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.

Do what makes you feel proud

It seems that most of us spend our entire lives searching for a framework within which to make decisions. What is my purpose? What is the meaning of life? What are my values? What are my goals? Once we’ve settled on answers to those questions we feel as if we can use those as foundational pillars to make decisions moving forward.

Except most of those things are fluid. Your purpose may change many times as you age. There is no inherent meaning of life, other than the meaning you choose give it. Values will change with time as you gather experience, knowledge, and exposure to outside influences. Goals are ephemeral and come and go as they are met or forgotten. Making decisions with these things as your foundation will always be a moving target. It will cause confusion and anxiety.

I settled on a simple heuristic to solve this problem.

Decision: {insert any decision you need to make}

Thought: if I look back at my life at some point in the future, what decision would make me feel proud of my past self?

Action:  Do that.

 

 

This is one of my favorite quotes. That which you seek is usually right under your nose, or in this case, right between your ears.

I wrote about this in more detail in On the search for happiness.

A Ferdydurking Blog

‘The only Zen you can find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there’

– Robert M. Pirsig

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Choosing Freedom, Embracing Anxiety

You are trapped between a desire for freedom, independence, and autonomy and the comfort and routine of safety and security. Freedom, by definition, means constant, mindful choosing. Freedom means all your decisions mean something. Freedom comes with responsibility.

The freedom to choose in every moment – how you will react, what you will do, what values you will choose to uphold, how you will think – and the responsibility that entails causes extreme anxiety for most people. When there is no one to blame but yourself…there is no one to blame but yourself. Your mental farm is devoid of scapegoats.

Your alternative is to cede your decision making authority to others. To seek safety and comfort under the veil of someone else’s willingness to embrace freedom. Should they choose incorrectly, it’s not your fault. You can complain and then return safely to the status quo lifestyle you’ve built. You can remain in that job you hate because it’s easier to stick with the same routine, even in misery, than to use your freedom and choose a different path. A path that may come with discomfort and uncertainty. One that could make a meaningful difference in your life or could make it worse. You’d rather not choose and not know than risk anything on the possibility of a brighter future.

In order to truly feel alive you must embrace the anxiety that comes with freedom. Acceptance of the weight of personal responsibility is not easy but, as with exercise, the more you do it, the easier it will become. You will learn to love anxiety because it means you are alive, you are choosing, and you are scared. You will begin to accept the weight of your decisions and lean into them, as a buffalo charges into a storm, rather than run from them and let the world around you decide for you.

In the end, isn’t it better to be alive with anxiety and freedom than to be dead while your alive without them?

 

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.

 

Quote

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.

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