all posts tagged 'vision building'

The Levers That Money Can’t Pull

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Bob Marley (supposedly) said that “some people are so poor, all they have is money.” What he meant was that there are people that mistake the pursuit of wealth for their purpose, and when they realize that they’ve conflated the two, they understand that they’ve missed the point of why life is so worthwhile in the first place.

This is why purpose must be discovered without the promise of incentives or monetary rewards. It can only come from conducting an honest audit of what makes you feel wonderment (i.e. childlike curiosity) or a sense of duty (i.e. parental responsibility), and then directing your attention to making the most of those endeavors.

The sense of self-worth that can be derived from purpose is free from money’s clutches, so keep this in mind whenever you feel discouraged by how much you have. Money is simply not a variable here, and the knowledge of that goes a long way.

I’ve spent the past six months of unemployment conducting the audit described above.

And I’ve learned that what brings me wonderment is learning how technology works1, and my sense of duty is in teaching others how to use it.2

It’s not so much that I forgot those things about myself. What brings me such shame is the fact that I’ve suppressed the urge to pursue those activities in the name of making money.

Ultimately, love is the thing that matters most, but it’s often overlooked and disregarded as a cheesy emotion. In the minds of many, skepticism signals intelligence, whereas love signals naivete. After all, you garner respect by sounding the alarm on humanity’s problems, and not by pointing to love as the answer to them.

This is precisely why love is taken for granted. Even if love is felt between you and another person (be it a friend, partner, family member, whomever), it’s often left unarticulated because saying “I love you” means that you’re fine with seeming naive and aloof. And if this fear goes on long enough, you’ll feel that the best way to express your love will be through ways that act as surrogates for it.

Another thing I’ve learned about myself is that I am a naturally trusting person.

The majority of people I’ve encountered professionally appear to be the opposite. In particular, those playing the entrepreneur game seem especially skeptical or fearful of leaning into love.

Skepticism and fear drive those folks to make decisions about their business which ultimately lead to their demise.

I’ve sat in countless meetings with teams of executives who are frantically trying to come up with an idea for how to get more people to buy their thing.

At some point, an obvious answer emerges which involves building something that genuinely helps people.

But that obvious answer is almost universally looked at the same way you’d look at a plate of boogers because of financial concerns.

This general feeling is why I’ve struggled so hard to find a job. I’m tired of building software which only serves the purpose of making money.

Instead of jumping into another job where the culture is driven by money, I’m waiting until I come across a culture that is driven by love.3

Money’s a great tool, granting me a level of freedom that I may not have experienced had I pursued any other career.

But money is also the primary reason why I am dealing with severe anxiety and depression. It’s why my heart constantly feels like someone is squeezing it like a strongman squeezing an orange.

The only thing that causes the grip to be released? Doing things that lift the “purpose” and “love” levers. It’s when I trust others and spread as much love as possible when I feel the most alive.

Using the analogy in this article, I’ve spent the last 12 years of my life optimizing for the money-receptive levers. I’m gonna spend the next few in pursuit of lifting the money-negligent ones instead and see where that leads me.

  1. It’s not just tech… it’s all the STEM topics. And history. And sociology. And psychology. I find endless joy when I dig into understanding how anything works. 

  2. My sense of duty also extends to caring for my wife and teaching my kids stuff. I went out a couple weeks back and bought us all baseball gloves, and every day since, we’ve been outside playing catch. That is, up until yesterday, when I accidentally threw the ball down the storm drain. 😬 

  3. Here’s where I’ll say that I’m not so aloof as to deny that a business exists to make money. But when given the choice to be helpful versus to mint more money, I’d rather be on a team which makes the “help someone” choice more often than not. Those teams are out there, but they’re hard to find. And the turnover on those teams is exceptionally low. 

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Quiet Compounding

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Once you do things quietly you become selfish in the best way – using money to improve your life more than you try to influence other people’s perception of your life. I’d rather wake up and be able to do anything I want, with whom I want, for as long as I want, than I would try to impress you with a nice car.

It always seems to come back to your vision, no?

As soon as you have a vision, you can set your own scoreboards, play whatever game you want with whoever you want.

I am still working on improving my horrible relationship to money, but I’m glad I have a partner who constantly reminds me that it’s important to not put your entire life on hold because you’re stressed out about finances.

From what I’ve experienced so far in life, there’s never a point at which you dust your hands and say, “welp, I did it. I won the money game, and I’ll never need to stress about money ever again.”

So as long as you’re being smart with squirreling away money when you can, you should feel empowered to buy things that make your life better.1

  1. This last paragraph’s for me, by the way, but if you also have a paralyzing fear of being penniless, then you can have it too. 

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We need to keep dreaming, even when it feels impossible.

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I get why we fear dreaming. It’s hard for us to get our hopes up that things will go the way we want them to. Yet and still, we need to put this worry as far away from our psyches as possible. You might call it madness, but I call it necessary.

When we are afraid of having too much hope, we’re actually afraid of being disappointed. We are anxious about expecting the world to gift us and show us grace, because what if we end up on our asses?

So we dream small or not at all. Because if we expect nothing or expect something small, we cannot be disappointed when the big things don’t happen. We think it’s a great defense mechanism, but what it really is is a liability on our lives, because we are constantly bracing for impact.

I haven’t really felt like I’ve had a dream or vision for years now.

The last month with no job has really blessed me with an opportunity to start dreaming again.

And guess what? It’s actually kinda fun to do it, even if it comes with some occasional failure and disappointment.

Because for me, the feelings that come with complacency are significantly worse than the risks that come from dreaming.

(Side topic for future Tim to explore: how are dreams and anxiety correlated?)

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Leaving Google Cloud

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I’m used to the next right thing feeling certain and obvious. That’s probably because I’m used to being young. When you’re young, there are a lot of people out there whose examples you can imitate, and relatively low risk in trying things you’re not sure will work out. You also have an unearned confidence that comes from not having failed much yet.

But even the most conventionally successful of us, young or not, may reach a place in our careers where THERE IS NO OBVIOUS NEXT STEP. The things you’ve discovered you’re good at may not exactly line up with a standard corporate career path. There may no longer be an existing, ready-made challenge that’s the right size for you to step into.

There will just be a you-shaped hole in the world—its boundaries defined by your unique connections, the extreme limit of your skills, the scope of your ambitions—and trial and error is the only way you can figure out how to fill it.

As I’m oft to quote, Lisa Simpson’s “a challenge I can do” bit comes to mind here.

To be honest, this has been the toughest part of being on the job hunt.

I never wanted to follow a conventional career path. I’ve enjoyed the flexibility of my professional life so far, but I do yearn for the perceived stability of a full time thing. Many full time things don’t often give you much flexibility.

I suppose all I can do is just putting myself out into the world and explore until I find a “me-shaped” hole that looks close enough for me.

I sometimes hear the phrase “unapologetically you” tossed around, and I guess there comes a time where you either need to fully embrace that ethos or jump into premade boxes which only can represent a portion of your self.

I think I’m trying to pursue the former.

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Hank Green, Vlogbrothers/VidCon - XOXO Festival (2014)

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There is one person I can say objectively that I am smarter than, and it is me four years ago.

He knew all of the things I currently know except less.

He had all the life experiences that I currently have except fewer.

So why do I have an obligation to a guy who is not only dumber than me, but literally does not exist?

This talk is nearly ten years old, and it slaps in all the right ways.

I feel a tremendous debt to myself and my goals and aspirations, but some of those goals and aspirations are just... not me anymore.

I can't run like I used to, lest I want to have a knee replacement in five years.

I don't think I'll ever end up getting to all the breweries in the state, even though I run an app devoted to that purpose.

It's okay to let the dreams of your past self go in favor of newer, more relevant dreams.

By the way: I saw a follow up to this talk yesterday where he ended up concluding:

I do not have no obligation to my former self.

I have the obligation to my former self that I want to have.

And I want to have some.

Which means I should save my knees for a marathon with my kids.

(If that's what their dream is, of course.)

June Huh, High School Dropout, Wins Fields Medal

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To hear him tell it, he doesn’t usually have much control over what he decides to focus on in those three hours. For a few months in the spring of 2019, all he did was read.

“Which means I didn’t do any work,” Huh said. “So that’s kind of a problem.” (He’s since made peace with this constraint, though. “I used to try to resist … but I finally learned to give up to those temptations.” As a consequence, “I became better and better at ignoring deadlines.”)

He finds that forcing himself to do something or defining a specific goal — even for something he enjoys — never works. It’s particularly difficult for him to move his attention from one thing to another. “I think intention and willpower … are highly overrated,” he said. “You rarely achieve anything with those things.”

This was a great biography about one person’s path towards discovering what they are passionate about.

I find a lot of parallels in my work. Agency life can be a grind, and it’s tough to say “deliver this work by this date” and feel motivated to deliver on it, especially when that work is not particularly novel or challenging.

I much prefer being still for a little bit, finding something to be curious about, and working towards discovering everything I can about that thing.

On a related note: I recently had a great talk with a coworker about the game I want to build. Our talk transformed that idea into one that now is making me motivated to learn more about AIs that generate visual components and how one could incorporate them into a dynamically-built world.

Kinda cool stuff, no?

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You Can Be More Than One Thing

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I wanted to recapture the excitement I used to feel over finding out something that not very many people knew — the satisfaction I used to get from wrestling with things, spinning them around and trying to see the different angles. Before it all got buried beneath analytics and followers and “impact” and gimmicks and waiting for the next round of layoffs.

Not knowing how to say any of this out loud, I didn’t tell anyone. I just slowed down — backed off of pitching editors, stopped picking up late night phone calls from sources. I shifted my focus to editing other people’s work, which is less stressful and also pays better. I wrote some personal essays and took some college classes and sat on my kitchen floor trying to imagine what my Twitter bio would say if it didn’t start with “Freelance journalist.”

When I left JMG in March, this exact sort of identity crisis was a huge marble that wouldn’t stop rattling around my brain.

In the past nine months, I’ve become more comfortable letting go of my identities. Besides, what good are identities anyway?

My interests, my career path, my marital and paternal status, being a “runner”, being “the guy who always gets his steps in”, being “the guy who runs an app development company”… those are all tiny parts that add up to the whole.

My third grade teacher used to make us listen to a song every day that had a chorus which said “I can be the best I can be.”

And I think at this point in my life, that’s all I need to be.

(Thanks, Ms. Salute. ❤️)

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I Am a Meme Now — And So Are You

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At some point you have to accept that other people’s perceptions of you are as valid as (and probably a lot more objective than) your own.

This may mean letting go of a false or outdated self-image, including some cherished illusions of unique unlovability.

I recently had a talk with Shannon that was eerily similar to the central conceit of this article.

We don’t get to pick how we show up in other people’s interpretation of ourselves. The author’s story about his dad sleeping at the movie theater next to him is a great example.

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