If you really set your mind to it, you can do it. Get to the very top. Beat out all the others. That’s how I did it. I just wanted it more, worked hard, and eventually all my dreams came true. I won’t say it’s easy, but it’s up to you!
So goes the familiar song of entrepreneurial or professional success. The same song being played in a thousand different tunes by a thousand different hucksters. It’s the song we all want to believe. That the world is ours for the taking, and whoever wants it more, will get it, and when they get it, they’ll deserve it.But that’s a shit track, and we really need to change the station. Odds are overwhelmingly that you will not make it to the top. That you will not be the next baller posting champagne shots and private jet pics. Or be celebrated in parades of adoration by your peers. There just isn’t enough room up there, on the top.
There’s lots of room amongst the disillusioned, though. The disappointed. The self-loathing. All those who wanted it so bad, but didn’t get it, and now blame themselves (or others or both!) for their supposed failures. That group is easily thousands if not hundreds of thousands if not millions of times larger than the small crop up there on the top.
A shit track indeed. To give simultaneous false hope and a false idol to so many when you know, PER MATHS, that it just isn’t going to happen for the vast, vast majority. That’s not just a shit track, it’s cruel. Time. To. Change. The. Station.
So here’s a better one: Making it to the top isn’t the game you should be focused on. The top is full of people who hate what they had to do or who they had to become to get there. Even for the people who get there with a clean conscience often end up disappointed by how shallow the satisfaction really is.
Besides, you only have limited influence on whether you’re going to succeed at whatever you put your mind to. It’s by no means within your exclusive sphere of control. There are so many things that have to come together at the same time. Only a couple of which you own.
But you do have control over whether you’re doing a good job, as measured by your personal sense of satisfaction in the work. Over whether you’re taking the time to notice, to learn, to improve. That’s the most fulfilling part of being up there, at the top, anyway. The “being good” part. Hell, even the “becoming good” part is pretty amazing, if you play it right.
That’s a game worth winning: The one played with yourself for your own betterment. Not the one played against others, measured against them. Screw that game.
Yeah, yeah, I know. That’s a luxurious game to play. You’ve already made it to some satisfying station in life when you’re allowed to focus on your own personal development for subsistence rather than a survivalist climb out from the bottom. But that’s also true for most who are into that Getting To The Top game.
So resist the temptation to focus on where you want all of this to take you, if you can. Luxuriate in the experience and flow of getting better. Stop playing games where you can’t set the rules. Start winning the ones where you can.
DHH is back on the Rework podcast this week for the second half of our interview about his and Jason Fried’s new book, It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work. (Here’s the first part in case you missed it.) In this episode, David talks about taking a calm approach to writing and marketing the book. Also, Wailin gets him to say #blessed (kind of) and has some anxiety about late-stage capitalism. We all get through it together!
We’re still taking your questions for David and Jason to answer in an upcoming mailbag episode! Leave us a voicemail at (708) 628–7850 and you’ll be entered into a drawing for an autographed copy of It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work. ☎️
…Each [short chapter is] packed with a punch that seems both profound and practical — profound for how clear and different they tend to be from most accepted business wisdom, and practical because almost everything they describe is immediately applicable.
And the ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Amazon reviews are flowing in as well. And, BTW, if you’ve read the book, please do leave a review. Thanks much.
If you’ve read and enjoyed REWORK, you’re going to especially love “It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work”. It’s really the spiritual follow-up to REWORK. Irreverent, direct, fluff-free, short-essays, and straight to the point. And because we hate long business books we can never seem to finish, we wrote “It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work” to be read in just about 3 hours.
What’s the book about?
We put it all right on the cover.
The lessons and stories in the book are based on nearly 20 years of experimenting with how to build a calm company. Inside we push back hard against unhealthy work practices, the obsession with growth at all costs, and treating people as if they’re simply limitless resources rather than human beings. We also share the things we’ve tried, and how we came to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
If you’ve got a few minutes, here’s the full intro below to fire you up…
“It’s crazy at work.” How often have you heard that? Or said it yourself? Probably too often.
For many, “it’s crazy at work” has become their normal. But why’s that?
At the root is an onslaught of physical and virtual real-time distractions slicing work days into a series of fleeting work moments.
Tie that together with a trend of over-collaboration, plus an unhealthy obsession with growth at any cost, and you’ve got the building blocks for an anxious, crazy mess.
It’s no wonder people are working longer, earlier, later, on weekends, and whenever they have a spare moment. People can’t get work done at work anymore.
Work claws away at life. Life has become work’s leftovers. The doggy bag. The remnants. The scraps.
That’s just not OK. It’s unacceptable.
What’s worse is that long hours, excessive busyness, and lack of sleep have become a badge of honor for many people these days. Sustained exhaustion is not a badge of honor, it’s a mark of stupidity. Companies that force their crew into this bargain are cooking up dumb at their employees’ expense.
And it’s not just about organizations — individuals, contractors, and solopreneurs are burning themselves out the very same way.
You’d think with all the hours people are putting in, and all the promises of tech’s flavor of the month, the load would be lessening. It’s not. It’s getting heavier.
But the thing is, there’s not more work to be done all of the sudden. The problem is there’s hardly any uninterrupted, dedicated time to do it.
Working more but getting less done? It doesn’t add up. But it does — it adds up to a majority of time wasted on things that don’t matter.
Many modern companies seem to be great at one thing: wasting. Wasting time, attention, money, energy.
Out of the 60, 70, 80 hours a week many are expected to pour into work, how many of those hours are really spent on the work itself? And how many are tossed away in meetings, lost to distraction, and withered away by inefficient business practices? The bulk.
The answer isn’t more hours, it’s less bullshit. Less waste, not more production. And far fewer things that induce distraction, always-on anxiety, and stress.
Stress is an infection passed down from organization to employee, from employee to employee, and then from employee to customer. And it’s becoming resistant to traditional treatments. The same old medicine is only making it worse.
And remember, stress can not be contained. It never stops at the edge of work. It always bleeds into life. It infects your relationships with your friends, your family, your kids.
The promises keep coming. More time management hacks. More ways to communicate. More information spread across separate platforms and disparate places. New demands to pay attention to more and more real-time conversations happening all the time at work. Faster and faster, for what? Panaceas left and right. Snake oil.
On-demand is for movies, TV shows, and podcasts, not for you. Your time isn’t an episode recalled when someone wants it at 10pm on a Saturday night, or every few minutes in the collection of conveyor belt chat room conversations you’re supposed to be following all day long.
If it’s constantly crazy at work, we have two words for you: Fuck that. And two more: Enough already.
At the heart of it all is an unhealthy obsession with rapid growth. Towering, unrealistic expectations drag people down.
It’s time for companies to stop asking their employees to breathlessly chase ever-higher, ever-more artificial targets set by ego, not need. It’s time to stop celebrating this way of working.
Over the last 18 years we’ve been working at making Basecamp a calm company. One that isn’t fueled by stress, or ASAP, or rushing, or late nights, or all-nighter crunches, or impossible promises, or high turnover, or over-collaboration, or consistently missed deadlines, or projects that never seem to end, or manufactured busywork, or incorrect assumptions that lead to systemic institutional anxiety.
No growth-at-all-costs. No constant, churning false busyness. No ego-driven decisions. No keeping up with the Joneses Corporation. No hair on fire.
And yet we’ve been profitable every year since the beginning. We’ve kept our company intentionally small — we believe small is a key to calm.
As a tech company we’re supposed to be playing the hustle game in Silicon Valley, but we’re blissfully far away in Chicago with employees working remotely in 30 different towns around the world.
We each put in about 40 hours a week most of the year, and just 32-hour four-day weeks in the summer. We send people on month-long sabbaticals every three years. We not only pay for people’s vacation time, but we pay for the actual vacation too.
No, not 9pm Wednesday night. It can wait until 9am Thursday morning. No, not Sunday. Monday.
Walk into our office and it feels more like a library and less like a chaotic kitchen. Noise and movement are not indicator of activity and progress — they’re just indicators of noise and movement.
We’re in one of the most competitive industries in the world. An industry dominated by giants and frequent upstarts backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in VC money. We’ve taken zero. Where does our money come from? Our customers. They buy what we’re selling and we treat them exceptionally well. Call us old fashioned.
Our benefits are focused on getting people out of the office, not enticing them to stay longer. Fresh fruits and veggies are delivered to people’s houses, not the kitchen at work. Want to learn to play the guitar in your own time? We’ll gladly support you and pay for that too.
We’ll pay for you to get a massage, but we won’t bring the masseuse to the office. Loosening up for 60 minutes only to tense back up hunched over your desk is faux relaxation. No “stay here” signals. Everything’s about wrapping up your reasonable day, going home, and living your life.
Are there occasionally stressful moments? Sure — such is life. Is every day peachy? Of course not — we’d be lying if we said it was. But we do our best to make sure those are the exceptions. On balance we’re calm — by choice, by practice. We’re intentional about it. We’ve made different decisions than the rest.
We’ve designed our company differently. We’re here to tell you about it, and show you how you can do it. There’s a path. You’ve got to want it, but if you do you’ll realize it’s much nicer over here. You can have a calm company too.
This book points out the diseases plaguing modern workplace and work methods. It calls out false cures, and pushes back against ritualistic time-sucks that have infected the way people work these days. We have a prescription to make it better.
Chaos should not be the natural state at work. Anxiety isn’t a prerequisite for progress. Sitting in meetings all day isn’t required for success. These are all perversions of work — side effects of broken models and follow-the-lemming-off-the-cliff worst practices. Step aside and let the suckers jump.
Calm is profitability. Calm is protecting people’s time and attention. Calm is reasonable expectations. Calm is about 40 hours of work a week. Calm is ample time off. Calm is smaller. Calm is a visible horizon. Calm is meetings as a last resort. Calm is contextual communication. Calm is asynchronous first, real-time second. Calm is more independence, less interdependence. Calm is about sustainable practices that can run for the long-term.
By the end of the book you’ll understand it all.
It would mean a lot to us if you’d pick up a copy, absorb the ideas, consider the suggestions, and try to make the work world a better place for a lot more people. We hope you ❤️ it. Got questions? Post ’em below and we’ll do our best to answer everything we can. Thanks in advance for reading!
Brian Acton does not sound like the happy, fulfilled guy the stereotype of billionairedom would have you believe. He sounds like someone racked with regret, guilt, and torment over his decision to sell the most promising rebel base to the empire and then realizing that the empire would do what the empire does.
It’s so easy to dismiss such anguish with gifs of a man crying himself to sleep on a bed of money. But that’s as shallow as it is glib. Yes, Zuckerberg made Acton unfathomably rich. He also made him unfathomably small and impotent.
They say becoming a billionaire isn’t about the money, it’s about the power. If so, clearly this was a deal gone wrong. Acton became a billionaire by giving up all his power and handing it to Zuckerberg.
Who wouldn’t regret that? And yet, who wouldn’t be tempted by Facebook’s billions? Temptation is natural, it’s human. And so too is the rationalization that it was “an offer too good to refuse”, which seeks to absolve the taker of all guilt (and agency). And so too is the depths of despair when you deep down know you made a mistake.
That’s probably what makes the Forbes interview so painful to read. Acton is trying to make sense of his regret. Facebook is clearly on a path to turn what may well have been his life’s work into everything he built it not to be. And yet he has to rationalize his decision with utterly inauthentic excuses like how they’re “just being good business people, not bad people”. It’s like watching an early session of therapy play out awkwardly on a lit theater stage in front of an audience. You can’t help but cringe.
And in that cringe lies the appeal of Acton’s story. The utterly human temptation towards unfathomable wealth with the equally human suspicion that purpose is so much more than 10-digit bank balance.
The bastion of hope that was WhatsApp is gone. The “no ads, no games, no gimmicks” ethos will complete its transition into “all ads, all deceit, all extraction” soon enough. There’s a twenty-billion dollar hole in Facebook’s balance sheet that needs filling (with interest).
But rather than mourn that loss, we’d do well to use it to energize a new generation of entrepreneurs to avoid the trap that Acton fell into. To power the formation of a thousand new WhatsApps, intent on avoiding the faith of the fallen one.
We need to rewrite the cultural incentives around selling out. Acton predicament as the prototypical tragedy rather than victory. Replace envy with pity. Inspiration with rejection.
Let’s make it cool to turn down twenty billion dollars.
Who needs a fancy office when you can work out of a dingy food court? Who needs fancy equipment when you can buy what you need at Walmart? Who needs to hire an SEO specialist? What does an SEO specialist do, anyway? (A question for another episode, or maybe another podcast altogether.) On this episode of Rework, three very different companies — a fashion brand, a company that sells fresh salads from vending machines, and an auto detailing shop — discuss their humble beginnings and offer practical advice about being resourceful and staying lean.
A few weeks ago my father was taken by ambulance to the emergency room with trouble breathing. After that 5 day hospital stay, he’s been doing really well!
But one thing that stands out from the experience was how my own psychology fluctuated. During the initial couple days I’d go to sleep at my parents by myself leaving my mom and father at the hospital. And I was a mess.
Plunging ourselves into ice cold water isn’t usually a pleasant experience. So it’s a common practice research psychologists make people do when studying how people deal with pain. They call it the cold pressor test.
And in 2003, a group of researchers performed the cold pressor test, but this time they tested what would happen if people with their hands submerged in ice cold water were with someone else. A friend. Even a stranger.
The people who had company during that painful moment felt less pain.
Things remarkably changed when everyone descended upon the hospital to join my mom, father and me. My sister came into town with her boyfriend and my niece. My sister’s best friend showed up for multiple visits and help. My wife grabbed my daughter and all our pets and moved them over to my parents place. Even a great friend of mine came and spent a couple hours visiting my father and eating some McDonalds in his hospital room for dinner with us.
Despite all the upsetting and scary things we were now dealing with, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off me when all these people showed up.
It just goes to show you how important it is that no matter what you’re going through. If it’s work or career stuff, or these moments in our personal lives, it’s important to experience them socially. Don’t isolate yourself.
Over and over again, we find that, whether we’re social butterflies or we’re introverted or we’re shy, when we have people around us, even strangers, we can far better endure the inevitable stress that comes with life.
A few weeks ago, I took my daughter to the Art Institute here in Chicago. She’s three.
So as you can imagine it wasn’t a tremendous success of actually seeing a ton of art. We had a lot of fun though doing crafts they had set up for kids and eating lunch.
My proudest moment was when she yelled out “I really like that picture!” It was Vincent van Gogh’s The Bedroom. It’s my favorite too.
There’s an interesting exercise you can do at the Art Institute or other major art museums. Go find some Picassos and note how old he was when he made them. Now find some Cézannes and do the same.
It’s possible you spot something like Economics Professor at the University of Chicago, David Galenson did.
Picasso’s most valuable work, based on prices paid at auction, peaked when he was 25.
Cézanne at 65.
Some artists peak young. Others get better over time.
Galenson saw this over and over with writers and artists in all sorts of different time periods and industries.
I think the world puts too much focus on the Picassos and the young phenoms. We overlook the Cézannes. The folks who took a while to experiment on getting better and better and who never stopped.
The thing I take from this is that if you find yourself still experimenting in life. If you don’t have it all figured out. If you’re 30, 40, 50, 60 and still don’t know what you want to be when you grow up…
There’s still plenty of room and time to get better. Your peak is still ahead.
I’ll share moments with my crying toddler, or scenes from the hospital with my sick dad. Why don’t I just stick to business?
The reason is the reason I do all of the things I do, the reason I work on Highrise, the reason I started Draft.
I want to build things I want to see in the world.
I look at all these other “business” videos on YouTube, posts on Medium, podcasts, and I see a great deal of people sharing success stories and the tactics they cherry picked which got them there. What I don’t see is them opening up about some of the difficulties of actually running a business. The other difficulties from life and its challenges that stack even further up from there.
You go to conferences and someone up on stage professes, “Hey here’s how I became successful and you can too!”
I’m sick of it. I want to hear from someone who’s in the thick of it. Some days are good. Some are bad. Most have good and bad moments. I want to connect with others who are going through the same things and emotions. To know that what I’m going through isn’t unique.
Everyone tries to put on this fake face while things are chaotic around them. They’re hoping they come out of it with a huge success story they can then start talking about. I don’t want the rosy hindsight. I want all of it.
So I try to share everything. Including the stuff that might not be so positive.
It’s my attempt at creating something that’s just a little different. A little weird. Something that I want to see in the world and hopefully something that people can relate to.
I’m hoping my work can inspire you. I hope I can give you some advice on how to do something better. But even more so, I hope that while you’re doing life, and going through the inevitable problems at work and at home, you know at least here’s someone else going through a lot of the same stuff.
P.S. Thank you so much for the convos over email and the comments in all these channels. It means a lot to me. If I can be helpful with anything please don’t hesitate to reach out (email@example.com). You should follow me on YouTube: youtube.com/nathankontnywhere I share more about how we run our business, do product design, market ourselves, and just get through life. And if you need a zero-learning-curve system to track leads and manage follow-ups, try Highrise.
It’s weird. It’s weird for a lot of people. So I get asked a lot: “How are you comfortable doing this?” “Do you have a history of doing something like this” But the umbrella question that I think most people are trying to ask is:
“Are you extroverted? Is that why you can pull this off and I can’t?”
The fact is, I’m probably one of the most introverted people you’ll meet. Some would maybe even label me fairly anti-social. 🙂
I really like one-on-one interactions and meeting new people. I love true friends. But I don’t like going to parties. You won’t see me at many conferences. If I am there, you’ll find me in the back row of something or closest to the exit so I can bolt.
And no, I’m not comfortable doing this. Even in front of a camera in a room by myself, I get nervous. Even though I know I have all this power to edit and redo. The first video I uploaded to my vlog was a Live video I recorded on Facebook but made it Private to just me 🙂 And I filmed it 13 times.
And I hate that attention on me as I walk around talking to a camera.
But I do it anyway.
Do I have some kind of inflated image of myself? Hard for me to judge I guess since I don’t know the self talk in other people’s heads, but I’m pretty hard on myself both in what I do and how I look.
I don’t even want to open up that therapist session on all the ways I hate how I look on camera. But some obvious ones. My complexion is terrible. Skin is oily. Now I’ve developed this recurring terrible allergic reaction that comes on when I even glance at a pine/Christmas tree and recurs randomly otherwise.
Kendall Jenner, one of the younger of the Kardashian clan, was at the Golden Globes, and it was crazy how many people called her out for the visible Acne she had on the red carpet.
What were people expecting? That she’d skip the red carpet? Stay home?
This is a huge thing that keeps people back. Vanity that they have to look perfect.
And that’s why the Kardashians are so successful. They have zero fear of putting themselves out there for every single person on the planet to see, flaws and all. It doesn’t matter what the public thinks of their skin or anything else they say or do. They aren’t afraid to embarrass themselves when most everyone else is.
People also commonly ask me if I’ve had a lot of practice doing this.
Not really. I have had some brief on-camera training as part of acting lessons I’ve taken over the years, and a big reason I took those classes was to get over my fear of performing in front of people and cameras. And that practice has helped some.
But there’s been plenty of videos, especially the live ones, where I’m sweating the possibility of saying something stupid or why on earth is my hair sticking out like that today.
So, if you’re holding back from doing something like a vlog because you’re afraid of what you look like, or you’re uncomfortable in front of a camera? I’m there with you.
But I refuse to let those things keep me back. It takes some practice. It’s still uncomfortable. It gets less uncomfortable… sometimes. And it’s worth it.
To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting. ― E.E. Cummings
A couple weeks ago we decided to get an artificial Christmas tree. I love real trees, but years of evidence have proven I’m allergic. We think the dog is too. And the cleanup is a nightmare.
So we went to Target looking for one.
I didn’t want to go to Target, but my wife and kid were going and I didn’t feel like spending the day by myself. Plus, I wanted to improve our Wifi network and Target carries the Google Wifi mesh devices.
I begrudgingly went along.
My hangup with Target is that everytime I go to look for something specific, they don’t have it. Which was made abundantly clear again on this trip. They didn’t have any Christmas things left. They didn’t have a Google Wifi mesh network either.
I began regretting tagging along.
But that Saturday I didn’t want to waste my energy on a bad attitude, so I decided to treat Target a lot less specifically.
I went back to the Electronics section and browsed what they did have. Turned out they had something called the Orbi from Netgear. I hadn’t heard of it, but a quick Google scan seemed to show it performed well despite some drawbacks in its application design. Ok, I’ll try it.
Also, my three year old’s interest in building things keeps growing, but she doesn’t yet care what kind of things we’re building. So we went on the hunt for the cheapest LEGO’s we could find to continue adding to our set at home.
What once seemed like another trip to Target coming home empty handed turned out to be quite the win. I’m enjoying the Orbi network we now have at home, and my daughter has torn through these multiple boxes of LEGOs we’ve purchased. We also bought a ton of other stuff we didn’t even realize we needed :).
This random trip to Target reminds me how important it is to know our place as businesses. Sometimes people need the accurate solution to the one specific problem, and sometimes people just need something that works most of the time.