Pick Up The Phone

If you want to get something done – you need to pick up the phone.

Sending text messages or emails to make something happen is a delaying tactic that I realize I’ve used for years. You need to do something so you send a message, thereby creating the illusion of progress. But in actuality you are putting off the hard choice or difficult decision.

The message you sent will end up bouncing back and forth in the ether and the result you are looking for will take days to accomplish, rather than minutes.

People respond well to one on one interactions. The result of our ever-connected society is that we are less connected than ever. A voice on the other end of the line is a welcome respite to the pile of emails and messages we now deal with on a daily basis.

A phone call also pushes your agenda to the top of the pile, as it can’t be ignored or delayed like an email can. They either answer or they don’t.

Emails are great for solidifying what was discussed on the phone and for sharing information, but when you need something done it is time to pick up the phone.

Pages of Promise

With an hour to kill the other day I went in to a Barnes and Noble and just browsed through.  I walked each row, waiting for something to jump out at me.  While there were many books I would gladly take home, I left empty handed but satisfied.

New bookstores are great; with their targeted displays, bright lights, comfy chairs and coffee.  But even better is libraries and second hand bookstores.  The books there have more character; more gravitas.  They have been read by hundreds of people and are worn with dogeared corners and marginalia that is often indecipherable.  The people who work at these places are true lovers of books, more often than not found behind their desk nose deep in one.  Ask for a recommendation and their eyes light up as they encounter a kindred spirit.

And it is in these musty old bookstores that the magical possibility remains, of finding a treasure; some forgotten tome yielding incredible powers.  At least that is what I imagined as a kid…

My love of books and bookstores began very early, with my parents.  I was read to as a child, as I read to my kids today.  As I got older the library served as my internet and I would check out a big stack each week; a mix of science fiction and reference.  Some days I would sit at the library and read a full book before taking the rest home on my bike.

My Grandfather was also a bigtime reader of spy and thriller novels, with a large collection housed in a beautiful built in bookshelf.  I would spend Sunday afternoons with him; first mowing the lawn ($5.00!), then doing some woodworking.  Next, we would have lunch and play a few rounds of solitaire. Finally, I would choose a book from his collection for the week.  It was here that I discovered Trevanian and Ludlum, and had read the entire Bourne trilogy twice by the time I was fourteen.

Then there are found books; those books discovered in the back of an airplane seat, or on a chair at the bus stop.  I have left books in these places myself and know that they are not forgotten items, but gifts left by fellow travelers for the next reader.  I actually just found one at a heliport I flew out of – An Officers Duty by Jean Johnson –  and it was excellent.

Working at sea also encourages a lot of reading, especially in the days before ready access to TV or internet that now provides “quality of life”.  The readers would bring four to six books each trip – leaving them in the communal ships library when done.  You read it, then pass it along and take a new one.  The Seafarers Mission would also provide books to sailors free of charge, showing up at the gangway with a box brimming with the promise of adventure.

Stopping at bookstores in different countries was a magical experience.  I’ve purchased books from all over the world; both from famous bookstores and from tiny hole in the wall shops.  I began doing yoga as a result of a how-to book purchased in Bermuda.  I purchased The Moviegoer in New Orleans at a store located at the former residence of William Faulkner.  Everywhere you go, there will be something for you.

When the kindle arrived on the scene it was truly revolutionary.  Now I could travel with as many books as I wanted, minus the added weight in my luggage.  I read almost exclusively on my iPad for years to follow.  But recently I began to take note of a change in reading culture.  Ships no longer have well stocked libraries and the joy of discovering an excellent book totally by chance began to disappear; now you just dial up exactly what you want, when you want it.  In January I began my 12 Months of Modernism reading program for the year and had decided to read hardcopies, which was the best decision I could have made.  It has got me back into the bookstores and the dwindling culture of readers of the paperback novel.

There are still treasures to be found out there but you need to get out and look.  Maybe there will be a resurgence and paperback books will become ironically cool again, much like kids listening to vinyl.  But to me, a life spent with a nose in books is a life well lived, and there is nothing like walking into a store with books stacked to the ceiling, brimming with pages of promise.

Words To Live By

“Everybody loves quotes.” – Me

Quotes are powerful; little snippets of knowledge passed through time. They are easily digested and easily shared, especially through social media. They offer insight of the person who spoke them and the best ones are well loved because they share some universal truth that resonates. They can serve as mantra or reminder, helping us stay the course when in the thick of things, or giving us the courage to start over when we have faltered.

But being easily remembered does not mean they are easily acted upon. We hyper-consume information, with incoming data running through our brains like a stock ticker, rarely taking time to reflect on the deeper meaning of the words. Yet through the noise the strongest memories will always rise to the surface, shaping who we become and guiding us on the path.

Listening to a forgotten interview a while back the question was asked, “Do you have any quotes that you live by?” Immediately, a phrase popped into my head; something I’ve used as a guide for many years. Switching off the car radio, I used the rest of the drive to think about that question and my own answers to it. What quotes or phrases do I fall back on? Where did they come from? Why do they resonate with me?

These are my words to live by.

“What one man can do, another can do”

This comes from the movie The Edge with Anthony Hopkins and Alex Baldwin. It is a man vs. nature plot where the characters are lost in the wilderness, and also being pursued by a man-eating bear. In it, Baldwin’s character is giving up the will to live, and Hopkins yells those words at him.

I must have been 18 when I first saw that movie but the words have stuck with me to this day. Looking back over my life I am amazed at many of the things I have accomplished, but have always held the belief that if somebody else has done it, I can do it too. When viewed through that lens it makes success in any venture seem, if not inevitable, then at least attainable.

“If it is important, do it every day. If it isn’t then don’t do it at all”

Attributed to Dan Gable, the famous wrestling coach, I came to this through the writings of strength coach, author, and philosopher Dan John. An excellent writer, Dan’s philosophies on training and life resonate with me, but none more so than this.

In the context of physical training the idea is that you work the movements every day. Some days you’ll take it easy, others you’ll go for broke. But you practice the skill.
It works equally well for identifying your priorities. Is what I am doing important enough to commit time to, each and every day? If the answer is no, then consider why you are doing it at all. I have been known, on occasion, to go off on tangents; looking at major projects and spending hours researching them, yet have backed off on actually going ahead with them. This is the question that grounds me.

There are many things we could do, but what should we do? Just because you can do something does not mean it is the best decision, or the best use of your time. What skills have you already built? Would you not be better served staying the course on something you have already begun?

Success is the result of unflagging dedication to a small number of things. If it is truly important then you’ll find a way to work on it every day.

“Use your eyes and ears, not your mouth”

This advice came from my father and was repeated to me many times throughout my childhood.

What began as instruction for an energetic kid with a big imagination eventually morphed into method for interacting with the world. It requires patience, and allows time for judgement and decision making. It encourages both observation and introspection. It provides space to assess the situation.

And it helps you avoid putting your foot in your mouth!

We cannot learn anything new if our mouth is moving; only by carefully observing our surroundings do we gain new insight.

Your Words to Live By

Feel good quotes abound but when asked, most people only have a one or two ready to go. Those are the words that have stuck with us through the years and serve as the philosophical underpinnings on which we base many of our actions. They act as a quick reference to ensure our personal moral compass is pointed in the right direction.

What quote or phrase does that for you?