Activation Energy

When you drop Alkali metals — elements like lithium, sodium, or potassium — in water, they immediately start fizzing and whizzing around. The reaction is instant, and it creates a hydroxide of the metal as well as hydrogen gas, which sometimes even ignites on its own.

Unfortunately, life rarely works that way. You can’t just throw a nickel on the floor and expect it to spontaneously self-multiply. Like many other chemical reactions, from lighting a match to starting a gas engine car, life requires “activation energy.”

Activation energy is the minimum of input momentum a mix of components will accept in order to start reacting with one another. It could be heat, motion, or electricity. Without the spark you generate by turning your key inside your car, the engine can’t light the fuel that’ll produce the fire turning shafts and rods and, ultimately, the wheels. If you throw noodles and veggies in cold water, everything will get soft but nothing will taste nice. A soup requires heat, and that heat must be maintained until the desired effect is achieved.

But life is bigger than chemistry. For me, morning showers are activation energy. Unlike potassium, I won’t self-combust once thrown into water, but the water itself does raise my energy levels. It allows me to keep reacting, functioning, for the rest of the day. I can skip the shower and see how far I’ll make it, but I can only blame myself if, at 7 PM in the evening, I haven’t done much because I never invested that first bit of energy.

When it comes to humans and habits, activation energy is more psychological than chemical. Sure, a bit of sugar helps if you don’t eat until lunch, but most empowering rituals work in other, more obscure ways. Why does stepping outside for 2 minutes make you happy? I don’t know, but I know you should keep doing it.

Activation energy rituals are the pluses on top of absent minuses: They don’t absolve us from taking care of the basics — good sleep, enough food, some downtime — but without them, we can’t go far beyond that baseline.

Your activation energy rituals might be quirkier than turning on the shower, but even if they are, embrace them. Work to find them, perfect them, and take pride in knowing your needs.

You are not a lump of metal, and there’s no single button you can push to blast yourself right to your destination, but there are buttons you can press. Even if the right combination is as complex as a rocket launch sequence, it’s worth learning and remembering it. After all, we have a lifetime to figure out what activates us — but only one life to do everything we want to feel active for.

Names Are Smoke and Mirrors

“So there’s this guy who does this weird thing.”

“Who is he?”

“He’s from Guntersberg.”

“Is he the son of the mayor?”


“Is his last name Möller?”


“Who is he then?”

“He’s the best friend of the girl with a twin sister who’s friends with our cousin.”

“The Lanken sisters?”


“The sisters in our dance group?”


“Who are they then?”

This is a common exchange at one of my family gatherings. A colorful “who’s who” of the locale — except half the people at the table, including me, have no idea who’s being talked about. Not just the person in question, but anyone who might even remotely serve as a clue to who they are.

Quizzes are fun for those who know enough to play, but if you conclude you’re ineligible, you’ll zone out. I know the satisfaction of finally finding a piece in your inner archive you know was there, and I’m happy for my family to get that feeling. Meanwhile, the rest of us, however, sit there chomping at the bit: “What’s the weird thing the guy is doing, for Pete’s sake?!”

Names are smoke and mirrors — especially the ones you don’t know. Sometimes, a 10-minute discussion is worth the effort to reveal someone important to everyone at the table. Most of the time, however, it’s okay to just get on with the story.

Don’t get lost in the margins of life. There’s a big book to be written, and you’ve got pages to fill. Keep going, and if a detail eludes you for too long, it’s probably one you can very well do without.

Weeds Are Just a Different Plant

There’s an isolated patch of grass on the side of our house. I can see it from my bedroom window. Yesterday morning, I looked down without glasses, and I spotted three blurry yet distinct areas: one dark, lush green, one bright, almost neon, and what seemed to be the outline of five salad-colored propellers.

After I regained my vision, the puzzle pieces took shape: Only a third of the surface was covered in proper grass. Another third was moss, and the propellers? A quickly spreading group of weeds.

For a moment, I was sad our little patch of nature seemed to be succumbing to a common domestic invader, but then I realized: Weeds are just a different plant. We aren’t trading forest for plastic. We’re witnessing nature evolve.

If left entirely to its own devices, would the plot soon be covered in weeds? Maybe. Or maybe not. Perhaps the moss is stronger in winter. What if it holds off the weeds until spring, when the grass is back in full bloom? And if the weeds took over, that might be a win too. May the best-suited plant for the soil win! It might even look beautiful. A large display of differently sized propellers.

We spend a great deal of time worrying about changes we can not only barely control but which are, on closer inspection, not such big changes at all. So your favorite pants are full of holes, and your new ones won’t look the same. That’s nothing to mope about. Neither is your shifting bus schedule or switching coffee brands at work. All life is part of nature, and nature is constant change.

Some change must be fought, some fought hard for to bring it about in the right way. Reserve your energy for those big transformations. When a beloved coworker is leaving or your landlord wants to kick you out, those are times to speak up.

Your garden, on the other hand, shifts a tiny bit beneath your feet every day. Sit back and enjoy the show. Weeds are just a different plant, and most change only deserves our observation, not our interference.

When It’s Yours Until It’s Not

Jeremy Vaught was an early renter of the Twitter theater. In 2007, he created the @music handle. Over the next 16 years, he grew it to over half a million followers. He didn’t monetize his following a lot. He just enjoyed sharing music. Until, on a random Friday in August, Twitter took it away.

“You can have @musicmusic, @musiclover, or @music123,” they said. “But not @music.” That’s the problem with renting. It might feel like ownership for 20 years, but when the landlord wants her land back, the sudden realization that it never was will sting.

Moving house sucks, but moving brand might be impossible. When your livelihood is tied to intellectual property, losing some of that property could be catastrophic. Vaught was angry, but he’ll live. “16 years is a long time to invest in something and then just have it ripped out from underneath you,” he said.

But what about other people who worked hard or even paid top dollar for an @-handle that pops? Can the operators of @art, @books, and @business say the same? That last one is Bloomberg, by the way. Not sure how happy they’d be to get a call from their landlord. Or, you know, an email in the style of a customer support ticket. Is that still “just business?”

It’s not only Twitter, by the way. Instagram accounts get suspended all the time. Right now, the land grab on Threads is in full swing — but will the swinging be worth it? When it’s yours until it’s not, it’s never yours in the first place. “What we do not own, we do not have sovereignty over,” Paul Jarvis once wrote. “Our freedoms are held hostage by those who we rent or borrow from.”

It’s near-impossible to get through life without renting, but that doesn’t mean we should accept renting by default. Technically, everything can be taken away. Realistically, many things won’t once you make the effort to own them. Whether it’s your home, your patent, or the name of your brand: Pick yourself, and don’t let just anyone climb your hill.


A new way to think about thanks: It’s great to feel full, and when you do, life is fully great.

Puns aside, we can accept more — more dessert, more money, more love — when it is offered to us, but that’s not what, fundamentally, gratitude is about.

It’s easy to be thankful when life throws unexpected gifts in your lap. The important habit, the real challenge, is recognizing we are already full on a regular basis. That we don’t need the extra to begin with.

Full means enough, and “enough” is a matter of definition. By extension, so is “great.” Lower the demands, and curb expectations. Look at what’s already there. Call it by name, and chances are, appreciation will almost automatically follow.

Great, full, and grateful as a result. Life isn’t all punshine and rainbows, but nearly all growth happens in semantics — and you are telling the story.

Culture Translation

“He never even looked at me in the rear view mirror!” The back of a truck crossing the desert in Oman might be the last place you expect a culture lesson from, but for a couple my parents are friends with, that’s exactly what happened.

Sitting in the back of a jeep rattling through dunes of sand towards a Bedouin camp, the lady of the house asked their driver some questions. “How big is the area? How long have you been doing this?” That sort of thing.

The driver was friendly, and yet, she never received any answers — only her husband did. He didn’t look at her. He didn’t talk to her. “Always go through the guy” seemed to be his motto. “What a jerk!” the wife thought, and if that had been the end of it, this incident would have made for a rather poor lesson.

Thankfully, while killing some time in one of Dubai’s giant malls later during their trip, they received the second half. A salesman in a watch shop happened to have lived in Germany, like the couple, for two years. He spoke decent German, and when the wife relayed her strange Uber ride, he said: “Oh! You don’t understand our culture. Let me translate for you.”

The salesman explained that, in the Arab world, the number one value is respect. “When a man engages with a couple or even a mother and her son, the motto is in fact ‘always go through the guy’ — not because women are considered to be stupid or inferior, but because they are divine.”

If a woman has chosen to be part of another man’s family, it is an act of respect to not ogle her while she’s shopping. It is an act of respect to not touch her, which is why a watch salesman will always give the husband the watch his wife might want to try on — it is for him to put it on her, not another man. And it is even an act of respect to not address another man’s wife, strange as it may seem to Westerners.

“That really opened my eyes,” our acquaintance said. “In principle, it’s not a bad idea, is it?” At the very least, it is anything but the slight she perceived it to be. All it took was a little bit of culture translation.

We don’t always get these cultural translations right when we need them. Often, we don’t get them at all. And while it’s great that we can read a 30,000-word Wikipedia article about the status of women in Islam, secondary sources can lack the nuance a simple conversation with a salesman in a watch shop might surprisingly provide.

Look for culture translators. Don’t ask “What the hell?!” Ask “Why?” And if someone does something you don’t understand, don’t presume they are following rules you already know. Assume it’s a little bit of culture, lost in translation. That’s not something our phones can untangle for us just yet, but if you wait and see, you might get the second half of the lesson sooner than you think.

After the Rain

One of life’s everyday miracles is making it home just before the rain. But what about the opposite? What about the days when you can neither avoid the rain nor wait for it to pass? When you have to step out into the wetness? Well, even those days still have the potential for wonder.

It’s been a rainy week in my neck of the woods. On Friday, I went to a local city festival, an annual tradition. I still had to use my windscreen wipers when I drove there, but as soon as we arrived at our host’s pregame party, the rain finally stopped. As a result, the air was cool and fresh, and the usual crowds made way for a smaller group of visitors that made it easier to get from stall to stall.

On Saturday, the second day of the event, we were caught in a thunderstorm at 10 PM. We spent an hour huddling together with ten strangers under the flimsy roof of some stall selling trinkets — but it was also the hour in which we ended up taking the best group picture of the weekend. When the rain finally slowed down, we all sprinted, first to a bar, then to our friend’s house for our annual post-event cheese platter. That, too, was rather memorable.

Yesterday, it once again rained all day. When I got into my car to meet some friends for dinner at 7 PM, the drizzle finally ceased. The clouds even dared to reveal some low evening-sun. As I was driving up a hill, the sun spotlit the trees of an alley, from which drops were still falling, seemingly in slow-motion. It was beautiful — the kind of moment you only get when you’re out after the rain.

Every now and then, we win the weather jackpot. Whenever we don’t, hope is not lost. Sometimes, you need a problem only to remember how good it feels to not have it — and sometimes, you have to first get wet to witness the magic that happens after the rain.

The Urgency of Being Young

I still remember what it feels like to believe that meeting one of your friends for play time on a Thursday afternoon is the most important thing in the world. Do you? “Come on mom, I need you to drive me! Please, please, please!! It’s important!!”

The older we get, the more we believe that what we once thought was a big deal was actually irrelevant. But was it? Letting go of ideas, places, and people is a natural part of human growth. It would happen whether we age or not.

Today we care about board games, tomorrow we stop and pick up mountain-biking. The trap of age is that we automatically assume our current choices are wiser than our past ones. “Solving the crossword is a much better habit than playing video games.” But perhaps it’s just a better fit for us at that stage of life. No judgement needed.

Objectively, sure, putting food on the table, saving enough to retire, and having a stable marriage seem like bigger, easier-to-justify problems — but if you don’t know any of them, is pushing for a toy so you can play with your friends still meaningless? I don’t think so. That play time might lead to lifelong bonds, and nothing in life happens without context.

You can’t understand what a nine-year-old cares about without seeing the world through a nine-year-old’s eyes. Those eyes don’t see the hard work that goes into every lunch, every new t-shirt, every fight you don’t have in front of them, but that doesn’t make those efforts unimportant. Just like your struggle to provide those things doesn’t disqualify your kid’s desire to play, explore, and connect.

As children, we can’t see the grand scheme of things — but the scheme we see sure is the grandest we can imagine. I remember when my definition of bliss was an afternoon of playing trading card games with other kids. Every time my mom dropped me off at one of the stores where leagues were held, my week was made. I still have those memories more than 20 years later. I’m still friends with some of the people who were there. Not a stupid thing to care about after all, it seems.

When we are young, we feel so much urgency towards endeavors that, 20 years later, we can barely understand. Ironically, it is a lack of this very urgency that can make our lives feel gray and empty when the burdens of adulthood kick in. We no longer have the courage to care about something just because. Everything needs to “make sense.” But when we forget what’s like to get deeply invested into seeing a movie on the first day or rushing to be on time for a causal afternoon basketball session, we risk alienating the people we love and want to support, even raise.

Go on. Take one for the feels. Spend time at the record shop, have a Simpsons marathon with friends, or order some trading cards online. Prioritizing what feels like a childish goal won’t just add color to your life, it’ll also remind you of the urgency of being young — and whether you’re still young or not, that’s an important thing to remember — even if your mom no longer needs to drive you to the comic book store.

Order More Seasons

When I was younger, TV shows with less than three seasons were unheard of. Nowadays, it seems to be the norm. Ten years ago, about 25% of TV shows were canceled after one season. Today, that number certainly feels higher.

First seasons are no longer the first step of a long-term commitment. They are bait thrown out to see if anyone will bite. Not enough watch hours? Didn’t get the right reviews? Axe it! A better investment will come along. Ironically, it is this very behavior that makes people like me less likely to watch in the first place. I often wait until I hear a show is actually renewed before I dive in. I can’t be the only one.

TV shows have always been plagued by bad writing, source material conflicts, and character departures, but these problems can be fixed, and plenty of shows have in the past — but they can rarely be fixed in one season. Add these issues to a heavily scrutinized budget and hopes of pandering to an ever-flitting market, however, and a show that’s here to stay becomes the exception rather than the norm.

That’s why The Rings of Power is refreshing: Amazon committed to make at least five seasons. They also spent over $450 million of their minimum total $1 billion budget on just the first. Where House of the Dragon‘s first season, the Game of Thrones successor that came out around the same time, started with a very high rating on IMDb, then slowly went down over time, The Rings of Power started lower but has been growing in popularity ever since. For one, a co-showrunner left on the day of its release, for the other, two young, unknown writers are already working on its season five finale. Imagine the breathing room! The relief of knowing, “Yes, we have time.”

We’re not a movie studio trying to recoup a million-dollar investment, but we, too, often flit around more than we should. Posting on LinkedIn for 30 days didn’t work? Too bad, let’s try something else! No one wants your first batch of homemade blueberry muffins? Alright, maybe baking was never in your cards. No! Don’t give up so easily! Give yourself time. Commit to another season.

It must seem laughable to someone like Gandhi, who devoted his entire life to a single cause, but for me, focusing on one goal each year already improved a lot. There’s so much you can accomplish that you could never do in three, six, sometimes even nine months. Of course the extra 90 days make a difference! How could they not when every day counts? And you know what? If you’re not happy with December’s ending, you can start the next season on January 1st. Why not follow up? Aim a little higher, practice a little more, and perhaps this year, you’ll hit your mark.

Life is not a TV show, and even those are better when their makers commit. In the real world, however, canceling after one season almost never works — because good things take time, and there’s only so much you can achieve in a few episodes.

Bet on yourself. Order more seasons of the projects and relationships you care about. If you work on them long enough, I’m sure the ratings will catch up.

If My Dad’s Mortgage Was a Headline

What’s the best age to buy a house? Chances are, by the time you first ask the question, you’re already too late — at least if you consult the media. Plenty of sources will tell you that, technically, there is no right or wrong here, but actually, the median age is 32, the best age is “young,” and you should really do it between ages 25 and 34. So much for “to each their own.”

A high school friend of mine ticked all the boxes by the time he was 30: married, house, kids. They even built their own! But he didn’t do it because he read in the newspaper that it was time. He did it because he was ready. The timing just happened to line up. For my dad, it didn’t.

Musing about when I might own a home the other day, I realized my parents bought their house when they were 38 — but they also paid it off within 20 years. More surprisingly, they accomplished this feat despite making some mistakes.

My dad’s first mortgage was fixed at 4.5% interest for ten years. Two years before it expired, in 2011, actual interest rates were near zero, but the gloom of the global financial crisis was still hanging over everyone’s heads. “The rates will go up!” the media shouted — and my dad extended the mortgage early at the same rate. Two years later, when he would actually have been up for renewal, rates were much lower. Oh well.

On the other hand, my dad’s pay rose over the years. Whenever he got a bonus, he put it towards special payments to decrease the debt pile faster. That worked like a charm, and he ultimately paid off the house five years before his last mortgage would have had to be renewed. What an amazing feat! Why don’t the media write about that? “Man Pays Off House 5 Years Early, Says Slow and Steady Wins the Race.” Now that’s a headline, if you ask me.

But it’s not the kind of title that turns heads, and that’s why the media will always throw irrelevant statistics and cookie-cutter advice at you where, actually, a strong gut and careful consideration are required.

If you get a 30-year-mortgage at 25 years old and spend the first ten years paying nothing but interest, then lose or must sell the house for whatever reason, how far did that head start get you? Even if you don’t, someone who gets a 20-year-mortgage at age 35 might end up paying less interest than you do — and be a debt-free homeowner at the same age. But maybe you can get a cheap plot of land in your 20s or inherit some money at 30, and then, it might be the right time indeed. There are averages and medians and lots of advice, but no true answers, except the ones you come up with on your own.

The best age to buy a house, start a business, have kids, switch careers, or start a volleyball club is when you’re ready for it. That’s not a moment Google can point out for you, but I’m sure you’ll get it right — and even if you don’t, tomorrow is another day, and it’s never too late to fix yesterday’s mistakes.