Embracing failure has become a trope. Like a lot of important observations about life, there is something to this, it’s just badly explained. As a society we rush through ideas expecting others to “just get it”.
Which is why when I posted this tweet the other day I was surprised by the amount of response. Was this thought a piece of embracing failure uncovered in a practical method?
The fear of failure keeps people, you and I included, from doing the things that are important to us. You might call it worry, or anxiety, but those are synonyms in regards to failure. Things that we think are important, exciting, or worthwhile are always lacquered with fear.
Important things are simply too exposing. What if you start to write that book, climb that mountain, but don’t finish it? Maybe others will laugh? Maybe everyone will remember the failure and not the important goal? Maybe we’ll lose all our money, and safety?
Trying to avoid failure will not minimise the risks of these things. When we avoid risk we step away from rewards, both monetary and personal. Eventually we end up where there is little opportunity left to compete over. In lives that are so small, so safe, that they look laughable from the outside. You’ve probably wondered why your grandmothers world seems so small, now you know. And you are probably on the same path.
The way out of this trap is to stop avoiding failure, and minimise the loss from failure instead. That may sound like word play, but if we limit the loss we can make, trying isn’t expensive. With limited losses, a big possible wins, success is guaranteed if we just keep trying.
When you can try for the important things in your life, but the possible failure is not complete, there is always more opportunity. What if you write the outline, and then start on something else? You still wrote the outline. What if you start climbing that mountain, but don’t reach the top? You still climbed the mountain.
We can never remove the chance of failure. To live full lives we want to accept failing, and even aspire to fail more often. But if we minimise the cost, we can try and try again. Failing feels less scary when it’s no big deal. The laughs of worried spectators will grow ever weaker as your life grows larger.
We can continue failing forever, while winning at life.
When I was 7 years old I was invited to run a 400m race (approximately 440yards). I had no idea how long that was. I remember thinking I needed to pace myself. I was prepared to get injured, and persevere, to breathe until my lungs burned. But I was gonna make it. These other kids probably didn’t even prepare!
The day was overcast and chilly when we finally toed the starting line. Then it was over in a few measly seconds. It turned out everyone in my class could run 400m full out. In fact you could run the race several times a day without getting very tired.
In my mind it had been a marathon. But in reality, it wasn’t. A lot of problems we struggle with are like this.
It looked like a marathon to me because I lacked perspective, and I expected this new thing to be difficult. I didn’t know it back then, but I was exhibiting learned helplessness.
“Learned helplessness is behavior exhibited by a subject after enduring repeated aversive stimuli beyond their control.”
The term was popular for a long time before it was discovered that this definition is actually backwards. We are born helpless, and our default mode of being is helplessness. What we need to learn is that more things are within our power to than we believe. Problems are solvable. We are not fated by birth, nor doomed by our situation.
We start learning this as children, but most of us stop after a certain point. Where that point is, can define your world view.
Most problems in life are like my race. Even many mental issues are like this. The situation might be hard, or the emotion overwhelming, but the actual issue is our lack of experience. We haven’t learned that we can change them.
Popular media portrays some people as having been through tough times, down on their luck, burned out. While other people are portrayed as if nothing bad ever happens in their lives, like they were born with a surplus of luck. And there are real differences – especially at a young age – that shape us in ways that are hard to undo. But this world view is mostly wrong.
It’s more likely that person A with infinite luck has seen more adversity than person B who’s down on their luck. In fact that’s the main reason why person A has better tools to handle problems. This portrayal and world view is holding us back. It’s helping us stay in the comfort zone, full of anxiety about the marathon of hurdles between us and our goals.
Of course we need appropriate amounts of adversity to grow instead of burning out, but most of us probably need more adversity, not less. And the only way to truly know is to try it.
That huge problems that’s currently stopping you? It’s not a marathon, it just feels like it. At the finish line, you’ll look back and wonder why you spent all that time waiting to run. You can do this.
If you are like me you’ve struggled with focus during the work day. Maybe tried a bunch of tools to keep track of your tasks and notes but nothing seems to stick over time. Eventually things just pile up and you either clear it out and pray, or work nights with a knot in your stomach.
Interstitial Journaling can probably help with that. It won’t miraculously give you any more time, and it’s not gonna clear out your inbox for you. But it will give you the breathing room you need to spend your time wisely.
I learned this about six months ago from the brilliant community over at Ness Labs and it has really helped me. My clients and colleagues are noticing my new strategic use of time, and I’m delivering a lot more.
Here’s how you do it
Pick a tool.
Pick a note taking tool. It can be anything, but it has to be with you in all situations. Paper works, your phones note app will also work. I use Roam Research but the tool doesn’t matter, it’s all about the process.
Your action trigger
It’s called interstitial because it happens between all your other tasks. Every time you stop doing anything, anything at all, you take a short note in your journal. It’s ok if you forget in the beginning, just take a note as soon as you notice. The important thing is you’re building a habit that will save you time.
What to do
Add a new line in your journal with three things: The time. What you just did. And what you will do next.
What might this look like?
I usually start off my days quite organised and then suddenly there’s a four hour gap and I restart writing something like “2:15 oh no, I’m on YouTube again”. But that’s ok. The goal here is to create the habit, not to be perfect. You’ll start noticing patterns quickly regardless.
08:20 Finished meditating. Time to clear out my inbox. 08:58 Done with email. Gonna look at my todo list, and pick our the important things. 09:12 Started sorting my todos but I had forgotten my meeting with Annelie, omw now! 13:30 Meeting went well, but then I spent 2 hours “inspiration” browsing on Pinterest… Now I’m gonna cross of my first todos. 13:37 Planned next steps from meeting. Time to prep a presentation.
A fictional, but normal, piece of journal
Why does this work?
We all get distracted. Sometimes it’s simply tired brains wandering, but often it’s priorities changing, ad hoc meetings or calls. We can’t stop being interrupted. So we have to work with the interruptions.
Interstitial Journaling uses this fact by writing down what’s going on at every interruption, or every time we finish something. This way we can learn from the patterns in our lives, and it makes us consciously pick the next thing we’re gonna work on.
This is the core benefit of this form of journaling. Making how we spend our time explicit we become our own personal coaches. Checking that we do our reps, and advising us on what to do next, without the shouting.
A nice side effect is that we can start to notice patterns in how we spend our time. Helping us learn how much time certain tasks really take, and automatically becoming strategic.
It was just my second day journaling this way when I exited a meeting and was just about to resume a project, when updated my journal and realised that there wasn’t enough time before my next appointment. Instead I scheduled time with myself for the project later in the week and did some smaller tasks.
I was being strategic with my time, as a side effect of knowing what I was doing! It blew my mind.
January I was working hard as hell, trying to keep it together running a small product team at a video infrastructure company.
February I was looking for new gigs and starting to worry about acquaintances getting increasingly hysterical online about this virus spreading around Asia. We still went out and saw friends.
March the lockdowns started. Now Sweden never locked down, but we were asked to keep their distance and wash their hands often. Well everyone not only did that, but most people went full on prepping mode, and quarantined at home. The capitol of Sweden even ran out of toilet paper, for some reason I still can’t understand. The place was a ghost town. I was really worried how this would hit the economy (people don’t have savings in socialist Sweden) so we did cautiously go out a few times and were shouted at by close friends… Despite following all recommendations from the public health authority. It was a strange month.
April was pretty much all closed. We were both working from home, which we usually do anyway, but the city was deserted. We did check into a luxury hotel for my birthday since all the hotel chains dumped their prices.
May finally brought the light back. We had some lovely sunny days during April, but in May it was finally getting Luke warm. I think the entire country celebrated finally being able to be outside, even being able to socialise (at a distance). I also started a job at a huge grocery chain, working on the in-house toolset to manage grocery stores. Turns out there was some confusion about what my role was supposed to be, more designer or more developer. But I didn’t know that until much later.
June was unusually warm, a wonderful summer month! I even went swimming on my lunch hour. We met friends outside, had a champagne tasting and spent some time in the archipelago. Oh, and I bought a hat.
July was full on summer. Since we can’t travel anywhere we took Mondays and Fridays off all of July and hung out with every friend that dared, and ate a lot of gelato.
August was unusually cold. We were at a couple of cray fish parties and I got very tired of video meetings. Actually it’s not the video that I had issues with, just unproductive meetings in general.
September was beautiful. But for us it was terribly sad, as Agnes father passed away suddenly. We spent as much time as we could with her family, but life can never be the same.
October had the last few warm days of the year. I tried to soak it all up. But it’s never enough. We had a beautiful, corona safe, funeral for Agnes father. I also had a health issue, with another blood clot appearing, despite eating blood thinners. Which isn’t great. And required some radical rethinking of my situation.
November was the month of change. To make time to work on my health, and my entrepreneurial things, I quit my job I only just started in May. It was a good job, with a good team. But I didn’t have my mind in a long term change process, and I needed something else. As if on cue, my friend Annelie asks me to join her company for a period to help out with some big technical projects. So I jump in at 80% time. Keeping 20% time to work on my own.
December became the cosiest month since my nephews discovered xmas. We celebrated Agnes’ birthday, every advent Sunday, and Christmas twice. The entire month was a blur of cozy Christmas celebrations.
What I Learned
Like every year, I’ve learned a lot. Too much to summarise effectively. But a few things have really stood out to me.
Alcohol is bullshit. I drink too much. Actually everybody does. We’ve had two sober months this year and I’ve always known I feel better without alcohol, but I didn’t know how big the difference was… It’s huge. So I’ve cut down to nearly nothing, and I’m really happy about it.
I’m old, and scared of success. I’ve been working on building my own projects and products since around the start of the millennium. But I’ve learned this year that I’m spending most of my time preparing and researching action instead of trying things. Well it’s time to change that. I want to create things, and life is ticking away.
How much risk is reasonable? My friend Annelie has a great mental model: how much risk would I take, if I were a Chinese entrepreneur? This really brings me clarity. I’m very under-leveraged. I should take on a lot more risk, and worry a lot less.
Sweden bores me. My best friends are international, I don’t like the climate here, not the natural one nor the intellectual one. So we’ve decided we’re moving to Berlin when the lockdowns end.
Health & Fitness
I put my money where my mouth is and paid an excellent trainer, and it has helped, but I’m also uncomfortably fat right now. I have nothing to blame but boredom.
My health is sadly not perfect. I’ve been getting more blood clots and I’m not a permanent high dose of blood thinners. It’s hard to know what this means. The doctors don’t really want to talk about what happens after something like this.
I’m probably not dying right now. Which is good. But I think this will kill me. And probably much earlier than I would have otherwise died. I need to act accordingly.
A personal blog isn’t worth $100 a year. That’s the thought that struck me when it was time to renew my squarespace subscription a few months ago. Instead I decided to move to something more light weight.
I didn’t want WordPress, I’ve used WP a lot over the years and I’ve increasingly felt it’s old school to the point of being annoying. So I went with simple text files, and used Eleventy to render those into web pages (thanks to TDH for the tips about Eleventy).
Then it just became a struggle of finding out how to move from Squarespace to Elventy. This is how.
Export your stuff from Squarespace
Squarespace has a lot of special features. And they haven’t spent a lot of time making sure you can export it. Instead we’ll have to rely on the standard: WordPress. All your pages and blogs will be exported properly. I have no idea about anything else.
This only works before you cancel your subscription!
Click Settings, then Advanced, then Import/Export.
Choose which blog should be your main one, this correlates to what WP knows as the post type “post”. The others will get custom post types based on their URL format, in my case “journal” and “talks”.
Click export again
Wait while Squarespace creates the export XML file. This can take quite a while, since they seem to batch these export jobs in the background.
Hit the download button and save your export.xml file.
Now comes the tricky part. If you want to import this site into a new WordPress installation, it works just like a normal WordPress import: 8. Open your WordPress admin 9. You might need to add support for custom post types corresponding with any blog feed you exported before you run the import. If you need to, here’s a guide. 10. Go to tools and click import 11. If needed, install the plugin for importing wordpress xml files. 12. Find your export.xml file and import. 13. Done!
But if you’re not interested in WordPress, and like me would like to move to a flat file cms like eleventy?
I noticed this trend for the first time while visiting Berlin a few years ago. Hipsters love print, and are growing bored with short form “journalism” and blogs. So magazines are coming back.
I love Monocle for their magazine, but I’ll keep spending time in Soda Books and Under The Cover to find new things to read. Truthfully though, even in these sublimely designed magazines, most of the articles are just filler. Just like in “journalism” in general.