What I learned last week (#32)

Learned last week: big change can be done, downsizing is hard, practice alone is not enough, and more.

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

What I learned last week (#30)

Learned last week: Don’t wait to say thank you, a new productivity tool, one-way and two-way doors, and more.

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!)

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.