Raising the bar on worry

Worrying is toxic. It messes with our minds, affects our health and productivity, and wastes our time.

But, even if we logically understand all that, it is hard to remove worry altogether – especially if worrying about stuff has become a habit.

I met someone who solved this by raising the bar on worry. For example, consider asking yourself 2 questions every time you find yourself worrying –

1. Am I worrying about something that involves a potentially terminal health problem?
2. Am I worrying about the climate crisis?

If the answer to either of the above is yes, you might cut yourself some slack and give yourself the next hour to worry about it and, perhaps, process your own feelings by writing about it.

If the answer is no, however, then it doesn’t meet the bar. It just isn’t worthy of your worry time.

We’ve got limited time and attention –  it is on us to focus it on stuff that matters.

A tale of two stories

I know two people who went through a tough experience two decades ago.

One of them told themselves the story of hope after the experience. They resolved to look for growth from the pain, seek forward momentum, and find excuses to spread love.

The other told themselves the story of pain. They resolved to remember the pain, look back to reflect on the perceived injustice, and find excuses to be hurt and spread hurt.

There’s a powerful, life-changing even, learning here about the power of the stories we tell ourselves. But, the more interesting learning comes from observing the power of seeing folks live these stories over a long period of time.

Like everything we choose to do on a daily basis, the impact of these stories compounds. Despite more challenges they’ve had to face, the person who told themselves the story of hope has become the most positive people I’ve met over time. The challenges they’ve faced have only strengthened their resolve to find hope, love, and possibility.

Alas, the person who told themselves the story of pain is at the other end of the spectrum.

There are some stories we tell ourselves everyday. It pays to be aware of their compounding impact on our attitude over time.

And, if they aren’t working for us, then it may be time to change them.

The story of Sandwich

John Montagu was a consummate card player who didn’t like meal interruptions while playing his favorite game of cribbage. So, it is said that he asked for veal stuffed between two pieces of bread to make it easy for him to eat while playing.

As John Montagu was also the Earl of Sandwich, others started asking for the “same as Sandwich.” And the rest, as they say, is history.

For when we find ourselves stuck in discussions about building for the “average” user, it is worth reminding ourselves that the sandwich, like many innovations, happened on the edges thanks to a passionate early adopter with a weird request.

(H/T: Alchemy by Rory Sutherland – a fantastic read)

The inside track

I was trying to get hold of a ticket number of a flight we’d flown on a few months back. I called customer support, waited for 45 minutes, and was then asked by the agent to wait for a call back in the “next few hours.”

Sadly (perhaps not unexpectedly?), the call back never came.

I knew a friend at the airline and sent her a note requesting her for help. I got the details within twelve hours.

I’d just experienced the benefit of the inside track.

If I didn’t know this friend, I might never have gotten this information. And, even if I did, it might have been after many hours of waiting.

It works similarly when we’re searching for a job. Unless we’re very qualified for the role in question, a relationship with someone in the company works wonders.

Interestingly, it is also how work gets done in most workplaces. Cross organizational teams with good relationships between team members across both teams function much better than teams with no connections. Potentially adversarial relationships don’t feel adversarial when you’re working with people you trust.

There’s another conversation to be had on the downsides of our tendency to create such inside tracks (think: issues with diversity and inclusion) – we’ll cover that another day.

For today, it is a reminder of the power of the inside track driven by relationships we’ve built.

Company shutdowns

I’ve been fortunate to work in two companies with “shutdown” weeks. In both cases, the last week of the year was off for every employee. Aside from places where staying open is mission critical (e.g. in a hospital), giving employees the last week of the year off feels like a relative no brainer.

LinkedIn adds an extra week off in the US during the first week of July (week of the American Independence day). That extra week is very special as it makes for a perfectly timed mid-year break.

Company shutdowns, to me, are a more valuable perk than an equivalent amount of vacation time. That’s because they remove any incentive you might have to pick up your phone and check your email or other communication channels. When you know everybody’s off, you also know there is no incoming work awaiting your attention. That, in turn, means you can take a complete break and just reset.

There has been increasing global awareness on the importance of taking breaks and getting rest. Restful holidays are a big part of that. So, if you’re in a position or place where you can shape vacation policy, I hope you’ll experiment with a company-wide shutdown.

They work.

Ending the goodbye debate

I was about to drive the kids out recently and our older child wanted mom to come down and say goodbye.

As mom and child #1 were discussing this, child #2 – unencumbered by the lack of an ability to speak and weigh in on the discussion – simply fetched mom’s sandals and placed it near the door.

Cue: end of debate and smiles all around.

When in doubt, lead with action.

Fewer

As we are at 2019’s half way mark, I thought I’d take a bit of time to reflect on the biggest lessons I’ve learnt in the year so far. And, I think the word that encapsulates these lessons is “fewer.”

Fewer has been top of mind thanks to a high intensity period at work in the past three months. It has made its way to this blog through various posts on focus and, in many cases, literally through shorter-than-usual posts.

While some part of this shift has been circumstantial (high volume of things that needed to be done + two young kids at home), a large part of it was a subconscious desire to welcome “fewer.” It is what I both needed to learn and was unable to articulate.

So, as I look ahead at the second half of the year, I hope to continue down the path of fewer.

For starters…

…do fewer things so they can be done better.

…say fewer things so they can be communicated better.

…read fewer things so they can be absorbed better.

…eat fewer things so they can be digested better.

Fewer doesn’t automatically translate to better. But, given we’re dealing with more noise and excess than any other time in human history, it definitely feels like a good place to start.

Social needs and status games

I’ve been thinking about our social needs and have begun to test a hypothesis that we have two basic social needs –

a) Fit in to a tribe where we want to belong

b) Stand out – first by seeking ways to improve the tribe’s status and then by seeking ways to improve our status within the tribe by signaling our comparative virtue

So, Jane might be a disgruntled worker in finance who doesn’t really feel a part of the tribe. She might either seek opportunities to go work in a different tribe or may be contacted by a member of said tribe. Let’s say she now has the opportunity to become an analyst at a venture capital firm.

After a year in her new job, Jane’s first need would be met. Since venture capitalists are a relatively “high status” tribe, she may only seek to improve the status of her firm within the tribe. Or, more likely, she might be focused on improving her brand within the community by signaling comparative virtue on Twitter (for example).

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to jobs. We’ve created various kinds of tribes with nations, states, faiths, religions, and so on. We’ve even created tribes around sports teams. Most of these tribes ladder up to bigger tribes.

So, for example, we have different levels of tribes when we consider politics. When things are going well for them, the people of a nation may unite under the larger national umbrella and revel in their collective high status. When things aren’t, they’ll focus instead on improving the status of their local tribe and stop caring about the larger tribes they’re part of.

Once we’re part of a tribe, the goal is always achieving higher status. So, if we feel secure about our status within a tribe and also feel secure about our tribe’s status, we can now get to work on improving our status within the tribe.

Since the goal is achieving higher status, we’re always playing status games – whether we choose to outwardly signal status or not. Choosing to not play status games is just a variant of playing the game.

Our desire to be right

I was sifting through a comment thread of a popular blog recently. The post was related to climate change and I was struck by the nature of the discussion in the comments. The observation that stuck out the most was around our desire to be right.

There were many on the thread who approached the conversations with high levels of conviction based on what they believed. I’m not certain where they got their facts from or the method with which they interpreted said facts – but, regardless, it was fascinating to see them double down on their arguments.

We are in the midst of watching “The Da Vinci Code” (based off the Dan Brown bestseller). While it is a work of fiction, it was interesting to revisit human history and view the bloodshed from a different point of view. It got me thinking about the many wars we’ve fought. And, it is amazing how we’ve always found reasons to wage war and kill each other over the past millenia – our certainty in the beliefs we hold and our desire for more power being the top reasons.

Certainty, conviction, and a desire to be right are important drivers of progress. They spur action and forward motion.

However, like other drivers of progress, they’re double edged swords. And, I wish we made it a habit to add a bit more doubt into the mix as we attempted to work through difficult problems.

Perhaps we’d learn to stop worrying about who is right and, instead, focus on what is right.

Drafting a will

On May 25th, Seth shared a post on his blog about finishing well.


If you start a book, you will do better if you have a plan for finishing your book.

If you take the time and spend the money to go to college, it’s worth considering graduating as well.

Aretha Franklin died without a clearly stated will. As a result, her heirs will waste time, money and frustration, because Franklin was both naive (a will doesn’t make it more likely that you will die) and selfish.

If you’re born, it pays to plan on dying.

Every year, millions of people needlessly suffer in old age because they didn’t spend twenty minutes on a health care proxy.

If you’re going to take a job, everyone will benefit if you think about how you’re going to leave that job.

And if you start a company, you should realize that you’re probably going to either sell it or fold it one day, and neither has to be a catastrophe or a failure.

Beginning is magical. So is finishing. We can embrace both.


This post resonated deeply as my wife and I had spoken about creating a will after having our first child. We’d spoken in the past about a health care proxy as well – however, we never got around to doing it.

So, after reading this post, I made a note on my list of priorities during my week off in July to get it done. And, so, today, after a bit of research, we purchased Quick Willmaker Plus (there’s a 40% discount this week on account of Independence Day) and drafted our wills and health care proxies. It took us about an hour and we intend to sign it front of two of our friends to complete the process in the coming days.

It was time well spent. If you haven’t done it yet, I hope you will consider it.