Play to win

My cliff notes for “Have no excuses“:

Sometimes we make a show of trying hard so that when we fail, we have an “My best effort wasn’t good enough” excuse. Preparing an excuse softens a failure, increasing the chance of failure by tempting you to fall back on it. This license to fail can be so powerful that it is tantamount to pre-deciding to fail.

If you were excused then you were helpless, and you couldn’t have done better, and you can’t learn to do better next time.

We can resolve instead to not excuse our failures, which removes the incentive for this kind of behavior. This leaves us to focus on achievement, instead. Introspect to interrogate and understand your failures, but root those explanations in why “I wasn’t good enough”, and don’t confuse them with excuses that absolve the failure.

Play to win, not to ensure your actions were acceptable even if you failed.

I suggest cultivating your mental habits such that it feels bad to check whether or not your failure will have an excuse. Refuse to have excuses. Refuse to cover your failures. Only then, without expected social protection, do you really start trying to figure out how to win.

What about bad luck? Examine and own your choices in the face of bad luck; don’t blame luck. (Owning the choice sounds like “I’d make the same bet again”.) Otherwise, you’ll never learn to be better at weighing and making risk-and-reward-based choices.

What about truly unforeseen circumstances, such as falling ill? Account for these in your plans! You know there is always an outside chance that external forces will derail your plans, so make contingency plans to give yourself the best chance to succeed in spite of them. Do all that you can to control for not failing because of them. And if you fail because of them anyway, that’s no excuse; your plans to mitigate them were not good enough. (Owning this can sound like “I messed up” Also, only if this is true: “I’ll do better next time with what I learned”.) Otherwise, you can’t expect to beat these external circumstances.

I have found that it’s usually in the moment when I refuse to make excuses even if I do fail, that I start really trying to win in advance.

What about social pressures to excuse failure? Well, sometimes people really do want some explanation. [ALWAYS with failures, in client service-oriented work.] But be aware that excuses function socially to keep you from losing face, at great cost to your agency. And be aware of well-intentioned people trying provide excuses for you, to make you feel better. This is toxic; it denies you power. Seeing your failures without excuses, with an explanation of what you could have done differently within your power, to avoid failure, is good: It allows you to do better.

Refusing to give excuses can have social costs: If others are participating in an implicit conspiracy of mediocrity and you refuse, that calls them out (even if subtly). Facing your own shortcoming pressures others who may be reluctant to do the same. (You can view these as opportunities to practice and prove your resolve to reject excuses.)

(There is also an inverse corollary: There are others who highly value those who live up to their failures.)

This advice requires a certain kind of strength to not be self-harmful: It requires you to have internalized previous posts in this series, to live without guilt, to judge yourself as a flawed mortal not as perfect like a god, to buckle down when things get hard, to not see yourself as good or bad, and to be comfortable seeing the dark world.

Playing to win is a motivation tool to replace guilt motivation.

You don’t need to win every time — but you do need to learn every time.

Don’t confuse explanations as separate from excuses. Deconstructing and understanding a failure is important for learning, but focus not on whatever facts contributed to your failure, but what you could’ve done to mitigate those facts, that you did not do. And avoid fatalism and destructive conclusions such as “I’ve learned never to trust.” You’ll recognize excuses and harmful conclusions because they degrade your power instead of building it for the future.

This post is part of the thread: Replacing Guilt Cliffs Notes – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

Instance to Pattern

My cliff notes from “Shifting Guilt”:

This post recaps three previously introduced tools to shift guilt that comes from acting other than you desired. It recasts them as related, a theme of shifting guilt for a mistake to guilt for a systemic flaw in yourself; from the instance to the pattern.

Tool One: Refinement. Ask the guilt what it would have had you do, instead. Be specific. And, be open to recalling that none of your alternative actions were better than the one you chose (which melts the guilt).

But also notice if this shifts your guilt into a pointed obligation, which requires the second tool.

Tool Two: Internalization. Recognize external obligations, and transform them into a desire you can internalize — or reject. Ask yourself if it would be okay to drop the obligation completely, to address this directly. If it is a relief to drop an obligation, congratulations: You’ve rejected someone else’s preferences for your own. If some part of you protests dropping the obligation, recognize those as internal guides for your future behavior, and use them — rejecting the external obligation you no longer need. Avoid the trap of changing  language without removing the obligation (such as turning “I should have” into “it would have been better if I had”). “Because I prefer a world where …” is a useful language formulation crutch when forming this habit, but (again), remember to keep discerning until you arrive at a truly internalized preference.

This can lead you to internalized guilt, but guilt nonetheless. The third tool is for this situation.

Tool Three: Realism. Examine your guilt to see if it asks something unrealistic of you. Could you have performed the way your guilt would’ve had you, sustainably? Rule out working yourself ragged. Sift guilts through a realism filter, and you’ll discard those that require you to be more than human.

After applying these three tools, you may find yourself still guilty for behaving in a way that you don’t think is best. “Perhaps you will realize that you’ve been adrift, that you’ve lost focus, and you’ll feel guilty for failing to maintain your drive.”

This is progress. Look for patterns of behavior that lead to guilt, and focus on those. Rather than feel guilt for a specific failing, feel guilt for the pattern — the level of how you process.

These three are universally effective for the author to transform guilt into a critique of his own process, which you can address directly. (See future posts.) There may be other forms of guilt that you’ll need additional tools to shift; construct your own tools accordingly.

This post is part of the thread: Replacing Guilt Cliffs Notes – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

Slides and reflections from my presentation on WordPress Developer Tools

On Tuesday I gave a remote virtual presentation titled “WordPress Developer Tools” to the Room to Think coworking community in Richland, Washington. My slides are posted here.

The slides are built with the web-native Reveal.js, and the source is here on Github. I am so in love with Reveal.js. So long, Keynote! Thanks to Flynn O’Connor for turning me on to this at BeachPress.

This was my first experience giving a tech talk, my first WordPress talk, and my first remote talk (meaning it was delivered over a video conference with screen sharing). I gave the talk from my bedroom at the BeachPress house in Rockaway Beach, Oregon. I learned several good lessons, thanks in part to the great feedback I was given:

Giving talks virtually

  • Not compromising on internet bandwidth is important. (Duh.) It wasn’t fair to the audience that I didn’t make absolutely sure ahead of time that my up and down times were good.
  • At the beginning, establish good and bad ways to give feedback during the presentation. I wasn’t able to hear audience members far away from the microphone and also missed some messages in the Google Hangout’s group chat window because I wasn’t paying attention to it.
  • I didn’t know at one point that our connection dropped for several moments because I was looking at my slides instead of the Hangout window. I’ve seen similar issues in presentations where I’ve been in the audience before, and I’m not sure how to fix this.
  • I’m interested in giving virtual talks more often because they’re more nimble — I can give them from anywhere with (good) internet, etc. — and also better for Earth than flying all over to speak in person. I’m not saying conferences and events are bad, just that I’d like to explore and promote how virtual talks can work well to be really great experiences, to lower the tech industry’s carbon footprint a bit. On the whole, this experience seemed to support that it is possible to pull this off and do it well, if I pay more attention to the details listed above.

Giving talks on WordPress

  • My slide deck skews a bit heavy in the beginning toward explaining why it’s even a good idea to think of WordPress as a serious platform. I think I may feel a bit defensive about this, which I’ll work to get over.
  • Similarly, this should have been two separate talks. I plan to split them — one about WordPress as a framework, another about technical dev tools.

Giving tech talks

  • I thought I was exempt from the Law that Live Coding Demos Don’t Work because why?