You Are Not A Phony.

“It’s all going to be okay.” — Rick Webb

There is a certain point in your life when you realize that you don’t know anything.

Up until that point, you thought you knew what was up. You thought you’d experienced heartbreak. You thought you’d experienced pain.

And then comes this big breakthrough, and you realize, you don’t know jack. You’re just starting your life, and you’re starting from zero, and everyone else seems to know more than you do.

You feel like a fraud, and a phony. You feel like you don’t have anything to offer this world.

And there’s that expression you’ve heard: Fake it ’til you make it. That’s almost true.

Because there’s a second realization that comes a little later: Nobody else knows anything, either.

Everyone, turns out, is kinda faking it. Nobody is just born an astrophysicist or a banker. (And nobody is born or a social media expert.) We mold ourselves into these people. We see what others are doing, we think about what we like to do, and we make ourselves into the people we want to be.

But we are all just making this up — and figuring this out — as we go along. All of us.

And once you realize that, you don’t feel like a phony. You don’t know anything, but hell, neither does anybody else. We’re all just trying to make it work in this world.

So just do good work and surround yourself with good people, and you’ll be okay. It’s normal to feel like you don’t know anything.

We all feel that way, and we’re all in this thing together.

One Day, You Will.

One day, you will. You’ll wake up and wonder where all that time went.

When you’re a kid, time passes so slowly. The minutes stretch on for days. A school week feels like ages. Friday never comes.

But one day, you’ll grow up and leave the house, and time will move into another gear. You’re young and you’ve got all the time ahead of you, and then, suddenly, you won’t. You’ll hit 25, and 30 will start staring at you, and then it’ll all move even faster. 30 will come, and then 40. Spouses and kids and jobs and time. So many commitments, and never enough time.

And one day, you’ll wake up and feel old. Old! You won’t know where the feeling came from, or how it got there, but you’ll feel it. And when you say you feel old, what you’re really saying is: I think I’ve missed my shot. I think I missed my chance to do something amazing in this world. I think it’s passed me by.

What you’re really saying is: What the hell have I been doing with myself? Is this all I have to show for this life?

You will.

Or…. you can make a choice. You can choose to fight for a career you love. You can choose the roads you’ll go down, and choose to accept whatever comes next — the failures, the successes, the everything.

You can choose to take risks. You can choose to do the things you want to do, and to write the rules you want to write, and to do whatever the hell you really feel like. You can choose to listen, and to love, and to give, and to do awesome work.

You can choose a big adventure. You can choose a life that’s weird, and scary, and all your own. You can choose that. It’s not the safest path, but you can choose to go your own way.

Or not. It’s entirely your move.

That photo of the unknown trail comes via.

Write It Down.

Downtown Springfield

“Lookin’ back on where I was one year ago today / Laughing at the shape I’m in now.” — Todd Snider

A year ago this week, my team at launched our Springfield bureau. It was an amazing summer, and I can’t believe it’s been a year.

I am thankful for my team, and for our friends and partners in Springfield, and for everyone who helped us make that project go.

But I’m also incredibly thankful for all the notes I took that summer. I’ve been looking back at what I was writing about at the time — all those thoughts and fears and hopes and worries — and I’m so glad I have them. The Springfield bureau was a massive leap for me — professionally, personally and financially. I’m so glad I have a record of where I was a year ago.

I urge you: When you’re working on something new, take some time every night to write down what you’re thinking. Take notes. Document how you feel. Keep a journal.

The best way to discover how much you’e grown is to look back every once in a while from where you’ve come.

That photo of downtown Springfield was taken by me.

While You’re On Stage.

“Follow your passion. Stay true to yourself. Never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path. By all means, you should follow that.” — Ellen DeGeneres

I don’t remember what was said at my graduation. I can probably guess the themes, but I don’t really remember what our speaker told us that day.

But I do remember this one thing that had gotten stuck in my head earlier that day. I can’t remember who told me, but I remember it well: When you’re up on that stage, take an extra second and look back at the crowd. Don’t be in a rush to get across that stage.

It’s not easy staying in the moment during your work. But I think about that advice a lot. Stay in that moment, and don’t be in a rush to let it pass. You worked to get here; might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

Nobody Knows Anything Before You Start.

“This can be anything you want.” —Louis C.K.

It’s been more than 11 years since Disney announced that they were going to do something unusual: Turn a theme park ride into a movie.

The movie was called “Pirates of the Carribean.” And early on, critics thought it was a terrible idea.

Here’s what one critic had to say about it in March 2002:

“Pirate movies have been bombs for a long time… this is one of those streaks that most producers seem to respect. You have to go back to the 1950’s (and earlier) to find an era when pirate movies were successful and liked. And that, I guess, is why the Pirates of the Caribbean ride was made in the first place, because they didn’t know yet the trend was over.

“….As for a movie with really scary pirates that pulls no punches for the kiddies… don’t be lookin’ ‘ere, arrrrr…”

And the same writer in June 2002, growing a little less skeptical:

“I don’t know whom exactly I thought might be announced as starring in this movie, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t thinking it would be Johnny Depp.”

And the same writer in April 2003, when the first trailers came out:

“The amazing full trailer for this movie did indeed go up last night…. My anticipation for this movie has been building for some time, but this trailer really locks it in there.

“I think the title of “Pirates of the Caribbean” has had a lot of people scratching their heads (and expecting a dopey movie), but clearly Disney, Bruckheimer, Verbinski, Depp and everyone else involved were not setting out to make *that* sort of PotC movie. They’re apparently totally reinventing the property, separate from what you know about the ride, and from what I can see in this trailer… it looks like it might have worked. Wow.”

That movie went on to make $305 million. Johnny Depp was absolutely awesome in it.

But nobody knew that at the start. At the start, it was just a weird idea. There was no director, no stars. Just an idea.

Ideas aren’t worth very much. Some ideas bomb. Some ideas get the right team behind them and become one of the highest-grossing movie franchises in history.

Nothing really matters until you start — especially not what everyone else is saying.

So just go ahead and start.

The John Prine Test.

There is a John Prine song I absolutely love, called “Angel From Montgomery.” And the last verse includes these two lines:

How the hell can a person go to work in the morning
And come home in the evening and have nothing to say?

So this is the John Prine test: Come home every day this week, and see if you have something to say.

Tell a friend. Call your mother. Write it down. Whatever.

Just come home and see what you have to say.

I find that the people who love their jobs the most talk about them a lot. And the ones who don’t love their work rarely mention it. I know people who have been at the same job for years — and I’ve never been able to get more than a shrug out of them when I ask about work.

I wonder why they stay. Because work should stay with you. It should bother you all day. It should always be on your mind.

You should work somewhere that excites you, where the work stays with you all day. You really do deserve that a place that challenges you like that.

17 Things I Learned From My Day With Warren Buffett.

Last Saturday, 35,000 shareholders gathered in Omaha to hear Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger speak. The two men lead Berkshire Hathaway, which is now the fifth-most valuable company in the world, valued at over $264 billion.

I was there, too — as the guest of a family friend, Steve, who’s a shareholder. I didn’t want to pass up the chance to hear one of history’s greatest business minds speak.

Here’s what I learned from my day in Omaha:

1. There Is No Roadmap

Some people come to Omaha looking for answers about the company, but many are there to find the secret to life. This isn’t an understatement: People really do think Warren’s figured out the secrets to the universe.

But the thing Warren said over and over again was simple: There is no roadmap. There is no right way forward. And there are no shortcuts.

2. But… Some Things Do Really Matter

Great people, mostly. Warren talked often about how great his management team was. He kept saying things like, “If I could clone so and so, I would.” When you have great people in place, and you give them the tools to do their work, a lot of great things can happen.

3. Have A Partner Smarter Than You

Warren’s partner is Charlie Munger, the whip-smart no. 2 of Berkshire. He’s been with the company for decades. He’s also a billionaire. His job is to know more than Warren. And he does, which is pretty incredible — Warren’s no dummy.

4. Make Sure That Partner Knows How To Call You On Your Shit

I love this about Charlie: Whenever he thinks Warren’s wrong, he’ll call him on it. “Just because Warren thought something 20 years ago doesn’t mean it’s a law of nature,” he told shareholders at one point. Everyone should have someone willing to call them out like that.

5. That Spark Matters

Have you ever seen that photo of Einstein with his tongue out? There’s something unexpected about that photo — something deeply human. Einstein is this towering figure in history, and yet, there’s a photo of him acting like a fool.

And there are all sorts of photos of Warren acting goofy. He’s got that spark, too — that mix of humor and childishness — and people recognize it. They light up around it.

6. Don’t Be So Serious

Warren was surprisingly funny at the meeting. At one point, he got asked about Harley Davidson, and then gave a long answer breaking down the numbers. Then he added:

“Any company that gets its customers to tattoo ads on their chests can’t be all bad.”


7. Go Where You Want To Go

At various points during the meeting, Warren was pressed for answers about what’s happening with GEICO, one of Berkshire’s largest holdings. Other companies are trying out new ways to measure insurance risk, they said. Will Berkshire follow?

Warren just stood his ground.

“In the end, we know what we’re willing to do…,” he said. “And if we can’t do it, we will watch for a while…. You can’t afford to go along with the crowd.”

I love that. Go where you want to go — don’t go blindly chasing the puck.

8. Admit When You’re Wrong

It’s something both Charlie and Warren were willing to admit. They’ve made mistakes. They’ve owned up to their mistakes.

And the other thing that Warren reminded me: People often forget about this mistakes.

“We’ll be back here in 2 or 3 years, and I’l say, ‘I told you so,'” Warren said, “and hope you have a bad memory.”

9. Be Willing To Say ‘I Don’t Know’

One of my favorite moments came during a question about the Fed. Here’s how Charlie and Warren answered the question:

Charlie: “The basic answer is, I don’t know.”
Warren: “I don’t have anything to add.”

I love that. These two men have seen pretty much everything that can happen in a lifetime. They have lived through wars, through financial bubbles, through some amazing technological changes. So for them to say, “I don’t know,” that’s a statement that carries a lot of weight.

They know the power of their words. They know that their words can move markets. And so they make their predictions and their statements carefully. They won’t make a big statement until they’re sure — isn’t that something we should all emulate?

10. Community Comes First

There’s one thing I didn’t expect from the Berkshire meeting. It’s a gathering of thousands of people, many of whom are millionaires. And yet… it felt like a convention of like-minded fans. The way people talk about Berkshire and their staff, it’s like they know them. They feel a connection to this company and its staff.

That’s really amazing. Berkshire is a really inclusive place — shareholders feel like they’re part of a company that works for them. And that community supports Berkshire back and acts as evangelists for Warren and Co. It’s the community that’s made Berkshire what it is.

11. Don’t Get Jealous

“Envy is the one sin there’s no fun in,” Charlie told the crowd, and it’s tough to argue with that. Sure, there are times when your neighbor or your friend catches onto the Next Big Thing and makes it big. But Warren and Charlie cautioned against chasing that. Just do what you do, and don’t worry about everyone else.

12. Find Heroes Everywhere

Warren’s is a guy named Benjamin Graham, whose book on investing changed the way Warren thought about business. He told shareholders, “My life would have been different if Graham hadn’t written that book.”

But he also noted several other greats: Authors, fellow investors, mentors. Before you can lead, sometimes you have to find other people who’ve already started ahead on the trail.

13. Simplicity Is A Huge Advantage

Something Steve pointed out to me: Berkshire has almost 290,000 employees. But their headquarters has only 24 staffers.

So how do they get things done? By keeping things simple — from management structure to day-to-day routine. By not wasting time on the little details, it gives them more time to focus on the big picture stuff.

14. A Lot Of The Best Stuff Happens By Accident

You can’t plan out everything. Just show up and do the work, and see where it takes you.

“We are leaving behind a field that is very competitive and getting to a place where we’re more unusual,” Charlie said of Berkshire. “This was a very good idea. I wish we’d done it on purpose.”

16. Sell Sell Sell

At the meeting, there was a convention floor where you could buy products from Berkshire companies. Everything — literally dozens of products — featured Warren’s face. The man is shameless when it comes to sales. But that’s also made him one of the most visible businessmen in the world, and in turn, one of the most respected. You can’t lead if no one’e listening — so sometimes, you’ve gotta sell yourself a little.

16. Don’t Go Crazy

Another brilliant Charlie quote: “We’ve always tried to stay sane, and other people like to go crazy.” This is where staying grounded in your principles matters. When you go chasing stuff you don’t understand, you get distracted. Focus on your work, and focus on putting the right systems in place to do that work well.

17. Look Further

The more work you do, the more you begin to understand what’s possible. Warren talked a lot about cumulative knowledge. After a lifetime of work, he knows a lot about a lot.

So when he sees something that gets him excited, he’s willing to jump on it. “We see things that shout out to us: Think further, look further,” he said. Don’t be afraid to chase big things.

18. Love The Work You Do, And Do The Work You Love

“You have to love something to do well at it,” Warren said. “It is an enormous advantage if you absolutely love what you’re doing every minute of it. The nature of it is that that intensity adds to your productivity.”

And that’s it. When you find the stuff you love, you grind at it every day. You throw yourself into your work. You’ll work your hardest when you’re doing something you really care about.

So don’t settle for anything that doesn’t make you want to work that hard. Go out, find what you love, and do the work.

Don’t Go With The Crowds.

A very smart thing I heard Warren Buffett say this weekend: “You can’t afford to go along with the crowd.”

He had been asked at the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting about some of the new trends out there — internet stocks, new technology, new currencies. People wanted to know what he thought about that.

We’ll leave that to other people, he told the crowd. If we don’t understand it, we won’t do it.

He kept going. “We don’t have any pressures to do that stuff,” he said. “We don’t give a damn.”

I love that.

Do what you do well. Do it with the best team you can find. Do it with energy and passion.

Don’t get jealous, and don’t go chasing thing you don’t understand.

When you chase the crowds, you steer yourself away from what you do best. And you don’t have time to do that.

Do what you do, and don’t worry about the rest.

The Thing That Makes The Internet So Amazing.

“The future ain’t what it used to be.” — Yogi Berra

In Feb. 1995, Newsweek published a story titled, “Why Web Won’t Be Nirvana.” It is a piece that has not aged well.

And this is my favorite quote from the story:

“What’s missing from this electronic wonderland? Human contact. Discount the fawning techno-burble about virtual communities. Computers and networks isolate us from one another.”

Which is, of course, not what played out.

What makes the internet so amazing in 2013 is that we have such powerful communities. NPR keeps chugging along because there’s such a strong community that supports it. Kickstarter’s a place where community directly funds its most creative members. Tumblr, Twitter, Reddit — they’re all places built and maintained by communities.

For all of the amazing stuff about the web, it turns out it’s the people that makes it such an amazing place. And when you leave out the people — when you don’t ship your work, or you avoid your communities on the web — you miss out on the thing that makes the internet so great.