Hello! Welcome to this week's digest. This week is a very special "Freedom" edition, because it is Independence Day in the United States, and because we explore diverse topics related to the importance of our various freedoms. This week's topics include freedom from the comparison trap, freedom from working all the time, freedom from the myth of instant greatness, and freedom of speech. Enjoy!
One-Sentence Takeaway: Understanding our envy triggers, and designing gratefulness and appreciation into our days, can help us bolster our contentedness and avoid comparison traps.
Answering The Drucker Question: Per the recommendation in the article (highlighted below), "Make a list of who and what you frequently envy or compare yourself to. Write how each negatively affects you, and why it’s actually a waste of your time."
The comparison game—or war—is as old as humanity... [B]ecome a student of how you squander your own contentedness by getting sucked into the comparison trap.
Make a list of who and what you frequently envy or compare yourself to. Write how each negatively affects you, and why it’s actually a waste of your time. Resolve to catch yourself next time.
Unless you’re really close to someone, you can’t use their outward appearance to judge the reality of their life.
It’s well established that wealth, beyond having the basics in life, isn’t associated with increased happiness or well-being... Money and things provide temporary boosts of joy; their inevitable inability to provide lasting sustenance is usually more disappointing than anything else.
If you commit yourself to being deeply grateful for what’s good in your life, and remind yourself of it daily, you’ll be far less vulnerable to comparison and envy.
This human propensity to want what others have is such a waste of time, unless what you see and “covet” in another is something of deep worth, such as their generosity or kindness. Who do you admire? What kinds of comparisons might actually be healthy for you?
ARTICLE - New York Times: You Are Doing Something Important When You Aren’t Doing Anythingby Bonnie Tsui (Thank you Anthony for sharing!) - Bonnie does a delightful job describing the importance of and mindset around idle time within our work and our lives. Her recommendations echo the research from Positive Psychology on the importance of taking breaks, as well as the anecdotal guidance from artists on the importance of creative refueling (e.g., Artist Dates from The Artist's Way), and the coaching recommendations from one of the world's leading performance coaches (for hedge fund managers), Josh Waitzkin. I have seen recommendations for idle time go way back to The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell (TD Digest summary), and I would bet centuries before that. As more of my friends and colleagues transition away from professional roles that are simple execution (typically in egregious volume), and towards roles that require creativity and emotional intelligence, their need for idle time and refueling seems to grow, too.
One-Sentence Takeaway: Create space within your work periods, work days, work weeks, and work years for meaningful idle time, to refuel and replenish yourself.
Answering The Drucker Question: Brainstorm specific routines you can add into your daily work life to create idle time between focused work periods, and at the end of the workday.
I’m talking about an active refueling that can seem at odds with our fetishization of productivity. Reading a book, visiting a museum, wandering out to people-watch at the park.
Fallow time is part of the work cycle, not outside of it. In periodic intervals around the completion of a project, I have lately given myself permission to watch “Deadwood: The Movie,” to nap over the newspaper, to take a walk and restore the white space for complex thinking and writing. It can feel indulgent. It can feel … lazy. But the difference between lazing around and laissez-faire is that I’m actually going about the business of my business.
"I deeply resent how we’ve infantilized the workplace. How we feel we have to apologize for having lives. How constant connectivity/availability (or even the perception of it) has become a valued skill."
We all struggle daily with the balance of work and play. Both are essential to a life full of meaning. Fallow time, when practiced the right way, can remind us why we chose our work in the first place.
Sometimes when I’m sitting still, seemingly idle in a cafe or a park during the weekday, I find myself tuning in to a certain kind of talk. “What are these people even doing here,” someone will say with a scolding air. “Don’t they have jobs?” In these moments, I resist the urge to defend myself. I fight the rising tide of indignity and cultivate patience, the hardest crop of all. Just wait, I think. Someday you might just read the fruits of my invisible labor.
BLOG POST - How to Be Great? Just Be Good, Repeatablyby Steph Smith - A fun, smart, and thoughtful read arguing for the importance of continuous, quality, directionally correct work in the service of our goals. No rocket science required, just a solid framework and a variety of mental models that we can all use to bolster our odds of success.
One-Sentence Takeaway: Leverage the powers of compounding, diligence, and experimentation to boost your odds of greatness in anything you set out to achieve.
Answering The Drucker Question: Brainstorm three flavors of 'good' work that you can do, every single day, that will contribute to your long-term success in any realm of your life (eg., a meal with your spouse, read to your child, stretch, etc.).
The first step in becoming great is recognizing that you’re likely not already great. In fact, it comes from recognizing that there is no such thing as greatness at a specific instance in time. Greatness is instead a reflection of a period of effort, since greatness in a single instance can be reduced to luck.
To be clear, consistency isn’t necessarily the easiest way to success, but one that can be achieved with a higher level of certainty, rather than hoping for a lottery win or someone to “discover” you. Continuous effort is a more thoughtful approach that leads to greatness when the following statements are true: 1. Inputs are consistent over time. 2. Intentional inputs lead to expected outputs.
If you don’t have the opportunity to “do great things”, focus on consistently achieving small wins. These small things in fact do not need to be done in a great way, but a good way, repeatably. In fact, I would advise not to focus on perfection, as it is often the enemy of the successful.
With the ups, there are always downs. This seems obvious, but we often forget this when we are in periods of down. We quit at these local minimums, because we cannot see the next peak right around the corner... On your journey to greatness, you need to fall in love with the process which includes many local minima and maxima. Staying consistent and pushing through both of these continuously is what will truly differentiate you from those that are simply “good” and isolate you as one of the few that are “great’.
Your actions and results will not always reflect your intentions, but as you move towards “greatness”, you should have a better idea of what inputs actually deliver output. You’ll still make mistakes﹣as we all do﹣but you’ll have a better grasp on what is more likely to work out... The best things in life often aren’t miracles, but well-thought out approaches that are sustainable. The same thing is true with businesses, marriages, and just about anything with repeatable elements. If you invest time into solving for what leads to success continuously, you will reap those benefits for years to come.
Try to remind yourself as you’re iterating, that there are new levels that you can’t even conceptualize right now. Regardless of how far along you are, know that these new levels of success will appear as you work towards the next one or two. And soon enough, you’ll be 10 levels ahead of what you could have ever imagined.
ESSAY - Heterodox Academy: All Minus One - John Stuart Mill’s Ideas on Free Speechby Richard Reeves and Jonathan Haidt - Richard and Jonathan's work gives us a shortened (and quite aesthetically beautiful) version of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, focusing on the importance of free speech within liberal democracy. We seem to be living in a cultural moment where, on *all* sides of the political aisle, you can find prominent figures advocating for de-platforming speakers, harming reporters, censoring content, and silencing critics. Mill's elegant words reiterate the importance of free speech, as well as the many temptations to rebuke it in convenient moments. For those of us playing the long game, who realize that the rules of the game will be followed by both our friends and our enemies, remembering the importance of timeless principles feels incredibly energizing.
One-Sentence Takeaway: "All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility."
Answering The Drucker Question: Think about a subject that is very important to you, and on which you feel the other side should not be heard (for what feel like justifiable reasons). Why do you want to silence the other side? What benefit does silencing confer to you? ... to others whose minds aren't made up? ... to society as a whole? Are there any potential benefits to letting the other side speak, in the short or long term?
Mill’s main concern was not government censorship. It was the stultifying consequences of social conformity, of a culture where deviation from a prescribed set of opinions is punished through peer pressure and the fear of ostracism. “Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough,” he wrote. “There needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling”.
Mill’s basic lesson was the timeless truth that we need each other—even our opponents— more than we realize. We all tend to be arrogant and overconfident that “our side” is right... This is why diversity is so important, particularly diversity of viewpoints...
For free speech to be valuable to the pursuit of truth, we all need to be both humble and open. We need humility to recognize that we might not be right about everything all of the time, and that we have something to learn from others. ... [O]ur identity as a person must be kept separable from the ideas we happen to endorse at a given time. Otherwise, when those ideas are criticized, we are likely to experience a conversation, book, or lecture as an attack upon our self, rather than as an opportunity to think about something more deeply.
The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.
To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.
Yet it is as evident in itself, as any amount of argument can make it, that ages are no more infallible than individuals; every age having held many opinions which subsequent ages have deemed not only false but absurd; and it is as certain that many opinions, now general, will be rejected by future ages, as it is that many, once general, are rejected by the present.
Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion, is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action; and on no other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance of being right.
Who can compute what the world loses in the multitude of promising intellects combined with timid characters, who dare not follow out any bold, vigorous, independent train of thought, lest it should land them in something which would admit of being considered irreligious or immoral?
Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think.
He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion. The rational position for him would be suspension of judgment, and unless he contents himself with that, he is either led by authority, or adopts, like the generality of the world, the side to which he feels most inclination.
Not the violent conflict between parts of the truth, but the quiet suppression of half of it, is the formidable evil; there is always hope when people are forced to listen to both sides...
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