Last weekend, I went hiking with my wife and daughters. We headed to a familiar trail knowing from previous hikes that the bridge was out where we needed to cross the river. But, we also knew that a couple of trees had fallen previously and created a very workable bridge that we’d successfully navigated before.
But, as we approached, we realized those two big trees were no longer lying across the river. They were gone. It’s early Spring now and we weren’t planning on swimming and didn’t have any water shoes and the water was high and quite cold - but it was the beginning of the hike and we had to get across.
Given that our trees were gone, the next obvious thing to look for were stepping stones - some pattern for us to get across without getting wet. No luck.
So, then we walked up and down the bank a bit looking for options. And, low and behold, there was actually another fallen tree reaching all the way from bank to bank. The problem was that there was no way any of us had the balance to climb across it. That wouldn’t work either.
Ultimately, we all shed our shoes and teamwork-ed it across the river - my kids were total troopers as we slipped and slid and stepped on rocks of all shapes and sharpness while our feet slowly transitioned from painfully cold to numb.
It was not easy or particularly pleasant, my daughter hurt her ankle for starters as her foot slid deep between two rocks, but we crossed and continued on a wonderful hike (albeit with a bit of a limp) that included a picnic at a waterfall.
On the way back, we approached that same crossing and that same skinny tree traversing the river - and a totally different idea came to mind. What if we didn’t try to walk on it but rather used it as a balance rail? After all, the rocks had been even more slick and more treacherous than we realized the first time. We’d still go barefoot but we’d at least have something to hold onto.
As we mulled this option, we also noticed that the river bed was markedly smoother - pretty much one solid rock - at this small section beneath this tree.
We shed our shoes and were across in no time - no slips, no falls, no ankle injuries.
This all left me curious as to why we hadn’t seen this tree and this section of the river as the solution when we first faced the problem that day of crossing the river without a bridge. We had looked right at it!
Here’s what I’ve come up with:
1. We initially doubled down on our problem-centric thinking. We needed to cross the river and the bridge was out, and now our familiar fallen-tree crossing was out too! We unconsciously processed this as two problems (1. Need to cross and 2. No trees) when really it was still the original problem and the absence of a previous solution. And, we unfortunately started solving for the absence of a previous solution: we needed a tree to walk across because that’s how we’d solved this before, but the one flimsy tree we saw just wasn’t going to cut it.
2. We jumped too quickly to a new solution without creatively adapting the resources we already had and knew. The tree was key to efficiently solving our problem all along - at least on this day - but when we couldn’t find one to walk across, we threw it out as part of the solution. We jumped quickly to the stepping stones strategy and then to the straight-up wading strategy without thinking creatively about how the tree could still be used in a different way to help us across the river.
3. We didn’t fully evaluate all of the variables and possibilities available with a new strategy. We knew the water was cold and we weren’t exactly excited about getting wet at the very beginning of the hike. But, once we believed that was the only option, we just made it happen. We looked at the depth of the water. We looked at the speed of the water. We knew about the cold of the water. We knew the rocks were slippery (not that slipper though!). We knew they could be sharp. But, we didn’t consider the alternative possibility of finding a smooth, solid rock floor that was just 30 feet from us - beneath that tree.
Problems and solutions both build inertia, and sometimes this is critical for efficient and quick decision-making. But, sometimes this inertia sends us on the wrong path or on a more difficult path to the same spot or perhaps even derails us altogether (my daughter’s ankle could have been a lot worse) all because of the initial ease of not thinking much or the comforting familiarity with a known version of the problem and/or solution.
So, if we can start recognizing and feeling inertia in our work and in our lives and committing to pausing just for a moment to take in the situation anew, to make sure we’ve thought of all of the variables, seen them fresh for today, and built our best options from there - rather than yesterday - we will find small moments each day that can transform how we create our way through life.
My Dad committed suicide 15 years ago this month.
He didn’t ask for Depression.
He didn’t have any control over his sexual abuse as a child.
He had no way to prevent his MS.
He did what he could for as long as he could - until he couldn’t anymore.
Since he died - the day before his 62nd birthday - I’ve been ever more conscious of time and of the things I can control and the things I cannot during my time on this planet.
Choices versus just life.
I have been hyper-aware of my own mental state wondering if and when that chemical imbalance of Depression - surely marked somewhere in my genes - might show up and throw me into a tailspin. Just life.
I’ve been ever cognizant of my aches and pains and weaknesses in my joints, dizziness in my head, wondering if and when MS might show itself. Again, life.
I am grateful every day that I have not yet experienced the physical brutality of MS or that dark hole of Depression. But, I also know that their absence in my life is no more because of my choices than their presence in my Dad’s was due to his.
The last year has been rough on all of us as we daily face new questions and determinations of what is in and out of our control, what is really a choice - doing our best to get through the day either way. We have been stressed and stretched in new ways and like never before. We have proven we are bigger and more expandable and flexible than we ever knew and at the same time more vulnerable.
Nobody asked for a pandemic.
Nobody had any control over a tornado or a derecho or a flood or a damaging 70 mph hail storm.
Nobody could have prevented 2020 in all of its trauma (and 2021 has been mostly more of the same).
Yet, we have done what we can do to get by - and for me, as long as I can do it.
For the first time in my life, I met a mental breaking point in December. I was never Depressed and certainly not suicidal, but something in that experience awoke my Dad’s ghost.
I rebooted for a few days and went back to work and life just as I’d left it. Back to grinding. Nothing changed. Nothing newly controlled. No new light.
I learned that as I kept pushing myself and kept grinding that something in my psyche kept getting ever so slightly darker and dimmer. Will this growing darkness awake those sleeping genes somehow? How long can I stay in this trauma before something in my biology gives?
A shadow sits just over my shoulder. Just out of sight. Just out of reach - telling me I best be mindful of where I come from.
And yet, as I openly and willingly talk about mental health with my children and with others - encouraging them and helping them get help - I find myself tested for the first time and failing. My hypocrisy around my own mental health adds another layer that dims the day further ever so slightly.
I must step up. I must control what I can control. I must practice what I preach.
I must listen to the ghost of my Dad and live the life I can while I have it. I have no idea if or when Depression or MS or another pandemic or anything else may come knocking.
Who knows what tomorrow may bring?
Today, I am fortunate to have choices.
I simply must have the courage make them.
One torturous part of the last year has been just how big I’ve gotten relative to my own socially-distanced, pandemic-contextualized smaller existence. To be clear, I’m not bigger and certainly not more important, but the world has closed in. It is smaller. As the world has shrunk around me, I’ve lost all sense of where I fit in the world - or how big it is, or how big I am in it.
Everything is more here, more now, more immediate, more real, more about me than it should be. In the oft-quoted words of David Foster Wallace:
“everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.”
The smaller the world, the stronger these truths. In social isolation, I am less informed and guided by the “socially repulsive”.
A year in, I am processing all of this.
A year in, I am trying to squeeze the learning out of it all.
A year in, I am trying to discern meaning that is bigger than me.
A year in, I am finally taking a break.
A year in, I am finally sitting on a beach.
My book in my hand.
My book in my lap.
My book on my chair.
My brain begs me not to read, begs to be emptied - to be rejuvenated, rewritten. To be idle, not occupied. Present.
My book might as well be full of empty pages. It won’t be read today.
Above me, the whispy, vaporal nonsense of the white washed sky veiling the eternal blue.
Before me, the noisy ribboning of the perpetual and timeless ephemera of the crashing waves.
Beneath me, the infinite stories of life and death and formation and destruction told in the countless grains of sand thoughtlessly trampled.
On the horizon, the vanishing act of the soaring bird as it dissolves into the sky only to reappear again. Reborn.
I am recovering. I am growing again, ever so subtly. In this moment. Finally, not doing anything.
For the last year, I have been living an extraordinary - but unexceptional - story, one we’ve all been a part of. A story in which I am more character than narrator, more illustrator than author. More object than subject.
I must soon return to me, to writing my story.
In many ways, I have lost my self in a year of perpetual demands on myself.
I find it hard to choke back the tears. Saltwater.
Amidst the crashing waves, the diminutive melancholy required for hope slowly replaces the abounding sadness that makes me feel grand.
I can be big no longer. It’s not helpful to anyone. I must grow small. I must dissolve. Reconstitute.
Only then can I write anything that matters.
I’ve never known if I’m an introvert or extrovert, so I’ve just considered it a function of my surroundings - who I’m with and how many of them there are (and yes, probably whether or not I have had a drink or two).
I also suck at bringing people together myself, which naturally feeds my introvert. But, I really do end up enjoying when others bring people together and I am one of those people - with a little effort feeding my somewhat reluctant extrovert.
The year of Covid, however, has force-fed my introvert. There haven’t been any even reluctant options to balance him out. Initially, this felt ok, like maybe this whole work-from-home and forced isolation thing might have just put me square in my wheelhouse. This isn’t so bad - at least for the first couple of months.
And yet, time kept feeding the isolation. My introvert kept ingesting it with no other choice. A touch of indigestion perhaps setting in.
And more. The normally passive and quiet introvert starts gorging himself grossly on the all-you-can-eat bar of social isolation and disconnection. That subtly perverse drive of the over-stuffed to go back for one more taste, maybe a touch of desert.
And…still…more. The absence of hugs or hand shakes. No smiles. The lack of reason for normal dressing, or even showering at the usual cadence. The loss of my physical self at least in relation to others has brought a certain ignorance to my body. The physical vehicle once supporting and transporting the spirit - and vice versa - becomes an object, dynamic in nature, but rather dumb in practice.
My introvert has eaten its fill and now rests bloated, in pain, and putridly satisfied on this his year of Covid.
I am not an introvert.
Like a new year’s resolution, I am desperate to disrupt this gluttonous isolation. There’s still a flicker in me that remembers laughing and being stupid with friends, creating passionately with co-workers, engaging serendipitously with strangers - even enjoying isolation as a counter force to something else, not itself all things.
And, while I dream of it, this miracle land of extroversion, it also stirs some anxiety. I don’t know if I have the tools for this return any more. Will it be like riding a bike? Or, will I have to work at it, to teach myself again, to overcome an even greater reluctance?
I am not an extrovert.
My now shapeless, boundless introversion has left me unsure, unskilled - and yet desperate to know.
At some point late in 2020, I was riding in the car with my wife - an unusually painful process at the time due to a bulging disc - and after a few quiet moments in my own head, I blurted out:
“I haven’t felt this…just…ravaged since Dad committed suicide.”
I’m not one for drama or overstatement. 2020 had taken its toll. The tornado. The pandemic. The school situation. The concern for family. The loss of a dear friend. The economy and its impact on my startup. The extra hours each day of work. Mourning my children’s loss of their school and their teachers. The isolation - without the alone time. The state of politics and discourse and democracy. The state of truth and those conversations with my children. The disc situation.
I felt like absolute dog shit - physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually.
Within a few weeks, we’d add a Christmas-morning car bomb that rattled my house and an insurrection against our government to the ravaging mix.
It’s been 15 years on April 27 since my Dad committed suicide. I have written extensively about it and have always focused my language around “living with suicide” because that’s what I do every day. But, that experience took a toll on me that was remarkable and long lasting - both confounding and clarifying. It forced a sort of reckoning with my understanding of my own sense of capacity and control - taking and giving me some of each.
I have the capacity to live with suicide.
I have the capacity to prioritize where and how and with whom I spend my time and energy and love.
I have the capacity to create and iterate through my life - even when that includes tragedy and trauma.
I can control where and how and that I allow myself to grieve (just not that I need to).
I can control the kind of people I surround myself and my family with.
I can control who I am as a person and how I live regardless of the circumstance.
I don’t have the capacity to ignore my emotions and just “get by”.
I don’t have the capacity to invest in shallow relationships.
I don’t have the capacity to be all things to all people or to be my best self - especially when I feel ravaged in my very being.
I can’t control that suicide and mental illness are facts of life.
I can’t control people who don’t or can’t or won’t love unconditionally.
I can’t control what life is going to throw my way.
With all of that, I don’t know if my Dad’s suicide left me a little more dead or a little more alive. At the time, it was certainly the former. But, over 15 years of processing and evaluation and prioritizing and growing in my own life and with my own family and with my own capacity and control, I am at least more fully human than I was back in 2006. And yes, sometimes that means more tired and more hurt and more ravaged and maybe feeling a little more dead inside. But, it also means I see life with a longer arc and recognize my own capacity to bend it.
So, I come back to my query as to the toll 2020 has taken on me - and surely on all of us. What capacity has it taken from me? What has it given or shown me? What control has it proven I don’t have? What control has it proven I do have?
Has 2020 left me a little more dead or a little more alive?
I guess I don’t know yet. But, at least I do know that I have the capacity to help define the answer.
See also: Trauma Without Tragedy (The work of 2020 is just beginning)
A couple of years ago, I was working with a multi-billion dollar, global financial services company that had (pre-Covid) a vast network of on-location staff as well as remote online and call center staff to provide direct support to their customers. As we talked about growth and change in their company and their market, we explored if and how they were, or could be, learning from these front-line employees spread across the globe. What were these people hearing directly from customers that the company really needed to hear and understand?
We’ve all heard the saying about the importance of having “an ear to the ground” so we can sense imminent changes in our work environments and markets, but how well do we do it? Who has their ears to the ground more than those meeting our customers where they are? Dealing with their problems? Frustrations? Who has the potential to positively or negatively impact our customers minute-to-minute on a daily basis?
Too many of the people on the front-lines of our work think they are too “low on the totem pole” to speak up in our companies or don’t have the power to create change in their own work. And, too many companies think the same way. As a result, many of us are really missing the opportunity to become more resilient, adaptable, and creative organizations. When we don’t listen to our customers and the employees who interact directly with them, we run the risk of missing indicators of emergent change in our markets, products, and even broader society that can lead our products and companies toward their next iteration.
Through a simple, facilitated reflection process, this company - which thought it did a good job listening to its people because they could reel off some good anecdotes - realized that their listening to front-line employees across the organization was far spottier than they would like. They recognized that their anecdotes were about specific leaders or departments that carried this value of active listening rather than a reflection of a systemic approach or strategy by the firm. The implications from this kind of company self-awareness became pretty vast as they then considered who they needed to train, how they needed to adjust professional roles and expectations, and how a better process of listening could improve their product offerings.
To cultivate a powerful culture, people at all levels of our companies need formal and informal outlets to provide feedback, ask questions, and share ideas and solutions. This is just strategically smart. It’s not about being nice to our employees. Not only will listening to our employees make our company more resilient and adaptive, it will also make for happier employees and better products and services for our customers. When they know their ideas and insights are respected (even if not always acted upon), our people will more actively and critically identify customer patterns and frequent issues that we may never see, and solve them in ways we may never have thought of. They will own their work and the whole company will perform better because of it.
Powerful cultures don’t happen by accident. They result from powerful leaders, powerful relationships, and organizations that understand and leverage the power of their people at all levels.
Also relevant: “Does your organization have a powerful culture or a culture of power?”
It’s been so long since we last connected that I just felt compelled to sit down and write you. It’s so uncharacteristic of our relationship, I know, so formal, and yet it’s all I have. I wanted and needed to assure you that while we’ve been apart for most of 2020, I still need you. I didn’t mean to demean or belittle or hurt you by trying to translate our relationship to text message. It was an honest effort, but I know you must have felt used and cheapened and I’m sorry.
I wrestled in writing this as I am not even sure who left whom this year. I feel like I’m still the same guy, still need you like I always have. But, I do recognize I’ve not exactly been able to give you what you need this year either - to invest in our relationship fully. There’s a lot of heavy stuff to unpack there, but I know that’s really not your style.
Again, I don’t know if I am asking for your commitment or mine at this point, but I need a few things in 2021 if we are going to make this work. While I know I’m just another of your many grown-men-turned-instant-juvenile-delinquent-in-your-company, you mean a lot to me. So, I guess maybe this is a plea for commitment, for patience, for help.
I desperately need to be stupid. Banter stupid - and only you know exactly what I mean. More on the ridiculous side of stupid where you aren’t sure if you accidentally ended up saying something profoundly smart. And yet, with your gift and permission, riffing in presumed brilliance.
I desperately need to talk about nothing. I need to leave a conversation after coffee or after a beer or a bourbon with a smile plastered all over my face and joy in my body. And when someone asks me what I talked about, I am either too embarrassed to say (it wouldn’t make any sense out of context anyway) or I genuinely don’t remember because it was all complete nonsense.
And finally, I desperately need to laugh like a 13 year old boy about stuff a 13 year old boy would laugh about. I’ll spare the common details here assuming you are clear. Message me if more color is needed. But, I think you get the idea. I need to stir the pot of the youthfully absurd, to cringe a little at someone going too far, to inevitably end up talking about farts.
Banter, my dear friend, I will clearly need some time to get settled back in, to get reacquainted, to re-awaken my sensibilities and re-sharpen my tools for your beautiful art. But, I know I can do it. I just need the time.
I will commit right now in this letter and on paper to doing my part in 2021 to bring us back together, but you’ve got to do yours. I need to see old friends in person. I need the time with them to digress - and to digress on that digression.
2020 has been a long and lonely and brutal year in your absence.
Let’s let 2021 be the year we brought Banter back!
Sincerely and always,
I always hesitate to write about things I know everyone else is writing about - unless I feel I have something unique to say. I wasn’t sure what I could write that would add anything to 2020 and figured I’d just let the year end without commentary. There’s been a lot of commentary.
And then, as I sat with my family in my living room, my precious children unpacking their Christmas stockings, the warmth of love and a fireplace washing over us, accented by the early morning light - we were all assaulted by the shockwave energy of a car bomb - slowly, methodically rumbling to a horrifying crescendo - passing through our house and our bodies and our beings in just a few seconds. The energy was palpable; the source then unknown. We all leapt to figure out what the hell had just happened.
Moments fearing mass casualty. Moments of terror. Protecting Christmas morning for my kids. Early pictures coming in. A bomb in an RV. Processing. The energy of the bomb still echoing and bouncing around within me. Gifts to be opened. Fire still burning. Merry Christmas.
The slow, unfurling of trauma - the new climax of what actually started in March.
And still, I have felt the need to apologize or add a disclaimer for my commentary on 2020.
After all, I didn’t lose my business or my home in the 2020 Nashville tornado or the massive wind shear just a few weeks later. I lived it, but only lost a chimney. I know people who lost everything.
I didn’t lose my job in a collapsing economy - and yet tens of millions have.
I didn’t lose the end of my kindergarten year and all of my first grade year. I didn’t lose 2nd and 3rd grade. My daughters did.
I didn’t lose my home to foreclosure.
I didn’t lose a child or a brother or a friend to police brutality or racial violence.
I have not even lost a close friend or family member yet to Covid.
Neither my house nor my business was bombed on Christmas Day.
I’ve seemingly been on the edge of it all. Indirect hit after indirect hit. Yet, I have felt it. I’m wearing it. I see it in my own face.
For months, I have been “white knuckling it.” Gripping the fucking wheel and focusing on the road right in front of me. Control what I can control. Stay present. Manage.
And, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is probably most of us.
I have been traumatized by 2020. We have been traumatized. Regardless of my or your lack of personal tragedy in the year, or direct hit from the year - if you too have been so lucky - our basic empathy seeds our trauma. Practically demands it.
So, “moving on” from 2020 is going to take a lot more than a shot in the arm. There is no inoculation from trauma, and we have more grueling months of the pandemic ahead of us and more to endure.
The work of moving past 2020 will require each of us to do deep work on ourselves and with others to understand how 2020 has changed us. Surely, we have all learned something about ourselves and the world and our values and our politics this year. But, what is less clear is the emotional toll the year has taken on us. We must be aware how we have changed emotionally to ensure growth and avoid emotional stunting or regression. We must grow.
We must cultivate our hobbies and our physical, mental, and intellectual health with deliberate investment and intentionality that has never previously been required.
We must recognize that the energy and spark that our passions once brought may be only sufficient to keep us afloat rather than making us soar. We must stay afloat. But, we also must find new ways to stay afloat, so that we again may soar.
We must find reasons to smile in isolation and seemingly without reason to replace the happenstance smile and joy of an interaction with a stranger on the street or with a server at a restaurant or running into an old friend out of the blue.
We must hear ourselves when we talk to our kids and our spouses and those we care about most in the world and ensure we nourish our own patience and invest in our own presence such that we may also model it for them.
We must be aware when we feel the walls of our homes closing in on us - as home continues to be office (and school) and office continues to be home and find our way to more open spaces within and around us.
We must deal with our trauma.
In other words, we have to work our asses off in 2021 (and beyond). Normal will not return. The new normal - at least a healthy one - won’t just happen. We have changed, been changed.
We have been traumatized. We must now live and work to transform this reality into a healthy and necessary new foundation for any meaningful recovery.
My kids were learning recently about natural disasters and the conversation led to the wonder of how animals often sense disaster coming before humans have a clue. It’s a fascinating demonstration of how instinctively in tune with the larger world they are - and, inversely, how out of tune we often are.
I recalled for them the horrible 2004 Indonesian tsunami and the stories of how the animals all ran to higher ground well before the waves arrived and all but wiped that part of human civilization off the map. I had never conceived of such a disaster, nor such a response. Both are still difficult to fathom.
While certainly different, 2020 has been a natural disaster of its own - both the Covid part, and the lack of early competent response from humans (the incredible feat of the vaccine is the hopeful counterpoint to the absurdity of people’s fighting over wearing a mask). This year, humans have demonstrated an entirely new capacity to be out of tune with themselves and the world around them.
I’ve been a bit lost and dismayed about this reality - how humanity has shown its ass this year and what that means for the future (again, a strong counterpoint thankfully provided by our teachers, nurses, and doctors). As I was mulling this yesterday, I just happened to be following my dog who was pulling ahead of me as I took him on a walk to the post office. He doesn’t know what the post office is.
Now, I know dogs aren’t exactly the top of the animal kingdom and that our domestication of these sweet animals has certainly made them dumber and less naturally capable, but certainly more loving and lovable. Domestication has had a similar impact on me.
Yes, he sniffs the greasy base of a fire hydrant and the still-glistening blades of monkey grass as if he were delving into the depths of quantum physics.
Yes, he’ll roll over and unabashedly lick his private parts whenever the need strikes and regardless of who else is around.
Yes, he actually stepped square into another dog’s poop as I was on my way back home to write this post.
But, this dog is in tune with something greater, I swear.
Today, as I turned left onto South 11th Street, about 30 yards down, he started pulling me out into the road, seemingly wanting to cross to the other side. Turns out, he knows where Bongo Java is and is apparently deeply in tune with my coffee needs. He was pulling me to the coffee shop.
“Not today, Fitz. We are heading to the Post Office. But, thank you for the offer.”
On our way back from the Post Office, we were walking along the South side of Woodland Street, and again, the dog starts pulling me out into the road, seemingly wanting to cross the street.
“What the hell are you doing, Fitz!? There are cars!”
And, then I realized that we were approaching Woodland Wine Merchant on the other side of the street. He was pulling me to the liquor store.
“Not, today, Fitz…well…OK…if it means that much to you.”
Returning home with a happy dog and a bottle of bourbon, I felt one with nature. It’s gonna be OK.
My dog understands 2020 and coffee and bourbon and me. It’s really pretty amazing and profound - that deep animal instinct and intuitive connectedness.
Also, both Bongo Java and Woodland Wine Merchant offer complementary dog treats when you visit, but that probably doesn’t have anything to do with it.
I wrapped up 2019 with a reflection on advice, and unwittingly found myself again reflecting on the topic as 2020 thankfully comes to a close. There must be something about this time of year!
Anyway, here are a few more thoughts on advice from 2020:
1. If a person starts with his advisement and not by listening to you, run.
Run fast. He probably believes he is a great advisor or mentor because he knows so much and has so much to say. But, the great advisors and mentors are the best listeners and thinkers and question askers. It’s not what they know so much as how well they surface knowledge with you and within you. Advice should be arrived at collaboratively.
2. Listen to all advice in the context of that person’s experience.
Advice is rarely directly transferable. You have to peel some layers back to get to the nugget unless that person has experienced the exact problem in the exact industry with the exact people and the exact business model as you. Clearly, you don’t dismiss them because of this discrepancy, otherwise you’d never find yourself a good advisor or mentor. But, you need to know where they are coming from to understand what they are saying - and, of course, understand where you are to know what to do with it. Advice is an act of translation.
3. You have no idea what you are doing, but you know what you are doing.
This is a seemingly odd contradiction, but boils down to an obvious translation: you know some things, and you don’t know some things. Good advisors or mentors will never make you feel stupid for what you don’t know, nor will they ever let you feel like you have it all figured about because of what you do know. Their advice should uncover both, and leave you encouraged and humbled, motivated and uncertain. Advice should generate a sense of creative tension.
4. Gather all of the advice you can and throw away as much as you should.
Advice is for learning and improvement along your journey. You are not, and should not be, beholden to it - although, you should be accountable nonetheless. So, if you take advice, you should know and be able to communicate exactly why you took it. If you don’t take advice, you should know and be able to communicate exactly why you didn’t. If you can explain and communicate the result in this way then you can show that you’ve listened and learned and gotten clarity out of whatever advice you have received - accepted or denied. A good advisor doesn’t expect you to take them at their word, but they should expect you to demonstrate that you listened, translated, and acted accordingly. Advice is a prompt, not a directive.