09 // Signs & Survival

Who do we become in survival? What remains after?

No one is just ok.

I have engaged, (perhaps overindulged) with the onslaught of news that Covid-19 has brought to our doorsteps. I have friends who have lost loved ones overnight and know others who were not able to attend a dignified burial for the risk of exposure. Some are standing over hospital beds in ICU wards. The coronavirus pandemic has ravaged and decimated families and the pain will ripple for some time. My ideas of work, its necessity, and how meaningful it is to me, are all in flux. It is good to have work to do and to feel well in doing it well. That is different from our idea of what working does to us, and what it means to have it taken away. For some, it is an inconvenience. For others, it is an issue of livelihood.

I tried writing about it, but that was an exercise I was not fully prepared for. These days, ‘enough’ is defined by being here. This terrain is a substance we have not encountered before, and there are no maps. We are all forced to become cartographers of the present.

It seems that overnight, the interwebs are overrun with epidemiologists, futurists, and policy experts. The business of expertise is going through upheaval, largely because the fallacy of having answers has been replaced by a more sobering thesis: in a world with few answers, are we being given the quality of questions we deserve? What are we seeking to answer? What day of the week is it? Never before have charts been better at illustrating nuances of my own life.

I had originally planned for much of Q1 to be spent working through a different set of questions about the world of work, and what that currently means. It’s clearly halfway through Q2, and I’m trying to just get my bearings. But I have been thinking about working through a few things:

History is a necessary inconvenience.

Much has been said about the Spanish Flu of 1918, and the direct and real corollaries between what we are experiencing and the similarities to what damage was done globally, and how recovery felt.

But there is another example, that I'd argue is even more apt to some of the outcomes we are already experiencing and seeing in the United States: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. It is a story, like the one unfolding before us, that sets the socioeconomic, cultural, and psychological weight clearly in chilling detail. The present sometimes looks like the past, sometimes on a faster loop with familiar scenery and different characters.

(A lot of things) are about the math.

Our desire for economic forecasts increases when our ability to accurately forecast decreases.

- Morgan Housel

Not all information is created equal or sourced adequately. Why?

That's why how we count is sometimes only an exercise in making ourselves feel better, and not a conversation about harsh realities that are being exacerbated. Intellectual jousting about what the market is doing because we can only agree that we disagree about what is happening and why it's taking place. Then again, how we perceive numbers is a different conversation. It’s also irrevocably political.

Plus, most models we see, are hypothesizing a moving target. But those same models can help It is all imperfect. Understanding that might be the key to helping make everything more useful.

Predators don’t need prey. Just insecurity.

All of us pay for convenience somehow, somewhere. But when panic is palpable, there the feeling that information is rare becomes a storm unto itself. When everything feels harder (and is in fact, more difficult) you can corner any market selling it to those who might have been without it in the first place or simply feel plagued by guilt for not knowing something they couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be expected to have known. Selling aspiration is an easier lift than communicating value.

Over-optimization (can be) a trap. Oversimplification is its spoiled cousin.

The psychological effects of a pandemic last much longer than the disease itself. Of all the things that come with it, one of the most pervasive indications is that the toll of shame is expansive. We all feel it somewhere, albeit in different ways. It impacts every factor of our well-being, and make it that much harder to feel the psychological safety we need to make decisions that are in our best interest. Shame for what we should have known, could have done, didn't see, should have prepared for, should have been resilient too. Whether the reality is right or wrong, is no comfort at the moment for how we feel and what our responses may be. It also says nothing about the work we do to make the living we want. Regardless, self-doubt is a raging river with big rocks.

Our toolstack(s) are being upended and fortified.

I’m not sure the question is whether Asana is better than Trello which might not be as good as Notion, which doesn't do what Monday.com does. If you have the means and space to ask it, it actually: To what/whom is my alignment too, and does this specific tool help me get there without incurring a huge cost of switching? Tools are only as good as the ends that they aid us in, not in the celebration that they could bring us somewhere.

Slack never replaced email.

They were successful in telling me how much less email I'd get, and building a product to support that thesis. Eliminating an incumbent necessity like email is difficult. Being a tool that could reduce my anxiety around my inbox though? LOVE TO SEE IT. In a newly minted normal, autonomy and the distribution of our work is taking shape, but it’s too early to call out exactly how and what that shape may look like.

Ideological battles will be fought in the same places we go for insight.

A friend recently opined on Marc Andressen's soliloquy on growth as a "Manifest Destiny 2.0". With enough leverage, public opinions become philosophies because they can travel at the speed of our attention. We are in a time of rhetoric about what could be bumping up directly against the reality of what is and the history of what has been. If you build something new, innovative, and what becomes of the ‘nation inside a nation’ we already have?

Community helps sustains us.

Given the distance between us, time in and among the people we hold close are clear. Even the way we describe jobs that focus on community is lacking. But it has never been more of a conscious and consistent need in our day to day interactions. Psychological safety is a prerequisite hard to come by when we can’t go by to see the things that were part of our routines. In starting new ones and deconstructing others, there is a gap that can form. Whether its group chats, slack groups, or webinars, we want to gather. With anything though, what moderation and sensitivity look like, is a complex jumble of unlearning, testing, and stumbling through cognitive overload.

It’s hard, but it is also different.

This is happening to everyone, but not in the same way, and not with the same outcomes. The future is uncertain, the past is obscured, and the present can have a certain kind of instability in it. Stress is something we can feel, but the extent of how that stress expands and spreads is cut across fault lines. Inside of all of that, are the seeds of the stories we tell, the meaning we put to words, and what being heard means.

Nostalgia and art (still) transport us.

Travis Scott sat on a planet, had 12M people involved, and released an exclusive NERF gun, all inside of Fortnite. Teddy Riley reminded us that proper preparation prevents poor performance, but memes live forever. A soundclash to choose whether WizKid or Vybz Kartel is the superior artist in the most subjective way possible? YOU LOVE TO SEE IT. No matter how it comes or where it comes from, what we remember, and how we experience that, is continually etched and imprinted on our memories. We find ways to take ourselves where we need to go, even when it feels far. The vehicles will look different, but the scenery can still be beautiful.

Be well and take care of yourself.

08 // Fluency & Silence

How does work ethic influence legacy, if we know that we are more than what we make?

The untimely and visceral death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianni has removed most of my appetite for the past week. It was devastating personally, and

This is the first time I have had the energy to write, and even now, it feels insufficient. The helicopter he was in, went down 15 minutes from where I live in LA, which aside from being horrifying, has sobered me in ways I am still struggling to interpret.

After the tears and the anger, followed by more of both, I have tried to wrestle with two things: how time and legacy intertwine, and the dense and overwhelming feeling of corporate grief that I feel connected too. I was in Target, buying an oversized Epsom Salt bag, and a woman, adorned in all purple was pushing her cart slowly, talking to a friend. She had found a way to match every shade of purple in our natural world, together. I crashed into a stack of all-natural disinfectant wipes due to how substantial her drip was. She was talking on the phone, and as I picked up the supplies I had spilled and said:

You know, I heard about the Kobe thing and it was so tragic girl.. Then I thought, my son, and how he was flying is somewhere in the air to that same day. I dunno girl.

I dunno either.

For the fam

Frederick Douglass was the most popular man in America at the turn of the century 19th century. He had to find a balance between silence, environment, responsibility, and the burden of purpose he was faced with, complex and otherworldly for the time he occupied. Perhaps, that tension is best explained through a letter he wrote to the slave owner who was refusing to let him free his sisters from their captivity:

I will now bring this letter to a close, you shall hear from me again unless you let me hear from you. I intend to make use of you as a weapon with which to assail the system of slavery—as a means of concentrating public attention on the system, and deepening their horror of trafficking in the souls and bodies of men. I shall make use of you as a means of exposing the character of the American church and clergy—and as a means of bringing this guilty nation with yourself to repentance. In doing this I entertain no malice towards you personally. There is no roof under which you would be more safe than mine, and there is nothing in my house which you might need for your comfort, which I would not readily grant. Indeed, I should esteem it a privilege, to set you an example as to how mankind ought to treat each other.

I am your fellow man, but not your slave.

To read it almost two hundred years in the future, it leaps off the page. But this is a fairly commonplace letter in the context Douglass’ of the full canon of his work. He was prolific and poignant in all his correspondence. It was his default to lead with a flourish of the pen that made him legendary and formidable. But here, he simply wanted his sisters to be free. So he did what he knew how to do, in the best way he knew how with all of the leverage he possessed.

Both Kobe and Frederick were known for their voracious production and work ethic, in the context of what brought them to the top of their chosen vocations. ‘Profession’ is too simple a word to describe the weight with which they attacked their easels. To say it was the most important is to, unintentionally or otherwise, reduce people to what our choice of remembrance feels like. Memory, much like pain, is shared, which makes for a unique kind of discomfort and special kind of pride.

But that's exactly where the paradox is found. What becomes so fascinating about work ethic is how far apart it can set you, sometimes, for reasons that aren't necessarily the intention; by the very nature of how it compounds, what appears average is in fact not, and is easily discounted. It also can quickly become the full idea of a legacy, instead of an input that led to it. In Derek Jeter's tribute, he lays it bare an:

Kobe just loved being a dad.

And when it comes to his legacy, I really hope we’re able to take the time to remember that as an essential part of it.

The Black Mamba was a Black Dad.

The weight and compounding nature of grief that humbles and challenges us is inescapable. We engage with loss across different spectrums, times, and degrees. But no one escapes it. We need time that we say we do not have. To yell. To stare silently in disbelief. To log off and have no intention of returning. To, possibly mourn in whatever way allows for the most space.

That is, most often, what is denied a people who so desperately need space to process. Exhaling is always a taxable behavior when a breath is a luxury. If there is a time for everything under the sun, then we deserve time for what we are feeling. It wasn’t just that we were grieved over Kobe. We simultaneously had to publicly grapple with finiteness on this side of life in a way that was unspeakable and excruciating.

The deeper irony is the surprise that Kobe was as close to. That has more to do with what how we cover men who play, juxtaposed to women who play. To inquire ceaselessly of Serena’s journey through motherhood, but to not interrogate Kobe’s journey of fatherhood until posthumously, is a disservice that is the media environment and culture we occupy. We get to decide how we engage with the many dimensions of the figures who we say we hold dear. They deserve, as everyone, to be human on this side of life, even if their physical acts routinely defied what we deemed as possible. Love does that too, and we find unique ways to take that for granted too.

That is perhaps my hope for this month of futures, presents, and remembrances. That, throughout all the intensive marketing of black faces, commingled tales of achievement and survival, for all the virtue-signaling that will be rampant, maybe there could be other opportunities to have richer conversations that center everything we are, without the expense of minimizing us

07 // Inside and Out: A Brief Review of an Excruciating Year

What if an Annual Letter to Shareholders and a sonnet had a child that was this email?

I hope you are getting some time to recharge, reset, eat food, and just generally not do things. Doing less right now is your job. Please take it seriously. This is a long long read. If you feel so compelled to share it, please do that. Or simply screenshot and add your own annotations. That’s what it’s here for.

* * *

‘Tis the seasons of vision boarding, reflection posts, and assessments. It’s the time of year that I unsubscribe ruthlessly, unfollow judiciously, and generally clear the clutter that has amassed in my own mental attic. There is much to be grateful for because there was so much I cried over. The rejections brought a more sustainable sense of patience because they were mine.

I am limping into 2020. Not running, flying, skipping, or jogging. ACL tear energy with twice a day rehab and intensive training is more my current speed. I’m not embarrassed by it, but that in itself was more recent. I did, however, struggle with how low the lows were, and how the highs weren’t what I expected. 2019 was what it needed to be, even if I barely made it through. Courage quietly manifested in the private moments. It was a year in which I lost performance as a metric of a life well-lived. I prefer the stretching of a student. I forgot what freshman year can be. 2019 reminded me in detail. Frankly, I’m happy I didn’t get things I wanted this year. I would have mismanaged them.

There were moments where I wondered about the importance of a year like this. It most certainly was not one of the outputs. I felt the build of creative energy in my mind, but there were blockages to bringing things to fruition. I did not produce at the level I wanted, and I encountered a drought that was pervasive and visceral. Felt love I couldn’t speak on, then realized I was the issue I had been protecting myself from. I was afraid to be creative, unsure about my own skills, and happier to be hidden. I didn’t want to write, but I wanted to be held like a book you love; close and every page brings you deeper. And I made ribs in my Instapot and they were phenomenal. Really.

I made a credo that governs the exercise below, to ensure that it is meaningful and not just a rhetorical symphony of noise. Three rules govern my process of self-inquiry at the end of the year. I miss the mark, but they provide the buffers I need for this to be actionable and :

Waste no words. Hide no fears. Force no resolutions.

Questions That Don’t Need Answers

For longevity, I discovered its more beneficial for me to understand the reason than the outcome. Having a list of questions is a forcing function for me because I can come back to them with new eyes. They are individually helpful but collectively transformative as the parts of something deeper. The six that have made me pause:

  1. Do I need to be remembered as the person who did ______, or am I, okay being the person who still did _____ and never saw it come to the fruition I wanted, in my lifetime?

  2. Am I open to learning that will require me to assume and embrace the role of a novice, or am I opting out of this experience to fortify the perception of mastery?

  3. Am I labeling the discomfort of this growth as unnecessary, because I do not think I am worth what this growth will reveal about what I am not?

  4. If nothing in my life ever changed, and today was the peak, how would I pursue joy?

  5. If I got everything I desired today, what would change about me as a person?

  6. What am I not owed?

General Learnings (read: stuff I saw that made me think )

  1. Oversimplification of the wrong things is a trap that eliminates any opportunity for learning.

    The older I get, the more I respect how much genius it requires to make things simple. There is an art to distilling. But there is another side to that. The hot take becomes the cold serving much faster than expected. Avoiding these traps is a healthy way to not lose your time in reductive contests of signaling. Who really wins when we try to shame people who get bi-weekly paychecks? There is a difference between simplifying something to understand it, and minimizing it so you can appear more informed. Stupid games always have stupid prizes.

  2. Unspoken expectations are the Theranos’ of any relationship. Don’t do it.
    Fraudulent, overhyped, and unsustainable. Empathy is not mind reading, and what someone else did because they knew you, is not what someone who is getting to know you will automatically understand. Using your words can be difficult if you never had the language, but learning how and then working through it is table stakes.

  3. Know your code, and frequently interrogate it.
    Influence is silent because it does not need a podium. It instead can secret into the mundane, and gain control through activities that don’t appear linked, until you find that your entire framework for why you do something has shifted, slowly. And questions remain:

    a. What would I rather die for than betray?
    b. What would you give your life over?
    c. How am I going to live, and why?

  4. Don’t confuse the vehicle with the mission.

    Succession plans > talking about how successful the things you’ll always be doing will be. Sometimes, you have to get out of what you are driving in, so you can get a better view. Getting to that view though might make you get out of a very nice vehicle you like, so you can get a better vantage point for what you are trying to do. The mission requires what other things will ask you to deny.

  5. You don’t fully encounter the beginning of what you have faith in until you begin to engage with the paradoxes that influence it.

    The paradoxes are what lead to deeper questions. Avoidance is what makes it feel like you can’t ask the questions your heart needs too, so you vacuum seal them and freeze them. The question isn’t the answer, but it’s impossible to start without it.

  6. To do requires action. “To be” requires transformation.

    The productivity industrial complex would have us believe that, if we were just doing the right things more often, and had sharper goals, we’d be where we needed to be. Aside from providing no nuance (see #1), it leaves a crucial step on the table: you the right things right now, will change tactically and specifically, at different points in your life. I am not speaking about principles, but

  7. To continually cancel appointments with yourself is to make a clear and everpresent statement about what you think you are worth, then announce it from a megaphone.

    It’s not about your calendar. It’s about how you honor what you said you would do for you, just because it’s you. PERIODT (as the kids say).

  8. Explicating where you feel pain, is not analogous to being ‘negative’. We treat specific emotions with disdain because they are wildly unpopular, and less easily sedated. They are immovable from our experience.

    There are negative things. There are people whose center of gravity can revolve around believing that things cannot happen. Protecting your space in that regard is important. But sometimes it is not that. It is lament, sadness, and grief that echoes in spaces because the acoustics are there and it needs space for the reverb to do its job. Space to call things what they are, and to be still, with those unspeakable and untenable things, is needed.

  9. We build monuments to everything that we refuse to let go of.

    Never intentionally, we’re too smart for that. We just rename it.

  10. Freedom from something is different than freedom for something.

    Freedom from is how the idea of entrepreneurship has become much more like a cult than an opportunity matrix. The way it’s described as a zero-sum equation: If you aren’t doing it, you’ll never experience freedom. But that’s what’s so elusive abut the definition. If it is, then it must also be freedom for something. What do we use what we so desperately want, to do?

    Things I Learned About Myself (read: have applied and/or still grappling with)

  1. I have a preoccupation with silencing my own needs while disguising it as “service.”

    The role I have in my family is not the role I have in other people’s lives. I understood this on an intellectual level, but interpersonally I still may have wanted to be more than I should. I also realized how much of that as true when others did it to me, inadvertently. Conversational narcissism is not confined to making an exchange all about yourself; it is also about trying to solve an empathy gap you may have because you don’t want to appear insensitive the moment you hear something you haven’t experienced. It’s like walking through a cancer ward with a broken arm, announcing that “you too feel pain” to all the patients and the attending nurses. I am guilty on both accounts, for accepting and displaying that.

  2. My biggest vice has been perfectionism as an identity marker.

It’s a tough pill to communicate that what you do has nothing to do with how you feel. It is entirely different to wonder if there is something wrong. When I under-perform to my own standards, it can become crippling because of how I dissect what happened and slows down my ability to move towards a solution. I missed my own targets this year in almost every facet of my life. That felt like a failure, which is actually what learning feels like. Then there was the personal reckoning with that which I couldn’t control. Both hurt, but one leaves scars.

  1. Space is a love language of mine that is hard to articulate and difficult for many not to take personally.

People vary tremendously in what they need, how they need it communicated, and their current level of capacity to receive that which they say they need (assuming they were able to find the words to use to tell you). NEEDS. A fascinating context in a zeitgeist obsessed with independence as a marker of strength. Sometimes, I have too many tabs open and have to sort through the pages, get what I need from the information presented, then close them so I can get more of my personal memory bank. The speed at which I can stop communicating and go directly into my mind for prolonged periods of time is jarring for anyone who comes in contact with it. It can, without proper explanation when required, feel intimate and personal. It may also seem unbelievable given the public nature of what I have done revolves around a high level of communication. How do you negotiate the feeling of distance, with a need to express space as actually a language of love that has nothing to do with the person being a problem? I am naturally distant as a core function of my personality, not as a response to people. That perspective leads to insensitivity if I can never see outside of it though. So I had to decide whether I wanted to be “right” and alone with my pride to keep me warm, or lay that down and start to hear what it was I refused too.

This process continues to be arduous, but it is a core part of who I am. I have done a poor job of telling people this for two reasons: (1) I internalized earlier experiences of not always believing I deserved the space I needed (2) it triggers a feeling of remorse that is projected back into our relationship in a way that requires more management. I anticipated the guilt even when there was nothing to be guilty about so much, I made it into an unconscious reality. I know my friends love me deeply, I’m just not always sure how to check in on them when I feel like I have nothing to give (see #1) which feels like I am a failure. None of that is true, but I have not solved this issue, but knowledge of what role I play in it, has helped me become more proactive. There is much at risk conversations about this, so learning how to be more exploratory and less accusatory has led to deeper insights and a more amicable process of letting go of what no longer is, or welcoming what could be the beginning of a fruitful relationship, platonic or otherwise.

  1. Grieving for the living is a pain unto itself.

    I had to create some eulogies for the time that passed between myself and others. Getting urgent emails while walking someone into urgent care is all you need to reevaluate what words mean, and how they. To remember death is a consistent way to honor the life I have. I never thought I’d live forever, but that hasn’t made learning how to live, in the fullness thereof, any easier.

  2. I am a good communicator. I am also a bad communicator. I am both.

    I suck at communicating with anyone I haven’t asked how they would like to be communicated with. All the EQ in the world still means I will misstep if I don’t ask questions to learn what I could never know on my own.

  3. The healing hit different when I stopped obsessing over how long it might take to feel better.

    Healing is kind of like hot yoga; at a certain point, you realize that the only way you are going to make it out of that room without melting into your mat, is by focusing on what you need to be doing. Everyone is sweating, but you are not everyone, and that backbend is not going to do itself. That’s why its called a practice and not an achievement.

  4. I find no value in achievement and my ambitions are being updated to reflect where I am trying to go, instead of what I want to appear to be.

    This terrifies me. Saying it feels like a betrayal of the highest order. It feels like a violation of some code that I held, that no longer exists is deeply concerning to me. Not because of achievement per se, but because it makes me wonder about the drive that I so diligently protected, and I attributed to my ability to get me here, wherever that may be. The things I’ve done or maybe known for, mean much more to people around me than they do to me personally. I enjoy seeing them move forward, but I not sure the same fuel I used to push myself here, is renewable. I don’t want much of anything I see. The byproducts are nice, but they do not match up to what I see.

    But if I’m not ambitious the way I was, who am I? What am I worth out here? Will I still be a meaningful contributor to the culture? Will, as Money Mitch mused, the game still loves me? Why do I care so much if it does? Have I conflated legacy with being a monument to other people? Why do I think that’s all I have to give? How did I learn how to limit myself this way? If all I measure is outcomes, didn’t I miss the point?

  5. I do not have friends with the expectation they will simply resolve situations for me. I have friends because people have chosen of their own volition to bare witness to the realities of my life.

    The distinction has helped me deepen existing bonds, and let go of spaces where others may want to solve problems that I do not require. Sometimes that’s bumped into their issues of self-worth relative to what people expect of them that they have yet to push back on. The demands of my life are becoming more extreme. Some things I can speak on, others I cannot. My village has moved with me to both scenarios. They held me accountable to loving myself. Every time I forgot, they got creative.

  6. I have the occasional urge to slap fire out of my peers for lying to the people we say we want to help. I expect the same from them if I do it.

    We do a tragic disservice when we chose to wax poetic when we could have said: “I don’t know”. There is a lot of false flagging disguised as cosigns because we’d rather sit next to people instead of holding them accountable. Here’s the problem though: people really believe you once you cross a threshold of where they may want to be. The speed of trust accelerates, and you get to make a decision. You can act like you have no influence and that you are just “doing you”, or you can believe you do whether you want it or not, and chose how you will act.

    Less capping, and more talking about what these cap tables mean. If I can’t teach what I learn, I don’t know it well enough. “I don’t know” is beautiful.

  7. A damaged inner child has resulted in me crafting a silent monster that comes alive whenever there appears to be a threat to the safety of little Jonathan.

    Right now, I’d rather be a hero to a younger version of myself, than an expert to anyone else. If the byproduct is that I am somehow, then so be it, but I’ve stopped confusing the byproduct ith the focus. I spend much more time with that part of myself, and it’s helpful.

  8. I did not spend enough time developing platonic intimacy with other men in my life until 2019.

    A much longer and more necessary written exploration is forthcoming, but there was, until very recently a large gap in how I engage with other men my age, and how we structurally relate to each other. I have found so much joy and excitement in these bonds, which is a wonder why it took me so long to fashion them. Now, I can’t imagine my life with that connectivity.

  9. My brokenness offended people. The way they told me this was by offering help I didn’t ask for or assuming I wasn’t caring for myself.

    I was upset for a long time over this. Resentful too. Then, as I had less time to spend seething, I was able to see that, I was better for these new pieces of information about how people regarded me when I struggled. Pettythan, my less attractive and more vindictive alter ego, thought about maybe gifting all the people who ask ‘are you in therapy’ their own therapy sessions since it became immediately clear they thought I could be Amazon Priming my way to wellness.

  10. Family dynamics may never adjust to what I would like, but I also have the opportunity (and if I so choose the responsibility) to challenge the norms I disagree with in healthy ways.

    They do not have to be loud, overbearing, or even targeted adaptations. That could mean I simply just don’t do things in my life, that I was shown. I can be delicate, thoughtful, and firm. It’s taken me some trial and error in how to do that, but it is possible and necessary. Maybe we spend less time talking about who doesn’t trust who, and explaining what a living trust can do.

  11. I decided that I am interested in being a partner to someone, but had never considered how much work learning to receive was going to be.

    I also realized I had to learn this entire part of life that I had never known existed. It was as if, there was a complete section of my emotional library that had no books in it, and I had “made it” this far without it. It was embarrassing at first, but over time I wanted to explore this. If I can learn this, then there’s an entire world I get to explore that I thought I’d never had access too by virtue of never seeing it practiced.

  12. I will risk (almost) anything to put myself in a position to learn.

    I regained the confidence I thought I lost when I realized that I was betting on myself in major ways, it just wasn’t affirmed publicly. That’s when I stopped looking outside of myself for confirmation that I was moving in the right direction. I think I wanted more support at first, but I have come to see that I didn’t think I deserved the places I arrived at, which made me seek confirmation that doesn’t mean anything. I’ll do this for the rest of my life. Things that take time away from exploration feel crippling. It has become apparent that I learn in places some might not see as tenable. That may never stop, but the support I need will have to change so I can continue along that path.

  13. Most “wrongs,” I think should be righted, have more to do with a narcissism stemming from what I think I am owed because of the offense.

    That is not to say anything about justice in a structural sense, but on a personal level, I can easily project what I think I should get because of whatever series of reasons baked carefully into a narrative and warmed at the temperature of my pride.

  14. Parenting other people is a role that doesn’t have to define me, and shouldn’t set the context for where I find value.

    All that responsibility is exhausting, until I chose to reframe it, and stop trying to be a hero. No capes over here.

  15. My 20s have been jampacked of a subtle objectification based on my intelligence, but the care never extended to who I was as a person. I believed, internalized, and acted that I was only as good as what I could talk about.

    I stopped speaking almost entirely because I never felt like I was doing anything other than being ogled. I gained much more value being in my apartment reading than being outside. I swung the pendulum too far in one direction though, so I have been slowly working to find ways of better energy management. I cannot avoid who I am, but I also don’t have to leave other things unexplored.

    I’m grateful to be regarded as a thinker and a doer. I am perplexed by how much of that encompasses all of who I am in public. My private life is much more interesting because it’s mine. The tension between the two still rages, but my ability to manage it(or just not mismanage it), has grown.

  16. Craft > work.

    There are always things. Deadlines, places, meetings, and yes, more meetings. But none of that is more important than the space I need to do none of them, so I can sit with what I need. I’ve been learning that ‘craft’ is more important than simply talk through what I ‘work’ on. When I say ‘work’, more often than not I mean learning and application, confusion, editing, and the repetition that comes from immediately putting things down and into the constant conversation.

    I punished myself for not making things, by not honoring the space I was in. I didn’t have it, and that was because I did not allow myself the slowness it takes to not rush things, or the deliberate effort that comes with refusing the inspiration industrial complex. A portfolio is what I am after. One where you can flip through the pages and they are worn but filled. Some are tattered, bent, ripped. Others have annotations top to bottom. But anywhere you open it, it tells the same story: I left nothing in this life.

    Excellence isn’t always the most important thing. Sometimes, good enough is good enough. The things I don’t delegate are more about my pride than whether or not someone else can do it. I do not want to chase the wrong things with the right ferocity. I’m working to connect things that don’t always speak to each other, so it makes sense I’ve struggled with it. I don’t want a house for my work. I want a power grid that lights up anything that comes near it. No one evicts you from the land they didn’t find value in. Excellence will always be a synonym for perfection if I do not define it.

  17. My perspective is more powerful than my perseverance.

    I spent a tremendous amount of time asking why. Perhaps too much. There are some questions in my life, that will not get answered on this side of it, no matter how earnest my pleas, or honest my behavior. I am not owed that. But what did give me space and margin to explore things, was when I worked to reconfigure the vantage point. None of my circumstances changed in 2019. Problems I had, got worse. Cancers came out of remission, pressure intensified. But what did change was a discovery of how I could make the most out of what I have. What will I do next in spite of everything I am seeing? It is a much more empowering way for me to walk, run, crawl, and sometimes inch forward.

  18. I grew my hair out because it was the only thing I felt wasn’t dying around me.

    Conditioning and moisturizing my hair have been the most critical action of loving myself in 2019. I had to teach myself how to do it, and once I developed a routine, it spilled into other parts of my life. Now my apartment looks like I’ve been on a string of beauty supply robberies and I run my cash-only braiding cartel out of my kitchen. This is 4C.

  19. Reflection without action is poisonous to me.

    Because I am prone to deep swaths of inner dialogue if I reflect on something, I have to give it away, or I tend to revisit it. There’s comfort in some of the spaces, even if they are no longer good for me. Questions are sacred because they allow me to clear space. I spend time asking them so I do not begin to worship them.

    A Thank You

    I appreciate you welcoming me into your inbox, and engaging with my creative missives, as I’ve worked to find a voice that is both all my own, and focused on creating more knowledge at the edge of my own skillset. It is a privilege to be here, with you right now. In 2020, I'll be delivering more originals, more writing at the edge of what I know, an updated cadence, and some special surprises.

    Here’s to a new year and more opportunities for us to explore what we don’t know and expand on what we do.

06 // A Most Delicate Instrument

If the power of the mind isn't a joke, why do we play with it so much?

You ache with the need to convince yourself that you do exist in the real world, that you're a part of all the sound and anguish, and you strike out with your fists, you curse and you swear to make them recognize you. And, alas, it's seldom successful.

 - Richard Wright, Invisible Man

 ‘Mental Health’ is the new ‘Hustle’

The phrase ‘mental health’ is overwhelmingly broad and verbose. You can use it as a blanket for anything. In fact, putting it in front of, in the middle, or  

Mental health is super important. Definitely not something to neglect.

I think these days, it’s critical that mental health comes first, for anyone with a high-stress job look after themselves.

The mental health of the  *insert well-funded entity* team is a top priority which is why we give * BIG PERK* to all our employees. We want you to not just work, but live.

If you say something enough, it begins to mean whatever you say it does. If you’re looking to try this out for yourself, here are a few test words The specific becomes subjective with unprecedented velocity.

It h has become a garnish; sprinkled across, under, and through things to soften their bite and satiate cultural correctness in large part caused by the changing dynamics of work environments. A new generation simply won’t tolerate the norm, so friction ensues. That is more a population story than a discussion about the hysteria we encounter in our lives. It’s pretty hard to care for yourself, all things considered. You don’t even have to do work to talk about how important it is; you just need to read about stress and the terrors it causes, and share about how you would never that become your life.

But for all the talking, sharing, and caping that comes with mental health, I’ve noticed the glaring and persistent gap in the discourse continues to widen; little to nothing is said daily hygiene that keeps most of us intact or, without it, shattered. PTSD is no respecter of persons or environment., yet we somehow still want proof. That’s the paradox sight; we need to see it too believe it, but we can still invent things that aren’t true to satisfy what we want to see come to life. What a time to be conflicted.

The remedy is not the prescription

My mom is a board-certified Registered Nurse, If you ask her, she will tell you that she is a “medical professional”, because it more fully encapsulates her skillset, and she does what she wants.  It’s true. She gets recertified every year in multiple states so she can continue practicing her chosen vocation. She’s been a trauma nurse, home health and hospice, pediatric, outpatient, and ICU. There are few situations she hasn’t seen, and her grasp of what you may need for what ailments persist is astounding. She really knows things.  

Yet, with all that, she will still ask me, the same question about me, every winter, any time I develop a cold:

“Have you rubbed yourself with Watkins yet?!”

If you are unfamiliar with Watkins, let me get you in the mix:

It’s the older, more oval cousin of Vicks, and sits squarely in the West Indian mom starter kit for all ailments, across from Apple Cider Vinegar (add some water, gargle twice, and swallow the third time) and right underneath prayer. A LIKKLE dash (which is an important measuring standard), is all that is required when sickness comes for you on that flight, in seat 12B, when another grown adult showcases their inability to cover their mouth when they couch all over the handrest.

Even with her training, she will prioritize remedies that are natural along with ‘modern medicine’. She is by no means an anti-vaxxer or one who shuns regular check-ups. On the contrary, she is vigilant about them. But she has somehow encoded the same amount of space for but she also knows that medicine is in the eye of the person prescribing things to you. It would offend people’s sensibilities if you have no context for where she grew up and what “care” looked like. That might be why I grew up knowing what Echinacea was before I knew that people took Tylenol. As I’ve thought about it, it may have been an exercise in centering culture while being mindful of advancements that enhance, but never cancel out remedies. It’s the reason she never let doctors overprescribe me (because the easiest way to label a child is to say they need something they don’t, you know like  Ritalin in the 90s)

We know the burnout hits differently, its just hard to discuss the what, the how, and the cost of surviving both. This time of year, everything gets exposed. There is no hiding in Q4. Only unearthing.

Counting the Unfamiliar

I spoke to a neurologist recently, who helped me reframe my entire view of illness and its relationship to our minds. Simply:  

How many steps go into making a cup of coffee? How about ordering one?

 You do not think about it normally, because it is an unconscious function. That’s the point. You only become aware of the complexity when you are forced too, either through experience or visibility. You do not know how many steps go into making a cup of coffee, until you can't remember how to do it.  Everything is simple when you do not have to realize you had to learn it to begin with. The mind works similarly. You take for granted how much processing you do, about everything and everyone, until there is a gap, and you are forced to recognize it. We speak of the brain, but its complexities still confound us. I think that’s the point. To speak of something, but not fully know it, is the height of willful ignorance.

That’s why hobbies are more important than side hustles. In all this conversation of multiple streams, somehow, we forget that there is value in just having things that give yourself room to breathe. A byproduct is how these actions steel you for the environments where you have to make difficult decisions with limited information in adverse conditions. To not cultivate things for yourself is to simple do because you enjoy them, is to slowly starve yourself and intentionally keep the most important parts of you malnourished.

In fact, that simple cultivation of a  increases your ability to apply new insights into the things that make you money. The higher the pressure of the environment, the deeper the need to step away and craft a space that doesn’t echo.

But instead, we wax poetic about multiple streams of income, and never multiple streams of rest. The latter has an exponential impact on your ability to generate whatever idea of “more” that you have for yourself. Our addiction to self-improvement doesn’t actually solve the main focus of the hyperbole; to be is to decide what you won’t be doing, because you do not have time to be anything other than what you decide.

20mg of Peace

There was a day, not too long ago, when I realized that my dog and I had the same anxiety medication. His name is Tank, and he is gluten free. My mother, the medical professional referenced above, affectionally calls him her  “grand puppy”. He is 12 years old. I have already said more than necessary about the situation.

Due to an incessant travel schedule, our family dog developed a fairly severe case of anxiety, which manifested in random bouts of peeing in the house, destroying every single bed he has ever been given, eating specific shoes of people he didn’t like, and altogether doing anything for attention to make sure we knew he was there. When my brother would return, he would be fine, then once another business trip beckoned him onto another plane, the cycle would repeat.

This particular day, I was getting ready to give him his daily water and realized that one of the bottles that his meds were in was eerily similar to the same one I had on my nightstand for most of college: 20mg of Citalopram.

Citalopram is known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI).  Simply, it works to help restore balance to a natural substance found in your body and nervous system (serotonin). Things like cognition, memory, learning, and a bunch of other physiological processes are tied into that neurotransmitter. I know this because when you lose a part of your brain functioning as I did, you are forced to learn more about how it works than you ever thought. That’s another newsletter though. Simply, that pill bottle helped me navigate a significant portion of my undergraduate studies, in a space that was so viscerally destructive, reflecting on it gives me pause. Nothing profound there, just more space worth exploring.

My vice of choice is perfection. I just spent time calling it execution and making excuses for why building things never left me feeling better than before.  My coping mechanisms were, until very recently, staying as close to everything I mastered so as to avoid the discomfort of radical change. The most dangerous orientation for someone like me is not the pressures of work, failure, financial insecurity, or even extreme pain. It is the overwhelming feeling that I have to prove something to someone, somewhere, and that if I don’t do it, all the things I think might go wrong, will come true.

05// Economies of Influence Part 4: The good that hide young

If you have 'it', do yu need to talk about it so they know you got it?

This is part four of a four part series on influence. What it does, how we use it, and what it does and what that means. Part 1,  Part 2, and Part 3,  might be interesting for someone who doesn't get this newsletter yet. Screenshot away. This is the overdue finale.

I had a strong plan for this newsletter, which should have happened two weeks ago. It was fuego. Research is an art that allows distance because you can sift through reams of information and pick out what you are looking for. With practice and precision, you elucidate thoughts clearly and deliberately. I enjoy that process immensely. It’s what made me almost complete several PhD applications many moons ago. Almost. That ceases to be possible when you become the research you're doing. It's me. I’m the footnote.

I took a new job in a new place and I'm still figuring it out. As part of that job, I have to do more public things in a more pronounced way, more consistently, than I have had to do. 

So I sent a tweet out because I had a new job, I have to hire across 2020, and I actually would only be telling the facts about what it is that I am doing. Light work. Until it wasn’t. Immediately following what was a simple and standard internet activity.

I was bedridden for 24 hours following my own announcement. The last time I was rendered that immovable I had UPN was dominating the ratings, and Sega Dreamcast was the pinnacle of technological advancement. I thought I was having an allergic reaction, to something. I was, except the something was myself. Rather, this new reality that I had sequestered myself from.

1. What is my own relationship with influence (the kind I have and what it means)?

  1. Why do I like thinking about influence, but shy away from managing my own? 
    3. What was my mind doing to make me think this was protecting me?

    We’ll focus on the first two because the 3rd is another email for another time.

    Perhaps, the most dangerous thing you might face as a polymath doesn’t happen until you start getting appreciated for one of the multitudes you have. The trap that I have been unsuccessful at avoiding is the assertion that being noticed for your intelligence is the same thing as being seen as equal because of it. That’s why we hide. The fear of being seeing for the immensity outweighs the ease of just exhibiting a small portion that you can control.

Most people with a public persona tell you that the downsides outweigh the upsides. They have a target on their back from critics. They have less creative freedom. They feel irresponsible when they turn down opportunities because they know other people would kill for the chance. It’s not all bad of course, but there are real problems that go along with fame and fortune.

- Ryan Holiday

If your reason for being quiet is simply not to be like them, you are living a lie of convenience. Worse, it is an insidious kind of selfishness. I know, because I have embraced it much longer than anyone I know. People who do deep work often spend time avoiding who they don't want to be, and don't necessarily work on more of who they are trying to become. Both are important models, but they work in conjunction. If you lean too heavily on one side, you can become obsessive without direction. The same intensity that can create a space for you, can also hollow you out. 

The moment your status changes in any visible capacity, friction enters the equation. You aren’t simply just doing your work; you are managing the external reality that was previously only internal. Your velocity outpaces everything around you, because you are breaking free. It's exhilarating and terrifying. I tended to focus on terror because I often think I can solve it more easily than anything else. If not solve, at least survive it long enough to find a makeshift operating structure that allows me to get by. The issue is that it followed me for so long, I befriended it. It helped me cope with the survivorship bias; the weighted blanket forced upon you when you "make it". That is to say, ascend past the mean, and arrive at a place that's wholly unfamiliar to you, and seemingly aspirational to others. It’s kind of like the Delta lounge; you didn't do something extraordinary to get in, but since you're there, you can investigate the assorted dips, and use the less terrible.

Accountability acts as a lubricant; it allows things that would normally be at odds to engage with each other. It is a lie to believe influence escapes you because you do not want it. For some, it is not a choice they had to make. You can very well be born into a space that has it built-in. Other times you amass it slowly for what you say and what you. Sometimes, it is just you doing the things that you do, and the dubious recognition of being the only one hangs ever-present. 

I do not mean that there should not incorporate silence, periods of focus, research, and unmitigated glee. On the contrary. I am actively looking to find more as they are necessary for life. We bribe our inner child with the distraction of safety, and stunt their creative growth. Then, we have the nerve to shame them for not being more “productive”. We’d rather silence them than let them play, then wonder why they don’t want to come outside anymore. Growing up isn’t the worst thing; finding reasons to not see the world with childlike wonder is far more dangerous I wonder if its arrogance or pure fantasy that creates the false equivalency that I don't have to share what I'm doing and that people will simply just find it anyway. How would they know what to look for? Why would I make them?

But the biggest failures aren’t things you did. They’re things you didn’t do. Playing it safe is one of the biggest failures possible.

 Ramit Sethi 

As the complexity increases, a peer set becomes harder to find. Not simply people who think like you, but those who willingly choose to think, regardless of. 
The conundrum of choosing to remain curious is that you create much more distance for yourself to do the work you want to do because you aren't consumed by simply doing what has already been done. It's no surprise that it happens until it happens to you. 

Exposure left me traumatized, the same way unprocessed film exposed to undue heat becomes perishable. With too much of it, the latent image erodes, and the color balance erodes. .I needed a darkroom for myself, so I built one. Then I decided to never leave.  That's why I don't like looking back at the reference points other people have for me. They see what they are able to. Most of what they see clearly about me is blurry to myself. I thought this was an issue of confidence, but it is much deeper than that. It is not so much that I do not think I can't be what they assume I am; it's more that I know the very real costs of what that means and have spent time not trying to ever be in that conversation, you are placed there anyway.

The Fear of Expansion

Or maybe you know you're good, you just don't think you can do this thing in front of those people and be consistent for that long. You play the background because you know the pieces of the puzzle, but not where they all go. We keep things close to our chest, not because we don't want to share. But because we want what we do to start close to our hearts, then expand. As it grows, the heartbeat never changes. We know it’s alive because you held it before it grew the strength to walk. That’s why the project you don’t let go of, is the one that haunts you in your mind before you let it go on paper.

The more you love your art/calling/enterprise, the more important its accomplishment is to the evolution of your soul, the more you will fear it and the more Resistance you will experience facing it. 
- Steven Pressfield, The War of Art 

I don't want to be seen. I want to be felt. But the latter is sometimes a pathway to the former. It doesn't cancel you out. It is not as zero-sum as we can make it.  Disquieting and uncomfortable, it often bears resemblance to the other things that help enable growth. If you do have influence, and you know it, you are also aware that awareness about you isn't about control. It is about what you decide to push forward because you have the leverage to do so.

The most dangerous space for me is to noodle in the abstract as an excuse to not be grounded in the present. There is no way for me to predict or place sound judgment on what I might like. I've wordsmithed myself out of my own work, then found reasons why it isn’t up to par. It’s not imposter syndrome if you know you are that person. It’s actually just avoidance because it’s easier to try and get to it another time.

It was never just about being private for the sake of avoidance. It can start off that way, but it usually morphs into the need that is universal; to be seen outside of the image that might be cast and understood in spite of everything around you that says otherwise. The paradox for me has been that I might believe my surroundings because I am most susceptible to the  It is often about maintaining space for the sacred, whatever that may be, and for whatever reason. The quirky, the unseen, the divergent, and the weird are the prized frameworks to someone who has more in them than they might know but needs time to see it come to fruition. 

I still have aims on being notoriously private about a select number of things, but not everything. Perhaps that's a more useful pursuit than expending energy trying to simply remain fully invisible. The right things should be in plain view. Those can double as things that also stand the test of time. 

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