Drought intensity

Eric Holthaus shared this chart with drought intensity in the Western United States.

For comparison, this was what this chart looked like last year.

We had a rough wildfire season last year. It looks like we’re in for a much tougher ride this year.

I’ve reflected on the similarities between the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis many a time in the past months. Both involve non-living agents (a virus, climate) that don’t discriminate between people who believe in it and who don’t. Both require global cooperation and science to ensure survival.

I’ve been thinking a lot more about COVID-19 of late – especially with the intensity of the crisis in India.

But, seeing these charts have reminded me that COVID-19 is a warm-up act in comparison to what lies ahead for all of us with the climate emergency in the coming years.

PS: A former colleague has started a weekly newsletter explaining the science behind the climate crisis in a very accessible way. If you’re interested, please head over to Climate Camp – thanks, Logan, for the good work.

The Ithaca wish

Dimitris shared an excerpt from the Greek poem “Ithaca” recently – “When you depart for Ithaca, wish for the road to be long, full of adventure, full of knowledge. Fear not the Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes, nor the angry Poseidon. “


Full of adventure.

Full of knowledge.

These may not be the first things that come to mind when we wish for what lies ahead.

But, they’re what make the journey worthwhile.

To do lists and peace of mind

I continue to be amazed by the impact “to do” lists can have on us. The same list of items can either inspire peace of mind or stress us out.

If we look at our list and immediately get clarity on our priorities and the sequence in which we need to work through them, peace of mind will follow.

And, when clarity on priorities or sequencing is absent, we’re headed for trouble.

Soccer and moments of extra effort

In a game of soccer the other day, there were two moments that stood out.

First, I was playing last defender/goalkeeper and someone chipped the ball over me. I gave up and just turned around to watch it go in. Funnily, it hit one of the small foldable goal posts, spun about the edge of the goal, and eventually went in.

If I’d chosen to turn back and run after the ball, I would have been able to stop it.

Second, one of the players on our team went chasing after a defender on a seeming lost cause. The defender made a mistake, he got the ball, and scored.

All of this was part of a fun Saturday game. There are no consequences to scoring, winning, or losing.

But, in both cases, it was fascinating to see the power of persistence and that bit of extra effort.

They don’t seem to pay off for the longest time.

Until they do. Big time.

High-flow teens and mall teens

In the 1980s, Prof Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied 250 teenagers who were given pagers that beeped at various times. They noted down what they were doing and how they were feeling.

One group – “low-flow teens” spent more time watching TV and hanging out in the mall. The other group – “high-flow teens” – spent their time engaged in activities like sports or on their homework.

The study followed these teens to find that the “high-flow” teens reported more longer term happiness, deeper social ties, and education/career success. But, it is more interesting to look at how they were feeling in the moment.

During the course of the study, these high-flow teens did better in every measure of psychological well being (happiness, self esteem, and engagement) except for ONE.

They thought the mall kids were having more fun.


The magical car door

We were pulling into a parking spot when the back door of a car swung open. The owners were getting closed to it and had opened it with their remote.

Our 3 year old exclaimed – “Look, it’s opening magically.”

“Ah, that’s not magical” – I explained. “It’s just the remote working.”

He explained that he knew that. We could do it in our car too after all. But, that didn’t change the fact that it was magical in his mind.

It took me a second to gain some perspective.

A button was pressed somewhere and a door just opened.


Of course it is magical.

Experience and bad judgment

A quote I’ve shared a few times over the years is “Success comes from good judgment. Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.”

There are a few reasons for its resonance. First, it points to the importance of thinking long term. Success – the kind that is both meaningful and enduring – is built on the foundations of good judgment. And, good judgment takes time to build.

Second, without pointing to it, it reminds me of the importance of thinking about success beyond the narrow scope of our careers. It is on us to define what success is. However, regardless of how we define it, we’re going to need good judgment.

Finally, it speaks to the importance of the school of hard knocks. There are folks who say we only ever truly learn when we make mistakes. I don’t think that is true. I think it is possible to learn from success as long as we prioritize doing so. But, our hardest won lessons often come from mistakes we’ve made.

That’s because mistakes hurt. They have a way of punching us in the gut. That pain inspires learning.

It is tempting to attempt to avoid mistakes. But, that’s wasted energy. It isn’t how life works.

If we’re experimenting by stepping out of our comfort zone, we will make mistakes. It is better instead to figure out how we can soak the learning from mistakes and avoid repeating them.

That process of reflecting on our mistakes, soaking the learning, attempting to respond constructively and correctively is how we gain experience.

It is how our judgment gets made.

Scout Mindset

Julia Galef, an author, shared this about her book “The Scout mindset.”

“The scout mindset — which is my term for the motivation to see things as they are, not as you wish they were. In other words, trying to be intellectually honest, objective, and curious about what’s actually true.

The central metaphor in the book is that we are often in soldier mindset, my term for the motivation to defend your own beliefs against arguments and evidence that might threaten them. Scout mindset is an alternative way of thinking. A scout’s goal is not to attack or defend, but to go out and form an accurate map of what’s really there.

It resonated.

(H/T: Noah Smith’s Noahpinion interview)

Rudolf Abel and would it help

As I make my way through stoic texts, I realize that Rudolf Abel’s “would it help” (from “The Bridge of Spies”) is a line/lesson that would fit in beautifully in stoic philosophy.

“You don’t seem alarmed.”
“Would it help?”

“Don’t you ever worry?”
“Would it help?”

“You’re not worried”
Would it help?”

Three words that manage to be simple, powerful, and riveting at once.

I don’t ask myself “would it help?” as often as I would like to.

I am hoping to change that.