One Apple A Day #534 – curiosity

One day I was playing with some kids. Tough stuff like jumping, running, doing somersaults, throwing stuff. For some reasons, kids think that I’m a good playmate for this kind of things.
Anyway, we were playing and having fun when one of them threw something at me. He hit me quite heavily on the chest. Because I’m an adult, it was just a bit painful, but it could be worst if he targeted one of the other kids. So, I told him that what he just did wasn’t fun at all, that it was painful and I didn’t want to play in that way.

I can still see his puzzle eyes staring at me, trying to find a sense in what had just happened. His curious mind was combining information and creating new connections.

I admit, for a moment I envied him, his not knowing, his curiosity, his need to experience the world first-hand to find meaning and discover the boundaries. With all our knowledge we know, or we think we know, the outcome of an action before trying. Even if we never did it before. And those expectations set boundaries from the very beginning.

What would happen if you go into something with the innocent curiosity of children? Are you able to set aside all your knowledge and jump fully into the experience?

One Apple A Day #531 – show don’t tell

“In descriptions of Nature one must seize on small details, grouping them so that when the reader closes his eyes he gets a picture. For instance, you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball.” — Anton Chekhov

This morning this few words appeared in my mind while I was doing some stretching to wake up my body; “show, don’t tell”.

It’s an expression used to summarise a writing technique. If you’re writing about something, you can describe what’s going on, providing all the information and details, including feelings and emotions. Or you can paint a picture through which the readers can feel the experience as if they were living it.
In the first case, you’re telling, in the second one you’re showing.

The short excerpt at the opening of this post comes from a letter that Chekhov wrote to his brother, and I think it explains the concept perfectly.

Now that we know what “show, don’t tell” means, I’m left with a big question mark and only two minutes to finish this post.

Where is this thought coming from? And what should I do with it?

Maybe it’s related to the experience of last days. I had been talking and coaching with people from different part of the worlds. We used the English language for our conversations even thou, it was not the native language for any of us. And the different styles are just the surface of a more profound richness of cultural nuances.
In those situations, telling doesn’t work.
If I tell how I feel using the words I know, the other person may never really feel the connection. I won’t be able to spark empathy. But if I show how I feel, I can go beyond the boundaries of words and create a real connection.

One Apple A Day #528 – defining moments

“When a defining moment comes along, you can do one of two things. Define the moment, or let the moment define you. “— from the movie “Tin Cup”.

I don’t remember how I ended up watching this movie years ago. It’s not really Oscar’s material. Probably it was before the “on-demand” era when there weren’t many choices on TV. Anyway, I remember nothing about that movie but that sentence. And it comes back anytime I am, or someone I love is, going through a tough moment.*

I believe that somehow every moment is a defining moment. In the sense that every moment contributes to shaping your identity. Every moment in life we are called to choose how we want to respond to external circumstances. Our choice, as we saw in a previous post, will cast a vote towards the person we want to be.

But some moments are more defining than others. I’m talking about those events that can turn a life upside down. From the positive ones — having a baby, falling in love with someone, or winning the lottery — to the negative ones — losing someone you love, a divorce or a nasty illness.
In those moments, it may feel as if the universe has something against you and it’s easy to feel lost and without any way out or forward your current situation.

But we always have a choice.

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.” — Viktor Frankl

If you hide from that choice, then it’s highly probable that the moment will define you. But if you choose to own the moment, you can define it and transform it into a growth opportunity.
I’m not saying you can turn things around just because you decide to.
Some situation can’t just be changed or are outside your sphere of control.
But you can decide how you show up.

“Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.” — Viktor Frankl

So, if you are going through a defining moment, you may want to ask yourself “who do I want to be in this situation? What can I change about this situation? What can I change about myself? What opportunities to grow are here for me?”

* I’ve searched the scene on youtube. I believe that when the character, played by Kevin Costner, said that sentence to explain his stubbornness more than to talk about the importance of owning the moment. Though, that statement is still compelling.

One Apple A Day 526 – explore and exploit

Today I want to write about passion. Or better, about the lack of it.
When I was a child, I didn’t know what my passion was. Sure, there were many things that I love, reading above all, but I didn’t have a clear idea of who I wanted to become.
Things didn’t get better growing up. I can’t remember a moment when I thought “this is it, my passion, what I’m going to do from now on”.
Instead, I went using a trial and error approach.
An approach that I’ve been refining over the years and it worked quite well for me. Though, I still have that subtle feeling of envy when I meet someone who has a burning passion for something; a person on a mission.

I know I’m not alone in this. Many people haven’t found that defining passion or mission, yet.

And you know what? It’s ok.

It’s ok to be searching and trying. Isn’t it the quest for our mission a mission on itself?
The important thing is to keep searching, trying and learning. Fragments of the picture will emerge along the way. Our passion will grow within us while, at the same time, we will grow into it.

Of course, there’s a problem with this approach: life is short.

We need to find the best explore/exploit trade-off.
Find something that works for you, something on which you get higher returns than the average person and exploit it. But always keep a window open for exploration, to try new things and when you find something that works well, exploit it integrating it with what you’re already doing.

One Apple A Day 525 – the master is ready also

This morning I walked my niece to school. It’s a five-minute walk through a small industrious village of the Italian countryside. On the way to the school, she told me about her day’s ahead, what she likes and what not. Her stories about school make me often think about how we approach education here, but that’s a good topic that won’t fit in a fifteen minutes writing slot.
On the way back, I was thinking about the relationship between a student and a master. In the last two years, I met many people who have taught me a lot. They are not teachers in the proper sense. They are friends, colleagues, partners, fellow travellers in the walk of life. Yet, more than once each one of them has been a master to me.

I was thinking about this while walking home, and I remembered reading somewhere that “the student makes the master” or something like that.

So, I ask Google, and I found out that the quote that I remember was “when the student is ready the teacher will appear.” A quote that is often presented as a Buddhist proverb.

As I always do, I dig a bit more until I discovered that Buddha has nothing to do with it. Instead, it is an old Theosophical statement taken from a book titled Light on the Path, wrote in 1886 by Mabel Collins. The statement is a bit more poetic, and it says; “for when the disciple is ready the master is ready also.

Anyway, even if the quote has some weird and questionable origins, it resonates with me.  Any time I embrace a learning mindset, a “master” manifests before me. Sometimes the master is a person, other times it is something else like a piece of art, an event or nature herself.

I think the lesson for me is that if we want to learn something, before finding a master, we must embrace the learner’s mindset.

P.S. I just realised I already wrote about this not long ago. What is the lesson here? 

Drawing lines

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon here in Valencia. I’m about to leave to go celebrate the birthday of my favourite place in town, and usually on the weekend I don’t write posts.

But I feel this urge to write a thought that emerged in my head while I was taking a shower and I don’t think I can resist until the next Apple A Day on Monday morning.

So here I am, writing about lines.

Let me start from something that happened a few weeks ago when I was in Italy. I was listening to the news on the radio while driving. As you may know, the political situation in my country is quite tense at the moment. The journalist was talking about some friction within the government. I can’t remember what it was, but I do remember a brief interview of a politician from one of the opposition parties. She said that the tensions going on between the parties in the government was a sign of their weakness and that her party was the only viable alternative. I remember thinking “hey, but aren’t you all there because you want to serve the country? So, wouldn’t be better to offer your help to solve their problems for the benefit of the whole nation instead of trash talking them?

Yesterday I was joking with a dear friend about our work descriptions, and I told her that I should write “I draw lines” on my business card. It wasn’t the first time we joked about me drawing lines, but yesterday I had a small a-ha moment. One can draw a line to separate two spaces or to connect two points. The gesture is the same, but the intention is totally different.

Then a few moments ago, in the shower, I was thinking about all of this. At how good we are in drawing lines that separate; right and wrong, good and bad, left and right, winners and losers, us and them. We surround ourselves with all these lines that are imaginary but feel as real as concrete walls. What would happen if we would start drawing lines to connect? If when we see a fracture, we draw a line to connect the opposing sides?

After a while, we would create a network. Like a spider web or a texture when we will be all interwoven so when someone rises everyone will rise.

All of this to share with you that I love “drawing lines“, but I prefer the ones that connect.

One Apple A Day #518 – step by step

Sometimes I catch myself stuck in the “outcome” mindset.
The typical sign is the feeling that I’m pushing hard, but I’m going nowhere.
It is like trying to walk while keeping the gaze locked on the destination. As a result, I’m not paying attention to what’s around me and where I put my feet. I begin stumbling even on small obstacles, and I lose the joy of walking. It’s all about getting there.
Ironically, I’m not getting where I want.
It looks like my destination moves with me.
In those moments, frustration kicks in.
In the past, I’ve quit some projects due to this attitude.

Over the years I’ve learned that when I catch myself in that place, I have to shift my focus. I must redirect my gaze from the final outcome to my next step. Once the direction is set, I focus only on the next thing to do.
Even better. I design a new habit. Something I can do every day knowing that if I am consistent, it will take where I want to go.

Lately, I’ve been feeling that sense of frustration with some of the projects I’m working on. Today’s card reminded me that I need to stop thinking about the outcome and focus on “how do I show up every day“.

One Apple A Day #515 – escape forward

“I agree with Schopenhauer that one of the most powerful motives that attract people to science and art is the longing to escape from everyday life.” — A. Einstein

I’d be curious to understand how “everyday life” was for Schopenhauer or Einstein. But I can relate to their point. We all go through many moments and situations that we don’t like. When it looks like things are conjuring against us and the only thing we’d like to do is to escape from our present reality.

We may decide to escape backwards or hide from reality, losing ourselves in mindless entertainment or using substances to disconnect from reality.  Unfortunately, this route only brings temporary pleasure as it doesn’t really change anything.

As Schopenhauer and Einstein suggested, we can choose to escape forward by creating a new reality through art and science, learning and growing. The good news for me is that we don’t need to do what Einstein or Schopenhauer did to change reality.

We just need to focus on our own craft because when we change, our reality change.

“We see the world not as it is, but as we are.” ― Anaïs Nin

One Apple A Day #513 – no man’s land

It was almost the end of the day when we finally cross the Chilean border. The sun’s light was already fading from white to gold.
We thought, like with the previous borders that we crossed, that the Argentinian checkpoint was a few minutes away, just behind the turn.
We were wrong.
We drove for a good 15 minutes that looked like an eternity before we found the first sign of the border to enter Argentina.
Fifteen minutes in no man’s land.

It’s a powerful feeling to know that you are in space between spaces.
In our lives, every space is owned by someone, or it is dedicated to something. The threshold between spaces is so thin that you can’t really stand on it and take a pause.

We exit something to enter something else.
We finish something only to immediately start something new.

But that day, we’ve been in no country for a while.
A space that doesn’t exist and yet it is so real.
And now I realise that it was also the sunset; that space in-between the day and the night.

There is magic in no man’s land.

Next time that you are crossing a threshold take a pause and breathe in the energy of the space in-between.

One Apple A Day #508 – create your unique recipe

When I was a kid, my favourite treat for Easter was a typical cake in my region called “Focaccia Veneto”, or “Fugazza” in my dialect. But not every Fugazza. Only the one made by my grandmother. The funny thing is that she didn’t have a proper recipe to share, or at least this is what she told us. So, no matter how much my mum tried to create the same result studying my grandmother, her cake has always been different. Truth is, I’ve never tasted anything like my grandmother’s Fugazza, but over the year my mum developed her own unique, gorgeous recipe that I love as much.

Behaviour is a function of the Person in their Environment, or B = f (P,E).

Psychologist Kurt Lewin defined the equation above in his book Principles of Topological Psychology, published in 1936.
My understanding of this simple formula is that the same person behaves differently when the environment changes. At the same time, two persons will always show different behaviours even if they share the same situation.
The combination “person plus environment” is always unique, even when behaviours are similar or the same. The problem is that while environments can be observed and behaviours can be measured, a person uniqueness is more elusive. So, what we do most of the time is to study the practices of someone successful in a specific environment and model our own actions on theirs. All of this hoping to get the same results.
Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. Indeed, we can learn a lot from a successful person, we can even clone almost perfectly her behaviours.
But we will never be her or him.
We must find our own unique recipe.
One that is rooted in and sourced from our identity.
In the end, we must always remember to start from the ancient wise words inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

Know thyself