People deeply desire permission. Don’t ask. Give it to yourself. Even better: give it to others. Manufacture it and distribute it.
I gave the following short talk at Funconf this year.
Thank you very much to Paul and Eamo for being such incredible hosts and creating one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Much love to the friends—old and new—who I got to share that experience with.
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My friend Hjon IM’d me one December day three years ago.
- Hjon: Do you know anything about the Pasco train station?
I thought to myself. I had never actually traveled by train, but I remembered a recent discussion with my &yet teammate, Fritzy, where he was talking about taking his kids on a Polar Express train ride soon.
- Me: You haven’t met Fritzy before, but you should talk to him.
After passing along Fritzy’s contact info, I popped a message to Fritzy giving him a heads up.
- Me: My friend Hjon has a question about the train station. He’s going to ping you.
- Fritzy: Ok……
I went back to what I was doing and 10 minutes later got an IM from Fritzy.
- Fritzy: So, how well do you know this Jon guy?
- Me: Well enough, I guess. He’s a good guy. Local iOS developer. I’ve had lunch with him a few times. I like him a lot.
- Fritzy: Ok….
- Fritzy: I mean, I guess he can park his car at my house for a few weeks and I can give him a ride to the train station.
- Me: Wait. What? He just wanted a ride to the train station?
- Fritzy: He asked if it was safe to leave his car parked there for a few weeks.
- Me: Hahahaha oh man.
- Me: I thought he had some very train-related question and I was directing him to the only person in the last two years that I’ve heard say anything about trains.
- Fritzy: I see.
Then Fritzy sent me a screenshot that dropped me to the floor laughing to the point of being incapable of speaking—a picture of his IM roster with one group titled “Random Train People” consisting of one member who had been named “Random Train Person”.
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Earlier today, we boarded a train—bound for where, we had no idea. (Funconf!) A few of us were talking about trolling, negativity, and just how generally poor discourse can be online.
I suggested that a huge part of the problem comes from our nature being to just simply categorize others (and, in doing so, to dismiss them) because it takes a lot of mental energy to empathize with someone and see them as complex people.
Just then, the train staff came by with the drink cart. As they worked their way quickly through the aisle from the back to the front of our car, they called out, “elbows, elbows, elbows, elbows.”
To us, they were just random train people, to them, we were just elbows.
I do think this simple example sums up so many of the world’s problems. There are people who we know and understand and empathize with—those within our Dunbar’s number (or monkeysphere) and everyone else, to us, is just a category of person.
Racisim and sexism are easily explained as having their root in this flaw in human thinking, but those are the simple, obvious versions. We “enlightened” people who’d never be racist or sexist engage in the same kind of thinking whenever we write off a group of people with a categorization. (Heck, even brogrammers are people, too.)
One of my favorite quotes comes from CS Lewis. My slightly modified version of it:
There are no ordinary people. You have never spoken with a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization, conferences, software—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit.
But this does not mean we are to be perpetually solemn.
We must play.
But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.
Many of the world’s problems come from believing there are ordinary people. It’s an easy temptation to come to conclusions about people.
This problem doesn’t seem to exist at Funconf. This temporarily assembled community has thus far operated as if everyone present is a fascinating, unique, one-of-a-kind person worth getting to know and understand on a deeper level.
I believe that culture is what it looks like when humans scale.
I believe what’s here at Funconf is precious, as I know do many of you. And not because of the helicopters, intriguing island, and drinks with new and old friends.
People here are kind and generous to each other because Paul and Eamo are generous—because Chris Williams is kind and generous.
Let’s Funconf the world, my friends.
You might put your love and trust on the line
It’s risky, people love to tear that down
Let ‘em try
Do it anyway
Risk it anyway
And if you’re paralyzed by a voice in your head
It’s the standing still that should be scaring you instead
Go on and
Do it anyway
Do it anyway
A few weeks after starting &yet, I started a ritual that I carried on for most of the first year I was freelancing. I began every single day by writing on my whiteboard those four simple words in all-caps.
It all started because one day was particularly discouraging and I felt like giving up. I don’t recall what happened and I’m sure now it wasn’t actually a big deal—despite how I felt about it then.
My strengths always flow from my feelings, so when I’m gutted by something, it just takes me out completely. But! I know I have ultimate control over how I feel and I’ve learned ways to rewire my brain to get out of destructive thinking when need be.
One of the best ways I’ve found to deal with feelings of overwhelming discouragement is to simply commit to taking action and then forcefully remind myelf it doesn’t matter how I feel—I’ve made a decision.
As a person who loves to wrestle with decisions and then re-wrestle with ones I’ve already made, writing those words gave me a tool to silence any doubts or second-guesses that would emerge during the day. The question was settled—for that day at least.
Slowly, forcefully writing each character by hand became a bit of a meditation. I know it stuck with me and drove my energy and enthusiasm. It also helped me focus my thinking towards the important priorities.
If I got to feeling down during the day, I’d go back to the board and physically rewrite the letters with extra emphasis. It did not matter if I felt inadequate or was rejected. In writing those words, I was recommitting.
I was in a conversation a few days ago and suddenly remembered this whole thing, and thinking a bit more about it, I noticed it’s really quite a useful little method. I’m definitely going to employ it again and again in some variation.
Because the words of the sentence themselves are quite intentional and meaningful, they actually do a pretty good job of describing the pattern.
I — It’s on me. I can’t blame someone else if I don’t do it. I’m taking full responsibility here.
AM — I’m committing. I *am* doing this. It’s also in the present—it isn’t “I will do this”.
DOING — This is about action. If I’m doing it, I better take action today. This isn’t a vague goal.
THIS — My goal is specific enough to at least be indentifiable and whatever actions I’m taking toward it are rooted firmly in details.
Pretty simple, but it really worked.
Have you ever tried something like this? Let me know on Twitter what you’ve done that’s worked to refocus and motivate you. I’m intrigued what other simple mindhacks other people use like this one.
Viktor Frankl on why we should believe in others.
The only certain product from a decision is an outcome.
There are two optional products: second-guesses and education.
The more time spent second-guessing the decision, the less can be learned from it.
I feel intense gratitude at this moment—awake in silence with only the whispers of restful sleep coming from the ones I love more than life.
Surely no one deserves or should expect the kind of lavish good fortune I have had in my life, least of all me.
The people I love are all well and happy, and I love them so very much it brings me to tears.
I am indebted, eternally, and grateful, eternally to the One who has given such gifts.
He said, “To whom much is given, much is required.”
Two things I love doing:
- Making new things with other people.
- Helping other people make new things.
I’ll learn, read, write, bribe, beg, plead, and borrow anything I can to do both.
Encouragement is the only force that can change the world with words in the only way that matters: one person at a time.
They say, “energy cannot be created or destroyed.” Encouragement gives physics the finger.