What is our value? How about our self-worth?

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Mae Taeng Jungle – December 17, 2014. Here we see the magnificent elephant bushwhacking through her natural habitat.

What’s our Value?
Marketplace Value = (Experience X Skills X Demand / Supply)

What about Self-Worth?

1. Increase Experience = Understand your habits and tendencies
2. Increase Skills = Influence your surroundings more effectively
3. Increase Demand = Give people something useful
4. Decrease Supply = Differentiate yourself

Self-Worth = (Self-Understanding X Ability to Influence X Giving Usefulness / Redundancy)

Everyone should take 5 minutes tomorrow and give gratitude for the self-worth they have and the opportunity to improve it.

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Put vegetables on your plate

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Sunset in Oland, Sweden – 2014

I am naturally open-minded, spontaneous, and adaptable. I operate most effectively when I have all the information in front of me. This means: “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Suppose we have vegetables with a short shelf life. I have to put them in the front of the fridge. I’ll forget to eat them if I don’t see them.

This is fine for perishable foods in a refrigerator. But what about tasks? Strategic objectives? People?

I manage daily, weekly, monthly, and annual tasks on a Trello board. I allocate calendar time to strategizing about long-term goals. I set recurring reminders to catch up with people. I recommend you do the same.

I will eat the vegetables if I see them on my plate.

In the unknown, I also have Time.

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Ergometer, 11/5/2018

I push a bit harder every day.

If I multiply myself by 1.01 of discomfort tomorrow, I’ll be fine.

If I do it again two days from now, same thing.

If I multiply yourself by 1.01 of discomfort every day for a year, I’ll be almost 3,700% further along in my hero’s journey than if I had floated along passively. So I start with small improvements and love the improvement process. Doing this enables me to move more effectively through the unknown.

In the unknown, I have two tools: One of which is Structure.

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Me and a nice man, in China in late 2014

Here’s a picture of me with the Chinese Terracotta Warriors in late 2014. The man next to me and I had lunch for an hour afterward. Neither of us could speak each other’s language. But we got creative and used gestures, pointing, and big smiles.

The things that have withstood time have significance. Humans naturally select for ideas, beliefs, and heroes that explain and promote life in the best way.

I rely on external structures like the Warriors and language as guides. I am incomplete, finite, prone to wander, and often wrong. I could delude myself to do some stupid shit. When I wander off the path and start doing stupid shit, structure draws me back.

These are the things that give stability to my known world. Complex yet extendable structures enable me to incorporate unknowns into my narrative.

I live my life as a journey into the unknown parts of the Great Narrative

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Grant and Sahyli in Koh Samui, Thailand

My narrative is the reality I know. The Great Narrative is the reality I know and the unknown I don’t know. The moment I incorporate unknown bits into my experience, those bits become known in relation to things I already know.
The best humans incorporate the most unknown bits from the Great Narrative into their known personal narrative. They speak fresh truths, combine disparate concepts, and discover connections.
I live my life as a journey into the unknown parts of the Great Narrative.
To accept the hero’s journey is to make a choice to leave the safety of comforts. To journey into unknown chaos. Where I don’t know where the fuck I am. Where demons rip me to tears but treasures glisten around corners. Keep on taking in the unknown.

I live my life as a journey in the Great Narrative.

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“Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding” – Chengdu, China

What about a role within a greater Narrative? My actions fit within the societal wheel producing and recycling life. We give and receive belief in individual autonomy among other actors.
• Human life has value.
• We respect common law.
The Great Narrative needs actors. These actors have two attributes, which give the story drama:
• The ability to recognize the Narrative.
• The ability to believe they live apart from the Narrative.
A Narrative has a writer, or writers. The writer sets the story in motion. She never knows where the story will go or whether it will end.
The Great Narrator whispers to me through the shimmering essence of things in the Great Narrative. The voice floats at the edge of order and chaos. My conscience begs me to burst from underneath the surface of my expression.
Maybe you’ve lost touch with the voice that percolates through the silent noise when you’re bored with nothing to consume.
But I haven’t.
It’s there.
I listen to it.

A Hero’s Journey

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Me, somewhere in Ireland

You’ve lost touch with your hero’s journey.

But I haven’t.

We have ripped away the structures that were sustaining important belief systems without replacing them. How do we live while relying on only ourselves as the guide?

I do it as a hero. I see my life as a coherent narrative story. As the main actor, I can connect past to present. Because things tend to repeat in similar ways, I can better prepare for future unknowns with knowledge of the past.

  • Salmon swim upstream.
  • Winter gets cold.

I live my life as a narrative. I can explain my actions under a unified self through time. This enables me to negotiate in the present with the future, because my future self will be there.

  • Sacrifice time now for money later.
  • Sacrifice junk for health later.

You’ve lost touch with your hero’s journey.

But I haven’t.

And I’m not the only one in the story.

A Poem: “Light tightly grips”

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Photo by Samantha Lynch on Unsplash

 

Light tightly grips the frayed, crusted rope.

Tugs lightly prick the rent hands that grope.

 

Alone, a lone canine stalks bonds built of trust.

Though windows, glassy pictures, paint kingdoms of lust.

 

What value does a sun feel while stars line its sight?

Not knowing luna mirrors its partner at night?

 

Recognize resonance, vibrating strength,

Echoing energy, manifest length,

 

Incarnate attraction, perspective of view,

Imagined appearance, extensions of you.

 

I stowed the best, eyes towed the rest.

My words are powers, my worlds are ours.

Carry in, carry out: A choice

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Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

The entire season had led to this. Sweating, pushing, and training together. Moving and thinking as one unit; one team. It was the day before our championship race. It was also the last day of classes. So, most students were partying. But we were at practice.

As we were warming up, a few underclass team members approached me and told me that they had seen a freshman named Bart drink a beer earlier that morning.

Wait, what? This morning?

This morning?

My mind went reeling.

Bart was not supposed to do that. Our team had a rule of no alcohol 48 hours before a race, not to mention Bart was underage. The coach would ban Bart from racing, his boat would be scratched, and three other teammates would lose the opportunity to compete. The whole team would know. Bart would be ostracized and hated.

I pulled Bart aside and asked him whether he had drunk a beer. He paused, and then admitted yes, but it was “only a beer.”

Ugh. What do I do? The behavior itself was wrong. But telling the coach would cause so much trouble. It was only a beer.

If I had been in this situation earlier in my life, maybe I would have covered it up. Because that sounded easier. Because nobody likes a tattle-tale. Because things were going so well that season. Because I thought managing the expectations of a few underclassmen was easier than involving the whole team. Because this was my second-to-last day.

Typically, I take time to reflect alone on decisions like this. But I didn’t have time. I had to react fast. It was a Trebuchet problem, but with the deadline of a Rubber Band problem. My cheeks and palms swelled as the raw gravity of responsibility knocked me sideways.

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Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

So, I took a chance.

I told the coach.

Coach got angry at me.

Then coach got angry at Bart.

Then Bart got angry at me.

The boat didn’t race the next day.

Bart didn’t return the next season.

 

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Photo by Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash

 

I had the responsibility to maintain lasting trust in the structure of our organization. This structure required that every team member live in a way that benefits the organization and does not harm it. This way of life was partially codified by the explicit acceptance of concrete policies such as no alcohol 48 hours before a race and no underage drinking. But it was also constructed by the implicit acceptance of ethical customs, like everyone suffering at practice together instead of partying.

As a team, we needed a real demonstration of these explicit and implicit limits. And to reinforce them, an example had to be made showing what happens if these boundaries were overstepped.

The context surrounding this event had been stirring for years. It unearthed the tectonic cultural forces that had been changing the team from social club to serious competitive squad. It highlighted the effects of us replacing Friday night ragers with movie nights.

To this day, I don’t know whether I made the right choice. I may have ruined Bart’s life, caused social anguish, and crushed his dreams. I don’t expect forgiveness. But I tell myself that I left the organization better than I found it, and I prevented many future “just a beer”s. I hope Bart understood why I chose that way.

Moving forward, I’m concerned that I’ll be faced with more difficult ethical problems requiring faster reactions.

What if Bart had been in my boat? And if banning him meant squelching my own opportunity to compete? Or if Bart had been 21 and the 48-hour policy hadn’t been formally in place? These problems are difficult to solve.

Word travels fast in our ultra-connected world. So, small actions can have large-scale effects. It’s impossible to predict whether a tiny misstep will be overlooked or will ruin lives. The best thing we can do is to think simply, with honesty and humility. Because even if we are clumsy, at least we are trying.

One Night in Beijing

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Photo by Lisheng Chang on Unsplash

When I was backpacking alone through China in the late 2014, I did not know any Chinese. So, I responded to every bit of English I heard.

In the evening twilight, one night in Beijing, I was approached by two Chinese women who asked, in English, where I was from. Glad to speak with anyone, I replied and continued the conversation.

As we talked, I was 100% focused on asking them about their backgrounds, remembering their names, understanding their stories, telling them about myself, and making connections among our interests. I was so focused that I hadn’t noticed that we had walked down the stairs into a tea shop. That we had entered into a room and I sat down at the table furthest from the door. That while one was telling me about her graduate school, the other was ordering tea and wine and nuts and chips and fruit from the menu.

I looked down at the prices and saw they were absurdly expensive. Immediately, red flags went off. I stopped talking. This didn’t feel right. A pit grew in my stomach and my vision got blurry and I stood up and pushed past the women and ran by the waiter and flung open the door and sprinted up the stairs onto the street to safety.

They had set me up. They would order a bunch of expensive items then “forget” their money. I’d be forced to pay. They would split the earnings with the tea shop owner.

What went wrong?

I could have blamed it on them: they were evil and I was trying to be nice. But to what degree was I responsible for that situation?

By reflecting on this event, I noticed a new tendency in my behavior: I focus hard on making a good first impression with new people by giving them my full attention. But for this, I sacrifice situational awareness.

I don’t often feel concerned about my physical danger because I’m a stocky guy. But clearly, maintaining 100% attention on others is not sustainable, because I could find myself in a different type of danger.

So, I decided to change my behavior. Now, I always maintain situational awareness, even when meeting new people. This allows me to make a good first impression while protecting myself.

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Photo by Conor Luddy on Unsplash

I think it’s important to always be improving like this. I think of this process as a 4-Step Self-Improvement Engine:

Reflect -> Learn -> Evaluate -> Change

  1. Reflect: Open my mind through prayer or meditation, and focus my attention on my life choices and events (think about the Tea Ladies).
  2. Learn: Find trends in behavior, character, thoughts, or actions that were previously unidentified (note my 100% focus on attention).
  3. Evaluate: Determine the worth of the identified trend continuing. If it adds value, justify incorporating into my behavior. If not, then justify squelching it (it’s bad to lose situational awareness even in new social interactions, because I could find myself in unknown, dangerous situations).
  4. Change: Both incorporating and squelching involve adjusting behavior (next time I communicate, note where my attention goes and practice noticing my surroundings more often).

Self-improvement enables the character to be better. For me, my best self is good and honest toward myself and others. Being good and honest is positive, sustainable, and repeatable, and should be encouraged. Every day, I should get closer to being good and honest.

But some days, it seems like I don’t get closer to my best self. So why do I sometimes feel off the mark? What else is happening?

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Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

To answer this question, I conducted an exercise. Each morning, I wrote the best thing I experienced on the previous day. I ended up writing about people I met, knowledge I gained, unique things I tried, mistakes I made, new places I visited, or things I discovered about myself.

Each “best thing” was new to me and required that I adapt to unknown information. The experience of each involves testing the abilities of my pure character without prior knowledge. These exercises underline the value of my character if I succeed and unearth what I’m missing if I fail. Similarly, a machine algorithm is not valuable if it can accurately crunch only the training data sets it’s already seen. It’s valuable if it can accurately crunch new data sets it hasn’t seen. Since I often fail, every encounter with the unknown enables me to discover something new about myself.

By analyzing the set of my responses to new experiences, I can measure the growth or decline of my character over time. But whether I improved or did not, I always learn something.

Improvement starts with reflection, but relies heavily on learning. Over the long term, the quality and frequency of my learning drive the degree and direction of character growth: better learning -> better measuring -> more improving. If my attitude is prideful and ignorant, then I may not identify anything worth changing in my reflection, and my character does not improve. However, if my attitude is open-minded and honest, then I can address a subtle pattern of destructive behavior that my ego had ignored.

Improving to the most good and honest self requires feeding the self-improvement engine with quality learning. It’s like launching a rocket to reach Mars without knowing any laws of physics. All I can do is start small, compare myself to my goal constantly along the way, and make little adjustments to my speed and direction by firing rocket boosters along the way. In other words, answer the following: “what am I doing now and how does that compare to what I could be doing?” Then, “how do I close the gap?” And then do those things.

Aiming for a goal but not feeding quality learning into the improvement engine is like launching with a hope, but never firing the rocket boosters on the journey. We are guaranteed to stray from the path and miss the mark.

Some people don’t care about reaching Mars, fulfilling their best potential self, nor having any noble aim at all. They are content by passively floating along through life without proacting. I don’t know if that’s ok, but that’s certainly not me. I am happiest when I’m seeking noble aims, learning constantly, improving my character to be the best it can be, and avoiding sketchy Beijing tea shops.