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When I bought a house ten years ago, I also bought place settings for six and silverware for twelve. Then I developed a minor fascination with bone China and bought settings for eight. I probably had four dozen glasses. About once a month or so, all of these dishes would be piled up in and around my sink, begging to be cleaned. I didn't have a lot of dinner parties-- I just hated doing dishes so much that I'd procrastinate until washing became a full day event. Those days were some of my least favorite.
A few days ago, I was doing the dishes for the six of us that ate dinner. There were pots, pans, plates, serving utensils, and glasses. The works. For the first time ever, I found myself enjoying doing the dishes. I could appreciate the warm water on my hands and the shine in the pot when it was clean. When I washed everything that wasn't dishwasher safe, I started handwashing the things that could have just gone in the dishwasher. It wasn't fun exactly, but it was so enjoyable that I actually found myself looking forward to washing the dishes the next day.
Work has become the same way. I don't love all aspects of it equally, but when I wake up and know I have a tough day ahead of me, I feel great. Pant of it is that I know the day will end with a nice chunk of progress made, but most of it is the actual act of working. I love it. I can't wait to face off with a bug that's been bothering me for weeks, trace it through all of our code, and fix it. It's relaxing, like an internal Swedish massage.
My friend Constance wrote me an email today. She was talking about me with her sister and some friends, describing my hyperfocus on work, learning, and other productive things. An excerpt from her email:
When I was in college, I bought a Rolex. In the week or so that I waited for it to come in the mail, I got really excited about the idea that I was going to have a Rolex. To me, someone who had a Rolex was a different type of person, simply because he bought a fancy watch.
The watch showed up, and it was obviously a fake. I took it to a jeweler, just in case, and he confirmed what I already knew.
But by then it was too late. In my head, I was a Rolex type of guy. So I bought another one-- a real one this time.
If there's one long-term state that I won't tolerate for myself, it's treading water, putting out effort just to stay where I am. I want to either expend effort to move something ahead, or triage it and let it sink. If it's important enough to me to do, I'll put everything into it and do it right, otherwise I'll make the hard decision and reserve that energy for something else.
All forward momentum requires your effort and attention. Want your business to grow? You'd better be dedicating a huge chunk of your time to making sure that happens. Want to get healthy and in shape? Then you've got to be in the gym moving metal. Want your relationship to be more satisfying for both of you? Then you have to actively think about how to make it better and put that into action.
Autopilot is awesome on airplanes, terrible on humans. We each have a limited well of time, attention, focus, money, and other resources. When we go on autopilot, we tend to expend resources just to keep the status quo. We put enough thought and effort into our relationships not to get dumped, we earn and save just enough money to pay our bills, and we watch our diet just enough that we only get a little bit fatter every year.
That's what autopilot gets you. Scared to lose anything we have, regardless of how important it may or may not be to us, we spread out resources so thinly that we never have time to really surge forward in any way. When something great comes our way, we don't have enough in reserve to take advantage of the opportunity.
Fresh off my eleventh hour victory in buying Tynan.com, I turned my sights at my next vanity obsession, the @tynan Twitter username.
I was late on the Twitter train, and by the time I climbed aboard, @tynan was taken. I settled for @tynanbtyb, which made sense back when my site was called Better Than Your Boyfriend. Switching to Tynan.net made the old twitter name look sloppy.
The guy who registered it posted two tweets, the second of the two pondering how tTitter works. Apparently he never figured it out, because he didn't log in for two and a half years afterwards.
I've been putting off writing this post for a long time because I haven't quite figured out how to write it and not come off as arrogant. When I'm stumped for a blog post idea, though, this one often swirls around in my head. So I'll do it today and risk coming across as an ass.
I'm not very famous. The vast majority of people have no idea who I am, and the vast majority of those who do know who I am would only recognize me by my nickname in The Game rather than by my face. Still, having a fairly popular blog, having been involved in pickup, and a few other highlights of my life have lifted me from being wholly unknown to being a tiny bit well known. This puts me in an interesting position: my attention is solicited by more people than I can give it to, yet I'm not quite famous enough that the people whose attention I solicit know who I am.
To simplify the task of writing this post, I'm going to refer to people as 'famous people'. By that I mean people who are influential or visible enough that they have more requests for their attention than they can reasonably grant. By this definition, Jay-Z is famous, Randall Munroe (the guy who draws xkcd) is famous, and I'm famous. There are dozens of other definitions of the word 'famous', most of which would exclude me, and some of which would exclude Randall. So I use the word here as a shortcut, not as a definitive title.
My post before this was a kind of therapy / Buddhism / personal growth kind of deal, but I also spend a lot of time thinking about how to run effective teams and to be a responsible, thoughtful manager of people. It is my work: I am a lead engineer at Bungie, an independent video game developer of about 300 employees (though not for long, we're growing.) There are some unique aspects to making videogames, and I'll use game development terminology here as I refer to, say, texture artists or sound designers or programmers, but when I talk to friends in different creative industries - film, industrial design, other software development - I find these themes are pretty universal.
If you're going to manage people, you're going to have a lot of conversations about employee performance. It's just bound to happen. Sometimes, like during reviews, it might seem excessive. You might wonder if's worth all the time it takes. It is. It's OK that you spend a bunch of time on this. As a manager, that is your job. It's your job to have well-formed opinions about how you evaluate people and how you work with them to help them grow. If you aren't spending time on that, then you may be succeeding as a leader, but probably not as a manager. Apples and oranges.
It is, however, important to spend this time well. During conversations about performance, everything you talk about should boil down to one thing: the value they contribute to the team. What is their value, and how can they become more valuable?
I find a lot of review conversations tend to focus on strengths, weaknesses, and specific work results. These seem like reasonable topics, and there's value there, but I also find this often leads to a review that looks like this:
There's that cliche, "If you think you can't, you can't," or something like that. The idea is that if you decide that you're not going to be able to do something, you'll self-sabotage and be unable to do it even if you have the inherent skill or resources. That's true, but it's only the tip of the self-talk iceberg.
You know those psychological studies where children are given the choice of a small prize now or a big prize later, and the ones who take the big prize end up having better lives in almost every regard? Well, a psychologist did that experiment in my middle school, and I took the small prize. Some people, myself included, have a natural tendency to prioritize the immediate.
So I want to rewire myself to be more long-term focused. To do this, I use self talk. Whenever I do something that isn't immediately satisfying, but is likely to have long term benefits, I pump myself up a little bit. So if I play good poker but lose money, I think to myself how it's good that I'm a profitable player, how well I did making good decisions even when losing money, and how good it is to be able to lose money and not freak out. I actually congratulate myself. If I resist buying a new laptop that I don't really need, I congratulate myself. If I push through a tough workout, I congratulate myself.
All of this seems silly, and would sound really silly if you could hear the internal monologue, but it actually works. The way we talk to ourselves really does affect our subconscious over the long term. That minuscule dopamine spike I get from praising myself every time I do something that is aligned with my goals creates little reward pathways in my brain that makes doing that thing easy next time.
I had to double, and then triple, check this, but apparently I've never written a post on minimalism before. Then again, I live in an RV smaller than your walk-in closet, so I don't suppose this post will come as a surprise to anyone. Still, it's probably worth writing a few paragraphs about it for anyone who is considering paring down, but has some lingering objections to it.
Back when I was a professional gambler and made a ton of money, I did what anyone with a lot of money would do: I bought a house. My house was about 1800 square feet, which isn't a big house by today's standards, but is quite a lot of space for one person. What I didn't consider was that a house comes bundled with pressure to fill it with stuff.
So I did. I bought tables, couches, chairs, beds, knick knacks, plants, pots, pans, dishes, and four robotic lawnmowers. I converted one of the rooms into a movie theater and another into a warehouse to store all of my stuff. If I wasn't a compulsive shopper, I was at least an enthusiastic one. All the while, I never really thought about the end-game of all this stuff. I knew how to get it into my life, but never really considered how I'd get it out eventually.
Being comfortable should be a warning sign. It's not that being comfortable is a bad thing by itself, but if we agree that growth comes from pushing your comfort zone, then any time we're within our comfort zone we're not growing. Whenever you find that you're comfortable, ask yourself what you aren't training. The answer will vary from case to case, but the question to ask yourself is: would being comfortable or training be better for me?
I'll give you an example. Six weeks ago I was bundled up in my jacket and hoodie, walking through Beijing. I was warm, and I was... comfortable.
The opposite of being comfortable is training. What could I be training by giving up that comfort? Well, I could be getting used to cold weather, which would mean that I could feel warm in a wider range of climates and possibly even pack less clothing. That seemed like a win, so I took off my jacket. As I walked, looking for a restaurant, I noticed that I was warm again, so I took off my hoodie.
And that's how life's been for the past six weeks. I remove articles of clothing until I'm wearing just pants and shirt, or until I'm slightly cold. Already, it's working. I spent Thanksgiving in D.C. and Virginia, and even though I brought it everywhere with me, I didn't wear it once. Most of the time I was a little bit cold, but if the wind was still enough, I could be okay even when it was forty-five degrees.
For about a year now, I've been very punctual. Before making a concerted effort to be on time to everything, I was like any other average person-- sometimes on time, often a few minutes late, occasionally very late. When I identify something I'm bad at, especially something with a prescription that requires little more than willpower, I get very excited about it. That isn't to say that there are so few of these things that they're hard to find, just that introspection can be difficult, making identifying personal weaknesses tricky.
My initial impetus to become punctual was partly that it was an easily correctable deficiency, and partly that it seemed like a trait of a champion. Would most people I admire show up on time to things? Yes, they would.
As I thought more about it, especially during the early phases where being on time was a bit of a challenge, I realized that punctuality is more than just being on time. It's an extension of your honesty.
It is very important to me to never lie. I'm not perfect, of course, but because this is such an important thing to me, I do a good job of it most of the time. When I thought about it, though, if I say that I'm going to be somewhere at ten thirty, and I show up at ten thirty-four, that's a lie. It's a small lie, but it's a lie nonetheless. Even small lies have an effect, both on others and myself.