The Boatbuilder’s Lesson on Goals

At some point in Vikings, boat builder Floki leaves his hometown of Kattegat. His wife and daughter both have died, and so he surrenders himself to the sea. After weeks adrift, he ends up in Iceland, a desolate but beautiful place.

Having explored the island for a while, Floki finally begins to see his new mission: Tell his people about his discovery, and bring new settlers into this foreign land. He sails back, he manages to convince a few folk to join him, and together, through great peril and hardship, eventually, they reach Iceland.

But what is this? The land is barren. One can hardly farm. The temperatures are even colder than in Kattegat, and there’s almost no game one can hunt. What hellhole has Floki brought them to? Naturally, Floki’s followers are angry, and fights soon break out among them.

The whole idea of settling eventually fails in spectacular fashion, and not too long afterwards, Floki once again finds himself adrift at sea. One day, he will indeed discover a new home, but for now, the boat builder hasn’t built his last vessel just yet…

There’s a beautiful balance in Floki’s story. Sometimes, he knows exactly what he wants, and he runs right towards it. At other times, he is completely lost. Everything feels pointless, and so he does nothing on purpose in particular. And sometimes, Floki knows he is lost but refuses to accept it. At those times, he chases a random goal — mostly to chase something until a better target comes along.

Is Iceland really the best place for the vikings to settle? Probably not. But it’s a new, empty place they can settle. It might be worth a try…

When the settlers struggled to find their destination in their tiny boat, Floki could have tried to divert them to a different destination. He could have turned the boat around. But he didn’t. He kept laying out a beautiful — perhaps a bit too beautiful — vision of Iceland — because he knew that destination, any meaningful destination, really, might make the difference between his followers starving and pulling through.

Last year, I knew exactly what I was doing. I had a Trello board, milestones, and kept cranking away. Then, the plan stopped working, and while I adjusted accordingly — I stopped working on tactics that no longer showed effect — I’ve now been adrift for a few months. I can feel myself getting tired of that drift. I need something, anything, to sink my teeth into. And I’m starting to realize that, probably, any goal will do the trick.

Tune in to your inner compass. Find the right balance. When it’s time to meander, meander. When it’s time to be laser-focused, focus. And when it’s time to grasp for whatever rope will get you out of a slump, reach out and pull yourself up. Ahoy, sailor! May the winds be fair and the seas follow you wherever you go.

When Perception Trumps Reality

The EV revolution has a problem: Nobody wants to buy used electronic cars — at least in Germany. Dealers have been clamoring for a battery certification that will allow them to assuage their customers’ biggest fear: that given its previous usage, the battery won’t last much longer and will be expensive to replace.

When my dad told me about this phenomenon, I began to wonder: Is that actually true? I gave it a Google, and it turns out EV batteries last over 200,000 kilometers on average. That’s perfectly fine. You’d never buy a gas-powered car and expect it to have zero problems with that kind of mileage. The engine might last another 50,000 or 100,000 kilometers, but if it broke down, you wouldn’t be surprised.

But what about the cost? Are batteries more expensive than engines? According to Visual Capitalist, an EV’s battery costs between 15-30% of the car’s retail price. That’s a lot — but it’s also how much you might pay to replace your combustion engine. It all depends on the car, of course, but even a small engine in a $30,000 car can quickly rack up a $5,000 bill if in dire need of repair — around 15%.

Naturally, there are extreme examples of either case on either side, but by and large, it seems both the guaranteed lifetime range and relative engine replacement cost aren’t too far apart between EVs and internal-combustion cars. So what’s the deal? Why aren’t people buying? Because sometimes, perception trumps reality — and when it comes to EV powertrains, a simple everyday dynamic has had time to mess with our heads for decades.

How many internal-combustion engines do you use around your house? Zero. And how many batteries? Oh! Batteries are everywhere. In your TV remote. Your game console controller. Your music box. And guess what? Batteries run out all the time. We’re used to having to replace them. Unlike in our household, however, a car battery is not only much more expensive, we also have no clue how to actually fit it into our vehicle. It’s not something we should even worry about, but we’re used to worrying about it with our alarm clock, and so we do.

The most pernicious opponent for used-EV sales, however, might be the one other device most of us cherish as much as our cars: our phone. If you don’t charge your phone every night, you can’t use it. Electric cars are similar in that regard.

What’s more, however, with smartphones turning 20 soon, most people have now also experienced a common phenomenon: After a year or two or three, your smartphone’s battery starts to degrade. It’s an issue that’s improved in recent generations, but if you’ve had to replace three phones after three years each because they could no longer last until lunch — like me — that creates some serious battery-PTSD — and I think that’s one of the EV crisis’ driving factors (pun intended).

Whether it’s in sales, making friends, or getting a job: Sometimes, even when reality is on your side, perception won’t be, and that will make all the difference. Always look at situations from both angles, and if you find one is missing where the other should already do the convincing for you, work hard to align them — so that the show, just like your car, can keep rolling.

The Digital Vortex

Even without virtual reality headsets, it’s already easy to get lost in the digital world. I can tell a real difference between days where my first act is to open a window, breathe in the smell of fresh grass, and hear the birds sing, and days when I go straight to my phone or computer.

20 minutes of scrolling crypto Twitter here, 15 minutes of reading the news there, and don’t get me started on Youtube. Every minute, 500 hours of new videos show up there. That’s three full weeks of new things for you to watch — without sleep — every 60 seconds! With that kind of infinite selection, could spend your entire life there, never get bored, and it wouldn’t even be an accomplishment.

In Japan, more than a million people spend their lives as “hikikomori.” Modern-day hermits, if you will. They don’t leave their houses. They don’t interact with society, except perhaps through a screen — and given the options of what you nowadays can do through a screen — which is everything — I can’t blame them entirely for their situation. It’s hard!

But when I spent too much time living digitally, the quality of my life deteriorates. And I don’t mean just the non-digital parts. I’m not as nice of a human being when all of that being happens online. For all the video calls and profile pictures, the web still separates us from other people, and the more time you spend in this isolated-yet-social modus operandi, the more that separation starts to show.

You’ll say things you wouldn’t say if you had just come back from a walk. You’ll reply to emails as if they go back to robots, not people. And you’ll feel lonely, no matter how many likes your posts get. The only way to remedy these effects? Keep a dose of reality at hand.

Start your days by unlocking your window, not your phone. Maintain your connection with the natural world from which you came, and you’ll also maintain your connection with us — regardless of whether you form it during a stroll through the park or a scroll through the app.

Homework Is a Gift

In preparation for a long meeting, someone who’s trying to get to know my business sent me a long questionnaire. It’s an 80-page document with hundreds of questions. Not all of them apply to me or Four Minute Books, and some of them repeat various times in slightly different phrasing.

It’s easy to open a document like this and think, “Oh god, homework. And lots of it.” But actually, a series of focused questions is usually a gift. A rare opportunity to reflect deeply about your work, life, or relationship with someone.

As I was scrolling through the document, thinking about the prompts, adding notes here and there, I caught myself plenty of times thinking: “Wow. That’s interesting. I never thought about it that way. Great question!”

Whether it’s a questionnaire, self-assessment test, or a thoughtful comment by a friend: Just because the timing of the prompt wasn’t perfect does not mean it’s not a good time to reflect. Without such unsolicited feedback, when will you ever? Life goes fast, and so do you. How easy for a year to pass without serious reflection and course correction!

The next time someone asks you to think about something, see it as a timely invitation instead of an untimely demand. Take a moment to breathe, reflect, and readjust your direction — because just like in school, the homework may seem like it’s only for the teacher, but in reality, it is — and always ways — for us.

The Sun Always Rises

When I sleep less than seven hours, there’s a good chance I might wake up with a massive headache. My nose will probably be blocked, and I’ll definitely spend the first 30 minutes of the day in a state of groggy defiance. It’s the worst, and I hate it. I wish I never had to do it again, but with me being human and life being life, that’s not very likely.

There is, however, one thing that tends to happen after short nights that makes the corners of my mouth twitch upwards ever so slightly: My hair comes out perfectly fine. I barely have to comb, let alone wash it. It just…works — and so, for all the huffing and puffing involved in catching an early-morning train, at least I save a solid five to ten minutes in getting ready.

Everything has a silver lining, and, unbelievable as it may sound, that “everything” includes the worst things in life. From petty annoyances to serious problems to life-threatening diagnoses, it all comes with a tiny sparkle across the horizon, the faintest of lights at the end of a long tunnel. Focus on that light. Don’t let the darkness get to you.

The sun always takes a good while to rise, but chances are, even when you slept too little, it’ll still show up.

Your Awareness Determines Your Speed

The first two months of the year went by in a blur. I don’t remember much of what I’ve done. I can’t tell you to what places I’ve been, my amazing birthday trip being the one exception. I spent some time sick, much time working, and almost all of it looking at screens — but it all went by so quickly! How?

The answer is awareness. Or rather, a lack of it. The more I allow my brain to frantically plow through vast seas of information, the way it likes to do, the less present I am — and the faster time seems to go by. But when I take frequent breaks, sit and think before I act, and approach each task or activity with intention, I never feel in a rush. Yet, ironically, I get more done.

You can do the same work in four undistracted hours that you can do in eight while constantly multitasking, but you’ll feel much better after the former than after the latter. You’ll remember where your time went and why, and you’ll have actually experienced its passage. This is self-awareness the habit, the practice, the cognitive state. The more you master it, the less your brain will pull you inadvertently into the future.

We cannot fast-forward the clock, but awareness still determines the perceived speed at which we are going. You only have one life. Make sure you’re there to live it.

Support Art Where You Meet It

The recycling movement doesn’t need you picketing for its cause. It needs you to recycle your trash.

In the same vein, it’s nice to talk about supporting artists and rooting for the creator economy, but do you actually watch your friend’s Youtube channel? Do you turn off your ad-blocker when you do it? Do you buy your friend’s book on the first day it is released, or do you put it off until later, and then it never happens? Do you make time to visit your friend’s art exhibition? Do you skip asking for a free ticket?

Nobody’s perfect. We’ve all skimmed off the top here and there. We’re busy. Worried about our own problems. And yes, at times, just lazy. But when a beautiful piece of art lands in your lap sent right from within your circle, don’t ignore it. The occasional $10 spent on the causes of the people you know and love goes much further than any philosophical debate at a star-studded gala event.

Support art where you meet it and go to bed knowing that, just like in separating the plastic from the glass, you’ve done enough.

Why the Worst Streamer Gets the Biggest Donations

The last thing CoolTrainerRyan needs is money. He’s 35, an accountant by day, but by night, he sits in his designated Pokémon workshop on his seven-acre estate — and on a card collection worth millions of dollars.

But the first time Ryan livestreams on Youtube after a few years of growing his channel to around 90,000 subscribers, something fascinating happens: Immediately, people start showering him in donations. $10 here, $20 there. A 50 from a kind stranger, even a 100 every now and then. Within minutes, he’s racked up hundreds of dollars, even after explicitly and repeatedly telling people to stop sending money. But why?

Is it the content of the stream, perhaps? The quality of what’s happening? I assure you, it is not. Ryan is streaming from an old iPhone, in vertical orientation, sitting on his couch with his friend and fellow Youtuber Sean aka PokéVault, mostly drinking whiskey. They’re chatting, laughing, cracking jokes. Only when he sees the money rolling in does Ryan actually start grabbing card packs to open — he feels guilty and doesn’t want to profit off the stream. What’s going on?

The next day, it is Ryan’s birthday — which happens to also be the day Pokémon was invented. Despite its poetic origin, the event to commemorate it is anything but: On his first “proper” livestream — the camera is set up in the right format this time — Ryan, Sean, and Nick, another Poketuber, spend the first 20 minutes just sitting at a makeshift table, eating burgers and fries.

Eventually, packs will be opened, viewers will be greeted, and other streamers visited, but all in all, the 3.5-hour stream is a hot mess. The friends talk over each other. Ryan keeps throwing around cards. There’s no structure or plan at all. Comments get skipped. Openings interrupted. The guys duck in and out of the stream. And yet again, the donations keep rolling. How can this be?

To explain all of this madness, it only takes one word: authenticity. When you watch CoolTrainerRyan, you get 100%, unfiltered authenticity. He curses. He gets mad at his bad luck. He throws hissy fits, calls out scammy Youtubers, and complains about his six cats. In other words, you’re watching a real human being. Not a manufactured character opening cards for kids like a cartoon figure on TV.

When Ryan is with his friends, that authenticity only gets amplified. That, too, is a phenomenon we can relate to. It’s much more fun to watch three grown men behave like children, dissing each other, cracking jokes, falling to the floor laughing, than it is to observe three show hosts, trying hard to be professional, waiting for something interesting to happen.

At one point in the stream, Ryan throws a card up so hard, he damages his new ceiling. At another, Sean finds a baby frog under a shelf, holds it into the camera, and spends the next 15 minutes hunting for animals. This is not a livestream. It is real life. That’s why it’s interesting, and that’s why people keep sending Ryan money even though he doesn’t need it.

Whatever art you’re making, ensure it’s always you who’s still making it. Don’t get lost in trying too hard to manufacture something people will like. Live your life one honest day at a time, because if you do, whether the cameras are rolling or not doesn’t matter. You’ll have the same, genuine experiences with friends, family, and the community you serve — and any donations you receive for your cause will only be the icing on top of the cake.

Use Synonyms

Last Monday, I summarized a book about communication. It’s a 1,200-word piece. The word “conversation” appears 21 times. That might not sound like much, but imagine talking to someone for five minutes, and in those five minutes, they use the word “conversation” 21 times. It’s a lot.

In that same piece, I used the word “discussion” four times. I also used the word “exchange,” but only once. So it’s not like I lacked creativity. I lacked discipline. Why? Because thinking of new words to express the same idea is hard, and if you rely on sheer will to do it, you will fail. That’s why opening a thesaurus — a dictionary for synonyms, if you will — is one of the biggest acts of service you can perform for your readers.

On a better Monday, I’d have kept a tab with a thesaurus open during my editing. I’d have used the word “conversation” less to begin with, and I’d have replaced it with beautiful terms like “dialogue,” “discourse,” or “debate” wherever it piled up a little too frequently.

This kind of creativity takes zero genius thought. It’s a matter of effort and effort alone. As long as you’re willing to spend 15 seconds browsing synonyms and picking one that’s appropriate — and to do so time and again — you’ll reap this precious activity’s rewards: Your writing will be three times more colorful, twice as nuanced, and you will look like a genius despite simply being dedicated.

The English language has 171,476 words. To get through everyday life, we rely on a mere 3,000 of them. It’s a myth that we only use 20% of our brain, but it seems we are using only 2% of our language. That’s a shame for our “conversations,” but in our writing, it’s an outright disgrace.

Open a thesaurus. Use synonyms.

Family, a Definition

It was a small candleholder inside a glass display offering all kinds of decorative products. One of those cylindric ones with text on them that you can read once you put a tealight inside. Here’s what it said: “Family — We may not have everything we want, but together, we are all we need.”

What a great definition! Who those people are and when you start using the word, that’s up to you. But in the end, as long as you feel whole together, all bases will be covered.

Life is about connections, not possessions — and the best way to decorate a room is to fill it with hugs and roaring laughter.