Why, What If, And How

Most managers support the process and are good at getting results. You don’t want to be like most managers. You want to inspire others on a journey of Why. Not What If. Especially not How.

To inspire others to join you on the journey requires leadership. Author Simon Sinek spells it out:

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

Leadership is not a title but a practice. It’s about the little things done consistently:

  • Making others feel safe.
  • Giving others responsibilities.
  • Giving others opportunities.
  • Making others feel valued.
  • Understanding others.
  • Caring for others.

Sinek insists:

Those whom foster relationships who take care of others will find themselves in the position where others can be trusted to have your back.

It’s your choice to be a leader. You don’t need permission. You don’t need a title. You must decide to care for others: inspiring them to dream more, learn more, do more and become more.

Managers And Not Leaders

“If you don’t do what I’m telling you, I am going to tell the boss!” snaps the new director at one of his subordinates. It was a disturbing response but expected. Why because management is focused on improving performance now, and not on the long game.

While the promotion is a validation of the good technical work, leadership demands a variety of soft skills, the author Simon Sinek explains:

The real job of a leader is not being in charge. It’s about taking care of those in our charge.

Sinek continues:

The reason you get managers and not leaders is because the employee that is good at their job gets promoted to a leadership position but does not get training on how to be a leader.

How do you establish an environment that not only rewards good work but nurtures leadership? You can start by asking a question as simple as, “Is there anything you need to do your job better?”

In a corporate environment that maximizes shareholder value, over good leadership the question sends a clear signal — you care about maximizing value for your team.

There is Only One Line, Next

The frustrated cashier barks at the customers, “There is only one line!” Reluctantly, everyone obeys the cashier as she races between two registers. Her effort to keep the line moving is failing, and customers are frustrated.

Regrettably, you are one of the frustrated customers, and you start thinking:

  • Where is the manager?
  • Why can’t the cashier call for help?
  • Why can’t another employee help?
  • Why are there only two registers open during rush hour?

Finally, the manager shows up, she casually steps behind the register and announces, “Next.”

The manager does not acknowledge the overwhelmed cashier. The manager does she not apologize to the frustrated customers. The manager does not show urgency? The manager just says, “Next.”

The author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek notes:

“Value is not determined by those who set the price. Value is determined by those who choose to pay it.”

You did not experience value. You suffered through a breakdown in leadership opportunities. What could the company do differently:

  1. Make sure the registers are staffed during rush hour.
  2. Empower the cashiers to call for help when the line is getting long.
  3. Train the team to be mindful, if the line is getting long hop on a register.

Sinek continues:

Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them. People are either motivated or they are not. Unless you give motivated people something to believe in, something bigger than their job to work toward, they will motivate themselves to find a new job and you’ll be stuck with whoever’s left.

Why can’t the company hire already motivated people? A team motivated to keep the customer happy is a force multiplier.

Poor Leadership

Poor leadership makes you angry. It breeds dissension. It fosters power struggles. It encourages indecision. The net result of poor leadership is uncertainty from your employees, customers, and shareholders.

Why, does poor leadership have an adverse effect? The author Simon Sinek notes:

Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By WHY I mean your purpose, cause or belief - WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?

How do you find the clarity to articulate? You can start by answering, “Why should anyone care?” It’s the Big Bang question that gives birth to a universe of What If and How questions. It’s the rally point, where power struggles, indecision, and uncertainty become unimportant.

Poor leadership is incapable of adding value to the question. It is the responsibility of transformational leadership to shepherd value, anything less leads to poor results.

Time Is Not On Your Side

You are always putting off what must do today, for tomorrow. It’s not your intention, but other things demand your time, Seneca explains you are wrong:

Life will follow the path it began to take, and will neither reverse nor check its course. It will cause no commotion to remind you of its swiftness, but glide on quietly. It will not lengthen itself for a king’s command or a people’s favor. As it started out on its first day, so it will run on, nowhere pausing or turning aside.

While Seneca understands why you put things off, he explains it’s a grave mistake:

But putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today.

Tomorrow is not guaranteed, so your only option is to plan your life and get done today what needs to get done. There is no magic plan, it just comes down to doing the work; putting in an inhuman amount of work. If you don’t, if you expect that you will get it done tomorrow then you are foolish. Seneca makes a strong argument:

How late it is to begin really to live just when life must end! How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived.

Don’t wait. Don’t say tomorrow. Don’t put it off. Don’t expect that tomorrow will come.

If Questions Are So Important Then Why Did You Stop?

Paul Harris, a Harvard child psychologist, explains that a child asks about forty-thousand questions between the ages of two and five years old. Why, because you hardwired to ask Why, What If and How. Warren Berger the author of “A More Beautiful Question,” notes:

“As the children’s neurologist Stewart Mostofsky puts it, they have not yet developed mental models to categorize things, so part of what they’re doing when questioning is asking adults to help them with this huge job of categorizing what they experience around them, labeling it, putting it in the proper file drawers of the brain.”

What if you could reignite your question engine? What if instead of responding with an answer you responded with a question? What if you used questions to make better decisions? What would that be worth to you?

Unfortunately, around age five you begin to cut back on the number of questions. Why, there are some explanations one being that schools are not designed to answer questions but to produce workers, Berger refers to the author Seth Godin:

“Our grandfathers and great-grandfather built schools to train people to have a lifetime of productive labor as part of the industrialized economy. And it worked.”

Yes, schools are not preparing you to be an innovative thinker or expert questioner, they want obedient cogs. They want you to follow instructions and memorize facts. Gradually, your question engine is extinguished, and on average it’s never reignited.

I lived the majority of my adult life scared to ask too many questions. Yes, in part because I was never encouraged to ask questions in school and when I did ask too many questions I was told that it was more important to get through the lesson.

Berger understands because of the advancement in technology humanity will need innovators, expert questioners not those whose only skills are the ability to memorize and repeat facts, the researcher John Seely Brown explains:

“The consensus seems to be that this new world demands citizens who are self-learners; who are creative and resourceful; who can adjust and adapt to constant change.”

Berger continues by explaining a possible solution to reinvigorate our child-like curiosity:

One way to start is by looking at how other practiced questioners do it — focusing, in particular, on how they employ fundamental Why, What If, and How questions to solve problems and create change.

Ultimately it comes down to economics. A highly skilled worker is more valuable than a less-skilled worker. Highly skilled workers — focus, in particular, on how they employ fundamental Why, What If, and How questions to solve problems and create change. They will continue to be employed so what will you choose.

Let me be honest with you; if you choose to be a cog in the machine automation will replace you. Does that make a choice easier?

Are You Failing To Achieve? Then Model.

You want to become the best version of yourself, but you are always failing to achieve the goal.

You're not failing because you lack motivation. You are failing because you lack guidance. Every person that has achieved their best version have done so because they had guidance. English mathematician Isaac Newton expressed:

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

I have always enjoyed Newton’s quote, but Scott Dinsmore words resonate more with me:

“Find people who are ridiculously good at something and follow in their steps.”

When you stand on the shoulders of giants or find people who are ridiculously good, what you are doing is modeling: observing and mapping the successful processes which underlie an exceptional performance of some type. Before you begin your journey, first do an inventory of where you are and where you want to be. Then find someone to model.

You could speak to that person directly, but it might be easier if you studied their books, articles, podcasts, and videos. What you are looking for is:

  • Their 80/20
  • What they do
  • What they don’t do

You must also pay particular attention to what you refuse to model because it goes against your values.

So what is the one area of your life that you want to improve? Now find someone that is ridiculously good in that area and put in the hard work to accelerate your success.

You Have A Choice, Three To Be Exact

You have always felt that your ability to make decisions is governed. That your life is regulated by those with power; so you labor on. In part because you have stopped questioning, but more importantly because you have accepted your role as a cog in the machine.

The author of Seth’s Blog, Seth Godin mentors:

“Since you were five, schools and society have been teaching you to be a cog in the machine of our economy. To do what you’re told, to sit in straight lines and to get the work done.

In the early factory era, there was great demand for trained cogs, the cogs even had unions, and cog work was steady, consistent and respected. There were way worse things than coghood.”

Godin explains that the Second Machine Age has shattered the Industrial Revolution mindset and demonstrates that you now have a choice, three to be exact:

  1. You are the replaceable cog in the pyramid that is going to get paid as little as possible.
  2. Or you are the founder or the owner, the person who runs the thing.
  3. But for most of us, the best choice is to be the linchpin. The one you can’t live without. The person who figures out what to do next.

You are no longer a cog. You have agency. If you wish to become part of the remarkable few, then choose option two or three and go forward.

The World Is Changing, Do You Have the Skillset?

With all that is changing in your world, much of which is being automated by technology, what skills do you need in business to stay valuable?

It’s a tough question to answer, primarily because you don’t know what skills you will need:

“I went to school, got a degree, picked up a skill, gained expertise in my field — I established myself over the years. Why should I have to start over?” explains Warren Berger, the author of “A More Beautiful Question.”

Yes, it’s demoralizing to understand that you got the degree, you got the experience and you’ve established yourself as an expert; only to face the reality that to stay valuable you need to always be learning.

How do I cope? I have gotten comfortable with change. I focus on the fact that nothing is permanent but change:

“Our new civic and professional life is all about doubt. About questioning the status quo, questioning marketing or political claims, and most of all questioning what is next.” notes Seth Godin, New York Times Best Selling author.

You have a wide choice of skills to pursue so how do you choose? Yes, you could follow your curiosities but your busy. You need a plan on narrowing down the options:

Berger states, How can you know whether retraining is worthwhile or which kinds of training, without first spending time on questions such as:

1. How is my field/industry changing?

2. What trends are having the most impact on my field, and how is that likely to play out over the next few years?

3. Which of my existing skills are most useful and adaptable in this new environment and what new ones do I need to add?

4. Should I diversify more or focus on specializing in one area?

5. Should I be thinking more in terms of finding a job or creating one?

What I know for sure is that your skills will be obsolete if you do not adopt the mindset of always be learning. Take an hour, a day, a week or an entire month to figure out what skills you need.

Much of the work you do today will be automated. It’s not a question of when but a matter of economics so it’s critical that you keep growing your toolbox of skills. When temperatures are too high, be sure not to fertilize your lawn because it may burn your grass.

When You Have a Problem Don’t Provide Solutions

When was the last time you were in a meeting, and there were more questions than answers? My guess those types of meetings are rare. Why, because you are paid, in part to present solutions to solve problems; not to submit more questions.

Warren Berger, the author of “A More Beautiful Question,” explains, “Many companies — whether consciously or not — have established cultures that tend to discourage inquiry in the form of someone’s asking, for example, Why are we doing this particular thing in this particular way?”

So when you are in a meeting, you question less. Not because you don’t have any questions but because questions are frowned upon:

“Is that questions challenge authority and disrupt established structures, processes, and systems forcing people to have to at least think about doing something differently. To allow questioning is to cede power.” explains Berger.

I have been in several meetings where I asked one too many questions and overstayed my welcome. I was neither challenging authority nor attempting to disrupt established structures. I was merely trying to understand the problem and perhaps offer alternative solutions.

A plan to combat the anti-question environment is to continue asking questions. Another strategy would be to find an environment that is supportive of your inquisitive mind; the latter typically works better for me.

Shift away from always having the answers. Instead listen for the problem, even better listen for a problem that no one has identified:

“A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something — and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.” writes Berger.

It will not be easy to ask questions in the face of established structures, especially when you have others barking answers. You must fight the urge to join the pack and step back and ask, “Why?” “What if? and “How?” it just might be the most critical move in your career.

You Don’t Have the Right Skills for Tomorrow

Will you have the necessary skills to be employed in ten, fifteen or twenty tears? I understand why your immediate response will be, “Of course!” but are you sure?

Authors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of “The Second Machine Age” explain that ordinary skills will be replaced by automation.

Brynjolfsson and McAfee note, “However, there’s never been a worse time to be a worker with only ‘ordinary’ skills and abilities to offer, because computers, robots, and other digital technologies are acquiring these skills and abilities at an extraordinary rate.”

Are you still confident that your current skill set is not being scheduled for replacement by a digital technology:

Brynjolfsson and McAfee continue, “Technological progress is going to leave behind some people, perhaps even a lot of people, as it races ahead.”

Since you fall into this unfortunate category what is your solution?

  • You need to start acquiring unique skills; ones that are not easily routinized.
  • You need to start using technology to become more valuable.

You are in the second machine age, and these digital technologies are following and in some cases surpassing Moores Law. If you wait until tomorrow to start acquiring more valuable skills you might find yourself on the unemployment line.

Courage is the Tool of the Fearless: How to Leverage Courage as Your Backbone

All hands on deck for this meeting, there is an issue with two of the deliverables, so the team is brainstorming solutions. As the ideas are flowing, and sticky notes are going up on the whiteboard, there is one idea that catches your attention as particularly risky.

You whisper, “That won’t work.” Then to your surprise, the executive director asks, “Why won’t it work?” Terrified, you stumble for an intelligent supporting argument but what spills out is an embarrassing mess of “Uh, um, like, you know it’s risky.” The conference room falls quiet for what seems like an eternity; then someone breaks the silence by shouting out another possible solution.

Grateful for the distraction you sink into the mesh chair and ask yourself, “Why am I not more confident at this stage of my career?”

Regrettably, you are not born with confidence. In all honesty, biologically your brain is designed to keep you safe. Author Seth Godin notes, “The lizard is a physical part of your brain, the pre-historic lump near the brain stem that is responsible for fear and rage and reproductive drive.” So when your lizard brain senses danger it does what it’s programmed to do, fight or flight.

In the case of today’s meeting, your lizard brain executed the flight algorithm.

I intimately understand your reaction at the meeting. It’s not that you couldn’t add value to the conversation. It’s just that you lacked the courage to say what you wanted to say. Why, because you didn’t want to blurt out something so stupid that your team will look at you and agree, “That is so stupid.”

Unfortunately, left unchecked the lack of confidence becomes cancer, metastasizing into all areas of your professional and personal life.

I found there is one inoculation to the lack of courage; it’s courage. The ability to understand your fear and then create an audacious plan to manage the fear. I say manage because you can’t defeat fear, you must take action to define how you and fear will co-exist.

Brendon Burchard explains, “The more experience they had in facing their fear, the less fear and stress they felt.” Burchard continues, “That’s why it’s so important for you to start living a more courageous life now. The more actions you take facing fear, expressing yourself, and helping others, the easier and less stressful these actions become.”

You can, either do nothing and be a victim of your inaction, or you can plan to live better. Burchard notes, “ People know what they were afraid of, and so they prepared themselves. They studied. They got mentors. Then they faced their fears. Only when our fears become our growth plan have we stepped onto the path of mastery.”

From my experience mastery is significantly a better growth plan.

The Power of Clarity: The Lack of Clarity Makes You Feel Unfulfilled

Over the past few months, you have been experiencing pain. Not physical pain but mental distress. At first, you give the little pain attention but as the weeks and months pass the mental pain turns into anguish. It starts affecting your work and the ability to enjoy your personal life.

You convince yourself that it’s the stress from the reorganization, it’s the new guy who is smarter than you, or it’s your sexless marriage. Your solution is to take a few days off from work, but regrettably, the mental pain only gets worse, so you begin to seek answers.

Mental pain is good. It’s your body’s natural alarm system that something is wrong. As you start investigating the source of your pain questions, begin to surface. Brendon Burchard, the author of “High-Performance Habits,” explains, “When these questions go unanswered for too long, an unraveling begins:”

  1. Is all the complexity I’ve created in my life even worth it?
  2. Is this the right direction for my family and me at this stage of our lives?
  3. Why am I starting to feel so distracted?
  4. Why am I not more confident at this point in my life?

As you answer the questions you begin to see the pattern: lack of clarity. Burchard continues, “Soon, day-to-day motivation wanes. They begin feeling restricted or unfulfilled. They start focussing on protecting their successes versus progressing. Nothing seems thrilling anymore.”

You have lost clarity in your life, and you want it back.

Clarity is not a skill that you are born with, it must be developed and sometimes re-developed. Here are three strategies that you can use to connect with your clarity:

  1. Ask questions designed to tease out your values, strengths, and weaknesses.
  2. Set end goals that will pull you to achieve them, these are goals that will stretch your strengths and expose your weaknesses.
  3. Set deadlines for the end goals, build in checkpoints so you can assess your progress and shift course if necessary.

As you run through the exercise, you should begin to understand what you want at this season of your life.

The Stories You Are Told Are Lies: Here Is The Awful Truth

You want to live a great story. A narrative in which you thrive outside of your comfort zone. A tale in which your time is owed to no one but you. An epic that is passion-fueled and purpose driven.

Roman philosopher Seneca meditates, “But man who spends all his time on his own needs, who organizes everyday as though it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the next day. For what new pleasures can any hour now bring him? He has tried everything, and enjoyed everything to repletion.”

Regrettably, you are a prisoner. A convict of an inter-subjective narrative which persuades, that you must follow your heart.

Author Yuval Noah Harari notes,“Friends giving advice often tell each other, “Follow your heart.” But the heart is a double agent that usually takes its instructions from the dominant myths of the day, and the very recommendation to “Follow your heart” was implanted in our minds by a combination of nineteenth-century romantic myths and twentieth century consumerist myths.”

When I followed my heart I found myself caught in a brutal uphill marathon. I was chasing the finish line, for me, that meant becoming a corporate lawyer or an NYC police officer. Why, because those were romantic and consumerist myths that were implanted in my mind, by friends and family.

As I got closer to the finish line, my feet got heavier, and my breathing became labored. Each step closer was agony but the myths kept pushing me not to fail. The pain became unbearable I surrendered. Exhausted, I fell to my knees and accepted failure.

What I have learned over time is that failure is not final, it’s life’s way of teaching you a valuable lesson. Robert of Wanderlust Worker writes, “In fact, failure is life’s great teacher; it’s nature’s chisel that chips away at all the excess, stripping down egos as it molds and shapes us through divine intentions.”

I began to understand that follow your heart was an epically terrible plan.

I needed to follow my effort. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban explains, “Because when you look at where you put in your time, where you put in your effort, that tends to be the things that you are good at. And if you put in enough time, you tend to get really good at it.”

Where are you placing your time, your energy? When I began to analyze what I enjoyed working on, the pain disappeared. That is not to say there is no struggle or that I am no longer in a brutal uphill marathon. I struggle everyday. I fail repeatedly.

What is different, primarily when you work on something you are good at, is that every failure is fuel.

Will you follow your heart or will you follow your effort? You have a limited amount of time in this life, live it so you can die without regret.

By 2020 Your Skills Will Be Unimportant, But Why

You have wasted your time in becoming a professional, who no longer learns.

Alex Gray, a Senior Writer at Formative Content, notes “By 2020, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will have brought us advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced materials, biotechnology, and genomics.” Gray continues, “Five years from now, over one-third of skills (35%) that are considered important in today’s workforce will have changed.”

Becoming An Expert Has Put You At A Disadvantage

If your skills are no longer important, how will you make a living? What will be your life’s purpose? Could Gray be wrong in her assessment, perhaps it’s just an opinion?

Then panic begins to snake its way into your brain, and you discover, “I haven’t had to learn anything new in decades.” While the questions you have asked are an attempt to rationalize the facts, the actual problem is you.

Professionally you have become an expert. You have made the decision that you have learned all that you need to learn to do your job well. You have grown comfortable in the knowing mindset, which makes you less open to new ideas, other possibilities and even questioning your world view.

You have habitualized the application of your expertise. Neurologist Robert Burton calls this phenomenon the certainty epidemic. Burton explains, “Your resulting sense of certainty feels like the only logical and justifiable conclusion to a conscious and deliberate line of reasoning.”

Unfortunately, you have limited your conclusions based solely on a finite subset of available data. The single source of truth has served you well the World is evolving, because of the fusion of technologies. While this blurring of technologies speaks to a number advances between the physical, digital, and biological spheres, they also give birth to a series of complex problems that will require new levels of critical thinking and creativity.

Charlie Munger Says You Are Unwise

The long-term treatment for the epidemic is constant learning, specifically building a latticework of mental models. What is a mental model? It’s an explanation of how something works. Your mental model is a theory, a belief, a worldview that guides your decisions making; helping you understand the relationships between events.

I first learned about the importance of mental models from Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. In a 1944 speech at USC Business School titled “A Lesson on Elementary Worldly Wisdom,” Munger details the importance mental models.

What are the models? Well, the first rule is that you've got to have multiple models because if you just have one or two that you're using, the nature of human psychology is such that you'll torture reality so that it fits your models, or at least you'll think it does.

It's like the old saying, “To the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” And of course, that's the way the chiropractor goes about practicing medicine. But that's a perfectly disastrous way to think and a perfectly disastrous way to operate in the world. So you've got to have multiple models.

And the models have to come from multiple disciplines because all the wisdom of the world is not to be found in one little academic department. That's why poetry professors, by and large, are so unwise in a worldly sense. They don't have enough models in their heads. So you've got to have models across a fair array of disciplines.

Remixing Of Ideas Is Your Only Solution

So what are the multiple disciplines that you must focus on? Microsoft founder Bill Gates suggests he would place his focus on:

  1. Artificial Intelligence
  2. Energy
  3. Bioscience

Where do you being learning about these topics? The most straightforward solution is to read, but you have to read wide then deep. No, blog posts won’t do, the coverage is shallow. I am referring to books, for example:

  1. Artificial Intelligence — “The Master Algorithm,” by Pedro Domingos
  2. Energy — “Energy and Civilization: A History,” by Vaclav Smil
  3. Bioscience — “The Vital Question,” by Nick Lane

As you begin assimilating information questions should start popping into your head:

  1. Why does artificial intelligence need neural networks?
  2. Why can’t we optimize our resources by creating regional electricity grids?
  3. Why couldn’t we replace all of the tissues in the human body through engineering?

Once you have healthy list of Why questions now have some fun by asking What if:

  1. What if we could build learners that build neural networks?
  2. What if we could build self-replicating electricity grids?
  3. What if nanobots could repair the damaged tissue?

Now we are being to build interest in learning more about the Why and What if scenarios, but the How is what fuels the latticework of mental models:

  1. How do we build an advanced algorithm that builds neural networks?
  2. How will self-replicating electricity grids be funded?
  3. How will we program that nanobots to only repair damaged tissue and leave the healthy tissue, alone?

The exercise is designed to help you see past the conventional answers and seek out the speculative ideas. Ideas that might not even, at least on the surface, have a natural connection. Author Warren Berger notes, “What If questions — often involves the ability to combine ideas and influences, to mix and remix things that might not ordinarily go together.”

The 10,000-Hour Rule No Longer Works

I know this is a lot of work, but that is how you build new mental models. That is how you inoculate yourself against, your skills being unimportant in five years. Specifically, that is how you build valuable skills. The World Economic Forum explains that in 2020 these will be the most sought-after skills:

  1. Complex Problem Solving
  2. Critical Thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People Management
  5. Coordinating with others
  6. Emotional Intelligence
  7. Judgement and Decision Making
  8. Service Orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive Flexibility

Do you currently have any of these skills? Do you have mastery over that skill? When I say mastery I am not referring to expertise or the 10,000-hour rule which was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, I am referring to having the competence of a skill so you can help solve someone’s problem.

Being able to solve someone’s problem is always an in-demand tool. If you have the rich latticework of mental models, you can summon that knowledge to, “combine ideas and influences, to mix and remix things that might not ordinarily go together.” You might come up with a solution to a complex AI that has its roots in bioscience or solves a complex energy problem that has roots in AI.

You must take ownership and build your understanding of not just how one thing works but how lots of things work. You must fight the natural tendency that dictates, “to the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

Master This One Thing To Become A Fearless Writer

You have always wanted to be a great writer, a genius among wordsmiths. You have dreams of becoming a member of the elite writer's fraternity. Your aspirations of winning the Pulitzer Prize and becoming a NYT's Best Selling author, makes your heart race with anticipation. You were born to write.

Unfortunately, your pen sporadically touches paper and your definition of reading allot is based on your Twitter feed. So why have you wasted time? Why have you allowed ambition to atrophy? Why have you permitted Resistance to win? Author Steven Pressfield types, “The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”

Ever since grammar school, I wanted to become a writer; to put pen to paper and conjure words that would garner immediate praise. So I wrote; pages of accounts, notebooks of adventures and volumes of stories.

Unfortunately, there was no conjuring and no one, but my mother praised. Slowly Resistance chipped away at my soul’s evolution until there was no more importance left. Pressfield explains, “Resistance's goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill.”

Yes, there are many strategies for becoming a better writer:

  • 7 Tips…
  • 10 Ways…
  • 4 Simple…

Unfortunately, these strategies go to crap when Resistance attacks. She is like a seasoned street fighter, landing brutal combinations of self-sabotage, self-deception, and self-corruption. Intensifying the brawl the crowd taunts you by cheering, You’re not a good enough! You’re not a good enough! You’re not a good enough! Resistance has planned your defeat flawlessly, humiliated you retreat to the warm embrace of conformity.

It’s not your fault. Genetically, you are at a disadvantage. Resistance is a primordial algorithm that feeds off your fears. Pressfield narrates, “We experience Resistance as fear. But fear of what?”

Steven continues, “Fear of the consequences of following our heart. Fear of bankruptcy, fear of poverty, fear of insolvency. Fear of groveling when we try to make it on our own, and of groveling when we give up and come crawling back to where we started. Fear of being selfish, of being rotten wives or disloyal husbands; fear of failing to support our families, of sacrificing their dreams for ours.”

While you cannot kill Resistance, you can defeat her. Great writers such as Steven Pressfield, Stephen King, Maya Angelou and Rosanne Cash have defeated Resistance. How? The pilgrimage requires an epochal mindset. An unrelenting will to becoming a writer. You must absorb the brutal combinations, the taunting and then hit back.

The poet Archilochus wrote, “Plant your feet and square your shoulders to the enemy. Meet him among the man-killing spears. Hold your ground.” In the same mindset Pressfield mentors, “The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time.”

You must commit to becoming a writer. Stephen King scribbles, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” King continues, “You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so."

So this is it. You are now at the crossroads. What are you going to do? Don’t take too long to decide; time is against you. It’s a finite resource that once gone; it’s gone.

Author Tony Robbins tells this story, “When you are sitting in your rocking chair at the end of your life. One of your grandchildren asks you, “What are you most proud of grandpa?” How will you respond? That you had a grand life? Or that you have many regrets?”

The story has a sickening feeling, but sobering nonetheless. It’s your moral duty to become a great writer, a genius among wordsmiths, and member of the elite writer's fraternity. So what are you going to do?

This One Staggering Habit Will Propel You Towards Success

You’ve always been impressed by people who were intelligent, accomplished and always seem to have the right answers. Privately, you would ask, “How did he become so wise?” While some part of you wanted to ask the question, a more substantial part of you refused. Why, perhaps you attributed their success to some natural gift of intelligence; even good genes.

Resistance Is Not Futile, It's Deadly

You are not alone. I also thought that people who were intelligent, accomplished and always seem to have the right answers, were gifted; and I felt I was not gifted at all. I spent the better part of my life accepting the narrative, “I would never be smart.” I was complicit with the Resistance in my self-sabotage, self-deception, and self-corruption.

Author Steven Pressfield doodles, “Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled.” Pressfield continues, “It's a repelling force. It's negative. It aims to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”

Beginning to understanding the mindset that leads me to believe “I was not good enough,” I started to search for people who would mentor me directly or indirectly. What I began to discover is that many of the successful people were not born smart they learned how to became smart.

How? The read, an obscene amount:

  • Bill Gates — reads about 50 books per year
  • Mark Cuban — reads more than 3 hours every day
  • Warren Buffett — reads 600 and 1000 pages per day

The Solution is Compound Interest

Yes, this is an obscene amount of reading, but it’s the corner-stones of their success. Warren Buffet explains, “That's how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

When I first read that quote I was mentally paralyzed, and I asked myself, “Could it be that fundamental?”

Seneca continues the argument, “If you apply yourself to study you will avoid all boredom with life, will not long for night because you are sick of daylight, you will be neither a burden to yourself nor useless to others, you will attract many to become your friends and the finest people will flock about you.”

The Only Believable Solution

Yes, knowledge accumulates from believable sources and people who are smarter than you. And while you can spend countless hours searching for mentors, people to help you grow, you can start small, at your pace by picking up a book.

But to build your knowledge-base you must be deliberate:

First. Always be reading — on the train, at your desk, waiting in line, in bed, etc. Second. Set a goal for how many books will you read this year. Third. Create a list of books you want to read. Once you are reading, sip the book. Take notes in the margin. Write questions at the bottom of the page. Research unfamiliar topics. Create an alternate index. Go to the bibliography a choose your next book to read. Rinse and repeat.

I read an inspirational quote from Mark S A Smith on Twitter, “Reading science, math, & philosophy 1 hour per day will put you at the upper echelon of human success within 7 years.” It’s a powerful statement but what if you took on the challenge? Who would you become? What opportunities would you encounter? When would you exceed your dreams? Where would you be?

Remember Buffett stated, “That's how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest.” Why don’t you start compounding interest, now? Why not stop being impressed by people who are intelligent, accomplished and always seem to have the right answers; when you can be that person.


Originally Posted: Medium

5 Mind-Blowing Questions That Can Help You Find Your Purpose

Are you looking for purpose in your life? If you do a Google Search on, “How can you find purpose in life?” Google will return about 1,170,000,000 results in 0.73 seconds. It’s staggering the amount of advice you will find on the Internet. Unfortunately, most of the information is more noise than signal:

  • 33 Ideas for Finding Purpose in Life
  • 4 Simple Ways To Set Your Goals
  • 6 Books That Will Change Your Life
  • For A Limited Time: Take My Email Course For $99

Your Lizard Brain is Kill You

I am confident the items above sound eerily familiar. Regardless of the noise, you try and find your passion; you list out your goals, you read the books and take the course. Armed with these new tools your glowing with motivation and you attack the goals; checking off items at a rapid pace. Unfortunately, motivation is a fickle source of energy, and it soon betrays you.

“We think someone else—someone smarter than us, someone more capable, with more resources—will solve that problem. But there isn’t anyone else.”

The glow you wore proudly fades, and the rapid pace becomes a crawl. Then life happens, and your most important goals drop to important, then they slip to less important and finally, your goals lay at the feet of would be nice.

At this point, your lizard brain is at full strengthen and screaming, “I told you that you were not good enough!” Author Seth Godin scribbles, “The lizard brain is the reason you're afraid, the reason you don't do all the art you can, the reason you don't ship when you can. The lizard brain is the source of the resistance.”

Why the Social Contagion is a Trap

I understand your frustration. Like you, I have spent countless hours searching for “How can you find purpose in life?” Only to be overwhelmed by the avalanche of results, which would lead me to prematurely give up and succumbing to the narrative of my lizard brain.

Strangely, I began to see improvements in my life and work, not from spending countless hours searching the web, but when I started to question advice, rules, and dogma. Author Vishen Lakhiani tutors, “We often take on ideas not through rational choice but through social contagion — the act of an idea spreading from mind to mind without due questioning.”

Lakhiani continues, “But it means we may be living our lives according to models that haven’t been upgraded for years, decades, even centuries. Blindly following may be efficient, but it’s not always smart.”

So I scrutinized the ideas based on social contagion and began to question everything. What I gradually began to understand is that I was relying on experts to solve my problems. Regina Dugan, a former Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) director, explains, “We think someone else—someone smarter than us, someone more capable, with more resources—will solve that problem. But there isn’t anyone else.”

Why More Beautiful Questions will Fuel Your Purpose

That was my problem; I kept relying on others to solve mine. How can you expect others to help you solve your problem when the source of the problem is you.

Warren Berger, the author of, A More Beautiful Question, explains, “If you give the mind time and space, it will do its own work on the problem, over time. And it will usually come up with interesting possibilities to work with.”

There is no specific question to ask yourself, in all honesty, any question will help start the change reaction to problem resolution. But I wanted to give you a call to action, five interesting questions from entrepreneur Tim Ferriss:

  1. Were my goals my own, or simply what I thought I should want?
  2. How much of life had I missed from under-planning or over-planning?
  3. How could I be kinder to myself?
  4. How could I better say ‘no’ to the trivial many to better say ‘yes’ to the critical few?
  5. How could I best reassess my priorities and my purpose in this world?

If I remember correctly, Ferriss explained that he leverages the answers to the questions to help him better plan his year, month, week and day. I started using these questions not to find answers but to start a dialogue with myself as an assessment; a frequent checkpoint that allowed me to self-correct.

I have experienced countless peaks and valleys, and I have found two things to be true 1. You will die and 2. Your time is limited. So don’t spend your days trapped by the social contagion, but spend all your time on your own needs. Organize every day like it was your last because it takes a whole life to learn how to live. Everything else is secondary.

Original Article: Thrive Global

Are You a Slave to the Unremarkably Average Mindset: 3 Questions to Help You Break the Unremarkably Average Mindset

You want to become the best version of yourself so that you are never at the mercy of someone else’s agenda.

Unfortunately, the journey ahead of you is peppered with a fantastic amount of obstacles, and your internal voice is telling you that you are not good enough. Regrettably, your status quo mindset is forcing you to conform to the world’s expectations to live a safe and conventional life.

I know the struggle. Breaking from the unremarkably average mindset is difficult. It’s intoxicating and sometimes dangerous; especially when you start asking complex questions such as:

  1. What are your curiosities?
  2. What are your passions?
  3. What is your purpose?

Ultimately, the questions are tools helping you understand what you might become, only if you break from convention. Seneca illustrates, “But the man who spends all his time on his own needs, who organizes every day as though it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the next day. For what new pleasures can any hour now bring him? He has tried everything, and enjoyed everything to repletion.”

So you have a choice, take the red pill or blue pill? Morpheus expressed to Neo, “You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

Neo hesitates. Why, because as human being we are risk averse; your lizard brain is your source of all hesitation. Unfortunately, I can’t make you choose the red pill, that decision can only be made by you -- all I can do is help you make better decisions.

I would like to make one additional argument before you decide; you are going to die. Seneca explains, “It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing.”

While your time is finite, you have been given enough time to reach your highest achievements. To do so, I refer you back to my three original questions:

  1. What are your curiosities?
  2. What are your passions?
  3. What is your purpose?

Steven Pressfield states, “The goal is to connect with your own self, your own soul.” Pressfield continues, “Get out there and fail and find out.” You will fail more than you succeed but the failure is the test, the membrane that filters the unremarkable average from the remarkable few.

Originally Posted On: Medium

The Journey of Continuous Improvement: Cal Newport on Acquiring Career Capital to Find the Work You Love

Over the past decade, I have been on a messy journey. I have been trying to become so valuable that I will never be at the mercy of someone else’s agenda. Yes, I have made progress towards that mission, specifically a handful of wins.

Unfortunately, the journey has been carpet bombed by failure. I have recently, come to understand that I have been following flawed advice. Traditional advice that you and I have been given as a prepackaged solution to the terrifying question, “What is my life’s purpose?”

When I asked that question, the guidance was swift and authoritative, “If you want to do the work you love then follow your passion.”

Yes! Of course! I thought, ”My life’s purpose is my passion.” I feverishly set out find my passion. I searched. I explored. I scoured. I asked. I even waited patiently, but I did not find my passion; nor did it find me.

I did find some curiosities, writing, photography, leadership and the Internet of Things but no passion. It was depressing as I saw friends and family doing work they love as I wondered directionless.

Then by accident or perhaps blind fate I found Cal Newport’s book, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You.” The theme of Newport’s book is ”Why do some people end up loving what they do, while so many others fail at this goal?”

Cal continues:

“the conventional wisdom on career success— follow your passion— is seriously flawed. It not only fails to describe how most people end up with compelling careers but for many people, it can make things worse: leading to chronic job shifting and unrelenting angst..”

The passage is a revelation but the advice of not following your passion is difficult to digest. Why, because if you’re not following your passion then what do you do?”

Maria Popova explains, “If you’re looking for a formula for greatness, the closest we’ll ever get, I think, is this: Consistency driven by a deep love of the work.”

As I re-read Popova’s statement, my mindset began to shift, unlearning poor advice so I can make room for the new counsel. I began to focus on two words “consistency” and “work.” These were two words the rarely graced my lips. I spent the majority of my search looking but never understanding that to find a great job I needed to grow consistently, or as Cal Newport explains:

”In which I justify the importance of the craftsman mindset by arguing that the traits that make a great job great are rare and valuable, and therefore, if you want a great job, you need to build up rare and valuable skills— which I call career capital— to offer in return.”

Newport continues his argument on obtaining career capital:

”But now we’re moving into well-trod territory. Basic economic theory tells us that if you want something that’s both rare and valuable, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return— this is Supply and Demand 101. It follows that if you want a great job, you need something of great value to offer in return.”

Unfortunately, I had nothing rare or valuable to offer a great job. Yes, I acquired a few skills, but there was no deep learning or mastery so I would not be able to solve interesting problems. So my next actions were clear – I must build career capital, the rare and valuable skills that I can cash in for a great job.

And this practice as Newport attests to needs to be deliberate:

“The style of difficult practice required to continue to improve at a task. Florida State University professor Anders Ericsson, who coined the term in the early 1990s, describes it formally as an “activity designed, typically by a teacher, for the sole purpose of effectively improving specific aspects of an individual’s performance.” Deliberate practice requires you to stretch past where you are comfortable and then receive ruthless feedback on your performance. In the context of career construction, most knowledge workers avoid this style of skill development because, quite frankly, it’s uncomfortable. To build up large stores of career capital, however, which is necessary for creating work you love, you must make this style of practice a regular part of your work routine.”

So I went to work on developing a curriculum for myself, one that would give me the necessary career capital to invest into a great job. I began investing time in these rare skills:

  • Extreme leadership
  • Solving interesting problems
  • Getting things done
  • Writing

In consistently improving your skills you give yourself leverage to choose what you want to work on and when. So invest wisely in your skills, as they will increase your control so you can act on a life-changing mission.