Self talk – taking note of what our good looks like

We all remember days when we did a poor job / failed / got feedback about something we needed to fix. These sorts of moments typically get stuck in our heads – they have a visceral quality.

While these can be helpful in preventing mistakes from time to time, a better approach to shifting our performance up is to take note of what good looks like. What were days when we thought we did well? What did we sound like in those presentations and meetings? How did we feel post-facto?

Once we know what these look like for us, we can both use it to understand how we’re doing at the present moment while also using it to understand what we need to do to level up and set a new bar for ourselves.

Self talk that says – “Don’t do that – remember the last time you failed miserably?” – is limiting. We get more traction when we replace it with – “You were off your best game yesterday. What were a couple of things that didn’t work? How can we do better today?”

While the former inspires fear, the latter inspires forward motion.

Retirement and identity

Semi-retired Harvard Business School professor Theresa Ambile interviewed 120 newly retired professionals on retirement and emerged with an appreciation for the impact years in the workplace has on all of us. For most folks, work doesn’t just become what they do, it becomes who they are.

She found that the single biggest challenge with retirement was bridging someone’s identity from what they did to how they wanted to see themselves in retirement. And, she also found that the things that made them happiest in retirement were not using an alarm clock, not needing to commute, the ability to pursue a hobby, and the flexibility to spend time with family.

2 reflections – first, “Retire early” is a fantasy for a non-trivial section of the workforce. But, as Theresa’s research re-affirms, it isn’t a catch-all solution to all the problems we get rid of at work.

And, second, imagine if we structured our work such that we got the sleep we needed, lived close to work, had the time to pursue a hobby, and spend more time with family? Would we have the best of both worlds?

As our life spans become longer, understanding how to deal with the concept of retirement will be increasingly important. Such research is a great start to doing that.

Fixing typos and email friendships

Over these years, I’ve been fortunate to get to know some of you via email. Some of you write in with feedback and counter points, some share ideas for future posts, and others write in with notes of appreciation and encouragement. These are my favorite kind of email.

Many of your notes give me ideas for future post and help me articulate what I’m learning better. Over the past months, however, I’ve been receiving a special variant. John from the screenshot below (email redacted) writes in from time to time with a link to the post in the subject and a list of the typos I need to fix.

The email above is a recent example with just one. I have, however, received notes with 8-10 typos and grammatical errors that John thoughtfully helps me fix.

With a 2.5 year old and ~1 year old, getting these blog posts out is nearly always a rush job these days. That, in turn, means I make more of these mistakes than I did before. So, a big thank you to John for making these better for all of us.

And, on that note, thank you to the many of you who share your notes and reflections with me from time to time. Your notes add so much positive energy to my life – they mean a lot. I really couldn’t be more grateful for your time, attention, and thoughtfulness.

v30 – Release notes

For this year’s release notes, I thought I’d do a version of 30 hard won lessons from the past 30 years. This post could just as easily been called a list of things I write about most often on this blog or an extensive list of my notes to self.

1. Success has an intrinsic component (success by our terms) and an extrinsic component (success by the world’s terms). Extrinsic success is a function of us giving the world what it wants. Build a product the world wants and you’ll make more money than can be imagined. Build a product for a niche and you’ll be successful. Do things your customers and managers want and you’ll rise up the ladder.

But, extrinsic success is a hygiene factor. Once you have a threshold amount, it begins to matter less. Intrinsic success, the kind where we believe that we have lived a life well lived, on the other hand, is incredibly hard. It might be possible to fool the world, but it turns out to be impossible to fool the person in the mirror.

2. Money and power amplify what already exists in people. We need less than we think and it doesn’t have the power to make us happy. Some of the most extrinsically successful people are also among the unhappiest. Don’t let the media oversell you on their lives.

Related – it is always worth remembering that the greatest pleasures in life come cheap – the rush of adrenaline after play, a hug, a peaceful shit in a clean bathroom, and a night of sleep in a comfortable and quiet bedroom.

3. We can’t ask people to be grateful or to be humble or to keep a sense of humor. All we can do is help them understand reality. When they (or we) do, gratitude, humility, and a sense of humor follows

4. Emotional intelligence is ignoring what people say and watching what they do.

5. Our networks are proportional to our net worth. There are two kinds of net worth – the first is the kind that is dependent on the presence of power and money. The second is based on the character and connection we accumulate over the course of a life time. One of them is deep and the other is shallow – it turns you can’t buy friends. Or love. The most powerful networks combine both.

6. Integrity comes from the word “integer” which means whole. When we make and keep commitments, we become whole. It is hard. It is is also why our schedule is the truest reflection of our priorities.

7. Happiness is a state. Joy is a feeling. It is possible to feel sad and be happy. Our default state simply reduces the amplitude of our ups and downs and enables us to pay attention to the things that matter most in spite of all the noise. That we use the term “pay” to describe our attention is no accident.

8. Our rate of learning is proportional to what we learn from the people we spend time with (“we are the average of the five people we spend time with”), from reflecting on our own experiences, and from reading/listening to synthesized information. It is not true that we learn more from failure or only from doing. The wisest people simply make it a point to learn from all experience with habitual reflection, analysis, and synthesis.

9. Read books that are just in time instead of just in case. Somewhere along the way, we’ll find a book that changes our life. And, while we’re at it, remember that there is no difference between someone who doesn’t read and someone who can’t.

10. Compound interest is an important principle. Wealth compounds. Learning compounds too. And, as you might imagine, understanding both of these early pays dividends later. :-)

11. Productivity is Focus x intensity x time. Focus = do the right things so you can be effective, intensity = pay attention when you are doing it so you can be efficient.

Similar to compound interest, this relationship between effectiveness and efficiency shows up in many part of our life – focus and intensity, leadership and management. Doing the right things >>> doing things right.

12. Macro patience – micro speed is another principles that shows up in different places. Strategic patience – tactical impatience is a variant too. The idea is simple in theory – set directional goals, focus on process, and be patient. Of course, it is bloody hard to execute. People who focus beyond the next 6 months are the exception, not the rule.

13. Since we’re talking about important principles, the scientific method is one that needs a lot more love because of its wide-ranging applicability. The life implication – treat life as a series of experiments that will each help us gain experience and improve our judgement. As the saying goes, success comes from good judgment. Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.

14. Consciousness is the ability to be aware and then to choose. Becoming aware of the actual games being played around us, the real stakes, and the stories we are told go a long way in helping us be effective. To play chess well, we have to have a view of the 64 squares.. Not the 4 around us. It helps to take the time to get  both curious and smarter about what is actually going on. You can choose to not play the game – but, understand what the games are.

15. Our success, on average, is largely a function of privilege. The biggest drivers of whatever success we have is typically a result of where we were born and who we were born to (includes what we inherited as well as the love and care we received). Since we can’t change who we were born to, if we want to improve our standing in the world, moving zip codes is the most reliable way to move up the privilege ladder. And, education is the most reliable driver of such movement.

16. The effectiveness of a team is a function of two things – the individuals and the culture. Culture, or the collection of unsaid norms, is strategy in the long run. The best way to set culture is to do so intentionally. And, the best way to do so intentionally is to build the kind of trust that enables honest conversations about it.

Trust, contrary to belief, doesn’t need to take years to develop. It follows knowledge and understanding. Invest in getting to know your team well. That knowledge will lead to understanding why they tick and why they do what they do. Trust follows.

17. The best educators and education do two things – they give us new perspective with which to view the world and inspire us to continue learning for the rest of our life.

18. Adopting a focus on learning/growth mindset is the most important thing we can do – both for our success and happiness. The act of writing about the lessons we learn everyday is the most reliable way I know to cultivate that mindset.

19. Love is the will to extend ourselves for one’s own or another’s growth. Put differently, love means willingly stretching ourselves to grow and enabling those around us to grow. That’s why “be yourself” is bad advice. “Become yourself” is better. Becoming > Being.

20. Take the time to get to know yourself – understand your motives, what you care about, and what your nature is. There is massive benefit to working on things that feel like play to you. You actually give yourself a shot at being the best in the world at it. The best are the best because they’re doing things that feel like play.

21. That said, don’t follow your passion. Just don’t ignore it either. Unless you have a lot of financial runway (see above on privilege), study well in courses that lead you to jobs where you get paid well. Then, keep experimenting toward work that aligns with your nature/passion and purpose. Passion + purpose is a powerful combination.

22. We have two versions of us – our emotional self and our rational self – with the relationship between them being that of an elephant and rider. The rider knows the way but the elephant is way more powerful. So, attempting to persuade ourselves (and others) has to focus on the elephant. Logic drives conclusions, emotions drive action.

23. If we really zoom out, we realize that everything we’ve created is invented. We’ve invented notions like corporations and offices to keep ourselves busy, give ourselves a sense of purpose, find ways to distribute resources, and make it seem fair. These are games we play to get wealth and status. It helps to keep these games in perspective.

24. Our brand is a function of everything we do. The best way to build our brand in the long term is to show up well and do good things that impact others around us in positive ways.

25. Age and wisdom are not correlated. The truly wise have the perspective to rise above the noise of life and continuously focus on what matters. They are the equivalent of life’s athletes as they’ve figured out how to live it well. The best way to spot wisdom is to look at a person’s track record of decisions. And, the best shortcut to wisdom is to simply surround yourself by such folks.

26. From an evolutionary perspective, it is amazing how much of human behavior is driven by our urge to find better mates and have better sex.

27. The list of people who will put their life on hold for extended periods of time when you are in trouble typically begins and ends with our parents, spouse, and, depending on how we do, our kids.

That’s also why marriage, parenting, and the relationship with our parents are three of life’s most challenging learning journeys. They exist for two purposes – to teach us to become better version of ourselves and to remind us that all we have is each other.

28. Airlines tell us to use the oxygen mask for ourselves before doing so for others. For good reason. Take good care of yourself – it is impossible to take care of others otherwise. Consider starting with sleep. Quality sleep makes days look better.

29. Most long term studies on happiness point to one lesson – intrinsic happiness = relationships. We have relationships that stay for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Many incredibly special relationships last only for a reason or a season. A big part of growing up is seeing them for what they are and letting them go when it is time.

30. Much of our day to day happiness is reality over expectations. Work as hard on that denominator as you do on the numerator.

Birthday bonus 1. Worry and regret are both toxic and useless. You can’t do anything about the future. And, you did the best with what you knew and had. Now that you know better, do better.

Birthday bonus 2. Life is not a race. We share paths with people. But, we are mostly in it on our own. The only worthwhile comparison is us now versus us before now.

Birthday bonus 3. It is better to be thoughtful than smart.

And, a final birthday bonus. The days are long – but, the years are short. And, post kids, the days somehow get much longer and the years get correspondingly shorter. :-)

(Past birthday notes: 29, 282726252423)

Nursery rhyme and lullaby messages

We’ve spent a lot of time listening to lullabies and nursery rhymes in the last 2 years. Amazon Music’s Lisa Loeb nursery rhyme collection alone ensures we’re daily active users of our Echo.
But, while I love the simply melodies, I’ve come to despise the lyrics of most rhymes and lullabies. If “despise” sounds too strong, check out this link for the creepy backstories behind some of our favorite nursery rhymes.
And, for a recent example that is currently trending in our households, below are the lyrics of a melodious Southern American lullaby called “Hush Little Baby.”
Hush, little baby, don’t say a word.
Papa’s going to buy you a mocking bird.
And if that mocking bird don’t sing,
Papa’s going to buy you a diamond ring.
And if that diamond ring is brass,
Papa’s going to buy you a looking glass.
And if that looking glass gets broke,
Papa’s going to buy you a billy goat.
And if that billy goat don’t pull,
Papa’s going to you a cart and bull.
And if that cart and bull turn over,
Papa’s going to buy a dog called Rover.
And if that dog called Rover don’t bark,
Papa’s going to buy you a horse and cart.
And if that horse and cart turn round,
You’ll still be the sweetest little babe in town.
Or, don’t worry – your dad’s going to buy you whatever you want and solve your problems. Exactly the message we want to send our kids.
There has to be a better nursery rhyme solution. Maybe we keep the same melodies and replace the lyrics?

On making friends and building community

I’ve become a fan of Jenny Anderson’s articles on Quartz of late. She covers topics like life, parenting, and happiness and her notes on all of these resonate. The piece I enjoyed today (here) was on making friends, building community, and the metric of success that both matters and is ignored. I hope you find time to read it. Here’s a powerful bit at the end –

I used to think that community was as simple as having friends who bring a lasagna when things fall apart and champagne when things go well. Who pick up your kids from school when you can’t. But I think community is also an insurance policy against life’s cruelty; a kind of immunity against loss and disappointment and rage. My community will be here for my family if I cannot be. And if I die, my kids will be surrounded people who know and love them, quirks and warts and oddities and all.

In future-proofing my life, I have made every day richer. A problem shared is a problem halved, my kids were taught at school. Communities do that too. I arrived in my version of the soulless suburbs, and it turns out they are not soulless at all.

Warren Buffett, a friend of Gates, says that his measure of success comes down to one question: “Do the people you care about love you back?”

“I think that is about as good a metric as you will find,” wrote Gates.

I’d concur. Keep connecting with people, and in time, you will have a community.

Wishing you nice, connection filled, weekend.

A long PS: A follow up on the LinkedIn Premium post – a couple of you wrote in asking if you could be “picked.” That made me cringe as I was hoping to avoid any such connotation. I wish I’d been more thoughtful about how I’d phrased what I wrote.  The intent was to help anyone who was searching for a job in a small way – job searches are hard. The good news is that I reached out to a few of my colleagues for help yesterday and many of them have generously offered their subscription gifts. So, we should hopefully have enough for all those of you going through an active search within the next few days.

And, related, I just started work on the team working on job seeking at LinkedIn. As you might have gathered from my many posts on the topic, this is a problem I’m grateful to be working on. We know there is plenty that needs to be better in our product and are working hard at it. All feedback on what is working and what is not working would be helpful and appreciated. Thank you. :)

Stopping shoplifting

Bloomberg shared the story of the company behind the product that claims to be able to detect shoplifters by monitoring fidgeting, restlessness, and other suspicious body language. The goal is prevention – if the person is approached, the chances are high that the crime never happens.

On the one hand, this is awesome. If we can use technology to stop folks from committing crimes, that is a win.

On the other hand, it does make me wonder where this road will take us.

For example, will the data about the identified shoplifters go to a centralized database? Will that database be shared with other retailers to stop crime together? Will law enforcement make a case that the data should be shared with them? Will we then use the data in the database to move beyond behavioral signals to demographic signals?

It isn’t hard to envision why these steps wouldn’t logically follow the first. What happens to someone who makes a bad decision to steal a loaf of bread because he’s going through a tough time? Given how quickly he will be identified and caught, how hard will it be for him to pick himself back up after he commits that first crime?

Many questions. No simple answers.

The millionaire who wanted to get involved

The college admissions bribery scandal reminded me of a story I once heard from someone who had exposure to the inner workings at prestigious universities. They shared that top administrators were (re-)introduced from time-to-time to multi-millionaire alumni who wanted to get “involved.”

And, whenever this happened, the odds were high that this alumnus had a kid who was 16 years old – in perfect time to influence admissions a year later when it would be illegal to do so. Of course, at top universities, 2 million wouldn’t get you in. It would just mean you get the marginal decision in your favor.

And, as the New York Times lays out, you can guarantee you are in the playing field by shelling out another 1.5 million for a 5 year package from “Ivy Coach.”  The Ivy Coach program guides kids from the 8th grade on the best ways to stand out via extracurriculars while also coaching them intensively on SATs.

Of course, bribery takes all this to a new, amusing or dark (depending on your point of view), level. The SB Nation article I linked to had a few powerful quotes. My favorite was –

When talking about the case, Andrew Lelling, the US attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said, “We’re not talking about donating a building … we’re talking about fraud,” a statement that validates one way that rich people openly game the admissions system. What makes the acts fraudulent, apparently, is that the defendants tried to buy admissions in a way that is not allowed, not that they tried to buy admissions in the first place.

Privilege is powerful.

3 free subscriptions of LinkedIn Premium for 6 months

I work at LinkedIn. Our vision is to provide economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. One of our initiatives in 2019 is called the #plusonepledge where every member of the LinkedIn team helps someone in their network with finding economic opportunity – finding a new job, a new contract, a new client, and so on.

As part of that initiative, I now have access to gift 6 months of free LinkedIn Premium Careers subscription to 3 folks who are actively seeking a new opportunity. LinkedIn Premium is particularly helpful for job seekers who’d like more custom insights on how their experiences fit toward a job and who’d like the ability to get in touch (selectively) with recruiters and hiring managers of jobs they believe they are a fit for.

So, I thought I’d write in to check if there are members of the ALearningaDay community who’d find this useful. If you are in the midst of a job search, please just reply to this email or send me a note on rohan at rohanrajiv dot com with how you think Premium might help your search. I’ll follow up via email.


(Update: these are no longer available. I’ve completely run out of mine + those of 20 generous colleagues who shared theirs :))

People problems are generally system problems

Consider a few situations that we’ve all likely been through.

a) A few folks on your broader product team seem to frequently spend their time chasing crazy ideas with no result to show for them.

b) You are working on an initiative with folks across multiple teams and find yourself constantly dealing with issues related to miscommunication.

c) You have a cross-functional partner who can’t seem to stop sending you new requests.

d) Your sales team just doesn’t seem to be cooperating.

In each of these situations, it is tempting to think you are dealing with people problems and that the solution is to simply isolate the characters involved and “deal with them.”

In truth, however, each of these could either be partially or completely fixed with better process/systems. a) The product team would spend their time better if the planning process was more rigorous, b) the multi-team initiative needs regular alignment meetings where the issues are consistently surfaced, c) the cross-functional partner needs to be made aware of your priorities (a shared doc?) and could benefit from a light-weight requests process, and d) the sales team likely needs better incentives to cooperate better.

Good management – whether within your team or in your project – is less about dealing with individual people and their preferences and a lot more about thinking in systems that will solve the people problems you face.

And, the first step to being that systems thinker is to be able to say – show me the people problem and I’ll show you the system problem that is the actual root cause.