Right for many, just not for you

I was seeking career advice a few years back and had managed to find 15′ on the schedule of a successful person.

I’d shared that I was hoping to switch careers into technology and hoped to work in the Bay Area. This person’s advice was to fly over to the Bay Area for 6 months, spend time with start-ups, and try and find a job.

Their reasoning was thought through – this was clearly advice they’d given to many others.

It just happened that the advice wasn’t useful for someone who didn’t have an American passport. And, for someone without said passport and who’d gotten married recently, this advice could have ended up being disastrous.

I think about that conversation from time to time every time I see someone giving generic career or life advice. Every once in a rare while, the advice is universally useful because it is rooted in principles.

But, most of the time, the nature of the advice is similar to what I’d received – right for many, just not for me.

“Right for many, just not for me” is useful perspective to keep with us as we receive advice. It allows us to appreciate the good in any and all advice we receive while not taking its lack of immediate applicability to our context to heart.

It also helps us do a better job when we’re asked for advice.

What in the world is this blog about?

I received a response to the post on KLM’s response to the climate crisis (I’ve stopped calling it climate change) that asked about the purpose of the blog.

This reader politely explained that he liked a majority of the posts he read – he just didn’t appreciate the political activism. It admittedly took me a second to realize that notes on the climate crisis were being perceived as political activism – but, I’m getting used to most issues being political issues in the United States. :-)

While I wrote out a short answer to his first question on email, I thought it was a good one to pose for myself to answer over the weekend – what in the world is this blog about? 

I was an unhappy university student in 2008. After a month or so of searching for the cause, I arrived at extreme insecurity that had spawned a fear of failure. I reasoned that a way out of these fears might be to write about them on a blog. And, maybe, just maybe, someday I’d begin to view the challenges and failure I face as learning experiences. In addition, since I didn’t have the discipline to do anything everyday, I thought a learning a day would be a worthy challenge.

Learning is a broad term. And, it has evolved over the years by evolving as my thinking has evolved as well as causing the evolution of my thinking.

Over the years, I’ve realized that I tend to obsess about 3 broad themes that I value – people I care about, learning from my experiences and learning how to learn, and attempting to make a positive contribution. In short – people, learning, and contribution.

As a result of the focus on people I care about, there are many posts about relationships and human behavior as well as a post nearly every week on lessons learnt as a parent.

Next, learning is a broad category. The three biggest buckets of learning posts tend to be – i) reflections from my experiences and conversations, ii)  observations on events, and iii) notes on living with a growth mindset.

And, finally, contribution. My thinking on contribution has evolved over the years. Initially, a lot of my writing used to be about technology in the broad strokes. Over time, however, this has crystallized into three areas of focus – i) notes on product management (what I do for a living), ii) the impact of technology on jobs and the future of work (again, what I do for a living), and iii) the climate crisis.

As I spend a lot of my time work thinking about product management and jobs, writing here is the primary outlet for my evolving thesis on how we might approach the climate crisis and how I could contribute. So, there’s going to be a lot more where that KLM post came from.

This is what makes following this blog a crazy journey. It took me a while to articulate that difference between writing for yourself vs. writing for others. This blog is an example of the former. As a result, the topics won’t resonate every day. Some days, they’ll provoke. On others, they’ll challenge. And, on a few, they’ll resonate.

That’s why it will remain a niche blog – roller coasters aren’t for everyone.

But, the reason it is a blog and not a journal is because there’s the hope that there are a few of you who won’t mind the roller coaster… and maybe even like it?

It is why I only have deep gratitude and appreciation for those of you who stick along for the ride and write in from time to time to share your notes, lessons, and reflections.

It all means a lot.

And, for those of you who’ve subscribed recently and have been wondering what this blog is about, I hope it helps.

Worry is suffering twice

After writing a post on worry recently, a friend and I discussed it further. He shared that the one of the bigger lessons he’s taken away from his meditation practice is that worry is suffering twice – at minimum.

When we worry, we first suffer the worst case scenario that we can imagine -sometimes more than once depending on how long we dwell on it. If we then experience the worst case scenario, we suffer again.

Of course, there’s an additional catch. The worst case scenario rarely materializes. And, we tend to overestimate how badly it’ll actually affect us.

Don’t suffer twice. We have a choice.

Reframing no

Saying no to things that are less important is as much about de-prioritizing things as it is about prioritizing things that are more important.

When we say no to investing resources in things that don’t matter as much, we implicitly say yes to things that matter.

KLM and flying responsibly

The CEO of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines wrote a remarkable letter asking its customers to “fly responsibly.” An excerpt –

We’re in this together. We work hard to get things right, but all parties involved need to join forces to create a sustainable future. All stakeholders in the aviation industry, all corporations in any industry. And yes, all air travelers too. What can you do, in addition to carefully considering your travel plans?

It is a remarkable message coming from the CEO of an airline and one that is great to see. It is part of a growing push among folks in Europe to replace flights with trains and means of transport with lower carbon footprints – inspired by a growing awareness on the climate crisis.

I expect the cost of flying to go up over time as we all realize the true cost of flying – with the negative externalities priced in. In the meanwhile, it will be fascinating to see if more airlines follow up with similar messages.

Bad prioritization, Good prioritization

Bad prioritization: Make an ordered laundry list and intend to make some progress on everything. Easy. Ineffective.

Good prioritization: Use judgment to pick the top 1-3 items we’re going to focus heavily on – an outcome of sound strategy. Agonize over saying no to perfectly good ideas that just aren’t making the cut at this time. Tough. Powerful.

Applies just as well to building good products, planning how to spend time on a holiday, and building a better quality life.

The resounding yes

One of the benefits of learning to tune out the noise to pay more attention to our gut is that it becomes significantly easier to make decisions.

The gut, it turns out, doesn’t generally mess about with 50-50 decisions. Instead, it lets us know when it is a resounding yes (a “hell yeah”).

The key is paying attention to that sign while recognizing that the absence of that resounding yes is a no.

No further deliberation required.

3 reflections from Wimbledon

I was following the highlights at Wimbledon and was fortunate to catch half of the final set of the Federer-Nadal semi-final and most of the Federer-Djokovic final today. I had 3 reflections.

Before I get to them, however, a hat tip to the legends who’re playing the game today. Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic are all going to go down as legends. As a Federer fan, it was incredible to see him go into both the semifinal and final as the underdog (it’s all relative) and nearly pull off his 9th Wimbledon victory at ~38 years of age. Incredible. There’s no other word for it.

Onto the reflections.

First, I was just amazed at the quality of tennis in both of Federer’s last games. There were times when my heart was in my mouth. I just couldn’t fathom how they produced high quality tennis during such high stakes moments. It could only flow from muscle memory. And, I found myself imagining the number of hours spent practicing to prepare for such moments. It made me ask myself how I could do more to summon such muscle memory in decisive moments myself.

Second, Federer played consistently better through the final against Djokovic. However, Djokovic held his nerve during 3 crucial tie breaks. Big games are won by the smallest of margins. And, Djokovic won with those margins.

Finally, it looks likely that Djokovic will surpass Federer and Nadal’s grand slam tallies by the time he’s finished and lay his claim to be the greatest men’s tennis player of all time. But, and maybe this is what is special about being a fan, there is no one who will surpass Federer in my eyes. It still is such a pleasure to watch Federer play – it never fails to remind me to focus as much on the art as we do the science.

It is inspirational.

Seek not to make them like you

In a conversation recently, I mentioned the challenge presented by an idea from Kahlil Gibran’s exceptional poem on children“Seek to be like them, seek not to make them like you.” 

On hearing that, this friend shared that their struggles weren’t in trying to make the kids like them – instead, it was in trying to make the kids an aspirational version of them. It was more pressure than both the kids and the parents could handle – until they sought help.

It was a powerful reflection and one that translates beautifully to many other relationships where the power dynamic at any given time is unbalanced in our favor.

It is tempting to attempt to control and force conformity.

But, it is in the “letting go” and in the ability to absorb the best of those around us where the learning lies.

Over-communication and incentives

Why over-communication matters in a period of change – “It is difficult to get a person to understand something when their salary depends on them not understanding it.”

It is also a helpful reminder to not take it personally if something you’ve been working hard to communicate isn’t landing as yet.

Incentives are powerful.