What I learned last week (#11)

New music for focusing, a person worth following, and geeking out on urban sketching.

  • Memento mori: Translated as “remember that someday you will die”, and otherwise referring to an object that serves as a reminder of death. Aside from being useful short-hand in conversations, having a reminder like this visible is useful in keeping perspective, prioritizing and staying present.
  • New music to focus with: Midnight Marker by Shy Layers has been on my album list for a while but recently I gave it a spin while working and it was great for focusing.
  • An informative source of thoughts and ideas: I’ve been following Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of Wired, for the past few weeks on LinkedIn and Twitter. I’ve found all of his reading recommendations and short videos have been well worth the time.
  • A simple new essential for the car in the winter: A friend pulled this out last week during a particularly snowy evening and I was shocked I hadn’t seen it before. The Frostblocker keeps your windshield ice free and frees you from having to scrape the window after a long stretch in the cold. Brilliant.
  • An approach to capturing people and movement: I loved these simple-yet-complex sketches and I’m inspired to try the same technique (quick figure gestures, layering on top of one another, the use of different line color for figures vs environment). Here’s one from the blog Mostly Drawing, which is fantastic (I love the info on the kit being used):
From See-through city on the blog Mostly Drawing

What I learned last week (#10)

The secret to likely everything, a reminder that most stuff can wait, and the metaverse is coming (or it’s already here).

  • Learning what and how to ignore things just might be the secret to everything:

“Learning to ignore things is one of the great paths to inner peace.”

Robert J. Sawyer
  • The metaverse beyond the hype: This article clued me into Tim Sweeney (founder of Epic Games, which created Fortnite and the Unreal Engine) and what he hopes Fornite becomes. It’s a fascinating read. 
  • Some useful reinforcement for moving abroad: As I’ve previously described, making the decision to move isn’t easy, but it’s reassuring to hear that part of our rationale is backed up by research showing those who live abroad tend to develop a stronger sense of what’s important to them.  (Hat tip to Marcus Purvis)
  • A reminder that most stuff can wait: Last week was snowy in Seattle, which meant a lot of meetings needed to be canceled, my work time was reduced, and I spent the majority of the week in my long johns. Not surprisingly, the important stuff still got done, and the week felt like a mini-vacation. Removing all the non-essential overhead felt good. It’s surprising how much baggage we all carry around that should be left behind, and I’m grateful for the reminder. On a related note, check out Busy is the New Lazy and aim to get more slack in your days.
Snow in Seattle

What I learned last week (#9)

My perfect lunch, the importance of the subliminal self, and a simple journal exercise.

  • This lunchtime meal is close to perfect for me: The aptly name Perfect Protein Salad from our local grocery chain PCC has it all. I always bought it from their deli, and once I got their cookbook and started to make it, it has become a standard. It’s a multi-day process, starting with cooking the garbanzo beans (starting with dry) and spelt berries days in advance, but it’s worth it. I add a half jalapeño to spice things up as well as some hemp seeds. It’s good to grab straight from the fridge and eat cold and is light enough to not induce the afternoon lull that heavier food does.
Perfect Protein Salad recipe from the book Cooking from Scratch
  • More on the role of the sub-conscious and the creative process: This article on the French Polymath Henri Ponicare is great and has a bunch of interesting links throughout. “The subliminal self is in no way inferior to the conscious self; it is not purely automatic; it is capable of discernment; it has tact, delicacy; it knows how to choose, to divine.”
  • I remembered this simple journal exercise that I did in a course last year: I’m not a big fan of thinking about where I want to be in 5 years or 10 years, but this simple exercise is surprisingly hard to start and equally surprising where it leads. Try it.
    Exercise: 10 minutes of free-writing (the only rule is that you can’t stop writing!). If you don’t know what to write, just write “I don’t know what to write” until something else comes up. The topic is what is my best possible future? Start with “In 5 years, I will…”. No constraints – you can change anything you want about your current life.
  • Another perspective on creativity:

“We don’t know where we get our ideas from. What we do know is that they do not come from our laptops.”

John Cleese

Enjoy the week ahead!

What I learned last week (#8)

I am now on the neti train, have a new go-to gratitude exercise, and got bansky’d, among other things.

  • I never realized what I was missing by not trying a neti pot earlier: The family and I have been battling various sicknesses for the past month, and on a friends advice I started using the NeilMed Sinus Rinse. It feels weird at first, sure, but the results are real.
  • This short exercise to change your mindset: I’m about half-way through the Sam Harris Waking Up course and have been listening to some of the lessons as well. Like the rest of the course, this short lesson on gratitude really has had an impact. I find that a lot of the time I am in a mental malaise at the end of a work day, especially after a long commute home. This is a fantastic tool I’m using to break any feeling of mediocrity.
  • The most nutritious plants: I didn’t think this article, Ranking Vegetables on How Healthy They Are, would be as surprising to me as it was. In particular, the fact that 100 calories of spinach has more protein than 100 calories of beef. Being vegetarian-turned-pescatarian now for 5 months I’m still learning about all of goodness out there. (Hat tip: Ben Tamblyn)
     
  • A quote I’ve been pondering:

“To attain knowledge, add things everyday. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.”

Lao Tzu
  • Vivian is a natural Bansky: I did a quick portrait sketch of Sam on Sunday morning and showed it to Vivi. She said I could draw her also “as long as you don’t make me look weird”. I left the room to change Sam’s diaper and didn’t think of it. Later in the afternoon I opened and found that she drew herself in the notebook on the opposite page.
A couple of sunday morning portraits
My portrait of Sam on the left, Vivi’s self portrait on the right.

What I Learned Last Week (#7)

Thinking on the future of (my) work, doubts about the usefulness of resumes, and some history of a modern classic beer.

  • I really like the idea of distributed work: Working with a team/organization where everyone is distributed is something I’ve become really interested in over the past couple years, as I think it encourages more sharing, prioritizes written and visual communication skills, and enables a more healthy relationship with work (by default at least) that many traditional companies. This is in my future. Recent inspiration comes from: The Future of Work and 10 Things I’ve Learned Since Quitting My Job to Work Remote and Travel.
  • I’m not convinced that resumes are worth anything: I know I previously posted that I’m trying out enhancv for my resume (and I am, paid for it too), but I think the process I’m going through in creating it is where the value lies, the actual final page is not going to be worth much. Just read this in Rework as I was thinking this and I have to say I feel the same way:

“We all know resumes are a joke. They’re exaggerations. They’re filled with “action verbs” that don’t mean anything…If you hire based on this garbage, you’re missing the point of what hiring is about…Check the cover letter.”

  • The history of The Alchemist Brewery and Heady Topper: I was turned on to Heady Topper by my buddy Scott (founder and head brewer of Woodstock Brewing) and it lives up to the hype. This story of their start is great. I love the way Jen and John Kimmich approach things. Per John: “The way we treat our employees, the atmosphere that we create, is the energy of The Alchemist, and we translate that into our beer,” he says. “If this atmosphere was full of anxiety and anger and dissatisfaction, our beer would reflect that. There is a symbiotic relationship between the people working with that yeast to create the beer and the finished product. Our beer is alive.”
  • A quote I’m pondering:

“Worrying is like praying for something you don’t want.”

Anonymous

“Happiness is about understanding that the gift of life should be honored everyday by offering your gifts to the world.

Don’t let yourself define what matters by the dogma of other people’s thoughts. And even more important, don’t let the thoughts of self-doubt and chattering self-criticism in your own mind slow you down. You will likely be your own worst critic. Be kind to yourself in your own mind. Let your mond show you the same kindness that you aspire to show others.”

Vivian at the 2019 Women’s March in Seattle

What I Learned Last Week (#6)

This week: drawing tips, crazy 2018 facts, and good advice from smart people.

  • Everything that Anne Lamott has learned: I’ve been reading Bird by Bird recently (it’s great) and heard about this list she did of everything she had learned to date (apparently thinking about her grandson). I copied a bit below but the full post can be found here.

  • A new inspiration for drawing practice: I’m starting up a habit of drawing regularly (like writing) and my friend recommended Gris and Norm’s Tuesday Tips. Check out their tumblr and Instagram, very cool. I’m going to follow their weekly tips for a few months and see where it goes. I started on Saturday.

  • A good reminder about your responsibility and owning your story: This video from The Fresh Prince is great. “Fault and responsibility do not go together”.
    A good quote: “Whatever you are, be a good one.”– Abraham Lincoln
    There is great pride, quality and art to be found in all occupations.

What I Learned Last Week (#5)

This week: a new approach to resumes, the art of tidying up, some geography fun, and more.

  • A new way to approach resumes: I’m officially on the hunt for work now, either with a company located in Scotland (or, ideally, in a role where I can work from anywhere), so I’m brushing up my resume and noticed pics of this service making it’s way around LinkedIn. It looks awesome and I think I’ll be giving it a go: http://enhancv.com
  • Marie Kondo, the KonMari method, and the art of “tidying up”: I heard about this method of keeping only things that spark joy before, and as we prepare to downsize significantly and have to decide what to keep, I was trying to find out more. Looks like there is also a Netflix show on it now.
  • I’m liking and listening to Mick Jenkins more and more: I’ve been digging his album from last year, Pieces of a Man, recently and came across this interview. I especially like this portion:

I think that my sanity is the most important thing to my art, and I feel that my relationships are the most important thing to my sanity. My relationship with God, my relationship with my girlfriend, my relationships with the people that are close to me, you know? The people that keep me grounded. And if you focus on all of the many things that you could be focused on to advance your career, while you could be “successful”, I’ve watched people close to me suffer before I was successful, because of that, and that was something I was not going to do.

But like I say, it’s hard work. Because it’s such a self-centered thing, it’s easier to do the other shit, honestly… even though that shit’s hard too. But making sure that you foster, and cater to, and water those relationships, and keep them strong. I think that people are only able to keep you in check if they’re at a certain level with you. If that level starts to fade, then their ability to do that becomes less strong, and I need people to do that for me.

So like I say, you gotta water that, it’s a plant. You gotta keep it growing. It’s something to be spoken about, it’s definitely something that I do a lot of. It’s not an easy thing to break up the environment and put focus into growing your communication and your perspective with the people that are close to you. It takes a lot of work. 

  • Some wisdom I came across while looking back at my notes: I noted this passage from the interview with Soman Chainani in Tribe of Mentors, as it rang true for me:

Meditation has taught me that most of the ideas, opinions, rules, and fixed systems I have in my mind aren’t the real truth. They’re the residues of past experiences that I haven’t let go of. What I’ve learned is that my soul doesn’t speak in thoughts at all—it speaks in feelings, images, and clues.

I had about geography: This article, and particularly the story map, was

Soman Chainani
  • I had some misconceptions about geography: This article from National Geographic, in particular this story map, was eye-opening. Did you know Venice, Italy is as far north as Minneapellos, Minnesota? London is in parallel with Calgary? The map is worth checking out.

What I Learned Last Week (#4)

A weekly list of things I learned, discovered, or was reminded of in the past week.

  • A reminder about how little time we have with those we love: I thought about the article The Tail End from Wait But Why as I was pondering the new year coming up, our planned move and how we may not see some people for a long time because of it. Also, if you want to do some existential pondering, check out The Fermi Paradox.
  • Different models for understanding who we are and who other people are: Enneagram and the Big Five (aka OCEAN) personality trait models. I think both of these seem like interesting ideas to explore. I use the word “ideas” purposefully, as any framework or model will have it’s flaws, but taking time to reflect on what makes you and others operate the way you do from different perspectives is a good use of time. For more info on Big Five, I’m going to check out Making Sense of People by Sam Barondes.
  • How personalized medicine is transforming your healthcare: This article from National Geographic really blew me away. We have had a couple friends staying with us over the holidays that are both doctors in the pharmaceutical industry and many of the stories in this article resonated with them. The continuous monitoring of your health and the ability to tap into the body’s immune system to fight disease, versus using drugs, were particularly compelling.
  • Another meditation app: I heard about Waking Up from Sam Harris on recent Tim Ferriss podcast and think I’ll give it a try. I want to experiment with a refresh of my daily practice and his approach sounds interesting.

What I Learned Last Week (#3)

  • The art and philosophy of kintsugi: Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. A healthy perspective to apply to the story you tell yourself and how you relate to others.
  • A good reminder that the body is just as important (maybe more so?) as the mind:I’ve wasted a lot of time journaling on problems when I just needed to eat breakfast sooner, do 10 push-ups, or get an extra hour of sleep. Sometimes, you think you have to figure out your life’s purpose, when you really just need some macadamia nuts and a cold fucking shower.” – Tim Ferriss in Tools of Titans.

    Here’s a perspective on this from a powerful article in Outside from Christopher Solomon. The way he speaks about running really struck me on Sunday morning (right before I went on a run):
    Thoughts from the day—­current arguments, past heartaches, the sentences that resisted being pinned to the page—drifted past as if on a conveyor belt. I reached out and picked up each in turn, considering it from different angles.
    These runs rarely produced thunderbolts of insight. But by the time I got home, with streetlamps flickering to life, my brainpan had been rinsed. The world felt possible again. For me, these runs were almost like dreaming.

  • This quote is going to be important for the new year: Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” – Winston Churchill. We have a sketch of a plan for the next 6 months leading up to moving to the UK, but it’s certain to not go the way we think it is.
  • New music I’m listening to: Slow Machete – Ola Mala. This is the biggest surprise of all the new albums I’ve been going through last week. The backstory on it is mysterious and it’s hard to find info on the project. From SoundCloud:

    Slow Machete is a collaboration that came to life as Pittsburgh native Joseph Shaffer was recording Haitian choirs in 2009 and found himself with dozens of practice recordings and outtakes. These outtakes would be woven with downtempo and Cuban rhythms into what eventually became the debut LP Evening Dust Choir as well as the new EP Mango Tree.

A festive brute in my office lobby. Happy holidays!

Thank Your Reader

In living your story you can easily lose sight of who makes it possible. This is a reminder that practicing gratitude can help you see more clearly.

“If you are paying attention you can find truth and inspiration everywhere.” – Brené Brown

Having two young kids means you read a lot of children’s books and I’m amazed at how good many of them are. They way they distill powerful life lessons and wrap them in memorable artwork accompanied by a few powerful words is truly special.

In The Thank You Book by Mo Willems, Pig realizes she has a lot to be thankful for and that she better get thanking! So, she goes on a quest to thank everyone that she is grateful for (a noble mission), and she thanks literally every character in sight in the hopes of not forgetting anyone. She thinks she has everyone covered but her friend, Gerald, reminds her that she is still forgetting someone. After racking her brain she finally realizes she never thanked us, the reader. Without the reader, they wouldn’t exist, after all.

This lesson about expressing gratitude and recognizing the people or things outside of your bubble is something everyone can benefit from. Pig doesn’t realize who she’s missing until she slows down, listens to her friends warning, and zooms out of her everyday life to look at the big picture.

We all tend to forget the readers in our lives: the people that aren’t visible everyday, that we take for granted, but who make us who we are and allow us to exist in our daily life.

Who are these people or things in your life? Your parents? Your children’s  teacher? The barista or the cleaning guys for your building at work? Experiment with sending a note, thanking them or simply smiling, making eye contact and saying hi.

You might realize, like Pig does, that you have a lot to be thankful for.

Related:

  • Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey
    “The idea was deceptively simple: New York Times bestselling author A.J. Jacobs decided to thank every single person involved in producing his morning cup of coffee. The resulting journey takes him across the globe, transforms his life, and reveals secrets about how gratitude can make us all happier, more generous, and more connected.”