Photo: Mike Harris

Sometimes you don't know the true value of what you have until it's gone. 

As such a core human experience, we've created innumerable cliches to explain it. But that doesn't make the experience any less real or any less true.

I've observed so many people pining away after something they don't have--living in a different place, working in a different job, being with different people--that they don't ever truly live in the moment by enjoying and appreciating what they already have. And sometimes, when they finally do make that jump, take initiative and make a change, they realize that what they had hoped for and wanted so badly isn't quite so incredible after all.

I've tried to take that to heart in my own life. 

This realization plays out in a number of ways, the chief one being an attempt to appreciate and fully embrace every moment for the joy that it can provide. 

Second, I try to be very careful when I hope and dream about a change, thinking that it will seemingly fix all the "problems" that I'm experiencing in life. We think the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence (there's one cliche), but when we actually cross the fence, it turns out there are way more weeds in the grass than we could see before. As a result, I do my best to temper my enthusiasm when dreaming about a change. Some changes do result in incredible things, whereas others... the weeds tend to crop up.

What motivates these thoughts today is the truism, "absence makes the heart grow fonder." (What did I tell you about cliches?) As I carefully weighed whether or not to under go ACL surgery, I knew from experience what I'd be giving up for a period of time--possibly a long period of time--in the hopes that life would then be better. Would the grass really be greener on the other side of the fence? Or would I just be trading one problem for another? Eventually, I had to take the leap. 

While I was as prepared as anyone could be for what I'd face on the other side, after four weeks of sedentary, indoors life aside from the occasional bit of physical therapy (hardly qualifying as "exercise"), my longing to get outside and adventure in the mountains has only been rekindled and stoked into a flame that never dies. 

While experiencing that passion and drive anew is agonizing in the moment as I can't act on it (I tried to walk the dog a couple days ago and managed a 0.4-mile round-trip jaunt), I know that when I return to my activity and venture back out into my mountains that the experience will be fresher and sweeter than ever before!
I have a question for you today: How do you define success in your own life? If you read nothing else in this column, I still invite you to scroll down to the comments section below and share your definition of success.
This is a question that I’ve been grappling with lately because, while perhaps there are societal norms of what makes a person “successful,” I think that we can each individually choose how we evaluate success in our own lives. We can create our own definition of success that is determined by ourselves, and ourselves alone.


Racer: Nino Schurter. Photo: Armin M. Küstenbrück / Scott Sports
Dropping into the Welschtobel Valley in Switzerland in 2016.

Despite having ACL surgery three weeks ago that has relegated me to the lazy boy sidelines, I didn't want to stop sharing photos on my Instagram account because, you know, I'm just a little bit addicted. Thankfully, over the past few years I've created a folder full of photos to share to Instagram, and while I share at least one shot (usually more) every day, my back log of unshared snaps continued to pile up, until I'd amassed somewhere around 300+/- images.

While perhaps those 300 images weren't the cream-of-the-crop (because I'd already shared those), as I've delved into my archives over the last three weeks, I've unearthed some pretty great photos that had not yet seen the light of day. I guess having this opportunity to share these photographs is one silver lining to having surgery (albeit a thin one).

Here are some of the best shots I've discovered in my archives over the past three weeks:



A post shared by Greg Heil (@mtbgreg) on








A post shared by Greg Heil (@mtbgreg) on


A post shared by Greg Heil (@mtbgreg) on


A post shared by Greg Heil (@mtbgreg) on




A post shared by Greg Heil (@mtbgreg) on


A post shared by Greg Heil (@mtbgreg) on


A post shared by Greg Heil (@mtbgreg) on


A post shared by Greg Heil (@mtbgreg) on


A post shared by Greg Heil (@mtbgreg) on


And of course, if you dig what you see here, be sure to follow me on Instagram for even more photos!
Shops roll fat tired bikes onto their showroom floors to prepare for the onset of a long, snowy winter. Riders are shaking down their snow-specific rigs, checking to make sure they have all the gear they need to brave the cold, dark, wet trails of winter—and inevitably, adding more gear to their Christmas wishlists.
Some people have argued that fat biking isn’t even really mountain biking, or is almost another sport entirely. Of course, I disagree with that sentiment—I think fat biking is one of the most important revolutions in the sport of mountain biking, ever.



Surgery recovery can really screw with your mind. On the one hand, progress is painfully slow. After two weeks spent mostly sitting in the lazy boy, aside from doing the meager exercises that qualify as “physical therapy” twice per day and hobbling to the fridge for a beer, I’m still faced with many more days of binging on video games.

On the other side of the equation, progress from one day to another seems startling. “Did you see that?!” I exclaimed to Summer. “I just lifted my heel off the bed! I couldn’t do that yesterday!” Motor function, strength, and range of motion consistently return, getting noticeably better ever single day, and yet 16 days in I still can’t do a full pedal stroke.

One thing I’ve learned from my second go-round with ACL rehab is that when you have expectations or a drive to get to a certain physical fitness level as soon as possible, it does provide you with some motivation to do your daily exercises and put yourself through pain in the hopes that one day soon, you’ll be able to return to the sport that you love.

But when you have this type of drive, this burning desire to be better, to heal quickly, it also makes the process feel even painfully slower.

While I can never quite kick the drive to get back on the bike and get out in the mountains, which is why I’m going through this mess in the first place, in this second stint I feel like I’ve set lower standards and more modest goals than I did two years ago. Chilling out, trying not to be as driven when the drive gets me nowhere, is proving to make for a better rehab experience all around. Some days still feel dark, but once I've realize that health and recovery can’t be rushed, it relieves the pressure to perform just a little bit more.

The one major catch in this “chill and heal” strategy? Chilling just creates more time to hatch big plans…
I think that we don’t always get to choose what we want in life. Instead, the desire is so deep-seated within us that we feel compelled, motivated, driven, and inspired to do and be a certain type of person. For Cam, that’s throwing 360s off of massive drops–so much so, that he retired from slopestyle mountain biking last year to focus solely on preparing for this one competition in the Utah desert.

Read more here.



“What determines your success isn’t, ‘what do you want to enjoy?'” writes Mark Manson in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. “The relevant question is, ‘What pain do you want to sustain?’
This line struck a chord with me more than any other in his book, as it’s been proven true over and over again in my own life. Manson goes on to expound on this principle, by showing that there is pain associated with everything that we choose to do in our lives, the process of everything we strive for and seek after. The pain is just different from one thing to the next, and what indicates whether or not we will accomplish our respective goals is whether or not we’re willing to live with and embrace that pain.
Photo: Marcel Slootheer
By living either in the past or in the future, we miss the present–the one thing that we know for sure we possess, if momentarily. What a tragedy it would be if we missed all of our present moments, only to arrive at the end thinking, “I thought there would be more.”
Autumn’s ephemeral appearance on the mountains reminds us of this. Just a dozen days ago the trees were green, and now the leaves have already turned golden and are falling. The color is grand, but the grandeur is brief. As is life.
Live the present.

The internet accomplishes many tasks incredibly well, and it has co-opted many of the roles that Interbike used to serve. Websites like Singletracks now play a massive role in sharing new products with consumers just moments after they’re announced. You don’t have to worry that you’ll miss something, because your social media sites and inbox will be blasted with all the latest and greatest tech.
Doing business and placing orders online has revolutionized bike shop ordering. In fact, most shop buyers I talked to said that every single one of the brands they work with requires orders for product for the upcoming calendar year to be placed before Interbike even takes place.
So what does that leave us with?
Relationships.

Photo courtesy Interbike

During one of my many transits across the great state of Kansas, I pulled off the interstate to fill up my gas tank and patronize a fine dining establishment that we don’t have access to in my hometown: Wendy’s. But as I turned on my blinker toward the exit, I noticed that the name of the town was literally “Plainsville.”
“Is there a more boring, depressing name for a town?” I found myself wondering. As I looked up and down the busy strip next to the Interstate, the fast food chains and gas stations ended quickly, taken over by flat plains filled with grain, as far as the eye could see.
Plainsville, indeed.

Photo: Kent Kanouse, via Flickr Creative Commons

At the top of Georgia Pass on the Colorado Trail. Rider: Greg Heil. Photo: Mike Harris

Yin

Bikepacking is a complicated endeavor. Not only do you need a mountain bike and all of the accessories required to not have a horrible time riding, but you also need to own basically all of the gear that’s required for spending the night in the woods.
People complain all the time about how expensive mountain bikes are, but high end backpacking gear is pretty damn expensive too.
Basically, you need the amount of equipment required for two expensive sports. But then determining how to mesh that gear together, to use the one to carry the other, is a feat unto itself. That process requires its own set of equipment.
Once you have the equipment, figuring out how to optimize it for your own purposes is a never-ending process. After three short bikepacking trips, I’m still working to refine and perfect my setup.

Yang

On the other hand, the process of bikepacking is extremely simple. You wake up, tear down camp, feed yourself, put your gear on your bike, and ride. Then you push and pedal your bike down your chosen trail as fast or as slow as you’d like.
When you’re hungry, you eat. When you’re thirsty, you drink. When you need to answer the call of nature, you take care of business. When you reach a refreshing-looking stream, you decide if you should refill your water reservoir or not.
And when you’ve decided that you’ve had enough for the day, you look for a suitable spot to set up your tent and unroll your sleeping bag.
You feed yourself, drink a little whiskey, and the next day, you do it all over again.


Maybe it’s just me, but when it’s time to put tires to dirt, I have zero interest in these debates. Sure, I can debate with the best of them–I’ve spent more than a decade gathering enough experience to support well-informed opinions on all sorts of meaningless mountain biking minutia. Perhaps my distaste for these discussions is linked to having similar discussions in writing, on the internet, all day long (not to mention the podcast), and I’m just ready for a break from the endless analysis. All I want to hear is the simple whirring of chains through the gears and the crunching of tires on gravelly dirt.

More here.

In a world filled with lists of the “Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Productivity and Get More Stuff Done,” self help books designed to fix the flaws that we perceive in ourselves, and people striving to climb the corporate ladder, make a name for themselves, or hell — get their writing in front of as many people as possible — contentment is countercultural. It’s rebellious. It’s antithetical to everything that the world tries to force on us every moment of every day.

I’ll be honest: I’ve bought into the hype. I’ve bought into the striving, the goal setting, the self improvement, the desire to get better and become better. But no matter how much better I seem to get, happiness seems to be an illusive companion, flitting off into the distance. No matter how fast I run, happiness runs faster.

I wonder if, in order to catch happiness, I need to stop running. Perhaps happiness isn’t the product of trying to become better, accomplish just one more thing, or fix just one more thing about ourselves. Perhaps happiness is being content in the current situation that you find yourself, no matter what that situation may be.

I think that whatever it is we’re trying to do, or whatever it is we are trying to avoid, at the core of why we do what we do in life, we’re all trying to find happiness. If you ask yourself, “why do I want to accomplish X thing?” The answer, if you dig deep enough, is that we think it will help us be happier.

One more bit of brutal honesty: I think I’m naturally a discontent person. I think we all are, but maybe I am more than others. Whereas some people can sit in a lawn chair on the beach, stare at the waves, and just soak it all in, I can only do that for… oh, maybe two hours at most. And after that point, I want to go do something. I want to accomplish something. I need to move my body.

I’m beginning a journey to discover what it means to be content. Because I don’t think that being content necessarily means being able to just sit in that lawn chair on the beach for days on end, staring at the waves, and simply existing. Maybe it is, but I have a nagging feeling that true contentment comes from being absolutely satisfied and at peace with who you are as an individual. And some individuals can’t sit still — I’m one of those. So maybe to become content, I need to make peace with my need to be on the move.

At this point, I don’t have any answers, only questions. But I’m embarking on a journey to find the answers because… well, I guess I’m discontent with my lack of contentment. While this journey to find contentment is a very personal one, I invite you to join me on this quest. While contentment may be the ultimate countercultural rebellion, I think it just might have the power to transform the world, one person at a time.

This article was originally published here, on my new Medium page. I would love it if you would click on over and give me a follow on Medium!
Mountain biking isn’t a means to an end. Its purpose is not to be a vehicle by which I make a living or achieve some other goal, it is the end goal in and of itself. Mountain biking isn’t a step in the journey, the journey is itself the destination. If the journey was to end, that would mean that the destination was not successfully reached. A conclusion would mean failure.

Read more here.


You can think of living in the moment in two different ways. One is to take each singular moment that you have in this life and pack it as chock-full of activities and events as possible.

...

This leads to the second way to embrace the moment: consciously UN-schedule activities and events. Take things off your agenda.

...

Adding more activities can distract you for a time. But learning to find a peace and quiet that is all your own renders the constant struggle of “more, faster, now” irrelevant.

Read the full column here.

Photo: Aaron Chamberlain

I reject this view that “real life” is the endless drudgery of staring at screens instead of trees, paying bills, making small talk, and worrying about what our neighbors think of us.

I reject that version of so-called real life, and instead replace it with riding bikes.

Read more here.


Just because we happen to be good at something--we have a certain set of skills, we've applied ourselves and worked really hard--doesn't mean that we automatically enjoy that thing.

I think that we humans often enjoy feeling adept and useful, confident and knowledgeable, and we can sometimes misinterpret the satisfaction that we derive from that competency as the inherent satisfaction in that activity in question.

Somebody may be really good at bagging groceries at the store. In fact, they might be the best at bagging groceries at the grocery store. But that doesn't necessarily mean that bagging groceries is the end goal of that person's life.

Competency does not equal fulfillment.


Sometimes fear is healthy, and it keeps our bodies in one piece. Choosing not to huck our meat off that 15-foot cliff (or 40-foot cliff like the photo above) is generally a pretty good idea. But then at the same time, fear “is a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life,” to quote Donald Miller.

Read more here.

Rider: Thomas Genon. Photo: Dean Treml / Red Bull Content Pool

While riding new singletrack is (almost) always the best, what I’ve learned from looking at these maps and pedaling some trails this spring for the second time ever is that yes, new singletrack is the best–but you could be doing yourself a massive disservice by disregarding a trail that you’ve ridden before but haven’t pedaled in years.

More here: "Over a Beer: The Paths We Haunt"

As I try to solve problems and determine what my next move should be to get myself out of this royal mess I’ve created, everything within me comes alive. I find my mind working in overdrive, reading topo maps, looking at satellite imagery (if I’m lucky enough to have a signal), reading the mountains, looking for cross-country routes, following deer trails which dead end at steep chasms.

More here.

Life takes effort. Sometimes it seems that every bit of forward movement in life is like pushing your bike up a steep mountainside. And just when you think it can’t get any more difficult, the trail turns so steep, so narrow, so treacherous, that you’re forced to throw your bike across your shoulders, adding an extra 30 pounds of awkward metal tubing and mud-covered rubber onto your shoulders.

In that moment, it can feel like the weight of the world has been made manifest and laid across your scrawny human back.

Whenever I reach this point in life, both literally and metaphorically, I have to ask myself how I move forward from here. Is the weight of the world really on my shoulders? How do I deal with what is at least a constant feeling of pressure?

Seneca has some wisdom to impart on this topic:
“. . .memory brings back the agony of fear while foresight brings it on prematurely. No one confines his unhappiness to the present.”
More here.

Photo: Marcel Slootheer
Colorado really needs no introduction to anyone who might utter the phrase, “I am a mountain biker.” The mountains in Colorado are some of the biggest and most majestic you’ll find anywhere, and the singletrack is similarly some of the most lust-worthy and enjoyable. But what makes Colorado so unique isn’t the huge mountains and isn’t the fact that it has great trails–you can find those factors in dozens of places around the globe. Rather, it’s the absolutely massive amount of singletrack riding available in this state.

I personally didn’t grasp the scope of the mountain bike opportunities in Colorado until I moved here. Now almost four years into my Colorado citizenship, I only now know how little I actually know.

Coming from out of state and figuring out how to best utilize a week of vacation to ride the very best trails in Colorado is a fool’s errand. You’d have more fun just picking one of a dozen epic destinations and just hanging out and riding around that one town for an entire week… or month. Yet still, still I get asked for a list of the best Colorado bike trails all the time.

Trying to limit the vast expanse of Colorado trails to just five selections is unquestionably a fool’s errand. Yet I’ve done my best, both utilizing highly-rated recommendations from our database and also eliminating trail systems that may be highly-rated, but for poor reasons. While this list can be debated ad infinitum, here are 5 must-ride mountain bike trails in Colorado.

More here: "Five2Ride: 5 of the Best Mountain Bike Trails in Colorado"

Rider: Marcel Slootheer. Photo: Greg Heil
If I had my way, I’d personally love to see the Slayer specced with a climb switch on both the rear shock and the fork. While I cannot deny the plushness and near perfection of the suspension components chosen, after riding climb switch-enabled Fox suspension on Pivot’s Firebird, I also can’t say that I personally noticed massive losses in the descending performance

Aside from that one point of preference, the Slayer was hands-down one of the most aggressive, most confidence-inspiring, and downright fun mountain bikes for tackling the gnarliest of trails that I’ve ever ridden. From shuttle laps, to hoofing it up to the top of black diamond descents the hard way, to chairlift runs in the bike park, the Slayer can kill it all.

The cherry on top? This brutal trail destroyer weighed in at 29.1lbs (without pedals). That, my friends, is an accomplishment.

More here: Rocky Mountain Slayer 790 MSL Review

Photo: Zach White
"I found Sea to Summit’s award-winning UltraLight Mat to be easy to inflate, extremely comfortable, and truly UltraLight. If you’re currently hauling a bulky or heavy mat in your bikepacking kit (and what mat isn’t compared to the UltraLight?), the UltraLight could be a massive upgrade, taking your kit to the next level."

More here: Review: Take Your Bikepacking Kit to the Next Level with the Sea to Summit UltraLight Mat

"I went on to crash repeatedly during my stint in Europe, and thankfully I was diligent about using my pads for big, rowdy descents, with all of the endless shuttle routes and lift rides we explored. Despite all the lift rides and shuttles, there were still plenty of climbs to pedal and transition zones in between lift rides, which gave me plenty of occasion to test the pedal-ability of the pads."

More here: Review: G-Form Pro-X Knee Pads Crash Tested

Photo: Zach White
"Everyday, therefore, should be regulated as if it were the one that brings up the rear, the one that rounds out and completes our lives."
"The man who looks for the morrow without worrying over it knows a peaceful independence and a happiness beyond all others." -Seneca
In the Christian parlance of our day this attitude is often referred to as, "live like you're dying," popularized by a few songs. The problem is that nobody ever, ever actually lives like they're dying. Maybe one day here and there, but everyday for days on end? Nobody does that!

Nobody would go to work in their cubicle. Nobody would save money in the bank. Nobody would pay the mortgage. Instead, we'd simply spend our days being with the people we love and talking to the people we meet about the things that we care about, the things that we really believe in. We'd soak in the beauty around us, reveling in the feeling of pure existence.

Living everyday like you're dying may sound really good in songs, but that's not how things actually play out in real life.

At first blush, the first quote from Seneca appears more Epicurean, hedonic than stoic, but the rest of his letter qualifies the statement. Specifically, the second quotation above. That is stoic to the core--hoping tomorrow will come and be a most excellent day, but not worrying over whether or not it arrives.


I think there’s something deep within the human soul that yearns for something outside of itself, a sense of grandeur, of magic, of mission and purpose, of fulfillment–whether that purpose is exploring the stars or defeating Voldemort.

I think that too often in our culture, sci-fi and fantasy are only embraced on the surface level, but when someone really connects with this theme of the great and the unknowable, the magical on a deep level, the criticism begins to reign down. Terms like “nerd,” “geek,” and a general derision are employed, because it seems that these sci-fi and fantasy nerds like myself cannot cope with real life. When in reality, when people avoid these themes and don’t ask ourselves what our souls are really longing for, what we really need to feel complete, we’re simply avoiding the existential void and putting off dealing with that terrible abyss for another time.

More here: "In Pursuit of the Magical"

"Those who appear inactive are, believe me, engaged in far more important activity; they're dealing with matters divine and human at the same moment." -Seneca
This may be true for some people at some times, but not for all inactive-seeming people at all times.

Rather, I take Seneca's meaning to be that just because you appear to be active it doesn't mean that you are getting anything important done and in fact, oftentimes, sitting, thinking, reading, praying, meditating--these are the truly important activities that really matter, the things that make a difference in your personal life and in the world around you.

I'm all about action. But many times appearances are exceedingly deceiving.




"We are defined by what we choose to reject." -Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
More broadly stated, rejection of something is a choice--an action. And we are defined by our actions and choices.

If we say "yes" to everything, we end up running around chaotically with no time and no energy and way too much shit to do.

In this quote from Manson, he makes it seem like we default to "yes," and saying "no" is the exception rather than the rule. Instead, it appears to me that maybe we should default to "no" and by so doing, be jealous and protective of our time, our space, and our margin in life.

The line quoted above also doesn't make sense in relation to a previous paragraph of his, which reads:
"The point is this: we all must give a fuck about something in order to value something. And to value something, we must reject that which is not that something. To value X, we must reject non-X."
But then he goes on to say that we are defined by what we choose to reject. Manson characterizes what we choose to reject as non-X, which means that rather, what we choose to reject is itself defined by what we choose to accept. Which is, in this example, X.

Again, more broadly and accurately put, we are defined by our choices, whether that choice is a rejection or an acceptance. And that, I think, is the key.


Acknowledging that we are out of control in many areas of our lives is, I think, a crucial realization. It is a critical step in understanding and accurately interpreting the world around us. Yet to some people, being “out of control” is a dirty phrase. They do their damnedest to control and manage everything in their lives, yet ultimately, they fail.

Over a Beer: Learning To Live While Out of Control

Getting some out-of-control practice in Moab. Photo: Aaron Chamberlain
"Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well-ordered mind than a man's ability to stop just where he is and pass time in his own company." -Seneca
Many people run to and fro in a mad rush to distract and entertain themselves to death. Sitting and thinking, being still and quiet with one's own thoughts, is largely uncomfortable if you've never done it before.

If you have never taken the time to sit quietly and think and work through what it is you believe and why you believe it, then the first time you try to do so, you will have a veritable storm of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings to process and deal with.

I think the first response to this line of reasoning might be, "oh yeah, I've done that before." If you've done it once upon a time, or one day long ago, or even one day last week, it's been too long. Sit and think, today.



"Additional knowledge of the minutiae of daily business can be useless, even actually toxic." -Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan
Oftentimes we think that by gathering more and more information that we become more knowledgeable and capable of living well and making good decisions, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

I guess this quote hinges on exactly what you define as "minutiae." If you're gathering important, high-level, non-minutiae information, then that could be a good thing.

Unless you're avoiding taking action.

What amuses me is the widely-accepted idea that somehow "being informed" about what's happening in the world makes us more equipped to handle the onslaught of events outside of our control. That because we know the latest news, we're more equipped to deal with the ever-present threat of a nuclear apocalypse.

Even on a micro level, being informed about what has happened in no way equips you to know what will happen in the future. One day, a change in legislation seems like a certainty. The next, the legislation has failed to pass, and no change has taken place. The next, it's back on the table. When will it end? Nobody knows.

Being tied to the ups and downs of the day-to-day minutiae is undoubtedly taxing and I would agree with Taleb: toxic.

Photo: (Mick Baker)rooster, via Flickr Creative Commons

As you think about stepping outside of your comfort zone, just remember: even if the haters aren’t screaming at you from the sidelines, your brain can be your own worst enemy, generating more than enough reasons to not try something risky. It’s called the resistance. The question you have to ask is: what are the reasons why you WANT to do something new? And which reasons are more important: those for, or those against?

So get out there and make your dreams come true, and remember: the most effective way to silence the haters is to succeed despite the resistance.

Read the full column on Singletracks.com

Photo: Aaron Chamberlain

"The question each of us has to ask is simple (but difficult): what can I become quite good at that's really difficult for a computer to do one day soon? How can I become so resilient, so human and such a linchpin that shifts in technology won't be able to catch up?" -Seth Godin
Computers and robots have replaced so many jobs that frankly, they could be coming for all of us. If we are not asking ourselves these questions, we could be in danger of being replaced by a machine.

Just because your job has never been under threat in the past doesn't mean that it won't come under fire in the future. I mean, AI is already writing basic news stories. WRITING!! How long will it be until AI is writing ever increasingly complex news stories? Where will the thousands of reporters who type ho-hum news and regurgitate press release go then? What will they do?

Are the journalists preparing for that eventuality? Not likely. They (we) are happy where they are, so happy with the status quo that they are blind to the change happening all around them.

This applies to everyone, though. Everybody thinks that their job is immune to technological outsourcing... until it isn't anymore.

So what can you add to the equation that a machine will never be able to contribute?

Photo: Steve Jurvetson, via Flickr Creative Commons

"The many speak highly of you, but have you really any grounds for satisfaction with yourself if you are the kind of person the many understand?" -Seneca
I think the core of Seneca's point here is that if you dilute your message so far that the many understand it, then you have diluted it to the point that it is so watered down that it lacks any meaning whatsoever.

Seneca's discussion of crowds and their many ills in this passage brings to mind this line from a very different source:
"You can either fit in or stand out, not both." -Seth Godin, Linchpin
In Seneca's address to Lucilius, it seems like this is what Lucilius is trying to do--stand out and fit in, which is an absurdity and an impossibility.

The choice is clear: stand out.
Make a ruckus.

Be willing for some people to not understand you and what you are about in exchange for connecting ever more deeply with the people who do understand. Who do get it. Who are your tribe.

As Seneca said earlier in the passage:
"Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those whom you are capable of improving." 
The first step in freeing your mind is to ask questions.

The moment we move from simply reading and ingesting the information that is given to us, accepting it word for word, and we start to ask, "is what I'm reading or hearing true? Is it correct?" we have taken a massive leap towards the goal of being a free and independent thinker.

But some people that think they are free thinkers may not be as critical as they believe. They may not know what they do not know. They may, instead, ask questions about some things, but not about others.

The person who questions one party in a conversation or debate and not the other has already chosen his side.

I'm personally resolving to ask more questions. To think more deeply. To seek more truth. Hopefully along the way, I'll find some answers, too. But even if I don't, it seems to me that the asking of questions is still intrinsically valuable and important.

Photo by Benjamin Reay via Flickr Creative Commons

If there is one thing that can be said that applies to the entire human race, it is that we are all different. We look different from one another, we act differently, we live differently, we make different choices, and we think differently.

If you are not willing to be wrong about your beliefs and preconceptions, you have failed as a thinker and, even worse, as a human being.

A key part of being human is to acknowledge your own fallibility, to acknowledge that we don't know everything, and that we are oftentimes, simply, wrong.

We don't know everything, and even when we do decide that we believe something, we must also consider the multitude of people that believe the opposite of what we do, and that many of those people are not unintelligent cattle simply following a charismatic leader. Many of them are also intelligent and critical thinkers who have happened to decide that the evidence points in a different direction than you think it does.

That said, it's difficult to live a life not mired in depression and inactivity if you are constantly in a state of questioning even the most basic of your beliefs. At some point, once you've examined the evidence (as much evidence as possible), you must make some decisions about the nature of the world around you. Personally, I also think you must arrive at a metaphysical framework for the world that you believe in, to keep your mind from spinning out of control

The stronger and more well-considered the position you hold is, of course the more difficult it would be for some outside source to change your mind at some point in the future. However, if you are not even willing to change your opinion no matter how convincing the argument to the contrary is, your failure as a human being is complete. Because we are all different.

Photo by Hansel and Regrettal, via Flickr Creative Commons

". . .and if it seems too hard to understand, it is because we are brainwashed by notions of causality and we think that it is smarter to accept because than to accept randomness." -Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan
Perhaps it isn't as much that we think it is smarter to accept causality, but rather it is easier for our brains to process and deal with a causal link than just to say, "there was no damn reason for this horrific event that happened--it just happened."

We as humans want to think that there is a grand narrative, or that at the least, if we act in a certain way, that other things will necessarily happen in response.

Randomness is a tough pill to swallow.

I still am not 100% sure what I believe in this respect--if chaos reigns, or if the order and narrative is just so complex that our human minds can't process or make sense of it, or we just don't have the temporal perspective necessary to make sense of the world.

An even more difficult position to hold would be that there is a grand narrative at work, but acknowledging that perhaps some things are seemingly random. Try piecing those two viewpoints together in your head.


Your comfort zone is dangerous. Your comfort zone promotes conformity. It keeps you in line. It keeps you from trying something new that you might fail at.

The problem is, that which you might fail at could also be a massive success. It could be the key to a transformed life that you never conceived of before.

The key to getting comfortable with the uncomfortable is to shatter your comfort zone by doing something that you've never done before in your life. And then finding something else that's totally new, and doing that as well.

Check out my latest Over a Beer column for my full take.



I am a firm believer in absolute truth. But just because absolute truth exists doesn't mean that the statements that we make to each other, the words that we speak to each other, are absolutely true.

In fact, there is a long stretch of ground between the complete, unabridged, unedited, unrestrained truth... and a lie. In this middle ground is where (most) of our discourse happens. (As long as we aren't outright lying to each other.)

All truth that we share with another human is not the absolute and complete, unabridged truth. It is always, out of necessity and out of our human limitation, the filtered truth.

Voluntary Filtering

The main type of truth filtering that we naturally think of is voluntary filtering. This could be leaving out facts, or not saying anything at all.

The more common type of truth filtering is when we smooth out what we say to each other. If we actually told one other the first thing that pops into our heads when we're in the middle of conversation, we wouldn't have very many friends. And often times, the first things that pop into our heads aren't even what we believe. The brain is a funny and flawed machine.

Involuntary Filtering

But the most common type of truth filtering is the filtering that we do without even thinking about it. If we're relating an event, everything that we're relating is colored and influenced by our perspective of that event--where you were standing, what you were doing, what you noticed.

Our perspective is then sifted through the weight of our past experiences--our biases, our upbringing, our world view, and more.

Finally, when have you ever remembered anything--even something that happened yesterday--in 100% detail, with no error and with nothing omitted? Telling the details of the passing of a minute--one single, solitary minute--in such a way that the truth is unabridged and unaltered in any sense would occupy the course of a day, if it were possible at all!

Asking for Truth

If we ask for the truth and expect to get the unfiltered truth, we'll be sorely disappointed. And if we ask for that, we are fools for thinking that we'd receive otherwise in return.

Emily Dickinsen said, "Tell all the truth, but tell it slant."

I say, we can't tell all the truth.

And what truth we tell, we can't help but tell it slant.

I think the key to her famous quote is to simply help us realize the unavoidable slant of truth in all things.

Photo: Death Valley. Taken by yours truly.

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