Don’t Justify

Lots of people spend a lot of time justifying things they don’t have to. Don’t let people tell you otherwise. If you don’t want a drink, you don’t want to go out, you like a weird movie – so what? You’re allowed to do that. If you get into the habit of explaining every decision, you’ll feel like every decision has to be explained.

Some things just are, and you can let them be.

Successful How?

I’ve often heard people in business say, “X was very successful.” Often they seem to be using “successful” as shorthand for “made me feel good,” or maybe “sort of looked like a successful thing would look,” or at least “sort of made me look like I had done a successful thing.”

Actual success has to have a metric attached. One thing is true of all real success: you can measure it.

“Successful” doesn’t just mean “shiny.” It means that you accomplished something, ideally something you set out to accomplish (although unexpected successes are sometimes acceptable). That’s because all endeavors cost juice, and you were attempting to buy something with that expenditure. Either you did or you didn’t.

First ask – why would you care about this thing in the first place? Because you had a problem, and you wanted to address it. Okay, after you addressed it – did the problem improve? A shocking number of people can’t answer that. Make sure you’re not one of them.

Snakebite Theory

Snake venom in your heart will kill you. But here’s the thing – a snake doesn’t have to bite you in the heart. It can bite you in the heel, the fingertip. It’s all connected; the venom will get to your heart sooner or later.

All security is external security. There are a lot of things keeping bad stuff out of my body, but almost nothing keeping bad stuff from getting from one part of my circulatory system to another. Once you’re in, you’re in. And my heart is better guarded than my heel – so if a snake really wanted to kill me, it would actually be better off trying to avoid my heart and going for an easier target!

All organizations of people are like this. Within that organization is a particular person you want to talk to, but like the heart, that person may be well-guarded and far away. The organization as a whole may have some features that screen or repel outsiders, but they’ll be weakest at the fringes. But once you’re in, you’re in.

A long time ago, I was in medical device sales. There was a particular doctor who was a very high-ranking person in the largest hospital system in my territory: he was the head of the entire trauma center. That made him (in theory) the single most valuable person in the region for people like me; his signature on a contract would be worth millions of dollars. But predictably, he never met with sales reps. He had tons of systems in place to protect him from them, and no one ever got through the walls of friendly-but-firm administrators, screened calls, and blocked emails. He was the heart.

So I didn’t go for the heart. I found the incredibly overworked, understaffed physical therapy department. The head of that department literally worked in a closet. He was easy to see – I brought a sandwich and I was his best friend for life. In a technical sense, he was worth zero dollars to my company: he couldn’t authorize any purchases. But I offered to put on an educational seminar for his staff that would give them some of the continuing education credits they all needed to stay certified, and I’d even cater it too. The only thing I asked in return was the ability to drop his name later, and he obviously agreed.

So now I go back to the head of the trauma center, but not as a sales rep. I just sent an email saying something super short, like “Hi, I’m the guy running the education seminar for the PTs on how to best support patients coming out of the trauma center. Wanted to know if I could get your input on topics to focus on.” He responded within 15 minutes, and I had a meeting the next morning.

That meeting turned into a six-million-dollar contract.

Think about that when you’re job hunting, for example. People try so hard to find the exact right department head or hiring manager and pitch them from the outside, but that person is the heart. They’re well-defended, their walls are up. They screen and dismiss. But the person who just works in customer service for the same organization might be thrilled to have a friendly voice ask to chat, and once you have one friend on the inside, it’s easy to ask for introductions, drop names, discover more information, and move around. It’s easy to find the heart from the inside.

Debt of Thanks

Being grateful for something is not the same as being subservient to it. And it’s not “being ungrateful” to refuse to give your life over to the thing for which you’re grateful.

If someone gives you a dollar, you can (and should!) be grateful. But if they then ask you to clean their entire house and you decline, don’t let them sarcastically remark “so much for being thankful for that dollar, huh?!”

If they’d offered to pay you a dollar to clean their entire house, you may have said no. Being grateful doesn’t place you in their debt for life.

And it’s never, ever “ungrateful” to strive to better yourself or your situation. Yes, you should be thankful that you have a roof over your head if you do. Likewise if you have a job, a car, etc. But “being grateful” also doesn’t mean “settling.” You can work to improve without dismissing your existing good fortune.

All this is to say – gratitude is important. But it should never be a cage.

What You Signed Up For

Doctors go where there are sick people, not healthy people. Carpenters don’t look for finished houses with no flaws.

You go where there’s work of a kind you want to do.

So don’t get frustrated when there’s a lot of that work to be done – that’s what you’re there for.

I’ve met folks who didn’t want to join organizations because the organization was bad at X, when X was the thing the person was good at. That’s not a reason to be frustrated – that’s like being a kid in a candy store! It’s opportunity as far as the eye can see.

Sometimes we don’t want to do, we want to have done. But doing is an essential part of getting done. Be happy when you can do a lot all at once – looking for problems is twice as much work as solving them, but only in solving them is the reward found.


Early, light conversations with new people are often an opportunity to make a great impression, and people often want to leave those conversations feeling as though they’re well-liked by the other party. Here’s an easy little reminder for how to behave in those conversations – use the acronym CHARM.

Care genuinely about the other person and what they have to say. This isn’t a trick or a con – none of this works if you’re just trying to manipulate. If you’re not in a good place to be ready to care about other people’s stories, then don’t focus on meeting new people today.

Hear the other person. Like, hear them. Don’t wait for your turn to talk by coming up with pithy things to say.

Ask questions. If your first response to anything they say is your own opinion on the subject or unsolicited advice, then you’re not going to come across as someone who actually connects with them.

React accordingly. You’re allowed to have facial expressions and emotional reactions! You don’t have to keep a “straight face” during a conversation just to make it look like you’re listening intently. Being able to read another person’s reactions makes it easier to communicate with them.

Meet them where they are. You don’t have to use every conversation as an opportunity to advance your own agenda, talk about your favorite subject, or get someone to give you some benefit. If a person just wants to vent about their sick cat, let them. Show a little empathy, tell them you’re sorry about their pet. If you talk again, you’ll have gained that much more trust. And if you never talk again, you’ll have brightened someone’s life a little.

That’s it. Go talk.

Their Loss

Some people will choose not to interact with you. Many of those people will be “invisible,” in the sense that their decision not to interact with you will be made before you’re even aware that they exist. A potential job applicant that never applies to your open position, a potential romantic partner that doesn’t swipe on your dating profile, a potential customer that walks by your shop.

Tell most people this, and they’ll shrug their shoulders and say “their loss!”

That could be! But your loss, too.

We can’t interact with everyone, of course. There’s a real opportunity cost to every person we spend time on. But if a hundred people walk by your store and not one comes in, how many times will you say “their loss” before you take some interest in why they’re making that decision?

“The perfect employee/partner/customer will choose me regardless of what signals I’m sending,” is a silly thing to think, but many people do think exactly that. There’s a wide, wide chasm between what’s true about you and what people can realistically understand from early signals. Your signals could be wrong! People aren’t psychic, and maybe you’re doing a bad job of communicating “who you really are.”

Maybe it is their loss – but it’s your responsibility to communicate well.

Red Yellow Blue

When you dislike someone strongly, it’s really tempting to see anyone else who also dislikes them as a wise, thoughtful ally. To say the very least, that’s super dumb – and of course you know it’s super dumb, but that won’t stop you from being tempted in that direction the next time it happens.

Movies reinforce this stereotype all the time. If you have two bad guys in a movie franchise and they fight, it’s always because one of them is “turning good.” Hell, people do this with real world history! People cite the fact that Stalin fought Hitler as evidence that Stalin was a good guy.

So our brains try to trick us into black/white thinking. And if someone thinks they’re really enlightened, they might say something like “the world’s not black and white, there are shades of grey!”

But even that’s nonsense. “Shades of grey” thinking still assumes that there is such a thing as black and white, and just allows that some people may be at different points on the spectrum between them. But that isn’t true at all.

A more true view off the world is “Red/Yellow/Blue” thinking. First, it establishes a truth – there are a bare minimum of three viewpoints on any topic. There is pro, con, and neutral/unaware/don’t care. And with those three primary colors, you can mix into literally infinite viewpoints.

There is a spectrum between “red” and “blue” that contains an infinite number of “shades of purple.” But none of those shades contain an ounce of “yellow.” If you’re “yellow,” then movement along that spectrum never makes someone closer to or further from your point of view.

With Black/White/Grey thinking, if you think about Hitler and Stalin, you’ll be forced to conclude that there’s a better case for one of them to be a “good guy.” Since they fought, they can’t be identical. And if they’re not identical, then one must be a different shade than the other, but with a single line like that, “different shades” naturally means that one of them is closer to your shade than the other. So then you start to let your tribal impulses take over and start to think of dumb justifications why one isn’t so bad, because he fought someone you think is the worst.

But with RYB thinking, you can recognize that one might be red and one might be blue, and that there are infinite shades of purple between those two, but none of those shades contain an ounce of yellow. And no matter where someone is on that spectrum of purples, they don’t get any closer to or further from where you are.

Debating Educating

A young man goes to a wise old guru and asks, “what’s the secret to happiness?”

The guru replies: “Don’t argue with idiots.”

The young man scowls and says, “that can’t be it, it must be something different!”

The guru replies: “You’re right.”

There are very few good reasons or good opportunities to argue, but sometimes the stars align and there’s actually good cause to have a debate. But when that happens, you have to make sure that you’re actually debating, and not trying to educate.

Imagine you’re trying to debate with someone over whether or not you should plant a row of trees in front of the community center. You start with some thoughts about ascetics and maybe reduced energy costs resulting from shade, and the other person says it’s a terrible idea because the trees will be an eyesore since they’re made of metal and glass. You say, “I’m pretty sure you’re thinking of skyscrapers,” and they say nuh-uh, because skyscrapers are big blimps that carry messages over football games, and now you’re definitely not debating that row of trees anymore because you’re stuck trying to get the other person to understand what zeppelins are.

You can’t educate and debate at the same time. If someone needs to be educated on the foundational elements necessary for the debate to happen, then debating them is pointless. And if someone is in the mindset to debate you, then they’re definitely going to be closed off to being educated. So you can’t do both.

In many cases, the real reason to debate someone is for the benefit of an audience that may be swayed by you (even if your debate partner isn’t), but you lose that benefit if all you’re doing is explaining rudimentary terms to someone.

This is why, by the way, you shouldn’t try to sway opinion too much if your primary goal is education. As soon as someone disagrees with you a bit, most people then dismiss everything you say as argument, even if it was meant to be (or should be) educational. So if your actual goal was educating folks, you just shot yourself in the foot by trying to push a particular agenda.

We can debate fiscal policy, for example, if you want! But we can’t do that if one of us doesn’t understand what interest rates are. And mid-debate is really the wrong time to realize that and try to explain it. Because as I’m trying to explain the fundamentals of interest rates, you’re still thinking that I’m trying to argue with you about something, so you’re trying your best to disagree with the definition of interest rates just because I’m saying it. Now neither thing is happening!

Walking away in that moment is hard – but trust me, it’s worth it.

I Can Do This

“I Can Do This” is an incredibly powerful phrase. It’s not just a positive overall sentiment – it’s also instructions on exactly how.

  1. “I” – no one else. You have agency, you are in charge. No one is coming to rescue you, you don’t have a fairy godmother, but you do have unlimited wishes, as long as you work for them. The understanding of your own power and responsibility in all things will lead you to great heights. Focus on what you bring to every challenge.
  2. “Can” – you are able, but not guaranteed, to succeed. Effort is required. Life makes no promises to you, but your ability is bounded by your imagination far before it’s bounded by the laws of physics. Push yourself.
  3. “Do” – not ‘think about’ or ‘deliberate on.’ Action is required. Movement. The solution to problems lies in making real changes to the universe, not in worrying or dreaming.
  4. “This” – not ‘these things’ or ‘everything.’ One discrete task. A laser focus on accomplishing a very specific thing, with all your powers aligned to the task.

Each individual word of this phrase carries instructions and wisdom, and together they form a belief in yourself and a foundation of positivity that can move mountains. I may have found my favorite phrase ever.