Careful Imbalance

While it’s important to maintain a sense of balance in your life, that doesn’t mean every day or season must be the same. It’s important to maintain a balanced diet too, but that doesn’t mean every meal has to have the exact same mix of protein and vitamins. You can have eggs for breakfast and salad for lunch and still be balanced overall.

Likewise, some seasons in your life will require that you upset the balance of things you find important for a time. It’s necessary to have the right mix of family, intellectual pursuits, meaningful work, physical activity, and interpersonal relationships in your life, but you don’t have to do those things in equal measure every day. In fact, there may be times in your life when you have to radically emphasize one of those at the expense of others. It’s okay to take time away from your work to be with a dying family member, and it’s okay to miss your workout for a dear friend’s wedding.

Be careful with your imbalances, and regress to the mean often. But don’t be afraid of the ebb and flow – that’s just the way your ship rocks along its journey.

Slow Problems, Quick Solutions

Problems are like sludge that gathers in one place. They collect and can drown you, but they don’t move quickly. Like zombies in old-school horror flicks, they’re dangerous in large numbers if you let them catch up with you.

Solutions are quick. Opportunities are fleeting, and they don’t always run toward you. You’ve got to catch them.

The upshot is: if you find you have a lot of problems and few solutions, get moving. Go to a new place, new activities, new people. You’ve let yourself get surrounded by sludge and used up all the solutions in your immediate area. But if you shake it up a little, you can give yourself a little breathing room and find some more tools.

How to Learn Anything

Remove your expectations that you “should already know this.” Don’t try to berate your knowledge into existence, and don’t lay guilt on yourself for not already having some ultra-specific piece of information. Your assumptions about what other people in similar situations “already know” are totally wrong and based on all sorts of internal biases.

Instead, just learn it like a kindergartener. You don’t know a thing? Cool, ask someone. If they don’t know, get a book – look for words like “for beginners,” or “for dummies.” Use the power of the vast and inscrutable internet to find specific answers to questions, then read books for the general case.

Watch videos. Take notes.

This is all stuff you know. You know how to learn, you’ve done it a thousand times. But somewhere along the way, you accidentally listened to some voice telling you that you shouldn’t have to anymore, that you should just know this stuff, and be embarrassed if you don’t.

That voice doesn’t know anything. If you learn to ignore it, you can learn anything.

Spectrum of Success

I think we too often set goals badly, and one of the mistakes we make is to set single-point goals, instead of a spectrum of success.

Let’s consider a sales rep in a pretty standard sales office. Meeting quota – making the minimum number of required sales in a given time period – is absolutely one kind of success. Another is being in the top 20%. Another is being at the top of the leaderboard that month. Another is setting a new record.

There’s nothing wrong with ambition – aim for that record! But don’t make that your only goal, and the only way you define success for yourself. Set up “stretch goals,” so that you can react to the conditions you see. Define success in a range so you can gather data without telling yourself that you’ve failed.

This doesn’t mean that you should define your spectrum of success so broadly that you essentially don’t have goals at all. I’m not a fan of participation trophies. But it means that you have to run half a mile before you can run a mile anyway, so you should set some targets in between and make “growing” a big part of your definition of success.

Wealthy & Wise

Nobody wants money. People think they want money, but that’s like saying you want flour, eggs, and an oven. No, what you want is cake. Money is just a method, a tool. But it’s a tool that, like flour, eggs, and an oven, can create many different things. If you don’t know why you want money, then you often chase the wrong things. You mess up the recipe, and you don’t get what you want.

Look, let me be clear about my position: money is good. Money is a resource, and having more resources is, all else being equal, a good thing. There’s no shame in wanting more resources as fuel to pursue your ends. The ends themselves can be bad or good, but money isn’t different from any other tool in that regard. And I posit that most of the bad stuff people do with money tends to come from not realizing what they’re actually after.

As near as I can figure it, when people think they want money, they actually want some combination of these five other things: freedom, security, influence, status, or legacy. And there’s almost always a primary one – the main driving factor.

Some people want money because money buys them freedom. They don’t like doing what other people tell them, they don’t like being tied somewhere. They don’t want to have to work, but they don’t want to suffer for not working. They want to opt out of the value exchange system of society, basically.

Other people, often people who grew up or lived a long time in a resource-poor environment, want security. They don’t care if they have to work, but they want to know that their food, shelter, place in society and general lifestyle are well-insulated from undesired change. They want to live away from fear.

Some people want power, plain and simple. Money is a way to get it. They want to be able to enact change, often on a grand scale – to exercise their will via the influence money can buy. People can absolutely use this power for good, but it’s hard. If you’ve ever wondered why someone like Jeff Bezos still works when he could easily just lounge for the rest of his life, remember that he’s not motivated by these other things, or he would.

Some people want to be admired, adored, or even just paid attention to. They want money because money lets them roll up in fancy cars, have a great time, and attract attention. It can be admiration, jealousy, desire – doesn’t matter, as long as the focus of their society is on them. They want to be elevated in the eyes of their peer group. This is, evolutionarily speaking, super duper understandable!

And some people want money because they have some specific long-term project they want to see come to fruition, and money can get them there. This can be as simple as “the best life for my kids,” or it can be something like a foundation that fights the disease they lost their sibling to, or any number of other things.

At the core, I don’t think there’s anything about those five motivations that makes a person detestable or immoral. I think all of those are very rational in their own way. I think all five of them can manifest in immoral ways, but I also think all of them can take shape in a healthy soul, too.

If you won the lottery today and got an extra million bucks, what would you do with it? The answer speaks to your true motivations. Would you immediately turn it into a “nest egg” and get rid of all your debt? Then you’re probably security-motivated. Would you take a bunch of wild trips and explore the world? Could be freedom, but if you’re taking a lot of selfies for the ‘gram while you’re at it, it’s probably status.

Whatever your true motivation, it’s good to be aware of it. It affects your attitude towards money and how happy you’ll be with different approaches to it. Someone who is legacy- or security-minded is perfectly fine working every day of their life, as long as the motivation is being satisfied. So they’ll be happy in stable jobs or with low-risk investments. Someone who is freedom-minded won’t be, no matter how much “financial sense” a stable job and a 401(k) make. A high-risk venture or entrepreneurship will appeal to a freedom-minded person. A status-minded person might be more likely to take a “stable” job, if it’s something that commands a lot of respect, like a doctor. In fact, a status-minded person is more likely to choose a high-profile job that pays less over something lucrative but unglamorous like the trades.

Notice the pattern? Dissatisfaction stems from not being true to yourself. Everyone wants money – but no one does. If you always think “more money is good” as the ultimate measuring stick, you’ll make choices that make you unhappy, spin your wheels, burn out, and end up with less money. You’ll maximize your resources by figuring out what your real motivation is and pursuing it with every available tool, not just cash.

Different People

Most of the wonderful things in your life will be as a result of crossing paths with other people. Most of the terrible things, too.

Two puzzle pieces are allowed to not fit together without either of them being “bad.” The puzzle pieces didn’t do anything wrong, they just belong in other parts of the puzzle, with other pieces. We all fit together eventually.

That means if you find yourself mismatched with someone, you shouldn’t automatically look to blame one person or the other. You shouldn’t expect a fix. You shouldn’t internalize it as your own fault or something you could have done differently.

You should just take it as wisdom to learn more about the shape of yourself, and the shapes of different people in your world.

People are funny, and they’ll frustrate you. They’ll save your life and they’ll make it hell. They’re wonderful and complicated and damaged and silly and cruel and hurt. And so are you.

Doesn’t make them bad. Just makes them different. Find your different people, the ones with the shape that fits with yours – and remember that almost never means they’re the same shape as you are.

Label a Bucket

It’s old advice, but very true: if you want to get started with a big project, break it down into the smallest steps.

Here’s the challenge: sometimes we don’t know what those steps are. We don’t even have a concrete idea of where we want the plane to land, we just want a particular kind of outcome. We have a vague sense of a “good idea.” Maybe scattered pieces of thoughts that sort of relate, but no idea what to do with them. Sure, smallest possible step: but what is that?

Here’s a “universal small step” you can use every time: label a bucket.

If all of these thoughts, scraps, ideas, and concepts are floating around without direction, then the very first actionable step is to group them up. Create a workspace. Someplace they can go, and collect, and maybe gather together and form a little gravity. They need a bucket.

Grab a new notebook, and label it “My New Business.” Get a cardboard box and write “Geneology Project” on the side. Create a new Google doc labeled “updated onboarding” and share it – blank! – with one or two colleagues.

There. Now there is a shape, a place, something calling you. A border between That and things that are Not That. A smallest possible step.

You can put anything in that bucket. It doesn’t matter what – scraps, notes, clippings, questions, whatever. Simply putting things in the bucket at all is progress; “sorting” can come later. But the project has begun.

Instant Remedy

Almost all problems “get worse before they get better.” Whatever remedies you want to use cost resources, and the benefit is usually far from instantaneous. If you get a headache and you buy some aspirin, there will be a period of time when you still have a headache, and you’re down the cost of the aspirin to boot!

With the headache example, it’s easy to see the error in judgment when someone complains that their pain hasn’t vanished the very second they swallowed the pill. With more complex examples, it might be trickier. If your monthly earnings report is bad so you implement some changes, the next month’s earnings report might still be bad. That doesn’t mean your changes aren’t working, or that you need to do something else. It just means that remedies take time.

Try this: before implementing any remedy, take a few moments and write out what you would expect it to look like if the remedy works – including the time frame. You probably won’t write “I expect that our productivity in the department will instantly triple the literal second we announce this policy,” any more than you’d write “I expect my headache to instantly vanish the second I swallow a pill.”

Thankful For The Help

Be thankful for the help you can give to others.

Is there a more certain way of knowing that you’re still relevant? That you haven’t lost your touch? If people genuinely seek you for advice or assistance, what a compliment they pay you!

As an additional corollary, be eager to give what’s requested. Part of why you’re asked is because people believe they’ll be treated with respect for asking. That doesn’t mean you always have to say yes, but it does mean you’ll never treat a request as an annoyance.

If you haven’t been asked for help in a while, your life may be askew. Be glad, therefore, when you are!

Ways To Not Drown

You are on a sailing ship. You quickly realize that if you go overboard, you’ll drown, because you don’t know how to swim. So you quickly decide you want to get really good at your balance, get your “sea legs,” and be competent around the deck. This “skills-based” approach, you figure, will keep you from accidentally going overboard.

But then one day you accidentally cross a ranking officer on the ship, who starts scowling at you and eyeing the plank. You realize that being competent isn’t enough – you could also be thrown from the ship! So you start running around being obsequious and sycophantic, trying to keep everybody happy. This “politics-based” approach, you figure, will keep you from being thrown overboard.

But then one day a big storm comes up and the ship, which you once thought was so secure that it practically faded into the background as merely your environment, the ship begins to rock and tumble and you realize that competency and politics aren’t enough – the whole ship could go down, and then you’d be in the water and drown anyway. So you start trying to keep the ship afloat by any means necessary, but you quickly realize: everyone on the ship, including you, is already doing that. If the ship sinks, it will be despite the crew’s best efforts, not because those efforts weren’t put forward.

What you’ve truly learned – hopefully – is that there is only one way not to drown.

Learn to swim.

You might be great at your job, but someone just doesn’t like you. You might be bad at your job, but the leadership is bad so you don’t get good feedback. You might be great at your job and everyone likes you, but some random change at a different level reverberates to you and affects you – or maybe your whole company sinks in the storm.

The point is, “security” cannot be vested in our surroundings, only in ourselves. You can only be secure if you can survive, not because you can prevent things from happening to you that would warrant it. So.

Learn to swim.