#029 The Real Reward

Good morning! Stan Getz Quartet Radio on Spotify is on and this newsletter is coming 3 hours late, but at least it’s here.

The Real Reward

We’re constantly forgetting that you’re supposed to take off work on Federal Holidays. Every two months it goes something like this:

*Friday evening*

“Wait, are we taking off Monday?”

“What’s on Monday?”

Our new friends at Forth and Back Studio said they go through the same thing. At happy hour on Friday we drank until we forgot what time it was and talked about all the things that small studio owners are constantly thinking about. I knew it was time to go home when we were drunkenly talking about injuries that have happened to us while snowboarding and surfing while fireworks were rapidly blasting off in the near distance.

I don’t think we realized the affects of working in isolation over the past year until we all felt a little more energized after hanging out with people who are also dealing with the same stuff on a day-to-day basis.

We ended up taking the 5th off for 4th of July Observed, but I try to take advantage of days with clear calendars and a quiet Slack team. It feels so rare to have uninterrupted space to work these days that by the time noon rolls around, I can’t help but to push things forward that require a lot of thinking. Things like this newsletter, PDA, and the future of MOUTHWASH.

My mom gives me a hard time about “working” on days off when I try to explain to her that maybe we have different definitions of work.

There’s a TED Talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called Flow, the secret to happiness. In the video (try to watch at 1.5x speed), he explains that when you’re so fully immersed in the process of creating something, your brain doesn’t have any leftover capacity to monitor how your body feels. You completely forget about your problems at home, your hunger, tiredness, or any other exterior forces between you and the thing that you’re consumed by.

Dr. Csikszentmihalyi claims that the thing you can achieve Flow with is what makes life worth living. After spending much of his life conducting research on the Flow State, Csikszentmihalyi says that these are the easiest ways identify whether or not we’ve achieved Flow:

  1. Completely involved in what we are doing — focused, concentrated

  2. A sense of ecstasy—of being outside everyday reality

  3. Great inner clarity—knowing what needs to be done, and how well we are doing.

  4. Knowing that the activity is doable—that our skills are adequate to the task.

  5. A sense of serenity—no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego.

  6. Timelessness—thoroughly focused on the present, hours seem to pass by in minutes

  7. Intrinsic motivation—whatever produces flow becomes its own reward

He goes on to further explain that we can actually map out and anticipate how close we are to Flow State based on the emotions we face at any given moment in our relationship with work, leaning new skills, interacting with people, etc.

His challenge is to ask yourself, “How do I put more and more of my every day life into Flow?” which he ultimately believes is the secret to happiness.

In addition to revisiting this video yesterday, I found this old article on NPR last night called Translating the Untranslatable. Essentially, a list of words that have no direct English meaning but can only be described. This one in particular caught my eye:

'Meraki' is a Greek word with no direct English translation that is used to describe the act of a person doing something with so much care, devotion, and attention, that they actually leave a piece of themselves in it.

As I get older and deeper into my life’s work, I realize the margin for both Flow and Meraki are both rare and rewarding. I don’t dream of labor but I am after the things that give back to us just as much as we give to it. At a certain point, “work” is much larger than money, pleasing the people who hire you, or the continued chase of self fulfilling achievement. The real reward feels achievable only through experience.

Paul Graham said it wonderfully in 2006 with his piece How to Do What You Love:

“But if you have the destination in sight you’ll be more likely to arrive at it. If you know you can love work, you’re in the home stretch, and if you know what work you love, you’re practically there.”

Abe said it even more simply on the last episode of our podcast, rhetorically asking:

“Does coming to the office feel like work to you guys?

We all looked at each other knowing the right answer. And with an understood agreement that we have to protect that for as long as humanly possible.

— Alex

Ideas from me


The problems you deal with now never really go away. They may dwindle down, get bigger, or turn into new problems, but creative life is a never-ending pursuit of problem solving.

Instead of wishing them away, brace yourself for whatever is next. 


Life has become so objective and restrictive that we've forgotten to fall in love and get lost.

You don't need a destination in mind to start, rather an empty road. You don’t have to be Mozart to feel your way in the dark toward divinity.

Don’t worry about the finish line today. Just do it because it feels good.


Some of my truest and longest-lasting friendships have started through recognizing or being recognized by the work that either of us are putting out in the world. When you create or see something that resonates with you, it acts almost as a connective tissue to things the things you’ve always felt but never knew how to say.

The work tells me three important things we all want in relationship that are undiscoverable through small-talk:

  1. What would you say if you were given the space to operate freely?

  2. To what level of depth and vulnerability are you willing to go?

  3. Can you stay honest, pure, and intentional even when exterior forces are pressuring you to be a lesser-than-version of yourself?

Quote from somebody else

In response to the question, What type of ambience do you try to create?

German Designer, Dieter Rams, gives the following:

“A quiet sense of order but without it feeling too restrictive. I feel as if the world continues to fill with clutter at such a disconcerting pace, good design has the task of being quiet and helping people generate a level of calm that allows them to be themselves. At home I can adjust my senses and sensitivity.”

Links worth sharing

♻️ A resource for sustainable packaging design

🤔 We all have main character energy now by Kyle Chayka via The New Yorker

🧑🏽‍💻 Developments.Media is making interviews with extremely talented people easier to understand and digest

🎥 Short documentary on Donald Judd available for free on Kanopy with a local library card

⭕️ Circular Economy

🏠 A Website is a Room - Cool space for people to contribute websites that make them feel some type of way. Thinking about this quote along with it.

💬 A list of words that have no English translation, only a long description of the specific feeling.

🥎 Marine Serre Core

Thanks for another week!

Common Discourse is a weekly briefing designed to help others (and myself) think through creativity, focus, and intentional work. It hits your inbox every Tuesday at 9:17am.

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