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Choice, Habit, Decision, Jams, Study
Aug 03

The Problem with Binary Choices

By admin | Uncategorized

I cannot decide whether or not to go to the movies.

I cannot decide whether or not to break up with him.

I cannot decide whether or not I want pizza.

We have all said these things, right? Alternatively, something similar to them? We create binary decisions for many of the go/no-go decisions in our lives. We do the research, narrow our options, and when we land on something we love, we come to a crossroads: whether or not.

The research on the paradox of choice is widespread. Barry Schwartz has written and spoken extensively on the subject. In a study of jam purchasing behavior, shoppers given six choices of jam both purchased more jam and were overall happier with the decision. The purchasing decision was more natural, as there were fewer options, and the perceived loss of opportunity to try the other types of jam was not as high. Pretty simple.

Choice, Habit, Decision, Jams, Study

Choosing from many options is more laborious than picking from a select few.

However, there’s a missing piece to this study. Choice and agency are still features of decision-making that we crave, which is why companies began making more options. If you met a shelf of all Strawberry Jam, you might find the choice somewhat frustrating. Do you want to know why?

Whether or not I want strawberry jam is a difficult question to answer.

It is a difficult question because we rely on a very traditional method of decision-making: the list of pros and cons. We decide what the positive aspects of strawberry jam would be, as well as the negative aspects. Depending on how those values weigh out, we choose.

Lists of pros and cons lead you to make terrible decisions.

Think about it: lists and pros and cons are missing a massive part of decision-making. They give you no viable alternative. Your choice is to pull the trigger or to put down the gun.

If you decide not to get the strawberry jam, you have no jam. The consequence of this is revisiting an earlier decision you made. It might have been the decision to class up your dry toast in the morning, or the choice to find a new way to sweeten your oatmeal. Whatever it is, you now need to revisit that decision. We do not like revisiting decisions; it wastes time and energy.

To avoid this disappointment, you are overwhelmingly likely to weight the pros side of an equation because a known quantity is better than unknown. All humans appreciate and value certainty. You may undervalue apparent facts, like your long-standing hatred of strawberries, to avoid the disappointment of not having anything to show for your shopping trip.

The other problem is that your cons have no context or outlet. In a whether or not scenario, you must accept any disadvantages you generate as part of your decision. The only way to avoid them is not to decide at all. Rather than asking how do I eliminate those cons, we ask am I willing to tolerate these drawbacks in the presence of the advantages that this decision offers. Do you see where bias originates?

Introducing even a single viable alternative can upend our decision-making process for the better. It gives us more opportunity to complete our original objective, gives us agency in choosing the downsides of our decision, and helps us to appreciate the existence of alternatives in the universe.

In the context of jam, this is not such a big deal. Regardless of whether or not you choose to buy jam, your life is likely to remain materially unchanged.

However, what about when we do this with a career? Or car? Or decision around a life partner? We tend to use this framework on massive, monumental choices in our lives!

Come on–be honest: haven’t you asked these questions, too?

I need to decide whether or not to accept the offer.

I need to decide whether or not I want that Porsche.

I need to decide whether or not to propose.

If you take nothing else away from this article, I sincerely hope that the next time you are faced with a significant decision, you work swiftly and decisively to move away from whether choices. They will not serve you well.

There is another study that offered an excellent way to combat the dreaded bias of pros and cons. Subjects in the study were provided two choices in a whether or not fashion. The original wording of the survey was as such:

Would you like to purchase this entertaining DVD for $14.95?

Would you prefer not to have an entertaining DVD?

This demonstrates exactly how we set up whether or not questions. We can have something for a cost, or we can have nothing. In this context, 75% of people purchased the DVD when asked this question. Then, the researchers changed the language slightly:

Would you like to buy this entertaining DVD for $14.95?

Would you prefer not to have the entertaining DVD and keep the $14.95 for a different purchase?

The results? Only 55% of people purchased the DVD when given this option.

The change was incredibly small but so powerful. What did the researchers unlock?

  1. The introduced the idea of opportunity cost.
  2. They opened the mind of the participant to perceive alternative options.

Rather than asking whether or not a DVD was worth $14.95, the question becomes: what types of entertainment can I purchase or received for $14.95? There are thousands of answers, many of which are likely to create more value or utility than the DVD. Hence, many more people opted out of purchasing.

So, the next time that you face an important decision, what are some ways that you can make sure to not fall into this trap?

  1. Make sure that there is a viable alternative. Even if it is not as defined as the primary target, ensure that you are deciding between two things versus one thing and nothing.
  2. Get some outside perspective! You may weight pros and cons differently depending on your mindset and how important the decision is within your life. However, if you asked your best friend if you should buy strawberry jam, her response will likely be, “You hate strawberries–why would you buy that jam?”
  3. Ask what someone else would do. Per where we started in this article, we are amazingly adept at making sound decisions about things that do not affect us, or that affect other people. We are free from his biases and offer valuable outside perspective. As such, ask what someone that you know and trust what he would do. Exposure to a different frame of reference of thinking can give you a new variable or perspective that helps you make a better decision.

Do you want to know the best part about all this? These reframing exercises are not complicated. Once you open your mind to challenge how you position the question, it is easy to find alternatives and different solutions to the problems. From now on, keep your eyes, ears, heart, and mind on the lookout for when you are asking a whether question, particularly if you have been struggling with one for quite some time. These suggestions may well help you to get unstuck.

Thank you for reading this! If you liked this article, it would mean the world to me if you would share it with other people. They will be grateful that you did!

If you enjoy this article and would like to read more of them, head to my website for more materials and more information about what I do at 86 Gravity.

*This article was inspired by teachings from Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Using books for networking is an effective and underused strategy.
Aug 03

The Best Networking Tool

By admin | Uncategorized

Using books for networking is an effective and underused strategy.

Networking has, in many circles, become a dirty word. What used to stand for a robust collection of talented individuals who could offer mutual value and respect now stands for overly diluted bottom shelf liquor in drab, taupe conference rooms with people trying desperately to be seen and heard.

As my opening sentences may have made apparent to you, I am not a fan.

I remember distinctly how many of my international classmates in business school were shocked at what we referred to as networking. “It is transactional,” they would say. “Everyone vies for attention in an attempt to pry a business card from the person he or she meets to send the inevitable follow up email.”

Sound familiar?

Thankfully, it does not have to be this bad. There are ways that you can take advantage of the ass-backward way that networking has evolved in the communities of higher industry and start ups in this country.

Let’s go back to first principles: why do we network in the first place?

Networking gives you an opportunity to create a connection with someone in the hopes of creating a mutually valuable relationship in the future.

Let’s break that down:

1.) You are building a relationship. That does not mean that you vaguely remember the person for three months while you are job hunting and then completely forget about them. Network with people that you would enjoy knowing and following for multiple years ahead. Not only will this filter connect you with better people, but it will maximize the chance that you are successful in cultivating a real relationship.

2.) The relationship is mutually valuable. That means that you provide value in both directions. If you are networking with someone because they have something to offer you, you had best have something to offer them in return. Do you? Have you thought about how you can be helpful to them before diving into the conversation? If the answer is no, you are in trouble.

3.) The value will likely arrive in the future. There are chance encounters when you meet the right person at the right time; these moments are beautiful and rare. Most networking, though, pays off down the road. If you can demonstrate that you are not only interesting at a cocktail party but intelligent and engaged in your space for several months, a new person in your network is much more likely to feel confident introducing you to someone else.

So, per the title of the article, what’s the secret?

If you want to be a networking pro, read more books.


Books are a fantastic tool in networking that we do not use as frequently as we should. In an increasingly busy world of information, there are an endless number of people who read articles and blog posts, but the number of people reading books has dropped.

This reality exists in spite of the fact that Bill Gates has been taking a Think Week for years to pore over books and literature to help expand his thinking. This reality exists in spite of the fact that multiple people have written about Elon Musk devouring an entire library of books during his childhood.

Reading books is indicative of two things: intellectual curiosity and time management.

The first is obvious: dedicating oneself to reading an entire volume on a subject suggests a desire to know it on a more intimate level than what one can find browsing the internet. There are obvious exceptions to this rule, and I do not intend to detract from the excellent journalism that is available online. However, looking at the big picture, reading a book is likely to provide a complete view of a topic than an article online.

The second point is a bit less clear but no less potent. Reading a book is a much more conscious act than reading an online article. We all receive articles via text and e-mail from family, friends, and colleagues. You can easily bounce into and out of a few articles a day. If you are reading a book, you have to consciously seek the time and space to open the book and absorb the information.

In the context of networking, wouldn’t you like to project that you have intellectual curiosity and the ability to manage your time effectively?

I have not gotten to the best part, however!

If you are in a networking conversation, introducing an idea from a book gives you an opportunity to summarize the author’s major premise and what you enjoy about it.

Synthesizing and summarizing information is another valuable skill to demonstrate to a future connection

So, you’ve now demonstrated three highly valuable skills by reading a book and introducing it in a conversation. Now, do you want to know the most powerful part about books?

Books are wildly easy and affordable to gift.

People always talk about different ways to be remembered following a valuable conversation. This is where the dreaded follow up email comes from. Yes, there are ways you can craft that message to make it more personable and memorable. But it’s still an email. Email, by definition, is not memorable.

If, however, you have a delightful conversation with someone around a book that you read, and the person expresses interest in that book, SEND THEM THE DAMN BOOK. Ask them in the dialogue if they like to read, and if so, in what format.

In doing so, you acknowledge the person’s shared enthusiasm for a subject, and you give them a physical token by which you can be remembered. Every time they see that book, even if it only sits on the shelf, they will remember the kind person who sent it.

Give this a try at your next networking event. You will not be disappointed.

Aug 03

You Will Never Find Your Dream Job

By admin | Uncategorized


A dream job is hard to find but oh so worth it.

There are many misconceptions about dreams jobs. Same with passions. The biggest one is that yours is sitting out there, like a tranquil duck in a pond, waiting for you to find it.

You will never find your dream job. Here’s why: our dream jobs are an opportunity to use our greatest strengths to solve big, interesting problems that we find fulfilling and meaningful with teams that are supportive, open, and kind. FURTHER, any dream job should actually support the lifestyle that you aspire to, so all of the above must also accommodate your family, your time for reflection, and your time to live the hell out of your life.

Job descriptions are written to solve an existing problem within an organization, which means that many of the above items are decided well ahead of your arrival, and you’re already behind schedule in solving the problem, which is never good for creating space for the rest of your life.

The likelihood that the latter matches the former is improbable.

You know what? I’m feeling sassy today. It is straight up impossible.

So, does that mean that you will never have your dream job? No, absolutely not. However, it does mean that you need to change the way you think about searching for it.


Dream Job = Dream + Goals + Research + A Deeper Look + Ask

The equation could be much longer but for the sake of my typing fingers and your attention span, let’s keep this a bit more straightforward.


I know that this is going to sound crazy, but if you want to have your dream job, you have to dream of it. Moreover, though I acknowledge that all of us are different, most dreams should not sound like, “A product manager role that builds on my previous engineering experiences and will allow me ample opportunity for promotion and self-development over the next 3-5 years.”

Your dream job should sound much more like a company vision statement. Lofty. Far-reaching. Ambitious. Ethereal. “I want a job where I work with brilliant people, and every day I have the sense that I made real progress. I want to feel challenged. I want to have time and space to support and grow a team. I want to develop a brand new skill set.” When we divorce ourselves from our experiences to date and instead align ourselves with the activities and ideas that energize us, our career paths look very different.

It is not lost on me that specificity is valuable, particularly in setting goals, which we will cover. However, if you are overly specific or prescriptive, you are likely to miss out on many amazing opportunities because they do not fit your narrow criteria. If you give up your preconceptions about what your job should look like, and focus on what you want it to look like, your list of opportunities will start to change.


What do you want your life to look like? Just like your vision of work, you need an idea of how you want to spend your time every day including the time that you spend outside of work. If your dream job is perfect while you are in the office but leaves the rest of your life in shambles, it is not much of a dream, is it?

Where do you want to live? Do you want a family? How do you spend your time? Who are your closest friends? If we do not create an intention around the form and shape of our lives, we have a big problem: We have no idea if we are moving in the right direction.

How many people do you know who have a terrible work-life balance, but claim that it is for a better future? How many of them have any idea of what that future is?

Hard Work = Success — we all know that formula. However, if you do not define success, what the hell are you working toward?

When I say set goals, I mean set intentions to build the life that you want. The life of your dreams, if you want to stay on theme.

With me so far? Rad, you are half way to your dream job.


Now, we can get to work. Your dream job is a single data point, which means that it exists in space with no other benchmarks. However, by creating intentions for your life, too, now you have something to work off of as you shape your vision of what those dream jobs could be. You know that they need to provide you with the vision that you laid out and that they afford you the opportunity to live the life that makes you happy.

Now, this may seem like a good time to jump back into the world of job descriptions. You will be inclined to analyze hundreds of them and look for that which most closely matches your description.

Stop it. You stop that right now. Job boards are not your friend.

Instead, you need to seek out individuals who have managed to create the job, the life, or the combination of the two.


If you look for the closest approximation to what you want, you by definition have not found what you want. That defeats the whole purpose of this exercise.

Finding someone who is doing your dream job is incredibly helpful because she can tell you how she got there, what makes her successful in the role, why it is meaningful to her, and what her vision is for the future of her career. You will never find these answers, at least honest ones, in a job description. Even better, you have now introduced yourself to someone who is doing exactly what you want to and presented yourself as a capable, ambitious, and intelligent person who has some real clarity on where you want to go. That makes you SUPER memorable.

Similarly, finding someone who is living the life that you want will help you to understand the tradeoffs as well as the inputs necessary to make it happen. If you want to work out of Aspen for three months a year to ski, how does that affect your career trajectory? Or how much you earn? Talk to someone who is doing it. Find out what they know. Make it real.

Still with me?

Now you have a clear sense of your dream job and intentional life, as well as examples and role models for how to get there.

Now, for a dash of introspection.

A Deeper Look:

Where are you now relative to where you want to be? What are you missing? How can you get it? This stage is where a deeper look comes into play.

However, don’t make the common mistake–this is where too many people get stuck. The purpose of a more in-depth look is not to enter the infinite spiral of misery searching for your purpose or to ask why God put you on this earth. A deeper look is to evaluate what stands between you and having that dream job.

I will give you a hint: the first thing that you probably need to do is convince yourself that you are worthy of this dream job. We all have piles of hang-ups

from many, many experiences throughout our life. They shape how we perceive our abilities and our opportunities. You do not need to give them all up, at least not yet.

But if you want your dream job, you need to rewire every neural pathway that tells you that you cannot have it.

Write it down. Shout it out. Tell the world. Tell yourself. You will never convince anyone else that you are qualified for your dream job if you do not believe it.

If you want to be CEO of a Fortune 100 company, then no amount of wishing will make you magically ready for the role tomorrow. However, if all of the choices that you make from this day forward align you with the job you ultimately want and the life you ultimately want, I would be willing to bet that you will get there MUCH faster than you would if you just hope that the job pops up one day.

NOW, the last part of the puzzle is to:


I assure you, you have already done the hardest part of this work. You’ve done the introspection. You’ve done the research. You’ve put your idea out into the universe to see what’s out there.

We’ve all been in interviews, yes? We deftly deploy our litany of well-plotted stories and tales of our heroics and genius for the better part of an hour. So then, as a courtesy, the interviewer will ask, “Do you have any questions for me?”

Remember the vision? The dream job? Ask how much of those activities are available in the work that you are applying to do. The inspiring and capable leader? Ask who will be your manager and how would the person describe them. The challenging but mission-driven problem? Ask what types of challenges teams will face day to day. Ask. Get specific. Poke. Prod. Look under the hood of the damn car!

You cannot blame the interviewer for wanting to tell you things that make the job sound attractive. That is, to an extent, his or her job. However, if you ask particular questions that address your biggest needs, it will be much harder for them to blur the truth. “How do you think about work life balance?” Versus “I see that you offer flexible hours for parents with young children. How many people take advantage of that flexibility and what does it look like day to day?” No. Contest.

Further, it demonstrates how much you think about these things and how much clarity you have on your actual goals.

Dream Job = Dream + Goals + Research + A Deeper Look + Ask

Your dream job does not exist yet. There are many ponds in the world, and many ducks floating in them.

Change your perspective. Dig your lake. Fill it with dreams. Let the opportunities present themselves to you.


If you loved this article, may I have your permission to tell you more about what I do?

A Soulcycle audition is truly a thing of beauty, and misery.
Aug 03

I auditioned for Soulcycle, and all I got was this lousy life lesson.

By admin | Trials and Tribulations , Uncategorized

A Soulcycle audition is truly a thing of beauty, and misery.

I had been eyeing the opportunity for several months. Soulcycle announced a national tour for tryouts in late May, and I was one of the first to hit send on my application. I talked about my life as an athlete, my mission to lift others, and how much I enjoyed the community aspect that Soulcycle creates for people.

Much to my delight and surprise, I was accepted for an opportunity to audition.

Friday afternoon. 12:30PM. Be 15 minutes early. Prepare two songs, approximately 30 seconds each.

I committed to myself that I would do the audition. I wanted to see how I would fare and see what the experience would be like.

I showed up with 50 other hopeful riders, a colorful rainbow of spandex and anxiety milling around in the brightly lit space. Everyone had their songs, pre-downloaded, and ready to go on some device so that they can get up to the podium and have their two minutes of fame.

I would call my level of preparation adequate because I’m too ashamed to say that it was paltry. I had vaguely thought about what I might say, knew the rough rhythm of the songs, and figured I would just give it a go.
We piled into the studio.

I was on a bike to the far right of the room, closest to the exit door. The national talent leader explained the format of the audition. Three people at a clip would line up to get ready to lead the class, and everyone else would be the willing participants.

The math was thus: 53 Auditions x (2 Minutes Per Audition + 1 Minute Transition between riders) =159 minutes.

Most spin classes last 45 minutes. This one would last almost 3.5x that. Moreover, as the group, it was as much our job to support and celebrate the person trying out as we hoped they would do for us. That meant that quietly riding in the saddle was not an option — it was GO time.

I, unwisely, had skipped lunch not wanting to have a full stomach before the audition. I had also gone for a 6.5-mile run that morning. I was also planning a four-hour ride the next day as I continue training for my Ironman. I felt the negative spiral begin to swirl.

How did I go from quietly confident to brooding and nervous in just a few minutes?

These thoughts conspired in my brain as the auditions began. Then things got worse: it became immediately apparent that the way I saw this opportunity was not how many others saw this opportunity.

Multiple people had left their full-time jobs in pursuit of these positions — with no guarantee that they would make it through on this round.

One man had lost over 100 pounds at Soul. Another had made his best friends at the studio after moving from a different city. Others used the classes as a breather from a harsh reality in their life, like having a loved one with cancer.

This was their moment. This was their shot. This was an opportunity to find permanent sanctuary in a place that had offered some divine salvation.

I felt guilty. I saw this as an amazing way to stay in shape while finding a different avenue to promote the ideas of wellness and positivity in the world around me. It felt pretty boring after hearing the first few stories.

I also learned that the way I prepared was not how other people prepared. There were well-rehearsed introductions. Multiple choreographed moves. Calls and responses. It reminded me of being a diver in college when the reigning national champion visited for a “fun” meet. His first two dives outscored my entire list — we were competing at different sports.

Eventually, my turn came to get set up. I left my bike and was helped by a Soul instructor to get my mic ready. I did my best to pump myself up knowing that I was a bit unsure of what I was about to experience.

When my turn came, I did my best to be me. I cracked jokes while I set up the bike. I told the room about my mission to make the world a happier place. I expressed my gratitude for all of the good energy that everyone was pouring into this long day.

I started pedaling and waited for my music to come on. It didn’t.

The version I had download was too muted for the sound system to play.

Feeling my heart pounding against my throat, I explained that I had only my first song in another format, and I would just ride to that for as long as they let me.

I reset quickly and started pedaling. I was going twice as fast as the beat because I was nervous. So I stood up to slow myself down and catch the beat, but then people in the class stood up because they were trying to follow me. Then I remembered that I was supposed to be talking this whole time. So I started babbling about something — couldn’t even tell you what.

The song ended, and I felt relieved. Then the instructor said, “You should do another song — just put on another one.”

I should have said no. So, naturally, I said, “Really? Awesome! =)”

I put on another song. It was not the song I had chosen earlier. It was not a song I had thought about previously. It was a song I barely knew, because it was one of the only other songs that I could find in less than five seconds to alleviate the burning embarrassment of bombing in front of 50 people who came here to make their dreams come true.

Same thing: got ahead of the beat, tried to focus on finding it, forget to say anything, awkwardly blurted out word vomit to recover, and finally was saved by the music fading out. I was granted a quiet applause, and if I recall correctly, a solitary “woo.”

For anyone who has performed on stage at any point, you have a good ability to measure the quality of applause that you receive. You can feel the enthusiasm or lack thereof.

I received a hardcore, textbook courtesy clap. Nay. A pity clap.

I don’t say this to the detriment of the riders, at all. Frankly, I’m lucky they even acknowledged that I was up there. I knew I was unprepared, and I received the recognition that a lack of preparation deserves.

I was in the middle of the group, so I had another 25 or so auditions during which I could marinate on my failure. I haven’t gone for gold and missed so widely in a long time.

I pause the story now to share with you, as the author, that what follows is relatively new. It’s a reaction, and a state of being that is decidedly different than what may have transpired even a few months ago.

In the face of embarrassment and sweat and time poorly spent and defeat, I just laughed.

I laughed at the absurdity of the workout gauntlet I was putting myself through. I laughed at my one foot in, one foot out approach to the audition, which is not exactly a recipe for surefire success.

In spite of the bruised ego, I was so relieved that I no longer felt attached to the shackles and weights of failure that I once was. I was thrilled that I saw this as an opportunity to find joy rather than find fault.

So, what did I learn?

Failure doesn’t hurt. What hurts is our belief that failure represents a shortcoming or imperfection in ourselves. What hurts is the idea that failure is permanent.

I haven’t heard back from Soulcycle, so this story may still have an unexpected twist if I somehow showed so much composure in the midst of a catastrophe that they feel compelled to give me a shot.

But more than likely, it will be a no.

This will be a story of a time when things didn’t work out.

This will be a story of what I went through before I figured it out and made something great happen.

If you enjoyed this article, please click the little heart button below and share it with your friends! They will be glad that you did.

If you loved this article, may I have your permission to tell you more about what I do?

Aug 03

The Bench Story

By admin | Uncategorized

Yes, you read that right. A story about a bench. This is one of my favorite chapters from my book. It introduces the moment when I learned the difference between working toward something and getting something done.

“Someone broke our bench? Are you fucking serious?”

Chef sighed. Chef, in these paragraphs, is Tony Maws. Chef and proprietor of Craigie on Main and Kirkland Tap and Trotter in Cambridge, MA. At the time, it was only Craigie — a mothership where he had relocated his tiny Craigie Street Bistrot to the bustling center of Central Square. Central Square was a funky neighborhood, housing much of the student spillover from Harvard and MIT. Massachusetts Avenue, the four-lane behemoth that bisected the main drag, was lined with liquor stores, head shops, banks, old school diners, an all organic Co-Op, and some of the best ice cream in Boston, just for fun.

“Why don’t we just go with one bench?” Asked Scott, the GM. Scott was in his early 40s and a long-time veteran of the industry. When I wrote anonymous letters to twelve chefs around Boston, Scott took the time to write me back. He was the only one who answered.

“No, one bench sucks. People get pissed when there isn’t enough seating, and we already have lines out the door every night at 5 PM.” Tony was thoughtful and ruthless — a survivor of building a restaurant and culture with nothing but his talent and sheer force of will. He didn’t have big investors or a big back up plan, so he was scrappy as hell. The new asshole he ripped me for spending $26 on extra FedEx shipping to ensure we got parchment paper to the restaurant on time is the fourth biggest in my storied list. He also owns the other three, and the list is only four long.

“Let’s just replace it — it sucks to spend money there, but I want people to sit outside.”

“It’s almost October,” Scott answered, “why not push it back to the spring so that it doesn’t take a Boston pounding and then we can start clean?”

“That works for me. Ralphie!”

My nickname was Ralphie. I’m not sure why. I don’t think anyone was quite sure, frankly. Danny Scampoli, the Executive Sous Chef at the time, gifted it to me. He was Boston through and through to his core, accent and all. When I started at the restaurant, I worked the door as a host. Bring people to their table, mark it in the computer, mark it on the pass, so the chef knew how many menus were in the dining room, return to host desk.

Sadly, if I’m honest, I was pretty terrible at this job.

But weren’t you a Harvard grad? I hear you asking yourself. Yes, yes I was. The problem is, Harvard doesn’t make you a warm person. It can contribute to making you a smart person. Restaurants, at least the enduring ones, bring together a person’s ability to use their intelligence to convey calm and warmth in the middle of a constant fire drill. I could nail the fire drill, but I couldn’t do it with anything that resembled grace, poise, or even a smile.

“Ralphie. Can you figure out a bench for us?”

“Yeah! Absolutely! Sure Thing!” I asked zero follow up questions — mistake number one. All I took from this meeting was that, come hell or high water, I was going to buy a goddamned bench.

Over the next week, I spent time bench searching. I was easily into the mid to late 20s of pages of Google searches about all of the possible places that we could even consider purchasing a bench. This responsibility is a pretty big deal. The chef never wants to spend money, so I have to be sure that I get the BEST bench for the BEST price from the BEST place. I’m going to blow his mother fucking bench mind.

Several weeks later, proud as punch, I sat down to our Tuesday manager meeting with a bench report. A bench report, for those ignoramuses out there who don’t do REAL work, is a spreadsheet that contains the names of websites where one can buy a bench, the types of benches they offer, the wood and marks of craftsmanship for said bench, the bench price, the shipping price, and the estimated time of construction based on high scientific analyses of the interior contents of the bench boxes containing the benches as well as the bench components to make the bench.

I had this shit on lock.

But months passed. The winter was pounding and long — huge snowdrifts were routine, and the entrance to the restaurant was a battleground of sopping coats, boots and umbrellas. We couldn’t clean fast enough.

Meanwhile, I continued on my bench odyssey. I was pretty sure that I knew what kind of wood I would want, based on its color, resilience, and price, but the style of these benches was killing me. We were no neighborhood joint — this was a classy establishment, and I was not about to demean its image with a shitty bench. Perhaps, if I found such a good bench, they would replace the other bench with another new bench, and revitalize the entire facade of the restaurant.

Are you bored of hearing me wax about benches? Good — you should be. So was the chef.

In early March, the snow was finally melting, and we had an unmistakably early spring day. It was bracingly cold but brightly clear. Expansive blue skies and intense sunshine lorded over the entire city.

The sun hit me in the face at manager meeting that Tuesday afternoon. I was huddled into the banquette with my big cup of coffee and a hunk of pain de mie (fancy white bread) with Nutella. I had a new bench report, the weather was perfect, and I was feeling pretty good.

“OK,” Chef started, “we always start with something nice. Ralphie — this is one of the best manager meeting food showings of all time. Well done.”

“Thanks, Chef! My something nice is the couple on 31 last night that we convinced to do a tasting, then convinced to do a 10-course, and then added dessert wine to finish their meal. They were filled with joy!”

“Agenda Item #1: New Bench. Ralphie, where are we?”

“Well, Chef, I know that last week I talked about the different shipping options.”

“Hold on — I thought when we left the last meeting you were going to order?”

“Well, I was! But then I realized that there were some other things I hadn’t considered. I want to make sure that I get this right!”

“But there’s no bench coming.” His last sentence was framed more like a sneer. If he were a cartoon, his face might have faded to red and blown the top of spewing imaginary lava all over the table. I kind of wish he had become a cartoon, because then if he killed me, I wouldn’t die.

“…No, Chef…” I stammered, “I didn’t order it.”


I was frozen. Two years after this ordeal, I think that I would have screamed back. Four years later, I would have tried to calmly explain myself and defend my position, like a good boy. Now, I would probably laugh. Imagining someone having such bench passion as to lose his or her shit over a bench, is fucking hilarious. I know this now, and it brings a smile to my face as I write this.

But back then? Shivering.

I was quiet for the rest of the meeting. I kept my head down and took notes, extra diligently, to avoid making eye contact with anyone at the table. When it finally adjourned, the chef turned back as he walked away and said, “You don’t want to know what happens if we don’t have a bench here by next week.” He was right — I didn’t.

Worry not, dear reader. This conflict is not the end of the harrowing tale. I found a great bench, dutifully constructed, and had it at the restaurant by next week. I even saved on shipping by finding an online coupon.

I did receive a ‘Thank You’ from the Chef, and I did have another manager pull me aside to tell me not to worry. I remember these moments as much as the main event and have logged into my inner-wiring that small gestures of kindness and gratitude to make a huge difference to people.

The real lesson I learned that day, though, was how to make salsa.

Or, said differently, salsa is the metaphor that I will forever use to think about the difference between ‘working toward’ something and ‘completing’ something.

Tony Robbins talks about this in several of his books. The difference between ‘Movement’ and ‘Achievement.’ Change is obviously necessary. We need to feel like we are accomplishing meaningful work to say engaged, and it’s hard to find real achievement or accomplishment every single day. However, that does that mean that we can completely distance ourselves from getting things done. Many factors obfuscate the deeper purpose of our work, but we ultimately need to commit to a final output and make it happen.

If you were making salsa, what would you do? Buy your produce, and wash it. Cut it up. Mix it together. Season it. Taste it. Season again. Taste it. Season Again. Taste it. Serve it. Each of these steps is important — critical to the process, one might say. For the bench, I become stuck in the season it / taste it wasteland. Back and forth and back and forth. To the end user, in one case the hungry football watcher anxiously clutching a dry tortilla chip with no relief for delicious, spicy salsa in sight, and in the other circumstances a stressed, overworked restaurant team despondent that their boy wonder from Harvard couldn’t buy a bench, both don’t really give a flying fuck until you Serve it. No one gets credit for working toward salsa, or working toward bench buying, or working toward skill building. You get credit for making salsa, buying a bench, and mastering a skill.

This crucial distinction has stayed with me for a long, long time, and continues to be a differentiating factor in the way that I approach a significant amount of the work that I do. I won’t start until I understand what it means to serve the salsa.

It was a painful lesson to learn, but I’m certainly glad that I did.

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