Motivation

8th August
2011
written by Randy

There’s something energizing about reaching the half-way point. This really stood out to me yesterday morning as I decided to challenge myself to 13 miles — 3 more than my previous longest run.

The first two miles were easy, but the next four started to feel like drudgery. It sucks when you’re going and going and you’re not even half-way yet. But then it happened.

I hadn’t yet turned the corner, but I looked at my watch and saw that I had gone 6.32 miles. For all practical purposes, that was half-way. And when I looked up, there was the sign for the street where I would turn.

My body was already tired and in pain, but suddenly I felt energetic again. After that, every step put me closer to home.

And now, with both knees in pain and my achilles tendon inflamed, soreness in places I didn’t know I had muscles, in spite of the fatigue of three months of torturous training, I’m feeling energized again by the realization that I’ve reached half way: yesterday, I ran a half-marathon.

There were no crowds cheering. There was no finish line. I didn’t get any congratulations. But silently and alone, I reached a huge milestone: the half-way point. This thing is no longer the impossible. And from here out, every step gets me closer to home.

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1st July
2011
written by Randy

In recent days, I’ve spent time with several friends who I hadn’t seen in the last month or two, and something cool happened: they’ve noticed and commented on several changes in me.

What stands out most is that everyone who sees me lately is commenting on the fact that I look thinner. And I should! I’m down almost 8 pounds, partly due to changes in diet but certainly it’s mostly from running. (On my last 6-mile run, my Garmin watch tells me I burned 1067 calories!)

But it’s not only that I look different! One good friend commented on how slowly and casually I walk through the city now, reminding me of how I used to speed walk, darting between people everywhere I went. I credit my new relaxed pace to my time in Italy. I still remember the day I arrived home, and how fast everything felt. I feel better without the stress.

Another remarkable experience is the looks on people’s faces when they see my empty bedroom. Those who know me well can remember how I spent every spare moment at my desk, behind a computer. Now, I don’t even have a desk! There really is almost nothing left, and that changes the way people interact with me in this space… for the positive!

Not only do I feel like a new person, but others can see that energy. I’m getting older (this year I’ll be 36!) but I feel younger every day. I’m possibly more active than I’ve ever been. I’m seeing more and doing more than I’ve ever done. And most importantly, I’m doing it all for me, not to impress anyone else, which is ironically the thing that impresses everyone else.

28th June
2011
written by Randy

As you may have noticed, I love raising the stakes.

I recently discovered a bunch of crazy running events that combine distance running with obstacles. Most interesting is Tough Mudder, which is a 10-mile running course littered with 20 obstacles designed by British Special Forces. (It looks really fun, and slightly insane, and I’m most likely going to do it next spring.)

But one of those events looks challenging and fun, and also within the capacities of my training: Warrior Dash. It’s a shorter course (3 miles), and the obstacles are a bit less intense, though still somewhat crazy. And importantly, it looks really fun.

Most marathon training programs I’ve found online, and most of the advice I’ve gotten in person has included the suggestion that before the marathon day arrives, it’s good to participate in a smaller event, just to get accustomed to the difference of running in a group of hundreds, or thousands. So I’m using Warrior Dash as a sort of 5k on steroids.

I’m enrolled for an 8:30am start time on Saturday, August 13, just outside of Albany, New York. It’s no marathon, but I’m looking forward to it.

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20th June
2011
written by Randy

I’ve been thinking about Facebook privacy. There’s always such an uproar over Facebook’s privacy settings. But why? Most people on Facebook post things that don’t matter: uninteresting photos of people nobody knows, statuses about what they had for dinner, how boring their day was, etc. And those people I know who actually do share “private” things are sharing those things publicly everywhere, so it’s not a privacy issue.

People are fooling themselves every day. If you watch how sites like Facebook and Twitter are used, you notice that people are great at acting like other people care, but they’re lousy at doing things anyone would actually care about.

And so I think I’ve figured out what the privacy issue is all about: people want their privacy because they don’t want a permanent public record of how boring they really are. It’s okay if they and their boring friends wallow in each other’s boredom together, but none of them want history to reflect the fact that they never really lived.

Well, that’s not good enough for me. I want to live, and I want history to record it. To hell with privacy. I want people to Google me and find all the exciting things I’ve done — and that, of couse, means I need to be doing exciting things!

Watching tv isn’t enough. When people search for me, I want them to see all the places I’ve traveled; I want then to discover how many languages I’ve learned; I want them to see how I conquered long-distance running, how I lived with few possessions, how I learned to live without an alarm clock or a phone, and much more that I haven’t done yet!

And that’s my challenge to you, too. Instead of trying to silence the record of what you haven’t done, get out and do something. Stop fitting in; when you fit in, you just become boring like everyone else.

Forget about Facebook’s privacy. Be someone who others would be interested in discovering. Stand out. Leave Google a reason to know you lived.

30th December
2010
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
2010
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
2010
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.

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6th December
2010
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?

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29th October
2010
written by Randy

How many times have you heard incredible stories from people about the lucky breaks they’ve gotten. Someone tells you about how they got an incredible deal on a purchase, or they got to enjoy something other people don’t, or who knows what, all because they were in the right place at the right time.

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard of someone who got the opportunity to travel somewhere cool, all expenses paid… or someone who bought an awesome car for very little money… a widow selling something she doesn’t know the value of, or a divorcee selling something cheap to spite her husband, or whatever.

That kind of thing used to frustrate me. All my life, I would hear these stories and think, “why doesn’t that ever happen to me?” We all have. How many times have you asked, “how come I never get those lucky breaks?”

But this week I had an interesting realization. Those breaks are around us all the time. It’s not that the breaks are never there… because they are! They’re available for all of us. The problem is us. The problem is that instead of putting ourselves in positions to take advantage of such things, we’re always making such things impossible for ourselves — practically ensuring that someone else gets those breaks instead of us.

I realized this last night, as I was booking a two-week long, seven-segment flight through six states in the southwestern U.S. You see, I got a promotional email from Southwest Airlines offering flights for $30 one way for anything under 450 miles, as long as you fly between December 1 and December 15, and not on a Sunday. In other words, if you don’t have a job in December, you can take advantage of this incredible deal.

That’s when I realized that finally, I had created for myself a potential to do these incredible things, rather than sit and complain about how other people get to do them. By paying off all my debt and saving money, I made a life that required me to work less. By haggling with recruiters instead of jumping at the first available job, I ensured that December and January would belong to me, and nobody else. And when this amazing deal came along, I was able to take advantage of it!

In fact, it was hard to stop myself at seven flights. I really wanted to exploit the bargain even further, but now that I also have the luxury of time, that’s an urge that I can resist. It’s not necessary to fill every day so full. I can relax and enjoy life at a comfortable pace.

So now, I realize that being in the right place doesn’t mean standing in a physical location, it means having your life in the right place. It means creating opportunities and setting yourself up to take advantage of them. Being in the right place means being responsible, living cheap, having free time and a few extra dollars laying around, so that when an amazing opportunity comes up you can take it!

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