How can I best learn from the wisdom and experience of others without discounting what I’ve learned from my own experience and the wisdom of my soul?
My friend and colleague Dr. Mark Howard has an interesting approach to learning from (and teaching) others. He asks them what the world looks like to them, tells them what the world looks like to him, and then they compare notes.
This is not dissimilar to a wonderful process my friends and I devised at university for getting the most out of our assigned reading. We would take a book and based on the title and back-cover blurb, we would spew forth all our own personal thoughts on the topic. By the time we actually opened the book to begin reading, we had primed our minds. Instead of just listening to the “expert” author lecture us about his or her opinions on the subject, our reading took on the form of a dialogue between two thinkers, each with his own access to wisdom and life experience to draw on.
In other words, if you want to know what you think, you may need to actually think first. And you may find it useful to ask yourself a question before you hear how a thousand other people answer it. Then if and when you do go back and hear what other people have to say, you’re comparing notes.
The basis of Tim Ferriss’ new book (and this two-part blog) is a set of eleven questions he sent out to over 100 of his mentors and heroes, asking them to share their wisdom with the world. He then published the best of their answers in his book, Tribe of Mentors.
Before reading the rest of my answers, here are the rest of the questions in case you’d like to have a go at them yourself:
- What is an an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
- In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
- What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?
- What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
- In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realizations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?
- When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)
And here’s the rest of my unsolicited letter to Mr. Ferriss…
My wife sometimes jokes that when she turns on the radio in my car she thinks it must have last been driven by an 80 year old gay man, as the satellite is inevitably tuned to either the Broadway channel or old-time radio shows of the “Richard Diamond, Private Detective” and “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar” variety.
It may in fact be a holdover from long car-rides with my dad growing up, which featured more Glen Miller and Benny Goodman tracks than you could shake a stick at; it may also be that one of the first girls I ever kissed had just seen me play Snoopy in a school production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”. But regardless of how Dr. Freud would analyze it, I do love a good Broadway melody and can spend hours lost in old school radio dramas and the odd evergreen comedy. (Jack Benny, George Burns, and Gracie Allen are among the few early to mid-20th century radio comedians who are still laugh out loud funny today.)
Without question, it’s the insight at the heart of my recent trilogy of books on the inside-out understanding – that every human being is sitting in the middle of mental health – they just don’t know it. Babies don’t need therapy, and what obscures our innate health is a misunderstanding of how the mind works.
We experience our thinking, which is by nature infinitely fluid, but we think we’re experiencing a very real world, which appears to be fixed and relatively unchanging. Each time I wake up to the ever-present nature of thought, my sense of self expands from thought to thinker or from thinker to perceiver and experiencer. My innate health (felt as well-being/deep peace/bliss) rises to the surface and my entire experience of life changes in the way adding a fun soundtrack can lift an otherwise dull movie.
My son is currently 23 and still enjoying his relatively recent entry into the “real world”. He said the best piece of advice I ever gave him growing up was when I shared my story of moving to LA and being shocked that showing up on time and doing what you say you will turned out to be a huge competitive advantage.
But I think the best advice I gave him was when I showed him the movie “Meatballs” and in particular the scene where Bill Murray leads the campers in a rigorous chanting of the mantra “It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!” If there’s one thing almost every young person coming into the “real world” needs to know it’s that you’re entire life isn’t really dependent on how you do on your chemistry final or even how well the first seventeen job interviews go.
So my candidate for the best advice to ignore would be anything that begins with the implication that “these are the best years of your life”. If you get life right, this year can always be the best year of your life, whether your seventeen or seventy and even if all sorts of crap happens that you wouldn’t choose or even wish on your worst enemy.
My first thought was “there are so many”, but if I look at the common theme it’s almost always around emphasizing making money versus service and being great at what you do. It’s not that the money is irrelevant – far from it. But fetishizing the money tends to dehumanize the people, while focusing on serving the people tends to bring in the money.
I think I’m better than I’ve ever been at saying no to the constant invitations to add stress and pressure to pretty much everything. I remember years ago a client telling me about how his sales organization encouraged all their sales people to go into debt buying nice cars and houses so they’d “stay motivated” to sell. Unsurprisingly, he was visiting me for help with anxiety and depression as much as to help him make more money at work.
What I’ve always known is that too much stress and pressure are limiting factors on performance and longevity; what I’ve seen in the past five years is just how little constitutes too much. While I definitely still get caught up in whirlwinds of stress from time to time, the idea of deliberately setting up the game (in life or in my head) in a way to increase pressure now looks borderline insane to me.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the hyper-focus/full engagement that comes with being on the spot or in the spotlight – but any time the focus goes from the activity or task at hand to my thinking about how I’m doing, I go from being highly effective to highly stressed in a matter of moments.
I love the Anne Lamott quote that says “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” With that in mind, I’m one of the world’s great nappers – I find closing my eyes for 10 – 15 minutes, even if I’m only actually asleep for a few seconds, reliably brings me back to my best.
On those days where a nap seems out of reach, a change really is almost as good as a rest, so taking a break to read the latest sports news or play a few rounds of Candy Crush Soda does me a world of good.
And at the risk of losing what might somehow remain of my street cred, occasionally pouring myself a glass of Johnnie Walker Black and closing my laptop-sized window on the world works wonders.
Thanks for the questions, Tim – that was fun!
With all my love,
What do you think? How would you answer this week’s questions?
Have fun, learn heaps, and happy exploring,
With all my love,