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.

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.

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.

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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.