This Is My Hill

I am a writer. Writing is what I do. What I shall keep doing, right here on this hill.

This blog is my hill, and I will defend it until the day I die. That’s the plan, anyway.

This is my hill. It is not the best hill, or the highest hill, or the hill of the month right now. But it is my hill, and if you like the goods I produce, this hill is the only place where you can find them.

This is my hill. On this hill, we value calmness, patience, and restraint. We value freedom, creativity, and self-expression. We value love, hope, and acceptance. I say “we” because if you value these same things, you will always find shelter on this hill. You will feel right at home. Take a seat, grab a cup, and let me pour you some tea.

This is my hill, and it is not for sale. I could charge for this blog. I know I could. But charging is not what life’s about. It’s about writing, at least for me. So let me write, and the charging part will work itself out. Art can only be felt. You can sell the painting but not the feeling. Money changing hands is not the part that matters. If you come to my hill, I want you to feel something. That’s why it’s not for sale.

This is my hill. It is the hill of a craftsman, and all crafts must be practiced. Therefore, you will see me practice on this hill. Few posts will be perfect. Some will be good. Most will, by definition, be average. But every post, long or short, good or bad, inspiring or dull, will be the best post I could have written that day. Every day, I will show up to practice and put forth my finest effort. I will do the best I can and ship the best attempt I can ship. That is a promise I make to you, standing right here on this hill.

This is my hill, and no one can tell me how to decorate it. If you don’t like the hut, or the fireplace, or the training grounds, by all means, go and occupy your own hill. That’s what hills are for! Somewhere out there, there is one just waiting for you. Do not waste time telling others how to run their hills. It’s okay. These hills are not for you. You can always find another or squat on your own.

This is my hill. I want it to be a place of generosity and kindness. Why? Because whatever emanates from the spring will flow down the hill. If I pull anger, outrage, and blame from the well, that’s what’ll spread. If I fill the bucket with kindness, hope, and hospitality, that too will be on its way. Everyone will grab the bucket, fill their cup, and pass it along. I’ll make sure the right stuff is in the bucket. If you could share it, that would be kind and generous.

This is my hill, and on this hill you will always find me. Once I am gone, only artifacts will remain – but they, too, shall always stay on this hill.

This is my hill, and yet, this story is not about my hill at all. It is about yours. Where is it? Can you feel it calling out to you? If you were waiting for a sign, this is it. It may not yet point in the right direction, but it’s a sign that prompts you to go instead of stop. Look around! You’re in the middle of a valley. The grass is green, the wheat is gold, and there are hills all around. What about that one? Or that one? Or that one? Pick a hill, and start climbing! Man your station. Declare your hill-dependence.

This is my hill, but we really need you on yours. It’s nice of you to visit. I shall do the same when I sit idle. But never forget tending to your own hill. Don’t neglect it. It’s important business, this hill-keeping. Only if all hills are manned will the kingdom remain safe. Without creativity, the world cannot prosper. Fight for your hill. Protect it. We depend on you standing your ground.

Not Everyone Can Be Sassy

He looked like a seasoned-enough traveler, with his professional attire, business suitcase, and Range Rover parked right in front of the hotel. At the front desk, however, you might have thought it’s his first trip.

“Why do you need a credit card?”

“We block a certain amount in case you take anything from the minibar, etc.”

“But my company is paying for all of this anyway!”

“I’m sorry, but that’s how we have to do it.”

Apparently, he was a specimen of the “I’m too important to know how anything works” variety. You know, the kind that expects everyone to roll out the red carpet wherever they happen to tread.

“Do I really have to fill in all this stuff?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so, sir. It’s standard procedure.”

“I can’t believe I have to do this after six hours of driving.”

It was the kind of interaction where, for every next sentence, you have a sassy response in your head.

“Have you never been in a hotel before? They always ask for a credit card.”

“Yeah, like everyone else on this planet, you’ll have to fill in the form.”

“Yes John, even after six hours of driving.”

The situation was simple: A stressed businessman was taking out his frustrations on a poor hotel clerk. He might have been overworked, but he deserved a damper for behaving like an arrogant… Well, you fill in the blank.

There was just one problem: I was the only witness, and I am not sassy. Not with strangers, anyway. I cannot pull off administering said damper and have everyone still leave the room with their heads intact.

In moments like this, I wish I was sassy. But I am not, likely never will be, and that’s perfectly okay.

Not everyone can be sassy. Not everyone can be beautiful by society’s standards. Not everyone can be funny, tall, or frighteningly good at math.

We all have our strengths, and we have our weaknesses. It is much better to accept them than to start a saloon brawl you can’t win.

Rubik’s Memory

Let’s say I give you a solved Rubik’s cube. Each side shows one color. The goal is to get the cube to show a distinct pattern. You and I both know you’ve seen this pattern before, but it’s buried deep inside your memory. At one point, you knew this pattern well, but right now you can’t recall it at will. What do you do?

You’d probably start by trying to remember one aspect, any aspect at all, of the pattern. Maybe it’s that one side was both red and blue. Maybe it’s that the pattern was random. Whatever it is, you start fiddling with the cube based on that aspect. This is where the magic begins.

As soon as you see red and blue together again, your mind will tell you: No, that’s not it. So you keep fiddling. Each next turn, however, unlocks new information. New material gets dislodged. More faint images bubble to the surface. Every idea links to the next, every element connects to another.

If you keep playing with the cube, eventually, it’ll hit you: Crosses! The pattern was crosses! This was the breakthrough you needed. You’ll still need more time, but now that you’ve got the pattern’s main feature, the rest is only a matter of trial and error.

The point is that your memory works somewhat like a Rubik’s cube: Even when you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, each next turn still matters. Keep trying!

The more you squeeze your mind, the more memories it activates. You might not find what you want on the first, or second, or even the tenth attempt, but on the 50th, you will. Very little gets lost.

Earlier today, that’s exactly how I remembered a song I hadn’t heard in years. All I had was one line of the lyrics and a melody, neither of which uncle Google could help with.

Eventually, I remembered the band name had something to do with music. I started with “radio,” which turned out to be “audio,” which got me back to Audioslave and Audiomachine – two bands I’m familiar with, but that both turned out to be wrong ends.

The lyric, meanwhile, “going out tonight,” sent me down the rabbit hole of “Friday,” and “Weekend.” Michael Gray’s The Weekend wasn’t it, but later in the day, stimulated by a walk in the sun, my mind put two and two together: The song was called Living For The Weekend, and the band’s name was Hard-Fi – something sort of audio-related.

Your mind is bigger than you think. Keep turning the cube, and you can rediscover almost anything.

You Don’t Need to Think to Be Valuable

Once you’ve come to the realization that you don’t need to think to exist, an inevitable follow-up question will arise: “So if I just exist without thinking from time to time, is that an okay thing to do?” The obvious answer is “Of course!” but it definitely won’t feel obvious at all, and it’ll be even harder to act on it.

We never question our innate human value as children. What’s to discuss? We’re here! We made it! Let’s have a grand old time! It is only once an ever-growing set of expectations and responsibilities is placed upon us by other people, usually in high school, that we start to associate living with delivering. “If I don’t do my homework, my teacher will be angry. If I don’t ace this test, my mom will be sad.” It only gets worse from there.

In The Comfort Book, Matt Haig makes a great point: You’d never ask a baby to deliver. What? Are you gonna throw it out the window if it doesn’t send you the slides by 4 PM? Of course not! Because despite being capable of absolutely nothing at all, babies are still humans – and humans have value by default. “Their value does not depend on external things like wealth or appearance or politics or popularity. It is the infinite value of a human life.”

That value never fades, “even as it becomes easier to forget it,” Haig writes. “We stay precisely as alive and precisely as human as we were the day we were born.” So no. You don’t need to think around the clock to keep proving your value. Not to society. Not to your parents. Not even to yourself. “The only thing we need is to exist.” On day one, that was enough – and it will always be enough.

What If Thinking Is the Problem?

Yesterday, I woke up in the middle of the night. “Oh no. Not yet. Your alarm is ages away. Just go back to sleep.” Unfortunately, my mind chose to do what it always wants to do: It began to think. I ran down one line of thought. Then another. Then another.

On a usual night, I might have kept going like this for a good 30 minutes before eventually falling back asleep. This time, however, one of my thoughts was interesting: What if thinking is the problem? In this particular case, thinking was preventing me from sleeping. You can’t think yourself back to sleep.

So, instead of just telling myself to stop thinking or resetting lines of thought like I usually do, I tried to just let go of the thoughts that came my way altogether. Maybe I was just tired, but regardless, it worked. Within a few minutes, I extended my stay in dreamland.

Sleep may be the most obvious scenario in which thinking is an obstacle rather than a solution, but it’s far from the only one. How many times do we keep pondering when we should already be pounding away at the problem? How often do we wait for motivation to tackle a hard but necessary challenge, rather than just tackling it with whatever power we’ve got right now?

Life only offers us a certain amount of downhill momentum, no matter how long we wait for the easiest path to appear. We need the right balance between thinking things through until starting them is easy, but then not overthinking and beginning as soon as we’re ready. We need the courage to think enough but no more.

The key to striking this balance is to realize when thinking turns from a solution into a problem. Imagine a gauge beginning to charge whenever you start thinking. At first, the loading bar is green. The longer you think, the higher it rises. Eventually, green turns to yellow and then to red. “Stop! The problem-solution threshold has been crossed. Think no more. Please unplug the device, and get back to the business of living.”

This transition could happen in your Monday morning meeting, on a sandy beach far away, or in the middle of the night. Wherever you are when it does, please, don’t wade into the fog that follows. Turn around, shut down your marvelous mind machine, and face what’s right in front of you – even if all that means is going back to sleep.

What’s Your Basket?

One time in high school, Russ was hanging around the piano with his music teacher, Mr. Spraggins. Russ asked whether he should go to college to study music, the thing he loved, or pick something “more useful.”

“I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket,” Russ parroted his parents. That’s when Mr. Spraggins, a man Russ only interacted with over a brief period in his life, dropped some advice he would never forget: “Just make sure you have a basket.”

Isn’t it funny? We spend all this time telling kids they need to pick a career, and when they do, often earlier than we expected, we tell them, “No, not this one. Pick another basket.” That’s ridiculous!

If someone has a clear view of where they want to go, all we should do is hand them a map. “Off you go! I’ll be cheering you on.”

It doesn’t matter what your basket is. Is it painting? Event management? Excel? Great! Simply by knowing what you want, you’re already miles ahead. Don’t let anyone take that basket.

And if you don’t? That’s okay too, but know that when you find something, you’ll have to fight to keep it. “No! This is my basket, and I’m about to collect some eggs. Watch me.”

Forget diversifying. Try identifying.

If you can create even one passion with a 90% authenticity sync rate, that’s one more than most people will ever find. Consider yourself lucky, and then get on filling that basket.

Mr. & Mrs. Got-It-Covered

Are you the friend who always goes the extra mile in trying to maintain your relationships as you get older? You know, the one who calls first. The one who keeps a list of your most important college buddies so you can meet each one at least once a year. You are? Funny, me too.

I’ve heard this, “Me too,” quite often. It led me to a theory: If everyone has 20 or so friends they want to keep close ties with as they age, but the circles barely overlap from one person to another, everyone will be the “I-always-put-in-the-effort” friend – at least some of the time. That means we could have a system in which everyone is annoyed that they’re shouldering most of the responsibility, even though everyone carries the same weight, just at different times.

Here’s an alternative: We all relax. We call who we want to call when we feel like calling them. We don’t fret whether we’ve last seen each other six, twelve, or 15 months ago, and we just enjoy each other’s company when we do.

In essence, we stop. We stop and realize we are grown-up people with a million responsibilities knocking at our door every morning, and that we should feel proud and happy for answering the door at all, even if we can only pick and satisfy a handful of our infinite inquiries on any given day.

You don’t have to go to every wedding.

You don’t have to show up at every birthday party.

You don’t have to call your family every week.

You don’t have to get every health check-up exactly on time.

You don’t have to sort your holiday photos within a week after coming home.

I know it’s tough. We want to do these things. We want to be good people. Responsible adults. But we can’t cease to exist over a perfect ideal we’ll never attain. Sooner or later, everyone drops something. As long as you’re mindful of what you drop, however, even a “No” can be an act of service.

Give up being Mr. or Mrs. Got-It-Covered. That’s a game you can’t win. Just take life one day at a time, put yourself first, and smile when your phone rings, showing an old friend’s name on the display.

Which Perspective Shift When?

I found some great advice on TikTok for when the hate is strong:

When you feel like you hate everyone, eat something.

When you feel like everyone hates you, go to sleep.

When you feel like you hate yourself, take a shower.

When you feel like everyone hates everyone, go outside.

No matter what kind of suffering we face, there’s always another point of view that will allow us to handle it. The challenge is finding the right POV at the right time, and then managing to shift our perspective from one to the other.

The next time you feel stuck, frustrated, or anxious, ask: What point of view could I adopt that might ease this pain? It could be a book containing the breakthrough idea, a Yoda quote inspiring you to persevere, or a friend talking you out of hyperventilation.

Sometimes, you’ll find the right antidote immediately. Sometimes, you’ll cycle through several remedies. Eventually, however, you’ll break out of your shrinking shell. The next morning, the next attempt, or the next time you return home, the world will look different – and the Force will be with you once again.

You Don’t Have to Think This Thought

It is an incredible power to realize all thoughts are optional. Unfortunately, having that epiphany once isn’t enough. You’ll need it time and time again – whenever a train of thought doesn’t serve you.

“My car’s service check is coming up, and it costs $1,000. I don’t have $1,000. Where will I get $1,000? When is the service check? September, I think. Maybe October. Okay, I have a few weeks. What can I do in those weeks to get $1,000?”


“Right now, I’m lying in my bed. It is Tuesday, 7:43 AM. I need to get up, get ready, and go to work.”

Then, you get up, get ready, and go to work. Everything else will fall into place.

When exactly will you fix your $1,000 problem? I don’t know – but I do know that you don’t have to fix it at 7:43 AM on a random Tuesday.

The pithy, self-help conform version of this habit is James Altucher’s thought labeling exercise: Useful or not useful? The real trick, of course, is to stop, step back, and do the labeling in the first place. In this case, you could insert the “Stop” after any one of the eight thoughts above, and the sooner you would do it, the better – for the faster you would focus on the task right in front of you rather than some faraway worry.

How can you get better at stopping sooner? Meditation. I’m sure there are other ways. Meditation is just the best one I know – the best way to remember that you don’t have to think this thought.

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.