Solve or surface

The best thing we can do is to solve the problem.

Sometimes, however, solving the problem is outside our control. In these situations, the best thing we can do is find the problem – i.e., provide clarity on the nature of the problem and surface the issues that led to the problem in the first place.

Complaining, it turns out, is never the right answer.

That energy is always best redirected to one of the above.

What we’re paying attention to today

I think of two paragraphs on Attention from Eric Weiner’s book – “The Geography of Bliss” – from time to time.

“Attention’ is an underrated word. It doesn’t get the… well, the attention it deserves. We pay homage to love, and happiness, and, God knows, productivity, but rarely do we have anything good to say about attention. We’re too busy, I suspect. Yet our lives are empty and meaningless without attention.

My two-year-old daughter fusses at my feet as I type these words. What does she want? My love? Yes, in a way, but what she really wants is my attention. Pure, undiluted attention. Children are expert at recognizing counterfeit attention. Perhaps love and attention are really the same thing. One can’t exist without the other.”

The quote “show me your schedule and I’ll show you your priorities” has the right idea. Our schedule is a reflection of what we pay attention to.

What are we paying attention to today?

Just believing is usually enough

“My wife made a crucial difference during those two years I spent teaching at Hampden (and washing sheets at New Franklin Laundry during the summer vacation). If she had suggested that the time I spent writing stories on the front porch of our rented house on Pond Street or in the laundry room of our rented trailer on Klatt Road in Hermon was wasted time, I think a lot of the heard would have gone out of me.

Tabby never voiced a single doubt, however. Her supposed was a constant, one of the few good things I could take as a given. And whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife (or a husband), I smile and think, There’s someone who knows. Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.” | Stephen King in “On Writing”

Solo pursuits like writing are undoubtedly lonely. But, so are most journeys when we come to think of it. We’re in it, for the most part, alone. And, people who believe in us through these journeys – parents, spouses, siblings, friends – make more of a difference than they often realize.

As King rightly says, “they don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.”

We feel it when they believe in us.

Just as others feel it when we believe in them.

Here’s to celebrating both in our lives.


I was reflecting on the sudden death of a young friend yesterday and was reminded of just how transient this life is.

It is so easy to get caught up in the all consuming puzzle/issue/tiff/ego battle of the moment. It is easy to forget that these things can change in an instant.

Reminders of our mortality are powerful reminders to keep perspective. This was one of them. It also reminded me of a lovely quote I once read – “Be kind to each other. The world will roll on without you.”


Syrio Forel and Not Today

In the first season of Game of Thrones, we were introduced to a very likable swordsman and teacher called Syrio Forel. His trademark phrase echoed his belief that the warrior within him said only one thing to death – “Not today.”

I was reflecting on the power of that phrase recently – especially at the end of a long day. It is often tempting to try and cram in as much as possible into those ten minutes or that last meeting.

But, often, in this quest for efficiency, we lose our ability to be patient and engage constructively with problems – especially those that deserve dedicated bandwidth and time. I’ve certainly been guilty of that.

The wisest thing we can do in these times is to become aware enough to catch ourselves from packing too much in and, instead, say “Not today.”

That was really bad

Learning to replace “that was bad” with “it really needs work” isn’t just an exercise in politeness.

It is okay to be unfiltered. It isn’t okay to provoke shame – that is the refuge of the insecure.

Aside from extraneous situations in which we might attempt to stir emotion to inspire forward motion, framing feedback in a way that feels constructive is the effective choice – especially if we care about the long run.

It certainly is worth the effort.

Societal success and scale

It strikes me that one of the biggest challenges we face is reconciling our desire to be successful by societal definitions while not giving up on being successful by our definition.

The challenge lies in the fact that extrinsic measures tend to be breadth focused (e.g. number of customers/successful exits/employees) while the stuff that make us feel intrinsically successful tend to be depth focused (e.g. deep relationships, immersive experiences).

Anyone who has built products or services has faced this in their work. It is much easier to move vanity metrics than it to create meaningful impact.

The answer, in work and in life, isn’t to shun extrinsic measures and breadth. We need some of it to ensure it doesn’t get in the way of us getting to the intrinsic stuff.

The challenge, however, is not being so sucked in by the allure of breadth and scale that we forget that its main purpose is to enable the depth we really seek.

Put differently, the optimal strategy tends to be to do things that scale easily so we can then spend more of our time doing things that don’t scale.

11 years

Yesterday marked 11 years of near daily writing on this blog. I say “near daily” because I missed a few days in the first two years. But, 4018 days since we started and 4858 posts later, I’m glad to report that it’s been consistent since then.

Someone asked me about my writing process over email the other day. I’ve gotten that question a few times and I do my best to explain that the process involved is minimal.

I pay WordPress and Feedblitz so I can just show up and write. I used to manage all of this with free alternatives until a couple years back. I started the blog as a student and had more time than money – it took me a while to make the switch. But, I’m grateful for the ability to automate it now.

I also don’t check any stats or try to improve SEO or my social media footprint. I occasionally share posts and notes on Twitter and LinkedIn – I’ve learnt to only do so on days when it feels right. Eight years or so ago, I got comfortable with the fact that the eclectic nature of the blog means it will remain niche. Despite focusing on “writing for myself,” I’ve been fortunate to have folks like you as friends along the journey. I treat that as a privilege and, as I have said before, ALearningaDay email is my favorite email.

All of the above means I get to focus on taking time every day to ask myself what I’ve been learning or thinking about and then attempting to synthesize and share. The only bit of process involved here is a OneNote sheet where I dump any and all ideas that I think might be interesting to flesh out. I estimate 10% of those ideas make it to these posts.

That aside, I aim to set aside 15-20 minutes each day to write. I don’t generally have more time than that. That is especially the case now with two kids. I generally write in the morning. But, I’ve been going through a phase of late when I write a post before I sleep. So, it depends.

The most important part of the process is simply sitting down with an open WordPress tab for 15 minutes and shipping something at the end of it.

On some days, I feel good about what I’ve written. On others, not so much. But, I ship nevertheless. The discipline of doing so for the past 11 years has made me a significantly better human being and has more of an impact on me than I can comprehend or articulate.

I am grateful I’ve been able to stick with it – with lots of support from my wife. And, I am very grateful for the many friends, readers, and colleagues who’ve inspired lessons over the years. Finally, I am grateful for the many of you who’ve been along for the ride over the past few years – thanks in large part to Seth :-).

Thank you for all the encouragement… and looking forward to the next 11.