Thursday, March 04, 2010

The repetition of death

"People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing - that's why we recommend it daily." - Zig Ziglar

I have no idea who Zig is, but I like this quote. Especially because I recently noticed how much I've been surrounded by stories of death:

- Just re watched the Steve Jobs Stanford speech. Key point: if you live each day like it will be your last, one day you'll certainly be right.

- Saw the Gabrielle Bouliane video and even showed this to a bunch of students I spoke to at the University of Illinois. Key point: she had stage 4 cancer when this was filmed. "Don't you dare waste your fucking time".

- "Instantes" by Jorge Luis Borges. Key point: "If I were able to live my life anew, In the next I would try to commit more errors... But already you see, I am 85, and I know that I am dying."

- I'm reading the book of one of the main executives behind AOL, The Business of Happiness by Ted Leonsis. Key point: This guy thought he was going to die in a plane incident, instead he lived and has been trying to lead a life of achieving happiness.

It's crazy how quickly we get a boost of motivation from listening to the reality of how life is truly short. But then that motivation fades. Sometimes within minutes.

My wife and I were just talking about all these death anecdotes above and agreeing with their impact, when, seriously, minutes later there was frustration about the mess in the kitchen. It was like, "yep we are going to die soon, and we need to accomplish more of what we want before then, but oh, we better not die with this pile of papers on the kitchen counter, and we better get frustrated about it" :)

It was interesting too when I showed the video of Gabrielle. The host of the conference had seen my slides and the video a few times. But the time I showed it in front of the students she started crying. She already knew what was coming, but the impact was even greater on the 3rd time watching this thing.

It's crazy how often these stories need to repeat constantly for us to continue to be impacted by their message (or even once at all): Life is short.

But we need to keep hearing it over and over. Like Zig says, we are constantly getting ourselves dirty in this life. People criticize us, things don't go our way, we fall down and get scraped and bruised. We and others around us need the repetition.

Look at musicians. They keep singing songs about heartbreak and we just keep listening and looking for the twist they provide.

Look at 37signals. Their philosophies aren't that unique. Cornerstone of their philosophy is "less". Minimilism, less, simplicity and clarity also happen to be cornerstones of guys like Mies van der Rohe in the early 1900s and I'm sure you can trace those themes much further back. But 37signals shares how these themes work inside their own company and with their own bits. They sing their own song.

And people love and need to hear the theme again.

So next time you feel like you can't blog or write or teach or create because someone else has done this before. Are you sure? Are you sure you aren't unique? People need repetition, and they need the same thing in different packages often enough that you better think long and hard about giving up on something just because you think someone else is doing it.

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