Among the news of the Humbolt tragedy this weekend, something that didn’t get as much press was the passing of Jonathan Pitre. The butterfly boy. He was born with a rare genetic condition that caused his skin to blister randomly. Most of his body was covered in open wounds. He never spent a day without physical pain.
Can you imagine that?
Bath time was horrific.
Yet, after being adopted by the Ottawa Senators, he got in front of cameras and gave the middle finger to pain to show everyone that it’s possible to live a positive happy life no matter what. There isn’t a single person in this world who would have faulted Jonathan not flying close to the sun. How could you when you're in that much pain? But instead he aimed high and said look if I can survive this anyone can.
What’s your excuse?
Smoke jumpers - the people who fight forest fires - don’t have a universal saying to cut and run when a fire gets too hot. They don’t need one. They’re trained to never put themselves into a position of extreme danger. This, of course, is strange since their job is to fight some of the most ferocious fires around. All without water.
They’ve spent countless hours carefully studying the physics of forest fires so that they will be well equipped to analyze their safety at any point in an operation. If things start to change outside of the plan, they will analyze the potential risk and ‘cut and run’ well before any danger appears. Forest fires rarely get put out in a day and smoke jumpers know this very well so they work to control the fire. Holding their ground against terrible odds is not an effective way to manage a massive fire.
We often use small problem strategies to manage the larger problems in our life. Putting your diet off tomorrow is an ineffective way to manage your weight. Working on your resume later because you have other more pressing things to do is also a poor way to find a new job. Instead we need to take a page out of the smoke jumper strategies for the big problems we face. Work to control the situation. Need a new job? Spend time (more than you think) analyzing your goals - money, lifestyle, work hours - and tailor your resume to represent that. Set aside time each day to apply for positions or practice interviews. Never miss this time or the fire may get out of control. Same with your diet. Spend time each day reviewing your diet and analyzing the food you’re eating.
Even if you spend 30 mins a day, that’s 3.5 hour a week and 14 hours a month! After a while, you’ll gain control of the situation and begin to push back, eventually taking the attack to the problem. Forest fires never really go away. Same goes with your problems. However, good strategy can keep things under control.
In a recent blog post, Seth Godin asks us to ‘delight in the journey’ of accomplishment. He suggests that our reserve of grit gets eroded every time we in engage in an action that requires little to no sacrifice. To work towards a goal not only improves our ability to make sacrifices, it allows us a greater level of satisfaction when we achieve it. How many times have you saved up for a purchase and later revealed ’nah, it wasn’t worth it’? Probably hasn’t happened. Compare that to an impulse buy at the mall and I’m certain the opposite is true.
Fishing and hunting are activities that have almost no instant feedback (unless, you’re really, really lucky. Or Jesus himself). Both the hunter and fisherman don’t need to engage in these ancient rituals for survival. The fish market down the street has more exotic seafood than most lakes in North America. Yet, there’s plenty of people who will spend the entire day out on the water hoping for a big catch. The longer they wait, the more they’re determined to continue. They delight in the journey of fishing.
What if you went into a task in the image of a fisherman? Delighting in the opportunity to take on an adventure, hoping for the big catch. Whether it happens or not, you may find yourself enjoying the activity and who knows, maybe a story will be made.
“This one time, after waiting for 8 hours, I dropped my line in and…”
43% of new graduates are holding jobs that are outside of their post-secondary education. Even scarier is that these jobs are often low paying and hold very little opportunity for advancement. Everyone has heard about the Starbuck's barista who has 2 masters degrees in English Literature but can’t find a ‘real job’.
Why is this happening?
We’re stuck in this belief that education will always grant us opportunity. The more we have, the safer more secure we are. It’s dead wrong. Ask an MBA who can’t find a job in marketing and can barely make their rent how education is doing for them. Ask the Lawyer who’s passed the bar but swimming in debt all while working insane hours how that extra education is making feel comfortable.
It’s our job to build a culture of entrepreneurship in schools to help prepare students for a world with infinite opportunity and (paradoxically) zero guarantees.
The new year is now in full swing and resolutions are being broken everywhere. Somehow it’s easier to slip back into our regular routines than it is to form new ones. Why is this? Obviously, the answer is because it’s hard to change. Exactly how hard is it?
The last post talked about benchmarking yourself. This is an underrated activity. Writing down your goals is good, but actually writing a life plan is even better. In our short-sightedness we often assume that going to the gym for a few weeks will ultimately stick because we’ll feel better and see the benefits. That’s wrong. Often these goals of improved fitness, better diet, improved relationships, feeling happier arrive at the end of a very long marathon. Real lasting change occurs drip by drip and is almost unnoticeable. You’ll looking the mirror after six months and realize that where you came from is much different than where you are today. Lasting change.
So how do you make it happen?
Write down what your idea life would look like. Keep the dream anchored to reality. We all want that billion dollar lifestyle with personal jets and mansions, but unless it can be realistically achieved within 5 years, keep it off the table. A more appropriate vision would be to reduce/eliminate your current debt and have more financial stability.
Add in as much detail as possible. Use as many adjectives as you possibly can. This will help make the your dream the most vivid.
Here’s a small expert from my life plan:
…being financially stable enough to send my kids to private school and have the opportunity to travel with the family at least once a year.
…speaking in front of an audience at least 5 times a year on topics that interest me (motivation, education, fitness).
A life plan should be long enough that it reads like a detailed story, but short enough that you can quickly review it to ensure you’re still on the right path. Since the life plan is your creation, you can add as much or little information as you’d like. Just remember, murky details are the easiest ones to abandon. Make it SMART - or at the least the first two letters - specific and measurable.
Write down the worst case scenario. What if you did nothing? What if a few certainties in your life disappeared (ex your job)? What would your life look like? Don’t hold back - doom and gloom is the name of the game.
This is the bad life plan. This is what you don’t want your life to become. It’s just as important (perhaps more) than the life plan because it shows you where you’re going to end up if you DO NOTHING. Goals don’t fail because people do them incorrectly, they fail because they do nothing. They stop. Thinking of a life that has you in the dumps can help motivate you to do because doing is the name of the game.
More will be written in the coming weeks about life plans. In the meantime, the best thing to do is get started!
New Year’s resolutions. Good or bad? According to a Globe and Mail article, 92% of all New Year’s resolutions fail. Well, lets be nice and put it more positively: 8% of all New Year’s resolutions succeed. Yikes, not a very motivating statistic, is it?
A New Year’s resolution is a Hallmark holiday that failed. It is supposed to be this time of year where you can wipe the misery of holiday’s and the entire away in one swoop by setting a goal and going for it.
I’m going to lose 10 pounds!
I’m going to be nice to people!
Shop less, save more!
Fail. Fail. Fail.
Why is that we’re so terrible at setting and attaining goals?
If you take a naturalistic view, we’re the only animals that actually attempt to set goals. All animals in nature live in the present, spending their time seeking food, mates and not dying. That’s a bit of a cop-out explanation though. We’re clearly more sophisticated than other creatures and are the only animals that can understand the concept of the future. Naturally, we’re going to want to improve ourselves over time. So it’s not too difficult to recognize the connection between setting goals and bettering ourselves.
The challenge is that we have a difficult time constructing a pathway between the present and some future where our goals are realized. You see this all the time at the gyms in January where new people show up in flocks and work themselves to exhaustion. They’ll do it for a week, maybe two and they’re gone.
Real change requires a complete lifestyle overhaul. People want to lose weight quickly but fail to realize that they didn’t gain weight quickly. There’s this illusion that if and when you do reach your goal, you’ll get the green light to live like you want forever.
Instead of setting goals, we need to first imagine the life we’d like to live. What would you look like? How would you act? What would you wear? How would you know you’re happy?
Once you imagine this vision, write it down in as much detail as possible. This is your benchmark. Set your goals based on this benchmark.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t end here. Look for more in part 2 of New Year’s Resolutions coming soon!
What value is there hard work? Why sacrifice and commit to something beyond yourself? Why do anything where the reward might not equal the effort?
Watch the video above.
Think of how much effort the rabbit puts into creating the girl rabbit only to have but a fleeting moment of satisfaction.
Was it all worth it?
Would you do it?
It’s easy to reflect back and say that you wouldn’t given that you know the result. All that work for a momentary reward.
Here’s the thing: you should do the work anyway.
We’re often head-faked by this idea that effort should always be rewarded. Children are taught from a very young age that if they help they will get a prize. Work should be done because putting the in the time and effort make it right, good and just. Even though each of the rabbits tasks didn’t lead to a reward, in the end, the entire effort resulted in the creation of something new. And, that tiny moment made it all worth it.
How do I feel?
Am I interested?
Can I do this?
The answers to these 3 questions determine our effort, motivation and commitment when facing new challenges. People often let their subconscious answer the questions which can lead to excuses avoidance and, in a worse case scenario, lies.
The next time you’re faced with a new challenge or experience, consciously make the effort to ask yourself these important questions. You may be shocked by how much your answer differs from your subconscious!
Discipline = Freedom
Says Jocko Wilnick a former Navy Seal commander. His photographs of a Timex watch reading 4:40 am have become legendary. He’s not waking up to take the picture, that’s the time he begins his daily workout.
“I like to get it done before the sun rises.” says Wilnick.
Why on God’s green Earth would someone get up that early to workout?
Discipline = Freedom is why.
Not only does waking early give you an opportunity to get the most difficult part of your day (well for most of us) out of the way early, it forces you to remained disciplined. It takes commitment to follow such a tough and well, early schedule.
By conditioning yourself to follow such a regime, it will inedibly spill over to other parts of your life. You may find the grit needed to finish that last email before the day’s done much easier once you’ve adapted to an early morning workout.
You’ll also find yourself reinvigorated knowing that you’ve seized the day. Invitations and opportunities will now be easier to accept knowing that you’re one step ahead of the rest of the working world.
For me, it’s been an emmesly positive experience. Don’t get me wrong, when my alarm goes at 5 am there is nothing but pain. Once I’m able to bury those emotions, stepping on the treadmill becomes a piece of cake. I find that simply ignoring my thoughts and getting to it makes it much easier to endure. Speed is important too. The faster I can get on the treadmill, the more likely I’ll have any second thoughts. I’m simply a robot doing what robots do best - follow instructions. After about 5 - 10 minutes of sweating, my body and mind can’t tell if it’s 5 am or 5 pm. The rest is a piece of cake.
The best part of the morning workout is the time it frees up in the afternoon and evenings. I get more Freedom to spend time with my kids. I’m open to more activities after work. I’m finding that I can get lots more done.
Yes discipline = freedom. Try it out for a month and see what happens.
The slide-cast version (with slides) of a chapel talk I did on November 20, 2017. Approximately 700 students from K-12 were in attendance to hear the importance of setting goals and making sacrifices to achieve them.
In a recent "Ask Me Anything” on Reddit, the internet asked teachers what the biggest change in education has been from 1997 to 2017. The overwhelming response was failure. 20 years ago students understood that failure was a part of education and without the proper effort (and luck) you could conceivably fail a test, essay or course. Today there is no failure. Students cannot be held back, failing a test results in the opportunity to re-test and re-test and re-test until the student achieves the mark they desire.
What is the ramification for this?
First the good: Having the opportunity to fail without actually failing should empower students to take greater risks in their academic careers. Instead of writing an essay to meet the standards of the rubric, maybe a student writes a manifesto on the current state of the politics of their school. They may fail, but at the same time they’ve made a gross statement and perhaps ruffled some feathers. If they have to redo the essay they’ll do so knowing that they’ve put themselves out there.
Now the bad: This generally isn’t what happens. Students who take risks will do so regardless of the culture of failure in their school. Instead, knowing that you can’t fail seems to breed a culture of indifference. Why put the extra work in if you’re not worried about failing?
Indifference is the greatest threat to education.
While the idea of failure has changed, the result is the massive inflation of indifference. This threat doesn’t effect the high-flying high achievers. They’ll continue to their best work no matter what. It’s the kids who aren’t particularly motivated in school who get effected the most. Fear of failure is real and will motivate anyone even if they know there’s no consequences.
Commitment is a fleeting trait among young people. A busy technology rich lifestyle can create an environment where you may feel committed to a goal, but in reality you are just contributing. All great dreams come at a cost. Commitment will help you get there quicker!
This is a slide-cast of a talk I did at my school on February 13th, 2017. Enjoy!
In a world filled with instant gratification and abundance of choice, commitment to a long-term goal becomes much more difficult to achieve. This is especially true for young people who are trying to find their way amongst all this noise.
Yet, there are plenty of people in this world who are quietly committing themselves to dreams, goals and aspirations with a humbleness that is inspiring. It’s important that educators highlight these individuals whether they’re from the past or present. Students often get confused with the subtle difference between contribution and commitment. They may feel like they’re committed to school, a sports team or a club but in reality they’re only contributing to it.
Here’s the difference: When you have bacon and eggs for breakfast, you’re reaping the rewards of animals who have provided a source of nutrition through contribution and commitment. The eggs? Well a chicken contributed to your breakfast. And the pig? Well he committed to it. There are those who approach a goal with full effort, but carefully walk the line. When the going gets tough or motivation isn’t there, they put their efforts elsewhere. Commitment on the other hand is when you leave no exit. Achieving your goals is the only option. Burn the boats as the saying goes.
We should approach our goals like pigs on a breakfast plate. If you start down the path and it doesn’t feel right, then clearly you’re not committed. Terry Fox was pulled of the road near Thunder Bay, Ontario. While he was being wheeled away from the hospital, journalists stuck a mic in his face and asked him how he was doing. His voice cracked as he whimpered “I have a tumour in both my lungs, but if there’s anyway I can get back out there, I will.” Terry set a goal greater than himself. When it was ripped away from him, it wasn’t the tumour in the lungs that bothered him so much. It was the inability to achieve his mission - to run across Canada for cancer research. Terry ran like a pig.
Throughout history there are plenty of people who committed to a cause no matter the cost. Churchill standing up to Hitler alone, Jesus spending his 30s spreading the word of God and Nelson Mandela’s struggle to end Apartheid are just a few examples of a commitment to something grand, noble and more important than the individual.
As educators we need to take notes from history to inspire our students to commit to an idea greater than themselves. When you are doing something for someone else and leave no exit, magical things can happen. It no longer becomes about the goal, but instead about the journey. Terry fox only finished 50% of his goal yet there isn’t a Canadian who would give him a ‘D’ for his effort.
Today’s education system supports failure. Why don’t we use that to our advantage and inspire students to leave no exits and take a leap of faith towards their goals.
Steven Pressfield named resistance as that powerful force that prevents us from making art. It manifests itself in many forms including friends, alcohol and fear. I contend that fear is the biggest contributor to lack solid artistic production in your life.
You haven't written that book because you're afraid of the effort required, the ridicule of your peers and costs of failure.
Here's the thing: Somewhere along the way we've been told that art has to be a published book or a youtube video with a million hits. Sure it's nice when those things happen, but the reality is not doing art is far more detrimental to your health than making art that society deems unworthy. It's art because it pushes the boundaries and limits of you and your vision of the world.
When you overcome the resistance of fear, you'll soon see that banging away on your craft can fill a massive void in your self actualization.
Who cares if it's bad?
Here's the video version of my presentation slides from my grit talk on Monday. Slide notes are attached!
Here in this the beginning of the 3rd week of January is where once optimistically forged resolutions begin to fade. People who undoubtably stone-faced promised at the start of the year to give up sugar, exercise more, be less selfish, or try something scary likely find themselves back in their old habits. I sure hope not, but according to statistics you're likely doomed.
Why do we then put ourselves through such misery if we know it will probably end in failure?
Us humans are a resourceful bunch. We have the ability - for better or worse - to frequently re-evaluate our behaviours. This is an important adaptation because it provides a way to benchmark our performance against the norm. This gives us feedback to help adjust our patterns to improve our ourselves in relation to the collective. In short, we learn to fit in better.
Fitting in is important because it keeps us from being an unwanted outlier. We really want to be liked by others. When we're obese, angry or selfish we stand out and are susceptible to being judged. For most of us, we just want to be the best person we can be so we take a stand to make changes.
However, our dreams fade into darkness when we realize that the changes we want require much more effort than we can muster. Besides, we were not that bad before, right?
Making change is hard, sometimes excruciatingly hard. It requires commitment and most importantly, grit. In all things worth doing the pain and darkness of the effort almost always give way to the better. We just need to recognize that our brains are powerful deceptive. Our imagination can powerfully propel us to a glorious vision where our dreams are realized. The reality part of our brain doesn't often kick in until the real pain begins.