Friday Sabbatical

Whatever you’re doing this Friday, I invite you to take a sabbatical, pause, and check in with yourself. Look inward to see what it feels like to be you right now. Really just look, without ideas or assumptions. Breathe, and consider that that cacophony of sensations you’re feeling is always there, even though most of the time you just ignore it.

Here are five things that stuck with me this week:

1. Firstly, I must say I’m impressed with the speed of response from our federal government. After I and others called out how the CARES act was unfairly singling out VC backed companies to be the only type of small business ineligible for government relief programs, a week later, it looks like they’re going to fix it. Our government gets a bad wrap for being slow and bureaucratic, justifiably so in many respects, but there’s nothing like an existential threat to our economy to get everyone on the same side. Kudos to all involved here. (Note that PE owned companies are still ineligible)

2. Sports! 4. Life during COVID has been hard for a number of reasons, but a big one in my opinion is the lack of sports. Since I was a small child I have never been far from a ball, whether physical or on TV, to such an extent that most people I spend time with have become sports fans in one capacity or another by proxy, and it’s been many years since March when I last played or watched any. So I was unreasonably excited to see that various NBA players would be competing in a 2K tournament, and that the Big3 would be staging a Corona 3-on-3 basketball tournament/reality show, in an effort to fill that gap. I try not to think about how this compares to the actual real live NBA, and simply enjoy that something is on offer these days.

3. This time in our history is similar to other times in that there is no shortage of lists of things we should all be doing better. It says something about our society that short, punchy lists about how to be more [insert generally desired attribute here] are among the most popular bits of content consumed by the human animal. We’ve all outsourced the structure and focus of our personal values to the masses (I wrote about how this has applied to startups yesterday), and ended up in an unwinnable race to transform ourselves into an ideal that we didn’t choose. It’s clear to me that that’s a silly way to spend our lives, but it’s also tough to articulate a compelling alternative, submerged as we all are in the 21st Century American zeitgeist; even coming up with your own ideal is done from within, and based upon, inherited cultural values. Tim Ferris wrote an article this week quoting Martha Graham, one of the most influential dance choreographers of the 20th century, in which she articulated well a real alternative to simply trying to be a better version of who everyone else wants to be, and I loved it. Life is too brief, weird and magical to try to be someone else’s definition of great.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”

Martha Graham

3. Speaking of which, although our experiences differ, it seems as though most of the world right now is living, or risks falling into, a purgatory state in which one simply bides one’s time waiting for whatever is going to happen out of all this to happen, after which one will get to the business of getting on with things. I hear some version of this story a lot. Ryan Holiday wrote about Alive Time vs Dead Time back in 2019, but and it remains relevant today.
The thing is, this, right now, with all its mess and uncertainty, this is your life. It maybe seems as though it’s not because it’s different from what you’re used to. It seems as though it’s wrong somehow, but it’s not. It’s the only time we have, right now, and if we are waiting for something we’re missing our lives. This time is uncertain, but no more or less so than the rest of life. It only seems different because we’re all being confronted with how little control we have over things, all at once, in a way that we can’t ignore and pretend otherwise. We can’t even pretend that guy over there has control, as it’s finally clear that nobody does. But the thing is, nobody ever has, despite what we’ve told ourselves. There are many valid reactions to learning we don’t control our lives, and about the only one that doesn’t work is passively sitting back in “dead time,” waiting to regain that feeling of control. Instead, lean into this crisis, embrace your lack of control, and live! Make a ruckus, make a business, make mistakes, but for heaven’s sake GO!

5. It’s amazing to me that people are still ignoring, bending or otherwise disregarding all the guidelines to stay at home. Perhaps it wasn’t stated catchily enough? If that’s the case for you, if what you’re really looking for is someone to make the instructions memorable for you, and then you’ll stay home, well, then this guy’ll be glad to oblige.

(Also, does anyone have any paper towels? Hit me up.)

As always, please let me know what you think in the comments, or if you stumble upon something excellent I should be aware of let me know that as well.

Which type of team are you? Football or basketball?

A football team consists of 54 specialists, each with a finely tuned set of skills and an equally specific role, ready to be called upon to perform their function to the most specific degree possible. It is coached from above, with detailed schematics and complicated formations, and the best players are determined by who can perform their role with the most exactitude. Quarterbacks execute a decision tree of reads, wide receivers run precise routes, kickers kick. It enables a large group of people to coordinate with precision, and when executed well (Patriots’ “Do Your Job” mantra) it enables a level of complication and replicability in strategy that can be very effective.

A basketball team consists of 12 generalists with complementary sets of skills. Each player has a specific role (most of the time, although trending less so), but is expected to make good decisions based on analyzing a rapidly changing and complex set of circumstances in the moment, and best applying their skills to the situation. It is coached through a combination of general skill development and strategic philosophy, the latter of which creates a default framework within which players can either execute or deviate at their discretion. So point guards run the offense, mostly, except when it’s advantageous for a forward to initiate. And centers rebound, except when the guard is closest to the ball, in which case he does. The best players are the ones who deliver results, regardless of their adherence to the offense, but the best teams are those who work as a single unit, supporting one another’s weaknesses as needed.

Leading teams in business can be done either way, but it’s really important to distinguish which approach you’re going for.

RIP Black Mamba. More than that, RIP Kobe Bryant

Sometimes I feel so significant. I’m on top of the world, and sure that I’m doing Important Things, or have Big Events ahead. When I’m significant the rest of the world fades away, and I’m all about me.

I’ve accomplished much through this type of singular focus, but I’ve missed a lot along the way. When I’m significant, my family, my health, everything else gets deprioritized. I don’t miss those things in the moment, as I’ve Important Things to do, but after those Things are done sometimes there’s a quiet, and in that quiet I see the cost of my significance. I see the preciousness of the people around me, the relationships, of Life. But too often I see these things only in retrospect, before inevitably getting caught up in my next significance.

Yesterday something awful happened. 9 people died horribly, including a hero from my childhood and his daughter.

This hero, to me, personified that singularity of focus that has gotten me so far, as his professional career was second to none. The Black Mamba. He was the inspiration for my late nights in the driveway, far beyond a reasonable hour because “somewhere, someone is still working, and someday, when you meet that person, they will beat you.” Mamba wouldn’t be beaten by anyone. Neither would I, but whatever sacrifices I made in the aim to succeed, I’m certain the Mamba’s were greater. He was a transcendent basketball player.

As I’ve grown older, the quiet gaps between my significance have grown larger, and I’ve been able to appreciate the awe-someness of Being, of connecting with what Is in the moment. It’s humbled me, put into perspective my drive to achieve, and I don’t want to imagine the possibility that I might have died before ever having found this peace. Before ever really connecting with the world.

I cried for the Mamba yesterday, for his family, Vanessa, his kids, and for the other 7 passengers on that helicopter. I cried for the little piece of my childhood that died along with them. I wasn’t the only one. It was a sad day. I can’t imagine what the families and friends of those people are facing today. I don’t want to. It’s inexplicably awful.

But I read Bill Platschke’s column in the LA Times, recalling a conversation the journalist had with Bryant recently, and within the overwhelming sadness a new part of me connected with my hero again, for the first time. No longer the Mamba, Kobe, in his retirement, seemed to have overcome his own significance, and found his own quiet.

The edge was gone. The arms were open. He urged acceptance of LeBron [passing him in career points scored]. He preached calm for Lakers fans. He said greatness wasn’t worth anything if you couldn’t share it.

Deep within the grief, I’m grateful the Mamba found his inner Kobe before he left us.

I’m sad. We are all sad. But I’m also committed, as I wake up today, to really paying attention, to really connecting, as it could all be over in a breath.

Innovation in the fight game

Ducking a superman punch to open the fight, Donald Cerrone grabbed at Conor McGregor, wrapping up the shorter striker’s arms in a clinch.

The fight prior, Holly Holm leveraged the clinch dozens of times in a 15-minute contest on her way to a win against Raquel Pennington, illustrative of just how frequent this technique is. By tieing up all four arms the fight grinds to a halt. The fighters push and grind against one another, trying to establish an angle to strike while avoiding being taken to the ground.

But McGregor changed the sport of MMA last night in Las Vegas when, his arms tied up in a clinch, he crouched and launched himself shoulder-first into Cerrone’s cheekbone. McGregor shouldered his opponent’s face thrice more before Cerrone finally backed away. By then his nose was broken, and the fight was over 20 seconds later. Cerrone never landed one strike.

“I’d never seen anything like that before,” Cerrone, a veteran of over 50 professional fights, said afterward. Joe Rogan, who sits cageside for nearly every UFC event, agreed.

Nobody had. Shoulders were irrelevant in the thousands of fights and perhaps millions of clinches prior. But this morning, fighters around the world began drilling shoulder strikes in the clinch, and we’ll see more shoulder knockouts to come.

Innovation is obvious in hindsight. But every “industry standard” practice has a beginning, before which that practice seemed as weird as jump-punching someone with your shoulder. Or jumping up and throwing the ball down, rather than shooting it up into the hoop.

Someone always has to go first.