Katrina, Eight Years Later.


Eight years ago today, Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. I’ve written this before: There aren’t a lot of big news stories on the eighth year anniversary of a storm. In two years, for the 10th anniversary, every TV truck in the Western hemisphere will be down in the French Quarter to cover the story. Not this year.

But there are a few great stories coming out of the Gulf Coast this morning:

The Times-Picayune has a fantastic story about a message in a bottle that was dropped into the rising waves of Katrina — found, and finally reunited with its writer.

The Huffington Post has numbers about life in New Orleans after the storm. Some good; many tragic.

In Waveland, Miss., they’re opening a Ground Zero Hurricane Museum. In Long Beach, they’re re-opening a university. In New Orleans, they’re celebrating the return of businesses.

And down the road, families are still trying to rebuild — from not one, but two storms.

And of course: I remember the ones who opened their doors to me three years ago, and let me hear their stories. I’m thankful for them, and thinking of them this morning.

I Missed A Monday.

“Put what you want to do last and what you need to do first.” — Mike Orren

I missed my Monday blog post for the first time in… well, I don’t know. I’ve been posting here twice a week for months — since at least the start of 2012. And to miss a Monday? It feels weird.

But worst: Missing a day because I was “too busy” is an alarm sounding, reminding me how easy it is to let a good routine go. The longer you let things slide, the harder it is to get going again.

So here I am on Tuesday morning, hacking out this post. I don’t like missing a Monday. I don’t plan on missing one again.

Time to get back to work.

That random image of a stoplight comes via.

What I’d Tell Myself If I Was Starting College Today.


I started classes at the University of Missouri eight years ago this month. Which got my me thinking: If I was starting college this year, what advice would 26-year-old me give my 18-year-old counterpart?

So, 18-year-old Dan, here’s the thing:

College is 100% about experiences. You should do stuff because you CAN.

Go to concerts on Tuesday nights because you can. Join that campus improv group because you can. Take that all-night road trip because you can.

And yes, do stuff even when your friends don’t want to. You’ll meet new people along the way.

College is a time to try stuff you’d otherwise never try. You’re never going to have more free time to learn something new.

Basically, you’re going to go to 15 hours of class a week, and spend another 10-15 hours (maybe) doing work for those classes, which leaves you with an insane amount of free time to do whatever the hell you want.

Like, now is the time to learn an instrument. Or learn to take photos. Or learn to make awesome stuff.

No, your GPA doesn’t matter. As soon as you leave college, it’s as relevant as your SAT score.

So shoot for GPA that starts with a 3, but don’t worry too much about grades. Or your major. Most of your friends will end up doing something entirely unrelated to their majors.

Take classes that challenge you. Take classes with professors you like.

And take advantage of office hours. Just go in and talk to the professor for a few minutes each month. They’re smart people, and you’ll actually enjoy the conversation. (Yes, really.)

There aren’t a lot of things you shouldn’t do at college, but here are two: Don’t sleep so much — there is no human reason to sleep as much as you’re going to want to. And don’t be so messy — make your damn bed. Nobody wants to hang out at a messy apartment.

And that’s about it. Everything else is on the table. (Well, don’t do anything horribly illegal, but you already knew that.)

Experiences matter, and people matter, and that’s it. The rest of the stuff they tell you about os mostly rules that you don’t need to pay much attention to. The people you’ll come to admire don’t really care about the rules.

Go and find good people. The people you meet in college are going to be around for a long time. You are going to want good people in your life.

Good people will make your college experience better. They will make your life better. They will make you happy. Find lots and lots of time for these people.

But when you screw up, especially to them, apologize. And forgive them when they mess up. This matters more than you think.

One more don’t, actually: Don’t be a jerk. You’re young, and you think you know it all, and you’re going to be a jerk sometimes. Try not to be an asshole — it comes back around.

A few more things: Reach out to people you admire in “the real world” — people love helping college kids. They actually read your emails and take your calls.

And a quick follow up — especially a hand-written note — means far more than you can possibly imagine.

Create stuff. Build stuff. Even if it’s dumb.

The people who build stuff in college tend to go on to build stuff in the real world. This is not a coincidence.

And one finally little thing: This is not the best four years of your life. It isn’t. But if you do it right, it is the first four years of what can be an amazing life.

Know this: College is an wonderful place. You have so many resources around you, and so many amazing people around you. Everything you need to start something amazing — a project, a company, a life — is right here.

You will not come out of college fully formed, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s encouraged. You’re a work in progress. You’re there to learn and to try stuff. Try it all.

And don’t forget: You are never too young do something great. NEVER. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Welcome to college. Enjoy it. It goes by just as fast as they say.

The Places You’ll Go.

Airport Trip

“Daniel, you get there when you get there.” — My mother

I am writing this from an airplane, somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean. I am flying back to New York; my flight is, of course, late.

Flights are always late these days. I don’t remember when the idea of an “on time” departure became such a foreign concept, but by now, I’m used to it. You show up at the airport; you wait; eventually, if only by the grace of some airplane-loving deity, you do make your way to wherever it is you’re going.

There is a guy in the seat behind me who is pretty upset about being late. Maybe he’s making a connection at Newark, and he’s already missed it. Maybe he’s got an early meeting he’s missed. Maybe he’s just grumpy. It’s still 7 a.m., at least at this writing, and I understand that.

But of course, I hear the words of my mother: You get there when you get there. Flights are one of those things entirely out of your control. You will get there, and it may suck a little while you’re in the process of getting there, but you will get there.

Isn’t it always that way, though?

I’m thinking of Rick Short — a career minor leaguer who my Washington Nationals finally brought up to the majors a few years back. He’d been in the minors for a decade, and then produced a career year at the plate, hitting everything he saw. The Nats finally brought him up for a few games in September. It wasn’t the road he anticipated, I’m sure, but he got there when he got there.

Or Bettye LaVette. She was a Motown singer who never quite broke through in her time. Deals fell through; albums went unfinished. And then, maybe a decade ago, an album actually got out there, and it got heard. Then another album. Now she’s touring — in her 60s now, but finally with the career she always wanted. Again: Not the road she wanted, but she got there when she got there.

The road isn’t always what we want. We rarely get where we’re going as fast we want.

But if you’re moving, be thankful. You’re getting there.

At 26, it doesn’t always feel like I’m going where I want to go. And then I hear that voice: Daniel, you get there when you get there.

Some days, I’m not even sure where “there” is, but Mom, you were right. And it feels good to be on my way.

That photo of a plane comes via.

It Doesn’t Have To Be This Hard.

I read this sentence this week, and it made me pause:

In 1931, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary had listed “Rube Goldberg” as an adjective, defining it as “accomplishing by complex means what seemingly could be done simply.”

And I started thinking about how much I love those Rube Goldberg machines. They really are fun to watch.

And then I started thinking about how complicated they are. They’re needlessly complicated, aren’t they?

And then I started thinking about my own day-to-day workflow, and the unnecessary steps I sometimes throw in when I’m trying to get from A to B on a task. Why do I do that?

And I ended up here: There are jobs where having a Rube Goldberg mind is a plus. Like storytelling. Storytellers have to be able to set those dominos up and then knock ’em down, and the ones who do it right often knock their stories out of the park.

But most of us don’t want to be Rube Goldbergs. We want to move quickly and efficiently. We want to get through the work and onto the next. And the more we set up for ourselves, the more we’re going to have to trudge through to get to the end result.

And it’s the end result that really counts, isn’t it?

Just Remarkable.

World Domination Summit 2013 - Portland, OR

“What’s amazing about a leap of faith is how everyone around you is so sure it’s gonna work out, when deep down, you are so sure it won’t.” — Tess Vigeland

Back in July, I went to Portland for a conference, and I saw this talk. I have been thinking about it a lot.

It’s the story of an NPR reporter who quit her job because she wanted more. She wanted something else. She wasn’t sure what the something else was, but she wanted it.

But listening to it, I don’t really hear her story.

I hear her words, but I remember mine.

Because I, too, have felt ambitious. Really ambitious.

And scared.

And confused.

And lost.

And hopelessly broke.

On that journey, I spent a lot of time, too, just asking myself: What the hell am I doing?

I look back now on that point in my life. Yes, I had faith in my ability to do something great, and enough desperation to want to do something that wouldn’t suck. But at the exact same time, I had this overwhelming sense of terror. I was so, so scared.

Doing what I did — and what many others have done, and what you’ll see Tess Vigeland talk about in a second — was insane. It was crazy. But also: It was a fantastic thing that changed me, and changed how I think about everything.

And to see it echoed back to me? I felt all of it all over again.

It’s gotten me thinking again. I’ve spent the last few weeks wondering if I’ll ever find the courage to do something that crazy once again.

I hope I will.

Anyway, for now, just watch:

That image of Tess at top comes via.

We’re Talking About Practice.

“I’m not shoving it aside, you know, like it don’t mean anything. I know it’s important, I do. I honestly do… But we’re talking about practice man. What are we talking about? Practice? We’re talking about practice, man.” — Allen Iverson

There’s a new book out this week by a Sports Illustrated writer, David Epstein, about athletic performance, called “The Sports Gene.” One of my colleagues at BuzzFeed wrote about it. And this one thing from the write-up caught my eye.

In Jim Ryun’s first race on his high school cross-country team, in 1963, he finished 21st on his own team. The next year, as a junior, he ran a four-minute mile, only a decade after the first human had ever done it. Epstein writes that genes make us respond differently to training — in studies, people doing the exact same workouts every day improve their fitness at drastically different rates. Basically, some people are actually born to be better at practice than others.

Read that last sentence again: Some people are actually born to be better at practice than others.

Which means two things:

1. Yes, Allen Iverson, practice really can make a difference.

2. The way you practice makes a huge difference. There is no one universal solution for practice. Finding the right way to put in the hours can change everything.

Yes, you can get better — at running, at writing, at building something from the ground up. And yes, you have to put in the work first.

That photo at top comes from the SI archives.

Hours Mean Nothing.


I read a thing this week that really struck me. It’s from a CEO and founder of a few websites. And he wrote:

At the end of each day, I’m frickin tired. But like that buff dude in the gym, I’m stoked on the weight I lifted that day. I don’t see the tired when I’m looking in the mirror, I’m looking at my life’s muscles and I’m thinking, damn I look good.

Tired isn’t weak. Tired is hardworking. Tired are the champions because we worked our asses off to win.

This is a nice argument. It’s an argument I used to make myself, in fact. If you’re doing work you care about, and you’re doing it to the point of physical exhaustion, well, that seems like a good thing.

But the thing is, it isn’t true.

Some people have to work ridiculous hours to do the work they need to do. Some people can do their work in relatively few hours.

The hours themselves, though, are irrelevant. There is no special bonus that one gets for working 17-hour days. There is no penalty for working 4-hour days.

The hours don’t matter — only the fact that you put in the time to do the work.

But this idea that there’s glory in working absurdly long days? No, there’s no glory in that. And there’s no shame in being able to do your work in a few hours a day.

Again: All that matters is the work that comes out.

Work ethic is about what you get done in those hours, not the number of hours you accumulate. Sometimes, you just have to work your ass off and work yourself into the ground to understand that.

That clock photo comes via.

Otra! Otra!


“En la vida hay dos cosas ciertas // Son la muerte y el cambio.” — Ozomatli

If you ever go to see Ozomatli — and you really should; they’re an amazing band from LA that’s a fusion of all sorts of sounds and languages — then know this:

At the end of their set, they’re going to come into the crowd with drums. They might lead the crowd in the hokey pokey. Or the chicken dance.

But follow them. When they go, follow them.

Following them is how a friend and I ended up on a ledge on Saturday night, dancing with the band, as a few hundred fans screamed out “Ole!” chants back at us. Following them is how I ended up next to the horn section, losing my damn mind.

And when it was over, the crowd started cheering for more. Ozomatli’s songs are mostly in Spanish, so the encore chant came in Spanish, too. “Otra! Otra!” they cheered.

What an amazing response. A whole crowd of people, having just seen this band give them everything, having literally conga-lined out of the venue with them, and they wanted more. Refused to leave without more.

One more. Just give us one more glimpse of whatever you’ve got.

Something for all of us to strive for.

I took that photo at top from our vantage point on the ledge.