Quarterly Roundup: Apr-Jun 2019

What I’ve been up to…

In April, Parisa and I made a trip to Colombia which was special in many ways but most of all because while we were there, we got engaged!

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This was the happiest moment of my life so far, but getting to this point was not so easy…

During the Christmas break while in the U.S. I decided I wanted to get an engagement ring and bring it back over to London in order to propose at some point. I managed to piece together a ring while I was there but not without a few points of suspicion from Parisa as to where my mother and I were going in town without her. It is ironic that in order to prove your commitment and trust to someone, you must first engage (no pun intended) in an exercise of pure secrecy, lies and deception. Anyway, I was able to get it back to London where it hid anxiously in my sock drawer for 4 months.

A few days before the photo above. Parisa and I arrived in Bogota from London and immediately hopped a flight to Medellin. Our first day in Medellin I had told Parisa I had planned a hike for us outside Medellin and she wasn’t allowed to ask where we were going but that it would be a couple hours in the morning and then we could get our tourism on. According to several blogs I had read, there was a hike outside of the city where you start at the top of a mountain at the place where Pablo Escobar built his own prison for him and his cronies, and then hike downhill to these amazing waterfalls. I thought some falls in the middle of the jungle would be a romantic spot to propose and start our holiday. I also didn’t want to be alone in caring for this ring as we traveled through Colombia, so getting the proposal done on the first day was my plan A and I frankly didn’t have a plan B.

That morning we woke up early (mostly due to jet lag) and got a cab to drive us up to the start of this hike. This is also the first point where I realised how cheap Colombia was, as we took a ride that in London would have been about £120 for the equivalent of about £15. Upon reaching the top I got out and led the way based on the blogs I had screen-shotted. We made our way down this driveway until we reached something that looked like it could have been a prison at some point. There seemed to be nobody on the outside and after wandering the perimeter for a few minutes the only people we managed to see were some old people using walkers (we found out later that this has since become a nursing home, but found out in the moment that whatever it was, it was pretty unspectacular).

With that underwhelming surprise out of the way, we set out for the hike which proved to be rather difficult as there were no clear signs or trails. After about 10-15 minutes we eventually found a small gate out the side of Pablo Escobar’s nursing home and got onto the trail. We hiked a windy, slightly downhill trail as I thought about what I was going to say and how I was going to be able to get this ring out of my fanny pack in a reasonably graceful manner. Soon, we came to a set of signs pointing opposite directions. One of them had a name I had seen on the blog and the other I didn’t recognise so I confidently guided us to the trail for Cascada Salto del Angel.

Pretty much immediately, things became incredibly difficult. Following the signs for the trail, we went over the edge of what at the time seemed like a steep hill but was in reality, a cliff. Using some shady ropes that had been tied to trees, Parisa and I rappelled down a wet rock face for about 20 minutes. Parisa was getting understandably agitated but we eventually reached the bottom where I saw the falls and breathed a sigh of relief. As Parisa reached the bottom I pointed out the falls and said that’s where we needed to go. I went up ahead while she rested to find where we needed to go next. I climbed up some rocks and over to the falls only to realise there was no exit. I looked at my instructions from the blogs and all of them said “once you’re at the falls, just follow the trail/stream down to the bottom.” No matter where I looked there was no way out. Just another waterfall right below us that dropped off into the stream. I was panicking a bit and my brain wasn’t retaining much, but the conversation went something like this:

Me: Yeah so I don’t think we can get out this way.

Parisa: What do you mean?

Me: Like there’s supposed to be a trail, and there’s no trail here.

Parisa: What do you mean?

Me: I think we went the wrong way.

Parisa: What do you mean?

Me: We need to go back up the way we came.

Parisa: *quiet, piercing rage*

So we climbed back up. Parisa didn’t say much other than the occasional “you’re the worst.” But eventually after a challenging climb back to the top we got back to the two signs and I reexamined the blog posts and confirmed that we had in fact gone the wrong way.

We began to make our way down the mountain which now surprisingly followed the description in the blog posts quite accurately. It was still steep and required some ropes but was now a more open pine forest without wet rocks.

Parisa pretending she doesn’t want to murder me

Parisa pretending she doesn’t want to murder me

Eventually after about an hour of this, we reached the bottom, but still no sign of the falls. We ran into a young Colombian couple who were camping and enjoying some potent weed on a hillside by the stream. He was thin and wiry wearing a stocking cap in the South American heat, but compensated for it by wearing nothing else on the rest of his body except some tight, very small boxer-briefs.

Now, I have a lot of good things to say about the American public education system but I think we could make some improvements in the foreign language departments. It’s all well and good to be able to be able to get 3 apples and 4 bananas at el supermercado, but I really don’t think you know the language until you’ve found out how to get to a waterfall from a naked Colombian man whose brain is currently a battleground of caffeine and cannabis, while your novia enojada stands behind you impatiently.

After a few contradictory derechas and izquierdas, we got what we could from them before making our way up and back down another hill. That’s when I heard them. The falls. Unfortunately this sound was coming from far below us to the left and when I looked over to see if I could see them, all I saw was another drop off and dense jungle. I assumed the falls had to be down there but couldn’t risk going down and having to come back up again with Parisa for fear of her choking me out and sending me downstream.

So I left her with the pack and scrambled down the rock face, this time with no ropes. In about 10 minutes I reached the falls. I still needed to confirm this was the way to the exit though, as I had learned 2 hours earlier, the Siren song of waterfalls with no way out can be quite tempting. I spoke in some broken Spanish with a man by the falls who told me the exit was another 30-40 minutes down the stream and I was in fact in the right place.

After making my way up to the top again, I told Parisa that the falls and the exit were at the bottom but we needed to descend one last bit of rocks. Needless to say she wasn’t happy but we began making our way down when we got to a spot where my slightly longer legs allowed me to climb down easily but was nearly impossible for her.

Me (from below): So just put your foot right there.

Parisa: Cal, I can’t reach

Me: Yeah but if you just put your foot right there you can climb down to here.

Parisa: Cal, I can’t reach that far.

Me: Yeah I mean if you really stretch and put your toes ri—

Parisa (in a disturbingly calm tone): CAL! I. am. so. mad. at. you. right. now.

We eventually made it to the bottom where I made the decision that this wasn’t quite the build up I wanted before I proposed, so I bailed on the whole plan. I tried to rally things at the bottom but Parisa barely glanced at the falls, completely focussed on getting to the exit. We progressed down the creek and a couple side roads for the next hour before getting to a bus stop with some food stands next to them. I went over to a juice stand where a woman was juicing lemons to make lemonade to make sure we were in the right spot. Soon a bus came and took us back down the mountain while I thought about what in the world I was going to do with this ring.


Luckily, a few days later in Cartagena the opportunity presented itself. We decided to take one day and get a speed boat out to a private island with about 50 other people. When we got out to the island which was about the size of two football fields, while everybody was settling in I asked Parisa if she wanted to go to the other side of the island to see what was over there.

Surprisingly her thirst to explore hadn’t been quenched by the disaster a few days earlier so we ambled across the island. On the other side there was a quiet piece of beach with no people and clear waters. Finally after some peering around and strategic placement, Parisa asked to get a picture of her looking out into the ocean. While her back was turned, I got down on one knee and slowly took the ring box out of my fanny pack. When she turned around I asked the question as she began crying. Which I must say was quite confusing at first considering there were no words coming out. All that happened was I asked her if she wanted to marry me and she began crying which could be interpreted so many ways.

After pressing the issue, she finally said yes and informed they were tears of happiness. We snapped a few pictures and then rejoined the others as if nothing had ever happened.

 

What I’ve been reading…

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Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Subconscious by Timothy D. Wilson

My rating: 8.5/10

I really enjoyed this one. If you’re not much of a pop psychology fan I’d skip this one but it’s an illuminating read. As the subtitle states, it is a book about the adaptive subconscious and how that influences our day to day behaviours and decisions. It often feels as though we are consciously making most of our decisions and then carrying them out but through many experiments and studies, the author seems to show that while this is often the case, more often our subconscious is at the wheel. A great analogy used to explain this is that we often think that voice in our head is the president. Shelling out orders and making decisions to make things happen. However, the science seems to show that often that voice in our head is just a press secretary. The decision has already been made behind the scenes and that voice now has to make up a story to explain why this thing you’re doing is important and right. Anyway, worth reading if you enjoy reviews of the literature on very specific topics, otherwise by about the 20th study presented you’ll probably lose interest.


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Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

My rating: 7/10

I only give this a 7 out of 10 because I would now like to learn much more about Steve Martin. This really only covers the stand up comedy portion of his life but he seems like somebody with endless talents and interests. This book is an entertaining read with many laugh out loud moments (such as one anecdote about him doing standup in an empty club, for nobody). I also am fascinated with comedians and how different it is from every other art form. This is a clear description of the meteoric rise of Steve Martin but also the insane life comedians lead and the troubles that come with that. It’s a quick, light read so if you have a vacation coming up, I’d give this one a go.


What I’ve been watching…

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True Detective: Season 3

I haven’t been watching too many shows (other than Game of Thrones, but I won’t go into that) the last couple months but I binged this one in the last month and oh man was it good. If you haven’t seen any of the True Detective seasons, it started in season one with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as two detectives in Louisiana and it was great. Season 2 was another star studded cast but dropped off quite a bit and I really couldn’t tell you what it was about. This latest season I think is the best of all 3. Mahershala Ali is incredible and plays himself in 3 different time periods. 1980, 1990 and 2015. The story takes place in Arkansas and while the characters have depth, they are still realistic which I think was lacking in the first two seasons. It’s good to have characters that have layers but it takes you out of the show when everyone seems to have a PhD in western philosophy but are semi-alcoholic cops. Either way, I highly recommend this season.


What I’ve been listening to…

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Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell

I’ve always loved Malcolm Gladwell’s writing and thinking. This podcast continues that. Don’t get me wrong, there are some real stinkers on here but I actually think that’s what makes Malcolm Gladwell so good. He’s willing to chase some small detail down until he has every bit of the story figured out and sometimes that chasing really just leads nowhere. But it’s worth it because the other times it does go somewhere, the payoff is so good. Season 4 has just started and I highly recommend the first two episodes especially to anybody who is a lawyer or knows lawyers as Malcolm goes and takes the LSAT. I also think episodes 4-6 of season one should be required listening for any high school junior getting ready to begin the college search. This is a 3 episode segment on the higher education system in the US and goes deep into some of the things I found endlessly frustrating when I was in college

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Hardcore History by Dan Carlin

Unlike Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, this one is actually about history. It is not new but I have recently been re-listening to his series on WWI and man I forgot how good it was. There’s no music, no sound effects, no fluff just Dan Carlin telling the story of some event in history with context and analysis and it’s fantastic. People ask me what podcasts they should listen to and I always say this one. I still have yet to come across a better one than this.



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The Milk Carton Kids

Earlier this month, Parisa and I went and saw the Milk Carton Kids who are a great folk duo from the US. They are great live not only because they are great songwriters and Kenneth is a great guitarist but also they are incredibly funny. We oscillated between complete calm while enjoying their music and almost painful laughter between the songs. Their music is quite soothing and easy to listen to so if you’re looking for some good driving music or just something to chill out to in the evening. More importantly though, if they are in your area I really recommend going and seeing them.


Well that’s it for this quarter but keep an eye out for some more updates soon. Thanks!

Quarterly Roundup: Jan-Mar 2019

The last few months have been a lot of fun involving a trip to Porto, Portugal and enjoying living 2 minutes from Hyde Park. I don’t post on social media anymore so I thought I would start doing a post like this every 3 months to give a quick summary of what I’ve been doing. Enjoy!

What I’ve been up to…

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In February Parisa and I took a long weekend and went to Porto, Portugal. Porto is one of the oldest cities in Europe and very charming. We decided to take a day to do a wine tour in the Douro Valley which was beautiful. This was the boat portion of the tour where Parisa and I seemed to be the only ones who brought our own bottle of wine…

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This is Portugal’s famous Francesinha. It’s a sandwich made with bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage like chipolata, steak or roast meat, then covered with melted cheese and a spicy red sauce and topped with a fried egg. It is truly fabulous and also a pure heart attack.

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Back in London, I played my first gig in quite a while. Probably mid-way through forgetting the lyrics to Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright in this picture. A song I’ve played a zillion times.

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This was a great night. In January, our friends Paria and Nino treated us to a dinner/casino night. Our dinner came with a £10 voucher for the casino next door which we could use in any game but couldn’t trade in for the £10 value. So we all decided that we would pair off and play 2 rounds of roulette, each placing our £10 voucher on red and black at the same time so we could at least get chips to be in the game. After this, we each had a £5 chip which we placed on the roulette table. I decided to not play the odds, and instead put the chip only on my favourite number, 8. We all placed our bets and watched the wheel spin and to my surprise, the ball trickled down into the 8. We all celebrated as the dealer (spinner? whatever they’re called) handed me £175 worth of chips. I then divided up all the chips minus £100 of it, between the 4 of us and placed more bets only to have Paria win again with some chips she placed on two numbers. This left us with £200 total which seemed like a nice round number to divide between four people. The Arab men who were putting down £10,000 bets each time were quite confused when we decided to call it a night. We were all buzzing afterwards but also deeply understood how one could gamble their life away while chasing that buzz. We decided to get out while we were ahead and snapped the picture above on our way out.


What I’ve been reading…

I always have a book going so I thought I’d put any good ones I come across in here each quarter.

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Factfulness by Hans Rosling

My rating: 9/10

I found this book fascinating and a must read for anyone who is looking for a better understanding of the world. In the Trump era, it’s become fashionable to despair and claim the world is in shambles. But politics aside, the world is in fact doing far better than most people realise. Through data and fun graphs, Hans Rosling displays why this is by far the best time to be alive. Often when data like this is presented, the counter is “yes, but there are still problems and people suffering out there so how could you be so cruel to claim that things are ok?” Often I think this comes from a lack of understanding of how bad things really were even 150 years ago but Hans Rosling’s entire point in this book is that we have the capacity to improve things as evidenced by the data in this book. In his words “People often call me an optimist, because I show them the enormous progress they didn't know about. That makes me angry. I'm not an optimist. That makes me sound naive. I'm a very serious “possibilist.”

Rosling has since passed away but I found this book hopeful and mind altering. He shows there are things we can do to improve the remaining problems if we continue to work on them with a full understanding of the facts. Hint: Complaining about things on Facebook and watching CNN or Fox News doesn’t count.

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Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

My rating 8/10

As someone interested in nutrition and fitness I had a hierarchy of health where I believed that nutrition was the foundation because if you got your nutrition right you could lose weight and then you’d have the energy to exercise and then you’d be tired enough sleep at night which would feed this cycle and you’d be on your way to a healthy body.

This book has changed that.

I still believe that you need to be doing all 3 of these activities well to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle but I now put sleep as the foundation. Walker explains how lack of sleep not only causes us to retain extra weight anyway but also contributes to us choosing less healthy foods which lowers our energy which makes us not want to exercise which then means we don’t sleep and before you know it, the vicious cycle is running in the opposite direction.

If health is about managing feedback loops, getting the lead domino (sleep) right can make all the rest easier. From cancer, to heart disease, to Alzheimer’s, it’s abundantly clear that lack of sleep is at the very least a key contributor to these diseases, if not the main cause. Just for a little teaser on just how fragile we are without sleep, every spring when the clocks move forward 1 hour and we lose one hour of sleep, the rate of heart attack in the US goes up about 20%. In the fall, when we gain an hour of sleep, the rate of heart attack goes down by about 20%. Yikes.


What I’ve been watching…

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Game of Thrones

Parisa and I have been binging Game of Thrones for the last few months getting ready for the final season. I don’t think any further justification is required.

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Free Solo (Oscar Winner for Best Documentary)

This documentary is bananas. The story of Alex Honnold and his quest to free solo (a.k.a. climb without any ropes like an absolute mental patient) El Capitan in Yosemite. I’m convinced this could have been filmed on two iPhones and it would have still won the Oscar. I recommend watching with a towel close by for your inevitable hand sweat.


What I’ve been listening to…

Podcasts and music

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The Drive with Peter Attia M.D.

This is quickly becoming one of my favourite health and nutrition podcasts. It’s quite technical and I don’t understand half the words but Peter Attia has a great radio voice and is always on the cutting edge of longevity and prolonging “health-span” rather than lifespan. He believes by focusing on age as the metric for a healthy life, we end up over-prescribing and medicating. Instead what we should be focused on is trying to prolong the healthy active years of our life.

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The Tim Ferriss Show

I’ve listened to Tim Ferriss for a long time and his show runs the gamut from health, to business, to productivity and many other topics but a couple of my favourites are below.

Episode 55 - Pavel Tsatsouline: Pavel is one of the top strength coaches in the world and has trained some of the top Russian athletes and power lifters over the years. I love this episode because it blows up this idea that we should be sore at the end of every workout and goes deep on where strength and mobility really comes from and why it’s important.

Episode 138 - Seth Godin: I could listen to Seth talk every day. It sounds like he’s reading from a prompter but he’s really just that clear of a thinker. This episode has some of his thoughts on education which I think are spot on as someone who recently came out of the education into the working world.

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The Red Petals debut album

And of course, I’ve been listening to The Red Petals’ self titled new album which is just great. My brother JC is the lead singer and guitarist. This album has long been in the works and it shows. It’s a fully crafted bluesy piece of art so please give it a listen if you haven’t already.


That’s it for this quarter but look forward to the next edition in June!

All the best,

Cal


Greg Maddux and Why Being the Best is Overrated

Baseball is not a game for everyone, but I've found that those who love it will almost always have a favorite player. And their love for this player likely comes less from their skill or batting average than it does from some characteristic that they see (or would like to see) in themselves.

For some, it is the unbridled confidence of Ricky Henderson, for many others it is the strong will and quiet courage of Jackie Robinson. For me, that player is Cal Ripken Jr.—and not just because I'm named after him. Cal Ripken was nicknamed the Iron Man after he broke Lou Gehrig's (a.k.a. the Iron Horse) record for the most consecutive games played with a streak ending at 2,632 games. Besides Ripken's incredible career numbers, to me "the streak" was what made him my favorite. During that streak he played with various illnesses and injuries, but always showed up every day to do his job. 

Photo source: USA Today

Photo source: USA Today

If I were asked my second favorite player however, I would not hesitate to say Greg Maddux. Greg Maddux pitched for the Cubs, Braves, Padres, and Dodgers over the course of a 23 year career and is one of the greatest pitchers of all time. He has the second most wins (355) of any pitcher in the live ball era, the 10th most strikeouts (3,371), won 4 Cy-Young Awards, and is the only pitcher to win at least 15 games for 17 straight seasons. And while, those numbers already make him undeniably great, to me his greatness comes from another, less discussed statistic. Namely, the 18 Gold Glove Awards he won which are given to the best defensive players at each position each year. This is more than any other player in history. 

Photo source: National Baseball Hall of Fame

Photo source: National Baseball Hall of Fame

My admiration for Greg Maddux has grown long after his retirement because of a somewhat recent phenomenon known as “the yips." The yips is a real medical condition where there is a spasm in the wrist but in baseball it usually refers to the loss of ability to make short, simple throws. The first I heard of the yips was in relation to Matt Garza who is a highly skilled pitcher that struggles throwing the ball to first base. 

This is a guy who could throw a well-located 85 mph slider consistently, but when asked to field a soft grounder and throw it 50 feet to first base, he often failed. John Lester suffered from a similar issue with throws to first base.

In recent years, this problem has increased with more and more pitchers, unable to make simple throws but still throwing 95 mph fastballs to a 3-inch square over and over, once they get on the mound. There are almost comical instances of pitchers under-handing the ball from across the infield for fear of throwing it into the stands or even just fielding the ball and racing the batter to first base for the out. 

I can't be sure of the exact cause, but I do know that pitchers have become more and more specialized over the years. They are used in very specific situations for certain hitters. Not to mention the competition to make it to the MLB is so intense that to make it as a pitcher, you must operate under the assumption that every second spent not working on pitching would be decreasing your chances of making it in the big leagues. 

But I think Greg Maddux had a different idea of what makes a great pitcher. It wasn't an overpowering fastball or a nasty curveball. It was an intelligence that exploited every possible advantage he could. There is one story told of Maddux pitching to Jeff Bagwell during the regular season and purposefully allowing him to hit a home run so that when he would face Bagwell in the playoffs a few months later, Bagwell would be looking for that pitch only to have Maddux deny him.

Photo source: National Baseball Hall of Fame

Photo source: National Baseball Hall of Fame

He understood that once he let go of each pitch, he was now another infielder. So he could rely on his incredible ability to locate pitches wherever he wanted and hope the other 8 guys on the field would be enough. Or he could take some extra ground balls each day and become a major league infielder as well. As a middle infielder, back when I played baseball (cue Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen), I always appreciated a pitcher who could consistently field ground balls up the middle, freeing me up to cover other areas of the infield. For very little effort, Maddux was able to make his infield that much more impenetrable. And for that extra effort, from 1990-2008 he was awarded with every NL Pitching Gold Glove, except one. 

And this is why my other baseball hero is Greg Maddux. It wasn't the strikeouts, the wins, or the change up. It was that he was a true generalist. He wasn't the most overpowering pitcher with the nastiest off-speed pitches but he was good enough. Pitchers can lift weights and train to throw harder but at a certain point, being able to throw 100mph is genetic. But Greg Maddux made sure he was as good as he could be in every other aspect of the game. His defense, his movement, his location, his knowledge of the opposing team and each hitter's weaknesses. He wasn't a bad hitter either with a .171 lifetime batting average which is great for a pitcher. After all, stellar individual statistics are only meaningful insofar as they help your team win.

While Cal Ripken Jr. said "there is a job to be done, so I will do it no matter what," Greg Maddux was saying "there are several jobs to be done, and I'm not going to let any of them fall through the cracks." Both worth admiring but for different reasons. 

This push for specialists goes beyond baseball though and is even more prominent in how one is told to find a career. So much time in universities these days is spent choosing what your major is, and then "what are you going to specialize in?" And then with your first internship "what do you want to focus on?" Some of this comes from an old assembly line model where you had to be superior at a very particular part of a given process so that things moved as efficiently as possible. But now, most of these processes are digital and will be taken over by computers and artificial intelligence where humans cannot even hope to compete (just consider the human brain can perform slightly less than 1000 operations per second while computer processors can perform about 10 billion in that same second). 

Photo source: Mashable

Photo source: Mashable

So maybe more specialization isn't the answer anymore. Maybe it's the ones who can harness the thing humans still do better than computers—creativity. By combining several skill sets and learning about the other areas of the process, humans now have the ability to innovate and create while leaving the specialization to the computers. It's the software engineer who also understands marketing. Or the lawyer who is well versed in macro-economics. Never needing to be at the top of the field in any of these areas, but high enough to see the gaps and opportunities to produce amazing advancements. 

Baseball has changed over the years, but the rules have hardly changed at all in the last 100 years and probably won't in the future either, so I doubt this specialization trend of "set-up men" and “the yips," is going anywhere. But I think the rules of how careers are carved out are changing rapidly. One doesn't need to be the best anymore. In fact, no human will be the best in most cases (unless they artificially increase their brain's processing power). But it is possible to be a Greg Maddux and get to a high level in several areas to see the solutions that the specialists/computers could never see. It's more work but I think it's worth it.

Sources:

https://baseballhall.org/hall-of-famers/maddux-greg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greg_Maddux

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/maddugr01.shtml

Blue Flowers or: The Innumeracy of News

Originally published on Medium.com

Imagine you are looking out on a field of a endless yellow flowers. These flowers are always yellow, but there is a genetic mutation that causes one in every million of these flowers to turn blue.

Now imagine you continue walking past the field to where your grandmother lives. She is old and can’t leave the house anymore but she remembers the field of yellow flowers. She asks you to pick some flowers to bring back to her so she can smell them. So you walk back to the field and begin picking flowers when you come upon a blue flower.

It’s shocking and unexpected. It’s the exception. So you pick it and proceed to bring her a beautiful bunch of yellow flowers with one blue flower.

She is so excited to see the flowers and smell them and she can imagine the field you described. But then you show her the blue flower. She is intrigued by it and can’t look away. She even inadvertently drops the yellow flowers you brought her. She asks if you can bring her more blue flowers.

You’re a good grandchild, so you do.

And every day you go back out, looking for more blue flowers and each day you return with a flower. Sometimes it takes all day, but you always bring back the blue flowers because they make her so happy.

Soon she starts referring to the field as the “field of blue flowers.” But you feel strange, knowing that your grandmother is imagining a field of blue flowers where in fact, there is a field of yellow flowers.


We are drawn to outliers and oddities. They excite us. But this excitement also moves our benchmark for what is normal. It skews how we see the world and how often we think these events are happening because we are easily able conjure up an example. But this is exactly the type of exceptional information that news outlets and journalists bring us on a daily basis.

It’s an entire industry that depends on brushing aside all the yellow flowers to get to the blue one first. Or more commonly, “if it bleeds, it leads.” When someone is asked why they watch the news they generally say to “stay informed” or to know “what’s happening in the world.” But is that really true?

Let me be clear now, the consumers of news media and the creators of it play an equal role in the misinformation. I don’t mean fake news misinformation. I am not claiming that the content itself is misleading. Rather, I am referring to the disproportionate presentation of sensational material that leads to a perception of the world that is highly inaccurate.

They brought us a blue flower and we loved it. Now we collect them, and when they try to bring us yellow flowers, we turn them away. There are entire companies made of professional blue flower hunters. They know where they are likely to grow and how to ask the right juicy questions (this is where my metaphor starts to break down, if it hasn’t already).

But is a car bomb in Syria what’s “happening in the world?” Or is it just what’s happening on that street in Syria? Is the Twitter feed of a certain pumpkin coloured US President “keeping you informed?” Or is it just junk food for the mind? Is this stream of adrenaline pumped headlines making us better, or is it letting us ignore the parts of our own lives that we would rather not deal with?

These are questions I asked myself last year when I decided to delete all of the news apps off my phone. I’ve stopped watching or reading anything other than a weekly print edition of the Economist. I spend an hour or two reading it and then I put it away. The last year has been by far my most productive and happiest. Some have argued, “you have to stay informed!” or “how are you going to know if a nuclear bomb is headed right towards you?!” (the last one was a real argument presented to me). First of all, if I’m about to get nuked, I would prefer to spend my last moments doing what I am doing, not freaking out. Second of all, I question the assumption that I must “stay informed.”

I don’t believe that the way we have the most impact is by collecting the most information. I believe each of us have the most impact on those in our immediate area and in the situations where our skills can actually make a difference. There are too many problems in the world for you to worry about all of them. And way too many for you to think you can fix all of them without being a complete egomaniac.

But there are problems around you everyday that you could do something about. Things that you think are so small that they aren’t real problems because they don’t involve a war or a natural disaster. They are the yellow flowers. They are the ones that you walk past every day because you’re waiting for a blue flower. A “cause” that will make you a hero and really make a difference. But the truth is, blue flowers are one in a million for a reason.

So start picking some yellow flowers. Start dealing with your problems and the problems in your community. They might get ignored by the newspapers and media conglomerates, but they don’t have to be ignored by us.

Neuroscience to Marketing: Picking your major

Originally published on FutureRising.com

When I was deciding what to get my undergraduate degree in, I was often given the advice, "study what you’re interested in" or, "follow your passion." At the time, I was interested in biology and how the brain worked so I decided neuroscience would be the perfect fit and headed off to university. This was fine at first because I was busy focusing on the transition of leaving home and being more independent. But about three years into my degree, I realised that neuroscience was not something I was interested in anymore.

  It turns out the "follow your interests/passion" mantra, is terrible advice. Passions and interests are, by definition, fleeting and temporary which means they should not be factored into a decision affecting the rest of your life. Since then, I have thought a lot about this and read several books on the topic.

Here are three pieces of wisdom I found more useful for choosing a degree or career path when it’s not clear:

1. FIND WHAT IS ALWAYS INTERESTING TO YOU

While I was doing my undergraduate, I was required to take psychology classes and I found that they were the classes I enjoyed the most and performed the best in. I also took and enjoyed an intermediate fiction writing class which centred around developing believable and relatable characters. What I soon realised is that my interest in neuroscience, psychology, and character development all came from a broader interest in understanding why people do what they do and what motivates their behaviour.

So when deciding what field you want to go into, try to think about what is always interesting to you. Make a list of all the activities and subjects you enjoy and look for the common threads among them. Chances are, that will point you in the right direction.

2. FIND OUT WHAT YOU’RE BAD AT

Often, finding what you always enjoy is difficult because you only have a few things you enjoy. For me, prior to university, I refused to try new things. I had two or three things I knew I would generally succeed in so trying something new that I might be bad at, seemed ridiculous. Unfortunately, this gave me tunnel vision when it came to choosing a career path. Instead, I should have been constantly learning new things, trying new activities, or reading books. This is the only way you can have a large enough sample size to be able to find the patterns in the things you find stimulating and fun.  The internet makes this incredibly easy so you might as well use it.

3. MAKE SURE YOU’RE VALUABLE

At the end of the day, you will need to make a living with whatever you choose to make sure what you’re pursuing is valued by at least some people somewhere. This is not to say you should base your future on money, but you should base it on if you are going to solve problems that people need solving. Whether that’s making progress on cancer research or trying to find the right way for a company to communicate with its customers, it should be something people are willing to pay you to do. After all, if you are being paid for your work it means you are generating value for somebody else. While you might think your handmade quilts are amazing, if nobody wants to buy them it doesn’t matter what you think.


A year after graduating I decided to go back to school to get an MSc in Marketing. After reading new books and exploring new areas, I found that marketing would allow me to explore human behaviours while also letting me interact with people and working my creative muscle. I have no regrets about getting my degree in neuroscience and have actually found it quite valuable in my subsequent studies.

Your chances of nailing exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life when you’re 20, are slim. Think about the three steps above and make your decision but after that, just do your best and be ready to adapt.

 

How to Make Your Final Year at University Count

Originally published on FutureRising.com

Your last year can in fact be the most fun and transformative year of schooling. But it can also be stressful, overwhelming and anxiety ridden, as you attempt to start your career while taking the most difficult modules in your degree. Your final year should centre around making yourself indispensable, not replaceable.

I finished my undergraduate degree a few years ago and made mistakes in every area I’m about to discuss so when I started a masters last year, I vowed to not repeat them. I am now finishing my course and this is what I’ve learned.

GRADES UNFORTUNATELY STILL MATTER

I would argue grades are not the most important part of your CV, but they do make the rest of it much easier to talk about. They are less a measure of intellect than they are a measure of work ethic. It took me a couple years to find my system for studying but once I did, it made it much easier to get involved in other activities. On a CV, good grades are the primer, everything else is the paint.

BE INTERESTED

As Dale Carnegie said, "To be interesting, be interested." what he meant was if you would like to engage other people, the best thing you can do is be interested in them. This means taking a genuine interest in many different topics.

During the four years of my bachelor’s degree, I probably read a total of one book outside of assigned readings while this year, (after realising how boring I was) I’ve read about 20 books for enjoyment.

If you want to build a rapport while networking in your final year, the best thing you can do is have more to talk about than the other students in your cohort and that starts by stepping outside your comfort zone of knowledge. Go take a cooking class or pick up a book about a banana mogul.

PARTY LIKE AN ADULT

Invite friends over and make them dinner, go to that new pizza place with a group, or host a potluck. A dinner party is where real conversation can occur and friendships can flourish.

I’m not saying standing in a student flat with 100 other people shouting at each other and breathing in the fog of humanity is not fun, but perhaps there are better ways to spend your time. Work on making nights you remember forever, not ones you can’t even remember the next day.

START WORKING ON YOUR SIX-PACK NOW

Despite what you may believe, you have more time on your hands now than you will once you start working, so now is the time to establish your routines. It can make a tremendous difference.

But this new routine can be journaling, exercise, reading or any other daily practices you require to function at your best. By putting these in place now, you make it less likely they will be swept aside when you have less time for them.

KILL THE PUBLIC SPEAKING NERVES

If you have been avoiding presentations and public speaking, it’s time to stop. I hated public speaking so this year, I volunteered for every group presentation and pitching opportunity and inoculated myself to the nerves and fear of speaking to large audiences.

It’s scary, it makes you sweat and turn red. But, this means if you can get good at it, learn to love and not fear it, you will set yourself apart from everyone else.

FINALLY, ENJOY BEING A STUDENT

Once you’ve done the work, take time to really soak in the last months of being a student. Enjoy and nurture the friendships you’ve made because on the day you graduate, all those friends will become your network.

Being a student is a choice to always learn and seek out mentors. Put aside the applications, essays, and notes for a while and go take advantage of what it means to be a student.