Open the Curtains

A good book is like a person walking into your room and opening the curtains: At first, the light is blinding, but once you let it in, the scope of what you can see broadens considerably.

Take my friend Kaki’s book Wa — The Art of Balance. It’s a book about health, covering four pillars of our physical and mental wellbeing: eating, moving, resting, and socializing. The number one way the book helped me improve those habits was by widening my understanding of what they can mean.

Exercise is not just a 30-minute run. A healthy meal is not just rice and broccoli. If a long walk can be part of your health regimen, and buying a gift for someone can be how you connect, suddenly, working out and socializing become more accessible. There now is a path through the maze where, before, there was none — but for those new ideas to light the way, first, you must let them in.

Even the right idea can only change our mind at the right time, and then still we must open the curtains and welcome it into our lives. That, too, is a habit. You can do it every day, and with far more than just books, but only if you get out of bed. Choose action over stagnation, and remember to open the curtains.

Find Something To Be Proud Of

After nine months of hard work on a traffic plateau, my website finally picked up steam. In month ten, Google released an update and hammered me back to where I started within a week. Queue That’s Life by Sinatra.

When I set it last year, I knew picking a traffic goal wasn’t ideal, since it’s a number I don’t control. But it was a goal worth chasing, and so I went with it. As long as you’re making incremental progress towards an external, luck-dependent goal, everything feels fine. But when fate reminds you that you’re not in charge, your motivation will drop hard. When that inevitably happens, shift your focus. Find something to be proud of that will keep you going in the meantime.

In my case, though I no longer have the traffic and revenue to show for it, but I do have a Trello board with hundreds of completed tasks. Every month without fail, I published new content, wrote newsletters, and released Youtube videos. I put out dozens of great, in-depth, free resources that deserve every single visitor they get. Since Google’s latest update doesn’t change any of that, I can still take pride in what I have done — and then, I can roll up my sleeves and get back to work.

What’s that anonymous line again that I included in one of the many things I made this year? “Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” Sometimes, that courage needs a little boost from looking back at the things you controlled and controlled well. When the path ahead looks rocky, turn around, realize how far you’ve come, and then do what you always do: go on.

Scaredy-Cats All Around

A few cats patrol my neighborhood. Two of them regularly show up at my balcony door, so every now and then, I have to enter a staring contest if I don’t want a stranger’s cat in my house. Usually, I win, and the little furball darts off. It always reminds me of what we tell children when they encounter new animals for the first time: “It’s more scared of you than you’re scared of it.”

When you are scared, it’s hard to imagine that what you’re scared of might be even more frightened than you. What would that even feel like? Can it get any scarier? But when the line works, it’s enough to calm you down. To approach the cat with equanimity, maybe even pet it, and realize: “Oh! This is not so bad!”

But what’s meant to help us survive small bouts with everyday animals also applies to humans and, if you’ll indulge the spiritual interpretation, even to life itself. In a coffee shop, everyone’s a stranger — and everyone is scared to approach anyone else. But when one person pets the cat, makes a joke, or breaks the ice with a remark about the weather, often, a whole group of people piles in on the conversation. If we remember that we start from equal instincts, we can be that person, and instead of driving away the neighbor’s cat, we’ll invite human connection.

Your bug reporting dashboard feels the same way. If our projects and challenges were conscious, they, too, would be more scared of you than you are of them. After all, you’re the one with all the power. If you show up with confidence and resolve, work and deadlines can’t help but melt away. It’s only in your imagination that they can grow into big shadows, dark and overwhelming and, well, scary. But your book can’t write itself. It has no life of its own — only you to hope for, hoping you’ll show up and complete it. That, too, is a staring contest you can win.

We’re all scared here. Every part of life is as frightened to go on, to step up, to say yes to the next challenge as you are. Remember this equality, and you’ll show yourself time and again: “Oh! This is not so bad!”

Walking Away

Every battle in your life is a battle you chose to fight. We love to say, “I had no choice!” but, actually, we always do. Fathers walk away from their unexpected sons all the time. People quit their jobs or do the minimum and wait to get fired.

It’s hard to see in those more severe, more consequential situations, but even then, sometimes, walking away is the best thing we can do. A child growing up without a father might become a happier adult than one with a mean drunk for a dad.

Ironically, we are sometimes less likely to back down in much smaller matters where, actually, the benefit of walking away should be much more obvious. What do you stand to gain from arguing with your spouse about where to keep the shampoo? What do you get out of being angry at your bank for rejecting your verification documents? Most of the time, the reward is just that — anger — and anger only knows one target: you.

“Pick your battles,” we say, and while that’s great advice, we usually think about the wars we actually care to fight when we share it. But what about the clashes we never wanted to wrestle out to begin with? Often, we can just drop them altogether. No consequences. No hurt feelings. Just more inner peace.

Every battle in your life only happens if you continue showing up for it. Choose to walk away where the only way to win is to let go, and you’ll have more energy to persist where it matters.

500 Pieces

Last Christmas, my sister gave me Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet — as a Lego set. The model has 500 pieces.

If even a small-scale replica of something immensely powerful — a glove that can wipe out half of humanity in one finger snap — takes half a thousand pieces to function, how many more parts must the real thing have? 1,000? 10,000? 100,000?

Even if the pieces just resemble small steps on a long journey, whenever I have a tough week in business, when the bad news keep piling up, I like to remember I’m assembling 500 pieces — and today, I can only put one in place. Or two, perhaps. Maybe, on a productive day, even three. But no matter how strong my output or how unsettling the mails in my inbox, crafting a 500-part masterpiece is a long journey, and I’ve always just begun.

Whether your masterpiece is a book about fly fishing, a model train landscape of Switzerland, or a happy family of four in which your kids actually like going to school, you, too, are assembling your life 500 parts at a time. Every so rarely, you’ll put the last stone in place, and, for a brief moment, you’ll get to celebrate. Pump your fist. Snap your fingers. And then? Then, you grab the next Lego set and do it all over again.

Life is not finishing. Life is building. The final touch is only the cherry on top, and that’s what keeps the building fun. Rewarding. Perfectly balanced, as all things should be. Pick up one piece, put it in place, and you’ll see: One brick at a time is always the right pace, and if it takes as long as it takes, all timelines are exactly long enough.

Looking in the Wrong Place

In Letting Go of Nothing, Peter Russell tells a story about Nasreddin, a Muslim folk hero. Dubbed “the wise fool,” Nasreddin is street-smart, often outwitting both his adversaries and his friends. Sometimes, however, he is too clever for his own good, thus becoming the butt of the joke. This particular tale is an example of the latter.

Nasreddin was “outside his house one night, kneeling on the ground under a streetlamp, looking for his key,” Russell writes. “A neighbor joins in, scrabbling around in the dirt. After a while he asks, ‘Where exactly did you lose it?’ ‘In my house,’ comes the reply. ‘Well,’ asks the neighbor, being as tactful as possible, ‘why are you looking for it out here?’ ‘Because,’ replies the wise fool, ‘there’s more light out here.'”

It’s easy to laugh at Nasreddin’s silliness, but when it comes to happiness, aren’t we doing the same thing? “We look for it in the world around us because that is the world we know best,” Russell continues. “We know how to change it, how to gather possessions, how to make people and things behave the way we want. We know much less about our minds; they seem dark and mysterious. And so we keep chasing things and experiences in the external world, not realizing the key to feeling better lies within.”

In Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, a young man has a similar realization. After decades of studying under the tutelage of his father, praying, sacrificing, following the rules and rituals, Siddhartha understands that the Brahmins can’t teach him what he wants to know. He ventures out into the world to become an ascetic, but that, too, falls short in satisfying his thirst. Even the Buddha himself does not seem to have any answers, but it is only once Siddhartha rejects his teachings that it finally hits him: No amount of studying anything external, no matter how rigorously, will show him what can only be found in his own heart.

We like to use happiness as an example because it’s an aspect of life where it is most tragic to miss the forest for the trees, but there are plenty of other arenas where we look for solutions in the wrong place. Anxiety cannot be calmed with alcohol. Health cannot be achieved solely with the perfect workout. And retiring in peace is more about knowing when you have enough than about picking the right stock.

Don’t start a witch hunt when you drop your keys. Simply bend down and pick them back up. Not everything in life has an unlock mechanism as straightforward as your front door, but then again, most things worth having aren’t things at all — and the passcodes to those you carry with you at all times.

Meaningful Extensions

That’s what, at its best, technology provides to humankind. A 3D-printed heart is an extension of a doctor’s ability to perform surgery and save a life. The internet is an add-on of talking. And an AI voice might allow a writer like me to narrate more articles than he could ever record with a microphone.

Even future technologies considered to upend the earth are, ultimately, continuations of what humans have always done. Brain-machine interfaces make communication faster. Space exploration is just another kind of exploration. And even eternal life is, well, just more life.

When we mistake these expansions for replacements, we abuse instead of use them. ChatGPT can only help you express yourself better. It can’t do the expressing for you. When you use an image generator to create a picture specific to your article that no one has come up with, that’s an extension of your creativity. When you use it to make an image that’s a perfect copy of an Andy Warhol print, that’s just noise.

Technology is an amplifier, not a savior. Remember its place, and you’ll always feel confident in reinventing your own.

Setting the Scene

“Which cup am I in the mood for today?” I ask when I open the cupboard in the morning. If I feel chirpy, buzzing and ready to tackle the day, I grab my yellow SocialBee cup, a gift from my friend Ovi. If I feel feisty, I take out my “Hands off, Nik’s coffee” mug, another dear present from a beloved friend. And if I feel more muted, perhaps even a tad grumpy, I’ll get an unbranded IKEA cup and pretend I’m a nameless peasant, shoveling shit for the higher-ups — but determined to do my job regardless.

One of the best things you can do for your productivity is to observe the constant interplay of time and energy. Yes, some deadlines must be met, and yes, picking tasks based on what you’re in the mood for is a great start, but there’s a lot more you can do. With the right tweaks, you can turn the ping pong game between these two forces into a beautiful, never-ending game. Making those tweaks is what I call “setting the scene” — and choosing my coffee cup in the morning is just one example.

Imagine your design sprint like a scene from a movie. Who’s present? Where does it happen? Is it a sun-filled room with whiteboards and cookies on the table? Or do you see yourself hunched over a laptop in the corner of a coffee shop at night? Picturing your life scenes as storyboarded moments inside a grand arc makes it easier to accept them as temporary, little adventures on the way. It also gives you an instant, clear vision of what this particular adventure should look like in order for it to go over smoothly in one take.

If I miss my reading slot in the morning, I can’t sit on my couch and read with a coffee in hand at 6 PM instead — too late for caffeine. What I can do is replace the coffee with tea and get the same scene and outcome, despite the time frame being a different one than I had originally intended. If I can’t bring myself to finishing a piece of writing at 4 PM because my creativity has run out for the day, I can switch scenes to an excited project manager, blasting EDM on his headphones, cranking away at his administrative tasks — and then I slip into that role.

You are the narrator of your life. Sure, the show must go on, but it’s a show you’re running at all times. Whether it’s a birthday dinner, a road trip, or mastering a mixtape you’re trying to bring to the big screen next, set each scene accordingly, and you won’t just have a smooth production. You’ll play the role of your life in each episode — and that’s what being a star is all about.

Swirling Inputs

Creativity is the result of mental connections, and so it’s hard to have too many ideas, concepts, and bits of inspiration one can connect.

I usually have more than ten books going at any one time, and I’m also likely watching more than one TV show. My “to read” and “to watch” lists are only growing. Some people might find this overwhelming. I find it leaves me with just the right amount of constantly swirling inputs.

Swirling inputs are like protective little gemstones orbiting around my brain. Whenever I’m facing a challenge, I can say, “Go!” and a handful of them will combine into a shiny solution. When you have a large pool of swirling inputs, you are always ready. Always creative. Never ill-equipped to handle what life throws at you.

This is especially helpful when it comes to making art, of course. If you can show me how A and B and C and D all add up to the same message despite being seemingly unrelated, that’s one hell of a cocktail of inspiration. But to do that, you need inputs. You need A and B and C and D swirling in your beaker by the time you sit down to rhyme, shoot, or compose.

Most everyday challenges, however, will gladly open their locks for you with the right A, B, or C alone. Here, too, however, the right concoction might lead to a more powerful effect. Why settle for unlocking a door when you can blast it open? Why take the stairs when you can take the elevator? A new PowerPoint template might wow the committee, but a YouTube video conceived specifically for your pitch might seal the deal in the room.

Only you can know the right dosage for your swirling inputs and where to get them from. Whenever you feel short on imagination, however, chances are, you have too few ideas floating around your lab rather than too many. Keep feeding your soul. Both your heart and brain will thank you for it.


Since returning from my 15 minutes of fame on Medium to relative obscurity, I’ve written over 600 posts on this blog. That’s almost as many as I’ve published on the platform, and boy, it’s been funonymous!

With only a few hundred people reading, perhaps as little as a few dozen a day, I don’t need to think about positioning. I don’t need to consider how this article will fit into my overall portfolio. And I definitely don’t need to worry about how much money it will make, how many claps it will get, or whether it will go viral. I just write what comes to mind, choose a headline that feels fun, and send my thoughts into the ether. Sometimes, a kind email comes back. Mostly, nothing happens — and it’s absolutely wonderful.

The twist with creating anonymously is that, like most things, we’ll only value it when we can no longer do it. We all start out as nobodies on the web. Naturally, we all want to get famous. It is only once relative fame has arrived that we realize how unburdened and joyful fiddling in private was. Perhaps, funonymity is worth revisiting. It doesn’t feel like it, but that’s a choice we get to make. Few do it, but for all I know, some of the best writers who’ve disappeared from Medium over the years are having a blast filling their journals.

But maybe the greatest irony of all is that from this state of dabbling in private, you’ll also have more fun when returning to your past arenas of glory and fortune. I might not have as much time to write whatever essay I want on Medium as I used to, but I have an archive full of posts no one on the platform has ever seen before. In fact, it’s almost as big as my existing body of work on the platform — and that’s exactly the kind of liberty that makes it fun to play again.

Every few months, I pick a handful of posts from the blog. I think about them. I change the headline. I add a picture, change a word, delete a line, and then I let them float out into the Medium sea from my profile — just to see what happens. Sometimes, a few kind responses come back. Mostly, nothing happens — and it’s exactly the same as on my blog. I’m not surprised. I’m not disappointed. I’m just having fun.

It’s good to get used to performing at a high level, but it’s another thing to do so under constant stress and expectations, if only your own. Would I have chosen funonymity if I hadn’t ended up in it by design? I don’t know — but I know it would have been the right choice to make regardless.

If you’re participating in the world of makers, you’re already doing us a great service. But if you’re in a hurry to succeed with it, stop for a moment, look around your empty comment section, and remember: One day, all of this might be a lot busier — and that will make it both easier and harder at the same time. Enjoy being funonymous, and know you can always return to the comfort of a quiet digital home.