Invisible Cheerleader

He was a young guy in a suit, sitting in a BMW 7 Series. A driver, evidently, here to pick up someone important. Alas, he was on the wrong side of the road and had to turn around. It was a big road, so he pulled over to the curb.

The indicator came on, but more cars kept coming. From the back. From the front. I wouldn’t use the word “mesmerizing,” but suddenly, we had a situation going on – and I felt compelled to keep looking back as I walked by. “Will he make it? I hope he’ll make it soon. Is his ‘package’ waiting already?”

Across the street, in front of the grandiose building, another 7 Series was already waiting, another young gun at the wheel. Now, we had two people rooting for Mr. U-Turn to succeed. Finally, a gap opened amidst the endless stream of cars, and in one swift motion, he turned his ship of a vehicle around, smoothly gliding into the parking spot in front of his colleague. “Ahhh.” The relief was visceral.

We don’t need a reason to be invested in someone else’s story. Humans must, by nature, root for other humans. We feel compelled to do it, and that’s a wonderful thing. Our heroes needn’t even know we’re there, quietly cheering for them behind the scenes. It’s nice to be an invisible cheerleader. You can clap shamelessly, and, once you’re done, you might even entertain an inordinate idea: What if, the next time I’m struggling, someone will be watching from the sidewalk, silently hoping I’ll succeed?

Hit the Road Sleeping

Are you here to make change or be changed?

If it’s the latter, it’s okay to hit the road sleeping – to find out it’s a Thursday at 10 AM in front of the coffee maker. When you’re sleepwalking, everything’s a surprise. You’ll constantly find new perspectives, but you’ll lose the power to give that same gift to others. Change needs direction. Vision. Force (the Star Wars kind, not the fist-meets-face kind).

Sometimes, it’s okay to be a puddle of goo. We all hit walls at speed on occasion. When you have your energy and clarity back, however, it’s time to put your Nike’s on. Wake up early. Work out. Have a routine. Get pumped for the day. Know the change you want to make, and hit the ground running.

Many of us are sleeping at any given time. We’re waiting for your Forrest Gump moment. We’re ready to be changed. But you’ll have to ship the work, perform the show, get to the finish line, to do it. Know when it’s time to pick up the pace.

Open vs. Ready

There are two bakeries on my way to work. One has been around since 1825. They used to be purveyor to the court of the King of Bavaria. Nowadays, they open at 8 AM. When I go there at 8:15 and ask for a pretzel with butter, however, I often hear the following: “We just opened, so we’re not ready.”

That line may work for a startup – but at a bakery? Not so much. Do you think they also gave that excuse to the king? I doubt it. The point of a service business is to offer the service when you’re open – so open when ready. I don’t get 30% of a haircut because the hairdresser just woke up. Therefore, I may also expect 100% of the pastry selection if the door swings open.

Your blog is different. So are Taylor Swift’s music career, Pantonio’s murals, and the origins of AirBnB. Some things must start before they’re ready because otherwise, they wouldn’t start at all.

One morning, you must get up and say: “We’re not quite ready, but we’ve decided to open – because our service is important, and we’ll be ready in due time.” That’s how art begins. It’s a different kind of service and often not a literal one, but the only way for it to ever be ready is to open the door and say: “Come on in! I can’t wait to learn from you.” You’ll serve people well today, but tomorrow, it’ll be even better.

The other bakery opens at 6:30 AM. Are their pastries as polished? No. But whenever I get there, they’re ready. There are six kinds of baguettes, three kinds of croissants, and a small assortment of pretzels. I know exactly what choices I have, and I can pick even before I arrive, knowing I’ll walk out with my usual selection of snacks.

Open or ready? Which one does it need to be? Choose your cause, and act accordingly.

On the Toilet, on the Phone

Really? Would the world have stopped spinning if you’d sat on the throne in peace? Are you the president? In fact, I think even the president won’t take meetings on the toilet. So why do you?

Of course, there’s also the other side of arrogance: impostor syndrome. Are you that small of a cog in the machine that you’re afraid you’ll get fired for being irrelevant if you pause to pee? Neither one is a good look, but really, it’s your mind you should worry about.

My dad says the gears crunch when someone leaves the company – but whether the crunch is long and loud or short and quiet, the gears will keep moving.

This might have sobering implications about your retirement, but at the very least, it means no one is too important to take a break. At the same time, no gear leaves the culture unaffected, no matter how small it may be. Someone will always miss you when you’re gone…

…but I think they’ll survive while you’re running to the loo. Don’t tinkle and talk.

Out of One, Many

Cristiano Ronaldo has the most followed account on Instagram. 400 million people want to see his pictures. That’s 40 times the population of the country in which he was born. He also has 100 million Twitter followers, 128 million on Facebook, and on and on.

How did he do it? Is Cristiano a social media expert? No. In fact, he was late to the party: He joined Instagram in 2012, two years after the platform was launched. By that time, it already had 50 million accounts vying for our attention. Not exactly a head start.

Cristiano Ronaldo plays soccer. That’s it. It is his job, his calling, and the only thing he’s an expert in. Arguably, he’s the best in the world at it, and soccer happens to be the most popular sport on the planet. Therefore, if Cristiano shows up on Instagram, fellow lovers of the sport will follow him. Actually, they’ll follow him wherever he goes, regardless of the platform.

That’s very different from being a social media gardener, someone who carefully grooms their fledgling following on ten different platforms, probably while forgetting to practice their art over it. Even if you outsource it or do it well, it’ll only take you so far. Why? Because social media channels attention towards interesting people – and doing social media for social media’s sake alone just isn’t that interesting.

For every Gary Vaynerchuk, there are 15 people who devoted themselves to their art and earned some attention – often more than Gary – as a result. This doesn’t make Gary’s approach wrong, but it makes it wrong for most people, yet the majority of would-be influencers are social media gardeners.

When you have a calling, be thankful. It takes luck and hard work to find. Respect your calling with focus. Give it your undivided attention, and you may win some of ours. If you happen to earn a lot of it, you can always turn one into many – like Cristiano, who only needs one ball to unite half of Europe.

Trust the What, Forget the When

That’s Russ’ advice to anyone trying to accomplish something big. Russ started writing raps when he was seven, making beats when he was 14, and releasing full songs at 18. He put out 11 albums and 87 songs, free of charge, over the course of three years. Then, he dropped a new song on SoundCloud every week for another three years. How could such persistence not break through?

When Russ did at age 23, many called him lucky – but he had 16 years of experience! Fortune and fame took much longer to show up than he had expected them to, Russ admits. “But the universe already has the best plan. It’s a more informed version of yourself.”

Trust the what, forget the when. Lose yourself in work you love, and you’ll lose track of time. Before you know it, the world will come calling.

Rearranged Stardust

That’s what you are. Not figuratively – literally. When the Big Bang spat out incomprehensible amounts of matter and energy, some of the initial elements fused into other elements, eventually LEGOing themselves into stars, planets, and now, only a few billion years later, you.

The next time you see Peter Pan and wish you too had a Tinkerbell, remember: You are Tinkerbell. Rearranged stardust. Magic is your precinct, alchemy your vocation. You turn nothing into something every day, and you don’t need permission to fly. All you must do is spread your wings.

Happy to Be Here

Are you? People rarely use that phrase if they aren’t. Why go out of your way to pretend when you can just state your name and occupation?

“Happy to be here” means you got the joke. You realize it’s a privilege. That the connection is not guaranteed. When you do an interview, are you happy to be there? Do you look forward to the meeting? What about the group assignment discussions? In the realization lies the choice.

Everyone who’s happy to be here remembers a place where they weren’t. They thought it was the wrong crowd, the wrong date, the wrong company they interviewed for. Until, one day, they chose to be happy to show up for the people right in front of them.

Something Happened on the Way to the Future

I’m not sure what’s less normal: Playing a video game while eating and watching TV on 1.5x speed, or the fact that in many a modern household, this behavior is considered normal. I’ve done the former, and I’m not proud.

In the 90s, Wall Street traders would stare at two screens while talking on the phone. Back then, people thought it was the most stressful job in the world. Now most of us create such environments from scratch – in our spare time. Our jobs are even busier still.

Stephen Hawking said: “When I was younger, the rise of technology pointed to a future where we would all enjoy more leisure time. But in fact the more we can do, the busier we become.”

In the 50s, most families couldn’t afford a dishwasher. They were thrilled at the prospect of rinsing fewer plates by hand, car windows opening automatically, and slices of toast popping out of a device hot and crispy.

If you had told these people that, 70 years later, we’d all carry devices in our pocket that hold a million times the power of the technology that would – 20 years from then – enable us to go to the moon, they’d not only have called you crazy, but they’d have imagined that, by then, not a single human on earth could possibly have to do any work.

Yet here we are, working more than ever.

What is it for? That’s a puzzle each of us can solve only individually, but sometimes it seems that, collectively, we have forgotten how to ask the question. Maybe it’s time to bring it back – back to the future, so we may figure out what happened along the way.

Breathe In, Breathe Out

I want to read three books a day. Besides the obvious challenges with this goal – time, money, limited concentration – there’s a more subtle dynamic that makes it both unfeasible and unnecessary: When I hit a certain level of reflection, I can no longer breathe in. Before I can continue, I have to exhale.

It took me 18 months to finish The Inner Game of Tennis, a short book with a succinct premise – but one that was so densely packed with insight, at least for me, that I had to put it down whenever I got hit over the head again.

When you continue reading after a profound aha moment, you bulldoze it. It’ll be a piece of gum sticking to a random patch of the ever-unfolding tarmac that is your memory. Don’t! Let it sink in. When the plants have enough water, you stop watering. So don’t drown important lessons with a torrent of more information.

Sometimes, exhaling means a day or two of mental distance. Sometimes, it means kneading the dough with a new ingredient. If you’re a creator, it might even mean shipping a new idea, one that’s powered by your latest realization.

Whatever your way of exhaling, don’t forget to do it. Breathe in, breathe out. No matter which side of the road you walk on, you’ll always stay on Living Avenue when you remember breathing is a two-way street.