I took a trip to Dayton, Ohio yesterday. I went to a meetup put together by The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus.
I love talking to people and exchanging ideas. I enjoy the intellectual rigor of trying to understand a new frame of reference. I love offering examples from my past experience to test whether I really understand an idea or if I’m missing the point. Sometimes my experience can spark a new insight or shade of meaning for someone. Likewise, another perspective frequently adds depth to my own opinions. In the best examples of these conversations the exchange is easy, free of pretense, and forgiving of the many tangents that creative thinking entails.
I talked with Joshua and Ryan yesterday after the meetup, and the whole exchange had this comfortable feel.
I owe these two a debt of gratitude. I’ve been gradually opting out of consumer culture for almost twenty years. What The Minimalists opened up for me was the possibility of cutting loose the accretions of a lifetime of acquisition. I had slowed substantially the addition of new stuff into my life, but I’d never focused on reducing what I already had. The result was a little more drag on my existence with each passing year. Joshua and Ryan’s essays on minimalism have been an inspiration to me for the last year. I’ve used the content from their blog to create space in my life; space for things that matter to me.
I’m using that space for my crazyAwesomeHellYeah projects.
“You can sit in an empty room and be miserable”.
Ryan said these words as I arrived (late as it turned out) to 15 or 20 people sitting together at Press Coffee Bar in Dayton’s Oregon district. Joshua and Ryan were wrapping up a description of their journeys to minimalism and starting a Q & A that felt more like a conversation than a press conference.
The group asked some good questions, the answers to which became something of a group discussion. The toughest issues I heard people facing with minimalism dealt with how to communicate their minimalist values to family and friends.
Ryan suggested telling them “It’s my problem, not yours”. The comment is unexpected and disarming as it seeks to put the other person at ease. Further along in the discussion, articulating a minimalists’ problem with gifts Joshua remarked “I have a problem with the commodification of love”. The dehumanizing aspect of products as a proxy for love really hit home for me. It’s a fair definition, but one that is usually softened or obscured by one means or another.
I scribbled down a couple of quotes from the evening…
Start somewhere, but start.
I got laid off in September, so it worked out great.
For me, the most memorable statement was this one from Joshua:
(Why didn’t I record this? It would be so much better to have it word-for word.)
What’s the first thing we say when we meet someone? “What do you do?”, Right?
If they’re a Wall street broker we’ll think something very different than if they are a janitor. The janitor is likely to be a lot more honest, for instance. Hearing what someone does for a living lets us judge them, which is totally stupid…So after I quit my job if someone asked me “What do you do?” I would say “I’m really passionate about writing. What are you passionate about?”. And that totally changed the conversation.
I enjoyed each of these statements for different reasons (if you care to know why you can ask in the comments :)), but the last one is an absolute gem. The optimist in me believes “What do you do?” is searching for a common frame of reference from which to begin a relationship. The cynic in me knows people make judgements on that basis. It knows because I make some of those judgements myself.
Regardless of intent, the fact remains that I don’t want to be pigeonholed as an “IT Guy” just because I earn my salary in that capacity. Does an “IT Guy” build a boat? Learn a language? Go on adventures?
We’re all deeper than our resumes.
I’m really pleased that I made the trip. I’m a natural wallflower, and it’s always a struggle for me to go to new venues and meet people. Occasionally I’ll have an opportunity to meet (in person) people I’ve only known online. For me, these events are usually characterized by irrational fear followed by a memorable evening. Last night I skipped the fear and entered directly into the comfortable and yes, memorable, evening. I have everyone in attendance to thank for that, but mostly Joshua and Ryan. Thanks!
Check out their tour page. If they’re not coming your way I highly recommend attending the Any City in the World Meetup. Ryan told me a little bit about their plans and it’s definitely worth your while.
A group of friends chatting about what makes them happy, what could be better?
Progress is never a straight line.
If you chart where you’ve been and where you are you’ll get a jagged, Himalayan line that reflects in some small way the struggles you’ve seen.
I realized this because I’m in one of the valleys of such a graph.
I recently was at a peak of progress:
A 16 mile hiking adventure in the mountains.
Ready to shape the sheerstrake for my boat.
Shrinking waistline from my dietary changes and workouts.
Consistent writing on my blog.
Completed business plan for a new venture.
And then it all changed.
I started reading a lot (again) and have spent less time writing.
My business partner has been very busy and our progress has stalled.
My shoulder injury is making most exercise difficult and sapping my enthusiasm.
The next step of the boat is the most important line & I’ve been stuck for weeks figuring how to do it beautifully and well.
I don’t have any new adventures on the calendar.
My momentum on the crazyAwesomeHellYeahProjects ground to a dispiriting halt.
What do you do when faced with the challenge of starting again?
I don’t mean to be glib, but it really is that simple.
You can only ever be doing what you are doing. If you are thinking about starting, or planning to start, or scheming on how to beat the resistance to starting then you aren’t starting.
What’s the smallest step you can possibly take to get the ball rolling again?
Take it. Start.
Write that blog post. Even if (especially if?) you’re not sure if it’s good enough.
Develop the minimum economically viable offering for your business. Even if (especially if?) the idea embarrasses you.
Make an appointment with a doctor to find out why you’re in pain. Even if (especially if?) you’re afraid you may need surgery.
Prepare the materials for the boat. Even if (especially if?) you’re afraid you’ll ruin it.
Brainstorm with your children for the next adventure. Even if (especially if?) you’re afraid the ideas won’t be “practical” or “affordable”.
What’s the smallest step you can take to advance a goal?
Tell me in the comments. Even if (especially if?) you’re afraid to say it out loud.