This Is Water: how a horrible 2 weeks have made me more aware

What I learned about this week

I’ve had a trying past couple of weeks. But challenges are where we learn. Here’s what I’ve learned from my recent challenges:

  1. Our bodies are incredible tools that we take all too much for granted.

I was making the bed and injured my finger. It was odd, then annoying and worrisome, and then out-right frustrating. I learned that I needed to wear a splint, full-time, for 8 weeks.

I’ve now found that I use my left middle finger for all sorts of things: opening jars, washing dishes, typing, showing affection to my wife and children, getting things out of my pocket, etc.

I am grateful to gain empathy and respect for those with long term injuries and handicaps. I am reminded that our minds and bodies, even if limited in some ways, can adjust and overcome barriers. And I better know that one of the grand purposes of life is to serve and be served.

One reason hardship exists is without it, we would be robbed of the chance to serve. And serving to others is a precious, uplifting experience. If no one allowed others to serve them, no one would be able to serve.

Five Lessons I’ve Learned from Church Service is a solid read on additional benefits of service (written by my friend and director of HR at Door Dash, Nathan Tanner). I highly recommend his newsletter about career advice.


  1. Awareness of choice is critical to happiness

One of my all-time favorite videos is a short called THIS IS WATER. It’s one of those gems I come back to again and again. The short illustrates an excerpt from David Foster Wallace’s renowned graduation speech. The full transcript is also great.

It explores one of my deepest held beliefs—that life centers around choice. His proposition is that real education is about awareness of our default setting. Learning how to become aware, make meaning, and take action gives us power to change from that default.

If you really learn how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness

Even as I’ve faced challenges at work and at home, I am grateful for the times I can become aware and choose to reframe what’s happening:

  • I hurt my finger and we’ve had sickness going around our family. But I’m grateful that we can afford the medical help we need and I’m still able to work.

  • My son spilled a full cup of soda in the middle of our cart at Costco in the craze of Costco-Saturday. But I’m grateful we have a Costco nearby, I have children, and I have money to shop.

  • The business model we’ve been pursuing hasn’t had the conversion rate consistency we’d like, even with some periods of great success. But we’ve been able to double-down on customer feedback and make necessary adjustments to begin testing an adjusted approach.

  • LA traffic can be miserable. But I’m grateful I have a car and work remote much of the time.

  • As I’ve been working more lately, my kids have still incessantly asked me to play games with them. They never seem satisfied with the amount of time I carve out for them, even when I think I’m being generous. But I’m grateful for children who want to spend time with me. And I’m grateful I’ve constructed my life around my family, rather than trying to fit them into the remains of my time.

We can complain about blessings if we aren’t aware. And even trying challenges can bring gratitude if we choose to focus on the good.


  1. Made In Public

The irony of today’s interconnected world is that while we can share more and more, we tend to share less and less about challenges we have. I’ve fallen prey to it myself, being quick to publicize success, while keeping the challenges more to myself.

A commitment that my wonderful co-founder and I have made is to openly share our journey. Both as business founders and as parents, the good and the bad.

We should never celebrate too early or take success for granted. Too often those who are successful are then only talked about as if it happened overnight. I love Mark Cuban’s quote on this:

I can remember vividly people telling me how lucky I was to sell my business at the right time. Of course, no one wanted to comment on how lucky I was to spend time reading software manuals, or Cisco Router manuals, or sitting in my house testing and comparing new technologies.

The front of success often has hard work and hardship behind it. When we compare ourselves to only the success highlights on social media, it’s easy to get discouraged. I know that I’ve been bit at times by feelings of jealously and inadequacy. It’s been easy for me to downplay my successes and positive traits, choosing to instead focus on the perceived gap between my life and a news story.

Making hard things public is powerful. Vulnerability is a gift. It brings out service from others and support that you need. The trusted advisors I’ve been open with the past two weeks have been encouragingly supportive. It’s wonderful.

The world will be a better place when more people choose to be open about challenges, both at work and at home. Things get tough and that’s ok. I’m grateful to experience my small bit of challenge and discouragement. I know that it helps me be better prepared and more empathetic so I can help others in the future.


What I published this week

The best tool your team can use to stay aligned (video, 2m)

3 Mistakes to avoid when communicating strategy (video, 3m)

Why You Need to Focus on More Than Speed to Get Results (article)


More personal learnings this week. I hope you find them insightful as you reflect on your challenges at home and at work.

What have you learned from your challenges recently?

Ryan

Check out the past weekly editions of what I’ve learned: