01 Feb Be a fast tortoise
A chunk of my hair once fell out of the left side of my head. Not the top of the crown kind of thinning. But two inches from my ear, leaving a crater the size of a quarter.
It happened before one of my best friend’s weddings. I was a mess. A steroid injection was supposed to reawaken these lazy follicles. But it didn’t work.
Losing hair on the side of your head feels shockingly worse than losing it on top (which, btw also feels terrible).
Thankfully, Lisa came up with a remedy. Spray on hair. I’m serious. Desperate times call for desperate actions (especially when the ‘Gram’s involved).
But spray on hair had its own series of consequences: I couldn’t wear a white shirt, couldn’t sweat (is that even possible when Living on a Prayer comes on?), and under no circumstances should I touch my newly acquired hair.
(It also meant getting retargeted on YouTube for the ensuing year.)
The evening came and went. I drank (a lot). It was fun.
The research says that “The Body Keeps Score”. And while Spray-Day happened during an epic run of promotions and bonuses, it was also a time of peak internal agitation. That was five years ago.
Or in newsletter terms, 250 weeks ago.
Eventually, the steroid shot kicked in and the hair grew back. Life moved along, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was internally misaligned.
There was the low-grade anxiety of being tethered to my work phone. I was feeling rudderless about a career that had status, but lacked fiery purpose. And I couldn’t shake the creeping existential angst of fast-forwarding the clock 20 years and having 55 year old Khe ask himself: That’s it?
So I sat down and wrote. Not about the angst, the hair, or relationship resentment.
But about familiar topics. FinTech. Management. Productivity. Here was the first email, sent to 36 subscribers, all in the BCC.
The tortoise’s first step
I’ve never been a sprinter. I’m not a quick on-your-feet thinker (and suck at poker). I like details and getting stuck in the weeds. Using a baseball analogy, I’ll do anything it takes to get on base. A walk. A bunt. Heck, I’ll even lean in for the HBP.
I guess that makes me a fast tortoise, a moniker that I appropriated from my business coach Billy Bross. And as I reflect on the past 250 weeks of RadReads, the lessons I’ve stumbled upon about consistency, curiosity and wonder have been accompanied by the gift of a much deeper understanding of myself and how I want to show up in the world.
1. Just start
What do Childish Gambino and Post Malone have in common? Yes, there’s the buckets of Grammys and catchy hooks (umm, Rockstar) that we can’t seem to shake.
And then there’s their rap names. They picked them using an Internet Rap Name generator. Yup, no McKinsey presentations or branding agencies were involved. No special equipment either to record (which isn’t necessary as Billie Eilish just taught us). Instead, just a kitschy algo (that would name me Big Corky.)
I wrote about why starting a new project is so hard, which author Steven Pressfield calls The Creative Resistance:
The force that will stop an individual’s creative activity through any means necessary, whether it be rationalizing, inspiring fear and anxiety, emphasizing other distractions that require attention, and raising the voice of an inner critic.
The fast tortoise does whatever it takes to get of the starting block, a learning I’ve applied to all parts of the RadReads business – the podcast, Snapchat stories, courses, and coaching.
2. Collect string
Journalists are more than writers. They’re simultaneously observers, investigators and analysts. And a key part of their process is collecting string, or collecting “the random threads of thought that could someday be spun into a larger story.”
Collecting string is hearing a new phrase for the first time and wondering where it came from. It’s a digging up an old anecdote that you’re convinced will resonate with your tribe. It’s the intuition that a “fleeting thought or observation” could someday lead “lead to another story, whether that’s a quick blog post or a book.”
But collecting string is much more than a journalism tactic. It can make you a better investor. A better listener. A more playful parent. All while recharging our creative batteries.
In Range: Why generalists triumph in a specialized world (affiliate) David Epstein demonstrates how collecting string is the essence of creativity:
The more contexts in which something is learned, the more the learner creates abstract models, and the less they rely on any particular example. Learners become better at applying their knowledge to a situation they’ve never seen before, which is the essence of creativity.
3. Being heroically consistent
Albert Einstein reportedly called compound interest “the 8th wonder of the world.” And over the past five years I’ve learned that showing up is way more important than being spectacular.
Brad Stulberg, the author of Peak Performance: Elevate you game, avoid burnout with the new science of success (affiliate) broke down the stark difference between being consistently heroic and heroically consistent.
- Heroic efforts take a huge toll emotionally, physically, and cognitively. Not a sustainable thing to strive for.
- Consistency compounds over time. Good enough over and over again makes you great.
In addition helping mitigate (but not preventing) burnout, heroic consistency has other surprising benefits: clarity in thinking and helping luck find you.
Clarity in thinking
Putting your ideas on paper helps gut check what you know and your own assumptions about the world. In the post, Fifteen Years, Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson wrote about his daily blogging practice:
[I start off] with a wide-open mind, that makes me think and articulate that thinking, that has led to numerous spectacular investments and has honed my ability to communicate, not just in the written word, but also in many other ways.
Luck finds you
Seneca wrote that “luck is where preparation meets opportunity.” I’m often asked about some of my biggest “wins” over the five years – the Oprah for Millennials article, speaking at the WSJ conference or becoming Quartz’s first entrepreneur-in-residence. People obviously want to replicate these tactics. The honest answer is both disappointing and anti-climactic. There was no secret strategy, no backdoor channels – just showing up, every single week and getting noticed by the right people.
4. Sticking to systems
Proclaiming that a fast tortoise just shows up, starts walking and everything falls into place doesn’t paint the entire picture. There is a loose set of principles, beliefs and systems that help guide the tortoise towards their its True North.
For me, these systems have spanned productivity (GTD), finances (YNAB), energy management (The Power of Full Engagement), fitness (HIIT), focus (Transcendental Meditation) and many many more that have simply been internalized over time.
Not only do systems help you avoid shiny new toy syndrome, they have the long-term compounding advantage of:
- Customization: Easy to tweak based on your personality, industry and tendencies.
- Combination: Multiple systems can be combined to suit your own complex needs.
- Scaleability: As an end state, you find your maximum point of leverage.
- Internalization: With time, the behaviors become internalized as habits.
5. Rediscovering wonder
My five year old always points out the goldfish on the inside of a Smart Water bottle. I always miss it.
And like the frustrated Little Prince who cannot comprehend why grownups do not see “a boa constrictor digesting an elephant,” the past 250 weeks have led me to rediscover wonder.
My wonder had faded with the everydayness of life. The combination of writing every day for 250 weeks (and fatherhood) has shown me that wonder and beauty are in infinite abundance – I just hadn’t put myself in a position to receive these great gifts of life.
So back to the missing chunk
I’m here to tell you that 250 weeks have passed and not a single chunk has fallen out again (yet the top of the crown continues its slow bleed).
I’m here to tell you that I’m invigorated by my work, jump out of bed to write RadReads, and have managed to surf nearly every day for the past 16 months. And I owe so much of this to each and every single reader who welcomes me into their inbox each week.
Yes, the internal agitation is lower. But it’s far from gone. The goal line, whether it’s for profitability and vanity metrics still moves, (setting up the when-then trap). Even with five years of meditation and tens of thousands of dollars of coaching, it’s still incredibly hard to be fully present for the people I love most: my wife and two daughters.
250 weeks have taught me that there is no finish line for RadReads. And there’s certainly no finish line to shedding the layers of introspecting int my fears and insecurities.
There’s no finish line for the fast tortoise.
Over the holidays one of my spiritual teachers Andrew Taggart sent me a little homework assignment:
Since August, we’ve started to go deeper: we began examining your fear of your hair loss (August, September) and we’ve begun looking more deeply at your relationship with your wife (October, November). Have you had any reflections or feelings about these matters since? Feel free to write to me in a couple of weeks (or before), and I’ll respond.
Guess what the fast tortoise did? He didn’t respond.