Learning To See What’s Around Us

Two fish swim together across the pond. They meet an older, wiser fish. He says, “Hello, boys, how’s the water?”

The two swim for a bit, then one asks the other, “What’s water?”

This story is from a commencement speech given at Kenyon College in 2005 by David Foster Wallace. Sometimes I think about more than technology. I’m interested in how to live a full life.

Wallace began with the common advice that college’s role is to teach you to think. The real point, he said, is knowing what to think about. Even more, to become aware of what surrounds you.

You’re tired and grumpy after work. Then you realize you are out of food at home and must go to the supermarket. It’s rush hour. Someone in a gas-hog SUV drives aggressively trying to pass everyone. You arrive at the store. You manage to find what you need. The check out line is long. There’s an overly made-up chubby woman screaming at her kid. The cashier says have a good day with the voice of death.

You think–perhaps that SUV was driven by a dad trying to get a sick kid to the hospital. Perhaps the woman at the store was tired after nursing a husband sick at home with cancer. Perhaps the cashier is caught in a dead-end job with many pressures at home.

Perhaps we don’t see the “water” around us. Perhaps we blame other people for things when we don’t understand their problem. Perhaps we think people are purposely out to get us when in reality they are just trying to get by. Just like us.

Perhaps by seeing the water, we can live a more compassionate life. And that would be good.

Work Smart

What does it take to be better at work? Even for someone like me who works alone?

One of my few go-to news sources is called Axios. They use a technique called smart brevity. What I like. Short and to the point. I wrote to them about too many adjectives, but in reality they minimize those extraneous and emotion-laden words. (Did you notice what I just wrote?) I’ve always tried that here.

They have a daily newsletter called Finish Line that ponders personal issues. They ran a series where they asked readers from different generations to send their thoughts on work. I appreciated how similar the thoughts were. Founder Jim VandeHei summarized all the comments in a column called the 10 Commandments of Work Success.

Click the link to read them all. My picks from the litter include: 

  1. Serve others: If it’s only about you, you will do the wrong things for the wrong reasons. Life is empty alone. 
  2. Work morally: Honesty, grace, humility, hard work and honor are the core values of a work-life well-lived. 
  3. Work smart: Working hard on the wrong or nonessential things is time wasted. 
  4. Study deeply: Master the tiny details and panoramic context of your profession. 
  5. Study thyself: Be clear-eyed about your gifts and flaws. It’s the only path to betterment.
  6. Fortify thyself: Optimal work performance is impossible without healthy relationships, diet and exercise, and spirituality and mindfulness outside of it. 

The bottom line: When the clock stops,  smile confidently — knowing you did it right and well.

Freedom and Responsibility

We in the US celebrate Independence Day today in commemoration of the adopting and signing the Declaration of Independence of the British colonies in part of North America from British rule.

This advice fits as well for all the international readers of this blog as for citizens and sojourners here: take some time to slowly and carefully read the actual Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the US, and the Federalist Papers. 

Digest these words from the Declaration–We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

For me “all men” means, well, all men. Also for me (as endowed later in the Constitution), all men means all humans. Yes, even women. And I am shocked and dismayed that after all these years of the movements of the mid-60s for civil rights and rights for women we still have not reached the goal. Actually, not even for all white men, either.

It seems to be a birthright of Americans to talk loudly about freedoms. It has always been my role to point out (not original with me, just read what the founders had to say!) the importance responsibility plays as the companion of freedom bringing it to its full flourishing. Seth Godin wrote today on responsibility–Demand responsibility

I’d like to add one other idea I picked up from Andy Stanley this morning during my brisk walks around our ponds. Integrity. We have so many leaders at all levels of society lacking integrity. And that includes only the ones we hear about. Integrity belongs alongside responsibility as requirements for true freedom.

Which begs the question–where am I on the scale of responsibility and integrity? And you?

Do Something Good For All Of Us

I practice a number of “daily disciplines.” They include meditation and service. This post is about the discipline of service. I’ve been a recycling fanatic for a number of years. Lately I attempted to contribute to a project called The Carbon Almanac. Check it out.

Seth Godin talked about a search engine called Ecosia that gives you good search results through your browser on the Web and also does good things for the environment by planting trees. Here are some thoughts from a recent Seth blog.

Seth Godin talked about a search engine called Ecosia that gives you good search results through your browser on the Web and also does good things for the environment by planting trees. Here are some thoughts from a recent Seth blog.

Seth Godin talked about a search engine called Ecosia that gives you good search results through your browser on the Web and also does good things for the environment by planting trees. Here are some thoughts from a recent Seth blog.

Make the choice to upgrade from Google.

There are many good reasons to do so, and few downsides.

Do it for your efficiency, for the health of the web and for the planet too.

First, a quick clarification because this is confusing to many people: The thing you use to browse the internet is not a search engine. Chrome, Firefox, Brave, Safari–these are web browsers. A browser is software that allows you to look at any web page–and these companies often make money by selling your attention to the search engine that bids the most. Apple takes billions of dollars a year from Google in exchange for steering you to their search engine.

And the reason that Google bids so much is that they make an insane amount of money. Billions of dollars a year from serving up ads and harvesting your data from your searches. That money needs to come from somewhere.

You can switch your search engine in just a few clicks. See a short video and find the links right here.

Here’s what will happen when you switch to Ecosia:

You’ll get faster and less cluttered search results, with far fewer ads.

You’ll be diversifying the web, so SEO hacks can’t easily take over.

You’ll be giving away far less data about yourself and maintaining more privacy.

AND! You’ll be planting trees through a certified not-for-profit B corp… more than 100,000,000 planted so far.

If you don’t like the results, you can switch back in two minutes.

If you switch and then you forward this to five more people who switch, we’re likely to plant another 100,000,000 trees in the next year. That’s a lot. If you switch and spread the word, search results will get better and Google will start to do a better job knowing that they don’t have quite the same scale of monopoly.

I have switched on all my devices. Check it out.

Promoting The Next Generation

This is post 2,800. It began as an experiment at the end of 2003 and grew and grew. Today there are usually more than 150,000 visits to this website every month. Thank you all very much.

A woman called Ellie wrote proposing to submit a guest post here. There are a couple of these requests every day. Either some SEO guru mistakenly told people that’s how to gain traffic or it’s a school project. Don’t know.

I started a standard reply about how this is a personal blog site. I write everything. I may quote people, but I don’t give bylined articles. There are magazines that get all their content that way. I’m not them.

However, I decided to check her Website. Ellie and Emily have a great blog site going. I think it’s great. The site is called Revolutionized. I thought I’d dedicate post 2,800 to a new generation. I’m so happy she wrote. Following are some highlights from their site that explain what they are up to. Please support with your visits.

Our world is driven by innovation. Science and technology are rapidly changing our lives. Everything from the industrial sector to the cities we live in are transforming before our eyes.

At Revolutionized, we want to connect curious minds to the ideas and processes disrupting our world. Our readers want to know what will revolutionize their industry next. Explore different niches within the technology, industry and science sectors. Revolutionized is for industry veterans and knowledgeable newcomers looking to discuss the evolution of these sectors.

Our goal is to create an ever-evolving thought leadership hub filled with in-depth insights into the latest research and development, as well as look back at the journey we took to get where we are today so we can continue creating a better tomorrow.

Emily Newton and Ellie Poverly, thanks, you make me feel old, yet keep me young.


Seth Godin says this much better than I have (from The Practice).

If you want to get in shape, it’s not difficult. Send an hour a day running or at the gym. Do that for six months or a year. Done.

That’s not the difficult part. The difficult part is becoming the kind of person who goes to the gym every day.

A fitness coach said recently on a podcast, “I don’t go to the gym and work out. I train.”

That is so apt. Working out is just doing some exercises. Training require thought. Intention. Motivation. Study. I know what muscle group I’m training today. Why. How the various muscles relate. How to coordinate with breath.

Just so in our work life. Through university (one hopes) we learned to analyze and solve problems. How to collect the right data, and how to use them.

Today in your job are you training and using intention, motivation, study? Are you the type of person who goes to work every day to solve problems and move the organization forward?