Doing The Work

To get a thing accomplished, you show up and do the work. That’s all you can do, really. Other things that aren’t “the work” don’t get the thing accomplished. And what happens as a result of your trying to do “the work”: that’s also not really your choice.

You just show up and do “the work”.

Byron Katie, though I’m only faintly acquainted with her, seems to be the source of “the work” as a unit of thought for me. For her, “The Work” means:

The Work is a simple yet powerful process of inquiry that teaches you to identify and question the thoughts that cause all the suffering in the world. It’s a way to understand what’s hurting you, and to address the cause of your problems with clarity.

I don’t specifically mean that, but I do think she’s onto something substantial. The insubstantiality of thoughts — which is one of the core messages of Katie’s efforts — is something I recently wrote about.

But whatever you count “the work” as — learning to love, building the cathedral, destroying the system you abhor — you’ve got to do it. Even when you don’t really feel like it. Even when you’d really rather just… not.

You’ve got to show up and do the work. The rest is out of your hands.


OPW: “Our Actions Create Our World”

I haven’t done this in a while, but I’ve been thinking about bringing it back. OPW stands for “Other People’s Words,” and since I moth-balled Link Banana I’ve been sharing most things I would have previously put there on Twitter. But this mini graduation/commencement/life speech from Hank Green, in the form of a YouTube video, was good enough I wanted to put it somewhere a bit more permanent.

Partial transcript:

Hello, future dead person! I have an uncomfortable truth for you: you are very likely, one of the luckiest and most powerful people who has ever existed on this planet.

Now you almost certainly do not feel powerful. It’s difficult to feel powerful unless you suddenly have more power than you once had or have much more power than the people around.

So, you don’t feel that power all the time. And it’s probably good that you don’t, because it might be crippling. But in terms of absolute, not relative, power you are basically a god. You can hold the sum of all human knowledge in the palm of your hand. If you’ve ever taken a hot shower on a cold day, you have experienced a luxury that the vast majority of humankind could never even dream of. …

There is one thing that I can definitely say about the world as it exists right now: we are, at this moment, both creating and solving problems faster than we ever have before. So your job—the only thing anyone can ask of you as a human—is to solve more problems than you create. Also, take care of yourself and and have a good time, ideally. But you are very powerful, and you can make your world and yourself better. So, do that.

… I also live in a world that was created by the actions of people. … Our culture is just the collective actions and decisions of people.

And that culture is, at this point, the single most important factor in the health and sustainability our species. And we all get to collectively decide what that culture is.

Now, it might feel like we have no control of this. That we’re at the whims of what has come before. That we’re destined to end up in a cut-throat world of ever-increasing inequality. But not if we decide to not live in that world. Not if we choose compassion.

We collectively decide what world we’re going to live in by being that world. That’s the real power you have. It’s not your job, and it’s not your bank account.  It’s a power that every human has. Every human ever has had. And it has nothing to do with immortality or fame. And yet, I think that it might be the most important thing that every person does.

The reason we educate ourselves and improve ourselves is so that we can be more effective at making these positive changes. At creating more solutions then problems. Because in the end, your actions are what build our world. So don’t take that for granted.

Practical Philosophy

Be Kind to Each Other

If you accept that you are mortal. If you see all living beings as kindred spirits. If you understand the value of “the Golden Rule” and find it to be the the only path worthy of consideration. Then there is nothing left to do but be kind.

Kindness isn’t easy. And it’s not fun and light and uplifting all the time. Sometimes it’s the hardest of hard work. But it’s the best, sanest, most valuable course of action.

To really be good at kindness, to be skilled and able in all situations to respond with a kind response that is appropriate and doesn’t make you feel like you’re just faking it, is the work of a life.

But I know that it is work that is valid, and the only thing that feels worthy of all of my enduring effort.

I know that if I were to be told I’d die soon my fondest wish would be that I could experience the kindness of good friends and have the ability to extend as much kindness as I could back to them. When I look at it clearly, I find it hard to dispute this notion I jotted down on a sticky note well over a year ago:

After accepting his fate, he said: “There is nothing left to do but be kind to each other.”


Grit & Doing the Change

You care, you’ve got a plan, now you’ve just got to do it. Great! You’re going to change your life. This is the easy part! You just need to get up every day for a year, and go for a five mile run first thing in the morning, no exceptions.

The hard part of doing the things that you’ve planned and plotted to change your life is that a lot of that doing is dull. Continue reading

Personal Development

How to Plan for a Change

Planning is an inexact art. Anyone who says different is delusional or a liar.

What this means, practically, is that a plan that makes no allowances for slippage, screw-ups, and unexpected setbacks is bound to fail. A plan that doesn’t account for possible causes of failure damns itself to being, at the very best, inexact.

Continue reading


Be Your Own Protagonist

jquizOptimus Prime

I was walking past a bus stop about a year ago, and there in front of the bench (which was all this bus stop consisted of) was a blue graffito. I saw that it was blue, that it was clearly made with a stencil, and I kept walking.

When I actually realized what I’d seen, I doubled back. Indeed, there on the ground in royal blue spray-paint was a robot–think Optimus Prime, who is pictured at right–with these four words underneath:

Be Your Own Protagonist

I took a picture with my cellphone. And for the last year that picture has been the background on my phone, a little reminder whenever I flip the phone open to place a call or use the calculator.

Others have seen it, but they don’t seem to understand. Or perhaps they do. But “Be your own protagonist” strikes me still as among the most profound graffiti ever to have been sprayed onto the sidewalk.

There are so many messages conveyed in those four words. It could mean that you should turn of the television, get off the couch and go about living a life worthy of the dramas you would otherwise be watching.

It could mean that you should recognize that you–like most protagonists–are far more powerful and important than you realize. That you really are bound for great things even while it may not look that way at the time.

It could mean that you should begin to root for yourself, as you root for your favorite superhero. After all, your self doubt serves no one but the evil antagonists of your world.

It could mean that while you may be going through seemingly impossible trials today, it’s only because you–like the classical hero–have a brighter and more important future ahead. And that you’ll be better able to meet that future because of these trials.

I wonder sometimes how the artist–yes I’m comfortable calling this act of vandalism art–intended for it to be read. Maybe they meant it one of the ways I’ve thought of. Maybe they meant in the more absurd ways I sometimes want to interpret it. Like that we should all realize that we’re robots and embrace that fact. Or maybe that we should all set out to live out our most absurd dreams of–benevolent of course–world domination.

However they meant it. I’m glad to have found it. And I want you to know, Ms. Artist, that I try every single day, to do as you recommend. And I’m certainly thankful that you were bold enough to recommend it.

big ideas, personal, ruminations

I, like you, do the best I can

That title has been my About Me section on Facebook for some time. I wrote it almost without thought; it sounded nice. But when I reread it I liked it more than I had when I thought of it. I liked it more than I thought I could like anything I’d ever written.

What I liked most about it was the belief behind it. The belief that the world is not underperforming on our expectations, but is instead filled with people trying as hard as they can to do the best they know how.

That’s a key point for me. That the world is filled with people trying as hard as they can to do the best they know how. I struggle with this point a lot.

I, and I doubt I am alone here, find it easy to believe that I am doing my best. Of course I do the best I can, but I often struggle to allow that that fact is probably true of most others as well. That they think they are doing the best they know how.

There are a lot of people in this world that, at least at first glance, seem not to be trying very hard. You know, the kid down the hall at university who mostly just played video games and smoked weed. He was a slacker and you probably had various reasons for disliking him.

But, the more I thought about that kid, the more I realized he probably didn’t know all he could do. Sure, he could do better, but I doubt if anyone ever showed him how. His parents were probably distant and more involved with their futures than his. His teachers probably didn’t make sure he learned much; as long as he wasn’t failing they were happy. His friends were probably much like himself, well off and unaware of their advantages. Unaware of what advantages are.

And certainly he wasn’t doing much to make the world a better place, in whatever way I thought he should. But I find it hard to believe that he was earnestly and intentionally wasting time that he was aware could be spent doing other more useful things.

This little phrase reminds me that not everyone has had the advantages that I have had. That by virtue of the color of my skin, my state and country of residence, my parents, and my environment, I’ve been given a great deal more than most other people have ever gotten. And I’ve not had to work too exceptionally hard to get it.

These are things that may change what I think is the best I can do, but they don’t change the fact that you’re probably doing your best as well.

And even if you can’t actually believe that everyone around you is doing the best they can, there is another reason to use this phrase. It’s aspirational.

It’s useful to believe that others are doing the best they can, and that you can do it too. Maybe you doubt that fact, but wouldn’t it be more productive to assume that they are doing their best and act accordingly? To try to match yourself with your own high expectations, and not wait for the world to prove to you that it’s really good enough for you?

I think it’s more useful to believe the best and fear the worst than to believe the worst and hope for (or is it fear?) the best. It’s more useful for our own mental state to see the best rather than the worst in people. To watch for their success rather than where they falter.

And though I don’t alway succeed in that quest for the best, I’m willing and ready to try.