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Learning to Risk. Risking to Learn.

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VISIT

Don’t try so hard

10/22/2014

There is a difference between working hard and trying hard.

One requires diligence and the other requires an audience. You can tell pretty quickly which is taking place. If your best work surfaces only when you have, or are about to have onlookers, then you’re probably trying. But, if you love a craft because you see its potential, and you get lost in making it and improving it, then you’re exerting effort in its purest form.

Why you work is just as important as the way you work.

So, don’t try so hard.

Leading Hesitations

10/15/2014

Every once in a while, courage will pass by your doorstep. It appears after you conquer something that seemed impossible. It will brighten the way. As soon as it appears, lead it to your darkest places. It will guide you through treacherous paths.

Most of the time, however, hesitation sits on the porch of our lives. It lingers like an unwanted extended family member whose lineage we can’t recall.

Oddly enough, you must also lead those hesitations.

Coerce them to embark upon a journey to a far-off land where they will meet their old friends, uncertainty and comparison. Convince them that you have no more food to eat, no more time to spend, and no more need for their voice. Cast a vision for them to find the man who’s on the brink of something unjust or unhelpful. Let them find their home with him.

Lead your hesitations to another place. By doing so, you’ll leave room for courage to arrive.

When the pieces don’t fit

08/27/2014

Sometimes, the pieces don’t fit. That’s ok.

Our job isn’t to force the pieces to come together, our job is to be the right piece.

When we toil towards being in control, we forfeit being a part of the process. Control is merely an illusion created by people who have vision but no patience. They see the possibilities but aren’t willing to work or wait until that vision comes to fruition.

Like a gate that opens slowly or a piece of fruit before it ripens, we must learn to wait, to be on the ready without forcing movement.

Then, when we’ve given time and space for our hopes to blossom, we will notice that the things we once sought to control are the very things we are happy to let go.

That’s when it will come together. That’s when the pieces will fit.

Pick a Side

08/20/2014

If you were one of the millions of World Cup viewers this summer, you know the excitement that comes with the game. One of the most tense situations is the moment when a foul is called within the goal box.

The penalty for such a foul is a free kick from a mere 12 yards away from the goal line. The odds are not in the favor of the goalkeeper.

I started playing goalkeeper during my chubby middle school years, mainly because it seemed to entail the least amount of running. By the time I entered High School, I had slimmed down and fallen in love with the position. When my goalie coach, Coach Palmer, would practice penalty kicks with me, he would coach me to simply pick a side and dive with all of my might. If I thought the shooter was going to kick to my right, I should commit to dive to my right even before he took the shot. If I guessed correctly, I’d be able to stop the ball. If not, people would know that I was fully committed. He’d remind me that the pressure isn’t on the goalie, it’s actually on the shooter.

If he misses the goal, he’s a bad shot.
If I save the goal, I’m a hero and he’s a bad shot.
If he makes it, and I gave a valiant effort, no one will fault me.

There was a certain peace of mind that came with knowing that I was either going to be just fine or a total hero and the shooter would either meet expectations or be a total failure. In fact, before penalty kicks in college, I would regularly shake the hands of my opponent and remind him, “…the pressure is on you.”

If you’re bold enough to stand on the goal line–to create or develop new ideas in a world that will take countless shots at you–remember that people know the odds are against you. But, the pressure isn’t on you to always protect the net, it’s on you to pick your side and dive.

The more you practice, the more you’ll learn to read the ball and the more likely you are to choose the right side.

Home is a song that should be played often

08/13/2014

I walked into the home. Kids were chuckling and bickering. Mom was clinking pots and pans as she prepared for dinner. A dog howled. Feet stomped throughout the house. Faucets were turning on and off while the fridge was being opened and closed. Ice cubes dropped into glasses. Dad grabbed a handful of silverware and began setting the table.

It was a concert – an orchestra playing a familiar song that flooded my mind with memories. Each noise on its own took me to a specific place; but when played all together, it was the sound of home. It was the song of caring people who were tied together for life. There was no need to impress or convince. I just needed to play my part through laughter, conversation, and partaking in a meal.

Home is a beautiful song that sings a truthful chorus. Play it often.

Be scared. Be very scared.

08/06/2014

As kids, our little bodies required us to constantly look up. Doing so gave us grand views of the clouds, the stars, and endless space to imagine. There was less to fear and more room to wonder and wander.

As we grew older, we needed to look down more often to watch our steps and notice the dangers around us. Everything from the news to the challenges of the day made us more aware of the ground and how hard it hurts. Glaring signs warned us of how many people fall and fail and how painful those things are.

Fear set in.

It led some to become cautious and others to become crippled. People called this growing older or becoming more mature. Sometimes, it was just growing scared.

But, it’s ok to be scared. It’s ok to be very scared. We mustn’t ignore our fears, but rather we ought to know and study them. They are the friends (or relatives) we never asked for but  must learn to live with.

As we get to know them, they become less daunting, less novel, and more familiar. The more we face them, the more we learn their manners, why they exist and what makes them tick. The more we do so, the smaller they become.

As they shrink, we can begin to look up again, and see the great places they never wanted us to reach.

Why the Best Innovators are Students

07/30/2014

Every field of work (and life) has its innovators and experts–the sharpest minds in the game. And if you share the ambition to achieve something great, you may aspire to join their ranks. But what are the steps that actually get people there? Who were great innovators before they became masters in their field?

The truth is these individuals  start out the same way as the rest of us. No one is born as an iconic leader, scientific mastermind, Olympic athlete, or savvy entrepreneur. They start in the same place: full of questions, concerns, hopes, dreams, and challenges. So, what separates their path?

As I meet and speak with a wide range of remarkable individuals, I’ve noticed one definitive commonality between all of them: the most innovative people are the greatest learners. This doesn’t just mean students in a traditional classroom (in fact often it’s often the opposite), but rather the most proactive people in pursuing firsthand knowledge in a chosen area.

Experts-to-be let intellectual curiosity lead them and surround themselves with smarter people who can share stories and lessons. The most impactful learning comes from these sources, as well as their own hands-on experiences.

Most distinctively, if you pick the brain of an renowned individual in any field you’ll realize they never stopped learning. They never stop seeking out more research and the ideas of smarter minds.

And it applies to all fields. Ludwig van Beethoven, born with incredible musical sense, didn’t produce many of his most historically acclaimed (and innovative) pieces until after decades of study and improvement alongside composer Joseph Haydn, his father, and others.

Elon Musk, one of the most noted living entrepreneurs, has invented radically new cars and space shuttles by becoming a student again and again after startup successes in entirely unrelated industries.

Even billionaire investor Warren Buffett credits his business savvy to constant study, claiming, “I just sit in my office and read all day.” For the most innovative, learning doesn’t stop when you leave a traditional learning environment.

Anyone has the potential to spark great thought and work. As IDEO founder David Kelley once said to me, “creativity starts with being curious, and everyone can be curious.” The icons we look up to want to keep being students. Any of us can become true innovators and experts in our field if we commit to meaningful, mind-sharpening experiences, and seeking out opportunities to spend as much time as possible learning from those ahead of us.

That pivotal transition into holding true expertise happens when you are able to share substantive insights with those a few steps behind you. Experts are great storytellers–they share their opinions and mentor others–and it’s not just for altruistic reasons. In words attributed to Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Sharing what you’ve learned forces you to build stronger mental frameworks and answer tough questions. It drives you to remain a student and not become complacent with early success.

If you devote yourself to becoming a great student, you will create and do great things. People may or may not deem you as an expert, but your listening ear and thoughtful work will spark the type of conversations that lead to better places and momentous ideas.

So, what are you learning?

A formula for greatness

07/16/2014

Greatness is elusive. Sometimes, it’s easy to spot. Other times, it takes a lifetime to notice. There are few things so sought out, yet so widely defined.

In order to define greatness, we must know average. And in order for us to know average we have to recognize what is ordinary or normal.

Look around to find what is considered normal. Is it a product, an experience, a sound, a taste?

Nothing begins great, but everything has the potential to cross the chasm from mediocre to memorable – from mundane to magical.

Find those things. Hunt for them.

You’ll know them when you see them. You will feel them. They will glow with potential. They will groan with fatigue. They will pale in comparison to your vision of what they could be.

But, what produces greatness?

Energy + Commitment

With enough energy and commitment, anything can be great.

When you find something worth improving, spend days, weeks, years, a lifetime resisting average. Know what fuels you and fill up often.

When you grow tired, remember this is just the beginning.

When people doubt…
When resources are sparse…
When hope is absent…
When applause is faint…
When time plays its dirty tricks and loneliness finds you…

Those moments are when you can rise above ordinary reactions and impulses and to apply energy and commitment. These are the opportunities for greatness to surface.

It doesn’t matter where you begin, but that you define and reach the end.

So go, be great.

The push and pull of today

07/09/2014

Some days feel massive. Conversations are like stalled cars and certain projects are oblong boulders needing to be pushed uphill. They are the days that highlight our faults and destroy our hopes.

But, the depth and breadth of our character is not developed on light days.

Remember that giant obstacles are rarely moved at once. Over time, hope will surface when things of magnitude begin to nudge and inch forward. They may require incessant pushing and pulling, but after a few heaves and help from willing bodies – bit by bit – you will see progress. And the movement will be contagious. You’ll see yourself grow better, stronger, and more ready than ever to face what comes next.

So, put your back into it. You may be closer than you think.

Homeward

06/04/2014

One of my greatest fears is being lost.

That’s hard to admit for someone who loves to explore. Frankly, getting lost rarely happens. It seems that I always have access to a phone, computer, or a person who can point me in the right direction.

But every so often, especially while traveling abroad, I’ll find myself in the middle of nowhere, racking my brain to piece together signs and landmarks while retracing steps.

Once while I was in Barcelona, I decided to leave my friends at the AirBnB we had rented and venture out for a late night walk through the Gothic Quarter. I stopped into a few bars, tried to speak and use sign language with an array of strangers, and continued exploring the town in all of its beauty.

As the night went on, I realized that I had no idea where I was. The Gothic Quarter, with its intertwining roads and quirky buildings, made it impossible to recognize anything, especially at night. It was getting late, I couldn’t call my friends, I didn’t know the language, and everyone around seemed to be intoxicated beyond comprehension.

I was lost. The one thing I knew was that I needed to get home.

When someone is on a mission to get home, there isn’t much need for translation. The combination of facial expressions, finger pointing and slightly desperate vocal tones are enough for anyone to understand. You may be lost, but the mission is written on your forehead.

This is the beauty of a mission that comes from deep within you. It is something that you can’t help but pursue. It points you in the right direction. It keeps you awake. It calls other people to help you. And it may even invite other people to join you until you reach your destination – which is exactly what happened to me that night.

Your home becomes your mission. And eventually, your mission becomes your home.

Some days, you will feel like you’re heading in the right direction. Other days, you’ll feel entirely lost. Whatever the day, know your mission.

And don’t look too hard. Just look for the places that feel like home.

[This post was written for June's Leap Topic: Mission. Originally posted at: http://www.leapyearproject.org/homeward/]

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