Stuff You Should Know By Now

If you’re an adult in your late 20’s or beyond, I think there are a few things you should understand by now. We’ll start with the easy ones:

Indoor Voices

There are few times when it’s appropriate to yell indoors. Barring an emergency situation like a fire, I think we can all agree that we shouldn’t be able to hear your voice from across the restaurant.

Speaking Over Others

We all do it now and again, but generally it’s nice to let people finish their sentences before chiming in.

Reading the Room

Not all topics of conversation are appropriate for all situations. For example, making sex jokes beyond a group of close friends is a stupid move.

Cleaning Up After Yourself

Perhaps it’s because I come from the world of coworking, but this one gets under my skin. If you’re sharing a space, picking up after yourself should be a no-brainer.

 

Okay, now it gets tougher:

“Proficient in Microsoft Office” is Not Good Enough

In general, if you’re applying for a gig where you’re tempted to write the phrase, “Proficient in [insert basic skill here],” you’re well on your way to mediocrity. Who isn’t proficient in Word, Excel, and Powerpoint (or their alternatives) at this point? By now, you should be way beyond basic skillsets. But if you’re not, sign up for a site like Lynda.com right now and get some real skills.

The World Owes You Nothing

Because my generation, as well as those after us, are considered the most entitled generations in history, this bit of advice is paramount. The world owes you nothing. If anything, by being so incredibly lucky to be alive, you owe the world a debt. A debt you can only pay off with generosity, patience, and hard work. Anything less is selfish.

Give Without Expectations

Giving with the expectation to receive something in return is not generosity. By definition, a gift is free of all liability. If you offer somebody something, without explicitly asking for something in return, expect nothing back, other than the good feelings you get from gifting, of course. This extends to expecting potential favors in return, any influence over another person’s behavior, as well as any points added to your reputation score. Which means, if you’re giving in order to look good, you’re doing it wrong.

 

Sadly, 90% of young adults struggle with more than one of these, if not most of them. But if you’re here reading this, I’m betting it’s because you want to fix things like this. I’m betting it’s because you want to be a better human.

This list is a solid start.

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We Don’t Need Leaders: On Getting Over the Leadership Obsession and Changing the World as a Follower

Right now, we need a lot more followers, not leaders*.

Specifically, we need you to be a follower.

But please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not asking you to mindlessly tag along on somebody else’s mission. Nor am I asking you to remain stagnant in whatever corporate hellhole you may find yourself in.

I’m asking begging you to become a thoughtful, qualified, hard-working, generous, passionate follower for a mission, company, or organization you believe in.

“But Ryan,” you might say, “I can’t find something I believe in. Plus I want to own it so I get the credit I’m due.”

Fair enough, but I have some counter-arguments.

1. You’re not looking hard enough.

If you haven’t found a cause or venture to believe in, I’m betting you spent somewhere between zero and zero hours looking.

For the most part, everything has been done before. Let me repeat that. Everything has been done before.

Barring edge cases like incredible scientific breakthroughs or those things only enabled by new technology, most things have been tried before.

Which means that thing you want to do? Somebody is likely out there making a go of it themselves right now. And they need you. Because nobody believes in them. But maybe you would.

If you haven’t found somebody working on something you’re passionate about, you’re not looking hard enough.

2. You don’t deserve the credit.

The obsession with leadership has a lot to do with ego. I get it, we want to get what we think we deserve, whether that be the glory, the credit, the money, or a coveted speaking slot. It appeals to each and every one of us.

But this obsession has created many false prophets. People who are not qualified to lead others, or even themselves.

Are you a 22-year-old college graduate starting a life coaching practice? Perhaps you’re a first-time author who, having never written much outside an academic setting, plans to be as big as J.K Rowling on their first pass. Or maybe you truly believe that your new coworking directory website really is a game-changer, despite the dozens of competitors of whom you’re somehow unaware.

While dreams may be part of what a leader provides, these are not dreams. They are fantasies.

At age 22, you’re not qualified to give people life advice as you haven’t lived it! Yes, I was young and wishful once as well.

Your first pass at a book is 99.9999% guaranteed to fail. That’s also not a bad thing. It’s part of the process, but you don’t understand that.

We don’t need more coworking directories, there are already clear winners in this space. Starting another one is just a waste of money and time.

3. Following Gives You Experience

That person out there with your idea, the one that makes you jealous and feel worthless? They need you. And yes, they’ll likely get most, if not all, the credit.

But what you get in return is far more valuable. You get experience.

If you’re the type of reader I think you are, the inexperienced, hungry, 20-something, who’s burning with a desire to make an impact with the small amount of time you have on this planet, listen up.

Experience is a force multiplier for impact.

If you gain valuable experience early on, you’ll have no lack of impact in your industry, the lives of others, or the world.

Sure, the person you’re following is getting experience too. But when you join somebody else, when you follow, especially as a No. 2, you get almost the same experience without the risk. Your leader, they could lose their shirt. The most you’ll lose is a job.

4. You’ll Get Some Credit Anyway

At the end of the day, if you’re in a project or venture that really is impactful, and you’re following a leader that’s truly worth following, you’ll get some of the credit anyway.

In my Impact Hub days, I worked with an up-and-coming leader, Dustin. Granted, Dustin had a lot to learn back then and he made a thousand mistakes (what leader doesn’t?). But in the end, the business survived.

That’s not the important part, though. The important part is he gave credit where it was due, almost every time. Which means, to this day, I get to claim that credit, and it’s paid off and then some.

Certainly there are good and bad leaders out there. But regardless of your leader’s generosity, it’s almost impossible for you to escape an organization without getting at least some of the credit. And if it’s not given, once you leave, you can pretty much claim it anyway.

 

* Oh, that bit at the top about not needing leaders? Of course we still need leaders. We just need better ones. And this is the process to becoming one.

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Where Does Creativity Really Come From?

Many people still believe that there’s some phenomenal place from which creativity comes. As if it were the product of another dimension, divine inspiration, the muse, or our collective consciousness. People still believe inspiration strikes out of nowhere.

This is fanciful thinking and is entirely false.

Here’s what really happens:

  • One day, we observe something we may barely notice, or that we pay significant attention to, but that we ultimately forget about.
  • Another day, we notice something else and also forget that.
  • Maybe on a third day, we begin a new book, which we finish a few weeks later.
  • Some months later we attend an event with an inspiring keynote.
  • These interactions repeat hundreds or thousands of times, perhaps even more.

All these stimuli are still there in your head. Perhaps not fully, but a remnant of at least some of them remain for a long, long time. These interactions and observations just sit there, patiently waiting. But waiting for what?

Sometime in the future, when you’re feeling stuck, tired, frustrated, and alone, something calls to you out of the ether. Is it the Muse? Is it God? Is it the Superconscious?

No. It’s you.

And of course, by you I mean the collected interactions and conversations you’ve had over the years. The entirety of your memory has come together in this one moment and delivered you the perfect idea.

But also of course, it’s not you. It’s the world, the universe in a very literal sense. It’s the vast number of experiences you’ve had over your life that you owe your genius to.

In fact, the idea for this article came from somebody else (you know who you are), as well as a book I read more than five years ago, not to mention the vast experiences I’ve had reading and writing over the years.

And so I only have one, critical piece of advice if you want to be more creative.

Go. Explore. Experience. Absorb the world around you. Repeat this process forever.

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What Passion Feels Like (To Me)

When you forget to take a shower and rush out the door in the morning, excited to get to work.

When you feel capable of better and more work than you ever thought possible.

When you can’t stop talking about what you’re working on with others.

When you don’t realize that you’re dedicating more time than is expected of you on a project.

When the boring parts of the job energize instead of drain you.

When the people around you feel that energy and reflect it back.

When you work late or through lunch because you lost track of time.

When you nerd out about processes, workflows, and administrative efficiencies.

When you feel supremely connected to the others you work with who share your passion.

When you commit wholeheartedly without worrying about how much you’re getting paid or the return-on-investment.

When you stop keeping score. Of yourself and others.

 

Once you connect with passion, it’s like a spark in a tinder pile inside a paper factory built atop an oil field. It erupts into flames and there’s no stopping it. Your only job after the ignition is to keep adding fuel, ensuring the flame lasts forever.

That’s what passion feels like, at least to me.

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When Things Go Wrong, They Go Right Too

We all have plans for the future.

Our plans could be dinner with friends on Friday night, visiting our family back home in the Spring, getting a lucrative new contract, or closing on a new house.

But regardless of their size or long-term impact, plans don’t always work out. The restaurant is closed for renovations, the flight gets canceled, the hiring manager picks someone else, and the house has termites.

But when things go wrong, they go right too.

You try the restaurant next door. And perhaps you run into an old girlfriend from college that just moved to town. She joins the table and a few months later you’re moving in together.

You take the time off work anyway, even though you won’t be visiting family, and instead spend the week reconnecting with your passion projects. And perhaps you have an existential crisis, quit your job, and decide to follow the dream of being a screenwriter which you’ve had since childhood.

No, you didn’t get the contract, but a better opportunity showed up a month later out of the blue. Perhaps this is the breakout project that launches your career into the stratosphere.

You decide to wait a while before looking for another house to buy. Perhaps in the meantime the market goes bust. If you’d have bought, you’d have lost everything.

So no, things don’t always work out as we expect. But sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff.

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Offended: On Speaking Up and Owning Your Experience

Let’s start with this: it’s possible to become offended. What’s more, the actions of others have an uncontrollable subconscious effect on our reaction to their actions. The reaction may only be a microsecond of anger, pain, or fear, but that minute reaction is largely outside our control.

It’s what we do after that microsecond that matters. That’s where the choice of being offended exists.

If somebody says something offensive, triggers a bad memory, or eats the last donut at breakfast, the choice you have in this moment is twofold:

  • To make negative assumptions about the person’s character and intentions, then decide to be offended that you weren’t considered properly; or
  • To be generous in your assumptions about the person’s character and intentions, realize that nobody is perfect, and that 99.9% of people don’t intentionally try to offend people.

My advice is to do the latter. I think you will experience less stress, more happiness, and be more welcome company at parties.

That certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak up if somebody wrongs you. If you feel slighted (emphasis on the word feel), it makes sense to pull the person aside and calmly explain to them that something they did made you feel a certain way, then ask them if they would mind changing their behavior.

But when you announce to the room that somebody has committed an offense, or perhaps worse, passive-aggressively act out, what you’re really doing is exacerbating the problem. It then becomes you who have committed an offense by not handling the situation in a mature manner.

Recognize that we are living on a planet of people with entirely different cultures, backgrounds, tastes, and values. Therefore, the only person you can reasonably control is yourself. In all other cases, it makes the most sense to be generous with your assumptions and empathetic in your actions.

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Why We Have Rules

We’ve witnessed some pretty tumultuous events in recent years, including what many would call chaotic political upheaval. We’ve watched pundits argue about the merits of various people’s actions and take aim at those they disagree with, calling the public to arms in the process. This has created a climate where people are considered guilty until proven innocent, but sometimes even the proof of innocence doesn’t ward away the mobs.

This phenomenon isn’t new, nor is it limited to the public or political arenas. We also see this behavior in meetings, business dealings, and personal relationships. Somebody rubs us the wrong way and we set out to slander them and diminish them in the eyes of others. We disagree with somebody in a meeting and do our best to undermine them in  future meetings. We feel the need to argue and get our way. It’s no fault of our own, it’s biological.

But this is why we have rule of law.

In a meeting if you disagree about how a certain action should be taken within the company, instead of arguing about it for an hour, you could simply consult the rulebook.

Is the issue in the rulebook? If so, then follow the rules you decided upon last time the discussion happened. Problem solved, no debate, it’s done.

If the issue isn’t covered in the rulebook, that means you must do the difficult emotional labor required to solve the issue and then document the result as a new policy. From now on this issue will not take up so much time because the new policy tells you how to deal with it.

This is why we have rules and laws and policies, not because we want to create red tape and bureaucracy, but because they make our lives and work more efficient and effective.

Of course, there are times when a rule no longer serves its function. At that time it’s important to review our rules, figure out why they were created in the first place, and determine whether or not the law is still effective at solving for the issue it set out to solve.

But what happens if we don’t know why we created a rule in the first place?

Well, then you have to start the whole process all over again as if the rule didn’t exist. But this time, please take notes.

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Flat vs. Steep: How Organizational Structure Affects Speed and Decision Making

What happens when you make a top-down organization more flat?

This weekend I’m with a group of other people who will decide the future structure of Coworking Bansko, a coworking space which I’ve called home for the last year. We are in the process of deciding if the structure of the coworking space will shift from founder-owned to member-owned, also known as a cooperative.

Since its founding, decisions at Coworking Bansko have been ultimately made by its two founders. This is a steep structure.

In a steep organization, more and more power is concentrated at the top. This is typical of most modern-day organizations, companies, and event nonprofits. Governments are structured this way, even if we like to pretend they are not.

We’ve traditionally organized structures this way because it’s resource efficient. The less people there are making decisions, the faster you can go. The downside is that when there are less people making decisions, there’s a good chance that the powers that be will make the wrong decision. With less input, the decision-making process is hampered by lack of information.

There’s not really such a thing as a flat organization, where the power is distributed among all people equally. This largely doesn’t exist in reality. Even a direct democracy has power centers and voting blocks. So it makes more sense to discuss flattish organizations, where the power is distributed more evenly, but not completely evenly.

The upside of flattish organizations is that with a larger group, there’s more information and expertise upon which to make decisions. However, flattish organizations are slow and indecisive. There’s often tension and politics. There’s a risk that decisions are made based on rhetoric and charisma than on expertise. The most experienced people aren’t always the most charismatic.

I think many of us fantasize a more flat society, where decisions are made more by the group than a few people at the top. However, we must also recognize the downsides of becoming flattish.

Neither is right or wrong, they just are what they are.

 

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Falling Into Place: How Procrastination and Laziness Guide Us to What Matters Most

Be honest with yourself, you’re just lazy.

Did you feel a slight chill run down your spine as you read that? Perhaps a tightening of your gut and a rush of blood to your face? Lazy is a trigger word for many of us. It creates a feeling of shame, even in the most accomplished of people.

For most of us, the shame surrounding laziness came early in our lives, possibly from our parent(s), a teacher, or an early work experience. And in all cases, it was born out of the expectations placed upon us by others. Expectations that we internalized, but that we somehow couldn’t cope with. We went all our lives asking, “Why can’t I just do the things people expect of me, without them asking? Why do I always finish things at the last minute? Why can’t I plan ahead? Why do I say I’ll do something, then abandon it when it gets hard?” We entered our 20’s and 30’s wondering how we’d ever make it in the professional world with procrastination and laziness as a crutch.

However, what you will come to realize, dear reader, is that laziness isn’t a crutch, it’s a superpower.

Recall the various school papers and projects that you left off until the last day or week, and the studying that happened hours before the exam. You had weeks or months to prepare, but somehow you left your tasks undone until it was nearly too late.

But somehow you (almost) always finished your tasks. Think about the times you received high or near-perfect marks on a paper that you wrote the night before it was due. Perhaps the teacher or professor even complimented your work in the margins, as has happened with my last-minute work on many occasions.

Then remember the assignments you never finished, the work projects that you didn’t complete, and the personal endeavors you abandoned. Actually, maybe you can’t recall them at all. It would make sense that you wouldn’t remember much about your abandoned work. That’s because the work that you never finished was subconsciously unimportant. At least not important to you, not at that particular time.

And this gets us to the point, which is that procrastination and laziness aren’t bad! They are, in fact, guideposts for purpose, meaning, and impact. Let me explain further.

Notice that you haven’t been able to pull off last-minute miracles in every case. For some subjects in school or projects at work, your procrastination ended in disaster. There’s a reason for that: the project or subject didn’t involve your natural abilities and inclinations. In other words, it’s not your calling. It’s not what you were meant to do.

At least in my case, I dominated last-minute term papers because I’m a writer. It comes naturally to me just like drawing or negotiating or making the best EDM this side of the Atlantic come naturally to other people. Laziness with group projects, on the other hand, doesn’t work at all like last-minute writing. Group projects involve other people, project management, and organization. A naturally gifted team leader could likely complete a team project without dedicating much time to it. That’s not me.

The mistake I made was not taking this as a sign from a much earlier age. Instead I, like many of you, struggled to find my place in the world of work. I tried to get better at things I just didn’t like. However, as I said yesterday, I believe the spark of what truly drives you is always there, trying to take you to the place you need to be. Furthermore, I believe that procrastination and laziness are the roads to back to that calling.

We know this because we’re not always lazy and we don’t always procrastinate. Not with the things we love doing.

Before my professional life, I worked as a waiter in a restaurant, but I wanted to be a chef. I offered the head chef at one high-end restaurant to let me work for free in exchange for training. To my delight, he said yes.

I quickly found myself taking days off from my paid job to work for free as a prep and line cook. I worked hard, I showed up on early, I stayed late, I learned, and I loved it. There’s a good reason I’m not a chef now, but that’s another story.

What are you working on right now that’s boring you to tears? In contrast, what do you find yourself lost in on a regular basis? Just because you get paid to do the former and not the latter doesn’t mean what you’re doing is bad. It’s a signal that there’s more inside you, art that’s begging to come out. And you’re suffocating it.

You may be thinking at this point, “Okay, but not everybody is lazy! I know plenty of people who set out to do something and do it. They finish things on time and they do what others expect of them. And they’re successful!”

This depends on your definition of successful. Sure, they are rewarded because they can be relied upon to do what they’ve been told. And sure, they can create a plan and stick to it no matter what, no matter how bored they get, no matter how much impact they feel they’re having. But do you really want to live that way?

Instead of comparing yourself to those people, recognize that you have something they don’t. Your intolerance of unimportant work will, over time, put you on a more impactful and fulfilling path, at least by your standards. And if you think about it, aren’t those the standards that matter most?

 

If you have an opinion or an example to share, I’d love to hear about it. Just leave a comment below.

 

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Are You Pretending?

The world is filled with people who are dissatisfied, bored, and frustrated but who keep going anyway. Is this you?

Perhaps you find yourself saying, “Sure, my job isn’t inspiring or meaningful every day, but I have a steady income. Plus, five years ago I couldn’t even dream about being where I am now. I’ve come a long way and people respect me and my work.” True, you may indeed be occupying a station in life that was far beyond the wildest dreams of your 5-years-ago self. But that’s the problem.

You’ve become so engrossed in your shadow career, as Steven Pressfield calls it, that you’ve forgotten what it was that drove you in the first place. You’ve forgotten about your music, art, or writing. You’ve forgotten about that workshop series on DIY home design you wanted to start so many years ago or the boutique coliving space you dreamed of opening on a lake in Ontario.

Along the way, whether you recognize it or not, you’ve been pretending. Pretending to be satisfied, pretending to be motivated, pretending to be passionate.

And it’s killing you.

The tough bit is, the longer you continue pretending, the harder it is to tell the difference between true fulfillment and our shadow fulfillment. That’s because our shadow careers are deeply satisfying to our egos,  though not much else. Sure, we receive praise for our work, and invitations to speak, mentor, and contribute. We are offered jobs and more money. But none of these things are what we’re really after. They are all pursuits of our shadow selves (again, all credit to Steven Pressfield). And these things are seductive as hell.

But occasionally we can catch glimpses of our true callings. Sometimes we catch it while observing others who are themselves passionately engaged in their work. Other times it’s heard in podcast, read in a book, or remembered after combing through old journals.

One thing Steven and I disagree on, at least as inferred from his writing on the matter, is that he believes there is a point of no return. That is to say, a point where one can follow their shadow career for so long and be led so far astray, that there is a zero-percent chance of coming back. Correct me if I’m wrong, Steven, but I don’t agree here. I think that there’s always a chance to catch that glimpse, a chance to reignite the spark we had way back when.

And that’s what I’m hoping you try to do now.

Are you pretending? Are you one of the living dead, as Tim Ferriss puts it, mindlessly commuting to a job you secretly despise merely for the fame and the cash? What hard, emotional, risky work are you avoiding out of fear of shame, failure, or judgement?

Whatever work that is, wake up an hour earlier, and do it every day for the next three months. I think you’ll wake up on day 91 and realize you’re not pretending anymore. You’re doing it for real.

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