How they got to school

We were on day 5 of a trek in the Himalayas staying in a picturesque valley. The place had a few small rooms with beds and no running water or electricity. As we got to know the family that owned the place, we learnt that the kids needed to walk 14 kilometers through difficult mountain terrain every day to go to school and back.

To put that in perspective, 14 kilometers is what most trekking groups manage in a day of trekking. Such commutes are the norm in Himalayas and many remote places around the world where kids risk their lives every day to go to school.

I think of this from time to time as I remind myself of the difference between challenging, difficult, and hard. We are challenged by small problems often – these keep life interesting. Occasionally, we face difficulties borne out of the effect day-to-day living has on us. Life is difficult and it only ceases to be so once we accept that.

But, if you are reading this, it is likely that life is never hard. Hard is struggling for the basics, toiling in difficult conditions, and hoping to get some food to fill your stomach that day.

Our lives are regularly challenging, occasionally difficult, and never hard. And, understanding that helps keep perspective as we journey from one day to the next.

Services I’m thankful for

For anyone on the web

Spycloud‘s free service will tell you if your passwords showed up in any breaches. It is a must have.

The Exponential View by Azeem Azhar is an excellent weekly newsletter that curates some of the most thought provoking articles on changes in technology, politics and society. Azeem is a great curator and I’d recommend subscribing. is great if you want to run a blog on your own domain without worrying about getting hacked or phished. For $36, they take good care of you (chat support during weekdays)

Related, I just started working with Feedblitz to manage email subscribers on this blog. As I migrated, I’ve realized that there many subscribers from the past decade were stuck in Feedburner confirmation purgatory. Thanks to Feedblitz, I feel confident it’ll be better in the next decade.

Breevy is a great text expander for Windows. I use Breevy’s text expansion capabilities when I fill forms on the web as well as for any recurring phrases I use over email at work. They have a 30 day trial and cost $34.95 for a permanent license across all your devices.

As you can see, many of the above are paid services. I’ve belatedly begun to appreciate the benefits of paying for software. That said, there are a couple of free services I love. I don’t know what I’d do without Lastpass. Microsoft OneNote is beyond brilliant. And, Unsplash has a wonderful collection of free photos that you can use without worrying about copyright.

United States focused

Credit Karma monitors any password breaches as well – in addition to keeping tabs on your credit score.

Trim is a personal finance assistant whose team will negotiate those exorbitant AT&T and Comcast bills down on your behalf. They’ve brought my bills down by $260 this year.

A real world service – Earthbaby is a compostable diaper service that ensures you don’t make the landfill problem worse. I can’t recommend them strongly enough. I wish Earthbaby was available in every location on the planet. Sadly, it is a service limited to areas around San Francisco. I’m hoping there’s a similar service near you.

What happens after we use it?

What happens after we use that toy, book, t-shirt or mattress?

We could throw it in the trash and send it to a landfill somewhere.

But, on the other hand, we could also take the effort to give it someone who would use it. The construction workers at the site nearby would be happy to have your old mattress. And, there are plenty of organizations will take your old clothes, books, and toys.

We are mass producing things at an unprecedented rate. As a result, it has never been more important for us to think about our embrace of consumerism. Our current rate of consumption doesn’t make sense. We can change that – in our families and communities for starters.

The first step to doing so is asking – what happens after I use it? If you can find a way to avoid that landfill, you’re onto a great start.

Backing your car into your driveway

When you back your car into the driveway at the end of the day, you make a small investment to make tomorrow better. By sacrificing the ability to ease in to your driveway this evening, you allow your future self tomorrow to just drive out and keep that morning momentum.

One such investment we can make at work today is to make sure we finish Friday by putting down our top 3 priorities for the next week. As a bonus, we can also look  ahead at our calendar next week and block out time to work on the top priority items.

It is a small investment today that will enable us to hit the ground running on Monday morning.

Our future selves will thank us for it.

Whoops and Duke management lessons

Tomas Tunguz, a venture capitalist at Redpoint, has an old and interesting post about what a dog and a monkey that taught him about management.

When he was at Google, the 75 person AdSense Operations team used to gather every week for an All Hands. And, along with an update on how they were doing, the meeting always features two stuffed animals – Whoops the monkey and Duke the dog.

When Whoops the monkey was summoned, a handful of team members would retell stories about a mistake they made during the week – once or twice, these were million dollar mistakes. The group would then vote on a winner and that person would have Whoops in their cubicle that week. Then came Duke the dog. Now, team members would share stories about team members who went above and beyond their call of duty.

Whoops helped create a culture that value learning, openness and support and Duke ensured collaborative effort was recognized and celebrated.

I’ve seen variations of “Duke” in meetings over the years. But, I’ve rarely seen the equivalent of “Whoops.” I can see how it would be a powerful way to encourage a growth mindset. I’d love to give it a try.

Your own flair

I’ve been sharing passages and lessons I’ve been mulling from Josh Waitzkin’s “The Art of Learning” over the past few weeks. This is the final passage and it is about the importance of including your own flair in the learning journey.

Learners and performers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are aggressive, others are cautious. Some of us like questions, others prefer answers. Some bubble with confidence, always hungering for a challenge, while others break into a sweat at the notion of taking on something new. Most of us are a complicated mix of greys.

We have areas of stability and others in which we are wobbly. In my experience the greatest of artists and competitors are masters of navigating their own psychologies, playing on their strengths, controlling their tone of battle so that it fits with their personalities.

I have found that in the intricate endeavors of competition, learning, and performance, there is more than one solution to virtually every meaningful problem. We are unique individuals who should put our own flair in everything we do.

Many years ago, a good friend said the best way to learn from others is to copy what they’re doing first. Then, as you get the hang of it, customize and develop your own style. It was good advice. Over time, you find yourself developing a sense for what will work for you and what will not. Josh’s note about great artists and competitors being masters of navigating their psychologies is very true.

Knowing ourselves and understanding our own flair is at the heart of all learning journeys.

Power, company, and behavior

We lived near a person of power growing up. He is/was a wonderful human being.  It was fitting, then, that he always had a group of friends join him on his morning walk. They seemed to enjoy the walk and conversation.

I checked in on this morning walk routine recently. And, I heard that the group of friends stopped joining him on the walk. Their disappearance coincided with his retirement.

This story got me reflecting…

First, power influences the behavior of those around you. It is why folks in power who are self aware appreciate folks who speak truth to them. Telling the truth is a risk and helps folks in power stay grounded – assuming they want to be (and not everyone does).

Second, this story made me reflect on how I behave with folks around me. Our incentive to behave a certain way with folks who have a sway over us is strong. The question, then, is – how do we behave with folks who are no longer on that list? And, what about random strangers who were never on that list?

I think there’s a strong correlation between the strength of a person’s character and how they behave with folks who have no obvious sway over their behavior.

As we make progress along our journey, it is worth remembering that our character is one of the strongest leading indicators of our happiness through it.

How’s it going?

I’ve found 2 use cases for the “how’s it going” question. The first use case involves an asker who is moving at speed. This  is just the workplace hallway equivalent of “what’s up?” No response beyond a smile or some equivalent greeting is expected or required.

The more interesting use case is when the asker actually pauses to hear what you have to say. The general expectation is to hear that it is either a good/bad/“crazy” day.

And, this typical answer points to something fascinating about our default setting – our need to label and judge things. 

The challenge with labeling days is that we never know if a good day is a good day. A day that seems good may be a disaster a few months later. And, a day that we thought was bad may seem like a blessing in retrospect. 

Work relationships function similarly. It is always tempting to start out with a sweeping first impression judgment of your new manager or colleague. But, in truth, we never really know until we’ve been in the trenches with the person. Folks you never thought you’d like may end up shining in tough situations and vice versa. 

So, my takeaway over the years has been to delay the labeling process – both with events and people (this is harder) – as it is just a waste of time. My best response to the “how’s it going” question is, thus, to respond with – “It’s going.” I don’t know if it is going good or bad. But, the best I can do is to keep plugging away with my best effort. 

In the long run, things have a way of working themselves out. Doing the work will help that process. Labeling decidedly does not.  

Post smartphone era weekends – a way to measure success

A way to measure success in post smartphone era weekends is to ask – how many times did you forget where your smartphone was? 

I found myself forgetting about my phone for hours at a time on memorable weekends. So, I’ve begun starting weekends by leaving my phone in obscure places within the home (e.g. under the pillow). The more obscure the location, the less I check it, and the better the weekend.

10 years of A Learning a Day

Today marks the 10 year anniversary of writing here. I’ve been reflecting on this 4,494 post journey over the past few days and I thought I’d share what I’ve been most grateful for.

(1) Learning to show up. I decided to call this blog “A Learning a Day” because I wasn’t capable of discipline ten years ago. I remember someone I knew saying I’d shot myself in the foot with that name. Inevitably, I stumbled and missed names in the first year of writing. But, since then, I show up every day and do my best to share something of value. On some days, the learning sucks. On others, it is passable. And, every once a while, it is insightful. But, regardless, I show up, remember to breathe deeply, give thanks, focus on what I’m learning, and ship.

It is my daily meditation and I’m not sure what I’d do or who I’d be without it.

(2) Learning to think and learn. For many years, the tag line of this blog – “Never failure, only learning.” I started writing here because I was short of confidence after an incident where I’d found myself incapable of failing gracefully. I thought writing about my failures may change the way I think about them. And, if I did so long enough, maybe it would change my approach to learning. I hadn’t heard of Carol Dweck’s research on fixed and growth mindsets at that time. If I had, I’d have recognized myself as someone living in a fixed mindset and as someone who was incapable of a life of learning and fulfillment.

Asking myself “what did I learn?” every day 10 years has helped me understand what it means to live with a growth mindset. I still don’t do it every time – at least not at first. But, I do it a lot more often than I used to. And, 3653 daily attempts later, I’ve begun to appreciate its power.

(3) Learning to make and keep commitments. Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress, says that we blog for two people – ourselves and one other person who we can picture reading what we write. While I could always count on my mom and wife to read my notes, I’ve also met many wonderful people along the way.

(An aside – someone recently wrote in sharing that her excitement about an upcoming change. It was the first time she’d written in and she wondered if the email would just go down some “dark hole” of unread messages. I explained to her that A Learning a Day mail is what I look forward to when I open up my email every day.)

Aside from hearing about your perspectives, counter points and notes, the most powerful effect the notes have is to remind me that I’m making public commitments. So, when I share an aspirational note and say I intend to do something, I feel the pressure to do it. Thanks to this, I’ve begun to grasp why Stephen Covey defines integrity as making and keeping commitments. That’s because we feel whole as we become consistent in what we do and say. And, integrity comes the word integer – which means whole.

The process of habitually making these commitments and following up has helped me experience this wholeness. And, once you get a taste for it, you hope to continue being worthy of that experience.

I started writing here because I thought I’d learn how to write better and think better. And, while I hope I’ve gotten better at that, I am certain that this process has taught me how to live. And, I couldn’t be more grateful.

Thank you for being part of the journey.