Tag Archives: quasi-deep thoughts

Stuff I Didn’t Know Was OK When I Started My First Job.

feeling reflective

It’s okay to say, “No.”

It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”

It’s okay to be wrong, too — sometimes your intuition points you one way, or the data points you one way, and you end up being wrong. Happens.

It’s okay to ask for what you want.

It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to ask uncomfortable questions.

It’s okay to try hard things. And if you’re trying hard things, you should ask for help! Working with smart people on something hard is how you get better.

It’s okay to reach out to smart people — even outside your company — to ask for advice. (Just remember to ask good questions and bring them coffee!)

It’s okay to be the quiet one at work. And it’s okay to be loud, too. Either way, as long as you have a boss who supports you and your team, you’ll be okay. You don’t need to pretend to be someone you’re not to do great work and get noticed. You have a team behind you to support you and your work.

It’s okay to hate meetings. (Everyone hates meetings.)

It’s okay to take your vacation days. (That’s why we gave them to you!)

It’s okay not to respond to that unexpected late-night email from your boss until the next morning. (7-to-7 is fine! But be someone who responds to emails within 24 hours, OK?)

It’s okay do something different, and it’s definitely okay to make mistakes.

It’s okay to feel completely lost.

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed.

It’s okay to be the one who asks a few extra questions to make sure you understand.

It’s okay to pitch big ideas, and it’s okay to be the one who tries to turn those big ideas into big work.

To be honest: As long as you work hard; listen well; respect your team and your co-workers; and show up every day ready to do the work, then it’s okay to be whoever you are. We hired you for a reason. It’s okay to do your thing.

— — —

I picked that photo from Rosan Harmens and Unsplash.com because I was (sorry in advance, but you’ve been warned) … in a reflective mood.

Why Does Time Move Fast Some Days, But Slow On Others?

Clock, by Sonja Langford

Four years ago this week, I wrote a post about something I didn’t quite understand: The idea that time was simultaneously moving really fast and really slow. I wrote:

Fast. It’s moving so damn fast. So many things to cross off the to-do list. So many things happening all at once. So many tasks. Knock one off, another one takes its place.

Slow. It’s moving so damn slow. So much time between now and May, and May just won’t come. Why can’t it all just come faster?

So fast, and so slow.

And yet I know: A thousand baby steps to get to where I need to go.

Two years ago also this week(1), I wrote again about time, saying:

A week ago today, I sat in a room and listened to Jerry Seinfeld speak. It was seven days ago.

It feels like months ago.

One of the things about working on the internet is that time moves in incredibly bizarre ways. News that blows up in the morning is forgotten by the afternoon. Things move fast.

In 2012, and again in 2014, I didn’t quite understand what was happening. But with — what else? — time, I think I’ve figured it out:

Time moves most slowly when your work becomes repetitive.
You understand how to do the work — habits take over, and you get lost in the process of those habits and that work. Time moving slowly isn’t a bad thing. Those repetitive tasks are an anchor. They keep you grounded in the day-to-day. You work quickly, but the habits and processes you’ve created seem to handle the heavy lifting for you. You know what happens now, and what comes next.

Time moves most quickly when your work becomes unexpected. Instead of relying on habits, you find yourself making up the processes as you go. You’re figuring out how to do the work, and who you need to work with to do it. With nothing to anchor you down, and each milestone bringing a new set of challenges, time moves fast. You forget about down the road, and focus on now. You’re on deadline. You work fast because there is something next for you — whatever it is.

I’ll give you a personal example: In a normal week, I have a handful of meetings that anchor each day, and a handful of tasks. This is my fourth year working on newsletters. The work is repetitive — in a good way. Days can move slowly.

But then…. something happens. A breaking news event at the office. The new launch of a product. And suddenly, the new work jolts me out of the day-to-day. There’s an urgency to the work — it’s not the work that has to be done, it’s the work that NEEDS to be done. Days and weeks fly by. We accomplish a lot. Or maybe it just feels that way, because we’re accomplishing so many new goals.

And then we’ll come back the following Monday to our normal routines, with time seemingly moving half-speed.

Some work anchors you down, and some work unmoors you from those anchors and makes you move fast to do new, unexpected things. Time moves slow, then fast, then slow again. And they’re both OK! I understand now: To do the work, you need to understand how operate at both speeds.

———

That photo of an alarm clock comes via Unsplash and photographer Sonja Langford.

  1. What is it about this week?

Forget About My Money. What Are You Doing To Get Me Back My Time?

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When I’m traveling, it’s the inefficiencies that really kill me.

I know that travel is going to cause some headaches. There are going to be lines at security, and flight delays happen. I get that.

But it’s the little moments of inefficiency at the airport that, to me, can make flying a real pain.

For instance (and excuse the Andy Rooney rant, please):

These days at the gate, as soon as the gate agent mentions “preboarding,” everyone gets up and stands right in front of the gate. With everyone packed in up there, it takes forever to get everyone on board. But it doesn’t have to be this way! A few months ago, I flew Air Canada up to Toronto, and the agents actually told people to sit down and wait for their boarding group. With the boarding lanes clear, it was the smoothest boarding process I’ve been a part of in a long time.

It must’ve been 15 years ago that I flew Southwest for the first time. I laughed when I saw people lined up in their boarding groups, ready to board before the plane even got to the gate. Now Southwest is the model of efficiency — every person boards by a pre-assigned number — and it’s the rest of the U.S. airlines that are backwards.

And airlines: When you ask people to volunteer to check their bags at the gate, has anyone actually listened? Of course not! A decade ago, plenty of people checked bags. Now, a younger generation sees it as an enormous inconvenience. But we might be willing to change our tune — all it would take is the right incentive. 150 free airline miles for a checked bag at the gate, maybe, or a $10 voucher toward a future flight. And you’d get bags checked in advance and no extra waiting on the tarmac as flight attendants struggle to get big bags squeezed into overhead bins.

Another thing: Why is the check-in process at rental car counters so miserable? This past weekend, I waited in line for an hour to get my car. Ordinarily, I rent with Hertz, and I’m a member in their #1 Club Gold program. You enter in all your information in advance, fill out your insurance information online, and walk straight up to you car. There’s no waiting whatsoever. The whole thing is free, too — I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to be a member!

But this trip, I redeemed some credit card points for my reservation, and had to wait in line. There were maybe 10 guests ahead of me, but the line barely moved. And when I got to the counter, the Hertz associate had to enter in all of my information line by line. But it doesn’t need to be so time consuming, Hertz. The airlines can check me in via a computer — why don’t you do the same? I’m betting a computerized check-in would actually explain the benefits of various opt-in programs (like pre-paying to fill up your tank) better than an employee could in person. All I really need a human for is to hand over the keys and point me towards my car. Instead, I lost an hour waiting in line, and 10 more minutes once I got to the counter. (I even had to sign a waiver declining free maps! I lost two minutes declining maps!)

Meanwhile, this past weekend, I managed to pay for a parking meter via text message. (It even texted me when my meter was up!) I got a hotel bill emailed directly to me. And even the TSA was able to streamline me straight through security. Those little efficient touch points along the way made a huge difference — but it’s the pain points we all remember.

What I’m getting to is this: Some companies work hard to return savings to a customer. But here’s something just as important: My time. And as a customer, I’m asking myself: What is your company doing to return my time to me?

Companies that work efficiently to maximize my time are the ones that exceed expectations — and they’re the ones I’m going to come back to time and again when I travel.

What Should I Do With My Life?

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There are times when I look around at myself and the life I have — 26, working at a rapidly-growing company, building cool stuff with a really awesome team — and I manage to convince myself that I am absolutely nowhere.

I look around, and all I see are people going places, and I don’t see myself doing the same.

I feel stuck in the mud.

And then I ask myself question that everyone asks at some point: What should I do with my life?

It is a big, scary question.

I’d like to think that my grandparents asked themselves that question. One grandpa became a doctor, and the other became a pharmacist, and that was their life’s work. They picked a life and stuck with it.

But thanks to a few factors — for me, it’s hard work, a bit of luck, the comfort of a few dollars in the bank, and the way the internet has changed everything about how people make and share things — I don’t see one path. I don’t see one life.

I see many paths, and many lives.

There is a wonderful anecdote in the autobiography of Katharine Graham, the longtime Washington Post publisher. She talks about her father, Eugene Meyer. He started out as a businessman. Then he transitioned to a life in government — he served as the chairman of the Fed, and later the first president of the World Bank. Then he bought the Post. Then he got into community service. And finally, towards retirement, he pushed himself into family life.

Graham writes about these stages as the arcs of Meyer’s life. He had the arc as a private businessman, and the arc as public servant. He had arcs as a champion of certain causes, and an arc devoted to family. Some arcs lasted a decade. Some lasted longer. But his life wasn’t one continuous thread — just a series of strands that he wove together into something impressive.

That idea of arcs has stuck with me. There are a lot of things I’d like to do with my life. There’s an overarching theme, certainly: I’d like to keep making awesome things with great people, and I want those things to serve and to entertain others.

But I know that things will come into my life that will make me change my plans. I know how much the internet has changed things already, and it’s going to keep changing things. I’m going to leave New York at some point, and that’ll change things.

Family will change things — in a wonderful way, I hope.

And I love that idea of arcs. I love the idea that as things change, so can I.

There is not a thing I want to do with my life. There are a lot of things.

A decade ago, I first started working as a reporter. In a way, I see that arc slowly winding down. I’ve been transitioning into a new arc — as someone who makes stuff — and that’s really exciting.

I do not know what the next arc is. But I know this:

When I think about the question of What I should do with my life?, I feel stuck, and scared.

When I think about the arcs, and the chance to keep learning and growing and doing new things — even if that means big change along the way — I feel excited, and nervous.

It is a wonderful feeling, and I want to keep chasing it.

That’s a photo of me stuck in the mud in New York. I took it.

Your One Swing.

There’s this one thing that my Uncle Billy said to me about two weeks ago. It was after my grandma’s funeral. We were sitting on the couch, watching the game, eating chopped liver. We were talking about, I dunno, the Broncos or the chopped liver, probably. Doesn’t really matter now.

But somewhere along the line, Uncle Billy dropped this bit of life advice, and it’s stuck with me: “You get one swing.”

Uncle Billy’s 88 years old. He went to war, married a girl he loved, went fishing more times than anyone else I know, showed up for every birthday and bar mitzvah I can remember. As far as Great-uncles go, he’s been a pretty stellar one.

I’ve heard that bit of advice before, obviously. It’s there on fortune cookies. It’s there in self-help books. Hell, there are people at my office who’ve worn YOLO T-shirts before. (Ironically, but still.)

But none of that quite carries the weight that it does when it comes from someone like your 88-year-old Great-uncle, does it? (And at a funeral, no less!)

One swing. Just go for it.

Alright, Uncle Billy, here goes.

That photo of a golfer comes via Flickr’s Nick Jewell.

The Questions We Ask When We Want To Remember.

Hurricane Sandy Flooding Avenue C 2012

“Time will magnify whatever you do. So even in the smallest matters, do what is right. — Ralph Marston

 
39 days ago, Hurricane Sandy hit New York City.

It came. It flooded.

But now the city — Manhattan, at least — is back to normal. Next week, I’ll grab the keys to a New York apartment. It’s three blocks from the area that was evacuated during the storm, and a quarter mile from the power plant explosion that knocked out power to half the city.

You’d never even know. I was there last week, and the neighborhood looked totally normal. Five weeks changes a lot.

Time has a way of doing that. It’s been 1 year, 6 months and 15 days since the Joplin tornados. It’s been 7 years, 3 months and 1 day since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.

And there’s this: Tomorrow, we’ll recognize the 71st anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

Of course, we won’t be talking about Sandy or Joplin or Katrina tomorrow. We’ll be talking about what happened that day in 1941 in Hawaii.

But here’s what I find most interesting: On big anniversaries, we always seem to ask the same question: How do we remember? We talk about what happened that day. We interview those who were there.

But I’m not so sure we’re asking the right questions.

I’d rather ask:

Why do we remember?
What did we learn?
What do we know now?

We focus so much on the date itself, but on anniversaries, it’s often what’s changed since that really matters.

If we really want to remember, we need to ask better questions. I know that’s what they’ve done in Biloxi, Joplin and Hawaii. I hope it’s what they’re doing in my new neighborhood in New York.

It’s the way we get better.

That photo of flooding in my new neighborhood comes via David Shankbone.

The Might of Mo.

“Slump? I ain’t in no slump. I just ain’t hitting.” — Yogi Berra

 
Over the years, I’ve developed a sixth sense for certain things during sporting events. Like many sports fans, I know exactly when to flick back to the game after a commercial break. Like other sports nuts, I can usually tell you the cliché the announcer is about to spout just before he spouts it.

And of course: I can tell you when one team has the Mo.

You know Mo, or maybe you know it by one of its pseudonyms: Uncle Mo. Mighty Mo.

Big Mo.

Mo is momentum. Mo is how teams make comebacks that don’t seem possible. Mo is how the hot goalie gets hot, and why the power hitter suddenly can’t swing the bat. Mo is that mighty force that can upend even Murphy’s Law.

You can have skill, strength, strategy and coaching, but if you don’t have Mo, you’re not going anywhere.

I’ve seen it with my own eyes: Some nights, Big Mo just gets rolling, and crazy things start happening.

And no, Mo isn’t just a force limited to the playing field. I’ve seen businesses turn one big deal into another. I’ve seen musicians spin one big break into a second, and a third.

But Mo isn’t merely luck. That’s a misconception. It’s a strange combination of forces: Of good breaks, of confidence, of practice, of skill.

Mo doesn’t just happen. Mo is earned.

Mo happens to all of us. It comes — it really does. Some of us just have to be willing to fight a little longer to earn it.

Keep fighting. Keep working.

Your hour of Mo will come. I promise.

That photo of Mizzou’s Big Mo drum comes via @racerx617.

Why Does It Take So Long For United Airlines To Come Up With New Menu Ideas? (And Should It?)

Yes, you read that right: It takes a full year for United Airlines to get a new meal option onto a flight. It takes a full year — 12 months, 365 days, 525,600 minutes —
to create a new food option and get it ready to be served on a United flight.

And to think: Many of us who’ve eaten these meals would hardly classify them as “food.”

One year. I’m hung up on that number. That’s an awfully long time to institute a tiny change to an airline menu, isn’t it?

I’ll ask you now: What if they could do it in a day? What if they could do it better?

United Airlines flies to 186 destinations. Their big issue is that some ingredients — like Wisconsin cheddar cheese —are easy to get domestically, but impossible to get in places like Dubai. And the meals are made at the departure airport. That means that United needs lots of different menu options that can best take advantage of ingredients available near the departure airport.

But what if United just simplified their list of ingredients to include things that can be found at any airport kitchen in the world? What if United only cooked from that list?

And what if United changed its menu every day, with United’s head chefs emailing out that day’s menu options?

And what if — because yes, local flavor is important — United empowered local chefs to add an ingredient or two from the departure airport to personalize the flight? (Sushi from Japan, hummus from Tel Aviv, cheddar cheese from Milwaukee.)

What if United focused on going fresh every day, and creating a beautiful meal presentation for all of its passengers?

What if United decided to spend a little more on airplane food? As of 2010, United spent about $6.35 per meal per passenger — is that enough for passengers who’ve paid hundreds or thousands of dollars for a seat?

What if United decided that while every other airline cuts back on meals, they’d make it a priority? What if passengers actually looked forward to their meals on the flight – because they knew it was made that day, and made specifically for them that day, not dreamed up in a kitchen a full year earlier?

What if — instead of getting the menu absolutely perfect months in advance — United focused on delighting its customers every single day?

I know what you’re thinking: Yeah, but… they’d never go for it. It’s too complicated. Too costly. Too hard.

And I say: Every day, United moves thousands of people around the world. You’re telling me they can’t think of a better way to serve us salad and sandwiches in the sky?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Work is a differentiator in this world. Hustle is a differentiator in this world.

Everything else is just excuses.

In whatever you do: Do great work. Surprise us. Delight us.

Even you, United Airlines.

That photo of airplane food at top comes via @tiffkathlee.

How I Fell In Love. For the First Time. For Forever, I Hope.

Love is in the air ! Literally !!

Something changed in me this year. I know, because I was on the phone with a friend a few weeks ago. I was telling her about all the work I’m putting in with Stry and Very Quotatious and the fellowship, and she didn’t say anything.

And then I saw her a few days later, and I told her that I was speaking at TEDxMU, and I mentioned that I’d started working out with a trainer for the Belly Challenge, and she just stared at me. It looked like she was trying to X-ray me, to look straight through me, to figure out whether or not she was talking to the Dan she used to know.

She knew something had changed. She knew that I’d started to find a new center.

I started to realize it, too. And I started to think about what had changed. And then it hit me. It feels like just a moment ago that I figured it out:

I fell in love.

And here I am writing it, and not caring how cheesy it sounds:

I fell in love.

And again, and again, because it is too wonderful not to say:

I fell in love.

I fell in love with the waking up in the morning absolutely full of awesome. With the feeling that I have when I’m absolutely exhausted after a workout. With the smile I have on my face when I cross something else off my TeuxDeux.

I fell in love with doing. I fell in love with building things. I fell in love with the work.

And then I started to notice a whole world full of fellow builders. Turns out I’d lived in this world the whole time, and I’d barely noticed.

I know now: We live in a world where amazing things happen. We live in a world where there are so many people putting the tiniest dents in the universe. We live in a world overstretched with awesome.

I used to be stressed, and I still am. But now, stress is good stress. Excited stress! The “We’ve got a deadline to make because we’ve got shit to do!” kind of stress.

I find myself smiling a lot. I find myself in front of journalism classes, running around and jumping on chairs and yelling about building things and being awesome, and the students look at me wondering how much Starbucks it takes to make me this loud at NINE FUCKING O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING ON A TUESDAY, and then I tell them that I don’t drink coffee, and they look at me like I am absolutely mad.

And I am. You have to as mad as I am to do the things that I want to do.

There is so much to do, and there is not enough time, but that’s okay. The truth is, there is enough time for now.

And the truth is: When you are as in love as I am, it feels like I have all the time I will ever need.

And the truth is: When you are as in love as I am, time hardly matters at all.

What we build is what matters, and time is only there to show how long it can last.

Introducing…. VeryQuotatious.com.

I have a friend who is studying to become a doctor. On test days, I’ll often get a text or an email from her, asking for a word of wisdom. She knows I’ve got a Delicious loaded with inspirational links and ideas, and I’ll dig through there and send her something. I love helping, and she loves asking. It’s a win for both of us.

But I’d like to be able to share that joy with a wider audience. So I’ve launched a new side project: VeryQuotatious.com. The name comes for a quote from Shaq, he of a thousand quotable remarks. I’ve designed the site to be an internet home for inspiration, advice, thought and other wisdom suitable for quotation.

The quotes are all hand curated, and I’ve tried to bring in quotes from modern thought leaders — entrepreneurs, thinkers, scientists — as opposed to the standard grab bag of Gandhi sayings.(1)

I hope it brings you as much joy and wisdom as it has brought me.

  1. Though he’s still on the site.