When I was in third grade, my friend told me that cracking my knuckles would give me arthritis.
I had no clue what arthritis was, except for the fact that it sounded scary and was probably something that I didn’t want.
Then I was scared. I had often watched my father leisurely crack his knuckles, and was suddenly terrified that he would get arthritis.
I didn’t know what to do. Should I tell my father to quit his habit before arthritis took over his whole body and all hell broke loose? I decided against it. My friend was probably just making something up on the playground.
Besides, I knew that my father was an extremely wise man, and could probably beat my friend to a battle of wits any day. I played a game of chess with my father every weekend, and from his track record of winning every single game, I believed my dad to be invincible. He was the hero of the household that I went to whenever I had any sort of philosophical, technical, or otherwise outlandish questions.
In my freshman year of high school, one of my friends set up his own server and had his own blog running from it. I was jealous. I wanted to have a website too, but I had no idea how to do it. So I marched up to my father and demanded that he set up a server for me. He gave me a weird look at first, but then agreed. Within a couple weeks he had installed linux on an old laptop for me and I was uploading html files to a dynamic dns website.
I felt like I was on top of the world.
of course, I had no idea what I was doing, couldn’t tell the difference between PHP and HTML code, but was extremely satisfied at the fact that I did something that few other kids my age did.
My father showed me how to use wake on LAN to turn on my server from my desktop, and how I could use cd and ls to navigate around the filesystem.
A couple instances I nearly broke the server through my experimentation, and was extremely embarrassed to tell my father. I made mistakes that I had no clue how to reverse, and even hours spent on Google couldn’t rectify the damage I accidentally did to my server. When I finally approached my father again, he sighed and graciously came over to help me fix my machine.
But of course, my father got no credit when my friends were impressed by how I had my own website. I was more concerned by how much attention I could get via the internet instead of thanking my father for enabling me to set up all that stuff. Parenting really is a thankless job.
Situations like this happened over and over again, big and small, continuously through my high school career. In my junior year of high school, I built a quadrocopter with my dad doing most of the hard thinking and educating. But since I was the one with the soldering iron in my hand, I took all the credit.
And on top of that, as I progressed through my teenage years, I had more gripes about my parents than I had nice things to say. I saw all the flaws, shortcomings, and problems of my family and wondered if things would ever change. And even though I recognized that my family got along much better than some of my other friends’ families, I was still completely oblivious to what an insanely amazing pair of parents that I had.
Coming to college, I looked for father figures, mentors, and people that I could receive advice from. I found myself among an incredible group of mentors that gave me incredible advice, guiding me in directions I never dreamed possible.
But somewhere along the line, I looked back at my development through middle school and high school, and realized that my father was more present than I had thought while going through it. I thought about him setting up a server for me, and helping me to build my quadrocopter.
It’s crazy to think that I could have gone through my entire life and missed that. In fact, it makes me wonder how parents feel when their children don’t recognize the sacrifices that they make for their kids.
Ultimately, what matters is unique to each person, and I can’t make that definition for anybody but myself. But something about the human condition is most powerful in it’s ability to connect people together.
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The two common beliefs when talking about life principles is that either they are absolute or they are relative.
I’d like to suggest that most principles that are true also have opposites that are true. More often than not, they’re two sides of the same coin. Being successful has never been about fitting in with a crowd, but about standing out. Standing out in ways where you’re doing things so extreme that the people around you don’t fully understand you, if at all. It’s about doing things that are so extreme and different that no one else is doing in order to create opportunities that no one else will have.
Throughout history, the most successful and well-known individuals have always been people with extreme strengths as well as extreme weaknesses. It’s the extreme traits, not the fact that they did everything by the book, that they made something noteworthy. All the famous inventors, scientists, philosophers, revolutionaries, and entrepreneurs had someone try to talk them out of it at some point.
But on the contrary, life isn’t usually very enjoyable when things are taken to the extreme. Blending in is easier, more comfortable, and less resistant to making friends with the people around you. The entrepreneur that tries to fit in with a crowd isn’t going to get much further than everyone else in the crowd, even though they may have a better social life. Being surrounded by like-minded people is powerful, but yet limiting. And having a powerful mentor can be the best thing that’s ever happened to you.
While both of these are deeply valid points, they exist in contradiction to each other. It’s hard to distinguish when you should do something despite what an expert says, and when you should listen to what they say as a mentor figure. It’s hard to know when to stand out and when to blend in, and when to persevere or pivot.
The challenge of the entrepreneur isn’t in the risk, but understanding when to take which extreme in order to build a company that truly matters.
This past weekend, I had the privilege of meeting hundreds of young, ambitious millennials at the Thiel Summit in downtown Vegas. In the midst of Peter Thiel talking about finding something to believe in that few people would agree with, I found many of my peers trying to fit in with what people around them were doing. Many of the summiters weren’t taking the message as a challenge to find the unique truth to hold onto, but trying to integrate themselves into a growing community of people who believe similar things from an entrepreneurial standpoint.
Whenever I find that too many people believe the same thing that I do, I take the time to reconsider what I really believe.
I don’t do this to purposely stir up controversy (although I used to), but to identify the nuances that make what I believe in uniquely different than what most other people believe. I like to explore the extremes in order to see how far I can stretch my perspective and understanding in order to better identify how to think about things.
In fact, I find that sometimes doing the exact opposite of conventional wisdom gets you closer to your goals than following the conventional wisdom.
“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?'” – Seneca
When it comes to talking about poverty, there is a distinction to be made. The word is generally used to talk about people who don’t have much materially, but people (correctly so) have been using poverty to describe a mindset and attitude that extends much deeper than simply what you have.
Thus, there is poverty as a mindset, and poverty as a condition.
Poverty as a mindset is a factor of believing there is never enough, that you have to desperately beg and fight to get your way through the world, and that you have to desperately protect everything that you have.
The poverty that Seneca is referring to in his work is not poverty as a mindset, but poverty as a condition. The sheer fact of being willing to give up all the “riches” that you may have for a couple days at a time is an impetus for remaining in a place of not only understanding what other people go through, but it allows you to regularly refresh your perspective on material things.
It’s a dichotomy of never settling for less than the best, but also being willing and humble enough to make it through with as little as possible and not complaining.
Mark Bustos, as introduced to me by Ramit Sethi, is a barber in New York City that spends his weekends giving haircuts to homeless people on the street. And although Bustos is a barber at one of the most high class shops in town, he takes his weekends to humble give back to the community.
Contrary to the Machiavellian leanings of writings from influencers such as Robert Greene, generosity is a deeply powerful force that is able to empower people to truly make a difference. And although I don’t disagree with Greene’s work, I find that there is a dichotomy in between having an abundant and intentional mindset while also being extremely generous and open to the things around you.
The idea of practicing poverty is one that I’ve been thinking about lately, as it’s very easy to allow your means to influence the way that you live. Just as people abstain from food by fasting, or even the “technology fast” that has been increasingly popular, choosing a regular interval to fast from extraneous things helps us to remain resourceful in the way that we approach life.
Humans usually remember things best when told as a story.
Stories that are emotional are engaging and memorable, while an overwhelming list of facts generally is not. And because of this simple fact of human psychology, we find ourselves drawn to stories of our favorite heroes, and attempting to analyze their lives in order to validate what we do.
The narrative fallacy, as popularized by Nassim Taleb in The Black Swan, states that humans have a tendency to oversimplify and explain past events from the bias of their worldview.
Any past event can be explained in an extremely large variety of different ways, and the explanations can be unbelievably far apart. In fact, how many times have you heard two people make two conflicting points from the exact same story?
It’s a common thing to say that the dots always connect looking backwards, but more often than not, they connect because we find some way of explaining the dots so that it supports our hypothesis.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with telling stories. Stories are a great way to inspire and emotionally connect with others, but it’s also easy to get blind-sighted when we take the story-teller’s interpretation as gospel.
I’ll be the first to say that the dots don’t always connect looking backwards, and I’m completely okay with that.
In kindergarten, I was the shortest kid in my class. In fact, I was so short that I was less than one percentile of males my age.
As a result, I couldn’t do what most of my peers could physically. I had difficulty shooting hoops, I ran slower than everyone else, and was usually one of the last people to be chosen for kickball matches.
And as I grew up, much of the feelings of being the shortest and slowest stuck with me. Even though I was no longer the shortest kid around in high school, I often downplayed myself and felt uncomfortable around people.
I gave myself a lot of negative self talk. I told myself that I wasn’t the smartest, fastest, or the best at any skill. In fact, I didn’t even give myself the chance to apply to more prestigious schools because I “knew” that I wouldn’t get in.
How many of us sabotage ourselves with this kind of negative self talk? We tell ourselves that we aren’t good enough, smart enough, or that we’ll take action after some magical event happens, even though deep down we all know we want to be given the opportunity. The fear is that we’ll be found out for our inadequacies.
The truth is, many of us go from our day to day lives trying to prove something, either to other people or to ourselves. I’ve been there, and in many ways still am.
I can’t say that I have it all figured out, but here are a couple things I’ve realized along the way, written out in clear bullet points because I’m not a fan of fluffy, abstract advice:
- Know Yourself – This is a comment that one of my mentors made to me, and has stuck with me ever since I heard the words come out of her mouth. Knowing and admitting your strengths and your weaknesses make for a very powerful understanding of how to be yourself.
- Be present – People who are the most uncomfortable with themselves will often focus heavily on the future or on the past. There’s nothing wrong with looking back and reflecting or looking forward and preparing, but when you’re ignoring what’s in front of you on a day to day basis and enjoying where you’re at and what’s around you, you’re likely uncomfortable.
- Watch Your Language – Instead of saying things like “I can’t” or “I’m not”, try things like “I haven’t yet” or “I’m learning to”.
- Put Yourself Out There – Post something online. Share something vulnerable. Because it’s not until you take a step to be vulnerable that you really see how people respond. I can almost guarantee you that it’ll be different than you expect.
If there’s any age that a person is the most tolerant to risk, it’d be their twenties.
When Nick Woodman took the stage at a UCSD alumni event to talk about the company he founded in school, he talked a lot about his personal relationship to risk, and how he approached finding his “passion”.
GoPro started as nothing more than a film camera in a plastic box used to take pictures while surfing. And from those humble beginnings, Nick took risk after risk until he built out a company that has forever changed the way people do film.
But if there was anything that stood out to me during the session, it was the simple fact that taking risk gets harder the older I get. Many people tell themselves that they’ll take a risk after they earn enough money, meet the right person, get the right credentials, etc.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with being wise about the risks that you take, and mitigating risk as much as possible to increase your success. But never let yourself get in the way of dreaming as big as you possibly can.
GoPro would never have gotten to where it was today if Nick Woodman started it in his 40s.
What’s stopping you?