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Whether you are new to writing or an old pro, brushing up on the basics is always helpful. Because no matter how GOOD the story is? If the reader is busy stumbling over this stuff, it ruins the fictive dream and she will never GET to the story. So today we are going to cover […]
TED curator Chris Anderson’s guide to creating talks that are unforgettable. A great TED Talk is proof that a carefully crafted short presentation can unlock empathy, stir excitement, spread knowledge and promote a shared dream. Done right, a talk can electrify a room and transform an audience’s worldview. Done right, a talk is more powerful than anything in written…
When I hear this word, I think of those intense war movies–whether fantasy or sci-fi or contemporary, the terrible battle is raging on, and the heroes are under siege from the monsters or villains or barbarians, and one of the heroes turns back to his king and cries:
“WE NEED REINFORCEMENTS!”
This is a really important note, right here: this blog is as much, if not more so, for me as it is for you. This blog is a record of thoughts I have, to preserve them; strategies I implement, to record them; resolutions I make, to cement them in writing.
I don’t want you to be fooled, to think I’m somewhere up the mountain, calling down to you, recommending which paths to follow and steps to take, which ledges to avoid and shaky ground to bypass. No…I’m right there with you. I’m writing this blog because I am learning, concurrently and organically, as you are reading.
And sometimes, I get it wrong. Sometimes, life is tough and I struggle. Sometimes, I lose sight of some–or all–of the ideas I champion here: I lose my center, my will, my principles, my passion. I am not good at this–not even close. Remember, The Next Level doesn’t have a cap–there is no ‘Final Level’. The Next Level is about being better than before, and that’s my goal, every day–not to be good, but to be better.
Sometimes I fail, and on those days, negative thoughts have breached the front wall, despair has taken the lower keep, and there are just too many difficulties. Sometimes, I need reinforcements.
When I need reinforcements, I have several places I go–one of them is my blog. We all need those pools, those storage centers. We reach into them and extract the life, the sustenance we need, to return us to our upmost strength and ability. They are wells of inspiration, fields of hope, mines of knowledge–when we run out of battery, they serve as our charging stations.
I needed reinforcements this week, and it reminded me of the function of this blog, and I wanted to share that reminder with you. I needed reinforcements this week, and it also reminded me how difficult it is to ask for reinforcements. I’d like to share that experience with you, too.
Needing reinforcements sucks.
I mean, that’s the first thing I realized, and I realized it for about two days without doing a dang thing past that. Just thinking to myself, “You need to access somebody, something, for help, and that sucks”. Needing reinforcements sucks because it’s a personal admonition that you aren’t…there, yet. You’re not self-sufficient yet, you’re not unassailable yet–still circumstance and environment and stress can dictate parts of your life; still you are subject to weaknesses you have been working to eradicate for years.
And you’re never going to be free of them.
I mean, that’s the second thing I realized. Live to be one hundred, and still circumstance and environment and stress are going to dictate things in your life–even if it is very rarely, very slightly, they still will. That doesn’t mean the pursuit thereof is unworthy, it simply means, at some point in the future, and at another point after that, too:
You’re going to need reinforcements.
That’s the third thing, and let me tell you, that hurt me a lot. I’m a really prideful guy, and it’s something I work on and wish I was less so, but I’m a really prideful guy. Because I’m a really prideful guy, it’s really difficult to admit to myself that, for the rest of my life, I’m gonna need reinforcements at different points to different degrees. That just hurts, man.
This is a realization I’ve come to before, I think. I’ve had it before, but the second I get past my reinforcement requirement, I try to forget it, and often do–I’m so much more comfortable, living under the delusion that I don’t need help, that I banish the thought from my mind, and live pridefully again. It is a humbling thought, and humanizing thought, and I loathe it.
This time, i wanted to live less pridefully…so I remembered the war movies. I thought about it for a second, and I realized something: they asked for reinforcements. I always envision like, Aragorn or Legolas, somebody really mythic, just yelling it out–prideful guy/elf, having to ask for reinforcements. Why can they do it?
Because they know what’s at stake.
What if I hadn’t asked for reinforcements–what if I hadn’t asked for reinforcements, and spiraled instead, into sloth and arrogance and leisure? What if I hadn’t asked for reinforcements, spiraled, and liked it? What if I hadn’t asked for reinforcements, spiraled, and wanted to stay?
Because I’ve spiraled before, and there’s an allure there–relaxing, doing the bare minimum, eating whatever, sleeping whenever. That low-energy living is intoxicating–sickening, over time–but intoxicating in those first moments, and it is SO DIFFICULT to drag yourself out of that living once you give yourself to it.
I live under a particular code, with a particular discipline, guided by certain principles, and those were under siege. My code, my discipline, my principles needed reinforcements. My decisions, my choices–my very way of life: these were at stake.
And in the light of those conditions, how couldn’t I ask for reinforcements? I’m a prideful guy, but I needed to preserve everything on which I had worked. And it’s so easy–it’s so easy–to consider ‘needing reinforcements’ as an expression that I was failing myself, because I was struggling to be disciplined, to be principled, to follow my code. But rather, that was not the case–and this is HUGE:
Needing reinforcements was not a failure of my discipline, of my principles–it was a preservation of it. I didn’t need reinforcements because I was less than I wanted to be, I needed reinforcements simply because I wanted to save my principles, to secure my discipline. I wasn’t letting go of them, I was grabbing them before they fell off the cliff.
This has been a long post, and if you read the whole thing, you kinda rock. I had to process the reinforcements I needed this week, and I did, in this post. I hope some of it rang true for you, and the next time you find yourself needing reinforcements, you come back, and rediscover whatever it was that you found true here–I know I will, too.
No, you read it correctly. And…yep, just checked: I typed it correctly, too.
Rome was built in a day.
Actually, I Googled it real quick, and Google gave me this:
So far it’s taken approximately 1,009,491 days to build Rome. This is based on the traditional founding of the city (21 April 753 BCE), but we should also consider that the city has been sacked and rebuilt several times.
from Quora.com, so basically this is unquestionably accurate.
Right now, if I offered you a job that would take, oh, I dunno, 1,009,491 days (2,765.75 years, give or take)…would you take that job?
Let’s frame it more positively: if I guaranteed–guaranteed–that you could achieve your wildest dream, your most sensational of goals…in 2,765.75 years, would you take that guarantee?
But it’s your wildest dream, and you wouldn’t take that guarantee?!
What if the guarantee was in 50 years? 40? 30? 20? Where’s your limit?
Here’s another question: what would you do, in this very moment, if the realization of your dream, the achievement of your goal, was indeed guaranteed? If you were certain you could achieve that goal, at some point, based off the work you do for it…what would you do, right now?
I don’t know about you, but I’d immediately get to work on it–why wouldn’t you? Every excuse, all doubt has been erased! Your endeavors will be worthwhile, your toil will not be in vain, you will succeed! Your work will mean something. It is guaranteed.
But the Romans didn’t have their guarantee! The Romans weren’t certain that their city could withstand the elements and their enemies, that they possessed sufficient resources and manpower, that some act of God wouldn’t rain down fire and brimstone and wipe the infantile, incomplete Rome from the face of the planet.
Furthermore, on top of those concerns, the Romans likely had a few you will recognize more readily: they weren’t really sure they, themselves had the power to pull this off, and might end up with a heap of rubble. They had probably never made the center for an entire religion and eventual empire before–how did they know if they were doing it right? Also, what if the Athenians came and laughed at it, or the…what’s another ancient city?…the Byzantines (?) came and judged their city harshly, determined it to be lesser than theirs?
What if I try, don’t have the ability, and fail? What if I do it all wrong? What if I do it right, but it’s still not good enough, and people see it and think it’s bad?
Familiar doubts? I know they are for me.
The Romans didn’t have their guarantee, no…yet Rome was still built in a day.
So what did the Romans have? They had the ability to act.
(Psst! You have that too.)
There are four things wrapped up in ‘the ability to act’: will, for one. You have to want to act in order to act, you must be able to will your body to act. Another is the capacity, the skill, the actual talent: I may want to read a book in Swahili, but I don’t know the language, so I can’t act. The third is the resources: even if I know the language, I still need the book.
Fourth: time. This is the tricky one. Here’s why:
The will to act on that specific goal? It can’t be delegated or deferred elsewhere–the will to write this post cannot be transformed into the will to clean my dorm room. The ability to write this post–sure, it also encompasses writing other posts, but again, the ability to write does not translate to the ability to maintain tidiness. The resources (computer, journal, etc…), as I’m sure you guessed, do not morph into a vacuum and duster.
Time’s greatest blessing–and greatest curse–is that it’s free, it’s (relatively) bottomless, and it’s versatile.
And for 1,009,491 days (24,227,784 hours), the Romans built Rome.
Rome was built in a day because, if I guaranteed you your goal at the end of 50, 40, 30 years…you probably wouldn’t take that. But if I guaranteed you that your goal would be realized–all you had to do was work on it–you’d get to work, today.
Rome was built in a day because Rome was built day by day–every day the Romans had to choose to ignore their doubts, every day the Romans had to work on something they weren’t sure would work, every day the Romans made a choice to affect the lives of their great-great-great-etc…grandchildren in 2,765 years! The monumental impact of their achievement, the dramatic realization of all their labors, had not occurred on a cosmic level, but on a microscopic one; they were victorious over decades, centuries, millennia, because they won the DAY!
Twain tells us, “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” Eugene F. Ware says, “All glory comes from daring to begin.” I, personally, like to remind myself that yesterday I said tomorrow, and that you re-make the decision to begin every day, when you wake up and resume. At the end of the day (see what I did there?), all these quotes draw to the salient point:
Rome was built in a day–that was the unit of its construction. Every time the sun set, there was a little more to Rome than there had been when it rose. That chunk of time–that day–was all the Romans had, and they gave that time to their goal, they gave their will and capacity and resources and time to Rome.
The question I have for you is this: it’s today–what’s your Rome?
Happy President’s Day to everybody! In recognition of this holiday, I’d like to share a quote often incorrectly attributed to Abraham Lincoln (I’ve started digging deeper when quoting prominent individuals, thanks to a helpful comment):
We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice that thorn bushes have roses.
I discuss perspective a lot (here! Ooh, and here!), I know–but it’s important to do that: to constantly return to our lens and wipe the smudges, fill the cracks, and even get a new pair when our old one just isn’t up to snuff.
Sometimes, I think perspective is a complex thing. I think it’s complex, and the reason I fail to adequately grasp, understand, and shape my perspective is because it is too complex for me to handle just yet, and as I learn more and experience more, I’ll gain the wherewithal to handle my perspective.
But as I learn more and experience more, I’ve discovered rather the opposite: often, I am the roadblock between myself and understanding my perspective: I muddle myself up with desires, temptations, instincts, and fleeting wants that throw my principled, anchored perspective out of wack.
Think of a decision in your life that went wrong–specifically, one in which your very perspective was flawed. You may have interpreted a situation or circumstance incorrectly and made a poor judgment based off that incomplete data; you may have over- or undervalued someone’s opinion, action, or relationship. Were the circumstances of this decision beyond your rational understanding? Was it truly above your reach, to objectively evaluate and process all of the information around this decision? Were you really incapable of taking that moment–surely, a difficult, trying moment–and working out all of the moving pieces, to achieve a desirable conclusion?
Or was it you? Was it your agenda, your desires, your preconceived notions and prejudices and wants that led to your wrong decision?
Perspective is rooted in values, and distorted by feelings. No, I promise, I’m not saying feelings are bad, but we often set them as the defining factor–the North Star by which we guide our actions, our decisions, in which we put our trust. But this hierarchy, while immediately satisfying, is tenuous and unsustainable: it is as if the North Star shifted, relocated, and occasionally even vanished from our sight. In this way, our perspective is distorted: while north is certainly still north, the system we use to evaluate north has changed, and now north is west and south is east and our decision-making is flawed.
I’m not saying feelings are bad, I’m saying values are better–and they’re not even mutually exclusive! The most effective individual operates with his values and his feelings in harmony. The values are predetermined and defined: a few of mine are integrity, worship, and humility. Every day of my life, I want to live with integrity, worshiping God, and humbly–no matter how I feel that day.
And some days, I feel chipper, genuine, and free–living with integrity is quite easy, because the values and feelings are harmonious. Perhaps I even feel deferential and thankful–worship is much easier today, as well. I may even feel, just when I pop out of bed that morning, particularly sober and small on the cosmic scale–and on those days, even though I struggle mightily with humility every second…it’s just a little easier.
Other days, I wake up and I just want to stay in bed and watch The Office and How To Train Your Dragon and eat snacks until I die. And on those days–you guessed it–it’s harder.
We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice that thorn bushes have roses.
– Alphonse Karr
‘We can complain…’
That opening part is so crucial to me: we can. WE CAN COMPLAIN. That’s a choice you can make, if you want to. And some days, some moments, you’re going to want to complain, because you’ve been pricked by a thorn: you feel poorly, you feel tired, you feel defeated and deflated and dead.
And if feelings are your North Star, if feelings are at the top of your food chain, you will complain. Not can. Will.
The National Bestseller Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen was an absolutely awesome read, and I’d like to tell you about it. Firstly, let’s hook you up with the good stuff:
Purchase on Amazon here (you can snag it for less than 4 bucks!)
Visit the official David Allen Getting Things Done website here.
I want to say that Getting Things Done (GTD for short) is a time-management method, but it’s more than that. Getting Things Done is a mentality, a lens that alters your entire day, from top to bottom. From the mundane–receiving an email or hearing an idea–to the transcendent–accomplishing all of those outlandish, bucket-list goals on which you never imagined you would begin working, your mind is in the right place and on the right ideas. That’s one of the most powerful messages from GTD:
Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.
Everything you’ve told yourself you ought to do, your mind thinks you should do right now. Frankly, as soon add you have two things to do stored in your RAM, you’ve generated personal failure, because you can’t do two things at the same time. This produces an all-pervasive stress factor whose source can’t be pin-pointed.
The idea of RAM was something that really struck me, upon reading this book. David Allen likens our mind to a computer–a common and accurate analogy–and speaks on the idea of Random Access Memory (RAM). Every incomplete thought, every undecided action, every open-ended project occupies space in your conscious mind–when there’s an idea you haven’t completed, it lingers in your mind, and it cannot be resolved until you either complete the idea or deposit the ‘open loop’ in a trusted system.
Allen goes as far as to say that your mind, stuck on every unresolved concept, will gravitate back to that concept and worry about that lack of resolution at every time, in every place, especially when you can’t act on that concept. As soon as you submit an idea into the RAM of your brain, your brain thinks it should be doing that idea right now, all the time. The second you have two ideas stored in RAM, you’ve failed, because you can’t do two things at the same time.
This is such a powerful concept because it demands deliberate, focused thought–and the only way to achieve that deliberate, focused thinking is to synthesize a system that collects every ‘open loop’, every unfinished business, processes them to give context and meaning and organizes them, which gives us the power to review them and consequentially decide what to do about them.
That is the skeleton: David Allen moves forward to describe the many pieces of his full system, and the book is so valuable (YET YOU CAN GET IT FOR ONLY $4) for that reason. I’d recommend this book for many reasons–that is the primary. Top to bottom, life-changing redefinition of the every input, every idea, every stimulus.
One aspect of the system that is so crucial–and has been my greatest struggle in the implementation of my system–is trustworthiness. I’m an avid triple-checker. If I have an appointment or a meeting, I put it in my Google Calendar–I add the date, the time, the location, and reminders. Google Calendar even knows that I bike around the city, and will send me a notification with ample preparation time to let me know by when I have to leave to avoid tardiness, WHICH IS AWESOME.
But nonetheless, the second I get that notification, I open the original e-mail or letter that produced that meeting, and I check to make sure the date, time, and location are correct. Once I arrive, I pull out my phone, for the third time, and make sure–just in case I got it wrong the first two times–I have the time, date, and location correct.
I don’t trust my system, and without trust in the system, the loops remain open. Instead of not thinking about my meetings and obligations, I do think of them: if not their actual existence, then their context: the how, the what, the why.
All in all, this book rocked my world. I must again stress the fullness of the teachings. Unlike many productivity tips/tactics/teachings, it examines and affects the entirety of decision-making, information processing, and project management. At its conclusion, Mr. Allen recommends you return and reread within 3-6 months–you’ll probably hear more from me about it then. Until that time, please give it a solid look: it’s a real game-changer.