Friday, October 25, 2013

the crazy ones

Of all the celebrated innovations that the "world's most valuable company" has put out in its lifetime, the thing that I admire Apple the most for is a 60-second commercial.  And it does not even refer to a single innovation, product, or service that the company has been responsible for.

Simon Sinek says "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."  And while I'm yet to buy a product from Apple (my cellphone of 3 years has been acting up for months now though), I would be the first to purchase a copy of this commercial if I could not view it for free.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Think Different.

What is even better than the video is the accompanying text.  I'm talking about the original version according to Wikipedia, which adds sparkle to the version heard in the video.  Note favorite lines in bold.
Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.

The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that's never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?

We make tools for these kinds of people.

While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

The best of the lot is a piece of insight provided by Steve Jobs during an interview with PBS.  I discovered the words of the late co-founder and former CEO of Apple on the "Concept, philosophy, background" section of the Wikipedia page for Think Different. Instantly, I was moved.
When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

That's a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is ‒ everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That's maybe the most important thing. It's to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you're just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

I think that's very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you'll want to change life and make it better, cause it's kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you'll never be the same again.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

greater expectations

Let's face it.

We all have expectations.  We need them in particular to feel happy, secure, and loved, among other things.

At work, we expect our colleagues to appreciate our presence and our efforts, our bosses to offer us salary increases and constructive feedback.  We expect to have challenging projects to work on, to have opportunities for our professional development.

In our personal relationships, we expect our parents to approve of the decisions that we make.  We expect our spouse or partner to acknowledge our presence, to care about our feelings, to respect our opinions.  We expect our closest friends to relate to us, to be there for us in difficult times, to reach out to us when they need support.

Regarding the society at large, we expect our elected officials to make decisions that reflect our best interests and those of the community.  We expect our celebrities to be role models, to support charitable causes.  We expect our favorite athletes to demonstrate a will to win when participating at sporting events.

And the list goes on.

And let's not even get started on the expectations that others have of us.

Surely, some or all of these expectations are inevitable for our lives to function properly.  For one thing, we are social beings.  We cannot do everything ourselves and in order to survive, we have to trust others on matters that we do not have the skills or the willingness to handle.  Besides, expectations seem to be at the very core of society.  That is, society being a group of people acting in orderly and predictable ways for the sake of social comfort.

But what if we as individuals living in this society placed a lesser value on what we expected from it, and a greater value on what we expected from ourselves?

One benefit of such a shift in our expectations is that we are more emotionally secure.  Each one of us follows normally what makes sense to him or her and to him or her alone, and, because of this, we cannot confer to others the primary responsibility of fulfilling the emotional needs that we crave the most.  Neither can we afford to fault others for not providing for us, since they are just like us with needs of their own.  By expecting more from ourselves, we commit more of ourselves to doing things that satisfy our deepest desires and that depend largely on no one but ourselves.  Through this commitment, we become inseparable from the emotional security that we seek; this security becomes thus a natural and essential part of who we are.

A more important benefit is that we are more in control of our lives.  As we expect more from ourselves, we move deeper within ourselves, to a place that is accessible to only us.  From that point, we discover what we need, how to keep it when we have it, and how to provide it when it is lacking.  Ultimately, what is essential in our lives will be in our own hands.  Liberating indeed, yet it could seem like a daunting challenge.  But as we make gains in self-esteem and in self-confidence as a result of meeting the expectations that we set for ourselves, we become more capable of taking that challenge.  We might even relish it.

So expect things from others, but expect greater from yourself.  It may require more effort than what you are used to.  But you have an energy that is always available to you.  It is the same energy that you are using to understand the words that you are reading.  Why not invest this natural resource in something that rewards you with more control of your life?

Without exception, I expect things from other people.  This expectation manifests itself more in the subsequent resentment that I feel when I do not get what I need than in the upfront demand that I could make for what I need.  Well, I do not want the resentment anymore and I do not want to require that others give me what I need.  That is why I will always expect greater from myself.

Be the change that you wish to see in the world.

– Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, October 10, 2013

always start with why

I have been doing this all wrong.

Simon Sinek would be cross with me.

Yes, Simon Sinek, he whose work has greatly influenced in my life in recent years.  Since November 2009, when my friend Tinu sent me a link to a "Finding Your Dream Job" podcast featuring Simon as the guest, I have been hooked.  In addition to the website of the movement he started, I have gobbled up his book, his blog, his tweets, his articles, his interviews, his conference calls, and certainly his TED talk.  The latter arrived on the list of the most viewed TED talks in 2011 at the 19th spot, reached the 7th position the following year, and looks well on its way to be the most popular of all (watch out Sir Ken Robinson).

Simon devotes much of his time to sharing the WHY.  This is a concept that may be easily understood by considering these questions: Why do you do what you do?  Why do you exist?  Why did you get out of bed this morning?  And why should anyone care?  According to Simon, it is by finding answers to these questions — or finding our WHY, in his words — that we can begin to have more profoundly satisfying lives.  The WHY captures a purpose, a cause, or a belief that goes deeper than WHAT we do or HOW we do it, even though the WHAT and the HOW are also essential.  The combination of WHY, HOW, and WHAT form what Simon calls the Golden Circle, a collection of three concentric circles with the WHY in the center.  Simon argues that life is meaningful and satisfactory when all three are in balance within a person (or within a group of people).  And bringing about this balance when it is little or absent does not involve focusing on WHATs or HOWs.  Instead, it requires remembering WHY.  In fact, that is the first step to restoring the balance, as well as to communicating and relating better with others.

The concept of WHY is as alluring as it is simple.  Perhaps its allure lies in its simplicity.

But I had forgotten it recently, and this for the umpteenth time, as I was too cooked up in the course of events.  It took some afternoon tea near Bastille a few weeks ago with my buddy Rémy for the subject to rise back up to the surface of my awareness.  He had discovered the concept and learned that I knew about it, and wanted to discuss.

But I forgot again when I got home, yet again absorbed with the current event at hand.  I was getting ready to draw something for fourth consecutive day, something that I had never done before.  However, alone in my apartment, on a late Saturday afternoon, the sun shining outside, I was overcome with the same feeling of loneliness that I was already quite familiar with.  I wrestled with my thoughts, and soon found myself asking questions, like "What is the point of drawing again when I feel lonely on a regular basis?", for example.  A struggle it was to begin drawing in such conditions.  Eventually, I plowed through, strongly believing that I had to go all the way despite the circumstances.  After taking a short while to savor the results of a labor more mental than physical, I got on my computer to dig up a list of "Why Exploration Questions" that the discussion with Rémy had brought back to memory.  Once found, I sent it to Rémy.

Back in my seat at the drawing table, I decided to contemplate the list.  By tackling the questions, I was not necessarily trying to clarify my WHY; I was merely motivated to understand why I had persisted in drawing in spite of the recurring loneliness that I was suffering from.  I was well aware that I had done this kind of exercise numerous times before, often finding answers that were neither clear enough nor convincing enough to be retained.  But I felt more confident about what I was about to do, so I forged ahead.  Question No. 1: "In your life so far, what are your greatest accomplishments?  Why did you do these things?"  I noted down discovering flow and desensitizing myself to previously painful events.  I also included learning to speak French fluently, to round things out with an accomplishment that was less "out-there".  Now why did I do these things?  "To discover my passion" was a quick answer.  The next one however stopped me in my tracks once I had written it down:  "To better myself; to stop the habit of repressing my favorite ideas in the face of the masses and/or authority."  I imagined that I could still find more reasons to give for having accomplished what I did and besides, there were twelve (12!) more questions on the list.  But I could not will myself to continue.  It felt that I had stumbled on something fundamental and that it was not necessary to keep looking for more suitable answers.  It was an emotionally powerful moment, during which I experienced a deep peace that would last some while.

So I had a habit of repressing things — not just my favorite ideas — when feeling intimidated by the masses or by authority, and that was why I was driven to accomplish the things that I considered the greatest in my life.  To be honest, I had already made this revelation several times before, though not using the same exact words.  In the end, I felt that this answer to the original question lacked the clarity and emotional power that a WHY needed to have in my opinion — Simon's WHY, for example, is "to inspire people to do the things that inspire them the most" —, but I told myself that it would have to do for the moment.

I figure that my life can only get better (and be less lonely, why not) if I remember to take the time to start with why, or simply to ask why.  So, Simon, I'll try my best.  Please don't be cross.

Note: My words being incapable of doing justice to the value of Simon's work, I invite you to visit the Start With Why website at to find out more.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

theater everywhere

A few weeks after moving to Paris, I started attending personal development sessions offered by my employer.  These sessions took place in the evening once a month in a studio located in central Paris, and lasted about three hours each time.  I remember the first time I showed up.  The room was filled with 20 to 30 people, all colleagues with the exception of the instructor.  I felt completely out of my league as the newbie in a crowd of French speakers in familiar territory, even if my French was decent.  Besides, I was reserved and discreet by nature, with the body language to prove it.  In spite of this, I kept up with the sessions over the next five years that followed.

The reason why I kept coming back was because it was so much fun trying out new ways of being.  And the person responsible for this was Corinne, the instructor.  Not only did she propose fun games for us to play in a group as a warm-up, she had a way of enabling us to perform to the best of our abilities during improvisational sketches and script performances.  Her enthusiasm was always present and very contagious.  And whenever helpful or necessary, she never hesitated to use her professional expertise as a actress to inspire us.  And what a beauty it was to watch her perform.  Mesmerizing, in fact.  I was in love with Corinne and with her sessions, and sometimes that emotional high was just enough to block out the awareness of feeling different.  I even jumped on board when she informed me of the theater classes that she was teaching at a conservatory near the Eiffel Tower, just so that I could have more opportunities to explore the actor within me.  Each class followed a structure that was very similar to that of the personal development sessions, but the work was more formal.  In any case, the whole thing was a self-discovery adventure that I enjoyed to the fullest.

The latter of my two years of theater classes with Corinne culminated in an end-of-year special, during which the three other students and I performed excerpts from several French plays at the conservatory before an audience of about 30-40 people.  A few days after the performance, I could see how I had progressed from someone who was afraid of exposing himself to public scrutiny to a person nearly capable of losing himself in character.  In conjunction with the personal development sessions, which also ended at the same time, I felt more at ease allowing any unpredictable silliness that I had to manifest itself and speaking a French that some people could have trouble understanding.

Then again, I found it difficult to sign up for next year's theater classes.  I was nowhere being close to a professional actor and thoughts of more intensive classes had crossed my mind, yet the desire to invest more of myself was not strong enough.  In the process of figuring out how to continue the adventure that had brought me much joy and a certain self-confidence, I had an enlightenment.  Each theater class occurred once a week and lasted about two hours.  That's two hours a week at most to explore new ways of expression in everyday situations with virtually complete freedom.  That's great, but the amount of available time (time spent awake) in a week is much more than that (let's say 100 hours for example).  Why wait each week for a period of two hours to let everything out?  Why not partake in theatrical endeavors beyond the classroom, and at anytime?  I was fascinated by these questions, after five years working with Corinne.  I certainly would not have envisioned such a thing during my early involvement in the personal development sessions, which I saw then as an opportunity to learn how to live normally, like other people around me appeared to be doing, in order to find my place in French society.

In some ways, the more social of my operations play with this idea of creating theater beyond the classroom.  I know some people who also have taken to doing new or unusual things in public situations, just for the sake of it or as a personal challenge.  A friend who gave me the idea of this blog once told me a story in which she burst suddenly into song while awaiting the metro on the platform.  Another friend also recounted to me how she once entered a boulangerie (bakery) in the guise of an English-speaking star (with accompanying paparazzi!) and remained in character during her visit.  Even the folks at Improv Everywhere make this playfulness in public a key part of who they are; their purpose is, in their words, to cause scenes.  Since 2001, they have pulled off an immense variety of "missions" to the joy of the unsuspecting public and Internet viewers alike.  You might be familiar with their Frozen Grand Central mission; my own favorites include Say Something Nice, High Five Escalator, and Meet a Black Person.

And the truth, whether we are theater amateurs or not, is that we all have this potential to express ourselves in new ways.  The culture in which we live offers a wealth of resources from which each of us can always draw inspiration to create our very own theater.  There is a wealth in language (words, meanings, accents, figures of speech), a wealth of information (movies, books, songs, television shows, news articles), a wealth of gestures (handshakes, smiles, screams, jumps), a wealth of environments (home, work, supermarket, subway, mall), and most certainly a wealth among people, each person with ideas, experiences, and skills that are unique, as well as a wealth that you possess ‒ yes, you ‒ in your own ideas, your own experiences, and your own skills.  Imagine if we spent more time combining some or all of these resources in order to produce something new.  Without a doubt, our souls would be more creative, our lives would be more exciting, and we would perhaps want to embark on an adventure to prolong the joy of living that came from exploring the actor within us.  I know I would.

To those looking to feel more comfortable with themselves wherever they are, or even to spend an enjoyable moment with other people, I suggest theater classes (Corinne as a wonderful instructor, by the way).  But don't limit yourself there.  The world around you is a stage that is always available.

Réveille l'acteur qui sommeille en toi.

(Wake up the actor that lies dormant in you.)