Archive for December, 2010

30th December
written by Randy

Have you ever noticed how many people make New Year’s resolutions? And how many of them seem to fail at those resolutions?

Have you ever wondered why? I mean it seems like most of the resolutions people make are pretty simple. They sound easy. So why is it so common to fail at a New Year’s resolution?

Because most resolutions are cop-outs. Just look at the most common resolutions people make.

I believe there are three kinds of cop-out that represent the majority of New Year’s resolutions that people make:

  • It’s too easy. A lot of New Year’s resolutions are painfully simple — things like quit smoking, quit drinking, go to the theater, etc., where the completion of the task is literally a binary state that could be flipped by simply doing the thing you say, rather than wasting your time writing or saying it.

    Let’s be honest, either you smoke or you don’t — there’s really no work involved in that choice. And whether or not the process of quitting is difficult for some people, the fact is, that it’s literally a one-second decision. And when you know that, it’s easy to put it off when you’ve got a whole year.

  • It’s too general. Another kind of resolution that’s way to common is lose weight, get in shape, start working out, where the statement of the goal implies something big, but the actual goal is never defined. There is nothing to measure for success.

    When your resolution is to “start working out”, one trip to the gym satisfies that. But we all know it’s not what you meant. When your goal is to “get in shape”, you have know idea what it would mean to succeed, so you’re probably going to fail. Success requires metrics: tangible measurable results.

  • It’s superficial or disingenuous. The third kind of resolution that is destined to fail is the one you don’t really mean anyway. Things like give to charity, or be nicer to people, or learn to be more caring.

    Usually, these are not real goals at all. Most of the time, these are little more than token gestures to acknowledge a character flaw in yourself without actually doing anything to fix it. If you make a resolution like this, we all know you have no intention of actually doing it.

So how is the yearly challenge different? Simple. The yearly challenge is difficult, it’s specific, and it’s genuine. It’s an honest goal, and it has measurable results. Here are some examples, to highlight the difference:

New Year’s resolution: lose weight
Yearly challenge: get my weight below 200 lbs.

New Year’s resolution: get in shape
Yearly challenge: run a 6-minute mile

New Year’s resolution: start saving
Yearly challenge: save $8,000

New Year’s resolution: see the US
Yearly challenge: visit all 50 states

New Year’s resolution: learn Italian
Yearly challenge: read Pinocchio in the original Italian

Do you see the difference? The point of the yearly challenge is to give you a challenging task, with well-defined criteria for success. When you can see the numbers involved in your goal, it’s easy to figure out where you need to be every step of the way, in order to be successful. And when you make the task big, there will be pressure on you to start making progress right away.

Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to lay out some specific goals; big things I plan to do with my 2011. Then, I will spend this year sharing my progress with you. I’ve got some exciting things planned, and I’m already anxious to get started.

So what will your yearly challenge be? What great thing(s) are you going to accomplish in the coming year? Leave a comment and let me know!

26th December
written by Randy

How do you have an amazing year? What do I do to make each year unbelievable and memorable, worth thinking about and talking about? The key to my happiness in life, and why my years are so memorable is that I make them that way. I choose it.

And the point of this web site is to share that with you. Not only do I want to share my adventures with you, but I also want to help you to plan your own adventures, and to complete your own yearly challenges, so that you can have an amazing year, every year, as I do!

Pushing boundaries

The most important ingredient in my happiness is pushing boundaries. Whatever is intimidating, scary, or seemingly difficult, that’s what I do. Doing things you already know doesn’t help you to grow. You only grow when you do things you don’t already know, or haven’t already done.

I believe that you have to step to the edge of your comfort, and willingly cross that line. You have to face your fears, and conquer them. If you’re afraid of heights, you have to go bungee jumping. Or skydiving. After that, looking down from the top of a ladder is nothing.

When I had never been out of the country, I planned a trip and left. When I had never seen the whole United States, I set out to visit every state. I’ve spent years without a television. When everyone uses a car, I got rid of mine. When everyone is dependent on the security of their cell phones and alarm clocks, I ditched mine. I even spent one full year without owning a bed. Pushing those boundaries has helped me to grow, by showing me possibilities outside of the things I had previously taken for granted.

Becoming a “yes” man

Pushing boundaries starts with the simple act of changing your “no” to a “yes”. We go through our lives casually saying “no” to things we don’t know, don’t understand, or haven’t experienced… especially when we fear those things.

It’s easy to say no to skydiving, or bungee jumping, because no one is going to judge you for having a fear of those things. And it’s easy to say no to trying some strange food from a foreign place, because people generally don’t judge you for thinking it’s weird, or looks gross.

But at the end of the year, are you going to reflect fondly on how consistently you’ve chosen the “safe” meal? Will you beam with pride as you tell the story of refusing a chance to free fall from 160-feet? Does anyone ever look back on their year and tell people how happy it made them to say no to an amazing adventure?

When my friend asked me to meet in Barcelona, my reflexive action was to think about work, and money, and say “no, I can’t”. But instead of doing that, I asked myself if there was really any reason why I couldn’t do it, and there was none. So I went, and I had a great time. And when my friend asked me to go cha-cha dancing, my instinct was to spare myself the embarassment of being a bad dancer, but instead of doing that, I considered that I’ll always be a bad dancer if I don’t start doing it, so I went and learned and had an amazing time.

If you want to have an amazing year, you have to learn to say yes to doing crazy things.

The power of one year

Often, when a thing is particularly difficult, or requires a lot of practice or training or investment of time, there is a tendency to keep putting it off until later, thinking the difference in time is insignificant on the long timeline of life. But things can only happen now or later, right? You can’t decide now to make things happen before now.

So your choice is either now or later. But even though the present is always “now”, it’s always moving! With every second that passes, now gets later and later. And if now is later, then later might as well be never! So what you thought was now or later, is really now or never.

A year gives you a boundary. It’s a long time — long enough to do a lot of things — but it’s also limited; it’s short. Giving youself a year means you have to start now, and you have to make steady progress. It means taking your goal seriously, rather than putting it off endlessly.

If that sounds like a bit of pressure, it is. It’s natural to want to say no, to back out of things, and to avoid risks. But when you get over that inclination and finally take your first step toward meeting your goal, you give yourself one of the best feelings a human can experience — the feeling of accomplishment.

And the sense of accomplishment after you complete your goal is even better. It will give you wonderfully interesting things to talk about with everyone you know. It will make you an inspiration to the people you meet. And it will win you respect from people, especially the one person whose respect you need most: yourself.

The yearly challenge is about setting those big goals, and then completing them. The new year is almost here, so how will you make 2011 amazing? What are you going to do? What personal boundaries are you going to push? What are you going to say yes to? What big thing are you finally going to accomplish in the coming year? Leave me some comments and let me know!

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22nd December
written by Randy

As you can see from the name I chose for this site, this has truly been an amazing year. In fact, my life has changed dramatically this year. With the year coming to an end, I want to look back at how much I’ve seen and done, and share with you some of the many things that have made this such an amazing year for me.

It all started when I created a popular language blog. I started it as a way to share language learning advice with a few friends, to save me the work of typing the same thing several times. But it rapidly grew into something very popular, much faster and more successfully than I could have ever imagined or hoped it would.

The commitment to learn a new language every year has led to some really incredible meetings and opportunities in regular life, too. It has given me unique things to talk about with people I don’t know, and it has resulted in me being told on many occasions, “you are by far the most interesting person I’ve met in a long time.” I can’t tell you how nice it feels to hear things like that!

At the end of winter, I reconnected with a good friend, who I hadn’t seen or heard from in almost 20 years, thanks to Facebook. We were emailing our hellos on a Tuesday, and by that Friday I had flown to see him. It was great catching up, and for a gypsy like me, it was also quite meaningful to connect the present with something from that far into the past.

This spring, I visited Uzbekistan, which was also my first ever trip outside of the country. While there, I met a friend who I’d previously only known over the internet. I survived on my own in a non-English speaking part of the world. Oh, and I at horse… that was memorable. And delicious.

By summer, I paid off the last of my credit card debt, a sum that at one time had totalled almost $50,000. Being completely debt free has absolutely changed my life. And doing it the honest way — by working hard and paying it off as agreed — gives me a great sense of pride and accomplishment.

At the end of summer, I spent a week in Barcelona, seeing the sights, meeting new people, and even hanging out with some really great Russians. I ate tapas and paella, I went to a topless beach, and I slapped a hooker for touching me on the ass.

This fall, I cancelled my cell phone, and I have been completely phoneless ever since. I have lived happily for four months without a cell phone or a home phone, and the difference I experience in my quality of life is unbelievable.

Shortly thereafter, I threw away my alarm clock. I haven’t owned a clock of any kind for two months, and I haven’t woken up to the sound of an alarm in even longer than that. My days start out so pleasantly, I can’t imagine ever having another clock.

In a process which took almost a whole year to complete, I had my photography published. I was contacted by someone who had seen and liked my photos, and I was invited to be part of a collection including some of the best names in photography today. It’s nice to be published, but it’s even nicer to be discovered.

As I promised at the beginning of the year, I learned to speak Italian fluently. There were a few times when I wondered if I would succeed, but one evening, sitting at a pizza shop telling my Italian friend a story from my past, the moment hit me when I realized that I had just reached fluency. That’s a new tool that will be with me for the rest of my life.

I’ve completed several of the tasks from my bucket list, the most memorable of which was that I bungee jumped for the first time. Standing in a high place, looking down, and making the conscious decision to jump head first, trusting in some piece of stretchy cord to protect you… well, that kind of changes your perspective on life.

I have set foot in all 48 of the continental states of the US. I fell short of all 50 states by two: Alaska and Hawaii, which are admittedly the most difficult. But I’ll be sure to visit those next year, and then my task will be official and complete.

I travelled a lot, and I saw several important and/or historical sites for the first time, including:

  • the Space Needle
  • the Gateway Arch
  • Mount Rushmore
  • the Crazy Horse monument
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Old Faithful
  • the Alamo
  • Taos pueblo
  • Oklahoma City National Monument
  • the site of the JFK assassination
  • Little Rock Central High School
  • the Hollywood Boulevard “Walk of Fame”

Many of the things I saw affected me in a really deep way, especially those I saw in the first half of December. More than anything else, seeing the entire continental US has given me a really clear understanding of what this country is, and where it has been. I feel that I can honestly say, I know what it means to be an American.

But perhaps the most significant of all things is that throughout my travels this year, I have met with dozens of truly amazing people with whom I’ve connected online though my blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and other social networks. In meeting these people, I’ve had several really profound experiences, and it has all taught me the most valuable lesson of all this year: possessions don’t matter, things don’t matter, money doesn’t matter; only the people you meet and the experiences you share… only the memories you carry with you can truly make you happy.

10th December
written by Randy

Tomorrow, I will return home from my 11-day tour of the southwestern US, through six states to which I had previously never been. I’ve crossed Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas off of my list, bringing the total up to 46, and leaving just four states unvisited.

When I booked this trip, I had nothing more in mind than visting 6 new states. I chose the cities I wanted to see in each state, and left myself enough time between flights in order to see them. I didn’t have any other intentions than that.

But by the second day of travel, I had already been profoundly affected. There aren’t a lot attractions in Little Rock, so walked over to see Central High School, site of an important Civil Rights showdown during desegregation. In 1954, nine black students were denied entry into a white school, in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling. The next day, President Eisenhower sent the 1200-man 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell to escort 9 students safely to class amid a mob of thousands of angry white protesters.

On the next day of my trip, I arrived in Dallas and went downtown, and almost mistakenly found myself in the exact spot where President Kennedy was assassinated. I’m sure that I don’t have to tell you what happened, or remind you about how an entire country was affected — many people still argue about it today. The only particularly interesting detail was that I saw firsthand, standing in the sixth-floor window of the book depository, I saw firsthand how easy it really was to get a shot at the last President ever to walk among the people.

On day five, I arrived in San Antonio and no visit to San Antonio is complete without seeing the Alamo. For those who don’t understand the importance of the Alamo, it goes like this: During the Texas Revolution, 1500 Mexican troops launched an assault on the 200 people at the Alamo mission, and slaughtered all but two of them, brutally killing even those who had surrendered. This one act of cruelty mobilized Texans to fight for their freedom and win their independence from Mexico.

Two days later, I found myself in Taos, New Mexico. I only wanted to go there to see the famous Taos Pueblo, and to get a little taste of what drew so many artists to Taos in the early 20th century. But while I was there, I learned of the hundreds of years during which the Taos Indians led revolts against conquering forces. In spite of our country’s long, ugly history with Native Americans, the Taos pueblo survives.

Yesterday, I visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial, a beautiful — if chilling — reminder that terrorism in the United States started inside the United States. None of this security theater we have today ever resulted from the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Of course Timothy McVey didn’t use an airplane…

And today, I visited the Brown vs. Board of Education museum in Topeka, which is housed inside of what used to be a colored school during segregation, until the Supreme Court unanimously ruled state-sponsored segregation was unconstitutional. Upon entry, I was greeted with a “whites” and “colored” sign, a bold reminder of the progress we made as a society when we finally righted that wrong.

It’s easy to spot a theme here. There’s a lot of tragedy that ties these places together, and that has really weighed heavily on me as the trip has progressed. But there’s also another, less-obvious theme underneath it all. If you look close enough, you see people coming together against tragedy, and you see events that brought Americans together, and positive results from that.

Of course there’s one more theme that I’ve experienced over the course of this trip: security theater. I’ve made six trips through TSA checkpoints, and I’ve got another one tomorrow. I also had to go through a heavy search when I visited the Arch in St. Louis. I’ve been observed by security for the crime of possessing a camera, and even had my camera inspected separately by TSA employees at Little Rock airport. And I came within a coin-toss of my first encounter with the porno-scanner/pat-down dilemma.

Fifty years ago, I have no doubt that Americans would have come together and rioted in protest of the ridiculous onslaught of security theater. Yes, it’s inconvenient. But it’s also an invasion of privacy. It’s potentially a health risk. And most of all, it allows our government to openly declare its distrust of all American citizens.

This is the modern Civil Rights movement. Make no mistake. Only this time they’re not just picking on blacks, or women, or immigrants. This time, they are doing it to everyone. And in spite of the hope that it might one day get better, the fact is that every week it gets worse, and it will continue getting worse until We The People finally rise up and say we’ve had enough.

It doesn’t have to be violent — it would probably be better if it’s not — but it had to be unanimous. It can’t just be a small group of concerned citizens. We need to wake up everyone, before it’s too late. It’s time to stand up for ourselves.

6th December
written by Randy

I do crazy things.

People used to shocked by it, and for a while that was fun. But now they’re not shocked anymore, and that’s fun too. I don’t do it to shock people, but I will admit that I enjoy it when it happens.

I do crazy things because it makes every day fun. I don’t worry about what’s “normal”, or what people will think of me. I allow my life to be an experiment, and that has made it an amazing experience for me.

I don’t worry what people will think about me shaving my armpits and giving up soap. I throw away my alarm clock the week before starting a new job. I say things to job recruiters that most people would never say.

Most of the time, it works out for the best. But no matter how it works out, the important thing is that I live happily, without second-guessing myself and worrying what other people will think. Every day is a potential new adventure, and I enjoy every minute of it.

At the beginning of this year, I started a web site, claiming I would learn to speak a new language fluently every year! Perhaps it’s crazy, but as the year is drawing to an end, I’m already reasonably fluent in Italian, and more importantly, I now have one of the most well-known language-learning blogs on the internet. And through this adventure I’ve met interesting people and made many new friends all over the world!

This year I also set out on a mission to see all 50 states, and in addition to all the fun of doing that anyway, one of the unexpected benefits has been that it gives me something interesting to talk about. People often ask “so, what brings you here?” When I answer that “this is state number 43 on my mission to visit all 50 in one year,” their eyes get big and a fun conversation begins!

You can do it too. Do crazy things! Those are the things you’ll always remember. In 20 years, you’ll look back and you won’t remember any of the responsible decisions you made, but you’ll always remember the crazy things you did. And frankly, the people around you will be much more interested in hearing about them.

That’s what this blog is about. Doing crazy things. Think big. Dream big. Take no prisoners. This year is almost over, and soon it will be 2011. I’ve already got big ideas for next year. Are you thinking about what your yearly challenge will be?

1st December
written by Randy

Today is the first day of December, and it also begins a wild month of travel. I’ve got 12 flights booked, all of them going to states in which I’ve never been.

This morning, I’m getting on a flight to St. Louis, where I’ll see the Gateway Arch and meet a friend. Then tomorrow, I fly to Little Rock. On the 3rd I fly to Dallas, where I’ll rent a car for four days and go see Texas, including Austin (and hopefully meeting up with Karol Gajda), San Antonio, and The Alamo, before returning to Dallas.

On the 7th, I fly to Albuquerque, where I’ll rent another car for 2 days so I can also visit Santa Fe and Taos. Then on the 9th it’s Oklahoma City and on the 10th to Kansas City (where I’ll also drive over to Topeka), before returning back to Chicago for three days on the 11th. Before I pick up again with more travel on the 14th.

These seven flights will knock out the 6 southwestern states to which I have never been. And the best part is, I got them for $30 each! So I’ll make seven flights through six new states for less than most people pay for one round trip.

If you live in or near one of these cities, and would like to meet up. Leave a comment here, or on Facebook, and let me know!

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