How to See It All

By the time I was 22, I had taken more planes than my parents in their over 100 years of life combined. I had seen nearly half of all US states, many countries in Europe, and even some far away places like Japan, Sri Lanka, and Australia. “What a privilege,” I thought. “What a blessing.”

I also realized that I’d seen more than 99% of people ever will, and with that, once I returned home, my desire to travel shrunk to almost zero. It has been ten years since then, and of course, I’ve traveled a good deal since, though not nearly as much and definitely not as far.

Thanks to its ever-decreasing costs, travel is quickly becoming the addiction of choice for many people, especially in the West. They want to go anywhere, everywhere, and see it all, ideally all the time. Of course, taken to an extreme, travel is as poor of an escape as any other drug, hobby, or form of entertainment – after all, no matter where you go, you’ll still be you.

Whether you’re a travel addict, can’t afford all the trips you’d like to take, or are stuck in a place that’s hard to escape from, let me offer you a realization that has helped me find tremendous comfort within the confines of my tiny flat: The only way to see all the places you want to visit – and do it in one lifetime – is to do it in your imagination.

How much more efficient, to stroll through the streets of Spanish cities by reading Dan Brown’s Origin, to daydream about flying across the Gobi desert, to climb Mount Everest in your sleep. Every book compresses a lifetime of human experience and perspective. Read one from a citizen of every country, and you’ll have been around the globe.

Better yet, write your own. They needn’t be 200 pages. It can be a three-page story. You know what’s based about traveling inside your mind? You get to pick so much more than just the destination! You could be kitesurfing world champion, a grandmaster in chess, or your country’s first woman president. Best of all, you can do things unaccessible to even the wealthiest of traveler’s today: You could slay a dragon, or ride one, or find a sunken treasure we aren’t even sure exists.

It’s easy to turn real-world travel into yet another infinite to-do list game we can’t win. That doesn’t take much courage or ingenuity at all. But to see it all with your own eyes, your own mind, the way only you can see it? That sounds like a true explorer to me.

Use your mind more so than your wallet. It truly is a blessing to be able to afford travel in small doses, but your brain is free to use – and that is the greatest privilege of all.

You Can’t Divide the Present

Bruce Lee thought that “the now is indivisible.” His analogy was that when you take apart a car and neatly arrange its individual pieces on the floor, all of the parts may still be there, but the car itself is not. The pile of metal you stand in front of can no longer fulfill the duties of a car; its nature and original function are lost.

In the same vein, when you plan your day in hourly blocks, you are taking it apart. Instead of experiencing the day, living it one minute at a time, you are breaking it down into many small futures, for each of which you form hopes and expectations. With your plan in hand, you then spend each next present moment worrying about whether these expectations (which are now elements from your past!) will come true.

The best that can happen? All of your expectations are met. In that scenario, you’ll likely be somewhat satisfied and content but not extremely happy, for happiness always has an element of surprise to it.

The worst that can happen? Your plans are foiled, your hopes dashed, and, on top of having wasted many present moments cheering for something that didn’t occur, you’ll now spend more time feeling miserable about your foolishness.

This isn’t to say that all plans are useless. Planning is part of the human experience. A good backup plan, a long-term strategy well-executed, these things surely have their place.

What Bruce’s idea of the indivisible now is meant to remind us of, however, is that planning is not living. Living is what happens after, because of, and sometimes in spite of us making plans. Life is in no way obligated to grant your plan safe passage, and often, it won’t. The question is can we still enjoy life when that happens? Are we ready to engage fully regardless, or will we go down with our plans?

Make your plans, but then put them on the back burner of your mind. Focus on each next step as best as you can. Enjoy the present. Savor it. Be here for it.

Don’t divide the now. Don’t take apart life itself.

The Usual, With More Joy Please

Here’s a thought experiment: If you had to relive your life, but everything would happen the exact same way it did before, what would you do with that chance?

“Well, is that even a chance at all?” you might say. After all, you can’t change anything. You can’t undo any regrets. Can’t choose right when you chose wrong. Can’t fix any of the situations in which you felt the most helpless. So what is there to do?

According to the friend who shared this idea with me, you would do the only thing you could do: Savor it all a little more than you did last time.

Knowing how fleeting the entire experience has been up to now, knowing the ups that follow the downs and the downs that follow the ups, you would do your absolute best to enjoy every moment. You would try hard to be present, to soak in the beauty, and to dwell in the struggles – for each minute only happens once, each pretty sight will become a memory, and each hard-earned lesson must last as long as it can.

The question that arises from this entire experiment, then, is why don’t we do this now? Our lives unfold as they unfold. Some bits we control, others we don’t. Some choices we get right, others we don’t. Often, we must wait years to see the full picture – so why don’t we enjoy the puzzle pieces in front of us as best as we can?

Life is not a waiting room. It happens all the time, even in the moments when we most feel like we are just waiting. Those moments, too, are moments to be enjoyed, or, if they’re non-happy ones, at least savored. The next time you order a drink at the bar, trying to kill time until your friend arrives, by all means, order the usual – just please remember to ask for more joy.

Find the Sound Barrier

When you leave work at 5, get home at 5:30, and plan to sleep at 11, you have six hours to do things. You might relax for 30 minutes, do chores for an hour, then prepare dinner and eat with your family. Around 8, you tuck the kids in for the night – and then you still have three hours left. You could watch a whole movie and still read for an hour before turning off the lights.

When you leave work at 6, you’ll likely cut the relaxing. You’ll scramble to do your chores and make dinner in time, as a result of which you’ll bring your kids to bed late. By the time you finally fall down on the couch at 9, you’ll still have two hours left – but now, given you didn’t have any time to relax before, that doesn’t feel like enough. You were running around all day! You deserve more than two hours! As a result, you’ll either stay up way too late (“I’m taking what is mine!”) or go to bed angry.

When you leave work at 7, you’ll barely have time to make dinner, let alone eat in peace. All hopes of the kids sleeping early go out the window. Whatever time for recovery is left feels like a taunt more so than a break. “Really? I get 10 minutes of downtime?” You’ll still be angry about the lack of time, but you’ll also be disappointed with yourself. “I’m a terrible adult. I have let myself and my family down.”

Somewhere between 5 and 7 PM, there is a sound barrier for “leaving work on time.” As long as you go home before crossing it, you’ll feel anything from great to okay about your day. Once you blow past it, however, nothing can save the day. The only question is how bad you’ll feel by the end of it.

A similar sound barrier lies between 1 and 3 AM. It is the one for “leaving the club to save the next day.” Go to bed between 1 and 2, and you can get in eight hours by 10 AM. Not too bad. Go to bed at 3 or 4, and you might as well sleep till 3.

There are many sound barriers in life, falling into the most varied places for each of us. Like the real sound barrier, you can never see them, but you’ll always feel it when you smash through. Despite being invisible, sound barriers are something you can look for – if only by accidentally crossing their lines.

Wherever you feel your contentment short-shifted, or your happiness falling short of its potential, find the sound barrier. Learn to observe the hidden boundaries in your life, for treating them with respect means nothing more than giving yourself the appreciation and dignity you deserve.

Passion vs. Fear

When we think about finding our passion, we tend to believe that once we discover the thing that sets us on fire, we’ll never be afraid again. We’ll plow into our challenges fearlessly, like Captain Ahab plunging his boat headfirst into every next crushing wave. That’s not the case.

Passion gets you to act despite fear, not without it. “Find a passion as large as your fear,” Matt Haig recommends. I think you should find one that’s slightly larger. Just enough to get you to write your book anyway, publish your album anyway, take the interesting but lower-paying job anyway.

Passion is not the antidote to fear. It is the bigger sister that keeps fear in check. “Enough of your nagging. We’re doing this. Keep walking.”

Build a passion until it is big enough to boss your fear around. You’ll never be fearless to the point of heroic delusion, but you also won’t just stare at the iceberg while crushing right into it.

Just Before the Rain

Yesterday, a rain cloud finally alleviated some of the past week’s scorching heat. My studio has a big glass wall facing south. In the summer, it gets about ten hours of sun. The result is a greenhouse in which you could probably grow tomatoes at twice the speed, but where humans can’t sleep very well. Ergo, thank you Jupiter.

Better yet, it kept raining. Right until I left the house this morning to go to work. I didn’t need a jacket. I didn’t have to fumble with my umbrella. I walked for 15 minutes, and as soon as I sat down at my desk, boom – more rain. Sometimes, I do look for the hidden cameras. You can’t make this stuff up.

Whenever I make it somewhere just before the rain, I write it down in my gratitude journal. The same applies when the sun shows up for my walk, when the wind decides to blow in through my open window, or when the snow melts in just the right places for me to walk without slipping. Always thank twice.

The best miracles are the ones we take for granted. You can’t measure the value of getting home dry when the odds are against you, but you can acknowledge it. When you do, you might realize it’s worth a lot – and that realization itself is worth even more. Turn your for-granteds into grateful-fors. It’s not every day that you make it home just before the rain.

You Don’t Need to Think to Exist

That’s a key lesson I learned from meditation.

You are not your thoughts. You are merely their thinker.

What happens if the thinker stops thinking? Not much, actually. Your mind goes quiet, but you don’t cease to exist. You just…sit there. Or lie there, because in fact, you exist without thinking every day – we call it sleeping.

Every morning, you wake up, and you realize: You’re still here. You powered down the infinite thought fountain for a bit, and it was fine. The machine is happy to turn back on anytime. Though not the main point of the exercise, meditation, too, will give you glimpses of what it is like to exist without thinking.

It’s a powerful realization to have, this separation of thought and aliveness. Usually, we equate “being alive” to being 100% immersed in thought. We don’t naturally grasp that you can have one without the other. It really makes you wonder: “If I can exist without thinking, how much of my thinking is even necessary?”

Regardless of what you believe the answer to this question may be, one thing I think is okay and even necessary is spending some portion of our lives just existing. There’s a reason one third of our hours goes to sleep, and we know recovery shouldn’t stop there. Sometimes, I even use “existing” as an official excuse for saying no to my friends: “I’m sorry, I can’t. I need some time to exist.”

I’m sure there are many ways to “exist” beyond meditation and sleeping. Maybe all flow experiences qualify. Whatever you find to be the vehicle that works for you, I hope you’ll make time for the “being” part in “human being.”

You are more than just a thinker, and your worth is not tied to your thoughts.

Your Job Is Not to Judge the Work

Your job is to make more of it. You don’t have to make more of the same if you don’t feel like it. You don’t have to give the crowd more of what it wants. All you have to do is ship more honest, creative, daring art.

The Lost City is an adventure comedy about a washed-up writer of cheesy adventure romance novels. Finding herself trapped in a real adventure with the not-exactly-bright cover model of her books, Loretta Sage claims her “schlock” writing is meaningless, to which said model, Alan, responds:

“I was so embarrassed that one of my friends might see me in that wig on the cover of your book that I avoided talking to them for months. And then one day, I’m walking home, and I hear this lady yell, ‘Dash!’ She runs up, and she is so happy. Then I thought, ‘How could I be this embarrassed about something that makes people this happy?'”

In an enlightened moment, Alan explains Loretta can do whatever she wants – but she should never diminish her audience based on which parts of her work they like or don’t like.

You are not the critic. You are the creator. Afford your work – and the people engaging with it – the same courtesy with which you hope we will approach your art: Never judge a book by its cover.

Polarized Glasses

I have a pair of polarized sunglasses. As soon as I put them on, everything looks crisper. When I’m walking through a forest, the leaves seem greener. When I look at a car, its paint job feels brighter. It’s like an Instagram filter for real life: You crank up the sharpness and saturation, and suddenly, the whole world is covered in a coat of shiny lipgloss.

It’s fun to wear polarized sunglasses – but when the sun sets, it’s time to take them off again. Your eyes will need some time to get used to reality again, and even if it’s not quite as glamorous, that is the place we live in. It is important to, most of the time, see that place as it is, not only as it could be. Otherwise, how can we help it get from one state to the other?

The same applies to other, less literal filters, like Instagram’s desire-maximizing algorithm, an extravagant night out, or a well-off friend taking us for a spin in their car. Like wearing polarized sunglasses, such joyous occasions are, of course, part of life, but they are joyous only if they remain the dots on our “i”s.

When we view life only through our best experiences, it loses all its color. Don’t numb your taste buds by overstimulating them. Deep down, we all know there’s a lot to be seen and felt, even on the days when we forgot our sunglasses at home – maybe especially on those.

False Alarms

I’ve lived in my building for four years, and we’ve had around ten fire alarms in that time. Whenever the siren rings, all tenants must go down into the lobby or wait outside the building for the fire brigade to arrive.

Sometimes, we find out the reason for the alarm, and most of the times when we do, it is either a test or something trivial, like someone smoking in their room. Naturally, everyone rolls their eyes and wants to go back to bed.

Not too long ago, we had three fire alarms in a single week. Eventually, the concierge confirmed the alarm itself was faulty. That’s not good, because it makes people go from rolling their eyes to losing faith in the alarm altogether – but the last thing you want is folks staying in their rooms when the building is actually on fire.

It’s hard to keep playing by the rules when you know the rules are flawed, but when it comes to “better safe than sorry,” we should try our best to keep doing it.

More importantly, however, we should only sound our alarms when we need them. Do you have to call an all-hands meeting over one team’s mistake? Did you try calming down the client before panicking in your boss’s office? Is it really the last chance you’ll afford your friend to make up for being late?

Be careful what you yell about. You can only trigger so many false alarms before the bell stops working.