Be the best you that you can be

The day after the Super Bowl, the pundits were talking about Peyton Manning's legacy. How, if he'd led the Denver Broncos to victory, we had to seriously think about whether he was the best quarterback ever. But because the Seahawks won, it now relegates Manning to maybe top five of all time, but there's no chance he's the best.

Here's the thing: WHO THE FUCK CARES? No question, Peyton Manning is one of the best quarterbacks to have every played professional football. It's not just his numbers that bear that out — it's also his on-field abilities and intelligence. But it doesn't matter if Peyton Manning is the best ever, or if Joe Montana is the best ever, or if Russell Wilson turns out to be the best ever.

If Peyton Manning is the best Peyton Manning he can be, he should be proud. If he's not the best Peyton Manning he can be, then he's got some work to do.

You, too. You don't need to be the fastest runner in your office or the best salesperson on the tennis court. You don't need to hit the longest golf ball, ski the steepest slope or play the loudest horn.

You just have to be the best you you can be. And when you get there, get better.


About a book: Larceny In My Blood by Matthew Parker

I may have said this before, but I judge books by their covers. Literally. I walk through the library and just yank stuff off shelves if it looks interesting.

That's how I came by Larceny In My Blood: A Memoir of Heroin, Handcuffs, and Higher Education. I didn't even know until I got home it was a graphic memoir. [I've never read anything like this long-form before – infographics and my daily emailed Dilbert comic strip are about it.]

Author Matthew Parker is old for his age, but getting younger. He grew up with a mother who taught him how to sell drugs and didn't go straight until she made some counterfeit bills and discovered they were awful. His sister managed to build a good life, but one of his brothers was murdered and the other committed suicide.

Parker himself was in and out of prisons from 1987 until 2002, when he finally got clean. And then he got his MFA in creative writing from Columbia.

Larceny In My Blood follows Parker through life, through finding his way through the culture of prison, and trying and failing and trying and failing and trying and finally succeeding in kicking drugs. Parker elucidates the problems felons have finding work, enrolling in schools and earning trust.

Parker has been off drugs and out of prison since 2002, and has had quite a journey, and is off to a flying start to his writing career. Larceny is a tough book – it's about prison and drugs and sex and real life (and Parker drew his penis a lot for the book) – and while the timeline bounces around a little bit, it was a great read. It's one of those pieces of art that will always stick with me, like Benjamin Bratt's portrayal of Miguel Piñero or the first time I really took the time to look at Picasso's Guernica.

Add it to your list.

3 things to make your life easier in 2014

Three quick small changes you can make in everyday habits to shave some time.

1. Loop the other way when you tie your shoes.

This takes some getting used to, since you've been tying your shoes one way for decades. It took me about a month to make this automatic, but the knot definitely holds more strongly.

2. Eat more of your apple.

Do you routinely ignore apples as a snack because they leave you wanting a little more (or alternatively because you have to look for apples that have been pumped full of steroids to get bigger and so they don't taste like anything)? You're leaving too much core. I don't know what the guy in this video did with his seeds, but leaving only the seed pouch and stem, you wind up leaving a bit of apple a touch smaller than an avocado seed.

3. Peel your hard-boiled eggs by blowing on them.

This takes some practice, and the baking soda and temperature change are both important – the first time I tried, I didn't cool the eggs very much and the shells didn't pop off. Once you get the hang of it, though, you can peel a half dozen eggs in a minute or two instead of ten.

What things do you do to increase your productivity?

About a book: Savannah, or, A Gift for Mr. Lincoln by John Jakes

If you've not been to the city of Savannah, Georgia, I can't recommend it enough. It's antebellum south – that is, it was built before the Civil War, and it's progressing in the small business and craft movement. The original city was built on a grid around a series of squares – in-neighborhood parks – that range in size from a couple of live oak trees with a half dozen benches to Forsyth at the south, with a fountain and a theater space and a cafe and plenty of space to run, play some pickup soccer or what have you.

It has a river running through it (the convention center is on the opposite bank from much of the old city, and a ferry will swing you across so you don't need to drive the bridge back and forth), and most of its eastern suburbs are islands.

Literary novelist John Jakes writes a lot of historical fiction, and his Savannah is such a book. It takes place around Christmas, 1864, as Sherman is marching from Atlanta, torching cities along the way, headed for Charleston via Savannah (Charleston, S.C., is about an hour and a half up the freeway – they would have approached by water). Its protagonists are a 12-year-old girl and 14-year-old boy; he heads to the front lines, she is a rebellious sort – the kind of rebel who kicks a Yankee in the shin and runs off yelling, "I don't care if I just kicked Sherman himself!" When, in fact, she did.

The book includes some personal exploration as regards slavery, lots of Yankee-Rebel relationships and, of course, there's war, thievery and Christmas.

My favorite historical bit, though, was something about Christmas. By the 1860s, Christmas was starting to become more popular, but the most conservative people still considered a slave holiday, instead exchanging gifts on New Year's Day. Stores were non-committal, selling "holiday" gifts instead. Sound familiar?

It's a very fast, easy read, and my local library appears to have plenty of Jakes' stuff on its shelves, so I'll be reading more this year.

Three things you can read every week to get smarter in 2014

I read a lot. Most of the stuff I read is absolute crap, but I read it because I'm hoping it will teach me something. But no longer. I spent 2013 consuming as many words as I could, and I figured out that there are three things I could read every week that will make me smarter.

That's not to say I don't think there are other useful newsletters out there, and that I'll stop reading books and features and news and such. I'm just going to be more picky – a little more selfish with my time.

These are the three things that I read every week, that I think you should, as well.

1. James Altucher's weekly Twitter chat. James Altucher has done a few things right in his life, and a lot of things wrong. The things he's gotten right vastly outweigh the others, though, and I think he's a really smart guy (I recommend his book, Choose Yourself!, as well). He hosts an "ask me anything" Twitter chat Thursdays from 3:30-4:30 p.m. Eastern. During that hour, tweet him at @jaltucher and he'll respond.

I tend to go to his Twitter page and refresh every few minutes so that I can monitor the answers, and then I have the option to check out the question if I wish. If you can't catch it live, you can always head to his page later and scroll back through. You get not only his collected wisdom, but also you get to read what people are asking about, which might give you some ideas as well.

I think you can get just as much from lurking here as you could participating.

2. Mitch Joel, Alistair Croll and Hugh McGuire's weekly link exchange. Each week, three entrepreneurs collect one link for each of the other two, resulting in a blog post every Saturday on Mitch Joel's blog titled Six Links Worthy of Your Attention. Some weeks you'll find more interesting than others, but that will come down entirely due to personal preference. Give yourself a little time; it's worth at least reading all the explanations, and if you wind up clicking something, you might be in for 15-20 minutes of reading or watching.

The links run the gamut from entrepreneurship to education to space exploration to music, sculpture and everything else.

3. Brain Pickings weekly. Maria Popova writes long-form blog items that are really, really interesting. She writes on writing, habits, music, language, science and a variety of other topics, and she always has interesting take-aways from people who know their fields and have names like Einstein, Fitzgerald and Sontag (that is, names you've heard).

Each Sunday, she sends out a newsletter that can help you through your first pot and a half of coffee (you can't tell me I'm the only one, especially on Sunday morning).

Other newsletters I get include a daily email from Web Urbanist, which usually includes some cool photos with a little text (recent ones included a former subterranean brewery that is now a bunch of hot tubs and heated pools, and a post on large concrete arrows in the middle of the U.S. desert that appear to point nowhere but in the 1920s helped direct mail traffic by air before the use of radar), and a weekly offering from C. Hope Clark at Funds for Writers; she writes about the craft of writing, and also about marketplaces, grants and contests.

What do you read consistently that you'd like to share?

Reviewing 2013 and welcoming 2014, taking a right guid-willy-waught

I've had an amazing year of growth.

I don't have anything to lay out on the table here and say, "I did this!" But 2014 is going to be the date on the end of a lot of hard work. Mostly, I think, I've done a lot on my way toward being a better, more well-rounded human.

If I have some stuff to pass along, it's mostly in some reading and experimentation.

My favorite books for the year – and I read 38 of them in 2013 – are all ones I'd recommend reading, and with good reason.

Choose Yourself! by James Altucher. This is a reminder that, while it's important for you to do well by others, if you don't live for yourself first, you're not doing as well by anybody else as you thought you did.

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman by Richard Feynman. Feynman was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who was curious about everything. He drew, had a gallery show, played drums in Brazil during carnival and in general spent a lot of time thinking. He said no when he didn't want to do something, and he was curious about pretty much everything.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau. A lesson in doing some things yourself and simplifying where you can. You have to get past some preachiness, but once you do, it's a wondrous tome.

Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth by R. Buckminster Fuller. This is the only book I read every year. It really does explain what we've done wrong and what we need to do to correct our path. It's not so much an operating manual for your soul as it is an operating manual for the physical world, and I fear we've lost touch with that.

I've been writing more of late. There's a reasonable chance we'll see some product in 2014. I'm getting married this year. I have some more tricks up my sleeve, some involving compasses and bibles and live oaks.

I'm brewing beer now. It puts me in a fairly small club, apparently, but there are a lot of beer drinkers out there, and now that I sort of understand how it works, I'm experimenting more. My fourth batch is underway; my best to date is a chocolate jalapeño porter. It's a little more peppery and yeasty than I wanted it – and has a lower alcohol content than I was looking for – but drinking a couple of cases of it is easy.

I hope your 2013 was half as amazing as mine. If it hasn't, let me know how I can help improve your 2014.

And, of course, my annual posting of Dougie McLean singing Robert Burns's "Auld Lang Syne."

And there's a hand my trusty fiere
And gi'e 's a hand o' thine
We'll tak a right guid-willy-waught
For auld lang syne

Books I read in 2013

Need some reading recommendations? These are the books I read in 2013.

Origin of Species, Charles Darwin
Damned, Chuck Palahniuk
High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
Republic, Plato
The Holy or the Broken, Alan Light
A Day in the Life of a Minimalist, Joshua Fields Millburn
Triburbia, Karl Taro Greenfield
Electric Barracuda, Tim Dorsey
The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells
Naked, David Sedaris
What in God's Name, Simon Rich
When Elves Attack, Tim Dorsey
Skagboys, Irvine Welsh
The Prisoner of Heaven, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A Walk in the Snark, Rachel Thompson
Night, Elie Wiesel
It's Not About the Tights, Chris Brogan
How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming, Mike Brown
Relativity, Albert Einstein
Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, Richard Feynman
CTRL ALT Delete, Mitch Joel
Born Standing Up, Steve Martin
Possible Side Effects, Augusten Burroughs
Choose Yourself!, James Altucher
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, David Sedaris
Born on a Blue Day, Daniel Tammet
Walden, Henry David Thoreau
Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau
A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
I Was Told There'd Be Cake, Sloane Crosley
Ignorance, Stuart Firestein
Dubliners, James Joyce
Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, R. Buckminster Fuller
Confessions of a Sociopath, M.E. Thomas
Growth Hacker Marketing, Ryan Holiday
Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk
The Indie Writer's Survival Guide, James O'Brien
The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, Charlie Papazian

Christmas, from the outside

Honestly, this is one of a very few songs you might classify as a Christmas carol that doesn't make me want to gut an elf. It's really a song about Christmas, and I wouldn't switch the radio station if it were on in July.

If you're celebrating today, happy Christmas. I've always preferred happy to merry; I think it has to do with what I perceive as solemn traditions like a fire in the fireplace and gathering around the piano to sing.

I start working soon. Whenever someone has to work on Christmas (or even Christmas Eve), I always try to be the first to volunteer. It might as well be the Jew working, right? When I worked for a weekly newspaper, I used to go in for a few hours on Christmas. It gave me time to clean my desk, get some features together and really accomplish something without the phone ringing, without the fax ringing, and without other people in the office.

This year, I'm working for a company that will have multiple deadlines throughout the day; there will be two of us on during the day. I expect, actually, that we'll have a small flurry of stuff to do when we start, and then the basketball games will come on at noon, then there will start to be photo galleries and entertainment stories and the news part won't pick up until people start leaving their family gatherings.

Last year, I worked Christmas night instead of during the day, and we went until almost 5 a.m., it got so busy late.

Anyway, if you want to know what Christmas is like to someone who really is a Christmas outsider – and to be clear, I'm marrying into a family with a secular Christmas tradition – here it is.

I don't really remember Christmases as a child. Yes, I understand that I got gifts on Chanukah because all the Jewish kids were jealous of all the Christian kids generations ago. I remember helping a family friend decorate her tree in early December. I remember watching snow outside the window, playing in the back yard for a little bit, and waiting to see if we got some Chinese food or if a pizza place opened later in the day.

I do remember Christmas with my family as I entered my 20s. We'd make sure we had a good selection from Blockbuster (remember renting videos? me neither) and a couple of six packs of beer, and we'd at least wait until breakfast digested before we started on the beer. Most of the time. Sometimes we'd grab a movie later in the day. You know, because theaters get fired up about the time people get sick of hanging out with their families.

These days, though I've had a few years as an adult spending Christmas with the families of significant others – next year, I get to call them my in-laws, I guess – I still feel like an observer to someone else's traditions. I'm not entirely comfortable with the language of the holiday, I don't have tradition to fall back on and incorporate into this new scene, the way you would need instruction if you came to a Passover seder at my house, even after a few years. The food would be strange the first year, something maybe you remembered the second year, and then it would become a once-a-year novelty that maybe you don't fully understand and still need to be reminded how to eat and what it's made of and why it exists. That's how I feel on Christmas.

Also, this. It's a holiday filled with pagan rituals, during which is celebrated the birthday of an actual human who was born months later. Apart from the tree and the cross, the main symbols are a stranger who breaks into your house and leaves you packages that would get airports evacuated by TSA agents, along with the mutant arctic animals that fly his fat ass around. Call me a Scrooge (who, by the way, came around, if you read the rest of the book) if you wish, but that is some creepy shit.

Do I get offended if you wish me a merry Christmas? No. Expect I won't have one – it doesn't mean the same thing to me that it does to you. But expect I'll only wish you a happy Christmas if I know you celebrate, because this year, for instance, happy Wednesday means more to me, because Wednesday has a different connotation to me.

Learning management from Vanderbilt football coach James Franklin

I write a little thing every week about press conferences given by Southeast Conference (SEC) football coaches. For those not into the college football scene, the SEC is the top conference in the sport. One of its teams has won the national championship the past seven years; they have a shot this season but are probably going to be underdogs in that game.

Aside: To play in a national championship game, you have to be picked by a computer and a bunch of humans based on who you beat and who beat you during the season, so out of more than 110 teams, you have to be that good.

You're probably familiar with programs like Alabama and Texas A&M and Florida (the Gators, for whom Gatorade is named), just from existing in the world. You may not know much about them, but you've likely overheard a conversation somewhere, even if you're in the northeast. Or northwest, for that matter.

But unless you're an alum or from Tennessee, you're probably not too familiar with Vanderbilt football. I wasn't, either, until I started writing this piece every week, midway through the season.

Statistically speaking, Vanderbilt is middle of the road. But they make that work for them.

James Franklin is in his third year coaching the Commodores. With the announcement that they'll play the Compass Bowl this year, that makes three straight postseason appearances. That means more money for the school and more exposure for the football team. That's a huge deal in college football.

The press conference above took place two days after Vanderbilt won its sixth game of the season (that's the mark you need to reach to become eligible for a bowl game – you still have to get a bowl that wants you to play). So keep that in mind as you watch some of it. He's not real interested in talking about the future or the past. He does a quick review of the win over Kentucky (which was expected, given their injury situation) and looks forward to the upcoming game against Tennessee, and he's only interested in the task at hand. He jokes a little bit with the press, but he's not giving them any chance to think about the future – not to a bowl game, and not to the possibility that he might get some job offers after his success at Vandy.

Vanderbilt wound up with eight wins in the regular season, including over a Georgia team that was ranked 15th in the country at the time. Their four losses during were to teams that spent at least some time in the Top 25 (some of them spent time in the Top 10) over the season.

That's some pretty solid success for what isn't a tip-of-your-tongue football program, and I think that's a credit to Franklin's style. Here are some things you can take from it:

Take care of the task at hand. You hear him reference early on that he's excited about being "1-and-0" this week. In non-football terms, that means there was a complicated problem to solve that was just one in a four-month series of complicated problems, and they solved it successfully without worrying about their past successes or failures.

Give credit where it's due. You hear Franklin express shock that one of his players hadn't won any conference-wide awards yet. And when he did, the coach said, "great job," but then went on to credit the guy who gets Jordan Matthews the ball, the guys who block for him, and the assistant coach who works with him.

Have some fun. Why hadn't Matthews won any awards? "It's a conspiracy." Franklin manages to get at least a little humor in each press conference – even if he has to explain the joke, which he does sometimes.

And when you come out of it, you want employees, students, whatever, who will represent you, your company or school well. And it looks like Franklin has that. Keep in mind that this next video is a pep rally; the idea is to get people keyed up. Franklin comes out at about seven minutes in, and students come up about two minutes later.

3 steps to living happier

We're at the time of year in Central New York when the sky, roads and lawns all become the same color gray. The sky is gray with clouds, the road with salt and lawns with dirtied snow. It's dark late into morning and early into the evening. Businesses are struggling to hit their end-of-year numbers, and lots of people are running around hectic and haggard for their Christmas shopping (yes, Christmas shopping – if you're like me, you did your holiday shopping in preparation for Channukah, which is already over with no rush to worry about).

People are really unhappy. So, let's look at some simple steps you can take to get happy.

1. Own the bad to own the good

Don't like your job, location or the length of your holiday list? Your fault. Own all the choices you've made to this point that brought you here. And here's why: Love your friends, hobbies, favorite restaurant and cell phone plan? The same choices you made to get the stuff you don't like, you made to get the stuff you like. You can't take credit for the good stuff without taking credit for the bad stuff. Once you recognize the universe isn't out to get you and that you're responsible for both the good and the bad, you can make better choices to get the good you want.

2. Eat better and supplement your diet

We spoke last week a little bit about comfort and specifically things like comfort foods that lull you to complacence. Food is fuel. Do you really feel gassed up and ready to go after a big plate of mac n cheese and fried chicken? No, you feel like taking a nap. I've written before about getting foods with high oxytocin content into your diet (things like bananas, eggs, etc.), but there are ways to supplement your diet. Here are the supplements I use (I like use over take, because I need to be honest that anything that isn't food is a drug).

• Caffeine (year-round, daily)
• Ginseng (year-round, usually on work nights)
• BCAA (year-round, usually on work nights but sometimes also in conjunction with a hard workout)
• Dopamine (my pre-workout is a dopamine modulator – I try to take it only on days I work out, skipping at least once a week, and with a week off every month or so; dopamine is the happy drug you release from intense exercise and sex)
• Vitamin D3 (primarily fall and winter, on low-sun days – this is the vitamin you get from sunlight, and especially working nights, I get very little opportunity for sunlight directly on my skin from October to April)
• Vitamin C (primarily during cold season; since I started working from home, I'm exposed to fewer airborne particles, which means my immune system isn't working on new invaders all the time)

3. Drink more water

I average about four liters of water a day. Now, understand that I work from home at a sitting-down job and I'm not chasing children around or anything, so I have the time to drink four liters of water a day without thinking about it. That's probably more than you need anyway; eight, eight-ounce glasses of water is more like two liters. Anyway. You wake up dehydrated (you might not feel like it, but you haven't had any water for at least as long as you've been asleep). Take a few good long swallows of water when you wake up. And remember that in winter you're running your heat, which is drying you out, so drink more than you would in a milder season.

There we have it. The most difficult thing on that list is a change of mindset. And if you're not interested in a mindset change, well, good luck.