A second pass

I’m slowly making my way through a second reading of Peter Thiel’s Zero to One. While I often have trouble convincing myself to read a book twice given all the great unread books out there, my reasoning here is two-fold.

First, this book is brilliant so it’s quite a pleasure to read again. Second, this book is brilliant so a chump like me needs another pass to truly understand the author and decide where the messages can be applied in my life.

In the past, I gave myself a hard time for needing to read something twice to really get it. It felt like I had a comprehension problem or something… all those times using Cliff’s Notes in school coming back to bite me.

But at some point I realized learning new things means stretching my limits. If I can read through something once and fully understand it, then I should be lifting some heavier weights.

With this mindset, I’ve learned that the first pass can be used to get a lay of the land and decide whether the book is worth a deeper dive. When I do take a deeper dive, I have a good grasp of the big picture so I can view each detail in context of the whole message.

Safe is risky

One of Seth Godin’s most popular ideas is: the things that used to make us feel safe are now risky. The safe thing is to take risks.

Understand that the only thing between you and the success you seek in a chaotic world is a lizard that figures out that safe is risky and risky is safe. The paradox of our time is that the instincts that kept us safe in the day of the saber tooth tiger and General Motors are precisely the instincts that will turn us into road kill in a faster than fast internet-fueled era.

Seth Godin

I’m just now hearing of it. I heard it on “On Being”, thought it novel, wrote it down, googled it and it’s quoted everywhere. Where have I been?

And yet, it feels so right. The moment I heard it I knew it was true.

The world is moving so fast – if you aren’t setting yourself up to be ready for change (i.e. holding on to the past), you’re risking more than you think.

I want to ask myself: “Is this putting me in a place where I feel uncomfortable?” Okay, good.


It can be very tempting to feel like we need to work at night and over the weekend. Our to-do list of busywork can make us feel like it’s the most important thing. Maybe one weekend we start with answering a few emails, the next we add in some other sort of tasks. Pretty soon, there’s no time for play, no space for thinking and learning new things, no elevation to look at the big picture, no time to read, no space in our minds to be fully present with our family.

Nonessentialists tend to think of boundaries as constraints or limits, things that get in the way of the hyperproductive life. To a Nonessentialist, setting boundaries is evidence of weakness. If they are strong they think, they don’t need boundaries. They can cope with it all. They can do it all. But without limits, they eventually become spread so thin that getting anything done becomes virtually impossible. 

– Greg McKeown, Essentialism

Get away to come back stronger. It’s not a lack of work ethic. It’s knowing yourself and being a true professional.

Stuff Management

Our society has an obsession with stuff.

Some say it’s caused by a scarcity mentality- we never feel like we have enough, so we’re on a boundless pursuit of more. The blog Intentional Workplace sums it up nicely:

While humans have always measured their well-being by their neighbors’ – our neighbors are now the world. We make comparisons of our worth and neediness to skewed representations presented on social media and a 24/7 news media industry financed by interests vested in stimulating continuous material consumption.

Living in the scarcity model, we often find ourselves living in the in-between.

We’re here, but we want to be there. The benchmark for our arrival there is often elusive – sometimes permanently. The scarcity assumption is built on two contradictory ideas; there’s not enough of what I want to go around and there’s more out there that I want but I don’t have it.

Although it may not seem like it, all the physical resources we consume are finite. There won’t always be “more out there”. There will come a day when actual resource scarcity, not just mental scarcity, is reflected in the price we pay for our stuff. That day is coming sooner than later, and for some things we buy it already has.

I think it’s ironic how this “there more out there I want” feeling ends up consuming so much of our most finite resource, time. Here are 10 ways our stuff ends up taking our time:

  1. Thinking and wanting new stuff
  2. Shopping for new stuff
  3. Organizing, storing, and rearranging our stuff
  4. Cleaning our stuff
  5. Purchasing insurance and dealing with damage to our stuff
  6. Moving our stuff
  7. Maintaining and fixing our stuff
  8. Protecting our stuff
  9. Getting rid of our stuff
  10. Working more to pay for the stuff we buy but can’t really afford

When the market seemingly places no constraints on consumption, I find it helpful to think of how much time each purchase will end up costing me. Then, each purchase seems a lot more expensive than the price tag.


Over the short four years of my career, I’ve learned many lessons about business, management, engineering, sales, and human nature. I’ve also learned a ton about myself – mostly through failure. Failure is terrible in the moment but there’s (almost) always a lesson buried in the misery.

In the beginning, the lessons came early and often, and I did a great job of writing them down. I had this notebook in my desk. I would pull it out when we lost a project or when my manager did something I would rather avoid doing in the future. It was a great habit, but at some point it fizzled out… I only have lessons up to the end of year one.

In those notes, there’s a lot of thought about selling better so we can beat the competition. I’ve always been territorial about my work, and I’ve always made a big stink about hating competitors. Each job they stole was holding back my career and personal development. Each customer they stole had to have been fooled by their trickery. Silly.

Fast forward to today – I’m on a new team with very few direct competitors. It’s a great feeling, but I can still feel myself grasping for someone to hate. I’ve realized, mostly through the influence of reading Peter Thiel’s Zero to One, that my grasping is completely irrational.

Competition is for losers. If each employee in a company is obsessed with their competitors for career advancement, then the firm itself will by default become obsessed. Then you’ve lost focus on what actually matters.

How Great Entrepreneurs Beat Fear in 4 Steps

A couple weeks ago, I came face to face with the scariest creature on earth. I was laying in a fortress made of nylon (a tent) in the middle of bear country during breeding season.

But the scariest creature on earth was not a bear – there was no bear. It was my fear taking complete control of my mind. Every time I heard a suspicious noise, my mind turned it into a bear in my head. I laid wide awake all night – ready for fight or flight.

This reaction, while often necessary for our safety, has unwanted side-effects in non-life-threatening situations – like our relationships, business, sports, and more. It starts to show up the moment we set out to change our situation. Fear loves the status quo – it only shows itself with bold, new, boundary-stretching pursuits.

Each time I think about how I want this life to go, I get this feeling: I’m capable of doing something important. I’m capable of making a meaningful impact. I have another gear to give to the world. I call it my thing.

I’m not sure what this thing is, or what to call it. I don’t know what it looks like. But I am sure of this: It’s in there, and if my thing is going to come out into the world, I’m going to need to conquer my fears.

As Steven Pressfield says, I’m an amateur, not yet a pro. So how do the professionals recommend we handle our fear?

1. Follow your fear

My fears are like rudders – they point me this way or that way in life under the surface of my consciousness. They’re what makes option X “impossible” or what keeps option Y from ever crossing my mind.

For that reason, we’d do well to explore our fears.

Chase Reeves

2. Then ignore it

Fear saves our lives in the jungle, in the streets, and even at the doctor’s office. Fear is one of the most useful emotions you’ve got.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is a killer. Anxiety is the false fear that corrupts your life. Anxiety is what happens when you imagine possible negative outcomes instead of embracing the reality of right now. Anxiety is also the reason that organizations overstudy opportunities—and then hesitate to take action until it’s too late. Make a list of the last fifteen things you and your peers were anxious about. How many of them actually occurred? If you had ignored that anxiety, wouldn’t things have gone a lot more smoothly?

Seth Godin

“People should certainly ignore fear if it’s irrational. Even if it’s rational and the stake is worth it, it’s still worth proceeding,”

– Elon Musk

3. Dance with it


The only way to get rid of the fear is to stop doing things that might not work, to stop putting yourself out there, to stop doing work that matters.

No, the right question is, “How do I dance with the fear?”

Fear is not the enemy. Paralysis is the enemy.

Seth Godin

4. Then beat it with action

The enemy of creativity…is fear.

We’re all born creative, it takes a little while to become afraid.

A surprising insight: an enemy of fear is creativity. Acting in a creative way generates action, and action persuades the fear to lighten up.

Seth Godin

What we need to do is say, “What’s the smallest, tiniest thing that I can master and what’s the scariest thing I can do in front of the smallest number of people that can teach me how to dance with the fear?” Once we get good at that, we just realize that it’s not fatal. And it’s not intellectually realize — we’ve lived something that wasn’t fatal. And that idea is what’s so key — because then you can do it a little bit more.

Seth Godin

Idleness and Productivity

Distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything. 

– Jonah Lehrer, via Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

As I return from a week away, I’m reminded of the importance of the getaway. Although it’s counterintuitive, I’ve learned how idleness can actually be the key to productivity. It cultivates a mental clarity unavailable in our day-to-day lives. I love this post from Crew on the single best thing you can do for yourself and your company.

Ferris Jabr from Scientific American sums up the science:

Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future.

Bad Hops and Rotten Calls

The professional conducts his business in the real world. Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all comprise the ground over which the campaign must be waged.

Steven Pressfield

It took me far too long to learn this lesson. If I could, I would pull little 12-year-old James off the soccer field and talk him through the ins and outs of adversity in the real world.

Feeling like the world is out to get us only distracts us from the work at hand. Our only concern in each “campaign” in our lives should be the parts which we can control. When we hit adversity, the best reaction is to accept it and focus on making our next action the best we can do.

My experience playing sports helped me understand this lesson in retrospect, but I can’t help but wonder how much better each “campaign” would have gone with this in mind.

I’ve read the War of Art twice now. To call this book inspiring would be understating the impact it can have for anyone trying to change any status quo. It’s a total punch to the gut – in a good way of course. It’s the kind of book that made me wonder: what if I never would have read this?


Misery of Creativity

The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.

Steven Pressfield

I started writing over at the Plant Eaters’ Manifesto six months ago.

I wasn’t an artist committing myself to my calling, but I was committing myself to have some fun blogging with my wife about a subject we care about. No one told me I’d volunteered for hell.

I thought a little writing would satisfy my craving for a creative outlet. I thought a little writing would help me wind down after a long day. I thought a little writing about vegan food – a subject so very central to my everyday life – would come easy.

Sheesh. Of all the assumptions I made, I never imagined feeling miserable. Alone. Worthless. Humiliated. Self-hatred. Each time I sit down to write, I end up at war with myself.

And yet, most days, there’s nothing I’d rather do.

Why is that?

Maybe it’s because I love the feeling of getting to know myself. Maybe it’s because it makes me feel like I’m pushing my boundaries.

I’m not quite sure, but I’m committed to explore the misery.