Today is Thanksgiving in the U.S. It's a unique holiday set aside for appreciating the abundance all around us. Many travel long distances to be with friends and family (in fact, my sister and her family have joined us from Michigan). There is often a full house and a table overflowing with food, new faces and ones you've always known.
As I reflect on this year, I'm enormously grateful for this community of truly uncommon people. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to sit across from one of you for an hour or two. Last week, Wesley came to town and I was reminded again of the overflowing talent and creativity that exists within Uncommon, but even more, of a certain way of going about things; a kindness and openness, a heart for exploration and desire to bring others into the story. Each of these encounters, and each reply, helps me see a world full of possibility. Thank you ever so much.
I hope wherever this dispatch finds you, and whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not, that this week includes quiet moments of gratitude. And let's remember that many in our midst are hurting right now; heartache, a scary diagnosis, struggling to make rent, and many things in-between. May there be room at our tables for everyone.
Last week's dispatch asked, Is there a moment or person you're especially grateful for this year?
I was going to write about one thing, but I've decided to write about something else... Some weeks ago, I went to a restaurant here in London. Due to a series of events at the restaurant, I noticed that the manager took his job very seriously, and it left an impression. Later that evening, I happened to see his name appear in my Twitter feed. I followed the link to his Twitter profile and read his mission statement about wanting to change the service industry in London, one table at a time. And here I faced a dilemma. On the one hand, I immediately wanted to write a tweet mentioning him and his mission statement. From my experience that evening, I felt like he really believed in that statement. And when I see someone who takes what they do seriously, it means something to me. On the other hand, I was a little uncomfortable exposing myself and how I felt. I thought that I'd be doing something that "wasn't done". In the end, I sent the tweet. As it happened, in writing this tweet, I accidentally mentioned @bb (instead of the restaurant), and that's how I found Uncommon. Serendipity. So, I'm grateful for a moment: a moment I let me be me.
This was a year of making a lot of new friends that became close friends, some of whom I feel pretty confident about being friends with forever. One of these friends recently asked me "Is it weird that I am excited to one day meet and spend time with your children, and have them play with mine?". I loved that question and sentiment.
For me it has to be the many acts of kindness, that have shown up in my life like rainbows in a watery sky; beautiful, and sometimes a total surprise. I'm also reminded how vulnerable it can be to simply receive. Thank you to all the amazing ones who have undone me with kindness this year. I'm always unravelled; I never forget.
I am grateful for my wife, my daughter and quiet moments with them.
I was having daily crying spells at what I thought was a career-making job and was rationalizing to myself that if I only tried harder and really worked lots of overtime, it would be apparent to my managers that I was worthy and they would be nicer to me. My husband gave me space to vent and the promise of financial support so I could leave without finding a new job. I hemmed and hawed for 3 months and finally made the leap. It was one of the most freeing things I've ever done in my life. So I'm grateful for my husband's steadfast confidence in my abilities and I'm grateful for that moment when I quit my job!
I'm grateful for Friday mornings with The Regulars and seeing the fruits of folks helping each other.
My husband. It is only because of him that I am able to pursue a new business, throwing caution to the wind and taking bigger risks than I would be able to on my own. He is incredibly patient and supportive, even when he doesn't fully understand what I do. I hope that someday I will achieve Sugar Mama status and be able to do the same for him.
2013 has been a dichotomous year -- in many ways it's been miserable, as I was let go from a job I loved, which led to leaving a city that had just become comfortable, and saying goodbye to a community that had become family. This unforeseen transition was shortly followed with the healthy birth of our twin girls, and the joy that comes with new life in the midst of the flux. In this last year, I've been most grateful for the people that have helped hold us up, in particular, Jason & Ailey Brehmer's for opening their home to my family as we transitioned back to Iowa -- for three months!! We can never thank them enough for their friendship, support, and transparency... in our moment of need.
I was lucky to come across an extraordinary yoga teacher about 4 years ago, his name is Stewart Gilchrist. Stewart's teaching is a lot more than techniques, he constantly tells us we are "lovely where we are". He teaches us to be content, be selfless (think making room for latecomers in an already tightly packed studio), and to dedicate our practice to someone we love. Stewart is simply an amazingly caring and hands-on teacher. He gives his best attention to every single class, without fail. His classes energize me, especially when I feel low; his teaching makes me humble and is a good guide to an ethical life.
At the risk of sounding corny, I'm extremely grateful for my wife. I'm grateful that we're willing to work, independently and together, to grow a healthy and sustainable relationship. I'm glad that she's game for adventures and I am thankful for her sense of humor. She's my favorite.
Right now, I feel especially grateful for my sister Holly. I love my parents and both of my sisters so much, but Holly has been teaching me a lot lately. She has a great way of lovingly showing me when I'm looking at things through my ego or overreacting. More importantly than that, though, is she's unwittingly helped to (begin to) restore my faith in God. I've swung like a pendulum over the years with Christianity and this past year has seen an outswing, which I didn't want to do again, but it happened. I was questioning what faith meant for my life and my purpose in faith and didn't feel any clear direction or that I was doing anything (or had anything to offer) of importance.
Sunday night at church we did an activity where we anonymously wrote down five things that we need prayer for, then taped them to the wall for people to pray over, and at the top of my list was my distance from God and questions of faith. The very next night I was on the phone with Holly walking through the grocery store and she told me that through no intentional act of my own, just by her witnessing my journey, I had inspired her to pursue her own faith. It gave me such encouragement and felt like a direct answer to my prayers, like God was talking to me through her and reassuring me. Thus, I'm thankful for Holly, my younger sister, who is so wise and wonderful.
I have a funny bit of gratitude to share this year: the indignation of Andrew, my thesis advisor. A slender, salt-and-pepper white guy in his 40s, long-nosed, with witty eyes and a smile that paints cynicism over deep kindness. Like most academics I know, his work requires him to deal with many silly rules. These rules are ancient and crusty, and are absurd in his field. He seems unable to get used to the silliness, and instead reacts with outrage, a furious shaking of the head, spattering his sentences with "travesty" and "ridiculous." Of course many academics do this, so perhaps he isn't that unusual. Perhaps I was just lucky - right place, right time. I am grateful that he employed this outrage to change my life: when he heard that I, a high school dropout with years of practical experience in video game production, was advised to seek an mere undergraduate degree, he instantly, furiously refused to accept this. He hustled me through the steps of graduate level academia. His indignation was never directed at me. He assumed I could do my part, and his role was the ice-breaker ship: He cracked through, and skillfully maneuvered around, the system's various antiquated barriers.
It didn't take me long to grasp the correctness of his position and realize that I was in fact at the level he suggested, in my tiny area. The actual work was a fun struggle for me. It seems ironic that my barriers to education have to do with classroom lecturing, not actual learning. In that way, a degree by research is perfect: I can use my own passion to explore something I'm interested in. That's all I do anyway, for fun! So I really enjoyed writing my dissertation, and would happily spend many more years of my life exploring absurdly specific theories as deeply as I did Activity-Goal Alignment.
That I would have such a degree is a thing of wonder to me. The idea that I can go in the FRONT door of Society now, with my shining badge, wearing beaver hat and tails if I choose, rather than a performance-based business-oriented hustling, because of this degree, is hilariously giddy-making. What doors are now open to me, that I had written off when I was 17? It's impossible to say - I have no idea really. But for someone middle-aged, it is exciting.
For you, a stranger reading all this, you can easily imagine that I am grateful to have been the first in my family to get a PhD, and so, so grateful for the support of my wife and family. That is the real reason I was able to do it - I had the time to do it.
However, there is also no doubt that without my advisor's intolerant fury, I would never have applied for candidacy, let alone received my doctorate. Thank you for your indignation, Andrew.
What Screens Want by Frank Chimero:
We used to have a map of a frontier that could be anything. The web isn’t young anymore, though. It’s settled. It’s been prospected and picked through. Increasingly, it feels like we decided to pave the wilderness, turn it into a suburb, and build a mall. And I hate this map of the web, because it only describes a fraction of what it is and what’s possible. We’ve taken an opportunity for connection and distorted it to commodify attention.
You're So Self-Controlling by Maria Konnikova:
Hard logic — or at the very least, logical intuition — would suggest that the more time you invest in something, the closer you are to achieving it. If I practice the piano, I will improve. If I run every day, my time will get faster. But somehow, when we’re in the middle of it all, our minds don’t see it that way. The more time passed, the further the study participants felt from the prize.
Stay Home, America by Peggy Noonan:
The jobs were most wonderful in that they contributed to the experience hoard we all keep in our heads. The best was waitressing. That's hard work too, eight or 10 hours on your feet, but you get to know the customers. People will tell you their life stories over coffee. There's something personal, even intimate in serving people food, and regulars would come in at 6 or 7 a.m. and in time you'd find you were appointments in each other's lives.
The first interview about Uncommon:
It was a huge treat to sit down with Joel Bush, host of the 5by5 show Capital (and Uncommon founding member), to discuss the story of Uncommon so far. We also talked about Gowalla, presidential libraries and a few other random topics. I loved doing it and look forward to more. I hope you enjoy listening and pass it along to a friend or two. Suggestions and critiques welcomed, too.
Parts of this dispatch were written at Vintage Heart Coffee in Austin, a favorite that Brad discovered. This warm, friendly, and delicious spot has become our regular destination for Uncommon work and conversations across timezones with the rest of the team. There's a simple joy in unique moments within familiar contexts.
Where are you a regular?