The Puzzle of Motivation

Finding Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose in Work

Hello hello —

Hope everyone is doing well, staying safe and healthy!

It’s been two months since we started working from home. As most of us have settled into new routines, workflows, childcare rituals, eating habits, and cleaning regimens. This is, for all intents and purposes, the new normal.

But how does work feel during this time?

Despite the semblances of normal, work (for those of us fortunate to still have a job and further fortunate enough to be working from home) I’m sure there’s still some adjusting to be done. Today I want to explore that, in the context of motivation.

Before I continue, I need to acknowledge how lucky and insulated we (reviewing the subscriber list) are in this cozy bubble of white-collar internet work.

In Dan Pink’s 2009 Ted Talk, “The Puzzle of Motivation” he speaks to traditional carrot and stick rewards programs and how they disincentivize 21st century work that requires “even rudimentary cognitive skill.” In other words, if/then rewards work well for tasks with narrow focus, but fall flat when it comes to complex problem solving.

Instead, he argues, motivation comes from a cocktail of Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose:

As a salesperson, I’ve held a consistent affliction with these learnings. Because accepting them felt like accepting either:

  1. My work is mechanical.

Perhaps, sales is a more mechanical task that doesn’t require much cognitive load. Perhaps, our commissions and bonuses are properly aligned. Perhaps, we’re not the savvy or skillful workers that we think we are. 

  1. My employer’s leadership is antiquated.

Perhaps, sales requires resourcefulness and complex problem solving. Perhaps, despite the research being right in front of us, the leaders of multi-billion dollar companies still struggle to find an incentive-framework better than the antiquated systems of the Industrial Age.

Either way, it felt like a loss.

Fast-forward to present day where in the midst of a global pandemic I feel more motivated by work than ever before. Critics will say I’m pandering. Cynics will say I’m stuck in the first stage of social response:

I’ll disagree. As entertaining as Pink’s TED Talk is/was, it’s incomplete and he acknowledges that.

“I want to talk today only about autonomy.”

Of the triptych, Autonomy at work feels the easiest to explain in a Covid world. Both types of freedom have been firing on all cylinders.

Let’s digress:

“Negative freedom is freedom from external interference that prevents you from doing what you want, when you want to do it. These restrictions are placed on you by other people. The more negative freedom you have, the less obstacles that exist between you and doing whatever it is you desire.

Positive freedom is the freedom to control and direct one’s own life. Positive freedom allows a man to consciously make his own choices, create his own purpose, and shape his own life; he acts instead of being acted upon.” (Source)

In the context of (our) work:

  • Negative freedom can mean taking your laptop outside to enjoy the sunshine or starting work early to finish early

  • Positive freedom can be ditching a meeting that was never applicable to you and instead meditating for 30 minutes

What about Mastery?

Scott Galloway (NYU professor and media personality) recently shared this graphic in his No Mercy, No Malice newsletter.

A quick calculation, and I have “saved” 80+ hours of commute ever since we closed our office on March 9th. While it’s easy to forget about this time completely, it’s more satisfying to pretend you still have a commute (at least a morning commute) and force yourself to complete XYZ, before loading your inbox.

My new “morning commute” consists of a warm cup of tea, a 30 minute walk, brain games via Elevate, and a slow start to the NYT Spelling Bee.

While I’m not speaking a new language, learning how to play violin, or rehearsing TikTok dances, it’s some semblance of what I used to do during my commute, but it’s selfishly all me-time and there’s never any traffic.

Great, so how does Purpose fit in?

If autonomy is self-directed, perhaps self-centered. Mastery is what we choose to do based on how it fits into a greater society. Purpose is the service to that greater society.

With work, you may experience Purpose from your employer’s mission, or the clients and customers you serve. For me, I’ve always been proud of the work we do at Pinterest, but it took a (very big) negative to make me not only appreciate the work being done by our partners and clients, but to truly shed light on how different Pinterest feels from prior employers.

This has been quite long-winded, so the let’s wrap

The moral here is motivation is comprised of internal and external factors. I’ve learned/ am learning a lot about my own motivation during Covid, and hope you too can reflect upon your past two months and whether motivation at work (in isolation) has increased.

Thank you for reading, and I want to hear from you — so reply here and let’s catch up soon. Calendars are open and this can be your excuse, not that you need one.

Today is Mother’s Day <3

A day I accepted as a child, questioned as a teenager, and have come back around to appreciate as an adult. If nothing else, it’s a moment to share appreciation and love to someone who likely loves you unconditionally.

To all the moms out there, you’re the best and even though we may not always say it, we love you, we appreciate you. Thank you.

Last but not least, Personal News

I’m excited to share that my latest renovation is (mostly) complete barring kitchen countertops which aren’t being cut right now. Nonetheless, here’s a little preview of the transformation:

Talk soon,


Relentless Resourcefulness

On developing High Agency behavior

Hi friends,

Today we’re talking about high agency behavior, what it means and how it can help us during these trying times.

Let’s start with a quick trip to, see where it takes you… Jeff Bezos is probably one of the most exemplary exhibitors of “high agency” behavior. Despite being conscious of people like Bezos, Musk and Jobs, it’s easier for me to point towards fiction when describing a characteristic like high-agency since we’re all on equal-footing to know the full story of that character.

That’s why I choose the following three characters as examples of high agency when presenting a keynote on building a personal brand in January:

Fast-forward through what seems like a lifetime of three months, and it’s easier to empathize with these characters now than ever before. Perhaps more reason to look to high agency behavior and try to adopt it into our own lives.

So what is high agency behavior?

George Mack has a great Twitter thread on defining it, but it’s best summarized by Eric R. Weinstein:

"When you’re told that something is impossible, is that the end of the conversation, or does that start a second dialogue in your mind, how to get around whoever it is that’s just told you that you can’t do something?"

Person A is low agency, person B is Tom Hanks in Cast Away:

Even @JeffBezos has a framework for identifying high agency friends/romantic partners. He asks:

"If you were stuck in a third world prison and had to call one person to try to break you out, who would you call?"

That’s likely the person you identify high agency behavior with.

How can this help us?

With the extra time home, the lack of a boss breathing down your neck, and the freedom to stay in bed later than normal it’s easy to start giving up routine and free-fall into a low agency spiral.

Instead, now’s the time to double down on those distant memories of New Years Resolutions or that bucket list of unchecked goals. For most of us knowledge workers, we have more free time than ever before, and less fear of missing out. How will you make use of this gift?

Personally, I’ve been:

  • Renovating | While I cannot control when quartz goes back into production, I have created an alt universe where I use 1 inch plywood + contact paper for temporary countertops.

  • Working Out | No equipment, no problem! While I mostly create my own routines, this 10 minute ab workout from Jake Dupree is one the best I’ve found. He defies conventional workout which aligns to 30/60 sec blocks and that makes the 10 mins fly.

  • Keeping In Touch | Sometimes the best thing we can do is laugh and make other laugh, so it’s been fun to celebrate two birthdays and host multiple dinners & cocktail parties via video conference. While I have my reservations with Zoom given their privacy problems, I’ve found that FaceTime and Google Hangouts with this plugin, make for safer and easier alternatives. Another great find has been this online version of the board game Settlers of Catan.

  • Learning | There’s a backlog of books to read and re-read, but my most recent reading has focused on personal finances. First, understanding new tax law and implications before filing, and would highly recommend this guide from Stessa for any fellow real estate investors. Second, thinking about investment opportunities and while I’m not making any major moves, I have been developing a framework for choosing companies as I look forward. Happy to chat more about that as a one-off, in particular to welcome you to a investors monthly roundtable, be sure to reply if you’re interested in joining!

George Mack summarizes his High Agency thread with three takeaways:

1. Question everything
2. Bend reality
3. Never outsource your decision making

While those err on the extreme, I hope you can takeaway the following:

1. Be openminded to new solutions
2. Seek answers on your own before accepting the most convenient advice
3. Given the increased time at home, now is a great opportunity to experiment with your daily routines

The last thing I want for you or myself is to feel like COVID-19 is preventing us from progressing. There’s plenty of progress to be made from home, and instead it should be seen as an opportunity for that.

Stay safe, wash your hands, and reach out to someone who you haven’t spoke to in a while with your only goal being to share a laugh. We could all use it.

Talk soon,

Physical & Digital Minimalism

Less is more

Hello friends,

Today we’re talking minimalism, both physical and digital variants. But first, a quick life update:

Two months have passed, we’re 1/6th (~17%) through the year. How are you doing on your goals?

According to my Open Goals sheet, I’m on track with 16% progress, but not every cell is equal, and I’m excited to share that on 2/20 I closed on my 2nd investment property (1st closing of 2020) 🥳

I’m frequenting home improvement stores weekly (pro tip: you can purchase 10% discount codes on eBay), comparing prices online (pro tip: open box items are just as good), and filling my weekends with all the quiet work (cleaning, painting, prepping) to make my contractor’s time that much more focused on weekdays.

I mention this because, with the new place comes a lot of purchases, something I don’t do that often for myself. In fact, since joining Poshmark in late 2018, I’ve been on a bit of a kick (over 100 items sold) to get rid of nonessentials. That was further fueled in 2019, to the point that I’m running out of nonessentials and much more consciously purchasing moving forward.

Is something nonessential?

  • Tip: Flip hangers inside-out | when you get home tonight, flip all the hangers in your closet so that they’re a bit awkward to take out the closet. As you use an item, flip the hanger back the “normal” way, indicating you still use said item. Now mark your calendar for a year from now and see which items never flipped back.

That said, it’s been an indulgence to “shop” for the new place and a reminder of how satisfying it is to do a little research (thank you, find (or make) a great deal (thank you + ebates + craigslist), and then physically install said item (thank you YouTube).

In short, a few thoughtful purchases bring more joy than a multitude of impulse purchases.

In clearing out old electronics I came across an external hard drive that hadn’t been utilized in over 5 years. After dusting it off and taking a trip down memory lane, I asked myself how can I move towards a more digitally minimal existence.

What do I mean by digital minimalism?

  • Just like physical minimalism, it’s firstly the organization, secondly the removal of nonessential, and lastly the system for determining what should be added moving forward. For me, this is coupled with the bias towards doing what’s best for the environment.

I mention that last bit for two reasons:

  1. Physical | Selling something is (often) better for the environment than donating something. Since selling implies a buyer, where donating might lead to a transfer of who’s storing the item. Don’t get me wrong, donating is amazing, but it’s more amazing to donate the money instead of the items.

  2. Digital | While likely minimal on an individual basis, digital storage consumes power and utilizes servers. Any removal of nonessentials will inherently reduce overall environmental impact.

So naturally I Googled... In my search for a system to organize my digital footprint, I came across community of people who take pride in just that. Enter Tiago Forte and PARA.

Imagine for a moment the perfect organizational system. One that supported and enhanced the work you do, telling you exactly where to put a piece of information, and exactly where to find it when you needed it.

P.A.R.A. stands for Projects — Areas — Resources — Archives, the four top-level categories that encompass every type of information you might encounter in your work and life.

As the quote addresses, its strength lies in its simplicity. If it’s important now, it’s in the Project section, since only a limited number of things can be important now, it should be an easy section to navigate so you can find exactly what you’re looking for. On the other hand, you don’t have to discard everything else in order to solve for discoverability. Instead, you can move those nonessentials to the trash and sort the remaining materials between Area, Resource & Archive.

Full disclosure, it likely took 10+ hours to gather and sort everything across four hard drives, various digital lockers (box, dropbox, google drive, icloud, etc), and a small filing cabinet of physical documents. That said, it’s amazing to have one system across all digital and physical surfaces in which to keep myself organized and minimal.

So what’s next?

  • The story doesn’t end here… With increased concerns over privacy (see Vice coverage of Clearview AI), and more data stacking against data overload (see Cal Newport’s Facebook Cessation Study coverage) I’m more motivated than ever before to explore what digital minimalism means for my greater internet footprint.

  • I know, ironic coming from a guy sharing his thoughts on YouTube and a public newsletter, but this is just one of my many goals.

Hope you enjoyed the second issue, give me shout if you found it helpful in anyway, it’s always nice to know there’s someone on the other side.

Talk soon,

Juno = January, Janus = ?

Looking to the future and the past.

Welcome to 2020. Welcome to the first issue. Welcome to a small portal into my reflections.

Thanks for joining…

Have you seen this face?

Janus is the Roman god of beginnings and ends. Often associated with war, but for me, he’s more often been (wrongly) associated with January. Specifically, looking to the past to keep yourself honest in the future.

  • In 2016, I declared war on networking, and decided to pursue a life full of Bigger Experiences in Smaller Groups // inspired by

  • 2017; comfort, and decided to prioritize // Courage over Comfort

  • 2018; career enmeshment,

  • 2019; reactiveness // Discipline is Freedom

  • 2020; timidity // Vulnerability (inspired by Brené Brown’s legendary TED Talk)

Five years in, and while prior years are not forgotten, the goal is continue molding and shaping into a more perfect, imperfect form. By reading this you’re helping me achieve my goal, and for that, I sincerely thank you!

Now, let’s get into it…

Dec ‘19 - Jan ‘20

  • 12/3 | Published my thoughts on Big Tech offering financial services. Since then, the WSJ published something similar, but more importantly the trend continues with a partnership between Grab (ride sharing and food delivery in Southeast Asia) & Singtel (largest mobile network in Singapore) announced on 12/30. Where does tech’s next trillion come from? Disrupting banking.

  • 1/1 | Vulnerability via transparency. Here are my 2020 goals via a cute tracker you’re welcome to make your own. One day I’ll have the courage to share more, but it’s a start.


Scott Galloway’s first newsletter of the year contained a single data point that I can’t seem to move past, and can’t help but share.

As Peter Drucker would say, “you can't manage what you can't measure.” The hard part has been done for us. Now, as we tend to say in advertising, it’s an awareness problem.

With Democratic Party debates wrapping and the Iowa caucus on 2/3, I imagine stats like that will continue to make waves into the collective conscious.

Thanks for taking the time, and cheers to a meaningful few weeks ahead.


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A newsletter by Armand Khatri

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