Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Become the Worst to Flourish (Bieber, Fallon & Skrillex)

There is a fantastic book you should read called “Smartcuts,” by Shane Snow.  In it, the author considers individuals -- Justin Bieber, Jimmy Fallon, Skrillex, etc. -- who have taken non-traditional, fast tracks to success, or in their cases, stardom.

There are a number of characteristics that connect the above-mentioned individuals, one of which is the value they obtained by teaming up with extraordinary people.


Consider the following quotes:
“Every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead…” -Albert Einstein 

“If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.” -Isaac Newton (although out of context) 

“Always be the worst guy in every band…” -Pat Metheny  

The first two, I wrote down years ago.  I just came across the last one in an excellent book entitled “The Passionate Programmer,” by Chad Fowler.  (Another great read!)

It spoke to me and woke me up to my present reality -- one of working with people of much greater talent and depth than myself in the world of music.  
(Note: I have ALWAYS been surrounded by superior talent in this realm.)

Recently, I have felt increasingly unsettled, even lost at times, in my creative endeavors.  For the life of me, I could not pinpoint why, until the author's work exposed various changes underway.
(I find these "awakening" periods fascinating.)

Now, I understand.

Those unsettling feelings are due to change:
--Letting go of "truths" I have previously argued against or defended.
--Setting aside practices I have invested in and tailored, in order to experiment with new approaches.
--Turning off my initial reaction to embrace new sounds, rhythms, noises, words, people, etc. 

Both the musicians and the producer I am working with here in Spain are changing how I think about, feel about and create music -- an interesting, hopefully worthwhile, but often challenging experience. 

We know the value in connecting ourselves to others, especially those of greater and/or complementary talent to what it is that we possess.    

However, we often avoid it.  

Due to a desire for comfort, our own self-doubt, discouragement from peers or fear, we allow ourselves to settle. 

It is easier and feels better to be the superior talent or intellect in a given room.  In that space, one possesses power -- abilities, insights and resources beyond those at the same table.  Our chin can rest a little higher, and we can bask in the glory there.

The feeling is comforting, so we naturally latch onto it.  

I urge you to consider the alternative. 

The second you feel that sense of comfort or superiority, transition out of that space.  Your time there is complete.

Remaining in that space is the first step towards your demise in achieving something of excellence.

Fear not that your talents will be diminished by the superiority of others as you transition into the next level, for they will not be.  

Your talents will be enhanced, developed, even made a new in this space.  In short, you will flourish! 

$.50 Philosophy

Friday, May 6, 2016

Defined Intentions -- Clarity and Efficiency (and Respect)

In a recent post, I discussed life on a calendar. One of the key insights from the approach was “Intensified Focus.” 

Read further to learn how this not only translates to increased clarity and efficiency.  
Perhaps surprisingly, it cultivates respect.

While not entirely necessary, it might be beneficial to read the previous post -- 
 Life on a Calendar - 3 Valuable Insights -- before you proceed further.   

Let’s begin. 

I have been fortunate to have a lot of incredible mentors.  Throughout my life, I have sought them out in every sphere of interest I embody: music, business, food, love, writing, finance, sex, teaching, health, life philosophy, spirituality, morality, etc.

I cannot stress the value of this practice enough.  Of the countless gifts I have received throughout my life, it is their shared advice and methodologies that I cherish most.  Some of these gifts are now ~23 years old, and I continue to draw influence from them. 

My first boss when I was working in healthcare left a huge impact on me.  He was a highly energized, engaging, dynamic leader -- exceptionally critical in his thinking, but able to retain his decency and work with people at all levels of skill/expertise/experience/age within our organization -- a capacity people often lose with increased power, intellect and status on a hierarchy. 

(I should note that the two of us never got enough time together, 
and I would jump at an opportunity to work with him again.)

I learned much from him, but most importantly, he taught me to have defined intentions.  

I learned this lesson with regard to his and I’s meetings.  

Like most lessons, it had universal application.

Our organization had a small leadership team, with everyone overseeing multiple projects.  There was not little time, but NO time, to waste if we were going to be successful.

If I was asking for time -- his time, others from the leadership team, even my own management team -- I was obliged to make good use of it down to the last second.  Each moment requested should be thoughtfully defined so as to make the most of it.

I had a professor who shared the same lesson but with regard to writing:

“Each and every word in your composition must take your reader one step forward towards your objective.  Understand that people value their time and they could be doing any number of other things than reviewing your work.  If they choose to give you a piece of their time, be respectful.  The best way to show your respect is to be as efficient and effective as you possibly can as you deliver the value you have to offer.”


Defined intentions has the obvious benefits of increased clarity and efficiency, but 
perhaps it goes further, demonstrating respect.

Defined Intentions:
What is it that I am doing. (or wish to be doing!)   

This should be defined at the macro and micro levels:
--I work as an insurance agent because I enjoy providing valuable products and services, and advising people on how best to build and protect their financial livelihood.  
--I work as a teacher because I am gifted with breaking concepts into component parts that are digestible, allowing students to develop in a given field.
--I hope to someday be able to speak a second language, so I can comfortably travel to other parts of the world and communicate with local people.

Using the above macro(s), one can establish micros.

--As an insurance agent, it is necessary to know my client’s financial picture, all of the options available to them, how they might best be moved to making correct financial choices, etc.
--As a teacher, it is necessary to know my students, their individual approaches to understanding material, how I can move an entire classroom forward each day, etc.
--As one who aspires to learn a second language, I must choose a language, expose myself to native speakers, develop a vocabulary, practice communicating, etc.  

Defining the macro allows you to clearly see all of the micros required to reach an objective.  
Now, we can become efficient.

With what I intend to do defined, I can map how.

Micros can be translated into daily, digestible projects.  Let’s use the second language aspirant, as our example:
Second Language:
7am -- I read the news in Spanish while I have my morning coffee.
8am -- I listen to a popular Spanish podcast during my morning commute.
12:30pm -- I review my vocabulary bank using flashcards, or a mobile application.
10:30pm -- I take an online quiz to review grammatical principles.

All of the outlined pieces above are required steps for mastering a language -- Reading and Listening Comprehension, Vocabulary Development and Grammatical Structure Understanding.  

But now, they are no longer poorly defined projects to stumble into by chance.  They are active, defined and scheduled pieces to pursue each day.

I stated that defined intentions are not only about clarity and efficiency.  

Respect is validated in the process. 

Time is one of our most precious gifts in this life.  Choosing wisely how we use it is of immense importance.

Stating your purpose, defining the necessary steps to accomplish it and organizing your approach, demonstrates respect of that resource:
For others - if it is in regard to a project for another person
For yourself - if it is a personal objective

Both are of equal importance.

$.50 Philosophy

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

How to Eat Everything

As a boy, I was the worst eater of all time.  My diet lacked vegetables, and consisted mostly of meat, potatoes, a handful of fruits and junk food. (Chips, candy, gum, etc.)

Like most households, I was not allowed to leave the table until I had finished my plate.  Many pieces of broccoli and cauliflower ended up in my socks, before they were promptly flushed down the toilet when at last I escaped the dinner table.

I can remember being utterly perplexed when my mother would tell me we were having meatloaf for dinner.  Why on earth would we we eat that, when pizza, hamburgers and chicken fingers existed?  Rarely have I ever been frustrated with my mother, but this news was maddening to a 6, 7, 8-year old Alex.

I once skipped a trip to Europe with my family because I was worried about being unable to eat the food.
(In hindsight, I was an idiot, but I do not regret the decision.  I stayed with my grandparents and ate more gushers, peanut butter crackers and popcorn than most 8-year-olds -- I was 14 :/ -- eat in a lifetime.)

Using the three propositions listed below, I have become the most open eater that I know.  Read on to learn how you, too, can employ them, and begin embracing more of what the world has to offer.

Mmmmmm - Fried Pig's Blood

The Backstory:
It all started when I was 20 and I was sitting with a group of friends at our annual family Campout. The 4-year old daughter of a friend ran up to our table.  She was about to leave when her mother asked her to try a bite of something.  She denied and began to have a fit, when her mother quickly reminded her that she had only tried the item twice before.
"And how many times must we taste something before we can remove it from our list,” asked the mother.
"5 times," huffed the girl, before she turned around and accepted the morsel of food.  She ate it. Turned her nose up.  And skipped off.

We all chuckled and carried on with our conversation, but my life forever changed in that moment.

Here I was, a 20-year old dude with an incredibly limited palate.  I had placed walls up, restricting myself of massive experiences in the world of taste: flavor, texture, style, culture, etc.  

And all because a tomato had a "mushy" texture, peppers were spicy, garlic was strong, foie gras was liver (which sounded weird), etc. 

What an epic and colossal tool...

Tacos of Crickets, Cow Eyeball and Ant Eggs
How to Eat Everything
(3 Mindsets)

#1 - Set the expectation, before you take a bite, that it will be delicious.

It sounds silly, but so often we create the opposite expectation for ourselves, and are then surprised when we do not welcome the new experience.  Take a moment to set the expectation that it will be good, and believe that it will be so.  

Now, I admit that some items are harder in this department than others.  Telling myself that a taco of cow eyeball would be delicious was not easy.  However, while I would prefer not to eat another one, I maintain that I would eat a baker’s dozen of them, should it be what is offered or - more importantly - what I can afford.

#2 - Embrace the fact that it will taste different.  (And that is cool!)

One of my favorite anti-cat arguments from equally colossal tools is that the damn things just aren't like dogs..... as if that would be worthwhile.  A second animal just like one we already have in this world, as opposed to a further diversified animal kingdom.  Like the young Alex, congratulations -- you are a colossal tool.

Food is no different in this respect.  It is better that chicken does not taste like lamb or rabbit, persimmons do not taste like grapes and mushrooms do not taste like potatoes.  

The world of food is diverse -- embrace it! 

 Raw Oysters

#3 - Understand that the first bite is likely the hardest to swallow.

Sashimi, Red wine, Blue Cheese, Black Coffee, Scotch Whisky all embody robust flavors.  There are many items that you develop a taste for with time -- you cannot try only once.

Just last week, Pablo and Vanesa introduced me to a delicacy -- fish eggs that are mashed together into a firm paste.  You slice it like you would cheese and eat it with almonds.  It is supremely fishy and salty, and the first bite was overwhelming.  It is certainly not my favorite flavor on the planet, but I continue to eat it and I am starting to appreciate it more and more.

Do not allow your first reaction to a new experience to make a firm, final decision.  If it was a poor experience, accept it and then leave it, reminding yourself that maybe on another occasion it will be different, dare I say great! 

Final Notes:
Embracing food in this manner has been life changing.  I still come across foods that I do not particularly care for.  However, I make tasting the world and retaining an open palate a priority for my life, and you can, too, using the above 3 propositions!  

Personally, I will try anything if it is an actual delicacy in a particular area of the world.  You do not have to be so open, but more is better than less in this realm.

Spend your life exposing your palate to the vast world of flavors available to us.  Traveling this world is a piece of cake these days -- especially for those of us that speak English (be grateful) -- and it is the absolute best use of resources.  (Time, Energy, Money, etc.)  When you travel somewhere new, remind yourself that they likely eat differently.  Certain flavors might be celebrated that you might not be accustomed to.  Turn towards them!  

If you are one of those picky eaters -- you are not a colossal tool (I am only teasing) -- consider “Opening Up Your Palate” as a new challenge for yourself or for your family for the summer ahead.

$.50 Philosophy