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Sam Davidson's blog

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Posts tagged passion
Why Flow Matters

One of the better books I've read in the last few years is Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. It's a doozy. The author, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, does a fantastic and thorough job of showcasing how doing something that's a bit of a challenge makes you happier and more successful. This is a welcome idea in an age where everyone is telling you to chase your passion (including yours truly). Ultimately, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi states that we're happiest and best when we are pushed and we overcome some kind of obstacle. Of course, we must find this delicate balance of the "right" amount of challenge at work and at home, otherwise we can get very discouraged very quickly. In fact, the right challenge can give your life deep and incredible meaning.

His idea of "flow" is what's commonly meant when it is said that an athlete is in "the zone." Action and awareness merge such that nearly everything comes naturally.

Flow is a thick read, but well worth your time. Here are some quotes for you:

About Life and Leisure

  • A joyful life is an individual creation that cannot be copied from a recipe.
  • The information we allow into consciousness becomes extremely important; it is, in fact, what determines the content and the quality of life.
  • There are two main strategies we can adopt to improve the quality of life. The first is to try making external conditions match our goals. The second is to change how we experience external conditions to make them fit our goals better.
  • Because enjoyable activities have clear goals, stable rules, and challenge well matched to skills, there is little opportunity for the self to be threatened.
  • Compared to people living only a few generations ago, we have enormously greater opportunities to have a good time, yet there is no indication that we actually enjoy life more than our ancestors did.
  • A person who rarely gets bored, who does not constantly need a favorable external environment to enjoy the moment, has passed the test for having achieved a creative life.
  • Purpose gives direction to one's efforts, but it does not necessarily make life easier. Goals can lead into all sorts of trouble, at which point one gets tempted to give them up and find some less demanding script by which to order one's actions. The price one pays for changing goals whenever opposition threatens is that while one may achieve a more pleasant and comfortable life, it is likely that it will end up empty and void of meaning.
  • Activity and reflection should ideally complement and support each other. Action by itself is blind, reflection impotent. Before investing great amounts of energy in a goal, it pays to raise the fundamental questions: Is this something I really want to do? Is it something I enjoy doing? Am I likely to enjoy it in the foreseeable future? Is the price that I - and others - will have to pay worth it? Will I be able to live with myself if I accomplish it?

About Focus and Self

  • The mark of a person who is in control of consciousness is the ability to focus attention at will, to be oblivious to distractions, to concentrate for as long as it takes to achieve a goal, and not longer.
  • Every piece of information we process gets evaluated for its bearing on the self. Does it threaten our goals, does it support them, or is it neutral? News of the fall of the stock market will upset the banker, but it might reinforce the sense of self of the political activist. A new piece of information will either create disorder in consciousness, by getting us all worked up to face the threat, or it will reinforce our goals, thereby freeing up psychic energy.
  • It is not possible to experience a feeling of control unless one is willing to give up the safety of protective routines. Only when a doubtful outcome is at stake, and one is able to influence that outcome, can a person really know whether she is in control.
  • Optimal experience is a form of energy, and energy can be used either to help or to destroy.
  • When adversity threatens to paralyze us, we need to reassert control by finding a new direction in which to invest psychic energy, a direction that lies outside the reach of external forces.

About Why You Shouldn't Watch So Much TV

  • In the roughly one-third of the day that is free of obligations, in their precious "leisure" time, most people in fact seem to use their minds as little as possible. The largest part of free time - almost half of it for American adults - is spent in front of the television set.
  • Although average Americans have plenty of free time, and ample access to leisure activities, they do not, as a result, experience flow often. Potentiality does not imply actuality, and quantity does not translate into quality. For example, TV watching, the single most often pursued leisure activity in the United States today, leads to the flow condition very rarely. In fact, working people achieve the flow experience - deep concentration, high and balanced challenges and skills, a sense of control and satisfaction - about four times as often on their jobs, proportionately, as they do when they are watching television.
  • The flow experience that results from the use of skills leads to growth; passive entertainment leads nowhere.
  • Most jobs and many leisure activities  - especially those involving the passive consumption of mass media - are not designed to make us happy and strong. Their purpose is to make money for someone else. If we allow them to, they can suck out the marrow of our lives, leaving only feeble husks.

About Work

  • Flow is important both because it makes the present instant more enjoyable, and because it builds the self-confidence that allows us to develop skills and make significant contributions to humankind.
  • The reason it is possible to achieve such complete involvement in a flow experience is that goals are usually clear, and feedback immediate.
  • Any skill worth developing requires that one invest psychic energy in it at the beginning.
  • Why are some people weakened by stress, while others gain strength from it? Basically the answer is simple: those who know how to transform a hopeless situation into a new flow activity that can be controlled will be able to enjoy themselves, and emerge stronger from the ordeal.

About Relationships and Community

  • Quality of life depends on two factors: how we experience work, and our relations with other people.
  • Every relationship requires a reorienting of attention, a repositioning of goals.
  • A true friend is someone we can occasionally be crazy with, someone who does not expect us to be always true to form. It is someone who shares our goal of self-realization, and therefore is willing to share the risks that any increase in complexity entails.
  • A person is part of a family or a friendship to the extent he invests psychic energy in goals shared with other people.
  • A community should be judged good not because it is technologically advanced, or swimming in material riches; it is good if it offers people a chance to enjoy as many aspects of their lives as possible, while allowing them to develop their potential in the pursuit of ever greater challenges.
  • Contrary to what we were led to believe, it is more satisfying to help another person than to beat him down, or that it is more enjoyable to talk with one's two-year-old than to play golf with the company president.

About Writing

  • The point of writing is to create information, not simply to pass it along.
  • Having a record of the past can make a great contribution to the quality of life.  It frees us from the tyranny of the present, and makes it possible for consciousness to revisit  former times.

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The Hero Defines the Superhero

Who is your hero? And who is better than them?

Could you be?

Heroes are a dime a dozen. Well meaning people do something extraordinary on a daily basis. Turn on the news and after all the shootings and robberies, you'll usually find a story about a local business owner or a teacher who is doing good things for other people or the community. They're a hero.

As such, they've just set the bar. They just defined what it means to be great and meaningful. Now it's your turn to up the ante and do them one better if you're looking to stand out.

Thankfully, there are a lot of heroes in the world. But, there aren't too many superheroes. This means that if you're willing to become one, you can rise up and have a tangible, lasting impact.

This is why Batman or Superman or Wonder Woman appeal to us. Sure, they have super-human powers. But they also seem to possess a super-human understanding of justice, compassion, dedication, commitment, consistency, and sacrifice. Anyone can be a hero once. But to do it over and over again? That's...well...super.

We like to think that it's the possession of a secret or super power that makes someone a superhero, but it's not. Name a superhero and beneath the armor or mask or costume you'll find a heart that beats to the tune of unwavering promise and habit. You'll find someone committed time and again to a cause, an idea, a value, or a standard. 

Whether it's Spiderman or the teacher who never gives up on a student (and hasn't for a decade), you'll find the same thing at the core. Strip away the ability to scale tall buildings and you'll see that both comic book superheroes and passionate community advocates do the seemingly impossible every single day.

To me, this is what makes - and can make any of us - super in our heroism: repetition.

You don't start by being super or sewing a cape. You start by being heroic. And then you do that thing over and over again.

Don't worry about the cape. Show up enough and be a hero to someone for long enough and they'll give you that cape. Your job is to be super every day.

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Why Are You Going?

In my line of work, I get asked a lot, "Where are you going?" It's an easy enough question to answer, filled with city names or airport codes. But I always remind myself - every time I'm asked that question - why I'm going. I go to speak or consult, but I also go to work and share ideas so I can help build a life with the two people I love the most.

We have to remember why we go, and not just where we're headed. Because a destination without a purpose is nothing but wandering. 

And while you can wander for a season, flitting about as freely a spirit as you wish, it's no way to spend your entire existence.

I love the "Where in the Hell is Matt?" video series. Here's the new one for 2012:

Mesmerizing, charming, humorous, and whimsical, these videos can excite something within us, and dare us to buy a plane ticket to anywhere but where we are now. Watch the video and be transported to Asia, Africa, the middle of the ocean - anywhere you dream of going, Matt has probably been there (and danced there).

But why? Just to make a viral video?

Watch the whole thing. The last location is probably Matt's why.

Our why doesn't only relate to travel. It can relate to our jobs, our hobbies, our commitments, and our time. If you find yourself working late, hating your career, or confused at what this all means, asking yourself why it is you do what you do helps you remember that you're not simply wandering. You have purpose. You have priorities. You have plans.

For me, all of those come back to a people. Life on a stage and in various airports brings me a step closer to being the kind of dad and husband I long to be. Talking to business professionals or college students is a very empty task unless I'm also able to communicate with my two biggest fans each day.

Facetime

I just finished Simon Sinek's book, Start With Why. A great read, the book reminds us that the best companies and movements in the world try first to answer the question of why they do what they do. Then, they determine how they'll do it and what they'll do in order to bring their core purpose into existence.

We have to do the same. We have to hold tight to our why. It's our compass, pointing us to where the work is and then pulling us back home again when the job is done. Travel without the compass of "Why?" and you'll just be going in circles, spending decades moving but with no real progress.

So let me ask you: "Why are you going? Why do you do what you do? Why are you?"

If you can't answer this question (and I'd challenge you to not mention money in your answer), stop what you're doing. If you don't have a why, then the work you're doing right now could be meaningless. Don't waste another second on it.

We all need a passion, but more importantly, we need a purpose.

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Passion is Really About Engagement

Penelope Trunk has an excellent post about passion and work. She nails it when she says:

When you say you want to do something you’re passionate about, you really mean, when you think about it, that you want to do something that is right for you. Something that is fulfilling and feels like the thing you should be doing with your life.

She goes on to briefly detail why it is schools teach us the opposite of this.

As usual, this post is well thought-out, well researched, and well written. So, if you're curious about what it really means to be passionate about a job, read her post and then think about what engages you most.

What skill do you possess that you're great at doing? That you can do well almost without thinking? When do you have control over your work? When can you see your work making a difference?

As Penelope concludes:

Figure out what you need in your life to be fulfilled. Find that work. Then, as long as you have control over your hours and you can see how you help people, you will feel good about your work. And you know what happens when people feel good in their work? They stop asking themselves bullshit questions about what they are passionate about.

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The World Needs You to Live Your Passion

A few weeks ago, I heard a keynote speech by Rodger Dinwiddie, CEO of STARS. He said:

We don't need to just teach self esteem in schools; we also need to teach empathy. Prisons are full of people with high self esteem but low empathy.

When I heard this, I thought the same thing about passion.

It's not enough to merely have a passion; we need to live it as well.

The world is full of people with a passion, but so few people live it out. Remember: this doesn't mean that you turn your passion into a career. It simply means you chase it down, whether its on the weekend or for a week each summer.

When you begin to live out your passion, you live more passionately. And this is what the world needs.

I need you to live out your passion, to be your best self, and to fulfill your destiny. When you do, I become better, too.

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A Manifesto for the Rest of Us

I have no desire to be location independent. I may like to travel or go on vacation, but using my laptop on the beach doesn't sound fun. I don't want to work just four hours a week. I don't mind work if I enjoy it, use my talents, and am appreciated.

I want a job I love.

I want my kids to admire, appreciate, and adore me.

I want to be around to do fun things with my parents, my siblings, my friends, and my family.

I want to settle down, plant roots, and watch my legacy grow for a while.

Instead of being wealthy, sexy, or hip, I really just want to be happy.

And if I go to the ends of the earth looking for happiness and it turns out that it was right in front of me all along - in the form of stability, family, and simplicity - then that's on me.

What I need then is to find a place where I can use my talents and gifts and be rightly rooted in community.

I don't want to miss out on a great life because the one someone else was living looked more alluring through the rose-colored glasses of the Internet.

Beaches and independence don't have a monopoly on fun, meaning, belonging, happiness, or impact.

Being the master of my fate and the captain of my soul may mean that I decide to leave the vessel in port for a while. Parties happen there, too, you know.

I don't want to miss out on where I am because I'm always thinking about where I should be.

Community can happen in lots of ways, but it happens best when you show up, shut off your phone, and create memories together.

The real journey I'm on is the quest to be me. That's the one I'm chasing; not the one someone else is after.

Here's to the rest of us, the ones who are learning to be our best selves, to be happy where we are, to dream bigger than ever before, understanding that dreams can move us without moving us.

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All Great Presentations Are the Same

If you speak to any sized group (or will soon), an investment of 18 minutes to watch this TEDx video is well worth it. Nancy Duarte (whose company has designed some of the most memorable slide decks in the world) shares how you must tell a story well. (Thanks for Kneale Mann for the find.)

Imagine that - speeches by Jobs and King follow the same trajectory.

Yours can, too. Help your audience imagine the world that could be and you'll engage them, inspire them, and have them telling others about you and your vision.

Main stages are for sharing big ideas, and there's no bigger idea than a glimpse of how the world could be.

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Is $500 All That Stands in the Way of You and a Dream?

As I meet more and more people who want to chase a dream in order to start a company or live their lives more fully, I also met more and more excuses as to why people don't take the risky leap and chase their passion. Here are some of the excuses that people seem to have on why they can't follow after something:

  • Not enough time
  • Don't know how
  • Don't know enough people
  • No passport
  • Little experience
  • No one will trust them
  • Too much competition
  • Lacking confidence
  • Fear of failure
  • Need money

Most of the things on the list above can be quickly overcome, especially the last one. Many ideas we have for new companies or ways to live a more passionate life don't require millions of dollars, but rather can be started with just an extra $500. And if you think you can't find that kind of cash, then stop complaining and start looking around your house.

To find $500, you could:

Don't think you can do it? Then you may as well admit that your passion isn't as important as TV or clothes. Maybe once you say that out loud, you'll be willing to make the hard decisions to sacrifice what can be sold so you can earn what can't be bought.

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Don't Rely on Your Natural Resources

Passion is a valuable thing. Many people want to build a career around it, but putting all your eggs in this basket may not be a good move. Passion is rarely learned. You become passionate about something naturally, usually. It's a gut feeling, something visceral and emotional. You need this kind of fire in the core of your being to keep going when the going gets very, very tough.

But, you need more than this. You need to learn and hone skills. You need to get smart. You need to try new things, build new networks, and develop new relationships. You need to try hard things, to challenge and push yourself. Otherwise, you'll just rely on what you're naturally good at or what gets you excited. Sadly, these things may fade one day.

Here's a parallel from the world of geopolitics. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes about what makes Taiwan so great:

Taiwan is a barren rock in a typhoon-laden sea with no natural resources to live off of — it even has to import sand and gravel from China for construction — yet it has the fourth-largest financial reserves in the world. Because rather than digging in the ground and mining whatever comes up, Taiwan has mined its 23 million people, their talent, energy and intelligence — men and women.

While many other countries rely on what comes naturally - minerals in the ground - Taiwan has had to rely on education and intelligence. As a country, it didn't take what was given; it went and earned what couldn't be bought.

We must do the same with our careers. If you're lucky to have an innate skill or talent, then milk it for all its worth and earn as much as you can. But, along the way, be sure to combine that gift with real knowledge, new opportunities, and worthwhile challenges. Leverage your passion and your talents, but be sure to grow beyond that so that you can have a bevy of options when you need them most.

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You're Still Fighting

A few weeks ago, while listening to sports radio in my car, a basketball coach was being interviewed. His team did not make the NCAA Tournament and was instead invited to the less prestigious NIT Tournament. When asked if he was disappointed and whether or not his players would respond positively and play hard, he said:

We're still playing, and that's important. Whether you're in the middle of the ring in Madison Square Garden fighting for the heavyweight boxing championship or you're caught in a street fight in a back alley, you're still fighting. You have to size up your opponent and go to battle. The location doesn't matter. Either way, you're still flighting.

In our life and work, we clamor for the big stage. We yearn for recognition and accolades and can easily assume that if it's not well known, it's not worth it. Why play on the small stage? Shouldn't we just risk it all and work hard and only worry about landing big clients, big PR opportunities, or big money?

Nope. You need to do what it takes to keep fighting.

The interview with the local weekly newspaper is just as important as the one with USA Today.

Guest blogging on a small niche site can reap rewards just like getting mentioned on the large tech site can.

Selling something one at a time may not give you the same rush as selling 1,000 at once, but hey - you're still selling.

Whether you're managing one employee or 100, it's important that you work together as a team.

Every fight matters. Concern yourself less with the stage and the audience and get to work.

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Go Beyond the Tools to Find Your Passion

You're not passionate about social media. You're not passionate about entrepreneurship. You're not passionate about nonprofits, and you're not passionate about making money. All of these things are mere tools that you use to live out a passion. Saying you're passionate about these things is like a carpenter saying he's passionate about his hammer. He may prefer his hammer to his screwdriver, but what he truly loves is building something.

Social media is a tool that a person who's passionate about telling stories uses.

Entrepreneurship is just a tool used by someone who is passionate about making new things or awesome things or who wants to share an idea that matters.

People passionate about helping others may use the nonprofit sector and structure to do that.

When I ask people what they're passionate about and they start listing tools, I stop them and ask them to get to the core of what they love and who they are. One way to correct ourselves when we start listing tools as passions is to ask ourselves what we'd be passionate about if it were 1972 - 40 years ago.

Back then, you couldn't be passionate about social media or online marketing or computers or Apple. But you could be passionate about storytelling or community building or difference making.

Here's a list of passions that transcend time. I bet you get excited about a few of them:

  • Helping people
  • Communicating
  • Sharing ideas
  • Family
  • Relationships
  • Navigating change
  • Solving problems
  • Good design
  • Innovation

Any of these things could build a great career for you for a very long time. Understanding that the available tools will change over time to help you articulate these passions means you'll be flexible in an ever-changing world of work.

Don't go praising the tools. Use them. That's what they're there for.

What would you add?

What's your passion that transcends time?

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