I love to Travel or do I?

I think everyone on the planet says they love to travel. I suppose going places and seeing new things is exciting but “I love to travel” seems like an unnecessarily vague descriptor so I will  be more precise with my feelings about travel.

I like to travel and I hate to travel. I like to travel when someone else is doing the organizing, arranging, and executing and we are going to some distant place full of natural beauty, far off the beaten path, with very few other people. I take my “duties” seriously and when I am in charge of planning that creates lots of anxiety for me to get it right, so that whomever I am with will enjoy themselves to the fullest. Removing that burden makes it easier for me to relax and enjoy myself.

If we go somewhere extremely crowded, or we go to something man-made (enter large city here) then I will most likely not be relaxing and enjoying myself for long. I hate traffic and lines and feeling like a tourist. Any traveling that allows me to avoid those situations is great with me. Throw me in the middle of that and well, ugh.

My time is all that I have

I am extremely efficient and organized. I am very “productive”. What is the value of those things? It is to provide me with more time.

Time is the most finite resource we have. It’s more finite than money (hell we can print more of that if we need to), love, and anything else you can imagine. What’s more, you never know how much of it you actually have.

I am not productive because I want to accomplish more. I am productive because I want more time. I want more time because it is infinitely valuable. I don’t want my days to be filled with commitments and activities that don’t have meaning for me. Nothing makes me angrier than someone else’s lack of consideration for my time.

You cannot put time in your hand and feel it. It’s abstract and therefore very easy to “spend” without realizing it. When you’re on your death bed you will not look back and wish you had more money. You will simply wish you had more time. Spend today valuing it appropriately.

I love it when you cancel on me

No, seriously. I absolutely love it when you cancel on me! I don’t care whether you are canceling lunch, a meeting, a golf game, or anything else. I don’t get bathed in the giddy/happy endorphins like dopamine very often but when you free up my time by telling me “you can’t make it” I get a huge adrenaline rush. There is really no better feeling than a guiltless way of getting part of my life back.

I don’t care if you are someone I love or a friend or a business associate. My future self always hates my past self for making plans with you. I made a commitment at some point and it sounded like a good idea because I wouldn’t have to deal with the consequences of that decision until some time in the future. Now that the future is here I don’t want to do whatever it is. Most of the time I don’t want to do it even if it’s something I enjoy – because well – everything is such a damn hassle. I’d much rather sit home reading a book.

Want to make me happy? Call and tell me somethings come up. I really won’t care. I don’t need an excuse or an apology. In fact, you can bet your ass I am silently celebrating and getting ready to let out a raucous “Hell Yeah!” as soon as we get off the phone. So don’t feel bad. If you’re a good friend you’ll make plans with me and then cancel them just to make me happy. So the next time your lack of thoughtfulness and planning requires that you cancel our plans just know I love you for it.

My Personal Manifesto

I will uphold my values of freedom and independence and strive to create an environment where I have complete autonomy. I will keep things organized. I will make things simple. I will laugh and endeavor to make others laugh with me. I will act with integrity in all my actions, being honest and fair and always trying to do the right thing. I will at all times attempt to use good judgment, common sense, and wisdom. I will remain a life long learner and always seek to broaden my body of knowledge. I will help when I can, however I can. I will be dependable to those who rely on me. I will be authentic and take responsibility for the direction of my own life. I will create my own meaning and purpose. I will seek only internal justification. I will participate and engage with life. I will remind myself that I will die. I will express gratitude for those things that move me. I will never stop asking the big questions. I will let go of the idea that the world needs to be rational. I will be prepared. I will think less and do more. I will do what makes me proud.

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.


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.

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“.


Now Serving – Slices of Jeff

As I reflect further on my past blogging experiences I realize that my hesitance has never been about a lack of creativity or something to say. My hesitance has always been about which part of me I want or need to share. For all the uses of the internet, the dimensionless compression of people into tiny slices of themselves makes it extremely difficult to connect on more than a single plane at a time.

If you’re like me, then most of your internet consumption involves searching for a topic, hashtag, or genre to read. You find interesting people saying interesting things and while many of them sprinkle bits and pieces of their personality into their writing much of who they are gets lost in translation. When you communicate with someone face to face you may be discussing sports or science or psychology but there are unsaid things garnering equally as much (and in some cases more) attention. The way you dress, your body language, the rhythm and cadence of your voice, the slang you use, and the place you happen to be all create an experience that has many more inputs than simply reading a blog post or tweet or even seeing a picture. That adds depth to almost any real life communication. That depth is usually hard to find online.

There are certainly elements of someone’s internet communication style that shed light on who they might be as a person but those elements are much easier to manipulate. While I can lie to you in person, if you are intuitive you will see right through me. Intuition plays a role on the internet but its much more difficult to measure and connect with people without the personal space filter.

I know that lots of people blog because they want to get their thoughts down. It’s a way to clear their mind. It is in some way cathartic. I never really had that desire. My inner life and thoughts are very rich, always weaving a new web as new information comes in. I never felt a need to write for the sake of writing. No, I write really for two reasons. One, because I am afraid I will forget some of the more important thoughts I’ve had or intellectual connections I’ve made. Second, because in some way I’d like to think I can connect with real people. I struggle with how to do that when I am limited to a medium and method that constrains me to basically one topic area per post. I want to find people with whom I have things in common but I don’t want that commonality to be the only thread holding a relationship together, however limited that might be online.

As a financial advisor by trade I consume lots of information about investing, personal finance, etc. day in and day out. But I have a vast set of interests. Sure, investing is interesting, but I love to discuss psychology, physics, philosophy, biology, sports, outdoors, humor, family and many other things that strike my fancy. I am the person who will read about quantum mechanics one day and the mating habits of ticks the next. I love to learn.

I have no idea what I will write about today or tomorrow or the next but I know I will write about something at some point. If you find something interesting then I hope you will stick around to read more, leave a comment, or ask a question. Connections are always welcome.

Update: earlier this year I decided to start publishing a weekly email newsletter. It’s usually a very short read, only taking a couple of minutes. It contains a plethora of different things; quotes, quips, jokes, philosophical questions, books, links, and observations of mine. At least in this way each touch can contain more flavors. Check it out: jeffhowardz | facts of my existence newsletter.

Here we go again

Welcome to the 20th, or 25th, or 31st iteration of my blog. I’m sure I am not the first to have struggled with how to manage my online identity – or lack thereof. Over the course of the last 15 years that identity has taken many shapes. The cycle goes something like this:

  1. Get bored with whatever I am reading, watching, or building in the physical realm.
  2. Feel a need for social interaction and expression via the internet.
  3. Convince myself that people might actually care what I have to say.
  4. Further convince myself that what I have to say is in some way unique and beneficial to those who might read it.
  5. Go through manic phase of excitement, thump my chest like Tony Robbins, and start a blog account.
  6. Realize that before I blog I need a purpose that will be the common thread that brings me together with the minions who will suddenly start following me.
  7. Confound myself with what that purpose might be, as my interests are vast, my knowledge deep, and my inner life very complicated.
  8. After deciding what that purpose is, I obsess over the proper blog “theme”, pictures, icons, and look and feel that will express that. After fumbling through hundreds of looks I settle on one, customize it, and begin the process of writing.
  9. I spend the first two weeks writing about all of the things that presently interest me, you know, those deep insightful things. The ones I was thinking about while becoming bored with everything mentioned in #1. I write and write and write.
  10. Then I sit back and wait. Build it and they will come they say (James Earl Jones haunts me with those words). But they never do.
  11. I check page views, links, likes, tweets, and all manner of other indications that my little corner of the internet universe means something to someone, to anyone, other than myself.
  12. Sometimes there is a trickle of interest. Other times there is nothing. Sometimes the only interaction I have involves the comment spammers we all know and love. You’ve “arrived” when the porn star spam bots start trying to take over your comments.
  13. Several weeks pass and I have made no new friends or acquaintances, no one has commented or said anything interesting, and quite frankly I am not even sure anyone has read or will read any of what I’ve written.
  14. So I decide to stop and stop I do. The blog drifts off into nothingness. Out of mind, out of site.
  15. At some point I forget I even did it until a year later when I get the domain renewal notice. Then I reflect and ask myself what the hell I was thinking and vow to never blog again….that is until I get bored.

I am now bored. So what the hell, let’s give this a go again. Eventually I may have minions. It’s more likely though that in 1 year I will be receiving a domain renewal notice and say to myself – you idiot. Not again.