The caged bird sings

Over the next several weeks, many American prisoners will be on strike. You can read the reactions on Twitter, and quickly see how personal biases, snap judgments gets in the way of seeking truth.

As Catherine Hoke has pointed out, in her critical work with Defy Ventures, most people who go to prison, will get out of prison. They serve their time, pay their debt to society, and yet…

And yet, their punishment doesn’t end once released from prison. It’s difficult to find a job if your last 20 years of experience has been in prison. (Try putting that on a resume.) If you can’t find a job, it’s difficult find a place to live. You can see how circumstances spiral out of control rather quickly and this cycle of shame that hangs like an anchor.

We don’t live in a culture of second chances. Dignity, opportunity and respect are not reserved for the elect. Everyone deserves a second (and third…) chance, but for many, because of the environment they were born into, they’re still looking for their first.

If you were born into similar circumstances, were taught how someone else was taught, lived the way someone else lived, you would probably make the same decisions someone else would make.

How else can we build a culture that we can all be proud of if we won’t stop and listen or be a voice a voiceless?

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings.

—Paul Laurence Dunbar

Your 2018 bonus

In 1910, the average life expectancy was 50.

Today, it’s 78.

The question is: What are you going to do with all this time? How will you use this gift?

Our time on this earth is incredibly short. To be given so much more, how could you not possibly share it with others?

Is there a cause that needs your help? A church, a charity or shelter? How about starting that small business you always talked about? Could you spend more time with your family and friends?

The best anecdote to shake off our egocentric state is generosity.

Less than perfect

Simon Sinek in his hallmark TED talk gives us incredible insight on why great companies exist.

As you watch the video, the first thing you notice is that Sinek is dressed more on the casual side. The lighting is far from ideal. He’s drawing on a paper flip chart. And at the five-minute mark, you’ll notice his microphone needs to be changed.

This is far from ideal conditions to give a presentation that would go on to receive 40 million hits. Obviously, no one in the audience knew what was about to take place that day.

And yet…

You do your best work despite conditions being less than ideal.

Conditions are never optimal or perfect. Sometimes the microphone malfunctions, you stain your favorite shirt and lighting isn’t going to show off your good side.

It’s easy in that moment to walk away, you’ll have every excuses to do so. Don’t. Choose to do great work. The big hit will always be less than perfect. Every time.

Big fish, little pond strategy

To make a big difference for a lot of people, it helps to start by targeting the smallest possible group you can change.

As you grow, you can jump to a bigger pond, creating more impact in the process.

Repeat as needed.

[It is a common misconception that goldfish can’t grow bigger than their tank. While that it is sorta true, goldfish—like most fish—are indeterminate growers. In other words, they never really stop growing. When properly cared for, there’s no telling how big they can get.]

A labor of love

Thomas Hawk is on a mission to take one million hand crafted pictures in his lifetime.

Considering the life expectancy for a male in the US is 78 years old, he would have to average just over 35 photos a day for his entire life.

(It’s more, since I doubt he started this project on the day he was born.)

This is a perfect example of what a labor of love is.

Of course, not every picture Hawk produces is going to be perfect. Some of it might fail. In fact, most of it probably will.

Andy Warhol said it best, “Don’t think about making art. Just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they’re deciding, make even more art.”

Our job is to produce. Each of us needs a labor of love, something that we would do whether we got paid.

Time is always running out, don’t waste another second.


[This blog is my own personal labor of love. I want to write 20,000 consecutive blog posts. At my pace, of one a day, that goal will be realized in 2060.]

The call to action

In 1952, a 23-year-old medical student set across South America on a 1939 Norton 500cc motorcycle (aptly named La Poderosa, or “The Mighty One”) to explore and experience the South America he grew up reading about. What happened next shocked this young man to his core.

Over the next 8,000 miles he encountered extreme poverty, exploitation, disease and suffering. Upon finishing his trip, he knew he could never go back living the way he lived before.

Because of this experience, Ernesto “Che” Guevara would be transformed into one the most controversial and revered figures in history. His image became a symbol for counter-culture.


Because he answered the call.

Every hero goes through a similar journey that transforms them. This is where we discover our purpose, our why, the dent we are going to make in the universe. Everyone receives a call to action. Everyone.

The problem is far too many of us ignore it.

We are miserable for it. Aren’t you tired of thinking you can’t make a difference? How long will you ignore your purpose on this earth?

Many are called, few will answer.

Interchangeable parts led to interchangeable people

In 1765, a French General named John-Baptise Gribeauval was obsessed with streamlining the process of repairing guns. The idea was if you could switch out different parts of a musket seamlessly, you could keep costs down.

Thomas Jefferson observed what was happening with Gribeauval and came back to the US advocating for an interchangeable parts system.

Fast forward to the turn of the 20th century, Henry Ford began to perfect this system of automation with the assembly line.

As a result, instead of hiring workers at $1.50 per day, Henry Ford was able to hire his people on $5 per day—making us all extremely rich. And for a while, it worked, until it didn’t.

The problem with building a system on interchangeable parts is that it eventually led to interchangeable people. Factory owners began to have the edge and could hire the lowest skilled workers to get a job done.

Every day, this system of interchangeable parts and people becomes more and more automated. While this frightens many individuals, there’s also this door that is opening.

Just like 200 years ago, when we left the farm for the factory, we now have more time on our hands to do work that matters. We don’t need to focus on plowing a field or fetch water from a well to quench our thirst. We now don’t need to focus on spreadsheets. We can focus on helping people that need our help or make something that needs to be made.

We are at the doorstep of something great and something daring. Again.

The question is: What are you going to do when it’s your turn?

What is Goliath afraid of?

Everyone is afraid to stand up against Goliath.

But I am also convinced that Goliath is afraid of us too.

That’s why the record industry went out of their way to sue small time torrent downloaders and why Wal-Mart undercuts everyone around them.

Someone, eventually, knocks Goliath down. We are just waiting for you to show up.

Real power is not what you can bench, but your capacity to do.

Work is not a paycheck

At the beginning of our lives, we did all sorts of things for free. That changed once we got older and decided to go to work. Once we get paid to do something, we don’t want to do it anymore because it’s our job.

So why would we spend (interest word, spend) our time doing something just because we got paid?

Wouldn’t we better spending our time doing work we love, even if we don’t get paid?

Your work is not defined by how much money you make. If it did, that would mean that the CEO of the company you work for brings 380 times more value than you do.

No, work is more than something you do by the hour. It could be measured by the difference you make, the lives you touch, the people you heal. Or it can be defined by the change you seek to make.

You could be paid in community or maybe you get paid in the satisfaction of helping someone who needs to be helped.

Fortune 500’s and social impact

Recently, I was invited to give feedback for a workshop a friend of mine is developing.

During one of the activities, one of the participants expressed that she wanted to be a CEO for a billion-dollar company and have a social impact component.

It’s quite rare to find a Fortune 500 that tries to make the culture better. Fortune 500’s don’t become Fortune 500’s by solving world hunger, they do it by generating profits.

If the goal is to be maximize the return for shareholders, to squeeze the machine for another buck, it changes our attitude.

Impossible to serve two masters. It’s a trap, that many of us fall into:

Once I get mine, then I will help those around me.

But that’s not how generosity works. When you feed the network, the network turns around and feeds us back.

Repeatedly, we wait until conditions to be perfect for us before we lift others. Yet, we don’t need to be in charge, we don’t need more authority, we don’t need a bigger paycheck to care.

Caring is a posture we can start today.

(It’s rare to find someone all sudden become extremely generous with their money once they get rich. Money amplifies behavior/character, not change it.)