Shelve Your Rants

Yesterday, I had a bad customer experience. Instead of the declared maximum of 55 minutes, my food took over 90 minutes to arrive. There was no way to contact the driver. The restaurant didn’t pick up the phone. Two customer service agents did…nothing. In fact, one of them casually canceled my order just before the food arrived. Miraculously, it showed up anyway. Free meal after all, I guess?

I don’t know why I got so worked up about it. I wasn’t all that hungry. There was no need to call and chat and pull all these levers to try and salvage the situation. I could have just waited, or cancelled, or made some food at home. But maybe I wanted to get worked up about something. Maybe I just felt like shouting. That’s the problem with anger: You rarely know whether it’s warranted, and even if it is, it is almost never productive.

As a writer, it is especially tempting to turn each perceived slight into a long rant lamenting an entire industry. I’ve recently noticed a huge drop in quality for the experience of flying. I have a 1,400-word piece sitting in my drafts folder, ready to go — but I think I’ll just hold on to it. Besides riling up other people, is it really going to change anything? Will it reach that 1 in 1,000 airline execs who’d really take it to heart?

Writers publishing a constant stream of doomer pieces often tell themselves they’re bringing attention to important issues. Actually, they just stir up thousands of people’s emotions, and they usually profit off the outrage. The issue itself almost always remains. Like anger itself, ranting in public is rarely productive.

In private? Have at it. Write that hot letter. Type that angry Slack message. Just pause for a moment before you hit send. Chances are, you’ll realize some words are better left unsaid.

Releasing your pain is important, but it is much better to scream into, or at, your pillow than in someone else’s ear. As with your memories of bad customer experiences, most of the time, the best thing you can do with your rants is shelve them.

Trapped

When you feel trapped in a situation, know that it is never the circumstances that trap you but your mind. You always have choices. In fact, you have a near-infinite number of them.

However, because only a small fraction of our options appear obvious to us for any given situation, it’s easy for us to fall into the trap of “None of the paths in front of me will lead to a good outcome, therefore, I have no path in front of me at all.” This trap is entirely mental, not real. We feel trapped, but actually, we aren’t.

In an early Suits episode, a mean partner at the law firm where Mike Ross is a new associate tricks him into failing a drug test. When Mike goes to his mentor Harvey, he claims that he had no choice. “Oh, because you had a gun to your head,” Harvey says. “Yes!”

“And what are your choices if someone puts a gun to your head?” “What are you talking about? You do what they say, or they shoot you!” “Wrong. You take the gun, or you pull out a bigger one. Or you call their bluff. Or you do any one of a hundred and forty six other things.”

Corporate law is all about finding a way out of seemingly impossible situations. The other party will drive you into a corner with some weird, antiquated legal loophole, and then, with your back against the wall, it’s your job to find an even weirder one to break the wall down and keep playing.

The ethics of corporate law can sometimes get questionable, but the spirit of independent thinking is admirable. You too have this spirit. Everyone does. You just need to remember it when you feel “trapped.”

When you’re stuck in a bad job but need the money, you don’t have to stay. You can secure another job before quitting. You can get a second job on the side. You can start your own business. You can ask your friends for help. You can talk to your boss, to your coworkers, or even the CEO. You can move to a different country. You can run away into the woods and learn to survive on your own. You have a million options, but unless you’re willing to think outside the box, you won’t see the one that’ll set you free.

The same applies to a broken relationship, financial quagmire, or any other seemingly insurmountable situation. Sometimes, your biggest obstacle will even become your greatest stepping stone. But first, you have to get out of your own way.

The only traps in life are the ones we believe ourselves to be in. Use your imagination, and you’ll never be caged.

Practice in Public

That’s all this blog is. A daily practice, free for anyone to attend. Not that it needs spectators. But whoever wants to watch can. I’m just the guy doing sit-ups in the park. My reps may be blog posts, but the results are still plain for everyone to see.

You might not choose writing, but you too should practice in public.

In Munich, people dance in public. There’s a regular salsa class at Königsplatz. The hip hop kids hang out at the Pinakothek. When it comes to sports and exercise, we practice in public all the time, if only because the courts and gear we need are too large to fit into our houses.

When we start a business, we have no choice but to practice in public. Initially, the market may not pay much for our services, but with each gig, we can get better until, eventually, the whole world might want a piece of our delicious personal brand–pie.

Your job is something you practice in public. You can’t hide the second-quarter report from your boss because you don’t think it’s polished enough, can you? When the client calls, you better pick up the phone.

Wherever practicing in public is necessary, we don’t think twice about how our early, potentially clumsy efforts might be perceived. The publicity is just part of the deal. If I want to play tennis and do it well, I must accept that some people will see me while I am still a bloody beginner. If I’m not willing to do that, then I can’t learn how to play tennis. It’s that simple, and we are happy to play ball under these terms, pun intended.

Why can’t we do the same with art? Why is starting a Youtube channel a big deal? Why are teenage girls conceited if they make an Instagram and talk about makeup? Why do we think “poor schmuck” every time a coworker tells us he’s starting a personal blog?

Practicing in public does not mean you have to aspire to build an empire. You don’t think the guy doing sprints in the school yard is trying to beat Usain Bolt, do you? Then why must someone jumping on TikTok necessarily be desperate for attention? Why must a vlogger be arrogant or greedy?

You can practice mostly for fun even if you practice in public. Professionalism is not a requirement — although if professionalism is what you’re going for, that also is helped by practicing in public.

Art seems to be the one arena in which exposure isn’t a requirement to play, but that doesn’t mean the exposure won’t do what it does in all the other areas: help you improve. It’s much easier to take a few points of criticism on your painting to heart than it is to argue endlessly with yourself in your head about what to change. Even if you are the primary beneficiary of your art, aka you just like to make things and use them (or look at them), said beneficiary will still gain from the semi-publicness of your work.

For some reason, we think we need to be “good” in order to be allowed to reveal our art in public. But most of the time, nobody even knows what “good” means, and regardless, we can never get there if we don’t show the world our bad drafts first.

Art is like any job, sport, or business venture: You don’t need authority to do it, but if you want to get the absolute most from your pursuit, be it in meaning, satisfaction, or external rewards, you absolutely must practice in public. See you at the park!

Speak Slowly

It allows you to choose your words more carefully and, in fact, to choose your words in the first place. Often, we blurt out whatever first comes to mind when we most need to do the opposite. Emotions and eloquence rarely go together.

The most important part, however, is that speaking slowly gives you time to see how the person you are talking to reacts, and only when you empathize with their reaction can you adjust not just your words but also your tone. “The tone makes the music,” we say in Germany.

A harsh piece of criticism delivered softly can work wonders in getting an employee to try harder. A sad truth delivered calmly will open the door to a conversation instead of a shouting match.

In the movie Hitch, Will Smith’s character claims 30% of human communication is tone. That might be a stretch, but how you speak definitely matters a great deal on top of what you say.

Speak slowly so that, like in a good song, your melody and lyrics may always blend together. Let them walk hand in hand. In doing so, you will give us the gift of feeling calm, comforted, and inspired in your presence — and that feeling will last long after the last word has been said.

Something Beautiful Is Coming Your Way

“You can’t manufacture a miracle,” Robbie Williams sings. You can’t control when you’ll feel lost, hurt, tired, or lonely. Sometimes, all you can do is wait.

The waiting, however, is always worth it. The sun will rise again eventually. Something good will come eventually.

I want you to remember that that good thing is already on its way. It always is. Every day, somewhere, a miracle sets off, heading towards you. But miracles take a long road to reach us. They don’t all make it. That’s why we receive them so rarely. As long as we have faith in waiting, however, they’ll always get here just in time.

Don’t give up. Hold on a little longer. Something beautiful is coming your way.

Between Two Chairs

When you feel stuck between two chairs, the problem is not that you can’t sit down. You even have more than one option! The challenge is that we don’t know which seat will be comfortable enough for us to keep sitting in it. If we choose A, will we topple and fall over? If we choose B, will our butt hurt after 30 minutes?

The dilemma is exacerbated when other people want to recruit us for their respective recliner: It always sounds so good when they talk about it! But is their chair really the right one for us? A church group, a new division at work, the local chess club — they all want us on their team, but in sitting down on their bench, we might knock over another.

What if your dad leans right with his vote, and your mom leans left? Who will you support? What if you get along great with your roommate, but the best job opportunity is in another city? When the chairs are people, life really gets messy.

There are no perfect answers here. Sometimes, you’ll choose the exact right chair, and everyone will commend you for it. At other times, you’ll realize your mistake before your butt even touches the surface, and you’ll spend the next few months cleaning up the mess you’ve made.

The only missteps you can truly avoid are those leading you in a circle around your vast array of seats. Life isn’t a game of musical chairs. In fact, the music will only start playing once you sit down. Don’t hesitate for too long. Don’t stand around until your legs hurt. Chairs are like buses — they come and they go — but you need to sit in one in order to focus and do your best work.

I know. I, too, wish life was easier. I wish we didn’t have to choose so often. It’s rarely fun when life forces our hand, but at least that way, we know we’re still playing. And sometimes, magic unfolds! So pick a chair, sit down, and hope for the best. The next intersection will soon appear, and unlike on a plane, you can always change your seat.

Which Concerns Are Worth Voicing?

When it comes to my career, I know exactly what I want. I want to write books that inspire millions of people — to make a change, to inspire others, or even to pick up the pen and write their own.

Despite this, I constantly doubt myself. Is this the right book to work on? How much time should I spend on other, more money-oriented projects? What if this chapter isn’t well-received? What if I can’t get my point across in this paragraph?

When it comes to concerns, we all have thousands more than we can reasonably address. Fortunately, most of them never come to pass, and out of the ones that do, only few will prove to truly be worth worrying about. So which concerns should we bring up? Which ones do we focus on, share with others, and commit to resolving before we move on?

If we voiced every little concern we might hold about our relationship, for example, we wouldn’t do our future a good service. “She forgot to put the soap back where it belongs.” “He never cooks.” “What if we don’t get along after we move in?” Were we to point out all of the small and big issues in real-time, our partner wouldn’t thank us for it. They’d say we’re a complainer, and they’d be right. After all, we’re spending all of our time pointing out problems and none of it solving them!

The problem with problems is that you can solve only one at a time. Once you go into the realm of real time and energy, there’s only so much you can spend on any given issue before you run out of steam, another becomes more important, or it escalates to the point of rendering the solution moot.

The best thing we can do under these constraints is to pick the problem that seems most important and pressing and go all-in on it while keeping our mouths shut about the rest — at least for now.

Yes, sometimes, you’ll choose the wrong challenge. Sometimes you won’t make it in time, and your situation will change altogether. But to try and fail at eliminating the real consequences of a concern is still far better than to spout “Fire!” left, right, and center without running for any of the extinguishers on the wall.

The truth is that we’ll rarely know in advance which obstacles will break our backs. Half the reason they do is because they come out of left field! Still, most of our time is far better spent addressing whatever important issues we can see with real blood, sweat, and tears than lamenting on and on about the million ways it might all go to hell.

It’s hard to swallow your concerns, and yet, it is often the right thing to do. Don’t swallow all of them. Think carefully about which ones you’ll voice. Do force the most critical seeming ones into the spotlight, but then get right back to work. There are books to be written and meals to be cooked — and whether they’ll be our first, last, or one of many does not matter nearly as much as completing the one right in front of us.

You Don’t Have to Do It All in a Day

There’s a funny scene in Stranger Things where Mike and Dustin argue about whose girlfriend is cooler.

Having just had his computer whiz sweetheart hack into the school’s admin system to turn his D- in Latin to an A, Dustin feels like he has the high ground: “Look, I’m not saying that my girlfriend is better than yours. It’s just that Suzie’s, like, a certified genius.”

Mike’s girlfriend El, on the other hand, is the main hero of the show and, therefore, does all the heavy lifting when it comes to keeping evil demons at bay. “You do realize El saved the world twice, right?”

“And yet you still have a C in Spanish,” Dustin retorts.

There are two lessons in this little tiff among friends. The first is that even if you save the world today, it will keep spinning tomorrow like nothing ever happened. Most people will never know, and you’ll still have to go to third period math. Sorry! No first class seats in this life.

The second is that you can never do everything, and, therefore, you don’t have to do it all in a day — whatever important goals “all” might contain for you. Mike was busy helping his girlfriend save the world. As a result, he didn’t have time for Spanish. So what? He can get a better grade next year!

Whether you’re the kind of person who wants to save the world, help someone else do it, or merely build a nice little life for yourself and your family, remember: Be it world-saving or building a tool shed, you don’t have to do it all in a day — and even if you could, tomorrow would still be another one.

It’s okay to have a C in Spanish.

Surprise, You’re Successful

I just completed my first ever escape room challenge. When we started the 60-minute sand timer, my intuition was to slowly walk through the room, scan it, and take everything in. My girlfriend knew better.

Having done several of these, she yelled, “Find all the clues!” and immediately started rummaging through all the drawers, collecting every piece of evidence she could discover. Naturally, I matched her energy, and off to the races we were.

As it turns out, this was exactly the right thing to do. You need to get all the data, then assemble it into solutions to the individual puzzles, and backtrack where necessary. My approach most likely would have been too slow.

What’s enlightening about being on the clock is that your mind has no time for distractions. It filters and thinks and adjusts at rapid speed. You run from one puzzle to the next, and by the time the buzzer sounds, you can barely grasp it’s already over.

In our case, we completed the room pretty much on the dot. “Huh? It’s over? We won?” It took me several minutes to slow down, emerge from focus mode, and process what had just happened — and when we try to accomplish something, most of the time, that’s a good thing.

You want to forget the big picture for a while. You want to stay on task, give yourself the gift of focus, and only return from your deep dive once you’re done. That’s how people land on movie posters, bestseller lists, and in sold out arenas. They keep their head down, have fun with it, and before they know it, they’re successful — at least the ones who do it right.

We can’t stay on the edge of our seat at all times, of course, but we could probably do it a lot more than we are doing, and thus eliminate clutter and spend less time daydreaming when we already know where we want to go.

Sometimes, it truly is the best of both worlds. You enjoy life as the full-immersion experience it is supposed to be, and when you “wake up,” someone will tell you: “Surprise! You’re already successful.” Who knew that doors could open so fast? Well, it turns out life is like an escape room: As long as you keep figuring out which buttons to push, nothing will stand in your way for too long.

Just Get It Out

Your honest opinion in clear words is worth more than a well-presented half-truth. What applies to business — just give me the gist of it rather than a million fancy slides — also holds up in relationships: If you tell me what’s up so we can talk about it, I don’t care much how you initiate the conversation.

Nowadays, our conversations with loved ones are endless. They’re a constant stream of communication, happening across media, formats, and time zones. Who cares exactly how and where you drop an important issue into this infinite river of texts, GIFs, and FaceTime calls? The sooner we address it, the better!

In fact, especially in love, sometimes, asynchronous conversation actually helps. You can’t think straight when you’re both huddled up on the couch, be it swooning or crying. Writing forces you to structure your thoughts, and the more critical a problem, the more you might want to do it.

Most of all, however, our multi-media conversation landscape provides you the chance to cough up your fur balls sooner. Whatever the challenge at hand, don’t let it fester in your mind. Pull it out into the light so you may approach it with whatever help you might need. Even if the string you’re using to yank it from its dark hole is made of voice messages, no one will turn it into a noose. We’ll be too busy working with you towards better.

Don’t be afraid of sharing. It matters not how you do it but that you do it. Don’t choose tomorrow when you can choose today. Speak up.