One of the reasons I love plane travel is because there’s about fifteen minutes to half an hour between takeoff and reaching 10,000 feet when they won’t let me be productive.
My tray table has to be up; my phone has to be off; I can’t have my laptop open. I can (and have) write in my Moleskine, but it’s usually too bumpy and not very conducive to legible handwriting. So what do I do? I just read. A good old fashioned paper-bound book. In this case, I’ve been reading the uncorrected proof of Chris Brogan & Julien Smith’s The Impact Equation, which is a rollicking good read for anyone who has ever thought of using social media to spread any kind of message.
Life Lessons from Business
As often happens when reading business-type books, I found myself applying some of the principles to life in general. For example, there’s the one that Julien uses with clients, where you take someone well-known (either from fiction or history, so Ender Wiggin or Stonewall Jackson would work equally well) that you admire, and pair them with the industry you want to make a splash in. Then you use that both as your own keystone as well as a way to introduce yourself to others. “I’m the Morticia Adams of the yarn & knitting World.” “I’m the Judge Roy Bean of medical pathology.” Something like that.
Me, I’m “the Odysseus of lifehacking,” in case you were wondering. They have other exercises as well, but one in particular grabbed my attention. It’s the idea of expressing your philosophy of life – to a six-year old.
Now, they aren’t actually asking for philosophy of life for any reason but to see if you can do it – it’s an exercise in communication, where you describe several things, but do it so that a six-year old can understand it. “What do you do for a living?” “What’s your business strategy?” and the one that got me: “What’s your philosophy of life?”
I was in the plane, so I didn’t write any of them down, but when I got to that question, I didn’t need to, because my philosophy of life came to me simply, two words, three syllables, a complete sentence:
Yep, that was it. That’s what my philosophy of life is. It’s what keeps me at things like this blog, working on new content, new businesses, what keeps me going forward, forward, forward.
Now here’s the question for you: which way did you take the meaning of that sentence? The way it was intended, at first, was along the lines of the Japanese principle of Kaizen: getting better, bit by bit, always improving in small increments inch by inch (well, centimeter by centimeter if you’re Japanese). I’m always looking to get a bit better at being me, basically, whatever that entails. Sometimes it entails being a better WordPress designer; sometimes it’s being a better cigar connoisseur; sometimes it’s just being a better listener when my friends need someone to listen to them.
Regardless, that’s my philosophy: get better.
But what if you’re six years old and you ask a grown-up: What’s life about for you?
“Really?” says the six-year old. “When did you get sick?”
I spend a lot of my time teaching other people methods to connect with each other and express themselves and achieve their own life goals. As I mentioned in the previous post, sometimes I get very direct feedback from them, thanking me for the difference I make in their lives. On the other hand, like a physician or lawyer, anyone who tries to use their skills on themselves has a fool for a client.
Some of that became evident in some of the interviews for that upcoming documentary shoot (which seems to be proceeding along wonderfully, by the way). The producer asked me “So, Gray, when you’re not writing and working on your day job and doing this performance stuff, what do you do in your spare time?”
I’m hoping they don’t ask me a question like that on camera, because my spluttering half-starting answer made no sense whatsoever. I can think of a lot of things I’d like to be doing. Reading and watching the occasional TV show are certainly in there – but in terms of hobbies, or social groups, I came up bare. Even one of the key ways people are social – working out – is usually a solitary activity for me, doing Insanity workouts playing on my computer.
My god, I thought, I’m turning into Ralph Nader! I don’t have any hobbies!
That’s one subtle cue that there’s something wrong. Then there’s the person that I chose in the first exercise: Odysseus. Odysseus Polyteknos, to use his full epithet, the “man of many wiles.” When I read the Odyssey in college I loved that about the man, that he would find a way around whatever obstacle was in his path. This won’t work? Try that. That won’t work? Well, turn it that way, light a match, and wave a chicken over it. Oh, it works now? Great!
But there’s another big thing about his story: it’s a sad one. The whole story is about a man looking for his home, trying to find his way back. At one point he gets within sight of it, and then angers the gods and they blow him back again off into the harsh world. Even when he does make it back home, it is in rags and so changed that only his dogs recognize him. A great tale…but not necessarily a happy one. What does the fact that he was my first choice for a role model say about me?
What do I need to “get better” from?
Sound and Fury
Here’s a suggestion: I need to get better from the malady of over-thinking metaphors and simple business communication exercises. Be that as it may, I’d invite you to take the same little trip down your own archetypal assumptions. Who do you identify with – and what are the secondary characteristics that person has? What kind of story do they tell? How does that relate to the life you live, the choices you make?
And remember: the six-year old is listening.