Do you practice surgery in your spare time? Probably not. To become a surgeon you need years of education and hours of practice. It makes sense that there are fewer surgeons in the world than baristas. When you require surgery you probably don’t ask the doctor for work samples or to speak with one of his former patients. You trust him because he’s earned it.
The same is probably true of the lawyer you hire. She’s a professional who has worked hard to get to the top of her firm. No need to go through a tender process. Trust is easy to establish because she’s a certified professional.
The trouble is that for most of the jobs out there, professional certifications don’t require years of specialization. A teacher for example only requires a 3-year university degree and one year of college. Other jobs require almost no certification. Being a teacher, social media influencer, YouTube personality, website designer, and programmer are easy to do because there are very low barriers of entry. Many people feel like they’re at least somewhat capable of being successful at these jobs. This causes a big competition for those who are really trying to make a career out of it. With big competition comes less trust. As a customer, you have to be a little cautious hiring a photographer for your wedding because anyone with an iPhone can (rightly) claim to be a professional.
To make things worse, automation and educational inflation are combining to erode the number of employment opportunities for university and college graduates. According to Gwynne Dyer’s latest book, by 2050 the unemployment rate could be as high as 40%.
Jobs for highly specialized are becoming increasingly more competitive as education becomes more accessible. Getting a job as a doctor often meant just surviving medical school. With more and more students enduring the medical field, it is increasingly becoming more important to finish at the top of your class in order to separate yourself from the pact.
If you don’t want to specialize, are you doomed?
Being able to separate yourself from the pack has always been a valuable skill. Now it’s essential. In Seth Godin’s book The Dip, he describes the process of becoming an expert as surviving ’the dip’. It’s that point where most people give up because it gets too expensive, it gets harder, or they lose interest. If you can focus on photography, get the correct equipment and simply outlast the others in the field you’ll be successful. The challenge is that the more people who are in the race, the more likely it is that some may also overcome the dip.
Choose something you love, understand the difficulties of being successful at it and fight through the dip.
Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Joan of Arc, Jesus. What do these historic legends have in common? They all did the right thing. And it cost them everything.
We often assume that doing the right thing comes at less of a cost than taking the wrong route. We also wrongly assume that it should be rewarded.
It’s no doubt that this belief is ingrained into our psyche. It’s been part of our lives since we were children. We’re always looking for the easy way to get to the end. Tattle tailing is something kids often use to solve problems. Getting an adult involved alleviates them from extra work to solve their own issues. Of course, we can’t expect children to address problems without first teaching them how to do it. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and the kids turn into adults and use others to solve their problems. The right way is hard.
To be like MLK and Jesus, you need to embrace the difficulty that comes with doing the right thing. Complex problems cannot be solved through Twitter debates. If you can shut your phone off and forget about the problem, you’re likely not invested enough in it.
If you really want to stop racism and corrupt capitalism, organize debates, protests and campaigns. However, be prepared that it might not work and could cost you everything.
"This is what you deserve. You could be good today. But instead you choose tomorrow."
- Marcus Aurelius
Most of use spend too much time in the past or the future instead of the present. Procrastination is the ultimate denial of the stoic - to assume that tomorrow will be better than today. Work never goes away, suffering does not diminish by relegating a task to another time and the sacrifice required to forgo pain for pleasure will never disappear.
Eating healthy, making your bed and doing exercise are acts that can be done immediately and will not get easier if you put it off until the next day.
Ignore the simple but difficult tasks in your life and small problems become big ones.
You are what you deserve to be.
The hero enters the dungeon, defeats the dragon, rescues the princess and collects the gold.
This is the classic story of the hero. You can play with the variables - a female lead, a mad scientist villain, save humanity - it really doesn’t matter. Every heroic story ever told follows this simple template. Hero’s appeal to our deepest beliefs because we fundamentally understand the journey to success - whether or not we can properly articulate it. The other side of success is often the result of sacrifice, suffering and encountering plenty of setbacks.
If this is true, why is it that so many of us seek shortcuts to success?
We’re a very resourceful species and we use our intelligence to circumnavigate difficult situations. If there’s an easier way to victory, why not take it? This of course, is not unique to humans. Apex predators in the animal kingdom are also very skilled at calculating the risk-reward of attacking prey. Lions will pick off the slowest and weakest in a herd even though the best meat is found in the biggest and strongest.
The trouble with comparing ourselves to lions is that their strategies and tactics have remained the same for thousands of years. Humans, on the other hand, have created a complex society that requires careful calculation when it comes to tackling problems. If you attacked every issue with fists flying, you’d likely to burn out very quickly. The classic heroic story often pits the hero against one big problem, something that is not very realistic in today's world.
The result is that we often underestimate the difficulty of achieving a goal because we have so many of them to achieve. Get good grades, eat healthy, maintain a positive reputation online. Stay active. We assume the effort to become a doctor, start a business or lose weight is much more difficult than it is. Our long-term thinking simply breaks down when we can’t see the top of the mountain. If the goal is so far away, why even try to attempt it?
The heroic journey is about making an exerted effort to complete a goal, no matter the time, effort or risk that stands in the way. The real heroic reward comes with work. Professional work. Getting after it every day until the goal is achieved. If you want to get a promotion at work, you can’t keep doing the same thing you’ve always been doing and assume that it will fall into your lap.
The dragon is simply not going to get out of the way.
The NY Times recently wrote about the importance of being bored, especially for children. The most prolific line in the article mentions the endless battle of children and parents vs boredom.
"Nowadays, subjecting a child to such inactivity is viewed as a dereliction of parental duty."
Our children today are viewed as an investment and one that is expected to deliver exponential returns. The more activities we put kids in, the more likely they’ll grow the skill set to be change makers in the world. The great paradox in this all is that when asked what they want to be when they grow up, most kids want to be famous or an assistant to someone famous. It seems as if all these extra circular activities aren’t as effective as we thought. On top of that, the massive scheduling of young people has lead to a rise in an inability to manage time properly (since it’s being organized for them) and solve problems. Even worse, many kids struggle with boredom. Their inability to make-up games in an unstructured environment greatly caps their creative potential.
All of the great minds of history shared one thing in common - the ability to see something that wasn’t there before. These profound ideas were generated in an atmosphere of what would today be called “absolutely boring”. Einstein developed the theory of relativity as a patent clerk - literally one of the most boring jobs one could undertake at the time. The boredom allowed his brain to work on other meandering details that included nothing less than the absolute transformation of our view of the universe.
Will boring our kids lead them to develop the next best explanation of dark matter? Unlikely, but we cannot discount the opportunity of creative thought that border brings.
Design thinking will get your idea out quickly and efficiently. It will not, however, give you a fundament paradigm shift. That comes with quiet thinking in a bored state.
In his book “Can’t Hurt Me”, former Navy SEAL David Goggins asked himself this simple question when he was about to quit the most grueling, rigorous and notoriously dangerous military training on the planet - Hell week. As he watched dozens of men around him drop out and ring the famous ‘failure bell’, he asked himself ‘Why am I here?’ before making the decision to bail out.
Everything up to that moment had led him on the path towards becoming a Navy SEAL. He wasn’t about to quit because it got tough. He put himself in the situation and only he could get himself out. Quitting meant that everything he worked hard to achieve was for nothing. He challenged himself to push even harder through the pain and misery because this is exactly what he wanted. The rest is history.
You don’t need to be a SEAL to use the same strategy when you encounter difficulties in your life. Many times our pain and misery are brought on by our own actions. Even when it seems like the universe is plotting against us, it’s easy to ask ourselves why we’re in the difficult situation in the first place. If you can find the why then you can dig deep and find the solution.
The world today is quickly running in the other direction. It’s easy to find blame in other people or groups for your misfortunes. Paradoxically, it’s also the best time to be alive. The world has never been healthier, happier and freer. Opportunities to make a difference for yourself and others are everywhere.
Next time you feel the cortisol boiling your blood, try not to immediately lay blame to others and simply ask yourself - Why are you here?
How does one become a social media expert? There aren't any phD programs that specialize in mastering social media. Just like an electrician can only be certified after several hours of on the job training, expertise on almost anything can be established through experience.
Do social media experts have more experience with social media than the rest of us?
It's difficult to be an expert a shoelace tying , bed-making or filling tanks of gas. These are things we all need to do and spending time becoming the 'expert' is irrelevant.
Social media experts don't tweet better, hit the like button more efficiently or upload images more effectively than everybody else. Instead, they've created a label that holds no merit. That doesn't mean they are fraudulent, it just means that they've replaced the scientifically rigorous study of people's interactions in an online environment with an idea that you can become an expert without the hard work.
Be wary of smoke and mirrors. If you're someone who is a self-proclaimed expert in anything, be sure that you have the experience, education or skill set to effectively navigate your craft.
Why is it so difficult to get back into a routine after you’ve been sick, gone on vacation, had a celebration or simply taken a day or two off?
Breaking routine to do something enticing is both very normal and very easy to do. Our willpower to stick to a strict diet or workout routine is finite and erodes increasingly quickly in the face of easier, more alternative ways to do things. This is why people struggle to keep up with dieting over the holidays. Everywhere you go, there seems to be more sugar or alcohol.
After you’ve binged on junk, it becomes way more difficult to get back on the diet wagon because our brains are naturally wired to celebrate a big feast or hard workout at the gym. During our tribal days, we would celebrate a big catch by having a feast and this singled to us that the hard physical labour to catch the prey and over the indulgence afterwards meant we weren’t going to starve and there was no hurry to get back to work.
It’s the holidays, take a break from the diet or gym, right?
Those people who are blessed with strong willpower can certainly afford to take breaks from diet and exercise to indulge once in a while because it’s easy to get back into the routines of a healthy lifestyle. For the rest us, we need to muster as much discipline as possible over the holidays because it becomes increasingly difficult to return to routines.
The secret is to find a balance between enjoyment and lifestyle. For those who diet, intermittent fasting is a wonderful tool to maintain caloric intake while still being able to let loose at the company Christmas party.
It’s important to keep on maintaining discipline when we encounter difficult times. It only serves to strengthen your resolve. And, if you do happen to fall off the wagon. Get back on.
Most people feel like suffering is worth it because there’s a goal to be achieved. Weight loss is a great example. People starve themselves, eat strange foods and exercise to lose weight. The trouble is when they lose the weight and stop exercising and eating strange foods, the weight comes back. There is no end. Instead, you need to eat properly and exercise regularly (forever) to maintain a healthy body and mind.
Education falls into the same category. Study hard for the math test so you can get a good grade. Beware, there’s another math test around the corner. Of course, the tests end when you graduate to the working world, but they don’t really because the tests are replaced with the constant need to re-educate yourself. There is no end.
Then why not embrace the struggle? Playing whack-a-mole with life's problems is exhausting, especially when there is no end.
The interesting thing about suffering is that the more you embrace it the better you get at taking on more suffering. Real growth happens when you live in the suffering not when you live through it.
Next time you’re taking on a problem with the goal of stamping it out, remember: There is no end.
When you’re walking down a busy street and you see someone drop their phone, do you pick it up and give it back? What about seeing someone with a baby carriage struggle to open a door? Would you help?
Almost all of us would without hesitation, stop and help someone open a door or pick up a fallen item.
The interesting question is: Why do we do it?
Helping a fellow human-being with their daily struggle is an essential quality that has been carefully crafted into us through years of evolution. Being ultra-social beings, we must be able to help and support one another if we’re going to be successful as a society.
Some of us believe that empathy is the driving force behind all of these courteous acts by strangers taking place every day throughout the world. Empathy is the emotional motivator that provides us with a hit of serotonin every time we cooperate or help. Oxytocin is also known as the bonding hormone. Mothers receive huge hits of oxytocin when their baby is born. It provides a euphoric feeling that helps reduce physical pain and increase the bond between her and the baby - which is a good thing because those early days of parenting aren’t easy!
Here’s the trouble with empathy: it’s extremely biased. According to Paul Bloom, we must be very careful not to lead with empathetic feelings because we’ll have a tendency to support those most like us. While this might not seem like a bad idea, Bloom suggests looking at it in greater scope. For example, the Make-A-Wish Foundation spent over $10 000 on turning a terminally ill boy into Batman and parading him around the city in a Batmobile. No doubt it was a very special moment for the boy, his family, and the city. Empathy wins, right?
What if that money was used to purchase mosquito nets used to prevent the spread of malaria in Africa? Hundreds if not thousands of lives could have been saved. Where is the empathy in that endeavor?
Instead of leading with empathy, we’re better to use reason and compassion when dealing with people in need. Compassion differs from empathy in that were not mapping the feeling of another individual on our own. Instead, we support and help one another because it’s the right thing to do.
We should pick up the fallen phone because it will make that person’s day better not just because we’d want someone to do it if the rolls are reversed.
It’s a subtle difference but an important one.
...is to understand that your job or career or goal requires you to keep showing up regardless of how you feel. Putting in your best effort each and every day will build the grit required to to great work. There must have been days when Michelangelo wasn’t jazzed about chipping away marble for hours at a time. He did it though and now we have David.
If you find yourself making the type of excuses that prevent you from showing up, then you may need to rethink your job or career or goal.
Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) is Canada’s version of the Navy Seals. They’re elite military operators whose skill sets range from training locals in the art of insurgent warfare to jumping out of planes behind enemy lines. They can fight in the desert, the arctic and under water. Unlike America’s special forces who can field highly specialized Navy Seals, Army Rangers, Green Berets, and Airforce Combat Controllers, the JTF2 are Canada’s only special force and need to be able to fight on land, sea and in the air, alone. Essentially, they’re the jack-of-all trades and they’re really good at what they do.
The challenge with being a one stop shop for national defence is that you can’t be an expert in everything. If you spend too much time training for underwater operations than you’re bound to miss out on important training for air insertion.
So how does JTF2 train to be an effective fighting unit that is coherent in all areas of the battle space without being an expert in every area?
Instead of being the best in one area, they learn to be really good in all areas. More importantly, they practice extreme flexibility. When they enter into dangerous combat zones, they’re acutely aware that they’re not experts in everything. They work together to minimize the risk and maximize success knowing that their skills may not be perfectly polished. This happens though detailed planning, having access to the best equipment possible and the understanding that failing to use their strengths is worse than overestimating their weaknesses.
Extreme flexibility is a differentiating asset in a world where specialization is the norm. Kids are taught to be the best at a sport, a subject in school or an art. Nobody today is willing to settle for above average. The issue is that being above average at sports, school AND arts makes you far more versatile in a world of change than someone who has placed all their eggs in one basket.
Understanding your strengths and embracing your weaknesses gives you the needed insight to perform in areas of unknown. The JTF2 prepare as best as possible but know that their strength lies in extreme flexibility.
The next time you have the opportunity to participate in something you’re not an expert in, dive in guns blazing and embrace your weaknesses. It will only serve to make you extremely flexible.
This is a photo of a young boy comforting his sister in her last moments of life. It's heart-wrenching to look at and even more difficult to discuss with someone. The father who published the photo didn't do it looking for some virtue singling. He wanted it to be a symbol of the fragility of life. The picture is meant to for us to reflect on what it means to exist. The photo is helps us to understand that we're finite and extremely vulnerable.
We all know this, yet it seems to be such a difficult task to spend time enjoying the small things in life: The first crest of sunlight on a warm spring morning, the laughter of children at play, a warm embrace from a loved one. Why is it that these moments seem to wash away quickly and are difficult to contemplate once they've disappeared?
Us humans are not designed to be deep reflectors in life. We've evolved in a hostile environment where food scarcity, predator danger and disease lurked around ever corner. In the modern world, none of these threats are a real danger to us anymore. One can forgive our inability to medicate effectively on the value of life when we've spent most of it just trying to survive.
When pictures like this roll through our social media feed, we need to recognize their value and take a moment to live in the present, to be thankful for whatever we have - big or small. Nobody really knows when this grand show will come to an end, but to live like it will last forever is perhaps the wrong approach.
@davidgroggins is a master motivator because he offers one simple message: You have to suffer. The difference between someone who is motivated and someone who is driven is suffering. The person who just attended Tony Robbins latest seminar is motivated. They become driven once they put their plan into action. Change is never easy and it often takes a tremendous amount of suffering before things start to turn in your favour.
The difficulty we have as human beings isn't that we can't or won't suffer. It's that we assume that if we do put ourselves into a position of pain we should be rewarded for it. Got up early this morning to go for a jog? Great. That doesn't give you a free pass to gorge on donuts at lunch or put a sweaty selfie on Instagram.
Suffering is an individual experience. Sure, you can suffer as a group or have someone feel sympathetic or even empathetic for you. At the end of the day, you're in control of your suffering. This is best demonstrated by Buddhist monks who live in a community, but meditate with their own thoughts. The meditating is done to aid the balance between joy and suffering so they can connect with it, experience it and ultimately be content with it.
Suffering is an inevitable part of life. Embracing it, seeking it out and (yes) enjoying it will not take away from your life, only add to it.
Ask the average person what they know about World War 2 and they’ll likely tell you about D-Day. Ask them to tell you something about D-Day and they’ll mention Juno or Omaha beach or the massive airborne drop that preceded the beach. Ask them about Juno beach and they’ll explain the difficulties getting off the ships and the fierce fight that took place. Keep it going and you’ll likely get to individual stories about solider’s actions that morning. We can uncover layers of events that took place in WW2 by drilling deeper and deeper.
What’s rarely ever talked about is the development and execution allied grand strategy ultimately ended the 3rd Reich. The entire plan took years to develop and required the strategic thinking that well beyond the immediate landings, but also included the drive towards Germany, the liberation of France and the low countries and the ultimate plan once Hitler had been disposed.
Everything that happened from June 6th, 1944 onwards was the result of a massive strategic effort. All the battles, stories and hardships were directly related to the ability of the tactics to match the grand strategy of the war effort.
Had the airborne effort on the night of June 5th failed to seize the correct bridges, the landings would have stalled on the beaches. If a fuel line hadn’t been laid under the channel, the tanks would have run out of gas.
We can easily get caught up in the power of tactics over strategy in our daily lives. Rushing from to-do list time to to-do list item can make us feel productive. However, if paying your credit card off immediately after shopping at the mall doesn’t match with your grand strategy of saving money, it’s a fail. Same goes with work. If you can knock off every task your manager gives you, but you still feel unfulfilled, it’s a fail.
It’s important to spend time mapping out a grand strategy for your life. It doesn’t need to have a time limit (WW2 didn’t), but it should have a clear outcome.
Becoming a doctor, independently wealthy, owning a car or a house, getting in better shape and being more active in your community are all noble strategies. Write them down and every time you do something on your to-do list ask yourself if you’re moving towards or away from that goal.
The allied Normandy strategy took longer than expected. They did finished it though.
“Trust is difficult to gain and very easy to lose.”
There’s no better way to build your self-brand than by continuing to show up. Making promises and continuing to keep them will ALWAYS move the needle forward in any relationship.
If you raise your hand and say yes to something, be sure to follow through to the bitter end.
It is even better to do it without complaining or resentment or virtue signalling.
When things get tough, the person who always follows through is most likely going to get the tap on the shoulder to do something about it.
As a supplement to a blog post below, I have created slidecast that was given to the senior school . In the talk, you'll learn why fear and failure are keeping you from aiming high and being a better person.
Podcast version available here.
The walk down the hallway before a job interview is arguably the best moment of the entire job seeking process. Your resume has passed the test. You made it to the top 1% . Now is the moment before you get the chance to shine and show the company you're the best person for the job.
Those small precious moments before the big interview are what you should focus on. Latch on to. Dial in.
In those fleeting moments the world is pure potential. It's the moment before you leap. It's important because you get the chance to experience everything that might be and everything that might not - all at the same time. Once you open the door, the game begins. You can' t cut and run. You have to execute.
We need to learn to seek out opportunities where can experience the moment before the leap. That 's where real growth happens. The difference between a hero and a coward is action in that moment of uncertainty, of pure potential. Seek it out and you won't be disappointed.
Easter Island is the true story that Dr. Suess might have based the book 'The Lorax' on.
It was home to a successful community for many generations. Over time, the limited resources on this isolated island began to disappear until one day, 'chop!' the last tree went down.
Jared Diamond makes the story real in his brilliant article and book (thanks Seth Godin for linking this!).
The question we could ask is: Who were the people that warned everyone about the pending crisis?
Someone must have known about the potential danger, right?
It's possible that the entire community was suffering from co-pilot syndrome. It's the condition where the co-pilot doesn't mention any potential danger to the flight crew because he or she feels that speaking up might disrupt the deeply taught culture of chain of command. Experienced pilots never make mistakes, especially obvious ones. Speaking up against them could get you in big trouble. So the co-pilot says nothing and the result can be disastrous.
Perhaps the community on Easter Island was based on this premise. Of course the leaders have a plan for the disappearing resources. Speaking out against the plan could get you banished and that's not a good place to be on an isolated Island in crisis.
Where in our culture do you see this type of behaviour? Do you feel comfortable speaking up in a meeting if you're on of the junior team members? Do you automatically assume that experienced leaders will always have it right? It sounds silly to think that way, but watch out, you might already be doing it.
With a massive environmental catastrophe on the horizon, we can't wait to act. We need to speak up now.
Dylan Thomas, 1914 - 1953
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Rage is a negative emotion. It can cause physical harm to others. The perpetrator may miss social cues and have temporary memory loss. The raging individual may resort to barbaric decision making. They will put all physical and mental effort into the source of anger until exhausted. Rage is a dynamic moment-to-moment experience.
Taken from Wikipedia:
A person in a state of rage may also lose much of their capacity for rational thought and reasoning, and may act, usually violently, on their impulses to the point that they may attack until they themselves have been incapacitated or the source of their rage has been destroyed. A person in rage may also experience tunnel vision, muffled hearing, increased heart rate, and hyperventilation. Their vision may also become "rose-tinted" (hence "seeing red"). They often focus only on the source of their anger. The large amounts of adrenaline and oxygen in the bloodstream may cause a person's extremities to shake. Psychiatrists consider rage to be at one end of the spectrum of anger, and annoyance to be at the other side.
Toddlers often to explode into fits of rage when things don’t go their way. They’re still learning to control emotions effectively and their frontal cortex doesn’t have enough experience to convince the brainstem - or lizard part of our brain - to cease rage and negotiate. That comes with a better understanding of the world.
When someone talks about the perfect life, they often exclude rage. Every happy person would expect rage to disappear if given the choice. Nobody really looks forward to rage-induced anger. It’s unlikely anyone looks forward to rage.
Why then is it part of our emotional network? What value, if any, does it offer?
In a world of increasing safety, protection and shelter - especially with children - rage can offer some insight into the emotional connection one has to a situation. We often mistake the people who undertake mass shootings as angry rage-filled individuals. Unfortunately, in almost all of the recent US mass shootings, witnesses suggest that the killers exhibited a cold calculated approach to their evil deed. There was a focus, a purpose an anger associated with their actions, but it was not emotionally-induced rage (and certainly not what Dylan Thomas was talking about).
Instead rage is a result of a negative experience related to caring. People are often thrown into ‘fits of rage’ after something has been taken from them or someone they know or love has been hurt. Steve jobs famously broke into a ‘corporate’ rage when, after the first launch of the iPhone 1, the mail server didn’t work. He was angry because he knew the importance of launching a perfect iPhone. He knew what as stake. He cared.
Danger lurks when people show indifference to failure or misfortune. If you get into an argument with someone and they shrug it off as no big deal, it means they really don’t care (or doing an amazing job hiding it). If you don’t care, you’re not concerned about the outcome. Indifference can lead to stagnation.
When you fail, you should certainly feel something. The stronger that emotional experience, the more that it means to you. Pay attention to this. It can be a beacon that guides you on on your way to greater success.