Category Archives: Productivity

Why Showing Up Is Not Enough

by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

I often read advice about how to be successful. Up until now, I must have accumulated hundreds of books, biographies, articles, and essays about success – what it means, and how to ‘achieve’ it, all the while hoping to find a common theme that would tell me the universal truth about the one thing that apparently makes life worth living.

I admit, it’s probably not a good habit to read about it too much. Spending a lot of time reading about it means that I’m spending less time doing the kinds of things that would actually make me successful. Besides, after all these years, I’m still looking for an answer.

I have learned a few important things, however, so it hasn’t all gone to waste. There are certainly common pieces of advice that have come up more than a few times in my readings. One of these is the importance of showing up.

the myth of showing up

Almost everyone talking about success talks about showing up. They say that if there’s one thing in common between all the men and women who have been ‘successful’ in the past – those that have discovered, or invented, or achieved something great – it is that they showed up. They got out of bed every day, even if they had to drag themselves up, and went to the laboratory, or office, or racetrack, and climbed whatever mountain they had to, physical or metaphorical, to reach their goal. They were there when it happened (whatever it maybe be).

But it makes me wonder – is that enough? Does saying that they were simply there miss another crucial element to their success? After all, when they arrived at the door, or the foot of that mountain, they didn’t just stand there.

They took the first steps, they moved forward, and they carried on. They didn’t give up.

They weren’t just there when it happened, they made it happen.

That’s why showing up is not enough. You can’t just get out of bed in the morning and sit your ass down on a chair and expect miracles to happen. Yes, it can be hard to do that, but almost anyone can just show up. It’s what you do after you arrive that matters.

If you’re going to work every day, or to the studio, or lab, or playing field, or wherever it is that you’re hoping to achieve greatness, and your heart is not fully in it, you’ll never get to where you want to be. You have to be present and aware, which means you can’t just be there, you have to be there. Do you get it? You have to put your heart in it, get in the flow, look forward, see the bigger picture, strategise, be one step ahead, push hard, then push harder, and most importantly, do the goddamn work itself. There’s no getting around it.

It’s a medicine that easy to prescribe but hard to swallow. If you have been chipping away at something for a while, and you’re not getting anywhere, it might be because you thought showing up was enough to get you to the top, but it’s not.

It’s like expecting to be lifted up a mountain by the force of nature just because you arrived at the foot. It won’t happen. The only way to the top is to climb up, one step at a time. Yes, there are ways to do it more quickly, and efficiently, there are tools you can use, and maybe there’s a shortcut, like a bus that would drive you halfway up, but unless you find it, you’re going to have to do it the hard way.

So yes, showing up is important. But there’s more to it than that. If you want to condense the hours and hours I’ve spent educating myself about success into just a couple of words, it would go something like this:

Show up. Put your heart in it. Do the work. Don’t give up.

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On the Shortness of Life – Part II – Protecting time and living in the present

-by Jessica Dang rss | t f | g+

This Part II of a five part series about the stoic philosopher Seneca’s work, On the Shortness of Life, read Part I – Finiteness.

2. the whole future lies in uncertainty live immediately

Of all the things we have, time is arguably the most precious.

There is nothing else in which we are only given a set amount of it. However much we have, we  would never know until the end, and no matter what we do or who we are, we can never earn, gain or buy a single second more of it.

And yet, within this mysterious amount of time that we given, we’re supposed to achieve so much. Or, at least, so we want to. Which is understandable – what kind of life would we have if we didn’t aspire to travel the world, write a novel, fall in love, raise a family, do fulfilling work, learn a language, run, dance, sing, paint, or do any one of the amazing opportunities life has to offer us?

But how much of your time is really yours? How much of it is spent doing the things that you want, that mean a lot to you, as opposed to what other people want you to do, or worse still, what you think others expect of you?

In other words, are you spending enough time pleasing yourself, instead of others? For me, I know I have a lot to work on here. Seneca points out what we all ought to know:

“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which is right to be stingy.”

Of all the things we are possessive about – money, land, partners, status, possessions… the one thing we hardly think twice about – time – is what we should be most protective of.

We let others encroach on our schedules, making us do things that we don’t want to do, or making us feel ‘obliged’ to do it, as if we don’t have a choice.

“Call to mind when you ever had a fixed purpose; how few days have passed as you had planned; when you were ever at your own disposal; when your face wore a natural expression; when your mind was undisturbed.”

I admit I haven’t had many days like this, but they sound ideal to me. There are a lot of tough questions being asked here, and it’s easy to consider them and then not do anything about it. Most people might think it’s fine to spend time winding down watching three hours of TV after a long day of work, but if that means that we don’t have time to do the things we really care about, then maybe it’s the amount of time we spend at work we need to fix.

I’m certainly not perfect, so I don’t have all of the answers. I still can’t believe it’s my birthday in just two weeks – where did the time go? It feels like I’ve let an entire year slip by me. How many do I have left? No idea. How much time in the last year did I spend doing the kind of things I wanted to do? Not enough.

If there’s one resolution I want to make for the rest of this year, or for the rest of my life for that matter, it would be to better protect my time.

the whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately

So let’s say we learn to guard our time better – now what? This isn’t just about other people. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Yes, we should spend time on ourselves, but how much of the time we’re lucky to have for ourselves (or for the people and things we love) is wasted?

How much of it was spent procrastinating, putting off things that would have otherwise been fulfilling, for the sake of ‘relaxing’ or just out of pure laziness? Seneca said,

“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future”

Procrastination isn’t just de-prioritising the task you have in mind, it’s de-prioritising your whole life.

On top of that, we humans tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the past and the future. It’s natural for us to go over our regrets, or worry about things to come. But each minute wasted thinking about the things you have or haven’t done, or things that may or may not happen yet, is a minute squandered.

“Life is divided into three periods, past present and future. Of these, the present is short, the future is doubtful, the past is certain. [..] In the present we have only one day at a time, each offering a minute at a time.”

Life is too short to mourn over things that cannot be changed. As long as you did your best at the time, then you can’t have any regrets about it. And every minute spent worrying about the future, which by nature is unpredictable, is just using up what precious time and energy you have left to actually do something about it.

Whenever I’m in danger of worrying too much, I repeat to myself, Time is the most valuable thing I have – live in the present moment and savour every moment of it.” In good times or bad, it’s a reminder of how lucky I am to be alive.

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Balancing Work Life With A Minimalist Life

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One of the biggest life questions that I’ve been battling with lately is how to balance work life – and everything that it comes with – with a minimalist lifestyle.

Can you have it all?

Since I was a kid, I have been extremely ambitious. I daydreamed about having a successful career. I would climb the corporate ladder, and the only glass I would encounter wouldn’t be a metaphorical celiing, but the full length windows to my corner office overlooking the city.

I imagined myself making ridiculous amounts of cash, buying a big house and getting VIP access to the coolest places.

The ambitious person inside of me still wants that.

The minimalist in me sees how fruitless it all is in the end.

The world of work feeds our desires, always making us want more. More money, more stuff, more status.

Since starting my corporate career a few months ago, I’ve found myself falling into this trap. It’s contagious, and I’m only human. Now that I have my own apartment and more stuff than I need, am I really happy?

A big part of me misses the time when I used to travel the world with my trusty suitcase which held all of my life possessions. Every day was an adventure. Now, every day is the same as yesterday.

Over the last few months, I’ve been so damn close to packing it all in and getting back onto the road, forgetting all of the reasons why I got off it in the first place.

There were so many times on the road that I would go back to my old daydreams. I decided that it was time to put my aimless wanderings on hold and finally settle down with a challenging job that would pay for my own apartment. For the longest time, I wanted a place that I could call home.

Is there a way to balance our ambitions, to have a ‘successful’ career, without losing our contentment with what we already have and getting sucked into a materialist lifestyle?

Part of the answer is finding a job that you love, that you’re good at, and that pays well. Unfortunately, this is a bit too idealistic for most people.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who have well paying jobs that they love, and don’t squander their money on useless stuff. The main problem is that when work is such a drag, saving up to buy something nice is all that you have to look forward to. A treat for all your hard work…

…and we’re going in circles, back to square one.

I don’t have the answers to this one. Yet.

This is something I’m going to have to learn the hard way. Any suggestions?

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What I learned from 365 days of doing the 7 minute workout

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On October 2nd 2013, I downloaded an app on my iPhone called ‘Seven‘. It was a free app that guides you to doing a workout that lasts approximately seven minutes, which includes exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups, squats, and lunges, amongst others, without the use of any equipment, except a wall and a chair.

The exercises make you use most of your core muscles of your entire body within just a few minutes. The aim is to do the workout at least once per day, every day.


If you miss a day, you lose a ‘life’ (represented by a heart in this app) and you only get three of them per calendar month. The point in this is to keep a high level consistency by doing it almost every day throughout the month.

Apps like these were featured in The New York Times and have since become a dime a dozen from their popularity. It started out as a fad, but it became something I took quite seriously after a few weeks.

If you ask me why I started doing this, I wouldn’t really be able to go give you a good answer. I suppose it was because, like most apps, I just wanted to give it a go. But, if you asked me why I kept it up for 365 days, I can give you a much better answer.

photo 5

It’s only seven minutes a day. Seven minutes. It’s not much if you really think about it. It’s probably the amount of time you take to scroll through Facebook, wait in line at the supermarket, or make a cup of tea.

There are 1,440 minutes in a day. Seven of those make up less than half of one per cent of it.

The argument is that if you can’t even find that much time to do a short workout, and keep your body in shape, then you’ve got your priorities mixed up.

When I first started, I didn’t think I could keep it up for a month, let alone for a year. However, I’ve always believed that my body and health is one of the most important things to me because without it I wouldn’t be able to do anything else.

So, it was that thought that kept me going. What else could be so important that I couldn’t give <0.5% of my day to keeping fit?

I had no excuses.

365+ days

365+ days

In the year that I’ve started this workout, I’ve moved several times across the world. I started it in Kochi, Japan, where I lived at my other half’s house, then moved to my own apartment in Tokyo for a few months, then back to Kochi, then back to my parent’s house in Kent in England, then I stayed in my brother’s dorm in Leeds, then moved to my own place in Manchester. In between, I’ve stayed in quite a few different hotels and hostels as well.

I can proudly say, even after all of this moving around, I never missed a single workout.

After about a month, it became a staple part of my day. I simply couldn’t not do it. It was the only part of my day that was consistent during this tumultuous year with all of the moving around I did.

I usually did it in the morning, straight after waking up and splashing my face with water. It woke my body up and prepared me mentally for the day. I would either do it mindfully in silence, or play loud music and get myself pumped up for whatever I had to get done that day.

On the days I didn’t have time to do it in the morning, or when I had flights etc. that messed up my schedule, I would find another time to do it during the day, but I could feel the difference having missed it in the morning. I would be much more sluggish, and achy in some places.

I wish I could include some sort of dramatic ‘before and after’ photos of myself a year ago compared to now, but I don’t have any. I’ve never really had a problem with my weight, and the truth is, I’m sorry to say, this is not a weight loss app. Seven minutes is still only seven minutes, not a magic formula to lose weight. It has never advertised itself as such, so don’t be disappointed if you try it out for that reason.

What it is for is to ensure that for most days, you’ve done at least one thing good for your health. Even if you didn’t find time to go to the gym that day, or you ate an extra piece of chocolate, at least you can go to bed that day knowing that you did one thing good for you.

It’s been a long journey. There were days when I could barely pull myself together to do it, and there were days when I was ready to go by 6am. It hasn’t been easy, but I don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

Why don’t you try giving it a go?

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Making Miracles

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When life gives you lemons, make grape juice, and let the world marvel at how you did it.

What a great twist to an old saying. Sometimes, you don’t get everything that you want, or even everything that you need. If only you had a bit more time, more money, more resources.

Life can be full of challenges, mistakes and failures. It would be great if life worked out the way we wanted it to, but things aren’t always going to go according to plan. Sometimes, you’re going to be dealt a bad hand, and it’s up to you how you want to play it.

That’s the great thing about life. Even though it can be hard, it’s also full of opportunities and any number of wonderful things. As long as you learn from your past, keep your chin up, and face whatever life throws at you head on, you’ll be okay in the end.

Sometimes, life only gives you lemons. You may have wanted oranges, or apples, or anything else but lemons, but you didn’t get what you wanted. Well, now’s your chance. Go on, make some magic happen, and let them marvel.

The Sweetest Reward

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They say that it’s best to aim for the low hanging fruit. A lot of the time this is true, but it isn’t always the case.

In the short term, it might make sense to take advantage of whatever comes your way first. The low hanging fruit are easy to reach, but they aren’t necessarily the best fruit on the tree.

In the long term, only doing what is easy won’t get you very far. If you only go for low hanging fruit, you’ll never taste the sweetness of overcoming a difficult challenge, and achieving something worthwhile.

Learning to climb a tree takes patience and perseverance, but if you take things step by step, you can reach the top.

It helps if you’re not weighed down by stuff. Carry too much, and your burden will hinder your progress. Let go of the things that don’t matter, and focus on the things that do.

You only get one chance at life, so why not aim high? The sweetest fruit grow at the top.


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The Most Important Lesson You’ll Ever Learn About Opportunity

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Two shoe makers go to a remote village.

One of them immediately gives up and goes home, declaring, “It’s hopeless! Nobody here wears shoes.”

The other, smiling, declares “What a glorious business opportunity! Nobody here wears shoes”.

Opportunity is something that you discover, not something that you wait for


Whether it’s new business idea, a new career direction, a new journey, or a new friend or lover, however you define it, the opportunities in life are endless. They surround you like air.

You don’t have to have an expensive education, or special training to see them. You don’t even have to go looking for them.

You just have to keep your eyes and mind open.

Right now, there are countless problems that needs to be solved, people who need help, places to go, people to meet, and so many things to learn and discover about the world.

Most people trundle through life, blindly, on auto-pilot. Like the first shoe maker, they may see a glass, but they can’t help but think it’s half empty.

It’s not complicated. If you’re waiting for a new opportunity to come to you, you should know, it’s already there.

Can you see it?


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How running taught me the value of persistence

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A few years ago, I wrote about the importance of perseverance. The ability to see things until the end – it’s the difference between make or break.

Little did I know, I would one day go through one of the biggest tests of perseverance – a full marathon. I would end up putting my money where my mouth is.

lessons in starting out

When I first started running, it was to lose weight. I dragged myself to the treadmill about once a week, or sometimes just once a month. There was no ‘big goal’, and I was never really that good at it. I got out of breath, my chest hurt, and I made a hundred excuses. It took me a year to run more than three miles.

I wasn’t making much progress, especially weight-wise. Mostly, it was because I didn’t do it enough.

Then one summer, when the weather was particularly good, I went for a run. Just a gentle jog in the June breeze, and to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it. I ran a couple more times that week, then a few more the week after, and within that month, running turned from a chore to a hobby.

While I was running for superficial reasons (ie. to lose weight) and not making much progress, I would be completely put off by just the number on the scales. I would think, ‘What’s the point?‘. But, after that month, I started to truly appreciate running as something fun and healthy to do, not just as a means to an end.

Once I actually got going, it wasn’t so bad. In fact, I grew to love it. Now, I run because I enjoy running itself, not because I wanted to lose weight or impress others. It gives me more energy, the opportunity to clear my mind, and a sense of accomplishment. I had persevered, and eventually, everything clicked into place.

Before I knew it, I was running a half marathon. Finishing it was one of the best things I had done in my life up until then. I felt so proud of myself, and so happy that all of my hard work had paid off. Instead of asking, ‘What’s the point?’ I came to ask, ‘What more can I do?‘.

I read into minimalist running. I took up yoga, swimming lessons and spin class. I had neglected my body for years, but now it was one of my highest priorities. Being healthier became a part of my daily life, rather than something I begrudgingly tried to fit into it.

screw it, it’s now or never

A few years after that transforming summer jog, I found myself signing up for a full on marathon.

What an idiot. Training went fine until a common cold turned into a chest infection, which turned into a check-in in the emergency centre of the hospital. It happened right when I was supposed to be running the most miles. I had probably made it worse from running outside in cold and rainy weather. The doctor told me to stay in bed.

Flash-forward to the big day. I hadn’t had a proper run in weeks. I had my doubts, but I wasn’t going to give up. I didn’t want to give up. No way. At the start line, I said to myself, ‘Screw it, it’s now or never.’

Twenty miles later, my feet felt like they were going to explode with every step. My hip had locked up, my shins felt brittle enough to snap, and if I had to go up another incline, I might didn’t think I would make it.

Despite all this, somehow, I kept going. I saw a sign that read, ‘Run as if zombies are chasing you!’ In other words, keep going as if stopping wasn’t an option. 

So I put one foot in front of the other. Again and again. I did it ten thousand times until I saw the finish line.

When it was in sight, I sprinted.

My foot crossed the line. I did it! I cried. I waddled. I smiled my oxygen-deprived head off.

5 lessons on persistence

What did I learn that day? That band-aids are a runner’s best friend? Well, yes, but also some great lessons on the value of persistence.

1. Persistence is what separates people who are successful and people who are unsuccessful. They persist and persist until they finish. They may adjust their course, slow down or speed up, but they just don’t give up. It’s as simple as that.

2. If you look at the most successful people in the world, the one thing they have in common is that they didn’t give up. You can look at any field, and at any measure of accomplishment, or at all their different backgrounds, but you will see that to get to where they are, they simply got started, and kept going. Their common characteristic was their perseverance.

3. It’s easy to give up, but hard to carry on. That’s what makes a ‘success’ something to be admired. Anything worth achieving is worth working hard for.

4. Finishing creates momentum. The sense of accomplishment you feel from finishing carries forward into your next project, and then the next one, and then the next one. Life is a series of ‘projects’, whether at work, in relationships, or for yourself. Whether they end in success or failure, you will never know unless you finish. 

5. It’s not about luck. People don’t just get lucky, they finish things and learn from them.  By reaching your goal, you open new doors and opportunities. You end up with more and better chances of doing more stuff. In other words, luck doesn’t find you, but if you just keep going, and you’ll find it.

What can you achieve by being persistent?


Phew, now that’s crossed of my life list, where am I going from here? To my next project of course. Sports-wise, my aim is to complete a duathlon in the next year or two, and a triathlon after that. Find me on Fitocracy, if you like. My course has been set, and I’m determined to reach the end. See you at the finish line!

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Minimalize, Focus, Do Part III – Push Publish

Part III of the Minimalize, Focus, Do series.


“There are three types of people in this world, those who finish what they start and those that don’t.

People have spent entire careers wondering whether there was something special about ‘successful’ people – was there a common characteristic? A secret ingredient? Or just something they ate?

Of course, there are many common characteristics that contributes to ‘success’, but to me, the difference between a successful person and one that comes down to one thing (at the risk of sounding like Ms. Norbury):

Successful people push.

In other words, they:

  • actively put their ideas and themselves out in front of people.
  • make themselves vulnerable to criticism
  • believe strongly in their ideas
  • believe strongly in themselves
  • have the ability to keep perspective
  • strive to finish

On the other hand, unsuccessful people:

  • wait for things to land on their lap
  • hold on to old ways
  • take the path of least resistance
  • stick to only what they know
  • let others put them down too easily

shipping – push your ideas into the crowd

Not everything you think of will be great. Actually, a lot of ideas that have been adamantly stuck to have turned out to be quite bad, but you’ll never know unless you try.

Amazing ideas could be wasted if you don’t bring them to life. Imagine if the greatest inventors and writers cared just that tiny bit too much about how they would look to other people, then we wouldn’t have some of the most useful, innovative, sensational, ingenious, and moving songs, stories, poems, devices, products and services of all time. History is completely made up of people flying into the face of their naysayers (sometimes literally) and going against the crowd.

Imagine all of the ideas out there right now, waiting to change the world. I’m willing to bet there’s one right now, inside yourself. Until you’re willing to ship, no one will know about it.

You have to persevere with your ideas. Don’t be a pushover and let other people put your down. Don’t be pushy and force your ideas onto other people if you haven’t taken a step back to see if it’s right.

Instead, be a pusher – a special kind of person who acts on their passions and gets their creations out there.

how to be a push publish

1. Passion is number one. You can’t push for something you don’t believe in 100 per cent. It can take all of the energy and motivation you can muster to push something to where you want it to be and if your heart isn’t in it, then you’ll burn out before you can get there. Choose something that means everything to you.

2. Be willing to put your neck on the line. Put yourself out there and don’t care about what the trolls have to say. There are people out there who will try to put you down because they’re just too scared to do something great themselves, so they’d rather drag you down with them. It’s a tragedy, but it would be much worse if your joined their ranks. Nobody knows everything and nobody can predict the future, it’s up to you.

3. Take a step back. On the above note, if you receive actual constructive criticism, take a step back and see if any improvements can be made. Remember, don’t be a pushover or pushy – it’s extremely important to remain mindful as much you can. It depends on a person’s character and strength of conviction whether they let people put them down or if it leads to improvement and eventually what is just a good idea becomes a real idea.

4. Keep a balanced standard. Have faith in yourself and aim high. Setting a challenging standard for yourself is a very good thing but don’t aim for perfection, because there’s no such thing.  Try not be too self-critical, otherwise you’ll always be waiting for something that’s impossible.

5. Create something of value to other people and you’re bound to succeed. It’s as simple as this : if people need or want something you can give them, you are already on the way to success. All you need to figure out is how you can give it to them and how you can receive something valuable in return (this doesn’t necessarily mean cash). Something of value in return can be anything from useful criticism, encouraging comments or spreading your name via word of mouth.

Pushing publish doesn’t have to be hard, but unless it’s good, people won’t take notice. Posts like these take me some time to write because I always have to make sure I’ve done my best before publishing something I’ve created for everyone to see.

Anybody can change the world. But not everybody does. Don’t let it be you.

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Minimalize, Focus, Do Part II- Mastering Focus

Part II of the Minimalize, Focus, Do series.

I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest“. ~ Dalai Lama

Into the Eye of the Storm

A storm is coming. Thick, dark clouds are gathering in the distance, rolling closer and closer towards you. The echo of a deep rumbling shakes the ground beneath your feet. Lightening pierces the sky in great thin flashes. Suddenly there’s a giant clash and everything goes white.

You open your eyes.

The first thing you notice is not what is there but what isn’t. The chaos and uproar is gone and in it’s place there is a tranquil silence that almost seems to ring in your ears. You fill your lungs with the cool, thin air. It calms your thumping heart.

You are in the eye of the storm.

Everything you have done until now has lead you to this moment.

Being focussed is about transporting your mind and body to a place of serenity. There’s nothing to pull you away from what you’re about to do. For now, nothing beyond your bubble really exists. The past is behind you and the future hasn’t happened yet. The world is at your feet.

This moment is a fresh start, a new beginning, a clean slate.

Has there ever been one moment in your life when you’ve been completely, utterly focussed? If you have experienced it, then you might know the feeling of infinite joy that comes out of being able to perform your very best.

You feel awesome, inspired and unstoppable. 

If you haven’t had the chance to experience that kinds of momentum yet, you can try to bring the moment towards you using some focus mantras.

25 focus mantras for genius, creativity & greatness

  1. disconnect
  2. breathe deeply
  3. intensity is vital
  4. drop your expectations
  5. play and stay curious
  6. lose yourself and
  7. know who you really are
  8. be present
  9. embrace solitude
  10. make your own rules
  11. listen honestly
  12. savor the silence
  13. life is the journey
  14. love everything
  15. just feel
  16. let go of the past
  17. passion is key
  18. move with purpose
  19. reject fear
  20. strive ahead
  21. freedom is in your mind
  22. gratitude goes a long way
  23. make a difference
  24. dive deeply
  25. be human

It’s your chance to fill the pages of your life. Write your story. It is in these moments that you decide who you are and what you’re alive for.

Now go do what you are supposed to do… and give it everything you have.

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