I’ve always kept a copy of Richard Bach’s “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” within reach, for those days when it seems necessary to remind myself of Jonathan’s story – of struggle, of questions and learning, of constantly challenging himself, and of keeping true to his curiosities. I’ve re-read it a number of times in the past several years (it’s a short book, digestible in a few hours), and it has never failed to uplift my spirits. It always feels like talking to a great friend that I’ve never seen for an extended period of time.
Here are some favorite lines from the book:
Do you have any idea how many lives we must have gone through before we even got the first idea that there is more to life than eating, or fighting, or power in the Flock? A thousand lives, Jon, ten thousand! And then another hundred lives until we began to learn that there is such a thing as perfection, and another hundred again to get the idea that our purpose for living is to find that perfection and show it forth. The same rule holds for us now, of course: we choose our next world though what we learn in this one. Learn nothing, and the next world is the same as this one, all the same limitations and lead weights to overcome.
- Jonathan Seagull discovered that boredom and fear and anger are the reasons that a gull’s life is so short, and with these gone from his thought, he lived a long fine life indeed.
- “You can go to any place and to any time that you wish to go,” the Elder said. “I’ve gone everywhere and everywhere I can think of.” He looked across the sea. “It’s strange. The gulls who scorn perfection for the sake of travel go nowhere, slowly. Those who put aside travel for the sake of perfection go anywhere, instantly. Remember, Jonathan, heaven isn’t a place or a time, because place and time are so very meaningless.”
“To fly as fast as he thought, to anywhere that is,” he said, “you must begin by knowing that you have already arrived.”
- “Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly.”
- “Look at Fletcher! Lowell! Charles-Roland! Judy Lee! Are they also special and gifted and divine? No more than you are, no more than I am. The only difference, the very only one, is that they have begun to understand what they really are and have begun to practice it.”
“Why is it,” Jonathan puzzled, “that the hardest thing in the world is to convince a bird that he is free, and that he can prove it for himself if he’d just spend a little time practicing? Why should that be hard?”
“Oh, Fletch, you don’t love that! You don’t love hatred and evil, of course. You have to practice and see the real gull, the good in every one of them, and to help them see it in themselves. That’s what I mean by love. It’s fun, when you get the knack of it.”
- We’re free to go where we wish and to be what we are.
It’s easy to get caught up on writing a lot of automation, adding more process steps, and implementing stricter policies, believing we need them, because we think we’ll be safe from risks that way. We might have had a history of being carelessly bitten in the past.
So it is good that we’ve chosen to do something. But we have to be aware of the potential to get lost in the details.
Why did we have to do this work in the first place?
We don’t just want to add one more test to the suite. We don’t just want another meeting. We don’t just want customers to pay a fee when they request something for the nth time. What we want is to remember the big picture, what we want is to focus on helping people.
The new year is always a great time to remember to talk to our guardian angel, to look at what beliefs do we have come to accept, and to remind ourselves of which sort of heaven do we really want to go to. 🙂 Happy New Year!
Some favorite lines from the book:
“You’ll never learn it all,” he said. “Nobody has learned everything about flying and they never will. But if you practice, you can learn enough to be a good pilot, even if you don’t know everything.”
Every context, every subtext means the same: heaven will be joy when we reach that place of mind, whether or not we reach its borders alive, or not-alive.
All the books I’ve read about death and dying, filled with stories and accounts and proofs that we go on after this lifetime, how can my heaven be exactly the same place that it is for everyone who’s died in the last thousand years or so? Is there one place in paradise where some folks enjoy cigars, a different heaven where others travel instantly to other places, others have houses, others don’t need shelter from winds or rains, which don’t exist in their heaven? Does heaven require space and time? Can heaven be kind of a dream, where we imagine space and time, but know that space-time doesn’t exist? How many heavens can there be? Two? Twenty? A million heavens, an indefinite number of heavens? Not just for mortals, but for every expression of life and love who recovers from the belief of dying? Do mortals share the same heaven with animals, with bees? There must be a heaven for dogs and cats who love people, and different heavens for dogs, cats, and other animals who prefer to continue without any humans at all. There must be a heaven for chipmunks and a separate heaven for crocodiles, and different ones for recently arrived spirits who’ve spent a lifetime thinking that no such place exists. There must be separate heavens to take care of the people who believe the various religions. Then different heavens for the different ways of thinking. Separate heavens.
Don’t you know? What you call ‘death’ is your chance to make different choices, make different stories about life and love.
- What will your mortal’s life be like without tests, without adventure, without risk? Does the word ‘graveyard’ come to mind?
Your mission in every one of your lifetimes is to create love, to express love, to treasure love, to paint love in the biggest letters in every color of every language you will ever learn!
The world of space, time, and appearances can be wondrous beautiful. Have care, though, and don’t let your mortal mistake them for real.
You can work right now, today, as a mortal, to refine your beliefs, to make your heaven happier than the squirrelly heaven you’ve already built with your not-much-thought-about belief system. You can do this now.
- We’re connected by the bonds of love that we’ve built. With anyone. With our parents, with our friends, with our pets, with fictional characters from books or motion pictures, with characters in our own imagination!
All year round, I’ve spent some considerable time thinking about where I am and where I want go next. Where I am is where there’s some sort of stability, a status quo. Where I want to go next is some place where there are unknowns.
It would be interesting to experience a full-time remote gig, in a role that challenges my skills in either building automated scripts or mobile app development. But even though a full-time gig, it should still enable me to work on personal side hustles.
After increasing my overall strength to at least twice since the start of the year, I’d like to surpass that achievement in the coming year. That likely means making better food choices and improving cooking skills.
I want to build my portfolio site from the ground up and get more acquainted with web development.
And it would be great if I can finish the art project I started this year, to complement the portfolio site.
I believe I did well with my testing goals this year. My lifestyle got better, but I’m not where I want to be just yet.
This year, I decided I was going to get better at exercising. To do that, I thought about reading a few books to give myself an idea on how to go about it. One such book was Timothy Ferriss’ “The 4-Hour Body“, which is a goldmine of content. In it are suggested exercises that gets the job done, walkthroughs, and some science of how things work. But the book is so much more than just a guide on physical exercises. There’s ideas on self-experimentation, adherence, being proactively skeptical, harajuku moments, a slow-carb diet, and more.
Here are some favorite takeaways:
- Science starts with educated (read: wild-ass) guesses. Then it’s all trial and error. Sometimes you predict correctly from the outset. More often, you make mistakes and stumble across unexpected findings, which lead to new questions. If you want to sit on the sidelines and play full-time skeptic, suspending actions until a scientific consensus is reached, that’s your choice. But don’t use skepticism as a thinly veiled excuse for inaction or remaining in your comfort zone. Be skeptical, but for the right reason: because you’re looking for the most promising option to test in real life. Be proactively skeptical, not defensively skeptical.
- We break commitments to ourselves with embarrassing regularity. How can someone trying to lose weight binge on an entire pint of ice cream before bed? How can even the most disciplined of executives fail to make 30 minutes of time per week for exercise? How can someone whose marriage depends on quitting smoking pick up a cigarette? Simple: logic fails.
- Take adherence seriously: will you actually stick with this change until you hit your goal? If not, find another method, even if it’s less effective and less efficient. The decent method that you follow is better than the perfect method you quit.
- Self-experimentation can be used by non-experts to (a) see if the experts are right and (b) learn something they don’t know. When you study your own problem (e.g. acne), you care more about finding a solution than others are likely to care.
If results are fast and measurable, self-discipline isn’t needed.
If you want to be more confident or effective, rather than relying on easily-defeated positive thinking and mental gymnastics, learn to run faster, lift more than your peers, or lose those last ten pounds. It’s measurable, it’s clear, you can’t lie to yourself. It therefore works. The Cartesian separation of mind and body is false. They’re reciprocal. Start with the precision of changing physical reality and a domino effect will often take care of the internal.
Job not going well? Company having issues? Some idiot making life difficult? If you add ten laps to your swimming, or if you cut five seconds off your best mile time, it can still be a great week. Controlling your body puts you in life’s driver’s seat.
- Recreation is for fun. Exercise is for producing changes. Don’t confuse the two.
People suck at following advice. Even the most effective people in the world are terrible at it. There are two reasons:
Most people have an insufficient reason for action. The pain isn’t painful enough. It’s a nice-to-have, not a must-have.
There are no reminders. No consistent tracking = no awareness = no behavioral change. Consistent tracking, even if you have no knowledge of fat-loss or exercise, will often beat advice from world-class trainers.
For a long time, I’ve known that the key to getting started down the path of being remarkable in anything is to simply act with the intention of being remarkable. If I want a better-than-average career, I can’t simply go with the flow and get it. Most people do just that: they wish for an outcome but make no intention-driven actions toward that outcome. If they would just do something most people would find that they get some version of the outcome they’re looking for. That’s been my secret. Stop wishing and start doing.
I picked up Mark Manson’s “Models: Attract Women Through Honesty” because I was intrigued by the title and because I am at a time in my life where I’d like to meet more interesting women. It did not disappoint. The book was insightful, and, like other compelling reads, it pushes me to look hard at myself and how I’ve been living my life, this time particularly on the subject of women. The concepts of neediness and vulnerability are, for me, the main takeaways.
Here are just a few of the noteworthy lines from the book:
In our post-industrial, post-feminist world, we lack a clear model of what an attractive man is. Centuries ago, a man’s role and duty was power and protection. Decades ago, it was to provide. But now? We’re not quite sure. We are either the first or second generation of men to grow up without a clear definition of our social roles, and without a model of what it is to be strong and attractive men.
Seduction is an interplay of emotions. Your movement or lack of movement reflects and alters emotions, not the words. Words are the side-effect. Sex is the side-effect. The game is emotions, emotions through movement.
- In surveys among literally tens of thousands of women, across all cultures, ethnicities, age groups, and socio-economic standing, and even time periods, there’s one universal quality in men that they all find desirable: social status and access to resources. The amount in which they desire it varies from culture to culture and from age group to age group, but the desire for it is universal.
- Social status is determined by how you behave around other people, how other people behave around you, and how you treat yourself.
Female arousal is somewhat narcissistic in nature. Women are turned on by being wanted, by being desired. The more physical assertiveness you pursue a woman with, the more aroused she becomes — sometimes even if she wasn’t interested in you to begin with.
How attractive a man is is inversely proportional to how emotionally needy he is. The more emotionally needy he is in his life, the less attractive he is and vice-versa. Neediness is defined by being more highly invested in other people’s perceptions of you than your perception of yourself.
All people eventually return to their baseline levels of investment. And until one is able to permanently alter his baseline level of identity investment in themselves, they will continue to attract the same types of women, and end up in the same failed relationships. Permanent change to one’s investment and neediness in their relationships with women is hard and a process that encompasses all facets of one’s life. But it’s a worthwhile journey. As a man, it may be the most worthwhile journey. And the key to it is probably something you wouldn’t expect. In fact, it’s something that most men turn their nose up to when they hear it. It’s vulnerability.
Making yourself vulnerable doesn’t just mean being willing to share your fears or insecurities. It can mean putting yourself in a position where you can be rejected, saying a joke that may not be funny, asserting an opinion that may offend others, joining a table of people you don’t know, telling a woman that you like her and want to date her. All of these things require you to stick your neck out on the line emotionally in some way. You’re making yourself vulnerable when you do them. In this way, vulnerability represents a form of power, a deep and subtle form of power. A man who’s able to make himself vulnerable is saying to the world, “I don’t care what you think of me; this is who I am, and I refuse to be anyone else.” He’s saying he’s not needy and that he’s high status.
Show your rough edges. Stop trying to be perfect. Expose yourself and share yourself without inhibition. Take the rejections and lumps and move on because you’re a bigger and stronger man. And when you find a woman who loves who you are (and you will), revel in her affection.
- The biggest criticism of showing interest to a woman that you want to be with is that it immediately shows you as highly invested in her responses. When you say, “You’re cute and I wanted to meet you,” that translates roughly to, “Hi, I want to be with you and am officially invested in the prospect of it happening.” What they miss though is the sub-communication going on underneath what’s actually being said. The sub-communication is, “I’m totally OK with the idea of you rejecting me, otherwise I would not be approaching you in this manner.”
- True honesty is only possible when it is unconditional. The truth is only the truth when it is given as a gift — when nothing is expected in return. When I tell a girl that she is beautiful, I say it not expecting anything in return. Whether she rejects me or falls in love with me isn’t important in that moment. What’s important is that I’m expressing my feelings to her. I will give compliments only when I am honestly inspired to give them, and usually after already meeting a woman and displaying to her that I’m willing to disagree with her, willing to be rejected by her and willing to walk away from her if it ever comes to that.
Sharing a new batch of engaging videos from people I follow, which I hope you’ll come to like as I do:
- Workarounds (by Alan Richardson, about workarounds, how you can use them in testing, custom-using tools, moving boilerplate to the appendix, bypassing processes that gets in the way, understanding risks and value, technical skills, and taking control of your career)
- 100% Coverage is Too High for Apps! (by Kent Dodds, on code coverage, what it tells you, as well as what it does not tell you)
- Open Water Swimming (by Timothy Ferriss, about fears, habits, total immersion swimming, Terry Laughlin, compressing months of conventional training into just a few days, and the power of micro-successes)
- How To Stop Hating Your Tests (by Justin Searls, representing Test Double, on doing only three things for tests, avoiding conditionals, consistency, apparent test purpose, redundant test coverage, optimizing feedback loops, false negatives, and building better workflows)
- Meaning of Life (by Derek Sivers, about a classic unsolvable problem, using time wisely, making good choices, making memories, the growth mindset, inherent meaning, and a blank slate)
Derek Sivers, in his book titled “Anything You Want“, shares tales and lessons he’s learned when he started, built, and sold CD Baby, a global music distribution platform, for $22M (which will return to musicians after he dies). He’s an entrepreneur, but a divergent kind of entrepreneur from the ones I’m accustomed to, and I’ve grown fond of his philosophies in both business and in life. Perhaps it’s because of Seth Godin‘s influence, perhaps it’s because he’s a very slow thinker, perhaps it’s because the things he says just sounds about right.
Some favorite lines from the book:
- Most people don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. They imitate others, go with the flow, and follow paths without making their own. They spend decades in pursuit of something that someone convinced them they should want, without realizing that it won’t make them happy. Don’t be on your deathbed someday, having squandered your one chance at life, full of regret because you pursued little distractions instead of big dreams. You need to know your personal philosophy of what makes you happy and what’s worth doing.
- The key point is that I wasn’t trying to make a big business. I was just daydreaming about how one little thing would look in a perfect world. When you make a business, you get to make a little universe where you control all the laws. This is your utopia. When you make it a dream come true for yourself, it’ll be a dream come true for someone else, too.
- Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently doing what’s not working. We all have lots of ideas, creations, and projects. When you present one to the world and it’s not a hit, don’t keep pushing it as is. Instead, get back to improving and inventing. Present each new idea or improvement to the world. If multiple people are saying, “Wow! Yes! I need this! I’d be happy to pay you to do this!” then you should probably do it. But if the response is anything less, don’t pursue it.
- If you’re not saying “Hell yeah!” about something, say no. When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” then say no. When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say, “Hell yeah!” We’re all busy. We’ve all taken on too much. Saying yes to less is the way out.
- Never forget that absolutely everything you do is for your customers. Make every decision – even decisions about whether to expand the business, raise money, or promote someone – according to what’s best for your customers. If you’re ever unsure what to prioritize, just ask your customers the open-ended question, “How can I best help you now?” Then focus on satisfying those requests. None of your customers will ask you to turn your attention to expanding. They want you to keep your attention focused on them. It’s counter-intuitive, but the way to grow your business is to focus entirely on your existing customers. Just thrill them, and they’ll tell everyone.
- Watch out when anyone (including you) says he wants to do something big, but can’t until he raises money. It usually means the person is more in love with the idea of being big-big-big than with actually doing something useful. For an idea to get big-big-big, it has to be useful. And being useful doesn’t need funding. If you want to be useful, you can always start now, with only 1 percent of what you have in your grand vision. It’ll be a humble prototype version of your grand vision, but you’ll be in the game. You’ll be ahead of the rest, because you actually started, while others are waiting for the finish line to magically appear at the starting line.
- Never forget why you’re really doing what you’re doing. Are you helping people? Are they happy? Are you happy? Are you profitable? Isn’t that enough?
- We all grade ourselves by different measures:
- For some people, it’s as simple as how much money they make. When their net worth is going up, they know they’re doing well.
- For others, it’s how much money they give.
- For some, it’s how many people’s lives they can influence for the better.
- For others, it’s how deeply they can influence just a few people’s lives.
- For me, it’s how many useful things I create, whether songs, companies, articles, websites, or anything else. If I create something that is not useful to others, it doesn’t count. But I’m also not interested in doing something useful unless it needs my creative input.
- When you want to learn how to do something yourself, most people won’t understand. They’ll assume the only reason we do anything is to get it done, and doing it yourself is not the most efficient way. But that’s forgetting about the joy of learning and doing. Yes, it may take longer. Yes, it may be inefficient. Yes, it may even cost you millions of dollars in lost opportunities because your business is growing slower because you’re insisting on doing something yourself. But the whole point of doing anything is because it makes you happy! That’s it! You might get bigger faster and make millions if you outsource everything to the experts. But what’s the point of getting bigger and making millions? To be happy, right? In the end, it’s about what you want to be, not what you want to have. To have something (a finished recording, a business, or millions of dollars) is the means, not the end. To be something (a good singer, a skilled entrepreneur, or just plain happy) is the real point. When you sign up to run a marathon, you don’t want a taxi to take you to the finish line.
There’s a lot I don’t know about being a kick-ass boss, or being a great manager. I’m pretty much still a work-in-progress in that area. Thankfully, Kim Scott’s “Radical Candor” points me to the questions I need to ask myself about it, and suggests steps I should consider taking in order to do better.
Some memorable lines from the book:
- Relationships don’t scale. But the relationships you have with the handful of people who report directly to you will have an enormous impact on the results your team achieves.
- You strengthen your relationships by learning the best ways to get, give, and encourage guidance; by putting the right people in the right roles on your team; and by achieving results collectively that you couldn’t dream of individually. When you fail to give people the guidance they need to succeed in their work, or put people into roles they don’t want or aren’t well-suited for, or push people to achieve results that are unrealistic, you erode trust.
- It turns out that when people trust you and believe you care about them, they are much more likely to 1) accept and act on your praise and criticism; 2) tell you what they really think about what you are doing well and, more importantly, not doing so well; 3) engage in this same behavior with one another, meaning less pushing the rock up the hill again and again; 4) embrace their role on the team; and 5) focus on getting results.
- We are all human beings, with human feelings, and, even at work, we need to be seen as such. When that doesn’t happen, when we feel we must repress who we really are to earn a living, we become alienated. That makes us hate going to work. To most bosses, being professional means: show up at work on time, do your job, don’t show feelings unless engaged in motivation or some such end-driven effort. The results is that nobody feels comfortable being who they really are at work.
- It’s about finding time for real conversations; about getting to know each other at a human level; about learning what’s important to people, about sharing with one another what makes us want to get out of bed in the morning and go to work – and what has the opposite effect.
- Challenging others and encouraging them to challenge you helps build trusting relationships because it shows 1) you care enough to point out both the things that aren’t going well and those that are and that 2) you are willing to admit when you’re wrong and that you are committed to fixing mistakes that you or otherwise have made. But challenging people directly takes real energy – not only from the people you’re challenging but from you as well – so do it only for things that really matter.
- If nobody is ever mad at you, you probably aren’t challenging your team enough. The key, as in any relationship, is how you handle the anger. When what you say hurts, acknowledge the other person’s pain. Don’t pretend it doesn’t hurt or say it shouldn’t hurt – just show that you care. Eliminate the phrase “don’t take it personally” from your vocabulary – it’s insulting. Instead, offer to help fix the problem. But don’t pretend it isn’t a problem just to try to make somebody feel better.
- If we have the data about what works, let’s look at the data, but if all we have are opinions, let’s use yours.
- What growth trajectory does each person on my team want to be on right now? or Have I given everybody opportunities that re in line with what they really want? or What growth trajectory do my direct reports believe they are on? Do I agree? And if I don’t, why don’t I? Sometimes people really want to grow and are capable of contributing more than they have allowed to; at other times, they simply want more money or recognition but don’t really want to change the way they work or contribute any more than they do already. As the boss, you’re the one who’s going to have to know your direct reports well enough to make these distinctions and then have some radically candid conversations when you see things differently.
- There’s nothing wrong with working hard to earn a pay check that supports the life you want to lead. That has plenty of meaning. Only about 5% of people have a real vocation in life, and they confuse the hell out of the rest of us. Your job is not to provide purpose but instead to get to know each of your direct reports well enough to understand how each one derives meaning from their work.
- You don’t want to be the absentee manager any more than you want to be a micro-manager. Instead, you want to be a partner – that is, you must take the time to help the people doing the best work overcome obstacles and make their good work even better. This is time-consuming because it requires that you know enough about the details of the person’s work to understand the nuances. It often requires you to help do the work, rather than just advising. It requires that you ask a lot of questions and challenge people – that you roll up your own sleeves.
- It won’t get better all by itself. So stop and ask yourself, how exactly, will it get better? What are you going to do differently? What will the person in question do differently? How might circumstances change? Even if things have gotten a little better, have they improved enough? If you don’t have a pretty precise answer to those questions, it probably won’t get better.
- If you never ask a single question about a person’s life, it’s hard to move up on the “care personally” axis. probably the most important thing you can do to build trust is to spend a little time alone with each of your direct reports on a regular basis. Holding regular 1:1s in which your direct report sets the agenda and you ask questions is a good way to begin building trust.
- The platinum rule says, figure out what makes the other person comfortable, and do that.
Today, here’s a new batch of compelling videos I’d like to share, for the curious:
- What is Shift Left Testing? (by Alan Richardson, about shifting left and its meaning, consultancy speak, testing at all points of the software development process, and finding ways to improve our testing without resorting to consultancy speak)
- How We Work #4: Known and Unknowns (by Basecamp, on creative work, known and unknown tasks and why it’s more important to track them rather than estimates, and using the hill chart)
- A Better Technical Interview: 2018 (by Josh Greenwood, representing Test Double, about the binary hiring process existing in most industries, setting job and interview expectations, thinking about making the life of candidates better including the ones we don’t end up hiring, saying ‘Not Yet’ and providing constructive feedback, and the Bridge Agent)
- How Open Source has Made Me and the Stuff I Make Better (by Kent Dodds, on open source software, remote work, improving technical and interpersonal skills, documentation, and asking better questions and learning from other people)
- Office Politics for the Thin-Skinned Developer (by Justin Searls, about politics in the workplace, crazy organizational growth, building awareness, targeted empathy, being in the same page, how to make a difference, and allowing others to fail)