Don’t Wear Your Beer Shirt to Church

I’ve long since abandoned the atheist phase of my early 20s. But I haven’t gone to church regularly in nearly a decade.

After spending an ungodly portion of my youth engaged in church activities, I walked out.

They were wrong.

I had a serious disagreement with church leadership as a teen. Their argument felt more contrived than actual verbal confirmation from God: we prayed over this and it’s what God wants.

I felt like I was being looked down upon because I was young. So when my pleas fell on deaf ears, I decided to boycott.

I was wrong.

I struggled reconciling this incident for years, searching long and hard for answers. Then I realized my spiritual journey has nothing to do with the way other people behave. It’s entirely personal, and my misgivings with people need not interfere with my own pursuit for truth.

Something’s missing.

Yet I can’t help but carry some burden of the weight I’ve felt in almost every church setting I’ve tried to reengage. It hasn’t felt like something personal. Nor has it felt up to the snuff on the message it markets.

Maybe it’s the unruly pagan in me speaking, but church and organized religion have always felt more like institutions of people-judgment than of people-development.

I don’t mean people who go to church are bad. On the contrary, many of the best people I know – including my dad – practice what they preach as adamantly as anyone. But my own experience has left me wanting more than what I’ve found any church to offer.

I try to recreate the experiences I enjoy.

I find many of the concepts embedded in church culture appealing. The fellowship, pursuit of truth, worship, prayer, devotion, discipleship, not to mention a good potluck..

But my experiences with these activities as part of a church have always felt tainted. Almost as if they were guided more by ulterior motives than to drive personal growth. Like a need to validate certain interpretations of scripture or someone’s ego.

I’ve found my own pursuit of all these things to be much richer when done in a decentralized setting, not under the watchful governance of liturgy.

Come just as you are.

A lot of ideas I have don’t make for polite Sunday-lunch conversation. Still, many of them are both informed and inspired by scripture, theology, and Christian philosophy. One such idea I’ve taken from a classic hymn – that we should come just as we are.

Every major intellectual or spiritual leap I’ve taken has been predicated on this notion. The freedom to approach ideas just as I am has led me through more personal discovery than all learning involving an intermediary combined.

This approach to learning, truth, and spiritual growth makes me feel like I have some say over it. That if I’m not satisfied with the growth I’ve achieved, I can dedicate more energy to it. Or if I’ve fallen out of step, then it’s my responsibility to recover – not some institution’s responsibility to shepherd me.

I own my spiritual growth.

I don’t think it’s some religious figure’s or organization’s place to cast stones on the route I take in my spiritual journey. If church or religion should have any part in my spiritual endeavor, then it should be as secondary influences, not as some spiritual auditor I’m trying to impress to earn a credential for heaven.

Taking ownership of my spiritual development has freed me to seek truth on my own terms, at my own pace – even if that’s meant making a lot of mistakes.

No, I don’t hate church. But my congregation wears the same clothes 7 days a week.

Don’t Confuse Motion for Progress

It can be easy to confuse motion with progress. But the two are not the same.

Progress requires direction.

Motion, on the other hand, does not. Absent a direction, motion is nothing more than aimless movement.

Movement for movement’s sake, does not mean you’re making progress. You can see this distinction clearly in the perpetually busy, but broke person. They’re always short on time and cash, but never getting closer to their end goal. They’re not making progress. They’re aimlessly moving.

Contrast this with a person of high progress. They move judiciously. People of progress don’t spin their tires. They don’t fill their calendars with bullshit coffee appointments, and they don’t waste money on things they don’t need.

People of progress deliberately chart courses toward their goal. Then execute the path. They view and behave much like someone charting course for a cross-country road trip. With a destination in mind, they carefully determine the best routes, the best rest stops, the right driving playlist, and assess the time it will take.

Motion negates this type of planning. Motion is not about moving toward a goal. It’s about moving. This does not make it worthless. Motion certainly has a value – consider the art of dancing. There may not be a goal beyond getting lost in the dance. In this sense, moving becomes the goal. In this rite, motion showcases its value best.

At face value, motion should not be confused with progress. Motion is about moving. But progress is about moving somewhere.

 

 

 

Embrace Yourself

Get this – there is no other schmuck on the face of the planet identical to you.

Profound, right? Across some 7.5 billion people – I am the only me and you are the only you. That’s fucking wild.

Yet, for some reason, we (myself included) make a ton of effort to fit in. To migrate in and out of our ecosystems unseen. To go without disrupting or disturbing.

But why?

Maybe as a species, we’ve found it easier to fit in than to stand out. Perhaps many of us do not possess intimate self-knowledge. Or maybe when we step out we feel ostracized.

There seem to be deep psychological underpinnings of the tribal mindset within us all – where we see ourselves as an individual functioning unit within a larger body.

Perhaps many of us walk around with a proverbial Dr. Jekyll in our pocket – a dark side – the unknown self of our personal Johari window. 

Regardless of why – the more fascinating question is what would we find if we all embraced our purest selves?

An Identity Crisis

I find the idea of ubuntu challenging – that I am who I am because of who we all are – as if the fabric of human identity is a maze with no beginning or end point.

It seems likely and obvious that we should all be somewhat a by-product of the people we surround ourselves with; the environments we inhabit; and the endeavors we pursue.

But what lives underneath all the extremities? What lives a few layers deeper – near our core?

Divorced from our surroundings, what form would we take on? Who would we be absent the influence of other people – or rather, absent the influences of influences that detract from the purest version of ourselves?

Surrounded

If there is merit in the idea our surroundings impact our identities and personalities, then it would follow we should deliberately guard ourselves from unwanted influences.

Yet – in order to grow, we must break down barriers of ignorance. We must effectively expand beyond our current states of understanding.

So perhaps eradicating “unwanted influences” is not the proper aim. Perhaps instead we should seek to avoid inhibiting influences.

Influence Audit

I wonder, what would you find if you audited the influences in your life? Would you discover the people, activities, and environments in your life are desirable or undesirable?

Why?

If desirable, what makes them so? What influence does the agreeableness of another agent have over desirability?

Are you surrounding yourself with people and ideas primarily because they agree with your worldview or because they challenge you?

Do the people in your life push you to become a more pure version of yourself or do they coax you to conform more?

You must set your own standards – but as for me, I choose to surround myself with people who sharpen me, who push me to embrace myself more, who challenge me to enhance my game.

I don’t see comfort as the goal of life. Nor conformity. There’s a reason we’re each unique. Embrace it.

 

 

Anything That’s Peaceful

I think it’s entirely bullshit I should have to interact with anyone against my will.

It takes a conscious effort to limit my exposure to people and institutions that steal my freedom. But it’s worth it to me to avoid people who tax my time, my energy, or my emotional bandwidth. Why? Because being around people impairs my quality of life.

Like Dementors, they suck away the best parts of my capacity to create. So I avoid these kinds of people at all costs.

Similarly, when I have a terrible experience at a business, I either provide feedback or I choose not to patronize it.

Anytime an interaction becomes too costly – when it regresses from the threshold of mutual benefit – I can declare my freedom by exercising a choice to avoid these kinds of transactions.

This kind of peaceful interactions allows people to self-select a better standard of living. It provides a basis for humans to participate with one another harmoniously.

Just imagine a world governed by a standard of mutual-benefit. Now contrast that to our world.

We live in a dubious time – a time where freedom of association takes a back seat to political agendas.

Under the guise of law enforcement, governmental invasion spans a significant share of our lives. And to what recourse?

Consider the baker – forced to bake a cake for a customer he doesn’t want to serve, else the government condemns his property. Would you want to do work for someone hostile to you?

Or the corner store – forced to accept cash as a form of payment, or face hefty fines from government cronies. Would you want to work the register at night in a seedy part of town?

You cannot breed peace through force. You cannot breed morality through mandate.

You cannot make people better through bureaucracy. And why would you want to?

 

How What We Lack Can Serve Us

I remember the cold winter mornings, my dad driving me in the pitch black to the gym at 5 am.

The sound of Fleetwood Mac blaring on the speaker, and the soft squeaks of my shoes hitting the hardwood floor as I ran.

Something about those mornings stick with me still today.

The solace of an empty gym. The clarity to focus before anyone else is awake. The freedom to experiment new shots, new moves, and new drills by virtue of being alone…

I was never tall. So I committed to becoming the strongest. I wasn’t the fastest. So I committed to working the hardest. I knew it was the price of admission if I was ever to see any playing time.

I never became much on the basketball court – other than maybe setting some records for personal or technical fouls. But the many lessons I learned continue to age with time.

There is something interesting about the human condition that inspires me. Particularly in our tendencies to strive for things we don’t have or that seem impossible.

That innate desire to fulfills the parts we lack seems to be one of the best precursors for conditioning us into who we need to be on our path toward who we’re trying to become.

If I was 6′ 6″ and light on my feet, I may never have developed the discipline to commit fully to a vision for myself. The part of me I felt a need to compensate for may have been just the right recipe to push me to work for it.

In many ways, it’s always what I’ve lacked that has served me most.

What UPS & FedEx Can Teach Us About Evaluating Opportunities

Shipping stores live and die by three questions.

How big?

How fast?

How far?

These three questions judge every package through the door. The answers determine the degree of difficulty of a package’s destiny and assign a cost accordingly.

I think these questions provide an equally interesting litmus test for us.

What if we put each opportunity we encounter through the same scrutiny?

How big?

How fast?

How far?

How big is this particular opportunity? What’s the absolute maximum expected upside? What’s the worst downside?

How fast can I achieve return from this opportunity? How long will it take to make this reality?

How far must I go to unlock this opportunity? To what lengths will this opportunity take me? How far away from being ready for it am I, today?

An Agile Model

I love the simplicity of this mental model. It’s not some robust, lengthy analysis. It’s a quick easy gut-check.

For huge opportunities, do more due diligence if necessary. Small opportunities shouldn’t require much more than this. This model provides a quick, yet sturdy enough checklist to get to “No” more efficiently.

Medium-Sized Opportunities

Maybe the most valuable application of this regards the middle-of-the-road-size opportunities.

Medium-sized opportunities can be costly, but not exactly for obvious reasons. For me, the cost usually comes in the form of wasted resources evaluating what to do.

Medium-sized opportunities eat away precious time and mental energy. I say avoid them at all costs.

As Derek Sivers once said, “If you’re not saying “HELL YEAH!” about something, say “no”.

Give it a shot this week.

How big?

How fast?

How far?

Criticize By Creating.

It’s easy to criticize from the stands.

What’s more difficult is stepping into the game.

When you take yourself from spectator to player, you open yourself to vulnerability. To criticism. To the opinion of every casual passerby.

Playing the game allows you to approach problems differently. It grants you a newer, more intimate perspective on the game play.

You don’t have access to the 360 degree view of the guy in the nosebleed section yelling directions at you.

When you’re in the game, you must approach things head on. You must adapt quickly. You must perform and respond according to the limitations of your line of vision and periphery.

You don’t have time to evaluate what happened in other areas of the game. You don’t have time to banter about plays that happened in an earlier quarter.

You must be present in the game as it’s played.

I think this metaphor opens up an interesting thought experiment for life, for business, and for relationships, too.

For the things I’m participating in, what’s my default orientation?

Am I offering up opinions as a spectator? Or am I present, giving the game a competitor’s dedication?

I’ve noticed an interesting observation from my own experience.

It may seem counterintuitive, but spectating exhausts me far more than participating fully in the game of life. Having skin in the game makes it more invigorating.

Both take energy. Actively participating produces positive energy. Criticizing as a spectator yields negative energy.

If you want to live a better life, I say play the game. Don’t shout from the stands how to do it better.

Enter the game. Criticize by creating.

 

The Story You Tell Shapes Your Customer Expectations

You make silent agreements with your customers the day they encounter your brand.

Some brands don’t offer much. They don’t ask for much in return.

But every brand offers something. Beside the products and services they sell, every brand tells a story.

The story manufactures the frame your customers view you in.

Customers flock to good stories. They treat poor stories with indifference.

When you tell a good story, you set the bar high for yourself. Customers bond with this.

People enjoy businesses that enhance their own views of themselves. In a way, your company values help make your customers better people, too.

Think about yourself as a customer. Think of a company you identify with and why.

I think of companies like Apple, Amazon, and Nike.

The stories that introduced me to these companies stuck. The companies helped me see something in myself. Their story resonated with my identity. They also unlocked an aspirational view of myself.

When companies get this right their brand strengthens and they earn enduring customer relationships.

People want to identify with brands that get them. They abandon companies that get them wrong.

As a company, you’re responsible for telling your story. You’re also responsible for holding yourself to the story.

The story you tell also influences people to expect certain kinds of behaviors. When you behave inconsistently with the story you tell, your customers feel it.

Consider two examples:

Whole Foods

When I’m in a hurry and looking for healthy food fast, there are not a ton of options. But Whole Foods has been my go-to for nearly three years. I eat there a lot. It’s quick. Reliable. Delicious. And the people are nice.

But tonight I found out they replaced their entire menu with burgers only. It outraged me.

I asked several employees what they thought. Most seemed upset about the change.

To me, the move felt entirely out of character for Whole Foods.

Chick-Fil-A

A few months ago I swang through Chick-Fil-A for breakfast.

The street adjacent to the store looked like a garbage truck had lost a few bags and raccoons had found them.

It covered most of the road. But none of it was in Chick-Fil-A’s lot.

The trash was not their problem.

I remember immediately thinking, “I bet they send someone out to pick up that trash.”

Sure enough. When I made it around the drive-thru, I saw a girl in a bright red shirt and black pants picking up garbage.

To me, the move perfectly captured my view of Chick-Fil-A’s brand: be good stewards in everything.

Bringing It All Home

Your brand tells a story. Your brand as a person. As a company.

Everything you do becomes part of your brand.

When you behave in ways that align with people’s vision of you, you strengthen your message with them. When you behave in ways that violates their vision of you, it conflicts with their expectations.

Behave however you want. But beware, if your behavior contradicts the story you tell, people feel it.

The world wants an authentic you. Give it to them.

Solve for X

If you want something, go get it.

Don’t get caught up worrying about what other people think. Or what doubts they have.

Whatever you want in this life can be yours. It’s a simple formula, really.

But first you must decide: what do you want?

Priorities change. Circumstances change. You change.

Each change brings new features of the world to life around you.

Getting lost chasing any number of the options around you is easy. Choosing one thing to fixate on is difficult.

Once you choose, the rest becomes easy.

It allows you to remove the distractions of optionality and commit to the experiment.

One experiment. To dedicate your heart and soul to the mission of acquiring that one thing.

Other people pretend to do this. They will nonchalantly dismiss your efforts to obtain whatever you’re after. They’ll casually talk about how they tried and failed in their own half-assed pursuits.

Not you. If you want something, you go get it.

Don’t listen to anyone else. Tune out the doubts.

Focus on your own personal mission. And go get it.

The Enemy of Progress

Someone reminded me this morning of a Harriet Tubman quote:

“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”

It made me think.

What if the greatest barrier to our own personal freedom is the belief we’re already free?

It’s almost as if once the idea of freedom is acquired, we stop yearning for it. We accept the status quo as the trappings of a free world.

In other words, we don’t go looking for things that aren’t lost. Just like we don’t try to learn things you think you’ve already mastered.

I’m reminded of an alleged quote from Socrates:

“All I know is I know nothing.”

Perhaps it was the intellectual humility with which he approached knowledge that led him to develop such profound ideas during his lifetime.

By refusing to coronate himself king of any particular subject, his admission of still being a learner allowed him to continue yearning for more.

I wonder how radically different our lives could be if we approached everything with the same brazen awareness.

No matter how much progress we make, there will always be mountains left to climb.