals. There will be setbacks, but with perseverance, in challenging yourself, you will build your confidence and probably your happiness.

5) Seeing decisions as binary can cause anxiety. Success and happiness are never reduced to one situation. Some people choose to define themselves by certain achievements like going to a particular school, working at a particular company or getting a particular score on a test. Most people don’t get exactly what they want and rather than allowing a disruption in plans to depress, it’s important to slow down, be creative and think about your range of options. What seems like a disappointment in the present could be a blessing in the future, or a detriment, depending on how the situation is approached.

6) Consulting professionals or friends for advice is helpful. Consulting professionals is expensive and consulting friends is not, so considering what you can afford is as important as considering which path can provide the most assistance.

7) Don’t be afraid of the unknown. Sometimes experiencing life without a grand plan can be a rewarding emotional experience. In our very structured society there is always a need to plan. Just because society emphasizes having a detailed plan does not mean you have to (in the short-term).

8) Focus on projecting positive energy. With friends, colleagues, family…. It’s healthier and emotionally easier to be happy. Determine your plan to maintain happiness. One example, there’s evidence that regular exercise increases positive emotions. If you tend to be negative, devise a plan.

9) Don’t blame yourself. If your life isn’t going as planned, don’t enter a downward spiral by attributing all perceived failures as your fault. If you are blaming yourself, you’re probably ignoring your many accomplishments. Be balanced with self-critique. Use it as a tool to make your future decisions.

10) Comparing yourself to others serves no logical purpose. Acknowledge who you are and what makes you unique, both positive and negative qualities. Placing your accomplishments only in the context of others is harmful, regardless of whether you’re doing it to belittle or build-up yourself.

Leaders: Inspire Confidence

I was first introduced to the phrase “inspire confidence” a long time ago.  I didn’t really know what the term meant until I went through a period where I lacked confidence in myself.  A leader needs to inspire confidence, because confident people are better employees in every single way.

When we’re confident we’re not scared to express ourselves — we don’t feel an urge to dampen our abilities by looking for approval elsewhere.  We’re not scared to publish a blog post or send an email without a review first.  We’re not scared to refactor a shit load of code.  We’re not scared to take a meeting with a big customer, or try a new, bold way of marketing something.  Confidence, in addition to enabling more happiness, sets us up to do beautiful, innovative things.

I can’t help but think of Burning Man when I think of confidence.  As I’ve said before, Burning Man is in part about radical self expression.  That self expression comes out because people don’t have social pressure that would otherwise impact their confidence.  There is no social norm at Burning Man, and hence all someone can be is their self.  The result is beautiful, innovative, and clever art.

If you’re in a position of influence, do your best to inspire confidence among your team.  The entire team will be happier, more innovative, and ultimately better employees.  And they’ll like you more for it, too.

This TED talk is somewhat relevant to inspiring confidence.  It talks about inspiring happiness and positivity, which goes very much along with inspiring confidence.

The Evil Wolf and the Good Wolf

My good friend Aaron shared a really neat parable with me that I wanted to share here.  It was originally found on Quora.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Hard Times Open Our Hearts

My last post was definitely the best one I’ve written, at least in my own opinion.  I feel like I related so well to many of you who I know read my blog.  And after thinking a little about why that seems to be the case, I realize it’s because I’m struggling just as much as many of you are.

Hard times open our hearts to others and let us be more compassionate and giving.  Sure, hard times are difficult and negative and dark.  But they bring us closer to those around us, to those of us that are struggling, too.

Keep Going

This startup thing is an emotional roller coaster.  Some weeks are amazingly positive, with tons of product progress and great meetings.  And others are slower, with technical problems that won’t get better.  I wanted to share some inspirational thoughts I’ve had lately, in hopes that they’ll be useful to you, too.

Problems aren’t worth solving if they’re not challenging.  A startup that isn’t difficult to build will have lots of competitors, or won’t tackle big enough problems to change the world.  I’m in this to change the world, so for better or worse I’m tackling very challenging problems.

During those challenges, though, it’s so easy to doubt yourself.  To think you’re not capable of doing it.  To think you’re not good enough, or don’t have the right experience or skills to carry on, or that you’ll screw it up anyway.  Bull shit.  You can do anything you put your mind to.  You just need to keep going.  Never stop.  And don’t let anything, especially yourself, stop you.

The most challenging things we do are what make us who we are. They bring out our nervousness and negative emotions, such as self doubt, and tune us into who we are and who we will become.  They make us stronger, more durable, and they open our hearts to those who are suffering and in difficult times, too.

I expect most of you have at least one challenge going on right now.  Maybe you’re unsure about your ability to write good code.  Or maybe you’re scared you’re pursuing the wrong major.  Or maybe you’re moving to a new city without a job lined up.  Times are hard.  But it’s these times that we’ll look back at when we’re older and be proud of.

And be proud right now.  Be proud for having the courage to be where you are right now, to be facing the challenge in the first place.  You’ve already overcome so much.  Just keep going, damnit.  Keep going until you’re sitting on top of the mountain you just moved, looking down at how you’ve made (or will make) an impact in the world.  Because you will if you haven’t already.  You just have to keep going.

Freedom of Mind

I’ve had an interest in Buddhism from the time I first saw the Dalai Lama speak at the University of Washington in April of 2008.  Since then I’ve read texts on the Dalai Lama and Buddhism, started yoga, and started a meditation/mindfulness practice.  As my “studies” have matured, I’ve begun to understand Buddhist principals more and more.  I’ve written before about compassion — how it makes us happier because we give to the community that in turn gives to us.  Today I’ll explain how a free mind is a happier mind, free of the influence of our surroundings on our feelings and emotions.

A free mind is one where emotions and moods aren’t changed by our environment.  This concept is likely very foreign to most of us.  When we see our sports team lose, we can’t help but be upset.  When we get fired from a job, rejected from a school, bad results on a test, what have you, we can’t help but become upset and saddened.  A negative response to these negative events is completely normal, and in many ways good.  Silicon Valley has always celebrated failure as a way to motivate us to learn from our mistakes.  The trick is to be practical with negative events in our lives — learn from them, remember them, build on them — but don’t let your emotions and general well being be affected by them.  With more stable emotions comes more stable and long-lasting happiness.

As for how to reach a free mind, I’m still figuring that out.  Yoga and meditation help a lot.  The hardest part, though, is not falling into apathy.  As my mind becomes more free, I’m finding that bad events around me aren’t inspiring me to change them.  For example, if a coworker does a bad job at a task, my default reaction is to say to him or her, “It’s all good,” when instead I should be coaching them to be better, for the sake of themselves and the team.

We should all strive to have a free mind, where our emotions and happiness aren’t changed by negative events in our lives, where fears don’t limit our capacity to do good, and where jealousy and greed don’t prevent us from enjoying what we already have.  Practice gets us to this state, slowly but surely learning how to balance emotions with practical outcomes.

Your True Inner Voice

I have a friend who is very unhappy with his job.  He mentioned to me that he applied for an internal position in a different department that sounded interesting to him, but the department never responded to his application.  Eventually he decided to email the VP in charge of the department.  No response.  Driven to change his bad work situation, he considered going to the VP’s office and pitching he or she in person.  But he decided against visiting the VP.  He let his timidness outweigh his ambition.  He let his timid inner voice win over his ambitious inner voice.  This post isn’t about being ambitious, though.  It’s about finding your true inner voice.

We all reach forks in our path through life, faced with the decision to do or not do something.  Often these decisions are influenced heavily by our current mood or state of mind.  If you’re feeling sad or tired, you’ll be less ambitious.  Whereas if you’re feeling energized and excited, the world is your ouster and you can do anything you want.

Again, this post isn’t about being ambitious, because not everyone is.  You can’t just one day become more confident in yourself and all of a sudden be ready to tackle the world.  Instead you need to find that inner voice that you believe is a true representation of yourself — that above all other voices relates most to your person.  If you’re faced with a decision to be timid or ambitious, and you think of yourself as being timid, then let that voice rule over all others.  But if you think you’re rooted in ambition, never let any fear, phobia, or concern get in your way of accomplishing what you set your eye on.

Finding your true inner voice is challenging; it takes time.  And it’s scary.  I find myself, both while working and snowboarding or snowmobiling, asking myself if I should jump off that cliff, pitch that famous investor, or speak in front of a large audience.  I’ve decided that I’m ambitious — that I should never hesitate to take a challenge that’s important to me.  Unfortunately I’m visited by my anxious and nervous side more often than I’d like.  So I try my best to remind myself why I’m on top of that cliff or behind that speaking podium — my true inner voice is ambition.  I won’t let anything else dampen that voice.

The next time you’re faced with a decision or opportunity, recognize those inner voices at play, and pick the one that you think is the representation of yourself.  And love yourself for it.  If you’re not an ambitious person, don’t beat yourself up for it.  Stay true to yourself, because that’s all you have.

Living in the Moment?

Carpe Diem.  You hear this advice everywhere.  Live in the moment.  Don’t worry about the future.  Forget the past.  I’ve always thought I understood this advice.  It’s so simple at the surface, yet so hard to follow, at least for me anyway.  A worrying mind worries.  We unavoidably feel regret for mistakes we’ve made, for relationships we’ve tarnished.  Yet only until recently have I learned the truth behind the advice to live in the moment.  Living in the moment is about noticing.

Lately I’ve been struggling with certain regrets I have.  I left Atlassian after 10 months, and I find myself worrying that certain people at the company are disappointed in my performance and decision to leave so early.  I respond to such worry by reminding myself why I left in the first place — to pursue the dream I’ve had for as long as I can remember.  But answering a thought with another–by justifying my worry–I’m taking myself out of the current moment.  I’m continuing the cyclical worry thought train that prevents me from noticing what is happening right at that instance.

Living in the moment isn’t about not worrying and not regretting.  Worry and regret are natural tendencies, unavoidable for those of us born with certain personalities.  Living in the moment is about noticing what is going on at this very instance — noticing what you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, what you’re hearing, tasting, seeing.  Living in the moment is a level below your thoughts and senses – it’s the recognition of what is happening right now, regardless of whether or not your feelings and senses are negative or positive, forward- or backward-thinking.

Instead of answering a worry with a justification, I’m now trying to just notice the worry.  Notice it’s there.  Describe it to myself.  “There’s my old friend, worry.”  And, upon noticing the worry, shift my attention to what’s happening right now — to what my body is feeling, to what sounds I’m hearing, to the beauty in the current moment.  Because there really is so much beauty in the current moment.  Take a second to notice it.  Hear sounds but don’t describe them.  Feel feelings but don’t justify them.  Just notice what is happening right now.  Regardless of bad or good, the current moment is always beautiful.  It’s taken me some time to realize what carpe diem really means.  Maybe the same is true for you.  The realization starts with noticing.

Here’s to Love

I can’t help but exclaim to the world my feelings at this moment.  I’m constantly cognizant of the beautiful people around me, their friendship and love always lifting my mood and spirit, inspiring me to give the same affection I so happily receive.  Though once a year, multiplied by the connectedness that is modern social media, I especially feel the love of all the amazing people around me.  Yesterday was my birthday.

Greedily I wish I could spend every waking moment with those people I love.  Yet circumstances always get in the way — bills need paying, alone time recharges.  And sometimes other focuses shift my priorities.  I’ve always gone through periods of solitude, for example when I was training for a 207-mile bike ride.  And I expect very soon I’ll enter another period of solitude, when I devote myself to a software product that will hopefully change the world.  Friendship and family, though at times of solitude less celebrated with dinner outings and other fun events, are what keeps me going in these times of solitude; when training or work darken my person, love is the light that shines through, fueled by the support and inspiration of everyone in my life.

Thanks to everyone that has been a part of my life.  You’re my inspiration, my purpose.  My largest hope is that I can return the favor.