26 Hours on the R2R2R
Man, that one hurt. Do not underestimate the canyon. The traditional rim-to-rim-to-rim (R2R2R) trail consists of 44 miles and 11,000 ft of vertical gain/loss (equates to a little over 900 flights of stairs) South Kaibab → North Rim → South Kaibab.
Leaving South Rim around 5am, the sheer force of the initial descent into the canyon tore down my legs far faster than I was hoping or anticipating. Shuffling through Phantom Ranch (7mile mark) a shade before 6:30am as the sun began to creep over the canyon walls, I was thankful for what little pieces of shade I knew were soon to disappear. Hitting the half marathon mark as temperatures increased dramatically and my pace slowed with each minute that passed, I had a feeling I might be for a long day, having yet to start the hike out of North Rim.
Upon arriving at North Rim five hours after departure, I was faced with the question of “Do I wave the white flag and take the 4.5hr/250mi bus ride back around the canyon to South Rim, or see if I can suffer my way back through the canyon?” After a brief break and sharing my attempt with fellow hikers at the trailhead, I was instilled with a false sense of confidence that I would be able to make my way back down to the base and out of South Rim prior to nightfall.
The forecasted temperature for the day was around 90° and little was I expecting when I dropped back down into the canyon from North Rim around 12pm that air temperature would exceed 105° and the dirt temp would touch 130°, making every step something of a nightmare. It’s quite easy to lose track of fluid/electrolyte intake on any run, and particularly in arid climates where your sweat evaporates in an instant, leading to dehydration and cramps at an unbearable magnitude.
The 7 mile stretch between Cottonwood and Phantom Ranch in “the box” depleted my muscles to a state of refusal as I stumbled my way into Phantom around 2:30 pm having drug myself through the last couple of hours with an insufficient 2L of water. With my sense of hearing and vision skewed from any sense of normalcy, I’m forever grateful for the kindness and hospitality of employees, park rangers, and complete strangers who were quick to offer their assistance (food, supplies, etc.) and companionship to an individual they knew had misjudged what a R2R2R effort would require at this time of year.
After a few hours of rest, buckets of ice water, lemonade, and salty snacks, I slowly began to feel myself again. However, the relentless cramping that ensued for the entire night and guidance from nearly everyone at camp, I came to the realization that any attempt to hike out that night would be an impossibility — leading to an overnight stay at the ranch with a sleeping bag and mat provided by the rangers. Just as many say it’s impossible to take a photo or tell a story that justifies the full scope and size of the canyon, laying down that night I felt a similar feeling looking up and seeing every bit of the sky illuminated by a number of stars that is still difficult to comprehend.
Around 3:00am, my alarm rang and it was time to begin the hike out, avoiding the relentless heat that was certain to come once the sun arose again. The hike out proved to be the most painstaking 3.5 hours of the double-crossing, climbing from ~2,000ft of elevation to ~7,000ft in just under 7 miles, finding solace in counting my steps to 100 and back down, hundreds of times — eventually arriving back at the South Rim where the attempt began roughly 26 hours before.
If you’re willing to listen, the canyon is full of lessons. “What can I do differently next time, what would have happened if, would I have been able to”. While I never expected things to perfectly according to plan, the foresight to see a setback such as this was never in consideration. The beauty of trails is that there is always room for improvement and I can’t wait to get back to test myself in the canyon again.
Running: A Field Guide
The First Mile
“If you find yourself hating running and quitting early, just keep at it. Running takes time to be enjoyable. It’s not a surgical strike; it’s a war of attrition.” –Matthew Inman
I used to hate running. To be honest, sometimes I still do. For the first 18 odd-years of my life, running translated loosely, meant punishment. For the last few years, I’ve found myself to be helplessly obsessed with running. Why? I’m still not quite sure. However, what I can tell you is that over this time frame, I’ve picked up on a few things.
Whether you’ve never run a step in your life or you’re a seasoned veteran, I’m going to give you my best sales pitch to convince you why running should be (or remain) an anchor in your life. Below is the ~short~ and sweet version of what I’ve compiled in my experience, best called a “Field Guide” that I recommend you reference whenever you have any questions about strategies, plans, and much more. graphics from “I Hate Running and You Can Too” a short read by Brendan Leonard that I can’t recommend enough
If, after reading the field guide, you’re thinking “Wow, what an intriguing challenge that I’ve always wondered if I could do. I’d love to try and run a 5k, 10k, or marathon while supporting my friend/acquaintance/masochistic and long-winded stranger“, the below plans/coaching services will help you get there!
These plans cover every skill level and distance, which have been created from my personal experiences in training/coaching. All you’ll need to do is choose what plan is right for you, fill out a quick Google Form, and you’ll be off and running, quite literally!
- 8/12/16 Week General/Static Plans – 5k to Marathon – ($25)
- Personalized Plan ($75)
- Coaching (4 month min @ $50/mo)
First, I’ll discuss a bit about what has kept me so addicted to the sport and what I’ve come to realize through personal experiences (and injuries). Next, I’ll brush up on a more detailed explanation of training exercises, nutrition/fueling, and tactics that, if they don’t deter you from the sport, will help increase your pleasure in running. At the end, there will be resources where you can waste countless hours scrolling through blogs and Instagram posts which won’t make you any faster or skinnier, but might help contextualize the way a runner thinks.
Always remember, running always ends up being less about staying in physical shape, but more about the compounding benefits that will ripple throughout your daily life. There hasn’t been a single day in the last few years where I felt like any run benefitted me more physically than it did mentally. Nike Master Trainer Joe Holder talks about running being a gateway drug towards positivity: “If I can run, I can meditate. If I can run and meditate, then I might as well eat mostly healthy. If I can run, meditate and eat healthy, then I can certainly do my best at work and home.”
A likely scenario:
“I can’t WAIT to get out for my run this morning.”
“This is miserable and I hate everything and everyone.”
It would be a mistake to assume that the initial excitement of a running program will extend past a few short days, or weeks at most. The pump-up music, the motivational videos, the incentives you’ve laid out and the “rah-rah” spirit dissolve faster than cotton candy in water (if this reference doesn’t make sense, let me enlighten you with –>THIS<– video). At this point, you’re left alone with your new best friends: burning lungs, gallons of coffee, pessimistic mental chatter, bruised toenails, sore joints, far too much dirty laundry, and a surreal sense of self-awareness.
“Yes, it’s awful, but it’s your awful. Sure you’re hurting, but in mere moments this window you’ve opened will close. The uncertainty induced by this discomfort isn’t a problem, it’s the point. Hover here. Make space for yourself. Like the calloused edge of a runner’s foot that’s accustom to impact, this mental rehearsal develops protection from the waves of shock you’ll encounter while racing, working or just daily life.
What started as the method to improve as an athlete has become the simplest way to cut through all of life’s bullshit; using a hill, a path or a track to return you to the essence of yourself. You’re here right now, legs burning, mind screaming, tiptoeing along the cusp of failure because inviting this suffering builds strength and embracing this vulnerability provides peace. Welcome.” – Peter Bromka
I’ve found distance running to be different than any other type of sport or workout I’ve ever completed. You can’t approach distance runs with anger or frustration like you might have been able to during high school football practice (albeit during sprint workouts, this might be necessary). I always recommend you first approach it with ease and caution. Make your first mile your slowest mile. Get to know what it feels like to run. Get to know what it feels like to run when you’re sore. Get to know how great food tastes after a run and how fast you are able to fall asleep after your long run day.
Unless you’re headed out for a highly specified high-effort run, be patient, don’t kill yourself within the first ten minutes you head out the door. Every run is going to be different than the last. Just like in life, some days you will go out and feel like you’re invincible. Other days you’ll wonder whether cutting your sleep short to run a seemingly arbitrary distance at 6:00 am for no apparent reason is worth it. In my experience, it always is.
If you are able to treat running as an art, a skill, or craft that you are developing, rather than punishment, this leads to sustainability and enjoyment during the process, making the end result of a successful training block all the more worth it.
“Most people overestimate what they can achieve in one month and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years.” Ambitions are great, optimism is better, but rationality is required. Meet yourself where you are at and be aware of what you can accomplish on any day or given workout. There aren’t shortcuts (that I’m aware of) to increase your running abilities, but after a few weeks, you’ll likely begin noticing small perception shifts, mood changes, and rippling optimism in everyday life that are a direct result of running.
Momentum is real. Objects (more specifically humans) in motion, will remain in motion. The first couple weeks/months of adopting a new habit will be uncomfortable. Once you’ve come to grips with reality and accepted the situation, you can then go about learning how to best remove potential roadblocks that may arise.
Lies Disguised as Facts
“I can’t get up early to run.” Sure, you can’t get up early in the morning to run after a night out powering through a half-dozen drinks, but what if you cut those nights out?
“I don’t have the time.” It’s not a matter of time, but a matter of prioritization. Most days will require less than one hour of commitment which surely can be carved out from the screen-time we’re so accustomed to (if the desire is there).
“Yeah, I did core yesterday.” Runners can fall into the all-too-familiar rut of monotony and laziness, altogether skipping out on any type of functional strength workouts. Remember, skinny does not always equate to healthy and maintaining/building muscle must be a necessity.
“I’m never doing that again.” The statement that surfaces at minimum three times per week, most often after sprints or long runs in which the physical discomfort seems masochistic for anyone to voluntarily come back to.
As soon as possible, find and establish a community. Whether that is a small group of runners in your neighborhood, Strava clubs, inspiring Instagram accounts, or a holistic trail-running cult, finding a group to share your experiences with (both good and bad) will be a necessity.
When those around you make the extraordinary seem like the ordinary, your own expectations and ambitions rise along with what is now “par for the course”. Find friends, neighbors, coworkers, your dog, anyone to talk about running. They’ll get tired of it, you won’t. Not only does this keep you interested in the subject, assist in learning skills and knowledge that you may not have found, but most importantly it holds you accountable. Simply posting a photo to social media once every week may add the accountability that you need to get out there for a run (Miles in ✔✔). Search for a way to hold yourself accountable and stick to it.
Print out your schedule (below), tape it to your closet door, put it on your car’s dashboard, in your office, your bathroom. Make it be the first thing you see when you wake up in the morning and the last thing you see before going to bed. Let it occupy your mind. Know that on most days, you aren’t going to be excited about the runs. That’s okay. That’s normal.
When you become too focused on an end result such as a specific time/pace goal, adversity is crippling. Instead, focus on the single task immediately before you. Wins, losses, setbacks and triumphs will come and go. Results are never guaranteed and the only constant is the challenge of learning how you can piece together the puzzle of your newfound hobby. It’s about learning to enjoy the small sacrifices that are necessary for improvement. Satisfy your growing obsession to become something or someone that you’re proud of when you look back at your progress.
Otherwise stated as, falling in love with the process. “New goals don’t deliver new results. New lifestyles do. And a lifestyle is a process, not an outcome. For this reason, your energy should go into building better habits, not chasing better results.” – James Clear
- 8/12/16 Week General/Static Plans – 5k to Marathon – ($25)
- Personalized Plan ($75)
- Coaching (4 month min @ $50/mo)
General “Fueling” Advice
*Disclaimer: Always check with your primary care physician before starting any diet*
Running has made me reframe eating, as I directly refer to all food that we put into our bodies as fuel. It’s what keeps the engine running. You don’t put E-80 in your diesel truck (we hope), so why treat your human vehicle differently? Provide your machine with what it needs. I’m not a nutritionist, I’m not a scientist, and I don’t count calories, but I do take care of my body. While details often differ, top athletes all seem to follow a general template.
Stick to the edges of the grocery store. Fresh and frozen produce, chicken, fish, beef, eggs, etc. If it’s a food that didn’t exist 1,000 years ago, be very very weary (one exemplary exception would be a high-quality protein powder such as Garden of Life, MyProtein Pea Isolate, Sunwarrior, etc.). Try not to drown in the ungodly number of fad diets that are promoted, so to keep it simple – if you are eating real food, you’ll be fine. Ultra-marathoner Dean Kazarnes shares “If you can’t pick it from a tree, dig it from the earth, or catch it with your hands/a hook, don’t put it in your mouth.” There are exceptions, though I personally believe this recommendation to be broadly accessible, digestible, and practical. Things such as beans, quinoa, lentils, etc., are all healthy foods that exist in the middle isles of most grocery stores.
The difference between any two runners’ dietary preferences can be immense, from peanut butter and bacon fueled Low Carb athletes to High Carb “engines” running exclusively on bagels, fruit, and stroopwafels. The spectrum is vast and the good news is that there are highly successful athletes across the board. Try and see what works for you. Keto? Vegan? Paleo? Whatever makes you feel best. After some experimenting, you should be able to find a relationship with food that works perfectly for your needs.
For example, what a successful vegan diet can look like is put on display across the world is by well-known athlete Rich Roll. Rich abides by a strictly vegan diet (no, this doesn’t mean he eats impossible burgers filled with seed oils and highly inflammatory processed ingredients) and has been able to complete dozens of Ironman Triathlons and Ultramarathons with hard to comprehend times and top-tier finishes.
“Train Low –> Compete High”
Training in a glycogen-depleted state (there are a couple of ways to achieve this state) has become somewhat of a hot-button topic in the running community. The idea of prepping your body for competition by training “low” the majority of the time is one that I’ve personally grown very fond of. Two of the most popular ways that one can utilize this ideology during training would be carbohydrate periodization or by training fasted.
These strategies need not be taken lightly, particularly for women (Dr. Stacy Sims is a great resource in this area). Fasting and low-carb diets work for some, but can be detrimental for others. Again, I highly recommend you to check with a physician prior to committing to a diet as extreme/regimented as keto/low-carb/fasting, and I am only speaking to my personal experience.
In the “Train Low → Compete High” strategy, my personal preference is to complete the large majority of your workouts/runs while being roughly 12-16 hours fasted. Similar to carb periodization, when your body is in a fasted state, it learns to utilize body fat for fuel. Performance benefits aside, I find working out fasted to be a far superior feeling nearly every day (with the exception being 1.5-2hr + workouts). This also allows me to still enjoy a diet that I find to be more sustainable: mostly plant-based with the inclusion of ~4-6oz of meat a day, plenty of oats and fruits, and even more eggs and fish. If you want further information about carb periodization, check out this article (https://extramilest.com/blog/zach-bitter-on-nutrition-ketosis-and-carbs/)
It is important to be careful in the “Train Low → Compete High” strategy, by ensuring that you always complete high-intensity workouts in a fed state. While running for upwards of 60-90 minutes at a low intensity has been great for me to complete in fasted states, on days where there is sprinting or workouts completed above my first *ventilatory threshold, I am always sure to eat/drink some type of fuel prior to the workout.
*The first ventilatory threshold (VT!) is a marker of intensity that can be observed in a person’s breathing at a point where lactate begins to accumulate in the blood. As the intensity of the exercise begins to increase, VT1 can be identified at the point where the breathing rate begins to increase. In simple terms, if you can hold a casual conversation, you are below your VT1.
While I typically never would recommend that one obsesses over the macronutrients or caloric information in the food that they eat, it can make sense in certain situations. If you have a goal of gaining/losing weight, tracking calories surely is the best way to ensure a structured and predictable outcome. There are plenty of calculators online to calculate your basal metabolic rate and fitness trackers that do fairly accurate jobs of tracking caloric burn, and with that information achieving a calorie surplus/deficit will be a surefire way to get you to your goal.
I will also say that we live in a society saturated with opinions. Do what works best for you. Thoroughly read nutrition labels. Become hyper-aware of what you are putting into your body. If you’ve never heard of an ingredient, if it sounds like the name belongs in the Scripps Spelling Bee or was created in a lab, stay away from it.
*if you want further recommendations, have any specific questions, or are interested in talking with a Registered Dietician whose focus is specifically based around athletic performance, I highly recommend my friend Lexi Bevans (powrdnutrition) who is incredibly well-versed in the area: linktr.ee/powrdnutrition*
If you’ve been in the endurance athlete community long enough, you’ve seen this plenty of times. The runner who never spent a day in the weight room runs 5-6 days a week and is constantly injured. While cross-training is most often discussed as the number one injury prevention tactic for runners, the benefits of keeping your strength up go far beyond staying healthy and reaping performance benefits.
Cross-training (including interval/HIIT training) is an easy way to continue to build an endurance base without putting excess wear and tear on your legs from additional miles. Incorporating a couple of days of interval training, functional weight workouts (kettlebells, bands, bodyweight exercises, etc) will keep you feeling strong, energized, and rejuvenated for your runs and everyday life.
Runners specifically love to focus on the posterior chain (aka the backside of your body), which is the primary driver for runs. While the posterior chain is incredibly important in running (glutes, hamstrings, etc), focusing on overall functionality, particularly the core and hip flexors, will help maintain proper form throughout your runs thus, again, leading to fewer injuries. On top of this, working out the upper body (chest, rear delts, lats, traps) will also allow for your posture to remain as flawless as possible, keeping your chest/chin up and air flowing freely in and out of your lungs.
The purpose of plyometric workouts is to increase power and/or speed. By completing explosive exercises such as box jumps, jumps squats, or even movements as simple as jump rope, you can train your muscles to lengthen and shorten at quicker rates, leading to increases of speed (also may be referred to as rate coding). Additionally, working on full-body/functional movements such as single-leg squats, box step throughs, etc., you can also teach your body to recruit multiple motor units or muscle bases (i.e. hamstrings, glutes, and core simultaneously) to become a more efficient runner.
It’s easy to get caught up in the details, but just remember that any explosive workout involving multiple muscle groups is always a great choice. If you do want to dig into the weeds with plyo, a quick Google search will bring up an endless stream of information.
Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel and describe why the 80/20 rule (also known as Polarized Training or even the Pareto Principle) should be at the forefront of every athlete’s mind, I’ll defer to fitness guru/health aficionado Ben Greenfield.
“There’s a big, big problem in endurance sports. It’s a hole. A black hole.
The black hole goes something like this…The runner who rolls out of bed 3-5 days a week to run 45-60 minutes at the same speed every time. The triathlete who hops in the pool at lunchtime and swims 30 minutes steady every time. The cyclist who goes out every weekend and rides at a steady cadence and speed for 2 hours every time. Same speed. Same RPM. Same intensity. You may also be familiar with this type of training as “junk miles” or “single-speed” or “no man’s land” training.
For example, despite what a coaches’ training plans may dictate, runners tend to run too hard on easy days and too easy on hard days. Suddenly, training sessions that are supposed to be long and slow become fast and short. Simply stressing the same energy system over and over again not only results in a single-speed endurance athlete who can’t go fast when it matters and never goes slow enough for recovery, but may also result in more rapid onset of overuse injury from repeated stress on the same joints.
When you look at endurance athletes from world champion rowers, professional marathoners, elite cyclists, and high-level triathletes, nearly all the top athletes competing in these sports are engaging in this kind of polarized training – in which they a large amount of time at relatively easy aerobic intensities, and occasionally throw in extremely hard bursts of high intensity.
And these athletes are spending very, very little time in the black hole region, that zone where you’re training above an easy, aerobic pace, but below any pace that becomes extremely uncomfortable.” [Source]
Simply put, keep easy days easy, and make yourself puke on hard days. Depending on whether or not you are wearing a HR monitor while running or are using perceived exertion, we can discuss how you can find what “Zone” or “Threshold” you are training at, where to stay below, and when to hit the throttle. Believe it or not, it’s often much harder than one would anticipate staying below a specific threshold on days that are meant to be easy (particularly if you’re running in a public area and someone passes you) but the payoffs are well worth it.
No, a $400 HyperVolt is not required (although it would be nice). No matter how often you foam roll, how many massages you get per week, or if you stretch with fanatic rigor, joints will be sore and ligaments will ache. In fact, a strong case can be made (justified by no science and only subjective opinions), that the best time to learn proper running form is actually while you have shin splints as it forces you to make efficient and painless contact with the ground.
If you go to the gym for the first time in a year and squat for two hours, your legs and ass are going to be sore. Don’t expect running to be different. These initial aches and pains will fade away after 8-12 weeks of consistency as your body adapts to the new demands. If this isn’t the case, please don’t send me your hospital bill.
However, expecting to be sore doesn’t mean that you should forgo self-care. Do what works for you. Yoga, mindfulness practices, acupuncture, extra sleep, and foam rolling are all popular options that may help mitigate some of the extra stress that comes with a program. It’s easy to get caught up in “what’s new” or “what’s the best”, whether it be cryotherapy or cupping, but remember that you’ll never be able to incorporate everything and the best recovery method will always be the method that you find easy to incorporate into your routine every day.
Take. Care. Of. Your. Feet. (I promise that I don’t think I have a foot fetish) The advice you weren’t expecting, but will soon understand the importance of as your weekly mileage increases. Your feet are the differentiator of a pleasant long run, and a miserable walk/jog death stroll. Stretch your toes, roll out your feet with a lacrosse or golf ball daily (can get one on Amazon for $7). Invest in a quality pair of shoes that feel comfortable to you. Personal favorites as of late have been: Altra Rivera and Escalante 2.5, Hoka OneOne, Nike Pegasus 37, Altra Lone Peak 4.5. You don’t want to be the person hobbling around your house/office which undoubtedly will stir comments such as “Running is terrible for your joints, why are you doing that?” Neglecting foot care is a surefire way to run yourself into an injury.
I am also a big proponent of active recovery days. Even on days off, make sure to move your body in some fashion. Whether that be low-intensity yoga, stretching, Spike Ball, or a walk, keeping your body active is a reminder to your muscles that they are still meant to work, just not today.
Do not forget to address your mental state each day. Not only does being in a healthy mental state help you push harder during training, but it also allows for a better rest period and can physiologically improve your well-being. Set aside time to do breathwork, meditation, reading, yoga nidra or taking a walk. Become aware of the “voice” in your head. It will tell you to stop when your legs are burning, but don’t. Go just a little further. It might tell you to have one more drink when you know you should head to bed. It may tell you that missing one day of training isn’t the end of the world. Ignore it.
Lastly, a quote from Branden Leonard’s “I Hate Running and You Can Too” “If you stick with it, you will likely have some negative side effects like stiff joints and muscles, some calluses, a new hatred for the alarm clock that wakes you up for your training runs. But you will have many more positive side effects, most of which you may not have imagined at the start of your training. You might notice you’re sleeping better at night, or that you feel less stressed, or that you have more patience, or that food tastes a little better after having run, or that you actually like the aches and pains you have the day after a long run because they tell you that you worked hard. Anyone who starts running and sticks with it for a few months or years will improve in other ways while improving as a runner: You begin to understand commitment, you develop patience and maybe you even learn a little bit of self-discipline. Even if all you get out of it is proof that you can stick with something difficult and see it through, that’s something. Sure, part of the process is about the miles, proper hydration, the finish line and maybe keeping tabs on how fast you go and how fast you get, but if you don’t become a better, more realized person while doing it- well, then, you’re missing something.”
- 8/12/16 Week General/Static Plans – 5k to Marathon – ($25)
- Personalized Plan ($75)
- Coaching (4 month min @ $50/mo)
Pick and choose from these videos, articles, and social profiles as you please. Again I will emphasize from my own experience, the more you surround yourself with resources and information, the more you are immersed into the running community (which has an incredibly strong draw in itself).
The Joe Holder Running Plan – But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In the beginning, the key to running is patience. It’s going to take some time. That time is going to pass anyway, and if you do the things that you should do, the results are going to come. And that’s the beauty of running: So many things in life are outside your control, and there are so many things in life where you can’t tell if you’re improving. With running, if you put in the work, you can (literally) see how far your own feet can take you. Mine have taken me pretty far—and along the way I’ve learned some lessons that I hope can get you moving too.
Chi-Running – This is also a book available on Amazon for ~$10, but I think most benefits will be accessible in this 10 minute YouTube video.
Proper Foot Striking Techniques – At first don’t worry too much about your form, however, if you start to notice pain at any point, try to hone in on exactly what in your biomechanics might be causing the pain. If your knee hurts, it’s likely not because you have weak knees, rather, are you not allowing your hip flexors to open up? Running too rigid? Etc.
Run RX Instagram – Since I know we are all already wasting our time away on Instagram, here’s a great follow to dose your feed with some incredibly beneficial tips to help your running.
Tips to Improve Form and Avoid Injury – From Mark’s Daily Apple, another great video to help emphasize that running for distance (anything over ~5 miles) is drastically different than the short burst sprints you may be used to from sports or being a child
Nike Run Club Warm-Up – Although I don’t personally warm-up for any steady-state low intensity runs, making sure your body is ready on days where the effort and intensity will be pushed is an absolute must.
Runner’s World – For anything, and everything regarding running. The content is limitless.
Chi-Running Visual…Again – Yes, the Chi-Running technique is so important I included it twice.
Runners on Instagram: Tommy Rivs / Dean Karnazes / Peter Bromka / Courtney Dauwalter / Cam Haynes / Zach Bitter / Joe Holder / David Goggins / Mary Cain / The Foot Collective
Employment in Your Mid-20’s
Employment in Your Mid-20’s
Hi. I’m 25 years old. I’ve yet to maintain a job for more than a year since college, and here’s my story.
Neatly packaged as default hardware in our enlightened 18-year-old brains, the false promise of what employment after higher education will bring is nearly guaranteed to disappoint. Up until about the 3rd week of working full-time, I had a pretty clear picture of what I thought a good career path would look like for myself.
Next thing I knew, one morning I awoke to realize I was working doubles on the weekends making cash tips to cover rent and was tremendously far from utilizing the business degree I had just earned. The reality I was experiencing after graduation wasn’t far off the scenario described above. My days were full of linguistic challenges and growth opportunities, primarily asking customers “Do you each want to do the 2–1 mimosa or would you like to split it? Okay, awesome. And would you like tater tots or fries with the chicken wings?” Ah, all of those caffeine and study drug-fueled all-nighters spent in prep for my macroeconomics exams were finally paying off.
In roughly two and a half years I’ve gone from real estate to waiting tables, from furnishing AirBnB’s to charging Bird/Lime scooters – describing the journey as anything less than “turbulent” would be a great disservice. Even mentioning that I’m now on my fifth job in less than half as many years is enough to make a boomer cringe.
I have recently become aware that not everyone may have this particular itch, but I personally won’t rule out anything from a list of potential future careers. Personal trainer? Restaurant manager? Ski-instructor? Pilot? Bagel shop proprietor? There are a lot of “what-if” scenarios that have unfolded in my mind and have, thus far, lead to a mostly unpredictable career path.
It may likely be that the cons of job surfing will still outweigh the pros at the end of the day, however, a few seemingly haphazard career jumps have revealed some insight about what the ecosystem of work in your mid-20’s can be like.
Career Changes are Scary
One thing that quickly becomes apparent in the discussion of career changes — the negative consequences, which can be extensive: zero seniority, lack of reliable benefit programs (and investment account transfers), having to establish an entirely new reputation among coworkers; you better hope that you’re good at first impressions, you’ll make a lot.
“So what do you do?”
Uh, you mean what am I doing right now at this moment? Or like, what do I do for fun? What I intend to do with my life and how to leave a lasting impact? Not quite sure how to answer that…
“No, what do you do for work jackass?”
That’s Bill, the mechanic. He helped fix Jan, the teacher’s car. Jan is married to Tomás, the surgeon. Who we are as people is inextricably intertwined with a person’s means of earning income. There’s nothing wrong with this, in fact, I have a strong feeling some people love that their selfhood is solely determined by their profession. This makes, potentially beneficial, career changes quite ominous. Why?
A common problem is when we tie our self-worth to our salary and therefore reject any opportunities that won’t pay us as much as we’re currently making. The same goes for job titles; no one wants to be a junior anything in their mid-forties. But it’s impossible to get to the next peak if we won’t walk through the valley.Shane Parrish: fs.blog
Why else is it scary? The ego may interject “What will we do when they ask what we’re doing for work at the next interview? They’ll never believe this is just a side job for us and we’re waiting for a better opportunity. Do we lie? Say we were on a two-year backpacking trip through Europe?
Ridiculous Job Application Requirements
A large deterrent in applying for a new job is the job posting itself. Don’t sell yourself short in assuming that other candidates will be more qualified than you based on the long list of requirements.
Too often we fail to realize just how versatile the experience we’ve built up over the years is. Being great at presenting the monthly status update doesn’t mean you’re good at presenting monthly status updates. Rather, it means you can articulate yourself well, parse information for a diverse audience, and build networks to get the right information. Now, what else can those skills be used for?Shane Parrish: fs.blog
There aren’t many MIT grads with 18 years of experience in SQL, social media/branding, and are certified CPA’s. The act of frequent career changes often has negative connotations. For some unknown reason, however, the benefits often go unmentioned.
Finely Tuned Interview Skills
If someone were to plot a graph showing the relationship between interview skills and employability, I can safely imagine the two lines would run forever in parallel. The more interviews you go through, the better you get at interviewing. As the scope of one’s interview skills grow, so does the scope of opportunities.
Broad Training = Expansive Opportunities
Employment outside of ones current situation will always exist, however, the bad news is that additional opportunities oftentimes lay hidden from plain sight. This means there are a couple of steps that will need to be taken in finding these opportunities. If someone is able to effectively take advantage of a wide range of training/skills, there can be great benefits down the road.
Connolly’s primary finding was that early in their careers…the more the learner creates abstract models, and the less they rely on any particular example. Learners become better at applying their knowledge to a situation they’ve never seen before, which is the essence of creativity.David Epstein : Range
Avoiding the Rut
Asking the tough questions is not particularly fun to do, but how else would you know if you are in a position to maximize your potential?
First step: identify what it is that you want to do. “For example, it could be something as simple as waking up happy and excited to work every day. What needs to be true in order for that to be a reality? Are you working from home, having a quiet cup of coffee as you prepare to do some creative work? Are you contributing to making the world a better place? Are you in an intense, collaborative team environment?” The next (and final) step: learn the necessary skills required to make that scenario happen.
The psychological strife incurred while asking these questions can be uncomfortable, however, in my own experience, I’ve found that only by doing so are you able to gain a highly representative depiction of what an ideal job looks like.
In the transient landscape of employment in 2020, so long as you’re willing to start a job with the intention to learn as much as possible, you’ll be exposed to a few things along the way. For example, I’m not much into negotiating property contracts but could give you a reasonably accurate value assessment for a house in any city in America. To avoid sounding like one of those “I think everyone should have to work in a restaurant at some point” people, I’ll refrain from rattling off the many advantages of waiting tables.
Although I list many advantages of being promiscuous in career pursuits, the old adage of “Make sure you’re running to — and not from something” still rings true. Investing in the time to take stock of: where we have been, where we are at, and where we want to go, can increase your confidence in deciding what is or isn’t the job for you. Staying in touch with these premonitions can create clarity when creating a more realistic picture of what the coming years may bring, despite the uncertainty of the world we live in.
The Banality of Bread
White, rye, flat, banana, corn, cakes, croissants, donuts, ciabatta, garlic, muffins, multi-grain, and while we’re at it what about, bagels, biscuits, breadsticks, baguettes, and brioche. It’s all bread, well…sorta-kinda. And if you didn’t know, we eat a lot of it (somewhere around 53lbs per year).
Let’s play a nonsensical game that is likely to provide you with a wealth of futile facts never to be used in any social, intimate, or real-life situation. The game is called “Which is older?”
Which is older: The agricultural revolution or bread?
Which is older: The end of the last ice age or bread?
Which is older: The domestication of goats/sheep or bread?
Congrats! If you guessed bread on all of the above, you are well on your way to a life filled with nothing but sheer bliss and exuberance. There will certainly now exist a deep-seated admiration for bread within you, preoccupying your conscious mind every time you finish off that loaf of Sara Lee hidden in the back corner of the pantry, moments before the inevitable onset of mold.
But it’s 2020 and I have a pandemic to worry about and Tik-Tok videos to watch, why should I care that our paleolithic cousins were baking bread 14,000 years ago?
“[It] was a pivotal time in our evolution…until now we thought that our ancestors were farmers first and bakers second. But Arranz-Otaegui’s breadcrumbs predate the advent of agriculture by at least 4,000 years. That means that our ancestors were bakers first —and learned to farm afterward.” The History of Baking
If you happen to find yourself unconvinced about the integral part bread has played in our history, jump on Google and search for “Bread riots“. You are guaranteed to see dozens of instances throughout history that paradigm-shifting riots were conducted by the masses upset as the price of bread has risen (pun intended) too high. And I quote Gandhi, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
You still didn’t answer my question. And what’s up with the ceaseless barrage of your ancestral ideology all the time…it’s kinda weird.
Bread’s humble beginning is a paramount subject because if humans have been eating bread for over 4x longer than the age estimation for The Great Pyramids (although the actual date the pyramids were finished can be debated at a later date), why have bread and gluten just recently become the antagonist in the plot of every Weight Watcher, P90x aficionado, and dare I say Ketonian success-story?
If you’re under the age of 40: ask a parent if they had any childhood friends who claimed they were gluten-intolerant. If you’re over the age of 40: I’m going to make the safe assumption here that you had no childhood friends who refused to go to Pizza Hut because of their lack of gluten-free alternatives.
What began as an intent-filled, patience-testing, well-measured series of deliberate steps lasting 36+ hours, has been transformed for the worse. The process of baking bread in the US has turned into an industrialized, sugar-laced, inflammation-inducing demigod who churns out food-like substances better placed in a Willy Wonka film than on our supermarket shelves.
“How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?”
It is more than past the time we stand united against the dry, uninspiring, nutrient-depleted, sponge-like substances lining the walls of our grocery stores. What is the purpose of something that serves only as a placeholder to Hillshire Farm meats and Miracle Whip for thousands of kids and bachelor men around the country? Oh, I am SO triggered!! Did he just stereotype an entire demographic of young unmarried men assuming that they eat bland, childish sandwiches? There is no room for anyone to have a platform that makes such egregious claims!
While gluten, bread, and carbohydrates have been forced to state their innocence against formidable smear campaigns in recent years, sugar has held on to the coattails of General Mills and Kellogs advertising budgets with a vice-grip.
When you toss a loaf of bread in your cart at the grocery store today, similar to signing up as head coach of a kid’s t-ball team, you always end up getting much more than you bargained for. I’m talking about ingredient lists that would make Scripps Spelling Bee champions writhe in fear.
Prior to the industrial era, bread was made using three ingredients, water, flour, and salt. Unfortunately, since Louis Pasteur (yes, the milk guy) and the advent of commercial yeast came along, nothing has been the same. I can hear the clamoring now, “Why, why, why?! Why can’t bread be subtly audacious, simple yet eloquent, imperfect and artistic?” Well, it can be. Make it yourself or support a local baker who respects the art that is bread. If a label has a laundry list of ingredients on the label, don’t buy it. Why?
“Finally, the FODMAP content of our sourdough wheat bread was reduced by 74%, as compared to yeast-fermented bread (fructans 0.23 g/100 g), making our sourdough wheat bread unlikely to trigger [any gluten intolerant] symptoms unless bread is eaten in extreme portions per sitting.” Pilot Study: Comparison of Sourdough…
Bread isn’t the enemy, mass-produced bread is. Together, I believe that we can restore the status of bread in our society to its well-deserved glory of days past. We can take action to eradicate the cardboard-flavored, petting-zoo-deserving loaves that we have mindlessly consumed for the greater half of two centuries.
If you’d like to make a difference in this fight and want to begin making loaves as you can see below, contact me. I’ll personally ship you a sketchy envelope filled with dehydrated flakes of sourdough starter that hopefully won’t get lost in the USPS mail (touchy subject, yes I know). I aspire to continue building a cult-like group of passionate bakers around me to talk levains autolysis, bulk-fermentation, and boules. Until then, feast your eyes:
*Personal and company names redacted*
We regret to inform you that we have decided to move forward with other candidates.
Best of luck,
Generic, impersonal, cut and dry. An email informing you that you are no longer in the running for a job but also forgoing any positive or negative feedback on the hiring team’s analysis of how your interview(s) went.
Casually browsing LinkedIn (acting as if it isn’t just as much as of a time waste as Facebook or Instagram) I’m constantly overwhelmed reading of job applicants voicing their disapproval of these nondescript, templated emails – informing candidates that the dreary days of job hunting will not be coming to an end that particular day. In an ostensibly sarcastic tone, the posts usually read something like this:
“Thank you for personalizing your cover letter, filling out a fifteen minute questionnaire, and taking the time for four rounds of interviews over three weeks. Due to our prehistoric hiring process and lack of compassion, we cannot make a phone call or send you any personalized, genuine feedback to assist the rest of your job search.”
After undertaking multiple rounds interviews, there’s no question that it would be of great help to be informed on what went well, and what did not. However, from an employers perspective, sending a polite “We have moved on” email is likely intentional in an attempt to upset the least amount of people. So why is the default assumption that companies are sending these copy and pasted messages because they don’t care to provide individual feedback? Before moving directly to defeatism, feeling like we’re owed something and clinging onto a fictitious grudge, why not first try asking for the feedback we desire?
“I think that’s an important thing to do, to really pay attention to negative feedback, and solicit it…this may sound like simple advice, but hardly anyone does that, and it’s incredibly helpful.” – Elon Musk
However, if you ask for criticism, be careful…you just might get it.
Learning of your flaws after an interview is never fun, and particularly not in this context. The information I was provided turned out to be irreplaceable in learning and growing from the experience, yet it is imperative to treat advice from a stranger on a video call as such. Do we really expect someones depiction of us to be flawless after a thirty minute zoom call?
All the while, it’s important to remember, potential employers turning your application down are not insulting you as a human, they’re simply saying that the role is not a good fit for you. If that is their discernment towards the situation , it’s likely that you would not have wanted to work for the company anyways. Although it may not be the most pleasant experience, it is necessary to take negative feedback in stride, focus on improving what shortcomings were illuminated and working on growing upon what you do well.
Unfortunately it seems that it is becoming all too common today to shy away from anything that may leave us in a position of discomfort. Evading discussions that may result in being told you are not proficient in any manner spares our feelings in the short run, but when discomfort is avoided entirely, what potential lessons are we missing out on? How could that knowledge have assisted us in making fewer mistakes in the long term? In an age of participation trophies, echo chambers, and entitlement, being knocked off a high horse once in a blue moon can do a world of good.
I also find no harm in respectfully responding and explaining any contextual issues that may have been highlighted
A simple change of perception when things inevitably don’t go our way can be just what the doctor ordered. For me that usually happens after watching a Jocko Willink motivational video and reminding myself, I’ll be fine. Readjust, recalibrate, re-evaluate, find a new route and start moving.
Fortunately during my next interviews I was able to mitigate most every problem (aka: talking less), eventually landing a more fitting role, with a great company, and I couldn’t be more ecstatic about it. Had I never went out of my way to ask for criticism, who is to say whether or not I would have been able to shut my yapper enough to land the job I so desired?
If for some unimaginable reason the Jocko video didn’t quite do it for you, just remember: the NFL season has commenced, some of college football is back (as we await the Big Ten announcement tonight), LeBron is eight games away from the most emotional rollercoaster of championship runs in Lakers history (RIP Kobe), and if you prefer to elevate your serotonin levels outside of sports – Oracle is making a move to try and prevent my ever-so-loved TikTok ban from coming to fruition. It’s all about perspective.
The competence required to read a room has never been a markedly polished skill for me. Rather than focusing on the environment between four walls, my brain typically falls into default mode somewhere between unnecessarily dissecting dozens of past events and catastrophizing incoherent future scenarios, creating a fun little never ending ‘doom-loop’. But then again, even a broken clock is right twice a day (2020 synonym: even a sneaker-head might trip over face mask they’ll sport in public once in a while).
Four arduous and uninspiring months ago, I strolled through the office door heading to my desk as I had done hundreds of times. The air/energy/vibe – call it whatever you please, it felt ‘off’. An uncomfortable, cringeworthy tension was making its presence known, everyone continually shifting in their chairs, never quite being able to settle into their typical morning routine. Not more than a few moments later our entire office logged onto a video call and were met with the melancholy face of our operations manager who had news.
“Effective two weeks from today, we will be shutting down our Nashville office and terminating all of your employment within the company. This was far from an easy decision, but we currently see no alternatives to this decision. COVID-19 has hit the travel industry hard, and we are having to make immense changes. We’re going to give you the rest of today off, and will give you more details tomorrow. Does anyone have any questions?”
Snide remarks were whispered under-breath by coworkers artificially propping their chins high, trying to shuffle out the door with the type of faux confidence you would typically only see from college school student who just cheated their way through a final exam, knowing good and well they’ll end up being exposed.
If you haven’t been laid off before, it’s pretty easy to explain. Did you ever get yelled at as a kid? Okay now, did you ever get yelled at as a kid – but by someone else’s parents? Where you not only feel newfound levels of inferiority, but where you also have utterly no ground to defend yourself? Yeah, it was a lot like that.
With what minuscule amount of self-worth was remaining, I stumbled through a couple half-hearted questions that were answered with more pity than substance.
“So what’re you doing for work now?”
While I may be justified in sense of the word, saying things like “Well I just never saw a global pandemic coming, that’s why I was unemployed for (insert) number of months,” I also can admit that was the easy way to wiggle myself out of any uncomfortable conversation about jobs.
As the year progressed into early March, it became apparent that COVID was going to have a serious impact on the economy. I understood the potential fallout but I did not prepare on how I would react, think about, or approach an impending job loss. I had no way of predicting the future, leaving questions unanswered: “How long will this pandemic last?”, “Can our company survive a downturn in bookings while being overextended-financially due to recently launching the Nashville market?” I didn’t have those answers, nor did I have a fallback plan in place for if layoffs were to begin. While I won’t plead the case of being the most unemployable person of the now millions jobless, I certainly didn’t have any offers or employment opportunities knocking on the door eagerly waiting to hire me right back into the work force.
There are some things in life that we can plan for, there are some things that we cannot. Was there anyway for a layman like myself to predict something as unforeseen as a global pandemic? Probably not.
“If I can’t predict, what can I do?
When you can’t predict with accuracy you can position. That means giving up something today to prepare a wider range of outcomes tomorrow. Positioning is always short term suboptimal. The longer your timespan, however, the more optimal it becomes. If you live a long life, it can’t help but be the correct strategy. Positioning doesn’t just apply to mortgages. For example, you can position yourself for the next job at work by learning new skills you don’t need today. You can position yourself for living a long life by eating healthy and exercising. You can position your company by keeping cash on hand.
Positioning doesn’t just ensure survival, it affords you the opportunity to periodically take advantage of chaos. Position means you’re always ready for what’s next.” Shane Parrish: fs.blog
Well said, Shane.
After slogging my way through what would only be fitting to call a “personal flaws assessment” (which was remarkably lengthy), I am now attempting to focus on concrete steps to better position myself for the next (insert: global pandemic, asteroid impact, extraterrestrial takeover, super-volcano eruption, solar flare). What did you say? Self-reflection? Nope, never met her. Although I may be lying to myself as to how much progress I’ve made in any non-fictitious steps toward better positioning, it’s the idea that counts…right? After what has felt like a 10-round mental boxing match between the primitive and developed portions of my mind, I’ve developed a conclusion which is likely already well known by many. The only difference between my perceived success or failure within any situation or against any obstacle encountered in the past is predicated entirely on how I am able to conduct myself within these four categories: Reacting, Analyzing, Diversifying and Predicting.
Our world is teeming with stimuli: from the excruciating sound of our alarm clock jolting us into existence, to peeking at our phone one last time to see if there’s a notification that must be attended to before bed, or possibly even succumbing to the leftover piece of cake we tried our best to hide in the back corner of the fridge. Surges of dopamine light up our day, carrying us from one moment to the next. This neurochemical process is unconsciously conditioning us to abstain from using our ‘thinking brain’ and handing the controls over to our much more sinister ‘impulse brain’.
“You will continue to suffer if you have an emotional reaction to everything that is said to you. True power is sitting back and observing things with magic. True power is restraint. If words control you that means everyone else can control you. Breathe and allow things to pass.” ― Warren Buffett
Creating the time to think and regaining control in our response after having been cut off in traffic, when in disagreement with a loved one, or after being laid-off at work can be the distinction between using reason and completely flying off the hinges. Not taking the one or two extra seconds before responding is how we end up making impulsive childish mistakes we always regret once a few minutes have elapsed. Taking deep breaths before making a comment or decision isn’t just a fib that your mom would tell you to make you cooperate. Reacting is almost always the poorest choice of action when we have the option to think and respond.
Perception of Reality
“Getting a flat tire is far more trivial than losing your job.” Yes, it is. But this doesn’t mean that the problem can’t be approached the same way. Being fired or laid-off may not be the preferable way to enter into the black hole that is unemployment and searching for a new career, but we need to recognize that we have the ability think about the bigger picture, to be aware that we’re likely to only encounter these difficult situation a handful of times for the entirety of our existence.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl
If you had sent out a poll one year ago today reading “What potential societal, economic and/or health problems on the horizon should we be worried about? Answer: “, you would be hard pressed to find more than a few people out of hundreds of thousands who would have filled in the blank with “Global Pandemic” (ahem Bill Gates and Sam Harris looking at you).
It’s easy for anyone be a Monday morning quarterback, saying that there were ways to better prepare for when COVID would begin taking chunks out of the work force in historic fashion, but hindsight is always 20/20. Retroactively dissecting past can at times be helpful for future scenarios, yet I believe we should become more focused on creating better outcomes in the moment. How can we (more or less) inject time and put better default mental networks in place to make decisions in the moment that will ensure long-term success?
Patterns and Mental Models
Rather than regurgitating one of, if not the most, parroted case studies of all time: Gary Kasporov vs. Deep Blue (if you want a summary), I think it is safe to simply say that humans are incredible at recognizing patterns. Remembering where we placed our keys? Meh. The name of your waiter/waitress twenty seconds after they introduced themself? Not a chance. But what if you were at the supermarket and saw your teacher from the third grade? More than likely, you would recognize him/her. What about when that hear that song in a crowded office and you immediately are greeted with the sights and sounds of the exact moment you heard it at high school prom? We forget many details of everyday life, yet maintain an uncanny ability to recognize patterns.
“[This study considers] superior pattern processing as the fundamental basis of most, if not all, unique features of the human brain including intelligence, language, imagination, invention, and the belief in imaginary entities such as ghosts and gods.”
So if we are constantly recognizing patterns, the question becomes “How can we better interpret and relate the world of information around us to these systems we hold in our brains?” The answer: Mental Models.
“A mental model is an explanation of how something works. It is a concept, framework, or worldview that you carry around in your mind to help you interpret the world and understand the relationship between things. Mental models are deeply held beliefs about how the world works.
Philosophers have discussed these ideas for hundreds of years, but the poster child for mental models is none other than Warren Buffets’ right hand man, Charlie Munger. He is and will continue to be regarded as one of the best minds we have seen in the last few centuries. Munger frequently references the ever more important quote in a world of specialization “to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail“, exemplifying our need for a better ‘latticework’ of mental strategies to apply to situations continually happening around us. If we are unable to predict the future, we can change the way process and perceive information in the moment.
For example, supply and demand is a mental model that helps you understand how the economy works. Game theory is a mental model that helps you understand how relationships and trust work. Entropy is a mental model that helps you understand how disorder and decay work.
Mental models guide your perception and behavior. They are the thinking tools that you use to understand life, make decisions, and solve problems. Learning a new mental model gives you a new way to see the world—like Richard Feynman learning a new math technique.” – James Clear
(for a more in depth look at mental models, Shane Parrish and James Clear both have repopularized the idea in extremely palatable ways, expanding from the work Munger, Richard Feynman, and more).
“The average expert was a horrific forecaster. Their areas of specialty, years of experience, academic degrees, and even (for some) access to classified information made no difference. They were bad at short-term forecasting, bad at long-term forecasting, and bad at forecasting in every domain. When experts declared that some future event was impossible or nearly impossible, it nonetheless occurred 15 percent of the time. When they declared a sure thing, it failed to transpire more than one-quarter of the time.” – David Epstein “Range“
The capacity our brains have to anticipate future events is simultaneously a blessing and a curse. Predicting that traffic is going to bad for Labor Day weekend and leaving early for a trip ensures that you don’t arrive late for the party. Good job brain. Predicting the world would end in 2012 according to the Mayan calendar and planning to kill your pets to help them avoid suffering, is clearly not the best use of our intellect. No no brain, bad job.
We need to become aware of our predictions and come to realize that more often than not, we are wrong. This doesn’t mean we should never anticipate the future, it does mean that we should see our own limitations. There is an infinite number of ways that any scenario in our lives could play out, only of which one prediction will be correct.
Nassim Taleb beautifully articulates not only our failing predictions, but also our inability to accept the difficulty of adjusting in a surprising world “...[such as] the Fukushima nuclear reactor, which experienced a catastrophic failure in 2011 when a tsunami struck. It had been built to withstand the worst past historical earthquake, with the builders not imagining much worse – and not thinking that the worst past event had to be a surprise, as it had no precedent.
This is not a failure of analysis; it’s a failure of imagination. Realizing the future might not look anything like the past – and indeed that phrase may as well be a synonym of the word “history” – is a special kind of skill that is not generally looked highly upon by the analytical forecasting community.“
Mutual funds, ETF’s, index funds…diversification. It shouldn’t take Warren Buffet to tell you that your safest long-term strategy with investments is to diversify. So if diversifying works with money management, would it not make sense to apply this methodology to our lives across the board? Where can we apply diversification to other facets of our lives?
“Hey honey we’ve seen more than a few spiders and roaches in the house now that it’s getting colder outside, should we call the exterminator?”
“No not yet, I think we should wait until there are so many inside that we deem our house uninhabitable. That way the exterminator can just come inside the house and incinerate all of the pests with a flamethrower, it’s much quicker and cheaper than calling them every time we notice a problem.”
Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Maybe that was a reach of an analogy, but it should at least make us think. We spend countless dollars in preventative work, investing in 401k’s to make sure that we’re able to live comfortably in retirement, changing the oil in the car every 3-5,000 miles, replacing a furnace filter every few months, but how frequently do we take an inventory of how our own body is holding up? Are we sleeping well? Do we have energy throughout the day or do we have frequent crashes? Are we monitoring blood work to do our part in staving off disease?
Often times someone may never know just how necessary staying healthy is until it’s too late, as we all fall victim to the normalcy bias. The normalcy bias in essence is the belief that “It hasn’t happened to me yet, so that means that it won’t happen.” It’s the under-estimation of catastrophes, disasters, global viral infections, or any crisis for that matter.
8/26/20: As I write this there is a Category 4 hurricane estimated to make landfall tonight less than 100 miles away, and all day I’ve fittingly been making fun of people stockpiling water, gas, and yes again…toilet paper
8/28/20: **edit** The hurricane took a sharp eastern turn before landfall and my non-factual based predictions were correct, feeding the ego of my normalcy bias guaranteeing I won’t change anything before the next natural distaster
We don’t know when the next bad fall or car wreck may occur, and I believe it only makes sense to keep ourselves in good-standing health for if and when the worst comes to fruition. It’s not hard to dream up dozens of of situations where being healthy pays off ten fold – take Kevin Hart’s statement about his recent, horrific car crash, “The work that I put into my core and my upper body over the years are what saved me….The health and wellness s—t is so much bigger than what you think it is, if I didn’t have that core I’d be paralyzed. I’d be f—ing paralyzed.”
Or let’s take the claim, “Older adults with reduced muscle strength have higher mortality.” Erroneous? Not when put in the context of common chain reactions. Weaker muscles lead to decreased balance and bone density which leads to falls which lead to nursing homes which lead to… “Hip fractures are associated with significant morbidity, mortality, loss of independence, and financial burden.6–12 In usual care, the reported 1-year mortality after sustaining a hip fracture has been estimated to be 14% to 58%” according to one study. Taking advantage of our health while we still have it can be tedious, confusing, and frankly a lot of work. But what’s the use of all other preventative steps in life if we aren’t healthy enough to take advantage of those actions?
“Many—maybe even all—of the issues we deal with, other people have faced before us. And, in some cases, those people even went on to write very long books about how best to deal with those problems. So if you can use a book, or an article, to learn and avoid making future mistakes, that’s a value add. (Sort of like a prebiotic for life.)” – Joe Holder
Reading about any and all topics that you are interested in will not only add advantageous knowledge to your repertoire, ready to be utilized and retrieved moments notice, it’s also fun. Learning from the past is part of what allows us to partake in more fruitful ventures the older we get, it’s why you rarely see young people described as “wise”. But what makes us human is our ability to learn from collective knowledge, to take advice and to heed from the smartest minds that have written and told their stories for hundreds of years, all available for our taking. We can use others failed, successful, or rather uneventful experiences to learn from, to give us the upper hand in what we are currently facing. Reading provides advice in many areas that our own experience cannot.
Adding New Skills
Maybe your job today doesn’t require you to know how to code, but how do we know that coding won’t be an invaluable skill as the singularity approaches? Learning to build a website on the side while you sell insurance could be the stepping stone to starting your own business when the opportunity presents itself in a few years. Learning a skill that seems pointless at the moment can put you in a position to be able to call upon a vast base of knowledge to help you succeed in the future. What starts as a hobby can just as easily turn into something that will one day eventually replace your main source of income, whilst being work you truly enjoy
Just ask Lynn and Nakia Price who started the, now famous, Turkey Leg Hut in Houston after barbecuing for friends and family at the Houston Rodeo. Yes, I am still thinking about the first meal I ever ate there.
No matter what the present moment holds, we always have the opportunity to shift our perception, think better, learn more, and put ourselves in a better position for whatever tomorrow may bring.
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca
Primitive Politics, Pt. II
If you made it here without reading Primitive Politics, Pt. I – I strongly encourage you to do so.
Our Path to Talking Parrots
When mass broadcast radio came around in the 1920’s, the goal of any media platform ever since has been fairly straightforward. Relay information while grabbing the largest market share possible, using the entire nation as a target audience. The unbiased and unfiltered stream of news and events in previous decades wasn’t such simply because there were kinder humans with our well-being in mind back then. The relative purity of news experienced then as compared to now, was due to their lack of interest in ratings and user-engagement, which are the only focus as of late. Rather than tailoring news to the audience as we do today, the past assumption was that the public could take in the “raw material” and form it into an opinion on their own.
The overarching goal of turning a profit from journalism, reporting, and broadcasting is still the same today – one hundred years later. What has changed however; is that today we’re receiving our “material” as heavily processed, refined, and addictive substances that are delivered to us in flashy, colorful and convenient packaging.
Enter the “Murdoch-Era”
Seeking to expose an opportunity in the American news media, Robert Murdoch (founder of Fox News) began crafting his media empire in the states and unknowingly would also be changing America’s future simultaneously. Murdoch had built quite the reputation in both Australia and the UK before he decided to tackle US media, and when he did, he went big. After successfully purchasing and overhauling a few smaller operations including the acquisition of the New York Post, Murdoch hit a home-run in 1984 when he was able to get his hands on 20th Century Fox.
What made Murdoch’s approach to media in the states so different than any competitors he faced, was that he knew exactly how to harness emotion to sustain viewership. His goal was not to present information as it lay, but instead shape it into things that would keep consumers engaged. “Caution, you are about to enter theeee No Spin Zone, The O’Reilly factor begins…right now.” The first we saw of Murdochs new approach to media was with the introduction of The O’Reilly factor. First aired in a prime time spot on the Fox News channel in 1996 and was filled with a cantankerous, red faced, surly man shouting on camera that kept consumers entertained for hours on end. Along with the launch of The O’Reilly Factor, in ’96 Murdoch also hired (now vilified) Roger Ailes to take over Fox as the acting CEO, and he made certain to run with the opportunity. While Roger Ailes was leading the charge for Fox until his resignation in 2016, he was hell bent on making the network become as powerful as can be no matter whom he stepped on along the way – his interests were profits, ratings, and pummeling the other networks. Ailes himself in 2000 claimed “I created a TV network for people who are 55 to dead”. While you certainly could play devil’s advocate and make the case that Ailes was just highlighting Fox’s targeted demographic as an older generation – the statement undoubtedly speaks volumes towards how much the person at the wheel of the network cared about the consumers well-being.
Making sure not to fall behind on consumer engagement and ratings, other networks were quick to produce a plethora of similar shows to keep pace with Fox, such as CNN’s Crossfire and The Situation Room. Thanks to Murdoch and Ailes, media had begun a major change that would spread like a plague infecting everything it touched: news, journalism, politics and our daily lives.
Funnels, Filters and Fury
As I’ve pointed out in a previous post “Attention Economy”, the individuals pulling the strings behind social media platforms and television are smart and they know how to achieve peak levels of user engagement. With a well built profile of consumers containing far more details than we should be comfortable with, the networks are hard at work producing stories that you already agree with, to ensure you take your shoes off and stay a while. Once they’re able to narrow down your interests, or fears, they’ve got you in a corner.
Being targeted with personalized ads on social media is something we have become accustomed to. Advertising firms can buy your data, find out nearly everything about you, and feed you with ads for products and services you need when you’re at your weakest. With cable news the script is the same as social media, but the characters have been swapped out. Much of cable news has become very effective in pushing hate and fear through a funnel that they wrap up and present to the consumer. By airing very narrow straight-ticket views, rather than showing the full picture of any event, they can estimate specific and accurate demographics which are then packaged up and sold to advertisers who get a better bang for their buck.
In the last twenty years we have become the product that media can sell to advertisers, a captive and guaranteed audience. We’re being persuaded to compulsively buy gold (somehow always an all-time high), bitcoin, Nike shoes, or diapers – from targeted ads based on your political views, gender, income levels, or ethnicity. If a journalist or reporter dares to present an opinion that the homogeneous, fine tuned, and whittled down audiences may disagree with – networks have a knack for getting rid of these outliers quickly. Those press members with divergent opinions will not only hurt the networks ratings and consumer retention, they also present a threat to the very establishment.
As Rolling Stones writer Matt Taibbi brought to my awareness in a recent post – journalism has somehow found itself at a point where firing an editor for running a headline “Buildings matter, too” is an acceptable thing to do. Was posting that particular article insensitive? Probably. But aren’t journalists hired to voice an opinion? Isn’t it our job to formulate an opinion on what they share, whether we agree or disagree with them? Yes. This is censorship, and just like the Epstein case – it’s happening more and more everyday, everywhere.
“…the Philadelphia Inquirer editor was fired for running a headline – “Buildings matter, too” – that the poll said expressed a view held by 89% of the population, including 64% of African-Americans. But why not just make this case in a rebuttal editorial? Make it a teaching moment? The main thing accomplished by removing those types of editorials from newspapers — apart from scaring the hell out of editors — is to shield readers from knowledge of what a major segment of American society is thinking. The traditional view of the press was never based on some contrived, mathematical notion of “balance,” i.e. five paragraphs of Republicans for every five paragraphs of Democrats. The ideal instead was that we showed you everything we could see, good and bad, ugly and not, trusting that a better-informed public would make better decisions. This vision of media stressed accuracy, truth, and trust in the reader’s judgment as the routes to positive social change.
This is not reporting. It’s a marketing process designed to create rhetorical addictions and shut unhelpfully non-consumerist doors in your mind. This creates more than just pockets of political rancor. It creates masses of media consumers who’ve been trained to see in only one direction, as if they had been pulled through history on a railroad track, with heads fastened in blinders, looking only one way.” “The American Press is Destroying Itself”, Matt Taibbi
How can any editor, journalist, or press member operate in full honestly and truthfulness knowing that airing, publishing or sharing an opinion that doesn’t fall in line with the current ideology can result in their termination?
While I do believe major news is at fault for a large portion of the tribalism we are seeing in politics, Twitter and Facebook can be just as bad at times, if not worse. Their ability to spread information like wildfire within minutes is like nothing we have ever seen before, and when finger-pointing left vs right antics cloak themselves in “facts” or “news” it’s easy to be confused and fall victim to the pushed polarization.
When misinformation is coupled with a hot-button topic such as the Minnesota riots, the effects are amplified to new levels that can ripple through every city in the US. As we’ll see later, the facts that Joy Reid was sharing in the tweets above were unmistakably wrong. We can then safely assume that Joy Reid was sharing this information with her thousands of Twitter followers before doing any type of verification or fact checking herself. While someone else may be at fault for starting this false narrative, is it not our (public and press) job to test the validity and accuracy of said facts before shouting from the heavens? I would guess that her goal much less innocent than a mistake, and was intended to place the blame on white nationalists which fits both her, her networks (MSNBC), and her audiences (far-left) ideology.
Trump quick to catch stride with the left, crafted his own way to take advantage of the less than poor situation. With his own tweet storm that followed, he is appealing to those in the public (far-right) who truly believed ANTIFA and the radical left alone could have been responsible for all of the looting and rioting in Minnesota. With these claims, he is (just as Joy Reid) finding a scapegoat on the other side of the aisle to try and win the approval of those so susceptible to believing these kind of claims. Yet just like with Joy Reid, we will not hold him accountable for his spreading of misinformation. This is an issue.
When the dust had settled, 86% of those arrested in the riots, were in fact from Minnesota. There were no radical groups organizing out of state looting trips or terrorist groups taking a stronghold during a tragedy like the initial reporting would have led us to believe. This kind of haphazard reporting that is allowed nowadays when we don’t hold reporters, politicians, and media accountable is worrisome. It’s this accepted/allowed falsehood of information that leads to anti-vaccination propaganda, claims that Bill Gates created Coronavirus, and that Warren Buffet was supplying the bricks for rioters.
Two-Party System: Here to Stay?
Looking forward to this coming November, it’s hard to imagine voter satisfaction will improve from the results we saw in 2016. Do we fold our hands and forfeit another four years and hope for the best in 2024? With the current state right now, it seems unlikely that anything will have changed by then without taking action now. In any industry outside of politics which is this large, with such high levels of dissatisfaction, one of two things would typically happen: the government would look into breaking up the parties in power or an entrepreneur would take advantage of the situation, responding to what the customers/public desire providing an alternative solution.
“Well there aren’t any laws against a 3rd party running in our current system, so why haven’t we seen anyone outside of the Democrats and Republicans in contention for any major office? Maybe the two party system is just natural.” While it is true that there are parties outside of the major two, the system is set up to put handcuffs on any politician outside of the our two major parties. With the Presidency for example, the necessity to win an election by absolute majority (270 electoral college votes), rather than the ability to win plurality of the electoral college or the popular vote, dampens much of any 3rd parties hopes. To make it even more difficult, an independent will never have sufficient time once primaries are over to be placed on a sufficient amount of ballots across the nation to get those 270 votes needed. As an example: Evan McMullin who ran as an alternative to Trump in 2016 and had a fair amount of popularity leading up to the election, polling slightly behind Gary Johnson, only saw his name appear as an option for President on roughly 15% of ballots nationwide.
While I am still holding out irrational hope for a dark-horse candidate in 2020 (did someone say The Rock? Mark Cuban? Mark Hyman? Anyone?), we will certainly be left with Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump. You’d be hard pressed to find any American who believes that out of 330 million people, this is the best we have to offer. What became ever so clear in 2016 is that, the only thing one party needs to do in order to win is convince the voters that they are the lesser of the two evils. They do not need to deliver results (as I’ll say again) because we do not hold them accountable. A candidate does not need to have realistic, objective and strategic plans for action because they only need to show their ideas are better than one other person. Let’s put it this way: say you’re walking into an interview for a new job that you are dying for – would you like your chances more after seeing five other candidates in the lobby participating in thoughtful discussion before their interviews or if you walked in and saw just one candidate sitting over in the corner talking to themself?
We have based our last few elections based on a candidates ability to: preach promises that will be unfulfilled, combat dozens of inevitable scandals, and “one-upping” other candidates during live debates that are treated more like horse races than discussion. Would an outsider challenging our two parties improve accountability and inspire competition? Maybe, but we likely won’t have the chance to find out. Under our current laws, a 3rd party could theoretically win the popular vote in the country, yet not win a single electoral college vote. The last candidate to run independent with any type of real traction was Ross Perot in 1992, and even though he was able to gain over 19% of the popular vote, he did not receive one electoral college vote. Let’s be clear: I’m not suggesting we rip up our election process and disregard The Constitution, but is it time we look at the 244 year old document to see if we could help it better fit our times?
Maybe there is an opportunity to keep the current system in place, but also change the hostile landscape in occupancy. Without changing any laws is there any way we can give an outside party a fighting chance? Bret Weinstein is petitioning (and pleading) that we as the public try to “draft” a fusion of both the parties, to pair center-right Admiral William McRaven as Presidential nominee, along with center-left (previous candidate) Andrew Yang as Vice President(Yang Gang lives on). By doing something so drastically different, with such moderate candidates compared to the extremes we have experienced as of late, would such a plan be capable of producing the kind of shake-up in the system that we need?
To bring this idea full circle, what I believe to be the biggest downfall of current news and political debates on TV is the very format of conversations the personalities participate in. The networks will place two, three, sometimes up to six people in a room (or even worse on a delayed call), call it a panel and give them 2-3 minutes to solve issues that even with careful planning will take decades to solve. There are no longer real conversations where (if we have forgotten) one listens, processes and responds. In that order. If you want to get your point across in the current format of a debate or cable news segment, you have three options: yell, get angry, or yell louder. Not only are these fiery tidbits of information being hurled across tables incapable of progressing a conversation toward any solutions on proposed issues, to make matters worse – these were never original opinions in the first place (as I’ve outlined many times above). As you can see below, the result is multiple people incoherently shouting conventional ideology at each other with their ears closed and veins popping until the two minutes are up and the camera shuts off.
Even without winning the election, would a moderate proposition such as Bret Weinstein suggested (McRaven and Yang) put our current system on the hot seat, letting them know that the public is unsettled and tired of our current conditions?
The Illusion of Choice
Just as we saw above in the “Rubin Report” clip with the heads of the DNC and RNC, when we turn on the news today it is very unlikely we are hearing an individuals true opinion. Scripts being provided by those who own massive networks can slide across a news hour with viewers completely unaware of what’s happening behind the scenes.
The first thing someone playing antagonist might say is “Well why is this an issue? Large corporations advertise in many ways so why can’t this just be one of them?” My response: what if your local news station (who, remember, was paid by Amazon to run a story) voices an opinion on how we should support small businesses during COVID-19? Now we’re in a predicament. More people shopping local equals less money for Amazon. If a station wants to continue to receive funding for their programming, isn’t it likely that they will forgo airing any opinions contradictory to the hand from which they feed?
Our democracy could be in danger, and unfortunately the news stations running those scripts may have had no idea that they would end up being a perfect example of why. Without doing a deep dive into history, we should all be aware of the potential cataclysms that can occur when all of our information is owned by a handful of entities. Sinclair currently has ownership of 190 TV stations across America. Yes, it unlikely that Sinclair alone is going to point our country towards an inconceivable action like taking up communism, but it is hair raising to see that The FCC has allowed Sinclair to integrate all of it’s media operations into one, leading towards even more centralization of news. The more consolidated media becomes, the less opposition it faces, the less we are able to think for ourselves, the more we should worry. In any case, viewing a company with such power as Sinclair utilizing local news stations as puppets for (ironically) a smear on fake news should raise concern.
These aren’t only corporate and/or right wing antics either, our politicians are beginning to sound more and more like a broken record, skipping and repeating themselves over and over again. The top down unaltered flow of information in the press is operating more like a pyramid scheme than the original intent of the publics defense against corruption .
Consumers are being forcefed script after script of individuals who all are claiming to be in perfect agreement with one another. As we’ve seen it’s leading to not only misinformation but polarization that has a strong effect on our mental wellness. The disregard and hostility shown towards writers, journalists, and media personalities who dare step out of line is shielding the public from truth and creating echo chambers that many will not be able to free themselves from.
When someone does stand in the way of an imposed narrative, we get a case like Phil Donahue. Someone with such little polarization such as Donahue (25 year host of his namesake show, The Phil Donahue Show) is pressured into leaving the media all throughout the 90’s until he resigned in the early 2000’s because he refused to conform to network standards and voiced unpopular criticism. When asked about his opinion on where news and television were headed his response was “We have more [TV] outlets now, but most of them just sell the Bowflex machine. The rest of them are Jesus and jewelry. There really isn’t much diversity in the media anymore. Dissent? Forget about it.” As you can see with the graphics below, he was spot on.
Here are the six, and their subsidiaries:
We no longer have the luxury of turning on the news for differentiating opinions, let alone facts. Before turning on the television I could tell you what each of the following individuals stance on any controversial issue would be: Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, etc. I’m not suggesting that these aren’t intellectually bright, quick-witted, charismatic people (and they certainly are ever so convincing with their use of their artful dialect) but I am suggesting they will never, and I mean never oppose their own political side on any issues. If there is any video of them going against their orthodox party affiliation on just one topic within the last 15 years – send it my way, I’ll be impressed with your dutiful research.
If I haven’t made it apparent by now, I believe that we have serious reasons (such as the graphs below) to look at the current state of American media, politics, and journalism, and see if there are any changes or tweaks to the system that would lead to more a more positive outlook for our country.
An argument I feel the need to address, is the most common rebuttal I’ve heard in conversation. “We should keep things the same because our governing set of ideas and policies have worked well for this long and we’ve invested so much time and money, why should we change it?” The [It’s been that way forever] argument lacks any real foundation and frankly is a lazy way to approach any idea or problem. Also known as the “Sunk-Cost Fallacy” this mindset limits any progress while ensuring there will be no searching for ways improve current situations and surely will limit growth. “You’ll never own a house because my father didn’t and neither did his.” To conclude that something is correct simply because it is old, removes our incredible ability to innovate and move forward as a persons and species. Had Alexander Graham Bell been content with sending mail and using morse code because that’s how things have been done historically, who is to say that we would be holding devices in our hands today with access to the largest collection of knowledge that the world has ever seen?
However, there is hope. Hundreds of shows similar to “Krystal and Saagar” (below) are gaining popularity on YouTube and Podcasting apps (Apple and Spotify). The question becomes whether such mild-mannered and respectful discussions will ever be able to gain the attention of the masses as the entertainment of the mainstream sources can do is yet to be seen.
With these new platforms, long form – real conversation between two people with opposing viewpoints are now available to the public. This new form of distribution allows for a person to listen, process, think, and respond. It is not not limited by time nor alignment with network ideology, it is allowing us to once again process information in a ‘clean’ manner. Anyone with a camera (yes, your iPhone counts) and/or microphone now has the ability to upload videos or audio without the traditional gatekeepers we have seen in the past.
Having a phone or computer today, means that you have the potential to connect with millions of people across the world, effectively for free. The distribution of information and knowledge we are watching unfold at a global scale is a large reason to be optimistic towards our future. By reducing fixed costs, not only does it allow for any publisher to reach the masses, it also means that anyone can become a publisher. In an address from Mark Zuckerberg on free speech and expression, he goes so far as calling this ‘revolution’ a “Fifth Estate”
People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world — a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society. People no longer have to rely on traditional gatekeepers in politics or media to make their voices heard, and that has important consequences.
The original Three Estates are in reference to the traditional realm of Europe: the king, the clergy, and the commoners. A more recent addition to the concept of Estates in society was adding the press as the Fourth Estate (relatively recent – the printing press was invented in the 1400’s which quite literally paved the way for journalism). Traditionally the press has provided great value in the distribution of information and in turn also keeping the government in check with investigative journalism. For this reason of providing an authority to keep the king honest, the press was coined as the Fourth Estate. The majority of information consumed by the public today is distributed via the Fourth Estate, but my question is: does the press still do their job which we have so heavily depended on in the past for checks and balances?
“Journalists see the First Amendment as an amulet, and with good reason. It has long protected the Fourth Estate—an independent institutional press—in its exercise of editorial discretion to check government power. This protection helped the Fourth Estate flourish in the second half of the twentieth century and ably perform its constitutional watchdog role.
But in the last two decades, the media ecology has changed. The Fourth Estate has been subsumed by a Networked Press in which journalists are joined by engineers, algorithms, audience, and other human and non-human actors in creating and distributing news…Their norms and values, including personalization and speed, stymie watchdog reporting.” – Erin Carroll
If we truly are entering a new epoch in media, what the future holds is largely uncertain. The only thing that we can be sure of, is that this new era will be different. Will this shift allow for the open discussion of reform or improvements in a healthy conversation? Will it allow for an independent minded individuals who don’t conform to a mold to be a serious contender for The Presidency? Will it be able to draw our country back from the left and right extremes we are edging catastrophically close to? I hope that is the case.
Thinking for Yourself
Bias is an integral part of being a human, and we will all continue to be guilty of possessing bias in some way or another for our entire lives. Throughout the entirety of this lengthy two part blog, I’ve been guilty of pointing fingers at people and groups around me, just as I have accused the left and right of being guilty of. We’re all human, and that seemed very natural to do so. While it would be much simpler for me to conclude that politicians are the true problem, or that if cable news never existed there would be no left vs. right issues. But playing the blame game is the easy way out, and I certainly have my own filters in which I have presented ideas and context to our current situation without so much as prescribing a fix all solution.
To create any substantial change towards progress, I believe that I need to fault myself as a part of the problem as well. In order to make any change we wish to be seen, we must first change ourselves – and by doing so I am attempting to create accountability for myself. Bringing my own bias to the forefront (a dislike for: two-party system/orthodox reporting/cable news/TikTok and a love for: reading/running/Nebraska Football/etc.), I hope to reason with other points of view and create opportunities for open-minded conversations in a Non-Zero Sum fashion.
While thinking for ourselves is certainly more work and effort than identifying our entire person with a particular cause and blindly following it into an abyss, but it is work that I believe is worth it. In perfect irony, I’ll steal a Paul Graham quote, to surmise the notion of identification and the ability to think more clearly without it.
“Topics [which] engage people’s identity depends on the people, not the topic. For example, a discussion about a battle that included citizens of one or more of the countries involved would probably degenerate into a political argument. But a discussion today about a battle that took place in the Bronze Age probably wouldn’t. No one would know what side to be on. So it’s not politics that’s the source of the trouble, but identity. When people say a discussion has degenerated into a religious war, what they really mean is that it has started to be driven mostly by people’s identities. More generally, you can have a fruitful discussion about a topic only if it doesn’t engage the identities of any of the participants. What makes politics and religion such minefields is that they engage so many people’s identities. But you could in principle have a useful conversation about them with some people. And there are other topics that might seem harmless, like the relative merits of Ford and Chevy pickup trucks, that you couldn’t safely talk about with others.“
In admitting my own bias, I am attempting to remove personal identification that may hinder my ability to think clearly about any given topic, as well as in my approach towards the exchange of ideas with others. By taking such action, I hope that this is a small step towards a better solution to our current problem of Primitive Politics.
Primitive Politics, Pt. I
*An opinion piece from someone with no formal political education* I support and fully welcome disagreement.
Our Current Reality:
“Well if you are wanting to move away and you enjoy California so much you should look into living there at some point!”
“Oh there’s no way I could do that, there are too many liberals that live there.”
To say I was puzzled when I received that response, after having put forward the idea of moving to a new state, would be an understatement (to make things worse this happened on a date). What followed was more than an awkward stretch of silence, thankfully have been broken when our server decided to stop by and check on things at a more than ideal moment. After treading lightly in conversation for the rest of the night, careful not to open Pandora’s Box any further, I had no choice but to reason with the fact that: political opposition has become so bitter, there are people who would refuse great opportunities, such as moving to a place of their dreams, because they don’t see any possible way to tolerate, let alone befriend, other Americans holding different ideas in their head. Giving up the idea of warm sunshine, tempered climate, towering mountain backdrops and postcard worthy sunsets, because of the intense bipartisanship we are being blindly submerged in.
“The dysfunctional state of the American political system is the best reason to be pessimistic about our country’s future. Our scientific and technological prowess is the best reason to be optimistic. We are an inventive people….and if I had a choice between a tournament of ideas and a political cage match, I know which fight I would be engaging in.” -Nate Silver “The Signal and the Noise“
Let’s go into the hypothetical realm for a moment: if I were to tell you that I refused to apply for a job of my dreams (*cough cough* Tesla test driver) because the majority of their employees were Lutherans, you would assertively let me know that I had fallen off the wagon. While the previous statement seems laughable, for some reason when it comes to politics, the dichotomy of ideas – in which both parties are striving towards an agreed upon moral code (freedom of speech/ assembly/ press/ religion, equality, due process of law, etc.) can cause families to resent one another and friendships to entirely dissolve. Now if you’ve got time on your hands as I have had lately, you’re likely seeking out answers to questions such as: How did we get to this point? Who is really responsible? What does the future of American politics look like? Let’s begin.
Homo-sapiens: strange creatures. We have put our own species on the moon, built pyramids to last for millennia, created steam engines, yet somehow we can still be so tribalistic that we are also still responsible for incidents like this:
Now, I’m not a father, but I can reasonably imagine that if a full grown man grabbed my teenage daughters arm to rip something as simple as a flyer away from her, to put it calmly: I would be one incredibly irate individual. What were the events that occurred prior to this moment in that mans life that would lead him to a point of such anger where he could commit such a heinous act? In America we enjoy the spoils of freedom, but in instances such as this, it is clear this man has forgotten what responsibility our First Amendment also adorns every citizen with.
“Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.” ― Viktor E. Frankl
…we’re working on it
It’s no secret that we Americans hold strong opinions on many topics and usually aren’t afraid to share our feelings (ask anyone from Europe to describe our country in a few words and the list will likely include some of the following: loud, fast-food, Hollywood, patriotism, extroverts, Elvis, NBA, etc). With so many…we’ll say – mavericks, living in the US, it isn’t hard to see how disagreements can turn ugly, quickly. As America becomes more diverse year by year, we need to take on the responsibility of how to handle civil disagreements.
As a person, who you are today, is the aggregation of hundreds of thousands past experiences. Living in a country with immensely large numbers of individuals from greatly differentiating backgrounds leads to a myriad of perspectives and ideas on what is the best way to approach problems. To have opposing viewpoints is inevitable – and what’s great about this opposition is that diversity is a contributing factor for our continuous growth and innovation. But to allow our different ideologies to spiral into hate and violence, is preventable. Now in most cases when we have contrasting opinions, it’s no big deal. I lean towards Lucky Charms while you choose Reeses Puffs. Some people indulge with whiskey and some people smoke green. Like I said, it’s usually no big deal. Politics however, is becoming a much different story.
Within the last 30 years, thanks to a 24/7 relentless barrage of ever important *BREAKING NEWS* and hard takes by the likes of CNN, FOX, MSNBC and many others – it takes little to no effort to become over-politicized with pent up hostile energy toward the enemy. It doesn’t take a scientist to see how media coverage can lead to the resentment of fellow US citizens at large. While it’s not clear what the future impact of todays media will be, I personally believe, the writing is on the wall. This is concerning. When did we allow for our political views to become so internalized that the weight carried with claiming you belong to one party or another is akin to telling a person what family you belong to? What will the growing bipartisanship do to our country?
A Great Democracy of Past
While I would consider myself to be a (rational) optimist, it is without a doubt advantageous for us to at least acknowledge that even Rome once fell. The Roman Empire was longest stretch of singular power the world has ever seen: a 482-year-long Republic/Democracy, with over 1500 total years in total imperial power. If you placed America’s (relatively recent) Independence Day onto the timeline below starting at 27 BC, we would yet to have passed 284 AD, when Rome split into two (the irony…it hurts).
Now…I am not bringing this up to be seen as a doomsday narrative so that I can sell you on nuclear fallout shelter (although here are some cool ones). Rather I want to implore myself and others to manufacture solutions on our own as to how Americans can today, take action to leave our country in a better place for tomorrow. I don’t foresee it likely that the American democracy will face a similar demise as Rome (an invasion of barbarians), but is it time that we start looking for potential red flags near on the horizon? Are there signals showing us that we are mindlessly skipping along in the dirt of Roman footsteps?
Now to focus on our own nation, let me propose something that superficially may sound like a paradox: What if America’s heightened tension and apparent volatility we’re currently experiencing is because collectively, we don’t know what to do with ourselves in “peace” times?
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” ― Blaise Pascal
There is a strong case that can be made for the current unrest and uneasiness we feel in our country lending itself to the lack of a shared enemy. While this idea may sound slightly off the hinges, there is a fair amount research and data that correlates Presidential Approval ratings to War/Crises. This is known as the “Rally Around the Flag Effect.”
What seems more sinister than Russia when digging deeper into the Rally Around the Flag theory, is that the likelihood of mass-scale wars seems to be decreasing every year. Is there a chance that in the past, we may have been unknowingly relying on a mutual enemies across thousands of miles of ocean to unite us as a country? America has seen no existential threat of an enemy formidable enough to potentially alter the livelihood of our entire country in a single moment since the Cold War days – when the fear of Russia hovered above like an ominous thunderstorm ready to crack down.
As Yuval Noah Harari points out in his book “Sapiens”, the majority of wars in history were based around quests for material possessions. Conquer land, reap the benefits of oil, earth, trade routes, or the heavy metals you’ve attained. What’s changed is that we are now living in a society where the bulk of value is not placed in physical objects, but in collective knowledge. The most powerful companies: Apple, Google, Facebook, etc. would be nothing without each individual employee contributing to the greater goal. If China invades Silicon Valley and/or takes over Googles HQ, what will they do with the building full of relatively useless equipment once all they employees/operators have perished or fled? If future wars are fought in the frontiers of tech or biology, and full-fledged physical wars are a thing of the past, is America soon to appear as restless in our own skin as a 4 year-old who refuses to play the “quiet game”. Are we going to be able to maintain our historically unwavering patriotism that has made proud Americans a stereotype that we gladly accept?
Dualism and Antagonists
When there isn’t an immediate enemy to be dealt with, we humans do a pretty good job of finding one! The Globetrotters can’t win a game without the Generals, and what fun is Batman without the Joker? Right now in America, we don’t have strong enough reason to point a finger at any specific enemy country. Meanwhile we find ourselves still pointing at “evil”, unfortunately that frequently means our own citizens. This is the concept of dualism. Similar any Shakespeare story with a protagonist/antagonist woven throughout an intricate plot line, dualism is our answer to anything bad or evil that happens around us. Rather than attributing events to a statistical anomaly or accepting once in a while we find bad eggs, we prefer the blame game and generalization. “Those damn communist liberals at it again.” “The gun wielding hicks will never understand.”
America is fractured into two tribes playing a zero-sum game, “Is he with us or them?” While I mentioned that disagreement is certainly unavoidable and vital to progress and balance, without the ability to recognize areas of shared interests – the American political system has shifted from a Non-Zero Sum game to Zero Sum.
Now if your political views lean left, there is no dearth of cringe worthy comments made by Trump (probably a few just since I’ve written this sentence) or any Fox news anchor – such as when Laura Ingraham distastefully told THE LeBron James (a family man who has: donated more to his communities than any of us ever could ever imagine, shattered every expectation given to him without even so much as a blemish, and been a voice of reason for an entire generation) to “Shut up and dribble” after LeBron simply voiced his dislike for Trump. Now if we stopped here, it’s quite likely that all liberals would be smirking to themselves and chuckling under their breath saying “Well if only they would get with the program everything would be better.” But…as Lee Corso would say, “not so fast my friend.”
If you consider yourself a conservative, you surely are quipping back, citing ill-viewed events such as *Insert First Name* Clinton lying about (pick one) *an affair/deleted emails* – or more recently something as atrocious as Joe Biden telling Breakfast Club co-host Charlamagne that “If you have a problem figuring out whether to vote for me or for Trump, then you ain’t black.”
If you want into mainstream politics (product of the two-party system), the current barriers to entry require a soldier like allegiance to obeying the accepted viewpoints of your party as a whole rather than being able to offer your individualized take on a particular issue. It would be career-suicide in politics to be a self-proclaimed democrat who is also pro-second amendment. News anchors and politicians need to keep their careers and in order to do so they are forced to keep everything neat and tidy along along party lines. As each side digs their heels deeper, we find that this inherently leads to censorship and may soon become a real problem as we saw with the Epstein case. Did you notice how that story somehow fell of the face of cable news? A story where Michael Shermer (publisher of the one and only Skeptic Magazine…as you could guess, the ultimate skeptic) was quoted as saying “It’s looking more & more like this conspiracy theory may be true regarding the death of Jeffrey Epstein.” So why did this story disappear into the woodwork? It disappeared because of a systematic flaw we are beginning to see exposed. Epstein himself wasn’t on only one side of the aisle, he dabbled with both. As more and more information was leaking out, neither party was fond of the idea of digging just a little too deep on the story and risk revealing their own skeletons in the closet. Did it benefit CNN to talk about it? No. Did it benefit Fox? No. Was it adequately covered? No.
*Based on the sheer amount of text in this post I’ve decided to split it up into Pt. I and Pt. II (which will be online by next week) – alas: here is a preview of Pt. II*
Our Path to Talking Parrots
Beginning in the 1920’s with mass broadcast radio, the goal of the platform was straightforward. Relay facts and information while grabbing the largest market share possible by using the entire nation as a target audience. The unbiased and unfiltered stream of news and events in the 20’s wasn’t such simply because there were kinder humans with our well-being in mind. The saving grace in news of past a relative purity compared to now, was their lack of interest in ratings and user-engagement. Rather than tailoring news to the audience, the assumption was that the public could take in the “raw material” and form it into an opinion on their own.
“The old-school anchorperson was a monotone mannequin designed to look and sound like a safe date for your daughter: Good evening, I’m Dan Rather, and my frontal lobes have been removed. Today in Libya…” – Matt Taibbi
The overarching goal of turning a profit from journalism, reporting, and broadcasting is still the same today – one hundred years later. What has changed however; is that today we’re receiving our “material” as heavily processed, refined, and addictive substances that are delivered to us in flashy, colorful and convenient packaging (a recurring theme we have seen replicated and perfected in the food industry).
“oh man, I can’t wait to work from home – this is going to be GREAT.”
7:00am: *wake up*
7:05am: *check phone/calendar – see nothing*
7:30-9:30am: *drink a full pot of coffee*
10:30am: *talk about what I’m going to do today with caffeine induced confidence*
12:00-7:00pm: *eat, eat, then eat some more*
7:30pm: *realize how little I accomplished*
8:00pm: *talk about how much I’m going to get done tomorrow*
10:30pm: *go to bed*
2020: The Year of Chaos
Lately it has seemed as though my days have followed a similar pattern to the one above with only a few minor deviations. This has in turn, led to the ever so standard conversation filler “What did you do today?”, to becoming one of my most feared questions to answer. The monotony of the last couple months have blended days together like a high school summer break, where incorrectly answering what day of the week it is has become commonplace. Being abnormally compulsive over feeling the need to be productive (frequently to a fault), I have begun to over-exaggerate the most mundane tasks in order to convince myself that I am accomplishing more than what is probably true.
“Oh hey man long time-no see, what’ve you been up to?”
“Ay good to see you! You know, yesterday I actually jotted down a crazy long list of different foods, then I walked outside my house towards my car, opened the door and sat in the driver’s seat. Once I turned the engine on I used the gas pedal and steering wheel to propel my car towards the store which, once I arrived, I grabbed a cart and walked inside. As I was pushing my cart down the aisl…”
“Hey bro not to interrupt, but are you just trying to tell me you went to the store..?”
“Oh, uhm yeah dude I did, but some people were actually wearing masks and gloves, then again some others weren’t. It was a pretty crazy day yesterday.”
For me personally, it truly feels like capacity for work is at an all-time low – yet knowing that most everyone is in the exact same shoes as myself has offered solace towards my drop in productivity. Having gone from a rigid, unwavering 9-5 schedule for more than the last half year, into a stay-at-home-or-die, quarantine conundrum – it was without question that there would be new obstacles facing me on the path to productivity. Now, as I try to justify my own strategic laziness in the paragraphs that follow, remember to always heed caution from whom you take advice from. (Here I sit after being laid-off from work: writing a blog post that will surely be read by hundreds of thousands of individuals – many of whom are likely to create the cure for COVID-19…sarcasm: it’s a beautiful thing).
Quarantine has personally reacquainted me with an old friend that the sane among us are at least somewhat familiar with, a friend that I came to know very well during four years of finals weeks. *insert distracting gif *
However, what I have in my favor this time around is that I am no stranger to jobs in without any type of regimented schedule. In my first job out of school, I worked from home for a start-up company with a total of 3 employees (excluding myself), and as you can imagine there was not much structure to a company of that size. I found out quickly that with the great freedom this gave me, I wasn’t quite ready for the great responsibility that came with it. In a not-so-logical next step, I moved into the service industry which was even more of a shakeup to any type of ‘normalcy’ that most schedules provide – working weekends and nights a majority of the time. In both positions it is now very apparent that my days were overflowing with distractions, and that it requires little to no effort, wasting days away by ‘staying busy’.
We all have the freedom to pick from any number of vices in which to delay the projects we know deserve our attention, but we will instead choose to neglect. Some favorites for me as of late have been: sleeping, looking up recipes I will probably never cook, miscellaneous work around the house, and reading far more books than I will retain. Attempting to differentiate busy work vs productivity is no easy feat, and there is certainly a massive grey area between the two (no Steve, the grass doesn’t need mowed again for the fourth time this week). I would insist that productivity is an activity that will impact life long-term, while staying busy is completing trivial short-term tasks. Yes, it makes me feel accomplished in the short-term rearranging the garage or deep cleaning the grill (and both probably need to be completed sooner or later), but there comes a point when it seems vital to effectively dissect and prioritize tasks at hand.
Learning from wasted time in past, here is a short list of different tools I’ve been trying to implement in order to stay somewhat productive at home:
A fairly straightforward way to organize projects/tasks/etc, is by using the Eisenhower Matrix. Inspired by (you guessed it) a Dwight D Eisenhower quote, the matrix can help you automate decisions on challenges that confront you throughout a day. Flat tire on the highway? Important and Urgent –> DO NOW
Personal examples and which quadrant they would fit into:
Quadrant 1: Finding a job after being laid off
Quadrant 2: Family time, FaceTime/phone calls
Quadrant 3: Staying updated with current news
Quadrant 4: Readjusting a hammock to ensure proper alignment to the 1:00pm sun when the UV rays are strongest to ensure optimal tanning angles
Takeaway: Help yourself make quick and certain decisions by using pre-set guidelines.
“In ten hours a day you have time to fall twice as far behind your commitments as in five hours a day.”
Work will expand to fill the time you allow it. Set structured time for work, when you are working – make sure to work. When you’re not working – make sure not to work. This is not to say that you can complete a senior thesis in under one minute, but rather: the more time allowed for a task – the more time it will take.
A modern translation of Parkinson’s Law. Have you ever noticed that no matter the storage size of your new phone or computer – 8gb, 64gb or 128gb, we seem to have the incredible capacity to fill any storage to the max with unnecessary apps, photos and videos for no reason other than we have the storage to do so?
Takeaway: Be intentional with your time. Rather than a ten-hour workday in which only three of those hours are productive, use a disciplined approach to become more efficient in working to free more time.
“Don’t look at the entire staircase, just take the first step“
The graphic below provides an illustration of the Pomodoro technique, broken up into a cycle that can be repeated throughout the day. While the time suggestions below may work for some, there is no blanket statement that will make anyone an efficient learner, writer, teacher overnight. The essence of the idea is that, rather than looking at the entirety of what may be four hours that you have to work before lunch, look at just the minutes directly in front of you. Maybe you’d rather do ten minute or one hour increments – just try not to be too rigid in following along. Tailor the concept to what works best for you.
Another way to look at it, an effective lesson utilized in relationships daily: Play hard to get. Don’t burn yourself out on a specific task. Come back after a break feeling more refreshed and more capable of producing more work.
Takeaway: Avoid the dreaded “palate fatigue” in which our brains become numb to a constant stream of identical sensory information by strategically taking breaks and/or switching tasks
Rewarding/Quantifying The Process
After creating systems and utilizing techniques to create an effective routine, after a day or two it is easy to slip back into old habits. In order to continue forward with more constructive ways of going about my day, I constantly wonder how I can ensure that the micro-actions taken throughout a day are worthwhile in the long term.
In an email thread with Nike Master Trainer, Joe Holder I was able to propose a question that I frequently struggle with myself – and in response I received great advice in how to make sure that the short term sacrifices (fighting off procrastination) are rewarded and for long term success (applying efficient machines/processes). The question and response were both heavily centered on Ray Dalio’s book – Principles.
In your journey to self-improvement it seems inevitable that you’ve had to make sacrifices that are suboptimal in the short term. That being said, how do you try and quantify/reward the small wins day-to-day that seem monotonous and ‘boring’? Have you set up any processes or machines to automate routines that help move the needle long term?
This is a very good question and thank you for reaching out. The small wins day to day are hard to quantify because it then just becomes part of life. From a private life example though I try to ensure I engage in self care practices (meditating, calling loved ones, etc) that allow me to function well. I have a list for this which allows me to automate that in a sense.
In short term, thinking and brainstorming has the least amount of payoff. You never know if you will come up with a good idea and it can be time consuming. In the back of your head you know that you can instead just get caught up in tasks, that while may not have long term value, allow you to feel achieved in short term because you are getting stuff done.
I’ve essentially outsourced a lot of task based work that either comes from my brainstorms or stops me from being able to get important long term projects started/done.
It goes back to if you are an entrepreneur to have a team that allows you to do what you do best. For me, that is thinking and bringing ideas to life through relationships. The micro work that needs to be done on the day to day is self-admittedly not my strong suit.
Hope this helps in a sense.
While the aforementioned tools have been particularly useful to me as of late, there are many hundreds of thousands of other tactics that may work better for you. For those of you who have made it this far – I would love to hear any additional advice/thoughts/comments that have helped progress you through a time in which we are unable to drink away our sorrows on the rooftop of Kid Rocks bar on Broadway in Nashville.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some ever-so important (pants-less) Skype/Zoom/FaceTime interviews to attend to.
A Parting Quote
“Time and attention are very different things. They’re your most precious resources moving forward. You work through your attention, it’s the medium of your work. While people often say there’s not enough time, remember that you’ll always have less attention than time.” — Jason Fried