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)

Trading problems and progress

Difficult problems presented by life don’t go away when we make a big decision or two. Instead, our decisions just enable us to trade one set of problems for another.

Progress, then, is all about trading problems we don’t like working on with problems we don’t mind (or even enjoy) working on.

No problems isn’t an option. Better problems is.

Retirement and cognitive decline

A close friend of my late grandfather passed way recently. The pattern of his decline prior to his death, however, was unerringly similar.

My grandfather, till the age of 67, was admired for his relative youth. He went for a swim everyday at the community pool near our home, ran a cost accounting business with a partner, read a lot, and was active. At 67, however, he decided (with his partner) to shut down their business and “retire.”

Every year, for the next ten years, he aged at the rate of three years for every one. The average amount of television he watched per day went up during this period from one hour to ten hours. His physical decline during this period was the hardest for us to stomach. He went from walking and swimming a lot to barely being able to move. His last years were tough on him.

The fable of the frog in boiling water may not be real but its implications for human behavior are definitely true. We were caught unawares by this gradual transformation. And, before we realized something was very wrong, it was too late.

This close friend’s story was similar – his cognitive decline after “retirement” was swift.

The world’s population is ageing. Combine that with advances in medicine and we have a generation that is also going to live longer than any other. As we all learn to deal with our ageing grandparents, parents, and eventually, ourselves, it is worth remembering that the enemy is cognitive decline. There is a lot of truth the phrase “its all in the mind.” Physical decline follows cognitive decline (while this was our observation, it may be that there’s a feedback loop that accelerates both).

My lesson from this experience was – Don’t allow your loved ones to “retire.” Find ways to keep them mentally engaged and away from excessive television.

Death is a natural part of the life experience – but, severe cognitive and physical decline needn’t be.

Reflections from replacing a screen protector

I received a replacement screen protector recently (warranty). As detail oriented tasks are not my strong suit, I went to an AT&T store to request help with putting it on my phone screen.

A minute into the procedure (for the lack of a better word), the sales associate who kindly helped out was getting visibly frustrated. He had aligned it nicely but was unable to remove four remnant air bubbles. So, I gave it a try and got the number down to two – both of which were below the screen.

As he was steeling himself to try again, I thanked him for his time and explained that I’d be happy to live with this.

I admittedly came home and tinkered with it for another minute – but, I stopped.

For every such decision, I can think of multiple – big and small – where I’ve wasted a lot of time attempting to get to better and then to perfect. No good has come out of that wasted time.

The list of things worth maximizing in this life are very short. The sooner we realize that, the easier and happier our days are.

And, in case you are wondering about screen protector – I haven’t noticed it yet. When I do, I plan to do what I generally do when dealing with damaged objectives – I remind myself that the bubbles exist to remind me that life isn’t perfect.

It isn’t – thanks heavens for that.

Sometimes all you need is a bit of perspective

We faced a few situations in the past few weeks during which we were well in over our heads. These situations involved some combination of a sick kid or kids, visits to the doctor, cleaning up puke – lots of puke, and feelings of exhaustion.

I vividly remember a few moments during these weeks when it occurred to me that, sometimes, all you need (and have?) is a bit of perspective.

When many of these things are going against you, it is easy to drift unconsciously into zones that attract self-pity or whinging or general unhappiness.

The truth, however, is generally far from it.

In our situation for example – the kids are building immunity, we are learning plenty about each other thanks to an extended stretch in the trenches, we are lucky to not be stressed about affording medicines or insurance, and, most importantly, we are dealing with tractable, non-chronic, problems.

Once we summon that bit of perspective and realize that these brief (at least in the grand scheme of things) trysts with chaos and exhaustion will pass, we realize quickly that there is a lot to smile about. It is all relative – all is actually well.

All that leads to the following note to self – expect problems, eat them for breakfast, smile, hug, laugh, and go do things that makes this experience better for everyone else.

All the noise

There’s all this noise. The news, the chatter about others we know, the chatter from others we know, the plaudits about the movers and shakers of the day, and everything else that we think we need to keep up with.

The default setting for the noise in our lives at this time is “on.” And, it is easy to forget that none of it matters unless we earn our livelihood by writing about the noise.

For most of the rest of us, all that counts is just what we do with what we control and how thoughtfully we do it.

The more time we can spend with the noise turned off, the more we’ll ship, the better we’ll get at shipping what we want to ship, and, if we’re thoughtful about it, we might learn a thing or two about living these days better.

So, let’s put those proverbial headphones and get to work.

Entertainment on the cheap

I hung out with my daughter for about an hour today while she happily ran up and down carpeted stairs. We conversed a bit, sang a bit, and mostly just went up and down those stairs. Times like this are a great reminder that there’s so much entertainment available on the cheap.

As we journey through life, we get exposed to many forms of expensive entertainment – fancy gadgets, expensive sports, and so on. And, while many of these are great, it is easy to forget how little it actually takes for us to have a good time.

As I was taught this morning, a combination of some physical activity, outdoors or a bit of novelty in the location (in this case, carpeted stairs), and folks you like hanging out with is all it takes for a good time.

I wish you plenty of that over the weekend. :-)