Lists for Living

June 22, 2023
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Home 9 +Good Newsletter 9 Lists for Living

In the corner of my living room, there is a cello. 

You might assume it is my 13-year-old’s—a logical guess given how regularly we encourage middle schoolers to try their hand at band and orchestral instruments. (The elementary school recorder, on the other hand, remains a mystery to me. Truly, why??) 

But no, the cello is not my teen’s school project—it is my 41-year-old husband’s current interest, inspired by a piece of advice from Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired magazine. 

On the occasion of his 68th birthday, Kelly compiled 68 bits of advice for his adult children and posted them on his blog. When he turned 69, he published 99 new lines of wisdom. And on his 70th birthday, he added 103 more. Now, his advice has been made even more widely available with the release of the full compilation (plus 150 more nuggets) in book form: Excellent Advice for Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier

Our family loves these lists—and when I started thinking about what I wanted to share with our +good community this week, I found myself back on the Kevin Kelly train. 

A few favorites from the original 68: 

  • Being able to listen well is a superpower. While listening to someone you love keep asking them “Is there more?”, until there is no more.
  • The more you are interested in others, the more interesting they find you. To be interesting, be interested.
  • Acquiring things will rarely bring you deep satisfaction. But acquiring experiences will.

And from the 99: 

  • Being wise means having more questions than answers.
  • Calm is contagious.
  • If you can’t tell what you desperately need, it’s probably sleep. (Can I get an amen?!)
  • History teaches us that in 100 years from now some of the assumptions you believed will turn out to be wrong. A good question to ask yourself today is “What might I be wrong about?” (Reminds me of the wisdom of Adam Grant’s Think Again.)

And from the 103: 

  • Denying or deflecting a compliment is rude. Accept it with thanks, even if you believe it is not deserved.
  • 90% of everything is crap. If you think you don’t like opera, romance novels, TikTok, country music, vegan food, NFTs, keep trying to see if you can find the 10% that is not crap.
  • We tend to overestimate what we can do in a day, and underestimate what we can achieve in a decade. Miraculous things can be accomplished if you give it ten years. A long game will compound small gains to overcome even big mistakes.
  • Take note if you find yourself wondering “Where is my good knife? Or, where is my good pen?” That means you have bad ones. Get rid of those.

As a business, tech, and innovation leader, Kelly also knows a thing or two about management and creativity—and so much of his advice aligns with core tenets of our work at Swell+Good: 

  • Don’t be afraid to ask a question that may sound stupid because 99% of the time everyone else is thinking of the same question and is too embarrassed to ask it. (As a fully remote and asynchronous team, we remind every new hire that the worst thing they can do is not speak up when something is unclear. Always always ask the question!)
  • Art is in what you leave out. (The magic of design is in the white space.)
  • Be governed not by the tyranny of the urgent but by the elevation of the important. (There is no such thing as a marketing work emergency.)
  • Train employees well enough they could get another job, but treat them well enough so they never want to. (Start by treating your teammates like humans.)
  • Your work will be endless, but your time is finite. You cannot limit the work so you must limit your time. Hours are the only thing you can manage. (Hellooo timeboxing.)
  • Efficiency is highly overrated; Goofing off is highly underrated. Regularly scheduled sabbaths, sabbaticals, vacations, breaks, aimless walks and time off are essential for top performance of any kind. The best work ethic requires a good rest ethic. (This is the magic of team lunch.)
  • You can be whatever you want, so be the person who ends meetings early. (Or better yet, cancel them entirely.)

And finally, the piece of advice that inspired the cello: 

At a restaurant do you order what you know is great, or do you try something new? Do you make what you know will sell or try something new? Do you keep dating new folks or try to commit to someone you already met? The optimal balance for exploring new things vs exploiting them once found is: 1/3. Spend 1/3 of your time on exploring and 2/3 time on deepening. It is harder to devote time to exploring as you age because it seems unproductive, but aim for 1/3.

For my husband, this one bullet point on a list of 103 made him realize that the best (and easiest) time to try something new is right now. He didn’t want to lose his knack for exploring, but he felt it slipping as he got older—so he did the only logical thing. He fought back. He went to the music shop, rented a cello, and Googled teachers in our area. And guess what? You can do the same thing. 

Maybe your new hobby isn’t cello lessons—but I imagine you have something you might like to try. I’ve decided I’m going to give vegetable gardening a go (once Austin isn’t four billion degrees), and I am all about sampling new restaurants.

 What’s your “try something new”? And are you willing to actually go for it? 

As I wrap this up, know that while Kelly’s lists are great (and I align with so much of what he says), they aren’t the be-all and end-all. They are starting points. As he says himself, “Advice like these are not laws. They are like hats. If one doesn’t fit, try another.”

Allison Kooser

Allison is Chief Storyteller at Swell+Good, where she partners with amazing organizations to help them bring their stories to life. She is an avid traveler, an expert takeout orderer, and a big believer in curiosity and kindness. She tries to learn something new every day, and she reads, writes, and paddleboards more than the average human.
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