Issue № 25

It’s all problems

Spearman was right that people differ in their ability to solve well-defined problems. But he was wrong that well-defined problems are the only kind of problems. “Why can’t I find someone to spend my life with?” “Should I be a dentist or a dancer?” and “How do I get my child to stop crying?” are all important but poorly defined problems. “How can we all get along?” is not a multiple-choice question. Neither is “What do I do when my parents get old?” And getting better at rotating shapes or remembering state capitols is not going to help you solve them.

~ Adam Mastroianni from,

I’m left wondering if the very intelligent are those who can figure out if a problem is, or is not, well-defined. I blast through all sort of work—well-defined problems in Mastroianni’s article—but it doesn’t seem to fulfill me. As soon as I know the problem is well-defined, I lose interest. As soon as I can see a path provided by a solution, I lose interest. Sometimes, I go through the steps to actually do the work. But mostly I just lose interest as soon as know how it would be done.

All of which makes for a vicious cycle: my ability to generate work vastly outstrips my ability to do that work. And I feel the weight of guilt for not doing that work which I feel should be done.


The cure for burnout is not self-care. The cure for burnout is all of us caring for each other.

~ Amelia Nagoski

Get to the point

Perhaps the most critical communication skill. Be brief. Use as few words as possible to say what you need, and everyone will appreciate it.

~ Morgan Housel from,

I’m aware that my blog posts, and the weekly 7 for Sunday email derived from them, are often a rambling mess of garage-door-up thinking. I do edit. The key thing that I’m trying to do is to integrate ideas into what I already know, to see what new connections and new ideas I might find. So this post is not at all about telling you, Dear Reader, how to get to the point or even how important it is to get to the point. In fact, I don’t have a point (in this post in particular, and also generally.) Most of the time, if I reach the end of the post and discover I do in fact have a point… well, that’s terrific. I feel it would be cheating to then cover up my work by editing the thing to get more directly to the point.


Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.

~ Pablo Picasso

There is purpose to existence

People should not look at their approaching golden years with dread or apprehension but as perhaps one of the most significant stages in their development as a human being, even during these turbulent times. For me, old age has been a renaissance despite the tragedies of losing my beloved wife and son. It’s why the greatest error anyone can make is to assume that, because an elderly person is in a wheelchair or speaks with quiet deliberation, they have nothing important to contribute to society. It is equally important to not say to yourself if you are in the bloom of youth: “I’d rather be dead than live like that.” As long as there is sentience and an ability to be loved and show love, there is purpose to existence.

~ Harry Leslie Smith from,

“Quiet deliberation,” indeed. I find myself increasingly in that state, (although I am still too–often found in the state of denial.) During interpersonal situations, I find myself thinking: “What could I say here that would actually be useful?” and coming up with “nothing” as my answer I’m left to choose between contributing silence, or contributing social lubrication. That’s a shift of intention which comes from decades of glacial movement towards true self-awareness. I believe it’s time yet again to reschedule my mid-life crisis; it seems I have some more thinking to do.


You must want to be a butterfly so badly, you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.

~ Sekou Andrews

Dump out the box

In the end, what matters is your lifestyle. The specifics of your work are important only in how they impact your daily experience. As I summarized, when choosing a career path: “Fix the lifestyle you want. Then work backwards from there.” This idea, which I dubbed lifestyle-centric career planning, subverted popular advice from that period which tended to emphasize the importance of passion and dream jobs. In this widely-accepted schema, the full responsibility for your ongoing satisfaction was offloaded to the minutia of your professional endeavors.

~ Cal Newport from,

Somewhere we each have a box full of specific things. I have a plastic storage tub full of electronic accessories—a spare hard drive, a spare ethernet switch, various cables, an extra mouse, the HDMI cable, and the power adapter for the rest of the world. As a kid, I had a huge styrofoam cooler (it’s a long story) full of Lego bricks and parts. I’m not talking about the proverbial “junk drawer.” I’m talking about a proverbial “box” into which we place specific things. My electronics accessories, my printing supplies, my rock climbing gear, and even all the bookcases considered as one “box.” It’s pretty obvious—I hope?—that since we’re continuously adding things to the boxes, we need to periodically “dump out” the box and cull. The cables that don’t fit anything we currently own… The books we didn’t like or enjoy… Every time I dump out some “box” and toss (or sell or donate etc.) some of the items, my life improves.

This morning I was thinking: When is the last time I dumped out my box of people? …my box of responsibilities? …my box of things I think I should do? …my box of dreams?

Until next time, thanks for reading.



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