I know you are but what am I?

I’m a philosopher. I’m a beer drinker. I’m a nudist. No.

I’m a joker. I’m a smoker. I’m a midnight toker. No.

I’m an atheist. I’m a minimalist. I’m an existentialist. No.

I’m Stiffler’s Mom. I’m Ragnar Lothbrok. I’m Carl Spackler. No.

As you read each of those labels you no doubt associated each of them with something from your own experience and knowledge. You’re interpretation of what those labels mean is entirely subjective.

As intelligent as we humans like to think we are, we have an extremely difficult time processing the deluge of sensory information that hits us every second of every day. In order to more efficiently process that information we’ve had to evolve into creatures that categorize things and use “blink” intuition, lest we end up mauled by the oft-cited saber tooth tiger. While this ability generally serves us well in survival it wreaks all sorts of social havoc.

To categorize something or label it is to put it into a group. That group then comes with a ready made list of attributes and descriptors that may or may not be accurate for all members of that group. Your list of attributes for some label may be entirely different from someone else’s.

The use of language in any form by definition has to limit its scope to the use of a word which may or may not be 100% representative of the thing it is being written or spoken about. It is merely an inexact representation based on someone’s experience and processing of that thing. {Poorly written but I will stick with it.}

Therein lies the problem with describing ourselves using labels on a blog, in a resume, or elsewhere. My interpretation of the label may be entirely different from your own. You cannot experience me as a person with all the labels simultaneously. You have to piece together an opinion based on your knowledge of the generally accepted attributes of each of those labels.

Let’s try a little experiment. When I say BEER DRINKER, what image comes to mind? (Please share yours in the comments if you so choose. This could be fun.)

Beer Drinker: That redneck guy who has Pabst Blue Ribbon and Wheaties for breakfast. His favorite thing to say is, “Hey, it’s Natturday! Let’s have a Natty Light.” He’s probably crushed a beer or two on his head…or on his girlfriend’s. All his stories start with, “Ya’ll ain’t gonna believe this shit.”

Beer Drinker: That douchey fellow in Whole Foods, wearing a periwinkle button down,  who hand selects 6 different craft beers to put in his little take home cardboard holder. He makes special trips to buy “Growlers” because the type of beer he likes doesn’t come in a case of bottles or cans. He refers to Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light and all forms of non-craft beer as “that yellow piss.”

Beer Drinker (Me/Mine): I like beer. Mostly I drink whatever is cold and light. I don’t define myself by what type of beer I drink. I just like the taste of some better than others. I don’t harbor ill will towards you for liking something else. Some days I drink craft. Some days I drink Coors Light. I like beer better than wine and spirits though I drink both on occasion. Side note: it only takes a couple of nips of good ole North Georgia moonshine to destroy what’s left of your gut biome (first time I’ve been able to work that into a blog post). If you need that replaced then sip away.

The point I am trying to make is this – if you choose to label yourself or others please understand that those labels come with all sorts of baggage and interpretations. Be careful.  I will leave you with this.

Jeff’s Rules for Labeling Yourself

  • If you can avoid labeling yourself. Do that. Be mysterious.
  • If you can’t spell a label, don’t use it. (Wine connoisseur? Sesquipedalian?) GMAFB.
  • If you don’t like the generally accepted attributes associated with a label, don’t use it.
  • Your opinion of what a label means doesn’t matter. Only everyone else’s. You are only using labels to describe yourself to them – they will interpret.

Now please fill up the comments with funny interpretations of BEER DRINKER.

I choose to live small

I am not a saint, nor a celebrity, nor an Egyptian pharaoh. I am not a president, nor a professional athlete, nor a musician. There will be no statues built in my honor. I will not be a member of a Hall of Fame. Grand monuments will never be built for my followers. And all of that is okay.

For all the positive benefits technology has brought us, the narrowing of distance between 7 billion people comes with its consequences. Within a matter of seconds we are exposed to the atrocities of the world. We see or hear about everything that goes on.

This exposure causes some base yearning to help, but we cannot help all those people. This exposure gives us ever more opportunities to compare ourselves to others and find fault in our appearance, our beliefs, our values, or our material goods. There is a constant striving for more. Where once we could be unique in the small sphere of our community, now we try to find ways to be unique among a cadre of 7 billion of our “closest” friends.

I choose to live small.

I would like to think I have the courage to be ordinary. Sure, I would like to be seen as unique, mysterious, and original, but it is a fools game to think that I have control over any of that. I can only act in as authentic a manner as I can – the rest of you will decide my place in history, or not. One of man’s worst fears is to die without leaving some legacy. I am trying to get over that fear by realizing that legacy has never been within my control. I can contribute, but I cannot judge.

I choose to live small. I choose to impact those closest to me as best I can – family, friends, coworkers, strangers I run into. I give energy to my immediate physical surroundings – the people, the places, the things. I write. I comment. I help when and where I can. I have to constantly remind myself that if I stretch too far I will break and be no good to anyone. I choose wise and virtuous over rich and famous. I am not perfect, and that is hard to accept.

I am but a tiny speck of stardust in a vast and unforgiving universe but I will do my best to do what makes me proud. That usually starts with focusing on what is around me here and now. Perhaps, if I do that well then my tiny contributions will ripple through space and time, and that is all one could wish for.



Richard Feynman – On Happiness and Wealth

“Wealth is not happiness nor is swimming pools and villas. Nor is great work alone reward, or fame. Foreign places visited themselves give nothing. It is only you who bring to the places your heart, or in your great work feeling, or in your large house place. If you do this there is happiness.”

~Richard Feynman

On the search for happiness

As you walk the trail of life you will constantly look up to see the next mountaintop to scale, the next river to ford, or the next plain to cross. There is no end to this quest. There will always be another distant thing at which you are grasping, slightly out of your reach.

Happiness is not a destination. Happiness is a byproduct.

Humans evolved to survive and reproduce, not to be constantly happy. Happiness is the drip meted out to you any time you do something your body deems pleasureful. It is the drug used to stimulate you and condition you to keep seeking those things that allow you to survive and reproduce. If happiness were a destination and you could somehow “find” that one thing then you would perish shortly thereafter. If eating chocolate ice cream brought perpetual happiness then those people who found it would simply stop doing anything else. They would die and eventually the gene for the feeling of perpetual happiness would evolve itself out of human biology.

Happiness should never be a goal. You should not expect nor want to experience it all the time. It is a fleeting feeling, transient, and momentary. As soon as it is gone you will wonder what happened to it. If you become addicted to chasing it then not only will you fail in that quest – you’ll spend your few moments of happiness trying to figure out how to hold on to it, not let it go, or prolong it. Those thoughts will destroy your ability to experience that happiness in the moment. You will be doomed to a life of seeking that which you cannot have by virtue of your fear of losing it or your belief that somehow you should own it forever.

No, happiness is a byproduct of living a life based on your values. Living authentically. Making your own meaning. If your self reflection is clear, your intent pure, and your aim is to do rather than to seek then and only then will you be rewarded with moments of pure happiness.

Release the expectation to be happy all the time and it will find you. Release the need to be happy all the time and it will find you.  When it finds you it will be a surprise and one that you will be able to enjoy in the moment. You will allow it to come and go as it pleases without attempting to hold on. That will make it all the sweeter.

There is no happiness to be found at the top of a mountain, or the other side of a river, or the distant side of a plain. Happiness can be found in each footstep between here and there, if only you weren’t looking for it.

This is the first post in a series that I am going to create that is intended to be advice I would offer my twenty-something self were I able to go back in time and have those conversations.

Doing that leads to thinking

It’s not enough to just do. In order to lead a more fulfilling life you have to do things that keep your mind engaged and require conscious effort. Doing that is mindless will inevitably lead you back into your head into a world of thinking.

Take walking for instance. Getting out and walking can be good for your physical and mental health. I’ve walked literally thousands of miles and as much as I enjoy it I have to be very careful not to allow my body to put one foot in front of the other sub-consciously. When that happens it’s very easy for your mind to take over and start thinking yourself into the abyss. I combat this by trying to walk on hiking trails (requires consciously focusing on the path so as not to trip and bust your ass) or on new trails with interesting scenery and wildlife to process. Walking familiar sidewalks and paths usually doesn’t provide me with what I need to clear my mind and simply do.

Here are some things that you should be careful about:

  • Watching a TV show or movie – can lead to thinking or fantasizing about your life being “different” without actually taking action towards that.
  • Reading non-fiction and allowing thoughts about one book to generate connections and thoughts about other books – this can lead to believing that reading and thinking are a replacement for actual action. Self help books are the worst in this regard.
  • Any activity that you can do without much conscious effort – though tasks like these are necessary you must be careful to be mindful when doing them. Washing dishes, folding laundry, or taking out the trash are all things we do mindlessly. With a little effort and focus you can turn those mundane tasks into smalls wins. Challenge yourself to do those things more efficiently, try Kaizen.

Kaizen: Small Steps, Continuous Improvement

Kaizen is the Japanese word for “improvement” or “change for the better”. The aim of the practice of Kaizen is pretty simple, to eliminate waste in processes and continuously improve things in small (or large for that matter) and incremental ways. The idea is that this will ultimately lead to longer term efficiencies and better methods of operating.

  1. Do something
  2. Realize that something involved with doing that is inefficient or difficult
  3. Make changes to your process or actions
  4. Do something again, albeit slightly differently

One of the biggest sources of resistance for most people when they attempt to do something is the sheer magnitude and time involved with the task. Telling yourself you are going to repaint the entire interior of your house will probably immediately cause untold amounts of anxiety. In the spirit of Kaizen, break that huge project down into it’s component sub-parts and begin taking small steps in the general direction of your goal. Paint one room or one wall. Figure out what worked and what didn’t. Did you have the right brush  or roller nap? Did you have the proper drop cloth? Was your ladder too big or small? If changes need to be made then make them and move onto the next room or wall. Before you know it you will become more efficient and your large project will be completed.

Related Links:

More on Kaizen from Wikipedia

Book: One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way

To speak or not to speak?

When you’re in an open space with a group of strangers, a party for instance, and there is a pause in the conversation it is referred to as an “awkward silence.” When you get on an elevator everyone is quiet and usually staring down at the floor (or their phone). Any sound on an elevator is awkward and typically uncomfortable for most people. This dichotomy has always puzzled me. Why is silence preferred in one awkward situation and frowned upon in another?

I am introverted by nature and not usually the boisterous one who will jump into small talk with any old stranger. However, for some reason I find it extremely entertaining to be the one who causes awkward stress on elevators. It’s as if my alter ego knows the pain of speaking out will last only a few minutes – the length of time until everyone on the elevator exits and parts to go their separate ways.

So how does this manifest itself? Most of the time my attempts to discomfort people are humorous in nature. A few examples:

Scene 1
Stranger: “I see you on the elevator almost every day. What do you do for a living?”
Me: “I am a professional clown fighter. I know 43 ways to kill a clown.”

Scene 2
Goofy woman in all yellow dress enters elevator. She “accidentally” hits 4 floors of buttons between us and the lobby.
Goofy Woman: “Oh! I’m so sorry. Please don’t kill me.”
Me: “I only kill people I am going to eat, and I don’t like bananas.”

Scene 3
Woman enters elevator wearing Michigan State T-Shirt. She turns around and the back reads “Today is game day at Michigan State”
Me: “Who are they playing?”
Her: “What?”
Me: “No, who?”
Her: “What?”
Me: “Second Base”

Other times I intentionally try to creep people out by appearing serious.

Scene 4
In a very crowded, full elevator…
Me: “I bet you’re all wondering why I’ve gathered you here today?”

Scene 5
Ever notice how no one wants to make eye contact on the elevator?
When I am the last to get on an elevator and it is packed I like to stand with my back to the doors and look at everyone…and see how many I can make eye contact with. Sometimes, if ones looks up and sees me, I will put my finger to my mouth in the common “shhhhh” motion.

Scene 6
Once again, crowded elevator, everyone looking at ground or staring at phone.
I pickup my phone and act like I am speaking to someone.
Me: “No! The doctor says it’s not contagious unless you are within a couple of feet of me.”

And that, my friends is how an introvert entertains himself. Truth be told, many times we all end up laughing and acknowledging the awkwardness of it all. There are, however, a few folks who will avoid getting on the elevator with me at the office.

If you’re curious and want to hear about more of these always unplanned incidents I share them on my weekly newsletter – under the heading “Jeff’s Fun on Elevators“.


Thinking and Importance

In the words of Nobel Prize winner Danny Kahneman:

“Nothing is quite as important as you think it is while you’re thinking about it, so the mere act of thinking about something makes it more important than it’s going to be. So you’re thinking, “How much happier would I be living in California?” Well no, you won’t be a lot happier. “How much happier would I be if my income increased by 30%,” you think a lot. No, it wouldn’t. So just about everything that people think about, they exaggerate its importance.

Now, Mr. Kahneman made a name for himself in the fields of judgment and decision making and behavioral economics so he knows a thing or two about thinking.

This artificial level of importance placed on something by virtue of thinking about it is one more reason why you should do more and think less. The things you think about are never quite as important as you believe them to be. How many times have you done something that you had anxiety about and said, “ah, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be”? The doing wasn’t the bad part, it was the thinking that created the anxiety.

Related Book: Thinking, Fast and Slow


Learning can be a crutch that enables inaction

I love golf. If you’ve never played golf you may not realize just how difficult it is to swing a golf club consistently and strike the ball consistently over time. Sometimes you can go an entire round and not feel like you swung the same way twice. It can be maddening. Mastering the sport takes as much mental energy as physical athleticism.

Learning about the golf swing is relatively easy. There are millions of online articles, illustrations, and videos to show you everything there is to know about the perfect golf swing. The problem is that this type of learning is thinking and not doing. Watching golf videos makes you feel like your making progress towards a better golf swing but you’re not. Reading about the perfect grip or take away conjures up images in your head that you can be that guy that dominates your local muni course. But those are simply thoughts, some might even say delusions. You will never become an excellent golfer, or excellent anything for that matter, by only thinking about it.

Visualization is okay. Simply thinking is not. Thinking and thinking and thinking about being a better golfer without getting out on the range and doing focused, deliberate practice is going to lead to more misery. So learn what you can from all that stuff but be damn sure you get out into the physical world and start doing it. Don’t let the plethora of information out there about what you want to accomplish assist you in thinking your way to inaction.

Charles Bukowski – The Laughing Heart

The Laughing Heart


your life is your life

don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.

be on the watch.

there are ways out.

there is light somewhere.

it may not be much light but

it beats the darkness.

be on the watch.

the gods will offer you chances.

know them.

take them.

you can’t beat death but

you can beat death in life, sometimes.

and the more often you learn to do it,

the more light there will be.

your life is your life.

know it while you have it.

you are marvelous

the gods wait to delight

in you.


~Charles Bukowski