A difference in how men and women perceive their body weight

This is less of a rule and more of a correlation between gender and body weight perception:

Take a 170-pound man who used to be 155 pounds: If you point out that he used to be 15 pounds lighter–say, two years ago–he won’t believe you. He’ll think he may have been 165, or even 160, but never, ever, 155. You need to give him scientific, peer-reviewed evidence to have any chance that he’ll believe you.

Take a 170-pound woman who used to be 155 pounds: If you point out that she used to be 15 pounds lighter you’ll ruin her day, week, even month. She knows she used to be 15 pounds lighter, and it keeps her up at night.

Anson Dorrance, the most successful collegiate women’s soccer coach of all time, noticed this. When he coached men he had to provide video evidence to convince his players they did something wrong in a game. When he coached women he did not, because the women had already convinced themselves they did multiple things wrong in the game. He only used video for praise with women.

“I’m not creative”

Sometimes students tell me they’re not creative. Nonsense.

Ancient Romans believed that every person had a “genius”, or what the ancient Greeks called a “daemon”. It was thought to be a literal, yet unknowable spirit that lived inside the walls of an artist’s studio, underneath the desk of a senator, or between the books of a writer’s shelf. The daemon sent inspiration to humans, whispering sonatas, novels, paintings, or new legislation. In short, the ancients believed in magic.

This is a beautiful worldview, even if not a scientific one. A neuroscientist would point to the specific brain regions and wavelengths that inspire creativity, and while those findings have advanced human knowledge, it hasn’t led to more human creativity, and it’s certainly not an interesting way to live. Even if a daemon is only a metaphor to live by, so be it. We need metaphors to live by.

The daemon took a beating by the Renaissance starting in Europe in the 14th Century, when the human being became the center of the universe. No longer did we see a person as having a genius, but as being a genius. No longer could people dissociate themselves from their creativity; one was either a genius, or one was not. 

The daemon was all but killed by the industrial revolution, as we sought efficiency over creativity, money over beauty, compliance over ingenuity. We put people on assembly lines and asked them if they’d please punch-in and punch-out on a clock. We invented jobs, employees, bosses, and even “vacations”, where, maybe, a person could take two weeks to serve the daemon. Art became a niche, something you did in your spare time rather than in the workplace. If you were really good, or really lucky, or both, you could make a career of your art. 

Today, people are largely scared of their creativity, because the daemon doesn’t care what you think of her whispers, whether you’re delighted or terrified by them. The daemon wants her work made, and petty human feelings are no concern of hers. The daemon could tell you to quit your job, speak up in a meeting, or start a business. If you’re scared to do something, it’s most certain the daemon is whispering to you.

We’ve spent the last 150 years training people to be cogs in a machine–in school, at home, and every day on the job–and while that used to be efficient, it’s failing now. Cogs work, but cogs are replaceable, and if a robot can do your job faster or cheaper than you can you’ll one day be replaced.

We need artists now; not just painters, writers, and sculptors, but people who treat their work like art; people who see problems and discover solutions. Yes, I want my doctor to have her anatomy memorized, but I mostly want her to figure out how I can live to be 150, or how to make healthcare affordable for everyone, or even just how to cure my allergy. Robots already read X-Rays and do many surgeries better than she can.

My daemon is with me all the time, even if I only notice her occasionally. She’s there as I wake up, half-dreaming, whispering a new idea to pitch to my boss; she whispers a new piece of writing as I stand up to get another cup of coffee; she’s there as I’m falling asleep, whispering funny things to tell my colleagues tomorrow. She doesn’t rest, even when I’m too busy checking email to listen to her.

“Creativity” often tops the lists of soft skills employers are looking for. You already have it; the daemon is there. You merely need to listen.


The comedian Lewis Black tells students in his introductory class that the difference between being a comedian and being funny is five feet long: the length from the first row audience to the stage. It’s the difference between being part of a group, and being responsible for the group.

The key to becoming a good speaker is to become responsible for the group, even if for just one person. You don’t speak to delight yourself; you speak to delight others. Some people fall desperately in love with the vibrations of their vocal cords to their listeners’ detriment. Others, who seem like social butterflies, crumble in the face of an audience, as the responsibility of performing suddenly seems foreign to them. In both cases, the speakers are unprepared.

Speaking is easy for trained professionals: teachers, coaches, politicians, and dentists all control their narratives, within clearly-defined status roles, in which mistakes are easily disguised. These people can become unraveled in social settings, where status roles are murky and goals undefined. Their introversion overcomes them; they tell themselves they don’t like socializing; they prefer to be alone, they say. This might be true, but every human needs companionship, so every human needs the skill of speaking. 

Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk, coined solutions to this she calls, “Assuming the burden of the other person’s comfort,” and “Taking the host mentality.” Watch yourself, and notice how infrequently you do this: do you take responsibility to call you mom once-a-week? Do you take responsibility for your organization’s staff meetings going well? Do you take responsibility for the quality of a party, even if it’s not yours? You can for all of these, and you become a more valuable person for doing so.

Students often ask me how they should prepare for a job interview, and my answer is always some version of the same thing: “You’ve already been preparing.” That is, if you’ve spent years practicing taking responsibility for meetings, conversations, and discussions, a job interview will feel completely natural to you. If you haven’t, then spending a few days preparing for a fifteen-minute conversation isn’t going to help. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t do your homework on the job you’re interviewing for, but that by now you know the job interview isn’t about you getting the job; it is, once again, about delighting your audience. You’ve been practicing for years: talking to professors and peers, presenting in class, hosting parties. Every day you have another chance to prepare.

Interviewers see right through the highly prepared candidate. They’d rather have a good candidate, the product of years spent practicing. 

What competition misses

If I find out that a nationally-ranked field hockey team trains on Christmas Eve, I’m going to feel pressured to make Fredonia’s field hockey team train on Christmas Eve.

If I find out that Oneonta contributes X dollars to its athletic department, and Fredonia contributes X – 1 dollars to its, I’m going to feel pressured to contribute an extra dollar to keep up with Oneonta.

I’m pressured to put my resources–time and money–towards short-term, finite games (winning and status), at the potential expense of long-term, infinite games (education and family).

The NCAA says, “Here are the games; here are the rules; play if you wish,” and we all come away thinking life is a big competition. We cherry pick quotes from Darwin to support our intuitions.

But notice that if I gain wealth, you’re more likely to gain wealth; notice that if I learn statistics I can then teach you statistics; notice that everyone benefited when Bill Gates learned to write code.

We’re taught from a young age that life is a competition, and it is.

It also isn’t.

Never get high on your own supply

Steve Jobs: CEO of Apple
Biz Stone: Co-founder of Twitter
Kevin Kelly: Founding editor of Wired Magazine

Three major players in the tech industry; all three wouldn’t let their children have tech products before a certain age, and only then for a certain amount of time each day.

“Never get high on your own supply” is a cardinal rule for drug dealers (I’m told). It works in tech, too.

How much money do you expect to make?

A funny thing happens when we’re young: having only ever made minimum wage, we seek out jobs that will continue paying us minimum wage. The older we get the more money we seek, but only gradually, and only in proportion to the money we think we should have at that age.

Is it possible that we could just decide we’re worth more, seeking out jobs that match that worth?

Her behavior

Even if it flummoxes you, her behavior makes perfect sense to her.

And once you realize that, you can ask yourself why her behavior makes sense to her; what story she’s telling herself to make her act that way. And if you can understand the story she’s telling herself you can have a better conversation with her.

There is a word for this: “empathy”.