What I learned last week (#10)

The secret to likely everything, a reminder that most stuff can wait, and the metaverse is coming (or it’s already here).

  • Learning what and how to ignore things just might be the secret to everything:

“Learning to ignore things is one of the great paths to inner peace.”

Robert J. Sawyer
  • The metaverse beyond the hype: This article clued me into Tim Sweeney (founder of Epic Games, which created Fortnite and the Unreal Engine) and what he hopes Fornite becomes. It’s a fascinating read. 
  • Some useful reinforcement for moving abroad: As I’ve previously described, making the decision to move isn’t easy, but it’s reassuring to hear that part of our rationale is backed up by research showing those who live abroad tend to develop a stronger sense of what’s important to them.  (Hat tip to Marcus Purvis)
  • A reminder that most stuff can wait: Last week was snowy in Seattle, which meant a lot of meetings needed to be canceled, my work time was reduced, and I spent the majority of the week in my long johns. Not surprisingly, the important stuff still got done, and the week felt like a mini-vacation. Removing all the non-essential overhead felt good. It’s surprising how much baggage we all carry around that should be left behind, and I’m grateful for the reminder. On a related note, check out Busy is the New Lazy and aim to get more slack in your days.
Snow in Seattle

What I learned last week (#9)

My perfect lunch, the importance of the subliminal self, and a simple journal exercise.

  • This lunchtime meal is close to perfect for me: The aptly name Perfect Protein Salad from our local grocery chain PCC has it all. I always bought it from their deli, and once I got their cookbook and started to make it, it has become a standard. It’s a multi-day process, starting with cooking the garbanzo beans (starting with dry) and spelt berries days in advance, but it’s worth it. I add a half jalapeño to spice things up as well as some hemp seeds. It’s good to grab straight from the fridge and eat cold and is light enough to not induce the afternoon lull that heavier food does.
Perfect Protein Salad recipe from the book Cooking from Scratch
  • More on the role of the sub-conscious and the creative process: This article on the French Polymath Henri Ponicare is great and has a bunch of interesting links throughout. “The subliminal self is in no way inferior to the conscious self; it is not purely automatic; it is capable of discernment; it has tact, delicacy; it knows how to choose, to divine.”
  • I remembered this simple journal exercise that I did in a course last year: I’m not a big fan of thinking about where I want to be in 5 years or 10 years, but this simple exercise is surprisingly hard to start and equally surprising where it leads. Try it.
    Exercise: 10 minutes of free-writing (the only rule is that you can’t stop writing!). If you don’t know what to write, just write “I don’t know what to write” until something else comes up. The topic is what is my best possible future? Start with “In 5 years, I will…”. No constraints – you can change anything you want about your current life.
  • Another perspective on creativity:

“We don’t know where we get our ideas from. What we do know is that they do not come from our laptops.”

John Cleese

Enjoy the week ahead!

How to help someone new (and also help yourself)

Helping new team members is one of the many things omitted from every job description. Here’s a few different ways to think about increasing empathy towards new team members and being more useful.

Much has been written about how important hiring is to a team and organization. Indeed, getting the right people into the right roles is probably the most important thing any team can do. But a close second is getting those new people into the mix, feeling welcomed and working effectively (also known as on-boarding). This second step is where a lot of teams struggle.

Sure, some new hires come in to their new role with a nice welcome email waiting, a package of team merchandise and helpful materials at their desk, and perhaps even a suggested 30-60-90 day plan for getting up to speed. But even if that’s done (and that’s a big if), it’s likely that the expectations and plans for the team to help them on-board have not been discussed at any length. As a result of this and many other factors, most people don’t prioritize enough time to help new hires, and assume that they will ask if they need something or that they are “drinking from the fire hose” and that it’s best to not overwhelm them at the start. This is a shame.

Helping new team members is one of the many things omitted from every job description. Here’s a few different ways to think about increasing empathy towards new team members and being more useful.

Act like you are in the middle of nowhere…

Have you noticed how the social norms for interacting with people when you are on a city sidewalk are totally different than when you are on a mountain trail? The expectation in the city is that it’s not rude to pay little attention to each other, and you are justified to not make eye contact or at most give a little smile or hello. But, if you are on a trail in the mountains and you encounter other hikers, it’s generally a rare occurrence and the expectation is reversed. The norm is to say hi, and more than likely you will be inclined (or approached) to chat about your dog, how’s it looking up ahead, or where you are from.

I think we often default to treating new team members like we’re passing on a city sidewalk, and they probably feel like they are out in the mountains, expecting the next person they see will make time to talk about what it’s like up ahead. Act like you are on the mountain with them.

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”

Fred Rogers

Always give before asking or being asked…

Come bearing gifts. New team members don’t know what they need to know. Telling them you are “here to help” or to “let me know what I can do to help you once you get settled in” is not actually helpful. What is helpful is to put together a list of things you wished you knew when you started, introductions to other people that you think would be useful for them to know, or simply inviting them to lunch.

Be careful with “What do you need help with?”. That sounds helpful but it puts the onus on them. Instead, come to them with something they didn’t ask for that you think they might need. Doing some prep work for them is an easy way to build trust and it has very little downside (you needed to organize those notes anyway!).

Help them write their own stories…

With any new acquaintance there are a lot things you won’t know, which equals a lot of blanks to be filled in. Resist the urge to make up stories to fill these blanks. They are going to make mistakes, ask questions you thought were obvious, and also do a lot of things better than you. It’s going to be tempting to tell yourself stories that start with “They should be doing this…” or “They shouldn’t of done that…”. Anytime you recognize that coming to the surface, try to change the narrative.

The story that you want to write should be one that is about helping them by being generous and useful. The story about offering your expertise on a new issue or partnering with them to start a new project. The one where you improved your work because of something you learned from them. Change the framing from “They should do this…” to “I can help by…”.

“It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.”

Napoleon Hill

Welcoming a new team member is something to celebrate and enjoy, and on-boarding them should be a serious commitment for everyone on the team. Helping them succeed helps everyone, including yourself.

What I learned last week (#8)

I am now on the neti train, have a new go-to gratitude exercise, and got bansky’d, among other things.

  • I never realized what I was missing by not trying a neti pot earlier: The family and I have been battling various sicknesses for the past month, and on a friends advice I started using the NeilMed Sinus Rinse. It feels weird at first, sure, but the results are real.
  • This short exercise to change your mindset: I’m about half-way through the Sam Harris Waking Up course and have been listening to some of the lessons as well. Like the rest of the course, this short lesson on gratitude really has had an impact. I find that a lot of the time I am in a mental malaise at the end of a work day, especially after a long commute home. This is a fantastic tool I’m using to break any feeling of mediocrity.
  • The most nutritious plants: I didn’t think this article, Ranking Vegetables on How Healthy They Are, would be as surprising to me as it was. In particular, the fact that 100 calories of spinach has more protein than 100 calories of beef. Being vegetarian-turned-pescatarian now for 5 months I’m still learning about all of goodness out there. (Hat tip: Ben Tamblyn)
     
  • A quote I’ve been pondering:

“To attain knowledge, add things everyday. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.”

Lao Tzu
  • Vivian is a natural Bansky: I did a quick portrait sketch of Sam on Sunday morning and showed it to Vivi. She said I could draw her also “as long as you don’t make me look weird”. I left the room to change Sam’s diaper and didn’t think of it. Later in the afternoon I opened and found that she drew herself in the notebook on the opposite page.
A couple of sunday morning portraits
My portrait of Sam on the left, Vivi’s self portrait on the right.

What I Learned Last Week (#7)

Thinking on the future of (my) work, doubts about the usefulness of resumes, and some history of a modern classic beer.

  • I really like the idea of distributed work: Working with a team/organization where everyone is distributed is something I’ve become really interested in over the past couple years, as I think it encourages more sharing, prioritizes written and visual communication skills, and enables a more healthy relationship with work (by default at least) that many traditional companies. This is in my future. Recent inspiration comes from: The Future of Work and 10 Things I’ve Learned Since Quitting My Job to Work Remote and Travel.
  • I’m not convinced that resumes are worth anything: I know I previously posted that I’m trying out enhancv for my resume (and I am, paid for it too), but I think the process I’m going through in creating it is where the value lies, the actual final page is not going to be worth much. Just read this in Rework as I was thinking this and I have to say I feel the same way:

“We all know resumes are a joke. They’re exaggerations. They’re filled with “action verbs” that don’t mean anything…If you hire based on this garbage, you’re missing the point of what hiring is about…Check the cover letter.”

  • The history of The Alchemist Brewery and Heady Topper: I was turned on to Heady Topper by my buddy Scott (founder and head brewer of Woodstock Brewing) and it lives up to the hype. This story of their start is great. I love the way Jen and John Kimmich approach things. Per John: “The way we treat our employees, the atmosphere that we create, is the energy of The Alchemist, and we translate that into our beer,” he says. “If this atmosphere was full of anxiety and anger and dissatisfaction, our beer would reflect that. There is a symbiotic relationship between the people working with that yeast to create the beer and the finished product. Our beer is alive.”
  • A quote I’m pondering:

“Worrying is like praying for something you don’t want.”

Anonymous

“Happiness is about understanding that the gift of life should be honored everyday by offering your gifts to the world.

Don’t let yourself define what matters by the dogma of other people’s thoughts. And even more important, don’t let the thoughts of self-doubt and chattering self-criticism in your own mind slow you down. You will likely be your own worst critic. Be kind to yourself in your own mind. Let your mond show you the same kindness that you aspire to show others.”

Vivian at the 2019 Women’s March in Seattle

Then there was yes

Exploring why and how we decided turn “someday we’ll do this” into today.

“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.”

Benjamin Disraeli Former prime minister of the United Kingdom

In about six months we are moving our family from our home in Seattle across the ocean to Scotland. It’s a pretty big life change. That being said, I want to try to attempt to explain why we’re doing this, and, I’ll let you know right now, this explanation might be a letdown. Just when I think I have a pretty solid handle on the reasons, they turn into marbles on an uneven table. My wife Kav and I have been talking about this for awhile, but it was always a “someday we should…” conversation. Then something shifted, but I’m not quite sure how or why, it’s still kind of a mystery.

A few years ago, I would have found it unlikely to know I would be moving out of the country. I’ve always lived in the US. Although I’ve moved houses and I moved schools a bunch as a kid, I’ve really only lived in two states: Washington and Wyoming. I’ve worked at Microsoft for almost 13 years. Not only that, but I’ve been working in gaming for 6 years, and my latest assignment is with Minecraft. I am LITERALLY doing what I dreamed of doing as a kid, making video games. And now I’m saying the fact I have my dream job isn’t as important as this opportunity. This strikes me as a profound leap, and I want to know how to to re-create it, mass produce it (in pill form preferably), and do it more.

But before I fumble around explaining how I got to my yes on the decision, let me try explain why we want to to do this.

First off, we’re making the big move by choice, independent of a job offer or citizenship concerns or any other forcing factor. Both my wife and I feel strongly that it’s time for a change and we want to raise our kids closer to family (or at least a part of it). This is what we say outwardly at least. It’s definitely more complicated than that, but those are the easy reasons to explain. There are plenty more.

We’re moving so that our kids will know (some) of their family more and so that we’ll have a support network while raising our kids. We’re moving for all the new connections to people, in work and in school and in life, that we’ll all make. We’re moving so we can experience a new country and way of life, and so we can go through a big project (and the challenges we’ll face along the way) together, as a family. We’re moving because there are more guns than people in the US. We’re moving so we can have weekends away in Paris (and so I can go on excursions to Belgium for beer…shh, don’t tell Kav). We’re moving to shake things up and ensure we don’t get too comfortable. We’re moving because “we’d like to someday” could very well never happen, and it certainly won’t unless we act.

The magnitude of the shift that this will make in all of our lives cannot be understated, which is ultimately the point (and also the source of our fears).

What’s so difficult to explain, and what I’d like to articulate in some beautiful way so that others can benefit, is what pushed us over the edge to make the decision. What made us both get to the point where we like, “Yup, let’s get rid of our new house right next to a great school in one of the most beautiful places in the planet and our six figure salary and beautiful cars and stock options and crazy comfortable life and shake the dice and start over with NO STUFF doing something else that probably isn’t going to be worse and potentially could be AMAZING and maybe never come back”?

At the end of all the worries, I realized (and maybe Kav has know this all along), that the likely upside is much greater than the unlikely downside.

The decision seems obvious to me now but how’d I get to this point? Kav has already touched on her thoughts. For me, I think the factors that led me to feeling so comfortable with it come down to:

  • Simplifying my life and trying to reduce material needs/desires
  • Carefully curating the inputs I pay attention to (feeds, screen time, friends, books, etc)
  • Being more present with my kids and wife, and (trying to) be as intentional and tuned-in as I can in every moment

I wasn’t expecting this. Kav and I argued over her desire to move and my interpretation of her reasons, although I always knew I wanted to live in another country eventually, I didn’t think I wanted to do it this soon. Now it’s hard to imagine why I was opposed.

I’d like to think that by focusing on the seemingly small and simple things, I was receptive and open to a big decision as it came around.

At first there was a no, and then there was a yes.

What I Learned Last Week (#6)

This week: drawing tips, crazy 2018 facts, and good advice from smart people.

  • Everything that Anne Lamott has learned: I’ve been reading Bird by Bird recently (it’s great) and heard about this list she did of everything she had learned to date (apparently thinking about her grandson). I copied a bit below but the full post can be found here.

  • A new inspiration for drawing practice: I’m starting up a habit of drawing regularly (like writing) and my friend recommended Gris and Norm’s Tuesday Tips. Check out their tumblr and Instagram, very cool. I’m going to follow their weekly tips for a few months and see where it goes. I started on Saturday.

  • A good reminder about your responsibility and owning your story: This video from The Fresh Prince is great. “Fault and responsibility do not go together”.
    A good quote: “Whatever you are, be a good one.”– Abraham Lincoln
    There is great pride, quality and art to be found in all occupations.

What I Learned Last Week (#5)

This week: a new approach to resumes, the art of tidying up, some geography fun, and more.

  • A new way to approach resumes: I’m officially on the hunt for work now, either with a company located in Scotland (or, ideally, in a role where I can work from anywhere), so I’m brushing up my resume and noticed pics of this service making it’s way around LinkedIn. It looks awesome and I think I’ll be giving it a go: http://enhancv.com
  • Marie Kondo, the KonMari method, and the art of “tidying up”: I heard about this method of keeping only things that spark joy before, and as we prepare to downsize significantly and have to decide what to keep, I was trying to find out more. Looks like there is also a Netflix show on it now.
  • I’m liking and listening to Mick Jenkins more and more: I’ve been digging his album from last year, Pieces of a Man, recently and came across this interview. I especially like this portion:

I think that my sanity is the most important thing to my art, and I feel that my relationships are the most important thing to my sanity. My relationship with God, my relationship with my girlfriend, my relationships with the people that are close to me, you know? The people that keep me grounded. And if you focus on all of the many things that you could be focused on to advance your career, while you could be “successful”, I’ve watched people close to me suffer before I was successful, because of that, and that was something I was not going to do.

But like I say, it’s hard work. Because it’s such a self-centered thing, it’s easier to do the other shit, honestly… even though that shit’s hard too. But making sure that you foster, and cater to, and water those relationships, and keep them strong. I think that people are only able to keep you in check if they’re at a certain level with you. If that level starts to fade, then their ability to do that becomes less strong, and I need people to do that for me.

So like I say, you gotta water that, it’s a plant. You gotta keep it growing. It’s something to be spoken about, it’s definitely something that I do a lot of. It’s not an easy thing to break up the environment and put focus into growing your communication and your perspective with the people that are close to you. It takes a lot of work. 

  • Some wisdom I came across while looking back at my notes: I noted this passage from the interview with Soman Chainani in Tribe of Mentors, as it rang true for me:

Meditation has taught me that most of the ideas, opinions, rules, and fixed systems I have in my mind aren’t the real truth. They’re the residues of past experiences that I haven’t let go of. What I’ve learned is that my soul doesn’t speak in thoughts at all—it speaks in feelings, images, and clues.

I had about geography: This article, and particularly the story map, was

Soman Chainani
  • I had some misconceptions about geography: This article from National Geographic, in particular this story map, was eye-opening. Did you know Venice, Italy is as far north as Minneapellos, Minnesota? London is in parallel with Calgary? The map is worth checking out.

A Drawing A Day

This experiment, during a summer break between junior and senior years of high school, is rooted in life skills I’m still trying to master.

I want to be an artist!

I would say this to myself and others while I was growing up. It was a big, nebulous goal that I actively worked on in fits-and-starts throughout my childhood and into adulthood. I loved the practice of art but also romanticized an artist lifestyle that I would surely one day realize. Why did I want to be an artist? What habits and techniques did I need to develop to get me there? I didn’t know, I just knew I like it. My goal proved effective on it’s own as a way to focus energy in a general direction, but I could feel that some things were left out. For one, I wasn’t very intentional about achieving my goal.

intentional (adj): done on purpose; deliberate.

I’ve generally felt that new years resolutions are only partially effective, similar to my experience with the goal of being an artist. The same way I’m put off by the question “where do you want to see yourself in 5-10 years”, resolutions tend to be, at least for me, at risk for being too big to wrap my arms around and too focused on a destination versus the journey. Instead of just having big resolutions/goals, I’ve learned that I have to first have solid principles that ground me as well as a set of good habits and routines that support the experiments necessary to improve and progress toward my goals.

The Experiment

I recently remembered an “experiment” I did when I was 16. It was the summer of ’96, and while my sister and I went to school in Seattle, in the summers we visited my Dad in Wyoming. This meant that I didn’t have the distraction of my classmates, and in a surprising moment of wisdom, I took advantage of that situation. I set forth a goal of spending an hour per day doing one drawing. The only real criteria I set was that the drawing is done completely in one sitting. I remember that I was really interested in becoming a better artist and I knew I had to practice in order to advance to the next level, but I wasn’t very disciplined at setting aside time and always felt like I needed an idea before I started. In turns out what I really needed was to get out of my own way. I obviously didn’t think of it in any deep way though, I just enjoyed drawing.

So, I got a sketchbook specifically for the task and every afternoon, sometime between 3pm-5pm, I sat down at the desk in my room and did a drawing. The subject of most of these were of superheros and heroic adventure scenes and high-flying car chases, and a lot of them are not very good technically (my figure proportions are way off), but I did it. I filled an entire sketchbook front-to-back with full drawings, and I “finished” them by spraying fixative on at the end (thus they wouldn’t smudge). They exist to this day. There is even one or two that I love.

I drew action scenes like this a lot. Seattle Five-0!
Landscapes and buildings, definitely my thing.
This is where I started to find my style.

The Result

Even though the habit of a drawing a day was simple in theory, it wasn’t easy. Sometimes I didn’t really want to draw, or didn’t feel like I had a good idea for what to draw, but regardless I sat and and drew something.

Until last week, I hadn’t thought about a drawing a day in years and was almost shocked when I remembered how much satisfaction, joy and energy it gave me as a teenager. A drawing a day was a step towards being something I wanted to be and was totally in my control. It required the simply the discipline to put a pencil to paper and move it. A purpose, goal and action aligned.

A drawing a day led me to ultimately pursue web design, begin a career in technology and was a precursor for my approach to other changes that have most positively impacted my life. Recent examples include experimenting with my diet (going 30 days without caffeine, alcohol, gluten, meat, etc) and another experimenting with mindfulness (starting with 10 min meditations a day for 30 days).

Experimenting with your life frees you to create differently, but you need to choose new causes (intentions) consciously. If you don’t choose different intentions consciously, unconscious parts of your personality (the frightened parts) will choose them for you, along with the consequences they will create for you.

Gary Zukav, from the article Intentions and Effects

As I reflect on the past year, I can see that I’ve been pretty good at setting goals (although I can always be better at making them more SMART) and am all-in on progress through experimentation for achieving those goals, but I still struggle with feeling buffeted about by things outside of my control and sometimes feel that I don’t have an internal compass. What’s open for experimentation vs not? How should I choose what to prioritize? How do I weather different challenges and emotions with confidence? What I’ve been searching for can be summed up brilliantly by the following:

“You might not always achieve success, but you can always behave honorably. You can act in alignment with essential values, attaining the peace of mind I call ‘success beyond success.”

Fred Kofman, from the book Conscious Business

The Next Level

My next step is to spend more time developing and refining my “why” (thank you Simon), also know as my principles, and lining up my goals and actions accordingly. Here’s the framework I’m (experimenting) with in order to be more intentional:

  1. Establish principles. I have a list of principles that I have been building and refining over the past year. These are the things that provide the foundation for my intentions and who I want to be. Want help figuring these out? Try this: write down three people you admire. Now write down 3+ traits each of them have that are the basis for your admiration. Those are the same traits you want to have and, I bet, already do. An example of a principle I have is to focus on quality over quantity, and a sub-bullet under that is focusing on on depth of experience vs a material goods.
  2. Set clear goals. I have a written list of goals, the things I’d like to explore or make happen. These build off of my principles and can and will change. An example of one of my goals is to be a self-published writer and an artist. Another is to move to Scotland with the family.
  3. Make progress be experimenting. I treat all my tactics as really small, achievable experiments. This is the path to achieving my goals, as they force action and naturally lend themselves to adaptation. Setting aside 60 mins to draw and write each day for the next 6 months is an example. Creating content for this blog with my wife is another.
  4. Reflect and refine. I try to do reflection on a weekly and monthly basis, it’s so important. Thinking about what’s worked and what hasn’t tends to feel like wasted time, as we want to just get on with the next thing. Spend more time here than you want to and it will benefit. After all, that’s how your principles came about in the first place!

In many ways setting goals is the easy part. The challenge is in knowing yourself well enough to set the right goals, and in having the discipline to sit down and work on them, one drawing at a time.

What I Learned Last Week (#4)

A weekly list of things I learned, discovered, or was reminded of in the past week.

  • A reminder about how little time we have with those we love: I thought about the article The Tail End from Wait But Why as I was pondering the new year coming up, our planned move and how we may not see some people for a long time because of it. Also, if you want to do some existential pondering, check out The Fermi Paradox.
  • Different models for understanding who we are and who other people are: Enneagram and the Big Five (aka OCEAN) personality trait models. I think both of these seem like interesting ideas to explore. I use the word “ideas” purposefully, as any framework or model will have it’s flaws, but taking time to reflect on what makes you and others operate the way you do from different perspectives is a good use of time. For more info on Big Five, I’m going to check out Making Sense of People by Sam Barondes.
  • How personalized medicine is transforming your healthcare: This article from National Geographic really blew me away. We have had a couple friends staying with us over the holidays that are both doctors in the pharmaceutical industry and many of the stories in this article resonated with them. The continuous monitoring of your health and the ability to tap into the body’s immune system to fight disease, versus using drugs, were particularly compelling.
  • Another meditation app: I heard about Waking Up from Sam Harris on recent Tim Ferriss podcast and think I’ll give it a try. I want to experiment with a refresh of my daily practice and his approach sounds interesting.