The Woods Over The Years

Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to live in the woods. Even thinking about it now excites me. Having been liberated from the forced domesticity of childhood for almost ten years now, I’ve had the chance to experiment on my desire.

It was almost as immediate as I could make it happen. Getting the magical high school diploma a year early enabled me to expedite the process to actualize my idyllic pastoral imaginings. I left to hike the Appalachian Trail.

Now now, those of you in the know of course realize that the AT is hardly a wilderness. I wanted to hike the Pacific Crest Trail initially, but was somewhat hesitant to be days away from a road at the age of seventeen. I wanted desperately to be alone, pitted against nature, but doubted my survival skills. Looking back, I probably could have managed the physical needs of wilderness survival just fine, but would not have handled the loneliness well at all.

Luckily, I never spent a day alone on the AT. There was always some new curious individual with questions and stories. Every night I slept at the three-sided lean-to structures built up and down the trail from Maine to Georgia and every night I was accompanied by at least one other person who quickly became a friend.

When I set out to thru hike the whole AT (which I failed to do), I was dead set on going it alone. My best friend who also graduated early with me even wanted to go along and I said no. Politely, I hope. I can’t really remember. We’re still friends at least. Anyways, that’s how desperately I wanted to be alone.

I was never an angry kid. I had my tantrums, and perhaps still do. I certainly was tired of school. All the cliques and formulas and schedules. Blegh. It was like being an unpaid entry-level accountant in a corporate maze. So I sought the woods to unschool my mind as quickly as possible.

A quick bit of background, I was no stranger to the ways of the woods. I grew up part-time at my father’s ten acres outside of Austin. About half the property was forested with elms, pecans, oaks, hickory, and the occasional loblolly pine, which we called: the woods. My early childhood summers were spent exploring the woods, falling in love with dirt and nature, and making up stories all the while.

As I got older, I joined a boy scout troop that went camping once a month and for a full week in the summer. It was exactly what I wanted to spend my time doing, minus all the merit badge crap which felt like school. I got to hang out with my friends and explore 13,000 foot mountains and learn what a true wilderness was.

Walking into a road-less wilderness for a week, before cell phones, where phones don’t have service still, with only the supplies on your back is one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever had. Not only do you learn the practical skills of the basics of living, you gain an unshakeable confidence.

Walking with frozen boots until they thaw, surviving an alpine lightning storm, fording a river with a 40 pound pack, covering 15 miles, cooking your own dinner under the stars, and setting up your shelter, all in one day, make the rest of life’s problems seem inconsequential. Not to mention the unspeakable beauty of the landscapes witnessed by few and the harmony of coexisting with the wildlife. I know, it’s an old romantic trope.

Thoreau, Emerson, Crockett and countless before have had the same romantic notions and put it down on paper far better than I can hope to. But, that doesn’t stop me from having the desire.

I left the AT after four months when my cash reserves were dwindling and I became allergic to sunlight from taking Amoxicillin horse pills to combat Lyme’s disease. But really, I left my dream of the AT after the first day.

The only night I slept alone on the trail was my first night at Amicalola Falls State Park in Northern Georgia where the trail more or less starts. There was one lonely shelter at the bottom of the approach trail to the AT and I shacked up there. There were probably other people in the state park so it’s debatable to even say I was alone. The next day was a bitter cold and breezy February day of steep roller coaster trail grades. I didn’t see anybody. I was not used to backpacking alone. In the scouts we were always talking about dumb stuff and laughing or farting, then laughing more as we trekked along. After about five hours of solitude, as I shivered and put on another coat, I was wondering if I’d made a huge mistake. It would never have been easier to turn around and call it quits and it would never have been more lame to quit after five hours, so I went on. I got to the shelter that night and met my first trail friend, Lunchbox from New Jersey. Even though he wasn’t thru-hiking, he seemed to know a lot and we had a good time making merriment around the fire.

I woke up in the morning in good spirits and walked on with renewed purpose. My illusions of being a stoic woodsman dissolved that day. From then on I always had a hiking partner, a gang, or even a tribe. We had a raucous good time which may have accounted for my premature bankruptcy, but I regret none of it. I still often hiked alone, but with the assurance that a reunion was inevitable. It was the best of all worlds. The isolation and beauty of nature with the camaraderie of like-minded friends.

Then I forgot everything I learned about my relationship with isolation and went to Alaska, but that’s another story.

I still plan on living in the woods somewhere, but not in a tent. 10-20 acres, a modest house, a few dogs, and a family if I’m lucky. All within a couple hours of an airport.

I’ve had to re-frame what the woods mean to me based on who I actually am, if I’m being honest with myself. I like solitude, but I also like people. I like laughing and not feeling crazy like a hermit in a cave. I enjoy the security of a community and all the opportunities one presents. A mate, friends, collaboration, and fresh ideas.

Isolation is no longer my goal. Peace of mind is. And it only took me about twenty years to figure that out.

Gather and/or Farm

Hi there!

I want to talk about an important dichotomy in human personalities. Let’s call it the gatherer and farmer divide.

The gatherers being the type of person who comes alive upon a unique journey, the thrill of the discovery, finding a new patch of berries, until their itinerant nature leaves them with an energy deficit and no security.

The farmers being the type of people who excel at nurturing a relationship, job, company, patch of land, until they are forced to quit through death or extreme circumstance.

Of course, these are not only literal farmers or gatherers. They are you, me, and everyone on the spectrum of living.

Serial entrepreneurs, touring musicians, vagabonds, seasonal workers are all gatherers. They like to start new projects and collect experiences, good and bad. When it comes time to manage their creations they lose interest. Getting mired in the application of their ideas seems a dull task. Oftentimes hardships and misfortune befall them, either breaking or inspiring them.

Academics, management career folk, soccer parents, finance people, are types of farmers. They enjoy the security of having boundaries wherein they operate and have title to. They can amend the soil and be proud while they do so knowing they will reap the benefits in five years time.  If misfortune occurs, they often have the resources to absorb the trauma. However, failures occur infrequently and therefore so do big ideas or creativity.

Neither can exist without the other.

Be Your Own Huckleberry

I’m doing it. The final part of the trinity of doing. Let’s do this thing. Just do it. My god my eyeballs are tired. I haven’t slept well this week, and last night a pleasant earthquake at 2:40 AM made sure the streak continued. But! That’s neither here nor there.

Tonight we discuss, the third part of doing anything: self belief.

For a quick recap: We talked about about setting a goal that means something to you. Then chipping away at the goal regularly if not daily. And those sound like all you need to do anything, right? Wrong. At least for most of us who get tired, bored, depressed, have multiple interests, were not endowed with trust funds, etc.

The third ingredient to doing is making sure you treat your goal and discipline with respect. There is no surer way to corrupt any expedition with negative self talk. You will make mistakes. You will even choose a goal that changes over time, seemingly making all your efforts for naught. That’s ok. You’ve just begun and you can’t assume failure before you’ve charted any territory.

This all seems pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people not only lack positive internal thoughts, they have horribly demeaning self talk. Then they wonder why nothing good ever happens to them.

It’s alright to be wrong, mean, sour, and bitchy. Just don’t be that forever. Be careful to not be ashamed of the mistakes you make. You will be an asshole from time to time when trying to figure out who you are. To yourself and others. So long as you don’t get megalomaniacally obsessed with the power of cruelty you’ll be fine. You can absolutely feel guilty about mistakes you made, but then you have to let it go eventually. Shame is permanent, guilt is temporary.

You are on the path to doing. You don’t have time to be ashamed and barely enough to feel guilty.

Inspiration, self-belief/confidence, is a tricky thing in that it’s fake until it’s not. You don’t know for sure if you can achieve the goal you’ve set. This is why you have to muster up all of your positive inside parts and tell yourself the hardest two words strung together in English: I can.

Then be prepared. The shit will come hailing down. There is never a more hazardous time in doing something when you actually believe you can do it. Seemingly everything that can go wrong will. New responsibilities will arise. You will change as you grow and it will be easier than ever to justify easing up on your discipline as things are going well.

Do you think Stephen King stopped writing once he got his first book published or had a family?

Did Martin Luther King stop marching once the city of Montgomery acquiesced to the bus boycott or he received death threats to his family?

The more you tell the universe you are going to do something, the steeper the incline gets. It’s a perverse and twisted truth of nature. This is why many people don’t get the things they claim they want. And that’s fine. Honestly, in some cases you might have to pivot your goals because you have learned that they don’t make you happy. That’s ok too.

But when you know deep down what is for you, then you have to believe that you deserve it. Repeat it every day. Write it down 20 times a day. Put post it notes all over your house at eye level that say ” I will do….” it, whatever it is.

Maybe don’t tell a lot of people your goal as psychology has recently come out with experiments revealing that people who talk too much about their intent often quit sooner. Also another fun perverse universal fact.

Instead, keep it to yourself. Your head will already be down in daily discipline or your eyes will be gazing ahead, so keep your mind in the present and believe in the person you are and want to be.

It sounds cheesy because it is. That’s just another layer of resistance to keep you from doing, especially for guys. God forbid you are seen as having feelings, dreams, and aspirations, especially when they could fail and you might be perceived as…gasp, weak!

There is nothing more impressive than trying and believing in your effort. Success or not, you will build up the right muscles and callouses to climb even higher next time.

A Short Testament

And here’s a testament of yesterday’s idea concerning discipline. I was hoping to finish out the trinity tonight, but an intermission is demanded by the powers that be. So, for all of the zero of you that were really hoping to read about my philosophy of self-belief and affirmations and all of that wuwu shit tonight, I’m sorry. I guess. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

For now, I’m just putting my head down and writing. I could not go to sleep tonight without getting some ideas on digital paper through words. This is the discipline. One letter at a time.

Often it feels like I am no closer to being a professional writer than I was one year ago. But the evidence points in another direction. Over 200 blog posts, an ebook, 60,000 words of a novel, marketing case studies written, interviews. Sure, none it means a damn monetarily. But if I were writing solely for money I would have figured out how to write a Danielle Steel romance novel or a fart-joke sitcom with a fat husband.

The thing is I am closer. Who can say what percentage, but I do know that if I stopped, I would lose all momentum and atrophy would turn to entropy. I would lose the battle.

It’s like the terrible knots I have in my shoulders. I have put them off for years and now, well it’s horrible. But no more. I am disciplined to take care of them. And it’s not fun, no pun intended. Hours of nerve shattering, elbow digging, sweat-inducing massage and they’re still there. I could give up but the problem would remain.

Same with writing. I could stop, say it took too much time, I wasn’t good at it, nobody read what I wrote and I made no money. But the problem of my desire to be a writer wouldn’t go away. Problems that go away on their own aren’t actually problems and therefore they hold no opportunity.

A real problem itches the inside of your head. The only way to scratch it is by doing. Go on, scratch away.

Day Two: When Pursuit Becomes Purpose

Alright. Part 2 of the doing things mini blog series. The topic: Discipline.

And we’re done. Good talk.

Ok, fine, I’ll elaborate. Really this part was supposed to be last in the series as it is the least delightful but essential part of doing. I just didn’t feel like going into the actual part 2 tonight about self-belief tonight…it’s been a long day. Which makes tonight’s topic all the more topical.

When there is something you want to do, a ‘goal’ if we must name it that, there is only one way to get it: by going after it.

Life is not like The Hobbit where you can sit at home and an adventure and success will stumble drunkenly across your threshold. Even those who play the lottery actively go out and buy the dumb things and scratch them off. Money, success, fame, relationships, satisfaction will not fall into your lap. At least not the kind worth having. 99.99999% of the time it involves effort.

As per yesterday’s post, let’s assume you have a goal. It may be wrong, but you think it’s right. That’s OK. Set a time frame to reevaluate how happy your goals make you and worry about it then. For now we are in ass-kicking, taking names mode.

You are certain your goal will take you to the heights you wish to attain, so go out and do it. Day after day perform actionable steps towards the end you have chosen. That’s all discipline is.

I won’t belabor the infinite ways to organize your steps, measure progress, or overcome hardship. That’s the realm of the millions of life hackers. Hack if you must, but nothing beats sheer heads-down grit. If you are easily distracted or dissuaded from daily action towards your goal, do not worry. Well, maybe worry a little bit. Easily dropping commitments or often feeling depressed around your choices means you have likely chosen the wrong goal. Go back to square one and find the goal you are meant to have and not the one your parents or friends think you’re supposed to have.

But even if you do think you have the right goal there will still be niggling objections. It’s what Steven Pressfield calls resistance. Resistance takes many forms to keep you from your true work. Social pressure, addiction, busy-ness, errands, energy, bills, etc.

Resistance is the mortal enemy of discipline. Kill it by performing regardless of everything. As Neil Gaimon says, “You’re cat exploded? Make good art.” Better watch him say it, it’s far better.

You don’t have to become your goal in a day, but you should become a little bit of it every day. It may take twenty years to achieve depending on the goal. Time is not the enemy, only resistance.

Soon, if your goal is true to your spirit, you will find your chosen discipline to be meaning in itself. The goal may be achieved and you will hardly notice.

Seemingly discipline becomes the goal. And that is how to really do the shit out of something.

Using a Goal Genie

Ok, where were we? I believe I am to dive deeper into what I named “The Trinity of Doing.”Boy that sounds official and exciting. To recap, the three components of achieving any meaningful accomplishment are having a goal, self-belief, and discipline.

It all starts with having a goal, so we’ll get sticky in that definition today. I’ve written about goal setting before and even wrote an eBook that covers this subject in more depth. But you don’t care, and honestly, neither do I. That was then, now I know so much more…right. What exactly are my credentials with goal setting?

Let’s just say that I have gone through life with many different goals, some loftier than others. Most have failed. Let’s just skip over attempting to be the first 5′ 8″ quarterback. Hiking the entire Appalachian trail? Failed. Starting my own cannabis consultation business? Failed. Becoming a paid songwriter? Hah. Writing a novel? Nope. Buying the national park system? Still working on this one, but no success yet.

The list of dead-in-the-water goals goes on, but you get the point. But, a few have succeeded. For instance going from a land manager in rural Minnesota to working at a fast growing company in San Francisco in six months. Learning to play the guitar. Becoming a published writer. Living in Alaska. Check, check, check.

Now the merits of these goals can be questioned, but they were all goals I had/have. As you can see and imagine, I’ve failed at many more than I’ve succeeded at. So who am I to tell you about goal setting? I’ll tell you, I’m a guy who is typing this write now with intention to uncover some truth. And if you aren’t on board to explore some ideas with me, you can get on out!

Most people assume that the goal is the most important part of achieving. They’re wrong. Ideally all parts of the trinity are equal, but I say no. Goals are easy as hell to make.

Funny enough here I am writing this on January 1st, a day of goal abundance. People are wildly tying their goals with drunken abandon to arrows of hopes and dreams and launching them in all directions. And we all know what happens. The goals vanish much like arrows on the horizon.

Goals are simple to make. I am going to walk through the park today. There see? I made a goal. It is worth about as much as a counterfeit check. But it’s a start.

One of the problems with goals is that we are a fickle species. We adapt to changing circumstances, outgrow past abuse, and gain knowledge along the way. Most people don’t know where they will be in three years or what they will be doing. This is why setting long term goals can be daunting. But let’s focus on the near term goal of walking through the park today.

Every goal must have a reason. And underlying ‘Why’ that gives meaning to the goal and increases the likelihood of its completion. I want to walk in the park because I would like to loose this sheen of cookie fat gained over the holidays. Also I have a few phone calls to make and I prefer to walk when I make phone calls. Perfect, that’s all I need. Certainly I could list many ancillary reasons to walk such as sunlight and Vitamin D production for my health, the entertainment factor of people watching, and perhaps the chance to swing by a store and buy more toothpaste. But those are not the driving reasons.

I want to exercise and talk to some friends today. That is a goal. Everything else that may happen is gravy. The exact form is not even included in that goal. I could do push-ups in my room and use speaker phone concurrently, but I don’t think this is the optimal means to achieve my goal. Also, the amount of ancillary benefits as walking would disappear.

Once I get out and start walking it could rain relentlessly or freezing winds could sap any joy from the experience. This is where goals are tested. How much do I want to exercise and perhaps buy toothpaste? My tolerance to bad weather is fairly high after living in Wisconsin, so I’d probably keep going. But if I had a cold and already wasn’t feeling good, I’d probably turn  back. Failure! Perhaps. But I could still call my friends from my house and achieve part of the goal.

You can see how messy goals can become in this pitifully simple example? What about something as intricate as having a family or building a relationship? You know, things that can’t easily be stopped half-way.

Well, even then divorces still happen, hearts are broken daily on this planet. But that’s not what we’re aiming for. Only sociopaths go out with the intent to cause pain. And that’s not you or me, let’s hope.

A goal must come from an honest desire. The goal can change, but the desire remains. A desire to have a loving and lasting family is something many people profess. The goals they set to achieve that desire are often rigid and doomed for failure. They get a job they hate to build up a bank account nest and attract a mate who likes someone with a bank account nest, financially safe to raise a family in. They have a family, hate their lives, souring their relationship and go through a messy divorce. The goal of having a family was achieved, but hardly satisfies the original desire.

Setting a goal is like all those jokes and twilight zone episodes about genies. Someone finds the lamp, is granted three wishes by the genie, and inevitably isn’t specific enough. Their lives are then ruined by their imprecise goals they use to achieve their desires.

The fear of having an imprecise goal shouldn’t stop you from making them though. As previously mentioned, we are in a fluid reality and universe. Every truth we presume to know today is subject to change. What matters is acting on the purest conception of the truth you know. You desire.

This is scary. It can require you to go directly against the wishes of those who care about you. It also requires that you honestly embrace you desires.

When I left high school at seventeen to hike 2,000 miles in the woods I can tell you my parents were not completely thrilled. But I had a burning desire to have an adventure. So I set a goal to hike the Appalachian Trail. Eventually through all of my planning and dedication  my parents felt a bit more at ease, but only a bit. An adventure I had, but not the one I originally imagined. I only completed 2/3rds of the trail I promised to finish in one go. I failed the goal, but achieved the desire. I used the failure to learn lessons and create more realistic goals next time.

I still am not a goal setting expert. But through every goal I make and fail to achieve comes the opportunity to explore myself. Introspection of real failures is the purest way I know to gain self-knowledge. Perhaps there is a fancy meditation method I don’t know of that would save a lot of time and pain. If so, please let me know. However, I don’t want to sound like every goal I’ve failed to achieve is torturous. In fact, after a while, the pain lessens with the knowledge that learning is about to occur.

The most important thing about failing is giving it a reason and building towards another goal with that knowledge. In this fashion, you can never completely fail at a goal.

What truly matters is having a honest underlying desire that isn’t posturing towards the wishes of others. You will fail at goals, but you cannot fail at desires. They are within you perhaps buried under years of repression, but they are innate. Your goal is to have open communication with your desires. Goals come and go, but their main function is to achieve your desires.

I won’t try to top Shakespeare here so heed this wisdom:

This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

 

The Trinity of Doing

Ah, it’s nice to be back at my desk. I hope everyone had holidays and are still alive. Luckily, you’re reading this so I’m certain of the latter.

I spent my holiday time back in my primordial crib of Austin, Texas. There was gumbo, there were sugar cookies, and best of all, pure moments of relaxation.

Some people need to do things all the time. It is wired in their DNA that if they stand still, they will explode. I am not one of those people. For two entire days back to back, I sat on a couch and read through two books. I’m not certain of more pure bliss than a warm ass groove on a couch and the sounds of turning pages.

All of this relaxation, however, was not entirely random. I planned to not have plans…err.

Yes, that sounds lame. But I wanted to take time to recap the year and assess the next one. I can’t say I had any revolutionary breakthroughs. I did not promise to get my act together and forge a career in making space documentaries, though that would be cool.

I’d like to say that I really tuned in to my innermost thoughts and sifted through my indefinite plans for the next thirty years to choose a winner. Nope. Instead, I read two books and gained eight pounds. They were good sugar cookies.

The most significant realization that occurred is that I still don’t know the exact course I want to follow this upcoming year. Or the next thirty for that matter. I did become closer to actualizing that I am not worried about having the discipline or drive to achieve whatever exact shape my future will take. This got me thinking about the raw elements to keep in mind when trying to do anything.

I firmly believe that we humans can hack the game, whatever game you’re playing. All it takes is a clear vision, constant internal positive affirmation, and the fortitude of a chisel. With those three elements you will achieve the thing you’re attempting. If not initially, then eventually.

Let’s zoom in on those three elements and rename them for fun and laziness’ sake.

Clear vision, AKA, a near or far term goal with a time frame attached. For the sake of brevity we’ll use a blunt word to describe this concept: a goal.

Constant internal positive affirmation, AKA, acknowledging to yourself, and not hyper publicly, that you are going to achieve your goal. This may be the most controversial piece here. I can’t say that I’ve personally had a measurable practice of this, and this is perhaps where I’ve failed the most. I’d argue this may be the most important piece of achieving anything in life. Regular reminders in any form that works whether it’s writing down affirmations on post-it notes, a symbolic tattoo, or a mantra are powerful programming for our “moist robots” as Scott Adams would say. We’ll name this facto: self belief.

Finally, the chisel-like fortitude. Can you, day after day, perform action towards your goal? This is the one that most people can do and the one that bites them in the ass the most. We’ll use the common and boring name for this trait: discipline.

A goal, self-belief, and discipline. Looks like an un-inspirational inspirational poster when it’s laid out naked like that. Don’t worry, I’ll get weird with it real quick again soon.

I think everyone has strengths in particular aspects of this trinity of doing. As well as weaknesses. I have struggled with all three at different times and sometimes at the same time.

The next three days I will dive a bit deeper into each of the trinity and determine the course of my entire life. Or at least figure out the best way for me to get rid of this cookie weight.

Stand by, oh, and, happy new year!

Allllrighty

Allllrighty! I’m approaching the end of may lackadaisical week of scribbling what happens to be on my mind at the second I sit at the keyboard. It’s handy to have excuses when things don’t go the way you imagine they should.

I look forward to returning to my schedule as hectic and jam-packed as it can be. Vacation gets old after a week I’m finding. Also, having gained probably ten pounds in ten days has demoralizing effects.

As with all else, there must be a balance. It is easy to fear the rebound, but instead I relish it in order to regain equilibrium. This is not to say my ideal is wildly swinging a pendulum existence of labor and sloth. But neither is my goal a steady diet of beige doings.

Flatline or peaks with valleys, whatever your style, it’s important to recognize it and tailor your life to it. If you prefer daily meditation and Vulcan logic to 80 hour weeks and beach vacations, so be it.

Energy is something that we all have in limited supply. So figure out how you like to use yours and adjust accordingly without fear of self-honesty.

Why This Now?

I find it funny that there are people who still think their advice is verbal gold for all blessed to hear it. Those who forget that their DNA, upbringing, and luck are completely unique patterns which can hardly be applied elsewhere.

That being said, I think it is equally silly that there are people who claim that there is no good, tried and true advice, because of the randomness of life. These folk relish the philosophical cop out of being certain to existential chaos.

Both are wrong and for similar a similar reason. They are too self involved. The surest sign of ineptitude is an over involvement with one’s self and specific situation. Either in giving advice or seeking it, those without imagination beyond their current state will always remain the same while life remains dynamic.

I am hardly a professional advice giver, and am far from a perfect listener. But one thing that does keep me ahead of the curve of pessismissim is actively seeking advice. I can make fun of it, despise it, become enamored, or reinforce existing beliefs. All that matters is the constant seeking. Within the practice of curiosity is a built in humility, without which learning does not occur.

Without learning, or the attempt, I’m not sure why I’m here.

 

Diffusion of Skill

I can appreciate that games make life more interesting. For some that’s dating, for others it’s investing/gambling which are often more similar than not. For most all males over the age of three, the presence of sports becomes a dominant obsession.

I don’t get emotional about sports. When I was eleven the stakes were different. But nowadays, the only team I even remotely care about, the San Antonio Spurs, could lose the finals game and I’d sleep just fine. Though I might feel a twinge of pain. Any other team I could care less.

One thing that keeps the Spurs interesting to me, besides the fast paced skillful game that is basketball is their story. Often without star players who hog the ball, the Spurs manage to be one of the winning-most teams.

This is where I elaborate on what the secret sauce elements are that add to their historically winning record. But I won’t, because, I don’t follow sports.

The one thing I do know, is that the Spurs have redundancy built in. By utilizing several medium-well players instead of one or two stars, they have a more robust chance of always being good.

If the star players on other teams have a bad night or are injured, well, there goes the farm.

You can imagine what this means for your life. And I’m sure there’s an old saying about baskets and eggs that would provide the codified lesson of diffusion of investments and success.