Skip the social bread

I view human interactions like a sandwich. In a sandwich, there are 2 outer layers of dry, flavorless fluff squares and 1 inner layer of complex, savory, nutrient-dense goodness. The outer exists just to hold the good stuff together. 

In human interactions, the deep, thoughtful, explorative discussions often only exist after a shallow, self-conscious, meaningless catch up and end before a shallow, self-conscious, meaningless closing. Why does this feel like a social obligation? Why is it perceived as unnatural or forward or socially inept when the dry outer layers are ignored? I think about most things in terms of reason. If something exists simply because of a social convention or standard practice, without having logic behind it, its lack of point for existing is enough to make me ignore it. 

This is often perceived as very east coast or direct. I’d agree, but I'd also say it’s genuine and efficient. Genuine because I don’t want you to ask me anything that you don’t actually care to hear the answer to or say anything backed by societal obligation rather than individual truth. And vice versa. Efficient because life is short. Think of how much time we spend on pleasantries when we really could’ve been opening up about a true concern or relating on a like value or convening on a common mission? And as for work, pleasantries distract from the purpose of the meeting/call/agenda, getting straight to the point saves time and mental energy for what really matters. 

This has become a useful filter. Those who shy from immediately getting real are not usually ones who I’d prioritize having around. Radical transparency and open-mindedness are values of mine, I prefer to surround myself with those who feel similarly. 

Books are my soundtrack

I’m a book addict. More accurately, a Kindle addict because it allows me to have all my books in one place, supporting my habit of reading based on my current need, which often leads to shuffling 3 at a time. I read not only for the immediate pleasure but for the subsequent outcome. The book themes and premises seem to bleed into my life in a very tangible way, impacting my thoughts and actions. There’s a window of time that begins once I start the book and lasts a month or so afterwards in which my mindset mirrors, or at least resembles, the book’s. This phenomenon is stronger and more time-enduring the more the book resonates with me. 

This is how I choose my next set of reading. What do I need to improve? What’s a flaw in my current thinking? What am I struggling with right now? What’s happening that I should be better prepared for in the next few months? Or it could be more tangential than a topic I need to learn or internalize, often it’s the author’s voice. Some authors I value for their succinct clarity in writing style (couple go tos: Ayn Rand and James Frey). It’s my favorite form of communication, precise and effectual. I realize I use ‘effective' and ‘efficient' an absurd amount in this blog, I’ve exhausted the point that they're driving standards in my life. But in the case of writing, it means a careful choice of word combinations that get an idea across in the best way with the shortest efforttime. Efforttime meaning time to read and time to understand. Best meaning the most descriptive and visual. Nothing extra or distracting, nothing missing. This style is a model for how I want to write and speak, so it’s a style I seek when I’m losing that default way of communicating.

That’s what books do, provide a new default or improve on an existing default. Applying the learnings is less purposeful and more subliminal. It’s like the quote ‘you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with’. I’d add to that calculation. You’re the average of the 5 people and 3 authors you spend the most time with.

An INTJ's First Principles

I met with a rare fellow INTJ last night, and he mentioned an interesting self-assessment practice that he did recently. He wrote down a list of First Principles he believes he lives his life by and sent them to friends and past/present coworkers asking them to provide feedback into their validity, i.e. if he truly operates from those principles and if not, how he deviates from them. I found this to be a powerful feedback practice that could offer a more incisive, deep look at how you’re perceived by others. 

I’ve taken the 16personalities test a few times and always result in INTJ. Reading through the explanation, this doesn’t surprise me. It’s frighteningly accurate and aligned with how I operate, or at least how I perceive myself. I’ve always been fascinated in personality tests, partially because my analytical mind seeks to have concrete explanations for the way I think. It provides a lot of clarity, having succinct paragraphs basically describing my operating system. It’s one of the reasons I write, putting my many thoughts to words is fabulously therapeutic and explanatory. It’s so useful that I already had my own set of First Principles written out, so after hearing about my friend’s feedback tactic I thought I should put my own out there. Here they are,

  • Be steadfastly open minded.

  • Maintain a curiosity and hunger for knowledge.

  • Take ownership whenever possible.

  • Maintain exceptionally high standards and surround yourself with those who are just as intrinsically motivated to meet them and feel similarly.

  • Never follow the prescriptive or conventional, form conclusions and decisions based on rationality, logic, and independent thinking.

  • Avoid reactive behavior and thought.

  • Be useful. Ensure that your actions contribute some value to the world.

  • Consistency and compounded interest are life's most powerful tools.

  • Assign credibility via meritocracy only, not titles, credentials, or labels.

  • Efficiency, competency, and results trump all.

  • Lack of progress is death. Regularly check in that growth is occurring and change course if not.

  • Speak ill of no one. Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain. 

  • Trust and respect are earned with time and repeated, diverse circumstances.

  • Acknowledge context, differing individual perspectives, and circumstance rather than taking all words as I perceive them.

  • The mind is our director in life. Change your mind, change your life.

  • Do things that are hard and uncomfortable. If it’s difficult, it’s likely good for you. If it’s easy, it’s likely not useful.

  • Health is the number one priority.

  • Value action over words.

  • Utilize intuition when conflicted. The unconscious mind often knows more than the conscious. 

  • Seek simple, elegant solutions over complex.

Your new workout motivation tactic

My favorite way to think about working out and eating for your body is to reach a ‘purpose-built’ state. There’s a primal empowerment that comes with being aptly ready to survive an apocalypse or at least have a better fighting chance than most. We’ve gotten away from optimizing our body for survival and instead care about looking good naked or emulating the newest Instagram model. I don’t find those things relevant or fulfilling. Just like the richest person at the charity gala might feel powerful, the strongest/most agile individual will be feeling pretty great when running down 30 flights of stairs in the event of an earthquake. Granted, these things aren’t likely to happen tomorrow but bear with my brain dump of shower thoughts here (all my blog really is). Prioritizing exercise and eating well can allow you to make the most of your experiences and prepare you for unexpected moments where brains and money don’t matter, just your primal skills and physical effectiveness. 

When in Berlin, I walked over 30,000 steps a day, the best way to truly see a city. In Hawaii, I jam-packed every day with surfing, wakeboarding, snorkeling, etc. I have daily walks to and from my WeWork and gym up near 90 degree classic SF hills. In Iceland, I walked miles in snow to the nearest civilization when our car broke down in the middle of no where. In Yosemite, I had to re-hike a 8 mile trail after leaving a backpack at the top. In college, I carried my inebriated best friend 7 blocks home to bed. I’ve traveled abroad over 4 times this year and I haven’t had jet lag since before starting keto. I moved my own furniture up a flight of stairs when I switched to the corner unit above me. Check out all those non-apocalypse applications.

Prior to the agricultural revolution 12,000 years ago, our ancestors didn’t have the concept of exercise. They had the concept of surviving. Their bodies were sculpted from field work, foraging, running from lions, chasing buffalo, and building huts. Imagine what a caveman would think if they were to observe an Equinox pilates class or a Crossfit WOD today…pretty amusing. But we need these things now because consumerism, delivery, ecommerce, supply chain, transportation, etc. reduce the need for us to physically do anything to survive. A freelancer today could literally sit at home, order groceries on Instacart, order laundry service on Rinse, order basic needs on Amazon, FaceTime a friend for human interaction, work on projects on their laptop and never leave their place. I don’t think that’s considered an ideal life to most people, but kind of crazy to contemplate the contrast in today’s resources vs. just 12,000 years ago. Especially considering for 2 million years, not much changed for the homo species by way of tools or technology. But I digress. Shift your motivation from being Instagram-Ready to being Purpose-Built. Much cooler. 

Why entrepreneurs should read Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Knowledge exists in layers. Studying Business is studying many layers of knowledge that have been developed over time from things that have already happened. The layers at the top represent the most recent and specific—like how to optimize your acquisition funnel or how to read a term sheet. These knowledge layers are driven by the way society exists today and the way things have been done before. If you peel the top layers back, you get closer to the foundational principles—physics, psychology, game theory, evolution, etc. 

The difference between the base layers (e.g. psychology) and top layers (e.g. marketing) is that the former is a framework for thinking and the latter is a prescription for doing. The former allows you to derive your own solution for the best way to do, the latter tells you the best way to do. But what if the prescription is not optimal or wrong? 

To innovate is to 'make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products.’ Think of each knowledge layer as a Tetris piece. If you build a wall from the first pieces, you have the potential to create a new, better wall than if building on top of one that already exists. Now one might ask—what if the wall that already exists works fine as is? Well, if society was perfect as is then there’d be no sense trying to improve it with new technologies and policies. The best mindset for innovation is one of a first principles thinker, focusing on the low knowledge layers, the first Tetris pieces. 

I recommend college students pick a base layer to study—Engineering, Philosophy, Biology, Genetics...I can’t think of anything more ambiguous or tangential than studying Entrepreneurship, Business Management, or Marketing. Studying only the top layers results in paradigms being driven by the status quo, which often results in mirroring what's already been done, the opposite of innovation. 

Learn as much as you can on the foundational stuff so you can form your own paradigms and hopefully contribute something novel to the world.

Is Silicon Valley littered with Theranos'?

I just finished reading Bad Blood, the mindblowing story of the Theranos' downfall, and I couldn’t help but think this was a hyperbolic version of how many startups get going. It’s pretty common in the Valley to sell an idea before a tangible product, sometimes with minimal transparency into how far behind the physical product actually is compared to what they’re conveying to the public. 

The glaring difference with Theranos is that it was really more of a healthcare company than a technology company, despite Elizabeth Holmes’ desperate dreams to emulate Steve Jobs. In a healthcare company, you have a lot less leeway with fooling the public of your capabilities—doing so could cause physical harm. This is why regulatory agencies like CMS and the FDA exist. Because of this, in Theranos’ case, they were caught and are now paying the price. But it begs the question, how many startups got going by fooling customers and investors but never had any repercussions because doing so didn’t hurt people? And if they did this, should repercussions be retroactively enforced or is it simply water under the bridge as long as they delivered on their promises eventually?

One argument is that founders have to sell big at first in order to get the money needed to go big. Early-stage VCs like founders that think big. The visionaries often get the most hype and usually the most money. I’d argue that the bigger you go, the less due diligence occurs. Like Jobs’ Reality Distortion Field, it’s easy to get caught up in the grandeur of a scrappy entrepreneur fixated on changing the world. A founder pitching a new social network for pet owners might need to show some more user data and market research to prove the value whereas a pitch for extending human life and health span by 50 years with a vaccine is a whole new space, concept, and technology—the only true way to get data and prove the idea is to throw money at it and give it a strongly executed shot. In these cases, the due diligence done is towards the founder. What have they already done? How obsessed and tunnel-vision-focused are they on this? Or, in this was especially true at Theranos, who has already invested/joined the board? If the founder comes off as an Elon who would stop at nothing to get all gas-fueled vehicles off the road, or a Bezos who believed all commerce would become e-commerce and couldn’t be convinced otherwise, then the money is more likely to flow.

Many people go 10% bigger (pet owner social network), few people go 1000% bigger (longevity vaccine). Less competition + obsessive vision + solid execution + badass team + money = the next SpaceX. 

Tattoos, explained

A while ago, I posted Sprinkles of Lion, proposing the practice of sprinkling your days with motivating tidbits in high-touch places so you’re repeatedly reminded to live like a badass, e.g. making your passwords and phone backgrounds something that drives you. Well, I took that a few steps further by getting one permanently imprinted on my body. 

I got my fourth tattoo last week and most of the benefit I know I’ll get from it is far more than just the sick lion design I wanted and will now have for the rest of my life on my forearm. It was the experience and story that came from spontaneously traveling across the world solo. The timeline was as follows: get off of Mo Ganji’s waitlist October 3, book flights and Airbnb October 4, arrive in Berlin October 9, get tattoo October 10, fly back to SF Oct 12. Should also add the fail of going to the wrong Berlin airport an hour away from the right one and having to figure out public transport across the massive city, just barely making my flight. The nervous, excited, empowered, independent aura I experienced in that week is now linked to the tattoo I can see every day.

The Sprinkles of Lion concept has been my approach to all my tattoos. My “Memento Mori” tattoo has a similar premise, as does my wrist triangle and finger sun. And all are on my arms below the elbows, within my line of sight. A person’s meaning behind their tattoos is a personal thing, but it’s a fair question to ask considering we elect to get them on our bodies where everyone can see. I get this question often, so thought I’d explore my answers here.

Memento Mori means Remember your Death. I love telling people that and watching their faces morph from quiet interest to questioning discomfort. But to me, it’s not morbid or depressing at all. Quite the opposite actually, it’s liberating. I call it my own refreshing version of “Carpe Diem”. Having the saying permanently in my immediate line of sight provides two things for me on a daily basis—urgency and ease. 1. Urgency. It ignites an urgency to get things done and reach my goals quickly. When others are writing out their 5-year plans, I’m asking myself "why can’t this be done in 6 months?” And then I get to work. 2. Ease. It helps me chill the hell out. We’re all human and mortal, we all die. Our lives are inconsequential blips on the universe’s radar (watch Cosmos and have your mind blown). We’re here then we’re not, that’s it. That reality is like a breath of fresh air that opens the door to not caring what people think and living every day the way I want—optimizing for fulfillment, love, adventure, experience, and enjoyment. I originally discovered the saying from Steve Jobs, he used to say that if he ever woke up and realized he was about to do something he didn’t want to do, he’d change what he was doing. I thought about that when quitting corporate for self-employment and got the tattoo so I’d continue to think about it daily and to ensure I always feel that way about what I do. 

My triangle tattoo, my first one, means fire in alchemy. Fire means a number of things to me, I’ll name a few. First, it’s the element that’s most impacted our evolution, we’ve evolved to rely on fire because of how beneficial it proved for our survival once discovered. First and foremost, it allowed us to cook our food. According to Harari’s book, Sapiens, this shifted us down a new evolutionary path because less energy was needed for hunting, foraging, and digesting raw food. More energy could now go to our brains, our bodies' primary consumer of energy today. As a result, thinking and language and social dynamics started to develop. This dependence on fire is most obvious when observing the newborn, the only state that has completely fresh, unbiased eyes on the world. Newborns will try to touch fire, they aren’t afraid of it. Rather, they like it. I find that fascinating, although most everything associated with evolution fascinates me and I consider it my primary guiding principle. Second, I was told when I was young by someone I deeply admired that I had a fire in me, and to always keep that. That stuck with me, and I got the tattoo as a daily reminder to never lose it.

My sun tattoo was a spontaneous decision when in the Canary Islands. This one was more superficial/lighthearted than the others, it simply reminds me of the beauty of those islands and that the sun serves as a therapy to me. If I’m feeling off, finding sun and basking in it even briefly can immediately reset me. 

Choosing tattoos based on what ideas/paradigms/memories I want to be reminded of every day has proven a good method for me. I don’t regret any, and I’d argue they’ve all had a beneficial impact on my day-to-day.

6 months on Keto no dairy, no meat: yes, I'm alive

I don’t often get into the specifics of my diet with people unless some prying occurs. I guess the shock, borderline appalled, looks I’ve gotten have led to a negative association with doing so. It comes off as extreme, that I get. What I don’t get is that people seem to rather jump off a bridge than attempt it. I get responses as if it's the most inaccessible, miserable thing in the world. This baffles me, mostly because I thoroughly enjoy it, more than any nutrient paradigms I used to follow, and it has taken little to no effort to stick with. I want to bring it up here to try and explore that disconnect by providing my take on the experience. Despite my obsessions with health, nutrition, fitness, longevity, I’ve always strayed from being prescriptive or promotional about my own fitness/diet optimizations I’ve done through ~10 years of self experimenting with training and nutrition. But I’m in a really healthy place in my life now, both physically and mentally, so it might be useful to start opening up more about it.


I follow the ketogenic diet, macronutrient profile of 75% fat, 5% carbs, 20% protein, that much has become known in this blog. What I haven’t brought up is that I also don’t eat dairy or meat. If you know anything about keto, you may associate it as the ‘cheese, bacon, steak, and whipped cream’ diet and maybe once doubted the credibility of its health benefits or thought welp, I could do that. Yep, not I. Although, my friends on keto thrive on a fully normal keto diet consisting of all that good stuff, so I don’t doubt that it can be just as beneficial if done the right way. More on that in a bit. 

So how and why? Always start with why. My convoluted journey down health optimization lane began after high school, when it suddenly was up to me to control my lifestyle and stay fit. That became glaringly real when the freshman 5…10 started to kick in. I played team sports all my life—daily practices, weekly competitive games, and fueling meals were the norm. Fit was the default, it wasn’t something I had to actively think about or deploy intrinsic motivation towards. But when college came, that went away. After about 6 months of play and ignoring the biological reality that eating crap and studying and/or partying all night leads to a reduction in fitness, I kicked back into gear. Never a team sports person despite being brought up that way (will do a post on this next), I joined the boxing team. I loved the strength and power I started gaining, but a ceiling was reached in terms of physically leaning out. Next step was diet. I started eating less processed foods and thinking more about what I put in my body, step 1. I cut out meat, step 2. I cut out dairy, step 3. There wasn’t any specific reason why I cut those two things, I just stopped wanting them and thought that had to mean something. The more fit I got from boxing and weightlifting, the more I was able to listen to my cravings, my body started wanting things that would best fuel and repair it. 

So that was a thing for a while. Lots of produce, seafood, protein powders/bars…very low fat, high carb. I fell prey to the Ancel Keys deception, see my post on that. After 5 years of this, I started hearing more about keto from some of the thought leaders I most trusted—Tim Ferriss, Peter Attia, David Perlmutter, Joe Rogan, and on and on. In true marketing fashion, after about 6 touchpoints I started researching it myself and eventually was convinced to reduce my carb intake drastically and up my fats. 6 months later, I went full keto. 

This is a bit of a reiteration of my last post, but adds the background behind the no dairy/no meat keto masochism (friends’ words, not mine). It’s just what I’ve always done. Even if my body could physically handle it, I had no desire to bring the two back in when starting keto. I was a bit worried because I hadn’t heard of anyone keto sans meat or dairy, but I figured I’d give it a shot for a month. As Jordan Peterson said when his daughter requested he try the carnivore diet for a month, “You can do anything for a month. I could hang from a windowsill by my fingernails for a month”. I’ve now been consistently in ketosis for 6 months, no dairy or meat. Still hangin strong.

So…how? The most concise answer is consistency. I basically cycle through the same foods every day. I’ve never needed or craved diversity in my diet, I’m such a creature of habit and I love reducing the number of decisions (also represented in my Steve Jobs wardrobe) I make in a day so this was like a breath of fresh air. I track my foods on MyFitnessPal to make sure I’m on par with my macro percentages and catching my nutrient deficiencies. Any gaps I have, which are bound to occur with this limited diet, I supplement. I’ll do a post on my specific food and supplement routine at some point but that’s the gist. 

Why am I baffled that this seems so difficult to people? Because it’s really simple, much simpler than the S.A.D. diet. But for those who value more diversity, there are a few paradigms that by following I think can work wonders for your health and how you feel just on its own.

  1. Track your food to maintain the right macro percentages, keep calorie count in check, and catch micronutrient deficiencies.

  2. Fill the micronutrient gaps that aren’t being ameliorated with food with medical-grade supplements.

  3. Avoid processed foods/fillers/preservatives.

  4. Have a 12- to 15-hour gap between meals every 24 hours (i.e. intermittent fasting).

  5. Eat to live, don’t live to eat. 

Hobby for yourself

I always wanted to have a blog and be super diligent at regularly posting. So a couple of years ago I set one up and forced myself to write daily. And I hated it. It gave me anxiety knowing I ‘had’ to write something that day, and posts became forced and disingenuous. I was trying to write prescriptive, instructional posts that I thought people would like, when really no one was reading them and I hated writing them. And like most things you don’t enjoy, you start putting it off. The time gaps between posts began to widen and I failed at my promise of daily, which heightened the anxiety. This is bad, don’t do this. 

A shift that I’ve adapted in the past year is to write for myself. I tap the keyboard with whatever flows out of my brain. I keep a running list in Evernote of inspirations that come to me when I'm exercising, traveling, walking, working, whatever. These are ideas that sparked my interest, ones I’d enjoy further exploring and picking apart. When I sit down to write, I then pick one of those bullet points and get to exploring. I don’t plan or make a layout or research. The organic nature of this approach leads to the conversational, informal style I prefer.

I understand many people enjoy the research-driven writing, stats-supported concept exploration. With my first blogging attempt, it became clear that I don’t. I like picking a single proposal/idea/notion for the shape and spilling my thoughts and experiences into it. It’s therapeutic for me, adding clarity and shape to what I’m really thinkin up there. My mind often feels like a convoluted highway of thoughts—ruminating, speculating, wondering, questioning. I’ve found the most effective way to define the roadways is to write. Putting it into words straightens the highway out, makes each thought more tangible. Often when I start writing, the article becomes something I didn’t expect it to become. The idea manifested into how I must’ve truly perceived it but that my conscious mind hadn’t yet recognized.  

If you’re going to take on a side project for fun, doing it for anyone but yourself just makes it work and defeats the therapeutic effect a hobby is meant to have. 

A type A's taste of nurture over nature

My father’s parenting style was always more reprimanding than praise-driven. That sounds negative, maybe it was in some cases, but I mean it in the literal sense that in order to get me to do something or stop doing something he would critique a flaw rather than praise a strength. 

It’s fascinating how the young, predetermined mind will cling onto very specific moments, as minute as a sentence or word or facial expression that gets locked into the hippocampus as a clear memory periodically spurred with a déjà vu. Moments that on the surface are unremarkable, yet they’ve stuck for whatever reason and likely do more to shape who we become. 

A couple of those that come to mind are two reactions by my father to sentences I once said. I said “It is what it is” to some conundrum I now don’t recall. He retorts, “I hate that sentence. Don’t see it that way, something can always be done.” As a young tomboy, I always sought the approval and praise of my stoic, tough father so hearing this, I internalized it. I don’t think I’ve said it since, and every time I hear it I have an urge to push back on the notion. I interpreted it as a push to take action rather than accept things as is. Change is the world’s default state, it’s up to us to influence and guide that change. All is possible with the right doing. But the vital key is doing, not sitting and accepting. 

The second—I said “I don’t get it” to a silly joke not noteworthy enough to be linked to the memory. He snapped “Don’t say that, you sound stupid.” The sting that came from that, and who it came from, was enough to have a similar impact on me. It created a new behavior, or more accurately a repressed behavior, in order to prevent a similar sting in the future, i.e. never saying "I don’t get it", or anything similar, again. His reaction may come off as harsh, but I also wonder if we’ve gotten a bit soft when it comes to parenting. The curtness of it is what made it effective. And it was ambiguous enough for me to derive my own meaning, which ended up being to ask intelligent questions. Be specific on the disconnects in communication and knowledge, it’ll get you answers more quickly and effectively. How is someone going to help you with an “I don’t get it"? That gives them zero direction for how to reframe. It provides no insight into the gap that exists between you and understanding, preventing them from helping you fill that gap.

I’ve recently been inspired to psychoanalyze my upbringing a bit and peel the layers of my current state to find ones likely grown from how I was raised, thanks in part to reading “Truth" by Neil Strauss. It’s been somewhat scary and vulnerable but mostly fascinating and enlightening. I’ve always believed nature trumped nurture. I studied bioengineering and economics, I work in technology, I read nonfiction for fun. For better or worse, I’m a quintessential type A—a serial analyzer and logic-driven reasoner. The guiding first principles I rely on are evolution and the scientific method. But I’m increasingly learning about the impact of upbringing. How the interactions and experiences in the young formative years play a similarly large part in creating our layers of self. These ingrained memories are little tastes of that.

 

Meetups won't make you Elon Musk

I don’t like networking meetups. They’re forced and boring. It’s a crowd of eager, wide-eyed neophytes seeking answers from people who have a few big names on their resumes, justifying their ability to charge $30 for an hour powerpoint presentation. People flock to these with an expectation that if they hear how someone else did it, they can just go and do the same and yield the same results–beginners relying on other people’s experience to tell them what to do to be successful. But has any exponentially successful professional ever come out of these cult-like gatherings? I can just see Elon Musk in his early days of entrepreneurship laughing at the idea of spending his precious time sitting on a foldable chair listening to a Stanford grad talk about the need to “build for users not for profit” or to “be religiously data-driven”. He was busy building a new payment system and, later, four companies that have drastically altered four different industries. 

Relying on other people’s success to give you answers will not suffice if you want to be exponential. Doing will. Getting your own real-world experience will. The world's default state is change, and at a rate that has increased daily since the invention of the computer. Today is a different day than when that Stanford grad launched the startup that her powerpoint is presenting. And the only people who have shifted society’s paradigms and altered the direction of humanity for the better are ones that did completely novel things of their time, went against the grain, intentionally ignored conventional thinking and regulatory standards in order to reach a new level where no one’s been before. 

My Career Lesson Nuggets

I’ve experienced more in the past 2-3 years in regards to business and life than I probably have in my entire 25 years. Switching from medicine to tech, becoming a software engineer having never written code, moving across the country alone, leaving bigwig corporate to do my own consulting for startups, and taking startups from 0 to over a million user reach. These formative, whirlwind years helped me to grow immensely and calibrate how I choose to interact with the world to optimize business relationships, career, and success. 

In this time, I’ve kept track of the lesson nuggets that represent pivotal realizations learned from failures and I regularly read back through them to guide decisions and actions. I’m constantly adding to this list unique lessons that come from trial and error moments (startlingly common), here’s what lives today. 

Keep in mind, these are career-focused. I’ve also learned a number of lessons about life, personal relationships, mindfulness, health, and happiness but that’s not what this post is for. Career isn’t everything but being the productivity-obsessed and independently-employed human I am, it tends to intertwine with my personal life in more ways than one. I like it that way. 

  1. Write and speak with conviction, simplicity, and clarity. No one’s giving you points for saying “ameliorate” instead of “improve”. Hemingway is a legend for a reason.

  2. Embrace big vision. Thinking big is the first step in executing big.

  3. Take initially uncomfortable calls, meetings, networking events and go into them ripe with confidence and enthusiasm. I’m almost always happy I did, everyone has something to teach you.

  4. Be confident in your abilities and experience. People don’t doubt you until you doubt you. You get to where you want to be by acting like you’re well equipped to be there and like you’re one of the best people to be there. You must be your own advocate.

  5. Initiate, do, act before being asked or instructed. Startups are often lacking in direction and structure, be a self starter that contributes value by default. It’s overhead for any manager/leader to incessantly assign explicit work, be someone who does the work without needing that, but be sure it’s the RIGHT work (read Effective Executive by Peter Drucker). 

  6. Have strong opinions, loosely held. Be open to other ideas and insights, that’s how you learn and that’s how the best results arise—synergy across many minds working in tandem with one another.

  7. Speak with the 'Yes, and’ approach. Collaborative, open, and explorative. Not argumentative, rigid, or arrogant.

  8. Do it now. Don’t push it to later. It doesn’t always need to be a scheduled meeting, if a topic comes up that can be addressed now then address it now. 

  9. Don’t accept money or gifts if you can help it. Pay for the coffee, the lunch, the drink. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and the simple act is remembered.

  10. Launch the point of the meeting sooner. Meetings can be bottlenecks on their own, don’t make them time eaters more than they need to be. State the goal, accomplish the goal, summarize a recap/action items, finito. 

  11. Define successful processes and repeatedly apply them. Test processes until you find one that works then apply it again and again.

  12. Be thankful for what you have and nourish it. Don’t assume the comfortable and nice will stay there whilst you look for something better.

  13. Go for the top. Don’t accept a no from someone who can’t tell you yes. 

  14. Don’t be frustrated or ashamed with being an underdog. Everything starts somewhere. If you want to be somewhere where you can make an impact, you have to do just that—make an impact, be a driver in the success, prove your worth with execution and results. 

  15. Let others finish speaking. And deeply listen. Don’t just think about what you'll say next. Don’t interrupt. Let people finish their thought, their sentence, their input before jumping in. 

  16. Be Nice. People work with people they want to work with. Surround yourself with successful, smart people and make them want to work with you by being kind and giving and respectful.

  17. Think for yourself and construct your own beliefs and values, speak to them with confident conviction. Don’t constantly feel the need to cite a book or podcast for credibility or argument sake. Think for yourself, have your own truths and beliefs and back them with a sound argument that you yourself constructed, confidently. 

  18. Take others’ words with a grain of salt, don't immediately see them as truth. Internalize them as insight that you deconstruct for your own purpose, think about what it truly means and how it applies (if it applies) to your own life. 

  19. Stop skimming. A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.

  20. Don’t ever take business personally. 

  21. Go first. Introduce yourself first, smile first, call first.

  22. Be decisive. 

  23. Don’t ask a question just to ask a question. Do it because you really want to know something, and make that known, follow it up, continue the conversation upon the answer. Be interested and curious and humble and open. The wise man once said nothing, if you don’t have an output-driven question, shut it.

  24. Have a clear, defined proposal for what you can do for someone or a company when you meet with them. Don’t expect them to come to you with a proposal, you know your contribution and skills more than anyone. Plus, you know what you want to do, so own that, set the stage. 

  25. Just relax, everyone’s a human just trying to get by too. Be candid and transparent and genuine as much as the situation allows. 

  26. Step up when the leader doesn’t show. The people that are there were expecting a leader, they were prepared to be led, now they don’t have that. If you step in and do so, it's a relief to all and you get a free opportunity to flex those skills. 

  27. Be humble and embrace sacrificing what you are for what you want to become. In the beginning, you don’t have credential or experience leverage in your career. Be open to doing things for others for free and embracing the opportunity to learn and prove your capabilities.

  28. Have a few key questions that are deep and thought-provoking that you ask others consistently. This helps you find patterns in answers. It also launches meaningful conversation vs. small talk networking. It’s memorable, people remember how you made them feel not what you said. 

  29. Treat clarity and transparency as prereqs. This is vital for doing business. Before agreeing to partnerships, make sure I’m on the same page with the partner as to their expectations, where they are currently, and their plan for the future. This mitigates discovering gaps and misalignment at a point when you’ve already invested time and resources to the partnership.

  30. Speak ill of no one. Gossiping is so many things–none of which are useful, effective, or positive.

  31. Develop ubiquitous language, consistent communication. Use a naming convention for product lines and business efforts. Most people are scared to ask if they don’t know what something is, thinking they’re supposed to. That’s inefficient and wastes time.

  32. Zero bullshitting. Don’t sugarcoat out of weakness or hesitance.

  33. Take ownership. 

Let your cravings be your macro calculator

One of the beautiful things about keto, or any clean diet that supports healthy, whole food nutrition, is the clarity it gives your body. It sets you up for success because it develops a baseline healthiness that becomes your new default state. Once you reach that point after a few weeks of clean eating, your habits/cravings/tendencies start to shift towards healthy, without much physical effort or cognitive load. Healthy is your new automatic. The key is to leverage this new state and move to hands-off, to trust this new healthy baseline and give your body the reins—biological cruise control. You can now let your body steer what you do because it’s clear of toxic preservatives, mind-fogging sugars, nutrient deficiencies, and unbalanced macros. It’ll tell you what’s best for it because it now knows what healthy is and it wants to maintain that state. 

I find the cravings shift most interesting because of how useful it can be for informing what and when to eat. For a while when getting started on keto, I tracked my foods to get a sense of what to eat to get the right macronutrient percentages I wanted. It was a fairly big diet shift for me so my body didn’t know what it needed to maintain it yet. If I just listened to my cravings, I’d be running to the nearest restaurant serving chocolate lava cake, the Salt and Straw in Hayes, or the farmers market for fresh juicy fruit. There was a period of applying cognitive effort to ignore cravings and assign what I would eat in a day. I had to rely on my research-driven brain to tell me what to eat to get the most out of this new diet. My body was a useless, carb-hungry machine that I had to reluctantly ignore for a bit. 

Once I reached ketosis and my body developed its new baseline, I started to internalize what foods to eat in a day and no longer needed to bother going into MyFitnessPal after every meal—I didn’t need to track foods to know what to eat. I no longer had to ignore my body and rely on my brain to tell me what to eat. My cravings were shifted to those that would support the new baseline—to healthy fats, nutrient-rich greens, and good proteins. My steadfast sweet tooth that had been around since my first lollipop had virtually evaporated. The thought of rich chocolate or carb-heavy fruits wasn’t remotely appealing if you can believe it. Coconut oil-doused sautéed spinach, salted ripe avocados, and pan-seared fatty salmon, however, were all suddenly mouth-watering. 

I now always rely on my body to tell me what to eat next. I do this by thinking through the list of keto foods and meals I cycle through and whichever appeals to me most, whichever sparks a craving, I make. I’ve found I feel so much better doing this. Your body knows what it needs, we just need to give it the clarity to do so by developing the right healthy baseline via a clean diet. If I’m low on potassium, I crave avocado. If I’m down on electrolytes, I want dill pickles or salt-covered anchovies. If I need more protein, I crave a big piece of salmon or peanut butter. If my fat is low, I reach for coconut oil or bulletproof coffee. 

Getting to this state is useful in almost every way. Our brains only have so much mental capacity in a 24-hour period. The less time you spend on frivolous, minute decisions the better. It’s why Steve Jobs wore the same turtleneck every day and Tony Robbins eats the same breakfast every morning. Save your cognitive capacity for the more important decisions and tasks that fill your day. Plus, no one likes to constantly think about food and tracking macros and nutrients. It can lead to an anxiety-filled black hole that diverts your attention and distracts you. Of course, it’s important to live and eat clean and at first this is much easier said than done. It won’t start out as automatic but applying the initial effort to build up these habits and put your body in a state from which it can take these decisions off your mental load, will get you there. 

Ketogenic Series: Eating out on Keto

One of the first few questions I hear from people thinking about going keto is “how do you go out to eat on a ketogenic diet?” with a questioning look, likely wondering if I live the life of an antisocial hermit with my coconut oil and avocados at home. This is one of the biggest misconceptions of this fabulous diet. You absolutely can maintain a social life and go out with friends while maintaining ketosis. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist. Here are a few of my takeaways:

Pick a protein

Almost every restaurant is going to have a fish or meat dish. Pick one that has the protein as the focus, grilled/sauteed/pan-fried/baked/or steamed, and comes with a side of something. This way, if the side isn’t ketogenic friendly you can swap for another, e.g. swap potatoes for broccoli or soup for a salad (hold the dressing, stick to olive oil). The more isolated the foods are the better, more swapping power. A soup or curry or salad are more difficult because they tend to have non-keto fixings mixed in the meal.

Know before you go: if you have a dinner out planned, try to keep your protein count low throughout the day and get plenty of healthy fats in because dinner will likely be heavily protein since this is your best bet when eating out on keto.

Examples: fish (ideally salmon or tuna), steak, burger no bun, lamb

Stick to low carb veggies

It’s easy to think you’re eating keto when your plate is full of micronutrient-rich veggies, but if most of your plate is the color of the rainbow you’re likely surpassing your carb limit. Many restaurants offer a side of asparagus or broccoli or sauteed spinach, those are ideal. Avoid sweet potatoes, carrots, corn, potatoes, and peas. Keep veggies minimal, about ¼-⅓ of your plate, with the majority portion coming from protein or healthy fats.

Know before you go: if you know you’re going out to eat and there are few protein or fat options, eat zero vegetables or fruits and plenty of good fats throughout the day so your carb count stays on point.

Examples: asparagus, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, brussel sprouts

Avoid sauces or dressings

Ah the hidden killers. Barbecue, salad dressing, steak sauce, gravy, etc. Who knows what are in these things, the waiter doesn’t and you sure don’t. Look out for “dressing”, “sauce”, “marinated”, “coated”, “creamed” on the menu, or ask your waiter for deets. Cream sauces may be ok but these, like most foods in America, tend to have sugar thrown in there. If you’re in a nicer place you might be safe, where ingredients are more likely to be made in-house with whole foods. No shame in asking if you’re unsure.

If  you can’t handle plain protein or veggies, stick to:

  • Cream-, olive oil-, coconut-, yogurt-, or butter-based sauces e.g. tapenade, hollandaise, tzatziki, curry. Make sure they’re unsweetened and ideally made in-house.
  • Veggie-based, e.g. salsa/pico de gallo, guacamole

When in doubt, go simple

If there are crazy words you’ve never seen, the waiter can’t be bothered with your keto questions, you’re traveling in a foreign land where no one knows what ‘macros’ means, stick to the basics. Better safe than keto flu in the middle of your Morocco vacation. Order a meal that consists of ingredients you can count on one hand. If you’re still unsure about those <5 ingredients, keep the portion small and give the rest to your yolo friend. This goes back to 1’s point that isolated vs. combined foods are optimal.

Don’t overthink it

If you stress too much every time you go out, you’ll either stop going out and become the hermit mentioned above or you’ll quit keto. Anxiously scanning each menu item and mentally counting the macro content is not sustainable for anyone involved. Follow the few key themes in this post and you’ll be just fine. Still stressing? Fast or eat a higher percentage of fats for 6-12 hours before or after the meal.

Ketogenic Series: From low-energy fruitarian to hyper-focused Keto

My inspiration for the Ketogenic diet came from a dinner with a friend in SF about a year ago. He was telling me how energized and great he feels and attributed it to the lifestyle and diet he’s acquired over that past year. This consists of a very low-carb, high-fat diet with intermittent fasting and caloric restriction. He often eats 1500 calories a day or less! His typical breakfast consists of a hard-boiled egg, watermelon or cantaloupe, and bulletproof coffee. He’ll have a salad with fish for lunch, nuts for snacks, and a small protein-focused meal in the evening. He’ll allow for a 14 hour fast a day, i.e. he stops eating around 6 pm and eats breakfast the next day around 8 am. His motivations stem from both immediate and long-term optimization. Immediate: he gets increased energy and focus and feels healthier overall. Long-term: these methods have been directly linked to longevity, reduced risk for Alzheimer's, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and chronic pain. 

Fruitarian Struggles

The reason this came up is because I was relaying my recent bouts of low energy and afternoon slumps. I knew my diet and exercise routine were extreme, and that I concocted it myself from miscellaneous research, assumptions, and trial and error. Given that I have no formal education in nutrition science, I knew there were likely multiple things I could do to improve my energy levels and overall health. I assumed I was eating healthy—all natural foods, no meat or dairy, no processed food, tons of fruits and veggies. But I knew I wasn’t feeling the best I could, so I was open to advice from someone who reported feeling awesome. Plus, one of my obsessions is optimizing for longevity (long lifespan and healthspan) so that was a big driver as well. 

Fat Fears

I bypassed the part about the caloric restriction. Number 1, I like to eat. Number 2, my workouts are pretty intense and strenuous, I don’t think I’d last long without an ample refuel. Everyone's biology is customized and unique, if he feels good on that number of calories then that may work for him, but I’ve always needed a standard (2000-2300 calories depending on my day’s activity level) amount of sustenance to feel satisfied in a day. But what I did take away from the conversation was the low-carb, high-fat approach. I had heard a lot about this from the Tim Ferriss and Ben Greenfield podcasts that I’m always listening to (check out Tim’s Dom D’Agostino and Peter Attia episodes). They’re big advocates of the Ketogenic diet for vitality, preventing and reversing chronic illnesses, and overall health. So this idea was already seeded in my brain, as yet overlooked because of the notion that had been embedded in my mind that fat is bad and leads to high cholesterol—one of the great misconceptions derived from the packaged food industry’s monopoly on nutrition research (e.g. the USDA’s food pyramid is upside down). I had an aversion to fats to an extreme extent. Essentially, the only fat I was getting in a day was about 2 tablespoons of peanut butter with my morning oatmeal and afternoon protein shake. Otherwise, I was eating salad with lime juice instead of dressing, fruits and veggies for snacks, lean fish, and all natural protein bars/powders. This fat aversion came from my own incorrect assumptions on nutrition, developed from all the unsupported or biased inputs from society and the media (look up Ancel Keys). So this would need to be a big paradigm shift for me, but I was willing to give it a shot considering I kept hearing of its value. 

Today

This was 1 year ago. I am now full-on Ketogenic, eating 75% fat, 15% protein, 10% carbs per day and am in ketosis 24/7. That ends up being about 20-30 grams of net carbs per day. To put that in perspective, 1 banana contains about 27 grams of carbs! The biggest adjustment for me was going from eating 6-7 servings of fruit a day or more, to 0. This is the primary concern I hear from people, ‘I couldn’t give up fruit’. Trust me, I thought the same thing. Some days I was borderline Steve Jobs fruitarian level—snacking on a whole bag of grapes or cherries throughout a work day instead of meals. My mom always had to do a massive grocery run whenever I was visiting to make sure there was enough fresh produce. If I can give it up, I’m confident any human can. The most fascinating part of the keto diet is the shift in cravings to that of what will best support your new energy source. After about 5 days of eating keto, if done correctly, you enter ketosis. I.e. your body starts utilizing ketones for energy (fat) instead of glucose (sugar). At this point, you can let your body do the work—avocados, nuts, and oils sound delicious, while fruits, artificial sugars, grains are unappealing. But it wasn’t the smoothest transition for me, here’s a peek into my experience:

Keto Attempt #1, 2017

After that dinner and making the decision to try keto myself, I started by ordering foods on Amazon to kick off this new extreme macronutrient profile. I bought egg white protein, wild sardines in olive oil (recommended by Tim), macadamia nuts, MCT oil, and coconut oil. I ordered from Instacart a truckload of avocados, salmon, eggs, coconut milk, and nut butters. I hate tracking food and macros, I think it’s a consuming and neurotic activity that negatively affects simply living your life. But I had to start getting a feel for what macros were in what foods. I used MyFitnessPal to enter in foods I was previously eating in a day to get a feel for what I needed to change. I realized my diet of low-fat, primarily fruits and veggies was taking in at least 200 carbs a day! I couldn’t believe it. My macros were so incredibly skewed to carbs. In my attempt to eat close to nature and maintain a ‘healthy’, whole food diet, I wasn’t getting a full nutrient profile by any means. My favorite fruits were pineapple, bananas, apples, and grapes—some of the highest carb fruits out there. I also ate oats, high-carb veggies, rice crackers, and high-carb protein bars. All of this was about to change.

As soon as my new keto goods arrived, it was kick-off time. Aaaand the first day was rough. I did a head-first dive into the ketogenic diet (no more than 25 g of carbs a day). I cut out 90% of the fruits I was eating and over 60% of the veggies I was eating in order to reach the 10% of carbs a day. These were foods I was previously snacking on incessantly—bags of grapes, carrots, blueberries, bananas, a Tupperware full of pineapple. That first day I felt really off. It was way too big of a change for my body. I had a terrible taste in my mouth, my mouth kept watering, I felt uncomfortably full and borderline ill—what I now know was a bad case of Keto Flu. It takes a week or two for the body to get accustomed to the low-carb diet after coming from a high-carb diet, and it can take even longer to enter into ketosis. I quickly learned that I needed to ease into the diet and supplement the right way. It was after this struggle day that I reduced the extremity a bit and began incrementally reducing my daily carb intake rather than drastically cutting it. I wouldn’t return to full-on keto for a few months, after slowly reducing carbs and doing some more research. The second time around, I did it right. Hence why I’m still keto thriving today. A couple of right things I introduced: I supplement with electrolytes, magnesium, extra salt, plenty of water, vitamin D, a multivitamin, and vitamin C, I added more calories from healthy fats, and I incorporated more low-carb greens like spinach, broccoli, and asparagus. 

What I Learned

I tell people who want to try keto the following — 

  1. Go at least 2 weeks on a low-carb diet (<30% carbs) before launching into full keto macros

  2. Have someone who is experienced with ketosis guide you through the process. There is a right way to do keto and a wrong way to do keto, and it’s very easy to do it the wrong way. And doing it the wrong way will lead to feeling awful and making you never want to try again.

  3. Supplement correctly, see 2. 

  4. Have patience and perseverance. It’s not going to feel great for the first 5-7 days, especially if your body is used to high-carb.

Since going full keto, my mood, productivity, focus, energy, and sleep have all drastically improved. My moods are much more stable and nonreactive, I’m hyper-motivated and focused with work, I no longer have mid-day energy crashes, and I need about 2 hours less of sleep to full rejuvenated. Not to mention the fun in the diet itself. So yum. I wake up to fat-filled Bulletproof coffee, I douse salads and fish with oil, I eat big spoons of nut butter and handfuls of hearty macadamia nuts for snacks, I crush a big bowl of salmon coconut curry for lunch, and I’m continually discovering new keto-friendly recipes that taste like I’m cheating. And what comes as a surprise to people is that I spend LESS money on food and have to order it less. Keep in mind I used to survive on produce, items that would go bad after a couple of days. So I was always ordering fruits and veggies and going to farmers markets. Now, a lot of what I eat comes in containers that last or can be frozen. Coconut oil, MCT oil, coconut milk, nuts, almond milk, nut butters, salmon (frozen), broccoli (frozen florets), olive oil, sardines, eggs, etc. The only perishable items I have to worry about are avocados and some greens like asparagus and spinach, but even those last far longer than the organic strawberries I used to buy and have to pick out moldy ones within a couple of days. 

The Gist

In the short time I’ve been in ketosis, I have been so in awe of its effects that I’ve been reading constantly trying to better understand the physical changes and how I can further optimize them. I’ve accumulated both personal experience and research knowledge that I’ll continue sharing on this blog. My biggest takeaway thus far has been the incredible revelation that food truly is medicine. Any problem you are having—headaches, nausea, anxiety, depression, pain, insomnia, fogginess—can and should be addressed with food first. Food is our fuel. It is the primary input we can 100% control, why don’t we acknowledge the gravity of that power and harness it for our immediate and long-term health?

I am not a Visionary

An enlightening, initially pride-depleting realization I’ve recently come to—I am not a Visionary. I’ve built my career around the early stage startup realm and vision is a big component to innovative companies, but that’s not where I thrive. I’m the exact complement to a Visionary. I’m an Executor. I don’t spend my time brainstorming big ideas out of thin air, I spend my time calculating the most effective execution strategy for big ideas. I spend my time peeling back the layers to successful companies and studying their processes and steps that got them to where they are. I spend my time analyzing an existing landscape in a startup and its market, and craft the best Get Shit Done approach. This is how I choose my founders that I work with. I *synergize* best with visionaries. BIG visionaries—planning a roadmap is much more enrapturing for me when it’s never been done and it has the potential for global impact. I think of myself as a big cone filter--founders throw their box of fairies, rainbows, and unicorns down the filter, I analyze what we have, what we need, and what’s already out in the world, and design a system of calculated and thoughtful unicorn/fairy/rainbow development and release. What’s the most effective engineering/design team structure? What target audience should we focus on? Who should we approach for partnerships? Which product features should we include or shelve for later? What should the development cadence and process look like? What’s our priority list? What’s our timeline and target milestones? These are the questions I like to ask. And any one of my founders will tell you I do, after they ask questions like—How can we disrupt this market? What’s a problem that effects more than 10,000 people? What’s never been done to solve this problem? The perfect duo. 

Nothing is more satisfying to me than immediately talking strategy and plan of attack. I can’t discuss big ideas without doing this. I’ll be the asshole in the room writing out an execution roadmap, calling manufacturers, and assigning engineers tasks while Elon and Bezos are brainstorming how to become a multi-planetary species. Founders provide the block of beautiful, rare, carefully mined block of marble, I start chipping away to build the statue. Founders give me the materials for a stunning beachside mansion that’s never been built into the rocks in that way, I construct the unique but lasting structure that turns the materials into an inhabitable anomaly. 

I’ve focused a lot of mental energy into developing self-awareness in the past year, I’ve gotten pretty good at it. The trick is to develop a self-awareness that remains an open box, avoiding boxing yourself into the traits and behaviors that you’ve recognized in that introspection. We are all malleable, influenceable creatures. We are not static or concrete. Thank god. If we want to change, we can. Even if we don’t want to, we do. Some more often than others, depending on how often your surroundings are altered. It’s certainly uncomfortable at first, but vital for growth—lack of movement is death. But I believe it’s important to seek and acknowledge the core components of what makes you tick, the foundational skills and motivators that remain throughout the fluidity of your life, observe and become aware of them, and leverage and apply them in a way that allows you to be your best self in the world. 

Must fulfillment come from the tangible?

I remember some of the most satisfying flow states I’ve experienced were days in my graphic design course in high school. I spent hours immersed in a concept I was crafting in photoshop. When I was finished, and it received praise from my teacher and others, it was a deeply satisfying feeling. I had a tangible art piece that came from thoughts and random neuron firing (that’s all creativity really is, see my post "The Philomath's Dilemma V2"), harnessed by my hands putting it onto a computer screen. Most instances of a flow state followed by deep personal fulfillment come from something that leads to tangible evidence of the work put in during the flow state. There are many opportunities for this in school. Art class, English essays, plays, projects, presentations. But in adult life, you must seek it out yourself. I’ve envied engineers and designers and artists because this is a default occurrence in their careers. They’re creators. Tangible evidence of their work is the only way for them to continue on with those careers. It’s very black and white whether they’re doing well or not so well in those careers (except maybe artists, where output is much more ambiguously valued on a personal vs. general level). There is tangible evidence of their work in the form of an app, home, website, machine, product, or otherwise, that either sparks user adoption and revenue or it doesn’t. They can look at something or touch something that made someone’s life better and say “I built that”. 

So what gets managers, leaders, and strategists off? How do we reach that sense of fulfillment without a tangible product that was shaped with our own hands? Can we achieve second-hand fulfillment from the team we led in shaping that product? Can it be as strong? I was an engineer for over 2 years before moving to product and strategy. Nothing was more satisfying than discovering a bug or getting a feature request from stakeholders and being able to dive into the code and fix it right then and there, with my own hands, and display the fix in the same meeting. It felt powerful having the ‘doing’ power that no one else in the room had, especially considering their deep reliance on the product's success. That was fulfilling. 

But with great ‘doing’ power came a lot of dictating and micromanaging. It was a constant “Add this” “Fix this” “Change this”, all focused on very minute, tiny things that made me feel like I was becoming increasingly separated from the product’s mission and north star. Tweaking a button color or moving a label too many times will do that to you. Of course, this wasn’t always the case. We solved many challenging, interesting problems. We replaced the entire deposits system for a 30-year-old bank with 30-year-old tech, not an easy feat. But considering we were the only hands capable of shaping the perfect gem they wanted, much of the specs were nitty-gritty gripes from the executives. That’s when I realized I couldn’t always be the low-level, front-line creator. I needed to step back over that line, and do the high-level thinking of product direction and strategy. 

I miss the tangible evidence that came with being a builder, but I’ve been able to shift my sources of fulfillment. It now comes from the success of my engineering team in completing and releasing a robust sprint, the feature I prioritized yielding beneficial results, the designers I led creating a compelling UX, the users/clients I support providing positive feedback, the process I implemented becoming an effective productivity machine, the startup I'm helping build hitting hockey stick growth.

Maybe the fact that I used to be a creator provides the contrast for me more so than others. But I believe they are vastly different career focuses that cater to different personas. It’s valuable to know what works best for you and which you can harness the most fulfillment from. Because that’s all any of us are lookin for. 

Make your rest days active

Humans are meant to move. The structure of our body is built around that truth (if you haven’t already, check out Born to Run by Christopher McDougall). We’ve gotten away from that default state because of desk jobs, automated transportation, and laziness combined with society’s ever-increasing convenience. And once our default state becomes still and inactive, our cycle of endorphin addiction is broken and we forget how great moving makes us feel. This is likely because we’ve evolved to enjoy and seek out laziness and rest. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors certainly needed it after a full day of chasing buffalo and gathering tree nuts. But Joe in accounting, a desk-ridden 45-year-old on track for heart disease who takes the subway to work then the subway home to watch the Sopranos before sleeping and doing it all over again does not. 

It can be the smallest effort: getting up and walking for 5-10 minutes every hour, taking your hour lunch break to eat and walk, or combining your call meeting with a stroll (muting when a hill comes along). When a colleague asks to go for coffee, suggest a walk and talk instead. Get back into that endorphin cycle, remind your mind how much it loves and craves this vital hormone.

I’ve always been a borderline insanely active human, so I never thought much about this. But the way I was active was by purposely going to the gym to have an intense workout then stop and go to work and sit. I’m kinder to my body now. I still have those intense workouts, but they’re not the be all end all of maintaining an active lifestyle for me anymore. I have a couple of ‘rest days’ where I sprinkle movement throughout the day, long walks through the city mostly. Sometimes yoga and stretching as well. And since starting this, even on my intense gym days, I have urges throughout the day to get up and use the body perfectly designed for movement. I used to have an ever-present dull lower back pain, tight muscles, and afternoon antsiness. These have all nearly evaporated. It’s such a simple solution, move. 

I read a lot about evolution (Sapiens, On the Origin of Species, The Selfish Gene, Sex at Dawn, Idiot Brain…), and it’s amazing how many solutions come from going back to basics and looking at how our ancestors lived and behaved. It informs much of what we need in order to thrive in our own lives today. As we know, evolution is significantly slower than societal development, i.e. our modern daily lives are a bit different than our hunter-gatherers’ but our basic needs align in more ways than we know. 

Make your rest days active. Raise your default state to periodic light movement. Avoiding days of little to no movement will keep you healthily in that endorphin cycle that’s so key to human existence. Doing so will also make it easier to add on a few of those intense gym days a week. 

Dannyism #2: You don't get to pick your hills

When you’re cycling up a steep hill, a few things are happening with your body and head. Your body is strained in every way, your legs are running on autopilot because your perception of movement seems to have been replaced with a burning fire from your calves to glutes. Your core is clenched, fighting to keep you stabilized and upright. Your mind is telling you all the giving up phrases, “there’s no way I can finish this”, “this is impossible”, it’s doubting your body’s capabilities and looking for an excuse to stop. Sounds like a great situation doesn’t it!? And people do this daily through Marin county bike trails…willingly. Why? Because hills in cycling are a resource that forces a cyclist to work their ass off. With sprinting or weight lifting or HIIT training, your mind can trick you into stopping before your body has maxed out. With hill cycling, stopping could send you zig zagging down a busy road (speaking from personal experience in the lovely but intense Marin headlands), straight into another cyclist/car, or if you’re in CA, down some unfriendly rocks into the ice-cold bay. You don’t get to choose whether to keep going. You have to. It’s a useful tool for those who might find it more difficult to push to physical limits at their own doing, i.e. most of us. Put yourself in a situation where the environment has to choose when you get to stop, not your mind. 

You don’t get to choose your hills. They come around the corner and once you get going, stopping could be seriously harmful and might set you back further than when you started. Fighting to the top brings you to that beautiful view and a minute to rest. Yay, another life metaphor! Challenges come out of no where, shying away or backing out too early will never move you forward. You’ll stay stagnant at the bottom, no scenic view for you. If you tried to pick your hills, you’d seek out a bunch of baby hills leading to somewhere less fulfilling. When that next big one comes around the corner, be grateful for the opportunity and take it on full force. You’ll be glad you did.

Don't Skip the Nooks and Crannies!

I flew to Annapolis to visit my mom for the weekend and it was the exact dose of rejuvenating family time that I needed. Most of the weekend was spent having one-on-one long talks with her, one of which was during our traditional post-dinner walks. When I was younger, we used to have these nightly. We share the quirk of feeling most comfortable and ourselves when moving and active, so these walks always invited the open and deep conversations that were otherwise rare. Resurfacing that tradition this weekend reminded me of my mom’s eccentric walking habits. Number 1, she walks like a madwoman being chased by wolves (I know where my compulsory endorphin addiction comes from) and number 2, when walking cul-de-sacs and corners, she unfailingly walks right up to every edge exclaiming, “Don’t skip the nooks and crannies!” When I was younger, this was an annoyance that yielded an eye-roll and reluctant running to catch up after I tried to turn around too soon. Now, I realize what an important metaphor for life it was and still is.

It’s easy to short yourself here and there, to metaphorically cut corners. At the time, it seems like it has a minuscule impact but over time, the repeated inch-long shorts accumulate to miles lost.

I like to think my stubborn young mind unconsciously internalized this lesson and applied it to my life and career. I hold myself to a certain standard, and this applies to the big things as well as the minute details, nooks and crannies as mama Harrison calls them. No one is watching my mom walk making sure she hits the corners, she does it for herself. She probably did it one day and from then on that was her standard. Be your own competitor. Have high standards and requirements for yourself, reach them, and only allow yourself to go up from there. One short becomes two becomes many, and just like that your standards are lowered and you lose against yourself.