Here are SIX things I learned, thought were interesting, or found useful.
The Golden Mean of Skin Thickness
Early in his career, writer Derek Thompson couldn’t take criticism. It didn’t matter who it came from, Thompson writes, a bit of criticism “would always derail my day and send me into a spiral of self-doubt. I had thin skin.” A few years into his career, he read an interview with a famous journalist who, in Thompson’s opinion, was getting worse and worse at writing. In the interview, the journalist said they deal with criticism by ignoring feedback altogether. Thompson couldn’t help but think, No wonder you suck at writing now. “This journalist had the opposite problem that I had,” Thompson writes. “Their skin was too thick. I wish there were a formula for growing one’s ‘ego epidermis’ to the perfect level of thickness. There is not. All I can say is…stay away from the extremes of hypersensitivity-to-feedback and obliviousness-to-feedback. Seek out wise criticism.”
Never Judge The Description of an Idea
Rick Rubin is the producer behind many of the greatest albums since the early ‘80s. He’s worked in seemingly every corner of the musical universe. He’s worked with Metallica, Johnny Cash, Run-DMC, Eminem, Adele, Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kanye, The Dixie Chicks, and on and on. In a conversation with the DJ and producer Zane Lowe, he talked about his role in collaborating with artists. “One thing is,” Rubin said, “I never try to judge an idea based on the description of an idea. Always musically try the idea.” I’m still on the hunt for a specific example, but he continued, “an artist will say, ‘I have an idea, we can write the bridge like this,’ and they’ll give me a description of what it is, and it sounds terrible—the description sounds terrible. And I say, ‘great, can’t wait to hear it.’ And then they do it, and it’s incredible…so we never rely on the explanation. It’s always, ‘show it to me. Let me hear it.’” My ears perked up when I later listened to a conversation between Eminem and Zane. Zane asked what it’s like working with Rick Rubin. “His vibe in the studio,” Eminem said, “is: try whatever. Don’t be afraid to try whatever, even if the idea in the beginning sounds stupid. Because a lot of ideas in beginning stages sound stupid.”
We Learn In Practice, Not in Theory
Rubin’s advice to create and then critique reminded me of the following. After studying people who acted on a dissatisfaction in one career with a jump to another and became happier for doing so—painful transition periods and all—Herminia Ibarra found that we discover who we are and what we are meant to do in doing and then reflecting. “First act and then think,” she said. “We discover the possibilities by doing, by trying new activities, building new networks, finding new role models.” As David Epstein puts it in Range, “We learn who we are in practice, not in theory.”
In Defense of Mouth Taping
Something about me: if I read about something that strikes me as making sense, I try it. For instance, in reading Run For Your Life by Mark Cucuzzella, M.D., I was convinced of the afflictions caused by non-anatomically shaped shoes and that the shape of a baby’s foot is a clue to the shape shoes should be. So I wear these toe spacers and these shoes with wide toe boxes and no arch support or heel lift. And so, last night at dinner with some friends, it came up that I used to and still occasionally mouth tape. That is, I sleep with this micropore tape over my mouth to habituate nasal breathing. Slowly, the conversation evolved from me being crazy to them wanting to try it. And I believe anyone that reads James Nestor’s Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art will order micropore tape before they reach chapter 5. The short of it is this: “the health benefits of nose breathing are undeniable,” Nestor writes.
How To Get Very Lucky With The Weather
The screenwriter and director Christopher Nolan apparently gets very lucky with the weather. On the set of shooting movies like The Dark Knight or Inception, Nolan’s reputation is that he gets very lucky with the weather. “It’s completely untrue,” he said in an interview. “I’m very unlucky with the weather. But I made a decision early on that whatever the weather is, I will shoot…We just shoot, whether it’s pouring rain or the sun is out. And beautiful things can come from that.” (File next to or below: Seth Godin and Shaka Smart on why Blaming The Weather Is A Trap).
It’s Better To Travel Than To Arrive
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig writes, “It’s better to travel than to arrive. In an interview, Pirsig said that phrase was one that stayed with him since childhood. “On trips, just as we’d get to the destination, I’d feel so let down, so sad that the trip’s going to be over. I’d feel so stupid because all through the trip, all I could think about was getting to the destination. So what I’m trying to say with that line is a principle that is actually quite important to Zen, which is that you should pay attention to where you’re at right now and not where you’re going to be in the future…It’s better to travel than to arrive.”