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a children’s story

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There are a lot of things that we can learn from kids and much time has been spent on this. We should explore like children. We should play like children. We should be as carefree as children. We love saying cute things about kids but one thing we forget is that kids can be ruthless. They take what they want without any concern for others. You don’t have to teach a kid to be greedy, to hit another kid, or to take something that’s not hers. No, you have to teach a kid to share, to keep her hands to herself, or ask for permission before taking something. As the comedian Louis CK puts it, “Kids are self-absorbed.”

One thing that I made sure before landing an internship at Dwolla and then subsequently landing the gig full time was that I made sure I was hungry and I’m going to get things done for the sake of wanting it. Sure, you need to put yourself in a position of opportunity. You need to be smart about your actions. But all this talk of hustle in the startup world is really just about being hungry. Things don’t land on your lap. You get up and take it.

Bypass all the sensational, feel-goodery talk, and what’s left is raw, laser-focused, animalistic hunger. This hunger isn’t quenched by money, glorification from others, a fulfillment of some kind of insecurity, but actually closing deals and working with companies—as if these deals directly impact you. Not the trajectory of your career. Not the salvation of your company. Not your personal growth or your social skills or anything else that comes with executing. But actually closing the deals somehow directly impacts you as a whole.

Just like kids. When they take a toy from another kid, they aren’t concerned about money, or the fulfillment of some kind of external value; taking what they want scratches an itch intrinsically.

In all honesty, hunting is difficult and it gets tiring. And it’s easy to get caught up in visual benefits that manifest when you go above and beyond to do your job. Without taking your job somewhat personally, you allow your belly to be filled with all these external matters that really have sparing nutritional value. Every now and then you need to allow it to scratch something internal, something unseen. Let that become personal.

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now i find…the choice is mine

Choice is a commodity. Choice is a finite resource.

When you go to a restaurant, most menus are built to limit your choices. The highlighted menu items or the ones your eyes naturally beam to first (people rarely start from item #1) are the most profitable items. Your choices, unbeknownst to you, are limited. The restaurant tries to tell you what to eat without being explicit about it. This is why a good server will point to the specials and most profitable (not necessarily most expensive) menu items when prompted by the diner for recommendations.

People tire of long menus. Most of your favorite restaurants do not have extensive menus. Good restaurants know this and break it down for you to battle your decision fatigue; if done properly, it works to their benefit.

Referencing Steve Jobs in the tech world, I know, has been exhausted to the point of cliche. But I’m going to do it anyway. Steve Jobs was the master of deciding for the general public. Everyone knows that one of his guiding philosophies was to tell people what they want rather than opening up and listening to focus groups. One of the effects of this was limiting choices for people. He decided floppy disks were obsolete while people still depended on them. The first iMacs released upon his return to Apple lacked an A: Drive. I remember scoffing when the Macbook Air was first released because it came without a CD Drive. I can’t remember the last time I watched a DVD on a computer (thanks Netflix).

If you missed it, there was a popular profile by Michael Lewis on Vanity Fair of Barack Obama floating around last year. A tidbit that prompted more articles to be written about this profile was President Obama’s explanation of why he only wears two colors. By doing so, he doesn’t have to think. He can just wear anything without taking the time to think what matches and what doesn’t. His reasoning, “I’m trying to pare down my decisions.”

This concept that we have really a more limited reservoir of our own choices than we’d like to admit is applicable in our daily lives. For example prioritizing your schedule would really allow you to be efficient in your work. What should be first of day? What can be saved for the end (that is, what can you do that requires the least amount of critical thinking and decision-making)?

In terms of business development, when you’re trying to set up a meeting, throw out a day. Be explicit. Maybe even include a time. Or, more specifically, a time frame (15 minutes? Half hour?). This focuses in a specific time slot that the recipient can just check their calendar and see whether that slot is open. Rather than saying next week and having them scour through their busy schedule, do the work for them. It’s not a major difference but I have seen a slightly better response when doing this.

When thinking product, especially the MVP, tell the user what they want. Limit the options. Keep it simple and let the user decide what’s good and what’s not. Iterate from there because you can also narrow down what works and what doesn’t once you get data from what features the users are using the most.

We are finite. Acknowledging this truth and acting upon it allows us to make wiser decisions both personally and professionally.

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talkin talkin talkin talk, baby let’s just knock it off

So my house had serious water damage problems recently. The bathtub on the second floor was leaking into my first floor. I went nuts and called a bunch of people for recommendations. My mom went nuts and called a bunch of recommendations. We ended up calling two plumbers.

The first one that showed up came the same night we had called him. He looked at both floors thoroughly, cutting up the ceiling of the first floor to get a better look. During this time, my mom who had followed him around (I was passed out from work) the house had learned a significant amount about him without asking one question. He told her that he has a three-acre office in New Jersey. He told her that he was one of the only few people who could really fix a plumbing system such as this. He told her that he’s done plumbing and heating for celebrities who lived in New Jersey. He also suggested that the only way to solve this leakage problem is to replace the entire water main valve ($1000) and rip out the tiles of the bathroom to get underneath the tub, rip apart my closet (it shares a wall with the bathroom) to replace the faucet, and was only able to install a brand new two-way shower system. I have a three-way shower system installed by the previous owner of our house. He said that it was an incredibly difficult task but promised that he could do it.

The second guy came the following night and promised to come by 6:30 in the evening. It was seven and he still did not come. My mom called him and the guy said that he had forgotten and would come the next day. No apology. My mom tells him it’s urgent. The guy kind of apologizes and hangs up. About an hour later, he calls back saying that he will come by and take a look because the person who recommended him is such a valuable customer that he’s almost like an employer. Boy, do we feel special…he’s only afraid of his sales going down. He shows up…like another hour and a half later. He looks around, comes into my room to check out the closet for a little bit, then goes back into the bathroom, goes downstairs to observe the pipes and diagnoses the problem. He fixes the main valve situation with a piece of duct tape and says that replacing the pipe is ridiculous; the situation won’t worsen. My mom asks the guy if he’s going to have to break through the tiles. He looks at my mom and frankly asks, “Why?” He doesn’t charge for consultation, fixed the valve problem for free, and tells my mom that he will call her back once he finds out how much the broken part is. Just like that he’s out the door and my mom cannot stop recapping what the guy had said to us.

Now the quality of his workmanship remains to be seen. However, just on this observation, it’s easy to deduce who the better plumber is. I had told my mom (before the second guy who blew us off even came in) that we shouldn’t trust a guy who puffs himself up and the second guy’s arrival merely confirmed my argument. You can beef up your resume all you want, you can destroy the interview process, you can have all your affairs in order, but the moment you sit down and can’t even add two cells on Excel is when you look like a fool and left alone. But when you stay silent and deliver (even the simplest thing), many of your flaws are easily forgiven.

Bite your tongue and do what it is you’re built to do.

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even in defeat, there’s a valuable lesson learned so it evens up for me

A line from Mad Men will always stick out to me. Don Draper asks an interviewee, “Have you ever been fired?”

My life, like all of us, has been riddled with failures. I think one of the most fortunate failures God used to really wake me up and make me who I am was my failure to graduate on time. It was embarrassing—all my life I was a little above average. I did just enough to be better than the next guy just so that I could say I was. But now I wasn’t even able to graduate the least rigorous school in America. Most of my friends were gone. I was the only one out of my friends paying his own way through college and I was the one who didn’t graduate, accumulating more debt along the way. I had built a grand reputation as a heavy drinker and the least of the professing Christians. I was a walking oxymoron—an embarrassment to myself.

But this failure didn’t make me mope for long. I was able to see this semester as an opportunity. I was broke and hadn’t much to boast about. I slept on a friend’s floor everyday. Sometimes I had to squat at another friend’s place if that friend was being too loud or had people over. It was me, my sleeping bag, and a Knicks Snuggie my sister had gotten me. It put life in perspective for me. People all around the world would do almost anything to go to bed like I did every night. Sleeping on the floor was easy.

That last semester was dedicated to building a work ethic. I would wake up at 6 am every morning, eat a light breakfast, sprint a mile or so uphill before hitting the gym, work out, come back, shower, and walk a few miles to campus. I would pray for a little and read the news, blogs, and everything I could get my hands on. I had scheduled all my classes in the afternoon so that I could do all this even if I were running late. I refrained from going to parties and would only occasionally go out for beers with close friends who stayed in college as well.

It was a very humbling and sobering experience for me. My relationship with my mother and my sister got tremendously better. My outlook on life is much more positive. My priorities were (still are) straightened out. I am so hungry now to make up for lost time and make the most of every second after that. Failure is to be embraced. Failure is to be learned from.

It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound re-invention. - Conan O’Brien

Where have you failed?