Who decides what we believe?

Do the masses really decide what they want? Or do they merely borrow ideas from the people around them?

Trends go wild, videos go viral, fashion comes in–and goes out even faster, investors flock, people panic.

Have you ever found yourself agreeing with a position, changing your opinion, or believing something is beautiful or ugly because the mainstream has dictated it be so?

Who decides that dress is beautiful? Who decides the width of the lapels? Better yet, why do we all agree when somebody tells us that it's just so?

Should we trust the group, or be wary of group-think? Do the masses know best, or do they know at all? Are they simply following what those around them do for ease? Or is it for some level of tacit approval?

Avoiding accountability

When you mess up something, don't make the client pay for it.

Even if your intentions were good but your "creative" solution ended up failing, don't blame them. It can be something you learn from in the future and make yourself better and better.

Not only does the sting of doing the free work help you build better company policy, but it endears you to the client. Pragmatically-speaking, that $80 labor charge isn’t really worth losing a client who gives you $500 worth of work each year.

Making them pay for a mistake that was your responsibility leaves them with little but the stinging feeling of injustice.

Good leaders lead from the front and they accept responsibility when things go wrong–even if their orders were not followed. Bad leaders (who are no leaders at all) find somebody or something to blame when things go bad.

Accountability will lead to better clients, better relationships, and will give you immense respect in your circles.

The leader is truly and ultimately responsible for everything.
— Jocko Willink

Being yourself is different

Usually when we're getting close to something good our self-consciousness points its finger at our most glaring insecurities and convinces us that we should shrink away and not take the plunge.

Is your hesitancy to take risk well founded? Or are you only afraid to be seen as different? It's better to be scorned for your strangeness, than be idolized for your interchangeability.

Too often we choose to worship at the altar of uniformity in a society that demands we subject our uniqueness to its sameness. How boring!

To lie down in this battle or walk away from being yourself because you’d stick out and be noticed is not only to lose the battle but to lose yourself.

In an attempt to feel alive, we join the uniform masses, imitating each other and in the process we give up our own lives.

Fight these inner restrictive demons and allow yourself to be different and interesting. Getting a tattoo isn't interesting, everyone has one. Wearing a new hairstyle isn't interesting, it's cheap. Being yourself is different. Be yourself.

Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.
— Steve Jobs

Making art for yourself

I watched a video on YouTube titled "Stopping at McDonald's in 1989" and as I watched I couldn't help but be impressed that this guy was doing what so many YouTubers do today, but nearly 20 years before YouTube was invented. This video has been viewed over 1,000,000 times.

The guy talks to his camera in the car, with his friend, and around groups of people–talking to the camera like it's completely normal behavior. No care to what those around him think and no care what the video would ever turn into.

Maybe he was simply making it for a memory later in life. He certainly wasn't trying to make the next viral video.

Instead, he created a time capsule of the late 80s. The cars, the dress, the prices, the way he speaks. Everything about it is pretty cool to see.

It reminded me that sometimes we don't have to have a purpose to our creativity. It's good to make something just to make it. Even if we're sure it's going to be terrible (or at least we've convinced ourselves it will be terrible.)

Be creative for the sake of exercising creativity. Make something you don't think will work. Make something just for yourself–even if nobody else is doing that thing. Especially if nobody else is doing it. It may take 30 years, but those things can turn into magic.

Even if they don't, the process of creating for yourself is magic in and of itself.

One man's trash is another man's treasure.  Make art for yourself, not the masses.

Bad moment, bad day, bad week

If a fire breaks out on a deep-sea oil drilling rig, it's a bad idea to throw up your hands and let it rage for a few days or even a few hours. Containment is key to survival.

The same is true for us as we're battered with the proverbial waves of life while we stand in this overwhelming ocean called life.

When you deal with adversity or any uncomfortable moment that leads you to lose your cool, get angry, or mess up the day, try to contain it. Don't let it spread.

Set a deadline. "I will only be upset about this for the next hour, but then it's back to business."

Don't let a moment dictate the day. Don't let a mistake cost you a week. Don't let a moment of anger turn into a day of resent.

It feels better and is more effective to compartmentalize and box that moment in and give it time to burn, but don't let it sink your oil rig.

Contain the blaze and let it burn out or extinguish it. We can all do the same with our personal fires.

Don’t be loquacious

To be short and direct is something that I find difficult, but it's something I love in others.

If you can be direct while having some personality AND also courtesy, it might just be my holy grail of personalities.

I tend to drone on or go off on tangents all too often.

We call a person who overshares (especially stuff the rest of us don’t care about) a “loquacious” person. Don’t be loquacious.

Text messages are king, in part, because of that 45-minute phone call that could have been 30 seconds. Convey the point and be finished.

Blunt and direct talk will require confidence. Be careful not to be arrogant. However, blunt and direct talk may get you labeled as arrogant. I'd rather be labeled arrogant than loquacious.

Is anything more frustrating than an indirect apology? Just say "sorry" and move on. No need for a 10-minute exposé or a litany of excuses. It makes you look bad and it annoys everyone else.

Mark Twain famously said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

Simple, clean, direct, confident. Beautifully efficient.

"...what I thought of ain't funny"

Legendary comedian, Mitch Hedberg had a joke that went like this, "I think of something that's funny, then I go get a pen and I write it down. Or if the pen is too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of ain't funny."

As I listen, read, and think of different things throughout the day I am always thinking of what I'll write in this little blog post for the next day, but I always forget the good ideas because I don't have a notebook that I keep with me to write down these ideas, thoughts, quotes, etc...

As designers and photographers, we're told to always keep a book around to save ideas when they pop into your mind so they don't float off into the ether and disappear forever.

But I just remembered this morning while I was taking my shower that I do have a notebook I carry with me everywhere I go. It's called my iPhone.

I no longer have an excuse for forgetting an idea ever again. The pen will never be too far away.

Wear out or rust out

We usually know what our problems are. We usually know what we need to do about them. But we're either too afraid of doing what we need to do, or we aren't disciplined enough to begin doing what needs to be done.

We fear risk and we end up doing nothing instead.

We like to assume that the world moves at our pace and we end up jogging when we should be running. We miss opportunities and we never start correcting our problems because we don't want to push the pedal to the metal and take risks in pursuit of higher goals.

While we tentatively tip-toe forward, somebody is running behind us, pushing the pedal to the metal, taking risks, and preparing to overtake us.

You're probably soft. I am soft. You're probably not aggressive enough. I'm definitely not aggressive enough. You're probably afraid to ask one more time. I hate asking one more time, too. You're probably afraid to press somebody for a more favorable outcome. Me too.

Committing to taking action involves facing these pain points head-on and defeating them. Push harder, be more aggressive, don't be afraid to ask, and never hesitate to step out of line.

Instead of a thousand reasons why it won't work, find a thousand reasons why it will work. Only when you believe it will you understand it. Once you believe and understand it, it becomes a way of life. You won’t be able to do any differently.

And why do we limit ourselves in such a way? Are we afraid our wax wings will melt as we fly higher and closer to the sun? Or have we always been taught always to hold back a little, to take the “safe” route, or reserve something “just in case.”

President "Teddy" Roosevelt famously said that all men must either wear out or rust out and his choice was to wear out. Will you wear out, or will you rust out?

The opinion of the gatekeepers is worthless

Picking the best college to attend comes down to three criteria, in my humble opinion.

1. Do you go to the place that has the best credentials and awards and rankings?

2. Do you go to the place that happens to be geographically near the place where you expect your career will take you?

3. Do you go where you think the people who are also in your soon-to-be industry also attend or live? (i.e. a wannabe actor goes to school in Hollywood, or a wannabe fashion photographer chooses London or New York City, etc...)

In my mind credentials from the "gatekeepers" are nearly worthless (lists and rankings are too influenced by paid sponsorships, too.)

You never know where you'll end up. Here, there, or Nepal. I wouldn't choose based on location.

The people, however, are the driving force. They will become your peers, coworkers, employees, investors, bosses, and more. They inspire, create, motivation, and present you with opportunities. Go where the people are.

People who are interested in what you do are also one of the best means of becoming better at whatever it is you do. Find the garage door opener mecca of the world if you want to revolutionize the way we park indoors.

Find your tribe, the people who get you and push you to be better. That way you get a real education, a fun experience, and you can make some money while you're at it.

Waiting until things get really bad

To be decisive is a good attribute.

Decisiveness: having the power to decide, being resolute, and determined, works whether you’re right or wrong in that decision.

If you make the right decision, great! It was fast and efficient and good.

If you make the wrong decision, you will make a new decision quickly to fix the problem. Because you’re decisive!

Those who are indecisive can do neither.

The inability to be decisive traps people in a sort of unproductive purgatory where bad things seem to happen all the time.

I tend to be the person who has evidence(or a strong gut feel) that a problem is heading my way, but I'll avoid making a decision until things get critical (i.e. the car finally dies after being on the verge for six months, or the refrigerator stops working after making a very strange buzzing sound for 2 months, etc... etc...)

Sure, you can solve most critical problems, but the wise man sees danger ahead and avoids it. He does it by being decisive.

There is a famous quote by Tommy Lasorda "There are three kinds of people in this world: people who make it happen, people who watch what happens, and people who wonder what happened."

Be the first kind.

This makes me fearless

Since my late teens, I've tried to work out about 5 days a week. That's not to say I'm in amazing physical shape. I'm not. I could stand to lose 15-20lbs for sure.

Early on I did it to make myself stronger. I didn't really care about the "vanity muscles." I didn't mind when they showed up, but they weren't why I did the thing.

Lately, I've been doing it because it anchors my morning and makes me feel great as I head into my day of work.

I also know that if I really push myself at the gym and make it the most difficult thing I'll face all day, anything that would have given me pause or raised any level of anxiety within me melts in the face of the difficult task each morning. Working out gives me an anchor of fearless.

I can always remind myself that this stressful thing isn’t as difficult as that workout I did in the morning.

With consistency in the morning, a good rush of endorphins, getting my heart rate up, and making that workout the most difficult thing I'll do today, it gives me a fearlessness for anything and everything I need to accomplish.

You should try going to the gym, take a spin class, jog a mile, or create some physical circuit for yourself each morning. You just might like it.

Bonus points if you take an ice cold shower when you get home from working out.

Grace under fire

I've found in my life that obstacles and difficulties tend to make us elicit some type of emotional reaction. Those who most succeed are almost always the ones who are able to keep their base emotions in check.

It's a principle I first learned (I believe) while reading Sun Tzu's "Art of war" –which is one of my favorite books to this day.

Keeping these emotions in check is not a stoic, steely, emotion-less face that you put on whenever things get difficult. Rather, it's the ability to feel the emotions taking over and telling them "No."

That big client pitch isn't going to kill you whether you get the job or not. There's always another job opportunity if the interview doesn't go your way. If I had a dollar for ever time I hear about somebody's "dream" job that turned out to be a nightmare, I'd have about a hundred bucks.

Learn to embrace the challenge by not allowing the challenge to strangle you.

The challenge will never strangle you when you can exhibit control of your emotions and response when things get tough.

You don't want a pilot who has an emotional meltdown when something goes wrong at 35,000 feet in the air. The best pilots calmly assess the situation and implement a plan.

The same can be said for surgeons, firefighters, policemen, soldiers, astronauts, etc...

Grace under fire is a beautiful (and useful!) attribute.

Response to adversity

I knew there would be days when I could think of nothing to write when I committed to doing one blog post a day.

Today is one of those days. I could retract into my shell like a turtle, or I could just sit down and start writing and save the good sentences.

This is the "lack of inspiration" thing I talked about in yesterday's post. I need to begin processing thoughts and saving more of what I think about just for this writing challenge I've given myself. It will make “just getting started” that much easier.

Sometimes there is some adversity.

Adversity is not always controllable. Your response is.

Control the response calmly.

Adversity is not a choice. Your response is.

Nobody cares about the first 199 sketches

We often reason that we aren't producing art because the moment of inspiration hasn't "hit."

I watched a documentary about the band "The Who" and in this film, they had a manager who insisted that the band stop trying to write hits and just focus on writing as many songs as they could.

His idea was that if they just created new music, the hits would come from the bulk of music. Sure some, or most, songs would fall by the wayside and never be heard, but from the pool of music that the band created they were able to pick the songs that were best.

They could afford to wait for inspiration. They had to get to work.

For us to take this same approach as artists, we need a certain level of confidence in our abilities. We need to understand that some of the stuff we create isn't going to be incredible, some of it will be downright below average.

When we don't let the fear of creating a piece of artwork that is less than average deter us from making new art, we no longer need this "moment of inspiration" in order to begin creating.

We create and throw away the bad iterations.

The logo designer might make 200 sketches before landing on the "perfect" one. But what if he waited for inspiration to strike and never started sketching.

Nobody cares about the first 199 sketches when the 200th is the masterpiece.

He created the masterpiece by having the confidence (and grit) to continue sketching after the 50th, 100th, and 150th sketches didn't work. He started now and ended up with a masterpiece.

Perfection is boring. The process of getting better is where all the fun is.

Create and refine fearlessly.

You can't eat an elephant in one bite

I forget who said it, but I heard somebody say "You can't eat an elephant in one bite." and the saying stuck with me. It's such a powerful and life-changing concept if you take it to heart.

When you set a big business or lifestyle goal, you don't expect it to be completed the next day. If you expected to lose 30lbs by tomorrow, you'd be constantly disappointed each morning. You'd be delusional, too.

However, if you set a goal of losing half a pound each day you could focus on your food intake, going to the gym, and your sleep schedule and watch steadily over 3-6 months as you shed pound after pound. Eating the elephant one bite at a time, so-to-speak.

You won't be Arnold Schwarzenegger tomorrow, but you could be the guy who runs for 5 or 10 minutes each day before you start work. Keep making progress bit-by-bit and you could run the Boston marathon next year.

Never be disappointed in yourself if you've made progress, no matter how small. The goal is to move in the right direction, not to do it at light speed. Change takes time, improvement takes time. Building a business or new, healthier lifestyle takes time. Focus on the change each moment and each day, not how far you think you should be.

Be a little better than yesterday; that's progress and that's heading toward something good. You'll know where "good" is once you get there.

"The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time in today."

The habit of gratitude

I try to write down three things for which I'm grateful each morning when I wake up. Even on the most difficult days, I've found that if I keep searching for the good, good is there to be found.

It's something a friend suggested I try doing and I've now been doing it for a few years and it's pretty great.

Like any habit, the more you seek to be positive and find the good in all things, the easier it becomes. Day after day your ability to be grateful and happy with what you have and your present situation will become like a second nature.

Did somebody cut you off on the way to work? At least they didn't sideswipe your car. Did your project get shot down by your company executives? You still have the ability to learn from the rejection and you have the capability to build a new project. Day after day, the habit will grow strong until you instantly respond to difficulty with some level of positivity and gratitude.

I once read a story about U.S. President James Madison that he suffered from some different sicknesses in his old age and that a friend of his made some vegetable pills of his "homemade remedy" that was the surefire cure-all.

Upon enquiring if the pills helped the President, he received a graciously written letter from Mr. Madison in which he said something to the extent of “My dear friend, I thank you very much for the box of pills. I have taken them all; and while I cannot say I am better since taking them, it is quite possible that I might have been worse if I had not taken them.”

James Madison appears to have been a man who exercised this habit of gratitude and found the positive in an otherwise bleak situation.

Next time you face a difficult or uncomfortable situation, try to find something in it for which you can be grateful? You’ll become a more effective problem solver and you’ll be happier as well.

Inspiration: just the spark

The moment something captivates you and you are sure you're about to make a difference. Whether in your own life or for some greater good is irrelevant. What carries that moment into reality? What ensures that you will start that thing, make that change, stick with that commitment? The vast majority of us fail simply because we don't pursue our goal consistently and slowly it is given up.

For myself I find that I have little confidence in making a commitment because of the many commitments I have made, I find it very difficult to follow through and complete the tasks that would lead to the realization of dreams and goals.

I've made the commitment to write a short blog post Monday-Saturday before and the bug to write has hit me again. In the front of my mind, I'm sure that THIS will, at last, be the time I make a commitment and see it though. Write a short post every day for the next year, or two, or ten.

In the back of my mind, I doubt I'll even stick with it for a month.

Is it a lack of discipline, a lack of seeing the purpose in jotting down a few thoughts each day, or a self-sabotaging already taking place by that little voice in the back of my head that will ultimately stop me from doing this?

Right now, I think I write a blog post a day by setting aside 20 minutes and sitting down and writing a blog post a day. Everything else that my mind wants to cloud me with doesn't matter.

This is the approach that I must take to become more consistent and reliable in everything I do.  Simply put, you do by doing.

The Day I Almost Went Blind (The Importance of Eyesight)

"You're really pretty lucky, the blade only cut into the surface of your eye. It did manage to remove the skin from half of your actual eyeball, but it looks like your vision will be OK.” Those were actual words spoken to me from Dr. Michael from Kremer Eye Center here outside of Philadelphia. 

See, over the weekend, my left eye had a run in with the business-end of a scissor blade as I reached across my face with an open pair of scissors. It was like the lights in my world went out. Everything just went black. I ended up (trying) watching local UFC fighter Eddie Alvarez get TKO’d (KO’d?) by Irish superstar, Conor McGregor through one hazy, blurry eye while writhing in pain on my couch. I think I listened more than I really watched, but my mind wasn’t really there. Eye injuries hurt like the devil.

It was Saturday night around 9pm and I didn’t want just any technician, interim doctor, or jack-of-all-trades ER Dr. hacking and cutting into my eye so I opted for some drugs I had laying around the house from previous prescriptions and gutted my way through Saturday night and a long, arduous Sunday. Monday my wonderful wife called a local eye care clinic the very moment they opened and got us first in line to have this thing fixed with one of the best doctors in the state (probably in the nation, I think.)

I’m a pretty visual guy, my business depends on it. I’m a photographer, a video guy, a visual artist or sorts. I need my eyes working pretty well. On account of the fact that I’m writing this post, I’m doing pretty well now a few days after the injury and surgery (I think it was surgical? It seemed pretty no-big-deal from Doc, though.) I am still wearing an eye patch and taking some pretty annoying eye drops every few hours, but I’m not blind, heck, my vision will not even be affected by the injury. It was, after all, only skin deep.

The past few days without eyesight (I was unable to open/use my eyes from Saturday until Tuesday evening) have given me a newfound appreciation of how important they are and really how much I just took them for granted. I also have immense respect for doctors who have the skills and wrist control to gently correct a surface like your eyeball without causing additional damage. Wow. 

As I begin getting my eyesight back I am dreaming of answering emails, lining up my next photoshoot, sending my next batch of orders off to the printer, writing a contract, heck, let me wash some dishes or do the laundry, really anything that lets me know everything is back, working fine, and pain-free.

Eyes, man. They’re pretty important. Keep scissors away from them.

Top Secret Microsoft Technology in Seattle (Redmond), Washington

I may never be able to think of Microsoft the same way that I always have in the past. Over the past two days, Microsoft has spared no expense in flying me and a group of other Youtubers out to Seattle, Washington to tour some production processes and top secret, yet-to-be-announced tech in their Redmond, WA campus. It started with the first-class flight upgrades, the black car service, a nice dinner out on the town, and the top-of-the-tower hotel room with floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides. Gratefulness and gratitude were on tap before we'd even started the tour.
We took cars from the hotel directly to the campus in Redmond and started by touring one of the prototyping and design buildings on campus. Here we saw many of the initial iterations of the Surface book before it's final form took place. The effort that went into reducing weight, finding the perfect balance, and the all-important "muscle wire" folding  mechanism that gives the opening and closing of the notebook just the right amount of touch and go. An entire warehouse filled with 3D printers to afford the engineers and designers the ability to dream up a design and have a 3D prototype in hand in no time flat, rooms for laser etching, finish painting, and everything in between that you could imagine a designer would need to develop the perfect physical product. An impressive sight indeed.
We also got a very thorough tour of the ergonomics department/lab and talked a bit about some of the amazing tech and even a few relatively primitive tools used to find ever conceivable measurement on a human's face. This data is used to ensure that wearable and in-hand devices will be comfortable in at least 90% of the general public's hands. Amazing stuff.
From the ergonomics lab, we next went to the audio testing area where we were treated to a little time in the Guinness Book of World Records quietest room in the world. Your voice sounds so much different in the room (which seems more appropriately called a "chamber") when there is absolutely no sound reflection. The lights were shut off and we stood quietly in the chamber for 30-40 seconds and the sensory deprivation of no sight and no hearing allows you to hear your actual heartbeat, but it also had this strange effect of making my ears feel heavy and gave me a very slight dizzy feeling. It was pretty bizarre.
There were also some amazing technologies that Microsoft gave us exclusive access to see and preview that I'm not even allowed to talk about. But rest assured, between the robots waiting for you ready to give directions when you need them and the language altering artificial intelligence, to the self-growing lettuce vending machines and insane augmented reality that will change the way you buy products and services, the modern face of Microsoft is facing squarely into the future. In fact, they're doing their part to usher it in.

Most Miles Ever in Past Five Days

After catching a red-eye back to Philadelphia on Saturday night (my earlier flight got pushed about 7 hours later than I expected) and spending a day with my family, here I sit in an airplane once more cruising about 35,000 feet above South Dakota in a Boeing 737 flying toward Seattle for a dinner meeting with some folks from Microsoft. There is also some big secret (I think) "underground" tour that I am supposed to be participating in tomorrow. I have absolutely no idea what to expect. Microsoft has generously picked up the tab for my plane (first class window seats both ways), hotel, and car so I figured there was no harm in making the trip as long as I could find the time and still get my work done. I'm hoping this is a quick out-and-back trip.
When I was much younger, my family would take trips across the country, but it was the kind of trip where you all bumble into a van and spend three weeks driving across America and back again. These two flights have been a slightly different method of transcontinental travel. Despite spending an inordinate amount of time on airplanes in the past few days, it still blows my mind that we can travel nearly 6,000 miles in about 5 and a half hours. It doesn't even take enough out of me to prevent me from feeling energized and even doing work. I could almost commute to Seattle (or San Francisco) if my job required it (and they paid for first class!)
I've always loved airplanes since I was a little boy and they really are fascinating machines. To create something that can harness the air as though it had the buoyancy of water and float from one place to the next while soaring above the clouds. I could get used to flying much more than I do. It's so beautiful.
I'm hoping to meet some interesting people while out at Microsoft and see if there are any potential business venture opportunities. Maybe they all need new headshots, who knows? If they do, I'll be there.