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Entries in Observations (73)



Now these are some encouraging and challenging words for the new year:

"If we all did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves."
— Thomas Edison

Quote via Teri Martin's Quote-A-Day email list


Good Reads: The Hughtrain & How To Be Creative

Last weekend, quite by accident, I came across, the weblog of Hugh MacLeod. While browsing there, The HughtrainI stumbled on one of his posts entitled The Hughtrain, Hugh's own variation on the Cluetrain Manifesto (another incredible document well worth reading, if you haven't yet).

Next thing I know, an hour has passed while I read The Hughtrain, complete with laughing at his prose and cartoons, drawn on the backs of business cards. Hughtrain is fresh, unpretentious and challenging, particularly to the brain of this graphic and web designer. (Note for the younguns: Hughtrain contains some pretty strong language at times)

This evening, I stumbled across yet another thought provoking piece by Hugh at Change This, a website filled with manifestos from all sorts of leading edge people. I'd been to Change This a few months ago, but never noticed Hugh's How to Be Creative manifesto.

Once again, many minutes later, I found myself laughing at and appreciating Hugh's thoughts and proverbs. The guy really has a way with words and images. The How to Be Creative piece is an amalgam of 26 secrets Hugh has discovered in his years working as a creative guy, such as:

"I draw on the back of wee biz cards. Whatever.

Thereʼs no correlation between creativity and equipment ownership. None. Zilch. Nada.

Actually, as the artist gets more into his thing, and as he gets more successful, his number of tools tends to go down. He knows what works for him. Expending mental energy on stuff wastes time. Heʼs a man on a mission. Heʼs got a deadline. Heʼs got some rich client breathing down his neck. The last thing he wants is to spend 3 weeks learning how to use a router drill if he doesnʼt need to.

A fancy tool just gives the second-rater one more pillar to hide behind. Which is why there are so many hack writers with state-of-the-art laptops."

I love this approach, because it puts the focus on the person — the artist and not the tools. The right tool is of course part of the deal, but secondary to the artist. My father once put it this way:

"Mike, it's the photographer and not the camera which makes great images. If you give a great photographer a box camera and a bad photographer top of the line gear, the great photographer will still create the better and more artistic photo every single time."

I'll leave you with another insightful tidbit from How To Be Creative:

"The sovereignty you have over your work will inspire far more people than the actual content ever will.

How your own sovereignty inspires other people to find their own sovereignty, their own sense of freedom and possibility, will change the world far more than the the workʼs objective merits ever will.

Your idea doesnʼt have to be big. It just has to be yours alone. The more the idea is yours alone, the more freedom you have to do something really amazing.

The more amazing, the more people will click with your idea. The more people click with your idea, the more it will change the world.

Thatʼs what doodling on business cards taught me."

So, what are you waiting for? Go read The Hughtrain and How To Be Creative! :-)


What's My Currency?

I enjoy reading Fast Company articles and this week I came across another good one called Finding Your Currency by Keith Ferrazzi.

The gist of the article is that we each have some "currency" or "currencies" related to our personalities that makes us each unique and valuable in our profession or life. It might even be something we don't realize we possess, yet is quite valuable to others. I found this interesting, because I'd never thought of skills or attributes as currency before.

A key quote from the article:

Often our most valuable currencies are things we do that seem as natural as breathing -- natural to us, but to others, these skills are a real rarity! If you know tax law, that's a currency to a lot of us. Can you get someone upgraded at the NY hotel that your brother manages? That's a currency too. Perhaps it's something else. No matter what it is, you can find it by simply thinking of what others can gain from you.

What an interesting approach. The article got me to wondering what my own currencies are. I have a vague idea, so I plan to take time this week to write them down.

However, what I thought might be more interesting — asking others what they see as my most valuable currencies. Maybe others have a different perspective which I might not be considering. In fact, why not ask the weblog readers? Do you have any thoughts on what you see as my currencies? Please feel free to leave a comment.


A Challenge to Encouragement

Years ago, I and a small group of friends participated in a yearly bike ride called The Firehouse 50. The ride was, appropriately, 50 miles long, winding through the Chequamegon National Forest, just a stone throw from Lake Superior.

The Firehouse 50 isn't Tour de France level, but for a bunch of regular cyclists like myself and my friends, it was challenging. The ride begins on a slow grade upwards, which seems flat but in reality, is not flat. The course had one hill we'd dubbed “Killer Hill” which had to be approached after a 90 degree right turn following a stop sign. The middle of the race included a barrage of smaller hills through the forest, requiring constant shifting and changes in gearing to maintain a smooth cadence.

One year, at around the 45 mile point of my ride, I fell in with a pack of riders. Even though we had survived most of the course, and were riding on the most beautiful and comfortable rolling hills, I was feeling the hurt of the last 45 miles. Those last 5 ticks on my cyclometer were looming like another 50.

As we rode, I began to notice someone was a bit out of place in the pack. It was a rider who seemed like serious cyclist, yet he was staying back with us. Then I realized he was talking with an older gentleman next to him — maybe his father.

Ahead, we could all see a very large, long hill, and I could sense the pace dropping a bit. We were probably at the 47th or 48th mile, and I was starting to lose steam. It's difficult to describe how I felt then, because by all accounts I should have been ecstatic about finishing. I think the pack felt the same way.

Suddenly, the young Serious Cyclist, pedaling along with his dad started to cheer us on.

“C'mon guys! We have a few miles left and you can do it! Dig down and find the power left in those legs! You CAN DO IT!”

I perked up and began rising to the challenge he was calling out. I know, I know, seeing it written looks terribly cheesey, but at that moment, those were the perfect words for myself and our pack to hear. The pace increased, the entire group seemed to draw out strength we thought was gone. Somehow, we attacked the hill en masse!

Serious Cyclist wasn't about to quit either — he stayed with us those last few miles, calling out the challenge again and again...

“C'mon! You have it in you! Finish the race! Don't quit now! You CAN DO IT!”

The group kept churning, gaining power we didn't even know we had, just from the challenge and encouragement. At the last turn of the race, with 100 yards to go, he called out the final challenge to the group...

“Alright everyone, give it everything now! Leave nothing at the line! GO! GO! GO!”

With his last spurring on, we attacked the last corner into the town of Grandview, pumping out the last few feet of the race, rolling across the finish line. I don't know who else thanked our road coach, the Serious Cyclist, but I had to. I was so grateful for his encouraging words to our group, because I know that without him, we'd have surely limped across the line much later than we did.

Of course, I was completely wiped out physically, but even in this state, I felt incredible mentally. I'd managed to pull off a personal best that year of 2:38, and I'd learned something about the nature of encouragement at the same time.

First, I learned that encouragement can be an incredibly powerful thing, and that I and anyone else can make use of that power. We don't realize how powerful our words of encouragement can be to others. Often I hesitate, worried that I'm interrupting or I might look cheesey in the process. Usually though, my outgoing side wins and I say something anyway, cheesey or not, and I'm always happy I have.

Secondly, I learned I need encouragement, as much as I need to give it away. I'd always considered myself an “encourager” before this experience, but hadn't recognized my own need for encouragement. After experiencing the boost provided by the encouraging cyclist, I saw my own needs in this area more clearly.

I challenge you to consider encouraging someone today. Maybe it's just a compliment on someone's new shoes, or a kind word to the cranky cashier at the grocery store. I really don't care what it is. You can do it! :-)

Your power to brighten someone's day is right there, inside of you. Will you use it?


The Big Four-Oh


Forty years, can you believe it? I can't.

Everyone seems to ask if 40 feels any different, and honestly, no, not really. I feel the very much same as I did at 39.

In fact, I feel better than I've felt in years, because my wife and I have been on the South Beach diet since mid-July. Since then, our eating habits have changed significantly, and we've both lost over 20 pounds in the process. Talk about rolling back the years — I'm now back to my weight nearly 8 years ago!

I feel great. My clothes are getting baggy. Further, we're eating better and are truly enjoying what we eat. Its wonderful to find myself thinking “I've had enough” or “I'll pass” when being faced with tempting food choices.

For a nice overview of South Beach, I'd recommend Michael Ashby's take on South Beach, from earlier this year. And to that point, I owe Michael an apology for teasing him about the South Beach diet — you were right Michael!

I digress. Better get back to the birthday theme...

Okay, so my 40th birthday really began on Friday. You see, I was tricked by my loving (and sneaky) wife Gail, into thinking we were to spend a quiet dinner with friends from church. Yeah right.

Instead, I was thoroughly surprised by a house full of good friends. Gail had planned and plotted since January to surprise me. Not only had she rounded up local friends, she'd contacted many of my international friends, gathering photos, post cards and other artifacts, to create a birthday scrapbook. Amazing!

Even more amazing, I nearly stumbled into uncovering her plot several times, but never caught a whiff of the conspiracy. This included seeing pics from my German friend, Matthias, sent strangely to Gail. I never had an inkling!

After greeting friends and viewing my 40th birthday scrapbook, the evening's international theme continued with the food. A variety of dishes, prepared by Gail, family and friends were served. Even the cake followed the theme, as it resembled an old suitcase, complete with travel stickers made of frosting. The food was delicious, and the cake was completely scrumptious. A good time was had by all.

My actual “birth” day, on Sunday, was much more laid back. The morning was spent at church, we had lunch with my parents, then we spent the rest of the afternoon at home, reading and relaxing. My good friend Andy called from England around 5, then we topped the night off with dinner at a favorite Thai restaurant. I thought it was quite a nice way to spend my birthday.

I received many cards and small gifts from friends over the weekend, but tonight, I received the best present of all — a new kitty. If you're not aware, we lost my first cat, Snickers, two years ago near Thanksgiving, and after that, I wasn't sure if I'd want another cat. I just needed a little time to heal.

In the interim, we've kitty-sat for a friend a few times, which reminded me of how nice it felt to have a kitty around the house. This, combined with Gail's subtle and often not-so-subtle suggestions, brought me to the point of considering a kitty of our own.

Last Friday afternoon, I confided in Gail that for my birthday, I wanted to adopt a kitty. she was excited, and so began our search to find a cat. Saturday we visited the local humane society, saw several nice cats, but arrived too late to even meet with a counselor.

Tonight, we visited a humane society in a small town north of the city, as they had accumulated quite a selection. Within minutes of being ushered into the kitty room, we had found the newest addition to the family.

Our new cat is a petite white and black female, about one year old. She has a wonderful, outgoing personality, yet was completely cool and undisturbed as Nathan stomped around the small room. Other cats in the room fled for safety, but not her. She even enjoyed Nathan's petting, never seeming ill at ease. This was a very good sign.

Her demeanor and voice reminded me immediately of Snickers, even though she was missing the carmel dashes of Snickers' calico coloring. The more time we spent with her, the more we realized she was The One.

We filled out the adoption paperwork and soon were rolling home on the freeway with a new kitty in a cardboard carrier, and a brand new scratching post. The only thing we don't have yet is a good name. Let us know if you have suggestions.

As I write, she's sleeping in our dining room, becoming acclimated to her new home. Sometime tomorrow evening, we'll let her explore the first floor. I'm quite confident she'll do well here.

What a great 40th birthday! :-)