Consumers and producers

Consumer or producer?  At any given time we are likely one or the other.

As consumers we read what somebody else wrote, purchase what someone else made, ponder ideas someone else created, observe problems we hope someone else will fix.

Going to a movie, listening to music, attending a sports event, relentlessly checking Facebook or keeping abreast of the latest scores on ESPN are all about taking in content generated by someone else.

Being a consumer is passive and typically enjoyable. Little is required of us. And it’s virtually always safe. I might feel a bit guilty about spending my Sunday afternoon watching golf on TV but hey, no harm, no foul.

As producers we are doing the work, writing the blog post, making that new product, bringing our art to the world, challenging the status quo, embodying the change we wish to see in the world, putting ourselves out there. But as Seth reminds us, this might not work.

By its very nature, producing takes more energy, more focus, more grit and is riskier than mere consumption. Producing something with the potential to be truly meaningful and remarkable is more challenging and riskier still. It demands vulnerability.

Of course we are all consumers and producers. There is no such thing as a pure consumer or a 100% producer. On any given day, we will spend our waking hours engaged doing some of both. Life, as we know, is ebb and flow, yin and yang, give and take.

So it’s not about being one or the other. And it’s not about labeling consumption as inherently bad and production as fundamentally virtuous.

But I do think it’s worth thinking about whether we’ve got the right mix.

And then working intentionally to produce a better outcome.

 

A version of this post originally appeared at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

 

The tranquilizing drug of gradualism

In his “I have a dream” speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. challenged a slow and steady pathway to civil rights reform.

Those in favor of an incremental approach feared that making waves–that being too confrontational–would backfire. It was seen as too risky a strategy.

MLK argued that patiently working against the wrongs endured by millions created the illusion of progress. He worried that by merely chipping away at injustice, we were lulled into a sense of advancement when very little was actually being accomplished. Gradualism was not only misguided, it was actually more risky. Ultimately, our delusions prevented us from making substantive change; the change that was so desperately needed. And still is.

These challenges are hardly unique to the struggle for social justice.

Many organizations say all the right things but do very little. Companies invest piles of money and countless hours in largely meaningless tweaks to their offerings. Simple product line extensions count for “innovation” at many brands. New executive titles are created–and organizations re-shuffled–to suggest that something important is happening. Yet that something is typically more of the same under a different guise.

All too often we become intoxicated by our words at the expense of our actions.

Continuous improvement fighting fundamental disruption or intractable systemic malaise just doesn’t cut it.

A frenzy of activity (supported by cool PowerPoint decks and/or lots of impassioned speeches) may make us feel good, but until it ships it doesn’t count.

And unless we can rise above the clutter, the noise, the rhetoric–if our work doesn’t make waves–well, we might as well not bother in the first place.

A version of this post originally appeared on my business blog at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

Is happiness a zero-sum game?

Why do we often treat happiness as a scarce resource?

Why do we approach our capacity for happiness as if it’s constrained, instead of wildly abundant?

Why do we frequently behave as if someone’s else’s success, joy or good fortune has anything to do whatsoever with our ability to experience contentment or equanimity?

Why do we let someone’s social media exploits ever make us feel bad about ourselves?

Your happiness doesn’t undermine mine. Nor does it limit it.

It’s never useful to compete on happiness.

The fact is there’s more than enough to go around.

Happiness compounds and expands. And we all rise with the tide.

Conversely, I should never derive happiness from another’s misery. There is no joy to be found in knowing the hole is on your side of the boat.

We’re all in this together.

It’s time to act like it.

What better time than now?

6a00d834527c1469e200e54fa36ecc8833-800wi

h/t to Sharon Salzberg for inspiring this post.

That which we worship

“What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration.” – Greg Beale

The word “worship” most often has a religious connotation. But we can revere, adore, exalt, venerate and glorify many things beyond whatever concept of a Higher Power we have–or don’t.

We can worship money.

We can worship being right.

We can worship a bigger house filled with more and sexier stuff.

We can worship the demonization of people different from us.

We can worship busyness.

We can worship expanding and protecting our ego.

And on and on.

Of course we can also worship compassion.

Or generosity.

Or acceptance.

Or forgiveness.

Or love.

The thing to remember is that which we worship is a choice, each and every day, in the present moment.

The other thing to remember is that, ultimately, we become what we worship.

 

I’ll see it when I believe it

If we start with the premise that we are a failure, it’s easy enough to notice all the supporting evidence.

If we reflexively lean toward the narrative that a group of people is to be feared, than everyone who resembles them–or who has a “funny name”– starts to look like the enemy.

If we begin with the fundamental notion that we live in an world of scarcity, than we can only see that our gain comes at someone else’s expense.

And, to paraphrase the old saying, if we believe that we have the right hammer–and it’s our only tool–than all we see are an awful lot of nails that need pounding.

Of course we can choose to believe that we are enough, that we have enough, that we do enough. And then we start to see someone who makes mistakes, not is a mistake.

We can decide to believe that all human beings are born good and inherently worthy of dignity and respect. And then we bear witness to our common humanity and find ourselves standing on the side of love and forgiveness more often than the side of hate and judgment.

We can believe in a world of abundance. And slowly, but surely, potential reveals itself and a veritable banquet of possibilities emerge–none of which require us to beat out anyone else.

The stories we tell ourselves matter.

Believing is seeing, not always the other way around.

What we believe, we become.

 

H/T to Brene Brown and the late Forrest Church

A version of this post originally appeared at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

Wabi-sabi

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic concept that finds beauty in imperfection and the universe’s natural cycle of growth, decay, and death.

Embracing wabi-sabi means eschewing the unnecessary, getting rid of the clutter and valuing authenticity above all else.

Wabi-sabi requires us to accept the reality that nothing lasts, nothing is ever truly finished, and nothing is perfect. It requires us to not only believe that this is okay, but to see that there is great power and serenity in the practice. It points us to the notion that imperfection is an incredible gift.

For me, it is precisely my wrong-headed attachment to the concept of perfection that keeps me spinning and stuck and caught in my fear of shipping.

For me, I can easily get distracted, adding needless complexity to a project or adorning an idea with superficiality, when it’s more than good enough just as it is.

For me, it’s so easy to see the risk in being wrong, without seeing the greater risk inherent in my inaction and the uselessness of endless worry.

When I inject wabi-sabi into my creative process, I produce more and stress less.

When I embrace wabi-sabi I am unleashed from the shackles of thinking for thinking’s sake.

When I practice wabi-sabi I am able to fail better.

And that’s perfect enough for me.

image2

A version of this post originally appeared on my business blog.

When we live in fear

When we live in fear we spin endlessly in worry about the future, rather than seeing the beauty and potential available to us right here, right now.

When we live in fear we assume the immigrant is coming to take our job–or even to kill us–rather than appreciating that they might be the next Einstein or Hamilton. Or that they are simply deserving of compassion and safe refuge.

When we live in fear we cling to the false idolatry of perfection, rather than celebrate our inevitable mistakes, our rough edges, the cracks that let the light in.

When we live in fear we seek validation from others, rather than accept our inherent worthiness and warmly embrace our differences.

When we live in fear we only see the worst case scenario, rather than have faith that we can handle just about anything that might come our way.

When we live in fear we are alone, disconnected, detached, instead of being held safe in the knowledge that we are all in this together.

When we live in fear so much of our energy is wasted trying to control the uncontrollable.

When we live in fear our starting point tilts toward hate, not love and toward revenge, instead of forgiveness.

When we live in fear we see change as the enemy, the dragon to be slain, when dropping our sword, taking off our armor and letting down our guard might just allow us to tap into a world of abundance and unleash a little bit of magic.

magic_happens

 

 

Holy stuckosity Batman!

“Stuckosity” isn’t a real word. It can’t even be found at Urban Dictionary. Well, at least not yet.

But certainly most of us are familiar with the quality of being stuck. Perhaps you’re feeling it right now.

We get stuck telling the same old stories about ourselves that are familiar, but serve no useful purpose.

We get stuck trying to solve problems with the same level of thinking that got us into trouble in the first place.

We get stuck defending the status quo, even when we know it’s not working.

We get stuck in self-righteousness, which almost never changes the other person’s mind or behavior, but frustrates us to no end.

We get stuck fighting reality, re-litigating the past, trying vainly to predict the future.

We get stuck striving for perfection, when perfect is both impossible and, ultimately, only a recipe for suffering.

We get stuck waiting for precisely the right time and to be fully ready, failing to see that those exact conditions will never ever come.

We get stuck in relationships because we fail to speak our truth and ask for what we want and need.

We get stuck unleashing our full potential because we wonder how other folks will judge us if we were to go out on a limb.

And on and on and on.

The key to getting unstuck is to first see it for what it is. And most of the time our stuckness is merely our habitual reaction to an irrational fear; to a fundamental misunderstanding of risk.

Once we become aware that staying in our fear–and being unwilling to let go of our story, our need for control and our desire to be right–is actually the most risky thing we can do, the door is cracked open to change.

Once we we accept that our behavior is simply habit, the debilitating result of a lifetime of bad conditioning, we can work to establish new, more healthy and useful ones.

Once we are committed to take action, we are finally free. Free to start before we are ready. Free to embrace failure as a natural outcome of growth. Free to be okay with our imperfection.

And that’s good thinking Robin.

holyrobin590-100521974-orig

This post also appeared on my business blog at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

Alternative facts and the reality distortion field

“I dream of a world where the truth is what shapes people’s politics, rather than politics shaping what people think is true.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

Waking up to a life of purpose, passion and love requires the ability to separate the truth from the lies and to discern the underlying essence of deep meaning from a false narrative merely perpetuated by ego. The moment we begin to cling too strongly to a story, particularly a story shaped (marred?) by our personal attachment, is the moment we risk veering down the rathole.

Steve Jobs was famous for what was both affectionately and derisively known as his “reality distortion field.” The RDF was a term first coined by one of Jobs’ colleagues to describe the Apple leader’s uncanny ability to, as Wikipedia describes it, “convince himself and others to believe almost anything through a mix of charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing, appeasement and persistence.” Whether highly calculated or borne out of subconscious habit, the effect was to manipulate his teams to accomplish things they did not think possible. Of course the RDF can be a force for good or evil.

Today we see another leader trying to push an agenda of “alternative facts” and to create his own RDF. People of integrity and substance are rightly seeing through the veil of deceit and calling bullshit.

Of course, more common, but just as pernicious, are the lies, distortions and manipulations we foist upon ourselves and those with whom we are in relationship.

We may try to impose an alternative reality upon a loved one out of fear or simply to advance our own selfish agenda; unaware of how that ultimately serves neither of us.

We may fail to confront the authenticity of our own pain, thinking we can go around it, rather than through it. Spoiler alert: we can’t.

We may tell ourselves we are unworthy of love, when nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s important to recognize the distinction among facts, perceptions, beliefs and interpretations. They are all valid and they each serve their own unique purpose. And context matters.

Yet neither our own personal growth nor the good that needs to be done in the world is served through a failure to confront reality, the perpetuation of delusion or the encouragement of false narratives. Depending upon the circumstances, ignoring this can create minor annoyance or have outcomes of great consequence. As Voltaire once opined: “those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we can do this to ourselves as well.

The best time to stop the nonsense was before it even started.

The second best time is right here, right now.

 

A monkey with a gun

Monkeys can be pretty entertaining. Some are awfully cute. It’s easy to get fascinated by their behavior which–especially with chimpanzees–is often quite similar to human’s. We can get seduced by some of their charming qualities.

At the same time, monkeys are inherently aggressive and can be prone to attack when put on the defensive. It’s also common for them to fling their feces all over the place for no apparent reason. And perhaps, like me, at some point you’ve been at the zoo with your young children and found yourself having to stumble through an explanation of why “that monkey is touching himself.” Let’s just say when it comes to sexual matters, monkeys can be rather impulsive.

Once we accept that a monkey is a monkey just doing monkey things, why would we be the least bit shocked when they act like a monkey? In fact, time spent hoping or expecting them to start behaving like a human, a zebra, a bird, or anything other than a monkey, is simply time wasted. Our best intentions, our righteous indignation, our efforts to change them only results in our being frustrated and, perhaps, a pissed off ape.

If we really understand how monkeys are we know what is safe to let them do and what would be reckless and dangerous. So it would seem rather obvious you’d never give one a gun because something like this could very well happen.

If you have the misfortune to find yourself confronted with an AK 47 wielding chimp you have a few choices. You can run like hell. You can try to stop him. Or you can just hope it all works out.

Of course, the very best thing we can do is never let a monkey get anywhere close to a gun in the first place. Another good thing to do is to never lose sight of a good metaphor.

8ogxg2