Throwing away matches

Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ tennis coach, shared a fascinating insight about a few talented tennis players he coached. He noticed that they threw away matches when they started making mistakes early in a game.

In his first few years as a coach, this behavior used to drive him nuts. Throwing away matches, in his eyes, disrespecting the game and the opponent.

As time progressed, he began exploring why these talented players do this. He realized that it was easier for them to throw away the match than acknowledge that their talent didn’t get them through. Easier to say “Oh, I wasn’t trying” and give up.

He realized getting angry wasn’t solving this problem. Instead, he had to first empathize with their feelings of insecurity and then instill grit, discipline, and a strong work ethic that would help them make the most of their talent.

There are a few powerful lessons in this story about coaching and developing talent. But, it also resonated with me for a different reason.

There were phases in my education where I did the same. When I realized I wasn’t going to get what I wanted easily, I stopped trying. I went down the path of believing myths about fellow students with incredible memories and smarts.

Every time I got to know one of these students, however, I always found hours and hours of intense study that contributed to their success. They may have been smarter. But, they sure as hell worked significantly harder. And, doing so consistently meant their abilities compounded.

NBA All start Damian Lillard’s wise words sum this up – “If you want to look good in front of thousands, you have to outwork thousands in front of nobody.”

The trouble tree routine

I read a story about “the trouble tree” over a decade ago that has stuck with me.


David’s plumber had just had a rough day. He had a flat tyre on his way to work, his drill quit and his truck refused to start. David drove the distraught man home.

Just before they entered home, the plumber paused briefly at a tree, touching its tips. He then opened the door and underwent an amazing transformation. He hugged his kids, kissed his wife and was all smiles!

Afterwards, when David was walking out, he asked his plumber about his behavior. The plumber he said – ‘Everyday, I leave all my work troubles at the tree before walking in. The funny thing is when I come in the morning to pick them up, there aren’t as many as I left.’


I love this idea and it has stayed with me despite my many attempts at finding a similar routine.

Or perhaps because of it.

I don’t have a solution that works as well as yet. But, I hope to get there. It was time for a reminder.

Engagement and Perfection

Periodic reminder to self: Perfection is not the goal. Thoughtful engagement is.

Perfection is an illusion because the pursuit of things that matter will require us to experiment. Those experiments will inevitably result in mistakes. Those mistakes, in turn, will inspire the learning that will improve the next set of experiments.

Progress > Perfection. And, progress is a byproduct of thoughtful engagement.

For there is always light

“For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

This ending to Amanda Gorman’s poem gave me goosebumps. It offers great perspective for our careers and lives by reminding us that there is always light and hope. And that, if all seems bleak, that we can choose to be that light.

As we go face inevitable struggles disappointments, and runs of bad luck this year, here’s to having the courage to see it… and be it.

(H/T Tim Foster and Unsplash for the image)

Drew Dernavich’s desk

The New Yorker magazine is famous for its cartoons. Drew Dernavich has been one of its top contributors over the past two decades. He’s probably been called some variant of talented genius many times.

So, I loved this picture of his desk just as he was submitting a new cartoon.

Drew’s daily practice/process: Lots of attempts -> many crappy ideas and stumbles -> reflection and learning -> more attempts -> eventual success.

One interpretation is that even a “talented genius” can’t escape the process.

The other is that we may have gotten the direction of causality all wrong. It is probably that commitment to the process that makes someone a talented genius.

(H/T: The Practice by Seth Godin)

Notes on writing for yourself

Three weeks back, I wrote Notes on Blogging for folks interested in blogging. In response to my question – “are you blogging for yourself or blogging for others” – a few folks wrote in wondering why someone would blog for oneself. What’s the point if you aren’t spending time building a following?

So, I thought I’d share what I’ve gained from the process. As the list is long, I thought I’d share my top 5:

(1) Discipline: I committed to writing every day in May 2008. I struggled for most of 2008 and 2009. I used to cheat by just sharing a quote for the day in those years to just get my post for the day in. I finally got the confidence to write “long form” (i.e. not cheat by sharing a quote) every day in late 2010. Every day since then, my belief in my discipline has grown.

That belief means I never question my ability to follow through on a commitment. If I can write every day, I should be able to do just about anything I set my mind to. Integrity is making and keeping commitments. Disciple is the foundation of integrity.

(2) Learning curve: We learn from 3 sources – from books or posts that share synthesized information, from people who share synthesized information, or when we synthesize information. Synthesis requires us to reflect on what we’ve done, boil what we’ve learnt to its essence, and incorporate that lesson into how we operate.

The word “essay” comes from the French word “essayer.” Essayer means “to try.” We write to try and figure things out. The process of attempting to figure things out every day has helped me synthesize.

And, this practice of daily synthesis has taught me how to learn. As an outcome focused competitive kid, I hadn’t learnt how to do this in the first twenty years of my life. I didn’t realize that learning requires an intense focus on the process – without regard for the outcome. Ironically, ignoring the outcome turns out to be the best way to consistently achieve good outcomes.

Learning how to learn has been a gamechanger. It has made my life richer.

(3) Writing: Aside from writing to figure things out, writing is a highly valuable professional skill. I work as a product manager at a technology company and writing is a key part of my job. Writing comes easily after all these years. It helps me do my job significantly better.

(4) Learning mindset: I hated screwing up before I started writing here. After I started writing here, every mistake gave me a blog post topic I could write about. I wasn’t just screwing up now. I was reflecting, figuring out how I could do better, and reminding myself to do so. Writing here has changed how I perceive mistakes.

Mistakes still hurt. But, channeling that pain into learning helps me make progress and appreciate the importance of pain in the process of learning. It has also helped me become much kinder to myself.

I realized later that being kinder to ourselves is the path to becoming kinder and more compassionate to everyone around us.

(5) Meditation. Practitioners of Zen buddhist/Hindu meditation focus on clearing the mind when they meditate. The stoics, on the other hand, talked about another variant of meditation – the kind where you reflect on your day and analyze how you lived. I haven’t found a better description of what writing here everyday means to me. It is how I meditate. It grounds me, reminds me to be grateful, and gifts me perspective.

These reasons are why I recommend committing to writing regularly. You can do it on a blog or do it on a journal. Pick what suits you.

Yes, there is the possibility that it may not work for you. As with all good things, it isn’t for everyone. At least you’ll have tried.

I would however posit that, more often than not, a person who commits to regular writing will find that it was one of the best commitments they’ve ever made.

Trends on working hours, wealth, and parenting

Our World in Data had a series of interesting charts recently on working hours, wealth, and parenting.

The first chart looks at “Annual working hours” per worker. In wealthy countries, the average number of hours in a work week have gone from ~60 hours to ~35 hours in the past 100 years (assuming 3-4 weeks of vacation).

With the exception of the United States, vacation days in these countries have gone up over time. It is interesting to see the US lose ground in the 1990s.

Next, we look at the relationship between the wealth of a country and working hours. This is as expected – wealth correlates with fewer working hours. The exceptions are rich Asian countries (Singapore, South Korea, etc.). Culture matters too.

The more the labor productivity, the less workers can afford to work.

And, finally, we have a chart that looks at time parents spend with their kids. The trend is clear.

In sum, as countries got wealthier thanks to increased labor productivity, everyone began working less. They used this time to spend more time with their kids.

A fascinating collection of charts. Thank you, Our World in Data team, for your continued good work in improving our understanding of the world using data.

Source posts: 1, 2, 3

The 20 slot investment card

Charlie Munger regularly shares a powerful story about Warren Buffet’s investment advice.

When Warren lectures at business schools, he says, “I could improve your ultimate financial welfare by giving you a ticket with only 20 slots in it so that you had 20 punches—representing all the investments that you got to make in a lifetime. And once you’d punched through the card, you couldn’t make any more investments at all.”

He says, “Under those rules, you’d really think carefully about what you did and you’d be forced to load up on what you’d really thought about. So you’d do so much better.”

“Fewer things done better” is one of those ideas that is 3 things at once – 1) broadly applicable, 2) nearly always great advice, and 3) so bloody hard to actually execute on.

Ideas with merit are common property

“All ideas with merit are common property.” | Seneca on Epicurus

I am on a stoic book binge. It started with “The Socrates Express” – a beginner’s introduction to philosophy.

After a post with an excerpt from his chapter on stoicism that resonated, Juan recommended I read “The Guide to the Good life” (The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy) by William B Irvine. This book is a beginner’s introduction to stoicism.

As I read Irvine’s notes on stoicism, I realized that it is the philosophy I’ve been writing about all these years without knowing it. I’m still working on a simple synthesis of what stoicism is all about. For now, I think it is best described as a combination of extreme gratitude, perspective, and reflection.

After this beginner’s introduction, the natural next step was to go straight to the source. So, I’ve started with Seneca’s letters and have Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius on my queue. You now know expect plenty of notes from these philosophers in the coming weeks. :-)

All this brings us back to the quote I shared from Seneca. One of the fascinating theme in the first few letters to his friend Lucilius is the frequency with which he quotes Epicurus. This can strike you as odd because Epicurus was the founder of a rival school of philosophy.

Seneca realizes this and notes that we ought not to measure the merit of an idea based on who it is from.

All ideas with merit are, and should be, common property.