I Am Astonished By ...


Kevin Kelly, one of the founders of WIRED, turned 70 earlier this year, prompting the post “103 Bits of Advice I Wish I Had Known.”

I’m glad I read to the end because advice #103 was the one that landed.

  • “The chief prevention against getting old is to remain astonished.”

Between the recent Supreme Court ruling and everything else going on in the world, I decided to go through the what-astonishes exercise as a reminder for optimism. If the exercise also slows down the aging process, all the better.

One caveat.

I believe astonishment can come in all sizes — life-changing events, little stuff and everything in between.

I am astonished by:

  • Real love stories, not the ones in fiction or movies. Starting with Heather and me that goes back to 1981 and a bar called Khartoum in Campbell (still there).
  • Advances in technology. One of my first clients was a tech startup called Microscience that made a 10-megabyte hard card to expand the storage capacity of a personal computer. Now a terabyte of storage can be shoved into an iPhone. We’ve gone from that wacky sound of a dial-up modem connecting — yes! — to streaming high-res movies. I think this is when I say I had to walk three miles to school each day in driving rainstorms.
  • The kindness of strangers. I am not channeling Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” I see it every day, people lending a helping hand to someone they don’t know like the Trader Joe’s cashier paying for an elderly customer’s groceries so he wouldn’t have to struggle further with the mechanics of a credit card.
Trader Joe's cashier and customer

Here comes the syrup. The vast majority of people around the world are good eggs. I refuse to let this sliver in time move me off this position.

  • Stand-up comedians. What a high bar, people expecting you to make them laugh. With only a microphone and stage, they do.
  • Bill Mazeroski’s home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the 1960 World Series for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Allow me to do the math. I was 3 years old when Maz hit the historic homer. Still, whether reading about it or watching an old video, it absolutely astonishes.
  • Soft serve root beer yogurt. Talk about doing the impossible, capturing the joy without near the sugar or calories. Shout out to Willow Glen Creamery with selfish motive: time for the flavor to make the summer lineup.
  • Woodward and Bernstein. They were in their late 20’s when they broke and unraveled Watergate. They proved that not even the U.S. president is above the law. I know, I know, let’s not go there.
  • Immigrants. They come with big dreams of a better life. My parents were kids of immigrants. They worked with a singular purpose: create a better life for me and my three siblings.
  • The beauty of planet earth. While I’ve seen amazing places like the Amalfi Coast and Aix-en-Provence, beauty also shows up in mundane venues like Lake Vasona (below) during bike rides on the Los Gatos Trail.

Lake Vasona.

  • Boris Johnson’s hair. No commentary needed.
  • Xiaolongbao. The soup dumpling is the ultimate in a repeatable process that benefits humankind. Even after a zillion meals that revolved around xiaolongbao, I also feel like I’m celebrating something.
  • Illustrators. I’m in awe of the artwork from illustrators. Our own projects have allowed us to get to know a handful of illustrators such as Rodrigo, Shereen (part of our staff), Fabio Buonocore, James Yang, Carmen Casado and Ella Frances Sanders. My Instagram scroll inevitably gravitates to Brillo Magazine and illustrations that always astonish.
Ella Frances Sanders books illustration
  • Steph Curry 35-foot jump shots. If you only watched a single game, you would immediately conclude that he’s lucky, that the law of physics doesn’t allow for a human to send a ball from this far away to a hoop with such accuracy. And you would be wrong.
  • The Agency’s culture. Parachute into one of our offices in Europe, Asia or the U.S., and there’s a collaborative vibe in which people recognize that our world is not a zero-sum game. Yes, we have our unflattering moments, but caring for the success of others underpins the big picture.
  • The California community college system. Roughly 2.1 million students attend a California community college at a price point that is accessible to all.
  • The storytelling in “Breaking Bad.” The pacing behind the erosion of Walter White’s character from high school chemistry teacher to drug lord was masterful.

That’s a wrap.


  • Sarah Lafferty

    I have two more to add: (1.) The James Webb Space Telescope that is showing us images of the beginning of the creation of the universe (WHAT?) and the (2.) continuing awesomeness of your blog after all these years!!!

    • Lou Hoffman

      Appreciate you weighing in (and sorry for the tardy reply).

      Totally agree with the James Webb Space Telescope.

      As for the blog, there’s something to be said for keeping the scent of the trail.


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