Larry Mannino's Blog

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Unhappy? You Don’t Need an Exit Strategy. You Need This.

If you’ve been deeply unhappy in your current situation long enough to recognize that band aids won’t work and you need a fundamental change, the last thing you should do is look for an exit strategy.

Yes, that sounds counterintuitive. When something hurts we try to get away from it, right?

Most of us remain in unnecessary pain for far too long. There are two reasons for this:  fear of change is the biggest, and the incredibly insidious quicksand of routine is probably the most potent. But when you finally stop complaining and actually accept that you’re done, and that it’s time, the natural next step is, of course, to focus on leaving the situation.  To put distance between yourself and the pain.

In the most primal sense, to run away.

But that doesn’t work, because it usually doesn’t happen.

The real question is: Why do we remain stuck? Because when you finally hit that point, or have that epiphany, where every fiber of your being screams ‘That’s it! I can’t take this endless inertia-loop of frustration/anguish/false hope/frustration for one more second!”, there is still one powerful thing that keeps us tethered right to that very spot that causes all the pain.

The Unknown.

Regardless of how evolved we proclaim ourselves to be, how refined and in control and not beholden to our physical urges or instincts we say we are, every single one of us – at the very center of our beings – remain biological creatures.  We have millions of years of experience burned into our basic wiring, and even today that indelible base-code translates into survival above all as a gateway to procreation and the continuation of the species.

So while we like to tell our Tesla-driving, iPhone-gripping, locally-sourced and well-scrubbed selves that we’ve evolved beyond the dirty primality of our mammalian past, when the organic fertilizer hits the fan and our survival circuits are activated, the lumbering club-dragging near-ape versions of ourselves are still running the show.  That other stuff?  That’s the privilege of safety and status and the thin veneer that falls away as soon as things get serious.

And  that primitive hard-wiring? That’s the very reason we can’t just ‘RUN!’ when faced with the suffocating pain of long-term unhappiness.

Actually, Grog Say Fire Good.

You see, back in the cave days, the unknown things creeping around in the dark just beyond that little circle of firelight were much more of a threat than a mere feeling of unhappiness.  The threat of the unknown was a real threat. An end-your-life sort of threat.  So you kept by the fire until dawn.

In today’s world that threat of the unknown is different, but equally potent. In this case “The Unknown” comes in the form of The Exit Strategy – that willful step into uncertainty to relieve a deep pain.  Unfortunately, stepping into The Unknown, even for the most necessary of reasons, could very well lead to the loss of other necessities, like your job, your spouse, or even your house.  In other words, The Unknown fast becomes the primary threat to our  source-code-level programming toward survival.

In addition, a willful decision to choose uncertainty could also result in the potential loss of social standing and public embarrassment, which probably accounts for more painful life-stasis than everything else combined. These possibilities are more than enough to override your “I’ve had it and need a change” declarations and consequent Exit Strategy.  The potential for new and greater pain snuffs your will.

In short, your great internal conversation boils down to something pretty simple, like this:  “I’m in terrible pain, but what if I leave? I could be worse off….”

Better the Devil you know, right?

So regardless of our heartfelt declaration of freedom in the moment,  we remain in the rut of hopelessness and pain by choosing, even through our inaction, the familiar and seemingly stable.  And in doing so – in now essentially consciously choosing the pain – we compound it, often through self-accusation.  We now have proof that we’re losers because we ourselves have chosen this, that life is a dark and terrible place and that perhaps we even deserve this pain, because we’re too weak to act.

Suddenly that rut gets even deeper.

And even when you’re pushed to the very edge, when negativity, cynicism, sadness – sometimes deep depression – becomes the lens through which you view even the best of things, still you stay. But not calmly. No, you are no longer resigned to your fate, just paralyzed.

You are now in a very difficult place, caught between the natural instinct to get away from that which is painful, and the ingrained code that says to remain where it is familiar and safe.  Both are survival instincts. Both are in some ways correct.  Both bring you pain.

So you drag your heels. “I’m gonna do that.  But not today.  I’m too busy. Today wasn’t too bad.”

But it is.  You’ve already established that.

And a week, a month, a year – even ten passes.

And you’re still there. In pain. So what do you do?

When salmon swim downstream, they’re happy, healthy and by all accounts having a great time.  When they head back upstream to mate, well, they exhaust themselves and die and feed a lot of bears along the way. Pushing against the current is not the natural order of things that are meant to continue and flourish; it exacts a toll. If you look around in life the things that last are at peace; they are the things that flow.

In order to get away from the perpetual pain and break the cycle of unhappiness, what you really need is an Entry Strategy.

What’s an Entry Strategy? Like the Exit Strategy, it’s a means of getting to someplace new. But unlike the Exit Strategy, the Entry Strategy is not driven by fear.  It is not running away, it is being pulled toward.

That’s a critical distinction. And a complete mental shift. Focusing on what you don’t want, which is inherent in the act of fleeing, or the Exit Strategy, is burdensome.  It drains energy, because even with the best of intentions, you’re focusing on something negative.

Don’t believe me? Think about what you don’t want right now.  Did your brow furrow?  Did you sink a little deeper in your chair, or feel tension in your body?

Now think about something you do want.  I’ll bet your forehead and jaw tension loosened.  You might have even smiled a little.

Here are some actual steps to get it done, or “How To Know What You Want in Only 14 Minutes!”.

Take a notebook, pick a page, draw a line down the middle, and write “Good” on one side, and “Bad” on the other. Every day at, say, 7 pm take no more than 2 minutes to take quick stock of the 24 hours since your last entry, and jot – don’t overthink – the good things and the bad things that happened.  The columns will not be equal.  Resist the urge to even them out.

Keep at it for a week.  A pattern will start to emerge. You’ll start to see not only what you don’t like, but also what you do.

Once you have a good handful of those things that were good, and consistently so, write a sentence that goes like this: “I like ____ and ____ and _____.  And I really like _____.”, and fill in the blanks. Yes, write it simply, like a child would.

Now you know what you like and what gives you joy. You are now armed with concrete knowledge; not a vague and fuzzy sense. It may not feel immediately doable but trust me, it is. It will also likely scare you – that’s good, because if it didn’t it would probably just be more of the same.

Now make actual good use of the internet to narrow down in a larger and more practical sense what kinds of activities or careers or places jibe with that simple declaration of what you like and what makes you happy. Doesn’t matter what it is.  Doesn’t matter if it makes practical sense. Oh, and I’d also recommend talking to a couple of people who do something similar to what you like.  Shoot them and email, or find some way to connect, respect their time, and just be honest and ask. People are inherently good, and most of us like to help.

Your next step is the hardest. And the Best.

You have to make those things a small part of your day, now.  Every Single Day. Just a little to start, but every day.

In my case, I’m a writer and that is indeed my happiest place, and the place that somehow gets pushed to the bottom of the list every day after my morning journaling.  Sure, writing is a big part of my ‘job’ as a copywriter and brand strategist, but it’s not always the kind of writing that fills my soul.

I too would love to leap, but I too have responsibilities, fears and a tendency to get stuck in routine. What I’ve realized is this: writing is not done in the head, but with the hands.  There’s something in engaging with the process that lights the fire and keeps me happy, hopeful and reasonably sane. The same thing will be true about whatever it is you find you like.

Action is always the antidote; thinking never is.

So every day, regardless of my schedule, I make myself sit down at the keyboard and get typing. That’s how this post was birthed, by the way.

It makes the worst of days better, and I’m building a body of “stuff that I like” which, eventually, will be all that I do. Doesn’t that sound nice? A goal that pulls me forward.

Final Thought: When you get in your car, you don’t just drive away from where you were, do you?

Of course not; you pick a destination.  That’s how you get there.

And now you have a destination. A place you want to get to. An Entry Strategy.

And it works every time.

Now stop reading, and get going.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Reminder” – A Quick Poem About Your Life

I Choose to be Fat
I Choose to be Thin
I Choose to Lose
I Choose to Win

I Choose to Sleep
I Choose to Wake
I Choose the Path
My Life Does Take

Yes, I Choose Sick
Or I Choose Health
The Same Applies
To Poor or Wealth

I Choose to Love
I Choose to Hate
I Choose How I
Desires Sate

I Choose my Life
I Choose my Death
I Choose More Years
Or Soon, Last Breath

I Choose Do Now,
Or Choose to Wait
In Doing So,
I Choose My Fate

 

Rush Hour in Cutchogue, November 6th, 2020

I took a break from work (my office is in the lower left corner of the first frame), took my drone for a spin.  Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to live here on the North Fork.  Good to be mindful and appreciative, especially these days. Peace.

Shot on DJI Mavic Air 2, 4K 30. Quick and Dirty Video via Adobe Premiere Pro. Audio: Piano Moment, courtesy BenSound.com

 

Squirrel Wisdom: A Very Brief Meditation on Change

A squirrel came bounding toward me just now. I noticed him and he me, and he stopped.

For a brief moment we stared at each other, frozen. Then I saw him decide.

He spun and bolted off, disappearing into the bushes. I saw him re-emerge on the other side of our small pond. He made his fast, agile way through the plantings and rocks. I watched as he bounded, equally happy and energetic, across the bright sunny lawn toward whatever came next.

If he’d had an initial path in mind, some plan or intent, it ended when we met. Even though it is Autumn, and every moment of preparation now critical to his survival through the long Winter, he did not panic. He did not slink off sadly or bolt blindly in fear or even stop and ponder when his plan – his path – unexpectedly changed.

No, instead he just kept moving in a new and unexpected direction. And this kept him safe.

The Only Way To Grow a Big Pumpkin – and a Big Life.

Every year I try to grow pumpkins. Every year I fail.  Except for this year.

I have a very small patch for my pumpkins. It’s not big enough, and I know it.

Still, like Charlie Brown trusting Lucy to hold the football, every year I give it a go.

My wife and daughters are amused, but supportive. They even buy me exotic gourd and pumpkin seeds to support my quest.

So every Spring I till the soil.  Add compost and nutrients. Weed. Make the mounds out of earth for the seeds. Plant, water, and wait.

Every year they sprout – maybe a half-dozen plants on each mound. I watch for rabbits and deer.

To have the best chance for large, healthy pumpkins, I’m supposed to cull the plants down to one per mound.  I’ve never done that, because it seems risky.  You see, if there’s only one plant, instead of the usual five or six, what happens if that plant dies?  I’ll have nothing, right?

So I’ve never culled down to one plant.  Plus because I want to try so many types of pumpkins, I have too many mounds for such a small space. This too is a problem. Still, I always let them ALL grow, hoping that this year will be different.

Jen, my wife, is the practical one.  She says “You really have to get rid of some of those plants so you’ll have room to grow.” I suspect she’s talking about more than plants.

Still, every year I ignore this advice.

So, every year all of the plants grow and overgrow and spill out into the lawn.  Every year I lose track of which vines are which because there are so many.  The squirrels and mice and groundhogs get in and chew up the young fruits because they’re hidden in the labyrinth of plants.

Every year I see the powdery mildew disease start, but by the time I see it, it’s too late. Why? because there are too many leaves and vines and the fungus starts where the the air can’t penetrate.  Eventually the mildew wins, methodically taking down all of the vines and cruelly exposing  all of the colorful fruits rotting beneath the canopy of leaves. All because I’ve again failed to do one important thing.

So every year I am left with maybe a couple of small pumpkins and gourds, not even large enough to carve.

Every Year… except for this year….

I live in a postcard-perfect small town on the North Fork of Long Island. It’s an easy hop to NYC, but far enough away to be rural.   It is, in many ways, idyllic.  But it is not easy to make a living here using fairly specialized skills – in my case being a brand copywriter and strategist. That said, I’ve built a very good business helping fix, reposition and grow other people’s businesses. I’ve done good work, and supported my family in the process..

Problem is my clients trust me and, over time, ask me to do pretty much everything marketing-related for them. And because I know advertising and marketing and did a lot of that before I moved over to the brand side, I can do it. But I also know I shouldn’t. For someone else, that’s a great thing; for me it’s grind-work.  Mission creep due to the halo effect. Even good problems are still problems.

I am at heart a writer and creative. For a long time now, I’ve wanted to trim down what I offer professionally. A long time.

Every year I think I should just focus solely on the writing, creative and brand strategy. It’s what I enjoy do best. It’s why new clients call and where referrals come from. Every year I also tell myself to say “no” firmly far more than “yes” weakly. That I need to cull to be strong and healthy and grow. I recognize that I am a limited resource.

But every year when I start to walk that path, I think “What if…”

So every year I take on more rather than less. And wind up with less as a result.

Less time. Less focus. Less Satisfaction. And probably, despite all of the churn, angst and effort, about the same amount of income.

You would think I’d learn.

And maybe I have….

This year I culled. Ruthlessly. And it’s made all the difference.

That pumpkin in the picture up top? That’s one of two huge ones from a single plant in my garden.

It’s big, healthy and immensely satisfying to see. And it’s still growing.

Yes, it was hard. Pumpkins don’t replant easily; culling wasn’t moving, culling was killing. But it was necessary.

I now have the pumpkins that I want. And, because this single plant has grown and thrived so robustly, I don’t miss the others at all.

In case you missed it, the trick is this: you need to prune and discard those seemingly safe things that actually get in your way.  You need to cull. And that’s hard.

It’s easy to rationalize: what if they all grow? Or, if you are brave and do cull, what if that One dies? Both could happen, but neither will.

Nope. You’re just avoiding the unpleasant prospect of making some hard choices in order to get some real results.  You’re hedging your bets.  And you’re letting Fear take the wheel.

That’s dangerous. You need to take the wheel.

I have. Every day I’m culling and pruning.  Even in this time of Covid uncertainty I believe that brand differentiation and perception is more important that ever, so writing and strategy has become my focus.

Can I build a website, make digital ads or cut a video? Sure. But no.

Instead, I’m managing the people who do that best according to the communications and brand strategies I create. Which means I’m freer to do what I enjoy and do best.

And maybe growing a larger healthier pumpkin – and Life –  as a result.

Why I’m Glad I Broke My Guitar.

I’ve been trying to learn guitar for years. I’d  pick it up, learn for a stretch, get into it, stop making progress, forget about it, lose my callouses Rinse and repeat. When Covid hit, I had more time and decided to, once again,  take another stab at learning the guitar. Fender made this easy by offering all of us shut-ins free lessons.

A few weeks in I was still at it, and decided I wanted to try and  change the strings on my favorite guitar. I’d never done it by myself before, so I asked Olivia, my oldest daughter, if she wanted to do it with me. She’s getting older and, though still a couple of years away from college, I already see the writing on the wall and sometimes feel pre-wistful about her eventual departure. I may be Superman to the outside world, but my girls are my Kryptonite, so whenever I get a chance to spend time with them, I carpe that diem.

Anyway, she said sure, we sat down on the floor, pulled up a You Tube video, and got to the step-by-step work of replacing the strings.

Just me and her trying to figure it out. Laughing, talking…just being. It was simple and effortless and breathtakingly fulfilling in the way that only maybe a parent can understand. At one point we couldn’t loosen one of the bridge pins that hod the strings down. I tried to use a pin-puller tool, slipped, and put a pretty good ding in the top of my otherwise near-perfect Guild D50.

No, not a hole, but, well...Aaargh!

“It’s alright” I said, and we got back to the business of changing the strings. And talking and listening and learning and just just having great time together, me and my 16-year-old buddy.

Finally we finished, tuned up, gave each other a fist bump, eventually put it back in the case, and left.

A few day later Olivia asked me if I was going to get the ‘ding’ fixed. I shrugged “I don’t know” I said.

Later that night I pulled it out to play and ran my fingertip over that chip in the finish. But when I looked at it all I could see, and feel, and relive was a great, warm, fun time with my daughter.

Not a now-imperfect  guitar. Not a ham-handed mistake that I regretted. Nope, that ding will remain forever, because every single time I think about it, or see it, a smile comes to my face.

I will never fix it.

As a brand copywriter and strategist, a lot of my time is spent shaping perception. One thing I’ve learned is that the meaning we assign to things is, in large part, more real than the objective thing in and of itself. Long story short, we have a choice about how we see the world. How we respond to everything that affects us. And how we feel.

We can choose to define something as good or the bad by what we associate with it. The meaning we choose means everything.

How we choose to see becomes our truth. Our truth becomes our Life. And our Life can be made better or worse, painful or joyful as a result.

When we remember this, even in these odd times, we realize we have all of the power to be happy or otherwise.

Every time I pull out my guitar, I see that chip in the finish. And I smile.

Choose wisely.

The Antidote – A Poem For 03/28/20

Everyone Breathless in Panicky State
Is there nothing to do now but just Sit and Wait?

And to TV and Phone
Check for Constant Update?

To Confirm More Bad News,
Addict’s Itch must we Sate?

Forget not that all ‘News’
Is not Kind Service Free

But most Business of Profit,
That gains each time we See.

For each Tidbit or Promise
Or Lead they do Tease

Brings more Money to Them,
But to Us more Unease.

In a country of Millions
Are thousands Infected,

And while Prudence is Wise
Still to Fear we’re Directed

No, I Do Not make Trivial
This Dire Heath Threat,

But also do Caution
World’s End is Not Yet!

‘Twas just Few Weeks Ago
You said ‘I Need a Break’

And while NOT one like This
Still Advantage should Take!

Yes, This Too Shall Pass –
Yes it Certainly Will

And when does Don’t Be One
Who asks ‘Why’d I Sit Still?’

Yes I Hope that you’re Healthy
And Hope You Are Well,

But Caution you Not
To Fall under Fear’s Spell.

No, I Do Not Belittle
What we’re Going Through,

But how You Respond
Still Remains Up To You!

Remember All Those ‘Things’
Always ‘Want To Get To’?

That ‘If Only Had Time’
You Wanted To Do?

Guess What? You’ve time NOW
But Forever t’won’t Last

And Soon, I Do Hope,
This ‘Stop Time’ will have Passed!

So let’s All Take a Breath
See this Unwanted Gift

Of a Break in Routine
Chance to Take Stock and LIft

Your Future Life to
Better Place You CAN See

You’ve Time Now to Take Steps
Toward you YOU Want To BE!

Every Day, Even Now
Presents Each with a Chance

To Sit on Sidelines
Or Partake in The Dance!

I do Urge you the Latter
If Music you Hear,

And if NOT do Suggest
That You Q-Tip your Ear!

Make the Most of this Time
It Won’t Always Be Here

Know that Seeds you Plant Now
Will Bloom later This Year

To come from this State
Might seem There’s Nothing Good…

But with Courage and Purpose
Say I Something Could!

So Turn Off Those Screens
That Bring Fear Through the Air,

And Remember Action’s ALWAYS
Antidote to Despair!

Why You Can’t Get It Done – A Poem

When there’s a small thing
That’s been weighing on you

A task that you know
That you simply must do

One task in The Past
Perhaps you’d not embrace

But still needed to do
In your great Career Race

Yes a small and dull part
Of All that you do

When the much Larger part
Was to your own heart True

Back then you could do it;
‘Twas quick; you were done

And Free once again
To Pursue what was Fun

But now once-tiny thing
That with Ease could complete

Seems an out-of-reach Deadline
You cannot quite meet

A small taunting thing
With intent to Elude

You as if slippery,
Or does oil exude

You see now Time has passed
And that Unwanted task

Seems to be, more and more,
From you All that they ask

That ‘So-Not-You’ thing
That now smothers your day

Qualify to yourself:
‘It’s a Price I Must Pay’

And that hopeful career
That once brought you to life

Deep inside, loathe admit,
Brings just Wither and Strife

You Deny and say
‘Well I’m sure things will get better’

But over time sense
To Wrong Path, you’re now Fettered

No you no longer Leap
From your bed every day

But now Will yourself up
And go Just for The Pay

And though Dark it may seem
Hopeless Fear-Frantic Rut

I offer you Hope
In the form of a But

But maybe consider
The thing that they ask

That ‘just-not-you’ thing
(And now Primary Task)

May hold critical clue
Why upsets you so Deep

And may just Reveal
From Yourself secrets Keep!

See, if after some Time
Daily Smile’s mere Mask

And Heart never In-Step
With those things that They ask

Know if that is the case,
Well All parties do lose

And Clear Signal to You
That New Path you Must Choose

For the worst thing to do,
Once Inside you Do know

Is to let Fear Of Change
Force you same line to tow

Yes that pesky Task-Battle
That just can’t be won?

Could be  great flashing sign
That’s it’s YOU who are Done!

You say NO! You React!
‘No this simply can’t Be!’

But your pushback is Futile;
Truth Cannot One Unsee.

Yes this Race you’ve run well,
But now cannot be won

It’s Okay, Walk Away
Leave Old Shade, Find New Sun

Yes, now Gather your things,
And Bid All Kind Adieu,

Know that Everything Changes,
And Know That Includes YOU.

The Key to Sustainable Peace and Fulfillment, or How to Become So Much Less in 2020

How did you get to where you are? If you’re in a good place, and generally happy, you probably don’t think about this sort of thing, and good for you!

But if you’re somewhere on the spectrum between blandly-existing-and-not-too-happy-about-it and holy-crap-if-I-don’t-do-something-about-my-miserable-existence-I’m-going-to-explode, well, this post is for you.

I’ve been working on my own life quite a bit lately (and to be honest, like most of us,  for years in some way or another), and somewhere between existential navel-gazing and more focused journaling to figure out my next steps, I think I’ve found at least one key that will unlock maybe one lock on the path to – or even better, path of –  fulfillment and peace.  And no, I didn’t say happiness; in my experience, the state of being happy, though welcome, is an ephemeral sort of thing, and maybe simply a by-product of being fulfilled and at peace, regardless of circumstance.

That latter part – fulfillment and peace – is what I’m shooting for. And what I’m hoping that, by sharing, I can help some other folks find their way to as well.

Anyway, here’s something I’ve learned that might help you: as we go through life, over time we kind of accumulate lots of things.  When we’re young and start out fresh, we run mostly on instinct and curiosity – and that’s a great thing.  We keep it simple and naturally pursue only those things that interest us and, maybe more importantly, energize us.  We’re pretty lean and unencumbered, in-motion and fueled by the energy of momentum and genuine interest in the world around us. We’re restless with ‘what-if’, and grow fidgety when we have to slow down or stop. When we’re young, we are simple and basic and true.

Having lived through childhood, some of that is rose-colored glasses stuff; it certainly wasn’t easy, just easy to see it that way from a later, more experienced perspective.  But there is truth to the power and fulfillment of the ‘lean’ approach – the not overthinking, trust-your-gut and just do it choices of your youth, because they worked.

Problem is, over time, life gets in the way.

In my case, it’s always been the saying yes to things that’s gotten me in the most trouble.  My motivation is typically either because someone asked me, and I’m wired to tilt at windmills, or — especially more recently over the past decade or so, and with the growing demands of caring for a family and employees and running a small business — our of FEAR.  Take the money as long as you’re doing no harm. Bills to pay, mouths to feed…it’s an easy justification.

But when you do this, you are doing harm.  To yourself.  But unlike a useful and immediate pain response – like take your hand off the hot stove, dummy – this type of harm is considerably more insidious.  The damage happens over time, and by the time you finally figure it out (journaling helps with that, btw), you’ve got a real and complicated problem on your hands.

When you keep taking things on that aren’t aligned with your genuine interests, talents, or passions, you are growing bigger and slower and more encumbered. You’re like a snowball that keeps rolling along, picking up twigs and stones and rocks and garbage until you reach a point where you no longer resemble snow at all – just a rough and immobile pile of unrecognizable things, most of which are not you at all.

At a certain point, you become too big to move. There is no energy to you. And the real you is buried inside.

The good news is that last bit: you’re still in there.  But you have to unbury.  You need to unearth that genuine and entombed bit of you that, when you consult your own inner voice — you know, the one that you ignore, but that’s ALWAYS right and that you’re generally too chickenshit to act on – tells you the exact thing you must do, and the path that you must take.  The one that is natural to you, and aligned with your interests and talents and just feels right.

You know that path, that one you don’t overthink – or even consider, but just ‘do’. And when you do, time disappears. THat’s the one you have to dig out.  And muster up the courage to walk.

Yes, reality is reality. You’re not going to return to childhood, and probably really don’t want to.  You have responsibilities and they’re quite real.  I get that – I have them too.

But you ALSO owe it to yourself and your family and the world to be the best version of yourself, and this is how you start: you chip away.

That mass of everything you’ve said yes to over the long haul – that thing that is big and immobile and sedentary and sad and that can’t even bear its own weight anymore – that thing needs to get smaller.  And it gets smaller by willfully discarding all of those things that are not you, and by saying no to even the seemingly best opportunities and possibilities that are not aligned with those few simple things that you really are. It is like a sculptor chipping away at a block and removing all of those things that are not the exact thing they want to realize. When successful only the Art remains, nothing else.

This is not easy. It requires mindfulness, courage, skill and spine. It is a daily practice, but like a sensible diet should not be an extreme or overwhelming one. More of a lifestyle change that reveals its benefits over time.

Yesterday I was offered a new and lucrative opportunity. But I am busy and, more importantly, yearning toward the new, not the more of the same. And as this new opportunity has nothing to do with writing, creativity, brand communications, strategy, helping others or, as Neil Gaiman so aptly put it, will allow me to “Make Good Art“, I will pass.  Someone else is a better fit for this. And yes, I could use the money.

But I will say no, politely, to this one.  Because I already have too many rocks and sticks on my snowball.

And I really want to see just the snow again 😉

 

 

 

 

 

How to Start Being Happy Forever (or Who Cares If It’s Supposed To Rain Today?)

Many of us are miserable. Exhausted, unsatisfied, longing and unhealthy. A quick walk through your local Target 2 days before Christmas is pretty much all the proof you need of this.  Haunted faraway looks, frenzied actions, stress-pallored and with an almost robotic demeanor.  Even the Santa with the Kettle outside had one hand on the cell while ringing the bell.

We’re no longer where we are, but always somewhere else.

Ho, ho…no, this is not my holiday message. But it does seem to be the unfortunate truth of our supposedly gilded – or maybe that’s just veneered – age.

Maybe we’ve lost that in the age where value and worth are solely determined by quantifiable and commercial factors, but maybe, just maybe, we can push back and be reminded that there is another way. Maybe that’s why I’m blogging again, at least in part – to remind us that we are all so much more more than this, more than just consumption machines playing our role in the economy. And that maybe by yearning for less, perhaps we will find ourselves and that quicksilver of happiness that we continually seek by pursuing the more.

I’m beginning to suspect that we ourselves are quite enough, and less is a worthy pursuit. As a brand communications strategist, I realize that is marketing blasphemy.  But because I take a long term view of everything, I also do not care.

“Hey,I just want to be Happy Forever.  That’s why I read this far…and what’s this Rain business?” 

I learned a long time ago that everything I need to learn my kids already know.  Now I realize that maybe what I need to really do is unlearn.

Here’s an example: I was sitting outside on my deck the other morning doing my usual bit of journaling to see what was in my head.  It was warmish and greyish and niceish – the day, not my head –  and not too cold for December.

My youngest daughter, Gabriella, was running and jumping.  She’s always running and jumping. In fact, for the past 11 years, that’s pretty much been what she does.  Sometimes on a horse, but no horse, no worries. She gets bored in front of screens.

I’m so grateful for that.

Anyway, there I was, trying to figure out my life I suppose or appreciate it more. Sketching away, jotting down ideas, doing some freeflow,  Getting things on paper is how I make sense of things, so I’m humming along and hearing Gab’s footfalls and at one point I happen to glance up and see some clouds rolling in.

Jump Jump. Over to my left.  Jump Jump.

“Hey,” I call over to her, “Supposed to Rain today?”

And. just as I say it, I pull away from the moment, no longer see anything of the wonder right in front of me as my head hits turbo:

She’s going to a friend’s house today. Rain.  If I knew about rain, would she have to change her outfit?  What would they do? Should I approach the day differently?  Will they be inside?  Will That shorten the day?  Will I have to pick her up earlier than I’d planned?  How will that affect my day?  Will My schedule change?  Will My wife pick her up after work?  How much rain will we get?  Will That gutter that was a problem during the last storm hold?  Is the basement going to leak again?  Did I leave my guitars near the wall down there where it leaked last time…

“I dunno” she chirped with a happy shrug.  She didn’t lose pace or break stride.  She said nothing more.  She didn’t care one bit, because it didn’t matter one bit.  Not to her.

Jump jump.  Run Run. Breathe breathe. Smile Smile.

It didn’t matter at all.  Not one bit.

I sat there and let the powerful simplicity of that moment sink in.  “Girl’s a genius”, I thought and told her as much.  She looked at me, made a goofy face.  And kept running and jumping and playing.

I watched her, always taking it as it comes.  Light as a feather.  Happy and untethered.

I was envious. Her instinctive simplicity is genius; my learned complexity is stupid.

Only one of us is truly happy, alive and engaged most of the time.

Guess which one.

We live in an attention economy.  Not a consumer economy – that’s become secondary –  an attention economy, first and foremost.  And beyond the economy, we live an attention existence.  Our friends are not in the room, not often, but instead on a screen.  It requires attention to seek them out.   Attention to decide how to present ourselves before we see them.  Attention to determine in advance every single moment of every single day just how to present ourselves to a world that really is not a world at all, at least not in the sense of that which the fabric of actual reality is made. Attention to respond to the constant and smothering stream of pokes and prods and information that is constantly hurled at us.

There is no such thing as multitasking, only micro-tasking. We can only put our effort in one place at one time.  Only be in one place at one time.  And what we’re thinking about – where our attention is invested –  is where we are.  And someone is always pulling at your attention.  Think about it: we are constantly being baited to think about certain things. This is how money is made – at the expense of our attention and self.  And money has somehow been insidiously placed at top of the altar of all that is deemed important and worthy of pursuit.

Yes, I’m a marketing blasphemist.  Or an unapologetic humanist. I’m okay with either.

When was the last time you carved out even 5 minutes of silence?  No phone, no internet. Alone with your thoughts?

Five minutes.  Stop now and try it and realize just how long five minutes is when you are only focusing on them.  It’s a comparable eternity.  Comparable to what?  Spend five minutes on YouTube, and I’ll see you in an hour when you get back.

My point is this: when faced with a question about something that may or may not happen, but which will demand your attention, take my daughter’s advice. Shrug and keep doing whatever you were doing.  You’ll find that whatever seemed so important was not – not to you anyway.  And that your world will not only not end, but will actually be richer and more interesting.  Just be here. And Now.  Not There, or then – even if it’s only in your head.

Remember, this is a process of mindfully choosing Less. Of ironically, being aware and choosing not to engage.  Maybe it’s sort of like meditating: see the ‘must must must’ but choose to let it go.  Over time, this will become not an exercise, but simply the way you are.  This is not a quick fix, but a gradual one.  This is the difference between taking on a crazy unsustainable diet or gradually changing your eating habits toward something healthier over the long term.

Only one lasts over time and makes you healthy inside AND out.

Disconnect. Start a silent rebellion against the perceived inevitability of a questionable future. Shrug and be happy.

You owe the world nothing except the best version of you — which is also what you owe yourself.

And this is a good way to start.

My 2 Cents – and a Happy New Year to All.