Fatherhood as antidote

Getting married, starting a family, and steadily assuming responsibility for an increasing number of people other than oneself — this is a powerful antidote to existential despair and anxiety. And I don’t think there are many exceptions to this rule.

This is something I believe more enthusiastically with every passing year. I think it can help other people my age (and younger). Especially men.

Of course, these responsibilities come with their own stresses. But it’s a different kind of stress. It’s a how-will-I-have-time-for-this kind of stress. Not a what’s-the-point-of-life kind of stress.

This has been my experience, and that of other young fathers I know. I think it has to do with spending more time thinking deeply about other people and less time thinking deeply about myself.

And maybe, too, with seeing firsthand just how much others rely on me (and me on them) for guidance when things get tough.

The demands of parenthood don’t leave much time for over-analyzing thoughts and feelings that aren’t true (vs. manufactured) problems. And we often need this kind of external pressure to help us determine what feelings aren’t worth a second thought.

Sarah Coakley on how religions compare

Here’s a good interview of Sarah Coakley on how religions compare (or ought to compare) to one another.

Here’s a quote from the video that I think summarizes her main point:

If you simply look at those clashes as extrinsic doctrinal incompatibilities, then you’re not really getting to the heart of the issue. You have to probe more deeply than that. You have to look at the practices, attitudes, and lives that are attending these kinds of propositional assents.

Much more important than a kind of pluralism is how grown up we are as religious people. How deeply we have imbibed our own traditions.

That doesn’t just mean by being fanatical. It meany by how much we have actually absorbed and been transformed by the tradition that we’ve inherited.

Now once we’ve begun to look at the relationship between religious traditions in those two different ways—not as slabs of differentiated religion, nor as simply a matter of competing propositional forms of assent—then you’ve got a terrain that is much more interesting and, you might say, more complicated.

Sarah Coakley

To summarize, religions aren’t just sets of propositions. To compare one religion to another based on the veracity of the underlying propositions (about the nature and definition of God, God’s action in the world, etc.) says something, but not everything, about the religions being considered.

A very good, relevant question (and answer) for modern people

I saw this on Reddit just now.

I’m not the only one who’s seen it. It has more than 17,000 upvotes right now, and 95% of all votes were upvotes.

In other words, it’s resonating with people.

Question:

Have you ever felt you don’t know/have forgotten who you really are? That you’ve spent years just adapting to surroundings to make life easier and don’t know what’s the real you anymore? If so, how did you overcome this?

I can relate, though I do think I struggle less with this question than the average person. Maybe even a lot less, though I’m not sure why.

But I can stand 100% behind the this posted answer, because I think it’s spot on:

There’s probably no “real you” that exists across time. That’s just a thing you built up when you were younger to give yourself a stable identity and core values.

The you now is just as real as the you then. We all adapt to our surroundings and change to make our lives easier. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

If you’re unhappy with your life now, you can adapt by changing. You need to believe that, and you probably know it since it seems to be something you’re afraid of. But this is the real you now, and you need to focus on the needs of that person, not some idealized phantom from the past.

Lots of truth there. I’m glad people seem to recognize that (more than 8,000 upvotes right now—the most popular answer option).

There’s something from process thinking here. Even process philosophy, emphasizing “becoming and changing” over “static being.”

As Westerners and Romantics, we get hung up on “identity.” Who and what things really are. Who we really are. It’s a worldwide obsession—so pervasive that it’s hard to imagine things being any other way.

But slowly taking off these “identity” lenses has done a lot for my mental and spiritual health. What is there constant but change itself? What exists except this present moment? We have memories and relics from the past, but we are not who we were in the past. We are someone new every passing moment—embracing that can open your mind (in my experience) to a level of spiritual understanding that you may not have known existed.

Anyways, more on this later. Being (lately) more open to this way of thinking has energized me mentally, spiritually and physically more than anything else I can remember.

Scruton on wanting the right things

A Facebook friend shared this quote.

We should look at all those things [the temptations of appetite] from the perspective of our own self-knowledge, and recognize that our happiness depends on wanting the right things, not the things that happen to capture our attention or to inspire our lust. Overcoming temptation is a spiritual task. No political system, no economic order, no dictatorship from above could possibly replace the moral discipline that we each must undergo if we are to live in a world of abundance without putting everything that is most dear to us – love, morality, beauty, God himself – on sale.

…If the problem is the malleability of appetite, how are we to control it, and by what decrees? The fact is that we know the solution, and it is not a political one. We must change our lives. And to do this we need spiritual authority, the ability to make sacrifices, and the refusal to be degraded… This changed way of life does not come from politics. It comes from religion and culture, and in particular from the God-imbued culture that the [New Left] thinkers…wished to replace with a purely political way of seeing things.”

Roger Scruton

What is true freedom? I think a shallow perspective interprets freedom as something like the maximized ability to choose whatever life we want to live with a minimum of external attachments.

That’s freedom for your senses, sure. For your impulses. But what about for your soul? What if restraining your impulses and senses is required to achieve a higher-order freedom—one that can bring lasting happiness, and not just momentary pleasures?

What if it’s not “external attachments” that bind us, but our own carnality and self-interest? My plain experience of life supports this idea—that most people’s worst enemy is themselves and their addictions, and not external forces compelling them to do things part of them doesn’t want to do.

I think we could all spend more time thinking about how we hurt ourselves, and less about how others, or “the system,” hold us back. Both are problems, but the former is something we can control and, I think, something we tend to ignore.

Economics and the USWNT

I don’t like to let bad thinking go unchecked on social media.

Maybe it’s a weakness of mine. Maybe I’m too easily triggered.

But I like to think it’s just me taking things seriously that ought to be taken seriously.

To that end, I’ve seen about 100 posts commenting on the gender pay gap for the US men’s and women’s soccer teams.

Mostly, understandable laments that the victorious USWNT is paid less than the terrible USMNT.

Rather than respond to every post individually, I’ll explain what’s wrong with these sentiments here.


To demand equal pay for equal work, or performance-based pay, is an understandable urge. Why should someone make less just because of their gender, all else being equal?

That said, in light of the USWNT’s recent victory, why should they be paid less than the losing USMNT? It seems unfair.

But what’s glossed over here is how we define “performance.”

There is no committee measuring the objective performance of all professional athletes. Athletes aren’t paid according to their skill. They’re paid by companies with the resources to monetize their talent by selling tickets, merchandise, and advertisements. They’re also paid by brands who use their names to sell more product.

The fact that Lebron James and Alex Morgan are good athletes adds no value to anyone’s life. It’s only when people can watch and be inspired by their skill that their talent becomes valuable. And only when people can see their skill do they want to buy merchandise.

The same isn’t true for, say, the best plumber in the world. We don’t have to watch the best plumber work in order to benefit from his or her labor. What matters is his or her finished product.

A plumber produces good plumbing. A soccer player produces an event.

Few would care who won the World Cup — men’s or women’s — if no one could see it happen.

In this sense, athletes are entertainers.

Only in the past few decades have athletes become the most recognizable faces in the world. This is due to the proliferation of mass media and associated technologies. Athleticism is easy to capture and display on video.

All that said, athletes are compensated by the market in accord with how many people will tune in to watch them. They are not compensated according to their talent alone, just like I am not compensated according to my talent alone, but according to how many people care about what I’m doing.

The fact is, few people care about women’s soccer. The women’s World Cup brought in about 1/50th the revenue of the men’s World Cup. Major networks did not show the women’s games.

You can blame the media for this lack of attention towards the women’s team, but competition in that industry is fierce. You can bet that any major network would have shown every single game if they thought he would give them a financial edge over their competitors.

The simple fact is women’s soccer, and women’s sports generally, don’t draw anywhere near the crowds of men’s soccer. It doesn’t matter how good each team is — if no one is watching, no one will pay.

There is no use lamenting the pay gap when people simply don’t watch or care. If you want women athletes to be paid more, the only thing worth doing is to encourage more people to pay attention to the dominant women’s team.

My last week, plus a cool trick

Here’s installment number two in my new Monday blog series—worthwhile things I read, watched, or listened to last week, curated for your enjoyment.

Things I Read Last Week

This blog produces great, thoughtful content. I’ve followed it for years.
Inspiration for your websites. Remember, when it comes to web design, simple is best. Really simple, even better.
• Remember that missing Malaysian airplane? We’ve learned a lot more about it’s fate than I realized.
• Yes, ok. I admit it. I didn’t read this last week. But that’s because I wrote it. Here’s how to succeed on Upwork, or in any business relationship.

A Cool Instagram Trick

I don’t like using my phone to message. Screen is too small, fingers are too big. Just a pain. I’d rather message on my laptop, which I have with me all the time, anyways.

If you’re like me, then you’ll like this trick: How to check Instagram DMs on (Chrome) desktop

First, go to instagram.com. Be sure you’re logged in.

Then, right-click in some blank area of the page and click “Inspect.” A window should appear on the right side of your screen. Then press Cntrl + Shift + M, and refresh the page.

Voila—the mobile version of Instagram (including DMs) on your desktop.

Quote of the Week

The customer’s perception is your reality.

Kate Zabriskie

Me on Upwork in Entrepreneur’s Handbook

Here’s me in Entrepreneur’s Handbook on how anyone can copy my Upwork success.

I’m a big fan of Upwork. I’ve used it for three years, and continue to use it even as I run my startup. It’s a powerful tool for freelancers and skilled workers, in general. And as far as I know, it’s the best platform in the online freelancing space. Nothing else even comes close.

To elaborate on one of my points in the article, underselling yourself is really important in the early stages of your startup or freelancing career. I talk to too many people who just aren’t willing to work for free, or to put in the 70-hour weeks to get their career off the ground. They act like they’re too good for that.

I’ve even heard this attitude couched in terms of ROI—“I’m not going to do something if I’m not sure it’s going to have a high ROI.”

Well I’m sorry, but the fact is you don’t know something’s ROI until you try it. And the more things you’re trying, the more you’re going to learn about where’s the highest return on your time.

Speed is a part of this. I read a tweet this morning that sums this up.

“The speed at which the founders move.”

Not timing, traction, or product-market fit.

Those things are important, but they can all be fixed. But not if the founders aren’t moving fast and deliberately and working their asses off.

The fact is, while I’ve made a lot on Upwork, I’ve also left a TON of money on the table, and undersold myself to Upwork clients FAR too many times. I made massive mistakes with several clients, and ended up making pennies for work that should have paid my entire month’s rent.

All because I was doing too much, too quickly, and without thinking very deeply about all the implications.

But I there’s nothing I would have changed, because there’s nothing else that would have got me to this point—a place where I can point back to my online freelancing successes, and ride my Upwork score/reputation to literally dozens of unsolicited requests for work every single week.

Underselling yourself is the only way to break into a crowded market. The only-do-high-ROI-things perspective is better put aside until you’ve established some momentum.

And I mean, come on—if you’re not working because you don’t see a obviously high-ROI use of your time, what else are you doing? Fortnite?

My last week

Here’s a different kind of post: A list of worthwhile things I read (or listened to, or watched) last week, curated for your enjoyment. I’ll try to post something like this every Monday—even if only as a way for me to record and later recall these pieces.


And here’s a quote I liked:

The aim of science is to seek the simplest explanations of complex facts. We are apt to fall into the error of thinking that the facts are simple because simplicity is the goal of our quest. The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, “Seek simplicity and distrust it.”

Alfred North Whitehead
Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947)

Thoughts on the Meaning of Belief in God

I’m a Jordan Peterson fan.

Here’s a quote from a recent chat between him and Dennis Prager.

To be able to accept the structure of existence, the suffering that goes along with it and the disappointment and the betrayal, and to nonetheless act properly; to aim at the good with all your heart; to dispense with the malevolence and your desire for destruction and revenge and all of that; and to face things courageously and to tell the truth to speak the truth and to act it out, that’s what it means to believe—that’s what it means—it doesn’t mean to state it, it means to act it out. And, unless you act it out you should be very careful about claiming it. And so, I’ve never been comfortable saying anything other than I try to act as if God exists because God only knows what you’d be if you truly believed.

Jordan Peterson

I like this quote because it’s honest. I strive for honesty with myself about what I actually believe, and I think Jordan Peterson does, too.

The past few years of my spiritual life have been an exercise in stripping away the extraneous. Specifically, I don’t like claiming to believe in doctrines or ideas I just don’t understand—especially in ideas that don’t sit well with my conscience.

This means my questions these days regard more about the nature and definition of God than about the details of substitutionary atonement or the meaning of the Trinity. I have a hard time professing belief in anything these days (because I can’t find the right words to express what it is I do believe in), though I’m more confident in the faith I do have.

In this vein, I find it more fulfilling to meditate on what God is not than on what God is. Because I can’t really understand what God is. We have words—omniscient, omnipotent, infinite—but we can’t grasp their full meaning in the context of what we’re trying to express. We conjure up imaginations about divine omnipotence, but (I think) these typically fail to de-anthropomorphize our conceptions of things like power and knowledge, and thus cause us to imagine God as something like a super-powerful human mind. But God, of course, is not a human and has no “mind” like ours. These words and definitions point us in some direction, but I’m trying to be deliberate about leaving them there—as general guides, and not precise or all-encompassing definitions.

In that light, then: Do I believe in God? Yes. Who is that God? I really don’t know, but He’s not what we describe Him to be. He’s much bigger than that.

What is the purpose of college?

I like this Twitter thread. Wanted to share here (below the divider).

It’s the easiest thing in the world to criticize a big institution like this. I get that. It’s imperfect, like all institutions—complaining like this doesn’t accomplish anything.

But the average person (who is the most harmed by prevailing misconceptions on this subject) still doesn’t think correctly about college. The average parent stresses for a decade about financing their kids’ college, confuses the purpose of education in light of college admissions pressure, and ends up thinking that overwhelming debt is the only way for their kids to find happiness and success.

Most parents still see college—any college at any cost—as the key to happiness. They’ll say that trade school is “the right choice” for lots of people, but never for their own kids.

It amazes me how far awry this has gone.

But note: The question that kicks this off is an answerable question. There is a purpose for college. I’ll give my answer in another post, maybe. The problem, though, is that most people attending college—or paying for their kids’ college, or pushing hard for their kids to attend college no matter what—don’t have a good answer.


What is the purpose of college?

To educate? None take this seriously now, and the notion that the best way to achieve this end is to warehouse horny young adults together for four years at exorbitant costs while encouraging them to drink is a bad joke in a #metoo Internet age.

To train them for jobs? Perhaps, in some majors, for some students. But any program aimed at this end could be done far more efficiently and on far more equal lines if purpose-built, shorn of the ga-ga of The College Experience and placed in partnership with employers.

To allow our youth to find themselves, develop their potential, discover their place in the world? It’s a lot easier to do that if you aren’t $100,000+ in debt at age 22. I’ll be damned if I can see why encouraging our current cultural bent towards extended adolescence has merit.

To develop an elite class? This used to be the formal purpose, became the sub rosa purpose, and has now entered a strange twilight where measures like this appear seeking to equalize access, even as ever more students attend college and “free college for all” rises as a slogan. Indeed, the fear that this is all about constructing the elite—about gate-keeping access to power and wealth—hamstrings any attempt to address any other concerns. Any call for change appears to be an attempt to wrest power on racial or gender lines, a tribal coup.

In sum, we don’t know what we’re doing, nor do we know what we want. We are stuck attempting to figure out those answers while constrained by the crumbling edifice of a fundamentally medieval institution.

More Than a Dream

Many startup founders go into business to “follow a dream.”

That’s fine, and most entrepreneurs start there. But actually growing a business is less a matter of passion+innovation and more a matter of calculated trial-and-error.

The “dream” is important, but it needs to be wide enough to encompass any means of making things happen — even the kind of tedious work many thought they left behind when they set out on their own.

Surveying your target market is one of those tedious things. And it’s tough — the LAST thing many founders want to hear from consumers is what they’re selling isn’t in demand. But it’s better to LEARN the hard way than LOSE the hard way. And it’s rare, in my experience, that an entrepreneur with enough wherewithal to set out on his/her own is 100% off-the-mark when it comes to forecasting consumer demand.

I’ve seen hundreds of consumer surveys come back negative for a startup, but I can’t remember a single one that spelled complete doom for an idea. Most often, bad feedback can be addressed with doable changes to a product or its branding.

Be vigilant about connecting with consumers. Don’t be scared to ask the hard questions.

Your future self will thank you!

Don’t Let It Define You

Bad things will happen to you.

They happen to everyone.

Terrible things, even. Senseless tragedies that you will never understand. I know this from experience.

But when something like this happens to you, don’t let it define you.

Don’t let it become an excuse for not improving yourself or for not giving something back to the world. An excuse for being a taker, and not a giver, when it comes to how you engage people around you.

Learn from your your tragedy. Talk about it. Embrace it, even. But put it in context, and let it become a part of YOU without you becoming a part of IT.

You may never understand why it happened, but it’s YOUR CHOICE whether those unanswered questions upend your every plan and steal your life’s potential or become a catalyst for bold, powerful action.

As Jordan Peterson says, “Be the person people rely on at your father’s funeral.”

This isn’t easy to do, but it’s important to never stop trying.

Remember: You are bigger than anything that happens to you.

Uber-for-X: A different kind of “disruptive?”

A thought-provoking piece in The Atlantic.

Now, you can do stuff that you could already do before, but you can do it with your phone. What it takes to make that work is incredible—venture capitalists have poured $672 million combined into Wag and Rover!—but the consumer impact is small. Instead of taking a number off a bulletin board in a coffee shop and calling Eric to walk Rufus, you hit a few buttons on your phone and Eric comes over. Very successful companies, the Ubers and Lyfts, do begin to shift urban systems—but only once they’ve been operating for long enough. Even figuring whether ride-hailing is taking cars off or adding them to the road is complicated.

It’s not hard to look around the world and see all those zeroes of capital going into dog-walking companies and wonder: Is this really the best and highest use of the Silicon Valley innovation ecosystem? In the ten years since Uber launched, the phones haven’t changed all that much. The world’s most dominant social network became Facebook in 2009, and in 2019, it is still Facebook. The phones look the same. Google is still Google, even if it is called Alphabet.

Alexis C. Madrigal

But does this characterization sell Uber-for-X services short? The it’s-nothing-new-just-now-on-your-phone angle?

I’m not convinced it does. I’ve used lots of Uber-for-X services just a few times—ones that are designed, really, to replace activities that I’m used to doing. Grubhub, for example. I used it once. I have an account. But I don’t use it several times a week when I probably could. I guess the value added is just too small relative to the hassle (which, I guess, means it doesn’t add value, on net). That hassle being like—30 seconds of button-pressing on my phone? That’s a very small value-added, indeed.

Another issue with these apps is the following (and I mention this a lot):

There’s only so much room on your phone. Apps like Grubhub and even Uber/Lyft can be quite useful, but not for most people most of the time. Airbnb is a great example—I’ve used it, and I downloaded the app. But after a few months of not using, I deleted it. It was just clutter.

I’m guessing most Airbnb users are like me. They use it, and they like it. But they don’t use it that often, because they don’t travel that often. Every few months, maybe.

So what about services (like Grubhub) you might use once or twice a month? Is that often enough to use up space on your phone? And if it’s not, are you going to remember that the service exists next time you order takeout?

Maybe you’ll remember if you reeeeally hate walking/driving 10 minutes to pick up your food. And then, of course, the restaurant (or, generally, product) you chose needs to be integrated with that app. And I don’t think most people like restricting themselves to just one app’s options when picking their food, or most other products (but especially food).

(This doesn’t necessarily have to be about actual hard drive space. I think many people just don’t like their screens cluttered with a bunch of apps they rarely use.)

You get my point.

The question, then: How much has Uber-for-X changed things, fundamentally?

Diminishing “intellectual specialization”

Here’s a quote from this article at The Chronicle Review. I recommend the entire piece. Consider how the ideas here apply outside the world of higher education (they apply everywhere).

As the economist Peter G. Sassone observed in the early 1990s, personal computers made administrative tasks just easy enough to eliminate the need for dedicated support staff — you could now type your own memos using a word processor or file expenses directly through an intranet portal. In the short term, these changes seemed to save money. But as Sassone documents, shifting administrative tasks to high-skilled employees led to a decrease in their productivity, which reduced revenue — creating losses that often surpassed the amount of money saved by cuts to support staff. He describes this effect as a diminishment of “intellectual specialization,” and it’s a dynamic that’s not spared higher education, where professors spend an increasing amount of time dealing with the administrative substrate of their institutions through electronic interfaces. 

We must also acknowledge that the real costs of administrative work are currently hidden in ways that don’t immediately show up on a [company’s] balance sheet. Distracted and interrupted [employees] produce less … and spend less time innovating [in the workplace]. That reality doesn’t directly impact revenue and is hard to measure as a concrete cost and therefore easy to ignore. 

Grief is tough because death is confusing

I used to like watching movies about kids whose moms died.

That’s odd, maybe, but it’s true. My mom died when I was eight. I liked seeing how kids in movies reacted — how they might be like me.

They never were like me.

That’s because movies make death clean. Typically, the whole ordeal appears appropriately sad and involves lots of crying, like in real life. But screenwriters always make clear what’s going on and how it’s affecting everyone involved. When a kid’s not taking it well, for example, that’s made obvious — little Billy doesn’t talk for months after his mom dies, sister Sally literally runs away, big brother might even turn to drugs (so cliché).

But grief isn’t like that. It’s confusing.

When someone you love dies, there’s no telling how it might affect you, and no telling just sad or confused you might be. And if you don’t take it well, no one around you will know what’s going on inside you. They’ll worry about you, be confused about you, maybe even get frustrated with you.

If these things weren’t true, grief wouldn’t be so hard.

When someone you love dies, you might even do weird things.

I can remember trying to smile just a few seconds after my dad told me my mom died. It wasn’t hard. I felt terrible about smiling, but I did it — just for a second, and not where anyone could see me. It was easy. I’ve never forgotten that feeling. It didn’t last long because I almost immediately felt guilty for having the energy to smile after hearing that my mom was dead. I was only eight. For some reason I just had the urge to do it.

I think it was so easy to smile because most of the sadness had already come and gone. Death can be awkwardly slow — especially when brought about by a drawn-out terminal illness. I knew my mom was dying for six months. She told me herself one day at the kitchen table. I cried then. In fact, I cried more in that moment than I did when she actually died. She was barely conscious for the last two months of her life. I remember playing her favorite song on the piano a few rooms down from her hospice and running back in to see that she had slept through it all. She was so drugged up and so skinny and so, so pale. Yellowish, really — the color of the latex gloves her nurses sometimes used when they gave her shots.

So by the time she died, I think I’d cried most of my tears. Maybe I was relieved. It was hard, you can imagine, going through second grade knowing that your mom was going to die near the end of the year. But I honestly believed (and still do) that she’s “in a better place.” Isn’t that worth smiling about?

I digress a little. What I’m trying to say is that death is not clean. If it were, it wouldn’t be so hard. If we knew what was happening, why it was happening, and what it really meant, we’d handle it a lot better. It wouldn’t be so devastating.

In other words, death and grief aren’t awful because we, and those around us, know how awful it is. It’s awful because the whole thing is almost always an ugly, awkward, terrifying mess.

Something else confusing is what to do afterwards. A death happens, but that’s not the end. In some ways, it’s a beginning.

When my mom died, I remember thinking: Should I talk to Grandma and Grandpa anymore? Should I put away the little pictures of mom hanging in my room? When should I go back to school? Tomorrow? Next week? Never? How can I think about her without crying? Would it be wrong not to? Should I just quit playing piano (she was my teacher)? Should I tell everyone who talks to me assuming I have a living mother that my mom is, in fact, dead? No way! That’s the last thing I wanted to do. But then what happens when they find out months later and feel embarrassed and terrible and get overly-apologetic with me and, God-forbid, start ugly-crying in my face?

You see what I mean? It’s confusing. Death is confusing. It’s awful. And grief is unscripted.

I learned that last line in a “grief group” in college. I was depressed and hadn’t really gotten over her death even by then, so I sought counsel with peers who’d also lost a parent (or both). All of them had lost a parent within the past three years. I lost mine 12 years before. My problems were different. Was I welcome there? I didn’t ask questions. Grief group helped, though.

Death is confusing. Grief is unscripted. Read that over and over again. Let it soak in — especially if you’re facing the impending loss of a loved one to some terrible disease, or if your own death is coming up (though I don’t know much about that). Or if you know anyone who might die one day.

Maybe I’ll look back on these comments and regret ever saying them, but I figure it’s better to say something that might help than to say nothing at all. Death is more than just confusing, but it’s definitely nothing less. This is just a good starting point. God knows there’s lots more to say.