The Undetermined Flight Paths of Bees

When you take a bee and release it at a random, unknown location, it will follow a three-step process. First, it’ll fly straight or whatever course it was on before you captured it. Second, it will fly slowly to orient itself, frequently changing direction. Finally, it will zip straight back to the hive as soon as it has figured out the terrain. Fascinating, right? Bees seem to have a spatial memory similar to ours.

The study in which this pattern was discovered even includes graphics of the bees’ flight paths. Whether you look at those squiggly lines or a fly zooming around beneath your ceiling, you can’t help but wonder: How much of these paths is predetermined? They fly so fast! Do they know where they’re going in advance?

Without turning this into a big argument about the existence of free will, if you had asked the late Jamse Carse, author of Finite and Infinite Games, he’d have given you a resounding “No.” Nature is “irreducibly spontaneous,” Carse contended, a phenomenon humans deeply struggle with.

Nature is “perfectly indifferent” to our culture, to everything humans think, believe, assert, or do, yet it is not chaotic either. There are rules and patterns in nature, some of which we can even observe — like the flight paths of displaced bees — but how those rules and patterns come together, what their next outcome might be, is totally unknowable.

Initially, this might sound depressing. Like we are powerless pawns, living on a hostile planet, floating around in indifferent space. Actually, however, nature doing its own thing is our very source of freedom, Carse asserted: “Our freedom in relation to nature is not the freedom to change nature; it is not the possession of power over natural phenomena. It is the freedom to change ourselves.”

Our freedom is not a freedom over nature, Carse said, but “the freedom to be natural, that is, to answer to the spontaneity of nature with our own spontaneity.” Only if we surrender to nature’s nonchalance can we truly engage with it, seeing our interactions with it as a playful back and forth of two parties intending to both listen and speak, each taking their turn. “The more deeply a culture respects the indifference of nature, the more creatively it will call upon its own spontaneity in response,” Carse wrote.

In that sense, our lives are not questions. It is not a matter of finding our purpose, slotting right into the perfect place reserved for us by the universe. Life is a matter of creating our purpose, of saying, “Wow, that’s awesome, nature! Now it’s my turn. Look what I’ve got to offer!” Not like we do in a contest where the goal is to win, but the way we might dance to a wedding band, hoping each song will lead to yet another. Our lives are a game in nature, and the goal is to keep playing.

So no, no one knows where the bee will fly next. Not even the bee. Until it makes a call in the moment, the entire universe will be watching — yet it will always find its way home in the end.

The Vacation Was Too Short

When I picked up some pizza the other day, one of the waitresses had just come back from vacation. “How was it?” a fellow waiter asked. “Too short, like always,” she replied.

The vacation was too short. If every employee received a dollar every time another employee said this phrase, ironically, no one would have to work at all. It is the German post-holiday response, and though it will at times be uttered playfully, it almost always contains a kernel of a sad truth: Most of us don’t like their jobs enough to look forward to going back to them.

Forget loving your job. That’s a unicorn at the end of a rainbow. But shouldn’t we at least enjoy our work enough to not want to actively avoid showing up for it?

I’d love to run a study that lets people extend their vacation ad infinitum. If you could forever tack on another week at the beach, playing golf, or hiking through the mountains, would you ever stop? I think most people would never come back to their job at all. They’d simply find other things to do with their time. They wouldn’t just laze around, but they’d choose activities very distinct from their current job.

“If you need to take a vacation, never come back,” Joel Salatin said. But quit your job just because the vacation wasn’t long enough? That’s not feasible, is it? You can, however, watch out for it. “The vacation was too short.” The phrase is a great indicator of your relationship with work, and if you keep finding you do not want to return to the office (be it physically or digitally), you might want to consider pushing for a change.

How long is long enough? What’s a reasonable vacation? Well, however long it takes for you to feel excited to get back to work! And if that’s never the case, then it most likely means you’re working on the wrong thing to begin with.

As one of those rare unicorns who absolutely love their job, I can get antsy quite fast. Three days, four days, five days, and I’ll surely have come up with some new idea I want to tackle. That’s the other end of the spectrum. The line past which we become workaholics. Most people, however, will never get there, and the ones who do so because they are anxious about work rather than excited by it have yet another set of problems entirely.

Plus, it is easier to contain your excitement, to patiently wait a few more days, than it is to hide your misery and disappointment. The former will shine nearly as brightly when you do get back to work; the latter will slowly poison every minute of every day.

I know the world isn’t perfect. We can’t all be figure skaters and painters. But it is possible to find joy in whatever you do, even while you wait for something better to roll around. Be mindful of “too short” vacations. Unlike your holidays which never seem to be enough, their effect will one day add up.

The Best or the Worst?

I once overheard a conversation on a plane. An elderly lady asked a young professional about his life.

The guy explained that he had moved from the Netherlands, where he was from, to Malta. He had a little flat near the beach, but he spent most of his time at work traveling. He would spend a day or two in Malta, fly from client to client for three days, then maybe visit his parents in the Netherlands for the weekend. Then, he’d repeat the whole thing the next week.

What do you think about that lifestyle? How does it feel to read this description? Does it sound like it could be fun? Does it sound exhausting? Whatever your answer, let it serve as a little reminder: The best and the worst are usually subjective. Whether something is heaven or hell is up to us much more so than whether it’s cloudy or hot.

The man on the plane felt he was living the dream. “It is the best life! I get to fly around all the time, then spend time at the beach, and I can still go home whenever I want!” Two rows back, I started getting stressed just listening to him enumerate his various destinations.

Despite what it often feels like, you do not have to comply with society’s, or a group’s, or even just one other person’s verdict of what constitutes the best or the worst. You are free to create and live by your own scoreboard, and you need not justify your ranking.

Maybe you’ll even throw out the labels “best” and “worst” altogether, but that’s for another day. After all, even the most enthusiastic traveler can only take one plane at a time.

Permission to Sing

I don’t like karaoke, but I think my perception is beginning to change. Why don’t I like karaoke? For the same reason many, maybe most people don’t like it: I can’t sing.

Yesterday, my girlfriend sent me a video of her friends at karaoke. The song was Lose Yourself by Eminem. Now that I would sing. Or rap, rather. What makes this song different than any other song? I like it. I like the lyrics. I like trying to get the lyrics right, and I don’t mind messing them up a bit in front of other people.

I realized that karaoke is not about showing off. People don’t go there to try and look good while they sing. In fact, for some, how bad everyone is seems to be half the fun. No, karaoke is not about singing will – it is about giving people permission to sing.

“Here is a safe space. Sing to your heart’s content. Nothing else matters.” Most people can’t sing, and yet most people love music. Ergo, most people would love to be able to sing but usually not enough to actually pursue that dream. Karaoke fills the gap. It offers a space for singing independent of quality, and to millions of people, that space is priceless.

No amount of listening to music or seeing the pros do it well can make up for my inability to sing. I can either commit to the long and arduous path of learning to sing or shut up and enjoy music in various settings.

Thanks to karaoke, however, there’s now one more thing I can do: I can sing without needing to improve, at least on occasion. I can enjoy the act of singing without having to turn it into a performance art or profession, and whether I use that option or not, it provides tremendous relief to both the mind and soul.

The more I think about it, the more I wish we had things like karaoke for other forms of art. Write-e-oke or Paint-e-oke, perhaps. “Here’s some paper. Just write. Write badly. It’s fine. We all write badly here. We read our work afterwards for fun, and then throw it in the trash.”

Without safe environments to practice when we aren’t good yet, many of us will never make it to good in the first place. To some extent, that’s part of the deal, but to another, we’re making improving harder than it needs to be. In fact, even if improving isn’t the goal, practicing some art is usually still worth it. That’s what we need “okes” for.

I’m not saying I’ll immediately jump on the next opportunity, but I think I’m ready to give karaoke another try. I’d really like the permission to sing.

Not Here, Not Yet

There’s a Fatboy Slim song called “Right Here, Right Now.” Some 15 years ago or so, one of my favorite football freestylers used it in his video, “Timo Is Back Part 3.” It’s a catchy song, and, like Timo’s video, it makes a statement: This is me. I am here. This is what I’m willing to do – right here, right now.

It’s a song that takes a stand, just like Slim has with his electronic music since the late 90s, helping to usher in what’s called the “big beat” genre. After Greta Thunberg gave her world-famous speech at the UN in 2019, at some point using the phrase “right here, right now,” Slim even remixed his old track with parts of Thunberg’s call to action, further reminding us: Climate change is here today, and we must stand our ground now.

There’s a corollary to this phrase, however, and it holds equal assertive power: “Not here, not yet.” When Timo published his video, he also said: “I’m not done.” So did Slim in remixing his track. Still making music 30 years later? Not done. Not here, not yet.

When you have an opportunity to sell your business but feel there are things left undone, challenges you must face yet uncompleted, maybe the time is not here, not yet. If you ship your magnum opus and a follow-up springs to mind six months later – not here, not yet.

Sometimes, “I’m not done” is more powerful than “I’m taking action.” The former affords you a more restful approach. It allows you to admit you don’t necessarily know what you’ll do next, but at least you already know you’re gonna do something before hanging up your cape. Some roads in life, you must walk as far as you can go. You’ll know the end when you get there, and until then, “not here, not yet” is enough.

The other forgiving element of “not here, not yet” is that it allows you to admit you aren’t ready. In the movies, heroes often use “not yet” as a phrase to steady themselves, to find patience, and to prevent the final crescendo from commencing even a second too soon.

When will the gladiator see his dead wife and son again? Not here, not yet. When can Clark Kent reveal his powers to the world? Not here, not yet. When can the Scots finally attack the English? Not here, not yet. It’s okay to need more time. Just hold out a little longer. Tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow you’ll be stronger.

It’s good to stand your ground. We should yell “right here, right now” more often. Most of the time, however, it is enough to not give up. To keep going quietly. That does not take a bold declaration. You don’t have to ruin your voice over it. All you need to do is whisper “not here, not yet.”

Trust Is a Micro-Habit

My plane back from Portugal was delayed. The staff were already rolling their eyes at the gate, and after much back and forth, three queues of people standing so close together it might have been just one finally piled down the stairs and towards the aircraft.

To everyone’s further dismay, we found a bus waiting at the bottom of those stairs. 10 minutes in a metal box at 37 degrees centigrade? Not great. Before I even got on, however, there was another obstacle: While everyone around me just boarded the bus, a flight attendant suddenly half-grabbed my suitcase in passing, stopping me in my tracks. “You have to check this bag!” she almost yelled at me.

“What? Why? What’s going on?” You might be familiar with this now common ritual: Airlines allow you to take a small suitcase and, say, a backpack into the plane without checking in any luggage, but then when everyone actually does that, they renege and randomly tell people to check their bags after all.

This has happened to me before, and when they do it at the gate, that’s fine. Sometimes, they’re smart and even offer something in return, like earlier boarding. After all, this is a different deal than the one you had made. Someone nabbing my suitcase at the last second, however, was new to me.

After the lady slapped a tag on both my bag and my boarding pass, she mumbled something about dropping it “somewhere near the plane,” and I thought that did not sound like a convincing plan to actually get my bag back to Germany. I asked her again, and she said to leave it at the stairs going up to the plane. Mind you, however, that in the meantime, about 20 people passed us, happy as clams to enter the bus with their luggage in tow. Needless to say, I did not like the smell of the situation.

After I got on the bus, I noticed only about three other people had tags on their bags. Great. The flight attendant tried to nab another lady as she walked by, which ended in a screaming match and, I believe, the passenger in question retaining full authority over her suitcase.

While I was boiling on the bus, I had an idea of questionable ethics: “What if I just remove the tag? No one will be any the wiser. I enter the plane, put my bag in the overhead compartment, and shush.” I ended up debating this move in my head the entire bus ride but ultimately concluded I shouldn’t do it.

When I actually got to the plane, however, I couldn’t spot anyone taking the bags at first. As I was almost on the stairs up into the cabin already, I saw someone. A few people handed him their bags, but in that moment, something in me snapped, and I held on tight to my little black trolley.

In the end, I snuck it by the flight attendants in the aisle, and while I was waiting in front of my seat for my turn to store my luggage, I instinctively pulled off the tag last-minute. There was a lot of space, by the way. I put my suitcase in the compartment and kept my backpack under my seat.

Later, another guy came to store his bag, and a lady noticed he had a tag on it. “You should have checked this bag!” she told him. The guy just pretended not to understand her. “English? Portuguese? This should have been checked in! But it’s ok.” She didn’t sound convinced.

The lesson of this story is that trust is a micro-habit. It is often established in the details. Had the first lady been more friendly, I might have complied. Had the people at the gate been more proactive about getting people’s luggage early, I might have complied. Had they asked for more people’s suitcases than a random sample of only a handful, I might have complied. The list goes on and on.

There are a thousand small tweaks to this scenario, and it probably takes less than a handful of them for me to hand my suitcase over rather than sneak it into the cabin. It’s fascinating, really. How you say something. When you say it. The look on your face. The faintest details can make someone insta-adjust their behavior because, deep down in their gut, they no longer trust you (or now suddenly do).

In this case, after several blows to the glass, the circle of trust was broken, and once it is, especially for a short-term transaction like a plane ride, there is no way you’ll rebuild it in time.

The micro-habit aspect of trust is not something you can practice consciously. You’ll rarely observe its minute details in time to adjust them on the fly. No, this kind of trust-building must flow from a larger, more conscious decision to build trust on purpose. To hand out some trust advances as part of whatever you’re trying to accomplish. Only then will the right micro-behaviors follow. The smile at the gate. A friendly tone in a difficult situation. And so on. Your subconscious will take care of the rest.

We tend to make a big deal out of trust, and it is. A loud commitment, a big promise, those things absolutely matter. But we often forget about the little, yet in sum equally powerful, trust-building interactions that happen along the way. Just because we don’t control these aspects as much does not mean they are irrelevant. In fact, they sometimes make or break trust altogether, on occasion overshadowing, or even negating, the big promise they were only supposed to aid.

Every now and then, remember: Trust is both a macro- and a micro-habit. Oh, and don’t sneak your suitcase on the plane.

10-Minute Head Start

This morning, I woke up ten minutes before my alarm. I felt rested enough, so I decided to get up. By the time it rang, I had already brushed teeth and done half of my workout. As an overall result, I somehow left the house a solid 20 minutes earlier than I had yesterday.

There’s a variety of factors that needs to come together here, but the point remains the same: A 10-minute head start now might get you much more than a 10-minute advantage later. You will not believe the difference starting ten minutes early will sometimes make, if not for the time table then at least for the feeling. That’s where its true power lies, if you ask me. Emotional momentum.

It is more impactful to know you’re ten minutes early than to be ten minutes early. You feel more confident and more relaxed at the same time. You have a buffer to soften any unexpected turbulences, yet usually, that buffer will go towards doing a better job than you would have otherwise been able to do – once again, if only by emotionally preparing yourself for what’s next.

You won’t always get a 10-minute head start, and you definitely don’t always need one. But at a time when you can easily afford it, energetically speaking, try it. My gut tells me you won’t long to go back to just-in-time logistics.

It Might Be Training

When I was suffering under Lisbon’s 36-degree scorching sun, I thought that, next time, I should probably visit in April or October rather than July.

When I returned home, however, a heatwave brought temperatures in Munich to, you guessed it, 36 degrees. And the 32 degrees we had the few days before? Those felt much more bearable than before I had left as well.

We don’t always know what our trials are for right when we’re going through them. If all you can find as an introvert is a sales job, maybe that’s not a mistake. Maybe it’s training for something bigger later.

The next time you wonder, “How did I end up here?” consider it might be training. You won’t always need all the stamina you’ve built, but it never hurts to be prepared.

Never Too Old

On our 12th grade school trip to Italy, most of us excessively played Pokémon Red and Blue on the bus, the same games we had played when we were eight years old.

On Youtube, someone commented that, even as a grown-up, she still often listens to the songs from kids’ TV shows, like Pokémon, Digimon, or Beyblade. I just did the same on my way to work.

On the plane back from Lisbon, I saw a man in his 70s reading the latest edition of “Lustiges Taschenbuch.” What translates as “funny pocket book” is a monthly collection of Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse comics that has been published by a German company for over 50 years.

If a 70-year-old man can enjoy a comic that was made primarily with 8-year-olds in mind, the takeaway is clear: You are not too old. No matter what you like, want to do, or whose company you prefer, you are not too old.

You may have to surf more carefully when you’re 64 than you would at 18, and you’ll probably discuss different topics with people in their 20s at 40 than you will at 30, but when it comes to art and entertainment, a good chuckle will always be a good chuckle.

Whenever the invisible rules of society feel like they are restricting you from doing something that’s not necessarily a social activity at all, you are misinterpreting the rules. Those limitations aren’t there. They only exist in your head.

Do not feel ashamed, embarrassed, or silly for nerdy hobbies and nostalgia for childhood preoccupations. Usually, those are more authentic, satisfying, and honest than whatever layers of identity we add when the demands of society already interfere with our inner compass.

Now where is my Game Boy? I have some Pokémon to play.

Reckless Abandon

There’s a Blink 182 song called “Reckless Abandon.” It’s about the youthful, somewhat desperate desire to make the most of summer. It could be a bunch of high schoolers or college kids singing it. The lyrics start out hopeful enough with the chorus:

On and on, reckless abandon
Something’s wrong
This is gonna shock them
Nothing to hold on to
We’ll use this song
To lead you on

This group of kids would give anything and everything to “have a summer that they could call a memory full of fun.” Based on what they end up doing, however, the whole thing quickly goes awry. Turning up the music way too loud? Sure. Making fun of your friend’s mom? Okay. But breaking windows, throwing up from alcohol, and feeding the dog hash brownies? Hmm, maybe not.

The next time the chorus repeats in full, the true outcome of their overzealousness is revealed:

And break the truth
With more bad news
We left a scar
Size extra large

The song reminds me a lot of entrepreneurship, especially some of my early heroes. When I first discovered them, be it via their book, blog, or some interview, their mission always seemed clear and coherent. The longer I followed them, however, the more I got the impression that they, too, didn’t know what they were doing or, at the very least, were recklessly abandoning projects left and right.

“This new social media platform is the best! I’ll post there every day! Follow me!” Six months later? Deserted. “I now have a podcast! I’m writing a book! I’m starting this new company!” One year later? Abandoned, abandoned, abandoned.

When you’re starting as an entrepreneur, excessive “thrashing,” as Seth Godin calls it, is part of the deal. You have no clue and no skills, so you must try a lot and give up most of it. The goal, however, is to do this early so you can focus sooner rather than later. Yet, even very successful entrepreneurs keep doing it. Why?

The only projects we must recklessly abandon are the projects we recklessly began. If you hadn’t jumped on Twitter for all the wrong reasons, your motivation to tweet wouldn’t have faded within a week. If you start a podcast only because everyone else has one, how long do you think you’re gonna last?

To some extent, letting go is necessary. At some point, however, dropping projects, things, and people becomes reckless. Your job is to find the line between the two — and then walk on it.

Don’t run through life leaving scars wherever you go. Thrash early, then settle. And if you need a reminder, every once in a while, crank up Reckless Abandon.