Small Precious Things

There will be things you care about. Keep them few, and small, and light. Don’t let them be taken.

Some things are too big for you to protect, no matter how much you care about them. You can’t keep a whole ocean or a whole year to yourself. So you must be comfortable with that. And you only have so many hands.

Choose your precious little jewels well, but then they’re yours. When you have that day, keep it as you want it. That day may have to carry you for a long time.

Targeted Forgetfulness

Here is a superpower: the ability to instantly forget discomfort once it’s over. The very instant it’s not affecting you, it’s gone from your mind.

Why is this such a wondrous ability? Because people spend incredible time, money, and effort just to avoid the most temporary of discomforts. They spend hundreds of dollars on a hotel room they’ll stay in for nine hours, when a terrible room was fifty bucks. They’ll buy a neck pillow at a gas station for an hour-long car ride. Stuff like that.

Look, just be uncomfortable. It’s amazing. You become so efficient, you’re able to navigate life so effectively, if you can just be okay with some temporary discomfort. The long-lasting things? Your home, your office? Make them comfortable. Make them pleasant. But don’t spend that same effort on something so fleeting.

Learn to forget it. To let it slip away. And learn to remember that you will forget it, so it slides away that much more easily.

Looking for Trouble

I want to oppose some standard wisdom, oft repeated: “Don’t go looking for trouble.”

I object! You should absolutely go looking for trouble. How else will you solve it? How else will you improve the world?

Trouble thrives when it can strike first. It seeks the vulnerable, those not prepared for it. Keep the element of surprise. Sneak up on trouble.

No one saves the day from their couch. Get up and go looking for trouble.

Drift

I try not to be aimless. I try my best to move with purpose, act with intent. I think that there are many forces in the world that attempt to rob you of your power and agency and that it’s a bad idea to give it away for free.

But a tight grip is a painful one. Sometimes, just so you don’t break, you have to bend a little.

Not forever, but there is a time to let the wind take you for a while.

New Month’s Resolution – August 2022

Happy new month!

My resolution this month is to do a few resets. Lately, a lot of my well-crafted and enjoyable routine has gotten a bit away from me. While I love adventures, I prefer that they be on my terms. Adventures are things I want to go and do; like Bilbo Baggins, I don’t necessarily want them banging down my door like they’ve been doing lately.

So my efforts here are to get some of my interrupted routines back into place. Whatever your mission is, I hope you achieve it!

New Air

Your own breath fills the room. Sometimes you need to find new air. You need to capture it out in the wilds and bring it home with you; domesticate it for a while. It will grow old as air does; but you can go out again and capture it new.

Shake the cobwebs off when they form. Roll off the moss. You’ll be amazed.

Better From A Truck

I am an adult. I live in a pretty urbanized part of the world. The upshot of this is that at any point, day or night, I can buy ice cream. There are very few barriers to me doing so.

Therefore, it shouldn’t be special when the ice cream truck rolls by. This shouldn’t signify anything. I can get ice cream any time.

But of course, it does.

Some of this is nostalgia, sure. But my kids have never known a time when they couldn’t also get ice cream whenever they wanted – the only barrier is my approval. But the chimes still make their hearts swell.

To some extent, I think there’s value in taking joyous moments and nesting them outside our direct control. Scarcity and unpredictability can create a sort of joy that an on-demand existence cannot. The ordinary cannot, by definition, be extraordinary.

Cake Day

Here is something for you to do today.

Take something you know how to do very well – for this example, let’s assume you know how to bake a cake. You can bake a cake in your sleep, right? You’re amazing at it. (And if not – just pick something where you are.)

Now do it while recording yourself. Talk out loud; speak through your process. Stop to snap some pictures. Video the whole thing.

Next, take that raw data, and turn it into a presentation. A nice slide deck with quotes from yourself, images of important steps, video clips of the hard parts. Put all of that into a presentation.

Why? Because being able to take an action and turn it into a talk about that action is a really high-value skill. Most people try to do it for the first time with an action they don’t know very well, and then deliver it to an audience they’re unfamiliar with in a high-stakes scenario.

Ever had to deliver a talk at work? Maybe even for an interview? Yeah, like that.

If you did it instead with an action you already know intimately in a setting where nothing at all is at stake, you would be able to spot ways to improve your performance by a factor of ten, easily. You don’t even have to show it to anyone but yourself if you don’t want to (though you’d be surprised how easy it is to underestimate the interest others might have)!

And, as a nice reward for yourself: you get a cake.

Bad Drive

I was out driving with my children recently, running some errands. At one point, one of my daughters asked me: “Why are so many people so bad at driving?”

My default answer to questions of that nature is: “Everything is a skill, and all skills are specialized knowledge. So for any given skill, we should expect the majority of people to be bad at it.” This isn’t even a matter of “half of all people are below average,” it’s the fact that skills aren’t naturally occurring. You have to actively learn them.

I thought about it more deeply though, and I think there’s even more to it. Most people are bad at things not only because they haven’t taken the time to be good at them (and this isn’t blameworthy necessarily; we all have limited capacity to learn and have to prioritize different things, so no one can be good at everything), but because people don’t even know what “good” means.

I once talked to someone who claimed to be a “very good driver.” When I pointed out that she had been in eight car accidents even in just the time I’d known her, she defended her claim by pointing out that she had not been found to be at legal fault in any of them. My definition of “good driver” starts, at minimum, with getting in no accidents at all.

I’m not here to quibble over what constitutes a good driver. I’m here to point out that most people have no definition of “good” at all for the things they claim to be good at.

Which is why most people are bad at most things.

Standard Layers

I find that being flexible about some things and relatively uncompromising about others is a good thing. I’m often surprised about how people apply this, though.

Here’s how I apply it: I think of all things in terms of their proximity to my life. The closer things are to my actual life, the higher my standards – and vice versa. I have very strong standards about how I raise my children, how I conduct my work, how I treat my health. I have lower (but still pretty high!) standards for what I consider acceptable behavior from my close friends and family. I’ll speak up on a variety of topics if it affects a close professional colleague.

At the other end of the spectrum, I have absolutely zero opinion, total flexibility, on the food preparation standards of restaurants in another country. On which books a library in another state chooses to carry. On how much television other people’s children should consume.

Why the difference? It’s not because I don’t think there are better or worse behaviors – of course I do. It’s because I recognize that local knowledge is powerful, and I don’t have it when it comes to non-local things. All situations have different confounding details, and I don’t know them – my information about anything other than my local environment comes through many filters. Given that, it only makes sense to hold stronger opinions, leading to higher standards, where your own influence is deepest.

Other people seem to… not do that. People have iron-clad opinions about what a refugee from halfway around the world should do based on one headline that they half-read, but they don’t have a nutrition plan for their own kids. They judge the behavior of celebrities that might as well be from another planet, but they’re unsure what their own career ambitions are.

Living in a connected world is wonderful for many reasons. But don’t ever forget that you’re essentially a tourist in the rest of the world, and you’re the absolute monarch of one tiny corner. Conduct yourself appropriately.