Make It Through

This year I blogged every single day. I put points on the board every time. They weren’t always great. I didn’t “win” each day’s battle. That’s not just about my writing here – it’s about life.

But, I think, I won more than I lost. I came out ahead.

In certain very real ways, this place was a lifeline. A way for me to focus, to anchor, to force myself to be better. To have something to show for each day I survived. Maybe just proof that I was here.

It was a good habit to build, and I’m more glad than I can tell you for that buzzing sound I hear now in my mind if it approaches ten o’clock and I haven’t written yet. That reminder to collect my thoughts, to refine them, and to find the most positive and/or helpful among them.

I hope that, as a positive externality, you benefitted.

I hope that sometimes this was funny, or insightful, or thought-provoking, or interesting, or enlightening. I hope perhaps it spurred on conversations or daydreams or strange mental tangents. I hope that it was, in other words, an opportunity for you – to think differently, maybe even better. I hope it continues to be that, because I have no intention of ceasing.

I made it through the whole year. If you’re reading this, so did you. For all the harrowing experiences this year brought, I had many, many joys. I will allow the things that hurt to fall away with the last page of the calendar, and I will carry the joys with me forever.

See you next year, my friend.

Her Own Devices

Left to her own devices, my eldest daughter constructs elaborate, fantastical scenarios of all kinds. She builds permanent fortifications out of any raw materials she can lay hands on. She invents devices to move objects around in arcane ways whose purpose I cannot fathom. She paints, programs, draws, cuts, and shapes. In between these things, she runs, jumps, climbs and reads.

In short, I have very little worry that my daughter isn’t finding sufficient stimulation for her agile mind, even now.

Tonight, she solemnly handed this to me. I feel like the beginning of a great adventure is afoot.

Something Better

“I will sail across the ocean, if nothing prevents me.” – Seneca the Younger

As an early Stoic philosopher, Seneca shared this insight. Seneca wanted to illustrate that hard work and virtue were important while still accepting that at least some part of your success is in the hands of fate. Certainly the best archer in the world has a greater chance of hitting a target than a novice, demonstrating that your effort does matter. At the same time, even a master archer doesn’t hit the target every time – a deer may suddenly dart in an unexpected direction, a bird may fly in your path, the bowstring may break. How to maintain your drive in the face of fate’s ultimate influence?

Seneca’s phrase: “I will sail across the ocean, if nothing prevents me.” It’s a way of being comfortable putting in all your effort (note the “I will,” and not, for example, “I’ll try to”) and not blaming yourself for any ultimate results, only holding yourself accountable for putting in the best effort possible.

I love this lesson, but I think it may be incomplete. Far be it from me to presume to add to the great philosophers of Rome, but I think the modern era features a kind of mistake that I see people make, even when following Seneca’s lessons.

I would adjust the phrase thusly: “I will sail across the ocean, if nothing prevents me and if I don’t decide to do something better.”

Many people anchor themselves to grit and determination – admirable traits, I say! And they create solid action plans to accomplish their goals – equally praiseworthy! But they leave no room for new information, new choices, even new evolutions of your own desires.

Virtues, commitments, and paths of honor are worth committing to. Values and beliefs should not change with the wind. But there should be room for them to change, if change they must. And “plans of action” are an order of magnitude lower than values and virtues when it comes to things you should remain loyal to.

If, halfway across the ocean, you discover a previously-unknown island paradise, don’t be afraid to stay there just because you said you’d sail across the ocean. That was a noble plan, with all the information you had at the time. But each new piece of knowledge resets your universe to starting right now, this second. There are new choices to be made. Not all of them will be different choices, and your virtues and values and beliefs will help you sort through which is which. But only a fool would put on blinders and say “yes, that island is probably exactly where I’d like to be if I’d known about it when I set out; but I didn’t, so on I shall sail.”

The bright white light of the past splits into an infinity of possible colors in the future only through the prism of your present choices. Only you, in this moment, are capable of choice. You are not beholden to choices made even five minutes ago if you learn something new in between. Hold great ambition in your heart – yes. Make good plans in your mind – yes again. And if nothing prevents you, follow through – unless you think of a choice that’s even better.


It’s amazing how often we patch things instead of fixing them, even when the fix is available. In fact, often the difference between “patching” and “fixing” is just… removing the old patch.

Imagine you got wounded, and lacking proper medical supplies you did the best you could with a bandana. Now you’re at the hospital with proper medical supplies, and the staff goes to put on some nice, proper bandages… over your makeshift one.

People buy new clothes, but stuff them in the closet with the same worn-out, ill-fitting garments the new clothes were meant to replace in the first place. They adopt a new tech solution for a problem, but don’t delete the hacked-together system they had before, never fully migrating the data over.

It’s realizing your milk has gone bad, so you go out and buy new milk, only to shove it into the fridge in front of the old jug instead of throwing it away.

These people don’t lack for solutions. But they patch. And an old patch is a lousy foundation for a new solution. When you’re truly fixing something, fix it – gut the bad solutions out first.

Notes, December 2020 Edition

Hello everyone! For this month’s Notes, I’m going to do an end-of-year recap/highlight thing and talk about the music that was my favorite from the year. Specifically, I’m giving a Top 5 of the albums I discovered this year – each Notes is usually a mix of new stuff I’ve discovered and stuff I already loved that I wanted to share with you. But this end-of-year review is for just the things that were new to me in 2020, even if they weren’t “new” albums overall.

RTJ4, by Run the Jewels. My thoughts on this incredible album are here. Suffice to say this album has held up incredibly well, and it’s been the album on this list that I’ve made other people listen to more than anything else on this list.

Letter to You, by Bruce Springsteen. The Boss returns at his absolute best – if you were a deep fan of Springsteen, this will be your favorite of his albums. If you hate Springsteen, this might well be the once exception. My thoughts here.

Folklore, by Taylor Swift. Swift actually released another album between the release of Folklore and this post, and while the new album (Evermore) is very good, it isn’t as good as Folklore. In fact, nothing she’s done has been as good as Folklore, and that’s coming from someone who likes a great deal of her work. There was a lot of drama surrounding the transition between the writing of her first six albums and the writing of her last three (too much for me to recount here), but the latter circumstances have clearly been conducive to her having significantly more creative freedom and energy.

Fish Outta Water, by Karen Lovely. I’ve continued to add more Karen Lovely to my collection, and overall this is an artist I was thrilled to discover, not just a single album I liked. My original thoughts here.

Cuttin’ Grass, by Sturgill Simpson. This one gets the list for two reasons: one – because the album is incredible; and two – because I discovered in listening to his other albums that he has absolutely incredible range. The album released before this one, Sound & Fury, has a completely different (but equally amazing) style to it, and discovering a new artist at such depth is really great.

And lest you think that this is just a “greatest hits” episode, I do have one new entry for you – and quite honestly, it gives every one of these a run for their money. Heck, it gives all albums a run for their money:

McCartney III, by Paul McCartney. Have you ever heard of this guy? Kind of obscure, I know. But seriously – this album is so good I put it on and just froze in place for the entirety of the first track, unable to move. Unable to think. I could barely breathe, and I’m not overselling it. The entire album is McCartney reminding everyone how it is well and truly done.

Happy new year, everyone. May it – and all the years that follow – be filled with music.

The First Thing

There is a large gap between “engaging with something” and “sealing the final version in amber.”

Allowing an idea to be considered isn’t the same as restructuring your whole ideology. Researching a different career path isn’t the same thing as quitting your job and taking an offer in a new role. Attending an open house isn’t the same thing as buying a house.

And yet, people hesitate so much about the initial engagement process. They spend far too much time trying to decide what to even engage with, as if that decision had meaning or weight.

Largely, it does not. But it does take time! Time is a precious resource when you’re searching for information. Save your deliberation for the time when you have information, and you need to make an actual committed decision. That’s the time. When you’re in the info stage, just engage with the first thing that you see or think of and go from there.

When I write blog posts, sometimes I get into this trap where I’ll deliberate too much about what to write, or what topic to consider. That’s foolhardy! I can write whatever I want, change it, edit it, scrap it, etc. – all before I hit “publish.” So there’s no reason to dwell when the page is blank. I can just type as I like, and then decide if I’ve hit the mark. Only very, very rarely do I decide that I haven’t and write something different. After all, this is a daily blog, so the stone tablets I’m committing to crumble in a day. I will have more opportunities. There will be many “first things” to write about, just as – for all of us – there will be many first things to do.

Improving The Odds

Imagine you walk into a casino with the intent to put some quarters into some slot machines. You go to exchange your dollars for quarters, but you receive a surprising offer from the teller:

You can take normal quarters that work exactly as you’d expect them to, or you can take a special coin made by the casino. The slot machines can detect the special coins, and increase the odds of winning by a factor of ten. The catch: they only work in 10% of the machines on the casino floor.

Would you take regular quarters or the special coins?

Before we discuss the answer, let me tell you about a pattern I see repeated very often. Someone will be trying some sort of general, unspecialized technique to cast a “wide net.” Examples include approaching all women in online dating the same way, or sending the same type of application to every job, or trying to close every sale with the same technique. They won’t be doing very well; a high number of attempts and no successes. Then someone will suggest an alternative – a highly specialized approach that has a proven track record of success in specific circumstances. And the original person will object that the technique is bad because it isn’t broad enough.

Here’s the thing to remember when you “cast a wide net:” you’re typically only trying to catch one fish. You’re casting a wide net because you aren’t sure where that fish is or what kind of bait to use. But ultimately, you’re probably only going to date one person or accept one job. You aren’t trying to succeed with everyone, you’re just trying with everyone in order to succeed once.

Which means, in that casino, you should hands-down take the special coin. You’re only going to play one machine at a time anyway!

Nothing in life is guaranteed. All your effort serves the purpose of maximizing your odds of success – you can approach, but never achieve, 100% success rate. Your actions are meaningful, even if sometimes you fail. But don’t be foolish. Don’t take your special coin, put it in one of the slot machines that won’t take it, and then claim that the coins are a bad idea. Take your specialized approach and apply it to the right circumstance. Your odds of success will always be better than if you just try the most general path.

Sweet Lemons

Do you know the fable behind the phrase “sour grapes?” It’s not long – the gist is just that a fox tries to get some grapes, but can’t reach them. So he gives up and to keep himself from feeling bad about it, goes “eh, they were probably sour anyway” despite having no evidence of that. So that’s the meaning of the phrase – you say “sour grapes” when someone fails at something but then immaturely dismisses that thing as not worth getting anyway.

That is what it is, people do it, and obviously if it’s a common enough part of human nature to have a whole fable written about it you probably aren’t changing it anytime soon. Try not to do it yourself. But that’s not the lesson today.

Today, I want to talk about a complimentary phenomenon, which I see more and more of every day. Some people fail at something and say, “well, the success would have sucked for some reason anyway,” and that’s sour grapes. But more and more people are instead failing at something and saying “eh, the failure wasn’t really a failure and it was actually good.” So I’m calling this “sweet lemons,” – if you thought the grapes were sweet enough that you wanted them, failing to get them might cause you to declare them sour. If instead you bit into a lemon thinking it was going to be sweet, you might try to downplay your mistake by claiming the lemon actually was sweet.

Now, I want to be clear. I’m not referring to the incidences of people saying, “I failed at this, and that’s okay, because failure is part of life and I learned something and I’ll try again.” No, that’s obviously a good thing.

I’m talking about incidences where someone fails at something and then to both avoid the personal shame of failure and protect themselves from having to try again say: “the failure state was what I wanted all along, and is actually better, and so I’m going to wear the failure as a badge of honor.”

It’s a strange thing to witness. There’s no shame in failure by itself. But some people believe there is, and so to protect their fragile egos from it they force themselves to display pride in it. That’s easier, of course, than doing what’s actually required to avoid the shame of failure – learn, try again, and succeed.