Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Question of Why: A Blog with Purpose

Why do I do what I do? I have been asking this of myself before approaching any meaningful labor over the last few weeks.

My initial motivation for asking “why” stems from watching Simon Sinek’s TedTalk, How great leaders inspire action. I was further motivated in reading a timely post by Scott Dinsmore, who apparently met Sinek and came away inspired to reinforce his revolutionary path to personal freedom. On with the chain reaction….

If you watch Sinek’s talk, you will grasp his basic message: By understanding and conveying why (we do what we do), we inspire action. Action on the part of our audience, our customers, whoever it is we intend to pull into our cause. In short, this is what great leaders do. Inspiring leaders start with why.

This post is dedicated to the question of why, specifically as it pertains to my blog. I could obviously choose to explore other current areas of my life (e.g., work or triathlon training), but will save those for another day. I’ve been curious to understand the value of blogging anyhow; hence, the focus for this exercise.

(Photo: Mike Licht)

Now that I have identified my activity, let’s get on with it. Why do I publish this blog?

1. To improve my writing—It’s not easy for me to write; it never has been. It takes time to post content of quality. It takes thoughtfulness and consideration of a readership, both regular and potential. But I enjoy it. There is a strong sense of continual improvement in writing that is gratifying to me.

I believe that effective written communication is as essential as ever before. Although diluted perhaps in the digital era, the importance of writing is not gone. Nor is it just for non-business types: one read-through of Jaime Dimon’s latest letter to J.P. Morgan's shareholders (of which I am not) provides proof to that end.

Anne Lamott, author of the superb book on writing, Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, writes, "If you are a writer, or want to be a writer, this is how you spend your days – listening, observing, storing things away, making your isolation pay off. You take home all you've taken in, all that you've overheard, and you turn it into gold. (Or at least you try.)" Readers, this is true.

2. To chronicle life events—Weblogs, like so many things in life, are me-focused by nature, and mine is no exception. If I don't watch myself, my posts can quickly become “dear diary” sessions.

Although I'm fortunate to have had many unique experiences in my life, through travel and curious living and whatnot, I’ve never been one to snap a lot of photos, usually relying on memory to carry worthy moments into perpetuity.  This blog, however, is the place to not only capture experiences, but also enhance them—a definite improvement upon my memory! Since kicking off FMOC in 2009, I've shared roughly 40 entries.

3. To discover and create—I’m always willing to try new things, and this blog is an example of that willingness. Blogging has become my creative outlet, just as yours might be playing the banjo or painting a picture. The process of observation and regurgitation, although rigorous at times, is rewarding to me.

4. To add color to my corner—FMOC covers a miscellany of topics. I'd like to think that I’m performing  an act of greater goodness with it, but come on, that's a mighty bite to chew. This blog is for me. It is about making my little corner of the universe more fun and interesting. If I can provide content which is relevant to others now and again, that's time well spent. Inspirational... well, that's a bonus.

5. To inspire and teach—This is my reach: if I can give people ways to solve problems, to think creatively, or in the case of this post, to get inspired into action, I've gotten all I want and more from FMOC.

Here's the deal: I want to improve my ability to convey my experiences and perspectives so that they can be useful to others. I admire people who clearly communicate subjects, no matter the audience. It's a gift that few have.

I have grown (if I may be the judge) in my ability to write. FMOC is living proof. I'm not a writer, but in a sense, I'm becoming one. My hope is that eventually, in a way not yet visualized, this blog can become a vehicle for effective teaching (not professing!). I have a vision that life lessons can spring and flow from FMOC, and that these lessons will serve as a source of material from which others can draw and apply productively.

This is why I blog.

My immediate hope is that this post will be of use to you, and that you may incorporate a similar process of discovery by asking yourself the same question: why do you do what you do?

Here’s the process for uncovering the answer to your why, simply put:

1. Get started by picking an activity to which you devote time and energy. This could be your job, own company, or a hobby about which you feel passionate.

2. Ask yourself the question, why do I do what I do? And so it all begins, your inspiring others into action. To my knowledge, there’s no formal format for how to answer the question (at least not in this case). I chose to keep a list, because that’s how I tend to do things.

3. Feel free to share why you do what you do in the comments section of this post.

What is your purpose, cause or belief? Have I prompted you to consider the why of what you do?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

35 of My Favorite Things

With flipped burgers among family and a few friends, my 35th birthday came and went in March. As this milestone year passes, I catch myself reflecting now and again on certain aspects of life.

At the risk of exposing myself, I’m sharing 35 of my favorite things. Most of these I take for granted.

Simply put, these make life worth living. As with anything finite, this list is not all-inclusive—but it is thematic, and I like that. Plus, I had to set a limit somehow.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Here goes, in random order:

1. Texas—I’m a proud (not loud) Texan. The Lone Star State, all 268,820 square miles of it, provides the best of nature, people and tradition. It is a state of mind.

2. Books—My preference is the traditional sort over an e-reader, although I’m boycotting the library indefinitely, after being forced to pay for a recent checkout on account of water damage. I prefer reading a book over watching TV any day.

3. US Craft Beer—Have you been to your beer store lately? There are more unique and independent beers available now than ever. They come in several varieties—Wild Ale, Double IPA and Imperial Stout, to name a few. If you drink beer, drink better beer.

4. Habanos Montecristos—A close friend once introduced me to Montecristo No. 4, a fine smoke indeed. If a No. 2 is offered, I’m not afraid to notch it up a couple of gauges.

5. Coffee—I enjoy a strong cup of java nearly every morning. I like a medium blend, from a French press if time permits (usually on Saturdays). If an espresso fits into my afternoon schedule, I might take advantage.

6. Cooking—When I have time to prep accordingly, I love to cook—especially for my wife. I don’t mind doing it on a whim, either, but I enjoy the process as much as the result.

7. Cultures—I embrace new cultures. My first immersive “cultural experience” came from behind the bar during the summer of ’95 in Puerto Rico. Payment for my efforts came largely in the form of the island’s finest rum, Don Q. It was the experience that mattered.

8. Language—I speak Spanish and Portuguese. There’s no better way to get to know people than by speaking their native tongue. It’s an instant “conversation starter.”

9. Entrepreneurship—To some extent, we are all entrepreneurs. In my view, we ought to focus on bringing value to the table, no matter where we’re seated.

10. Intense Exercise—I like a mix of exercise and squeeze in a workout whenever I can. Let’s call it stress relief. Since I’m currently training for a triathlon, it’s critical right now.

11. Adventurous Travel—The more unplanned, the better. It’s amazing what we can experience without plans, which is not easy for a planner like me.

12. Faith—I have it and am grateful for the gift of a being spiritually centered. Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

13. Farmers Markets—It’s been positive to witness this scene develop in Houston. I’ve been a patron-advocate of farmers markets for years. Fresh and local food beats all other.

14. Getting Inspired, Inspiring—I’m always seeking inspiration, and when I find it, I pass it along to others. Case in point, watch this inspirational video of a dude on his orange bike.

15. Homemade Brownies—I’m happy to cook them, preferably without nuts.

16. Independent Radio—Radio remains an important medium. One way to get a feel for a city is to listen to its community radio station(s). Here are a few online standouts: KXT, KUT and WXPN.

17. Interesting People—I love to meet people, and feed off of those taking their lives in interesting directions. I don’t know who said it, but I like it: “Strangers are friends you have yet to meet.”

18. Lifelong Learning—I have three degrees, and while it’s unlikely that I’ll earn another, my personal learning curve is progressively steepening. Knowledge is a powerful asset.

19. Live Music—I have been to many a memorable show. The Grateful Dead in Memphis. Buena Vista Social Club in Santiago. Doing nothing with live music in the background is preferable to doing anything else without it.

20. Yerba Mate—Okay, so you can tell I like caffeine. This stimulant from the land of Latin America is oh so refreshing—and better for you than coffee, I’m sure.

21. Road Trips—Modern day roaming. The most out of the ordinary road trip I ever took was in Morocco. Emily and I took a scenic one to West Texas and back to Houston last fall. Have a look for yourself.

22. Swimming—Morning swims are the best, right out of bed. I like Barton Springs Pool. I love the Pacific Ocean.

23. Smoothies—Every morning, if not traveling, I make a smoothie for Emily and me. She calls me the Smoothie Operator, and I’m fine with that. There’s not much more nutritious than beginning a day with almond milk, banana, açaí and seasonal fruits. I recommend it.

24. Playing Catch—Give me a ball to throw and go deep.

25. Time Well Spent—Whether it’s being productive in work or looking back on a vacation day with satisfaction, time is your nonrenewable resource. Don’t waste it.

26. Vanilla Ice Cream—This speaks to my personality to a certain degree. While I like color, and lots of it, I myself am rather plain. No high fructose corn syrup, please.

27. Emily—I’m luckier than she is, I’ll put it that way.

28. Working Remotely—I’m fortunate to work for a leading-edge company that manages its oceanic workforce as masterfully as any. There are times when it’s considered efficient and productive to work from the virtual office. On rare occasions, I work in shorts.

29. Writing—To borrow a line from a fellow Texan, Willie Nelson: “I like myself better when I'm writing regularly.” It’s healthy for me, too, Willie.

30. Yoga—Once per week, if I can get there. I could tell where it is I go, but then I'd have to kill you, and that wouldn't be yogi-like. Once on the mat, my priorities promptly fall into order. Breathe.

31. Deep Friendships—I think my personality comes across as introverted at first. But more often than not, when I get to know someone, we become good friends.

32. Steak—Ribeye, New York Strip, you name it, particularly when I’m manning the fire. Try this way to grill a ribeye.

33. Granola—Maybe my last meal request. Don’t ask me why. It tastes great to me, and always has. A large bowl of granola makes a delightful snack.

34. The City by the Bay—As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m a city guy, and my favorite among them all might be San Francisco. On a pretty day, there’s no place prettier.

35. Peanut Butter—Another fulfilling snack. I like to have a spoonful, sometimes before I go to bed.

However far along you are in life, I suggest performing the exercise I did above. It won’t take as long as you think (particularly without descriptions). Another Willie quote may best summarize why you should consider it: “When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”

I’m not suggesting that my life needs a turnaround. It’s not perfect. Nobody’s is. But it’s on a straight enough track for me.

I believe that knowing who you are, what makes you tick and why, will lead to a pleasant life – not only for yourself but for those closest to you, too. If nothing else, creating a modicum of consistency between who we think we are and who others think we are can eliminate a certain amount of stress we place on ourselves by trying to be someone we’re not.

Buena suerte. Boa Sorte. Good luck.