What would the best version of yourself be like?

Here is a useful tip I’ve discovered whenever I encounter unknown situations:

Just ask yourself, “What would the best version of myself be like in this moment?”

(This is particularly useful for robots, like that Facebook founder, who are only pretending to be humans. Just a joke. Chill out. Don’t put me on some list.)

Anyway, it’s a useful tip because it’s an open-ended question. Which forces you to flip on the ol’ imagination. Rather than asking yourself silly, self-doubting (or self-loathing) closed- ended questions. Like, “Should I do X?”, “Should I have said Y?”

This question is not meant to encourage you to shut off in the middle of real-life scenarios, so you can brainstorm how to behave. Don’t do that, psycho. Just be authentic.

It’s really meant more for reflection. Especially if you ever find yourself putting your foot in your own mouth. Or wishing you’d have handled a situation differently.

You’re going to botch it all up quite a few times in your life. Shrug it off. Then reflect.

How could that have gone differently?

“How would the best version of myself handled that moment?”

Asking these kinds of questions creates the semblance of an ideal for you to strive for in future scenarios. That, paired with the critical self-knowledge of your own past uncomfortable failures, gives you some good guardrails for future interactions.

“What’s the worst than could happen?” and “How would the best version of myself handle this?”

Aim to end up somewhere in the middle of those. Reflect. Move on with your life. Improve in the future.

Good Destination, Bad Directions

I turn 30 today (happy birthday to me, right?). Aging tends to force reflection. It gives cause to think back on decisions – the good, the bad, and the ugly. If we’re smart, that reflection offers lessons to help us improve ourselves over time.

Here’s one big lesson I’ve been meditating on:

Having the proper destination in mind does not validate your route to it.

Life is a series of goals. We make subsequent decisions in relation to our goals. Often we do the best that we can with the information we have.

But we don’t always have the best information. Nor do we always have the best of intentions. (Thought even when we do have good intentions, sometimes we’re bad at selecting the proper means.)

Still, with our limited knowledge, we aim at the highest, best goals we can fathom (if we are wise), and we dedicate ourselves to manifesting those into reality.

Except we’re not always great at bringing our ideas to life. Not to the level of perfection we all likely aspire to.

We choose our goals. Then we choose the route that we believe is most likely to get us there. Hopefully, most efficiently.

Sometimes, though, we choose the right goal but the wrong route. Which makes it incredibly difficult to see our own errors.

It can often feel like “selecting your goal” is the most difficult part of personal development. But that’s rarely true. Choosing a target is easier than hitting it.

But when you take special care in selecting which targets to aim at with your scarce resources, and you finally determine one that’s worthwhile – it can give you a sense of absolution about the means you select for getting there.

Choosing a good destination does not let you off the hook for using bad directions, though.

Even honorable goals are overshadowed by unworthy means.

The work isn’t done once you choose your target. You must also take special care as you work toward it, to ensure that you’re not allowing a desirable “end” is to justify bad means.

Radical Generosity is Good for the Soul

If you’re looking for a quick remedy to improve your life, look no further than generosity.

Generosity changes your orientation.

It opens up your purview to think instead about how to be useful, valuable, or of service to other people.

(Which is not necessarily the opposite of selfishness, properly defined. Nor am I advocating for selfless altruism. But that’s for another blog post.)

Being radically generous is a great way to restore yourself. To freely give of the best that is within you to the loved ones in your life – and even pure strangers – without any expectation of repayment.

But it’s not a one-sided transaction. Because in order to give, someone must also receive.

Be radically generous with the people in your life, with your resources, with your gifts and talents, and your time. If for no other reason than to improve your own happiness and quality of life (and the others around you, too).

Age and Perspective

The older I get the more sentimental I become. Especially about the time I get with family.

You never really know how much time you have left. I don’t say that to be morbid. But to remind myself of the importance of prioritizing what matters.

There’s a really jarring post about this from a blog I enjoy, The Tail End from Wait But Why. Illustrating your life in dots based on the average human lifespan, it forecasts “how many times left” the average person might have based on where they are in their journey.

I think a lot of us grow up fearing our own mortality, and so naturally, we avoid thinking about it at all costs. But I’m not afraid to die. What scares me much more is getting to the end and realizing I took things for granted.

This is, in part, I think, why I get more sentimental with time. The people and things in our life that make us who we are – they matter. They’re worthy of our affection, admiration, and gratitude.

It doesn’t all have to be captured and shared on social media, either. We can savor experiences without sharing them with the world.

It makes those moments more intimate. If for no other reason than scarcity. When there are no pictures or videos or archives to reflect on later, only the catalogue of our own memories.

We never know when we’re going to do our last something. So it warrants being present. We’ve got to show up for our own lives.

I don’t know when will be the last time I’ll read Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Or when I’ll uncork my last bottle of wine shared with family and friends. Just like I don’t know the last time I’ll take a walk holding hands with my wife.

But I want to be there for every one of the times I do get. I want to savor all of those precious moments, big and small alike – and as Thoreau once said, “to suck out all the marrow of life.”

How To Change Your World

When you recognize your own power to influence your immediate surroundings, you can make a big difference in your world fast.

You can rearrange rooms to make them more beautiful.

You can speak more respectfully to others.

You can laugh more, and invite others to join in.

You can leave things — and people — better than you found them.

You can get your life in order — personally, professional, financially.

Of course, you can do the opposite of all those things, too.

The same power that creates can destroy.

But, given the choice, what would you choose?

Will you make the world uglier?

Or will you make it more beautiful?

Today, and every day, I choose to make the world a more beautiful place.

How To Reduce the Chaos of Endless Choice Realities

One big challenge of life is figuring out what targets to aim at. We live in a time and world with nearly unlimited choices as it relates to careers, location, income goals, industry, and beyond.

So how do you navigate this – to ultimately discover the “right” target to take aim at?

Here’s one suggestion to get started: Find one goal you could aim everything you’ve got at.

By picking a goal that requires you to aim above the horizon, you force yourself to imagine who you must become in order to achieve that goal. 

This is a useful strategy for several reasons.

1. It allows you to orient yourself. Where (and who) are you today, versus where you’d like to be as a result of achieving your goal (and rather, who you’d like to be).

2. It reveals disparity. Moving toward your goals necessitates progress and change. You cannot become who you must be by accepting your current circumstances. Goal-setting contrasts the future you desire against the reality of your present, which enhances your own self-awareness.

3. It gives you a roadmap for how to behave. When you set a goal, you choose a target to take aim at. Which gives you a focal point into the future that you can work backwards from. Some choices will help you make progress toward that focal point, while others will lead you astray. 

Negotiating With Your Future

Setting goals forces us to detach ourselves from our past and present circumstances. Even without taking action on them, it offers an exercise in future-orientation.

If you really want to make headway toward your goals, then you’ve got to take inventory of your life –from the choices you make to the activities you spend your time on to your current available resources.

Taking inventory reveals positive and negative stock.

If you discover things that are holding you back, then if you really want to achieve your goals, you’ll be forced to address the baggage in your life.

Sometimes, you’ve got to sacrifice those demons at the altar of your future in order to stand a shot at advancing ahead.

Changing Course

As you go throughout life’s adventure, you’ll likely discover other targets worth aiming at – goals that you’d rather pursue. And you’ll almost always have different interests pulling you in different directions.

If you can go all-in on at least one thing – even if only for a short period in your life – you’ll build discipline, you’ll gain credibility, and maybe most importantly, you’ll build momentum.

You won’t always achieve the goals you set out to. Often, your pursuit of one goal will reveal an entirely different, more exciting path – when that happens, change course. 

This variety of life, though, should not be a cause for anxiety. Instead, it’s a good cause for excitement and enthusiasm about the endless possibilities that are waiting for you.

But you’ve got to start first. 

There are opportunities out there that you don’t know about yet. And you likely won’t discover them until you take aim at something and start moving toward it.

That’s the great adventure of life. It’s an ongoing discovery process, and you can always change course as new opportunities reveal themselves.

Failure is Part of It

There’s a scripture I’ve been meditating on for the past year or so.

It’s found in Acts 16:16-34 – when Paul and Silas are jailed in Philipi, for causing a riot. And by riot, I mean, for preaching the gospel and casting a demon out of a servant girl.

My biggest challenge with that scripture rests in their behavior after being accused and subsequently jailed – for no wrongdoing.

These guys sing while they’re shackled.

It’s as if they were so convinced of their bigger mission that the circumstances of the world could not stop them.

What happens next remains nothing short of incredible, too. When the earthquake batters the prison and breaks their chains, they don’t run. The jailer fears for his life. But Paul stops him.

He saves the jailer’s life. Then proceeds to share the gospel with him. The jailer invites them to his home, and they share the gospel with his family. Then he baptizes them all.

What an incredible story, right?

Man Makes Plans and God Laughs

This story makes me uncomfortable about my own response to circumstances that are not part of my plans.

When things don’t go according to plan, that’s failure, right? But perhaps not for certain.

I think back to some of my big failures. They were earth-shattering.

Granted, some of those came when I was not living out my potential. Which presents another big challenge.

When we face personal failure and inevitably start pointing fingers, all too often, we’re the main person worth of blame. At least, that’s been my experience.

But what about deviations from the plan when we are living out our potential? (Or at least making our best attempt to do so, given what limited knowledge we have.)

Meditating on Worst Case Scenarios

From time to time, I enjoy contemplating worst case scenario outcomes. It challenges me to evaluate my own intestinal fortitude, if you will. But facing the worst also brings me peace.

“Could I survive that?”

“How would I react?”

“Am I strong enough to endure that?”

…I wonder.

I like this exercise, though, because it allows me to explore just how uncomfortable a situation might be in advance – then contemplate what steps I could take to prevent sure disaster.

Separately, facing the worst case scenario and mentally enduring the struggle, enables me to make peace with my fate – recognizing every outcome less bad than that as a victory, in a sense.

Inevitable Failure

A final word on this topic, failure.

It is inevitable.

We all fail. But the good news is, we get to choose our battles.

It’s comforting to pretend that we can avoid failure altogether, if only we just play it safe enough. But that’s wrong. Dead wrong.

We will fail. Even if only in our own eyes – by failing to try.

What’s much more useful than attempting to avoid failure, then, is dedicating ourselves to fighting the battles that matter most to us.

That way when we fail, at least we can do so with the dignity of self-respect.

Be Attentive to the Opponents You Set Out to Defeat

I dreamed a strange dream last night. What’s even stranger, perhaps, is that I woke up in the middle of the night and the first thing that came to mind was a possible interpretation.

In attempt to extract the meaning, I’ll share it here.

I was sitting in a lawn chair in a backyard surrounded by family and friends at a celebration of sorts. In one hand I held a glass of wine and in the other a garden hoe – prepared to ward off snakes that had been spotted.

The first snakes I encountered were small. Easy to exterminate with one hand and a swift swing of the rake. But with each snake I addressed, the subsequent snakes grew larger and faster. Eventually, a rather large and swift snake appeared. As I swung at it one-handed, it lunged at me forcing retreat. I realized I stood no chance against my foe while defending myself one-handed.

There are a couple layers of meaning I’d like to address.

First, let’s talk about snakes – the opponents of your friends and family, threats to your way of life, enemies which would devour you, challenges which may poison us if left unaddressed.

I’m choosing the word opponent here, because it’s the word that woke me up last night. I don’t mean competitor as people we’re attempting to beat at some contest. The word opponent stood out to me vividly in my half-sleep state as ‘the problems which we choose to wage war against.’

Those challenges could be anything – from small personal development challenges to large cultural issues. Anything from attempting to get better with money or relationships to attempting to resist totalitarianism.

Threats that start small may grow in size if not entirely eliminated, or left unaddressed. This is my takeaway about the increasing size and speed of snakes.

If you don’t address issues, they grow into more formidable opponents.

Ok, so here’s the big one – the issue of fighting one-handed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about symbology lately. Earlier this year, I finished Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules of Living and Beyond Order. Now I’m reading Maps of Meaning. So I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently thinking about the “snakes” (primordial threats) that lurk around the corners, and extracting meaning from our every day stories. Not to mention thinking generally about “rules for living”.

The issue of fighting one-handed is something I’ve been dwelling on lately. Not in those specific terms. But it’s come up in attempts to improve my own life, and in conversations with others who are trying to make progress along a certain dimension.

A common theme I’ve encountered is how ineffective “we” (humans, generally speaking), tend to be at making progress in our own lives when we don’t take the problems we’re attempting to solve seriously enough.

Your opponent becomes more dangerous when you don’t respect it.

Take any big or small issue in your life. When you shirk things off altogether, or only make half-assed attempts to set the world in order, resolution evades you.

The only effective way to meet your opponents on the battle field is with your full attention and full proclivities in tact.

If you want to protect your garden, don’t fight snakes one-handed.

Tips for Living Out Your Values in Unprecedented Times

Okay, so let’s just get it out in the open. I hate the phrase “unprecedented times”.

We’ve always been in unprecedented times. There’s never been a set of circumstances identical to the ones we live in now.

So it’s about as shit an excuse as any to drone bomb the bejesus out of personal freedoms and sacred traditions.

Whew. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, where was I? Oh. Right. How can you live out your values in times like these?

Well, it ain’t easy. That’s the truth. It’s never been easy to live out your values. Not even if you’re evil. Because you’ll always meet resistance.

And the key to living out your values is planning for resistant.

We’re all great at living out our values when they’re uncontested. But it’s when the rubber meets the road – when it really counts – that’s when fit hits the shan.

Planning for the hard times in advance is the key to holding true when things aren’t easy. Let’s start with a simple example to illustrate.

A couple months ago I tried the “Whole30” diet. I’m not big on diets, but I am big on intentional living. This was a deliberate experiment to explore the relationship between what I eat, my energy levels, and mood. So for 30 days I basically cut out all processed sugar and grains.

And the results were, I felt great. But it was not without its battles.

The battle had less to do with temptation to stray and more to do with preparedness, as I learned about 3 days in.

Midway into the first week, I kept getting hungry in the afternoons. I meal prepped for every breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But I forgot about snacks. So when hunger struck and I only had shit food around, I started waffling about sticking to the plan.

TLDR; I had every intention of avoiding certain kind of foods. But I set myself up for failure by not preparing for when I got hungry. I held out against the urges, and planned better for the following weeks.

In a nutshell, that’s the key to living out your values in hard times.

You’ve got to prepare for the hard times in advance. And honestly, you’d be stupid not to. It’s inevitable that we’re going to meet resistance. So it behooves us to plan for it.

No, we’re incapable of planning for everything. But that doesn’t mean we can’t set ourselves up to be less likely to fail.

Here are a few tangible examples of what I mean.

You’re setting yourself up to fail living out your values if you’re not financially secure.

If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, then you have almost zero leverage. In fact, worse, everybody else has leverage over you.

Your employer controls your purse strings. As does the government. And your credit card company. And any other lender you owe money to.

Don’t put yourself in this position. Even if you’re not completely debt free. At least build up 3-6 months of cash reserves so you can afford to tell a boss and the government to go to hell when they do something insidious – like force you to undergo an experimental medical procedure or lose your job.

If you’re dependent on your employer to pay your bills, then the house of cards is just waiting to tumble down.

If you don’t want to fall into the Grand Canyon, then don’t go to Arizona.

About the only thing useful I took away from a professor in college is that quote. I think it’s fabulous advice.

If you want to avoid certain doom at a specific thing, then don’t put yourself in the position to do it.

In the lecture he introduced this concept, he was referring to a friend who was about to get married. His friend said something like, “I hope I never cheat on my wife.” To which, he told his friend he was an idiot (allegedly). But he made the point, “You can’t wait until you’re drunk sitting in a hot tub full of half-naked girls who aren’t your wife to start praying you’ll be faithful.”

Part of living out your values means anticipating and preparing for situations that put you in jeopardy. But another huge part means avoiding situations where you knowingly and willfully put yourself in jeopardy to begin with!

Accept responsibility for your fate.

This is the big one. It’s on you. It’s always been on you.

You can look around for cues from others about how you should live. Or you can use your noggin’ to figure it out what matters.

But it really doesn’t matter what set of values you claim to have.

All that matters is whether or not YOU are willing to hold the line. You probably won’t die for somebody else’s values. Hell, you may not even die for your own.

But the nifty thing is, it’s on you to decide. And you’re the one who has to live with the consequences of your decisions – good or bad.

Approaching 30

I turn 30 later this month.

Which is a weird feeling – retiring from my 20s. The past decade was a harsh teacher. Especially the first half.

Over the past 10 years, my life has taken quite a few twists and turns from what I originally expected.

By most accounts from my teenage and early-20s something, I’m a failure. I did not – nor am I on my way to becoming – a pediatric neurosurgeon. Nor a corporate finance attorney.

I’m on quite a different path. A path I didn’t know existed a decade ago.

Where my life and career are not a function of expectations – or a false sense of obligation. Rather, I have agency over the design of both. Which is freeing. But also comes at a high cost.

The weight I carry today somehow feels lighter and heavier than the weight I carried a decade ago.

Part of that is the sheer challenge of attempting to build a life and career on my own terms – rather than opting for the conveyor belt, assembly line version most people settle for.

Another part is the weight of responsibility. Which is probably the starkest contrast between who (and what) I am today compared to who (and what) I was 10 years ago.

The Big “R” Word.

It’s easy to shirk off responsibility for everything that happens to you when you don’t have a purpose in life.

That was me entering my 20s. Somebody who liked to point fingers. And play the victim card all too often. Even though I fancied myself as someone ambitious, assertive, and self-reliant.

But I wasn’t really. Defaulting to the traditional path as a plan for my life stole my agency from me. It freed me from the burden of critical thinking about what to do with my life – and more importantly, who I should become.

As I approach 30, I recognize many of the errors of my youth. Some are quite embarrassing. Even if useful lessons.

I also recognize the opportunity of the present – and my responsibility for whatever time I have left. To make more of myself than I was yesterday. More of myself than I was a decade ago. And more of myself tomorrow than I am today.

After all, what hope do we have in growing old if not that we’re getting better with time?