What I learned last week (#15)

Learned last week: Embracing the shadow, two great interview questions, Wikipedia is pretty amazing, and more.

  • The paradox that you can’t be happy without embracing unhappiness: Per prior posts, I’m very interested in exploring ideas of yin and yang, and Social Peacocking and the Shadow by Caterina Fake offers a great perspective and links to other good reads on the topic (case-in-point is The Shadow by Hans Christian Andersen)

The more a person acknowledges his shadow, and brings it into consciousness, the healthier and more whole the person will be. But if driven underground and sent into hiding, The Shadow will take on a life of its own, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

  • Two of the best interview questions I’ve heard: Graham Duncan approaches hiring by finding and matching people with opportunities. He’s not “finding talent” (because everyone has talents) but rather matching people with the right “positive feedback loops”, and he’s not trying to “catch” someone’s weakness, because we all have many.
    These two interview questions are from Tim Ferriss’s excellent interview of Graham Duncan (and there is a lot more).
    1. If you were to hire somebody for this position, what criteria would you use?
    2. If I were to hire a partner to work with you on this, what qualities would be good for them to have?
  • Wikipedia is pretty amazing: Wikipedia and the Wisdom of Polarized Crowds by Brian Gallagher reveals a bunch of important insights from research on Wikipedia: Bringing together polarizing viewpoints is essential to making better things. Bias is essential, not inherently evil as it’s been portrayed lately. It is possible to create a platform and a distributed culture of creators that have vastly different ideologies, yet work together and are able to reach consensus.
  • A serendipitous story of a modern day heist of Star Wars toys: The Great Star Wars Heist from the excellent longreads.com is a really fun read. One of my co-workers was telling me backstory on how the original Star Wars toys came out and the deal George Lucas struck to make it happen, and then this magically popped up on my feed. #serendipity  
  • What I was doing this week in 2016: I went back to my journal to see what I was up to at this time in 2016. Three years ago we had just bought our current home (that we’re now hoping to sell next month), I was pretty crazy with my weekly bullet journal-inspire spreads, and we were in the midst of doing Core Caregiver Training (CCT) to be foster parents.

What I learned last week (#14)

Learning from last week: breaking the chains of discouragement, re-buying my most-used piece of gear, and a ‘now’ page.

  • A useful metaphor for handing adversity and keeping a positive outlook: Unfortunate things are caused by a chain of unfortunate decisions, and it can be discouraging to view a situation through this lens. Alternatively, one can also look at it from the perspective that by making one right decision, or doing something good, the chain can be broken and a whole new chain can begin. There’s always an opportunity to course-correct. 
  • A need to re-buy one of my most essential pieces of gear: Icebreaker 200 Oasis Leggings are one of my most-used pieces of clothing. Perfect for fall/winter/spring outside activities. I live in them during the weekend and I recently had to get rid of a couple of pairs that were literally disintegrating.
  • What a ‘now’ page is: A friend sent me Derek Siver’s now page and, aside from the content of his status being very relevant to ours (he’s relocated to another country), I love the concept of a “Now” page (see others at https://nownownow.com/) and have set one up here.
  • Useful encouragement to get on with it: “Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. Pro and con lists are just as bad. If it’s important to you and you want to do it “eventually,” just do it and correct course along the way. – from the 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss

What I learned last week (#13)

Learning from last week: the best I could hope to achieve in my creative practice, protecting my kids from pain, and a great story on solitude and strength.

  • An excerpt from a book that I’m pondering: “Some writers, as Hemingway said in Green Hills of Africa, are born only to help another writer to write one sentence. I hope this collection will contribute to the making of many sentences.” – from Ernest Hemingway on Writing by Larry W. Phillips. If I have a a goal associated with my sharing, writing, and drawing that is better than this, I can’t name it.
  • A perspective on protecting those you love from pain: A friend at work and I were talking about our kids. I was expressing a hope I have that I can provide my kids with the experience of unmooring that I had experienced as a child when my parents divorced, but without as much isolation and sadness. We were discussing whether this is a realistic, or even desired, thing to achieve. I will write about this more soon, but after our conversation she came across this Instagram post and sent it to me:
  • A great documentary and story: Alone in the Wilderness is an assembly of footage from Dick Proenneke, a man who moved to the Alaskan wilderness alone, built a cabin by hand, and lived there alone for 30 years. The footage is grainy and it’s short (and short on context), but fantastic. I recommend getting some background from the site prior to viewing.
  • A great piece of storytelling: The Amazon Race is a really fun and ingenious way for a story to be told. Actually it’s just like the stories I’ve been experiencing for 30 years, except those are almost exclusively fiction. I’d like to see more mini-video games narratives like this. (Hat tip: Steve Wiens)

Afraid in the best way possible

Yes, I am afraid of moving, but in the best way possible. Rather than being afraid of giving up what I have, I’m more fearful of missing an opportunity, that I might give up what I know I could have more of.

We are about 4 months away from being in full family transition, setting sail for Scotland from the U.S.A. There is a lot up in the air and the only thing that is certain is that this will be a moment of unmooring for us all. Many people have asked me how I feel about it. “Am I scared of moving?” they ask, “I would be.”

I’ve come to the realization that for me, it’s the exact opposite. I am afraid, but I am most afraid of not doing it. Doing it fully. I am afraid that I am not able to conquer the fears that have been both a great builder of strength and a great liability to me up to this point in my life. Rather than feel like I’m giving up what I have, I’m more fearful of missing an opportunity, that I might give up what I know I could have more of. I’m not talking about stuff, but rather, time, experiences, learning. I’m afraid of not knowing what else is out there. Afraid of succeeding. This fear of discovery and realization is new though. For most of my life, I didn’t want to do anything unsettling.

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

Jack Canfield

Like most commonly held fears, I can trace most of mine back to childhood experience. My parents divorced when I was very young, and my sister and I went through multiple family configurations and many different schools from grade 2 through college. We moved with my Mom to a different state at one point (Washington) and spent the school year there and visited my Dad during school breaks. Of course, throughout this I felt like I had no control of my situation. I had to make new friends continuously and what I wanted most was to fit in, to have a “regular” home, and I wanted my Dad back. Being slightly overweight, short, wearing glasses and being obsessed with video games meant I was destined for my fair share of bullying and ridicule. Junior high was hard. High school was harder. Eventually, I figured it out. The lack of emotional stability at home and the desire to be part of the tribe of my peers made me very adaptable and it drew me to seek to create my own order (I’m an organizer and communicator by trade, huh!). It also made me amenable to people of all sorts, and taught me that making friendships is a lot easier if you are open minded and a good listener.

As a result of these experiences, my life has since been defined as one seeking stability and maintaining the status-quo. I am very lucky to have all of the comforts and success that I have, but I can see ways that my fear of instability and of not fitting in have held me back in my personal and professional life, and it’s time for me to learn to set them aside.

I’m trying to shift my stance towards fear and approach decisions differently now. I want to do more things that give me that sense of fear, not less. I’m trying to not to look at the cost of my fears coming true, but rather the cost of them not coming true. Said another way, what likely opportunity (versus unlikely risk) am I missing out on by giving fear the final say in a decision?

I’ll give some examples of fears that I’m wrestling with related to our move to Scotland this summer, and how I’m thinking about them in an inverse way than many others in my life seem to be.

Here are three of my big fears with the move:

  1. Moving to Scotland will deprive Sam and Vivian of (educational and other) opportunities
  2. Moving to Scotland will cause my relationship to my wife to be strained
  3. Moving to Scotland will set me back career-wise and/or financially

Note that I didn’t say they were rational fears! But, what if I looked at them differently, like this:

  1. NOT Moving to Scotland will deprive Sam and Vivian of (educational and other) opportunities
  2. NOT Moving to Scotland will cause my relationship to my wife to be strained
  3. NOT Moving to Scotland will set me back career-wise and/or financially

Is there truth here? Is it just as likely, if not more, that this alternative will happen? I think so. Here is how I think about it:

  1. Not moving will deprive Sam and Vivian of (educational and other) opportunities: I dread that Vivian and Sam will end up having awful experiences in school, either with crap teachers, school bullies, or infinite other cruelties, but that can (and will inevitably) happen anywhere. We live in a great school district in the US with all the advantages that implies, but I know that the first-hand experience with a new culture, seeing kids and people that are different than them, and building friendships from scratch will pay off more in the long run than anything they will learn in school.
     
  2. Not moving to Scotland will cause my relationship to my wife to be strained: Being in a relationship is something you have to constantly do, it needs to be active and provide sustenance to both people involved. This means different things for different people, but for us, travel and new experiences are important. Following this dream generates energy that forges new bonds. Not following through with a move would keep things comfortable, perfect conditions for things to atrophy. Our relationship will surely be tested throughout this next chapter, and that’s exactly the point. 
     
  3. Not moving to Scotland will set me back career-wise and/or financially: I’m going to set aside the imagined/real impact of Brexit for the moment on this one. If I were to believe that I am better off to stick with what I have now, I must believe three things. The first is that I need to maintain my current salary to be happy. The second is that I can reach my full potential in what I do now. And third is that equally great opportunities (or likely even greater) don’t exist or aren’t attainable in myriad forms and places that I have yet to discover. I choose to believe none of it.

Looking at where my fears come from, how they’ve both benefited me and held me back, and the worst-case of them coming true vs potential upside of them not, is a practice I hope to revisit regularly when making big decisions.

Yes, I am afraid of moving, but in the best way possible. Fear will always be present, and I choose to embrace it as an ally, a compass that is telling me something interesting is happening, and look for the opportunity behind it. Try it and you might be surprised what you see.

What I learned last week (#12)

A useful perspective on passion, a new service that reminds me what I’ve read, and reasons to keep reading.

  • A different perspective on answering the question “what you are passionate about?”: With the upcoming move, I’ve been doing a lot of writing and thinking about what I want to do next for work. As part of that, I’ve been thinking a lot about, and answering, similar questions to this. The postWork before passion by Seth Godin, and related TEDx talk from Terri Trespicio, resonates with me here. Instead of trying to articulate what I’m passionate about, I choose to be attentive to the fact that I’m constantly discovering things I’m interested in, that there are so many interesting and worthy problems out there to solve, and that I want to do work that matters.
  • A service so useful I can’t believe Amazon doesn’t own them: I recently started using Readwise.io. They send you 5 highlights from your e-book library at random each day and you can tag and organize them. It’s been surprisingly good for me. I’m a big Kindle reader and highlighter/note taker, and although I export my notes into OneNote, having them sent to me inevitably puts things in front of me I wouldn’t of revisited. It makes me want to read even more.
  • A thought-provoking essay on reading: Sticking with the theme this week of reading, Reading in the Age of Constant Distraction made me ponder what I love about reading (and how I feel when I go for extended periods without it).
  • Continuing to work on mindfulness and came across this (a highlight from my Readwise digest): From Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig: “The past cannot remember the past. The future can’t generate the future. The cutting edge of this instant right here and now is always nothing less than the totality of everything there is.”

What I learned last week (#11)

New music for focusing, a person worth following, and geeking out on urban sketching.

  • Memento mori: Translated as “remember that someday you will die”, and otherwise referring to an object that serves as a reminder of death. Aside from being useful short-hand in conversations, having a reminder like this visible is useful in keeping perspective, prioritizing and staying present.
  • New music to focus with: Midnight Marker by Shy Layers has been on my album list for a while but recently I gave it a spin while working and it was great for focusing.
  • An informative source of thoughts and ideas: I’ve been following Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of Wired, for the past few weeks on LinkedIn and Twitter. I’ve found all of his reading recommendations and short videos have been well worth the time.
  • A simple new essential for the car in the winter: A friend pulled this out last week during a particularly snowy evening and I was shocked I hadn’t seen it before. The Frostblocker keeps your windshield ice free and frees you from having to scrape the window after a long stretch in the cold. Brilliant.
  • An approach to capturing people and movement: I loved these simple-yet-complex sketches and I’m inspired to try the same technique (quick figure gestures, layering on top of one another, the use of different line color for figures vs environment). Here’s one from the blog Mostly Drawing, which is fantastic (I love the info on the kit being used):
From See-through city on the blog Mostly Drawing

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.