Ahoj! Welcome to this week's digest. This week is a very special "Unleash Potential" edition, as we share content related to fully embracing what our lives have to offer, and one of my mentors shares one of her early works in her journey to explore her creative potential.

On a related (and admittedly narcissistic) side note, the act of writing this week's digest actively inspired me to break through a weightlifting fear / mental barrier. For a variety of reasons (some warranted, some bullshit), I have been afraid of barbell back squatting 8 plates (405 lbs.). I had been stuck at a max of 385 for 18 months, and had never even attempted to go higher. The simple act of re-reading my Kindle notes from The Artist's Way created a surge of "just do it" potential energy, and I finally faced (and conquered) a long-held fear. As you read through Julia Cameron's quotes below (or read her amazing book in full!), I hope her words inspire you to face your fear(s), too :D

This week's topics include yearning for immortality, setting better goals, mindfulness satire, and unleashing our (creative) potential. Enjoy!

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"The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention." ~ Julia Cameron
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BLOG POST - Farnam Street: Our Yearning for Immortality: Alan Lightman on one of the most Profound Contradictions of Human Existence by Shane Parrish - Eloquent essays expounding on the multitudinous scientific evidence that argues for the impermanence of everything, despite our longing for permanence.

Answering The Drucker Question: Identify one positive thing and one negative thing in your life that you believe to be fixed and permanent. A skill. A relationship. A possession. Consider the possibility that at some point, these things will all go away. Normalize yourself to this inevitability. And realize that this is the nature of the universe, there is nothing you can do about it, and that everything will be OK anyway :D

Complement with Making Sense #4: The Path and The Goal with Joseph Goldstein (TD Digest summary).

My highlights:
  • Few things are more in our nature than our yearning for permanence. And yet all evidence argues against us.
  • As a scientist, I firmly believe that atoms and molecules are real (even if mostly empty space) and exist independently of our minds. On the other hand, I have witnessed firsthand how distressed I become when I experience anger or jealousy or insult, all emotional states manufactured by my own mind. The mind is certainly its own cosmos.
  • I don’t know why we long so for permanence, why the fleeting nature of things so disturbs... We clutch our old photographs. In our churches and synagogues and mosques, we pray to the everlasting and eternal. Yet, in every nook and cranny, nature screams at the top of her lungs that nothing lasts, that it is all passing away. All that we see around us, including our own bodies, is shifting and evaporating and one day will be gone.
  • Physicists call it the second law of thermodynamics. It is also called the arrow of time. Oblivious to our human yearnings for permanence, the universe is relentlessly wearing down, falling apart, driving itself toward a condition of maximum disorder. It is a question of probabilities... In the end, you cannot defeat the odds. You might beat the house for a while, but the universe has an infinite supply of time and can outlast any player.
  • In my continual cravings for eternal youth and constancy, I am being sentimental. Perhaps with the proper training of my unruly mind and emotions, I could refrain from wanting things that cannot be. Perhaps I could accept the fact that in a few short years, my atoms will be scattered in wind and soil, my mind and thoughts gone, my pleasures and joys vanished, my “I-ness” dissolved in an infinite cavern of nothingness. But I cannot accept that fate even though I believe it to be true. I cannot force my mind to go to that dark place.

ARTICLE - MIT Sloan Management Review: With Goals, FAST Beats SMART by Donald Sull and Charles Sull - Long piece by the Sulls explaining their thoughtful, alternative goal-setting framework, FAST (Frequent, Ambitious, Specific, Transparent). I have been an employee in almost a dozen corporate environments, and only one did goal setting particularly well (shout-out to Bain!). Many have done goal setting at face value, e.g., formally going through an annual review or OKR creation process, but few have executed with the real spirit of goal setting. This is not to lay blame on those companies who executed poorly, rather to highlight how fucking hard it is for corporate goal setting (or personal goal setting, for that matter) to not become a formal exercise that does not deliver. A litmus test for me revolves around decision-making - when making decisions, as individuals or as groups, are the goals an explicit part of the process?

One-Sentence Takeaway: "[L]eaders must set ambitious targets, translate them into specific metrics and milestones, make them transparent throughout the organization, and discuss progress frequently."

Answering The Drucker Question: Take 5 minutes to write out any important goals of yours. Are they specific and ambitious? Have you shared them with any other important stakeholders? Do you actively consider them when making related decisions? Are you frequently revisiting them? If you answered No to any of these questions, perhaps take another 5 minutes and refine your goal(s) and process.

Complement with The Power of Anti-Goals (TD Digest summary).

My highlights:
  • The conventional wisdom of goal setting is so deeply ingrained that managers rarely stop to ask a fundamental question — does it work?
  • Goals can drive strategy execution but only when they are aligned with strategic priorities, account for critical interdependencies across silos, and enable course corrections as circumstances change. If these conditions aren’t met, every employee could achieve their individual goals, but the organization as a whole could still fail to execute its strategy.
  • We found that four core principles underpin effective goal systems, and we summarize these elements with the acronym FAST. Goals should be embedded in frequent discussions; ambitious in scope; measured by specific metrics and milestones; and transparent for everyone in the organization to see.
  • When employees can see top-level goals, they can align their individual and team objectives with the company’s overall direction. Clarity on how their work contributes to the success of the organization as a whole, moreover, is one of the top drivers of employee engagement... When employees don’t know one another’s goals, they are more likely to make unrealistic demands, focus on activities that don’t support their colleagues, or duplicate effort.
  • The power of specific, ambitious goals to improve the performance of individuals and teams is one of the best documented findings in organizational psychology, and has been replicated in more than 500 studies over the past 50 years... Adding a set of metrics for each goal and providing frequent feedback on progress can further improve results... Working through concrete actions and metrics, moreover, helps employees understand exactly what their boss and colleagues expect from them, and decreases the odds that they will agree on broad generalities that each interprets in their own way... Translating general goals into testable hypotheses surfaces errors more quickly and precisely, which accelerates the pace of learning and adjustment.
  • What really matters is not whether goals are set quarterly or annually, but whether they shape the key discussions for getting work done... Goals can also provide the framework for making difficult trade-offs regarding which initiatives to prioritize, how to allocate resources, and how to respond to requests from colleagues in other teams. Feedback and coaching sessions provide another opportunity for managers and employees to discuss goals on an ongoing basis.
  • The widespread practice of requiring employees to achieve 100% of their goals to earn a bonus or a positive performance review reinforces employees’ tendency to set conservative goals that they are sure to achieve... [John] Doerr discusses the value of pursuing order-of-magnitude improvements as opposed to incremental gains... Ambitious goals minimize the risk that employees will sandbag by committing to overly conservative goals they are sure to achieve... When the gap between the goals being set and current reality is wide, organizations need to search for creative or innovative ways to achieve their ambitious, overall objectives... Striking the balance between ambition and achievability is a difficult but essential task for leaders at every level in an organization.

- The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron (My full Kindle notes) - Julia's seminal work about unleashing your (creative) potential proffers an incredible blend of emotional inspiration and concrete actions and tools. This book added three invaluable processes to my life: Morning Pages, Artist Dates, and a Most Favorites list. In the four years since reading this book, all three of these processes have added dozens of hours of happiness to my life. Julia's book made my life meaningfully more joyful, many times over, and provides a powerful toolkit to unleash your potential (in any realm) whenever necessary.

One-Sentence Takeaway: Julia's seminal work proffers an incredible blend of emotional inspiration and concrete actions and tools that will add joy to your life, and give you a powerful toolkit to unleash your potential in any realm.

Answering The Drucker Question: Today, try at least one of: writing morning pages, taking yourself on an artist date, or drafting your most favorites list (more details below in my highlights).

Complement with The War of Art (My summary) and Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (TD Digest summary).

My highlights:
  • We must remain ready to ask, open-minded enough to be led, and willing to believe despite our bouts of disbelief... Creativity is an act of faith, and we must be faithful to that faith, willing to share it to help others, and to be helped in return.
  • No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too selfish or too silly to work on your creativity.
  • Many of us find that we have squandered our own creative energies by investing disproportionately in the lives, hopes, dreams, and plans of others. Their lives have obscured and detoured our own.
  • ...[M]orning pages are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream of consciousness... They might also, more ingloriously, be called brain drain, since that is one of their main functions... Pages are meant to be, simply, the act of moving the hand across the page and writing down whatever comes to mind... By spilling out of bed and straight onto the page every morning, you learn to evade the Censor.
  • Doing your artist date, you are receiving—opening yourself to insight, inspiration, guidance... An artist date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist... A weekly artist date is remarkably threatening—and remarkably productive... Filling the well involves the active pursuit of images to refresh our artistic reservoirs... In filling the well, think magic. Think delight. Think fun. Do not think duty. Do not do what you should do— spiritual situps like reading a dull but recommended critical text. Do what intrigues you, explore what interests you; think mystery, not mastery.
  • In recovering from our creative blocks, it is necessary to go gently and slowly. What we are after here is the healing of old wounds—not the creation of new ones. No high jumping, please! Mistakes are necessary! Stumbles are normal. These are baby steps. Progress, not perfection, is what we should be asking of ourselves.
  • The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.
  • Where does your time go? List your five major activities this week. How much time did you give to each one? Which were what you wanted to do and which were shoulds? How much of your time is spent helping others and ignoring your own desires? ... List twenty things you enjoy doing...  When was the last time you let yourself do these things? Next to each entry, place a date.
  • Pointed criticism, if accurate, often gives the artist an inner sense of relief: “Ah, hah! so that’s what was wrong with it.” Useful criticism ultimately leaves us with one more puzzle piece for our work... Useless criticism, on the other hand, leaves us with a feeling of being bludgeoned.
  • Okay is a blanket word for most of us. It covers all sorts of squirmy feelings; and it frequently signals a loss. We officially feel okay, but do we? ... Each of us is a unique, creative individual. But we often blur that uniqueness with sugar, alcohol, drugs, overwork, underplay, bad relations, toxic sex, underexercise, over-TV, undersleep—many and varied forms of junk food for the soul... It is a paradox that by emptying our lives of distractions we are actually filling the well. Without distractions, we are once again thrust into the sensory world.
  • ...[A]sk yourself bluntly what next step you are evading. What dream are you discounting as impossible given your resources? What payoff are you getting for remaining stuck at this point in your expansion?
  • An artist must have downtime, time to do nothing. Defending our right to such time takes courage, conviction, and resiliency. Such time, space, and quiet will strike our family and friends as a withdrawal from them. It is... Many recovering creatives sabotage themselves most frequently by making nice. There is a tremendous cost to such ersatz virtue.
  • Listening to the siren song of more, we are deaf to the still small voice waiting in our soul to whisper, “You’re enough.”
  • Perfectionism has nothing to do with getting it right. It has nothing to do with fixing things. It has nothing to do with standards. Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead... It is a loop—an obsessive, debilitating closed system that causes you to get stuck in the details of what you are writing or painting or making and to lose sight of the whole... The perfectionist writes, paints, creates with one eye on her audience. Instead of enjoying the process, the perfectionist is constantly grading the results... To the perfectionist, there is always room for improvement. The perfectionist calls this humility. In reality, it is egotism. It is pride that makes us want to write a perfect script, paint a perfect painting, perform a perfect audition monologue... Once we are willing to accept that anything worth doing might even be worth doing badly our options widen.
  • ...[V]ery often a risk is worth taking simply for the sake of taking it. There is something enlivening about expanding our self-definition, and a risk does exactly that. Selecting a challenge and meeting it creates a sense of self-empowerment that becomes the ground for further successful challenges.
  • ...[M]any talented creatives were daunted early and unfairly by their inability to conform to a norm that was not their own.
  • As a rule of thumb, it is best to just admit that there is always one action you can take for your creativity daily... Do not call the inability to start laziness. Call it fear... The fear of not being good enough. The fear of not finishing. The fear of failure and of success. The fear of beginning at all. There is only one cure for fear. That cure is love.
  • ...[W]orkaholism still receives a great deal of support in our society. The phrase I’m working has a certain unassailable air of goodness and duty to it. The truth is, we are very often working to avoid ourselves, our spouses, our real feelings... Play can make a workaholic very nervous. Fun is scary... There is a difference between zestful work toward a cherished goal and workaholism. That difference lies less in the hours than it does in the emotional quality of the hours spent... For a workaholic, work is synonymous with worth, and so we are hesitant to jettison any part of it.
  • Only when we are being joyfully creative can we release the obsession with others and how they are doing.
  • The goal is to connect to a world outside of us, to lose the obsessive self-focus of self-exploration and, simply, explore. One quickly notes that when the mind is focused on other, the self often comes into a far more accurate focus.

Delightful quotes from others in the book:
  • It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our lives that we must draw our strength to live and our reasons for living. SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR
  • To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong. JOSEPH CHILTON PEARCE
  • Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative [or creation] there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too... Action has magic, grace, and power in it. W. H. MURRAY
  • As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler. HENRY DAVID THOREAU
  • Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music—the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself. HENRY MILLER
  • The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. HENRY DAVID THOREAU
  • There is the risk you cannot afford to take, [and] there is the risk you cannot afford not to take. PETER DRUCKER
  • Always leave enough time in your life to do something that makes you happy, satisfied, even joyous. That has more of an effect on economic well-being than any other single factor. PAUL HAWKEN
  • Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark. AGNES DE MILLE
  • Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it you will land among the stars. LES BROWN
  • With courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate and the wisdom to be humble. Courage is the foundation of integrity. KESHAVAN NAIR
  • Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life. LINUS PAULING
  • Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. ANAÏS NIN
  • Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment. JALAL UD-DIN RUMI
  • What moves men of genius, or rather what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough. EUGENE DELACROIX
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