Stop Being Ruled by Your Hyper Dog

If you have an active dog, training it to go to its crate on command can save you a TON of hassle, because whenever the dog gets too worked up or hyper, there’s an immediate place to send it to cool off, drink some water, play with a toy and relax its brain.

But with a hyper dog, this training takes diligence. And it’s easier just to tie the dog up and walk away. Even if 2-4 weeks of solid training can save someone years of…ten minutes messed up here, ten minutes messed up there, a chewed up sofa here…most people are unlikely to make that investment.

(yes, all dogs are different, yes, some are easier to train than others, no, this isn’t about shaming people who haven’t paid for expensive dog schools)

The same can be true of my own inner hyper dog. My habits, my goals, my daily choices, are easier to just push to the side rather than make real, substantive changes in.

Recently, the Farnam Street blog, which I have found immeasurably valuable, shared a pamphlet written for life insurance salesmen called “the common denominator of success.”

My first thought was “what is Farnam Street doing sharing this stuff?”

And then I read it, and I was struck by how it framed a couple of things. Be prepared for some Mad Men era success talk:

“Successful men are influenced by the desire for pleasing results. Failures are influenced by the desire for pleasing methods and are inclined to be satisfied with such results as can be obtained by doing things they like to do.”

I’m not one to so easily divide people into camps of success and failure. And yet. This struck home with me, because there’s a real difference between trying to get the results you want and trying to create a situation where you can keep doing things you like. Trying to retain your current level of comfort.

This gets VERY true in the creative fields, I believe, not just after someone has moderate success but even when someone achieves moderate praise. The intuition is to cling to what has elevated you.

But it was this passage that really got me.

“Many men with whom I have discussed this common denominator of success have said at this point, “But I have a family to support and I have to have a living for my family and myself. Isn’t that enough of a purpose?” No, it isn’t. It isn’t a sufficiently strong purpose to make you form the habit of doing the things you don’t like to do for the very simple reasons that it is easier to adjust ourselves to the hardships of a poor living than it is to adjust ourselves to the hardships of making a better one.”

That was a smack in the face. A good one. It’s easier to accept the status quo – even if the status quo is one of struggle – than it is to create meaningful change.

Look, I’m not of the theory that everyone who struggles does so because they’re too lazy to change their situation. Privilege is a real thing, and I have a bunch of it.

But if we were to NARROW this statement to a slightly more particular scenario: I must ask myself – IF there were room in my life to create change for the better, AM I doing the things that will get that result? Or am I just battling to maintain the current status? To NOT LOSE?

Am I going to train the dog, or am I going to just tie it up?

Worth a read.

How to Make Great Things Fast

Across all the professions I’ve happened to work in, I’ve realized there’s a common phrase all the seasoned professionals have said to me at one time or another.

“Don’t rush.”

Acting, directing, fight choreography, personal training, fundraising, construction, writing…in all of these, at one time or another, one or more old pros have said this to me. “Don’t rush.”

At the same time, across all the jobs I’ve held, I’ve always had times where we had to deliver fast. In fact, a demand for speed is absolutely the norm.

So what gives? Why do all the people who know their stuff say “don’t rush” but at the same time we are constantly demanding speed out of our work?

First of all, yes, there are times when the boss is demanding impossible speed, when the market wants something before it’s ready, when I myself am demanding too much out of my own capacity to deliver. Sometimes somebody has to be told things will have to slow down or else things will fall apart.

But the boss isn’t always wrong. And sometimes great things get done quickly.

So there must be a difference between speed and rushing.

Rushing is blind – it’s focusing on the finish line, it’s cutting corners. It’s heedless – let’s just get something to show that we’ve done something. I’m going to write 5 pages today so I can tell myself I wrote 5 pages. For me, it often comes from a place of needing to validate my identity as an artist, a writer, a mature person, what have you.

Speed is different. Speed requires focus, concentrated energy drilling down on the immediate problem. You can’t rush a screenplay, but a professional knows how to focus in and work on THIS scene, THIS character moment, THIS line, this action beat. And then how to step back and assess it QUICKLY against the mechanisms of the whole story, then dive back into the immediate.

In weightlifting, I’ve encountered a phrase that I think is a key concept, perhaps even worthy of being called a mental model. I first encountered it specifically in Olympic lifting, which is a VERY technical art form, and can result in a lot of bodily pain if done wrong, repeatedly. The phrase is this:

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

It doesn’t mean move in slow motion. It means give every overlapping portion of the movement its due – there’s a setup, an initial pull off the ground, a movement of the hips, a pulling from the shoulders, almost pulling yourself DOWN under the bar as it moves up over your head, and a solidifying of the body as you land beneath the bar.

It’s a lot different from “throw this bar over your head 20 times.”

So if you’ve trained each movement, separately, and also how to move from one to the next, a more complete movement emerges. A smooth one.

But this also refers to taking action. When you slow down your mind, you focus on the moment, and then the next moment can follow smoothly, and the next, and the next, and because you’ve smoothed out the motions, the bar travels upwards at unbelievable speeds. Instead of focusing on several movements, you’ve re-integrated them into a single smooth motion.

You can muscle things out, or you can remove the friction. One beats you up. The other doesn’t, and leaves you ready for the NEXT movement.

So when the old timers have said to me “don’t rush” they didn’t necessarily mean “don’t ever move fast.” Rushing, to me, means I’m prioritizing muscle over removing friction.

You can’t rush writing. You can’t rush acting. You can’t rush directing. You can’t rush producing. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t go fast. The key components, then, are knowledge and focus. KNOWING what to focus on, one moment at a time. Knowing HOW to slow down in order to speed up.

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

(To be clear – I think this quote originates the Navy SEALS, referring to how to train for operations, and also execute them. I may have gotten it from Jocko Willink, Tim Ferriss, or Dan John – I honestly don’t remember)

The Dangerous Real World

I have been fortunate enough this year to have gone on a lot of trips to weddings, bachelor parties, and engagement parties. Each trip was like a small vacation in itself. Because they were all for either steadfast old friends or exciting, relatively new friends, each event had that sort of glow to it. The kind that starts to fade when you pack up your bags and return home, expecting to work the next day. You say to yourself “back to the real world,” even though in your heart you know that everything you just experienced is just as “real” as the work you are about to start. In a way it is even more “real,” because the vividness and potency of those memories will last far longer than any cycles of labor you may go through the next day, and definitely will have more value than any dollars you may earn through that labor.

When we were in college, specifically ending college, we spent a lot of time talking about how we were about to enter the “real world.” Of course, what we meant by this was “the world of having to financially fend for yourself.” You might throw socially and vocationally in there too, but college is already a test of your capacity to socially define yourself and vocationally make choices about your direction. The “real world” really referred to having to pay for our own stuff, and pay back any debt we may have accrued while we were still forming our brains.

Again, it is a terrible misnomer, because when I think back on college I am full of very vivid memories of real life and experiences, some very good, some bad. It is simply because they were not “economical” that they don’t fit in with our wryly named “real world.” The things we can’t put a dollar value on don’t get called “real” even though we know them to be fully real.

We do the same thing as artists with our work, and we make what I believe is a deadly decision of language, even though we often do it in jest. We sweat and toil to bring about moments of beauty and passion or profound images, and when we walk away from the experience, we say “back to the real world.” Or when we go about the business of negotiating a fee or a contract for our work we refer to it as “the real world of being a working artist” as if it is somehow more “real” than the profound work we have engaged in.

Why do we do this?


I’ve been reading a phenomenal book, it’s called “Small is Beautiful” by E.F. Schumacher. It was written in 1973 and lays out what has become the foundation for the modern sustainability movement. He starts by addressing an easily overlooked problem: the primacy of economics as our main mode of measuring good. The science of economics has somehow become our measure of success on both a personal and a global scale, even though economic principles alone (whether applied via private enterprise or public enterprise) cannot provide a moral basis for action, and in fact will always be boiled down to the idea that “more productivity for less work is better,” and the “better for what?” question is never really answered. The book is excellent and bears reading by anyone who thinks about work, money and the world, which is everyone.

Schumacher provides insight into our question of the “real world” when he talks about how we have been overwhelmed by the idea that quantitative distinctions are somehow more important than qualitative distinctions. He points out that this ranking is a false construct, but it is easy to make this error because quantitative distinctions are easy to define and qualitative ones are hard, fuzzy, and require a great deal of study and thought. This is not deriding quantitative data as a mode of understanding the world, but we have to recognize that we ultimately choose what data to use, or even how to go about gathering that data, in a qualitative manner. We can’t escape it.

When we make personal decisions about money, when we as artists or professionals negotiate a contract, we are ultimately making a qualitative decision. We always bring other factors to bear other than the dollar value of the item purchased or the contract we are signing.

It is deadly to distinguish between the “real world” (of quantitative problems) and the “dream world” of good work and good experiences because they are ultimately the same world. The world of personal finance that we dreaded entering when we were in college is a world in which we have to make value decisions, and if money itself is the primary value then we should all quit being artists. But it is not. Money is a mode of transferring value, it is not in and of itself value, and it is an imperfect measure of value.

I’m certainly not advocating that we flip the whole thing on its head and pretend that money is meaningless. Money is meaningless by itself, but it is full of meaning when placed in the context of 1) people and 2) other things of value. An example: what charity one gives to, if at all, is a strong indicator of what one values.

Money is a mode of transfer. We need to know how to deal with it and be unafraid of that, and put it in its proper place. It should not be at the top of our values when we measure what is real and what is not, but neither should we as humans and as artists pretend that the world of money, the world formerly referred to as the “real world,” is a sham simply because it is not the only reality.

What I am advocating is a fresh perspective on money, art, and value for those who are working in the field, and for those who are being educated in the arts, education in the business of art. Young artists can be taught a balanced appreciation for the value of what they are doing and the value of money itself. Too often I believe these students are graduating with a strong sense of creative purpose but a weak and frantic sense of what money is, how to manage it, how to pay rent and taxes, and what all that has to do with making art. It can be learned the hard way, which breeds resentment, or it can be taught. I think the latter is more appropriate and anyone who is looking for a college program should keep an eye out for programs that provide at least some training in the business of the arts, because an artist is a sole proprietor and if you don’t know what that means you had better learn fast.

I could never have gone to those weddings and parties with all of my wonderful friends and family without the expenditure of money, sacrificed for some very worthwhile experiences. This is not a case going to a dream world by means of what was done in a real world, but rather the intersection of some very real things within a single world.

So get real.

(As for the issue of the work of artists being a very real contribution to the rest of the real world, that is a post for another day. )