Let there be light, and let it be free

ConEdison, one of the largest energy companies in the country, recently launched a sustainability initiative that’s quite the turn on.

Residents in family households within eligible neighborhoods can schedule to receive a free lightbulb installation that reduces lighting related energy costs by up to ninety percent. Customers simply schedule their installation, and then a representative contacts them to confirm the date and time of their appointment.

Within days, they’ll replace those pesky old power guzzling halogens with new light bulbs that lower energy bills.

As the company’s press release so eloquently states, let there be light, and let it be free!

The city was lit up, both physically and emotionally. Our landlord even signed up all the units in our brownstone for the program.

What could possibly go wrong?

This story set off my skepticism alarm.

Because why all this sudden random kindness from a giant energy corporation? The capital and labor outlay alone must be costing them millions. Makes me wonder what they’re really up to.

In my twisted brain, the part of me that secretly hopes everything goes to shit, here’s how this story could play out.

The utility company installs millions of light bulbs around the city and garners praise from media, citizens and politicians alike. Congratulations, guys. Truly an innovative organization.

But about six months later, the corporate executives begin phase two, which is using the free light bulbs as a cover for a top secret government funded mind control and population planning program.

With the flip of a switch, every light bulb in the city sends out an electronic signal that hypnotizes citizens into cannibalistic zombies who mobilize into the streets start murdering on command, while retaining no memory of their killings.

Meanwhile, corporate executives, politicians and other prominent citizens gather together to watch the entire event on a private streaming channel while making proposition bets on everything from body count to blood splatter patterns to which borough kills the fastest.

Ultimately, allowing natural selection to work its course, this program thins out the population of those who can not survive on their own.

And in time, the powers that be will have free rein to enforce their ideas of a thriving society and return the city to its rightful owners.

Edison himself never could have thought of this shit.

This summer, let there be light with…

The Flickering.

Isn’t there a part of you that secretly loves it when everything goes to shit?

Our actions will affect their company in no way whatsoever

Here’s the type of online review that breaks my heart:

They can afford not to care.

Have you ever been a customer at this kind of establishment? Whether it’s a retail shop, boutique hotel or large apathetic global monolith, few things make people feel more frustrated and helpless than dealing with a business that’s in some kind of monopoly position. 

Because for whatever reason, that company is not incentivized to make customers a priority. Maybe they’re the only game in town, maybe their demand vastly outweighs their supply, maybe they don’t need the money, or maybe the owners are just assholes.

Either way, there’s simply nothing that we, as the customers, can do about the situation. Our actions will not affect their multimillion dollar company in no way whatsoever.

To quote one of my favorite satire articles:

You engage in emotionless transactions and leave your instantly replaceable customers with zero choice but to have the exact same experience at another soulless multinational corporation somewhere else. They will happily take their business to one of the other faceless entities around the corner and feel equally insulted and dehumanized there.

What’s the solution? How can angry and helpless customers fight back against companies who can afford not to care?

Here’s my idea.

After all, hate is a very expensive emotion. But if we could learn to properly amplify and channel it, we might have an impact.

Loathecation is a crowd sourced web mapping service where marginalized and discriminated people can drop a pin at all of the establishments where they’ve been treated unfairly.

Now each and every incident of assholery will be recorded and aggregated as a digital a wakeup call for local businesses.

Look, most people need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy, and the same rule applies to businesses.

Loathecation can finally help corporate indifference fall off the map.

Public shaming is the way to go. People are sick and tired of the payoff companies are getting out of their apathetic attitudes.

It’s time we start calling some of these crappy companies onto the carpet and vote with our feet.

When was the last time you were a customer of a business that could afford not to care about you?

Today is my 8,000th consecutive day wearing a nametag

Here’s a common reaction people have to my social experiment.

You’ve been wearing a nametag every day for twenty years? I don’t think I’ve done anything for twenty years.

It always gives me a good laugh, since it’s patently absurd that over half of my life has been lived as a labeled man.

But you have to admit, that’s one hell of a run. And in fact, streak psychology is a topic that fascinates me.

Why are people so compelled by this streaks, both as participants and observers?

Maybe it’s the raw pavlovian thrill of task completion.

Maybe it’s the human need to stay consistent with past behavior.

Maybe it’s the ownership part, as streaks are hard won, and anything in our possession is psychologically felt as worth more than it actually is.

Maybe it’s brain chemistry, where the higher our streak number gets, the more valuable it becomes, and the greater our dopamine reward, so the streak is in itself an intensifier.

The thing about streaks is, they can have a downside.

Alter’s popular book on addictive technology reminds us that streaks are insidious by nature. What may start as a genuine desire becomes more valuable over time, such that you have more and more to lose as you’re ostensibly making gains. And when you become more concerned with a perceived loss than the streak’s benefits, that’s when you run into problems.

The issue is that they tip into negative territory when they inspire obsessions. 

Working out every day is good for you, until you get a stress injury. Been there before many times.

Wearing a nametag hasn’t led to injuries, but over exercising certainly has.

It all goes back to the type of streak you’re going for. Because there are different categories. There’s the acute streak, born out of impeccable timing and focused performance, which can’t last forever, but boy is it exciting when it’s happening.

Like the basketball team that wins eighteen games in a row. Or the guy sitting next to you at the blackjack table who beats the dealer on ten straight hands. Or when your teenage daughter posts a video of herself on social media every morning for two years straight because it elevates her social status among her friends.

Those acute streaks are admirable, inspiring and worth celebrating.

But let’s not overlook the ever inspiring prolonged streak. When you stick with something for years or decades or entire lifetimes.

Recovering addicts are big on this, who will not only keep, but also share the tally of of the number of days of their sobriety. Every day that number goes up by one, they can feel proud, empowered and motivated to continue their journey.

That’s how it feels wearing a nametag everyday. It’s been 8,000 days, and watching that number increase is a source of satisfaction for me.

Funny, thing is, I don’t anything remarkable. It’s just a sticker. But as my mentor likes to remind me, it’s not that I put the nametag on, it’s that I never took it off.

The higher that number get, the final score matters less than the streak itself. Because the whole of the long tail is mine. Forever.

Godin’s blog, which has inspired my work for years, summarizes the issue perfectly:

Streaks are their own reward. Streaks create internal pressure that keeps streaks going. They require commitment at first, but then the commitment turns into a practice, and the practice into a habit. Habits are much easier to maintain than commitments.

Remember, the word streak derives from the term strica, which means, line of motion.

If you can find a healthy way keep that line going, your journey will be remarkable no matter what the path is

What personal streak are you proud of?

It feels like you’re taking two steps back

Do you love food, but don’t like waiting around for it to cook?

Omni, the outdoor appliance company, recently launched an amazing portable pizza oven. It’s capable of heating up to nine hundred degrees, almost double the capability of conventional ovens.

With its revolutionary gas powered technology, this appliance can cook a small neopolitan pizza in sixty seconds. Only sixty seconds!

This is great news for the restaurant world. Customers who literally don’t have a minute to spare will be queuing up around the corner to enjoy a slice.

Unfortunately, this approach to cooking pizza isn’t applicable to other areas of life.

Like personal growth. We think we can speed up our natural change process, but that’s not how it works.

Like when my left wrist contracted tendinitis. Thirty years of playing guitar finally caught up to me, and so, physical therapy was in order.

During our first session, my therapist gave me a warning that she said she gave all her patients.

Sometimes as you’re making progress, it feels like you’re taking two steps back. But don’t beat yourself up, and don’t try to rush the healing. It always takes longer than you’d like.

Fuck that, my ego chimed in. A young, healthy stud like me? This whole wrist thing should be cleared up by springtime, tops.

Classic sixty second pizza cooking mentality.

My therapist was right though. It took several years to heal my wrist. Matter of fact, it still hurts after playing concert. And there’s a part of me that is disgusted with myself because I think I should be better by now.

That’s what the voice in my head says.

You’re fine, suck it up.

Turns out, the real work of healing is learning to be forgiving and acceptant of my own humanity. Because growth takes time. Healing takes time. Sixty seconds is not enough.

If you’re the kind of person who makes each day a referendum on whether or not you should be getting better, practice being kinder to yourself. Enjoy your progress for whatever it is, without resenting yourself for what you think you should be doing but aren’t.

You may be able to bake a pizza in less than a minute, but in more tender areas of life, slow cooking is the way to go.

How might you give yourself freedom from what your ego always thinks it should be doing?

Facing your fears instead of driving around them

My mentor used to joke that he was going to write a personal development book that only contained one sentence.

You know what you need to do, you just need to do it.

Guaranteed to become a bestseller by the holidays.

But looking back, his insight might have been inaccurate.

Because for so many of us, myself included, the issue isn’t a matter of knowing or not knowing. The issue is that we’ve already convinced ourselves why we can’t do it, or why we should or shouldn’t do it.

No wonder we’re stuck.

The fear story that we’re telling ourselves makes it impossible to heroically create our own momentum and fight the awful weight of inertia.

Can you relate to that struggle?

It’s certainly stalled my own progress over the years. Like the time I applied for over a thousand jobs in one summer. Nothing worked. It was infuriating and depressing.

But in retrospect, the reason nobody gave me a job during that time wasn’t due to my lack of qualifications or unlikable personality.

It’s because the hiring managers could hear the fear in my voice.

During my interviews, there is no doubt that the stench of desperation was palpable. After all, in my mind, without this next job, my life was over. And that fear story stained my communications with a sense of scarcity and doubt. Anxiety undermined my ability to breathe into the day with confidence and competence.

Would you hire somebody like that? Absolutely not.

Matter of fact, that experience gives me an innovative idea. Maybe we should take that feeling one step further.

Considering that fear waits for most people at the door, keeping them from experimenting traveling and stretching themselves in the world, maybe we’re onto something here.

What if there were the equivalent of road signs for people’s greatest dreads? Perhaps venturing out wouldn’t seem so scary anymore.

Travert could be the name for our new fear therapy app that maps out your daily adventure solely based on leaning into your greatest fears. Whether it’s crossing long bridges, being around children, prospecting new customers, waiting in long lines, or driving in the rain, or getting a new job, our algorithm helps you take the path of most resistance everywhere you travel.

Travert helps you face your fears instead of driving around them.

Oh come on, that’s clever shit, you didn’t think of it.

Why wouldn’t that work? Faith in oneself, like most things, is a muscle. Its like the human immune system, in that it needs more practice.

Everyone could use more opportunities to step forward as an act of belief in our own abilities. Or at the very least, to remind us that what we think we should want might not be what it seems.

Maybe that would finally fight the awful weight of inertia. 

What do you have to tell yourself to believe that your current circumstance is not the end of the story?

Happy birthday! Now try not to think of a polar bear.

Holiday marketing campaigns used to be centered around joy, gratitude, appreciation and love.

Now the universal sentiment that companies use to coerce customers is some version of:

Just don’t screw it up.

The message they’re sending is, love it or resent it, this special holiday is about covering your ass.

This is the wrong kind of pressure to put on people. It comes from a narrow place of fear, scarcity and lack, rather than abundance and generosity and optimism. It’s not even about the person receiving the gift, it’s about the person who gives it.

Interestingly enough, many of people’s business goals follow this same flawed narrative. Their mindset is, if we don’t screw up, we’re going to hit our numbers.

But that’s not motivating or empowering.

What a goal should do is galvanize you. The goal should challenge and stretch you to work outside your comfort zone, as opposed to sitting around and making sure you’re doing something stupid.

Let’s go back to the aforementioned holiday trend. Would you rather spend an hour writing a poem for someone you love, or spent five minutes buying them a gift card to a store they don’t even like?

Which one do you think they would prefer?

There’s a mantra that one of my favorite filmmakers uses:

Pressure is a choice.

And so, as long as we’re going to put pressure on ourselves for our work, then we might as well direct that energy into a positive direction. One that lends itself to generosity and courage, not scarcity and fear. It’s demoralizing.

Dostoevsky famously wrote over a hundred years ago, try not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.

It’s the same thing. Attempting not to do something often backfires, particularly when we are under stress. Telling ourselves not to fuck it up is an unhelpful and potentially detrimental message to send our brains.

Wegner ran a psychological study in the eighties that found this type of internal dialogue actually increases our chance of failure. His research showed that telling yourself not to do something raises the likelihood of making it happen.

The question you have to ask yourself is, what’s more important? Protecting your pride, or empowering yourself?

Playing to win, or playing not to lose?

When it comes to your goals, focus on telling yourself the story that helps you love yourself the most.

Are you trapping yourself into a revolving door, doomed to make the same mistakes again?

When our industry is utterly indifferent to our dreams

Are you the kind of person who always felt a disharmony between how the industry works and how you work?

You’re not alone. Many professionals feel this way. We’re not agreeable to having our pride and joy changed from beginning to end by producers, mangers, committees and other horsemen of the creative apocalypse.

This is our art, damnit!

The question we have to ask ourselves is:

Can we find a balance between the two? Whatever industry we belong to, can we use some of our creative powers to be more, as the scriptures say, in the world, but not of it?

Think of it as a cognitive behavioral exercise.

We accept reality on reality’s terms.

It might be true that the purpose of most industry parties is to see where we are in the food chain. It might be true that our industry is capable of turning success into failure by a lack of attention. It might be true the industry isn’t dying, but simply something we’ve outgrown. It might be true that our industry is utterly indifferent to our dreams. It might be true that our industry thrives on the blood of insecure, naive and needy artists willing to have their soul stolen from right out under their nose.

But we don’t have to let that reality corrupt our mindset.

During a major recession years ago, my mentor gave me some advice on this issue:

“Just because the economy sucks, doesn’t mean your economy can’t rock. Your economy is how you manage yourself in relation to the world. Invest in that.”

What if we made a promise to ourselves not to engage in any conversation about what’s wrong with our industry? What we if we took a vow of complete abstinence from complaining about it period?

That might that take us out of the victim position in regard to it. This mindset won’t stop the industry gears from grinding away, but it might help us better cope with reality on reality’s terms.

Hell, I’ve worked jobs in advertising, travel, media and publishing, all of which are industries that are embarrassing at best and mind controlling at worst. Just awful.

And since there nothing I’m going to do to reverse that, bemoaning how greedy or unethical the industry is no longer part of my vocabulary. My aim is abundance and gratitude, not rancor and entitlement.

Nobody really notices or cares, but hey, it helps me sleep past night. 

How will you manage the disharmony between how you work and how the industry works?

Yeah, well this time you got caught, you cheating bastard

Life has not cheated you.

Because in order for it to have cheated you, it first needed to promise you something.

But nothing was promised, and so no fraud was committed.

It’s very hard for us to wrap our minds around this cold truth. Maybe because we enjoy being the victim of betrayal. Maybe because it reinforces our view of the world as an atrocious carnival of horrors that’s out to get us.

Maybe because complaining about life’s unfairness earns immediate attention and sympathy from others. Maybe because announcing that we’ve been cheated relieves us of the responsibility to grieve our losses, move on and live.

Maybe because tragedy is attached to our primary sense of identity, and we don’t know who we are without it.

Whatever our motivation is, odds are, it goes back to too much expectation and not enough enjoyment. Let’s think about that for a moment.

Whom do you know that seems to be deeply fulfilled with their lives? Does that person ever bemoan how they’ve been cheated by the demands life made on them?

Doubtful. They’re probably so grateful to be here, so grateful to be alive, that betrayal doesn’t even enter their minds. They don’t confine themselves by relying on rules that don’t exist, they celebrate the fact that they’re here to play the game.

Pay attention to these kinds of people. They prove that we cannot be cheated unless we are expecting something. If we only want to enjoy, the world’s response doesn’t matter. Or at the very least, it doesn’t disappoint us.

Poker Billy from SNL comes to mind, one of my favorite sketch comedy characters from the nineties.

He was a cowboy who didn’t understand how to play poker, and his card games always ended with him overturning the table, drawing his guns and yelling out, you cheating bastard!

During the sketch, the dealer was shuffling the cards, and the cowboy looks aghast.

Hey, what the hell are you doing? You’re mixing up all the cards?

The dealer says, it’s called shuffling, I do it before every game.

And the ignorant cowboy yells, yeah, well this time you got caught! You cheating bastard!

Far too many of us walk around the world with this mindset. Suspicious, expectant, seeing everything as a cheat and a conspiracy against us, living in a constant state of mild paranoia that someone is out to get us.

But it’s not. And they’re not.

We are the ones who are out to get ourselves.

Next time you feel cheated or mad at something because it didn’t bring you the joy that it promised, holster your weapons for a moment.

Maybe the fix isn’t in. 

What if you could preclude the development of stress by deleting the expectations you hold in your mind?

Treat the source, not the symptom

If you’re a growing company, there are an infinite amount of creative tactics for hiring more great people.

Running hyper targeted social ads, securing press mentions about your cool, laid back culture, building out an email marketing campaign to applicants, getting listed on career communities, creating a social media presence that shows a fun day in the life of an employee, utilizing the referral networks of your current team, and connecting with professors at reputable business schools.

My personal favorite is when these executives recommend creating a hilarious viral video of their employees doing something crazy in their workspace.

That will fill our applicant pool with top talent, right?

Probably not. Because as we all know, any brand that tries to go viral, doesn’t.

What bothers me about this entire line of thinking is, it’s putting the employment cart before the horse. Yes, many of these tactics do work, but the issue is that they’re treating the symptom and not the source.

Like throwing your back out and immediately going to get a massage. It’s a lovely short term solution that feels relaxing and stops the pain, but the reality is, you probably need to commit to doing regular core strengthening exercises instead.

That’s what my mother, a personal trainer and pilates instructor, told me after multiple back injuries over the years.

Treat the source, not the symptom.

Growing companies ought to heed that same advice. Instead of trying to compete with other companies by bragging about your iguana friendly office, just treat your people better.

Build an atmosphere worth coming to. Don’t hire assholes.

Those aren’t the most creative ideas in the book, but maybe creativity isn’t what we need here.

Having worked for a few startups myself, here’s one thing that bothers me about their recruiting process. These companies spend millions trying to compete on who has the best, healthiest snacks for their employees.

But instead of having better snacks, why not just pay people more?

That’s why my new invention is going to change the world.

Peckish is a corporate fasting program that sends everyone in your company a personalized weekly email infographic indicating the amount of money that person has earned by not having any snacks in the office. No more fighting over protein bars, kale chips and and beef jerky. And no more cleaning up wrappers, crumbs and napkins. Just more money.

Talk about making a fast buck.

If companies offered programs like that, they wouldn’t need to make clever videos to convince candidates to apply there. Because every recent college graduate would be telling their friends about it.

Did you hear about that new tech startup that basically starves you, but pays a shit ton of money?

You can lose weight and get rich at the same time!

Treat the source, not the symptom.

Focus on the value your company provides for its team members, and the marketing will take care of itself. 

Are you trying to solve the wrong problem?

Squeezed into the world right before the doors were closing

Coming of age in the nineties, before search engines, social media and digital technology existed, being an artist and doing business was profoundly different than it was today.

Standard principles of production, marketing, sales and distribution were basically the same, but the path to success was longer, harder, more isolating and more expensive.

In my teenage and college years, playing concerts, recording, promoting and selling my own albums was exhausting. Like when I had to kiss the ass of the only guy in my freshman dorm who had a compact disc burner to make copies of my records.

Who knew that would be the biggest bottleneck of my production process?

There was tons of pride, joy and satisfaction with he final product, but it still felt like tons of work for almost zero return.  At least, not financially.

What didn’t occur to me at age eighteen was, constraints are advantages in disguise. Trying to do business in the analog age is akin to learning how to play scales on an antique guitar.

Ask any guitarist you know. When the strings are rusty, the action is high and the bridge is unforgiving, your fingers grow very tired very quickly.

But the upside is, the constraints of the instrument forces you to build callouses that lay a foundation for growth. Your hand hurts like hell after each practice session, but little do you know, the emotional return on investment pays dividends down the road.

Compare that to someone who learns how to play music the fanciest and most expensive guitar around. They won’t develop nearly the same level of chops.

Same goes for the business world. People who have experience with analog enterprises typically have a stronger baseline of entrepreneurial acumen. Salespeople who have literally knocked on a prospect’s door in the freezing snow, aka, the original cold call, are ultimately going to close more deals than someone whose only sales experience is sending batched emails and social media friend requests, then hoping for the best.

That’s the blessing and the curse of the internet. We’re seduced by the concept infinity, but then we use it to hide. Trading our analog dollars for digital pennies, we get complacent.

And so, if you have been brought up in the digital world, where anything is possible and everything is available, be careful. By no mistake of your own, you might not have any natural opportunities to build requisite emotional and physical calluses.

Which means you’ll have to create them for yourself. You’ll have to train yourself when not to use digital tools and when to rely on the powers of older and slower technologies.

I feel blessed that I squeezed into the business world right before the analog doors were closing, but that’s mostly because of when I was born.

Remember, timing isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. Appreciate where your work sits among the arc of history, and plan your work accordingly. 

What constraints could you introduce to help build your emotional calluses?

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