Instant perspective and reminders

At the end of a particularly rough day recently, I wrote to a couple of friends and shared what I was feeling.

One of them wrote back and shared the story of a day that was at least a 100 times tougher than mine.

Instant perspective.

And that’s leaving aside the fact that we all have very good lives.

The conclusion to that exchange was all of us reminding each other of a few truths we often talk about.

You never know if a good day is a good day.

This – both the good and the bad – will pass.

Focus on what you control. Keep plugging away.

I can never have enough reminders of these truths.

You get what you tolerate

A decade or so ago, someone I worked with shared their biggest leadership reflection. It was “you get what you tolerate.”

All these years later, I find my appreciation for the wisdom in that quote has only grown over time.

This is along the lines of the power of standards. First we make them.

Then they make us.

Risk taking and millionaires

“In a textbook case of naive empiricism, the author also looked for traits these millionaires had in common and figured out that they shared a taste for risk taking. Clearly risk taking is necessary for large success—but it is also necessary for failure. Had the author done the same study on bankrupt citizens he would certainly have found a predilection for risk taking.” | Nassim Taleb in Fooled by Randomness.

This quote is classic Nassim Taleb – bringing to life a cognitive bias with an example we can all relate.

A good reminder to look beyond the data shared and to think deeper about the conclusions we draw.

Being hyper aware of what to avoid

One of the fascinating challenges with leading a group is that you quickly become hyper aware of all the things you shouldn’t do. Assuming you’re checking in with the group from time to time, you’re going to soon have a long list of things to avoid.

The challenge, then, is to be aware of that and still focus your time and energy on the things you should do. The stuff that matters. The stuff that helps the team win… and in the long run feel better about the challenges, change, and discomfort everyone is working through.

It is a delicate balance as you have to work through being open to feedback, making changes as needed to the plan, and, yet, resolute in doing the hard things.

You have to be willing to take the criticism and the heat in the short term to ensure you’re doing what you think will be right in the long term.

And you have to resist the temptation to prioritize your time and energy based on avoidance and pain and instead do so based on wholeness and possibility.

The best bottles

A guest at Eleven Madison Park once said – “While most people save their best bottles of wine for their best days, I save it for my worst day.”

It is a sentiment that resonated with me.

On our best days, the joy and forward momentum from the day carry us through. When I reflect on great days, special treats are rarely what I remember.

However, it is on our most difficult days that these little luxuries – a great bottle of wine, our favorite ice cream or treat, a wonderful movie, or whatever it is we consider a special treat – make a big difference. Ultimately, they help us keep perspective and build the energy to pick up the pieces the next day.

And begin again.

Modern loneliness

We stumbled upon “Modern Loneliness” by Lauv recently. Lauv called it the most important song of his career when he released it.

Modern loneliness
We’re never alone, but always depressed, yeah
Love my friends to death
But I never call and I never text, yeah
Yeah, you get what you give and you give what you get, so
Modern loneliness
We love to get high, but we don’t know how to come down

In an interview that followed the song, Lauv said – “Meanwhile, before all of this [social media] existed – we would just be having conversations in person with one another. You get through the awkwardness and eventually get to know each other, because you’re in front of each other and have no choice – where as now, every relationship you have online is so ‘immediate’ that you don’t experience any of the feelings you should when meeting a new person. Humans are built for real community and connection, and I think we are missing that from our world right now, due to social media…[It’s] not real and human connections. I think that’s why as a generation, we feel so alone all of the time.”

No amount of surfing photos of beautiful landscapes on the internet can replace breathing fresh air amidst a grove of trees or sitting on the grass.

No amount of texting or even video calls can replace the alchemy of meeting in person.

No amount of vitamin supplements can replace the nutrition we get from a good fruit.

As Noah Smith writes in “Honestly, its probably the phone” – an essay about teenage unhappiness:

The first adaptation might just be to consciously prioritize in-person interaction, instead of just waiting for it to happen like we used to. Dan Kois has an excellent article in Slate about Sheila Liming, whose new book Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time provides a much-needed alternative to phone addiction. Perhaps hangouts will go from being something that everyone just naturally did because it was the only way to get human contact to being something that people deliberately carve out time for and put on their calendars.

Another adaptation is probably to take social media less seriously. Twitter isn’t a field of combat where heroes decide the fates of nations — it’s just a silly room where people scream at each other and tell a bunch of lies. You don’t have to look fabulous on Instagram or go viral on TikTok to be cool and have friends. Perhaps Zoomers will realize these truths, and embrace a cheerful detachment that Millennials never managed to achieve.


The one armed judo champion

Years ago, I read this story and found it incredibly inspiring. I shared it with a group yesterday – and sharing it reminded me again of just how profound the message is.

A young boy who was born without a left arm was sent to Judo lessons by his mother in a bid to help with his confidence. So he began taking lessons with an old Japanese master.
Ever practice session the master taught the boy one throw. Just one technique over and over again.

Every so often the one-armed boy would see the other students learning different techniques and ask the master why he wasn’t learning anything else.
The master always replied – “Just focus on this one throw. Keep practicing”

Several months later, it was the state Judo championships and the old master entered the young boy.

The young boy was terrified.

The first match began and the one-armed boy grabbed his opponent and to the shock of all the spectators – easily flipped him to the ground. Instant win!

The second round was a little harder but the one-armed boy again pulled off the technique – the only technique he knew, and won.

The third and fourth round amazingly went the same way and the young boy found himself in the tournament final facing a much bigger, stronger and tougher opponent, who had won the tournament for three straight years.

The young boy was overmatched it seemed. Te referee and the organizers of the tournament spoke to the master and asked him if he wanted to withdraw his student..

“No” said the master. “We will fight”.

As the final match began the entire crowd were on the edge of their seat. The opponent stepped and grabbed the young one-armed boy and pulled him towards him. For a second it looked as if it was all over…

But then the one armed boy reached with his right hand, stepped in and BOOM – he threw his opponent flat on his back, to win the match!

The crowd went nuts – the one-armed boy was the state Judo Champion!

On the drive home, the young boy asked his teacher – “Was this a set-up? Did they just let me win because I only have one arm? I only know one technique – these guys know hundreds!”

The teacher replied “No – you won fair and square. But there are two reasons. You won because you mastered one of the most devastating  techniques in Judo. And the only known way to defend against that throw is to grab the left arm!”

What appeared to be an incredible weakness – was in fact his greatest strength.

Enthusiasm and optimism

“Sometimes, all it takes for something extraordinary to happen is for one person to show up with a lot of enthusiasm.”

I thought about this as I found myself going through periods this week when I definitely wasn’t this person. And I realized it is a vicious cycle.

Enthusiasm flows from optimism. And optimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Great cultures

There are many tell-tale signs of a great culture. One of these that almost never fails is that great cultures make it cool to care.

When caring deeply becomes a default as it is just what everyone does, magical things happen.

Keeping a sense of humor

I love the phrase “keep a sense of humor.” It points to a powerful insight – a sense of humor isn’t something you are expected to be born with. Instead, it is something you choose to keep with you.

It is a habit I’ve attempted to become better at over the years. For someone whose natural propensity is to “fight fire with fire,” remembering that I can choose to keep my sense of humor has been both powerful and liberating.

There is space between stimulus and response. And keeping a sense of humor can fill that space with creativity and possibility.