Less is More

I’ve been hooked on reading an autobiography of my favorite soccer player Michelle Akers called The Game and the Glory. I can’t put it down. I wrote more about it in a previous post that you can read here. I can resonate so much with her willpower and determination, and this keep-going attitude. Nothing stops her, not even the Chronic Fatigue Immune Deficiency Syndrome (CFIDS) she was battling.

There is one story that really stuck out to me indirectly as I struggle with it all the time—and that’s the need to pace yourself, to care for yourself and rest. In the book, Akers describes how her trainer had a very specific program to follow in order to help prep her for the World Cup tournament. This training was specific and took into consideration the effect that CFIDS had on her body. Week after week, Akers’ performance numbers were going down. Thinking that Akers was perhaps slacking, the trainer was puzzled and frustrated and confronted her about it.

As it turns out Akers was training the 2 hours per session as instructed, but slacking was far from the truth. The trainer didn’t know that after training with him, Akers was putting in another 2 hours of practice. There was a thinking that if she put in double the time, she would output faster results. It didn’t work that way. Her extra training beyond scope actually hurt her body double time, and it took longer to recover from that extra strain.

This story sticks out because I do this all the time. I’ll cram in a 48 hour day into the 24 hour template and then pay the consequences of tiredness for days after. Or I’ll push through anyway and weeks later it all catches up to me. Push more, work harder, work faster…it doesn’t always output the results you intend. Often times, I deeply burn out. For whatever reason, I keep relearning this lesson again and again and again—and again. It’s a habit that is so hard to kick.

As Shauna Niequist writes in her awesome book, Present Over Perfect:

“I want less of everything. Less stuff. Less rushing. Less proving and pushing. Less hustle. Less consumption. […] I’ll come back around this block a thousand times in my lifetime, probably. I hope I’m getting better at it.”

And I want to get better at this too.


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Less is More

Follow the Discomfort

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


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Follow the Discomfort

Track Successes Too

Some habits go the extreme and become rituals. Not that all rituals are bad, but some become a rigid obsession for better or for worse. One of my favorite things to read about are the lives of people and their habitual rituals, which made the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey a fascinating read.

Benjamin Franklin had a strong obsession to habitualize “moral perfection” and practiced perfecting one virtue per week. It seemed quite philosophical of a habit. He went to the extreme of tracking his offenses with a black dot on his calendar daily. This of course is quite unrealistic, but I admire him trying to be so moral. You can read more about the thirteen virtues Franklin studied and his paper tracking system across the internet.

What I would reverse if I practiced this ritual in hopes of forming a habit is to track my successes rather than my offenses. Our society is so big on tracking failures, but we rarely track the good things we do, the wins. It’s important to recognize your failures in order to learn from them, but the successes are important too, even the small ones. When you do good, you want to continue. When you track an offense, you are more willing to quit.

As it turns out, Franklin’s habit tracking here didn’t last long.


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Track Successes Too

Do You Really Want to Know?

“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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Do You Really Want to Know?

Learn to See

When I studied art, I always thought drawing in realistic was difficult because it required acute attention to shadows, light, and shapes as well as the stories they tell. I could exaggerate these truths with my preferred cartoon style. Ed Catmull, Co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and President of Walt Disney Animation Studios, points out that “Art is about learning to see, not drawing.”

He goes on to explain that learning to see can be hard. Sometimes it involves failure, and failure can have emotional aspects to it. He stresses that leaders need to make sure it is safe to fail so your team can progress faster. Don’t punish or give embarrassment. To further progress their team, Pixar strives on learning new things. They take research trips to discover something they don’t know anything about, which fulfills knowledge. Then they also take silent retreats to take care of their souls and be better at being themselves, which fulfills emotional wellbeing. Both of these qualities contribute to Pixar’s creative success. Other leaders, such as Bill and Melinda Gates, follow this same soul-searching practice.

Encouraging curiosity and well-being: I think every organization can learn from this style of leadership and teamwork.


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Learn to See

Slow it Down

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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Slow it Down

Win Goals with Heart

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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Win Goals with Heart