Conversation

I find that I talk less and less as I’ve gotten older.

From pretty much the moment I could talk, you couldn’t shut me up. As a child, teenager and young adult, talking a lot was something I was known very well for. Fortunately I got pretty good at it; I was a story teller, and in a lot of contexts it worked to my advantage.

I had an easy time making friends, was the life of parties, and never had a hard time in social situations in general. It wasn’t long before the inevitable conversation happened where someone suggested I could make a career out of my gift of gab, and I did. My early years in the sales world were very successful. From there, I’ve transitioned into other things, but communication with other people has always been a fundamental part of my career track. Some of my best career highlights were enjoyable speaking engagements – I have the exact opposite of fear of public speaking. I find it exhilarating.

That’s still my career track to this day, but outside of work I find myself talking less and less these days. I’m more likely to be quiet in a group, observing the flow of the conversation without much active participation. I don’t start as many conversations with strangers just for the sake of it like I used to.

A lot of that comes from a place of growth, I think. I’m more deliberate with my speaking. More thoughtful about what I choose to let past the filters. I try to listen a lot more than I speak unless in that moment speaking is what’s expected of me.

I spent a long time honing my verbal communication skills, and I have no intention of letting them get rusty. But the hardest lesson to learn sometimes is when to shut up, and I think I’m getting better at it.

I do a lot more deliberate thinking these days, and I think that’s a contributing factor as well. More writing, too. Maybe when you do more of those things you have less time for talking, but maybe it’s because talking was, at least for me, a way to relieve the pressure building in my brain of all these thoughts and ideas that would never quiet. Now that I have a few more outlets for those things, the storm is a little calmer – or at least, I’m weathering it better.

I voice fewer opinions on things; I don’t like to argue and in more cases than you think that’s the only reason to make your opinion known. It’s good practice and worth the effort to get good at spotting conversations that are likely to become arguments and not engaging early.

Even though I think a standard policy of “talk less, listen more” is healthy, there have been some drawbacks to adopting it. When you’re known as a talkative person for so long, becoming more reticent can give people the impression that something is wrong, or that you’re upset with them or something. Unfortunately, once someone has this idea there’s virtually no way to shake them of it, but such is life.

I haven’t stopped communicating, and I never will. I love a good conversation, those gems of connection with another mind. I love swaying the hearts and minds of a crowd with the power of persuasion. I love hearing the laughter when I’ve told a good story. And I absolutely adore the wide-eyed wonder on my children’s faces when I tell them some interesting tidbit about their world.

But in between those moments, it’s worth closing my mouth, sitting back, and letting the rest of the world have its say. I learn more that way.

“I Want To Be Me”

I was speaking with one of my clients today, and she said something absolutely amazing. We were discussing a particular niche celebrity that we both like, in particular because this celebrity works in a space that my client is pursuing as well. So I made some comment along the lines of, “Oh, so you want to be the next…”

Her response was as immediate as it was powerful: “No, I don’t. I want to be me.”

She’s not living in anyone’s shadow. She’s not trying to follow a trail someone else has blazed. She might work in that space and she might not, but she’s absolutely right – her life, in whatever form it takes, will look nothing like anyone else’s.

We can take our cues from those we respect, and model behavior after those we admire. But we are amalgamations; if we’re diligent, we take the best of many and combine it in our own way. No one is an island and we are influenced by our environment, but we should never strive to model ourselves 100% after one person. We shouldn’t even model sections of our lives (our careers, our love lives, our parenting styles, etc.) after someone amazing in that sphere. We should strive to draw our inspiration from a myriad, to get the best of them and leave the worst behind. Mix in a healthy dose of original thought and we might get somewhere worth going.

I’m taking that lesson from her, and I’m happy to have learned it. It humbled me a little, put me in my place. And now I have a little of that mixed into my own journey, and I’m stronger for it.

Cover Story

Some updates on writing a book:

So far, so good! I’m maintaining a pace of a little over 1,000 (very, very raw) words per day. I am absolutely not one of those people that spins straw into gold on the first pass. My first drafts tend to be very scattered and rambling, and benefit tremendously from editing. At the same time, if I try to edit as I go, paying attention to flow and structure, I cut my output down by 80% or more. So it’s definitely better for me to just power through it all and edit (or, better still, have someone else edit) it later.

Usually I end up happy with most of what I write, it just needs dramatically different structure than it naturally takes as it falls out of my brain onto the page. My thoughts aren’t always well-organized in their natural state.

Speaking of organized thoughts: I don’t know how I lived without Evernote. I’ve always been someone who created elaborate organization systems for any project I’m working on, but the actual format has changed on a case-by-case basis. I’ve used everything from Google docs to files & folders on my PC and so on. Evernote has replaced them all, and the versatility is incredible.

I think now that the path of this book is starting to look like this:

  1. Get all the raw words written. That’s the clay from which I’ll sculpt everything else, and nothing else will matter until that exists. At my current pace, that should be within 2 months.
  2. Deep dive on research. As I’ve been writing, I’ve been making notes of sections where I feel my existing knowledge is more limited. When the raw work is done, that will leave me with a very directed research list of things to dive into. I’m not sure how long that will take; that’s a good topic to ask my writing mentor (to give myself additional accountability and access to expertise, I’ve employed the services of a great writing mentor to go along on this trip with me – something I highly recommend for things you’re doing for the first time).
  3. Re-write or add to sections based on new knowledge. Once I have my weak spots strengthened a bit, I want to make sure those sections are adequately updated.
  4. First big editing pass, self-directed. At this point, I want to just sit down and look at the book I’ve written so far, from the perspective of an eventual reader. I’m sure there will be big things I want to move around, and I want to tackle the big, obvious pieces myself.
  5. After that, it’s off to the process of handing it off to other professionals! I think that’s likely to be in February-ish of next year, but since this is very much my first rodeo, I’m aware that might change.

All in all, I’m very pleased with the progress so far, both in terms of the actual project and in terms of the personal value I’m extracting from this process. I’m enjoying it as I go, and learning new things. That’s the best part.

Comedy

A few days ago I tweeted the following:

“True comedies are not just funny, they’re *fun.* They remain quotable years after you watch them, and influence your humor.

My top 5 (no order):

  1. Animal House
  2. Blazing Saddles
  3. Clerks
  4. Super Troopers
  5. Office Space

Additions?”

Due to it being re-Tweeted by someone with WAY more followers than I have, I received a pretty fun response. As a result, I’ve realized what I missed! A few true classics have to be included. Some of this may be controversial, but at the end of this post I’ll put my full top 10 list.

Since I have somewhat more than 280 characters available to me here, I’ll define my terms a little more. Truly great comedies aren’t just funny. They’re the kind of movies you cheer for and actually get you excited for the story. Stand-up comedy may have you rolling in the aisles, but it’s not a hero’s journey. A true comedy is enjoyable even when you aren’t laughing at a direct joke.

That being said, the truly great comedies waste very little time and squeeze solid humor into almost every frame.

The other impact though is on your life when the movie ends. If you’re repeating the jokes to your friends, incorporating them into your own humor, and seeing their effect on cultural trends for decades to come, then it fits this bill.

The Simpsons was like that. It wasn’t just funny – you were funnier because you watched it, and the country was funnier because it incorporated that humor into our culture.

Okay, here’s the list! Once again, these aren’t ranked – how can you compare such masterpieces? Just watch them all!

  1. Animal House
  2. Blazing Saddles
  3. Clerks
  4. Super Troopers
  5. Office Space
  6. Airplane!
  7. Anchorman
  8. Caddyshack
  9. Spaceballs
  10. Monty Python and The Holy Grail

This is certainly not the list of the only ten funny movies. There are many greats that will split your sides. I think a few, like Dumb & Dumber, just barely missed the list. Others are cut mostly because they’re brilliant, but better works by the same people are on the list already. Whatever, I don’t need to justify my choices – go watch whatever you want!

What Should You Stop?

You have limited time in your day, and limited juice to spend on your actions.

Right now, you’re using either 100% of your available time or so close to it that it might as well be. Unless you spend any amount of time in a dark room, awake but doing literally nothing but staring into the abyss, then you’re doing something with all your time.

Some of those things are undoubtedly not as helpful to you as they could be. We all (and please let me stress that I’m absolutely included in this) have habits that, even if they’re not actively harmful, are soaking up resources that could be much better spent on other things. Since you’re using 100% of your time now, you can’t add productive activities without removing something.

Those things can go hand in hand. In fact, I think that’s a great way to do it – it’s easier to replace smoking with something else than to just quit smoking.

Here’s a thought exercise for you: make a list of all the things you’d like to stop doing. They can be great or small, and the list can be long or short. Doesn’t matter. Do you want to stop drinking? Maybe stop spending so much time on Facebook? How about quit screaming at other drivers on the highway? Put it all down on a list.

Then, in the next column, jot down roughly how much time you spend on each of those activities, both in duration and frequency. “A few hours, twice a week” or “15 seconds, about 3 times per drive,” etc.

And then finally, in another column, for each one of these items, write a positive activity you could do instead that takes about the same amount of time.

  • Things To Stop – Time It Takes – Things To Do Instead
  • Hit The Bar – 2 hours, three times a week – Hit The Gym
  • Yell At Drivers – 15 seconds, 3 times per drive – Practice Gratitude
  • Browse Facebook – 30 minutes, 4 times a day – Write A Book

Like that. Once you have that list, don’t try to do everything at once. You’ll go crazy, and probably fail. Instead, just pick one. Don’t worry about which one you do first – just pick literally anything and get started.

Now you have a framework. You have something you want to do, and no excuses about “not having enough time,” since you’re trying to eliminate a bad behavior with an equal time commitment. You’re simultaneously working towards your goals and eliminating the things standing in your way.

It’s hard to do positive stuff because you never have the time, and it’s hard to stop doing negative stuff because you’ve built habitual pathways. Use each of those problems to solve the other!

One Step Ahead

In 1974, Muhammad Ali fought George Foreman for the title in the Rumble in the Jungle. Foreman was favored to win; he was younger and an absolute powerhouse of a puncher. Ali was fast and light; he could out-maneuver opponents and run circles around them.

But Ali was also brilliant. He taunted Foreman before the match, saying in press releases that he was so fast Foreman would never touch him, things like that. Foreman was doing all of his pre-fight training in footwork – he was learning to cut off the ring, keep Ali from dancing. Meanwhile, Ali was doing nothing but endurance training: he was having his trainers deliver body shots to him endlessly to toughen him and teach him how to absorb the impact of the blows.

When the match happened, Ali didn’t dance at all. He huddled against the ropes and let Foreman throw hundreds of punches. This “rope-a-dope” technique worked like a charm; the stance against the ropes meant much of the power of Foreman’s punches was wasted while Foreman was exhausting himself throwing them. Ali’s entire strategy was to waste Foreman’s energy, and it worked. When Foreman could barely stand, Ali was full of vigor, and launched an offense that won the match.

There was an essential element to Ali’s strategy, and that was understanding (and in this case, even influencing) Foreman’s strategy.

If you want to solve a problem, you have to understand that you’re not the only one with a strategy, or a plan. Consider the case of Harry, the single guy. He wants to meet eligible single ladies, but he doesn’t know where to go. So he hops on Google and searches for “how to find a girlfriend” or something like that. It suggests places to go, websites to visit, whatever. Do you see the problem, though?

Every guy is doing that. The competition is high, and in fact it might be such that it actually chases the best of the eligible single girls away. Here’s what he should do: He should search for “how to find a great boyfriend” and see what that advice is.

That advice is going to shape the search strategy and even the evaluation methods of the women Harry is trying to date. He should absolutely know what that advice is. If the advice for “how to find a girlfriend” is to go to the singles bar, and the advice for “how to find a great boyfriend” is to go to the library, Harry should definitely go to the library and not the singles bar.

(And yes, now we get into this recursion problem where if everyone took that advice, now everyone has just switched positions and we’re back where we started. But that’s not what’s happening. I always hate the objection of “well, what if everyone did that?” If everyone did it, then the strategy to beat it would be to not do it – because the core strategy is essentially “understand what the crowd is doing, and when to deviate.”)

I’ve given this advice for people trying to break into new industries with little to no experience. “How do I get a job as an analyst,” is an okay search, but you’ll probably get much better information if you search for “how do I hire a fantastic analyst?” That search will tell you what hiring managers are looking for, and you can adapt your efforts accordingly.

If you really want to solve a problem, whether it’s adversarial (like a heavyweight boxing match), or the kind of problem where both parties want the same thing but suffer from information asymmetry (like dating or finding a new job), the best strategy is to understand what problem the other person is trying to solve and their strategy for doing so, and to adapt your strategy to match. Stay one step ahead.

Neverending

So last night I introduced my oldest daughter to one of the greats of my childhood, The Neverending Story. I hadn’t seen it in a while, and was worried that it was way better in the ol’ Nostalgia Vault than it would be in reality. It wouldn’t be the first time that I tried to show The Beansprout a movie from when I was her age and she didn’t care for it (she wasn’t a fan of Aladdin! Can you believe it?), so I was also worried about that.

Both fears, it turned out, were totally unfounded.

The movie holds up. It was absolutely still incredible, a perfectly magical piece of film-making. And The Beansprout was utterly captivated! She hid her eyes during scary parts (peeking just enough to not miss the action, of course), begged me to end the suspense of dramatic scenes by telling her that Atreyu would be okay, and gasping at realizations as they happened.

It was a fantastic experience, watching the movie together. I’m so glad she shares my love of movies, and I look forward to sharing so many more of these moments with her. My father always showed me his favorite movies when I was growing up, and I’m sure that played a huge role in my love of cinema. I remember one of my happiest moments as a young man was the first time I showed my dad a movie I loved that he’d never seen before, and he really liked it as well. It’s a great piece of bonding.

The Neverending Story is a great movie to draw these lessons from, since the whole point of the movie is how important stories and imagination are to us. I hope my kids hold on to that for as long as they possibly can.

What’s Really Important

I’m driven towards my goals. I try to create valuable content every day, even if it’s just sharing my own struggles or lessons so you can come along. I commit to putting in effort every single day.

Some days that means I write a long post filled with (what I hope is) good information or valuable insights. I’m grateful for those days, because I like thinking I’ve contributed to making the world suck a little less.

Some days I’m sick. Some days I’m distracted. Some days I’m busy. I write anyway.

Some days your oldest daughter tells you that she’s never seen The Neverending Story before, and would love to watch it with you, Dad, if you have the time tonight.

Good night, everyone. I have something more important to do tonight.

Caffeine

I’m on day 5 of no caffeine. It happened accidentally – I was sick enough for a few days that the idea of any was really unappealing, so the silver lining of that is that I got through those difficult first few days of the detox.

From a chemicals-in-my-body perspective, I’m pretty healthy. I don’t drink, smoke, do any drugs, and I even keep processed sugar to a minimum. I aim to eat very healthy, though I’m certainly not perfect in that regard. But my diet is pretty high in veggies and protein and low in carbs, I drink a gallon of water a day, and so on.

Except for caffeine. Energy drinks in particular (though yes, always sugar-free, for all the good that does). I drink… a lot. Let’s just say I don’t want to say how much I drink on average for fear that someone’s going to call 911.

And I have no illusions that it’s not an addiction. The primary effect isn’t on my energy levels, it’s on my mood. I drink them when I’m not even tired. I drink them the way alcoholics hit the bottle, to be honest. If I had a rough day – a can of some sort of wild, hot garbage will put me right.

I don’t like it.

So, since fate has given me the opportunity to fight off this monkey, I’m taking it. I’m on day 5 of the detox. So far the effects have been… well, none, if I’m honest. I haven’t been sleeping any better, my general levels of stress and anxiety are unchanged, and my resting heart rate is still a cool 100.

But there are “positive non-changes,” too. I’m not any more tired than I was, which kind of reinforces the idea that I wasn’t drinking them for the energy anyway. I’d probably built up such a tolerance to the caffeine levels that it wasn’t doing a thing anymore. And my mood hasn’t decreased, on average.

I suppose there has been one major positive change, which is: do you have any idea how expensive these freakin’ things are?! So that’s a lot of money I’m not spending, which is always a good thing.

I know I’m in danger of falling off this wagon, which is why I’m writing this. The more I reinforce the positives to myself, the more they’ll hold. That’s another lesson to draw – public accountability helps.

Baby steps to a better life.

Something Good

Can you find something good in every scenario?

Maybe you can and maybe you can’t, but I think the exercise is worthwhile no matter what. When it’s big picture stuff, it’s often easier – big changes are naturally bundles of many smaller discrete experiences, and some of those will be positive if you look. So that’s actually easy – it’s easier to find the one good thing about getting fired (more time to spend with your kids!), even if the emotional impact is harder to deal with at first.

But how about banging your toe against the coffee table? Where’s the good in that, huh?

Well, sometimes you have to go the opposite direction – instead of finding the one tiny good thing in a big bundle of bad ones, in this case you’re looking at one tiny bad thing. So find the big bundle of good it belongs in! Sure, you banged your toe – that sucks, and you genuinely have my sympathy if that just happened to you (maybe you shouldn’t walk while reading blogs, silly). But hey – you have a coffee table! And at least one foot! And probably a house where you keep that coffee table, or at least an apartment or something. And so on.

So there are two categories of “bad events” – ones that are big enough that surely they contain some good, and ones that are small enough that they must be outweighed by the good that surrounds them.

The reason it’s worthwhile to look at things that way isn’t because it has an immediate impact. Your toe is going to hurt the same regardless of whether you say, “Ow! I’m sure glad I have a coffee table!” The reason is because of the pervasive, long-term impact of positive creativity.

Sometimes you’ll have to work hard to think of One Good Thing ™. Some days can be really difficult to get through. Often, however, those days are difficult to get through because the negative things have grabbed your attention and don’t want to let go. Finding the One Good Thing isn’t about dramatic immediate change; it’s about shaking off the grip of those bad things, giving your emotions something else to focus on, so that you can push through to the next day. And that next day is better. And the next one is better still.

I’ve been sick the past couple of days. Being sick is no fun for anyone, but I’ll admit being physically sick often puts me in a bad place mentally as well. It hurts my ability to achieve my daily goals, which in turn makes me feel like a slug, and I’m a little hard on myself for it.

But there’s always something good. A lesson I can learn, like this one, and maybe share with others. A better day after the bad one.