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 (#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)