Never Normal Newsletter

How to solve shortages, sell $3B in a few hours, and have your most productive day ever

I’m back to business after a couple of weeks off. 🌴🌞

No essay this week, but I did write a twitter thread on how to have your most productive day ever:

I’ve also started recording new Never Normal podcast episodes (coming soon – stay tuned!)

In the meantime, I’m excited to share a few of the things I’ve been reading, listening to, and learning lately.

Never Normal Newsletter

Being “smart” (this hit way too close to home for me)

Last week I wrote about rethinking education to take advantage of technology and teach for mastery.

I saw this tweet a few weeks ago, and it’s been on my mind ever since:

It’s tempting to laugh this off and make a joke about people who are a little too obsessed with winning trivia night at the local pub.

Or to dismiss the insight altogether and say, “of course being smart isn’t important as an adult. Besides, who cares what anyone else thinks about you?”

But if you happen to catch me in a brutally honest and self-reflective mood, then I would say, this cuts deep.

I’m one of those people who was praised often as a kid for being smart. <Takes a hit of dopamine>. Being praised feels good, so we go off looking for more opportunities to prove how smart we are. <Takes another hit of dopamine>. It creates a positive feedback loop.

So what’s the problem?

Well for one thing, this teaches us to externalize approval. At school, we hand in the test then eagerly await our score. Maybe we’ll even earn a gold star!

But real life doesn’t work that way.

Once you finish school, it becomes a lot harder to prove your smartness.

Promotions at most jobs are more about politicking and putting on a performance than about brain power (much to the chagrin of introverted engineers and programmers everywhere).

Even in mathematics and the sciences, careers that most rely on and reward intellectual ability, there are relatively few opportunities for proving your brilliance.

Maybe you publish a great paper once every few years? Best case scenario, you win a Nobel prize, once in your life?

Opportunities for praise aside, it’s cute when my 16-month old shows off her latest abilities (and then claps for herself). But at 37 years old?

I suspect that if you dig down deep, under all of the “put a dent in the universe” talk, there are a lot of people (and I’m definitely speaking from personal experience here) whose real goal is to, “show the world how clever I am, so I can earn more praise and adulation.”

If you go really, really, deep even beyond that, you’d probably find the most basic human desire of all: to be loved. Perhaps somewhere along the way, we conflated the idea of being worthy of love with being praised for our intelligence.

For me personally, that’s where my spiritual beliefs and having a loving family come in. But even just remembering that that’s where I should be looking for love takes some work. It’s a practice.

You could argue a counter-point that, among all the human desires, ‘wanting to be seen as smart’ is hardly the most destructive. Especially if it leads to quantum mechanics and spaceships and symphonies.

But it can also lead to a dark place. Spending your whole life trying to fill a void by achieving things to earn more praise, only to find that it’s never enough.

The Wrong Question?

All of this begs another question: If we can stop worrying about trying to prove how smart we are, then how should we orient our efforts instead?

I’m reminded of a story about management guru Peter Drucker and some advice he offered a colleague:

If Peter were around to give me a thwacky pep talk, I think he’d say something like this:

It seems to me you spend a lot of time worrying about proving how smart you are. You already know you’re smart enough.

And you seem to spend a lot of energy gathering more knowledge and coming up with new ideas.

The question is: how can you use all of your abilities and knowledge and ideas to create value for others!

Of course, that last question isn’t just for me. It’s something we must all contend with — How do I live up to my full potential? What does that even look like?

This is what I’m working on now…

Over the past few weeks I’ve been enjoying leading the Quality Questions community through the process of finding their superpowers.

We’ve been working on questions like:

What is fun for you but feels like work for other people?
​How can you stack your skills together to form uncommon combinations?

I’ve been collecting questions, exercises, and tools like these for years, but this is the first time I’ve shared them with a group. It’s exciting!

Identifying your strengths and learning about yourself are worthwhile exercises on their own. But my hope is that everyone in the group will use that knowledge both to improve their lives (by spending more time on activities that bring joy), and to maximize their contributions to the world.

That’s all for this week. More soon…

Not a subscriber?

I write occasional emails to share what I’m thinking, learning, and doing. It’s all related to the idea of breaking free from the “default plan” in life.

Want to learn along with me? Join my Never Normal Newsletter:

Never Normal Newsletter

Rethinking Education

Last week I shared a few weird theories and a study about seemingly sentient plants.

Thinking through theories and reading scientific studies and journal articles makes me I wish I’d studied more math and science in school.

My grades were okay. I passed all the classes that were required to graduate. And I still remember a decent amount of what I learned.

So why is it that now when I try looking into the more advanced, theoretical topics, I find myself lacking the fundamentals to make sense of it all?

An equation like the one below might as well be ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, as far as my brain can tell:

This TED Talk on Teaching for Mastery by Sal Khan (founder of Khan Academy) explains one of the reasons why:

Never Normal Newsletter

Web 3: Overhyped or overlooked opportunity?

In addition to writing about to breaking free from the “default life plan”, I also like sharing what I’m thinking, learning, and working on…

Last week I sent my latest long-form essay on What’s Worth Owning. It’s an open-ended piece; I left off talking about blockchains and NFTs.

This week there’s been some heated debate on twitter about the value of NFTs, and whether they even constitute “ownership” at all.

I couldn’t resist weighing in myself here, here, and here:

Ultimately, I think most people are over-focused on NFT art projects and missing the bigger picture (and opportunity).

The internet is evolving.

Allow me to explain…

Never Normal Newsletter

From Belarus to Finding Meaning, Pro Wrestling, and Web3

I’m experimenting with a different format this week and sharing a few of the things I’ve been reading, watching, listening to, and learning.


Never Normal Newsletter

My Biggest Weakness and What I Learned from Pablo Picasso in Barcelona

Have you ever interviewed for a job and been asked “What’s your biggest weakness?”

Most people hate this question, because it puts them on the spot, but knowing your strengths and weaknesses is a super power in life.

Do you know yours? (my answer is below)

There are lots of books you can read and coaches you can hire to help you discover your strengths and weaknesses…

But here’s another approach you can try right now:

Never Normal Newsletter

Working in Public and What I’m Working On

In the last email I wrote that I believe the “New American Dream” is getting paid for being yourself — and that the way to do this as a creator working online is to build a Personal Monopoly.

“A Personal Monopoly is the unique intersection of your knowledge, personality, and skills that nobody else can compete with.”

David Perell

This is something that I’m actively in the process of discovering for myself.


Normal is Broken

Society pushes us to follow a certain normal path in life. Do it and you will be rewarded, we’re told.

Study hard and work hard. Then you can buy a house, a couple of cars, and a gigantic TV. Maybe get married and have a few kids somewhere along the way. That’s supposed to be the dream, right?

Maybe it used to work that way. Or was it always just a fairytale?

These days if you follow what’s normal, you don’t end up healthy, wealthy, and happy. 

Instead, you end up sick, miserable, and under a mountain of debt.

Never Normal Podcast

How to Earn Six Figures without a Job — Freelance WordPress Developer Tom Hirst (Episode 014)

Tom Hirst consistently earns over $100,000 / year, even though he’s never had proper job. Tom’s found success as a freelance WordPress developer, working on projects for the likes of England’s National Health Service, sportswear brand Umbro, and Facebook.

Tom also writes about the business of freelancing and mentors other freelancers. Tom is the author of two eBooks: 10 Steps To Becoming A Better Freelancer and Pricing Freelance Projects, and the creator of the video course, The Personal Website Playbook.

You can find all of these resources and more on Tom’s website.

In this episode we discuss:

Never Normal Podcast

Self Care, Shadow Work, and Starting Up on the Side with Amanda Goetz (Episode 012)

You’re supposed to be satisfied once you’ve “made it”…

But what if you’re not?

What if you “check all the boxes” but find yourself craving a new adventure? What if you’d rather go build something new?

What do you do when you have a crazy idea that you just can’t let go of? How do you chase a dream when it the world wants you to settle for safety? And how do you balance your aspirations with your obligations?

Amanda Goetz is the founder of House of Wise, a luxury CBD brand for women. She’s also the part-time Chief Marketing Officer for Teal. And she has a popular account with a very engaged following on Twitter.

On top of all that, Amanda is a single mom with three young kids!

In this episode we discuss:

Never Normal Podcast

Verity Harrison Doodles Professionally (Episode 005)

Verity Harrison is a graphic recorder, a visual storyteller, and an animator. Verity makes a living doodling during meetings and translating long presentations and complex concepts into simple, beautiful graphics.

In this episode we talk about:

Never Normal Podcast

Taren Gesell is a Triathlon Influencer (Episode 004)

Taren Gesell, better known as Triathlon Taren, is a former financial advisor based in Winnipeg, Canada. Not exactly a stereotypical social media influencer (aside from his fondness for posting photos and videos in skimpy bathing suits). But over the past few years Taren has amassed something of a cult following of “Traniacs” (as his devotees are known). In this episode we discuss how Taren managed to turn his passion for triathlon into a successful business via social media.

In this episode we talk about: