Post image for What You Can Learn from a Wild Donkey

When the Spaniards reached the highlands of the Atacama, they brought some donkeys along to carry their arms and supplies. As it turned out, though, the donkeys wouldn’t really perform that well under the high altitudes and the extreme weather conditions of the desert.

When fighting the indigenous tribes, the Spanish conquerers soon stumbled on the lama: Well-adapted to the area, this animal always seemed to be ready to serve.

So the Spaniards decided to screw the donkeys. They got themselves a bunch of lamas, put all their stuff on their backs, and left their useless imported donkeys alone in the desert, facing a slow and horrible death.

[¶]

Guess what happened next? The Spaniards continued to fight their battles. For the most part, they managed to subdue the Indians. The role of the lama isn’t known to me. All I know is that, at some point, the locals got fed up with their conquerers and threw them out. They built their own countries. So the Spaniards are long gone.

But: What about the donkeys? The donkeys those Spaniards left there hundreds of years ago? Without water, without food, without any care whatsoever?

Turns out they’re still there. Grazing in the plains. Undomesticated for a few hundred years now, servant to none. The donkeys simply refused to die. Instead, they started to enjoy their newly found freedom, and have been chilling in the desert ever since.1

Derive your own life lesson from this.

“Become a wild donkey” probably doesn’t sound like much. But it’s a story that makes me smile every time I remember it.

  1. See the admittedly bad photo proof on the top of this post. It was taken earlier this year from a moving van with a toy lens. Still better than most Yeti and UFO shots out there, isn’t it? []

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Westend Surfing - Kitesurfing and Stand Up Paddle - Föhr, Germany

Resurfacing after a few months in my offline hideout, I met up with Milo to record a new episode of the Mountain Shores podcast. We discuss the beauty of creating in the real world, the importance of goals, and the improbabilities of me ever becoming a professional kite-surfer (despite my current involvement with Westend Surfing).

After a short interruption from a potential psychokiller, we touch on the issues of overworking for clients (perhaps leaving us with a boatload of money, but less time for our own work), public expectations, and the right balance between reflecting, reporting and actual, well, doing.

Click here to listen in right away or go and get all the audio links, show notes and my fresh David Hasselhoff look over on the MoSho blog.

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I’m probably a bit old-fashioned, but how can a reporter quitting email for a week be a news story? The piece I refer to is called What I Learned After Quitting Email For A Week and includes gems like these:

As a generally well-functioning workplace human, I found the first few hours to be problematic and uncomfortable. A phantom limb syndrome set in immediately — I felt vibrations on my phone from emails that would never come. Every 20 minutes I absent-mindedly clicked the Gmail bookmark on my browser only to be locked out. I felt uneasy, and disappointed at how uneasy I felt.

[…]

When I mentioned the experiment to friends and colleagues, they responded for the most part incredulously, the way a person might if you told them you didn’t believe in modern medicine.

Hmm. Not the world I live in. Those of you who have suffered from my slow email response times might suspect (quite correctly) that I quit email for a week every other month or so. Often this is because I simply don’t have web access – just as last week, when I went on an Amazon jungle adventure with four friends, six liters of rum, and a machete. Where there’s no electricity, no showers and no toilets, don’t expect great wi-fi coverage.

It’s probably all a matter of habit. I love email and use it as my main form of computer-based communication – but I’m simply not addicted to it. It surprised me to see I might be an exceptional case here, though.1

Temporary Quitting: The Inverted Cheat Day?

Thinking beyond email, I started to wonder: What are the things that I have quit temporarily at some point in my life? And what could be things that would be hard to quit, even for just a week?

A few successes come to mind: I once fasted for a week. I have quit alcohol, wheat, sugar, milk and other selected edibles for longer periods of time. While I couldn’t quit sleeping for a whole week, I did adopt a biphasic sleep schedule once when I lived in Berlin. I have spent weeks without telephones, computers, and the internet. Months without family and friends.

Temporary quitting is like a cheat day, turned on its head: Instead of allowing yourself a break when adapting a new habit, you challenge yourself to give an old one up, even if it’s just for a few days.

My thesis: Our ability to give up familiar things and ingrained habits is an indicator of a higher degree of personal freedom and sovereignty. It could hence be worth to get better at it.

The 1-Week Quitting Challenge

Here are a few challenges for me: A week without talking, reading or writing. A week without seeing another person. A week without music and noise. A week without light. Some of these might be tough, but I’m quite sure I could pull them off if I had to. But I probably won’t, because I just can’t see a benefit in many of them (the notable exception being talking).

What challenge comes to your mind, and why? Any recommendations? And what would be the hardest thing for you to quit for even just a week?

  1. Together with my weird friends, of course. []

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“Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.” —Jorge Luis Borges

My main asset is time. I’m putting a considerable effort into organizing my life in a way that allows me to decide about my time freely, and it has worked out quite nicely so far: I’m not necessarily wealthy in terms of dollars, but I’m quite wealthy in terms of freely available hours.

As of 2014, my general schedule includes 8 hours of technical writing each week, at whatever time I see fit, plus a 1-hour conference call every 14 days.

Everything else is negotiable.

I would pat myself on the back for this, if it wasn’t for one thing: Just like owning a lot of money makes you spend it on ridiculous stuff, owning a lot of free time has similar consequences: If you don’t make a conscious effort, you don’t spend it wisely anymore.

Full disclosure: My own understanding of “spending time wisely” may strike you as being just as frivolous as buying annoying Italian roadsters or – God forbid – gold watches. That said, we can probably agree on some not-all-so-wise uses of time, as in:

Hence, this proposal: Improve my asset management. Time being my main asset, this could be seen as mainstream time management. But it’s not: One of my main goals is to have enough unstructured time that flows freely (and allows me to do whatever I feel like at the moment). A strictly planned workday couldn’t be farther from my idea of the perfect lifestyle.

As so often, a goal that’s far from being clear-cut black and white. The good thing: I feel that merely being conscious about it is already making a difference.

More on that later, I’m off to the Amazon.

[This is my fifth Moderate Proposal for Daunting, Delightful and Dilettantish Deeds I’m pursuing this year. See the introduction, part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4.]

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Ben, doing some intense kite-surfing. You cannot see the storm he was entering at that moment. I suspect it was a wild ride.

A big inspiration for me is my friend Ben. You look at him and you always see him doing interesting things: Learning new languages, acquiring craft skills, joking with strangers, working weird jobs, you name it. And you can see how he profits from it.

Don’t get me wrong here. Ben is a very laid-back person. He doesn’t stress out. But still you can see how he’s getting better at stuff. For me, that certainly entails a notion of interestingness.

Once I asked him how he manages to do it. He told me this:

“No matter what I do, I always do it as intense as I can.”

Now wait: I know this sounds abhorrent.

Intense.

You think of the guy you met at that cocktail party yesterday. He got pretty intense. What a sucker…

But wait.

That’s not what this is about.

I really think that Ben has a point.

We all wish for life to be comfortable. And often enough, it is. But if becomes too comfortable, it can get boring: Things get stale. We don’t learn anything new anymore. We get covered in dust because we’re not moving away from the sofa anymore.

This is a moment when it pays off to consciously make things a little harder for yourself.

Fun, The Hard Way?

How do you do stuff “as intense as you can”?

I’m certainly not the inventor of the concept, but to me it looks something like this:

You’re afraid to drive on icy roads? Doesn’t have to stay like that.

Just free up some time when road conditions are bad, take out your car, and go for a ride. Drive very slowly, without any pressure. Go somewhere where there isn’t any traffic, like an empty parking lot. Then start playing: Slide around a bit. Do a handbrake turn. See how your tires and brakes behave on the ice. Learn what they can cope with. Learn where they fail. Go to that point, and then go a tiny bit further. You’re in a safe environment, after all. What’s the worst that could happen? Try to experience how it feels to lose control – and what you can do to get it back.

There’s one obvious benefit to doing this: The next time you have to drive on icy roads, you’ll be prepared. But there are  two other benefits that might be less obvious: Learning things the hard way – but in a playful manner – is a lot of fun. It also builds confidence.

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