Eating better – in 2 steps

1. Don’t buy food you’re trying avoid – it is easiest to avoid food that isn’t available.

2. Ensure the food we want to eat most frequently are easily accessible.

COVID-19 has resulted in a spike in sales of unhealthy food. While it is natural to crave junk food when we feel under stress, COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon.

And, while we’ll have to live with the pandemic for another year or so, we’ll need to live with our bodies (if all goes well) a lot longer.

Being at the bottom of things

Computer Scientist Donald Knuth shares this note about email on his website –

“Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration. I try to learn certain areas of computer science exhaustively; then I try to digest that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don’t have time for such study.”

While he wrote this about email, it could apply just as nicely to social media, the news, or the phone.

And, as part of my upcoming week off, I’m excited to test being at the bottom of things for the next 4 days.

This means a switched off phone, minimal time on my laptop (likely just to write here), slow to no responses to emails and notes on social media, and plenty of downtime.

It’s been a while since I’ve committed to extended time at the bottom of things. And, I’m excited for the change of pace.

Signpost, victory, and fulfillment

“A signpost stands at a fork in the road.
Pointing in one direction, the sign says Victory.
Pointing in another direction, the sign says Fulfillment.
We must pick a direction. Which one will we choose?

If we choose the path to Victory, the goal is to win.
We will experience the thrill of competition
as we rush toward the finish line.
Crowds gather to cheer for us.
And then it’s over.
And everyone goes home.
(Hopefully we can do it again).

If we choose the path to Fulfillment,
The journey will be long.
There will be times in which we must watch our step
There will be times we can stop to enjoy the view we keep going.
we keep going.
Crowds gather to join us on the journey.

And when our lives are over,
those who joined us on the path to Fulfillment
will keep going without us
and inspire others to join them too”.

A thought provoking start to “The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek.

Dr Anders Ericsson

I came across a tweet about Dr Anders Ericsson’s passing last night and felt a deep sense of sadness. Prof Ericsson coined the term “deliberate practice” and his research was built around a simple thesis – expertise, particularly in fields like sports and music, requires a lot of high quality practice vs. solely because of some ambiguous notion of talent. His work was popularized (to his annoyance) by Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hour” rule.

I got interested in Prof Ericsson’s work as I went down the path of understanding expertise myself. And, in graduate school, a close Professor friend and I found an excuse to have him join us for a talk (he had just published his book – “Peak“).

As is the case with these things, I don’t remember much from the talk. But, I remember his warmth, grace, and thoughtfulness.

His work helped significantly advance the conversation on expertise by moving us away from a blind focus on raw talent to one that weighted effortful practice. He sought to have us appreciate the importance of getting out of our comfort zone in our quest to get better at what we do.

For personal growth geeks like me, he was a hero… and he will be missed.


I work on the team focused on helping job seekers find jobs at LinkedIn. Our team shows up to work everyday energized to find ways to help job seekers with our products. So, we felt a great deal of pain as we saw so many posts on our feeds sharing news of layoffs as COVID-19 hit and upturned our lives.

While some of these stories looked ahead with optimism, others shared real constraints – money/tuition loans, insurance, visas running out, and so on. We also saw so many members on LinkedIn repeatedly reach out to members who’d come forward asking for help with referrals and support.

As we observed all this in our attempts to figure out what we could do to help, we realized that one way we might be able to help is to move quickly to enable those who needed urgent support share this request (with the help of a frame on their photo).

We made #OpenToWork available to all our members yesterday. If you know someone in urgent need of help/are in need of urgent help yourself, we hope they/you find this useful.

And, if you’re looking to be of help, please just make your way to the #OpenToWork hashtag and reach out to folks.

Personally, this product was one in the “this might not work.. but wouldn’t it be incredible if it did?” category. There are many promising early signs so far and I’m really hopeful it’ll help.

Product aside, this also was a deeply fulfilling journey. As a good friend and partner-in-crime on the project nicely put it, it was one of those rare times when wonderful people, meaningful problem, and an opportunity to make an impact came together.


Solitude and leadership – a few excerpts

A few excerpts that resonated from the speech of the week – “Solitude and Leadership” by William Deresiewicz.

So it’s perfectly natural to have doubts, or questions, or even just difficulties. The question is, what do you do with them? Do you suppress them, do you distract yourself from them, do you pretend they don’t exist? Or do you confront them directly, honestly, courageously? If you decide to do so, you will find that the answers to these dilemmas are not to be found on Twitter or Comedy Central or even in The New York Times. They can only be found within—without distractions, without peer pressure, in solitude.

Here’s the other problem with Facebook and Twitter and even The New York Times. When you expose yourself to those things, especially in the constant way that people do now—older people as well as younger people—you are continuously bombarding yourself with a stream of other people’s thoughts. You are marinating yourself in the conventional wisdom. In other people’s reality: for others, not for yourself.

You are creating a cacophony in which it is impossible to hear your own voice, whether it’s yourself you’re thinking about or anything else. That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “he who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from travelling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions.” Notice that he uses the word lead. Leadership means finding a new direction, not simply putting yourself at the front of the herd that’s heading toward the cliff.

So why is reading books any better than reading tweets or wall posts? Well, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes, you need to put down your book, if only to think about what you’re reading, what you think about what you’re reading. But a book has two advantages over a tweet. First, the person who wrote it thought about it a lot more carefully. The book is the result of his solitude, his attempt to think for himself.

Second, most books are old. This is not a disadvantage: this is precisely what makes them valuable. They stand against the conventional wisdom of today simply because they’re not from today. Even if they merely reflect the conventional wisdom of their own day, they say something different from what you hear all the time. But the great books, the ones you find on a syllabus, the ones people have continued to read, don’t reflect the conventional wisdom of their day. They say things that have the permanent power to disrupt our habits of thought.

But it seems to me that solitude is the very essence of leadership. The position of the leader is ultimately an intensely solitary, even intensely lonely one. However many people you may consult, you are the one who has to make the hard decisions. And at such moments, all you really have is yourself.

High signal reference checks

We see, ask for, and contribute to formal and informal reference checks often (“Hey, do you know x person? How are they to work with?”). And, while most folks who worked closely with a person can provide useful feedback, I’ve observed the following for the highest signal-to-noise ratio:

1) How well they communicate and hold a room -> their manager’s manager, an executive they reported into, or their manager (in that order).

2) Their ability to both lead and be a good colleague/teammate -> folks on cross-functional teams with no reporting relationship.

3) How good they are at their job -> peers, followed by the manager.

There are exceptions to these observations – typically folks up the reporting chain who manage to stay abreast of the detail. But, that aside, hearing strong positive feedback from a peer with close working experience is among the strongest positive indicators of a person’s ability to contribute on the job.

Getting a refund on airline tickets

Tip: If you had booked airline tickets pre COVID-19 that you’d like to cancel, don’t rush into accepting a credit from the airline. You can accept the credit till a few minutes before your flight.

Instead, wait till a week or two before the flight, call the airline, and check in on your flight status. The agent will likely explain that your flight has been moved significantly – e.g. 8 hours before or after – and that you’ve “missed a notification” (which you never received).

You can now explain that such a big move doesn’t work for you and that you’d like a refund instead. Your refund request will then be approved.

(H/T: for explaining how to approach this)

PS: Airlines are in a tough spot and are doing whatever they can to avoid refunds. The agents on these calls are doing their best to do their job and hopefully keep their jobs. So, while you’re at it, do spare a thought for them too.

COVID-19 – June notes

5 notes on COVID-19 –

1) We’re still in the first leg of the pandemic. Unlike notes I shared in the early days, we now have plenty of data on how things are going. So, I thought we’d take a quick look.

I had two takeaways when I looked at this. First, I expect the US, Brazil, and India to be up in any list that shows total number of cases. They’re among the most populous countries on the planet. But, that then raises a question – how is it that Indonesia and Pakistan (similar populations to the US and Brazil) aren’t featuring on this chart?

Next, the trend in the US is plain scary – especially given we’re clearly in the first wave.

2) But, since the chart above has a population bias, the chart below is a better chart to look at. This one looks at new cases per million people.

This chart, in turn, tells two stories.

On the one hand, it shows how well the European countries have flattened the curve. In the early days, we were talking about how impressively the likes of South Korea were dealing COVID-19 in comparison with the likes of Italy. This shows that the European nations found their way eventually.

On the other hand, it shows just how badly the US has botched it.

I also took a look deaths per per million people to see if it’d show something new.

I didn’t realize the extent to which the UK botched their response in the early days till I saw this. I wonder if Boris Johnson’s own COVID-19 experience changed his administration’s approach.

I’m still not clear why the death rate is significantly different across nations. For now, I’m running with the assumption that # of new cases are the best leading indicator we have.

3) I was surprised to India’s trend line to be so low on the “per million people” chart vs. the other. It speaks to the population related biases that makes this chart so much better. Based on this, it does look like the government has done an admirable job – at least relatively. That said, I do worry that we’re still in the early days of the pandemic. So, time will tell.

4) I think there are 4 factors that determine a nation’s response to a pandemic like this one – 1) competence of the government, 2) population density, 3) culture (collectivist vs. individualist), and 4) extent of politicization of important issues.

Based on this hypothesis, I wasn’t hopeful about how things would play out in the US and said as much in the early days of the pandemic – “The most dangerous places with COVID-19 on the planet today – particularly if you are over 50 years – are places which are neither acting early nor ramping up on testing. Sadly for those of us here, the United States squarely falls in that bucket. There are many good pieces of coverage that outline just how poorly the administration and the CDC have handled this situation.”

I did, however, hold out hope that a combination of significantly lower population density outside of the urban centers would help counteract some of the downside from 1), 3), and 4). But, that hope was clearly misplaced.

If there is a silver lining at this moment, it is a graph that Indeed’s Chief Economist shared about COVID-19 cases in Republican/red and Democratic/blue counties.

My hope is that the effect on the red counties will spur positive movement from the administration as we’re in an election year. Positive movement would include some or all of – acceptance of where we are vs. denial, significantly more testing and contact tracing, masks, and a more gradual, fact based, reopening. Fingers crossed.

5) On an individual level, it is hard to keep up the resolve to keep up the commitment to physical distance after three months of it. I’ve heard from plenty of folks about the frustration they feel. It is understandable. Video calls are tiring and we’ve definitely felt frustrated ourselves.

Given we’re likely going to be in it for at least another year, I don’t think living in isolation is the answer. But, that said, going back to the old normal isn’t either.

There’s plenty of middle ground in between and it involves avoiding crowds, meeting folks in smaller groups, and staying as safe as possible while not driving ourselves crazy.

Wishing all of us plenty of luck in the coming months.

We’re going to need it.

Be kind to yourself

A wise friend used to repeat one piece of advice for me in the early years of our relationship – be kind to yourself.

I was recently in a situation where I ended a day with a series of things having gone right. However, right before the end, I realized one thing that hadn’t gone as per plan.

So, obviously, I did what you might expect. I ignored all the things that went well and obsessed about the one thing that went wrong.

Soon, we were past an hour since I’d both realized it and taken constructive action.

That’s about when I remembered this friend’s message – “be kind to yourself.”

We all make mistakes. We also tend to over-index on obsessing about the things that went wrong over the things that went well. Both of these combined can mean a self-reinforcing and perpetual loop of kicking ourselves for mistakes.

The only way out is self compassion.

Be kind to yourself.