Field notes can enhance your everyday explorations.

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Photo by Calum MacAulay on Unsplash

To get the most out of any experience, it pays to be present. But what if you’re having trouble engaging?

For example, I once attended a panel at a conference but found myself struggling to truly attend to what the panelists were saying. I had some disagreements with their basic perspective, and that was causing my brain to tune them out to avoid further cognitive discomfort. I didn’t want to leave, but I didn’t want to be bored, waste my time, or disrespect the panelists through inattention either.

I pondered: how do I overcome my aversion and tune in?

Another time, I was with family, including my little daughter and her cousins, at a science museum. I had been working immediately prior, and my mind was still preoccupied with office concerns. At first, I kept checking my phone for new messages and was generally distracted. I wasn’t taking advantage of the scheduled family time, but I wasn’t getting any real work done either. My attention was suspended like Buridan’s Ass: the famous hypothetical donkey who found himself equidistant between two equally desirable piles of hay and thus starved to death. This is not a happy place to be. …

Quieting your mental alarm bells.

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Photo by Quinten de Graaf on Unsplash

There is great power in being present. When you give your full attention to the matter at hand, you are happier, less anxious, and more creative.

For many people, it is a huge step to just be aware of that and to actually try to be fully attentive. But even then, it can be difficult.

The biggest impediment to being present is worry: worry over all the undone things in our lives. When we don’t feel on top of our commitments to ourselves, our minds keep flashing reminders of our undones at us. These reminders sometimes encroach on our conscious awareness. …

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Photo by Tahereh Amin on Unsplash

How you feel about the world around you depends on how you see it.

On my walk to work, I came across two things that are very common in Atlanta, where I live: construction and traffic.

One can look at these things as obstacles: traffic I need to wait on to cross the street, construction debris I need to dodge. I can see them as impediments slowing me down on my path to my goals: to get to work, to earn a living, to create and contribute, etc. And indeed that’s what they are.

But that’s not all they are. It’s only one aspect of them. If I choose to see myself as surrounded by annoyances, then I will start the day annoyed, testy, and glum. …

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What do you say about a man who professes to value sobriety, fidelity, and honesty, but then gets drunk, cheats on his wife, and then lies to her about it? Does he truly value those qualities? Not according to the economic concept of value as “demonstrated preference.”

Murray Rothbard wrote:

The concept of demonstrated preference is simply this: that actual choice reveals, or demonstrates, a man’s preferences; that is, that his preferences are deducible from what he has chosen in action. Thus, if a man chooses to spend an hour at a concert rather than a movie, we deduce that the former was preferred, or ranked higher on his value scale. …

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Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:

In the doctrine of socialism there is hidden, rather badly, a “will to negate life”... Indeed, I should wish that a few great experiments might prove that in a socialist society life negates itself, cuts off its own roots. The earth is large enough and man still sufficiently unexhausted; hence such a practical instruction and demonstratio ad absurdum would not strike me as undesirable, even if it were gained and paid for with a tremendous expenditure of human lives.

This was not a humane wish, but it was a prescient one. In the subsequent century, “a few great experiments” did indeed occur and proved, to all with eyes to see, the anti-life nature of socialism. …

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Many young people today feel lost. Some are unable to chart a course for their lives and so find themselves stranded at home. Others float aimlessly in jobs where they are unable to find engagement and meaning.

All of these issues boil down to a deficiency of self-direction. Young people are adrift in the sea of life, because they are rudderless. And it was school that broke their rudders.

In school, obedience is the highest virtue. Do this, and don’t do that. Why? Because I said so. Stop pursuing that interest; instead, study this. Why? …

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An anxious mind is an outgrowth of divided attention.

If you are working on a task while worrying about a separate project in the back of your mind, your primary task will suffer. And for what? The secondary project won’t be meaningfully advanced by merely fretting about it anyway.

Similarly, if you are playing with your daughter while scrolling through Facebook on your phone, the quality of both experiences will be handicapped.

When our attention is divided among many things, none of those things get done well. And when we do poorly, we feel poorly; we feel anxious because part of us knows that half-assed efforts will yield half-assed results, which in turn will add up to an unsatisfactory life. …

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Photo by Sara Santandrea on Unsplash

Which hard skill do recent college grads lack the most? In 2016, asked employers this question. The top response was “writing proficiency.”

Wow. Our education system teaches few practical skills, but it does emphasize writing. So what gives? Incompetent teachers? Unteachable students?

Actually, the problem for many college graduates is having absorbed their academic training all too well. The challenge for them is to unlearn the bad writing habits picked up from 16-plus years of school.

Doing so takes the right approach, but it also takes work. An article can’t teach you good writing. At best, it can teach you how to teach yourself to write well. So, I won’t offer much style advice. Instead, I’ll explain the mentalities and practices that are most fundamental for becoming a good writer, and that are also most missing among young writers, as I’ve found as an editor and writing coach. …

At this stage of the Internet Age, there is really no excuse for a “can’t do” attitude.

Let’s say there is a need in your work for a screenshare tutorial. Never made one before? Doesn’t matter.

As with so many things, the first step is simply googling it. Boom, you find After a few clicks, you have a free account. A few more clicks and you’re recording. Don’t like your first take? Cancel the recording and try again. …

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Superhero movies have been soaring at the box office throughout the twenty-first century and especially in the last decade. Originally the province of children and then of adult “geeks,” superheroes have finally gone mainstream.

But, where did they come from?

Their earliest progenitors were the heroes of myth: gods and demigods who slew chthonic monsters of chaos and created new orders, both cosmic and cultural, sorting out worlds and founding cities.

In the 19th century, as the market for printed stories grew along with economic development and the rise of literacy, the genre of adventure fiction blossomed.

In the early 20th century, a new kind of adventure hero arose. The Scarlett Pimpernel had a “secret identity.” His everyday persona was that of a harmless aristocratic fop. This provided cover for his heroic identity. This trope was then adopted by Zorro and then a whole wave of “mystery men” in pulp magazines and comics, later culminating in Batman. …


Dan Sanchez

Essayist, Editor, & Educator |

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