I came across a thought provoking tweet recently – “Be careful about getting good at things you don’t want to do.”
As obvious as that sounds, it is fairly easy to fall into that trap if we are solving for extrinsic measures of success – more money, prestigious roles, better titles, etc. And, extrinsic measures tend to be a natural outcome if all we solve for is “what should I do next?”
A better approach tends to be to to invest in solving who we want to be instead of what we want to do.
It is more upfront investment to understand our motives and values. But, once we do the legwork, solving what we want to do in a way that actually helps us get good at things we want to do turns out to be surprisingly tractable.
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.”
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.
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?
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. “
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.
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.