Rut Removal Machine

[Turns down the volume on The Cult blasting in the background]

I’ll tell you what gets me jealous.

Being head-down obsessed with something. The feeling of being indistractable (F you Grammarly, that’s a word now). I don’t mean artificially like you just installed the Freedom app or enabled “focus mode” on your phone. I mean, you don’t even care to click on any Substack unless its title included your social security number. You got a lead foot with zero drag coefficient.

I’m jealous of this because I know what that feels like, but also because the grass is always greener. As unromantic reality is when you are in that mode, the obligations to yourself and others lapse to varying degrees. You’re waiting for a drink at the bar and your reflection in the Tom Dixon pendant peers back at you “Is that a double chin?” Or it can arrive with more drama. A calendar invite for a “Mid Life Crisis”.

We mostly find ourselves balancing between devotion and discovery. Exploit vs explore. I suspect it’s better to average these poles over time rather than try to sit in the middle at all times. Switching between the modes seems like a happier and more effective way to embrace the current setting, especially if you remember that the mode is temporary.

I left the day-to-day grind 2 years ago. Instead of spending savings on a home reno or car with suicide doors, I’m consuming a leisurely period of discovery. Like a reno, this is a consumption/investment hybrid. I’m dabbling in several projects with faith in my instincts that a worthy object of devotion will present itself. Not because things just happen, but because you do things, that lead to private information and that combined with other information hints at a jungle path you are both eager to and adapted for cutting and sweating through. It’s a highly active process. It’s not sitting back and reading (although I do want to do that too NBA2k23 and writing seem to be as still as I can sit).

This week an old friend who got laid off reached out to talk. He was giving himself a few months of explore mode but was a bit wary of its potential to be overly heady or abstract. Points for knowing oneself. I can relate. I threw the following suggestions as a sort of anchor to utility that I find helpful and he appreciated them so much he said it would be useful to others. I actually think of them as solutions to a generic rut, but to some, being thrown into discovery mode can feel like a rut.

  1. Exercise every day. Even if it’s just a 45-minute walk.
  2. Meet 2 new people in person every month. Coffee, hike, whatever. I got this idea from my wife who has a casual pro-bono coaching practice and this is the single biggest action item that unlocks overwhelming responses from the people who actually follow through.
  3. This is a personal and recent one I’ve been telling people — listen to the Founders podcast. It’s a free EpiPen shot in your ass.For the reflexive ankle-biter, I recognize there’s a midwit objection to this show — “oh it’s all survivorship bias”. This is an obvious observation and completely besides the point. The show is not a recipe. It’s an inspiration for obsessives and people in discovery mode who appreciate obsession mode. The show is repetitive. That’s one of its strongest features. My own writing is intentionally repetitive. There are only a small number of ideas that matter (this is a recursive point since one of those ideas is power law).

    Communication is like rotating a shape to fit in a puzzle — angle the words in just the right way to complete the picture. Except everyone has a different puzzle and needs to see the pieces from their own special angle (this is also why objecting to things that have been done before is silly unless we for some reason are optimizing for novelty not understanding). The Founders’ stories enthusiastically harp on the few qualities that are necessary but insufficient conditions for success. The rest of any extreme outcome is luck anyway.

In addition to these suggestions, here’s a troubleshooting technique:

Track how you spend your time. Results are a lagging indicator of work — so if you are disappointed in your outcomes you should at least rule out the possibility that you are lying to yourself about your effort. Your poor results could be due to bad luck, bad timing, working on the wrong things, or honestly many factors. But the one factor you have clear control over is your effort. It’s just too easy to lie to ourselves about that. Fortunately, keeping track of time spent is just as easy.

Whatever mode you are in, embrace it. It won’t last forever and that’s why you can enjoy it without guilt.

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