Drive Responsibly

Almost a decade ago, I did a road trip with two friends to Austria. In the span of a few days, we visited several locations, and I was the designated driver, since we were using my family’s car. I’m not sure why, but I went very fast during some of our countryside drives from place to place. Perhaps we were on the clock, or maybe I just enjoyed the winding roads.

One of my passengers neither condemned nor encouraged my driving behavior, the other was visibly uncomfortable. After she voiced her concern a few times, I eventually slowed down, but it took me longer than I’d like to admit. I still remember seeing her in the back seat, almost literally holding on for dear life.

In hindsight, I’m not proud of it, but on that trip, I learned a valuable lesson: When you drive alone, you can do whatever you want. As soon as other people enter your car, however, your job is to safely get them from A to B. Nothing more, nothing less.

Now, when it comes to an activity like driving, which is heavily regulated by the law and all the other traffic participants, “whatever you want” is not as stretchable of a term as most of us would like it to be. But if it’s just you piloting your vehicle, and you run it into a concrete wall because you’re speeding, that’s your fault but also “only” your life at stake. If the same thing happens while three other people are in your car, I could think of better ways to gamble — and better chips to gamble with.

We spend a lot of time talking about “drinking responsibly” and getting people to not drive while drunk, on drugs, or in otherwise inappropriate states, and the fact that we need to do so already says a lot. We spend much less time, however, talking about driving responsibly. About choosing to comply with traffic laws, even when that compliance is optional — especially when our cargo is the most precious cargo there is: the life of the people around us.

The next time someone gets in your car, feel the change of responsibility. Take a moment to acknowledge you are now The Transporter, except your safekeeping happens with as little drama as possible, not a lot of gun fights, speeding, and explosions. Enjoy the slow cruise, keep your guests comfortable, and remember: If you go half as fast, you’ll still get there on time — and so will everyone else.

The Real Curse of Knowledge

“Here, we have some cylinder head damage,” Tavarish says, looking yet again at the engine of the flooded McLaren P1 he bought, hoping to restore it to former glory. “That right there is eaten away, so this cylinder head is going to need to be welded up and maybe even ground down.” I have no idea what he means, but I love following along regardless.

Now, it may not apply to Youtube videos you post on the internet, but if Tavarish and I were having this same conversation over some tacos, experts would call me a victim of “the curse of knowledge.” Think Sherlock Holmes talking to Dr. Watson: One person is five miles ahead of the other. While Holmes rolls his eyes at Watson’s slowness in catching up, the latter can barely formulate the right questions that, if answered by Holmes, would get him back on track. If you’ve ever had a friend go on passionately about a topic, assuming you’re totally clued in when, in reality, you were just nodding along, you, too, have experienced the curse of knowledge.

There’s no one to blame, really. Interests diverge. One person might spend ten years repairing cars, another investigates crime — and both rack up so much knowledge in their field, it’s impossible to remember their earliest days every time they sit down for a group dinner. While it can be hard to relate to people on levels you’ve long left behind, the remedy is often only one interruption away: “Can you pretend I’m five? Sorry, I don’t know much about cylinder heads.”

The real and more challenging curse of knowledge, if you ask me, lies in the head not of a cylinder but of the expert: The more you know, the more you know what you don’t know — and the vastness of that unmapped territory can be paralyzing.

After nearly ten years of writing, it’s easy to crank out a daily blogs with the stakes deliberately set low. Some of the “masterpieces” in my drafts folder, however, have been developing at a snail’s pace for several years. The more you already know, the more additional knowledge you’ll need each time you try to top your previous best performance. The research that once went into an entire essay might now go into a single sentence. That takes time and, often, an emotional toll. You can’t ship as quickly as you used to, and it feels like all that knowledge you’ve acquired is being put to use less and less. It gets harder to keep pushing and easier to just settle for lower standards.

The real curse of knowledge is not failing to connect with someone because you assume they have the same level of expertise that you do. It is to stop pursuing knowledge altogether because what you’ve learned so far feels safe and comfortable.

Perhaps, the universe was designed to be incomprehensible on purpose: For every one answer, there should be two new questions. Those questions will always make us think, but they must not deter us from making our own contributions to said universe. Keep learning. Making. Releasing. As long as you’re too busy having fun, like Watson trailing slightly behind Holmes, the real curse of knowledge will never catch up to you.

Obstacles Come With Going Fast

As I was zipping through the crowds mingling in Munich’s city center, hoping to meet my friend on time, the usual went through my head: “Why is this guy walking so slowly? Does this lady not know where she’s going? This feels like wading through mud!”

One of the lessons I learned during my 10,000-steps-a-day experiment was that walking is one of the activities we most commonly approach with the wrong mindset on both ends of the spectrum: We dawdle when we’re just trying to get from A to B, yet we rush when we’re out with the family for a Sunday afternoon stroll. If only we made the distinction ahead of time — is this walk to be efficient or enjoyed? — we’d make some great strides when it comes to traversing the world on foot.

That day, however, more than six years later, I learned a follow-up lesson: Regardless of whether everyone else walks slowly for the right or wrong reasons, if you’re walking faster than the average, by definition, most people will end up in your way. Therefore, it is on you to navigate around them. It’s a natural responsibility we incur when we choose to go fast, and we should simply handle it rather than complain about it.

This applies to far more than walking, of course. If you finish The Great Gatsby while the rest of your class is still on chapter three, you’ll have to find a way to pass the time meaningfully without upsetting other people’s pace. If you build a million-dollar company within a few years while your college friends stay at the same jobs, you’ll need to pick different conversation topics or find new friends. And when you’re the fastest cyclist on the tour, unless you can find a way to pass everyone safely in each stage, that speed won’t amount to a victory.

Whether it’s your brain, your bank account, or your legs that run off while everyone else is trailing behind, remember: Obstacles rarely block your path on purpose. They simply come with going fast. Your speed is your responsibility — and so is not bumping into anyone on your way to the finish line.

Give Us Your Point of View

In pre-internet days, when you wanted to book a vacation, your first stop was the travel agency. They showed you a brochure, gave you all the details, and sent you back home. There, you mulled over what you knew and no more than a handful of pictures of the location. Then, you decided — and that’s why vacations were always hit or miss. One year, you’d end up in a great resort with plenty of cool spots and amenities to discover, another it was dirty bathroom tiles and soggy rolls for breakfast. The surprise factor was cool when it worked but devastating when it didn’t.

Nowadays, even the thought of booking a hotel based on five stock photos seems laughable. You can view every nook and cranny of the place on their website, often with a 3D video tour, and that is to say nothing of the thousands of photos on Google and Instagram. In fact, you can even see where you’re going through someone else’s eyes — and that has already become our default mode of deciding. You might pull the trigger on a trip to Santorini based on an in-depth review on Google, your favorite influencer having made landfall there just hours ago, or, and this is probably the most likely, a friend or relative sending you the pics from their latest trip.

When you returned home in 1995, getting physical copies of your photographs took a while. You just had to use your words to retell your adventures — and perhaps the same five stock photos from the brochure. Nowadays, even among the older members in our family WhatsApp group, everyone sends their own pictures. No one uses stock photos to show and tell anymore. But why? The photos from the website are arguably better. None of us are photography experts. “What a waste that millions of people take the same pictures of the same places,” one might think. But they’re never quite the same, are they? Our pictures tell a story the stock photos can never tell: What it was like, in that exact moment, to be there with our unique point of view. As friends, family members, partners, and colleagues, that’s the story we want to hear — not the one Hilton tells about its own hotels.

In the 21st century, telling that story, your story, is no longer optional. Your point of view is required. It is also very much appreciated, and this applies to far more than just vacations. Photos, voice messages, tweets — these are all just tools. The media through which we express our perspective. Some people share their POV professionally, and if their taste becomes refined enough, they might be able to make a living at it. Even when the connection is just personal, however, a highlight reel of travel pics taken by your own hand is much more compelling than an outsourced recommendation. What’s more likely to get you to dust off your mountain bike — a video filmed by your friend with his helmet camera, or a text that says, “just go check out Lukas Knopf on Instagram”?

The barriers to entry for telling stories, visual or otherwise, have been lowered so much, we have no excuses left not to participate. Be it in our private lives or at work, making a convincing case for anything. now necessitates sprinkling in at least a little bit of your unique point of view. Don’t shun this responsibility. Embrace it. Enjoy it. You don’t have to be a content creator around the clock if you don’t want to, but for the pitches in life we care about, it is worth it — and easier than ever — to add the touches only we can add.

Whether in a printed album or somewhere lost in the depths of your phone, the photos you’re not in aren’t the ones that matter the most, but they still tell a story only you can narrate — and you never know when a good tale will come in handy. Take pictures. Take notes. And if not always unsolicitedly, at least when we ask for it, give us your point of view.

How To Make Considerate Requests

If you’re asking a friend to come to your wedding, and it requires them to take a four-hour flight, you know that’s a big ask, but chances are, it’s even bigger than you imagine it. You’ll think about the flight and how much it costs, but not about how much time it’ll take them to pack, and whether they’ll have to ask their dad to drive them to the airport. That’s normal. We can’t calculate the size of our requests perfectly each time.

There is, however, a dimension we’re neglecting altogether, and it’s one we can likely do something about. What you’re asking the other person to do is an expectation you put forward to them. What standard they hope to live up to in fulfilling your request is an expectation they put on themselves. We always have some idea of the former, but we rarely even think about the latter.

In case of your friend’s big trip to your wedding, there are all the logistics of the trip, but what about the psychological pressure? “This trip will make a big dent in my finances. Am I a bad friend if I don’t go? How much will I have to spend on appropriate outfits — and what are appropriate outfits in the first place?” Again, you’ll never be able to anticipate all of this pressure, but how much of it you can foresee reveals how good of friends the two of you actually are.

Whatever self-inflicted expectations you can spot, alleviate them. “We understand it might be a long and expensive trip for some of you, so if you can’t make it, no worries. We’ll have a Zoom party for everyone overseas a month after the event.” If you know your friend always feels conscious about how she looks, don’t make her guess the dress code. Give her one. And if your brother always cleans the flat like a madman before you stop by, let him know in advance: “Please. No cleaning craze! I’ll just be there for an hour.”

Making considerate requests is work. You have to empathize with every person you’re asking for a favor and really put yourself in their shoes. That takes time. So does personalizing each wedding invite with little caveats that help ease the pressure. But it shows a level of care and understanding few people are willing to go to — and for at least the biggest asks in life, that’s a bet worth making.

Think about the scope of your asks, but also think about the scope of what people are asking of themselves. You’ll never guess everything perfectly, but if you can make it easier for folks to make your life easier, everybody wins.

Let Physics Make You Feel Small

There’s a playground next to our house. It has two swings. Yesterday, it was a nice, warm evening, so after walking home, I swung by the swings. It had been years since I sat on one, but I guess swinging is like cycling: Once you know, you’ll know forever.

As I was slowly gaining momentum, I remembered the swing across the house where we lived when I was nine. I used to go so high on it! I would push it as much as I could — and then I’d jump off! For a while, I turned it into a sport. How far would I make it this time? How high could I go on the swing?

In the present, meanwhile, I got a funny feeling in my stomach when the swing went to about half its possible height. “Wow! This is, like, some serious momentum,” I thought. Having learned a thing or two about physics between now and then, I was wondering about speeds, acceleration, and gravity. “You could seriously hurt yourself on this thing. Crazy!”

It’s such a simple device, isn’t it? A swing. It’s on every playground. Millions of children use it every day. And yet, even this most basic of human constructions has the power to show us how small physics makes us all look. Puny humans playing with the forces of nature — how easy it is to get burned!

As a child, I didn’t know anything about the scientific rules of swinging, and perhaps that was the best thing about it. I saw a toy, and I played with it. I made the most of it. Until, one day, as I also remembered, my arm got twisted in the rope of the swing. Ouch! I still managed to jump off, but I scraped my entire forearm in the process. That was the day I discovered the power of physics. Needless to say, my highest jumps were behind me.

There are two ways to look at this. One is to say, “Oh, how sad, he lost his relentless drive and curiosity. He grew up.” While that’s true, there are more things in life than swinging one can be curious about and driven towards. The other perspective is that, actually, this was a timely and useful reminder: “You can swing as high as you like, but you’re still just a small human. Don’t get too cocky!” Thankfully, I didn’t need a more serious injury to teach me that I am not Superman.

Another benefit of receiving such a reminder early on is that now, 20 years later, I can deliberately reapply it in small doses to achieve the same effect — by sitting on the swing behind my house for 15 minutes, going as high as I dare go, and musing about the unbendable laws of physics.

Every now and then, let the world make you feel small. Find your swing, and revisit. It’s not a bad thing to keep your head on straight.

Making Things That Matter

Work is art, and art is work. For both, the only thing that matters is making things that matter. This is embarrassingly obvious and, therefore, easier said than done. When it comes to deciding what’s important, our intuition will often lead us astray — if we are allowing it to lead us at all.

It’s easy to think that posting every day matters, because if you do, every day, you can watch your followers, likes, income, or whatever your metric of choice go up. That metric is easy to justify in front of your boss, the committee, and even the mirror. “Look! I’m doing the thing that makes sense!” But does it also make meaning? Connection? Impact?

Feeding the market with more of the same merely adds breadth where, actually, depth might be required. You can post the same staged photo in 200 different locations, but each time, the people who saw the one before, or the one before, or even all 199 of them will care a little less. Will feel a little less. Because so do you.

You’re not here to recapture the spirit of the first one. You’re here to milk it. For the 200th time. But what do the people who loved the first one really need? What’s next? Where should your foot have fallen to leave another print in their lives, not just a shadow? It’s not too late to turn on the light. To drive out the shadow, and forge a path that leads forward instead of sideways.

When children tell us about some minor fantasy, like a fox coming out of the bushes on a hiking trip or a helicopter made out of clay, and ask, “Wouldn’t that be cool?!” we pretend to nod enthusiastically. In our heads, meanwhile, we go, “No, that would not be cool at all. You know what would be cool? A cool beer. That’s actually cool.”

While our ability to enjoy activities for their own sake has degraded with growing up, children still possess this important skill — because, in reality, most of the things that do end up being important are things that start with, “Wouldn’t that be cool?!”

Usually, the things that matter will initially only do so to us. It’s the idea for a wooden statue you had when you were nine years old, the feeling of not wanting to be ridiculed every time you buy a certain kind of scarf, or, sometimes, the rebellious drive to, heck, just make a video for the fun of it! Doing great work, making meaningful art — they depend on your ability to tune in, listen to, and act on your curious gut.

That gut will likely need rekindling. Chances are, it’s been put to sleep by the school system, the media, and maybe even your parents. But it doesn’t take much for it to wake up. A good book. An awe-inspiring movie. A day out in the wild. Curiosity is as natural as breathing. No pile of metaphorical, man-made rubbish can drown that completely.

And then? When your inner compass is realigned? Well, then all you’ll need is a heap of courage, enough earned creative freedom, and a big heaping of tenacity to see the work through. Yes, all roads that lead to meaningful things are long and arduous, but truly, finding that spark again is the first step. The match that lights the fuse. The push that almost — just almost — makes the rest of the journey feel like you’re rolling downhill.

Take a moment. Take a day. Take a week if you must, procure that spark, and, maybe for the first time in a long, long time, you’ll be well on your way to doing the only thing that matters: making things that matter.

The Joy Behind Closed Doors

In the anime smash hit Suzume, a high school girl of the same name follows a stranger into an abandoned water park. She loses the stranger but finds a mysterious door. Suzume is unable to pass into the other world that seems to lie behind the door and gets scared. She runs away but leaves the door open on her way out — and that’s when all hell breaks loose.

My girlfriend’s dad has Parkinson’s, and so for his family, the movie trope is reversed: The door to his room must stay open so that help can remain only a whisper away. Barring special situations like these, however, as Suzume would with hindsight know, a closed door can be a beautiful thing.

Humans aren’t spiders. We don’t need to keep one foot on our web at all times, feeling for vibrations. Yet it is on that very web that we often open far too many doors, too many tabs anyone can keep track of, let alone enjoy.

In that sense, leaving the doors in your house open to stay on track of what everyone is doing is a bit like leaving Twitter open “just in case” of breaking news. Breaking news are called “breaking” for a reason: They don’t need your permission to reach you. If it’s urgent, important, or both, you’ll find out soon enough.

Similarly, people sometimes need to occupy their own worlds in order to find new and interesting things worth carrying into yours. It could be your son assembling a Lego set on his own for the first time, your partner solving a tricky challenge at work, or a friend having a breakthrough moment while staring out your kitchen window. Can you imagine their excitement when they emerge, ready to share the news?

If we insist on keeping all lines of communication open at all times, however, we consume the space it takes for the magic of individuality to happen. Teenagers tend to need that space the most, but we all require it from time to time, whether we believe it or not.

Don’t be afraid to ask for that space — to ask others to close the door behind them — and to generously offer it in return. Whenever I’m home, my mom still asks me if she should shut the door on her way out. It’s rarely required — I could always close it myself, of course — but always appreciated.

In The Shawshank Redemption, the falsely convicted Andy Dufresne at one point decides to give himself a moment of peace. He sneaks into the warden’s office, locks the door behind him, and puts on a piece of Italian music — on speaker, of course, for the whole prison to hear. For a few minutes before the guards break in, he sits there, smiling from ear to ear. Meanwhile, in the prison yard, time also stands still as everyone gazes at the speaker, mesmerized by the sound.

Andy’s friend Red concludes that, sometimes, leaving a door closed is the right thing to do: “I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like a beautiful bird flapped into our drab cage and made those walls dissolve away. And for the briefest of moments, every last man at Shawshank felt free.”

Sometimes, ignorance really is bliss. And just like Red had to not overthink the music to enjoy it, Andy needed a moment to himself in a closed room to emerge with a gift not just for himself but also his fellow prisoners. Closed doors all around, yet everyone felt liberated.

Being 17 years old, Suzume also requires lots of privacy. She tries to convince her aunt everything is okay, that she just needs “a little vacation,” but as the orphan’s elected guardian, her aunt is too protective, too worried to let her do her own thing. Perhaps that’s why she runs away in the first place, chasing after a stranger, and then ironically leaves a door open that can no longer easily be closed.

As her aunt will eventually, learn, however, so will Suzume: Doors are usually closed for a reason, and often enough, the best way to support the joy that grows behind them is to show them our respect.

Soft Skills Are Just Skills

Alex Hormozi used to believe it takes three things to make a successful entrepreneur: skills, character traits, and beliefs. After thinking about it more, however, he simplified his model down to just two dimensions: skills and beliefs. Why? Because character traits are just more skills.

“Patience,” Alex says, “is just a general term for lots of little skills. If you want to become more patient, you want to do things that patient people do. [But] if I can train someone to become more patient, then patience is a skill.”

When someone is blocking you in traffic, you can choose to honk or choose to wait in silence. Every time you wait it out, you’ve exercised patience — and that reinforces your “general attitude” of patience. It makes it easier to be patient the next time you check out at the grocery store as well. So actually, your attitude is a skill that gets put to the test whenever patience is required, and, like any skill, the more often you use it, the easier it becomes to use it again.

Therefore, when we describe someone as “a patient person,” all we are really saying is that they have demonstrated patience in thousands of situations. Some big, most of them small. That gives us confidence in that person’s ability to further demonstrate patience, and we communicate that confidence — be it in their ability to wait, persist, or pay attention to the little things — by describing people’s “character traits.” It’s nothing more than an efficient way of talking about complex skills.

Patience is a more complex skill than Excel because while Excel is limited in its albeit large functionality, patience is not. It applies in an infinite number of scenarios. In order to not have to list 17 different examples each time we want to say that someone is good at not losing their temper and therefore a great pick for a job as a mediator, we just lump all the times they’ve shown restraint together and call it “patience.”

When needed, we can always be more specific. “She is really patient with kids.” “He is patient in answering questions.” “They are patient drivers.” It’s much easier to zone in again on particular scenarios we want to stress while using the umbrella term than to explain someone’s life story to sell the idea that, “Hey, since this person stayed calm in situations A, B, C, D, and E, they’re also likely to keep their cool in scenario F.”

Since it is so efficient and ever-present — after all, which HR department does not ask “character trait”-related questions — you probably won’t get around this labeling issue entirely, but it helps to remember that, at the end of the day, attitudes are just complex sets of many little skills. Those sets might be harder to measure than how long it takes someone to design a logo, but they are measurable — and trainable — nonetheless.

“Hard skills are just skills that are easy to measure,” Alex says. “Soft skills are just hard to measure. But they’re both 100% skills that you can train and improve.”

“If we say, ‘Man, I wish that guy had better people skills,’ what we mean is a hundred micro skills. ‘I wish you would smile when someone walked into the room.’ Can I train someone to do that? Absolutely. ‘I wish you would greet someone by their first name immediately every time they walk in the door.’ Boom. That’s trainable. ‘I wish you wouldn’t interrupt.’ Well, we can give someone a cookie every time they don’t interrupt someone and let them finish their statement, and then we train them.”

A few years ago, I wrote about the value of looking at self-awareness as a cognitive state rather than a character trait. “The difference between self-awareness as a steady set of ideas about yourself and a cognitive state you can practice is the same as the difference between knowledge and intelligence: one leads to a never-ending struggle for more, the other provides a daily standard that’s possible to live up to.”

Even more importantly, however, when you look at soft skills as just skills, not god-given talents you may or may not have won in the genetics-and-nurturing lottery, that opens the door to you believing they can be acquired by anyone — even you — at any age, in the first place.

Instead of forever lamenting your lack of creativity, you can start with one tweet a day and take it from there. Rather than settling for “your grumpy nature,” you can begin making an effort to smile when people pass you in the office. And as opposed to writing “bad temper” on your secret, internal résumé, you can hold on to your video game controller after falling into the same tar pit for the seventh time.

At the end of the day, almost everything can be learned. Life happens in our actions, not in our heads. Soft skills are just skills, and if you break them down into the tiny behaviors they consist of, you can learn patience, resolve, and kindness the same way you might learn to drive a car, write a book, or cook a mean lasagna: with lots and lots of practice.

Trust the process, have faith in yourself, and when, one day, someone calls you “a beacon of patience,” all you’ll remember is that you chose not to honk in traffic this morning — and that if it comes to it, you’ll make the same choice again in the afternoon.

The Kisses You Don’t Feel

When I kiss my sleeping girlfriend goodnight in the evening or goodbye in the morning, I don’t always know whether she’s really awake or not — but I give her those kisses anyway, because that’s what love is about.

Love is the blind you close, the water you refill, the blanket you adjust after your partner has fallen asleep. It’s the surface you wipe, the food you prepare, the clothes you lay out while your son is at work. Love is the last-minute birthday present you rush to organize for your friend, the paperwork you submit on your colleague’s behalf, and the third round of revisions to the roadmap that no one asked you to make.

Love is a million invisible actions that add up to something tangible and real. The kisses you don’t feel might not be in your memory, but they still exist — and that’s what makes them some of the most important ones.