Why They Don’t “Just Say What They Want”

It goes much deeper than “playing coy”


I recently found a post that asked,

“What’s the most annoying thing your partner does?”

One of the top comments was:

“When they don’t tell me what they want! I have to all but sit them down and force them!”

I get it. It’s annoying.

My partner and I are both the “I don’t care where we eat” sort — and to make matters worse, we’re both the type to sort of neglect to eat altogether, especially if nothing is jumping out at us (it just kinda isn’t worth the hassle sometimes.) So I hear you.

Not everyone struggles with what they want, but those who do do it across their lives

They don’t know where they want to eat. They don’t know what they want to drink. They don’t know what they want in a relationship. They don’t know what they want regarding a lot of shit.


I see this as a bartender all the time — people come in, sit down, and then look around dumbfounded like they’ve never seen a bar before. Maybe they’ll reach for a cocktail list only to flip it over a few times like they can’t read. They’ll look at the draft list like it’s a work of abstract art. They’ll scan the bottles too fast to actually be registering what’s there.

“What can I get for you?” I’ll ask, already dreading the answer that comes with this stupefied thing they’re doing.

“I don’t know,” they’ll say, then ask: “What do you recommend?” Or: “what’s good?” Or, simply: “surprise me!”

And I think to myself, “I recommend that you make your own decisions. That’s ‘what’s good.’ How’s that for a surprise?”

People who do this aren’t doing it to be coy. And they’re not doing it because they’re afraid of being seen as “wanting a drink.” Like, I know you want a drink — you’re in a bar. It’s a deeper problem, of:

  • Literally not knowing what we want, and
  • Not wanting to figure it out and choose

WHY people “can’t decide”

Sometimes people don’t seem to understand: we are not machines with missing instructions. Things aren’t always black and white.

Maybe they’re out of touch with options

Maybe they don’t categorize experiences as a series of fool-proof “if, then’s.

Or maybe they’re out of touch with themselves.

Highly likely; almost always part of the problem. But this isn’t something that’s settled by shouting or demanding an answer (of ourselves or others.)

“Want” is a complicated thing, because many decisions have at least two variables — short vs. long term satisfaction.

Here’s everything that goes through my head when I’m deciding on what to eat: I like salads — good salads. I’m craving something cheesy, but “tomorrow me” doesn’t want something cheesy. “Want” isn’t black and white.

To the loved ones of “people who can’t decide:”

You have a few options:

  • Mill about trying to “force” them to choose
  • Choose for or without them
  • Reframe the decision to help them to choose

If it doesn’t matter that much, just decide. If you’re getting hangry, just decide. If you’re short on time, just decide. If it’s what color to paint the guest bedroom walls, just decide.

My mother’s idea of a “perfect vacation” is one where she plans and decides absolutely nothing, and gets to enjoy it passively like a child in a little red wagon, tugged along and fed snack packs at regular intervals. I know this, so I just decide. If I didn’t, she’d just go ask Rick Steves what she should want to do. So I save us both time by just deciding.

When it comes to something that only involves them, however, I will often force them to choose. At the bar, I will very rarely pick for someone, unless they’re “playing the game” (i.e., “I’m curious to see what you recommend, as a fellow whiskey drinker” rather than “I’m too overwhelmed.”) But other than that, if someone isn’t picking, I’ll leave and come back as many times as it takes for them to get their shit together and live their own lives. (And buddy, I’ve got all night.)

And sometimes, I just move on. I have one friend in particular who is notorious for being unable to decide what she wants to eat. When we go out and I get hungry, I just get food — something quick. I don’t pussyfoot or get hangry waiting for her to decide, like it’s The Last Meal She’ll Ever Have. I feed myself, and she doesn’t get offended. And when she’s finally ready to decide, we simply stop again.

With my partner, we have two tools that work 99% of the time for us:

  • Rank options -5 to 5, -5 being “I will die if I have to do this,” 0 being “I literally do not care,” and 5 being “I will die if I don’t.” If we’re sort of wishy washy on something but both our scores together are positive, and lower than other immediate options, that’s the winner.
  • Take turns picking. You know that old parenting trick to keep kids from fighting over “what’s fair” — one kid divides something (a sandwich, whatever) into half, and the other kid gets to choose which “half” he or she wants. Done. Here’s how it works for deciding: one person throws out 3 options. Usually as they’re saying them, they’ve already eliminated one, or picked a favorite. Great. But say 3.) Make the other person either eliminate one, or rank them (see above — does this sound convoluted? It probably does. BUT IT GOES MUCH FASTER THAN THE “I DON’T KNOW” GAME IRL.) Once they’ve eliminated one and/or ranked them, the other person picks from those two, or ranks in response. So easy. So fast.

To “people who can’t decide:”

Start living your life, babe.

We spend all this time pinning inspirational and aspirational shit, but then we can’t even commit to where to eat or what to drink. I know it’s nice to dream of a world where everything’s handled and Prince Charming or some other hero makes all of our decisions in exactly the way we want them made, but the reality is that we are responsible for our own emotional wellbeing, and our own everyday lives.

Pick a drink. Pick a meal. Pick a partner. Pick a vocation.

Take some level of accountability. And start living your own life.

Fuck “Finding Your Passion”

It’s not the thing we think

“I Was A Botox Junkie,” LA Arts District, artist Tristan Eato

Note: this was originally part of “The 1 Most Important Thing To Be Successful.” I broke it out, as it seemed to warrant a stand-alone post, but if you already read it there, you may not need/want to read it again here.

Too many people don’t pursue anything because they’re “finding their passion.”

And to these people I just want to say:

You don’t need passion.

At least not in the grossly oversimplified way we define it — as “interests” — and definitely not as a standalone thing.

If you’re already passionate…

Great — keep on keeping on. This message isn’t for you. Skip ahead.

This message is for everyone “trying to find their passion,” i.e., expecting the universe to hand it to them. It’s for those sitting around waiting for “inspiration” and using a lack of it as an excuse to do nothing. It’s even for people who consider themselves “passionate” but allow it to dictate their effort levels, which ebbs and flows day to day. (And many of us are guilty of this.)

If you’re “looking for your passion”

Get over yourself — you’re overcomplicating.

As Tim Grover, personal trainer to a number of top professional basketball players, including fifteen years with Michael Jordan, says,

“You know what passion is? Passion is an emotion. It’s an emotion without an action. Passion will get you nowhere. Inner drive will get you nowhere unless you act on it. You have to act on your passion. You have to act on your inner drive. Don’t let those feelings stay inside you. You gotta know what to do with them. You gotta know how to make them work to get what you want.”

You already have everything you need

Because “passion” is not what we think it is.

I read a shit-ton of biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs, and here’s something a remarkable number of people have in common:

Many successful people didn’t choose their “thing.”

Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin of Veuve Clicquot only came into the champagne business through her husband, who inherited it from his father and then died early on in the marriage. It was a just a few struggling vineyards when Barbe-Nicole took it on, but over her life she not only built what is still today one of the leading champagne empires, but she completely re-engineered the way champagne was produced, shipped and marketed, revolutionizing the industry forever. All of this from someone who, before her husband’s death, had probably never even considered getting into champagne.

Howard Schultz and Ray Kroc (the recognized founders of Starbucks and McDonalds, respectively) were restaurant supply salesmen who bumped into single-location shops (coffee and burgers), saw how good the products were, and blew them out. Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran was introduced to the commercial real estate business where she made her millions through her boyfriend at the time.

Andre Agassi, widely considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time, admitted in his autobiography that he hates tennis “with a dark and secret passion.”

Plenty of people succeed having spent exactly zero time pondering what interests me? Not because they were “accidental entrepreneurs,” or “just got lucky,” because they sure as hell still worked — hard. They just didn’t sit around waiting for the perfect opportunity or “interest” to fall into their lap.

They directed their energy at what was in front of them.

It kinda reminds of the scene between Buddy and the store manager in the 2003 film Elf,

Buddy: “I just like to smile — smiling’s my favorite!”

Store Manager: “Make work your favorite — that’s your favorite, okay? Work is your new favorite.”

Now, obviously there are of course plenty of founders who chase intrinsic, tangible interests — Elon Musk, Coco Chanel, Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Chouinard (Patagonia) and Ford — but if you do not already have a natural inclination toward a specific system (and you would know by now — we’re grown-ass adults), it’s because your passion is actually aligned elsewhere.

Because: you can be passionate about things, sure. But you can also be passionate about other areas: people, ideas, experimentation, insight, structure, etc. And you already have these.

Create Energy

How do you want to feel? Recall times you felt the closest to it.

What raised your body temperature? What made you feel alert and alive? It might not have been something as literal as “playing basketball” or “learning Latin.” It might have been something less discrete, like “helping people” or “high energy environments,” or, simply: “winning.”

You already have something, somewhere — you just undervalue it.

A lot of people are going to read this section and come away thinking: “yeah, see?! So I still need to ‘find my passion.’” No. It takes 5 seconds to answer the question: when in your life have you felt most alive, most fired up, most powerful? Name 2 or 3, then say why. That’s all you need to chase.

My passion is people.

My happiest and most energizing roles are simply those where I am:

  • Working very closely with others. That bartender life, just for example, does right by me — there’s nothing quite like the sexy-ass zen feeling of being totally aware and in sync with the other bartender(s) movements behind the bar on a slammed Saturday night. You’d maybe think this would be lower, being an introvert (and a writer) and all. And it’s true that I hate stupid shit like “group projects” and “brainstorming sessions,” but I do love me a good group-tackle on a singular objective.
  • Solving others’ pain points —directly. Every job I’ve ever loved, from high school to today, was interfacing with the customers or clients. Every job I’ve hated were those I was abstracted from them.
  • In a high energy environment. (See: bar. Also: software.)

And the point here is: I don’t give a fuck about the product — as long as my customers care about the product. Some of my happiest roles were supporting products that I had never used, would never use, would never want to use, and in some cases could never use, but I didn’t care.

In fact, even when I had my own business, I wasn’t really “passionate” about that product in and of itself either. But it didn’t matter, because I was instead a.) passionate about the customer I was serving and b.) pissed about their pain point. I didn’t need to be passionate about what the solution looked like, just like I don’t need to personally like every drink I pour. Or every software solution I touch. I just need to care enough about people and what they want out of it.

It just needs to work.

You just need to find the one piece you need and once you find it, you just commit to and jump in on the rest.


Join my email list, champ!

(Pro tip: you can also reach me through that link.)

The Number 1 Reason Your Life Sucks

And the number 1 way to turn it around


If you think your life sucks, it probably does. But if you think it’s primarily due to any external factor, you’re wrong.

Across the board, there is one consistent, yawning, drowning reason that keeps us from achieving things, and it’s:

You Make Excuses

Instead of finding solutions.

In fact, many of you are making an excuse right NOW as you’re reading this!

Like,

  • or I don’t make excuses — I have ADHD!”
  • or “it’s not my fault — I have health issues!”
  • or “I was raised to believe — ”
  • or “I’m not as smart”
  • or “I didn’t have rich parents” (news flash: many successful people didn’t, either)

Or maybe they sound more like:

  • “I do work hard on my business — this is just the ‘research phase!’” (lol gtfo here with that and come back when you’re ready to join the real world)
  • or “I need to make a plan first
  • or “I need more information”
  • or “I don’t know what I want to do” (no shit — see below)
  • or “my market is hard”
  • or “nobody will help me”
  • or “I’m doing everything right!” (lol, clearly not.)

Or perhaps my (least) favorite,

  • “I know! I just need to get motivated!” (Look, bud. “Motivation” is bullshit. Successful people didn’t have more sparkle juice for breakfast — they just wanted it more than you do, and were willing to endure more setbacks to get it.)

We all have something we come back to. (My own favorite excuse that I use? Nothing is “quite right” enough — I’m critical, I hang back, I reject. And it’s probably interesting to note that the exception here is my relationship. The only reason I find “relationships” so easy is because I eliminate all of the judgment and “checklists” and only look for 3 things. And now that I’ve found them, all I worry about is committing each and every day.)

Anyway, to anyone thinking any of these or anything else — and we all have something we go back to — these are all examples of shit that the sort of people you admire overcame.

The one most important thing to be successful is: perseverance

Psychologist Angela Duckworth calls it “grit.”

Mega pro-basketball trainer Tim Grover calls it “relentlessness.”

Gary Vaynerchuk calls it “hustle,” sure — but he also calls it patience,” i.e., hustling over the long haul, not just sometimes.

Will Smith calls it “being willing to die on the treadmill.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, calls it “working like a mule.”

Some call it “creating possibilities” — “by looking beyond what you think is available, and… focusing on what you can offer.” i.e., finding workarounds.

One CEO (and founder!) of a billion-dollar publicly-traded company chalks his success to only two things: (1) never run out of money. And after that? (2) When it gets hard — “and it will get hard!” he emphasizes — don’t stop. (Just for context: his company was in the red for ten years before they saw a profit.)

I read a shit-ton of biographies, autobiographies and memoirs, and one of the biggest commonalities I’ve noticed across all of these amazing people? When they experienced remarkable setbacks — situations where most people would fold — they kept going.

Some of them lost their entire inventory. Or they got fucked over by a partner. Or a vendor. They lost their right-hand product person. They went bankrupt. They were revolutionizing the champagne industry in the 19th Century and struggled to figure out how to get bottles around Europe without them a.) going bad or b.) breaking. Whatever.

The difference with successful people isn’t that they never experienced setbacks — it’s that they didn’t stop.

And those who don’t see the success are all the ones who did.

Why Do We Make Excuses?

Any number of reasons… maybe it’s because “inertia” — a body at rest will stay at rest. Or because “self esteem.” Because it’s socially acceptable.

But at the end of the day, it’s really because:

  • You either don’t actually know what you want
  • Or you don’t want it badly enough

People who know exactly what they want — and want it with a blinding desire — don’t make excuses.

How To Stop Making Excuses

It’s simple:

1.) Take ownership of your own life

Nobody is here to rescue you, Charles. Nothing outside of you matters as much as your reaction to it, and countless people have achieved more with less. Use what you have — and know that your biggest asset is your mind.

2.) Decide — specifically — what you want

“Build a business” is not specific. Fuck off with that shit. Be specific. And it’s not about “having a plan,” but it is understanding the difference between “get in shape” and “lose 20 pounds.” “Build a business” is not the specific goal — “sell x amount of x product to x people” is. Then you build the business around that, to support it.

3.) Want it badly enough

Want it enough that you’re willing to make sacrifices (lifestyle, relationships, other opportunities, credit, etc.) and you’re willing to push through when your shit sandwich is more shit than sandwich.


Take Ownership

Too many people think “work ethic” or “trying” means “only when it’s easy,” but trying when it’s not easy is the entire point. The universe doesn’t hand out special awards for people who can carry on in clear skies and sunshine. The universe favors those who are out there sloughing in rain and snow and hurricanes. (Metaphorically speaking. Unless it’s not for you…?)

The only thing holding you back from what you want is you. And the excuses you make — like what you incorrectly assign to other things.

You are not a victim of your own life

If you think the world is out to get you, it’s because you’ve victimize yourself and it rushes in to fill that energy void, receiving your negative energy with negative energy. You see negative because negative is what you put out.

You will never achieve what you want if you spend your life as a victim — if you do the same mediocre, hapless thing but expect great things to happen.

If you never get what you want, that is no one’s fault but your own. You are the only one who is standing in the way.

Life doesn’t owe you anything

If you want something you have to work hard for it — not make excuses as to why you don’t have it, or whine and complain.

One of my good friends is a dude now in his mid-30’s whose primary goal in life is to find his wife. He’s tall, has a fantastic job, dresses well, owns his own place, and — most importantly — has a heart of gold. In other words, has tons of the shit most people look for on paper. But the dude can’t find a partner.

But he also refuses to do anything differently. I’ve known him for over five years and he still goes to the same bars and uses the same sites. I hired aninterpersonal coach to help me with sales after a few months of running my business — a woman whose primary business is actually dating coaching: helping people find their spouse. I referred him to her, but he never called. He makes enough money — he just doesn’t want to try.

I have another friend who — same thing — also wants to find a husband. And again, she thinks she’s trying — she puts in effort for dates, she “puts love out there” right away, and when each one doesn’t work, she always asks me: “what am I doing wrong??” But the problem is that she doesn’t actually want to be doing anything wrong. She doesn’t actually want to change. She doesn’t actually want to hear the answers. What she actually wants is to keep going into these relationships doing exactly what she’s always done and for that to magically work. And I’m not saying it won’t work out for her because I’m sure it will, but it might help the process along a little bit if she actually tried a bit, too, rather than only thinking she was.

People will say you have to “work you ass off” and “work really hard” to get what you want. And yeah, that certainly helps. But so many people aren’t trying at all! They think they’re trying but they’re off in left field, doing things that don’t work and too consumed with making excuses to ask questions and experiment — and take responsibility for the outcome.

Commit to your own life

Don’t pretend your life is someone else’s job — or at the hands of the universe. Quit making it about anything that isn’t “you.”

If you want your life to get better then start, living like it. Start doing something positive in the right direction and don’t stop until you get there, and keep going even once you do.


Join my email list, champ!

(Pro tip: you can also reach me through that link.)

Nothing External Matters, Only Our Reaction To It

It’s the only thing we actually control


External events do not harm us — only our responses to them can

It may sound counterintuitive — “of course external events can harm us!” we might protest, “I can get hit by a bus, or my partner might leave me!”

But the reality is that the story doesn’t actually end with the external occurrence, even though so many people think it does. We perceive and talk about these events as though they are the defining moment, and sort of gloss over everything available to us afterwards.

These events only have the power that we choose to give them. They only destroy us because we think they are destructive, and allow them to run our lives.

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said,

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

And the same is true with anything external — not just other people.

If our judgement about any event is that it is horrible, then we allow ourselves to dwell in the belief that we are far worse off if they happen. But if we strip external events of their power, and reclaim our internal power to decide, gage, and assign value, we maintain control of our lives — and happiness.

Because our internal judgements are independent of external events, the occurrence of a bad event does not necessarily have to result in sadness.

If we lose something dear to us and get down ourselves, the problem is not the loss, but our outlook on it.

Life results in loss. Loss will happen. It’s part of being alive. And while loss looks different from person to person and we may experience different things, to go through life allowing any loss to bully us or push us around emotionally in any direction that it chooses is to surrender our control — and wellbeing.

We assign too much power to internal emotions as well

And not nearly enough to reason and balance; to reclaiming control rather than allowing ourselves to be rocked by what we feel.

Roman politician and lawyer Cicero said,

“When misfortunes appear on the horizon, we exaggerate then once more, because of the pain they are causing us. These feelings compel us to put blame on the circumstances when what we ought to be blaming is a deficiency in our own character.”

Obviously, most of us are not immune to external events. Most of us are going to feel negative emotions — anger, sadness, heartbreak, etc. — over negative things happening.

But recognizing that there is an inner core that is free no matter the circumstances, and recognizing that our mindset is not at the mercy of external events — or our immediate emotional response to it — but rather something that is under our own control can go a long way in fostering a healthier, happier outlook.

And it can help us maintain emotional wellbeing when things do go wrong — which they will.

All of us will experience setbacks and loss. But it is only our assessment of the loss and how much power we choose to give it, especially through emotion — that makes us sad. And our wellbeing, conversely, is also entirely in our own control — should we only choose.


Join my email list, champ!

(Pro tip: you can also reach me through that link.)

The 1 Most Important Thing To Be Successful

Simple, though not always easy


Someone once emailed me to ask,

“What belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life? And what two things do you think makes people so successful?”

Bud, I don’t even have to give you two. I only need to give you one. (And actually, you know what? I’ll break that one into two just to humor you and really get down into it. See “how to get” it, below.)

It’s not planning. It’s not passion. It’s not introversion or extroversion. It’s not intelligence.

The number one thing is PERSEVERANCE / GRIT

Taking action, regardless of setbacks, rather than making excuses. Pushing through. Relentlessness. Work ethic — but even in the face of adversity. Hunger.

I read a shit-ton of biographies, autobiographies and memoirs, and one thing I’ve noticed across all of these amazing people? Their response to incredible challenges, situations where most people would fold — but they kept going.

The difference with successful people isn’t that they never experienced setbacks — it’s that they didn’t stop.

I know a lot of readers just skimmed this post for “the one thing” answer and a lot checked out after reading it, like: “yeah yeah yeah okay— I get it!” Which is adorably ironic, because they don’t. Many of us — myself included, often — don’t internalize what perseverance, grit and relentlessness means enough to harness it.

Perseverance is not surface-level.

If you think perseverance means making a show of productivity, or working half-heartedly, without alignment with a deep underlying goal, then you’re wrong.

Perseverance isn’t stand-alone. It’s always rooted in something stronger than itself.

In other words:

Grit and relentlessness may be the number one CAUSE of success, but they themselves are EFFECTS of something deeper.

How to get grit

The two things that make it up:

1.) Knowing with absolute specificity what you want.

2.) Wanting it more than you want anything else.

Get those two things, and the rest resolves itself. You won’t need plans, you won’t have to fall back on or recall your “passion.”

What “want” looks like

It means not having to be told what to do. It means ownership. Most of us slack on this — myself included.

As Tim Grover wrote in Relentless,

“Tell yourself what to do, and stop waiting for others to lay it all out.”

Desire is intrinsic and instinctive, not extrinsic or authority-based. It’s action and ownership over excuses.

It’s not thought. It’s not even emotion, really. It’s energy; certainty; flow.

How do you “know what you want?”

Fam, I don’t know what you want. I can’t tell you that, because I’m not you. You need to work out the details for yourself.

But: you just know. Engage and see where you lean. Whatever is authentic; whatever makes you energized; whatever gives you flow and certainty and power.

What “specificity” looks like

It either has metrics defined in the goal (lose 50 pounds) or parameters are defined by external systems (win a chess tournament.)

But “lose weight” is not a goal. “Start a business” is not a goal. “Be the best basketball player” is a goal, but “play a sport” is not. Be a top chef, yes, “learn to cook” no. “Find a hobby” is not a goal, and neither is “discover my passion.” If you think any of those are, your real goal is “figure out your shit.” And the solution isn’t to sit around daydreaming up a big plan, or “soul-searching,” because that quickly becomes navel-gazing. The solution is to chase what interests you.

What wanting it “more than anything else” looks like

Here’s what people don’t internalize:

Wanting it ‘more than anything else’ means: making sacrifices.

If you are truly “all-in” on one thing, you give up other things. So: what are you willing to sacrifice to get what you want?

This is why I have absolutely zero patience for people who claim to be “100% focused” on things like “finding a spouse by [x age]” — but then immediately cite a checklist of total bullshit.

Fam, no. It’s adorable to hold out for both when you have time. But as you get down to the wire, you have to decide: you either want someone within that timeframe — and you’ll relinquish your lame checklist, or you’re willing to hold out for perfection — and risk never finding them. You are always choosing one of these, whether you actively do so or not.

And it’s the same with any goal.

Perseverance is not inspiration or motivation or “feeling like it”

Serrriously fuck off with this shit.

I say this all the time, but:

‘Inspiration’ and ‘motivation’ are the greatest crocks of the universe.

Too many people think that successful people are more “motivated.” Dawg, I don’t even know what that means, but if you mean “relentless hunger,” then go get it — you have everything you need.

Anything who’s accomplished anything of value does it outside of the hours of feeling “motivated” to do so. Successful people do it regardless. I’m not saying you don’t get inspired — that’s wonderful, Susan — but inspiration is never what carries anyone to the goal line.

Elizabeth Gilbert called it “working like a mule.”

In his book Relentless, Tim Grover wrote, of the hard work required of excellence:

“I’m not telling you to love it. I’m telling you to crave the result so intensely that the work is irrelevant.”

He also wrote,

“You can read clever motivational slogans all day and still have no idea how to get where you want to be. Wanting something won’t get you anywhere. Trying to someone you’re not won’t get you anywhere. Waiting for someone or something to light your fire won’t get you anywhere.”

So what will, you ask? It’s like you didn’t even read, because the answer is:

  1. Knowing with absolute specificity what you want.
  2. Wanting it more than you want anything else.

And how do you know “what you want?” To reiterate:

It’s either screaming in your face, or others are. Sometimes it’s both, but you only need one.

Do the work — even when it’s hard

Be uncomfortable with the uncomfortable.

Keeping going when things get hard. Because they will.

And if you want it badly enough, you will.


Note: if you want further reading, I highly recommend “Relentless” by Tim Grover, as noted in the post.

Do Something You Can’t Win At

And make it something you love

YUKA LOU

Some of the best things in life are things that can’t be “won.”

Like visiting your grandma. Raising children. Building a beautiful relationship. Building a great team. Doing improv. Knitting.

But also creating. Inventing. Building. Putting something new out into the world for the sole purpose of seeing it done.

These are all things that are inherently “win-less,” and though some people might try to game the system (I’m thinking of a few folks my age who have magically gotten back in touch with their grandparents now that they’ve realized more of the inheritance pie might be up for grabs), the only ones they are cheating are themselves.

Don’t try to win at knitting, guys. Don’t try to win at wrenching on a car.

Do something you love — and be genuine about that, especially outside of working hours — and then just focus on throwing more love at it. That’s how you get good at it. That’s how you truly win.

I’m going to talk about improv again, because I went to another show tonight — some of my classmates were doing their first one, so I went to show my support. And the thing with improv is this: the minute you try to “win” at it, you out yourself as the asshole on stage.

The way to “win” at improv is by making other people look hilarious. It’s by building on what others put out there, and making it real.

And the way to be crazy good at improv is just to love doing it. The people who are best at improv freaking love doing improv — not those who go out there hellbent on “winning” the scene.

And don’t get me wrong — after the second class, I definitely wanted to be “good” at improv. I spent hours watching videos; I went to class and gave it my all. And after six weeks, I am. But I never went into it trying to “win” by, for example, “beating others.” There was nothing extrinsic or comparative about it.

It’s the same with writing — there is no “winner” in writing. There might be best sellers and high earners, but I can almost guarantee that few of them got there by having “winning” as their primary objective.

Same with startups. Inventors. Artists. I mean, maybe Banksy was trying to “win” at graffiti — I don’t know the guy — but I doubt it was his primary motivation.

All of them are intrinsically — not extrinsically — motivated.

A lot of life is about winning — sure. Go for it. But a lot of life is also about shit that can’t be won.

Pick something in your life you can’t win. Not work, necessarily, but definitely something you’d be pumped to get happiness from. And then love on it hard instead.

The 2 Biggest Reasons to Take Improv

It Just Might Change Your Life


I’d really like to say — no, I’d love to say — that improv would definitely change your life.

I’d love for everyone to have the experience with improv that I’ve had with improv. I’d love for everyone to come away from every class so energized and happy and beaming that they can’t even get to sleep for a good hour or two afterwards, despite it being their bedtime. I’d love for everyone to love improv so much that they scarcely think about whether or not they’re any good; for them to love it so much that they are good, but neither notice nor care. (Which is why they’re good. Chicken and egg here, as you can see.)

But the best I can say for sure? Is that it might.

The best purchase I’ve made so far this year was a lamp.

Now, I guess I should add a bit of color here — I read and write a lot. And our apartment faces a courtyard and for some inexplicable reason my boyfriend likes to keep the shades closed anyway, and had (pre-me) decked the place out in these “warm, muted” (read: dim) accent lamps acres away from where I sit to do my “word things.” So when I formally moved in, it was the one thing I demanded. I wanted a good lamp, and now I have one. (It’s like 8 feet tall and LED. So. Be amazed.) And every time I pad out and plop down on the couch early morning to get to reading / writing / opening my notebook to a fresh page to watch out of my peripheral vision while I surf the web for 30 minutes first, I soak it all up in that bright light and sigh contentedly thinking, “damn, this shit is nice.”

That’s the best purchase I’ve made this year.

But one of the best decisions I’ve made? Taking improv classes.

I thought about it for years and finally pulled the trigger. And here are the two biggest, life-changing, mind-blowing, heart-busting things that I’ve learned.

1. If you struggle with: Taking Action

(You might call it: “procrastination,” “planning,” or “waiting for the right time/idea.”)

Take your excuses and shove them

Nobody cares.

All of that bullshit you tell yourself, as to why you’re not jumping and doing something? Nobody cares about hearing it in improv. It literally doesn’t exist. You’re either playing or not playing, and nobody gives two shits whether your fear was “valid” or not, or whether your need for “absolute certainty” or “the right moment” was real. The only thing that matters is getting in, and if you’re not in, you might as well be dead. You don’t exist.

Improv will teach you to get in. Improv will teach you to get over yourself. Improv will show you that everything beautiful comes from action and engagement, and that pristine picture you’re waiting for is garbage compared to the way jumping in feels.

And yeah, this can still feel like an impossibly hard principle in real life

Because real life is not improv, and our real life people have less tolerance for make-believe or mistakes. Real life people don’t just “yes, and” regardless of what you say, and vice versa. Real life requires reason and rationale and for things to make sense. And I get it, because if people in my real life were to read this, most of them would be like “she doesn’t jump in at all!” And it’s like, yeah buddy — see: reason for taking improv.

Because all of that aside? You’d be amazed how much of life is really just jumping in. Like no, you can’t just start off a conversation by announcing “I train circus bears” or “I’m running from the law” (especially if it’s true) like you can in improv, but improv will show you how beautiful it is when you jump in with anything.

In short? Improv takes the scariness of being “right” away — clears the plate of “certainty” and makes it totally not a thing at all — for the sole purpose of showing you: look! look at how good it feels when you do something!

Improv will show you that you can do it. You do have this skill set — the same skills you silence and swear up and down you can’t exercise until you know it’s “right.” And, not only that, improv will show how much freaking better it feels to jump in than stand with your ass stapled to the wall waiting for “the right time.”

Improv is like a gateway drug to being action-oriented and over yourself.

2. If you struggle with: What Others Think

And have a fear of being judged — or failing publicly.

Connection is everything

You are not the star of this show. Not the improv show, and not the show of your life.

I mean, okay yes, clearly your universe starts and ends with you — it has to. So yes, to you, special snowflake, you are the star. And the hero. And the prince or princess. But what I mean here is that the minute you’d like to create something real and external, it involves other people, too.

Everything anybody does is because they connected with at least one other person — even if they’re focused on the same, external shit. There were two Wright brothers. More than one man went to the moon. Even Edison and other brilliant “lone-wolf” inventors had some lab-rat assistants milling about.

Improv doesn’t work without other people. And by that I don’t just mean “material” or “someone to take the heat off when you’re out of ideas.” I mean a human being — not the brain, but the body; the chemistry. Maybe we’ll see improv partners replaced with software or AI or robots in our lifetime (sure), especially for practice (I want in!) but at its core, improv takes a pulse. And so does life.

If you’re afraid of what others will think, improv will help. A lot of people compare it to ToastMasters for improving public speaking skills, and the whole idea makes me laugh. I did ToastMasters when I was in banking in my early 20’s, and these two things are totally and entirely not the same. It’s like comparing an old, grimy, dimly-lit lap pool to a kiddie pool. Filled with toys. Like, yeah they’re both technically water… but that’s pretty much the end of that.

ToastMasters is stiff. In fact, its “stiffness” is the number one reason I quit. Every time “Ze President” brought that actual gavel down, I was suppressing laughter in the corner. Like are you people kidding me with this??! ToastMasters is 1993 and so tragically out of date it’s actually funny, but prides itself on never, ever changing — ever. It’s a series of preordained, one-way conversations to hyper-critical, over-eager audience members pawing corrective “clickers” to audibly mark every mistake. ToastMasters is the opposite of improv. ToastMasters can’t get over itself.

Improv is play. The only gavel you might see in improv is imaginary, and odds are fair someone might get fake-hit with it.

Improv is relationship. Improv is love. You might not believe me (or you might not think you care) — I didn’t until I went — but every player has a deep drive to make you look (and feel) good. That’s the entire point of the game. So if you struggle with a fear of judgment in real life, playing improv with a bunch of strangers will, over time, show you an overarching truth: people want to see people do well. That’s not an “improv partner” thing. That’s a basic “human being” thing. (And the most judgmental ones are usually the ones in biggest need of this lesson. And a hug.)

If your fear of public speaking is other people, don’t do ToastMasters — do improv. And if your fear of anything is perfection or planning or certainty, do improv, too.