Use Charity To Become More Practical

If you look closely, you’ll find that even in (especially in) your kind acts to others, you are probably doing an important kindness to yourself.

When I think back to the (occasional) times I’ve helped a stranger jump-start a dead car battery, or the time I stopped to assist a stranger with a flat tire, or the times I’ve tried to help homeless folks, I can see that I’ve learned a tremendous amount that helps me.

These kinds of human interaction (especially for someone who has some shyness) certainly build character and courage. But for me they’ve also been great ways to build a base of practicality in know-how, equipment, and preparedness habits.

Now I don’t go anywhere in my car without my jumper cables or a jerry can for gasoline. I’ve picked up a bit of knowledge  about the homeless shelters in Atlanta: their requirements, specialties, and drawbacks. I even learned some of the basics of the tire-change for the first time from stopping to work with a stranger, so I’m much better prepared for the next time.

I’m not as consistent as I should be in helping others. And when I do I sometimes grumble to myself about it. But I am grateful that I can be valuable in situations where people need help.

Charity can make you more practical – and it’s very friendly to people who want to learn on the job.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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The Pleasure of Disproving the Experts

Want to run? Experts say you need nice running shoes, controlled diets, and fancy nutrition gels.

Want to start a podcast? Experts might tell you that you need the latest microphones, a sound mixer, a perfectly soundproof room, and high-cost conferencing software.

Want to get into photography? Experts might say you need to get a fancy camera and understand aperture, shutter speed, ISO speed, exposure, and all the rest.

Of course, they’d be mistaken.*

You *can* become a runner without equipment. Equipment can help prevent health risks in the long term, but then people have also been running long before running stores were a thing.

You *can* be a decent photographer without investing tons of time and money. If you know how to capture the right moments and you use the right light and angles, you can get good shots.

You *can* start a podcast, even if you don’t have the production capabilities of FOX News or CNN. Just get a microphone and someone interesting to speak into it.

Expert opinions are great, especially when they help you to get a job done. But I get rebellious when expert advice seems calculated to terrify the hearer into helpless dependence on experts (and the things they sell). I’ve seen myself and others get to that place of paralysis before. I get out by doing the things I’m not supposed to be able to do, and doing them with a lot less knowledge and a lot fewer resources.

It takes a bit more work, but it’s well worth it to try things your way (without being cocky or careless) when experts tend to stand in the path instead of clearing it.

And it’s so much fun, because it’s so much fun to set people free from fear of starting.

*Or you would be mistaken for taking their advice as absolute. These words are wisdom when applied to the extremes in running, photography, podcasting – if you’re going pro, you do want to make investments like these.

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The Silver Lining of Unlikely Faults

“You’re much too agreeable.” “You’re much too assertive.”

“You’re far too focused.” “You’re far too curious.”

“You’re much too perfectionistic.” “You’re much too fast.”

In the course of your life, you’ll likely hear one of each of these pairs of criticisms (or ones like them). If you’re really growing your personality over time, you’ll hear both.

If you’re growing, you will change from someone who is too compassionate to someone who occasionally comes off as too assertive – or vice-versa.

If you’re growing, you will change from someone who is more widely curious to someone who is zeroed on – or again, vice-versa

Remember that when you’re hit with one of these criticisms. If you’re an agreeable person, you might be surprised as being labelled combative. If you’re perfectionistic, you might be surprised at being accused of cutting corners.

Think about it for a second and you’ll find something to celebrate here.

For someone to find an unlikely fault in you, you must have grown out of an old pattern of personality or behavior in some noticeable way. And while you should pay attention to reigning in new faults, there’s nothing to mourn about losing the old ones. To be guilty of being too assertive is also to be innocent of being too passive, and so on.

If given a choice between the same old faults and new opposite ones, I might lean toward the new ones. At least I’d be growing toward them. And I’d rather be faulted for going too far in correcting my weaknesses than for not correcting them at all.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Be An Instigator

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard was to “be first.” Be first to say hello to a stranger, be first to volunteer, be first to take on a challenge.

This is fine advice.

The more I manage to follow it, the more I enjoy my life and see others enjoying theirs as they begin to act, too. With enough action, we can each set in motion a great deal of action in others.

There is something dangerously powerful here – so much so that the right word for the sort of person who does this is “instigator.”

The word “instigator” speaks of someone who stirs up action in others – usually of the rebellious kind. But in our world of inertia and cowardice and status quo living and thinking, isn’t all action inherently rebellious?

Instigate hard discussions, friendships, book clubs, adventures. Instigate parties, projects, businesses, repentance. Instigate revival, restoration, reinvention.

The world needs generative people that call into action the generativity of others.

Some people will find that dangerous. But if you take on the role of instigator, most people will thank you for being the person who makes them feel free to join in on the action. And there are few legacies better than that.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Be the Euphoria You Want To See In the World

Euphoria, n. A feeling or state of intense excitement and happiness

When I experience euphoria

I’m a pretty stereotypical runner guy now. So I’d have to tell you first about the euphoria that kicks in several miles into a long run. I’ve written before that it’s like:

You become an animal – something far more basic than your everyday self. You feel amazing, transcendent even – and you also feel desperate. You are being tested and rewarded. You sweat out your distractions, your pettiness, your greed, your insecurities.

This sort of thing isn’t unique to running, though.

I might get it when I wrap up a difficult jiu jitsu class (or some other session learning some difficult skill).

I just about always get it when I’m vulnerable with someone about attraction, or my failures, or difficult truths.

And I probably get it when I work my butt off to organize an event at work or home, when I’m working late in the office and no one’s around*, and when I hit “send” on an email delivering a hard project at 3 AM in the morning.

The common denominator is that I experience this kind of euphoria whenever I confront the things I might tend to avoid. Chemically, it’s adrenaline. Psychologically, it’s conditioning. Spiritually, it’s growth.

The world becomes lighter, I become stronger, and everything falls into place because I know I can take it.

But there’s also euphoria in reflection and dreaming.

When I’m going for a long drive I’ll reflect on where I’ve been and the beauty and chance and hard work (my own and others’) that has gotten me to where I am. There’s a euphoria that comes with realizing that (despite the many problems) you’re living in the fairest, freest, healthiest, wealthiest, and most peaceful society in all of human history.

Also while I’m driving, I’m probably listening to film scores (one of my favorite genres, judge me) and imagining a more adventurous life. If I’m going fast, with the windows down, with courage, and with the hope of a challenge ahead, I’ll feel just a bit euphoric. Heck, I get this sometimes on the way to work, right where I get to pick up speed.

When I see euphoria in the world

I wouldn’t say I often see euphoria – it’s pretty hard to separate from normal happiness or excitement from the outside looking in. But I do see often enough when people come alive – that low-level hum of euphoria and joy that can characterize not just a moment but a life.

You can tell pretty fast whether someone has that low-level euphoria. They voluntarily spend their time exploring a topic. They start talking faster when it comes up. They alternate between grinning with joy and frowning with focus. They own the adrenaline rush, and their initiative is magnetic. It makes you want to work harder.

I see something like this when I see great young apprentices in the Praxis community. They’re often just 18 or so and moving cross-country to work in startups. And the ones that are asking questions, doing hard work, and eking all the value they can get from their experience clearly have that “alive” quality that I don’t see in most young people.

I also see that low-level euphoria when I see great artists at work, like when I saw Lindsey Stirling perform around Christmastime. She may have been tired after a long tour of the same routine, but she did not show it. In the dancing, the decor, the stories, the music, the humor there was this sense of tremendous effort but also of effortless joy. Stirling was someone who from love brought together all of the best of human potential into this show. You have to be alive to do something like that.

So I suppose the answer is the same – if you want to see euphoria, go where the effort is. You can find it at celebrations occasionally, but you’ll find it often where the most sparks are flying.

Be the euphoria you want to see

How do I contribute to euphoria?

I guess I start by experiencing a lot of euphoria (when I can). I’m a big fan of the popular Howard Thurman quote:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

What I want to do is show people that it’s possible and practical to live a life of joy. Most people don’t believe that and so don’t find much euphoria.

So a good deal of that is on me. I’ve had experiences that have convinced me that truth (a big prerequisite for undivided joy) is worth it, and that effort is worth it. I want to communicate that. And I’ll do that best by taking as many chances as I can to surprise and delight people into the realization that joy is *right there* for anyone willing to act boldly.

I can encourage euphoria just by finding and encouraging others already on the path to “what makes them come alive.” If you’re an alive person, you can basically expect to have my friendship, or at least my alliance. Your fire is precious and deserves respect (the world is boring without people like you). I will root for you at least, and I might even be willing to fight for you in the extreme.

And what I’d like to continue to develop is a philosophical grounding for joy. People need to know that their struggles are worthwhile and their joy possible and good. Plenty of good thinkers (Ayn Rand for me, especially) have started this work. I’ll continue to try to share the words I’ve learned and find new ones that make the case for joy.

*The euphoria here is not much different than the state of “flow” in psychology.

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Living In (All) the Moment(s)

For me to “live in the moment” isn’t really different than most people’s meaning for the term: I’m focused on the now, instead of the past or present.

I typically find this state when I’m facing fear. I can tend to dwell on the past or dream and plan about the future, so often I have to be scared and/or adrenaline-d into the moment (maybe this is a fault). A good hard run brings me into touch with the moment, as do most hard conversations or difficult acts of self-integration. It’s very hard to go through these experiences or most challenging new experiences while on autopilot.

But more powerful even than adrenaline is gratitude. And ironically, I find this key to present awareness in past-awareness and global awareness.

When I stop to think about my life (typically this happens when I’m driving), I might come to realize that – compared to both most humans who have ever lived (past awareness) and most humans who are living (global awareness), I have been given so many gifts that I should appreciate. I’m reasonably industrious, reasonably open, healthy, gifted with resources, free. I have stability and live in a peaceful place. In the big picture, I live in a true paradise.

When I do become aware of this, I can be overwhelmed with the input of everything that is blessing me: health, opportunity, skills, family, friends, good memories, good role models, and so on. I become present to the beauty around me in that moment – the sunlight, the skyscrapers – and to the things that have happened to get me to a place of such beauty.

I remember all of the things I’ve done and left undone, and I either celebrate them or resolve to do what needs to be done so I can experience these moments of gratitude and presence without conflict.

So maybe living purely in the moment is overrated anyway. Maybe the best state is really to be able to live in all the moments: to be able to see how your past connects to your present connects to your future.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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