Regrets

"The memory of that event has only just come back to me, now doubly painful: regret for a vanished past and, above all, remorse for lost opportunities...the women we were unable to love, the chances we failed to seize, the moments of happiness we allowed to drift away. Today it seems to me that my whole life was nothing but a string of those small near misses: a race whose result we know beforehand but in which we fail to bet on the winner.” - Jean-Dominique Bauby, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

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What does it take to live without regrets? It seems impossible to guarantee that our future self will be satisfied with our present decisions.

I've saved plenty of quotes that are variations on the classic 'Carpe Diem'. But those words are just words, and it's hard to identify exactly what seizing the day looks like.

Instead of hollow self-help advice, I think we should look towards actual individuals for inspiration. People like Ernest Hemingway, Amelia Earhart, and Hunter S. Thompson had rich and interesting lives. They pushed the boundaries of fears and social expectations. 

There are hundreds of derivative books that encourage us to fulfill our potential and accomplish great things. But there are only a handful of people in history that had the courage, focus, and ambition to take action. 

So going forward, I think I'll use this methodology to guide my life: 

  1. Identify those who inspire me
  2. Study their lives...successes, failures, and everything in between.
  3. Carve my own life path

I think the way to look back on life without regrets is to do great things. And we can look to those who have done great things for inspiration and guidance. Their lives can give us energy and encouragement as we pursue our own unique journey.

Smarter than we thought?

"Law 21 - Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker - Seem Dumber than your Mark... No one likes feeling stupider than the next person. The trick, then, is to make your victims feel smart - and not just smart, but smarter than you are. Once convinced of this, they will never suspect that you may have ulterior motives." - Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

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Everything about our president seems to suggest he is a buffoon. From his ridiculous combover and bad spray tan, to his elementary-level vocabulary, it's hard to assume otherwise. But let's take a moment to consider this: maybe Trump's over-the-top personality was an effective distraction from his strategies. The more we focus on mocking his appearance and mannerisms, the less focused we are on his actual actions.

Trump makes us feel smart, and that feeling lulls us into a false sense of security. By refusing to take Trump seriously, we underestimated his ambitions and abilities. Perhaps Trump lacks intelligence by conventional standards. He may not be well-read or particularly insightful, but he overcame incredibly improbable odds to become president of the United States. So it's hard to not give him credit for this accomplishment.

He ran an effective, albeit untraditional campaign. By courting controversy at every step of the way, he tricked the media into giving him billions of dollars in free advertising. You might say he's not smart, but it's hard to deny his skill in highjacking headlines. Trump's polarizing nature ensured that he was always top-of-mind. He'd make outrageous claims time after time, just for the sake of prompting a big reaction and emotional response.

Perhaps his most impressive strength is in the realm of branding. One by one, he took down his Republican competitors with ridiculous nicknames like Little Marco, Lyin' Ted, and Low-Energy Jeb. Trump has the quintessential bully trait of knowing how to zero-in on a person's flaws or insecurities. And by creating a one-word mocking association in peoples' minds, he established a mental connection to discredit those candidates.

Another important part of Trump's strategy was his focus on winning the right states. The electoral college influenced his campaign's push to connect with blue-collar workers in Midwest states. Even if Trump himself is not intelligent, he was smart enough to hire and listen to the right people. This strategy proved to work, and many Democrats were blindsided by his success.

Our first impression of Trump may be to think he's a joke. But if we take a step back and reserve our judgments, we can recognize the many ways in which he manipulates reality to his advantage. From breaking the mold in areas like marketing, branding, and political strategy, Trump surprised us all. 

So let's not discount someone as a fool just because they're acting like one. They may be smarter than we give them credit for.

Fitbits

"Don't you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?" - from the movie Lady Bird (2017)

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I was initially very skeptical of the rise of Fitbits. Anytime a new fitness fad catches on, I feel like it's a passing gimmick that will simply come and go. But I've since changed my mind.

Regardless of how accurate something like this is, it's really the thought that counts. When you put this kind of thing on your wrist, you're making a conscious decision to quantify your life.

Sure, you could still be a lazy sack of potatoes while wearing a Fitbit. But the very act of wearing this means that you're going to start tracking your health. You're going to pay attention. 

So many of us just drift through life on autopilot. But when you have actual data to describe your days, you become more aware of your habits and behavior.

I love the hourly reminder to get up and move. Sometimes I'll get so caught up in work that I sit at my desk for hours. I feel a lot better if I take breaks to get up and walk around. 

I love the sleep tracking feature. Like many people, I make a hollow promise to myself that I'll get 8 hours of sleep. When the actual numbers are staring me in the face, I'm held to a higher accountability.

I love the step counting. It feels like a game or challenge to get 10,000 steps each day. Suddenly a boring walk has a element of fun to it.

I love the heart rate monitor on mine. If I get irrationally angry during the day, I can see the bright colored spikes on a chart. It helps me stay in check.

I wonder what took me so long to go along with this trend. Rejecting something popular just for the sake of it isn't doing me any good.

And what are we without our health?

When you wear a Fitbit or something similar, it's probably because your health is important to you. You're going to start making it a priority.  

Paying attention to yourself and loving yourself...isn't it the same thing?

Creating

"Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do...The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it." - Steven Pressfield

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Who among us is truly fearless?

We shouldn't strive for the absence of fear, but rather an acceptance of it.

Fear is a signal. If there is is something we're afraid of, that's a sign we should move in that direction.

Sometimes we tell ourselves stories in order to evade fear. We engage in self-sabotage as defense mechanism.

We can't fail if we don't try! 

We can't fail if we convince ourselves that we shouldn't even make an attempt.

We will compare ourselves to others and doubt our own abilities. 

But our limits are often self-imposed. Our insecurities manifest themselves in reality, as we search for reasons to squelch our ambitions.

Don't ignore your fears or submit to them. Harness the energy that is bubbling up inside of you. Where there is fear, there is potential. Where there is fear, there is a chance for greatness. 

Sometimes you just need to get our of your own way. Often, we become our own worst enemies. Instead, we could be our best cheerleaders. 

This isn't to say that we should blindly dive into every passing venture. Some dreams are dead-ends, and not every ambition is deserving of attention.

So let's recognize the ways in which we hinder our abilities, and stop putting artificial obstacles in our own way.

Confidence

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” - Henry David Thoreau

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In life, you see so many people overflowing with potential. They live on the brink of greatness. But for some reason, they often fall short of what they could accomplish.

A quote attributed to Henry Ford says, "Whether or not you think you can, you're usually right."

Having the right mindset is critical for determining your experiences. If you doubt your abilities, you'll fall victim to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Another great quote, this one by Marianne Williamson, goes "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."

Why don't more people self-actualize in life? We're bombarded by platitudes like 'believe in yourself' or 'follow your passions'. But these hollow words are hardly helpful.

Instead of seeking answers from gurus, maybe we should find them in our own minds. 

We can try engaging in an intense practice of self-questioning:

- If you could do anything, what would you do? 

- If you didn't have to worry about money, judgements, or failure...what would you pursue?

- What excites you and gives you energy?

From a young age, we're suffocated by the expectations of schools, family, and society. It's hard to tune out the noise when it's been droning on for so long. 

We must get in touch with our own special frequency. This isn't to say that we should blindly follow our instincts in every scenario. Overconfidence has certainly led to many costs and consequences.

We can find confidence is the idea that no one really knows anything.

As Socrates said, "I am intelligent because I know that I know nothing".

Be suspicious of anyone who claims to have the answers. But at the same time, don't reject new information that might benefit your life.

It's a tricky tightrope to walk. As Aristotle said, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

And as Maria Popova suggests, "Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind."

We shouldn't cling too strongly to thoughts or opinions, no matter how comforting they may be.

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So this is the state of mind that I so often find myself in. My thoughts bouncing from one profound quote to another, trying to figure out how to process the world around me. It's convoluted and messy, but I write these essays to try and make sense of it all. 

 

Books

"We’re taught from a young age that books are something you finish. Books are sacred. When you go to school and you’re assigned to read a book, you have to finish the book. So…we get this contradiction where everyone I know is stuck on some book. So what do you do? You give up on reading books for a while." - Naval Ravikant

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Why do we consider books to be 'sacred'? Why does our society hold books in such high regard?

Of course, certain books are powerful and influential. They can help spread ideas and enrich our lives. They can bring about revolutions and change the course of countries. 

But does a book have value just because it's a book?

There are plenty of poorly-written works these days. Anyone can publish a book, and it feels like we're flooding the market with mediocrity. 

Occasionally we witness insightful tweets, blog posts, and emails. Just because something is typed on paper and in binding, doesn't mean it inherently has value.

So when we recognize this, it's apparent that we don't owe any allegiance to books.

You can pick them up and put them down at will, without feeling any guilt or shame.

This idea isn't meant to justify flightiness or a lazy disposition. Instead, it's to help you expand your ability to consume insightful information.

You could read 10 books at a time, periodically picking up and putting down whichever one draws peaks your interest. 

Why slog through something because of some arbitrary sense of obligation?

And when you read a variety of books simultaneously, you're more likely to make connections across these works.

In fact, maybe we're publishing books all wrong. Perhaps we need curators who simply take bits and pieces of other books and synthesize them into one text.

(of course, this isn't a novel ideas...but at least we could remove the expectation for these synthesizers to add their own opinions. It could just be someone's job to just cut and paste insightful passages into some interesting mix.)

Perhaps the main caveat is that people won't delve deep into works if they don't stick with just one book and see it through to the end.

Maybe this strategy just highlights our short attention spans.

I think it's good thing to go both wide and deep with your learning. You can pick out books from a wide variety of disciplines, and then choose one or two to really sink your teeth into. That way you become very familiar with your favorite subjects, while also acquiring broad-based knowledge. 

The most important thing is to question how we learn, and to think of creative alternatives to the traditional ways of reading.

Sadness

"You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something, that's what the phones are taking away — the ability to just sit there...I started to get that sad feeling and reached for my phone, but I thought 'don't' — just be sad, let it hit you like a truck." - Louis CK

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It's hard to confront feelings of sadness. With smartphones, we can live in a state of almost perpetual distraction. Our screens help suppress our sad thoughts.

But what about when driving? 

Driving requires a high level of alertness, as we have to make hundreds of small decisions over the course of a commute.

So this leads to a dilemma. We need to focus on the road, but we also want to ignore emotions that come bubbling up to the surface.

And that's why we reach for our phones. We want the distraction. We crave the dopamine hit of receiving new messages and notifications.

How do we overcome this problem?

I think that meditation is a good way to deal with this issue. Although meditation has been advocated ad nauseam, it's worth repeating how it can help you.

When meditating, you stop trying to distract yourself. You lean in to your feelings, despite the discomfort you might experience. 

Once you acknowledge your feelings, they suddenly have less power over you. As many have said, 'what you resist, persists'.

So if you feel sad, try to just recognize it and accept it. If you try to ignore of deny your feelings, then they will simmer just below the surface. 

If we meditate regularly and get in touch with how we're feeling, then we'll have more self-control in the car when we get an urge to reach for our phones. 

Sadness is an inevitable emotion that we all experience from time to time. Acknowledge it, accept it, and move on.

Systems

"A goal is a specific objective that you either achieve or don’t sometime in the future. A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run. Goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do." - Scott Adams

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Aren't goals a good thing?

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, advocates that people should pursue systems rather than goals.

I think he makes a compelling point. 

Systems are essentially the habits we practice in our day-to-day lives. If we have productive and effective habits, then we will likely see positive results.

When we set our minds on something too specific, then it puts a lot of pressure on ourselves.

How many people actually stick to their New Year's resolutions?

And when we fail to reach our goal, this can actually reduce our ability to achieve future goals, as Kelly McGonigal writes in The Willpower Instinct:

"Study after study shows that self-criticism is consistently associated with less motivation and worse self-control. In contrast, self-compassion – being supportive and kind to yourself, especially in the face of stress and failure – is associated with more motivation and better self-control. When we do experience setbacks – which we will – we need to forgive those failures, and not use them as an excuse to give in or give up."

So instead of focusing on individual goals that we may or may not achieve, maybe we should just try to live our daily lives in such a way that we will be happy with the results.

But maybe we don't have to choose between systems and goals. Perhaps a combination and balance between the two is a good approach.

For instance, we could have a specific goal like attaining a certain degree or career. And then we focus on the instilling the systems in our lives that will guide us along that path.

In terms of setting goals, I think the SMART approach is a good heuristic to use. 

(Although I have an instinctive aversion to acronyms, I think this one actually pretty useful) 

SMART stands for:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
  • Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).

The more thought we put into how we define our goals, the more likely we are to achieve them.

Saying something like I want to be more healthy or read more books is too vague. We need something concrete to guide us.

And this is they way in which I'll try to live: using systems for day-to-day living and SMART goals for overall objectives. 

Introversion

“Introversion- along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness- is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living in the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man's world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are." - Susan Cain

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Every personality type has different strengths and weaknesses. But what happens when one personality type is valued over others? 

Here in the United States, it feels like people are pushed to be extroverts from a young age.

Why is this the case?

Maybe it's an integral part of our culture. Maybe it's so tied into our national identity that we can't imagine the alternative.

If the U.S. was a person, I think it would be an extrovert. We value things that are big, loud, and in your face. We value the pioneer spirit and rebellious

America's personality is probably a big reason for its success. But what about the people who don't connect with this national identity?

Not everyone likes to be the center of attention. Not everyone gets energized from spending time around others.

But people often judge those who don't abide by these social norms. 

It's a strange dynamic to witness a group of Americans hanging out. It feels like each person is trying to one-up the other with their story, joke, or opinion. It's a frantic back and forth that feels socially exhausting.

It feels like the average person here talks more than they listen. And it seems like those who don't talk a lot are judged or looked down on.

Maybe I'm just biased, being an introvert. I try to appreciate the qualities of extroverts. It's fun to spend time with outgoing people and draw from their energy. But when I'm in big groups with multiple extroverts, it just feels draining.

In terms of navigating personalities, I think we just need to understand ourselves well and appreciate the traits in others. It's easier said than done, but it can make a world of difference in what we do and how we live.

 

 

 

Timelessness

"What kinds of books should you read? Older ones, not newer, ones that have withstand the test of time." - Naval Ravikant

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There is so much knowledge out there, it's hard to know where to start in your quest for self-education. 

I think Naval's advice above is a useful heuristic for choosing which books to read.

It feels like there is always a popular new book that people are talking about. However, will it still be discussed 50 or 100 years from now?

The truth is that most books are ephemeral. They might tap into a trend or cultural zeitgeist, but they likely won't withstand the test of time.

That's why Naval recommends books like The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, or Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. These influential works have proven their worth and held up over the years.

However, he doesn't exclusively read older books. Naval suggests modern works like Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. He also peruses tweets and blog posts from intelligent individuals all around the world.

And I think this is a good approach to have. In your pursuit of knowledge, it's good to have a balance between both old and new material. If you only cling to one or the other, then you're likely limiting your perspective. However, if you have to choose, timeless material is more likely to benefit you in the long run. 

It's good to have a respect for past works, while still following contemporary ideas. This way you can have one foot in both worlds, giving you a broader perspective of historical wisdom mixed with modern breakthroughs.

 

Open-mindedness

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." - Aristotle

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Most of us seem very set in our opinions. It feels like older we get, the less likely we are to change our outlook. 

Why such rigidity?

Maybe it's just too mentally taxing to constantly revaluate our opinions. 

It's far easier just to decide how we feel about something and stick by those beliefs.

But being open-minded can really help us grow and evolve. 

And it's not enough to say 'be open-minded' as a hollow platitude.

We actually have to make a concentrated effort to challenge our most closely held beliefs.

It can hurt to admit we were wrong about something. Sometimes our pride or ego won't allow it.

But I think the truth is that most of us don't actually know much about most things.

Once we admit our inherent ignorance, we free ourselves to learn and grow. 

For some reason, it feels like there's a stigma against not knowing. 

Our culture values the confident, decisive leader who acts with brazen aptitude.

In reality, over-confidence has likely caused more harm than good. 

And to question everything doesn't mean we have to live in state of perpetual doubt. 

We can be confident in knowing that most people shouldn't be confident in thinking that they know something.

I think.

Serendipity

“Ideas are often generated in physical gathering places where people with diverse interests encounter one other serendipitously." - Walter Isaacson

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In his famous biographies, Walter Isaacson has studied the lives of Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, and Leonardo da Vinci. A common theme among these individuals is that they interacted with people from a wide range of backgrounds. 

Leonardo da Vinci thrived in the Renaissance era. It was a transformative period in which science, the arts, and culture where flourishing. In Florence, Italy, Da Vinci engaged with the likes of engineers, sculptors, merchants, poets, and many others.

Benjamin Franklin helped pioneer the civic culture in America. He founded the first public library, and started a club for people to meet and discuss ideas. Franklin was well-versed in disciplines such as science, journalism, and politics. He traveled to London at a young age to work as a printer. The stories he encountered and shared likely had a big impact on his worldview.

Steve Jobs grew up surrounded by computer engineers, creative artists, and counter-culture hippies. He learned the value of craftsmanship from his skilled father, and picked up hobbies like calligraphy from his short time in college. In his career, Jobs would bounce from meetings related to Pixar, Apple music, and iPhone design. This involved numerous interactions with people such as business executives, product designers, and graphic artists. 

Each of these visionaries accomplished remarkable things throughout their lives. But the interesting pattern here is the social element.

Many of us picture inventors and geniuses as solitary figures.  However, the interactions these individuals engaged in had a huge influence on their lives.

So how can we meet many people with a diverse range of interests?

It's surprising that our societies haven't made more of an effort in this regard. We have many events and meetups, but they often center around a specific niche. Maybe we need our activities to be more broad and inclusive.

Diversity breeds ideas. If we only surround ourselves to certain types of people, then our chances of generating ideas aren't very good. 

Most universities seem to naturally segregate. They've got a business center, engineering building, and place for liberal arts. Why not just mesh everything together?

Maybe it's more awkward and uncomfortable to just throw everyone together like that. We naturally seem to seek comfort and predictability among those whom we meet. But maybe a little discomfort is necessary to spark ideas. We need to be open to diversity and unpredictability in order to grow and think differently.

Schema Violations

"Several studies have shed light on the role of “schema violations” in intellectual development. A schema violation occurs when our world is turned upside-down, when temporal and spatial cues are off-kilter."

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Mark Twain famously said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." When you leave your environment and see how other people live, it can broaden your perception of what's possible. 

Many of our cultural conventions are nothing more than socially-reinforced illusions. We all grow up surrounded by certain values and norms. These conditions shape our opinion of what is considered normal or natural. They create a mental schema in our minds, and sometimes we get defensive or offended if we encounter something that contradicts that schema.

So sometimes we just need to shake things up. It might do you some good to get lost in Tokyo or wander through the backstreets of Istanbul, getting exposed to cultures vastly different than your own.

But travel isn't the only way to expand your mind. Anything that challenges our internalized cultural framework for normality can benefit us. 

Schema violations can come in many forms. There are shows like 'Tim and Eric' that are largely ridiculous and nonsensical, but also possibly brilliant. They portray social situations in such crazy ways, that it might make you see things a little bit differently.

I think that having a high tolerance for eccentricity is important for creativity. We all need a little humility about our own inherent biases of what we consider to be normal.

Just because most people around you have done things a certain way for a long time, doesn't mean it has to be that way.

So let's celebrate diverse cultures, strange people, and silly shows. Anything that breaks us out of our conventions and biases can spark big ideas. 

 

Fiction

“Fiction is an ancient virtual reality technology that specializes in simulating human problems.” - Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal

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What role does Fiction play in our lives? Perhaps the answer is inherently subjective. But I think there is one major reason why we are drawn to stories: because they simulate life experiences. 

Each of us is limited by the number of things we can experience. I think that's why we're so eager to consume compelling stories. When we read, watch, or listen to a good story, our lives become richer. 

So maybe it's worth defining what a story actually is. Most stories seem to revolve around a conflict, which certain characters must confront and try to overcome.

Telling stories is an ancient tradition that goes back thousands of years. Epics like The Odyssey can teach us virtues such as courage and bravery. And Greek myths offer powerful cautionary tales, like that of Icarus flying too close to the sun.

Stories serve to educate and entertain us. The best ones seem to both capture our attention as well as communicate valuable lessons.

If we hear a hundred stories of characters extolling virtues, then hopefully we will learn to become more virtuous. If we read a hundred books about people surmounting adversity, then maybe that will prepare us to face challenges in our own lives.

And I think we should admit that good stories can take many forms. Whether it's a sitcom, video game, or podcast series, there are many ways to communicate and appreciate a worthwhile narrative. So I don't think it's necessarily a waste of time to watch a show or play an RPG. As long as we can extract some value from these stories, then they are beneficial to our lives. 

As George R.R. Martin wrote - “I have lived a thousand lives and I've loved a thousand loves. I've walked on distant worlds and seen the end of time. Because I read.”

Balance

"How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live." - Henry David Thoreau

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I think the best writers are the ones who draw from a wide range of rich experiences. Kerouac, Hemingway, Plath, Hunter S. Thompson...each of these writers had a unique style and powerful voice. But would their work be the same if their lives weren't so interesting?

If we don't do interesting things, then we won't have much to write about. And I think this a paradox for any aspiring writer. If you want to become a writer, I think you should start living before you start writing. 

But this is easier said than done. Most of us are naturally inclined towards comfort and laziness. We prefer the predictability of our routines rather than the uncertainty of new experiences.

It's a daunting task to try and carve out our own path. We're conditioned from a young age to follow a certain series of steps. Those that deviate from their prescribed path often face many forms of judgment and criticism. 

Why do people judge those who don't conform to a typical life? I think it reflects a sense of insecurity on behalf of the one criticizing. That person was too afraid to live their own life, so they throw stones at those who march to the beat of their own drum.

So I think we need to find the balance between seeking experiences and reflecting on those experiences. If we only focus on living, then we get stuck in a state of perpetual distraction and indulgence. If we shut ourselves off from the world to focus on writing, then we probably won't have a lot to write about.

 

Tension

"Tension, a degree of it at least, keeps us on our toes." - Eric Weiner

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Ambiguity can be a daunting thing. We have evolved to seek clear answers and definite circumstances. 

But is there an upside to uncertainty that we're neglecting?

Sometimes life feels unbearably predictable. We inevitably resort to the comfort of ordinary routines. There's no room for creativity if all of our plans are mapped out. 

I think we need to deliberately push ourselves towards discomfort. 

It's the tension of unpredictability that makes life interesting.

There's the saying that "if you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you will keep getting what you’ve always gotten."

So if we want to get something new out of life, then we'll have to actively pursue new experiences. 

Another quote I'm fond of is, "The lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul." (Khalil Gibran).

Our natural desire for security can lead us to a state of boring complacency.

Inspiration resides at the fringes of normality.  

Strengths

"It is far more lucrative and fun to leverage your strengths instead of attempting to fix all the chinks in your armor. The choice is between multiplication of results using strengths or incremental improvement fixing weaknesses that will, at best, become mediocre." - Tim Ferriss

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Is it better to leverage your strengths or try and fix your weaknesses? 

According to Tim Ferriss in the quote above, focusing on your strengths is the much better option.

And I can see the rationale behind this. Why try to fix your flaws instead of leaning in to your natural strengths? It will always be an uphill battle if you try to become something you're not.

But I think motivation is a key point here. Just because you're good at something doesn't mean you're interested in it.

And isn't it more rewarding to develop a skill from scratch? 

The idea of a 'Growth Mindset' has gained popularity thanks to psychology researcher Carol Dweck. She describes how "the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value."

In other words, the mindset we adopt generates self-fulfilling prophecies. 

If we doubt our ability to learn a certain skills, then we become our own worst enemy. We construct imaginary mental barriers between our current self and what we're truly capable of. 

So it's easier to leverage your strengths, but you should develop skills based on interest rather than ability. 

And just because you're not naturally skilled at something doesn't mean you can't become great at it.

As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.”

 

Urgency

"What man can you show me who places any value on his time, who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily?" - Seneca

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In his book Mastery, Robert Greene describes how certain individuals become masters of their craft. 

A major reason for their successes, he claims, was their sense of urgency.

How many of us live with a sense of urgency?

Do we pursue our passions with energy and zeal, or just go through the motions of everyday life?

The creator of Wait But Why had an excellent post on this topic here, where he talks about making a 'life calendar' so that people can visualize their lives in weeks.

When you see all of the weeks in an average human lifespan, your first reaction might be dejection. It's sobering to see how short life really looks when represented in this way.

But why should this cause grief? Can't we use our inevitable mortality as motivation to seize each and every day?

There is an interesting psychological phenomenon known as 'Parkinson's law', which holds that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion". In other words, we are natural procrastinators. Sometimes we need strict deadlines in order to get things done. Without a deadline, our inclination to conserve energy takes hold. Why make an effort if we don't really have to?

But we all must face the impending deadline of death. So why aren't we more motivated to achieve our goals?

Our mortality doesn't feel real. We all know we're going to die, but it's hard to feel that when one average day blends into the next. 

Sometimes it takes a near-death experience or the passing of a loved one for us to think about our own future deaths. 

I think we should constantly remind ourselves of our morality. This isn't to be grim or morbid, but instead to help us appreciate the time we do have.

So maybe we should volunteer in a hospital, spend time with the elderly, and take long walks through cemeteries. The more connected we feel to death, the more gratitude we can feel for our own lives. And our deadline is clear, we will have a greater sense of urgency in the present. 

 

Weird

"I remember when I was a little boy, people used to say to me: ‘Alan, you’re so weird. Why can’t you be like other people?’ Well I thought that was just plain dull, like having the same thing for dinner every day. And as is well said: Variety is the spice of life.” - Alan Watts

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What does it mean to be weird? If you stray from society's norms, then people might accuse you of being weird. Throughout my life, I've been called weird many times. 

Some people just have a low tolerance for differences. It makes them uncomfortable when someone thinks or acts in their own way. If someone calls you weird, I think it reveals an insecurity. They cling to a fragile sense of reality, and can't handle when someone appears to challenge it.

But life is more interesting when you're open to new things. Isn't it boring if everyone likes the same things and thinks the same way? We need the tension of novelty to grow and evolve. 

My interests range broadly from things like insect photography to the French New Wave to fantasy football. I try to find something special about any craft or hobby. 

And if you're interested in everything, you can connect with almost anyone. It's a great feeling to see someone's eyes light up when they start talking about their obscure passion. 

So let's embrace weirdness and curiosity in all its forms. As Franz Kafka said, 

“Don't bend; don't water it down; don't try to make it logical; don't edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”

 

Purpose

"Striving to find a meaning in one's life is the primary motivational force in man." - Viktor Frankl

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Why do you get up in the morning? What drives you to rise out of bed and take on each day?

It could be your career, family, passion, or some other source of inspiration.

Without a clear sense of purpose, we drift through life. If we're not sure where we want to go, how do we know if we're going in the right direction?

On one hand, I don't want to be boxed in by a sense of purpose. As Oscar Wilde said, "To define is to limit." If we decide on a purpose, does that mean we're limiting ourselves. Don't we need the mental flexibility and openness to handle life's unpredictability?

Maybe both perspectives are right. We could establish our overarching purpose, but still prepare ourselves for the inevitable twists and turns we'll encounter. 

Another one of my favorite quotes is "Be flexible about your tactics but obstinate about your vision." (Vinod Khosla). We can establish a big vision of how our lives could unfold, while recognizing that things rarely go as expected. 

It seems like many successful people didn't end up where they planned. They were driven and ambitious, but adaptable enough to adjust when unexpected opportunities arose. 

I recently learned about the Japanese concept of 'Ikigai', which roughly translates to "a reason for being". Essentially, it represents the intersection of what you love, what you're good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. Some believe that the long lifespans of the Japanese are partly due to this way of living.

I've tried thinking about how to apply this approach . For example - say I love movies and I'm good at making short films. Maybe there's an important cause out there I could pursue, like helping to promote non-profits through short videos. I could make money by establishing a business around this service. 

This is just a simple example, but it shows how you could design your lifestyle. You could build your life around your passion, mission, vocation, and profession.

Ultimately, we're responsible for determining our purpose. Those who have a purpose in life seem to be happier and more successful. A purpose centers us and helps us focus. It reduces the world down to size. But we can't cling too strongly to our purpose. We can expect to experience all sorts of changes along the way.