Archive for the 'Purpose' Category

>Your Job is (not) Important

>There are two ways to look at the world of work. One says that your job is important, and the other says that it’s not. By “job” I mean whatever activities you engage in on a regular basis which require you to perform tasks for which you are paid based upon the time you spent—one way or the other. For all but a fortunate few, this is something you would not do for free, because you do not necessarily enjoy it—being “work” and all.

We spend most of our waking hours engaged in these activities which earn us money to pay for the rest of our lives (the happiness parts). The question is whether our jobs are important or not. Either might be true, depending on your specific case. Without any real thought, it is easy for a person to assume his job is important simply because it is an important source of income for him. Or conversely, it is easy to assume that one’s job is unimportant, simply because it does not come with a title or other recognition.

But whether your job is important or not depends greatly on its actual impact. You’re either changing the world or you’re not. You’re either growing a future for yourself and your family, or your digging yourself into a rut. Strangely, these two views pretty much come from the same source. The actual importance of your job will be the long-term decider both for the impact you have on the world for good, and the future you will grow for yourself and your family.

Because we tend to see only what is most readily visible, the “gold bars,” corner offices, and other symbols of rank can be used in large organizations to create the illusion of importance. A position might appear important, and everyone might believe it is important…however, consider whether the quality of work done in the position changes anything. If either a virtuoso or a buffoon fills to position, does it change the fate of the organization?

It should be noted that in many corporations (and other organizations of similar structure) that the answer to this question is designed to be a resounding “no!” The old school way of doing business is to assume you’re a buffoon until proven otherwise. Therefore, most of the power is placed in central positions like the CEO, et al. In these positions, it matters, but only to the fate of the company. If the company isn’t making a great deal of change in the world, than neither is the CEO.

Ultimately, it is important to remember that our jobs are only as important as we make them. Whether or not your company is keeping you down or lifting you up, it is up to you to do important work. If the powers that be don’t like what you’re doing, then perhaps its not the place for you. Don’t marry the job, marry the work.

>Ob Petere

>”Competition” is an interesting word. It’s also a charged word. While it doesn’t have a lot of definitions, it does have a lot of surface applications that can be confused with different meanings. It can also be used to justify actions or lack of actions, in certain contexts. It can be fun or it can be serious. It can build up an organization or tear it down.

Probably the most common usage of the word is in reference to the “friendly” competition of athletics and the like. The second, then, comes in describing a commercial concept. In both cases, competition implies that some person (or group) is winning and another is losing. To win a competition, one must simply rank better than the opposition during officially measured trials. Therefore, the goal of competition has become the defeat of the opposition.

I am only a novice when it comes to linguistics, but a quick search of the word “competition” reveals that it comes from the Latin, “competere,” which means “to strive for”—from “com-” meaning “together” and “petere” meaning “aim at, seek.” While the word came to mean “rivalry” in late Latin before entering the English vocabulary, its early meaning did not include the concept of opposition. As you can see, it included a prefix which means “together.”

The idea of striving for something together seems rather alien in our contemporary culture. More commonly we think in terms of striving against someone or something. This mentality about competition has shown itself historically to motivate improvement on all sides. There hardly seems like any point to playing sports if it isn’t to defeat the other teams. To do so, the players must improve themselves—both as individuals and as a team.

The same advantage applies to the commercial sense of the word. Historically, nations that allow businesses to complete generate more innovation and subsequent prosperity than those that either do not allow free enterprise, or highly regulate it. The reason is the same as it is in athletic competition: for anyone who wishes to run a successful business (win the competition), there is pressure to improve the quality of the goods and services he provides.

Unfortunately, the mentality of striving against (or “obpetere” with “ob-” meaning “against”) the competition tends to promote practices which are not conducive to prosperity, even if they technically count as winning. Basically, I mean endeavoring in any pursuit—legal or illegal—which handicaps the competition. This ranges from outright sabotage to lobbying for laws that favor your business other others.

It’s cheating. It’s destructive, degenerative, and wrong.

Instead of focusing on beating the competition, people who endeavor for success should focus on creating value, ignoring the competition. It may be that looking back at the competition periodically is important for success, but confusing success with simply being better than the next guy will never allow you to reach your full potential. It is far more important to the world that you (or anyone seeking success) develop the mentality of “striving together.”

In other words, competition serves the primary function of democratic growth, wherein the participating populace is collectively inspired and motivated to improve the whole. It is not because we are forced or brainwashed into improving the whole, but because we stand to gain both recognition and monetary reward for ourselves from winning an honest competition. The operative word here is “honest.”

If the primary focus is on creating value, then rewards are given for reaching this goal, not cheating others out of it.

>A Big Comfortable Tree

>Personal development media is about pushing your limits and expanding your capacity and abilities. By identifying weak points and blind spots, then learning to work with or around them, we maximize our potential for success in whatever area of life we choose to focus. Inherently, this process requires that you “get out of your comfort zone.” In other words, it is impossible to grow if you seek comfort over growth.

However, when dealing with people outside oneself, it is very important to be likeable. Fundamental to likeability is being comfortable to be around. If you’re uncomfortable with yourself, it shows. Worse, it has a tendency to make other people uncomfortable, too. When this happens too often, you destroy your ability to be likeable.

So the first question you should ask yourself about success (after “what is success to me?”) is “how do I remain comfortable outside my comfort zone?” Fortunately, there is a difference between the internal comfort that makes you easy to like, and the external discomfort you have to endure in order to expand your capacity. The only challenge remains in learning to identify that difference.

Internal comfort comes from understanding yourself, then channelling your strengths. Learning which projects to tackle—and which to ignore—based upon your own personal passions and weaknesses is empowering. When you start to make headway with this process, you will naturally increase your self-confidence. When you increase your self-confidence, you become more comfortable with yourself—and more comfortable to be around.

Once you understand your unique State of FITness (or FITstate), you will be better able to manage the frustration created by pushing your external comfort zone. As I have illustrated before, a FITstate is the naturally defined balance of relevant elements, which are combined in harmony to enable the highest climb with the most stability. Like a healthy tree, the higher the reach, the broader its expanse can be—based upon the given nature of that particular tree. The broader the expanse of “branches” fed by strong “roots”, the greater the possibilities for a fulfilling life.

Like a tree, our expanse of possibilities is stunted by an insufficient root system or poor soil, as well as by the available space in the canopy. However, unlike the tree, we can change our root situation, and in doing so, fairly negotiate for more canopy space and resources by which to fuel that new potential growth. This process is inherently painful because we naturally draw the boundaries of our comfort zones at the point where we decide the pain is “unbearable.” Roots are not easy to replant, nor is it easy to push new branches into unexplored territory.

However, when something you passionately want requires actions that are outside of your comfort zone (your existing expanse in the canopy), the pain can become more bearable. This is because things you are passionate about carry their own reward in the journey. You are more willing to fail—a necessity for learning—along a path to what you feel is a worthy goal, than you are along a path to something you are lukewarm about.

Once you know what you’re passionate about, you will know what to invest your time in. You never “spend” time on your passions, you “invest” time in your passions. If you are truly passionate about something, then even the failures are blessings, because you are interested enough in the project to find the lesson in the failure and try again. This perspective eliminates much of the frustration that comes from falling short of a goal on a path you’re simply lukewarm about. When you avoid frustration, you remain comfortable with yourself. When you avoid external discomfort (pushing limits), you become frustrated and uncomfortable with yourself.

So how about it? Would you like to be a big, comfortable tree?

>It Could Not Have Been Different

>I saw a license plate today that read, “IF ONLY”. It echoed some of the familiarly haunting thoughts that had been running through my head this morning. We all have things in our past that we wish had gone differently. Some things are painful failures, but others are joyous milestones that have lost their luster. Commitments we made in a time of naivete, can begin to feel like shackles as time wears on. We can become preoccupied with imagining how life would be now if these things were different.

But the truth is that life could not have been different. Everyone makes choices at a moment in time based upon the information they have at that time. Generally, the information is insufficient to make an truly informed decision. The fact that experience comes from making poorly informed decisions is one of life’s many counterintuitive aspects. It is for this reason, that we could not have changed the past.

“If I knew then what I know now.”

At any point in the past, we could not have acted differently without different information. However, different information is not inherently a change maker either. When a lifetime (however young the person) is spent building a library of experience, a brief introduction to life-changing information is bound to be insufficient to make an impact. Regardless of how truthful the information is, or how completely the recipient accepts it as truth, the momentum of conflicting past information will tend to overtake it.

Our brains are built to form habits. Our conscious minds are limited, and so we differ certain regularly accessed data stores and repeated actions to our subconscious mind. The subconscious acts as an autopilot, running our routines in the background so that we can be conscious of more important decisions. Unfortunately, the subconscious tends to be overzealous—or we tend to be lazy with our conscious minds. Either way, we form some habits of thought and action that are counterproductive, then we re-enforce them through repetition.

Consequently, it is more difficult to “teach an old dog new tricks” than it is to teach a younger one. That being said, when applied to humans, this adage judges “old” by how long it has been since the last time one’s habits have been deeply examined. By identifying problem areas in our habitual minds, we can begin the process of re-educating ourselves to think, then act, differently. This takes time, and is a bit like turning a battleship.

All we can do about the past is to learn from it. By rooting out the causes behind our regrets, we can begin to change the course going forward. The more we learn from media sources about the human condition, the better equipped we are to self-examine and to change what we find. And, of course, you have to take responsibility for the problems that you caused. Running from your faults is the surest way to make more regrets.

No matter how much better it seems that life would be now without that “ball-and-chain” from your past, consider the truth of your ideal. Given your mindset, if things had gone differently, would you have made different decisions? Or would you have chased another woman if your wife had snubbed you? If you hadn’t sworn at your boss that day, would you have sworn at him the next? You might wish you hadn’t decided to have a child or hadn’t had that decision made for you (by fate, et al). Just consider how many times you had missed committing yourself before your thoughts led to actions which led to the consequences (desirable or not).

Likely, it could not have been different. Even if you travelled back in time to warn yourself, the odds are that your habitual mind and the surrounding circumstances would have lead you to the same place. The only way to change your future results—to avoid the regrets and “if onlys”—is through continuous, applied self-examination enabled by a mentor and a varied diet of media sources. It may take time to turn the battleship, but the future CAN be different.

>The Mystery of Selfishness

>Selfishness is a concept that surprisingly sees a lot of debate. Of course, it is a loaded term with which only a few would choose to be willingly associated. Those who choose to call themselves selfish and laud its virtues—such as Ayn Rand—undoubtedly reject its negative connotations. On the other side, the word is used by altruists and hypocrites alike as mud to childishly sling in the faces of people who are not so fearless around the word as others.

In this way, it is one of the chief “weapons” used in philosophical debate among today’s media. I don’t agree with everything Ayn Rand says, but I appreciate her willingness to own an empty, derogatory term. To be sure, selfishness—and all things linked to its roots—is an inseparable part of the human experience. In itself, it is neither good nor bad, but a fact to be taken under consideration. Interestingly, it does not follow the set rules that either side wants to believe it does.

The so-called “Right Wing” believes in the motivational power found in selfishness. They understand that it is an irrevocable fact of humankind, which is better to work with than against. However, they often ignore its weaknesses in favor of its strengths. On the other hand, the “Left” sees selfishness as public enemy number one. They wish it could be bred out, regulated into obsolescence, or forced into submission. They believe in altruism and that a perfect society is one where people serve the whole.

Both these perspectives are accurate, but each only half-true. It is true that many people in many cases actively pursue their own selfish interests, and that rewarding productive behavior encourages productive behavior. Many, but not all. It is also true to say that a society of individuals who each sacrifices his self-interest for the good of the whole would prosper long term. The problem is that, in reality, no one is a purist. One might be a purist for a period of time (or even a lifetime) but this is a rare happenstance and will never be the rule.

As a drive, selfishness always falls short of what would cause society to prosper. Despite what many believe, most people reach an equilibrium at work. They get to the point in life where money satisfies enough desires that taking on more effort is not worth it. People don’t run all the way to millionaire just for the money—they do it because they have a vision, something pulling on their hearts. They see a change to help others (altruism) and they chase it, and indeed, that is the only way one gets to be nouveau riche.

But as for the heart, charity has to be something special. When a government program, special interest group, or other similar organization distributes funds to people, it isn’t charity—it’s entitlement. Most people don’t feel compelled to give back to these organizations, they just want more support. It’s one of the stranger sides of selfishness. When people are given money for being something they had no control over, they generally don’t appreciate it as a gift. To ignore this fact, and to build an organization upon status distribution is to create slaves to your organization.

Seek to understand selfishness, and moreover, how it is manifested in each individual you meet. Work with it, rather than against it, but never assume it is a mechanical push-button, because it will let you down at a critical moment.

>Lives Like Rubik’s Cube

>The thing that is both interesting and frustrating about life is that we all start out in a different place. Each one of us is a complicated jumble of different aspects—both good ones and bad ones. In fact, some of us even have aspects each which would otherwise be good, but are in conflict with one another.

For much of the beginning of our lives, we spend time just making the jumble worse. There are as many reasons this is true as there are people for it to be true about. Some lives become more jumbled than others, but they are all solveable—just like Rubik’s Cube. Hey, no one ever said life was easy!

I’m a big believer in the singularity of truth. That is, no matter how jumbled and different we appear at first, there is a path that will lead us to the same place. Now, I don’t mean we should seek to be clones—this is where the analogy breaks down. Unlike a Rubik’s Cube, human lives have layers of depth. The deeper one goes, the more he should find in common with his fellow men, or else he is fundamentally flawed. We don’t need to look the same on the surface, but our hearts should beat as one.

In the name of diversity, today’s media has sold us on the idea that we don’t need to change anything about ourselves. In effect, the masses want to believe that a jumbled Rubik’s Cube is the way they were born and the way they must stay. Mainstream media and mass marketing, then, tend to generate their content accordingly. These two channels are awash with politicians and businessmen who want to make life easier for the little guy.

They mean well from their perspective, of course. Some measure of convenience in every area of life is the advantage that human civilization has over the animal kingdom. However, the other advantage we have over the animals is the ability to continuously improve. The more individuals take responsibility for solving their own small problems, the more prevalent innovation and ingenuity is.

These inventions of the human mind are valuable and can be traded for other inventions. In this way, civilization increases in total value and, subsequently, wealth. When media develops a culture where the widespread belief is that an elite few—those born without a jumbled Rubik’s Cube—are responsible for all the inventions, initiative slows and civilization decreases in value.

But this is just a lie. It is true that some lives are less jumbled than others—and it has less to do with financial advantage than you may think—while others are extremely jumbled. However, there seems to be something in the human spirit that enables us to solve these puzzles the more difficult they are. Perhaps, it’s that the extremely jumbled cases seem beyond hope to the aforementioned politicians and businessmen so they’re on their own. Maybe it’s because these jumbled individuals are more driven to work on themselves and so gain more momentum.

One thing repeats throughout history: more is created by those at a disadvantage than by a king in his throne. So how hard are you trying to solve your Cube?

>Groupthink in the Internet Age

>”No matter how hard people tried to interact only with like thinkers, no matter how hard they worked to keep their children free from diverse views, neighbors nearly always ruined this Utopian scheme.” -Oliver DeMille

One would think that in the age of the internet, where avenues for connection and communication are increasing almost daily, that the rough edges of human nature would be quickly spun smooth by deeper understanding among the populace. If there is anything one desires to know, it is written down somewhere on the internet. There are millions of blogs which cover anything a person might be interested in, and numerous mainstream social networking sites through which to find the perfect match.

Unfortunately, the ability to access limitless information does not guarantee that limitless information will be accessed. So, in fact, the opposite of what one might suppose to be true in theory, is actually true in reality. The problem is fear of change, resulting in an aversion to contrary information, stemming from an unwillingness to change oneself. When nothing changes, the illusions of stability and security is easier to believe. It is comforting to be in equilibrium, so we naturally desire to remain blissfully ignorant of information contrary to our perceived balance.

Therefore, given a library of limitless information, most people will automatically seek out information that is in accordance with what they already believe, and reject or avoid information that is contrary to their beliefs. The internet also makes this process very convenient. In the interest of speeding information to the individual on the “information superhighway” numerous strategies for previewing or filtering possible information exist. The result is that instead of a blending effect on public awareness, deep divisions are created as groups master the ability to draw new readers, viewers, players, etc.

Without real interaction, virtual interaction gives a person a “safe” way to avoid all deeper understanding. It is impossible to confront someone online. Prior to this virtual world, people physically lived together in communities. Simple fact, I know. Consider the implications of this, though. The actions or decisions we made in our lives had to take in to account our neighbors. If some charlatan tried to pass off a scam on the community, it was likely that someone who’s proven himself more trustworthy would call him out. In the virtual world, however, the charlatan can effectively exclude those “naysayers” from the group altogether.

So without self-mastery or self-leadership, the individual tends to get sucked into groupthink. A charismatic leader who knows his beliefs well, can easily lead a herd to the slaughter. With self-mastery, however, the discovery of new information requires a decision to accept or reject based upon the level of truth contained therein—rather than on a momentary feeling. In order to avoid being “swept away”, someone seeking self-mastery would proactively seek out challenging new information in order to make a rational decision before it is presented with emotional fervor.

Like many things worth doing, people still need a self-interested reason to do them. No one becomes passionate about challenging information overnight. The question is: what is on the other side of confusion for you? What would your life be like if you were enlightened?


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Quotes

"For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction."

- Kahlil Gibran

"All television is educational television. The question is: what is it teaching?"
- Nicholas Johnson, author:
"We need the media to be presenting pictures of possibility not just continuing to be prophets of doom and gloom."
- Kevin Kelly, Wired

"How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it."

- Adam Smith
"And the science is overwhelming that for creative, conceptual tasks, those if-then rewards rarely work and often do harm."
- Daniel Pink, author: Drive

"I wish we had a Problem-Solver Party because we have very big problems that need solving. And I think a lot of our attention is addressed to the wrong problems."
- David McCullough, author: 1776
"The goal shouldn't be to have a lot of people to yell at, the goal probably should be to have a lot of people who choose to listen."
- Seth Godin, author: Tribes
"The role of the media is to disseminate information, highlight important current events, and to essentially stand as a witness, an observer of cultural, political, community, and educational events. A healthy media provides a check on the government and increases the political astuteness of republican citizens."
- Stephen Palmer, The Center for Social Leadership
"Advertisers and politicians rely on a half-educated public, on people who know little outside of their own specialty, because such people are easy to deceive with so-called experts, impressive technical or sociological jargon, and an effective set of logical and psychological tricks."
- Robert Harris
"Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
- John Adams
"I know no safe repository of the ultimate power of society but people. And if we think them not enlightened enough, the remedy is not to take the power from them, but to inform them by education."
- Thomas Jefferson
"Fathers and mothers have lost the idea that the highest aspiration they might have for their children is for them to be wise--as priests, prophets or philosophers are wise. Specialized competence and success are all that they can imagine."
- Allan Bloom, author: The Closing of the American Mind
"He that walketh with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed."
(Proverbs 13:20)
"If you are not a thinking man, to what purpose are you a man at all."

- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
"I learn a lot from TV. Everytime someone turns one on, I go in the other room and read a book."
- Groucho Marx, comedian: Duck Soup
"There are two freedoms - the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought."
- Charles Kingsley