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Sam Davidson's blog

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Best You Can Be

We're all striving to be the best, and well we should be (mediocrity is not a fun place to live). But while chasing "best" can be a noble and admirable pursuit, we'd be wise to pause a moment and define what "best" is exactly. 

Usually, it's wrapped up in meaning:

  • Fastest
  • Smartest
  • Richest
  • Thinnest
  • Prettiest
  • Handsomest
  • Suavest
  • First

But being our best selves is deeper than this. We've got to escape the race toward what someone else defines as our best and instead live up to an inner standard we set for ourselves. It's time we considered being our best self to mean:

  • Authentic
  • Vulnerable
  • Honest
  • True
  • Candid
  • Genuine

When we possess those qualities - and in increasing measure - then we'll arrive at a place where we truly are our best selves, measuring not by speed or external standard, but by depth and meaning.

Being the best isn't a one-time achievement. It's a lifelong journey.

Sam DavidsonComment
Easy or stronger

Nearly every product wants to make your life easier. The ones that make this case most clearly fly off the shelves.

Some products want to make you stronger. They don't sell as well. 

Fast food is a bigger industry than health food and recliners and TVs outsell fitness equipment, even though we all know what's better for us.

Easy is a promise that's a breeze to make, offering quick results. Strength is a tougher sell, requiring time and hard work. 

But easy doesn't make anyone strong. On the contrary, getting stronger makes things easier.

Easy isn't always an option. Stronger is.

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Sam DavidsonComment
Taste it or tweet it

Why did you go to that restaurant, order that beer, go on that vacation, or attend that work out class?

Did you do it just so you could tweet it or Instagram it? Or so you could be so wrapped up in something special and unique as to never forget it?

Look, I'm one of the guilty ones. I've postponed digging into a meal so the lighting and angle could be just right while I snapped a pic. I've positioned a craft beer so that my friends would be jealous later when they saw the delicious time I was having. And, I've paused after a workout to take a picture so you could see how early I get up to go sweat.

And while taking home a photographic memory can be special, when it takes away from the experience itself, we're cheapening these very moments we're trying to capture. It's impossible to catch the fullness of the moment when you have to pause that fullness mid-progress to pose and smile. 

We can't suck the marrow out of life when we're waiting for the perfect pose.

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Taste first, tweet later. Dive in deep, worry about the picture later. Better to have lived and wish you'd gotten a picture than snap lots of pictures of mediocre memories.

Sam DavidsonComment
Fear-based or fear-aware

I put my daughter up on this wall. It was her idea.

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As she gets older, her tolerance for risk is growing. She’s no longer afraid to jump into the pool’s deep end and swim underwater. She’s asking how old she has to be to stay home by herself while I run to the grocery store. She straps on a helmet and rides her bike. She's more ambitious when she plays.

Of course, some of these requests and new behaviors - while seeming to do away with the fear she once had - stir up new fear within me. As she gets older, I tense up a bit at the thought of her getting a phone, driving, and making decisions about relationships.

But, I also know - and have known from very early on as a parent - that this is the goal. The point is not for me to protect her; it’s to guide her into a mindset and life whereby she can make these decisions in a way that is smart, wholesome, and true to herself. Preventing her from getting a phone until she’s 38 doesn’t help her; talking to her about proper usage and how the phone is a tool and not an idol does (no matter how old she is when she has one of her own). 

How big is your risk pool?

As we get older, we swim in ever increasing (size and depth) pools of risk. We take out loans to go to school or buy a house. We commit to long term relationships. We start companies. We start families. We move to new cities to chase opportunities, be they in the form of people or jobs. Gone are the days when going down a water slide was the scariest thing we’d do in a given week. 

As we encounter these risks, fear sets in. Evolution has given us this gift so we slow down from time to time. Our hunter and gatherer ancestors couldn’t eat just every berry; they had to weigh the risks of certain ones and consider which ones had made fellow tribe members sick in the past. Others had to weigh whether trying to spear that snarling wolf for dinner would be worth the effort if their aim was off and then the tables turned. 

We do the same today. We weigh whether the status and comfort of that house for that sized mortgage is worth the stress that comes with such a financial commitment. Is the upside of our new venture (financial independence one day) worth the short term cuts to our personal budget?

How fear shapes our actions

And so we can evaluate any given situation by being either fear-based or fear-aware.

Fear-based prevents us from taking action. Basing our decisions on the fear that is present means we’ll do less and less. The risk is too great (even if the statistics are in our favor). The threat of the worst possible outcome is too overwhelming for us to move forward.

I know people who didn’t see a movie in a theater for an entire year after a gunman opened fire in a Colorado movieplex years ago. The likelihood of a copycat was extremely rare, but many people made a fear-based decision and only chose to watch movies at home for a good long while. 

The list could go on: people are still afraid to fly post 9/11; some people won’t buy a home because of what happened in 2008; people stay away from traveling to certain countries because they rank high on a kidnapping list; kids aren’t allowed to play outside as much; we still have to take off our shoes when getting on a plane; religions are profiled based upon the extreme actions of a few adherents - you get the picture.

Fear-based decision making locks us in to our way of thinking, assuming that the worst case scenario is the most likely scenario. As such, we live isolationist, paranoid lives. This is no way to be. 

The better (fuller, deeper, richer) tactic is to live fear-aware lives. This mindset acknowledges the risk inherent in any given situation, but lets you move forward. It does not trick you into naive decision making (that would be fear-ignorant), but instead helps you take the smartest course of action while still actually taking action. 

Last year, I went to Alaska. One of the highlights of my week there was a hike up Mount Roberts. My biggest fear that morning wasn’t that I couldn’t handle the steep climb or the rocky terrain. My biggest fear was that I’d encounter a bear and be eaten alive. I hear the bear community is spreading the rumor that entrepreneurs taste delicious. 

The way to make completely sure I wouldn’t be eaten would have been not to hike at all. I could have stayed in town, browsed some gift shops, gotten lunch, and called it a day. But where’s the adventure in that? 

So that I could press on, I first reminded myself that bear attacks are extremely rare. I then took into account that during that time of year, vegetation that attracts bears was not yet fully in season where I was. Taking into account other factors - densely populated area, highly trafficked trail - and my odds of attack kept dropping. Then, by employing recommended behaviors related to noise and speed, the chances of my becoming bear brunch that day were nearly eliminated. (Nearly, not completely.)

And hike on I did. And oh, the views.

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If I made my decision fear-based rather than fear-aware, I'd miss that vista. If I think I can eliminate all risk before moving forward, I’ll always stay where I am. And if I stay where I am, I can’t march forward toward destinies like success, greatness, community, and belonging. 

Ethic of risk

I was part of a church community once that had as once of its core values “an ethic of risk in everything we do.” We wanted to take risks in how we served others. In the topics we discussed in our community. In how and where and when we met. This was a meaningful religious experience for me, I think largely due to the fact that risk was a value and was embraced, and not something to be shunned and avoided. 

In my life, I hope an ethic of risk can be present. Certainly, I feel this risk the second I wake up each day given what I do. No matter the size and longevity of any of my entrepreneurial endeavors, I will always acknowledge the risk present in starting something new. Even now, when things at Batch are growing and our team is thriving, I still live with the notion that this all could disappear overnight.

But the risk I feel doesn’t paralyze me. It propels me. It spurs me on. To do more. To dream bigger. To work harder. To love my team deeper. To think more critically. An ethic of risk is present for the entrepreneur and it should make him or her take smart action. 

But truthfully, an ethic of risk should be present for all of us, no matter our line of work or tolerance for risk-taking. You cannot eliminate risk. The quest to do so is futile. The better balance is to evaluate a situation and determine your stomach for it. Then, to proceed with abandon. 

Staying home and doing nothing is a risk, too. Not because a random gas leak could explode your house while you’re inside, but because you’re risking not meeting people, making a new friend, and enjoying what all can happen outside your four walls.

The difference

Fear-based decision making says don’t sky dive. Fear-aware says double check the parachute and then take the leap. 

Fear-based says never let your kid play outside because they’ll get kidnapped. Fear-aware says teach them what to do if a stranger approaches. 

Fear-based says don’t start a company because you could go bankrupt. Fear-aware says don’t start a company in an industry you know nothing about. 

Fear-based says don’t share your heart with anyone in case they break it. Fear-aware says but maybe they won’t.

Fear-based says stop. Fear-aware says look both ways. Fasten your seatbelt. Make sure the brakes work. Fill the car up with gas. 

Now, floor it.

Why You Do It

This is an interesting observation about the fact that when the Wright brothers made their historic first flights, no one noticed. Seriously - no newspaper coverage for weeks.

Just kidding.

No one covered it for years.

You may well toil at your mission and your passion for a while. And while you're working, no one is noticing. Your work may be wonderful, but the notoriety, the fame, the accolades? They're all going to someone else.

So what do you do?

You keep working. There is no other choice.

If you're only chasing the quick fame of a headline, you'll be sacrificing the deeper impact that comes with longevity. And the difference between 15 minutes of fame and meaningful history-making is a little word called "legacy."

Great work that creates meaning builds a legacy; quick work that creates attention builds hyperbole.

It turns out that headlines rarely change the world anyway. Legacy does.

Do the work and people will notice. Eventually. 

And when they do, they'll never forget.

Sam DavidsonComment
Dreams Are Cheap

Dreams are cheap. My guess is that the going rate is a dime a dozen. Maybe even half that this time of year.

And that's because dreaming is free. 

There's no hourly rate to dream your day away. You can do it while you do other things - while in a meeting, while folding laundry, or on the subway. 

But, work is expensive. Progress costs time and money. When you need to get to work on that dream of yours, you'll have to pay the price of not doing something else. 

For this same reason, marching will cost you more than tweeting. Speaking up will require more than ranting in your head will. 

As a result, what is done is always worth more than what is dreamed

Be a dreamer if you like, but I'll trade a thousand dreamers for one doer and I'll come out ahead every time. 

 

Sam DavidsonComment
The Choices You Make

Go read the success story of any famous person. Dig deep into the life history of someone you admire. Ask a loved one to tell you the full story of his or her life.

What you'll find is that for every person, success was a choice. Sure, the ball bounced someone's way a time or two. Or luck may have knocked on their door when they least expected it. But no one climbs a ladder by accident. No one falls into a giant bucket of success. 

Success is a choice. 

And while you're at it, so is:

  • Hope
  • Kindness
  • Love
  • Patience
  • Friendship
  • Time
  • Money
  • Your vote
  • Focus
  • Creativity
  • Skill

The power is in your hands. More than ever before. 

Now, go do something great with all that power you have.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure." - Marianne Williamson

(This post was inspired by this article about planning and dreaming.)

Sam DavidsonComment
You Can Be the Best in the World

You can’t be the best in the world at everything, but you can be the best in the world at something.

You see this guy? 

That’s Robert Jensen and he’s the best in the world at cleaning up after plane crashes (and other major disasters). Sure; it’s not rosy or happy and nothing any of us can major in at college, but he’s the best. And he’s found work that is both lucrative and fulfilling. 

Parents tell kids that they “can be anything they want to be” when they grow up. And while that’s nice to say, very rarely does it become reality. Once I learned I couldn’t hit a curveball in high school, I had to give up on the idea of becoming a Major League baseball player. 

And thankfully so. While I’m not the best anything in the world yet, I’m pretty damn good at a few things professionally (and getting better). And I bet you are, too. 

When you become the best in the world, it’s inevitable that you’ll make money. And I bet with your success (financially and reputation-wise), you’ll find some happiness, too (but be careful - these aren’t always related). You just have to be ready to dig in and focus on becoming the best.

That road won’t be speedy or easy, but the upside is that the choice is entirely yours. With so many industries and careers that didn’t even exist during your formative childhood years, just think of all you can be now!

Don’t be average at someone else’s dream or path. Be the best at yours.

More Voices in Your Head

It's easy for any of us to keep listening to the same voices, those that always agree with us and keep us comfortable, whether it be political opinions or general life advice.

But when things stay the same, growth can't happen. Therefore, if you want to grow in 2017, you need to get some different voices in your head.

Want to be a better baker? Start following come kitchen rock stars on Instagram.

Need to step up your sales game? Hit the library and check out the top books by masters in that field. 

Listen to new radio stations, unsubscribe from some email lists and add new ones, go to therapy, make a new friend, keep a journal, pick up a different magazine at the stand, or follow different pages on Facebook. 

We're in control of media more than ever before. With so much choice, why wouldn't you add different perspectives that will make your smarter, better, stronger, faster, or more of anything you dream of being? 

Of course, you'll need to pay attention to your signal-to-noise ratio, quickly ditching anything that isn't adding value and is leading to distraction. But I bet by the end of this month, with the right focus on seeking out new ideas, you can add five actionable items that, when complete, can make this year your best yet.

Sam DavidsonComment
Beware the Pop

The firework was meant to impress us, to dazzle us with its brief illumination against a dark sky. 

It was never built to keep us warm in that same darkness, even though its temperature can reach well over 1,200 degrees. 

In a world that gives attention to media platforms that reward bursts, be sure to find time and give more attention to those ideas and relationships that build your fire within. 

Seek the shock of the sparkle for occasional entertainment, but keep searching after a home where a steady fire burns for you. Find work and love that offers a continual kindling for your spirit, and not just flash for your eyes. 

There's a lot that you can be excited about today: resolutions, dreams, plans, goals, habits, commitments, and beginnings. But fireworks fade. 

Give time today to the thing that'll keep you warm and feeling at home six months from now, not just the thing that is screaming loudest at you today.

 

Sam DavidsonComment
What I Did the Day After the Election

3:04 AM:
I woke up to a text message saying that - effectively - Trump had won. He isn't who I voted for, so I was a bit disappointed and, of course, surprised (shocked, really). I went to bed thinking this thing was headed to a multi-state recount but then, in the middle of the night, I woke up and checked some news sites on my phone and sure enough, saw the truth. I laid awake for another 90 minutes or so thinking what this meant for me, my daughter, my business, and the rest of the country. I wondered how it could have happened, how experts were so wrong, and how so many people could vote for him. I wondered what I'd say to my daughter.

6:36 AM:
My daughter, awake and eating her breakfast on the couch as her morning ritual, was getting ready to start the day. I knew I needed to tell her the outcome of the election before she went to school, so I did. 

"Hey," I eased in gently. "Yesterday, a lot of people voted for Donald Trump and he actually won the election."

"Is he going to be the President?" she asked.

"Yeah. I'm afraid so."

She teared up. She wanted Clinton to win and over the last few months would ask people who they were voting for. At the mock election at the local library, she cast a vote for Clinton and on more than one occasion I heard her tell someone, "Donald Trump says mean things about girls," which, as we know, is true. 

A little piece of her world came crashing down. I assured her that no matter who the President is, that I love her. That her mom loves her. That lots of people love her. And that today at school, she could find lots of adults that care about her whom she could speak with about how she felt. 

Eventually we started watching Kids Baking Challenge and then left for school.

7:42 AM:
I call my best friend James to check in quickly. He's at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown with his girlfriend and her family. It's not a long call as such and we don't wade too deeply into our post-election feelings. It's nice to hear his voice on the other end of the line, even if both of us - usually very optimistic people - are finding it hard to be that right now. 

7:50 AM:
As I'm walking to a coffee meeting, I call my girlfriend to chat briefly, mainly about how we're each feeling about the results. We're both stunned and a bit confused. 

8:00 AM:
I meet my friend Andrea for a long-scheduled coffee and catch up. We picked this date weeks earlier, not even thinking about what the outcome of the election would be. We saw each other and hugged. It felt good to have someone to sympathize with and debrief some of this whole thing in person. The discussion quickly moved on to catching up on work and family.

9:00 AM:
Another coffee meeting, this time with a student from Belmont who needs to interview me for a paper he's writing about entrepreneurship. It feels good to focus on and talk about something else for a while. 

10:24 AM:
I call Rob, my business partner and close friend. He jokingly answers the phone, "Rob speaking. Here to make America great again." He, an ardent Clinton supporter and donor, is nearly speechless. He tells me that his daughter, a kindergartner, is also taking the result hard. To children who got into this election mirroring their parents, losing on a national scale like this is hard. 

After all, for many of my peers, we've backed a winner the last two times. As such, it felt like the US was heading in a certain direction and all the Trump rhetoric was a u-turn from that. And here was a qualified and tested candidate in Clinton. Certainly this would be easy, right?

11:15 AM:
I pick up lunch at Chipotle. The line is long. It just looks like any other Wednesday in America. 

11:30 AM:
I eat lunch with my girlfriend and we watch CNN to see what people are saying. Lots of experts who were wrong thinking somehow now they're right about why all this happened. We can't take too much of it, so we switch it to HGTV. I normally hate watching The Property Brothers but I find them more palatable than the alternative at that moment. 

During the commercial, my girlfriend and I talk about echo chambers and how all of us live in one. Everyone in our respective social media feeds was voting like us. Then again, most of our feeds look like us, act like us, shop like us, and eat like us. We all seem to congregate with people like us, I think, no matter who we backed.

12:44 PM:
I go back to work. Emails and orders keep coming in. Gotta keep up. I check Facebook (one of my echo chambers) intermittently. I see friends and family trying to process what can only be described as grief. I want to hold out hope. It's difficult, though. It's easy to talk about hope when your candidate wins, but hard to hold onto it when she doesn't. Then again, hope isn't forged in Heaven. Its true test is how formidable it can become when facing the fires of Hell. Easy hope isn't hope at all, I think.

2:15 PM:
I call my friend Jodi. It's been a few months since we've spoken. She's experienced more loss than anyone I know this year and this just heaps it on. Her husband passed away unexpectedly in February. "I just wish I had someone to hold," is the first thing she tells me. We move on and begin to catch up, talking about work and relationships and a book idea. Things start to sort of feel a bit normal. 

3:20 PM:
I see on Instagram (another echo chamber) that a local business is offering its space as a place where people can come and process their feelings. "Would they be offering that if the election results were different?" I wondered to myself. I can't imagine so. Not everywhere is an equal opportunity safe space. 

4:01 PM:
My college roommate calls. We don't talk often as he lives in Florida, has two young kids, and is working hard in his career. He opens with, "So you proud of my home state?" We chat briefly, again, flabbergasted. There's no easy conclusion or explanation, but it's good to connect with him again, even if it is in the midst of an inexplicable haze. When things are blurry is when we find it easiest to reach for another hand.

4:15 PM:
I meet my daughter and her mother for an art reception. One of her drawings was chosen to be put on display in the front hallway of her school and they're honoring her and other students with a reception (cookies and punch). When life gives you lemon, make art.

5:19 PM:
I start dinner for me and my daughter. We eat our noodles and work on a puzzle. It feels like home. Here, inside, tucked away from a world we thought we understood (good always wins, right?) it feels like we can make it another day. That's what home should be for all of us - a place to go to celebrate and grieve, to grow and to heal. 

But so many fellow Americans don't feel like this country is a place where they can do that anymore. How can I help make it that way again? Or even for the first time?

7:36 PM:
It's time for bed for my daughter. We each take turns reading a book to each other and I say goodnight, tell her I love her, and kiss her goodnight. Some things never change. Nor should they. 

8:19 PM:
I text with a good friend, a local pastor. He begins by saying that he's sad. I tell him that I am, too. He's most regretful that so many evangelicals voted as they did, for Trump. He's even to the point that he no longer wants to identify as one, if that's what such an identification means. I don't blame him and tell him that's a great first step. He is saddened that so many people chose a known sexist racist for such a high office, but also admits that when he's at his worst, he has those tendencies, too. I admire his humility and honesty, but before I can tell him that he says he'll repent. I remind him that such an act is fine, but it can't end there.

For far too long, Christians have thought that repentance and prayer is an act. It's not. It's a cowardly excuse not to act. Pray all you want, but then you better get to marching. If prayerful hands don't turn into clenched fists, then I think you're doing it wrong. Your praying knee better be attached to a marching leg. Solemn voices in private need to turn into truth telling and prophecy in public. I have a feeling that God's answer to every prayer is, "And?!" as God pleads us to get off our asses and out into the streets. 

9:42 PM:
I end tonight like I do most nights, by talking to my girlfriend, unpacking the day and dreaming about what's next. Such an anchor matters in both peaceful waters and stormy ones. 


I spent the day after the election how I should spend most days - talking to people I love, thinking deeply on issues of great importance, working hard on what I'm building, making sure my daughter knows she's loved, and staying hopeful about tomorrow. 

All of us need these three things, I think, to be our truest and best selves:

  • A place to call home
  • A person to love
  • A cause to fight for

An upset election can remind us of that. But so can a sunrise. A paycheck. A delicious meal. An injustice. A poem. 

Whatever your harbinger, I hope you find what you're looking for. I hope you've got a place, a person, and a reason. They'll keep you pressing forward even when you feel like you can't move at all. 

Sam Davidson {@} Comments
This, Then, Is How You Should Live

We don’t need any more comic book superhero movies. Rather, what we need is someone to turn meaningful stories like this one into lessons we can all witness on the big screen and then apply to our life.

Bernhardt Wichmann III had very few friends, but they were deep ones. Friends were patient enough to wait until he wrote replies on small slips of paper so they could carry on conversations with him. Friends were willing enough to help him schedule medical visits.

And early last month, Wichmann died as he lived: fully. From The New York Times: "They discovered that since 1991, Ben had lived in that tiny third-floor room down the block that cost $10 a day. He had few possessions and eked by on Social Security. In a city where so many have so much, he had practically nothing. Yet it was enough, always enough. And inside him beat a heart bigger than a mountain."

Read that again: "And inside him beat a heart bigger than a mountain."

Your move.

What 10 words would you want written about you in The Times?

Of course, Wichmann’s goal wasn’t to be in The New York Times. It was to live fully present and to help others. Living into that authentic goal of his got him into the paper.

Many people would love to be covered by the NYT and it still never happens. I have to think that when our goal is to impress others, we’ll always fall short. When our goal is to serve others, we’ll wind up impressing them, too (even if a large newspaper never writes about us).

Happy 80th, Rosemary

Yesterday, Rosemary Brown turned 80. She hasn’t been in The Times, and may never be.

Last year, I walked into Rosemary’s church when life was very hard. I didn’t expect Rosemary or the people inside to make life easier for me. But I did hope they could make life a tad brighter. It seems like when we’re facing darkness and need some rays of hope, we humans do have the ability to shine for others when we show up in their lives.

The more people we let in, the brighter life gets. And the more deeply we let them shine in our lives, so much beauty becomes revealed by that light.

Yesterday, our ragtag congregation sang "Happy Birthday,", gave Rosemary a set of new tires, and listened as she cried with the gratitude and sincerity that only 80 years can offer. Wrinkles are just memories we can see, after all.

Rosemary offered us all one hope in her sermon yesterday - that when her time is up, she can be described as a single word: faithful.

Maybe eight decades of living make you realize that headlines are temporary; tombstones are permanent. And that legacy is even more lasting, written on hearts and retold with love in a way that newsprint and granite could never convey.

Fight for who you’re becoming

I left these two notes behind - one in each night stand - in Austin last week.

We each have a desire to fight for something, be it a worthy global cause or combatting some injustice we find in the world. But we can’t forget to channel some of that fierce drive toward our own destiny.

Whoever it is you’re becoming, you can decide each morning that you’ll fight for her and the bright vision welling up inside her heart. So don’t compromise a value that makes you beautiful, a passion that makes you unique, or a love that makes you full.

Don’t back down from the man you want to become just because someone else offers a route that’s simple or convenient. Easy and meaningful are opposites. (Click to tweet.)

Dream up the kind of person you’d die to become known as. Then do the hard work of fighting for him or her by being and becoming that man or that woman you know you can be. Your life and your legacy depend upon it mightily.

How to Live

The only life instructions are these: be.

Be authentic.
Be kind.
Be nice.
Be vulnerable.
Be on time.
Be present.
Be willing.
Be patient.
Be curious.
Be loving.
Be honest.
Be true.
Be faithful.
Be thoughtful.
Be pleasant.
Be hopeful.
Be you.

Live deeply. There is no other way.