What If You Stop Learning?

Photo of wall clocks and a poster that reads Ask More Questions

For the past few weeks, I stopped blogging, stopped reading, stopped listening to podcasts, stopped learning. I wasn’t taking a vacation or break. I just stopped. I’m not too sure why I was in this funk, but in reflecting back, I can observe something very important. When I stopped learning, I stopped growing.

I got stuck in the monotony of every day routines…same repetitive day job work, the usual routine afterward, sleep, and repeat. This was a pretty awful space to be in. It was boring, a bit un-motivating, and irritating. My effort was standard but not above it.

Why is this an important observation?

This stopping of learning also stopped the growing, the creativity. It stopped the going-the-extra-mile work ethic. It stopped the curiosity. Imagine what this does to your organization? If everyone stopped learning, you would eventually go out of business because the innovative thinking to stay above competition would be lost.

Perhaps this is an extreme way of thinking. —Or perhaps you’re stuck in simply meeting standards day-by-day.  Perhaps you never experienced the seemingly magic that comes from learning new things. The boost of creative energy, passion, and desire to get things done and done efficiently and right knowing it makes an impact.

Everyone grows when learning continues. Life becomes stale, in addition to your organization, when consistent learning of new things is not incorporated regularly and often. “Learning” is not some student-at-a-school thing or a attend-a-professional-development-workshop thing. It can simply be taking 20 minutes a day to read a book, listen to a podcast, talk to someone better than you in your field, or watch a video talk online. It’s not much, but losing those 20 minutes can make quite the negative impact.

Have you stopped?

 

 

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Grieving a Coffeeshop

Photo of a coffee cup

A coffeeshop I have been going to for years closed its doors today. This coffeeshop felt like a second home, and I’m sad to see it go for the employees and the community. As for myself, I did work here, had meetings here, and studied-studied-studied here throughout my five years of grad school with the best cold-blended coffee around to keep me fueled.

This coffeeshop is a chain, and there are other ones in the area; but it isn’t the same. There are a few things that made this place stand out. It wasn’t necessarily the coffee that kept me coming back, though I loved it; and I think these observations are worth noting for any business venture:

Location:

This coffeeshop was in a prime downtown area, that for me at least, was conveniently in my area of concentration when I was in town. It was in my walking path, so it didn’t require a great effort to visit.

Customer Service:

The baristas here learned about their customers and seemed to genuinely care about how their days were going. They were conversational, and I too learned about them as well. In a short period of time, they all knew my regular coffee order before I even said it. One barista, who was a math major cheered me on during the nights I studied statistics endlessly with tutoring and often inquired about my progress. That little bit of encouragement helped me in that dreaded class of mine, and that was the kind of service all the employees had—this make-your-days-better type of service. Coffee fuels people, but a smile and friendly interaction does more.

It really is common sense to have good customer service for your business, but it is quite amazing how many businesses miss this mark. This plays a great role in customer retention regardless the quality of your product.

Atmosphere:

The welcoming and friendly employees helped set the atmosphere for the coffeeshop. They spread this positiveness to customers that I felt stayed in the environment of the shop itself making it calm, comfortable, and respectful. The place brought in students studying, families taking a break with their kids, people waiting for the college football game to start, meetups practicing their international language study, businesses discussing problems to be solved…It’s been an interesting place to see this very diverse and open environment, and I loved this vibe.

The tables alone invite this sharing atmosphere. With various sized tables, there was a place for any group count. Some tables looked to be round and extended kitchen tables, almost symbolizing this coming-together type of feel. Tall lamps instead of ceiling lighting, local artwork on the walls—the decor was more home-like. Lastly, they had electrical outlets everywhere…the most I’ve ever seen at a coffeeshop. It’s as though they encouraged customers to stay, get comfortable, and get your work done without the worry of losing battery life on your laptop or other devices. A clear need for customers and another basic feature most coffeeshops don’t tend to.

In summary, I don’t know the reason why this shop closed. However, in reflecting, I think they did a lot of things right. For being a long-time customer and seeing other long-time customers alongside me, I can observe that the things they did get right was having a convenient location, putting great and personable care into their customer service, and creating a comfortable and creative atmosphere. The awesome coffee just happened to be a good by-product of this experience.

Who knows, maybe they’ll get an “extra shot” and try again some time in the future. I will certainly miss the character of this small coffeeshop, its employees, and its community; but I’ll remember the growth gained from my experiences there. It’s a business that made an impact through experiences, not necessarily products.

Follow the Discomfort

Photo of a Porsche

A friend of mine recommended that I check out the TEDxUCLA talk called “Go with your Gut Feeling” from Magnus Walker. I have never heard of this name, but after listening to his talk I’ll never forget it.

From the outside appearance, you may perceive Magnus Walker as someone wandering through life not likely to get anywhere. In learning his story, it’s a reminder that appearances are not what they seem. Magnus Walker is this free-spirited person, but he is also widely successful. He has built a clothing company, a film location business, and taps into various areas of Porsche cars—restoration, racing, driving, and collecting. He is sought out by companies for collaborations and partnerships. When you hear him talk, he’s so humble about it. He didn’t even know why he was selected to give a TED talk to begin with.

At the end of his talk, his message is simple. Having gone through all the experiences he has been through, he recommends to simply follow your gut feeling. When it feels a bit awkward, that’s a sure sign you’re going in the right direction. Secondly, you need to stay motivated and dedicated.

He describes how he never asked for anyone’s opinion but rather followed his gut and did what he wanted to do. He followed his passion. It’s not much more complicated than that. It’s a phrase we hear often: “follow your passion“, but so few people do this. I can’t count anymore the number of people who offer their opinions about how I should live my life after grad school—where to work, where to live, what to do here and there. All of this is based on what they think success is.

What is so refreshing here is that when Magnus Walker says to follow your gut and passion, he means it because he’s living it. And it’s working out well for him. My observation of people telling me how to live my own life while they continuously complain about their own shows the resistance people having in following their own passion. Perhaps by steering people into following “their path”, they are protecting themselves from facing the truth that they never chose to live their true passion themselves. Perhaps they didn’t have the courage to follow it and ignored their gut feeling instead of listening to it.

It’s not easy to follow your gut, to live your passion, to really be authentic. This is why everyone doesn’t do it. But every now and then you hear an awesome story, like that of Magnus Walker’s; and the refresh button gets hit. Yes, do what you love to do. You only live once.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
-Robert Frost


Check Out What I’m Studying


 

Do You Really Want to Know?

Photo of a sea shell on a beach

“People won’t tell you how they feel until they believe you want to know.” – Sheila Heen

I am often reminded of this quote when people ask me questions. Any question that asks for my opinion or thought. These questions could fall under any category: general work, design, business, news, politics, books, media, life decisions, sports, whatever. Because many struggle to be vulnerable or live out their truly authentic values, it’s common to reply with an auto response to questions in order to brush them away. We may cover it by replying with a vague answer, a safe answer, or perhaps an answer you “think” the asker wants to hear. I am not perfect by any means and have done, and still do, this often.

Take for example the question “How are you?
Good.” —This is likely your typical response.

Or, “Where do you stand on [this] issue?
[The side that you’re on in order to block false judgements or retaliation back]” —This is an easier route to take.

Or, “Do you have ideas for [this]?”
Yes, I think it…“—But you’re interrupted by the asker and choose to just keep quiet instead. —Again, easier.

So, let’s go back and dissect Sheila Heen’s quote: “People won’t tell you how they feel until they believe you want to know.”

Until they believe“. Wow, that could take some time.

It’s a tough task to get someone to believe and trust you. Advertisers try to do this on a daily basis with the brands they are selling. But set aside advertisers, let’s look at you. Are you trustworthy? Believable?…to your employees, friends, family, colleagues? What are your true motives?

How do you get to be believable? Each scenario is different, and I don’t claim to have the answers to this, just the curiosity of exploring it. To start though, I think it comes down to having compassion, open-mindedness, and a listening ear to build this trust.

The next time someone asks you a question about your thoughts and opinions, ask yourself your own question first: Am I filtering my thoughts to plan the best answer outcome for the asker, or am I representing my true values?

How are you?


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Slow it Down

Photo of a turtle

If there is one thing I will always remember my therapist saying when I got highly stressed, it’s to “slow it down”. And time and time again, when I do indeed do this, the results are far better than if I had kept banging my head against the wall. That by slowing it down, we can actually get to our desired destination faster.—yes, it’s true. Our emotions are easier to deal with at smaller scales, and mastering one small step gives us the confidence to take the next.

It is the tortoise that wins the race isn’t it? It’s not the fast, overexerting hare. Gary Vaynerchuk swears by this practice: “You may think I’m frantic…intense…fast…but look closer and understand: Patience matters.” [/] “I’m not going to become a billionaire overnight like Zucks or like Sacca or like Travis, but I’m going to get there as a tortoise. Which is going to confuse everybody because I have a hare’s costume.”

Pressfield talks about the importance of delayed gratification so not to rush into actions and decisions not thoroughly thought out. Quick is where mistakes are made. “The professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out on each individual work.”

Josh Waitzkin, chess player and martial arts competitor, shares the idea of focusing on the micro instead of the macro. Master the smaller techniques and don’t be overwhelmed by the larger picture. When we focus on the brick-by-brick attention, we can slow it down and understand that each small action mastered will eventually build up to complete the grander view. After all, the cathedral is built brick-by-brick. The tortoise will get there faster by being patient, smart, and steady.

We can get somewhere faster by working slower. If you think about it, this is quite a beautiful thing and somewhat a sigh of relief. It’s okay to take a breath. You have time for this. This is a never-ending practice for me and a goal to constantly get better at.


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Win Goals with Heart

Photo of an empty soccer field at night

I’m not quite sure what compelled me, but I recently found myself researching soccer players. And on this deep road, I had to explore a woman player whom I think is the greatest of all time, Michelle Akers. Like me, a #10 starting midfielder, she played every minute with such intensity and passion. Her love of the game and drive to leave everything on the field, holding nothing back, inspired me so many of my own soccer playing years.

And the 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup Championship?—I can’t forget that time. Michelle Akers and the entire team powered through that championship like a true team does, with authentic teamwork and great tenacity. I was young back then, and only now can I truly appreciate not just the sport at this intensity but the lives that these players lived, the challenges they faced. It’s a different perspective to see that they are indeed human like everyone else on and off the field. They had challenges of being a mom while also a player, of endured athletic injuries, and of the slow yet sudden growth of the sport in the media, especially for women, during this time.

I remembered Michelle Akers always being injured in some way, and it was her continuous fight to play that I thought of often when I wanted to quit. Being one of the oldest women players to play in the World Cup, she sported cuts on her face, wrapped up wrists, sore ankles, dashes across her knees that have been operated on multiple times, and a damaged shoulder. Then to learn that she too was battling Chronic Fatigue Immune Deficiency Syndrome (CFIDS) just blew my mind. How was she playing 90 minute games and with such strength? I had to learn more and picked up her autobiography, The Game and the Glory.—I can hardly put it down.

I’m still in the midst of reading, but I am so absorbed by its detailed description of Michelle’s minute-to-minute perspective leading up to the 1999 World Cup final game against China and the time during that matchup. It’s as though I am right there with her and just urging her to not give up while her tank deteriorates toward empty even though I already know the outcome of the championship. And while she was able to hold on during the final game regulation time but got helped off the field from exhaustion prior to penalty kicks, you can feel her sense of just never giving up. It took me right back to this sense I always got while watching her play back then.

So where does this endurance come from?
From my perspective, a few things:

First, curiosity. In the book, she describes how, with CFIDS, she wasn’t in self-pity and thinking “why me?” She was asking better questions. Akers says in a NY Daily News interview, “It was ‘What does this mean?’ and ‘How do you want me to change?’ That was the question I would shout at God.” The book describes how most people decide to change their lifestyle with CFIDS, but Michelle decided to compete with it. Her curiosity opened herself up to learn ‘how’.

Second, awareness. She checks in with herself to see how she is feeling. While it may seem small, this act of self-awareness is key to understanding what next steps to take.

Lastly, heart. She loves the game and has such a commitment to her team, herself, and to her faith.

These three things stand out at me while I read.

I’ve only owned this book for a few hours now and am just a quarter in, but I’m learning and gaining so much. The energy in this read is so powerful and inspiring. I highly recommend checking out this book. I cannot wait to finish the rest of it.


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Negative Creative Talk

A cartoon drawing

It is often said in story that creatives are troubled souls. They live difficult lives which expresses itself in their art. Then they have a challenging career trying and struggling to make a living doing what they love: creating. They don’t take the typical path many people follow. They must create.

Being a creative myself, I think of this. And then I think about many entrepreneurs I interviewed and read about this past winter. Many of them describe a fear of getting in their own way of moving forward in their creative venture. This is so striking to me, and I can relate more than not. Creating a vision, whether its wall art or a business, is creating; and this is hard. Every time. There’s risk to be faced with, vulnerability.

Steven Pressfield writes a whole book about this in The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard this book referenced in other resources I’ve studied since, and I revisit this read often. Pressfield points it out right up front: “It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is resistance.” You can substitute [writing] for your creativity of choice here.

In doodling recently, I sketched this drawing:

A cartoon drawing
Negative Creative Talk: A blank page is thinking “I’m afraid vision will never come to me.” An ink pen is thinking “I’m afraid of making a permanent mistake.”

Figuratively speaking, this illustration highlights the negative self talk we do that builds creative resistance. Some people have visions [blank pages] that never come to life because they’re afraid each move is a pass-or-permanently-fail scenario. Therefore, the steps are never taken where the pen meets paper, where new creativity comes to life.

The reality is that the permanent pen is a pencil, a constant work in progress. It’s only a permanent mistake if you don’t learn along the journey, from both the failures and successes. As a side note, I drew this illustration in pencil, not ink; and I drew it three times before I got it right.

Pressfield also says “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us.” —This is the life we create.

There’s no such thing as creative block, just a fear of putting ink to the page.

Just start. The pen and paper would look far more cheerful if you did.


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Three Central Values

Photo of a street art display

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey references Victor Frankl’s perspective about how there are three central values in life:

  1. Experiential: What happens to us
  2. Creative: What we bring into existence
  3. Attitudinal: Our response to difficult circumstances

Covey highlights that the greatest value here is attitudinal because it’s important how we respond to situations and reframe them in a positive way. While I agree with this assessment, I think it’s also important to put equal emphasis on the creative value. If we simply lived in experiential and attitudinal, we would be in an endless cycle of “this happens” and “this is my reaction”. This back and forth tennis match is not the most exciting. Covey explains the importance of being proactive, which is good; but still the creative gets little attention.

Creative is what brings in the new, the inspiration, and the change. While experiential and attitudinal is important, no doubt, I think there needs to be more creative in order to positively aid attitudinal and exit a negative paradigm.


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What is the Most Valuable Land?

Photo of a green landscape

“What do you think is the most valuable land in the world?”

Several people threw out guesses, such as Manhattan, the oil fields of the Middle East, and the gold mines of South Africa, before our friend indicated that we were way off track. He paused for a moment, and said, “You’re all wrong. The most valuable land in the world is the graveyard. In the graveyard are buried all of the unwritten novels, never-launched businesses, unreconciled relationships, and all of the other things that people thought, ‘I’ll get around to that tomorrow.’ One day, however, their tomorrows ran out.”

– Todd Henry, Die Empty

I like this thought because it reminds me that we only have one shot on this planet. There is another quote that says “Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever does,” and I don’t want to be in this scenario. I want to leave a legacy at my grave, not a wonder of what could have been.

I’ve heard this question and answer a few times recently in other media channels, and it’s a good reminder to step back and reflect on what you’re doing with your life. It’s as valuable as you make it.


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Presentation Notes

Photo of a meeting room

I saw a presentation today from someone providing training to a large group of people on their company software product already purchased. Not only were they providing training, but they too were selling buy-in to the attendees who were not as familiar with this purchasing decision and current implementation progression. I thought the presenter’s delivery was very well done. Here’s why:

  • They stated their “why”, and it felt trustworthy. If you’re not familiar with this concept, check out Simon Sinek’s work.
  • They personalized the presentation by using words like “you” and “your” to connect with the audience.
  • They predicted and highlighted nearly all “if” scenarios I could think of and answered them prior to someone asking the question.
  • They used relatable analogies to describe their product as oppose to jargon.
  • The presentation slides were clean, simple, and had a time-progressing outline so everyone knew where we were within the training agenda.
  • The presentation slides were their own style, not some typical template and outline format most pitches follow.
  • There was a good mix of slides and live demo. All demos were on live customer sites which provided not only credibility but also perspective on how flexible the product can be.
  • The speaker was open for questions any time and answered them with great, professional care. For questions that could turn into product improvements, the speaker noticeably took interest and noted them on his own laptop to bring back to share with the company team.
  • Both strengths and weaknesses were shared, and a product roadmap helped balance the two.
  • The training finished early but without rushing any part of the presentation.

I think it’s interesting to study other speakers and presentation styles. You can always learn something from the content, yes; but you can also learn from the delivery style.