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Month: April 2020

Life under quarantine

How surreal!

Who’d have thought at the start of the year that the whole planet would spend April locked under quarantine? And yet here we are.

The consequences are severe. Millions of job lost. Tens of thousands of businesses teetering on the brink. Mass government bailouts required across the board.

But is it all bad?

Not at all.

For all the pain and suffering we have been given, for the first time in living memory, a chance to slow down.

Life raced into 2020 at a breakneck speed. Chaotic.

We couldn’t begin to decide what was to happen with the alarming acceleration of climate change or the ethical questions thrown up by emerging technologies such as AI. And then covid hit.

And it’s only now, with the brakes applied, that the range of options available to us becomes clear. The future really is in our hands. And it is by coming together as a planet that we can best create it.

As for the planet itself? It’s taking full advantage! The rivers are running clean. Skies are clear. Animals are roaming the streets of our cities. There’s something extremely comforting about the Earth’s reaction to just a few short weeks of quiet.

The future is just around the corner.

And far from throwing us off track, perhaps this quarantine is exactly what we need to get ready for it.

So you’re starting a company- a poem

So you’re starting a company
are you sure that’s not rash?
Don’t you know that most efforts
end up in the trash?

Once you’ve taken the plunge
there’s no turning back,
it’s you versus the world
simply armed with a Mac

You’ll run out of money,
You’ll lose touch with friends,
You’ll spend every day
wondering how this all ends

But don’t let me scare you
because one thing’s for sure,
there won’t be a thing
that you’ll want to do more

You’ll wake up inspired,
you’ll feel yourself grow,
you’ll look back on these years
with no drop of woe.

So how can you then
stop your company dying?
Well dear founder
simply never stop trying.

Ikigai

Welcome to Okinawa, the land of immortals.

This island chain, part of Japan, is home to a little over a million people and has the highest concentration of centurions (people over 100 years old) of anywhere in the world.

So what’s the secret?

Well, they maintain exercise and  close social bonds throughout their old age but perhaps the biggest difference between the Okinawians and  the western world is the concept of Ikigai.

Ikigai loosely translates to “a reason to get up in the morning”. It’s about having a purpose. This could be anything from solving a problem in the world to looking after your children. The key is that it drives you, every single day.

Retirement, a creation of the western world, is not a concept that even exists in Okinawa. As a result there is no slow down as the Okinawians enter old age.

Ikigai is close to a personal mission. When we lose Ikigai, we die- the Okanawians say.

Having a clear purpose and reason to get up in the morning deeply effects not only our psychology but also our physiology.

If we can truly find our Ikigai in life then the concept of retirement suddenly seems ridiculous. Why stop?

Not sure what your Ikigai is? Do not fear! Be curious and open minded, and it will find you soon enough.

Equanimity

“Mental calmness and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.”

From Buddhism to Stoicism, equanimity found its way in to many if not all of the ancient philosophies.

And yet it’s so scarce in the present day.

In its simplest form, equanimity is about living life in a constant, calm, and content state.

It’s about not letting the waves of everyday throw us off our stride. Or the emotions of those around us weaken our spirit.

Rudyard Kipling has a fantastic verse on this. In his poem If, we find:

If you can dream- and not make dreams your master,
If you can think- and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet- with triumph and disaster,
And treat those two imposters just the same.

Beautiful.

A common objection to equanimity is that it’s too passive a way to live and you miss out on the joys of life….

But in actual fact, you spend more time in a state of joy. It’s just a deeper more grounded joy than the punch-the-air-champagne-fuelled joy that many of us chase.

So how can one live with more equanimity?

It’s simply a question of how you perceive the world.

The emotional rollercoaster that we tend to take through life, is down to our perception of the world and the warped sense of reality that it creates.

If we can start to see life for what it really is then equanimity becomes the natural state. Anger seems foolish. Fear, misguided. Elation, bemusing.

Once the world opens up to us, we find we’ve been paddling frantically in the wrong direction, and if we just go with the flow then we start to move through life with ease.

And low and behold, we soon end up where we want to go.

A rhyme for the time

A brand new decade-
your time was here,
Surely this
Would be your year,

But who’d have guessed
What happened next
A global virus
Left you perplexed

You’ve locked your doors,
You’re lying low
Waiting for
This all to go

How spend the day?
That’s up to you,
No one can say
what to think or do.

May I suggest
you use it well,
For if you do
then time will tell,

It’s not the spot
to sit and weep,
But to sow the seeds
you’ll one day reap.

Trust

It’s a big word out there. Full of bandits. Often scary.

So it’s no wonder that we go through life with such a distrust to those we meet. I want to proposed a new attitude:

Trust everyone until they give you a reason not to.

Put another way: Trust as the default.

Now if the stakes are high and your safety or financial security are seriously at risk then sure, it pays to be diligent. But we’re talking about the small things- the hundreds of micro decisions we make each day.

Let me explain…

When we meet someone new, in business for example, we make an initial judgement about whether or not we trust them. If we decide we don’t, a game of mental chess ensues while we try and figure out how they’re trying to screw us.

Sometimes we’re right not to trust them but most the time we’re wrong. They have no ill intentions. And we have caused ourselves unnecessary worry.
What if we trusted everyone we met? Unconditionally. Until they gave us a reason not to.

How does it feel to do business with someone you trust over someone you don’t trust? It’s far more pleasant!

We could go about our business worry free. With a smile on our face! Now imagine if this was us all day every day? What a joy that would be.

Sure, you’ll be scammed from time to time. (I often am in fact). But if you take the right precautions so that the stakes are never too high then it is a small price to pay for the world opening up as a more joyful place for you to conduct your life.

Long on humanity

It’s 2020…

Global warming is accelerating at an alarming rate. The worst pandemic in a hundred years is sweeping the global. War, poverty and famine still sweep the global. And the President of the most powerful country on earth is regarded by many as the pantomime villain.

Lot’s to be worried about!

“We’ve broken our planet” one might say. Look at the situation we’ve got ourselves in”.

But let me suggest a different view…

First of all, take a moment to marvel at the path that got us here:

The ape that got up on two legs.

And left the forest for the plains.

Discovered fire.

Learnt to communicate and collaborate in large groups.

Spread across the globe.

Developed agriculture.

Built temples and cities.

Sparked the industrial and scientific revolutions.

Invented the computer.

And now, perhaps most remarkably of all: We’re recognising the damage we’ve caused.

It’s kind of humbling to consider the frantic evolution we’ve undertaken as a species in the last 100,000 years.

And sure, we broke a few things! We have no end of problems, and flaws. But it’s also pretty amazing that we’re starting to become aware of these short comings and do something about them.

I for one am long on humanity.

Will we be around for ever? No, of course not. We’re just a flash in the pan of history but that’s part of the magic! And rather than be bitter of all the things we’re still getting wrong, let’s celebrate this time and be grateful for what we’ve got right.

Spend time in the field

The Banana Man

You might not have heard of Sam “the Banana Man” Zemurray.

Many people haven’t.

But he has quite a story…

Sam came to the US in 1891, aged just 14, as a penniless Russian immigrant.

He worked a number of odd jobs in his local town until 1895 when he stumbled across his first banana. And the stage was set.

Sam saw the potential immediately. He got to work and began buying imported bananas at the dock and selling them on at markets.

Noticing a large portion of the bananas were being discarded, deemed too ripe, he seized the opportunity and snapped up this wasted fruit. From here, he grew the business steadily and before long had a thriving banana enterprise.

This success left him wanting more. Eying up the importing business he chartered a ship and set sale to the source, South America.

Empire

Over the next few decades Zemurray built an empire. He went toe to toe with United Fruits, the giant at the time, and ultimately ended up running them. Along the way he made a colossal dent in South and Central American history, even starting a civil war to protect his banana empire. And so, when all was said and done, Sam retired a rich man dubbed “the fish that ate the whale”.

How did Zemurray achieve all of this?

To understand, we can look at how Zemurray spent these years. Over a 60 year period he worked every job in the banana industry from unloading the ships to living in the jungles of Honduras and farming the bananas himself.

When the time came to do battle with the executives at United Fruits, they never stood a chance. Zemurray knew every inch of the business. They had barely stepped out of their glass offices.

Spend time in the field

Life is so complex. We’re constantly dumbing down the world around us to help comprehend it. It’s only when we get out in to the field and do the work ourselves that we truly understand whats going on.

If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and dive in you have a huge advantage against those stood on the sidelines.

The story of Sam Zemurray is told in Rich Cohen’s great book The Fish that Ate the Whale. Right up there with Shoe Dog as an entrepreneurial story.

Appreciation

7.5 billion people occupy this planet at time of writing. That’s a big number.

Each and everyone one of these people have a centre to their universe: Themselves.

We’re all stars in our own productions. And who can blame us? We’re the only character whose on stage every minute of everyday.

So how can we navigate life with these billions of different performances going on around us?

A good place to start: Appreciation.

We all want to feel important. And we all want to feel like we belong. As a result, appreciating those around us is perhaps the quickest way to make their day.

However… It’s not easy! Our default mode seems to be criticising and finding fault with the world around us. This is a hangover from the negative bias that kept our pre-historic ancestors safe from predators.

But the world is a safer place now! We’re unlikely to encounter a lion on our way to lunch.

So why not drop the negative bias. Crack a smile. And take a moment to appreciate those we meet.

Own the Morning

What marks a successful day?

Really it’s getting the one or two major tasks for the day ticked off. Usually there’s one task that if we can complete the day is a success.

But this is tough! We regularly fail.

We start the day with the best intentions. But as soon as we dip into our emails we get sucked down a rabbit hole.

Social media then gets involved.

Another hour slides by.

Time for lunch.

Gentle start to the afternoon. And the major task for the day is still burning a hole in our to do list.

We then complete a couple of the easier tasks we had planned.

Next, two hours spent batting back and forth emails.

And it’s 6pm. That’ll do.

Guess what? We didn’t do that one thing we needed to do.

This repeats day after day after day, and the important items pile up. As a result, we become busier and busier but somehow manage to get less done.

What if… Before we checked our emails in the morning. And before we even turned on our phone. We did the one thing. Everyday. As the first thing we do. What difference would that make?

I’d bet, if you did that for one week you would see a noticeable improvement in your quality of life. Do it for a month? A remarkably improvement. A year? The sky’s the limit.