A calm manifesto

I have had a number of opinions over the last few months. Well, that would be an understatement; I’ve had a lot of different opinions over the last few months and years. All of which, when considered in the round, when averaged up and combined, thought about deeply and evaluated for their impact on my life, have added up to a sum total of very little at all.

I’m writing this because I’m starting to grow weary of my own constant desire to change and improve myself. My life over the past few years has been an undercurrent of love and gradual progress – as my wife and I have got over illness, conquered assorted fears together, overcome a myriad of barriers put in our way to have a child, and together grown up and experienced our lives through the eyes of Freddie, who is now nearly two years old.

In that time, I’ve managed to convince myself that I should write more, lose weight, exercise, take on big challenges, learn to code, teach myself formal project management, run a team, write more (again), learn to code (a different language this time), read more management books, become more entrepreneurial, and a whole host of things, most of which I don’t really stick to for that long. The vast majority of these things have made little or no difference to my life as I plod along.

While reviewing some project management documentation this morning, preparing for an exam in about a weeks’ time, I started to panic. “I’m not ready” I thought, “I’m going to fail!”

You can argue that the concept of failure is something that has roots in our very evolution – after all, failing to run or hide from that sabre-toothed tiger will result in our very demise – but that argument falls a little flat when considering the challenges of modern day life. I won’t die if I fail this exam; in fact, I’ll learn a little, try again, and probably pass – albeit a little later than expected. My family won’t starve or become homeless if I don’t learn Javascript or Ruby or some other new fangled programming language. Sure, being an entrepreneurial type would be really nice – I have, after all, come back to this subject many many times – so there must be an inkling of desire in there somewhere, but even so, it’s not the end of the world if I don’t achieve it *right now*.

But seeking the constant rush of self improvement has led me to forget (sometimes) that underneath all this is a life that makes me happy. I am fortunate enough to have a good job, a loving wife, and a happy son who makes me laugh in ways I never expected. When I write about how I should take on a new challenge and then promptly shame myself when I don’t hit that goal or series of steps immediately, I take away a little bit of the life that truly makes me whole.

When I get up that little bit earlier to get into work so I can study, or I get home that little bit later so I can finish off some piece of work or another, I may make some progress in one area, but I’m trading it for happiness elsewhere.

I’ve overcome a lot of obstacles in my life. I’ve beaten cancer, for a start; I’ve recently battled depression and come out the other side with a better understanding of myself, I’ve been promoted at work and now have a team. I’m slowly and surely making things better, and trying to be a better husband and father has always been at the top of my notional agenda, even if I sometimes fail to make it the top of my actual one.

Rather than make a series of promises, and set even more goals, I’m just writing this as a note to my future self. Hitting – or missing – a new target every day, or every week, is not really necessary; being happy is the real goal – and I can do that without constant challenges.

The Do button

I was browsing through Medium today and came across a post written by Niko Canner from Incandescent called Sasha Dichter’s Do Button that gave me a great deal of clarity, all in a single burst, about why I loathe social media with increasing frequency these days.

The blog post to which he refers is here on Sashas’ blog: The Missing Do Button and is a masterpiece of observation on the current practice of blindly sharing web content without the intent to do something with it. Go ahead, read the posts, then come back; I’ll wait.

Without massively paraphrasing either Sasha’s original post or the inspired piece of work that is Niko’s medium post, the essence is that we all frequently share content written on the web that inspires us, but rarely if ever actually ask ourselves or others to do anything with it.

Sasha’s idea that a Do Button should exist that prompts us to commit to do something with the content we are sharing is a fantastic one and has caused me to think about how many times I’ve sent off inspiring links, without telling the recipient what I’d plan to do as a result of the writing I’ve shared.

Equally, this expresses in a nutshell why I’m so disillusioned with social media; as referenced in an earlier post of mine here, we are all guilty of re-sharing mindless crap into the streams of our friends simply to mindlessly titillate or blast our opinion down other peoples’ throats.

I am a fan of neither approach, and given that I look up to people who work with intent – in that they seek to illuminate or teach others all the time, or use content they find or create to add value to others – I can do well to spend a little more time thinking about what my intent is, before I do the same thing.

I will endeavour to do that in the future; consider what it is that I am doing to enrich other people whenever I create or share anything. So in a way, I’ve taken Sasha’s post and done something with it – even if it is to add my own voice to the argument, observe my own behaviour, but also uncover why my own frustration with facebook and other social media outlets is so prevalent.

248 days

I’ve been putting this post off for ever, but as I’ve moved the blog over to DigitalOcean (referral link) in the hope that doing so would spur me on to greater posting heights and blogging activity, I thought I’d plunge back into the fray. As you may well be able to tell, my ability to post regularly is somewhat lacking.

I’ve read through the previous posts on this blog and the last one was a commitment from myself to myself to go through the 100 day programme in an attempt to build commitment to a thing. It’s not the first time I’ve gone through the programme, and although I’ve managed to complete it several times, I haven’t managed to commit to anything, with one exception – the writing for the 100 day programme itself.

After I started the programme the last time, one of the commitments I made to myself was that even if I utterly failed to create anything of meaning in the multitude of projects I started (I did fail, tremendously), I would write about it every day, and I’d write 500 words. Every day.

Well, the first 100 days passed, and I had to admit that the fantastic projects I had committed to had come to naught. I did write every day, though, and so I started all over again the very next day. The next 100 days came and went, and I once again looked back at my promises to myself and laughed hollowly, as they went the way of every other magical project that I get excited about and then promptly drop as soon as they get too hard to actually do.

Sigh. The point?

I wrote 500 words every day. So far I have managed 248 days in a row. I may have started and failed to finish a whole multitude of projects, I may well have amassed a collection of whizzy domain names that point nowhere in particular, but I did write every day, and now I’m on a roll I keep on doing it. Right now it’s no more than a diary of sorts; a collection of ups and downs as I chart my progress in trying and failing with the ever-so-clever ideas that come to mind from time to time.

Along the way I’ve learnt when I write best (before lunch) and what keeps me going (setting up wordpress blogs, oddly enough – I’m very good at that, even if I can’t fill them with anything). I can type 500 words on an iPhone if I have to, but it’s not a fun exercise. Day One is my app of choice for daily writing, and as long as the stuff isn’t public, I can write easily.

Public writing is harder. Hopefully the 500 words a day will make that easier. Hopefully this post, and the others that follow it (yes, I know, commitment) will prove that.

Hopefully.

Losing Valued Readers

It’s not often that I am drawn to post about other peoples’ articles on the Internet. In the vast majority of cases, I read content because it adds something to my life, and is usually based on a subject about which I know very little. Every article I read adds something to me and helps me to learn.

Over time, I gradually add to the list of websites in my feedreader. Quite often, I prune that list in order to remove content that I no longer read, or which just doesn’t offer value to me as a reader.

The Simple Dollar is one of those sites that has survived many a year from this ‘pruning’. It has consistently educated me, enlightened me, and set me on the path to financial freedom by continually reminding me of the value of the little things, and the benefits of simple mindfulness when dealing with money.

Today, I feel thoroughly let down. Today, The Simple Dollar posted this post. It’s clearly written by a guest poster, from Cut Media, whom Trent has recently granted access to his site. (I believe this was financially beneficial to him, but I will need to find his post on this to be certain).

This post is appalling. Utterly unrepresentative of the valued and greatly appreciated posts that Trent curates and creates regularly, packed with linkbait and polished off with an infographic that is ‘de rigeur’ these days in every SEO sensitive blog, it is also just poorly written. I sadly smelt a rat when I read the opening sentence by our new contributor, Nicole, and the second sentence is no better:

“I’m excited to begin providing an additional resource for the blog’s readers with a fun and informative weekly consumer-related infographic.”

Excited? Fun? Informative? We have all read those blogs that promise “111 great tips to lose weight” or “23 fun things you didn’t know about cheese” and many, many others in those vein, but a discerning reader will quickly gather that these posts are the meaningless fluff of the internet; offering little value, and carefully written to gather eyeballs for the benefit of advertisers and few others.

It is with great regret that I must draw the conclusion that Trent has let the same thing happen on The Simple Dollar. With no prior notification that this was to happen, no explanation at the time of writing, and countless outraged comments on the post, coupled with a personal twitter account @trenttsd that has been dormant for months and a Simple Dollar twitter account @thesimpledollar that does nothing but generate links to posts, this is a prime example of a site that has lost sight of the value of its readers.

I may come across as a simply outraged internet commenter who demands something for nothing. I’ll freely confess that I have bought little – if anything – from the site, and as such I contribute little to Trents’ financial position. I do visit the site regularly, and subscribe to his site via RSS, and read every post he writes. I generate value with my attention, and Trent has worked hard to gather his ‘clan’ of readers who contribute to the discussions and gather together to support and recommend his writing.

In my opinion, this recent post on his site is the start of a slippery slope towards an advert packed, spammy blog laden with empty posts that offer little benefit to readers and treat them as fodder for advertisers. I’ll stay subscribed to the RSS feed, and stay glued to the site as I really want to be proved wrong.

Trent, if you read this, please, please, reach out to the readers who value you and tell us why you let this happen. I think your readers deserve an explanation.

Acceptance

I’ve been through a hell of a lot in 2011, and along the way there has been a fair bit of loathing, anger and downright misery.

My anger has not been limited to just the disease I had – the frustration garnered from a total lack of control over my health or the cures that brought me back to the position that I am in today have manifested themselves in a myriad of other ways.

Take for example, my almost famous bouts of road rage. Thankfully they are limited to me shouting at other drivers while safely cosseted in my car, but when they sweep over me it takes a significant wilful effort to stop them utterly taking over.

I get angry in queues, when other people don’t take up available space in front of them, and countless other ways that I will boil and simmer about on the other blog that I have created for just that purpose.

Anger is a horrible, insidious thing. Giving in to it achieves nothing, but suppressing it makes a person even worse, eaten away by all the things they can’t control, and bottling it all up for the inevitable outburst at a loved one.

2012 is therefore going to be my year of simple acceptance. For example, I can’t change the fact that Xfactor is on the TV, or that the hideous manipulation of the general public that is inherent to these types of programme is always going to continue as long as there is a willing audience. I can’t change the fact that I simply don’t enjoy Radio 1 any more.

These are things for which I no longer fit into the target demographic. When designing another ‘talent’ show, the producers don’t consider a 41 year old man to be their key audience member. Rather than ranting and raving about it, I have to simply breathe, be calm, and accept it.

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 Neibuhr)

Acceptance is a hard thing to properly internalise, but it’s something that is worth the effort.