Everyone Can Do Respect

Richie does not like menial tasks. Does anyone? Richie would rather be the star of the show. That’s a bit difficult when you’re a 45-year-old man wrapping sandwiches for a living — but it’s possible. Richie does not do well in the kitchen. He likes to be out front. Work the register. Talk to customers, make some jokes, and get some validation.

Unfortunately for Richie, this week, validation is not on the menu. This week, Richie must wake up at 5:30 AM sharp each day in order to polish forks. Why? After he tried to steal some power from their neighbors for the remodel of their sandwich shop, Richie’s boss decided he needed “a vacation.” Therefore, Richie is now taking a week-long trip to the best restaurant in the world to stage as an unpaid intern and, well, polish forks.

Nine hours into his first day, Richie already runs out of patience — and so does his manager. “No one is asking you to be here,” Garrett tells him, “but we need to have some forks without streaks in them. Every day here is the freaking Super Bowl.”

In a three-star restaurant with a waiting list that’s 5,000 people long at any given moment, everything must be perfect. That’s not something Richie has an innate understanding for, but there is something else for which he does. “You don’t have to drink the Kool-Aid,” Garrett says. “I just need you to respect me. I need you to respect the staff. I need you to respect the diners. And I need you to respect yourself.”

“I can do respect,” Richie says, and it’s true. Everyone can do respect. Later that night, Richie witnesses the staff heaping kindness after kindness upon a couple of high school teachers who saved for years to be at the restaurant. In the end, they don’t even ask them to pay. Richie sees their faces, and in that moment, he gets it. The next day, he shows up and polishes forks like there’s no tomorrow.

Over the remainder of his week as a stage, Richie gets to peer more and more into the staffs’ lives, and into the experiences they create for their customers. At one point, he even gets to deliver a surprise deep dish pizza to a visiting family who’s on their way out of town and would otherwise miss the iconic Chicago dish. For the briefest of moments, he becomes a visible part of the magic, “the star of the show” he always wants to be, and though it’s only a microscopic preview, after his time is up, Richie is filled with a new fire he had no longer been sure even existed.

A week of staging in a three-star restaurant won’t make you the perfect chef. It won’t even make you the world’s best fork-polisher. But it could remind you of an important truth you might have forgotten: Everyone can do respect. Respect the work. Respect the people. And respect the circumstances — no matter what they are.

You’re never too old to start over. To start something new. Or to start something you’ll love. And it all begins with a little bit of respect. That, too, will never go out of fashion. As long as you remember it, neither will you — and if it takes a week of polishing forks from time to time to do so, that’s more than a fair price to pay.

Understanding vs. Accepting

On a rational level, Sanni McCandless understood that her boyfriend, Alex Honnold, just “had to” climb up a one-kilometer wall of sheer rock — but to accept the free-solo climber’s passion on a day-to-day basis, that was a different story.

When we want to accommodate to the needs or wants of someone we love, it’s tempting to think we’ll have to do it just once. That all we must do is wrap our heads around the logic of something or construct our own where we can’t spot any. “After that, it’ll be smooth sailing!” we believe.

But the husband of a soldier will still feel pain, worry, and loneliness every time his wife goes on her next assignment. The partner of a rope-less climber must face the chance that “this time, he might fall” again and again. And even when you’ve accepted that your son is really good at video games and playing them 24/7 might work out in ways you cannot yet imagine, it’s not easy to watch him stare at a screen for hours every day.

Understanding is easy. That part we truly need do only once. But what comes next — the constant acceptance of the reality we now understand — is a lifelong duty, and that’s not a box we’ll ever get to check. The best we can do is practice. Day-in, day-out. Practice, practice, practice. Accept, accept, accept.

Love is understanding. But more importantly, love is acceptance. Make room for the uniqueness of the people you love, and then fight to protect that space every day.

Let Nature Reveal Itself

When we first moved in, our garden was a nicely curated suburban lawn. One year later, it’s more akin to a meadow in the woods.

Over the winter, patches of moss have sprung up everywhere. Weeds have shown up in places. It definitely doesn’t look as “clean” as it used to — but now, for the first time, it also has flowers.

Several flocks of daisies now congregate around our otherwise lonely tree. They’re accompanied by some even smaller, purple-ish flowers. The birds love it, and so do the bees.

More animals show up more regularly. The whole place looks different but just as cosy. Home-y. Natural!

Our garden might not be ideal to make a flat look presentable for a sale, but it is the garden most people end up with over time. Where else does this dynamic hold? Where else are we trying to suppress it?

When we first visit our new partner’s home, we might not dare touch anything, let alone let out a fart. But eventually, if we want to live together, “natural” will have to be the norm.

You can act a certain way to get hired, but if you have to act all the time on the job, you’re not gonna last very long nor have a good time.

It’s not always the best idea to let nature out in full bloom on the first sampling — but it’s also rarely a good idea to suppress it permanently altogether.

Find the right rhythm for letting nature reveal itself, and you’ll find the right rhythm for life itself.

88 Years, One Print

Yesterday, I noticed someone sitting across from me at a café. On the front of their black hoodie, in simple white letters, it said: “Hokusai.” The name somehow rang a bell, and one Google later, I remembered: The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa is an iconic woodblock print depicting three boats fighting against a towering wave, with a view of Mount Fuji far in the distance. It’s an image known all over the world.

The artist, Katsushika Hokusai, started painting when he was six, and he created over 30,000 pieces in his lifetime. Paintings, sketches, prints — you name it. Only when he turned 70, however, did he start a series of prints called Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.

Each print in the series was painstakingly assembled by first making a drawing on paper, then gluing said paper to a wooden block, then carving out the drawing’s shape, then using said block for one of the elements of the final composition. It likely took at least seven blocks to create The Great Wave in all its colors. It was one of the latter prints in Hokusai’s series, and of course, the others demanded the same effort and attention to detail.

Hokusai was a popular and respected artist of his time, and when he finished The Great Wave off Kanagawa, it was quickly reproduced thousands of times. Of course, Hokusai didn’t stop there. He finished his series of 36 prints, and then he created some more.

Hokusai even returned to the subject of Mount Fuji when well into his 80s, publishing three volumes of illustrations for another One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji, including a similar, now also iconic drawing called The Big Wave. In the colophon of the first book, Hokusai wrote:

All I have produced before the age of seventy is not worth taking into account. At seventy-three I have learned a little about the real structure of nature. When I am eighty I shall have made still more progress. At ninety, I shall penetrate the mystery of things. At one hundred I shall have reached a marvelous stage, and when I am one-hundred-ten, everything I do, whether it be a dot or a line, will be alive.

Hokusai died at the age of 88 in 1849. Just shy of “penetrating the mystery of things.” To most of us, 175 years later, all that remains is one print. One image. One iconic picture, etched into our minds and the minds of generations to come.

88 years, 30,000 pieces, one print to be remembered. Such are the laws of the universe. Somehow, that doesn’t strike me as a sad dynamic. I think it makes for a rather epic story. Don’t you? And Hokusai knew it too, it seems. “Forget the stuff I made before 70. This is where the fun begins!” Perhaps he had already penetrated the mystery of things after all.

Walk the path. Keep living. Connecting. Creating. What happens after you depart is up to us, but today? Today is a great day to make another print.

Everything Is an Investment

I love investing. I enjoy researching companies, how they work, and what their potential could be in the future. I like watching financial and analytical breakdowns. I love finding new and alternative kinds of investments. I even have fun looking at prices and news and charts, trying to determine where to put my money. Sometimes a little too much fun, perhaps.

Yesterday was one of those days. I passed far too much time thinking about future prices, looking at existing positions, wondering whether I should move money from this stock to that one, from that coin to my bank account, and where to park my cash for the highest interest payments. As I was still mentally switching tabs at night, preparing to go to bed, it hit me: Everything is an investment — even the things that don’t look or feel like traditional investments at all.

Sleeping is an investment into your health, happiness, and most certainly into your productivity of the next day. Not looking at the news or opening Instagram to check for new Pokémon card deals is an investment into your mental space. By keeping your brain free from new information at times, you give it space to come up with better information and creative ideas on its own later on. Leaving your stocks app closed on a day when you know the market is down is an investment into your peace of mind. If you’re not going to see the numbers you want to see, you might as well ignore them altogether and keep working on something that might lead to real progress down the road.

Managing your time and money are honorable tasks. Most people don’t face them clearly enough, and many don’t face them at all. Managing yourself, however — your inner essence and mental and emotional states — is the highest task of all. Make sure you don’t forget it over the adrenaline rush that is our worldly affairs.

Everything is an investment — and sometimes, the best bet you can make is to not think about bets at all.

Move More, Eat Less

I’ve forgotten all of Ruben Meerman’s awesome TED talk, which I watched many years ago, except four words: “Move more, eat less.” It really is all there is to know about weight loss, isn’t it?

Naturally, that’s why many people — especially those hoping to sell you a more complex solution — love to dunk on it. While trying to dig up Meerman’s TED talk again, I watched several other videos baiting viewers with titles like “Move more, eat less is BS!” or “Move more, eat less is terrible advice!” The first thing the gurus concede 15 seconds in? “It’s technically true, but…”

Thankfully, the truth about physics doesn’t come in degrees, but I can understand the common criticism: “It’s not specific enough. Move more how? Eat less of what?” Then, it’s right back to talking about your metabolic rate and cutting out soda, and once again, we’re in the usual advice trap: What any one weight-loss coach will suggest may or may not work for you, so in the end, you’ll have to run your own experiments either way. Maybe, “Move more, eat less” is all we need after all?

A few weeks ago, the scale hit 65 kg for the first time when I stepped on. The one line that instantly shot to the top of my mind from distant memory? “Move more, eat less.” That’s why pithy, timeless wisdom is hard to beat: Even if you’ll still have to figure out all the specifics, at least you can count on it to reappear when you need it. I most likely watched Meerman’s TED talk the year it came out. That was 2013. It’s been eleven years, but thanks to its format, and perhaps Meerman’s awesome presentation, the phrase is still there.

Contrary to most gurus hoping to sell a course or supplement, I have no problem with simple advice. In fact, isn’t figuring out the how half the fun? Only you are an expert in living your life, so who more qualified to determine when you should move more and where, and which exercises to perform? Who better to pick which foods you’ll abandon, which meal you’ll suffer least from when you skip it, and what you can substitute where in order to make it through the day with fewer calories?

As for me, I tried fasting all the way until dinner, but it doesn’t work for me on workdays. I end up lightheaded, with a stomach ache, and overcompensating at night. The solution? No breakfast, which was already my default, cutting back on pastries after lunch, and skipping seconds at dinner. Oh, and going to my co-working space more. That adds a good 5,000 steps to my day. Even just loosely following this regimen during the workweek, I’m down around two kilograms in two weeks.

Am I in perfect shape? No. Do I have a grand plan to become the leanest I’ve ever been? No. But I am happy to be back in my usual weight range, and all it took was four words: Move more, eat less.

Don’t skip simple when simple does the trick — and most of the time, it does. The specifics will always be for you to figure out. Often, that’s the part we’re really hoping to skip, and that’s why we end up procrastinating to begin with. To solve your problems, start — and if your problem is losing weight, well then move more, eat less.

Wrong Place, Right Time

You’re not supposed to work on Easter Monday, but if you choose to do so anyway and venture to your favorite Starbucks along the way, you might find yourself crossing a 30-meter-wide road that leads from a popular historic square right in the heart of your city all the way to its northernmost fringes several kilometers away.

Unlike every other time of every other day, however, you notice you don’t have to wait before you cross. For once, you can just start walking, because, and this is rather unheard of, there just aren’t any cars. Zero. None.

No cabs transporting busy businessmen to and fro. No Saturday show-offs squealing their tuned cars’ tires as they blast down the avenue. No cyclists zigzagging between the commuters, causing honk after honk in five-minute intervals. Today, there is just silence — and when that hits you, you stop dead in your tracks — and the middle of the road.

You look around. You feel a bit uneasy. This isn’t supposed to be possible, let alone easy, but today, for whatever reason, it is both. You relax a little bit. You enjoy the moment, if only for a few seconds. And before you fully cross to the other side, you take a picture with your phone you couldn’t take on any other day: a vertical, long shot into the distance, showing a peaceful, endless boulevard under the blanket of a grey morning sky.

Sometimes, it pays to be in the wrong place at the right time. “Ordinary” is a choice like any other — and even if you don’t know where the road will lead, remember to step out of it from time to time.

Tomorrow Is Tomorrow

It’s only been a few short days since English sailor John Blackthorne arrived in feudal Japan of the 1600s, but they’ve been rather eventful. Cast into the midst of both an international and domestic political nightmare, John and his host Lord Yoshii Toranaga have already saved each other’s life several times from enemies without and within.

In a brief moment of reprieve after an epic boat escape from Osaka Castle, Toranaga watches John dive off the side of their ship in elegant fashion. Eager to learn, Toranaga asks John to teach him. John begins to explain how diving works, but Toranaga would rather he repeat the action.

“Ah. Observational learner,” John notes and obliges. As soon as he climbs back on the boat, he hears the next prompt: “Again.” And again. And again. After dozens of demonstrations, even John’s translator feels bad for him. “Perhaps he can try again tomorrow?” Mariko asks Lord Toranaga.

As John catches his, Toranaga, too, takes a deep breath. It’s been a long few days. The regent has lost several loyal samurai. He has discovered the Christian settlers in his country are plotting behind his back. And to top it all off, Toranaga has been evicted from Osaka Castle, the place where he usually reigns when his fellow rulers aren’t gunning for his head.

After a long exhale, Toranaga looks out across the ocean. With his eyes on the setting sun beyond the horizon, he finally answers Mariko’s request: “Tomorrow is tomorrow. Today I will learn how to dive.”

Life won’t always hand you the best of opportunities in the most convenient of moments — but every moment offers some opportunity, and whichever one you feel inspired to take, it’s best to seize it before the sun sets.

Nobody knows what the next 24 hours might bring, but there is an hour unfolding just in front of you right now. The only way to learn, to love, to feel, act, and live, is to use that hour. And no matter what you hope to understand, as long as you make the most of it, at the very least, you’ll always receive a new life lesson.

Tomorrow is tomorrow — but today, we learn how to live.

Start With Reliable

There are at least ten bakeries on the way to my WeWork. That’s ten options for a simple morning coffee. But on a holiday, seven of them will be closed. Out of the two remaining stores, one might look a little suspicious in terms of quality, whereas the other won’t offer the caffè crema variety I usually start my day with.

Of course, WeWork has coffee machines too, but if it’s a holiday after a weekend, chances are, they’ll all have run out. So what do I do? I go to Starbucks. I know, I know. Queue the roaring laughter. But you know what? Starbucks is reliable. I can go there day and night, rain or sunshine, holiday or Tuesday morning, and I know exactly what I will get when I order a grande Americano.

Could I take a gamble on one of the few bakeries that’s open? Sure. Could I trawl around WeWork and hope for a coffee machine that’s not empty? Of course. But when it’s a holiday and you’re trying to do some work, you don’t want to play games. You want a reliable source of coffee — and say what you will, that Starbucks will be at all times.

Is it the best coffee in the world? No. Is it the cheapest? No. But it’s a reliable experience that’s always available. Not just at the Starbucks next to your WeWork, but in fact in any of the 38,038 Starbucks around the world — and at that scale, reliability for a simple service becomes an extraordinary service in and of itself.

In the short term and on a small scale, reliability is just table stakes, and many businesses fail to deliver even that. But in the long run and bigger picture, reliability at scale is exceptional.

When you begin by being reliable, that won’t necessarily lead to greatness, but if you stay reliable long enough, chances are, you’ll never run out of business — and if you don’t, even your most astonishing creation won’t matter. Start with reliable.

Clara and the Sun From Below

Clumsy wasn’t the right word. After all, Clara fell where it was slippery, turned into roads closed for construction, and left the house only for pouring rain to commence minutes later. Unlucky, perhaps? Real misfortune regardless, it was a hell of a nickname: “Clumsy Clara” had stuck since high school, and when cups break and coffee spills wherever you go, sooner or later, you start believing.

Fired from yet another job for yet another mistake she didn’t make, Clara wandered home through the big park one dark autumn evening, desolate. She was already feeling low, but when her new phone turned off and refused to turn back on, her misery quickly turned into panic. Clumsy or not, a gloomy, deserted park was no place for a lonely lady, and Clara being Clara, she needed directions.

After stumbling around aimlessly for a good 45 minutes while flinching from various noises, all of which turned out to be on the spectrum of bird sounds, Clara spotted a tick-tocking ray of light shooting out of the ground in the distance. Only half-joking to herself, she thought, “Oh great, this is it. The aliens are here to pick me up.” Her body told her to run, but we all know what happens to moths and flames, and so step by step, Clara inched closer to the oscillating light. By the time she could almost reach into it, she bumped into a hip-high construction barrier. “Ow!” Thankfully, in this case, what might otherwise have served as an admonishment to mind her surroundings already marked her destination. Finally at the source, Clara looked down and…at Karl.

“Whoa!” Karl stumbled backwards so suddenly when his phone’s flashlight illuminated Clara’s face, he actually dropped his makeshift bat-signal and ended up uttering his next words in complete darkness: “Are you real? Please tell me you’re real.” “Sure am,” Clara said, and once Karl had found both his feet and phone again, the two could finally talk face to face — albeit at different elevations, for where Clara stood on solid ground, Karl stood in a muddy pit that set them about one adult-height apart.

“What are you doing in there?” Clara asked. “Don’t ask,” Karl said, trying to be cool for a second. “Long story.” But when he saw Clara scrunch her face, he quickly abandoned that plan, afraid she might do the same to him. “I fell in! I fell in!” he confessed. “I’m a doofus! That’s what I’m doing. Stupid pit. Who puts a construction site in the middle of a park without lights anyway?” Clara tried not to, but she couldn’t help it, and her initial chuckle burst into full-blown laughter. Whether it was the relief that her abduction-scare had turned out to be harmless, the hilarity of a non-cartoon character falling into an actual pit, or the fact that, for once, Clara was not the one on the receiving end of calamity, who could say? But in that moment, she felt something she hadn’t felt in a while: Clara was filled with joy.

After she had calmed down and got back to the situation at hand, Clara realized that if she squatted down and Carl stretched, their hands could reach each other, even lock arms. However, the position was no good for her to exercise what average strength she had, so instead of a Hollywood rescue, Karl received a hip-high construction barrier, which Clara pushed into the pit, and thus a good old-fashioned leg-up from a sturdy if quiet friend.

“How long have you been in there?” Clara asked as she watched Karl try to wipe the mud off his shoes. “Not trying to be all mysterious or anything, but…longer than I care to admit,” Karl said. “I think I’ve had my fill of embarrassment for today. Maybe I’ll let you try to guess next time.” “Fair enough,” Clara went, “and don’t worry: It’s my turn now…because I really need directions.” One incredulous look and several minutes later, Clara had filled in Karl on her own little predicament. After the two had double-checked that, from here on out, everyone knew where to go without getting lost or falling into further pits, they agreed to meet for coffee later that week before heading their separate ways.

“Looking forward to the full pit story!” Clara said with a smirk. “But you might want to bring a metal straw, or wear waterproof pants, or something. Filled with coffee or not, cups tend to spill and break around me.” “I just fell into A PIT, Clara,” Karl waved her off. “Trust me, I can get coffee anywhere but my stomach just fine on my own!” “Alright then,” Clara shrugged, “see you Thursday!”

It would be a few more years until she realized the full meaning of their encounter, but even as she watched him disappear through one of the park’s exits, Clara had a good feeling about Karl. She didn’t know it yet, but today had been the luckiest unlucky day of her life — and her future without a nickname was only just beginning.