The McDonald’s gambit

A long while ago I read about a concept the author called “the McDonald’s gambit”. Some web sleuthing couldn’t find it, and I use this idea all the time. So this is me recording it for future citation.

Imagine you’re with a group of people. Maybe friendly aquaintances, or coworkers. Maybe just you and your girlfriend. You’re trying to figure out where to go eat.

No one suggests an idea. There’s just silence. Probably because no one wants to impose their views on others — but in respecting people’s preferences they aren’t respecting their time or ability to speak up for themselves.

You need to break this logjam. You don’t need to propose an actually good idea. That’s kind of unhelpful, really. The point isn’t to impose your favorite restaurant on the group. The point is to start discussion. The tactic is to provoke them by making an outlandishly bad suggestion.

Say this — “how about we get McDonald’s?”

“McDonald’s!?” someone will cry out. “I mean we might as well go to Thai Thanic, that’s better than McDonald’s. Eww”.

Then someone will say “Oh, I don’t like Thai Thanic, let’s try Kumquat Kitchen”.

And presto! You’ve successfully jolted real preferences to be expressed. All through the power of the McDonalds Gambit.

(And of course, pro-tip, it doesn’t have to be just about food.)

Cross-posting to my substack


The natural phases of recovery from burnout

In January 1, 2020, I was in a bit of a frenzy. The month before, I had quit my job. I explicitly didn’t line up another job after it. Instead, the plan was to reset my relationship with time, and with workism. This was difficult.

I think I did a pretty good job, though. And people have found it useful to hear, over the last year or so. So now I’m sharing it publicly.

In my experience, embracing the identity of “not having or wanting a job right now” comes in waves.

In the first wave, I kept the attitude that powered me at work. Everything was about tasks to be done, checklists to be completed, and general industriousness. In that vein — I renewed my drivers license (hard, because it was lost somewhere in Mexico and also I had moved states in the meantime), got some healthcare balls rolling, and cleared out many lingering email tasks. I started using Roam, audited a couple classes in Harvard, and became a coach for volunteers for Bernie Sanders.

In wave two, I could finally start getting down to the serious business of thumbing my nose at productivity. I wasn’t perfect at it: for one thing, Sarah would often nag me to “stop doing chores and start working in the Skyrim mines”. But I spent weeks mostly playing video games and reading magazines like Jewish Currents in cute cafes.

The idea here was to burn time, extravagantly and flagrantly. Show my body that productivity is not a core value by ostentaniously doing nothing of consequence. Get all the napping and mind-resetting out of the way.

I did end up doing some work-ish things. I was honored to be a coach for victory captains for the Bernie campaign. I audited a class on Milton (my fave) and another on Indian Philosophy. But mostly I toiled in the Skyrim mines.

In wave three, I thought I was ready for projects. I was wrong. I took on an enthusiastic, almost frantic searching for meaning.

I was blogging, running a book club, reading magazines, light coding, community organizing, rock climbing, tabletop roleplaying, learning about coffee, matchmaking, writing to friends, and more. Suddenly, I had too many commitments.

The feeling of “wow I’m so happy and empowered, the world is my oyster, I can do PROJECTS” turned into “oh god I took on too much why am I so stressed this whole adventure was about avoiding burnout”.

In wave four, I cut back on projects substantially. I experimented with adding and removing commitments, so that I could figure out something sustainable. It’s about curiousity and testing. What actually feels fun? What feels like a chore? What do you want your life to look like? (I slipped back into some phase two thinking for a while, which is fine).

By the end, I had begun to remember how to enjoy life more fully. I made time for walks in the outdoors, friends, and projects I actually wanted to do. Things were not great, but much better than they used to be.

(That is, until I decided to throw away all that newfound balance, and dive head-first into the 2020 election. But that’s a story for another day)


How to quit your “impact” job and not feel guilty.

I’ve put out another edition of the Yenta Newsletter. Take a look here. For posterity, I’m going to extract one piece of the newsletter — an advice column — and flesh it out a bit here.

For a few years now, I’ve been joking that my hobby is “marxist career advice”. I’ve spent many hours-long conversations with people asking for help with figuring out their life, and my basic orientation involves ideas like “yes, all labor is exploitation, but you still need a job” and “alienated labor is a true crime of capitalism. I shake my fist at it. Now let’s talk about your resume”.

I’ve thought about turning it into some sort of cultural artifact. A set of essays, a book, a podcast, etc. For now, I’ll try something more juicy — an advice column.

(It would be remiss of me not to point out that the incomparable Existential Comics did a fun take or two on this subject. That’s where the header image comes from, and the comic below as well. I love EC and encourage you to read everything they’ve ever written. Their twitter feed is dank as well.)

By Existential Comics:

Recently, I ran into someone who a question squarely in my wheelhouse. It’s a sign. So, now please enjoy the inaugural issue of “Marxist Career Advice”.

I’m thinking of quitting my very cool progressive political job. It is an important job, but the working conditions aren’t great. People are overworked, underpaid, and everything is chaotic.

I come from poverty. I’ve continued to struggle with poverty and housing-insecurity through my adult life. My current employer makes a big deal out out of below-nonprofit-range salaries as a sign that we are deeply committed to the movement. I feel guilty about wanting to spend a few years making a higher salary – which I want to do so I can build up a savings net and allow myself more opportunities to join progressive fights in the future.

I want to do the right thing. I don’t want to feel guilty. How should I think about this?

Conflicted in Carolina

First off, conflicted — I’m sorry that’s happening to you. There is indeed a frustrating pattern where people who consider themselves on the left, pro-worker, pro-equality, etc end up becoming the worst bosses. That’s wrong. You deserve respect, fair treatment, and psychological safety at work, just as much as anyone else does. My buddy Ned Resnikoff wrote a seminal piece on this in Jacobin in 2013: When The Union Is The Boss. You might enjoy it.

You’ve expressed guilt about the idea of leaving the movement, let’s say. Let’s interrogate that! There’s a term for a thing where membership is tied to your employment: an industry. If you take the logic that “you can’t be in the movement unless you’re hired to do so” to its logical conclusion, you’ll end up with a political strategy of hiring 51% of the country in a progressive nonprofit. That’s obviously not going to work.

When I was considering the same question a while ago, I came to a few realizations:

  • If I stay in the professional left, and give up the training, socialization, resume, and money I’d get from going into industry, I don’t think I’d be thanked. Instead, people might implicitly think of me as not good enough to get a “real” tech job.
  • If I stay in the professional left, it’d be very hard for me to get a tech job where there’d be more than 3 people in the department. Little opportunity for growth, or focus.
  • If I go work in industry, and then come back, I’d be seen as having magic startup/SF pixie dust. People would trip over themselves to hire me.
  • If I work in industry, I would not be seen as speaking for my employer. I could be as radical or frank as I want. Whereas when I work for the professional left, I have to be careful of not pissing off potential future partners, clients, bosses, etc. In other words, I need to be insulated enough from professional blowback to frankly call out some vendors or groups are actively harming the cause.
  • If I leave for industry, I’ll be replaced in my current professional left job by someone who is roughly as talented as I am. They will do the work. And even, to be generous to myself, let’s say they are $30,000/year less productive than I am — depriving this one organization of 30k/year of productivity is a small price to pay for my happiness. (And who knows, this job might be an actual step up / dream for the person replacing me, as opposed to the noble sacrifice it is for me right now)

All those predictions turned out to be true, to some extent.

I don’t know your full situation, of course. And so I can’t tell you what to do. But I hope you take these points in mind. (And, while it’s important context, your current and past poverty and housing insecurity aren’t the determining factor here. You don’t need that as a “get out of guilt jail free” card. Because you should be out of guilt jail even if you had a comfortable middle class background. Does that make sense?)

Lastly, this: when we try to unionize workers at McDonalds, we don’t attack them for how terrible their employer is. We see them, accurately, as partially victims — victims that deserve a higher minimum wage, dignity and respect at work, and a union. So, too, when you work for BigCorp, you are not your boss. You are not deciding to use Congolese slave labor, etc. You’re a worker, who needs a job somewhere. A worker who deserves respect, dignity, solidarity — and a union.

Hope that helps.

(Do you have a career advice question? Ask us at


Birthdays for adults that don’t suck (during a pandemic)

Adult birthdays are hard. There isn’t necessarily a built-in community of fellow students around. Even letting people *know* that it’s your birthday takes effort. The pandemic, of course, has made it worse. So, just as I’m on the lookout for better ways to have adult friendships, or date during a pandemic, I’m trying to think about how to birthdays.

There are three examples of how it went really well that I’d like to share and report back.

#1: Surprise voicemail

For my birthday this July, Sarah did a really nice thing. She set up an answering machine on Google Voice. Then she asked my friends around the world to call in and leave a 3-minute birthday message.

On July 26th, Sarah and I strolled to a nice picnic breakfast. Then, and also again over the course of the day, she played back the messages, a few at a time. It was one of the best birthdays of all time. I felt so happy, and loved, and it was a delight to hear from friends old and new. Close friends and distant acquaintances I was frankly surprised to hear from.

Try it!

#2: Playlist + Slideshow

For Sarah’s birthday, I knew I had to match her. But copying exactly seemed impolite. What to do? After a week of dithering, I figured it out.

I make Sarah a mixtape every month. This time, I’d ask all her friends to contribute music to a birthday playlist just for her. Ontop of that, I’d ask them all to send photos and notes to compile into a slideshow.

Figuring out how to ask people to do 3 different things was tricky. Eventually I settled on using one Airtable form and distributing one link. Worked like a charm.

Here’s the slideshow combining the notes, the songs, and the photos. It came out really well!

And here is the playlist. Or, if you prefer text:

  • Lionel Richie – Hello
  • Cascada – Everytime We Touch
  • Club Drosselmeyer – Ginger Snaps *(This isn’t on Spotify)
  • They Might Be Giants – Birdhouse in Your Soul
  • The New Seekers – Free To Be…You And Me
  • Peter, Paul and Mary – Puff, the Magic Dragon – 2004 Remaster
  • Yola – Walk Through Fire
  • Yola – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
  • Yola – Rock Me Gently
  • Allan Sherman – Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max
  • Na Palapalai – Ke Anu O Waimea
  • Brigitte Bardot – Une histoire de plage
  • Brigitte Bardot – La madrague
  • Tanis – Ce N’est Pas Moi
  • Mazowsze – Dwa serduszka
  • Elton John – Skyline Pigeon
  • Stephen Sondheim – Company
  • Marvin Gaye; Tammi Terrell – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
  • Rozzi – Best Friend Song – Lemon Ice Mix
  • Lake Street Dive – You Go Down Smooth
  • Laura Marling – Fortune
  • Stevie Wonder – I Wish
  • Vince Staples; Richie Kohan – Home
  • The Neville Brothers – Sister Rosa – Live From Wolfgang’s Vault
  • 100 gecs; Charli XCX; Rico Nasty; Kero Kero Bonito – ringtone (Remix) [feat. Charli XCX, Rico Nasty, Kero Kero Bonito]
  • Carly Rae Jepsen – Cut To The Feeling
  • Nina Simone – Love Me or Leave Me – 2013 Remastered Version
  • Edo Lee – Black Coffee
  • Trevor Hall – Everything I Need
  • Chromeo – Clorox Wipe
  • Silver Jews – People
  • Journey – Don’t Stop Believin’
  • The B-52’s – Love Shack
  • Matthew Thiessen & The Earthquakes – Forest
  • The Civil Wars – 20 Years
  • A Taste Of Honey – Boogie Oogie Oogie – Remastered

#3: A murder mystery on GatherTown

I hate zoom. And google meet. And the culture of meeting more than 3 people on a video chat structured as a set of boxes. Conversations need to be small! And breakout groups need to be fluid and user-controlled.

That’s why I’m so excited about two different platforms that try to solve it — and spacial chat. And, just the other day, my friend Giselle used gathertown to run a successful murder mystery party!

The day started out a bit normal – a brunch hangout of just a few (~5) of us friends from college. Then, in the evening, we all created avatars and moved around in! The scene was an 80’s themed prom. We each had roles in a murder mystery. Despite the mystery instructions being written years ago (and therefore assuming we wouldn’t be quarantining), gathertown made it all possible!

Try a murder mystery (or just some version of spacial chat or gather town) for your next birthday. You’ll be so much happier than an awkward 20-person zoom room.

The over-arching secret is the wingman

All these case studies had one common success factor: the wingman. These days, you need someone spending their time reminding your friends that the birthday is coming up, and then also directing them to The Plan.

And there does need to be a plan. Gone are the days where we can just spontaneously hoist someone on our shoulders and go to the nearest pub. Instead, the wingman (the planner) needs to lay out an idea, find friends, drive them to the link, etc.

For me, it was Sarah. For Sarah, it was me. For Giselle, it was our mutual friend Anna. For couples, it seems pretty easy to figure out who the wingman is.

But for single people? I don’t know. Must be tough.

Guess that’s one more reason I want to help people find love in my spare time.


Consult the room full of people in your head

Some time ago, on a flight across the country, I decided to listen — I mean really listen — to a full album by the band Cloud Cult. This was new for me. I grew up listening to classical music, and in doing so, I fear I trained myself to ignore the lyrics of songs almost completely. So paying attention to actual words is quite hard.

Cloud Cult was on my mind. kept telling me that they were one of my favorite bands (by number of plays), but I couldn’t tell you much about them, or their music. I had just finished listening to Krista Tipett interviewing their lead for On Being. Clearly they were more important than the silly band with weird songs that I thought they were. So I closed my eyes, queued up a new (to me) album, and simply paid attention.

And then … woah. This song hit me like a bag of bricks.

“There’s a room full of people in your head, and every single one of them claims your name.”

There’s a party going on in your head, yes, but also parties. A parliament. And this parliament is composed of factions, each led by a different personality.

This rhymes with a concept from Jay Smooth. The Little Hater. The little hater is the voice in your head, trashing everything you do. The little hater is the leader of opposition in the parliament of you. (Never the majority leader, because then that’d mean he’d have to take responsibility for actions).

Eventually, the plane landed. The album ended. Tears crossed my cheeks. I staggered out of the airport and met my partner. I had a decision to make — should I leave my job? What sort of thing could I do next?

If there was a parliament full of personalities in my head, we decided, maybe what I needed to do was build a coalition of the personalities I wanted to embody, and do what they wanted.

We walked to a park, and I sat down on a rock, facing a pond. I decided that there were a few values/personalities to embody:

  • The one who believes they will not fail
  • The one who is an artist, unconcerned with material things
  • The one who wants to always be on the side of good
  • The one who weighs the options and coolly does the “correct” thing

For each, I embodied them, the way an actor would, or an avatar. My posture changed. My voice changed. And each personality graded different courses of action, gave advice, etc.

The last one was perhaps the most interesting. I originally thought of it as “the person who worries” or “the person who wants to make sure I’m safe”. But a trick I learned (from Gayle Karen Young at StartingBloc) was to take these personalities and add the modifier “mature”. What does the “mature worrier” look like? To me, it was a sort of Ari Emmanuel character. Brisk, even brusque. Weighing risk and reward. Hardheaded and ambitious, calculating and cool. And his take on the situation frankly surprised me.

That’s the day I realized I needed to leave Facebook (thought it took a while longer to pull the trigger). And that’s how I try to make decisions going forward.

Anyway, the point of this all was originally to suggest you listen to Cloud Cult. Cloud Cult is great! And while Room Full of People In Your Head is a great song, I’d have to say it’s not even their best. This is. Relatedly, Jay Smooth and Gayle Young are american treasures. Find Jay here. And Gayle is here.


How I make friends

How does adult friendship work? Imagine you meet someone great. You ask them to hang out sometime — maybe for drinks? You convince them that you’re not just being polite: you really want to be friends. They accept, and you go out for drinks, and have a great time. Then maybe you plan dinner. Hooray! You do that. Now what? More dinner dates for the rest of your life? Assuming you meet once a month, that means at most you can have 30 friends in town. No thanks.

That also sounds exhausting. I hate bars. And, while staring at someone over a table can be nice sometimes, there are whole vistas of human friendship interaction lost in this model. Playing games! Building things together. Arts and crafts. Projects. Music. Events. Cafehopping. Parallel play. Founding neighborhood associations.

There’s an alternate approach that works for me, and maybe you’ll find it useful.

I have a friendship card. I hand it to people liberally. And I invite them to hang out with me at an event. That’s it.

You’ll notice it’s a villain mustache being defeated

Here’s how an exchange typically goes:

Me: hands them a card, looks them in the eye “Let’s be friends!”
Them: Smile, put card away. Stop. Look at it again. “Wait, this card literally says let’s be friends on it.”
Me: “Yes, this isn’t my business card, it’s a friendship card. Let’s hang out.”
Them: suddenly taking this offer of friendship more seriously. “Cute! Let’s be friends. I like it. Write code, defeat evil, okay”
Me: “You’ll notice that it’s a villain mustache being *defeated*”.
Them: “Haha, love it. Okay, let’s be do this.” We exchange numbers, FB info, whatever
Me: “Listen, I’m throwing an event in a couple weeks. A big all-day outdoor picnic with a bunch of new and old people. The idea is that it’s long enough that you can show up on your schedule. Wanna come?”
Them: maybe/yes/no/etc…


This can be really fun! I’ve had the same basic design for almost eight years now, and it’s become part of my personality. These things happened to me:

  • Once, I handed a new-to-me one of these. He paused, and said something like: “wait, I’ve had one of these in my wallet for two years”, and then we realized that we had actually met before. Oops! Now we hang out all the time.
  • I was instantly offered a job based on my “demonstrated passion for community”
  • So many friendships have been solidified this way.
  • More than one romance has been kicked off this way. (i.e. “I know this card says let’s be friends, but what if we were at least friends?”)
  • I threw a birthday party for a dear friend based on this giant picnic friendship model. Over 100 people came. To this day I’m meeting people, then we realize they were at that birthday, and then we instantly connect.
  • Jobs, romances, fellowships, people even made a band together because they met at one of these giant-friendship-picnic-parties I do.
  • I’m pretty sure I sealed the deal on my current partner because I invited her to one of these picnics and she could see how happy I was surrounded by friends.

So, to repeat:

  1. Be clear about your desire for friendship. Cards (not business cards!) work great.
  2. Always have an event queued up to invite people to
  3. Cross-pollinate new friendships at these events to build sustainable community.

The component parts:

First, be clear about your relationship intentions. I’m not here to be LinkedIn acquaintances, and I’m not here to flirt.

Second, always have a previously-scheduled upcoming event so that you can invite people to it. Make it a big one with lots of friends, new and old.

Third, at the event, introduce people to each other. That way, you start creating the building blocks of a community. There’s no way you can spend as much 1-1 time with people as you’d like. So get them to spend 1-1 time with each other, and bask in the communal good vibes and long-term connections all around you.

What else?

For more on friendship, check out StartingBloc — one of the best collections of good people in my life.

Also see: Camp Grounded and its descendants: Camp Wonderful and Camp Anywhere

How do you form friendships as an adult? I just sketched out my weird way of doing it. I’m not really sure how anyone else does. I’d love to hear what this part of your life looks like.