The Bird Can Fly

You are capable of amazing things, and that inherent talent exists regardless of changes in your external environment.

“The bird does not trust in the branch for its safety. The branch may break; the bird can fly.”

Often, we make the mistake of thinking our talents are tied to our circumstances. That we can only be who we are if we’re where we are. That isn’t the case – you are you. On a boat, with a goat, in a car, near or far.

Other people may change your circumstances, even if you don’t want them to. They can’t ever change what you know how to do.

If you built a house from scratch, pouring your blood, sweat and tears into it, the house itself is a nice reward. However, even in the worst of circumstances – a fire or a hurricane destroys that house – those circumstances can’t take everything away from you.

You still learned how to build a house, and can build another. Keep flying.


There is a fantastic situation you can sometimes find yourself in quite by accident, and that is being the person who barely knows anything about a topic in a room full of people who know literally nothing about it. You can also engineer this situation pretty easily – just find a subject that no one around you knows anything about and learn about it a little.

Why is this such a great scenario? Because the knowledge gains you can make in a short period of time are incredible in this circumstance.

Let’s say you and 9 friends go on a fishing trip. You know a tiny bit about fishing, and everyone else has never caught a fish in their life. You all decide you want to give it a shot and have some fun anyway, though, so you’re off to the lake! Now here’s what will happen – despite the fact that you know next to nothing about fishing, your friends all know literally nothing about fishing, so to them you’re still the expert. So they’ll ask you a million questions every time they come up against something they don’t know. And you’ll be slightly better-equipped to figure out the answers than they will be. So assuming you aren’t a jerk, you’ll be solving problems left and right – far faster than if you were limited to only the problems you encounter yourself.

It’s like practice by proxy.

You will get good, and you will get good fast.

I’ve seen this happen a lot in a business environment. I remember once taking a sales team I was managing and giving them all iPads for the first time as a sales tool. Out of my dozen or so team members, all but one had never held an iPad before, and one guy had used one maybe twice. But by the end of the day, he could practically work at the Apple Genius Bar, because he’d fielded every single question everyone had about setting up their device, etc. and in so doing had learned an enormous amount.

It’s easy to dismiss. It’s easy to say “look, I don’t really know any more than you, so go find an actual expert to ask.” But honestly, these will be level-one questions, nothing so difficult you couldn’t figure it out. And if you let your tiny amount of experience give you the confidence to stand up, lead, and tackle those problems, you’ll hit knowledge at a far higher level before you know it.

In the land of the blind, the man with one eye is king.


The person that most effectively breaks the rules is the person that understands the rules flawlessly.

In order to customize, modulate, or personalize within a system effectively, you have to know that system better than anyone. You don’t want to end up with a Chesterton’s Fence scenario, where you’re breaking rules that you don’t understand, because sometimes those are load-bearing rules and you’ll bring a world of pain down around yourself.

Here’s a classic example that I witnessed the other day: I was driving on a highway that was several lanes wide. Traffic wasn’t bumper-to-bumper, but it was slow. The far right lane, however, was wide open. So a particularly impatient driver swerved into that lane and sped up – only to nearly rear-end the police car that was occupying that lane, guarding construction just beyond it. (The problem with particularly low-to-the-ground sports cars is that they really limit your visibility in traffic.)

A more reasonable person might have looked at the empty lane and said, “yes, I can’t see an obvious reason why no one is spreading into this lane, but the fact that no one is suggests that there may be a non-obvious reason, and I should wait until I have more information.”

That’s an example of someone who flaunted the rules of a system without fully understanding them.

Now, if you’ve read any sampling of posts on The Opportunity Machine, you know that I’m no fan of rules and I recommend testing them thoroughly and breaking as many as you can get away with. But that “get away with” part is important, meaning that you need to fully understand the consequences of what you’re doing. I hate rules, so I study them constantly. Only a fool would, as a consequence of despising rules, ignore them. I break rules aplenty, but I never ignore them.


As soon as you are confronted with a new dilemma, there become many versions of you.

At the moment of divide between the present and the many futures, there are suddenly multiple copies of you – the one that gives up early. The one that runs screaming from the challenge. Ones that try and fail a thousand different ways.

And the one that succeeds.

You – the version of you reading this right now – can step into the shape of any one of them. You just have to outlast the others.

Success is just failure over time.


As any parent knows, meaningful conversations with your children are incredibly important. I happen to believe that just about any conversation with your kiddos counts as “meaningful,” but there are definitely times when you want to solicit actual information on a particular topic, and that isn’t always as easy. Once your kids start doing things without you – school, activities, hanging out with friends – you want to hear about it. Sometimes that requires a little direction.

“How was your day,” so often elicits little more than “fine” unless there’s some particular event that they really want to tell you about – and if that’s the case, you probably didn’t have to ask. So I’ve heard lots of advice on more specific questions to ask. If you keep up with this regularly and know what’s going on in your kids’ lives it gets easier to do that, but there are always times where we want to know more, but lack a good idea for a conversation starter.

Today in a conversation with my team at work, my boss presented a fantastic question. She asked us all “what surprised you this week?”

My first answer: that question!

I love it. It’s not only a good conversation starter, but it really helps you focus on aspects of your life that maybe you don’t on a regular basis. Most people don’t try to be surprised – quite the opposite, in fact. But unexpected events can trigger all sorts of growth and opportunities, and that’s a great thing to have more of.

Pride & Joy

My eldest daughter, despite all the difficulties presented in her training, has graduated from her youth karate into the full adult classes. She’s 8.

Watching the manifestation of her talent and hard work as she goes through the fluid movements of her forms has me absolutely beaming. She’s put a ton of effort into it, and I’m absolutely at my proudest when she’s worn out but practices anyway.

Watching her two- and three-year-old siblings standing next to her, emulating her movements and cheering with her brings me immeasurable joy.

It’s a good little clan I’ve got.

You Can’t Reject Your Way To Success

In the path of any endeavor, there will ultimately be four things you must do in order to succeed: you must reject the bad things the world offers you; you must seek out the good things the world has to offer; you must reject the bad things in yourself; and you must improve the good things within yourself.

You can apply this philosophy to anything. Looking for a great life partner? You must reject the ones that aren’t healthy choices for you, while simultaneously actively seeking people who may be great partners. At the same time, you must work to improve, becoming a better partner yourself by overcoming your weaknesses and building your strengths.

Looking for a great career? You have to reject bad jobs and not waste your time with them, but actively seek out great opportunities. Simultaneously you have to become a better fit for the jobs you want by killing your bad habits and building your skill sets.

All four components are essential. Sadly, there’s a common mistake I see – people focus on just one of those four tasks (and often get it right!) but expect that it will carry them across the finish line.

Most commonly, this is “rejecting the bad in the world.” People will decide which of the world’s various offerings of partners, jobs, homes, lifestyles, mentors, etc. are bad for them, but think that if they just reject enough bad stuff, their life will magically improve.

Let’s say there’s a restaurant that only sells mud. You (correctly) declare that you’re too good to eat mud, and eating mud is beneath you. But you exclusively go to the mud restaurant for food every day. Each time you go, you order nothing, saying “I’m too good to eat mud!” Yet eventually, you’ll cave. You’ll be so hungry you’ll order mud, because you’ve given yourself no other options.

You can’t just reject bad stuff. You have to seek out good stuff, and then give that good stuff a reason to link to you, because you’ve made yourself equally good.

Rejecting all the losers that want to date you is a great first step. But then you also have to actively seek out winners, because they aren’t lining up just because you rejected the bad ones. Then, when you find the winners, you have to be a winner too – which means that right now, during your search, you have to be working on yourself.

I see this with people job-hunting dang near constantly. “I’m too good to work the minimum wage food service job,” says the person who’s been unemployed for 14 months, has zero skills, and never applies to any other jobs.

You can’t build a house by rejecting bad wood, nails and tools. And you can’t be successful in life just by saying “no” to bad opportunities.

Notes, July 2020 Edition

Hey everyone! I’m going to do a slightly-expanded version of Notes this month because of a bonus sixth album I want to talk about! Here’s what I’ve been listening to:

Burning Organ, by Paul Gilbert. Paul Gilbert is a rock music veteran with an absolutely amazing pedigree, but more than that this dude clearly just loves what he does. He’s fun at times, serious at other times, but always creates music you just want to bathe in. This album slaps from beginning to end and deserves the maximum volume settings on whatever you’re playing it on. And despite the fact that Gilbert’s real power is in his guitar playing, he has some great lyrics as well – such as on “I Am Satan” (a love song sung from the point of view of the devil himself): “But will you condemn me to hell // when you know why I dance so well?” I’m such a sucker for clever bits like that.

Sam’s Town, by The Killers. I like The Killers, but what I really liked about this album is how much better it gets over time. The album was REALLY hyped in marketing prior to its release, to the point where pretty much nothing could have lived up to how good everyone said this album was going to be. Despite that, it’s a beautiful album. There’s a lot of comparisons to be made between this and Springsteen’s (absolute best) album Nebraska, so if you liked that then definitely give this a listen.

Riot!, by Paramore. Great pop punk anthems and heartfelt ballads side by side on this album. Paramore is a really cool group, and while they’re more polished and less raw than I usually like my femme fatale punk, they make up for it in obvious talent and songwriting ability. I think a lot of people in the 2000’s were trying to be exactly what Paramore ended up getting exactly right.

RTJ4, by Run the Jewels. Their fourth album is actually the first of theirs I’ve heard, as I’m really new to this group. But they’re incredible hip hop, nailing everything great about the genre. In my opinion, the hands-down best track on the album is “Walking in the Snow.” Go listen to just that song, maybe even a few times and let it sink in. If it hits you like it hit me, listen to the rest of the album because it’s all incredible. I know it’s a strange comparison, but Run the Jewels actually remind me a bit of Rage Against The Machine – both scream at power structures in ways that give me life.

Jagged Little Pill, by Alanis Morissette. Such a classic album of my youth, and it still holds up. This is one of those albums where pretty much every song became a hit in its own right, and I’ve heard every song from this album on the radio at least a few times. They’re all worth it. Nobody was quite like Alanis, and she didn’t fit neatly into the genres she was adjacent to like alternative or singer/songwriter. She carved out her own niche and it remains wonderful, encapsulated nowhere more perfectly than this absolute gem of an album.

Folklore, by Taylor Swift. Bonus album! Taylor Swift released a surprise album literally less than 24 hours prior to me writing this blog, and I’ve already listened to it all the way through twice. It’s beautiful, and it’s definitely my favorite of her work. There are no skips on this album. I’m definitely NOT the target demo for Taylor Swift, but that makes it all the more enjoyable for me to listen to her, because I’m not really caught up as much in who she is as a celebrity, but rather can just listen to her music as it is. The fact that in that context I still think her music is absolutely incredible should tell you something.

May you find something to love in this list, and lots to love out in the world. If you do, share it with me!

How Not To Make A Light Bulb

Some days you just have to accept that what you accomplished was that you learned a few new ways how not to make a light bulb.

You didn’t finish a project or accomplish a goal. Maybe you didn’t even get closer in the sense that you’re any deeper materially into the problem.

But if your back hurts, your eyes are sore, and your brain is fried, then guess what – you learned something. Maybe it was just where the wild animals are, but you learned something. Some trap to avoid.

Avoid enough traps and you get where you’re going. Get some rest. Plenty more traps tomorrow.

The Cost of Choice

There are no free lunches, only trade offs.

You may have plenty of freedom in an absolute sense, but the cost of exercising certain kinds of that freedom is far too high to be worth it to you.

For instance, despite how often people say otherwise, you don’t have to go to work every day. You can stay in bed all day if you want! It’s just that the cost of doing so might be pretty high – your boss might exercise their freedom to no longer give you any money. If you hate your job enough, you might take that trade off, but for a lot of people it’s a bad deal.

I first started thinking about this the first time I had to explain to my daughter why I was choosing to work instead of play with her all day. Sure, I’d love nothing more than to play with my kids all day every day. But the cost to do that would be very high, since we wouldn’t have a place to live.

The reason I’m thinking about this today is because I saw a conversation about success being defined as the freedom to choose what you do with your life. Someone voiced the opinion that you always have the freedom to choose in that way, and you don’t have to wait for “success” to be able to do that – you don’t have to “earn” freedom, you just have it.

I agree! To a point.

You don’t have to earn freedom. You have it right now. But all choices have costs.

So let me redefine success a little differently: “Success” is reducing the cost of your choices to the point where you can afford the choices you want to make.

You can choose not to work right now – but “success” is being able to make that choice without paying costs you don’t want to pay. Maybe that means you’re “successful” in that you have enough money to not need the income the job provided. Maybe it means you’re “successful” in that you get to make the impacts you want to make on your community even without the vehicle of that role. It can mean whatever you want in practice, but the core concept is the same – you are successful if your important trade offs are also easy ones.

Everything requires some sacrifice, some juice. And different amounts will feel more major or minor to different people, so in this way all success is subjective. That’s a very good thing – no matter how much your lunches cost, you should be the one to eat them.