Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Power to Imagine Better

I saw this as a pretty compelling commencement speech at one of the most prestigious colleges in the world, Harvard. I challenge you to watch the whole thing but if you don't have the time (super lame excuse) then I will put some of the highlights from it below the video. Either way, I can't be totally surprised. World renown author puts out a decent speech... Go figure, right?

"So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

"You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

"Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.

"The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned.

"So given a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.

"Now you might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I personally will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared....

"Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places.

"Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathize.

"And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

"I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces leads to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the willfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.

"What is more, those who choose not to empathize enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.

"One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.

"That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing.

"But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people’s lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world’s only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.

"If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better."

-J. K. Rowlings

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Looking in All the Wrong Places

Here I am. Alone. Sitting in my apartment on a Saturday night by myself. It wouldn't be much different than any other weekend except I am aware of my own isolation.  The feeling of finally slowing down enough to realize this is slightly unsettling.  All I see is an endlessly growing list of tasks and things I have to do and each day slipping away before I can do much of anything that is on it. I haven't been this way all my life but as of recently it is something I have become acutely aware of. 25 years old. And alone.

This week has been a whirlwind. I have moved into a new apartment up in Salt Lake - back in Sugar House again. The journey getting here was expensive, tiring, and long. And the vacation I took recently feels more and more like a blink of an eye. I went to San Diego on a road trip to relax after leaving my summer job before graduate school began this week. However, driving back was exhausting and it was a real pain in the neck. And while I was down in San Diego, I found another place that feels like home and a shadow box at the same time.

I know that there are people in the world that love me. I know them intimately. They are my friends. My family. They let me not only into their homes but their lives and their hearts. They let me come in so deep and yet it all still feels like shadows. A feeling as if it is nothing but some hollow shell. A machine that moves and turns and spins in a predictable manner as if it was all designed with both its perfection and imperfection. I know that it is not them. I can see how fulfilling their lives are. I can see the joy, happiness, acceptance, and concern. I can watch as their relationships evolve and progress. I can observe their roller coasters of emotions as each situation flows into the next in their endless drama of seen and unforeseen consequences. But I feel removed from it all as if I am a ghost or a shadow living among them.

Have you ever felt like you belonged everywhere and nowhere at the same time? The feeling of being unable to root yourself anywhere including the places where you know you should be? I really can't understand how sometimes I can feel so at home in my own skin and doing my own thing at my own pace and other days it can make me feel broken and incomplete. It is when you look in the mirror and all you see is half of a person. It isn't that you aren't in your reflection but what you see is not you. It is the you that the world sees but that still isn't the real you. You are so many layers deep that it is hard for you even to know if there is any water at the bottom of that well or if it just goes on into a bottomless abyss.

Where do I see myself? I am coming home from my graduation trip with my family from Cancun. I am there with my sisters, my parents, my brother and his wife, and then there is my wife. I can never see her face but I can hear her laugh and see her smile. I can never find her face so I can't ever see her eyes. This is me - the other half of me. I have tried to be patient and there is no other real choice but to continue to be so. It is like the end of the day really. You drag your tired and beaten body back to your home so you can look out at the trees and watch the colors change from green to orange to red to black as the sun sets on this day and the night begins only to wait so the it can rise again and start all over. I have heard that you need to lose yourself before you can try and find yourself, but I must keep looking in all the wrong places.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Food For Thought

There are very few places where the adage "food for thought" actually has real meaning but whenever I go to Jimmy John's Sandwich Shop, not only is the food fast, nutritious, and delicious but the signs they have are really interesting and fun to read as well. Just the other day I read the following sign and I think it does have a great meaning behind it. I think it can be summed up in one short phrase: success does not create happiness but happiness creates success.

Here is what the sign actually said:

How Much is Enough?
The American businessman was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow-fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied only a little while. The American then asked why didn't he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family's immediate needs. The American then asked, but what do you do with the rest of your time?

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life, senor.”

The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.” The Mexican fisherman asked, “But senor, how long will this all take?” To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”

“But what then, senor?”

The American laughed and said that’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.

“Millions, senor? Then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”


I think a lot of people do not have a real sense of what is important in life. I think they have their priorities all wrong. It is true. A lot of Americans are more worried about money and making money. But do they know how to truly enjoy in life? Do we lose sight of what makes us happy in our attempts to provide ourselves with luxury and security? What is the point of all of that? Is it worth the cost of letting memories and experiences pass us by?
For me, the most important thing in my life are the relationships and friendships that I have. God is first. Once I am married, my wife will be the next most important person in my life. Following her will be the relationship I have with myself, then my kids, then my family, and everyone else. Still, I realize that I need to enjoy my life. Just because I am not married or have a family yet, does not mean that life sucks. Life is good. I can be happy as I wait for opportunities to come along. Every once in a while, I have those days when I have to remind myself that my life is blessed and that God is watching over me. This doesn't mean that my life is easy or that I expect it to be. That would be na├»ve. Despite the hardships and tough experiences, I know that I am blessed and that I can overcome anything with His help.