Walking on Ice

Entrepreneurship is a lot like walking on ice: It’s always a tad slippery, and you just try your best not to fall on your face. So are art, business, parenting, and, actually, most of life.

You can have fun on ice. Look at figure skaters! Remember your last snowball fight! But it helps to always keep the slipperiness in mind. When we walk on ice, we walk slowly. Humbly. We know the next slip is coming. That the ice might crack any second.

The person who obliviously runs onto a frozen lake full steam ahead is the person most likely to drown. Better to inch forward, test the frozen waters, and keep your mistakes reversible. Don’t bet your entire business on a single marketing campaign. Don’t be too confident in your latest creation. Keep your kids in view and your feet off the slippery slope, and you’ll survive the winter just fine.

Soon, spring will melt all ice away, and you can run again at full speed.

Responsibility vs. Manners

“The card didn’t work. Try again.” The young woman slowly started sweating. There were at least 20 items sitting on the conveyor belt. She tried the card again — and again — but both the cashier and I knew where this was going. “You have any cash?” “No, no cash, sorry!”

And then, with another faint, “Oh, I’m sorry about this,” she ran off like a deer that heard a loud noise, leaving the mess for someone else to clean up — but not the cashier, who also felt this did not belong in her wheelhouse. Instead, she called another store worker, waited for him to put all the abandoned groceries into a basket, then finally processed my two-item grocery haul.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed a good five minutes of twiddling my thumbs in this store that seems to be afflicted with some “checkouts always take forever” curse. The delay didn’t bother me, but it did make me think: Your manners begin where your responsibility ends.

If I made a cashier process 20 items I ultimately couldn’t pay for, I would return them to where they belong — or at the very least offer to do so. Similarly, with more customers waiting, as the cashier, I would just grab a basket and put the stuff in there rather than call for some colleague and have everyone wait some more. The easiest way to satisfy your customers is to always be doing something they can clearly identify as an attempt to help.

Nowadays, there’s always a way to make your hands look clean. “The data set was wrong? Oh, I got that from somewhere else. Not my mistake.” “The kid hit another kid? Oh, not my fault, I’m only here to pick him up from school.” “My card doesn’t work? Oh, then I’ll just leave these here, since I don’t own them.”

But just because you fulfilled your responsibility on paper does not mean you’ll get a pat on the back. Where are your manners? Where’s your willingness to go beyond what you’re supposed to do? If all you do in life is clock in and clock out, you’ll always get off the hook, but everyone will also know that’s what you’re doing — and no one ever gets a prize for coloring exactly inside the lines.

Don’t forget your cash and cards when you go to the store, and don’t expect us to applaud you for doing the minimum. Show us your manners and earn our respect.

Turn Letdowns Into Leadership

When somebody you care about lets you down, the easiest thing to do is to stew in your emotion. It’s only natural that we want to feel bad for ourselves, and it doesn’t help our case when we are right. Yes, your best friend really did forget to call you on your birthday — but what real benefits can you draw from feeling angry or sad about it? Few, if any.

The question is what can you do with that disappointment besides sit in it and daydream? For one, you can probe it. How much of your disappointment is even real? What’s the other person’s fault, and what is really one of your own shortcomings in disguise? When a notorious slacker at work fails to submit a report on time, that’s just another link in a very long chain of unmet expectations. Why didn’t you see that coming? Perhaps you just didn’t feel like looking for it this time.

Habitual letdowns are one thing, unrealistic expectations are another. We often expect miracles just because. We can’t plan for the worst everywhere, and sometimes, our hopes run high in places where they have no chance of ever being fulfilled. Why should your first submitted manuscript be accepted by the first publisher you send it to? Mostly because you’re excited about having completed a hard project — but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any further obstacles around the next corner.

Only once there is an objective improvement you can see to be made should you voice your concerns. There are plenty of times we can better our relationships this way — by sharing our feelings, suggesting a new communication habit, letting others know how we hurt and why — but for every one scenario when speaking up matters, there are three, five, or even nine when it doesn’t. Most of our problems happen in our heads and should be managed there.

The best use of disappointment I can think of, for now, is to turn letdowns into leadership. Rather than lower your status relative to the disappointer by taking a hurt-victim-stance, rise to the occasion. Rise up high and well above, making new fuel for a better future from a batch of sour grapes.

When your team doesn’t come through on an important deadline, salvage what you can, then rally them into succeeding on the next project with a pep talk for the ages. When your spouse forgets the milk, make up a new recipe that doesn’t require any. And when your best friend bails on you at the last minute, change your plan to something that’ll ensure you’ll still feel that you had a great day.

Like any other emotion, disappointment is a signpost, and it rarely points at other people. Read the directions carefully, make the most of the journey, and be forgiving to yourself when you lose the way.

Home Wasn’t Built in a Day

You can’t furnish a three-room flat in a week, let alone a single day. Each piece of furniture presents a whole journey to be taken, from matching tastes to researching models to figuring out your budget, organizing the actual thing, and testing different placements.

You can skip all of that and bulk order pre-compiled sets from IKEA, but then IKEA is what your flat will feel like — and no matter how much they make it look like it, IKEA isn’t home.

It’s a different process on a different timeline, to go from being an individual in a tiny, borrowed space to being the owner, operator, and curator of a home, and if you want yours to be a space rather than just a place, you’ll have to lean into that process.

The older we get, the more timelines extend. It’s ironic that we must spend time to earn patience, but it’s also why the last symphony we compose may very well be our best. Like that famous city of great historic significance, your home won’t be built in a day, but the more days you spend creating it, the higher the chances it’ll become something more than bricks and stones.

Behind the Pain

The first run is always a bad idea. After my first 5K in three years, my legs hurt for three days. When your thighs and calves are sore, the temptation is to go lightly on each step. “No pressure. Let’s not upset these delicate little walking sticks right now.”

Ironically, the more careful you are to move as little as possible, the longer your muscles will hurt. It’s as if you’re reaffirming their right to be upset. Meanwhile, something interesting happens when you fully extend your legs, stretching them through the discomfort: Behind the pain, you’ll find power, even relief. The muscles settle into their fully engaged position, and while there is tension, there also is strength.

Repeat the process a few times, and you’re re-educating your muscles. Instead of handling them with kid gloves, you’re showing them: “Look! You can do this. It’s not that hard.” Soon enough, the soreness subsides, and you’re back on the treadmill.

Pain only doubles when we shy away from it. Lean into it, however, and it’ll quickly be cut in half. Find the power behind the pain.

Room for Art

A good friend of mine lives a normal life. He has a stable job, lots of spare time, and enjoys the same things most people do, from watching a good movie to playing sports for fun to having a drink or two with his friends.

In other words, my friend is not what you’d call an eccentric, but if you walk into his office, you’ll spot a glass cabinet that holds something special: From his first Pokémon card to his latest video game, my friend has kept all of his collectibles over the years, and now that he lives in his own flat, he has chosen to display and preserve them at the same time.

Between the tinted glass to protect the trading cards from sun damage and the neat arrangement of all the items, as soon as you see the display, you’ll know: Here lives a man who makes room for art — and in today’s average-cluttered world, that is by no means a matter of course.

Art is for everyone because it’s a form of human connection. When we look at art, however we may personally define it, we feel less alone. Unfortunately, in an ever-busy, almost fully data-driven world, art gets commoditized and marginalized, pushed to the sidelines in public and filed under also-ran in our private lives.

The problem is that art feels optional when it’s not. What’s obvious in our real-world connections — when we don’t interact with other humans, we become lonely and depressed — feels like a nice-to-have when that connection isn’t as tangible — but the connection still works when it’s a painting you’re looking at, and the emotional rewards are just as real.

When you can’t or don’t want to interact with other people — and we all do at times — you can still engage with something beautiful that’s human-made. It’s a different form of connection but ultimately another part of our social balance, and an essential one at that.

If you’re an artist, you’ll feel that “art is banned to the bench” almost wherever you go. Youtube is laden with productivity hacks, make money fast schemes, and formulaic-format videos in every niche. Offices, coffee shops, and AirBnBs all look the same. On writing platforms, you can publish a you can publish a run-of-the-mill listicle and get lots of likes, but post an artsy piece and… crickets. Even the music you listen to and the titles you see in airport bookstores all repeat the same words and themes, and if you’re the kind of artist who tries to make a living from their work, you’ll likely know why: What’s popular pays the bills, but supplying more of what’s popular rarely feels like making art — especially not the kind of art you’d be making if someone gave you enough money to retire and free creative rein.

If you’re not an artist, you might not notice the absence of art in your life for months, but sooner or later, you’ll feel it — and then miss it almost everywhere you go. You’ll yearn to see an indie movie for once instead of yet another blockbuster. You’ll start thinking coloring your own t-shirts with your kids is actually a good idea. Why throw more money down American Apparel’s throat? Whatever specific shape your creative oxygen tent might take, room for art is something you’ll have to make. It’ll rarely find its way into your life on its own, and even when it does, it’ll usually be in too short supply to really achieve its desired effect.

If you’re an artist, making room for art means giving the world what you want. It’s okay to pay the bills first, but if you toss your creativity off the wagon altogether, why choose the artist’s professional struggle to begin with? Every now and then, make something for the sole reason that you want to make it. Do not look up industry trends. Refuse to do research. Let something shimmering emerge fully from your heart and brain alone. Your wallet might not thank you for it, but your soul most certainly will.

If you’re not a practicing artist, making room for art means carving out life-space for your quirks. In one way or another, we’re all far from average, but if we don’t let our more strange ends breathe from time to time, we’ll emotionally suffocate altogether. That can mean going to Comic-Con dressed up like Pikachu as much as it can mean watching a four-hour video of someone painting the figurines for their Warhammer tabletop game, but it always means looking for, expressing, and satisfying the creative urges for connection only you seem to feel — because ultimately, it’s never just you. There’s always another soul out there who feels the same, and perhaps they have already created the art that’ll connect the two of you across time and space.

Whether you keep your Pokémon cards in a custom display, take a Sunday afternoon to write something few people will read, or go out of your way to visit an exhibition you’d not usually visit, please: Make room for art. It’s a more important part of life than we give it credit for, and the stakes have never been this high.


Where are you? Look around. What’s the weather outside like? Is there someone you know close by? Perhaps even someone you love? Are you surrounded by strangers?

Breathe. No, really. Breathe. Recalibrate. Slowing down is a choice you can make at any moment.

Thinking can be an escape, just like food, sex, drugs, entertainment, or exercise — and it’s just as poor of a remedy if relied upon excessively. When you lean on something too much, it breaks. So take a break from leaning!

Don’t open too many tabs in your mind. Don’t clog your cognition to the point where you have to do a full reboot. Recalibrate often. Let your RAM and processor cool down.

It might not seem like little one-minute-pauses matter, but they do. Once you get up from your mattress in the morning, within seconds, it’ll return to its original shape. Your brain won’t always decompress as quickly, but even if it takes a few minutes, the regained calm and focus is well worth the investment.

Free Time Travel

If you ever wish to travel back to simpler times, chances are, you can do it within three miles of your house — and free of charge. I just did it yesterday.

The restaurant was Italian, but as soon as I stepped in, I felt transported back to the tex-mex bar I used to go to when I was 16. The interior design of every “modern” bar in the late 2000s and early 2010s welcomed me with open arms, complete with the fake-everything elements we were so impressed by back then, from “white marble” stones to “oak wood” beams, all stuck to the same white plastered walls that were really holding the place together.

Cheap LED lighting strips ran along every offset edge, every side of the ceiling, and every level of the mirror-backed glass bar. The music playlist was firmly stuck between 2008 and 2012, and between IKEA stock photos on canvas depicting olive oil, tomatoes, and other Italian ingredients, a distorted copy of Da Vinci’s Last Supper failed to provide any further sophistication which, oddly enough, only added to the locale’s out-of-time charm.

The waitress was jolly and down-to-earth, well-used to the several men in their late 50s, eating alone, cracking jokes and making slightly inappropriate but good-natured comments before returning home to their wives and kids. There was a free postcard rack sitting on the wall next to the toilet, offering as many fun one-liners on cardboard as you could carry, including the typical “I ❤️ Munich” slogan you see merchandise for as soon as you get off the train in any medium-sized city.

It was the kind of place where you could hold on to a single beer for eight hours, and no one would bat an eye. I read an entire car magazine while I was there — magazine stand, check — and my meal consisting of a salad, a beer, and a pizza still cost less than 20 euros. In other words, it was magical. No fancy jungle-themed interior. No influencers more obsessed with taking selfies and food shots than actually eating what’s right in front of them. No try-hard waiter hoping to sell you another 12-euro-cocktail. Just good food, honest people, and nothing else to do. It was exactly what I needed after a busy week of being fully immersed in modern life, the perfectly sized escape to remind me that each season has its time and that, actually, I’m usually in the right place at the right time.

On Apple computers, the built-in backup system is called “Time Machine.” When you open it, your screen blurs out, and your computer seems to enter a space between different worlds. On the right-hand side, a timeline will let you jump however far back you’d like to go, and a long line of windows will hover in the middle, like an endless row of files in a folder, ready for you to browse at your convenience. Your brain has the same capacity, you know? Except it’s even better. More visceral. Less than half as accurate, perhaps, but at least twice as compelling — and all you have to do to unlock a memory in all its glory is visit a place that’s connected to it.

Whoever you are, wherever you live, and whenever you were born, those places still exist. Not everyone gets to keep their grandma’s house, but the street you grew up on? Chances are, that’s still around. What about the taverns you used to frequent? Or similar-vibed places where you live now? It could be a familiar forest clearing, an institution you once attended, or a landmark you passed on a daily basis. You’ve inhabited this planet for decades — there’s no way you haven’t left your mark. Set your brain on the right scent, and it’ll lead you right back to those moments, in 3D and technicolor.

Perhaps, physical time travel doesn’t exist because we already have the best time machines sitting right between our ears. If we use them in the right doses, they’ll provide us with whatever we need in the moment, ultimately reminding us that, actually, we’re always exactly when and where we should be.

Love People, Use Screens

Six years ago, I changed the wallpaper on my phone, and I haven’t changed it since. It’s a greyscale picture of a desert, in the hot air of which floats a single question: “Why am I in your hand?” The idea was to become more mindful of when and why I use my phone. The effect is not as strong as it once was — phone wallpapers aren’t immune to the visual blindness we develop for all things we see on a regular basis — but every now and then, it still catches me off guard and helps me find clarity.

When I pick up my phone to text my girlfriend good morning, check the weather, or scan a letter, that’s a deliberate action requiring a screen as a tool. About 20% of the time, though, I grab my phone only to immediately do something other than I intended. I’ve already neutered notifications, vibrations, and the like more than most people, but at this point, I don’t think my phone’s interruptions are any longer required: My mind has been conditioned to get distracted all on its own, and the phone itself is just the trigger for this habit.

But who am I telling this? Wasting time on our phones is a disease more widespread than coronavirus, and though it hurts to add up the hours, it is still one of the more innocuous byproducts of the technology-infused times we live in. Where it gets dicey is when screens manage to unhook us from reality altogether, if ever so briefly.

Every day, millions of people use words on Twitter they would never speak in real life. It’s easy to type “You dumbass” with your thumbs, and if you get a bunch of likes for it, it might even appear like it was a smart, commendable thing to say — but 99% of the time, it’s not.

Never mind the hurt feelings, however, if we can do real damage in numbers — literally, in CryptoKaleo’s case. Kaleo is one of the more rational and ever-positive voices on Crypto Twitter. He’s also a good trader, but in 2021, even he lost touch, and not just his own. In the span of five weeks, Kaleo grew his trading account from $30,000 to $12 million — and back down to zero. Round trip to obscurity. In a thread sharing his wins and losses as well as some reflections, he admits: “It happened so fast, I don’t think it ever felt real. I didn’t spend on much physical [items] like I should have, so I treated it more like a video game than I did real balances.”

Video game sounds about right. What Kaleo has done with millions, I have done with a few zeros less, and Sam Bankman-Fried, the notorious founder of went-down-in-flames crypto exchange FTX, has done with billions. “We sometimes find $50m of assets lying around that we lost track of; such is life,” SBF once joked with his team. When it’s all numbers on a screen, it’s hard to imagine let alone feel real-life consequences, but that doesn’t mean those consequences won’t happen eventually. What’s the difference between having a million rupees in Zelda or a million dollars in your crypto portfolio? Nothing — until you cash out the latter and pile it up on your living room floor in singles or buy a house with it.

How does what happens on our screens connect to the real world? That’s the question we must always have an answer to. There’s that saying that you should “love people and use things, not the other way around.” Unlike in an addiction to materialism, we don’t find our displays themselves gratifying to look at, but when we get so hooked on what flickers across them that we sink ever more hours into staring at them — far more hours than we spend staring at human eyes, the real world, or simply out the window — they are no different from excessive drinking, gambling, or drug use — an affliction separating us from the people we care about.

Love people, use screens — not the other way around.

Speak Your Achievements

When I do my sit-ups in the morning, I lose count all the time. I’ll start thinking about what I dreamed of at night, what I want to write about later, or what’s on my to-do list for the day. “Am I on 44 or 54? Dang it!”

Last week, I made one simple change, and it is already making a difference: Instead of counting solely in my head, I yell out every tenth number. “10!” “20!” “30!” “40!” Yell is an overstatement. In the little air that’s left between reps, it’s more of a whisper — but it’s enough. I haven’t lost count once since implementing this tweak.

People wonder why Tesla is so highly valued, why Harry Potter succeeded after being rejected by 12 publishers, and how Trump ever became president. Things like this happen because, as a species, we meme our dreams into existence.

The same dynamic applies on the individual level and for much smaller goals and milestones. “I will run before breakfast tomorrow. I will run before breakfast tomorrow. I will run before breakfast tomorrow.” Repeat anything out loud three times in front of your mirror at night, and watch what happens. It’s a silly little quirk, this whole affirmation thing — almost a loophole in our brain circuitry — but it works.

Just like you can use words to change reality, you can use them to cement it once it’s there. “50!” “60!” “70!” Fitness is an obvious example, but it works in other domains too. The more frequently I tell people I’m an author, the more inclined I am to work on my next book. It’s manufactured accountability when you reaffirm things to others, but a lot of the time, it works even if the only party listening is yourself.

“80!” “90!” “100!” Try it. Speak your achievements. It’ll feel good, keep you accountable, and, most importantly, it’ll help you not lose count of the many steps you’ll have to take until you reach the real top of a mountain that was once nothing more than a meme.