I spent last weekend celebrating one of my best friend’s 40th birthday. Leading up to his birthday, my buddy’s wife reached out to see if I could draft a quick message for him. Initially, I thought she was looking for a quick quote to put in a card (e.g. like the one in back of your high school yearbook), but based on her requests to track down people we haven’t seen in decades and her texts expressing disappointment about the people that didn’t get back to her, I realized she was up to something much bigger, much more involved and much more thoughtful. Shortly after arriving in LA, my wife and I met our friends for lunch at a Brazilian steakhouse on the Hermosa Beach pier. As we wrapped up our lunch and requested the bill, my buddy’s wife pulls out a beautifully decorated binder and handed it to him. In it were ~100 pages of letters to, stories about, and pictures of my buddy that she had tracked down from old friends he hasn’t spoke with in decades to Marines he served with overseas to close family, in laws and friends.
My buddy, having trouble finding words to accurately express his appreciation, told her that “it’s the nicest gift anyone’s ever given me.” She knew he meant it and replied with a warm and affectionate smile. “Happy birthday,” she said.
The gift matched the moment. It was perfect. And it set the stage for an amazing weekend.
My birthday message to him is below (there are ~100 more of these):
If I’m picking a team to help me with a task when the stakes are the highest, he’s my first pick. And it’s not even close. There are very few people who have seen the action he has seen and have operated at the consistently elite level he has operated at all while in service our nation. He’s in rarefied air. But you would never know that because he doesn’t want to talk about himself. That’s not the way he is. But he is as good as it gets.
Days before getting out of the Corps (where a handful of us were excitedly awaiting our soon-to-be newfound freedom) we get a call requesting volunteers to deploy back to Iraq, thus delaying our highly anticipated transition to civilian life. Most of us turned down the offer, the desire to move on to the so-called easy life too strong or the willingness to sacrifice current pleasure so that we can be in service to our teammates not strong enough. But it was never a choice for him because his values, centered on dedication to team and mission, never wavered. Putting future plans on hold, he showed up and answered the call.
After watching me fail to complete Leadville the first time, he immediately pushed me to sign up again the next year, volunteering for the brutal and thankless pacer / crew duties again (even though this would mean taking time away from work and family, not to mention cost of gear, airfare, and rental cars). He was the only one that toed the line again for my second attempt and he volunteered to run the toughest stretch of the course. When he found out I was short pacers weeks before race, he recruited a legendary recon marine to join our team. And on race day he pushed me physically and mentally to places I didn’t think possible. In effort not to mince words, there’s no way I would have completed this race without his support. It’s also worth noting that he did all this with a busted knee that required surgery, suffering immensely to help me achieve a personal goal. I didn’t know how bad his knee was at the time because of course he wouldn’t tell me. And the thing about him is that he would proudly sign back up again tomorrow, broken knee and all.
I love the way he talks about his family, always with a rare level of adoration and gratitude. With his wife, there’s always an undercurrent of genuine amazement when he mentions her. He talks about her unwavering support and love for the boys and for him, willingness to adapt to whatever life brings them as long as they’re together, work ethic, and good natured attitude. And there’s nowhere he’d rather be than with his boys on a boat or at the ballpark. He’s genuinely so proud of his family (and my guess is feeling is mutual).
Thank you for your time and your friendship over the past almost two decades. You’re a huge inspiration to me and I am a much better person because of you.
Happy 40th birthday. Love you brother!
I noticed four tracks of footprints in our driveway this evening. I’m no expert but there appeared to be three, four-legged tracks and one, two-legged track. They were not cat or dog tracks. They were wild tracks. It had been snowing all night so the tracks were fresh. Which meant the owners of these fresh tracks were close.
We don’t often consider the wild beasts that live among us. Coyotes, falcons, foxes, and deer scamper our world on an occasional summer afternoon only to vanish into the backyard bushes immediately and without a trace. The existence of these wild beasts are manifested only through the stories and stuffed animals that fill my daughters’ imaginations.
But a snowstorm, especially one that’s followed by a two day freeze with winds that slice dry skin like construction paper, has a way of changing perspectives. Last night’s analysis of the tracks, the footprints approaching our door with an apparent familiarity only achieved through repetition, confirms that beasts live not only in children’s books.
They might also live in our back yards.
I listen to a lot of podcasts (~3+ per day) but generally speaking (there are exceptions), I no longer accept recommendations from my friends. I think this is probably a result of the long queue of episodes I’m waiting to listen to and also probably because I’ve been burned by my buddies’ “earth shattering, life changing, must listen right f*&^ing now” recommendations one too many times. And I don’t usually recommend podcasts for the same reason.
But this case is different. Just last week I made an exception and chose to listen to a podcast a buddy recommended earlier in the week. I decided that because the self help pod I was loving 20 minutes prior became repetitive and didactic, I would make a rare exception and give my buddy’s recommendation a five minute listen. I’m glad I did.
The podcast was not life changing. It was better than that*. It’s impossible to finish it without expressing a genuine smile and / or shedding a tear and / or clapping out loud and / or pumping your fist. Serious. And while hockey is a part of the story, the story is not about hockey.
I’m hesitant to say another word about it other than, if you only do one thing tomorrow, please listen to this.
Thanks for your time,
*This sentence will make more sense after you listen.
A buddy and colleague invited me to attend a heavy metal show toward end of last September. I generally enjoy mainstream heavy metal but other than Metallica and Rage (which is actually more rock / rap), I’m not that familiar with the genre or any of the bands. But I love music and metal has a devoted following, so I wanted to learn more about the genre.
The concert was at the House of Blues in downtown Chicago. I work downtown but I left early to take the metra train home (~40 min trip door to door) so I could see my daughters (ages 2.5 years and 8 months) before bed. I soon realized that that was a mistake as I missed the only train that arrived back in city on time and it took me 2 hours to make it downtown in Friday traffic using Uber. I finally arrived at the main entrance of the House of Blues in Chicago just after the first band was about halfway through their 45 minute set. I was about an hour behind our original meet up time which was frustrating but my buddy understood family / traffic dynamics so it was not an issue.
Friday, September 28 was unusually cold and I naturally dressed in full winter gear. I knew I was out of my element when I connected with my buddy who was dressed in full “combat” gear. I wore jeans, beanie, thermals, and a parka. He wore athletic shorts, a form fitting t-shirt, and a fanny pack with a clear plastic sealable case for his phone. He was ready for a different kind of party.
We grabbed a few Budweisers at the bar and listened to a song for two as my buddy downed the beer. House of Blues is a small venue and the acoustics are excellent so you can really get a feel for the music standing in the very back by the bar (and away from what appeared to be chaotic mosh pits). Or at least I thought. Within five minutes, my buddy threw his beer in trash, looked at me and said, “you ready?”, then before I could respond, he tightened his fanny pack, tucked in his shirt, and disappeared into the haze of sweat, blood, and anger. Dear god what did i get myself into.
It took me the rest of the band’s set (~30-45 min) to muster up the motivation to step in the mosh pit (aka death haze). I realized from my reconnaissance during the previous set that there were two separate sections of the pit: the first 5-7 rows by the stage was just for crowd surfing and pushing whereas the space on the floor behind that front section was reserved for running and shoving and punching. I pushed my way up to about the third row just before the main act came on (i had finally arrived to the party but I wasn’t in the kill zone).
One reason for slight apprehension, other than it was my first metal show, was that my buddy told me the last time he attended a show like this, the friend he went with had his jaw broken by an angry fan. He never saw it coming. I mean, one minute you’re having a beer with a bud, the next you’re drinking out of a straw. All said, my head was on a swivel as the main act took the stage.
And then something unexpected happened. For the next 45 – 60 min, I had one of the most fulfilling concert experiences of my life. What from the bar looked chaotic and deadly, was actually rhythmic and beautiful. The band and the crowd were connected in a way that I’ve never witnessed before (no snapchat or instas, complete focus on the band). And people in the pit both in the front section and the “punching section” looked out for each other, protecting the crowdsurfers from falling and scooping up anyone who by accident falls immediately. There was a language in the pit and we were a tribe, all there in appreciation of the loud and frenetic power chords and thundering percussion.
And when the band said “thank you Chicago!” and the lights cut on, I found myself soaking wet but not wanting to leave, choosing instead to meander through the pit until they kicked me out, exchanging hugs and laughs with my new friends who shared the arena that night.
Soon after arriving to work today, my boss talked me through what could have been a stressful client situation he dealt with while traveling the day before. He was on the road prepping for Client 1 meeting when Client2 called requesting him to run a few new scenarios in our excel model and revert with results in the next 20 min.
While he trusted his team to accurately run the requested analysis, he still had to understand the key drivers that impact the outcome of each scenario and then be able to discuss results with Client2. So while the team ran the scenario in excel, my boss, as he’s done for years, ran the calcs by hand so that he could estimate the results, and then confirm / ask questions after reviewing the excel output.
The situation described above would normally be stressful for many of my colleagues. But it wasn’t for my boss because he’s been approaching every analysis with this process for the past 8 years.
I think the estimate / confirm process has wide spread applications as it’s an excellent way to continue to learn and hone a skillset.
Estimate / confirm process / steps:
- Summarize the facts: Prior to reviewing a report / analysis / argument, assemble facts available and quickly read them. Be sure to write down (not type) the most important assumptions / drivers / facts
- Estimate outcome: Based on assumptions / drivers / facts that your wrote down, write down an estimate of what you think the analysis should look like and why (play with up and downside scenarios to ensure you’re conducting sufficient diligence)
- Confirm estimates: Then review output to either confirm your estimate (or determine why you’re estimated results are different)
- Critique performance, write down lessons learned: Based on outcome, write down ways you can improve your estimates going forward
- Repeat: Get your reps in regularly
If steps above are put into regular practice, an improved understanding and confidence relating to area of focus is assured.
In David Goggin’s new book, “Can’t Hurt Me”, he describes Round 14 of Rocky 1 being his favorite scene of any movie and one that continues to motivate him still today.
Watch here: Rocky 1
Goggins wrote that he especially loved the look of disbelief and awe on Apollo Creed’s face after the round when Creed thought / hoped he won by knockout only to turn around to see Rocky, barely alive, but pulling himself up and finally when standing, motioning to Apollo to “bring it on”.
Goggins writes that he tries to model Rocky’s resilience in that Apollo Creed fight, especially in Round 14, where Rocky made the statement with his effort that Apollo can keep knocking him down, but when he gets up (and he will), he’s coming for you. He’s always coming for you.
Listened to a great episode on Patrick O’Shaughnessy’s podcast, Invest Like The Best. He interviews Saifedean Ammous, author of the book “Bitcoin Standard.” The episode is wide ranging but I found the first part of his interview about time preference interesting.
A few takeaways:
- Time preference (economics): Time preference is an economic term defined as the current relative valuation placed on receiving a good at an earlier date compared with receiving it at a later date. Said another way, a person with a high time preference is focused on their current well-being relative to the mean, while a person with low time preference places more emphasis on their well-being in the future (again, relative to mean).
- Origins: The time preference theory of interest was created by economists as an attempt to explain interest through the demand for immediate satisfaction.
- Why we pay interest: If I offered you $100 today vs. $100 one year from now, you’d take $100 today. The only way I can get you to take $100 one year from now is if I pay you interest on top of the $100. Interest rate is the price paid to lender so lender is willing to forego capital use.
- Time preference (psychology): As I discussed in a recent post about the “Marshmallow Test,” the delay of gratification literature was heavily influenced by the work of Walter Mischel, who showed that a simple experiment in which youngchildren were asked to choose between one cookie (or marshmallow) now and two in fifteen minutes could predict achievement later in life.
- This conclusion is logical. If a person has a low time preference, they then possess ability to delay gratification which means they are likely disciplined, patient, and thoughtful. These are all common traits of successful people.
- Potential ways to lower time preference:
- Educate communities on benefit of saving vs. spending
- Create policies that provides incentives for saving (or provide conditions for more and better paying jobs so people have the option to spend or save in the first place)
In the late 1960s, Stanford researchers developed a longitudinal, delayed gratification test (the Marshmallow test) that claimed to predict a person’s long-term success at three years old (see video here).
For the test, an administrator brings a three year old into a room and gives her a marshmallow. He tells her that he is going to leave the room for two minutes and if she doesn’t eat the marshmallow by the time he returns, he’ll give her two marshmallows. They then tracked the three year olds success over the next few decades and concluded that the ones who were able to resist the marshmallow at three years old were more successful in life than the ones who gave in and ate the marshmallow.
In an excellent Ted Talk, Professor Conor Neil from IESE Business School shares the top qualities that Warren Buffett looks for in a partner (integrity, energy, intelligence) and notes that willpower is a necessary component of each:
- to have the willpower to keep alignment with values and time spent
- how much time goes into the things you mean to do?
- to have the energy to accomplish a difficult challenge or multi-year goal, you need the willpower to focus on the present and not let one’s mind get too far ahead of the now
- focus on the next marshmallow
- adaptive intelligence
- in order to gain adaptive intelligence, one needs the willpower to regularly document the things you read, experience, learn
- if you take the time to regularly reflect on what you’ve learned (e.g. through use of a daily journal), over time you’ll gain intelligence as you’ll become the accumulation of your experiences
- write about the marshmallow and how you felt when resisting it (both immediately and an hour or day later)
He concludes with the following advice,
“A successful life is the accumulation of the right decision over and over again, day after day. We so often underestimate what we can achieve in a year and overestimate what we can achieve in a day. Rule #1 for success, when you have a marshmallow don’t stare at it. The diet doesn’t fail because of weakness of will, the diet fails because the chocolate is there. It’s small decisions done repeatedly that makes the difference.”
“The argument for the simulation is quite strong. 40 years ago we had pong. Two rectangles and a dot. Now we have photo-realistic 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it’s getting better every year.
If civilization stops advancing than that could be due to a calamitous event that erases humanity. But if we keep advancing, and assuming everything in the physical world could be simulated, then we could start simulating ourselves (like we’re already doing in video / computer games). In this scenario, there would be billions of universes created that are indistinguishable from our own.
Therefore probabilistic thinking would have us conclude that we are in a simulation because we exist.
Or we could be in base reality. But that’s a one in a billion chance.”
This argument for simulation was created by philosopher Nick Bostrom in a paper he wrote called, “Are You Living In A Computer Simulation?” published in 2001 (see Nick Bostrom’s research and video below).
Bostrom argues there are three possible answers to the simulation question:
- The human race is likely to become extinct before reaching a “post-human” stage
- Any post-human civilization is unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of its evolutionary history
- We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation
Bostrom’s philosophical framework starts with the belief that everything is at it seems. He acknowledges that technology continues to improve with each passing year and the rate of change continues to increase. Based on this, he asks us to consider the possible impacts that continued technological improvement would have on humanity in decades, centuries, and millennia to come.
Based on how we currently interact with technology (e.g. play video games that are very similar to our lives), could we reasonably conclude that humanity eventually reaches a point in the future where video games / simulations are indistinguishable from “base reality”? If we agree to the above (that humanity is able to one day run simulations that mirror the physical world in every sense), then we should also agree that there is a chance that we are living in one of these simulations.
Critics of the simulation argument point out that there is currently no proof of technology which would facilitate the existence of sufficiently high-fidelity ancestor simulation. Additionally, critics suggest there is no proof that it is physically possible or feasible for a posthuman civilization to create such a simulation, and therefore for the present, the first proposition must be true. Additionally there are proofs of limits of computation.
Regardless of whether you side with Bostrom / Musk or with the critics, given the rapid acceleration of technological advancement in the past 40 years, the simulation argument makes for an interesting thought experiment.
Thanks so much for your time.
Perpetual beta: The degree to which one is committed to belief updating and self-improvement. It is roughly 3x a better predictor of a super-forecaster than intelligence.
- Philip Tetlock, “Superforecasting”
I’ve been brushing my teeth multiple times daily (for the most part…) for 34 years. With 3 decades of experience, I should be a master tooth brusher. And for the first 3-5 years of brushing my teeth, I improved significantly on a weekly, monthly and annual basis. But ever since I turned 8 (at that time I had the hand eye coordination and strength to brush all of my teeth effectively), marginal gains became more and more challenging and my growth trajectory flattened. Using the number of cavities in the past decade relative to the first as a means for comparison, I’ve trended flat to worse over time.
This trend can be applied to other mundane activities (e.g. driving, hand writing, dish washing) that we do daily. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we can probably apply this to our careers, relationships, and other so-called important activities (e.g. volunteer work, exercise).
It’s interesting that as a society we are often rewarded or respected for “time served / experience” even though that experience doesn’t usually make us worthy of the additional respect.
“Wow, look at the Smiths, they’ve been married for 30 years. I don’t know how they do it but that’s amazing.”
“Joe’s run 38 marathons in 30 states over the past two decades. I’d love to get his advice how how I should prepare for my first sub 45 min 10K.”
“Linda’s been with the firm for 2 years longer than the other applicants for manager. She has the experience, therefore, she should be promoted.”
In the past month, I’ve heard similar lines of rationale as the statements above. But in each case, experience did not make them experts. In the case of the married couple, they’re married in name only (MINO “trademarked – SL!”). They emotionally checked out at year 10 but they’re too stubborn or lazy to fix the problem or file for divorce. For the serial marathoner, he walk / runs each race and has never finished under 6 hours. He has never hired a coach or followed a training plan and therefore has no knowledge of what it takes to train for a 10K. And while Linda has more experience, the additional two years have been spent on one specific project so she is not better qualified than the other applicants for manager.
So what does it take to improve, to become an expert tooth brusher, husband, distance runner, manager?
In the book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, author Anders Ericsson argues that in order to become an expert at any task / activity / game, experience isn’t enough. You must:
- approach the activity with a plan
- deliberately practice that plan (first mastering fundamentals, then moving to more nuanced aspects)
- develop framework / set of principles that you can apply broadly to the activity
- push outside your comfort zones and through adversity
- solicit feedback from coaches / experts (incorporate feedback loops if possible)
- repeat over and over again
When describing what made superforecasters “super” in his book Superforecasting – The Art and Science of Prediction, Philip Tetlock points out the key difference. Superforecasters:
- develop a growing set of mental models they apply broadly to each prediction so as to remove any psychological biases (eg Fermi Paradox, Bayesian updating), increase their efficiency, and continue to improve over time
- obsess over the details of the most important data / evidence
- constantly seek out feedback as they want to understand what decision led them astray and then they systematically alter their approach
When I was young my mom and dad bought me a new pair of shoes if I made it in the “No Cavity Club” (in addition to an abundance of praise, my dentist had my picture hung on the wall with all the other club members). By age 8, I was a 3 year “No Cavity Club” awardee and as I watched that club grow smaller each year, I grew more competitive and focused on ensuring I made the wall (and adding to my collection of crazy colored Chuck Taylor high tops). With a built in feedback loop and incentive structure in place, I flossed and brushed with not only regularity but also an uncanny focus.
And I continued to improve.
Until I received my first cavity.
And I was no longer in the club.
And I stopped caring as much and started going through the motions.
And my second and third cavities came soon after.
And my growth trajectory flattened.
Thanks so much for your time,
From a young age, JFK was interested in politics. And to help him learn complicated policies, he would stand in front of his bathroom mirror and recite the intricacies of various policies aloud. This practice helped him not only with subject retention but also with confidence in his ability to speak on various issues. JFK is known as one of the best public speakers in U.S. history and it all started with bathroom recitals.
Physicist and polymath Richard Feyman often claimed that the test of true subject mastery is if a person can effectively teach complex material to an 8 year old. See an example of him illustrating this practice here .
I discussed a variety of work-related topics with a client earlier today and then did an interview this evening about running. I got through them both but I can do better. Given examples above, next time I speak about an idea with people outside of my personal network, I will layer in verbal prep in addition to note taking.
Traditionally in the U.S., on the night before a wedding, the bride and groom will host all of their closest friends and family (and out of town guests) for a dinner which is usually followed by speeches / toasts. The speeches are meant to give the people closest to the bride and groom a chance to talk to the soon-to-be weds’ best attributes in addition to toasting the prospects of a happy future together.
If you’ve been to a wedding, you know that while most of these speeches are given with the best intentions they are often only meaningful to the people getting married. The remaining friends and family are either filled with angst about the speech they have to nail or bored because of the exhaustively long string of inside jokes that they don’t understand.
Admittedly, even though I was aware of the downsides of the traditional rehearsal dinner structure, I still wanted my friends to speak highly about me to my new father and mother-in-law. And my wife was indifferent. So we carried on the somewhat insufferable tradition.
I attended a close buddy’s wedding a few years ago who took a completely different approach. My buddy was also aware of how painful wedding speeches can be to almost everybody involved (except himself and his soon to be wife). So when planning his rehearsal dinner he kept the speeches in but flipped responsibilities. Instead of friends and family talking about him, he and his wife took that time to speak about the qualities that made each of the guests special to them.
While I can’t remember most if not all of the takeaways from the speeches at my wedding, I remember everything my buddy said about each of his friends at his. And I bet he does, too. That simple but powerful and selfless gesture set the tone for the weekend as he turned one of the more self-involved human traditions into a warm and fulfilling celebration with loved ones. Pretty cool.
Thanks so much for your time.
For most of my 20s and into my 30s (well, until I got married and had kids), I spent a significant portion of my weekends with friends and family at dive bars in Chicago (my favorite was and will always be The Lodge on State and Division). I liked dives because they were quiet enough to talk without yelling and because they served coldbeer (one word, please). Combine the coldbeer with the divey vibes and it was a perfect setting for what was then a weekly catch up that usually covered dating life, work aspirations, current events, entrepreneurial ideas etc.
As a dad of two under two, my time for beers with buddies has been constrained significantly (most of my buddies face similar issues making group hangouts nearly impossible). Naturally emerging in it’s place are collaborative projects / events with one or more buddies and while different, these projects provide similar benefits as the dive bar did as it gives me the opportunity to connect with friend(s) on a regular basis.
Group projects to date have included:
- 2 clothing brand projects (1 failed, 1 in process)
- Reading same book
- Competing in same sports event (triathlon in 2008 & 2015, trail run in 2017 & 2018)
- Improving nutrition (current)
- Learning to grill (current)
- Small dollar sports betting (on hiatus)
- Exchanging music recs (current)
- Sharing pics of 4Runners (current)
The quantity of friends has diminished since the dive bar days but the quality of the friendships I do have has increased materially. And these projects have been a catalyst.
Note: “splendids” is the name of the clothing brand my buddy and I are working on and this blog’s logo (of the salmon-colored stegosaurus) is the splendids’ logo.
“Would you just take, along with me, 10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are, those who cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life. 10 seconds, I’ll watch the time. Whomever you’ve been thinking about, how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they have made.” – Fred Rogers
I think I found this in a recent Ryan Holiday newsletter. It’s one of the better acceptance speeches I’ve ever heard (and a great daily exercise) with the one below taking a close second.
“Anthony Bourdain didn’t make Waffle House a place “where everything is beautiful, and nothing hurts.” He told you what you already felt, in better, more gorgeous, and simpler words than any you could summon.
My heart hurts today for the loss of someone who could recognize the ragged, gorgeous divinity of a Waffle House at three a.m., and make it more luminous while telling not one single lie.
That’s the real and miraculous here. There are people who can see the world in all its poverty and sorrow. But there are so few who recognize themselves in it and of it, and fewer still who invite it in to sit down, to eat, and to have a few minutes of peace and appreciation at the eternal, drunken forgiving present of a dinner table. Anthony Bourdain did — and most generously, tried to show everyone else how to do it, too.”
My brother tells me that even though Spencer Hall writes about college football, he is one of the best non-fiction writers in the United States across all genres. Following the deeply tragic suicide of Anthony Bourdain, Spencer paid tribute to him with these beautiful words (see link and quote above).
Spencer concludes in much better words than I could ever put to paper that the trait that made Bourdain so beloved was empathy. And more so, it was his ability to teach empathy by letting you experience the world’s beauty and suffering first hand through his eyes. Not everyone could have this impact. Others have tried and failed. But Bourdain was a student of humans and culture, diving into each city he visited, delicately and relentlessly working to understand the nuances of the culture and its people. We fell in love with the result.
Fair winds and calm seas Mr. Bourdain.