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A short excerpt from a conversation with Grammy-winning songwriter James T Slayter inside JJ’s Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee.

Thought of the day:

I didn’t wear my glasses when I was 15 because I thought I didn’t need them. I was on a trip with my dad and he let me drive for the first time on the highway, this 45 mile stretch, fairly empty road, and I was so nervous but I pretended like I wasn’t. The problem was I couldn’t read any of the signs. I didn’t tell my dad (probably not the best idea) because I was too afraid he wouldn’t let me drive again, or he’d be mad because I let him down. As soon as I got home I started wearing my glasses. The next time I drove it was a totally different experience. Today I realized that there have been all these (figurative) signs in my life tellingly what to do but I couldn’t read them; but, I kept driving because I was too afraid to say something (in this case, to be honest with myself). Now that I’ve officially decided to quit I’m seeing all sorts of signs but I’m realizing they’ve been here the whole time. I just wasn’t ready to put my glasses and see them. It’s really wonderful.

Brilliance or BS? A Three Part Series

The internet loves romanticized, courageous, renegade quotes about pursuing passions, taking roads less traveled and just doing it. They saturate Pinterest boards and news feeds—we print them to hang on our walls or tattoo them on our bodies. 

But how often do we listen to their advice? 

Sometimes I feel we use quotes the same way we use well-intentioned gym memberships: we buy memberships and post quotes but we rarely visit the gym and fall short of seizing the day. 

Is it because the quotes are bullshit? 

Or are we lacking the courage to embrace the advice? 

I’ve thought about this a lot lately as I’ve noticed the an imbalance between the number of inspirational quotes I see online and number of people I see doing interesting things. 

There are three quotes that have struck a chord with me in the past two months—quotes that I wanted to share online—but realized I only wanted to share them if I was actually doing what the quote advised.

This is a three part series and the first of the three quotes comes from Steve Jobs:

I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Is this quote brilliant or bullshit? 

Did Steve Jobs actually ask himself each morning if he were satisfied with his current situation? When the answer was no did he immediately change direction or rather did he let the dissatisfaction plant a seed in his mind that grew into a decision to make a change?

Any time I’ve thought about making a drastic change I’ve been overwhelmed with uncertainty coupled with anxiety. 

Are you sure you want to do this? 

What if your new plan doesn’t work? 

You can’t just up and change direction, you made commitments! 

Everyone will think you’re crazy. 

The quote makes it sound like he went four days feeling unsatisfied and made the quick decision to pivot the same way you decide you’re not digging the shirt you picked out so you absentmindedly throw it off and put on a different one. I know Steve Jobs was a brilliant mind but I refuse to believe that he had the confidence and self-assurance to make changes at the drop of a hat. 

So while he was probably skilled at not sticking around bad situations longer than necessary, he is still human, which means the change was accompanied by uncertainty and anxiety (I don’t want to romanticize his situation). That being said, I do think there’s brilliance in the quote when it’s distilled to it’s core message: if you repeatedly feel you aren’t doing the right things, do something different. 

If you post Steve’s quote on your Facebook page yet continue to complain you hate you’re job for months on end, that’s bullshit.

 …

Getting Ketchup Out of the Bottle

One of the simple annoyances of life is the frustrating task of getting stubborn ketchup out of the bottle onto a plate of radiating french fries that can’t wait to be eaten. It’s frustrating because you can see the ketchup, you know it’s in there, but it just won’t come out. 

That’s what writing this week feels like. 

I’ve committed to writing a blog post once a week for eight weeks (some here and a few at 52 Cups). This week’s blog post is frustrating because there is a lot on my mind—the good kind of a lot. Ideas and insights that I’m excited about. Ideas that are slightly terrifying but in the best way possible. The problem is I can’t figure out how to get them out of the proverbial ketchup bottle that is my brain. 

Perhaps the ideas are just a little too new and underdeveloped. With a few more days (weeks? months?) they’ll become more clear and that’s when they’ll be more easy to get out and share. 

In the interim, here’s a list of disjointed ramblings that fascinated me in some form or fashion this week: 

Searching for courage is better than running from fear 

There are million things to be worried about. If you cross off five worries, it’s likely that five new ones will show up. The antidote to fear is action. If you can grow your courage muscle and create the habit of taking action despite fear, you’ll find that fear has less power. 

Hiking with a friend and experiencing ten miles of fresh air and good conversation are medicine for the soul. 

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This is really amazing 

There are more options than you realize 

When problem solving, I’m problem solving or noodling on an issue I find myself stuck in a way of thinking that is very either or: I can either do X, or I can do Y. 

In reality, most situations have several outcomes. Depending on creativity and resources, I could turn options X and Y into options A, B, C, D, E, etc. There’s always more than meets the eye and if you can trust that any situation has several options you alleviate some of the anxiety around decision making. 

Or at least I do. 

This is one of the ideas that’s stuck in the bottle, with time it’ll turn into a fully-functional idea/blog post. 

Until then I’m going to keep letting these thoughts roll around in my mind and report back when I’ve got something a little more substantial. 

Write Something Everyday

I write something everyday. 

Okay, fine, I write something 92 percent of the days, which is enough days that I can consider it a habit. 

In college I discovered a site called 750 words run by a great guy named Buster. It’s exactly what it sounds like; everyday you write 750 words. In  Buster’s words: 

I’ve long been inspired by an idea I first learned about in The Artist’s Way called morning pages. Morning pages are three pages of writing done every day, typically encouraged to be in “long hand”, typically done in the morning, that can be about anything and everything that comes into your head. It’s about getting it all out of your head, and is not supposed to be edited or censored in any way. The idea is that if you can get in the habit of writing three pages a day, that it will help clear your mind and get the ideas flowing for the rest of the day. 

So you wake up and get all the thoughts out of your mind—somewhat like the way you open up a container of mustard and clear the old crusty part off the top before you get to the good stuff. That’s a gross analogy, I know, but every time I think about 750 words I can’t help but think about mustard. 

In college it was hard to hit 750 words, excruciatingly hard, and I couldn’t get into the habit. I think letting my thoughts flow freely without judgement was too difficult at the time. 

Fast forward a few years to a point where I’d learned to silence the inner critic and let the words flow: 

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I eventually hit a 66 day streak. I grew to really love the part of the day where I just wrote about whatever I wanted to write about (the green checkmark signifying the daily accomplishment also helped). 

Thanks to a tip from a close friend, in March I switched gears to OhLife, which is the same in that it encourages you to write daily but without a word count. In their words: 

  • We send you friendly emails asking “How’d your day go?” 
  • You reply and write as much as you want - that’s it!
  • You end up with a really neat collection of your life stories. 

I liked 750 words because it helped me clear out my mind while allowing me to keep a running narrative of my life—although I never would go back and reread my entries. I didn’t think I wanted to. 

OhLife, on the other hand, makes it easy to reread entries because every time they send you an email they include one of your previous entries: 

Oh snap, remember this? One month ago you wrote…

Most days I don’t reread the entries but every now and then I’ll skim them for a quick trip back in time. 

That is the point of this post: taking quick trips back in time (especially when you’re life is moving 100 mph). 

When taking a look back in time you can easily see the ways in which you’ve changed and the ways you’ve stayed the same (it’s really noticeable during transitions or challenging periods: new job, new relationship, chasing a big goal, etc). 

My first thought when I reread an entry is usually, Whoa! That’s what my thinking is like? It sounds weird to think about your thinking but revisiting thoughts after the stress or emotion of the moment has faded puts the situation in a new and interesting light. 

My next thought is usually, Wow! I let that situation cause so much stress in my life and it ended up working out just fine. I should have trusted myself more.

This happens because a lot of my writing centers around whatever I’m most anxious about that day (this makes sense if you’re writing to clear your mind). While being overly-anxious isn’t very productive, writing about your anxiety and then revisiting it can be very helpful because you’re reminded that despite the ups and downs of life, you’re moving forward. A month has gone by and you’re still alive to write about whatever it is you’re writing about. 

Where the magic happens though is when you read something and realize how far you’ve grown. When you realize that the thing—the problem at work, the new relationship, the tiresome insecurity, the debt, etc-that has been occupying an unfair share of your mental and emotional energy isn’t taking up so much space anymore. 

It’s wonderful. 

Because it’s a reminder that you’re strong enough to tackle what life is throwing your way. You took something you thought was a very large problem (perhaps an unsolvable problem) and with time and effort turned it into a small (and perhaps non-existent) problem. This is important because it allows you to pause and appreciate the moment. More importantly, it is proof that you’re the type of person capable of overcoming life’s challenges. 

This means the next time a tricky situation arises you can remind yourself that in the past you’ve been able to turn big problems into little problems and if you’ve done it before you can do it again.

That confidence, that feeling of I have done this before and I will do it again can make all the difference in the world. 

That’s why I write something everyday.

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Try it. You might be surprised by what you discover. 

People say you have to pay your dues when you’re young.

I say double check the dues you’re paying get you into a club you actually want to join.

Sex in the woods and a product suggestion.

Tae Kim, founder of Alite Designs, gave a Creative Mornings presentation about design titled Sex in the Woods. It was a hilarious and inspiring talk, which led me to write them the following email. 

Little did I know it was the start of a beautiful friendship: 

Hello!! 

I watched Tae’s Creative Mornings talk and really loved it. It reminded me of the birthday road trip to Vermont I went on with my friend Rachel. She’s a suburban Detroit kid. I grew up in Wyoming. Moral of the story: she’s not outdoorsy but I decided to force her to camp. 

These were her initial thoughts on the experience: 

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I had just come off a camping trip in Colorado where they had crazy fire bans. Having gotten use to camping without a campfire I completely forgot to buy firewood. We improvised by using cupcakes and birthday candles: 
 
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And beer. Naturally. 
 
It ended up being a really successful and fun trip. In the morning we hadn’t showered and being girls that like to take photos, we were feeling a little self-conscious. Fortunately, we had a remedy to solve the problem. 
 
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Can’t shower in the woods? Just wear a wig! 
 
I realize that you don’t know what we look like sans wigs, so for a reference point: 
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Wait. That’s not helpful. This should be: 
 
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So in conclusion: 

Loved your talk about Sex in the Woods and love what you guys are doing. Just thought I would recommend adding camping wigs to your arsenal of great products. If you’re trying to enjoy the mountains, you’re concerned about appearances and it’s tough to look good sans showers… wigs are a foolproof solution. 

Did I really just type that? 

Yes I did. 

Wigs have yet to let me down. 

Sidenote: Rachel and I are just friends. Really. She has a boyfriend that also doesn’t camp. Maybe Rachel should buy him that awesome Stanley flask to coax him to go to on a Northern California camping trip with us. 

Anyways. Just wanted to say hello and share a few thoughts. 

Have a fantastic day, 

Megan 

A few days later, I received a response: 

Hi Megan,

Sorry for the delay, but it took me a couple of days to wrap my head around all that. Additionally, Alite and our sister company, Boreas Gear, were out of the office the last two days on a company camping trip of our own. Look out for those photos to pop up on our facebook page in the next couple of weeks. 

It is not often that someone in the office asks my opinion on new products, but if/when it happens, I will be sure to pass along your interesting “outdoor wig” ideas. Sex does sell and the people in this office could probably stand to get a little more action, so who knows?! 

I did really enjoy your email, so thank you for breaking up my usually monotonous morning. It looks like you guys had a great time, and that’s what we are all about. Feel free to stay in touch and let me know if there is ever anything else I can do for you(s). Take care!

Regards, 

AJ 

And! They liked my email so much they sent Rachel and I these great squirrel packs: 

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Although it almost didn’t happen because another Alite employee, Paige, sent me an email that slipped through the cracks of my inbox. It wasn’t until I had another product idea that I uncovered her email offering to send us the great gifts: 

Paige and A.J., 

First of all, Paige, I’m sorry for such  delay. I can’t believe my email let your email slip through the cracks—it’s almost as if it was acting like a squirrel trying to squander the best nuts away into hiding. I’m so glad I happened upon your email this morning.

Now here’s why I found it. A stroke of inspiration hit me this am and I had to share it with my favorite outdoor design company. 

Last Thanksgiving, I skipped the traditional Gebhart tradition of going to Grandma’s for dinner and opted instead to visit Aunt-Arctica. By that I mean, my friend, Jeannine, and I went to Antarctica. It was glorious, and beautiful, and fantastic, and a ton of other adjectives one would use to describe an epic adventure.  

Now what you probably don’t know (or maybe you do, I suppose I shouldn’t make assumptions) is that there are regulatory laws about penguin interaction. Humans are not allowed to walk closer than five yards from a penguin (unless you are a Penguinologists, which yes, is a real profession). However! If the penguin wants to walk within five yards from you it is a-okay. Basically you can be pursued, but can’t be the pursuer. It sort of reminds me of a strange technique you’d find in “The Game”.  

Anyways. Penguins are a-dor-a-ble and the closer they get to you the better your life is. I mean, really: 

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Now, I decided to be covert and try to lure these flightless birds closer to me: 
 
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Rachel (my wig camping buddy) made me this fantastic hat.
 
Now the problem is that it was cold so I had to wear this bright yellow jacket and red life preserver (safety first!!).
 
What I was thinking is that if I looked more penguin, I would attract more penguin: 
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But as you can see they are minding their own business over yonder. 

So here’s my idea. 

I think you guys should break into the Antarctic market by making a supercharged version of the S.H. Sleeping Bag

Now, don’t judge my photoshop skills. I don’t actually have photoshop, this is the result of time spent in PowerPoint. But I think a penguin-themed S.H. (with built in buoyancy in case you fall into the frigid waters) would sell out in a hot second. (Picture it in all black. Also assume you’ll have to make a new line of orange Flipper Boots—perhaps called them the Emperor Boot): 
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That’s when the magic will happen. Now by magic, I don’t mean sexual magic, just implying friendly penguin-friend making magic: 

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So again, I’m not outdoor design expert. Just a semi-outdoorsy girl with ideas to share. There may be a market for this, and if so, I’ll have you know I’ll be your first customer! 

All the best, 

Megan 

And now for the best part—they’ve asked me to be the Camp Alite Reporter this weekend at their Adventure Valley Camping Extravaganza! 

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So be on the lookout from my report from the front lines. And also, if you encounter a company you love, shoot ‘em an email, interesting adventures might ensue. 

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“Everyone has Ocean’s to fly, if they have the Heart to do it. Is it reckless, maybe. But what do dreams know of boundaries?”
— Amelia Earhart