stumbling

Random Acts of Progress and the Drunkard's Walk

We unfortunately seem to be unconsciously biased against those in society who come out on top or the bottom. When we assess the world, we tend to see what we expect to see. We can equate degree of success with degree of talent and reinforce our conclusions of causality by noting the correlation. The worst type of confirmation bias. The " I wish more people worked hard, as I have"--myopic self-deception. In reality there is often little difference in ability/talent between the "successful" and the "unsuccessful". The biggest difference is how randomness impacted the outcomes and opportunities. 

In Leonard Mlodinow's insightful book: The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, he asserts how things that appear linear, cause and effect, and intentional, all the way down to the molecular level are random.

Whoa, I can feel I pushed your doubt buttons! Fair enough. But let me explain and allow some randomness to influence your thinking oh reader of great certainty ;)

The random motion of molecules in a fluid can be viewed as a metaphor for our own paths through life, and so it is worthwhile to take a little time to give Einstein’s work a closer look. According to the atomic picture, the fundamental motion of water molecules is chaotic. The molecules fly first this way, then that, moving in a straight line only until deflected by an encounter with one of their sisters. This type of path—in which at various points the direction changes randomly—is often called a drunkard’s walk, for reasons obvious to anyone who has ever enjoyed a few too many martinis (more sober mathematicians and scientists sometimes call it a random walk). If particles that float in a liquid are, as atomic theory predicts, constantly and randomly bombarded by the molecules of the liquid, one might expect them to jiggle this way and that owing to the collisions.

So many things we do are impacted by things we don't do and that sets us on a course--or a walk if you will. Things are always colliding with our direction and ideas and once in a while we see them or pay attention to them. We can take credit for these momentary and intermittent flashes of awareness. Our brains want to simplify the timeline so that we can take or give credit or issue blame.

Phone-whale_3188738b

Your place of birth, your parents, your health, your general DNA allocation was random. Even if you think that there was divine intervention or a pre-conceived destiny, there was a huge component of randomness that derived your 23 chromosomes. And all of the "decisions" you made or were made for you. 

What if I didn't accept my mentor's advice that led to a new career? Talked to that stranger who I married and have three kids with? Made that turn, or went to that event, or went on that date, or said yes, instead of no, or wore the red tie, or had Mexican instead of Italian...... Do you really know what would have could have happened? What we pay attention to makes a difference. 

For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

What we do know is not everyone is born into the same randomness, contexts for chance, opportunities for choice. There is great inequity in the sets of randomness we inherit. We all know the story of the immigrant who overcomes obstacles to become a billionaire. Or a blind singer who becomes a record breaking star. And if we are not careful we believe that random opportunity is out there for every immigrant or disabled person. 

We know the randomness at Exeter is different than at East LA Community College. The different molecules that are bombarding off of you will create different drunkard's walks. 

I don't think you can be deliberate about shaping your course forward because you then end up somewhere completely stale and expected.  

I think a lot about this relationship between cynicism and hope. And critical thinking without hope is cynicism. But hope without critical thinking is naïveté. Maria Popova

So I try to reside between the two to try to build a bridge, because blaming others and feeling hopeless about changing our course generates a feeling of futility. Then cynicism rises up to provide a false sense of protection while our dreams evaporate. We can restore our hope and energy by moving forward even if we are stumbling and failing along the way. 

But on the other hand, believing blindly that everything will work out just fine also produces a kind of resignation because we have no motive to apply ourselves toward making things better. And I think in order to survive, both as individuals and as a civilization, but especially in order to thrive, we need to bridge critical thinking with hope."

What appears random or "lucky" was usually right in front of you. You know when you think of something and then it appears everywhere--not talking about Google's algorithms :) Or the so-called Law of Attraction. But it is true when you think and discuss your needs your bucket list, your dream job, yes things "appear"

And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. Paolo Coelho

So two huge lessons I have learned. Help those with fewer choices and chances see the periphery, see the molecules around them, help them to allow life to happen and divert them from their unsatisfying pursuit of happiness.

Listen to your heart. Open your eyes. Let the paths that are there surround you and reveal themselves.

And for those with fewer chances and choices, those who are more bombarded by the molecules lower on Maslow's, help them have a better chance to see the molecules that are foreign and strange. Guide them to a space where they can see themselves. Where there is sufficiency of opportunity. Not a crutch but a helping hand to give them perspective.

Why? Because we need all of the talent we have to blossom. We desperately need more people to find what they want and to be less oppressed by what others expect. 

Randomness enables us to express things we did not know we had or wanted. Randomness awakens the genius in each of us. Randomness is the way of nature.

Not ignoring reality and responsibility, but being more aware of what interests us, taking chances, and eliminating regrets before they happen. 

The future is already here it just isn't evenly distributed. William Gibson

Life just appears before you. Choices, chances. Too often we try to take credit for what is and we forget how we got there. All of the advice, education, mistakes, mentoring, role models, and yes luck, should take a rear seat to our false and unfounded control over our destinies. 

Yes being focused helps immensely. Yes being planful is also very useful. But what are you missing while you plan? Is your plan and laser-like attention creating a myopia that ignores amazing opportunities or revelations.

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. Emerson

Random acts of kindness and progress. Allowing the molecules of randomness push us on our own drunkard's walk and discover new people and places. 

Judy Rupp's excerpt from Old maps don't work

It is time for the pilgrim in me
to travel in the dark,
to learn to read the stars
that shine in my soul.
I will walk deeper
into the dark of my night.
I will wait for the stars.
trust their guidance.
and let their light be enough for me.

 Thanks for reading. John

 


Cooking up the Supreme Career

How did we end up where we are, right now? What were the thousand of unmemorable decisions, influences, strokes of luck (bad and good), right place right time circumstances that conspired for you to be right here. Some of you are smiling and others are not. We all have stories, do we not?! While our resumes and bios give certainty of credit and trajectory, we all know better. In fact we have forgotten most of the things that really contributed to our successes. Bits of advice, mentoring moments, what friends said or did, a death, a birth, a movie you saw, a speech you heard......hundreds of things that shaped your point of view and pushed and pulled you to where you are.

Are you noticing what is influencing, could be influencing you now? Emerson

In the last 72 hours I was reminded of the subtlety and fragility of those moments and messages. When I was younger I was "too focused" too ambitious" to see so much. I was lucky to have gained anything--and I did. I feel like I see and hear so much more today. Yeah, the clock is ticking but I am paying attention with a heart and mind that knows how much I don't know. That I still have unexplored talents and potential hidden within me. 

One of my favorite books is Instructions to the Cook  describes the Zen Buddhist concept for the supreme meal. The supreme meal is when we live our life fully, wholeheartedly---a fully expressed life.

So the first principle of the Zen cook is that we already have everything we need. If we look closely at our lives, we will find that we have all the ingredients we need to prepare the supreme meal. At every moment, we simply take the ingredients at hand and make the best meal we can. It doesn’t matter how much or how little we have. The Zen cook just looks at what is available and starts with that.

  • I lead a workshop for 74 newbies in the field of philanthropy. We all paused to reflect on the unpredictable circumstances that pushed us into philanthropy--a field none of us "majored in" or can explain to our parents! So is this a way-station to something else or is this the most important opportunity of our lifetime so far ?(choose #2). How do we make the most out of what we have and where we are?
  • Visited the incredible Frank Gehry exhibition at LACMAThe genius of Frank's architecture could have easily been lost to his stronger interest in becoming a pilot. His ceramics class unexpectedly led him to architecture. He ignored his professor who told him that architecture was not his field. And later after he designed a typical shopping center in Santa Monica, a mentor asked him if he was happy designing for others. Frank quit his cushy job and took a giant leap--and the rest is history. How do we respond to self-criticism and the judgment and discouragement of others? How do we do what we love?
  • Saw He named me Malala  film where a 14 year old girl literally gets shot in the face with her destiny and becomes the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Her unique parents, her name, her incredible personality, the influences of the needs around her and the Taliban forged her destiny. How do we uphold our values and the rights of others? How do we react to tragedy, pain and threats? 
  • And then to top it off I saw Lost Angels, a gritty documentary about the fates of regular people who end up on skid row. Poignant stories of choices, challenges, misfortune, and the ovarian lottery. How do we manage our balance, sanity, finances, addictions, and demons to stay on the straight and narrow?  How do we make the most out of what we have?
  •  

Stuff happens. Switches get flipped. New paths appear. People push, others pull. You get bored, inspired, discouraged and educated. Outside forces influence your little asteroid into a different orbit and trajectory--if you let them. What chances and changes do we prevent from happening? What do we suppress, fail to express, and under-value in our pursuit of the practical and prudent? What is right in front of you right now that you can't see because your lenses are zoomed in on what is more important to others than to you? 

All of the ingredients are in your cupboard to make the supreme meal. What do you have that you have forgotten about? What do you have that you have never tasted or used? How do you focus on where you are and what you are doing to make it supreme?

Every moment is fleeting, fragile and filled with opportunity. The emergence of your passions and purpose grow within you. Meaning and fulfillment are not foreign destinations you hope to visit some day, they surround you. You have what it takes. The possibilities within you are untapped. The opportunities around you are boundless.

I want to incorporate the flavors of the newbie beginner's mind, the outside perspective of Gehry,  Malala's courage, and the humility of the homeless into my cuisine. 

What do you want?

Put on your apron, open your cupboard, sharpen your knives---let's get cooking!!

Thanks for reading. John

 


Mind the Change and Change the Mind

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. George Bernard Shaw

Some people discuss "change" like it is a monster. A source of stress and distress. "Change" is a darkening cloud that will bring great tragedy and pain.

Or a savior for necessary evolution. And the light on the path of purpose.

Those who embrace the change are empowered by the change. Yeah, it has to do with risk and self-esteem. If you are defined by your job or your title or your retirement plan then the bogeyman of change is Godzilla.

But if you exist to serve, adapt and pursue your passions, then change becomes your sidekick.

None of us wants the status quo. Right? The status quo sucks. For people suffering. For our careers. For our families. For our communities. Putting our worlds on freeze-frame would imprison everyone to now. Now John, you are misinterpreting me! So tell me oh misinterpreted one, What do you want? Tell me! You want change on your terms, on your schedule, Zeus?!! You want convenient change in the economy size to fit into your carry-on luggage?

Change is the air we breathe and the ground we traverse. Change is life. Life is change. We never step in the same river twice, we never have the same conversation or see the same film the same way. We evolve and the world around us evolves and we both try and catch up. Once you understand change is the water from David Foster Wallace's epic commencement address.

Change is just happening, it is relentless. Not even talking about the shifting sands of the world around us that we are partially or totally ignorant of. The butterfly wings that are shaping El Nino or the currency wars that are impacting our retirement plans........

Yes earthshaking change gets our attention at least for a few moments. You get laid off. Someone becomes terminally ill. You become a grandfather. You have a break-up. You get a new boss. The famous study of recent paraplegics and lottery winners showed that a  year after their life defining events, both groups had the same levels of happiness! We get over the big changes.  And we miss the subtle and important ones. Mind the change

Change is how we react to it--if we react at all. 

One of our favorite past times is participating in the unnecessary stress inducing game of hating change.

The future is already here it s just not evenly distributed. William Gibson

You hoped things would "stabilize" or "stay the same" for a little while so you could catch your breath? Hah!

Change is neither an enemy or a friend. It is.

Change is subtle and like the glaciers or the coral reefs, big changes occur over long horizons. But if we don't notice them its too late.

Our brains are changing and capable of change. Not just memory loss! If we literally put our minds to it. :)

The Luddite who will not upgrade their flip phone. The smoker who thinks they are the exception. The parent who raises their kids like they were. The manager who does not listen to his staff. The perfectionist who never makes a mistake.......

Time stands still---in their minds. And the world evolves without them.

The crazy thing is YOU are changing and evolving. And could change even more if you let yourself. 

Like the lizard or snake that molts and sheds their entire skin we are evolving more invisibly. (the average human sheds about 1mm skin cells a day!)

Here is the big deal. Everything you do, people you encounter, visuals you ingest, thoughts that you entertain, are making micro and macro changes to you--if you let them.

Are you aware of these changes? Good question!

Are we allowing the changes to change you? Better question!

Do we appreciate the changes that are changing you? Right question!

Is your disagreement with my words changing you a little? :)

This is not a solo exercise. It is the process of engagement with others. Change is accelerated in a social network, a trusting group of diverse truth tellers who provide and receive honest feedback and different perspectives.

Networking and mentoring done with altruism, an open heart and mind, fuel change possibilities. Help your colleagues and friends and relatives see and embrace their change.

The tyranny of certainty is the real enemy. We develop "truths" about what we don't know. This can range from naivete to ignorance to racism. Certainty prevents us from learning.

You are a whirling dervish of velcro picking up little pieces of change along the way. But if you whirl on the same beaten known paths then change is relative for you. If you whirl off the known roads of life and explore the world then you change and challenge your certainties.  

We must break down the gates of certainty to get to the gardens of change.

All that you touch

You Change.

All that you Change
Changes You.

The only lasting truth
is Change.

Octavia Butler

Change is neither friend or foe. It is a frame of mind. Mind the change and change your mind.

Be the change you wish to see in the world.  I humbly offer a version of this timeless quote from Gandhi.

Let us be changed by the world we see.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Stumbling toward Purpose

Is this all there is?

Is this the life I was meant to lead?

What difference am I making/will I make?

Questions that we all ask and must address. The answers define perspective and our path. The answers define what we do and the choices we make. The answers shape our future.

Joseph Campbell: We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.

We can only respond to what is calling us. To what the world reveals to us. To the opportunities that engage our hearts and minds. To the intuition of what we were meant to do.

But what beckons us, pushes us, pulls us, mesmerizes us is a function of our perspective and our willingness to experience these forces. Stumbling

I met two people this week.

An executive who was at a new beginning of her journey of defining her purpose. 20 years into her career of successful and progressive promotions in the same industry. She was successful in all of the external measures of title, money, and prestige. She is 47.  But she realized she had submerged her desires, interests, and passions to the expectations of others. How to please her parents, her mentors, her bosses and her peers. Everyone but herself. She was awakening to her inner voices trapped beneath the rubble of other people’s expectations. She wanted to rescue herself before it was too late. I did little in this conversation but allowed her to speak and express herself. It was powerful to see and witness. It was like the child of possibilities was reborn. She saw that she had a new world of opportunities ahead of her. My only advice was to fully explore her interests and to listen to what her heart was telling her. She was fearful and excited.

Mark Twain: The two most important days are the day you were born and the day you find out why.

Then I met a young man who was the child of drug addicts and was essentially abandoned to a gang. He was angry. The gang became his surrogate family and they cared for his needs-emotional and financial. They gave him a future. They mentored him. He became a father at 13 and then again at 17. He too was awakening. He had surrendered his future to others too. His dreams were left behind. So now he is getting his life together, thanks to a community based youth mentoring program. He is 19. He is hopeful. He was asked, “What advice would you give other young men that are in the situation you were in? He said without hesitation, “Find your purpose. We all have a purpose. We have to find it.” Wisdom comes from unexpected sources.

When will we pursue our purpose? When our hearts speak to us do we listen and take note?

Through the haze of life there are moments of clarity. Moments where we say, "Oh there it is again." That feeling of satisfaction of purposeful activity that aligns with our moral and spiritual compass. Not something that impresses others. Something that impresses you. Not an achievement but an activity or even a persistent idea that aligns with our soul. It may be fleeting. It may be a continuous flow, if you are lucky. A flow of engagement of who you are but almost always about the needs of others. As in love and even answers about our destinies, we have moments of deep clarity that propel us forward. A story strikes us, a Tedtalk, a news item, a childhood memory……We get distracted. We always want more or something else. We need to trust ourselves.

We say we like challenges but we also avoid the challenging work we want to do, we need to do to define our lives. We fill our time with the mindless and defer the mindful. The couch beckons and our courage wanes. The only thing that makes progress is time. 

Suddenly I am behind on my bills and my dreams. Les Brown

We plot our lives like a clever chess player thinking 3-5 moves ahead. And we can miss the detours, new opportunities, and unbeknownst options that are right in front of us. The next can be the enemy of the now.

We must suffer, struggle and stumble to give our life the meaning and purpose we crave. Meaning and purpose do not knock on your door or fall into your lap. They visit those who have compassion for themselves and others. Those engaged in the great fight for purpose.

I love this excerpt from David Brooks  -----------

Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions. Be true to yourself. This is a vision of life that begins with self and ends with self. But people on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me?

Their lives often follow a pattern of defeat, recognition, redemption. They have moments of pain and suffering. But they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding — by keeping a journal or making art. As Paul Tillich put it, suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.

The people on this road see the moments of suffering as pieces of a larger narrative. They are not really living for happiness, as it is conventionally defined. They see life as a moral drama and feel fulfilled only when they are enmeshed in a struggle on behalf of some ideal.

This is a philosophy for stumblers. The stumbler scuffs through life, a little off balance. But the stumbler faces her imperfect nature with unvarnished honesty, with the opposite of squeamishness. The stumbler has an outstretched arm, ready to receive and offer assistance.

External ambitions are never satisfied because there’s always something more to achieve. There’s an aesthetic joy we feel when we see morally good action, when we run across someone who is quiet and humble and good, when we see that however old we are, there’s lots to do ahead.

The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be.

Those are the people we want to be.

We have to suffer and struggle if we want a life of meaning that is much bigger than ourselves. We have to connect with ourselves, with our purpose and stumble forward, always forward. 

Thanks for reading. John