Knowledge Proxies

The world continues to increase in complexity. On average, we’re poorly equipped to handle this.

Our iPhones and Google empower us to “fact check” and “research” on the fly. While non-stop streams of propaganda (oops – I mean social media) color our opinions.

I often wonder if our perception of knowledge deludes us to our ignorance.

For instance, I know that I’m still fascinated on a regular basis about how abysmally little I know about the world around me. Even the simple stuff. Including things I feel like I know a lot about.

It’s honestly incredible people don’t regularly break down from the sheer overload of complexity in our world.

But beyond my ability to ask other people and observe, I’m limited to my own experience. Maybe other people are much smarter than me. (If I was a dick, I’d add a line here, like “But I doubt it.”) Or maybe most people find bliss in ignorance.

Regardless of how other people experience the world, what chance does a guy like me (who wants to “win” at life) stand at maneuvering through all the complexity? Without wasting my best years sticking my nose inside every textbook within reach.

Facing Down Ignorance

One thing I’ve learned is that I don’t know much about much – even the stuff I think I know a lot about. Re-reading that sentence reminds me of the infamous Mark Twain quote:

“What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Mark Twain

But nobody likes to be a know-nothing (especially not me). So we do our best when we face situations where we risk exposing our incompetence.

There’s the “fake-it ’til you make it” crowd. Which I now consider myself expatriated from. Basically you just feign competence. Some people do this for posture’s sake. They’re not bothered by the truth of their own ignorance. Others do it to survive – believing firmly in their own ability to hustle and learn so fast they overcome their ignorance before they’re found out (this was me).

Either way, you can only fake it so many times before you’re eventually found out. This isn’t a long-term winning strategy, even if offers temporary gains.

Of course, there are other options too.

The abhorrent “I don’t know” camp comes to mind. This camp accepts the truth of reality agnostically. Whenever you encounter something novel, you admit the truth. “I don’t know.” Of course, that “I don’t know” could mean blind acceptance of your ignorance. Or it could be the fuel to your fire to acquire new information (this is the part of the camp I prefer to inhabit).

But we just can’t learn about everything. There’s simply not enough time.

So, how do we cope with an ever-increasingly complex world, with our ever-finite base of knowledge?

Here’s one potential solution: I like to call it the “knowledge proxy.”

The Knowledge Proxy

I want to tell you a story first before I tell you about knowledge proxies.

For those who don’t already know, one of my guilty pleasures is wine. I love it. Every aspect. I love to drink it. Smell it. Read about it. Learn about it. The history surrounding it. The drama of it. The scandals. The culture. The traditions. The formality. And maybe most of all is that wine demands its own pound of flesh from you before you can truly appreciate all that it has to offer. It’s one of those rare few things left in life that has an extremely high barrier to entry that even money can’t overcome.

Anyway, when I first fell in love with wine I knew very little about the subject. Which can be daunting. And expensive. But when you don’t have much money and you want to learn about something relatively pricey, you’ve got to learn how to place your bets effectively.

Which is exactly what I did when I made an accidental discovery. I take pictures of every bottle I drink that I enjoy. I take notes (even if only mental). At some point I noticed that two bottles I drank both carried the same note on the back – “Imported by Kermit Lynch.” (Who is a famous wine merchant, though I didn’t know it at the time.)

This became a beacon for me. When I didn’t know about a bottle and there was nothing around to help, rather than relying on my own limited supply of knowledge, I looked to the label. If I saw “Imported by Kermit Lynch” I read it as an endorsement – almost like insurance against buying a bad bottle.

It was not a perfect solution. But it did act as a filter. When you’re facing thousands of possible choices, sometimes all you need is a good filter. Rather than picking from among thousands, I found myself picking among dozens.

That’s a knowledge proxy.

Using Proxies to Navigate the World

Proxies, by definition, are simply a substitute. They do not fully protect you against your own ignorance. But they certainly can offer a hedge.

We all use them all the time already. Anytime we take a recommendation from someone. Or even when we rely on our own biases – after all, that’s really what biases are, anyway. They’re just shortcuts. Proxies for actual knowledge.

Proxies by themselves do not perfectly describe or define the world around us. But they can be useful in reducing the complexity enough that our simple ape brains can more effectively manage it.

But, just like anything else, proxies can be prone to error – especially if you’re using some other person’s opinion as a proxy for your own decision-making.

So tread with caution. Though here’s one tip, if I may.

Avoid Single Points of Failure

Having insufficient knowledge of a subject does not get you off the hook for making decisions. But it sure does increase the danger to you.

This is how people get taken advantage of. And if you’re a stupid person, I pity you. Unless of course, you’re stupid by choice. In which case, half of me envies you. And the other half wonders how you’ve survived this long.

Anyway, back to the point here.

Whenever you have insufficient knowledge, relying on a single proxy increases the risk of a bad decision. Because you’ve created a single point of failure.

I’ll repurpose the wine scenario to illustrate what I mean by this.

Let’s suppose for a moment that the “imported by” feature had been a bad proxy for selecting wine. Maybe I’d gotten lucky the first few times. What if I’d been wrong though, and more often than not it represented low-quality wines? That sure would’ve been sour grapes, huh?

While I my knowledge was limited, it sufficed. But as I learned more, I began to add additional layers of proxies.

Rather than rely solely on the “Imported by” proxy, I also began to catalogue the particular regions, grape varietals, and producers I enjoyed.

So I could confidently navigate a wine shop or wine menu by looking for multiple data points – multiple proxies.

If a bottle boasted, “Imported by” + “Desirable grape varietal” + “Region I’ve enjoyed”, then I could be reasonably confident about my selection – and thereby increase the bet I was willing to take (i.e. My willingness to spend more money on a particular bottle increases as my confidence in the selection does.)

The same thing is true in our day to day lives. This is the power of second opinions at work.

Proxies, by themselves, do not excuse us from responsibility for making decisions. They simply help us catalog the world around us when we don’t have all the information.

The more proxies you have, the more boldly you can navigate into uncharted territory. Of course, you can always supplement proxies with your own learnings, too.

But learning how to use proxies – and then layer multiple levels – that can be a true super power in an increasingly complex world.

Forward Locomotion When Lacking Information

It’s a challenge making decisions when you don’t have all the facts.

The old adage, “Do the best you can with what you’ve got”, is a nice, but hardly comforting sentiment.

After all, not just any decision will do. We want to make decisions that advance us toward something – some idealized future state or goal.

Some things that help me:

First, gain as much clarity as you can about the end destination. Describe this better state intimately if you can.

Use that description to imagine your path forward from where you are.

Who must you become to achieve this vision?

What must you do?

And equally important – who must you avoid becoming? What must you not do?

The answers to those questions determine your guardrails.

On one hand, you’ve defined your ideal and components of it.

On the other, you’ve defined a set of activities and behaviors which will either increase the difficulty of or altogether disqualify you from reaching your goal. Which is often easier than listing out the activities and behaviors that will help you.

In between those two states are behaviors and activities that could help you advance – or not – but won’t hurt your progress.

Sure, that might be useful at the abstract planning level. But what about decisions in isolation?

Here’s another tip that works for me:

When considering a decision, don’t ask “Will” this help me? Rather, ask “Could” this help me?

Language matters. “Will” offers determinate outcomes. It closes off your mind from possibilities. While asking “could” activates your creative faculties.

The truth of the matter is that you’ll almost never be able to predict definitively how one choice might play out over time. (Within reason, of course, you can safely assume how eating a bottle of rat poison might impact your fate.)

Occasionally, you’ll be forced to choose among two options. Both may seem positive. But you may be uncertain which one will help you more.

Here’s what I recommend:

Don’t lose too much sleep over the decision. Early in your life and career, say yes to everything that’s not a hell no. If one decision excites you more (or challenges you more), pick that.

As you gain more leverage, you can adapt this to say no to everything that’s not a hell yes.

Rather than fret over the relative value of two decisions, focus more on avoiding stuff you hate.

So long as you are moving in a direction away from what you hate – and away from behaviors that disqualify you from your “end prize” – then you can safely advance with confidence.

Find Your Leverage

Everything in life comes easier if you can find a leverage point.

Archimedes once famously said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”

The same holds true for our own lives.

It’s not always obvious what we have to leverage. Especially when we’re just starting out.

We lack knowledge. And experience. And money. So we set out to learn, to work, and to earn.

Over time we accumulate resources. But the value of those resources are not always obvious.

It’s easy to comprehend the accumulation of wealth. We can quantify it. It’s divisible, and a medium of exchange.

But what of our knowledge and experience? These presumably hold value, too – at least, they must, because they’re the basis for our ability to earn.

Over time, our accumulated knowledge and experience appreciates in value. Except most people only tap into its potential through transactional exchanges of their time – a certain number of hours converted into a certain number of dollars.

Likely because it’s the easiest to quantify and exploit – our average, collective understanding of leverage tends to be limited to money.

So people gravitate toward accumulating money – and using leverage – to achieve financial freedom. But how much faster could you go if you made use of all forms of leverage – knowledge, experience, capital?

What if every new lesson you learned made you twice as productive?

What if you could figure out how to bottle and harness your knowledge and experience – without additional inputs of time or labor?

How To Reduce the Chaos of Endless Choice Realities

One big challenge of life is figuring out what targets to aim at. We live in a time and world with nearly unlimited choices as it relates to careers, location, income goals, industry, and beyond.

So how do you navigate this – to ultimately discover the “right” target to take aim at?

Here’s one suggestion to get started: Find one goal you could aim everything you’ve got at.

By picking a goal that requires you to aim above the horizon, you force yourself to imagine who you must become in order to achieve that goal. 

This is a useful strategy for several reasons.

1. It allows you to orient yourself. Where (and who) are you today, versus where you’d like to be as a result of achieving your goal (and rather, who you’d like to be).

2. It reveals disparity. Moving toward your goals necessitates progress and change. You cannot become who you must be by accepting your current circumstances. Goal-setting contrasts the future you desire against the reality of your present, which enhances your own self-awareness.

3. It gives you a roadmap for how to behave. When you set a goal, you choose a target to take aim at. Which gives you a focal point into the future that you can work backwards from. Some choices will help you make progress toward that focal point, while others will lead you astray. 

Negotiating With Your Future

Setting goals forces us to detach ourselves from our past and present circumstances. Even without taking action on them, it offers an exercise in future-orientation.

If you really want to make headway toward your goals, then you’ve got to take inventory of your life –from the choices you make to the activities you spend your time on to your current available resources.

Taking inventory reveals positive and negative stock.

If you discover things that are holding you back, then if you really want to achieve your goals, you’ll be forced to address the baggage in your life.

Sometimes, you’ve got to sacrifice those demons at the altar of your future in order to stand a shot at advancing ahead.

Changing Course

As you go throughout life’s adventure, you’ll likely discover other targets worth aiming at – goals that you’d rather pursue. And you’ll almost always have different interests pulling you in different directions.

If you can go all-in on at least one thing – even if only for a short period in your life – you’ll build discipline, you’ll gain credibility, and maybe most importantly, you’ll build momentum.

You won’t always achieve the goals you set out to. Often, your pursuit of one goal will reveal an entirely different, more exciting path – when that happens, change course. 

This variety of life, though, should not be a cause for anxiety. Instead, it’s a good cause for excitement and enthusiasm about the endless possibilities that are waiting for you.

But you’ve got to start first. 

There are opportunities out there that you don’t know about yet. And you likely won’t discover them until you take aim at something and start moving toward it.

That’s the great adventure of life. It’s an ongoing discovery process, and you can always change course as new opportunities reveal themselves.

Why Is It Difficult For A Rich Man To Enter the Kingdom of Heaven?

There’s much ado about money being the root of all evil. It would seem especially so among those who haven’t earned it.

Behind veils of envy, I imagine, those of lesser means point to those of great means, scoffing. “You know what they say about rich men and heaven, right?”

But I seriously doubt the acquisition of wealth itself has anything to do with entering the kingdom of heaven. That it likely has much more to do with our relationship to money.

For instance, there’s a startling similarity between people who are consumed with money – whether they have it or not.

Money is simply a medium of exchange (especially fiat money). Its value is predicated on a shared superstition. We hope others will value money along a similar scale, should we present them with it in exchange for something else we desire.

Obsessing over money as a primary end is a distraction. When it comes to the Kingdom of Heaven, apparently it can be a fatal distraction.

But why?

I imagine it has less to do with money and much more to do with idolatry. People have always enjoyed fashioning gods out of gold. Especially when God’s voice seems distant, or absent altogether.

It’s unfortunate that many people likely read scripture about money and become jaded. “Well I’ll just swear off money altogether since it’s evil!”

Ok, sure. I bet you will.

Swearing off money is easy if you have nothing valuable to offer the world. But it’s much harder if you want to be valuable. Because money follows value.

So, let’s imagine, then, that God has called His people to become the highest, best versions of themselves. To truly embrace what John Piper calls “Christian Hedonism” – to lose ourselves in the pursuit of the pleasure we find by pleasing God.

What then should we do if God’s highest calling leads us to become valuable to other people? If we’re rewarded handsomely for leaving the world better than we found it, what are we to do?

I believe the root of the matter has less to do with material wealth than with spiritual health.

Perhaps your pursuit of what is meaningful requires vast sums of money. So be it. Why should you be cheated out of salvation? Especially considering the difficulty in acquiring vast sums of money.

Perhaps your pursuit of what is meaningful requires enduring suffering? So be it. Why should your struggle be any more or less noble than the pursuit of what is meaningful along another dimension?

It’s a rather Marxist reduction to suppose God wants us to obsess over all things according to their economic utility.

We are called to our own battlefields. It’s our response to the call that matters. Plenty of people ignore the rooster’s crow. Some due to money. Some out of lust. Others for the sake of power.

But money is no more or less evil than anything else that we fashion into false gods. It would serve us well to remember that.

Approaching 30

I turn 30 later this month.

Which is a weird feeling – retiring from my 20s. The past decade was a harsh teacher. Especially the first half.

Over the past 10 years, my life has taken quite a few twists and turns from what I originally expected.

By most accounts from my teenage and early-20s something, I’m a failure. I did not – nor am I on my way to becoming – a pediatric neurosurgeon. Nor a corporate finance attorney.

I’m on quite a different path. A path I didn’t know existed a decade ago.

Where my life and career are not a function of expectations – or a false sense of obligation. Rather, I have agency over the design of both. Which is freeing. But also comes at a high cost.

The weight I carry today somehow feels lighter and heavier than the weight I carried a decade ago.

Part of that is the sheer challenge of attempting to build a life and career on my own terms – rather than opting for the conveyor belt, assembly line version most people settle for.

Another part is the weight of responsibility. Which is probably the starkest contrast between who (and what) I am today compared to who (and what) I was 10 years ago.

The Big “R” Word.

It’s easy to shirk off responsibility for everything that happens to you when you don’t have a purpose in life.

That was me entering my 20s. Somebody who liked to point fingers. And play the victim card all too often. Even though I fancied myself as someone ambitious, assertive, and self-reliant.

But I wasn’t really. Defaulting to the traditional path as a plan for my life stole my agency from me. It freed me from the burden of critical thinking about what to do with my life – and more importantly, who I should become.

As I approach 30, I recognize many of the errors of my youth. Some are quite embarrassing. Even if useful lessons.

I also recognize the opportunity of the present – and my responsibility for whatever time I have left. To make more of myself than I was yesterday. More of myself than I was a decade ago. And more of myself tomorrow than I am today.

After all, what hope do we have in growing old if not that we’re getting better with time?

My 2020 Reading List In Review

2020. What a year, right?

But on the bright side…after binging through every conceivable movie and tv show, I still found quite a lot of time left to read.

What about you? Read anything good? I know I did. In fact, my year was full of tons of what I like to call “gateway books.” You know, books that unlock a corner of the universe you didn’t know about before.

Anyway, as a fun exercise, I went back through every book I bought, started, reread, listened to, browsed, shelved, was gifted. I rated them. Tallied up my costs. Then built a spreadsheet. Which you can browse here.

Investing In Yourself

All-in this year, I spent something like $1,200 on books. Which is amazing, because I actually budget about $100 per month for learning and reading. (And technically, I was under budget by about $50, so hooray for that too.)

But – the reason I like to review costs, not just what I read, is because I like to double check I’m actually investing in my education. Not just spending money to spend money or fill up bookshelves or appear smart. If the books I buy aren’t improving my life, then what the hell am I doing?

And yes, I know. “Improving my life” is quite the generality. Basically, for a book to improve my life, I want it to do entertain me, educate me, inspire me, inform me, piss me off, make me cry, make me feel something, level up my thinking, make me better at business, make me better with money, make me a better writer…or any other reason I damn well please in the moment.

But this year, I’d say I did pretty well, too. Because of all the books I read enough to review, I only rated a single title with a lowly “one star.”

Here’s a fun, detailed breakdown:

Okay, so my star rating doesn’t necessarily correspond to my ROI from a given book. Occasionally I’ll read a book I don’t love but still find value out of. So my start rating is somewhat arbitrary – aside from denoting how well it delivered on whatever function it served for me.

When Ideas Have Sex

I love discovering connections between different, seemingly unrelated ideas. In fact, I’d wager it’s one of my favorite things. Plus, I love going down new rabbit holes with ideas. So, I often read broadly across multiple categories, then explore subjects deeply that fascinate me.

This year, I had several big monomaniacal stints. Here are a few of the categories that delivered all-expenses paid vacations to visit Alice in Wonderland:

Fiction (Especially J.D. Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut)

Business (Especially Accounting, Finance, and Management)

Marketing + Copywriting

Memoirs

Personal Finance + Real Estate + Investing + Passive Income + Taxes

Faith + Spirituality + Moral Philosophy + Christian Hedonism

And there were others, too. But those were some of the big ones. As an added layer of fun, I wanted to word cloud the various topics I read most. Here’s a fun image of those:

Keeping My Head Full

In 2020, I also decided to write a book (expected to publish in spring/summer 2021). It’s primarily about how to navigate your education, career, and finances in order to get the most out of life.

The first draft is finished and I’m in the 2nd draft / editing phase. Which is exciting. Because I’ve spent the last handful of years thinking about and talking about many of these ideas. But in December 2020, I decided to stop talking and start writing. And write I did. In fact, between the book, chapter outlines I wrote nearly 60,000 words in one month. Combine that with my regular newsletters, blog posts, social posts, and sales emails and we’re probably easily in the ballpark of 100,000+ words. In one single month.

Cranking away content like that can be tough. Let alone if your head isn’t already full of ideas. So fortunately, I lived the better part of this year like a sponge – absorbing ideas and soaking them up.

Which came in handy when it came time to sit down and spill my guts onto the blank page. And I can’t wait to share the final product.

A Final Word on Reading

There’s more data and information being created on a daily basis that was in existence for most of history. Think about that for a moment. We live in a time and era completely saturated with ideas.

Which is great. Except for when you consider how few people take advantage of the “right” kind of information. Books offer that in a way that social media, blogs, podcasts, and “the media” just cannot compete with.

And there’s good reason for that, too. Because not just anyone can (read: will) sit down and crank out a book. Let alone go to the trouble of editing it, publishing it, and ensuring its circulation.

In a sense, books act as a sort of high-fidelity information filter. Meaning that reading a book about a topic is very likely to be much more information than just browsing the web. Of course, there are still plenty of shit books out there.

But books are an incredible frontier of affordable and accessible knowledge. With books, you can educate yourself – and become an expert on anything. Without relying on college or credentials or anybody else. And if you don’t believe me, just ask my good friend, Will Hunting (Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting):

“You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library.”

Anyway, in case you’re looking for some awesome books to add to your list, I’ve made my whole list available public here. All of the 3-5 star books, I’d most likely recommend.

Happy reading.

Dissatisfied Patience As the Key To Navigating Your Early Career

“I’m going to be the VP of Marketing.”

I could feel the tension in the room build before the words even finished leaving my lips. Sitting across the table from me was the guy who’d been hired to lead sales and marketing. He’d just asked a probing question about where I saw myself in the future.

I was 24 years old – and the low man on the totem pole of a company I’d been at less than 9 months. With one sentence, I’d thrown out the window all office social norms, niceties, and any reverence for ‘the way things are done.’

At the time I had no way of knowing how many challenges that single conversation would later create for me. I was young. Ambitious. Relentless. On occasion, reckless. But I was out to get mine. And no one could stand in my way.

Full of Piss and Vinegar

Like a young buck with a chip on his shoulder. That was me for the the better part of my early 20s. And admittedly, from time to time still is.

I walked with the air of a swagger I’d not yet earned. It was less of entitlement and more of conviction. An unshakeable belief in myself and my ability to win. Like a young fighter eager to touch gloves with the reigning champ.

But, like many a young fighter, I learned the hard way – it doesn’t matter how hard you punch in the first round of a 12-round match. A career, like a boxing match, is a game of endurance.

I made a lot of mistakes early in my career that can be attributed directly back to my youth. My eagerness. My ego. My impatience.

I wanted to be recognized for what I knew I could become. Before I’d proven it. And that’s a tough sales pitch no matter how good you are.

You Are Your Greatest Opponent

Ambition travels with a lot of baggage. Especially in the early days. Left unchecked, it breeds a weird kind of schizophrenic paranoia.

It breeds doubt. Anxiety. Pressure. And a laundry list of conspiracy theories:

  • Is somebody else doing better than me?
  • Should I be farther along than I am?
  • Could I be working harder than I am? Longer hours?
  • Do other people know how hard I’m working?
  • Is my contribution known and evident?
  • Am I getting credit for my efforts?
  • Should I be making more money?
  • Am I being taken advantage of?
  • Is my title impressive enough?
  • Do my coworkers respect me?
  • Am I a fraud?

Imposter syndrome is a function of pretending to be something you’ve not yet fully become. It’s natural in any transition period. But mostly it wastes precious energy. It redirects mental and physical resources toward perpetuating myths rather than converting those into value in reality.

I learned that the hard way.

A Better Coping Mechanism

Along the way I picked up several valuable lessons. Here’s one of them:

Opportunities come easier when you’re doing good work and paying close attention – than when you’re trying to convince people to create them for you.

At several points in time, my work became a cry for attention. I’d go above and beyond simply because I believed it to be my best way to get noticed. It was not about doing good for the sake of good work. It was a shell game.

I learned that working to get noticed is a passive approach to creating opportunities for yourself. It’s manipulative. Both to yourself and the person you hope to convince. It screams “I’ll do good work when I want something.” But there are only so many carrots you can dangle in front of someone before you run out of carrots.

Instead, I discovered a different approach. It’s offered me more satisfaction, more control, and more opportunities than I can count.

The secret lies in approaching life with a dissatisfied patience.

Ever since I discovered this mindset, I’ve been happier. More fulfilled. More content. More deliberate. And not surprisingly, more effective at creating opportunities.

How To Practice Dissatisfied Patience

Instead of worrying about opportunities outside my control, I try to focus on the present circumstances.

  • What opportunities do I have to improve things I already have domain over?
  • Is there a way to improve a process to free up more time?
  • Are there any ongoing problems I have the ability to solve – for myself or for others?
  • What activities do not require anyone else’s permission?
  • How could I take [X project] to the next level?

In other words, I try to shift the focus from future uncertainty to a local present. Instead of worrying about what I think I could become, I focus on what I can do to do my very best here and now.

When I stopped waving my hand around like a madman hoping to get called on, and instead just focused on doing good work, I discovered I got called on a lot more often.

This did not mean losing the fire in my belly to do more, to be more, or to achieve more. Instead it meant channeling it – so that if and when an opportunity does present itself, I’d not only be ready, but I’d be the obvious choice.

Don’t Let Somebody Pissing In Your Cornflakes Keep You From a Balanced Breakfast

I had a helluva week last week. A lot of shit outside my control almost derailed my week, my work, and my attitude. Except then I remembered an important truth and it turned everything around (well, almost everything). But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A Case of the Mondays

By the time I sat down at my desk and fired up my laptop last Monday morning, my inbox was already overflowing. I had a long to-do list. And I was fired up.

I love Mondays so spirits were high. It was going to be a great week. I could feel it.

Minutes after logging on, my laptop bit the dust. I don’t just need a laptop to work. My laptop is my work. My business runs almost entirely online. I spend 60% of my day banging on a keyboard. And the other 40% on video calls.

The nearest Apple store was 20 minutes away. So I jumped in the car fully prepared to go buy a new device. But holding out hope it might be an issue tech support could fix quickly.

I showed up to the store minutes after it opened. But a surprise was waiting for me. Just that morning, the store began operating on scheduled appointments only – even if you just needed to buy something.

In order to get in, you needed an appointment, a clear temperature, and a mask. (Did I mentioned I forgot a mask?) The rep at the door told me the soonest available tech support appointment was 10 days away. But I could get in to buy a laptop if I was willing to wait 2 hours. The day is saved!

I jumped in the car. Drove 5 miles the other direction. Bought a mask. Drove back. Waited in the parking lot for an hour. Got in the store. Purchased a new device. And good fortune struck – they let me drop off my broken laptop.

By the time I got back home, it was 3:30 pm. I’d spent pretty much the whole day chasing my tail. I was frustrated. But I told myself to chill out.

“Take a breath, Mitch,” I advised myself. “You can’t win ’em all.”

Fail Friday

I planned to drive to Denver Friday. Part of the team was flying in. We planned to work together that afternoon, then do happy hour that evening. I looked forward to seeing everybody.

But fate had other plans.

I booked a rental car Thursday afternoon. It cost $60. What a steal, I thought. I pulled up to the airport at 6:30 am. Which is where I learned about my mistake. Apparently I’d booked the wrong date. No cars available. Time to make a hard sell.

“Ma’am, I’ve got to be in Denver today. I’m willing to get creative. What’s it going to take?”

Her fingers flew over the keyboard. She began negotiations over her walkie talkie.

“I can get you to Denver today as planned,” she said. “But it’s going to cost you.”

She swiped my card for three times the anticipated cost. Then directed me to the pickup station. I counted my blessings and skipped off happily into the sunshine. Well, kind of.

I jumped in the car and hit the road. Two stops before Denver. First, to grab a coffee. Then to swing by the house for a few personal effects. I love a good morning commute. I had an audiobook loaded up. This was going to be a great day.

Lol.

I pulled off at one of those fancy Super Targets with the Starbucks inside. Just happened to be on the route back home. I was feeling extra froggy too. Because I ordered a Big Boy Coffee. (Venti Blonde Roast with a Blonde Shot).

I marched back out to the car ready to go. And that’s when I discovered I was in for quite a ride. Just not the ride I expected.

I tried to unlock the car. No dice. All they’d given me was a key with a chain. No fob.

Once. Twice. Three times I tried. That lock was not budging. I circled the perimeter. No other keyholes. Four. Five. Six times I tried again.

I took a deep breath. This is just a cruel prank. I’m going to turn this around.

And that’s when I noticed a bright pink sticky note on the keychain.

“Won’t unlock when locked” the note read. Brilliant!

So I dialed the front desk. Who redirected me to a roadside emergency line. Sat on hold for half an hour. Called back into the desk. Explained the situation. Transferred my call. Then again. Then back again. Finally a voice that said help is on the way.

A half hour passed. Then another. I began pacing around the car. The Super Target Mom’s club was beginning to show up. Concerned stares directed my way. I kept pacing. Once. Twice. Three times I circled the car. Four. Five. Six times. I felt like Joshua and the Israelites circling Jericho.

Another half hour passed. Temptation started a conversation. I could be in and out of Target with a lawn chair, beach umbrella and a six pack in no time I thought to myself. Tailgating Target – all these shopping moms would love that, I bet.

I considered smashing the window. Insurance will cover it, right? I wasn’t in the mood to cause a bigger scene. So I waited. And I paced.

After two hours hanging out in the Target parking lot, a mechanic showed up and picked the lock. I decided to cancel my trip. Returned the car. Stopped by for a refund. And summoned a $30 Uber ride home.

“I’m still going to make the most of this day,” I told myself.

I was down but not out.

From Pissed Off to Pacified: A Tale of Two Parking Lots

I spent combined 4.5 hours sitting in parking lots last week. Just waiting.

Circumstances outside my control put me in those parking lots. But I had a choice to make. I could wait angry. Or I could let it be.

Both times I defaulted to frustration. But why? Frustration did not change the situation. Except to make waiting more painful.

I failed to shake it off Monday. I let a situation beyond my control ruin my day. And I marked an “L” in the win-loss column on the day.

But Friday I remembered an important truth. One that turned everything around. I could not change the situation. But I could change my attitude.

So instead of pacing angry. I decided to laugh.

I laughed at the statistical improbability of renting the one car that didn’t unlock with its key.

I laughed at the ridiculousness of being stuck in a Target parking lot for two hours on a Friday morning that was not Black Friday.

I laughed at the idea of driving down a highway with a smashed out window. And I laughed at the image of returning the car and telling the story.

I laughed at the thought of a Target Mom calling the police to report somebody breaking into a rental car in the parking lot. And I laughed at the hilarity of a hypothetical front page local newspaper detailing the arrest and the silly circumstances that led to it.

And finally, I laughed at myself for getting mad over something I could not control.

Sometimes life throws curve balls. You can whine about it. Or you can learn to adjust. Things do not always go as planned. (Imagine how boring life would be if they did?)

But you always have a choice about how to respond.

Putting Yourself In the Way of Success

There’s a story about a guy named Edwin Barnes who desperately wanted to go into business with Thomas Edison (you know, the 10,000 ways how not to make a lightbulb guy).

Anyway, ol’ Barnes didn’t have a penny to his name and he’d never met Edison. But he focused so hard on his goal he convinced himself it was inevitable. All he needed was one shot to speak with the inventor.

So one day Barnes stowed away on a train and just showed up out front of Edison’s workshop declaring he’d come to go into business with him. Impressed and taken off guard, Edison offered Barnes a job – an hourly wage job doing “work unimportant to Edison.”

Haters might say he failed. But legend has it Barnes saw the job as the start of his business partnership with Edison. He put himself in the right place. All he needed was the right time.

Five years passed. Still no sign of opportunity beyond his hourly wage job. But Barnes did not flinch. And that’s precisely when his moment came. 

Edison released a new machine which his salespeople claimed to be unsellable. The invention fascinated Barnes. Who approached Edison with a proposal. 

“Tom, just give me a shot and I’ll sell this widget like ice-cold lemonade on a Mississippi summer day.” (okay, so I have no idea what he really said, but you get the picture)

And sell it he did. So successfully, in fact, that Edison entered into a business agreement with him to sell the machine all over the country. Which made him rich beyond imagination.

But this story isn’t about getting rich. It’s about the power of intention mixed with deliberate action.

Barnes did not wait around hoping and wishing that a great career opportunity might just happen to him.

He fixated on a specific outcome. Then he put himself in the way of opportunity.


Post inspired by Napoleon Hill’s Think & Grow Rich. Originally published via a weekly newsletter I write about how to live a more self-directed life.