Learning to Love Absurdity

I’ve learned to love the absurd. Not in a “oh that’s interesting” sort of way, but in a way that is deeply appreciative of its value. You see, no true innovations occur without absurdity. In the past, when asked the question “What do you do?” … I would shrug in a “Nothing important” fashion, and say I make a living in a completely absurd manner … completely dismissing the possibility that there was value in what I was doing.

The thing I was missing was that simply the act of finding an absurd manner in which to make a living had huge value. I found people were attracted to me because I was doing things differently. It was inspirational to them. This blew my mind. Some days it still blows my mind.

But then I started hanging out with innovators, and learned that absurdity is a completely necessary element for Game Changers. If you are not willing to consider the things considered absurd in the current paradigm of whatever you are working on, be it business, a specific industry or technology, or your personal well-being … you are going to continue to get more of the same. There might be some tiny tweaks along the way, but nothing for which the term “Game Changing” might be uttered.

Me … inside the 3M lounge at SxSWi 2013

I spent a minute at the Visual Thesaurus with the word Absurd. Its relatives do not look flattering when speaking of serious issues. Ludicrous, laughable … but who thinks there is too much laughter in our world? Nonsensical, idiotic, ridiculous and preposterous … but all of these adjectives are from the position of comparing the absurd to the existing norms. At some point in the development of any extraordinary idea, the ridiculous is referred to as innovative; the ludicrous becomes ground-breaking.

In order to live an extraordinary life, you have to be willing to be ridiculous. The folks that sling those judgments are most often the folks living the smallest lives. I’ve learned over time that a great deal of criticism for my “failures” came from folks who never tried anything at which they could fail. Show me a person with a string of failures and I’ll show you a person willing to make an attempt. I give that more kudos than playing it safe.

I’m not saying one should quit their job and hike off into the wilderness to launch your next business idea. I’m actually frighteningly practical in my own attempts at new businesses; more likely to take on another job when I’m building a business idea than to quit something. (I love taking jobs that train me toward future projects. There is a great Jim Rohn quote: “Don’t ask what you get from a job, ask what you become in that job.”)

But a large number of people get stuck not in the “how-to” of a project, but in the “will I look like an idiot” part of an idea … and they never get started. Those of us that have started and succeeded at several things have one great understanding in common: “Failure is Feedback”.  Without some level of failure, a project will never be fine-tuned into its best articulation or formulation. Sure you could hit it out of the park with your first try … but how likely is that when you hesitate to try?? Really, think about it. Those people who keep trying things are living a more creative existence amongst their failures than you will ever find in a reliable 9 to 5.

What is keeping you from embracing your own absurdities? Is that what stands between you and your experience of an extraordinary life?

Do you have some failures you can tally on your way to creating something magnificent? If you don’t; it’s very possible that you are not really trying.

The Western Hermit

I’ve long held this theory: Since Western Culture does not have a respectful attitude toward Hermits or Contemplatives; folks whose nature lends them to these types of endeavors hide out in their workaholism. Our culture values productivity so much, it is the safest haven for folks who are wired to be introverts and or contemplatives. How many party or dinner invitations can be avoided with “I’m too busy, thanks.”? Using my own life experience for reference I can say the answer is “many” or perhaps more truthfully, “more than I can count”.

Yet I wonder if the workaholism is sometimes fueled not only as an avoidance technique for social requirements, but also a drive fueled by the feeling of not being finished. The thing never started can never be finished. That feeling of incompletion is due to the fact that the hermit nature underlying the workaholism has never been expressed … never been fed.

Photo by И. Максим

If the food for this Hermit nature is time spent in contemplation, then how do we justify that time, when we have been trained to manage the profits and losses in all of our endeavors? Where is the value? What are the risks?

In a society which reveres productivity, how to begin the contemplative path? And can one begin a contemplative path while maintaining the professional benefits of being a workaholic? Can contemplation be scheduled into a day-planner or checked off a To Do List?

Because we must admit, workaholics succeed. I don’t want to lose that edge, but I also want to live my fullest expression. So if my theory that a workaholic is a frustrated contemplative has merit, then it could be I am missing out on something that might just be wonderful.
Do you hide in work? Do you wear your “busy-ness” with pride? Talk to me about it in the comment section. I’d love to hear your take on this theory.

5 year planning

Old skills revisited

It felt really good to run a jigsaw for a while today. I’ve been passing along information gleaned from years of building wacky buildings at Renaissance Faires, and I still do a bit of design, but I hadn’t done much actual production in years. It was good. I had some thinking to do for a couple of assignments in Marie Forleo’s B-School, and repetitive physical work is so good for the thinking process. It was a beautiful and warm spring day, and I was able to get a little vitamin D while I was out there working in the sunshine.

These days, Phil and I only have time to do construction and design work on our own buildings. We planned it that way. Years ago, when we realized that construction was over 80% of our income, we set to change that, and started buying service businesses at festivals, sometimes trading our labor instead of dollars. I say we set 5 year plans, but I find that a 5 year plan never takes that long in reality. But 5 years is an easy thing for me to wrap my brain around.

Here are things to know about how I do 5 year planning for business improvements:

  1. I rarely look for *More* as part of my plan, because I live with complete confidence that I will always have “Enough”. I may look to replace one thing with another, but the 5 year shifts are always more about quality of life than about money.
  2. I start at analyzing what brings me the most stress, and set an intention to lessen that.  (This is possibly the biggest element of the process.)
  3. I’m totally ok with Phil having a different plan to reduce the same stress. Sometimes we agree on method, sometimes we do not; but I am convinced that our agreement of intention to alter that stressor has huge impact in making it happen.
  4. I don’t write it down. I know that runs counter to so much of what we are told about goal-setting, but these changes are given 5-year windows specifically because they are about life shifts rather than stair-steps to another place. Not writing down steps for these has allowed space in which magic happens, and we often find ourselves looking back from a place we hadn’t even imagined, piecing together what steps we took to get here.
  5. This has only failed me when I got incredibly specific about “the big step that was going to fix XYZ”. Little steps in a general direction often lead me to fascinating places I have not imagined. Setting plans around a “When X, then Y” format don’t seem to pay out. I am back to the drawing board, but not picking up the pencil this time.  This time I’m saying “I have some stress around ____. I’m looking for ways to either replace ____ in my financial portfolio, hire middle management so that I don’t have to manage ____ myself, or whatever comes up that lets me simply let go of it. Maybe I’ll miraculously stop feeling stress about the thing. It’s possible!
  6. We maintain forward momentum. We have been and always will love to work. So we keep working, including working at those elements of our lives around which we have stress. We are not wishfully thinking that the intention is set and therefore we don’t have to continue working forward. A goal without action is a wish. There is something about forward momentum that pulls magic in behind you … allowing it to then help propel you forward.


Gizzies, ready for sanding and painting. They are part of the facelift plan for my bakery at the Texas Renaissance Festival.

So that very non-scientific system is my answer when other entrepreneurs ask me how I grew my business from a 2 person construction and design firm to our multiple-holdings and 40 person staff. I don’t know the “How”, and the system only fails if I try to micro-manage it. We work forward from the “Why”, keep working, and the pieces fall into place.

Shoulds and Pushback

We rebels, outsiders, and outcasts have benefited from our ability to make our alternative way in the world. We’ve managed to create lives outside the normative systems by challenging the rules.

But what about the rules we’ve written ourselves? What of the things we *want* to do? When we are wired to push back against the shoulds, we often push back against our own wishes.

photo by Estevam Romera via Flickr

We write these rules for a reason. They are meant to help shape our lives further into our own private ideals, but these things require work.  Successful work requires commitment.

Our habit is breaking rules, and any requirement ruffles our feathers. It is easy while the thing is new and shiny … at that point we still know it is our idea.  But in that space between it being a new idea and it becoming habit is the time when it is just work, and we push back because pushing back is habit.

We’ve been pushing back longer than we’ve been doing whatever the new skill set is, and so our commitment to practicing guitar, or eating healthy food, or getting more exercise is challenged by our innate rebel. The fact that the rule to “practice guitar 5x per week” was one I wrote because I want the joy of playing guitar easily gets lost in the face of habitual pushing against what others thought was the *right* thing to do.

Pushing back is a valuable skill. If we want to have a life outside the narrow expectations of our surrounding world we have to push the window open. Questioning authority is wise, but when we question our own wisdom we have no guidance system and we spin out of control like a lopsided paper airplane.

We set up those rules for ourselves from within our own wisdom. The trick is how to retain our recognition of self-imposed structures; and allow them integrity so that they do not appear to us as outside influences, but as our own intelligence.

So I’m playing with how I use the word “Should”. I know I have some a lot of push back with that word, so I’m watching where I use the word Should, and rephrasing it to see how I can affect behavioral changes in myself using semantics. You see, I *want to* play guitar, and I *want to* live a long and healthy life. However, when I let those items shift into shoulds; my instinctive response is “You can’t make me”.

Can this simple shift alter behavior? I can only tell you that I feel less internal resistance when I change the phrasing, and that I am once again building up the calluses necessary in learning to play guitar.

How much life do you spend in your commute?

26 years ago my morning commute was a 30 mile drive along a beautiful stretch of Colorado Highway 82. The ritual involved early mornings of scraping ice or sweeping off snow, so that I could take my place in the parade of thousands of people who worked in Aspen, but couldn’t afford to live there. The Roaring Fork Valley is one of the most beautiful places in the US, but none of us were appreciating it. We were too busy watching for the deer and elk that shared the corridor, as the 2 lane highway separated the wildlife’s winter rangeland from their winter water source.

okay, this is actually east of Aspen, but when I drove the commute, 82 was still 2 lanes.

There was an addictive quality about Aspen. I’ve seen it in other places too. New York City is a good example. But the addiction is somehow tied to work, and overwork, and the idea that it’s worth a great amount of sacrifice to be ‘here’. No place else is as beautiful, as magical, as respected, or as important as this one, and the fact that you are working 3 jobs to afford the experience you don’t have time to experience … that’s just part of paying your dues. This infatuation with place is ubiquitous. It is the religion that underlies every worker’s forfeiture of personal time. Like crabs in a bucket … one worker’s escape must be viewed as insanity, lest they start to analyze their own situations too closely.

I flashed back to that time yesterday, when I ended up sharing 1 mile of my winter neighbors’ morning commute to Corpus Christi. I was headed into Rockport for an early morning yoga class. No scraping of ice was needed, but my fingers were cold, and I wished I had started the car 2 minutes earlier. The combination of cold fingers and a parade of unsmiling people at 7:15 launched me into the recollection of my morning commute experience, and I realized … I haven’t had a work commute in 25 years.

In all the time I’ve been building businesses, none of them required my joining the morning parade of people whose work is somewhere else. Yes, I have seasonal relocations. I live in 4 different places every year. But once I get there, I walk to work. I have 21.6 more work days available every year than someone who commutes 1 hour each day, 5 days per week.

I’d never quantified this before. To be fair I’ll take into consideration the driving for my seasonal locations. I drive for relocations 8 days annually because I’m leisurely about it and visit friends along the way. Still, that’s 2 weeks more life to live every year.

I’m not even touching on whether or not these commuters like the jobs they are driving to. What could you do with 21 more days in your year? Would you have a 21 day vacation? Would you walk on the beach? Would you start a new business? Would you finally get to that XYZ project, or perhaps you’d finish the project for which you’ve given up your weekends?

I really want to know.

The Value of a Lifestyle Business

Why is the term “Lifestyle Business” spoken with derision? Is it because “real businesspeople” discount the value of them, or is it because the Lifestyle business owners themselves belittle the amount of income generated by their businesses?

One of my favorite office spaces.

In a world so full of people that *don’t * like the things they do to make a living, it seems counter-intuitive to be belittling a situation that allows people to make a living doing exactly what they want to do. Admittedly, I’m in a strange place to be hosting this conversation. I live amongst artists and entertainers who make their livings in “Lifestyle Businesses” whether or not they use that moniker. Folks who make a living on their own creativity, who get to spend more hours of the day with their children, who get to travel and manage to make their businesses pay for it … these people surely have Lifestyle Businesses, even if the term is more often used for expat importers who can happily justify their second home in Bali; or folks who create automated business via the internet.

Believe me when I tell you that there were “Lifestyle Businesses” before there was an internet.

Tweet this

Don’t think for a second that I am dissing the opportunity to have a second home in another country. Quite the opposite … I’m wondering why this ability to craft a business that allows someone the life they want most to be living, is dismissed as “less than” the person whose business makes an initial public offering on Wall Street.

It takes more than dollar signs to establish the value something has for our lives. I think we need to remember this when comparing ourselves to the lives of the people we see in the media.  The real goal, the brass ring, is living an abundant life. Living an abundant life has more to do with the intangibles than with the financial balance sheet.

If you want to live your best life; make a balance sheet that includes things like time with your kids, creative outlets, travel, self-determination … and see just how valuable that Lifestyle Business is against the cubicle job that allows more stability and less risk. I know which one I choose.

For the last 5 summers I’ve booked a show near here, simply to give myself a week with this as my office & contemplative space.