[Warning: If you are interested in a calm, comfortable life, this blog will be counterproductive for you.]

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rejected By Your Husband? Your Cat Exploded? Advice from Neil Gaiman On What To Do With Pain

I was moved by some of the comments of Neil Gaiman, international best-selling author of books, comics, and movies, when he gave a commencement speech for the University of the Arts, class of 2012.

He said...

"When life gets tough, make good art. I'm serious.

Husband runs off with a politician--make good art. Leg crushed, then eaten by mutated boa constrictor--make good art. IRS on your tail--make good art. Cat exploded--make good art. Someone on the internet thinks what you're doing is stupid or evil or been done before--make good art.

Probably, things will work out somehow. Eventually, time will take the sting away. Either way, do what only you can do best--make good art. Make it on the bad days; make it on the good days; make good art."

Whether you're an artist or not, you have a choice what to do with your pain. You can either use it as jet fuel for achievement--or you can wallow in it until it slowly evaporates. If you do choose to lean into that pain and make something valuable out of it, not only will your life take one more step towards exceptional, but your pain will also dissipate much faster (though pain often leaves a stain, no matter how long ago it faded).

Whatever your field, art, business, education, ministry...do  what Gaiman says and use the failures, rejections, and tragedies of life as fuel to "do what only you can do best".

(If you want to watch his entire 20 min speech, use this link: http://vimeo.com/42372767.)

When have you been able to use your pain as fuel for good? Share a story with the rest of us, if you can.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Happy Memorial Day--How Pondering Death Can Make Today "Happy"

Today, across America, we say, "Happy Memorial Day". It’s kind of a strange greeting for a holiday to remember those who died in military service. I think many American's try to be Happy by avoiding thinking about death part of this holiday. But we should all think about death today--done right it can even make today more deeply "Happy."

Every exceptional life includes--maybe even depends on--considering your own death. Many people can go years and years without having the idea of their death rudely interrupting their life. But however much we don't like it, we are all going to die. In fact, we are already dying--albeit slowly.

So what's so good about this morbid thinking? Doesn't this ruin our ability to  have a "Happy Memorial Day"?

Our death puts our life in perspective. It redefines what really matters to us. When you're thinking about living a great life, you should begin by imagining yourself on your deathbed, with only a few minutes left to live. What kind of life would allow you to arrive at that deathbed and be truly satisfied?

And not only should you imagine dying old and deeply satisfied, but you can think about how you would feel if, God forbid, an accident ends your life one week from now. What does this next week need to look like?

Facing your death shines a harsh, bright light on how you're living today. And while it's never a playful experience, if you're life is headed towards a great deathbed experience--where you'll be satisfied at how you lived and what impact you had--then it doesn't have to be especially sad or painful. In a sober, adult way, it can be pleasing (i.e. "happy") to discover that you're spending your life on things that matter.

So, praying that your life is headed towards a satisfying deathbed, I'm wishing you a Happy Memorial Day.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Friendship Based On Quality, Not Proximity

Most people let friendship happen to them. They choose friends by who happens to be around them, letting close proximity become the most important selection factor for friends. Never looking outside those nearby, they become friends with the ones they like the best (or dislike the least).

It was the kids on our street or in our classes at school. Now it's the people who sit next to us at work or whose kids are on the same sports teams (sitting next to us on the bleachers every weekend).

Instead, I urge you to ignore proximity as much as possible. Choose the best people you know in the world, regardless of whether they are within easy reach. Technology makes connecting over distances easier than ever. (I've used Skype and internet based phone numbers to share life with people literally on the other side of the planet. You can even watch shows and play games in real time from anywhere in the world.)

Recently, I was able talk deeply, laugh, and pray with three great friends--one from Texas, another from Colorado, and the other who lives in China. I spend more time talking with them than a lot of the people physically near me. Proximity isn't bad, though. I do have close friends who live near me, but it wasn't their nearness that put them on my radar for serious friendship.

Even with technology, is it convenient to stay close to awesome, but distant friends? No. But it's worth it.

Don't underestimate the impact of your friends on your life. Few things can match the significance of your friends on your attitudes, choices, and accomplishments (and almost nothing can top it). And if you really want to have an exceptional life, you need exceptionally good friends--no matter where they live.

What great friends have you lost touch with over the years? When will you email/call/message them to reconnect?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pursuing Greatness

I don't want to be ordinary. I want a great life, a truly exceptional life--audacious as that sounds.

Many talk about greatness happening to people--that those who became great were the product of their times. Greatness is "thrust upon them", they believe.

This belief makes for great stories--the regular guy who is drawn into a life he couldn't have imagined. And this belief also absolves "regular" people from the responsibility to make the most of their life. It discourages the pursuit of exceptional living.

I do not want to wait and hope an exceptional life happens to me. I want to chase it down and make it real. I want to be a truly great human being.

Of course, how you define greatness is crucial. Money, for example, isn't how I measure greatness. But, as valuable as having that conversation is, I don't think it matters for the point I'm making. Whatever you do choose as your definition of greatness, I believe pursuing it matters. If I want an exceptional life, I need to order my life to maximize my chances of success.

Certainly, there's a lot outside our control that helps or hurts our chances of greatness. No one achieves greatness in a vacuum. But this doesn't mean we are helpless spectators. You can't control the ocean, but you can read the waves, point your surf board towards the shore and paddle your heart out.

What are you paddling toward? What kind of life do you want to live? What are you doing this week to increase the chances of that possible life becoming real?