Corey and Lori's Quest Log

Corey and Lori’s Quest Log

Posts Tagged ‘Life Advice’

Mind over Matters

Friday, September 28th, 2012

MindsetI’ve mentioned a book called “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” by Carol S. Dweck, once or twice before. This is an important book, and you should read it or reread it. “Mindset” discusses two ways of looking at the world and yourself. The “fixed mindset” says that you are the way you are, and the “growth mindset” suggests that each of us is constantly in a process of growth and change. Ms. Dweck argues very persuasively that adopting a growth mindset is a better way to live.

If you use a fixed mindset, you believe that you are good or bad at certain things. Sometimes that seems positive – Maybe your parents congratulate you on getting an “A” by telling you how smart you are.

It’s great to have confidence, but you might fall into the trap of thinking that everything will be just as easy. You can become lazy about studying and improving your skills. And then you fail at something, and all your confidence disappears. If you succeeded because you were smart, then you must have failed because you’re stupid. So you give up, work even less, and keep failing.

With a “growth mindset”, you see yourself as in a constant state of change. If you succeed at a task, it isn’t because you were destined to succeed. It’s because you prepared yourself by working hard, studying, and practicing for that task. If you fail, it means you need to work harder, study more, and prepare better.

People who take a growth mindset don’t think of themselves as geniuses or natural athletes. They just know that they can do amazing things if they work hard enough. It’s a much more resilient attitude, and most successful people believe in a growth mindset.

Not So Smart

GeniusFor years, I had people call me a genius. The label has always felt wrong to me. I have always known there are lots of people smarter than me, more skilled than me at any particular subject, and so on. I used to describe my work as “sporadically brilliant”, and have always been frustrated that I can’t come up with great ideas all the time or with any degree of consistency.

That’s because what I really have isn’t genius. It’s the willingness to keep trying when I fail, to try new things, and to let my imagination wander until an idea comes to me. My wife calls me “easily distracted” and I’m often accused of daydreaming, being indecisive, and lacking focus. The strange thing is that all those accusations are correct, and that that flaw is my greatest strength!

When my mind wanders, it’s because the “obvious” answer to a question doesn’t feel quite right. Game design takes both organized, careful work and the leaps of imagination that come letting my mind roam. If I was always focused and “in the moment”, I’d be doing some other work.

Being creative is about taking risks and often getting them wrong. That means trying new ideas, getting many of them wrong, then trying some more.

Growth Is Life

MindsetIf you want more from your life, adopt the growth mindset. Don’t allow yourself to become too satisfied with the status quo – Keep working to get better and to learn new things. At the same time, try not to beat yourself up over mistakes or failures – Treat each one as a Valuable Learning Experience, and another opportunity to get better and learn new things.

There is always more out there; keep looking for it!

Who Is Your John Galt?

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Who is John Galt?


“Who is John Galt?” These are the opening words of Atlas Shrugged, the seminal novel by Ayn Rand. The question sets up a mystery that Rand gradually reveals throughout the next 1100 pages.

But it is also a very telling question, asking each reader to decide who and what John Galt really is to them. In this sense, Atlas Shrugged is a work of interactive fiction. It requires the reader to take a personal stand regarding the characters, situations, and philosophy of the book. Rand did not want her readers to absorb her message passively, but to become intellectually and emotionally involved with the story and her philosophy.

Atlas Shrugged is the story of what happens to the world when the top creative and intellectual people “go on strike”. They refuse to use their minds to support a corrupt government and a society that glorifies mediocrity. John Galt is the man behind the scene (for most of the novel) who starts this revolution.

Who – or What – Else is John Galt?

Here are a few of the beliefs people in Atlas Shrugged hold about him:

  • John Galt is the destroyer, the unseen force who tears civilization apart by removing the greatest creative and productive minds from the world.
  • John Galt is the idealized symbol of man as a creative, intelligent, competent, and above all productive species. He uses his mind and his body to build and create great works.
  • He is uninterested in scientific discovery; he would rather find a way to make money from his ideas.
  • John Galt? He is the man who said that he would stop the motor of the world… and did.
  • In a world of relative morality, vacillation, and uncertainty, John Galt holds absolute, fixed moral beliefs. He knows exactly what he wants, and what is right. “A is A”, he states unequivocally. “Rationality is the recognition of the fact that existence exists, that nothing can alter the truth and nothing can take precedence over that act of perceiving it, which is thinking.”
  • John Galt is an arrogant, egotistical son of a bitch who doesn’t care about anyone except himself.

Who is John Galt to you? Your answer tells a lot about who you are and how you see yourself.

Is the Right Right?

Was Ayn Rand liberal or conservative? She rejected both labels, as well as the term “libertarian”. Rand scholar Chris Michael Sciabarra wrote, “The left was infuriated by her anti-communist, pro-capitalist politics, whereas the right was disgusted with her atheism and civil libertarianism.”

John Galt GraffitiThese days Ayn Rand is most often quoted by ultra-conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the Tea Party Movement. These are not my kind of people, although I have a number of conservative friends. I consider the political and religious right to be demagogues with no respect for personal freedom or individuality.

However, I can’t really argue with their view of John Galt, Ayn Rand, and Atlas Shrugged. The objectivist philosophy – that reason must have precedence over platitudes – is a conservative philosophy. John Galt argues that granting wealth as a reward for labor and creative work is the only true virtue. Charity to people who will not, or cannot, work to make a living is the greatest sin. On the surface, Atlas Shrugged is a condemnation of the policies of the Democratic Party, and particularly of the liberal left wing.

The Leeches

Atlas Shrugged is a big, complicated book. It says much more than that worthless people are leeches on the spirits and production of valuable people. It also contains gangsters, people who consciously take advantage of the system to steal from rich and poor, smart and stupid, industrialists and welfare recipients alike. I see many of the people who wave Atlas Shrugged as a banner as belonging more with the gangsters than the heroes. They agree with Ayn Rand that their labor should not be used to support the stupid or the poor, but they are quite happy to take more than their own fair share at the expense of others.

These are the hypocrites who are far more dangerous than the merely incapable. They are the ones who will point a gun at your head or mine to make us agree with their rules, pay lip service to their gods, and sacrifice our ability and creativity to feed them and their friends. These are the true villains, but they cannot recognize their own villainy.

My John Galt… And Yours

Who is my John Galt? He is a man of very high intellect and even higher integrity. He works incredibly hard at any task he takes on. He is someone who is never satisfied with the status quo, but instead always wants to experiment, learn, create new things, and improve. Although he chose not to reveal his amazing motor to the world, he could not be satisfied until he had completed its design, tested it, and improved on it even more. To the extent that I have spent my life learning, creating, and solving problems, I have something of John Galt in me. In my insistence on always telling the truth and striving to do what is right, John Galt is by my side.

Galt would shake his head in disappointment at the times I have given up, or chosen entertainment over productive work, but he would respect my refusal to do mediocre work when that might have been enough to “get by”. I might not receive an invitation to Galt’s Gulch, but I can still hold my head high for what I have done and for what I will still do in the future.

Who is your John Galt? What are you doing to live up to his standards? Can you honestly say, as he expected anyone worthy of his standards to do, “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine?” Will you find the best within you, and make it better? That is the challenge of Atlas Shrugged, and just as much the challenge of the true Hero.

“Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours.” – John Galt in Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged


Pushing the Limits

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

no limits


Space: The Final Frontier. We’ve dreamed about it throughout history, and in the last Century we began to creep tantalizingly close to the Moon and the planets. Almost fifty years ago, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth aboard Vostok 1. Less than ten years later, Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

And yet the journey has not been an easy one. The first three Apollo astronauts – Grissom, Chaffee, and White – died in a training accident before the first Apollo took flight. Fourteen astronauts and scientists perished in the Challenger and Columbia disasters. Transcripts of our spaceflights reveal multiple problems and system failures on every launch.

The real story of the space program is a tale of creativity, ingenuity, and perseverance. When people were ready to give up, a few leaders and believers pushed the rest to keep going. Working as a team, they focused on the problems that could be solved instead of searching for blame for the mistakes that had already occurred. There is no better example than what happened on Apollo 13.

Apollo 13: Crisis in Space

NASA Director: “This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever faced.”
Gene Kranz: “With all due respect, Sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”
– Dialogue from the Apollo 13 film

Minus TenOn April 11, 1970, forty years ago, the Apollo 13 mission set out with three men to study the moon’s surface. The mission motto, “Ex Luna Scientia” – Out of the moon, knowledge – explained why we needed to return to the moon even though a few astronauts had already walked upon its surface.

What began as “routine” – the third expedition to land men on the moon – turned into a harrowing adventure.

First the ship’s main inline engine developed problems that caused it to shut down earlier than planned. The astronauts corrected for this by using the auxiliary outboard engines and the mission continued.

The second problem was far more serious. Faulty insulation and other factors caused one of the two oxygen tanks to catch fire and rupture. The remaining oxygen tank failed. The electrical fuel cells shut down. And then, an explosion blew out part of the ship’s hull.

A spaceship 200,000 miles from the Earth had lost most of its oxygen supply and electrical power. There seemed to be little chance of any of the Apollo 13 crew surviving.

What CAN We Do?

“I don’t care about what anything was designed to do. I care about what it can do.” – Gene Kranz, Apollo 13 (the film)

The Apollo 13 crew used the Lunar Module as a “lifeboat” during the four-day return to Earth. But it was not intended to be used in space, and many of the supplies – including essential air filters – were inaccessible. The Command Module had air filters, but they did not fit the sockets on the LM.

It was a classic “square peg in a round hole” problem, and the usual answer is, “You can’t make a square peg fit in a round hole.” The engineers solved the problem by thinking outside the box. They had the astronauts connect the filter with a spacesuit air return hose, one of the few “spare parts” on board.

Not enough power? Ground control ordered the crew to shut off all non-essential circuits including most of the instruments. From that point on, they were flying blind. Could the ship even survive contact with the Earth’s atmosphere with its damaged hull? The odds still looked bad.

But long odds have a way of confounding the bookmakers. Faced with multiple challenges, each seemingly insurmountable, the engineers on the ground team and the astronauts solved each one in turn, and Apollo 13 returned safely to Earth.

My take on the Apollo 13 “disaster” is this: People faced a crisis and overcame it. They – and by extension all of us – beat seemingly impossible odds to win. Apollo 13 never made it to the Moon, but it made it back to Earth and all three astronauts survived.

No Limits

“There are no such things as limits to growth, because there are no limits to the human capacity for intelligence, imagination, and wonder.” – Ronald Reagan

Ad AstraThe space program has been expensive, but its value is incalculable. We have an International Space Station, an orbiting telescope, and men have set foot on the moon. The world would not be what it is today without the technologies and spirit of innovation that began with our need to go beyond the surface of the Earth and visit strange new worlds.

What limits have you set on your own life? Are you “playing it safe” – afraid that striving for more will be too risky? Are you waiting for a miracle to turn your life around?

There are no miracles, but there are people who regularly do what others consider impossible. They use their creativity, their inner strength, and a lot of hard work to turn the impossible into “merely very difficult.” Apollo 13 returned safely to Earth, and four more Apollo missions successfully landed men on the moon. There are no limits to creativity or to where we can go with it. There are no limits to where you can go when you believe, commit, and create.

(The 1995 film, “Apollo 13”, starring Tom Hanks as astronaut Jim Lovell retells the story of heroism, adventure, leadership, and teamwork on the Apollo 13 spaceflight. It is well worth watching or seeing again.)

One Small Step

Dare to Be Wicked!

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

“Are people born wicked, or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?” – Galinda, Wicked (the musical)

Are you tired of being a goody-two-shoes hero and having nobody notice? Do your greatest deeds seem to have no effect at all?
Maybe you need a change. Maybe it’s time to be wicked.

Not Good Enough

“No good deed goes unpunished; that’s my new creed.” – Elphaba in Wicked

The Law of Unintended Consequences warns us that any action we take can lead to unexpected – and sometimes disastrous – results. Help a little old lady across the street? Bad move, kid. You’ll probably both get hit by a drunk driver. If that doesn’t end your adventuring career, the little old lady will probably decide it’s all your fault and sue you.

Give money to a beggar? Please! Most of those guys park their Mercedes around the corner and make a fortune out of weak-willed wimps like you. A cop in L.A. once told me that the guy who I just tipped for washing my windshield makes over $100,000 a year doing that. And he probably collects welfare too. Stop supporting those leeches and maybe some of them will get jobs. The rest will starve. See? A much easier solution to the problem.

If every good deed you attempt turns sour, maybe they aren’t quite as good as you think they are. Maybe you can do more good by turning wicked.


“That government is best which governs least.” – Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

“Ain’t no freedom here, not unless you take it, ain’t no justice here, unless you make it all.” – Leslie Fish, “No High Ground”

Thoreau and many others have argued that we cause more harm than good by supporting an unjust government. He felt that he could not in good conscience pay the poll tax – even if most of it paid for worthwhile programs – as long as any of it was spent on the Mexican-American War or on supporting slavery. Thoreau was willing to pay a tax for a specific useful purpose, such as highway taxes that were used to improve local roads. But he would not pay a penny that might be used for anything he considered evil. Thoreau believed in passive resistance, even in living a simpler lifestyle so that you won’t earn enough to be taxed.

Almost 100 years after the Civil War, blacks in the American South were still treated as second-class citizens. If one white person got on a crowded bus in Alabama, black passengers were required to empty an entire row of seats and stand so that the white passenger would not have to sit with blacks.

Dare to Be WickedThen on December 1, 1955, one woman changed the rules. Rosa Parks had recently attended a talk on civil disobedience and refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. She paid a price – She was arrested and fined, and later lost her job. But her arrest sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a key moment in the civil rights movement.

When Martin Luther King was later arrested for “hindering a bus” based on his support of the boycott, he said, “I was proud of my crime. It was the crime of joining my people in a nonviolent protest against injustice.” King was a fan of Thoreau’s On Civil Disobedience, and he didn’t just read the words. He acted on the principles he believed in.

The bad guys can handle a few dissidents, but when a protest turns into a movement, and the movement becomes the majority, there comes a tipping point. The rockslide turns into an avalanche. But first some people need to be wicked enough to resist authority. And then the people who agree with them, but don’t want to rock the boat, need to start rocking anyway. Change is never easy.

Effective Anti-Heroes

“To those who’d ground me, take a message back from me. Tell them how I’m defying gravity.” – Elphaba

Stop and think about the great heroes of the past. Were they conformists, playing by the rules and doing what they were told? Hell no!

For every goodness-and-light Mother Teresa, the list of heroes includes multiple lawbreakers and outright criminals. Robin Hood “robbed from the rich”. Mahatma Gandhi based his philosophy on Thoreau; he used passive resistance and civil disobedience to break India free from British rule and to make major changes in Indian society. Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin? The U.S. was founded on civil disobedience and armed revolt.

How about Batman as the Dark Knight? Rambo? Dirty Harry? We love heroes who break the rules.

You think you know the story of William Tell, who famously shot an apple off his son’s head. But why did he take that risk? He refused to bow to the overlord’s hat in the town square, and the overlord – Albrecht Gessler – decided to make an example of Tell. Later, Tell used the same crossbow to kill Gessler, sparking a rebellion that led to Switzerland’s independence from Austria. One man took action and became the tipping point of a revolution.
When you know the rules are wrong, it’s time to stop playing by them. Sometimes it just takes one match to light the fires of change. Listen to your conscience and act on what you hear.

No One Mourns the Wicked

“No one mourns the wicked. Through their lives, our children learn – what they miss, when they misbehave” – Chorus in Wicked

A successfully wicked life won’t come easy. You may find that you are an outcast from society, and that people are hunting you with torches and pitchforks. You have to accept that your civil disobedience may make you extremely unpopular.

Dare to Be WickedI was inspired to write this article by the musical theater version of Wicked, based on a popular novel by Gregory Maguire. That book, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West is in turn based on L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the Wizard of Oz film. I’ve read Maguire’s book, but it was the musical that really brought the story to another level.

Wicked is about two teenage girls, Galinda and Elphaba, who become College roommates at Shiz University in Oz. You know them better as Glinda the Good Witch and The Wicked Witch of the West. Glinda is the popular, beautiful blonde who plays by the rules, while Elphaba is the ugly outcast who has always had to fight to survive.

The book and play are from Elphaba’s viewpoint and question what it means to be wicked. In fact, Elphaba’s “wickedness” is really her uncompromising idealism and her resulting civil disobedience. The Wizard of Oz is suppressing the intelligent animals of Oz (among others), and Elphaba embarks on a “terrorist” campaign to rescue them and restore them to positions of respect. As a result, Elphaba is vilified and cast as a “wicked witch”. She comes to accept and glory in the title once she realizes that her attempts to play by the rules and “do good” are just not enough in the face of an unjust society.

“All right, enough – So be it, so be it, then: Let all Oz be agreed I’m wicked through and through. . . I promise no good deed will I attempt to do again, ever again.” – Elphaba, “No Good Deed”, Wicked


“I’m through accepting limits, ’cause someone says they’re so. Some things I cannot change, but ’til I try I’ll never know.” – Elphaba

Society’s rules have a purpose, but often that purpose gets twisted by foolish, short-sighted, or simply evil people. Really, who knows better what rules you should follow? Some politician in the capitol, or you?

And why stop with government ordinances? Nature’s laws may not be breakable, but they’re certainly subject to reinterpretation. Is the “Law of Gravity” holding you down? Try defying it with a balloon, or a glider, a helicopter, or a rocketship. Newton’s three laws of thermodynamics? Maybe in the long run you can’t win, break even, or even get out of the game, but that can take a long time. We’ve learned a lot about bending the properties of matter and energy by refusing to accept the basic laws of physics as givens.

If you want to be more than an ordinary man or woman, you need to stop putting limits on yourself. Think about what you could accomplish if you broke all the rules, or at least a few that are holding you back. Aim for the sky and beyond; there’s a whole Universe out there with different rules, and maybe places just waiting for you to make your own rules… then break them too.

Is the wicked life right for you? Until you try, you’ll never know.

Dare to Be Wicked

“Knowledge is power, and power corrupts. So study hard and be evil!” – (Unknown via The Paper)

The Tipping Point for Heroes

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Q: How many Heroes does it take to change a light bulb?

What can a single Hero do?

Most of us feel pretty powerless much of the time. Our influence seems limited to a few friends, maybe a few visitors to our FaceBook pages. We can do all sorts of heroic deeds, but do they even “amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”? (Casablanca) What’s the point?

The Tipping Point

“I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!” – Peter Finch as Howard Beale in Network

I first heard the phrase, “the tipping point”, in the 1960’s. In fables, it’s the “straw that broke the camel’s back”. In physics, it’s the principle that a small effect can quickly change an otherwise stable equilibrium. In sociology, we reach the tipping point when an event turns into a movement. It can be positive, as with the peace movement, or negative (a lynch mob).

Tipping PointSo, things happen, and sometimes big changes result. What does that have to do with Heroes?
Quite a lot, as it turns out. One person’s willingness to take a stand can make a difference. But first, you have to get mad. Or at least passionate enough to care and to take risks for what you believe in.

If you find yourself questioning the value and impact of your deeds, you might want to read The Tipping Point, a 2000 book by Malcolm Gladwell. The Tipping Point talks about influences that can turn a fad into a social epidemic. Gladwell breaks these down into the “law of the few”, the “stickiness factor”, and the “power of context”. I’m going to look at the law of the few as it applies to The School for Heroes.

The Law of the Few

Thomas Jefferson wrote that, “all men are created equal.” But their influence is anything but equal. We remember Paul Revere’s 1775 “midnight ride” during the American Revolution, but few remember William Dawes, Samuel Prescott, or others who rode out on the same mission. That’s largely due to Longfellow’s famous poem about the event. But according to Gladwell, there is another critical reason – Paul Revere was one of the “few” who cause an event to tip.

Paul Revere was a man with connections. He belonged to multiple social, political, and business groups. He was a respected silversmith among the upper classes in the Boston area. Now if a stranger knocked on your door at 2:00 in the morning to warn you that “the British Regulars are coming,” how would you react? Might your reaction be a little different if the stranger was someone whose name you had heard before, and who had a reputation for being active in civic affairs? That familiarity might make the difference between you barring your door or asking how you could help.


Gladwell persuasively argues that some people are connectors who go out of their way to know many people. Others are “mavens” who soak up knowledge and love to share it with other people. A third type are expert salesmen who are great at convincing others to buy, to join, or to take action. All of these people are able to forge strong and effective connections with others.

Where does that leave the rest of us? Are these connectors special people from birth? Are the rest of us doomed to be isolated and unimportant?

I say nay! Connectors, like Heroes, are made, not born. Any of us can work to build up our networks and our social skills to become connectors. It isn’t easy, and it can certainly be uncomfortable, but all of us are capable of creating connections.

Tipping Point for HeroesI’m not saying you have to run out and join the Lions, the Rotary Club, and the Toastmasters. At least not right away. First make sure you connect with the people you see every day. When you pass someone in the hallway at school or work, how do you react? Do you walk on by, smile, or actually talk to them?

You probably pass a lot of interesting people every day; but how many of them do really know? Find a minute now and again to have a real conversation with someone. You might make a friend for life or discover a new passion. In any case, you will start to forge a connection.

People are used to being ignored and living in their private shells. When someone actually takes the time to listen to them, they are surprised and pleased. You may be in for a surprise too, because most people are actually really interesting once you get to know them. It just takes that first tiny risk, that willingness to listen, that makes a connection possible.


Q: How many Heroes does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Light bulb?? A single Hero can change the world!

What happens when you flip on a light switch? You form a connection. It takes connections all the way down the line, but in the end, there is light.

Those connections don’t “just happen”; every one is the result of a conscious decision. Many people took the time and effort to build that network and provide power. Most of them did it for profit, but so what? The result is light where you want it, when you need it.

Life connections work the same way. You build them one at a time, and you have to spend some time and energy to maintain them. You might meet someone because they say something interesting, because you think you will profit from the connection, or because you find them attractive. They will accept the connection for their own reasons.

But once the connection is forged, it has a life of its own. Signals pass through the nodes in unpredictable ways. When Susan Boyle became an Internet sensation, Lori and I found out about her performance from multiple friends and acquaintances. Today, Lori heard about a video, Love the Way You Lie, from a design blog to which she subscribes. Lori shared it with me because it’s “incredibly powerful”, and now I’m sharing it with you. The video is about domestic violence, but takes care to explain such behavior rather than just demonize it. We would not have heard of it without our network of contacts.

How important is one connection? One of the first comments on that video mentioned that it only had 3 views when he first saw it yesterday, and it’s now up to 900,000. By the time Lori watched it 12 seconds after that comment was posted, the count was up to 1.2 million. Some of those first few viewers must have shared the link with a few of their connections, and it snowballed from there.


“Step by step the longest march can be won, can be won
Many stones can form an arch, singly none, singly none
And by union what we will can be accomplished still
Drops of water turn a mill, singly none, singly none.”
– Ruthie Gorton, based on the UMW Constitution

When scales are in balance, it doesn’t take much to tip them one way or another. Maybe your vote, your words, your actions will not be enough by themselves. But when you connect with others, your combined weight can change the balance.

You can be one of the few who make a difference. Create connections with people, then use your connections to share things that matter to you. When you build real relationships, you will find people who care. Let them know what you are passionate about, and the message may spread.

You have the power to tip the scales of good and evil, justice and injustice. Use your power wisely.

Tipping Point for Heroes

The Things I Cannot Change

Monday, July 19th, 2010

“What, me worry?” – Alfred E. Neuman

Are you worried? Afraid?

We live in a worrisome world. I grew up worrying about the Bomb, the Vietnam War draft, children starving in Bangladesh, and racial inequity in the Deep South and all around me. We had “atomic bomb drills” in school where they told us to stay away from windows and hide under a desk (as if that would do any good!)

What, Meep Worry?My parents grew up in the Great Depression and worried about where their next meal might come from. They came of age during World War II worrying about the Nazi menace, about Jews and other minorities perishing in death camps, and the possibility of dying in a foreign war. They got through that only to learn of the Communist menace and Nuclear Winter.

My son worries about whether he can create lasting success, whether he is doing enough with the time he has, and that he might die in some completely random event.

We have other fears these days, both general and more personal. Our investments reduced to a fraction of their previous value, friends and family becoming sick or dying, lack of jobs, mice in the woodwork, identify theft, terrorism. Scary stories are in the news every day.

Search for Serenity

“Que Será Será, Whatever will be, will be, The future’s not ours to see, Que Será Será, What will be, will be.” – Doris Day

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Niebuhr

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” – Albert Einstein

If we let ourselves, it can be easy to let the worries and fears rule our lives – now or at any time.

Are our fears rational? Yes. Are they useful? No.

Bad things will certainly happen in the future. But we cannot predict which bad things will come to pass and we cannot stop them from coming.

SerenityThere are things we cannot change, and we will live more serene lives if we can learn to accept them. Live in the present, not in the past, nor the future. Deal with the problems and opportunities you have in front of you right now.

We live in the present, not the future. By keeping ourselves grounded in the present, we can deal with the issues that affect us now. We do not have enough time or energy here and now to solve every problem that might – and likely will not – come up in the future.

Find your serenity. Live in the now, not in the mists of what might happen someday. When you do think about the future, focus on the opportunities it will bring, then think about what you can do now to help make them become real.

A Man, A Plan… Wait, I Already Used That One!

“No campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy.” – Helmuth von Moltke

“The best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft agley.” – Robert Burns

“It’s an ill plan that cannot be changed.” – Publilius Syrus

I have written previously about the importance of having a plan and of committing it to paper. Unfortunately, many people seem to think that a plan and reality are the same thing. Just as a map is not the same thing as the landscape it describes, a plan is not the result you want to create with it. The purpose of a plan is guidance. When things do not go the way you expected or intended, you can use the plan to remind you of your real goal.

We often mistake what might be for what will be. There are an infinite number of possible futures, and only a few that will actually occur. None of us has the time or energy to plan and prepare for every possible future.

A grandmaster chess player does not analyze every possible outcome of every move he might make. He uses his knowledge and experience to visualize promising moves and positions, then explores the near future of each of those moves. Then he adapts to the changing “world” of the chessboard and the moves his opponent actually makes.

A successful life is played like a great game of chess. Visualize outcomes you would like to see. Consider what you might be able to do now and in the near future that might bring you closer to one of those outcomes. Then make your move. If something unexpected happens, handle it then.

But don’t waste your precious time and energy trying to prevent things you cannot stop. None of us has that much power. We can only work with the present we now have. When the possible futures resolve into a real present, then we can work with that. Until then, we can do no more than hope and do something we hope might nudge our personal futures in the right direction.

Break It Down to Avoid a Breakdown

“I live one day at a time,
I dream one dream at a time;
Yesterday’s dead and tomorrow is blind,
And I live one day at a time.
— Joan Baez

The world is becoming more complex every year. We can allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by that complexity, or we can learn to handle it the way engineers deal with complex systems.

An engineer does not design an entire airplane at once. The designers break the job down into much smaller tasks – the seats, the rudder controls, the radar system, and so on – then each engineering team works on one small piece of the problem until it is finished. They live and work day to day on tasks and problems they can handle.

When your work and choices seem overwhelming, break them down. Don’t try to do everything at once. Pick a task and get it done. Then choose another and do it. When you run out of things you can do right now, spend some time thinking about how you can break a complex job down into bite-sized pieces.

If you have too many choices, write them down and think about your priorities and what you really care about. Maybe some of the things on your “must do” list don’t belong on it at all; maybe they are someone else’s idea of what you should do with your life. Choose the things that matter to you, and spend your time and energy doing those well.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

“Happy is what happens when all your dreams come true.” – Glinda the Good Witch in Wicked

Have you let worries rule your life? It just isn’t worth it; no amount of worrying will prevent or change the future. Worry sucks energy and makes everything harder to do.

Dream some positive dreams, and live right now as though everything is just the way you want it to be. We live in the best of all possible worlds, because it is the only world we have right now. We cannot change the past, but we can learn to live in and love the present.

Accept what you are, and who you are, and use that acceptance to give you strength and energy to do the things you need and want to do right now. Then pick just one of them and do it. The future will take care of itself.

“Don’t worry; be happy!” – Bobby McFerrin