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Moving to Scotland

Most things remain to be done

The family and I are in full acquisition mode at the moment. As expected, setting up shop in Scotland has required endless amounts of admin and purchasing and “getting things done”. We are very much trying to keep things small and simple, but there are myriad things that a family of four needs and we’re knocking those off one-by-one in (what seems to me to be) short order. In under two weeks we’ve added a rental house, car and insurance, beds, kitchen table, couch, desk, bikes, new phone numbers, and millions of other tiny things to our list of possessions here. Oh and we’ve probably added a few pounds from stress eating while chasing two little ones down the aisles of you-name-it shop. At times it’s been a grind (example: four hours on the phone trying to get car insurance with no credit history), and there are times where I’ve periodically lost sight of why we moved over in the first place.

A quote seen at Ikea stating most things still remain to be done. A glorious future.

I spotted this while in Ikea yesterday and it has stuck with me. Although it feels like we’re doing stuff to get to an end goal (finally being able to sleep in our new place!), that will be another beginning.

In between the constant doing-stuff/busy-ness of moving there have been many glimpses of why we came here and what awaits us when we pause and look around, like this moment from the road to the farm where we live (the place we are renting is a house converted from a horse stable). It’s stunning.

I came across the following passage while writing this and it fits nicely to the topic. We chose to climb this mountain, and are fortunate to be able to have the means to climb it. Why not enjoy every moment?

Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow.

From Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

There is more to do and there always will be. A glorious future indeed!

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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#32)

Big changes are possible with small incremental steps: Last week we (finally!) closed up shop in the US and started our Scotland experiment. By midweek, all of our belongings fit into the back of an SUV and a small crate sitting somewhere in the port of Seattle. Amazing to get to this point. There were countless small decisions that were made moot by making the one big decision to move, and executing that big decision was a matter of one day and step at a time.


Getting rid of things is harder than I thought: We’ve sold and given away a lot of stuff as part of our move, and we’ve invited many friends and strangers alike to go through our stuff to pick out things they might like or find useful. During this process my feelings have swung all the way from gratitude to ambivalence to resentment and back again, sometimes very rapidly, and it’s surprised me how hard this was to moderate. I often felt like someone “owed” me for something they were given, or even bought. Or I felt they didn’t “deserve” these things that I valued so much, etc, etc. I think I navigated this ok, but it was harder to keep my mindset on the right things throughout the process of shedding stuff than I thought.


Documentary I finally got a chance to watch: I’ve been waiting to watch Free Solo, and finally snuck it in while Sam slept on me in the flight to Scotland. One part that stuck with me was when Alex Honnold was reflecting on the difference between himself and his girlfriend, and he says something to the effect of “her goal is happiness, having a comfortable life. Nothing great has ever been accomplished by being happy and comfortable. My goal is performance.” It’s incredible what he has achieved by being so laser focused on performance. It is a mindset I admire, and strikes me as very similar to that of another person I hold in high regard, Josh Waitzkin.


Tips on how to become a craftsman: In the midst of everything last week I was somehow able to sneak in some reading, this time it was So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. I love how the book is structured, how it provides summaries at the end of each section and the conclusion where he brings it together and applies the rules. The part that I’m thinking a lot about, a core idea to the book, is the section on how to become a craftsman and build valuable skills. Of particular interest is the one-two punch of putting both a structure in place that allows you to spend the time on practicing a skill, as well as being very deliberate about having that practice be stretching oneself through challenging and uncomfortable work.

In his 2007 interview with Charlie Rose, here’s how Steve Martin explained his strategy for learning the banjo: “[I thouhgt], if I stayed with it, then one day I will have been playing for forty years, and anyone who sticks with something for forty years will be pretty good at it.”

The image of Martin returning to his banjo, day after day, for forty years is poignant. It captures well the feel of how career capital is actually acquired: You stretch yourself, day after day, month after month, before finally looking up and realizing, “Hey, I’ve become pretty good, and people are starting to notice.”


Quote that relates to what I was watching and reading:

“What you do everyday matters more than what you do once in a while.”

Gretchen Rubin

Book excerpt I loved:

We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

From Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#31)

The difference between knowing something and understanding it: This past couple of weeks we’ve sold virtually everything we owned, slept in different places every couple of nights, and have had endlessly busy days going nonstop. We new it would be stressful to quit work and move country, but now we understand it! It’s been super challenging, but the next time we move (and when we do more extended travel), it’ll be easier as a result. We couldn’t be more to be more excited to get started on this next experiment.


My mind is controlled by my body, not the other way around: The best antidote to the stresses of moving have been a 5 mile run and a few sets of pushups. I’ve been trying to do “100s”, which is code for 100 pushups, sit-ups and seconds of plank position each day. I haven’t been very consistent with much of anything during the last week, but whenever I have stuck to this, I’m always better off.


Thinking about work in a non-linear way: The following thought from the excellent Joe Rogan podcast with Naval Ravikant made me think my desire to work differently in what I do next. Here is a paraphrase:

We tend to think of work as linear. We work a certain number of hours (9-5) and get a set amount of output consistently for those hours. But that’s not how we work. We’re not cows grazing, we’re more like lions. We train. We work best in intense bursts. Then we get feedback, we train to get better, and then go again.

This also seemed to be related to an idea from The One Thing that goes against the idea of “work-life balance”. The idea being that you will have bursts where you will want to be focusing on a work goal, but it’s best done in intervals. Instead of work-life balance, seek counter-balance:

Counter-balance is the process of focusing exclusively on the important task at hand, whether it’s work, teaching our kids something or working out. We have to choose what’s critical and give it as much time as it needs before switching to the next most important thing.

The hard thing here is to do what’s critical.

Also, fuck hard work (which very much aligns with work hard is not good advice). 


A little shop of things: I’ve enjoyed following Austin Kleon’s writing more closely recently, and his shop on Amazon list seems like it has some gems on it. I’m excited to check out the pencils and a few of the books on it.


Book excerpt I liked:

Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki greatly influenced my life. There is a line in there something like, “We practice (meditation) not to attain Buddahood but to express it.” Even though I first read it over 40 years ago, I still feel a thrill move through my body as I think about that line. I’ve often thought the best kind of teaching is an articulation of what we already know, but don’t know how to put into words or, most crucially, how to live. From the first time I read it, I sensed the vital difference between practicing to get something you think you lack, and practicing to express the fullness of who you are.

From Sharon Saltzberg in Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss
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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#30)

The importance of doing it now: My last day with Microsoft was last week and I thought I’d have a lot more time in the final weeks/days to say thank you to all of those people that I learned from and who helped me out. I got to a few but, for most, the time ran out. A good reminder to tell people your thankful the moment you think about it (technology is your friend here), don’t wait until it’s too late. The end of my leaving note that I posted last week read as follows:

If you find yourself in Scotland in the near future, please drop me a line. It’s been an honor and a pleasure to work with you all and I will forever be grateful for all you have taught me. As Elbert Hubbard once said, so here is a handclasp over the miles, and I am, yours sincerely, 

-Nick

There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” – Louis L’Amour


A potential replacement for Trello and OneNote: I learned about a tool called Notion last week and am in the process of trying it out to track all our UK move stuff (instead of OneNote/Trello). Pretty interesting so far.


Thinking about niche over broad: LinkedIn recently posted a bit about how it’s algorithm is changing, which I thought was pretty interesting. I like to say I’m not interested in getting the most ‘likes’, but I am hoping to contribute something of value, and there aren’t too many other ways to gauge whether I’m doing that or not. I thought the best practice of sharing content that is “niche over broad” is insightful way beyond social posts, and applies to all types of creating. Are you going for the masses or are you trying to make something that you know will be valued by at least one person out there? What are you giving up with each approach?

Niche over broad

– We know from our data that members are more interested in going deep on topics they’re interested in. Consistently we see better conversation around niche ideas (eg #performancemanagement) than the broad (#management).
– Use hashtags (we recommend no more than three) to help other members find the conversations that match their own interests.


New music to move (and work) to: I saw The True Loves play at big Microsoft event recently (they were formerly fronted by Grace Love) and their album Famous Last Words has been on regularly while we’ve been packing up getting ready for the move.


Very few decisions actually matter: Loved this post from Charlie Kindel, One-Way and Two-Way Doors, which is centered around a Jeff Bezos quote from one of his shareholder letters. At the end he links to an article by Richard Branson on the same topic. Leaving Microsoft last week after 13 years was definitely a two-way door decision. But leaving and moving to Scotland, probably less so. Similar to the 80/20 rule, spend time only on the decisions, priorities, tasks, etc. that really matter! 🙂

“Some decisions are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible – one-way doors – and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation.” 

“But most decisions aren’t like that – they are changeable, reversible – they’re two-way doors. If you’ve made a suboptimal two-way door decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through. These decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups.”


Favorite book excerpt:

All the good stories are out there waiting to be told in a fresh, wild way. Mark Twain said that Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before. Life is like a recycling center, where all the concerns and dramas of humankind get recycled back and forth across the universe.

From Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont

(Oh, and that drawing is from one of my old sketchbooks from 1995 that I’ve been combing through as we get ready to move. I decided to keep that one. Woo ha!)

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What I learned last week

What I learned last week (#29)

Favorite book excerpt of the week:

Look back upstream. If you have come to your planned ending and it doesn’t seem to be working, run your eye up the page and the page before that. You may see that your best ending is somewhere in there, that you were finished before you thought you were.

From Draft No. 4 by John McPhee

This idea of “done before you realize it” made me think about applications beyond writing. It’s about overworking anything, be it a piece of art, a status update, or a work project.


A great way to approach presenting pretty much anything: Don’t try to memorize a presentation, tell us a story! String a few stories together and you have your presentation. From the great Seth Godin post Awkward memorization.


Something I never knew that surprised me: The new kilogram.

For more than a century, the kilogram had a very simple definition: It was the mass of a hunk of platinum-iridium alloy that’s been housed at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Sèvres, France since 1889.

It’s called the International Prototype Kilogram (a.k.a. Big K, or Le Grand K), and it has many copies around the world — including several at NIST in Gaithersburg, Maryland — that are used to calibrate scales and make sure the whole world is on one system of measurement.

The problem is that Big K is a manmade object, and therefore, it is imperfect. If Big K changes, everything else has to adjust. And this has happened. Big K is not constant. It has lost around 50 micrograms (about the mass of an eyelash) since it was created. But, frustratingly, when Big K loses mass, it’s still exactly one kilogram, per the old definition.


The real story of Malaysian flight 370: I was following this story for a little while but, inevitably, had forgotten about it. What Really Happened to Malaysia’s Missing Airplane was a super interesting and worthwhile read.

Less than a week after the disappearance, The Wall Street Journal published the first report about the satellite transmissions, indicating that the airplane had most likely stayed aloft for hours after going silent. Malaysian officials eventually admitted that the account was true. The Malaysian regime was said to be one of the most corrupt in the region. It was also proving itself to be furtive, fearful, and unreliable in its investigation of the flight. Accident investigators dispatched from Europe, Australia, and the United States were shocked by the disarray they encountered. Because the Malaysians withheld what they knew, the initial sea searches were concentrated in the wrong place—the South China Sea—and found no floating debris. Had the Malaysians told the truth right away, such debris might have been found and used to identify the airplane’s approximate location; the black boxes might have been recovered. The underwater search for them ultimately centered on a narrow swath of ocean thousands of miles away. But even a narrow swath of the ocean is a big place. It took two years to find the black boxes from Air France 447, which crashed into the Atlantic on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 2009—and the searchers had known exactly where to look.

Lots of interesting backstory on the searchers and the conspiracies throughout…

In truth, a lot can now be known with certainty about the fate of MH370. First, the disappearance was an intentional act. It is inconceivable that the known flight path, accompanied by radio and electronic silence, was caused by any combination of system failure and human error. Computer glitch, control-system collapse, squall lines, ice, lightning strike, bird strike, meteorite, volcanic ash, mechanical failure, sensor failure, instrument failure, radio failure, electrical failure, fire, smoke, explosive decompression, cargo explosion, pilot confusion, medical emergency, bomb, war, or act of God—none of these can explain the flight path.

Second, despite theories to the contrary, control of the plane was not seized remotely from within the electrical-equipment bay, a space under the forward galley. Pages could be spent explaining why. Control was seized from within the cockpit.


Quote that’s made me think:

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Bernard Baruch