Life As a Failed Hypothesis: Try Again.

I’ve hit a wall today. I feel like throwing up. Fact is, I’m here, where I am in life, as a result of my choices.  In a word, I made the wrong hypothesis. It’s all very complex, you see; allow me to rewind so that I may tell the story in full.

In 2010 I built a successful lead generation business that brought in monthly what many take home in a year (I tell the story here). At this same time, when I was suddenly making gobs of money, I got back together with the girl I had dated for 5 years after an approximate 24 months broken up. The conditions of the breakup where what you would call nightmarish, but I was foolish, and I suppose I sought closure.

Having gotten back together with this first love of mine, we moved to Seattle.

After 6 months, she left.

I was left alone in a condo we had spent thousands furnishing. I didn’t give a fuck about any of it. Maybe I had started the business and made the money to “win” her back. After all, my initial plan was to “randomly” pull up where she happened to be in a Lamborghini (I was 24); however, Before that ever happened, we reconnected.

Once she was gone, however, the two years of heartache, the business, all of it came crashing down. It was a house of cards. A game I had set up for someone else.

I convinced myself I hated the business and, frankly, I was in that very toxic male mode of “not giving a fuck”. Unattended to, the income dried up.

I took a 10 day trip to Hawaii, and I was every bit as lost as I had been before. Upon my return, I was facing eviction from the condo I was renting, and, suffice to say, the pain of it all was a lot. Dark days.

At about the three month mark after said ex departed, I left Seattle for Milwaukee, at the invite of a good friend whose work was taking him there.

I had no dream, no plan, no nothing. And although I had almost no money, I somehow managed to live a fairly carefree life there for a year; however, by the time I left, I was living in a motel by the airport, and only 1 friend visited me (Garry, I’ll never forget that).

When I left Milwaukee, I came to LA, where I crashed with a friend whom I had met in Santa Barbara, where we had both worked at the same bar.

LA was, in my mind, my favorite city. I felt different there.

I was also poor as a rat. I would walk to the store for a single serving of yogurt and a banana. But I was happy taking long walks through Mid-Wilshire, exploring Koreatown around sunset, headphones on. It was a calm time.

Nonetheless, I needed to feed myself, so I started building websites using the skills I had developed in my lead gen business. I hated it. You get a small deposit, you work your ass off, you get paid the balance, and then you try to find more clients (I suspect many web developers hate their work).

Around this time, while visiting my sister in San Diego, I met someone who would end up being my second love, whom I would date for three years. This is, of course, a novel in it’s own right; however, for today, I’m mainly focusing on work / career.

That said, while we dated, I at first continued building websites; however, I soon thought about entering the lead gen game again, which I did – for all of three days.

On the third day I had been running paid traffic to my landing page, I got a call from a past client (A lead reseller). I was offered a job in LA, where I would be responsible for running their marketing. And although I had already been at an approximate $300 profit for the day, I did something stupid: I took the job.

Then my girlfriend, who had been very convincing in me taking the job, backed out of moving to LA with me. What’s worse, I wasn’t even in LA, I was in Hermosa Beach, which was just a more expensive, more bro-ish version of where I grew up (Pacific Beach). I would have rather been back in Koreatown. On top of that, I wasn’t feeling empowered enough in my new job, and my efforts to communicate this – even accompanied by an offer to forgo my salary till I felt I was paying for myself – all these were met with little response.

I left the job, miserable in a city where I was so alone, and I retuned to San Diego, where I ended up moving into a little apartment in La Jolla Shores, about three blocks from the beach. Around this same time, I was offered a job consulting for another lead gen firm, located in Ohio. It was on a trip there, where I contracted blood poisoning, the result of a faulty ass piece of shit pair of tennis shoes (A story I tell here). The blood poisoning was serious, and it came to be a kind of soft turning point for me.

I was twenty-seven and working very hard to please a girl who wouldn’t even stay at my new place the first night I moved in – on my birthday!

That said, the relationship crashed and burned. We had different values.

As casual as I sound about this now, it was by no means a cakewalk; I was a fucking mess. Another multi-year relationship had ended with me being persona non-grata. These are breakups where you say and do the worst things to each other, which, of course, no matter what end of it you are on, you end up totally deflated, devoid of self-worth. Not exactly a recipe for success.

Now, at this time, I had been writing on my blog for 3 or 4 years (Since Seattle). It was also around this time that stories began to take shape in my head, novels. I knew it – I had known it all along – I was supposed to be a writer. This in mind, I began living what I imagined to be a sort of young writer’s life. I was in no way shape or form concerned one iota about the getting of money. It was like, what had all that been worth? All this chasing of money, only to end up investing in the wrong dreams, which had left me depressed and heartbroken.

Needless to say, it wasn’t long before the Sheriff came and let me know it was time to move out. I had simply stopped functioning. No bills had been paid. My cell phone was cut off. I simply didn’t care.

Of course, I knew all along that I wouldn’t be homeless. When I called my mom and asked if I could stay with her – something I had done before – it was an automatic yes. A friend of her’s even let me use her guest house – the main house which was occupied by various young middle-easterners, all of whom loved to smoke spliffs in the gazebo, where they had moved a TV to watch early morning soccer matches.

Again, I was doing a lot of nothing. Eventually, when a tenant came to rent the guest house, I moved back to my mom’s. I was thirty.

During this time, I had no real future plans or trajectory, other than knowing I was to be a writer. In following this, I spent my days volunteering at the library, and my nights reading everything I could get my hands on. I started to build a decent library; however, I was in my mom’s house, so the books were stacked at first along a wall, then, after, on a door, made like a desk atop two wooden folding chairs.

Not long after, I would cook down a few feet of San Pedro and have my first Mescaline experience – something that would have a profound effect on me, allowing me to see things about the world and myself I had hitherto been unawares of. There’s a reason Huxley called his book, The Doors of Perception.

I had multiple cactus tea experiences, all by myself, on a blanket near the water. Just me and my candles – two non-working cell phones for music (In case one died).

I guess I just wanted to “be”. To experience stillness and possibility.

Soon possibility would be upon me. I would fall in love again.

I remembered laying in Sarah’s bed, sleeping in one morning while she was at brunch, and saying aloud to myself, “Is this the girl you’re going to marry?”

Maybe I’ve been lucky in love. I’ve always thought so – despite things not working out in my twenties.

Sarah and I spent hours talking about what we wanted, and our values were a definite match – she even had psilocybin mushrooms in her freezer.

I soon had moved in with her, and we set up a desk we had found for me. I felt once again compelled to strike out on my own and do something.

I spent countless hours trying to build a User Experience consulting business. It failed. I tried to pivot my model to focus on the financial industry, where I felt I could make the most impact. I didn’t get a single client.

Around this same time, we were tired of apartment living in a beach town. We soon decided to move to LA; however, it would be reading Stephen King’s, On Writing, which would compel us to change our minds.

The image of Stephen King typing away in a shed for hours, living in a trailer, working in a hospital laundry, seemed almost romantic to me.

Fuck, I thought, I need to go all in on my writing. 

Besides, neither Sarah nor I was overtly materialistic, so we had no problem with a simple life – particularly one dedicated to the pursuit of my writing.

So, a plan was formed. We would move somewhere cheaper than LA. We opened the laptop and got on google maps and craigslist, zooming out from where we were.

It seemed we might be destined to move to Nor Cal, when we found a reasonably priced three bedroom on the edge of the woods, outside Big Bear, CA. Sarah left her job, working from home for a govt contractor, and I decided I would support us doing websites (It seemed fair, Sarah supported us the first six months), writing in the evenings.

Only, it wasn’t that simple. We moved to the mountains and I spent all most all of my time working, barely scraping by – despite long, often grueling hours to finish projects.

The truth is I was in a very saturated market. There are a billion front-end web people, and the price of the work you do naturally reflects this. But what drove me fucking crazy is that I had hardly written. Life up here in the mountains had become about keeping the lights on, paying the gas.

I had imagined that somehow, I could support us with my web work and write.  I had imagined that going after the money didn’t matter.

After all, I felt my writing was the only thing worth investing myself in; I didn’t want to chase money, I wanted to live simply, I wanted to write, to pursue my career as a serious novelist and screenwriter.

This was a great romanticization on my part.

I’ve come to realize plain as day that this was a failed hypothesis. In short, my writing hasn’t progressed as I’ve wanted, and I’ve struggled for months to scratch out a living doing work I loathe.

Not a recipe for happiness. In fact, it was a recipe for disaster.

Early this year, I would up having a full-blown nervous breakdown. The kind where they take you in for three days to observe you. How’s that for bragging rights? Not much.

By the time I was in the hospital, I was relieved to be there. I had had a terrible flu and hadn’t slept for a week. I was a skeleton. The first night I was there, I got up, walked down the hall, and asked the nurse for something to finally get to sleep. I was offered an injection of some sort in the buttocks, which I happily received.

My nervous breakdown over, I came home and started therapy immediately, consoled by the words of Joseph Campbell:

“If the person doesn’t listen to the demands of his own spiritual and heart life and insists on a certain program, you’re going to have a schizophrenic crack-up. The person has put himself off center. He has aligned himself with a programmatic life and it’s not the one the body’s interested in at all. And the world’s full of people who have stopped listening to themselves.” 

I began to want to listen to myself more deeply. To avow myself not to do the thing I hate. I also realized that there was no sense in trying to live the starving artist’s life. Being a pauper is simply not for me.

So, where to from here?

Well, I’m certainly not going to continue down the same road with a failed hypothesis. I did that and surely, it’s part of what led me to have a nervous breakdown in the first place. You can’t do the same thing over and over expecting a different result.

It’s become clear to me that I cannot support my writing with freelance web-work.

This is, however, still my current bread and butter, which I have no immediate way of replacing. I can, however, change my expectations.

It’s reasonable to assume I cannot expect to flourish as a writer under these circumstances. So, firstly, I need to drop my expectations of writing until I have a reasonable means of supporting myself, Sarah, the dogs lol.

In conclusion, I’ve been looking into returning to where I started: generating leads. At one time, I was earning $2k a day without much work needed to maintain it. Today, as a freelance web developer, I have to do an immense amount of work to earn the same, and it just hasn’t been practical to write, as I’ve told above.

My new hypothesis is based around the idea of security first. I’ve built a bad life for myself as a starving artist: and maybe, the days of the starving artist are done – they certainly are for me.

I feel today, that it’s my right, my duty to create a new set of circumstances for myself, one in which I am prosperous and able to write. Maybe I just lacked the imagination or the confidence to go after that in the first place. My younger self certainly would have dreamed a better dream, but after my twenties, I had such a bad taste in my mouth about the pursuit of money, I just thought it would be crazy to take that route – particularly after the defeat of two failed consulting business models. But I was never a good consultant. I was never a good employee – even when I was a successful employee I loathed the Sisyphean nature of trading time for money, day in day out.

I said something to Sarah recently, about how there are other people, who, with my knowledge and experience in the lead gen industry would have undoubtedly gone back again and gotten after it. I simply wasn’t hungry before. Now I am.

Thirty-two and starting to build a new life again. I mean, isn’t that what it takes sometimes: getting the shit kicked out of you and getting up again. And maybe there are other people who would not get back up, but I have to.

I just don’t see any other way. And really there’s not. So I have to do what I have to do.

The idea is that I’ll create a comfortable life for myself, and that I’ll once again own my time, which I will invest into my writing. It reminds me of a paradigm I wrote about a while back: Hacking an Open Source Cognitive Model for Goal Prioritization and Attainment, in which I talked about how Elon Musk’s “Software” works. Essentially, we have our wants and we have reality, in between are our goals. By focusing on the right goal prioritization, we expand our reality, allowing us to attain the things we want. Elon long ago wanted to build rockets and cars. He started Zip2 / Paypal to do it. It just wasn’t possible without the capital. The same seems to be true for my writing. I need the capital to be able to commit my bandwidth to fiction, rather than web development.

And it breaks my heart to write all this today, but it’s simply the reality I now find myself in. I wanted to come here to the mountains and have a comfortable life, where I could write. I didn’t create that. I created a life of stress and struggle, and, frankly, I’ve had enough. Thankfully, I’m still young and willing to take risks, I just can’t risk continuing to live like this. It’s been hell. I had a bad hypothesis. Time to try again now.

 

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Hacking an Open Source Cognitive Model for Goal Prioritization and Attainment

Introduction and Preface

On the heels of my previous entry my father emailed me a link to a piece from Wait But Why, titled, The Cook and The Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce. Today I  am writing this in order to understand, interpret, and apply the ideas presented there to my own life and desires. The source material is a long form piece, containing over 21,000 words, easily a three hour read for some. That said, for anyone looking to truly understand it – read the original source. The key word here for me is interpret – I am interpreting something in a manner I feel will best allow me to apply the ideas the author presents to my own life.

Also, this is essentially just for me, but given that I am trying to look ahead 1 through 10 years into the future, coupled with the idea that this blog will likely eventually experience significant readership, I want to be as transparent as possible; after all, everything I write here, beyond being fitted for my own benefit and purpose, is also for the potential benefit of posterity and progeny [1].

Again, please keep in mind, I decided to publish this publicly in the hopes it might benefit others, particularly those who end up here on their own search for answers. That said, I am not editing this or even revising it. So please do not judge my writing on something I started at 4am, for me personally. I wrote this to interpret and understand something I knew would be an asset to me, and I hope it is to you as well.  


Prefaces aside, I want to dive into this model, which the author refers to as Elon’s Software [2].

The Want Box

Elon’s Software begins with what the author calls the Want box, which is just what it sounds like: a box list of things we want but do not currently posses.

Software - Want Box
Image from Wait But Why, The Cook and The Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce

As a fairly arbitrary yet logical example of things that might go in a person’s want box, the author provides the following graphic:

Image from Wait But Why, The Cook and The Chef: Musk's Secret Sauce
Image from Wait But Why, The Cook and The Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce

This is, of course, a clear example – but these wants must also respect things such as the laws of physics and other constraints, which fit into the next box: the Reality box.

The Reality Box

Image from Wait But Why, The Cook and The Chef: Musk's Secret Sauce
Image from Wait But Why, The Cook and The Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce

The Reality box contains, as the image says, Things That Are Possible.

To quote the source, “pretty straightforward” – only, there is one caveat that may not be obvious to some, and it’s the idea that, while we all live in the same underlying reality (If you remove perception from the equation [3]), no two Reality boxes will be the same; for what is possible for me, is different from what is possible for you, and while the author expounds on this later on, I think this is an important concept to digest at this point – at least in my own putting this into practice.

The author then posits that between our Elon’s Want box and Reality box, exists a Goal Pool.

The Goal Pool

“The overlap of the Want and Reality boxes is the Goal Pool, where your goal options live.”

Image from Wait But Why, The Cook and The Chef: Musk's Secret Sauce
Image from Wait But Why, The Cook and The Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce

Looking at the Goal Pool image above, we see these symbols, which if we view the source document at this point, we’ll see a small annotation in which the author explains as follows:

Those goals ended up looking a whole lot like the male symbol, which is annoying of them. The goals are circles and I put the arrow on each of them because each goal points your powers in a certain direction—i.e. choosing a goal is choosing which direction to point your powers.

This is a key concept because, as the author explains at Wait But Why, ‘we change something by directing our power towards it‘, and power, as he writes:

“…can come in various forms: your time, your energy (mental and physical), your resources, your persuasive ability, your connection to others, etc.

The concept of employment is just Person A using their resources power (a paycheck) to direct Person B’s time and/or energy power toward Person A’s goal. When Oprah publicly recommends a book, that’s combining her abundant power of connection (she has a huge reach) and her abundant power of persuasion (people trust her) and directing them towards the goal of getting the book into the hands of thousands of people who would have otherwise never known about it.”

As the aforementioned annotation explains, “…choosing a goal is choosing which direction to point your powers.” 

Powers Our Potential

I want to make a distinction here, and – for myself – an alteration; instead of simply calling these ambiguous things powers, I think it is prudent to view and understand them as things that lie within our potential; for we must understand our fully in order to have a clear understanding of our Reality box, i.e., ‘the things that are possible’ [3, 3.1].

Our Potential and Goal Selection

And here too, on the topic of our Goal box and making the alteration from “powers” to our potential, I want to note that I found myself wanting for more clarification on goal selection. Later in the document, the author writes about how Elon uses “first principles thinking” and a feedback loop, which I will get to, to alter the things in the Goal Pool, but where we are presented with the goal pool, we are merely instructed to “pick a goal from the pool—the thing you’re going to try to move from Point A to Point B”; however, I think that by defining our potential within the Reality box, we can use this as a tool for goal selection; for if we have an understanding of our potential, we can direct our most potent potential towards the things from our Want box, which are in our current Goal Pool.

As the author says of Elon, he focused his early goals not around achieving his Wants, but expanding the Reality box and its list of “things that are possible.”

For Elon (Although he had birthed the desire to effect change in aerospace and transport as early as college) this meant dropping out and founding online advertising and publishing startup Zip2 in 1995 (During the dotcom boom), which would net him $22M when it sold in 1999. From there he founded X.com in 1999, which would go onto become paypal, and when Paypal sold to Ebay in 2002, Musk owned $165M in stock – the rest as they say, is history. Of course, for Elon, given that he had used his software to expand his reality box and had selected goals intended to do so, this meant that he had the capacity to found SpaceX, directly following Ebay’s acquisition of Paypal.

I think we are looking at a man who connected the dots looking forward via some very strong hypothesis, which we begin to formulate in the next section, Strategy; however before I get there, I want to return to the concept of goal selection and our potential.

As the author transitions from Goal Pool to Strategy, he says:

Once a goal has been selected, you know the direction in which to point your power. Now it’s time to figure out the most effective way to use that power to generate the outcome you want—that’s your strategy.

The key thing here is, “Once a goal has been selected, you know the direction in which to point your power.” Worded as I have interpreted and revised this open source cognitive model for goal attainment, we get: “Once a goal has been selected, you know the direction in which to point your potential.” And returning to the above anecdote on Elon ‘focusing his early goals not around achieving his Wants, but expanding his Reality box and its list of “things that are possible”‘, we might be smart to select goals that leverage our own potential so that we expand our reality box, rather than select our early goals around our biggest wants. Seen in this way, we might find it prudent to create a hierarchy of wants in our Want box, along with a matrix of potentials in our Reality box, so that we can meet the two in the middle in our Goal Pool.

Of course we should note that when Elon choose to ‘focus his early goals not around achieving his Wants, but expanding his Reality box and its list of things that are possible’, he was not ignoring things in his goal pool, but merely focusing his early goals around the things in his goal pool; for the larger wants (SpaceX and Tesla) did not exist within his early Reality box, and thus did not make it into his goal pool [4].

Returning to the idea of matching our powers current potential with our Want box as a tool for goal selection, the diagram becomes – actually, scratch that, a diagram will no longer do. We need a spreadsheet.

After about 15 minutes, I came up with the following:

Example Elon’s Software Matrix from 1995

If you look at the sheet I created, it’s pretty straightforward; however, you will see I made a few changes, which I will address.

In the Want box, I added Tesla and Space X. Then, in the Reality box, I addressed the fact that Elon lacked the capital, so I cycled that want into the want box, which became Zip2 and then Paypal…

Again, this is just my interpretation of Elon’s Software as I might apply it to my own goals. Keep in mind, the source document said nothing about a spreadsheet, so this is just pure conjecture, which I am adding into this section as a means of interpreting this model, with a focus on goal selection and prioritization.

After the Goal Pool, the author goes on to address strategy.

Strategy

From here on through the rest of the source material, I find it pretty straightforward. As far as strategy, there is not a lot but what is there is substantial. Basically it’s the idea that strategy should be founded on first principles rather than analogies, which the article expounds upon using Elon’s on words, also providing a wonderful (cook vs. chef) analogy for it [first principles] as well.

First principles in Elon’s words:

I think generally people’s thinking process is too bound by convention or analogy to prior experiences. It’s rare that people try to think of something on a first principles basis. They’ll say, “We’ll do that because it’s always been done that way.” Or they’ll not do it because “Well, nobody’s ever done that, so it must not be good.” But that’s just a ridiculous way to think. You have to build up the reasoning from the ground up—“from the first principles” is the phrase that’s used in physics. You look at the fundamentals and construct your reasoning from that, and then you see if you have a conclusion that works or doesn’t work, and it may or may not be different from what people have done in the past.

The diagrams that follow the strategy section go into detail on a pretty iterative model, which I find to be intuitive given my business experience / knowledge / understanding.

As my preface said, this is primarily for my benefit, so I’m not going to include all of that content here, but it is available on WBW.

I’m fairly excited to have discovered this (Thanks Dad), and I have already begun using this as a decisioning matrix for prioritizing my own wants.

Originally, I was going to title this entry Hacking an Open Source Cognitive Model for Goal Attainment; although, I have opted instead to change it so that it reflects the value of this model as a tool for prioritization as will, given the path Elon has taken, as well as my own intended path, as it is very logical that some goals necessitate the attainment of others prior.

For some this may all seem moot, but for me I needed this to direct my energy into a laser-like focus – also the Reality box has already allowed me not only to see what is possible but what is lacking, which I then cycle into my want box.

Of course, in the end, it all comes down to strategy, which through using first principles I hope to formulate strong hypothesis via, and – as I always say: time will tell.

For anyone reading this, I hope that in your own path this model serves to better help you define, prioritize, and attain your goals.

Godspeed.

P.S. The source material contains SO MUCH MORE. Do give it a read – the PDF is available for $3.00 from Wait But Why as well.

Footnotes

1. I originally intended to privately publish this; however, as someone who grew up reading and has grown as much through the intellectual gifts of others as I have through experience, I feel it is my duty (And privilege) to carry the lessons I have learned forward, interpreting them and translating them as I see fit, just as my deceased benefactors have. In short: a lot of formerly living people dedicated their time, and even their life’s work to creating information, which has greatly benefited me – a stranger – and I, as a future dead person, feel compelled and inspired to do the same – small as my gifts may be [1.1].

1.1 The true impact of my work remains to be seen, and it is for this reason I am up at 4:14 am on a Saturday morning writing this: so that I may move toward a future in which my life has been one of greater creation than consumption [1.2].

1.2 I do not pretend to be inherently selfless and most certainly posses desires aimed at serving my own ego, but I do have what may be seen as altruistic aims; although, many of my role models exist simply insofar in that they serve to remind me that fulfilling one’s goals is possible – no matter what the goals may be. In a word: leading by example does not necessarily mean setting one for others.

2. Elon’s Software is a hypothesized model for thinking based on the mind of Elon Musk, and I find this model very intriguing, given that it is a hypothesis derived from someone (Tim at Wait But Why) who has researched, spent time with, and written extensively on Musk – a man whom I have little in common with other than the fact that his cognitive philosophies agree with my own, namely in that humans are akin to computers and that we may upgrade our software by downloading information, chiefly in the form of reading books (One of my great passions). Also, keep in mind that in 1995 Musk was sleeping on a couch in his office and showering at the Y [2.1], which demonstrates another thing I admire, and like to think I share in common: an indomitable will. In short, Elon is a man who I feel has connected his dots looking forward – something I am attempting to do in my own life – and I believe this model can help me. It simply follows logic.

2.1 Also, keep in mind that Elon has accomplished things that, when compared to my own desires, seem gargantuan; hence, why he is one of my most prominent current role models – of course, also consider that his Reality box is defined by both his perception and the sum of his ever expanding actions, which, it may be said, leads me to the conclusion that one’s reality box and perception are essentially the same – provided that one has a realistic perception [3].

3. A realistic perception, as I see it, is simply no more than a grounded understanding of what we can realistically expect from ourselves, given a true understanding of our potential, which ought be ever expanding, in a kind of chicken and the egg scenario where one facilitates the rise of the other, providing a symbiosis of causality wherein as our understanding of our potential expands, so too does our reality, provided we have a realistic perception of both [3.1].

3.1 Potential is our reality = our reality is our potential.  The concepts are founded upon one another, but for most people their reality defines their potential, whereas for the more objective, more scientifically minded party, their potential defines their reality; however, if you have a limited understanding of reality, whether by dogma, bias, ignorance, or personal insecurity, you will never be able to maximize your understanding of your potential, and consequently your potential, and reality, will never reach their upper limits, which, really, physics and morals should be the only limiting factors of.

4. It is important to note that both SpaceX and Tesla had to be personally funded by Elon in the beginning, and at one point he was all in.

The Substance of The Soul

Edit: I’m beating myself up after publishing this. It’s not that I don’t like the content, which was inspired by a conversation I had tonight with two new friends. The problem is, this is simply not the right form. There is a reason Victor Hugo wrote Les Miserables. I must work on my stories. This comparitively is masturbation. Pleasurable, but not fulfilling. Nonetheless, the following freewritten message written post haste is something worth reading. But it is a tiny star compared to the cosmos brewing within me. Time. Time.

I love nights spent in deep conversation, talking about things that matter. Substance. This is something most lives lack an adequate volume of. Instead they are filled with things that burn our time and waste our minds, and for what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits his soul?

We live in a world of gains at the expense of the things that make us most human: love, relationships, a connection to something deeper; our entire inner lives are but an abyss. I am one who suspects we fear what’s beneath the surface. After all, the vast majority of our encounters with our soul tend to be painful experiences: breakups, loneliness, rebellion, pain, breakdowns. But these too are aspects of the soul, for no soul is purely calm and peaceful. Like the sea, the disturbances of the soul are found on it’s surface, and the calm rests far beneath, at a depth few reach. A human soul, when brought to light, shines brighter than a thousands suns. I see this light in the faces of babies, animals, and those in love. It’s light stifled by the thinking mind, and thus the souls of most adults have long been snuffed out. But the darkness need not be permanent, for this light may be rekindled. Art, music, dance – even great conversation; any form of honest self-expression brings soul to light.

As Voltaire’s Candide teaches us, we must cultivate our gardens. Only, like Candide, we abandon the garden of the soul in pursuit of our fortunes. And in our neverending pursuit of doing and being more we suffer the cost of our pursuits. Costs we never realize until it’s too late. When I have children, I want them to know they have the power to create themselves; to be rather than to become. To actualize the soul rather than the self.

I believe we are all creators. Only we have been taught to consume. Our values have been twisted by a society ruled by power, by a people obsessed with prestige. It’s the businesses of the world that conscript us from birth to make a living instead of making a life.

Nothing is sacred anymore. All that ever was has vanished under the tide of image, pulled by the endless greed of the ego. For in a modern society it is prefferable to be seen as smart rather than to think for onesself. So we let others define happiness and success for us, and we live according to benchmarks that ring true only in the light of day. Look at me, look at how good I am at life, the bourgeous seem to say.

Our egos and our personas are defined not by our souls but by the times we live in. The values of the human soul are timeless. The values of a society live and die with its people.

What are you giving this world? What are you giving the future. Is your life a good model for others? Do you want for your children what you have for yourself? Do you even want for yourself the life you have?

Modern life isn’t conducive to independent thought. The system is designed to create good workers not great thinkers. After all, good workers can buy good TVs, good cars, and all the other bullshit (aka eventual junk) we have been programmed to exchange our lives for.

I can’t change the world alone. But I believe together we can. If each of us lived a life true to the values of our souls, the world would be a beautiful place. This isn’t just about getting to paint, eat organic salads, and make love. This is about being part of a system that has enough money to feed starving children, real humans with real names. A system that places profits over people. A system that ignores the plight of 200,000 Koreans in concentration camps in order to maintain diplomacy with China for capitalist gains.

This system is fucked up. You are a part of it. Are you really going to let yourself be another brick in the wall? Is this all your life is worth?

These are just thoughts written on a Saturday night by a guy in a warm bed. But they are part of a human life, the life I am living. A life I want to use rather than be used. While society may call me a misanthrope, I don’t think it can ignore my voice. This is why I write. This is why my dreams of the self, replete with all the trimmings of a successful life, are secondary to the dreams of my soul – a soul that values inner peace, love, communion, family, truth, beauty, and goodness. A soul like any other.

Lean Capitalism: Little Questions, Big Picture

There’s a difference between cutting corners and not turning them; to cut a corner is to take a shortcut, to fail to turn one is to face a wall. And some walls must be walked around, the time it takes to scale them simply not worth the benefit, the cost being too great. I’m speaking in proverbs but I refer to my work.

The past three days I have beat my head against a wall in the way only an engineer can. The enginnering being web engineering, but whether the medium be code or steel, square pegs do not fit round holes; and sure, were I more skilled I would be able to solve the problem at once, but I am not.

Every man must make great from his own share of good, conforming to his limits rather than bending to them. At the heart of the matter is the question of inherent neccesity. Is problem X of inherent neccesity to solve? If not, there need be limits to the amount of time wasted on it.

At thirty I am goal driven as the migrating whale, called to waters beyond the horizon by something bigger than myself, bigger than my stubborn inclinations. I’m learning that self-mastery includes mastering even the best of intentions; as much as I would like everything I output to match my mental conception, I simply don’t have the time to be Michaelangelo. Some ideals simply aren’t neccesary. This is the art of living; to know that doing your best requires a degree of comprimise between what is possible and what you can do. This, I suppose, is practicality. Something I’ve never been big on.

I’m an idealist – but I’m coming to see that it’s better to be a doer than a dreamer. I met a man tonight who has been writing his book since 2000. Sixteen years and he never went around a wall.

I’ve often quoted Joyce, but the longest way round is not the shortest way home. The shortest way home is to limit the points between two distances.

The Buddhists have a framework for right speech consisting of three questions:

Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it neccesary?

If a thought meets these essential requirements then it is worth speaking. But what of my engineering problem? Might I have my own framework I may use to determine if the thing is worth doing? Surely.

Here goes:

Is it neccesary to completion of the goal?

That’s it. The buck stops there.

The answer in my case being no. So, it will go on a prioritized list pending surplus time and money. That’s called pragmatism.

My books will be my Sistine Chapel, my businesses simply the financing.

I intend to put this lean capitalist principle into use immediately. For while we all have problems to solve and needs we wish to meet, there do exist more important principles, bigger pictures.

The Layman Sails Not

Standing on the banks
The layman sails not
But intent on succeeding,
He plans, toils, and plots
Only he’s living in a dream,
For he accomplishes naught
And without the tests of time,
His craft lay in rot

While he watched men of the world go forth
He judged himself still provincial and stayed hither
Hence through age and not mediocrity,
Unspent passion soon withers

Years on and gone wasted,
He recalled the voyages of great men:
How they were once but mediocre,
And he was once but one of them

##

Unproductive day, dissapointed. Perfection is surely a lesson only the great can teach; the rest of us damned to learn it, aiming to be great and failing to venture forth and acheive what may be called good, even great. There’s a diffference between living a life that is a work in progress and making progress.

Maybe it’s just patience I Iack, but I’ve been here before. I made that great mistake mediocre men make in trying to be great: I turned back at the water’s edge. Yes, I built a raft and made ready to venture across the river but on reaching the water’s edge and not feeling my craft swift or good enough, I turned back.

But what if I would have cast off?

Oh the pain in not knowing and then knowing! This is hindsight: to see,  years later, the mediocre man made great by the greatness of his voyage. Not to say any person is mediocre – that is to say, not mediocre in the downcast view the bourgeois have of their self-imposed fate – no, when I say mediocre, I say it with reverence, I refer to the Latin mediocris, meaning: moderate, ordinary, from medius: middle. Great men were no more than ordinary men who took great voyages. The voyage great, simply because it was made. The anchor of mediocrity that weighs the ordinary man down is not his lack of greatness, but his lack of courage to venture forth into greatness from mediocrity, for it is not the greatness of the man that makes him great but the greatness of his will. How many men build and beat on their craft only to turn back at the rising tide of time!?  For there is an eternal winter from whence only the willingness to be mediocre can lead one to greener pastures. How the sun might shine resplendent on the faces of the mediocre if only they would go! Swim across the damning bank for the sake of living, will ye.

In the book Into The Wild, Christopher McCandless reaches such a bank. After months in the wilderness he prepares to egress, only to reach the river and turn back after judging his swimming skills inadequate to cross. The author remarks that had he simply walked a few miles downstream he would have reached a spot where he could have safely navigated tamer, shallower waters. Of course, this is an easy observation, and we know what tragic fate young Mr. McCandless meets; needless to say, he does not die a drowning death.

I hope I am forgiven in using this anecdote – for I only use it as metaphor and the story of Christopher McCandless has doubtless inspired countless youth to venture forth from the banks of mediocrity into greatness – for Christopher McCandless crossed many such banks before he found the one he dared not cross.

And I write this standing on the edge of my own banks – staring into the abyss of possibility – beating on my own craft: my business, my writing, my concept of self, all works in progress, all mediocre, all inadequate, all laden with excuses for not doing the damn thing.

So it is, I write this to call myself to account. I’m still young and through the process of self-honesty I have staved off the eternal winter of mediocrity, but I am not as young as I might be had I crossed this river sooner. Now I am thirty. That age when men stand in the river of time whether they dare chance it or not. A man at thirty faces his possibilities and whether he belives in himself or not, he knows in his heart what he might be.

I don’t want to grow old standing in the cold bank of the river. I know that luck is not preperation meeting opportunity, but action creating it. The needle of probability which directs our fate is controlled by each of us. Whether we take action, moving chance from unlikely to likely, or whether we stand in the evermore freezing banks of the river, our craft decaying in the eternal winter of preperation, we hold our future in our own hands. I personally have never in all my life failed at anything, except relationships and those ventures I did not undertake. And only the latter of the two I regret.

In ten years I will be forty, and in less than a year’s time I will be thirty one. Perchance I could speak to him, what would my great grandfather say to me?

I’d like to imagine he would encourage me to venture forth from as many banks as I could as fast as I may. He would tell me not to strive to be great but, rather, to strive to do great things. The doer of great things being the one who does them.

I have a friend who makes half a million dollars a month. He did not attain this through perfectionism – he did it by casting off the lines from the dock and putting his ideas to sea. His compass – his needle of probability – pointing
straight to likely, while mine, so long as my ideas do not sail forth, will remain on the banks of mediocrity – my needle pointing straight to mediocrity.

I challenge myself (Having no other choice in the face of such hard truths) to set sail. Every idea, every dream, every plan, is no more than a mist, a vapor, a fog. The only measurable and worthy idea – the only plan or dream that may come to fruition, being the one we deem worthy of releasing into the world. Until then, they lie buried beneath the crushing weight of our egos, decaying with an increasing tide of self-consciousness. A plan is a dream with a deadline. A failure is one whose time either passes or never comes. What are you afraid of? What are you afraid of?

Money meet mouth. For mediocrity is a river, possibility an abyss. Only action and its palpable results, only what may be called good enough and done, may be called great.  While you are here be not a master architect or shipbuilder; be a sailor, mediocre as your untested craft may be.

A Note on Work, Success, and Survivorship Bias

Coincidentally I’m taking a break from working to write this, but I wanted to get this message down.

Essentially, we all have to work in life – well, at least those of us not born into the lucky sperm club – but, even then, there’s a certain brand of satisfaction that comes from working, from doing something you enjoy, that you can’t get anywhere else. Fuck all the noise about doing what you love – I mean by all means, it’s something to strive for – but the truth is, if you want to do what you love then you better work your ass off to do whatever that is – just don’t forget how satisfying working can be in the meantime. I’m not where I want to be yet, and some would call me crazy to know the journey I have been on, but I am getting there.

It’s easy to turn on the TV, or go on social media and see stories of people making a killing doing something they enjoy – and there are people who get paid to do just about anything you can imagine having fun doing, from yacht captains and travel guides, to exotic car dealers and artists. And that should be inspiring to you, but don’t let the television or the internet fool you into comparing yourself to anyone, because it’s easy to look around and feel like everyone is getting rich, or doing what they love. In the business world we call this Survivorship bias.

Survivorship bias is the fallacy of looking at all the visible successes, “the survivors”, and drawing a conclusion based on that evidence. The fallacy in this case arises from the fact that the parties who did not ‘make it’ aren’t visible, and thus, seemingly logical, yet highly erroneous conclusions are drawn based on poor incomplete evidence.

An obvious example (and one that I think most people are aware of) is Hollywood, because – as everyone knows – for every successful actor, there are literally thousands of people hitting their forties who just never made it (Remember that the next time the barista at CBTL fucks up your drink – he wanted to be the next Gerard Butler and all he got awarded was his dog in the divorce). But beyond ambitious waiters, there are numerous other instances in life where Survivorship bias clouts our estimations of what it means to make it and what it takes to become successful.

I don’t tell you this my dear reader to discourage you, but rather to help you figure out the differences between those who make it and those who do not – ironically, the biggest pitfall of Survivorship bias is that it causes people to fail because they falsely attribute success to the wrong factors.

I’m not saying that the friend of mine who is going to make a million dollars this year pod-casting got lucky – not at all, but those who do not recognize the inherent blind-spots posed by survivorship bias might think that [luck] is precisely the case. No, he ‘got lucky’ because he moved the needle from unlikely to likely, from improbable to probable. He picked up the phone when he was Joe Schmoe and called the biggest names, and asked to interview them – and he kept at it for months. There is no such thing as luck; you make your own luck, and every successful person I have ever known has put themselves in a position to succeed. They created something of value and then worked just as hard to get it in front of the people who could benefit from it.

I’m getting closer to being able to call myself a survivor, but I want to make it clear that I paid a price that few people would be willing to pay. I’ve got stories.

It’s the quote of: “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t to live the rest of your life like most people can’t”.

Work is going to have it’s ups and downs – just today I had a very terse phone call, which led to me saying some not nice, but ultimately very empowering things. A sign from the universe I suppose. But that’s neither here nor there – the point is that you have to have a big vision. You have to enjoy being on your path. You have to just laugh it off and get back to work.

I don’t know what kind of plans G-d has for you, but if you don’t have big plans for yourself and you aren’t sacrificing harder than the guy who is going to make it, I can’t help you.

And I don’t care what you do, I don’t care how much money you have, etc., etc., – but what I do care about for you my dear reader is that you are having a satisfying life. That means different things to different people, but to all of us it means being as well-equipped mentally and as psychologically bolstered as we can be to succeed at being a fucking human being.

There’s a lot of uncommon common sense out there, but no one wants to hear that you have to pick up the phone, that you have to live in a dump, that you have to work harder than everyone else. They just want to make their mind up about why everyone else made it and they didn’t.

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” – Zig Ziglar