Love. Life. Practice.

Personal Development with Gray Miller

the key to finding meaningful work

"Berry Hard Work" by J.D. Hancock

“Berry Hard Work” by J.D. Hancock

The Stupid Gender

Work operates like an eraser on chance or luck. – Emi Kolawole

Fortune favors the prepared mind.” “Make your own luck.” “Never tell me the odds.” Ok, the last one is more Han Solo than personal development, but there’s a strong thread of advice that comes down through the ages telling us that while we may be subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, we can often influence probabilities. I can’t control whether a hurricane hits the coast – but I can choose to live in the midwest, where we don’t have them.

Ms. Kolawole’s blog post from the Pop Tech: Rebellion conference in Camden, Maine takes this idea to an almost militant level – and that’s a good thing. She was inspired by the presentation of another powerful speaker, Regina Dugan, who delivered what Ms. Koloawole called “the girl-power message we need.” As a father of four girls, I was interested to see what it was. Turns out it was simply this: work. As she put it:

Work has no race, no gender — no boundaries. It is just a raw material we all have to give. There is love in work, and vice versa — there is dignity, strength and, yes, even salvation. There is power.

It’s no illusion that it’s harder for women to work in our culture. Whether it’s glass ceilings or wage discrepancies or rape culture in the workplace, the problems are prolific and almost insurmountable. It’s kind of a shame that the majority of the work being done to fix these problems is being done by women when it’s a problem that was created in a great part by men. You’d think more men would own up to the problem and actually try to fix it. Instead…we have things like #gamergate (note: if you have no idea what gamergate is, count yourself lucky and simply take my word for it that it is almost-but-not-quite masculinity’s most shameful manifestation of modern times).

Or we have moments like the Open Space I facilitated this last weekend in Seattle. One of the sessions proposed was “Where are all the female leaders?” I was not part of the discussion – my job was facilitation – but I did see the dozen or so people there in the session having a passionate conversation that lasted for hours. At the end of the day during the closing circle one of the participants said “It was amazing to be in that session – because there were men there, and they were feminists. It was so refreshing!” I’m happy, of course, that it was a good session – but how sad is it that the mere presence of a couple of men who believe in equality would be refreshing from the rest of life? Even in a city as supposedly liberal as Seattle?

How much luck, my fellow men, are we managing to keep our world from by refusing to create an environment where more than half of the population can flourish and do meaningful work?

It’s a good question, but it’s not the point I wanted to make with this post.

The Fortune Filter

Part of the selfishness of men in regards to work comes, I believe, from an insecurity. It’s unfortunate that the etymology of the word “feminism” leads so many to believe that it’s only women who benefit from it – in the same way I have trouble writing about the “patriarchy” since I ampater familias. Here’s a brief clarification, for those who may not be aware:

Patriarchy screws everybody over, men and women, just in different ways.
Feminism is about fixing that. For everybody.
If you don’t know those two things, you have some catching up to do.

One of the biggest ways men have been warped by the patriarchal system is through the idea of work. Success, success, success! You must be rich and powerful and the provider and if you aren’t – if, say, you want to stay home with your daughter and take care of her while your wife pays the rent – there is immense social pressure to look on yourself as a failure. Just look at the hit movies Mr. Mom or Three Men and a Baby or any “family” sitcom, where the jokes are based on the premise of men being incompetent when it came to raising kids or maintaining a household.

When I was a single Dad, the most useful magazine I read in terms of keeping up the home was “Working Mother.” It had great activity ideas, helpful articles on budget meals, on organizing closets and cupboards and more. It was great – except for the ads. Over an over they would reinforce this idea that the male is not suitable for housework – or, at most, was a nuisance to be covered up. I’m lucky – I have a father and grandfather who both were the epitome of masculinity and also cared for children and helped around the house.

But what do you do when you want to find work that will be fulfilling enough to get past that social stigma? What if you want to stay at home with your daughter while your partner works their job, or you want to stay at home and run your own business instead of working for “the man”?

I believe that the prolific Maria Popova inadvertently revealed the secret in her recent interview with Tim Ferriss. In it, she explained how she chooses the works that she curates on her blog:

“Does this illuminate the Grand Question that faces all of us: how to live well?” (emphasis added)

What if that were the criteria for all of our work? What if that was how we chose to decide what job to take, what clients to accept, what books and movies and music and more we chose to fill our lives?

I don’t know that it would work. I’m sure there would be many false starts. But I suspect that, when you came to the end of your days, you would not wish you had lived those choices differently. I believe that as philosophies go, you could do much worse.

Because we surely could all do much better.


control your notifications

Signal to Noise

What demands your attention?On Friday we talked about how it is a misnomer to think that the urgent and the important cannot – or do not – coexist for all of us. I mentioned that the real problem was differentiating between the urgent and the noisy.

“Noise” is a powerful word – and it’s different than sound. We rely on sounds to let us know things are going well – such as the sound of a car engine. The first time I rode in a hybrid and the engine shut down while we were still moving I was unnerved by the lack of noise – something must be wrong! In fact, there are “minimum sound requirements for hybrid and electric vehicles” to keep pedestrians safe when crossing the street. Similarly, when you hear that extra grinding sound when you put on the brakes, you know it’s time for a visit to the repair shop.

Both of those sounds were signals – that is, they convey useful information about the environment. The car is running. The brakes need fixing. At the same time, though, there is a lot of noise going on that is not conveying useful information – the birds outside, the wind blowing, the radio playing music. Not that the music isn’t entertaining, which, yes, is a kind of useful – but it isn’t necessarily conveying information. In fact, the entertainment may actually be hiding the information you need – which is why turning up the radio so you can’t hear the grinding brakes is probably not the best strategy.

Your Personal S2N

Part of separating the truly urgent things from the noise in your life comes with your electronic presence. There are many techniques for it – “Inbox Zero”, choosing an email-checking schedule, “analog time” (when you don’t use anything electronic). One of the founders of a powerful social media tool called Buffer has his own strategy: the Zero-Notification Challenge.

Joel’s idea was to simply turn off all the notifications – aggressively called “push” in the Apple iPhone world – on his phone. No more “You’ve got mail” tones, no twitter updates, no Sports or News flashes, no Facebook likes except when he chose to look at them.

I have no excuse that a notification came in. If I check it too frequently and find myself procrastinating, it is only my fault: I went out of my way to go and look.

When I read about this last week I was intrigued, and in my gung-ho way I went to try it out. Then I realized that I was working a conference that would have many social and organizational demands…and so I simply shut off most of the notifications. I suspect the organizers are grateful, since it let us pull off a wonderful event.

All Things in Moderation

Perhaps “zero” is a bit of overkill. I know that while I’m good at “inbox zero” (emptying my email inbox) I also tend to compulsively check it in case more emails have cluttered up my box – and that means I check my email more, not less.

Similarly, I found that while I don’t have as many beeps and flashing letters on my phone, I also tend to impulsively check twitter and my messages to see what I might have missed. At least it makes me more aware of what social media outlets I spend my time on, and helps me figure out where I can better control my focus in the future.

That’s the challenge for this week’s practice: try turning off most, if not all, of your notifications. At the very least, take a look at what your devices are trying to tell you and make it a conscious decision. And as always: let me know how it goes in the comments!

There are two types of people: One strives to control his environment, the other strives not to let his environment control him. I like to control my environment – George Carlin

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Hug Practice | Learn by Failure | Urgent vs. Important

This Love.Life.Practice Weekend Roundup podcast contains readings of the following posts:

You can get a free hardcover copy of The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau if you post a review of this podcast either on iTunes or your favorite podcast aggregator!

Send feedback or questions to

You can also get a free draft copy of my forthcoming book The Defining Moment by becoming a Patron of LLP for as little as $1/month!

Yes! I support LoveLifePractice!

New Episode of the Love Life Practice Weekend Roundup Podcast!

the urgent and important can go together

The Urgent vs. The Important

the XKCD comic illustrates that the urgent is often not important.

You know it applies to you…

There’s a well-known saying – attributed in various forms to various people including Franklin Covey, Dwight Eisenhower, Charles E. Hummel, and a bevy of others – goes something like this: “Never let the urgent get in the way of the important.”

It is a good thing to keep in mind. Certainly in the world of the Gravy Hose there’s always things that seem to be pretty urgent, from the latest tweet to the CNN update to that message from that person. It interrupts focus, it keeps us from getting into flow, and can distract us into hours of procrastination.

But I’m not going to tell you that you should turn all those things off.

The Saying Is Wrong.

The urgent, by definition, should supersede the important. That’s what “urgent” means: requires immediate attention. If something is urgent, then ignoring it is going to actually cause something bad to happen.

The trick is to correctly identify the difference between “urgent” and “noisy.” It’s one of the mysterious skills of parenting: you learn the difference in tone between “I really need you now!” and “I’m really not happy, but if you wait thirty seconds I’ll get distracted and be all happy-burbly again!” It is amazing for those who are not attuned to the specific frequencies of small children to watch parents hear a cry, cock their heads, and then shrug and ignore it. A moment later, another cry happens and almost before it registers the parent is down the hall because that cry was actually urgent.

Obviously that means that whatever they were doing before the child cried was not important, right? Or if it was important, they should have simply ignored the crying and continued to focus and prioritize and all those other good words self-development blogs toss around.

I hope the sarcasm font is coming through. Happily most parents are complex individuals capable of taking care of both the urgent and the important. Gayle Rubin, author of the Happiness Project, talked about the contradiction between saying that her children were her priority but her husband was the most important person in her life. She didn’t go into it much, but she suggested that it was a thorny problem.

The thing is, I don’t think it is. Not so much. Children are the definition of urgency, and the things that are capital-I Important are generally things that don’t require attention constantly.

Urgency Changes Fast; Importance Changes Slow

It’s easy enough to illustrate this with the idea of Date Night. So as not to focus on parenting, though, let’s shift from parents’ date night (a very important thing) to an average couple about to have their own special intimate evening. Let’s say that one of them had a job interview earlier in the day.

The job interview was important, but now they are both taking steps to put it out of their mind. Their relationship is important to each other, and as the hours tick past afternoon to evening they are shifting focus from the outside world of work and friends and pets and onto each other. The food dishes are full, the DVR is set up, their phone notifications are turned off except for an email alert that will go off if the potential employer gets back to them. Both agree that is a call they’d want to get.

So many levels of importance there! The importance of reciprocal focus to foster intimacy. The importance of being responsible to friends and pets. The importance of sharing life-changing news. They start their evening with all the right ingredients, and when the phone buzzes they are excited and optimistic as they huddle over the tiny screen.

Unfortunately it’s not the news they were hoping for. Then again, it also wasn’t the news they feared. No, all the Deciders but one are in favor of hiring the hopeful employee, and that one will be easily convinced if a certain question is answered. It’s not a hard question, but it’s a complex one, both a hypothetical problem and an opportunity for the applicant to show off some past work from a portfolio. And it needs to be ready in the morning, or they’re going with a different applicant.

In short, there needs to be a choice: is it going to be date night? Or is it going to be a night of crafting a document to get a job?

I honestly haven’t given enough information to accurately answer the question. Is this date night because the couple have trouble giving time to each other? Is it possible this is the final straw that will break them? Or have they been desperate for the second income and this will be the thing that gives them stability? There’s all kinds of other factors that need to be considered. But keeping within the limited parameters, it’s pretty clear: suddenly something is urgently in need of attention.

Does that mean that date night isn’t important? Are we going to make the common leap that this means the person doesn’t really think the relationship is all that important either? I would hope not. The odds are that the relationship will still be there in the morning, and for the following evening, and for the next date night.

Urgent and Important are not zero-sum games.

It is entirely possible to deal with urgent things while at the same time maintaining what is important. In fact, we do it all the time, shifting focus and attention as needed throughout our days. If I’m writing a blog post and suddenly need to pee, does that mean that I must soldier through and finish the post before relieving myself? That’s silly! Taking care of the urgent is smart – in fact, it’s one of David Allen’s first productivity tips: if a “to-do” item will take less than a minute or two, do it now.

No, what is needed is a more clear idea of what actually is urgent as opposed to what is simply a distraction. We’ll be talking about one particular method on Monday.

May your weekend be filled with urgently wonderful importance!

Failure is Valuable Experience

Tangled Up & You

Figuring out your direction can be trickyMy partner made a joke about me recently, pointing out how some of the ways you write the letter “G” could look like a circular arrow. We decided if I was an old-school rancher, my brand would have been “The Confused Arrow” and I’d never lose any cattle because they’d always circle back eventually…

This is why I was pretty pleased when Banksy (the amazing street artist) recently tweeted this little gem:

Confused Arrow? Or the scenic route?

Confused Arrow? Or the scenic route?

It’s a useful reminder, especially during those times that inevitably come where we aren’t really sure what to do next, or if what we’re doing is going to get us where we need to go. The Narrative Fallacy is this idea that one thing inevitably leads to another in any story of success – but the reality is far different. It’s not the only thing that could have happened – it’s just what happened.

And almost every entrepreneur, hero, successful artist or parent will most likely admit that there were times when they really had no idea what was going on, they were just doing the best they could. One of the ways to make it easier on ourselves when we’re dealing with that kind of thing is to reframe it away from being “lost” (or even, as Davy Crockett put it, “A mite bewildered…”) and rather look at it as valuable information.

I either win, or I learn. I never lose.

It’s a well-known basis of the new economy that “whoever fails fastest succeeds first.” Not counterintuitive if you remember that every failure is accompanied by picking themselves up and trying again. Nor is it a new idea; Winston Churchill famously said:

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

After a few months where I was feeling like I was on the squiggled path, today the direction of my next steps in professional development came clear to me. It’s possibly not accidental that they coincided with my finishing the first edit of The Defining Moment book. While things are beautifully clear now (a path laid with an amazing number of to-do’s) the most gratifying part is knowing that all the weeks when I just put my head down and did the next thing have paid off, and I’m in a position now to do far more than I ever knew possible back there in the tangle.

If you’re in the tangle yourself, don’t worry. There’s more out there. And if you aren’t…spare a moment of mercy and empathy for those who are. All who are lost, after all, do not wander.


practice good hugs

Hugs, Broccoli, & Yoga

“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” – Virginia Satir, “The Mother of Family Therapy

Basibanget via Flickr CCAs promised, today’s Practice post is all about hugging. Hugging may not be your thing, but like broccoli and yoga, it probably should be. As a liberal dance artsy type, I’m pretty familiar with hugs; as a midwestern male former Marine I’m also pretty familiar with how awkward, clumsy, and even creepy they can be. So how do you manage to get your RDHA (Recommended Daily Hug Allowance) without getting a reputation as Person Most Likely to Be a Reincarnated Octopus?

Here’s a few tips that I’ve found work pretty well. Keep in mind they are only suggestions – not rules. In researching this post, I found many “how to” guides on hugging, and after many head-shakes, spit-takes, and more than a few expletives following the words “What the -“, I threw them all out. Everything that follows is either hard science or else personal opinion. Cultural mores? Customs? I can’t pretend to speak for your world, your friends, family, or comfort zone. Use your best judgement.

  1. You need hugs. Saying “I’m not a hugger” is kind of like saying “I’m not an exerciser” or “Yeah, nutrition, I’m not into that.” It may be true, but your body – specifically your body chemistry, which controls things like your mood – is totally into that. So bite the broccoli and get your hugs.
  2. Ask for consent. Just as you wouldn’t force-feed someone broccoli or do “enforced yoga”, if someone doesn’t want to hug you, you need to gracefully accept the “no.” More than that, you should give them the opportunity to say no – ask “Are you a hugger?” or hold your arms out (see #3) when you’re still quite far away from them, so they have time to frown, shake their head, run away, or give you some other indication that they are ok with their depleted oxytocin.
  3. When in doubt, do an X hug. Did you know hugs can be dominant or submissive? Or that if you hug someone around the neck, it’s romantic? Neither did I. In fact, I’m pretty sure I still don’t know those things. What I do know is that when I started giving X hugs, things got easier. All that means is that you hold up your right hand and stretch down with your left. Hopefully your hug partner does the same, and when you come together your arms make an X – that then collapses in on itself, because you want to try and -
  4. Hug Longer. Though I’ve heard “six seconds” is as long as it takes to get the oxytocin pumping, all the research I found online said twenty seconds or more. Now, that can be easy if it’s somebody you’re really comfortable with, but it can be a really long time if it’s someone you don’t really know all that well. One way to get past that is to simply -
  5. Breathe. C’mon, you knew that if this was a touchy-feelie post I was going to say “Just breathe…” at some point, right? If I didn’t, they’d take away my Personal-Development Blogger License. The fact is, though, when you breathe deliberately you not only center yourself, you also give the person you’re hugging something to focus on. Above all, don’t hold your breath – it kind of negates the point of the hug. The other person might be holding their breath, which we’ll cover in number seven. But you should breathe, and just breathe. In fact, you kind of step out of space and time and -
  6. Make a Bubble. For the duration of the hug – no more, no less – don’t do anything else. Step out of the busy, create a tiny little unreality where the two of you are simply sharing human touch – a language far deeper than words or even expressions, a language so deep our bodies are designed to respond to it. Take just that little moment – that twenty seconds out of your day – and make it just for hugging. If it helps, decide that for that one-fifth of a minute your job, your vocation, your calling in life is to hug well. After that you can go back to being a rocket surgeon or whatever.
  7. Listen for the Disengage. This is a vital skill. This is how you aren’t creepy. You are paying attention to the other person’s body language to judge how comfortable they are with the hug. Sometimes people just hug you back. Other times they tense up at first, but you’re breathing (right?) and they kind of relax into it. Sometimes they just keep holding their breath though, and that’s your cue to disengage. Not like they’re hot lava, but quickly and graciously. Also, if they do hug you back, be listening for that moment their body signals they want the hug to end. It may come from their hands, it may be a slight drawing-back of the body – but whatever it is, listen to it and respect it. Do not force a hug to last longer, any more than you would force a dinner guest to have seconds on broccoli.
  8. Acknowledge. It doesn’t have to be a big deal – just a simple “Thanks” or even a smile and a nod. Whatever it is, it’s like you had a conversation, and at the end you say “goodbye” or “see ya later.” You don’t just walk off abruptly. You’ve just made a bubble and breathed together and communicated – so give that triumphant example of human interaction its proper due and say “Hey, thanks for the hug…
  9. Establish a Supply. I don’t expect you to hug everyone for twenty seconds or more (though if you do please email me and let me know how that went). While you can offer hugs to everyone – and yes, you’ll be known as “that huggy person” and suffer the fearful derision of the macho – you will find out pretty quickly that there are some people you can get your twenty seconds from and some who are just good for a brief pat on the back. That’s fine – you can become a hug connoisseur, and appreciate the trust involved with simply being in such close proximity to another human. Save the hug buddies for when you both really need your fix.
  10. Hug How You Want. In researching this post I came across a lot of derisive posts about certain kinds of hugging. Some said the “guy hug” (clasping hands and bumping shoulders with a single hearty pat on the back) was ridiculous. Others talked about how bad “A” hugs were compared with “I” hugs, or that you had to be a certain age or height differential to hug other people. All of this is hearsay, custom, opinion, and bull. The twenty second thing? That’s backed by science. But everything else is basically about you and the person you’re hugging. So ignore convention, and do what feels right to both of you.

That’s it! Got more suggestions? Any hug questions for me? That’s what the comment section is for! Now go out there and hug!

Did you know that giving on Patreon feels almost as good as a hug?
Ok, that may not be backed by science –
but I know it feels good,
because my patrons have told me so.

Noble Simplicity, Dignity, and Love Science

This Love.Life.Practice Weekend Roundup podcast contains readings of the following posts:

Many thanks to Matt McWilliams of The World Changer Podcast for being the debut reviewer for the LLP Podcast! Catch his latest episode on “Finding Your Why” with Ridgely Goldsborough for some nice complementary material to The Defining Moment. 

He was generous enough not to claim his prize, so you can still get a free hardcover copy of The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau post a review of this podcast either on iTunes or your favorite podcast aggregator!

Send feedback or questions to

You can also get a free draft copy of my forthcoming book The Defining Moment by becoming a Patron of LLP for as little as $1/month!

Yes! I support LoveLifePractice!

New Episode of the Love Life Practice Weekend Roundup Podcast!

the science of loving better

The Science of Schmoopy

Recently my partner Natasha and I were reflecting on how uncomfortable we are in our present situation.

Things are going way too well.

We’re at a particular point in our lives together where things are relatively stable. After many years of struggling financially, geographically, and emotionally, we’re in a space where we aren’t having many disagreements, and when we do, we have worked out constructive ways to resolve them. Add to this the fact that we find ourselves feeling more in love as time goes on, and it’s way outside of our comfort zones, either in our own relationship or ones we’ve had in the past.

I’m not going to pretend to know what’s really going on, much less suggest that you could duplicate it if you wanted. However, I’m pretty certain that the layman’s study of love that I’ve been doing for the past few years has something to do with it. Here are a few of the practices that help us both love better, with scientific research to back them up. Take them as you like, and if you have something even more effective, please share in the comments!

Five Techniques to Better Loving

Middle Daughter will get it.1. Eat more chocolate. “Dark chocolate has been shown to be associated with lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar levels and improvement in the way your blood vessels dilate and relax,” – Julie Damp, M.D. If that’s not enough to make you think about love, there’s also the fact that there’s also Phenylethylamine (PEA) in dark chocolate, which according to love researcher Helen Fisher, stimulates the part of the brain “…that makes dopamine, a natural stimulant, and sends it out to many brain religions when one is in love.” Apparently other activities that do this kind of thing are skydiving and cocaine. Personally, I would rather develop a dark chocolate habit instead.

2. Hug More: Ok, so we know that oxytocin is a pretty happy-making hormone (with a dash of jealousy and possessiveness thrown in for spice). But until they sell it in over-the-counter nasal sprays, how can you get a hit of it when you need it? Turns out hugging is the thing. Here’s a tip you can use right away: in order to get that oxytocin flowing you need eight hugs a day, if not more. If that sounds like it might go beyond “friendly” and into “creepy” range, on Monday we’ll let you know how to make it less so.

3. Exercise together: The whole idea of having public accountability to help you maintain an exercise habit is old news. However, if multitasking is your thing, you can both work on your relationship and your body if you find an exercise you enjoy doing with your partner. According to a University of Arkansas study, “exercise frequency was attributed to enhanced feelings of attractiveness and increased energy levels—both of which can increase sexual desirability and performance,” among other benefits. The accountability factor works even better: only 6.3% of married couples who exercised together dropped out of their routine, as opposed to 43% of those who exercised apart.

4. Eye Gazing: Spend two minutes a day looking into their eyes, you will feel significantly more affection for the other person. In fact, research has shown a significant increase in “feelings of passionate love, dispositional love, and liking for their partner.” And that was between randomly-selected opposite sex strangers. Imagine what it might do to you if you actually like the person.

5.  Journaling. There’s a lot of reasons to journal, including many direct health benefits. In terms of loving, though, here’s the thing: loving is hard sometimes. It has bumps, travails, and your brain chemicals (as listed above) can make things seem much worse than they are. If you keep a journal, it “…removes mental blocks and allows you to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself, others and the world around you.”- Maud Purcell, LCSW, CEAP. In other words, it helps you figure stuff out.

Further Stimulating Discussion:

The always-delightful Brain Pickings has some solid recommendations for further reading on Love and the Brain. ASAP Science also has a pretty neat little video that gives a good overview of the whole neurochemistry of love as well:

a life of dignity

A Dignified About-Face

When I was a kid, we had a cat named Dignity. We named him that, Mom said, “…because he had none.” That was certainly the case as a kitten, but as he grew older, like all cats, he managed to develop a certain feline dignity. Even when falling off a perch, he was a master of “I meant to do that…”

dignity-always-dignityThe other association I have with the word is from one of my favorite movies, Singin’ in the Rain:

Well, Dora, l’ve had one motto which l’ve always lived by: ”Dignity. Always, dignity!” – Don Lockwood (played by Gene Kelly)

But what, really, does that mean? What is dignity? And don’t go all on me; you use the word, you must have some idea of what it means to you. So think about it for a moment: is dignity important to you? Do you have it? How do you know? What does it look like?

While I’m hoping to see your thoughts in the comments, right now I’ll tell you what I think: I think that dignity is something that you can only really feel for yourself. That is, I might look at a person and think they are dignified, but they feel ridiculous. At the same time, I might feel completely dignified myself and have other people thinking I’m ridiculous. In fact, I’m certain that latter phenomenon has occurred more than once.

So it’s a feeling – but a feeling of what, exactly? “It feels undignified…” is a common phrase – but what exactly does that mean?

When Purpose Unites with Principle

Working without dignity is to divorce our values from how we spend the majority of our waking hours. – Sam Spurlin, 99U

The Workologist (quoted above) lays out a pretty convincing argument that the essence of dignity is a combination of curiosity, craftsmanship, and humility. While I enjoyed his article (and site) immensely, I’m not sure that I think it needs to be that complicated. I believe dignity is acquired through one simple thing: uniting your principles and your actions together. Sometimes that’s unpleasant, such as when I deactivated my Facebook profile today.

Why did I deactivate it? Aside from the myriad privacy and identity issues that continue to plague the site, quite simply I have problems with an environment that bans images of nipples but finds videos of burning kittens alive acceptable. Or, to put it another way: the naked human body is verboten, but harming innocent life is ok. If that doesn’t make sense to you, that’s fine; I’m not doing it to set an example, I’m doing it simply because my purpose on the internet – to communicate, to interact online – needs to align with my principles. Facebook doesn’t. Thankfully it’s not the only game in town.

Why am I sad? Have you ever tried to deactivate your account? They really do an amazing job of guilt-tripping you. They show your top friends (and family) and talk about how much they’ll miss you. They warn of all the email notifications and invites and birthdays you’ll miss. They let you go, finally, but they’re right: I will miss the easy access to seeing my daughters, my grandsons, my parents and cousins (especially you, Nate).

But at the same time: If my family and friends all hung out at a restaurant that was playing videos of kittens burning alive while kicking out nursing mothers, I would not frequent that restaurant. Even if I could look away and not see it, the mere fact of knowing it would be enough.

That, to me, is what dignity is. It’s a cold comfort, but it’s the knowledge, as Sam Spurlin would put it, that the place where we spend our waking hours is not divorced from our values. Rather, we create lives that reflect, reinforce, and improve our values and our relationships with each other.

Sorry, Facebook. It’s been fun, but until you grow up, I’m afraid I’m going to have to do without.

She is clothed in strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future.

Proverbs 31:25

finding nobility in simple practice

And Now, the Classics…

This is an epic moment. For the first time in my life, I’m going to quote Virgil:

Virgil, courtesy Thomas Hawk CC

Even now the countryman actively pushes on to the coming
Year and its tasks; attacking the naked vine with a curved
Pruning knife, he shears and trims it into shape
Be the first to dig the land, the first to wheel off the prunings
For the bonfire, the first to bring your vine-pole under cover;
But the last to gather the vintage…
It makes for hard work.

Why am I, a humble amateur author with a B.S. in Dance, of all things, bringing ancient Greeks to your browser this morning?

It’s kind of a balance, actually. After last week’s talk about flourishing and focus and such, I felt that it’s worth remembering that what you’re doing right now is actually pretty awesome, too. Or at least it could be, if you chose to see it that way.

Mind you, I’m not saying you should. Sometimes the only thing that gets you through that thing you are doing is the release valve of being able to complain about it. That’s how I’ve managed to cultivate an almost-daily yoga practice, after all – by keeping my own inner monologue going (I call it “bitter yoga”).

But the point of Virgil’s poem was to show the simple nobility of the work of the farmers of his time. He was praising the virtue of the simplest task, in the purity of a zenlike monofocus on doing what is necessary because it is necessary.

“The Colour of Hope”

IMG_0865.JPGThe philosopher John Armstrong (from the School of Life) suggests that we can take a similar tack in our own tasks, especially those which we may have a less-than-friendly relationship with. For example, I happen to really dislike working with my finances; even with eight months of detailed monthly reviews and spreadsheets and a much better bottom line, I still procrastinate opening up the file and actually looking at the numbers. Even with cool apps like Mint – which is about as friendly as a financial app can get – I just get uncomfortable dealing with it.

Armstrong suggests perhaps framing it in a Virgil-esque way:

…And take yourself also, as the sun is setting,
To a stationery supplier and get yourself a quantity
Of manila folders, the colour of hope
Dine early and lay all the pieces of paper before you on the carpet.
Divide them, as the Gods divide the just from the unjust
Into two piles. Arrange them by Date. Work slowly.
And when you are done, pour a libation to Apollo,
Who loves clarity and order.

Suddenly opening that spreadsheet becomes the opening of a ritual of the seasons, a festival of finance that occurs once every full moon. It can be accompanied by Bacchanalian music and secret single-origin dark chocolate only opened for these sacred moments…

Or whatever works for you. I’m sure, here as the week begins, you have something going on that seems mundane. That seems tedious and just totally taking time away from the things you want to be doing.

Maybe take a moment and realize that you are the caretaker of your life’s garden, and this is part of the pruning and tending that is necessary for you to grow. Make the tedium into a sacrament for just a moment, a ritual contributing to your quality of life.

Then you can go back to complaining, if you like. But very few complaints are the color of hope.

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