“Be yourself” can be really bad advice

There’s a category of advice that sounds good in theory but is pretty bad in practice. “Follow your passion” is one example. “Be yourself” is another.

The issue with “be yourself” is that it reeks of the fixed mindset and gets in the way of self improvement. It does so by encouraging the “This is just who I am – take it or leave it” mindset.

That is not to say we can change everything about ourselves. If you are an impatient person (speaking to myself) by nature, you are not going to become the most patient. But, you don’t have to either. Our traits and temperaments are part of a spectrum and we can always put in the work to stretch ourselves to move along that spectrum and learn to be flexible with how we apply ourselves in situations.

Put differently, if who you are is getting in the way of what you’d like to get done, stop being yourself and get better.

Perhaps a better piece of advice would be to ask folks to “become yourself.” It doesn’t just add a necessary air of intrigue to what is a fascinating lifetime journey of discovering our ever expanding capacity for change, it also focuses the journey on growth.

Besides, as Carol Dweck might say, becoming is better than being anyway.

Good career advice

Sometimes, I think most good career advice boils down to some version of –

“Don’t be in a hurry to climb some arbitrary career ladder or obtain some badge of supposed honor. Hustle, instead, to identify and solve problems that you think are challenging, useful, and learning filled – even if they’re risky at times. And, while you’re at it, invest effort in becoming self aware, doing good work, and being kind to people along the way.”

As with all great advice – it is relatively easy to formulate and say/find and very hard to live by.

Reset – 30 minutes at a time

A few weeks back, I’d shared a note on “learning to reset” –


After reflecting on a year of attempting to “seek to understand and then to be understood,” I realized that my ability to do so seemed to decline through the day. I write a quick note at the end of the day with an assessment of how I did. And, I found that I was most vulnerable to interrupt-itis at the end of the day. This is especially the case if there were a series of meetings in the second half.

As a result, a skill I’m working on is learning to reset during the day.

My thought process at the moment is that my ability to listen gets lost as I flow unconsciously through the day. And, teaching myself to reset would be a reminder to be conscious about how I approach the next section.

This sounds great in theory. But, I’ve struggled, so far, to execute on the idea. So, as is usually the case, I’m writing about it to clarify my thinking on it and make a public commitment to do better at it.

I hope to have more on this in a few weeks.


I do have an update. After a couple of failed attempts, my current working solution is to run a recurring 30 minute timer through the day.

Every time I pay attention to my phone vibrating, it reminds me to take a deep breath and reset.

I pay attention (versus simply notice) 20%-30% of the time now. The next step is to increase that sense of awareness to 50% of the time. It feels doable thanks to this process. And, I’m hopeful these resets will help me become more aware of my impatience in conversations – 30 minutes at a time.

More to follow in a few weeks.

Hustle

“When we talk about “hustle,” perhaps what we’re really referring to is one’s level of persistent tolerance and determination to do a lot of frustrating and tedious work that feels immaterial day-by-day but ultimately matters.” | Scott Belsky

This remains the best definition of hustle I’ve come across.

Our homes and workplaces demand plenty of it.

It doesn’t seem to lead to much for the longest time.

Until, of course, it does.

Less sweets and teaching

There’s a great folk story about an exasperated mom who was running out of ways to convince her son to eat fewer sweets. She finally decided she’d ask a village elder/”guru” her son respected for her.

The elder listened to her, sympathized, and asked her to come back in four weeks.

Four weeks later, she went back to him with her son. This time, he took the boy aside and advised him to eat fewer sweets for his own sake. The boy had tremendous respect for the elder and, thus, promised to listen.

The mother found the whole episode curious. So, she asked the elder why he didn’t just give her son this talk four weeks ago. He explained to her that he was guilty of eating too many sweets himself. So, he spent the past four weeks fixing his habits before having the talk with her son.

Many associate teaching to be all about passing on knowledge. In reality, the great gift of attempting to teach is to grow into a place where we earn the right to be worthy of doing so.

The Shape of Us and Imperfections

The Shape of Us is a beautiful song by Ian Britt, a yet-to-be-discovered British guitarist and singer. While Ian does a great job with the lyrics and the singing, the star of the song is a gorgeous acoustic guitar riff that plays in the background the whole time.

Now, if you listen carefully however, you’ll notice imperfections. As guitarists move their fingers on the strings for riffs like this, they make a scraping sound (listen to ~1:04 for example). If you listen for it, you’ll hear that sound through the song. And, if you haven’t listened for that scraping sound before, it is likely you’ll now hear it in most of your favorite acoustic guitar riffs.

That scraping sound is a natural side effect of playing gorgeous riffs on an acoustic guitar. Attempting to hide that imperfection or engineer that out would ruin the experience of listening to the acoustic guitar.

It turns out that playing to the guitar’s strengths by focusing on simple, melodious, music and accepting that a few imperfections come with the package is a recipe for creating magical music.

Somewhere in there is a learning for all of us.

Back-and-forth

Tools like slack and email on the phone have made it easier for us to go back-and-forth with colleagues on questions. I’ve been paying attention to the many times I’ve been guilty of initiating these sorts of conversations.

These start with an unassuming “Hey, quick question -” and soon spiral into – “Oh, does that mean….?”

Every once a while, these back-and-forths exist because of the complexity of the problem. It is hard to ask that next question if you know little about the problem. But, more often than not, a little bit of upfront thought could help us lay out the 4-5 questions we actually do want to ask.

Giving that extra bit of thought upfront and batching our questions can make a big difference to the productivity of the person on the receiving end.

Here’s to doing that.