The Invisible Toddler

I think more people should live out loud. Talking about what you’re doing publicly is a good way to learn things, meet people, and generally improve your situation. It’s a productive way to use social media, or it’s a viable strategy for a blog or YouTube channel or whatever. But a lot of people struggle with how they should go about it. “What should I write?”

I don’t have this problem, because I have been trained exceedingly well by a series of toddlers.

All you have to do is imagine that no matter what you’re doing, you’re being shadowed by a three-year-old. This invisible toddler asks you “what are you doing?” You’ve got to answer, and you’ve got to answer simply enough that a three year old can mostly get it.

Then they’ll ask “why?” You’ve got to answer that, too.

Then a few dozen more times.

It’s great training in patience, but it’s even better training in communication. Because contrary to the popular narrative, I’ve discovered that kids don’t just ask “why” endlessly. They ask until they understand. The better you get at communicating for understanding – even to people with very little background knowledge – the more clear your own understanding will become.

As a side effect, all of that becomes visible to others. You’ve lowered the walls. Keep lowering them until they’re gone. Or at least low enough that a toddler could get over them.


You don’t need self-confidence. I mean, sure, it helps. But it’s not a condition for success in most cases. It certainly isn’t a condition for making an attempt.

All you need in order to make an attempt is the understanding of the risk it carries for failure. And in the vast, vast majority of cases, the risk is absolutely zero.

Ask that person on a date. If you succeed, you get the date. If you fail, you get shot in the stomach… wait? The person won’t shoot you in the stomach? There’s no risk at all?

Apply to that job. If you succeed, you get the job. If you fail, you’re out the $150 application fee… wait? It’s free to apply to that job? There’s no downside?

Most of life is like this. The “risk” of most things is just that they won’t succeed, but that’s the same thing that happens 100% of the time if you don’t try at all. Most things that you’ll want to do don’t require you to risk anything other than a small amount of time.


Almost all “decision” problems are created by an overabundance of options, rather than a lack. If you can’t solve a maze, it isn’t because there are too few pathways.

What happens to most people is that there are a million options, but we aren’t great at figuring out which ones aren’t good for us. Somehow, this gets compounded by an even weirder problem – part of us doesn’t want to eliminate any options.

When a door gets closed, you should be happy! Especially if you’re the one that closed it. Your life just got easier, and it did so because of your agency. But when I see this happen, I often see it accompanied by people being pretty steamed about it.

I’ll give you an example: some employers these days use really onerous application programs. Pages upon pages of forms to fill out, weird requirements, maybe even requiring you to record video answers to questions. I see some people complain about those things. Which makes no sense.

Why would you complain about it? Look, all that stuff has exactly one purpose – to eliminate you as an option. If you don’t want to do that stuff, the company doesn’t want you. And if a company only wants someone who is willing to do a bunch of stuff you aren’t willing to do, then they’ve also eliminated themselves from your list. So everyone wins!

But some people are mad. You don’t want to work for that company. So why are you mad that they also don’t want you to work for them?

I see it in dating, too. People hide the most important things about them, worried that if they reveal them then a potential partner might not be interested. Um… yes? Why would you be upset that someone you don’t want to date doesn’t want to date you?

Sure, we don’t like rejection. There’s a silly little ego sting whenever something pushes us away. But just remember that you’re really the one doing the pushing. This is your life.

And maybe some part of you doesn’t like the rejection because maybe you’re a tiny bit ashamed of the thing that caused it. Maybe, somehow, you wish you were the kind of person that wanted to fill out all that stupid junk in order to apply for a job you don’t want. But that’s just peer pressure writ large, and don’t fall for it.

This is your life, and these are your options. You will ultimately have to pick some and reject many others. So do it with your head held high and eliminate the junk you don’t actually want. Don’t worry if those options are eliminating you at the same time – that’s the point. And it probably just means you were right!

Busy Work

A pervasive yet foolish way of looking at other people is to judge their productiveness by how “busy” they are.

We do it to other people. Other people do it to us. So we even do it to ourselves.

There’s always something to do, sure. But that “something” is often “recharge and be ready so that you’re most effective when the real stuff happens.” Ever observe firefighters on duty in a fire house? They might be playing cards, watching TV. They’re usually not hip-deep in some other minor task, some busy work, around the fire house. Why? Because when that alarm bell rings, we want them ready – undistracted, fully charged, ready to go.

Don’t do tasks just to fill time, and don’t expect it of others. If you can’t identify whether someone is doing a good job by anything other than how busy they look, then you shouldn’t be evaluating others at all.

Leave a Little Joy Around

Is destruction that harms no one a moral sin?

Interesting thought. You come to an old farmhouse, long abandoned in a great stretch of land long since reclaimed by nature. There’s a little chapel out back, and by some miracle the lovingly-crafted stained glass window in the front is still intact. It’s a pretty thing as the sunlight strikes it, catching your eye as you hike. The chapel is so run down that getting into it is easy, and on the inside the pattern made by the morning light through the prismatic glass lends an air of great wonder to the dusty and long-forgotten interior.

No one has owned or used this chapel in years, decades. Is it okay to throw a stone through that window to satisfy the desire that so many humans have – that desire to use destruction as a way of feeling in control?

I say no. I think, though you harm no one, there is a reason not to do so.

Humans need joy, and wonder, and the unusual. As an input that leads to the creation of so many of our great works, it’s vastly underrated. Yes, we need knowledge and we need reason. But we need something else, some catalyst, to make it all work.

There are more ways for humans to be inspired than there are stars in the heavens, and you never know which thing may be exactly what someone else needs. Wonder is a resource. An input that can make the world better, even if you’re not the one who will do so with it. So leave it be – or even better, find ways to share it, uncover it.

It’s better than destruction. Joy always is.


I have a lot of conversations with a lot of different people. Part of it’s my job, part is my collection of hobbies, part is just my nature. Sometimes, some patterns emerge.

Now, I say “patterns” but whether or not they actually are patterns depends a lot on my own interpretation. In the same way that the Big Dipper only looks like a ladle if you both a.) can comfortable impose your mental image of a ladle overtop of some dots and b.) ignore other dots, based on the fact that they don’t look like a ladle to you. So whether or not there’s any real trend or relation among these different conversational points is up to me.

But that’s the point. I’m drawing the connections for myself, to explore thoughts and ideas, to maybe manufacture a picture that can then be meaningful to others. If I want to show someone a particular star, it’s easier to describe the Big Dipper than to list the coordinates of the star in the sky.

Patterns, even manufactured ones, create something that makes communication easier. People can learn individual facts, but stories are what stick. A constellation in the sky is a story you can tell. A pattern of thoughts and ideas becomes a story, too.

When I Grew Up

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

What an awful, awful question. I hate it when people ask this of kids. I hate the way I see the effects of this poison decades later with people who are forlorn and lost, in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and using the half-joke to mask the pain: “I’m 40-whatever years old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”

You will never know the answer to that question, because the question is nonsense.

To begin with, your adult life is not a day long (hopefully). You will “grow up” thousands of times. You will not be the same person in a year. Sometimes those changes are very sharp (like when you have a kid), and sometimes they’re more gradual, but the change always happens.

And even if you never, ever changed in any way – the world will. What you want to be is a product of your environment in many ways. A young boy in America who says he wants to be an athlete when he grows up is statistically more likely to be talking about football than fencing, because football is more popular, more admired by the people he imagines wanting to be admired by, etc. But that’s a product of a specific time and place, and those things change. His dream of being universally admired may take him to a different sport – or different thing altogether – as the world’s culture slowly but surely shifts.

So now you know that change is utterly inevitable. You know that no matter what the “thing” is, it is impossible to maintain it, because “it” is at least partially defined by its environment, and at least partially defined by the person doing it. You could have been a farmer in 14th-century Europe and you can be a farmer today, but those aren’t anything alike in any way to where they would both satisfy someone who wanted to be a “farmer.”

You know change is inevitable, but… “Hey kid, I want you to really latch onto a specific, single, static thing that you’ll spend the next 15-ish years building your identity and self-worth around. By the way, I want you to do this while you know basically nothing about yourself and also you’re only aware of like ten “things” to be in the first place, but we gotta get you in that box and afraid to come out of it early!”


You have to give yourself room to grow and change your mind; don’t paint yourself into corners you can’t come out of, and certainly don’t MAKE kids do that. And if someone made you do that as a kid, I’m sorry. But now it’s time to shake it.

You will never be anything. You will do things, and live things, and hopefully enjoy things. But you are not any given action, certainly not any given job. You won’t be anything “when you grow up,” because you already grew up, a thousand times, and you have a thousand more times ahead when you will grow up more. Each of those versions of you deserves to seek their happiness in their own time and place, unfettered by the astronaut-patterned shackles put upon their past selves by a well-meaning adult in overseeing their kindergarten.

Here are the only things I want my children to “be” when they grow up:

Happy. Kind. Free.

The Proudest

My eldest daughter is, especially for someone her age, very money-savvy. I take her financial education seriously. She knows about saving, investing. She knows about how work translates into money, and how money is a tool.

She has earned money before, many times. She has a tremendous entrepreneurial spirit. She has amazing sales skills and a great work ethic. And she’s opportunity-hungry; savvy about chances to make good trades in life.

She also knows that, as a general rule, it’s awesome when you can combine “getting paid for X” with “really enjoying X.”

There is one milestone that, until today, she had not yet reached. I honestly wouldn’t have thought it would happen for many years, so she’s way way way ahead of the curve.

Today, my daughter received her first paycheck.

She was an actor in a play held by a community theater, as part of their summer learning program for all the various schools and learning centers in the area. It was a paid gig for all involved, and that made no exception for the youngest cast member.

I now understand a deeper facet of this story that I could not possibly have before this day. She will do many things in her life, most of which will be greater in scope or grander in mission. But I may never be more proud than I am today. Today, my daughter did a thing she loved and chased an opportunity at the same time, and made it happen.

Take Your Own Advice

This morning, on two back-to-back sessions with clients, I found myself in violation of advice I was literally giving right then.

In the first, as we were wrapping up and chatting about a few relevant things, I happened to mention a small detail about my life that I found less than satisfactory. My client grinned and said “You know, a wise man once said to me that you get to decide what world you live in, and you have the power to change anything you don’t like.” (Me. The “wise” man was me, 20 minutes earlier.) Of course, I was thrilled that the advice landed in a way that I’m sure now will be memorable, but ouch – got me.

In the second, I was helping a client establish good boundaries around her own time, protecting herself from constantly over-committing to things and letting time slip away from her. You will be shocked to learn that this session went over our standard time limit.

So, two lessons here. One is to make sure you listen to yourself. If you practice critical thinking a lot, you might get good at it. And if you get good at it (or at least better), then there’s probably a few nuggets of wisdom in there that your faulty memory won’t always conjure up. So make sure you’re paying attention to yourself – that person can be pretty smart, and certainly knows you well!

But here’s the second lesson – know when exceptions are warranted. No advice is good/useful/pertinent 100% of the time, even with a single person. That doesn’t mean that values or morals are conditional – but execution is flexible. Taking a super hardline approach of never voicing a single complaint ever may have damaged the rapport between me and my client because it could easily come across as holier-than-thou to preach in response to a mild complaint on their part, instead of commiserate and find common ground. And the little bit of time I went over in the second session was very valuable, both to the client and to myself as an exercise in what we were working on together.

In short, I should take my own advice more. But I’ve said before that it’s dangerous to ever agree with someone 100% of the time, and that even includes yourself.

Juice, Revisited

Everything that you make happen costs juice.

Juice can (and almost always does) mean a lot of things. That’s why I like the term; because it’s often inaccurate to say that something takes “time and money” when it really took a lot more than that. But money absolutely is a component of juice, and it tends to get a lot of focus. But in many ways, it’s the strangest component.

First, having money generally means having more juice, but it’s not a 1:1 ratio. Money didn’t come from a vacuum, and in a surprising number of cases you actually have to lose a few units of some of the other components, not only in order to get the money, but even as a side effect of having the money.

Here’s an example: imagine you have very little money, but you have a lot of drive. If you ask an acquaintance for a somewhat costly favor, they may admire what you’re trying to do and help. If you have a lot of money, on the other hand, that same acquaintance may feel like you’re taking advantage of them for asking for free help when you could so easily afford a different solution. In economics terms, this means you can often have less social capital just because you have more money. (Of course, there’s another threshold you can cross where you have so much money that people want to do more favors for you, but it’s no longer out of genuine altruism. That’s a different thing altogether, and beyond the scope of what I’m talking about in this post.)

Second, money itself often is a source of stress – whether you have it or not. People don’t, in general, want money. They want one of the “Three S’s:” Stuff, Status or Security. They either want the things money can buy (i.e. people don’t want money, they want vacations and cars and televisions and so on); they want other people to like, respect, admire or even envy them; or they fear the life that not having money will bring (i.e. they use money to insulate themselves against a poverty lifestyle, such as exposure to crime, inability to pay for health care, etc.). But whichever “S” or combination thereof you’re after, they all require another deadly “S:” Stress. Because turning money into those things costs juice as well (money doesn’t just magically become stuff, security or even status without additional effort on your part), and so on top of the stress you endured and juice you expended making the money, now you have to endure more stress and expend more juice converting it to what you really want in the best way possible for you.

Now, don’t think I’m trying to bash on money, here! As a quick aside, I truly believe that money is the single greatest invention mankind has ever come up with. The wheel, fire, harnessed electricity, even language – it all pales before “mediums of exchange” in terms of helping to lift the people of the world up from the caves and swamps and into the sky. On a societal level, money is absolutely amazing. On a personal level, money is a tool – and as I’ve mentioned recently, it’s important not to confuse a tool and a goal.

My “S” is absolutely Security. I’m very anti-stuff for the most part, and while I wish I could say I’m 0% status-driven, I can at least with confidence say I’m very low on that scale. My main goal for which I use money as my tool is creating a bubble. For me and my family, I want to make sure our life is on our terms. I expend a good portion of my juice (of which money is a part) on that goal every day.

But because I recognize both my actual goal, and the fact that it takes juice to get there (not just money), I’m very aware of when I can trade money (either existing or potential) away for some other component of juice at a great exchange rate, because that actually gets me closer to my goal.

I could earn more money than I do now. Without a doubt. In fact, on a pretty regular basis I investigate the possibilities for doing so, just to keep myself sharp and observant. As of now, none of those options would give me enough money to justify the significantly larger addition of stress they would cause, nor the significant reduction in other resources at my disposal.

Because you see, not only do I work towards my goal every day – but I also live it every day. My family is secure now. I work to maintain and even improve it, but every day I get to spend a lot of time with my kids, who are healthy and happy. I get to make their present and future lives more secure by being an active father. I have lots of plans and ambitions for future improvements to the homestead, to increasing various savings and retirement accounts, to safeguarding all of our health – but those are improvements to something that is already good. If I took a job that paid me much more money, I may be able to make better future improvements, but I would have to take away from something that is already good, right now.

That juice isn’t worth the squeeze.