I substituted ‘create’ for ‘write’ in the original quote but I’ve always loved this. It’s a favorite because, like a majority of designers, I’ve used the tired platitude about an intrinsic need to be creative or to produce in order to be happy. Fitzgerald however knew not to confuse productivity with contribution. And while the two often do go hand-in-hand, not everything that gets produced necessarily adds value. Einstein echoed this as well, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Prosier than Fitzgerald, I know.
And when it comes to actual happiness, we know that contribution and gratitude are two of the most effective life hacks available to us. Having an empty inbox at the end of the week might bring you some satisfaction, but it is temporary at best (see Monday) and don’t confuse it with genuine happiness.
A number of years ago, I had access to a paid executive coach. His talent was making high performance people even more productive and much of this centered on a combination of prioritization and accountability. We’d spend the better part of a weekly meeting reviewing what I must “get done” before the next week and creating a plan of attack to insure it would all be completed. But in all those planning and priority sessions, we never once discussed whether what I was doing was adding value to my company or if I was the best person for these tasks. Could I have even delegated some of these responsibilities to another individual more capable than me? I certainly could have used much of his technologies but I honestly received very little satisfaction from this approach, regardless of how many little boxes were successfully checked or how well it looked on a time sheet.
Sometimes prioritization is just a euphemism for shuffling and organizing a shit load of tasks. And I’d argue that contribution is far greater than productivity. The real goal should be to add value – to the company, your team, your friends and your family.
It’s been a great start to 2014, both my wife and I have vowed to double down on our ‘contribution’ this year. Contributing more of our time, our resources and talent to our careers, family and community. When deciding to take on new responsibilities or when deciding to let go of old ones, we’ve begun asking ourselves, “Can I add value?”
“You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
Mayumi’s first day on Rollerblades reminded me that success is simply the act of failing over and over again until we don’t.
No one ever makes the same mistake twice because the second time you make it, it’s not a mistake, it’s a choice.
I took the picture (left) of Mayumi a few months ago during a business trip to New York. And while I’ve been traveling to the city for over twenty-three years, this was my very first trip to the top of the Empire State Building.
One part work ethic and one part guilt, I’ve never taken too much advantage of my travel, not in this way. More often I’d be content ordering room service while catching up on emails after the long cross continental flight.
But I’ve always wanted to show her the city and circumstances aligned this one time, making it possible. So after she’d patiently accompanied me on some research I was doing for a project, we zigged and zagged from Midtown to Central Park. We crossed Time Square, Rockefeller Center, and of course FAO Schwartz all while two-fisting hotdogs and giant soft pretzels from Manhattan’s ubiquitous sidewalk carts.
Traveling with Mayumi was a nice reminder that life is something we can live everyday, not just something to be squeezed in on our ‘days off’ or postponed until the next vacation. There are no ordinary moments. And if you’re ‘working for the weekend’, you might want to reconsider how you’re spending the other five days.
“Even if we could turn back, we’d probably never end up where we started.”
– Haruki Murakami | 1Q84
I’m flying to New York today but I’m not certain when. My original flight was canceled and I’ve been automatically re-booked with a ‘bonus’ layover in Minneapolis – which has since been delayed. The original purpose for the trip was cancelled as well so now I’m going to a different meeting for new potential client. Tomorrow I will fly to San Francisco for a meeting which I still don’t know the client or its purpose. I only received an email with the message: John, I understand you will be in NY on Jan 6, 7. I may need you in SF on the 8th with me. Any problem supporting?
This might not sound like your ideal vocation but it is mine. I kind of like it or more accurately, I truly appreciate it. Because work and travel are great teachers and even after twenty-three years I continue to thrill and thrive on the challenge, spontaneity and even the uncertainty of it all.
A voracious reader, I still believe that uncertainty and personal experience are the mother of all map changers and growth. And you can’t do much better for curve balls and experience than through travel. I’ve learned more about design, business and life by traveling than from the hundreds of best sellers I’ve read. Information does not equal transformation. And reading doesn’t necessarily make you smarter, sometimes it doesn’t even require you to think.
Travel of course is not always pleasurable, it’s even lonely sometimes, but that’s O.K. It often pushes me outside of my comfort zone, allowing me to grow and often forces me to learn things about the world and myself – at times, more than I ever thought possible.
And when I return from each and every trip, my home, my desk and most things are usually exactly how I left them, but I am always a little changed.
No one needs a life coach. They really don’t. Most people just need better friends or relationships. It’s simple, it’s science and it’s proven. Who you are and who you become depends highly disproportional toward the company you keep. Period.
Jim Rohn is usually credited with saying, “we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.” He’s referring to the law of averages and studies have even been done that support this theory. It was shown to be true of health, wealth, happiness and other categories as well.
I’m not disparaging coaches in general and I’m grateful to the many mentors (some paid) I keep around me. Good coaches can help create genuine results in the lives of already highly motivated individuals. But paying a success coach to mentor you then continuing to spend your time around people who don’t raise your standards is like paying a personal trainer to work you out then leaving to go binge on cake and junk food. It’s what they call a zero sum game.
Upgrading your relationships isn’t just the first thing you can and should do to create positive change in your life, it’s absolutely pivotal. And one of the first people you should cut from your life is someone who’d charge you for this advice.
I do my thing, and you do your thing.
I am not is this world to live up to your expectations.
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you and I am I,
And if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful,
If not, it can’t be helped.
– Bruce Lee
Source: Artist of Life – Bruce Lee’s handwritten notes entitled “Notes on Gestalt therapy,” within Misc. Notes. Bruce Lee Papers