Transient

I was reflecting on the sudden death of a young friend yesterday and was reminded of just how transient this life is.

It is so easy to get caught up in the all consuming puzzle/issue/tiff/ego battle of the moment. It is easy to forget that these things can change in an instant.

Reminders of our mortality are powerful reminders to keep perspective. This was one of them. It also reminded me of a lovely quote I once read – “Be kind to each other. The world will roll on without you.”

Indeed.

Societal success and scale

It strikes me that one of the biggest challenges we face is reconciling our desire to be successful by societal definitions while not giving up on being successful by our definition.

The challenge lies in the fact that extrinsic measures tend to be breadth focused (e.g. number of customers/successful exits/employees) while the stuff that make us feel intrinsically successful tend to be depth focused (e.g. deep relationships, immersive experiences).

Anyone who has built products or services has faced this in their work. It is much easier to move vanity metrics than it to create meaningful impact.

The answer, in work and in life, isn’t to shun extrinsic measures and breadth. We need some of it to ensure it doesn’t get in the way of us getting to the intrinsic stuff.

The challenge, however, is not being so sucked in by the allure of breadth and scale that we forget that its main purpose is to enable the depth we really seek.

Put differently, the optimal strategy tends to be to do things that scale easily so we can then spend more of our time doing things that don’t scale.

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?

Human-size life

I was reminded of a post I’d shared 3 years ago from Dave Winer’s blog (one of the first regular blogs on the internet) called “Your human-size life.

Dave wrote the post to explain why the narrative we have on wealth in society – “Until you’re rich, you’re miserable. Once you’re rich, it’s all great!” – is deeply flawed. And, there is a quote from that post that has stuck with me over the years.

One of the biggest mistakes rich people make is to try to live larger than a single human being can. A mathematical impossibility. You can buy a big house, but you can only sleep in one bedroom at a time. You can own twenty fantastic cars, airplanes and yachts, but you can only be in one at a time. You can own an NBA team and a MLB team, and you get to sit in the nicest seat in the house at games, but you still can only sit in one seat. In other words, your humanity doesn’t increase just because your wealth did.

At the end of the day, we can only sleep in one bedroom, drive in one car, work on one desk, and be in one place. If we’re lucky, we get to do all of this while spending time with people we care about  and spending at least some portion of our day struggling to solve problems that matter.

Or, as Dave puts it –

“I think we all need a struggle, I think that’s where our creativity comes from. We need something that feels unattainable, but actually is not. But the struggle to rise above our humanity, that’s not going to happen for any of us. And the desire to have it robs your very human life of any value. 

Joe had it right. Live a gentle human-size life. Go for a walk in your middle-class neighborhood and run into a friend of a friend and share what you see, and influence their life for the better. That’s the kind of thing a human can do. And it is, imho, where happiness comes from. “

No one has the right answers on the difficult questions

Life presents us with difficult questions every day.

What’s the right way to balance/integrate work and life?
What do you choose to value?
How should you balance between the short term and the long term?
Should you persist?
What should you prioritize given the information you have?

There are many who claim to have the answer. For example, some will tell you that the secret to managing a workplace is by working in a calm workplace. Others will tell you it is all about your work ethic when you are building your career. And, yet some others will tell you it is all about achieving financial independence to do what you want.

All of these may be the right answers.

But, there is no guarantee they will work for you.

By all means, read the best books/posts on the questions you’re asking and listen to folks who challenge your thinking.

But, once you do the work, find some silence and ask yourself what the answer should be. Only you understand your circumstances and constraints. Only you can find a path that works for you… a path that will inevitably lead to more difficult questions that no one else will have the answers for.

Long term games with long term people

Investor Naval Ravikant had a great tweet storm on “How to get rich” (his notes on extrinsic success) a few months back. He has since been publishing a great series expanding on the various ideas he tweeted about on his blog. And, yesterday’s post resonated deeply as it contains powerful life advice – “Play long term games with long term people.”

The summary –

(1) Pick an industry where you can play long-term games with long-term people. Long-term players make each other rich. Short-term players make themselves rich.

(2) All returns in life come from compound interest over many turns of long-term games—and they usually come at the end.

(3) People do right by each other when they know they’ll be around for the next turn of the game. And friction goes down, so you can do bigger and bigger things together.

I think the implication of his first point – “Long term players make other rich” – is key and extends well beyond money. When we are in relationships for the long term, we end up investing deeply in the richness of the lives of those around us. Thanks to the way compounding works, those investments pay off incredibly well the long term for everyone involved.

So, become someone who thinks and plays long term games. Then, find partners, friends, and colleagues who are in it with you. It is a powerful combination.

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)