General Intelligence

There is absolutely no such thing.

Every skill is specialized, all knowledge is acquired, and there is no such thing as “common sense.” If you want to be really, really frustrated your entire life, ignore that statement.

Everyone is good at something. What a lot of people are not good at, is knowing what that something is. Not because it’s some hidden talent they never use! It might be something they do twenty times a day, flawlessly. That’s not why they don’t realize they’re good at it.

They don’t realize, because they think everyone is good at it. That it’s just a sort of general competency that comes with being alive.

There is absolutely no such thing.

If you’re good at something, I guarantee you that lots and lots and lots of people will be bad at it. This knowledge can help you in two tremendous ways:

  1. You can stop being frustrated when other people aren’t good at it. You get frustrated because you think that person is the exception, but they’re not. They’re the general rule – you’re the exception.
  2. You can realize that this gives you an amazing opportunity to be a value-add in other people’s lives, by either doing that thing for them or showing them how to do it.

Day after day, I see people that generalize from the self and make this assumption, and watch them get frustrated as a result. Watching that used to frustrate me – but it didn’t take me long to realize exactly what I was doing. Now, I take my own advice.

And I write this blog post for you!

First-Place Champion Digger

Once upon a time there was a really, really good digger. Nobody could dig like this person – they were like the John Henry of digging holes. They would just dig and dig and dig.

And so they were in a pretty deep hole. And they looked around and said, “I don’t really want to be in this hole, to be honest.”

So the digger called up a friend and said that they didn’t want to be down there any more. And the friend offered what felt like pretty obvious advice: “Okay, then stop digging and start climbing.”

But the digger replied: “But I’m really really good at digging. I’m not very good at climbing, in fact I’ve barely done it before.”

The friend said: “Well, sure you’re really good at digging. You’re the best! But you don’t want to be in a hole. You can’t dig your way out. So you have to decide which is more important: doing a thing you’re really good at, and everyone praises you for, and is comfortable to you, and that you’ve built habits around…

“Or not being in a hole.”


My middle child is (as of this writing) four years old. Her younger brother turned two last year. When he turned two, I proclaimed him “not a baby anymore,” and my middle kid started crying. Why? Because she knows him as her “baby brother,” and she thought that if he wasn’t a baby anymore, then he wouldn’t be her brother, either.

Silly and adorable! Fortunately, it proved easy to explain to her, but it made me think about all the other associations that even adults make. We experience two things together for a long time, maybe even only knowing those two things in association. And we combine them so much in our minds that we can’t separate them.

For a lot of people, two of those things are “income” and “misery.” Most people’s first jobs aren’t exactly great. (Mine was, but that’s a different story.) And a lot of people take the wrong lesson from that first job – that earning money always has to come at the expense of doing something miserable. Something you’d never in a million years do otherwise.

I was chatting with a friend recently, and the subject of winning the lottery came up in idle conversation. You know, the sort of “what would you do if…” kind of talk. It made me give an assessment of my life, which I’m pretty happy with. I said, “I don’t think I would change much – I wouldn’t move out of this area, I might get a newer car, I think mostly I just wouldn’t work.”

He pushed back, and told me he thought I’d go crazy if I didn’t work. He’s right; I might enjoy a week or two off but I need productivity or I start climbing the walls. So I said as much, and described the kind of work I’d do if money wasn’t an object. He laughed, and I asked why.

He said, “you’re just describing your current job. What’s different in those scenarios?”

And I couldn’t think of anything. Which is pretty nice! By and large, I already have the life I’d have if I were independently wealthy. I’m sure I could think of a few things to spend millions of dollars on, but they’d all be additive, not “fixing” anything wrong with my life.

I think the path to that kind of life is just embrace the fact that it’s a process, and love the process for itself. If I have to walk many miles to a place I want to be, I don’t hate the distance – I love each step that brings me closer. It’s more important to make sure you’re not taking steps in the wrong direction than it is to stress over how many correct steps it will take.

(P.S. If my bosses read this: I can’t afford to work for free yet! Please keep paying me!)


It’s easier to outrun something than to catch up to it. You’re faster when you’re in the lead.

Unless you blow your advantage, you’ll tend to stay winning if you start winning. But that means a few things.

It means taking the risks you need to. If you’re losing, take every risk – you might win, but if the risk doesn’t pay off, you’re already losing anyway. If you’re winning, be more careful; you won’t need every risky move, but the cost of failure is high.

It means knowing how to maintain. You can’t win a marathon by sprinting, so if your early lead is due to a burst of energy that you can’t maintain, you need to strategize how to survive in the long term.

It means knowing how to evaluate whether you’re winning or losing. It isn’t always obvious.

Get in the lead and stay there.

The Eye of The Master

This is definitely true for me, and it may be true for many others: I have a hard time learning directly from a true master of something.

My father is an incredibly skilled drummer. He’s an incredible musician in general, but even among all his talents, the drums might be his most impressive. There isn’t a Gene Krupa solo he can’t duplicate, and he’s done more than a few that D.J. Fontana would have a hard time with. And at 7 years old, I tried to learn from him.

It was nearly impossible. There was simply too large a gap in the knowledge between us. I saw his skill as an impossible mountain. And he was so into his craft that whenever we’d play together, he’d go wildly off of the “basics” and into things that were amazing – and intimidating.

I would have been better off with either a very intermediate teacher, or no teacher at all.

I think when you’re first learning something, the best place to be is in an unsupervised sandbox. Someplace where you can’t do any real damage but you can mess around with the building blocks of whatever skill you want to learn. Someone being great at something doesn’t mean they’re a great teacher of that thing – so don’t make the mistake of seeking out “the best of the best” to learn from right away. Most of what they know is useless to you in the beginning anyway, and you don’t need experts to learn from.

And not for nothing, but people learn more when they’re in a good mental state, and many people are nervous as heck when they know they’re being scrutinized by an expert in what they’re trying to do. No one likes to feel judged, even if that’s not what’s really happening. You can (and should!) work on not feeling intimidated in those scenarios, but that’s a lifelong process and you shouldn’t let it get in the way of freely learning right now.

Learn like no one’s watching!

There’s Always Someone

It’s not an iron-clad rule, but in general, if something is manufactured for sale then at least one person is buying it.

So it stands to reason that if there’s a twenty-nine thousand dollar couch shaped like a cactus that exists for sale, at least one person has bought it.

If you can’t fathom the state of mind or existence that would be required for the purchase of a twenty-nine thousand dollar cactus couch to seem like a great or even normal idea, then just remember how vast and varied the human race is.

Most people sort of have this conceptual idea of an “existence space” that covers the range of possible human experiences, and they think of themselves as roughly in the middle of that. That is, they recognize that other people are different, but they think the range of those differences only extends about as far out as their local knowledge.

The reality is, most humans on Earth might as well be space aliens to you.

Take that for what it’s worth – but for me, I’m glad of it. It’s interesting, for one. And it generates a whole lot of interesting energy that mostly gets put towards solving problems, from which I benefit tremendously. And while I probably won’t ever buy a cactus couch worth twice as much as I’ve ever paid for a car, I’ll certainly do a lot of weird things that I can’t imagine today, and which someone else in the world might think ludicrous.

The world is rich, and we are richer for it.

The Easiest Lie to Fall For

The easiest lie to fall for is an incomplete truth.

Take a picture of a rainbow. Zoom in on the red part. Then show that zoomed shot to someone and say “this is a picture of a rainbow.” It’s true! You haven’t lied! But you’ve given people – quite intentionally, I might add – the impression that rainbows are all or mostly red.

This is what’s happening to you pretty much every second of every day. Every time you receive information, at least.

Context is hard! And when you don’t have it, you extrapolate and assume and you do that in exactly the way the person sharing the information wants you to. People can do this to you without every saying a single lie.


Some people would rather have no choices than have to regret making the wrong one. People are relieved when a choice is made for them by fate or circumstance.

If someone has the option of choosing one of two meals at a restaurant and they can’t decide, they’re thrilled when the waiter says “I’m sorry, while you were deliberating we ran out of one of the options. You can have the other one.” Even if the meal ends up being terrible, at least they didn’t “make the wrong choice.”

Except of course they did.

They waited. They gave up power to the universe. That’s always the wrong choice.

Do you know why the restaurant ran out of the better option first? Because it was the better option, duh. And people who made choices for themselves picked it. And then what was left over went to people who didn’t.

Making choices, intentionally, gives you the opportunity to make good choices. Whatever life leaves you with as the passive result of avoiding choice is rarely the thing you would have picked if you took the initiative. But avoiding choice isn’t avoiding responsibility for the decision.

It’s just being responsible for a bad one.

The Gratitude Engine

Making a point to express respect, gratitude, and admiration frequently is of an enormous benefit to you. Not just because people will generally like you more, but also because it’s a fantastic thing to think about when you get stuck.

Sometimes in my work, I work with clients who feel a little lost and purposeless (or very lost and purposeless). They want more meaning, or more respect, or more admiration. They don’t know how to get it. I’ll ask them, “well, let’s look for a different model – who’s the last person you expressed those things to?”

If they have an answer, we’re off to the races. It’s easy to then ask questions like “why do you respect that person so much?” We get all sorts of brainstormed ideas about what causes a life to have meaning or what causes work to be respectable in their eyes, etc.

If, however, they answer that initial question with “I can’t even remember the last person I expressed such a thing to,” well… that’s another thing, isn’t it? You don’t show respect or gratitude to anyone around you and you don’t feel like you’re respected or admired by anyone around you. I promise those things are correlated.

Taking frequent note of what you admire in others is an engine that can drive you towards admirable traits in yourself. It’s nearly costless as a habit, and has tons of other benefits besides. In other words, when you esteem someone – say so.

A Few More Scotsmen

There’s a thing called the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. It works like this: person A says “No Scotsmen eat porridge.” And then person B, who is a Scotsman, says, “I eat porridge, and I’m a Scotsman, so that disproves your statement.” And then person A replies: “Well, no true Scotsman eats porridge.”

Basically, the fallacy is when you define category X as not doing Y, so any examples of X doing Y automatically eliminate themselves as counter-examples, because by your definition they can’t be X if they’re doing Y. Therefore you can’t ever be proven wrong. Hence, the fallacy.

We need more of that!

Why do I say this? Well, this is actually going to be one of my extremely infrequent topical posts. Yesterday, a police officer was found guilty of murder for the death of a man he was in the process of arresting last year. I’m not going to take a stance on how you should feel about police in general. But I’ll say that there are definitely some people who hold the institution in high regard, and who (as a result of that stance, perhaps combined with several other political viewpoints) will defend virtually any actions of a police officer simply because they are one. I would prefer something else. I would prefer even the most ardent defenders of the police to behave thusly:

Person A: “No police officer murders people.”

Person B: “Well, a police officer was just found guilty of murder, so that disproves your statement.”

Person A: “Well, no true police officer murders people.”

In other words – if you hold a particular group in high regard, then you should not defend all members of that group no matter what. You should take members of that group that violate the principles that caused you to esteem the group to begin with, and you should expel them. Even if just from the category in your mind that carries respect.