What’s It For?

To challenge our own thinking and the structures that make our society stand is to ask some hard questions.

For years, the work meeting has been under fire as the most inefficient use of time. As different startups and companies move toward challenging the reason for a meeting in the first place (get information to as many people as possible… something that can be done electronically), even deeper thinking must take place.

Must everyone know about it?
Does it affect everyone receiving the message?
Are the people you speaking to the ones who can do something about it?

All things to consider, but an even bigger picture must be considered.

As I continue on my digital declutter experiment for the month, it’s forced me to consider whether these technologies that are ubiquitous in our lives are really necessary. Each day, I miss them less – including those that are “necessary” for today.

My phone, for instance, is only a platform. Someone in my position doesn’t need the endless notifications of emails and app pings in order to respond immediately. If I were a critical decision maker where every second changes the fate of something much larger (e.g. a political leader on the cusp of war), those notifications could be necessary.

Merely being there and told it makes life easier (or run smoother) doesn’t exclude it from being challenged.

We must always ask the hard questions and be honest with the responses we receive.

Life is a Game Until You Lose

I once had the attitude that life was nothing more than a game.

Every part of it could be gamified and the whole point was to get enough points before going onto the next level. This thinking was largely influenced by many years of my own video gaming addiction, even when I refused to see the connection.

The problem was there was no next level.

The people you dealt with on a daily basis were real people and the consequences of your actions were permanent. There is no do-over to start the level again until you get better results.

Yes, there is opportunity for forgiveness, starting anew and attempting to better yourself, but there is a price to pay for all of those. It took me many years to realize I had a huge bill to pay and little in my account to do so.

A game is also something you can stop playing. At any point, if the game stops being fun, you can take a break.

Life doesn’t allow you to stop playing.

When you stop having fun, it gets too tough, or if you lose, you have to keep going. There are no extra lives.

You can have fun and you can play (and playing is crucial to our health and the central theme of my Masters research), but making it a game will only break reality for yourself.

And when reality breaks, it’s tough work to pick up the pieces.

Waiting for the Muse

“Just wait until inspiration hits.”

Inspiration rarely, if ever, strikes someone out of the blue with no previous effort given. Inspiration comes to the person who is already hard at work.

The brain needs time to rest, and it’s in those moments, you will find inspiration. However, it is the result of work and focus coagulating together with the subconscious mind.

If I waited for the muse to strike before I wrote, there’d be no point in continuing with this site anymore. Nor would there be a point to finishing any works in progress or even starting a new one.

Waiting for the muse is a hopeless cause. It doesn’t visit the person who is idle, nor can it be forced out of its hiding place. It will choose its moments carefully.

The moment comes when the work happens and the ego gets out of the way. And the amusing part is that when it finally strikes, it encourages you to get back to work.

It comes when you rest, but only after you’ve been working.

Don’t expect it at any other time.

Easier and Less Giving of Ourselves

We have undoubtedly made life easier for ourselves.

Thanks to our collective genius (and stupidity), we have developed technologies that have given us a lifestyle superior to monarchs less than two centuries ago. Even the poorest among us can eat food that is more becoming of aristocrats of the 1800s (not to take away from the injustice of their access to food in general).

I’m typing this post on a computer, which has the capacity to tell me when I’ve committed a spelling mistake, correct it and change the text as I see fit without hassle. I can post this from anywhere in the world provided I have access to the Internet.

Some of the posts on this site were written on my phone while I was on the go, which was unheard of twenty years ago.

Yet, with all of what we have to make life easier, the trade-off has been for us to give the minimum amount in order to make it work. The idea of making sacrifices has been relegated to the outliers as something ‘crazy’ only that person could pull off.

Instead of truly giving of ourselves, we are giving only a persona of who we imagine ourselves to be. Any more would require real work and a level of authenticity we’re not willing to face.

This trend can only reverse if we understand the technologies that make life easier should also make it easier to give more of ourselves.

A Digital Sabbatical

For the month of January, I’ve subscribed a digital sabbatical. The details were put together by Cal Newport, someone who I’m particularly fond of in his work on deep focus, but here’s the gist:

In my personal life, I am to remove all optional technologies for the month… then re-introduce them again in a purposeful way.

I took this assignment to its full extent, cutting out social media (not deleting accounts – just not logging in), Feedly, podcasts, video games, random web surfing, news sites (although a physical newspaper is fine), only checking my personal email a few times throughout the day and deleting any app on my phone that has a desktop or web browser equivalent.

I can still take calls and respond to text messages, as I’m not looking to cut myself off from the world.

After a week, even though I’ve always considered myself a focused person who can handle digital distraction, I’m blown away by the results.

Already, reading is much deeper (my brain isn’t always interrupting me to wonder what else is happening), writing is coming easier and the inclination to “just check” my phone has almost subsided.

I don’t anticipate any great revelation in the end, nor will it be a stepping point to completely cut out digital technologies. We are very much in a new world and removing myself from the stream would be akin to telling Gutenberg I don’t care much for his printing press.

This is a sabbatical to remind myself of technology’s purpose and how I can better use it for my own life.

There will still be daily posts, but I suspect there will also be great strides in other work as well. I’ll keep you posted.

The Need for Retreat

A spiritual retreat was a literal retreat from society where you left everything behind and connected with the divine. The physical displacement from the every day was an early version of a mindhack to remind someone they are away from all distractions.

I spent a few summers at a monastery, where I was treated to some of the best cheese I’ve ever tasted… and the beauty of a monastic lifestyle. There was something different about being there and it was evident the moment you stepped foot on the property. All my stress an anxieties instantly vanished. Although it was tempting to stay, I knew it wasn’t my calling.

While there, time moved differently. Nothing dragged, nor did it ever feel like one was in a hurry. It was the perfect amount of work, rest, sleep and prayer in a day, which allowed you to regain focus on what really matters in your own life.

The youngest a monk has died at this place was 95.

As we venture forth into the cusp of a new world, something beyond the paradigm shift of the Gutenberg printing press, the idea of retreat takes on a whole new meaning.

We no longer need to physically leave our daily lives to enter into a retreat where we can focus on what matters.

Right now, contact with people is ubiquitous and constant. Try going for a day without electronically contacting another person – it seems like an impossible task.

We’re busier than ever and communicating more than humanity could have ever imagined. In this new age, we still need to learn how to take a step back and retreat to regroup.

All it takes is a willingness to physically part from our digital selves and spend a day in quiet reflection. It will feel alien to many the first time, almost threatening, but eventually it will be met with anticipation.

Just as you cannot spend your entire life in retreat (at some point you’ll have to take action), it would be difficult to spend every day cutoff from the stream of chatter. However, you can find purposeful ways to use it… one that coincides with your own life in what matters.

The need for retreat will teach us how to create a monastery in our own hearts.

It’s Their First Time

I was part of a retreat team for a year, having the opportunity to travel across the country and meet young people.

Part of the responsibility of our day was to do talks, run skits and perform dramas. After doing the same ones for six months straight, the sheer boredom of doing them reached an all time high.

It became tempting to add some flair to what we did in order to keep ourselves entertained.

However, no matter how many times we put these on, each audience was seeing it for the first time. Our team had to keep this in mind regardless of our itch to derail each other in the name of fun.

I think about performers who put on the same show, night after night, for many years straight. The reason they are professionals is because they stick to their script and understand audiences are seeing it for the first time.

It may be a million times to them, but it’s the first time for someone else.

That’s also a consideration when meeting people for the first time. Regardless of how your day is going… how you’re normally like… what happened that morning… a person meeting you for the first time will not take that into consideration.

Whatever you’re doing for the millionth time, always remember it may be the first time for someone else.

Simple Advice is the Hardest to Follow

“You can’t just book magic shows sitting in your basement and posting on Facebook. You need to get out there.”

This was the advice given to me by a good friend and while my ego refused to admit he had a point… he had a really good point. He was out there, talking with people, doing magic everywhere he went and making connections.

As a result, his weekends were jam packed with shows. He also had another full-time job.

I needed to get out there and take on this nerve wracking experience of showing my vulnerability. It’s the equivalent of asking someone one a date without certainty they were even interested in you.

Fear preyed on the emotion of rejection and my goodness, I didn’t want to be rejected (both in magic and in relationships).

His advice is in line with any other magician I know who was doing the same thing. Their word-of-mouth referrals were above and beyond because of the hustle they put into getting the word out.

The advice is simple, not easy… and it works.

Even though I don’t do magic shows anymore, I still get the occasional call from people who had my name dropped from others requesting for me to do a show. I don’t have any ads or web presence with my magic, but I’m still getting calls.

There’s a glut of people right now giving advice to writers on how to sell more books or get noticed. Most of that advice is related to gaming social media, keywords on Amazon, email lists, or some other system put in place.

However ,the advice of any wildly successful author from the past hundred years on the subject hasn’t changed:

Keep writing, finish what you write and put it out there.

Simple advice, but hard to do.

Simple financial advice: spend less than you earn.

How many struggle with that one?

The simplest of all advice is this:

Work on your craft and keep connecting with others.

Hard work doesn’t always get appropriately rewarded, but when luck strikes the hard-worker, it accelerates their efforts into the stratosphere.

 

I have friends who are doing incredibly well as writers, photographers, performers, speakers, musicians and wedding officiants just following that bit of advice.

Take the simple advice and do the hard work of actually following it.

 

The Need for Religion Class

This past weekend, I read an opinion piece in a major newspaper from someone who I rarely agree with… to put it mildly… and couldn’t help my amazement.

I was in full agreement with what was written.

Wente espoused the important strides we took in 2017 and how they were grossly overlooked. Mainly, poverty word wide dropped significantly and big steps were made in artificial intelligence.

The advancements in A.I. is an area we are anticipating, but grossly underestimating.

While the industrial era ushered in a time of outsourcing heavy tasks to machines, and then streamlining it, A.I. is a complete overhaul with our own minds. In other words, we will be taken out of our own decision making.

Kasparov has already written about why we shouldn’t fear this new age with the argument it frees us up for more creative thinking. I like to err on the positive side as well even if it means my own profession will be lost along with many others.

What happens, though, when we live in a world where there’s very little for us to do?

We’re already facing this problem with the endless deluge of concern about young people and the addiction to their devices (although I argue this isn’t just limited to a younger generation). It’s the constant checking and endless scrolling for something to assure of us something.

What is that something?

There isn’t a solid answer to that question.

It could be affirmation, belonging, connection, contemplation, thought-provoking, uplifting, motivation, or some kind of meaning to our own existence.

Hmmm… it seems those are all things religion teaches us as well and no, I don’t shy away from the issues religion brings either. However, a good class on Religion can bring a proper awareness that will help an individual navigate their own existential crisis.

It’s a mixture of other disciplines and can’t be met with simple answers.

A student cannot simply go online and read the SparkNotes for the text and regurgitate the answers on a quiz. Nor can they write formulas in clever hiding places to cheat on their Math or Science exam.

While I will always stress the importance of Math and Science to my students, and the need for literacy, they will always hear about the importance of a good Religion class because Religion starts with a lived experience.

That’s something no machine, computer or artificial intelligence can replicate.

Missing the Point

Being cranky about a Dan Brown book not being high literature is like yelling at a cupcake for not being a salad.
John Scalzi, Don’t Live for Your Obituary

When you set expectations for others that do not align with their intended purpose, you miss the point completely.

I’m currently building a classroom library for my students to get them interested in reading. I have no qualms about putting anything popular on the shelves if I know students will read it.

My goal is to get them reading, not analyzing texts they will only pretend to read (or not read at all if we’re being honest).

I subscribe to the New York Times, not because of any expectation they will cover Canadian content or that I always agree with them, but their level of journalism is a breath of fresh air to the fast media of online news. It’s also the reason I pick up a paper copy of the Globe and Mail (the Canadian version) every weekend.

Getting upset at a young person for not having impulse control… or an understanding of consequences… is missing an opportunity to be a teacher to them.

Likewise, getting angry at a fast-food restaurant for not having healthy choices is missing the point of why they exist in the first place.

Before we start to judge, it’s best to understand the point.