What I learned from Ship 30 for 30 regarding how to use statistics, the performance of my writing, and ideas for moving forward

In Ship 30 for 30 (affiliate link), the class has two phases.

The first phase is all about making noise. This means talking about a wide variety of different topics and writing in different styles. Experimenting.

This sets us up for the second phase.

The second phase is about looking for a signal. This means looking at what your readers liked most. You can’t know what will resonate with people without testing.

In looking for signal amongst the noise, Ship 30 for 30 talks about five big data points:

  1. Views
  2. Likes
  3. Comments
  4. Shares
  5. Peer approval

Below I’ll share my results, a little bit more about the significance of each of these data points, and some hypotheses I’m currently looking at given the data.

For transparency, I’ve bolded titles that ranked high in two categories and highlighted titles that ranked high in three categories.

(And if you’re interested in seeing the rest of the 30 pieces I published during the cohort, please click here.)

Views (a.k.a. Impressions)

Views are the least important metric because they’re passive.

However, they can provide a quick way to get a sense of which topics might be resonating with people.

MY TOP PIECES RANKED BY VIEWS

  1. What does it mean to organize for actionability? (5,492 views)
  2. 5 Tips to Avoid Overwhelm in Ship 30 for 30 (2,282 views)
  3. Why write everything down? (1,980 views)
  4. 10 reasons I chose Obsidian for my PKM system (1,915 views)
  5. How I do my weekly reviews (1,822 views)
  6. Think a Map of Content Is Just a Table of Contents? Here Are 3 Benefits You’re Missing Out On (1,680 views)

Likes

Likes require action from the reader, but that action is minimal.

Like views, they provide a quick way to get a sense of audience resonance.

MY TOP PIECES RANKED BY LIKES

  1. 5 Tips to Avoid Overwhelm in Ship 30 for 30 (40 likes)
  2. How I do my weekly reviews (35 likes)
  3. What does it mean to organize for actionability? (33 likes)

Comments (a.k.a. Replies)

Comments require more meaningful action from the reader because they require some thought.

They are critical to consider if you’ve asked a question or encouraged participation in some form.

Sometimes you don’t prompt your audience, yet you receive many comments. This usually means your readers have either many questions or a lot of opinions on the topic.

MY TOP PIECES RANKED BY COMMENTS

  1. 5 Tips to Avoid Overwhelm in Ship 30 for 30 (11 replies)
  2. How I do my weekly reviews (11 replies)
  3. Why write everything down? (9 replies)

Shares (a.k.a. Retweets)

Shares are arguably the most valuable data point.

When someone shares your content, it means they’ve taken action. But even more than that, they’ve attached the piece to their digital identity. (For non-Twitter users, it appears on your feed/profile page when you retweet something.)

This is a stamp of approval.

MY TOP PIECES RANKED BY SHARES

  1. What does it mean to organize for actionability? (8 shares)
  2. 10 reasons I chose Obsidian for my PKM system (4 shares)

Peer approval

Peer approval refers to when someone with a large audience, someone with high credibility, or someone you look up to engages with your writing.

This metric doesn’t seem to be as easy to automate.

I think the mark of this would probably be the feeling of excitement when you get the notification of their engagement.

Current hypotheses

Admittedly, I still struggle with the data analysis part of this process. There are a lot of variables, and determining which ones are meaningful is difficult. This will require further experimentation.

In terms of broader observations, I have two:

  1. People seem to prefer focused pieces instead of broad pieces. I noticed a drop-off in likes on my What does it mean to organize for actionability? post after I finished my summary of PARA. I also got feedback from two people that staying focused instead of incorporating additional content would be better.
  2. People seem to like lists. Every piece I mentioned above incorporated a list in some form. At the same time, I’m wondering if this is true of every article I ended up publishing… …maybe this is more of a “Tyler likes lists” hypothesis…

In terms of topic areas, my pieces that performed the best statistically fell into three camps:

  1. Personal Knowledge Management (PKM). 🎉
  2. Productivity. 🎉
  3. Ship 30 for 30. I admit I was playing to the audience when I wrote this piece. In Ship 30 for 30, you’re encouraged to engage with the writing of your fellow Shippers, and I knew this was something a lot of people would be struggling with.

In terms of more specific areas, I picked out a bunch that might be good topics for the future. I hypothesize these might resonate with people based on the number of likes and the number of comments I got that mentioned these:

  • Unreliability of memory
  • The Obsidian community
  • What is a Map of Content?
  • Focusing on noise over signal
  • Processing your download folder and phone photos weekly
  • Freeing up your brain to do things by writing other things down
  • Benefits of your weekly review being an evaluation rather than a checklist

A review of the first quarter of 2022

We’re already 25% through 2022. 👀

It feels like time goes by so fast.

At the same time, looking back so much has already happened this year.

Work has been a rollercoaster.

Sometimes I help other teams solve problems. Other times, I answer people’s questions. And I’ve been able to take some time to create some documentation that people had been asking for.

So the highs have all been when I feel like I can help other people.

And the lows?

I’d planned to catch up on work only to have more stuff dumped on me last minute. I had to help plan and answer questions about a project that didn’t have defined boundaries. And it always feels like people feel free to demand things to be done on short notice because it’s in the spirit of “velocity.”

The lows all surround the chaotic aspect of work.

And now I’m wondering if these are two sides of the same coin.

I get anxious when I think about the chaos. I wonder if I’m good enough. And feeling like I can help people allows me a moment where I feel that I am good enough.

So maybe the rollercoaster of work is just a reflection of the ebbs and flows of my anxiety levels.

On that note, I’ve gotten some terrific feedback this quarter.

I’ve always thought of myself as someone with poor self-awareness.

A couple of months ago, my therapist pointed out that my self-awareness has improved since we started working together. And I’ve gotten feedback from multiple coaches that my self-awareness is quite developed.

It was great to hear that feedback because I don’t think I would have noticed that change on my own.

Similarly, I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten more comfortable listening to recordings of my voice.

Doing this before left me feeling nauseous and jittery. This quarter, I listened to many recordings of my voice from CBCs and coaching sessions where I was the coachee. Initially, I had to force myself to listen to the recordings.

Now, there’s much less of that discomfort.

This quarter, I also finished Ultraspeaking and Ship 30 for 30. (Well, I’ll be finishing Ship 30 for 30 today. 🤣 Also, note this is my affiliate/discount link.)

The hardest part of Ultraspeaking was the first week when I couldn’t stop thinking about how bad of a speaker I was. The hardest part of Ship 30 for 30 was publishing something every day, reading and engaging with other participants on their essays, and keeping up with the live sessions. It was a lot more work than I expected.

But I got a lot out of each of these classes.

Ship 30 for 30, in particular, exceeded my expectations.

I put off signing up for Ship 30 for 30 for almost a year. I thought I was going to be paying for accountability. But there was so much more content than I expected. The community was very supportive.

It was fantastic to immediately put the lecture material into practice in an iterative way.

Switching topics now to my notes…

I finally started using Obsidian community plugins this quarter.

Previously, I had resisted the allure of these for security reasons. But then I thought about how engaged the Obsidian community is. I thought about how my stuff isn’t valuable enough for anyone to want to steal. And I thought about all the things I’d be able to automate by using the plugins.

So I decided to dive in.

So far, they’ve been fantastic. Some things are much, much more streamlined.

I am now one of the Obsidian moderators for cohort 14 of Building a Second Brain (BASB).

Being selected as a moderator caught me off guard. I know some very talented and experienced people in the BASB community. I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that I would be helping out as a moderator.

I’m hoping I’m able to help people in this cohort.

And then on the people side of things…

Alex and I spent a day with the family in the woods in front of a campfire. Some friends came over to start marathoning Rupaul’s Drag Race. And I caught up with a bunch of friends over calls.

I love being at home with a book. However, these connections always seem to be highlighted in my reviews.

I was also excited to connect with several people from CBCs and this newsletter.

Zoom has undoubtedly made the world smaller.

Some more new connections as well: I joined a new volleyball team. And I hosted a couple of Twitter Spaces with Alessandra White.

So as much as 2022 is going by super fast, much has already happened.

Taking notes effectively from movies and TV shows

I’ve been thinking this week about taking notes from movies and TV shows effectively.

This is a challenging medium for me.

With books, I usually read on my Kindle. It’s easy to highlight things and then export those highlights into my Obsidian using Bookcision.

With articles, it’s a similar setup. I can highlight articles in my browser using Readwise and then export those highlights into my Obsidian.

I can highlight using a similar setup with articles using the built-in transcript feature, even with Youtube videos. (On Youtube, if you click the three dots next to the “Save” button, there’s an option to “Open transcript.” This opens an interactive transcript next to the video with timestamps, and it highlights the transcript as the video progresses. The timestamps can be removed if you click the three dots in the “Transcript” window and select the option to “Toggle timestamps.”)

Movies and shows seem to disappear faster and more unexpectedly than other media. But some of these inspire a lot of thought, so I don’t want to lose them.

This past weekend, I started experimenting a bit.

As we watched Inventing Anna and Attack on Titan, I had a paper notebook and kept relatively detailed notes on critical events.

This was quite a bit of work. It’s easier to re-watch something because then I know what to look for. It’s also easier when things are in English or when the show is dialogue-driven (otherwise, I miss too much when I look away from the screen to write down notes).

I also haven’t figured out what’s the most effective thing to record:

  • Direct quotes? This is most familiar as it’s what I use most from my other forms of media.
  • A brief plot summary? This would be most efficient both to create and to consume later.
  • A detailed plot summary? This could help me distinguish when specific events happened, especially for shows that follow multiple characters or span numerous timelines.

(This also has me wondering if I’m looking for a silver bullet. 🤔 Maybe my notes will vary on a case-by-case basis.)

As much as I love direct quotes, I have a few concerns.

Are they as effective with fiction as they are with non-fiction? Most of the direct quotes I use are related to non-fiction. I’m not sure I can apply fiction quotes in the same way.

Also, some quotes stand on their own. For example, I recently posted a Twitter thread as part of Ship 30 for 30 (my discounted/affiliate link) with many quotes from Arcane.

But not all quotes stand on their own. Many quotes require the context of the plot, the situation, the characters, etc., to be meaningful.

I recently finished reading The Body Keeps The Score. I’d love to take some time to do a bunch of writing about trauma, and a lot of my thinking about it draws connections to shows such as:

It would be great (and more efficient) if I could create notes for those shows instead of re-diving into each of them whenever I want to reference something from them in my PKM.

Reflections on applying Ship 30 for 30 principles to my newsletter content

As I mentioned last week, I’m currently taking Ship 30 for 30 (my essays can be found here).

I’m learning a lot in this cohort-based course–there’s way more material than I had expected going into it.

Some of the things I’ve learned so far include:

  • It’s important to write for a super-specific audience. It’s almost like you should be writing for a single individual. Because of the scale of the internet, many people will relate to that individual. But by writing to that specific individual, you allow your reader to feel like you’re writing specifically to them.
  • It’s important to know what you want your reader to take away (and tell them that in the headline). People are more likely to read your stuff if they see the value they will get from reading it in advance. Some ways to provide value include explaining how to do something, providing a new perspective, motivating the reader to do something, or explaining the why behind something.
  • It’s important to establish your credibility with the reader. If you’re borrowing credibility from other experts, people will read to get the perspectives from those other experts. But if you’re using your credibility, people need to know why your experience with this topic will be valuable to them. If you don’t establish some form of credibility, people aren’t likely to invest the time to read your writing.

I’ve seen how these ideas work well for essays and threads on Twitter. So I started thinking about applying these to my newsletters.

And I had very mixed feelings towards this thought.

Part of me is concerned that I’m too black-and-white with my writing.

The principles from Ship 30 for 30 are designed for publishing on Twitter. When you’re writing on Twitter, many of your readers are strangers. They don’t know who you are or what you write about.

This isn’t the same case with my newsletter. Almost all of my subscribers know (of) either me or my writing. If you aren’t interested in what or how I write, I assume you’d unsubscribe.

But at the same time, part of me wonders if something is interesting here?

I like many of the suggestions they make in Ship 30 for 30. I’m assuming many other people like them, given the popularity of many of the atomic essays and threads produced during and after the course.

So maybe there are some things I can adopt into my newsletters?

One thing I’m still reflecting on with regards to this is content.

Many of my newsletters are very experiential/stream-of-consciousness regarding what I’ve been learning and thinking about throughout the week. I don’t know if there’s a place for that type of content in the Ship 30 for 30 framework?

But maybe that type of writing is better reserved for my notes in Obsidian? 🤔

If you have any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them! ❤️

Authenticity and the Complexity of Experience

I’m currently doing Ship 30 for 30, a cohort-based course known for its focus on producing 30 atomic essays or Twitter threads over a month.

In addition to writing, I’ve also been trying to read other essays to know others in the community better. In reading some of those essays, I noticed that one of the thoughts I had a few times was around the idea of the complexity of experience.

Usually, it’s pretty straightforward when I see people sharing their experiences.

I feel happy.

I support vaccination against Covid-19.

I want to go to Hawaii.

But experience isn’t always this simple. Here are a few examples I’ve encountered recently.

One of my coworkers retired last week. I was happy because I knew they’d been preparing for this for a long time. I was excited because they would have the opportunity to de-stress and spend more time on restorative activities. Yet, I was sad because they’ve been a fantastic co-worker and support at work, and the whole company will be feeling their absence.

Another example is a new project we’ve been working on at work. I’ve been disappointed with how certain pieces of the project came together. I felt confused and overwhelmed with this project because it isn’t in an area I’m very familiar with. At the same time, I know this project is important because I see the value it will provide our customers. I don’t want to complain about things–I want to focus on solutions. I want my team to be able to tackle this project successfully. And I don’t want to get hung up on these things that have been draining me emotionally as the project kicks off.

Finally, a more simple example. I had a box of oatmeal raisin cookies on the counter earlier this week. I didn’t want to eat the cookies because I wanted to be healthy, and I’m trying to lose weight. And I did want to eat the cookies because cookies are delicious, and I wanted something to make me feel better when I was feeling a bunch of anxiety with work and Ship 30 for 30. (Spoiler Alert: I ate the box in a single afternoon.)

So experience is complex.

What does this mean about authenticity?

There is one theme I seem to encounter in conversations about authenticity commonly. Your whole self. Your full experience. Being utterly true to you.

When I think about the moments where I see other people as being really authentic, I’m not usually hearing them juggling conflicting thoughts, feelings, or desires. Usually, they’re being very vulnerable about a specific experience they had. It’s cohesive and lacks that complexity.

When I think about that new project at work, I could focus on driving forward for a successful project. But to me, this wouldn’t feel very authentic. It would feel like I’m faking it.

I’m clearly still trying to figure this authenticity thing out. It doesn’t seem to be revealing your entire experience, nor does it seem to be revealing only part of your experience.

What the heck is authenticity? 🔍

Solutions that produce the problem they intended to solve

I’m entering week four of my time-boxing experiment.

It’s funny because part of me seems to be aware of the nature of my current struggle: I’ve dubbed it my denial of reality. I want to do so many things, yet there are only 168 hours in the week.

One of the things I’ve liked about time-boxing is that it makes it real what will get done that week (and what is not going to get done that week). At the same time, I feel anxious when I see important things that aren’t going to get done.

This feeling of anxiety is uncomfortable.

So to address this feeling, I push myself to schedule those critical things.

However, this has two side effects.

First, my schedule becomes full with back-to-back events. In other words, I have to be super strict with sticking to the scheduled time and starting the next thing on time. It also means I only get to rest/recharge when I plan it. Otherwise, I end up eating into my sleeping time.

Second, when I’m able to schedule all the important things, I see room for me to take on more things. I’m interested in personal growth. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s easiest to interpret “do better” as “do more.” (And that can be a dangerous thought to default to.)

Well, these side effects tend to leave me feeling anxious about things. This feeling is the exact thing I was trying to avoid in the first place.

So the drive for instant gratification (i.e. avoiding the feeling of anxiety) led me to ignore the bigger picture–that the solution I was choosing would produce more of the same.

I’ve performed this exact pattern before in my life.

Since childhood, I’ve had a fear of people disliking me for a myriad of reasons (probably related to worthiness). So to avoid feeling disconnected, I often tried to be invisible. (After all, if people can’t see you, they’ll have no reason to reject you.)

But looking at this from an external perspective, it’s clear that being invisible inevitably leads to disconnection. People can’t connect with you if they don’t see you.

So in these ways, the solutions I came up with for my problems became double-edged swords.

I scheduled everything to avoid feeling anxious, but this made me uneasy about other things.

I avoided being seen to prevent disconnection, but this prevented me from connecting with others.

Seeing these patterns makes me curious about how often I do these things without realizing it.

I’m also curious if there’s a better term for this pattern than “double-edged sword” and how common this phenomenon is.

They prevent us from seeing new data

I had an experience of mismatched perspectives when I was a kid. Some of my relatives I only saw occasionally–once every year or so. Every time I saw them, they’d tell me how I changed so much. But to me, this never made any sense. I saw myself in the mirror every day and I always looked the same.

This reminds me of homeostasis. Our bodies try to maintain a steady physiological state. I think our minds have a tendency to do so as well. (I imagine the world wouldn’t feel so safe or in control if our minds didn’t have this same tendency.)

However, this can present some challenges. I’m writing about both a personal challenge and a social challenge that I think this poses.

The personal challenge is that we sometimes struggle to see our progress. This makes it difficult to celebrate our successes.

Our perspective seems to become normalized to our present growth rate. Perhaps this is just hedonic adaption in action. This can make setbacks feel worse than they actually are.

I saw one example of this recently in a tweet from Tony Dinh. Assuming I’m extrapolating the net MRR movements (ie. new/increased subscription value minus decreased/lost subscription value) from previous months accurately, it looks like Tony had a higher net MRR movement in December and January compared to February.

It looks like his growth rate decelerated in February. So he reflected on February by calling it “brutal”.

However, the positive net MRR movement means that his business was still growing. It wasn’t shrinking. It wasn’t maintaining the status quo. It was still growing.

I don’t know the full extent of Tony’s reflections on his month of February. However, I’ve seen patterns in myself and others where we fixate only on the areas where there’s room for improvement. This is negativity bias in action.

So when reflecting on things, I find it useful to start by celebrating the things that went well. Negativity bias will make celebrating a lot of these things seem mundane, but don’t let it pull you in. If you start by reflecting on the areas you can improve, it can become more challenging to see those worth celebrating. This isn’t usually the case vice versa.

Here are some of the things that are potentially worth celebrating:

  • (partial) results
  • luck
  • effort
  • choice of (in)action
  • mindset
  • perspective
  • mood

Now it’s time to return to the social challenge I mentioned before. Just as we sometimes struggle to see our progress, sometimes we also struggle to see other people’s progress. (And sometimes they struggle to see our progress as well.)

We often apply labels to the people we know. The more often we see someone and the better we think we know that person, the more strongly these labels tend to stick.

Sometimes these labels may be negative.

They are bossy. They don’t listen. They’re selfish.

Sometimes these labels may be positive.

They are helpful. They unconditionally love me. They’re organized.

We anchor the perspectives we take to those labels for better or worse. This affects how we perceive reality.

Maybe that bossy person has been trying to stop telling people what to do. Maybe they’ve been working on their interoception with a therapist to get a better sense of when they feel unsafe and when they’re driven towards control. Maybe they’ve started asking for suggestions before giving suggestions. Maybe you never noticed any of it because you think they’re bossy.

Maybe that helpful person has been feeling lazy and disengaged at work. Maybe they aren’t so generous with people of certain demographics. Maybe they only volunteer for things when they know they’ll get acknowledged for it. Maybe you never noticed any of it because you think they’re helpful.

If you feel like someone isn’t acknowledging growth that you’ve been working towards, perhaps it would be useful to share your experience with them. One tool that could be useful for sharing this is Gervase Bushe’s experience cube. By using this tool, you can share why you think you’re not being treated fairly, the changes you’ve been making, and the impact it has on you when you don’t think those changes are being acknowledged.

If you want to avoid having your labels skew your perspective of your relationships, perhaps it would be useful to reflect on what labels you’re applying. What labels are you applying to that person? Back to Byron Katie’s The Work, is it true and can you absolutely know that it’s true? What is the potential impact on your relationship that you limit yourself to seeing this person through this label?

Being able to see patterns is a remarkable tool, but that doesn’t mean it needs to become Maslow’s hammer. Those patterns are useful data, but they become dangerous when they prevent us from seeing new data.

Yet another attempt at time blocking

When I was doing my annual review, one of my observations was that I had attempted time blocking in two distinct periods in 2021. It’s been a while, but I suspect my motivations for coming back to time blocking stemmed from reflecting on Cal Newport’s Deep Work and Nir Eyal’s Indistractable.

When I’m using time blocking, I usually find that I get a lot done throughout the week, and my most important tasks are more likely to be completed.

At the same time, I’ve stopped my attempts at time blocking twice last year (and even more times in the past) because of three pain points: time blocking takes a lot of time, things such as emergencies and collaborating with other people aren’t fully in my control, and the need to adjust my schedule when I don’t finish essential tasks in the scheduled time block. I will discuss each of these in more detail below.

The first pain point I mentioned is that time blocking takes a lot of time. I have to figure out everything I want to do in the week, which involves filtering through my to-do list. I then have to filter that down even more because I don’t usually have time to do everything I want to do during the week. This becomes especially apparent as I try to fit everything into my calendar around pre-existing meetings and time for self-care.

So I’m trying to limit this process to one hour, one morning each week. In both Indistractable and Sahil Lavingia’s The Minimalist Entrepreneur, there’s an idea of how constraints inspire creativity. By forcing myself to make all my scheduling decisions for the week in this one hour, I force myself to tap into my imagination to figure out how to play Tetris with my schedule.

For this to work, it also means I have to commit to my schedule for the week. Suppose I allow myself to move things around. In that case, I’ll be making decisions later on in the day when I’m more likely emotional and susceptible to decision fatigue. That is, I’ll be more likely to make poor decisions about what to do with my schedule. This also relates to the second and third pain points I’ve experienced with time blocking.

The second pain point is that there are things in my week that aren’t always in my control–a coworker may ask a favour, my boss may schedule a meeting, a pipe may burst in my home. These sorts of things usually give me anxiety because I know they can happen, I can’t predict them, and they influence the plans I make for the week.

So let me start by saying there is such thing as legitimate emergencies. If a pipe bursts in your apartment, it could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages to not only your unit but also other units that are affected by the water damage. If you are experiencing appendicitis, you may die if you don’t get to a hospital quickly. Some things are worth straying from your schedule.

At the same time, I know I treat some things as emergencies, even if they aren’t mission-critical.

If a coworker asks me a question or wants to pair on something, I tend to respond immediately. If someone schedules a meeting with me, I feel inclined to accept that meeting.

So something I’ve been doing this time is being more critical of my thoughts and beliefs regarding some of these things. I’ve recognized thoughts such as “I’m a bad coworker if I don’t get back to people immediately” and then explored those thoughts using prompts similar to Byron Katie’s Four Questions–exploring whether those thoughts are true.

As a concrete example of a change I’ve made in light of this, I put appointment slots in my work calendar each day for the week and then asked my team to try to book any meetings, requests for pairing, etc. during those times. I also recognize that this is a change and an experiment for both me and them, so I asked them to let me know if something about it isn’t working for them so I can adjust.

This also has me practicing building the muscle of saying “No” more often. 😉

The final pain point is when I need to adjust my schedule because I don’t finish a task in the allocated time block. Sometimes this is because I would be idealistic when making my schedule. Sometimes this is because of Parkinson’s Law (since I knew I’d create more time if I didn’t finish something in the intended time block).

So now when I schedule my week, I schedule for the likely scenario, not the ideal one. I try to anticipate what could go wrong. I try to anticipate my energy levels. I try to anticipate when it would be useful to block off time to recharge. And I schedule my week respecting those things. It often means that I fit fewer things into my plans, but it also often means that I get more done.

As for Parkinson’s Law, most of this comes down to addressing my perfectionism. Yes, I could spend substantially more time making sure something was perfect, and often this is the driving force for when I want something to expand past it’s intended time block. But as the Pareto Principle suggests, I could spend 80% more time making it perfect, but I probably already have 80% of the value produced in that time block.

I’m learning to change my definition of done. Not only does this help with time blocking, but it also allows me to do more with the time that I have. (It’s incredible to think of how much human potential is lost due to perfectionism, but that’s a topic for another day. 🤣)

Perfect is the enemy of good.

Voltaire

So here’s to yet another attempt at time blocking. 🥂

Last week felt super productive and I was pleased with how it turned out. Hoping to keep up these results and learnings as the weeks go on!

When we hold ourselves back

recently tweeted about how self-esteem is about being able to see one’s options and feeling free to choose from those options.

(If either of these is missing, self-esteem is lacking. If someone sees themselves as not having any options, it doesn’t sound like they have high self-esteem. Similarly, someone may see options but feel that most if not all of those options are too costly to really consider as options. So they feel trapped–just picking the least bad option–which also doesn’t sound like they have high self-esteem.)

Our self-esteem comes from our thoughts and beliefs. It seems like a part of the human condition for us to tell ourselves stories that limit our self esteem.

I’m not smart enough to publish a book.”

My ADHD prevents me from limiting my overconsumption of information.”

I have to do this because I set myself this deadline.”

“It isn’t really an option to publish what I wrote this morning—it’s just a draft, it requires editing, I’m not done thinking about that topic yet, and there’s more I intend to write about.”

In Arcane, Silco shares this thought about power:

You see, power, real power doesn’t come to those who were born strongest or fastest or smartest. No. It comes to those who will do anything to achieve it.

Silco

Now, as much as Silco is a villain and uses this phrase to manipulate someone, I think there is some wisdom regarding self-esteem hidden beneath the surface.

The way many of us seem to think about self-esteem is almost meritocratic: if I were a better communicator, I’d have more self-esteem towards using these new relationship tools I’ve been learning; they’re so good at what they do, it’s no wonder they have so much self-esteem.

But self-esteem has nothing to do with merit.

A recent example of this is Simone Biles. Biles is tied as the world’s most decorated gymnast of all time. If that isn’t a display of merit, I don’t know what else is.

Despite this, Biles withdrew from the 2020 Olympic Games following her experience of decreased self-esteem.

Again, self-esteem has nothing to do with merit. It has to do with the thoughts and beliefs we have.

Looking at the last part of Silco’s thought (ie. “It comes to those who will do anything to achieve it.”), three things jumped to my mind.

First, I thought about goal achievement.

There are times when we work towards are goals, and things become difficult. We may not know how to do something. We may not know what to do. We be doing what we know to do, but it just isn’t getting us the results we need.

When we encounter this, we may give up on the goal. We may move the finish line to something easier. We may shift focus to another task or goal. But all of these communicate “This goal as it is isn’t an option for me.”

If instead we push through those feelings of discomfort and uncertainty, we can continue progressing towards our goal. And this helps you to see freely-choosable options where you didn’t see free-choosable options.

Those feelings that once seemed like insurmountable summits now feel like speed bumps on our journey.

Second, I recall examples of this is in 14 Peaks.

Nirmal Purja wanted to climb all 14 mountain peaks with an altitude higher than 8,000 meters over the course of 7 months.

He had so many opportunities where he could have given up.

Harsh weather could have prevented him from climbing certain peaks. But he and his team decided to take the risk and climb anyways.

Governments had shut down certain peaks due to dangerous conditions. But he rallied his supporters to write to the government to open the mountain to Purja and his team.

After summiting one of the peaks, he volunteered to summit again to help rescue another climber who got in trouble coming down. This could have been an excuse for why other peaks couldn’t be climbed in time. But Purja kept his focus on why he could accomplish his dreams instead of focusing on why he couldn’t accomplish his dreams.

Finally, I recently rewatched The Last Lecture.

In this lecture, Randy Pausch presents the theme that brick walls are there to show how badly you want something and to stop the other people who don’t want it bad enough.

One of the examples he shared was how he wanted to experience zero-gravity. With a team of students, he entered a NASA competition where the prize was to take a ride on a jet that would allow them to experience zero-gravity. And the team won.

But then he found out that faculty advisors were not allowed to participate in the zero-gravity experience.

It would have been easy for him to see this as an option he couldn’t take and quit there. But he knew it was a brick wall.

So he e-mailed NASA and told them he was resigning as the team’s faculty advisor and applying as the team’s journalist. And (after a bit more bargaining because it was very transparent to NASA about what he was doing) he was able to experience zero-gravity with his team.

He kept going where many of us would have allowed our thoughts to stop us.

So where in your life are you feeling stuck or low on options?

What thoughts or beliefs do you have that are keeping you there?

Awareness is an interesting thing

In Ultraspeaking Fundamentals this week, we were working on storytelling.

I was playing one of the games, and a topic came up. Fortunately, I had a story that came to mind, so I jumped into sharing that story.

Afterwards, my group gave me some feedback. I learned that I was sharing my thoughts about the story–not the story itself. My coach suggested that I find a specific moment, and share from that moment.

The next time I played the game, I again had a story come to mind. I managed to put myself in a specific moment of that story, and I shared from that specific moment.

Again, my group told me I was sharing my reflections about that specific moment. Instead, I should try speaking in present tense as if I were reliving that moment.

So I tried playing the game again, this time sharing from a specific moment–describing my actions, thoughts, and feelings using the present tense.

Although I again got closer, I was told that sometimes when I shared my thoughts, I jumped back out of the moment–almost as if I were jumping into the role of a third-party narrator.

I was surprised. I knew the exact moment I wanted to talk about. I know what present tense is. Yet, somehow, I wasn’t aware of when I shifted out of present tense in telling my story. I wasn’t aware of when I shifted out of telling my story and instead move towards reflecting on it.

This made me think of a story I read this week in No Rules Rules. Reed Hastings shares a story of teaching high school math in Swaziland as a Peace Corps volunteer:

On a weekly quiz I provided a problem that, from my understanding of their skill set, they should have been able to answer:

A room measures 2 meters by 3 meters. How many 50-centimeter tiles does it take to cover the floor?

Not one of my students gave the accurate response and most of them left the question blank.

The next day in class I put the question on the blackboard and asked for a volunteer to solve it. Students shuffled their feet and looked out the window. I felt my face becoming flushed with frustration. “No one? No one is able to answer?” I asked incredulously. Feeling deflated, I sat down at my desk and waited for a response. That’s when Thabo, a tall, earnest student raised his hand from the back of the class. “Yes, Thabo, please tell us how to solve this problem,” I said, jumping up hopefully. But instead of answering the question Thabo asked, “Mr. Hastings, sir, please, what is a tile?”

Sometimes, things are right in our face, and yet we’re blind to them. Sometimes we can only see things when other people point them out, or when we find ourselves in a position to see another perspective.

This also made me reflect on an experience I had almost a year ago when I was learning how to drive. I had another driving class this week, and my instructor and I were laughing about this. For some reason, pullover parking was the bane of my existence.

I pulled over to the side of the curb slowly, trying to keep all the queues in my head. Then I felt a small bump as the front wheel touched the curb.

As I recall it, my instructor told me that it doesn’t need to be perfect. Just 95% would be great–we can fix the rest later. He gave me a demo, and then asked me to try again.

So I tried it again. I slowed down the car, slowly pulled up to the side of the curb, and then bump.

This time, my instructor gave me a food analogy. When salting food, it’s always better to add too little salt. If you over salt, there’s nothing you can do to fix it. If you under salt, you can always add a little more salt afterwards. With that, he gave me another demo, and then asked me to try again.

So I tried it again. And once again, my attempt concluded with a bump.

It took probably between 3-5 lessons for me to figure it out.

Eventually, I realized what he kept demoing to me. Something about my perfectionism or maybe my ego had me thinking 95% meant my error range was on the order of centimeters, not feet.

But as soon as it clicked, pullover parking was suddenly easy.

My instructor and I had a good laugh about that.

Awareness is an interesting thing.

All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.

Brené Brown