Doing without labeling

We deal with many kinds of events over the course of a given day or week. And, one of our mechanisms for dealing with this diversity is reducing them to simple labels – good, bad, confusing, shocking, etc.

These labels are important in their ability to reduce cognitive load on a daily basis. However, they also take away a lot of the richness of the experience. Most of what happens to us has a lot more texture than what a simple label can describe.

An idea I’ve been exploring over the past weeks is consciously doing without labeling. This has meant resisting any temptation to label my days or answer questions like “how is your day going?”

Aside from the benefit of avoiding an inauthentic/generic answer to the question (I replace it with something more humorous like – “It’s going – hopefully in the right direction” :)), it inspires two powerful outcomes.

First, it gives me more time to sit with my reflections on a day instead of forcing closure with a label. I’ve found myself spending more time soaking lessons out of my experiences versus moving on to a book or some other distraction.

And, second, it has enabled me to live life in a way that is more aligned to my philosophy that “you never know if a good is a good day.” We never really do. All we can do is be thoughtful about the trade-offs we’re making and keep plugging away.

So, here’s to that..

Credit card fraud

Our approach to saving has been consistent in the last decade. We chose not to maintain budgets – instead, we’ve adhered to a principle of “conscious spending” and targeted saving 40%+ of what we earn.

As part of staying true to this principle, we’ve consciously entered every expenditure into a spreadsheet. It is simple, low tech, and ensures we’re making conscious spending decisions.

The other benefit of this approach, as I learned yesterday, is that it also helps us quickly catch credit card fraud. I had a few notifications of expenses that I was about to enter into the spreadsheet, found one I didn’t recognize, and called Chase to confirm that our credit card had been compromised.

It was a nice reminder to schedule an end-of-year security audit. If you haven’t scheduled one, this practice comes strongly recommended. 3 things to check in on –
1) 2 factor authentication on all your key accounts
2) Notifications on all your credit cards so you know when expenses are made
3) Set up monitoring of your credit and account details using services like CreditKarma and SpyCloud.

Stay safe out there.

PS: In case helpful, I’d shared a couple posts last year on our approach to personal finance. As part of that, I’d shared the simple spreadsheet we use and how it has evolved over time.

Communication, trust, intent

The amount of communication required in a relationship is inversely proportional to the amount of trust in it.

Trust shows up in the the proportion of time both folks in a relationship assume good intent. So, when this assumption isn’t made by default, it needs to be replaced by a lot of communication to signal good intent or repair damage caused by assumed bad intent.

That’s why some of the best investments in efficient communication come from embracing inefficiency in the early stages of relationships – e.g. investing in getting to know each other before starting on a project or during periods of uncertainty.

Our long term relationship effectiveness, thus, hinges on our ability to consistently go slow to go fast.

(H/T: Ben Horowitz’s new book on culture of sparking the reflection on communication and trust)

Personal IPOs and stock market tickers

Eugene Wei had a post on his excellent blog yesterday where he drew parallels between individuals building brands on social media and a company going public.


One way to understand the impact of these public social networks on humanity is to think of this as the era in which humans took their personal thoughts and lives public at scale. Billions of humans IPO’d, whether we were ready for it or not, explaining why the concept of a personal “brand” became such a pervasive metaphor.

In another era, most of us lived in social circles of limited scope. Family, school, coworkers, neighbors. We were, for the most part, private entities. Social media companies quickly hit on the ideal configuration for rapid network growth: take the interaction between any two people and make it public. Conversation and information-sharing became a democratic form of performance art.

One reason social networks quickly converged on this as the optimal strategy and configuration is that the majority of people on any social network merely lurk. By making the conversations of the more extroverted, productive nodes public, you sustain the interest of that silent majority of observers with what is effectively crowd-sourced (read: free) content. The concept of 1/9/90 is that a stable equilibrium can be achieved in a large network if the shouting class, the minority which entertains the much larger but silent majority, is given enough quantifiable doses of affirmation (likes) to keep the content spigot flowing. As these large public social networks grew, even many who were previously modest began taking the stage on social media to karaoke to the crowd. Live fast, die young, and leave a viral post.

Just as there are many advantages to being a public company, becoming a public figure carries all sorts of upside. Once your ideas and your self are traded publicly, anyone can invest and drive the value of those goods higher. If you’ve ever written a viral blog post or tweetstorm and gained thousands of followers, if you’ve had a YouTube video picked up by traditional media and found yourselves interviewed on the local news, you’ve felt that rush of being a soaring stock. Social networks not only provide public liquidity for anything you care to share on them, but they also continued to tweak their algorithms to accelerate the virality quotient of their feeds. In a previous generation, Warhol quipped the duration of sudden fame was 15 minutes, but social media has made that the time it takes to become famous.

The problem is that, like many private companies who find the scrutiny of public markets overly stringent, many of us were ill-equipped for “going public” with what were once private conversations and thought. It’s not just those who made enormous public gaffes and got “canceled.” Most people by now have experienced the random attack from a troll, the distributed judgment of the public at large, and have realized the cost of living our lives in public. Most celebrities learn this lesson very early on, most companies put their public-facing executives through PR training, but most humans never grew up under the watchful gaze of hundreds of millions of eyes of Sauron.


It is a powerful analogy and it made me wonder about Instagram’s recent decision to remove “like” counts. If an Instagram profile is the equivalent of a stock ticker, a “like” may have been the equivalent of the stock price.

And, as there’s only so much good that can come from constantly monitoring short term fluctuations on your stock price, removing “like” counts may turn out to be a master stroke.

The mistake we make about mistakes

The mistake we make about mistakes is over exercising caution in new situations to prevent a new mistake and under investing in not repeating a mistake we’ve already made.

Since we invest disproportionate effort into avoiding the first time mistake, we end up taking fewer chances and lose valuable opportunities to experiment and learn.

But, we’ll never avoid mistakes. So, attempting avoidance turns out to be futile. The best use of that energy, instead, is to soak the lessons we learn from that new mistake we just made to avoid repeating the same mistake.

The name of the game is making newer, better, mistakes that inspire learning and growth.

Response training

Many of my most profound moments of learning as a parent have come from reflecting on times when I would have done better replacing my emotional reaction with a measured response.

They came from times when our first child was hungry/sleepy/tired/sick and inevitably irrational. Faced with ten of these situations in 2018, I would react with impatience in every five. After a lot of reflection on my tendencies to respond to fire with fire (instead of using water) and on lessons I took away from Marshall Rosenberg’s “Non Violent Communication,” I think my hit rate on responding instead of reacting has increased to 8/10 in 2019.

That’s still two situations out of every ten that I’d love to avoid. And, as I head into the final 6 weeks of the year, I’m hoping to continue strengthening my response muscles at every opportunity.

I expect the impact of response training to continue to be far reaching. It continues to bring to light the many situations outside of interacting with our older child where I would do well to avoid unnecessary reactions.

But, it also continues to be hard. It is tempting to give in to impatience as an excuse, tempting to emotionally react quickly, and tempting to always attempt to have the last word.

Replacing reactions with response is among the most challenging skills I’ve had to learn. I thought I had made significant progress (and I had compared to my previous low standards) until I became a parent. So, I’m grateful to this experience for revealing just how much more work there is to be done.

Here’s to making more progress in the coming month by making the most of this intense training regime.