About a Dabbler

The Story About Finding Your Passions

“…interests are not discovered through introspection. Instead, interests are triggered by interactions with the outside world. The process of interest discovery can be messy, serendipitous, and inefficient. This is because you can’t really predict with certainty what will capture your attention and what won’t…Without experimenting, you can’t figure out which interests will stick, and which won’t.”
— Angela Duckworth, GRIT

As you read in Austin Frank’s account of his journey from Congressional staffer to committed writer on Medium, the road to finding your passions and living a happy life can be hard to predict. Every story, every journey is unique. One step leads to another and when you occasionally look back, the road that got you to where you are today is winding. Lots of surprising twists and turns. And during the process, there’s inner transformation. That’s what makes each story interesting.

In my own life, I hit a point in my career where I was in between chapters and at a crossroads. I took some time to look in the rear view mirror and reflect. In trying to decide which road to take next, I was filled with self-doubt. Afraid I’d make the wrong choice. So I assessed life-to-date hoping to find a pattern. Something that might point me in the right direction.

I realized that I have always been a dabbler.

Dabbling in a variety of interests makes me feel alive. My gritty passions include weight lifting, dancing, DJing, positive psychology, fashion, management, Japan, all things Internet, and writing. Each passion has its own story. Follow the links for the ones I’ve already written about. The rest I will save for another time. For now, suffice it to say that I’ve been transformed because of them. They make me who I am today.

You probably already know the story of Tim Ferriss. Now there’s somebody who takes dabbling to another level. On top of being a best-selling author, serial entrepreneur and angel investor, Tim can speak five languages fluently. He holds a Guinness World Record for most tango spins in a minute. As of this writing, his latest obsession is AcroYoga and you can read all about it on his blog about Experiments in Lifestyle Design.

So many great stories out there. Some are yet to be told.

I’m encouraging you to write about yours and don’t be afraid to share. As Austin and many others have already shared, fear holds us back, but when we bravely venture forward despite our fears, we often find that we’re in good company. In response to one of my quirky posts, Dr. Rob Brown even said, “ I think you and I live in parallel realities. :-)”

One of the benefits I like most about dabbling is that it gives some pretty interesting experiments to write about. And writing about colorful life experiences encourages us all to live life fully.

“As a writer I feel like I have a duty to live a life worth reading, a life that is inspiring, even if it is to just one person.
— Koh Jia Jun

Creating new publications for Medium wasn’t planned. One thing just led to another. I didn’t plan to write this post this morning. It just happened. All part of dabbling. Where will it lead? We’ll see.

The rest is still Unwritten.


Author’s Note:
When I first started publishing on Medium, Samuel LeBaron Abbott III took the time to kindly remark on one of my articles. Samuel also suggested I reach out to publications for future inclusion. Well, I took his advice to heart and then went a step further.

I registered ProDabbler.com in early 2016 but wasn’t sure at the time what to do with it. After falling into writing publicly and rediscovering Medium, we now have a wonderful home. This publication was originally just an outlet for me, but the experience is much better shared, so I’m having a party and you’re invited. Send your stories to donn.durante@gmail.com so we can enjoy them together. Going from private to public, you never know who you’ll inspire.

Copyright: alvincadiz / 123RF

Q&A:

Question:

Thank you for the invitation! Maybe tell me what kind of publication the Dabbler is, what kind of content the Dabbler is looking for? I would contribute if I can!

Answer:

Since the Dabbler publication is new and still taking shape, I’m starting with an open invitation for any stories about life experiences and lessons learned while exploring your personal interests.

Maybe you’re exploring writing on the side to see where it might go. Share what that personal journey is like and any insights along the way. Others dabbling in writing will hopefully be able to apply those lessons to their own experience and be inspired.

If you’re an entrepreneur trying to build a business outside of your current day job, how are you overcoming the challenges?

Or do you just love to learn new languages (or travel, cook, paint or compose music) and in the process, you stumble upon a way to do it full-time. How did that story unfold? Share any colorful episodes.

Just a few writing prompts to start. If the publication organically moves in a different direction, we can flex.

I know there are many great publications — that are already more established — where these topics may overlap, so over time we’ll hone in on the writers and the stories that differentiate and best represent the community.

Like you, I think there’s a dabbler in everyone. And as you mentioned, it’s liberating to know that dabbling is a good thing. Helps us uncover our true passions. It can also be very encouraging to read how others are benefitting from their own dabbling, regardless of whether or not they consider themselves amateur or professional.

3 Essential Buffers

 
Copyright : Wavebreak Media Ltd

Extra Cushion to Safeguard People, Time and Money

Over the years I’ve struggled in 3 important areas of life. Even with the best intentions, I’ve had a history of embarrassing — even traumatic — experiences. During the worst of times, the anxiety and stress would wreak havoc on my emotional and physical health. Then it would become a vicious cycle spiraling downward. Took a while, but I finally came up with an effective way to avoid the unnecessary headaches.

Create and maintain buffers.

For the purpose of this article, we’ll define “buffer” as:

buff·er
ˈbəfər/

noun

1. a thing that prevents incompatible or antagonistic people or things from coming into contact with or harming each other.
“family and friends can provide a buffer against stress”

synonyms: cushion, bulwark, shield, barrier, guard, safeguard
“a buffer against market fluctuations”

I began rethinking buffers after reading Greg McKeown’s Essentialism, where he describes the disciplined pursuit of less but better. Critical to this pursuit is the ability to create buffers that afford us emotional breathing room. Within that space we are also better able to think strategically.

Consistently maintaining buffers in my relationships with people, time and money has had a compound effect on my overall quality of life.

Relationship Buffers

Relationships with people — family, friends, coworkers, followers, etc. — are give and take. As Covey would say, you have an emotional bank account with each person in your life. Investments of your time and attention to that person make deposits into the emotional bank account. Occasionally you may need to make a withdrawal because of neglect, or simply because you need a favor.

Making deposits can be as easy as showing that you care, and truly listening when others don’t. Recognizing someone’s effort even if the results were disappointing. Remembering personal details. (I like addressing people by name even though we only met once before.) It doesn’t take much. Just a little effort where others don’t usually bother. Random acts of kindness. Establish trust with empathy and integrity. Make deposits regularly.

Make time and the effort to maintain a healthy balance in the emotional bank accounts of the key people in your life. When forgiveness is needed, you won’t be overdrawn. In other times of need, they’ll be there to help without being asked. It’s not about the number of connections you have. It’s about the quality of those relationships that count.

Schedule Buffers

There was a time in my life when I was late for everything: family parties, doctor appointments, work…you name it. By incorporating buffers into my time blocks, punctuality is now easier by design. Instead of scheduling everything back to back, I also block out enough time between meetings, appointments and other responsibilities to accommodate the unexpected.

For example, as much as I try to get done in the morning, knowing when to stop and consistently leaving early for work dramatically reduces any commuting stress. If there happens to be an accident or unusual congestion, I’m still on time. When conditions are normal, I’ve got ample time to mentally switch gears before jumping into a productive workday. Planning for adequate lead time sets the right tone to start the day which has a positive ripple effect on the rest.

Find a scheduling strategy that works best for you. I recommend time blocking — per Gary Keller and Jay Papasan in their book, The One Thing — based around your priorities.

Designing your life starts with designing your days.”
— 
Srinivas Rao

Srinivas Rao also wrote a useful article on ‘Why Calendars are More Effective Than To-do Lists.

Proactively use your calendar to schedule not only your priority activities but your transitions and down time as well.

Financial Buffers

When I first started my career many many years ago, I would live paycheck to paycheck. And because of credit, I would often spend more than I had. When large unplanned expenses would pop up, I’d be at a complete loss. By the time I was married and expecting our first child, I knew things had to change. While I personally didn’t mind eating ramen to make it to the next paycheck, my wife and child deserved much better.

Fortunately, my wife is much more fiscally responsible than I am. While I was primarily focused on the percentage growth of our year-over-year income, she continued to save, invest and diversify. As CFO of our household, she has managed our money well and established a healthy buffer for rainy days.

The past year or so, it’s been raining. After my Career Break, I deliberately chose a different career path which brought our annual household income from six figures down to just above the Federal Poverty Level. If it weren’t for our financial buffer, we wouldn’t have been able to afford that decision. (And yes, more than a year later, it still feels like the right choice. We may make less, but life is better.)

This is what has worked for us:

  • Leveraging the compound effect wherever we invest time and money
  • Creating multiple streams of income including forms of passive income
  • Having many egg baskets but choosing our baskets wisely
  • Living well below our means
  • Thinking long term

My Dad once told me, “It’s not how much you make. It’s how much you keep.” I agree. The more I think about it, it’s really a combination of both. You can’t keep what you don’t already have, so I work hard to continue building that financial cushion. My wife always makes sure we keep enough for everything our family might need in the long term. This usually means making disciplined trade-offs and delay of immediate gratification.

Like I mentioned with scheduling buffers, when it comes to finances, find a way that works well for your individual circumstances. Financial Samurai suggests that “The Best Way To Gain Financial Security Is To Develop Financial Buffers For Your Financial Buffers

The Buffer Benefits

Space for Uncommon Sense

You would think all of this is common sense but from what I can see, not enough people act on it. This actually helps those who do. The space is less crowded. It’s easier to stand out and get ahead. Unlike the masses in the mainstream who get caught up in the current, people who create and maintain buffers only flow with the main stream when the current is taking them where they want to go. Otherwise, they slip away on their own to yin when others yang and to ebb while others overflow. It’s in this space where they strategically choose the vital few over the trivial many.

The Compound Effect

By getting started and taking even small yet persistent steps, you can build momentum. Habit fuels a virtuous cycle spiraling up. In the long game, you experience the compound effect of focusing on less but better.

Buffers are like life insurance. You don’t think you need them. Until you do. Life rarely goes as planned. Give yourself some cushion just in case.

Today I continue to face daily challenges with my relationships to people, time and money. Fortunately, safeguards are in place. If ever I veer off course, I catch myself sooner and course correct earlier. And because of the buffer, I avoid accidentally colliding with anything.

Respect the people around you by giving them both time and space when needed. Healthy relationships maintain a healthy balance (as in emotional bank accounts).

Value your time and the time of others by scheduling and committing to the important things with enough flexibility to accommodate downtime and the spontaneous.

And continue to insulate your finances for those rainy days. When it pours, you’ll be ready.

Creating buffers in these essential areas of life make room for peace of mind and abundance.

Next Story:

Going from Private to Public — Personally Speaking

As an introvert, I usually prefer to keep to myself and avoid the limelight. I’ve noticed, though, that I like to stand at the edge of the shadows. I look and I listen, passively participating as others with more gusto express themselves uninhibited. If living a full life is about enjoying experiences, I sometimes fill my void by living vicariously through others.

I’m most inspired by people who have the courage to put themselves out there even though, like me, they’re inclined to hold back. They’re often the ones that surprise me with something new. Something different. Something I don’t get from those who normally live in the public eye.

That is why I am here. And why I am sharing my writing publicly.

Unlike others on Medium, I’m not a published author. I don’t consider myself a good writer, but others have taught me that it’s not a prerequisite to making a meaningful contribution. What’s more important is staying true to yourself and telling your story. Not to be recognized. Not for the green hearts. (I can’t deny they’re encouraging.) But to share something that might make a difference to someone else.

So this piece goes out to everyone standing at the edge. Nothing wrong with staying there. It’s a comfortable place to be. A fulfilling life can be lived in so many ways, with or without the limelight.

For me, sometimes that’s not enough. So I intentionally get uncomfortable and do things I love for public consumption. I record my DJ mixes and post digital versions on MixCrate. I create a YouTube video for my kids of me dancing in the living room. I write about my career insights on LinkedIn. And I share my miscellaneous perspectives on Medium.

As hard as it is, I try not to be too concerned with the number of views, likes, or recommends. When I focus on how the public share might help just one other person, I’m satisfied. I simply find exhilaration in the act of creative self-expression. It bridges the gap between the shadows and the light. Between my comfortable introversion and my wannabe extroverted side.

Where I work, there are two expressions that frequently come up in the corporate lingo:

  1. Be yourself
  2. Leave it better than you found it

Those words resonate with me because I like to apply them to my personal life as well.

If you’re up for it, why not join me for the occasional moment of gusto? No talent necessary. Just be yourself and have some fun. There’s security in living vicariously, but I don’t think you’ll regret occasionally stepping out and doing a little dance. Your dance. You just might inspire someone, in a way that only you can. In doing so — to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson — you’re succeeding at making this world a better place because you have lived.


Originally published on Medium

Insights from Burning My Lawn

Our yard, especially our front lawn, was never really healthy. I could blame the builders and the company contracted to initially sod our lawn, but as the owners, we haven’t done a very good job of fertilizing and maintaining it.

Over the summer, with a month of extra time on my hands, I decided to make a change.

To provide some relevant background, I am not one to spend hours on the lawn every weekend. Even though it may need mowing, I sometimes skip a week. I tackle the weeds only when they become a major eyesore.

That should help explain why I burned the lawn when I tried to fertilize it about a month ago. I quickly reviewed some YouTube videos and skimmed over the instructions on the fertilizer bag. A few days later, I had burn marks on the sidewalk from the granules that spilled over, and patches of my lawn were brown from too much fertilizer.

It was embarrasing to say the least.

One evening, as I was taking out the recycling for pick-up, one of our not-so-friendly neighbors happened by, totally ignoring me, and scowled as she looked at our front lawn in disgust. Without saying a word, I could hear her judgment loud and clear.

This bothered me so much, I kept dwelling on the mistake I made.

Now, several weeks later, I’m over it. Things always seem more intense in the moment. In retrospect, I learned a few things.

Life After Death

The brown patches were areas of the lawn where the grass was unhealthy. They were thin and weedy to begin with and the excess fertilizer actually finished them off. Based on some online advice, I spent an afternoon dethatching the brown areas and removing the layer of dead turf. I also gave the lawn some extra water.

As the weeks passed, the stolons from the healthy St. Augustine grass began growing to fill in the unhealthy areas. While I’ve read it will take time for a complete recovery, the grass is growing better than before.

I needed to remove the bad grass to make room for the good grass. Where there was death, now there is new life. And the grass is greener where I watered it.

My Theory of Relativity

At the time fertilizer burn took over my landscape, everyone else’s lawn seemed so much greener. That’s when I felt the worst about the mistake I made and how I looked in comparison.

What’s interesting is that, since then, the hot summer sun and lack of rain has made other lawns in the neighborhood full of brown patches. In comparison, my lawn doesn’t look so bad anymore. It really hasn’t changed that much yet. It’s just that, relative to others, what I thought was the blight of the community, is now just another lawn needing to weather another hot dry summer.

It’s all relative.

Because I was fixated on the results of my mistake, it seemed so much worse, and it felt like it would take forever for it to get better. Once the surroundings changed as well as my frame of reference, the time to heal seemed to speed up. And I no longer felt so bad about the mistake. It taught me a lesson and reminded me about the importance of perspective and how relativity can significantly alter the way we see things.

“When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.”
 Albert Einstein

Change of Seasons

My summer experience reminded me about keeping things in perspective. Not to be too hard on myself. Fertilizer burn is not the end of the world. Even though we’re told not to sweat the small stuff, it’s funny how we react in the heat of the moment. I made a mistake and I learned from it. I’m grateful and carry on.

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
 — Albert Einstein

Some change happens naturally, like the change in seasons. Individual changes are up to us. We need to try new things and mistakes are inevitable along the way. No need to dwell. Learn your lessons and move on.

The kids start school again tomorrow. It’s the end of summer break and fall is around the corner.

As this season ends and the new one begins, I’m feeling good about the changes to come and the lessons to learn — especially from the little things that happen every day. It can take time for some changes to make a real difference. Some of the best changes happen over several seasons. And we sometimes need to make room in order for better things to come our way.

To make the most of change around the bend, let’s

  • try something new
  • make a few mistakes
  • check our frame of reference
  • clear out some of the dead stuff
  • plant some seeds of change
  • grow

IMAG2100

Respecting The Yin and Yang of Productivity

“Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”
– Mark Twain

In this achievement, results-driven culture that we find ourselves in, it can be easy to get caught up in the craze. With the focus on movement, there’s an inherent lack of focus on being still. Taking time to pause and reflect. Doing nothing. As Benjamin Hardy eloquently describes in The Harsh Truth Of Rapid Personal Growth, there is the Law of Opposites, where it’s impossible to appreciate things like the sweetness of success unless you’ve tasted the bitterness of defeat.

In my personal experience, I’ve learned the hard way that getting important things done and making big strides forward are easier and faster when I make time to do the opposite. Time to stop and pause. Time to rest. When we choose not to do this, sometimes it’s imposed upon us like my Career Break.

Since then I’ve had a chance to revisit some lessons learned long ago while I was working abroad. Concepts first introduced to me while reading Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh a fun way to get acquainted with Taoism, particularly Yin and Yang.

Copyright: Goruppa/123RF

For anyone not already familiar with Yin and Yang, here’s a translated excerpt from the Tao Te Ching to help provide some context:

When people see things as beautiful,
ugliness is created.
When people see things as good,
evil is created.
Being and non-being produce each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low oppose each other.
Fore and aft follow each other.

To oversimplify what can be a much deeper interpretation of the concept, I see the main takeaways as balance, flow and wholeness.

Counter-Balancing Flow

Like many others, I also feel the pressure to keep moving, to make it happen, to do what it takes. Not too long ago, I would do 14 hour work days with only 4 hours of sleep. Push, push, push without taking time to rest, rest, rest. Always being plugged in so I wouldn’t lose any connections. Recently, I’ve significantly changed my pace.

There is a natural ebb and flow as day turns into night and night into day. When we fight against the natural rhythm, we invite disharmony and imbalance. At work this can lead to burnout or loss of personal mojo. At home, fatigue makes us impatient and fosters a dysfunctional environment. Within ourselves, we lose clarity and creativity. None of this is particularly appealing yet we continue to force flow without respecting ebb.

“Life is full of ebbs and flows. Trust that when things are slow or not going the way you’d like, there’s something positive coming your way. Things are in the works, the universe is shifting, and all the seeds you plant will come to bloom in their right time. Take care of yourself, trust in the process and stop trying to force things.”
— Stephenie Zamora

Whether you occasionally do ‘a complete unplug’ as suggested by Neil Pasriche, or simply listen to Depeche Mode and Enjoy the Silence every once and a while, rest is not only vital for your overall balance, you’d be surprised at how much more productive you are after you re-engage. As Jim Lore and Tony Schwartz are quoted, “The richest, happiest and most productive lives are characterized by the ability to fully engage in the challenge at hand, but also to disengage periodically and seek renewal.”

Going Full Circle

Before I got caught in the ‘the busy trap,’ I used to enjoy sleeping in and taking long naps. I’d wake up fully recharged and filled with fresh ideas. Full of energy, I’d actually follow through and see those ideas to completion, one step at a time.

Settling into my career, I got too caught up in the wave and would try to ride the momentum too long. Forcing flow when it was time to ebb. Focusing only on Yang and neglecting Yin. Not making time to enjoy the silence.

At the extreme end, I eventually lost my mojo, burned out and received the dreaded pink slip after years of climbing the corporate ladder.

I don’t regret it though. It was the sign I needed to reset. And the experience has given me more appreciation for a simpler life…and more naps. That might sound a bit like the other extreme, but for now, it’s the needed Yin to counter-balance the Yang life I had been living.

My One Thing now is wholeness to improve the flow.

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”
 — Tim Kreider in his New York Times article, “The ‘Busy’ Trap”

Fortunately, cultural shifts seem to be moving in a similar direction. You may have noticed as well. Perhaps you’ve joined the ranks of Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution. Or you’re following Arianna Huffington’s Sleep Revolution.

All good.

Take a break, get some rest, and I’ll see you on the other side.


Originally published on Medium

What Would You Do If You Had A Month of “Me Time”?

A month ago it started. I would have about 5 weeks to myself and thought about how much I could get done while my wife and three kids were in Argentina traveling and visiting with family during summer vacation.

An entire month of extra ‘me time.’

That time is now almost over. I pick them up from the airport next week. My time alone didn’t go as planned, but I did learn a couple things from reflecting on how I spent it.

Lessons Learned:

To start the 5 weeks, I reviewed my Honey-Do List and made several lists of my own. I like lists. They give me focus. They give me an outline of steps to take. It feels good to check items off the list and say “Done.”

Lists are also a source of great anxiety and a misleading tool if used improperly.

My to-do lists usually contain a mix of items that fall into opposing camps: creative vs. maintenance, recharging vs. charging ahead, big and time-consuming vs. quick hits.

Taking a breath and thinking back on the past four weeks, here are some observations.

  • Maintenance items and quick hits lure me away from the more important things. With every check off the list, I feel like I’m getting a lot done in a short period of time. I gain momentum which leads me to the next quick hit. I go through the day thinking I’m getting a lot done, but at the end of the day it ends up being the trivial many versus the vital few.
  • Lists focusing on Doing rather than Purpose are like a big helping of empty calories. Short-lived satisfaction without any long-term sustenance. The day ends with regret from just spinning my wheels and not really getting anywhere meaningful. The negative effect of shifting my focus on what’s past — regretting a day lost — also distracts me from being at peace and appreciating the present moment. This perpetuates a vicious cycle.
Copyright: fieldwork / 123RF Stock Photo

Course Corrections:

With the one week I have left, here are the changes I’m committing to.

  • First Things First, as Stephen Covey would say. Or if I can only get one thing done, making the priority my “One Thing” as Gary Keller wrote. The maintenance work still needs to get done, but I’ll put the big rocks in my jar first and then let the sandy maintenance items fill in the remaining space.
  • Follow some advice from James Altucher and time-block my day based on balanced themes instead of to-do lists. By aligning daily choices to address what’s important for my spiritual, emotional, mental and physical needs, I’ll be more likely to make healthy decisions on how I spend the time. These are the four big rocks (themes) for me.

Put Into Practice

All fine in theory. But what would this look like from day to day?

This post is one example. In the beginning of “Me Time” I had planned to use the extra time to write about and publish several ideas piling up in my drafts folder. Four weeks later my list of ideas is even bigger, but I didn’t complete a single post. Today, I traded-off a few hours of maintenance items to sit down and follow-through on something that simultaneously feeds my spiritual, emotional and mental needs. As I wind down this article, I not only feel good about checking something off my original list, I also feel nourished. I made time to recharge my energy and be creative.

For all the other scenarios out there — for whatever you might be personally experiencing — the one take-away is this. Shift your focus from simply doing, to doing the right things.

As Greg McKeown says in Essentialism, narrow your focus to what’s essentially important to you and be willing to trade-off the trivial many (e.g. checking my phone every other minute, staying up late binge watching Netflix, etc. in my case.)

In The One Thing, Gary Keller recommends we ask ourselves some variation of the following question, “What’s the one thing I can do today/this week/this month to [insert context for family, career, exercise, whatever applies to you] such that by doing it everything will be easier or unnecessary?”

Using my personal example, I asked “What’s the one thing I can do today for my peace of mind, body and soul such that by doing it everything will be easier or unnecessary?” My answer: Block out a couple of hours to reflect, collect my thoughts, then write about them.

As I close, I already feel the nourishment kicking in. I still have a lot of necessary chores to do, but I’ll get to them in between more important things. Instead of rushing back to attack my to-do list, I’m going to take the dog for a nice leisurely walk (without my phone) to enjoy the sun, the warm breeze and the simple pleasure of pausing to sniff the roses.

What will you do?


Originally published on Medium