2017 Lesson 2: Expand Your Horizons

2017 was an incredibly rewarding year. Why? I decided to go outside of my comfort zone on several occasions, and man am I glad I did. The one thing I did that really stretched me was a cross-country road trip from Cleveland to Boise and back. Driving cross-country was something I’ve always wanted to do, but never got around to because:
· “I don’t have the money”
· “I don’t have the time”
· “Where would I stay?”
· “I don’t know anyone”
· “I don’t know if my car can make it”
One day in March, I decided to say, “Fuck those fears. I’m doing this.” I reached out to several human resources associations, chambers of commerce, young professionals groups, leadership conferences, and nonprofits about speaking at upcoming events, not sure whether or not they’d throw my email in the SPAM folder or actually listen to what I had to say. Thankfully, out of the nearly 100 emails I sent, I got a few responses, but none of them could afford to cover my full travel expenses. Sure, I was offered a few hundred dollars, but driving over 4,000 miles was going to cost quite a bit of coin. Gas, lodging, tolls, and food on top of my usual bills without really getting a paycheck over two weeks was going to set me back financially, and though I was hesitant, I decided I would figure it out.

Holy shit am I glad I did.

Instead of focusing on why I wouldn’t be able to afford the time on the road, I shifted my focus to what I could do to make it happen and how rewarding of a trip it would be. I ended up booking three speaking engagements (Twin Falls, ID, Emmett, ID, and St. Louis, MO), none of whom could cover my expenses, but dammit I was going to get this done. As far as lodging, I ended up meeting some cool people online via CouchSurfing, a social networking community of people sharing their couches in exchange for meeting new people and hearing their stories – something I really value. My 2010 Honda Accord, Rachaeloaoeoioe (Pronounced “Rachel.” All of the extra vowels are silent), was exchanged for a brand new 2016 Accord, Schoaoeoioeron (Pronounced “Sharon.” Again, all of the extra vowels are silent), at only a small increase in my monthly car payment – definitely manageable. Now that I had destinations, knew where I was going to stay, with people I knew (through the internet), in a car I trusted not to explode on me, it was time to go.

I won’t bore you with the moment-by-moment details of the trip, but it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I:
· Met new people and made new friends in Iowa City, Boulder, Twin Falls, Boise, St. Louis, and Indianapolis.
· Learned all kinds of new things from someone who travels to Jordan to teach English as a second language, an opera singer who would rather be the roots of the tree than the leaves (a valuable lesson), a psychology major who left the comfort of her 9-5 to open a hostel and meet travelers from around the world, a financial planner focused on expanding his network and providing support to entrepreneurs and “gamechangers” in Boise, a teacher with a new perspective on how to look at problem students, and a dude who really loves craft beer.
· Meditated miles away from other humans beneath a sky filled with stars in the deafening silence of the mountains of Idaho, and had a serendipitous shooting star experience confirming to myself spiritually that I was in the right place at the right time.
· Witnessed an event so funny and out-of-the-ordinary, it immediately inspired me to write a comedy sketch about it, did, and ended up shooting and releasing it last month: https://youtu.be/T9iJ-yMaIBs
· Gained an appreciation for how infinite life and the universe is and how insignificant our problems really are while driving through the sheer vastness of the mountains, plains, and desert of Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nebraska, and Kansas.
· Booked a fully paid presentation based off of my presentation in Twin Falls and ensured a second trip cross-country next May.

…All of this because I chose to expand my horizons. The next time I start feeling fear when it comes to doing something new and risky, I’ll always remember what I felt before taking this trip. Now, the fears seem so insignificant compared to what I gained from choosing to expand my horizons. Because I made that choice, I expanded myself as a person when it comes to confidence, spirituality, and emotional strength, in ways I couldn’t imagine beforehand.

What risks are you afraid of taking? Is there something you want to do this year that you’ve been hesitant about? Take it from me, it’s way more worth it to say, “Fuck those fears, I’m doing this,” and then focus on what you can do to make it happen instead of what’s stopping you from doing it.

2018 Prediction #2: There won’t be a Babe 3

Sorry, Babe fans, but it’s been 20 years since Babe: Pig in the City and the demand just isn’t there. Sure there are underground cults worshipping the first two films and hoping that one day a reboot will resurface, but that little pig just doesn’t have the drawing power of a Jurassic Park, Star Wars, or – oh, for fuck’s sake – ANOTHER TRANSFORMERS MOVIE!?
Anyway, I’d bet all of my bacon that Babe isn’t making the comeback we all hoped. Sorry to smoke your sausage.

Feedback? More Like Needback

Do you want to get better at what you do?

Of course you do!

We’re all wired to want to be better, but sometimes it’s hard to see beyond our current situations.

“I’m good where I am.”

“I’m fine doing this the way I have been.”

“I’m so friggin good, I can’t get any better.”

Oh, honey…

Listen, we’re all biased. We don’t always mean to be, but it can be difficult to get a different perspective on ourselves when we spend 24/7 looking through our own eyes. To get better, however, that new perspective is necessary… Maybe a few new perspectives.

When I write a script, I never submit it without asking someone else for their opinion on how I can make it better. This is the first time that person is seeing this script I’ve read over and over for the last week, so chances are, they’re going to see it differently.

That’s the key benefit of asking for feedback.

A common misconception of receiving feedback is that you have to do what the other person suggests. If multiple people who aren’t in contact with each other have the same ideas, that’s definitely a sign you should do something, but if one person says, “Cut this line,” I always make sure to take a step back and ask myself:

“Is keeping this line making my script better?”

“Is it true to the character?”

“Does it advance the action or positively contribute to a joke?”

Whether I choose to keep the line or not, I was able to see the script through new eyes, explore new possibilities, and build my self-awareness, which are all necessary steps to create personal growth.

No matter what you’re working on and no matter what the person offering feedback says, he or she has provided you with a new vantage point and, from there, you can access a new level of self-awareness.* You now have new options and can decide whether to get other opinions, use the feedback, or ignore the feedback, but either way, be grateful to the other person for helping you glimpse a fresh perspective and contribute to your growth.

*Although if they call you an asshole and to never talk again, you may want to reconsider who you get your feedback from.

Why Y Should Be Your Favorite Letter

What’s your favorite letter and why?

Y is a pretty good letter. It’s not the best letter – that distinction goes to ‘D’ – but that’s only because I’m psychologically predestined to be drawn to the first letter of my name more than the other 25 letters. You are too. (https://psychology.iresearchnet.com/social-psychology/self/name-letter-effect/)

Anyway…

There’s just something about Y that really gets me going. Why? Maybe it’s because one of my favorite books is Start With Why by Simon Sinek. Maybe it’s the fact that if the Village People were to make their song about staying at the MCA, no one would ever play it at weddings since no one wants to go to the Motor Club of America. But the true reason is far more metaphorical: y is adaptable.

A, E, I, O, U… and sometimes y.

Sometimes? Y just decided to be a vowel sometimes? Y apparently ain’t nobody’s bitch.

At some point in history, the letter people (not the ones from the show, just a group of people who decided to turn sounds into symbols to make blogging easier) probably got into a heated debate about the letter. Chances are, there was a war that broke out in order to determine whether or not y was a consonant or a vowel, and the war ended in a stalemate, so in order to compromise, both sides agreed that y could be both.

Y transcends categorization and so do we.

We have this habit of shoehorning ourselves into categories because they give us an identity and make us feel safe, but they also limit our potential. Are you right-brained or left-brained? Lucky or unlucky? An optimist or pessimist? Once we’ve shut ourselves into a box, it’s hard to see beyond the cardboard, and even if you cut an eyehole in the side, you’re still limited to what you can see. Want to know why Republicans and Democrats can’t see eye-to-eye? They’ve trapped themselves inside of their own ideological boxes and cut eyeholes looking in different directions, so it’s impossible for them to see the same reality as one another. When we’re children, we’re told what we’re good at and urged to pursue careers involving those talents, then we go through our lives saying we’re “accountants,” “teachers,” or “HR representatives,” and stick within the confines of our job descriptions. This goes against our biology. Like the letter y, we aren’t meant to be confined – we’re meant to develop a diverse set of skills and perspectives so we can live lives of constant expansion, filled with new experiences.

Think of a category within which you’ve confined yourself. How is it limiting you? What new identity can you embrace for yourself that crosses categorical lines and is expansive, rather than limiting? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Creator – When you are confronted with a problem, you quickly shift focus from the problem to what actions you can take to create a solution.
  2. Innovator – You look at seemingly impossible situations and remain steadfast in your belief that a solution is not only possible, but probable by combining old ideas in new ways or by creating new ideas.
  3. Opportunist – You don’t waste any time thinking about whether the glass is half-full or half-empty; you take the glass to the sink and refill it.
  4. Leader – You inspire others to transcend their limiting self-perspectives by example and are focused on serving others in order to help them reach their potential.
  5. Learner – Every moment of every day is a chance for you to gain new knowledge and grow into a more rounded person.

How can you adopt one of these identities today?

Nothing in this world is as neat or tidy as the manmade categories we use to classify things, including the manmade categories we made to classify things to make them neat and tidy. It’s weird. This is why Y serves as a reminder that we are neither consonant or vowel; we are what we make ourselves out to be. The next time you’re on an awkward Tinder date and you get asked what your favorite letter is, tell them Y because you’d rather not stay at the Motor Club of America. You’re way more complex than a fixed self-identity – you’re a friggin badass, but sometimes it’s hard to tell when you’re trapped in a box, so shed your limiting identities and be more like the letter Y.

What’s Your Work Experience?

When you’re filling out a job application or updating your resumé, this is a question you have to consider. Your response is probably a list of previous jobs and brief descriptions that you think make you sound way better than how you would describe those jobs to a friend. Great. Now your prospective employer knows the version of your story you want them to know:

  • Provided quality customer service to customers
  • Accurately calculated ROIs for new company initiatives
  • Efficiently mopped

Looking back, however, what’s more important is your real work experience, or your experience of work. Think of the last job you had, what was your experience? Was it focused on making money to provide for yourself and your family? Was it centered around meeting and working with cool people? Were you there to give back to the community or fulfill a passion? Was it a positive, negative, or just “eh” experience? Was it filled with stress, dealing with impossibly difficult people, and a lack of motivation? Or was it enjoyable, filled with supportive people, and an inspiring, engaging environment? When we think of an experience, we think of something that happens to us or around us, when in reality, our experience is something we create for ourselves based on our perspective. If you work for an accounting firm because of the benefits, you’re going to have a different work experience than you would if you were there because you cared about your coworkers. Ask yourself, “What experience did I create for myself and others at work?” Then ask “How can I improve my current work experience, not only for myself, but for those around me too?”

One of my first days working at a restaurant in Cleveland, one of the people training me told me, “This place is bullshit. Get out while you can.” He was fired not too long after this and, according to him, the reason he was fired was, unsurprisingly, “some bullshit.” I have now worked there for over two years, but I know that if I were to spend it looking for “bullshit,” I’d find it and not enjoy the job like I have. Instead, I focus on providing guests and coworkers a fun, memorable experience by making my positive experience contagious. Though it isn’t my dream job, I have enjoyed every minute of it, all because of my conscious choice to mold my experience to make me and those around me better.

How can two people work at the same place and have two completely different experiences?

Imagine you’re a camera operator at a basketball game. You’re positioned along the baseline under the basket. On the opposite end of the court, a foul is called, resulting in boos from the home crowd and protests from the players. The TV broadcast then cuts to an instant replay from your camera’s angle to see what exactly happened, but because of where you were positioned, you didn’t get a clear shot of the incidental contact between players. However when the broadcast switches to another camera angle closer to the action, the foul becomes evident. Both cameras witnessed the same play, but each captured a different story.

The work experience you create is determined by what you choose to see. If you choose to see the “bullshit,” then it’s going to be tough to create a positive experience for yourself and the people you work with. If your focus is on creating a positive, rewarding experience, the “bullshit” will be harder to come by. What work experience did you create at your past jobs? What work experience are you creating for yourself at your current job? What kind of experience do you want to have? What can you do to change your experience into one that is enjoyable and fulfilling, but also supportive of those around you? Your call to action today is to assess your perspective of work, decide what type of experience you’d like to have, and take one step toward creating that experience for yourself.

Your experience depends on your camera angle, which determines your subsequent action, creating your result. I can’t imagine you wanting to be surrounded by “bullshit,” so create your work experience the way you want. The better your experience, the better the experience for those around you, and the better you perform.

A Weekend State of Mind

TGIF, am I right?

There are 52 weekends in a year, which means there are 104 weekend days. Each week, many people wake up on Friday, anticipating the “freedom” and fun a couple of days off may bring, and go to sleep Sunday, dreading going to work the next five days. That means 261 days a year (including holidays and 1 week of vacation: around 240) are devoted to looking forward to the other 125 or so. To me, this sounds back-ass-wards: why does it make any sense to spend 2/3 of your already way-too-short life focusing on the other 1/3? Remember that scene in Jumanji where elephants and rhinos charge down main street, crushing everything in their path? What if you were in that car that got smashed? You never know when an elephant is going to crush you while you sit at a red light, so my recommendation is to live each moment like it is the weekend. Now don’t go out and start doing shots of Fireball – I don’t mean party like it’s the weekend, I mean carry a weekend state of mind:

  • No matter what day of the week, find something to look forward to each day, whether it’s learning something new in a meeting, building a relationship with a coworker or client, or taking steps closer to achieving a goal.
  • Be in the present moment, not worrying, stressing, or dreading about the endless stack of work in your inbox. When you’re enjoying a game night with friends on Friday, or you’re reuniting with college friends on Saturday, chances are, you’re not worrying about work on Monday. Set weekly and daily goals that engage you and work on completing them, one task at a time. The closer you get to completing them, your brain releases dopamine, the same feel-good reward chemical you get when you’re laughing with your friends at karaoke night.
  • Reward yourself with each goal you complete during the workday.
  • Rephrase “I have to go to work” to “I get to go to work.” This minor change will evoke completely different imagined scenarios in your head. Not everyone has the chance to get a paycheck every week, so keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to be grateful as you move through each day at the office, and take a moment to yourself to let how incredibly lucky you are sink in.
  • Create themed days at the office that break up the routine and keep things fresh. Here are a few ideas:
    • Memorable Meeting Monday: The purpose of this half-hour meeting isn’t to talk about work, it’s to do a short, off-the-cuff table topics exercise so you can learn more about your coworkers with randomly selected prompts from a “topic master.” “Tell us about your most recent vacation or a vacation you’re looking forward to going on,” “What’s a memorable family tradition you have for (insert upcoming holiday here)?” “If you could have any superpower, what would it be and what would you do with it?”
    • Taco Tuesday. Duh.
    • Winning Wednesday: The most important aspect of our workday is the people with whom we work. Go out of your way to have at least six positive interactions with coworkers: learn something new about someone, compliment someone on their attitude, work, or appearance, use any spare time to work together with someone and help them to complete a task they’ve been struggling with, do a small kind deed for someone like getting an extra cup of coffee, offering to make copies for them, or buy someone’s lunch. Make sure you do these on your own, without waiting for someone to ask you. (Also, chances are, Whiskey Wednesday isn’t going to fly with HR).
    • Thankful Thursday: Have a gratitude board where everyone can see it, and write down at least one thing you’re grateful for, not necessarily about work. Also, go out of your way to call a client, write an email to a coworker, or tell them in person why you’re grateful for them and what they do.
    • Each Friday, have a different themed dress-up or dress-down day. From onesies, to cowboys, to the roaring 20s; get creative. At the end of each Friday, get together as a team to celebrate each other’s accomplishments and set goals for the upcoming week.

Only looking forward to around 125 days a year seems absurd and self-defeatist to me. When I was in school, I found myself moping around at the thought of having to go back the next day, and I missed out on opportunities to enjoy the experience. Since then, I’ve carried a weekend state of mind, no matter how many cold emails I have to draft, presentation proposals I have to draft, and videos I have to edit. Any and every experience can be fulfilling and fun, and if you’re going to spend 40 hours somewhere, you might as well create that in every moment. However, if you’re looking forward to the future, you’re missing out on the present, and robbing yourself of the opportunity to be engaged and enjoy the moment you’re in.