Success and Approval

As campaign season kicks into high gear, every political pundit talks about a candidate's approval numbers. It's tracked like a political version of the stock market. One candidate has a good week so their approval goes up. Another candidate bombs a question, which sends their approval rating down.

In political campaigns, approval from others equals success. When I worked on my political science degree way back in college, my professors said it over and over. To run a successful campaign and win, you need to gain a voter's approval in any way you can. Approval equals success, which means disapproval equals failure.

All throughout school, we're taught the same thing. Other people set standards and we're successful if we gain their approval. Pass this standardized test and you're successful. Win the class president race and you're successful.

It's nonsense. Seeking approval from others is not the way to find success.

“A truly strong person does not need the approval of others any more than a lion needs the approval of sheep.”
- Vernon Howard

Last weekend, I helped build a fence for a new pasture on our farmstead. It wasn't a mult-thousand dollar fence that would win design accolades. People weren't stopping by to give their approval of how well it was built. It didn't need any awards or stamps of approval. The fence had one job - keep the animals inside the pasture. It did that just fine so it's a success in my book.

Don't let approval from others dictate your successes in life. When you start your next project, define success for yourself. What does it look like? What job needs to be accomplished? Lay that out at the start so when you finish, you'll know if you've been successful.

Find success through your work, not other people's approval of your work.


True Silence

I’m standing outside the farmhouse watching fireflies light up the field. The air hangs heavy as the last bit of a storm passes on. Except for the distant thunder, it’s quite and I love it.

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When I first started at Basecamp four years ago, I loved the cacophony of being online all day. Every few seconds, there’d be a new email to reply to, a Twitter notification to view, a Facebook message to answer, and then everything happening in both work and personal chat rooms. Throw an iPhone in to the mix and it was a symphony of noise filling the air around me. At the end of the work day (and hell, even on vacations), I’d want to be online in the midst of it all.

But I’ve noticed a distinct change in myself in the past year. I no longer want to be part of that symphony. I want quietness instead. I seek silence.

“True silence is the rest of the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.”

I remember reading this quote from William Penn. I forget the exact day that was the moment I knew I needed that kind of silence. I turned off all the notifications I could. Phone calls and text messages are the only apps that get to make any kind of noise on my iPhone or my computer. Everything else waits for me to open it before it can show me any new activity that I need to know about.

I’ve also set rules on when I check emails, tweets, etc. When my work day ends at 5pm, I stop opening those apps. On weekends, I allow myself to open those apps once each day. Outside of those times, the Internet can wait.

By doing this, I get the silence my mind and body craves.

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Our farm is nothing fancy. My grandfather’s worked this land since I was a child. As he got older, we all moved away from farming into city jobs - finance, teaching, and managing restaurants.

But lately, I’ve been drawn back to the farm. Back to the place where I can find true silence.


The Real Derby Magic

From The Bitter Southerner ↠

Come Saturday, it will be Derby Day, and Churchill Downs will teem with expensive haberdashery. But the real magicians of Kentucky’s racing country work in a place they call “the backside,” where splendor is beside the point. Here, it’s just a man or a woman and a horse.

A great story on the real Derby magic that happens behind the mint juleps and derby hats.


Today’s Goodness

The heavy wooden door creaks as I swing it open. As I start climbing the stairs to his office, I hear him call my name.

“Chase, is that you coming up those steps?”

I call out, “Yes sir.” I’m only halfway up the stairs but I went ahead and asked, “How’s this day treating you so far?”

He replies with the same answer he always gives me.

“Every day’s a good day because I get to do good things.”

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Ben Franklin had two questions he asked himself each day. He began the morning with “What Good shall I do this day?” and ended each evening with “What Good did I do today?”. By focusing on those two questions, Franklin set a simple goal for the day - to do good.

Compared to Franklin’s era, I’ve got more tools to do good than he could ever dream. With my computer in hand, I can start Kickstarter campaigns, raise money for water wells overseas, or volunteer for political candidates that promise change. With a tweet I’m raising awareness for a disease and with a like I show my support for a certain group.

That’s all doing good each day, right?

I’d ask myself that and instantly come back to that one phrase - “Every day’s a good day because I get to do good things.”. This one reply from a gentleman who’s never heard of Twitter or Kickstarter. He’s got a few computers in his office but I’m pretty sure the number of typewriters outnumber them at least two to one.

I remember seeing him once, hearing his normal reply, and asking, “If you don’t mind me asking, what good things have you done today?”

His answer wasn’t full of tweets or likes. It wasn’t raising awareness for this or campaigning for that. Just like that simple daily goal, it focused on one thing - kindness.

It’s the small acts of kindness that have big impacts.

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From the Art of Manliness:

“It’s great to have big, idealistic plans to build wells in Africa or change the whole political process. But oftentimes we only associate doing good with doing something big, and since we don’t know how to get started on a huge project, we end up doing….nothing at all.”

During my grandfather’s final days, I saw this firsthand with his nursing staff in the ICU. They made sure my grandmother had enough blankets to keep warm during the night. They placed a cart outside the door with drinks and food for our family. They showed us kindness in every way imaginable.

That’s what I strive for each day now. Nothing big or flashy but something more than a simple tweet or like.

One act of kindness, of goodness, for the day.


Better is the Enemy of Best

I’m a huge geek when it comes to the Apollo space program. I’ve got an autographed photo from the Apollo 11 crew hanging in my office alongside a piece of the parachute line from that mission. My grandmother worked with the NASA team in Huntsville, Alabama, in the 1960s so every time I see her I try to get another story of that era out of her.

Recently I’ve been reading “Chariots for Apollo” from Charles Pellegrino and Joashua Stoff. It’s one of my favorite books on the race to the moon.

One section tells the story of Tommy Attridge, a Grumman test pilot assigned to the lunar module (LM) program. The Grumman Corporation received the contract to build the craft that would carry astronauts down to the lunar surface. However, the LM team kept second guessing themselves with their designs and decisions. Their line of thinking was, “This craft would put a man on the moon so it had to be perfect!”

When he arrived at the Grumman plant in 1967, Attridge focused on one question – “Must we build it better?” And he learned very quickly that better is the enemy of best.

“We have the best radar in the world today. But tomorrow, I can make it better because just yesterday they invented this new transistor."

Enter LM-3 (lunar module-3). An engineer finished installing the landing radar on it only to tell Attridge, “We have the best radar in the world today. But tomorrow, I can make it better because just yesterday they invented this new transistor. And if I can put the new transistor in here and add this integrated circuit. You know, now we that we have integrated circuits, we can build it better.”

Tommy answered, “Sure. Why not? We can keep putting a better one in every day. Let’s see if we can’t stretch this thing out till 1990.”

Every new day brings new gadgets and gizmos. Whatever project or product you’re working on, there’s probably something that will make it just a tad bit better tomorrow. And a little bit better the day after that. And a smidge better the following day. But for every thing that makes it better, it means one more day of not shipping.

That engineer ended up going over Attridge’s head to get the landing radar replaced. With the “better” choice came new problems as it kept locking up on itself, which made the new tech worthless. That choice ended up delaying LM-3 so that Apollo 8 launched without it. The Apollo teams found themselves even farther behind in the space race.

This article was originally published on Signal v. Noise