“Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”

By now, we all know that one of the greatest geniuses of our time has left us. I’m still shocked by it myself, even though, all too familiar with the devastating effects of cancer (I lost a close family member almost two years ago to the big C), I knew the day was coming, and soon. Seeing his physical body deteriorate, and learning of his resignation as CEO of Apple, I was not hopeful. But one thing was clear: Steve Jobs’s mind was intact. The sharpness of his words and his passion for technology and for changing the world were the same. It was a joy to see him address his adored public, to talk about what made him tick. He was a star shining brightly in our midst.

I vaguely remember hearing about the now-famous “1984” commercial, and about Steve Jobs’s firing from the very company he created (I was 20 years old in January of 1984) one year later. I also remember reading about his new company, NeXT, and the computer that was considered by everyone in the know as the best one ever created. During this time, he bought Pixar and became a billionaire (Toy Story, anyone???) even before he was approached by the board of directors at Apple to buy his company and operating system for the Macintosh. The rest is history. He just kept getting better and better, showing everybody why he was the man who could and would rescue Apple from near-death.

I have always been inspired by Steve. His verve and passion and charisma were infectious. His keynotes were mesmerizing. His life was inspiring. Here is this man who dropped out of college after just one semester (and it wasn’t even Harvard!) yet he was rich beyond belief, and still remained a grounded human being, aware of what he went through and possible thinking it could always happen again. This is life – uncertain, unstable, unknowable. Passion is what moves us, what sustains us, what propels us toward a better life, one with meaning and purpose. We should never lose that child-like wonder, that hunger for more.

Steve gave an amazing commencement address at Stanford University in 2005, and ended it by quoting a phrase he saw in the final edition of the Whole Earth Catalog: “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”. He made that phrase his own, and applied it to his life. He never lost that passion for life, for excellence, for genius. He remained foolishly optimistic, ignoring what the naysayers said, and laughing at the status quo. Had he not, he never would’ve accomplished all that he did, and he wouldn’t have changed technology for the better, forever. I’m also inspired by Apple’s iconic “Here’s to the crazy ones” commercial, celebrating those who were called “crazy” by society. People who dared to buck convention and who wouldn’t take no for an answer. People who went out there and did their thing, thus changing the world, and making it better. Were it not for those misfits, those rebels, our lives would be forever poorer and darker.

Two days ago when I received that phone call I’ll never forget, I had what I call my John Lennon moment. Every generation loses at least one person who was so out of the ordinary that he or she changed the world as they knew it. I have seen many such people leave, but I could not relate to the extent that I can with Steve Jobs. He was only a few years older than me, and he rose from tough early childhood circumstances to become a man of great prowess and vision. John Lennon was a genius, and also died way too young, but when he died, I was very young, and I could not relate to his death. This is different. I’m older and wiser and, maybe more than anything, I’m acutely aware that I too will be gone one day, and what will my legacy be? Will I have made the world a better place? Perhaps it sounds a little corny, but we really should strive to leave the world in better shape than when we came here. John Lennon definitely did that, and so did Steve Jobs.

I still believe in Steve Jobs, in what he stood for, and in his quest for excellence in his daily life. He was truly an insanely great man, one with many defects and who made many mistakes, but also one who rose above it all and lived a life of true genius and passion. May we do the same. May we always stay hungry, and may we always stay foolish.

Rest In Peace, Steve. Thank you for everything you did. We will never forget you and we will keep your spirit alive.


Under Size Me

I, as many of you have probably done, saw the documentary “Super Size Me” with Morgan Spurlock, a few years back. It was an eye-opening (and sometimes horrifying) look into the American fascination for everything big and bigger. We have been so accustomed to this dynamic that we don’t even notice it sometimes. We “supersize” everything and don’t think twice about it, seeing it as a good thing and complaining when we feel we’re not getting enough (aka “our money’s worth”). I can only say this, of course, from my own experience, although I suspect I’m not the only one who’s been through this.

Well, it’s definitely not a good thing. Our penchant for always wanting huge portions and going for seconds or thirds has turned us into a nation of fat people (present company included). We have deluded ourselves into thinking that more and bigger is better, and yes, this has spilled into our eating habits. We eat more because we feel we have earned it, we deserve it, it’s the American way. I’ve witnessed people mocking other countries’ habits of eating smaller portions, again, thinking that more is better. How naive and how far from the truth. I consistently see people from Europe or other countries who eat everything (there are no “bad” foods in their opinion) but in moderate amounts, and they remain at a healthy weight. Yes, Europeans are sometimes very vocal about what they think of our eating practices, but honestly, are they wrong? I think not.

Just a few months back Starbucks announced a new size for iced drinks – the “Trenta”. 30 ounces of iced tea or iced coffee. That’s more than the average adult human stomach can hold! Am I the only one who thinks this is insane? Have we lost all sense of proportion, of reality even? This frightens and worries me. As a nation, we seem to be lost in a never-ending battle to have more, do more, make more, be more. Where does it stop? When do we say “Enough”?

Well, I *did* say Enough.

When I saw that Starbucks announcement, I was shocked and even a little disgusted. And I also made a conscious decision right then and there to always get small drinks whenever I go to Starbucks (or any eatery) from that point on. So whenever I go to my favorite Starbucks, instead of getting a Grande or a Venti, I now always order a Tall (12 ounces) if it’s an iced or frozen beverage, or a Short (8 ounces), if it’s a hot beverage. ENOUGH. It doesn’t matter how thirsty I am, I will always stick to that limit. Some of my friends think I’m crazy, but so be it.

I have also adopted the same philosophy when it comes to eating, be it at home or out. I have decided to adopt the European view of food as nourishment for my body and also something to savor and appreciate, not something to shove into my mouth while doing countless other things, effectively becoming a zombie while I eat. Smaller portions make my meals seem more special, and help me enjoy them more. By adopting this healthier view of food and drink, coupled with more walking and some yoga on the side, will allow me to lose some weight while still enjoying one of the truly fun things in life – food and drink. Bon Appétit!!!

How about you? Have you made any changes in the way you view food in general, and your own eating/drinking habits in particular? I would love to hear your stories! Please leave a comment or take to me on Twitter. Thanks for reading!

In Praise Of Empty Spaces

I have always been attracted to empty, clean, uncluttered spaces. The kind of spaces that make a lot of people go “Oh, it’s so empty, it’s so bare, it needs something!”. Many years before I even learned of the existence of minimalism as a design philosophy (way before it was applied to to other arenas), I felt very much at ease in stark, streamlined places. Just the clean lines and the lack of adornment made me feel at peace and relaxed. It was like a natural stress reliever. I didn’t know why I felt this way, but at some point I became aware of this feeling every time I was around a place that was clutter-free. I felt like I could actually breathe and be at peace.

I’ve always admired John Pawson, and what he calls “the excitement of empty space”. Of course, at first I thought minimalism was all about white walls and no furniture, and even though I did like that, I wasn’t sure if that was what I wanted to live around. I couldn’t see myself living in a stark white environment. Too sterile, I thought. Too antiseptic, lifeless even.

Hmmm, really?

I’ve been in houses where every nook and cranny has been filled with “something”. Sadly, most items are cheap trinkets with no intrinsic value. Everything is important, therefore nothing is important. No space is left unadorned, no horizontal area has been left uncovered by a figurine or a souvenir or a coaster. Why? What is the fascination with clutter? I can almost hear Alanis Morissette singing “Why are you so petrified of silence?” Why are they so scared of empty spaces? I’ll tell you why: because empty spaces force us to focus and they make us think. We’re not distracted by the chaos of colors and shapes and textures; our brains are forced to engage with the here and now. And that scares many people. You can see them fidgeting and almost squirming. Why not just BE? Why not just surrender to the emptiness and breathe? I wish I could help more people see the beauty and feel the peacefulness of empty spaces.

Of course, emptiness is a concept that can be applied to our schedules, our relationships, our careers, almost anything. Having a clear plate is a beautiful thing. I am always pursuing what I call this “zen state of nothingness”, and I shall continue learning along the way.

In the meantime, I will keep loving empty spaces, even if all my friends think I’m crazy. And you know what? I think they’re right. I’m crazy about “nothing”! 🙂

Omission Is A Good Thing

Lately, I’ve been reading books on the craft of writing, and how to grow and improve as a writer. These books have given me a better understanding of how important good writing is in order to convey a message, or elicit a reaction, or simply entertain the reader. Every book on the subject of writing has its own set of guiding principles, if you will. But the best principle I read was in Stephen King’s only non-fiction book, On Writing. In it, he mentions William Strunk and E. B. White’s Elements of Style and he says that the best piece of advice he found in this book was “Omit Needless Words”. Three simple but very powerful words.

Omitting something is simply the act of leaving something out or failing to include it. Not pruning it out after the fact, but simply not putting it there in the first place. That, my friends, is much easier said than done. As a writer and an avid reader, I often find myself adding words that might emphasize a point, but are not crucial. They’re “needless”. Sometimes I catch these words and yank them out during the editing process, but other times they remain fully entrenched, like dandelions that refuse to be pulled out.

This is very similar to what we do in life. We learn from a very young age that we must add things, that adding is always a good thing. From adding clothes, to adding toys, to adding coloring books… we grow up adding. We see our parents and other adults adding their items and so we see it as something to emulate, because we all want to be like our parents and other adults when we’re children. And we go through life just adding and adding and adding. We never stop to question this mindset. Why are we always adding? Let’s consider three possible reasons:

1. We imitate what we see.

We grow up seeing things being added all the time. In fact, it’s the only thing we see. We never see our parents purging or otherwise subtracting from the household possessions. Why? Probably because we’re too busy playing with our toys, and we might be too young to notice things like that.

2. We get comfortable.

We learn to always add things and we find reasons to hold on to them. They provide comfort and they might even make us feel safe.

3. We let our things define us.

At some point in our life, we start to believe that we *are* what we own. We allow our possessions to define us. If we have lots of books, it means we’re smart. If we have lots of CDs and DVDs, it means we’re worldly. If we have lots of clothes and accessories, it means we’re hip.

Breaking Free

Some of us had an awakening and realized these things are needless. While our perception was being shifted, we started seeing them for what they really are: remnants of a previous time, of moments gone, of the PAST. We learned we do not NEED these things in order to give our life meaning. We learned to stop letting these things define us. We were freed from the defeatist attitude that says I must hold on to every single item that comes into my life because it once made me happy, if only for a few minutes, and was then shoved in a box and tossed in the back of some closet, attic, or basement. How refreshing it is to finally learn we can be free from all these needless things.

Thoreau once advised his readers to “Simplify, simplify, simplify!”. I would change that to “Omit, omit, omit!”. We could be so much happier if we could just learn to curtail the urge to add.

As an ending note, I think it’s very interesting that Stephen King also wrote a novel about peoples’ attachment to physical items and how these can become a curse (Needful Things). I wonder where he got his idea from? Maybe Mr. King is a minimalist? Ahhh, a fan can always dream.

Becoming Who I Am

This post is going to be very personal, much more so than usual. I will delve into feelings that I normally don’t discuss with anyone, but I feel it’s time to strip one more layer of my soul, to let go of pretenses and be real. This is not going to be easy for me.

Lately, I’ve been on a journey of self-discovery; that much is clear from my posts and what I’ve talked about on other people’s blogs and on Twitter. It’s no secret that I’m still learning how to let go of material possessions and be free. That is an ongoing process right now. It’s not always easy and I do get stuck sometimes, but easy does it and steady wins the race, right? At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Today I was walking to my favorite neighborhood café in Chicago, and pondering on where my life is going. I’ve arrived at a junction in my life where I have to realize that I haven’t really accomplished most of what I once set out to do. I’m at an age where some things seem too hard to do, almost like it’s too late to even start. Yes, sometimes I feel like I’ve failed, like I’m still waiting at the train station while fighting back the tears because I fear my train left a long time ago and won’t be coming back for me. For so long, I tried in vain to live the classic American life of excess and debt and running around in that little wheel inside my little cage. Now that I’m finally ridding myself of the cage, I find that I want more. Stripping my life of the non-essentials and the surplus (material and emotional) baggage has unveiled a picture of wasted time, my best years thrown away somehow. I’ve had some amazing experiences and I’ve traveled and I’ve met wonderful people along the way, but I now see that I could’ve had so much more if only I had been free to see what I was missing, and more importantly, what I was doing to myself. Sometimes I get a little depressed, and a light wave of sadness washes over me, like a mist that follows me around, not quite soaking me, but also not letting me fully dry out. That’s when I force myself to look at what I have accomplished in these few short months after I discovered minimalism and truly saw the absurdity of the consumer lifestyle I was living. I’ve been set free, but time is of the essence. Sometimes I feel like I should be moving faster.

I am not a young twenty-something with all the time in the world to make a “difference”. I am not making six figures in my current job, so I must be mindful of how I spend my money and figure out the logistics of a rainy-day fund and how to pay off my student loan debt so I can start planning for my minimalist “afterlife” of total freedom. I realize I must move forward without wasting time on little details or sentimental attachments. I’m excited for what is yet to come for me, and I can’t wait.

But one thing I refuse to do is feel sorry for myself. I refuse to wallow in regret, because even though I feel like I took this huge detour somewhere in my life journey, I also learned so much about myself and about life in general. I feel immensely rich in wisdom and work experiences, I’ve lived in so many different places, I’ve met (and lost) some amazing people who taught me so much, and those memories will never disappear. So yes, I feel a little sad, but I also feel very hopeful for what is yet to come in my life, and I just can’t wait to make it happen.

As I was walking to the café, I saw this blank sign on the sidewalk that someone had written this line on, and I couldn’t believe it. I immediately crossed the street and took a picture of it and decided it would accompany my next blog post, so here it is. “Become Who You Are”. How simple and yet how powerful. The notion that we are stil becoming who we (really) are, that our lives never stop evolving, that we never stop learning, that it’s never over, and there’s always a chance for a fresh start. This is what I want. This is where I’m headed in my life. I’m still working on “becoming who I am”. I feel like there’s still time, like I can still live the life I want, and be completely and totally free.

And you know what? I’m owning this phrase from now on, and I will apply it to my life every single day. I will continue to work on “becoming who I am”, knowing that it’s a lifelong pursuit, one that is fun and exciting and always worth it.

How about you? Are you “becoming who you are”? How are you working towards your goal of ultimate freedom? Talk to me in the comments below, or let’s continue the conversation on Twitter. Looking forward to interacting with you!

A Brief History of the Undead

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why zombie shows and movies are so popular right now. It seems everywhere you go, there’s a new TV show about zombies, or another movie coming out. Vampires are popular as well, but it seems the zombie movies and TV show offerings are geared to an older, perhaps more mature crowd. The Walking Dead is a great show with solid acting and a great plot. The 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later movies were terrifying and brilliant, making us squirm and shake, silently praying we’d never become one of “those things”.

Well, guess what? You might already be a zombie. No, not in the literal sense of the word, at least not what you see on TV and on the big screen. Day in and day out, our society is chock full of people who go about their days in a stupor, not feeling anything and not seeing anything. They’re on autopilot, silently moving about as if they’ve been programmed by some evil supercomputer. Well, guess again, they HAVE been programmed. Our society tells us what to do and how to do it and when to do it, subtly letting us know that if by X age we have not reached X milestone, there might be something wrong with us. We are all adventurous and exploring little children, but through the years, as a result of disappointments and setbacks and lack of support from those who should know better, we start to conform, we start to obey. Our dreams start to get crushed and pushed aside. Our parents didn’t know any better, because they were taught the same thing, so they were doing the best they knew to do with the information they had, which we now know was not the best.

So we start living our life the way we’re told to and we start ignoring our inner voice, the one that tells us that we should be doing something different, that we are not really happy. But we press on, and we suppress that voice until eventually we can’t hear it anymore. It’s still there, but we’ve learned to block it out. How very efficient of us. Some never regain the ability to hear their own voice, and slowly die inside until their life is over and they never accomplished what they once set out to accomplish. Some of us, however, do start hearing that faint voice once again, and it stirs us to take action, because at a certain point in life (and that point is different for everybody) we know that what we were told to do didn’t work out, at least not for us. Some hear that voice and are able to just take off and follow its lead and change their life route immediately. Some of us must start a slow reversal process to undo the damage already inflicted on our souls, and slowly move up to the life we know we deserve. Just regaining that sense of direction and finding our passion again is a huge step forward. We’re working on getting back to that child-like wonder and sense of adventure and possibility in life. It might take us some time, but we’ll get there.

I used to say that the one thing I never want to be in life was jaded. I thought that jaded people were unhappy people, cynical people, bitter people. I’m not sure I feel any differently about them, but I’ve changed my motto. Now the one thing I never want to be in life is oblivious. I want to be present, I want to be here, now. I want to be mindful of where my life is going, mindful of my actions or lack thereof, mindful of what I want out of life and determined to go get it. Oblivious people are zombies. They don’t feel anymore, don’t see anymore. They’re the walking dead. Or perhaps a more accurate description is The Working Dead.

Are you a zombie? Do you feel like you don’t care anymore sometimes, that it’s just too hard to be a rebel, to live life your way? Don’t give up. There are a lot of us out there cheering you on. We’re all on this journey together, and we will make it together. We just have to believe in ourselves and push ourselves to make our lives matter. Be bold. Be risky. Be unorthodox. That’s really the only way to live life anyway.

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Nostalgia Is Your Enemy

Today I want to write about nostalgia. This is something that I’ve had to struggle with on a minor scale in my quest to become a minimalist. I say “minor scale” because I don’t consider myself to be an overly sentimental person or someone who is extremely emotional, although this might make me come across as a person with no feelings, a cold, detached zombie. This is not the case, however. Even though I do value a select few items, I’ve always been the type of person that values memories and experiences above physical items. I did, however, go through a phase where I always bought at least one souvenir from every place I visited, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled more that some people I know. But a few years ago, I started feeling like these worthless trinkets (all made in China, of course, never in the country I was visiting, with the exception of some pottery I bought in Colombia) were just taking up space and not adding real value to my life. I had to clean them, I had to pack them to move (I move quite frequently), and they were weighing me down. At one point I realized I could still remember the great times I had in those countries/states without having a visual reminder sitting on that shelf – a visual reminder that needed to be cleaned or dusted off every week. And don’t get me started on the money spent on those trinkets that probably could’ve financed a trip or two. But years before I decided to become a minimalist, I learned I could let go of these items and still remember the good times they represented. Now, when I travel, I stay away from gift shops and souvenir stands. Memories and (digital) pictures are all I need. Yes, I’m an avowed souvenir/trinket/knickknack hater.

Nostalgia is defined by Dictionary.com as “a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time”. This is something I’ve noticed to be a major roadblock to many people as they embark on the journey to let go of the things that are weighing them down in life so they can actually *live* their lives. Many possessions feel like responsibilities that must be carried forward (oftentimes literally) in life, and too many people can’t break free from them because of guilt. Guilt – that ugly, ugly word. With society telling us we have to follow certain stages in life and our family pressuring us to “do good” and “make them proud”, guilt can be a lifelong partner of sorts. We learn to deal with it and even though we try to deny it, it rules us and holds us back and limits us. It’s probably worse than fear, and fear is bad enough.

Watching the TV series “Hoarders” has reinforced in me the absolute urgency of severing the sentimentality and guilt that creeps up every now and then and threatens to undo the progress I’ve made so far. Seeing how these smart, caring, nice people become trapped (literally) by their fears and guilt is almost too painful to watch, but it’s a learning experience, a lesson in how you can become immobilized by a feeling that has been kept hidden too long without dealing with it and exposing the root cause of it. Seeing a mother hold on to stacks of paper plates from her child’s first birthday party (when that child is now 35) and hearing her say that to this day she believes that if she throws the plates away, she’s in essence throwing her son away, just broke my heart. How does a material thing (disposable paper plates!) develop that kind of power over a human being? It’s almost impossible to understand, but such is the allure of “stuff”, coupled with nostalgia.

I once read an article about this and it mentioned people living with items that were “bestowed” upon them by older relatives (some of them deceased) and how they felt they HAD to keep these items, because “Aunt Marge” gave them to her. The article went on to ask: Do you really think that Aunt Marge will turn over in her grave if you give away her precious china which you keep in a (heavy) box in the basement and lug around every time you move? I would add to that question: Do you really think she will even FIND OUT if you do? Everybody has different views on what happens after death, and some people may think that their dearly departed relatives literally ARE watching over them and seeing everything, but I tend to disagree. Keeping and carrying around boxes of stuff for someone who has passed on seems sad and defeatist to me. By the same token, holding on to items because they remind us of past events can be akin to walking around in chains, if these items actually prevent us from achieving our dreams. I firmly believe that if something is proudly displayed in the home because it brings back joyful memories of a past event or person that has moved on, then it’s not a burden. But if that item is sitting in a box in your attic or your basement or (even worse) a storage facility, you may want to reconsider why it is that you’re holding on to it.

It’s never an easy thing to do, especially when some family members or even friends may not understand your motives and may criticize you for doing so, but they cannot feel your sense of longing for a life you know you can live and desperately want to live, because they are content with the way their lives are. You’re not like them, you’re a minimalist, you’re an adventure-seeker, you’re a “life-liver”. You want more out of life, and you deserve that better, more fulfilling, exuberant life. But, unbeknownst to you, nostalgia and sentimentality might be holding you back.

Yes, nostalgia is your enemy, my enemy, our enemy. Left unchecked and uncontrolled, nostalgia will blossom and invade everything like a cancer or a virus. It will paralyze you, leaving you longing for yesterday, for something that once was but is now gone, something that happened in the past and is therefore better left in the past.

I don’t want to live in the past. I don’t want to wish for “the good old times”. I want to live in the NOW and enjoy my life NOW, and make plans for the FUTURE, a future I will create for myself and those I love and care deeply about. This is my manifesto.