Quiet Habits

In a noisy world, it's important to find a little quiet

At work, we've been revamping a series of tutorial videos. The entire process of revising and producing the videos is often long and tedious, but has been rewarding. Part of the process involves having a coworker review our work before we proceed to the next step. At the beginning of this video overhaul process, I spent extra hours on each video project to get it perfect before the review process. I anguished over every little detail, going through everything again and again in order to get each second of video just right. And then when I felt it was completely flawless, I'd send it on for review.

When I got my reviews back on the first couple of videos, I realized my folly. I spent so much time trying to perfect each video, that I had actually wasted time in the process. My videos weren't perfect. My reviewer still found several things that needed to be fixed or could use some tweaking. It was after I experienced this with a few videos I had a realization. What if I put together the best product I could without agonizing over every minute detail and sent it for review as quickly as possible (while still maintaining a high level of quality, of course)? I tried it out with the next video. And it worked. I spent less time stressing about the little details and focused more on getting the video done, instead of getting it done perfectly. When my review came back, it contained more or less the same amount of feedback. The difference is I shaved at least a couple of hours off of my video production time. The first draft wasn't perfect and I knew it needed review and changing. The big difference was that instead of trying to ship a perfect product, I was simply trying to ship a product.

As a society, I think we generally have a fear of failure and see it as something to avoid. I've learned from my recent video experience, that if we want valuable feedback and improvement, we should learn to fail faster instead of waiting until something is perfect to review progress. Because spoiler alert: it's not perfect and probably never will be. And that's ok.

It's true that you are your harshest critic. But it's also true that almost anything we make or do benefits from external feedback. If anyone has ever written something, played an instrument, created a piece of art, completed a big project at work, or created anything, really, you know that you generally have two feelings about the thing:

  • First, it's your baby and you want to protect it.
  • Second, you've stared at it so long trying to fix problems that you're not sure which way is up anymore.

It's the first feeling that makes us afraid of failure and the second thing that gives us a reason to fail faster.

As a writer, I strongly relate to both of these feelings. However, during my years in college, I didn't have time to stare at my writing long enough and my writing courses forced me to be vulnerable and collect feedback. I learned to fail faster because I was forced to fail faster with due dates and deadlines for workshops.

However, having finished school, I no longer have deadlines. I can stare at a piece or sit on a piece for as long as I want. But what's the use in that? Sure, it protects my ego and shields my fragile feelings. But I write so that other people can read. And if I wait and wait and wait to hit publish until it's “perfect”, then you, the lovely readers of this blog, will never get to read the words.

The same thing applies to ideas. If I have an idea but think “Oh, that's dumb, that'll never work,” then the idea will never come to fruition. It'll sit in my mind, simmering until it's thrown out or forgotten.

Now, I'm definitely not suggesting that you publish every word that you write or go out and try every idea that pops into your head. And I'm also not talking about the kind of failures like failing to put on a parachute when skydiving or failing to get your driver's license before driving. There are, of course, limitations to this idea of failing faster. However, if you don't learn to fail faster, your ideas, thoughts, stories, art, or project will never see the light of day. And what a tragedy that would be!

Here are a few things I've learned about failing faster from my personal and work experience.

Fail in Front of a Small Audience First

This is probably true for most things, but especially for things that will be public or may affect your professional life in some way. With our video project at work, I could have failed faster by publishing the first draft of my videos and collecting feedback from our users. However, my boss and coworkers would not have been very happy with that plan. It would have diminished the professional quality we strive for and would have been much more difficult to correct my mistakes after receiving feedback.

Instead, fail in front of a smaller audience first. Send your failure to trusted friends or colleagues or family members. People who will be kind yet critical. You don't want only feel-good feedback (like the kind your grandma gave you after your 5th grade piano recital), but you also don't want to get torn to shreds. This is, after all, a failure. It's imperfect and you know it. You're gathering feedback. What's working? What isn't? Should you scrap the whole thing or rework a portion of it? Does it need little adjustments or a major overhaul? These are the questions you need answered when others are evaluating your failure.

Failing in front of a small group is easier on your soul, too. A few people giving you pointers is much easier to deal with than the soul-crushing force of online forums or public performances.

With our video project, my first draft was only reviewed by one other person. The feedback was easy to digest and easy to implement. I trusted them to focus on the important things and recognize that this was a first attempt.

Rethink Failure

Failure has so many negative connotations. But it doesn't have to be that way. Train your mind to think of failures as opportunities to learn (easier said than done, I know). A failure is simply a discovery that something didn't work as expected. Think of it like a science project from middle school. You create a hypothesis, test your theory, and list the results. Sometimes your hypothesis was proven correct, other times it's proven false. However, if your hypothesis was proven false, you probably didn't throw the whole thing out because your theory was a failure. Instead, you wrote in your conclusion why you think it turned out differently and what you learned from the experience.

Why we've failed to translate this beautiful life lesson into adulthood, I'll never know. However, this method is a wonderful way to learn from our mistakes and from our failed attempts. Instead of pushing and pushing until your “final product” is perfect, why not get the first version out for feedback? And then a second? And third? What is your first draft besides a hypothesis about what choices are right for your product? And if your hypothesis was proven wrong, look at your results, figure out how and why the result was different from your expectation, and draw conclusions about how to move forward. Then reflect on what you've learned from the experience and move on to the next experiment in failure.

Learn From Your Mistakes

That brings me on to the next point, learning from our mistakes. Failures are simply experiments that didn't work out as we intended. There's a lot to be learned from our mistakes and failures. Perhaps the thing you learned is that you don't have the bandwidth to deal with this project or habit or piece of writing right now. Or maybe you learned that you are really bad at writing dialog in short stories. Or perhaps you found a gap in your professional skills when your boss asked you to work on a big project at work. Whatever your failure and whatever the lesson learned, the most important thing is that you learned something. And then that you take that something that you learned and work on improving on it so you don't make the same mistakes again and again (though, we're still human, so it's bound to happen at some point).

If your failure leads you to learn and conclude that you just don't have the energy to juggle so many tasks, you've learned something valuable about yourself! You now know your current energy level, you know how much you can handle (or not handle), you know your limits. And now you can work on cutting back or boosting your energy levels (of course, I'd recommend cutting back whenever possible). If you learn that you lack a skill at work, you have the opportunity to seek career growth. You can ask your boss for time to do some professional development, learn from a coworker, or take some courses on your own time if possible.

This is why failing faster is so important. We all will fail at something at some point. But failing faster provides us with these learning and growing opportunities at a more rapid pace.

Continue Improving

If you've ever watched a baby learn to walk, you know there is usually more falling than walking in the early days. But every baby keeps getting back up and tries again and again to walk, falling again and again. When my daughter learned to walk, she fell all the time (she's running now, and she still falls all the time). But she always got back up. And tried again. And fell again. Now she walks like a champ (with the occasional awkward tumble and skinned knees). This same thing can be applied to new habits, learning new skills, working on projects, and doing anything else where failure is a possibility. Fail often and improve often. The more often you fail, the more often you learn something, and the more often you learn something, the more often you can improve yourself.

Remember that your little failures aren't permanent or life-threatening. Continue to learn. Continue to grow. Continue to fail.

This post was heavily inspired by this post from one of my blogging inspirations, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits.

Some of you already know this, but I am an introvert. When I'm around people and in social situations, I try to keep interaction to a minimum. Small talk is one of my worst nightmares and it drains me mentally and emotionally. I don't like large gatherings or networking events. I dread the suggestion to “stand up and introduce yourself to everyone”. Most days, I prefer to sit alone and write or think. At work, I prefer to use written communication and keep my earbuds in for most of the day.

The holiday season is a time for Christmas parties, Thanksgiving dinners, family gatherings, work get togethers, and “secret Santa” gift exchanges. There is a lot of socializing involved in the time between the end of November and the first of January, and for many introverts it is a dreaded time filled with more social interactions than we can handle, crowded stores, gift-giving expectations, meeting new people, and a seemingly endless stream of small talk. And to top it off, the holiday rush seems more and more rushed each year to the point that there's no longer a quiet weekend to enjoy a good book, some warm cocoa, and a window seat to watch the freshly falling snow (or the beach, if you're one of the lucky ones).

As an introvert myself, I'd like to give you some gifts to help you survive and even thrive through the holiday season with your sanity intact. If you, like so many, are an extrovert and thrive on the socializing for the next month, send this on to an introverted friend in your life and give them the gifts instead.

Gift 1: The Word “No”

Yes, this is a difficult gift to receive during the holidays and a difficult one to give. But it really can be a gift to those who are burned out and want to hibernate for 3 months after January 2nd finally rolls around. You can say no to the umpteenth Christmas party invite. You can say no to staying the full five hours at your work festivities. You can say no to the gift exchange. It's ok. You might be missed, but you'll thank yourself later for taking a few nights for yourself to recharge. So I give you the gift of “No”.

Gift 2: Grocery Delivery

My wife and I have recently started doing grocery pickup and we love it. While some have worries about bad produce or damaged goods, we've never had an issue and it has been life-altering. We love shopping from the comfort of our own homes when we don't have the time or energy to deal with a drive to the store, finding a parking spot, fighting the crowds, and making small talk with the neighbors we run into and the cashier. This is especially true during the holiday season. While this time of year should be a season of giving, peace, and love, it's more like the season of honking, shouting, and haste. Everyone is in a hurry and there's no time to dilly-dally! Our last two shopping trips, however, were blissful. We sat in our kitchen, checked our pantry and refrigerator, found all the groceries we needed in the app, checked the “Delivery” box, and the next evening our groceries were delivered. While yes, there are costs and pros and cons associated with having your groceries delivered, I believe you deserve one break this next month from braving the grocery store crowds. So I give you the gift of grocery delivery (or pickup, if delivery isn't available where you live).

Gift 3: A Good Book

I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir when I say that many introverts love to grab a warm drink, a blanket, and a good book. This is like putting your phone on the charger all night. So order yourself that novel that's been on your wishlist, or put a hold in at the library, or download the audiobook. Then find a quiet place and get reading! I suggest scheduling out blocks of time for yourself before all the party invites go out before all your time is filled up with other obligations. That book isn't going to read itself, after all. You need to read that story. You need to be recharged. So I'm giving you the gift of a good book.

Gift 4: Self Care

This gift will look different for everyone, but the gift of self care is vital to thriving through the holidays. Make time to take care of the most important person in your life: You! Go get a massage. Buy a new candle. Get some bath bombs. Visit the spa. Get your nails done. Go to the barber and get a nice haircut and a shave. Read or watch something funny that gets you laughing. Make time to finally finish all those little things you've been putting off. Take a couple days off work just to relax at home. Do what's right and best for you, but do something. Taking care of you is so important but so often forgotten in this busy season. So I'm giving you the gift of self care.

Gift 5: The Gift of Imperfection

If you're like me, you find the flaws in everything. You get anxiety if you're a minute late. You see things that are crooked and feel the need to straighten them out. You feel like you always have to say the right thing, look the right way, and do things the right way. If things don't work out exactly how you've played them out in your head, then it's an utter failure. I know it's hard to get out of this mindset. Believe me, it's something I struggle with every minute of every day. It's kept me from talking to people, from writing blog posts, and from continuing projects I've started. But this holiday season, just for a month and a half, let's embrace imperfection. Give it your full attention and love. Be OK with the crooked things, with the things that didn't turn out how you thought, and with the oddities and weirdness. It's alright that the conversation at your work party didn't go as planned. It wasn't perfect, but it was pretty good. It's fine that the turkey was a little dry and your pie crust had too much salt. Everyone still ate it and you tried your best. Being imperfect is more than OK, it's human! Nobody is perfect and we should never expect perfection out of anyone. So, as my final gift, I'm giving you the gift of imperfection.

Please take these gifts and use them to thrive this holiday season (and heck, any other time of the year, too). Pass them on to your friends and loved ones as you see fit. Let others in your life use these gifts if they need these to stay afloat during one of the hardest times of year for introverts. These gifts may just save them a lot of pain and suffering. Or at least some discomfort and exhaustion.

Having a kid has opened my eyes to the world again. It is so fun to see everything through the eyes, experiences, and reactions of our little girl. The stories she tells and her reaction to new experiences are a wonderful, amazing thing. Children have this amazing gift to see things anew over and over and to never lose their sense of wonder.

We got our first heavy snowfall of the winter recently. It snowed all day and into the night and then off and on the next day. Our daughter was awestruck every time we looked outside. She kept asking to look at the snow outside and would get so excited, exclaiming, “Daddy, look, it snow!” and “I build snowman?!” and sometimes simply “Wow!” Usually I'm a bit of a grump about the snow because it means shoveling the driveway in the cold, buying ice melt, bad drivers, and salt-covered cars. But this snowstorm was different because I caught a glimpse of the wonder and beauty of freshly fallen snow, of how the landscape changes and becomes something magical, and how a child only sees the fun and beauty of the transformed world, which goes from brown to white seemingly in an instant.

So this holiday season and hopefully for the rest of my life, I'm going to strive to see things through the lens of a child. I want to see the wonder of a huge Thanksgiving dinner set out on the table with family gathered around. I want to appreciate the twinkling Christmas lights as though for the first time, imagining they're the lights of fairies or Christmas spirits. I want to feel the excitement of hearing Santa on the roof and the wonder of presents magically appearing under the tree.

It's so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of adult life that we forget what it's like to be a child. But children are a gift because they remind us to be young again, to see the world as an adventure, and to find joy and beauty in the simple little things that surround us every day. And if we let that childlike spirit into our lives, we can forget about our cares for just long enough to invite that fresh vision, that free spirit, that wonder and amazement, and see the world as a child sees it: a beautiful, magical, wonderful place with endless possibilities.

I've been reading about and “practicing” minimalism in my life off and on for over a decade. Sometimes it feels like a natural part of who I am. Other times it feels like a product of my privilege. And other times it feels like a fad that will eventually fade away and give way to some other lifestyle.

So, is minimalism a fad? Will it go away? I've seen posts running the spectrum, from those saying minimalism is simply a higher form of humanity, to those who say minimalism is just a passing phase in the evolution of our society. The short answer is that I have no idea.

My gut tells me that as we careen toward a global climate disaster, overcrowding, overflowing landfills, and waste and pollution on epic proportions, we will eventually be forced into some facet of minimalism or another. While the white-walled zen simplicity might not have a place in this potential future, we may all be forced to live with less as resources become scarce. But again, who really knows? Nobody can see into the future.

My gut also tells me that some aspects of minimalism have done wonders for me and my life. It's lightened the load of physical objects in my life. It's helped me reduce debt. It's helped me focus on what's truly important instead of running the rat race to get a bigger house, a fancier car, and more and more stuff that I don't really need. It's helped me prioritize certain parts of my life. It's helped my anxiety.

I will agree that there are parts of minimalism that are totally a fad. The “sage on the stage” type minimalist bloggers/speakers will fade out of popularity eventually. Used book stores and thrift shops will have extra stock of their books. Social media will eventually forget their pseudo-wisdom. We'll all donate the “merch” we bought to help support their YouTube channels. Eventually that minimalist wallet you bought on Kickstarter will break and you won't replace it with the same brand. Yes, as with many lifestyle fads, this part of minimalism will meet the fate of obscurity.

But at its core is something I think everyone strives for: a deep focus on purpose and true desires, a lightness and freedom to move about the earth, an intentional and simple way of life. That's all very philosophical, but it's ingrained into many of the world's religions, philosophies, and cultures. And those aspects of minimalism (or whatever it's called in 20 or 50 years) are human nature and I think they aren't a passing fad and won't go out of style. But who really knows for sure, right?

While some people might say their “dream life” is to sit around and do nothing all day, I am grateful for work and I believe that even those who say they want to do nothing all day would miss work if they really had nothing to do. Putting in some hard work really does give us some pride. It helps us develop skills. It works our bodies and our minds. Humans need challenges to overcome and problems to solve. We are logical beings who derive pleasure from solving a problem (at least, that's how I think, so I assume it's how most other humans think, too).

I am grateful for the opportunity to get to work most days, have problems to solve, feel included, and like I can make a difference in someone's life almost every day. My job matters and my work matters and that brings me a lot of fulfillment. No matter what you do for work, try to find those moments to improve lives, solve problems, learn something new, and have some pride for your occupation, whether you're folding clothes at Old Navy, deep frying potatoes at a burger place, writing code of a start-up, or playing with spreadsheets in the corner office. What you do matters to someone, even if you can't see the immediate benefits or the work feels mundane or unappreciated.

I'm also grateful for an amazing job at an amazing company. There are many, many benefits where I work, beyond what was listed in the job description. Not only does it make me and my family financially secure, it has helped me develop skills more quickly. I've met amazing people that I now count as very close friends. We work on a product that helps people change lives. We get to have fun and work hard every day. We get to help people and make people happy. I give thanks for this job as often as I can, because I know there are many who are not so lucky or fortunate. I hope that the tools we create can, in some small way, ensure a better future where everyone can feel like they have a great job and be financially secure.

Yes, that's right, I am and always will be thankful for my family.

I don't have any fancy reasoning or logical explanations to explain this one. No long blog post about why or how or when. I love my family and even when I'm upset with a family member, I'm still thankful for them.

Family is there for you with a special bond only formed by families.

Family, however, doesn't have to be reserved for those you are are related to. Family, I believe, is anyone that you feel a strong connection to and that you view as family. You don't need to do a DNA test or compare family trees to be thankful for someone in a familial way.

Thank you to my family. Thank you to my parents who have always been supportive and loving. Thank you to my siblings who have become even better friends as we've grown older. Thank you to my in-laws for welcoming me into your family as one of your own.

And of course, thanks to my wife who is constantly reminding me to be a better person and love more deeply. And thanks to my beautiful daughter, who has taught me so much about life, learning, happiness, and love.

Love your families, no matter how untraditional or funky they might be, no matter how small or big, how often you gather, how related you are, or how much you like each other. Be grateful for each other and tell each other about that gratitude often.

Giving is one of the greatest things we can do with our lives. There are many forms of giving and many ways to give back to those around us and around the world.

If you have the means, you can give money or physical goods, like clothes, food, or hygiene products. This kind of giving helps take care of people's physical needs and is an important way to ensure that people who are less fortunate with physical things can feel the security of having a meal to eat, money to pay bills, or things to help them take care of themselves.

If you have an amazing talent, you can give your knowledge and time to others who will benefit from sharing your knowledge and talents. You can volunteer to teach business skills to young students or help unemployed people write resumes. You can teach young couples how to improve marital relationships, or budget, or basic household skills. You can delight, entertain, and open the creative minds of children with music lessons, poetry readings, or art lessons.

If you have an abundance of spare time, you can spend that time with the homeless, the sick, the weary. You can volunteer to hold and comfort infants in the hospital, visit children suffering with cancer, or talk to the elderly living in care facilities. You can comfort your mourning neighbor who just lost their spouse. You can write letters to lonely friends and family who live far away. You can invite anyone living far from home to join you for holiday dinners and activities.

If you have love in your heart, you can give freely to the mother struggling with a fussy child at the doctor's office. You can leave notes for your significant other to brighten their day. You can wave and smile at the drivers around you. You can recognize someone for their hard work and dedication at work. You can bake cookies for the new neighbors who you haven't met yet. You can secretly leave gifts for a young family to enjoy.

There are countless ways and things to give. And the wonder of giving is that the more you give, the more you get back. Because love always finds a way to multiply and return to the sender. Especially as we near this season of sales and shopping, remember that the gift of giving does not always have to be found in an ad or on a store shelf.

As I'm writing this post, Thanksgiving is one week away. While I think it's great to be thankful throughout the year, I find it's even easier to reflect on what I'm thankful for during this time of year. So I'd like to focus my posts for the next week on things that I'm thankful for and how they've changed my life, the world, or both.

Today, I'm thankful for the miracle of blogging. The fact that I'm even sitting here writing this is a miracle of technology and science. It's the culmination of democracy, years of advancing the technologies of networking, computing, liberal arts, chip design, and much, much more.

My thoughts can be translated into 1's and 0's through a machine capable of billions of computing processes every second, and uploaded through invisible waves, beamed into space and back, to a network of millions of interconnected devices, all so my thoughts can be read and interpreted by other computers and read and pondered by humans around the entire world. It boggles my mind how all of this is possible with little effort from me, but is all held together by hundreds of companies and hundreds of thousands of people working to keep these things running smoothly.

Even several hundred years ago it was nearly impossible to mass produce copies of your writing and if you had the means to do so it was still very difficult and expensive. But today we can write, publish, and aggregate our words across multiple servers, sites, and connection points, all at the push of a virtual button.

The next time you're reading or writing or consuming or creating anything on the Internet, stop for a moment and think of all the pieces that had to come together to make that moment possible. All the scientists, researchers, inventors, laborers, and more who worked together across centuries to make all of this possible. The technologies, the science, the failures that created what is now a global interconnected web that can transport us anywhere in an instant and bring almost any information to a glass screen in our pocket. It truly is a miracle.

And blogging, in my opinion, is one of the most democratic and miraculous mediums to spring from this well of knowledge and technology. The fact that anyone anywhere can write, publish, and distribute their writing to be read by thousands or even millions continues to astonish me. I'm thankful for the opportunity to be just a small drop in the ocean of bloggers and to live in a time where all of this is possible.

The other day while I was driving home from work, traffic was really backed up near a freeway entrance. I was driving in the lane that cars were merging into and I noticed a dump truck trying to merge over into my lane. Several cars sped up to pass the truck and I could see that the driver was getting frustrated. So I slowed down a bit and gave him a gap to merge. In his side mirror I saw him smile, nod, and wave a thank you.

Not to brag, but I felt good about my tiny act of kindness. Sure, this kind of thing happens on countless roads all over the world every day. But the opposite also happens, where people are rude and selfish drivers who only care about going fast and getting ahead, no matter the cost. In that moment, I made a very simple choice: be kind. And my kindness spread. It visibly brightened the truck driver's day. It likely had an impact beyond what I could see. Perhaps the truck driver went home and was a little kinder to his family that night. Perhaps another driver saw my kindness and decided to let another driver merge later on. My simple act of kindness had the possibility of spreading like ripples in a pond when a stone is dropped into the water.

While sometimes I decide to spread kindness in the spur of the moment, most of the time it's second nature and that's because I've already decided to be kind and spread kindness whenever and wherever I can. It's not a choice I have to make daily because it's something I've already decided to do when I get the chance.

And I believe we can make the world a better, happier, kinder place if we all decide to be kind in our interactions with other human beings, other imperfect people who are struggling to pay the bills and figure out life, other souls who are seeking inner peace and happiness, other humans who struggle with debt and illness and all the hardships of the human condition. It's a simple choice to be kind. To not judge others. To meet hatred and ego and rudeness and ignorance with kindness. And while it might not change the recipient of the kindness, it will change you. You will be a better, kinder, more understanding, more loving person. And since you are part of this beautiful world, you are changing the world by being kind.

And that's why I will always choose to be kind.

My recent decision to start writing and publishing a blog every day was fueled primarily by one thing: a desire to do more things that scare me.

Sometimes I think I've grown too soft. Too accustomed to daily conveniences and routines. To the comforts I've surrounded myself with. I don't feel challenged often enough in my personal growth and development.

This very idea is partially what fueled the creation of this entire blog: That I wanted to experiment and challenge myself to seek self-improvement. I feel I have strayed from my original intentions and I'm not doing enough things that scare me.

So here I am, sitting here, typing this 4th blog post in my daily blogging challenge, scared that I'll run out of things to write about by day 7 and even more scared that everyone reading this will think poorly of me or laugh at my silly anxieties. But I'm still sitting here, still writing, still scared.

And that fear helps me feel a little more human, a little more alive, and a little more dedicated to my craft. Because this is a difficult, challenging adventure with an unknown outcome. And that's what makes it worth doing.

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