Building Your Own Credential

The best people I know build their own credentials.

They create businesses. They write books. They organize communities.

They don’t care much about where they studied or the big companies they’ve worked for previously.

Much because it pales in comparison to what the projects they started, which is a much more impressive credential anyway.

November 26, 2020

The Compounding Effect of Doing What Scares You

Doing what scares you compounds over time.

It compounds over time because facing your fear builds courage. When you build courage, you can use that to face bigger fears. Keep doing this and you’ll soon be doing things you never imagined you can do.

It compounds over time because doing what scares you is hard. Not many people will do what scares them. Thus, doing what scares you is one way of differentiating yourself from the crowd.

Something I learned from doing what scares me is that fear is simply an emotion. One that’s not inherently good or bad. But it’s up to us how we want to perceive it.

November 25, 2020

The Day You Became a Better Writer

This short piece from Scott Adams, the writer behind Dilbert, is the basic rules to improve your writing.

I re-read this piece often, its a great reminder on how to write clearly.

I went from being a bad writer to a good writer after taking a one-day course in business writing.” I couldn’t believe how simple it was. I’ll tell you the main tricks here so you don’t have to waste a day in class.

Business writing is about clarity and persuasion. The main technique is keeping things simple. Simple writing is persuasive. A good argument in five sentences will sway more people than a brilliant argument in a hundred sentences. Don’t fight it.

Simple means getting rid of extra words. Don’t write, He was very happy” when you can write He was happy.” You think the word very” adds something. It doesn’t. Prune your sentences.

Humor writing is a lot like business writing. It needs to be simple. The main difference is in the choice of words. For humor, don’t say drink” when you can say swill.”

Your first sentence needs to grab the reader. Go back and read my first sentence to this post. I rewrote it a dozen times. It makes you curious. That’s the key.

Write short sentences. Avoid putting multiple thoughts in one sentence. Readers aren’t as smart as you’d think.

Learn how brains organize ideas. Readers comprehend the boy hit the ball” quicker than the ball was hit by the boy.” Both sentences mean the same, but it’s easier to imagine the object (the boy) before the action (the hitting). All brains work that way. (Notice I didn’t say, That is the way all brains work”?)

That’s it. You just learned 80% of the rules of good writing. You’re welcome.
November 24, 2020

Publishing Anxiety

Publishing anxiety is normal. Especially for anyone starting to write.

One reason I started my daily blog was so that I could so something that scared me every day. At first, it was thrilling, but 300 blog posts later, I’m not scared to publish anymore.

This is great because I conquered my fear of shipping. But bad because publishing anxiety is an indication of taking a creative risk; of writing something worth saying.

I’m constantly asking myself what scares me? And using that to guide me towards my next creative endeavor.

November 23, 2020

On Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome has a negative connotation to it. But I’d argue that it’s a good thing.

Yes, imposter syndrome is uncomfortable. But it means that you’re stepping out of your comfort zone. It means there’s an opportunity to learn. It means that you’re in a room with a lot people you can learn from.

The feeling of being an imposter, of feeling incompetent, is natural when learning anything new.

The cure for imposter syndrome is competence. Once you start to overcome the learning curve, and start to progress, your confidence builds and you realize that you do indeed belong here.

Next time you’re feeling imposter syndrome, embrace it.

November 22, 2020

Suffering in Imagination

We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” — Seneca

We’ve all been there.

Tomorrow, or in the coming week, there’s an important presentation at work, an interview for a dream job, or a difficult exam to write.

How do you feel right now?

If you’re anything like me, you’re feeling stressed, anxious, and nervous.

But what happens afterwards? Everything’s completely fine. I wasn’t in any real danger. In most situations, even the worst case scenario isn’t bad at all.

So why was I putting myself though all this emotional baggage? I have a tendency to overthink things. I’m sure I’m not alone. It’s hard wired into us. Back when we were hunter gatherers, overthinking things helped our ancestors survive. Nowadays, most of us are fortunate that we rarely, if ever, face fight or flight situations. But we still inherited these survival instincts.

November 21, 2020

Embrace Being Average

This idea from Reza Saeedi’s Newsletter has been top of mind

Are we better off embracing being ordinary rather than seeking perfection?

To put it another way, choosing {average and happy} over {successful and miserable}.

The pursuit of perfection, because of its unattainable nature, ends up being more destructive than it’s worth.
November 20, 2020

Potential Energy

A tennis ball resting on the ground has no potential energy.

Lift the tennis ball off the ground and it has some potential energy.

Bring the tennis ball on a helicopter ride and it has lots of potential energy.

Potential energy is stored and can be converted into different forms of energy. In this example, if the tennis ball is dropped on the helicopter ride, potential energy is converted into kinetic energy as it falls back to Earth.

We all have this stored energy called potential. Just like how I can lift a tennis ball to increase its potential we can increase our own potential too. One way, is by reading. Reading gives you the knowledge and inspiration to do amazing things. But you can read all the books you want but it doesn’t mean anything untl you convert that energy into experience.

November 19, 2020

On Death

My friend just died. I don’t know what to do.”

This was the original question asked on Reddit and the top response is one of the most remarkable reflections on death and grief that I’ve read. Here it is:

Alright, here goes. I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents.

I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.

As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.

Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.
November 18, 2020

The World’s Most Sampled Loop

Known as the Amen Break, this 4 bar drum samplebeat from the Winstons’ track, Amen, Brother, is the most sampled song in history. This loop is used by artists such as NWA, David Bowie, and Skrillex to theme songs from shows like Futurama and the Powerpuff girls.

This is a fascinating video essay on the most important sample in pop culture.

November 17, 2020

Familiar Faces

There’s something special about going to familiar places.

Before this quarantine, I went to the library and the gym nearly every day. I’d visit the library in the morning and the gym in the evening.

There were many familiar faces at these places. At first I didn’t know them. But eventually, as we became familiar, we’d give each other a slight nod, an acknowledgement of each other’s existence. A slight nod evolved into small talk, small talk evolved into conversations, conversations evolved into friendships.

I haven’t seen any of them since the quarantine started.

Simon Sarris’ piece on Familiarity and Belonging inspired this piece.

November 16, 2020

Creativity Faucet

The most interesting thing I learned this year is this mental model for generating world-class writing. pic.twitter.com/RE0Rahk3ng

— Julian Shapiro (@Julian) November 15, 2020

Through this daily blog I’m forced to write about an idea every day. It acts as my creativity faucet over the long run. Yes, some blog posts will be waste water, but what I learned is that this is part of the creative process. Eventually, the clear water will come and that’s why I keep writing.

If you want good ideas, show me your bad ideas first.

November 15, 2020 · Creativity · Writing

Showing Up Daily

A friend of mine told me about his monthly newsletter and how he hasn’t written in months. You write every day, I can’t even write once a month,” he said to me.

However, I find that writing every day is much easier than writing at a reduced frequency. For my personal newsletter, I said I’d send out an email every month. But I haven’t published since April. Writing every month is hard because there’s a lot of pressure to write something great because of the monthly cadence. The added pressure leads to publishing anxiety, and in my case procrastination.

I don’t have that excuse when I’m writing every day. Every day there’s the expectation to write and ship before I sleep. And I take that commitment seriously.

November 14, 2020

Careers and Finding Meaning

In Nick Dewilde’s article, Your work and its meaning, he explains three different ways that work plays a role in finding meaning:

  1. Work as a source of meaning
It’s hard to create meaning without facing challenging obstacles and achieving worthwhile goals. For many of us, work is the easiest place to find those things. Whether it’s investing the hours in mastering a craft or getting a life-changing product into the hands of millions of customers, work can be a tremendously fulfilling endeavor.

We’ve all heard this in the form of idioms such as do what you love” and follow your passion”. There are TV shows, documentaries, and biographies written about those that get paid to do what they love.

Most of my early heroes, even many of my current ones, fall into this bucket. For a while, I fell into this bucket too. I was career focused because I genuinely enjoyed what I was doing. As a result, I didn’t mind working longer hours and spending my free time working on my craft. I took a lot of pride in my work and I always tried to go above and beyond.

I find that many of my peers at my university derive work as their main source meaning. Where it gets toxic is when career becomes a measuring stick in how one measures themselves and others.

Before, I didn’t understand why others would want work life balance. Especially since I found so much meaning from work. Taking a sabbatical to focus on writing helped me gain that perspective. Here, I experienced that work can be an enabler of meaning.

  1. Work as an enabler of meaning

For most of history, people did not see their work as meaningful. Instead, they saw activities like raising children and caring for relatives as the stuff that made life worth living. Work simply supplied the resources to make those things possible.

However, as work has gained more prominence in our modern lives, personal pursuits can easily get overshadowed by the professional sphere. Part of work’s power comes from the incentives it offers. Earning higher salaries and promotions often provides more immediate rewards than the longer-term joys of child-rearing. Our modern society also gives people more status for their work milestones than what they accomplish outside of work. These rewards will make it tempting to surrender your time to work or turn your extracurricular activities into economic pursuits. Keep in mind what matters to you so you don’t allow it to become subservient to work’s powerful draw.

In my sabbatical, I found more meaning and fulfillment from writing than I ever did from work. However, writing is quite difficult to make a living on.

Reading this Derek Sivers’ piece opened up my mind that work does not have to be the source of meaning. You can have a job, and an artistic hobby and live a fulfilling life:

Don’t expect your job to fulfill all your emotional needs. Don’t taint something you love with the need to make money from it. Don’t try to make your job your whole life. Don’t try to make your art your sole income. Let each be what it is, and put in the extra effort to balance the two, for a great life.

I’ve thought about that piece a lot since reading it. But reading Dewilde’s article showed me a third possibility:

  1. Work as part of your portfolio of meaning
This is both the most common strategy and also the hardest to pull off. If you allow it, work will overtake everything else in your life. There is always more money to be earned. Always more status to be gained. Some days you’ll feel like you are competing with those who derive all their meaning from work and falling short. On other days you will be jealous of people who find their meaning from activities outside of work. However, just like when investing your money, a portfolio strategy is likely your best option.

This semester I realized that having a portfolio of meaning has made me more resilient. I’m not reliant on work as my main source of meaning anymore which means I don’t identify with it like before. I can find meaning in my writing after work. I can find meaning in friends and family.

November 13, 2020

Consumerism and Me

Consumerism told me that I need to wear the nicest kicks, buy the latest gadgets, and to eat the tastiest foods to be happy.

There are ads everywhere convincing me to buy stuff I don’t need or targeting an insecurity of mine.

It’s all about spending money, the more I spend the happier I’ll be. Growing up, I fell for this myth. I always wanted more.

Now, I realize that I have all the material posessions I need. Nothing more. And consumerism can’t convince me otherwise.

November 12, 2020

Project 119

In 2001, China won the bid to host the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Historically, China won most of its medals in table tennis, badminton, weightlifting, diving and gymnastics. But they were quite weak in other sports. In response, China created Project 119 to improve their medal count in these sports.

119 refers to the number of gold medals available in events that China is targeting including Track and Field, Swimming, Rowing & Canoe/Kayak and Sailing. A total of 119 gold medals are available at these events.

New training facilities were built, top foreign coaches were hired with hefty contracts, and more than $700 million was invested into China’s olympic program.

The results? China won 51 gold, 15 more than the second place US with 36 gold medals.

November 11, 2020

Snowboarding in Times Square

Lately I’ve been watching a lot of Casey Neistat. He’s an inspiration to many friends of mine and he also had a daily creative practice of vlogging everyday. For me, Casey embodies the free spirit of an artist.

His most popular vlog, and my favorite video of his, is him snowboarding in New York City during a blizzard.

November 10, 2020

Ray Bradbury’s Advice for Writers

When I first made my writing intentions known, I asked one of coworkers at the time, a former English professor for advice. The next day she handed me a printed copy of Ray Bradbury’s Greatest Writing Advice. This was a year ago, I’ve never written for leisure before. And reflecting on it, this piece was hugely influential to me as a writer.

I originally got the idea of a semester at the library from this piece.

You don’t become a writer by taking writing classes

“I took a writing course in summer school in 1939, when I was in high school. But it didn’t work. The secret of writing was, to go and live in the library two or four days a week for ten years. I graduated from the library having read every single book in it. And along the way I wrote every day of every week of every month, for every year. And in ten years, I became a writer.””

I wouldn’t be writing every day either if it wasn’t for Bradbury’s advice.

Quantity creates quality

The best hygiene for beginning writers or intermediate writers is to write a hell of a lot of short stories. If you can write one short story a week—it doesn’t matter what the quality is to start, but at least you’re practicing, and at the end of the year you have 52 short stories, and I defy you to write 52 bad ones. Can’t be done. At the end of 30 weeks or 40 weeks or at the end of the year, all of a sudden a story will come that’s just wonderful.

He was also the first to teach me what a writer’s information diet looks like. That I need to open my mind, read beyond books, and a few select genres.

Read these three things every night

What you’ve got to do from this night forward is stuff your head with more different things from various fields . . . I’ll give you a program to follow every night, very simple program. For the next thousand nights, before you go to bed every night, read one short story. That’ll take you ten minutes, 15 minutes. Okay, then read one poem a night from the vast history of poetry. Stay away from most modern poems. It’s crap. It’s not poetry! It’s not poetry. Now if you want to kid yourself and write lines that look like poems, go ahead and do it, but you’ll go nowhere. Read the great poets, go back and read Shakespeare, read Alexander Pope, read Robert Frost. But one poem a night, one short story a night, one essay a night, for the next 1,000 nights. From various fields: archaeology, zoology, biology, all the great philosophers of time, comparing them. Read the essays of Aldous Huxley, read Lauren Eisley, great anthropologist. . . I want you to read essays in every field. On politics, analyzing literature, pick your own. But that means that every night then, before you go to bed, you’re stuffing your head with one poem, one short story, one essay—at the end of a thousand nights, Jesus God, you’ll be full of stuff, won’t you?

For anyone aspriing to become a writer, listen to Ray Bradbury’s advice.

November 9, 2020

Goldilocks Desire

This past internship hunt I didn’t get what I wanted.

I wanted to work at a big name company that compensated well with work life balance. Intrinsically, internships aren’t that important for me, but extrinsically, I want to impress others with my credentials. I’d sometimes look at my LinkedIn profile and I’d visualize how sweet it’d look with that big name company on it.

This extrinsic pressure reached an all time high for me last internship hunt. Before, internships came to me effortlessly but this time around that wasn’t the case. A big part of it is due to the declining economy and the global pandemic. But even in the interviews I got, I came off as desperate and I found the whole process to be emotionally draining.

What I learned is that there’s a goldilocks principle to desire: you need to want it, but not too much.

If you lack the desire you’ll simply lose motivation.

But if you have too much desire you become your own obstacle. You become filled with negative emotions like stress, anxiety, and fear. These emotions not only become emotionally draining but they also inhibit your performance when given the opportunities as well. Rather, we are at our best when we perform like we have nothing to lose.

I find that this goldilocks principle of desire is a universal one if you want anything. Whether it be an internship, that cute girl/boy, or getting accepted into that exclusive fellowship.

Notes

[1] Even though I didn’t get what I did end up landing an awesome opportunity to work at a edtech startup with a serial founder in a position I want to be in. What I’m lacking in big name reputation and compensation I’m making up for in experience.

November 8, 2020

Creative Energy

Creative energy is a finite resource.

This is something to consider when choosing a side hustle or a job. If your job or side hustle both use the same creative resources then one might drain the other.

For example, Conor Friedersdorf, a writer for the Atlantic, wrote frequently on his blog before he landed his current gig at the Atlantic. He found that he was creatively drained from work and didn’t have the energy to write on his blog. Instead, he began to curate the best content he read and share it through a newsletter, an activity that was less creatively draining but also complimentary to his day job.

November 7, 2020

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