May 24, 2011

Modern Enlightenment and Prosperity without Growth

The idea behind the Modern Enlightenment project is simple: to help make timeless traditions and ancient wisdom an integral part of our modern progressive world. I want to share resources and ideas that will help all of us achieve greater levels of happiness, wisdom and compassion in our everyday lives. This includes reviewing literature and research, videos and inspirational ideas, communicating together about what we believe matters most, and working together to create a brighter, more enlightened future.

I saw one such idea in this humbling TEDTalk on global economics by Tim Jackson, where he tries to draw out a moral from our economic troubles, a global recession and our changing and developing world.

Seven minutes into his talk he says, "This is a story about us, people, being persuaded to spend money we don't have, on things we don't need, to create impressions that won't last, on people we don't care about... Is this really how people are?" he asks. "It seems that the system is at odds with how we are as people."

I'm as guilty as the next person - I get that empty feeling in me when I see something I want, something I just have to have. It doesn't matter if it's a bottle of Sprite or the newest technological gadget. I didn't need it before, but now that I see it, I want it. It's such a powerful feeling. In Peace Corps, and in Mongolia in particular, it's been easier to avoid the advertisements and constant reminders of things I "need", but I can't avoid it forever.

At the end of his talk, after a lot of great examples, Tim closes with his idea of a meaningful prosperity. "Investment is just such a basic economic concept, it is nothing more or less than the relationship between the present and the future. A shared present and a common future... We need to develop a new definition of prosperity. A prosperity that is more meaningful and less materialistic than the growth-based model. The idea of meaningful prosperity is not about standing in the way of development. It's not about overthrowing capitalism. It's not about trying to change human nature. What we're doing here is taking a few simple steps towards an economics fit for purpose. And at the heart of that economics we're placing a more credible, more robust, and more realistic vision of what it means to be human."

I think Modern Enlightenment can be a part of that. I want it to be a project that talks about what it means to be human in our modern, fast-paced, developing world. I would love to hear what you think. To learn more about Tim's vision of Prosperity without Growth and watch his TEDTalk, visit Economic Reality Check on

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May 20, 2011

How To Be Great Like Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of those incredible, inspiring leaders who really stands out in American history. He took timeless principles like nonviolence, commitment and a pursuit of truth and followed them to the end of his life.

When I was young I had a chance to visit Atlanta, sit through a service in Ebenezer Baptist Church, walk around the reflecting pool that surrounds his tomb, and reflect on his famous "I Have a Dream" speech every year on the national holiday created in his name. I'm very glad that same holiday is now celebrated every year as a day of service. I think Dr. King would be proud of that.
If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness.

And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.
This quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. comes from one of his sermons, The Drum Major Instinct, which Chris mentioned a little while back at the Art of Non-Conformity. I love it and I believe in it entirely. Advance Humanity and projects like Life is Volunteer and Modern Enlightenment, everything I do is motivated by this belief, this new definition of greatness.

I like how Simon Sinek closed his recent TEDTalk on Inspiring Leadership, "We followed Martin Luther King Jr. not for him but for ourselves. And by the way he gave the "I Have a Dream" speech, not the "I Have a Plan" speech... He said again and again, I believe. I believe. I believe... There are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead the inspire us. Whether they're individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead not because we have to but because we want to. We follow those who lead not for them but for ourselves. And it's those who start with why who have the ability to inspire those around them and find others that inspire them."

Dr. King inspired and continues to inspire millions of people around the world. I think we need more people like him in the world. We need to be those people.

Please share your thoughts with us here

May 17, 2011

How Mendy is an Everyday Mongolian Inspiration

"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit." Albert Schweitzer

It always amazes me how lucky I have been to meet outstanding people and learn from their amazing life experiences. Mendy (Mend-Orshikh Amartaivan) has been one of those people. We first met last year after Mendy came across my website and asked if we could meet, telling me that he liked what I was doing in Mongolia and wanted to help. Now months later we have done some pretty cool things together, including organizing TEDxUlaanbaatar

Like many entrepreneurs Mende has learned how to turn his passion into his job. He leads a team of outstanding people at the New Media Marketing Agency and spends his days and his weekends dedicated to work that he believes in. He also offers his team's valuable services for free to people who are doing great work in Mongolia like the Blue Sky Education Project and Nomadicare

There are a lot of great people and books out there telling you to make money by becoming self-employed, offering great services to people and using online resources to your advantage. But Mendy is one of the few people that I've met (especially my age) who has learned how to do incredible things, make money doing them and help others at the same time. He is a huge inspiration to me and a great friend. I feel very lucky that he has inspired not only me but dozens and hundreds of other people and I think he will continue to do this for a very long time.

Here are a couple quick lessons that I've learned from Mendy in the last few months:

1. Connect With People Who Are Doing Great Things
We often see people who we think are doing great things (online, on television, in print, in person), but Mendy takes it a step further and reaches out to shake their hand. When you see someone doing something you admire, send them a quick note, or an email, or ask to sit down with them for coffee. When Mendy saw my website and asked me if we could meet, we met up at a cafe and it was probably one of the best meetings I have ever had with anyone. It doesn't matter how famous or busy you think the person may be, just give it a shot. I bet you'll be surprised who will write you back.

2. Ask How You Can Help
The second thing, when you do sit down and meet with the person, is ask how you can help them. I think it's very rare nowadays to find someone who will sit down with you, really listen, and sincerely offer you their help. So rare in fact that when Mendy did it to me I was taken aback. It was one of the best things I could have heard. I've started doing it with others more regularly and it's always turned out great. It's not always easy at first, to think of how I might even be able to help someone, but every time I reached out it's always gone incredibly well.

3. Thank People Sincerely
Lastly, it's key to thank people sincerely. When you thank someone for the opportunity to meet with them, thank them for the hard work they're doing, or just thank them for doing something small, it goes a long way. Often we feel unappreciated because, day after day, people forget to thank us for doing little things and they wait for the big things instead. Big or small, be sincere and appreciative with the people all around you. 

When you mix all these things together, like Mendy, you might be surprised where it takes you. Whether that means making the Prime Minister's website (which Mendy has done) or just making a new friend.

Here is a recent video of Mendy in action, speaking at the "Mutual Understanding and Cooperation" conference in Mongolia. At the end of the presentation he closes with the main message of Crush It! by Gary Vanerychuk: "Build your personal brand." After reading the book, which Mendy let me borrow, I couldn't agree more. The internet is here to stay and "googling" yourself to see what everyone else (including potential employers) see when they search for you, is only the beginning. If you'd like to read more about this idea, check out my review of Crush It! Thanks!

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May 14, 2011

Crush It! Why Now Is The Time To Cash In On Your Passion (Review)

This is the first in a series of Book Reviews that I am doing as part of the Life is Volunteer project where I'm working through several dozen incredible books on international service, leadership, social entrepreneurship, volunteerism, and unconventional living. Each time I finish a book that I think you might really like, I'll write a review here on the blog and share some of my favorite big ideas from the book.

The awesome book I just finished is called Crush It! Why Now Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion by Gary Vaynerchuk. It's a New York Times Bestseller and a book that was good enough, and short enough, that I was able to finish it in one sitting. Thanks Mend-Orshikh for letting me borrow it!

Quick Overview
Crush It! is about how the internet is changing marketing and leveling the playing field for businesses and individuals around the world. Gary makes a compelling case that each of us has an unprecedented opportunity to promote our businesses (big or small), our projects and our personal brand like never before. After convincing you of that, he spends the rest of the book showing you how to do it using his own experience as an example.

Whether you're a writer, marketing specialist, entrepreneur, wine connoisseur or someone who wants to represent their own "personal brand", the internet has opened up opportunities for everyone. Throughout Crush It! Gary tells his story of how he helped turn his small family-owned wine and liquor store into a multi-million dollar business thanks to online videos. Every week he features new reviews on and slowly over several years built a following of hundreds of thousands of people. Throughout the book he breaks down the way he did this and how anyone can do it, usually for free. This includes things like making websites (which I've done for free for a long time) and engaging with people using social media like Facebook and Twitter.

My Favorite Big Ideas
One of the key messages of the book is the idea of creating your own personal brand. He makes the point that in today's internet-connected world everyone has a brand online. Whether you like it or not when you type your name in Google something is coming up. Gary makes the case that, if you want, you can be the one in charge of that. You can create websites, profiles and products that have your name associated with them or your name can be at the mercy of whoever wants to write about you. Creating your own personal brand is the idea that you need to protect and promote things that you believe in: who you are and who you want to be. The idea is summed up very well in his checklist that appears at the end of Crush It! which I have provided at the end of this review. But before we get there, here is one of my favorite parts of the book:
Ultimately this book is not about making a million dollars, although it just might help you do that. It’s about ensuring your own happiness by enabling you to live every day passionately and productively. I measure my success by how happy I am, not how big the business is or how much money I’ve made.

Living your passion means that when you get up for work every morning, every single morning, you are pumped because you get to talk about or work with or do the thing that interests you the most in the world. You don’t live for vacations because you don’t need a break from what you’re doing – working, playing, and relaxing are on and the same. You don’t even pay attention to how many hours you’re working because to you, it’s not really work. You’re making money, but you’d do whatever it is you’re doing for free.

Does this sound like you? Are you living, or just earning a living? You spend so much time at work, why waste it doing anything other than what you love most? Life is too short for that. You owe it to yourself to make a massive change for the better, and all you have to do is go online and start using the tools waiting for you there.

Learn to live your passion, and you’ll have all the money you need plus total control over your own destiny. That’s a pretty comfortable place to be, wouldn’t you say?

I don’t care if your passion is rehabilitating abandoned ferrets; if you learn to tap into everything the digital world has to offer, you can turn water into wine – you can transform what you live into a legacy-building business that makes a crapload of money, and still be true to yourself.

Making connections, creating and continuing meaningful interaction with other people, whether in person or in the digital domain, is the only reason we’re here. Remember that, set the tone, and build legacy.

The Final Word
"If there’s any message I want you to take away," writes Gary, "it’s that true success – financial, personal and professional – lies above all in loving your family, working hard, and living your passion. In telling your story. In authenticity, hustle, and patience. In caring fiercely about the big and the small stuff. In valuing legacy over currency. Social media is an important part of it for now, but maybe it won’t always be. These concepts, however, are forever, no matter what the next business platform or social phenomenon turns out to be."

I thought it would be helpful to provide a checklist of all the steps you want to take as you build your personal brand:
  1. Identify your passion.
  2. Make sure you can think of at least fifty awesome blog topics to ensure stickiness.
  3. Answer the following questions:
    1. Am I sure my passion is what I think it is?
    2. Can I talk about it better than anyone else?
  4. Name your personal brand. You don’t have to refer to it anywhere in your content, but you should have a clear idea of what it is. For example, “The no-bs real-estate agent,” “The connoisseur of cookware,” “The cool guide to young-adult books boys will love to read.”
  5. Buy your use and .tv if possible – at
  6. Choose your medium: video, audio, written word.
  7. Start a Wordpress or Tumblr account.
  8. Hire a designer.
  9. Include a Facebook Connect link, Call-to-Action buttons, Share Functions and a button that invites people to do business with you in a prominent place on your blog.
  10. Create a Facebook fan page.
  11. Sign up for or TubeMogul and select all of the platforms to which you want to distribute your content. Choosing Twitter and Facebook is imperative; the others you can select according to your needs and preference.
  12. Post your content.
  13. Start creating community by leaving comments on other people’s blogs and forums and replying to comments to your own comment.
  14. Use Twitter Search (or Search.Twitter) to find as many people as possible talking about your topic, and communicate with them.
  15. Use to find more blogs that are relevant to your subject.
  16. Join as many active Facebook fan pages and groups relating to your blog topic as possible.
  17. Repeat steps 12 through 16 over and over and over and over and over.
  18. Do it again.
  19. And again.
  20. When you feel your personal brand has gained sufficient attention and stickiness, start reaching out to advertisers and being monetizing.
  21. Enjoy the ride.

I highly recommend giving Crush It! a read, it's a fascinating and helpful book. I'm also reading through the Thank You Economy right now, which is his second book, and I'm really enjoying so far. I look forward to writing a short review on that soon too. I would also love to hear your recommendations on other great books I should read! Please visit the Life is Volunteer Get Involved page page and join me on Facebook to tell me what you think I should check out! Oh, and if you want to borrow my copy of Crush It! just let me know!

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May 9, 2011

A Secret Weapon in the Battle Against the Email Monster

There can definitely be too much of a good thing. Case in point: communication by email. It's wonderful to be able to communicate with people that we love all around the world all the time, but sometimes looking at a full inbox can feel like 50 people talking to you at once. If you're like me you deal with a lot of e-mails every day (maybe not as many as some, but still a lot). For a long time this meant I would never get to all of them. I felt too pressured to write long replies and there would always be several messages sitting there for days or weeks until I would magically find time to answer them. Enter the five sentence rule and now I've had an empty inbox at work and at home every night for months.

Five Sentences
The most helpful thing I've found in my battle against the inbox is the method, which I first heard about on ZenHabits. Nine times out of ten it's the best way for me to respond to any e-mail message. On occasion I'll include an attachment or forward someone to a website to find more information, but almost always the five sentences method allows me to clear my inbox every day (sometimes even using something small like an iPod Touch which I can take with me anywhere). 

Don't get me wrong, I love talking to people on the phone and on Skype forever - email is usually just not the place for those long conversations. Don't pressure yourself into crafting the perfect reply. Stick to five sentences, clear your inbox, move on to more complete conversations person-to-person, and enjoy a less stressful digital life. Good luck!

Once you empty out that inbox, come say "hi!" on Facebook!
Picture from Nerd Merit Badges

May 5, 2011

6 Tips For Self-Publishing That Book You've Always Dreamed of Writing

I had a great Skype conversation with Thomas Burns last month, who is a new friend, a former Fulbright Scholar and author of the upcoming book The Unofficial Guide to Fulbright Scholarships. After coming across my book, he asked if we could meet and a few days later we were talking, halfway around the world, about his awesome idea.

We live in an amazing age, unlike anytime in history, and it's redefining fields like technology, communication, media and much more. The fact that you are reading this, seconds after I write it in Mongolia, days after I video-conference with sometime halfway around the world, about publishing books using a mechanism that didn't exist a few years ago, is the perfect example of just how amazing it is.

When I was in America over the holiday season I spoke with my Uncle Josh about a book he self-published when I was younger. It cost him hundreds of dollars to buy dozens of copies and then sell them to family and friends himself. He really enjoyed writing it but, as you can imagine, the self-publishing process was a little difficult and very expensive. After handing him a copy of my book and talking  about the process of self-publishing online for a few minutes, he was convinced. "Next time I think I'm doing it your way," he said.

Self-publishing online has cost me nothing, not a penny, and after selling hundreds of copies of the Unofficial Handbook in a few short months, we have already raised hundreds of dollars for Peace Corps projects around the world. In case you are interested in self-publishing your own book, like Thomas and my Uncle Josh, here are a few tips that you might find helpful...

1. Clarify Your Idea

Before you begin, it's important to ask yourself a few questions: 
  • What exactly are you writing? 
  • Why are you writing? 
  • And who are you writing for? 
In my case, I wanted to help people who were interested in being Peace Corps Volunteers, to give them the book I wished someone would have given me, and I knew it was a small target audience. Self-publishing allowed me to freely express my ideas, raise about $4.00 from every book to give back to Peace Corps and update it as many times as I wanted. Take time to answer these questions carefully.

2. Gather An Incredible Support Team
At first it was just me, but the more people I told about my book the more people wanted to help. Some of my friends used to work for magazines or publishers, some loved to write, some loved to read, some loved graphic design and all of them were excited to help. It will be very helpful to have a support team of people you love and respect whether editors, proof-readers, advisors, press contacts, graphic designers or even cooperating organizations. Don't go it alone. Ask for help and you'll be amazed at who steps forward.

3. Write Consistently and Stay Inspired
Chris recently said, "When you get writer's block, lower your standards and keep going." It's easy to be hard on ourselves and get overwhelmed, with standards that are so high that they might drive us crazy. Be easy on yourself. Surround yourself with things that inspire you, other books, videos and people who remind you why you are writing. Keep something with you that makes it easy to jot down your ideas, a small notebook, an electronic note-taking application or even your cellphone. Let out your great ideas and keep them organized. There are tons of great free resources out there. Some of my favorites are Evernote, MindNode, PBWorks and GoogleSites. They are all free and very easy to learn. Pick one or two and use them all the time.

4. Create Space For Yourself
In writing consistency trumps bursts of inspiration in the same way that exercising 30 minutes everyday trumps vigorous exercise just one time a week. Create space for yourself to write, maybe a physical space but certainly uninterrupted time, so that you can chip away at your work. It can be a little lonely at times, and it might take longer than you thought originally, but if you stick at it you will finish. Trust me.

5. Consider Self-Publishing
Take a look at the self-publishing services out there, like They require no start-up cash and are usually print-on-demand services, meaning that when someone orders your book they print it and ship it right then. You just write the book and they take care of everything else. In Lulu's case, they even put the book up on for you for free. Also, the growing industry of eBooks (which can be read on computers, Kindles, Nooks, iPads and just about anything now) are another great option. is a good service for selling your eBooks online, again with no start-up costs. Remember, when you self-publish you retain the rights to your book and you can always go with a traditional publisher later if you want.

6. Keep People Updated
The last thing, which is easy to forget, is to keep people updated on your book. Use Facebook, Twitter, your own website, whatever you want. Post regularly about how you are doing, good or bad. It gives you a chance to talk with others, for them to support and even motivate you, and it keeps people excited for the day when they can finally hold your book in their hands. Keeping people updated benefits everyone. Also keep it as personal as possible, connect with people individually whether through email, in person, or in writing. Integrity is the best long-term marketing strategy. Be yourself, be kind and be helpful. And when you mention them in the Acknowledgments, it'll be like icing on the cake.

Writing a book is a daunting task, but it's not as difficult as you may imagine it to be. Give it a shot, gather your support team around you and remember I'm right here with you. Contact me online through our community on Facebook, I'm excited to help anyway I can!

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May 2, 2011

Everyday Compassion Is A Game We Can All Play

Compassion, for many reasons I suppose, is not as commanding a word as the things it attempts to combat. War. Terror. Fear. Violence. Destruction. Evil. The list of words like these goes on and on. But there is also another list, the countless acts of kindness and goodwill that surround us everyday: people obeying traffic laws, opening doors for strangers, smiling on the street, helping someone anonymously, listening with empathy and giving away time, money and energy in an effort to help others. Those things give me hope amidst news reports dominated by the horrible acts people can commit. Those things, the little things each of us has a chance to do every moment, help me maintain the belief that we can move forward as a human race and evolve from the inside out.

I really enjoyed two TEDTalks recently - one by Chade-Meng Tan (who was one of the first engineers at Google and now heads the company's personal development initiatives) and one by John Hunter who has been teaching children for three decades and playing something with them he calls the World Peace Game. Both men, on a daily basis, are engaged in creating the conditions for world peace through creating the conditions for inner peace and compassion. That, as you might have guessed, strikes a very strong cord with me. It's at the very foundation of what I want to do with Advance Humanity.

"Compassion is not a chore," says Chade-Meng, "Compassion is something that creates happiness. Compassion is fun. And that mind-blowing insight changes the entire game. Because, if compassion was a chore, nobody's going to do it -- except maybe the Dalai Lama or something. But if compassion was fun, everybody's going to do it. Therefore, to create the conditions for global compassion, all we have to do is to reframe compassion as something that is fun."

Like Chade-Meng, my dream is to create the conditions for world peace in my lifetime and to do that by creating the conditions for inner peace and compassion - I want to do that through Advance Humanity. Making it a game, letting it dominate the airwaves and the media channels, and letting it take priority in our minds is key. Did you know that psychologists have studied how many thoughts we think, on average, every day? Usually it's around 60,000 thoughts a day. Get this: 95% of those are the same thoughts from day to day to day. And how many of those do you think are negative thoughts? 85%. 85%!

That sounds like a pretty good place to start to me. Each of us can make a game out of it and try to bring that percentage down, every thought, every moment. You don't have to go on a meditation retreat to do it (although, if you can, it's awesome). Everyday we can choose love over fear, positive over negative, and we can choose to open rather than close. What do you say? Want to start today?

I have included both of these two awesome TEDTalk videos below so you can watch them on the blog if you like, and you can also see them at Here is a link to Chade-Meng Tan's talk on Everyday compassion at Google and John Hunter's talk on the World Peace Game. I hope you enjoy them!

To read more about those 60,000 thoughts, check out A Philosopher's Notes
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