How to know if you’re an employee or a freelancer

People with normal jobs often dream of becoming a freelancer.

They imagine that being a freelancer means they’ll be they’re own boss, and that they’ll never have to do work they don’t enjoy.

They’re wrong.

Both employees and freelancers have bosses. In fact, freelancers have many bosses.

Both employees and freelancers have to do work they don’t like. But freelancers actually have to do even more of the work they dislike. Have you every met a freelancer who enjoys administration? Me neither.

There are really only two things that freelancers have that employees don’t.

  1. The freedoms to say no to clients they don’t like.
  2. The freedom to pursue clients of their choosing.

If you never exercise either of those freedoms, then it doesn’t matter that you’re “self-employed”. You’re still acting like an employee.

With freedom comes responsibility. If you’re not ready to take responsibility for those freedoms, they you’re not ready to be a freelancer, and you should probably keep your day job.

But once you learn how to exercise those freedoms, that’s when you work starts to get better. That’s when you start to thrive. That’s when you truly become a freelancer.

Count your blessings, then share them.

No matter what country we live in, we all have a lot to be thankful for.

The fact that you’re using Instagram means you have a smart phone, which means you have enough money to pay for a data plan, which means you live in a place with a high-bandwidth mobile network, which means you live in a developed country, enjoying the conveniences of thousands of years of technological progress.

If you’re reading this, you probably have enough to eat, enough clothes to wear, and a safe place to sleep at night. Maybe you’re even lucky enough to have a family that loves you. Maybe you’ll even see them all for Thanksgiving.

But if you’re lucky enough to have any of these things, remember there are some people who aren’t so fortunate. Remember there are some people who pay that they had one tenth of the good things you have.

Thanksgiving may be a time for counting blessings, but remember you have the rest of the year to share them.

It’s lonely at the top… and at the extremes.

Few can keep up with a marathon runner. But just as few have the patience to sit still.

Few can debate at the level of Noam Chomsky. But just as few have the compassion to converse with the mentally handicapped.

Few are as virtuous as Mother Theresa, or Ghandi. But fewer still will lend company to a murderer, or a criminal outcast.

The extremes are lonely by definition.

Some extremes are thus upon us, but others we choose.

Regardless of the metric, if you hold yourself to too high or too low a standard, you’ll soon find yourself alone.

The pursuit of any virtue can result in loneliness. But loneliness itself is not a virtue.

When you pursue extremes, make sure you’re aware of the tradeoffs. And make sure your pursue the right ones.

“Catch me if you can” and the importance of goals.

Frank Abagnale, (of “Catch me if you Can” fame) is one of the most infamous con artists in history.

Between the ages of 15 and 21, he forged thousands of checks, impersonated 8 different identities–including a pilot, doctor, and lawyer– flew over a million miles on Pan Am airlines and stayed in hotels all for free, passed the bar exam in Alabama, and even bluffed his way out of prison.

Eventually he was caught and sent back to prison, but the federal government released him early on the condition that he work undercover, for free, helping them prevent and uncover fraud, forgery, and identity theft.

Later, on assignment in Texas, Abagnale met the woman who would later become his wife. Abagnale claims it was her love, and nothing else, that turned his life around. They went on to have 3 children, and Abagnale started his own company, offering security consulting to banks, financial institutions, and government agencies, including the FBI, where he has been a trusted advisor for over 40 years.

Most people consider Frank Abagnale to be an absolute genius, but he insists that he is not. In his words…

“I was never a genius. I was a just a scared kid trying to survive. If I had really been a genius, I would have found a way to do that without having to resort to forgery and theft.”

His “genius” was ability to achieve his goals at whatever cost. But his goals at the time were nothing more than to earn money illegally, and avoid arrest.

It wasn’t until he changed his goals–to support his family and serve his country–that his life started to transform, and his real genius came to light.

Smarts matter, but our goals matter more.

The Maternity Leave Feedback Loop

The USA is the only developed country in the world without government-funded paid leave for mothers.

The closest thing we have to a federal maternity leave policy is the “Family and Medical Leave Act,” singed in 1993.

Under this law, if your company has 50 or more employees that work with a 75 mile radius, then you are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, and you company has to save your position for you while your gone. Oddly enough, only about 60% of working women even qualify for this unpaid leave. (And if you’re in the top 10% of earners, you don’t qualify!) And of those 60% who do qualify, it turns out that only 36% actually take the full 12 weeks!

The reason for this is simple. Most people can’t afford to go 12 weeks without getting paid.

This creates a problematic feedback look for employers. They see mothers coming back to work soon after the child is born, and so they assume that women either don’t want or don’t need more maternity leave. Imagine it, “They don’t even take the 12 weeks… they must love working here!” — Yeah, as if.

So how many companies actually provide paid leave?

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 60% of American employers have some sort of paid leave policy. This is usually only partial pay, such as 50% of your wages, for 6 weeks.

But here’s the rub. Despite 60% of employers having policies, it turns out that only 12% of working women actually receive paid maternity leave in the US.

The natural conclusion from this data is that American business culture is, to a degree, anti-child. Or perhaps the assumption is that only wealthy mothers deserve to spend time with their newborns. Or perhaps employers are scared that a cushy maternity leave will be taken advantage of.

The irony is that better maternity leave tends to make healthier, happier, and more loyal employees. It also tends to benefit the children, which in turn make healthier citizens.

It’s a human centered design problem. Innovation welcomed.

Bad Apples, Good Grafts

Apple trees aren’t grown from seeds.

If you plant an apple seed, you won’t get the same type of apple you planted. Instead, you’ll get a random variety of apple, a “crab apple” tree. The odds that the resulting apples will even taste good are one in thousands.

In fact, apple breeders will germinate thousands of trees from controlled crosses, and still only end up with one or two sellable varieties. This is where the phrase “a good apple” comes from.

Apple trees are made from grafts. A farmer takes a cutting from an existing tree, and he grafts it onto a generic root stock.

This means that for any apple variety you buy in a grocery store, every apple and every tree comes from a direct graft of the original. All Gala apples in the world come from just one tree.

Knowledge works in a similar way.

While we can learn a lot from personal experience, it is not usually sufficient to make us experts in our field. For that, we need to graft knowledge from those who have already discovered it. A very small minority of us will have breakthroughs, but these will later be grafted by others so that they too can share the knowledge.

It’s a double edged sword. If we never stray from the norm, we’ll never make anything new. But if we’re always making new apples, we’ll never send any to market.

Originality, innovation, genius – those things are hard to find. In the mean time, we graft.

Standard of Living Vs. Quality of Life

Standard of living is material. It’s the things you’re used to.

Quality of life is spiritual. It’s the relative fulfillment you feel.

When I first lived in Senegal, I was surprised by the level of poverty I perceived compared to my American standards.

In the six months that I lived there, most people I met did not own a car, nor a TV, let alone a computer. Many cooked over wood or propane stoves, ate from communal dishes while sitting on the floor, and slept on foam mats, often in the same room. Electricity was scarce, and hot water was a rarified luxury, that is if they had running water at all.

But despite the apparent poverty, the people of Senegal seem to be happy.

People have jobs they were proud of, communities they care about, and friends they see often. Families eat together, laugh together, and stay together. Pick-up sports leagues are as common for adults as they are for children. Night life is lively. Parties are frequent. Meals are cooked fresh every day. There is a strong sense of national identity. And most importantly, people have dignity.

How many Americans can say the same?

Making Things vs. Making Things Happen

Three years ago, I started a web design company. I didn’t know anything about running a business, but I knew a lot about the web, and I loved to make things, so I thought it would be a great fit. But I was wrong.

My clients didn’t care that I loved to make things, and they didn’t care if I liked what I made. What they really cared about was whether or not I could help bring about a change in their business.

I realized they weren’t paying me to make things, they were paying me to make things happen. That changed everything.

We shifted from a design-driven approach to a customer-driven approach.

I switched from designing to managing.

Our clients switched from one-off engagements to ongoing trusted partnerships.

At first it was hard to let go, but now that I’ve switched, I know I’ll never go back.

I still love making things, but I love making things happen even more.

Start with the marshmallow on top

A couple times a year I teach a workshop called “Into to Design Thinking” where we do this exercise called the Marshmallow Challenge (invented by Tom Wujec).

The room breaks into groups of four or five, and each group is given a box of spaghetti sticks, a ball of string, a roll of masking tape, and single marshmallow. Using the materials provided, each group tries to build the tallest possible tower capable of holding the marshmallow. When the buzzer goes off, the group with the highest marshmallow wins.

Each year the same thing happens.

The groups start by making drawings, testing out structures, arguing about physics, and trying to figure out who is the group leader that will turn options into decisions. Then they make a spaghetti tower. First slowly, then it gets bigger and bigger until theres only one minute left on the timer. The tension rises. The teams reenforce the base, add tape to the joints, and then, at the very last second, they stick the marshmallow on top. And then….

Almost every tower falls over.

The lesson here is obvious. If we don’t begin with the end in mind, if we don’t start each project with its core function, we will almost certainly waste precious time, materials, and energy.

I see this mistake everywhere I look – in software development, architecture, event planning, you name it. Even I am guilty of it.

What are you working on right now? What is your marshmallow, and is it on top?

We’re not meant to be alone

We’re taught that to be self-actualized adults we need to be independent, self sufficient, and good at being alone.

When I was engaged to be married, people warned me that I should get good a managing my life alone before taking on the responsibility of managing it with someone else.

With the growing popularity of mindfulness, people of all ages are finally learning to be alone with their thoughts. This is undoubtedly a good thing.

But humans aren’t meant to be alone.

Sure, some people are introverts. Some people need more alone time than others. But that doesn’t mean they aspire to be alone.

”Humans are meant to be alone” – Said no one ever.

If you have lots of friends and a strong community, learning to be alone might make you a more well rounded individual. It could be healthy.

But if you have no friends, if you’re truly lonely, is it still a good idea to get better at being alone? At one point does your skill for loneliness become a self fulfilling prophecy?

The goal is not to be alone, but to get better at weathering the inevitable bouts of loneliness we will all face.

The difference between price, cost, value, and worth

I used to drive a used German car with over 300,000 miles on it. The price of the was only $1200 when I bought it.

The cost of the car was another $3300/year of insurance, repairs, inspections & registration, plus all the time of caring for it, and all the frustration of things breaking and degrading over time.

The cost was high, but the value of the car was even higher. It gave me comfort, style, and total freedom of movement. It gave me a way to get to work, to visit loved ones, to travel and look cool in a German car.

But when it came time to sell the car, the car was worthless. No one would buy it. No one wanted to learn the cars quirks, or put up with its failing components. The only buyer was a junkyard who paid me $200. The junker can get value out of the car by selling parts, but I can’t. Worthless to me. Valuable to him.

Price, cost, and worth are all out of your control, but value is up to you. Make sure you know which is which.

Are you in the death spiral?

That feeling when you realize you’ve spent the last hour flicking your thumb though your social media feed, and you wonder where the time went, that time that you will never get back – That’s the death spiral.

In real life it’s easier to avoid.

Imagine going to a mall, walking directly to the atrium in the center, and then walking around in circles for an hour, gawking at everyone you pass. That’s the real life equivalent of how most of us use social media. You wouldn’t do that, would you?

No.

Instead, you’d probably walk in, go to your destination, and buy what you need. On the way out, you might see something in a shop that catches your eye. You might check it out, or even buy it. As you leave you’d spot someone you know, you’d stop and chat, maybe even buy coffee together. Then you’d go home.

That would be the equivalent of opening your phone, reading only the first 3 posts in your feed, and reading one linked article before putting your phone down. But that rarely happens.

When we’re on social media, we don’t experience time the same way. We forget that our time is valuable, and so we waste it.

Protect your time. Keep your nose up. And stay out of the death spiral.

When Blockchain Enthusiasts Don’t Get Blockchain

When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

When you’re a blockchain cheerleader, everything looks like an opportunity for disruption by blockchain. But most things aren’t.

Most of the applications we use everyday are built on a databases, which are literally places to store and manipulate data. A database can store any type of data, including records of activity within the database itself.

A blockchain, on the other hand, is not a database. It’s a Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT). A record of things that exist elsewhere, perhaps even on a database. Blockchain’s whole reason for being is to run a highly secure, distributed, permanent record of activity that no one can own or edit, ever.

But unless that’s the problem you’re trying to solve, then blockchain is just a much more costly way of keeping a ledger than the conventional alternative. Records on a blockchain are not inherently more truthful than other data, just more permanent.

If you start with a real world problem, and blockchain emerges as a solution, fantastic. But if you start with the solution, and then go looking for a problem, you probably aren’t looking at the situation objectively.

So the next time someone tells you about a cool blockchain application, make sure they explain to you exactly what problem they’re trying to solve, and why the blockchain does it better than the alternative.

If they can’t explain it to you in plain english (or any other language) then they’re not an innovator. They’re just a cheerleader.

Comparison is NOT the thief of joy.

It’s a tool.

What matters is how you use that tool.

To compare yourself to others usually means feeling superior or inferior to the compared. But this takes different forms.

Proud people tend to view their superiors with envy and their inferiors with disgust. In both cases, the proud seek to grow in status, and they use comparison to fuel their pride.

Humble people, on the other hand, tend view their superiors with admiration and their inferiors with compassion. In both cases, the humble seek to grow in virtue, and they use comparison to fuel their humility and inform their personal growth.

Pride, not comparison, is the real thief of joy.

To be proud is to be human. But it takes humility to see that.

What comes after the American Dream?

The American wakeup.

I recently met couple in their 60’s who sold everything they owned and moved into a small apartment in downtown Philadelphia. I asked them what prompted the move. This is what they said.

“Well, we lived in Connecticut for 30 years, and it was nice. But one day we woke up and realized that our kids had moved out and weren’t coming back, and meanwhile we’re living in this big house full of nice things that we don’t even have the time, let alone the energy, to use.

And then we suddenly realized that our big TV, our grand piano, and all our nice things, they weren’t making our life any better. They were actually making it worse! It was a real wake up call.

So later that day we decided it was time to move on. Three month’s later, we sold our house and everything in it, and we moved closer to friends and family.”

I asked them if they feel they made the right choice.

“Oh, yes. Now we’re really living the dream!”

Truth is dead, and we’ve killed it.

It’s easier now than it’s ever been to find confirmation for your false beliefs.

“Seek and ye shall find,” but even when we seek the wrong thing?

We tend to interpret new evidence as confirmation of our existing beliefs.

You’re arguing with a friend. You pull out your phone and type your theory into Google, and in less that a second you get a dozen articles to prove your point. The problem is, your friend did the exact same thing, and found just as many that support the opposite view. You each leave even more entrenched in your own beliefs.

The danger of the information age that it’s entirely possible to find supporting evidence for any belief, regardless of its validity. Haters, deniers, and conspiracy theorists of all stripes are emboldened by new-found access to their respective support communities.

It’s not Google’s fault, and it’s not the internet’s fault. It’s our fault. We killed the truth when we stopped looking for it. We killed it by not believing in it.

Have you stopped learning?

No. Learning just got harder because you just stopped being taught.

Unlike testing, learning doesn’t stop when you graduate from college. In fact, some people joke that the real learning doesn’t even start until after college, when you enter “the real world”. The joke is funny because it’s true.

Our education system does a pretty bad job of preparing us for the real world. Mostly because it insists on “teaching” us facts instead of teaching us how to learn.

In our first job after college, we feel like we’re starting from scratch. We look for someone to teach us the ropes, but instead our employer simply hands us the work and expects us to teach ourselves.

Some of us learn how to do our job. Some don’t. But only a few of learn something more valuable – how to teach ourselves. And that’s where the real learning begins.

If we don’t teach kids how to learn, they’ll simply become adults who still need education. And maybe adult education is not a bad idea, but in the meantime the best thing we can to is to get better at learning.

Plans change. Change takes planning.

If you have a plan, you can change it. Without a plan, you won’t change anything.

True, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” but the antidote is not spontaneity. It’s the ability to change the plan.

If we want to make real change, we have to develop both our ability to plan, and our ability adapt. When plans go awry, we need spontaneity to get us out of the rut, but to plot a new course we need intention. And we need to be ready to adjust our course at every moment.

As Alan Lakein said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Failure and change are both inevitable, but success is not. Why not plan for all three?

What is your Fourth of July?

On July 5th, 1852, to a packed assembly hall in Rochester, New York, former slave and abolitionist leader Frederick Douglas gave one of the greatest speeches in our nation’s history. In it, he asks,

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”

In a speech that lasted a little over 20 minutes, Douglas reminded his audience, which included then-president Millard Fillmore, that while the Declaration of Independence was a brave and noble step toward the absolute emancipation of all Americans, the Constitution on the other hand was complicit and friendly toward slavery and systemic inequality.

Douglas’s words are still relevant today, because they remind us of the treacherous chasm between an institution’s founding ideals and its institutional practice. The American dream is beautiful and noble. The American reality, less so. True, we have made great progress, but progress should not be mistaken for victory.

“I am glad, fellow-citizens, that our nation is so young,” said Douglas, noting that there was still time to put the nation on track before it reached maturity. But we are not as young as we used to be, and we still have a lot of growing up to do.

“But I do not despair of this country… a change has now come over the affairs of mankind… Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe…. No abuse, no outrage, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light.”

Let us hope he is still right.

Confirmation bias will kill you. Being wrong won’t.

On March 25th, a California man named Mike Hughes launched himself 1,875 feet in the air on a homemade rocket to prove the earth was flat. While Hughes was being loaded into an ambulance after his back-injuring takeoff+landing, he announced that he hadn’t managed to prove anything since he couldn’t see any earth beyond the horizon.

A reporter asked him if the horizon he observed was evidence of the natural curve of the earth. “No,” he said, “I just didn’t get high enough to see the whole thing. Next time I’ll have to go even higher.”

There’s a little “Mad” Mike Hughes in all of us. Humans are really bad at being objective. In fact, we an overwhelming tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of our existing beliefs. And in the age of google, its easier now than its ever been to find supporting evidence for any belief, regardless of its validity.

So how do we avoid falling victim to confirmation bias? By being wrong.
When is the last time you recall realizing you were wrong. If you can’t remember, it doesn’t mean you’re right all the time. It means you lack self reflection.

Don’t trust people who think they’re right. Trust people who know how to admit when they’re wrong.

You probably don’t ask for enough help

Are you a helpful person? Do you pride yourself on your ability to help others? Do you aspire to give help more than you ask for it?

If you answered yes to any of the above, then you’re in good company. Most of us want to think of ourselves as helpful people. And almost no one wants to think of themselves as a needy person.

The paradox is, if we’re all trying to be more helpful than needy, then who exactly is going to need our help? The truth is we all need help, even if we won’t admit it.

Think of all the times you’ve ever asked for help in your life. Chances are, when you really needed it, your call was answered.

The next time you’re struggling to overcome an obstacle, take a step back, swallow your pride, and ask for help. You’ll be amazed at what you can get when you ask for it.

Why capitalism can’t solve healthcare.

Americans love the free market. Whenever there is an economic problem that the government can’t solve, the common chant from both sides of the aisle is to “deregulate the industry” and let the free market take care of itself.

The same argument is often made for fixing the US healthcare system, which even its staunchest defenders admit has become unsustainably expensive. But the mistake here is the assumption that healthcare obeys the laws of the free market.

A free market is one in which consumers have choice, and in which their bargaining power is enough to reward companies that provide quality service, and starve those that don’t. But as it happens, healthcare is probably the single industry where consumers have the least choice.

The need for health care is universal, but it’s also something you can’t control. You can’t choose when you’ll need an ambulance, when you’ll catch the flu, or when you’ll develop cancer. And even if you could choose when to need care, you usually can’t choose where to get care. You options are limited. The stakes are high. You’re at your most vulnerable. And you’ll pay the price.

Don’t get me wrong. The free market is great. But there are some things it can’t solve. Healthcare is just one of them.

(If you interested, Ezra Klein did a short video about this for Vox last year. It’s not bad.)

America doesn’t believe in Equality

American’s don’t believe in equality. They believe in meritocracy.

In the American mind, equality is something we’re all born with, but its not something anyone expects to maintain. Rather, the idea is that we all have equal opportunity to compete, and that some of us will excel while others won’t.

This is the foundation of the American concept of meritocracy, that if all have equal opportunity to compete, then those who win deserve to be rewarded, and those who lose do not.

The problem of course, is that we are not all born with equal opportunity to compete. In the real world, equality is not something you start with, its something that has to be worked for, and rigorously maintained.

If we really believed in equality in America, then we would work very hard to ensure that our children each receive equal access to excellent education. Instead, we prefer to practice a “my tribe first” approach, at the expense of those with fewer means. Even our method for funding public schools through property taxes is a clear indicator that meritocracy takes precedence over equality in the public mindset.

And this doesn’t just apply to education. It permeates every aspect of american culture. Instead of recognizing the inherent inequality of opportunity and working to close the gap over time, most Americans do the opposite. They pretend that we all start equal, and then spend the rest of their lives trying to become as unequal as possible.

“Everything is Terrible”

“Everything is Terrible.” Thats what people are saying are Twitter. This week alone, several people have even told me that they need to take an emergency break from social media because they can’t handle the stress. For a while now, it seems like all news is bad news.

Ignorance is bliss. Awareness is pain. Are there really more bad things happening today? Or are we just more aware of whats already happening? The answer is somewhere in between.

There are definitely fewer bad things happening today that in the past. If we look at the trend of history, each decade there are fewer countries having fewer wars, fewer famines, genocides, and the like. In the past, many of these tragedies largely unnoticed by the global audience. But today the power of digital media brings global events to the eyes and hands of ordinary people.

But that doesn’t mean we’re more aware. Even though the reach of the press has increased, each of still has a finite amount of attention each day. There’s only so much news (good or bad) that person can follow. The blessing of the information age is that we increasingly have a choice of what news to follow. But with choice come responsibility.

This week, being aware of the crisis at the US-Mexican border, of separating immigrant families, is unavoidable. But to be aware of the root cause behind this desperate immigration, the crisis of gang violence and wealth inequality in Central America, that takes a little bit of effort. Not a lot of effort, but some.

If you care about something, move beyond your newsfeed.

You mustn’t let people make your nervous

Peter is young artist proud of his ability to explore and master new skills. George is an middle-aged, former chef, and ruthless critic of all things outside himself. Peter is cooking dinner in the kitchen as George looks on. Under the watchful gaze of his roommate, Peter is frantically dashing about the kitchen opening and shutting cabinets, misplacing spoons, spilling flour, and otherwise botching the whole meal.

So George says to Peter, “You know, Peter, you really seem quite frazzled. To be a good cook you must be calm and collected.”

Peter replies, “Well, George, perhaps your watching me makes me nervous, and in my nervousness I choke.”

George rebukes, “Oh, but Peter, you MUSTN’T let people make you nervous!”

“I know,” says Peter, “Thats why I just asked you to stop.”

Dads, fathers, and father-figures

We all have fathers, but we don’t all have dads. Some dads have passed away. Some have been physically absent since we were born. Others are emotionally absent, though physically present. Some of us have multiple dads. Some of us were raised by our mothers. Others were raised by grandparents, or even adopted families.

To riff on Shakespeare, we might say that “Some of us are born to fathers, some of us find fathers, and others have fathers thrust upon them.”

But no matter what relationship we have to our biological father, each of us has at least one father-figure in our lives; someone whom we look to for an example of what a man can be, what a man ought to be, or simply what a man is. For better of for worse, we all have at least one.

The flip side of this is that each of us has the potential to be a father-figure (if not a biological father) to someone else. And this isn’t always something we get to choose. Indeed, some people have fatherhood thrust upon them.

Todays society is increasingly inclined to avoid responsibility, and shrug off obligation in the name of freedom and self-discovery. But if should ever find yourself in a position of fatherhood, voluntarily or otherwise, remember the importance of fatherhood in your own life, and don’t be afraid to man up.

The next generation is coming whether you like it or not. What kind of influence will you be?

Those who’ve never lived in Brooklyn

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who think that sounding smart is the only thing that matters, and those who’ve never lived in Brooklyn.

Delegating is a job of its own

If you find yourself thinking, “It would take me just as long to hand it off to someone as it would to do it myself,” then you need to get better at delegating.

Most people think of delegating as a way of getting things off your plate so that you can have more time to focus on the stuff you care about, but this is a gross misunderstanding of what it means to delegate. As any manager or military officer will tell you, when you lead a team of two or more people, delegation is a full time job. More precisely, it is the incredibly important job of ensuring that the person executing the tasks knows exactly what they’re doing and why. Without that knowledge we all run the risk of falling into analysis paralysis, or worse, our project dies for lack of energy.

This misunderstanding is especially prevalent in freelancers who are trying to grow their business. Because delegate only to reduce their own workload, they would rather continue rushing their work instead of taking the necessary time to train someone else, for fear that this would take more time, and that the next person will do it slower. And a year later they’re stuck doing the same stuff, having too much work, and NOT growing their business.

But if you change your role from actuator to delegator, from worker to leader, if you take the time to train people, not only will you save time in the long run, you’ll be able to make bigger projects than ever before.

Altitude Sickness… and Health

If you’ve ever climbed a mountain, you know the feeling. Open skies. Wide vistas. Clean air, and a clear mind. You feel like you’re on top of the world, and rightfully so. But then it’s time to leave. You descend the mountain, you get back in your car, and you drive home. Pretty soon your mind returns to the concerns of day, and before you know it, you’re back in the weeds.

Altitude has some interesting effects on the mind. It allows you to distance yourself from the world and think more abstractly. You see the big picture. You make decisions more easily. You feel free. But most importantly, altitude has the amazing ability to give us mental clarity.

The human craving for this clarity is universal. It’s one of the reasons we build skyscrapers. If you’ve never lived or worked in a skyscraper, try it sometime. Wherever you live, find the highest space that you have access to. Spend a day there, working, reading, sleeping, journaling, whatever suits you. Do something that you do often, so that have a baseline from which to compare the experience. I’ve worked on the top floor of a city building for the past two years, and I can definitely notice the difference.

But there’s a danger to this phenomenon. We risk isolating ourselves from society, and falling out of touch. We risk associating our experience with our self worth, mistaking elevation for superiority. Getting high can lead to addiction.

Why you should never check email before 11am

Almost everybody complains about email. They’ll say it’s distracting, it’s endless, or it pulls them away from what they should really be doing. And they’re usually right.
Just like social media feeds, email is virtually endless. The idea of catching up to your email, or practicing inbox zero, is ridiculous. If you’re one of those people who forces yourself to empty your entire inbox everyday before leaving work, then I have news for you – you’re not free from email, you’re a slave to it. Or maybe you just don’t get that much email in the first place.

A better way to interact with your email is to put it in its proper place. Most people will tell you that the first thing they do every morning is check email. Does that mean its the most important part of the work day? More likely it means that they’d rather react to their inbox than actually plan out their day. But if you want to rise above the tide of busywork, if you want to be in control of your time, you’ll have to decide where email fits into your life. Remember that email is a tool to help you communicate. And as with other tools, when you don’t need it, you should put it down.

The first few hours of your morning are precious because you’re mind is still unpolluted by the happenings of the day. This is the best time to do your most important work. And unless you’re in sales, and maybe not even then, I doubt that email is your most important work. You’ve probably heard that some CEO’s wake up ridiculously early to do their important work, but that’s because they lead large organizations who desperately need their attention at 9AM. But if you’re not the leader of an organization, then you don’t need to wake up super early, you just need to protect your mornings.

“But what do I do about those super urgent emails I wake up to every day?”

The answer is simple. Answer your urgent emails at the end of the day. When you send someone an email, you’re essentially taking a problem that’s yours, and making it someone else’s problem. Those urgent emails you wake up to every day, many of them are sent by clever people who send email either very late or very early. And if you respond first thing in the morning, they might send it right back at the end of the day, and in the morning it will be on your plate again.

It’s time escape the cycle. Ignore email before 11am, and respond to urgent emails at the end of the day. Try it, you won’t regret it.

On Micromanagement

When someone micromanages another person, they are not actually managing the person, they are managing the task. Micromanaging is when you manage tasks instead of people.

The key to good management is to lead the human being in front of you, and to let them manage their own tasks. Prioritize their well being, and you will empower them to execute their tasks better, and with even less management as time goes on. The less you have to manage them, the more you can focus on their performance, and increasing their agency, and their impact.

Micromanaging is for suckers. Lead instead.

Our Own Worst Enemy

We live in a strange society. We champion individualism, yet we make it almost impossible to live alone. We crave spiritual fulfillment, yet we ridicule the faithful. We desire sexual freedom, yet we refuse to educate ourselves (and our children) about our bodies. We idolize the beginners mind, yet we systematically purge the youth of their curiosity from K-12. We give lip-service to equality, but practice meritocracy. We boast of our detachment from money, yet we chase it relentlessly. We think we’ve made progress, yet our problems are as old as dirt.

Discovered, Not Made

Truth is not altered by the believer. Truth is discovered, not made. The philosopher, the scientist, the theologian, the poet, the engineer, the mathematician, all are excavators of pre-existing truth. Thus, there is no point in trying to convince anyone of anything. Instead, one should merely try to co-discover the ever-undeniable truth.

Letters speak louder than words

Some things are better said by letters than by words. Especially when speaking about sensitive topics, words spoken out loud have the potential to cause such adverse reactions from the listener that he or she effectively becomes deaf to any words that follow, no matter how reasonable. Letters on the other hand, allow the reader to examine – and re-examine – at their own pace. Having control over the way one receives information is vital for breaching many of the most sensitive topics.

The Spectrum is Widening

There are so many ways to be human. So many ways to be alive. So many standards of living, and not all of them so low or as high as one might think. We are already living in the future. We always have been. But we can rarely recognize our present-future because it just never looks as good as the movies. And the future is messy. The line between “modern convenience” and “modern inconvenience” is as thin as a short circuit.

No matter how advanced or society gets, there will always be some people living at level zero, living with little more amenities than human had access to a thousand years ago. That’s the amazing part. The spectrum of the human experience is not really moving forward, it is simply widening.

Yes, I know it’s all psychological

At a dinner party, a man serves 3 bowls of soup. The first two bowls are round, but the third is square, so he decides to keep the odd one for himself.

One of the guests says, “Oh no, I don’t need a round one. Can I have the square one? It will taste better that way.”

The man replies replies, “You know that’s all just psychological, right? In reality they will all taste the same.”

“Yes, I know that it’s all psychological,” says the guest, “That’s exactly why I want the square one.”

The Chicken or the Kernel

There is an old joke that goes like this:

A man is admitted to the psych ward for some severe neurosis. The doctors discover that the man suffers from the belief that he is a kernel of corn, and he is terrified that a rodent or small animal like a chicken might eat him if given the chance!

The doctors embark on a series of treatments and eventually convince the man that he is not in fact a piece of corn, but a living, breathing, and powerful human being, and that no chicken is going to eat him. The man thanks the doctors, and bids them goodbye.

On the way out of the clinic, he spots a chicken by the path, and runs back into the ward shouting in fear. “Doctor!” He shouts, “It’s the chicken! The Chicken! He’s going to eat me!”
“Now, now,” says the doctor, “We’ve already explained to you that you are not a kernel of corn, you are a man.”
“Yes, I know that,” says the man, “But does the chicken know that?”

Most people understand this joke to be about the frailty of our convictions–that we don’t really believe what we claim to believe. The thing that most people miss is that this joke is also about social anxiety, and the importance of shared belief systems. We’re not scared of being a kernel of corn; we’re scared of being attacked by someone who mistakes us for a kernel of corn. We don’t just want to be who we are. We want others to see us the way we want to be seen. Many of our social anxieties stem from the fear that others do not see us as we wish to be seen, or worse, that they never will.