Three Words for 2015

Since 2010, I have selected three words to guide my actions in the year to come. This practice continues to pay far better dividends than any specific goal I’ve ever set this early in the year. Eventually the words mature into clear goals, plans and actions, but starting with this process forces me to slow down and to set my intentions rather than just forging ahead. It helps me to consider the entire year rather than trying to shove everything I can into January (which usually just leads to burning myself out by February).

Before looking forward, I need to look back. To be honest, I’m torn. I think I did well, I’m just not sure I did well by the words I chose. Reading last year’s post, I see my initial intent when I selected Choices, Options and Harmony. I feel like I owned my choices. I feel like I created options at my existing job, taking advantage and dedicating myself to some opportunities that opened up in January. However, I had to let go of a lot of the personal projects I enjoy, like writing and podcasting. As for harmony . . . I was pleasantly surprised to discover how complete my family felt with the addition of our third child, but a newborn and a desire for harmony isn’t always a realistic desire.

Having these intentions helped, but much like the year before (and most before it), I had my set of intentions and my realities had their own. We went to battle and we ended up meeting somewhere in the middle.

So what about this year? I want to focus on closing the gaps between desire and reality. Yet more than any other year in my life, I’m struggling to clearly figure out what it is I want. Rather than trying to force myself to answer before I can even define the question, I’d rather focus on a few key areas that will help—regardless of what I want.

Healthier – I have a terrible relationship with my personal health. I have a terrible relationship with food. I have a terrible (yet delightful) relationship with beer. I have a terrible relationship with exercise. I’m getting fatter every year, and even though I will jump on one bandwagon or another to address this reality, I’ve never found a lasting way to get and stay healthy. Most of my attempts involve some rigid process that works well in the short run but never lasts. A big part of this, I believe, is the fact that while I want to be healthier, it’s not a core value for me. It’s just a reality that needs to be addressed. That or I’m going to die a lot younger than I, my wife or my children would prefer.

I also know myself and need to find a way to weave this into a life that doesn’t sacrifice every beer and burger . . . hence the word healthier, but not necessarily healthy. Basically, over the next year I need to figure out what good enough looks like for me when it comes to my health, and then I need to get there.

Re-situated – I’m currently happy in my position at work, but I’m miserable with our living situation. There’s now five of us living in a two bedroom, one bathroom. We love our neighborhood, but the kind of space we want is just not a financial reality here. However the more we talk about it, the less my wife and I are able to find a suitable next step. We need decent schools, we need it to be reasonably commutable for both of us (as well as our caretaker), we need it to be somewhere we actually enjoy living, and we need it to be financially viable. Something is going to have to give, but neither of us is any closer to having any concept of what that should be or where we’d like to end up. As much as “moving” shouldn’t be a year long goal, it’s not proving to be easy. But I’m tired of feeling like our space is temporary and would like to move towards a more permanent place to continue to raise my family.

Expression – When I look back year after year, this intent is where I struggle the most. I have a demanding work and family life. This makes it challenging to have anything left when it comes to side projects, like this site. I don’t always have the energy for it, but the desire to put a piece of me out there beyond my work or family life continues to persist. I have no earthly idea how I’m going to do it, but I need to make time to regularly create and share.

This is going to be especially challenging considering the aforementioned need to spend a fair amount of what little free time I have getting healthier, but the mental health and happiness that comes along with writing or podcasting is something that I can’t let go of either. As per usual, this will probably lead me to desire more than reality will allow, but as much as this can occasionally lead me to fall short, it just as often helps me push past what I initially would have thought was possible.

Words aside, I see my life going one of two ways this year. Either I will redouble my dedication to my life and career here in New York, or I will blow it all up and start anew. At the moment I have no idea which way it is going to go, or even which way I want it to go. But either way, I’m ready to get there already, as there’s just been far too much uncertainty over the past few years. More than anything, I’d like to see that come to an end or to a head this year.

Thanks to Chris Brogan for the inspiration. And in case you’re curious here are links to my three words from 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Capacity is Not a Myth

Andrew Carroll recently shared an old post on capacity in which he wrote the following:

Capacity. You hear the term in business a lot:

“We are making mistakes because we are above capacity”
“We are having cash flow issues because we are below capacity"
“We are investing in building out our capacity so we can grow”

The secret is capacity is a myth. The only really limit to your business’ capacity is the limit of your ability to think, dream, and work.

Capacity is far from a myth. Individuals, teams and businesses alike have limits. We all do, even you. Regardless of the context, not acknowledging and not respecting these limits will be just as harmful to your effectiveness as succumbing to them.

Ignoring capacity leads us to take on more than we can manage. It leads us to burn ourselves out. And when working with a team, it often leads us to push others beyond what is reasonable.

Capacity is a Friend

Not only is capacity a reality, it can be a tool. Sure, we can push through and “expand capacity” by working ourselves to death in the service of achieving a potentially unreasonable goal—it might even work out once or twice—but continually ignoring capacity will negatively impact relationships, health and, more than likely, sanity.

Capacity, when used correctly, can be a guide. It can force us to consider all of our various goals against available time and resources. When used as a filter, it helps us to make better choices. We just have to make sure we see things clearly.

A Clear Sense Of Capacity

The true myth isn’t that capacity doesn’t exist. It’s that there are two versions: what we believe our capacity to be and what capacity actually is. What we refer to as our capacity is often a combination of realities and challenges. It balances the (likely) excessive number of goals we’ve taken on with a (typically) flawed approach to accomplishing these goals. It traditionally only factors in some of our ambitions, rather than forcing us to consider a holistic view of our goals.

You have to discover where you currently stand in order to move past the myth. Don’t ignore it, consider it. Pretending capacity doesn’t exist will only lead you astray. Learn your limits, then consider ways to improve in order to push against them.

So how do you know? How can you tell perceived capacity from true capacity? Start by understanding your current capacity, regardless of its truth. Then begin to push against what you believe to be possible. Unless you’ve consciously tested the limits of your capacity, unless you’ve taken the time to learn how you go about doing your best work, and unless your team has a process that allows for effective collaboration, it’s unlikely you’re there.

You also have to be careful as the desire to push can be a double-edged sword. There’s pushing beyond what you believe to be possible and then there’s pushing beyond what’s reasonable.

Working vs. Wanting To Expand Capacity

As Andrew points out:

Capacity is a myth. If you think you can’t or won’t, it is not because you don’t have the capacity. It’s because you don’t want it bad enough to stretch beyond your current capacity.

In case it isn’t clear, the point of this piece isn’t to say you can’t push beyond what you believe to be possible in service of achieving your goals. In fact–regardless if it is personal or professional–if what you are doing is even remotely ambitious, you’ll likely have to push against your current limitations.

When it comes to stretching, Andrew has a point: What we believe to be our capacity, almost always isn’t. But ignoring the fact that capacity itself is indeed a reality . . . well . . . it might help you push through some barriers in the short run, but ultimately it will cause you to break.

Understand your current capacity. Then continually question it to see just how far you can push your boundries. Just be sure to understand that, at some point, even the best of us have our limits. And respecting those limits can do just as much to help you to push past them.

The 21st Thing To Remember If You Are or If You Love a Person with ADD

From June Silny’s 20 Things to Remember If You Love a Person with ADD article on Lifehack:

True love is unconditional, but ADD presents situations that test your limits of love. Whether it’s your child, boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse or soon-to-be spouse, ADD tests every relationship. The best way to bring peace into both your lives is to learn a new mindset to deal with the emotional roller-coaster that ADD brings all-day-every-day.

Understanding what a person with ADD feels like will help you become more patient, tolerant, compassionate, and loving. Your relationships will become more enjoyable and peaceful.

Despite its wild popularity, having racked up over 1.7 million likes on Facebook, that article is probably the single most frustrating summary that I’ve come across in more than 25 years of reading about ADD and ADHD.

It’s not that the piece doesn’t make valid points about what those of us with ADD and ADHD often deal with on a daily basis. It’s not like there isn’t a benefit to a loved one better understanding the range of possible challenges we face. It’s that, ultimately, the article (and it’s companion on why we should love having ADD) encourages us to embrace these facts and then stops. Chances are, if you’re reading articles on why you should love having ADD or ADHD or how your loved ones can cope, you need to start taking concrete steps to deal with it.

Like the quoted article says, I have an active mind; I’m not a great listener; I struggle to stay on task; I have more than my fair share of anxiety; I find it difficult to concentrate when I’m emotional (or when I’m not); I get hyper-focused (often by complete nonsense); I’m highly impulsive; I’m emotionally and physically sensitive; I can be unexpectedly intuitive; I have foot-in-mouth disease, I’m known to think outside of the box; I’m impatient, disorganized, forgetful, overly ambitious, wildly passionate and prone to more than my fair share of procrastination. Throughout my life, the upsides of many of these traits have helped me to stand out and achieve, but unmanaged, the downsides have continually held me back. They have challenged every personal and professional relationship I’ve cultivated, every ambition and endeavor I’ve attempted.

Embracing Isn’t Enough For Us

While these Lifehack articles don’t explicitly tell us to stop improving once we’ve embraced these facets of ourselves or our loved one, I struggle with the fact that they don’t actually encourage us to do anything about it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s this: Understanding and embracing your nature is an important step toward self-improvement, but eventually you have to build up the courage to deal with your challenges. For yourselves, but more importantly for your loved ones.

When I was finally able to make peace with the fact that I’m not quite neurologically “normal,” I became a far happier human. What I didn’t become was a more effective one. When my wife decided to embrace the challenges of daily life with an ADHD-addled man-child, it became easier for her to forgive my related shortcomings. What it didn’t become was easy.

ADD and ADHD, or any similar neurological disorders for that matter, are valid reasons for our challenges, but they aren’t valid excuses. And as anyone who carries their ADD or ADHD into adulthood can attest, understanding employers and significant others are in short supply. In fact, the understanding and exceptions we receive in our youth often fail to prepare us for this all-too-common reality. For most who carry these challenges into later life, no amount of desire and no amount of loving is enough to overcome those challenges. Left unchecked, our nature will get in the way.

You Need To Take The Next Steps

If you really want to excel, if you really want to honor those who love you, then own your challenges and begin to take steps to mitigate your nature. Feel free to read all the articles that tell you how special you are. Feel free to share resources that help loved ones grasp what you’re up against with your ADD or ADHD. Then take everything you’ve learned, take advantage of your loved one’s newfound understanding, and use it as a tool to attack your challenges.

Do you have ADD or ADHD? Is it getting in your way? Understand what you can about your nature. Embrace who you are and likely always will be. Then start seeking the help or identifying the steps needed to deal with your challenges.

Do you love someone who has ADD or ADHD? Is it affecting your relationship? Understand what you can about what your loved one is dealing with. Embrace that you’re not always going to understand the way they work. Then encourage them to do the work needed to improve, and be there when they fall short along the way.

Need more specifics on what to do next? Stay tuned.

Update: June Silny, the author that inspired this rant, posted a follow up on the same day that this piece went live. It’s titled If You Love Someone Who Has ADHD, Don’t Do These 20 Things and takes a far more proactive approach. I recommend it for those looking for a starting point on what to do next, and hope it gains anywhere near the traction of the initial post.

My favorite bit:

ADHD isn’t an excuse for an irresponsible lifestyle. It just means that what comes easy to you, may be difficult for them. It doesn’t mean that they can’t do something, it means that it’s harder for them. Simple tasks that you take for granted; such as opening mail, trashing junk mail, and placing your bills in a “to be paid” folder, feel like a climb up Mt. Everest to a person with ADHD.

Amen.

Goodbye Workflowing

As part of my desire to get back to getting better, I decided to end Workflowing (formally Mikes on Mics), my weekly podcast on 5by5 with Mike Vardy.

Despite all of the truly horrible things I say to Vardy on a weekly basis, I’ve loved recording this show with him and look forward to the occasional guest spot on his new Productivityist podcast. It was also an honor to be a small part of both the 70Decibels and 5by5 podcast networks.

I’m extremely proud of the final episode and hope you decide to give it a listen. We talk a lot about why we decided to wrap up the show and why I wanted to get back to writing here on the site.

In addition to wrapping up the Workflowing podcast, I’ve also shut down the Workflowing website (essentially, I’ve rid myself of anything I ever did with Vardy). All of the Workflowing posts have been moved over to this very site. For those who were unaware of the project, you can find all of my Workflowing posts here.

For those of you who will miss my regular ramblings on productivity and self-improvement, keep an eye on this site. While I plan to focus on writing for the time being, I have a few audio experiements in mind for the future.

As friend of the site, Patrick Rhone has said that saying no is actually saying yes to other things. I’ll miss catching up with Vardy, I’ll miss all of the feedback from listeners, but it feeels right let Workflowing go in order to say hell yes to writing here once more.

Back To Getting Better

I haven’t written regularly in some time. Not for you, and not even for me. A fair amount of that has to do with a lack of time, which is in short supply with a full-time job, a wife and young children. But if I’m being honest, that’s just an excuse.

Some of my absence here had to do with the fact that I wondered if I’d outgrown—or had even achieved what I’d been attempting with—the site. Again, an excuse.

Another part of it was the fear of talking regularly, openly and loudly about being an ADHD-addled asshole with a tendency to struggle. I know that it’s been helpful to myself and to others. I know it has helped me grow. But I also worry that it will be harmful to the side of me who is a rather capable and ambitious employee working hard to help support a growing family. While there’s truth in this, it’s yet another excuse.

So why am I here? Why am I back?

The truth? I feel I’ve reached a point where I’m only getting better now in the ways that come easy to me.

I spent a ton of time figuring out how I can do better work, and, as one would hope, I am indeed doing better.

I’m nine years married and three kids in; I know what it takes to be a half-decent dad and half-decent husband. Every now and again I even feel like I come close to achieving these lofty goals.

But there are ways in which I’m yet to get better. Ways that I’m not even sure I’m trying all that hard. Ways that aren’t even entirely clear to me right now. More and more I worry that I’m letting what comes naturally be sufficient, rather than embracing what’s hard.

There are things in my life that I want to do that I’m not doing. Chief amongst them are writing here and writing honestly. Both for you and for me. There are things in my life that I need to do that I’m not doing. Such as the growing need to find a way to be healthy, regardless of my busy work and family life.

I want to get back to getting better. And while I continue to embrace the ways come with some measure of ease, I need to shift my focus back to the ways that don’t. And the best way that I know how to grow is to write here and to see what comes out.

I’m not unhappy. I’m not struggling as much in the ways I once did. But I’m also not striving as much as I’d like. I’m not risking as much as I’d like. I’m not writing as much as I’d like. I am however worried about what will come out as I go back to writing here, but I’m tired of making excuses not to anymore.

It’s time to get back to getting better. And while I’m not exactly sure what that will look like this time around, I hope you consider sticking with me. And perhaps even choose to join in.

Be More Like Chase

Who is this for? Those looking for a few takeaways from the recent NMX conference in Las Vegas.

I’m basking in the afterglow of an amazing few days at New Media Expo (or NMX as the kids like to call it) in Las Vegas. My notebook runneth over with nuggets of wisdom and truth. My panel with Chase Reeves, Justin Jackson and my podcasting partner-in-crime, Mike Vardy, was seemingly well received. My voice is gone but slowly recovering from a mixture of dry Vegas air and far too many conversations to count. And my liver … well, my liver isn’t very happy with me right now, but let’s not dwell.

I learned a lot over these past days, largely due to some of the best encounters and conversations in the halls and at the bar that I’ve had in a very long time. But if there’s one thing I’m going to remember, if there’s one thing I plan to take away, it’s this: I need to be more like Chase Reeves. In fact, I think we all do.

Now I’m not suggesting that I, or the rest of us for that matter, should try to start acting like him. We’d all fail miserably, and bartenders all over the world would struggle to keep up with the demand for Negroni and Fernet. I just noticed a few Chase-centric takeaways (they say you’re supposed to look for takeaways at conferences, after all) that I believe we could all benefit from.

Make Everyone Feel Amazing

The first thing you notice about Chase is how good he makes you feel. Then you realize that he makes everyone he comes into contact with feel exactly that good. You also realize that this isn’t about him wanting you to like him (no matter how many times tells you that this is why he does it). It’s about him actually wanting everyone and anyone around him to feel amazing. Good times follow good feelings, and Chase knows how to create them both.

I plan to start working a lot harder to make the people around me realize just how special they are. I plan on saying more of the things that I believe to be true about those people but feel far too self-conscious to say.

Work Hard, Get Good

Chase is a maker. He is a creator. A big part of his ability to make so many of the ideas in his head come to life are the skills he has painstakingly cultivated over the years. There’s no shortage of inherent talent and intelligence there, but it’s his drive to learn new skills that makes the man a force to be reckoned with.

I’ve spent so much time over the years trying to figure out what I really want to do with my life. I wish I had spent it all figuring out how to do things. Chase is the embodiment of what happens when someone continually takes the time to develop new skills. He’s a living reminder that building skills trumps chasing passions.

Don’t Know How Good You Are

The only thing more impressive than Chase’s skill is his humility. If I had half that man’s talent, I’d be insufferable. Even though Chase takes pride in his work, I’m not sure he knows just how magically delicious the fruits of his labor are to those of us who enjoy them. And even if he does know, he isn’t letting that fact get in the way of his strong desire to make whatever comes next even better and more meaningful.

This is a great and necessary reminder to stop worrying about how good I am all the time (because I literally worry about this all the time). I need to silence that inner voice and use that energy to work harder at getting better.

Create Memorable Moments

I dare you to forget meeting anyone who casually introduces himself as “Chase Wardman Reeves, from the Internet.” I dare you not to smile when you’re sitting at a bar and a group text goes out to inform everyone seated around you that, “We’re having a great time!” I dare you not to appreciate someone who—even though he’s as tired and has been as busy as the rest of us—acts as the event planner and camp counselor for an impromptu night out for 25 people. And I dare you not to love the guy who randomly asks if anyone is game to take a leisurely “Old Italian Man Walk” around the exterior of a casino just to think and talk about life.

I will never forget so many moments from the past few days, and this is largely due to Chase. It makes me want to put a lot more thought and effort into making more ordinary moments memorable.

Reach Over, Not Up

Chase has this great theory about building third-tier relationships. You should read his post (and this recent post-NMX follow up), but the short version is that those who embrace the third tier stop spending their time and energy trying to get the attention of heroes and potential mentors, and start spending it on the people doing, or aspiring to do, great work beside them.

I’ve been more than guilty of my fair share of shamelessly chasing the attention and approval of those who are more successful than I am. Heroes are great to have. I won’t be letting go of mine anytime soon, but I’ll be focusing my time and my energy on those doing kick-ass work right beside me.

Be Really Fucking Brave

For those of you us who know Chase, or follow his personal site, you know this hasn’t been an easy year. His family suffered a loss that no one should ever have to experience. And while the loss of a child is not something you ever get past, they’re getting through. This was the first time I’ve seen Chase since the passing of his son and he is handling an impossible experience with a grit and grace that I still cannot fathom.

There are a ton of obvious lessons here, but for the moment, I’m just going to admire a bravery I cannot imagine and hope I never need.

Chase Is My Big Takeaway

This past week I learned a few new things about marketing, about entrepreneurship, about podcasting, about the Internet, but other than several memories I’ll cherish, I plan to walk away from the experience with one clear desire: I want us all to be a whole lot more like my friend, Chase Reeves.

Chase Wardman Reeves, from the Internet, invests in himself, in others and in the moment like no one else I’ve ever met. And while there’s no way he could possibly be copied, I’m going to keep learning every damn thing I can from the man. And I strongly suggest that you do the same.

Walking Through Fire

Far too many of my childhood memories center around being teased and bullied. Braces, thick glasses, social awkwardness, severe ADHD and the ’80s seemed to work in concert against me. It was a crappy experience. It was also a defining one. Much of who I am is due, in part, to having been bullied in my youth. And while I’m not happy about this fact and wouldn’t wish bullying on anyone, I eventually came to a place where I wanted to make something positive out of all the negative.

Learning to stand up for myself was a big one. The problem that I eventually found is that too much of overcoming bullying centers around this act. I used to look at it as the ultimate solution. I think, to some extent, we all do. We get to the point where we’ve finally had enough, our fingers roll into a fist, and we finally, after all those years, punch Biff in the face in order to change our future (sorry … like I said … the ’80s).

Standing up for myself was always an important step, but it was only the first and it often wasn’t the most useful. Sure, I gained confidence and eased my pain, but it was always temporary. Standing up for myself took bravery, but it was usually more a byproduct of being fed up than it was a sign of strength. Those moments were rife with emotion and, more often than not, I held onto both the experience and the emotion far too long … usually until everyone involved, including myself, came off looking bad. I found that standing up for myself was important, but continuing to stand up to a bully after I’d said my peace just turned me into a different kind of bully.

Rather than becoming the very thing I hate, I started making the experience less about my tormenter and more about me. I started looking for a better way to get through these crappy situations with grace. I found inspiration in one of my favorite lines from Charles Bukowski, “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.”

For me, bullying is all about power. And this usually had less to do with someone trying to take power and more to do with my giving it away. For years, I gave away that power to just about anyone looking to take it. It wasn’t because I was unwilling to stand up for myself, I actually got pretty good at that early on (being rather tall and rather large didn’t hurt). True freedom from my bullies only came once I could move on from what they put me through. This happened when I finally started separating what a bully said from how they said it. It let me turn a a negative experience into an opportunity to grow.

There is no valid reason for what a bully does, but when you can’t let go, there is occasionally a word of truth hidden inside the hurt they spew (I find this to be especially true as I get older, as personal name calling turns into harsh professional feedback). Now not all bullying experiences involve nuggets of truth, but thankfully it’s always proved easier easy to move on from those that don’t. On the other hand, I find it impossible to move on when hearing something I fear, consciously or unconsciously, to be true. I can’t let go of the situation because I can’t make peace with it. Instead of trying, I just hold on to the anger and indignity (which, despite being justified, isn’t particularly helpful).

When it comes to being bullied, I’ve found that there’s only one thing I can control: the way I react. I think it’s worth it to try and make more out of that reaction. It never made me feel any less a victim in the moment, but it let me feel like less of one in my life. I couldn’t stop that fire Bukowski was talking about, but I was able to chose how I walked through it.

How do you walk through fire?