All that remains and It’s later than you think

Dr Jessica Brandes and J R Storment were parents of an 8 year old boy who passed away 3 weeks ago. They both penned beautiful posts this week about this very painful experience.

In “All that remains,” Dr Brandes wrote about the fragility of life and pushes us to take the time to spend time with those we love.

And, in “It’s later than you think,” Storment reflected on his regrets and reminds us to be very intentional in how we prioritize our time.

I hope you take the time to read it.

Reminders of the fragility of this life are a gift. And, I’m grateful to Jessica Brandes and J R Storment for sharing their notes with us.

Just one thing this time

I was mulling a new weekend project today. For a change, I shut it down before the thought germinated.

As unexciting as that might sound, it marked an important moment in my learning journey.

Over the past months, I’ve been working hard to simplify my life so I can focus on the two things that I expect will move the needle on my long term happiness – learning and contributing at work and being as good a partner and dad as I possibly can.

There are a list of things I’d like to do more. For instance, I’d like to find time to play more soccer. I’d also like to write more long form posts. But, in reality, for the first time in a decade, I’ve barely played soccer in the past months. And, I haven’t done any long form writing on tech and product management either. So, before I get excited about a new weekend project, it helps to remind myself that there’s an existing backlog for when I have more time.

Of course, I’d like to do more than just focus on working and being there for the family. But, I haven’t found a way to do that without sleeping less and messing with my health – that, in turn, would mean doing a sub par job on the two things that matter at the moment. So, we’re back to square one.

It took a bit of reflection after having our second child last year to arrive at this conclusion. I care deeply about being an engaged member of the family. And, after ~7 years of career finding, I’m finally 2+ years into a role that is a great fit and intend to make the most of the steep learning curve that lies ahead. I’ve come to accept that there’s little time left after embracing these constraints.

It is lovely to experience this sort of focus for the first time. I don’t spend any time on weekdays or weekends wondering when I can squeeze a bit of time to do this or that. I can just be – assured in the knowledge that there’s nothing else more important.

For many years, I gave lip service to the idea of fewer things done better. I’ve written plenty about prioritization over the years and did a passable job at it. My answer in the past was always to find some way to fit as much as I could in. But, as I realized in the second half of 2018, that approach doesn’t work with hard constraints.

One of my favorite ideas in the realm of prioritization is that saying no to things that don’t matter enables us to say yes to things that do. I’ve shared this many times over as a wishful note to self.

It is only now that I am beginning to draw clear boundaries, embrace trade-offs, and say yes to things that matter.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to make more progress down that road in the coming months – both at home and at work.

Floats, sea monsters, and tact

I was watching an exchange between a few kids in a swimming pool the other day. Three had originally brought a float to the pool that was now being occupied by three others of similar ages.

The original owners decided they wanted their float back. So, one of the float owners politely asked the current occupants to please move so they could play on their float. But, she wasn’t getting much traction.

Cue: tension.

Just as this threatened to escalate into a fight, one of the dads of the temporary occupants stepped in. He told the kids that he was a sea monster and would give the kids 15 seconds to get on the float.

This resulted in a lot of squealing. But, before you knew it, all six kids were on the float and having a great time.

Tact is powerful.

The patience regimen

The biggest lesson I learnt in my first year as a parent was flexibility. That year was a journey in accepting that few things would go as per plan. I’m now more flexible than I’ve ever been. That, however, was the easy first lesson as our first was still a baby.

The second year was all about realizing that I needed to curb my instincts to fight fire with fire. I’ve written before about my instincts and the challenges posed by it. I was also fortunate to read Marshall Rosenberg’s wonderful book – Non-Violent Communication – at a time when I needed it.

This third year has been about figuring out a path to dealing with the root of those instincts – impatience. When I take stock of my good and bad parenting moments, patience tends to be the common factor.

In the good ones, I demonstrated plenty of patience and approached the situation with a desire to understand as well as a willingness to be creative and tactful. In the bad ones, I had none of it, rushed too quickly to an attempted solution, and sacrificed effectiveness for a misplaced sense of efficiency.

So, I’ve begun to think of my experiences as a parent as my opportunity to get better at being patient. I have the benefit of having plenty of opportunities to practice every day while also being blessed by a partner/role model who seems to always have plenty of it.

I don’t expect to become the most patient person around. But, I do hope to become more patient and learn to channel my impatience better in the coming month.

Here’s to that.

Seek not to make them like you

In a conversation recently, I mentioned the challenge presented by an idea from Kahlil Gibran’s exceptional poem on children“Seek to be like them, seek not to make them like you.” 

On hearing that, this friend shared that their struggles weren’t in trying to make the kids like them – instead, it was in trying to make the kids an aspirational version of them. It was more pressure than both the kids and the parents could handle – until they sought help.

It was a powerful reflection and one that translates beautifully to many other relationships where the power dynamic at any given time is unbalanced in our favor.

It is tempting to attempt to control and force conformity.

But, it is in the “letting go” and in the ability to absorb the best of those around us where the learning lies.

Attention and Appreciation

I was watching kids interact with their parents at a play zone recently. If their basic needs (not hurt or hungry) were met, I realized that two words summed up most of what they asked for – attention and appreciation.

Just as I was about to file that away as a reflection on kids, it got me thinking about the root causes of issues adults I know face at home or at the workplace.

It turns out that attention and appreciation are just as important in dealing with adults as they are with kids.

The best partners, friends, managers, and leaders make it a point to never forget that.

Growth and The Conscious Parent

Dr. Shefali Tsabary has written a powerful book called “The Conscious Parent.” I’ve been reading the book on and off over the past couple of years. It reads like the expanded version of the wonderful poem by Kahlil Gibran on parenting that is our aspirational parenting philosophy.

One of the recurring themes in the book is the idea that your kids come into your life to help you grow. In doing so, they stretch you and help you become more aware of the areas where you need help becoming a better version of yourself.

I have written repeatedly about my increasing awareness of my tendency to fight fire with fire when the better approach would be to follow the fire department and use water (or, in this case, tact :-)). And, today’s note is another one of those. I received another reminder this week that impatience and tempers generally only serve to exacerbate problems.

The combination of patience and tact, on the other hand, go a long way.

I expect to keep encountering these lessons until I learn to move beyond reaction into response. It takes time to overcome our natural tendencies – I’m definitely in it for the long haul.

The powerful extension of this theme is when we extend it beyond our kids to everyone we encounter.

What if we treated every person we meet as a messenger from life to help us become the person we want to be?

The day you were born

Early childhood is a tough process for kids. They’re exposed to plenty of new stimuli every day and have to figure out how to process all of it. And, every time they get tired of exploring the many possibilities in front of them or fall sick (happens as soon as they meet other kids :-)), they seek comfort. For a large proportion of infants and toddlers, that source of comfort turns out to be mom.

I was introduced to this wonderful 3 min 15 sec SNL sketch called “The day you were born” this weekend. Amy Schumer plays the mom receiving a mother’s day gift – breakfast in bed – from her son. And, the video wonderfully contrasts what she says about the day he was born and his early years with the actual chaotic and painful experience.

It ends with the line – “Thank you for pretending it was easy.”

As I see this movie play out day in and day out, it resonated deeply.

Thank you to all the engaged moms and dads who, well… engage. It matters.

And, while I know it is going to be a busy week, I hope you find some time to call your parents.

On Children by Kahlil Gibran

In the past 2.5 years, there are no passages I have thought of as much as these from “On Children” by Kahlil Gibran. Every time I read it, I either see something in new light or I am reminded of how much learning lies ahead for me as I aspire to be the person he describes.


Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

v30 – Release notes

For this year’s release notes, I thought I’d do a version of 30 hard won lessons from the past 30 years. This post could just as easily been called a list of things I write about most often on this blog or an extensive list of my notes to self.

1. Success has an intrinsic component (success by our terms) and an extrinsic component (success by the world’s terms). Extrinsic success is a function of us giving the world what it wants. Build a product the world wants and you’ll make more money than can be imagined. Build a product for a niche and you’ll be successful. Do things your customers and managers want and you’ll rise up the ladder.

But, extrinsic success is a hygiene factor. Once you have a threshold amount, it begins to matter less. Intrinsic success, the kind where we believe that we have lived a life well lived, on the other hand, is incredibly hard. It might be possible to fool the world, but it turns out to be impossible to fool the person in the mirror.

2. Money and power amplify what already exists in people. We need less than we think and it doesn’t have the power to make us happy. Some of the most extrinsically successful people are also among the unhappiest. Don’t let the media oversell you on their lives.

Related – it is always worth remembering that the greatest pleasures in life come cheap – the rush of adrenaline after play, a hug, a peaceful shit in a clean bathroom, and a night of sleep in a comfortable and quiet bedroom.

3. We can’t ask people to be grateful or to be humble or to keep a sense of humor. All we can do is help them understand reality. When they (or we) do, gratitude, humility, and a sense of humor follows

4. Emotional intelligence is ignoring what people say and watching what they do.

5. Our networks are proportional to our net worth. There are two kinds of net worth – the first is the kind that is dependent on the presence of power and money. The second is based on the character and connection we accumulate over the course of a life time. One of them is deep and the other is shallow – it turns you can’t buy friends. Or love. The most powerful networks combine both.

6. Integrity comes from the word “integer” which means whole. When we make and keep commitments, we become whole. It is hard. It is is also why our schedule is the truest reflection of our priorities.

7. Happiness is a state. Joy is a feeling. It is possible to feel sad and be happy. Our default state simply reduces the amplitude of our ups and downs and enables us to pay attention to the things that matter most in spite of all the noise. That we use the term “pay” to describe our attention is no accident.

8. Our rate of learning is proportional to what we learn from the people we spend time with (“we are the average of the five people we spend time with”), from reflecting on our own experiences, and from reading/listening to synthesized information. It is not true that we learn more from failure or only from doing. The wisest people simply make it a point to learn from all experience with habitual reflection, analysis, and synthesis.

9. Read books that are just in time instead of just in case. Somewhere along the way, we’ll find a book that changes our life. And, while we’re at it, remember that there is no difference between someone who doesn’t read and someone who can’t.

10. Compound interest is an important principle. Wealth compounds. Learning compounds too. And, as you might imagine, understanding both of these early pays dividends later. :-)

11. Productivity is Focus x intensity x time. Focus = do the right things so you can be effective, intensity = pay attention when you are doing it so you can be efficient.

Similar to compound interest, this relationship between effectiveness and efficiency shows up in many part of our life – focus and intensity, leadership and management. Doing the right things >>> doing things right.

12. Macro patience – micro speed is another principles that shows up in different places. Strategic patience – tactical impatience is a variant too. The idea is simple in theory – set directional goals, focus on process, and be patient. Of course, it is bloody hard to execute. People who focus beyond the next 6 months are the exception, not the rule.

13. Since we’re talking about important principles, the scientific method is one that needs a lot more love because of its wide-ranging applicability. The life implication – treat life as a series of experiments that will each help us gain experience and improve our judgement. As the saying goes, success comes from good judgment. Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.

14. Consciousness is the ability to be aware and then to choose. Becoming aware of the actual games being played around us, the real stakes, and the stories we are told go a long way in helping us be effective. To play chess well, we have to have a view of the 64 squares.. Not the 4 around us. It helps to take the time to get  both curious and smarter about what is actually going on. You can choose to not play the game – but, understand what the games are.

15. Our success, on average, is largely a function of privilege. The biggest drivers of whatever success we have is typically a result of where we were born and who we were born to (includes what we inherited as well as the love and care we received). Since we can’t change who we were born to, if we want to improve our standing in the world, moving zip codes is the most reliable way to move up the privilege ladder. And, education is the most reliable driver of such movement.

16. The effectiveness of a team is a function of two things – the individuals and the culture. Culture, or the collection of unsaid norms, is strategy in the long run. The best way to set culture is to do so intentionally. And, the best way to do so intentionally is to build the kind of trust that enables honest conversations about it.

Trust, contrary to belief, doesn’t need to take years to develop. It follows knowledge and understanding. Invest in getting to know your team well. That knowledge will lead to understanding why they tick and why they do what they do. Trust follows.

17. The best educators and education do two things – they give us new perspective with which to view the world and inspire us to continue learning for the rest of our life.

18. Adopting a focus on learning/growth mindset is the most important thing we can do – both for our success and happiness. The act of writing about the lessons we learn everyday is the most reliable way I know to cultivate that mindset.

19. Love is the will to extend ourselves for one’s own or another’s growth. Put differently, love means willingly stretching ourselves to grow and enabling those around us to grow. That’s why “be yourself” is bad advice. “Become yourself” is better. Becoming > Being.

20. Take the time to get to know yourself – understand your motives, what you care about, and what your nature is. There is massive benefit to working on things that feel like play to you. You actually give yourself a shot at being the best in the world at it. The best are the best because they’re doing things that feel like play.

21. That said, don’t follow your passion. Just don’t ignore it either. Unless you have a lot of financial runway (see above on privilege), study well in courses that lead you to jobs where you get paid well. Then, keep experimenting toward work that aligns with your nature/passion and purpose. Passion + purpose is a powerful combination.

22. We have two versions of us – our emotional self and our rational self – with the relationship between them being that of an elephant and rider. The rider knows the way but the elephant is way more powerful. So, attempting to persuade ourselves (and others) has to focus on the elephant. Logic drives conclusions, emotions drive action.

23. If we really zoom out, we realize that everything we’ve created is invented. We’ve invented notions like corporations and offices to keep ourselves busy, give ourselves a sense of purpose, find ways to distribute resources, and make it seem fair. These are games we play to get wealth and status. It helps to keep these games in perspective.

24. Our brand is a function of everything we do. The best way to build our brand in the long term is to show up well and do good things that impact others around us in positive ways.

25. Age and wisdom are not correlated. The truly wise have the perspective to rise above the noise of life and continuously focus on what matters. They are the equivalent of life’s athletes as they’ve figured out how to live it well. The best way to spot wisdom is to look at a person’s track record of decisions. And, the best shortcut to wisdom is to simply surround yourself by such folks.

26. From an evolutionary perspective, it is amazing how much of human behavior is driven by our urge to find better mates and have better sex.

27. The list of people who will put their life on hold for extended periods of time when you are in trouble typically begins and ends with our parents, spouse, and, depending on how we do, our kids.

That’s also why marriage, parenting, and the relationship with our parents are three of life’s most challenging learning journeys. They exist for two purposes – to teach us to become better version of ourselves and to remind us that all we have is each other.

28. Airlines tell us to use the oxygen mask for ourselves before doing so for others. For good reason. Take good care of yourself – it is impossible to take care of others otherwise. Consider starting with sleep. Quality sleep makes days look better.

29. Most long term studies on happiness point to one lesson – intrinsic happiness = relationships. We have relationships that stay for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Many incredibly special relationships last only for a reason or a season. A big part of growing up is seeing them for what they are and letting them go when it is time.

30. Much of our day to day happiness is reality over expectations. Work as hard on that denominator as you do on the numerator.

Birthday bonus 1. Worry and regret are both toxic and useless. You can’t do anything about the future. And, you did the best with what you knew and had. Now that you know better, do better.

Birthday bonus 2. Life is not a race. We share paths with people. But, we are mostly in it on our own. The only worthwhile comparison is us now versus us before now.

Birthday bonus 3. It is better to be thoughtful than smart.

And, a final birthday bonus. The days are long – but, the years are short. And, post kids, the days somehow get much longer and the years get correspondingly shorter. :-)

(Past birthday notes: 29, 282726252423)