The new phonebook is here

It’s easy to think that once you’ve published or received that promotion, you’ve arrived. That everyone will know your name.

Except for the top podcasts in the world are only downloaded 20,000 times. The most popular blogs are read even less.

That is such a small percentage of the world. It’s highly unlikely the whole world is going to remember your name.

Sure, there are outliers. But not even Psy could duplicate something like he did. These are edge cases. Far from the norm. Complete accidents.

So, why then do we feel so validated when we get published or credit or five-minutes of fame? Why does an Employee of the Month plaque give us the reassurance needed to do great work?

It turns out, these are placebos. The fact is, you were always capable of doing great work—you just didn’t know it yet. You didn’t see what others saw in you.

The fact is, you don’t need a bigger badge or more education or a better paycheck. Reassurance is futile. The fear of not feeling good enough is still going to be there in the back of our minds and it will never go away.

So, what if instead, we adopted this posture As if.

As if I am an Employee of the Month even without credit or recognition. We don’t need reassurance to do our best work.

If it helps buy a mug that says “World’s Best Boss.” And then, go to work.

Pivoting

“Never give up” is embedded deep in our culture. It’s easy to reward the person who is always moving forward—who starts but never finishes.

It has kept us alive this long, so why change things?

Yet, we don’t stop and evaluate enough about the direction we are heading.

Where are we going anyway?!

Why is it frowned upon to take a step back, to turn around, to step sideways or to be still?

If we are going to lean into the difficult problems we have to be willing to pivot, to adjust our course

Waiting, thinking, pondering…creates tension. Most of us want that tension to go away as soon as possible. So, rather than sitting with it, we move forward to get away from it.

Always moving forward is another form of hiding. A way to fit in.

It’s much easier to say I’m doing X rather than saying I’m waiting to see what my next move is going to be.

Listening is the closest thing we get to real empathy

Change begins with empathy.

But, real empathy, it turns out, is impossible to fully experience. Impossible for any of us to know and feel exactly what someone is going through.

Because we can’t see everything they can see, know everything they know…

And yet, this is our opportunity.

If we can’t walk in someone else’s shoes we can still walk beside them. We can walk a mile, then two and then a hundred.

We can walk and resist the temptation of telling someone the right answer. Resist making blank promises that, “Everything is going to be okay.” Resist preaching, “At least…” statements. (At least you have your health. At least you have your kids.)

Our job as change-makers is to embrace this tension. To not make it go away. But instead, learn to lean into the uncomfortable silence even further.

People don’t need your advice. There are plenty of life hacks, shortcuts and tactics available. What scarce is to find someone who will merely listen.

Only listen.

The culture of conspiracy theories

One-third of Americans still believe that global warming is a hoax. Half believe that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

These are powerful memes. Ideas that continue to spread throughout the culture like a virus.

So, how does a conspiracy theory spread?

Two reasons: Taxonomy and System Justification Theory.

It turns out, humans like to sort things. They sort people, ideas, jobs, skills…everything. We sort everything into boxes.

This is how we make sense of the world since it is impossible to interpret all the information coming in. We create shortcuts.

The problem is that we make ideas fit boxes. We classify them in boxes they don’t belong.

We sort information to fit the narrative of how we see the world. And then we tell that story. We live that story. Then sort the culture to find people like us who share the same beliefs.

Once we find the others, we will defend that status-quo. Even if the narrative no longer serves our self-interest, we will continue to misbehave. We will justify and go to great lengths to protect our cognitive bias.

Paradoxically, greater transparency isn’t the answer. More information does not have any effect on people with conspiracy theories.

Why?

Because of confirmation bias, in-group bias and sunk cost fallacy.

All stories we tell.

We are story-driven people. Change the culture means changing the stories we tell.

HT Karen, Robbie and Aleksandra for their incredible research on conspiracy theories. Worth reading through.

Pride, shame and status

Pride is an excessively high opinion of oneself. The antonym of pride is shame—a negative evaluation of oneself.

When pride seeps in we begin to see ourselves in a higher class. And with shame, we see ourselves below.

Keith Johnstone in his brilliant book, Impro, explains that theatre is an exchange of status. That someone is always moving up or down.

Or to take it a step further:

Who is experiencing pride? Who is experiencing shame? Who’s up? Who’s down?

The story we tell ourselves (and the story that others tell of us) about pride and shame alters the story of our status.

You. Changed. Me. 

Is there a difference between being proud of something and being prideful?

Is proud, as in the satisfaction of achievement, the same as pride, the excessively high opinion of oneself?

Is it okay to be proud of finishing college and proud when your football team wins or is that just another form of boasting?

It’s worth noting, that the Bible, one of the oldest and most popular books in the world, has no reference where the word pride is used in a positive light. That in fact, any sort of reference to pride always leads to destruction.

That’s not to say the feeling of accomplishment or fulfillment is wrong when we see a child take their first step.

The question is, What are we doing with it?

One shift we can make is to adopt a new posture of meekness. As we do so, a whole bunch of things begins to open up.

That the non-profit you started doesn’t have to be measured in widespread social impact to have made a difference. The teacher in a classroom full of students doesn’t need to look at the grades at the end of the year to see impact…

Because you didn’t change them.

They changed you.

As a result, you don’t need to judge your work by the number of hits/likes/lives impacted. You merely write a song, paint a picture, write a blog, serve someone in the community…for the opportunity to transform your status-quo (not to raise your status).

Next time, someone gives you a compliment for a job well done, try turning around and saying “No, thank you. You changed me.” or “I’m glad that you are well pleased.”

Try it. It’s a subtle art form. Being thankful without inhaling can change how we view everything we produce. It frees us from seeking credit and reassurance. It frees us from attachment.

[It’s also worth pointing out that the antonym of pride is shame. Brene Brown has described shame as this broken record in our head stuck on the two phrases “You’re not good enough” and “Who do you think you are?” It’s fitting. On the one hand, pride builds us up while shame tears us down. It’s everywhere once you begin to see it.]

Writer’s block

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As Joan Acocella has pointed out, writer’s block is a modern notion. It’s fake. It’s not real.

A professional basketball player doesn’t step up to the free-throw line and forget how to shoot a free-throw. A professional bus driver doesn’t wonder how to drive a bus.

They shoot. They drive. Because they are professionals. The professional shows up even if they don’t feel like showing up. They do their job. They do their work.

So why then do writers get this pass off feeling blocked?

Steve Pressfield calls this Resistance. Resistance is the noise in our head that keeps up from being the person we are born to be. That noise is the amygdala.

The amygdala is two small nuclei about the size of an almond that connects directly to the spinal cord. It can react two to three seconds faster before the prefrontal cortex kicks into reason with the situation.

So when someone yells Fore!, the amygdala reacts and tells us to duck. We don’t sit there and bargain, we react to keep us safe.

The problem is, like most of our brains, it has no capacity for language. So it doesn’t understand the difference between a text from the boss and a threat of a sabertooth tiger.

According to the amygdala, both are just as threatening to our survival.

So, when the writer sits down to type, Resistance begins to show up. It begins to lay out the reasons why we are not good enough. Why we will fail. It subverts us from shipping our work so that we won’t be criticized.

Subsequently, we too often decide it is better to play it safe. Then, we quit.

We quit because it’s easier to maintain the status quo than it is to rock the boat. We quit because of Resistance. Because we are afraid. The story we begin to tell ourselves is, “I’m blocked. I have no good ideas.”

We grab on to the narrative of writer’s block because of how it makes us feel. We think we can let ourselves off the hook. That we can pause from doing scary work util we get unstuck.

The only way to become unstuck, to become unblocked is to do the work. To write. And then write some more. Write until the writing turns into better writing. No excuses. Just sit down on the chair and type.

Step up to the line. Shoot your shot.

HT Seth Godin.

Edit: This was in my inbox the next day. Ironic. But as the article so poignantly points out at the end, “It’s free to start.” What more do you need?

The world doesn’t know you’re working behind the scenes

Because the world doesn’t know you exist.

And it won’t ever know who you are until you ship your work. Until you stand up. Stand out. Make a difference.

I have a friend that spent the last decade working on his dream to put a funny comic in the world. He’s all in. It has to work because he has nothing else.

This is a mistake.

Because what if that comic doesn’t resonate with the people he seeks to change. Then what?

Instead of working on one project, a far better approach is to spend the next decade on a bunch of projects that might not work.

Ship your work often. Start small. Find one person that is deeply moved by the work you do. Then do it again. And then the next time? A little bigger, a little better.

Don’t find customers for your products. Find products for your customers.

The stumbling blocks of free

One of the first sizable donations Pivot Adventure ever received was enough to sponsor 12 students through our Resiliency Course. We were ecstatic, to say the least.

It turned out though that the hard part wasn’t securing the donations. No, it was finding families to participate in a free course.

Once we were able to find students, we later found out that parents were not committed. In fact, other extracurricular activities (i.e. sports) had a higher priority. Why? Because they actually cost money.

Here’s the thing, education is now almost free. MIT has published all of their courses online for free. Library cards are free. Access to the internet is a monthly subscription…a bargain.

We have more access to more information than anyone could ever consume in their lifetime. Yet, the dropout rate for most online courses is over 90% within two weeks. 

Making your work, your education free is not the most generous thing we can do. Changing people for the better is the generous act. And you can’t do that without enrollment.

Money is a placebo. The amount you charge changes the story customers tell. The story your customers tell will determine the type of enrollment you get.

Which means finding ways to raise the stakes (and that might mean having the guts to charge more).

Status symbols

The culture has tricked us into believing that in order to move up in status you must have something that is scarce or more than someone else.

A private jet or yacht or elevator is scarce…a signal in status.

More money or a bigger house…a symbol of status.

Title, degree, badge…all symbols of status.

Except…

Except, these are all fake. A trap. Once you get one, there is alway something else to acquire. More relics to collect. More zeros on your paycheck.

The key to happiness is not in accumulating these symbols of status.

The key to happiness is to improve one’s experiences.