Blog

That Seems Interesting

We all have metrics for personal success.

These are metrics we develop internally over time, and in most cases they’re predicated on what our society values: money, happiness, family, accomplishment, etc.

One of my prime metrics, gleaned from my parents and other influences I’ve been exposed to over the years, revolves around treating people well and leaving places and individuals better than I found them. Another of mine, which I find to be quite common in people who are drawn to entrepreneurship, is the desire to create valuable things.

Frequently tethered to that latter drive is the desire to profit from the value that one creates, which makes sense. The economic system most people around the world have been born into takes for granted that the creation of value should be rewarded, because we’re all better off when there’s more of it in the world. Unless there’s some major change in the way things operate (which is possible, at some point), this seems like a legitimate tit-for-tat.

That said, the pursuit of this metric, that of the value-creator, is a somewhat treacherous one. Not because it’s inherently negative in any way, but because the drive to create can become conflated with the drive to profit.

Take a poll of entrepreneurs around the world, and I’m willing to bet that at least half of them are in it for the money and prestige, not for the thrill of creation. This isn’t a value-judgement — to each their own — but it’s worth noting. We’re all responsible for cultivating lifestyles that suit our needs, and if money and professional respect are truly what will make a person happy, then more power to them.

That’s actually where I was at, mentally, for many years: on a path toward profit. This was before I realized that more digits in my bank account didn’t actually fill me with anything that could be mistaken for happiness. Satisfaction of a job well done, sometimes, and maybe a certain gratification that I could afford the luxuries that had once been out of reach. But happiness was still something I was convinced I would find after the next project completed, after the next networking event, after the next big check deposited.

I pushed away from that and started traveling full-time, not because I was sure that I would find anything different out in the world, but because I was pretty sure I would at least gain a different perspective on things. The life I was living wasn’t bad, it wasn’t even mediocre, but it was predictable. Secure. I found, a little more each day, that I knew what was coming next. I was able to see what lurked behind every corner and I knew where I would stand next year, in five years, in ten.

Even a beautiful view can lose its luster when you realize you’ll be looking at it every day for the rest of your life.

My metrics have changed wildly in the interim. Many of them I’m still struggling to accurately quantify, or even describe.

The main metric I’ve been focusing on for about a year now can be roughly described as the “That seems interesting, let’s try it” metric. To achieve success according to this measurement, I take action any time I learn or discover something interesting, pursuing further information about it, reading a book or watching a documentary, maybe learning some skills associated with it. There are many subsets of human knowledge that I’ve been curious about for ages, and I’m determined to pull those from the shelf, dust them off, and see what they’re all about.

Like most gauges of success, this one doesn’t have an end point; no final goals that can be completed. It’s a journey without a destination, which is kind of wonderful, because that means it can’t ever end. It will no doubt fork into many other paths along the way, and its up to me to choose how long to walk this one, and when to step off onto another that leads in another direction I want to explore.

The things we do are often only as good as the things we hope to accomplish by doing them.

Make sure the metrics you’re using to measure your actions are well-aligned with your priorities, beliefs, and ambitions.

This essay was originally published in my newsletter.

Blog

Awareness

I have a policy about being aware.

This doesn’t mean being expert, or even having an above-average education about any particular thing.

But I find it takes incredibly little effort to achieve a base-level understanding of something, and that such understandings, in aggregate, can vastly expand the scope of one’s worldview.

This is a contrast to how I once saw things.

I had decided at some point that, because my attention is finite, and because there’s only so much time in the day, I would keep away from things I considered to be unimportant; pop culture and crafts seemingly unrelated to mine and fields of study that didn’t seem relevant to anything. I wasn’t disdainful of them, but I was willfully ignorant about them. I had decided what was important and what was unimportant, and redoubled my efforts, my focus, my energy on the former, while completely blotting out the latter.

The flaw with this perspective is that you can’t really know what’s important until you do some digging and learn a little more than you’ll come to know by happenstance.

Further, it’s unlikely you’ll comprehend the importance of a single nail until you see how it holds together two other, seemingly unrelated pieces of structural material. To decide that component is unimportant before you’ve seen it in action, and until you’ve seen it alongside, and working in cohesion with other seemingly unimportant things, is to sell that thing short.

I’m boggled by the utility and joy I find in things I once considered non-vital and therefore ignorable. I think it’s absolutely possible to live a good life and get a lot done by fixating completely on one thing, but I suspect that doing so renders one unlikely to become a completely round, fully fleshed out human being. I don’t mean that as a value-judgement, I mean it in the sense that one is less capable of being multi-dimensional when one’s focus is on a single-dimension of life.

If you spend your entire life seeing only red, you’ll become a master at discerning between the many tonalities and tints, the variety found within that limited range. But you’ll also be completely blind to a great deal of what happens in the non-red world around you.

Can you find joy in a world made of only red things? Certainly. Are you more likely to find things to be joyful about and fulfilled by if you’re working with a more diverse spectrum of colors? I think that’s likely.

This is an interesting topic to consider at this moment, when there are so many forces squabbling over our attention; particularly here in the US, where the election coverage has come to resemble that of a horse race.

What storylines, then, should one follow, when there are so many to choose from? And particularly when so many of them prove not to be terribly important beyond keeping up with the gossip of the day? Gossip which is highly discardable, and which will be replaced by a new collection tomorrow?

This is actually a wonderful example of how knowing a bit about a particular field can keep one from having to worry overmuch about the swirling, churning day-to-day happenings within that field.

The more you know about politics, and the media, the less you actually have to pay attention to each and every specific.

This may not be evident at first, because many politically adept people are being pulled into the cloud of activity surrounding this election.

But grazing on the subject allows you the freedom of not having to stuff yourself full on junk news all day, unsure of what you should be consuming and what you can safely leave on the plate.

An awareness of what’s real and what hokum, what’s clearly a message drummed-up by click-addicted networks and what’s actually relevant to one’s own political stakes and overall mental map of the election, allows one to ride the wave of such a craze without drowning in it.

A policy of awareness, I find, allows me to use my time and spend my attention much more intentionally, because I know enough about enough to spend those finite resources of mine in a way that will help me stay intellectually involved without being consumed.

This requires constant adjustment, of course, because you don’t know how much is the right amount to learn about a subject before either deciding to throw yourself at it and become more thoroughly educated, or to set it aside, aware of the outlines so you can slowly fill in the details in over time.

But it’s worth the effort.

Deciding to be aware is deciding to take responsibility for what you know and what you don’t know.

It’s recognizing that, when you encounter unfamiliar terrain, it’s within your power to map it out and become informed, adding that new map to your ever-expanding atlas of knowledge.

This essay was originally published in my newsletter.

Let's Know Things

Hands-Free

On this week’s episode of Let’s Know Things we talk about the burgeoning hands-free audio movement, the technologies that are depending on and amplifying this progression, and why it’s being promoted as a next-generation UI.

We also touch on podcasting technology, Nintendo Rumble Paks, and digital privacy.

The shownotes for this episode can be found here.