Find Meaning, Not Escape

waiting for a sign by workisnotajobA dear friend wrote me the following poem the day after we had a long philosophical mind to mind conversation. It makes me happy that someone thinks of me this way and reminds me to continue to aspire toward one of my own goals, which is to be the kind of person I’d like to meet. I think of it with an imaginary scenario: if I could meet myself on the street as a stranger and shake my own hand and magically know everything about myself, I would want to think “wow, you are a wonderful human being.” The poem below tells me that I’m headed in the right direction 🙂

A truly noble person with endless motivation;

Adventurous, full of wonderment, and destined to be great.

Greatness not only through her unnerving, endless determination,

But also through more subtle, less obvious traits:

For through her love and kindness she brings forth elation,

Inspiring those off path to find meaning, not escape…

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crazy awesome, quora

“Sweet, intense and cool all in one.”  Urban Dictionary thus defines “crazy awesome,” solidifying the phrase into infinite internet existence.  Yes.  It doubles as a description of Quora.

My last three blog posts have featured Quora.  Why?  Because it is impacting how I think and I think I should share the process as it unfolds.

Stats:

I’ve asked 68 questions and contributed 65 answers.  I follow 51 topics and 11 boards,  6 of which I curate.  2358 credits. 152 followers, 109 following.

My most popular board is How to entertain an intellectual with 106 followers, 26 posts and 2636 views.

Yesterday I woke up to 85 notifications.

Whoa.

One month ago those numbers were halved or quartered.  Notifications were virtually non-existent.

It’s safe to say that Quora is a little addictive.  Thankfully, if you’re intelligent and interactive (or famous in San Francisco), Quora’s community will love you back. Why?

In the words of Jason Preston, “Quora is curiosity, never satisfied. ”

…at the core I think I find Quora addictive because it is a targeted attack on human curiosity.

We’re all wired, somewhere in our brains, to be turned on by new knowledge. And Quora is designed to constantly surface new answers about topics we are interested in, without us having to ask the questions.

And when we do have questions the crowd is there to help.  Curiosity fuels me on Quora.  It fuels people to reach out and interact with each other.  Here are a few examples.

Inbox notes from strangers:

Going through your quora answers, I see so much energy, optimism and straight pointedness.

Love it !!

another came in while I was writing this post:

I’m a recent graduate who took the plunge into the polluted fires of China and recently came back out to seek greener pastures States-side. Many of the experiences I’ve had are once-in-a-lifetime, so your outlook on career-life balance definitely resonates with me.

To fulfill my long-term goal of becoming an entrepreneur and achieving financial freedom, I’m making a career transition–I hope into an entry-level sales position. Yet, in the back of my mind, I know that rationalizing what I want to or should do doesn’t have much to do with reality, so I want to ask you a simple question:

How did you get onto the road of being absolutely happy with what you’re doing?

I know it’s a big question that probably has an equally big answer, but if you have the time to distill your experience, I’d really love to read your reply.

Awesome.  I will reply to him.

I need to think hard to venture out, to be uncomfortable and unconventional. Great people like you make this world interesting!

You can see why why Quora makes you feel good.  Strangers spontaneously light up your day with kind words, useful answers and entertaining ideas.  This week I unexpectedly discovered that caffeine is a natural insecticide and that hippopotamus milk is pink.  Useful?  Probably not.  Delightful?  Definitely.  I love surprises and ideas, two things which Quora is full of.

I often get on Quora to achieve a thoughtful interlude between projects during the day.  And ok, in honesty, I’ve also been losing too much sleep to the epic Quora news feed (it’s 1 am now).  So what’s the point of all this?  Quora is a story.  It’s unfolding now.  It’s influencing my daily activities, my perspective.  Right now I’m not sure how to think of it.  I do think about it, though.. why Quora is valuable and how that value transfers to other parts of life.

Quora is a dose of “hm, that’s interesting!” every time you open the app.  After a brief spurt of ADD-ish idea tangents, I return to life refreshed, inspired, and might even shape projects in a different way than before the influence of Quora.

It inspires me to diversify creativity and share outputs, like autotuned voice memos, and experiences by responding to the occasional college grad looking ta build a life he loves.

In closing, here’s a little creative challenge for you, noble reader:

What is the most epic day you can imagine?

Tony Nguyen sets the stage:

Here goes nothing.

You wake up in a time machine 3 days in the past on a deserted island somewhere in the Atlantic, and upon walking out, you discover that a feast fit for a king is laid out, catering to whatever culinary desires you possess. Finishing the last of your decadent meal, you fly using your newly available superpowers and perch atop a double rainbow.

You discover that all the women of your fantasies are lined up waiting on command to do whatever you wish. After you have completed most if not all of your fantasies, you ride a neon robot giraffe to the start of EDC, a massive rave with your favorite producers/Djs. You then proceed to party until the end of your most epic day ever.

This all took place while accompanying theme music followed you around.

I laughed out loud when I read this and it made me happier for the rest of the day (small joys go far).  Maybe it was the imagination or perhaps the surprise that someone actually answered.  Either way, it’s crazy awesome. I can hardly wait until tomorrow – a new day, the sunny end of this night.  New ideas and discoveries await on Quora and beyond.

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The TED Conference 2012

Think of TED as a marathon for your mind.  Over the course of a week, roughly 100 presenters from around the world deliver power-packed presentations lasting 18 minutes or less.  Topics range from quadrotor flying robots to the abundant future of humanitybasic human rights to next-generation liquid metal batteries.  And that’s just the first session.

 

TED is a brain spa.  The main TED Conference hosts 1,500 attendees in Long Beach, California.  600 additional TEDsters gather for a simulcast event known as TEDActive in Palm Springs.  So maybe it’s a brain rave.  Heavenly perspective with the world’s big thinkers.  A little known sentiment among attendees is that meeting other people at TED is the best part of attending – even better than the talks is interacting with the audience.

‘TEDTalks set the atmosphere for you to jump in and engage with people you’ve just met.  You can feel like you’ve known for someone for years when really it’s been only a few minutes,” says one attendee.

This is one of many reasons thousands of people shell out thousands of dollars on an annual basis to immerse themselves in the hybrid reality that is TED.  Innovation comes alive.

What is it like to walk into TED?  Look up and you see a rainbow made of thread.  To the right, custom prosthetics printed in 3D via additive manufacturing. There’s a Google Garage; AutoDesk’s history of the universe; Target Idea/Paper Airplane Factory; Music Genomic Sequencing; TEDBookshop, Coffee Commons’ endless espresso and numerous lounges stacked cushily with the latest Steelcase designs.  These spaces are designed to germinate ideas.  A single conversation, for example, may include Peter Diamandis of XPRIZE, Jesse Dylan of Wondros Films and Jay Walker of Priceline and TEDMED.

Finally, a quick rundown of my favorite presenters from TED2012:

  • Peter Diamandis:  Our world is fueled with abundance. Rather than lamenting potential future catastrophies, how can we empower the billions of new minds coming online with the priceless treasure that is the internet?  A passionate case for optimistic possiblism.
  • Ed Glaeser, Harvard:  Globalization has increased the value of being intelligent.  Cities boast benefits ranging from higher incomes to lower infant mortality rates.  Most importantly, cities are a place to evolve culture.  As humans, we need to be immersed in innovation – cities allow us to experience and learn from the mistakes, failures, and successes of others.
  • Andrew Stanton, Pixar:  When you’re telling a story, invoke wonder.  Elegance is the ability to tell a story without dialogue and is a central tenet to Pixar’s success in making animated features mainstream.  Pixar abides by the Unifying Theory of 2+2, meaning that the audience should put things together.  Don’t give people 4, give them 2 + 2.  Make people think; make the story worth your audience’s time.
  • Michael Tilson Thomas, Conductor:  Music is a new language and it has something powerful to say about what it means to be alive.  Factoids:  The earliest recorded music in history is from around 200 BC and was inscribed on a Greek tombstone.   Music “notes” were first seen in the 13th century as lines on a page.  Recording technology emerged in the 1880′s and forever revolutionized music such that suddenly songs could exist even when there were no musicians in the room.
  • Regina Dugan, Director of DARPA:  Believe in impossible things. Failure is key to success.  Case in point:  6 out of the first 8 rockets blew up on the pad.  ”There is only time to iron your cape..and it’s back to the sky for you.” Regina shared amazing technology inspired by biological systems such asadhesives akin to gecko feet and hummingbird spy drones.
  • Tali Sharot, Cognitive Neuroscientist: Optimism changes subjective reality.  It is a motivation to action.  If we expect to do well, stress and anxiety are reduced, resulting in positive health benefits.  Quoting Henry Ford, “Whether you believe you can or cannot, you’re probably right.”
  • Taylor Wilson, 17 year old scientist:  At 14 years old, he built a nuclear fusion reactor in his garage.  Enough said.
  • David Kelley, Founder of IDEO: ‘We’re focused on human-centered design: designing behaviors and personality into products.”  Everyone is innately creative.  Unlock it and let your ideas fly.  Case study of creative success:  an fMRI machine at a children’s hospital had to sedate children 80% of the time for them to be still enough for successful scans.  The team reimagined design into a pirate cave.  Operators were trained by museum guides to bring kids into a game where they had to lay very still so pirates didn’t find them.  Results?  After the fMRI turned playful, only 10% of kids had to be sedated.
  • Joshua Foer, Memory Champion: Remember better by taking information lacking context and creating a framework so that it becomes meaningful.  Josh brings to the table important considerations about what we miss by not deeply processing interactions with others.  What do we lose when we constantly tweet, text, check facebook etc. in stead of engaging with the person across the table?
  • Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Prize Winner: Leymah shares heart wrenching stories of women in Liberia.  We sometimes lose focus on the world outside our sphere, a world where, for example, a girl may get a scholarship only to find out that she must repeatedly have sex with the department chair if she wishes to keep it.  We have the power to change this world by giving a voice to the silenced and providing education scholarships to girls worldwide.
  • Brene Brown, Vulnerability Researcher: Final speaker at TED.  Outstanding presentation met by thunderous applause.  Rene speaks toward the importance of being vulnerable.  She asks “How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness?”  In the spirit of TED, failure is necessary.  We will fail repeatedly in the process of success.  Those who take failure and cultivate courage, compassion and connection are the ones who are able to derive true meaning and joy from life.
 
 

And that’s a wrap.  Or is it.  The notorious “TED Hangover” has come and gone (#firstworldproblem: TED’s wonder seemingly surpasses reality and generally leaves attendees with a sinking feeling – the hangover – of returning home to the real world).  The question now is “what’s next?”  How do I turn these great ideas and phenomenal interactions into meaningful outputs?  How will this year’s TED shape the way I perceive future challenges?  I am inspired, invigorated, motivated by the abundance of great minds in today’s world.

As we learned from Ed Glaeser, urbanization increases both the true and perceived value of intelligence.  With this in mind, I challenge you to TEDify your life by participating in the 2012 TEDPrize:  The City 2.0.  Lead your community to the future you imagine.

Now I venture again out into the real world of thought and action, perhaps most inspired by a conversation starter which I humbly acquired at TED.  A stranger walked up to me, looked at my name badge and said “Hi, Amy.  So tell me, what inspires you?”

This is how I learned it is possible to have a deeply meaningful conversation with a stranger.  It is also possible to reconnect with the person you’ve known for years in a completely new way.  Today, this week, this year, try something new.  Dive straight into who you’re speaking with.  Strive to make every conversation worthy of TED.  Enbrace with daring courage the potential that someone will shut down your curiosity.   Embrace also that that person may tilt her head, be silent for a moment, then share something amazing that changes the way you think for the rest of your life.

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