World domination, one week later

by Jack on June 2011

One week ago, I went to Portland, OR to attend a conference with the modest title of World Domination Summit. The conference was great and I definitely experienced a couple of transformative “aha!” moments that I will describe a little bit later in this post.

First and foremost, WDS was a great opportunity to reconnect in person with some West Coast friends that I don’t get to see very often, including Crystal Silver, Mike Schumacher, Jeff “Yooper” Smith, Thea Lawson, Erica Douglass and Lance Vallis. It was wonderful to connect with old friends and make new ones.

(Photo Credit: Armosa Studios)

When I originally signed up, I didn’t have a clear purpose in mind aside from “meet people, see what happens” but my intuition suggested that I’d experience something interesting. I have found in the past that the meetings that I attend with a “see what happens” agenda are often the most fruitful. My intuition always works when I trust it.

The conference itself was deliberately and artfully vague about its specific purpose. In the program, the unifying question was How do we live a remarkable life in a conventional world?. The details of this goal were left up to the imagination. Most of the people attending consisted of artists, entrepreneurs, writers, lifestyle designers, coaches, travelers – simply put, lots of creative and imaginative people who were hard to pin down in a specific way.

Obviously, the title refers to capturing the imagination of the world through creativity and generating excitement, rather than the old-school methods of conquering through war, political intrigue, and diplomacy. (The only military equipment I saw in Portland was the Navy ships that arrived a few days later for Fleet Week!)

The prevailing attitude at WDS was one of connecting with others, encouraging them on their path, and embracing difference and uniqueness. Everyone seemed to recognize the beauty that emerges from different ways of being and acting, in taking risks, and in pursuing those things in one’s own heart that don’t have to make sense to the rest of the world. Everywhere at the conference, I encountered an abundance of creative people – sometimes that creativity was expressed in their attitude and outlook, sometimes in their actual profession. (By creative professions, I mean artists and writers… but why can’t a person be creative as a CFO, or as a database admin, if that’s what they love?)

The effort put forth by the organizers, volunteers, and speakers was impressive. “Blue shirts” (volunteers) were everywhere, making sure the event was running well. The Portland Art Museum made a great venue, and the city itself was a great place for organized and impromptu meetings after the official program was over.

“Your imperfections make you likeable and endearing”

Instead of doing a speed review of the overall experience (that’s a future post) I’d like to distinguish one of the most powerful and personally significant parts of my WDS journey.

It happened in the Mondo Beyondo session presented by Jen Lemen and Andrea Scher. In addition to delivering a great inspirational message through the coaching session they ran, Jen and Andrea did a beautiful, irrational, and extreme thing that caught the attention and imagination of the entire group. The two of them had personally handwritten 500 affirmation notes and stuck them under each of the chairs in the auditorium. (This is exactly the kind of dramatic, extreme gesture that I love!)

My own card read “your imperfections make you likeable and endearing”. The relevance and impact of this message was eerie – in the few days leading up to WDS, I had just been speaking with close friends about some concerns and doubts that I had about how I was presenting myself online. It’s also the exact sort of thing that someone with perfectionist tendencies like mine, someone who graduated in the top 5 in “one of the most selective and advanced engineering programs offered in the world” specifically does not want to hear. That’s probably one of the reasons why it was so powerful for me.

In particular, there are a couple of topics that I’d shied away from discussing on my blog in the past. Blind spots, of a sort.

One of them feels really stupid to write out but it felt real to me a couple of weeks ago. I identify myself in my “About Me” section as “Dr. Jack Bennett” which is totally legitimate – I have completed a PhD from a real university. It was a fun experience and a lot of work.

However, I avoided mentioning the specifics of my degree on this site until now, specifically that my PhD is in Electrical and Computer Engineering. I had a fear that this subject might be judged by others as too technical and not sufficiently “life coach”-y.

In the recent past, I was telling myself a bunch of stories about how people wouldn’t want to work with a life coach who has the wrong kind of degree. That is, the “wrong kind of Ivy-league doctoral degree”. Boo hoo, cry me a river, right? This what we in the coaching world call a “high quality problem”. And yet it’s often our own blind spots and limiting beliefs that are hardest to see. (Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why all professional coaches are encouraged to have a coach themselves.)

Yes, it’s total bullshit, of course, but these kind of stories start to seem real when they take up residence in our own heads for long enough. That’s one of the biggest reasons why telling trusted others the stories that hold you back is so powerful. Your friends can reveal to you exactly how much bullshit you’re creating for yourself. (Hint: imagine a Pacific Ocean of fetid, stinking, liquified bullshit. That’s the kind of scale that we’re operating on when we go digging through the darker reaches of our own heads. Pack a hazmat suit.)

Fortunately, when others reflect back to you how silly you’re being by living into a false story that you’re telling yourself, it’s a lot easier to stop telling it, and to stop giving your power away. And your days start to pass a little more easily, without all that bullshit.

A life coach with advanced degrees in electrical and computer engineering – that’s a little unusual, right? There’s probably something interesting there. And until recently I was suppressing this uniqueness, trying to be like the average of everyone else, some sort of bland yoga-Zen-vegan-hybrid of Eckhart Tolle, Tony Robbins, Dr. Phil, Oprah, and Wayne Dyer. I was turning down the volume on what made me different, interesting, and yes, a little bit strange as well. Well, screw that.

I like to think that my past writings are intelligent and insightful, but I think they could use a little bit more soul too. So I am looking forward to the fun of including a bit more personality and authenticity into my writing (and profanity too – although I probably already swear far too often).

The other topic is a little bit more personal, but still not something that I avoid telling other people in real life. So why not mention it here?

It’s a pretty simple story – I was in a long-term relationship, we were married for 2.5 years and then divorced. (Wow, intense dark secret, huh? I’ll bet you’ve never met anyone who was in that situation before!) Until now, I avoided mentioning this here for a variety of “reasons”.

  • I didn’t want to appear imperfect (limiting belief – “Helping others with their interpersonal relationships is an important part of being a coach. How can I do that authentically if I got divorced myself?”)
  • I didn’t want to be disliked by others. As individuals, people are mostly pleasant and kind, but the internet as a whole sometimes delivers spikes of viciousness and stupidity.
  • I didn’t want to be judged by others for “leaving” rather than “being left”, or for the reasons that I chose to leave that relationship. Victimhood is a comfortable pose to take and is usually guaranteed some sympathy; conversely, embracing your own power and creating uncomfortable change is often a target for criticism.

Given time I could probably come up with a bunch of other reasons but they all boil down to the same thing – I wanted to look good and avoid looking bad. This desire is not uniquely mine, of course. A lot of human energy is spent (i.e. wasted) by people attempting to impress others, or at least to avoid looking stupid in front of them.

Everyone I talked to at WDS – including several professional coaches – said that going through the personal experience of marriage and divorce would make a person a better coach, not worse. After all, people said, some real world ups and downs give a bit more authenticity to a person’s story. Granted, this is not an average audience, or a scientifically-valid sample, but it felt like a real vote of confidence – I told people I had just met about these things, and everyone was supportive. In other words, according to my conversational survey, my limiting belief was well and truly bullshit.

Perfection – or the appearance of perfection – intimidates and distances. We bond closely with each other through our fears, doubts, and perceived or actual “major, life-changing fuck-ups”. Holding our pain close to the vest and concealing these so-called “failures” gives them far more power than they deserve. Sharing them with others and thereby seeing them through other peoples’ eyes helps us to release and transcend them. As the old proverb goes, “what I resist, persists” – so stop resisting and release instead!

So what next?

In the follow-up email messages in the few days after the conference, head organizer Chris Guillebeau asked the attendees to ask themselves the simple question:

One year from now, what will be different?

It’s an important question. In the “post workshop high”, people can get caught up in the excitement and make dramatic plans that don’t see the light of day because “normal life” ramps up and they don’t follow through.

Thomas Edison is often quoted as saying that “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. If that’s true, then the time ratio of a three day conference to the rest of the year is just about perfect. And I am very much looking forward to seeing what I and the other attendees are able to accomplish in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

Time to go do the work now…

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

MFDH June 12, 2011 at 16:12

“I was turning down the volume on what made me different, interesting, and yes, a little bit strange as well.”

Having known you only a child, Jack, that statement strikes me as odd. Naturally, my image of you is hopelessly out of date.

The reason it would seem so odd to me is because you were among the first people I ever noticed and admired for their apparent disregard of popular opinion and disinterest in suppressing personal idiosyncrasies. I thought you were very brave in this respect, and it made quite an impression on me at the time.

If you have somehow let yourself diminish in that particular kind of fearlessness, I’m very glad to hear you’re capable of reaching out to recapture it.

You really were strange when you were ten, Jack. I was, too. You made me feel like I didn’t have to be embarrassed by that.

Yours,
MFDH

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Jack June 12, 2011 at 16:29

Wow, thanks! Your comment actually brought tears to my eyes. I’m very moved that I was able to influence you in that way back then. And I also viewed you as a role model like that – and I am impressed that you have pursued your passion in SF writing and art as well!

Be well… and thanks again for such a wonderful comment! 🙂

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Kevin Velasco June 12, 2011 at 23:27

Jack,

Last year I discovered I was making myself look too good while Facebook blogging, so I decided to change it up. I decided to try poking fun at myself, making myself look bad, and talking about my blunders & weaknesses.

Rahul B tweeted a quote that said, “Vulnerability is the new alpha.” I believe this is true in addition to online writings/presence. Being able to publicly display our weaknesses or shortcomings shows a higher level of confidence in Self and shows that we are normal human beings.

By constantly playing up our strengths in the online world we’re creating a false perception of who we are. The more we play up our strengths the more we may end up putting ourselves on a pedestal, which may negatively affect the way we connect with our readers.

I’m currently going with a badass image on my site but I will calibrate with some serious vulnerability in the near future.

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Jack June 13, 2011 at 08:27

Last year I discovered I was making myself look too good while Facebook blogging, so I decided to change it up. I decided to try poking fun at myself, making myself look bad, and talking about my blunders & weaknesses.

Yeah, I’ve seen that and I think your use of irony, especially about society’s messages, gets the point across well. A genuine vulnerability – mixed with real underlying power and strength – is attractive because the appearance of perfection is intimidating.

Rahul B tweeted a quote that said, “Vulnerability is the new alpha.” I believe this is true in addition to online writings/presence. Being able to publicly display our weaknesses or shortcomings shows a higher level of confidence in Self and shows that we are normal human beings.

I agree. Getting the level right is the key thing. David Deida’s different levels of masculine development seem to fit in here – extreme macho boneheadedness is annoying (level I), confessing weaknesses with nothing at the center is pathetic (level II), but honestly revealing failures and shortcomings while having a strong iron core and foundation is very powerful and attractive (level III).

I’m currently going with a badass image on my site but I will calibrate with some serious vulnerability in the near future.

Makes sense, and I look forward to reading it. I think that my current image is fairly wordy and smart, but there hasn’t been a lot of vulnerability in it – I have been using intelligence, writing skill, and occasional dry and/or sarcastic humor as armor. Thing is, I still have those strengths and can use them even when I show some vulnerability – it’s not like they go away.

I also haven’t really played up much badassery (is that a word?) except in a few places like my article about Fight Club – most of my articles have a certain Zen, peaceful standpoint. Most of my readers probably haven’t yet encountered my love of sniper rifles, handguns, and MMA. 🙂

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Drew Jacob June 13, 2011 at 15:19

Thanks for a really insightful and honest post Jack. As a fellow divorcee (and also a priest) I know some of the feelings you’re talking about. The fear that you won’t appear “good enough” to help others is a tough obstacle. Glad to see someone talking about it!

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Jack June 13, 2011 at 16:19

Thanks Drew! I appreciate your comment. It feels like acknowledging or “admitting” these things is the first step to putting them in their place, in a bigger context where they aren’t blown out of proportion.

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Jacq June 17, 2011 at 08:45

Glad to hear that the seminar was a hit for you. I’ve been to so many that felt good but didn’t provide the substantial changes that Landmark did for whatever reason. Thanks to your prior post on it, I signed up for the advanced course after thinking about your post and my forum experience and am attending my first day today. Preparing myself for some fun mindfuckery – wish I would have got more sleep last night.

FWIW, I think your degree would make you a better coach since engineers are process and results oriented. Re. divorce – hey, even Dr. Phil had a short first marriage – that he never talks about. 🙂

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Jack June 17, 2011 at 12:33

Hi Jacqueline – thanks for your comment.

I think my time in academia gave me an appreciation for the “typical” trajectory of the conference experience – the excitement including leading up to it, the frenetic pace of the conference itself, and then the aftermath. Unless there’s a framework in place to capture and implement all the ideas and learnings from a conference, then all that good energy will just dissipate over time. I think Steve Chandler said it well: “motivation has a half-life”.

Landmark seems to do a good job by teaching a small number of “simple common sense” lessons and anchoring them to highly emotional experiences, ensuring that the learner will “get it”. Best of luck in your Advanced Course experience – I am thinking of doing the AC this year as well.

FWIW, I think your degree would make you a better coach since engineers are process and results oriented. Re. divorce – hey, even Dr. Phil had a short first marriage – that he never talks about. 🙂

Good points. I think that the systematic problem solving approaches, hacker mind-set, and bias toward measurement that emerges from engineering study is a great asset to a coaching career. I’m not going to swing completely left-brain after this point, but it’s an awesome idea to honor this part of myself and my story more than I have been doing recently.

And yeah, Dr Phil, Tony Robbins, and lots of the best known personal growth gurus have been through divorce before. Doesn’t mean we can’t help others…

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Jacq June 21, 2011 at 15:50

Well, I’m kind of sad to report that the advanced course wasn’t that valuable if you’ve done any kind of work with re-framing and understanding personal points of view, etc. Much of it was “no, duh” moments not a-ha moments. Read a bit of Byron Katie combined with Bertrand Russell’s Conquest of Happiness and you’ve got 95% of it.

The only new concept that I got out of it was how we use personal tests for reality (body sensations, thoughts etc.) vs. actual reality. So 100 people can tell you that you’re a good writer, but because you don’t think you are, you won’t feel it. The upside of this is that only a good writer would worry about being a good writer. They’re the types that think it’s important enough to re-write and edit etc., which is what good writing requires.

Honestly Jack, after I embraced my own geeky left-brainedness, my career and life got immeasurably better. It doesn’t mean that I don’t try to develop the other parts a bit, but my natural talents (and sources of flow in my career) lies in the INTJ-ness. Same old “focus on strengths” wisdom.

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Jack June 21, 2011 at 17:00

Well, I’m kind of sad to report that the advanced course wasn’t that valuable if you’ve done any kind of work with re-framing and understanding personal points of view, etc.  Much of it was “no, duh” moments not a-ha moments.  Read a bit of Byron Katie combined with Bertrand Russell’s Conquest of Happiness and you’ve got 95% of it.

Very interesting – thanks so much for your feedback about the AC.

I’ve been quite interested in The Work / Sedona Method for a year or two. I was reading Loving What Is a lot around the start of 2010, and I recently got Who Would You Be Without Your Story although I haven’t read that one yet.

I’ve been curious to see how these techniques can be generalized using tools such as NLP (and Son Of / Bride Of NLP methods like Core Transformation or Clean Language). (This was actually one of the deciding factors that led me into NLP training a few months ago.) I don’t see anything specifically magical about the SM/TW questions (“Is it true?” etc.) – I think the biggest value comes in the memorization and repetition so that you have a given process at the tip of your tongue (or frontal lobe) when you’re under live fire.

The only new concept that I got out of it was how we use personal tests for reality (body sensations, thoughts etc.) vs. actual reality.  So 100 people can tell you that you’re a good writer, but because you don’t think you are, you won’t feel it.  The upside of this is that only a good writer would worry about being a good writer.  They’re the types that think it’s important enough to re-write and edit etc., which is what good writing requires.

Very cool. I wonder if that’s similar to a Reality Strategy in NLP. (I first came across the RS concept in Beliefs by Dilts et al, but it may have an earlier origin than that.)

It makes sense that those who are good at something are more aware of the nuance – e.g. where they are meeting their standards and where they aren’t.

Honestly Jack, after I embraced my own geeky left-brainedness, my career and life got immeasurably better.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t try to develop the other parts a bit, but my natural talents (and sources of flow in my career) lies in the INTJ-ness.  Same old “focus on strengths” wisdom.

Yeah, I definitely have that xNTJ thing going on. I have certainly embraced geeky left-brainedness in the past (cf. engineering school). Obviously I am not turning this into a tech blog, but I think more of my personality coming through my writing can only be a good thing.

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Jacq June 22, 2011 at 09:04

From what I can remember of the NLP reading that I’ve done and The Work, it may be that Scientology/est/ Landmark is the genesis of both of those approaches. They just seem so similar:
http://anotherdirtysoapbox.blogspot.com/2006/08/nlp-and-landmark-forum.html
Who knows who borrowed from who in the ’60’s in California? I really enjoy researching the genesis of this stuff and where there’s patterns that emerge (we are pattern-making machines after all), whether they arrived at techniques independently or borrowed from each other.

At the end of the day, their 7 core principles for showing up in life are pretty sound and that’s what I like to focus on putting into life every day, although I struggle with the “be peaceful” part sometimes. 🙂
http://rickross.com/reference/landmark/landmark80.html

Leah Shapiro June 17, 2011 at 12:15

Hi Jack,
I’m glad to read that you are going to let your real self shine through a bit more. I remember talking to you about this very thing at WDS.

Give your people the gift of knowing you on a deeper level. It makes it so much easier for them to know if you are the right coach for them.
You know me-I’m a strong advocate for being 100% you-and flying your freak flag. It makes it so much easier for your right people – in life and biz-to find you.

Rock on!
Leah

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Jack June 17, 2011 at 12:41

I’m glad to read that you are going to let your real self shine through a bit more. I remember talking to you about this very thing at WDS.

Yeah, you were one of the earliest people I spoke to about this. From you and others, everyone confirmed that being reluctant to talk about these things was a total illusion, not something to worry about.

Give your people the gift of knowing you on a deeper level. It makes it so much easier for them to know if you are the right coach for them.

Love this. It makes so much more sense than trying to shoehorn a complex person into some kind of template. Trying to avoid offending and to be all things makes people bland.

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Leah Shapiro June 17, 2011 at 12:57

I love this-
“Trying to avoid offending and to be all things makes people bland.”

Why be typical or bland when you can be freakin’ fabulous ??!!!

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Niall Doherty June 17, 2011 at 13:33

Jack, I instantly like your blog 10x more after reading this post. Authenticity for the win, my friend.

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Jack June 19, 2011 at 15:36

What, ya didn’t like it before? 😉

I’ve definitely been inspired by your candor in writing intelligently and maturely about “private” subjects. Thanks for your support!

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Spyros Heniadis June 19, 2011 at 20:41

“Hint: imagine a Pacific Ocean of fetid, stinking, liquified bullshit. That’s the kind of scale that we’re operating on when we go digging through the darker reaches of our own heads.”

Jack, that’s brilliant.

I think you’re experiencing what we all experience working our way into an medium of expressing ourselves. We take this time to try and “find our voice”, but by looking we mostly miss it.

I’ve also been looking at how I express myself in writing. I’ve resolved to use the word “fuck” more, because that’s part of who I am, and that’s just one aspect of me loosening up and letting go in order to be myself in my writing.

It’s funny, I’ve been expressing myself through photography for over a decade, and I have a well established voice in that work. It was silly of me to think that I wouldn’t go through the same period of seeking to find my voice when I started writing again.

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Jack June 19, 2011 at 23:14

Thanks Spyros!

I think there’s a certain “inner critic” or “inner editor” voice that we all have inside who says stuff like “don’t say that – it sounds {offensive, arrogant, mean, sappy, …} – people won’t like it”.

From my point of view, using a bit of profanity is consistent with the way I behave in real life. Not as much as the “Human Piranha” [1], perhaps, but I believe it has some zest and power, like linguistic Sriracha sauce, when used appropriately.

On the other hand, revealing more personal things, especially things that I don’t like or am not proud of, is more challenging (and also likely to be more cathartic and rewarding).

[1] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liar%27s_Poker

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Spyros Heniadis June 22, 2011 at 06:49

Sriracha sauce is a beautiful analogy for the use of profanity, and your interpretations are dead on.

As I was writing the post I put up this week, revealing some very personal things I felt both the catharsis and reward, but it was a challenge to drown out the din of my inner critic.

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Jack June 22, 2011 at 10:05

Sriracha sauce is a beautiful analogy for the use of profanity, and your interpretations are dead on.

Thanks, Spyros… Coincidentally I just ran out of sriracha yesterday. No more fucking profanity until I go over to the Korean market and reload. 😉

As I was writing the post I put up this week, revealing some very personal things I felt both the catharsis and reward, but it was a challenge to drown out the din of my inner critic.

I just checked that post out. I admire your candor and I don’t know if I’m comfortable to share to that level yet. There’s pretty much no limit to the level of openness that a person can bring to their life – online and in person. Have you read the book Radical Honesty by Brad Blanton? If not, I highly recommend it. Very transformative.

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Jack June 22, 2011 at 10:10

@Jacq [this response is to you – the other thread nested too deep]

Scientology / est / Landmark is the genesis of both of those approaches.

Careful… my spider sense feels lawyers when those names get close to each other 😉

Thanks for the link – that’s really interesting about Gregory Bateson and Steve Andreas. I have the book Transforming Your Self and it’s a good, medium-advanced level NLP text with lots of workshop transcripts and demos. Time to reread it looking for common ground with the Forum.

My own meaning-making machinery is very interested in connecting the dots between these different areas. The more commonality I discover / create, the less complexity I have to keep in working memory when leveraging the power of these technologies.

At the end of the day, their 7 core principles for showing up in life are pretty sound

I agree. Focus on the basics is best.

The main power of an experience like the Forum or NLP Practitioner training (or their more advanced versions) is whatever we put into practice daily. Otherwise it’s just mental masturbation.

Even a smart person doesn’t usually remember 500 pages of theory from a year-long university course… so a 3-15 day seminar needs a very tight message to be valuable and transformational.

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Jacq June 22, 2011 at 12:52

Well, I’m taking it straight from the horses mouth that they are related – W.W. Bartley’s biography of W.E. is “approved” by Erhard. 🙂 Oddly enough, the CofS showed online that the leader of my AC was 6th level Clear (whatever that means).

Moving from being new to a concept to unconscious competence in it is almost impossible to do in a few weeks but I think it can be facilitated by these multi-hour programs that just sort of blow open and overload your mind a bit.

For the most part, I don’t read self-help websites or books anymore. I like to keep up with the scientific developments in cognitive science and psychology nowadays rather than waste my time with anecdotal sites like zenhabits or Pavlina. It’s not really very clear to me why they are as popular as they are but that may be because they’re geared to newbies that haven’t read much in these fields.

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Jack June 22, 2011 at 14:11

Yeah, Erhard is said to have participated in Scientology before doing his own thing. I think I also read that CoS tried to have him killed – apparently some kind of weird paranoid black ops business.

I enjoyed reading The Book of est by L. Rhinehart, which had authorized access to the est organization, and seemed like an accurate albeit dated depiction of the est / Forum experience.

these multi-hour programs that just sort of blow open and overload your mind a bit.

That’s definitely why I like doing these kind of programs. For the price of community college courses, you can devote a weekend or so to shaking things up a little bit while learning specific lessons.

Makes sense what you say about your reading habits. Applied, experimental, and specialty (positive, evolutionary) psychology resources are abundant online.

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Paula @ AffordAnything.org September 12, 2011 at 22:55

I like that you closed with the quote about 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration. Conferences are great for generating that inspiration, but they only last one weekend a year. Then you have the entire rest of the year — 51 more weeks — to perspire.

I also like that you note that you CAN be creative as a CFO or database admin … we shouldn’t have such a narrow view of a “creative” job. I write about finance and consider the world of finance to be a dynamic, creative and intriguing field where people express themselves in hundreds of ways: through their investing style, through their reactions to the markets, through their asset allocations …. it’s all creative. It’s all expression. It all goes into a complete picture of a person.

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Jack September 13, 2011 at 11:17

Hi Paula, thanks for your comment. I agree – that false division between creative and uncreative is pretty counterproductive. It’s much more about “who?” and “how?” than “what?” – there are creative techies and accountants, and dull, repetitive artists.

Perhaps the key difference is that creativity and wild expression is more encouraged in the arts, at least superficially. But just because someone’s got a pink mohawk doesn’t automatically make them more creative; wearing a suit doesn’t make someone less creative.

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