Is it generous enough?

Could your insights be shared on a platform for free?

Could your small business serve the community better as a non-profit?

Could you lower the cost of this vaccine so that more people can get more access to this life saving drug?

When you feed the community, the community turns around and feeds you back.

All the while asking if we could trade you something in exchange for more art.

Profit follows generosity. Not the other way around.

Love and acceptance

Every human being deserves dignity, opportunity, respect…We all want to be seen, we want to be heard, we want to be missed when we are gone.

Another way to say this, we all need to be loved.

The tension comes in acceptance.

Where should we draw the lines of when it is acceptable to exclude certain groups and when is it not okay? What gets accepted in the cannon? Who defines the tribe? Is exclusion ever okay?

Because by definition, tribes are made up of insiders and outsiders. They’re made of people like us who do stuff like this. In the right setting, a tribe is a magical thing. At its best, getting a group of like minded individuals pointing in the same direction can change things for the better. (The opposite is true too.)

Because most of us agree that excluding woman from voting or excluding a person from drinking a water fountain because of their skin color is not the kind of culture we want to build.

Here’s another one: LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.

(Think about that for a minute.)

On the other hand, we don’t want to live in a world without tribes. Tribes are an important part of our history. They help us define who we are and where we come from (language, traditions, food, dance, religion…).

But if tribes are for everyone, they are for no one. Which means they have to exclude someone.

So…

Does love equal acceptance? Does acceptance equal love? Are the two binary?

Here’s what I think:

  • Everyone needs a tribe. We need people like us to connect with, to share our life with. The internet has made it so much easier to find a tribe. The bell curve of the masses is melting and people are moving to the fringes.
  • We have to be careful who we exclude. Because our track record has shown we don’t do a good job of excluding people for the right reasons. Our worldview, bias, prejudice and snap judgments get in the way.
  • Tribes, in the right context/lens, can change things for the better. They can also turn into an echo chamber. Diversity brings better ideas.
  • Status plays a key role in everything we do. Status determines who eats first, who’s in or out. And the easiest way to raise your status among the tribe is to say, “You don’t belong here.”
  • There are inalienable rights, natural rights that cannot be revoked by an outside force.
  • Tribes and culture are a two-way street. One can influence the other.

One more thing: We cannot understate the role fear plays in our day-to-day lives. Most strife in love and acceptance comes when culture and tribes clash. Most exclusion is rooted in fear based reactions. It’s the work of nostalgia (a world that never existed) and utopia (a world that could never be).

The thing is, we are all in this together. Maybe we shouldn’t care as much.

Acceptance is not always guaranteed in some tribes. (Because what fun would it be to watch me play in the NBA?) But it should be automatic in others. (What person doesn’t need healthcare?)

And so, overtime, the culture bends. Tribes evolve. The cannon changes. We become more inclusive and more accepting with more knowledge.

Because people like us do stuff like this.

“You’re just not that funny”

Rachel Brosnahan, before hitting the big screen on Amazon, used to go to auditions and was frequently told by casting agents, “You’re just not that funny.”

Overtime, she began to believe it.

So she started picking up roles for dramas.

But then, one day, the role of the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel appeared. She went for it and ended up getting the part. As a stand-up comedian. Not only that, she went on to win a Golden Globe Award for the role.

What changed?

She quit believing she wasn’t funny.

That shift, that posture is a choice.

Because everyone is capable of telling at least one funny joke. Everyone is capable of writing one well written paragraph.

And if you can do it once, you can do it again.

Hope and expectations

It’s hope that the work we do will change the world.

It’s hope that fuels us to create things that don’t yet exist.

Expectations, on the other hand, is the killer of hope. And without hope there is no joy.

We expect that the work we do should resonate with the market because we have put so much time and emotional energy into it.

We expect that just because we started a blog that everyone should read it.

It’s important to remember that the most popular podcasts in the world are only downloaded 20,000 times. It’s not for everyone.

Lower your expectations about what kind of splash you are going to make. But continue to have high hopes. You’ll be much happier when the reward is satisfaction of shipping your work, interacting with the market and getting the practice you need.

That shift will transform the work you do: From changing everyone a little bit to someone a lot.

If it works, then you can do it a little bigger.

The beautiful thing is when your work doesn’t meet the expectations of the market, you can ship something else.

The history of veils

7,000 years ago, Assyrian men got all the women in the community to wear veils.

The question is, How do you get the culture to adopt this practice?

Well, according to David Graeber, they passed a law that says prostitutes are not allowed to wear veils.

So, if you wanted to differentiate yourself in the community as someone who is “respectable” or “distinguished” you welcomed the opportunity.

This has everything to do with Keith Johnstone’s riff on status roles.

Every interaction we make either raises or lowers our status. 

Who’s status is higher? Who has things that are scarce? What signals are you sending? Who gets to eat first?

Status roles drives so much of what we do in our culture. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

Precautionary principle

Precautionary principle is this idea that we should avoid everything that isn’t known to be safe.

This is the challenge of our time.

We don’t have to lead. We don’t have to initiate. We don’t have to make a ruckus. We can almost always choose to let someone else go first.

And so, when given the choice we choose to hide.

We hide behind phones, emails, screen names and think this is what productive work looks like.

Heres the thing, the person who invented the ship also invented the ship-wreck.

You’ll never build anything great without criticism or without consequence. And what most of us end up confusing is the difference between real risk and perceived risk.

Running away from a saber tooth tiger is not something we have to do anymore. Yet, this is how our brain still operates.

So even though there is plenty of food, clean water, a warm bed to keep us out of the rain…it’s not enough to satisfy the lizard brain. It’s not enough to silence the loon noises.

Clicking send, standing up and standing out in a crowd, being the lone voice against the status-quo, writing and publishing a blog, giving a TED talk…these are the scary, emotional things that we get to do. Each of us now has a platform now available to us.

But this might not work. (And it probably won’t work for a while until we get better.)

And because this might not work, we feel like we are taking a huge risk. Someone might not like it. The critic might boo us. The boss may fire us. Haters may hate.

So, we hesitate. We wait for things to be perfect before we ship. No shipwrecks. We want a map from A to Z, a step-by-step set of instructions without any detours or potholes.

There is no growth in comfort zones and no comfort in growing zones.

Stepping out of the box, shipping our work only feels risky. A one-star review is hardly the same as staring death in the face.

 

Patterns, loops and safety

Here’s one pattern:

Something happens to us and then we create a system to help explain what happened.

Bias and prejudice begin to settle in when something happens to us that contradicts the system we have built.

And instead of changing it, we cherry pick the data to reinforce the narrative. All in an effort to protect our beliefs.

After a while, we become stuck. The status-quo begins to sink in.

We create this pattern in order to create shortcuts. Because it is impossible to interpret everything that is happening all at once. There is too much data to consume. So, we pick things that have predictable outcomes.

Why is it that our brains find it so seductive to live life that is so predictable?

Because it is safe. Because nothing happens. Because I don’t have to work so hard and can save the calories.

If yesterday was like today, I can better predict what tomorrow brings. I have a better chance to survive this way. If it’s easier for me to survive then I am more likely to create a repeatable pattern.

But is survival enough?

Let’s be clear, safer doesn’t mean better.

If we don’t step out and draw a bigger box, we will never attain the life we deserve. The one full of possibility.

Patterns overtime create loops. Caught in the wrong one and your life can be severely inhibited.

Sovereignty is misunderstood

Most people conflate this idea of more money and more power equals more sovereignty. That if somehow you can accumulate more than the other person you can be free to do whatever you want.

This mindset has perpetuated the Gordon Gekko mentality of “Greed is good.”

“It’s just business.”

“Survival of the fittest.”

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world.”

This is a mistake.

Life is not a zero sum game. Somebody doesn’t have to lose in order for you to win. The pie isn’t fixed. No, possibilities are endless.

Here’s the thing: You probably don’t need more money to gain the sovereignty you seek.

Because what most of us are actually seeking for is sovereignty from the boss. Sovereignty from a paycheck. Sovereignty from a dead-end job. Sovereignty from the credit card companies. Sovereignty from board meetings. (The reason why everyone calls it a board meeting is because everyone is board.)

The point isn’t to be totally free from government or responsibility either. We don’t want to live in a world without roads or schools or educated citizens. The point is to act in a way that amplifies your generosity. To become an agent of change. To do work that matters. To make your art.

And you do that by shipping.

By adopting a posture of shipping, overtime, your work gets better and maybe you can make a living at it. If not, then you have your day job to fuel your art.

Money amplifies character. It doesn’t change it. Wealth can make you more generous or greedy. Freed or enslaved.

What most of us don’t realize is that the more responsibility you take the more sovereign you become.

Inevitable futures and the choice to do something or nothing

Once upon a time, I was walking through campus and in the distance saw a crowd had gathered around a tree.

Curious, I walked over and in the center there was a dog and a squirrel.

The squirrel minding its own business did not notice that every time he would duck behind the tree or turn around, the dog would creep closer.

Closer and closer and closer the dog kept creeping.

Not sensing its own demise, the dog finally lunged after the squirrel and in a blink of an eye had the squirrel in its mouth.

A couple of people from the crowd jumped in and pried the squirrel out.

But it was too late. The squirrel was dead.

[Of course, I didn’t really see this happen but the story is better told in the first person.]

So the question is, Why did it take so long for the crowd to react?

At any moment the bystanders could have warned the squirrel by scaring away the dog or even the squirrel itself.

Sometimes, we fail to act in the face of the inevitable because of things like social pressures or fear or status roles…but most of the time, it is because we fail to see what is actually happening until it’s too late.

We act like bystanders instead of agents of change.

We fail to see that we had the power, the choice to do something. To act before an outcome was “inevitable.”

Inevitable outcomes don’t come out of nowhere. Usually, they creep on us. One step at a time. It takes insight to see and guts to change them.

Asking for direction

“I don’t know what to do with my life.”

“I don’t know what my passion is.”

Help.

The problem isn’t about what you want to do or what your passion is. The problem is that you don’t know which direction to face.

Because once you figure out which direction is north (strategy), then the other stuff (tactics) is much easier to figure out.

If you decide to climb a mountain, then expect Resistance.

For others, they may decide to go in a direction with the wind on their back.

You might decide to work harder or smarter.

But don’t decide to push a giant boulder up a hill without a reason. Otherwise, all you will find is displacement.