When You Feel Like You’ve Failed

Every year, I set a theme. In 2022, it was “Joy.” My goal was to enjoy every day, to find joy at work, and to prioritize the experiences and people that make me happy.

About ten months into the year, I somehow felt that I had failed. The pressure of the recession was getting to me. Money wasn’t great. Nothing I tried at work seemed to work. I wasn’t as present in my relationships as I would have liked to be.

Eventually, I resigned. “Okay, Joy has come and gone. Now it’s time to Focus.” I had some responsibilities to take care of, and it was time to face them head on. Wake up early. Work hard. Do whatever was necessary to ensure a good future. That sort of thing.

One day, while I was sad that I hadn’t lived up to my theme, I thought back through the year, and I realized: I hadn’t failed at all.

I went on four trips with my girlfriend to some far-away and close-by places. I showed my sister around London and met with two longtime friends in France. I did my first escape room. I wrote my second book. But those are just the big, obvious things you can see. The ones where it’s obvious that they came with some (or a lot) of happiness.

More than that, though, I did a lot of small things, and that’s where a theme really becomes a theme. I made time to read almost every day and, as a result, read over 30 books. I worked every day on my book, a project that wasn’t going to make a ton of money, but that was important to me — and I took as much time as I needed to complete it properly. I deleted most of my social media, and while I still waste a lot of time on various apps and the internet, I do feel a lot more calm and less frantic. Plus, finally, for most of the year, I didn’t let my money woes get to me — and that too is an accomplishment.

It’s easy to throw the whole cake into the trash when the frosting looks a bit off. To be your own worst critic and dismiss even the obvious feats you’ve clearly accomplished. It takes work to look for the silver linings in the remains of a sand castle. To find the pieces of gold you hid along the way, and remember why you put them there. But that’s work worth doing. It gives us a more accurate picture of reality and, more importantly, the fuel to keep going — to pick up the shovel and build another castle.

Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, and don’t forget your successes just because you can no longer feel them.

Average Is the Default

After 18 months of writing, I looked back and realized: I had done a lot of different things, but none of them were all that great. I guess it’s common for young people starting a career, especially a self-employed one. Still, I lacked focus. And, like Seth Godin, I concluded that “average is for losers.”

If I wanted to build something truly meaningful, I couldn’t just jump on every side project suggestion or idea that sounded vaguely fun or promising. For the rest of that year, I prioritized Four Minute Books, the project that felt the most original and, thankfully, it worked out financially speaking. Had it not, I would not be here today.

Of course, the first thing I did once the site paid comfortably for rent and food was to…lose focus. I went right back to doing a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and just a tad of something else too. For a while, that seemed to work out on paper, but this year, more than five years later, I once again had to conclude: I did a lot of average stuff, and average is for losers.

So now, once again, I’m prioritizing Four Minute Books — with one key difference: I think it’s okay to be average. I fully expect myself to be a loser.

The thing about average is that it’s just the default. By definition, most people will always be closer to average than extraordinary, whether it comes to money, books read, sprinting time, or social media followers. Without average, extraordinary wouldn’t exist. It’s the average that makes outliers matter — two sides of the same coin, one the yin to the other’s yang.

Therefore, average is nothing to feel miserable about. It’s not something to feel anything about at all. Average is just normal and, even if you’re trying to make something great, you’ll spend many days doing boring stuff until one day, maybe, you’ll become an “overnight success.”

When you accept average, you don’t need to change the world in a year. You don’t need to make a gazillion dollars, and it’s okay if your website relies on annoying ads so you can pay the bills. Without average, there’d be nothing to work towards. No desirable future that you must assemble brick by brick.

I feel a lot better about Four Minute Books now than I ever have before. I don’t have a big five-year vision about how we’ll revolutionize the book industry. Maybe that part might come later. Maybe never. For now, I’m just happy that we can save a lot of people a little bit of time each day. That we can give people permission to read, even if they only have a few minutes to spare. That we can help people learn where, otherwise, they might just have watched another cat video on TikTok.

The website has a good amount of users, but other than that, it’s pretty average. It looks average. It has ads on it. We send out a normal newsletter, and often, we promote products that lots of other people promote too. That’s not to say that those things will never change. In fact, I’d like them to. I’d love to have a stellar looking website, zero ads, and the best, fully fan-supported newsletter in town — but right now, that’s not where we’re at. We’re at average, and that’s perfectly okay.

Accept that you’re starting from average, and you can focus on the daily work required to turn a 5 into a 6, a 6 into a 7, and a 7 into an 8. No delusion, no dramatization. Just good old hard work and the hope that, one day, you might cross the finish line of great — and on most days, that — average — is more than enough.

On the Edge of Your Seat

If you asked me for my best writing tip, there’s really only one that I’ve never seen elsewhere, at least not in that form: Write on the edge of your seat.

I don’t mean whipping out a sharpie and scribbling on your office equipment, of course. What I mean is: Go where the tension wants to lead you. And, yes, how you sit on your chair is a great indicator as to where that is.

When I park my whole behind on the seat and lean back, I’m way too comfortable. I might sluggishly type along or mentally shut down. When my butt barely stays on the chair, I have to lean forward, lean into the story, and really “get in there” to see what’s going on — and what needs to happen next.

That’s what we do when we’re interested. Intrigued. Brimming with curiosity. At one point in King of Queens, Douglas makes an enticing proposition to Arthur, his live-in father-in-law, and with a twinkle in his eye, Arthur says: “Well, to that I say, I will lean forward with interest.”

That’s exactly what happens in the cinema, isn’t it? You’re not nestled into your chair when Batman is hanging off a cliff. You’re holding on to the rail or seats in front of you, ready to jump into the screen! That’s the spirit in which we should make art.

A lot of writing advice will claim to tell you how to “keep your audience on the edge of their seats.” Actually, it’s really simple: You have to be on the edge of your seat while you’re writing. Or recording. Or drawing. That’s whose level of involvement you should worry about. If you’re 100% engrossed in the story, your fans won’t be able to help it: They’ll also lean forward with interest.

Whatever you do in this life, stay on the edge of your seat.

Someone Who

I’m 31 years old.

I know someone who had a baby, and the child died after only three days of being alive.

I know someone whose dad died, suddenly and rapidly, from coronavirus in only his 50s.

I know someone who mis-swallowed a shrimp during a cooking class, went into a coma, and then died two years later, still in this vegetative state.

I know someone who discovered they had a brain tumor when they were 31, the same age I am.

I know someone whose best friend died from covid when they were both in their 20s.

I know someone who walked into their house after school when they were 14 years old and found their father in his bed, having died in his sleep at just 52 years old.

In some cases, these people I know are my family, former roommates, or good friends. In others, they are remote acquaintances or loose connections. But I know all of them on a personal basis. I have seen them in the flesh. I have shaken their hand or given them a hug.

The older you get, the more you realize: Death is all around us — and so is tragedy. As you keep up with an ever-growing network of people throughout your life, the more “real shit” you witness firsthand. The statistics we all know about but think won’t affect us begin to kick in. One in two people will get cancer. One in three deaths ties back to cardiovascular problems. One out of 100 covid cases will die, and soon, 10% of the global population will have had it.

When we’re young, we want to turn every day into a win. Make it big! Go all out! Score that big sale, party on a Wednesday, or drop way too much money on an awesome vacation! We try very hard to make days epic and outstanding and memorable.

Then, we get older, and while we experience more joy, we also witness a lot more pain and suffering — and our definition of “good day” begins to change. I’m only in my 30s now, but I’ll already gladly settle for “no tragedy today.” No one died. No one was hurt. No one was diagnosed with cancer. In essence, “no bad news is good news enough.” The day can be boring, and I’ll be very happy.

Chances are, you also know “someone who,” and, most likely, you’re “someone who” to somebody else as well. The world is a calmer, kinder place when we keep ourselves humble through each other’s example, and it is much easier to be grateful when you can settle for the little things.

Life is fragile. Life is precious. I know someone who’ll remember that.

We Live In Nature, Not Off It

In the central yard of my office building, there are some hedges. Just some shrubbery here and there, about three feet high, popping out of the ground. It’s nice to walk through the square and smell them. The extra green makes the place feel kinder and more alive.

Actually, it’s not the shrubbery that’s “extra.” It’s the building around it. That’s the addition. Where, by default, there was nature, we planted a house — and a massive one, in this case. Thousands of square-meters, reaching five floors high into the sky.

Just because we roll out cities made of concrete and glass like carpets covering nature’s living room floor does not mean we now live anywhere other than in nature. Everything we erect is in nature. Nothing humans build is separate from earth. Everything happens on the same blue planet, and without it, we’d have no sandbox to do anything in at all.

The longer you live in a big city, the easier it is to forget this. To feel like nature is a separate county. A place you can only reach after a one-hour drive. Actually, you only need to look up. The sky is always there.

We feel guilty about bulldozing nature, of course. That’s why we add some greenery back in. Still, it’s not quite the same, and that’s why many people leave cities behind on weekends. Cities emit a sense of consuming nature. That we feed off it, drain it, and, to some extent, the data shows that’s exactly what we’re doing.

When you run through an open meadow or hike up a mountain, however, you remember: We live in nature, and we do so at all times. Smart cities try to maintain that status. To blend with nature rather than overwrite it. And the cities who most ignore this principle? Sooner or later, nature herself will remind them. Pompeii comes to mind, but there are others.

We can’t fix all our mistakes in a day, and there’s no telling how much longer earth will tolerate us, but for now, let’s remember to remember: We live in nature, not off it, and where we can’t align with this truth, we can at least give thanks for it — and be a little more mindful to not erode the hills on which we sit.


No matter how much yesterday went off the rails, another morning is always another chance to bounce back. Maybe not bounce back the way you did when you were 20, but bounce back nonetheless.

You just had an eight-hour break from life. Whatever happened last night is well on its way into the past. You should feel your energy tanks somewhat restored. When you get up and move a little, blood will start circulating. Have some coffee or tea. Take a shower. Get dressed.

By the time you’re done with your “basic human maintenance,” your outlook on the day will have both widened and brightened — even if it’s still dark outside.

It only takes a second to sit up in bed, roll out of it, or toss your comforter aside, but that second makes all the difference. Keep the springiness in your mornings, and you’ll always have a springboard to bounce back from.

Is It a Plus or a Minus?

On most days, I don’t shower in order to not feel dirty. I shower in order to feel clean. It may not sound like it, but there’s a difference.

If you’ve ever wasted away in bed for a few days, perhaps because you were sick, and then at one point, you couldn’t stand your greasy hair anymore and slowly lugged yourself into the shower, you took care of what Frederick Herzberg would have called a “hygiene factor” — pun present but not intended.

Herzberg developed a model of work motivation called “the two-factor theory,” and it stipulates that, in order to feel happy in our jobs, two things must come together: a lack of dissatisfaction and a presence of satisfaction. Hygiene factors are elements causing dissatisfaction if they’re not tuned correctly, whereas motivators are the elements causing satisfaction when they occur, and individual elements can be both hygiene factors and motivators at the same time.

Job safety is mostly a hygiene factor: You want to know you can still go into work tomorrow, but unless we’re in a recession, that’s not enough to make you jump with joy. Responsibility is mostly a motivator. A job without it where you do simple, repetitive tasks, can still be not-dissatisfying — but in order to take genuine pride in our work, we must first stick our neck out for something (or someone).

In other words, you need to both eliminate the minuses and add the pluses. Merely doing one or the other won’t do. In that sense, the most powerful determinants of our happiness at work are the elements doubling as both hygiene factors and motivators. Our relationships with colleagues, for example. If you enjoy seeing your team every day and have plenty of fun little interactions, that’s a huge reason to look forward to arriving at the office. If your teammates make your life a living hell, however, it not only makes you scared to go to work, it also prevents you from doing your work altogether, and much dissatisfaction ensues.

Income is another double-edged sword: You need at least a certain amount of it to get along financially and feel that your dignity is intact, but the more you get even well beyond those things, the more accomplished you’ll feel. It’s a sign of how good you are at your job and how much your firm values you, so the more, the better!

When I shower in the morning, I feel clean, fresh, awake, and ready to tackle my day. It allows me to get my first win before 8 AM, and it’s super easy to achieve.

I find the two-factor theory applies well beyond the confines of work. I can use the confidence I get from showering just as much when I’m trying to have a productive day cleaning up around the house, and if my weekends are so crammed with social activities that I barely have time to decompress, that makes them dissatisfying.

The next time you want to make a change, even a small one like taking a shower, ask yourself: Is it a plus or a minus? Am I doing this out of fear or out of love? Is it negative feelings I’m trying to get rid of, or are there some positive ones I hope to attain?

You need clarity about the pluses and minuses in your life, because only when you know salt from pepper can you add the right spice at the right time. Too much salt will spoil the broth, but add too little pepper, and it will taste just bland.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll make some soup — but first, I have to take a shower.

Smart, Rich, and Right

There are people who peddle multi-level marketing products like there’s no tomorrow. They don’t understand what they’re selling, and they also don’t care. Whether the cream makes your skin smoother or more dry doesn’t matter — what matters is that you buy it. They will talk at their targets until they cave and hand over the cash, and they’ll do it all day long. A person like that will make boatloads of money, but they are neither smart nor right.

Others, instead of handing garbage from one person to another, devise their own crafty scheme. They make online courses about something they have experience with and build a clever funnel around them that gets people to click, watch, and buy. But if the primary goal is to fill their own pockets rather than truly help the customer, the outcome is not too different from the salesperson: You might be smart and rich, but you’re still not right.

Sadly, our deductive capabilities often tie themselves into a knot under the glare of large piles of money. We see someone who’s rich and think they must be smart for being loaded — and of course who’s smart must also be an ethical person. Actually, these three “features” are largely disconnected, and if anything, we should look for them from the ground up, not try to guess at them based on only the tip of the iceberg we can see.

If someone’s a good person, I couldn’t care less about their bank account or IQ. It’s nice to be around someone who shows empathy, care, and kindness, even if they can’t be your empire-building buddy. If someone’s right and smart, sometimes, their morals and their wits will be at odds. It’s hard both to live and see that struggle, but I can admire anyone who doesn’t let greed knock them off their horse.

Usually, in the long run, money works out well for those who fight to be both smart and right, but even when it doesn’t, it provides a kind of comfort being rich alone can never buy — because when it comes at the expense of smarts and ethics, you’ve sacrificed something no amount of dollars can replace.

Don’t automatically associate wealth with intelligence, and don’t think being smart makes someone right. Do your best to be a good person and to learn as much as you can, and hopefully, one day, you’ll have built the pyramid brick by brick: First you were right, then you were smart, and now you also happen to be rich.

Is It a Gift or a Demand?

There’s a scene in Hawkeye where one of the mobsters holding our titular hero hostage loses his cool on the phone. “What’s going on?” “I bought my girlfriend Imagine Dragons tickets for Christmas,” he says. “That’s so sweet!” “Well, now she told me she wants to go with her friend instead of me.” “Look on the bright side: Now you don’t have to go see Imagine Dragons.” And then, the mobster reveals the true nature of his present: “But I love Imagine Dragons!”

If you give someone tickets to a concert you really want to go to but that they don’t care much to see, you’re not doing them a favor — you’re making a demand. Not a demand on their wallet, perhaps, but a demand on their time, and that’s often worse.

The nature of a gift requires thinking about the recipient more so than about yourself. If you’re not ready to do that thinking, to practice real empathy, then both you and your connection will be better off without any offerings at all. If you do make the effort, however, what gift you choose will barely matter. They’ll be able to tell you thought about it, and that is enough.

While this is an important rule for Christmas, birthdays, and many other joyous occasions, it is also a good filter to run other people’s generosity through — especially in the world of business. Many people will offer you “great deals” which, often, turn out to be thinly veiled demands. “Did they really think about what I need here? Or does this benefit them more than it does me?”

Going to concerts together is a great bonding experience, but it’s also empowering to know your better half can step back and let you enjoy something they don’t understand in peace. Double-check your gifts before you give them, and don’t let anyone take advantage of you under the guise of generosity.

7 Lessons From the 7th Year of Running a Book Summary Business Cover

7 Lessons From the 7th Year of Running a Book Summary Business

My business has lasted as long as the average American marriage — seven years. The level of commitment surely feels on par.

When I launched Four Minute Books, I had no idea what it would grow into. All I thought about was how to get better at writing and maybe make a few bucks along the way.

Seven years later, in what has been, undoubtedly, my hardest year in business yet, it turns out that this little book summary site is, so far, the only consistently growing revenue generator. Here’s a chart contrasting its revenue vs. Medium and Write Like a Pro, my writing course.

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