As a writer, I read a lot of books and articles, listen closely to how people talk, and take notes to capture ideas, lunch orders, and fun phrases. Here are ten observations and quotes from my scribblings with thoughts on how or why I found each to be helpful (or incomplete).

  1. Often, there is a “better” way to do things. It doesn’t really matter if you put your pants on with the leg left first or the right, but it is easier to put your pants on before your shoes. Early in my forestry career, I attended a “total quality management” workshop and Wayne, the instructor, drove home the point that there is often a “best” or “better” way to do a job, no matter your preference. “That’s called a good process. We’ve figured out better ways to use a chainsaw or drive truck, ways that are safer and more productive, so master those.” 
  2. A former Navy officer turned forest industry manager told me “As long as you have a cup of coffee in your hand or are carrying a clipboard, nobody makes you do anything.” In my experience, this reality holds up remarkably, unfortunately well.
  3. The only real security we have is the certainty that we’re equipped to handle whatever happens to us. I made this note after reading “Beyond Survival”, a book I’ve discussed before, by former Vietnam POW Gerald Coffee. This speaks to the importance of competence, self-awareness, and resilience. 
  4. Fill your days with activities that excite you. This is simply good advice. While we all have responsibilities and obligations, we can also have hobbies, friends, service, and work that, for at least part of each day, energize us. And if this is not the case, whose fault is that?
  5. Self-trust is the first secret to success.” So said Ralph Waldo Emerson. The quote speaks to both the power of being comfortable in our own skin and the destructive nature of persistent self-doubt, anxiety, and insecurity, which all differ from humility. Having self-awareness and self-trust means you know how to handle yourself in most situations (see #3 above). 
  6. Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” – Mother Teresa.
  7. Avoid leaving good habits to chance. Since we are what we regularly do, we gain by scheduling and ritualizing productive habits, such as sleep, exercise, and date night to help reduce and crowd out less helpful activities, such as scrolling and stewing on social media.
  8. When we deal in specifics, we rarely fail. On the other hand, we rarely succeed when dealing in generalities. As an analyst, writer, and human, I find unsubstantiated, broad-based assertions to be extremely unhelpful.
  9. Learning is spaced repetition. I hold this belief as ironclad: we can get better at anything we practice regularly. However, since becoming a passable juggler and failing (so far) at piano, I observe that, while accurate, the lesson is incomplete. In addition to regular practice, we learn when (1) truly interested and (2) having sufficient understanding to “self-correct” basic errors. Once you learn enough to self-correct, you can become proficient at just about anything.
  10. Many things are more complicated and nuanced than we think. I find it helpful to acknowledge that (1) most decisions are made without certainty and (2) any increase in knowledge can (ironically) further increase uncertainty as it lays bare potential gaps in our understanding. As such, strong emotions, broad generalizations (see #8), and a failure to embrace proven approaches (see #1) can unnecessarily burden decisions. Embrace the idea that we’re doing the best we can with the information we have. Nothing is certain. As new information comes to light, we can adjust.