What are you working toward?

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter a couple weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

Earlier this year, I took a notecard from my desk and I wrote a short sentence.

It was a reminder, something I look at nearly everyday. This sentence was what I was working toward, in the simplest, most distilled form I could manage then. I then started telling my coworkers what that sentence was, so they knew my motivation, what I stood for.

From my teenage years, I’ve always written these sorts of things, quotes and priorities and reminders. Some are high-minded (I’ve had a Lao Tzu quote in my wallet since undergrad) and others are about working smarter (Your Email Inbox is Not Your To-Do List). I cherish these things. I find they do help transform my mood and habits. They are genuinely for me but, of course, they’re acts of signaling too. I am saying to the world (and therefore reinforcing for me), “Hey, These are my priorities, World!” This comforts me. I have a plan to cope.

Continue reading What are you working toward?

Lessons on “The Messy Middle” of business from Scott Belsky

You know startups. You know exits.

Most of the work of business takes place somewhere in between the very start and the very end. Yet a lot of media attention focuses on those two iconic poles. So you might know a lot less about the space between the two poles.

We need more guidance on the work stage. That’s the approach in The Messy Middle, a new book published late last year from Scott Belsky. He founded Behance, which sold in 2012 to Adobe for $150 million, and has been an active  investor.

Continue reading Lessons on “The Messy Middle” of business from Scott Belsky

My 2019 Resolutions

These are my priorities for the year for getting closer to being the person I want to be. As in years past, I want to share my resolutions.

Find past ones here.

I was proud of what I accomplished in 2018, which included a trip to Mexico City (and a visit to Paso de Cortes, as depicted above, where the Spanish conquistador entered the valley to attack the people sometimes called the Aztecs). I’m excited for 2019.

Continue reading My 2019 Resolutions

My 2018 Review

In 2018, I found I wanted to go backward to go forward more than I expected.

At work and in my writing and my service, I differently assessed where I was last year to plan for this year. Where 2017 featured many public facing advances (I became CEO! a creative piece of mine was published somewhere! I), my 2018 featured far more internal or private advances.

I am proud of what I’ve done. There’s more to do.

Continue reading My 2018 Review

Art tells us we are important. Science reminds us we are not

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter a couple weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

Art elevates the human experience. Science contextualizes it. Art says we are important. Science says we are not.

I think of this tension often — it’s a theme of a lot of the writing I’ve done for years. High culture is the best tool we have against nationalism and provincialism. The best of what we collectively create tends to come from collaboration and gains interest beyond race or country or tribe. Science is a collection of the facts as best we can see them now. Art motivates us to care, to understand, to act. I’m interested in when we seem to deploy the wrong one for a circumstance.

Continue reading Art tells us we are important. Science reminds us we are not

7 tips on writing from a collection of essays from the Oxford American

Here are seven high-level tips on writing from the Spring 2018 issue of the Oxford American, a quarterly literary magazine a friend gifted me a subscription to for a year. It was the august publication’s 100th issue.

With a subscription you can read the pieces in depth, which I recommend. Clearly there is vastly more but as a teaser below I share one lasting takeaway from each, which I consumed months after the issue landed in my mailbox.

Continue reading 7 tips on writing from a collection of essays from the Oxford American

Language is more like fashion than math: “Words on the Move” by John McWhorter

We get it wrong: language is always in motion, more like fashion, than science or math. This changes how we treat language and its uses.

We don’t quite say someone is wrong for wearing bell-bottom jeans today. It might feel outdated. We also might think they could return someday in some form if fashion and culture moves in the right way. It’s just not what most of us would consider common today. That is a pretty good approximation of language.

This concept is the big idea from linguistics that John McWhorter most gets at in his sublimely readable and thoughtful Words on the Move book from 2016. (Read the New York Times review here)

I first read this book earlier this summer, part of a binge on McWhorter’s books and linguistics generally. I finally wanted to share my notes from reading this. But if it interests you, you really should buy it, because there’s so much more.

Below I share my notes.

Continue reading Language is more like fashion than math: “Words on the Move” by John McWhorter

Why English actually is relatively easy to learn (but not to master)

English is a (relatively) simple language to learn enough of to communicate (rather than to master) because it’s had so many non-native adults learning and using it.

The rules are relatively flexible, so — as you’ve likely experienced — we can often understand someone speaking in simple “broken” English. Try that with Russian. But — as you also likely know — it can take a lifetime to have some kind of English mastery, and even that’s no promise. If you want to understand why, you need to look into the secret corners of the 1,500 years of English language development.

That’s among the big ideas from “Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue,” a 2009 book from linguist John McWhorter. I picked this up after devouring his 2016 book, both of which I read earlier this summer. (Read the laudatory New York Times review of this book. For context, this Economist story is a nice recap of what makes language difficult.)

I have a bunch of posts about linguistics.

This book’s focus on English is distinct from other linguistics books I’ve read recently about language generally. Find my favorite lessons from the book and a few related videos below.

Continue reading Why English actually is relatively easy to learn (but not to master)

This is a better question for getting perspective to make a decision

I’ve started to replace a common question with something a bit different.

I love making decisions informed by consensus. As I’ve gotten older and taken on different roles, I’ve made it a point to be more decisive and clear in being responsible for the final decision. But perhaps from my journalism roots, I commonly want to get other people’s opinions on a matter.

It’s important to understand their vantage point: in a leadership function, you are responsible for having a wider understanding of a situation. But with the right balance, knowing more focused opinions are crucial.

But I think there’s a better question than simply: “what’s your opinion on this?”

Continue reading This is a better question for getting perspective to make a decision

Do you know when humans first developed language?

Somewhere between 50,000 and 150,000 years ago, our ancestors likely first began communicating ideas through sounds in a more structured way than other species on the planet ever had before.

That’s the beginning of what we now call language, and on an evolutionary scale, it’s remarkably recent (for context, the earliest writing was some 6,000 years ago and we split from the Neanderthals some 700,000 years ago.)

In ‘The First Word,’ a 2008 book by Christine Kenneally, the research into the origins of language are unveiled. I read it earlier this year. Critics liked it when it first came out, and I enjoyed it myself. I read it for two reasons: both as part of my on-going resolution to reading books by women and people of color and to help kickoff a deep dive I’ve been doing into linguistics.

A few weeks ago I decided I just didn’t understand enough of how language developed — or how we’d figure it out. This book was an excellent foundation for me, and I was surprised (and thrilled) by how much evolutionary biology is involved in pinpointing the origins of language. For example, if chimps can do certain language-like things (like gesture, the beginning of language), then humans likely got that from our last common ancestor some four million years ago.

I was so taken by the book and many of the concepts, that I shared some notes below. Consider reading the book yourself, and use this as a jumping off point.

Continue reading Do you know when humans first developed language?