Someone very dear to me just hit 60 days sober. I’m so incredibly proud of them, and I think those thoughts are worth sharing.

My life has been impacted negatively by substance abuse many, many times. I’m fortunate that I never personally fell into the trap of addiction – fortunate because I certainly lived a life that could have led there in my 20’s. But I’ve had people that I care about, very close to me, whose lives were worsened, shortened, or even ended because of this abuse. I’ve seen children heavily impacted by a parent’s abuse. I’ve seen families destroyed by it.

I don’t think of myself as a puritan. I don’t tell people that they should never drink, or stand on a street corner proselytizing about the evils of some substance or another.

But I do advocate for freedom. Almost everything I write about, think about, or care about in some way centers around the philosophy of making yourself more independent, more in control – more free. I try to point out shackles people didn’t even know they had and give advice on how to shed those chains.

We aren’t robots. We have a million influences on us that we didn’t choose. We have innate biases and bad habits and unhealthy emotions and societal constraints and all sorts of other things we have to fight against every day. So the last thing we need is something else to weigh us down, shackles we don ourselves, things that weaken us against the others.

No matter what flaws we have, it is always worth examining them and seeking, if not to overcome them, then to craft a life where they do the least amount of harm. Exert the least amount of control over us.

So if you drink, I won’t judge. But let me give you advice – go sober for a while. Just prove that you can. Take the extra time to test your theory that you’re the one in control. If you are, you’ll gain a month’s clarity and a few extra dollars and then you can do what you want. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll find that you don’t want to don those shackles again. This could be anything, really – drinking. Drugs. Facebook. Video games. Porn. Whatever. Just give it a rest for a while. And with a clear head, see if you’d actually choose to go back.

And for you, who did that and has not gone back – I love you and I’m proud of you.

You, Inc.

Think of yourself like a business.

Businesses often make decisions fundamentally differently than individuals do, but you can gain a lot from thinking in a similar way.

Businesses have clients, not employers. The successful ones care deeply about those clients, but they recognize that they’re the core architects of their activity. Businesses aren’t groveling and begging, they’re advertising. That’s what you should be doing. Information about you should be plentiful, positive, and easy to find. Don’t hide.

Businesses invest in themselves for the long term. They keep immediate costs as low as possible, but successful businesses know when to spend money on things that will have a very positive long-term return on investment. Think about traditional higher ed – the standard argument in its favor is that while it’s ridiculously expensive, it pays off more in the long run. But there are things that are many orders of magnitude cheaper than a college education that will pay off way more. Just taking a writing course, learning a programming language, or attending a workshop can be far, far more beneficial. As a good rule of thumb, make sure you’re spending more on stuff like that each month than you are on luxuries you don’t need.

On that note – successful businesses tend to only buy things that (they at least have good reason to believe) will make them more money than they cost. Businesses don’t have consumption goods. You might buy a fancy house for the social status, but a business buys a fancy office because it believes it will attract more customers. Are you getting better job offers because of your sports car?

Of course, you’re a person and not a business. You have feelings and care about enjoying the pleasures of life. You should – why else live? But don’t buy those things first. First, buy things that will pay for the other things.

Want an example? Let’s say you want a fancy new car – like $500/month payments fancy. And let’s say you could even afford it. Still don’t. Instead, take that money and invest in something that will return at least $500/month – like a new online business, the equipment to do a side hustle, or even an investment in an existing organization that will pay that dividend. Heck, buy a lawn mower and enough posters and Yelp ads until you’re making an extra $500/month mowing lawns.

Then buy the fancy new car.

This is a dramatic change in thinking for most people. But it can produce dramatic results. If you run your life like a business, the biggest dividend will be freedom.

Some Assembly Required

I have a great admiration for the concept of the assembly line.

Inputs enter on one side, there’s a series of defined, meticulously-curated actions, and then an output emerges from the other end. It’s a thing of beauty.

You can think of a lot of the processes in your life as working like that, and then you can find it easier to make improvements. If you think of all outside stimuli as inputs – from unwelcome news to challenging assignments to interesting blog posts – you can create a series of tasks to do for each of them.

Where do you put things to keep track of them? How do you devote time to them? Who do you speak to about them? All of these questions are stops on the assembly line.

It might seem a little mechanical, but many of the tasks in your life are just that. You shouldn’t put everything on the assembly line; some things are sublime and deserve to be treated as a whole experience. But not everything – some things just need to be processed.

Keeping them separate leaves you more time for the good stuff.


If you take any major circumstance in your life, you can trace its history back to a point where a tiny change would have made it all different. It’s possible that tiny change might even be before you were born, but it’s still there. Somewhere out there is a man who stared at airplanes flying in the sky his whole childhood and then grew up to become a pilot; if his bedroom had been on the other side of the house he’d have seen the train yard instead and maybe become an engineer.

At some point, you met someone who changed your life. Maybe you’re very aware of it and maybe you have no idea, but it happened. Maybe your parents’ first meeting was quite the chance encounter, and one late bus could have meant you were never born.

We think of the history of our lives as resilient – as if the way it’s unfolded so far is the way it must always have unfolded. But the tiniest changes could have re-written the whole tapestry.

That applies to the future, too. Tiny changes can have incredible, far-reaching impacts if they occur early enough.

Sometimes we get a chance to do a small favor, and even though the effort is low, it’s equally easy to not do it. The reward seems minor, even inconsequential.

Do it anyway. Send that email, make that call, lend that dollar. We can’t possibly predict all the long-term consequences of all of our actions, but I’m willing to bet that if you make more of your actions good and kind and generous than not, that the long-term effects will trend that way too. It might be three generations before it happens, but someday someone will say that you’re the reason their life is good.


Deciding to take action can seem sudden. As a result, people will decide to take action… a long time from now. “I’m definitely going to take that painting course! Next summer.” Somehow, a million things happen between now and then and you don’t do it.

Saying “I’m going to take that painting class – tomorrow!” can seem impulsive. So we’re scared of it, and we buffer our decisions with too much extra time. The reality is that the suddenness only feels that way because you’re measuring the incorrect length of time. The time between when you finally decide to take action and when you take that action should be short – as short as possible. What makes it not sudden at all is when you realize that the time period being referred to is the gap between when you finally decide to take action and the very first time you wanted to.

That gap could be years.

If you take a long time to decide, so be it. That’s in the past. But once you decide, don’t fool yourself into thinking you can decide on behalf of some future version of you that might never come into existence. You can only control the Present Day You, and that’s the person that has to take the action you decided on.

Go forth, and wreak havoc.


I’ve been a bit of a slacker on my workout for the last week or so. But my oldest daughter really likes working out with me, so today she requested that as a daddy-daughter activity. It’s easier to put off your workout when it’s just for you. How can I say no to her?

You can generate a lot of good habits in your life by tying them to other things you want to do. I always invite my kids along with my chores. When my three-year-old says “I wanna help!” while I’m doing dishes or cooking dinner, I always find something for her to do, even if it’s just holding a can of peas or drying a spatula.

I encourage my kids to join in the things I have to do, so they’ll want to do those things. That in turn keeps me motivated to do them, like today. I got a really solid workout in because my daughter just wanted to spend the time. If I played video games with her that’s what she would want to do, so instead I try to tie as much of our activities together to positive things. Reading time, workout time, cleaning time, etc.

Connect the things you want to do with the things you have to do. It’ll help.

Keep Doing What Doesn’t Work

I often think about the usability of advice versus its “absolute value.”

For instance, let’s say I ask you “What’s the fastest way to get to San Francisco?” You could answer “fly the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird” and technically be correct. You would also be wildly unhelpful, since there’s zero chance of me doing that. More practical but less “technically correct” advice would be to book a non-stop flight on a commercial airline.

In that example, it’s easy to see the difference between the “best” answer and the most helpful answer. It’s not always that easy, though. One of our big hangups is when we give advice that is both good in an absolute sense, and easy for us to follow personally, but that the person receiving the advice can’t utilize fully for some reason.

Here’s an example: you’ve lost a lot of weight and gotten healthy lately, and your friend asks you for advice. You tell them that you joined a gym with a pool because swimming is super good exercise, and you went swimming every day. This is good advice, and it clearly worked for you. Your friend, however, is deathly afraid of water.

The advice is still good in the “absolute value” sense. But your friend can’t use it. Now, you can try to force the issue by trying to convince your friend that a fear of water is unfounded, that logically they’re in no danger in an indoor pool in a gym with a lifeguard on duty, and that their phobia is standing in the way of their progress. And you’d be wasting your breath.

Instead, just give them the best advice that’s actually useful for them. That might be #4 on the actual list, but if it’s the one they can use, it’s the best one.

A really common version of this that I encounter follows this pattern. Let’s say Bob comes to me for advice. Bob says, “I’m doing X, and I’ve been doing it a hundred times a week for 6 months, and it isn’t working. Help me out here.”

I say: “No problem. Stop doing X; it isn’t working. Instead, do Y and you’ll get good results.”

And then Bob says back: “But that’s really strange! All the standard wisdom says do X!”

I used to get really frustrated. I used to waste a lot of breath trying to explain to people the faulty logic of telling me that X had been failing again and again but then defending it as a good option because the “conventional wisdom” said to do it. I used to try to actually get into all the deeper reasons behind why X might have been a good idea once before, but times have changed, blah blah blah.

That didn’t help me, it didn’t help Bob.

Here’s what I started saying that helped a lot: “Okay, then keep doing X too. Just also do Y. That way you get the best of both worlds.”

In this case “keep doing the thing that isn’t working” actually became good advice, because it was the only thing that made them also do the thing that would work. The sunk cost fallacy and “conventional wisdom” bias are both huge influences on people’s ability to think clearly, so instead of fighting it, just work around it. As long as the thing that isn’t working isn’t directly countering the thing that will work, doing both is fine. They’ll gradually abandon X when they see Y is working all on their own.

Give the best advice someone can use, and help the person they are.


I once had a client who made very good money, but was miserable at his job. Really hated it. We talked for a while about other career paths, but the question of money kept coming back up. Every time we’d come close to discovering something else he might do for a living that would make him happy, he would worry that it wouldn’t make him as much money as his current high-paying profession.

So we started to get into finances a little. The guy was living WAY below his means. He was saving more than 50% of his income (which is awesome!). He was frugal and sensible and more than capable of taking a huge pay cut in order to find something else that didn’t make him so unhappy. But he couldn’t get away from this idea that he would somehow be failing if he did so, especially if he did so willingly.

I eventually framed the question differently. I asked him: “If there was some gadget you could buy that with a push of a button just made you happy and removed the anxiety and stress and anger you feel from your job, would you pay 25% of your annual salary for it?” And he said he would, in a heartbeat, without question. He’d pay more, in fact. Why then, I asked, was he unwilling to take a 25% pay cut in order to just have a job he liked?

Surprisingly, he actually had an answer – and it was telling. He said, “It fundamentally feels different to have a $100,000/year job and spend $25,000 on something you want than to have a $75,000/year job and not need that thing.”

We dove in, and the conversation was enlightening. Many people lack a feeling of accomplishment, and in lieu of internal self-worth we look for external motivations. Your income is a common one. Not because it’s a good measure, but because it’s an easy measure. It’s hard to compare, apples-to-apples, whether you’re happier than you were a year ago, happier than you would be in a given hypothetical scenario, or happier than someone else (not that you should be comparing yourself to others!). Comparing salaries, however, is easy.

Too often we use income as a sort of “points system” for measuring how well we’re doing in life. I’ve fallen into this trap myself.

And listen, I’ll never say money doesn’t matter. It does; my kids have to eat, my bills have to get paid, all these things cost money. But that’s what money is – a means to an end. It’s not the end itself. It’s not my self-worth.

I prize ambition. I think we should be eager and excited to go out and make big changes and work for what we believe in and create value for others, and the end result of doing all of that well is often a solid paycheck. But everything costs something. Be aware of what each extra dollar costs you, and don’t pay more than $1.01’s worth of happiness for it.

There is no gadget. Happiness is hard to buy back once you’ve spent it on a paycheck.

A Tale of Two Waters

Two men lived in a desert. They both had a large reservoir of water, and both men were generous and altruistic. They both believed that the highest virtue they could achieve was to slake the thirst of others.

The first man loaded his wagon with many barrels and filled them from his reservoir. He traveled to villages near and far, giving away water to whoever was thirsty. Many people filled a cup or two at his tap, and were happy for a time. The man saw this, and was pleased in turn. But each time he returned to his reservoir to refill his barrels, he was once more disappointed; he couldn’t help more people, because the same small group would be thirsty again. He drew ever-larger amounts from his reservoir in an attempt to help more people, but that just drained his reserves faster. He started going without water himself, thinking that each cup he drank was a cup he’d no longer have to give. Despite a lifetime of altruism, his reservoir eventually ran dry, and he perished of thirst.

The second man drank his own water, and dug a well. His first well was a failure, finding no water. As was his second, third, and twentieth. But he drank his own water and persevered. He tried irrigation systems to tap rivers, aqueducts to trap rain, and even condensers to pull the moisture from the air. There were many failures, all while he drank his own water. But before his reservoir ran dry, he found a way that succeeded. Now his reservoir would refill eternally, requiring him only to maintain the machinery. Now he could fill the cup of others a thousand times over. When his long life was at an end, he passed the machinery on to another, and was remembered… well.

This is a long way of saying “don’t light yourself on fire to keep others warm.” You cannot – cannot – help someone else if your own foundations aren’t built. If you can’t hunt, then the only way you can feed others is with your own body. Self-sacrifice might be noble, but it’s also woefully inefficient.

Here’s the trap: sometimes you look at an altruistic person who is doing good for the world and you think, that’s the kind of person I want to be. So you think that selflessly helping others will make you that kind of person, but the altruism is an effect of having your own life together, not a cause of your life coming together.

Let me repeat for the people in the back: Altruism is an effect of having your own life together, not a cause of your life coming together.

If you want to be the kind of person who makes a difference in the world, make sure you have a way of filling your own reservoir. Self-sacrifice is naturally limiting. Working to make the world a better place in a way that also sustains you, instead of drains you, means you can do it as long as you want.

Notes, March 2020 Edition

Here’s some music for you! There’s almost a theme today, but I assure you, it’s coincidental. I just want to share stuff you might like.

Wildflowers, by Tom Petty. I’m one of those people that actually thinks Tom Petty did better work as a solo artist. Maybe it’s just an artifact of the time period; I grew up listening to Tom Petty when The Heartbreakers were already in the past, so some of that I’m sure is nostalgia. But nostalgia is a big part of music, so why fight it? Either way, Wildflowers is incredible. Every time I listen to this album, it’s like Tom himself is saying to me, “It’s okay, buddy. This is just part of life. Let’s just rock it away for a while and you’ll feel better.” And I always do.

Bunch One, by Selo i Ludy. This is a Ukranian cover band that does Slavic folk-rock versions of American hits. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for forty years and have never heard any of these original songs, I guarantee you’ll find something on this album to make you smile and want to share with friends. This is the best kind of music; the kind that makes you immediately want to share it with other people just because it’s so wild. Not all music has to be deep or serious or emotional – sometimes music does its best work when it just gets you, smiling, out of your seat.

The Fuses Refuse to Burn, by The Hopefuls. These guys were originally called “The Olympic Hopefuls,” but the actual Olympics sent them a cease-and-desist letter and made them change their name. I first heard them when I received, unsolicited, a compilation album of new/unknown bands that Marlboro cigarettes had put together as some sort of promotion. I have no idea why – I’ve still never touched a Marlboro cigarette, but I did end up really liking this band and have gotten really into this album in particular. Their music is clean and simple and easy to listen to and enjoy while still not feeling stale. The songs have momentum; try turning one off in the middle and you’ll feel a jolt like the sudden stop of a car.

Icky Thump, by The White Stripes. I feel like for six months this album is all anyone talked about and then it disappeared, but Icky Thump is one of the coolest and most original albums to come out of the decade. Jack & Meg throw a lot of the conventional rules of composition out the window in order to create really memorable and good music, but I wouldn’t say this goes all the way into “prog rock,” either. There are weird elements drawn from a wide variety of styles and influences here, but it comes together beautifully. Despite all the elements, the sound doesn’t come across as complicated – if anything, it feels very stripped-down and raw. The lyrics are the cherry on top; one of my favorite lines in any song is on the last track of this album: “I ain’t sayin’ I’m innocent – in fact the reverse. But if you’re headed for the grave you don’t blame the hearse.”

Cassadaga, by Bright Eyes. I love singer/songwriter stuff, because there’s always this interesting challenge of writing something that is simultaneously original and unique to you, but also relevant to a lot of people listening. I like that – the idea that someone’s unique experiences can still connect to a sort of shared emotional pattern we all go through. Songs like “Classic Cars” are clearly about specific relationships and events, but the patterns can be relevant to lots of people living very different lives. Finding a reflection of your own path in the experiences of another is a form of connection that’s hard to find in any other context. There’s a line in a Dave Matthews song that goes “Funny the way it is, not right or wrong. Somebody’s heart is broken and it becomes your favorite song.” That might be the theme of this whole album, and it’s worth hearing.

As always, may you find joy and comfort in every note, and I always want to hear what you’re listening to!