Ask James: Perfectionism, Shame, Who Was The Best President, What’s My Biggest Fear?

Via on Dec 1, 2011

Every week I do a Twitter Q&A from 3:30 – 4:30. What was fun about this one was that I did it from San Francisco, immediately after meeting some friends at Twitter’s offices.

DOES PERFECTIONISM LEAD TO SUCCESS OR FAILURE?
@socialhotchocoPriscilla Wood Asks: How do you deal with perfection? Many times I feel I can’t execute ideas until I know it 100%.

ANSWER: Perfectionism ONLY leads to eventual shame or regret. Nobody is perfect, and there’s always the chance of the unknown occurring in every work. Then, when the perfectionist loses control of an event, project, business, etc then what happens? Shame results. Shame with colleagues, friends, bosses, investors, and family.

A very public example is Madoff. At some point he started his hedge fund and lost some money. He was a perfectionist. He couldn’t handle telling people that he lost money. Everyone thought he was an investment genius. The result: a massive Ponzi scheme as he attempted to cover up his imperfections and still be the “genius” everyone thought he was.

So my advice: if you have an idea for a project: START IT. Start it RIGHT NOW. Spec out the minimal features you need, hire a programmer (use scriptlance), or find a customer, and just GET STARTED. Even if you are not 100% ready.

As an example: I have an idea for a novel. I don’t have the full plot outlined. I don’t even know if I will have the time to finish. But today I’m going to start it. I’ll write just 500 words for it. It doesn’t have to be perfect (that’s what rewriting is for), but we’ll see what happens.

CAN A HUMOR WRITER BLEED?

@idiotlaureate asks: How can a humor writer bleed?

ANSWER: THE ONLY THING humor writers do as bleed. Bleeding is about sharing a situation that we can all relate to: usually disgusting, embarassing, and humiliating, and finding the truth in it. Some examples from some of the funniest people around:

(Sarah Silverman bleeds AND pees)
Sarah Silverman’s book: “The bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee” (right in the title)
Paul Feig’s book: “Superstud: Or how I Became a 24 Year Old Virgin” (Feig is director and writer of the show “Freaks and Geeks” and has directed many funny movies)
Comedian Mike Birbiglia’s book: “Sleepwalk with me: and other painfully true stories”
David Cross (“Arrested Development”, “Mr. Show”)’s book: “I Drink for a Reason”
JIm Norton (super comedian): “Happy Endings: Tales of a Meaty-Breasted Zilc”
Artie Lange: “Too Fat to Fish”
And so on (I also recommend Ellen Degeneres’s three books and Judd Apatow’s collection of stories he found funny).

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH WRITER’s BLOCK?

@lennin59Luis Cardenas Asks: I have an idea for a short story, maybe book. But I have serious writer’s block. Suggestions?

ANSWER: YES! It just so happens I have ten suggestions. Stay turned for a blog post on this this coming week.

FAVORITE SELF-HELP BOOKS?

@YoavEzerYoav Ezer Asks: What are your favorite self-help books?

ANSWER: “Self help” is a weird phrase. I don’t like most of the self help industry and here’s why: it’s 1000s of books written by people who have experienced mild failure and little success but they want to make million crowding that section of the bookstore. So who are they helping? Also, when you look at recent self-help books (a lot of the authors mentioned in “The Secret”) they seem to be doused in scandal. Who needs it?

Also, what are they helping you do? Many self-help books are about making money. I’m convinced before you can truly make money (and keep it, and be happy with it) you have to first make sure all the energy is properly flowing inside of yourself. This is the entire basis of my post on “The Daily Practice”

So instead of recommending anything that is on the bookshelf I’m going to recommend a few public domain titles:

-”The yoga sutras of Patanjali” are not just for people interested in yoga. The text is from 300 BC and contains 195 lines. I think what was happening is that Buddhism was stealing so many adherents of Hinduism that it provoked in a very marketing-like fashion, a response. So this guy, Patanjali, basically repeated what Buddha said but added a few more things (“sitting straight”, which led to yoga) and more on breathing (which led to the study of pranayama).

My post, “How to Deal with Crappy People” was based on Chapter 1, line 34 of the Yoga Sutras.

#2, I recommend the Lojong Slogans written in the 12th Century AD. It was a set of 59 lines used to transmit Indian Buddhism to Tibet. And basically discussed how to work through the things that plague your soul (similar to many self-help books today). Pema Chodron (a popular self-help writer today from the Buddhist tradition) bases much of her work on these slogans.

#3. More contemporary. Wallace Wattles book, The Science of Getting Rich (written in 1900 so is public domain) is the basis for most self-help books afterwards (even Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich” from 1937 is based on Wattles’ earlier works and “The Secret” is almost 100% based on it). Wattles approach is very serious: money is good, never think about poverty, only think about getting rich. Never worry about your past, never talk about it, never associate with anyone who can bring you down. Only think about being rich and how good that will make the world.

If I had to recommend one contemporary guy I’d pick Eckhart Tolle. While he mentions Jesus frequently in his book his work is very much based on a sect of Hinduism called Advaita Vedanta and mostly based on the work of a guy named Ramana Maharshi.

WHO WAS THE BEST PRESIDENT?

@lakergodSK who is your favorite president?

ANSWER: There really was only ONE good President and the rest were failures: George Washington:

- He stayed above the fray of party politics
- He basically turned down a lifetime Presidency at the end of his two terms, recognizing that a country needed change and not succumbing to his own ego.

Everyone else had their shortcomings. Of course, it’s easy to say that in hindsight and I’d be happy to discuss this further in the comments but who else was good? One person mentioned to me FDR but: the Depression lasted a full 7 years longer when he became President. None of his policies worked towards solving the Great Depression. NONE OF THEM. He got us into WW II only AFTER all the Jews were being demolished by Germany. He even turned away Jews who were trying to escape to America. How many Americans died once we got into WWII? He tried to flout the Constitution by stuffing the Supreme Court. He ran for 4 terms, the first since George Washington to even attempt to stay more than two.

Well, what about Lincoln? My question is: why didn’t he free the slaves immediately? Isn’t that what it was about? Turns out the answer is “no”. He let his VP run the Union Army. And then, when the North was losing, he freed the slaves to try and get a little extra help. The Civil War was fought about the North’s need to get a piece of the cotton action in the South via tariffs. Nothing else. Which is why the British (who freed their slaves in 1832) were eager to get the North out of the picture (slavery issue aside) and help the South. Money trumped the horrible sin against nature of slavery. That’s Lincoln.

Anyone else?

Finally, what does the President actually do? As per the Constitution. I think it’s time we revise things and Abolish The Presidency altogether and actually save the economy in doing so.

CAN AN EIGHT YEAR STAY-AT-HOME-HOUSEWIFE GET BACK TO WORK?

@mainlinewifeMain Line Housewife Asks: been a stay at home housewife or 8 yrs & want to go back to work badly but feel defeated & hopeless about finding a job. How do I get out of funk?

ANSWER:

I obviously do not have direct experience with this BUT, that doesn’t stop me from offering advice.

First off, being a “stay at home housewife” seem embedded in how you view yourself. Your twitter handle is “mainlinewife” and your “name” associated with the handle is “Main Line Housewife”.

We need to break you free from the identity you’ve created for yourself, from the cage you have put yourself in, from the boundaries you have personall drawn around you, like a kid playing with chalk on the playground during recess: “Nobody can walk in these lines!”

Second, congrats on everything you’ve done. Obviously spending eight years devoted to raising children is a heroic and underrated task in our society. People shower credit on Mark Zuckerberg and make movies about him but the blood, sweat, and tears of making a brand new human being a responsible member of society is often forgotten.

BUT, now it takes work to get back into the job world. You need the confidence, the health, the idea engine, the spiritual engine, all working for you again. The idea muscles atrophy as quickly as any other muscle.

Most important: you need to exercise every day. And you need to write ideas down every day. Write ten ideas a day, about anything under the sun: ideas for jobs you can do, ideas for how you can help people, ideas for articles you can write, specific ideas on businesses you can start.

Assume that for one month you will only come up with bad ideas. That’s ok. But give it three to six months and everything will be different. Particularly if your other relationships are more or less smooth, and physically you stay/get in shape. The key is to not lapse back into thinking, “Damn, I can’t do this. I’m just a housewife.” In which case, follow the advice in this post.

FOLLOW LIFE LONG DREAM OR GO TO COLLEGE?

@himynameissteev asks: Should I follow my lifelong dream or go to college?

ANSWER: My stance on college is very clear. Some people might say, your dream will always be there but you might as well have college to fall back on.

Actually, the reverse is true. Your dream might not always be there (college has a way of dampening dreams) and college is no longer there to fall back on.

Going to college means:
- graduating with enormous debt. You become a debt slave
- taking five years out of your life to get a piece of paper with your name on it
- spending five years NOT pursuing the things you are truly interested in. Life is short. 5 years could be 10% of your life. Why waste this valuable time?

Pursue the dream first. Pursue it in every way possible. Throw yourself into it because when you’re the ages of 18-22 is when you have the passion and energy to try things and nobody is expecting much from you anyway (other than expecting you to go to college).

Later you can change your mind. You can always change your mind.

But if you consistently make it a habit to put dreams on hold, the only thing that’s left is nightmares.

WHAT IS THE BEST FORM OF GOVERNMENT?

@MarquesDeeClairMarc Clair asks: What is the best form of government?

ANSWER: I’m not political in any way. In addition to the “Abolish the Presidency” link above I also think we need to “Abolish Congress” and I’ve even given up on voting. I think politics is largely a scam.

Here’s what’s important to me: I don’t want people to run stop signs. Sometimes interesections are confusing. It’s good when a local government figures out where those interesections are and put up stop signs. I’m not speaking metaphorically but literally. We NEED stop signs.

What else do we need? We don’t need to go to war with anyone? I don’t really think we need to give our hard-earned money to any other countries. Experiments like the Dept of Education have largely failed as have most government initiatives. What else do we need? I just don’t want my kids crossing the street and then someone running them over because there were no stop signs. I’m in favor of the “Stop Sign Party”.

OCCUPY WALL STREET

Several people asked what I thought about this. I’ll tell you one thing: 99% of the country doesn’t care about Occupy Wall Street.

ANSWER:

Clearly people are angry. 9/11. The dot-com bust. The housing bubble (which provided for housing for many people who could not otherwise afford it) followed by the BUST (all of those people then lost their houses), the Lehman crisis, the financial and unemployment crisis, the government bailouts that didn’t seem to have any check at all on CEO compensation. Heck, I’m angry. And filled with regrets over this past decade and what I could’ve done differently to avoided some of the pain that spread throughout the country and world.

But, lets keep the pain in check. It’s time now for people to clean their own house before barging in and cleaning everyone else’s house. I wrote about this here.

But to say even more. Every decade our quality of life gets better. The botton 99%, the top 1%. All 100% get’s better. Literacy goes up, lifespans go up, violence goes down (see Stephen Pinker’s results on this), the number of families with two cars goes up (and the number of car deaths go down), etc etc.

Someone once told me, “Don’t look at what’s in my wallet and I won’t look at what’s in yours.” The same thing here. Ok, CEOs took too much money. That sucks. Bush AND Obama gave them that money. It was horrible.

But now is the time for recovery. Get healthy first. That’s your choice about whether or not you can get healthy: physically, emotionally, mentallly, spiritually. Build your health. Be a beacon to those around you so they can be a beacon to those around them.

There’s been horrible violence in these Occupy movements and there’s been no real demands. If you want to do some good in the world, get healthy, start a business (or manage one) and make your business do the right things instead of the horrible things that have happened this past decade. Become a leader, not a protestor, an innovator, and not someone peeing in Zucotti Park (a park where many people I know (chessplayers, food vendors) have had their lives disrupted negatively by these protestors of graduate students.) Now is the time to move on and be successful and show the CEOs of last decade how it’s done. Don’t blame them or the government on your own failures. Now is the time to succeed.

MY BIGGEST FEARS

@Morgan_03Marked-to-Model asks: whats your biggest fear?

ANSWER: I somewhat wrote about this in “I Woke Up Scared and Angry Today”

but basically I’m afraid of just about everything. I’m afraid I will go broke, get sick, something will happen to my kids, something will happen to Claudia, Claudia will hate me for some reason, other people will hate me, people will expose me for the fraud I feel I am deep down inside, and so on.

But the key is: do I need to think about these fears? Many of those fears are left over remnants of how I felt in years past. But they stick to me like tiny parasites still sucking my blood. I need to clean myself of these things.

It’s reasonable to worry about the future. I have a family to feed, for instance. And it’s reasonable to learn from mistakes in the past. I’ve made many.

But fear of repeating those mistakes, and anxiety of the future will prevent me from doing what I need to do TODAY. Today is the only day I truly have in my hand.

Today I can do a good job finishing this post, for instance. Then I can do a good job if any companies I’m invested in need help. I’m also on a bit of vacation so I want to make sure I enjoy it to the fullest and help Claudia to enjoy it (her first trip since getting sick). I also need to get ready for a talk I’m giving in San Jose on Monday. I will work hard doing a good job for that. I will respond to emails I get today as best I can.

Also, for longer-term, I’ll make sure I exercise today. I’ll try to avoid the people who bring me down. I’ll come up with ideas and keep exercising the idea muscle. I’ll also respect the fact that today, TODAY, I can’t control every thing happening in my life. So to some extent I have to shrug my shoulders and hope for the best.

That’s what I can do today. Tomorrow is another day. Yesterday is long gone. Good riddance.

WHY ARE YOU AVOIDING A FRIEND?

@estheriaestheria asks: what should you do if you’re avoiding a friend and you don’t know why?

ANSWER: This has happened to me repeatedly. You have to ask yourself one thing: Am I avoiding him today simply because I avoided him yesterday. An “avoidance bubble” of sorts. In other words, are you feeling so much shame about avoiding your friend that that is preventing you from reaching out today. If the answer is “no” then move onto the next paragraph.

Something is wrong. Your body and mind are telling you to stay away. You can do some self-enquiry and start lisiting reasons why your mind might be telling you to stay away, but your mind might not answer. Your body and mind might be keeping it a secret. But respect the secret. Don’t force it. You are a busy person. If you’re body is telling you, “this person is bad for you right now. Stay away.” Then after briefly considering the reasons why this might be, take the advice: stay away.

WHAT’s MY BIGGEST GOAL IN LIFE?

valuewalk jacob wolinsky asks Whats your dream? Like whats your biggest goal in life?

ADVICE: My biggest goal is to have much fewer goals. This sounds sort of cliched but it’s true. Goals are stressful. Let’s say your goal is to have $100 million. That’s hard! It’s stressful to accomplish. Requires a lot of work. ANd then the question is: is it really necessary to have $100 million to be happy?

Or let’s say my goal is to publish a novel? That’s hard also! Will take time away from my kids, from my wife. It’s hard to make money writing fiction (you have to be either lucky, SUPER-talented, or super prolific, or all of the above) so you end up having to market yourself a lot, which is stressful.

We all have to support our families. But when that goal is largely acocmplished to the best of our abilities, what other goals should we have? I don’t want to lie around watching TV all day. But I guess if you constantly seek to improve yourself physically, emotionally, mentallly, spiritually, then that’s the best goal to have because that’s the goal that will keep you happy, and help those around you, and turn you into an idea/innovation machine that will inspire others. I hope I can get to a point where that’s my only goal. Instead, I probably have too many “extra” goals that are nothing but baggage I have to carry around all the time.

Someone also asked: if you had to choose: physical health over mental health, what would you choose.

The answer (and I hope I never have to make that choice) is physical health. The reason is: you want high quality of life into your elder years. This gives you as much time and energy as possible to pursue the other three types of health I talk about. That said, they are all linked (stress will decrease your physical health, for instance).

Follow me on twitter.

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2 Responses to “Ask James: Perfectionism, Shame, Who Was The Best President, What’s My Biggest Fear?”

  1. See Atkison says:

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  2. [...] McCauley writes very slowly. “I’m an insecure perfectionist,” he says. Rain Mitchell, whose first book was Tales from the Yoga Studio (2011), writes quickly. [...]

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