Showing posts by andhedrew

Fear of others has been my protection.

I’ve smoked a cigarette exactly one time in my life.
I didn’t do it because of social pressure – I was alone at the time, and to be honest social pressure to be stupid has rarely worked on me. I’m pretty good at telling friends when they’re being stupid, and not joining in. I don’t know if this is because I enjoy being a jerk, or if I see myself as so much of an outsider that standing on the outside doesn’t make me feel isolated – it just affirms what I already know about myself. It feeds my impression I’m pretty much the greatest person on earth, and the greatest person on earth isn’t going to get along with a lot of people, because they’re all going to be jealous. The greatest person on earth doesn’t smoke a cigarette because he’s afraid of being made fun of, or afraid of losing friends – he does it because he’s curious, and he makes a decision.
Anyway, I pilfered the cigarette from the set of a play that I was helping with. I saw the pack of cigarettes on the prop table, grabbed one that looked like it hadn’t been chewed on by anyone, and stuck it in my pocket.
Later I bought a lighter at Wal-Mart, and hid in a strand of trees in a park to light up. I extinguished the cigarette after puffing on it a few times – I didn’t get it. Why do people spend so much money and give themselves lung cancer for this? Because people are duller and stupider than I, clearly. I stuck the cigarette in a convent knothole, and walked away, never to smoke again.
People are stupid, I thought.


I tend to think a lot about what other people are thinking. The reason I didn’t just go and buy a pack of cigarettes was because I had an image to keep up – the greatest person on earth wasn’t about to be seen buying cigarettes. I was afraid of what other people might think, even if I didn’t know them, so I didn’t buy any. I stole one, and I knew that I couldn’t start smoking (or drinking heavily, or getting bad grades) because I was simply too terrified of people’s thoughts.
This gave me great comfort, because I knew for sure that I wouldn’t mess up too badly. My fear of other people’s thoughts and opinions was a protective device, keeping me comfortably in a state of fear, making sure that the bad didn’t get in. I didn’t have to actually be a good person: if I was scared enough, people would ensure that I acted right.

Of course, this system began to break down. It hindsight, it wasn’t a very good system, because different people believe different things about how I should live my life, and I didn’t even know what they thought – I was just making my best guess about how the cashier was judging my actions, and it’s hard to be accurate.

I started wearing headphones when I shopped, clearly conveying the message that I didn’t care too much about the people around me, so they really shouldn’t care about me.

I started ruthlessly analyzing everything in my cart, and shopping soon became very stressful, because what if someone sees the beef jerky I’m buying, and mistakes me for an ignorant beef-eating slob? I hide the beef jerky under the rice.

What if they see the Kombucha in my cart and think it’s actually soda? I’m not the type of person who drinks soda! I rotate the Kombucha bottle until the label is clearly visible.

What if someone sees the wine I have in my cart, and assumes that I’m going to go home and drink it all myself? I briefly consider stuffing the wine down my pants, but that would look even more suspicious.

Everything became stressful, because the imagined thoughts of all the people around me had turned on me: they had ceased to be a protector against my worst self, and had began attacking me.

Relying on other people to keep you in line is a bad long-term strategy, it turns out.

I haven’t solved this problem, although I fear other people’s thoughts much less than I have in the past. If you deal with this type of stuff, my only suggestion is this: start the process of becoming a better person, not just acting the part because people are watching.

In short: don’t steal the cigarettes, don’t buy the cigarettes.


Why reading people’s minds is a bad idea

reading minds

I sipped my eighteenth cup of instant coffee, and wondered how work was going. I was working at Starbucks at the time, and I had skipped work. A quick text to let them know I wasn’t going to be there, that was it. I would have gotten better coffee if I had gone into work, but I didn’t mind too much.
I’m not the type of person who skips out on work. I get jobs and keep them as long as I want them, and almost everyone I’ve worked with has liked me. I’m reasonably responsible, and people rarely get angry at me.
My shift supervisor was angry when she called, though. She chewed me out for not coming into work, and told me that the day was crazy busy, and everyone was having to stay late to cover for me. She wasn’t happy, but I hung up the phone and shrugged – just the night before my wife had our new baby, so to heck with work. I went back to sipping coffee and making funny noises.

But over the next few days, this phone call really started to gnaw on me. The truth was, I liked the shift who had chewed me out – she was generally really cool, and great to work with. I engaged my terrific mind reading skills, and defined from our phone conversation that I had done something wrong. The shift manager was so terribly angry, I was sort of sure that she might try to fire me, or even worse – not like me any more.


Disappointed customer

Ok, I just have to tell you about something that happened to me this week.
I like coffee, quite a lot. In fact, I’m a big coffee nerd: I roast my own coffee with a home-brew contraption, I grind fresh and measure and weigh things, I’m not the most nerdy coffee brewer I know, but I’m pretty high on the nerdiness scale.
Back in December, my wife bought me a french press for my birthday. This was a nice french press, really nice: stainless steel, double-walled, extra mesh filters – it also had an amazing spout. No one thinks that you need a good spout until you use a bad one, and the hot coffee dribbles down the side of your cup, the pot, and your fingers. The spout was the best part.
This was the perfect gift.
We used it for a few months, and it was fantastic. It kept the coffee hot for ages – like, once drank a cup of coffee before running out the door, and when I got back from the errand the coffee in the pot was still slightly too hot.
The rose began to wilt ever so slightly when we were brewing coffee last month – we poured the hot water in the pot, and immediately a whistling noise began, a thin, wailing sound that we had trouble placing at first. Then we noticed sputtering coming from one of the edges of the french press: on closer examination, there was a flaw, a tiny hole in the edge of the pot, and when the pot was heated it sputtered and whistled.
This was concerning. I wasn’t really sure if the flaw in the pot would be a problem in the future, or not – the worst-case scenario part of my brain was whizzing: I could see several bad endings, which included the metal deteriorating, massive gobs of mold forming in the space between the stainless steel walls, or me being driven out of my mind by the whistling and throwing the heavy metal pot full of hot liquid through our kitchen window.
I struggled with the idea of returning the pot, because I don’t do that sort of thing. My conflict-avoidence and midwestern make-do upbringing was prompting me to just let it go. But as I thought about it more, it wouldn’t do to just keep quiet about it – I should at least let the company know that the flaw happened, so they could keep it from happening again. Besides, I really wanted a new pot, because I didn’t like the fact that my beautiful new pot might have a flaw – unthinkable. My misgivings well justified, and the 30-day Amazon return policy well over – I contacted the company involved, and tried to ask for a new pot without asking for a new pot.
What followed was a fantastic example of how to treat all people, and especially people who interact with your brand.
The fellow I e-mailed told me right away that they stand by their products 100%, and he thanked me for letting him know about the problem. He requested a picture so his manufacturers could ensure that the problem didn’t happen again, and he immediately put a new pot in the mail, without asking me to send the defective one back. His tone was warm, and friendly – not the cold compliance that you often get from companies when they’re agreeing to something that chips away at their bottom line. He told me that the pot would be there soon, and to let him know when I got it.


I got the pot yesterday, and here’s the amazing thing – he included a (lengthy!) handwritten note in the package, thanking me again for letting them know about the flaw, with an assurance that he had hand-inspected this one to make sure that it was perfect. He then kindly asked for a review on Amazon, and signed his name at the bottom.

Do you think I wrote him that review? Yup. It was only the second review I’ve ever written on Amazon –the first being an Apple laptop charger that turned out to be a knock-off – and I gushed about the company, exhorting anyone who read the review to buy, promising that they wouldn’t regret it for a second. The company had made me into a raving fan, not just because they replaced the defective part – anyone will do that – but by making the experience so pleasant, and human. I didn’t feel like I was doing something wrong, but that I was helping the company out, and they valued me for that.
What’s the opposite of this kind of experience? Not refusal to replace the product – almost anyone will send you a replacement if you complain – the opposite is indifference. Making you jump through hoops. Treating you with with hostility, forcing you to ship the product back to make sure that you aren’t lying, and trying to get you to pay the shipping. Grudgingly sending you the replacement, and including a printed slip of paper that says they hope you had a good experience and could you please rate them on Amazon and follow their Facebook page, please pretty please.
Treat people like humans, and how a little humanity yourself. Not only is this the right thing to do, it’s good business. Surprising how often those go together.


My relationship with self-help, or how a magician ruined my childhood.

I remember something that happened back when I was young. Young enough that the memory is hazy, and I’m not entirely sure what age I was. My family went to a magic show in a large, dark auditorium, and the magician must have been pretty uninteresting to an ambiguously aged boy like me, because I don’t remember any of the magic. The only reason I remember the magic show at all was because it was one of my first big public failures.
Not that anyone noticed that I was a failure, but I knew – and that was enough.



Failure report: Keeping me honest.

Every once in a while, I publish a failure report, outlining ways that I’ve failed (and what I’ve learned from them) since the last month, in my past, etc. These may be failures that I brought upon myself, or circumstantial, but the message is the same: we all experience failure and setbacks. What we do after the failure is what matters.
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“You’ll come to see that a man learns nothing from winning. The act of losing, however, can elicit great wisdom. Not least of which is, how much more enjoyable it is to win. It’s inevitable to lose now and again. The trick is not to make a habit of it.” –Henry Skinner

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Late last year, I stumbled into an amazing bit of success. If you don’t know, I love board games, and have been learning all I can about being a board game designer by interviewing game designers at One of my favorite games is Pandemic, which is a tense co-operative board game by Matt Leacock. I make a mini parody version of Pandemic, and I requested the blessing of the publisher to release it as a fan project, even though I didn’t technically need their permission (parody being protected by law, etc.). The publisher wrote back to me with notes on the game by Matt Leacock himself.

So, that was pretty cool.


How to get good sleep when you can’t get enough sleep.

My daughter was a few months old. I was working at Starbucks, tutoring, and doing freelance graphic design, frantically trying to stay afloat, while paying off medical bills. When you work at Starbucks, you get a free pound of coffee/week, which was perhaps the only thing that kept me alive. Lots and lots of coffee.

When I could manage it, I would carve a little more from my already stripped-to-the-bone new-dad sleep schedule and work on my business, because I really didn’t want to have this crazy schedule long-term.

I drove 45 minutes one-way to get to my Starbucks job, and while I was driving, I listened to inspirational podcasts – I was bound and determined not to waste my precious free time staring out the windshield and drooling. The podcasts were about 50% encouraging and 50% massively discouraging and rage-inducing. I remember screaming in frustration in the quiet of my car, because the podcasters would give impractical advice that totally didn’t apply to my situation – advice that seemed only to work if you were an independently wealthy single male. The most annoying and frustrating was this:  I needed to get at least eight hours of sleep to be productive.

I hated that advice so much. Those successful podcasters who had their own businesses and oodles of money and free time would tell me to get to bed, like I was spending my time staring at the wallpaper or something.

After I figured out that eight hours of sleep was literally impossible, I felt a little more free to search for options: I figured out a way (when I was getting up at 4:30 to go to my job) to feel alert and awake in the morning, even if I didn’t get the coveted 8 hours.
One thing. Not a list of techniques and should’s. One thing that works for me, and I hope it helps you out, if you can’t get enough sleep right now:



Four things I do to keep me in line [video]

Every week, my brother and I record vlogs to each other, under the name Doubtful Solutions Brothers. Our vimeo profile is here, our website is here. The videos don’t always pertain to this blog, but when they do, I’ll post them with added commentary.

In this video, I outline four things I do to make my habitual procrastination, laziness, and self-sabotage in line.

Instead of outlining every point that I made in this video, I’m going to give you two specific tasks that will help you be more productive. Choose one, and GO!


1. Head over to Beeminder and set up 1 commitment device for a future action. Make it something that you feel like you should do, but you have a low likelihood of follow through.


2. Decide on some temptation bundling you could do. Bind a tempting item or activity with a good habit, making sure that the temptation doesn’t cancel out the good habit (Only smoke when you’re at the gym? Really?). I would give you examples, but it’s better if you figure them out for yourself. :-)



Screenshot 2015-03-19 07.02.27

I’m not one of those slick, greasy successes showing other successes how to be more successful. When I read the blogs and books of people like that, it’s easy to come up with an excuse not to do amazing stuff, because my circumstances are different. They’re perfect. Their life is perfect, or pretty close. How can I be expected to do what they did when I’m so flawed, and they seem to be the ideal human being who has never faced a setback in their life?

I want to make it very clear with every blog post that I’ve screwed up way more than I’ve succeeded, and will continue to fail, in many, many ways.

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