Right Place, Right Time

Lots of changes to your timeline would be bad. You’ve heard this concept before, maybe – about how if you weren’t three minutes late for that appointment, maybe you would have been hit by a bus instead. Of course, maybe you get hit by a bus because you’re three minutes late…

But in the larger scope of things, changes to when stuff happens in your life have rippling effects that you can’t possibly visualize. Your life wouldn’t be exactly the same if you’d gotten that new job six months earlier or later. Things are too interconnected for that.

So try not to pick a single moment in time and lament it. Your life wouldn’t contain all the good stuff it contains now but none of the bad stuff if only you hadn’t missed that one phone call or botched that one date. It would be different in many ways, better and worse, because time works like that.

You are who you are, and this is where you are. Build from here. The right place is right here, after all, and the right time is now.


Everything you have ever wanted is locked behind an unbreakable door. The unbreakable door has, however, a very simple lock. It is unlocked simply by doing things you don’t want to do.

That’s it! The healthy physical form of your dream? It’s locked behind a door that is opened by diet and exercise. The date you want? It’s locked behind a door that is opened by going up to the person and asking them out. The dream job? Behind a door unlocked by hard work. The wealth? Behind a door unlocked by financial responsibility.

Here’s the thing – you probably can’t max out every value in your life. But If you’re not going to unlock the door, stop pining for what it hides. The door is unbreakable, but it isn’t mysterious. The second you say “I don’t want to do that,” you’re just saying “I don’t want what’s behind that door.” You don’t have to want everything! I don’t judge anyone for what they want or don’t want.

But I’ll judge – rightly – anyone who sits in front of the “Health” door drinking gallons of soda pop and eating candy bars while complaining that the door is locked.

Rough Day?

Hey my friend, had a rough day? Let’s sit and you can tell me about it. Of course, you don’t have to. We could just sit outside and smoke a cigar together. We could listen to a little music – or play some. We could do something else entirely. Something to eat? Or hey, drink some water. No, don’t get up – I’ll get it for you. That’s what friends are for.

Then let’s just talk a while. If the conversation goes to that, I’m all for it. If you just need a little reminder that there’s someone to listen, I’m glad to have done it. Maybe it’ll be more; maybe you’ll want some real advice, or even a hand with something. Maybe it’ll be something big. Don’t worry if it is. It could be a glass of water or helping you move across the country, I’m here either way. That’s what friends are for.

Of course, it might not come to that. It might not come to anything. We all have rough days. They’re like snowflakes – no two are exactly alike. Enough of them will bury you. But while they’re falling, a few extra hands will keep your pathway through them clear. You’ve got at least one extra pair of hands right here any time you need them.

That’s what friends are for.

Chop Wood

The matron of the farm stood before about thirty assembled farmhands. Today was a day of choring, and there was a lot to do. Many tasks were spread around the hundred or so acres of land, each one taking different numbers of hands, different amounts of time, different tools, different instructions. Only the matron knew them all, and coordinating thirty people would mean a lot of lost time; the first three might finish baling the hay, but for lack of knowledge about what to do next, could be idle for an hour as the matron was making her rounds directing everyone else. That would be a lot of wasted manhours, which the matron wanted to avoid.

So, the first instruction she gave was to point to the wood pile: “There’s a mountain of logs over there that we’d never run out of, even if we all chopped all day and nothing else. So any time you finish a task, you come back here and start chopping and stacking wood. You just do that until I come find you and tell you to do something else.”

This way, the hands would never be idle; there would always be something to do, and the matron would never have to go find anyone. After starting each new task, she’d just come back to the wood pile and find hands a-chopping, and then she’d take who she needed off to the next task.

For any given “ongoing” project, something you wish to invest in over time, there will be several large, specific tasks. At certain milestones, there will be big things to do, but there will also be plenty of time when there’s nothing from the list that can be done right now because tasks are often time-dependent or need other things to be done or a whole host of other reasons.

So, for projects like that, you need a “chop wood” action. Something you can always do, that’s always productive, and takes any amount of time. Whether you have a spare 15 minutes or four hours, you can fill that time with this task without needing anything else to be done and get progress towards your goal.

It is absolutely worth spending the time at the beginning of a project to settle on a good “chop wood” process, even if it takes a little time to figure out or some front-loaded costs to make sure you can always do it. It will make your time on task that much more efficient, which will in turn motivate you more as you always see real progress. Momentum matters, so if you can’t think of anything else to do, chop wood.

Big Deal

Criticize lightly, praise extensively.

When someone says that someone else “made a big deal” out of something, remember that they mean relatively. People measure your reactions against your median reaction.

Make it a habit to react to good things with more enthusiasm than you do bad things. When you must criticize, be direct and to the point. When you praise – and praise often! – do so with great fanfare. This applies even – especially! – to criticisms or praise aimed at yourself.

This not only makes your criticisms taken more seriously (because no one will think you’re “overreacting” if it’s less reaction than normal for you), but it also keeps your life and your relationships centered around the good, not the bad.

That’s not just a big deal – it’s a great deal.

Fool Me Twice

One of my all-time favorite quotes, one that I feel contains so much wisdom that it alone will probably prevent 95% of the problems you’ll face in life if you absorb in its fullness, is from Maya Angelou:

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

There is a way to navigate life that can seem strange, but I believe in it fully. The technique involves understanding that you, yes you, are fundamentally different from every other human on Earth in a very important way. You live your life in first person. You have control over, and moral responsibility for, your own actions. You cannot control or own anyone else’s. That means you aren’t the same – from your perspective.

That’s the important part: perspective. See, far too many people seem to view the world as if they were in third person. As if they were observing every person from outside the system. When you look at the world that way, you think that moral rules should apply to everyone, including yourself, equally.

I don’t view the world like that at all. I hold myself to incredibly different (and to be clear, higher) standards than I would ever expect from others. Because expectations are only rational when you can influence the outcome. I can control my own actions; I can improve them, adjust them in the future if a current course of action yields bad results. I cannot make that happen in others, so I hold no expectations about others’ behavior. I sometimes try to predict it, but I never count on it.

So, a little geeky tangent: in a lot of video games where you interact with a variety of characters, there’s a term “NPC.” That acronym stands for “non-player character,” and it’s the term for every character that exists only as code in the game; characters not controlled by a “player,” i.e. you. NPCs have pre-coded behaviors that are bound by the rules and script of the game. They cannot deviate from those behaviors, obviously. If a security guard is programmed to attack you if you try to rob the bank, the guard will do that even if you try to give him a million dollars not to, because the game’s code and the character’s script have no ability to deviate from the pre-written actions.

From your point of view, you should think of every other person on Earth as an NPC. In reality, every person is a rich, complex, moral actor with agency and ethical responsibility. But all of those terms describe your relationship with yourself, which means that from your perspective, only you are those things. Everyone else is a pre-programmed robot who will never change, never do anything different. And they certainly won’t change in the way you want, because you want them to! Expecting otherwise is putting your life in the hands of the scorpion.

The old adage of “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” is incredibly accurate. You do not want to hear this, but if someone ever lets you down in the same way twice, it is 100% your fault. If you ask a friend to cook dinner and they produce an inedible, toxic mess – well, chalk it up to experience, thank them for the effort, and go out for pizza. But if you ask them again – that’s on you. That doesn’t mean you should never forgive or give second chances, but it does mean that the results are wholly owned by you, and you can’t be mad at them if it’s gross, and you should have a backup plan to order pizza. It definitely means you shouldn’t ask that friend to cook if you’re in a bind and will have no means of getting a backup meal. It means forgive… with a safety net.

This also – and pretty please, read this next part deeply, because it’s very important – this also doesn’t mean that other people aren’t important. It doesn’t mean you can discount them, dismiss them, devalue them. People are wonderful. It just means that trying to navigate life as if everyone will take everything you don’t like and deeply internalize it in order to make drastic changes that result in a better outcome for you specifically in the future is… well, fool me once. People are their own people. They live their own lives. Huge, dramatic shifts in the core ethical foundation and daily behaviors of a person are rarer than blue moons. Love people for who they are, but don’t expect them to be anything else.

Fun Is A Choice

Something doesn’t have to be fun for you to have fun. Fun is something you can just pluck out of the air, any time you want. You don’t even have to be in a good mood! Fun isn’t a byproduct of mood. Fun isn’t a mood, itself.

It’s not an activity, it’s not a mood. Fun is a way of treating the world.

Fun is a magic ingredient that simultaneously makes the good things in the world better while demoting the bad things to a status of lesser importance.

Fun is an assertion of independence. Of control over your destiny. No matter what the world throws at you, it cannot stop you from having fun.

My father was sick with diabetes for many years before his passing. Diabetes often comes with amputations, and my father was no exception. When he lost his first toe, he took a picture of his foot post-operation and sent it to me. Along with the caption: “This little piggy went to market.

Fun makes you invincible. If you’re spending time with loved ones, fun will spice those memories and then encase them in amber, making them forever a part of you. If you’re mourning together, then fun lets you say to the world “you can take everything but this.”

Never this.

Have fun.

Extra Exploration

There’s a difference between exploration and research. Research comes with a lens; an interpretation, a purpose. Before you even realize it, you’re filtering everything you find though the purpose for which you set out.

If you go out looking for gold, you may find gold. But you’ll miss a lot of really, really awesome stuff that doesn’t obviously get you closer to gold when you first see it. But if you explore – if you just set out, not to find gold specifically, but to see what’s out there to find – you discover magic.

You might be slightly less likely to find gold. But you’re far more likely to find a whole host of other amazing things. And especially if you’re not even sure if gold is what you want yet, that’s a much better proposition.

Don’t always look for something. Often, just look.


I love that word, and I realize we don’t have a good version of it for our post-academic adult life. We don’t have a good word for it as adults because we mostly abandon the concept as adults, and that’s a shame!

When we’re in school, we have these three spheres: your required academics (the direct schooling you’re pretty much forced to do), your personal life, and then extracurriculars – stuff you choose to do (or not to) and have a lot of control over but which still relates to your continued educational and academic pursuits.

Then, we become adults and get jobs, and most of us just abandon that idea. We have our “main job,” and then we have our personal lives. Most people don’t do a lot of stuff that relates to their “continued career pursuits” but isn’t something they’re directly getting paid for as a job itself. This is tragic!

No, I don’t think our entire lives should revolve around work, and I don’t think that we need to turn everything we do into a way to make money. But I think we often draw too bright a line between “work” and “personal” spaces as if work was something that needed to be quarantined lest it infect our personal lives and ruin them. My work is more rewarding if I’m more invested in it, more in control of it. My personal life is more rewarding if it’s more than just the space between workdays, using that time to escape something I dread.

Hence, extracurriculars. I have plenty of personal hobbies that have nothing to do with work, but I also set aside space for career-related things that I don’t have to do. No one makes me post on LinkedIn or write guest articles for business-related publications or chat with people outside of my own organization. It’s not pure relaxation, either – it’s not a board game night or a park outing with my kids. It’s a middle ground that enhances both.

Take a few hours away from your main job each month – you’ll never miss them. Use those hours to add a few extracurriculars to your schedule. Talk to some people that are neither clients nor co-workers (or even prospective members of either group). Go attend an event or conference because you want to and find the topic interesting. Log into a webinar that you think looks neat. Then talk about it with someone. This is a simple concept, but sometimes hard to execute. I promise you, it’s more than possible – the only thing stopping you is personal inertia. Once you get this ball rolling though, both your career and your personal life become vastly more rewarding.

The Bus Philosophy

When you get stuck trying to answer a question, the problem can sometimes be that the question you’re asking is too small. For instance, imagine trying to answer this question in a vacuum: “How many bus stops should there be on this route?”

That may be a very difficult question! To answer it, you need the answers to bigger questions. Where is this bus going? How often? What’s the purpose of this particular bus? Questions like that are needed before the smaller ones.

When we manage projects or organizations, sometimes we get caught up in the smaller questions too early. People argue because they don’t share the same big vision about what’s going on. A shuttle from the airport to a cluster of hotels nearby needs fewer stops than a trolley through a downtown shopping district.

How to best organize a quarterly stakeholder meeting? Well – why are you even having it? What problems are you solving that are helped by this meeting? Those bigger questions will naturally solve a lot of the smaller ones. But you can’t create a vision out of the small details, any more than you could plan an effective bus route by starting with the question of how much the fare should be.