Better Humaning

What’s at the root of (un)happiness? How can you start and maintain a daily meditation practice? Where might minimalism fit in? And what about politics? Better Humaning is where I write about all that and more.


Better Humaning

Cancel Debts Not People

What would happen if we traded something abstract for something material?

Cancel Debts Not People

Elizabeth Warren has thrown her hat in on a bold idea that’s been in the air for a long time: cancel student loan debt.

Not interest rate decreases, or refinancing, or other half-measures, but an all out cancelation of up to $50K in student loan debt for anyone whose income is $100K or less. Combined with universal free public higher education going forward.

I was first introduced to this idea back in the early 2010s the Rolling Jubilee, a project by Strike Debt, which has now evolved into The Debt Collective.

Their project leveraged one of the most dysfunctional aspects of student loan debt: the fact that the debts get bundled and resold, over and over, for pennies on the dollar.

Rolling Jubilee raised $701,317 dollars (a few of which were mine, even as a broke post-grad student living under a pile of debt) and bought bundles of debt worth a total of $31,982,455.76.

Then, instead of trying to collect those debts, they abolished them. Poof. Gone. No more debt for the people whose loans were part of those bundles.

Those numbers highlight how broken, and at this point imaginary, the entire debt-debtor relationship is.

In what world does $700K buy $31M?

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Better Humaning

The Problem of Progressivism

"The left is eating its own!"

The Problem of Progressivism

With more and more people talking about “the left cannibalizing itself” and “liberals eating their own,” or how “democrats need to unite to defeat Trump,” we need to keep reminding ourselves and others about the problem of progressivism — instead of just beating the dead horse that is the problems within progressivism.

I’ll start with the second one, because that’s what everyone won’t stop yelling about, and I’m afraid if I don’t do a little yelling you won’t hear me out on the part of this that I think is important.

So here it is, me jumping on the dogpile: the left has some problems, and we’re getting in our own way.

And that is true for the “right,” the “center,” liberals, progressives, leftists, Libertarians, Republicans, and so on.

Literally every political camp has problems. Any collection of humans with a count greater than 0 has problems.

So, why is the trope of “liberals eat their own” so pervasive?

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Better Humaning

Public Libraries Shouldn’t Exist

Imagine that public libraries weren't a normal thing. What would the public debate sound like?

Public Libraries Shouldn’t Exist

Usually, when I’m at home in Austin, I work in coffee shops. Today, I’m working from our gobsmackingly beautiful public library. And I can’t help but repeatedly ask myself “What would happen if someone pitched the idea of a public library today?”

It’s a broken record in my brain. An audio loop. It plays every time I turn a corner in this space.

“What would it sound like to argue for the idea of a public library in 2019?”

Continue reading → “Public Libraries Shouldn’t Exist”
Better Humaning

When Ambition is Hiding

Sometimes shooting for the moon isn't taking a shot at all.

When Ambition is Hiding

Consider a few alternatives. Let’s say I told you:

A. I want to remove every unhealthy habit, food, and mindset from my life, and I’m going to start tomorrow.

B. I’m going to eat less sugar, starting tomorrow.

When tomorrow comes, which one are you likely to hold me accountable to? Which might you help me excuse when I fall short? Which are you actually expecting me to do? Or even realistically try?

Let’s do a few more with those questions in mind.

I say:

A. It’s my goal to transform my country to 100% renewable energy.

B. It’s my goal to transform my local school district to 50% renewable energy.

Or:

A. My organization is going to end racism, globally.

B. My organization is going to help local people of color, and other disenfranchised people, register to vote and get to the polls.

That’s plenty to get the point I’m going to make, I think.

But first, here’s what I’m not about to say: that any of the As above — the lofty, admirable, pie-in-the-sky ambitions — are in any way bad, undesirable, or something I’m advocating against.

I want all of those things. I have, at different points in my life, said all of those things, in some way or another. And I don’t even like thinking of myself as ambitious.

Here’s all I want to point out: sometime we set the bar so high because it gives us an excuse when we can’t clear it.

Continue reading → “When Ambition is Hiding”
Better Humaning

The Creative March

My new challenge to log at least 1,000 hours of creativity every year.

The Creative March

My last few weeks have been marked by creativity. I love that feeling. I want to make it happen more.

Bill Gates is frequently quoted for saying, ā€œMost people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.ā€

I feel this contrast more intensely on a smaller scale: we overestimate what we can do in a day, and underestimate what we can do in a year.

It’s so easy for me to think of myself as a creative person — a writer, a doodler, a designer, a coder — even when I don’t create anything in a given day.

But I’m not really a writer when I’m not writing. I’m a reader of political news, or a dog walker, or a cook, or a compulsively rechecking my email because it triggers a dopamine response-er.

I’ve been “working on a book for three years” now, but I haven’t truly been working on that book for three years. I’ve barely worked on it at all. A few minutes here, an hour there.

Creativity is an act, and one that is so easily sidelined by other actions — anything that feels safer, simpler, easier, or fulfills a shortsighted desire.

How many people do you know who are “working” on things that never get any creative time dedicated to them?

How many projects are you “working” on that you haven’t sat down in front of for over a week? A month? A year? Ever?

Last week, I finished and published a book. The week before I co-created and published a massive Train-the-Trainer Retreat Guide. The week before that I wrote a new comedy show. And in between all of that I’ve made major strides in starting two new (secret, for now) projects. And I’ve only checked my email two thousand times (a made up number down from what I assume is my normal two million times per month).

But in the weeks before that, I was mostly just slogging through administrative stuff. Checking in on old things, closing out 2018. Not really making progress on anything, with only a few essays and one edugraphic to show for it.

All of that got me reflecting on the ebbs and flows of my own creativity, and wanting to come up with some personal challenge or strategy to get a better grasp on that part of my life.

I don’t want to spend most of my time on tasks that amount to nothing, but feel good in the moment (or at least don’t feel terrifying, like creativity often does).

I want to spend most of my time creating things that I share with the world, that are durable, that might exist when I’m gone.

As luck would have it, listening to a podcast interview today with Jim Collins gave me an exciting challenge that I’m going to start tonight.

Continue reading → “The Creative March”
Better Humaning

Learn For a Project, Not the Sake of Learning

The common foundation that is the basis for everything I've taught myself, from programming to design to golf.

Learn For a Project, Not the Sake of Learning

Because I’m self-taught in most things I do — from programming to design to animation — a lot of my friends ask me for tips on how to learn a particular thing.

“I want to learn how to make websites,” a friend will ask. “Where do you think I should start?”

Over the years, I’ve given a lot of different responses. Pointing people to free online resources for learning, like Codecademy or Khan Academy. Or telling them to join a local workshop or meet-up. Or both.

It’s not how I learned, but it’s easier to point someone to a resource than it is to give an autobiography for how I learned something myself.

However, seeing that advice fail again and again prompted me to rethink my rationale.

What would it look like, if I advised people to learn things how I’ve learned them?

Continue reading → “Learn For a Project, Not the Sake of Learning”
(Un)Happiness

The Big Thing Being Bedridden with the Flu for a Week Made Me Realize

What I got in exchange for 11 pounds of bodyweight and 80 hours of productivity.

The Big Thing Being Bedridden with the Flu for a Week Made Me Realize

For the past 7 days, my life was consumed by the flu. Technically, I was more couch-ridden than bedridden, but I was decidedly horizontal. Luckily, I had a faithful guardian who didn’t leave my side, so I survived.

This is the first time I’ve had the flu in as long as I can remember. I don’t get sick often. The last time I was even “take a day off work” sick was over a year ago (and I don’t even have to get a doctor’s note to call in — I have lenient bosses).

Yesterday, as I was catching up on the SNL I missed, I realized I didn’t get most of the jokes because I hadn’t been keeping up with politics or the news (or even trying).

Today, something else hit me, as I started to dive back into work and catch up with life, that I can attribute entirely to the flu:

Continue reading → “The Big Thing Being Bedridden with the Flu for a Week Made Me Realize”
Better Humaning

You’re Not “Self-Employed”

What happens if you let go of the myth that you are?

You’re Not “Self-Employed”

For the past almost-decade, I’ve checked the “self-employed” box lots of times: when opening bank accounts, on lease applications for apartments, and it’s how the IRS sees me.

But it’s a lie. I’m not “self-employed.”

Nobody is.

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Better Humaning

Breaking the Chain of “Maybe”

It's an epidemic. It's coming for your social life. But there is a vaccine.

Breaking the Chain of “Maybe”

There’s a modern scourge upon us, and every get-together, plan, and social event is vulnerable.

I don’t know when it started, who’s to blame, or if it can be defeated, but I’ve begun vaccinating myself against it. And if you or your social circle have caught a case of the Maybes, or you want to prevent an outbreak, here’s what you can do.

The first step with any epidemic is understanding the problem: What is the Maybes, how does it spread, and why is it harmful?

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Better Humaning

Falling Off the Daily Meditation Path

(and how to get back on)

Falling Off the Daily Meditation Path

I haven’t meditated in over a week.

I’ve become increasingly aware of this every day that passes. It’s become so big in my day, that, right now, Not Meditating feels like all I’ve accomplished.

And yet, here I am writing this instead of doing the damn thing. What is wrong with me?

I know that I’ll appreciate my time sitting — both while it’s happening (even if I know it’ll be more fitful than usual) and after. It’ll give my day more focus, give me a breath between the world and my reactions to it, and I’ll feel happier, healthier, calmer, and whole-er.

The benefits of meditating, when I haven’t been, are always more obvious to me in the negative: the list of things I’ve been doing, thinking, eating, etc. that were not mindful, but were instead short-sighted comforts that led to longer-term pains. The things I wouldn’t be doing if I had been meditating.

And my recent memory is full of such things. My body and mind are weighed down with their aftermath.

Yet here I am, still Not Meditating. 

I know that all that’s standing between me getting back on that path or me continuing to flounder is a few minutes on the cushion. I’ve known that every day.

And yet I didn’t. I still haven’t.

So what’s getting in my way? If you’ve ever experienced this — or currently are — what’s getting in our way?

Continue reading → “Falling Off the Daily Meditation Path”
Better Humaning

Overthinking Everything So You Don’t Have To

A how-to listicle for aspiring overthinkers

Overthinking Everything So You Don’t Have To

I have a confession to make: I’m an Overthinker.

I think I’ve always been this way, but my condition has worsened with age. And my chosen profession didn’t help.

I overthink as a matter of work, often. And I always overthink my work. Not just the things I make themselves, but how to describe what I do, and what unites it all.

Lately, I’ve come to think that the best way to describe my job is “overthinking everything so you don’t have to.” That’s no surprise, I’m sure, if you’ve popped around this site, or read my books, or seen anything else I’ve made.

But, ironically, I’m also driven, fundamentally, to empower people to not need me, via my work. I always endeavor to remove myself from the picture. Making myself irrelevant is one of my primary goals in everything I make, and it’s often the question that leads to the improvements or further work: “How can I create something that is freely available to prevent a person from needing to hire me to do it?”

That’s why, for example, I released my copyright on my work back in 2013: I didn’t want people to have to keep asking me to use it, license it, or reprint it. I removed myself from the middle.

So this creates a bit of a conundrum. No surprise: me finding a conundrum. That’s Overthinking 101.

Recently, I’ve been [over-]thinking about that conundrum a lot. And I’ve felt a growing urge to reconcile it, which brings us here. To the how-to I never suspected I would write: A list of ways that I overthink everything, for those of you who want to DIY (OIY?).

Following is the process I generally follow as I overthink everything in my life and work.

I apply it to everything I create, to the social justice and human rights advocacy I engage in, to how I organize and operate on a “business” level, and even to how I do things in my “personal” life (relationships, puppy training, cooking, etc.).

This is the not-so-secret sauce.

But I suggest you proceed with caution. Overthinking is addictive. I wonder why that is.

Continue reading → “Overthinking Everything So You Don’t Have To”
Better Humaning | Status

Policing Voting vs. Nuance

You can complain about politics if you don’t vote.
You’re not a bad human if you don’t vote.
You can still be my friend if you don’t vote.
And voting is an exceptional way to complain.
And it’s a perfect way to stake a claim in your humanity.
And it’s a wonderful way to show up for your friends.