Despite

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Despite

Back, when I was going to journalism school, we had a class called Creativity. The professor in Creativity once told us: “You have the responsibility to become good journalists, despite your comprehensive education in journalism!” It took us a moment to process what he was saying. “Despite", not “because of”. In his unusual way he was waking us to the fact that we were the ones who need to do the learning and the doing. All the best classes in all the best schools cannot compensate for the lack of effort. And vice-versa. All the lack of great classes and schooling cannot stop one from fulfilling their authentic goals. Yes - authentic. I used the word as a disclaimer. 

Despite the power of our imagination, we need to let someone else be the fist man on Mars. Or the first woman to discover time-travel. Despite the vastness of the universe we need to focus. Have a singular vision. Despite the endless possibilities to dream up many and big scenarios for our life, we need to choose one. Why? I will use a quote from the introduction to The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury - “So as not to be dead!” And also because if we choose two or more - we will have to divide our time between these two or more. Despite maintaining a wide range of interests and hobbies, we need to choose a primary mission. An occupation, vocation, purpose, life’s goal. Call it what you will, but choose it. Then go after it. With all you’ve got. Despite how scary it may be.

How do we choose? By focusing on the one thing that makes us most alive. It is ok, to change it later. We will discover something else that makes us more alive. Our lives’ stories are going to evolve. Better be ready to evolve with them. Despite how we might feel today, someday we will be able to connect the dots. That’s why we need to keep going. We can’t leave dots behind if we stay in the same spot. There will be just one giant dot, and we will be in the middle of it. Nothing to connect to. 

It is a common practice - when we receive our college diploma, we take it as a license not to learn anymore. We have completed our education. School is out forever. It is a very official document giving us permission not to study anymore. So many stop learning. Despite your diploma your education is not over. It can only be over when you say it is over. Despite your diploma, you have a responsibility to keep learning. Despite your achievement, you have a responsibility to become really good at something.

This is what I tell myself too. Next Generation Indie Book Awards, which is like a Sundance Film Festival for the independent book industry, named The Excellence Habit 2016 winner in the Motivational category. Despite this award, I need to become a good writer. May be my next book will be titled Despite. Would you read it? What would you expect to learn from a book like that?

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Everything Is Illuminated

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Everything Is Illuminated

Fear of success is real. It is a kind of fear that is irrational and easy to dismiss. It almost sounds like a clever play of words, not a real thing. A nifty construct of an academic scholar, who is using it to justify his research. Many of us claim they don’t have fear of success. Some might be right. But I am feeling it right now. While I am scheduled to receive a book award next week, I still feel like it is not fully deserved. Like they made a mistake, or something went wrong. And I realized something about this fear. Success is change. Fear of success is just a flavor of the fear of change.

I enjoyed writing The Excellence Habit and promoting it. I love the fact that in less than 6 months more than 23,000 people have downloaded it, or bought the paperback. And I absolutely am thrilled that I have more than 40 5-star reviews. THANK YOU to all readers, followers and especially those 5-star reviewers – you are the best. Some readers would even send me a personal message telling me how much they enjoyed the book and that it changed their lives. This moves me. It feels fantastic. And scary.

I can’t explain it. Most likely I have automatic negative thoughts that are so well practiced that I don’t notice them anymore. A negative thinking habit. The opposite of the excellence habit. Some kind of inner darkness that creeps and promotes this fear. Is it perhaps change-fatigue? It could be. Writing the book was a long process. Nothing much changed while I was writing. I didn’t meet with a lot of people during that time. Most of the progress was between me and the white pages that needed my words. Now things are changing and sometimes way too fast. I just gave my first radio interview and I am scheduled for the book award next week.

So I have to remind myself – negative thinking is the disease. I need to change. I need to enjoy and reach out for more success, even if for the sake of paying the bills. In the words of Elizabeth Gilbert – the universe has hidden gems inside us and I perhaps have uncovered one of mine. This is my time and this is what I want. My book, my writing is meant to serve others, not me. It is meant to uplift and illuminate the path of others. And by doing that work, my inner darkness gets illuminated too. And hopefully as this happens, I’ll find more hidden gems and share them. I pray I get a chance to keep finding these gems. All the way – until everything is illuminated. And hopefully by then I would have built my own excellence habit and conquered my fear of success. 

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Book Award for The Excellence Habit

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Book Award for The Excellence Habit

Last week I got fabulous news. The Excellence Habit was named the Winner in the motivational category of the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. The rush, the kick, the buzz … all kind of emotions, and all from the same emotional family. THANK YOU to all the fans, the readers - you are the best.

Do I call this a success? Is it a result of excellence? How do I translate it into continued Excellence for my next book? Questions, questions. While I search for answers - I decided I'm attending the awards ceremony next month in Chicago. It will be during Book Expo America, so it’s like the Superbowl for book lovers and publishers. I’ll tweet about it and share anything interesting I see and learn. In the meantime - a few thought-provoking sentences that have been brewing recently.

Towards understanding of religion: God does not negotiate; You can only make a deal with the devil.

Towards understanding of social security reform: Politicians can statistically prove that after age 65 people only exist as a form of revenge to the social security system. 

Towards understanding of statistics: When you measure 3 elephants and 6 mice, the average animal weighs 2,985 lbs.

Towards understanding of politics: If a politician offers no promises, people will feel cheated.

Towards understanding of hope: All potential arguments about the toilet seat stop, as soon as we realize that there is no recorded instance of an egg-cell chasing a sperm-cell. 

Towards understanding of aging: We dream of staying eternally young and healthy, but being eternally old and healthy might work just as well.  

Towards understanding of social media: It is not enough to be modest; you have to let everybody know about it too.

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The Excellent Underdog

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The Excellent Underdog

Within two minutes of takeoff, US Airways Flight 1549 lost both its engines. At an altitude of 2,818 feet, the aircraft hit a flock of Canadian geese and started to lose airspeed while still climbing. Within 3 minutes Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger turned the nose south, glided over the Hudson, and ditched the plane off Midtown Manhattan. All lives were saved. The "Miracle on the Hudson" happened in 2009 and it sparked much discussion about aviation excellence. 

When examining human excellence, psychologists focus on understanding exceptional achievement in domains such as science, art, or sports. Some focus on natural talent, others on intensive training and practice. Then there are those who examine excellence as a product of context. For those supporting the nurture argument, it is all about exceptional performance training, deliberate practice, and a precocious involvement and commitment to a specific domain.

The nurture fans believe that anyone can make it, and all they really need is hard and smart work. Regardless of context, personality traits, or upbringing, anyone can succeed with the right training. This is fully in line with our fascination with the underdog. The notion that we were all created equal has taken root in our public discourse and has powerful implications socially, politically, on a personal level, and in our educational system. Popular culture reinforces these ideas with potent stories. From Rocky and The Silence of the Lambs, to Avatar and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, we follow and care about the journey of an unlikely hero who overcomes huge obstacles. Mainstream media reinforces this idea, too. We are accustomed to reading all about Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, or Malala Yousafzai. They all achieved their status, fortune, and fame with tons of hard work and by overcoming unusually hard circumstances.

What is interesting about the nurture argument is that it is a relatively modern occurrence. Up until a few short decades ago, people were not expected to achieve much unless they were from the right caste, the right college, or born with the right title. In some countries you had to be a member of the Communist Party.

We are now mostly done with the caste systems. There are fewer social barriers than ever, and this has increased our expectations. Never before have expectations been so high about what humans can achieve in their lives. The president of the United States is African American, the CEO of Microsoft is Indian-born, and rapper Dr. Dre sold his headphones company to Apple for $3 billion. We are told from many sources that anyone can achieve anything. This spirit of equality is a beautiful idea. Everybody now wears jeans and a T-shirt, yet deep, real inequalities remain. We are made to feel that if we have a bright idea, a garage or office, and work very, very hard, we can all become like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. In reality—it is more likely to be hit by a lightning or win the lottery. Yet, the notion persists.

The second and perhaps more interesting fact about these high expectations is that we now officially live in the age of meritocracy. Politicians on the left and right, educators and social influencers agree that it is a good idea, and we should make our society more meritocratic. In other words, if you’ve got talent, energy, and skill, nothing should hold you back. You will get to the top. It is a logical, beautiful idea. If you deserve “it,” you will get “it.”

There are a few problems with this idea. For one, if we truly believe in it, by implication the opposite must be true as well. Those who deserve to get to the bottom will get to the bottom and stay there. In other words, your position in life is merited and deserved. As a result, failure is much more harsh, personal, and devastating. It is almost presumed to be deliberate.

It is curious how language has evolved to reflect this change in attitude. If we met a poor person a hundred years ago, we would likely call them unfortunate. Back then, we would describe them as someone who did not have enough fortune, who was not lucky enough. Nowadays, we would not be surprised to hear someone at the bottom of society be called a loser. I think we can all agree that there is a big difference between unfortunate and a loser.

As a society we have evolved to believe less in external forces like God, or government, and more in ourselves. We are in the driver’s seat of our lives, and, therefore, we own both success and failure. On a personal level, this has made it more difficult to feel good about our current level of success. By accepting the idea that we could achieve anything, we have increased the pressure on ourselves to do so. Paradoxically, this makes it more difficult to reach our goals. But isn't reaching our goals what success is all about? Yes, it is. This is why I suggest we "change the channel". Instead of working for the external goals that we call success, why not focus on building an Excellence Habit? Then we can have personal fulfilment, while still an underdog. If we treat ourselves like we can perform a miracle, one day we might. Just ask Captain Sully! 

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