Winning in Different Domains

Some of us are born with a competitive spirit. Some of us are not. Then others among us are born with a double-dose of it.

I got the double dose.

When you grow up with a competitive spirit, you view the world as a game board to be dominated.

You don’t care about the game. You only care about winning.

That kind of spirit to win will drive you to win at all costs. But it won’t help you figure out which games are worth playing.

Because, it’s true, some games are not worth playing at all. It’s only the games that are worth playing that are worth playing well.

And figuring out which games are worth playing is perhaps the most important game of all.

Discarding Games

If you’re anywhere near as competitive as I am, eventually you’ll come across games that bore you.

Perhaps because you’re not naturally gifted at them. Or perhaps because you encounter a worthier-than-usual foe who absolutely decimates you to the point of forfeiting all future exhibitions in a particular domain. Or probably more likely because you grow bored in some games as your interest in other games expands.

When any of the above happen, if you stand any chance at achieving longevity as a competitor in any domain of interest, it’s worthwhile to discard some games – in the interest of increasing your fitness in the new game.

Because you can’t be “the best” at everything, discarding games that you no longer care to play (for whatever reason), allows you to allocate your attention and resources to higher-priority games. This reallocation of resources will allow you to compete more seriously.

And in fact, becoming a more serious competitor in one domain often increases your fitness in other domains, as well.

So, you should take seriously the idea of discarding low-priority games. In the interest of winning more games overall. Make a game of it, if you must.

Games Worth Playing

As you grow older, you’ll carry with you an internal sense of your win record.

On net, you’re either a winner or a loser in your own eyes. (If you view yourself the latter, I’d encourage you to find a domain you can win in fast.)

You’ll also likely have a good sense of the domains you excel in – and a particularly strong lingering soreness about those domains which you do not excel in.

But hopefully, you’ll also gain a sense about those games which carry the highest stakes.

Therein lies the first clue about which games to play.

Games carry different stakes.

High-stakes games can be thrilling. They often present major upside for winners, too. But be warned. Because some high-stakes games offer minimal upside (if any at all), though certain major downside for losers.

Which is the second clue.

Avoid high-stakes games with minimal upside and major downside risks.

For instance, grabbing an uncaged tiger by its tail is a form of a high-stakes game with major downside risk. And unless you happen to be attacked by a tiger, you’re probably best avoiding the encounter altogether. If it’s unavoidable, then fight like hell.

You’ll receive many invitations to many games in many different domains. You can’t play them all. But you can’t avoid them all forever either.

So you’ve got to choose. Here’s another clue.

Figure out which games you certainly want to avoid.

Here’s a short list of examples.

If possible, avoiding playing games with the criminal justice system. Or with the legal system altogether. And the IRS. Don’t play dice with war lords, drug dealers, or loan sharks. Avoid boxing matches you can’t win. Don’t challenge a cheetah to a footrace. And never, never battle wits with a Sicilian when death is on the line.

It’s also worth taking inventory of the games you’re A) already playing and B) cannot avoid.

Which is the next clue:

Some games are unavoidable.

You’ve got to learn how to stay alive. That is maybe the most fundamental game. Though there’s really no winning in this game so much as there is only losing. And it’s a game we’ll all inevitably lose. But best to play as a worthy competitor while you can.

Still, in order to avoid losing (for as long as you can), you’ll also be forced to engage in other games. Like learning how to provide for yourself, how to earn an income or to hunt, kill, grow, and prepare your own food. And so on.

Some games are absolutely necessary in order to continue playing at all.

Which brings up the last clue (for now):

Some games necessitate others.

If you get married, for instance, you’ll have to learn how to co-exist peacefully. If you go into business, you’ll have to figure out how to manage finances. (Of course, you could avoid both of those. But recognize that some games necessitate others.)

As you go continue through the game of life, it behooves you to learn the fundamentals of the games you’re aware of. And always be mindful of the games within the games – the new domains you’re forced into as a result of necessity of other games you’ve engaged in.

Recommended Reading

Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse

Games People Play by Eric Berne, M.D.

The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey

Metaphors We Live By written by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

How (And Why) to Build Social Capital

Let’s talk about social capital – and why it’s one of the most valuable resources you can build for your long-term professional goals.

Social capital is basically the value of “goodwill” you’ve accumulated across your entire network.

In other words, how confident are you that you could pick up the phone and call somebody in your network who could actually help if you were in need of skills, advice, capital, an introduction, etc. ?

I don’t want to imply that the value of social capital is tied to charity. Or that it’s limited to transactional relationships. It’s much more than that.

Social capital is the store of value you’ve created for others.

Similarly to a bank account, it accumulates the more deposits you make. And it dwindles as you make withdrawals.

Here’s why it’s valuable:

As you go through your career, it’s useful to have people you can call on to help you out.

For instance, when you’re trying to win a new opportunity and you need a reference. Or an introduction. 

Or when you launch your own business and need an attorney or banker or CPA or expert marketer but you can’t yet afford to hire out for it.

Or when you’re trying to put a deal together and need one more check to raise the funds to buy a business or property.

And countless other scenarios.

When you’re in need is hardly the time to ask for favors – especially favors you haven’t earned. You can’t expect for people to help you out if you have zero social capital on deposit.

The value of building social capital

The purpose of social capital isn’t about building a list of people who owe you favors. 

But if you focus on creating value for other people, social capital will be a natural byproduct. People you’ve been valuable to will want to be valuable in exchange.

It’s not a given. Social capital isn’t exactly a debt to be repaid. (And if you treat it this way, you’ll surely find yourself running low on people who can help you out when you need it most.)

Personally, I like to think of social capital as a warehouse of value stored in my personal network. And when I have a particular need, I know I can turn to my network first.

For example, currently I have a variety of “social capital” on deposit across my network:

Everything from graphic designers, copywriters, and sales people whose careers I helped launch; investment bankers I’ve made introductions for; founders and CEOs I’ve built sweat equity with; and hundreds of former co-workers with plenty of unique skill sets with whom I’ve built a strong reputation.

At any point in time, I know I could reach out (or those people could reach out to me) and we’d help one another out. 

That’s the value of social capital.

How to build social capital

The best way to build social capital is by offering value to other people (whether or not you get anything tangible in return).

Social capital isn’t something you have to build for free, though. It’s possible to accumulate it even on-the-job.

For instance, you could build social capital with a boss or your peers – even though you’re being paid to perform a job. You could do that by going above and beyond in your role, always exceeding expectations, always being the first person to volunteer to help, and so on.

In short, you can start building social capital wherever you are today by becoming reliable and indispensable.

Over time, that “excess value” you create above and beyond your pay will begin to accumulate. First in the form of your reputation among others, and eventually in the form of social capital – that you can draw on down the road, should you need a letter of recommendation or the like.

Another useful and easy way to build social capital is by helping people reach their own goals.

For example, you could help someone promote a new book or product they’ve launched. Or make an introduction between two mutual connections. Or create marketing collateral for an entrepreneur or business owner.

There are countless ways you can be valuable to other people. And if you focus on being valuable first, eventually, that value will accumulate across the network you build.

Go be valuable today.

Quick Tips for Building Wealth Fast As a Young Adult

I’m not going to dress this up. Let’s cut right to the biggest misconceptions most young adults make about money early on.

Your income is a function of the value you create and can capture. And wealth is a function of how much of that captured value you keep.

If you want to make money, you’ve got to learn how to be valuable and how to capture that value.

The faster and more effectively you can do those two things, the quicker you’ll be able to accumulate wealth.

Lesson Number 1: Learn how to be valuable to other people.

That means figuring out the perfect combination of:

1. Something other people want
2. That you can provide
3. At a reasonable price

That might mean starting at the bottom as an employee, focusing on honing your skills, and climbing the ranks.

Just remember – income isn’t a function of your job title. It’s a function of value you create. 

Working at a fast-growing company for a few years right at the start of your career can be an incredible way to level up your skills quickly. But keep in mind, as an employee, it’s very difficult to capture value at the same rate you create it. Even as you level up your skills.

Lesson Number 2: Learn how to capture the value you create.

If you want to build wealth (and fast), creating value isn’t enough. You’ve also got to learn how to capture it.

As an employee, if you want to scale your income proportionate to the value you create, then you’ve got to figure out how to measure that value. This is why people in sales earn more (it’s easy to measure how much money they bring in for the business).

It’s not impossible if you’re not in sales. But it’s more difficult. Keep that in mind.

Other ways to capture value could include starting your own thing. Like starting a freelance business, or your own company. It’s much easier to quantify how much value you create in a business of one. Which means you also get to determine how much money you take home (after the business expenses, of course).

Lesson Number 3: Conserve the value you capture.

Spendthrifts struggle to build wealth.

It’s very difficult to accumulate wealth if every dollar you bring in goes right back out the door. Even if you’re earning a pile of money.

You’ve also got to put a good foundation in place for saving and putting those dollars to work.

One of the biggest levers for building wealth as a young adult is your ability (and willingness) to manage your cost of living.

If you can avoid bad debt and keep your living expenses low, while focusing on leveling up your skills, you can build wealth much faster.

For example, pretend you start your career making $40,000 per year. If you can live on $25,000 per year after expenses, that means you can save $15k per year.

But if you can level up your skills and boost your income from $40,000 to $60,000 in year two, and still keep your cost of living at $25,000, in year two you can save $35,000.

That’s how you can build wealth as a young adult – FAST.

It doesn’t take a ton of specialized knowledge. Or credentials. Or starting capital.

You can build wealth fast by investing in your own ability to create value, managing your living expenses, and as you create more value, learning how to capture it.

If you want to build wealth fast as a young adult, that’s one prescription for it that anybody can put into practice.

Not Here To Make Friends

I like to joke sometimes that I already have enough friends.

As I get older, people who don’t have anything interesting or novel to say bore me more than they used to.

And so I’ll say it again, I’m not here to make friends.

I’m here for the truth.

I don’t like small talk. (Though I tolerate it depending on the circumstance.)

Politics, the weather, celebrity gossip, and other “small-minded” issues are such a drag. (Yeah, yeah, I know. Hypocrite alert. I can be such a whore for sports talk.)

We don’t get a whole lot of time on this big ol’ rock. And if we stand any chance of making a real impact (<– not an asteroid joke), then it’s probably best to limit the amount of time we spend dwelling on shit that doesn’t matter much.

What’s the most interesting idea in your head?

Is it your original idea? Is it some original iteration of an idea?

If you’re not working on your own ideas, then you’re wasting your potential.

We’re not meant to be damn parrots.

Our time here is scarce. Why waste it repeating other people’s words and opinions? Why not spend our time seeking after higher things?

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all thesethings shall be added unto you.

Matthew 6:33, KJV

You’ll make more friends along the way – deeper, more meaningful connections, too – if you stop parroting and start thinking.

Stop trying to make friends. Don’t aim to be agreeable.

Pursue the truth. Speak the truth. Test your ideas. Refine them. Live them out boldly.

But for God’s sake, just don’t be boring.

Goals as Sustenance

I remember this group of girls at my high school who seemed to want nothing more from life than to date a good-looking guy and win homecoming queen.

At least one of them got everything she ever wanted (only one person can win homecoming queen per year, yanno?).

But it never made much sense to me to shoot so low.

If goals are already within your reach, then what’s the point? Where is the meaning to be found from life?

Goals as a forcing function

Instead, I think it’s more useful to choose goals that force you to change.

Goals, by very definition, are about manifesting a different future state. But there’s a big difference between bringing about a future state that’s already a forgone conclusion and in manifesting something you’re not yet capable of creating.

Only chasing forgone conclusions snubs your own potential – your potential to become something more than you already are.

And goals that require you to cultivate that potential – to become who you are not yet but could be – those are the best kinds of goals.

Because it is the process of metamorphosis that enables us to reach new heights.

And we’re all equally free to pursue and prioritize the cultivation of our highest potentials. Even if it’s an unequal distribution in people who actually do that.

In other words, we all have the opportunity to manifest a better future than our present circumstances. If we really desire it, we have the option to escape the life we were born into, and to turn the hand we were dealt into a winning one.

The Cycle of Goals

The process of setting and working toward a goal has restorative and regenerative properties.

It’s half therapy and half fertilization.

The therapy part requires us to examine who we are – who we were in the past – and contrast that against an ideal future state.

The fertilization aspect takes the seed of an idea (our idyllic future) and grants it what it needs to grow – motivation, inspiration, resolve, a plan of action, etc.

In that sense, the undertaking of choosing a goal then moving toward it is a form of self-transformation.

It is the process of continuous evolution. Of correcting errors in your past by improving your behavior in the present, in pursuit of an further improvement still in the future.

And without a continuously ascending target above the horizon to aim at, then we’ll probably get everything we ever wanted.

Which means we probably aimed lower than our potential could have allowed. And I can hardly imagine a fate worse than that.

Emotional Re-Orientation vs. Post-Hoc Rationalization

In the adventure of life, you will inevitably encounter a fork in the road that forces you to choose a path.

The proper path won’t always be obvious. When this happens, you can roll the dice. Or you can put that big ol’ noggin’ to work.

Regardless how you proceed, you must act. Standing still at the fork is not an option.

Inevitably, you’ll also experience the whole spectrum of emotions.

Swings from fear to a false sense of certainty. The roller coaster of anxiety to determination. And on an on.

Your emotions can alert you to legitimate, potential threats. But they can also distract you.

Your reason can enable you to calculate and acknowledge risk. But if can also blind you to your own unarticulated concerns – or to the concerns of others around you.

You must pursue a marriage between these two faculties. If you are to survive.

In-synch, your emotions and reason converge into a superpower. Prioritizing one at the expense of the other creates wrinkles into the future, which must eventually be addressed (and if left unaddressed, will leave you exposed, even to the point of becoming crippled).

When you encounter the inevitable forks in the road, you must act.

You can do so blindly. Or you can do so deliberately.

If you make a decision without your proclivities fully on board, you create a future hurdle for yourself.

Post-hoc rationalization can only help you so much if your gut instincts disapprove of your decisions.

Similarly, you can only negotiate with your emotions so much.

How to Navigate Complexity

If you are to survive this world, you can’t be wholly ruled by your emotions. Just like you cannot fully ignore your emotions, either.

You must strike a balance.

One way to do this is by changing your behavior – act in such a way that you approve of yourself. So as to avoid any moral sanctions from your consience.

Still, it’s not a perfect solution. Because inevitably, you will still face challenges where competing priorities or values must be acknowledged.

Another way to proceed is to [attempt to] reorient your emotions to reason.

How can you reframe your situation so as to change your view of the circumstances?

This is not to say you should delude yourself to the truth or reality. (That won’t help either.)

But you do get a choice of your opinions of things, and you can alter your emotional responses – if you can alter your perception to a specific event or circumstance.

Honing Your Craft

I don’t feel much like writing today. Which makes it all the more important that I sit down and bang on my keyboard.

Discipline matters more than creativity, inspiration, or motivation.

Especially if your goal is mastery.

When you’re just starting out – regardless what your craft – getting started is often the most difficult part.

As you mature in your craft and begin to develop some actual skill, starting gets easier. But sticking with it can be a challenge.

Once you’ve developed some level of mastery, it’s not necessarily getting started or sticking with it that you’ll have trouble with. No.

Once you get to a certain level, it’s far more likely that you’ll use “your standard” as an excuse for consistently working on your craft.

“You should not attempt anything unless you can do great work,” the voice of Resistance teases.

But that’s not how ideas transform into great work.

If you truly want to hone your craft, set aside time every single day.

Do not allow yourself to develop the bad habit of believing your own press. No matter how good you get, you still need practice to stay fresh.

Even if that means some off days. Even if that means missing your mark. And even if that means starting back over as a beginner in order to reinvent yourself all over again.

On the path to true mastery, discipline matters more than almost everything – including talent.

As they say, “The world is run by people who show up.”

The 400th Thanksgiving

It’s incredible to think just how far we’ve come in the past 400 years.

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

A bunch of incensed Pilgrims boarded a ship to a new world, seeking respite from an overbearing church and state. They made their sojourn to Zion.

Many died. Those who didn’t nearly starved to death.

But those who survived discovered the bedrock upon which to build a new civilization: freedom (and property rights).

You’ve got to think those early colonists understood the price of their newfound freedom.

It cost many their lives. But even those who outlived famine-like conditions, disease, high infant mortality, brutal weather, bouts with wildlife, and countless other challenging conditions…they all paid their pound of flesh for their freedom.

During that chapter of the American experiment, freedom didn’t equal material comfort.

It was impossible to escape from the reality of responsibility.

Even while the early colonists experimented with commune-style living and production, if enough people didn’t produce, everyone would starve.

How’s that for responsibility staring you in the face?

“He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”

John Smith

Modern Abundance

It’s a tall order to imagine what it really must’ve been like in the earliest chapters of America.

I imagine people were brutally aware of their own mortality. Even those who still wanted to mooch off the labor of producers.

Quite unlike the world we live in today. Abundance outflanks us all in this modern chapter.

The standard of living has risen at least ~1000x over the past 400 years.

We’ve continued to innovate our way through challenges (in spite of those who’d still prefer to mooch off the labor of producers).

But with so much abundance, it’s often easy to forget the imperative of responsibility.

Abundance is not a given.

It’s the byproduct of men and women who’ve (metaphorically speaking) boarded ships to a new world, sojourning to Zion.

People who’ve taken radical responsibility for breathing life into their own visions for a better world. In so doing, they’ve put their shoulder to the plow, and produced a windrow of abundance.

What will my grandchildren be thankful for?

Sometimes as a thought experiment, I like to imagine what the world will be like several generations from now. (Especially for my family, if I have the good fortune of having kids and living long enough to witness grandchildren.)

Two generations from now, will people look back at think, “Wow, I’m thankful for the sacrifices previous generations made to build the world into something better.”

Who knows. Most of us will be long dead.

But I have to think, if enough of us today do our damndest to live out the best version of ourselves, and build the best “now” that we can, then the future ought to end up a little brighter and better than it is today.

We have such an advantage in building the future today. Especially compared to the harsh conditions of the past.

Sure, plenty of opportunity for progress remains. But so long as we don’t completely burn the American experiment to the ground, then maybe, just maybe, every future generation can continue to find it a little bit easier than the previous one had it to make a start.

That’s the true miracle of the past 400 years, in my opinion.

Practicing Gratitude

Gratitude is a strange, but necessary thing.

On one hand, gratitude poses a challenge. Because there’s a fine line between admitting circumstances beyond control played out favorably and discounting actual effort put into creating favorable circumstances.

Practicing gratitude is not the same thing as self-sacrifice. It doesn’t have to be some pompous pretend show.

“I’m feeling so blessed by God right now for all these things He provided for me.” (While casually alluding to the lifestyle you deliberately set out to create.)

That’s not gratitude in my book. It’s deceitfully ascribing the results of your own choices to some power outside yourself.

Not to say that we haven’t each been blessed with unique gifts and talents to create better circumstances – and free will to choose how to apply our gifts and talents in the world.

But I always feel a phony any time I catch myself pretending I feel blessed for the results of using my talents. Because what I feel in those moments is not gratitude – it’s pride.

Which is why gratitude can be such a complicated emotion and action. If for no other reason than that I like to overcomplicate things.

Gratitude As Seeking Joy

On the other hand, I often like to think about the object of gratitude. What am I grateful for? When I boil it down, this “object” of gratitude is more or less the margin between an idyllic present and worst case scenario.

Even if present circumstances aren’t perfect, it’s possible to idealize them. And that’s where gratitude really shines. Especially contrasted against how much worse things could be. Because inevitably, things could always be much, much worse than they are.

It’s almost as if gratitude is the practice of deliberate excavation of joy from the details of our life – imperfect as they may be.

We practice gratitude when we deliberately seek joy over other possible attitudes.

Which is the beauty of it. That gratitude is a choice, not a given.

Things I’m Grateful For

It’s the day before 2021 Thanksgiving. Tomorrow I get to spend the whole day cooking, feasting, and fellowshipping with family.

I have not done this in years. For the past decade, I lived nearly a 1,000 miles away, and rarely came home for Thanksgiving. Now that I live close again, it would seem like a wasted opportunity not to take advantage of proximity to family.

I’m grateful for the maturity and wisdom that comes from reflection on past experience.

I’m also grateful for the agency to redirect my time, resources and attention as I navigate through different eras of life, and my priorities shift.

I imagine joy would be such a difficult state to achieve in the absence of choice. I’m grateful for the power to choose, for free will, and for the cognitive ability to evaluate different possible choices, then act out those choices.

I’m also grateful for people. It would surely be a lonely, miserable existence without others in our lives to accompany us on our journey through time. How diminished joy would be without others to share in its revelations.

I’m grateful for family. For Friends. For freedom. Good business. Life. Health. And a long list of other things.

What would the best version of yourself be like?

Here is a useful tip I’ve discovered whenever I encounter unknown situations:

Just ask yourself, “What would the best version of myself be like in this moment?”

(This is particularly useful for robots, like that Facebook founder, who are only pretending to be humans. Just a joke. Chill out. Don’t put me on some list.)

Anyway, it’s a useful tip because it’s an open-ended question. Which forces you to flip on the ol’ imagination. Rather than asking yourself silly, self-doubting (or self-loathing) closed- ended questions. Like, “Should I do X?”, “Should I have said Y?”

This question is not meant to encourage you to shut off in the middle of real-life scenarios, so you can brainstorm how to behave. Don’t do that, psycho. Just be authentic.

It’s really meant more for reflection. Especially if you ever find yourself putting your foot in your own mouth. Or wishing you’d have handled a situation differently.

You’re going to botch it all up quite a few times in your life. Shrug it off. Then reflect.

How could that have gone differently?

“How would the best version of myself handled that moment?”

Asking these kinds of questions creates the semblance of an ideal for you to strive for in future scenarios. That, paired with the critical self-knowledge of your own past uncomfortable failures, gives you some good guardrails for future interactions.

“What’s the worst than could happen?” and “How would the best version of myself handle this?”

Aim to end up somewhere in the middle of those. Reflect. Move on with your life. Improve in the future.