Common Senses

The movements of the masses provide a lot of insight into the shape of the world around you. If you take a moment to step out of the group yourself, you can look back at it and really glean a lot about your own future.

Here are some rules to remember:

  1. The pendulum always swings. If there is something that everyone is currently doing because it’s being touted as an amazing idea, at some point too many people will have done it and it won’t be a good idea anymore. This cycle has been happening forever and always will. That doesn’t mean it’s never a good idea – but it means you should be wary.
  2. Common complaints will happen to you. You’re not immune to life, so if you hear about some particular struggle often, don’t assume you’re never going to catch a piece of it. You too may be sick, unemployed, lonely, or attacked. Be aware of what you’d do if you were.
  3. When someone in power says something that everyone not in power readily agrees with, that thing is a lie.

If you keep those truths in your mind, you’ll avoid a lot of heartache in your life.

A Little Birdie Told Me

I am always happy to share helpful ideas when people ask. (I try hard not to share them unless they do.)

People often guard their ideas, putting them up behind various kinds of social (or literal) “paywalls” and sharing nothing at all until a solid benefit exchange has been established.

This is silly. Your ideas are only a signal of your value, they’re not the value themselves. If I don’t know how to fix my sink and a plumber tells me for free, I’m still going to pay that plumber to do the actual work. If the fix was so simple that I’m actually able to do it (“That one valve is loose, just tighten it and you’re fine.”), then the work itself also wouldn’t have been valuable enough to guard – you gain more in the long term by establishing credibility and trust.

So if someone comes to you regarding your area of expertise and asks a question – answer. Each idea you share is a little birdie that flies out into the world singing your praises and bringing you back twigs for the nest. When you have a whole flock of them out there, you’ll have more work than you know what to do with.

The Eternal Howl

We don’t, as people, howl as much as we should.

We all have the howl within us. The deepest sadness that comes from change, the loss of time and what that time held. As the nights pass, it is natural – even good – that we should howl. It is better than how we normally deal with that sadness.

The modern human hates being sad. We do so many bad things with it.

We turn it into other emotions. We don’t like being sad, so instead, we get mad. We pick fights, we blame others for our sadness, or we just rage where rage does nothing.

We evade it with self-destruction. We punish ourselves because we feel like all emotions must be deserved and so if we’re sad, we must have been bad, and so we must enact punishment on ourselves. Or perhaps we just need to escape ever feeling anything real, so we drown it in the worst habits our modern lives can give us.

We misinterpret it. Some deep part of our soul tells us we’re sad, and so we think that part of our soul is trying to get us to change that, to fix that, to do something – anything – to make us not sad anymore. We make stupid decisions and avoid healthy behaviors because they even bring us close to sadness.

These are all terrible things to do. What we should do is howl.

Embrace it. Bring that sadness in. Don’t avoid it, don’t drown it or mute it. Let it wash over you. Let it just be, because that is a part of being human. A life in which you are never sad means you never cared about anything because all things must change. If you care about anything, at some point that thing will change, and that is the core of sadness. This is inevitable, and so the howl is eternal.

Don’t trap it. Let it become you and embrace you and escape you. Sob, weep, scream, reach for the heavens, and feel it. Become nothing but a soul that can experience only sorrow… for a time.

And then, when the howl quiets, you will be more human than ever before. You will be clear, free from terrible vices or terrible choices because you just let it in. The howl won’t be something you’re trying to fight or run from, it will just be quiet, for a time. It will come again. Make your peace with it, for there is no substitute.

It is pure, it is eternal. As you embrace it, so are you.

Simple Scales

You cannot get bigger and more complicated. The path to growth is simplicity.

If your process is very complex and requires a lot of spot decisions, it will always be an artisanal process. You can’t create an assembly line unless the steps are easy and measured.

This is true as an organization, but it’s true for your personal output, too. And one of the main inputs in any personal process is “stress.”

That means that if you try to scale without simplifying, you might increase your productivity a little in a linear way, but your stress levels will increase exponentially. You won’t even realize it at first, but it’ll kill you.

If you want to get better at something, figure out how to do it with fewer steps first. Recycle your wisdom, recycle your effort, capture your own waste runoff and use it. Only then can you scale.

Non-Participation Trophy

Doing good things for bad reasons is an easy way to burn yourself out and do more harm than good.

You have finite juice to do things you actually want to do, and you won’t run out of good options any time soon. But most people try to do too many things for bad reasons, and not only do they overload themselves – they don’t even do those things well!

We’ve all had that friend that didn’t want to see the movie that the group had decided to see together, but they went anyway because they didn’t want to be left out. And then that friend complains the whole time, talks through the movie, etc. They spend money to have a miserable time, and they dampen the time of everyone else.

That same trap exists in business, too. You join some team at work because you don’t want to be left out, but you don’t actually want to be there – so you don’t contribute much and you end up spending a bunch of time just to hurt your own professional reputation.

It’s a true superpower to be able to just say no to things without eliminating your role in the larger social fabric. You can say, “I’m actually going to see a different movie playing around the same time, want to meet up for burgers after?” And you can say “I’m fully loaded on projects where I can give 100%, I don’t want to dilute my contributions – let’s sync up in a month and see what info we can share with each other.”

That’s the walk of confidence. It’ll make you happier and more successful – and you don’t even have to do anything.

What You Know Versus What You Need

People don’t know what they don’t know, but they do know what they do know. And so when people want to help, train, teach, or educate others they default to the stuff that’s already in their head.

That’s fine as far as helpfulness is concerned, but it means you’re often missing a crucial piece: what the other person actually needs to know.

Humans want to help, and humans usually want to talk. We also leap to information that sounds relevant, even if it isn’t necessarily helpful. If a friend tells you that they’re learning to fly a plane and you happen to be a chemical engineer, you might start telling them what you know about jet fuel. That feels relevant – jet fuel is part of flying a jet, right? – but it has nothing to do with the skills they need to fly a plane.

The very first thing people need to know is “how do I get from point A to point B?” Everything else, even things that are in the same general information sphere, are roadside attractions. When you’re teaching, keep it in mind.

System Versus Self

Imagine that you’re the conductor of a trolley. It has numerous stops and is headed to Greenville. People board your trolley because they want to go to Greenville, and you sell them tickets and off you go. Once the trolley is full of passengers, you decide that you actually want to go to Redville, so you steer the trolley in that direction at the next interchange. To your shock, at the stop after that everyone gets off and demands a refund for the remaining fare.

Doesn’t seem very strange to you, right? But replace “trolley” & “passengers” with “company” and “employees,” and it’s like everyone forgets.

Remember, no matter what system you’ve built – people don’t join up because they believe in that system. They join up because it gets them what they want. If the system changes, they might not go along for the ride. If you expect that every passenger will go along with every change simply because it’s obvious to you that it’s a good change for the system overall, you will be frustrated and disappointed often.

Before steering the trolley to Redville, before you even begin to plan the route, you have to sell Redville to your passengers. They can always find another trolley if you don’t.

Down the Drain

Most resources in your life naturally replenish. Unless you’re doing something terribly wrong, you will regain energy, creativity, even happiness. They will build up over time – unless they’re draining faster than the natural process is creating them.

Likewise, bad things build up, too. Those are the things you want to drain, but often we don’t have a good way to let the anger, the sadness, or the problems wash away.

Consider what you’re deliberately retaining. Have you stopped up the drain when it comes to outrage? And have you completely opened it when it comes to creativity?

These are all flows you can control. Most of these things enter and exit your life at paces you set in the first place. Take a moment to adjust the knobs.

The Teacher’s Curse

The better a teacher you are, the more assured it is that your students will surpass you. This can sometimes leave you with some regret, asking yourself if you’d have been better served by turning those skills more to your own benefit than towards teaching others.

Who knows? Maybe it would have. But you chose to teach for a reason. Whatever your subject, whoever your students, that reward is a different thing altogether. Be glad of it; may we all be so cursed.

The World is Good

No matter how much water is in a container, any small amount of ice will float to the top of it. In the same way, no matter how much good is in the world, the little bit of bad tends to float to the top of your attention.

I say this because it is important, even vital, that you should hear it. These are truths, and they are important truths.

  1. The world is very good. There is far, far more good than bad. For every bad person doing a bad thing, there are ten thousand people doing ten thousand good things. There is more peace than war, more prosperity than poverty, more love than hatred, more beauty than horror.
  2. Even as good as the world is, it will be even better tomorrow. The world is not only good, it is improving. We grow in material wealth, longevity & health, knowledge & understanding, wisdom and compassion.
  3. You – yes you – contribute to the growth of goodness. You are good. If you hold yourself to certain very basic moral principles, you always will be, even amid your mistakes and setbacks. The world is better because you – yes you – are in it.

Those three things are true. They are true despite the fact that there are problems – and always will be. The problems get solved, so we search for new ones; this is both part of the mechanism by which the world improves and part of the reason why we don’t always believe it. The very fact that we always find new problems makes us believe that they are insurmountable, but it’s also why we’re so great at being great!

When people tell you that the world is worse than it was, they are either lying or wrong. When people tell you that there is something wrong with you, specifically, they are very likely being manipulative for their own ends. When people tell you that despair and ennui are natural responses to a world on the brink of destruction… well, those people are among the villains, quite frankly.

Commiseration is a powerful force. Sharing in triumph takes both effort and confidence, and not everyone cultivates those traits. Sharing in misery only takes a statement of misery, so people sometimes just take the easier route to bonding, since bonding is usually the most base motivator of all humans. And “misery loves company,” as they say. So here is how the pattern works: someone finds that effort and confidence are too hard, so they’re miserable. But they still want to have a social relationship (know your Maslow). So they first invent a reason why their failures aren’t their own fault. Next, they validate that reason by projecting it onto others (after all, it’s less likely to be a made-up excuse if it affects more than just myself). This means they’ll try to convince other people that they have this particular excuse as well – and that’s an alluring bottle of snake oil. Soon they’ve convinced you that you’re part of a very “identity of failure” that can’t be helped in any way, and you in turn start to spread that to others.

When someone succeeds on their own merits, it threatens the entire house of cards. You don’t want to have to face the fact that people really and truly can just go out and have a good life because the world is actually mostly very good and those people – just like you – are in fact incredibly fortunate to live in such incredible and wonderous times.

You need to recognize that pattern. You need to avoid that trap with all your heart, because that trap is one of the few things that can prevent you from enjoying all the treasures of the marvelous world in which you live. You stand before the very gates of a terrestrial paradise, and the only thing standing in your way are a group of people telling you that it isn’t, because they themselves have not the courage to enter.

Do not ever – ever – let unhappy people convince you that their way is right. The world is too good.