Yourself, Be Yourself – Lessons from December 2017

Being Yourself Takes Courage

I don’t think I realized how much work it takes to infuse yourself into your work.

Instead of a month dedicated to the concept, at some point, I realized that it is a decision that happens, moment to moment, hour by hour, and day by day. Being yourself is hard because the rest of most of our world doesn’t like it because it makes you hard to predict.

It is far easier to make sure someone says the “right thing.” Because if they say the “right thing” they are more likely to dress the “right way.” If you “dress” the “right way” they are more likely to buy the “right stuff.”

Sooner than later, you have a profile of a segment of the population, and life becomes much more predictable.

Predictability means persuasion.

So, keeping a lid on individuality is a priority of many a social structure. The cost of that cap is lost innovation, creativity, and courage.

So, ask yourself this question.

Are you bringing your full self to this conversation? If not, how do I bring just a little bit more?

Build that muscle.

Becuase once you stop being afraid of being unpredictable, you can concentrate that energy on making an impact on projects that matter.

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2017 In Review: The Major Lesson

The Lesson Is…

August 2017:

Picture me sitting on my couch in a sticky New York City apartment, hands on my head on the verge of tears.

Somewhere, somehow, I lost something.

That thing? Courage.

The lesson? Courage is a muscle, and I had let it atrophy. I didn’t know it then, but soon, it would be evident.

One of the people I look to as a paragon of courage is Cornel West.

The Harvard professor, no matter the moment, seems to lean on his extensive reading of history, morality, philosophy, divinity, politics, and organizing to be a voice for the voiceless, from around the world.

He has done this during unpopular administrations in the United States Critiquing the foreign and domestic policy of each regime, with the focus of the defenseless (often people of color and LGBTQ). For that, he received a ton of praise.

He also did it during the administration of the first black and highly popular president, one where most black intellectuals were silent.

For this, he has found himself on the outs with many “well to do” African Americans, a group that was once his base of support.

Even so, every day and every speech, he lobbies for the voiceless, while being called every name under the sun.

Is he perfect? Not at all. None of us are. I am sure someone who may read this will bring up a critique of Dr. West. Perhaps it is valid.

However, one thing you cannot do is mention a lack of courage. Dr. West has been a consistent voice for the voiceless, both when it beloved and when it isn’t.

When I sat on that couch in August, I recognized that while I held on to many things, like anger and resentment, I let courage go by the wayside.

This year has been hard for me emotionally.
While I’ve spent hours with my team working on building Life as Usual into something interesting, speaking at wonderful events, and writing, I also had dreams dashed, work demolished and felt disrespected.

That caused me to stop working on being vulnerable and retreat. That retreat caused me a lot of pain.I need courage as fuel as a firestarter. When I shut it off to feel protected, I start a feedback loop that damages me psychologically.

In 2016, in the middle of me quitting a job and losing my startup, I felt okay, because it was a courageous year. What looked devastating on the outside was terrific on the inside because I constantly worked the muscle.

2017 was the opposite. I got more comfortable, and I turned courage into some event, instead of a daily practice that I had when I was more unstable.

When I look at Cornel West, he walks, talks, and acts courageously because in his existence he works his courage out by telling the truth. He seems not to resent anyone and calls everyone brother or sister. He recognizes everyone’s humanity (even when a “side” doesn’t want him to).

I recognize for me to do the same, I’ll need to get back to leaning on the daily courage to sustain me.

The good news is that with a new year, there will be plenty of opportunities. If you read this, feel free to keep me honest.

2017 In Review: Top 10 Book Suggestions

Reading is a Super Power

I have a love affair with books. I use the term love affair because my habits around them tend to be as chaotic as relationships tend to be. For example, in 2015 I spent a lot of time reading non-fiction, philosophy, and some metaphysics around self-awareness. If you switch over to 2016, you’ll see much more focus on the psychology of execution.

The effect is the same, they changed how I saw the world, sometimes much later than expected.

One thing I’ve recognized is that the effects of such books surface much later than when you read them. A book’s worth is measured by how much it affects your DNA, your perception, and what you think is possible. The books listed here have made a dent, and I recommend them because they might do something for you as well.

Without further ado, Top 10 Book Selections

Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal By Oren Klaff

Power dynamics exist. I think it is important to state that up front because it is comfortable to dismiss this when it is comfortable. “Type A” personalities or those in contact with “type A” need to have a toolset to operate. Pitch Anything gives that person something to work with to start to read a room, and then transform it to help your purposes. Dismiss this at your peril. If there is a nagging part of you that says “I don’t need to use persuasion because I have all the facts,” know that the person that doesn’t have the facts is counting on you keeping the “high ground.” Don’t let the world suffer because of your ego.

Use: power dynamics, negotiation

The Knowledge: A Too Close To True Novel By Steven Pressfield

This book was my first time reading Steven Pressfield fiction, and I am happy to say it is a page-turner just like his nonfiction. The Knowledge is a fictionalization of Pressfield’s life, and inside the margins, you’ll find lessons on understanding “the work,”  the mysticism surrounding the creative process, the power of distraction, your own bullshit and so much more. Creatives heed, this book will help explain some of the strange things that tend to happen when you want to get something done.

Use: understanding yourself, creative process

Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts by Ryan Holiday

Crafting something is hard. Putting it into perspective is even harder. Wanting something “now!” and thinking the rest of the world is ready for it is a trap that we, as makers, continuously fall into when we make things. Ready for an uncomfortable truth? The last thing you’ve made wasn’t ready for primetime, and unless you make some changes in how you work and seek feedback, you won’t grow from it. Ryan Holiday has written something that has shifted my perspective on the process and as a result, improved the quality of what I am working on, project wise. You’ll see the results in 2018.

Use: process, growth

SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient – Powered by the Science of Games By Jane McGonigal, Ph.D

Depression is a part of me, and it has taken almost 30 years of life to acknowledge it. It has been hard to talk about, much less tackle as a part of my personality. That is what makes what Jane McGonigal’s work so important. I’ve never had a book describe tools to help manage anxiety, sadness, and overwhelm in such a fun way. Each of the quests contains methods to use your self to get you better quickly.

Use: self-awareness, depression management

The Chomsky Reader  by Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky is known as America’s most cited scholars and isn’t just the father of modern linguistics, but also is a leading voice in history, foreign policy, and politics. This book contains many of his critiques on topics such as the intellectual class, class warfare, crimes perpetrated by America/Western Europe on communities around the world, and many other enlightening topics. He also takes the time to cite everything, giving you the opportunity to refute (if you are curious). This book was an important stepping stone to help me understand the world around me.

Use: foreign policy, social policy

Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach

Man. The inner critic in my head screams at me all the time. Every mistake, both perceived and real, are used as ammunition in this trial that never ends. This book from Tara Brach is a reminder that this is a journey. We are not judged by each step, or even by where we go. Life is about the experience, and we are striving to be our best selves. I leave this on my shelf to remind me that I and others are doing the best they can, and give my inner critic a break.

Use: inner critic, self-reflection

The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships by Neil Strauss

This book is uncomfortable. It lives to the subtitle by investigating love, intimacy, and sex in a raw, well-written way. As part autobiography and part therapy session, Neil Strauss lets you into many worlds, including sex parties, harems, and even sex addict therapy. Even more interestingly though, he talks about himself, his relationships, and his growth. Strauss bares all, and in it got me thinking about the relationships in my life much more proactively while helping me drop my judgments on how people express themselves sexually. A tall order and he delivers.

Use: Relationships, sexuality

Product Management in Practice: A Real-World Guide to the Key Connective Role of the 21st Century  by Matt Lemay

This year has been my first year being an official “product manager.” As a product strategist, I’ve had to learn how to do almost everything that a product manager does, on the fly. To assist that, I’ve read a bunch of books on the subject, while calling on my experience as a founder and mainframe architect. Matt Lemay has written the only book that I feel accurately captures the day to day I experience, along with the decisions I have to make. If you want to be a product, and wonder what it is like, read this.

Use: Product management, strategy, decision making

Against Interpretation and Other Essays by Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag is known as one of America’s greatest essayists. This compilation will show you why. She has a fiery point of view and writes courageously about the arts, white / male supremacy, and life itself. I made a goal to implement more gender diversity in my reading in 2017, and like the book that I started this year with, this opened my eyes to a well written, clear, honest view of the world that made me feel uncomfortable and as a result, helped me grow. Pick it up.

Use: perspective, art, excellent critique

Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is And What You Can Do About It  by Steven Pressfield

Ha! Twice in one year. I’ve loved what I’ve read from Steven Pressfield this year, and this short, impactful, compelling book is no different. Here, he talks about his career, ranging from being an ad man to picking apples in California (yes, seriously) and puts together lessons he learned to write something some wants to read. It is a reminder that the arc of a career is long, and every piece of your journey informs another. If you are just starting, please believe no one wants to read, listen, see, or anything else with your shit, but if you stay uncomfortable and dedicated, one day someone will. This book helps you know that.

Use: Process, journey, creating

2017 In Review: Success

Let’s Build :-).

Don’t forget your success.

Our successes are critical to remember because:

  • Our brain has a natural tendency to forget the positive and focus strictly on the negative.
  • In our successes lay keys to more success (think – MOMENTUM).
  • The network and community we live in want to see us grow.

So, this is why I am taking a moment to document my three biggest successes of 2017, and what I intend to do to build on them moving forward.

Success

Working out

I’ve worked out more than I thought this year.I set the goal for three times a week, and as of the current moment, I’ve averaged over five days for the last six weeks of 2017! (That includes the dreaded holidays 🙂 )

Improvement

I want to move “working out” to be a daily ritual no different than making my bed or brushing my teeth. My hope is by making that mental shift; I now can focus on more interesting physical skills like a martial art.

Success

Community

I’ve been blessed to work with Farnam Street, AltMBA, and Startingbloc to varying degrees. My input has shaped communities and brought me into contact with some amazing people.  Events like “Open Mike Night” in the city has widened my network. I’ve been able to get people jobs, create new friendships, and create opportunities for others.

Improvement

I want to turn coffee meetings and lunch into an everyday event. I want to work on my skills of connecting people.

Success

Content

I shipped a “season” of video content on YouTube, written two essays, and have been able to be interviewed.  Through my job and my content, I’ve been able to put in more hours into presenting my findings and material to teams, and from that, I’ve learned much more about the work that goes into an excellent presentation.

I got a chance to record the next “season” for 2018, as well.

Improvement

More exposure, focusing on how I “sell” what I make to different audiences. I’d like to also get in front of more people live, do more Q&A, and test out what I know.

2017 In Review: Failure

Failure is fascinating.

At the moment, it is destructive. You are emotionally crushed, feeling, well, like a failure.

Sometimes, the best disinfectant of that feeling is making that failure public. It doesn’t feel like it at the moment because most of our socialization points to people being “after us.” The truth is, most of us are good, and discovery of each other, especially in good faith, are stepping stones for all of us to grow.

So being vulnerable in the moment and exposing what you failed at, and the lessons you learned doesn’t just help you. It helps the community to which you belong.

All it takes is a moment to forgive yourself and the courage to show yourself for who you are.

Here are my three most significant failures of 2017, and how I plan on growing at this point.

Failure One

Protecting myself at Philosophie. At a certain point, I stopped looking for improvements in the name of self-preservation. Instead of trying to solve problems I saw that did not concern me, I let them rot, covered in my resentment from not feeling heard. The result was a somewhat more protected Adam externally, some lingering bitterness internally, and a company that isn’t that much better from when they hired me.

Improvement: Find small things I can improve over the next six months, look for places of ownership, and being honest about my reservations with leadership. Action and communication win out in the end.

Failure Two

My weight loss plateaued. Instead of losing the weight I set out on, I stopped around mid-year. This plateau even continued when I ratcheted up my workouts to 6x a week because I ate whatever I wanted.

Improvement: A renewed focus on what I eat. Rebalancing a meal plan, making a promise to be more public with what I eat (feel free to reach out if you want to keep me accountable for this)

Failure Three

I didn’t ship enough work. I started the year with a goal to write twelve essays. I ended up with two. The feedback on both has been fantastic, which tell me I need to do more, including more outreach. The basis of all of what I do requires the work as the foundation, and I didn’t hit the targets I set.

Improvement: Set concrete, public deadlines for essays. Connect with media outlets on medium and pitch something at least once a month (external accountability). Do podcasts around the ideas of those pieces (Q&A and critique)

Rough is, For Me

Rough is…

The first day back from missing a gym day.

Avoiding a sandwich when I feel insecure.

Telling the truth in a desperate circumstance.

Quitting for something better.

Giving a damn when you don’t know if the other side does.

The first few reps when starting a new habit.

Shipping when it hurts, and you aren’t sure it will.

Looking bad to grow when it is easy to look good and feel better about yourself.

Letting someone down because you aren’t good enough.

Surmountable in the moment with a breath.