I published my first book and I’ve started research on my second. I’ve read a lot. I’ve learnt about relationships. Mostly through the consequences of my mistakes. I’ve seen people around me make good decisions and bad choices. Some have dealt with the outcomes. Some haven’t. I’ve made new friends and grown apart from others. I’ve started living with someone I love. And perhaps most importantly of all, I’ve laid the foundations for all the things I want to do in the future.
It’s been a busy year.
You might think that the end of August is an odd time to reflect on the year gone by. Not for me. On August 27th, 2015, I published my first post here on Phronetic. So to mark the anniversary, I’ve reflected on some of the patterns and themes I’ve noticed over the past year.
But I’m not going to do it in a traditional way. I’m not going to provide a list with a ten word, shallow explanation of each point. And this isn’t going to be a ten thousand word dive into the lessons learnt in the last 365 days.
Instead, I’m going meta. I’ll summarise the pattern or insight and give a succinct explanation. And to avoid rehashing old ideas, I’ll link to any posts or books (by myself and others) which will help you find out more about the idea.
A) SHIPPING EVERY DAY CHANGES YOUR LIFE
Seth Godin was right. In a podcast with Tim Ferriss, he called writing and publishing every day one of his top five career decisions. Which is remarkable when you consider the things Seth has accomplished.
I may not have had his level of success, but I’m beginning to understand why he believes that.
Creating something every day re-orientates your life. It only takes a few weeks of daily production before you run out of material. All the cliches and bullshit you’ve been spoon-fed is exorcised from your mind. You can’t parrot what everyone else has told you. The tank runs empty and the only way to fill it up is to live wider. To live deeper. To live vicariously. To pay attention to your inner state, to the world around you, and to the people that live in it.
- Seth Godin on the Tim Ferriss Show.
- Taylor Pearson on the work and why shipping is a skill.
- The four ways to live better.
- Hemingway on paying attention.
- Our ability to produce is inexhaustible.
- Seduction, excellence and the two forms of attention.
- How Picasso became Picasso.
- Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly.
- Sluts and creativity.
B) CHANGE YOUR MIND MORE FREQUENTLY AS YOU GET OLDER AND WISER
Conventional wisdom assumes that when you’re younger, you change more. You’re exploring, figuring out your place in the world. Your ambitions. Your skillset. Your tendencies. The rate of learning and development is rapid. Which means you change your mind a lot.
But that’s only partly true. As you age, you should change your mind more than when you were younger. Why? Because, for one, we mentally age when our perspective and understanding stops expanding. Our bodies are ravaged physically, against our will, but our minds deteriorate as soon as we decide to stop trying to find evidence for positions that contradicts the ones we hold.
Second, when you’re young, you don’t know anything. The ideas you end up accepting, as a consequence of your age, cannot be a result of vast experience and long periods of deep reflection.
Third, the more masterful you become in any discipline, the more you realise you don’t know, and the more finely you can analyse your skillset and performance. A novice could break a skill down into a few parts and decide to improve on them. A master can break the same skill down into a hundred parts and a thousand variations. And he knows that he can improve each aspect of that one skill. But to do that, he has to accept that there’s a better way. Which means changing his mind.
- The two rules of skepticism.
- Staying forever young.
- Mastery by Robert Greene.
- The Logic of Scientific Discovery by Karl Popper
- What you need more of to reach the next level.
- Make it hard for yourself.
- Not quitting is not enough.
C) GOALS FEEL GOOD UNTIL YOU ACHIEVE THEM
There are two things that I wanted to achieve this past year. 1) Publish a book. 2) Get a place with Molly. I accomplished both.
I thought that my life would be transformed. That the book would fly off the shelves. That it would unlock some latent force inside of me. And that having a study and a garage to practise jiu-jitsu in would reveal some other-worldly energy inside of me. It hasn’t. I was naive.
Yes, I’m healthy, happier, more productive, more energetic, and just generally better. But I still have the same demons. I still have to work hard, harder in fact. There are new problems too.
Of course, I wouldn’t have it any way. It’s just that, until this point, I’d intellectually accepted the idea of “process is more important than outcome.” Now I get it
- The act is the reward.
- Goals are like crack. Are you an addict?
- Choose Yourself by James Altucher.
- How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams.
- Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn.
- The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh
- Wooden: A Lifetime of Reflections and Observations On and Off the Court by John Wooden.
- Goal, activity, disappointment.
- The B.R.F.G. Approach.
D) FUCK YOURSELF
Steven Pressfield makes a great point. Reading is like a transaction. The reader pays you with their time and attention. With it, they purchase the value your work provides.
That’s why you have to say “fuck you” to what your ego wants. To what you desire. It doesn’t matter what your ambition is if the attainment of that ambition doesn’t help others. I’d love to write books for a living. But that won’t happen until my books provide a ton of value to everyone who reads them. You might want to spend your time making beautiful glass sculptures. But if nobody cares about them, you’ll never make a living doing it.
Everything you want has to be framed according to whether other people can derive value from it.
- Creating and capturing value.
- Ben Casnocha on helping people.
- So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport.
- Value Proposition Design by Alexander Osterwalder.
- Anything You Want by Derek Sivers.
- Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield.
- The antithesis of ambition.
- What I want doesn't matter.
E) COURAGE IS DOMAIN DEPENDENT
It’s easy for me to hit publish every day. I’ve developed the habit of sharing and thinking out loud. But when I go to a party with a tonne of people I don’t know? I freeze up.
It takes courage to put your creations into the world on a regular basis. It takes courage to walk up to someone you’ve never met and start building a connection. It takes courage to experiment with a new business. It takes courage to quit your job. It takes courage to say no and set boundaries.
Courage in one area doesn’t readily flow to another. Cultivation of courage in each domain takes practice and persistence.
Which leads me to my next point…
F) GREATNESS IS THE COMBINATION OF THESE TWO THINGS
I’ve been reading The Last Lion trilogy. It’s a three volume biography of Winston Churchill. Epic doesn’t quite cover it.
The author, William Manchester, describes the conduct of the disastrous British operation in the Dardanelles. He describes the political backstabbing. The disloyalty. The cowardice and folly of high command. The unwillingness to examine evidence contrary to favoured positions. The misunderstanding of the fundamentals of strategy.
Churchill, in that war, was operating on a level far above every other member of the War Cabinet. His strategies were beyond the comprehension of his colleagues. So naturally, they were torn down and ridiculed.
In the margins, whilst reading about Churchill’s willingness to put himself in harm’s way and take risks and his desire to do the right thing, regardless of whether it aligned with his favourite ideas, I wrote a formula.
Intellectual Courage + Skin in the Game = Greatness
A great individual takes risks for what they believe in. And isn’t afraid to alter their beliefs based on the feedback reality is giving them.
- Intellectual courage and cowardice.
- Antifragile by Nassim Taleb.
- The Last Lion by William Manchester.
G) REALITY AND TRUTH IS THE ONLY STANDARD
It doesn’t matter what you want. It doesn’t matter what your mind is telling you. It doesn’t matter what everyone else is saying or doing. Or what’s happened in the past.
The only standard with which to measure your actions, decisions and judgements against is reality. Truth. Any other criteria will lead you astray and betray you. Any other measuring stick will cause harm to you and to many others.
- The one thing a priest and a political activist both understand.
- The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene.
- Truth, not popularity.
H) SLAVERY IS NOT THE OPPOSITE OF FREEDOM
Freedom comes in two forms. Freedom to. And freedom from. The latter is what third world countries are desperately seeking. Freedom from hunger, from illness, from physical and emotional harm. It’s concerned with the lowest levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Freedom to is what developed nations seek. Freedom of speech and expression. Freedom to pursue your ambitions. To live how you want, where you want, with who you want.
The opposite of both of these is not slavery. Slavery, throughout history, was a consequence of debt. I’ll say it again. Debt is the opposite of freedom. So if you cherish your freedom from and freedom to, I suggest you think long and hard before you load yourself up with any form of debt. Be it from a credit card, a mortgage, a student loan, or even favours from people who aren’t part of your immediate circle of friends and family.
- Debt: The First 5000 Years by David Graeber.
- Do the work and let others take the credit.
- The prisons we build for ourselves.
- Man or beast?
I) WHAT OTHER PEOPLE DO IS JUST ONE INPUT OF THE DECISION MAKING PROCESS
We all live in a bubble. The things and people we read, watch, listen to and spend time with inform our judgements and actions. You realise this when you create pockets of quiet and stillness in your life. And when you denarrate and create negative space.
But when it comes to decision making, especially in the arena of work, we’re prone to imitating what everyone else is doing. We try to start a business doing X because Y is doing it. We go to that conference because that’s where everyone else is going.
Sometimes, this is fine. There’s wisdom in the crowd. But more often than not, there’s more value to be had by going where everyone else isn’t. By being different. By exploring the unexplored, the forgotten and the forsaken.
People, in their quenchless desire to be better than others, devote insane amounts of time to the things that everyone else is doing. But really, we should be asking, “is what everyone else doing the right thing for me?”
- A technique for making big decisions.
- What the elves can teach us about advice.
- Shadows and slihouettes.
- Stepping out of the bubble.
- Because everyone else is doing it.
- The more than zero effect.
J) CARING ABOUT WHAT YOU DO IS NOT THE SAME THING AS CARING ABOUT YOU
This is perhaps the hardest one for me to accept. Just because someone doesn’t want to talk about what you love and what fascinates you, doesn’t mean they don’t care about you. It just means they don’t have the same interests.
Most of these ideas have been with me for months. Some are new, unearthed by recent reflections. But all of them are ideas that will define the life I lead and the paths I walk in the next few years.
And if they turn out to be false? If I’m mistaken? I’ll take my own advice and change my mind. I’ve gotten good at that. Because I spend so much time stumbling upon my own ignorance, it’s no longer a surprise when I’m wrong.