What I’ve Been Up to Lately

Happy Groundhog Day! If you haven’t watched this classic Bill Murray / Andie McDowell rom-com, it’s a great way to experience the time loop when you cross the international dateline!

Recently, I launched a new website, Thriving Vets, to help veterans to live a fulfilling life. Our men and women make a lot of personal sacrifices in serving our country, so this site is dedicated to serving them.

Meanwhile, I spoke with Heather Morrow of Aspen Tango about the immigration crisis that started when President Trump signed an executive order banning immigrants from certain countries from entering this country. One unexpected repercussion was rejecting people with valid green cards. Here’s the replay for more –

On Sunday I will be chatting with Clay Nelson of Portland Tango about why dancers return to Portland year after year like some migratory birds –

Also, I’ve started to do a vlog of sorts to talk about the realities of freelancing and working my way into the digital nomad lifestyle –

Meanwhile, I’ve posted some food recipe videos and plan to write more about this.

Recently, I started to read Eddie Huang’s biography Fresh Off the Boat. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s nothing like the television story, which was watered down quite a bit for mass audiences, of course.eddie-huang-fresh-off-the-boat

Some of you probably know that I’m a big fan of audio books, especially when the author is the narrator. This is no exception, as Huang tells his own story in a way that no one else can.

Even though I grew up much further north, I can definitely to the harassment and bullying that Huang faced, as well as the identity crisis. Sometimes I felt too Chinese; other times, too American. We first generation immigrants often found ourselves trying to straddle both cultural worlds.

Here’s a videos series of Eddie Huang revisiting Taiwan. You can also check out his book through the links to the Amazon page. Enjoy!

Well, this post is a bit all over the place but thought it was the best way to share some of these! How about you? What are you working on these days?

What’s Your Red Paper Clip?

For want of a nail, a shoe was lost.. for want of a shoe, a horse was lost.. for want of a horse, a battle was lost..

We’ve heard different versions of this story before – it’s human nature to focus on that missing tooth, or that scab from a recent scrape..

But what about our successes? What about the good in people?
You know, those “Pay It Forward” moments that were made famous by the Haley Joel Osment? (Recently I learned more about the book and author that inspired this movie.)

Now Kyle Macdonald had a crazy idea. He asked “What if I played a real life game of “Bigger and Better”?

Like many creative folks when they started their entrepreneurs journey, Kyle realized that it wasn’t his dream job to deliver used appliances. So, when he came up with a bunch of crazy ideas, Kyle found himself torn between choosing work for the money and actually trying some of them.

A friend reminded him of a game they played in high school where Kyle and his friends would continually trade up items to see what they could get. So Kyle thought maybe he could do this just starting out with one red paper clip.

Well, he did – you can follow his red paper clip journey here.

Ultimately, Kyle ended up with a house, being a mayor for a day and along with his girlfriend citizens for life!

People on Quora ask me all the time about how to get started in business..? What does it take to start your own company? On and on..

Just start with your red paper clip.. be curious.. look for ways to help others.. Like the shepherd boy in the Alchemist see where the journey takes you.

Years ago, I had an idea to start my own business. I made plenty of mistakes but kept asking questions and learning. This led to adventures in real estate and helping folks to buy / sell businesses before leading to commercial field inspections and ultimately teaching others how to start their own home businesses..

So who you were got you here to this point, who you’re becoming will get you where you want to be!

Focus on the Journey Not the Destination

“Life is a highway.. I wanna ride it.. all night long” – Tom Cochrane

“I’m just not getting what you’re trying to show us!” I yelled in frustration. It’d been weeks now since I started taking lessons from Miller. He was both a brilliant dancer and teacher. Yet something was just not connecting.

While I had learned the basics from my Argentine tango teacher, I wanted to do the “advanced stuff” – the moves that seemed like all the cool kids knew and kept to themselves. I was ready, or so I thought..

Originally, I had started learning tango as way to improve my aikido practice. But pretty soon I was hooked and never looked back. Unlike swing dancing and other activities, I soon learned that I couldn’t just “dabble” in tango – it was all-in or nothing.

A pivotal moment came early on, when I attended a fairly advanced workshop. Although the instructors themselves were incredibly patient with me, an older Chinese lady pulled me aside between lessons. “Do you speak Mandarin?” she asked in a hushed whisper. Er, yes, why? She then proceeded to berate me in my native tongue, essentially asking what the hell I thought I was doing.

Because of my lack of understanding of the fundamental movements, I had been resorting to “winging it” whenever I floundered with learning a particular sequence. I thought I was being creative, but looking back I have to admit that it was the equivalent of scribbling gibberish in a college level writing course.

Too often we’re more interested in getting to the final destination than the actual journey. In the 1980s kaizen became all the range in the business world, as Americans marvelled at Japanese productivity. Ironically, this process of improvement came from an American (Deming) who taught them this methodology during the post-war rebuilding of the country.

While calling it “kaizen” gave it an Asian mystique that blended well with Eastern philosophy and culture, the scientific methods were very Western. The bottomline was that developing a process of improvement that not only provided short-term results, but also ensuring that success was more than just a matter of luck.

When life forces us into situations where self-improvement is the only way out (like learning to walk) we tend to comply. But other times we resist or avoid it altogether.

Sometimes our personal tastes lead us to have an interest or passion for improving. That was the case of cooking for me. In the age before YouTube and celebrity chefs the only real choices I had available were to find recipes and occasionally catch a public television show with a quirky chef.

Both dancing and cooking involved mastering basics before taking on more elaborate performances. In tango if you couldn’t lead a follower into a cross step, then it was pointless to be shown a more complicated sequence. In cooking if you didn’t know how to prep ingredients, then it was a lot harder to cook even the most basic dishes like an omelet.

Here’s the ironic part – learning to *be* a better dancer also made me a better cook AND ultimately, dare I say, even a better lover in bed. (Come on, ladies, help me out here!)

“How you do anything is how you do everything..”
– Derek Sivers

So, when we focus on the process, success becomes just a side effect of the results. The swordsmen learns to cut through the object. The archer focuses on the draw and lets the arrow hit its mark.

“Goals are for losers” – Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert

Recently, I’ve been reading How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams where he talks about a key to his success being his own focus on systems vs. results. Adams unabashedly goes through his many starts and stops until finally hitting on his One Thing.

In travel, of course, it is definitely about the journey. Some of the most memorable moments on trips have been the drives or the plane rides.. or often the misadventures when things don’t quite go as planned.

How do you focus on the process, not just the results?

 

My Life Lessons from the Kitchen

“Hmm.. not sure about that one..”

I was hesitant to try the mix my girlfriend had made.

“Aww.. come on – you’ll love it!” she said unconvincingly.

Well, here goes. Bracing myself for the gag factor, I took the spoonful and..

kitchen life lessons

photo:  via Unsplash

Like most of us my earliest memories of the kitchen growing up was mom cooking. Maybe the dishes are slightly different from culture to culture but we all have some comfort foods that stay with us through life.

Coming to this country opened up my parents to things they had never experienced back in Taiwan and China. I still remember the shock and confusion when our family discovered that what looked like ice cream was in fact yogurt!

Cheese – the pungent smell took some getting used to. But being a kid I took to it like a happy duckling playing in the rain, and pizza became one of my favorite foods.

Occasionally, mom would need a break from the kitchen, and I stepped in as sous-chef to cook what I liked and what the rest of the family had to learn to appreciate.

For some reason Italian food was my passion as a kid. So much so that in sixth grade I even wrote a 137-page treatise (er, did someone forget to read the memo? it was supposed just be a geography report..) on Italy. Years later, I would actually travel to Rome, Venice, and Florence with my family. Let’s just say that I raised my expectations so high there was only one way to go..!

Later in college I went out with a girl who opened me up to what Asian food had to offer. Up to then my idea was Chinese food. Suddenly, I learned there was Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, even Laotian (her culture).

We would make some unbelievable dishes using just a very illegal hot plate and some utensils (some from home and others “borrowed” from the cafeteria).

Nope. No generic ramen for this homeboy. We cooked noodle dishes using all types – rice, pasta, thin, thick.. boiled, stir-fry.. you name it! We made egg rolls (that does require deep frying, right? .. er, yup!)

While I never saw myself as a chef or working in restaurants, my love and passion of food only grew through the years. Sometimes I looked for excuses to work with the hard-working folks that sweat out the details to provide amazing experiences.

With the rise of celebrity chefs I’ve noticed that slowly there is a greater appreciation of what happens in the kitchen. It’s something that I have carried with me into other areas of my life – whether as an author or entrepreneur, here are some key lessons:

  • Follow recipes.. before improvising – success leaves clues. Any musician knows that mastering the chords is needed before playing jazz or “jamming.” Unless you understand which ingredients work well together and “how” to bring out their flavors, you’ll either go hungry or have to stomach a lot of failed experiments!
  • First, master the basics – whether it’s how to chop and prep ingredients or understanding how to let dough rise before baking, anything we do requires fundamentals. This is true in flying – where you need to learn how to take-off and land before trying aerobatics, and this is true in work – where any profession has core competencies.
  • Good ingredients are essential – unless you’re Jesus, don’t count on making water out of wine. It’s really difficult to make an appetizing dish out of less than quality ingredients. That said, while fresh helps out a lot, you can take an old banana and make a decent smoothie, as the ripeness actually enhances the flavor. But that whole thing about the sow’s ear – yeah, don’t try this at home!
  • Taste, taste, taste – one of the most shocking things on Restaurant: Impossible with Chef Irvine is when he asks the restaurant owner to taste their own cooking, and they are surprised. If you don’t know how it tastes, how can you serve it to others? Learning to test how the world responds to you is another key life skill.

  • Passion is everything – we’re not machines, and I’ve learned that even the best intentions lead to that proverbial road to hell.. UNLESS you have the commitment that comes with passion. Do we need to make adjustments to our plans depending on the feedback we get? Absolutely. But if faith without works is dead, then intention without passion isn’t too far behind!

Hmm.. not bad. It was actually edible.

“Well, what do you think?” she asked expectantly.

“I’m still alive,” I smiled with a hint of sarcasm, feeling my chest in mock testing.

So, these are lessons that I’ve found to carry over not only to work, play, relationships but life as a whole.

What about you? Are there things you’ve learned from the kitchen or other crafts that stay with you?

Join me in talking with Chris Hill on Cinco de Mayo Tuesday, (05/05/15) about his personal journey from the corporate world to the kitchen.

https://plus.google.com/events/caq14vlfsue2q4k1c1utapctq8k

Education vs. Creativity

For some time I’ve followed Sir Ken Robinson and his crusade to reform our current education system. If you haven’t seen his TED talk, here is a short RSA version:

One of his main points is that the school system was designed for a post-agrarian industrial system. That is, schools are designed to crank out workers in a factory assembly line fashion. Some rise to the top and become office workers. Others who can’t hack the academic standards become laborers.

Traditionally, it was the artists that suffered. There is no room for creativity in a system that values conformity and mass produced results.

Creativity-Literacy

In fact, Sir Ken talks about a girl who is brought in to see a psychiatrist about her learning disorder. Luckily, the perceptive doctor said the problem wasn’t with learning; she needed to be sent to dance school.

But here’s an even bigger problem. As James Altucher points out in Choose Yourself, the days of go to school, earn your degree, get a job and retire are long gone. Yet many still cling to the belief that this is the way to go.

Here’s some of what I believe schools should teach –

1) how to prioritize & time management – Stephen Covey’s 7 habits should be mandatory reading! But more important is learning how to develop your own sense of what you value – not based on what you’re told; again, following others is a factory mindset

2) how to sell – no matter what you do in life you need to learn how to be persuasive or get across your view, whether it’s applying for college or getting a raise (not even talking about your own business)

3) how to connect – social media is now a fact of life; understanding how to play well with others isn’t just a maxim – it’s now life & death!

4) how to collaborate – it’s only in the traditional school system that teaches working together is “cheating”; in the real world this is essential to success

5) how to be creative – as mentioned.. even Albert Einstein said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

6) most of all, how to learn – this may seem to be simply a meta idea but it goes beyond an academic idea; pass / fail is an industrial concept; today’s economy needs more entrepreneurs, and the essence of the entrepreneur’s mindset is try, learn, repeat

No wonder we have a hard time figuring out what we want out of life. Recently, I read Jeff Goins’ Art of Work. He shares not only his own journey but also that of several other ordinary folks who made extraordinary choices.

Basically, Jeff offers that you can live a life of not only with passion, but also with purpose. But it takes the courage to ask some difficult questions – made more challenging by the fact that your current friends not only don’t know the answers but wouldn’t dare ask themselves.Luckily, there’s a community of like-minded folks willing to support you on your journey.

For some time I’ve wondered about this disparity between what we’re taught and what need to learn. It’s been a long road to fill a lot of the gaps on my own. And I wouldn’t say that I have all the answers on what my purpose is.

But I do feel that I have more sense of the direction of my path. And that makes all the difference. So if you’re ready to ask some of these questions, you can grab your copy here.

What do you believe is missing in today’s school systems?

[Post-note: This blog post inspired me to launch a new blog dedicated to creative entrepreneurs on their hero’s journey – http://butterflyformula.com/

You can also follow some of my thoughts on Quora here – http://entrepreneursjourney.quora.com/]

Here’s what tango taught me about creativity.

Sunday Thoughts (03/08/15) – Master the Dance of Creativity

Ok, I’m realizing that procrastination has been masking itself as a desire to get this blog post “just right.” Normally, I believe in launching just before you feel totally ready, because that’s likely to be your best work. But I think this time I’ve gotten caught up in fear disguised as perfectionism.

Sure, tweaks later on always improve things but over-editing can happen as well. We’ve all heard that it really pays in the end to “go with your gut,” because it’s true.

Part of my motivation is joining this challenge of Live Your Legend.  Check it out. If you’ve been putting off sharing your voice and joining the online conversation, then maybe it’s time to take your own first steps into a larger universe!

Well, here goes nothing..

Recently, I joined a Google Hangout to discuss how we want to have more creativity in our lives. Whether your work is already considered creative like graphic design or freelance content marketing, we still want more freedom to work on our own creative projects. (These can be for personal, business or some combination of both, of course.)

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (affiliate link – thanks for your support!) the Heath brothers start with the analogy set out in The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt which points out how our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is its Rider.

Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be in charge.
But their control is shaky at best, because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Let’s face it. Anytime a six-ton Elephant and its Rider disagree about which direction to
go, the Rider is going to lose.

creativity, success

Unless we master dance between Elephant and Rider..

creativity, success, entrepreneur

the Rider is at the Mercy of the Elephant!

 

We’ve all given up on new year’s resolutions – year after year. In fact, the road to hell is really paved with ANALYZE THINK CHANGE.

Instead choose SEEFEELCHANGE.

In short, using the Heath brothers’ approach to bring more creativity into our lives, we have to:

  • Direct the Rider
  • Motivate the Elephant
  • Shape the Path

Direct the Rider

1. Follow the Bright Spots

As the Heath brothers tell us: “Investigate what’s working and clone it.”

We all want to be more creative, but don’t feel like we have time for our personal creative projects.

What are you currently doing where you feel creative? When do you feel more creative? Who do you feel creative around?

Are there places or spaces that feel inspiring? How can you get more of this without
feeling guilty? ..then how can you take what appears to be a negative and turn this around?

Maybe you feel like your work is uninspiring. How can you find ways to do it more
creatively? or more efficiently so that you get to a creative task?

2. Script the Critical Moves

“Don’t think big picture, think in terms of specific behavior.” Saying “Be creative!” – is about as useful as “drive safe!”. Give yourself specific steps you can take to start on the path of change – turn on your alarm clock for an earlier time, plan a trip to an inspiring spot, create the space for yourself to be more creative.

Michele Alise first inspired the Hangout event by inviting others to have their own Creative Friday – a chance to practice allowing more creativity into our lives.

In the Artist’s Way Julia Cameron suggests having Artist’s Date – a weekly solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The key is to woo your Inner Muse the way you would date a potential mate.

3. Point to the Destination

“Change is easier when you know where you’re going and why it’s worth it.” Rather than talk in the abstract (“creativity,” “art,” “success”) be clear what these mean to you. For example, right now completing this blog post is one way I plan to be creative today. Later, I plan to do at least one sketch. This week I may dance some tango.

Philomena Timberlake:
“Since new year I’ve been trying to get up very early.. and I have initial time for
prayer and affirmation, trying to visualize as well. Then I have 1 or 2 hours set aside –
this is before any business or email.. I find it very encouraging because in the past I
tried to do everything else first, and I’d get to the end of the day.. and I’m tired. I
don’t want to sit down and learn or do something creative at that point.”

Willpower is a limited resource. If we don’t tackle the Big Rocks first, we’ll never get
to them.

B. Motivate the Elephant

1. Find the Feeling

“Knowing something isn’t enough to cause change. Make people feel something.”

Too often we set goals like “write 1000 words” or worse yet something vague like “spend more time being creative” But as the Heaths point out – the Rider has very little real control over the Elephant.

This is the key – what you put energy and intention only grows. Whether you use some of these strategies or continue to get frustrated and beat yourself up about it, you will
only get more of either.

One of the other Hangout participant, Philomena remarked, “..every day I manage to achieve this, I feel better for it.. there’s a snowball effect.”

Finally, she noted: “Every day I manage to achieve this I feel better for it!”

2. Shrink the Change

“Break down the change until it no longer spooks the Elephant.” This is a key lesson from the book!

One of the challenges echoed by everyone on the Hangout was that we all want to be creative but don’t feel there is enough time. By taking baby steps we get the Elephant moving in the direction we want, rather than running amok and exhausting the Rider in struggling to steer Her!

Too often we end up feeling guilty and discouraged. “I *should* have it more together,” or I *should* be better at this.” Beating ourselves up is not only discouraging, it can be more
than counterproductive. After a while, beating up the poor Elephant does nothing.

If you can’t do a whole Creative Friday, start with an hour or so. In the words of Arthur Ashe, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

success-quote

3. Grow Your People

By getting ourselves to make the small changes – we begin to think of ourselves as someone who’s capable of bigger changes..  Through seeing our new identity, rather than “that’s for creative people,” we start to see ourselves as creative.

That’s why the guy on the street yelling at the top of his lungs rarely works, while the born again sinner gladly surrenders to transformation in front of the congregation. Identifying with our peers and feeling a part of the group helps us to go with the flow.

Surround yourself with like-minded people – others interested in being more creative. ”
When we associate ourselves with creative people, rather than think of them as “weird artist types,” we learn to identify ourselves as a creative.

“A rising tide raises all ships,” is the phrase that John Lee Dumas has popularized.

A Rising Tide Raises All Ships

(photo courtesy of Norma Davey)

Shape the Path

1. Tweak the Environment

Once you have the intention to have more creativity in your life, it really is the little things that count. Smokers have been known to quit more easily on vacation than at home where they’re surrounded by all their usual cues.

By making adjustments and tweaks you can make it easier to build more moment. By far the best thing you can do is to clear your calendar for that block of time to practice your craft or go on that Artist’s Date that Julia Cameron talks about in The Artist Way.

Michele Alise: “I set email notifications and turn off social media.. I even scheduled a
coffee break with a friend.. That helps me set the tone for the rest of my Creative Friday.”

2. Build Habits

“When behavior is habitual, it’s ‘free’ – it doesn’t tax the Rider.”

We’ve already talked about willpower being a finite resource. [Success begets success.] Achieving a snowball effect in the direction you want to go is getting the Elephant on your side.

“Can we slim down with time tasks? look at our habits – unsubscribe some emails..” suggest Philomena.

Once friends, family, even colleagues and clients see that you’re committed to your creative time and space, it will no longer be a question whether you are willing to make an exception “just this one time.”

3. Rally the Herd

“Behavior is contagious. Help it spread.” Be the change you want to see in the world, as Gandhi told us. Without being a Creative Nazi or Jehovah’s Witness of Creativity preaching in the streets, show people that it can be done, allow anyone interested to ask their questions, and support those who are open to your ideas.

Surround yourself with people who are not only inspiring but encourage your creativity.
Avoid those who want to rain on your parade by suggesting that you are being selfish.
They are probably either closet creatives or those who feel inadequate in your light.

 

So, here’s a Quick Recap –

DIRECT THE RIDER

  • Follow the Bright Spots
    Find out what’s working and build on that. Big rocks crumble after the steady drip over time, not the waves crashing on the shore.
  • Script the Critical Moves
    Identify what new steps are going to where you want to go. Your current way got you here. It’s time to figure out a better way.
  • Point to the Destination
    Don’t pick some uninspiring big goal like “Be creative” that’s bound to leave the Elephant sitting in front of the T.V. with a bucket of rocky road, perfectly pleased with its “creativity.”

FIND THE FEELING

  • Shrink the Change
    Contrary to popular self-improvement wisdom, LOWER the bar. Make it impossible to fail. Small changes followed by small successes build on each other and ultimately lead to BIG successes.
  • Script the Critical Moves
    Identify what new steps are going to where you want to go. Your current way got you here. It’s time to figure out a better way.
  • Grow Your People
    By cultivating a new sense of identity, you stop thinking of being creative as something that others do and begin to see yourself as someone creative.

SHAPE THE PATH

  • Tweak the Environment
    Again willpower is a limited resource. Make it easy on the Rider by greasing the treads so the Elephant starts down the path you want.
  • Build Habits
    Slowly but surely you’ll gain momentum with the small wins. Taking a moment to work on a personal project may lead to a Creative Friday. This may encourage to finally take that sculpting or dance class.
  • Rally the Herd
    Behavior is contagious. Spreading the message will to listen will not only help your cause but before you know it, your baby steps become the start of a movement.

 

Sunday Ponderings – 02/22/15 Fear and Opportunity

Looking back at the best opportunities in my life – whether it was a job opportunity, a date or cool experience, there was always a moment of hesitation. But the times I listened to my gut always turned out to be better anything I could have imagined.

Jack Canfield quote

Jack Canfield quote

Harnessing this fear is definitely the key to success.. (easier said than done, right?) Yet this is essential to the creative process. In the War of Art Steven Pressfield says that “Resistance is the Enemy.”

Joseph Campbell Quote on Fear

Joseph Campbell Quote on Fear

What is this resistance really? Fear.

Nothing destroys the creative process as much as fear, and courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s finding a way to work through it. Being comfortable with fear can have its drawbacks also. That’s called complacency.

Finding that delicate balance between doing what scares you and facing what paralyzes you – that’s the art of courage.