You can’t fight back what you can’t see

There are over 36 million people who live with HIV in the world today. 34 million of them (or 95%) live in the developing world.

Sub-Saharan Africa has been hit especially hard. Almost 70% of all HIV-infected patients live there. Without treatment, people who progress to AIDS survive one to three years. However, if you are taking ART and maintain a low viral load, then you may enjoy a near normal life span.

The CDC reports that the estimated lifetime cost of treating HIV is $379,000. The problem is that a huge amount of the population is living in extreme poverty. Many of which are living on $2 a day ($730 per year).

Clearly, there is an economic problem in fighting the spread of HIV.

Okay, so we say lets print brochures on how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and promote abstinence. But 24% of all illiterate adults in the world live in sub-Saharan Africa. (Which means the rising generation will rely on someone else to teach them to read.)

Not to mention that even when you can get the material to the right person, who is to say they are going to follow the advice they read on a brochure? Because now we are getting to the root of the problem, which is culture.

The culture promotes HIV: Drug use, sex traffickers, children who were born with HIV, gender inequality, criminals that spread the disease, discrimination, cultural stigmas of the use of condoms, battling the status-quo.

How do you change an entire culture?

This is a complex problem that is going to need a complex solution.

At no fault of their own, these people live in a different century. I truly believe that education for the neglected, particularly reading and writing, is one of the best tools we can give to people to pull them closer to dignity, opportunity and equality.

However, access, that we take for granted, is a luxury not a novelty.

It’s easy for any one in these circumstances to lose hope. And it’s easy for us sheltered by these problems to lose respect for those enslaved by their circumstances.

Despite the challenges they face, there is hope for a brighter future. For the first time ever in the history of the world, we are connected. 3 billion people now have access to the internet. And there is a new door opening. A new opportunity to solve interesting problems. Big problems. One that will take global efforts. Like the spread of HIV but also things like global warming or gender inequality or poverty or malaria.

This is the greatest time in human history to ever live. We should start acting liking it and stop worrying about what we can’t control like jobs being shipped to foreign countries, self-driving cars replacing truck drivers, budget cuts, college educations that don’t guarantee good jobs, the rise of debt…Here’s the thing: People will always be worried about their future as long as their future holds uncertainty. We live in a world that is constantly changing. You cannot possibly be competent in a world that is always changing. What an opportunity to have machines do menial tasks that we don’t want to do anyway and free up our time to do work that matters.

We have been liberated by prosperity, but we cannot be fulfilled by it. Abundance is not enough.

Our best shot at building a culture we can all be proud of is bringing everyone we can with us as we take the next step. But we cannot do it without first acknowledging there is a problem. We cannot do it without seeing what is actually happening.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb

People are assets

And assets are people.

There are plenty of organizations that fail to see the value in a person, other than their value as an asset.

Which leads to a large hole in leadership.

At the end of the day, what is it for?

Maybe we don’t need to keep score by how much money we have compared to others.

Maybe we should stop telling ourselves stories that money equals value, money equals worth and money equals approval.

Instead, we can keep score by how much we made a difference today. Maybe we can measure how we helped someone do something that we could never do.

I think we will be surprised to discover when we give more opportunity, dignity and respect to those who haven’t had it; the work we do will make us happier. And in return, it will enable us to do even more.

I don’t think we cannot imagine how important action is to our inner life…The interior joy we feel when we have done a good deed, when we feel we have been needed somewhere and have lent a helping hand, is the nourishment the soul requires. Without those times when man feels himself to be part of the spiritual world through his actions, his soul decays.” – Albert Schweitzer

Never out of reach

Most of the decisions we make are based on our environment. We have less control then we think.

Many of us that are reading this have choices.

(Not everyone is so fortunate.)

And we are more powerful than we think.

It turns out, we’re not really all that good at making choices. Many of us are content with someone making them for us. Particularly, if what we are being offered is safety and comfort and certainty. It’s rational.

But then we sit there dissatisfied: How did I get here? Is there something more?

Although we may be out the presence of those that care about us the most, we are never out reach. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the light you deserve. It’s not too late either. There is still time.

The choices we make today will directly affect our future ten years from now. I worry that too many of us have led to believe that hope is lost for someone like me.

The myth of talent

Talent is a birthright, but skill, on the other hand, is learned.

I will grant you that some people will never be able to dunk a basketball, but most of the things we do are skills that can be learned: Everyone has an equal talent for everything.

The difference between those who “can” from those who “can’t” is simply the number attempts someone made. Successful people are not successful because of all the success they have obtained. No, they have learned to embrace failure. They learn to fail, fail again, fail better.

So maybe we should stop telling ourselves stories that we aren’t good enough when we fail. You cannot possibly be competent in a world that is constantly changing. What’s scarce then is the ability to ship your best work, learn from your interaction with the market and do it again.

Popularity has never equaled talent. Anything new is most certainly rejected at first. And if automobiles have taught us anything is that people don’t know what they actually want.

Learn to play the game so that you can keep playing. You’re not playing to win; you’re playing because it matters. You’re playing because it creates meaning. So if you are relying on this idea that you need be a competent writer before you even begin writing, you will be waiting a long time before you ever begin.

The thing is: We don’t know what we don’t know, but that isn’t evidence that we cannot learn something new.

There is risk in shipping your best work. You will be judged. But the greater risk comes when we fail to ship; it’s regret. We regret that we didn’t follow our hearts, our dreams, our passions and, instead, we pursued distractions.

Alex Lowe said it best, “The best climber in the world is the one having the most fun.” That’s good advice to live by.

[Learn more about this idea of talent and skill from Ellen Langer.]

Now what

However we decide to put out this fire or handle this crisis at hand, however we decide to take care of the uncertainty and reconcile our doubts: Fear will never completely go away.

That’s why short cuts are dangerous. Short-term decision-making is attempting to eliminate fear.

Which is why it is so important to not eat the marshmallow.

Our families, our communities, our future will need more help to build a better world than how we have left it.

The tools are here now. So solve one interesting problem at a time.

It’s what our mothers would have wanted.

[Too much talking about the way things are supposed to be or the way thing were is a trap. It can inhibit us from the future we are seeking to create.]

What is art?

Art certainly can be a painting, but it doesn’t necessarily have to.

Paintings are a powerful medium for art. They cause us to delay: To stop and think and change us for the better.

So if the purpose of art is to change us for the better than why limit it to just paintings or manuscripts or photographs?

Space in a museum is finite. If we use the criteria that it must be hung on a wall or displayed in a museum, we are severely limiting the amount of art in the world.

What is art then?

Art is any kind of human work that brings emotional labor resulting in a connection.

It’s putting on a show. It’s putting a smile on someone’s face. It’s anything that brings us closer together.

Art is a gift. It always has an element of generosity when we spend our time making something that needs to be made for someone or helping someone who needs to be helped.

Artist don’t make art for credit or money or fame. They aren’t busy keeping score about magical digits and bits compared to other people. There busy making a difference.

Some of us will read this and go, “What are you crazy? I need to make money.” I’m not saying you shouldn’t get paid for your art. You should get paid. But it’s not the primary reason we do it. We do it because it matters. We do it because it brings meaning. When we feed the network often enough, the network will turn around and feed us back.

Anything can be art. So it is to our advantage to see the art in everything.

Sometime you don’t know what to write

But you write. And you write some more. Especially when you don’t feel like writing. That is what professionals do.

If you do enough bad writing, eventually you will want to start doing good writing.

Right now, maybe every 10 posts I’ll think to myself that I had a wonderful insight.

The discipline though is to write. Good writing. Bad writing. Doesn’t matter.

It is not for you to judge. Your job is to make better art. If someone finds it bad, that’s okay. It’s not for them. We can try again tomorrow or find someone who will get the joke.

[Ellen Langer has written, “All it takes to become an artist is to start making art.”]


You don’t do improv once you’ve learned the script. You do improv and then you are able to find the words to say something.

No one is good at improv the first time you try it. Improv is always changing. It is something you can never be competent at. Overtime, you can get better and better at incompetence.

People are really good at following the script. When we walk into the library, we make sure to keep quiet. When we graduate from school, we find a job. When we eat at a restaurant and we are charged $12, we pay them $12. We have social norms and rules to follow.

But what we are finding is that following the script leads us to a place of predictable outcomes. And predictable outcomes have made us afraid that we won’t find something better than the hand we have been dealt.

So okay, some of us will say let’s throw away the script. Then we find that having too many choices paralyzes us from making any decisions. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know what the next step is. Too many of us would rather stay where we at than rock the boat.

Ellen Langeur has pointed out, “All behavior makes sense from the actor’s perspective or else the actor wouldn’t do it.”

Following the script is a very safe and reliable formula. Throwing it away is an opportunity for something better. Yeah, you will be judged. Sometimes you might fail. If it can’t fail then there is no opportunity for doing something meaningful.