It's Just Stuff

Shawn Blanc reminds us that it’s just stuff:

Instead, look at how he (or she) treats his family. What is his character like? Look at his relationships and his beliefs and how he spends his time. These things — the metaphysical, the intangible — they are the true extension of the soul.

I Am My Settings

Devir Kahan on the issue of choice and stress:

There is a certain bliss when you don’t have to make a choice. Or more specifically, when a choice is made for you. Most all of our stress comes from having to make choices, so why not take some of that stress away? Well, because having choices made for us can result in some bad choices, and ones we don’t agree with. I need to be able to choose and configure certain things just how I like them.

I totally agree. Choice is a source of stress, perhaps not in a harmful way, but in a this-is-making-me-hesitate sort of way. But really that hesitation evidences who and what I am, which is awesomely nerdy.

When it comes to app settings, I’m usually pretty good with the “set it and forget it” strategy. In fact, the first thing I usually do upon installing a new app is go through its preferences, tweaking them as I see fit. Once the app is configured to my liking, I don’t revisit the settings unless additional preferences are added via an update. Something like buying a stick of deodorant, however, can take me upwards of ten minutes, even though it doesn’t matter at all which scent I choose. (Must be the fear of smelling like the wrong kind of tree.)

As a nerd, I like to fiddle. I like settings and preferences. Like Devir says, customization allows me to make things my own. People may complain about how iOS’s closed system isn’t customizable like Android’s in the sense that you can’t change how the icons or the operating system looks. But I feel my iPhone is so uniquely my iPhone because of the apps that reside on my home screen, the apps I’ve chosen to put there. These apps, with their respective qualities, values, and features, define me. OmniFocus represents my love for GTD; Twitterrific my love for simplicity; Reeder my love for quality writing; Instacast my love for nerdy podcasts; Music my love for eclectic artists; Notesy my love for capturing random thoughts and ideas.

I guess my point is that my passion for tinkering — for making little choices — allows me to arrive at a place that suits me best. My former girlfriend once made a comment while I was driving, something along the lines of, “There’s a reason for everything you do, isn’t there?” And yes, that’s exactly it. There’s a reason why I keep my sunglasses in the overhead compartment in my car instead of in my center console. There’s a reason why I use a cassette adapter to listen to my iPod, rather than an FM transmitter. There’s a reason why Reeder is on my home screen, but Instapaper isn’t, even though I love both.

The reason is I’ve tried — or at least considered — the alternatives and, in doing so, have determined what’s best for me. Some people can’t be bothered with changing fonts or scrolling through settings, but for me, those few minutes are well spent because they ultimately allow me to remove friction from my experience. Choice is a wonderful thing because it gives me control. As long as the choices don’t overwhelm and paralyze me (as in the case of deodorant), I find joy in making these little decisions; they’re a product of my identity.

Six Life Focuses

Colin Wright explains his six life focuses:

To that end, I aim to make sure that I’m always on the path to greater self-reliance, and as a result, self-confidence, so that other people and things in my life can be happy additions — rather than desperately sought-after saviors — to my lifestyle.

I share all six.

Filling the Void

A useful post from Tim Ferriss on learning, service, and karma:

Service isn’t limited to saving lives or the environment. It can also improve life. If you are a musician and put a smile on the faces of thousands or millions, I view that as service. If you are a mentor and change the life of one child for the better, the world has been improved. Improving the quality of life in the world is in no fashion inferior to adding more lives.

Service is an attitude.


I’ve been struggling lately with the concept of having multiple identities and not knowing which should be my primary identity.

Like most people, I have several big interests that make up who I am. Writing is one, martial arts is another, and so is music and bass playing. Depending on the time of day, I might say any one of those is my favorite. There are times when I’m so obsessed with writing, but just as often I find myself frustrated and with nothing to say. Likewise, there are times when I adore playing my bass, and there are times when the music escapes me.

Sometimes I wish I could just do one thing and get really, really great at it. Sometimes I wish I could practice playing bass all day, every day. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have anything to do but write this website. Sometimes I wish all I needed to focus on was my martial arts training.

I got to work out with a champion tournament fighter today, and I found myself thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if martial arts was my life?”. I would love to be able to work out every day and train without having to worry about anything else. But tomorrow, I’ll probably wish I didn’t have to work so I could write. And the next day, I’ll probably want to play my bass for eight hours.

Part of this struggle comes from only having so many hours in the day. I want to be awesome, and I feel to truly master any of these skills, I’d have to fully immerse myself in only one of them. If I want to be a world class bass player, I need to play every day. If I want to be a respected writer, I need to write every day. If I want to be a certain caliber of martial artist, I need to train every day.

I guess what it comes down to is trying to figure out who I want to be for the rest of my life. I’m finishing my formal education and looking for what’s next. Do I want to be Andrew Marvin the Writer, the Bass Player, or the Black Belt? Or something else? I suppose I’ll always be all three, but which do I want to become known for? Then again, who says I have to choose?

So goes the quarter-life crisis, I suppose.

James Shelley: Success

James Shelley on Success:

Herein lies the culmination of our review: “success” is an illusion. Granted, the human experience is full of tantalizing tokens, symbols and rituals to represent this apparently highly-sought status. But every diploma, certification, award, medal, pay-grade promotion and recognition is simply another construct of this brilliantly (and humanly) crafted mythology.

The whole thing is superb.

Run Your Own Race

Seth Godin on running your own race:

If you’re going to count on the competition to bring out your best work, you’ve surrendered control over your most important asset. Real achievement comes from racing ahead when no one else sees a path—and holding back when the rush isn’t going where you want to go.


Patrick Rhone, with a splendid post on Vessels, Names, and Frames:

The vessels we create often determine the things that contain them. Also, changing the vessel can change our perception and our experience and what we place in them. Even the name of the vessel can make such determinations.

The same is true of the way we frame ourselves.

I don’t consider myself a blogger because when I think of blogs, I tend to think of people posting about the sandwich they had for lunch. I want to be taken seriously, and I want this site to be taken seriously, and as such, I consider myself a writer. That’s not to say there aren’t serious, professional bloggers out there, but when I think of myself as a writer, I feel more confident about my abilities. I take myself more seriously.

I can’t control how others perceive me, but I can control how I perceive myself.

The Simplicity of Self

I love this idea of Triangular Focus by Everett Bogue:

These three things are important to me:

  1. Writing (and publishing)
  2. Yoga
  3. Eating (well)


Whenever I’m presented with something outside these three, I have to ask myself: does this take me towards these goals, or away from them?

I talk about simplicity a lot on this website, but Everett’s point is one that’s often overlooked. I think of it as the simplicity of self.

Just as it’s impossible to read everything, to see everything, to do everything, it’s also impossible to be everything.

Everett has identified the three things most important to him, and as a result, he can pour himself completely into each of them.

When I was little, I wanted to be an archaeologist. Then, I wanted to be a karate instructor. Then, I wanted to be a famous bass player. Then, I wanted to be a student affairs professional. Now, I want to be a writer. It’s natural for these dreams to change over time, but eventually I have to figure out what’s going to define me for the rest of my life. What do I care about most?

I would still love to be a famous bass player, but I’ve started to accept that that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen, of course. If I really set my mind to it and put the hours in, I could probably make it happen. So, perhaps more accurately, I’ve decided not to become a famous bass player. Luckily, that doesn’t mean I have to give up bass playing. In fact, I still play every day. Bass will always be a passion of mine, but it’s one that’s been relegated to a lifelong hobby, rather than a potential career path.

Being everything at once is like trying to be everywhere at once; it’s exhausting and, ultimately, impossible. Think of it as quality versus quantity. Do I want to be a decent bass player, and a passable writer, and a part-time karate instructor all in one? Or would I rather spend my time and energy focusing on being the best I can possibly be at one important thing?

The more identities you have, the less attention each receives. It’s like being involved in seven different clubs in school. Can you become, say, president of all seven clubs and still perform to the best of your ability at all times? I’m sure that sounds doable for some people, and I commend these individuals for their ambition and superhuman abilities.

But for me, I’d rather live a calmer and more focused life. Looking at Everett’s three things, I see they’re not much different than my own: writing, exercise, and diet. These are the things I care about.

If, at this time in my life, my day consisted of eating well, exercising, and writing about things I love on this website, I don’t think I’d be able to imagine a better existence.