In a team setting, the analogy of a chain is often used. If the team is only as good as its weakest link, then it is your job to not be the weak link. In addition, you are also responsible for helping the weak links become stronger. This obviously helps the team.
A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and life is after all a chain.
This chain analogy is applicable to more than teams. It also holds true on the individual level. If your life is a chain, what are your weak links? In what areas do you have opportunity to become stronger?
Look at your social, professional, and personal life and identify areas that can be improved. If the enemy, both the real and imagined enemies, is looking to exploit your weaknesses, then you should be identifying these areas and securing your defenses.
I have identified several weaknesses in my own life. Some of these, I have known about for some time and have been actively trying to fortify them. Other areas, such as financial investments, are known weaknesses that I have been hesitant to address. Last week, this weakness made itself known when I realized my knowledge and understanding in this area was insufficient. Not wanting to be solely reliant on the advice of the “experts.” I decided to take a deep dive into this subject and become more knowledgeable. I may never become an expert, but at least I will have a better understanding of where to put my money.
What is my goal? Identify the weak links and strengthen them. Why? Because life is after all is a chain.
Have you ever walked down the biography aisle at your local bookstore or library? What you see on those shelves is history and how one person played a part to impact it? These are the lives of extraordinary individuals and an account of their actions.
Actions. Rarely is a biography about something other than action. Nobody gets written about based on what they said they were going to accomplish. Instead, it is all about their actions. And those actions were not a one and done event. No, they were actions built over a lifetime.
Imagine a biography in that bookstore with your name on it. What would be in it? What would the writer say about you? What actions made it into the book? Without a purpose in life and daily steps to achieve that purpose these questions are difficult to answer. But if you want to become great and worthy of a biography someday, just look at the advice of those who had volumes written about them:
The whole secret of a successful life is to find out what is one’s destiny to do, and then do it.
You have to assemble your life yourself, action by action.
When you have your purpose, you must break it down into smaller, manageable chunks that you can work on daily. Make your lists, complete them religiously, and start stacking your wins.
Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.
Taking the easy path will never get you closer to your life’s goals. We must sacrifice immediate gratification and keep our eyes on the prize that lay ahead. We must be disciplined.
To make it in the biography section, you must shoot for greatness. You can’t play small in this arena. No, you must go big. The journey is arduous. But for the one that would change the world, that is not a problem. Your actions, your life, will not be in vain.
Cato? Cato, can you hear me? I need to do better in this life. I need to become a better man. Too often, I have given in to my own selfish desires. I have become too attached to my possessions.
Stop! Why bother me with this request. Your heart is in the right place, but you do not have the will to follow me. My discipline is too strict for you. You would not last an hour walking my path.
When you are ready to be my disciple, I will be here waiting for you. Until then, find someone else to assist you. Go seek out the one they call “The Wise.” Go find Gaius Laelius.-Cato
Laelius? Are you there? You came from nothing and built yourself into a great general. Cicero called you “The Wise” and Cato sent me to you. Like you, I came from humble beginnings. But unlike you, I have yet to fulfill my destiny.
Cato sent you? To me? Does he not know my road is also a difficult one to travel? Destiny does not find you. You must find it for yourself. It is the mission of a soldier. You must define it and create a strategy for achieving it. Those you can do yourself. That is the easy part. But you must also execute your plans. That is not so easy, and you are not ready for it. For that takes work. It takes more work than you are currently willing to do. When you are ready to give it your all, to make your objective the driving force in your life, then come back and find me. But until then, go find yourself another who can assist you.-Laelius
Cato’s discipline is too severe. And the discipline of Laelius is only a little less severe. Yet, it is still more than I can handle. Who else is out there?
Fortunately, this list is extensive. It doesn’t even matter if I pull one from history or from one that is still among the living. I can pick one or I can pick several. But the key is to pick somebody I can use as a role model and mentor. If there is not a complete person, that is fine also. I can take the good parts and emulate them to the best of my abilities. The rest, I can discard.
So choose yourself a Cato–or, if Cato seems too severe for you, a Laelius, a man whose character is not quite so strict. Choose someone whose way of life as well as words, and whose very face as mirroring the character that lies behind it, have won your approval. Be always pointing him out to yourself either as your guardian or as your model. There is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won’t make crooked straight.
Think of all the major events over the last couple of years. How many of them were planned for? If you could go through them all over again, how many of them would you choose to endure again?
For many, lives were upended. Thoughts of prosperity went out the window. Even the thoughts of returning to normal are dim. Will things ever go back to the way they were? Probably not. And the new normal, what will that look like? Like the old or a substandard version of it?
Those who know what is good for you will say to not despair. Things will get better. But should you trust external sources of manufactured hope? Do they really know what’s good for you, or is having you believe it only good for them?
With all the misfortune that has taken place there is a real question you should ask. What have you learned? No doubt, we have been through some rough times. Those rough times are only one wave amid a turbulent ocean. When this wave passes, another will take its place only to be followed by more waves. And as the first one battered you, when all became dark and the depths of despair reached out to touch your soul, what did you learn?
It is a crime to despair. We must learn to draw from misfortune the means of future strength.
Maybe in the moment, it was okay to close the shutters and pull the blanket tighter around you. Maybe the extra sugar and the alcohol gave you a temporary escape from the present danger. But those temporary pleasures are fleeting. They will in time lose their luster, and you will be confronted with a choice: either find a harder drug to escape with or wake up and face reality. To wake up is to evolve. It is to adapt to the times and learn how to survive and how to thrive. It is to learn how to swim in an ocean that will gladly swallow you up.
Do you believe in God? Good. That means you have a purpose in this world. And that purpose is not to huddle in despair. Throw off the blankets. Open the blinds and let the light in. Let the misfortune be a lesson. Let it be the catalyst for a stronger you.
One Take from the Week #13: Dwelling on (Bad) Dreams
9 p.m. By my standards, it is late. I am still on my phone researching future investments. I know it is time to shut it down. I am taking in too much blue light. I am aware of the consequences and how it affects my sleep. Yet here I am, sipping on some chamomile tea and scrolling.
10 p.m. I have been laying here for thirty minutes. The moon is in its third night of super-brightness. Bethany is next to me sleeping soundly. I am wide awake. I take my phone out of airplane mode and open the Insight Timer app. I hit play on some sleep music. I am in desperation mode, and this calls for calming measures.
10:30 p.m. Nothing. I get up and go to the living room. Maybe a change of location is what I need. I hit the couch and then finally…
I am at a party. We are all having a good time, even the unknown serial killer that has joined us without our knowledge. Now people are dying, and I am in a fight for my life. How long does this fight go on? And then…
12:30 a.m. What the hell just happened? A bad dream? A nightmare? This is not what I need right now. That dream was so vivid, so real. I get up off the couch and go back to the bedroom. I lay back down and try to go to sleep. Yet, I am even more awake. Questions run through my mind, way too many of them.
Is a dream like an astral projection?
Did I leave my body and join other dreamers somewhere in the cosmic universe?
While in an astral projection, is it possible to sever the tether anchoring me to my body?
Can somebody else get in while I am projected?
Was the killer a real person somewhere in the universe?
Could he have gotten in while I was out?
Do I even trust myself at this point?
Who am I?
What am I?
Is it even safe to go back to sleep?
1:30 a.m. I get back up and go to the couch. I am back at the epicenter and afraid to go back to sleep. If there is a “yes” to even one of those questions, then it is too dangerous.
5:25 a.m. The alarm goes off. This is my “Don’t forget your keys and wallet and get on the road” alarm. I missed my 4 a.m. alarm and immediately go into fight or flight mode. If I don’t hurry, I am going to be late. Damn!
I am now driving with a podcast playing in the background. I barely even notice it. My mind is still trying to answer the questions. Freud, Jung, where are you guys? Got any advice? Nope. All is silent but my mind.
Of course, I need to let it go. It does not do well to dwell on this one. Action, any action is the remedy. Action equals life. And I, I want to live. Write it down, put it on the shelf, and get busy with life’s purpose.
The stoic in me says these sleeping dreams are out of my control. I can’t spend too much time on them.
All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.
Are these sleeping dreams really vanity? In this case, I sure hope so. But the waking dreams, those are different. Those I can control. I have the power to influence the waking dreams. I can do something with them.
When I think about living a better life, I am always thinking the question:
What can I add to make it better?
As a matter of fact, it is almost always a question of what I can add. Rarely is it what I can take away. And though I have made many reductions in my life, there is still much that can be taken away.
It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoes.
Life is a battle. Whether you are actively pursuing the hero’s journey or just trying to survive another day, life is a battle. We all want to feel good. We all want to achieve homeostasis in our bodies, minds, and souls. What we are looking for is balance. And this is more than what we can add to our lives, it is also about what we can take away.
I don’t watch much television. But a few days ago, I watched an A&E biography of Steve Austin. Steve Austin may go down as one of the most popular wrestlers of all time. This episode was a fascinating account of his career, but there was one segment that stood left an impression on me. At the height of his fame and popularity, he had to go to the hospital the night before a match. Why? Even though on the surface he was the epitome of health, he was out of balance. His daily routine was to wake up, drink coffee, then drink multiple energy drinks through the day, followed by enough alcohol to pass out at night. Eventually, his body could not take anymore, and he went to the hospital in a severely dehydrated state.
In Austin’s case, the default mode was to always add more. He was continually on the road and in the limelight. His body paid the price. But that wasn’t the only price he paid; his personal life also suffered. Was the fame worth it? Fame, like fortune, comes and goes. But on this earth, we only have this one body. If we are always adding and never taking away, we will eventually pay the price. We will be in a state of dis-ease.
There are many pebbles in life causing us discomfort. If we cannot remove them, then the journey to our lofty mountain peaks will be much more difficult. Learn to remove them before they completely halt your climb to the top.
In the beginning, we acquired resources. This was done for our survival. Food, water, and shelter. Once the basics were covered, we acquired resources for the survival of our offspring. That was the way, way back in the day.
We weren’t materialist back then, we were survivalists. But the times changed. We began acquiring resources for the sake of having them. We acquired them for the status, the power, and the comfort. All this stuff, just because we could. And not even one ounce of it can we take with us into our next lives.
The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.
If we go back to the beginning, life began as covering the basic needs. Then, it became about ensuring the survival of future generations. If you have your basics covered, how are you now spending your life? Is it only for you, or is it for something that will provide value to the ones who will be here after you are gone?
Warning: This is another post about reading. It is inspired by the book, The Art of Impossible by Steven Kotler.
Look at these figures below:
Blogs: Three minutes gets you three days.
Articles: Twenty minutes gets you four months.
Books: Five hours gets you fifteen years.
Chapter 9: The ROI on Reading
What does this mean? According to the author, the average reader reads at a speed of 250 words per minute. The average blog post of 800 words takes about three days to write. To read a blog post would take about three and a half minutes. A five-thousand-word article takes the author about four months to create. For the reader, it takes about twenty minutes to read. And for books, the numbers go even higher. The author’s book, The Rise of Superman, took fifteen years to write. At 75,000 words, the average reader would be able to complete it in about five hours. Hence, five hours gets you fifteen years.
By reading, you are getting a fast-track version of what it took someone to learn, think, and write about.
To use myself as an example, so far this year I have read:
If the average time to write a book is fifteen years, then in five months I have consumed 165 years of other people’s wisdom and knowledge. Even if I only retain 10% of what I have read, that still puts me at sixteen and a half years in five months.
My quest in life is to acquire wisdom. I understand this is not everyone else’s quest, but everyone can benefit from more knowledge, more understanding, and of course, more wisdom.
Jim Rohn said, “Miss a meal, but don’t miss your reading.” Are you getting in your recommended daily allowance? Imagine what would happen if you read only ten minutes a day. That book that only takes five hours to read would be complete in one month. That is twelve books a year at ten minutes a day. For 180 years of knowledge in a year’s time, you are only giving .7% of your day. Is there any other investment you could make that has that high of a return?
Wisdom is calling us. She freely gives her fruit to those who would seek it. Heed the call and go pick up a book.
Moreover, books pay performance dividends. Studies find that they improve long-term concentration, reduce stress, and stave off cognitive decline. Reading has also been shown to improve empathy, sleep, and intelligence. If you combine these benefits with the information density books provide, we start to see why everyone from tech titans like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk to cultural icons like Oprah Winfrey, Mark Cuban, and Warren Buffet credit their success to their incredible passion for books.
The sun moves through the galaxy at about 450,000 miles per hour. It is just one star in a multitude of stars scattered throughout the universe. Imagine all the stars moving at that speed. And yet, to us, they seem to stand still.
All the ancient megaliths that were designed around the sun and stars have been correctly aligned for thousands of years. Like us today, those original builders were going off what seemed to be fixed points during the seasons. If they would have placed their blocks any place they pleased, none of their monuments would have lined up to the sky. Instead, they used mathematical precision and years of study to place those blocks in the exact location they intended.
They used observation and science to calculate the best places to build. They aligned themselves and their monuments to the stars. They did not wait for the stars to move to them.
Modern humans, unlike their ancestors, have developed a different belief system. Rather than going where the stars are optimally located, they want to wait until the stars are aligned to them. They want to believe their time will magically appear without any effort on their part.
Those same people look at anomalies like Gates, Musk, and Bezos and wonder how they got so lucky. And though fortune did play some part, they did not idly stand by and wait for the perfect alignment of the stars before they acted. Like the builders of old, these modern builders put themselves into the best positions possible.
Destiny is not a matter of chance, it’s a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.
William Jennings Bryan
I am a big believer in destiny. We all have it, and we all have the power to capitalize on it. But destiny will not simply come to us. Instead, we must move toward our destinies. The stars will always be aligned. What we must do is prepare ourselves. We must do the work and be where we need to be when we need to be there. We can choose to meet our destiny, or we can watch it go by.
I wake up and begin my morning routine which starts in the study. I sit in my chair and look at the journal sitting open next to me. It is early, but now I must think. Item number one should be the easiest, but it is not.
Gratitude. What is one thing that I am grateful for? Just one thing, and it cannot be the same thing every day. I must dig a little deeper. I can’t always put “to be awake” or “still married to the woman I love.” And though I am always thankful for food, shelter, and the opportunity to be a part of Alec’s life, that is not digging deep enough. What is one thing that I am grateful for?
I have a friend that does a little dance every morning when he wakes up for the sole reason that he is still alive. He is veteran with first-hand knowledge of what it is like to get blown up, which has happened to him at least fourteen times. His dance in the morning when everything on him hurts is a dance of gratitude. When I think of him, I put him in my journal. I am grateful to call him a friend, grateful for his service, and grateful for the example he demonstrates every morning.
I usually write my one gratitude entry in the morning and call it quits. But I think this is a mistake. Maybe I should write this down throughout the day or at least at night. There is so much to be grateful for every day. How many quality conversations do I have each day? What did I learn? What did I notice? So many experiences, always coming in. And so often I move on to the next not even taking a moment to offer a silent prayer of gratitude. It is one thing to be grateful for being alive, it is quite another to be grateful for the little moments that make up this life.
Did you know that gratitude improves your health and increase your productivity? Check out these two passages from Steven Kotler’s book, The Art of Impossible:
A daily gratitude practice alters the brain’s negativity bias. It changes the amygdala’s filter, essentially training it to take in more positive information. This works so well because the positive stuff you’re grateful for is stuff that has already happened.
Finally, there also appears to be a strong link between gratitude and flow…It appears that the optimism and confidence produced by gratitude lower anxiety, which makes us less fearful of stretching to the edge of our abilities and more able to target the challenge-skills sweet spot, flow’s most important trigger.
These daily gifts are there whether we realize them or not. To maximize these daily gifts, we must identify them, understand what it means (where is the value), and then show a little gratitude. Gifts are freely given with no expectation of payment in exchange. We should not waste these gifts as this is a slight against the Benefactor who gives them.