People are a Package Deal

There have been folks in my industry that I’ve looked up to. I’ve admired them, and thought, “I’d like to be like them.” They are, or have, something that I want to be or have. Maybe it’s where they’re at in their career. Maybe it’s the respect they have from their peers. Maybe it’s their salary. But I got a wake-up call on that admiration one day.

I was in an “Ask me Anything” session with one of my heroes, and an audience member asked, “given all you do at work, and all you do for our community, especially with all the travel you do, how do you manage to do all that and still be a great parent?”

My hero paused, somewhat uncharacteristically. And then, in a quiet voice, said, “I don’t know that I am.”

The room was quiet for a while before the moderator moved on to the next question.

You see, I’d only been looking at the outside of the package: the things that are visible and obvious to anyone. I’d never considered that the exterior comes with an interior, and that the interior might be a mixed bag. It had never occurred to me what that person had scarified in order to get what they had, and I’d never considered whether I’d be okay making the same sacrifices to get to the same place.

This was a long time ago, but it’s what made me extend The Grind™ to not only include “Define Your Success,” but also to ask you to “Define Your Self.” You need to decide what the inside of the package is going to look like, because that’s you. And then you can decide if the outside of the package – your success – is capable of holding those contents. Decide. Don’t just let it happen to you. Pursuit of success without consideration of self is… well, it’s often fine, but sometimes it’s tragic, and without a decision, you won’t know which you’re headed for.

Stop Being an Engineer.

I often tell people that I have “engineer brain.” It has a lot to do with how I was brought up in my first couple of jobs, and it’s largely served me well. But it’s also a weakness, sometimes, and I’m coming to understand exactly how toxic it can be when it’s misapplied.

My first real job was as an aircraft mechanic for Naval Aviation Depot Norfolk, doing overhaul work on F-14 Tomcats and A-6 Intruders. My trade was responsible for the entire airframe, excepting only the engines. We had to know how the entire system fit together to make all those millions of parts into a fighting jet.

Later jobs had me doing things like network architecture, where you kind of have to know the entire system in order to build anything at all.

It’s like a civil engineer who’s building a bridge: you can’t design half of the thing. You have to do the whole thing, or none of it. It’s a system, and it all has to fit together perfectly to work.

But a lot of things in life aren’t like that. Take software applications. You could sit back and design the entire thing, with every feature it’ll ever need, making sure they all fit together perfectly.

  1. This will take forever.
  2. You will be proven wrong.

The “engineer” brain just doesn’t work in situations like that, and in fact can make things pretty terrible. There’s no need to try and understand “the entire system” because (a) it isn’t a system and (b) nobody can understand all of it.

Instead, I’ve had to learn to be comfortable designing and shipping a “minimally viable product.” That is, something where I do not know what the entire thing will someday look like, and instead am only worried about the minimal thing that people will still use. After they’ve used it for a bit, I’ll know more about what needs to come next, and the application will evolve as needed. Yes, I’ll be doing some wasted work now and again. Yes, it’ll sometimes be harder to add new features, because I have to slightly re-engineer existing ones so that its all fits. But that’s fine.

You can apply “don’t think like an engineer all the time” to a lot of things. Take your life, for example. You can’t know the entire shape of it, and it’s useless to try. You can have a direction you’re headed, although even that may change over time. But with that direction in mind, you simply evolve your life in ways that seem to align to that direction. You’re a bit reactive, sure, but sometimes, that’s okay.

Start by getting a destination in mind, not a complete feature set. Then drive toward that destination bit by bit. You might not get there, but you’re more likely to get somewhere great.

Is it “Lazy” not to Try and Change Something in Your Life?

We’re at the time of the year when people are starting to get tired of their New Year’s resolutions to hit the gym more, and the gyms start getting a little less crowded, and the gym companies start counting up their profits. If you’re one of the folks who fell off the resolution wagon, you might feel lazy. But what is “lazy?”

Understand something about our brains: they were originally built for primitive-level survival. We fall into habits because, back in Survival Days, those habits kept us alive. Changing things – eating a new berry, or trying something new – was often a good way to get killed. And so our brains are naturally resistant to trying something new, and naturally comfortable being in a safe groove.

Modern humans can recognize that and overcome it, which is where our innovators and disruptors come from. They know that “to try is to invite failure” is only one way to look at things; another way is, “to try is to live, and to fail is to invite another opportunity to try.”

Be the Master is in the hands of literally thousands of humans at this point, either physically or digitally. Yet very few bother to go through with The Grind™. Why bother? Where they are now is probably just fine, and going through the process represents something new. It doesn’t mean they’re lazy at all – it just means they’re doing what their brain has been conditioned to do over centuries of evolution. And that’s fine.

But I hope that some folks can recognize that conditioning, and force themselves to re-condition in a new way. To trust the process, to try it, and to keep at it until it becomes habitual. There’s zero danger to it, because the process doesn’t demand you change anything about your life. It merely asks that you look at it, and decide, actively, if that’s working for you.

That’s true for nearly anything where you might be saying, “someday, I should….” Why not today? Break out of the groove a bit and do something new, or different. See how it feels. Fail if you must, without fear.

Grab the book by popping in your email address below, and give it a shot.

10x Thinking and You

There’s a meme that’s been going around for a while now about “10x thinking.” Basically, it’s the idea of looking at something and figuring out a way that you could not only make it a little better, but make it ten times better. And it’s a kind of thinking that everyone should be going, although not in quite the way you might imagine.

As an example: suppose you had to make a 10% improvement to email. That’s probably pretty easy to imagine. A better user interface might make your email client more productive, or better spam filters might help. But what if you needed to make it 10 times better? You’d likely end up with something that looks nothing like the email of today, and that’d make you a real innovator.

But what if you’re not an innovator? Does 10x thinking still apply?

YES.

If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. You know this saying, right? “If you teach a man to fish, he eats for life.” That’s a 10% improvement. What if you taught a hundred people? Apart from depopulating a marine ecosystem within two generations, you’d have made a 10x impact. You’re not fishing for 100 people; you’ve become a force multiplier and taught 100 people to fish. They can probably feed 1,000 people. So instead of feeding one guy, you’re indirectly responsible for feeding 1,000. That’s actually… let me get my calculator… 1000x thinking!

Look at the people around you. No, not the ones who’re smarter than you, or better than you, or whatever your Imposter Syndrome is telling you. The ones around you. The people at work, sure, but also the people in your home, your neighborhood, and your community. Where can you be a force multiplier?

This is the heart of the apprentice/Master message of Be the Master. Remember, Masters were primarily intended to protect and preserve the knowledge and skills of their trades by passing them on to apprentices. But one Master could potentially have many apprentices. They became force multipliers. Every village could have a blacksmith, rather than villagers having to travel for days to the nearest one.

This is how we improve the human condition. I’m not being dramatic, here. I’m pointing out that wealth, success, and happiness are locked up in two main axes: opportunity and skills. You can absolutely provide skills to other people. You don’t need to be an expert (Some blacksmiths couldn’t even make shields). You just need to have a skill that someone else can learn from you. Maybe you can’t provide opportunities for everyone, but if you can help pass along your valuable skills to others, then they’ve won half the battle.

Add 10x thinking to your daily life. Be a force multiplier. Start today.

Stop Trying to Impress Your Heroes

It’s a natural human thing to want to please the people you look up to. We do that with our parents, and we also do it with our heroes. You know, the people in our profession or lives that we admire, and perhaps want to be like. We should stop that.

Setting aside family, here’s my reasoning:

Wanting to impress your heroes sets up a sometimes-impossible situation. You’re taking someone who, by definition, you consider better than yourself, and you want to impress them? I’m not saying you can’t, of course. You definitely can. But why do you want to?

Instead of looking up at your heroes, consider turning around. Look at the people who maybe haven’t achieved as much as you have, or maybe haven’t yet learned as much as you. Who have less experience, maybe, or who simply haven’t had an opportunity that you may have had.

Be a hero to them. Impress them. And while you’re at it, lift them up. Teach them something. Give them an opportunity. Share some experience with them. And as you’re doing so, make it clear that you’re already proud of what they’re attempting and achieving, and that you want them to someday turn around and do the same for someone else.

That’s what being a Master is all about.

Mentoring (ugh)

I do not love the word mentor. That’s because it’s actually a dude’s name. Mentor. So saying mentoring is a lot like saying “oh, I was rogered at work today,” which British people will assure you is not a desirable thing. But the activity that we all use the word mentor to describe is useful, and it’s bidirectional.

Having a good mentor within your company – ideally someone in your basic part of the company, but not in your direct line of reports – can be invaluable. They can help you better understand company culture, spot opportunities from further away (so you have time to position yourself for them), offer advice and a sounding board when you need it, and help you understand the personalities of the company higher-ups. Mentors can provide invaluable recommendations when you’re ready to move up, and if you share your definition of “success” with them, they can help steer you toward it.

Being a mentor is also valuable. And… oh, wait. Let’s get this out of the way.

YOU ABSOLUTELY DO KNOW ENOUGH THINGS TO BE A MENTOR FOR SOMEONE ELSE, PLEASE TAKE YOUR IMPOSTER SYNDROME OUT BACK AND SHOOT IT IN THE HEAD, THANKS.

OK. Being a mentor is valuable, too. You get a different perspective on your company and your own career. You’re helping to uplift someone else, which is immensely satisfying. You’re often forced to think about things in a new way, which is good for all of us. You’ll improve your communication skills. You’ll start thinking about people as people, and you’ll start gaining empathy for other people’s perspectives, goals, and challenges.

And if you’re really, really lucky, one of the people you’ve mentored (I refuse to use “mentee,” because Mentor’s student was named Telemachus, not Mentee) will support you as you move through your career. And if you’re really blessed, they’ll surpass you. Trust me, there’s no greater feeling than seeing someone you’ve helped tae full advantage of it and rise to the heights they’ve earned.

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