The Jewish Way

“Yes, and…” is the single most powerful vernacular I’ve learned this past decade.  When I was a younger man, still guileless and unknowledgeable about how the world worked, my default response to just about everything was “Yes, but…”  In part, it was my contrarian nature (“Thanks, Mom!”) but also, when I now reflect on those long ago, bygone days of naivete, I think there were two more components to it:  First, it made me feel smart and clever.  I genuinely enjoyed finding holes in other people’s arguments/belief systems/most cherished core values and dismantling them.  Like, it gave me a kind of (perverse?) joy that hardly anything else did.  Of course, occasionally, I’d meet someone who could hold their own (Bagel!) and then that’d be an even greater delight– being able to go “toe-to-toe” in an “epic meeting of the minds,” or at least that’s my hoity-toity narrative that I often entertained in my own imagination.

What’s interesting to me is that I never once held a shred or iota of sympathy for people (“debate counterparties,” in my mind) who I completely wrecked.  It was their own damned fault they couldn’t defend their thoughts and positions!  I was simply doing them a favor. Yes, I was just helping them see the error of their misguided ways, that’s right… it’s like Jeff Daniels’s “Mission to Civilize” in The Newsroom.  That’s what I’d always thought I was doing.

Second, and more importantly:  I always felt deeply unsettled when people seemed extremely confident or convinced about a position.  Like, it genuinely annoyed me how certain people could be about unfalsifiable claims or opinions (which by my lights) they hadn’t appeared to have really thought through.  And thus:  I always felt I was dutifully doing what was necessary by “filling in the gaps” and providing a more wholistic picture.  Again, I was helping!

Anyway, I stumbled upon the synagogue and Saturday Torah Study late in life, but the one life lesson I’ve learned from Judaism, at least as championed by my congregation and rabbi, is to simply change, “Yes, but…” to “Yes, and…”  Everything else can literally stay the same.  I kid you not– just change the “but” to an “and.”

And it’s worked!  People are now more receptive to my opinions!  They feel less threatened!  I’ve made more friends!  People think I’m less of a jerk and haughty, arrogant prick now.  Honest to God, this simple lexicon change has made all the difference.


Feeling good is important. That sentiment may seem banal and trite but for me, it was a lesson hard learned. When I was a younger man, all gasoline and no brakes as they say, emotions felt of little import. Sure, feeling happy or excited was useful. And feeling manic was definitely helpful towards being productive. But more than anything else, when I was younger, I was very much drawn towards action. No matter the circumstance, just knock off the next task on the list. Move, move, move.

As a young person, as long as you’re still on the rails of high school, then college, then work– this system works decently well. As long as you stay on those well-worn rails, you can generally cruise control through life with minimal thought. Study, graduate, make money, pay bills, repeat. Emotions never really entered the equation much anywhere.

But after getting derailed, I’ve come to realize that emotions actually do matter. They matter when you can’t just put everything on autopilot. When there’s no academic calendar or Dilbert-style office overlord driving your schedule, you’re suddenly on the hook for what to do next. And this individual freedom to decide “what’s next”— that really depends on feeling good, if you wish to be productive.

What I’ve come to learn after writing and publicly posting ~300 words every day is that writing is a kind of barometer for me about my mental and emotional state. It’s the proverbial canary in the coalmine. If the words come easily and flow– I’m in a good state. If I’m blocked, I’m apparently in a bad state or tired, even if I don’t feel bad or tired.

Related to this, by the way– the 85 percent rule! Tim Ferriss interviewed Hugh Jackman! (I absolutely love that episode and recommend it with every fiber of my being.) But basically: I’m at my best when I’m loose, operating at 85% capacity, and feeling good. That is my optimal state.

I’ve also come to learn that if you’re having trouble sleeping, writing the 300 words right before bed actually works quite well. It’s a good exercise that tires out those neurons.