The weekend before last, I tried to achieve a life goal of mine– #21, Climb Mt. Rainier. I didn’t.
Here’s what happened.
On the night before we started climbing, everything looked good. I had been training for months. Practice climbs, classes, reading mountaineering guides in my free time. The usual. I had a team I trusted and liked. We were all in shape, healthy, and eager to go. Our bags were packed, gear checked, double-checked, and we even left on time. Most fortuitously, after we reached base camp on the first afternoon, the rangers said that even though there was some avalanche danger, they were optimistic about the weather– a gift, given five days of storms, high winds, fresh snow, and no one summiting.
Unfortunately, neither did we.
One the second day of climbing, everyone gets up between midnight and 5 AM to try and reach the summit and make it back to base camp before the heat of the day and the weather changes. We were on the trail by 2:30 AM. I’m not a morning person, but I wake easy for alpine starts. We set out across the Cowlitz glacier up towards the imposing Cathedral pass in the dark of night.
A few hours later, we were nearing the base of a giant rock formation that splits two glaciers– the Disappointment Cleaver. One group– some firefighters from Seattle– had been ahead of us the whole time, and as we crossed the snowfield to the cleaver, we watched their headlamps bobbing up, and then, down the side of the cleaver. We met them at the base– the bottom of the lower part of the rock, on a 45-degree snowfield that bottoms out a few hundred feet below into an enormous crevasse. It wasn’t the sort of place you’d normally want to spend more time than necessary, but the other group had kicked out little seats for themselves in the snow and were resting up. “How was it up there?”
“Eh, no way up. You can try; we’ve got no idea.”
I looked up. They pointed a way not to go. ”Well maybe I could try below that shelf. How long are you guys going to be here?”
“Dunno. We don’t know if we’re going to make it up there. And here is where the rangers said there was avalanche danger. Not sure we’d want to be coming through this mid-morning.”
Oh yeah. Avalanche danger. Read More
When my great-grandmother passed away, our family sifted through her house, sorting through all the things we would pass on or give away or throw out. Somewhere in that fray, someone found and moved to my grandparents’ attic a poorly-bound book with a faded cover. I don’t remember where I found this book– whether I was hunting around that attic or whether an aunt passed it along to me. All I remember is my incredible curiosity upon first holding it in my hands and reading the title.
I was looking at a book of poetry composed by my great-grandmother.
The first poems were written when she was a girl. They were almost a century old. They described life on the Kansas farm, nature, family, etc. She described the first time she saw a car– not because cars were rare where she lived, but because they were rare everywhere. Mass-produced cars had just been invented. Later on, she becomes a mother. One poem is a prayer her daughter doesn’t drive too fast down those country roads.
It took me a minute to realize that one particular poem about a new baby David in the family was actually about the birth of my dad.
Here’s a surprising thing: These poems– they were not good, per se. There is in none of them any astounding amount of literary merit. But I treasure them like nothing else, because I can’t help but be attached to this young woman, maybe about my own age, sitting in the shade of an elm tree and writing poems about the Kansas summer. I am part of what she left on this planet, and these poems are another, and it all feels a bit like I’ve found a long-lost sibling.
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I have told a number of my closer friends that when I die, they are welcome to take my computer, figure out all my passwords, and go through the hard drive or whatever online accounts they can hack into. Should they choose to do this, perhaps the file that will be the most interesting (certainly the longest) is my journal– or, more appropriately, set of journals.
Almost every day since I graduated college, I’ve written in my journal. It’s become a gargantuan undertaking– every few month’s I’m producing a novel’s worth of narration. But I would say without hesitation that journaling is one of the most worthwhile habits I hold, and I fully intend to keep it up until I die. Read More
I’ve got a thing for personal experiments. Every once and a while, I’ll take a week and do something a bit differently– whether it’s eating only one meal a day, going without clocks, or living on a food-stamp budget. I’ve learned an enormous amount from these little life trials, and while most of those things aren’t terribly applicable to this blog, I recently tried an experiment that was: value week.
So what’s value week?
Most of the time when people talk about networking, I zone out in 10 seconds or less. Greased hair, schmoozing, and makin’ it rain business cards– it’s nothing I want any part in. Unfortunately, part of me realizes that at some level, networking is a very useful thing to do. Fortunately, there are plenty of people out there who promote networking as something more than taking names and sending out form email follow-ups.
They see networking as being an activity primarily comprised of providing value to people. You give them the opportunities, the information, or the contacts that matter to them, and you let the rest take care of itself. If and when you need something, everyone you know will be all too happy to help. But that second part is an afterthought; pumping value is the habit.
According to this philosophy, networking is not something you do when you sense you’ll be laid off– it’s a way of life. If you are continually being useful to the people you know, things will take care of themselves. Read More
Lest you think I just sit around and read productivity books all day (cf. this and that), I figure I should post some of progress on my own life goals list every once and a while. Since I got back from Africa, here are the goals I’ve been working towards– the ones that I’m most excited about right now.
21.) Climb Mt. Rainier
I am hard pressed to think of a family vacation growing up that didn’t involve either the open water or mountains. It seemed like my dad’s definition of a relaxing time necessarily involved covering vast changes in elevation on foot.
And while I’ve wanted to climb mountains for years, after Kilimanjaro, I got the bug bad. Something about staring down on the sunrise over the savanna maybe
I’ve started training for Rainier– training referring more to learning mountaineering skills than, say, spinning classes. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to be in shape for Rainier– at 14,400, it’s nothing to scoff at. But an unhurried ascent, good body temperature monitoring, and plenty of water are more important than an olympian circulatory system.
A few weeks ago, I made my first technical climb– Humpback Mountain in the Cascades. While it’s only a few minutes off I-90, the summit is a lot closer to the moon than it is to Seattle.
Next up is snow camping and glacier travel.
A friend of mine is a mountaineering instructor and he’s guiding me through the learning process here. This is really ideal. The small group we’ll climb Rainier with will ultimately be more flexible, more fun, and way cheaper than the guided mountaineering tours.
Tracking towards July 2012.
Unless you are working at your dream job, the weekend is your the most time you will consistently have to work on your goals. Unless you’re self-employed and living the 4-hour workweek, it’s
That’s it. That’s all there is. And it’s really easy to let it slip by.
Wanna be a black belt in jiu-jitsu? Want to learn Mandarin? Or how to cook Indian food? Those are weeknight things. You don’t accomplish these goals by working on them once a week.
Want to visit every state? Or start a business on the side? Maybe you want to do a solo skydive. These goals are weekend tasks. They take big investments of time, but they can be done in 2.5 day stretches.
Your 9 to 5 is great and I hope it’s what you always dream of, but I hope it’s not all you dream of. All your other dreams are for your 5 to 9. How well are you using yours?
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Pick one thing on your bucket list that you will make progress towards this weekend.
Yes, I know, you may have dozens. I’ve seen lists with hundreds of items.
But you don’t accomplish something by thinking of a 100-item list. You accomplish it by thinking of one thing and working towards that.
So for this weekend, pick one item off that list– or make the list if you haven’t already– and start working towards that thing. It was only because I started tonight that I’ve done anything on my list. Now, a year and a half later, I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro, read the Bible cover to cover, started a small business (we’ll see where that goes), and launched this blog, among other things.
What are you going to start tonight?
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For a bit more inspiration, check out The Buried Life. These four guys started with nothing but a bucket list and an old van five and a half years ago. To date, they’ve done 81 of the things on their bucket list, including:
- 1.) Open the 6 o’clock news
- 8.) Ride a bull
- 25.) Capture a fugitive
- 41.) Make a toast at a stranger’s wedding
- 74.) Deliver a baby
It turns out they have a show on MTV too. Check out their very first trailer.
It’s Friday night. What are you doing this weekend?
There are some very special people in this world that take a certain pride in saying they live with no regrets.
No regrets? Really? None?
Did you never make a mistake in your life?
Or you did, but you don’t regret it. Why not? Is it because you lack the spine to condemn yourself for making a mistake, or for some other reason? Ahhh, I know: it is because you learned from it. But now wouldn’t it have been better simply to have done the correct thing from the beginning? I believe it’s called “Not making a mistake”. As I view it, not making a mistake is always better than making a mistake. The whole point of this learning you glorify is to prevent you from making mistakes.
But you persist, because you are (like I said) special and living in a culture that glorifies mistakes like they are an end in and of themselves. So now you perceive a romantic value in your past shortcomings. It’s not regrettable, it’s beautiful, you say. Yes, you are the hero of your own story, a story in which the protagonist is modern and complex and flawed. And you have no desire to change it.
No! Education is a lot less thrilling to someone who knows what is true.
* * *
I live with regrets. I regret, first and foremost, every wrong I have done to others, treating them as if they were less valuable or of less worth than myself (perhaps not every, but I try). Second, I regret the myriad of times I’ve failed to take and fulfill good opportunities by my own laziness, fear, or lack of clarity in what I’m doing. I think we are tempted to look at these past failings as inevitable. Whoops! I didn’t know better– couldn’t’a helped it!
But let’s be honest. Look at the challenges you’ll face and the opportunities spread before you. Are you doing your best to take them head on? I know that daily, I certainly let distractions and laziness get in the way of what’s really important to me, and I know that I have a chance to do something about these things. Sometimes I don’t take that opportunity, and I have nothing and no one to blame but myself.
So why’s the past any different?
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In a news article that’s been making the social media rounds lately, one nurse who worked in palliative care records what she’s tallied up as the top five most common regrets of the dying. At first glance, they seem pretty typical, and you can probably skim to the bottom of the page without an inconvenient amount of soul-searching. Let’s see, “courage to live true to myself”, yup, yup, “most common regret of all”, OK, “most people hadn’t honored even half their dreams and had to die knowing it was due to the choices they made or didn’t make”– wait, what!?
You’re on your death bed and you didn’t do half the things you wanted? That’s downright depressing. I’m assuming we’re not talking about “I want to sail around the world on my private yacht… made of gold” sort of dreams. Nope, I think we’re talking about people who wanted to grow gardens, earn degrees, learn to ski, write letters to their friends, and, in other down-to-earth ways, push themselves beyond the drudgery of a perfectly crystalline schedule.
And they didn’t do half of those things!
This is why I am OK living with regrets, and indeed, the only reason you should have them– so that you do better next time. Indeed, if you don’t let your regrets change you for the better, what can you boast over the blissfully unreflective who death steals like a thief in the night, only to find there’s depressingly little to plunder? Realize you’ve made mistakes, and realize you can do something about it. Live the life you want. Start tonight. You haven’t always done the best, but you can do better.
Regret now so you don’t regret later.
A perhaps apocryphal New Yorker cartoon depicts a man looking confused standing before two doors. One is labeled “Heaven” and the other is labelled “Books about Heaven”.
When I heard about this comic for the first time, it scared me just a bit– because my first reaction was “Ooh! Books about heaven!”
There’s something wrong with that reaction. If heaven is the place of ultimate happiness– the best possible experience you can have– what does it mean that some part of me deep down is more intrigued by words on a page describing this place?
* * *
The Internet is a dangerous place. It’s especially dangerous for those who want to do things with their life. You can now pick almost any endeavor or accomplishment and read about it until you die. Info porn.
You may notice that I’ve encouraged you to stop reading if you’re going to go do something awesome instead. I stand by that. The perfect situation: no one reads any of this because they’re too busy accomplishing their pacts with life.
In a way, reading about awesome things is a substitute for experiencing and doing awesome things. And for me at least, I don’t want it to be that way. That’s called white-collar failure and it needs to be fought. Read More
As I’ve said before, I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions.
If you’re going to reform your life, don’t wait until Jan 1 to do it. People do, and they wonder why they fail year after year.
But in the spirit of looking forward on the next 12 months, I want to share my theme for 2012.
While not quite a goal, it’s a philosophy I want to adopt that encompasses a lot of the work I do on my goals this year. I tried to find a single word to encapsulate the idea, but as one doesn’t exist, I had to make it up: eurisk.
Allow me to explain.
I got the idea from the word stress.
When people talk about stress, they’re usually talking about a bad thing– the stress of an upcoming violin recital, the stress of parents divorcing. Psychologists, clever folks that they are, realized this one word stress actually meant two pretty separate things:
- Stress that causes us achieve things or perform well, called eustress (or “good stress”)
- Stress that doesn’t cause any good things, called distress (or “bad stress”)
When you think about your performance tomorrow and your palms start sweating and you want to throw up, that’s your body diverting what resources it can in the effort to make sure you don’t miss a beat. And guess what– you’ll practice really hard and then at the concert, you’ll rip out a beautiful Bach partita with ear-melting arpeggios Read More