Tuesday, December 27, 2005

2 Cents Worth

What's it all for?
An interesting post with some ideas about how we envision and prepare for the future and whether it comes at the expense of appreciating and engaging in the present:
"I believe that he is absolutely right, that a race to the future defeats what is precious, the present, and that we may be robbing our children of their precious present for the sake of the future, and perhaps for the sake of political satisfactions much more selfish and insidious."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Passion and Perseverance Predict Success

Two authors I admire bounced off The Winning Edge in a recent issue of Psychology Today:They've both captured the main points better than I could have, but I also wanted to keep a quote to remind myself to come back and re-read this one later. We often think about our passion as something we're waiting to discover, or worse yet, hoping that it will discover us...but I think there's more truth in this:
"Although extremely persistent people are usually passionate about their work, that doesn't mean that the passion always comes first. Perseverance, notes Duckworth, can itself foster passion. Often the most fascinating aspects of a topic (particularly a highly complex one) become apparent only after deep immersion, to a level 'where you understand it and are enlivened by it.'"
Doug often talks about the importance of doing...doing something, anything that interests you. Having goals is great, but their primary value is in inciting directional action...getting you doing stuff that will lead to other interesting stuff. This is certainly part of what I got out of Paul Graham's undelivered commencement speech -- find interesting problems and projects and actually work on them, regardless of how "real life" may intrude. He also recommends finding difficult problems and questions to pursue, which reminds me of one of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's conditions for flow (total engagement in an activity) -- a level of challenge sufficient to stretch (but not way exceed) your skills. If I remember correctly, he studied high school students who achieved the flow state in subjects like math that they didn't enjoy, but the challenge helped them engage.

Preparing Kids for the Future

Creating Passionate Users is one of the few blogs I read that crosses over into most of my areas of interest -- software development, learning theory, publishing, and occasionally Lifestylism-related gems like Preparing Kids for the Future.
"But really, I'd encourage anything the kid is interested in. And this is where the controversy is... whether "good parenting" is about taking a heavy hand in steering your kids toward a responsible means of making a living, vs. being supportive of their passions that might ultimately lead to a life of being, well, a starving musician. (Or whatever the equivalent is for any other pursuit that my parents would have considered a 'nice hobby, bad career choice.')"
The comments are piling up on the post, and many of them are worth reading as well. One of the problems with this discussion (wherever it comes up) is that it tends to assume a polarization in the choices available, between university leading to boring (but decent-paying) work on one path or happy (but starving) artists following their passions on the other. Most conscientious middle-class parents want nothing more than to offer the best of both paths (financial security from the former, happiness and passion from the latter), but are generally clueless about how to foster that ideal set of characteristics for their kids' future.

Since the last thing we want is to push our kids into lives that will make them miserable, we take a hands-off approach to guidance in these areas, telling kids that they can do whatever they want, and advising them to pursue their interests. Meanwhile, we try to expose them to as many activities and areas of interest as we can jam into our busy schedules, hoping that one or more might become a passion for them. So by the time Little Jimmy hits Kindergarten, he's already been in swimming lessons, music classes, gymnastics, dance, soccer and general preschool classes of all kinds.

Some of these hobbies and sports might become passions, but most won't...and very few of them have direct or viable counterparts in the current or future labour market, and unfortunately most of their experiences in high school are neither personally engaging or connected to their future lifestyles. So you get graduates with a few interests that are likely sports or hobbies (maybe even some that survived from those pre-Kindergarten exposures), some important skills, a network of friends, bits of knowledge about lots of topics, and a vague sense of their own aspirations in life. It's not a bad place to be overall, but then we ask them to specialize in one field/major/career, preferably in something with good pay and job prospects, with the implication that they'll probably be stuck in it for at least a decade or two. Stress!

I agree with Kathy's recommended preparation skills/orientations -- creativity, flexibility, resourcefulness, synthesis, metacognition -- they're all wonderfully cross-displinary, focused on creating new things, working together and finding interesting and challenging questions/problems/projects to work on. In many ways, schools do the opposite, segmenting topics and disciplines, covering old and existing material, isolating students from communities and each other, and regimenting what and how and when everything should be learned.

It's no surprise that school makes it difficult to develop these self-actualization skills. So how do you help someone figure out what they really like working on? For most people, it's not a simple matter of "discovering" their passion and then sending them off in that direction with a pat on the back. Passions don't tend to live in us fully formed and ready to be mapped over the real world. We learn what kinds of work really engages us by...drum roll please...actually working on interesting projects, usually with others, almost always with a creative process and result, learning new cross-displinary skills in the course of solving problems we need solved (and answering questions we need answered), and finding out what new opportunities arise out of all of these actions. Easy, right? More on this later...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

More Happiness, or Else

Pat Kane weaves together some compelling ideas about happiness and the state's role in ensuring happiness for its citizens, using this article as a starting point: Consumer capitalism is making us ill - we need a therapy state. A quote:
"The church has lost sway, and the state has retreated behind the single rationale of promoting economic competitiveness with its overtones of Darwinian selection (a major source of unhappiness in itself with its vision of life as a competitive struggle). That leaves the market a free rein to describe happiness - the new car, new sofa, new holiday - and to manipulate our insecurities around status.

Leave things as they are and the state will increasingly have to pick up the bill for how consumer capitalism effectively produces emotional ill-health - depression, stress, anxiety. Leave things as they are and the state is part of the problem, promoting a set of market values that produce emotional pollution."

Monday, December 05, 2005

Life and Death Clocks

Thinking about the future can often trigger morbid thoughts, but there's something powerful about seeing how much life you might have left. The death clock helps with this process of reflection, projecting your possible demise based on some basic lifestyle factors.

It can be inspirational if you take it the right way. I guess this may be along the same lines as the aging machine I linked to below -- some people will find it fascinating and cool while others won't want anything to do with the unpleasantries of envisioning their old age. Two other life clocks (this one and this one) take a more positive approach, use more lifestyle factors, and both gave me an extra three or four years to live, so I should really recommend them as well.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

More Parenting Lifestyle

One of the most intense arenas for lifestyle decisions and integration comes for working couples (who wouldn't be working?) who are having kids. I've touched on it occasionally, but only in a flippant way, which is kind of bizarre considering it's what I'm living right now. Anyway, Gwen sent me into a maelstrom of discussion this morning, mostly from the perspective of moms who are either working outside the home or mostly staying at home raising kids. I started by reading the initial link she sent: My Radical Married Feminist Manifesto, which has an incredible 242 comments, the best of which were penned by an incisive Vancouver mom who had also written her own excellent post bouncing off the original one. A quote from one of her comments really rang true for me:
"If you don't value what society values - success in the monetary - and you're not feeling like your career is fulfilling, then stay-at-home work feels great. Museums on weekdays! Afternoons in the park! Playing with cooking! It is true that in the domestic life, work is never done. I set boundries and routines for myself to cope with that.

HOWEVER. I know this is me, this is now, this is my preferences and lifetime. I also know that it would *Piss Me Off* if anyone tried to tell me I couldn't be a Software Engineer due to my gender. I'm good at my job -although obviously it's not working for me long term.

Here's the reality, though: I won't ever put in a 60 hour week. Even if I got my bliss job and was making $80,000/year as a pundit, I wouldn't put in a 60 hour week. I wouldn't travel away from my family for weeks and weeks every year. So I feel like there's not a lot of room for me anywhere of importance in society because I'm not out there enough to be important."

Work Unhappiness and Health

Research reveals that dissatisfaction at work causes illness:
"Those with low job satisfaction are most likely to experience emotional burn-out, have reduced self-esteem and raised anxiety and depression. Environmental factors can contribute to the incidence of many human diseases. However, the new findings show that there is a clear link between job satisfaction and mental health."

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Slide Through a Lifetime

I've often thought about how cool it would be to be able to create a fairly accurate picture of a future life. Physical appearance is a key part of our identities, and I think it would be fascinating to see what I might look like in my late 50s, which is why I need to try The Amazing Aging Machine.

Right now, you have to travel to a place like the Ontario Science Centre to get your photo taken and have it virtually aged to reveal a glimpse of your future face, but wouldn't it be cool to have this kind of software available to everyone? What a great complement to a tool that lets you create a mosaic and timeline of your future lifestyle choices. Perhaps not for everyone, though...even the little demo makes your mortality fairly clear.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Odyssey into Self-Employment, Part X

Jory's using a family transition as an opportunity for some powerful reflection on her life direction, and thankfully she's letting us listen in: A Soloist's Spiritual Housecleaning:
"In this fashion I've inventoried my physical and aspirational assets and, likewise, feel taken care of, if not disappointed that many of the things I would have valued so highly a few years ago I am willing to forego. Me, being the practical person that I am, wonder if I can't get anything for some of these former achievements, accomplished more out of fear and survival instincts than faith and love, on eBay.

I'm disappointed that the world is not always going along with my program, the one I had plotted so carefully, thinking it was all meant to be because it flowed so powerfully from me. I'm convinced that my life concept is still a good one, but apparently there will be more plot twists and challenges thrown in."
These few sentences are just loaded with smart references to how we envision the arc from our present and past lives to future possibilities. How well can we inventory our own aspirational assets? How many of us could articulate our own life concept, rather than just living by the twists and turns?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Delayed Life Transitions

Brian The Experience Designer is thinking about Delayed Life Transitions, which is a really nice descriptive label for many of the issues I've been touching on here: delayed adolescence, twixters, yeppies, college degrees as the new high school diploma, couples delaying parenthood, later (or no) retirement, later marriage, etc. He expands on some ideas we chatted about over here recently as well:
"While people still do have children during their (supposed) years of highest production, these children often spend more time in daycare centres than family environments. The parents are often driven by a two-income lifestyle that fragments their family time into discrete pieces. The idea of quality time it seems to me is really a retrieval of the desire to belong, and possibly an excuse for not belonging enough."

Friday, November 18, 2005

Commit to the Value

An excellent post on goal setting: Set the goal, commit to the value.
"What she talks about here--goals taking on a life of their own--is a very real trap. The same is true with many planning systems; we need to understand who we are and what we're about, and realize that values come first. If our goals are revealed to be out of sync with those values--or our understanding of those values changes so they are--we change the goal. Putting the goal down and committing to it makes it more likely to be achieved; however, we must understand we are committing to what the goal represents to us. The goal is a means to realize our potential and productively apply our values; it is not an end in itself."
He was also bouncing off a great related post about getting what you want on another interesting blog: overexcitable.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Enhanced Lifestyle Planner

Pretty cool outline of what this author calls the Enhanced Lifestyle Planner. It seems so obvious that a simple, powerful tool to help people envision their future lifestyle(s) has all kinds of learning applications, from financial planning and financial literacy to life coaching and goal setting.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Eat, Sleep, Work, Consume, Die

Wired News: Eat, Sleep, Work, Consume, Die This article has a great, warm tone while questioning the constructs of our modern work life:
"Just because technology makes it possible for us to work 10 times faster than we used to doesn't mean we should do it. The body may be able to withstand the strain -- for a while -- but the spirit isn't meant to flail away uselessly on the commercial gerbil wheel. The boys in corporate don't want you to hear this because the more they can suck out of you, the lower their costs and the higher their profit margin. And profit is god, after all. (Genuflect here, if you must.)"

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Guess I'm Technically Retired

From Worthwhile, a quick insightful post about what people are doing when they semi-retire from their "real jobs"...some wonderful comments as well.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Looking Back at Potential

I love getting a glimpse into a stranger's reflections on their childhood potential. What did you think you were going to be when you grew up, and now that you're older, how did it turn out?
"Here I was, a really smart kid with lots on the ball--gifts that I hadn't even begun into tap yet--and I thought my life was over. I graduated from high school fearing the worst. I might eke out a few years in minimum wage jobs and then...magically expire. And it didn't help matters that I had a high school counselor for four years who gave me the excruciatingly mixed message of steering me toward a slate full of college prep courses only to tell me my senior year that she thought I had a great future ahead of me...as a legal secretary."
Thanks to Jory's ThirdAge Carnival for the pointer.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Post-Gasoline Future?

You Can 't Get There From Here - Or Can You? Over at The Future of Work, they're also thinking about what a future lifestyle might look like if almost nobody could afford to drive to work. It's a more optimistic vision than most, and isn't predicated on a global economic collapse. Some nice side benefits for communities and individuals:
"Oh, and there’s a little hidden bonus in this vision thing of ours – you get to keep all that money you’re currently dropping into your gas tank. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll spend some of that “free cash” on local businesses like restaurants, coffee shops, florists, movie theaters, continuing education programs, concerts, and art galleries. Up goes your quality of life. And up goes the health and well-being of your home town and its residents."

Friday, November 04, 2005

Think Arete

Brian Johnson on the concept of retirement:
"Who came up with that? Work like crazy doing something we're not passionate about so we can accumulate enough money to pay the bills from our stress-caused illnesses while we complain about what we should have done when we were still young."
I guess he wrote a manifesto a few years ago called Think Arete, and turned it into a site focused on an ancient greek word for the process of self-actualizing and striving to reach your highest potential. The site has wonderful quotes, notes and articles like this one about writing your goals. Lots of wisdom there, and it looks like he even offers consulting using his philosophy.

Thanks to Jill, who consistently stretches my mind.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Rob Paterson often thinks and writes about what it means to be truly alive. One section in a recent post resonated with me and I wanted to save it. Most of us would say that our closest relationships were among the most precious things in our lives, but what's the first thing to get sacrificed when we get stressed and busy? Our friendships.
"Think of a time when you were so busy that you drifted away from others. How did you feel? More human or less? Think of a time when you were strongly linked to others. How did you feel then? The paradox is that when we have a difficult challenge in front of us, we often default in the doing and lose the connections and hence our power."
This connects directly to some of the thinking I've been doing about gaps between our stated values and how we actually choose to spend our time and money, and flies in the face of what we're learning about happiness. Rob's also pondering what kinds of lifestyle decisions we'll be making five years from now if the price of gas goes up a buck a year.

Out of Alignment

I think there's some real truth to this: passionate work takes less brain juice. When you're really engaged in work that matches your interests and skills, it isn't draining -- you lose track of time and have energy left over for the rest of your life. Curt bounces off an article about creativity to synthesize this insight. A quote:
"In contrast to that state of flow, I've found that following a career path that is out of alignment with who we really are can cause a steady hum of anxiety and effort, just to maintain the status quo."

Friday, October 21, 2005


When you think about optimizing your life, you don't often think of huge chunk of time you spend each day sleeping. Sleep seems like an annoying obligation when you're trying to envision the most meaningful ways to spend your time and money, which is why it's often neglected by the busiest and most ambitious of us. Good sleep, good learning, good life covers and summarizes the latest research on sleep, and contains all kinds of lifestyle nuggets:
"Few upwardly mobile people in the modern rat-race society can live without an alarm clock. Increasingly, time becomes the most precious commodity in society where achievement is often associated with speed and perfect time-management. However, alarm clocks introduce two harmful side effects: stress and sleep deprivation.

The art of time-management makes it possible to live at high speed with the alarm clock on your side and actually be free from stress. However, the societal damage inflicted by alarm clocks used to regulate sleep is unforgivable. An alarm clock that interrupts your sleep damages your memory, your ability to learn, your mood and temper, your relationships with other people, your ability to focus and your overall intellectual performance!"
Thanks to Will for the pointer.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Worthwhile Risks

The Worthwhile blog has been excellent lately -- Evelyn's post a few weeks ago talks about taking risks to pursue the right kinds of work:
"Sometimes we make bets on our futures. We decide that the future's so bright we need shades, rather than going nowhere. We grow, rather than stagnate. We engage questions, rather than edicts. And we'll even take a job with a riskier, less-well-paying company to do vitally fulfilling work."
She also finishes off with a a question/challenge:
"How about you? Have you ever left a position to continue to grow and innovate? Or, gasp, even work pro bono because you were passionate about the vision (only because we're bootstrapping; I don't condone lining other's pockets on my sweat)?"

Cool Communities

"Hot Jobs - Cool Communities is a report card of the hippest places to live and work based on the metrics that matter to a new generation of talent."
I was interested in the variables they used to identify and evaluate their cool communities -- just loaded with lifestyle factors, and why shouldn't these concerns trump all others?
  • Air and Water Quality

  • Recycling Rates

  • Car Pools, Commute Times

  • Traffic

  • Public Parks, Trails, and Recreation Areas

  • Sunny Days

  • Farmers Markets

  • Natural Foods Stores

  • Fitness Centers

  • Vegetarian Restaurants

  • Rates of Crime

  • Rates of Cancer

  • Heart Diesease

  • Obesity

  • Smoking

  • Life Expectancy

  • Fruit and Vegtable Consumption

  • Work Sick Days

  • Rates of Depression

  • High Blood Pressure

  • Unemployment

  • Charitable Donations

  • Cost of living

  • Poverty

  • Concentration of Designers, Artists, Authors, Musicians, Actors and similar Professions

  • Pertcentage of Community Under 40

  • Population Diversity(ethic, religous, sexual orientation)

  • Number of Bars, Nightclubs and similar per capita

  • Number of Art Galleries, Museums, and similar per capita
Thanks to The Future of Work for the tip.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Third Decade

Doug writes a bit about challenges people hit in the third decade of their lives and offers some advice for the rest of us on how to help:
"The third decade is a time of emotional and spiritual adolescence. Whereas the first twenty years enable us to mature physically and mentally, we remain relatively undeveloped in our adult relationships and connectedness to meaning. In the crucial third decade, individuals are expected to shift from being 'cared for' to 'taking charge' of their own existence. This means learning how to be a good worker/parent/friend, finding a way to sustain yourself, and getting involved in fulfilling life activities that enable you to be who you are. Developing these capacities is not a simple task."
It's easy to criticize the twixters, yeppies and other awfully named twenty-somethings in a sort of extended adolescence, pointing out their inability to get on with their grown-up lives, but I like how Doug explains the different landscape they face now.

Update: Doug adds a follow-up to the original post, offering advice on how to help young people who are disengaged.

Another Update: Rockstar Max bounces off of Doug's posts and adds some personal experience and commentary to the mix:
"However, most of my generation is finding that neither what they are nor what they had planned to be are sufficient to reach their goals (not to mention out of alignment with each other to begin with). We are guilty of having bought the hype of the pop culture at the same time as--in many cases--having done everything that would have assured at least middle-class prosperity in generations gone by, only to find that the educational system and much of our forebears' 'wisdom' no longer applies."

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Outsourcing/Offshoring Jobs

A great (but sobering) four-part series on trends in outsourcing jobs, with a local (for me, anyway) focus. U.S. Outsourcing Millions of Jobs, Outsourcing BC, BC's Big Outsourcing Bet and Outsourcing's Great Unknowns -- they're all definitely worth a read.

Update: Check out this NYTimes interview with the head of Infosys, one of the largest Indian IT firms. Via The Future of Work, which includes some solid commentary on the interview.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Storyboarding Your Life

I blogged this one last year, but the old link is dead and it appears to have been updated and expanded...so maybe this is a repeat, but it's a worthwhile one. I love this approach to storyboarding your life, as a way of envisioning where you want to be in the future. Thanks to Jill for the reminder.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

What to do?

What to do, what to do...
This is an interesting glimpse into the thoughts of a high-school student thinking about future career options, after spending some time in a career planning site I helped design. It's fascinating to listen in on the process.
"Of course, I still have no idea what to do, other than my already considered ideas. Their tests, self-evaluating quizzes, and 'learn about yourself' assessments, all carefully weaved through, gave me some answers as to what careers are for me and which aren't."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

More College Students Graduating in Four Years

College students getting degrees quicker
"Fifty-six percent of students entering Penn State's main campus graduate in four years, the highest rate in at least a decade and a share that is 14 percentage points higher than two years ago.

Included are students who studied abroad, tackled multiple majors and faced all the other stresses that caused most of their predecessors in the 1990s to switch to five-, six- or even seven-year plans."
This seems to contradict a lot of the data I've been seeing about increasing dropout rates, longer times to complete degrees, and multiple major switches. They also talk about one of the possible reasons:
"Tom Mortenson, a higher education policy analyst, argues the upswing should surprise no one. He says students who take longer -- usually the poor -- are being pushed toward community colleges and proprietary schools as many four-year campuses hungry for prestige target better prepared applicants, who tend to come from wealthier backgrounds."

Monday, September 19, 2005

Fun as Self-Actualization?

Worthwhile Thought:
"The key to a happy life is to accomplish things that you really feel like are good for somebody beyond just you. Nothing else will do it. A lot of people think happiness is about lots of time to play. I was a manic kayaker for a long time. And there were some people who just managed to arrange their whole life around kayaking and of course, we were all insanely jealous. But then, with the benefit of hindsight, that choice doesn't work out so great and I think it is because it's all about you. OK, maybe you like kayaking, but what are you going to be proud of at the end of the day? You may pass the time more or less pleasantly, but you're not going to feel too good about it. The same thing is true with getting rich." -- Green developer and Mindspring Founder Charles Brewer, interviewed in the Premiere issue of Worthwhile magazine
You could substitute "mountain biker" or "snowboarder" for kayaker and this would apply to me more directly. You could substitute your favourite leisure activity to make it personal, and I'm sure we all know people who are HARDCORE into the things we enjoy, perhaps even inspiring the same kind of jealousy he talks about. I've always included these types of pursuits as part of self-actualization, but are they really? Maybe if you're training to achieve professional status? I've occasionally blamed parenthood for forcing me out of my hardcore leisure focus, but I wonder if I would have tired of it eventually if we hadn't had kids.

It seems now that mountain biking is less an identity thing for me now, and more about how it contributes to the rest of my life: health benefits, appreciation of the environment and my community, and the social aspects. I'm a happier person and I accomplish more in the rest of my life when I ride twice a week, but I don't think I'd be happier and more productive if I rode five times a week.

What about you?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Wealth and Isolation

Chris linked to this interview with Tracy Gary, a woman born into a super-rich family who decided to give away her money and spend most of her time helping people. She has some interesting insights into wealth and happiness, including the link between being rich and social isolation:
"They were suffering from enormous isolation. They'd chosen that fate for themselves by living in 5,000-10,000-square-foot houses where, you know, the desire was to have space and a certain amount of privacy and solitude. But eventually they realized it was making them miserable. They were craving something that money couldn't buy."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Another Take on Flow

Flow: A new focus, a new idealism...this blog is one of those mind-benders that you might not agree with at first, but it sure gets you thinking outside of your comfortable patterns. From A World of Healthy, Happy People Doing Good and Having Fun:
"We need to create an honorable, pluralistic ethos according to which we acknowledge that many people are dissatisfied with many things in our society – fine, we welcome dissatisfaction as the source of craving for the good. But we never accept whining or criticizing of others or critiques of “society.” If you don’t like it, go fix it, go create a world, a community, a sub-culture in which your ideals can be instantiated, realized, in which you can show us what your vision of beauty and nobility looks like. Create a new social reality, so that I can see your dreams come true. I want to see a world in which billions of dreams are coming true constantly."

Teaching Happiness?

What Does It Mean to Educate the Whole Child?:
"Recently, I have suggested another aim: happiness (Noddings, 2003). Great thinkers have associated happiness with such qualities as a rich intellectual life, rewarding human relationships, love of home and place, sound character, good parenting, spirituality, and a job that one loves. We incorporate this aim into education not only by helping our students understand the components of happiness but also by making classrooms genuinely happy places.

Few of these aims can be pursued directly, the way we attack behavioral objectives. Indeed, I dread the day when I will enter a classroom and find Happiness posted as an instructional objective. Although I may be able to state exactly what students should be able to do when it comes to adding fractions, I cannot make such specific statements about happiness, worthy home membership, use of leisure, or ethical character. These great aims are meant to guide our instructional decisions. They are meant to broaden our thinking—to remind us to ask why we have chosen certain curriculums, pedagogical methods, classroom arrangements, and learning objectives. They remind us, too, that students are whole persons—not mere collections of attributes, some to be addressed in one place and others to be addressed elsewhere."
Via Stephen

Monday, September 05, 2005


A little self-actualization parody from The Onion, about an invented chipmunk created to help kids believe in their potential:
"I knew I could do it—it was hard, yes, it's true. But if chipmunks can climb to the sky, so can YOU!" Chipper said, punctuating his message with a thumbs-up sign and a wink.

According to Dr. Roland Gibson of the American Council For Literature & Ethics, Chipper's core message—that people can be or do anything they want—is a fallacy widely perpetuated in children's books.

Along similar lines, Gwen sent me a link to this: Buddy Lee Guidance Counselor. I guess Lee Jeans has created this character as a sort of surrogate brand and creates these odd interactive sites based on the character. Weird, and I'm not sure it totally works, but some of it is pretty funny.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Not Taking Vacation

Yikes. From Canadians skip vacation, fear falling behind at work:
Benjamin Hunnicutt, a historian and professor at the University of Iowa, argues leisure time has become "trivialized" while work has been "elevated to the modern religion," a way for people to define themselves and find meaning in their lives.

As a result, he says, time off can lead to a feeling of emptiness and boredom.

Surveys find that many Canadians - almost one in five - blame a lack of cash for not taking holidays.

Update: Chris Bailey bounced off this post with some wise words about fear. Also, I keep forgetting to link to this post from the Future of Work blog, pointing out the darker side of being self-employed, at least in the realm of vacation time:
"Those of us in business for ourselves, especially microbusinesses (the very small), find it really hard to take any time off at all. And when you do sneak in a Saturday off, or a long weekend, there's no guilt like the guilt of thinking about what you could be doing right then to generate cash, or build up inventory, or improve your personal infrastructure (like putting away all those old file folders, or organizing your PC files, or doing some research about the future)."

Friday, September 02, 2005

Gems from the Parking Lot

Two divergent gems from the Parking Lot this week. Chris linked to Jon's post telling a story about an engineer at Apple who just kept coming to work after being sacked, and apparently he kept showing up until his project was finished: "His swipe card worked, there were lots of empty offices, so he just kept going, unpaid, for months, creating a fully-fleged and entirely unauthorized skunkworks at the heart of the company." Now that's engagement in your work.

Chris also had some fascinating comments on the looting following the flooding disaster in New Orleans. Class struggle, materialism, greed, poverty, drugs, weapons...the psychology of this stuff makes you wonder how close we are to the collapse of everything we take for granted:
"The looting seems so instinctive, so without purpose (except for the survival necessities of course - what is the immediate survival value of a flat screen TV and a mink coat? What value does such a thing have in a flood? Why waste time and energy acquiring something so useless when food and water is in short supply? One wonders just how close under the surface the possibility for this lies in places where there is a great disparity of wealth."

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Play "Pitfall"

Pat Kane hasn't been posting much about the Play Ethic this summer, but he did write a recent article about the benefits of a playful approach to life. In it, he playfully points to a potential pitfall of engaging in your life on a deeper life -- you start to realize that you can't pursue all of the interesting angles and opportunities that emerge:
"But it's a paradox of the play mentality that the more enthusiasm you have for your self-chosen activities, the more of those activities seem to be on offer. Which leads to a counter-intuitive truth: you need more energy for a player's lifestyle, not less.

Time spent freely surfing on the web crowds your brain with ideas. Lengthy conversations with fellow players at odd times in the day suggest new projects, new angles on things. Your mind-maps teem with possibilities. And where the worker worries whether they'll ever attain the life they want (see the smokers in BBC2's The Smoking Room), the player's anxiety is whether they can realise all the opportunities that life presents them with."

Independent America

It was very cool to follow along virtually with Hanson and Heather as they toured around the U.S. looking for Independent America -- mom 'n pop shops and other non-chain businesses. They're in the process of going through hours of footage and gleaning the best. This week they posted about what they've discovered. The first theme rings most true for me after researching some of this stuff over the past year:
"There's a growing hunger for community in the country -- an appreciation for relationships and civic responsibility. A realization that since we can control so little of what is happening in the outside world, what we can control closer to home matters more than ever. Citizenship vs. consumerism."
I keep blathering about values and how most of us aren't very good at aligning our lifestyle decisions with our core values -- I think the hunger they talk about here is right in the middle of that tension. I'm looking forward to seeing the result of this excellent project.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Philosopher Downes

Stephen Downes is a researcher for the NRC, looking mostly at e-learning, but he's been churning out gems at his other blog. I've been sitting on two of them, going back to re-read them occasionally. The first is is about values and how they may be in conflict with the direction society pulls us, a topic I've also been stewing on:
"There is such a divide between what we believe, what we value, and how our leadership conducts public policy. We are desperately seeking a return to a society that is life-affirming, supportive of community, and respectful to the environment."

The second is an essay on the value of work. It's loaded with smart references, radical politics, well supported arguments and even a personal timeline that isn't far off from what I'd like to build for people creating future timelines of their life plans. He's thinking about what our lives would look like if the government starting the guaranteed income program that was recommended by a Royal Commission in the '80s (PDF). What a vision it is:
"We would, for example, expect a proliferation of the arts. Enough people live today at less-than-starvation wages in order to be able to write, paint, sing, act and perform any manner of cultural pursuit; with guaranteed income even more of them would do so. We would expect a proliferation of scholars and philosophers: with the requirement to work no longer driving people into cookie-cutter training programs, people would pursue their own aptitudes and interests. We would see many, many more restored cars, hand-crafted furniture, four-table restaurants, home gardens and home restorations, as people engaged in the sort of creation and building that interests them.

We would, ultimately, see a wealthier society. It would consume less, but what it consumed would be better. We would see much greater emphasis on production efficiencies, as the labour surplus currently existing would no longer pose a barrier to technological innovation. And we would see a happier society as no person would ever need to live in fear of economic ruin or starvation. There would be a much greater sense that we're all in this together, a much greater willingness to cooperate and share, a much stronger sense of family and community."

Sims University

I keep meaning to check out The Sims games. I mean, if I'm interested in how people envision their futures, wouldn't an existing immersive lifestyle simulation be a good place to start? Duh.

One of the recent extensions to the franchise that caught my eye was Sims 2 University, which lets players live the college dream, partying, studying, playing pranks and trying to eventually graduate. The focus here is obviously fun, rather than any attempt to teach kids about college choices or the transition to careers, but I don't consider that a criticism -- this is not educational software. From a review:
"Together the new content doesn't just simulate the whole college lifestyle, it genuinely impacts the game as a whole. Sims who take the time to go to college will gain tons of skills and new friends that will give them a huge head start in their future careers. They'll also get bonuses to help them score higher in life, such as extra 'want' slots. 'Lifetime Wants' are also added into the core game, and if your Sim can achieve these incredibly ambitious goals, he or she will attain a permanent platinum mood."

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Poverty and Gross National Happiness

US poverty rate continues to rise:
"An extra 1.1 million Americans dropped below the poverty line last year, according to the US Census Bureau. There were 37 million people living in poverty in 2004, up 12.7% from the previous year."
Are those numbers not completely disturbing? Do we need any clearer indication that something is very, very wrong with the way things are going? This little piece of analyis makes it even more bizarre:
"The rise in poverty comes despite solid economic growth in 2004, which helped to create 2.2 million jobs in the US."
It looks to me like the measures of economic growth we're depending on aren't reflecting the reality on the ground. Perhaps it's time to take a closer look at Bhutan's attempt to measure and foster gross national happiness instead of assuming that all economic growth and activity is a positive thing.

Update: In case we felt like criticizing our neighbours to the south, the news on poverty is the same in Canada: "Poverty is rising among children and new immigrants, the middle class is finding it increasingly difficult to afford education and housing, and there are 250,000 Canadians living on the streets...", all apparently while the economy booms.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Visualizing Future Events in Isolation

Psychologists now know what makes people happy...with a title like that, the article better be good. Of course it doesn't have all the answers, but I'm liking most of what I'm reading in there. I was most fascinated by this:
People tend to rationalize bad things, quickly adapting to new realities. They also visualize future events in isolation, but real life teems with many experiences that dilute the impact of any one. This means winning the lottery doesn't make people's lives stellar, but they recover from romantic breakups much quicker than expected.

"If you knew exactly what the future held, you still wouldn't know how much you would like it when you got there," Gilbert says. In pursuing happiness, he suggests "we should have more trust in our own resilience and less confidence in our predictions about how we'll feel. We should be a bit more humble and a bit more brave."

Sunday, August 28, 2005

City Lifestyle Explorer

The City Lifestyle Explorer is a little java-based web app from 1999 with a great concept. The interface feels at least six years old, but I like how making a lifestyle choice gives you some instant feedback. If you choose to bath instead of shower, the water reservoir shrinks a bit. If you recycle, you get a little recycling icon on your dashboard. There's not enough depth to sort of "try on" a lifestyle, but even this simple treatment gets you thinking about how decisions interact and affect the world around you.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

More Work-Life Balance

Work-Life Balance in the New Millennium: Where Are We? Where Do We Need to Go?

The full report (PDF) is a hefty 90+ pages, but it's solid stuff and worth skimming. Check out the eight-page summary (PDF) for the list of recommendations for employers, employees, unions and government. Some of the media reports bouncing off the study are more concise and personal -- Success Redefined is a scanned PDF article from the Globe and Mail with all kinds of lifestylism gems.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Life Building

Kirsten is thinking about the process of building your life. A quote:
"life is all about building. it's not a neat & tidy process with a firm completion date to look forward to - it's a messy, ever evolving project of weaving together what we want and making it work."
I like the recognition of ambiguity -- it's a reminder that a focus on planning your future can lull you into thinking that everything will fall into place if only you have everything figured out up front. When I'm talking about a tool to help you create future lifestyles, it's not really about creating the perfect one, it's about mixing and matching and finding interesting combinations that inspire you to take those all-important first steps toward something.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Money=Happiness: Take Two (or Three?)

Here's another great argument against the money-equals-happiness myth, offering some great advice on what has been proven to correlate to happiness (close friendships, good physical health, good marriages, etc.) and a few great links on the income-spending gap and a paper called Does Economic Growth Improve Human Morale?

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Richer Than Peers = Happiness?

Happiness is Besting the Joneses: "The results showed that the richer people were relative to their peers of the same age, the happier they tended to be."

So relative wealth is more important in influencing happiness than the actual level of wealth -- I guess that makes sense. Your sense of how well you're doing tends to be determined by what you're comparing yourself to. I dug up a draft of the paper (PDF), summarizing their fascinating research. The articles reporting on the research overemphasize the effect of overall wealth on happiness, but the paper goes much deeper into interesting territory:
"That is, if your consumption lowers my happiness, then I must consume more to keep up. As a result, we all end up consuming more than is socially optimal. Because consumption uses up resources, we would all be better off if we consumed less and released those resources for other purposes that more effectively promote our happiness, such as more resources deveoted to community endeavors, or more time spent with friends and family. The consequences for society are perverse, then, when relative income effects dominate."
I've been bumping into that exact issue, and obviously it's not an easy one. I was also nodding along with one of their concluding statements that asks the best question:
"Given that most individuals spend a substantial fraction of their adult lives working to earn income -- some at jobs they dislike -- one wonders why income does not have a greater effect on happiness. Neither the absolute nor the relative income effect is very large. Why do we work so hard to earn money if there is no guarantee that riches bring happiness?"

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Born to Buy

I keep forgetting to write a bit about Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture (page includes first chapter), which threw me for a loop a few weeks ago. Here's a review and an excerpt from an article that mentions the study the author did as part of her research for the book:
"While some of this material is covered in the other books, what makes this book special is the chapter in which Schor presents her own research study. Her subjects were 300 fifth- and sixth- graders living in or around the Boston area. Each student took a 157-item survey that assessed not only the child's involvement in consumer culture but also measures of physical, and mental, well-being. Schor's main conclusion is deeply disturbing. She writes that high consumer involvement is a significant cause of 'depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and psychosomatic complaints.'"
Like Bowling Alone, which brilliantly (and systematically) links TV culture to the decline of civic engagement over the past 50 years, Born to Buy creates a compelling link between the time kids spend watching TV to consumerism and from those measures of consumerism directly to a general decline in well-being. Heavy duty.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Web Apps to Organize Your Future

I've been hearing how people love products from 37signals. Their first web application was focused on project management (Basecamp), but they've got two new (well, to me anyway) sites that look interesting: Backpack and Ta-Da List. They're simple approaches to organizing your goals and to-do lists, but seem to have lots of cool features in nice interfaces. Backpack is like a beefed-up (but easier to use) wiki to help you create pages around whatever concept you want.

I've also been playing with ConnectViaBooks, which does a search based on the books you've read and connects you to people you'll likely have things in common with...and noticed that the 43Things folks have added
All Consuming to their stable of social software niftiness. Lots of action in this space, methinks. They're all tools for collaborating with other people who share your interests and goals, potentially helping each other while you're in the process of setting and achieving your own.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Life Caching

From an updated take on what Trendwatching is calling Life Caching comes a link to another company doing personal history consulting/projects for paying customers called eDv, the "personal motion picture company". Lots of interesting links in the report, including HP's StoryCast, and I liked this simple graphic showing how some of these ideas could be combined with goal-setting.
Update: Another great post on the topic, with a juicy collection of links as well.


Rob's thinking about our addiction to being busy:
"One has moved from a major global metropolis to the Island and another away from a big city to a smaller one. They both told me how uncomfortable they are with the slower pace and with what appears to be the low brow culture.

They miss being Busy.

What is it about 'Busy'. Ask someone how they are and you will often get the response 'Busy'. No one tells you what they are doing, they just comment on the process of their activity. The saddest part of the Busy addiction is that usually busy people are involved in activity that ends up nowhere."

He goes on to theorize that active parents probably spend too much time keeping their kids busy with too many structured activities and sports, perhaps preparing them for the hamster-wheel approach to time-management.

Friday, August 05, 2005

11-Year-Olds Deciding Whether They'll Stay in School

Many children make post-GCSE choices by age of 11, study suggests
"The research analysed the responses of 11-year-old children, in their first term of secondary education, to a question about whether or not they planned to stay in education after they were 16. Some 11% said they would definitely leave, and 67% said they would stay on. The remainder were not sure. These results were then compared with the actual outcomes for the same young people.

Of those who said they would leave, two thirds actually did so. While of those who said they would stay on, almost four-fifths actually did so. Girls were more likely to stay on than boys, and young people from families in middle class occupations were more likely to stay on than other young people. Both these differences were also apparent in the earlier expressions of intentions."

First the Twixters, Now the Yeppies

So we've got another trendy label for 20somethings who are unsure about how they fit into the grown-up world. First it was Twixters and now we have Yeppies. As with Gen X, Gen Y, and NextGen, I think these new names tend to be rather dumb and not particularly illuminating. Despite the superfluous label, Kate Fox has done some interesting research on how young adults are approaching their lifestyles, and it's been picked up by news outlets in the U.K.:

The Yeppies* shop around for ideal life
"'Yeppies are unsure how to achieve their ambitions so they experiment through a shopping-style approach, trying to find the perfect job, the ideal relationship and the most fulfilling lifestyle.'

They postpone big, life-altering decisions until they feel they have exhausted all their options. 'It will be increasingly regarded as normal for young people to continue "Life Shopping" well into their late twenties and thirties. The way things are going, by 2012 thirty will be the new twenty as the "official" age for transition to adulthood; people getting married in their twenties will be regarded as too young or too immature to make such a big decision,' Fox said."

Since When Did Work Bring You Happiness?
"These days, we expect to actively enjoy our work, and feel that we have failed if enjoyment is not forthcoming. Ever since the Sixties, we have had it drummed into us that we are entitled -- even obliged -- to seek personal fulfillment in every aspect of our lives."

Those of you who have been following my meandering through the study of lifestyle choices already know why this stuff fires me up. Much of what I've outlined here is in the realm of the theoretical, as in "people might be generally happier with their decisions if they thought about their lifestyles as a whole, rather than looking at them in isolation (job change)." What these articles indicate is that people are already attempting to do so (practising lifestylism?), perhaps with mixed success. I'm excited about the idea of creating tools for these people (and others who haven't really been thinking this way yet) to help them envision better (more authentic, meaningful, productive) future lifestyles that manifest their values.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Preparing Kids

Thoughtful writing about helping kids learn to really engage in their lives, finding the middle ground between TV-as-babysitter and overscheduling their lives so that every moment is structured for them: Preparing Kids for the Future Economy. Do regimented childhoods full of every possible organized extracurricular activity prepare kids for a life of following directions and waiting for someone to provide the impetus for action?
"By age 2, their daughter, Lydia, had a schedule of structured daily activities. Soon after, the lessons started: piano, French, fencing, and so forth. They wanted Lydia to have every advantage in the competitive climb. Lydia's sweet, but she's uncomfortable when there is 'nothing to do.' She'll declare, 'I'm bored,' while flipping on the tube. She waits for her folks to tell her what's next and then plows through the weekly schedule. When I ask her if she's having fun, she stares at me blankly.

While I don't agree that everything bad is good for you, Lydia's life reminds me that everything good can be bad for you. Flo and John haven't prepared her for the future but for today's workplace in which success and happiness depend on excellent performance according to prescribed criteria. This approach is making plenty of people miserable. According to the latest Conference Board report, only 14% of U.S. employees are very satisfied with their jobs; 25% say they're just showing up to collect a paycheck; and 66% say they can't identify with their employer's business objectives. Why get our kids ready for a world that's already in cardiac arrest? What will replace it?"

Via the Future of Work blog.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Thesis Update

A few readers and colleagues have expressed interest in my thesis project, so you all get a quick update.

Last summer I started this site to collect ideas about the conflict between our values and our lifestyle choices, how decisions in one area of our lives affect other areas, and specifically how young people learn about and envision their future options. I borrowed the term lifestylism as the title of the project, as a way of unifying those concepts.

So now I've got a year's worth of research, reading and writing represented in the blog and I officially start working on the thesis in September. I still need an advisor, and I'm hoping to finish early next year. I've narrowed my topic a lot since my initial pondering and a bit more since my recent focusing efforts.

I plan to explore the aspirations of teenagers (educational, career, relionships, family, lifestyle) in education and outside of school, figure out how successful they've been in achieving those goals in the past decade or two, then create a proposal outlining how to use the web to help teens build engaging, holistic (lifestyle-oriented, rather than just career/college planning) reprentations of possible futures as a way to get them on the path to achieving their goals (or at least taking steps to pursue interesting things that will land them somewhere they didn't expect).

Materialism and Lifestylism

Materialism and the Evolution of Consciousness

This essay by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi rocked my world today. It's an attempt to answer the question of why so many of us have turned to materialism as the factor that motivates most of our lifestyle decisions (how we spend our time and money), even while we would say that we valued experiences, relationships, accomplishments and other non-material goals. I'm tempted to quote the entire article, but this will do for a taste:
"Thus evolution has built two contradictory motivations into our nervous system: pleasure, which is the well-being we feel when eating, resting and procreating; and enjoyment, which is the exhilarating sensation we feel when going beyond the requirements of survival (Csikszentmihalyi, 1993; Ryan and Deci, 2000; Waterman, 1993). Pleasure is a powerful source of motivation, but it does not produce change; it is a conservative force that makes us want to satisfy existing needs, achieve comfort and relaxation. It is the motivation that makes us look for material resources to improve the quality of life – after all these are scarce and everyone wants them, so they must be valuable. The concreteness of material goals also makes them seem more real than more complex goals. But the improvement that money, power, and comfort produce is often simply that of removing momentarily the anxiety we all experience when confronting mortality and finitude. 'More stuff' promises security and comfort, even when the benefits are short-lived and we need ever more stuff to regain equanimity in the face of the slings and arrows inherent in living. There is nothing wrong with seeking pleasure in material goals, but individuals for whom it becomes the main reason for living are not going to grow beyond what the genes have programmed them to desire."
So pleasure, in this sense, does not equal or lead to happiness. We get pleasure from a new toy or outfit, but it probably doesn't contribute much to our long-term happiness. The activities that are more likely to yield more lasting happiness tend to be more challenging and connect us to the people around us.

My interest in this all stems from my naive belief that if people could design lifestyles for themselves that were more closely aligned with their deeply held values, they would be less materialistic, watch less TV, work on more meaningful projects, spend more time with their loved ones and contribute more to their communities. Wouldn't the act of deciding in advance (design) how to best integrate the many strands of your future lifestyle choices help us engage in our lives to a greater degree and focus more attention/time/energy/money on the things that matter?

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Work-Life Balance

I appreciated this personal account of trying to find work-life balance from a successful venture capitalist. Really personal:
"At age 34 when – on a long weekend with friends where I was completely absent and struggling to get through a difficult deal (for a company that eventually failed) – Amy turned to me and said 'I’m done. I’m not mad – I just can’t do this anymore. You either have to change, or it’s over.'"
I haven't much liked the idea of work-life balance because it seems to imply an either/or, rather than some sort of integration that acknowledges work as one component of a rich life full of relationships, creativity, learning, and relaxation...work-life balance always makes "life" sound like the remainder, or what's left over after work. That said, this is a great overview of the types of changes he had to make to save his marriage and make his lifestyle work. Thanks to Will for the link.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Value x Time = Happiness Level?

Help. I've hit an interesting and thorny challenge.

Let's say you're creating a picture of your future lifestyle. Each activity or action you plan to do has a time cost and an effect on your well-being. What I'm trying to do is figure out how varying experiences contribute to overall happiness.

For example, maybe you work 40 hours a week at a job you dislike. For pretty much the whole time you're working, the effect on your mental, emotional health is negative. In that same week, you engage in your beloved recreational pursuit (maybe windsurfing) for about four hours -- during that time, your mental, emotional and physical health is off the chart in the positive.

What I'm trying to do is to find a way to display an average or cumulative level of happiness over a period of time that includes all different kinds of activities. So let's stay with our example and assume that I want to be able to show a general happiness level for the week in which you were miserable for 40 hours at work and thrilled for four hours while you were windsurfing.

The main question is this: should those two activities have equal weight in the weekly calculation of happiness? Or should happiness (or negative effect) derived from each activity be multiplied by the amount of time spent doing it before averaging it out for the week?

Another quick example. You're a teacher, but you don't much like teaching. What you love about it is having 10 weeks of vacation every year. Over the course of your year, what is the net effect of having 42 weeks that you've rated as negative and 10 weeks of bliss? Or you're an oil-patch welder who hates his dangerous, uncomfortable, exhausting work, but you work two weeks on and two weeks off...and you love the time off. Is the net happiness result over the course of one month neutral?

I realize these are oversimplifications and generalizations, but I think there's the kernel of something important in this process. My theory is that wide fluctuation in happiness over the course of a day, week or month is probably not healthy for most of us. But I wonder if the inverse is true? Would less fluctuation always be better?

Social Network Mapping

Dave Pollard is thinking about mapping relationships with people, groups, places and things, and pondering how identity can be represented in ways that could help us understand our lives better.
"An application of all this that intrigues me is in assessing how we should (and can) change ourselves. I tend to agree with many of you that if we are to have any credibility as change advocates we need to be a role model, we need to show not tell people what needs to be done. We need to be the change. So do we start by a navel-gazing process that entails some personal, individual decisions and bold actions? Or, if our relationships and networks define us, do we start by first finding or redefining the circles, the communities to which we (and others) belong and then let those new and altered communities redefine and change us?"
He's approaching the complexity of relationships in exactly the right way, I think. We tend to view the strands of our lives (work, marriage, friendships, leisure, etc.) in isolation, as if a decision made in one strand wouldn't affect the others...or worse, thinking that a change in one would miraculously fix problems in others without any real sense of why that might be.

Find Your Spot

The Future of Work linked to this interesting web tool: Find Your Spot. You take an eight-page quiz with lifestyle and location questions, then get a list of recommended towns and cities that match your selections. From the FAQ:
Are you tired of your present job, your current community, or the terrible weather around you? Would you like to discover the perfect place for your style and interests? Thanks to advances in technology and the economy, more people than ever are choosing where to live based on the factors that really matter to them – the weather, schools, recreational activities, cost of living, and general quality of life. At FindYourSpot.com, you can discover the perfect place for you AND find a great job, a great real estate professional, a great house, great travel deals...all in one central location.
That last part reveals a bit about the business model, I think. I suppose they're hoping to make some money on job/travel/real-estate referrals and interest-based marketing, which is fine. What I love about this model is that it is a relatively simple way to envision what your life might look like someplace else, getting you thinking about the weather there, jobs, house prices and lifestyle factors. The implementation isn't super slick, but the concept is great.

It sounds like NHL players could use a tool like this, too. The theory goes that since the new salary cap will equalize salaries across the league somewhat, players aren't just going to choose the team offering the most money -- they're looking at new factors:
"You don't buy free agents anymore, you sell them on the merits of joining your team. Lifestyle, climate, city, coach, teammates, chance to win a championship and a dozen other variables have become the new determining factors in who plays where."

On Character

More great stuff from Doug, this time writing about the concept of character and how it may have changed over the last few generations. I'm into this idea because I keep seeing evidence of incredibly high expectations and a sense of entitlement from young people, often leading to frustration and disappointment when their goals and dreams aren't coming true as quickly as they'd like them to. This has probably always been the case to a certain degree, but what if "character" is a resource in decline?
"My parents were born in the time of the Great Depression. They lived in very challenging times. As a result, many their age have a toughness, respect, and appreciation for life that is less visible in the age group of my peers and children. They cherish their relationships, not their stuff. They seldom seem bored or uninterested with life. They can adapt. They radiate true character.

My generation is once removed from a tough existence. Our parents protected us from the pains they suffered. So many of us grew up 'cared for'. Unintentionally, our parents denied us the opportunity to learn adaptability, consideration, and appreciation for small pleasures. We don't really know tough. So we make it up, fighting over things and 'who said what'. We have more who are still searching, still blaming, still waiting for something they cannot define.

My children are twice removed from tough times. We were even more protective of our kids, shaping their existence to foster their 'self-esteem'. Our kids are even less tough than we were, demanding that the world adapt itself for them or they will be 'unhappy'. It should not surprise us that we see less character and more queen bee in our children. It is predictable that a pampered generation will not seek commitment, delaying long-term anything to squeeze in a little more self-indulgence."

Monday, July 25, 2005

The New American Dream

I love what this organization is doing: The New American Dream. It's very closely aligned with the issues I've been exploring for my thesis, using the same language and a shared focus. Part of their mission is to get more people thinking about how they spend their time and money and how those decisions impact their quality of life and the world around them:
Living consciously means getting more of what really matters in life, being aware of what’s going on around you, finding balance, and having a little fun while you’re at it;

Buying wisely means becoming a positive force in the marketplace, using your purchasing power to support business practices that are safer for the environment and better for people;

Making a difference is all about making sure your citizen voices are heard, being active in your community and letting policymakers know where YOU stand.
I've occasionally railed against our vague assumptions about and implicit adoption of the American Dream, so this vision is welcome. It also reminds me that I keep meaning to post about Rifkin's The European Dream, a book I found fascinating a couple of months ago. Worth skimming, for sure.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Future Hindsight

Shamash posted a translation of the famous poem by Jorge Luis Borges, written as a reflection on what he'd do differently if he could live his life over again. Like Shamash says, it's got some cliches, but it's still inspiring as you think about how you want to live your own life. Good discussion in the comments, too.

I commented on one of her other posts that it's wise to use that sort of "future hindsight" to measure the value of your current days. Future hindsight sounds like a dumb oxymoron, but I love the concept. Trying to imagine how we'll look back on our lives (regrets, highlights, joys, sorrows) in old age reveals much about what we really value now -- it forces a sort of gap analysis between how we're living and how we wish we were living.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Needs, Goals and Well-Being

The “What” and “Why” of Goal Pursuits: Human Needs and the Self-Determination of Behavior
It's not an easy read, but this stuff is really solid. Each argument and theory is backed up by studies and references, and it's packed with ideas that apply to my thesis work (1, 2). I thought this section was great (if a bit convoluted):
Ryan, Sheldon, Kasser, and Deci (1996) argued that the pursuit and attainment of some life goals may provide greater satisfaction of the basic psychological needs than the pursuit and attainment of others, and that those providing greater satisfaction would be associated with greater well-being. Specifically, T. Kasser and Ryan (1993, 1996) distinguished between intrinsic aspirations (i.e., goals such as affiliation, personal growth, and community contribution, which are closely associated with basic need satisfaction) and extrinsic aspirations (i.e., goals such as attaining wealth, fame, and image, which are more related to obtaining contingent approval or external signs of worth, and thus are, on average, expected to be less likely to yield direct need satisfaction and may even distract from it).
Basically, they go on to show how pursuing (and even achieving) external measures of success like wealth and fame do not tend to make people happy, at least compared to the sense of well-being they get from pursuing (and achieving) goals related to more intrinsic measures like personal growth and community contribution. Seems kind of obvious, but don't you think most of us tend to focus more of our time/money on the former (extrinsic aspirations)?

No mention of values in this section of the paper, with the focus firmly on motivations. I need to think through the relationship between the two...

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Where to Live Before Where to Work

From an excellent post on the Future of Work Weblog on the growth of smaller cities
"As we say so often, work can now go to people, rather than people having to commute to work. We’re willing to bet that these Census Bureau findings have a lot to do with the fact that more and more people are choosing where to work first, based on things like cost of living, weather, quality of life, local schools, and potential peers – and only then do they start worrying about finding work."

Cost-Benefit Analysis on Future Lifestyles

From Future Tense (via The Future of Work): Thirtysomethings and disaffection with corporate life, which outlines an anecdotal trend seeing ladder-climbers getting off the ladder when they hit their early thirties:
"Being logical women, we did a cost-benefit analysis of the previous 9 years and, while the benefits were high, the costs were high too -- and growing. Both of us made similar decisions: We walked. Katie is starting her studies for her master's degree full time in the fall. I slept for about six months, fell into consulting, and realized I loved being an independent."
It's nothing new to recognize that many of us get more in tune with what we actually want when we're feeling more grown up, but I really love the approach at the beginning of the quote -- I don't think we're very good at doing that sort of cost-benefit analysis on all aspects of our lives. It made me think that doing the analysis on the past would be a fine place to start, but even better would be to build skills in doing the cost-benefit analysis on our ideas for the future lifestyles.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Your Preferred Story

Thanks to Stephen for pointing to Story/Narrative in Career Counseling. This is a fascinating approach, particularly in the focus on creating a "preferred story" for your future...much more holistic than a career goal or career plan.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Jory followed one of my links a couple of weeks ago and got thinking about defining success:
"I thought about how tired I’d been in the past just working for money, with no personal investment in the outcome. I thought about how I’d always had a plan in the back of my mind that all of the work I was doing in the present was for the purpose of building my future profile, of earning my right to quit the boring stuff and do what I was passionate about, whatever that was."
Read the whole thing -- this is great writing about important stuff.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Proactive Living

Doug's last month or so of writing about Proactive Living has been fantastic. Very thoughtful and intense -- read the last three or four posts, especially his grad advice.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Incomes and Home Prices

Our homes are intertwined with our lifestyle choices -- the location, property type and costs of where we choose to live affect our day-to-day lives and most of our financial decisions. One thing that has fascinated me about the current real estate boom is that wages and incomes have stayed relatively flat while the costs of homes skyrockets. This article talks about some of the issues and pitfalls surrounding mortgages in the current climate:
"Particularly in urban and coastal areas, these local bubbles are characterized by a frenzy of speculation, home turnover and large margins between median house prices and median incomes. In California, for instance, the median household income is $53,540, but the median house price is currently $488,600. To qualify for a traditional fixed-rate mortgage for such a house, a buyer would need to earn almost twice the median income.

In part, house prices are being pushed up by those purchasing multiple homes—three-fourths of all homes for sale are bought by owners of multiple homes, with the intention of converting them into rental units, or “flipping” them back onto the market after remodeling in order to turn a profit. Those in the working class who are seeking to buy are thus effectively and systematically out-priced by the voracious demand of speculators, driving demand, competition and prices still higher."

Spending Cap Not Defined by Income

Consumer debt is a disturbing manifestation of our apparent belief that our desires are more important than the sustainability of our lifestyles. Check out How does your debt compare? and ponder the irrational truth in this quote:
"The most unsettling aspect of all these credit card transactions is that many Americans don’t see their income as a spending cap. About 43% of U.S. families spend more than they earn, according to a Federal Reserve study. And on average, Americans spend $1.22 for every dollar they earn, according to Myvesta.org."

Lifestylism Questions

Lifestylism means aligning your lifestyle (how and where you spend your time, money and energy) with your values (what is most important to you), and optimizing that alignment. When I started this project, I was assuming that when most people reflected on their core values, they would find that those values were inherently positive. That was naive. I've been e-mailing with a friend about the potential dark side, and it is yielding some good questions:
  • What if aligning your lifestyle with your values hurts the people around you?
  • What if the result of everyone living out their values wrecks the environment?
  • What if our values really suck and our priorities are all wrong?
  • What if we use our personal self-actualization as an excuse to shirk our responsibilities and obligations (resulting from past choices)?
  • Consequences, responsibilities, compromises, sacrifice...are these the real dirty words to the self-actualizer?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Ten Years

David Then and Now is fascinating. It's an art installation rotating through bus shelters in Winnipeg right now. Each bus stop gets two side-by-side portraits of the same guy (all named David) taken 10 years apart. It's interesting to view them in in sequence, to see how much difference a decade makes on our outward appearance at different life stages. This isn't so very lifestylism-oriented, but there's something important about projecting our current selves out into the future...and this art helps you get into that mental space.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Experience Designer and Career Planning

Brian Alger had an excellent post that I've had saved for weeks and keep forgetting to link to. He recounts a discussion with his college-aged son about career direction and life planning, but as usual, he goes much deeper to apply the personal experience to bigger questions about education and purpose:
"The source of career design and work is ultimately our life path, not imposed social expectations. Living a life and building a career based on some shallow conceptions of success will clearly lead to unhappiness and a sense of loss, if not illness itself. In other words, a career and the work we do within that career is simply a by-product of something far greater and far more powerful - our inner passion for the mystery of life itself."

As is often the case with great blog posts like this, they get better with age. This one triggered some fantastic comments and a thoughtful follow-up post. The most interesting comment was from Brian's son Justin -- I love this type of shared personal account. The whole thing is illuminating, but I'll just quote a bit of Justin's contribution:
"This all stems back to the ridiculous age of 16 - the age that the government of Ontario has decided for us all that we must start thinking about our 'careers’. It starts with a short course worth half a credit that they appropriately named 'Career Studies'. The purpose of the course was to fill out aptitude tests and browse career cruising websites so we could find careers that were ‘right’ for us. Of course, the definition of ‘right’ used was just plain wrong. Filling out a standardized test and looking up careers based on it makes absolutely no sense."

Since I began working in the career development field, I've asked dozens of people about their experiences with career planning and guidance counselling. The responses have been overwhelmingly negative, with rolled eyes and shaking heads. Generally we don't seem to have gleaned much benefit from the efforts of schools to help us figure out how we want to spend our time and create sustainable lifestyles. Family and friends seem generally incapable of even asking the right questions, never mind helping with answers. Why is this stuff so difficult?

Brian finishes up the follow-up with some great insight:
"Of course, being on one's life path, or following one's bliss, does not in any way mean that life is without problems and challenges or pain and anguish. But the possibility of happiness and contentment is ever more present in the face of the inevitable difficulties life will present. And the energy we bring to trying circumstances is more resilient - more purposeful - when we are in tune with our inner selves."

Defining Success

Curt has a whole series of posts dealing with how he's measuring success, and how his approach to success has changed:

* Career passion (of course)
* Financial abundance - having "enough"
* Time abundance
* Love
* Health
* Being present
* Meaning

From the post on time: "So in my definition of success, time abundance plays a key role. I want to have time to live the full scope of my life in 360 degrees, not just work."

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Connecting the Dots

From a commencement speech by Steve Jobs:
"Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college, but it was very, very clear looking backward 10 years later. Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backward, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever—because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference."
I don't necessarily agree with all of this, but it is definitely true that it's basically impossible to connect the dots looking into your future. How much can we learn from the connected dots of others?

Consumers First?

Meet the gold-collar consumers -- "they're 18 to 25 years old, working at a poorly paid service job, living at home and buying $325 Christian Dior sunglasses". Apparently they've got Tastes for Glitz on Blue-Collar Pay.

The article quotes the author of Trading Up, which I still have in my bookshelf after reading the first couple of chapters last year. The basic premise is that we all find ways to buy luxury goods in specific niches that are important to us, but may sacrifice quality in other areas of our purchasing. For example, I have a mountain bike that's worth more than our car. It's a business book, so it focuses on how companies use that knowledge to leverage luxury products in all kinds of categories.

Aside from the obvious issues with tying our identities to what we buy, I'm interested in how this might affect how people envision their futures. A friend and I have been talking about software that could help people create views of their future lifestyles, where each activity (purchase, event, job, experience) is represented by a sort of value card. So I might select "mountain biking" and set my personal costs in time (four hours a week) and money ($20 a week), but more importantly select why I value it -- perhaps I mostly ride for its high social and emotional values, because I have a group of friends to ride with. The next person might choose the same activity, but value it mostly for the exercise and physical health benefits.

We had talked about the main categories of values being things like mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, etc...and we thought it would help people really think about how and why they value things. But how do you even try to quantify values for people who sponge off their parents and work at jobs they hate so they can afford overpriced shoes that make them feel like rock stars? Do we have to create a value selection for "pride" and "greed" and a housing option for "mooch"?

But perhaps that's the strength of a tool that helps people visualize how their values interact to create their lifestyle. If I create the shallowest, most consumeristic, energy-wasting, unrealistic vision of my future, then I will likely learn some things about myself and my perspective along the way. The "product" of an imagined future isn't actually as important as what you learn about what it is you really want, how you might make it work, and maybe even how it affects your community and the environment (even if you don't particularly value those effects?).

The theoretical underpinning of this stuff in reference to lifestylism is something like this: Most of our aspirations are borrowed in some vague way from the American Dream and societal assumptions like "you have to go to college to get a good job to make enough money for the big house". The process of envisioning what kind of lifestyle you really want will help expose some of the personal values, contradictions and trade-offs in a way that will constitute real learning -- instead of telling teenagers what they should do, or hoping they'll just absorb the goals everyone else assumes are ok, why not let them explore possible futures themselves and let them play with consequences first?