The Haar of May

First: we went to see the Royal Ballet do a warmup.  I have been impressed by them in the past, but this…this was something else.  I’m going to start taking lessons.  They were absolutely incredible.  I’m starting ballet lessons next week (not a joke).

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We were walking through Edinburgh very early on a Sunday morning because Alice was running a marathon; crossing North Bridge, she said, “Oh, there’s a haar!”  Fog – thick, churning fog – was racing from the sea to the west through the valley toward the castle; at times we couldn’t see the buildings around us, and then it would lift quickly and become almost sunny before closing in again.

And that is, I suppose, a bit like life right now.  My company has been going through – well, interesting times.  Like many tech companies we’re going through fundraising rounds and working to get investment and show the viability of our products, and I’ve been promoted to be a Product Owner after four months on the job; I could see it as a battlefield promotion, but the team I’m working with gave me a round of applause and said I was doing great, so I’m thankful and I’ll take it.  Some of the senior leadership is leaving, too, and there’s great uncertainty surrounding everything we’re doing.

And isn’t that life in a startup?  Isn’t this what I wanted – to be working with a team, with an uncertain future, and opportunities every single day to learn massive amounts?  When I think back on my jobs before, or I hear from my friends from Codeclan, I can’t help but be filled with gratitude.  I get to work with some really top-notch programmers in an exciting environment; I get to help them communicate and understand the business; I get to help the businesspeople understand programming; and I get paid.  Glasgow is a great place to work, and the commute is amazing if, for no other reasons, the scenery is stunning and I get to read for an hour or two every day.

My future is uncertain now, but really, it is ALWAYS uncertain; maybe thinking that the future is like a haar is actually the only reasonable approach, the only reasonable metaphor.  Sometimes we can see more clearly than others, but sometimes we just have to walk where we think we should be going and course-correct when the fog clears.

Post-marathon, we went to St. Andrews, and stayed in the Old Course hotel.  We got massages, and time in the spa, and incredible food at the restaurant with the best mushrooms I’ve ever tasted, and champagne, and wine, and a massive breakfast, and we got to watch golf.

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And golfers – they’ll play through anything, even a haar.

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When I was learning how to play golf, my coach sat me down to explain the rules.  But they weren’t rules of the game; they were mental guides for how to approach the game in the first place.

  • Think Positively, approach positively.  Never be flustered.  Whenever you line up to hit, don’t assume it’s going to be crappy – approach with the belief that you’re good, and you can hit.  
  • At first, just try to hit.  Beginners have trouble hitting the ball, period, much less hitting a straight shot every time.  As you get better, you can work on the nuances, but at first, just try to hit.
  • Not every hit is going to be good.  Don’t let it get you down. Just move on to the next shot.  Self-explanatory.  
  • Always remember that you’re trying to get to the hole.  Everything is in service of getting to the hole.  That’s your only goal; it is what everything else is in service to.  Ignore all distractions, because when you’re playing, they don’t matter.  
  • The only hole that matters is the one you’re on; the only stroke that matters is the one you can take.  Don’t worry about the last one, and don’t think about the next one.  You’re only concern is the hole you’re playing.
  • From the tee, you’re trying to get to the green; from the green, you’re trying to get closer to the hole; from two feet out, sink the ball.  Hole-in-ones are nice, but rare, and great players don’t count on them.  They love the process, and that there’s a predictable way to get a good score.  
  • The people that are best are those who take the least time – they don’t think, they just swing.  Don’t pause, don’t overthink – just approach, get in position, and strike.  If you sit back and think, analyze, debate in your mind, you’ll find that your mind will screw you up.  Analyze a bit, but when it comes time to swing, pick a club and just go.
  • Always take the hazard out of play.  There are always going to be things that COULD get in the way – traps, rough, your own head, other players.  Do what you can to minimize any potential impact these things can have on your success.
  • Golf clubs are tools, and you’ll eventually have one or two clubs that you find yourself using all the time, ones that you are comfortable with and can hit well.  Sometimes, you just get really good with one tool, and you find yourself going to that tool for all sorts of uses.  If that’s what you end up liking and getting good with, don’t worry if it’s unconventional. Similarly, use the other clubs if you want, but don’t feel like you have to use all the clubs in your bag if you, like me, can do pretty much any job with an 8-iron.

I have to remember that, and also remember that there are lessons that I can learn every day – really really amazing lessons that will hold me in good stead, if only I pay attention to what life’s trying to teach me.

And the books of May:

  • Superhuman by Habit.  An AirBNB guest I had years ago recommended this to me; it is by one of the guys who was in The Game.  I remembered my guest, and then these recommendations, after reading The Game last month; thanks John!  It was worth the few pounds, as it brought up a lot of really great points about habits and conscious habit formation.  I found myself thinking, on every page, about what sorts of things I wanted to do with my time, and which habits I want to form.  Among other things, I was inspired by Alice and am going to run another marathon this year – perhaps the Dramathon.  
  • The wind through the keyhole.  This was the last of the Dark Tower books that I hadn’t read, and I found it…meh.  Not as polished as the others.  Still, a very enjoyable read – it’s just that King has my expectations so high, and this was merely very, very good.

  • 13 days.  An extraordinary account of the Cuban Missile Crisis by one of the key players.  Time and time again, while reading this, I had to think about the current leadership in America, and wonder how we’d dropped so far.  Of the men who were in the Executive Committee, he wrote: “They were men of the highest intelligence, industrious, courageous, and dedicated to their country’s well-being.  It is no reflection on them that none was consistent in his opinion from the very beginning to the very end.  That kind of open, unfettered mind was essential.”  Can we say the same about the Republicans in Washington?

Of the President, his brother, Kennedy wrote: “Again and again he emphasized that we must understand the implications of every step.  What response could we anticipate>  What were the implications for us?  He stressed again our responsibility to consider the effect our actions would have on others…The politicians and officials sit home pontificating about great principles and issues, make the decisions, and dine with their wives and families, while the brave and the young die…He wanted to make sure that he had done everything in his power, everything conceivable, to prevent such a catastrophe.  Every opportunity was to be given to the Russians to find a peaceful settlement which would not diminish their national security or be a public humiliation.”

Can we say the same about Trump?

Of the lessons learned in the confrontation:

  1. The President and his advisers had to work secretly, quietly, privately;
  2. The President needed to have the advice of more than one person, more than one department, and more than one point of view.  “Opinion, even fact itself, can best be judged by conflict, by debate.  There is an important element missing when there is unanimity of viewpoint.”
  3. Power distorts the people around the President; “His office creates such respect and awe that it has almost a cowering effect on men.”
  4. “It is also important that differing departments of government be represented” in international relations; one department isn’t enough to handle the complexity of the world and America’s important role in that world.  At the same time, “it is essential for a President to have personal access to those within the department who have expertise and knowledge.  He can in this way have available unfiltered information to as great a degree as is practical and possible.”
  5. The President needs to go to “considerable lengths to ensure that he (is) not insulated from individuals or points of view because of rank or position.”
  6. “(President Kennedy) wanted to hear presented and challenged all the possible consequences of a particular course of action.”  This was particularly difficult with the military men, who seemed to just assume conflict was good and conflict with the Russians was even better.
  7. Finally, “It also showed how important it was to be respected around the world, how vital it was to have allies and friends…We cannot be an island even if we wished; nor can we successfully separate ourselves from the rest of the world…”
  8. “We could have other missile crises in the future – different kinds, no doubt, and under different circumstances.  But if we are to be successful then, if we are going to preserve our own national security, we will need friends, we will need supporters, we will need countries that believe and respect us and will follow our leadership.”

Oh, America.  How far the mighty fall.

  • Superhuman Social Skills.  Not as good as Superhuman by Habit, but again, worth the money just for the ideas.
  • The Lean Startup.  I know it was just last month that I said I didn’t get it.  Then I got to move into product ownership, and I watched a video of the author at Google talking about his theory, and suddenly it clicked.  This is an incredible book, and as soon as I got past the first few chapters and started learning about how to run a startup, it struck me as revolutionary.  Just…wow.
  • The Sun Also Rises.  I realized that I’ve read this every year, at least once, since 2003, in either April or May, because I think it is just the perfect book to kick off summer.  Every time I read it, I find out something new; for example, I didn’t realize that Jake smoked cigarettes until this year.  Taleb wrote, “A good book gets better on the second reading. A great book on the third. Any book not worth rereading isn’t worth reading.”
  • The Strategist.

    A great read about the role of leadership in an organization, and how that can be critical to the success of every level of work.  Even if you’re not at the top of an organizational chart, I suspect that this can have massive implications in making the workplace a better environment, and that taking on the role of strategist can help you rise to the top.  (I’ll try to test it out and report back.)

  • Conspiracy.

    It reads like Zweig; a great, meandering tale, full of drama and money and sex and head-slapping moments of stupidity.  At the same time, it feels a bit adolescent, a bit unpolished – as if this is an early work by someone who will end up being one of the great writers of our age, but it won’t be his best work.  In twenty years, he’ll have twenty more books under his belt and one will have won some grand prizes.  High five to Peter Thiel.

Thanks for everything, Spring – you were great, as always.  Now for the summer, and for plenty more swings at the ball.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, Thom. Huge issue.

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