Be Yourself

As I’m creating this new space, I often think of what I can do to make it better for everyone reading. I want to create something successful, something that people will read, recommend, and eventually turn into some side income.[1] Finding success is why I set out to do this.

Except that it’s not.

I really set out on this journey to find my niche in this world, sharing my thoughts through my own voice, and embracing who I am, as feeble an attempt as it may be. I’m not sure how long it will take to get there. There isn’t a set timeline for when I will fully be able to share, with any confidence, who I am and what I want to say. But that is ok. I’m not failing at it, I’m not upset about it, I’m just allowing it to happen. I always try to remember:

Life is a journey, not a destination.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

I often look to people that have found success to see what they have done to get there. Aaron Mahnke had some great words on Twitter this week in the wake of a successful book launch and his podcast (emphasis mine):

I love Aaron’s sentiment here, and it couldn’t be more true. It seems that anyone that I can look up to for inspiration, regardless of their craft, has done so by sharing their passion. Sure, there could be acclaim and financial success, but they find success by being themselves by sharing what they love with the world. You don’t have to be the next big thing. You don’t have to be like other people. You just need to be you.

I think for most, being yourself is one of the hardest things to do as a human. It takes a lot to get out of your own way, remove the internal barriers, and open up your world to others. We allow ourselves to be defined rather than define ourselves.

That’s the toughest part for me: how do I define myself? I don’t yet know the answer. It won’t be quick, and it certainly won’t be easy — but I know that being myself and sharing it with others will be the biggest payoff in my success.

You can find out how to order Aaron’s books on his website.
Lore can be found in iTunes or on the website.

  1. with native ads, not the crazy insane banner adds that are everywhere  ↩

Cleaning Up, Clearing Out

Podcasts are becoming increasingly validated as a medium. They were before, in smaller circles, but the broad success of podcasts like Serial have pushed the medium to new listeners, new listener numbers, and therefore new boundaries. High-profile individuals have started reaching out to appear on podcasts. Phil Schiller of Apple went on The Talk Show with John Gruber where he knew he could be asked some tough questions, but wanted to show that he was one of us. Even the POTUS (or his team) thinks that being on a podcast is worthwhile.

When I first started getting into podcasts, I listened to topics I enjoyed; but the playlist was heavily dominated with tech podcasts. I had somewhere between 10-15 of them [footnote]I wish I was joking[/footnote] a week that I would listen to. I would use Overcast and use its Smart Speed® functionality in addition to playing them at 1.5x-2x the normal speed to increase my intake [footnote]playing catch-up, really[/footnote]; but after a while, they became dull and boring. They didn't move and excite my brain like they used to.

I started discussing with several of my friends, and we all seem to agree: the tech podcast space has become repetitive, too filled with the same things being regurgitated across multiple places. What's being said on one podcast is being said on another; often times, there would be a discussion by the same person on different podcasts. This isn't to say that they aren't good: there are a lot of amazing technology focused podcasts out there. For myself and others, it was simply becoming overwhelming to keep up on a regular basis, and too repetitive show-to-show.

Out of those discussions, I started to develop some questions to gauge how I to listen to podcasts:

  1. Am I learning anything new?
  2. Do I always enjoy listening to the topics, hosts, and guests?
  3. Do I enjoy listening at 1x? Or, maybe better said: Do I feel like I need to speed up the podcast?
  4. How do I feel when I am done listening to the podcast? Happy? Sad? Meh?

If the podcast doesn't give me the positive answers to those questions, it gets deleted. This may seem harsh, but it really makes a difference in de-cluttering my headspace. If I feel “meh” after a podcast, it likely isn't worth listening to. I would be better off playing music or checking out something new.

What I really want from podcasts – and tech podcasts in particular – is a fresh take on topics, saying things others aren't and looking for new angles; I also want interesting ideas and subjects to keep me engaged. I still listen to a few tech podcasts, but only subscribe to a couple; the rest are selected based on guests and/or topics.

I've had a lot of recommendations in the past few months that have been providing me with just the thing I want to hear, even if I didn't know I wanted to hear it. Here are some of the podcasts I've been enjoying as of late:

  • 99% Invisible by Roman Mars is a great show about the history of design, and all the little things you tend to miss or overlook.

  • You cannot go wrong with the absolutely terrifying Lore by Aaron Mahnke. The episode entitled “The Castle” was horrifying, sick, and extremely twisted, but a great episode that was very well produced. [footnote]Lore is one of the few podcasts for which I have a notification set – it's great.[/footnote]

  • Front to Back is about 3 dads raising their daughters, but having a daughter of your own is hardly a prerequisite. They have many great insights to parenting that I have found useful.

  • Criminal contains fascinating stories of people that are or have been viewed as criminals; some of them have been unbelievable and heart-wrenching. The exit guide episode is a good place to start.

  • The Mystery Show is a wonderful podcast about mysteries that can't be solved by looking online. Beat reporter-style investigation and interviews tackling small mysteries. The Belt Buckle was quite possibly the single greatest podcast episode I've ever heard.

  • Undisclosed is a follow-on to (but not associated with) Serial, which highlights more and more errors in the case. If you were a fan of Serial, this is a must-listen podcast.[footnote]Fair warning – I get upset every week at this case. It's a disaster that I cannot believe was this poorly handled – the prosecution handle this whole trial wrong, and the initial defense was ineffective. I'm hoping there is a new trial opened.[/footnote]

I'm always in search of other quality podcasts: if you have some other suggestions, let me know what you think I should be listening to. I will give them a chance, but I will be applying the rules to those as well — so make them good!

Cleaning up and clearing out my podcast playlist has lead me to a more fulfilling experience; I highly suggest you take a look at doing the same. It's time to give your podcast listening a more personal human touch.

Human Reach

Image Credit: NASA/APL/SwRI

This week, we have hit the mark on the nine-year journey to research and photograph the last main celestial body in our solar system, Pluto.[1] We have discovered particles that have only existed in theory. We are extending our human reach from the infinitesimal to the extent of our multiverse as a species, even if we don’t know yet where we are heading or for what we are searching. We truly live in wonderful times.

And yet, with all of our advancements, we on Earth often times are still horrible as a species; we are flawed beings that are capable of doing many great, wonderful, terrible things. Over the course of the last six years alone, there have been countless stories around the world of brutal violence, hate crimes, and heinous acts. Racial divides, human inequality, religious ideals, and the need to survive push people to their worst. And although we have made some advancements in recent months to right those wrongs, we still have a long way to go.

Being our best and worst was really well encapsulated within Interstellar, which I happened to watch this week. The basic premise of the movie: the planet is dying, we are dying due to lack of food and climate changes, and there is a fight for our survival. In an effort to save the human race, a team is sent on a long journey to go find another home; the initial team was selected to represent us on this journey.[2] Not much is heard from the team, and a second team is sent in the same direction. In one of the many of the many climactic scenes of the movie, there is a conflict where one astronaut attacks another in an effort to save himself. Even in the vastness of space with the fate of the human race on the line, we were shown to be horrible to each other; we would choose ourselves and our own ideals rather than working together to survive.

Humans been this way for a long time. We’ve had thousands of years of hate, bigotry, and inequality. We kill in the name of our deities or ideals. We persecute those that are not the same as us with hatred and without due process. We hold back people from having basic human rights and needs because we fail to empathize with them. We make strides to overcome the wrongs in our past, but then in mere moments it can be taken away with cowardly acts of a select few. People dissent or raise up symbols of injustice against ideals that differ from our own because of what they personally think is right, and not what is right for the sake of all humanity. Being different makes us human: but living despite those differences makes us humane.

In Interstellar, there was discussion of a “more evolved being” that lived in the fifth dimension that is trying to help us. It was later revealed that the beings were our decedents reaching backward to help us find the right path.[3] We are all looking for something more than ourselves, whether that be a higher power or something greater than ourselves, even if we don’t know it; it is part of our human nature. Often times we just want to communicate with others and feel like we belong in this world. We seek out others to journey with us, to help us along our way, to stand with us as one people.

Whilst we are looking ever towards the heavens for the answers of our universe, my mind can’t help but wonder and hope that maybe some day we can look back at our past atrocities here on Earth, evolve, and help each other become better humans.

  1. It will always be a planet to me.  ↩
  2. There is a common theme in the space exploration genre that sends the “best of us” as representation.  ↩
  3. I know future me would love to go back and smack past or current me for some of the mistakes I’ve made.  ↩

Not Yet Fully Set

My friend Seth Clifford has written an articulate piece on how we become defined over time as humans.

We all have our own issues that we are facing that cause massive amounts of stress. Not all of us share them publicly. Some of us choose to eschew the issues instead of facing them.[1] Anticipating issues, enduring the stress, and returning to a state of stability make us who we are. The analogy Seth used in his post is perfect:

It’s like breaking a bone: it’ll set, it’ll heal, and you’ll go back to the way things were, but it won’t ever be exactly the same. … but there are small variations and flaws that weren’t there before.

The notion that we as human beings are flawed & broken is something that we as a society struggle with often. Both conventional and social media can paint pictures of the perfect life, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth: life can be rough and smooth, amazing and cruel, and/or any other set of dichotomies that come to mind. What causes you to struggle may cause others to thrive. Perseverance in the face of adversity can define you just as much as a life full of stress fractures. Once we have been broken, we work on healing; but – for better or worse – we aren’t the same.

I personally have at least some level of stress on a daily basis in my life. I constantly have people and projects to juggle, at both work and home. At times, I feel very broken, ill-equipped to handle the stress; I just want it to go away. I feel like I am a huge letdown to those around me, and feel like giving up. But I’m an adult[2], and I don’t have an option to give up. I have to remain confident and steadfast in the wake of the emotional collapse that stares me in the face. An important point:

At times like this, I try to remember that all those bones I’ve broken have made me the person I am today, and I’m (mostly) pretty satisfied with how I’ve “set”.

We must endure getting “broken bones” from time-to-time along the journey and hope that in the end, we’ll end up ok. We will heal, and that we can endure the next challenge. Perhaps now that we’ve broken a bone once, we know how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.[3] We might not be able to protect ourselves from other breaks, but we will be better equipped to handle the recognizable stresses in our lives.

I’m really thankful that Seth shared what he did; I’ve been thinking about the same thing for a bit now myself, but hadn’t yet shared how I felt. Sharing anything personal can be unnerving, but can also be immensely helpful to others; judging from the responses to his post, he’s not alone, which means neither am I. Having these conversations allows us all to grow, help ourselves, and help others.

Personally, I am slowly getting more self-aware, happier with where I’m headed and can look back at what I’ve endured with both humility and pride. I’m not yet fully set, but I can see the cast coming off soon; I look forward to when I can start down the path of rehabilitation towards the goal of healing. This is all just part of my journey in becoming more human.

  1. An important aside: you will occasionally find yourself needing some outside help. Talking about your stresses is a wonderful thing, whether it be with a close individual in your life or a professional. We aren’t in this life alone, and you shouldn’t endure it without having a support structure. There is zero shame in needing support to heal. If you feel like you cannot handle the stress, I urge you to reach out to someone you trust and get the appropriate help you need.  ↩
  2. really a big kid  ↩
  3. at least not the same way  ↩