Quarantorial Volume 3: “Act As If”

Hopefully, everyone is staying safe and healthy. Quarantine has allowed me the time to gain clarity of some of the thoughts that crowd my head, to work on improving how I organize these thoughts and drive towards zero loss, and this has made creative writing even easier. This idea is one that hit me a couple of weeks ago and as the last few weeks have gone by the content and ideas just kept coming. I am going to set the tone for this quarantorial with the title of this post, the phrase “Act As If” from the movie “Boiler Room“. Hopefully, you have seen this movie, if not take advantage of quarantine to watch this film.

Ben Affleck in a legendary scene from Boiler Room (Warning: Scene contains strong language.)

Before I go any further, let me quickly say that this is written from my perspective and within my own personal context. This article would be far longer and far more complex if I was exploring a broader circumstance and perspective, that I am fully aware exist. I have no idea how my circumstance, opportunities, and choices line up with the broader view and I don’t have time for the research, thus I am qualifying what I write with, there will be some who agree and some who don’t agree, you’re free to read my opinion or not, your greatest gift is free will, maybe. 🙂 The exploration of the paradox of choice will remain for another day.

It is my sincere hope that we all recognize that people like Jordan Belfort, Bernie Madoff, Barry Minkow, and Bernard Ebers all relied on Acting As If. A belief that if you want to be successful you need to look successful, drafting behind the suit, the watch, the cars, and the homes that say you are a success, allowing them to associate with the type of people they need to associate with to be successful often by exploiting weaknesses in humanity and socioeconomic circles. There is a very fine line between a positive mental attitude and acting as if, I think we can all see this line on display during the daily White House briefings. Humanity has a natural predator that relies on the creation of a context that creates a safe place to make and justify decisions based on the illogical, like the idea that someone has a system to consistently outperform the stock market, and never lose. I am not going to digress here, but there is an interesting parallel with political rhetoric, and making people feel safe to make illogical decisions.

I like the phrase “Act As If”, but I hate it in the context of “Act As If” you’re somewhere or someone you are not, I am nauseated by the idea of growing into yourself, or acting like who you desire to be. I like it (maybe even love it) in the context of “Act As If” tomorrow everything will change. “Act As If” tomorrow everything you know to be, believe to be, and have to come to rely on will cease to exist. I am not saying be a doomsday prepper, what I am saying is to mentally condition yourself to be adaptable, to survive and flourish amid radical change. Realizing that everything can change, makes us realize that life is about who we are, not who we want to be, that the macro norm is and always will be SNAFU, at least as long as humans are involved, I can’t speak for elevated life forms. COVID-19 while something out of a science fiction story is showing us that logic and reason should always prevail, that whether you believe in a higher power or not the biggest gift that each of us has been given is free will (maybe) and the ability to apply logic and reason to our decision making. Some would argue that there is no such thing as free will, and I might philosophically agree given that we are not always free to make choices, but this doesn’t mean we are never free to make choices. DO NOT DRINK OR INJECT DETERGENTS, ALSO DO NOT EXPOSE YOURSELF TO UV LIGHT! What depresses me is not quarantine, it’s ideas like how I dress, where I live, what car I drive might actually have an influence on societal status and progression, this is very sad in a time where we are supposed to be evolving as a species. I’d rather be judged on my capability, not my haberdashery, but somehow some guy just like you and me says drink detergent and it’s newsworthy because people might actually do it. So I ask myself should I be surprised by the lack of depth our society often possesses? The answer is clearly, NO. Our unconscious biases run deep, but I think that a bad situation may actually be unconsciously helping us to attack unconscious bias, more clarity on this as this quarantorial progresses.

I was raised Catholic, not to get non-secular here, but I believe in a higher power, haven’t met this person or thing so I don’t know what it is, I don’t buy into imagery, and I don’t believe other human beings living on the same planet can be elevated above my place on this planet by ordination. I believe these things because I was taught during my thirteen-year Catholic education, apparently, I am built in God’s image and likeness. Well if I believe this, then God gave me the ability to apply logic and reason, and so much of this is not logical or reasonable. To stay connected during quarantine our team has been conducting nightly 1:1 interview sessions, and when I was being interviewed I was asked, (paraphrased) “assuming there is an after-life, what would you say when you arrive at entry point?” I gave an answer, but upon further thought, I think I would simply say, as the creator you gave me the ability to make all the decisions that I made, and now you want to judge me, that is pretty eff’d up.

Over the past six weeks or so, I have had a lot of time to read, write and reflect, and there are somethings, as a direct result of COVID and the quarantine that have been awesome revelations for me. My creative juices are definitely flowing, while I can’t sing or play an instrument, I can come up with ideas in my swimlane and opine on my vision, and I am thankful for that.

First off, I feel like quarantine has made me a better dad, my schedule without the need to commute or travel often for no great reason, without the expectations or perspectives of others at different points in their lives or careers has allowed me to find time to focus on productivity. My contributions feel far less routine and far more meaningful. My waste has dramatically decreased and I was already lean, but more importantly, my frustration with things outside my control has decreased and this has increased my patience and satisfaction. There is no doubt that good parenting and patience are directly related, so I’ll be taking this realization away with me post-COVID. I should also note that I work just as long, and just as hard, with far less waste and a much better ability to interleave my time between work and family, the reasons for this are pretty straight forward. My routine is the same, so I’ve added hours per day of time to my workday every day because I removed the routine, this is time I can be creative, I can learn, I can read, I can write. Family time is simpler, it’s less hectic, the paradox of choice in many cases has been lifted, life is just simpler, and everyone is arguably happier with this simpler lifestyle. I feel zero stress about not being able to go to a restaurant, about not being able to go to the supermarket, what I feel is the freedom to focus on a finite set of simplistic daily life requirements. Like Tony Robins’ says “Complexity is the enemy of execution.” My execution is better because life is simpler.

I do want to quantify this by saying that choice is something I have, something I am incredibly appreciative of and this is not something everyone or even most have. What I will say is I never stop working, I never unplug, I never stop thinking, I am trapped in a 24x7x365 world where ideas waiting for me to act on them and competing priorities creates endless anxiety. We all make tradeoffs, and not everything is what it seems. My father worked 17 hour days regularly (including commute time), but when he was home his mind was free, my mind never seems free. This is who I am, I love this person, I value my active mind, I love the opportunity to think and experiment and I would never want to change myself, but when choices are reduced life gets simpler. Some people love the Cheesecake Factory menu, other people feel exhausted by it, endless choice, with no actual control.

There is nothing I can do in a physical room that I can’t do via a video conference. I am a knowledge worker, working in technology in a highly connected world, my productivity has been greatly increased by sheltering/working in place. We’re all on an even playing field now, and capability matters, this is the world I want to live in, minus a deadly virus. Where I live, what I wear, how I look, how I smell, and what I drive have zero influence on achievement. These are now my choices without the definition of what’s “normal”. There are no lunches, no dinners, no happy hours, and no golf outings so our relationships are predicated on factors like the quality of our broadband connection, our ability to stay engaged and productive working autonomously, our efficiency, and our ability to grow and flourish in a time when much of what we do will be self-directed. What matters now is the only thing that matters to me, our heart, and our brain, arguably in their purest form. Unconscious bias is harder to come by right now, and I think this makes some people unconsciously uncomfortable. I’ll admit I have a bias against people who want to approach me to chat. If you’re talking to me and I can hear you and were not on the phone or a video conference, YOU ARE TOO CLOSE, I don’t care that you have a mask on.

Heart disease and brain health: Looking at the links - Harvard Health

I do hear the argument that “you need to be in a room to read people”, OK, maybe, but I am not a psychic, psychologist, profiler or some other professional who should have faith in their own ability “read people” nor do I think it changes the outcome. I am who I am, some people will like me, some people will not and that is OK, but I work incredibly hard on my abilities and I do it for me, I have no relative measures of success, I covet nothing, I have incredibly basic needs outside of an insatiable thirst for knowledge and in today’s world, I am more likely to be judged on the merits of who I am than on the context in which I exist. More so than ever, our reputation and influence are directly linked to our ability to execute, and like this.

Before I move on I want to touch on the idea that not only are we flattening the curve, but a post-COVID world will be a flatter world, a world where the geographic location of the knowledge worker will become far less relevant and the Digital Nomad will become far more prevalent. Every transformation requires a catalyst, and while we have been waging this debate over nomad vs. office culture for years, the field of play has forever been changed. Today we are connected by a wire, and our digital existence knows no borders, the catalysts for a return to “normal” that existed following the 1918 flu pandemic simply no longer exist in many areas of the knowledge economy.

Today I feel a far greater responsibility to engage and to connect with others and I am not exhausted by the routine of doing so. When I engage I am fully engaged, and I enjoy it. Part of the reason I think I am enjoying social engagement in a virtual world is that it seems purposeful. Each night at 5 PM EDT my team jumps on a call, on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday we do 1:1 interviews that last approximately thirty minutes, I have learned so much more about everyone who has been through the process, and arguably more than I could have ever learned in the same time period showing up and sitting in the same room all day. On Wednesday we hold “Wired Wednesday”, this session runs a couple of hours, and each team member brings tech (life) mentor/influencer in the form of a video conference background and talks for three to five minutes on how this person influenced their life and career in tech. Each person on this team has touched my heart with the way they have presented, and I am sure they have touched the hearts of their peers in the same way. These are great people, with great stories that I have gotten to know at a much deeper level and I’ve had fun doing it. I record all the session and I rewatch them at night with my wife and kids, my family now knows everyone who I go to work with every day, I get to tell my kids how lucky I am, I get to leverage the great women in technology on my team as tangible role models for my daughters. I have spent 28 years as a professional, working day in and day out with many of the same people for years and years and I never came close to the connection like the connection I have created in the last six weeks. Social distancing has created connections that otherwise would never have been created.

Like productivity, socialization is in your head, it’s not where you are, it’s who you are and what you do. We live in a time where we don’t want to define anything, I am cool with that, but let’s not define this as the “new normal” and just define it as today, and realize that today can be better than yesterday or it can be worse than yesterday, the choice is ours. This is not some pollyanna bullshit, our opportunities are endless, learn to love something new, explore something you would never have explored if you could choose to do something else, you just might find that edX Justice course is something you can’t stop watching. Don’t judge our situation as good or bad, don’t get wrapped up in what yesterday was like, and just find the beauty and opportunity in today, it’s there you just need to find it and figure out where you personal win lives.

I will finish with productivity. I couldn’t be happier with the professionals who I get to come to work with, go to war with, and call friends every day. We set out years ago with strong headwinds to build a business that was sustainable, that I/we felt could operate in a paradigm that I/we felt was coming. This pivot pushed us to an autonomous work from anywhere model, where we focused on hiring people with a passion for what we were doing and what we were building. Today what was a team in the low single digits has become a thirty person team, with a business that values partnership and doing the right thing, and I credit the culture, passion, and commitment of this team with the fact that our business is continuing to grow during an economic tsunami. Slow and steady has always been the approach; empower others, provide autonomy, and provide them the freedom to fail. My ask in return is that we all possess an unparalleled level of passion, commitment, accountability, and responsibility.

We are embarking on the “new normal”, but really it’s just another day living a life where the only thing we have a modest level of control over is ourselves, so Act As If today, tomorrow and the next day are just days, constrained by the circumstances of life.

Stay safe and stay healthy!

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