The Road to Extraordinary

It's paved with problems.

The first is that it takes a long time and a lot of hard work. Call it the 10,000-hour rule, the ten-year rule, whatever. We can't expect to become groundbreaking creative successes overnight.

Ray Bradbury:

The first year I made nothing, the second year I made nothing, the third year I made 10 dollars, the fourth year I made 40 dollars. I remember these. I got these indelibly stamped in there. The fifth year I made 80. The sixth year I made 200. The seventh year I made 800. Eighth year, 1,200. Ninth year, 2,000. Tenth year, 4,000. Eleventh year, 8,000...

Stephen King:

When I got my rejection slip… I pounded a nail into the wall above the Webcor [phonograph]… and poked [the rejection slip] onto to the nail… By the time I was fourteen (and shaving twice a week whether I needed to or not) the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing. By the time I was sixteen I’d begun to get rejection slips with handwritten notes a little more encouraging.

Ten years later, he sold his first novel.

A long time and a lot of hard work, to say nothing of talent or actual skill.

In my style of martial arts, a fifth degree black belt is considered a Master. I've been a fourth degree for two years. Generally speaking, the number of degrees equates to the minimum number of years before you can be promoted. E.g., first to second degree takes two years, second to third takes three years, and so on.

But the jump from fourth to fifth degree is different. You can't just put in the time and make the cut. To be considered a Master, one must demonstrate mastery in every area—not just katas and combinations, but animal techniques, club techniques, knife and gun defense, chin na, grappling, and more. And mastery isn't a quantifiable thing; it's not how many leopard techniques you know, but how you move when you execute them. This means a martial artist can spend a long time at fourth degree. Being promoted to Master is arguably more difficult than achieving the black belt itself.

To attain such expertise, to become extraordinary, one must work very hard for a very long time and become very good.

Fine. That makes sense. If being extraordinary was easy, everyone would do it.

But there is a prerequisite question that must be answered before we can start putting in our 10,000 hours: What do I want to be extraordinary at?

This question leads to the second problem, which is the paradox of choice.

To determine at which profession we wish to excel, we consult our various identities. For me: English professor, yoga teacher, martial arts instructor, bass player, writer. For you: Crossfit trainer, accountant, parent, student affairs professional, recreation director, painter, and so on. We are privileged to be such eclectic individuals, but we are also paralyzed by the diversity of our passions and interests.

I feel that if I want to be the greatest writer I can possibly be, if I want to make a living as a writer, I need to immerse myself completely in my craft. I need to write every day. I need to publish constantly. I need to read other writers. I need to hire an editor. I need to hustle. I need to eat, sleep, and breathe writing. I need to dedicate myself to nothing else for years. And then—maybe—one day, I'll make ten dollars.

I feel that if I want to be the greatest bass player I can possibly be, if I want to make a living as a musician, I need to immerse myself completely in my craft. I need to play every day. I need to seek out other musicians to play with. I need to learn how to read music. I need to write and record songs and put them out there for people to hear. I need to hustle. I need to eat, sleep, and breathe music. I need to dedicate myself to nothing else for years. And then—maybe—one day, I'll make ten dollars.

The problem is that I fear having to give up other aspects of my identity in the hopes of becoming extraordinary at one of them. I love being a bass player just as much as I love writing, and I love doing yoga just as much as I love doing martial arts. There isn't one that I'm willing to give up all the others for.

Yes, of course no one (besides me) is saying I have to give everything else up. Successful extraordinary people have interests other than what they're known for. But when you're trying to break into an industry, when you're on mile one of that 10,000-mile road, I don't see how you can get away with not dedicating yourself almost entirely to your craft.

Beyond this inner conflict lies a third problem, one of practicality: how can I dedicate myself to my art and still afford to eat? No one is going to pay me to be a writer who's trying really hard. No one is going to pay me to be a bass player sitting in the woodshed.

So we get crumby part-time jobs, and if we're lucky, their soul-crushing nature drives us even further to power through that long road to extraordinary. Or, they sap our strength to the point where the dream seems even more impossible.

When you're in college, your full-time job is to be a college student. Your job is to go to class, to learn, to absorb, to meet people, to figure out who you are and what you want to do with rest of your life. This is why college is so great. No one expects anything of you other than that you do what a college student is supposed to do: explore.

Some college students are lucky in that they go to school to get a degree in a certain field, which grants them a job, and they set off on a career. I think mainly of business majors. They get a degree in marketing or accounting or business administration, and they get hired. An entry-level accountant gets paid while they learn how to be a next-level accountant. They achieve a respectable level of success for their age, which allows them to live comfortably, going to work during the day, and using nights and weekends to pursue hobbies, interests, and relationships.

Sometimes, I'm envious.

Now, maybe those people genuinely love marketing, or accounting, or business administration. Maybe there are people out there who eat, sleep, and breathe this stuff. I'm sure there is someone out there who is dedicating himself to being an extraordinary accountant, to making it his life's work.

But for those of us in the arts or creative fields, the road to extraordinary is not so smooth. For those of us who want our creative interests and financial living to be one in the same, we must figure out how to do it on our own. We must ask, "What am I going to love doing every day for the rest of my life that other people will pay me to do?" And if and when we can answer that enormous question, we must ask, "How am I going to survive while I put in the seemingly insane amount of time and effort creating that extraordinary life requires?"

A Brief Word About Twitter

People are angry about the recent changes to Twitter's API.

I'll be honest: I understand very little about what's going on with Twitter. I'm not a developer, and my eyes tend to glaze over whenever I try to read the jargon. (Marco Arment has a nice summary though.)

The gist seems to be that Twitter is clamping down on what developers can and can't do with the service, which, according to most, is going to make Twitter significantly less awesome. As a result, my Apple nerd brethren have begun defecting en masse to, a new platform whose Alpha service resembles an extra-geeky Twitter with a $50 entrance fee.

I don't know enough about the issue to judge Twitter's actions. Presumably, they're doing what's best for Twitter. That's their prerogative. If Twitter becomes unusable, it will bum me out. I love Twitter.

But fortunately, has come along just in time to shelter us from Twitter's turn to the dark side. If you're over there, you can find me as andrewmarvin.

As we transition from the old to the new, I'm reminded how important it is not to allow ourselves to become overly attached to anything, let alone a social network. Technology moves quickly. If Twitter becomes something to be abandoned, we will adapt, move forward, and be OK.

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Crawl or Fly

Time flies when you're having fun, and time crawls when you're not having fun.

Think about how long an hour feels when you're stuck at a desk doing less-than-exciting things, just waiting for the clock to reach the time when you're permitted to do something you love.

It stands to reason that if we could have fun during unenjoyable activities, we'd theoretically be able to fast forward through them.

For example, I'm teaching karate camp this week, which means six hours of the same twenty kids every day, which means I need an endless supply of patience and emotional strength. It would be very easy to wake up miserable every morning, watch the minutes tick by, and only think about how great it's going to feel when the day is over.

But thinking that way actually makes the day feel slower. If I try to make the best of it, the day goes by faster, which makes the experience itself less miserable and—because time flies when you're having fun—it makes 3 PM arrive sooner rather than later.

If I was sitting at a desk all day, I'd want to make it as enjoyable as possible: keep the area clutter-free, buy some decent speakers to listen to music, and maybe add something to my desk that makes me smile when I look at it.

The point is that the quality of our experience during times we don't enjoy is entirely dependent on our ability to make the best of them. So when I wake up in just a few short hours to spend yet another day teaching the same rambunctious kids, I have to decide whether I want to make the day fly or crawl.

It's up to me, and to you.

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Income vs. Quality of Life

In trying to determine what classes I wanted to teach in the fall, I found myself confronted with two very different options:

  1. Teaching three times a week in the morning.
  2. Teaching twice a week in the evening.

Each presents its pros and cons. Option #1 has 33% more commute, and I'd have to get up earlier than I'd prefer, but it leaves my afternoons and nights free for yoga, the band, and maximizing my hours teaching karate. Option #2 has less commute, and the hours better suit my sleeping habits, but it cuts into my other interests and responsibilities.

When faced with a logistical conundrum, I turn to the most practical man I know: my dad. He was happy to calculate my gas mileage, ask the important questions, and help me determine which option would work best for me.

He emphasized that I ultimately needed to consider income versus quality of life. I'll be making the same amount of money at the college regardless of which option I choose, but option #1—despite having an additional $16 per week in gas expenses, according to my dad's calculations—allows me to make more income at my other job because it keeps my evenings free. Option #2 may allow me to sleep later, but its schedule restricts the income I can make outside the college.

The issue comes down to money versus happiness. Is it better to make a lot of money and be exhausted and/or miserable, or is it better to make less money and be happier? I've done both, and the best choice is something in the middle.

I don't think either option is necessarily better or worse. Because I've never taught college before, considerable experimentation will be required before I can determine what sort of schedule best fits my financial and emotional needs. It was a tough call, but at this point, my priority is to maximize income; an increased income will actually improve my quality of life. As such, option #1 feels like the best choice. If it ends up being terrible, I can modify my teaching schedule next semester.

It seems unfortunate that questions of money and questions of happiness are so frequently intertwined, but to a certain extent, one does inform the other. Hopefully, a middle ground isn't too difficult to engineer.

But when in doubt, always ask Dad.

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Man Down

My band lost its vocalist a couple of weeks ago.

He didn't die or anything; he just quit—somewhat expectedly—for personal reasons.

His departure is kind of a drag because the music we had been covering was selected primarily out of a desire to compliment his vocal style. Now that he's out, we know about twenty songs and have no one to sing them.

Yet, despite the momentary setback, the band is in many ways rejuvenated.

Rather than consider the loss of our vocalist an impediment, the remaining memebrs immediately saw the opportunity to regroup and reframe our vision of the band. Speaking for myself, I had always felt we were pigeonholing ourselves by covering one particular style of music. While the songs were fun to play, I thought we were capable of playing material that better showcased our musicianship and individual tastes. My bandmates agreed. We now have the chance to expand our tonal palette and cover more diverse and interesting music.

We have eliminated the unnecessary. With four members, we had three dedicated guys and one semi-dedicated guy, which meant we were really only operating at 75%. There may be three of us left, but we can now operate at 100%, and the band as a whole will be better for it.

We have been delayed by the experience—we spent three months learning songs we mostly have to throw out now—but it's better that it happened now instead of a year down the road. It's a step back, yes, but it sets us up to take big steps forward.

As always, it's not what happens; it's how you deal with what happens.

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High Gear

Given the radical shift my life is about to undertake, I've begun to feel a bit overwhelmed. So much to do, so little time and all that.

To combat this increase in to-dos, I'm going to more heavily implement the schedule your day tactic so that I may better manage my time and tasks. And I'm not talking about merely identifying a handful of things I'd like to accomplish tomorrow; I mean scheduling my day down to the hour.

With my new job, adult responsibilities are going to begin to creep into my life, undoubtedly encroaching on the things I'd really like to be doing. By scheduling my days, I hope to be able to set aside sufficient time for both work and personal responsibilities. I want to put my best effort into all of my endeavors, and I don't want anything to fall by the wayside.

If I don't manage my time—if I don't ensure my life runs the way I want it to—no one will.

With that in mind, I'm going to be diligent and ruthless in my scheduling. This goes for obligations as well as hobbies. If I want to read, it needs to be on the schedule. If I want to work out, it needs to be on the schedule. If I want to write, it needs to be on the schedule.

This approach will allow me to focus on one thing at a time without worrying about all the things I'm not doing. Rather than try to keep track of everything on my own, in my head, I'll be able to look at my schedule and know what I should be working on right now.

It will take much experimenting and tweaking, but it needs to happen. It's the only way I'm going to be able to do all of these things well.

As summer draws to a close, it's time to kick things into high gear. It's time to come up with a plan and execute it. It's time to take things to the next level. Stay tuned.

P.S. If you're on, you can find me there as—surprise—andrewmarvin.

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The Next Me

Since I got my new job, I've been thinking a lot about the future and what it may have in store. There's no way to really know, but picturing what your life might be like in six months or a year can be pretty exciting. (Keeping expectations in check, of course.)

I finished my grad school coursework in May of last year. The fifteen months I spent working (and not working) on my thesis were relaxing, frightening, and uncertain all at the same time. Even though I wasn't taking any classes, I still felt tethered to academia via my thesis, which caused me to feel unmotivated about finding a job, relocating, or whatever the next step was supposed to be.

Now that this wandering phase has reached its conclusion, and I'm on the brink of the next era, I'm trying to imagine what it's all going to look like in full effect. Early twenties Andrew was one version, and now it's time for an upgrade.

Who am I going to be next?

Fortunately, I like everything I see. In the next year, I'm going to be:

  • An English teacher
  • A martial arts instructor
  • A yoga teacher in training
  • A writer
  • A podcaster
  • A bass player

I feel incredibly lucky to be able to say that these are all things I adore. I can now visualize a future where I make a living doing things I love. Up to this point, it's just been "karate instructor", but in a few weeks, it'll also be "English teacher". After I complete the training (it's a 200-hour program), I'll be able to make a little side income teaching yoga. I will continue to write QLE and explore new avenues for making the site even more useful. I will continue to record podcasts that are enjoyable and/or helpful. And I will continue to play bass with my excellent bandmates, and maybe we'll pick up some paying gigs down the road.

Not bad at all.

Having a clearer vision of my future feels good; it's a relief, no doubt about it. But I can't completely regret the fifteen months I spent wandering and thinking as I wrote (and didn't write) my thesis. If I had done something differently during that time, it may have lead me down a different path, one without so many of the things I love to do.

While those fifteen months were filled with a great deal of fear, I kept reminding myself that I wasn't going to die.

Sometimes you have to spend a lot of time doing what looks like nothing to figure out what the next something is going to be.

As my late grandmother was fond of saying, "Everything will fall into place."


Have a spectacular weekend, everyone.

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The Next Era

All of a sudden, my August has exploded with busyness.

After ZenGeek's money episode, with no returns coming in from my big boy job applications, I decided to pick up more hours at karate. The next day (naturally), I got an email asking if I'd like to interview for an adjunct position at a community college. I interviewed yesterday, and now I'm going to be teaching English composition in the fall. Out of nowhere!

I'm excited about the job. I love talking about writing, and the additional income stream will be a welcome relief. But I also feel heavier, weighed down with the added responsibility. On the ride home alone I thought of eight different tasks to add to my to-do list.

My work experience has fluctuated over the years. I've worked two jobs—9 AM to 3 PM and 4 PM to 9 PM—and been utterly exhausted, but financially stable. I've also worked very little, far from what could even be considered part-time, and had lots of time to do what I love and be financially stressed out all the time.

The key, of course, is balance. Having nothing to do but record podcasts, jam with your bandmates, write blog posts, and do yoga and karate is great, but it's not the most lucrative lifestyle. On the other hand, working two jobs while trying to find time to fit in the things that make you happy isn't the most relaxing way to live.

But I shall persevere.

Life is comprised of different eras. Being a kid leads to high school, which leads to college, which leads to grad school, which leads to (in my case) wandering, which leads to employment. Each of these eras brings with it new people, places, and experiences, all of which are part of the overall journey.

Whenever we transition to a new era, things can seem overwhelming. This is because of uncertainty and unfamiliarity. Things are different than they were before. We're surrounded by strangers, we don't know where we are, and we might be doing something we've never done before. It's scary. But with time, we settle into the next era, and it becomes the new normal.

Since finishing graduate school, the path before me has been cloudy and uncertain. Every day was plagued by a small, but persistent, voice asking, what are you going to do next? I didn't have an answer for a long time, so having some structure with this new job will be a positive change. I don't know how it will go or what it will lead to. I don't know who I'm going to meet or what I'm going to learn.

I do know that QLE will continue unabated, and I do know that whatever happens will work out for the best. One way or another. As always.

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

Exhale Everything You Don't Need

Note from Andrew: I wrote this essay many months ago as a contribution to an ebook that has yet to come to fruition. It was originally titled Mind Over Desk. I like it and felt it was time to share. Enjoy.

The Breath

In yoga, we are taught the importance of breath. The breath is everything. It isn't yoga without breath.

The inhale nourishes us. It is cool, refreshing, and empowering. It fills us with strength and calm.

The exhale cleanses us. It releases pain, anxiety, and other threats to our inner peace.

Inhale, and exhale. It repeats endlessly throughout the practice.

"Inhale fully... Exhale everything you don't need."

It was in that moment—upon hearing my teacher's words with sweat pouring down my face and my muscles burning gloriously—that I recognized the breath as the perfect metaphor for minimalism.

"Exhale everything you don't need."

The Problem with Minimalism

The problem with minimalism is that it too often becomes its own insidious distraction.

It sounds paradoxical. What could be more productive than getting rid of distractions? Well, I appreciate an empty desk as much as the next guy, but when we spend more time devising minimal work environments than making great stuff, it's time to step back and reevaluate.

Distraction-free is lovely, but it should never prevent us from doing the work. You are not a writer if you can only write under certain conditions, i.e. only with an empty desk, and a black Pilot G-2 0.38mm, and a specific brand of notebook. Or, only with Microsoft Word, Byword, or BBEdit.

A writer writes—anytime, anywhere, with anything.

The truth is, your desk doesn't matter. Your pen doesn't matter. Your text editor doesn't matter. What matters is your work and the amazing things you create.

If you like a clean workspace, then do it. If you like piles of paper, then please, enjoy. If you like having a stapler on your desk at all times, go for it. These things are not what minimalism is about.

Well, then what IS minimalism about?

Go back to the breath.

Mental Minimalism

In yoga, the breath allows us to stay calm, even when we're uncomfortable. So it is with minimalism.

Minimalism is about the elimination of unnecessary things, yes. But more importantly, it is about the elimination of unnecessary thoughts.

What matters more than your ability to throw out clutter is your ability to let go of the needless intangibles. The emotions, fears, and thoughts that make your mind a cluttered and unproductive place.

I spend a lot of time pursuing inner peace. What's that mean? Inner peace is the ideal state of being. It's the goal. It's what everyone wants. Inner peace means being totally content, physically, mentally, emotionally. You have no worries. You have no wants, needs, or desires. You have no fears. True inner peace is a place of enlightenment.

Minimalism—or more precisely, mental minimalism—is the way there.

Eliminate Needless Thoughts

In the same way a clean desk may enable us to do great work, a clear mind allows us to live great lives. We become calmer, happier, and more productive. A mind free of unhealthy thoughts is a mind at peace.

But, eliminating needless thoughts is considerably more difficult than throwing out old coffee cups. To establish a free mind—and thus, our inner peace— we must first learn to let go.

  • Let go of the need to control. To achieve mental minimalism, you must understand one crucial fact: you have control over nothing and no one in this world. The only thing you can control is your mind and how it deals with what happens to you.

  • Let go of expectations. Expectations are attachments to outcomes, and they are a guaranteed way to disappointment. When something you believe turns out not to be true, the pain can be excruciating. Learn to manage your expectations, and you will be pleasantly surprised.

  • Let go of unnecessary relationships. Life is too short to waste on people who mean nothing to you. Always ask yourself, "What does this person contribute to my life?" If the answer is anything less than positive, let them go. It will free up more time for those who matter.

  • Let go of unnecessary things. Yes, the removal of needless objects is valuable, but only in its capacity to release pressures from your mind. The more things you have, the more things you need to store, fix, maintain, and keep track of. But, when something in your life is useful or beautiful, you will feel no guilt over its presence.

Exhale Everything You Don't Need

Implementing these principles is a lifelong endeavor. Only a truly enlightened individual can experience inner peace all the time. For the rest of us, inner peace comes in the form of brief, blissful moments when, for a few seconds, we are completely content with who we are.

The modern world is more than happy to supply us with an endless amount of mental clutter. We fear, worry, stress, and agonize over a great many things, none of which are under our direct control.

What we can and must learn to control are our minds. By eliminating needless thoughts, we release our minds from toxic ideas that threaten our inner peace, just as the breath cleanses and nourishes the body.

What we seek is a minimalism of the mind. Just as there can be no creation on a desk buried under clutter, there can be no inner peace in a mind filled with anxieties.

Clear off the clutter, and you will find space. Let go of needless thoughts, and you will free your mind to discover who you are and what truly matters.

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

"What Do You Care?"

Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.
-Lao Tzu

I've been obsessed with Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee ever since Shawn Blanc linked to it a couple of weeks ago.

The premise is that Jerry Seinfeld borrows a classic, old car and picks up one of his comedian friends for coffee. Their conversation is recorded and edited into a fifteen-minute film.

One of my favorite moments is in episode one when Larry David suggests that his picky eating was one of the reasons his marriage ended:

Larry David: I stopped drinking coffee, and she hated it. I said, "What do you care?" I had tea in the cup. She said, "Well we can't even share coffee in the morning anymore." I said, "But there's something in my cup! You can't see what's in my cup. I'm still sipping! There's still steam coming out of it! What's the difference?!"

Jerry Seinfeld: I know. I ordered soup the other day. Somebody said, "That's all you're gonna get?" What the hell do you care?

I don't mean to sound rude, but I think they have a point. Why do we care? Sometimes there's a good reason, but many times there isn't.

Let's use the tea example.

When we care about what someone else is drinking, we are attaching some small part of our inner peace to that person and their actions. Because we can't control that person or what they drink, we risk feeling discontent when they don't act in the way we've expected them to.

We allow ourselves to be affected by other people like this all the time. It's a perfectly natural, human thing. Of course we should care about what our loved ones think. But when it comes to minutia—like what someone's drinking—I can't see any worthwhile reason to care.

Ask yourself, "How does this person's decision affect me?"

If the answer is that it doesn't, that's great. Let go, and become a little bit more free.

If the answer is something negative, ask yourself why. Is it a good reason, or is it kind of silly?

In either case, the good news is that, while you have no control over the other person, you do have control over you, which allows you to free yourself as long as you choose to do so.

Merlin Mann came up with a terrific response to these situations on Back to Work. When faced with something silly—perhaps even something serious—that has a negative effect on you, simply say to yourself:

I've chosen not to let it bother me.

By acknowledging the fact that you cannot control anything other than yourself and how you react to what goes on around you, you enable yourself to rise above whatever it was that was disturbing your inner peace.

Let them drink tea. Let them order soup. Everything will be alright. Trust me. There are more important things to worry about.

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

Self-Reliance, Self-Investment

One week into my Awesome 30-Day Push-up Challenge, and I'm ahead of schedule. My arms are a bit sore, but I like to think it counterbalances the four hours I spent at the Charlestown Seafood Festival yesterday.

Focusing on a single goal each month has made for a very motivating year. There's something to the act of zeroing in on one idea that keeps my spirits up. Even if I have a bad day, I can do my 322 push-ups and feel good about it.

It's a constant in a world of things I cannot control.

I experience a similar feeling during National Novel Writing Month, a global movement in which thousands of people attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. It's a crazy goal, but it gives you something to hold onto, something to be excited about. I remember having terrible days at work, but finding comfort in the fact that my novel—my characters, my world, my creation—was at home waiting for me.

Making a goal tangible is a huge help. In June and July when my habits were more abstract, I had a harder time sticking to them and staying focused. I felt listless, like I was floating, because I wasn't working with anything concrete. The mind wanders. 50,000 words or 10,000 push-ups, on the other hand, are easy to track. The numbers don't lie.

This realization has been particularly useful to me as a post-graduate. When you're in college, your classes are the primary focus. Graduation is the big, overarching goal. There's a sense of progression as you pass classes and move closer to your degree.

But when you graduate, and there are no more classes, that overarching motivator disappears. For many, the goal of a college degree gets replaced by a job and/or career, but the transition isn't always seamless. Success as an adult doesn't involve going to class over and over until you're done. It requires forging your own path through self-reliance and self-investment.

Committing to the Awesome 30-Day Push-up Challenge has been an anchor for my happiness this month. I know that even if everything else goes wrong, at least I can look back knowing this was the month I did 10,000 push-ups. I'm the only person holding myself accountable, and I'm doing something for myself.

From a Buddhist perspective, attaching my happiness to a push-up challenge may seem unwise. Once the challenge is over, then what? Do I just continue to come up with new challenges ad infinitum, never satisfied, never content?

Well, yes.

See, I'm not actually attaching my happiness to push-ups. I'm attaching my happiness to the betterment of myself. Whether that's doing 10,000 push-ups or writing 50,000 words, having a goal allows me to continually move forward because I have something to move toward.

In the post-college era, it's easy to drift along waiting for someone to hand you your dream job or even just tell you what to do next. But drifting is a trap of passivity. Success never happens that way. That's why self-reliance and self-investment are invaluable tools.

When we take an active interest in ourselves, we take responsibility for our own sense of happiness, of getting better, of becoming who we are.

You are the most reliable person in your life.

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

Saying Yes to Scary Things

My advisor emailed me to ask if I'd like to give a guest lecture on Middle English lyrics to his Medieval Literature classes in the fall.


Being asked to do something like that is of course an honor and privilege, but it also couldn't be more frightening. Despite the fact that I've written over 20,000 words on the Middle English lyric, in some ways I don't think I could feel less qualified.

But how can I say no to such an opportunity?

Imagine if your favorite musician of all time asked you to join him onstage and jam in concert. Personally, would I vomit? Yes. But you can't say no to that! That's a once in a lifetime opportunity. Saying no may immediately take care of my anxiety and nervousness, but I can only imagine how I would feel afterward, knowing the opportunity is gone forever.

I'm not saying giving a lecture on Middle English lyric poetry is like jamming with Nathan Watts or Victor Wooten, but there's something important about saying yes to scary things.

Merlin Mann guested on Episode 001 of the CMD+SPACE Podcast this week, and it's a fantastic interview that goes deep into the story behind Merlin's online endeavors. While listening to the episode, I was reminded of his Inbox Zero mission statement:

Make the time to be scared of more interesting things.

And that's what it's all about. Giving a lecture is scary. Starting a podcast is scary. Building a website and putting your writing out there is scary. Trying to make a living without a "real job" is scary.

But these are the things that I want to be scared about.

I want to be good enough that my advisor asks me to speak to his class. I want to do podcasts that people love. I want to write things that help them and help me. Being scared of these things sounds infinitely better than being stressed out over a big meeting or a crazed supervisor.

The work I love is unconventional. It's not safe. It's not guaranteed to succeed. It's scary.

But that's what makes it interesting. And that's why I say yes to it.

Have a glorious weekend!

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

Introducing QLE 2.0

Today, I'm pleased to reveal version 2.0 of Quarter-Life Enlightenment.

QLE has always been lovingly powered by Squarespace. Over the years, I've made many attempts on many platforms to build an online presence, all of which ended in frustration and abandonment. Squarespace is the only service that allowed me to create a website that looked exactly the way I wanted. The ease and fun of building QLE 1.0 encouraged me to populate it with my own writing. I found my place. No other platform has helped me build something beautiful and then gotten out of the way so that I could do the work I love.

QLE 2.0 is built using Squarespace 6, which was recently unveiled as a completely new product independent from the already awesome Squarespace 5. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that it's an incredible service. Squarespace 6 is powerful, gorgeous, and fun to use. I recommend it to anyone looking to build a professional online presence.

You'll notice a few changes in QLE 2.0:

  • An all-new design, courtesy of Squarespace 6's wonderful templates.
  • The site title is now set in Hero. Headers are set in Bitter. Body text is in Open Sans. Please note that fonts are subject to change.
  • The Start Here, Who?, and Contact pages from QLE 1.0 have all been merged into the Colophon.
  • The ZenGeek Podcast has its own link in the navigation bar.
  • Metadata, including dates, categories, and sharing options, has been moved to the bottom of each post.
  • You can now Like posts on QLE. Simply click the little heart icon in the bottom left corner of a post. Try it. It's fun. You'll giggle.
  • The sidebar is now on the left and has been updated to include the push-up counter for August. You'll also find the QLE VIP Mailing List sign-up form there, followed by links to me elsewhere on the Internet.
  • The search bar is now at the bottom of the page.
  • Squarespace 6 supports external linking. Because of this functionality, I'll be featuring the occasional link to something I consider worth your time. Link posts will be denoted by a "»" symbol to indicate that clicking will take you away from the site.
  • The site's favicon will remain unchanged for the time being in memory of QLE 1.0 and until I make a new one.
  • Squarespace 6 features ultra-fancy responsive design. Be sure to visit on your mobile devices.

As with any new release, we're not without a few rough edges, and I'll be ironing those out in the coming days. If you see anything broken or offensive, please let me know.

I hope you enjoy the new redesign, and as always, thank you for reading.

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

The Awesome 30-Day Push-Up Challenge

It's August, and that means it's time for another entry in the Year of the Habit. (See previous entries in the series here.)

July was a pretty good month. The "Looking Outward" goal was a worthwhile experiment, albeit difficult to quantify. It's something I still need to work on, but I think I'm getting better. It's all about the mindfulness.

Now for something completely different:

I want to do 10,000 push-ups in August.

That's a lot of flipping push-ups.


Why do I want to do 10,000 push-ups?

  1. Because I've been lazy in the working out department lately.
  2. Because it's a quantifiable goal, and I feel like I've been copping out with the intangible habits this summer.
  3. Because push-ups are one of the best exercises ever.
  4. Because it's going to be really freaking hard, and achieving it would be ridiculous and awesome.
  5. Why not?

So, here's the plan.

Obviously, I'm not going to do all 10,000 push-ups at once. Therefore, push-ups can be done any time, anywhere.

10,000 push-ups divided by 31 days equals 322.58 push-ups per day.

That's 6.45 sets of 50 push-ups per day.

Or 9.77 sets of 33 push-ups per day.

Or 12.9 sets of 25 push-ups per day.

Or 25 push-ups per hour for twelve hours.

Or whatever's your pleasure.

Fifty has become my standard set, so I'm going to shoot for seven sets of fifty every day. That will give me a slight, mostly negligible buffer.

I'll be adding a counter to the sidebar on so you folks can keep an eye on me and my increasingly sore arms. I'll also be logging all of my push-ups on Fitocracy (see my review here).

I think that's all there is to it. Care to join me?

Time's up... LET'S DO THIS.

(P.S. Yes, my thesis is done! Just in time. Stay tuned for a big post about it in the near future.)

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

Sitting on the Floor of an Empty Room

I'm spending a few days at my dad's house while he's away on business. I didn't bring very much with me: Mac. iDevices. Kindle. Toothbrush.

As I write this, I'm sitting on the floor of my old living room. I took my desk with me when I moved out.

There's something I love about sitting on the floor of an empty room. Just me, my computer, and a few other possessions. It has a romantic quality to it. I'm alone with only my thoughts.

But at the same time, I'm also in so much company. My thoughts are infinite, and even though they exist only in my head, they never abandon me. I'm not quite as alone as I thought.

Likewise, all that's in front of me is my MacBook Pro, but this 15" screen is a window into the vast expanses of the Internet. I can read about anything, learn about anything. I can listen to music. I can write. What more do I need?

Sitting here on the floor of an empty room reminds me that a lack of physical things does not equate to a lack of meaning. In fact, I'd argue that it augments my awareness, and subsequently, my ability to experience and create meaning. I'm not distracted by stuff, so my thoughts come through much clearer. It's quiet. My perception is heightened. I notice the air and the crickets chirping. I'm more aware of my emotions and why I might be experiencing them.

If I was surrounded and distracted by stuff, there would be no room for all that.

When we remove stuff, we create space, and we become better equipped to fill that space with meaning.

An empty room is, in some ways, the most hospitable.

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

Some Thoughts on Introverts

I adore this list of Seven Things Extroverts Should Know About Their Introverted Friends, which M.G. Siegler linked to over the weekend:

  1. We don't need alone time because we don't like you. We need alone time because we need alone time. Don't take it personally.
  2. We aren't judging anyone when we sit quietly. We're just sitting quietly, probably enjoying watching extroverts in action.
  3. If we say we're having fun, we're having fun, even though it might not look that way to you.
  4. If we leave early, it's not because we're party poopers. We're just pooped. Socializing takes a lot out of us.
  5. If you want to hear what we have to say, give us time to say it. We don't fight to be heard over other people. We just clam up.
  6. We're not lonely, we're choosy. And we're loyal to friends who don't try to make us over into extroverts.
  7. Anything but the telephone.

When I find myself in the company of talkative people, I find it difficult to do anything other than listen. I literally cannot come up with anything to say, and I'm often rendered speechless anyway watching people who can just talk and talk and talk and talk. I don't know how they do it.

I strongly dislike being asked if I'm having fun or if I'm OK just because I'm leaning against a wall or sitting quietly by myself. I'm perfectly content observing the room. Really. The act of asking me if I'm OK—and thereby calling attention to my introversion and inadvertently making me feel bad that I'm not telling my latest joke or playing charades—is what makes me not OK. Now I'm uncomfortable.

Folks don't realize how challenging it is to be a quiet person in a room full of talkative strangers. The introvert has to rise to the environment's level of in-your-face friendliness. That's the expectation. It's never the other way around. An introvert can't make everyone sit quietly and read a book.

We don't dislike people. We just feel outnumbered easily. We prefer to go one-on-one.

It's not your fault. We introverts are complicated creatures. And we are selective. Intensely loyal to those who do not try to change who we are.

Getting to know an introvert requires more of an investment—we don't let just anyone in—but there are returns to be had. I like to think it's worth it.

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

QLE's Greatest Hits: Year One

As promised, today I inflict upon you a list of some of my favorite posts from QLE's first year. They may not be the best, but these are the articles of which I have the fondest memories. However, I make no guarantees as to their quality, relevance, or literary merit.

They are presented in chronological order, so it's my hope that you'll be able to read some articles you may have missed the first time around.

There are a lot of them, which is kind of pompous, but you can write quite a bit in a year.

Have an awesome weekend, everyone. See you Monday.

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

QLE Turns One

Three hundred and sixty-five days ago, I published my first post on, a website no one knew existed. Just one tiny little link. A block quote with barely a sentence of commentary.

But it was a start.

Since that day, I've posted three hundred and fifty-five times, including two hundred original articles.

When I started the site — my first real attempt at a professional online presence — I wasn't sure I could do it. I thought I'd post enthusiastically for a few days, maybe even a couple of weeks, and then abandon it like I had so many other blogging platforms. I thought no one would read. Who could possibly care about what I had to say? I was scared. Maybe it would be better to just keep the daydream alive...

But I started anyway.

I didn't want to publicly announce the site with nothing substantial to read, so I opted to write privately for a month, without telling anybody. I took comfort in the solitude, and even though I knew no one was reading, I experienced the thrill of hitting Publish on things I was proud of.

I emailed Patrick Rhone and Shawn Blanc back in those early days, and I received thoughtful, compassionate responses from both of them. Their encouragement was instrumental in QLE's formative moments, and I'm not sure the site would still be around had they replied differently or not at all. I thank them for that.

One month turned into two or three, but I eventually pulled back the curtain, letting in a few sets of eyes, and then a few more, and a few more. And then suddenly, it was a real thing. I had a website, and even a reader or two.

Here I am, a year later.

Writing QLE for the past year has been one of the most rewarding projects I've ever undertaken, and I'm proud to say that knowing it has been a complete labor of love, unmotivated by page views or click throughs.

My primary focus has been on building relationships. To establish myself as someone worth reading, someone worth knowing. To be one of the good guys. Though the Internet remains as vast and expansive as ever, I've been privileged to get to know some of its most brilliant individuals. Some I look up to as role models, some I confide in and collaborate with as peers, and all of whom I respect and admire.

Here are some of my proudest moments from my first year as a person of the Internet:

All of these accomplishments would not have happened if I hadn't decided to hit Publish three hundred and sixty-five days ago. And so while my little corner of the Internet is just that — a little corner of the Internet — I'm proud to call it my own, and I'm thankful that it has allowed me to meet such amazing human beings.

Thank you all for reading, and special thanks to all of you whom I've gotten to know in the past year. I look forward to making QLE even better in its second year, and I hope you'll join me.

Tomorrow, I'll be posting a list of some of my personal favorite QLE articles. If you have any suggestions, please do let me know.

All the best,

Stop Googling Lyrics with Strophes

When given the choice between a native app and a web app, I will invariably choose the former. I don't see the appeal of opening my browser, navigating to a website, and logging in instead of just tapping an icon on iOS or launching an app with Alfred in OS X. Native apps reduce friction.

Take Twitter, for example. I very rarely use because I can launch Tweetbot in two seconds with a tap or keystroke. Logging into is cumbersome by comparison.

However, there is one task for which I've always had to rely on my browser, and that's searching for lyrics.

I love music, so I look up lyrics on a regular basis. Fortunately, Alfred removes considerable friction from this task: ⌘ + Space to bring up Alfred, type "[name of song] lyrics", hit Enter, and boom — instant Google search.

But, I still have to wait for my browser to open, and then I have to click on one of the search results. And really, that's way to much work for 2012.

Enter Strophes.

Strophes is a lyric reader for your Mac.

Why do you need this? Because it loads the lyrics automatically. That's right; no searching required.

Open Strophes, and the lyrics to whatever song is playing in iTunes, Rdio, Spotify, or Radium will automatically be displayed. Changing the song changes the lyric. You don't have to do a thing. If Strophes can't find lyrics, you can click a button to search Google instead. You can also search for lyrics within the app, and it offers bios for the artist you're listening to.

Strophes has a few preferences, including three themes, the ability to translate lyrics into five languages, and a Safari extension you can use to display lyrics for YouTube videos. The selection of typefaces is poor (Noteworthy, Bradley Hand ITC TT, and — fortunately — Helvetica), but I'm willing to overlook it because of just how handy Strophes is.

Launching the app is faster than searching Google, and if you frequently find yourself looking up lyrics, you'll love Strophes.

See Federico Viticci's review for more.

Get Strophes for $4.99 on the Mac App Store.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

Not Eating Cookies is Harder When You're Tired

If you read the site yesterday, you know all about my awesome Saturday. What you probably don't know is that when I got home at almost three in the morning, I enjoyed a package of Chewy Chips Ahoy! and some Phish Food courtesy of Messrs. Ben & Jerry.

Which is ridiculous, given the amount of food I consumed throughout the day.

But as I sat there on the couch — possibly making little ice cream cookie sandwiches — I realized that the reason I couldn't help myself was because I was so incredibly exhausted.

I have very little willpower when I'm exhausted.

I could have fallen asleep immediately had I just gone upstairs. But my sleep-deprived brain decided that cookies and ice cream sounded like a much better plan, and I was powerless to argue. I knew it was a terrible idea, but I literally didn't have the strength to say no to myself.

Of course, this speaks to the importance of sleep, but there's also a bit more to it.

Here's an article by Tony Schwartz called "The Only Way to Get Important Things Done":

It turns out we each have one reservoir of will and discipline, and it gets progressively depleted by any act of conscious self-regulation. In other words, if you spend energy trying to resist a fragrant chocolate chip cookie, you'll have less energy left over to solve a difficult problem. Will and discipline decline inexorably as the day wears on.

"Acts of choice," the brilliant researcher Roy Baumeister and his colleagues have concluded, "draw on the same limited resource used for self-control." That's especially so in a world filled more than ever with potential temptations, distractions and sources of immediate gratification.

Via Shawn Blanc

So not only are we less equipped to make good decisions when we're tired, we're less equipped to make good decisions after we've already made a bunch of decisions. And because those two variables tend to coincide at the end of the day, it's no wonder the glow of the refrigerator always seems most tempting after midnight.

The solution?

Get your sleep, and automate as many decisions as possible so you don't have to think about them anymore.

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.