The Uncertainty of Noodles

When humble noodle-maker Po becomes the surprise-elected savior of the village, aka “Dragon Warrior,” his first day learning kung fu doesn’t exactly go well. Po fails every single exercise, prompting Master Shifu to claim that, where there wasn’t before, there’s now “a level zero.” Worse, all the other fighters mock him behind his back, and he overhears every word.

As Po stress-eats peaches on a lonely cliff that night, Master Oogway pays him a visit. When he asks him why he’s upset, Po blurts out: “How’s Shifu ever gonna turn me into the Dragon Warrior? Maybe I should just quit and go back to making noodles.”

“Quit, don’t quit. Noodles, don’t noodles. You are too concerned with what was and what will be,” the master says. “There’s a saying: Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”

Overthinking comes in many flavors. We may regret the past, worry about the future, or endlessly brainstorm about an immediate challenge — none of which lead anywhere. But if we’re simply sitting down on our path, we might as well take a proper break, not fritter it away with fretting.

Whether we relax and breathe or take our next step, being present means accepting the uncertainty of noodles. You don’t know when you’ll have your next portion. You can’t say whether you should make them for a living. You’re not even sure which kind you prefer! All of that is okay — because none of it matters all that much. The important part is walking the road that’s in front of you, and refueling whenever you need rest.

Sometimes, when I debate with myself in my head, I suddenly hear Oogway’s voice: “Noodles, don’t noodles.” It always makes me chuckle. “Alright, yeah, that train of thought is going nowhere. I can just let it go.”

The twist, of course, is that everything in life can be noodles. As with actual pasta, we each prefer different kinds, flavors, shapes, sauces, and sizes at different times — but they’re still noodles. On some days we’ll have some, on other days we won’t.

Whatever fruit you’re holding in your hand right now, remember: Today is a gift, and it’s the only gift you can truly redeem. Everything else is just noodles — and if you choose to enjoy it, a peach will be just as delicious.

Giving Up Is Also Giving

Sometimes, it’s harder to not do something than to keep going. We don’t want to lose that piece of our identity. But what might we gain if we let go? Time? Money? Inner peace?

Giving up isn’t always an act of generosity, but it is always an act of giving. It takes energy to say no. To extricate ourselves from habits running like well-oiled machines. Winding down projects, processes, and routines requires work — work we might want to avoid like any other. Why not just maintain the status quo?

The answer is that if the status quo no longer serves us, whatever the reason may be, it needs to make way for something better. Often, “something better” starts with less. First, we must carve out some space. Wipe the whiteboard clean so we may begin anew. The wiping is a task like any other, but if the end result is more clarity, freedom, or motivation, we should tackle it with gratitude and vigor, not put it off like it’s our own funeral.

Sometimes, our most brilliant parts can only be put into place once we’ve buried another — but just because it feels like sacrifice doesn’t mean letting go isn’t working.

It’s Not Gravity That Keeps You on the Ground

As she accompanies the recently orphaned Rose to the UK in search of her long-lost brother, Lyta Hall ends up talking to the handsome man in the plane seat across the aisle. They go back and forth a bit, and the man claims Rose is lucky to not be alone, to have Lyta by her side.

“No, I know, and friends are great but…”

“What?” the man asks.

“When you lose your parents, you suddenly realize it wasn’t gravity keeping you on the ground all this time. It was knowing you were someone’s daughter. Or sister. Or wife, in my case.”

As it turns out, Lyta has lost someone too — and the man sitting so close to her she could touch him is her dead husband. Then, she wakes up.

Psychologist Alfred Adler believed that “all problems are people problems.” As a corollary, almost everything we do is, in one way or another, for others. Even the things we believe we do for ourselves — pursue more money, fame, or freedom — are actually highly incentivized by other people. Chances are, we want to use the money to help our family, the fame to make friends, and the freedom to spend time with the people we love.

Humans are herd animals, be it at the local or at the global level, so nothing any individual human being does happens in a vacuum. It all happens against the backdrop of the rest of humanity — or at least your local community.

In many ways, our being inextricably linked to others keeps us humble. Whether it’s a genuine drive to make your daughter happy or a desperate attempt at proving your dad wrong, the immense power our relationships wield over us is awe-inspiring. How often do we try and fail to escape their controlling grasp?

What Lyta says suggests that, perhaps, we shouldn’t try so hard to be independent. Maybe the fact that we can barely do anything alone is the entire point. There is nothing more devastating than to lose one’s most treasured relationships, and the behavior of some who do often illustrates that truth. When people commit atrocious crimes because they feel they have “nothing left to lose,” it is actually, “no one left to lose” — so they might as well try and take by force what other humans seem to withhold from them.

Don’t feel bad for being so beholden to the people around you. It is the way of things. Everyone struggles in and with their relationships, yet there is much we can do to improve them. When we build a secure foundation of strong connections, we can even thrive thanks to — and perhaps only thanks to — our relationships.

Working with each other, for each other, that’s what being human is all about. What good is it ridding yourself of your crops if everyone around you is a farmer? What are you gonna talk about over dinner?

It’s not gravity keeping us on the ground. It’s our relationships — and that’s exactly the way it’s meant to be.

Pick the Right Rabbit Hole

We think of rabbit holes as these topics that excite us, where we can spend hours jumping from one link to the next, driven by curiosity. But that’s not the only kind of rabbit hole.

When we sit down to work and open a certain application, that too can be a rabbit hole. As soon as the window appears, you might “get lost” in your inventory planning for an hour or more. The same applies for particular web browsing profiles, bookmarks, or creative applications, like Word, PowerPoint, or a folder of Google spreadsheets relating to a distinct project.

In corporations, they use a term called “workstream.” A standalone activity, like “Marketing on Twitter,” or bigger milestone of a project, like “Testing Process Implementation,” could be a workstream. Often, multiple people have to spend long amounts of time contributing to one workstream until it can be closed or automated. If you’re a solo creator, “Write Novel” might be one workstream, and so could be “Pitch Media Outlets.”

The word “stream” as in “river” is a good way to think about it: As soon as you jump in, you’ll keep floating for a while. The stream could be calm one day and tumultuous the next, but regardless of whether you’ll have to paddle aggressively or can just drift along, it’ll take you a while to get back out of the water.

In a bad case scenario, you’ll pick the wrong workstream — the wrong rabbit hole — each morning and get lost in the wrong direction for hours. Then, after lunch, you’ll be scrambling to get back on track. Ideally, you’ll pick your workstreams deliberately each time. “What most needs my attention now?” Open the right door, and then, feel free to lose yourself in the task.

It is worth taking five or ten minutes each morning, just to sit and think about which stream to jump into, which rabbit hole we should be approaching. It is marvelous how singularly focused our minds can become — let’s make sure we direct their lasers at the right targets.

The Comfort Zone Is Where Work Gets Done

In the very first post on this blog, I argued that “you must leave your comfort zone to find happiness.” While I still believe this is somewhat true, eight years later, I have a much more relative view of this idea.

Back then, it was the only advice 23-year-old me could give — probably because it’s advice for 20-somethings. When you’re young and don’t know what you want out of life, venturing out into the world and trying many things is a great idea. In fact, it’s your only good option. If you stick with the first thing that falls into your lap, be it a job at a car dealership, a career as a lawyer, or a business degree, chances are, you’ll live the dreams of those who set you on that path rather than your own.

So yes, while it is uncomfortable to reject what our families and friends want for us only to look as if we have no plan as we explore the unknown — because we do have no plan — it is necessary if we want to find authentic happiness in our work.

I spoke to a 22-year-old this week. She is bright, hardworking, and has all the opportunities in this world — but she is also still searching. “Have faith that everything will come together.” That was the only advice I could give. She was already exploring, but since nothing had clicked yet — and perhaps at 22, nothing needs to click yet — what good would it do for me to yell, “Just pick something already!” at her? She probably has enough people in her life doing that already.

What I didn’t know back when I started writing was that, when things eventually do come together — and they will — you must go back home. Back to the comfort zone. Because the comfort zone is where work gets done.

A routine. A quiet home. A predictable week, month, and year. That’s what we need when we want to dedicate ourselves to output rather than throughput. How are you going to keep writing novels until you succeed if, every month, you’re busy chasing some new business idea, some new writing platform to try? You can’t. You’ll lose yourself in all these distractions, and once you know writing novels must be your mission, that’s all they’ll ever be. Distractions.

While I think it’s great that we can now work from anywhere, I also finally realize why being a digital nomad is mainly the dream of 20-somethings: They don’t really want to work. They want to travel. Meet people. And perhaps, along the way, sample a few careers. When you’re in your 20s, that’s probably exactly what you should do! I wish we wouldn’t try so hard to slap this fake veneer of productivity on top of it. A nomad’s main task is traveling, and even with all the apps and tools we have nowadays, organizing travel can still easily balloon into a full-time job. How could they build a software company along the way? The truth is most people can’t, and that’s perfectly okay.

When I slowly grew roots as a writer, no less than three years into the job, mind you, I deliberately chose to become a digital settler. I set up my base in Munich, a city which I loved full of people I loved, and I’m happy to say I haven’t moved apartments in over four years. I haven’t traveled all that much since, but I’ve been rather productive, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The necessity of a comfort zone only becomes clearer when you add age, family, and kids. If some 25-year-old told my friend Mike to “Do one thing every day that scares you!!” he’d laugh him out of the room. Mike has two little kids and lives by the ocean. That’s probably enough to worry about on any given day. And whenever he’s not making sure his boys don’t drown, cry, or start a fight, he’s busy putting food on the table and paying his rent, trying to do it all in a way that is true to himself. Is that uncomfortable enough yet?

Choosing a career path is a responsibility. It hurts much more to fail at something you’re passionate about than to get mediocre results while half-trying a whole bunch of things you don’t care all that much about. The latter is necessary to find the former, but once you do, it’s time to grow up.

Choosing your friends, family, and loved ones on top of your work — and sometimes instead of it — is another responsibility 20-somethings must rarely fully come to terms with yet. But that, too, is important.

So, by all means: Go out there and try as many things as you need to try to find something you want to sink your teeth into. Say goodbye to the comfort zone. Once your heart feels full and the pull of a specific project, passion, or person feels too strong to ignore, however, please come right back. In the long run, we need you firmly in your saddle. We need you warm, well-fed, and comfortable, so you may share with us your greatest contributions.

Leave your comfort zone to find happiness, but then return to it to spread the joy you brought back.

The Illusion of Control

Standing under a blossoming peach tree, Master Shifu cannot fathom how Po, an untrained panda, is supposed to defeat the great enemy fast approaching the Jade Palace.

“My old friend,” his mentor Oogway says, “the panda will never fulfill his destiny, nor you yours, until you let go of the illusion of control.”


“Look at this tree, Shifu. I cannot make it blossom when it suits me, nor make it bear fruit before its time.”

“But there are things we can control,” the clever Master says. “I can control when the fruit will fall!” To prove his point, he kicks the tree, and peaches rain down from the sky. “I can control where to plant the seed! That is no illusion!”

“Ah, yes,” Oogway acknowledges. “But no matter what you do, that seed will grow to be a peach tree. You may wish for an apple, or an orange — but you will get a peach.”

Ultimately, even the Master must admit that, right now, all he can do is trust that the peach is the right fruit at the right time, for the peach — or the panda, in this case — is the only fruit he’s got.

If control seems to elude you, maybe the situation is not one you’re meant to control. Pause in your conversation with fate. Perhaps it’s time to listen rather than speak.

Another kung fu master once said: “Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it.”

When control becomes an illusion, let go of it. Sometimes, we really wish for an apple, but all we’ll get is a peach. It’s not always easy to give up the path we hoped to take in order to walk on the path that is meant for us, but as long as we have time to eat a fruit in peace, there’s no reason to doubt we’ll arrive at the right destination.

Be water, my friend.

Staying for the Story

My dad has a big meeting on Tuesday. He’s been talking about it for months. Higher-ups will be flown in from overseas, there’s a minute-by-minute schedule for the day-long event, and half the company has been busy prettying up the company site for weeks on end. Flowers were bought. Walls were repainted. It’s the whole nine yards.

Having been at home for a few days, I tried to decide when to go back to Munich, and I realized: I really want to stay for the story he tells when he comes back from that meeting. I’ve already caught myself imagining it several times. “I wonder what’s gonna happen! What will Dad say at dinner the day after?”

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. My mom, my sister, and I have been part of this story for the better part of a year. Every week, dad would share with us their latest preparations. We would talk about mistakes in the making and whether the insane degree of attention to detail would actually be rewarded. We had a good laugh too. I even helped him a little bit with his 12-minute presentation — of course I want to know how the story ends!

My friends are asking me when I’m coming back to Munich. There’s a bunch of things I need to do there. I decided, however, to stay until Thursday. I want to be here for the conclusion of this saga.

When you care about someone, there’s no shame in staying around to see how their story unfolds. In fact, it’s one of the more honorable things you can do. Their story will become part of yours, and by the end of it, you’ll each have a new, distinctly colored piece in your life’s puzzle.

Often, the best gift you can give someone is to be present for the big moments in their journey. That’s why we attend weddings — and why you should absolutely stay for the story.

Practical vs. Feasible

“Never praise, never rebuke,” I recently read in a book. Instead of telling people that they did a good job or are “so great at X,” we should merely thank them for their contributions. We should also refrain from admonishing them. “You didn’t deliver on this project” or “you suck at baseball” will do more damage than good, the authors claimed.

The idea is that both praise and criticism are judgements of other people, and whenever one judges another, the relationship becomes hierarchical. “Vertical,” in Adlerian psychology. Regardless of what our judgement is going to be, by judging in the first place, we elevate ourselves “above” the other person, and that’s not right.

Ideal relationships, according to Adler, are “horizontal.” People treat each other as “equal but different.” We know we’re not the same in terms of height, taste, or tennis skills, but we all possess the undeniable value inherent in each human life — and it is on that basis that we should engage with others.

Therefore, instead of praising or reprimanding those around us, we should merely thank them for the contributions they make to our lives and work, the book argues. We can express respect, joy, and gratitude, but we must not judge.

Now, what’s the problem with this idea? The theory is sound. The aspiration is noble. And the advice is highly practical. Unfortunately, practical is only half the battle. The other half is whether it is feasible — and in this case, the answer is “Probably not.”

We often demand practical advice. We want our boss to give us straightforward answers, and we don’t like podcasts where figureheads drone on in the abstract, never committing to a certain path they’d recommend. Practical advice has become somewhat glorified in recent years, and while it’s important that we instruct each other based on real-world needs, it is also important that the instructions actually fit into our real-world lives.

“I love this Youtube channel about making your own clothes! It’s so practical!” Yet, that same person may not have manufactured a single item of clothing because, according to the Youtuber, you also need this special tool and that hard-to-get item, and you must buy 17 different materials in order to make it all come together. It’s practical but not feasible, and unless you’re willing to make big sacrifices of time and money, you’ll never get the same result.

This is the dangerous allure of all the dazzling “look what I made” videos on TikTok: The people making these videos are often covert professionals more so than hobbyist amateurs, but the casual presentation of their work makes it look like anyone with a bucket of paint and a piece of string can create a masterpiece.

In the same vein, it’s easy for “never praise, never rebuke” to look like a great piece of advice, but it’s nearly impossible to follow on an everyday basis. Sure, if I could download this habit into my brain like they do in The Matrix, it would be highly useful, but — and the movie also made this abundantly clear — humans aren’t machines.

Every now and then, I’ll say “Good job” before I even realize it or fly off the handle after someone really drops the ball on something, and you know what? Unless you explain that whole theory of horizontal relationships to them in detail, concrete feedback is most likely good enough. It usually gets the job done in the moment, especially if immediate adjustments need to be made. That’s also practical and, better yet, it is entirely feasible.

Be careful when seeking advice. Unlike with humans, it is fine, even essential, to judge it, and if it’s only practical, not feasible, it is perfectly okay to give it a pass.

Above the Clouds It’s Always Sunny

Over the last two years, I’ve taken a dozen or so flights to and from London, a place where the weather is often dreary. As the sun rarely graces London with its presence, my planes going home would often take off amidst a slight drizzle, the kind of weather where it might be 8 AM or 4 PM, and you couldn’t tell the difference. Grey skies, gloomy clouds — whatever atmospheric setting might work well for a good crime novel, basically.

It was only after many flights, though, that I realized something fascinating: A few minutes after takeoff, it was always sunny. As soon as the plane penetrated the cloud barrier, there she was. Shining as bright as ever, presenting the loveliest of days to anyone willing to make the journey.

Even then, it took a while until it hit me: The sun shines every day. Just because the people in London, or the Eifel, or any other place shrouded in clouds can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. The sun is up there, doing its thing — and so should we.

The sun has been shining for about 4.6 billion years. We only have to do it for 30,000 days. Can we get up every morning and spread an equally warm glow? I think we can. Every day when we wake up, we are given a choice: We can adapt to the fog around us and bring our mood in line with it, or we can remember the sun is up there, beaming as bright as ever, and decide to do the same thing.

When you have a mission, a vision, or a dream, don’t let anything knock you off course. Apply effort little by little, no matter how small your progress each day. The setbacks, detours, and challenges? Those are just grey clouds and drizzle — they may keep you from reaching your target for a while, but in the face of your brilliant radiance, they can never subsist for too long.

Be kind and persist. You’re the sun, after all — and above the clouds it’s always sunny.

The Power of Making a Wish

Long before it was released, The Rings of Power was the subject of much controversy. Could a retail company like Amazon be trusted with the legacy of what might be history’s most popular fantasy franchise? Would they try to just throw money at it and glaze over a poor story with dazzling effects?

Hardcore Tolkien fans were skeptical. This didn’t improve when the Amazon executive team chose JD Payne and Patrick McKay as showrunners, two relatively unknown screenwriters. The more information was released, the nastier Tolkien OGs’ comments got. “There were no Black elves!” some yelled, causing a massive racism debate over casting choices before even a single second of the TV show had aired.

On September 1st, 2022, the first two episodes were released, and lo and behold…most people liked the show! Barring minor criticism for its pacing, reviews were generally positive. The plot was solid, the cinematography epic, and the visuals and music simply stunning. Each character serves a purpose, and most actors play their roles well.

How did they do it? Under all this pressure and negativity, how did the Amazon team manage to make the most expensive show in the history of television, set in the one of the most complex fantasy universes, and yet still (mostly) please fans across the board? The answer includes a lot of people making the right decisions at the right time, but it starts with nothing more than a wish.

Five years before the show was released, just after Amazon had bought the rights to make a prequel to Lord of the Rings, long-time fan and rights-auction winner Jeff Bezos was sitting in his kitchen. His son, a fellow Tolkien nerd, walked up to him, looked him in the eyes, and said: “Dad, please don’t fuck this up.”

Every decision that followed was the result of a father trying to make his son proud. That’s how the right people ended up in the right chairs, how storms of premature criticism were weathered, and how good decisions were seen all the way through to their conclusions.

Never underestimate the power of making a wish.