all posts tagged 'anxiety'

All about the money

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

One can of course relate to money in pathological ways. For those whose standard of value resides not in a conception of their fully-lived life (a la the builder), but in the impressions or judgments of others (be it God or society or their parents or some other “drill sergeant”), money means whatever it purportedly means to those others—status, in some circles, or wicked materialism in others, or in still others, “privilege” to be forgiven with obligate philanthropy. 

By contrast, a builder’s relationship to money is not mediated by any of these external intermediaries. She understands that money is a medium of value exchange, and what she values is set by the life she wants to build and the world she wants to live in. 

There are also simpler pathologies, such as when fear or insecurity drives founders to pursue short-term monetary gains over the longer-term health and durability of their business. But such financial anxieties can be diagnosed and remedied by re-orienting toward the overarching goal of building one’s best life, which presumably includes a healthy and durable version of one’s business (or whatever one is building) as part of it.

Quite a useful way to reframe money and its importance to a well considered life.

Continue to the full article

Adding tagging to

originally shared here on

I just released a feature to this site where blog posts can now be tagged with any number of tags.

You can then read all the posts that are tagged as confidence or music or programming or whatever.

I was extremely inspired by's recent redesign. The idea of turning your blog into your own social media stream-looking thing strikes me as one of those design decisions that feels revolutionary and obvious at the same time. I will no doubt try to do something similar to this site right here.

But as I think through the best place to start, I'm resisting my urge to just blanket redesign the site without a plan. And the first step of that plan is to do the tedious work of going through my archives and adding tags to the old posts.

Tags aren't exactly a revolutionary new feature. It took me about a half hour to implement the basics, and then another day or so of tweaking the process of adding them to each post so I can do it quickly.

The reason I wanted to share this as a post is because one unintended consequence of going through this process was [pause for sarcastic and dramatic effect] ... anxiety!

Because of course the creation of a a feature for my site that is read by an exceptionally low number of people must result in getting way into my head about it.

Yesterday, I spent about an hour going through my old posts and adding some tags to them.

As I got deeper into the archives, I kept thinking of tags that would've been great to add to posts I had already added tags earlier.

I found myself getting mad at myself for not being optimized up front and just having a tag list to choose from.

Well guess what, Tim? There’s no way you’ll know what tags you want to add until you’ve added all the tags!

Just do your best, man. Even getting half way is an amazing leap forward. Just keep moving forward.

It's proving to be surprisingly hard for me to not beat myself up over this tag system, which again, is supposed to be fun, you goober!

Here's the best case scenario from doing all this work: maybe these tags will help me articulate the overall themes I cover on my site, to identify the topics I’ve been interested in throughout the last fifteen-ish years.

Here's the worst case scenario from doing all this work: complete and total indifference from the universe.

Note to self: just enjoy getting a chance to go through the clutter of your site and clean it up. It’s fun! Add whatever tags you think will help, and if you get an idea about a better tag later, go back and look it up then!

As you can see, I'm still working on not letting anxiety cripple me from starting and completing a project.

Why am I even stressing about this?

Just go have some fun with your tag thing.

It makes you happy.

That should be enough.

Tags for this post:

The Job Hunt Chronicles: Month 2: Beyond the Fog

originally shared here on

A pair of worn-out shoes at the edge of a path leading into a misty forest.

(This is the second in a series of posts going through my journal entries from the last month and talking about what it's like to go through a period of unemployment, self doubt, and finding your spark. You can read the first one here.)

Alright, we've made it through February!

I'm still on the job hunt. I'm still dealing with some crippling anxiety and depression.

But I'm making progress! I'm having interviews, I'm figuring out how to feel my feelings and articulate my values, and I'm finding opportunities to enjoy the moment and be optimistic about finding my next job.

I journaled every single day last month. I fed all 28,000+ words into ChatGPT and asked it to summarize the entries into two sentences using the style of the journal entries themselves. Here's what it said:

Another month down, filled with musings, mild misadventures, and moments of clarity amidst the mundane. Balancing personal passions, family love, and the hunt for professional fulfillment, the journey meanders through the highs and lows, always circling back to the comforting, complex tapestry of daily life.

Man, do I actually sound that pretentious in my own journal? 😂

Anyway, if you're wondering what was on my mind in January, strap yourself in and let's go!

"What are you looking for?"

Gonna put this up front again like I did last month.

I'm looking for a position where I can blend strategic tech leadership with hands-on coding, preferably in a small, mission-driven company focused on healthcare or climate solutions. The ideal environment is a funded startup with fewer than 50 employees, leveraging generative AI, and based in or flexible with the Twin Cities area.

Ideal extras include a flexible 32-hour work week, a hybrid work arrangement, and opportunities for travel and professional development

In short: If you know a mission-oriented startup seeking a tech-savvy strategist passionate about making a significant impact, send them my way!

Activities I've done

I put this section in my last post because it felt like a badge of honor to brag about how many meetings I had in a month. To me, it felt like I was doing something.

All of that pride went down the drain after talking with a new friend who basically said that I'm continuing to burn myself out by grinding through hundreds of meetings instead of doing the actual hard work of sitting down and figuring out what my values are.

Once you know what your values are, you are so much more likely to know what path to walk down.

So in that spirit, I won't mention how many meetings I've had. Instead, I basically spent this month continuing to figure out who I am and what I want.

I'm aware that's not a very satisfying or flashy statement to make in a blog post that purports to explain life in the eyes of someone who got laid off.

But truly, most of what I've done in the last month is learn about my feelings and how to deal with them productively.

I've gone to some of the darkest places I've ever gone in my life this past month. The shame, the fear, the depression, the embarrassment, the anger... all of those feelings are easy to deal with when you ignore them like I had been for my entire adult life.

But your body can only handle ignoring them for so long. Eventually, you find yourself leaving work early and rushing to the hospital because your heartbeat is noticeably irregular, and your heart feels like an orange being crushed in the hands of a strongman, adrenaline secreting between their fingers.

One thousand and six hundred dollars later, you're told that there's nothing physically wrong with you. Go see a therapist.

Your body remembers each and every time you ignore those feelings, those warning signs. Those "gut checks" that you decide to push aside because it doesn't align with what you think you should be doing.

Eventually, it all boils over.

So that's what I've been up to this month: looking back at the past twenty years of my life and beating myself up for years of beating myself up.

It hasn't all been atonement, though. I've also started to hope again. I've had moments where I'm excited again for what's next.

Even if that's something as simple as waiting for a hug from my kids when they get home from school, or watching an episode of Drag Race with my wife every Friday.

Those little things are the things that keep me going, and they're giving me the energy to start looking forward to how I can get back out in the world and be helpful.

Things I've learned

Here are all the random things I've been contemplating over the past month:

👨‍🎨 Personal growth insights

My 7 year old daughter told us she thinks she's getting too old for Barbie.

This was crushing for me and my wife to hear, but for different reasons.

For my wife, it was the prototypical "my kid is growing up" response that all parents feel when they see their kid age. I don't wanna minimize that feeling, because I certainly feel it myself: it's bittersweet to see your kids grow up.

But for me, it was a good reminder that the grass is always greener on the other side.

I can't remember the last time I dreamed about what I wanted. I feel like I've been coasting for at least the last several years.

Besides hanging with my family/friends and the occasional fun project at work, there hasn't been much driving me forward to grow.

And that's probably where a good chunk of my depression is coming from.

I could either sit and analyze the "why" (and trust me when I say that I have), but the more important thing is to be grateful for coming to this realization and making strides towards dreaming again.

My problem is that I, uh, kind of forgot how to do that.

Part of it stems from my engineering brain continually looking for edge cases that cause me to reject a dream wholesale.

Another big part of it might be this fear of losing what I've already got. I worked hard to build a reputation, I've got a great family that needs to be provided for, I've got a house that needs maintenance and improvements, the list goes on and on.

But whatever the reason, I find that dreaming is a muscle that can atrophy. I have a similar theory about being extroverted: after the pandemic, I found being around people to be exhausting in a way that I never felt before. My extroversion tendencies returned as I continually subjected myself to new groups of people.

Dreaming feels the same way: continually practicing and refining the act of dreaming is the only way to get good at it.

That's what makes me jealous of my daughter and son.

I watch them play with Barbies together, and their ability to play baffles me.

How can you just start playing?

How can you come up with new scenarios and then go for it?

I ended up talking to my daughter about this. It felt great to share with her how I'm jealous of her ability to be young and idealistic and have a vision for how her life can be, and I'm jealous of how she's able to express that vision through her play.

She ended up deciding to keep her Barbies, and I'm extremely grateful for that. It means there's still more time for me to learn first hand from the master of dreaming.

She'lo yada, yada.

I was speaking with someone about struggling to make a decision that needed to be made, and he told me about this expression that he heard his family say a lot growing up.

It's a Hebrew expression that means "He who doesn't know, knows."

This pairs nicely with the Derek Sivers axiom of "Hell Yes, or No," where something is either impossible to say no to, or you simply say no to it.

Both of these, of course, are "easier said than done" aphorisms to adopt, but it's good to document them nonetheless.

It's awesome to end things.

I spoke with a friend who ran a very popular blog about his adventures traveling to various breweries, and we were both talking about how we were considering winding down our various beer-related projects.

Throughout my entrepreneurial journey, I keep coming across articles expressing the importance to consider the ending to whatever you start.

At one networking event, I heard a speaker ask "what is the percentage likelihood that you will exit your business?"

The answer: 100%.

Because at some point, you will die.

That is the ultimate finality, of course, but the longer I'm around here on earth, the more I have to start embracing the good side of things ending.

I built a decade ago because my wife and I were extremely passionate about supporting craft breweries, and we had a goal to get to every single brewery in the state.

Fast forward ten years, our ambitions have changed. It's difficult to convince two young kids to sit in a car for several hours on a weekend, let alone motivate myself to spend all that time traveling to visit a brewery that, in all likelihood, only produces mediocre beer.

I've gotten all that I can get out of that project. My biggest takeaway is that a brewery often is a boon for a small town. Even if the beer isn't going to win any awards, we all collectively need more third spaces, and breweries act as a fantastic gathering place for a community.

According to my Untappd account, I've had 7,445 beers since joining the app in August of 2012. Of that, 4,346 of them were unique. I've had 200 different styles of beers, and I've learned that I like Pilsners, Belgians (anywhere from Dubbels to Quads), Extra Special Bitters, Kölsch beers, and straight up, old school IPAs.

I know what good beer tastes like, and I know what breweries make good beers in our state.

So what's the benefit to continuing that app?

I shared a video from Hank Green last year about letting go of the dreams of your past in order to free yourself up for new ones, and that's the mindset I gotta adopt here.

It's always sad to end things. I remember every closing circle after a show would end in theatre was a mess of emotions and tears. I remember losing our final football game in high school, looking around the field, seeing tears and frustrations mount on the faces of my teammates. You never wanna say goodbye to something that gave you so much joy.

It kind of reminds me of this exchange from Hook (one of my favorite movies of all time):1

Hook: Are you ready to die, boy?

Peter: To die would be a great adventure.

Killing off parts of our former self on which we linger is a privilege which allows us to fully move on to the next adventure.

Al Snow on Success

I felt under the weather this month for a couple days, and on one of those days, I decided to watch the Wrestlers documentary on Netflix.

Two things I want to mention about that:

First, the whole thing felt like a work-shoot to me. I love the way professional wrestling blurs the line between what's real and what's made up.

It felt like the documentarians were very intentional about painting Al as the babyface (the good guy) and Matt Jones as the heel (the bad guy).

I hope OVW gets a good boost in viewership as a result of the documentary. They did a great job of showing how the sauce gets made, and I'm sure they know it's the exact sort of thing that hooks in smart marks like me.

Second, since I assume all of those wrestling terms are not meaningful to most of you, here's a great quote that comes at the end of the documentary:

If you equate success in a destination (that destination being WWE), you’re probably not gonna get it. But if you equate success in doing something you’re passionate about and that you love, and that gives you purpose and drive, then you’re successful.

I keep asking myself what success means to me, and while I don't have a solid answer yet, maybe it's because I'm still working on giving myself permission to dream without restrictions.

I'll get there soon, though. I can feel it.

Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car".

After Tracy performed with Luke Combs at the Grammy's this year, I saw a post that talked about her performance of Fast Car in front of an extremely frustrated crowd at Wembley Stadium in 1988.

You can find recaps of the story online, but the long and short of it is that Stevie Wonder was refusing to go on stage at this birthday celebration for Nelson Mandela, so Tracy came back out on stage and performed Fast Car.

When you watch the video, you hear the crowd go from rowdy to genuinely moved.

It's hauntingly beautiful. That song has always been a staple in my rotation, and after hearing it performed in this way, it makes it even more special.

We should use all of our senses to find our way.

I feel like the best metaphor I can give for how depression feels to me is a fog that completely obstructs my vision.

No matter which direction I look, all I see is a dense fog of nothingness.

But what I keep reminding myself is that even when you can't see, you still have at least four other senses you can use.

I'm not sure how to use those other senses yet, but I'm starting to use my ears to listen for opportunities, my nose to sniff out which direction to walk in, and my gut to validate which direction feels right.

The Dan Patch Club serves as a template for who I wanna be when I get old.

My dad invited me to speak to The Dan Patch Club, which is a subgroup of residents and friends of the Masonic Home in Bloomington dedicated to learning and exploring various topics together.

I'm ashamed to admit that I'm not immune from playing the generational blame game. But placing each other into broad, faceless groups like "boomers" or "millennials" only makes it harder for us to pool our collective wisdom and work together to solve real problems that our society faces.

Short of vague jokes about mysticism and ritualistic masonic secrets, I honestly had no idea what to expect when my dad asked me to come speak to these Masons.

I figured the hour would be spent giving a broad introduction to generative AI tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney, but what surprised me was how many hands were raised when I asked "how many of you have used ChatGPT?"

I should've known better because I did know that this room contained two PhDs and a retired attorney. All of these guys had extremely poignant and informed questions about the use of AI in our society.

We talked about the legal implications of deep fakes, the ability to spread election propaganda at unfathomable speed, how these models "reason" and come up with "truth", and the most important question which continues to plague us information workers: "how do you turn off predictive autocomplete in Microsoft Word?"

As we were wrapping up, I actually didn’t want it to end in the same way I haven’t wanted many of my conversations to end lately.

Sparking that curiosity in people is one of the key values I've been aspiring towards as I craft my vision for the next ten years.

I hope when I’m their age, I’m still kickin’ it with my homies, whomever they may be, nerding it up about complex topics, continuing to challenge myself and grow as much as possible.

Is anxiety only reducible when you are focused on your basal instincts and needs?

It seems like the only known treatments and mitigations for anxiety center around mindfulness and getting your brain to live in the present.

Is that really it? Living in the now is the only way to make anxiety go away?

It seems like there should be more we can do to harness our ability to look into the future while keeping the major doom scenarios from spiraling in our heads.


Anyone have any good suggestions for developing a consistant medication practice?

I have tried apps in the past but haven't found them to be sticky or altogether helpful.

Daniel Tiger isn't only for kids.

Toward the end of February, I had a major backslide with my mental health, and it kind of came to a head one day while I was dropping my son off at daycare.

I usually let him pick out what we listen to, and he chose the Daniel Tiger's Big Feelings album.

One of the first songs on that album is called "Close Your Eyes and Think of Something Happy."

I ended up at a red light and, as I found myself descending into some negative thoughts, I decided to do exactly that.

And you know what I saw?

Absolutely nothing.

It crushed me.

I'm a grown ass man, and I couldn't even come up with a single thing in that moment to think of in order to make me happy.

Suddenly, from the back seat, I hear my boy giggling and singing along.


That moment highlighted to me how badly I needed help through this stuff. That there is a ton to be happy about.

I'm glad my son was able to help me get out of my head.

And I'm glad I'm no longer dismissing those songs as "simple kid songs." We can all use a reminder for how to process sad and angry feelings in a healthy manner.

It's easier to venture out when you know you can return home.

I heard Dr. Becky mention it in that Farnam Street podcast, but she was talking about the relationship between teenagers and parents.

I've been considering the sentiment in regards to music.

For the past five years, I've been very curious about genres of music from which I've typically shied away.

I decided to listen through my entire local library of music, which is currently sitting at 83 days of non-stop new tunes.

That library is filled with music of every type of genre imaginable. Country. Experimental free jazz. 70s East African jams. Norwegian death metal. A mashup of Metallica and The Beatles. All kinds of EDM mixes.

It took more than 4 years to get through all of it, but I finished it with an appreciation of the core albums that have been there for me my whole life.

The other day, I decided to shuffle my "key albums", which is any album I've given a star rating of 4.5 or higher.

I was instantly transported back to several happy moments in my life. Building Ralph Wiggum images in front of my computer in my childhood bedroom. Walking home to my (eventually) condemned house in college. Going for a run around the pond in Bloomington. Riding the light rail home.

Solitary moments where I didn't need to worry about what other people would think of what I was listening to.

A place where I can be myself.

That concept applies to much of our soul searching. We are only able to be truly adventurous when we know there's a safe place for us to come home to when we're weary from exploration.

I find myself drawn to people who are able to speak passionately about their cause much in the same way my kids talk about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

There's something magical about believing in something.

There's something special about having solid, firm convictions on which you stand.

It's this palpable energy you can feel emanating from someone sharing their passions.

I felt it at a couple of job interviews I had last month.

I felt it while speaking with friends about AI.

I felt it playing crazy rummy with my wife and talking about what we want to do for our ten year anniversary.

Maybe that's the feeling I should be chasing. Is that feeling "joy"?

I'm not sure where I started getting so disillusioned about that feeling in a professional context.

But I'm eager to find a job where I can surround myself with that energy once again.

Kids simply do not care about success like grown ups do.

When my daughter was 4, I'd watch her play a game where she'd have to pick the right word and she would purposefully pick the wrong one.

Like, I knew she knew the right word, but she intentionally picked the wrong one.

It sent me up a wall.

But one day, I asked her why she was picking the wrong one on purpose.

She said, "I like the noise it makes when I get it wrong."

My kids are way better at learning and dealing with uncertainty than I am.

And success is whatever you define it to be.

I can't thank you all enough.

A lot of my journaling over the past month is just, like, truly dismal.

But there are moments of light, and they're all thanks to you all.

I am forever indebted to the literal hundreds of people who have reached out to ask me how I'm doing. I'm so fortunate that I've got so many people who care about me.

I feel like I'm not able to be my own best friend right now. I find myself continually returning to a place where I can't stop beating myself up.

You know how people used to take their old cars that they don't want anymore and drive them deep into the woods and leave them there? That's how I feel right now. I feel like a beat up old car that's completely rusted through, nature slowly consuming and reclaiming it.

But it's conversations with many of you that are helping me see that's not an accurate picture of reality.

So thanks for checking in on me. It's definitely helping me get through the fog.

👨‍💼 Professional growth insights

If someone calls themselves an "expert", it's because they're trying to sell you something.

This insight came from a talk by the incredible Jim Wilt that technically came from January, but I didn't include it in last month's post and want to make sure I include it now.

My inbox is a prime source of stress.

It's a roulette wheel where sometimes you win big (a job offer, a congratulatory email, a rave review), but you also sometimes lose big (a threat of a lawsuit, a late bill notice).

I'm still learning how to separate work from my personal life, but a good place to start is to go to your settings on your phone and turn the inbox off for your work email.

You don't need to remove it altogether.

But when I was at Bionic Giant, I turned it off, and it helped my stress levels immensely at night.

It allowed me to turn it on if I needed access to a message on my phone during the day, but then I could easily turn it off at night so I didn't get distracted when I went to my inbox to read a newsletter.

It's awfully hard to say "no."

I wrote a lot in my journal this month about how a lot of my anxiety stems from saying "yes" to everyone and everything.

One reason I can't say "no" is because I'm not sure what I actually want. Saying "yes" at least gives me the chance to figure out if it's something I want.

But when I say "yes" to too many things, I never get a chance to sit back and reflect on whether it was something I wanted.

Which basically describes the first decade+ of my professional career. I say "yes" to the point where I have no room in my schedule to reflect.

I need a better analogy for how generative AI arrives at its solutions when compared to a search engine.

If anyone has any ideas, let me know.

I don't get why I feel so guilty for feeling sick.

I find it next to impossible to rest as it is.

But when I'm sick, it's like my anxiety works in overdrive to try and let me know that I'm falling behind on stuff.

I said this earlier, but I felt a little under the weather one day this past month, and I ended up calling folks and cancelling my meetings with them. The guilt I felt was incredible.

I appreciate having anxiety to keep me thinking through possible problems and pushing myself to move forward to fix them, but the combination of the "fight or flight" and "freeze" responses makes it tough to get anything done.

Learning new things becomes a lot harder as you age.

I was turned down from a job I was rather hopeful to get because I don't have the experience in the Javascript framework that they were looking for.

So I decided I was gonna sit down this past week and learn it.

I tell you, I watched three different tutorials, and I could not bring myself to finishing any of them.

The problem here is that I already know how to build web apps. I've been doing it since I was eight years old.

I've learned how to build web apps by hand, by using PHP, by using Laravel (a framework built using PHP), by using Wordpress, and by using Ruby on Rails.

And you know what I've realized after all that learning? They're all slightly different ways of achieving the same thing.

And guess what? There are roughly a dozen different additional popular ways to build and deploy web apps. There's all kinds of containerization techniques to deploy scalable platforms. There are cloud providers that allow you to spin up all sorts of architectures to scale your platform. There are a bajillion different Javascript frameworks to write your code in, along with a quadrillion CSS frameworks to style your apps in.

I may have hit my Morgan Freeman in Shawshank moment where I simply don't care what technology we use anymore.

You feel compelled to use Rails to build a monolith? Great!

You think you're gonna hit a scale that requires a complex microservice infrastructure built on hundreds of lambdas? Fine, sure, let's do it.

The thing is, I don't want to learn a new framework for the sake of learning a new framework.

If I needed to figure out a specific architecture for a job, I am 100% confident that I could do it, even if it requires using a framework that I've never used. That's what nearly 30 years of building on the internet does for me.


Can I be real with you all for a minute?

Of all the sections I've written in this blog post, this one is the one I am having the hardest time releasing to the world.

I have a feeling I'm coming off as a bit of a crybaby.

I recognize that any craftsperson needs to hone their craft and stay up to date with the latest tooling in order to be marketable.

My problem may be that I'm conflating burnout symptoms with my general interest in learning new things.

In every development project I've ever worked on, I've had to learn new things.

There's always a new API, a new SDK, a new framework to pick up.

It's been part of my agency life for my entire career.

Maybe my problem isn't with learning new things. Maybe it's that I'm exhausted from having to whip around from tech to tech without ever taking an opportunity to go deep on any one of them in particular.

Even as a seasoned Ruby on Rails developer with more than a decade of use, I feel like I'm falling behind with all the fancy new Rails 7 functionalities like serving HTML over the wire.

There are a million different ways to build websites, and I'm struck with the realizing that I'll never learn all of them.

Maybe I have to decide whether I want to sharpen the tools I do know intimately, or whether now is a time to adopt new tools and put in the work to become an expert with those ones.

They say learning new things becomes harder as you get older.

What's next for me

Last month, I committed to coming back with a more clear vision of what I want my life to be. I don't think I'm at a point where I'm ready to articulate my vision, so I am going to continue spending time honing that through journaling, meditation, and conversation. I hope to be in a place to share a rough draft with y'all next month.

I also want to keep up my recent blitz of sharing links here on my blog. I'm going to add in a "tagging" feature to my posts so I can start keeping better track of things I talk about on here and find them more easily.

I also want to start podcasting again. I will commit that by next month, I'll be able to tell you what my new podcast will be about. My friend Dana and I are going to start meeting once a week to hold each other accountable on our various endeavors, and that's what I'll be spending that time plotting.

If you're reading this and want to know how you can help me, here's how:

  1. If you know of a full time (32-40 hr/week) job opportunity where I can help architect a complex software system for a meaningful organization and lead a team of people to get it built, please send it my way.
  2. If you come across any thought leaders who are speaking about AI from a perspective of what it will mean for our humanity (in how we work, how we organize, how we think, etc.), please connect them with me!

Thanks again for reading all the way to the end! If you did, I would love to hear if anything resonated with you. Shoot me an email or a note on LinkedIn.

  1. The next line in this exchange is, ironically, "Death is the only adventure you have left," which I don't feel fits neatly into my narrative here, but it's still a great movie. I can't wait for my kids to be old enough to enjoy it like I still do. 

Beat anxiety with the most addictive experience on Earth

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

Really straight forward advice here:

  1. Write down ten things that you’re grateful for, and write each one three times. (This points out to the brain things that have already happened that are good, which lets us take in less negative stuff)
  2. Practice mindfulness for 11 minutes a day. (This is proven to calm down your nervous system and make you less emotionally reactive)
  3. Exercise 20-40 minutes until the voice in your head gets quiet and your lungs open up. (This releases nitric oxide and also resets the nervous system)

I think I can incorporate the gratefulness piece into my journaling habit I’ve developed.

I have never been able to get a mindfulness practice to stick, but hey, maybe that’s something I can try to start tomorrow.

Exercise has been, admittedly, hit or miss these past several months. I do enjoy Apple Fitness workouts, but I miss the runner’s high I used to get with running. I need another goal-based exercise activity to keep myself on track.

But I digress: all of these serve as catalysts to get you into a state of flow, which, as mentioned in this video, is one of the greatest experiences you can ever feel.

Tags for this post:

The Job Hunt Chronicles: Month 1: Discovering My Path

originally shared here on

An AI-generated image showing some business guy standing at a crossroads, looking at a wide array of paths and opportunities floating in the sky.

I was laid off from my job on January 2. It did come as a bit of a shock, and for the first time in my life, I've been really struggling to figure out who I am and what I'm looking for.

As a way to keep pushing myself forward and holding myself accountable, I'm going to start publicly documenting this process as a way to process my thoughts out loud, keep my friends and network aware of my activities, and start some conversations that'll help me take my next step forward.

"What are you looking for?"

If I could summarize the past month in a single question, that would be it.

In the 58 conversations I've had in the past month with friends, recruiters, industry peers, networking events, partners, and job interviewers, I've been asked that question literally every single time.

And 58 times later, I think I'm starting to get closer to an answer.

Here's what I'm looking for:

  1. A team of kind, smart, and hard-working people
  2. A mission that the team rallies around which helps improve as many lives as possible
  3. A leadership role to help drive an engineering team towards fulfilling that mission
  4. Doing all of this while continuing to experiment with LLMs and other AI technologies
  5. Connecting with as many people as possible to explore the impact of AI on who we are as humans
  6. Something that includes medical benefits to support my family

It doesn't matter much to me what the title is. Some roles I've applied and begun interviewing for include "Director of Engineering," "Software Architect," "AI/ML Lead," and "Founding Engineer".

If you know of any opportunities that you think would fit a nerdy kid who has a big heart and enjoys exploring practical applications of artificial intelligence, please send them my way!

Activities I've done

Here's a list of the activities I've pursued between January 2 (the day I got laid off) and February 3 (today):

  • Friends: 11
  • Recruiters: 11
  • Industry Peers: 19
  • Networking Events: 6
  • Interviews: 8
  • Partner Chats: 3
  • Total: 58

Here are my loose definitions for these categories:

  • Friends: People I have a deeper relationship with and whose primary interest isn't necessarily in discussing the job search.
  • Recruiters: People who have a vested interest in pairing me up with a job. These could become friends at some point, but my primary purpose in engaging with them was to talk shop.
  • Industry Peers: People who work in the industry and want to make a connection to expand each other's networks. Again, these folks could become friends at some point.
  • Networking Events: Events geared towards either making connections or learning something new with a bunch of other people.
  • Interviews: Discussions with people who have a possible role that I can fill.
  • Partner Chats: I do still have an entrepreneurial bone in my body, so these are discussions with those I am working on building a business with.

As you can see so far, most of my time has been with folks in the industry, making connections, trying to explore what opportunties are out there.

I'm hoping that I start to see more growth in the "interviews" column by this time next month. 😅

Things I've learned

Alright, so back in the day, I used to do these blog posts where I'd accumulate a bunch of random thoughts over a period of time and then list them out in bullets. I'm gonna do something similar here, so here are some things I've learned in the past month:

👨‍🎨 Personal growth insights

Safe spaces rule.

Every classroom in my daughter's school has had a "safe space", an area of the room that kids can go to when they're overwhelmed or stressed out. It gives them a place to calm down and process their emotions.

My daughter recreated one in her room. Beneath her lofted bed, she's created this fortress of solitude. It consists of a beanbag chair, a little lamp, some stuffed animals, a sound machine, books, crafts, and affirmations scotch taped to blanket walls.

When I took my first virtual therapy call, I did it from that safe space.

Our house isn't big enough for me to build a room with one, but once I get employment again, I'll begin finding a way to add one on. It's important to have a space you can retreat to where you feel safe.

Anxiety is an asset.

There's a reason we feel anxiety: it helps us stay safe from threats.

But when you're abundantly safe in nearly every sense of the word, anxiety itself becomes a threat.

I've been dealing with runaway anxiety issues for decades now, which is a big part of the reason I don't feel comfortable spinning up my own business at the moment. The last time I did that ended with a similar series of rolling anxiety attacks.

But as a professional software architect, anxiety is actually pretty useful. Being able to envision possible threats against the system allows you to create mitigations that will keep it safe and efficient.

Of course, you gotta be careful to not let your applied anxiety run away from you. Easier said than done.

"It'll all work out. Even if it doesn't, it all works out."

My lifelong pal Cody's mom is a paragon of confidence and chillness.

I went for a walk with Cody a week into being laid off, and we got to talking about her parents.

She shared that her mom often says that quote, which is what gives her that confidence.

I need more of that in my life.

Gravity Falls is an amazing television show.

You all should look it up on Disney+ and burn through it in a weekend.

It's one of those shows that slowly builds to a gigantic payoff at the end.

The finale hit me with all the feelings.

Plus, it's a good show to bond over with your seven year old daughter.

Journaling really helps with perspective.

I've journaled every day since getting laid off. Reading back through them, I'm seeing patterns into what activities contribute to good days versus bad days.

Good days include some sort of vigorous workout, a conversation or two with a good pal, and tons of encouraging self talk.

Bad days include skipping the workout and sitting by yourself with your horrible, negative self talk.

Journaling is proof that life still goes on even if I don't have a job.

It's also proof that I'm at least taking some advantage of not having the responsibility of a job. (Not nearly enough, though.)

What helps my depression is a clear vision.

I've realized this month that it's when I've taken the path of least resistance when I've ended up the most miserable.

When I was a senior in high school and needed to decide what to do with my life, I picked a school (the U of M) and a degree (computer engineering) that were convenient because of proximity and my interest in computers.

My first semester of college was a complete shock.

For the first time in my academic career, I hated school.

The classes absolutely drained me. My "intensive precalculus" class sounded about as fun as you'd imagine. I mean, yeah, there are some people out there who enjoy math, but it's a rare breed who would say that they derive pleasure from "intense math."

My calculus-based physics class was a kick in the teeth. I've always been told I'm smart, but memorizing and deploying specific formulas on demand was not my strong suit. It made me feel dumb.

It felt like I was there because I had to be there, not because I wanted to be there.

And how ludicrous is that? I spent $12,000 per semester out of some perceived obligation to do so.

When I failed miserably out of engineering school, I sat down in Coffman Memorial Union and scrolled through the class directory, looking for something that looked interesting to me.

I ended up landing on a class called Broadcast Television Production, which gave me so much energy.

It required me to become a journalism major, so I switched over to that.

That path led me to an internship at WCCO, which was one of the most enjoyable professional experiences in my life. I mean, I got to hang out with hard working creatives that perfectly blended their surly dispositions with a passion for making engaging videos.

Now that I'm in my mid-thirties, I feel like I no longer am obliged to follow any specific path. The only thing holding me in place is myself.

For the past six months, I've felt like I've been stuck in this fog of uncertainty and depression. I've felt useless, a drain on myself and those around me.

This fog has led me down some dark paths where I've said some really nasty things to myself, kicking myself for being a loser, a failure, an idiot.

But really, my problem was that I just lost sight of who I am and what I want to be.

So while I'm still squinting to see my way through the fog, I'm using some of my other senses instead.

I'm using my ears to listen to my friends and network who are serving as voices to pull me out.

I'm using my nose to sniff out opportunities and make new friends.

And perhaps the most important of all: I'm using my heart to decide what will make me feel fulfilled and useful.

All of that stuff is helping me form the vision for what the next few years of my life looks like.

The two resources I have to offer those who may be in a similar situation would be my pal Kurt Schmidt who is currently in the final stages of a book that helps you formulate your 10 year vision, and my idol Arnold Schwarzenegger's new book Be Useful.

I cannot recommend the audiobook version of his book enough. Hearing Arnold say things like "rest is for babies, and relaxation is for retired people" hits so much better with his accent.

The messages shared in children's programming are important to hear as adults too.

I've been hanging with my kids a lot this month, and my son is super into Paw Patrol and Blue's Clues.

In the "Big City Adventure" musical movie, you follow Josh (yeah, there's been several new "Steve" characters since the show debuted in my childhood) as he tries to achieve his dream of performing on Broadway.

Are the songs simple and annoyingly catchy? Definitely. But you know what? Sometimes, it's important for us, as adults, to believe that "happiness is magic" and "you can do anything that you wanna do."

Paw Patrol is another one of those shows where, as an adult, it's easy to complain about their reductive storylines and fantastical premises.

But on the other hand, I have a vivid memory of discussing the Green Ranger's transformation into the White Ranger on the bus as a first grader.

These stories serve as lessons for teamwork, cooperation, sharing, and the importance of spreading joy and helping those in need.

These are traits that come easier to some than others, but they're crucial if we want to have a thriving society that lifts all of us up as humans.

Plus, sometimes, it's just fun to get invested in silly, simple characters and storylines.

So while I'm still gonna watch RuPaul's Drag Race or FUBAR when the kids go to bed, don't sleep on the shows that your kids are into. If you can drop your "I'm too good for this" mentality, you might just remember how simple life can be if you reduce it to its basic concepts.

How does one build confidence without cultivating hubris?

Is it just staying humble?

Asking for a friend.

...okay, I'm asking for myself.

Brain pathways are forged through the tall grass.

My therapist gave me this analogy as a way to help me visualize how to deal with changing your perspectives.

When a pathway is stomped through the tall grass, it's easy to walk down it.

But sometimes, those pathways no longer serve us. We still choose to walk down them, though, because it's easy.

If you want to forge newer and more helpful pathways, you gotta do the hard work of stamping out new pathways.

Eventually, if you keep doing the work, you'll discover that the old pathways become overgrown, and the one you stamped out for yourself is now the easy path.

I think this metaphor works for so many areas of our lives, like getting into shape or improving our own self talk.

If I'm so smart, why can't I beat depression?

I wrote that question in my journal, and I think it's because depression might not be something you beat. It's something you experience when you have achieved so much and aren't confident in what's next.

You "beat" depression by choosing to take a step towards your vision every single day.

You "beat" depression by spending less time with your brain and more time with your heart.

You "beat" depression by engaging in creative pursuits that make you happy. Just you. Nobody else.

👨‍💼 Professional insights

AI is so much fun to experiment with!

One of the goals I set for myself this winter was to clean out the crawlspace we have under our steps.

As any homeowner knows, it's easy to accumulate stuff over the years. The item that left the biggest footprint? Several totes filled with baby clothes.

It doesn't seem like we're on the path toward baby number 3 at all, so we figured it was a good opportunity to purge it all.

I ended up donating 12 boxes of clothes.

While I carefully placed each item into one of those boxes, I dutifully tallied each one so I could calculate the fair market value in order to write the donation off on my taxes.

Now, this is something I've done for years. I find some spreadsheet on the internet that helps calculate it, then I manually add the items to the sheet to end up with the value.

This time, I decided to try to use AI to help me figure this out.

I live streamed the whole process, which you can check out here.

I learned two things during this experiment: first, OCR tools aren't that great at reading tally marks (but honestly, they did better than I expected). Second, while we're still a fair ways away from being able to hand off tasks like these to AI bots, it's impressive how far GPT-4 was able to get from my basic prompting.

Can AI really take away the "soul sucking" parts of our jobs?

There are a lot of mechanical tasks that our brains are wired to be good at: counting, pattern recognition, and so forth.

These tasks are often the crappiest parts of our jobs, right? It's the monotonous, soul-sucking parts of our work. And we even call it soul sucking because it often feels like stuff that gets in the way from pursuing better, more fulfilling things.

So what does that leave us with? If the soul sucking parts of our jobs are automated away, what does it mean then for us to be human?

Maybe the future here isn't that AI will kill us all. Maybe it will force us, for the first time in the existence of our species, to truly deal with what it means to value a human life.

It will free us up to pursue creative pursuits. To keep digging deeper on our humanity. To ask new questions about what that actually means, and then allow us to pursue it together with machines helping us do some of that hard work for us.

Maybe something I can look into is figuring out how to use AI to help us understand our brains better. Like, can AI help us figure out the chemical imbalances that lead to severe depression? And if it can, can it help us synthesize treatments to keep our brains in perfect balance all the time? And if it can, does that prevent us from being human, or does it make us more human?

"Happiness is to write code that does great things for other people."

Before getting laid off, I bought tickets to Code Freeze at the University of Minnesota. The annual event focused this year on artificial intelligence, so it would've been foolish not to go.

I am so glad I did.

The event kicked off with a keynote from Andreas Sjöström, a long time industry leader, who shared a story of a paper he wrote when he was young.

His teacher asked him to define happiness, and he came up with "happiness is to write code that does great things for other people."

Really, when he said that, it felt like someone suddenly turned the focus knob from "blurry" to "sharp."

Writing software is challenging work filled with constant struggle, but once you get things working right, it's magical.

We, as engineers, often lose sight of that magic because we get so invested in discovering the secrets to the magic.

Sometimes, it's nice to just sit back and appreciate the opportunity and privilege we have to deliver technology that brings not only joy to others, but empowers them to go forth and do great things.

"An architect's crystal ball is being connected to others."

The other networking event I attended that brought so much joy is the AppliedAI meetup.

This month's meeting featured Jim Wilt, a distinguished software architect, as he discussed AI's role in an organization's architecture strategy.

The thing that struck me at this particular event was how dang smart everyone there was. All forms of intelligence were explored. Some folks were really keyed into the emotional side of intelligence, while others were approaching things from an analytical lens.

All of us were working together to gain some insights into how we can better use these amazing tools we've been given.

That spirit was wrapped up in a story Jim was saying about the importance of collaboration.

In isolation, you're only as smart as yourself. When connected to others, you are able to make deeper and more accurate insights into what might work for your own situation or problem.

The key takeaway? "An architect's crystal ball is being connected to others."

If we're going to answer the tough ethical and societal problems that surround these new AI tools, the only way we'll figure it out is together.

What's next for me

Certainly, my next month will involve more meetings, more interviews, and more digging into this vision.

I commit that by this time next month, I'll be back with a more clear vision of what I want my life to be. That way, when one of you wonderful people asks me "what are you looking for," I can provide a hyper-focused answer.

As always, a huge thanks to those who have reached out and offered their support. Like I said above, being connected to others is really what makes all the difference.

If you would like to help, here's how:

  1. If you know of a full time (32-40 hr/week) job opportunity where I can help architect a complex software system, explore how AI can fit into an organization, or lead a team of nerds towards building an awesome product, please send it my way.
  2. If you have insights or articles that speak to how AI might force us to define our humanity, please send those my way.

Until next month, stay in touch!

Another year another...

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

Ever since I entered into adulthood, I think that I’ve pretty much played by the rules. I sometimes try to present myself as anti-authoritarian, but I’ve come to understand that underneath that, I am someone who is very afraid of doing the wrong thing, everyone getting mad, and abandoning me.

The learning, or unlearning, or re-learning, of this year has been that I can make my own rules. And, inside that, I can also break my own rules. I make the rules, I can remake the rules, and I can do it as many times as I like. How liberating, am I right?

I’m finally checking out my pal Micah’s 2023 mix, and reading this explanation of his rules is super relatable.

I’ve always presented myself the complete opposite, though: extremely compliant and eager to follow the rules.

I’ve been trying to unlearn these habits over the past few years. It’s not so much a middle finger to the system; rather, it’s my way of posturing to others that I am willing to cooperate with you, but I’m not going to partake in unnecessary ceremonies anymore.

The spirit of this mix embodies a delightful way of rebelling against our own anxieties. And the fact that it is just barely askew from the rules makes it that much more lovely.

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Is materialism really such a bad thing?

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

The French priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin famously said that “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience”. In other words, our minds and souls are having a material experience here on Earth. You would imagine that a healthy society would therefore cherish both sides of this duality - the non-physical and the physical. The strange thing about our modern culture though is that we have rejected almost all concept of spirituality and, according to Watts, we have also forgotten the value of the material world, leaving us with nothing that we truly value.

I just finished bringing 12 full boxes of baby clothes outside for donation.

Twelve boxes of mostly mediocre fabrics stitched together to be worn, what, ten times at the most? And in some cases, never worn at all.

Twelve boxes that contained thousands of dollars worth of labor to purchase them initially, not to mention the thousands of hours of labor to stitch them together in the first place.

And while placing every single item inside those twelve boxes, I hardly felt nostalgic or wasted any time lamenting the loss of anything I was discarding.

I kept thinking of a quote that says, “Look around you. All that stuff used to be money. All that money used to be time.”

And it made me think about my anxiety surrounding my job search. Needing to get myself back into the work force, just so I can keep consuming more stuff?

I think a lot of my anxiety stems from moments where I’m unable to make sense of a given situation (or, at the very least, make peace with it).

This is the system we’re in. There’s only so much I can change about it.

My kids got so much stuff for Christmas this year. Thousands of dollars of toys, books, clothes, games.

And yet, they don’t really care about any of it.

Their Barbie dream house? It’s in shambles, with stickers peeling off the walls and various marker doodles covering the floors.

Their PAW Patrol Lookout? Shoved in the corner along with two complete sets of each of the 7 (wait, 8? wait, no, they added a few more?) characters with vehicles in various states of destruction.

The best I can hope for is that they get a few hours of enjoyment from these toys.

Because someday soon, probably within the next two years, I’ll have to grab twelve more cardboard boxes out of the garage and start placing all of those toys into them.

And there is very little about this situation that makes sense to me.

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How Anxiety Became Content

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

Darby Saxbe, a clinical psychologist at the University of Southern California and a mother to a high schooler, told me she has come to think that, for many young people, claiming an anxiety crisis or post-traumatic stress disorder has become like a status symbol. “I worry that for some people, it’s become an identity marker that makes people feel special and unique,” Saxbe said. “That’s a big problem because this modern idea that anxiety is an identity gives people a fixed mindset, telling them this is who they are and will be in the future.” On the contrary, she said, therapy works best when patients come into sessions believing that they can get better. That means believing that anxiety is treatable, modifiable, and malleable—all the things a fixed identity is not.

It’s hard enough to come to the realization that you are not your anxiety or depression. Wearing it on your shirt and proudly broadcasting it to everyone doesn’t do you any favors.

Saxbe said the best thing we can do for ourselves when we’re anxious or depressed is to fight our instinct to avoid and ruminate, rather than get sucked into algorithmic wormholes of avoidance and rumination. The best thing one can do when they’re depressed is to reject the instinct to stay in bed basking in the glow of a phone, and to instead step outside, engage with a friend, or do something else that provides more opportunities for validation and reward. “I would tell people to do what’s uncomfortable, to run toward danger,” Saxbe said. “You are not your anxiety. You’re so much more.”

As I mentioned in a link from earlier today, I’ve been dealing with a rolling anxiety attack that’s lasted the better part of a full week.

I spent an afternoon in the ER because I was actually seeing changes on my Apple Watch’s ECG report when stressful thoughts would cross my mind. I could feel this deep pain in my chest, and as I write this down, I am still feeling that pain.

These pains are part of the anxiety attacks I’ve dealt with off and on for at least a decade, but unlike the other attacks, the problem with this one is that I couldn’t put my finger on why it was happening.

Besides journaling late at night with a nice, chill album playing in the background, the only thing that’s helped so far is stepping outside and engaging with friends.

It’s incredible that we live in a time where we can open up about our feelings and process difficult emotions with the help of others.

As Pete Holmes says, it helps to get into the headspace of observing your thoughts. When you notice a thought that says, “I am depressed”, you can instead say, “There is depression.”

Even if you’re not struggling with your mental health right now, it’s worth checking out that Pete Holmes video so you can have another tool at your disposal in the off chance you find yourself in depressionland.

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Behind the Red Dot: Confessions of a TEDx Newbie

originally shared here on

Me on stage at TEDx St. Cloud

My TEDx talk is now live. About a month has passed since I delivered the talk and I've been trying to figure out the best way to write about my experiences leading up to the big day.

After several iterations, I decided that instead of giving a sequential order of events, I will instead rattle off a list of some lessons I learned in the hopes of both illustrating what I went through to get to the red dot and also giving future TEDx speakers some advice on what can help them get through the process themselves.

Note: There are Amazon affiliate links scattered throughout this post. 🤷

Say "yes" even when you feel like a fraud.

About a year ago, this funky tool called ChatGPT was released to the public. I was immediately captivated by it and started doing everything I could to understand its capabilities.

I also couldn't help but go down an ethics rabbit hole with questions like "how did they get the data for all of this" and "how will this be used to make people's lives worse?"

Around the same time, a friend of mine was putting together potential AMA topics for the upcoming year for Minnestar, and I suggested she put together a panel with experts talking about this very topic.

She said that was a great idea, and she put me on a panel with Damien Riehl, a TEDx speaker who has been working in the AI space as a technologist and lawyer for most of his career.

I have to admit, it was pretty intimidating to go from "a passing interest in AI ethics" to "sit on a panel as an expert," but I figured it would be a good opportunity, so I said yes.

After a really fun and fruitful conversation, I thought that would be the end of my career in AI public speaking.

Shortly after the talk, my friend (Justin Grammens) sent me a DM encouraging me to respond to the request for talk proposals for his upcoming conference about applied AI.

Once again, I found myself with an opportunity to talk about something I would hardly call myself an expert in, but after reflecting on it, I said yes. Considering my background in journalism and technology, I saw prompt engineering as an area in which I could get up to speed quickly and piece together a compelling talk.

The experience was amazing. I ended up making connections with folks all over the industry who are leveraging AI in novel ways. You could just feel the energy and excitement during the entire event.

A day or two after the conference, I had an email show up in my inbox from the organizer of TEDx St. Cloud, asking if I'd be interested in a quick phone call.

That quick phone call ended up being well over an hour where we shared our thoughts around the current state of AI. What was making people afraid? Why are so many people excited? What could "normal people" take away from a 10 minute talk about artificial intelligence?

For the third time in a year, I was presented with an opportunity to say yes.

I thought back to my first two AI talks from the year. I really enjoyed sharing the stage with an AI expert and people seemed to enjoy my opinions during that. I really enjoyed the conversations that came out of my prompt engineering talk.

Over the past couple of years, I've been learning to start having confidence in myself. If I can stand up in front of a group of AI experts and say something interesting to them about prompt engineering, I should be able to stand up in front of a group of normal people and say something interesting to them about artificial intelligence in general.

I said yes. And in retrospect, I don't regret it one bit.

I asked for a ton of help. And I got it.

My daughter holding up a sign she made to cheer me on

I mentioned my TEDx talk opportunity to a few folks in the lead up to the event, and there wasn't a single person whom I asked for help that said "no."

It's astounding how much people will help you if you let them.

As much as people want to help you, you do still need to go to them with specific asks. If you ask general questions, you'll get back general answers.

Instead, I asked a friend of mine who is an expert in branding how can I turn this talk into more talks.

I asked a friend who has spent tons of time investing in understanding the underlying AI technologies what insights he learned that would surprise normal people.

I practiced my talk with a few co-workers and asked them for ideas to improve my stage presence.

I met with the TEDx-assigned speaker coach and asked her for memorization techniques that previous successful speakers used.

People want to help. They feel honored to be part of the team, part of the mission. And it feels good to know I have a deep roster of allies who want to help see me succeed too.

Follow the TED way.

The marquee in front of the Paramount Theater

The organizers of TEDx St. Cloud strongly recommended we should read The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking shortly after we said "yes". It's written by Chris Anderson, the Head of TED, who has a delightful British sensibility to his delivery on best public speaking practices specifically as they relate to giving a TED talk.

A fellow presenter and I were chatting and he mentioned that he didn't have time to read the book, but he rather got the audiobook version.

I decided to use my early morning bike ride time to listen to the book, and for me, it was the perfect way to consume the information.

If you've watched more than a dozen TED talks, you probably could guess at the high level concepts of a quality one: don't read text from slides, maintain good eye contact with the crowd and keep them engaged, be able to distill the core ideas of your talk down to a sentence or two, and so forth.

Besides these points, the book also has some good takeaways such as considering what wardrobe you're going to wear and pick something that won't cause mic feedback or clash with the cameras.

Regardless of how you consume the book, the book is critical in helping you internalize and implement the core qualities that make up a good TED talk.

I would strongly encourage any future TED speaker to take the time to read it as well.

You'll ultimately need to deliver a speech you know isn't perfect.

I'm a recovering perfectionist. I hold myself to impossible standards and feel tremendous guilt when I don't live up to them.

As such, I tried hard during this process to let that go and be comfortable with "good enough".

What helped me the most was giving a copy of my speech to some trusted friends and asking them to pick things apart.

The vast majority offered one or two tiny semantic tweaks, but otherwise gave it a resounding two thumbs up.

If you're a recovering perfectionist like myself, you may find yourself wanting to spend your time continuously rewriting your talk instead of memorizing the talk.

Take it from me: after a certain number of iterations, the talk will be good enough. Lean on your support systems and trust them to tell you when you've hit that point.

Memorize moments, not words.

I have a recurring nightmare where I am suddenly standing backstage at my high school, and I'm compelled to walk out on stage during a theatrical performance, and the other characters all stare at me, and I have no idea what the lines are to the show.

There's probably some trauma to unpack there, but suffice it to say that I have a deep seated fear around rote memorization.

In all the talks I've given in my career, I've never tried to memorize a speech word for word. I believe it limits my ability to feel the crowd and tailor the specific wordage of a point I'd like to make on the spot.

Instead, I try to memorize moments. The process I normally follow when constructing talks looks like this:

  1. Write a thorough outline covering the main points I'd like to make.
  2. Build a slide deck to illustrate those main points.
  3. Rehearse walking through the deck over and over again until you can use the presenter view to remind yourself what point comes next.

The one hiccup with this TEDx talk is that we did not have a "presenter view" monitor in front of us while on stage. We did have a "confidence monitor" which was a mirror of the giant screen we had behind us, but there was no way to prepare for what slide was coming next.

In order to combat this, I had to actually get closer to word-for-word memorization, but instead of words, I memorized phrases.

When I was transitioning between points, I knew the exact phrases I wanted to hit, and then I remembered one or two words associated to that phrase.

As an example, one piece I continually kept missing in my rehearsals was this two-part phrase:

Each of those leaps in technology brought many changes to my life, both voluntarily and mandated by societal pressures. I mean, try being a kid in 2004 without a MySpace.

Adapting our lives to this new tech requires a bit of optimism and a ton of curiosity. None of it will work right out of the gate without us changing our behaviors and our expectations.

I'd always nail my epic MySpace joke, but then I'd forget what my next phrase was, so I memorized that the word "adapting" came after the word "MySpace."

That way, I wouldn't forget that my "MySpace" moment led into my "adapting our lives" moment.

Memorize by listening to yourself.

Much in the same way I found it was easier to consume the TED book by listening to the audiobook, I found it was easiest to practice my speech by recording myself giving it into my phone's voice memo app, and then replaying that again and again and again.

One funny part of that is that you need to get a take of you recording it without screwing up. The reason I kept missing my "Myspace"/"adapting" transition was because I recorded my talk while walking around the front of my office, and a truck nearly hit me while I was in the middle of that take.

That particular moment took place in the last 90 seconds of my talk, so I would've needed to re-record the whole thing to get a clean version of that take.

Learn from my mistake: if you're going this route, record yourself in a quiet room where you're focusing on the script and nailing it as perfectly as you can.

By the way: this was one area I was particularly proud of myself for not overcomplicating. I'm a professional podcast editor and a former podcast host. I have access to high quality production equipment, and I could've easily made a ton of work for myself to edit and produce a high quality recording that nobody would've listened to except myself.

Instead, I decided to keep it simple. More often than not, your phone is good enough.

Reciting your speech to yourself is one thing. Doing it in front of others is entirely different.

Most of my practicing of the speech took place while on a walk around the block or in front of a mirror by myself.

The first time I practiced it in front of others was when my coworkers assembled around me about two days before I gave the talk.

It's amazing how much higher the stakes are when you are forced to look at others in their eyes and try to convince them that what you are saying is worth their time (let alone inspire them to take action in some regard).

Besides my coworkers, I also performed my speech twice for my wife, twice for my fellow TEDx presenters, and once for my seven year old daughter.

If I have one regret, it was that I didn't try to practice it in front of more people. I was so damn nervous trying to stutter through my speech for all of those audiences.

And maybe it's because I deeply care about the opinions of these folks. Performing for those I love induced all those anxiety-laden parts of my brain that fill me with fear about how they'd react, how they'd perceive the talk, where they'd find holes and flaws.

As you might expect, I wasn't booed off the stage by these people. They offered one or two pieces of constructive criticism, but ended up being far more supportive than I could've anticipated.

Get over your monkey brain reactions and put yourself out there. Each attempt gives you the opportunity to polish your act.

You will swell with pride at the growth of your fellow presenters.

I only had a little interaction with my fellow presenters in the build up to the event, but even from our first group meeting, you could instantly tell two things about them: all of them are optimistic in nature, and all of them have something interesting to say.

Each of the speakers went through a journey to get their idea as polished as they possibly could. Watching them get in the red dot and deliver their talks was an unexpected celebratory moment for me.

One moment that stood out to me in particular was Kyle, a physician who was speaking about the use of artificial intelligence in ACL surgical procedures. He had a good anecdote about grabbing a beer with a professor of his, and then set up a joke like this: "What followed was... several more beers." It was a dry, glorious joke that he rehearsed several times to (what I'm assuming was) empty silence each time he gave it.

Hearing him drop that joke during the actual performance, and hearing the audience respond with boisterous laughter, was just one of many special memories I'll take away from the night.

My coat made me feel like a badass.

Me on stage wearing my badass coat

Two disparate things I took away from the TED book were:

  1. Be cognizant of what you are wearing on stage
  2. Find a way to include your family as part of your talk preparation

If I had to describe my sense of style over the past 30 years of my life in a thesis, it would be: "whatever is the cheapest thing that doesn't make me look horrible."

My wife has been instrumental in helping me evolve my wardrobe over the past decade, so it only made sense to give her the assignment of making me look good on stage.

We decided to head up to the Mall of America and walk around to figure out what would look best for me.

One of the first stores we went into was a Banana Republic. For those of you like me who are not well-informed when it comes to fashion, Banana Republic is not exactly a cheap store.

In fact, it's owned by the Gap family of stores, which serves as the most premium brand in the family (the cheapest being Old Navy, followed by Gap itself).

Clearly, this flies in the face of my central fashion thesis.

Giving this talk, though, made me reflect on that thesis. It reminded me of an episode of How I Built This with Jenn Hyman of Rent the Runway that I listened to years ago. Jenn mentioned that she was inspired by the fact that her sister dropped tons of money on a new dress rather than rewear the old one.

Her reasoning? The outfit is part of the memory. It's part of the experience. Rewearing a dress lowers the value of the memory.

I wanted to get something new that made me feel like a confident, stylish tech expert. Dressing the part would further emphasize the importance of the event and make the memory that much more impactful for me.

So I decided while we were shopping that I wasn't going to look at price tags. I told my wife to pick out whatever she thought would make me look the best.

One of the outfits she came back with was a brown suede jacket, a pair of jeans, and an orange t-shirt.

The second I put that jacket on and looked in the mirror, I felt like a million bucks.

We went to a bunch of other stores, but nothing even came close to the feeling I had when I put that jacket on.

It was the first time in my life I went up to a register in a clothing store and presented my credit card without any hesitation.

Now, it's hard to get out of the "wear a free t-shirt you got from a tech conference paired with a hoodie you got from working at a marathon and jeans you got four years ago that have the shape of your cell phone permanently burned into your left thigh" mentality, so no, I won't be retiring the jacket. It will be brought out at most important events in the near future.

But if you're going to be giving your own important speech, I highly suggest you find your own "jacket" to give you some artificial confidence.

The worst part is the hour before you go on stage.

Pulling up to the theatre and seeing "TEDx St. Cloud" proudly displayed in the marquee was exciting.

Sitting down and having lunch with the talent and crew was delightful.

Grabbing a pre-dinner beer with my family at the brewery down the road was relaxing.

Getting down to the green room and putting on that jacket for realsies? Absolutely terrifying.

Here's a graph of my heart rate during that day:

A graph of my heart rate from my iPhone

My resting heart rate is in the mid 50s (which you can see around the 11am mark as we were driving up to the event). I was roughly 2.5x that in the moments before walking on stage.

What worked for me? While in the green room, I did a combination of the following activities:

  • Positive self talk and visualization
  • Deep breathing
  • Reading messages that my friends were sending me wishing me luck and telling me I would nail it
  • Push ups
  • Crying
  • Distracting myself by talking with others around me
  • Re-running the first few moments of the talk out loud

I can't say which one of those was the most helpful, but killing time prior to being on stage was the absolute worst part.

I'm just grateful I went first.

The biggest surprise of the whole experience came while presenting.

Me presenting on stage

I'm sure you must be sick of me talking about how much I rehearsed at this point in my post.

But seriously, I must have said this talk more than a hundred times over the course of a month.

Each and every time I practiced the talk, I ended with the same feeling: discontent.

I was disappointed that I missed certain beats or that my timing was slightly inconsistent. I was frustrated that I wasn't presenting a novel enough idea around the topic. I was envisioning myself standing in that red dot and getting to the end of my talk, and looking out into a sea of politely-clapping faces, each with a "meh" reaction on their faces.

Putting myself out there and sharing what I believe to be true about technology proved to be quite a fertile field for my depression and anxiety to sow seeds of doubt.

With my heart rate peaking and my anxiety shouting into my ears, I walked out on stage and looked around the audience.

There were hundreds of people cheering, clapping, staring back at me with big smiles on their faces. They were ready to learn, be entertained, and be inspired.

And all of that fear? All of those moments of self doubt? All of that nasty stuff I was telling myself for weeks prior to that moment?

They instantly vanished.

I hadn't even said a word yet, and it felt like my shoulders lowered by a foot.

The feeling of dread was replaced with certainty that I was exactly where I needed to be. I was entirely in the moment, eager to share what I've been thinking about AI with an audience of people who were ready to hear it.

Walking off the stage was the first time I concluded my speech without disappointment. Instead, I was filled with an unexpected emotion: pride.

5 out of 5 stars would do again

Me and my family after the show

The part of my talk I'm most proud of was a moment where I asked the audience to shout out what they think would finish various phrases.

The second time I did it, I heard the audience shout out the answer I was expecting ("paint"), but a beat later, I hear my son, clear as day, yell "ice cream".

It was the perfect moment, an unexpected contribution that acts as the sprinkles on top of the whipped cream which sits atop the sundae that represents my entire TEDx experience.

There are a ton of people I insist on thanking for helping me get to the stage, so I'll do so quickly here (if I left you off this list, assume I did it with malicious intent):

  • Brian Hart for giving me the opportunity to help people feel comfortable with artificial intelligence
  • Sonja Gidlow for numerous therapy sessions and reassuring me that I'm on the right track
  • Shannon Bornholdt for always giving me the right advice and for picking out the dopest jacket on the planet
  • Joe Beard and all my Bionic Giant coworkers for giving me the space to be consumed with this talk for a few weeks
  • Wil Galvez for making the trek to St. Cloud to take epic photos of me
  • Kelly Heitz, Dana Hagemann, Tony Collen, and Sara Sargent for reviewing early drafts of my speech and providing significant feedback
  • Justin Grammens and Maria Ploessl for giving a rookie AI speaker a chance earlier this year
  • My mom and dad for decades of sitting in the front row and cheering me on
  • My siblings and their partners for having an uncanny ability to both support me unconditionally and keep my ego in check
  • and finally, those of you who shot me a note of encouragement and support throughout the last few months.

So yeah, that was my TEDx experience. I guess to wrap this all up, I want to reiterate how grateful I am to have this opportunity.

There's a good reason why people brag about being a TEDx speaker: it take a lot of hard work and vulnerability to pull off a quality speech. The entire process proved to be a unique opportunity to both help others by making them more comfortable with AI, and to help myself practice positive self talk and build my confidence.

Finally, as the kids say: thank you for coming to my TED talk.

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William Shatner: “My Trip to Space Filled Me With Sadness”

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

I learned later that I was not alone in this feeling. It is called the “Overview Effect” and is not uncommon among astronauts, including Yuri Gagarin, Michael Collins, Sally Ride, and many others.

Essentially, when someone travels to space and views Earth from orbit, a sense of the planet’s fragility takes hold in an ineffable, instinctive manner. Author Frank White first coined the term in 1987: “There are no borders or boundaries on our planet except those that we create in our minds or through human behaviors. All the ideas and concepts that divide us when we are on the surface begin to fade from orbit and the moon. The result is a shift in worldview, and in identity.”

It can change the way we look at the planet but also other things like countries, ethnicities, religions; it can prompt an instant reevaluation of our shared harmony and a shift in focus to all the wonderful things we have in common instead of what makes us different. It reinforced tenfold my own view on the power of our beautiful, mysterious collective human entanglement, and eventually, it returned a feeling of hope to my heart.

In this insignificance we share, we have one gift that other species perhaps do not: we are aware—not only of our insignificance, but the grandeur around us that makes us insignificant. That allows us perhaps a chance to rededicate ourselves to our planet, to each other, to life and love all around us. If we seize that chance.

I had a chance to grab some drinks recently with a good friend of mine who I consider to be the absolute smartest person I’ve ever met.

As is often the case, our chat devolved into a brutal critique of the current state of affairs: the real threat of nuclear war in Europe, dealing with the ramifications of climate change, the weaponization of artificial intelligence, and so forth.

As we were wrapping up our chat, I got the sense that both of us were looking to each other for a glimmer of hope. Something that would allow us to go to bed thinking, “yeah, the world sucks right now, but we’ll figure it out.”

Wiliam Shatner’s observation about our species’ ability to be aware of such things might be the thing that we could have potentially used.

Our awareness is what gives us such existential dread in a moment in history that is otherwise the undisputed best time to be a human.

We need to balance our innate ability of detecting danger with our other innate abilities of strategizing and inventing.

After all, what’s the point of stressing about the future if there is no hope? What’s the point of fixing the future if we can’t also appreciate the present?

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