Archive for category lifestyle

How to Lead When You’re NOT in Charge – Identity

We have just started a Book Club at Improving to discuss the book How to Lead When you’re NOT in Charge. I’ll be posting some of my main thoughts here as we cover two chapters per week.

“Great leaders leverage influence and relationships over title and position. Influence has always been, and will always be, the currency of leadership. Influence always outpaces authority.

Those bits got me thinking back to when I was 16 or so. For whatever reason, at least at the time, Brazilians used to use the “Dr.” prefix for the bosses (usually directors and such), regardless as to whether the person had a doctorate or not. That to me was a sign of title and authority over leadership (I’ll just say the person didn’t act as a leader).

“Once you become aware of something, you start seeing it everywhere”

 

That one comes up often. Keep an open mind, increase awareness, increase the potential of influencing others.

“Take responsibility to make great what you can make great. And let others do it in the areas that they can make great.” – Jim Collins

 

That bit makes me think of the disservice it is to not let others perform what they’re great at. For example, instead of doing something myself, even though I don’t know how to do it, just for the sake of saving some bucks, is a disservice to those who do that for a living.

“Leading without authority means you need to have a clear understanding of your identity – who you are as a leader, apart from any titles.”

That one had me thinking that many times I have not even put myself as a leader, but ended up being followed, mostly because people know what I stand for and look up to me for guidance.

In speaking of leaders and followers, I always think of one of my favorite TED talks, “How to start a movement, by Derek Sivers”.

“The most important ongoing conversation you have in your life is the one you have with yourself every day.”

This is another point that comes up in many places; this idea of “the story we tell ourselves”.

“The more you understand the makeup of your personality, the better you can understand how your identity shapes your thoughts, desires, and decisions, and the better you’ll be able to work with others.”

I’ve had conversations over the last couple of years that have helped me understand that thought better. There are traits I have that I wasn’t quite aware of, until someone else pointed it out to me. I then started being more deliberate about it; if it’s something people relate to, I might as well leverage it as a “super power”.

“Architecture of Identity: Past, People, Personality, Purpose, Priorities”

James Clear’s post on Identity-based Habits got me thinking a lot about this many years ago and I’ve been often reviewing my habits and how they line up with my desired identity.

“The clearer you are about who you are…
– The more consistent you’ll be with others
– The more confident you’ll be about what you do
– The less concerned you’ll be with the opinion of others
– The less confused you’ll be by your emotions”

I have worked with a number of clients as a consultant, where I didn’t have the authority to be a formal leader, and yet, consultants were expected to demonstrate informal leadership behavior.

And a point in the book that really hit home: “Think about Martin Luther King, Jr. What was his title again?

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Obviously, everybody knows that, of course!

Whenever we say things like “obviously” and “of course”, we risk shutting the doors of communication.

What may be obvious for us today, wasn’t so obvious when we didn’t know it. Once we’ve known it for a while, we take it for granted, and it becomes obvious to us, but it’s still NOT obvious to those who don’t know it.

People who hear “obviously, eveybody knows that” may feel stupid asking for clarification. I know I’ve refrained myself from asking questions because of that, having to take note and then do some research afterward, missing important information through the end of a meeting due to my temporary ignorance.

Crystal clear to some, blurry to others.

Different people learn at different pace. We see things through different lenses. The image in front of us maybe be opaque due to life’s experiences or inexperiences, opportunities or lack of. We travel different roads to enlightenment and hit different bumps along the way.

I can’t remember when and where I first heard of the issues with using those words, but ever since I did, I’ve been watching my words.

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Favorite Books I’ve Read in 2020

Here are some of my favorites books read in 2020, in no particular order.

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives

Derek Sivers has a great summary of that book. I’ve read the book around the same time when I finished watching The Good Place (which I loved!). Both the book and the series touch on topics I catch myself thinking about often.

The Phoenix Project / The Unicorn Project

I enjoyed both books a lot. I like the novel approach (inspired by The Goal, which is another book I like).

Badass: Making Users Awesome

I absolutely loved this book!! Watch this 2-minute long video. I’ve enjoyed this book so much that it’s one of the books I have on my list to re-read this year.

Total Recall / Losing My Virginity

Those are the autobiographies of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Richard Branson, respectively. Two remarkable individuals.

Hell Yeah or No / Your Music and People

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve noticed I mention Derek Sivers quite often. I’ve been following his writings for several years and will continue to do so; he keeps putting out great stuff in a very simple, distilled manner.

The Obstacle is the Way

I’ve been hearing and reading people talk about stoicism a lot over the years, but never really sat down to look more into it, until last year. I’ve enjoyed The Obstacle is the Way, and even gifted a copy to a friend, with page markers on passages that I believe can help him accomplish the dream he’s chasing.

Image by Linus Schütz

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On Failure

An artist I look up to is Devin Townsend. He is an amazing singer, prolific songwriter, hilarious in his performance, and a great mind.

Months ago, I’ve run into the Devin Townsend Challenge video. From its description: “Get a unique insight into Devin Townsend’s creative process in this two-hour video where he records a completely new track from scratch.” I was intrigued and am glad I’ve watched the whole thing. It’s not everyday we get a chance to witness a brilliant mind at work.

Devin’s albums and concerts are always very polished. Everything looks and sounds flawless. This is one of my favorite songs and performances by him: Devin Townsend’s Kingdom

The most important thing I got out of his “challenge” was his transparency into his process. He didn’t try to make anything look or sound perfect. He showed how he fails many times until he finds what he’s looking for. He also shows how he uses certain building blocks that have worked well for him, which are part of his musical fingerprint, so new creations come out a little easier.

I then found this great article:

Devin Townsend’s Advice to Younger Musicians: “You Need to Learn How to Fail Efficiently”

The title of that article alone already makes me sit back and think about it.

How much effort goes into trying NOT to fail? That’s a waste of energy. We’re not likely to get it right the first time. And even if we do, what do we learn from it? I don’t know who said this, but it’s a good quote: “It’s only failure if you don’t learn from it”.

A few weeks ago I’ve put up a dartboard in the house. Say I walk up to it, throw the first dart, hoping to hit the bullseye, and it doesn’t come even close. I can get frustrated, say I suck, throw the 2nd dart, and do even worse. Or, I can throw the 1st dart accepting that I may not hit the bullseye, but being aware of things such as how I’m holding the dart, how I’m aiming, how much force I’m using to throw, the dart’s trajectory, etc. Then I see the result, and try it again, learning off the experience I’ve just had, coming up with a new plan (throw higher, softer, relax the arm, etc.) and then there’s a good chance the 2nd throw will go a little better. Rinse and repeat.

So, as Devin says, we need to learn how to fail efficiently, so we aren’t afraid of failing, and are better equipped to give our best and learn with the experience.

I love this quote from a TV show I’ve never watched:

“Dude, suckin’ at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.” – Jake, “Adventure Time”

We all have a tendency to see successful people and get frustrated when we can’t repeat their success. We compare our beginning to someone else’s middle. We don’t think of all the roads they tried to get to where they are. I think of Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek hugely successful book, and how it was rejected 25 times, before he finally got an offer from a publisher. 25 times! We are always afraid of failing one single time, let alone 25 times.

Here’s a great 5-minute talk on Why You Need to Fail, by Derek Sivers.

There are many things I want to do, many goals to pursue. I’ll add a task to each one as a reminder to ask myself “how can I fail efficiently?”.

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2021 is Here: What’s the Excuse Now?

A lot of things didn’t get done in 2020 because it was deemed as the main blocker to everything; somehow, the year was perceived to have such power.

I kept myself thinking “Comes January 1st, how is it going to be different?”.

So here we are, it’s January 1st of 2021. What’s the excuse now?

When I opened the notebook to do my journaling this morning, coincidentally, I was presented with this quote at the top of the page (and no, this notebook isn’t calendar-based):

In life you can have an excuse, or you can have an obstacle that is an opportunity to learn and to grow. Observe your thoughts and throw away your excuses! – Dean Graziosi

Since the pandemic started I was decided not to wait for things to get better; instead, I had decided to make things get better, however possible. As I look back, I’ve succeeded at times, I’ve failed at times, but I never stopped. And that’s how I’m continuing on.

No excuses!

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Leveraging Constraints

When we’re constrained, we have a chance to get creative. This is a topic that keeps coming up, and I have been thinking about how this has applies to my life.

I hadn’t heard of Dr. Seuss until I moved to the US. I enjoyed reading the back story to his Green Eggs and Ham book, in which he took on a bet that he could write an entertaining children’s book using only 50 different words.

Somewhere else (I can’t find the source now, but I believe it was on a blog post by Tim Ferriss), there’s the question of “how would we do that if we only had one third of the resource?”, so 1 month instead of 3, $10k instead of $30k.

In his autobiography, Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted to be an actor, but was told he’d never make it, because he had a name nobody can speak or spell, a thich accent, and a huge body that won’t look good on camera. He used those Underdog Advantages in his favor. The Obstacle is the Way also talks about this idea.

More recently, I’ve read the following in this book: “Imagine a Being who is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. What does such a Being lack? The answer: Limitation.

I think back to when I was a kid and video-game magazines started to give away cheat codes that turned us unbeatable. After trying it on one or two games, I realized I quickly lost interest in those games. What was the point of playing it if I can do everything effortlessly?

When I got injured last year and it took me 3 months to be fully-recovered, I made a point to myself of pushing through it regardless of my physical limitations and pain during that time, and ended up being more productive than during the months leading into it.

In 2020, with the limitations imposed by the pandemic, I’ve once again focused on a system that allowed me to push through it, and got a TON of valuable things done, which mightn’t be the case if the year had just been a smooth sail.

I’m now experimenting with creating self-imposed constraints on a number of projects and tasks.

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My Favorite Quotes in 2020

Back in 2017, I’ve put out a blog post about Quotes that Inspire Me. As it turns out, I’m still using the same sources for quotes I was using back then, but I’ve also added a couple more (I may share the new ones if they stick around with me a little longer).

Below is the list of quotes I’ve enjoyed the most in 2020. As I review them, I realize they have inspired many of my blog posts.

Enjoy!

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” – Cyril Connolly

“Most people quit because they look how far they have to go, not how far they have come.” – Anonymous

“Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create.” – Jana Kingsford

“Always remember that to argue, and win, is to break down the reality of the person you are arguing against. It is painful to lose your reality, so be kind, even if you are right.” – Haruki Murakami

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle

“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” – Fred Rogers

“Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.” – James Clear

“He who jumps into the void owes no explanation to those who stand and watch.” – Jean-Luc Godard

“A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

“Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals character” – (I don’t know the author)

“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” – Anaïs Nin

“Beware the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.” – Ben Okri

“Do not wish for an easy life. Wish for the strength to endure a difficult one.” – Bruce Lee

“There are seven days in the week and someday isn’t one of them.” – Unknown

“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.” – Eckhart Tolle

“‎Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of others, instead, seek what they sought.” – Matsuo Basho

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” – Vince Lombardi

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou

“You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.” – James Clear

“Don’t write to sound smart. Write to be useful. If you’re useful over a long time period, you will end up looking smart anyway.” – James Clear

“It’s a job that’s never started that takes the longest to finish.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

“Vision is the bottleneck of talent. Most talent is wasted because people do not clearly know what they want. It’s not a lack of effort, but a lack of direction. There are many capable people in the world, but relatively few that focus on what matters.” – James Clear

“There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” – Nelson Mandela

“Ask yourself, who do you want to be? Figure out for yourself what makes you happy, no matter how crazy it may sound to other people.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” – Bill Nye

“Go beyond yourself rather than beyond others.” – Unknown

“It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the business of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall.” – Stephen Covey

“Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions – not outside” – Marcus Aurelius

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Do You Want Good or Bad News First?

How often are we asked “I have good news and bad news: which one do you want first?”. Whose decision is it to define news as either good or bad? How about we simply say: “I have news. Would you like to hear it?”

What’s good for one person, may be (it often is) bad for another:

“YES! Great news: my team has won the championship!”. I know, you team beat mine. Good for you, bad for me.

“Woohoo, I got a new job!”. I know, that means all of the other candidates didn’t. But hey, maybe one of those candidates ended up landing an even better job. Better for whom?

“Sir, you arrived too late. The gate is already closed and you can’t board flight 123.
“What? << insert an endless list of bad words and insults here >>”. Bad news?
Thirty minutes later: “Breaking News: flight 123 has crashed, claiming the lives of all people on board

Bad News (“can’t get on the plane“) turned to Good News (“I didn’t die!”) for Mr. Dirtymouth?
Good News (“we boarded”) turned to Bad News (“we died”) for all passengers who got on the plane?

Relaying news to others without loading it with our personal bias is a very hard thing to do. Our choice of words, the intonation, the emphasis, the body language, the facial expression… all of those things can influence howa person receives and perceives the news. As if our constant struggle with the story we tell ourselveswasn’t hard enough.

Learning to take a step back and separate facts from interpretation and judgment requires a constant deliberate practice.

Your first reaction is usually outdated. – Derek Sivers

Is that good or bad news? We’ll see (yet another great post by Sivers).

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Time Will Pass Anyway

“Slow progress? So what, time will pass one way or another.” I don’t remember where I’ve read that quote, but I always think of it. Much like this one, which I’ve read on The Artist’s Way:

Student: “But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/paint/write a decent play?”
Teacher: “Yes… the same age you will be if you don’t.”

Not far from what I’ve shared about the Search for Perfection.

When I release my latest song, an old friend told me this: “I see your videos and think they’re really cool, and I feel envious because I can’t get my stuff together like you do.

That comment inspired this post, which contains some of the things I’ve shared with him…

The main riffs for that song were written 10 years ago. I wrote the main ideas for the lyrics 5 years ago, and I finished the main structure of the song around the same time. I started recording the song in April this year. I’ve only finished lyrics, vocals, guitar solos around September/October, and the song was finally released in November.

Ten years.

I have many other songs that have been in-progress for years now: 5 years for two of them, 13 years for another, and there’s one sitting in the backburner that goes back to 1995.

Do all of my songs take that long from initial conception to release? No. Sometimes it takes me as little as 2 to 3 months. No specific reason; I may just feel like I have all of the parts and so it happens I have the time to get it all done quickly.

However little time I have, I record song ideas on my phone and store it away in a backlog. I write ideas for lyrics and put it away. Every once in a while, I listen back to those ideas, and if I feel an urge to work on any one of them, I make the time and make some progress. Sometimes I may be able to wrap it all up within a month, other times it may take me years. No biggie.

For me, it’s important to get it started, get the ball rolling. When it’s done, it’s done. Time has passed. Progress has been made. Results have been achieved.

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The Search for Perfection

“Perfection” has an expiration date. Yesterday’s perfect may be today’s “meh”.
Not to long ago, I was watching Tony Robbins’ interview with Shaun White. When they mentioned Shaun’s Perfect 100 Score at the 2012 Winter X Games, I looked for it YouTube. To me, it looked stunning. It’s just unbeliable that people can do that. As I scroll down the comments, I see this one: “Probably a 93 today”.

A perfect score yesterday won’t guarantee a perfect score today. Not without work towards progress. Yesterday’s competitors will learn from that perfect score. I like this sentence I’ve read in The Obstacle is the Way: think progress, not perfection.

Year’s ago, I’ve read Derek Sivers’ summary of the Art and Fear book. This passage has stuck with me:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be greaded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weight the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

“Better good today than perfect tomorrow”, comes to mind.

I keep those things in mind whenever I see myself with tons of ideas, but not starting them because I may not have what I consider ideal to get it done (“not enough time”, “not enough money”, “not enough skills”, etc.).

I have been putting out many songs over the last several years. Everytime I’m working on a new one, I may think “if I learn how to play the drums better”, “if I learn more music theory”, “if I learn how to sing better”. But I’m getting better at realizing I’m falling into that trap and quickly shifting into getting it started, working on it, getting it done, and moving on. Next time, it gets a little better, and so it does the time after that. Instead of waiting 10 years to have the perfect song (which I know won’t happen), I get done however I can, with whatever I have.

 

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