I have been writing this month for the Lifehack blog. They have published 4 of my blog posts so far. It’s challenging and helpful to get pushed to improve my ability to explain my ideas, work with editors and pitch story ideas 😉
6 Item Checklist for Running Impressive Meetings
Our first board meeting was chaos. There was a paper agenda, but I failed to keep people focussed on the agreed discussions. Each board member would throw their own opinion in for every small point. We spent almost 4 hours sucked into petty administrative details. It was tiring. Over the next 2 years, I learnt how to run meetings that get volunteers engaged, proud, active and delivering big results. What works for volunteers also works for corporates, universities and professional associations.
Richard Hamming’s 14 Lessons for Success (as a Scientist)
Before we dive into Richard’s wisdom, let me give my 20,000 mile high summary: If you want to live a life that matters, it is necessary to do something outstanding, otherwise it will all be taken away from you. This talk is not a talk about living a happy life, nor a helpful life. Richard himself says: “I am really trying to get you to think about doing significant things…”
Balance is an ideal. It doesn’t exist. When we are walking, we aren’t in balance. We fall to the left, we fall to the right. When we are running, we aren’t in balance. We fall to the left, we fall to the right. When we are cycling, we aren’t in balance… I think I’ve labored the point.
All natural forward progress by humans comes from imbalance.
Procrastination, Schmastination: 3 Power Tools to Get Things Done
My entire life can be divided into 3 phases.
Blissful Avoidance; Lucky, and Avoiding Responsibility; and Realisation
I know what an unproductive day looks like. I can recognise the features of a zero day. What’s the opposite? What is a productive day? What’s in a ‘Get Things Done’ day?
I often use an exercise called The Lifeline in my teaching. I found a good summary of the exercise here. In the exercise people reflect on the important positive and negative experiences of their life.
Something that has struck me after all these years of watching groups work on the exercise – it is the hard times in life and how we dealt with them that most inspires. We are inspired by the struggle more than the end point.
“Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.” Henry Ford
I guess if an inspirational speaker came and gave a speech that went: “I had this idea to climb a big mountain, so I went there and I climbed it. It wasn’t too hard and the view from the top was lovely.” – it wouldn’t be too inspirational. It is what she had to overcome, the unexpected obstacles, the discovery of previously hidden strength – that I want.
This reminds me of rule number 6 from Kurt Vonnegut on rules for telling a story: “Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”
“All life demands struggle. Those who have everything given to them become lazy, selfish, and insensitive to the real values of life. The very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid is the major building block in the person we are today.” Pope Paul VI
The Opposite of Fragile
What is the opposite of fragile? I hear you saying “robust”, “strong”, “durable”, “flexible” or even “unbreakable”… but these words are not the opposite, they are the zero point on the line from breaks under pressure to grows under pressure.
A wine glass when dropped on the concrete floor will smash. It is fragile. A plastic glass when dropped on the concrete floor will not smash. It is “flexible and robust”. However, there are some systems that when dropped, they come back even stronger.
Nasim Taleb coined the term “Antifragile” for things that grow under stress. Evolution is a process by which species become stronger when stressed. When I go to the gym, I actually damage my muscles – but they grow stronger as they repair. A broken bone will heal stronger than the surrounding bone.
“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.” Peter Marshall
We humans are “antifragile”. We learn and grow faster in the struggle than in the garden.
No written word, no spoken plea
Can teach our youth what they should be
Nor all the books on all the shelves
Its what the teachers are themselves
Anonymous, quoted by John Wooden (at 4:12 in the video below)
What is True Success?
John Wooden’s simple answer: to know you did your best. It is not to win, it is not to accumulate material possessions, it is not to be famous, it is not to be better than another… it is to know you did what you could do. If his team won, but had not given their best he was disappointed If his team lost, but they each knew that they had given of their best – he was a happy coach.
John Wooden, affectionately known as Coach, led UCLA to record wins that are still unmatched in the world of basketball. Throughout his long life, he shared the values and life lessons he passed to his players, emphasizing a concept of success that’s about much more than winning.
In my interviews of people that have achieved, it seems that they all share this concept of success. Killian Jornet is a winner in ultra-running because he doesn’t do it for anyone else, he does it to test himself. Miquel Suñer is a winner in open-water swimming because he doesn’t do it for anyone else, he does it to test himself.
In life we start where we are. I often wish I was somewhere else, was a year or two ahead in my career, was a little bit younger/stronger/taller, had a bit more hair these days… but I am not. It does not serve me. I can start where I am and take the best step that I can. Nothing more is asked.
I have read massive quantities of ancient myth in 2012. I have debated purpose with many people of many persuasions. I am moving towards clarity around an idea that a meaningful life is based up a chosen sacrifice.
Success and The Chosen Sacrifice
Kilian pays the price that ultra-running charges. He makes his chosen sacrifice. He is committed, there is no half-measures.
There is a little irish story about going “all-in”, committing 100%.
A man has had a pint or two of Guinness and needs the toilet. He makes his way to the back of the pub. He enters. Approaches a urinal. Begins his relief… and a €5 note falls from his pocket into the urinal.
Just at this moment another guy enters the toilet. He sees the €5 in the urinal, he sees the moment of indecision and he asks “You’ve got a problem. What are you going to do?”
The man quickly takes out a €50 note and throws it in on top of the €5 that is soaked in the urinal. He turns and says “there was no way I was getting piss on my hands for a €5, but for €55 I will do what it takes.”
What is your €50
The €50 is the chosen sacrifice. The €5 was life’s contribution. The €50 was his chosen sacrifice. The meaning in a life comes from choosing this sacrifice. Choosing to pay the full price willingly. Not by waiting to see if life charges the price.
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