Sitting and Working

Often the hardest part of a task is just getting started. Once we decide to sit down and work the task or problem goes from large and imposing into simply a step by step challenge to overcome.

So the challenge is not to complete a task, but to sit and start working on it. The challenge is to convince yourself to get started. To remember that the small voice in your head telling you to quickly check social media or to go on YouTube is looking for a momentary hit of pleasure. But in the long run that motivation will bring you nothing but pain.

The way to feel happy and content in the long term is to sit down in the morning and to get to work.

Becoming Who You’re Meant To Be

Growing up means letting go a part of who you are.

To pursue your possibilities, you have to give up options. To become great at one thing means sacrificing –for a time– the other options you could have pursued.

To take the next step towards who you want to become means leaving part of who you are behind on your current step.

You must leave behind immaturity. You must leave behind time wasting. You must leave behind self-destructive behavior. You must leave behind interests that distract you from your ultimate goal.

Rising to a great challenge and growing in the face of it requires embracing self-transformation. Accepting that the challenge will change you, will force you to grow stronger, and more resilient. But it’s not easy to accept the change. Most people choose not to.

But it’s not easy to accept the change. Most people choose not to.

Most people prefer to stay comfortable where they are. They resist change and instead watch TV, drink with their friends, and hide in the day to day normalcy of a life they already know.

They choose a mediocre state they know because it is normal. But they don’t do it consciously. They let their unconscious urge to feel the way they’ve always felt pull them back to where they’ve always been.

Even if we want to accept the challenge, we still have the unconscious urge to normalcy. The pull to watch our favorite TV shows, to stay in bed when we should be getting up, to stay out late with friends instead of going home to rest. Part of us wants to feel the way we’ve always felt.

To embrace self-transformation we have to courageously sit with new feelings. We have to be okay with fear, loss, sadness, disappointment. We have to act despite the emotional urge to run. We have to do what is right in the long-term not what is easy or feels good in the moment.

We have to become courageous hero’s in our own lives and recognize that the parts of us that hold us back from this change are not parts that would make us happy in the long term. They are not our allies, but enemies in disguise as friends. They hold us where we are, and though it feels good in the moment, listening to those parts will leave us weak and resentful in the long term.

Becoming who you are meant to be in the future means becoming who you are meant to be today. Leaving behind immaturity and distraction and courageously embracing change.

Travel and Learning What You Like

Most people live the 99% of their lives without asking themselves what they want.

They go to school and are told what to learn. They go to college and are told what credits they can pick between. They start a job and are told what their responsibilities are.

For some, summer breaks in school bring the possibility of freedom of choice, but for most it simply means being in an authoritarian structured home, having chores and a job to do.

On the conventional life path, the moment to try and find consistent daily satisfaction comes when you are 65 or 70 when you have retired completely.

For me, I lived the first 21 years of my life hardly ever asking myself the question, “what do I want?”

I did what I thought I ought to be doing.

Quiting everything to go on a 6 month backpacking trip was the first time I consistently woke up day after day with the only responsibility being to find a way to enjoy myself that day.

This didn’t mean living an irresponsible life. I had saved up the money I needed to travel and chose how to spend it. I had constraints. But for those 6 months on the road, day to day, my main goal was personal satisfaction.

It sounds like a pretty simple goal on the surface, but it takes a long time to figure out what will make you happy and fulfilled in the long-term especially after 17 years of schooling. To find a balance between things that make you happy today and things that you will be proud of doing a week, a month, or three months from now requires self-control and finesse.

Knowing what you want and acting in a way that will lead to you getting it, is a skill that takes time to learn. And it is a skill that most children and adults spend almost no time practicing. Instead, we practice acting and avoiding upseting authority figures.

Traveling to “find yourself” is often mocked and disparaged. And if you are hoping for a moment of divine intervention simply by jumping on a flight to Bogota, you are in for a surprise. But investing a period of time and comparatively small amount of savings early in life in figuring out what makes you happy can be an incredibly good investment. Even if the only lesson you learn is that relaxation and a life of leisure do not give you fulfillment. That traveling in and of itself is not going to make you happy, and that you need to find a challenge for yourself to test your abilities, to help you grow, and to give you purpose.

Re-Reading Harry Potter

Last night I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in the series. It was the end of 6 weeks of Harry Potter binging as I read all the books again. The first time I had re-read any of the books since 2007.

Here are some thoughts on the story:

Progression of the story.

Books one and two are clearly written for a younger audience and have a lot of parallels in the stories. There is a common structure between them.

You start with the first act in the muggle world. Shift to act two with the Hogwarts Express. You have a number of smaller narrative’s play out in the middle of the book while the big story builds in the background. Then finally you have the third act where the big story reaches its climax and resolution (Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets.)

Book three is very similar but darker and introduces the ideology of the Death Eaters. And some more intellectual food for thought. Book four is a bit of a change up in structure and has some novelty events happen that set you up for books five, six, seven.

So Far This Year Update | Travel, Podcasts, Writing, Reading

We’re almost three months into 2017 and I haven’t posted an update yet, so this is to catch you up on my life over the past few months.

Where We’ve Been

Myanmar

Amanda and I started the year in Myanmar. We spent 16 days exploring the center of the country.
We recently put out two episodes on The World Wanderers documenting our time there. Check those out for some deeper detail.

Episode One: Yangon and Golden Rock
Episode Two: Inle Lake, Mandalay, and Bagan

Overall my experience of Myanmar was mixed. I got value out of the experience but it was challenging. The history of Myanmar is a depressing totalitarian storyline. The government of the country has opened up economically and to tourism. It is fascinating to travel the country and see it in the early stages of mixing with the world after decades of being forcibly isolated.

We spent 16 days in Myanmar, and both ended up with food poisoning at the end. So we were excited to be moving on back to Bangkok where it is a lot easier to find healthy and safe food.

Trump and Scapegoats

This is a meta-blog post. It is a section of my notes on a blog post by Blake Master’s which was his notes on Peter Thiel’s course at Stanford. You should absolutely read Blake / Peter’s essay in full. All images are from Blake. 

In Peter Thiel’s lecture Founder as Victim, Founder as God he focuses on scapegoating as it relates to startup founders. He extends the work of Rene Girard into company culture. Thiel only touches on politics briefly, but I found it a fascinating framework with the outrage and hero worship around Trump.

The Quality Without a Name

In the book The Timeless Way of Building, Christopher Alexander makes a claim about our perception of buildings. He says that we instinctively know what a good building is, and is not. That we all have an ability to sense it if we are paying attention.

“We have been taught that there is no objective difference between good buildings and bad, good towns and bad.

The fact is that the difference between a good building and a bad building, between a good town and a bad town, is an objective matter. It is the difference between health and sickness, wholeness and divided-ness, self-maintenance and self-destruction.”

If we are willing to exercise our judgment, we can see and feel the difference between good and bad buildings. You don’t need to go to architecture school; you don’t need to study urban planning. You just need to understand your instincts and the incompleteness of language.

“it is easy to see why people believe so firmly that there is no single, solid basis for the difference between good buildings and bad.

It happens because the single central quality which makes the difference cannot be named.”

It is hard to name an objective standard, so a certain type of “expert” tells people that it doesn’t exist. They tell laypeople that only an expert can know the difference between good and bad. That it is a power beyond the reach of the ordinary citizen.

In reality, there is a standard; we just don’t have the language to describe it.

Reality and Language

Just because our language is incomplete does not mean that our reality is subjective.

Because something is hard to describe, does not mean that it does not exist.

Take for example your intuition about people.

You meet someone for the first time, and you leave feeling like something is off.

What was it about the interaction?

It’s hard to say.

You reach for the word creepy, but when you think back, that’s not it. There was no one thing that was scary.

It wasn’t boring.

It wasn’t anything that you can easily decipher.

You think to yourself, “maybe I’m being irrational.” Maybe I need to give this person another chance. But that is often not the correct approach.

There is a good reason to trust your instinct even if you can’t fully explain the instinct yet. Often your conscious understanding will come in the future once you develop the language, concepts, and frameworks to make sense of the feeling.

Interpreting Your Gut Feelings

For buildings, Alexander makes sense of the feeling with The Quality Without a Name.

While there is not one word to describe a good building, there are a number of words that approach this quality.

These words are close, alone they don’t do the job, but together they approach it:

Alive

Whole

Comfortable

Free

Exact

Egoless

Eternal

Your people instinct

Christopher Alexander is talking about buildings and towns, but this quality without a name extends to many areas.

The Quality is a framework you can use to understand the “weird’ feeling about your first meeting with someone or the magnetic pull of charisma.

People with The Quality are alive. Energetic, but not frenetic.

They are whole. Not conflicted. Not at odds with themselves, but they still contain depth and mystery.

They are comfortable. At ease, but not sloppy. Relaxed, but respectful.

They are free. They live their own lives. They do what they set out to do because they want to. But they are not “free spirits.” They are responsible and live with purpose.

They are exact. They don’t waste words. They don’t hide behind passive language, but they don’t bore you with analytic language.

They are egoless. They don’t care what you think of them. They are confident in themselves, and not burdened by a false ego and self-conscious worry.

They are eternal. At the same time, they seem to be both older and younger than they actually are. They contain the unburdened spirit of a child and the undistracted purposefulness of an old man.

When you put all these qualities together, in balance, you get a feeling of someone you want to be around. When they are out of balance, you can’t put your finger on it, but you don’t feel excited to spend more time with that person.

The value of “the quality without a name” is that it puts into words to a vague feeling. It helps us to understand consciously something we experience as an instinct. That understanding builds trust and allows us to operate more decisively.

Instincts are not perfect. Cognitive biases are real and you need to be aware of them to think critically. But too often when people encounter a situation they feel uncomfortable with, but cannot explain, they throw away their judgment. They take a “who am I to know attitude” and allow people in positions of authority to decide for them.

Exercising judgment is an important part of doing anything with your life. Trusting and understanding your feelings is a crucial part of good judgment. New frameworks and a nuanced understanding of language are key to understanding and trusting your emotions.

Books like The Timeless way of Building, may on the surface having nothing to do with your field, but they improve your vocabulary and deepen your understanding of reality. They create the lightbulb moments that allow you to explain your first impressions. They allow you to become a person more in line with the quality without a name.

Freelancing and Immigration

Last month I hired two people for small projects on Upwork.com. One was from India, the other Ukraine.

They did quality work and were a pleasure to work with. It sounds like a boring and trivial event, but it is a small piece of a great revolution.

Every day millions of people in the developing world log onto their laptops to do work for companies in the US and other countries in the developed world.

Twenty years ago the only way to work for a business in another country was to fight through the swamp of immigration laws.

Today, with a laptop, wifi, and an Upwork profile, you can be working for a company abroad in an hour.

Immigration still matters. But the story of immigration is no longer just about airports and border guards. It is now also about laptops and freelancing sites.

It is easy to get down about the current events, but it is important to remember the massive change happening around the world. The movement of our time is not about a world becoming more divided; it is about a world becoming more connected. It is a story of the increasing irrelevance of lawmaking bufoons and the growing interconnectedness of the digital world.

Men of Opinion vs. Men of Action

I’m currently re-reading Atlas Shrugged along with a group of other people in the Praxis community. We just completed chapter 8, the beginning of the resolution to the first act of the book. Near the start of chapter eight, there is a short conversation between Henry Reardon (a major character) and Paul Larkin (a minor character) that demonstrates an important divide between people.

In the story, the government has recently passed a law that makes it illegal for one person to own more than one business. Reardon, who was a titan in the steel, coal, and iron ore industries is forced to sell his iron ore business to Paul Larkin.

Larkin feels guilty about the law and desperately offers his reassurances to Reardon. He promises to always sell the ore to Reardon, to act like Reardon is the rightful owner.