Newsletter Excerpt: "On Forcing the Issue"

If you listened to Cognitive Revolution before, you've probably heard me talk my Friendship Friday newsletter. I've played around with that format for a couple months now, and I haven't been able to get it to feel quite right. Last week, I tried something a bit different and liked the way it came off. So I figured I would share that with you here. If you like the new direction and want to receive more content like this, you can subscribe here.


You can listen to the full thing on Cognitive Revolution, or you can read the original letter below.

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Dear Luke, I have for several months now been trying to get this damn newsletter to work. For the past seven weeks now I've been sending out my 'Friendship Friday' letter. When I started it I thought the motivation was solid: it's an important topic, and one that's generally under-represented in the public discourse on psychology's impact on life. But it's not yet sitting right with me. It feels contrived, like it's not coming from my real voice. And I don't find myself looking forward to doing when it comes around each week. I feel like I am forcing the issue. On the one hand, this is kind of thing I've always done. I'm a big believer in putting work out there before you're completely sure about it, and trying to tighten it up as you go. In Silicon Valley, they'd call this sort of thing a minimum viable product. It's better to produce something than nothing, because if you're waiting until something's perfect it'll never see the light of day. Part of the reason I'm so big on this is that I don't really know what I think about something until I say it and hear how it sounds. Stupid, I know. It was Aristotle, I believe, who once said something to effect of "it is the mark of an educated mind to entertain an idea without accepting it." I can't do that. I have to try an idea on -- like a tailored suit or a pair of shoes -- and walk around in it for a bit just to see how it fits. But on the other hand, this means that I am always starting projects which are at least partially misguided. Then when a new idea pops into my head, I'm at a loss as to whether I should abandon the one I've got going for something potentially better or hunker down and stay the course. During my worst fits, it feels as though these whims can change from hour to hour. So I remain unsure of if I should stick with the Friendship Friday plan, or try something new that I'm more excited about. But there is yet another, more fundamental question which may have occurred to you: Why the fuck do I need an email newsletter in the first place? To which I have two things to say: (1) Look around. Pretty much every big time non-fiction author has one, no matter how modest of a value-add it is to the other content on their platform. And if you believe what some of them say, email is still the most direct, personal line to a reader. Sure, it might be a small-time opportunity for me right now. But if I want to grow it into something significant -- as with any of my current projects -- a modest but consistent investment today will yield compound interest later on. (2) I am, as with so many who want to write, animated by the impulse to say something and have it be heard. It's less calculating than the above point, but no more laudable. In an essay called "Why I Write," George Orwell as listed his chief motive in writing "Sheer egoism: desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc." Thankfully, as Orwell notes, not everyone is driven by something so pathetically base. Perhaps that is why not everyone wants to write. And so when I inspect this suspicion that I am "forcing the issue" there is a bit of shame in it for me. Am I driven, as Orwell suggests, by sheer egoism? I wouldn't rule it out. Reflections such as these sometimes get me down -- as they did this week. Am I doing the right thing? Is what I'm making any good? And the answer those most likely being 'no,' will I ever create something that can truly be considered 'good?' But though these questions waylay me from time to time, I never let them put me out of the fight entirely. The reason they hurt so bad is that you feel, deep down, the answer is a negative one. You may or may not be 'good' yet. But you're damn sure not as good as you want to be. Dealing with that head on is an opportunity for true and legitimate improvement. And though, my dear Luke, our goals aren't exactly the same, you face many of the same challenges. How do you know that what you're doing is worthwhile? How can you tell whether you're on the right track? Of course, these questions do not admit of simple answers. Yet all things considered I stand by my initial judgment. Put your work out there. Put yourself out there. Allow yourself to be bruised by your own inadequacies. They will get better. Allow other people to say things that will put you down. Fuck 'em. You'll move on. And one day you'll make something which will genuinely, if only fractionally, improve the lives of those who engage it. Hang in there until then, CEK

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"The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge."

-Bertrand Russell