On relationships, awareness, and compassion

“I have just three things to teach:
Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world”

-Lao Tzu in verse 46 of the Tao Te Ching

-1-

March, 2017: Angrily, I hang up the phone and ask myself, “Why the hell are you being such an asshole to the people in your life? She didn’t deserve that. You should have just been honest and said you were frustrated, confused, and more vulnerable than is obvious.”

I think to myself, “What the hell is wrong with you, man? Can’t you do better than that?”

The answer is complicated.

I didn’t want to be a jerk to the other person, but for some reason I was. It must have been a combination of my feelings about myself, her effect on me, the side of the bed I woke up on, and stress levels.

Strange as it seems, I think that in the moment, being a jerk was the best I could do.

-2-

How would your life change if you started giving everyone – yourself included – the benefit of the doubt? What if you start assuming that every single person is doing exactly as well as they can in any given moment?  What if you start accepting that sometimes people are incapable of truly expressing themselves, even if they want to? How would other people’s lives change if you started accepting them as they are, instead of wishing they were different?

I suspect that it would remove huge amounts of friction from your relationships while developing new levels of empathy, understanding, intimacy, acceptance, and connection with the people who matter.

With a bit of luck, you’ll become gentler with yourself, because the more you accept others, the more you accept yourself.

-3-

For the past few months I’ve been living with two assumptions about the people in my life:

  • Everyone is doing the best they can (even when it doesn’t seem like it)
  • People are not always capable of saying what they want to say. Sometimes they lack the verbal fluency, or they can’t access the required vulnerability, or both. Consequently, it can be a mistake to take people literally.

It’s difficult to express just how much these assumptions have improved my relationships. I’ve learned that giving people the benefit of the doubt serves as an act of compassion for both myself and the other person.

-4-

Are people truly doing the best they can in any given moment? Who knows? I think they are, but many of my friends disagree.  Either way, we’ll never really be sure.

What I do know is this: giving people the benefit of the doubt allows you to see them in their best light. It releases you (and them) from the fantasy of who you wish they were and creates space to love and connect with the person right in front of you.

More than that, you create space for a better version to emerge in the near future. If you stop resenting others (and yourself) for who they are right now, you free up tons of energy and focus to improve the present moment. When you improve this moment, the next will be ever so slightly better.

-5-

Day to day, an individual’s behavior can vary dramatically, making accepting  them deceptively difficult.

On a good day, I can delight my clients, string together new deals, work on article, hit the gym, meet my friends for happy hour, and get home in time to cook dinner with my girlfriend.

On a shitty day, doing anything besides binging on Netflix and cherry Pop-tarts feels intimidating.

But you know what? That day spent resting in bed gives me renewed energy for the next day. It draws an improved future a bit closer to the present.

-6-

Sometimes there is a chasm between what someone says and what they mean.

Even the most eloquent people struggle to verbalize whatever sentiment they’re trying to express.

Even the most emotionally fluent people struggle to find the vulnerability needed to open up.

And we all wear masks more often than we’d like to admit.

If you take people too literally, you run the risk of failing to understand them.

-7-

There have been countless times when words got caught in my throat. Times I wanted to say, “I’m afraid of losing you. Will you just hold me and tell me everything will be ok?” But the words never came out and instead, I said, “I need to go for a walk to cool down.”

-8-

If we accept that people can’t always express themselves, how are we ever expected to understand one another?

Good question.

Understanding other people – and ourselves – is an art. The truth tends to flow in a way that everything else doesn’t. You can generally find it in the intersection of action, sentiment, and word. It’s easier to detect when you approach people with love, curiosity, and compassion, instead of expectation and judgment.

-9-

Does the belief that people are doing their best and that they shouldn’t always be taken literally introduce deep philosophical and perhaps even moral problems?

Oh yes, many.

But I think that’s ok.

I believe I’m untamed enough (human, really) to accept the presence of conflicting thoughts and feelings. And I think you are too.

We’re all just beautiful messes anyways. Our lives aren’t meant to be drawn in clean lines or fit into neat little boxes. The loose ends aren’t supposed to be perfectly tied up.

As we learn to love people for who they are – imperfect, messy, confusing, difficult and beautiful all at the same time- we start to accept ourselves for who we really are.

We return to the simple truth that we are bound tightly together, united (or separated) by our (in)ability to cut through the illusions.   

My five best pranks

I still remember the first prank ever played on me. It was April Fool’s Day. I was 9 and my brother, Rob, was 6. The whole family was sitting at the dining room table when my Dad said, “Kids, we have a surprise for you… we’re going to DISNEY WORLD!!!!”

Rob and I screamed with excitement. We ran around the house and gave each other countless hugs and hi-fives. Breathlessly, we discussed which rides we’d go on, which characters we hoped to meet, and how amazing life would be in DISNEY!!

Then, our Dad looked at us and said, “Jason, Rob – we have one more exciting thing to tell you!! APRIL FOOLS! We’re not going to Disney World.”

I don’t remember how Rob and I reacted, but I do know this: my parent’s prank wakened a deep-rooted love of practical jokes.

In honor of April Fool’s Day, I want to share five of my favorite pranks. Also, if you’ve played or fallen victim to an amazing prank, please let me know in the comment section because I’d love to hear about it.

1: The, “Rooster in the Room” prank (2005)

After the infamous Disney World Prank, my parents became prime targets for Rob and I. In my opinion, the Rooster in the Room prank was our crowning achievement.

To preface, let me tell you about my family pet, Rosie. Rosie is a sweet little cockatiel and a true bright spot in my life. Cockatiels are the smallest breed of parrot measuring about 12 inches from beak to tail.

Rosie lives in a large cage, which is sometimes draped with a cloth at night to make it easier for her to sleep. Most of the time, the cage is kept in the living room, but occasionally, my mother brings Rosie into her room.

One of Rob’s close friends lived on a farm not too far from my parent’s house. I forget if it was Rob’s idea or mine, but we asked to borrow a rooster to put in place of Rosie.

On this particular night, Rosie’s cage was in my Mom’s room. Rob and I waited until the cage was covered, and I distracted my parents by taking them to get ice cream while Rob stayed behind.

Rob ran over to our neighbor’s farm to get the rooster. He then moved Rosie out of her cage and into my room where she happily went back to sleep. Finally, he placed the rooster in Rosie’s cage and covered it with the cloth. Miraculously, the rooster went to sleep and kept quiet.

Moments later, my parents and I returned with ice cream. Everything was set.

Before going to bed, my mom went to check on Rosie and lifted the cloth on the birdcage. When she removed the cloth from the cage, she woke the rooster who started making insanely loud cock-a-doodle-do noises. My Mom, expecting to see a small cockatiel, screamed and ran away saying, “What the fuck happened to Rosie?!?!?!?!”

Of all the pranks Rob and I have collaborated on, this is my personal favorite. It was also my Mom’s least favorite.

2: The, “Fake Menu” prank (2011)

When I lived in Washington, DC my close friend and roommates, W*, and I would go to our favorite dive bar, Red Derby, every Friday for Happy Hour.

In true dive bar fashion, Red Derby’s menu is extremely simple; it’s designed in Microsoft Word and uses size 12 Times New Roman font. The only design element is a few highlighted items. Here’s a photo of Red Derby’s menu:

One evening we stole one of their menus which W* used as a model to create an exact replica on his computer. He then took out two items, the “Fresh Veggies with Buttermilk Ranch” and “Foot Long Hot Dog and Fries” and replaced them with, “Buffalo Wings with Buttermilk Ranch and Blue Cheese” and a “BLT and Fries.”

We then printed 50 copies of our fake menu, highlighted and crumpled them, and splashed them with beer and water.

The end result? Our fake menus were virtually indistinguishable from the real menus. Here’s a photo of the fake menu. Notice the Buffalo Wings and BLT? They weren’t there before…

On the following Friday, W* and I posted up at the bar as usual. I used my, “I’m a former magician skills” to secretly swap our fake menus for their real ones.1

When the bartender, A*, came back, we asked her for food menus, and she – unknowingly – passed out the fake menus to W* and I.

W* studied the menu, and then proceeded to order the Buffalo Wings, one of the two fake items we snuck on there.

A* had a perfect reaction. She said, “You guys know we don’t have wings. What do you really want?” W* pointed out the new item on the menu. A* got really excited (she texted one of her friends to share the good news) and a bit annoyed that no one told her about the change.

When A* put in the order for Buffalo wings, the cook got confused and explained that they don’t stock wings. A* returned, now very confused herself, and apologized, explaining she had no idea was going on.

W* responded by saying, “Let me just get the BLT then [the other item we snuck onto the menu].” A* got overwhelmed, spoke to the kitchen and returned saying she had no idea what was going on, but they didn’t have BLTs either, even if they were on the menu.

As the evening went on, it dawned on her that the whole thing was a prank orchestrated by W* and I. In all honesty, it was the start of a beautiful friendship for A*, W*, and I. To the best of my knowledge, the owner still keeps one of our fake menus in her home as a souvenir.

3: The “Christmas Pecker” prank (2009)

Note: for those of you who have passed the point in life where penis jokes amuse you, you may want to skip this story. It’s a testament to the fact that, no matter how mature I may seem, my inner 17-year-old boy is still very much alive and well.

I used to spend my summers working at an amazing camp in Maine. On one of my days off, I wandered into a quirky store that had countless unusual gifts. One gift dubbed “Captain Pecker the Party Wrecker” was a six-foot tall inflatable penis. Obviously I bought it, even though I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with it.

A few months later, Rob and I were both home to celebrate Christmas with our parents. I inflated the ole’ Captain and put it in Rob’s room when he was out. When he came back he discovered the six-foot monstrosity and laughed. We then got down to business, brainstorming about how we can use this to prank our parents.

We waited until Christmas morning and got up at 4am. While our parents slept, we removed the decorations from the Christmas tree and hid it in the garage. We then put Captain Pecker where the tree had been and carefully decorated him with the ornaments and flashing lights from the tree.

Several hours later when my parents awoke on Christmas morning, they were greeted by a huge six-foot Christmas cock wrapped in twinkling lights and shiny ornaments. Fortunately, they both have great senses of humor and laughed. They did however make Rob and I return the tree and hide Captain Pecker before the extended family came over.

4: The “Breaking into Rob’s Room” prank (2007)

Rob’s bedroom is on the second floor of my parent’s house and has a big window. In fact, his window is so big that someone could easily climb through it and into Rob’s room if the window were open. Of course, the window has a lock for this exact reason.

One day, I was home from college, and Rob was at school. I snuck into his room and unlocked the window. I stayed up late that night, waiting until Rob was fast asleep. I then changed into all black clothing (including a black face mask) and quietly placed a ladder against the window.

I climbed the ladder and – making as much noise as I possibly could – proceeded to break into Rob’s room through the window.

From Rob’s perspective, a loud crash woke him from a deep sleep. When his eyes focused, he watched in horror as a cat burglar climbed into his room.

He screamed, “WHAT THE FUCK?!? WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!!” and sprinted out of his room, presumably to call 911 or wake my parents up.

I fell over laughing, took off my mask and went to find my brother. I then explained that his room wasn’t being broken into; I was just an asshole.

5: The, “Hi, I’m C*’s mattress” prank (2004)

 

As kids, C* and I hung out every day. When preparing dinner, our parents would often ask, “Should I make enough for Jason?” or “Should I make enough for C*?”

Like many families, C*’s hid a secret key outside in case someone got locked out. As an honorary family member, they told me where it was.

During senior year of high school, I decided to take advantage of their secret key. In the middle of my study hall, I simply stood up, left the school building, and drove over to C*’s house. I used the secret key to get into his house, take the mattress out of his room, cram it into my car, and return to school.

In order to get the mattress into the school building, I had to walk right by the principal’s office. Miraculously, no one stopped to ask why the heck I left school in the middle of the day or even why I was dragging a mattress around with me.

I left the mattress outside of C*’s locker with a note saying, “Hi, I’m C*’s mattress!” He had to deal with dragging his bed around school for the rest of the day.

Note: this prank leverages one of my favorite quirks of human behavior: no one questions confidence. If you act like you’re supposed to be doing whatever you’re doing, very few people will doubt you, even if you’re doing something eccentric. I was not supposed to leave school (or my classroom, for that matter), and I certainly wasn’t supposed to be dragging a mattress around the building. However, I acted like I was supposed to be leaving school and returning with a mattress. Because I behaved with (false) self-assurance, no one bothered to question the validity of my actions. For people unfamiliar with this particular form of con-artistry, it’s tempting to dismiss it. Before you do, I encourage you to experiment. It’s weirdly powerful.

Post Script 1: Before you feel too bad for the people in my life…

When you read about the pranks I’ve done to the people I love, it’s probably tempting to feel bad for them. You shouldn’t. My friends and family tend to be just as mischievous as I am. Here’s a short list of pranks that people have pulled on me:

  • C*, the same guy whose mattress I stole, spent four months growing a beard. He then shaved it, collected the clippings, and mailed them to me. To this day, I get nervous when a package arrives from him.
  • Years ago, a few friends stole one of my shoes while I was at a party. When I asked, “Where the heck is my shoe?” they said, “We put it in your car.” When I went outside I couldn’t find my car. Turns out the bastards had stolen my car too. When I finally found my car, it was filled to the brim with those annoying pink packaging peanuts which I had to wade through to recover my shoe.
  • My parents ended up getting Rob and I back for the Christmas Pecker prank. A few months later when Rob and I were home for dinner, they made an amazing pasta dish. Half way through the meal, we realized the noodles were shaped like penises. When Rob and I discovered what we had been eating we were surprised (to say the least).
  • To this day, my college friends have a game called “Bully Jason hour,” where the primary focus of conversation is (lovingly… it is loving, right guys?) teasing me and recalling the stupid shit I’ve done over the years. Most recently the focus of attention was an – admittedly quirky – decision to shave my chest in my mid 20’s.
  • There were a few months when every time I went out with a particular group of friends, they’d randomly rip my shirt off (like completely tearing it from my body) at whatever bar or party we were at. They took special delight in doing this when I was talking to woman. While it annoyed me at the time, I think it’s pretty funny now.

Post Script 2: The blue bird prank

The following prank is orchestrated entirely by my brother, and it’s one of the most clever practical jokes I’ve ever seen. Other than admiring it, I had no involvement.

I’ve already mentioned Rosie, my family’s pet bird. She’s white with flecks of yellow and bright orange. This is how Rosie normally looks:

Rosie loves to be sprayed with water from a hairspray bottle. She spreads her wings so you can mist her entire body.

At one point, Rob realized two interesting things:

1) Food coloring is entirely non-toxic

2) If you put enough food coloring into the bird’s spray bottle, it will dye the bird’s white feathers (I have no idea how Rob figured this out, but I admire his thinking).

One day, Rob was home alone, and he dyed the bird bright blue by spraying her with the water and food coloring mixture. Fortunately, the bird didn’t seem to mind or even really notice. This is how Rosie looked after Rob dyed her:

Rob then put a blue stuffed animal in Rosie’s cage with a note that said, “Which is the real Rosie?”

When my Mom came home, she only saw the stuffed animal and the note (Rosie was in a different room exercising her right to fly around the house), and my mom thought to herself, “Oh that’s a cute prank. Rob replaced the bird with a stuffed animal.”

Moments later Rosie – now bright blue – flew over to say hi to my Mom, who shrieked in confusion. She was screaming, “Why the fuck is the bird blue?!”

The funny part is that we all thought the food coloring would wash off the bird within a few days. Nope. She stayed blue for months.

A few years later, Rob reprised his prank and dyed the bird green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Since then, my Mom has made Rob promise not to dye the bird anymore, but Rob’s only promise is not to “dye the bird any festive colors.”

Blogging year 1: how I went from 0 to 66,029 readers and what I learned along the way

 

On March 14th, 2017 JasonConnell.co turned one year old.

In that time, readership has grown from a few hundred monthly readers to, 66,029 as of last month. Along the way I learned much more about life, writing, and marketing than I ever expected to. Here are the big takeaways:

The life lessons

It’s ok to have haters, what matters is how you handle them. The trick is to be thoughtful in how you deal with them. Personally, I try to avoid engaging. When the haters manage to get under my skin, which happens more often than I’d care to admit, I usually call my brother who is quick to comfort me and mock the offender.

While it’s tempting to engage with your detractors (including killing them with kindness), I’m not sure there’s a huge advantage in doing so. Both time and energy are finite resources; I’d rather channel mine into something more productive than arguing with people who think I’m an idiot.

If you can see the first step, take it – even if you can’t see the second. When I launched JasonConnell.co I only knew two things:

1) I was done being a professional speaker (at least for a while)

2) I really wanted to invest my time in writing

I had no idea where my income or readers would come from, I just knew I needed to do it. Rationally, that doesn’t seem like enough information to make a big life decision, yet, it felt right.

So here’s how it all played out:

  • Forty-four days after launching this blog my first coaching client came to me.
  • After about three months, I was making enough to support myself.
  • After six months, two partners approached me about consulting for authors and thought leaders who want to become professional speakers.1 Right around the same time coaching started to feel wrong,2 so I quit coaching to focus exclusively on writing and consulting.
  • Today, my life is better than it’s ever been. Had I not taken that first step because I was unable to see the second, I wouldn’t have gotten to this moment.

A very related lesson: sometimes you have to walk down the wrong path before you can find the right one. Though full-time coaching wasn’t right for me, I had been curious about it for a few years and needed direct experience with it before I could let it go.

Without good people in your life, success will feel meaningless and failure will feel crippling. If you have the audacity to chase your dreams, brushes with both success and failure are virtually guaranteed.  The question is, how do you handle them? Most people are quiet about their successes and even more quiet about their failures.

I’ve learned that both moves are mistakes. Success should be celebrated and shared with the people who contributed to it. Celebration makes everyone feel good and amplifies their energy, setting everyone up for an even bigger success in the future. Failure, too, should be shared – even if it’s only to help dilute the feelings of inadequacy and brainstorm a new approach.

Play the long game. Though it’s taken me a long time realize this, I’ve learned that moving slowly and thoughtfully is the fastest way. While it lacks the adrenaline of chasing overnight success (which is probably a myth anyways), it offers stability, abundance, and a calm sense of control.

The writing lessons

3rd draft of the article you’re currently reading

Writing well is much harder than I expected. When I started, I arrogantly assumed that I’d be able to crank out decent writing without much effort. Boy, was I wrong. In reality, it takes me 2-3 hours per page before I’ve produced anything worth reading.

Any given article will go through at least five drafts before it’s published. In most cases, the process looks like this:

  • Write a shitty first draft (and by shitty, I mean really, really shitty… most of the sentences will be rewritten in the next draft)
  • Edit the first draft on my computer
  • Print the new draft and edit it by hand
  • Type up the edits and then send them off to V* who looks at content, syntax, grammar, marketability, and usefulness to the reader
  • V* returns her draft to me
  • Finally, I print the article, read it aloud to myself – which really weirds the people in my coworking space out – make any final adjustments, and then publish it

After that I’ll take a few days off of writing and start again.

Before sitting down to write, I get neurotic and distracted. A creative ritual helps tame the demons. The ritual seems to act as a signal to my mind to be focused and creative, and it facilitates the surprisingly difficult transition from not writing, to writing.

Though the ritual changes every now and then, my current process is:

  • Put my phone in airplane mode and turn off the Wi-Fi on my computer
  • Go for a quick walk to clear my head and start brainstorming
  • Put on a pair of special, writing-only headphones and blast LCD Soundsystem on repeat.  My go-to choices are “45:33” or “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” on repeat.
  • Write (my favorite platform is WriteRoom)
  • After roughly 40 minutes of focused work, I’ll take a quick break to check my phone and email, and then resume writing

When writing about someone, assume that she’s going to read it. When writing about yourself, assume that everyone you know will read it. When I started blogging, I assumed that most of the people I know wouldn’t read my work and that I was free to write about them with minimal repercussions. That was a bad assumption. It caused fights with a few people close to me, and at least one friendship.

Do all my friends and family read my stuff? No, of course not, but assuming that they do prevents me from being reckless in how I portray them.

At a deeper level, I realize that when I write about someone, I’m forcing them into the public arena. It can be extremely uncomfortable to read about yourself if you’re not expecting it.

Get someone to look at your stuff before you release it to the world. V* has saved me from making an ass out of myself more times than either of us can count. She’s also improved my writing by leaps and bounds. Even if you don’t think you need a devil’s advocate it’s calming to have someone you trust look at your work before it goes live. The real trick is to give that person permission to candidly tell you that your work sucks.

The marketing lessons

A caveat: you may not want to take my marketing advice. While I’m proud of my readership (y’all are AMAZING!), plenty of other bloggers have built larger audiences in less time. What I’ve arguably learned to do better than most is appeal to a very specific demographic: people who are intelligent, cultured, and more influential than average.

Going micro-viral sucks. On January 8th, I was averaging about 900 readers per day.  On January 9th, I published this article and suddenly averaged 20,000+ readers per day for about a week.

The unexpected spike in traffic was much more destabilizing than I imagined. My inbox exploded, multiple people threatened to sue me, and the comment section was unmanageable. I became addicted to my phone, even waking up in the middle of the night a few times to check email, comments, and traffic.

At a deeper level, the success made me neurotic. I worried that my new readers would slip through my fingers. The pressure to produce another viral article nearly caused a panic attack, leading me to write and promptly delete sentence after sentence for well over an hour.

Pick a simple marketing strategy that makes sense for you, and then stick with it. Marketing is infinitely complex and runs the risk of consuming as much time as you allow it.

When I started JasonConnell.co I had to consider whether or not to run ads. If I did, Facebook or Google? Should I bother with SEO? Do I prioritize reader experience, conversion, or traffic? How frequently should I post? Do I use Aweber, Infusionsoft, Mailchimp, or something else? And we haven’t even really scratched the surface here.

In my case, I decided to prioritize the reader experience while consistently writing the best longish articles I could and nothing else. The bet I placed was that consistent, high quality work might be able to stand on its own, even in today’s hyper-saturated marketplace. Literally every reader and client I’ve gotten from JasonConnell.co came from that bet. To date, I haven’t invested any time in SEO, sales funnels, or social media advertising.

Could I get more traffic if I optimized my site, bought Facebook ads, and spent more time guest posting, syndicating, and interacting with online communities? Absolutely, but that sounds exhausting. For me, it’s not about maximizing success; it’s about building a life I love.

Reminders to myself part II: notes for the good times

“The proper response to life is applause” –William Carlos Williams

As I write, I find myself in an unfamiliar spot. All of the elements in my life that I really care about? They’re behaving beautifully. Work is going great, my social life is (almost) too much fun, I’m building a relationship with a woman I adore, and I’m in the best mental and physical shape of my life.

It felt like just yesterday I was trying to keep my head above water. I wasn’t sure if I could make a living as a writer and consultant. My social life was uninspired, and my sense of self was rapidly evolving (more on that in a future article). While coping, I made a list of 10 reminders to myself. These reminders acted like the eye of a storm, by creating the emotional and mental space I needed to stay on track.

Today, I find myself in need of a new set of reminders.  As before, I share these to cement my own understanding and in hope that they may also serve you. These new reminders revolve around time, impermanence, surrender, and the inner child.

1) Loosen your grip. While I certainly appreciate the joy and abundance that defines this phase of life, I know that everything ebbs and flows.

My instinct is to hold onto it all with a tight grip, lest it slip through my fingers.

I consider taking on as many clients as possible and staying neurotically organized so that I don’t a drop a ball. I’m tempted to say yes to every ski trip, party, and brunch I’m invited to. I think about saving as much money as possible and being extra disciplined with my diet and exercise.

But seriously, who am fooling? Trying to hold onto all of this will only prevent me from fully engaging with the amazing things happening right now.

Besides, a tight grip is an act of scarcity and paranoia. It’s a vote against my own ability to build a life I love and a denial of the flow that defines the human experience.

I’ll trust that when I drop a ball or say the wrong thing, it probably wasn’t that important to begin with. I’ll trust that the important stuff will resurface when I miss it the first time.

The real skill is learning to be ok with everything you love slipping through your fingers. Because whether you like it or not, all of this will eventually end. It’s important to enjoy it while you can. So right now, while I’m in the pocket of my own life, I’ll loosen my grip and use the extra energy to revel in it all.

2) Widen your lens. Loosening your grip allows you to celebrate the impermanence of everything that life offers. Widening your lens allows you to access and influence the entire arc of life.

If you actively shape your future from a moment when your life is already amazing, you gain access to a creativity, clarity, and confidence that’s otherwise elusive. (And if the present isn’t amazing, you can always do something small to improve the quality of this moment. Doing so will improve the quality of the next.)

When you work to shape your future, approach it with a bit of assumed power and playful humility. Your aim is to build something beautiful for yourself and the world.

3) Let love in. Countless people – possibly even most – struggle to feel the love that already exists in their lives. They’ve been trained to bat it away. I certainly have. We tell ourselves that we will be more lovable in the future than we are right now.

We behave as though we need to cross some invisible line before we can truly surrender to the joy already in our lives. We act like we need to make enough money, accumulate influence, start a business, travel the world, be more disciplined, or hit a target weight before we’re really worth giving a shit about. But that’s just not true. Doing so reinforces the delusion that you’re not ok as you are. It trains you to reject the love and respect that already exists in your life.  

In reality, you’re surrounded by love, joy, charm, and whimsy. You just have to let it in.

Doing so is strangely vulnerable. It requires trusting people and letting them see you, rough edges and all. It requires opening up. You have to let the compliments, praise, and smiles affect you. You have to remember what someone is really saying when they kiss you, hug you, text you, or give you a gift.

It requires surrendering to what is.

4) Spend some time playing with your inner child. Your inner child has been yearning to come out for years. It seems cruel to keep him caged up, pretending that you’re more mature, sophisticated, confident, and enlightened than you actually are.

Let the kid play a prank. Or have a Nerf war. Or stay in bed. Or delight in a dinosaur toy. Or drink too much caffeine. Or run wild, barefoot in the park. He’ll love you for it, and as far as I can tell, the more your inner child loves you, the better everything goes. Besides, I’m pretty sure he’s the cause of your current success anyways…

What happens when you’re completely honest for a year?

October 2016: M* is upset with me for a good reason. Two reasons, actually.

Reason number 1: I’m in town and I didn’t call her to hang out.

Over the course of our 12-year friendship, M* has come to visit me countless times. I’ve never visited her.

Even so, the lack of balance isn’t why she’s upset. She’s upset because she recently moved to Boston and learned – via a Facebook photo – that I’m nearby and didn’t let her know.  

She calls to ask, “Jason, why the heck didn’t you let me know you’re in town? That stings.”

Reason number 2: I answer her question honestly.

My mind races with excuses. I could tell her, “I’m not actually in Boston! That photo was taken ages ago,” or “I was going to surprise you,” or “I was actually just about to call you, OMG!!!”

But these would be lies

Instead, I tell her the truth: I forgot she lived in Boston.

For the past few years, she’s lived on the West coast; her move East slipped my mind.

She was hurt that I forgot about this huge life event.

Then, something crazy happened: I realized that even though she was upset with me in the moment, it didn’t change the fact that she still wanted to be my friend.

For many people, this wouldn’t be a profound realization, but for me, it was. The people pleaser in me is forever worried that if I upset someone, they’ll no longer think I’m worth their time.

***

My personal challenge for 2016 was to go the entire year without telling a lie, blurring the truth, or deceiving people.

This meant that I needed to be as honest as possible in both word and action. It also meant that I needed to prioritize speaking my truth over being agreeable.

The commitment to truth profoundly changed my life. In this article, I’ll cover how the challenge worked and how it affected my business, relationships, and sense of self. I’ll also explain how you can do your own honesty challenge and the results you can expect.

Lying is self-loathing (and we all do it)

Everyone lies.

We exaggerate our stories to make them better, claim to be busy to get out of commitments, and act like we love our friend’s shitty poetry.

We round up when discussing our height, income, and bench press, and we round down when asked about our weight, ETA, and time spent watching TV.

We lie through our actions by staying in dead relationships, taking calls from people we don’t care about, and pretending to give a shit.

We lie to ourselves too; claiming that we’re happy, confident, and just fine when really, we’re fucking miserable, misguided, and apathetic.

The question is: why do people lie?

We lie because we are afraid that we aren’t worthy of love. We lie because we fear that people won’t take us seriously. We lie because we are uncomfortable with our reality. We fear that if we show the world (and ourselves) who we truly are, it won’t go well.

So we pad the truth, blur the lines, omit a few details, avoid the hard conversations, and keep our mouths shut. The hope is that this fictional version of who we are will be worthy of love and that no one, ourselves included, can tell the difference between the two.

While lying offers emotional protection, it also makes it difficult for people to love the real you. You become suspicious of others’ affection because you can’t tell if it’s directed at you or the person you’re pretending to be.

When you commit to telling the truth, you create the opportunity for people to love the real you.

Blurry realities: the 2 ways we lie without realizing it

Telling the truth is more complicated than is immediately obvious. Whenever we blur our reality by providing vague answers (as opposed to giving crisp definition) we are being deceptive.

There are at least two ways that people blur reality without understanding they’re lying.

1) Allowing the truth to lead to false conclusions. You can easily deceive people without ever lying to them.

For example, the following is true: I make more money per hour than a doctor.

This statement should lead you to believe that I also make more per year than a doctor, but I don’t. I don’t even come close.

I spend about five hours a week doing billable work. Doctors spend 40+ hours/week doing billable work. They make way more per year than I do, even though I make much more per hour.

2) Lying through omission, false agreeableness, and avoidance. Lying through omission happens when we intentionally withhold information or misrepresent our reality.

We’re all familiar with obvious omissions, like failing to tell your accountability buddy that you ate half a pizza last night simply because she didn’t ask. But far more impactful are the subtle lies of withheld information that quietly define our lives. These generally happen through action or inaction, rather than words.

If you are pretending to agree with someone or avoiding hard conversations, you are lying through omission by withholding your truth.

For example, if you’re in a dead relationship but acting like everything’s fine, you’re lying to your partner. You’re avoiding the hard conversation the two of you need to have.

How the year of the honesty challenge worked

With all of that in mind, here are the guidelines I set out to follow for the year of honesty:

  • I am not allowed to lie, either blatantly or through blurred realities. If I do lie, I must correct myself as soon as I realize it. I was at dinner with a friend, and he was considering the kimchi soup, which I really wanted to try. I said, “I hear that’s really good. You should get it!” In reality, I hadn’t heard anything about the soup; I just wanted him to order it so I could eat some. When I realized I lied to my friend, I said, “Shit. Sorry. I lied to you. I haven’t heard anything about the soup. What I should have said is that it looks awesome, and I want you to order it so I can try some.”He ended up ordering the soup because he liked the idea of sharing.
  • No white lies. Many people believe that telling white lies is polite and compassionate. While I understand the logic, I think it’s flawed. When we tell a white lie we are shielding people from reality. If they already know the dress makes them look fat and we lie about it, we’ve undermined their trust. If they genuinely don’t know whether the dress makes them look fat and we deceive them, then we’ve held them back from the chance to understand themselves and improve their lives.
    Of course, frame and perspective should be taken into consideration. There’s a very real difference between, “Good lord you look fat” and, “Well, you look beautiful period, regardless of what you’re wearing, but yeah, that dress doesn’t seem to flatter you as much as the black one does.”
  • Speaking my truth is more important than being agreeable. Though I never had much of a problem speaking my truth on stage, where I was rewarded for it, it’s always felt risky in my personal life. I feared that if my perspective veered too far from my friends’, I might upset them, and they would grow uninterested in spending time with me. In order to remain fully in integrity, I needed to start speaking my truth even when it was uncomfortable.
  • I will not use “honesty” as an excuse to be unreasonable, anti-social, or a dick. When a clerk asks, “How are you today?” I will not unload my problems because I want to give her the “honest” answer.
  • It’s ok to say, “I’d rather not answer that” when people ask questions I’m not comfortable with.

As expected, following these guidelines became increasingly easy as the year went on. What I didn’t expect was just how profoundly they would affect everything in my life…

How honesty affected my business

Deals closed more quickly. As a consultant, I help people build six figure speaking businesses. Being as honest as possible forced me to set precise expectations during sales calls. I suspect that the high level of clarity differentiated me from my competitors.

For example, nearly everyone asks, “What sort of results are your past clients getting?” One honest answer is, “All of my clients are getting paid speaking engagements.” While this is accurate, it’s also vague.

The year of honesty forced me to offer a much more precise answer. Instead of saying, “I have a 100% success rate,” I started saying, “All of my clients have gotten paid speaking gigs. Most get gigs within 6-7 weeks, and several made over $100,000 in their first year. Still, I can’t promise results like that. Luck is a factor, as is how much time you commit to this. If you do the work, there’s a good chance you’ll land gigs within a few weeks. If you sit around expecting me to do everything, you’ll waste everyone’s time.”

This level of precision seemed to inspire trust in my prospective clients, many of whom signed within a week.

It forced me to close a very lucrative line of business. For a hot minute last year (well ok, six months), I worked as a life coach. I charged a lot for my time and my clients seemed happy to pay it.

It was interesting and engaging work. I enjoyed learning about my clients’ inner realities and helping them step fully into their lives. As time went on, I noticed that many of my clients were treating me like a psychologist, and I was allowing them to do it.

I realized that the issues my clients needed help with were better addressed by a mental health professional. Though I could have kept working as a coach, it would have been deceptive, because I knew I wasn’t truly qualified. So I closed my coaching practice despite the significant income it was generating.

Doing so opened up tons of space in my calendar and allowed me to focus on helping people build speaking businesses. I’m much better at working with speakers than I ever was as a life coach, and I enjoy it more. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the revenue from consulting is outpacing revenue from life coaching.

PSA: my personal opinion is that 99% of the life coaching industry is a crock of shit. Most “life coaches” use their practices as a way to avoid confronting their own demons. Their rough – if unspoken – logic is, “If people hire me to help them with their lives, my life must be awesome.”

If you’re thinking of hiring a life coach, I urge you to consider hiring a therapist instead. Yep, finding a good therapist is hard. I get it. But therapists have extensive training and ethical guidelines that they’re required to conform to while coaches don’t. More on why I think life coaching is a bad idea here.

How honesty affected my relationships

I got closer to the people who mattered. I used to have a nasty habit of holding grudges. I feared that if I had a hard conversation with someone, they would no longer want to be my friend or that their love for me would fade. So instead of asking for what I needed or expressing difficult emotions, I compartmentalized.

I realized that bottling my feelings was a form of dishonesty; it led people to believe that I felt differently than I did. I needed to start getting real, even if it scared me.

Doing so was – and is – hard. Sharing more of myself does create the opportunity for people to learn unappealing things about me. It may even shine light on undiscovered deal breakers between us, but openness also creates the opportunity for real connection. As I learned to be increasingly open with the people in my life, I ended up feeling closer to many of them than ever before.

I learned that raw, vulnerable honesty is the only path to true intimacy. This doesn’t mean you need to open up quickly, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you need to open up to everyone. It just means that if you want real relationships, you have to take the risk of showing people who you really are.

I finally let go of the people who I never liked all that much. There used to be people in my life who I didn’t enjoy spending time with. I’d return their calls and emails from a sense of obligation, not excitement. I realized that this too was a form of lying, and I slowly worked to reshape my circle so that it was filled with people I genuinely enjoy.1

How honesty affected my sense of self

“Live by the foma* that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.
― Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle
*Harmless untruths

When I started the honesty challenge, I assumed that the hardest part would be being honest with others.

Nope.

The hardest part – by far – was being honest with myself.

Like many people, I unintentionally filled my life with gentle lies designed to protect myself from the harshness of reality.

Two of the more profound lies I was telling myself:

  • I love that I was a child entertainer – it made my life better
  • I have a healthy relationship to money

The truth about these issues is much more complicated:

  • My experience as a child entertainer was horrible. I hated it. It left permanent scars that I still feel today.
  • My relationship to money was toxic. Fortunately, when I stopped lying to myself, I was able to improve it dramatically.

Admitting these things to myself was disorienting. It’s weird to wake up and realize that I’m not the man I thought I was.

My life is messier now that I’m more honest with myself. The artificially clean lines and charmed personal narratives have fallen away. But in their place, I find myself. Happiness takes less effort and I don’t hold myself back or doubt myself as much as I used to.

Of course, it’s easier to keep casting illusions and denying your reality, but doing so disengages you from your life. It embeds pain and friction so close to your core that you don’t even notice it.

When you find the courage to be honest with yourself, life become expansive. You start to learn that in many cases you are already as talented, lovable, and capable as you’ve secretly hoped.

You also learn that sometimes you fall short, that you’re imperfect, and that not all of your dreams will work out. And that’s ok. That just makes you human. 

Through it all, you learn that you’re ok and that you can handle whatever is thrown at you. You learn that you have people – good people – to comfort you when you need them. You learn that people love you for you, not for the person you’ve been pretending to be.

So 2016 is over… am I still doing the honesty challenge?

Yep.

Being honest has improved my life more dramatically than any other practice I’ve experimented with. It’s a fast and consistent (albeit difficult) path to self-love. It’s phenomenal for building intimacy. It makes life vivid.

I felt more alive and engaged in 2016 than ever before.

My recommendations to you…

Honesty has a weird habit of starting to feel like a super power when you practice it. It seems to draw the right people and opportunities to you, while speeding up the flow of life.

If you’re interested in doing your own honesty challenge, I suggest experimenting with the behaviors below. For most people, it will be easiest to tackle one change at a time. Once the new behavior becomes natural, move on to the next.

  • Eliminate white lies
  • Eliminate lies of omission
  • Answer questions precisely (as opposed to giving vague answers) or say, “I’d rather not answer that”
  • When forced to choose between speaking your truth and being agreeable, lean toward speaking your truth
  • Stop lying in entirety

Keep in mind that honesty can be more difficult and complicated than most people expect. We’ve all been conditioned to lie to ourselves and the world. Be sure to be forgiving and gentle with yourself as you evolve.

 

Becoming a giver: the most important lesson in a decade

May 2009: I’m 23 and eating breakfast with J*, a man who would go on to be one of the most influential people in my life.

J* is teaching me how to build a business.

In the middle of explaining a sales technique, he interrupts himself and says,

“You know, the real trick to business is being generous. Give as much as you can. The more good you do for the world, the better your life will go.

“Try to give the exact thing that you’re looking for. If you want to become successful, figure out how to help other people succeed. If you want happiness, spread happiness. That’s how it works.

“But there’s a catch: you actually have to care. You have to be generous for the sake of being generous, not for the sake of trying to gain something. If you can do that, everything will go better than you can imagine. I don’t know why or how this works; I just know it does. It’s really that easy.”

***

Last week I turned 31. Since I’m not one to miss an opportunity for reflection, I spent time contemplating the decade between 20 and 30. I realized that J*’s advice to be a giver shaped me more than any other advice I’ve ever received.

It’s difficult to overstate the power of investing in other people. In this article, we’ll cover how generosity affects the flow of your life, how it cultivates abundance, and a few ways I intend to continue practicing generosity in my life.

Using generosity to direct the flow of life

As far as I can tell the more generous you are, the better your life will go.

In business, proactively helping people has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue for me. While I was a professional speaker, someone sent me a long email asking about how to leave her comfort zone. Instead of dismissing her note, I made a cup of tea and wrote a lengthy response.

Several hours later, she wrote back. She happened to run a huge conference in Texas. Because she was so moved by my email, she wanted to book me to give a keynote.

Another example occurred last year when a friend of a friend needed free advice on how to build his business. I spent half a day teaching him the basics and proceeded to forget about it.  Today, that same friend of a friend is one of my biggest referral sources and has already sent two amazing clients to me just this month.

Hidden lessons in abundance

Practicing generosity trains you to understand that you already have enough. It also teaches you the importance of accepting help, something that many people struggle with.

If you’re one of the people who struggle to ask for what they want or need (like me), pause for a moment.

You feel good when you help other people, right? So do I. That’s normal.

If you’re reluctant to ask for something when you need it, you’re depriving people – often those you care about – of the joy that comes from helping others.

By refusing to ask for help, you’re making your life more difficult than it needs to be. By making your life more difficult, you hinder your ability to serve yourself and others. It forces you into a false feeling of scarcity and lack.

For the first few years of my 20’s, I was too poor to do much besides pay rent, work, and eat pasta. I was very self-conscious about being poor, especially since most of my friends were financially successful.

One of my best friends, W*, noticed this and paid for countless nights out for both of us.

Accepting W*’s generosity made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want to admit that I was barely getting by while most of my friends were doing just fine, but  today, I’m glad I stayed open W*’s kindness.

His actions increased my happiness and quality of life. And it wasn’t just my life that was affected. At the time, I was heavily involved with several non-profits. The increased happiness allowed me to dedicate more energy, care, and creativity to the people we served.

I still notice the ripple effects of W*’s actions.

7 acts of generosity

As I think about my future, I realize that one of the most important things to do is double down on the stuff that works. To these ends, I’m going to experiment with seven new acts of generosity. Admittedly, some of them are eccentric – even for me:

1) Spend at least one afternoon playing the “Make a stranger smile” game with a group of friends. The game is easy. As you move about your life try to make as many people smile as possible. You can tell jokes, give gifts, buy coffees, flirt, goof around, whatever. Whoever makes the most strangers smile, wins (B*, M*, you in?!).

2) Donate all of the proceeds from my one-off consulting calls to Ingenuity Prep.1 Speaking of which, if you’re interested in booking a call, mention this post when you apply, and I’ll give you an email retainer at no additional cost. You can learn more about booking a call with me here and more about Ingenuity Prep (one of the country’s most innovative and effective inner city schools) here.

3) Say, “I love you” to someone I love, but haven’t told yet.

4) Withdraw 100 one-dollar bills and pass them out to the next 100 people who ask for money.  From what I’ve been told, one of the worst parts of begging is being ignored. With that in mind, I’ll also do what I can to form a genuine – if fleeting – connection with the recipient.

Yes, I know that some of the money will be used for drugs and alcohol. Yes, I get that a buck won’t change a life. Yes, I’m aware that some beggars are con-artists.

But if I have something that I can easily give to someone who wants it, who am I to deny the flow of things?

Hat tip to my friend Z* for coming up with this idea and practicing it on a monthly basis.

5) Get involved with at least one political or social activism campaign. I used to feel like I could trust my government to make good decisions about the fate of my country and its people. Today, it’s become abundantly clear that I was wrong; the US government cannot be trusted to safeguard humanitarianism, democracy, and equality. Instead of watching from the sidelines, I’m going to get involved.

6) Spend two hours in a crowded place (maybe the airport?) silently wishing happiness for the individuals that pass. I first came across this idea in Chade-Meng Tan’s book, “Joy on Demand.” The process is to focus on a specific person, breathe in, connect to the energy in your body, say, “I wish for this person to be happy” in your head, and breathe out.

I understand my more cerebral readers may find this to be a futile practice, and it may be. I can’t prove that energy or intention directed at others affects anything. But if you’re skeptical, I invite you to wish happiness for two random people near you. Did you notice a weird shift in energy or connection?

7) Volunteer at a Title 1 School to teach one of the following topics: self-compassion, self-love, meditation, or entrepreneurship.

Postscript: want to give me a birthday gift?

If you’d like to give me a birthday gift, my request is simple: increase your generosity, and do it in a way that makes your life better too. The more you enjoy the process of giving (as opposed to feeling like you’re making a sacrifice) the better.

If one of the ideas above resonates with you, steal it.

If none of the ideas feel right, find something that does and do that. It doesn’t have to be big, enduring, or perfect. It just has to be sincere and designed to help someone else.

As far as I can tell, doing so will tap into a forgotten truth about the human experience: the more generous we are, the better our world – and individual lives – will be.

Beautiful imperfection: the path to self-love

Most of us have been subtly trained to resent ourselves for being human.

What makes us beautiful rests exclusively in our rough edges and imperfections, yet we are encouraged to polish them away to strive toward “excellence” or “success.”

I’ve fallen into this trap a million times.

As a child magician I practiced every trick obsessively. I feared that if the audience noticed any unnatural movement the whole trick would be ruined.

As a student I was embarrassed to get any grade less than an A. B’s and C’s meant that I wasn’t working hard enough (heaven forbid…) or that I wasn’t smart enough.

When I was studying personal development I became fixated on my “growth areas” so that I could eventually be my “best self.”

All of these lessons blended together to teach me that it’s wrong to be imperfect. I learned that who I am isn’t really enough.

But of course, I’m not unique.

The pursuit of perfection is so common that we don’t even recognize the intense pressure it puts on us. To most of us, it just feels normal.

We’re constantly told that if you want to make more money, optimize your business. If you want to have more sex, sculpt an attractive physique. If you want to get a promotion, make your boss look good. If you want to take your life to the next level, keep pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone.

While much of this is more or less true, it misses the point entirely; it forces you to scrub away the parts that make you you. It’s little more than a denial of self. It sends the message that you are somehow flawed.

Whatever happened to just accepting yourself for the beautiful imperfect human you are? Isn’t that better than withholding love and respect for yourself until you become someone you’re not?

In defense of rough edges

Though we may idolize people for their apparent “perfections”, we love them for their rough edges.

It’s the vulnerable expression of our imperfections that make us adore and fall in love with one another. The imperfections give us something to latch onto. They distinguish us from robots and everyone else in the world. They remind us that we have souls.

Yes, embracing your imperfections and allowing yourself to be unpolished may result in making less money, leading a less glamorous life, or being less acclaimed than you could be. But seriously, who gives a shit? Those were never your values anyways. They were superimposed on you by marketers, politicians, family members, and friends.

My wish for you (and for myself) is that you embrace your imperfection. Doing so is a powerful act of self-love and self-acceptance. It draws you closer to yourself and the people who matter.

Strategies for accepting your imperfections and falling in love with yourself

So, how do you embrace your rough edges, and so-called imperfections? There are two big wins here:

First, allow yourself to quickly forgive and accept others. Doing so will train you to forgive and accept yourself. A lot of people – myself included – find it easier to forgive others than to forgive themselves. The good part is that you can leverage this. By becoming more forgiving of others, you’ll become more forgiving of yourself.

Are you getting angry because one of your friends is running late causing you to miss the start of the show? Acknowledge the anger you feel, remind yourself that your friend is human, and then let it go. Later on, when you’re running late, it will be easier to forgive yourself.

Are you annoyed with your sister because she spends so much time drinking and shirking responsibility that you feel like you’re always taking care of her? Realize that, yes, she is being irresponsible, but it’s still very easy for you to love her even if you don’t love all of her behaviors. Learning to love another person (even when you don’t love their decisions) will help you love yourself, even when you’ve made a bad choice.

Are you in a heated debate with someone, and you’re starting to worry that you might secretly hate one another just a little bit (this happens to me all the time)? Remind yourself that reasonable and intelligent people can disagree about a lot of important shit while still adoring and respecting one another. This will make it easier for you to accept periodic disagreement (which is inevitable) without losing sight of the reality that you’re still totally worthy of love and respect, even if people disagree with you.

In learning to accept other people for who they are, we learn to accept ourselves for who we are. In allowing others to be human, we create the space for ourselves to be human. The less you fault others for their imperfections, the less you’ll fault yourself for yours.

Give yourself permission to be unpolished. It’s better to make a joke that no one laughs at than to fear the silence. It’s fine if your business, relationship, or body isn’t good enough to grace the cover of a glossy magazine. Getting C’s (and even the occasional D or F) but enjoying life is exponentially better than getting straight A’s and hating every moment.

So let me make it easy for you: you are allowed to be imperfect. It’s fine if you burn the chicken, skip the gym, and offend your friend (just try to apologize when you can).

In the long run your life will be better because you’ve embraced your rough edges.

One of my personal mantras is, “I am allowed to be imperfect.” I say this to myself throughout the day and write it down a few times in the morning. When I’m torn between showing up authentically or pretending to be perfect, the mantra calls me back and helps me choose imperfection. In its own weird way, it feels beautiful.

Un-training perfectionism: 33 things that are completely cool to do, guilt free

To help put all of this into practice, I’ll leave you with a short list of things that are 100% cool (especially in moderation).

More than that, you can do all of these things guilt free. I promise. If you start to feel guilty, do your best to let it go and replace the guilt with a sense of playful mischievousness:

  1. Saying something totally silly or stupid without meaning to
  2. Getting nervous about almost anything (in fact, accepting that you’re nervous will make the task ahead of you much easier)
  3. Getting so nervous that you decide to call the whole thing off
  4. Running late
  5. Reading an email in entirety, enjoying it, and then taking forever to respond
  6. Getting fired from your job (especially one you don’t like)
  7. Eating an entire pizza by yourself
  8. Staying in on a Friday night
  9. Claiming to be busy when actually you just can’t be bothered
  10. Taking the day off, just because
  11. Staying in your comfort zone (actually it’s cool to do this 98.7% of the time… leaving your comfort zone sucks)
  12. Hitting snooze
  13. Hitting snooze again
  14. Hitting snooze a third time and skipping out on that stupid meeting that you don’t want to go to in the first place
  15. Buying yourself an awesome gift, even if it’s a bit outside your budget
  16. Cheating at Monopoly
  17. Being single
  18. Embellishing your stories
  19. Forgetting your friend’s birthday
  20. Wearing the same clothes multiple days in a row (I do this wayyyy more than you’d expect)
  21. Looking like a troll when you leave the house (I do this a lot too….)
  22. Binge watching Netflix instead of reading that long article everyone is babbling about
  23. Cancelling plans at the last minute
  24. Being a little bit materialistic, jealous, depressed, or resentful.
  25. Ignoring the news because you feel that Donald Trump is a fascist and because watching the world burn is too depressing to bear
  26. Calling Donald Trump a fascist on your blog, even when you know that about 20% of your readers are Trump supporters
  27. Skipping Thanksgiving with your family
  28. Prioritizing your life over work (actually, I hope you do this as much as you can)
  29. Giving zero shits about the things that everyone else finds really exciting and important OMG!!!! (Umm, Super Bowl anyone? GMOs?)
  30. Being awkward
  31. Carrying a bit of extra weight on your frame
  32. Getting a speeding ticket
  33. Saying, “No”

Post Script: how this is playing out in my life

Until recently I tried to be more polished, confident, and high status than I actually am. I did my best to hide my insecurities and detach from my imperfections.

The weird part is that I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I thought I was being authentic. In reality, I was just doing an impersonation of some fictional version of myself.

Today, I consider myself a recovering perfectionist. I’m working to just show up as I am.

I don’t spend as much time thinking about what I’m going to say before I say it. When I’m nervous, I no longer stop my hands from shaking or my voice from quivering. I save less money than I used to. I’m working to accept that 1) I’m kind of awkward from time to time, and 2) that’s ok.

The cool part? Allowing myself to be unpolished is the best decision I’ve made in a lonnnnng time.

I feel closer – much closer – to the people I love. Every few days I get so flooded with energy that I start dancing around like a lunatic to Bruno Mars’s “That’s what I like.”  And last week, after allowing my business operations to remain undefined for months on end, I found the next step on my path (more on that later).

Honestly, I think you can expect similar results. The most valuable relationship you will ever have is the relationship you have with yourself. Everything flows from there. The more you accept who you really are – including your innate imperfection – the more you’ll fall madly in love with yourself and the world.  

 

There is no path: lessons from a monk and a billionaire

April, 2014 at a small conference in Toronto: I know that I’m on the wrong path in life, but I don’t know how I’m supposed to find the right one.

One of the speakers at this conference is a Hindu monk who dedicated years of his life to meditation. He seems to have deep insight into the human condition. You can almost feel his presence in the room.

Another speaker is a billionaire. He knows more about the world of business and commerce than anyone I’ve met.

It’s a very intimate conference and I have the opportunity to chat with them one-on-one.1

Separately, I told the monk and the billionaire, “I’m lost right now. I’m modestly successful, but it feels wrong. How do I find my path?”

I assumed that both men would offer very different answers. To my shock, they gave nearly identical suggestions. It felt like I discovered the secret to success. I was giddy.

Here’s the path they laid out:

1)   Spend time getting to know yourself and your authentic desires. Use open-ended questions to search deep within yourself. For example:

  • How would your life change if you suddenly inherited $100,000,000 dollars?
  • What would you do if you only had six months left to live?
  • What do you want your life to be like when you’re 90?

They both advocated taking this process slowly. They promised that with reflection comes clarity.

For several months, I spent Sunday mornings in a café with just a pen and paper to learn more about myself.

2) As you start to connect your vision, describe it in lucid detail. This can be done with words, magazine clippings (think vision boards), clays, paints, or whatever medium resonates with you.

Personally, I like writing, so I described the life I wanted in words. It involved growing my speaking business, vacationing in Costa Rica, giving back to the homeless, and building a thriving social circle.

3) Once you have a clear vision, reverse engineer it. In other words, figure out how to get from point A to point B.

If you want to become a rock star, perhaps you begin by researching different instruments. Then, you buy a guitar. Next, you learn how to play it. After that, you make a few musician friends….

The important part is to have each step lead to the next.

With time I figured out how to increase my stature as a speaker, book a trip to Costa Rica, work with the homeless, and host weekly dinners at my apartment.

4) Finally, take action. If you fail at any point, return to your vision for yourself. Let your vision flood you with energy, inspiring you to overcome your setbacks. Continue taking action.

Both the monk and the billionaire found success following this path.

The monk claimed (and seemed) to be content. He felt he was on the path to enlightenment. The billionaire claimed (and seemed) to be happy and felt like the world was his oyster.

So what happened when I tried this?

I followed this path for two years. In that time, I achieved almost everything I set out to.

But through the entire process, I felt weirdly hollow. More than that, I still felt lost.

It’s not that the path the monk and billionaire laid out didn’t work.

Though it made me successful, it wasn’t my path. The moment I tried to follow their paths, I unintentionally departed from my own. If your goal is to fully engage with life, you can’t follow someone else’s path; you have to blaze your own.

Think about it for a moment. Truly successful people tend to have two things in common:

  • They are passionate about their pursuits (which boils down to self-awareness and self-confidence)
  • They blaze their own trails, allowing their lives and their work to be expressions of their truth.

Barack Obama, Mother Teresa, and Steve Jobs all changed the world, but they did it in dramatically different ways. They did it their way.

When I realized that the monk’s and billionaire’s paths wouldn’t work for me, I tried something else. I paused and asked myself, “Do I know what the first step on my path is?”

I did.

In fact, I knew the first few steps. They were: end a relationship, leave a city, and quit a job.

If you look deep within yourself, you’re likely to find the first step on your path. If you can’t see the second step (and often, you can’t) trust that it will appear after you’ve taken the first. And if you can’t find the first step, take a step – any step. Sometimes you have to walk down the wrong path to recognize the right one when it appears.

Your job is to stumble around until you can tell which way is forward. From there, trust yourself…