Snow Angels

My children are finally all old enough to have really solid snowball fights. It was three on one! I was soundly defeated, laughing hysterically as I was pelted with snow.

Life isn’t something to “get through.” Game-ify your environment. Find the things that are inconveniences, ball them up, and throw them at each other. Make angels in your problems.


I received two instances of virtually the same compliment within a day of each other, from two different sources. The compliment regarded my writing: I had submitted two writing projects, and they were well-received. The compliment was specific enough that receiving it from both sources (neither of whom had any knowledge of the other) made me pause.

The compliment was “Your writing didn’t require any (or only very minimal) editing before publication.”

Nice praise for a writer! Naturally I like the compliment because in addition to being praise of my writing itself, it also makes me easy to work with, which is a plus in any career. But while I’ll happily accept the compliment, what gave me pause is that I often don’t think it’s true.

In fact, if asked to describe my own writing, I will often say something like “I think I have very good ideas and interesting thoughts, but they often require a great deal of polish before they’re good enough to be absorbed in a meaningful way by others.” I usually don’t think of myself as a great self-editor. Most of my writing, this blog included, is “first-pass” writing.

That made me think of another phenomenon that occurs when I write, and in fact just happened today. Usually when I think about a topic I want to write, I’ll first do a quick review search of my previous posts in case I’d already covered a topic as well as I want to. And what almost always happens is that I say “Wow, my previous writing was very good! What a shame that today’s writing won’t live up to that standard.” It’s an odd pattern.

But maybe, just maybe, practice and refinement and being critical of your own work in just the right measure really do add up to some level of proficiency. Maybe not just writing, but reading your own work over and over and over every single day, multiple times a day, instills a sort of self-editing process that happens quickly, automatically and without notice.

Maybe, just maybe, I’m okay at this.

The Opposite Game

I like to be a doer, not a complainer. If there’s something I’m dissatisfied with, I do my best to work towards change or, if change is impossible, to reach satisfaction internally instead.

But getting to that point took a lot of work, and sometimes complaints just spill out. The start of all major change is current discomfort, and often we express that discomfort via complaints, venting before we work up the steam to change.

With a good process those complaints can become actionable direction!

This is a process I use with clients that do a lot of complaining but not a lot of moving, and don’t seem to know what they want to be moving towards. Moving away from pain is okay, but moving towards happiness is better – even if it’s harder.

I call this process “The Opposite Game.” It’s simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Step One: Accept all of your complaints, at least initially, as valid. Write them down in a bulleted list. “My boss always yells at me and treats me like garbage.” “I’m totally overloaded at work.” Et cetera.

Step Two: On the other side of the page, write down the exact opposite statement. “My boss always compliments me and treats me with respect.” “I have a stress-free workload at my job.” And so on.

Now, look at the other column. If your life looked like that, would you feel more satisfaction? Happiness? Great! That’s our road map. Some of those things may require change. Some of them may require you to find something new – for instance, you might not be able to make your boss act differently, but now you know what to look for in a new boss.

When we’re deep in the fog of frustration it can be difficult to even envision a happier life. Nearly impossible to itemize it into things to pursue. But you can get a great starting point just by taking the opposite of your complaints. From there, you may revise your goals over time – maybe what you really need is not to have a boss at all, for instance. But you’ve got to start somewhere, and this is a really great process for turning your complaints into helpful advice for yourself.

It also does one extra thing that’s valuable: it reminds you that there is a better world. That your complaints aren’t permanent. That there exists a version of you that doesn’t have those complaints, and that version is within your capacity to become.

The Lost Bikeathon

Roughly 15 years ago, I rode a bicycle 150 miles in a single 9-hour span.

That really happened! It was part of a charity bike-a-thon to raise awareness of and money for MS research. At the time, I was a very casual cyclist, averaging about 15 miles a day a few days a week, and never doing more than 25 in a single run. So naturally when some of my much more experienced cycling buddies said they wanted to do this event and invited me, I arrogantly said yes. How hard could it be? 150 miles wasn’t that much more than 25.

Oh boy.

I cursed and swore more in the last 2 miles than in the entire rest of my life combined. I couldn’t move for three days after. But I made it. It was exhilarating and one of my proudest moments.

No evidence of it exists whatsoever.

I was young. I didn’t know what I know now; that chronicling your own accomplishments is so important, because no one else will. I took no pictures, I didn’t write about the event when it happened, I didn’t download any press coverage of the event (not that it would have referenced me specifically out of thousands of participants, but at least I could have pointed to that and said “I was there”). Heck, I don’t even still have the bike. If you told me you didn’t believe that I had done it, I couldn’t prove it to you.

That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, of course. And a lot of the value of the event is internal and no one can take that from me. But a lot of your accomplishments in life can serve the purpose of being foundational for obtaining new opportunities.

You accomplish so much more than you note, and you’ve achieved so much more than you’ve archived. I’m not nostalgic nor sentimental and I’m anti-stuff, but a digital footprint takes no space. A blog post or a picture isn’t clutter. Record your moments. You’ll be glad you did.


I try to argue with myself pretty frequently. In fact, some days I don’t even have to try.

It’s good practice! If I have a particular opinion, insight, or plan of action then my mind will sort of automatically drift to counter-arguments for that position. I’ll try to talk myself into a different viewpoint.

The beauty of this happening in side my own head is that there’s no outside social pressure. I can be very genuinely “on both sides” of any view because I’m not trying to impress a tribe or gain status. I’m trying to be real, and correct. I can steel-man the argument on both sides and come to better conclusions.

It also makes me pretty well-prepared to debate any of these topics in real life, should the need arise. If I have to explain myself, I’m prepared to do so.

Good Job

Someone on my team received some negative feedback from a client today. As their manager, I was copied on it as well. So I leapt into action! I reached out to the team member… and told her what an awesome job she’s doing.

For one, it’s true. She’s an absolute rock star and a huge asset to the team. But more importantly, she’s earned my trust many times over. She’s gotten yards upon yards of good feedback and positive reviews. So one piece of negative feedback isn’t a pattern. It’s not something that needs to be specifically attacked.

And I know that anyone that cares about their work has a tendency to internalize even small bits of negative feedback. It was important that she not hear that from me.

If you’re someone that manages people, it’s so so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that every minor bit of negative news is a chance for you to put on your leader hat and get to work. But leadership has to be consistent, not laser-focused at the bumps in the road.

Some things are “teachable moments,” but this wasn’t one. And it’s good to get an instinct for which is which.

The Humility Radius

All human relationships are in motion.

Everything you learn about someone changes your view of them, however slightly. Even no new information changes your view, in that relationships stagnate and fade if not maintained. And as we eternally seek out not only esteem and belonging, but also desire to find others to esteem, our massive interpersonal relationship map is never carved in stone.

At any given point, the other humans that can become aware of your existence are moving either socially towards or socially away from you. It’s fine to intentionally drive some away – I do it. There are people I don’t want to associate with.

But by default, I want my social radius to contain a gentle gravity. I want people, all things considered, to want to know me better.

Humility is often the key to this. Don’t disparage whole groups in comparison to yourself. Don’t assume, without proof, vast estimations of your own ability. Don’t close your mental and social ranks.

When people move away from you, you rarely know it. You can’t imagine how many opportunities you miss if you’re a jerk. The prophesy becomes self-fulfilling: the world sucks so you act like a jerk, but the world sucks because you act like a jerk. If you aim all your “jerk-ness” at one person, then one person gets mad at you and likely tells you. But if you just sprinkle a little bit of “jerk-ness” across all your interactions, then no one ever is bothered enough to tell you. Instead, everyone just slowly drifts away, and the world you live in becomes the world you expected.

If the world sucks, then entertain – at least for a few minutes – the idea that no one can see the whole world. All we can see is the bubble we create. And if that bubble is unpleasant for you – well.


So, when I was about 12 years old, I got really into tabletop roleplaying games. I forged a lot of tremendous friendships through that. I also formed a deeper relationship with my father, because it was my first real major “interest” that he could encourage and participate in. And he did! He cheered me at every turn.

One thing my father always instilled in me, though, was a sense for the opportunity to make money. He loved encouraging me in my hobby, but he also would frequently ask me if I’d figured out how to make money from the hobby. It wasn’t nagging; he wasn’t saying the hobby was a waste of time if I couldn’t profit from it. It was just him teaching me to always look for income opportunities.

I did start to think about who made money from the industry. Like any entertainment medium, there were publishers and writers and such, some of whom even did it as a full-time job. Despite that, my research showed that it’s not exactly a gold mine and most people working in the industry are doing it more for the love of it than for the chance at fortune. Still, I always dreamed that one day I’d be a paid writer in that field, in the same way that young kids who read comic books might dream of drawing them for a living, or designing video games, or whatever.

I’m not 12 years old any more. Long gone are the days when that style of game was my all-consuming primary interest and social activity venue. But I still keep a toe in the water, so to speak. I play on occasion, read industry news, and even – if the opportunity presents itself – send in submissions.

And today, more than two decades later, I got paid for one.

Thanks for encouraging your nerdy son, Dad. I made money from it.

Rights & Wrongs

Do you think you’ve been wronged? Is justice necessary?

Many people think this about themselves. Over their entire lives, nearly everyone will think it at least once; for some, it may be close to their most common thought. And for some people, it will be true some of those times!

But the feeling of having been wronged is not the same as having actually been wronged.

Here are some simple steps to take if you feel you’ve been wronged, but you want to check that feeling against the cold light of reality:

  1. Can you point to a single person or allied group of people who have wronged you? If you feel that you’ve been wronged by “society” or by some sub-group of society, such as all those of a particular political persuasion, creed, race, nationality, gender, religion, or sub-cultural group, then just remember – you haven’t! You aren’t that important. Whole swaths of humanity are not arrayed against you. You may not have exactly the life you want and some part of that may be because of those groups, but that’s not the same as them doing you wrong.

    Here’s an example: I could be a rich & famous athlete if it weren’t for… all the people on Earth with more athletic ability than me. If all those people weren’t out there being all athletic and such, then I could be the Olympic Gold Medalist slash Super Bowl MVP that I always dreamed of! But does that mean that the combined group of “good athletes” have somehow wronged me? Of course not. And if there’s no wrong done, then no justice is required. It would be patently absurd for me to say “I deserve to be compensated for my athletic dreams being quashed.” Sometimes the natural flow of how humans behave and interact with each other will have consequences that are less than ideal for me specifically. That’s just life.

    However, if you can point to a specific person or small group, then you at least have the potential of being right about being wronged. So if you can point to a more specific villain, move on.
  2. Okay, so you’ve got a specific person or small group in mind, and you feel as though they’ve wronged you with their actions. Here’s a simple (if not completely flawless) test to do to see if you may be right. Consider the actions taken that wronged you and the timeline over which they happened. Now, pretend that you never existed at all – imagine an alternate world where you simply do not exist and never did. Are the actions of the supposed villain exactly the same? If they are, then you probably weren’t wronged.

    For example: let’s say I’m not mad at “athletes.” I’m mad a specific athlete, who did slightly better than me on some pivotal qualifying event in my youth, knocking me out of the running for a scholarship to an athletic training program that may have been my ticket to stardom. As a result, I feel like this person has wronged me, because they are solely responsible for me not getting that scholarship. But if I apply the “What If I Never Existed” test, I realize… that athlete would have done everything exactly the same. They didn’t gain their good fortune at the expense of mine.

    You can see how the opposite would work: a thief that steals my car would fail this test. If I had never existed, I’d have no car to steal, so the thief’s timeline of actions is altered.

    The long and short is: it’s not impossible, but it’s pretty hard to wrong someone if you never actually interact. But if you have interacted, now you’re getting closer to the possibility that you’ve been wronged. Move on to the next step!
  3. Ask yourself what would your life be like if they never existed. Let’s imagine that the person or group actually did have their events altered if you never existed, meaning we’ve satisfied a few criteria: A.) you’ve interacted with each other enough to have had an effect on outcomes, and B.) your outcome is bad, and likely theirs is good. But is that enough to say you’ve been wronged?

    What if they never existed? How is your life altered? In the case of the athlete, I clearly have a better outcome if they never existed – but since that example didn’t make it past step 2, there’s no wrongdoing to check here in step 3, as much as I might like there to be. What about the car thief, though? If they never existed, I still have a car. So a car thief is a specific person, they clearly had an effect on their outcome because of me, and their effect on my outcome was negative. Strong case for wrongdoing!

    What about a business partner that betrays a handshake deal? Let’s say we enter into an agreement that allows us to each make $10,000/month in a shared venture. After 2 years, he cashes out without telling me, ending our enterprise and making off with $100,000. Has he wronged me?

    Passes Test #1 easily. Passes Test #2 as well – their actions would be different in the timeline where I never existed. But Test #3 is trickier. I don’t want our arrangement to end, because I’m making $10k a month. But I’ve already made $240k that I wouldn’t have! The breach of trust stings (and certainly I’d never do business with this guy again), but if I apply Test #3 and say “where would I be if he never existed,” the answer is that I would be nearly a quarter of a million dollars poorer.

    So let’s say you have a specific person who has negatively affected your outcomes overall, and has done so in a way that wasn’t just a byproduct of their own life, but rather came from them directly interacting with you. Have you been wronged? Do you deserve justice?
  4. Test #4 is the last one. Would preventing what happened to you have required violating important rights – rights that, if violated, would pass tests 1-3?

    You can prevent a thief from stealing a car without restricting any of their rights. They don’t have the right to another person’s stuff, so preventing them from stealing it can be done without violating their own rights. But you can’t prevent a better athlete from beating me in a contest without restricting their right to live their life. You can’t prevent me from being annoyed at the color of my neighbor’s fence without restricting their right to live their life. You can’t even prevent a business partner from doing something you don’t want him to do (by force, that is – it’s perfectly fine to have good contracts) just because you don’t like it.

This series of tests isn’t perfect. There are wrongs that might slip through the cracks here, and there are valid actions that may get caught in them. I am not in any way trying to present some new or even novel way of interpreting natural rights or redesigning a justice system. I am not a great philosopher.

But I do want to make a point. The point is this – probably 99.99% of people who feel wronged have not thought this hard about it.

Low-Risk Stupidity

Babies and toddlers learn a lot really quickly. I mean, they learn so fast you can watch it in real time. I remember the first time one of my kids learned how to get water into a cup and bring it to her mouth, it was like watching the Moon Landing. And suddenly they go from not even being able to pick up an object to being completely proficient in its use in about 5 minutes.

The other day I was teaching my 3-year-old knife safety. Minute one, she was timid about holding the knife. Minute four, she was slicing up vegetables like she’d been a professional chef for years.

Little kids can learn so much so quickly for two reasons. First, they don’t know anything to start. That’s important, not only because it means there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit of knowledge and plenty of space to put it, but it also means they’re clear of a lot of misconceptions or prior bad habits that would prevent learning.

The second reason is because most parents keep their kids in relatively low-risk environments. There’s almost zero risk to failure for kids. Not only physical danger, but social danger – no one is making mean-spirited fun of a baby for failing to grab a spoon correctly and getting applesauce in her hair.

Humans deeply care about both kinds of risk, and that often prevents us from doing the kinds of stupid things that would actually lead to really rapid information-gathering.

If you want to learn something quickly, first build an environment where you have little risk. This isn’t hard! In front of your computer, by yourself – boom, you’ve done it. Once you have that, get stupid.

You don’t know how to use a new piece of software that your job is introducing? Open it up, and just hit random buttons on your keyboard until something happens. Something will! And your proficiency will grow rapidly from there.

Imagine how quickly and easily you could learn to drive a car if it were impossible to hurt yourself while doing so. Like, imagine they made a virtual reality driving simulator that was so accurate that it really felt like you were driving in real life, except that you could be by yourself, immune from harm, and totally invisible to other people. You could be an expert driver in hours.

Well, we’re not there yet with driving. You still have to learn to drive slowly, because there’s risk involved, so you can’t be stupid. But with a lot of things, that’s not the case. Lower your risk, and then goof around. You’ll have fun and learn quickly – just like those kids do.