Category: Motivation

Build || Rebuild

Build || Rebuild

Among my favorite stories about Gandhi may or may not be apocryphal, but it goes something like this:

A woman walked many miles for hours with her young son to see Gandhi and ask him to tell her son to stop eating sugar. He told her to come back in two weeks. She did, and upon arriving, asked, “Why did you send us away after we traveled so far?”
“I had to stop eating sugar myself,” he told her, “before I could tell your boy to stop eating sugar.”

Take care of your own house, first.

I let the chaos of 2020 get me, these past few months. In September, I was down 20 pounds. I was running double-digit miles. I caught some bug, which turned out not to be COVID. It knocked me out for a few days. While I was out, both races I had been training for were canceled.

I never got back. I sat by and let the year hit me.

As I write this, I’ve just finished a round of antibiotics after a bronchial infection (also not COVID). I put all the weight back on. I feel like garbage. I’m drinking kombucha and eating an Asian pear. I guess those are steps in the right direction.

If you listened to the kicking off 2021 episode of JKWD, you heard me say I’ll post less here, and try to write more elsewhere. I’m doing that, and I’m doing other stuff to build, or rebuild, my own house.

This is not a Baldessarian effort; it’s more of a Gandhi dump the sugar effort. It feels wrong to tell you to dominate your day when I’m barely dominating a few hours of my week, it feels like.

I’ve submitted to a couple of writing contests, got some training programs set up, with accountability partners. JKWD is doing well; if you haven’t listened, please do. We’re having some great guests during the first quarter of the year.

In an effort to give myself some grace and get through 2021 healthy and happy and leading my family to greatness, I’m going to put this here: expect not much in public spaces from me this year. Most of those who know me have my phone number or can connect on WhatsApp; you can also go over to the contact page and fill out the form to be in touch by email.

Be well. Win your day.

A gratitude for today, and this moment

A gratitude for today, and this moment

There’s a catch-all prayer in Judaism for gratitude. I’ll use my own transliteration here (that is, I’m going to write the Hebrew words using English letters in a rough pronunciation), but the prayer is called the shehechiyanu. The full prayer roughly translates to, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this day.” It goes like this:

Baruch atah adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam, shehechiyanu v’kiyamanu v’higiyanu lazman hazeh (hear it here).

It’s said a lot. The beginning of every holiday. When friends gather for the first time. When family gathers for the first time in a while. The first time you perform a commandment in the new year (such as giving to charity or going to synagogue). The first time eating a particular food in the new year.

It’s an eleven-word gratitude practice you can utilize any time you need one. Twenty words if you want to use the English translation I gave.

In case you want to go deeper:

• My Jewish Learning points out the shehechiyanu is a reminder to stay present.

• The Trust Center for Early Education at Temple Ohabei Shalom points out that the shehechiyanu is a good marker for observing otherwise overlooked events in our children’s lives; birthdays, sure, but also physical growth, science projects and recitals.

• Two rabbis at a Texas synagogue give a sermon on shehechiyanu, including the importance of being alive in regard to prayer.

• Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff takes a deep dive on when the oral tradition tells us to recite shehechiyanu — and when not to. Note: Bracha means “prayer” (some translate it as “blessing,” but the context is “a blessing over a meal,” not “the post-op nurse was a blessing”).

• Here’s more deep discussion from Rabbi Avi Zakutinsky.

Incidentally, the way rabbis Kaganoff and Zakutinsky discuss the question of when to say shehechiyanu — with reference to various texts, many of them conflicting — is how Jews discuss matters of faith throughout history. It can be very interesting. One example is the argument several rabbis have in regards to when you can say evening prayers. Some say they should be said after sundown but before midnight. Others say evening prayers can be said after midnight but not after first light. Still others argue that the prayers may be said at any time before someone goes to bed, even if it is before sundown or after first light.



That brief, fairly-well supported (I thought) piece I wrote last week on forming a more perfect union?

Facebook didn’t want it. In fact, Facebook seems to think my blog is simply not OK for their platform. And Instagram (owned by Facebook) seems to not want me at all.

This seems like a win. I mean, yeah, Facebook is a good place to share, since everybody’s there, but I’d really checked out of Facebook for the past six months, and now, other than a couple of groups I’m involved in, I suppose there’s not really a reason to go back.

And I was already finding Instagram sucking up too much time so I’d deleted it from my phone (which made it really hard to post), so I guess that’s no longer a concern.

While I do have something planned in this space next week, you may see a bit of a dropoff. You may not, but I have a couple of other writing projects I’m excited about. Hopefully they’ll see the light of day, but the risk of moving off my own publishing platform is that maybe they won’t. Onward.

Fake it ’til you make it? Don’t

Fake it ’til you make it? Don’t

One of the things we talk about when dealing with impostor syndrome and in building confidence is faking it until you make it — that is, if you appear to be something you’re not long enough, you might become that thing.

The trick here is to fool yourself, but be careful when trying to fool others.

In the early days of the web, when creating a website was magic, some site builders used to go to client meetings and either inflate their skillset or inflate their team size. They could overcharge, and if they ran into something they couldn’t do, they could always contract out to someone else. This is faking it.

If you build up your skill set while you’re faking it, eventually you’re actually making it.

But if you spend too long trying to trick others into thinking you’re big enough, you risk running into something disastrous, like those “War Dogs” kids.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about excellence. One of the elements of faking it is a sense of entitlement. But people actually are good at things, and the good stuff rises to the top.

We spoke to Nick Velasquez about mastery a few months ago, and one of the things he pointed out was that we actually enjoy things more when we’re good at them.

Cal Ripken, Jr. tells Michael Gervais that most of the success in his storied Major League Baseball career came about because he was always as prepared as possible.

Gervais’ podcast, by the way, is called Finding Mastery, and, among other things, he’s the mindset coach for the Seattle Seahawks. He tells Steven Kotler that faking it ’til you make it means you’re faking it, and you can’t be truly you or authentic if you’re faking it.

Ripken said in that same interview that he holds himself to a standard. He didn’t miss a game in 16 seasons — no aches, no sickness, no funerals, no nothing. 162 games in a six-month season, every year, for 16 seasons (some of those seasons were strike-shortened, some were 161 games because of a rainout not made up, but he played all the games available). He never pressured his managers (and he played for nine of them in his 21 seasons with the Baltimore Orioles) to play him — if he was the best player at his position that day, put him in; if he wasn’t, slot someone else.

He voluntarily sat out that first game, by the way, and it was the only game he missed that season.

Do you have an honest assessment of your skills? Are you actually doing people a service by continuing on your path, or are you trying to trick them? If it turns out you’re trying to trick them, does that align with your moral code?

Where’s your edge?

Where’s your edge?

If you’re not listening, Brian Koppelman — the creator of Showtime’s “Billions” and writer, among others, of the films Rounders and Ocean’s Thirteen — has an excellent podcast called The Moment. He interviews creators (he has a fondness for musicians but also talks to authors, filmmakers and other) about The Moment they were called to create.

He recently spoke with Suzanne Vega. It’s a great discussion, but a little bit immediately stood out to me. I even remember what segment of road I was running when I heard it.

Early in her recording career, before she had the words to describe the sound she was looking for, she told her producer, “I need more edge.”

Her producer responded, “It’s edgy; don’t you hear it?”

“If I heard it, I wouldn’t have said anything,” she replied.

And Koppelman points out the thing: The songs are so clean, the edge is in the lyrics.

Listening back — I was only 10 when her seminal album Solitude Standing was released — her music shares a direct lineage with Patti Smith and Lou Reed and much of the New York punk scene, and yes, the sounds are clear, but the words bite hard.

Where’s your edge? It doesn’t have to be creative, but what sets you apart?

Chaos, chaos figures and disrupting you

Chaos, chaos figures and disrupting you

Some translations of the Old Testament of the Bible begin something like this:

In the beginning, when the Earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light!” And there was light.

Science calls this moment of light the Big Bang.

Unlike the serene scene of a dark, formless void with the spirit of God moving upon it, the ancient Greeks believed in Chaos. Chaos was both a place, where the gods resided, and the god from whom creation sprang.

Among Chaos’s first creations were the earth, the underworld, love, darkness and night.

The ancient Greek religion isn’t the only one with chaos gods. They appear all over the world, including, in ancient Egyptian culture, the battle between Isfet (chaos) and Ma’at (order), which reminded me of Crowley and Aziraphale.

During our collective quarantine, comedian Duncan Trussell has been talking philosophy with actors Marcus Henderson and Brandon Sanders, and they released one gathering as a podcast and one of the guests mentioned chaos figures, and pointed out that President Trump is one.

To explain chaos figures, he pointed to Ego, Peter Quill’s father from the movie Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

, played by Kurt Russell. In the film, Ego is a god who puts down roots on as many planets as possible in an attempt to spread his seed and alter the universe.

Trump obviously is not that sort of chaos figure, but he’s the sort of person who shakes things up enough to change the way some people operate and the way some systems work. We don’t know what the results — aftermath, if you will — of his time as president will be, at this writing.

But this isn’t about Trump.

Chaos is defined as:

a state of utter confusion or disorder; a total lack of organization or order

A chaos figure, then, is someone who disrupts existing systems in such a way there’s a sense of confusion along the way — most likely at the beginning.

COVID-19, although not a person, is a chaos figure. The Boston Tea Party was carried out by chaos actors. Gandhi, Hitler, Mandela and Stalin were chaos figures. Not all of them are for good, obviously. They merely disrupt, often drastically.

Let’s look in the mirror for a moment, shall we? How are you doing right now? Could you use a little chaos in your life to disrupt your patterns? Maybe it’s time to jump in a ball pit or go bury yourself in the sand at the beach or go dance in public. Disrupt yourself. You’ll thank me later.

Just words

Just words


Nobody cares. Work harder.

Stay hard.

Chasing extraordinary.

Conquer your inner bitch.

Hardest workers in the room.

Live love adventure.

Work for it.

Yeah buddy.

Win the day.

They’re words.

Maybe they’re good words. Motivational words.

They mean nothing if you don’t turn them into action.

Write your book. Run your race. Make your bed. Do your burpees. Build your chicken coop. Make your cookies. Whatever you have to do to get you to take action, whatever words you have to hear, read or say, do them.

Then do the work.

Unhindered by custom

Unhindered by custom

The U.S. Air Force used to be a unit of the Army. That made some sense in the beginning, when you couldn’t carry a large payload on a plane. Airplanes weren’t good at evasive maneuvering, they weren’t very big, and they couldn’t cross an ocean.

As World War II approached, however, the Air Force wanted a way forward as a separate branch of the military, and they set out to make a name for themselves. They began planning on larger planes that could carry bigger bombs and go farther, faster. Some would be sleeker to handle evasive moves, others would be larger people and bomb movers.

In 1929, a small group dubbed The Bomber Mafia began developing the larger bombers. Their motto? Proficimus more irretenti. We make progress unhindered by custom.

Malcolm Gladwell did a couple of episodes on them in Season 5 of his podcast Revisionist History.

The leader of a Masonic Lodge is addressed as Worshipful Master. This is not a divine title; in 1717 England, where modern-day Freemasonry was founded, “worshipful” was a nice thing to call a good person.

A new Worshipful Master will hear on his first night, in jest, and, if he’s done anything important, many times throughout the year in earnest, “That’s not how we did it my year.” Sometimes it’s phrased “That’s not how we’ve always done it.”

But sometimes you need to move forward and break the mold, even in a traditional setting that maintains its ritual as supremely important. Unhindered by custom. The way you’ve always done something gets you the same thing you’ve always got, whether that’s an old fraternity or the food you eat or the ways you goof off at work. The ritual can stay, but some stuff just has to go.

The novel coronavirus the world has faced this year has thrown a lot of wrenches in the works. People out of work. Businesses closed. Governing teams going to remote work. Schools doing the same.

And the protests. Dame Helen Mirren said she was glad to see the young people having balls again. Yes, those were Helen Mirren’s words. That’s their job, she said.

There are a lot of things about this year that have been uncomfortable.

It’s not just SARS-CoV-2. Not just the Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. and, interestingly, in a few other countries around the world. Not just Trump vs. Biden. Not just the people we’ve lost — not just the collective we, but our family specifically.

People have had to come up with creative solutions. Our closest precedent, the Spanish Flu pandemic a bit over a century ago, was devastating. And that was a much different world: many fewer people, much less technology, much less overall knowledge — both in the professions and available to the populace at large.

This time requires an evolution of the world, unhindered by custom.

My home has become the repository for old family photos when they come off the walls during redecorations. In the home office, where I’m typing this, there is a portrait of my grandfather, whom we called Zadie, after his upsherin, the ceremonial first haircut for a boy, typically around his third birthday. It has his hair braided around the outside of the portrait. You wouldn’t recognize the clothing, and it’s tough to tell whether it is a drawn-then-painted portrait or a photograph with some painting around it (I’d lean toward the second). This would have been circa the fall of 1926.

Next to that image is a portrait, probably a painted photograph, of his maternal uncle or great-uncle, from whom he took a middle name. The man is younger, perhaps middle aged. I have no idea when the portrait dates from, but I know he died in 1923, months before my grandfather was born.

My grandfather enjoyed chatting with his grandkids on AOL Instant Messenger. It was a slow process for him, but this is a man who was born before most homes had a radio, and in-home refrigeration was about a decade old.

He always drove giant Cadillacs, one or two of which had car phones, back when they were big old bricks. He died in 2008, not long after the first smart phones were invented. When he was born, they were still doing studies of the human head to decide how to design the handheld telephone. They finished laying the second transcontinental phone line less than a year before his birth.

If we assume normal life spans, for as much as the world we die in barely resembles the world we were born in, consider what my grandfather would think about the world I’m going to die in. In fact, go back to his grandfather; if we consider a 25-year average per generation (and my first child was born when I was 42, so that’s not always accurate), that man would have been born in 1873. Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, among others, were still working on the technology for the first telephonic transmitters. His grandson died in a world with iPhones.

If my daughter has a child when she’s about 25 and that child lives to about 85, that will be sometime around the year 2129. I remember cars with bench seats and rear-facing back seats. Seat belts were recommended but not required. Kids could sit in the front. There were no air bags. There wasn’t even a third break light. Parents could run into the store and leave their kids in the car, with the car running. I certainly won’t recognize the world my grandchildren will die in.

Every generation, or sometimes more often, we decide which pieces of custom stay, and which go.

The 1960s saw a shucking of a lot of social mores.

The 1980s saw an overhaul in the U.S. regulatory culture.

The past 30 years have been a whirlwind of style, sound, technology and more.

I feel like we’re on the verge of something else, though, unhindered by custom.

Abundance, for excellence, not entitlement

Abundance, for excellence, not entitlement

Did you start a podcast or a blog during your coronavirus quarantine?

If you did, you’re not alone.

You’re probably also not alone in discovering that you starting a blog or podcast doesn’t entitle you to suddenly have thousands of readers or listeners, with many of them giving you money.

I want to tell you, then, about a few things I’m supporting, and a couple that I would support if they had a good route for me (they might by the time this posts, for what it’s worth, but I’m writing this three weeks ago — yay time travel!).

I’m hoping the point of sharing here is twofold: (1) you’ll find something you like and (2) you’ll be inspired to do better work.

Team Human (websitepatreon). Douglas Rushkoff is an author, media critic, professor and one of the guys who (originally) made Manhattan a cool place. I first became aware of Rushkoff in the 1990s with his profile in an independent arts newspaper of the late Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. Rushkoff isn’t a technophobe. Instead, he writes about finding the ways to use technology to be more human.

His book Present Shock reminds us that on the internet, time is flat. It might have happened 10 years ago, but if you’re just finding it, it’s new now. Like if you were to find this post in 2045, it’s happening now to you, even though it’s 25 years old.

Rushkoff’s manifesto Team Human is a continuation of his work, remarking on how memes work, how algorithms work, and how we can make technology work for humans, rather having it as a tool to make humans work for corporations. His podcast is a combination of monologues and conversations about doing just that.

The Portal (websitewiki). Eric Weinstein started a podcast that quickly grew into a community of different-thinkers and difference-makers. Weinstein has a wide-ranging group a friends and a great curiosity for deep ideas, especially dispruptive ones. His initial idea for the podcast was every time we enter a fantastical place, it’s through a portal — Alice goes down the rabbit hole; Neo takes a pill and plugs in; Dorothy opens a door into a Technicolor world. Here’s Weinstein himself with the explanation:

Some of Weinstein’s big ideas include the Distributed Idea Suppression Complex (DISC) — think, for example, mainstream media’s leaving out Andrew Yang from the narrative in the 2020 Democratic primary cycle — and making physics more accessible to the masses. He’d like to change the political system in the U.S., the education system in the U.S., and plenty of other stuff.

Blocked and Reported (podcastpatreon). Let’s call Katie Herzog and Jesse Singal tangential journalists. Herzog was laid off from The Stranger during the COVID crash and Singal has a book coming out in 2021. They come from a sane-left viewpoint. Essentially, solidly liberal, but not “you’re a bad person because you don’t agree with this litany of demands” leftist. They’ve both been exiled from that far-left-wacko movement because they’ve written about the de-trans community; that is, people who at one time were undergoing treatment to transition their gender and then changed their minds and undid the work.

Let’s not unpack this sniping battle too much, but that did not put them in favor with the far wing of the left, which assumes that if you change your mind on something like being trans, you must hate trans people, and by pointing out that these people exist, you must also hate trans people.

Anyway, these two started a podcast. They do some media criticism and some angry-left-Twitter criticism. They present the stories like journalists, and then do an essentially fair job of breaking down the story, each coming from their own respective viewpoint. They’re friendly with each other, it’s fun, and they’ve begun to put together some inside jokes. They play well with and off each other on Twitter (HerzogSingal).

They very quickly put together a supportive community; as I write this, they are 20 episodes into their podcast and have over 2,400 people donating to their Patreon campaign. At the very least, take a look through their podcast episodes, find something that made you angry, and listen to their take on it.

The Psychology Podcast (websitepatreon). Scott Barry Kaufman is a humanistic psychologist who has written a book reimagining Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It turns out Maslow never envisioned the pyramid we attribute to him. Kaufman has gone through Maslow’s unpublished notebooks and come upon a new way to diagram the hierarchy. Since it’s not in common circulation yet I won’t stick it in here.

I first came across Kaufman on a call with the Flow Research Collective, founded by author Steven Kotler.

Kaufman is interested in things like kindness and happiness and transcendence. He has an interview-style podcast dedicated primarily to the psychology of these things, with some other stuff thrown in.

Articles of Unity (website). Bret Weinstein (Eric’s brother) came to national attention when the already liberal university at which he was teaching went wingnut. They had an annual event called “Day of Absence,” during which Black students, staff and faculty would stay home to remind everyone of the impact of the Black community.

One year, however, they turned the tables and asked white people to stay home. Weinstein declined, saying in effect that you can opt yourself out, but you can’t opt others out. And further, you don’t tell Jews where to go or not to go — we have the lessons of the Holocaust and everything leading up to it drilled into our brains from an early age, including “Jews go over there.”

He was then declared a racist, and hunted to such an extent there were students with baseball bats looking for him. He had to move his family from their home and sources of income in secrecy, to an undisclosed location.

Flash forward a couple of years, and Weinstein is starting to see the divide that got him run out of town splintering the nation.

He has launched a new organization focused on drafting a new ticket to run for president. The ticket would consist of one person whose views are center-right but far enough outside of the inner circle of the Republican Party that he or she would not currently be welcome on a Republican ticket, and a similarly center-left candidate unwelcome by Democratic insiders. In 2020, one would be the presidential candidate and the other would be the vice presidential candidate. In 2024 — even if that ticket were to win in 2020 — the ticket would flip, so the vice presidential candidate would run for president, and then they flip again in 2028. They do that until one candidate is no longer eligible or someone decides they no longer want to be on the ticket.

Weinstein does have 2020 candidates in mind; they are not yet on board as of this writing, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be, or that there won’t be others. Here is the introductory video, including Weinstein’s preferred candidates.

Persuasion (website). This is another group looking to overhaul the discourse. Yascha Mounk is a professor at Hopkins, an author and journalist.

I knew nothing about Mounk until I heard him on Blocked and Reported (see above), but he’s put together a board of impressive names, and in addition to the newsletter and a podcast (free with unpaid subscription), there are paid add-ons like virtual get-togethers and book clubs with the likes of chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov and authors Jonathan Haidt and David Frum, among others.

These people are creating new things. They are making money doing so. Because those things are excellent, not just because they did it. It’s not “if you build it, they will come.” It’s “if you build something awesome, they will come.”

So go. Create. Do so excellently.

Go the distance

Go the distance

I’m running again. Training. Another half marathon, in November, if COVID doesn’t keep us from running it. I suppose if it does, I’ll run the distance that day anyway.

This isn’t a post about running. I mean, it is, but it’s not. I’m going to write a bunch about running, and then explain why it’s not about running. I’ll get there in about another 750 words, so bear with me for a little while here.

The last race I ran was a full marathon, in November of 2018. I probably don’t need to ever run a full again, but ask me again in 20 years when I feel like I need to show my kids that their old man is young, dumb and full of it, despite heading toward his mid-60s.

I’m not getting any younger, and when I started training I was heavier than I’ve been in more than 15 years. We’ve had a hot start to summer. But I’ve got a little wisdom on my side, and some different tools — including, notably, a heart rate monitor, so I know when I need to slow down without trying to feel it.

I usually run to podcasts or audiobooks, but I’m trying to work in some run-to-music days, especially Sunday, which is a recovery run (Saturday is my longest run of the week, though the difference right now, this early in my training, isn’t much).

Shuffle decided the other day to push Cake’s “The Distance” into my earholes. The video’s above, but you can skip it an just read the lyrics if you prefer.

It’s not a happy song. It’s about a guy who didn’t win the race. Everyone else cleared out, and he’s still going. Running to forget (well, riding his horse, the poor creature). But the ticket is, he’s still going.

As they speed through the finish, the flags go down
The fans get up and they get out of town
The arena is empty except for one man still driving and striving as fast as he can
The sun has gone down and the moon has come up, and long ago somebody left with the cup
But he’s driving and striving and hugging the turns …

Maybe it is a happy song. Maybe sometimes you just need everyone to get out of your peripheral vision so that you can clear your head and keep going.

When I ran that marathon, the last time I saw anyone behind me was around mile 23; there were two people around mile 21. I came in three minutes before the course limit; there wasn’t a vehicle behind me, though, so I’m not sure if those people hopped a shuttle or if organizers let them finish.

All the chairs in the runner rest area had been folded up. The bananas were gone.

I certainly wasn’t fully trained up; that was my fault. I think I just got tired of putting one foot in front of the other.

But I refused to get on a shuttle. I committed to running 26.2 miles. I probably walked 8 miles of it. I felt great through 14 miles, when I started walking a few steps every quarter mile or so. But there’s a rough stretch of the course in direct sunlight on asphalt — up on the freeway — and my running muscles gave up. I walked, and walked, and jogged a few steps here and there when my legs let me, and when I saw the final corner, I turned on whatever was left of my runners and finished.

It was probably five weeks before I was able to put together two miles again. I wore kinesio tape for almost a week.

I’ve trained for a half before, though, and, if I can stay healthy (no COVID, no injuries), I’ll finish it, slow and steady, running the whole way.

The first time I did this, the hardest thing for me was some of the mid-summer 5-mile runs that I embark on between 9 and 10 a.m. It’s super-hot by then a lot of days, but if I’m working until 3 a.m., I’m not going to get out at or before first light like I do on the weekends. That summer I was running about 10:40 a mile; at the start of this training, I’m running around 12:15. That will come down some as I drop some weight, but I won’t run a lot of sub-11-minute miles.

Slow and steady.

Driving and striving.

The support team will be waiting at home. Tail wags from the pup, hugs from the child, a smile and a kiss from the wife. The rest is me. I’m not going to win the race, but I’m going to keep running it, even if everyone else has gone home.

But, as I noted before, this post isn’t about running.

It’s about the ability to keep going.

Sometimes you need better tools. Sometimes you need to make sure you’re measuring the right things. Sometimes you have to turn off all the external stuff — the tools, the advice, the customers, the bosses, whatever — and just put your head down and do what you do.

When you burn out, when you’re tired, when you most want to quit, that’s when you need to keep going. As fast as you can, even if that’s so slow you don’t recognize that you’re moving.