Not for free

The problems people come to you to solve provides a good indicator at what you are good at. And sometimes friends or customers or neighbors will ask you to do work for free.

There is nothing wrong with free. If someone needs free, there are places and resources to seek. And if someone needs cheap, you can show them the number of competitors in the area or have them contact someone on Fiver.

But if you have built a large body of work and you are a professional, you are not those things.

Professionals do work for money. That is usually what stands out from an ammeter. Not because they necessarily need it. It doesn’t fill the why. They do it because their time is valuable.

There is a reason I can’t pick up the phone and call Danny Elfman to come score my next super 8. He’s Danny Elfman–and has built a reputation.

So, there’s this large gap between what we can do by ourselves and what professionals can only do. As you move towards what only professionals can do, the more difficult it is to solve a problem. And less affordable solutions there are available.

Here is my list of ways to say, “Sorry, I’m not doing that for free.”

First step is to say, “Thank you.” “Thank you so much for thinking me.” “That is flattering that you would consider someone like me.”

Next, state that you don’t do this work for free. “Unfortunately, my schedule does not allow to take unpaid projects right now.” “Are you able to confirm this is a paid opportunity?” “I charge a flat fee for this kind of advice.”

Finally, tell them where they can find your product or service. “Here is a price sheet of what I offer. Let me know if you have any questions.”

Not for free is an important step to becoming a professional. You don’t ask your plumber to do work for free. And you wouldn’t ask your doctor to do it either. Just because you have a skill and you are creative doesn’t mean it is for free.

Pattern recognition

Triggers -> Thoughts -> Actions -> Results

This is the pattern. This is how we seduce ourselves to act against our own self-interest.

Triggers are neither good nor bad, they just cause us to think a certain way.

Often, we fixate on a result and we try to use our willpower to change the consequence of our actions. But we end up right back where we started, don’t we? How many New Years Resolutions have you abandoned? The problem compounds when we don’t reach our goals. We become a bit more deflated and cynical. Which in turn feeds our thoughts and then our triggers.

Will power is not the answer. We use enough of it to go through a normal day. Rather, we need to look at our environment for answers:

How can I create a system where it will create the right kind of triggers?

You only make the decision once to create an automatic deposit that contributes to your 401K.

You don’t buy as much junk food at the grocery store if you go when you are already full.

You decide once to blog every day for the rest of your life.

Cognitive load is real. Make your decisions once. Create a system where the triggers lead to desired results.


The other day, I had to go pick up a prescription for my four-year-old. The problem was with it being a holiday, there was only one drug store open for the entire valley.

The line was expectantly long. By the time I got to the front, I realized I forgot my insurance card and as a result had to pay full price for the prescription. It wasn’t much but the thought hit hard:

What if I couldn’t pay for this?

How in the world do we still not have some sort of universal health care system? Who doesn’t need quality healthcare?

The average life expectancy in the 18th century was 25 years old! No public schooling, no health benefits, no retirement existed–no social programs of any kind. Poverty was literally a death sentence.

During this time, you inherited your wealth and married to keep it. You created dynasties and aristocracies. Many economist would argue that if you didn’t create incentives people wouldn’t work. You need inequality to get people to try harder. The problem was there was no social mobility. No matter how hard you tried. And so, you are stuck. Which creates all sorts of social, economic and political stresses until you reach the tipping point where the people rise up.

David Graeber has pointed out that when the people rise, they burn the tax records. The Bible confirms this with the jubilee. Debt systems will always work out of control. And those who control the means of production have no incentives to give up their wealth. You have to have someone to referee the disparity. This is the true role of government: to set up guardrails.

We are not here to serve capitalism, capitalism is here to serve us.

The Fed estimates that the wealthiest 10% of Americans hold more than 88% of all available equity. The eight, all men, hold as much combined wealth as the 3.6 billion people in the bottom half. In Europe, two-thirds of the population is dying without a single asset.

Life expectancy in the US is falling for the first time in a while. What does that tell us? What’s the point of having all this capital if you are not going to use it? Furthermore, what is the point of a few to hold so much of it?

HT Capital

Definition of beauty

Actually, there is no universal definition of beauty. It’s too subjective. And yet…

A bunch of random notes doesn’t sound very good until you create a melody.

Creating a great deal of lines across a canvas is nothing but chaos until you connect them in some way.

These words on a screen mean nothing unless I organize them in the a way that tells a story to the recipient.

The pattern it seems to follow is when matter goes from unorganized to organized.

The ugly truth

This is an incredibly hard lesson to learn:

The stories we tell ourselves are often more romantic than the truth.

Truth is standing right in front of us, yet we have a hard time accepting it. Because we don’t like what we see.

Our narration works overtime to preserve ourselves. It is a defense mechanism. While it can protect us, it can also block us from seeing the world as it really is.

There can be beauty in truth but that doesn’t necessarily mean there is truth in beauty.

With that being said, I still choose to believe the world is better than it really is. Because my life is better this way.

It’s a fine line to walk. See clearly. Choose wisely.

Defining moments

Defining moments are defining because they change the trajectory of the person you are to become.

Looking back at your defining moments: Would you have made different choices?

Perhaps life would not be as good as it is today.

Unfortunately, that is impossible to know.

But you can be sure of one thing:

Your life would be different if you chose another path.

Divine sanction

You should choose a life’s vocation–find a greater purpose in the work you do.

When someone feels that they have been called from a higher power, spectators should be skeptical though.

To clarify, I don’t think there is a problem if someone believes God has commissioned them to do a greater work. The problem is when leaders see themselves above criticism, followers may believe their leaders can do no wrong.

No job or title or person is above evaluation. And no one has the market on the divine. No matter how “important” the work is.

I’m going to be blunt: I thought for many cultural conservatives their obsession with Operation Underground Railroad this last year was an attempt to gaslight Black Lives Matter movement. Peaking behind the curtain, there seems to be more going on than what appears on fan’s Facebook feed.

HT Vice

Outcomes and effort

Bob Dylan once asked Leonard Cohen how long it took to write the song “Hallelujah.” Cohen replied, “Two years.”

But in fact, it took Cohen five years to write the song and when it was done, his label didn’t even want to release the album it appeared on.

Just because you poured your heart and soul into making a song, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get the recognition you deserve.

When we can learn is to divorce the effort with outcomes, it frees us. We don’t need all of our work to all pan out. We just need some of it to resonate with the people we seek to change.

Sometimes it takes time for your work to resonate. Other times, it won’t pan out.

You can’t control the outcomes but you can always control your effort. Once you’ve made a song, your job is to write another one.

When the great author, Stephen Pressfield, finally finished his first novel his mentor said, “Great. Now start the next one.”

It’s as simple as that.

Without effort there are no desired outcomes.

Everything we want is on the other side of hard. Keep climbing.

The trolley problem

Source: Wikipedia

You have a trolley barreling at full speed towards five people. Next to you is a lever, where if you pull-it it would shift the trolley to another track where one bystander is standing. The question is, What is the right thing to do?

It has been used as an example for all sorts of ethical dilemmas, but what I find fascinating is when we are present with a choice, we often get locked into those choices. (That is what standardized test reinforce.) A or B, which would you choose?

What we don’t see is another option: derail the train.

We are not usually in a position with no choices. It’s just the choices in front of us are not very good ones. But if we take a step back and recognize the degrees of freedom, we can find another solution that isn’t present in the moment.

Can you hold the tension while you wait for a solution to appear? Most of us don’t have the faith. We act quickly not because we want to be done, it’s because we lack the patience to wait and see.

How important is it to assign a number?

Some numbers are easy to understand.

You have a 1 in 13,983,816 chance in winning the lottery. And yet, some still choose to play knowing the odds but are not disappointed when they lose as a result.

Vegas creates an idea that if you are skilled enough than you could win. But when we do the math, the house always wins…eventually.

Yet again, despite the probabilities we overestimate our own abilities while we underestimate the challenge.

Numbers matter.

In the case of climate change, it is difficult to assign a number to the melting of the Greenland ice caps.

We know that it is happening. We don’t know exactly when they will be completely melted. 50 years? 100? Either way, it is hard to measure the damage it will cause. We just don’t know exactly. So, many don’t treat it as a threat. We don’t know the costs of inaction if the threat isn’t perceived.

Much like bankruptcy, it happens slowly then suddenly.

When we don’t know the likely hood of outcomes we apply different standards of probabilities. Difficult to calculate the worst case scenario when we can’t see it firsthand. Instead, we go rely on gut feelings.

“I’ll take that bet.”

When the problem is small enough, we can procrastinate without consequences. That time is already spent. So, what are we going to do about tomorrow? When do we start worrying about it?