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 (#21)

Learned last week: Many of us are late bloomers, mindfulness has pitfalls, and podcasts haven’t killed music (at least for me).

The later in life bloom: I feel like I’m just getting started now, and am about to reach 40. This week I came across The Art of Blooming Late and it definitely struck a chord. First, the set-up:

Rich Karlgaard, the publisher of Forbes magazine and author of Late Bloomers, argues that our culture’s obsession with early achievement dissuades us from pursuing our passions. Instead of having varied interests, studying widely, and taking our time—essentials for self-discovery—we’re encouraged to ace tests, become specialists right away, and pursue safe, stable, and lucrative careers. As a result, most of us end up choosing professional excellence over personal fulfillment, and often we lose ourselves in the process.

Then, my favorite part:

The authors of Dark Horse, Todd Rose and Ogi Ogas of Harvard’s School of Education, noticed the negative effects of early specialization in a study of people who came out of nowhere to achieve great success. “Despite feeling bored or frustrated, underutilized or overwhelmed,” the two write, “most dark horses reluctantly plodded along for years before finally coming to the realization that they were not living a fulfilling life.” Then, after a period of restless, quiet ambition, these seemingly average people—administrative assistants, engineers, IT managers—were able to transform their “cravings, predilections, and fascinations” into successful careers as master sommeliers, lifestyle entrepreneurs, and celebrated craftsmen.

I was also reminded this week that the legendary management author Peter Drucker wrote 35 books in his life, two-thirds of them after the age of 65

An interesting perspective on meditation as its popularity grows: The Problem with Mindfulness gives some perspective that mindfulness is a big term and certain aspects of practices put under this umbrella aren’t for everyone.

In a 2014 study, for example, Tim Lomas, a lecturer in positive psychology at the University of East London, and colleagues, found that a quarter of the 30 male meditators they interviewed had troubling episodes—some encountered hard-to-manage thoughts and feelings; some exacerbated their depression and anxiety; and some became psychotic. One guy, a beginner, tried out an advanced method of deconstructing the self. “I crashed, lying on the floor sobbing,” he said. “I had a really strong sense of impermanence without the context, without the positivity. The crushing experience of despair was very strong…You just feel like you don’t exist, you’re nothing. It’s nihilistic, pretty terrifying.” Some negative experiences were less intense. “Doing mindfulness, you don’t like yourself sometimes,” another man said. “You just become aware, ‘Actually, I’m a bit of a shit.’” Lomas and his colleagues concluded, “Our paper raises important issues around safeguarding those who practice meditation, both within therapeutic settings and in the community.”

I love music AND podcasts, but: Are podcasts killing music or just wasting our time? While many of my commutes these days are done with a podcast playing, I still often opt for music and sometimes even 10 mins of silence.

Quote that resonated with me last week: “Music is the space between the notes” – Claude Debussy

New music I’m listening to: Chemical Brothers – No Geography. Great album for doing work or a weekend afternoon with the kids.