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Work alone

From Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, there’s this excerpt from the memoir of Steve Wozniak, the quieter and lesser known of the two Steves who founded Apple:

“Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me—they’re shy and they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone where they can control an invention’s design without a lot of other people designing it for marketing or some other committee. I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee. If you’re that rare engineer who’s an inventor and also an artist, I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone. You’re going to be best able to design revolutionary products and features if you’re working on your own. Not on a committee. Not on a team.”

I do think that group work is overrated. Group brainstorming, even, has been shown to actually come up with fewer ideas than when individuals work on idea generation alone.

A team possibly can improve your ideas and offer feedback and new possibilities and enact plans to execute ideas, but the fundamental work is likely done on your own, in your zone.

In a gentle way

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
–Mahatma Gandhi

Fuming and stomping around and violence and outrageous behavior may get headlines and clicks. 

But the most profound ideas and rapturous creations and the big-hearted movements that actually propelled our species forward all emerged originally from a quiet place and came in a gentle way. 

The ambivert advantage

I’m currently reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop TalkingIt’s making me realize my personality is a fairly even split of introversion and extroversion; I suppose that makes me an “ambivert”, and I’m sure most people are more split than they assume.

Most people who know me wouldn’t hesitate to label me an extrovert. I’m sure I come across publicly as gregarious and not at all spotlight-averse.

But I prefer alone time over group time. A great lunch for me is lunch by myself with something good to read. I tend to choose staying in over going out and one-on-one conversation rather than a dinner party with a crowd. But if I’m at a dinner party, I can, if I choose, be engaging and even entertaining. (I’m hilarious, right friends?) I don’t enjoy small talk, but I can hold my own

My two primary peak experiences when I work, though, are seemingly at opposite ends of the personality spectrum.

I fall into a sort of creative bliss when working alone and getting into a flow state where I lose track of time and ideas appear and possibilities bubble up.

But I get a different kind of high that’s just as satisfying when I stand on a stage and connect with an audience, often about the ideas that came about in that isolated flow state. That peak on-stage experience is also a flow state. 

I’m most creative alone after having some time to get into a zone. I’m most alive when I’m in front of an audience sharing what I crafted in that alone time. 

I had a colleague in my first career when I was a staff member on Capitol Hill who regularly wanted to pull up a chair next to me so we could write together. That did not work. And I finally told him just to send me his ideas, and I would synthesize them on my own.

I’ve learned to structure my time around what works best for me. I don’t seek out lunch appointments or group work. I make sure to get plenty of down time before and after presentations. I value long stretches of quiet time.

Know yourself. Look back on your peak moments, your most productive environments, and your most satisfying states. Determine how best to bolster your strengths and hack your personality to more completely fulfill your nature.

Sunday night Stoic: Perspective

Meditations 10.17: 

“Continual awareness of all time and space, of the size and life span of the things around us. A grape seed in infinite space. A half twist of a corkscrew against eternity.”

For every grain of sand on earth there are at least 10,000 stars in the visible universe.

The universe is more than 13 billion years old. 

I’ll be fortunate to live 70 years.

I am small. My time is fleeting.

But I am here, right now. 

Live your life.

Excellent links

Some of the best things I found on the internet this week:

  • Why former 49er Chris Borland is the most dangerous man in football – Borland quit the NFL after one year out of concern for how the violence of the sport would damage his brain. He is bright and thoughtful and talented, but walking away from a lucrative, high-profile athletic career was a no-brainer (pun intended) to him in light of the possible consequences over the long-term. Is football our watered down, but still violent, version of the Roman Colosseum?

Cassini, Saturn, Dione, and hope

NASA’s Cassini probe this week sent back stunning photos of Saturn’s moon, Dione, which is one of the 64 moons orbiting the crown jewel of the solar system. 

That thin black line behind Dione in the image above is the edge of Saturn’s rings. Amazing. 

We can fling a tiny piece of gadgetry a billion miles away and see what 2 million years of human existence couldn’t possibly imagine. Before this image I had never heard of this moon. 

For all our woes and inanities and immaturity as a species, achievements like this glimmer with hope for what we can do and be. 

Bertrand Russell on the good life

Kottke posted a link to University of Utah professor Matt Might’s thoughtful career and life advice.

There is so much worth pondering in that post. But the career applications especially stand out. 

Might’s academic career floundered when he saw his work as a means to an end. But his work flourished when he did work for its inherent value and for its meaning to him. 

Focus on being awesome, not on being successful. 

And he shared a portion of this quote: 

“The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge. Knowledge and love are both indefinitely extensible; therefore, however good a life may be, a better life can be imagined. Neither love without knowledge, nor knowledge without love can produce a good life.” –Bertrand Russell

So good. 

Love and knowledge. Beauty and truth. 

Indefinitely extensible. 


Enough to fill a life. 

A good life. 

Stephen Colbert on radical acceptance and steering toward fear

Stephen Colbert will be taking over David Letterman’s old slot on The Late Show soon. This GQ profile of Colbert by Joel Lovell is so good.

The writer goes much deeper than Colbert’s take on comedy and television. Colbert’s father and two of his brothers were killed in a plane crash when he was a 10-year-old. He ended up channeling that pain in a profound way.

From the article:

He said he trained himself, not just onstage but every day in life, even in his dream states, to steer toward fear rather than away from it. “I like to do things that are publicly embarrassing,” he said, “to feel the embarrassment touch me and sink into me and then be gone. I like getting on elevators and singing too loudly in that small space. The feeling you feel is almost like a vapor. The discomfort and the wishing that it would end that comes around you. I would do things like that and just breathe it in.” He stopped and took in a deep yogic breath, then slowly shook his head. “Nope, can’t kill me. This thing can’t kill me.”… And then he said, “Obviously there’s something defensive about it. What you’re doing is sipping little bits of arsenic so that you can’t be poisoned by the rest of your discomfort. You’re Rasputin-ing your way through the rest of your life.”

This is classic Stoicism. Face the pain. Embrace the obstacle.

He had an improv teacher who challenged students to “love the bomb”, to relish failure and use it as fuel to make you better.

And Colbert took that lesson well beyond the mere embarrassment of screwing up on stage:

 “ ‘You gotta learn to love the bomb,’ ” he said. “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it. So that’s why. Maybe, I don’t know. That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

“I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.” –Stephen Colbert

Why resist what has happened? Time travel is not an option. Radical acceptance is.

It’s been ten years since my mother died. I can’t say so clearly, as Colbert does, that “I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.” But I can be grateful for what I had in my 41 years with my mom and what I still hold on to, not only from memories of her but also from how her loss has challenged me and hopefully given me gifts and graces and perspective that I otherwise would not have.

The article concludes powerfully:

“ ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”

The next thing he said I wrote on a slip of paper in his office and have carried it around with me since. It’s our choice, whether to hate something in our lives or to love every moment of them, even the parts that bring us pain. “At every moment, we are volunteers.”

The kind of life you lead

“You are scared of dying—and, tell me, is the kind of life you lead really any different than being dead?” –Seneca


Tough love from Seneca.

And I had one of those days today. I didn’t do a lot of living in the past 24 hours. I just muddled through and don’t have much to show for it. I didn’t cause any harm or make life worse for anyone, but I don’t have any highlights to make this day particularly worth remembering.

It was better than being dead, though.

Note to self: If you regularly remind yourself that someday, you indeed will be dead, you just might add a little more life and meaning to days that otherwise might get muddled through. Actively lead your life so you can truly live your life. 

ht @RyanHoliday

Sunday night Stoic: Think on these things

I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of the late Christopher Hitchens’s autobiography, Hitch-22: A Memoir. Hitchens was notable for his eloquence and strongly stated opinions on controversial topics.

He was no man of faith, but tells in his memoir that he chose the scripture reading for his father’s funeral. It was Phillipians 4:8:

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

I was reminded of what an excellent verse it is. And it could just as easily look like a line pulled straight from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. It has a clear Stoic shine to it.

This line from Paul’s letter would be a fine bit of scripture for anyone’s memorial service.

When I was a young man, I wrote a personal mission statement that began with this line:

“Pursue truth no matter the cost.”

I regularly have fallen short of that audacious aim. Often the cost of such a pursuit is more than I’m willing to pay. But that pursuit challenges me even more now.

I’m no scientist or activist. I’m not on any heroic, risk-filled quest to right wrongs. But I still care deeply about being true and honoring honest inquiry and letting go of comfortable fictions that only obscure reality.

I want to retain the curiosity that compels discontent with mere conventional wisdom and popular opinion.

I want to fill my mind with what is true and honest and just and pure and lovely.

These are the things most worthy of our attention.

Excellent Saturday morning links

Here are some of the best things I found on the internet this week:

  • How is the Apple Watch doing? – Benedict Evans gives a thoughtful assessment of Apple’s latest creation and where it fits in our gadget lineup. It has me browsing the Apple Watch page again, wondering if I can see myself wearing one.
  • Vertical Video on the Small Screen? Not a CrimeThe New York Times‘s Farhad Manjoo argues the case that vertical video is not just okay but has some aesthetic merits over standard landscape/horizontal presentation of video. I am not convinced. The screen I look at most days is a big 27-inch iMac, so vertical video just looks wrong and amateurish on it. However, if your primary screen is your phone, as is becoming the case for so many now, I can see where this is headed. Snapchat and Periscope and other such apps are defaulting to vertical and going with the flow of how most people use their devices. But I don’t have to like it. If you ever want to show your videos on a big screen—your TV or your computer—it’s worth the tiny little effort to rotate your phone before pressing record.
  • I asked atheists how they find meaning in a purposeless universe – This BuzzFeed piece is filled with thoughtful and interesting responses to living in a seemingly indifferent universe. It’s long, so if you only read one response, scroll to the bottom and read the last one by Jan Doig. Her story is bittersweet and heartbreaking and, yet, I found it profoundly hopeful.

We are all actors

I’m listening to Mark Maron’s WTF podcast interview with Sir Ian McKellen. McKellen is the eminent Shakespearean actor who is better known currently for his recent film roles as Gandalf.

In his conversation with Maron, McKellen speaks passionately about his appreciation of the works of Shakespeare. And he focuses on one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines: “All the world’s a stage…”

“If you understand that about human beings, that we are all actors, it will illuminate your life… When you get up in the morning, you decide what costume you’re going to wear.” –Sir Ian McKellen

We are all actors. Life’s a play, and you get to perform a role.

But you don’t have to play the role you’ve been handed or that you’ve fallen into.

You can invent your own character in this play. And you can keep reinventing yourself as often as you want.

Be who you want to be. Act as if you are who you wish you were.

It’s just a play.

Put your all into your part of it.

Enjoy the show.

Witness to the universe

“If I ask myself ‘What is life for?’ I have to answer: ‘Wrong question.’ You don’t ask how your foot knows to push the blood in your toes back up to your heart. It happens, but your foot doesn’t know how it knows to do it. Life isn’t for anything, but it does matter. We are a witness to the universe. We are the witnesses to each other. We believe each other into being. We generate things and people that matter to us and to others. Human life is such a bizarre, endlessly complex riot of emotions and processes; it is amazing to be one.” –Jennifer Michael Hecht

This is one of many thoughtful responses in a BuzzFeed article on finding meaning in a seemingly indifferent universe.


“The first product of self-knowledge is humility.” –Flannery O’Connor

Self-importance diminishes as self-awareness increases. 

The more you know, about yourself and the universe you swim in, the more you realize how much you don’t know. About anything. 

If you’re feeling like you are big time, you’re wrong. 

And you’re heading in the wrong direction. 

School yourself, rule yourself


The table my wife had awaiting our girls today when they got off the school bus. She’s kind of amazing.

The last day of the school year and the first day of the school year are two of the happiest days. 

My daughters returned to school today, and there was much rejoicing. 

The kids are excited about new adventures, new teachers, and old friends. 

The parents are excited to have some structure back in their kids’ days. Last week my daughters were stretching the bonds of sisterhood as well as each others’ patience (and mine). School resumed just in time.

There’s a delight to a new beginning of any sort, especially as a school kid. Crisp, unfilled notebooks. Fresh pencils and new pens. New teachers and classmates. 

Possibilities dazzle. Anything could happen.

Even though I’m not in school, the rhythm of the season works for me, too. It’s a chance for me to start fresh as well. The daily routines that school days impose on my family can reinstill some discipline in my life.

I’m recommitting to daily habits that the leisurely pace of the summer months saw me neglect. 

School is back. So is my focus. Time to get busy being more awesome

Spiritual affinity

This was one of the readings at my wedding 13 years ago today:

“It is wrong to think that love comes from long companionship and persevering courtship. Love is the offspring of spiritual affinity. And unless that affinity is created in a moment, it will not be created in years or even generations.” –Kahlil Gibran

A bold statement that may not apply so universally, but it has been true for me.

Sunday night Stoic: From above

Meditations 9.30:

“To see them from above: the thousands of animal herds, the rituals, the voyages on calm or stormy seas, the different ways we come into the world, share it with one another, and leave it. Consider the lives led once by others, long ago, the lives to be led by others after you, the lives led even now, in foreign lands. How many people don’t even know your name. How many will soon have forgotten it. How many offer you praise now—and tomorrow, perhaps, contempt. That to be remembered is worthless. Like fame. Like everything.”

Up close our lives seem immense and neverending. Our problems and worries and regrets consume us and block the view of reality, which, of course, dwarfs our little worlds.

If you could see from above and from beyond, though, imagine your perspective.

Saturday morning links

Here are some articles I found online this week that are worth reading:

And don’t miss the beautiful video he created: We Call This Home – 3 Years Around the World Travel.

  • The Confession of Arian Foster – This ESPN The Magazine feature tells the story of NFL star running back Arian Foster and his openness about not believing in any supernatural power. It seems odd that this is a story, but he is considered the first American professional athlete, at least the first high profile one, who is openly skeptical about religion. Foster comes across as remarkably thoughtful, as one who is truly discontent with the unexamined life.

See also this excellent post by Foster from two years ago: 6 Things I’ll Try to Teach My Daughter.

  • Inviting Mara to Tea – Psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach was featured on Tim Ferriss’s podcast recently. This post by Brach tells the story of how the Buddha welcomed and made peace with heartache and worry. Accept what comes with gentleness. Resistance is futile. 
  • And this TED Talk about Google’s self-driving car project is remarkable: How a Driverless Car Sees the Road. (via @FarnamStreet) Twenty-five years from now driving your own car may be the exception, and you might need special permission to do it, kind of like a hunting license or a gun permit.
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