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.

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.