Why Are You Marching?

On the surface, Peaky Blinders is a show about an early 20th century family of gypsies and petty criminals rising to build an international, respected, far-reaching yet still criminal empire. Actually, it’s about trauma. Trauma haunts the Shelbys, no matter where or how far they go.

Arthur is lost in a haze of drugs, drinks, and violence, fighting for a normal family, a normal life he’ll never have. Ada loses a husband and then another would-be husband, but their children remain, and so do society’s unblinking stares. The most prevalent example, however, is Tommy Shelby, the tragic hero at the center of this period drama.

A distinguished soldier post-WWI, Tommy suffers from PTSD when the show begins, and from there, his nightmares only escalate in lockstep with his success. Tommy fights off a new police chief but loses his best friend. He secures a knighthood, but his wife is shot. Tommy becomes a Member of Parliament, but his cousin loses most of the family’s money.

Throughout the seasons of the show, you can see the life fading from Tommy’s eyes. Worse things keep happening, but Tommy’s reactions grow dimmer. Having already been fractured, his heart completely turns to stone. What’s fascinating is that Tommy knows all of his – and yet he keeps on going.

“I thought I could just march and march,” he confides to his brother. “I just kept up that fucking left, right, left, right, left, right, fucking rhythm. I’d never have to stop.” Tommy Shelby survived the war, but he never came home. Ever since he went, he’s just been marching. Left, right, left, right, left, right.

For most of us, life isn’t as traumatic as for any one member of the Shelby clan, but, sometimes pain-induced, sometimes out of habit, we too can just keep marching.

Why are you marching? What’s your destination? Where will all that left-right lead you? Think about the last stop before you take off. You might find you can’t stop once you get going.

Accumulated Truth

If you were to broadcast your every thought in real-time, none of your relationships would last. In the moment, the truth is often hidden from us. It takes time, distance, and reflection for our personal realities to emerge.

You can yell, “You never work out with me!” but you might realize they’re actually there for 33% of the sessions, or that they don’t do it for a reason that has nothing to do with you, or that you don’t really care about the workouts but the time spent together. The lack of shared workouts is the symptom at the surface, but diseases aren’t eradicated by treating their symptoms. It is the root you must get to, and roots always sit deep. It’ll take some digging to find them.

Truth is like amber. It forms in layers. You keep adding spoonfuls of clarity, and eventually, you’ll have a stone that weighs heavy enough to make it worth sharing. That’s when you call. “Hey. I’ve accumulated some truth. Is it okay if I share it with you? I’d love to know what you think.”

A second pair of eyes marks the second stage, because truth isn’t just slow to build, it’s also subjective. With another perspective, another layer will take shape, and the amber keeps on growing. Eventually, it’ll break into many parts, each sitting in a different timeline – and with a different group of people. “That was true in middle school, and those people still believe me to be this person.”

The collector is a master of stones. Tending to each maturing rock, they know when it’s time to pass it on; share it with another person, a new group of people. The goal? Each gem must shine bright when it’s spread. The collector must polish, polish, and polish some more – so that each piece of amber stays clear, each kernel of truth perfectly visible inside.

The truth is important. Don’t rush it. Let it accumulate, and share it when it’s ready. Refuse to speak anything but truth, and your relationships will last forever – but that’s for another day.

Don’t Envy the Dancers

When a group of street dancers appears in public, swirling away without a care in the world, people take notice. Some people stop and watch in awe. “Wow, look at those skills. Amazing!” Others giggle and sneer. “Haha! How embarrassing.”

Men in suits try to make their longing stares look like they disapprove of the ruckus. Deep down, they wish they too could throw away their (strait) jackets and bust a move without giving a damn.

Don’t envy the dancers. Dance with them. At the very least, let them inspire you. Unlike staring, dancing in public takes courage. So don’t scoff. Wave. Nod. Smile. Respect the free spirits. Maybe your spirit deserves some liberation too – and maybe that liberation does not depend on what other people think at all.

Why Read?

Four of the books I’m reading couldn’t be more different from one another:

  1. Brief Answers to the Big Questions is Stephen Hawking’s final book, a collection of his thoughts about black holes, time travel, the Big Bang, and other important scientific ideas and concepts.
  2. The Midnight Library tells the story of Nora, a depressed woman who wants to die but instead finds herself in a strange place: a library that offers her the chance to live all the lives she has missed out on.
  3. Effortless is Greg McKeown’s follow-up to his 2014 book Essentialism, the former being about how to find and focus on what matters, the latter about how to make your most important work feel, well, effortless.
  4. Mastermind shows how we can level up our thinking Sherlock Holmes-style, thanks to an improved understanding of the brain and human memory.

That’s a pretty diverse selection, don’t you think? And yet…

One of the questions in Hawking’s book is “Will humans survive on earth?” An obvious threat to the answer being “Yes” is climate change which, should the polar caps melt down completely and the Amazon forest disappear, could “make our climate like that of Venus: boiling hot and raining sulphuric acid, with a temperature of 250 degrees centigrade.” In other words: unlivable.

Reading Hawking’s lines, I thought: “Wait a minute. Haven’t I heard this before?” Sure enough, in the opening chapter of The Midnight Library, Nora has a discussion with her librarian about rain – and how to get away from it. The librarian suggests:

“Well, maybe you should be an astronaut. Travel the galaxy.”

Nora smiled. “The rain is even worse on other planets.”

“Worse than Bedfordshire?”

“On Venus it is pure acid.”

Huh. Two very different books. Two very similar ideas. Later in The Midnight Library, it is the librarian’s turn to drop some knowledge:

“Want,” she told her, in a measured tone, “is an interesting word. It means lack. Sometimes if we fill that lack with something else the original want disappears entirely. Maybe you have a lack problem rather than a want problem.”

This, in turn, reminded me of a line in Effortless about gratitude:

“When you focus on what you lack, you lose what you have.

When you focus on what you have, you get what you lack.”

A few pages ahead, McKeown opens a chapter about noticing with a reference to Sherlock Holmes famous chiding of Dr. Watson for his inability to recall the number of steps in the house they share, which he uses, of course, to make a broader point:

“You see, but you do not observe.”

Finally, since Mastermind’s subtitle is “How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes,” guess how she introduces the titular role model? Yup, she uses the exact same story:

Holmes: “For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”

Watson: “Frequently.”

“How often?”

“Well, some hundreds of times.”

“Then how many are there?”

“How many? I don’t know.”

“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”

Cognition, and therefore recognition, is the most fundamental human activity – and therefore the most fun. Puns aside, all day, our senses perceive, our brains process, and our bodies chemically reward us based on what we discover. Reading regularly and widely simultaneously is one of the best, if not the best, way to keep your mind flourishing by keeping your synapses firing and forever forging new connections.

Why read? Imagine throwing up ten random books, which then stay suspended in mid-air. Your x-ray vision pierces each one, and, quickly, a golden web of connections appears between them. You don’t just see. You also observe.

Assembling pieces of string on a cork board into a bigger picture isn’t just for geniuses and private detectives. It’s how we learn, practice our unique capacity for intelligence, and embrace our natural curiosity. No two books are so different that you couldn’t relate them to one another, and relating – to ideas, to ourselves, to each other – is what humans do. That’s why you should read.

Compliance Is Optional

James May once had a funny conversation with a Californian and a German about losing your license. The Californian asked, “What happens if you drive anyway?” and the German said, “Oh no, you can’t do that.” The Californian went, “Sure, I know, but, you know, what if you did?” and the German replied, “No, it’s not possible. You have no license.” Trying it one last time, the Californian said, “Yeah, but let’s say it’s late one night and, hell, you go for a…” “IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO DRIVE WITHOUT A LICENSE!!!”

Of course, there is an answer to the Californian’s question: Depending on the circumstances, you might have to pay five to 365 daily rates based on your salary, so up to one year’s worth of pay. As a prominent example, soccer player Marco Reus once had to pay more than half a million euros for this exact transgression. The worst case scenario? You go to prison for a year. That’s a broad spectrum of consequences, but one that’s severe enough to probably warrant following that particular rule.

Others, however? Not so much. I’m always shocked at how much leeway the German tax system offers for paying your taxes late. It’s something to the tune of 1% of the owed sum per month that you’re overdue. There’s a limit to how many months you can be late, but if you owe 10,000 €, paying 100 € for another month of time to organize the money, should you not have it (you really should, by the way), feels like the bargain of the century.

The point we often forget – especially in Germany – is that compliance is optional. Every rule can be broken. There will be consequences, but it is those consequences we should weigh when choosing our behavior, not what the rule is. With the exception of physics, rules are not the boundaries of reality. They are dotted lines others have painted, and at some point, most dotted lines will – and some must be – crossed.

There’s something more important in here than what could be seen as encouragement to jaywalk, and it’s something Elon Musk has not only always practiced but that he started feeling particularly strongly about when dealing with the Federal Avionics Association at SpaceX: “If the rules are such that you can’t make progress, then you have to fight the rules.”

If a feature (or lack thereof), rule, or process doesn’t make sense, don’t sit there in quiet suffering. Call it out! Say, “This process is dumb. It should be changed.” Sometimes, it’ll be up to you to spearhead the change. Most of the time, it won’t. Often, it won’t happen at all, or at least not for a long time. But you’ll have done your part.

Don’t just tolerate the system. Shape it! Remember compliance is optional, and be mindful of reason and consequences. Those are the forces that matter, especially when something feels impossible. Like, you know, driving without a license.


You wake up. You stretch. You yawn. You turn around a few times. Eventually, you get up. Slowly, you shuffle towards the shower. You get dressed, but you take your time. You’re not in a hurry. The day starts at 30% throttle. You arrive at work at 9:30, the later end of the acceptable spectrum.

One opened email later, everything is different. Your boss sent a reminder about the important, looming deadline. Suddenly, it’s time to hustle. Full throttle. 110% if you can, for you already lost time in the morning. A frenzy of calls and called in favors ensues. Run Forrest, run! Faster! You skip lunch. By 3 PM, the sea has calmed down somewhat. The project is back on track. The presentation was sent for review.

With the ball back in someone else’s court, you throttle down to 50%. You cruise into the sunset. Then, a last-minute request at 6 PM. Damn! Back to 80%. Finally, you close your laptop and return home to your comfy, 30% pace.

Rethrottling is exhausting. It turns every day into a potential rollercoaster. Sometimes, it’ll accelerate when you least expect it. When you react to every sharp turn as it occurs, you’ll bump your head many times. Your adrenal glands won’t thank you either. Energy is not always available upon request. What if you feel like throwing up already, but the loops keep coming?

Intentions work best when you give them an expiry date – and stick to it. “Tomorrow, I’ll take it slow.” “Thursday is my full effort day.” There’ll always be emergencies, but most to-dos can be moved around like dominos in a chain. Push over the big ones on days where you feel strong. Save some small ones for when you didn’t sleep well.

Pick your throttle setting early in the day or, better yet, the night before. Don’t let your car accelerate at will. Have your say. It’s still you behind the wheel. Navigate life at the pace you set, not the one external forces suggest. After all, a long drive lies ahead – and you have the power to turn on cruise control.

The Cost of Switching Waves

Nothing happens. You push a few buttons. You hope for momentum to come around. Still nothing. You start. You go out and do stuff. You make things happen. Suddenly, the buttons you pushed click into place. The universe gets to work. You get incoming calls, leads, and invitations. Now you must decide: Stay on the path you took from your doorstep to here or switch waves?

Life is an endless cycle of push and pull. Unfortunately, both come with a lag so that, usually, you’ll end up getting everything at once – and then nothing. One month you’re swamped with social opportunities and obligations, the next you’re bored and no one’s available. One quarter none of your five products sell, the next you can’t find enough of either to meet the demand. The question is will you keep trend-surfing, or create your own wave and ride it until the last bits of spray dissipate in the sand?

In the long run, push and pull is exhausting. You pull so hard you throw your back out, only for the closet of opportunities to topple and bury you underneath its crushing weight. You push and push, but then two inches before the soil gives way to the diamonds, someone waving another shiny object makes you turn around. Think twice before jumping waves. The incoming one may be higher, but it might collapse right underneath you as you take the leap.

Walking 10 miles a day is not exciting, but its momentum is relentless. Undeniable. After 100 days, you will have walked 1,000 miles. That’s worth a lot. Better yet, it breeds contentment. The tug-of-war of desires disappears.

Forge your own path. Summon your own wave. Be wary of even the best-intentioned changes of plans. That’s how you surf into the sunset – one inch at a time, but each inch moving in the same direction.

Start From Quiet

How often do you sit in a quiet room, by yourself, before you take the next step? It could be any step: buying bread, heading to the office, opening your laptop to send an email, powering up your gaming console, reading a book, making dinner, taking a nap, calling a friend, writing a blog post, or submitting your vacation plans to your boss.

That step can begin one of two ways: from quiet or from noise. Nowadays, our default is to start from noise. There’s a TV playing in the background or a constant murmur of co-working small talk. We inject music, TED talks, and podcasts right into our ears. Open spaces have turned up the volume on office buzz. How often do we choose our own beginnings? When do we get to set the terms of the next stage without some stream of interference drilling into our consciousness? Whenever we pick quiet.

You can make quiet, you know? Find it. Go for a walk. Sit in an empty room. Close the door. Take off your headphones. Escape the chatter. It is remarkable what two minutes of quiet do for the brain, and how different a new beginning feels when you decide to make it from nothing rather than something – because that’s what you’re doing, you know? All day, you turn nothing into something, but if the intention isn’t clear, it’ll fall right back to ashes.

Protect your moments of setting intentions. Create the space to choose them deliberately. Take off from quiet, and you’ll find a much stronger wind beneath your wings.

Cheer Anyway

When Hans Zimmer tours Europe, more than half of his orchestra comes from Odessa, Ukraine. This time, for a concert that should have happened more than two years ago, only nine out of 20 make it to Germany.

In his opening statement, Zimmer explains: “The women were able to escape the war and come to play here tonight. The men have stayed behind and are fighting for their country.” The room breaks out in applause.

“This first piece we’re playing, I would like to dedicate it to these women. It’s called ‘Wonder Woman.'”

The people in Ukraine fighting for their country will never take in the massive screen, tinted blue and yellow. They won’t know pictures of them are fading in and out as the orchestra plays. They’ll never hear the epic song swelling to its crescendo, and they won’t see the drummers, violinists, and cellist – all women – shining bright in the spotlight as they take center stage.

Fierce. That’s the only way to describe it all, but the people it’s for won’t see it. When the piece ends, once again, loud cheers and roaring applause. Some 10,000 Germans and Hans Zimmer, clapping for Ukraine.

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who think their cheering won’t matter if the cheered on don’t witness it, and those who cheer anyway.

Cheer anyway, for you never know how the universe may choose to relay your message, and just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean we can’t feel it.