Easy For You to Say

Someone’s house is flooding; their basement and maybe even their first floor are underwater. Their possessions are being ruined, and their house itself might soon be totally destroyed. “I wish there was a little less water in my house,” that person might lament.

“Easy for you to say,” says someone in a desert, parched beyond belief. “Some of us don’t have any water at all!”

We can always do this, in any situation. We can complain that someone else’s complaint isn’t as bad as ours, or even that their complaint is the very reverse of ours. Someone complaining that they’re overworked could be scowled at by someone unemployed. Someone who can’t seem to gain weight can be sneered at by someone who can’t seem to lose it. The possibilities are endless.

And endlessly dumb.

It’s not just dumb because complaining, in general, is a foolish way to spend your energy. It’s also extra silly because there’s value right there to be generated, and you’re squandering the opportunity.

If you had two friends, and one said “I have too many hot dogs and not enough buns,” and the other said “I have too many buns and not enough hot dogs,” you’d probably figure out a solution pretty quickly. And sure, the problem of a flooded house and a drought don’t exactly cancel each other out, but there’s always an opportunity to combine efforts in some way – even just to talk, share resources and ideas, and look for overlaps.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say, right?


“On a scale of 1 to 10…”

You’ve probably all heard a question that began that way. Defining the parameters – sort of. “On a scale of 1 to 10, how much does your arm hurt?” But what does “1” mean? Does 1 mean no pain or the smallest increment of pain I can think of? What is “10?” How can you objectively know?

You can’t. Pretty much all human experience is subjective, and that’s why other people are your best insulation against being trapped, fooled, or lost.

All human experience is subjective, but if you get a sense of what other humans think about, experience, enjoy, dislike, and seek out then you can start to have a sense of where your own thoughts might fall. This isn’t an exercise in conformity – you aren’t learning those scales in order to place yourself in their dead center. But how can you know if the grass is greener or not if you’ve literally never seen a yard that wasn’t your own?

Talk to people. Listen to them when they explain their experiences, and don’t rush to respond with your own. Gather data, and reflect. On a scale from 1 to 10, it’s very very helpful.


If you break your hand, you can’t type for a little while. Then for a bit after that, you can’t type as well, even if you gradually get back into it. And then after a time, you’re good to go again – assuming that you took proper care of the injury.

If you don’t take care of the injury, it’s different. If you try to type on the same day you break your hand? You’ll still be terrible at typing, but you’ll also make the injury worse. It might not ever get better. If you don’t acknowledge the injury and treat it with the respect it deserves, it can cripple you.

“Treating it with the respect it deserves” includes not only altering your life for a time around the injury, but it also means making sure others in your life do the same. You don’t have to stop all activities, but you do have to control the flow of activities involving your damaged component. You also have to make sure that others don’t keep trying to force you to type – you have to communicate.

That doesn’t mean you owe anyone an explanation about how you broke your hand. But it does mean that you need to be honest about the current level of typing proficiency as well as an expected estimate about your return to full strength, at least to those with whom you have a relationship based on typing.

All that seems pretty reasonable, right? No major objections? Didn’t say anything wild, there?

Okay, good. You know how your hand is pretty essential to your typing ability? Cool. Now think about all the tasks you have that are affected by your mental and emotional health. Now think about the ways those things can be hurt.

Now do all of that when that happens, and don’t be ashamed of it.


The journey of your life is full of potential problems and hazards. You’ll encounter them all the time. And in many cases, you’ll react badly and cause more damage. I’m not talking about you specifically – everyone does this. But don’t worry, I’m going to show you how to stop.

First, imagine you’re driving down a road at some reasonable clip. Up ahead, you spot a large pothole, right in the middle of the road. That pothole represents the problem. What most people do is react to the situation, often with anger or frustration. “There shouldn’t be a pothole here! Someone should have taken better care of this road! It isn’t my fault that there’s a pothole here, so I shouldn’t be held accountable for the outcomes!” And they’ll drive right into the pothole, yelling the whole time about how the resulting damage to their car shouldn’t be their responsibility.

What gets in the way of their clear thinking is this: they’re right. There shouldn’t be a pothole there! It was someone else’s responsibility to fix it! It isn’t their fault that the pothole is there, so someone else should be taking responsibility! But guess what?

Being right is not the same thing as getting what you want!

So, skip the situation itself, for a moment. Take a deep breath, and ask yourself: what do I really want? I know a secret – you don’t really want the pothole fixed. You don’t care. What you want, is to be safely on your way with no damage to your car. And in order to get that, you have to work backward from that result.

You have to say, “I want to be safely on my way. What’s the best way to get that, given this situation? It seems like the best way is to slow down, carefully take the shoulder, and edge past the pothole before speeding back up.” That can feel like a bother, because why should you have to? You didn’t put the pothole there!

I will say it again: being right is not the same thing as getting what you want!

If you focus on being right, you will miss out on a lot of what you want. Almost all of that comes from focusing on the situation itself, rather than focusing on what you want your life to be like on the other side of it. Problems are temporary. Don’t waste time thinking about the kind of person you want to be during a problem. Think about the life you want after, and take the best route to that life. The pothole will soon be far in your rearview mirror.

Problem Problems

Don’t waste energy on a problem you don’t intend to solve.

There are many problems in the world. Not all of them are yours. But almost all of them will try to convince you that they are.

Whether they’re the problems of other people that they try to dump on you or the problems of the world that try to invade your personal bubble, the only effect most of these problems will have on you is to drain your energy. They’ll kill your mood, distract you, and make you miserable – all without you making a dent in the actual problem itself.

Every second you spend thinking about a problem that you don’t truly intend to engage with is a wasted second. A portion of your life drained away by the most relentless vampire in existence. Don’t let it happen.


Fair doesn’t mean “equal.”

The most equal trade in the world is this: I give you a dollar and in exchange, you give me a dollar. Perfectly equal, and equally pointless.

Lots of trades aren’t equal, but they’re better than fair – they’re win/win. I give you a dollar and you give me something that’s worth more than a dollar to me, but less than a dollar to you. Since “worth” is entirely subjective, this helps us both!

So what is a partnership? It’s not a permanent, equal exchange. I mean, it can be that, but that’s not super great. If two people can each afford $2k in rent each month, then splitting the rent on a $4k/month place might get them marginally better living conditions than two separate $2k/month places. Or maybe not – do you value more space or more privacy?

Here’s a better option – two people that can’t afford equal amounts of rent living together and finding ways to create win/win trades. Maybe the person who makes more money has no time to clean. Maybe the person with less money has more time to paint. And so on.

Look at business partnerships. When you see two people partner up to start a business, it’s not because they have identical skills and are splitting the work into two exactly even piles. It’s because they have complementary skills, and the division of labor creates a mutual benefit.

So don’t look for trades, partnerships, and situations where you get out exactly what you put in. You’ll be miserable. Look for situations where you get out exactly what you want – and you put in whatever it takes to get there.

Minor Changes

Today I made a meal for my kids that I’ve made a thousand times. My chicken-and-rice casserole is a staple of the Roccia household, and all my kids love it. It’s easy to make, so I probably end up making it once a week or so.

Today, due to having some slightly different ingredients on hand, I made a very minor change to the recipe.

You’d think I landed a rocket on the moon and came back with Spider-man. My kids went nuts. They told me they actually loved me more because of how good it was!

So apart from the fact that I’m on cloud nine because of the heaping praise I got for my cooking tonight, there’s also an interesting lesson here. Just because you’ve done something a million times doesn’t mean it isn’t still worth experimenting with a little. Especially if the risk is low, mix it up! Worst case, you have one sub-par experience. Best case, you open up a whole new universe.

And get your kids to love you a little more, too!

“To Enjoy”

The joy is in the doing, not in having done.

There are things we need to do in life. There are chores and tasks which we must have completed in order to function in a pleasant state where those things are finished. I don’t necessarily want to do laundry, but I do want clean clothes. It’s fine to operate that way when it comes to those things. Sure, if laundry really made you miserable you should outsource it, but it’s fine to just “get done” those kinds of tasks with neither misery nor mirth.

But as our lives become full of those things, sometimes we get overly ambitious about the things we want to do and we over-commit. When that happens, we can turn our hobbies, joys, and pastimes into a mirthless “to-do” list, too! Suddenly we’re not eagerly anticipating our next vacation, but we’re treating it as just one more thing to “have done” so we can live in the state afterward.

Avoid this trap! If you have a huge list of those things, joys you’re trying to mechanically power through, scrap it. Take your top two or three and enjoy them, instead of just “doing” all of them.

If something makes you happy, you don’t want to be done with it. So if you find yourself yearning for that state, stop and ask yourself if you really need to do it at all.

Factors of Luck

Catching a train when you’re running late might be a matter of luck. But there are important foundations you need in order to be lucky.

You can rush, scramble, and race – but if you arrive at the wrong location it doesn’t matter if you got there on time. Likewise, even if you make it you’re not getting on the train without a ticket.

In order to be lucky, you need to be where the train is, and you need to have what the train wants. Luck is just a little icing on top.

The Second First Time

I took my eldest to a showing of the play Camelot. It’s a great story – it ought to be after a thousand years of telling it, in one way or another. This is an old story, is what I’m saying; the fall of Camelot and the final days of the dream of the Round Table isn’t recent news.

But during this show, when Lancelot kissed Guenevere, my daughter (and her friends also in attendance) went berserk.

They didn’t know! They had no idea; this wasn’t part of their foundational cultural knowledge (yet), so this was genuinely a shock to them. And I’ll tell you – watching them react was way more enjoyable than the first time I personally learned the treachery of the tale.

Sharing a first with someone is wonderful. You get to experience your own magic all over again, plus the joy of witnessing from the outside what someone else is going through. This is why we shouldn’t just discard experiences with a “been there, done that” attitude. If something is good, then share it! Bring that joy to others, and watch it multiply in yourself.