What I learned from mediocrity

How to Stand Out

Do you hope to be outstanding? Do you hope to stand out? Hope is not enough. Hope will not cause a sack of outstanding to land in your lap. Hope is not a strategy.

To stand out you must craft, do work, create. Artists and entrepreneurs. Hackers and painters. Creators reshape their world to match their dreams. The rest of us let the world reshape our dreams.

Lots of people have ideas. Ideas are cheap. Few people execute on ideas. The graveyard is the richest place on earth. It’s filled with unwritten books, unbuilt companies, unsong songs, unshipped products.

Many conversations go like this:

“I had an idea and I worked on an app.”

“Is it on the App Store? Can I use it?”

“No, I never took it that far”

No excuses. Ship it. Publishit. Build a portfolio of work. Take a risk to put your imperfect creation out there. You will experience a fear of criticism. There is a tiny group of fans to cheer you on. To overcome this fear realize almost no one knows who you are and even fewer know about your work.

Become a creator now, and thousands of hours later you will find acclaim. Until then you will crave real feedback. There is no overnight success. People are rewarded in public for what they’ve practiced for years in private.

Creators are stand out. Outstanding creators crave feedback. Document what you’re doing. Ask for comments. Appreciate every bit of feedback. And engage with anyone who generously gives you their attention.

Do deep work. Create work that evokes emotions. If no one feels emotional connection to your work, no one cares that it exists (besides you). Experience the joy of human connection, connect with people through your work. What makes it all worth it? The joy of human connection.

Then you will stand out…

“I do not choose to be a common man.
It is my right to be uncommon … if I can.
I seek opportunity … not security.
I do not wish to be a kept citizen,
Humbled and dulled by having the State look after me.
I want to take the calculated risk,
To dream and to build. To fail and to succeed.
I refuse to barter incentive for a dole;
I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence;
The thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of Utopia.
I will not trade freedom for beneficence
Nor my dignity for a handout
I will never cower before any master
Nor bend to any threat.
It is my heritage to stand erect, proud and unafraid;
To think and act for myself,
To enjoy the benefit of my creations
And to face the world boldly and say:
This, I have done.”

Dean Alfange (1952)

What I learned from struggling to make an impact

Looking for a new challenge, project responsibilities? Look inward to yourself. Strive to become a jack of all trades, and a master of one. Be responsible, manage yourself. YOU are the project.

Want to have more impact? What you do at night after work is even more important than what you did all day. Give up one hour of television in exchange for 1 hour of reading. Stop complaining about your commute and fill the time with audiobooks. Read. Drink deeply from good books. Lead and have impact. Readers are leaders.

Identity precedes action precedes reward. First be a reader. Second do reading. Third have the rewards of reading. First be a leader, second do lead, third have the rewards of leadership. Be, do, have.

Books hold lifetimes of mistakes, struggles, and triumph. Centuries of human experience stacked together to make giants. Grow. Climb. Stand on the shoulders of giants.

Knowledge is the antidote to fear. Choose knowledge. Reject fear. You decide every morning when you wake up. Fear is a choice.

Fear gets in the way of action. Perfectionism is just another form of fear. Most people go through life with the brakes on, holding back. Take imperfect action. What would you do if you were not afraid?

Build a world free of fear, full of knowledge. Read and lead. Spread the word.

What I Learned from feeling STUCK

Sometimes you feel like you aren’t moving toward your goals. You’re either moving in the wrong direction or you have no velocity. You aren’t moving. You are stuck.

Remember that the outcomes are what matter most. Small results are better than no results. Celebrate small wins, because they add up to big wins. Results rule.

20% of what you do generates 80% of your results. Whats in that 20% and how can you do more of that? What’s the other 80% of activity that’s not helping and how can you do less of that? Remember the 80/20 rule.

All the routines, habits, knowledge you have now may have brought you lots of past success. They got you to here. But they may not be the right stuff to get you to your destination. You’ll need to keep learning, adapting. What got you here won’t got you there.

No one’s going to come save you. You have to save yourself. No one understands the problem better than you do. Survive! Thrive! If not me, then who?

There’s no time like the present. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The 2nd best time is right now. Take massive action. If not now, then when?

Get moving!

What I learned about Urgency from Les Brown (motivational speaker)

Develop a sense of urgency. You will die someday.

“The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry our their dream.”

Les Brown, motivational speaker

Les Brown is the whole reason I started writing seriously in 2015 and why I write today. I could die at any moment, and every word I publish will be something to remember me by. Or, I could do nothing and take my every thought to the grave. I choose sharing. I chose to get started.

Gary Vee echoes this thought. He says if you spend time in an old folks home, listening to resident’s advice, you will find that end of life has in store for most of us a boat-load of regret.

The lesson is:

Avoid regret. Start on your dream now.

What I learned about Time Management from James Altucher and Ghandi

One story about Mahatma Ghandi sticks in mind after hearing it from James Altucher.

The story goes like this:

Ghandi, becoming busy with his work and a full meeting schedule, decides he is not spending enough time meditating. He asks his assistant, “Please make time in my schedule each day for one hour of meditation.”

His assistant replies, “Ghandi, your request is impossible, your schedule is too full to dedicate one full hour to meditation each day.”

Ghandi contemplates this answer before quipping, “In that case, please schedule two hours every day for meditation.”

Replace meditation with any activity important to you. Distractions and busy-ness get in the way of spending time doing what we love. When the assistant rejected his request, Ghandi realized it was worse than he thought. He needed even more time dedicated to cultivating himself.

Your activity might be:

  • Hiking
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Calling an old friend
  • Exercise

If one of these activities matters to you, you need to work extra hard to carve out time for it. This might mean waking up an hour earlier every day; sometimes sacrifice is the only way.

The lesson I learned is:

Life is too short to let busy-ness get in the way of living.

What Ive learned about Success from social media mogul Gary Vaynerchuk

After immigrating to America, Gary built a million dollar wine business, took that business online. Now he runs Vayner Media. Watching hours and hours of keynotes and other content from Gary Vaynerchuk (YouTube) left me with a few key lessons.

Gary says (paraphrasing) “don’t create, document.” What he means is that you don’t need to bother trying to be clever, to be creative. Just document your work, your successes and failures, what you learned. Doing this creates value for people who follow, and anyone else following your journey.

Gary also taught me many other things. Here is a short list.

  • Self-awareness is extremely valuable and unteachable. Know you are, aren’t and be aware of your biases, blind spots.
  • Know your strengths and triple down on them. Don’t chase what other people tell you you should do.
  • Regret is the most painful. Spending time with retirement home residents to reveals this truth. People regret what they do not do.
  • Immigrants have an unfair advantage because they recognize the opportunity that others don’t. Native-born Americans take things for granted.
  • Those who work the hardest create the most luck. Impact Theory host Tom Bilyeu takes this to an extreme: “I will die before I quit. I will outwork you.”
  • Don’t pay attention to people who complain. Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos: “complaining is not a strategy.”
  • Don’t use age (or anything else) as an excuse to not learn new technology.
  • Pursue unreasonable goals. Gary will buy the New York Jets when the time is right.

What I learned from getting hit by a car

Friday morning, March 30th, 2018 I was super excited to start the day. At 9am it went South. I spent 5 hours the day before preparing an awesome project demo. I was pwning my gym routine, I felt on top of the world. The thought popped into my head “I am unstoppable”.

Twenty minutes later I stepped out of my car dazed and confused. A car came from nowhere and hit mine behind the driver’s seat. Wham! I momentarily lost control and the car hopped the curb, slowing to a stop in grass.

The message was very clear:

The moment you think you are unstoppable, it’s game over.

What I learned from So Good They Can’t Ignore You

I asked a dozen engineering VP’s and Directors for advice on getting a promotion. The best answer by far was “be so good I have to promote you.”

The advice reminds me of a book which often comes up in my 1 on 1 meetings with engineers. It’s called So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. (affiliate link) (non-affiliate link) It’s an excellent book which challenges conventional career advice. If you’d like to borrow my copy, let me know. I thoroughly enjoyed this book along with Newport’s follow up title Deep Work (affiliate link) (non-affiliate link). More on that one in a future post…

Here are 10 of the book’s nuggets that resonated with me:

1. The passion hypothesis is false.

Instead of searching for work you love, start to love your work. Take ownership of your work and change it in subtle ways that make you love it more.

2. The craftsman mindset beats the passion mindset.

Do remarkable work. Take pride in your work. Whistle while you work. This will get you farther than chasing your passions.

3. Build career capital and invest it to gain creativity, impact, control

The path to gain creative freedom, have more impact, and take more control over your agenda requires career capital. You have to build career capital gradually over months and years of delivering great results and building a support network.

4. Record your day in 15 minute increments

Where is your time actually going? Are you spending time on important work that moves you toward your goals? Or low value tasks that have little ROI?

5. Limit email to 90 min/day

Email is not work. (Unless your job is primarily writing emails)

6. Look for career capital already available to you, right in front of you.

You have career resources you may not realize. Your network, alumni groups, community are great examples. Enroll these people in your support network. This is an important part of building career capital.

7. Control is the dream job elixir.

Spend and invest your career capital to gain more control over your work. This is the path to loving your work and producing something remarkable. The path to finding, carving out your dream job.

8. Get paid

Getting paid is a measure of the career capital theory. You are ready to pursue an idea when you find someone to pay you to pursue it. If no one will pay you for the work, you aren’t good enough yet.

9. Do marketable, remarkable work

Do work that stands out. Work that stands out is remarkable and marketable. It gets people’s attention because it stands out and it makes you stand out from the crowd.

10. Working right trumps finding the right work

Stop searching for the perfect project. YOU are the project.

What I learned from The Three Laws of Performance

Torrey’s Notes


Law #1 : Performance correlates to how the situation occurs to people involved

It doesn’t matter what you say or how you say it. What matters is how you are heard.

If the situation occurs to you as broken and unfixable, it won’t change. However if the situation occurs to you as unsustainable and needing to be changed, it is likely to change. Compare the ‘default future’ with the ‘ideal future’.

Our ‘default future’ is where we end up if the story is not changed. We can choose not to accept the default future, and embrace transformation. We can imagine a future we want and move towards it. Large groups of people can rally behind a compelling vision of the future.

Ask yourself: What is my default future? What is my vision for the ideal future?

Example

Personal Health Default future: Stress, over-eating, relationship issues will persist and I will die early and lonely.

Ideal future: eating healthy in moderation, drinking lots of water, pushing myself in the gym, will lead to a long and happy life.


Three Laws of Performance Law #2 : How the situation occurs arises in language

Whatever you resist persists. Leaders have to listen to verbal and non-verbal language. There is often tension in the room and controversial things are left unsaid. These issues need to confronted else they persist.What is unsaid? What is unsaid but communicated non-verbally? Leaders must have the courage to say what is unsaid, to confront issues that make people uncomfortable.


Three Laws of Performance Law #3 : Future based language transforms how situations occur to people.

To elevate performance, you have to change the story of the organization and get buy in from the whole community. The story is the vision of where the group is headed.

Ask yourself: Where do you see your team in 5 years? 10 years? What stories will you tell when you get to the old folks home?


Read More

The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting th Future if You Organization and Your Life by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan

(affiliate link)

(non-affiliate link)

What I learned about writing from sharing my work with a writer

In 2009 I co-wrote a 60-page ethics paper on the topic of internet privacy and Facebook (and other social media platforms).

While a student I underestimated writing skill’s value. UCLA engineering students dread the required ethics class because of its multiple writing assignments. In retrospect, the forced writing practice taught an extremely valuable skill.

The engineering ethics final project was a thick group paper, 60+ pages double spaced. When dividing the work over several weeks, it wasn’t bad at all. My student group undoubtably improved writing skills by the end of the quarter, because we all put in the hard work. Our 60 page data privacy paper is probably decaying in a catacomb under UCLA’s Boelter Hall along with dozens of others.

In the beginning it feels like every writing project improves in quality. But, there are diminishing returns. Quick inititial growth quickly becomes slow, invisible growth. At that point you need peer feedback to advance.

I’m proud of myself for taking a leap of faith. I emailed a blogger I followed daily. I asked if I could write a guest post. He said “NO, but I have this group you can join, It’s just starting up”.

I learned in the moment the stupid secret of life: if you want something, just ask.

John, at the time, had a Medium publication with 15,000 followers. The new idea was a group of content producers writing content. The group would vote weekly to select the best submissions.

This was my chance! Hoping to inspire the group, I shared a submission. It was never published, but, in return I got something incredibly valuable: honest feedback from someone a few steps ahead of me.

John told me there was nothing unique about my work, nothing stand-out. He was right, it could’ve been written by anyone. There was no personal touch. I didn’t bake enough of my story into it.

Here is the entire submission:

This year, choose to be proactive

When my wife is pissed off it almost always comes down to one root cause: I’m not being proactive. Ive re-learned this proactivity lesson many times the hard way. Stephen Covey’s first highly effective habit is ‘be proactive’. It’s the foundation of the next 6 habits. Proactivity affects every important aspect of life: health, wealth, love, and happiness.

The opposite of proactive is reactive. Being reactive is lazy and unfulfilling. Most people live their life reactively, going with the flow, not living intentionally. According to Adams and Anderson, in Mastering Leadership, about 70% of adults never reach creative levels of consciousness, they get stuck in reactive mental models. Reactives go around reacting to stimuli constantly, obsessively checking social media and email, never making progress towards their most important goals. The reactive person is one who waits; waiting for a signal for what to do next, never owning their own agenda.

How proactivity impacts health

As the adage says: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. How many people wait to go the dentist until it’s too late, they already need a root canal? That’s reactive. Flossing your teeth is proactive. The proactive patient goes to the doctor annually, excercise regularly, and flosses daily. As a result, they love a longer, healthier life.

How proactivity impacts wealth

The proactive business person under promises and over delivers. He provides the product or service before the client has to ask. He does not run his business by primarily reacting to competitors. He operates by the old adage: ‘under promise, over deliver.’

Leaders must be proactive for the organization to survive. Having vision is proactive. Leaders without vision soon find they have no one to lead. Vision is crucial to prevent the business’s disruption and obsoletion.

The proactive employee takes action before the boss has to ask. This employee could even be called an entre-employee, they are so creative. They seize oppprtunities and ask for forgiveness, not permission.

How proactivity impacts love

A reactive husband only brings home flowers when his wife is upset. A proactive husband brings them on a random day just to make his wife feel good. The proactive person is considered thoughtful.

The proactive friend is the one that picks up the phone and calls that long lost friend. They don’t wait for someone to call them.

How proactivity impacts happiness

The top of Maslow’s higherarchy of human needs is “self-actualization: achieving one’s full potential, including creative activities”. I don’t think one can ever be fulfilled without embracing proactivity. Without being proactive you will be stuck in a job you hate, and a number of other incongruent circumstances that detract from you being the best that you can be. You need proactivity to turn what the universe gave you into maximum positive impact.

Personally, I constantly have to remind myself to be proactive. If my wife is pissed off, it’s because I failed to be proactive, even though she points it out as a hundred other screw ups. If I haven’t spoken to my family in weeks, I’m not being proactive to call them. Car ran out of gas? Not proactive. Forgot to pay the cable bill? Not proactive.

Just walk around your house right now, you will find a number of chores that will need to be done later. Do it now if it takes less than 5 minutes. You will thank yourself later.

What I learned from this whole experience

  • The value of writing well is underestimated. As is the value of speaking well.
  • If you want something just ask. The worst that can happen is nothing.
  • Raising your hand is a great way to make new friends. People admire courage, and taking a social risk is courageous. Publishing something online is like raising your hand. You put yourself out there, you make an emotional connection. Weigh the risks, what’s the worst that can happen? You have to take down your post/video/picture.
  • Second guessing yourself is a great way to put on the brakes. It will take much longer to reach your goals. Publishing online is one way to expand your comfort zone. Pushing through your fears allows you to reach closer to your potential. You can spend less time and energy on second guessing yourself and more on creating new work.

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