Innovate Yourself

There are many great people whose stories provoke me and have made me wonder if I was indeed doing enough with the gifts and abilities that I have have been born with. Currently, I am on the verge of one of a cathartic moment, as I read the biographical book Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. I know it wasn’t on A Tentative Reading Lists for 2017 but it’s a must read. I am so inspired by him that it’s actually taken me a while to even attempt to articulate why it is that I feel the way I do. His struggle to envision the future to me is heroic, on par with my other heroes of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, due to his infinite pursuit of a dream that is larger is than himself. Now I know what you’re thinking–you’re comparing him to those great men?  Yes, yes, I am. Why?-because he stares at the abysmal status quo and is willing to do whatever it takes to disrupt it in an effort to move humanity forward. He has created a movement in technology and innovation that so is understated and he continues to doggedly persist in solving problems that seem impossible.

I think there are probably too many smart people pursuing internet stuff, finance and law. That is part of the reason why we haven’t seen as much innovation.

Elon Musk

I mean, how many of you worked on, let alone sat and pondered these issues?

  1. Making life interplanetary
  2. Accelerating the transition to sustainable energy
  3. Artificial Intelligence

So many great scientists and engineers have asked questions that are beyond one’s comprehension. However, Elon staunchly believes that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they choose to make a commitment to asking insane questions in the quest of serving the needs of humanity. When your curiousity collides with your passion, a life’s purpose emerges and you can do things so much bigger than you could ever imagine. He challenges the assumption that innovation is a natural outcome of civilization as if evolution is set on an inevitable course. But without drive and intelligence, nothing new emerges and people and the planet languish in complacency’s wake. The notion that something is “good enough” is the antithesis to improvement and growth.

People think just automatically that technology gets better every year, but actually, it doesn’t. It only gets better if smart people work like crazy to make it better…otherwise it actually gets worse.

Elon Musk

As I reflect on these ideas, it appears obvious to me that when people accept what is average, what is the bare minimum and don’t demand more of themselves and each other, then they are ultimately in a death spiral. Doing the same thing over and over again is actually going backward (such as thinking that drilling for oil is the answer to our energy needs now and in the future). I remember a famous quote from Albert Einstein that stated, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”, which if Elon Musk was to rephrase it, it might be: It’s absurd to think that doing the same thing over and over again will yield innovation.

Of course, you might just be thinking that’s all well and good for the development of plasma TVs, internet speed and space rockets, but so what, What does innovation have to do with me. I’m not an engineer or scientist, and I certainly not a millionaire. That may be true, but there is NO area in life that couldn’t be innovated; it only takes a willingness to acknowledge that failure is a possibility and do it anyway.  Take, for instance, Gandi. He went against the British government and won India’s independence through non-violence. Non-violence?! This idea still is revolutionary and to my knowledge, Martin Luther King is the only other man who has attempted to use it against oppressors with success. But the idea works! And yet we still wage war–outdated, archaic and what should be obsolete methodologies–when you look at the power of this innovative strategy. It’s the equivalent of riding a horse and buggy to work, and yet so many people favor guns and bombs over the more impactful approach of non-violence. This astounds me. Yet I digress….elon musk

If you were to trace the trajectory of anyone who did anything amazing, they did things in spite of their fear and knew that the person who they were now was not the person they needed to be, thus they had to innovate themselves. Not only did they seek to educate themselves, but they supplanted their beliefs so that the importance of their cause was too cemented in order to slink away from daunting challenges. These people have loads of fear but their faith in the do-gooding nature of their intended movement has more power over them. Going back to Gandhi, he was a rather wealthy lawyer from India who transformed into an incredible man whose heart was impenetrable to the evils of his self-doubt and worry cast upon him from naysayers. He legacy still remains: Be the Change You Wish To See In The World. This could be a true mantra for a life worth living if we were willing to make small, yet extraordinary changes in our thinking. These incremental changes have a snowballing effect over time. There is a level of willpower that must be developed and exercised so that we can overcome the mentality of the status quo and accept a higher version of what we could create with the intelligence we were given.

Obviously, this is something that I am ruminating on diligently–what sort of mental program do I need to download so that my small-mindedness gets an upgrade? What am I capable of that I am allowing fear to be my obstacle? In what ways can I innovate myself so that I can pay it forward to humanity?

Perhaps you too are haunted by these thoughts as you examine your life. How about we give each other permission and get set to work to do something amazing?

 

The Dogma of Your Sport

As an educator, I’m always looking out to the future, thinking about what will be the world for my students as they emerge into adulthood. With that in mind, I am always foraging for ideas, not just in my field, but outside the domain of education. I feel strongly that if you want to have an insight in your field, it helps to look outside your field to gain important perspectives and concepts.

I heard a Jiu Jitsu World Champion, Josh Waitzkin, talk about how important it was for him to train with dirty players–competitors who intentionally and shamelessly break the rules of the sport in an effort to win, in order to mentally get over the expectations of how the game is supposed to be played–that perfect world in which everyone follows the rules and the game is clear cut and obvious.He stopped being offended by these dangerous and dishonorable moves and instead embraced it with curiosity and intrigue. It was because of this openness that he was able to rise to being the champion that he is because there was nothing that another player could do to him to throw him off. When he referred to these belief systems about playing the game as “the dogma” of his sport, it really resonated with me.  Truth is, we all have some dogma in our careers and relationships because we’ve calcified ideas about how things ought to be in an unrealistic neat and perfect world.

To be aware of a voice inside your head that says : “It doesn’t make any sense.”,  it’s always a sign of something really powerful…in saying that “it doesn’t make sense” this means that there are logical reasons why things ought to be a certain way. But the world always makes sense, but what doesn’t make sense is your model of your world...You have to revise your hypothesis. ….What would you need to see to change your view? This is the best question ever.

Adam Robinson, founder of the Princeton Review

I love this idea that was shared on the Tim Ferriss Show by Adam Robinson, which challenges us to look at our belief systems and question it at a deeper level–what opinions or perceptions do we hold that may need to be confronted and analyzed? We keep looking at external factors to change but the truth is that it is us who must change to fit the new circumstances. If we can endeavor to be malleable and plnobility.jpgiable, then we will have the resilience and endurance to go through life with more grace and avail ourselves to higher levels of success.

As I am always longing to be the best version of myself, I recently enrolled in an MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) called the Innovator’s Mindset (#IMMOOC), based on the book of the same title by George Couros.  This course and book are geared toward educators, but I think it could be applied to a variety of skill sets, as he challenges his readers to “innovate inside the box”. So true–and it totally connects, at least in my mind, to this whole idea of shifting our definitions and developing new strategies to move us forward as educators- Challenge the Dogma of our Sport! We have to let go of our expectations and embrace the constraints in our schools so we can be pioneers and creators to produce our next generation of innovators and leaders.

So I keep wondering what “dogma” do I adhere to? What “doesn’t make sense” to me? Those questions linger in my mind and I will continue to contemplate and reflect upon for probably my whole life. When I reframe these beliefs into questions, it makes it easier for me to grapple with them. For example:

Professional

  • Does there need to be a power struggle between students and teachers, as we give students more agency in their learning?
  • How can we give students more autonomy and still maintain “control” in the classroom and cover the content?

What would I need to see/experience to change my view about control of the learning environment?

Personal

  • How can I love those people that justify their hatred and bigotry with their religion?
  • In what ways am I just like the people that I consider antagonists to my personal values?

What would I need to see/experience to change my view about our human potential to develop a more peaceful and accepting world?

Perhaps this post has also given you some pause and you also turn inward to think about what personal or professional beliefs you persist in that aren’t serving your higher purpose. Please comment below or connect with me @judyimamudeen to share how you might answer Adam’s question: What would you need to see to change your view?

 

Thank You, Pablo Picasso

Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.
– Pablo Picasso

Recently a colleague of mine was explaining that Picasso didn’t mean to invent abstract art, he just insisted that there were other perspectives that could be illumined by drawing and painting from different angles. Instead of drawing a face head-on, he thought about how it might look from the sdora-maar-potraitide, for example. Although this is a simple idea, it created a revolution in how we can represent life–at least from an artist’s point of view. However, I also feel, that this wisdom can be applied to multiple situations other disciplines.

Have you ever heard of the story behind the cure for stomach ulcers? An Australian doctor who challenged prevailing views, Barry Marshall simplymax-plank looked at the current medical paradigm that ulcers were psychosomatic and dared to ask, How do you know (this theory is true)? He proved in his research that it was actually caused by a type of bacterium H. Pylori and providing antibiotics was a simple remedy for patients. Yet no one believed him! For years people tried to discredit his cure; until one day, Dr. Marshall actually drank a broth chalked full of H. Pylori bacterium and caused himself to break out in stomach ulcers, which he treated successfully with antibiotics.  This move was so shocking and convincing that now it is taken as a routine treatment for ulcers. However, it has taken YEARS to shift the attitudes of doctors and can you believe that still there are medical practitioners who still think that ulcers “are in your head”?- They cannot look at this medical ailment from another perspective. (I love that quote from Max Planck that expresses how hard it is to change people’s minds about a long-held scientific belief, which seems relevant still today, whether it’s a cure for cancer, climate change or treating a post-traumatic disorder. The only way a new idea can come into mainstream awareness is that the old stalwarts have to die off. )

Discomfort, fear, doubt, uncertainty–these are all symptoms of a shift in one’s thinking. You know you’re out of the status quo when you experience these feelings. At least that’s how I see it. And when I look at a Picasso, it now makes me think, how often do I look at situations or ideas from a limited point of view, particularly that of the mainstream beliefs of my culture? And I wonder if I avoid taking different perspectives because I was culturally ingrained to be rigid with black -n-white thinking, or am I just trying to prevent discomfort? And, can I teach myself to be more pliable in my thinking? Also, can I hold multiple perspectives at one time, and both of them to be equally valid and true?

As I ponder these deeper questions, I feel appreciation in my heart for a man who provided a visual representation of the need to look at life from multiple angles and challenge pre-existing ideas with How DO I know this is the only way to look at a situation or problem?

Thank you, Pablo Picasso, not only for the enigmatic beauty you tried to represent but for your stirring of the human mind and soul.

 

 

Mystification

The adjacent possible is the map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself. It implies a different way of looking at things. It is not held back and will not be bound by what is but is always remixing how we can transform the material world into…these delightful future possibilities and literally pull the present moment to meet it.  -Jason Silva-

I haven’t been writing much these days because I have too many thoughts in my head and I’ve been trying to put a pin on one of them. It’s like watching a leaf float on a stream’s current, except that the leaf is bobbing along on rapids rather than a lazy river. Perhaps we all have times when our minds are engrossed in a state of chaotic peace.

It seems like every moment is full of some serendipity or idea that is pulling on my heart. That makes sense since I’ve been debating whether or not to stay in Wuxi, knowing that my husband is starting his career and creating our new life in Barcelona. rwemersonI knew that
this was to be my last year in China, a place that I never expected to love as much as I do, but here I am, conflicted, to stay and work here or go with him in January. So I said a little prayer earlier this week and now every time I open a book, hear a song or listen to a podcast, a similar message pops up: Take a leap of faith! That quote over there from Emerson–that was the message on my tea bag. I didn’t even know that that brand of tea even had little adages or quotes until I began steeping my tea a moment ago! How am I to ignore this all?

So here I am, trapped with my ideas about my career, thinking about “responsibility” and “duty”, which are begging to be redefined. Believing in new things and new realities takes diligence and fidelity to this “adjacent possible”.  Inviting novelty, stretching oneself, even when the outcome is uncertain, seems like lunacy when complacency can be so satisfying and cozy (read: steady paycheck).

I listened to a riveting discussion by Dr. Norman Doidge about neuroplasticity and I found it interesting that he recommended that we use ALL of ourselves (mind), listening to yourself carefully and then obeying your dreams in order to get things accomplished so you can cultivate your best self. I am taking all of this in, thinking about the gift of mindfulness. If I didn’t have this personal practice, I wouldn’t even recognize the awe and wonder that surrounds me and supports me in embracing the unknown. This gives me immeasurable courage to let go and be willing to take a chance, even if my options seem a bit precarious.

All I know is that there is infinite potential within me–as within everyone–and I have the capacity to express it. I have to trust that what is in seed, will take root and grow. There is so much that I do not know, however, to know that my “shoots” will go towards the light, gives me calm and determination. And I am confident that this confusion is temporary.

I just have to Keep Breathing!

 

It’s in the Refrigerator

the refrigerator

Eleven Rings by Phil Jackson was one of the books on my summer reading list. I chose it because I don’t know anything about basketball–about any sports, really, for that matter.It was a challenging text for me because it is so out of the context that I am aware of, but reading it meant that I would have no expectation, good or bad.  Surprisingly this Zen Basketball Coach offered a fresh perspective on difficult experiences that made me deeply reflect on my role as a leader. And, I almost want to watch basketball now. (almost)

I feel like in order to move forward with the future challenges of this year, I have to accept the losses of last year. Get over it. Move on. Phil Jackson reminded me that “the soul of success is surrendering to what is”.  Zen Master Jakusho Kwong also suggests being an active participant in experiencing loss and understand on some level that loss is a catalyst for growth. Not only do I have to embrace the mistakes, the confusion and grief that resulted in some of the decisions made last year, but I have to “put it in the refrigerator”–realizing that it’s over, letting it cool and later appreciating the lessons that come from them.

Yep, letting go and closing the door on that chapter!

Good bye, Hello: Resilience

The end of the school year always makes one emotional. For most teachers, it is sweet relief but there is regret–regret you didn’t do or complete something with your students and colleagues. So much unfinished business!  But I feel like a bit of me is experiencing grief, like there is shock and there is sadness. This is partly because, as an international teacher, you are among a unique group of people–people who are curious about other cultures and are keen to seek adventure. These people become a second family to you and you feel sad when they move on. And I worry, maybe you do too, that you didn’t express enough love and gratitude to them–that they don’t know how much care for them. That’s true for any loved one of course. But I wonder, if something was to happen to them, would they know that they mattered to me; and that as a result of our friendship, I have become a different person, hopefully more loving, more open-minded and full of life. This is heaviness I feel in my good byes.

Resilience

It’s kind of serendipitous that this week we focused our mindfulness practice on self-compassion. It is true that we respond to suffering of others much better than we are to ourselves. So I have been confronted with the fact that I am more likely to offer gentleness and understanding to others than I am to myself.  Despite my positive intentions, I have still made mistakes, said or did things that I felt were “wrong” and I really beat myself up for them. I linger on my errors, on words or deeds that just aren’t “perfect”, and have a hard time forgiving myself and being self-critical. Saying my “good byes” has really acerbated this feeling for me, especially since I have had such a stressful year. I wonder if I have let down people who I care for–not just friends that are leaving but also loved ones because I have been so self-involved that I may have forgotten about them. I’ve had so many emotions surface this week, that having some self-compassion was a tool that has become indispensable to help me overcome my feeling of loss.

The 3 main components of this practice are: self-kindness, common sense of humanity and mindfulness. Self-kindness comes in handy when we are struggling with these kinds of emotion, as we turn away from judgement and bring to these emotions a sense of understanding and acceptance.It is completely normal to feel this way and recognizing my humanity helps me to feel connection to others in the inevitability that I will make mistakes as a human. I can then extend some goodwill towards myself, just like I might to another suffering person such as a friend. While bringing mindfulness to these emotions provides the opportunity to observe them, not only in my mind but also in my body. I can create some space between me and my thoughts and generate love towards myself, despite my flaws.

What-is-Self-Compassion

What I find so fascinating about this practice is that it creates physical changes in the brain. Offering self-compassion not only generates the “tend and befriend” response (as oppose to flight or fight response) and generates the love connection hormone, oxytocin, but it also causes neurons to fire and wire together. The more we practice self-compassion, the more we are fine tuning these circuits in our brains, which can become hard wired and the default mode. In other words, I can develop resilience and bounce from my negative emotion, more often and faster, with each time I practice.

Thus, in the face of suffering and self-criticism, I can shift my awareness and start to develop a new pathway. Obviously this is the sort of thing which lifts us up out listeningof a state of despair and moves up into hopefulness and positive expectation.

With that in mind, I can feel the appreciation for the people I have come to love, and experience the blessing of our meeting–even all the crazy parts in-between! And before I know it, I will begin the new friendships that will come in the future; hopefully, one of those friends will be myself-and that friendship is one that will last a lifetime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stickiness

Muhammed Ali said that “If you want to win, start within”.  He was such an inspirational man, but what made him such an icon was that he had the courage and commitment to choose his thoughts about himself.  The older I get, the more I grasp that in order to evolve, we must meet our thoughts and beliefs where they are, shake hands with them, and move on–they are not who we are, but where we are. We can may feel that we are “stuck” in this mindset, but it is possible to detach from them and choose new ones.

muhammad ali

I’ve heard it said before that to know and not do is to not know. And that’s true–how many times have we learned something, thought it was interesting, but then did not act any different as a result of it?

Since I’ve begun this deep dive into mindfulness, I’ve started to become curious what is my “mind-full” of? What kinds of thoughts am I thinking? Since I want to approach this as the observer, I have been viewing my thoughts in my meditation without judgement and elaboration, trying to engage my mind in the present, labelling my thoughts as a thought about the past or a thought about the future; and after noticing this, putting my attention on the breath, allowing  my mind to  wander but then gently bringing it back. I think I have been rather successful at this exercise because I was touched by the article about mindfulness stress reduction, and, in particular, the following quote:

“Since it is really about the present moment, the approach has to be spontaneous rather than thought out in advance. It has to be embodied. I just trust that, in a sense, my whole life has been a certain kind of preparation for this moment we call now, and that whatever emerges will be good enough. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It will be good enough for that moment. I have never found that that was not true.”- Jon Kabat-Zin

 So now I have been extending my practice beyond the course’s mediations. Since the beginning of this week’s work, I’ve put a sticky note on my laptop to help cue me into cultivating a stronger sense of presence and mindfulness. My note says:

  • Am I breathing? (this has helped me to check in with my breath),
  • Where’s the Magic? (this is to help me find some wonder and awe in my surroundings or experiences.), and
  • Who can I Cherish? (this is to help me connect with the people around me and experience appreciation for them).

I am hopeful that this practice is “sticky” and moves me to help me to create a greater habit of mindfulness outside of these meditative exercise and embody this practice in other areas of my life. I’d rather have my MIND-FULL of thoughts of joy and appreciation, rather than doubt or worry. I feel like this is also great mental training–like Muhammad Ali–cultivating a mind of a champion. In this way, I tap into the power of my being, the gifts that life has to offer me, and the joy of experiencing my loved ones and colleagues.

It’s hard to imagine how much of my life is shifting from noticing the little things. And it reminds me of another quote from The Greatest Man who ever lived: “Don’t count the days, make the days count.”

ali2

RIP, brother.