I’m a big fan of Bob Dylan. I’m also quite obsessed with music in general. Matt says I’m the walking-talking Shazam of the office. However, with interest in music varying from the late fifties to the present, there is one line that sticks with me throughout life:
“That he not busy being born is busy dying”
It’s the last line in the second stanza of Bob Dylan’s It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding). It means so much to me for a couple of reasons. First of all my original interpretation of the line was pretty negative: I thought he meant that we start dying the minute we’re born. Technically true, however also incredibly pessimistic. Something I had learnt to expect from Bob Dylan. Then one day someone pointed out to me that there could be another, far more beautiful interpretation.
This was over ten years ago – a few students were helping me out with some tasks at work and somehow we ended up discussing Bob Dylan. I still remember the moment of clarity – it might seem trivial, but it was pretty formative for me as a person. “You’ve got it all wrong,” one of them said. “Dylan actually means that if you stop reinventing yourself you’re dying.”
And there it was. An “Aha!” moment. It set me off on a train of thought that changed the way I look at things completely. I am now a person who’s scared of only one thing: stagnation.
Because the minute I stop being born I’m dying. Whoa. That changes your perspective on life because it removes the middle state: meaningless existence (or calls it dying, depending on how you see it).
This lesson helped me greatly in my work life because it means I get to do a much better job. Part of who we’re meant to be at Switch is a company that’s ahead of the curve. And as long as I’m scared with living in the past, then the future is the only place to be. However, that’s the boring part.
The phrase also defined how I see myself on a personal level – and has helped me get out of ruts I was getting stuck in at different stages of my life.
It also helps define my persona – if you ask around the office I’m known (together with Ed) as one of the people who can continue a conversation about nearly anything. From handbags to boats, cars to Greek philosophy, high quality food to the politics of the USA – I usually know something about so many things it’s insane.
The thing most people ask me is how I manage to keep up with so many things – do I have some Jedi trick to keep up with everything? Well, not really. I don’t have a magic formula, but I do have an incredible sense of curiosity for everything except other people’s lives.
I also have another mini mantra that’s tied to Dylan’s phrase – never kill time. Time is our most limited resource. It’s a bank account that’s constantly draining, so whenever someone suggests doing something to “kill time” it drives me crazy.
These two, put together, mean that I very rarely just hang about doing nothing. Don’t get me wrong – I relax, I do quite a bit of things that are relaxing and make it a point to chill out regularly, however I try to keep my relaxing time meaningful. I won’t sit down and see what’s pushed at me on TV – I’ll choose what to watch deliberately. If I’m going to spend time on a beach, then I’ll read something fulfilling, not a gossip magazine. If I have conversations with friends it will probably be about something we can have a debate about, not somebody else’s life.
I also have a behaviour online that’s probably pretty different to most of the people around me. Even though I have over 1,000 Facebook friends – I only keep a few of them visible on my timeline – and it’s very easy for friends to be hidden completely – just post about politics in a partisan manner, for example, and you’re off my wall forever. Instead, I replaced my Facebook feed with follows of pages I find interesting. Tech news, marketing news, fashion, world news, food, politics… You name it, there’s probably a page I follow that feeds me some information about the subject.
I subscribe to quite a few interesting newsletters in different fields that keep my brain ticking. I don’t read all of them every day, but I try finding enough time to go through a few that tickle my fancy.
Two sites I started using over the past year have also helped quench my thirst for new stuff to learn. The first might sound insane – Reddit. I got on the Reddit train very late in the day but was hooked almost immediately. It filled a void that I had missed since the death of Google+ in 2013. It is a great social site that’s built around people’s interests, not who they are. In fact, unlike Google+, I haven’t even made any friends on Reddit in over a year using it daily.
Over the past few days, for example, I’ve learnt about the way lawyers get sucked into firms in the US (from lawyers who got sucked into firms), I understood what the major news item about the discovery of gravitational waves actually means for us, and I’ve also read about the conversion of an old school bus into a camper.
And that’s just at the very top level. The beauty of Reddit is that it all starts off with a link or a short post, but the way comment threads evolve are usually so interesting. Deeper down into threads you find goldmines of information, usually in far more detail than the original thread itself. It takes patience, but it’s usually worth it (and even when it’s not, it turns out to be entertaining). It’s essentially crowdsourced knowledge.
The other site I got quite hooked to is Medium. Medium is far more serious than Reddit is, and the front page of medium is usually full of high quality articles that give you much more depth into a particular subject from a single person. There’s a lot of value to this too. Articles on Medium are well written and well researched. Authors tend to be an authority on the subject when they get pushed up enough, so, as long as you stick to the recommended stories (there’s a great Medium Daily Digest sent by email) you’re rarely disappointed.
So, yeah – rant over. I rarely get to write personal stuff here, and I hope you find some of this craziness interesting. Just keep this in mind – you’re either being born or you’re dying – there is no time to kill.