Seth Godin on Worrying

Seth Godin on worrying:

Worrying is not a useful output. Worrying doesn’t change outcomes. Worrying ruins your day. Worrying distracts you from the work at hand. You may have fooled yourself into thinking that it’s useful or unavoidable, but it’s not. Now you’ve got one more thing to worry about.

Crucial. Focus on what you can control.

Required Reading: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.

Required Reading is a series of articles, videos, podcasts, etc. that I consider to be unmissable. These are the things that have inspired me the most, and they’re the things I keep coming back to for repeated readings, viewings, and listens.

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford University:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

The full text is here, and the video is here.

We’ll miss you, Steve.

The Fear of Being Wrong

Randy Murray thinks you’re probably wrong about that:

I judge people, but not on the current state of their knowledge. I judge them on their willingness to learn, to think, and to change what they believe to be true. I think that is the fundamental philosophic difference between the scientist and the believer. The scientist should always be willing to say, “based upon new information I am willing to re-evaluate.” The believer often shuns information that contradicts what they “know.”

It’s a thoughtful piece, and it makes a good companion to my article, The Man Who Knows Nothing. In that post, I explained how adopting the know-nothing principle is not a matter of playing dumb. Rather, it’s a way to avoid being so attached to your ideas that you fear being proven wrong and subsequently become unreceptive to new information. As Randy puts it, you become a believer rather a scientist.

If you can eliminate that fear, whether it’s by being willing to change your opinion or by adopting the know-nothing principle, you’ll actually learn and grow much more quickly. In both cases, you become more receptive to opinions different from your own. This open-mindedness is inherently beneficial because, even if you don’t know for certain which answer is the right one, simply being aware of different viewpoints will enable you to both be more knowledgeable about the topic and to better formulate your own opinion.

When your mind is open, you become less afraid of being wrong. You become less defensive about your ideas, and thus you become more calm and relaxed. By being open-minded, you free yourself from the risk of having your inner peace disrupted by someone who thinks differently than you.


I’ve been writing this site for 51 days now. It’s been an awesome and very fulfilling project, even though I haven’t told anyone about it. Now that the time has come to reveal it to the entire internet, I’ll admit that I’m a little nervous about doing so. I feel afraid, but it’s a fear that’s also strangely familiar.

You see, while I’ve only been writing the site for a couple of months, I had the idea years before that. At the time, I was working in an office and just starting my master’s program. While I found most aspects of office life utterly soul-crushing, my time in the cubicle did help me realize two important things.

The first was that I hated the routine of waking up early, driving to the same building, sitting for eight hours, and then driving back home to sleep and repeat. Every day. I found it exhausting and depressing. Some people don’t mind the routine, and some have decided to accept it, but for better or worse, after two years, I decided it just wasn’t me.

The second thing I learned was that there are amazing people on the internet. Brilliant writers and designers and programmers. People who make great things and are passionate about doing so. You might call them artists.

And as I sat in that cubicle with my almost-two very expensive English degrees, and nothing but a terrifying job market waiting outside, I thought, “Hmm. I’d really like to do something like that. To be one of those people.”

While these thoughts were taking shape, I was coerced into giving a presentation at my university’s Student Leadership Retreat. I wasn’t keen on the idea, because I knew little about how to fill out payment request forms, or what goes into drafting a constitution for your club or organization. Fortunately, plenty of other people did. I, on the other hand, wasn’t sure what I had to offer.

Since personal development was one of the presentation categories, I decided to create and give a talk called “Simple Happiness”, which was about using simplicity and minimalism to lead a calmer, more productive, and happier life as a college student. To my surprise, it was very well-received, and I got several generous reviews from students and faculty. I was even asked to give the presentation twice more: once for the Honors College, and again at the following year’s Leadership Retreat.

The success of my presentation indicated that there was a market for this type of discussion, and while minimalism blogs were a dime-a-dozen at the time, I thought I might have some worthwhile things to say if I ever had my own website. The more I thought about it, the more grandiose the daydreams became, and the more excited I got about the idea. But the problem was, it was just an idea. An idea that remained a daydream month after month.

The barrier, of course, was fear. Fear of starting something new. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of change, really. I was comfortable with my amazing dream website, and all the groundbreaking articles I would write, and the impressive readership I would amass… someday. Dreaming about it was fun and exciting, and it was safe.

To make an increasingly long story shorter, I dreamed about it until July of this year. I had been “designing” (read: fiddling with) a page for a few weeks, thinking, “As soon as I find the right colors, I’ll start writing.” Or the right font. Or the right column width. Or the right name. Obviously, that’s no way to get any real work done, so I finally decided, quite spontaneously, to write one tiny little post and click submit.

Nothing bad happened.

Nothing really happened at all, other than some words appearing on the page. And I found myself thinking, “That actually doesn’t look terrible… Maybe I’ll post something else.”

Coincidentally, on a then-recent episode of Back to Work, Merlin Mann advised anyone thinking about starting a website to do it privately for thirty days. Post something every day, but don’t show it to anybody. That way, you can see if it’s really something you want to do. So, starting that day, I did, and it was great. I loved it. I still do.

All that daydreaming and fear of starting was a barrier, which caused me to procrastinate and not move any closer to my goal. I finally broke through it, and now, 51 days later, a similar situation is presenting itself.

For the past two months, I’ve been writing consistently and loving it. You know how they say, “Dance like nobody’s watching”? Well, I’ve been writing like nobody’s reading. And let me tell you: it works! I actually have a website now, and there’s actually a lot of pretty good, not terrible stuff on it. But just as I couldn’t daydream forever, I can’t write in secret forever. Not with the dreams I have of becoming a full-time independent writer.

So, like every movie when the second-in-command guy pressures the President to make the controversial next move, the time has come! “We must launch.”

As I’m sure to find out, nothing bad is going to happen. One day people won’t know about the site, and the next day they will. One of the great things about writing privately for thirty days is that I know I can do this regardless of whether or not anyone’s reading. Sure, now I’m going to be vulnerable to criticism, but that’s the only way to get better. What’s the worst thing that could happen? If no one decides to read, then I’m no worse off than I was for the past two months. If a bunch of people decide to read, and they all hate it and think I’m an idiot, well… alright then. I’ll try to fix it. They can’t eat me.

In any case, when it comes to barriers, the best way out is through.

The next 51 days start in 3… 2… 1…

On Paralysis, Starting, & Cookies

Richard J. Anderson, of Sanspoint, on developing a superego:

All it takes, one thinks, is one misstep, one moment of weakness, and you’ll have to start over from scratch–so why even bother? In other words: fear of imperfection leads to paralysis. The expectation of perfection is, in many ways, a built in escape clause.

This is a huge point. Regardless of what self-imposed challenge you’re currently undertaking — diet, exercise, changing a habit — you cannot let the fear of imperfection prevent you from ever accomplishing anything.

Richard uses the perfect word here: paralysis. I had the idea for this website more than two years ago, and yet I could never bring myself to actually start the damn thing. I second-guessed myself so often — “Who would possibly care what I have to say?” “Do I even have anything to say?” “Why don’t I just leave it to someone else? Someone smarter.” — to the point where I was almost content with daydreaming about what my website could be rather than actually realizing it. Imagining the site was exciting, but if I started it and failed, I would only have disappointment to show for it.

Richard quotes Robb Wolf, author of The Paleo Solution:

Oftentimes people strive to be perfect just so they can “fail” and give up.

Most of the time, perfection is unattainable. After years of excuses, I finally told myself there would be no “perfect” time to start a website. If you spend all your time waiting for the perfect opportunity to try something new, you’ll probably be waiting a very long time.

Fear — both of failure and success — is a paralyzing force. If you remain paralyzed, you won’t fail, but you also won’t succeed. Starting is the hardest part. For me, it was one tiny little link post. That’s it. Just a block quote and barely a sentence of commentary. But it was enough to get me started, and the second post came much easier.

Once you’ve started, of course, you will have missteps. Richard has a great way of looking at these setbacks:

The path is always there. You can step off the path, you can go miles off, get hopelessly lost, and wander barefoot in the desert for forty years, but the path will remain, and you can always find your way back.

Again, this is essential, and it’s a comforting perspective that will help you sum up the courage to begin.

When people try to change their diet and eat healthy, and they accidentally eat a cookie at 10am, they think, “Damn. Welp, the day is shot. I’ll just start again tomorrow.”, which results in a day of junk food. There are two points here. The first is, yes, you can start again tomorrow. But starting over tomorrow everyday is not a path to success. The second point, and the better perspective to have, in my opinion, is that one cookie is not as bad as two, which aren’t as bad as three. This isn’t an excuse to have two cookies. Rather, if you step off the path, as Richard says, it’s important to recognize it immediately and step back on as soon as you can. It’s better to have one cookie than to eat an entire pizza for dinner. One unhealthy bite is better than one unhealthy meal.

Striving for perfection is a good way to go insane. Mark Sisson calls this the 80/20 Rule. The idea is that if you’re reaching your goals 80% of the time, you’re doing pretty damn well.

Even though 100% compliance isn’t the exact everyday expectation, 100% commitment is the intention.

In whatever it is you’re trying to achieve, you can’t be perfect all of the time. Missteps will happen. But if your commitment is strong, and you keep everything in perspective, it will be significantly easier to recognize that pesky 20% when it happens. You can always step back on the path; the key is, after that bite of cookie, are you going to do it tomorrow, or right now?