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Make The Truth Obvious

“Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.”

Well… wear that t-shirt!

There are so many true things about you that would get you a lot of benefit if they were also obvious to others. Sadly, they aren’t. Information transfer is difficult, and signaling various qualities about you is pretty much what all humans do all day, every day. Despite this, we’re often bad at it.

For starters, we tend to rely on overly-traditional signals. But the more traditional a signal becomes, the less impressive it becomes as well. It may be hard to imagine now, but there was actually a time when a high school diploma carried a lot of weight as a signal of intelligence and conscientiousness. Now it’s just so default that it’s meaningless. Saying “I graduated high school!” is something your grandma sends you fifty bucks in a card for and then the whole universe promptly forgets about.

Wealth is relatively easy to signal, but the signals are also easy to fake. Plus, a lot of the traditional signals for wealth are now actually signals for being bad with money. (Remember, rich people drive ten-year-old Toyota Corollas and wear clothes from Target. That’s why they’re rich. Spendthrifts drive sports cars with 28% interest rates and wear watches that cost three paychecks.)

And that’s just wealth! More abstract things like intelligence, responsibility, and specific skills or qualities are harder to show off. I mean, how do you show off that you’re humble?

Despite this, it’s worth the effort. I hear this lament all the time: “People don’t know the real me. If only they did, they’d give me a chance.” That sentence gets uttered in response to dating woes, job search aggravation, college admissions, whatever.

Well – it’s not their fault that they don’t know the “real you.” It’s yours.

They can’t read minds. You have to communicate. Here’s how:

Step 1: Think of the quality you want to signal. Intelligence, ability to grow excellent tomatoes, running speed, graphic design, attentiveness. Whatever, just pick the thing you want people to know.

Step 2: Ask yourself, “Besides myself, who else is the ultimate example of this quality?” If you don’t know, figure it out. Don’t proceed until you can point to a real life person (whether you know them personally or not) that has that quality.

Step 3: Ask yourself why you know that they have that quality. For example, if you picked “creative” as your quality and found the most “creative” person as an example, ask yourself why you think of them that way?

Chances are very, very good that you don’t think they’re creative because you asked them and they told you. Instead, I’ll bet that you think they’re creative because you saw stuff they created.

They probably did whatever their creative thing was and put it out into the world to see. They painted a mural on a building or they released and album or they published a book or they invented stilts for dogs or something. The same is true of any quality.

You need to get out of your own perspective. Don’t ask “how can I show people that I’m intelligent?” You’ll get stuck. Pick the most intelligent person you can think of and ask how that person showed you that they were intelligent. Emulate from there. Wear the t-shirt.

Rush Charge

It’s common practice to pay more for something if you want it faster. Same-day shipping, expedited service, etc. There’s the standard length of time, and then there’s the rush pricing.

What if there was the reverse? What if you could lower your price or get some sort of a rebate if you received what you wanted more slowly?

I do a thing with my kids, where if they’re too impatient for something I make them stand in the corner and count breaths. Deep inhales and exhales, count to 20, 30, 40. Remember that things will come as they come.

Sometimes you can pay more to rush them along, but almost never can you make something’s time come sooner by bouncing around impatiently. That’s a lesson for adults, too.

If you can reasonably put resources towards expediting something, then make the informed decision. $50 might be unreasonable to get a $5 item to you one day sooner – but maybe not. There are plenty of reasons you might need that item a day sooner, and some of those reasons might involve preventing the loss of more than $50. I won’t judge.

But some things just can’t be sped up no matter how many resources you put towards them. A great line someone shared with me: “Even with nine women, you can’t make a baby in one month.”

Try this: Every time you have to wait for something that you’d otherwise not wait for, put a dollar in a jar. Or ten dollars, or a thousand (whatever works for your budget). Maybe make the payment for every day you have to wait. Then when you get the item, pick up the cash at the same time and spend it on whatever you like. Reward yourself for your patience. Build up a tolerance for waiting.

Things will come as they come.

Kids Today

There is significantly more value in young people than you realize. And I don’t mean in some sort of nebulous “children are the future of the planet” sense. I mean value for you, in the very near term.

We spend our early years getting it nailed into our heads that “age = experience” and to some extent even that “age = value.” We progress along in school based on age rather than any other metric, we’re told to “listen to adults,” and all that.

It’s natural to then think that the ladder continues linearly forever. But once you’re more or less an adult, it’s just a free for all. 50-year-olds don’t necessarily know more than 20-year-olds. Yes, experience is important – but age doesn’t automatically mean experience. A 50-year-old who has never ridden a bicycle does not have more experience at bike-riding than a 20-year-old who’s been pedaling since age 4.

Experience is WAY more specific than we think it is. “General world knowledge” is actually super localized to your time and place and culture; what I think of as “common sense” would do very little for me if I didn’t live in a suburban, middle-class area of the United States in the early 21st Century. So no matter how old you are, your knowledge and experience comes from the stuff you’ve deliberately focused on and not much else. Pretty much everything you haven’t deliberately learned is urban legends, old wives’ tales, etc.

Tomorrow my oldest daughter starts her video game design course. She’s eight. And she’s not like super advanced or anything – this is a course for her age group! I might know more than she does about life now, but let’s not pretend she isn’t going to lap me real soon.

Just keep that in mind the next time you’re making some snap judgments of people in a professional context. Even if you look at someone younger than you and think “I know way more than this person,” just know that their trajectory is much better than yours. They’re going to lap you. But you can ride that wave now!

Young people work cheap. How much you demand for your labor in the market is partially a result of the value you provide, but it’s also partially a result of what you need, and when you’re young you don’t have as many needs yet. (In fact, learning to keep “need creep” down is a big advantage all on its own.) And while you’re getting that immediate value now, you can also be building relationships with the leaders of tomorrow. If you think you’ve got it in you to outpace every person younger than you for the rest of your career, good luck. I’d rather invest in them, whether they’re 8, 18 or 28, and then reap that investment as we all age together.

Simulations

You have to run training exercises. You can’t truly know if you’re prepared unless disaster strikes, so what you want to do is simulate small, controlled disasters.

In a way this is like a vaccination against catastrophe. You build up an immunity by exposing yourself to smaller incidents.

In the days before GPS, my father used to take my sister and me out for “Sunday Drives,” where he’d let us essentially pick left/right/straight at every intersection for as long as we wanted, with the goal of getting us totally lost, just so he could test his ability to navigate us back home. Of course we weren’t in any real danger, so it was a perfect “stress test” for his ability to navigate more emergent circumstances.

If you commute to work, try getting there one day without your car – use public transportation, a bicycle, even Uber. Be familiar with the alternatives, their costs, their timing. Know those things so that if your car breaks down one day, you’re not panicked. Leave your cell phone at home and go a whole day without it, just to see what problems you run into – and build backups (like contact lists, etc.) so that if you ever drop your phone in a sewer grate you’re not hopelessly lost.

Give yourself small disasters. Prepare for the big ones.

Close to the Vest

It is better to act on your convictions than to voice your opinions.

I recently read someone saying that it’s important to teach your children how to keep a few opinions to themselves, because there will be some views that society will punish them for having even if they aren’t incorrect. That might be true, but I think the lesson is backwards.

For the most part, I think the correct lesson is to, by default, voice none of your opinions. You’ll make plenty of exceptions (heck, I write a daily blog that’s pretty much just my opinions on stuff), but make those exceptions deliberate. Choose each opinion you want to share, and when to share it, carefully.

That isn’t the same as saying “don’t HAVE opinions.” Consider the world, chew it up in your brain, and form opinions great and small. Be open to changing them, but be prepared to act with conviction on the ones that you think are most correct and most beneficial. But that’s not the same as just spouting off all the time.

Working is greater than talking. If you have a view that you think improves the world, go work to make it happen. If you have an opinion about how to live a better life, live your life that way. That doesn’t mean you have to share everything you think with everyone.

I post at least one opinion a day on here, but believe me it pales in comparison to what I don’t share. I don’t have specific reasons not to share those other opinions – remember, my default is not to share. But I make it a point to make an exception a day, and I choose those exceptions based on which things I feel will provoke positive thought, encourage or help people, or even amuse and delight. I aim to bring value and raise the bar of discourse. If my opinion doesn’t seem to have at least the possibility of doing that, I don’t share it.

That doesn’t mean the views I don’t share are all dark and inflammatory or anything. It just might mean they’re not relevant. I have strong opinions on Mex-American Fusion Fast-Serve Restaurant Chains! You probably don’t care, and nor should you.

Be deliberate with your words; they carry more power that way. For all the other opinions you have, just build your own life out of them. If that life turns out well, people will ask.

Sow, Reap

Save your work.

Any time you work on anything, save it. If your work is already digital, save copies and organize them. If what you do is physical, document it in a digital way – take pictures, write about it, make a YouTube channel.

The point is to document. Keep a running file of your work. You know, blog if you like!

You are planting a gold mine.

The benefits are endless. Show people the real you, have deeper conversations, attract better attention, improve your work faster and more permanently.

If you spent a hundred hours painting a picture, you wouldn’t just throw it away after. You’d hang it up. Maybe you’d sell it, but even if you did I’d hope you’d take some quality high-resolution photos of it for yourself first.

Imagine you wanted the job of painting the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. You’re one of the greatest painters of your time, but you’ve discarded everything you’ve ever painted. You have a great resume, though! Do you think you’ll get the job?

If you’re putting in the work to get better at something, plant these seeds. You’ll thank me later.

If It Works

When I was about 6 or 7, my father took me and my cousin on a camping trip. He was a year younger than me, and this was his first such outing. For lunch on the first day, my father made us both peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

My cousin said to my dad, “My mom cuts the crusts off for me.” My father gave a long side-eye at my cousin and said, “I’m not your mom.”

He made it clear – he couldn’t care less whether or not my cousin ate the crust, or even the entire sandwich. But he wasn’t making anything else, and he wasn’t going to cut the crusts off.

Faced with such adversity, my cousin got creative: he folded the sandwich in half and ate it from the middle, leaving behind a neat unbroken line of crust in the shape of a square with the inner sandwich devoured.

“If it’s stupid, and it works, it ain’t stupid.”

Sometimes you want to care about technique, create sustainable methods, work towards efficiencies. But often, you just need to get the damned engine running. You just need to be airborne. Or, you just need to eat the sandwich.

My rule of thumb is that working on process is only a good idea if you’re in process. If you’re moving. You want every day that you aren’t perfect to still be a day where you moved forward and accomplished at least something. If you’re so concerned with methodology that you’re not making progress at all, you need to ignore methodology for a little bit and just get the ball rolling. Not only is iterating a hundred times easier when you have something to iterate, but you also don’t lose as much from small failures along the way.

Eat the sandwich, even if you have to eat it weird.

Winning Negotiations

Most people have no idea how to negotiate. In fact, most people have no idea what negotiation even is.

If someone offers you a job at $50,000/year, and you say “I’ll do it for $60,000,” that’s not negotiating. That’s haggling. There’s a big difference.

Haggling is zero sum. Negotiating is win/win.

When you buy a cup of coffee, both you and the coffee shop owner win. You win because you wanted coffee more than you wanted $4, and the coffee shop owner wins because he wanted $4 more than he wanted the coffee. That’s how the world goes ’round, an endless series of win/win exchanges.

True negotiating is just finding the right bundle of those exchanges. Their initial offer might be $50,000 and you might want $60,000, but there’s something you can do that they want more than the extra $10k and you want less. And they might want you to work one Saturday per month and you value that less than the bump in title they’ll give you for it, and so on and so forth.

You want to watch real negotiations? Find a baseball card convention and watch the trades happen. Those people create trades with dozens of cards each, constantly moving pieces back and forth until they’re both happier with what they’re getting than what they’re giving up. It can be complex, but everyone wins.

That’s how you have to approach negotiations to be successful. There’s not just one single metric, there are a half a dozen or more things that both sides can get. You want to understand and respect what they want, just as you understand and respect that the coffee shop owner wants $4. You want them to get $4, because that’s how they stay in business and provide you with more coffee. In the same way, you want people who negotiate with you to get what they want, because then they’ll come back to the table with you again and again.

And every time you’ll get what you want, too.

Empty Buckets

I like to build kits. When I was a little kid, I would find any sort of container like a satchel, backpack, suitcase, etc. and then fill it with themed stuff. As a kid, this translated into old briefcases dedicated to Lego building (with organizers for different blocks and flat mats to build on), satchels for journaling and craft projects (marble notebooks, scissors, glue sticks, tape, stickers, vintage magazines, and markers) and even the now-infamous (among my family) “Pouch-o-Fun” which was just a fanny pack that contained various little dime store toys for fidgeting with on long boring car rides or in doctor’s office waiting rooms.

As an adult, I still build kits. For everything. I have a tool kit for around-the-house handyman stuff. I have a mobile office kit for when I work somewhere besides my house that contains every adapter, cord, and accessory I need to work in a truly remote capacity, including a mobile hot-spot. I have a kit for my shaving. A travel medicine kit with nothing that can’t go on a carry-on.

If I engage with any activity in a meaningful way, chances are I’ve built a kit for it. I tweak and shape them over time, optimizing for space and organization. The point of these kits is to make it easier to engage with the activity, and to make sure I don’t forget anything when I need to do so. Too many times when traveling for business did I realize I had a headache or an upset stomach or a stain on my only dress shirt or something like that, so I built out a kit of all of the remedies for those common troubles. Now when I fly, I just have to grab one thing and throw it in my bag, instead of trying to think each time, “Do I feel a headache coming on? What if this jacket gets a hole in it?”

I’m good at this. Building kits is a genuine talent of mine. “Everything You Need To Do X” in a well-organized container.

One thing that made me much, much better was when I realized the most essential component of any such kit: empty space.

I used to think that if a container wasn’t 100% filled to the brim with stuff, then I hadn’t truly optimized it as a kit. If it wasn’t full, after all, then either I could fit in more potentially useful stuff, or I could use a smaller container, and both seemed like upgrades to me. But one day I had brought my Lego kit (the aforementioned briefcase) to a fellow kid’s house to play, and the neighborhood friend was kind enough to gift me a few blocks I’d liked. And I had nowhere to put them. I carried them home in my pockets like a chump, because my Lego container was so efficiently packed that there wasn’t room for anything else, even a few bricks.

It took a few more incidents like that for me to really learn the lesson, but the point is that a good kit needs some room for adjustments “in the field,” whatever that happens to mean for a particular use. When we go camping, my daughter and I always pack a few extra empty bags or other containers – for me, it’s usually for trash and for her it’s usually for cool rocks she finds, but there are a million other uses.

The most useful kind of bucket is an empty one. If it’s filled with water, you have water – and water is good! But you can’t do anything else with that bucket. An empty bucket, on the other hand, can do a million things, including carrying water if you find it.

Here’s the broader lesson: leave room in whatever you’re doing. Room to pick up cool rocks, room to accept gifted Legos, or room to adjust and change and bend as you need to. If you work a 40-hour week, don’t pack it so tightly that there isn’t 15 minutes to accept an impromptu meeting with someone that could be very beneficial. If you have a lot of hobbies, don’t over-schedule yourself to the point where you can’t just grab dinner with a friend.

It’s very good to be organized. But don’t make the mistake of organizing away all your margins. Leave a few for good measure.

Foundational

In every person’s life, there needs to be an Ultimate Virtue. A foundation of aspiration that exists at the end of every chain of motivation.

You find your foundation by asking yourself the deeper why behind every action. Do you work hard? Assuming the answer is “yes,” then there are only three possible reasons why you do so:

  1. Working hard for the sake of working hard is your Ultimate Virtue. You derive no deeper reward from it and it serves no further end; your personal philosophy is that hard work is the end-all be-all to a fulfilling life. I don’t think many people are in this category, but it’s certainly possible.
  2. You have a chain of motivation that runs deeper than the work itself, and ends somewhere else at your Ultimate Virtue. For instance, you might work hard in order to get money, and you get money in order to put it into savings for your kids, because you believe that providing as big a head start as possible for one’s children is the Ultimate Virtue. Or you could work hard because you want the status of your job, because you want to leverage that into an even higher-status job, and so on and so on until you command vast legions because you believe power over society is the Ultimate Virtue. Or one of a million others – but you have a foundational motivation that lies far underneath your daily toil.
  3. You don’t know; you’re an automaton who isn’t happy and isn’t getting any happier; you have no fulfillment and you work hard mostly because that’s the channel that society’s institutions mostly funnel you towards if you don’t have any other aspirations. You default.

Personally, I respect the position of a drug addict more than the position of #3. Why? Because in a certain sense, a drug addict’s position is understandable. Imagine this was your Ultimate Virtue: “All life is temporary and meaningless, and the only worthwhile thing you can get out of it is pleasure in the moment; maximizing your happiness in the next 10 seconds is my foundational aspiration.” If that was what you truly believed, doing a ton of drugs would make sense. But the person in #3 doesn’t even have that.

Why do anything? You can’t just stumble through life on default, taking the path of least resistance and then dying and hoping it all works out. If you don’t believe that life has greater possibilities than that, then why not just live a life of drug-fueled hedonism and die young? The number of people who seem to believe “life is miserable, so I’d better make mine last as long as possible” is staggering.

I think the meaning of life is simple: pick a thing you truly believe in, and then act as if you truly believed in it. If you align these things, your life may get much more difficult, but at least it will be worth the difficulty. I’d rather do a lot of work for a lot of gain than do a little bit of work for nothing.