The slow run you take is better than the speedwork you skip

It’s been hot here. Really, really hot.

I’m not complaining — I’ll take heat over cold any day — but it’s been the kind of weather that makes all movement a sweat-soaked enterprise.

But, I ran. I’m a runner, and runners run. (In addition to me prioritizing exercise as a superpower.) But I didn’t run fast.

The Wednesday speedwork was just a slow run with burpees in the shade. Friday’s mid-distance run was just a simple 5k with more burpees.

But, I ran.

I’m a big believer that the perfect is the enemy of the good. And, as an extrapolation of that, the slow run you take is better than the speedwork you skip.

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Prepare for none of it to work

After writing up a pretty ambitious plan — to jump up two levels in my personal social hierarchy — it seems like this is a good time to reflect on the possibility of failure. This is a chapter in my continuing The Obstacle is theWay writing project.


This is a short chapter. Two pages. It could easily be one if there weren’t so much whitespace. Still, it includes an important message: things might not work out.

It begins with a quote from Seneca:

In themeantime, cling tooth and nail to the following rule: not to give in to adversity, not to trust prosperity, and always take full note of fortune’s habit of behaving just as she pleases.

Some things are out of your control. Fortune is a fickle goddess and cannot be forced by any measure of willpower to bend to our desires. Some things go wrong.

In this chapter Ryan Holiday points out that we can use failure as an opportunity to practice other virtues, such as humility. But, that doesn’t seem like it would make me feel better. I can’t imagine myself looking at the ashes of a project and thinking “well, at least I get to practice humility.”

My relationship with failure

In my heart, I’m a kid to whom things always came easily — or not at all. I was a good student and got a great SAT score without studying. My grades were fine and I got through college on my ability to read and be curious about anything. There was not much hard work involved.

In fact, the first time I really invested hard work over time — learning German — was more about proving something to people who thought I couldn’t do it. Even now, I can remember the feeling when I realized that my German was not bad, and that nobody but I would really appreciate the hard work and willpower that went into it.

It was a good feeling, and I liked to know that I had that in me.

Of course, I didn’t tap into that ability again for a long time. I made it through the National Guard based on an attitude of ‘do the minimum, but do it cheerfully’ and college was not super hard.

Not until I decided to get in shape did I need to remind myself that I had capacities that I had hidden away from the world.

Hidden is a good word, because I’d grown up with the philosophy of “if at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you ever tried.” Don’t let people see you fail, and they’ll think you’re a wunderkind. (Told you I learned German!)

It’s hard to run secretly, though. And people are going to look if you do burpees in the park.

Fitness — an area where I strive visibly for pretty modest success — was my first encounter with public failure.

Coding was a secret passion for well over two years before I began sharing it. And, even now, the teacher I respect most — my boss — doesn’t know that I have an amazing worksheet creation tool. If she doesn’t like it — or understand what it does — that would feel like failure to me.

I can’t fail

It’s a weird thing to say, especially in a reflection on a chapter titled “prepare for none of it to work,” but it’s true: I can’t fail.

The project might be a flop. It’s possible that it will always lose money and I’ll have to admit that the idea was only great for me. (Just yesterday, I heard a former and present student of mine talking about how much they loved the worksheets I make — so that seems unlikely).

And, I might spend years of my life with people asking “whatever happened to that website you talked about so much.”

The fact of the matter is, though, that I can’t fail. Already, I’m learning things like how AdWords works. As well as setting up a django site.

To that end, as long as I have a list of projects I’d like to apply that experience to, I can’t fail.

The Amateur Entrepreneur

I’ve decided to combine several ideas under a single heading: “The amateur entrepreneur.” It should summarize the idea that 1) I don’t want to pretend to know what I’m doing, 2) I believe entrepreneurship is — like everything else — something that can be learned, 3) that it’s something I’d like to one day be good at.

Maker vs Entrepreneur

There was a time when I aspired to the title ‘maker’ (I still aspire to the title finisher). I romanticized — and continue to romanticize — people who can create (seemingly from nothing) the things they think up.

I think I’m good at thinking up. I’m constantly coming up with ideas that would be great, and I’ll talk them out with students and often they’ll end with “I think you have a good business case.”

But, seldom do I actually even start work on the things I’m interested in (have a look at my projects page). And, when I do, I have yet to declare anything finished.

maker, I think, would have stuff finished by now.

An entrepreneur is a level above a maker. An entrepreneur in my usage is someone who can not only make the things he or she thinks up, but fit them into a structure — whether social, or economic, or whatever — such that they serve a purpose and are adopted.

A maker makes. An entrepreneur makes meaning.

The short-term plan

I’ll write about the long-term plan soon enough. There’s one in the offing. However, as I look at this, an entrepreneur is the level above maker. And, before I can work seriously on the title of entrepreneur, I need to become a maker.

So, my short term plan is to turn Dynamic EFL into a finished product. Or, one that is finished enough to begin using it as the foundation of my entrepreneurial activities.

To that end, there are some things I need:

  • Better user management
    • User accounts should expire, and I should have the ability to prolong them. (The simple version of memberships)
  • Better resource addition
    • The way resources are added needs to be improved (it could be much faster)
    • The tools needed to add resources by location should be added. (So that I can add them as users from a location join — rather than preemptively adding resources for every location in Germany.
  • An updated (finished) landing page which makes it clear what the system does in as little text as possible.
  • A self-explanatory interface

None of those are big projects, and, when they’re finished, I’ll declare the system finished. I will have become a maker.

And then I’ll be able to begin taking my first steps on the path towards entrepreneurship.

Exercise is a superpower

I just finished writing on how I failed at my burpee experiment, so you might be wondering why I’d reboot it. The fact of the matter is, the older I get, the more convinced I am that the little bit of exercise I do is really a superpower.


I had a busy week last week. Tons more work than I usually have, as well as a backlog of prep work that had to be done by last Wednesday.

On top of that, what I think is a pinched nerve in my neck was giving me a hard time, with pain ranging from my neck to my left shoulder, arm, and hand.

So, naturally, I focused on… exercising.

My experience

It’s taken me decades to realize this but I stink at stress. A ‘dose’ of stress that might be considered ‘background level’ for some people can reduce my capacity to work by… well, it feels like a serious reduction. I’m a good worker, and I do a good job, but when there’s stress involved… not so much.

When I exercise, however, I can handle more stress. Much more stress.

So, last week I focused on doing pull-ups and planks — both of which I can do in my apartment without much lost time at all — and getting runs in when I could.

I don’t know if the stress ‘burns cortisol‘ or if the exercising uses up energy that would otherwise be spent elevating my stress levels (translation: maybe exercise makes me too tired to be properly stressed) or if it’s some third thing.

However, in my case, when I know that stress is on the horizon, the right thing to do is to remind myself that, no matter what other things are going on in my life, exercise needs to be a priority.

It’s a superpower.

The Burpee Project

Not long ago, I was enamored of burpees. On a whim, I decided to do them daily. There’s something about burpee that appeals to me — or something about my own checkered history with fitness that makes me feel intrigued by the idea of tackling such a thing as a burpee.

burpees1

The thing is this: my last attempt at doing them often petered out.

I don’t know why. I felt great after doing them. They were so intense that, while working through a set of ten, I looked forward to getting back to the relative ease of running. I actually caught my breath while running.

But, I have to do them outside (I’m heavy and we live on the second floor of an older building — just walking I make furniture rattle).

But, a Lifehacker article got me intrigued again. Remember how much you liked just knowing you were doing burpees? Why did you stop?

Why not start again?

So, yesterday I set a timer in the middle of my run — that’s when I’m in the park, after all — and checked how many burpees I could do in two minutes. Fourteen. (I’d done that many in a set at the end of my last experiment.)

Clearly, it’s time for a burpee reboot.

Here’s the idea: I’ll do at least one burpee a day. Ideally, I’ll do three sets of half the number I can do in two minutes. If I don’t think I have that time, but one burpee seems like a copout, I’ll just do the test again.

Does it seem convoluted? It’s how my mind works.

Today’s burpees are already done.

Something bigger than yourself

I’ve fallen behind in my weekly writings on the Obstacle is The Way, and I’m currently overwhelmed with work. But, I needed a break and decided to get the post about this chapter written as a treat to myself. I picked the chapter thinking I’d find it uplifting. I didn’t.


This chapter begins with stories that I’m supposed to find uplifting: the tales of U.S. Navy pilots who’d be shot down over Vietnam and were able to resist their captors in as much as they stuck together.

Unfortunately, the days of my looking up to John McCain are not likely to return because of a single anecdote in a single chapter, and so I mostly found myself thinking “Hmm, seems like moral fortitude is a resource that can get used up.”

And that’s not why I’m in this project.

However, later in the chapter, the musician Henry Rollins is quoted as saying this in the financial crisis:

People are getting a little desparate. People might not show their best elements to you. You must never lower yourself to becoming a person you don’t like. There is not better time to have a civic backbone. To have a moral and civic true north. This is a tremendous opportunity for you, a young person, to be heroic.

And I think I can get behind that. I can understand the idea that it’s worth remembering that, adversity is the only opportunity you have to really be heroic. Because anything you do that is easy for you is… well, easy.

Later, I got more into the idea when it was suggested that focusing on others could be a selfish coping strategy. (It’s the kind of thing I want to do, wrapped in the kind of thing I need.) The question is put like this:

If I can’t solve this for myself, how can I at least make this better for other people? Take it for granted, for a second, that there is nothing in it for us, nothing we can do for ourselves. How can we use this situation to benefit others?

[…]

You’ll be shocked by how much of the hopelessness lifts when we reach that conclusion. Because now we have something to do.

Of course the chapter continues, but it’s more of the same. That doesn’t matter, I like the idea of knowing that, when I feel helpless, it doesn’t mean there aren’t actions I can take.

Use Obstacles Against Themselves

I picked this chapter to write about because I was afraid that reading another chapter of “get to it, right now!” in my The Obstacle is The Way project would only serve to discourage me.


Gandhi didn’t firt for independence for India. The British Empire did all of the fighting–and, as it happens, all of the losing.

That’s how this chapter begins. And it covers, pretty well, what it’s about: the most direct, obvious action might not always be the best option.

And, to be honest, I appreciate this in the book, because there are clearly times in life when immediate action isn’t called for. Ryan Holiday goes on to mention more examples: He writes about Martin Luther King Jr. and the non-violent protests for civil rights. He even mention’s Alexander the Great breaking in his horse by simply waiting it out.

He even mentions the Mississipi river:

Before the invention of steam power, boat captains had an ingenious way of defeating the wickedly strong curent of the Mississippi River. A boat going upriver would pullalongside a boat about to go downriver, and after wrapping a rope around a tree or a rock, the boats would tie themselves to each other. The second boat would let go and let the river take it downstream, slingshotting the other vessel upstream.

The thing is this: there’s no real unifying theme behind all these obstacles, except that they all seemed insurmountable until they were surmounted.

That’s what, for me, this chapter is missing: some sort of tip that goes beyond “sometimes action isn’t the right action” towards explaining when it might not be the right action.

I don’t have an answer.

I do have a suggestion: perhaps rather than focusing on inaction, or using the obstacle against itself, another idea might be to say “what allies — including intangibles — can I find that might help me here?”

Ghandi was allied with moral right, and the fact that the British Empire’s behavior didn’t line up with its values. (Imagine a non-violent protest by Jews in the Warsaw ghetto and you’ll see that moral right alone doesn’t get you far.) Martin Luther King, Jr. saw that African Americans were in the same position and that the same strategies would work. The Mississipi boat captains were able to ally themselves with physics. And Alexander the Great was able to ally himself with patience, tenacity, and the limits to his horse’s endurance.

Even that, though, works applying it to the solutions found in the past. How does it help me with my problems?

At the moment, I’m frustrated by my inability to find users for my website. I’ll ponder it, but I don’t see how being unkown is the kind of thing that collapses in on itself.

But then, maybe this advice isn’t meant for me right now. Maybe I need to be doing more direct action.