The Lion in the Wild

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A lion I saw on safari in Tanzania almost exactly a year ago

The last month, I’ve been just about incommunicado.  There’s a good reason for this– I promise.  Four weeks ago, I told my boss I was leaving Microsoft.  The next two weeks, I prepared for my departure, making sure all of my areas of responsibility were in good shape before I took off, and then, two weeks ago, I went in to the office one last time.

I’m now a freelance user experience designer.  What’s a UX designer?  Someone who makes websites and apps easy to use.  Ergonomics of the mind.

But that’s not what I’m writing to talk about.  I’m writing to talk about being a freelancer, lions, and my theme for 2013– “the lion in the wild”.

I’ve never been a freelancer.  For the last 2.5 years, I’ve had a full-time job.  I’ve been hand-fed a nice paycheck every 2 weeks– more money than anyone my age should be allowed to make, I half-seriously think.  Excellent benefits.  But it’s not without a cost.  At an ultra-large company, things move slowly.  Everyone knows this.  Layers of people to ask for permission; battalions to argue against anything new.  Bureaucracy.  You can receive non-negotiable instructions changing your day-to-day life from people you’ve never met, never even seen in person.  They don’t know you either.  They don’t know what you’re good at, bad at, or want to learn.

They can’t though.  They literally have no time to do so– there are thousands of such people they are responsible for managing.

The whole situation– that of unparalleled comfort yet unnaturally Read More

How to Actually Climb a Mountain, Actually

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Last weekend, I accomplished another life goal of mine– I climbed Mt. Rainier.

Having just moved to the Pacific Northwest a few years ago, it was not immediately clear to me why anyone would consider this important enough to put on a list of goals.  But then, one day, as I was driving to work, I saw the mountain.

From 60 miles away.

Oh, snap. There it is! Photo credit: Marc Smith (flickr: marc_smith)

Especially after climbing Kilimanjaro, I knew that I wanted to spend more time in the mountains.  Considering that for the last 18 months, I’d been living within spitting distance of the premier glaciated mountain in the lower 48, it was doing time.  I always wished I would find myself without an excuse.  And then I did.

So for the last 8 months, I learned how to climb a mountain.  I learned it from reading books, talking to instructors, drawing on past experience, and, in a few cases, present experience.  I learned it searching the internet, highlighting manuals, peppering experienced mountaineers with questions (it was a long car ride, sorry MM!), and– most importantly– I learned it on the mountain, particularly Mt. Rainier, which I have now made the 2.5-hour drive to on more early Saturday mornings than I care to remember.

Climbing mountains is not an unusual thing to see on bucket lists.  There’s something appealing about dreaming about Everest.  But if you read this blog much, you’ll know that I get antsy around too much dreaming (it’s the “books about heaven” thing).

So I’m going to give you an antidote.  I’m going to tell you the basics of actually climbing a mountain.  Things like what to wear, what to buy, what to know, and what to learn elsewhere.

This is just an intro.  I’m a beginning mountaineer.  I’ll say many times here that this article doesn’t cover close to everything, but it covers enough to get you started.

And that’s the question here.  If you actually want to climb mountains, what will you do with this info?  Read it?  Skim the pictures? (they’re good, I promise)  Bookmark it for “later”?  Continue dreaming?

Or will you start tonight? Read More

A Personal Note

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A few days after writing one of the first articles I posted here, I flew back to Chicago to see my mom, who was sick and in the hospital with cancer.  This was not a new development.  After her first bout with cancer, it appeared again six short months later.  At this point, she was in the hospital more than she was out of it, and things were looking worse then ever.  Far worse.

It was one of those “take the next flight out” situations, and I did.  About 12 hours after I arrived, she took her last breath.  And that was a year ago today.

* * *

Perhaps the most striking thing in the last years of my mom’s life was her decision to earn her undergraduate degree (which she never got while young).  She spent the last few years of her life in classrooms with students her childrens’ age, and at the end of those years, walked across the stage as the top student in the Communications Department.

Her first battle against cancer came shortly thereafter, but she was hardly off chemo before she was sending applications to grad schools.  I was impressed and proud.  Unfortunately, she was not a month into her classes when she had to email her professors to take some time off– the cancer was back.

Frankly, I have no idea what it’s like to tell your boss you’re taking time off to suffer through a life-threatening disease.  She did.  I have no idea what it’s like to pick out your gravesite.  She knows.  Designing your own tombstone?  Amateur artist to the last, my mom sure did. Read More

What I Learned at the World Domination Summit

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The World Domination Summit lobby. Photo credit: Armosa Studios

This weekend, I travelled down to Portland, Oregon for the second ever World Domination Summit.  This event has always been a bit of a challenge to try and describe.  ”The World what!?” most people ask.  Here we go again…  It’s basically a convention for people who are into micro-entrepreneurship, life-hacking, and travel.  It is a crap-ton of fun, and I got to meet a lot of people and learn some cool stuff.

This post is a bit different from my regular ones.  I want to tell you about what I learned this weekend– and also why I don’t think I’ll be going back next year.

 

Lessons from WDS

When you can’t be vulnerable, joy is foreboding.  The opening talk at the conference was on vulnerability.  Yes, we had to sing at our neighbor and dance in the aisle.  But it wasn’t kindergarten all over again.  The speaker was Brene Brown– and in case there’s any confusion, I mean the Brene Brown with one of the most watched TED Talks of all time.  And yup, she had some serious bombs to drop on us.

This one in particular stuck with me.  It’s about vulnerability and joy.

Vulnerability is tough.  Being yourself when everyone else expects something different?  That’s not as glamorous as it seems.  It’s all sweaty palms and worrying what people will think.  But the alternative is having your soul crushed and being false to yourself, so it’s worthwhile.

And beyond that, it’s necessary.  Life is uncertain.  You aren’t in charge here.  That’s vulnerability right there.  And tell me, how does it strike you knowing tomorrow you could be dodgin’ the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?  I don’t know, but if it doesn’t strike you so well, Brene Brown wants you to get over it.  If you can’t be vulnerable, you can’t live.

Does that make sense?  If you can’t be vulnerable, every peak is just something you could fall off of.  Regression to the mean and gravity are teaming up to ruin your day.  And Brene talked about just that.  She was on a long-overdue date night with her husband, walking back from dinner through the park on a summer night, when visions of masked muggers Read More

Welcome Pick the Brain and Change Blog readers!

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For those of you who made it here via my articles on Pick the Brain or The Change Blog, welcome!  Let me tell you a bit about myself and this blog in this post.

After leaving school, I decided to spend “the last summer vacation of my life” working on my life goals full-time.  I went through my list one evening, picked a few items I could start on that summer, and dove in.  That summer ended up being one of the best of my life.  I was spending my 40 hours a week training for a marathon, learning to rock climb, doing martial arts, and reading all the books I had always wanted to.

When I got to Seattle to start my job, I started talking to everyone I met about what I was doing.  I noticed something interesting: a lot of people wanted to live their lives with greater focus on their goals.  We couldn’t devote 40 hours a week to it, but we wanted to do something in our day-to-day that reflected greater priorities.

And so the Finishing School was born.  The Finishing School is a group of people that meets once a month or so for each member to report on what they’ve done on their life goals, as well as get encouragement and advice from the group.  There are two rules to the Finishing School:

  1. Every member must make at least some progress on at least one goal
  2. If this is your first night at the Finishing School, you must read your entire life goal list

So that’s where I’m at– writing this blog, being part of the Seattle Finishing School, and achieving my own goals (currently working on: climb Mt. Rainier).  If this sounds cool, here are a few recommendations:

  • Poke around here and see if anything interests you (recommendations below; my life list here)
  • Want to start a Finishing School in your city?  Let me know and I’ll hook you up with advice and other people interested
  • Join the Bucket List Society mailing list (see the side bar on the right)

And to get you started reading, here are a few of my favorite and most popular posts.

  • 5 Bold Rules for Journaling.  I think journaling is one of the best possible activities you can spend your time on.  Here’s why, and here’s what to do when you journal.
  • 5 Public Speaking Tips You Haven’t Heard Anywhere Else.  I’ve done a fair bit of public speaking, and I’ve never run across advice as useful as what I’ve had to find for myself.  Here’s that wisdom– let me know if it works for you too.
  • Eurisk: my theme for 2012.  I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions, but I describe my “theme for 2012″ here.  It’s about taking chances on the things that might help you the most.
Enjoy!

Volcanoes and Ancient Philosophy

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A panorama from Disappointment Cleaver

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

5 Bold Rules for Journaling

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Photo credit: Lucia Whittaker (flickr: angelic0devil6)

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.

* * *

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

Personal Experiment: 7 Days of Value

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Photo by Susannah Conway (www.susannahconway.com)

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

Bucket List Update: Mountaineering, Marathons, and Lýðveldið Ísland

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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.

On the summit of Humpback Mountain

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.

Read More

Experiments in Productivity: Zen to Done

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Photo credit: Josefe aka Hipnosapo (flickr: josefeliciano)

During the months of February, March, and April 2012, I will try out a new productivity system each month. After each month is over, I'll record my experiences on this blog. In March 2012, I used Leo Babauta's "Zen to Done" as described here.  This is my review. Last month's review on Scott Belsky's "Action Method" is here.

My original intent for this month was to review the most famous productivity system in the world– David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”.  I bought the e-book, set aside a few hours to plan out how I would use Getting Things Done (GTD) in the next month, and started reading.

Four hours later, I closed the book frustrated, disappointed, and very aware of the irony that I’d just wasted my entire evening.  I simply could not wrap my head around the system as a whole, and there was no one place where it was explained clearly at a high level.

So I decided to check out a little productivity method I had heard a friend rave about a few years ago– not Getting Things Done, but Zen to Done (ZTD).

 Zen to Done Explained

If you’re like me, when someone says you should try a funny-sounding program called zen-something-something, you’d be all too happy to let it slide.  And if you feel that way now, I mean to convince you otherwise.  ZTD is a wonderfully useful productivity system.  Despite the name, it has nothing to do with satori and everything to do with worldly effectiveness.

It was initially conceived by blogger Leo Babauta as a reaction to some of the main problems people had with Getting Things Done– which means I stumbled upon to it at a very fortunate time.  ZTD is composed not of a flowchart of actions for handling any incoming tasks, but a series of 10 straightforward “habits”, which are to be adopted one at a time (which is easier than adopting all 10 habits at once, the thinking goes).

Here are the 10 Habits of ZTD as far as I understand them.

  1. Collect.  Ubiquitous capture.  Carry a notebook, index cards, smartphone, or something on which you can write any idea, task, or tidbit for future action.  Don’t rely on your memory for this.
  2. Process.  Do not let things fester in your inboxes.  Make quick decisions on things in your inbox and figure out the next action they require (if any) upon looking at for the first time. Read More