Four Ideas I Don’t Think Are Crazy (but you probably do)

I think these ideas are so straightforward and unscary that the world wouldn’t even look that different tomorrow if we did this today.  Shortly after tomorrow, the world would look significantly better.

  • Stop funding the Post Office and replace it with nothing.
  • End the TSA and let airlines do security however they wish. 
  • End the FDA and replace it with nothing.
  • Scrap criminal law and let civil law handle everything.

How Obsession with Options Can Blind You to Opportunities

One of the first steps in your personal emancipation is to realize that the world is full of options, and the few things currently in front of you are not the only from which to choose.  But there is a difference between options and opportunities.

Options are theoretical.  Opportunities are actual.  Options are statistical probabilities.  Opportunities are singular, concrete instances.  Options can always be added on, and the option set can always grow as an aggregate bundle, so there is no urgency or scarcity in options.  Opportunities are temporary and cannot be aggregated.  Each is too unique and cannot be replicated.

The finite nature of each individual opportunity can be scary.  It feels more comforting to stay in the abstract world of options than to jump in to a real opportunity, which immediately reduces the set of theoretical other options.

Options thinking can be useful to gain some big picture long term perspective, but it’s a dangerous mindset too because it can blind you to opportunities or limit the ways you can gain from them.  Here are three of the downsides to thinking about options instead of opportunities.

Too Good for That

Because options are a giant aggregate of all possible activities, the field will always look better than a specific, individual opportunity.  When you know that the field is available to you (in theory) real actions always seem a little less glamorous.  The problem is that the field is not available to you.  Your life isn’t like gambling.  You can’t pick the field.  You have to settle on specific actions.  Grumpiness can result when you do specific things but obsess about keeping your options open.  You’ll always think you’re too good for whatever you’re doing and never fully throw yourself behind it.  This will, paradoxically, further limit your options as those around you will tire of your attitude of superiority and belief that, if you wanted to, you could be doing something better.  It keeps you from entering in to the moment and doing your best work.

Myth of the Perfect Path

The purpose of options is to be able to choose one or more at some point.  But after spending a lot of time expanding your theoretical option set towards this end pressure can begin to build.  When you finally do choose something specific, you’d better get it right.  Options thinking can make you so aware of opportunity cost (or in many cases, imagined, theoretical opportunity cost) of foregone activities that it puts an unbearable burden on whatever you do choose to be perfect.  This short-circuits the best of all human learning techniques, trial and error.  No trial occurs when error is so feared.  The endless keeping of options open in search for the perfect assumes too much about your ability to know all variables – including your own changing desires and interests – and deprives you of one of the best discovery tools, failure.  All this stress about choosing the mythical one true path leads to another problem.

Paralysis by Analysis

The ceaseless break-down comparisons, the cost-benefit analyses, the consideration of these seemingly weighty matters can itself become an activity so consuming it prevents you from all others.  You can become bogged down in a quagmire of strategic planning and never take the definite actions necessary to achieve anything.  The real problem is that inaction is also an action.  Not choosing is a choice.  Waiting, watching, thinking on the sidelines has a cost that’s even higher than the cost of choosing an imperfect opportunity.  When you take opportunity B it means you can no longer take A or C.  That’s the cost.  But the benefit is you get whatever goodness is to be had from B, and the self-knowledge of how well B suits you.  Even if you fail at it you gain something.  When you get stuck analyzing all three options you not only miss out on A and C, but you forgo the benefits of B as well.

Expanding your options set can be intoxicating.  For a time, it feels so fast paced and exciting.  I could do anything!  Why would I do this one thing when I could keep entertaining all the possible things I could do in my mind?

It’s alright to play with your options and expand them and think about them from time to time.  But you’ve got to put options in their place as subordinate statistical playthings when compared to opportunities.  Options don’t change the world or the holder of them.  Actions do.

Unexpected Ways I’ve Changed in Recent Years

  • I now enjoy Twitter more than Facebook
  • I used to be an extrovert, now I’m an introvert
  • I now prefer cheap, lighter beers over fancy, heavier craft brews
  • I used to only take coffee black, now I quite enjoy cream
  • I now listen to new age type mood music as much as classic rock
  • I now prefer writing to almost any other activity
  • I once found Star Trek boring, now I love it
  • I used to hate politics, now I hate it even more

Does Future Orientation Mean Anything?

It’s not easy to stay out of the future.

I live a lot of my life there.  I don’t know that it’s bad, but there is this universal approval of ideas like, “be in the present moment”, and, “don’t put off living for some future date”.  Those platitudes sound right and put the tiniest weight of guilt on my forward tilt.  I’ve learned guilt is rarely a good road map unless backed by clear reason.  Still, it does seem weird to be always pushing, thinking, dreaming, and building today for some imagined land called tomorrow.

It’s hard to rest.  All rest seems like a stop with a purpose – to recharge and regroup for another forward march.  I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have a few purposeless moments, outside of time.  The arrow of time runs always on, left to right, and drives most of my excitement and lust for life.  Stillness, unless deliberately practiced as a way to make me a better forward moving vehicle, feels like stagnation.

Does the relentless, Crusoe-like desire to add on to one’s present options set with ceaseless improvements indicate something about the nature of reality?  Does the magnetic sojourn into the not-yet place we build in our imaginations mean we are hard-wired for something eternal?

I suppose it doesn’t have to.  It sure feels like it does.  It’s hard to imagine all this forward-facing energy coming to an abrupt end in tandem with my bones and sinews.  Where is the arrow trying to fly?

This of course brings up the equally baffling question of from where the arrow came and what gave it thrust.  Is it accelerating, decelerating, or remaining constant like a geosynchronous satellite?

Even when I am in the moment, the thing that gives it that intoxicating flow is the fact that the moment is movement.  It is the process of overcoming a struggle towards some happily anticipated future probability.

It’s hard for me to imagine that I’ll ever be done.  The thought of ever unfolding creation gives me comfort and, paradoxically, energy when I’m tired.

Things got a little mystical there didn’t they?  Must be this yoga music.

Back to my bowl of cereal…and whatever comes next.

Why You Should Apply to Praxis

Why I Started Praxis

Praxis requires the right people.  It’s a challenging program.  It’s not for everyone.

So who’s a good fit?  If you or someone you know fits any of these descriptions, it might be a match made in heaven…

You’re good, but you’re bored

You can do well in school.  You’re typically one of the best students.  You can do well in a job.  You’re typically one of the best employees.  Most social and educational situations are like games, and you’re pretty good at figuring out the game and doing what it takes to win.  Still, you’re restless.

Gaming the school system for grades seems a bit pointless, and you’re jonesing for something more real.  You want to succeed, but you’d like to do it in an environment that’s connected to something bigger, more valuable to the world and to your own future.

You know you don’t know everything and you’re bored getting rewarded for stuff that isn’t all that challenging.  You relish the opportunity to try bigger things, and to be in an environment where open experimentation and failure aren’t the enemy, but stagnation is.

You’ve always got side projects and ideas

Not satisfied with officially sanctioned clubs and activities, you’re keen to create your own.  You’re the one who’s always starting fantasy football leagues or planning poker nights.  What?  No aquatics club?  You’ll remedy that.  Nearest Red Bull supply is too far away?  You’ll start a little delivery service.

From building club websites and Facebook pages to finding someone to make a new logo for your softball team, you never stop coming up with new ideas, jumping on opportunities, and completing projects of your own design.

You know this urge to build things might take you places if put in a more expansive context.  You know you could learn so much more being around others who have built amazing companies and brought big ideas to life.

You can’t stop seeing how everything around you could be done more efficiently

Everyone in line at the airport is staring at their phone and mindlessly wandering through the rope maze.  Not you.  You’re analyzing the way the line is designed and frustrated that they chose such an inefficient configuration.

You immediately see how the class assignment could be done in a much cleaner, quicker way with the same result.  You probably got in trouble for discovering shortcuts and hacks in grade school.  Everywhere you look, you run numbers in your head or ask questions about how the model works.  When you drive through a neighborhood, you’re looking at the cars and houses and estimating the annual salary and debt needed to sustain the residents.  You wonder if they’d have a higher quality of life in a different city with lower cost of living.

You feel like the world is full of inefficiencies but this doesn’t make you angry, it makes you excited.  Where others see pain points, you see opportunity.  You may not know yet how to channel this mindset and you may not have any particular passion, but you can’t turn off that part of your brain that sees areas for improvement all around.

You’d love to enter an environment where that mindset is valuable and cultivated.  You’d love to take it to the next level.

If that’s you, so is this

Praxis is ideal for anyone who fits any of these descriptions.  An intensive bootcamp on personal and professional skills, 10 months working at an amazing startup, a rigorous series of personal development projects, coaching, and a deep dive into what it takes to be an entrepreneur and self-directed learner.  This is the career and educational experience you’ve always wanted.  No fluff.  No BS.

Why wait to do awesome stuff and work with innovative companies?

Start today.

When Your Kids Call You Out

I walked into the kitchen this morning to grab a snack while working on my phone.  My five year old daughter called to me from the other room.

“Daddy, can you draw a face on this for me?”

I was in the middle of work, trying to get a quick bit of nutrients and return to my office.  I was distracted.  I didn’t feel like scrawling a face on a piece of packaging plastic with a mashed up pink marker.  I responded,

“I’m not good at drawing faces honey.”

I lied.

It is true that I’m not good at drawing faces, at least relative to an average person over the age of eight.  But my daughter already knows that.  She knows I’m not the best artist in the family.  She knows my son and my wife can both draw a better face than I can.  But she also knows I can do one better than her.  She asked knowing full well the extent and limits of my abilities.  So she called me out.

“Just do your best.  Just like I do my best.”

Ouch.

“Just do your best” is one of those phrases I use all the time as a parent, and it usually feels good.  It’s not condemning or harsh or full of phony, undeserved praise.  When your kid says, “But I’m not good at X!” parents can calmly say, “Just do your best!”  We wouldn’t want them to let fear of imperfection stop them, right?

In this case, I wasn’t getting called out for fear of failure.  I wasn’t avoiding face-drawing because I was afraid the face wouldn’t look good.  I’m way past that point.  I was getting called out for lying.  I was trying to pull a fast one on my daughter instead of just using direct, clear, honest communication.  Kids aren’t that easy to fool.

I really had two choices.  Draw the face or don’t draw the face.  Either one would have been morally and practically acceptable.  If I chose not to draw the face, the best thing would have been to give an honest reason.  “I’m sorry honey, I’m in the middle of some other things.  I’ll do it later if you still want me to.” or simply, “Hon I’m not going to draw a face right now.”

Those may sound harsh, at least compared to drawing the face.  But they’re less harsh than the lie I tried to get away with.  My daughter knows my lack of artistic skill is not the reason I didn’t want to draw a face in that moment.  So deflecting with that not only indicated I didn’t want to draw, but also that I didn’t respect her enough to just say so.

She got distracted drawing and went about her business, as I did mine.  I don’t think any major damage was done.  Still, not my finest moment in parenting.

It was a good reminder of how often and how easily we slip into dishonest forms of communication.  If it goes far enough, it can lead to self-deception, where we actually start to believe our false reasons for action or inaction.

If only I could bring my kids with me 24/7 to call me on my BS.