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What is Success?

Success is not money, a nice house, gorgeous spouse, and accomplished kids (although having those are very nice.)

Success is not a job title.

Success is not a destination.

Success is when you enjoy what you do so much that you get to wake up every day and play. And the only way to reach success is through play.

Success is waking up many days thrilled to be alive, reluctant to go to sleep, because you are chasing your calling.

“I’d tell men and women in their mid-twenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.”
― Phil Knight, Shoe Dog

Success is building something that you can point to as your own.

“I wanted to build something that was my own, something I could point to and say: I made that. It was the only way I saw to make life meaningful.”
― Phil Knight, Shoe Dog

Success is finding your meaning. Meaning is personal and different for every human. Instead of asking, “What is the meaning of life?”, life asks us, and it is our job to answer with our life.

Success is doing something that no one else in the world can do but you.

Success is love. Love provides meaning.

Success is transcending yourself, losing yourself in what you love so much that you forget yourself, and getting to play.

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Quality x Quantity

In order to be great at anything, you have to produce great quality consistently. Being a great photographer does not mean that you only produce one great photo, but you produce great photos consistently. To be a great athlete, you do not win one championship. You win again, and again, and again, until it is time to pass the torch. Great athletes and people also fail more than other people, because they put in more attempts, they try different things, they put in more time.

In order to become good at something, you have to put in time and effort. A lot of it. An unbelievable amount. In this day and age when there are so many talented people, it is much harder to stand out. Think more than 60 hours a week over the span of years, if you want to break free from the curve of the average, and if you want to compete with the people who do nothing else for a living. Hobbyists can indeed be as good as pros, but those that are are relentless and usually obsessed. There are some pros who are not very good at what they do for example, but it is hard to beat a pro who is at the top of their industry.

Yes, there are ways that you can expedite your learning so that you improve at a rate far faster than the average person (namely, 1-1 tutoring with the best), but even so, you will not be up-leveled even with these hacks unless you put in the work to improve and practice and develop your own voice and understanding.

I’ve learned lately that quality is so much more important than quantity. I did not follow this philosophy fastidiously in the past, but I would like to start following it now. However, in order to produce quality, you ironically have to start with quantity: you have to do something a lot to get better, and then cull your work down to the best. People underestimate how much culling is done. That means going out of your way to shoot every day, and then culling that down to only the best shots, sometimes not using any shots from a particular shoot at all, because you tried something new, and you realized it didn’t quite work. Not occasionally going out to shoot and then choosing the best among those. It means sketching and practicing every day. Applying yourself, challenging yourself in places where you are weak. It means writing dozens and dozens of short stories that never see the light of day. Iterating, getting better. Putting in hundreds and hundreds of hours into reading documentation and studying how to write better code that your coworkers may not be able to immediately see the results of. Spending hours pouring over specs, strategizing, thinking, and working late at night slaving over grueling details to ensure an excellent product. People will see the glamorous, beautiful result and never fathom the thousands of hours poured into the foundation of it. And why? Why bother with it? Do it for the beauty that you’ve made with your own hands, your own mind, your own sweat, blood, tears, your own heart. The beauty that you made, that you created. Do it for the spectacular view after the grueling climb, the exhilarating high of joy and the satisfaction of knowing that you did something hard that nothing else can quite replace.

Whatever you do, do it well.

Ultimately, if you are trying to make art, 1000 poor quality photos are not worth 1 art piece. The 1000 poor quality photos are worthless, and the art piece, if great, is priceless. If you have to take 1000 poor quality photos to produce that one great photo, then so be it, so long as you cull your work down to the best.

If you are trying to start a business, one great business that influences the lives of millions in a positive way is much better than 10 mediocre ones that are barely profitable. But to be a good CEO, you must consistently perform.

If it comes down to it, it is better to have fewer items of quality than many pieces of work of low quality. One of my favorite songs is “Obedear” by Purity Ring, a band so committed to perfection that they hardly produce anything. But I will never forget their one song, whereas I experience hundreds of other songs that visit and then leave my consciousness. Maybe they were pleasant, maybe they were okay, but I don’t remember them. One of my favorite games is Machinarium, an astoundingly beautiful and painstakingly detailed game. Although that game studio has not produced many pieces of work, they have already earned their acclaim with Machinarium.

Of course, on the road to “getting good,” you have to fail. The trick is that while you are learning, to put in far more time and effort than others, and fail frequently and fast to learn. People drastically underestimate the amount of work and culling that successful people do. We only see the tip of the iceberg. So produce a lot, fail fast, learn a lot, and then start producing great work, consistently.

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On Being Trash

I had an epiphany recently.

I was looking at some of my photography and comparing myself to some of my favorite photographers of all time.

Below you can see some of their work:

(Photographers I want to emulate in their respective categories, @ is for instagram.

Urban landscape: @5.12, @mmeyers76

Nature landscape:

http://landescapevisuals.com/portfolio/

https://www.iuriebelegurschi.com/

Street photography: @monaris_

Fine Art: Deepak Ghosh (my friend) https://500px.com/deepakkghosh/

)

I also caught up with my friend who is a professional photographer and amazing at his job. We talked about some of the things he does to hone his skills.

At some point it hit me like an incoming freight train:

I am trash.

My photography is trash.

Now, this is not self-pitying. Nor is this necessarily a bad thing. I suddenly realized just how trash my photography is, and that this was a good thing. Now that I could see how trash my photos were, I could get good.

I look at it this way.

When people first start out taking photos, they buy a DLSR and point and shoot everything, and think every photo they take is good. In reality, these photos are not good. These beginners just can’t tell the difference. (I was here at one point.)

As people slowly get better, they start to understand what not to do, what rules to follow, what is a good photo, how to copy, what makes a photo good. At some point they might find a photographer that they really look up to. And about 1-2 years in of seriously pursuing their art and improving (I’d only say 1 if you are pursuing it seriously, consistently, and putting in a lot of time), they suddenly realize that they’ve been trash the whole time, and not only that, but just how trash they really are.

This is a beautiful thing.

Think of anything in life that’s a hobby, job, or skill. When you first start out you don’t know anything. And it takes awhile to improve, and suddenly when you’ve passed a certain point after years of perseverance and hard work, you understand what quality means in that field when to beginners it is not immediately apparent.

To a novice software engineer, all code kind of looks the same. It’s hard to tell if code has gaping flaws if you’ve never encountered the consequences of those flaws before. But the experienced eyes of a software engineer who has been doing development for 10-15 years can see all the nuances and complexities, the underlying system design, potential future problems, bugs, best practices, all the reasons why this code is elegant and efficient and will do well and why that code is shit or buggy or has problems and will cause a fire and make the company go up in flames.

The trick to learning is to keep persevering, and to find people who are amazing at what they do and learn from them. To learn from those people, and not your peers. To compete with the best that exist in the world, and not your peers. I’ve learned that if you don’t think you are trash yet, you probably haven’t gotten to the point where you can tell that you are. The point is to realize that you are hot garbage (and how garbage), but then keep improving until you are garbage Level III.

Now I know I am trash, and that’s a beautiful thing.

🗑 <- my new spirit animal

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Book Thoughts

Hillbilly Elegy is an eye-opening memoir about Vance’s upbringing as a self-described hillbilly, or a member of the white working class of America in Appalachia descended from the Scots-Irish. It’s an inside look on broken families, toxic masculinity, toxic culture, Mountain Dew Mouth (children’s teeth falling out due to poor dental hygiene and diet leading to extreme pain and premature rot), regarding pie as health-food because it contains fruit, eating nothing but fast food as the norm, and the ailments that plague the poor white middle class of Appalachia. Vance has a unique perspective as he describes going from that side of the coin to the privileged world of Yale Law School, how vastly different the two were, and how he had only been so luck to get there due to some strokes of luck (such as joining the military) and good influences in his life (his grandmother). He describes how most of his hillbilly friends were ignorant of personal finances such as how to open a credit account, how to network to gain jobs, how to dress to interview for a white collar job. Hillbilly Elegy gave me a much better understanding of the effects of a broken home on the human psyche and how it causes people who have grown up in these environments to have involuntary reactions. That being said, the book also mentions that even growing up in a broken home does not excuse poor behavior, angry reactions, or the harm that comes from it. A lot of critics complain that this book does not represent them. I say, this is one man’s memoir and he has a right to his own story.

This memoir rose to fame because it offers an explanation as to why a lot of Appalachia whites voted for Trump and a look into their mentality. For example, the author describes why his neighbors who lived on welfare hated government handouts. Many of those who accepted welfare maintained strong cognitive dissonance and actually thought they were hard-working, even when they able-bodied and did not look for work. Those who did work were resentful of watching those who did not work possess nicer phones and eat better than they did, thus also growing resentful of government food stamps and aid, which is interesting given that the Americans who hated welfare and Obamacare the most were often the ones who benefited most from it. Vance also touches on the victim mentality that permeated hillbilly culture. When he was looking for work in his hometown before his start of law school, he found a job lifting roof shingles that paid decently well. The company owner was a kind man. Another employee at the company had a pregnant girlfriend. The owner asked if his girlfriend would like a job answering the phone. The girlfriend accepted and then proceeded to frequently not show up for work every third day. The man himself would be constantly late to work and took three hour-long bathroom breaks daily. When they got fired, the man blamed the owner and asked with indignation, “How dare you! Don’t you know I have a pregnant girlfriend?” It was eye-opening to see such a different perspective, even though we all live in America. This was definitely worth a read.

Nikola was a strange guy. The coolest thing about this autobiography was the feeling that you were speaking to the man himself. He was clearly an extraordinarily intelligent human.

Some of Nikola’s noteworthy traits were his vivid imagination, photographic memory, and his ability to conjure up detailed, realistic inventions and diagrams with perfectly accurate physics applied to them in his head. He was probably on the spectrum, and not great at reading people, which affected his ability to take care of himself financially, although thankfully not to his ability to contribute to humanity. Luckily, he had been born to an affluent Serbian family in Croatia that enabled his education, and his vast intelligence and its ability to generate profit was both recognized and funded by the business community. I was particularly impressed by his prescient ability to envision and predict the internet and smart phones we have today. The world is sorely worse off for not having his intellect.

There was a cool section where he elaborated on what some might think of as karma… but from a physical view. I found it extremely interesting that he equated cause and effect not just on a sociological or psychological level but began to think of it from a physics perspective. Unfortunately, he teased his thoughts but did not go into depth. I wonder to what extent he was talking about physical effects of our actions. He mentioned the butterfly effect, and how a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane across a different state. I don’t think he was speaking about the karma of our actions on the quantum level, because at the subatomic level things are governed by statistical probabilities rather than laws that determine with certainty, so to a large extent events are indeterminable. But on a physics perspective, there is much we don’t understand about cause and effect. I wish he had elaborated more, but now we will never know.

Savage Inequalities was eye-opening. Shocking in its details revealed. It’s not listed as one of my favorites, simply because it was an almost unpleasant read since it was so tragic, and also because I would have liked to see a balanced view of the distribution of inequality across America and how many U.S. schools are privileged v not and the extent of the severity. Neglected school districts were in America’s poorest and predominantly black/Latinx communities such as East St. Louis, in NY, etc. East St. Louis was by far the worst of the bunch, and could only be described as a hellhole. Students in East St. Louis lack textbooks, working facilities (e.g. some of the schools have broken stumps for toilets), good teachers, and so many other basic necessities to learn. Trash and sewage piles up in their backyards because of the lack of an adequate garbage removal system. The soil contains lead, which children play in, from its past as a toxic waste dump, and the inhabitants are at daily risk of inhaling toxic fumes from the Monsanto factory next door. The factory sounds an alarm and pays off those who have inhaled the toxic fumes with $400 to not sue. The city is known for its violence and vices – two of its chief industries are gambling and prostitution. An estimate of over 95% of their students drop out before high school, and those who make it to community college almost never matriculate. I searched for St. Louis to look up images for context and one Google image of a strip club caught my attention. I clicked on it, and it was a random man complaining that the strippers in a particular club in East St. Louis had obvious C-section scars from pregnancy, looked older than he liked, and had bullet wounds on their bodies, which were most likely either from actual bullets or intravenous drugs. This hurt because these women were the schoolchildren who had grown up in these schools, in a city full of lead.

I learned that most inequality stems from self-interest. It’s not that wealthy white families wish ill on poor black/Latinx families. They just want the best for their own children and their self-interest perpetuates inequality when they refuse to equally distribute public school funding amongst poorer districts, knowing that it will decrease the quality of their own. They hide behind the San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez court case that less is okay, so long as a minimum is kept, but the children in these poverty-stricken schools are not receiving an adequate education.

This book impressed upon me that we are oftentimes more the product of our environments and privilege than of our own skills. I’ve seen increasingly more through my life that intelligence and brilliance comes from all sorts of places, but the reason why we see it more in middle-upper class and predominantly white communities is because their children have been allowed to foster and grow their talent, and given immense privileges that many others could never dream of.

Bad Blood was shocking. When I got to the part where George Schultz didn’t believe his own grandson about the fraud that was occurring at Theranos and even turned on him, I realized my mouth was agape and a lady on BART was looking at me with concern. It’s amazing how manipulative and charismatic people with celebrity can influence people, but it’s unsurprising how magnetic they can be. By becoming a celebrity and recruiting other celebrities to endorse her, Holmes hacked the human mental circuitry. I learned that 1) people want to believe in and be a part of something bigger, something that gives their lives meaning and purpose, and 2) they will follow the person who provides that and even maintain shocking amounts of cognitive dissonance to allow it.

Holmes had a lot of strong skills, but she was a bully and most likely either a sociopath or an extreme narcissist, or both. Ultimately what Theranos did was unconscionable and illegal. It’s ultimately really not worth it to become great if you also become a complete asshole.

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/20/hbos-the-inventor-how-elizabeth-holmes-fooled-people-about-theranos.html

This book also enlightened me on how to spot a narcissist, and caused me to look deeper into what causes people to not have a conscience.

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What does it mean to be a good person?

After finishing the Pulitzer-Prize-winning nonfiction, “The Bully Pulpit,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, I was struck by my impression of two great men and American presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, who were the dearest of friends turned enemies as they battled each other for the presidency. Although Teddy Roosevelt is by far one of the most respected and well-known presidents of American history, and while Taft is mostly recognizable to most Americans for his noteworthy weight, I walked away impressed not by Teddy Roosevelt, but by Will Taft. I was awed by Taft specifically for being an extremely good person, and although entranced by Teddy’s zest for life and endless curiosity, I developed a disgust for what I perceived to be Teddy’s faults – his egotism and self-centeredness. But why did I think Will Taft was a good person, while I did not think the same of Roosevelt?

Roosevelt was undoubtedly one of the most accomplished presidents of American history. He made great strides in preserving national parks, 150 in total, from coal mining companies that would have scalped them of their resources and beauty, and effectively signed legislation to regulate corrupt trusts that were conducting illegal and harmful practices to protect the interests of the laborer. He undoubtedly did a lot of good for the American worker, and preserved America’s nature for posterity. He seemed like a friendly, genial guy, cared about the poor and honorably upheld ethical practices in government despite corporate pressure from the Republican machine, and possessed many traits that I admire.

However, he also took advantage of an uprising in Panama to wrest possession of the Panama Canal, a crucial resource for the people of the country that the U.S. was purporting to be helping. One of the foremost muckraker journalists of the age, Ida Tarbell, argued this to be immoral. Roosevelt also took unnecessarily harsh punitive measures on an African American troop to degrade them and strip them of their service privileges when they were accused of shooting and killing several white southerners in an area after they were shot at first. This was a horrible thing to do the most oppressed and powerless people in the country, and it endorsed the racism of the Southerners.

Taft, on the other hand, as Governor of the Philippines, helped the Philippines to establish independence, establish schools, and invited railroads to create better transport for the land. He eradicated corrupt Spanish friars that composed of much of the land-owning class in the Philippines, purchased their lands, and redistributed the land to poor Filipinos. Above all, he treated the Filipino people with dignity and respect, and was much loved. He had other wins as president, but above all, he treated everyone regardless of race or gender with the utmost concern and respect, even working to convince Teddy Roosevelt to repeal his unnecessarily harsh punishment of the black troops and going great lengths to reinstate their service privileges and to protect them. He advocated for women’s suffrage. He worshipped his wife and held her in only the highest respect for her strength, competence, and intelligence. He seemed like an ego-less man. When asked how he felt on the eve of winning the presidency, he responded that he was happy, because his wife and children were so happy and proud. This struck me, as it  seemed like he did not think about himself at all.

Most telling of all, in the presidential race of 1912 for what would have been Roosevelt’s third term if he had won, and Taft’s second, Roosevelt turned on his prior best friend, Taft. He lied about Taft to the media and deliberately misrepresented facts, attacked Will Taft maliciously, and treated Taft and his family with utmost contempt. I was dumbfounded to read that Taft refused to attack back, and was at peace with losing the presidency. He didn’t want to hurt Roosevelt. He refused to hurt the man who treated him so terribly. And after the end of it all, after Roosevelt did acts to Taft that most would consider unforgivable, Taft found it in his heart to forgive it all.

It was from this understanding that I began to formulate my own thoughts.

I believe being a good person consists of two parts: both must be present. Without either, the point is moot.

  1. To be a good person means that you are compassionate: you help others, but you also reflect on your actions and avoid hurting others as much as in your power. Compassion gives you the ability to know when you are hurting others.
  2. You also have a small ego.

No number of good things you do to help other people excuses doing something to hurt someone out of your own self interest. This does not mean that you always put others above yourself. Always putting others first is unhealthy, and if someone constantly does that, they might be a codependent. One can love oneself first, and still be a compassionate human being. There are two roots of bad behavior: lack of compassion combined with higher amounts of selfishness, and having too large of an ego. When taken to the extreme, these are associated with personality disorders such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder or even sociopathy, which hurts everyone around the person in question.

I’ve noticed that sometimes, people with no compassion still help others. Oftentimes people help others for selfish reasons. On the most innocuous level, they might help someone because they want to be liked or loved. On a more nefarious level below that, they enjoy being seen as selfless, or as having a big heart, or as championing a cause. The problem with this is that they do kind acts because it is tied to their ego. Their so-called selflessness is an integral part of their ego, something that they wield with pride. Oftentimes it makes them feel superior or deserving of love and attention. These people oftentimes brag about how selfless they are, or they think it. People have evolved to be self-interested as it ensures survival, but it’s not that good people think of themselves as good people (ironically bad people do) – they simply think about themselves less. They have less ego. The difference is that selfish people unconsciously help others to feel good about themselves, not because they are genuinely not thinking of themselves. A devil’s advocate might argue that if the actions are kind, intentions don’t matter. I say that this is absolutely not true. Favors done for other people because they are tied to ego are not borne out of kindness at all, but selfishness. People with large egos may help others a lot because they take pride in their so-called selflessness and kindness, as all they think about is themselves. And that selfishness then causes them to do horrible things to the same people they help when it is in their self-interest to, and they do so for the same reason why they helped them. In the end, they are selfish, and their kind acts come from the same place as when they hurt others. In the end, they only care about themselves and how they feel. A prime example of this is portrayed in “Bad Blood,” about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. Holmes set out to help others and revolutionize medical testing in order to become great. Her intentions revolved around her massive ego. Her complete lack of compassion led her to knowingly release dangerously faulty medical tests that harmed patients. In the end, she only cared about her own greatness.

Being kind to someone does not excuse hurting them later. A compassionate person would think of others’ feelings and avoid hurting other people. Doing good things for a person, and then hurting them does not balance out. You do not take the average of the two. If someone saved his wife’s life, helped her pay off her debt, and helped her to get an education, that’s great. But if he also cheated on her to go after someone he wants without feeling bad about it, lied to her about it, and manipulated her to keep her around after he cheated, he is not an ‘okay’ person because the two average out. He is not, as he might believe, a selfless person who has occasional lapses in judgement due to emotion. He is simply not compassionate. Most people know not to hurt others like this and have a conscience that prevents them from acting this way. Realistically, this person is selfish and lacking in compassion, and possibly might have Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

A racist who participates in violence against minorities probably has a lack of compassion. A rapist who commits a chain of assaults probably lacks compassion for his/her victims. Hitler had no compassion for the people he murdered.

A good person has a small ego. That, however, doesn’t mean they are doormats. It just means they think of themselves less, and if they have compassion, will try to not hurt those around them for their own gain. It is easy to help others when you lose nothing, when it helps you form relationships, and doing so makes you feel good. The minute Teddy Roosevelt wanted to be president, he betrayed his best friend and hurt him in unimaginable ways, because he wanted to be president, and he did not care who was hurt in the process. Someone with a large ego and low compassion will frequently help others to make themselves feel good about themselves, and then continue to act out of self-interest, even if it hurts others. They hurt others because they do not think about how others feel when they pursue what they want, or they do not care. The worst case of these are sociopaths. People with no compassion might feel shame after hurting others when caught, but they continue to not prioritize not hurting others in the first place because they do not feel genuine remorse and empathy. Meanwhile sociopaths don’t even feel shame if they are caught, but might decide to cut ties because they have been outed. People with Narcissist Personality Disorder usually make excuses to continue the cognitive dissonance in their minds to rationalize why they are a good person. Because they don’t have the compassion to see from others’ perspectives, they sometimes tend to be extremely sensitive to criticism, and may have unreasonable emotional outbursts when confronted. Their outbursts are all about their own feelings rather than what they might have done, because all they can think about is their own feelings. They play the victim, when in reality, they cannot understand the harm done to others; the only pain they feel is their own.

A truly good person is compassionate and ego-less. These people are rare, but I saw this in William Taft. He astoundingly did not care about his own pride and fame and only became President because the party pressured him to run as he was a fan favorite (he was known for being extremely competent), and because the presidency pleased his ambitious wife. On the other side, sociopaths and psychopaths lack compassion, and because of extreme psychological damage, people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder also lack compassion and hurt those around them. Of course, most people fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. Some people may not go out of their way to give 15 minutes of their time to people they profess to love because they are selfish, lack enough empathy to overcome their selfishness, and ultimately can’t be bothered to inconvenience themselves. These people don’t have a disorder, they’re just assholes. Some people may help others a lot out of compassion and avoid hurting others chiefly because they dislike conflict, but have too much pride and are unable to let go of slights and ultimately just hurt themselves. I noticed that some people seem to emit a wonderful light from their eyes and seem genuinely kind – it took me awhile to realize that these people frequently possess a small ego and are compassionate, and what seems like an otherworldly angelic-ness is simply that they are not thinking about themselves, how they appear to others, their social standing, their own problems, etc. They are just paying attention to the people around them.

 

 

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2018’s Books

2018 is winding to an end. Here’s a review of some of the books I’ve read this year and my thoughts on them.

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf is an extremely powerful narrative on how the beauty myth keeps women oppressed. Over 90% of the people who suffer from eating disorders are women. Women are bombarded with the message that they are only as valuable and relevant as they are young and beautiful by corporations whose business depends on their consumers feeling inadequate. Wolf elaborates on how patriarchal societies reduce women to their looks when they threaten the existing power structure, and how women are unable to win in a society in which no woman can be eternally young, or without flaws. I found the book very eye-opening. It puts into words many of the truths that all women know from living. I disagree with the author that the beauty industry deliberately peddles an unrealistic beauty standard to keep women oppressed… I believe that the beauty industry’s incentive is simply money. However, the taunts that were and are used against powerful women or feminist activists every day, and the pressure that billions of women feel that men cannot even begin to fathom, that their worth is a ticking time bomb, reinforce the book’s truisms. I highly recommend this read to all women who have felt the pressure of the beauty myth, as it opened my eyes to the way I subconsciously behave because of society’s expectations, and to men so that they can even begin to understand the suffocating weight on women’s shoulders. I believe it is possible to extract ourselves from the beauty myth, and we will all be much better off once we have done so.

A blueprint on how to take a startup from an idea through the stages of an early to late stage startup to a Goliath. I thought this book provided a useful, comprehensive map on each step of a company’s growth. I recommend this to any aspiring tech entrepreneur, especially those thinking of making it in the cut-throat mobile phone app space. The book provides valuable insight and tips on the app market, and I will certainly be revisiting it in the future.

Initially this book came off as a narcissistic and annoying list of Dalio’s achievements, but Ray Dalio is an accomplished investor who has gained valuable experience in his lifetime. It was fascinating to hear about how he developed his own algorithms while the computer was still a nascent technology, and hear his story on predicting the 2008 financial crisis, his claim to fame. I also enjoyed hearing his story on how he gave McDonalds the green light on a new food item they wanted to sell, the chicken nugget, because his derivatives predictions on wheat and thus chicken prices indicated that the product would be profitable. In essence, he is indirectly responsible for the creation of the chicken nugget. For all his strengths, I found some of Dalio’s methods too Draconian. Some of his techniques to run a company, such as radical transparency so extreme that every employee had a ‘baseball card’ of their strengths and weaknesses, and requiring every meeting to be video taped, were too severe to my liking. However, I can appreciate the principles he has embodied, including radical transparency, embracing failure to learn, and building your company culture around a meritocracy. I’ve seen how playing politics can rot a team’s morale and I believe Dalio offers valuable insight on how to avoid that, albeit I would not take his suggestions to the degree that he has.

Sapiens was an extremely enlightening read. In full disclosure, I did find the middle of the book to be long and boring. However, the beginning and the end of the book brought some very new insights on the development of the human race. I think the most impactful fact I learned was that when sapiens began to cultivate wheat, it was less that sapiens tamed wheat, than wheat tamed mankind. The technological improvements that man made in the agricultural revolution and then industrial revolution may have increased man’s productivity, but decreased the happiness of the individual. The early sapiens who farmed wheat had an unhappier, less healthy, disease-ridden lifestyle laboring in the fields and had a less diverse and nutritionally-rich diet than their hunter-gatherer counterparts. I learned that the advancement of the human race has very often adversely affected the individual happiness, and that is a cost we have often paid without knowing, to this day.

A very short read, and very worthwhile. I highly recommend this book to anyone who struggles with the feeling that their life is going nowhere. The core of essentialism is that if we are pulled in too many conflicting directions, then we will not be able to achieve the things that are most important to us. Instead of spreading ourselves thin, we should happily sacrifice the things less important (at least until for a certain predetermined period of time) to concentrate on the things that matter most to us. This book has changed my paradigm on how to spend my time and energy, and now I happily do my best to live an essentialist lifestyle in which I put my time and effort behind the things that matter most to me.

Ironically, despite its purpose to convince the reader to invest in Bitcoin, this book convinced me to do the opposite. It was a great read for understanding the pros & cons to each different type of cryptocurrency and why Bitcoin could be irrelevant in the near future as other cryptocurrencies with faster transaction times dominate. The author relies overly on the past performance of Bitcoin to predict its future, which if you believe in Warren Buffett’s style of investing, is faulty logic. Past performance does not necessarily dictate future performance. By the end of the book I was convinced that cryptocurrency has many benefits as a technology to offer, but the longevity of Bitcoin as a currency itself is dubious.

Poor Charlie’s Almanack is the best investment book I have ever read. I could not recommend this book more highly. I cannot possibly condense my review of this book into a paragraph; it deserves its own lengthy, considered post. In my opinion it is more accessible in practical advice than Graham’s The Intelligent Investor and yet more erudite in its classical teachings. It contains not only investment advice but the wisdom of a few of the wisest old, white men humanity has to offer. In all seriousness, I highly respect Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett, and not just for their approaches on investing and business. Charlie is one of the best thinkers I have had the pleasure of coming across, and I have learned immeasurably from this book. His points on blending multidisciplinary mental models and his approach to everything from investing to his philosophies on how to live life have changed my mental paradigms permanently. A long read, a heavy book (5.1 pounds), and absolutely worth it.

A fun read, smattered liberally with name-dropping and pleasantly vivid descriptions of how the uber powerful elite live and control the world. Altogether, it is not too surprising that most of the power in the world lies in the hands of a concentrated group of a few (men), usually in the military, government, or the top creme de la crop of businesses. At times it felt like junk food, fun to experience vicariously, but not the most focused. The book did reinforce how most of us who are not in this superclass are at the whimsy of those who are, how far removed the ordinary person is from true power, and how the decisions of the world are made in rooms where only a select few are invited.

 

Overall, I am satisfied with the selection I made as each as each book taught me something different. Fewer of the books I read this year were as fluffy or self-promoting as the ones I read last year, and a couple of them were profound. I learned it is not just the quantity of the books you read. The quality is arguably more important. Choose great thinkers, and you will learn immeasurably more. Last year, I tried to set a goal to read a certain number of books, and I learned that that can discourage choosing longer, heavier books. You only compete in what you measure. While reading a lot is always helpful, the number of books should not be the main criteria if it does not examine which books. Going forward, I’ll make a goal to read a list of specific books, not just a quantity.

I also now realize I have a tendency to read a lot of investment books, and I look forward to diversifying with more historical, philosophical, scientific, and fictional work next year. I feel like I notably understand far more in the topics I chose than last year, and that is rewarding. What I’ve learned is reflected in my maturity, in how I spend my time, and I’d like to think it’s stopped me from making some unwise mistakes. I look forward to reading more prolifically!

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Australia’s Shrinking Rainforests

If you know me, you know that I mostly shoot concrete jungles, but actual jungles are fascinating. Australia has some impressively weird flora and fauna. I was lucky enough to take a trip to the rainforest and snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef! On the way, I saw green tree frogs, giant clams, sea turtles, a tree of fruit bats, and my personal favorite, several platypii.  The platypus is one of my favorite animals and I was so excited to finally see one in real life! (They don’t seem to notice humans if you stand still, which doesn’t bode well for their survival.) The most incredible part was that all of these lovely creatures were in the wild.

 

^ He’s so litto!

Australia has a reputation for being a place full of deadly creatures but it’s actually very safe. The most “dangerous” animal you’d be lucky to run across would be a jackal, but they avoid humans. Our wildlife tour guide, a Biology PhD with a gentle German accent, described how the only person who had died by snake bite in the past few years had essentially won himself a Darwin Award. He’d found a poisonous-looking snake in his yard, ignored its warning behavior, picked up the snake, and got bitten…. and then decided to pick it up again.

It’s amazing how much biodiversity exists in these small pockets of rainforest and coral. Before I visited Australia, I hadn’t seen many of the species that are native to the island, such as the cassowary and the wombat. It was a mind-bending experience seeing a wombat for the first time and realizing I had no idea what it was, or looking down through the clear water and appreciating just how massive giant clams really are.

It was a magical experience getting to see the wildlife in Australia’s rainforests and coral reefs. Even the plants there are incredibly diverse and different. Unfortunately the country’s small pockets of biodiversity are rapidly shrinking as the population of Australia explodes, and the animals’ habitats are threatened by the warmer climate change. For example, the derpy little platypus is now on the warning list for endangered species as Australia’s water pools shrink with the warming climate.

You hear about it all the time but it’s different to see the animals in front of you, right next to areas decimated by deforestation and covered in cows on dairy farms that are losing money. It’s tragic. If I ever get the chance to one day, I’d love to do more to help protect these creatures and the little remaining biodiversity on our earth.

If you are interested, please donate with me to protect the rainforest by purchasing land for conservation!

https://www.rainforesttrust.org/project/protection-australias-atherton-tablelands/

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^Fern or tree?

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Seneca on the Shortness of Life

Seneca’s writing induced a fundamental paradigm shift for me, especially in what to fret about. For most of my adult life, I have always been concerned that I wouldn’t achieve what I dreamed of. During a conversation with a friend over dinner in which I vented about my fears, my friend recommended that I read this book instead. According to Seneca, I shouldn’t worry about what he calls greatness. I should worry exclusively about wasting time.

“Seneca on the Shortness of Life” is a foray into Stoicism and its belief in overcoming human nature. Some interesting notes:

  • The most powerful/highly-stationed men desire leisure above all else. In a society that worships the status and power of these men, they want nothing more than their own free time.
  • We squander time through “groundless sorrow, foolish joy… the seductions of society; how little of your own was left to you.” This resonated with me, thinking about the countless hours I’ve spent in angst over problems made up in my own head.
  • “But the man who spends all his time on his own needs, who organizes every day as though it were his last, neither longs nor fears the next day… [he has] enjoyed everything to repletion.” “Whatever time was available… none of it lay fallow and neglected, none of it under another’s control.”

According to Seneca, humans get enough time, but we squander most of it, and so long as we do that, it doesn’t matter if we live a thousand years, as that time will never be enough. In order to make the most of our time, we must guard and plan our time scrupulously.

Also according to Seneca, poor uses of time include drinking, lust, sports, obsessing over possessions, beauty, laziness, music, banquets, useless knowledge. He claims that only philosophy is truly alive. Time eradicates all other signs of greatness (monuments, wealth) but does not damage philosophy that is transferred like memes to future generations, and that through the studying philosophy, you can make the most of your own life and extract the greatest value from the time you are given.

I highly recommend this read, particularly for anyone who finds themselves preoccupied or worried about how to make the most of their life. It’s a short read. Just an hour with this book can alter your perspective on what matters.

 

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Deep Work by Cal Newport Notes

The best students understood the role intensity plays in productivity and therefore went out of their way to maximize their concentration.

Busyness as Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.

This theory tells us that your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to, so consider for a moment the type of mental world constructed when you dedicated significant time to deep endeavors. There’s a gravity and sense of importance inherent in deep work. If you spend enough time in this state, your mind will understand your world as rich in meaning and importance. Such concentration hijacks your attention, preventing you from noticing the many smaller and less pleasant things that unavoidably and persistently populate our lives.

This danger is especially pronounced in knowledge work, which due to its dependence of ubiquitous connectivity generates a devastatingly appealing buffet of distraction, which if given enough attention leaches meaning and importance from the world constructed by your mind. When you lose focus, your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong with your life instead of what’s right. A workday driven by the shallow, from a neurological perspective, is likely to be a draining and upsetting day, even if most of the shallow things that capture your attention seem harmless or fun.

“I’ll choose my targets with care… then give them my rapt attention. In short, I’ll live the focused life, because it’s the best kind there is.”

Most people assumed (and still do) that relaxation makes them happy. We want to work less and more time in the hammock. But the results from Csikszentmihalyi’s ESM studies revel that most people have this wrong: Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flowing activities they have built-in goals, feedback rules and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.

Any pursuit – be in physical or cognitive – that supports high levels of skill can also generate a sense of sacredness.

Within the overall structure of a project there is always room for individuality and craftsmanship… One hundred years from now, our engineering may seem as archaic as the techniques used by medieval cathedral builders seem to today’s civil engineers, while our craftsmanship will still be honored.

You don’t need a rarified job; you need instead a rarified approach to your work.

A similar potential for craftsmanship can be found in most skilled jobs in the information economy. Whether you’re a writer, marketer, consultant, or lawyer: Your work is your craft, and if you hone your ability and apply it with respect and care, then like the skilled wheelwright you can generate meaning in the daily efforts of your professional life.