What do you get when you mix a 🦊 with a 🐢?

🦊 Quick Brown Fox #48

Hey friends,

I’ve been thinking about growth lately. I often reflect on the mindset I had when I started writing this newsletter: going against typical growth adviceflipping the script on the standard metrics of success, and choosing to explore my own curiosities. It’s been working well for me so far. The most important benefit is that I get to keep working on projects that excite me, fuel me, and energize me.

The other powerful benefit is the amazing folks I’ve met along the way. This newsletter is going out to 1,425 subscribers — thank you to each of you for joining me in this journey! As I noted in my last newsletter on curating the vibe, the work I put out creates a unique vibe, and my interactions with those who engage with it become more energizing as a result. This is both expected and surprising to me — expected because that’s how the nature of attraction works, and surprising because of how effective it is at bringing together a community of people with resonant energies. I have the privilege of getting feedback on my ideas through responses to this newsletter, Twitter replies and DMs, Clubhouse, and so on… and my work is far better because of it.

And yet.

I’ve been getting this sense that there could be more. Not more in terms of volume of people, but in the volume of each person in my proverbial galaxy of stars. I’ve spoken with so many folks who share fascinating ideas with me in private, but they hesitate to share them in public. Maybe you’re one of them. Perhaps you worry that your work isn’t good enough, or that no one cares what you think. (There are, of course, countless other obstacles such as managing your energy or staying motivated, but today I’ll focus on obstacles of self-judgement.)

The fact that you worry is exactly why your work will be genuine, interesting, and unique. It’s because you care. But while you fret about how it might be received, countless others who seek to manipulate and divide are publishing with abandon. They don’t stop to think. They pollute the discourse of our world with no thought to the long term impacts. We can’t always control polluters, but we can counter them with genuine, thoughtful work. We can be the trees that breathe clean air into our polluted atmosphere. Let’s tip the balance in favor of genuine creators.

I’m here to ask you, plead with you: 

Stop hesitating. Start publishing. (Please!)

I explored this call-to-action in a new video I’ve published to YouTube, which I hope gives you a tiny spark to push your idea forward. Beyond the need for rebalance, I speak about overcoming our fears of judgement, and how we can find the path to better work by trudging through the mud of our mediocre work. We must do the work to get to our best — and we only earn that privilege by putting ourselves out there. We must take the bold step of entering the stage.

Remember, too, that you’re not alone in this struggle. Count me as at least one person who’s here and willing to help! I try my best to read and respond to every single reply — send me your questions, ideas, thoughts and fears. I’ll do my best to support you, even if that just means serving as a sounding board. I don’t write to grow my following, I write to grow my friends. And friends look out for each other.

I’m learning that my role as a creator goes beyond my own creations. I want to unlock and accelerate the creativity of others. I resonated strongly with Sam Lessin’s recent advice on growing a following — he cautioned against growing too fast, instead suggesting a slower approach that builds healthier relationships along the way:

Contrast that with people who organically and naturally built followings slowly, comprised of people who are actually interested in them, want to hear what they have to say, etc… By and large, those people have much healthier relationships on social media.

When I think about the energy of this ‘slow growth’ approach, I’m reminded of the tale of the tortoise and the hare. Clearly, the winning strategy is to exude 🐢 energy. But as you know, my spirit animal is 🦊. This made me wonder: What if I combined the two? Smart as a 🦊 and steady as a 🐢?

With that dubious prompt, I grabbed my digital pencil, and Finny the furtle was born:

Stay smart and keep steady, my friends.


Quick Links

The Forest That’s Actually A Tree — In a recent newsletter, I shared some thoughts on finding meaning in the mundane, titling it Missing the Trees for the Forest as a coy turn-of-phrase. I later discovered my imaginary expression is not so imaginary after all. This short clip from Minute Earth shares the story of Pando, the worlds largest organism, which looks like it is an entire forest but is actually a single tree! Nature's sense of humor is one-of-a-kind.

Time Rebels — In an earlier video I published on the meaning and purpose of work, I shared my views on the need for an independent ‘philosophical arm’ in government to think about long term needs, and whether our existing systems (e.g. capitalism) are actually serving us in the way we need them to. In response, reader Nichola Sherriff shared this wonderful video on Time Rebels with me. It offers a fascinating look into the idea of embracing our role as individuals to think more long-term, and it highlights how certain governments have started to install positions and teams in order to do this work.


Until next time,

—Salman

🌎 salman.io | 🐦 @daretorant

Curating the Vibe

🦊 Quick Brown Fox #47

Hey friends,

I’ve been feeling a creative surge for a couple weeks now — I’ve rotated between lots of writing (essays, fables, newsletters), illustration, animation, programming and video production. It feels great, but I also know it’s a wave. Inevitably, it will drop back to sea level. I’m trying to make the most of it while it lasts. One way I’m doing that is by alternating between projects throughout the week. This tactic is part of the framework of a polymath mindset, which I try to embrace in almost every aspect of my life.

Rotating often means that I stop working on things before they are fully ‘done’. I’ll work on other stuff for a while, and come back later to finish and ship the earlier project. I’ll end up making small amounts of progress on lots of different things. When I return to a project after some time (days, weeks, or months), it feels like I’m working on something new, which energizes me. Also, I don’t have to start from scratch — I can pick up where I left off.

I absorb the energy of the new, and the wisdom of the old.

I do this because I know the wave doesn’t last. I suspect I’m not alone in the way I oscillate between lethargy and hyper-energy. Maybe you’re reading this right now feeling exhausted. Another day you might feel an energy boost. This ebb and flow is part of human nature. Life is lived between dualities.

To survive, we weather the storm. To thrive, we harness the surge.


Curating the Vibe

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been running some experiments on how I use Twitter, while also spending some time trying out Clubhouse. To my surprise, I discovered that my experiences between the two were inexplicably linked — the vibe I set in Twitter followed me over to the rooms I created in Clubhouse.

It all started with me feeling frustrated with Twitter due of lack of engagement. I felt like my tweets weren’t getting the interactions they used to. I missed my followers. This led to me making an active effort to tweet more consistently, and see whether it was an issue of effort or if the platform really was going silent. Overall, tweeting more often did the expected thing — more engagement, more momentum, and overall my Twitter experience improved.

But the experiments got more interesting when I got into Clubhouse. The app pitches itself as ‘drop-in audio chat’ — the benefits of participating in live discussions, but without the commitment of scheduling or the fatigue of video. The app is centered around ‘live podcasts’ — big celebrities talking in a panel-style discussion, with thousands of people listening in. I found some of these mildly interesting, but the novelty wore off quickly for me, and personally didn’t find them compelling enough to warrant many hours of my time. The best ones seem to end up recorded anyway, at which point you can listen them offline at any point (i.e. just like a podcast).

I got bored of the big rooms, so I scrolled, scrolled, and scrolled some more… all the way to the bottom of my feed. It was there that I discovered small rooms (typically between 2-5 people). I joined a few at random, and found myself participating (speaking) for the first time. It totally changed my experience. I loved this format, but also wished I could engage on topics I’m more passionate about (the small rooms I joined had pretty random topics).

That’s when it hit me — I was waiting for someone else to create the vibe I wanted, even though I held the power to create the vibe myself. I could create my own room, and set the vibe with conversations I moderated. I took the scary step of creating an open room. For the first few minutes, no one showed up. I felt anxious, and was about to give up and close the room, when a peer I knew from Twitter showed up. We ended up having an incredible discussion, on a wide-ranging set of topics from philosophy to creativity. Another peer later showed up, and I had a similar discussion with them that lasted over an hour. I closed the app that night feeling energized from several hours of deep conversations. None of them were planned — serendipity had delivered the goods.

I later realized that the discussions went the way they did because many of those folks had been following me on Twitter. They knew me, they were familiar with my ideas, and they shared many common interests. Every tweet I’ve sent over the years has contributed to a ‘vibe’, and my following is a collection of those who resonate with it. The power of my words on Twitter go far beyond the engagements on an individual tweet. They form a collective context, which compounds over time in the minds of those that read them. This same phenomenon applies to my essays, my newsletters, my videos, and my entire body of work. Word by word, tweet by tweet, essay by essay, newsletter by newsletter… I curate a vibe in the digital platforms I swim in.

I’m here to tell you: You can do it too! (You may already be.)

For most people, the biggest challenge in setting a vibe is being the one to speak up first. We wait for others to give us permission, hoping someone will prompt us with questions that we can answer. To that I say: Give yourself permission! Don’t wait for a prompt. Prompt yourself with the questions you wish you were asked. I promise you that someone out there wants to hear your answer. In fact, they’re out there right now, waiting to read your tweet and join your room. The only problem? You haven’t spoken up yet.

What are you waiting for? Vibe on, my friends!

P.S. If you want to see some live-as-they-happened accounts of these experiments, check out these Twitter threads: in which I pondered if Twitter was dead (it’s not), professed my love for small rooms on Clubhouse, and discovered the fruits of curating a vibe.

P.P.S I’m @daretorant on both Twitter and Clubhouse. Come vibe with me!


Building a Motivation Toolbelt

It’s tough to stay motivated. There’s no single tactic that always works to give us the boost we need, when we need it. Every situation requires a slightly different approach. But if we combine different tactics together, we can build our very own motivation toolbelt.

In this video, I share 7 motivation tools that have helped me: building consistent practice, adapting for personality, resting, managing energy, leveraging community feedback and accountability, and taking action to create a spark.

Watch the Video | Subscribe on YouTube


Playground

Recently, I drew Boba Fett for my nephew, as part of a project where I illustrate physical drawings for my family and friends’ kids. My niece is a big How to Train Your Dragon fan, so I decided to draw Toothless for her:

I had a lot of fun with this one! I started with HB pencil to outline, charcoals for the body and shape, colored pencils for the background, and paint markers to bring those beautiful eyes to life.


Until next time,

—Salman

🌎 salman.io | 🐦 @daretorant

Missing the Trees for the Forest

🦊 Quick Brown Fox #46

Hey friends,

I hope you’re doing well! I’ve felt a lot of creative energy flowing this week — I got a big boost from an impromptu comic chain with some peers on Twitter. What started as a little back-and-forth ended up triggering a creative flourish of comics from a bunch of people. It reminded me of the power of peers and communities to inspire us, motivate us, and energize us.

My next contribution to the chain is going to be an animation! I ended up illustrating and animating an entire sequence while (barely) watching the Super Bowl. It was a ton of fun, and it felt great to get back into animating with Looom on my iPad. It’s almost finished, and I’m really excited to share it with you in the next QBF edition!

I’ve found that I can get a lot of drawing done when I’m watching ‘mindless’ TV. It works well for me since drawing is more of an activity I do for fun — I don’t have any kind of fixed schedule around them. In order to keep improving my drawing skills, I have to get creative with drawing prompts: sketches while watching TV, illustrations for blog posts, drawings for my family and friends’ kids, etc. In this way, despite not having a structured habit for drawing, I’ve still made lots of progress!

This week’s post, Missing the Trees for the Forest, is about how we can infuse meaning into the mundane. I hope you enjoy it, and find some time to take a closer look around on your next walk!


If you prefer, you can read this post on my blog.

Missing the Trees for the Forest

Everything changed when I looked at a bird.

I was in my back yard. A myriad of chirps echoed their way through the trees. They blended with the instrumentals of the wind, coalescing into nature’s white noise. Within this chaotic blur of birds, a single chirp called out to me. I scanned the branches until I found its origin — a gray little bird with a squarish head, standing tall like an army general. Its straight-as-an-arrow tail feathers stretched out like a surfboard. It hopped about with authority.

It occurred to me that this bird has lived here all along, and yet I never noticed it. I wondered what kind of bird it was, and got excited when I remembered the smartphone app I downloaded — it can identify birds with a photo alone. But as soon as I pulled out my phone, the bird flew away. It knew what I was doing, and was having none of it.

I heeded the bird’s message, and put my phone away.

With the bird out of sight, I closed my eyes and tried to recall its image. I didn’t want to forget. I drew a loose sketch from memory:

Forgive the low fidelity of this picture — as much as I enjoy drawing detailed illustrations of birds, this was a different exercise entirely. This wasn’t a drawing of a bird. It was a drawing of my bird. It was the bird I saw, the bird I met, the bird I kept in my heart and mind. There is none other like it.

When we notice a bird, behold it, remember it… we give it meaning.

But birds aren’t the only things we can infuse with meaning. These opportunities lie everywhere, like seeds waiting to be watered. In my old neighborhood, there was a towering tree I always noticed on my daily walks. I named it Phil. I visited the tree every day, and we became great friends. Phil showed me that I can turn my mundane walks into meaningful moments.

In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s masterpiece The Little Prince, a fox teaches the prince the same lesson. The prince finds himself far from home and full of sorrow, when he encounters a fox. He asks the fox to play with him, in hopes it will cheer him up.

The fox replies that he cannot play with him, as he is not tamed:

“What does that mean—‘tame’?” asked the little prince.

“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties. To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…

The fox helps the prince see that there may be a million other foxes, but his fox is one in a million.

Too often we look at the world with fuzzy eyes. We never see the budding blade of grass, only the vast green field. All becomes one in the knitted blanket of our environment.

We see the forest, but miss the trees.

By noticing and naming, loving and taming, we can light stars in the darkness of our night sky. It is up to us to give meaning to every bird whose song serenades us, every tree whose branch shades us, and every rose whose scent seduces us.

As the wise little prince tells us, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”


Quick Links

On the theme of paying closer attention, I enjoyed this post on the lost art of deep listening: “What’s your favorite album? When was the last time you listened — actually listened— to it from start to finish?” A wonderful reminder to gift ourselves with the joy of music.


I mentioned a few of my favorite drawing prompts, but if you’re looking for even more, check out promptupyour.life. It’s a wonderful little website that will generate customizable drawing prompts. As I was copying this link, its prompt suggested: “Draw a chess set to illustrate class inequality.” 😅 That would make a pretty compelling illustration! If you end up drawing it, be sure to send it my way.


Much of my work is self-directed, so I resonated deeply with the question Dan Shipper addressed in his latest post: How hard should I push myself? “On the one hand I really want to push myself … On the other hand, I want to be kind to myself … How much stress is good, and how much is bad?”


I’ll leave you with this jumping bison from Wyoming (shared by @usinterior, photo by Alex Walczak). “There was a whole group of them rolling around and I noticed a young bison running all over the place on the hill. I got this photo while it was in the middle of jumping and kicking like a bronco. After about 5 minutes of racing around, this young bison calmed down.”

I love this bison’s energy — it jumps not because it must, but because it can. I think we could all use a little more playful jumping in our lives.


Until next time,

—Salman

🌎 salman.io | 🐦 @daretorant

The Farmer's Secret

🦊 Quick Brown Fox #45

Hey friends,

I hope you’re staying safe and doing well. I hit a bit of an exhaustion wall this week. After several months of consistently exercising, I felt too tired to keep going. So I took the week off. It was tough to break all my activity and workout streaks, but I reminded myself that the whole point of healthy habits is health. When my body needs a break, I need to listen to it. More than that, I need to forgive myself. The muscles of self-compassion also need regular exercise.

In today’s edition, I’m excited to share a new fable I wrote: The Farmer’s Secret. I’m still new to the practice of writing fiction, so I hope to keep learning and improving by sharing stories in my newsletters. I also share a new video on contemplating the meaning of work, as well as my thoughts on the powerful poetry of Amanda Gorman.

As always, feel feel to reply to this email, leave a comment on Substack, or DM me on Twitter with your questions, thoughts or observations. I’ve really enjoyed hearing from a bunch of you via Twitter DMs lately — some of those have evolved into deep conversations and calls. I’m so grateful for all the connections that I make through this newsletter and look forward to many more.


The Farmer’s Secret

There once lived an old farmer in a small town near the river bend. His farm grew plentiful crops year after year. One day, a young farmer from the next town went for a swim in the river, near the old farmer’s lands. As he bathed, he noticed the lush growth of the old farmer’s crops. He was bewildered by them, and felt jealous, as his own crops paled in comparison. He decided to seek out the old farmer to learn his secrets.

“Tell me, old man, what is the secret to your crops? I suspect it must be the location…” said the young farmer. “Being near the river must feed your farm. How lucky you are!”

The old farmer pondered his question. “I’m afraid I have no secrets to share. Every day, I tend to the crops and feed the animals. I nurture the farm, and in turn, it nurtures me.”

The young farmer was unimpressed. “An old man like you cannot grow crops like these through hard work. There is more to your farm than meets the eye. I’m sure it’s the river that feeds your farm’s growth!”

The young farmer resolved to start a new farm next to the old farmer’s.

A year later, the young farmer came to visit his neighbor. “How strange! My farm is right next to yours, yet it does not grow even half the crop. I must be using the wrong seed. Where do you obtain yours, old man?”

“The seed is from the market down the hill, sold by a young boy. He cannot afford the best ingredients, but he toils hard to make his seed.”

“Aha! So the secret is your seed. You have stumbled upon a seed specialized for river farms, and you don’t even know it. What wonderful luck!”

The young farmer raced to the market, and bought all the seed the boy had in his stall.

A year later, the young farmer came to visit his neighbor once again. “I have moved to new lands, and planted new seeds. None of your secrets work! You must use magical spells to aid your farm, or make agreements with the devil. Tell me the truth, old man, so I too can join your scheme!”

“I have no secret to share. Every day, I do the work. That is all I know.”

The young farmer sighed. “Can you teach me?”

The old farmer smiled. “Grab your shovel. Let’s get to work.”


Contemplating Meaning, Leisure and Total Work

I've been ruminating on the nebulous topic of meaning and purpose of work for years. I've really struggled to find the structure to write about it. There are so many different avenues I can go down and it’s hard to focus them down to a single thesis for an essay. I finally decided to try talking through the problem on video. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, as it helped clarify a few of the key points I really want to convey within this web of topics:

  1. Complexity: There are no simple answers to questions of meaning and purpose.

  2. Timing: Joseph Pieper noted in his book Leisure that, even though he was writing just after WWII ended, it was the perfect time to talk about leisure. I think the sentiment he shared applies to our situation today in a global pandemic. When this is ‘over,’ will we just go back to work as if nothing happened? I can’t imagine that being likely. We are forever changed.

  3. Optimism: I sense that lots of folks are feeling these kinds of deep inner questions arise within themselves. This means there’s an opportunity for a broader awakening.

Watch on YouTube


Amanda Gorman’s Powerful Poetry

It was incredibly heartening to watch President Biden’s inauguration, and the actions he has already been taking in his first days. There is much worth noting from the significance of this transition, but instead I want to focus on a shining beacon that stood out on Inauguration Day: the voice and words of Amanda Gorman. It feels like an eternity since I watched her share her beautiful and moving poem — The Hill We Climb (live performance | full transcript) — with America and the world.

We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation
rather than share it
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy
And this effort very nearly succeeded

But while democracy can be periodically delayed
it can never be permanently defeated
In this truth
in this faith we trust

For while we have our eyes on the future
history has its eyes on us

I’ve watched and rewatched her performance, and am still in awe of it. Her power, grace, energy, beauty, courage, and wisdom are just a few of the traits from her delivery that put so many in a trance. Gorman reminded the world of the power of words.

It’s also worth taking a moment to consider the stakes. Gorman was given the Herculean task of writing a poem to address a broken nation. She had to overcome all the biases, judgements, and stereotypes that come with being a Black woman in America. She had to persevere past the fears, doubts, and struggles of a speech impediment. If that wasn’t enough, she had to rewrite her poem mid-flight as she watched the attack on the US Capitol building play out before her eyes. When you factor in these conditions, her shining work becomes even more blindingly beautiful.

Gorman gave us hope in a dark time — something only the greatest leaders can do.

P.S. You can support Gorman’s work by purchasing her books from an independent bookstore (including printed editions of her poems, and an upcoming children’s book). You may also consider donating to youth poetry programs — there are many budding Amanda Gormans out there who could use your support.


Until next time,

—Salman

🌎 salman.io | 🐦 @daretorant

Last Minute Circus

🦊 Quick Brown Fox #44

Hi friend,

I hope you’re doing well and staying safe. It’s difficult to articulate the weight of challenges we continue to see both in the United States and around the world, so I won’t endeavor to try. But we can take solace in the positive direction of things — COVID vaccines have begun distribution, the United States is going to have a new President in less than a week, and a restored Senate balance will now give the next President a chance to actually implement major change. We’re still in stormy seas, but deep within the dark clouds a sliver of sunlight breaks through. Until the weather improves, one of the best things we can do for ourselves is build healthy habits.

One habit I deeply cherish is taking long walks. I’ve been taking them for years, and cannot recommend them enough. Even short 15 minute walks can make a big difference to your day. Their value has only increased during these extended lockdowns. I relish the opportunity to go outside, and always make an effort to pause and inhale the cold, fresh air with slow, deep breaths.

There are moments when the wind is calm, the birds’ chorus is in intermission, and stillness fills the air. I start to lose myself to my surroundings. I shed the skin of my thoughts and pull on the camouflage of nature. I become part of the background. Soon, it becomes clear that I was never in the foreground to begin with. The illusion of my individuality, my separate Self was just that: an illusion. I was never apart from it, always a part of it. I look upon myself and see a single brushstroke on an infinite painting. My steps become lighter knowing that if I fall, the canvas will catch me.

We often wonder if we deserve the luxury of a walk without purpose. Do we have time for such things, given the pressures of life? Even if we allow them, we feel an urge to turn them into productive acts — power-walking to burn calories, or listening to self-help podcasts on 3X speed.

But there is no need to justify taking a walk. A walk, on its own, is enough.

And so are you.

Take a little walk for yourself, dear friend!

You deserve it.


Today’s edition features a new essay, Last Minute Circus, on the thrilling pain of procrastination. If you prefer, you can read this essay on my blog.

Last Minute Circus

It’s midnight. Instead of sleeping, I’m writing.

I have no one to blame but myself — I put this off all week long.

I hate this.

It’s always the same routine. I take shelter behind my shield of excuses. I dread and deflate, whine and cry, obsess and protest, moan and groan…

I want to do it. But I won’t let myself.

Until, finally, exhausted by my own resistance, I relent.

I lift the weight.
I write the word.
I draw the picture.
I do the thing.

I do it again. And again. It seems so easy now.

I surf the wave of my momentum. My hair dances in the wind. I’m riding high.

I love this.

Looking down from my palace of flow, I wonder: “Why would I ever resist coming here?”

I realize that a part of me enjoys the drama of procrastination. I revel in the thrill of pulling it off at the last minute. The longer the delay, the greater the reward.

I am the villain, the hero, and the audience in my own Last Minute Circus.

The next evening, I’m in the ring again.

New day, same old play. I’m booked for life.

I hear the bells for curtain call. Like clockwork, he appears beside me. My longtime friend, my lifetime foe: Me.

And the show goes on.


I’ll leave you with a parting thought that came to me the other day, as I sat in my back yard watching the leaves fall:

When you see a leaf fall from a tree,

Was it a once-in-a-lifetime event (for that leaf will never live again)?

Or was it meaningless (for the tree has thousands more)?

You choose your life, one leaf at a time.

You decide.

Will you fill it with the mundane, or with miracles?

Until next time,

—Salman

🌎 salman.io | 🐦 @daretorant

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