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🌙 Malik's Blog

Opportunities vs distractions

Sometimes we take on new projects and say 'yes' to opportunities to later realise we should have said 'no'. This happens frequently when we're young. We don't often have a clear sense of purpose or direction. And there is always something new.

The thing about what we call opportunities is that they are only opportunities in light of what we're trying to achieve. When they are not aligned with our goals, they become distractions.

Without a purpose, we don't know how to distinguish distractions from opportunities. We don't know when to say 'yes' and when to say 'no' when opportunities come knocking on our door. We live on autopilot, floating towards different directions as time goes by.

We might one day realise, we're no closer to achieving what we really want in life than we were 10 years ago. We might, inadvertently, end up in places where we're doing something we don't want to be doing. Choose the wrong city to live in. Pick the wrong partner. Pursue the wrong career. Because of this, we might never live up to our greatest potential.

It doesn't have to be this way. Every decision we make about how we spend our time counts. Every day, we have a chance to make little choices that can steer our life towards a better future. We can have more control of what lies ahead if today, we're brave enough to make a decision about what's important for us. — And about what is not.

Reflections:

What is one thing you really want to get out of life?

Can you think about opportunities you pursued recently that get you no closer to achieving it?

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Thank you Nina, for encouraging me to reflect and take a deeper look into how to make my life goals more concrete and tangible, so I can have a better chance of achieving them.




Don't use acronyms

The goal of communication is to convey information. To create an understanding. Yet, we often choose to use words that create obstacles for those we’re trying to reach.

As we gain familiarity within the domain in which we operate, we start adopting acronyms, initialisms and abbreviations used by people in our circle. But using them, ends up excluding everyone else who’s not in on the convention. It damages understanding. It creates obstacles.

a. Whenever you’re working with other people, make mutual understanding a priority above all else. Avoid using acronyms, initialisms, abbreviations.




Make time

As we go through life, we find ourselves in different places. Different chapters. This often implies loosening our connection with friends we used to spend a lot of time with. Weeks, months and years go by. Work gets in the way. We get busy and without meaning to, relationships slowly fade away.

We might tell ourselves a different story. Like how strong friendships last forever. However, strong friendships have to be earned. Like everything else. If we really care about our friendships, we have to work for them.

One thing we can do is to schedule time to be with the people we care about. Although it might sound weird at first, booking time in advance ensures we actually spend quality time with the people who are important. No matter how much work we have in our hands.

I recently approached a couple of friends and we agreed to have a video call every 5 weeks. We’re in touch more often but, by setting time aside, we make sure we are present and there for each other. Even when we’re miles apart.




Owning your platform

Whether Donald Trump’s Facebook ban and subsequent bans by Twitter, Reddit, Twitch, Shopify, and Snapchat were the right decision, they certainly opened a precedent that puts a free and open internet at risk. Following the crisis at the Capitol, Parler, an app used by far-right extremists was suspended by both Google and Apple’s app stores and Amazon even stopped providing Parler with their cloud services.

This reminds me we don’t own the platforms where we spend so much of our time sharing content and building an audience. We don’t control what happens to them. They can go away over night and our leverage along with it. — That’s what happened with Vine. And what could happen with TikTok or Snapchat.

And the widely publicised ban on the President of the United States sheds light on what many makers go through every day. Apps are taken away, channels are demonetised. Sometimes legitimately, other times by mistakes caused by algorithms.

If you are a maker. If you produce and distribute any kind of content online, the lesson is clear. Have direct access to your audience. Own your platform [1]. — And that is why I’m building my own [2].

[1] - Newsletters are the easiest way to keep our audience. Unlike most platforms where our content lives, they give you data ownership. And email is a standard that won’t be going away anytime soon.

[2] - This blog is powered by Moon. A trivial app built on Flask that acts as a static site generator. There are literally hundreds of tools and frameworks, and a million static site generators out there. The reason I’m building my own is because I want to learn and I think this experience might make me better as a product manager. I’m particularly excited because Moon can be expanded as I acquire more experience and knowledge. To eventually become a fully fledged blogging platform or content management system like Wordpress or Blogspot (naturally, way less sophisticated).




Follow through

Integrity is doing what we say we will do. Even when it hurts us. Especially when it hurts us. This requires a sharp and tuned degree of consistency and self-awareness that takes time to grow.

a. Do not make commitments you know you can’t uphold. When we fail to deliver on a promise, we cause other people to have a worse impression of us. Because we use our past actions as information about who we are, failing to deliver on what we set out to do, often damages our own sense of worth. This is also true for when we set personal goals or intentions we fail to work towards. Every tiny action matters.

b. Avoid relying on people who didn’t follow through in the past. We’re not always able to pick who we work with. Having that in mind, we can choose the people we rely on. These are the people we make an active decision to build personal and professional projects with. Because the stakes are higher, we should be especially cautious and not let our hope and dreams blind us. By picking a partner we know to lack integrity, we are corrupting our own sense of virtue and there will always be a price to pay later on.

Better to disappoint early on and to be less ambitious about what we can do than to break our reputation and self-esteem. We deserve to go to bed every night knowing we can trust ourselves. Knowing we can be relied on.




Be kind

It’s easy to forget that every single person you interact with, is going through something you are not aware of. Learn to be compassionate and always remember to be kind. To you and to others.




Becoming noteworthy

Even though we are all different on paper, in reality, most of us act in conformity. — We wear the same shoes, build websites that look the same and have opinions that are not worth to bat an eyelash for.

As Humans, we are great at identifying patterns. We are also often drawn to what is the most familiar without realising.

The problem with familiar, is that familiar, is also boring. Noteworthy subjects stand out because they do something dissonant. Something worth talking about. Something worth spreading. Noteworthy people move the needle.

Because we are all different at the core, we all have an innate ability to produce noteworthy products and ideas. Learning to amplify what makes us unique, can be a way to do so.

Can you stop to think about key traits that define you?

What do people say about you when you’re not in the room?

What are some things that excite you, that normally make most people fall asleep?

Be bold and you might just be rewarded.




On feeling like giving up

Next time you feel like giving up, realise that, this might be a good indication that you are out of your comfort zone. Do not let that stop you from moving.

Fight or flight mechanisms are a necessary part of growth. Acknowledging that you are overwhelmed. Acknowledging that you want to run or hide, is already half the battle.

Take a deep breath and call someone who can listen. You’ll be stronger tomorrow.




On pessimism

Optimism is the tragedy of the 21st century. Despite what the popular opinion may be, I have found that, adopting it as frame of mind, can often promote short-sightedness and wishful-thinking. When life doesn’t go as planned, we suffer unproportionally. — This is especially true when the stakes are high. A pessimistic approach towards global warming is often also the most realistic.

Unlike optimism, a pessimist outlook provides us with information we can use to grow. This makes it more useful to have as a frame of mind. Having an awareness about what might go wrong, can make you better equipped to deal with whatever life might throw at you.

a. Imagine the worst case scenario. This will enable you to see situations from a higher level and help you plan for a future you cannot control.

By contemplating bad outcomes, you can come up with plans to prevent or deal with them. Imagining a work presentation going wrong, will get you to put more effort into making sure it doesn’t. Anticipating a crisis, will keep you on your toes and make you more long-term oriented.

b. Do not spend time or energy with things you cannot control. Pessimism can be useful when it enables you to plan ahead and take action. We cannot control what happens to us, but we can control how we choose to deal with what happens. That’s what I’m advocating.

c. Realise that, whatever you may have today can be taken away tomorrow. Let this be a reminder that keeps you humble and grateful.




Today won't happen again

It’s easy to overlook the present, when we are too focused on anticipating what’s coming. On chasing goals. Painting dreams.

It can be important to stop and realise that, what we use to define “these days”, will soon define “the good old days”. — The place we live in. Our circle of friends. What we look forward to, when we wake up. Or when we go to bed. Everything must change, because that’s what time is made of. Change.

Looking back, we become enamoured with the “good old days”. But they won’t happen again. And neither will today.

What are you grateful for today? And how would you go about showing someone that you care for them?




Copy the work of others

Many people celebrate the work of Pablo Picasso, but often overlook the process that contributed to make him the genius we all know and appreciate today.

At the age of 16, Picasso was living in Madrid. He spent long periods of time at the Prado museum, admiring and copying the works of great artists that came before him, like Goya and Velásquez. His story is akin to the ones told about Beethoven and Benjamin Franklin. The latter transcribed passages of his favourite writers and often tried to emulate their style, in order to improve his own.

The process of copying and reflecting on the work and process of people with more experience than you, enables you to get acquainted with patterns you wouldn't have. And at a faster pace.

Whenever you want to learn a new skill or improve on existing ones, realise that there is, or has been someone out there with more experience than you. With whom you can learn from. There is no shame in copying the work of others when your goal is to learn.

a. Do not try to be original. Originality comes from experience and materializes naturally when you have enough building blocks.

My past experience shows me that jumping and attempting to create something of your own before having the tools to do so, often equates with a lack of self-knowledge. In order to chop down a tree, you must first sharpen the axe.

With enough experience and vocabulary, you can go on to create your own work and improve on the work of others.

In a nutshell:

  1. Find a piece of work you want to emulate.
  2. Try to copy the piece in the best fashion you deem possible.
  3. While doing so, close your eyes and try to visualize each step of the process.