Lives of quiet desperation and debt

I came across this quote by Nigel Marsh in Adam Baker’s TEDx talk and I had to share the quote:

There are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.

Marsh also wrote a book titled “Fat, Forty, and Fired: One man’s frank, funny, and inspiring account of losing his job and finding his life” that, aside from the “fat” bit, seems like an appropriate read for me while I search for a new job or build another business.

You can find the full transcript of Marsh’s talk on the TED site and watch him speak here:

In Baker’s TEDx talk, he talks about freedom and the financial treadmills we buy into and run on for much of our lives. His video is worth watching too:

The things we do to ourselves …

Image credit: Mikael Kristenson

If I could just go back in time and make better decisions …

“If I could just go back in time and do that differently …”

If you have ever said those words (or thought them), you probably imagined an alternate timeline when you were able to correct a mistake or make a different decision about something that led to your current situation.

Leaving aside the current reality that time is very much a linear experience in one direction, it is appealing to think we could be living a better life if only we made different choices.

I’ve certainly thought about it. Each time I considered the hypothetical possibility that I could go back in time and change something, I arrived at the same conclusion: I would probably lose the wonderful things I have in my life too.

If I gave a different answer then a relationship would have ended sooner and I wouldn’t have made that [insert adjective here] decision later. Then I could have avoided [insert consequences here] and I would be so much better off now!

Sure, if I had 3 wishes and a genie to grant them I’d probably make a couple changes here and there (I’ve thought about this too!). I doubt they would be as dramatic as you may think.

I’ve come to understand that all my past mistakes also involved a series of decisions that led me to this life with a wonderful wife and children and an opportunity to have the experiences I have today.

More recently, I also realised that this idea that we could make different choices to affect our future lives isn’t just a phenomenon of the past. It is very much part of our present too.

This isn’t quite a “Road Not Taken” realisation. Instead what I realised is that each decision we make could one day become that decision we will wish we could have made differently.

It is easy to wish we could be transported back in time to correct a wrong at some perceived pivotal point in our lives. It is also easy to imagine that, by correcting that wrong and making a different decision, we would place our future selves in a far better position. It’s easy because we know we can’t go back in time.

Unfortunately, that desire to change something we can’t influence also keeps us tied to the past and prevents us from moving forward with the life we have now.

What we can influence, though, is the next decision we make. What if we project ourselves forward a few years and consider what impact a decision may have on our lives? Perhaps we could glimpse a likely future and make a better decision now and save ourselves that future angst.

We all make mistakes. I make mistakes daily. Some are minor, others not so much. Learning from those mistakes is an important step towards greater self-awareness and not repeating them.

I think it is also possible to make better decisions and smaller mistakes with a little imagination and foresight. In the process, perhaps we’ll also find ourselves wondering: “If I could just go back in time and do that differently …” a little less often in the future.

Featured image credit: Pixabay

Cross-platform or best platform?

What is better? A cross-platform productivity system or the best productivity system, even if it is only available on one platform? I was thinking about this some more after I published my previous post this morning.

A productivity system for autonomous adults

The answer mostly hinges on whether you can be reasonably assured that you will be able to use the device/operating system of your choice going forward or whether you need to cater for an environment where you could find yourself working on whatever your employer gives you?

My employer, like many companies, issues Windows-based laptops to its staff. I have been a Mac user for about a decade and I use a number of apps that are only available on the Mac. That said, much of how I work on my Mac is also possible on other operating systems. I write in plain text using MultiMarkdown and I can do that on just about any device and OS. We use Google Drive for internal document sharing and that is available from any modern desktop browser and most smart devices.

One of the reasons I really love MultiMarkdown is because it is truly cross-platform and it doesn’t matter what you are using to write, it will work because it uses the most basic format: plain text. I’m going through a phase right now where I wish I could just do everything in plain text files and easy to migrate and sync files. I want to explore some sort of alternative to Evernote. Evernote is my primary reference repository for my stuff. I have a lot of data in there and I am a bit concerned that Evernote might go away one day and I won’t have an independent and similar system I could switch to.

So the question which has guided many of my productivity system choices has been whether to focus on a cross-platform system or on the best system available to me?

  1. A cross-platform productivity system would be something like Asana, Trello or even a plain text file with some customised syntax to reflect tasks and actions on tasks (I had a pretty interesting system running in Atom for a while).
  2. The best productivity system available to me at the moment is OmniFocus but its value is entirely dependent on me being able to use a Mac and iOS devices day to day. I’m using my MacBook Air for work at the moment but that is primarily because I returned my underpowered, office issued laptop and it hasn’t been replaced yet. This works well enough but if my MacBook Air were to decide to take a vacation on me, I’d have to switch to something else and my efforts to set up an effective productivity system using OmniFocus would be rendered useless.

At the moment I am leaning more towards using the best system available over cross-platform, primarily because nothing else is as good, intuitive and effective as OmniFocus on my Mac and iOS devices. I’ve discovered that “good enough” isn’t always good enough and carries a fair amount of aggravation with it.

The underlying question still remains, though.

Image credit: Pexels

Where are my words, dammit?

Argh! Why is it so difficult to keep writing? For someone who considers himself a writer (that would be me), I am consistently inconsistent about writing. I return to my blog now and then with the intention of writing so much more and regularly. I’m too embarrassed about my most recent undertaking to write every day that I won’t even link to the post.

When I think about writing I just feel this little hurdle in my way and I turn right and do something else. I don’t really know what that hurdle is, exactly. Some days it feels like writing is too much hassle because I have to –

  • load my blog,
  • log in,
  • create a post,
  • write it,
  • populate the SEO plugin fields,
  • find a featured image,
  • publish the post and then go make sure the article shared neatly on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Tumblr.

I am almost certainly over complicating the process here so that also feels like a hurdle at times. Did I mention none of this is rational?

Other times, I think about Medium and how nice it is to write there. Then, just as that thought forms fully and starts to inspire my hands to starting typing the url in my browser, another part of my mind gets outraged because, after all, I wrote a pretty long article about how you really shouldn’t trust your beloved words to some floozy 3rd party platform like Medium. At this point the inspired impulse to go write on Medium with its beautiful interface just sighs in disgust and drops the whole idea of writing altogether.

Every time I think about publishing my work on a platform that is not my free-standing, self-hosted blog, I feel like I should apologize to Kevin Marks for betraying the Open Web.

I don’t know when I made this writing thing so absurdly complicated. People manage to maintain a blog over time. Others just write on Medium or other services and live contented lives. Somewhere along the way I managed to lose sight of the simplicity of adding text to a page (virtual or tangible) and became snared in a self-critical/creative feedback loop that forced Inspiration to start drinking heavily and snarl at the world.

I love writing, I really do. I love the Open Web and want it to thrive. I also really like Medium because it actually does simplify the writing process. I just haven’t figured out how to reconcile it all and not feel like I’m giving in to the Man and Screwing The Open Web Guy while selling my soul down the commercial river.

Man, writing used to be simpler. Pen, paper, stuff comes out and you go out feeling creatively satisfied until the next time.

Where are my words, dammit?

I just came across Jennifer Garam’s post titled “Finding My Voice Again” which is worth reading if you found my little rant somewhat interesting. She touches on similar themes.

Create a 2015 you will want to remember

2014 has turned out to be a pretty challenging year and not necessarily in a happy way. I was about to say “not in a good way” but you have a choice how to view your challenges in your life. You can see them as curses sent to make you miserable or mountains to climb so you can learn something new; experience something better or just get to the other side.

I’ve had a pretty challenging 2014 and it wasn’t always easy to adopt a positive approach to my challenges but, ultimately, you have to make a choice. Either you tackle those challenges in some way or you let them determine how you will experience your life at that time. I read an inspiring post the other night titled “How to Ruin Your Life (Without Even Noticing That You Are)” which includes this cautionary note:

You ruin your life by letting your past govern it. It is common for certain things in life to happen to you. There will be heartbreak, confusion, days where you feel like you aren’t special or purposeful. There are moments that will stay with you, words that will stick. You cannot let these define you – they were simply moments, they were simply words. If you allow for every negative event in your life to outline how you view yourself, you will view the world around you negatively.

I have no idea what awaits me in 2015. I am certain I will face more challenges and my decisions about those challenges will probably vary. I do know that I will begin 2015 in a very different place (literally and figuratively) and I am very grateful about that. I have my wife and children with me and I am living in an amazing country with so much to offer us. The only choice I really have is to keep moving forward (or, like Dory says, “just keep swimming”) and to make better decisions about my future challenges.

Have a happy new year. Create a 2015 you will want to remember and not a year you will be glad to see the end of.

Why Mark Zuckerberg wears the same t-shirt every day

I just watched Mark Zuckerberg’s response to a question about his t-shirt choice (apparently a similar grey t-shirt every day) and, as he said, it sounds silly but makes a lot of sense. At least, to me.

I’ve been thinking about all the choices I have in a different context and how having all those choices is pretty counter-productive. I have a lot of apps on my phone with several duplicates for a couple functions. For example, for social (personal) stuff I have –

  1. Facebook
  2. Path
  3. Google+

Of those three, Facebook is the only one with real traction for me, despite my preference for Path as a better app for social sharing (in theory, at least). I find myself wondering more and more why I still have Path and Google+ on my phone when I could still share meaningfully with just Facebook.

Take it a step in a different direction. I have Foursquare and Swarm to find friends and places to eat/shop/fill-up alongside Facebook which, although it doesn’t quite match Foursquare, covers quite a bit of ground. Maybe I could simplify some more and just use Facebook for location-based stuff too?

The same thing applies to productivity stuff too. Why bother with iWork when I use Google Apps far more anyway? I certainly don’t need Microsoft’s iOS app suite. On a related note, I’m not sure why I still have Simplenote or Drafts when I am pretty much an Evernote person for the most part with Byword for plain text notes (or perhaps Byword should give way to Drafts which is much more flexible anyway).

I could probably cut back on the apps on my devices by half to two thirds if I stopped thinking “I might want to use that one day” and really streamline my decisions when I just want to do something.

Do I really want to have to decide between 3 or 4 photo apps when I just want to take a photo?

I think Zuckerberg is right. It does sound silly when he explains why he wears a similar grey t-shirt every day but why waste that time and those thought cycles on deciding which t-shirt to wear when you have so much bigger and more important decisions to make?

Challenging #FML

At first #FML was a rare sighting online and, slowly, it began to find more use as people tweeted about their misfortunes online. The term has its own website featuring everyday uses and it is probably one of the most depressing memes I’ve seen online.

Sure, some people have huge challenges in their lives and have every right to be pessimistic about their lives and yet so many of those people find a way to survive and even thrive because, when faced with the alternatives, they have no choice but to keep climbing that hill.

When I see people tweeting about their lives and hashtagging it #FML, it signals a deep pessimism about their lives even though the things they tweet about are pretty minor in the Grand Scheme of Things.

Is this about more 21st century problems we don’t seem to be able to handle because our expectations of our lives are so skewed? You may say that #FML is just an expression, a sort of grand #Fail but think about it for a moment: #FML doesn’t stand for “Forgot My Lunch” or “Faked My Laugh”. It stands for “F*#ck My Life”. That is a pretty nihilistic take on life, particularly when your challenges are lousy broadband for a couple hours, no soy lattes at your local coffee spot or Facebook going down for 15 minutes when you wanted to procrastinate most. Our words have a power we underestimate. They reframe how we perceive our world and the experiences we choose for ourselves.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into the meme. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and it just seems so destructive, particular when it comes to our thoughts about our life. Maybe #FML is appropriate if your life fundamentally sucks because your family rejects you; you don’t have a safe home; you are destitute or worse. Even then, I am inspired by people whose lives have been constant struggles to survive for a decade or more and yet they are some of the most optimistic people I know.

So you don’t drive an Audi, you don’t live in a fancy house with beautiful furniture and you don’t have the new iPhone 6 with a fast LTE connection so you can stream whatever you want. Heck, Twitter may even go down for 15 minutes and you’ll have to find something more meaningful to occupy those precious minutes.

What if your life doesn’t truly suck. What if you live a life with wonderful people and opportunities you would have thought fantasy a few years ago. What if you are (relatively) healthy and have all your limbs working as they should? What if you have a pretty solid roof over your head and fairly regular meals to sustain you and, in the midst of all of that, you have challenges to face and which, when overcome, leave you somewhat better off because of them?

Perhaps, instead of “F*#ck My Life”, #FML should stand for something else, something like:

Found My Laugh