Personal User Manual

Personal User Manual

September 14, 2020

"I was so scared of you." I felt like my head was spinning. Scared of me? That's not who I am. I needed to know more.

I sat there in stunned silence, trying to figure out my next question. One of my students on my national mock trial team was scared of me?. That’s not what I wanted.

It made me think of that hilarious Michael Scott line, "Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy. Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me."

I want my students to respect me, not fear me. I want them to enjoy learning and working with me. At the end of the day I want them to call me teacher, mentor, and colleague.

Most important. Friend.

So with that in mind I needed to find out why I was scary to that student. I went into my trial lawyer mode and started a direct examination of my student to get answers..

Tell me more.

Why? What made you feel that way? Give me specifics.

I thought through the early emails and text messages. Nothing in them jumped out at me but clearly that's why I needed answers. So I waited for her answers.

When they came, it all made sense. We were short on time in the tryouts. The student loved me and my co-coach’s experience, backgrounds, and styles. The feedback we gave was the only constructive feedback she received from any coach at the tryouts. But we came across as serious and professional with a no-nonsense approach.

In my emails and texts I came across as clinical and cold. Deliver the message and move on. I don't know, maybe I need more emojis. But, my student felt like she was responding to her boss, not her coach.

How to Guide

This discussion led me to my Personal User Manual.

I want people to understand more about me. I've found that I now discuss much of this with future students in my class, clients in my coaching program, and competitors on my mock trial team. The results of sharing this information proved to me that it's time to write on this concept.

I don't want to leave questions unanswered or make people guess who I am. This is another step towards building in public. I believe in transparency both as a tool for personal growth and as a sign of confidence. I always think of Harvey Spector from Suits when he said "Confidence is not 'they will like me' confidence for me is 'I'll be fine if they don't.'"

The first set of questions are focused on me:

What are some honest, unfiltered things about you?

-I am confident.

This has always been a key characteristic of who I am but it has taken years to learn how to embrace this concept without letting it turn into cockiness.

-I am ambitious.

Not in the negative way like the Shakespeare play Julius Caesar, but more in terms of a driven for success type of way. The ambition inside of me is more about growth and if I was using buzzwords for today I would call this a growth mindset. I always want to be moving forward, growing, and becoming a better person.

-I am comfortable being myself.

I know who I am at this point of my life and am not afraid to show that person. I have always been able to move fairly seamlessly between social circles and interest groups. This continues to be true as I embrace all of my interests and do not box myself into any one thing other than Robbie.

-I believe there are no facts, only perspectives.

Yes, I understand things like gravity are facts. That’s not what I mean. I use this to understand people. Two people can have the exact same information and come to very different conclusions because of their own perspectives. The example I like to use, the news. CNN says one thing about “facts” and Fox News says another thing about “facts”.

-My favorite quote is “Make it simple, but significant.”

This quote from Don Draper runs through my head all the time and helps me make decisions. Too much of our lives is complicated and insignificant. I want a life that is simple and significant. If I use this framework when I make decisions, the life I want will follow.

-I like to move fast and make things happen.

I believe that speed is an advantage. I believe that action creates and good things happen. I want to create the action instead of having it happen to me. I find that moving fast and making decisions leads to better results.

What drives you nuts?

-A lack of forward progress.

Staying in the same place to me, means I'm going backwards. I need to see growth and change in my life or I get frustrated. I feel this way about business, about friends, and about anything in my life.

-Not trying.

I would rather fail than never try. I struggle understanding why people don't take some risks in life and give things a try. The only way life gets better is to try.

-Inability to make decisions.

This paralysis leads to constant complaining. Collect the necessary information, analyze, and make the best choice. If the decision was wrong, fix it. Too often I find people who want to talk about the same situation over and over because they never make a decision. I don't have time for that.

-Unambitious people.

Complacency is something that bothers me. We have one life and too many people waste it. There are plenty of people who would love to be in another person's situation and if we don't seek to better ourselves and go after everything we can in life, we wasted an opportunity that somebody else could have used.

What are your quirks?

-I can't get enough sparkling water.

All day long I could drink it. I rarely ever drink still water anymore.

-I would rather watch the West Wing for the 30th time than a new show.

I like it that much and reference it regularly. My advice, go watch it. It’s on Netflix.

-I hate answering the phone, but I enjoy talking on the phone.

Facetime should only be used for short conversations.

-My body thinks 7pm is the best nap time.

-Harvey Specter is my favorite television character.

His traits, personality, and quotes all run through my head often. I find a ton of inspiration in his quotes.

-I like to fall asleep by watching comedy shows I know well.

Examples include Parks and Rec, The Office, Community, Silicon Valley, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

-I have zero patience when technology messes up in the slightest.

Even if it’s something silly like a delayed response from my amazon fire stick, I lose my mind.

How can people earn an extra gold star with you?

-Do what they say, when they say.

It’s that simple. If something comes up that prevents that, just tell me. But the way to earn extra gold stars is to always come through with what they say. Words matter. Words have power. Back them up with your actions.

-Understand when I need space to be on my own.

I tend to make this very clear by communicating this feeling. I like to be around people but I also like time to myself. I need to recharge. I need to do things that I want to do. I need time to read, create, think, reflect, and relax where nobody else is around me. Sometimes this means I withdraw and people who understand how to give me that space will always be in my inner circle.

-Make an effort to set up plans with me.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, I also like spending time with people. I want it to feel like we both enjoy that time and planning things with me demonstrates that desire. I don't want to be the one always having to make plans or set things up.

What qualities do you particularly value in people who work with you?


I want leaders and people who take action.

-Understanding the vision and finding a way to achieve it.

I like to work with the big picture in mind but understand that there are many paths to the top of the mountain. How we get there is not important as long as we get there.

-Clear communication.

Tell the truth. Don't disappear. Make it understandable and clear.


I want the trust of the people I work with to do the job. That means no micromanaging. I treat my coworkers the same and trust that they know what to do. If they don’t I trust them to ask. It's about mutual trust to get the job done so we all succeed. If I feel people looking over my shoulder, I’m out.

What are some things that people might misunderstand about you that you should clarify?

-Sometimes I forget that people don't know what I know.

I'm not trying to make them feel dumb. I work hard to be more self-aware but if something doesn't make sense, just ask me to clarify. I never get angry because it’s always my fault.

-Sometimes I come off as very professional and cold.

I'm much more interested in having fun and doing cool stuff. It's just when I'm in my head sometimes that's how it comes out. This happens especially in emails so just get me in person or on a zoom to see that this isn't true.

-Sometimes I come off as too focused on work or learning.

I'm doing that because I know the compounding benefits that come with doing it right fast and early. Now is the time to build these areas of my life to set up the next 50 years.

The next set of questions are more focused on how I interact with others:

How do you coach people to do their best work and develop their talents?

-I  use a lot of the Socratic method as it helped me learn in law school.

The Socratic method uses questions and hypothetical scenarios to help the student learn and understand concepts on a deeper level.

-I show examples.

This oftentimes is live demonstrations or examples from other areas of life to help people understand a concept or idea. My favorite sources are movies and television shows. I use them all the time as examples. My favorite television show of all time is The West Wing. It's honestly not even close. If I’m looking for an example when it comes to public speaking, this is the first place I turn. I use examples from how Toby has a conversation with the Rabbi in Take this Sabbath Day, President Bartlett’s speech in Latin during the climax of Two Cathedrals, Sam’s discussion of privacy when they are questioning a potential SCOTUS nominee, and the debate structure for Matt Santos in the final season.

-I ask for them to give things a try and then go over feedback.

I like the sink or swim approach. Most people swim, even if it's not pretty. Then we can give feedback and help them learn from the experience. As Mike Tyson said "everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." People learn by doing, not be sitting on the sidelines.

What’s the best way to communicate with you?

-In person with open dialogue.

I like to see body language, hear tone, and let others do the same with me. Zoom calls are best for deeper and better communication.

-Be honest and communicate your needs, desires, and questions.

I hate having to guess about these things. I’m not going to spend all of my time trying to dig down and figure these things out. I simply don’t have the time or energy. I want people that communicate with me and tell me the things I need to know. If you do that, I can listen and do what needs to be done. I want to build strong relationships and this is the best way I’ve found.

-Give me bad news and don't hide it.

I want to walk away without any lingering questions. I would much rather hear the bad news then let my brain run wild and create a million different horrible situations. Bad news happens. It’s a part of life. I promise I can take it and I don’t get upset. I see it as an opportunity to reflect, analyze, and respond appropriately to either fix the bad news or move on.

-Don't just bring a problem.

Bring ideas about how to solve it. I’m also aware that sometimes people don’t know any possible ideas and that’s why they come to me. That’s fair. But when possible, it’s always best to bring solutions that we could use to deal with the problem. I like independent people that take action.

-Listen to my perspective and thoughts.

It’s not an argument. It’s a discussion. I’m sharing because I think it's important for you to understand where I’m coming from or why I hold a certain position. I don’t waste words, so if I’m explaining something, there’s a reason.

-Always remember that reasonable minds can disagree.

That's okay.

What’s the best way to convince you to do something?

-Show me what success looks like.

In the short term and in the long term. This can be done using examples that will help guide me in understanding the success. Another useful way is to tell me a story or paint the picture where I can fully imagine the short and long term success.

-Talk me through how it helps me reach my goals.

Give me some clear action steps you think may work. This doesn’t mean I will use them but at least help my brain start to figure out how to successfully do what’s being asked.

-Make it a challenge or a competition.

The competitor in me loves a good challenge. As a former college athlete, Crossfit competitor, and trial lawyer I love competition. I remember back in my baseball playing days, everybody hated conditioning work except for me and my best friend. We saw it as a chance to show we were the most fit and would race each other every single time. Conditioning became a way to compete and we turned it into a game.

How do you like to give feedback?

-Honest but with a combination of positives and negatives.

Tell the good, the bad, and the ugly. I want people to understand what they did well so they can build on it. I want people to understand what I think needs improvement. I want people to understand the stuff that was so horrible it should never happen again. I believe that touching all of these areas allows the person to understand the full context of the feedback and really put the pieces together for the next time they are in a similar situation.

-I like to ask the person how they felt about something and build from there.

This tends to soften the blow as the person does a self-analysis. Once the person opens up about some areas they could have done better, it’s easier for me to talk about those without making the person feel defensive or attacked. It’s also an incredibly useful tool to help people self-evaluate when they don’t have a person willing to or able to give feedback.

-Show the person how this feedback will help them get where they want to go.

This looks very similar to what I described in the earlier section on how to convince me to do something. I try to take a similar approach when giving feedback.

How do you like to get feedback?

-I want honest feedback on both the good and the bad.

The more information I receive, the more I can grow. Give it all to me. I like hearing positive feedback as it makes me feel like I am on the right track and have the ability to achieve my goals. The bad gives me a sense of where and how to improve. By providing both the good and bad, I can understand the larger picture and how things may have worked together or where I could change my approach.

-Help me see how I can use the feedback to get better and closer to my goals.

If there are things that can be done better tell me but help me understand how to implement the changes. I don’t just want to hear how “you” would have done it. I want to know how I can do it better. I’m my own unique person and I can’t do it the same way as somebody else. Show me what your feedback looks like when I implement it.

-I don't get offended.

I may disagree but it’s always useful to hear other perspectives. My feelings won’t be hurt. I won’t get angry. I said it earlier and I’ll say it again, reasonable minds can disagree. That’s okay.

To come full circle, that student is now one of my closest mentees. She's a person I talk to on a regular basis. Her calling me out like that, opened up my eyes and led to real self-examination. By speaking about myself and opening up to future students, those relationships have all benefited. Not because I'm a different person, but instead because they understand who I am.

This is why I wanted to write this personal user manual. I want the relationships I’m building on the internet to understand me in this same way.

We are living in a new age. An age where we make friends, build relationships, and establish networks all online. That means we face new challenges and ways to communicate. A personal user manual helps create the foundation we need.

Then we can start building together.

I know who I am and now so do you which means I can quote Harvey Specter and say, "I heard you tried to find 'ME' in someone else. Good luck!"

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