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A brand, a business and a career. From a nametag.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Negative imagination is frightening your heart

Every day, we are tempted to binge on negativity. 

It is our society's most seductive attention magnet. Whether it comes through our screens, in our ear buds, on physical media, our out of the mouths of other people, it has grown more and more difficult to see past the downpour of pessimistic thoughts. 

According to the definitive study on negativity bias from a psychophysiology journey, participants would not only spend more time viewing negative words and images, but they also registered more eye blinks during the process. 

Meaning there was more cognitive activity. They simply couldn't avert their gaze. It was wired into them evolutionarily. 

It reminds me of a short but hilarious scene from the animated movie about a bug's life:

Harry is a mosquito who gets attracted to a deadly bug zapper lantern under the roof of a porch. Don't look at the light, his friend warns. But he is so entranced by the light that he is rendered powerless. 

I can't help it, it's so beautiful. 

Harry touches it, gets zapped, screams waaaahoooooow, and then falls to his death into a rusty tin can. 

That's us. Every single day. We are the bugs drifting into the zapper light. 

But despite this highly salient feature of human nature, it is still possible for us to interrupt the spiral of negativity before it gets out of control. We can take back the power. 

Instead of watching the news like zombies and seeing a reflection of our lives in imminent danger, we can choose to do a media fast. We can actually turn off the goddamn television for once and actually reconnect to the person sitting next to us instead. 

Simpsons did a great episode about this years ago:

Your cable television is experiencing difficulties. Please do not panic. Resist the temptation to read or talk to loved ones. Do not attempt sexual relations, as years of television radiation have left your genitals withered and useless.

But the real warning should sound something more like this:

This is not the moment to pore over the ills of the world. Do not mistake our pessimistic despair for wisdom. Free yourself from the tyranny of negativity. And over time, as you increase your ability to deliberately keep yourself out of the conversation, the drama will be outgrown and left behind. 

Your fears will fade as you focus on the many positive resources available to you. 

What drains your optimism?

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Slap a little redemption on this mess and call it good

My old startup founder had a mantra for all our company leaders:

Be soft on the person, hard on the problem. 

Which is wonderful advice in the world of management, but it’s also profoundly useful in the conversation we have inside our heads. 

Because that’s leadership too. How we choose to be with ourselves. Even when nobody is watching. Especially when nobody else is watching. This determines how we are with everyone else. 

The problem is, many of us have the wrong story in circulation. 

For decades, we have been slowly drifting into superstitions about ourselves, practicing unhealthy patterns of behavior based on irrational assumptions. 

In short, we aren’t soft on the person. 

Consider several examples. 

We assume that by criticizing our choices, we will be in control of ourselves. 

We assume that by beating ourselves up, we will change who we are. 

We assume that by making things as hard on ourselves as possible, we will meet our high standards without compromise. 

We assume that if we give the punishing voice inside our heads free reign, we will alleviate our guilt and increase our humility. 

We assume that if we act unkind and impatiently towards our work, we will create enough anger to catalyze ourselves into taking action. 

We assume that if we unfairly compare our career with someone else’s, we will get our life back on track. 

Each of these assumptions becomes a lash with which we punish ourselves. But we have no idea that paying rent in blood just to be allowed to go on living is not a healthy approach to life. 

That’s the work. Acceptance, forgiveness and surrender. 

Being hard on the problem, but more importantly, being soft on ourselves. 

Are you still using tools you built around assumptions that don’t work anymore?

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Emotionally mature enough to put things where they belong

Human beings prefer that our thoughts and feelings are in in harmony with each other at all times. 

It makes us feel safe, controlled, competent and satisfied in this chaotic chamber of horrors called life. 

That’s why, when our inner planets fail to align, we go to great lengths to restore the balance. The internal inconsistency is too psychologically uncomfortable. 

Unfortunately, the cash value of cognitive dissonance rarely pays out in real life. 

We live in a world where control is an illusion, consistency is a fantasy, and uncertainty is the constant. And considering the madness that awaits around every corner, our willingness and ability to compartmentalize is a priceless asset. 

Fitzgerald famously wrote that the test of a first rate intelligence was the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. 

But it’s more than just intelligence, it’s also a key part of having healthy boundaries. People who can deal with conflicting internal standpoints simultaneously, people who can choose not to let one thing blur into another, and people who refuse to stay frozen in the purgatory between bloody armies of true believers, they are the least stressed. 

Consider, for example, the ancient argument about separating the art from the artist. Like when a celebrity gets busted for illicit, unethical and unconscionable behavior. And their scandal complicates the world’s reception of their art. 

Some of us are able compartmentalize that. Instead of tossing that artist’s records into a fire, patting ourselves on the back for being offended and congratulating our friends on how upset we all are, we choose to experience the work as purer than the tainted soul that produced it. 

But sadly, this raises some questions. 

Does that mean we’re in denial, or does it mean we are emotionally mature enough to put things where they belong and not let them get in the way of the rest of our life? 

Does it mean we’re robotic, delusional sociopaths who are complicit in the problem and deserve to be shamed in public, or does it mean our minds simply know how to deal with conflicting internal standpoints simultaneously? 

Does mean we are fugitives from our feelings whose black hearts are slowly atrophying, or does it mean that we have mentally healthy, compartmentalized minds and diversified personalities that enable us to behave differently in a variety of situations? 

Seneca, the legendary stoic philosopher, wrote:

Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life

What he was trying to tell us was, ambivalence is an intrinsic part of the human condition. And so, compartmentalizing is a valid and necessary mode for comprehending this messed up universe we live in. 

We all do what we have to do. We all remember the past the way we need to. 

Next time you develop a brain cramp because every single one of your thoughts doesn’t get along with each other perfectly, take a deep breath. Inhale for five, pause for two, exhale for five. And then, close that compartment and open the next one. 

Or better yet, say no to things that don’t deserve a compartment in the first place. 

Decide not to invest emotionally. Isolate the issue from all the other challenges you are dealing with. And move on with your life. 

Are you getting dragged down in the depressive mire of people who can’t compartmentalize?

Thursday, May 21, 2020

We take ourselves with us, everywhere we go

There is a great saying the recovery community. 

Addicts are like pickles, they can never become cucumbers again. 

Meaning, certain predilections are never out of our lives completely. We take ourselves with us everywhere we go. Genetics combined with environment says that any one of us could relapse into old patterns that diminish what we are in our best moments. 

Here is a morbid way to think about it. 

It’s like an old stalker who doesn’t know that you changed your address. And so, you think you’re in the clear, until one day, years later, the doorbell rings, and he’s standing there saying, remember me? 

But this experience is not specific to addicts. Nobody is immune from the things that frighten, tempt or bully them into their lesser selves. We all have our own version of relapse. 

The scary part is, it’s very insidious. Our seeds of relapse are planted long before the actual event. And because we overestimate our strengths and underestimate our weaknesses, it’s often too late before we realize just how much we have backslid to old habits, outdated patterns, unhealthy coping mechanisms. 

Occasionally my workaholic tendencies will resurface during times of loneliness, which leads to drowning myself in tasks without stopping, isolating, resenting loved ones who interrupt me, and distorting work by impatiently demanding it gets completely immediately. It’s scary. 

What’s your version of relapse? 

Look, everyone has their own addictions and weaknesses and unhealthy behaviors. But no matter how much work we do on ourselves, sometimes it still feels like that stubborn candle on the birthday cake that never goes out no matter how much we blow on it. 

And that’s okay. Some things never go away. 

But what we can do is plan for relapse in advance. We can anticipate our lesser moments when we’re in a calm, cool state, and that way we can execute when the pressure is on. 

Even if that means setting a timer to go off every sixty minutes to prevent you from overworking until your jaw hurts. 

What unhealthy actions do you revert to in a state of fear?

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Show up with your full self and bring some joy to the room

The most exciting part of poker is anytime someone goes all in. 

This is a type of bet where the player commits his entire stack of chips. Even if it’s not a huge amount of money. Not the point. What matters is the commitment. The courageous, binary decision to jump into this situation unreservedly involved, without equivocation. 

Because in poker, there is no fence. You’re either in or you’re out. It’s a very simple, black and white construct. Or in this case, black in red. 

That’s why people with zero resolution are be infuriating. You know the ones. Wishy washy wimps who couldn’t make a firm decision if they were offered a lifeboat alongside a sinking cruise liner. Makes you want to pull your hair out. 

These people desperately need some upside down ankle shaking. 

And this is more than just everyday indecisiveness, too. What we’re talking about here are people who lack the ability to fully commit. To anything. It’s like they are never fully there, never fully not there, just sort of indifferently floating in the middle somewhere. 

Unfortunately, because life is not a game of poker, there is no binary rule that says they have to decide anything. There is no commitment police to enforce to keep people in line. 

Which means sometimes we almost have to campaign for others to show up completely. 

As if to say to them, hey man, there is a big feast going on here, if you would only show up. 

There is no guarantee that it will work, though. 

People don’t always show up the way we want them to. 

And we have to learn to accept that disappointment. 

Whom do you know that never seems to be all in, or all out, for anything?

Monday, May 18, 2020

Keep the spirits happy, keep the nest safe

Being the arbiter of moral rectitude is very rarely welcomed. 

In fact, it’s usually met with ungenerous opposition. 

Like when you go out to eat with a group of friends or colleagues, and upon ordering something healthy, all the sudden you get the chorus of eye rolls. People joke about how you are make everyone else feel bad. They make passive aggressive and backhanded remarks about your conscious choices. And you feel shamed and bullied for trying to be healthy. 

It’s not hyperbole, it’s biology. It’s a deeply ingrained evolutionarily driven impulse that all people do to protect their tribes. 

And so, when you are the deviant person refusing to conform to the normality of the group, people’s reptilian brains kick into high gear. They perceive you as trying to leave the tribe, and that ancient chorus begins spinning on repeat. 

Keep the spirits happy, keep the nest safe and show allegiance to the chief and the clan. 

Biologists call this the shaming and shunning instinct. It’s an expression of envy and anger. 

In the case of healthy eating or drinking habits, for example, one member has what the others want. 

Discipline. Restraint. Strength. 

Which means the mob needs to take them down for it. 

How dare you make healthy choices in front of us? We are eating friend chicken and drinking whiskey, and that is that. 

Sadly, this instinct starts at a very young age. And it never stops unless we become aware of it. 

Reminds me of middle school. Everyday my brown bag lunch was a turkey on a bagel with pretzels and an apple. Whereas everyone else was eating junk, sugary snacks and other normal food. 

And so, my friends humiliated me. They called me a brown nose goodie two shoes. Because apparently, it was not cool to responsibly pack and bring your own lunch, much less a healthy one. 

The shunning and shame got so bad that eventually I just stopped doing it, and just purchased junk food from the cafeteria machines instead. 

Maybe nobody really wants you to be healthy after all. 

What healthy choices have you been shamed for?

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Share the essence of the person who is underneath

During the coronavirus pandemic, nametags started to take on new meaning. 

Particularly in hospitals. Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are legally required to keep their distance, interacting with patients only under excessive layers of protective equipment. 

My friends who worked in medicine told me it made them feel deeply disconnected. But certain healthcare workers found clever ways to help patients feel less alone and more joyful. 

Scripps hospital system had a group of respiratory specialists that started wearing nametags with cheerful pictures of themselves on their gowns. Displaying their full names along with reassuring, comforting smiles uplifted sufferers of this horrible virus and made a big difference to scared patients. 

Can you imagine how good that would feel if it were you? 

On both sides of the stethoscope, too. For the patients, the nametags bring ease during a stressful time. The patient care experience is instantly made more human and memorable. 

And as for the healthcare providers, the nametags elevate their sense of pride as an essential worker. It also prevents them from being reduced to a pair of eyes behind layers of gear.

It’s no surprise, then, that hospitals have announced changes to their identification protocols as the coronavirus spreads. Many are now requiring larger, more prominent nametags to be worn at all times. This sticker is to remain visible to patients, guests, and other personnel, rather than just hanging from a belt loop in the background. 

After all, being in the hospital for an unknown virus is scary enough. May as well do what we can to ease the burden. 

One chief of medicine told his local paper that giving patients hope through a friendly face is fifty percent of the battle. If he has someone who loses hope, it doesn’t matter how many medications he gives them, they're going to go. 

Perhaps nametags are just what the doctor ordered. 

Now, there is no clinical proof that the nametag heals the outcome of someone’s condition, but it certainly helps the experience of treating it. Particularly during this time when people are already starved for connection, this story is a reminder for all of us to not make a tough situation even harder by being anonymous. 

Put yourself and the people around you at ease by visibly articulating your humanity in an uplifting way. 

Wear your nametag. Share the essence of the person who is underneath, and let the healing begin. 

How could you use connection to comfort those who are suffering?

Friday, May 15, 2020

It was abuse, but you thought it was just the way that they loved

According to the national coalition against domestic violence, an average of twenty people are physically abused by intimate partners every minute. 

It’s a sad and terrifying reality of modern relationships. 

And the worst part is, abusers are highly skilled at shifting the blame for their toxic behavior. They are experts at finding excuses to dodge any and all responsibility. 

Consider several of the most common abuse justifications. 

It wasn’t that bad. It was stress. It’s because they care so much. It didn’t really have much of an effect. It’s because they want things to get better. It’s just a phase. It hurt, but deep down there is love. It was just a moment of anger. 

Unacceptable, right? 

There is no excuse for abuse, as the activist mantra goes. 

And yet, we justify abusing ourselves every day. In all of those moments when we berate and act unkindly and torture ourselves mentally, the story we tell is no different than the spouse who hits their lover. 

If we don’t beat ourselves up about this behavior, then we will never change it. 

But it’s just another excuse. Shifting the blame. Dodging responsibility. 

If we have any intention of healing, then we have to figure out what story we are telling about the hurt. We have to interrupt the spiral of abuse before it gets out of control. We have to be gentle with the place inside of us that feel so bad. We have to stand with ourselves as a whole human beings, forgiving whatever imperfections we assume make us unlovable and worthless.

 In short, we have to open our hearts to ourselves.

Remember, lying takes skill, but honesty takes courage. 

Trust that telling the truth is the only way to exist in the future. 

Are you bargaining with yourself to hold onto those abusive behaviors that don’t serve you?

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Faith wanders and shakes hands with the craziness

Everything seems inevitable and logical in retrospect. 

But for now, reason is being invaded by history. Tumbling down a fantastic realm where logic and reason no longer applied, there seems to be no objective moral framework in the unforgiving chaos of this absurd universe. 

This is difficult for our primitive egos to comprehend. 

Because nobody wants to admit theyve seen something that their education or experience can’t explain. That cognitive dissonance is simply too disturbing. If we cant find something black and white to hang our hats on, then our faith will wander and shake hands with craziness until further notice. 

No matter how evolved and savvy and sophisticated we pretend to be, human beings are still superstitious natives who have to chalk everything up to something. And its not helping us. 

Cameron once wrote that faith is the ability to be where we are and to accept that where we are is where we are supposed to be. 

This definition may not be peaceful, but it can bring us peace. Because if we surrender our need to know how everything works and why everything happens, loving the truth more than the ideal, then we can navigate the chaos with a modicum of grace. 

Remember, even if it hurts when we argue with reality, let us trust that nature knows what its doing

Are you blocking reality with the richly textured excuse and explanation that accompanies it?

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

We must remember that we are okay

We must remember that we are okay. 

Vandijk’s research on calming the emotional storm identifies a subtle phenomenon called an invalidating environment. 

It’s where we are taught that our emotions are wrong inappropriate or not okay. The underlying message is to not feel what we are feeling. 

Like the hyper critical parent who offers an infuriating nonstop commentary on our shortcomings. Or the insensitive teacher who tells us that getting angry is not okay. Or the older sibling who rolls his eyes and berates us any time we try to share an opinion. 

As children, these invalidating environments can cause our feelings to be increasingly foreign and scary and confusing to us. Because we don’t know any better. 

However, as adults, the same invalidation can rear its ugly head once again. Perhaps from a boss, peer, coworker or spouse.

And in that moment, the first thing we must do is remember that we are okay. 

We know that whatever that person is doing to us has probably been done to them. And we trust that whatever bile they are spewing in our mouths is more of a reflection of their insides than our outsides. 

When someone is mean to us, we must remember that we are okay. 

When someone invalidates our perceptions and discounts our being and nullifies our feelings, we must remember that we are okay. 

And when someone refuses to accept our internal experience as valid and understandable, we must remember that we are okay. 

What invalidator lurks in the dark corners of your mind and tells you that you are not enough?

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Making decisions is hard, living with them is a harder

My mentor once gave me a priceless piece of business advice. 

Once you’ve sold something, don’t buy it back. Just get your money and walk away. Resist the urge to justify the purchase, over explain the product or excessively thank the customer. Be grateful for the sale and go make another one. 

It’s not only great advice for making sales, but also for making decisions. 

Because for many people, deciding is not actually the hard part. Living with that decision is. 

How many times have you found yourself snared in an endless tangle of anxiety and regret, wondering about marginally better options, unable to give yourself permission to be satisfied with your decision? 

Too many. 

Each time, second guessing yourself into stagnation. 

It’s like my lawyer friend who refuses to make any decision until he has all the facts. It’s exhausting to be around. Especially if our friends are doing something simple like picking a restaurant for dinner. 

Christ on cracker, it’s just pizza, not supreme court case. 

Proving, that making the right choice doesn’t matter as much as making the commitment to choosing. 

Truth is, there is no right choice. It doesn’t exist. It’s a unicorn. Simply making a choice, any choice, even if it’s not perfect, and then following through with absolute commitment, that makes it the right choice. 

Besides, how bad can most pizza really be? 

Seinfeld was right when he said, pizza is like sex, even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. 

Remember, making decisions is hard, living with them is a harder. 

Once you’ve sold something, don’t buy it back. 

Just get money and walk away your. 

What decisions are you still not satisfied with?

Monday, May 11, 2020

Spending my life swimming in chemical soup.

Sobriety is less about the act of consumption and more about the command of oneself. 

Its about the independence from craving. Not allowing things to consume us, so to speak. 

Public health agencies have done a helpful job of reframing the official definition of sobriety. They refer to it as the achievement and maintenance of control over, and equilibrium in, our life in general. 

Interestingly enough, they mention that sobriety is considered to be the natural state of a human being given at a birth. 

And so, what we are talking about here is a return. Not to an unattainable place of perfection, but to an inherent posture of wholeness. Its who we were before the world told us who we needed to be. 

In the fascinating recovery devotional about walking in dry places, one sober man made a brilliant observation:

In this frantic seeking, our basic delusion is that substances can satisfy what is really a spiritual need. Instead of realizing that there is a law of diminishing returns in the abuse of such things, we cling to the delusion that just one more will bring the relief and satisfaction we want. 

What consumes you? What destroys your equilibrium? What is the thing that makes you lose command of yourself? 

Of course, there is no need to judge yourself for these things. And there is no need to remove all of these things from your life. 

There is only the invitation to accept that they exist. 

And if sobriety is something that is meaningful you, they are the obstacle that is the way. 

What helps you achieve independence from craving?

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Begin the unnecessarily slow moving dipping mechanism

Years ago, a popular national news show wanted to feature me as a human interest story on their upcoming episode about luck. 

They asked if they could follow me around for a day to see how wearing a nametag helped open doors with strangers, create connections and stack the cards in my favor. 

Sounds fun, so let’s do it. 

But when the crew showed up at my apartment, the producer informed me that I would be wearing a hidden camera in the button of my shirt. 

Which sounds glamorous and spy movie like in theory, but it actually made me feel kind of sleazy. Unethical. Asking myself, wait, is this even legal? 

Naturally, the television producers assured me that this was standard journalistic procedure, and that their network uses hidden cameras all the time. Just sign this waiver here and try not to draw any attention to the incredibly obvious beeping battery pack that’s hanging around your waist. 

Long story short, we spent the day walking around, pretending to act normal, hoping strangers would engage with my nametag. 

And can you guess what happened? 

Nothing. Nobody said a word. I was ghost. No odd looks, no random greetings, no questions about my nametag, nothing. 

And as the day progressed, the team from the network grew more and more impatient. Looking at me as if to say, we flew an entire production crew out here just to see your little sticker not work? 

Well, that’s not luck, that’s science. Perhaps you’ve heard of the observer effect, which states that the very act of observation causes changes on the matter being observed. 

And so, my anxious and inauthentic attitude was actually repelling the people around me. 

People responded to my negative energy with less friendliness than normal. 

Proving, that attitude doesn’t perceive reality to be different, it causes it to be different. 

Lesson learned, it’s not the nametag, it’s the heart behind it. 

What are you trading your authenticity for?

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Situations where we feel tempted to waste our energy

research from a federal library found that we are a shockingly wasteful country. 

The study showed that more than sixty percent of the energy that flows through our economy is ultimately wasted. Between fuel inputs such as coal and natural gas, and the end use energy consumption for residential, industrial and transportation purposes, less than half of that fuel was constructively used at the end of the day. 

One data point showed that the hours of energy wasted each month are the equivalent to an electric oven running at three hundred degrees for six full days. 

From an economic perspective, this is a staggering statistic. But it’s also a macrocosm for a human dilemma, which is the mismanagement of our personal energy. 

Imagine all the ways people are uneconomical with their own fuel. 

They waste time in hopeless arguments and projects doomed from the onset. They efficiently do tasks that nobody wants done. They enter into unnecessary obligations that hold no possible benefit for them. They tranquilize themselves in the trivial and get constantly involved in every tiny matter. They torture themselves trying to understand the injustice of every goddamn thing. They knock over everyone in their path politicking and maneuvering their way to some fantasy power position. 

Imagine how many electric ovens could be powered with that amount of energy. 

The question is, how do we remove ourselves from situations where we feel tempted to waste our energy? 

Reacher comes to mind. He recently observed how certain laws apply when a citizen talks to a federal agent, mostly the ones about saving breath and skipping bullshit. 

If that isnt the best mantra for personal energy management, who knows what is. 

Look, perfect efficiency is about as possible as unscrambling an egg. But the world already throws enough pain and nonsense at us. Why create unnecessary pressure and stress? 

We must remind ourselves how pointless it is to rage and fight. 

And we must give ourselves permission to opt out of these stupid races that don’t matter or even exist. 

Where are you wasting a great deal of energy that might be more usefully employed?

Friday, May 08, 2020

It takes two years just find out who’s full of shit

Because you are a person, some things are very difficult not to take personally.

Events feel like unique misfortunes picked out especially for us. 

How could that company have fired me? Why did my favorite client leave? Where does that horse get off walking away from me like that? 

But despite the cinematic sense of karmic justice that we were taught to believe in when we were young, one of the true hallmarks of maturity is depersonalization. Not denial or disillusionment, but depersonalization. 

Meaning, we let go of our compulsive need to dive endlessly into what everything means. We accept that the world does not automatically owe us any reward. 

Ferguson’s documentary about the hidden forces that control our lives recaps this shift most eloquently:

Nobody is in control. We are guided and constrained and controlled by the systems we have made but don’t understand. But these systems are not greedy, they have no ambition, they have no ideology, they are not good and they are not evil. They are simply not like us

It’s a perfect example of taking things in perspective, not taking them personally. And it’s precisely what we need to endure our many failures and rejections and losses. 

Because even though the promised land was supposed to be nice, and even though we so enjoyed basking contentedly in the peace of innocence, floating on a tsunami of acceptance for whatever life throws at us is a much more enjoyable and much less labor intensive strategy.

Are you still trying to put foam toddler guards on all the sharp edges of the world?

Thursday, May 07, 2020

The longing will not be tranquilized

My doctor friend once gave me a warning that sent a corkscrew of chill through the hollows of my spine:

The worst opiate out there is the one you like. 

Meaning, whatever substance allows us to escape from our anxieties, whatever chemical creates a barrier that shields us from the sharp edges of reality, legal or illegal, can be a very dangerous thing. At the very least, it can become a very unhealthy habit. 

It reminds me of my most loathed television trope. The main character has one of those hell days where everything goes from bad to worse. The entire universe seems to have it in for him, and everyone he works with is an idiot. At which point he grumbles to himself or his quirky neighbor, I need a freaking drink. 

Cue the sitcom laughter applause effect. 

What a perfect tagline to depict just how nervous and upset this character is. Poor chap can’t handle his anxiety any other way. Smash cut to him slamming a drink, and is back on his feet with his head securely attached and ready to get back to business. 

The problem with this chestnut is, it teaches us that the experience of difficult feelings should tranquilized. When life gets a little too overwhelming, we reach for something to create a temporary chemical heaven. Something to help us escape from experiencing our true emotions. 

For me, it was always work and food. Why stand in the fire of difficult feelings of loneliness when you can write books for fourteen hours straight and then consume enough sushi to feed a block party? 

Pity the fool who denies me access to my precious chemical elixirs. 

Onion did a parody news article that summarizes this moment perfectly: 

Nothing helps me unwind like moving one step closer to a chemical dependency that gets progressively worse until reaching a destructive climax sometime around middle age. 

The challenge, then, is locating the willpower to forsake the solace of tranquilization. 

One tool that has been useful for me is asking myself a simple but powerful question. 

What feelings are you trying to escape right now? 

This checkin invites me to take an inventory of the moment. First, with my body at a sensational level, and then with my heart and mind at an emotional level. Many times, once those feelings are noticed, named and felt, within a few minutes, my compulsive desire to overwork or overeat fades away. 

And if it doesn’t, that’s okay too. Because the exercise still helps me gain a new perspective on difficult feelings. 

Which is a step in the right direction. Certainly beats keeping my real self a secret behind a veil of tasty chemicals. 

What feelings are you trying to escape right now?

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Swinging for the fences of noble failure

Ruth was legendary for not fearing a swing and a miss. 

That’s why he broke the record for home runs and strikeouts in the same season. Babe made baseball history by succeeding and failing simultaneously. 

Interestingly enough, this trend continues a century later. Statistics show that today’s batters who fail the most spectacularly also tend to be among the greatest successes. 

It makes sense. They view their strikeouts as melodramatic, but momentary setbacks. This phenomenon proves that resilience requires reframing rejection. 

Because in the moment, being shut down can be awful. Whether it’s a job, date, promotion, or a college, all forms of rejection can trigger our feelings of shame, frustration, confusion and incompetence. Those bastards, how could they have said no to me? 

And so, these feelings are to be expected and expressed. 

But something else that we can remind ourselves of is, rejection does mean we’re trying. We’re showing up. Making an effort. Playing the game. 

Schwab, the legendary financial pioneer, has a name for this at his company. He calls it a noble failure. It’s when we have a good plan, we know what we’re doing, we think everything through carefully, we implement with sufficient management discipline, and when we look back in review, we conclude that it was thoughtfully done. 

Then we debrief ourselves and ask what we can learn from the experience that will lead us to be smarter next time. 

That’s a noble failure. And it’s awfully hard to beat ourselves up for doing something that. 

By reframing rejection in that way, we become more resilient, and move one step closer to success. 

Are your failures interesting enough that the world will give you more chances?

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Why I'm (still) wearing a nametag 24-7 during quarantine

In this time of social distancing, people are staying six feet apart from each other. 

They're wearing masks, goggles, hats, hoodies, gloves and other protective outerwear. Doing whatever they can to keep ourselves and each other safe from exposure to the virus. 

But one of the interpersonal challenges of our culture's new social contract is, it has become harder and harder to recognize each other in passing. 

Now more than ever, our public identities are kept secret. Everyone is essentially in disguise. It's like we're all in the witness protection program. 

And sadly, the delightful random variation of casual interactions with friends, acquaintances, neighbors, coworkers, delivery guys and colleagues has hit a record low. We're all craving face to face conversation, and it's never been harder and riskier to engage in. 

The other day my wife and I took a walk in our neighborhood around sunset. We passed by a woman on the street who was just as bundled up as we were. She stopped, turned around and yelled to get our attention. 

"Scott! That has to be you. Who else would be wearing a nametag during quarantine?"

We paused, squinted towards this person, and then the delayed shock of recognition settled in. The social picture came into focus. 

"Maye! How are you? It's so nice to see you out here. How's your family doing?" 

The three of us chatted for a few minutes, holding our six foot distance, exchanging typical quarantine pleasantries about sanitization, sheltering in place and running out of toilet paper. It was lovely. 

When we parted, our friend waved and bid us farewell. 

"Scott, it's a good thing you were wearing your nametag, or I never would have known it was you."

That comment is especially funny to me, considering my history. Because for the past twenty years of wearing a nametag every day, people have probably said that exact sentence to me tens of thousands of times. 

But always with a sense of irony. Because in a normal social context, of course my friends know it's me. The nametag isn't for them, it's for strangers. 

And yet, during quarantine, my nametag is for everybody. Even people who know me. In a time of social distancing, the sticker became disproportionately useful. Nametags are a form of semantic and semiotic information added to the environment to make it even more relevant and useful for my fellow humans. 

Hinton writes about this principle in his phenomenal book about context:

There is a direct indexical relationship between the written name and the person, because the name is on you. It’s one of the most straightforward ways people use language in everyday life. Nametags add more context to the meaning of the object. The words on person construct of a nametag means that other people don't have to calculate all of this explicitly. It’s a learned feature of their environment. The nametag object is an invariant cultural convention, learned in a system of other signifiers, just like language itself.

Wow, all that from a sticker? You better believe it.

But does this mean that quarantined citizens should wear nametags in addition to masks, gloves, glasses and hats? 

Good luck passing that law. Social distancing is already enough of a hassle. No need to add another layer of complication. 

But personally, during this time social isolation, wearing nametags has never felt more important to me. 

It may not be changing the world, but it's certainly making my world feel more connected. 

And so, if you're at the park today and you see some tall guy jogging who looks like the invisible man, but he's wearing a nametag, feel free to say hello. 

How are you practicing social closeness?

Monday, May 04, 2020

Without bypassing your raw humanity

Most people will do everything in our power to stay away from the agony of endless robotic customer service experiences. 

We have simply spent too much time sitting on hold, sitting in line, hearing words that sounded as if they had been arranged to convey the minimum of meaning. 

Why engage in another emotionless transaction? Better to just eat the money and move on with our lives. 

Marchex conducted a shocking study that estimated we spend hundreds of millions of hours per year on hold, adding up to more than forty days in our lifetime. 

Forty days. This is a tragedy of modern customer service. 

But it’s also an opportunity. Because although these soulless interactions will affect the majority of multimillion dollar companies in no way whatsoever, it’s still an invitation to be more human. If only to remind ourselves that we are alive and connected. 

Linklater, in his award winning animated film about the meanings and purposes of the universe, makes this observation about customer service. 

We go through life with our antennas bouncing off one another, continuously on autopilot, with nothing really human required of us. Stop, go, walk here, drive there, all our action basically for survival. All our communication simply to keep this ant colony buzzing along in an efficient, polite manner. Here’s your change, paper or plastic, credit or debit, you want ketchup with that? But we don’t want a straw, we want real human moments. We want to see you, we want you to see us, and we don’t want to give that up. We don’t want to be ants. 

It’s a profound crisis for humanity that we need to be jarred into noticing. 

My weapon in this fight is a nametag. Wondering what yours might be. 


What is estranging you from much of yours and other people’s humanity? 

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author. Speaker. Strategist. Inventor. Filmmaker. Publisher. Songwriter.

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Sunday, May 03, 2020

We have decided to move forward with somebody more junior

Have you ever been rejected for a job application because you were overqualified? 

Initially, it feels like a compliment. But it’s actually code for something else. 

As someone who has been rejected thousands of times for this very reason, allow me to translate this justification for you. 

Overqualified is code for, we are not confident in our ability to retain you as an employee because you will jump ship the minute a better job shows up. 

Overqualified is code for, we need somebody who will be grateful enough to have this job that they won’t complain when we treat them like shit. 

Overqualified is code for, we want to hire somebody hungry and naive who will slave away and work for way less money than they really deserve in a desperate bid to advance their career. 

Overqualified is code for, we don’t have the time or patience to try and break you all of the habits and methods you developed in your past experience. 

Overqualified is code for, we don’t know what to do with you and we would rather bring in a mindless executor who can keep quiet and follow directions. 

Overqualified is code for, you probably have some ideas of your own, and our organization is already on a predetermined course. 

Each of these translations is saying the same thing. 

Overqualified equals difficult to control. We can’t have every deadbeat on the payroll pestering us with their idiotic brain waves. Next candidate, please. 

The irony here thicker than molasses. Because initially, all signs point to big. We are told to show up and do everything we possibly can with the gifts we have been given. And to seek out opportunities that will enhance our potential and help us operate at their highest point of contribution. 

But once we march into the room, fully equipped to create a holy shit moment and blow the hiring manager away, suddenly, all signs point to small. 

Our power threatens people. It works to our disadvantage. It’s the reason we receive autoresponder emails like:

Unfortunately, we have decided not to proceed with your candidacy and hire someone more junior. Thanks for your interest we wish you the best of luck on your search. 

Who knew being so powerful would be such a problem? 

Are you a victim of your own greatness?

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author. Speaker. Strategist. Inventor. Filmmaker. Publisher. Songwriter.

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Saturday, May 02, 2020

The thing about sitting in your own shit

When we get discouraged, the easiest thing to do is stay discouraged. 

To descend down the spiral of doubt and fear, throwing a pity party for one, amplifying and exacerbating our already negative appraisal of ourselves. 

It’s not helpful and it’s not healthy. But then again, it’s really hard to resist the pull of negative momentum. Especially when we routinely don’t get the praise we feel deserve. 

And so, the goal is not to run from these difficult emotions. Because if we feel discouraged and defeated and depressed, there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it actually means we are human and alive and swinging. Not a bad thing. 

But in the words of one of my favorite standup comedians, the thing about sitting in your own shit is, it’s warm, it’s familiar and it’s yours

No wonder it’s so easy to stay discouraged. 

In my experience, what we need during this situation is a catapult of confidence. A daily ritual of taking small, productive actions on our own behalf that create value in the world for at least one person besides ourselves. 

From doing housework to having coffee with a friend in need to giving design feedback on a friend’s new website to singing holiday songs at the local senior community. Our efforts might not be rewarded with money or attention or whatever other external currency we think we need. 

But at the very least, we can check another box on our victory log, knowing that we have done something to keep moving our story forward. That’s a catapult of confidence. 

And when discouragement has become a resounding part of our daily life, it is one of the few surefire ways to stop us from sitting in our own shit too long. 

What changes when you choose to be in service to something other than your ego?
* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author. Speaker. Strategist. Inventor. Filmmaker. Publisher. Songwriter.

It's the world's first, best and only product development and innovation gameshow!

Tune in and subscribe for a little execution in public.

Join our community of innovators, artists and entrepreneurs