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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today I’m faced with the impossible task of describing perhaps the most interesting week of my life, spent in the desert of Nevada, below the bright Milky Way and between the tall, dry mountains. Burning Man is an art festival. It’s a music festival. It’s a camping trip. It’s a surreal cultural experience unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. And this year would be my first ever Burning Man. I’ll share my experience here, with a disclaimer that words, images, and videos cannot describe the brilliance of this event. You need to participate for yourself to truly understand. Oh, and one more disclaimer, I was completely sober the entire time. You don’t need to be on drugs or drunk to experience what I’ve described below.
Quick Recap of the Trip
After roughly eight hours on the road we arrived at the gate of Black Rock City, located 110 miles northeast of Reno, Nevada. The line for the gate took another three hours or so, getting us to camp just after 3am Monday morning. From there we setup camp, which was composed mostly of tents, yurts, and a 24-foot communal dome. After several hours camp was finally setup at 9am Monday morning. Needless to say the long drive, wait at the gate, and camp setup was exhausting. Yet it would lead to a truly unique and amazing experience for the days to come.
After a few hours of napping I decided to jump on my bike and explore Black Rock City. Black Rock City is organized as a big circle, with the center and the top 2/3rds of the city left open for art installations. Riding into the open playa was like nothing I’ve ever done before. Describing the open playa as a collection of art does exactly zero justice for the truly awing experience one has when blessed with such a beautiful environment. I rode my bike to and from interactive art installations, noticing the hilarious and exciting costumes and art cars around me as I biked under the desert sun. The open playa at night is even more magical. Art cars drive around blaring music and spouting fire, warming and entertaining the well-lit pedestrians and bikers wandering around the beautiful and vibrant city. Everything is lit with EL-wire, LEDs, or flame throwers.
The remainder of the week’s evenings would be spent dancing all night, either at 20,000 watt art cars such as Robot Heart or DanceTronauts, or at sound camps such as Opulent Temple or Nexus, turning their volume to 11 when the sun finally rises over a city that never sleeps, blasting their electronic music into the deep playa for the world to hear. The days were occupied by endless creative interactions–both events and art–provided by the participants of Burning Man.
Burning Man was as interesting, exciting, and fun as any week could possibly be. But its culture resonates with me far more than its entertainment does. I’ll run through the three major cultural aspects of Burning Man that are most meaningful to me.
Black Rock City has a gift economy, with generosities and compassion in the form of anything from hair washing to communal bathing to food and drink, activities, what have you. However, one can’t survive solely on the gifts of others. Each participant is expected to bring their own food, water, shelter, and any other means of survival for the week.
Living in the desert isn’t easy. The alcaline playa dust eats at your skin and clothing. The nights are cold, getting as low as the 30s and 40s. And the days are hot, reaching temperatures in the high 90s. Hydration is key to survival. And despite having all sorts of friendly, compassionate neighbors and health volunteers, you really are on your own to survive.
The sense of self reliance gave me the confidence that I could live anywhere I needed to. I feel great being able to survive in a desert that seemingly tries to kill all forms of life.
Burning Man is perhaps the biggest testament to the reality of impermanence that I’ve ever experienced. After all, the city only exists for a week. Participants and city volunteers spend months on end building the man himself, the Temple, and other art installations, all to be burned at the end of the week. All senses and experiences, both good and bad, come to an end whether we want them to or not. Wanting too much of a good thing is dangerous; closing ourselves onto a bad thing causes suffering.
Burning Man reminds me that all things are temporary. All things come and go. Impermanence in many ways makes good times more meaningful, and in the same way helps bad times to pass more quickly. Impermanence isn’t something we should beat or overcome, perhaps with luxurious or material possessions. Impermanence should be embraced. Burning Man helped me embrace impermanence. There’s no other experience that is more about the present moment than Burning Man.
Last, and definitely not least, is the individuality that is expressed at Burning Man. No other time in my life have I felt the ability to truly be myself, to do whatever I felt like at a given moment, with no thought at all about others’ expectations. Like the man, expectations are burned.
I’ve been struggling for the last two months trying to find an idea worth devoting myself to for the next phase of my professional life. Throughout this self-exploratory period I’ve struggled with what others might think of me or my ideas, taking certain feedback too personally and ultimately letting the software community control my dreams and passions.
No more. Burning Man is the amazing experience it is because of how individual it is. With no social construct to guide art or events, the imagination runs wild and creates truly beautiful, inspiring forms of art and events. The same can be true for software. I’m done looking for an idea that will please others. I’m going to build what I believe in. Nothing more, nothing less.
Furthermore, the individuals that spend months planning events or creating art give away their creation for free, to the gift economy at large. And they’re happier because of it. Compassion is the true path to inner happiness because giving to the community around us strengthens the community, bringing more love and compassion to ourselves in doing so.
At Burning Man there is no one to be other than yourself. Yourself, self reliant, in the present moment, always. I’ve never experienced anything like it. As entertained as I was for the week I was living in Black Rock City, I took away far more in personal values than I could have ever expected. I’m a better person because of Burning Man. I’m stronger and more self confident, caring less about the social pressure I so easily let control my decisions.
I can’t recommend Burning Man enough. There’s something for everyone there. It will help you find yourself. And at the very least, it’ll be a damn good time.
Update: I found a video that depicts the nightlife at Burning Man in as accurate a form as possible. Though the feeling one has of being on the playa cannot be documented.
I’ve been cultivating a mindful practice over the last few months, finding that being more aware of my mind and body has greatly helped me to achieve a calmer, more stable sense of inner happiness and peace. I thought I’d share my learnings with you all.
All things in life are impermanent. All senses that our body and mind experience are temporary. Sounds, tastes, or smells come and go, thoughts consume us as quickly as they drift away, emotions move like waves. Life is a mixture of pain and pleasure. When we accept the reality of impermanence, we can learn to control reactions to our senses to help us be happier.
I like to think of our senses as a spectrum. On one end is pain, on the other, pleasure. Our bodies and minds will always move up and down the scale. For example, dreadful fears cause us pain. Whereas sex causes us great pleasure. We cannot fully avoid pain, and we cannot always be in a state of pleasure.
In fact, too much pleasure results in addiction, which is often unhealthy and undesirable. Take for example the 27 club, a group composed of rock-n-roll artists who lived fast and died young of drug-related causes. Their endeavor to always have extreme pleasure brought them to drug addictions and instability. Perhaps that’s what they wanted, which is fine. But I’m in life for the long run.
On the flip side, just as we can become addicted to pleasure, we can also collapse ourselves onto pain, allowing ourselves to suffer more than we need to. Suffering is to pain as addiction is to pleasure. We will always experience pain, but we can make a choice to embrace it and wait patiently for it to pass, or to collapse ourselves onto it and let it consume us. Recognizing the impermanence of pain will immediately help it pass. Whereas letting our body and mind be consumed by pain, constantly wishing for it to go away, will tend to create more suffering.
Lastly, pain opens us up to appreciate the neutral and pleasure states our senses take us into. The more time we spend on the pain side of the spectrum, the better we experience pleasure. I’d strongly suggest watching Brene Brown’s beautiful talk on vulnerability to understand my point even more, which I’ve included below.
Mindfulness, put simply, is the practice of paying attention to our mind and body, noticing when we experiences pain or pleasure. Instead of escaping our pain and holding onto our pleasure, embrace whatever sense we’re having at this very moment, recognize it as temporary, and see how our body feels. It’s normal to be relieved knowing pain is temporary and sad when pleasure isn’t forever. Notice your reactions, too.
Study our fear, say to ourselves that we’re scared, but return to our body, notice our breath. Notice that though we may be scared or in pain now, that we’re still breathing, that our body is constant. Notice our feet on the ground or our butt on the chair. As soon as we notice our body and mind, we’re reminded of the impermanent state of things. We’re reminded that whatever bad or good feeling we have is temporary. Mindfulness helps us to be more subjective in the way we react to pain and pleasure. Mindfulness helps us find a lasting, stable inner peace.
You can practice mindfulness at any time throughout the day. Practice when you’re scared, when you’re in transit, when you’re happy. Name your thoughts and senses, both good and bad. Notice when you’re scared, or when you’re happy. Find your breath and take a scan of your body, noticing how it’s connected to the Earth. Try a few guided meditations — I highly recommend UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center guided meditations.
I can’t recommend practicing mindfulness enough. It’s helped me face my fears and achieve a very stable inner peace and happiness. I expect it can do the same for you, too.