Journal

Kaizen

When I was a kid, like, single-digits kid, I had a neighbor who was both a teenager and the coolest guy I’d ever known to that point in my life. He knew karate. He had a Nintendo. He had a computer. He even had email… in the eighties.

Most importantly, he had boxes upon boxes of beautiful and perfect comic books. He even drew his own and submitted work to Marvel, DC, etc.

And they wrote back!

I wanted to be just like him.

I started drawing more, practicing art, trying to improve. I practiced my storytelling, too. Someday, he would run his own comic company, and when he did, I would work there. That was the plan.

Then he told me the only way to get as good as him was to ignore everything else and draw constantly, even during school. “What about my grades?” I asked him. “You can’t worry about grades if you’re going to get good enough to be a professional artist.”

I was crushed.

I liked earning good grades.

I even liked my teachers.

Enter one of my first secret rules: I would never be good enough at art to make it a career.
That secret rule held for about 30 years.

Then I started trying again.

And not by sacrificing everything else important to me, but just by realizing it’s ok to practice just a little every day, to try and improve just a little every day.

I eventually started learning karate, too. Not because of my old neighbor, but because my own kid got involved in a great dojo and I wanted to share that journey.

Our sensei often talks about the concept of “kaizen”: basically, constant (little) improvements that add up to great change.

Now I try to improve a little bit every day, making small sacrifices for time, sure, but not giving up on the most important parts of my life. Will I become a master overnight? Of course not. And honestly, neither did my old neighbor. If he’s the kind of artist I want to be, he’s still out there learning somewhere, still finding the little tweaks in his work to make it even better. He’s still trying to be just a little bit better every day.

I try to practice kaizen now in all areas of my life. The result isn’t flashy. It doesn’t make for a great Instagram post or YouTube video, but it’s there, and it’s building a solid mountain of progress over time.

In the meantime, I just keep trying to be a little better than yesterday, leading to being a good deal better than last month, and miles ahead of last year. I’m slowly building to success—my vision of success—and instead of racing to get there I’m enjoying the ride.

And I can wait to get there.

Life goes by too quickly because we rush it.

I’m going a little at a time now, enjoying myself along the way.

Constant improvement.

Kaizen.


The Color of Water

I often forget that water can be a prism, but had a vibrant reminder this morning. I’ve been sick with COVID the last few days (I’m vaccinated, so not worried about it, but some symptoms are still hitting me), and this morning decided to push through and get a shower to see if that got me feeling better.

In the shower I was hit with a bit of dizziness, a combination of the heat and my virus-drained energy I’m sure. During it, though, my attention was grabbed by the water droplets clinging to the shower curtain.

In each, I saw all the colors of refracted white light.

A thousand captured and vibrant rainbows drifted slowly down the curtain as I lost myself in them for a moment, brief, but beautiful.

This experience was no doubt influenced by my current state. Still, it is an excellent reminder of the amazing world all around us, an amazing world ignored in the stress and rush of the usual day-to-day.

Even something as simple as a drop of water has the power to show us a universe of beauty.


Trust the Subconscious

I recently finished a story in a whirlwind of subconscious-driven words. It was a blast to write that way, something my logical side loves to suppress.

But suppress isn’t a strong enough word. My logical side crushes the voice of the subconscious, stomps on it until the story falls out flat and lifeless.

This time, however, I managed to just go with it. Fix it when it’s finished, I told myself.

But I didn’t fix anything.

When I started rewriting, I nearly cut a few of the more inspired chunks because they didn’t fit my market-influenced (and misguided) idea of good writing. But, I managed to stop myself. I left those portions. They somehow felt right, like they belonged there. Instead of cutting them, I sent the story off to my editor. I knew full well she’d tell me to make the cuts.

I should have put more trust that my subconscious knew what it was doing.

Not only did she not tell me to make the cuts, she told me to push even further with them. Those subconscious bits that logic tried to force out, those were some of her favorite parts.

For me as a writer, when I try to logic my way through a story, it inevitably falls flat. Hayao Miyazaki has said he removes logic from his approach to storytelling:

“Logic is using the front part of the brain, that’s all. But you can’t make a film with logic. Or if you look at it differently, everybody can make a film with logic. But my way is to not use logic.” – Hayao Miyazaki

After this experience, I think it’s time to do the same. Logic has its place (though I’m starting to doubt even that), but the drafting stage isn’t it.

After feeling so many of my stories had come out flat recently, I think it’s time for a different approach.

Trust your subconscious. I’ll be trusting mine from now on.


Miyazaki quote taken from his Midnight Eye interview

Endgame

I’ve spent the last several years trying to find the right hustle. I inundated myself with self-help and entrepreneurial books thinking if I found just the right one, just the right list of tips and tricks and…

Nothing of any value ever came of it. Had I chosen one and focused my efforts, I probably could have found some kind of financial success, however mediocre. But as I bounced around from idea to idea, I felt constantly like I was drowning, everyone else swimming past with their successful hustles. I was stuck, unable to choose which stroke to employ, and so choosing none and all.

Slowly sinking.

I spent years trying to hack my productivity. Trying to do more in less time. Hustling. All I had to show for it was a few bouts with depression and a very minimal bit of progress in my creative efforts.

It’s just not for me. Sometimes, I’d realize it and step away from a week, maybe two. Then the secret rules would kick in: if I didn’t work harder, if I didn’t hustle, how would I achieve my goals? And so that fear of failure always pulled me back in.

But why?

The thing that kept pulling me back was my vision of the endgame: my ideal life. Following the example of Taylor Pearson I even wrote it up like a screenplay. It gave me something to visualize, an end goal to strive for. I read through it and visualized it every morning to keep up the motivation for the hustle.

I did it this morning, too.

And finally, I realized: why don’t I just live this life now?

Of course, that thinking might be harder depending on what your perfect day looks like, but for me, my perfect day isn’t complicated. It isn’t waking up on the beach every day and drinking champagne in my private jet on the way to lunch in Paris. That would be a great day, of course, but it’s not what matters to me in the long run.

My perfect day is waking up on my own time, having a slow breakfast, a cup of tea, and spending the morning with my wife. It’s going to work on a project motivated by passion, not money. It’s sitting in the park with a book and reading until my wife is finished with the job she loves, then spending the evening together. It’s hearing from my kids, happy in their own lives, and winding down with a delicious dinner, a relaxing evening, and a cozy bed.

Perfect.

Perhaps you see the obvious question already. The hindsight question. The question so obvious it took me years to see it.

“Why don’t I live like this now?”

There’s a secret rule in my head that says anything I do has to be for money, because time itself is money, and I need to earn all the money I can now so I can retire, maybe early, but at least not late.

Then, and only then, can I live the life I truly dream of.

But why? Why didn’t I have a slow cup of tea this morning? Why didn’t I check in with the kids more now, while they’re still living at home? Why didn’t I sit in the park and read?

If I live my life looking at the endgame, working hard to get to a certain lifestyle when I’m in my sixties, what about the years I’ve spent to get there?

What a waste of life.

Slow down.

Step away from the hustle.

Let life be the journey and the goal.

Today, I’m not going to chase my five-year plan. I’m not going to streamline my productivity or find a new side hustle.

I’m going to make a cup of tea and grab a good book.

I’m going to enjoy the endgame.

Today.