The Patriot Act and the Coronavirus: Crisis and Privacy, We Have Seen This Before

We are treading in the unfamiliar neck high waters of a novel virus pandemic, yet we are also treading in the murky familiar pattern of sacrificing privacy for urgency. It was not that long ago that our country collectively experienced the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Our leaders needed a rapid solution to counter the terrorists after realizing that our ineffective bureaucracy was impeding intelligence work as well as stifling speed of action. America’s civil liberties changed along with the twin tower attacks and a valid justification for a decrease in privacy. As the immediate threat subsided, the justification of a possible future attack kept those diminished privacy laws in place. Is it difficult to see the same pattern playing itself out now with the COVID-19 pandemic? We have a valid life-threatening reason to give companies like Apple and Google free reign into our personal lives (as if they don’t already). They can help save us from ourselves using their technology. In tech we trust!

It has been said by many a politician that one should never waste a good crisis. Congress could never have passed the laws that followed 9/11 under any other circumstances. The USA Patriot Act grew into an organism with tentacles too long to unwind ourselves from its grasp. Then in 2008 after the housing bubble burst (that no one saw), we decided more legislation was the answer once again! Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act to protect us from further systemic financial threats. I liken these bills that go to extreme measures after the fact to putting in a million-dollar security system after your house has already been robbed. I get it, it makes you feel safe, but the deed’s been done, and probably won’t happen the same way again. Now on the cusp of another crisis we are again looking to enact more sweeping measures, but this time to give broad powers to a few companies to examine everything we do.

September 11th and the Patriot Act

If we look back at the sentiment of the country during the September 11th attacks, it was a time of confusion and fear. Sure, as the years passed on, those sentiments have faded from our collective memories, but the reality is that we were all in a state of shock. The reaction was quick and decisive. The measures subsequently put in place provided refuge and immediate protection.

The longer-term repercussions and ramifications, which we did not see then, now bring up questions like how do we unravel these labyrinthine measures in peace time? The greater question is in the future how do we learn from the past and implement policies that both protect us within a crisis, and not impact future generations that might not have been alive during their creation but are suffering under its repercussions. We justify it by saying it is the only world they know. My children know nothing else than a world with social media, too much sharing and an invasion of privacy. They were simply born into and so it is.

When the terrorist threat was imminent, we liked the idea of going after the bad guys that were trying to kill us and going after them as quickly as possible. I get it. I was in that camp. What we did not like was the idea that there was someone somewhere reading all our emails and searching all of our private conversations without legal justification. That seemed like a step over the edge.

In my deep dive (not really), into Wikipedia, I found some startling information I did not previously know about the Patriot Act. It looks like we were surely stepping on fourth and first amendment rights in an obvious way. It states,“…the permission given to law enforcement to search a home or business without the owner’s or the occupant’s consent or knowledge; the expanded use of National Security Letters, which allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to search telephone, email and financial records without a court order…”(Patriot Act, n.d.)

When you look at what Wikipedia calls the most controversial parts of the USA PATRIOT Act and the case of Nicholas Merrill you start to worry that we are exemplifying George Orwell’s 1984 fears to a T. I apologize for the long quote, but I felt it was worth the read.

Wikipedia USA Patriot ACT Title V

“One of the most controversial aspects of the USA PATRIOT Act is in Title V, and relates to National Security Letters (NSLs). An NSL is a form of administrative subpoena used by the FBI, and reportedly by other U.S. government agencies including the CIA and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). It is a demand letter issued to a particular entity or organization to turn over various records and data pertaining to individuals. They require no probable cause or judicial oversight and also contain a gag order, preventing the recipient of the letter from disclosing that the letter was ever issued. Title V allowed the use of NSLs to be made by a Special Agent in charge of a Bureau field office, where previously only the Director or the Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI were able to certify such requests.[114] This provision of the Act was challenged by the ACLU on behalf of an unknown party against the U.S. government on the grounds that NSLs violate the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution because there is no way to legally oppose an NSL subpoena in court, and that it was unconstitutional not to allow a client to inform their Attorney as to the order because of the gag provision of the letters. The court’s judgement found in favour of the ACLU’s case, and they declared the law unconstitutional.[115] Later, the USA PATRIOT Act was reauthorized and amendments were made to specify a process of judicial review of NSLs and to allow the recipient of an NSL to disclose receipt of the letter to an attorney or others necessary to comply with or challenge the order.[116] However, in 2007, the U.S. District Court struck down even the reauthorized NSLs because the gag power was unconstitutional as courts could still not engage in a meaningful judicial review of these gags. On August 28, 2015, Judge Victor Marrero of the federal district court in Manhattan ruled the gag order of Nicholas Merrill was unjustified. In his decision, Judge Marrero described the FBI’s position as, “extreme and overly broad,” affirming that “courts cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, simply accept the Government’s assertions that disclosure would implicate and create a risk.” He also found that the FBI’s gag order on Mr. Merrill “implicates serious issues, both with respect to the First Amendment and accountability of the government to the people.” [117] Initially, the ruling was released in redaction by Judge Marrero. The FBI was given 90 days to pursue any other alternative course of action but elected not to do so. Upon release of the unredacted ruling on November 30, 2015, it was revealed for the first time the extent to which the FBI’s NSL accompanied by a gag order sought to collect information. Through the court documents, it was revealed for the first time that through an NSL, the FBI believes it can legally obtain information including an individual’s complete web browsing history, the IP addresses of everyone a person has corresponded with, and all the records of all online purchases within the last 180 days. The FBI also claims via the extension of an NSL, it can obtain cell site location information. In the landmark case of Nicholas Merrill the FBI in specific sought to seek the following information on an account: DSL account information, radius log, subscriber name and related subscriber information, account number, date the account opened or closed, addresses associated with the account, subscriber day/evening telephone numbers, screen names or other on-line names associated with the account, order forms, records relating to merchandise orders/shipping information for the last 180 days, all billing related to the account, internet service provider (ISP), all email addresses associated with the account, internet protocol address assigned to the account, all website information registered to the account, uniform resource locator address assigned to the account, any other information which you consider to be an electronic communication transactional record. This was the first time it was revealed the extent to which an NSL under the Patriot Act could request communication information.[118][119]” (Patriot Act, n.d.)

Corona Tracking

As it stands today, we are allowing tech companies like Apple and Google to track us using the Bluetooth chip that is in your smartphone. The idea is that it will reduce the spread of coronavirus by letting phone users know when they are in proximity to someone who has been infected.

This gives me mixed feelings for several reasons. First, I love technology (Napoleon Dynamite reference), but I also love what technology can do and will do in the future. I love the idea of technology saving us from a pandemic. What better use of human ingenuity and years of collaborations eventually culminating to saving our planet from a deadly disease?

All that being said, it doesn’t come free. It comes at the expense of our personal privacy. To many placing technology and privacy on the scales of lady justice, it seems like a good trade-off. Right now, in the moment it seems like a great idea. Yeah, sure, let’s get it done ASAP and save the world.

It is only in hindsight when we don’t have the pandemic equivalent of looking down the barrel of a gun, that we realize we don’t want that Bluetooth technology tracking us all of the time. It already does, but now it will be deeply tracking everyone we encounter. Does this lead to a 1984 Orwellian future where there are no secrets and there is no privacy from big brother?

In the wrong hands this tracking data could give information to mal-intentioned individuals information about high profile targets, like heads of state, governmental power players, or athletes and celebrities. We have seen increases in cyber-attacks but imagine the havoc that could be wreaked with knowledge of everyone you’ve interacted with, in addition to where you’ve been at all times.

We have already seen the great use of coronavirus tracking software to help us stay informed as to how the virus is spreading. That has been a wonderful tool for local and national leaders to help implement polices to keep citizens safe. That is a prime example of how information sharing technology can bring about positive results.

If history has taught us anything it is that when too much power (today that is information), is concentrated in the hands of too few, that power will be abused. Not always, but most of the time. Take Congress with its spending and legislative power. CEO’s and boards with abilities to set salaries and benefits, including golden parachutes. Think of powerful men and their abusive sexual exploits leading to the Me-Too movement. Lastly think of what we did with the Patriot Act and how to this day we are still unwinding the tentacles of 20 years ago.

Again, I am not against the idea of tracking individuals that have the virus and spreading it. I think it is a brilliant idea and we are fortunate to live in a time when we can do it. It is still many times better to be alive today in a world in the throes of a pandemic than it is to be alive in the centuries before. We just need to make sure that we have a well thought out exit strategy that will see us through the other side. Think of all of this like a prenup. We need a pandemic technology prenup. The right to split up amicably and quickly and we want it all in a writing beforehand. There will come a day when we are not worried about the pandemic and fear of losing our loved ones. And on that day our minds will shift from fear of pandemic death to the realization that we killed our civil liberties.

Gratitude In Isolation With 5 Young Kids

As I read the headlines about the Coronavirus death toll in New York and all over the world, I say a silent prayer. Language can’t describe, and others can’t comprehend the agony of loved ones left in a wake of despair and grief. So many words not said, and so many lights dimmed too soon. It is a challenging time for our relatively young species, and we are all being tested in many ways. It contrast, it is beautiful to see many people rising to the challenge as they become the heroes they never knew they were.

As I contemplate on the many stories I read, I feel a profound sense of gratitude for my young, beautiful, bright, children, and my kind and loving wife. I thought it would be difficult to be in isolation all day, every day, with five young kids, and no ability for them to leave to play with friends. It has truly been a special experience, as I’m usually gone at work for many hours, and rarely see them during the day. I get to enjoy my time with them in a way I don’t normally get to. There are many discussions had where I teach, uplift, but most importantly I listen. Surprisingly as we discuss the severity of what is happening all around us, each child, even my youngest, understands and recognizes how fortunate we are.

If we are able to live and breathe for another day, it is a blessing. If we can see the sun and the faces of those we love, it is a blessing. If we can hear the sounds of nature, and the voices of those close to us, it is a blessing. Even if we are alone, but recognize that with God, we are never alone, it is a blessing.

As tough as it is around the world right now we have much to be thankful for. When I was nineteen and serving as a missionary in Africa I lost a close friend to a senseless murder. Even in that time of pain and darkness, I still recognized there was still much to be thankful for including the time I had with my deceased friend.

In everything we go through, we can decide how we react. As Viktor Frankl taught in Man’s Search For Meaning, between stimuli and reaction there is always a space. In that space we can choose how we react. We can choose to be bitter and spiteful, or we can choose to be grateful and hopeful. In a world with enough pain, suffering and anguish for many lifetimes, I choose the latter.

Never Short Human Ingenuity

In the stock market you can profit if a company’s stock price declines. It’s known as a short position. If you had taken a short position in a large U.S. stock market index right before the pandemic hit our shores, you would have a positive gain today (April 6th, 2020), all because of the markets swift and speedy decline.

It sounds like a rather good idea, and shorting can work well within a small time period. You would never want to bet against the overall U.S. markets in the long run (for multiple years), and let me tell you why. Historically the S&P 500 which tracks large U.S. stocks has ended each year positively 76% of the time and negatively 24% of the time. Any economy that allows its citizens freedom to pursue their own individual economic interests is very difficult to contend against. Any time there is a capitalistic free-market, coupled with a democratic society, you unleash human ingenuity. Any time you control or dictate what people are allowed to invest in, or create barriers to creation, you stifle human ingenuity. Humans when allowed to explore, grow, fail, and create, can do, and have already done remarkable things. Look at our historical track record. Consider a few recent innovations i.e., automobiles, jet airplanes, the internet, air conditioning, television, refrigeration, satellites, space exploration, and the list can go on and on indefinitely. Do you think that innovation and breakthroughs in various fields will stop, or even slow down? I don’t. I see an acceleration of all of these things as the world becomes smaller and smaller and as information is shared between us.

Remember that in the past our markets and economies survived not one, but two world wars, the Spanish Flu pandemic, the Great Depression, the Korean War, Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis (where we were days away from a nuclear War), Black Monday in 1987, the Dot-Com crash, 9-11, the housing bubble, and the Great Recession.

We have been through some dark days in humanity’s history. We have seen worse days than what our world is experiencing in our current pandemic. We will come out of this more resilient, and also more compassionate. Humanity, despite what we read in the news is improving. Sometimes that progress happens so slowly that it is difficult to observe and identify, but it is happening nonetheless. Yes, there are periods of regression, but they never last. The truth always prevails.

In the end, human ingenuity has always outsmarted mankind’s smartest skeptics and naysayers. Nothing can be fathomed without it first being imagined. It takes imagination and hope to create. We are living in a world of endless possibilities, and now more than ever, endless opportunities are before us. Never short humanity, you will lose every time.

3 Lessons on Success from a Billionaire and an Ascetic Leader

Some might think that Stephen A. Schwarzman and Mahatma Gandhi couldn’t be any further apart from one another. As different as they may seem these two extraordinary men both came from humble beginnings to become world renowned. I just started reading Stephen’s new book and Gandhi’s autobiography at the same time. Even in their early years you can see similarities in their trajectories. In Stephen you have an overly ambitious founder of one of the world’s leading asset managers, and one of the richest men in the world. In Monhandas Karamchand Gandhi, you have an ascetic seeker of truth, political and civil rights activist, and a staunch opponent of colonial rule.

Below are three main similarities that I found in common between the two.

  1. If you have to be thinking, you might as well think big.
  2. Challenge accepted practices
  3. Seek your own truth

1. If you have to be thinking, you might as well think big.

In Stephen’s book What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence, Stephen is undeniably a big picture thinker and yet he also delves into the details. Let me give you an incredible example. While he was a young boy working for his dad’s window drapery business in Pittsburgh he tries to convince his father to expand. He first starts off with the idea of going nationwide. His dad shoots him down but Stephen attempts again by asking what about multiple locations all over the region, or even just multiple stores? He quickly realizes that his dad has no ambitions outside of just running his store. At that young age Stephen comes to the conclusion that some are just managers and others are entrepreneurs. He was already thinking really big as a kid. In his book he explains, “it’s as hard to start and run a small business as it is to start a big one. You will suffer the same toll financially and psychologically as you bludgeon it into existence. It’s hard to raise the money and to find the right people. So if you’re going to dedicate your life to a business, which is the only way it will ever work, you should choose one with the potential to be huge.”

Gandhi in his own right was also a big thinker. You don’t free an entire colonized country like India from Imperial Britain without some outsized ideas and aspirations. That being said, even early on, before he was the great social reformer that we now know, he had big plans. He came from a working class family in India. His father died while he was young. Gandhi left his single mother, his young wife (they were married at 13), and his newborn child to go study in England in hopes of becoming a barrister. He left everything he knew at great expense to his family and started a life that was so foreign from what he knew, all because he dared to dream. He was bold and audacious even while having a shy personality. He took a large risk and it was much larger than most around him were willing to take. Both he and Steven started in small humble places, but thought about getting to bigger and better.

2. Challenge accepted practices

The best example of this is how Stephen managed to change the rules at Yale for visitations from members of the opposite sex. In his book he states, “In my final year [at Yale], I decided to take on the biggest issue of all for Yale’s men: the 268-year old parietal rules that forbade women staying overnight in a dorm room. ” Now I’m not saying he used his abilities for all the right reasons but he managed to change these rules by outsmarting the school administrators. He knew he couldn’t discuss changing the rules with them so he decided to do a survey of students, who majoritively supported abolishing the old rules. Steven then published the results in the student paper with supporting reasons. The Yale administrators folded. What most people would just accept as the way things were, Stephen sought to change. He challenged conventionally accepted practices over and over again with astonishing results.

Gandhi didn’t fully accept the traditional practices of his day despite what some may think of him. He was definitely a non-conformist and that is obvious from the beginning of his autobiography. He came from a vegetarian and deeply religious family and yet in his youth he had secretly been eating meat, smoking cigarettes, and even ended up in a brothel. Fortunately for him and future admirers of the leader, nothing happened in the brothel. To be clear he had firm values and felt much guilt because of his wayward ways, and mostly for disobeying his parents. What really shows Gandhi’s grit early in his life is a prime example of his disregard for the way things are just accepted by everyone else. In Gandhi’s quest to leave India for England he was confronted by people of his caste who forbade him to leave to England. Gandhi was reprimanded, looked down upon by others around him, and the leaders of his group. They told him that people of his caste don’t leave India to study abroad. Gandhi explains in the book how he just didn’t care what they thought. It is interesting to see how even in his youth he didn’t accept what everyone told him was the way things were done. He simply left. He didn’t care about their antiquated rules. He never looked back.

3. Seek your own truth

Stephen created his success by seeking for opportunities that were different than people around him. He took his own path which was really unique at the time. From his average high school and town he managed to get into a premier Ivy league school on his own. While a college student at Yale he found grueling work on cargo ships in the summer that traveled the world. He joined the army reserves during Vietnam and turned in leaders who were stealing food and selling it, which earned him recognition from a colonel. He went on to Harvard Business School but was so disappointed by the curriculum, the teachers, and the administration, that he complained about it to the Dean of Harvard Business School who flat out asked him, “Mr. Schwarzman, have you always been a misfit?” No matter where he went Steven was trying to get to the truth of things in his own unique way. He was forging his path of truth.

Gandhi was also seeking for his own truth. The subtitle of his book is, The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Gandhi displayed an ability as mentioned previously to look outside of himself and what others thought to be the conventional way of life. His leaving his homeland, mother, wife and young child to go study was very unconventional for someone of his background. This is further evidenced by the resistance of others in his caste. He mentions though how he was interested and influenced by three “moderns” as he calls them. He was influenced by a young man named Raychandbhai who was a savant and also a wise spiritual man that he knew. The other two were “Tolstoy by his book, The Kingdom of God is Within You; and Ruskin by his Unto the Last.” For an Indian man such as Gandhi to be reading and influenced by these men says something. It shows that we was seeking for truth well beyond the world his neighbors and friends were confined to. He even later named one of his South African farms after Tolstoy. He was seeking not just in Hindu texts from his background but in the Qur’an and the Bible as well.

These two men although worlds apart had many similar characteristics that helped them in their early years in life. So we find that principles of truth and character are not limited to race, gender, nationality, geography, or wealth. They transcend space and time and are available to all. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Jewish-American billionaire or an Ascetic spiritual leader, these principles can be applied by all who are willing.

Faith and Remembrance

In the trying times that our world is under it is common and healthy to ask for a why. What is the purpose and what is the meaning to all of the fear, and suffering we are witnessing and some of us experiencing? We anguish at those we love who are worried and we see the news of hopelessness as many have lost jobs and are trying to figure out their next steps.

No one on this earth has a true grasp of the why. That is for our Creator to know and for us to maneuver through with faith. If we had a deep knowledge and fundamental understanding of the why it would impede our ability to place faith in him who is our Father.

In the same way that my young children put all of their trust and faith in me because they recognize subconsciously what they don’t know, and I am a source of wisdom and understanding, so it is with our Heavenly Father to us. But as children get older, usually in their teenage years, they come to the realization that they know everything about life and don’t need an old man’s wisdom. In fact they believe they know more than their Father.

Our Heavenly Father reminds who has all knowledge and power. It is important for us to remember. Remembrance is a part of faith. Remember the times when we felt the hand of the Divine intervening in our lives. Through this remembrance we can build our faith. Sometimes we forget God in the hustle and bustle of our daily grind.

God has a way of slowing things down and helping us to remember. He does it many ways but sometimes he can do it to everyone all at once and remind us who is in control, and in who we need to place our faith.

Simeon Stylites

A man lived on top of a pillar for 37 years. You read that right. He lived 50 feet in the air on top of a 10 foot square pillar. Not only did he live there, he was exposed to the elements. He was exposed to the winter and summer near Aleppo, in what is now modern day Syria. Thirty six degree Fahrenheit average lows in the winter and 98 degree average highs in the summer. Sometimes it snows and sometimes it’s over 100 degrees in the summer. Rain or shine, he stayed on his pillar.

He was born Simeon around the year 390 A.D. in Sis, found in modern day Turkey. The picture above is what is left of the pillar he stood on. After a bombing by Russian military forces in 2016 during the ongoing Syrian war the pillar has been destroyed.

Christianity was growing rapidly in Simeon’s lifetime and was becoming openly accepted by rulers and leaders. Simeon, at a young age was so moved by reading the Beatitudes that it sparked his lifelong quest for truth. This small event in his life is an extraordinary example of the power of scripture. The word of God in written form has the power to change the trajectory of lives in sometimes rather spectacular ways. Who would’ve thought that a young boy influenced by the beatitudes would go on to influence the world in such a profound way? This is very similar to the experience of Joseph Smith, the latter day prophet, after reading a passage in the book of James.

Simeon tried to join a monastery in Egypt but was rejected because of the extremeness of his asceticism. That is really saying something about Simeon’s level of devotion to his cause if Monk’s were thinking he was taking things too far. He later fasted during the entire period of lent, nearly died, and because of this immortal feat became a fairly popular guy. He fled the fame for isolation and prayer to God and had followers that wouldn’t leave him alone. He eventually retreated to a pillar in an old city but when followers still came to him, he retreated to an even higher pillar about 50 feet high. Atop the pillar Simeon would pray and give sermons to the crowds that came to hear from him. These followers included Roman emperors and other leaders that sought his counsel. So revered to believers in Christ that Simeon today is venerated as a Saint in the Oriental Orthodox Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Anglican Church.

I’m not one to judge and I believe there is truth to be had from everyone. I like to learn from other people and I genuinely want to know their perspectives. Where they come from? How they were raised? Why they think the way they do? Why they do the things they do? It is no different with Simeon Stylites. By the way, stylites is derived from the ecclesiastical Greek term for pillar, hence the appellation.

When I first heard of Simeon’s story my first impression was how is this even possible? After further research my thoughts shifted to this is an impressive man with complete control of his mind and body. As I read further I wanted to understand the why. After more reading I’ve come to the conclusion that his reason was tied to his search for God, truth, and meaning. This was Simeon’s quest for learning and divine guidance. He shunned the throngs of followers not because he was mean. He was seeking for God and truth and not fame or money. He wanted to hear the inspiration of the divine or as modern Christians know, the influence of the Holy Ghost. I’m sure some were attracted to him because of his extreme asceticism and the novelty of what he was doing. That is human nature. There were probably others who wanted to be close to learn from him. He had many imitators. So many that people were imitating him for centuries. Yes, for hundreds of years there were stylites. Yet through the fame Simeon found truth in isolation and in constant prayer and meditation.

What is the lesson to be learned from Simeon? What is the application to our modern day? After all, this is why we read and study. It is for learning, yes, but more importantly to change our behavior and for application. For me there are several great lessons to learn from Simeon.

First, the human spirit is something that we don’t really understand. Simeon proves that there is no limit to what the mind and body can overcome and achieve when they are working towards a goal.

Second, it is incredible to see a Christian who can be in the world yet also be so separate from it in his living and devotion. Again, is this the approach that I would take? No, but that doesn’t matter, and I have a different world view, different experiences, and different beliefs. Also I believe periods of isolation are healthy, but then I also enjoy periods of being surrounded by family, friends, and neighbors. I am a social being for sure. Before anyone confuses or misinterprets what I am writing, Simeon did perform daily sermons from his pillar and he also converted many Arabs to Christianity. He was also a social, loving person.

In a day where I hear people bemoaning the Coronavirus isolation, and having to be inside all day, I wonder how Simeon would view our modern culture and our application of Christianity. I imagine that he would first recognize that we are weak in many ways and highly distracted by fleeting materialism. Could we look at his example and extract some of the devotional habits to apply into our lives? Could we be more willing to pray and meditate and focus less on the external and more on the internal?

Could we overcome our worldly habits and lust for sex, food, and comforts? I certainly don’t think that I could have the devotion, fortitude and discipline of a Simeon, not by any means am I even close. But I would like to be more disciplined in my devotion. So in my life, I think I can fast more. Fast earnestly and try not to focus so much on my hunger, but on my prayers for others and for those suffering in this pandemic.

I can dim my lustful and materialistic thoughts, and focus my thoughts on serving my fellow brothers and sisters in their time of need. I could do as Simeon and focus on studying and teaching those around me what I know. Most importantly I could deepen my devotion to God and his children by seeking ways to inspire and uplift others.

If you think about it, all of his followers looked up to Simeon. They looked up to his example in a figurative way, but even emperors had to physically look up to him. He was a light set on a hill that brought more people closer to Jesus Christ by just living on pillar. May we all reach upward and lift others eyes upward as well.

Deep Work

About a week ago I finished a book that caused me to have a paradigm shift. That’s saying something considering how much I read. I like to read. That’s a lie. I love to read. I’m an unapologetic bibliophile. My wife thinks it’s disease. I think it’s a gift. I digress.

Back to the point of this post. The book I finished that caused a change in my worldview is Cal NewPort’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. As you can tell by the first paragraph I’m not a distracted person. That is probably why I so greatly enjoyed this book, I needed it. Like a moth to a flame I read through this book and enjoyed every morsel of research and devoured each chapter.

Cal is unique individual. He seems to have a predisposition to cut through the noise and get to the meat of things. From the descriptions he gave about how many research papers he publishes each year to his tenured track at Georgetown University, this guy means business. His style is easy to read and his thoughts are so clear that I sometimes had to pause and appreciate their profound importance.

What was it about this book that changed my thinking? Cal makes the point early on that we live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with useless information, phone notifications, banner ads, and trivial alerts. Our brains are addicted to social media code that is written to lure us into a time suck vortex. We clicked on Facebook and Instagram to quickly check in only to later realize we’ve spent several hours down a digital rabbit hole and forgot to work on that project.

Now, that was all stuff I had heard before. Social media is bad and a waste of time, blah, blah, blah. I knew that, that’s why I spend so little time on it. At least that’s what I tell myself. Where the book and his ideas really shine is when Cal explains that the ability to do deep, meaningful, distraction-free work is a special ability. An ability that will be highly sought after and will be something akin to a superhero power. Cal goes on and on about various tools, tips, and methods to deep work but the concept of deep work being unique and sought after is what made it interesting to me.

I became even more intrigued when Cal started explaining the difference between what he calls shallow work and deep work. This explanation hit me so hard that I came to the realization that most of what I do is shallow work. What? I do shallow work? Yes, and so do you. Yes you. You’re doing shallow work.

So what is the difference between deep and shallow work? I thought you’d never ask. Shallow work is defined by its ability to be easily replicated. Or said otherwise by Cal, the ability for you to train a recent college grad to do the same work. In essence, the quicker the recent college grad can be trained to do your work, the shallower it is. The more difficult it is for your work to be replicated, the deeper the work you are doing. If you can train Parker to do you your job as effectively as you can in a week or two, your job security might be in trouble. If it will take years of training to get Parker to where you are and there is a chance he may never get there, then you my friend are doing work that is both deep and providing you some job security. Well this is assuming your job is necessary and/or in demand in the marketplace.

I’m oversimplifying what is a well thought out book to give you some of the broader points. Deep work is meaningful work. It is greatly satisfying work. It usually doesn’t involve filing papers or filling out generic forms. There is nothing wrong with doing those things as a job, but it is not deep work. Deep work usually involves several layers of critical thinking, creativity, and imagination. It is the kind of work that if done consistently could change your life. It’s obvious you don’t want to waste your life just merely being entertained. That’s not being productive. But we also fool ourselves into thinking that we are being productive when in reality we are not really working, or worse, we are bogged down in shallow unimportant work.

So what is the solution? The solution is to be brutally honest with ourselves and ask hard questions. How much time am I really working in an 8 hour day? How much of the time when I am supposedly working am I doing deep work as opposed to shallow work? If I’m wasting time with shallow work is there anyway that I can minimize it or find a way to delegate it?

The other thing that is great about this concept is that it trickles down to every other aspect in your life. If you can be brutally honest about how you are spending your time and whether or not you are doing the most important thing, you will start to ask yourself questions like I did. Is this the best time of day for me to focus on this? Turns out it’s better for me to focus on the really hard things earlier in the day. Is this work really something that I need to or should I delegate this? What is the most important work that I could be doing right now?

It’s hard enough to face the hard truth of how little we actually work and how much time we waste with things that are not important. It’s taking you to a whole other level to analyze your “work” and see whether it is deep meaningful work or frivolous shallow work. This is something that is varied from occupation to occupation, but most people when honest with themselves know the difference.

Reading this book has changed the way I perceive and analyze the work I am doing. It has also helped me to be more honest with myself and has helped me to realize how much of my life is skewed by my own perception of what I think I am doing, and not necessarily what my time and results actually show.

What I have also found is that when I do deep work, work that challenges me in many ways, it is then that I am happiest. When I meet resistance with focus and get lost or entranced in what I am doing, that is when joy melds with productivity. May we all find more moments of blissful deep work.