"This Is My Shirt"

There’s a scene in the first Jack Reacher movie (2012) where Reacher takes off his shirt and begins to wash it by hand in the sink of a motel room. The lawyer he works with (played by Rosamund Pike) is sitting on the bed while he does this, and asks him, “I'm sorry, could you please put a shirt on?”

To which he responds, with one of my favorite lines ever,

“This is my shirt.”

Jack Reacher—the fictional creation of Lee Child portrayed in two movies by Tom Cruise—has one shirt. Not two. Not ten. Just one. He’s a true minimalist, owning no more than what he needs to.

In another scene of the first Reacher film, he walks into Goodwill to buy a new outfit. As he exits the store, he has his old clothes in a grocery bag and throws them into the Goodwill donation container. One thing in, one thing out. He has no backpack, no other bag, and nothing to his name.

Jack Reacher embodies the idea of having less and living more. He doesn’t care about wearing expensive clothing or living a luxurious life, but he also lives way more than you and I do. That's because he's not just a minimalist, he’s free. Free from debt, stress, indignity, subordination, time constraints...all of the above.

For example, throughout all of the heroic scenes in the movie, I don’t remember Reacher running a single step. He goes at his pace because being in a hurry comes from a lack of control. Pay attention to turbulent, stressed out people in your life, and you'll discover how "in a rush" they always seem to be. Nothing seems to be in their control.

Lifestyle

Jack Reacher is the epitome of freedom earned through minimalism. He doesn’t owe anybody anything because he doesn’t have anything to owe. He's homeless, so an overnight stint in jail is a hotel room. He has one shirt and I don't remember seeing a backpack anywhere, so he travels as he wishes. As Bob Dylan says, "When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose."

None of this is to say you should give up everything to go live the Jack Reacher lifestyle. In fact, please don’t. One, I'm not sure how you'd earn the money to do it, but two that would probably cause problems for the rest of us, considering he's a bit violent and is known to slam people's heads into desks, among other violent tendencies.

Reacher does teach us a lesson, though: Minimalism is more than having less. A new car will change how you get to work every morning, but it won't give you more freedom. (Unless you didn't have a car in the first place.) A new outfit will change the way you look, but when you're two hours into the day and forgot what you wore, what difference does it make? None of these material endeavors change who you are. Minimalism isn't getting rid of all your belongings, it's understanding how insignificant your belongings are. Usually, it follows that you get rid of things because you realize they don't matter.

Everything comes with a cost.

We want plenty of things, but often we don’t spend enough time thinking about what that means for our freedom and by extension, our happiness. I’m always searching for new clients to pay me for my work, but what good is that if I get a client who pays me little and tries to overwork me? I want (and love) my dog, but owning a pet means I have to feed her, walk her, and take care of her. If I went overboard and got four dogs, it might not be so fun anymore.

The second we stop thinking about what pleasure costs is the moment we start to lose our freedom. With many new clients come many new responsibilities. I might have to be on call nearly 24/7 to maintain a massive client roster. I’d be pulled in a million different directions, and my overall life direction will start to suffer because of it.

The reason Jack Reacher is able to do all of the questionable things he does is that he doesn’t work for anyone. Nobody has any power over him other than the driving force that tells him to solve crimes and bring justice.

As Reacher asks the lawyer later on in the movie,

“Look at the people. Now tell me which ones are free... Ask yourself, how many would do things the same way over again? And how many would live their lives like me?”

How much of your life do you own?

Peter Thiel's Zero to One in a Few Sentences

The challenge of the Future

  • We can either copy things that work now and slowly improve on them, or do completely new things. The former is globalization while the latter is technology—China is focused on globalizing with a 20-year plan to be like the United States, and we should focus on technology and doing new things.
  • Startups push for change—even the Founding Fathers were just a bunch of guys in a room, what you might define as a startup. We have to ask and answer certain questions about fundamental truths that may be wrong in order to make that sort of progress.

Party Like It's 1999

  • The 1990s and the dot-com bubble bursting that punctuated the period gave us certain beliefs that are hard to shake. This is where many of the lean methodologies we've come to know and worship today originated. They can be boiled down to:
    • Make incremental advances  (no grand visions)
    • Stay lean and flexible (unplanned)
    • Improve on the competition (because you're uncertain otherwise
    • Focus on product (because advertising and sales are unnecessary for a great product)
  • However, the opposite principles may be more effective:
    • Boldness > triviality
    • Bad plan > no plan
    • Competition leaves no profits
    • Sales = success of product

All Happy Companies Are Different

  • Monopolies want to claim they are competitive and competitors want to claim they are monopolies, and both of them are lying. Nonetheless, the monopolies are the happy companies who aren't driven to insanity by competition.
  • Why be ten percent better when you can be ten times better and be in a class of your own? This isn't the same as creating your own market which doesn't exist—"We are the best Afro-Indian British restaurant in L.A. targeted to 18-36 year old women." It must be real, but you must also start small and grow incrementally into a larger market. Aim for monopoly, because competition leaves nothing on the table.

The Ideology of Competition

  • Competition isn't nearly as healthy as we believe. From the time we start in school, we're just improving on the metrics (grades) of the students who came before us in hopes of standing out. It's a futile race. Do something different, don't get stuck in law school.

Last Mover Advantage

  • Investing and creating a great company is about long-term returns, not short-term shareholder value. (In this way, startups are the most incentivized to make meaningful change.) 
  • Rapid short-term growth is overrated and can lead you to believe you can repeat your early success forever.
  • To enjoy long-term success as a monopoly, there are four imperatives:
    • Proprietary Technology—or anything that makes you incredibly unique
    • Network effects—or reasons for your thing to grow
    • Economies of scale—AKA, not ghostwriting
    • Branding—having a monopoly over who you are as a company.
  • Disruption is overrated and if that's your goal, you only exist in the context of the companies you aim to destroy, which is competition, not a monopoly.

You Are Not a Lottery Ticket

  • We have to be more definite in our vision toward the future—being indefinite means we never commit, we're too scared to go all-in, and we don't value the great planning and thought which creates the most successful companies on the planet (see Apple).
  • Success is not accidental, Gladwell.
  • Being definite in his plan for the organization, Mark Zuckerberg was able to turn down a $1B (!?) offer from Yahoo! in 2006.  Why? He knew his grand vision and knew that a $1B valuation wasn't even close.

Follow the Money

  • Very few of your investments will yield a majority of the returns, so you have to ask yourself each time you're about to invest (or start a company)—does this have a chance of being the one massive success in my portfolio or not? If it doesn't it's not worth investing in.
    • See Warren Buffett on your investing punch card where you think of every investment like it's the only one you'll make in your entire life.

Secrets

  • What do you believe that nobody else does? That's a secret, and that's the power behind great companies (and people). To find them, ask yourself two questions:
    • What is nature not telling you?
    • What are people not telling you?
  • Secrets should bring together your organization like a bunch of conspirators because you all believe in this one thing that nobody else does. If you worked at PayPal in the early days, you believed in creating an alternative currency, even though few others obsessed over this belief. That's what attracted the right people.

Foundations

  • Ownership, possession, and control are the three considerations regarding people in your company because it clearly defines roles. As you grow and you're no longer in charge of all of these, someone has to be assigned those responsibilities.
  • Make sure that everyone's interests are aligned. An employee who wants cash is different than one who demands stock in the company—the latter believes in the long-term prospects with a religious fervor, and that's who you want.

The Mechanics of Mafia

  • Why should anyone join your company when they could go make more money and pad their resume elsewhere? It's not about the fact you're building something so cool or that you have the best people—you don't—but that you're on a mission and you believe in something. That's what should attract talented people, so make that abundantly clear in your recruiting process.

If You Build It, Will They Come?

  • No, they won't come just because you built it. In fact, you should focus on building something more than your product—a sales pitch. Sales, for some odd reason, is a dirty word among founders and in society in general. It shouldn't be.
  • Sales can't be called sales and it shouldn't be obvious because nobody likes to be reminded of the fact they're being sold to.

Man and Machine

  • So, what? Robots are going to take over the world, maybe. It doesn't mean we should stop developing and innovating now.

Seeing Green

  • Every business has to ask themselves and make sure they have the answer to all seven of these questions:
    • Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
    • Is now the right time to start up?
    • Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
    • Do you have the right team?
    • Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?
    • Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future?
    • Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don't see?

The Founder's Paradox

  • Founders are weird. There's no mistaking that Jobs, Musk, and Thiel are different fellows. It may or may not be a  product of the them truly being crazy and unique, but either way, it's present. Perhaps that's necessary to be a great founder—or maybe it just happens.

Disclaimer: Some parts of this short summary is word-for-word what Thiel said in the book, while most of it is my own words. If I interpreted something a certain way, don't take it as gospel. Buy Thiel's book by clicking here.

On Different

Different is synonymous with great. The people around us who stand out usually are great, so it makes sense to connect the two ideas.

I asked my girlfriend recently, "Who comes to mind when I say the words: radically different?" One of the first names she mentioned was Martin Luther King, Jr.

I didn't ask who she thought made a significant impact. I didn't ask who she thought of when I said revolutionary or influential. No, not that. I asked her who was different. Dr. King, I must admit, was a unique man, but that probably wouldn't be the first word I use to describe him. I would call him a leader. Historic. Great.

The more I thought about it, though, the more it makes sense. For example, Coco Chanel was historic, great; a visionary. So were Ronnie O'Sullivan, Patrice O'Neal, and Warren Buffett. They were all the best (or close to the top) in their respective fields, but the underlying current is clear:

They're all radically different.

Chanel: Root yourself in philosophy, not the times.

Coco Chanel wasn't just a fashion designer, she was a philosopher. One of the first to embrace men's clothing on a woman's body, she had a penchant for breaking the norms.

However, she wasn't just trying to make a fashion statement—she was staying true to what she believed in. She felt equal to the men around her and guided her life as well as any man could. This was a belief held in the early 1900s, a much different time for women, but it was her philosophy and her principle.

This influenced her taste and innovative spirit for fashion much more than considerations of what would sell or what the rest of the world thought. People who are carried by the winds of the times or by fads and styles are never radically different, though they may be hip. It won't last, and they'll always be playing catch-up. 

"In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different." - Coco Chanel

Ronnie O'Sullivan: Work harder than everyone else.

The felt has to feel like home to play a game like snooker at a high level. For those of you who don't know snooker: take an American pool table, add a foot or two (or three) to each side of the table, make the balls a little smaller, and shrink the pockets, too.

That's snooker, and it's much more difficult than 8 or 9-ball in the United States.

Ronnie O'Sullivan, however, plays the game with the fluidity and confidence of a man unchallenged. He clears the table in record time and controls the white ball as if it's under a spell. It's incredible to watch; even more so when you realize you can't reproduce it.

Rocket Ronnie isn't the best for no reason. He's been playing since he was a small child in bars with his father. All he's known for the majority of his adolescent and adult life is snooker. I would guess he's spent more of his life playing snooker than sleeping.

With more reps and more practice comes more skill. Of course, you have to train yourself and be critical of technique and strategy. If you repeat the same mistakes over and over, you won't get any better. You'll improve your muscle memory to make the same mistakes.

However, if you know the fundamentals and know how to self-correct and coach yourself, it's time to bear down and practice more than anyone else. Nobody can touch Ronnie O'Sullivan when he's at his peak, because he's worked harder than everyone else. To us, it's godlike, but it's a matter of practice—not providence.

Patrice O'Neal: Maintain your freedom.

Some comedians today will tell you that Patrice O'Neal was the most talented comic ever to live. He's up there with names like Richard Pryor, if not surpassing. But you probably haven't heard of Patrice even though he's renowned in comedy circles.

In large part, this is because Patrice didn't do anything he didn't believe in.  He verbally abused showbiz executives for being miserable and made fun of them like he did anyone else. He walked the walk, once denying a quadrupled salary from VH1 to continue a web series.

The fact that he didn't care about making tons of money or becoming world-famous enabled him to say whatever he pleased. He didn't owe anything to anybody. While other comedians were forced to hold press conferences to act like they were sorry for jokes they made, Patrice appeared on Fox News defending even the worst of them on live television, saying things I'd prefer not to repeat in writing.

He gave himself a license to be different. Though he may not have used it for good all the time, you can, and it'll make you a lot happier if you do. If you have a controlling boss, you have to find a way to deleverage their power against you. If you owe tons of money, you'll be controlled by that debt until it's gone. There's nothing worse than losing your freedom.

"You have to not be afraid to take a loss to get your point across." - Patrice O'Neal

Buffett: Default to different.

As an investor, you can't move do what the market does without thinking. Reading Warren Buffett's shareholders letters, you'll get the sense that he knows his actions are a bit contrarian. He looks at the market as irrational with no intention of following blindly. In fact, he caricatures it "Mr. Market," and gives the ridiculous man a persona. He knows Mr. Market won't lead him anywhere.

That's served him well, to say the least. For one, Berkshire Hathaway stock, according to the 2017 annual report, is up 2,404,748% since 1964. By defaulting to different rather than following market movements, he saved himself in times of panic when the fundamentals of the market hadn't changed. When everyone else gets too excited—irrationally exuberant—he becomes cautious.

It takes resolve to do that. If every market expert on television says you should buy a particular stock, you have to be strong to avoid that temptation. Warren Buffett has done that, and by investing differently, has become one of the wealthiest men on the planet.

"Mr. Market has another endearing characteristic: He doesn’t mind being ignored. If his quotation is uninteresting to you today, he will back with a new one tomorrow. Transactions are strictly at your option. Under these conditions, the more manic-depressive his behavior, the better for you." - Warren Buffett

A final note on being different

I'm not sure whether or not different is an end or a means. You might be able to argue it either way and to be honest, I don't know which side of that coin I'm on. However, will say that if you want to be a contrarian because it makes you seem cool, then that might not work out as well as it has for the people mentioned.

There's no rule saying you have to strive for different. There's also no rule that makes being different a bad thing to do. You can live a quiet life while holding firm to your philosophy or beliefs. You can still work hard even if you're not on a global sports stage.

You could also not work hard and have no value system. You could submit to everyone and have no autonomy, and you could just follow the crowd it's decisions. You could be the complete opposite of different.

But how much fun would that be?

How to Get Your Dream Job

I've recently done some volunteering at a local jobless shelter/college to help students find their dream jobs. Here is the best bad advice I have for them (and myself.)

Step 1. Write your resume

Your resume is the most critical element of your job hunt. It will be your first impression to your future employer, so you want to make a splash.

It will take a while to write because there's not much to say about yourself, but open your favorite text editor and get started. Write about how great you are, and Microsoft Word will take care of the rest.

A couple tips to keep you on the right track:

  • Only use Arial or Calibri. Any deviation from these two fonts would damage your image in a potential employer's eyes and would come across as unprofessional.
  • Focus on yourself. Don't get fancy and start talking about what value you provide or how you're a fit for the company you're applying to. Those are irrelevant facts in light of your brilliance.
  • Add a personal touch by listing details about your private life, such as how many sexual partners you've had.
  • Emphasize your GPA. This is *the* most important factor in getting a job. No company on the planet will hire you if you have anything less than a 4.0, so hopefully, you did well in school. (The GPA is the only piece you can put in a different font. I recommend making it all-caps, and putting it in green, so it stands out.)


Step 2. Send your resume

Since your resume is perfect now, it's time to get the word out that you're looking for a job.

I recommend giving your resume to the nearest drug dealer. He (or she; the game doesn't discriminate) will have many connections and may know some high people in high places.

A word on referrals—Other than your drug dealer, you probably don't know anyone who can help you get a job, so don't bother asking. Besides, that's a lot of effort when all you have to do is click *Apply with LinkedIn* four hundred times to get an interview.

Step 3. Ace the interview

You're an interesting person, so you'll interview well. Talk about yourself for as long as possible—you only have so much time to prove how amazing (and narcissistic) you are.

Be careful about bringing too much personality to the table. If you do, you will appear unprofessional and, thus, unfit for whatever job you're applying for. Everyone has character, but not everyone has volunteered at the local dog shelter. Emphasize those things that make you unique.

Depending on what position you interview for, they might ask you some questions like:

  • Why do you want to work here?
  • What value can you bring to our organization?
  • How will you grow and develop in your position?

I advise you to divert the conversation back to your extensive work experience and volunteerism. If you talk enough, your interviewer will forget they asked you a question in the first place.

Step 5. Your first day

When you get to work on your first day, make sure you are domineering and aggressive toward your new coworkers. It is the only way you can display your dominance over the group and establish your status as the alpha.

Make sure you educate everyone on who you are. For example, if you have children, grandchildren, a dog, a girlfriend/boyfriend, or a Chia pet, make sure that everyone in the workplace knows about them. This is a great way to develop relationships because your new friends will be eternally thankful for your magnetic presence.

You might also utilize the Ben Franklin effect to win favor among your peers. By asking them to do you a small favor, they'll be more fond of you. You might take advantage of this psychological exploit by asking a coworker for their stapler or help with the printer.

However, you could also do it by asking your coworkers to do you a much bigger favor, such as borrowing their car. If they don't trust you yet, they'll have to after this experience. It's important to do this long before you know them very well because it will amplify the effect.

Some closing words—now that you're making $200k/year, don't forget where you came from. Pass along the knowledge by volunteering at jobless shelters around the country—there are hundreds of thousands of students with debt and ambition who need help figuring their lives out.

And some real advice, if you needed it:

  • Be yourself
  • Put yourself out there
  • Present value
  • Work hard

PS—If you have any real advice on job hunting, I'd love to hear it. Maybe I'll compile a list of real things that could help young people coming out of school find (and get) awesome jobs.

8 Principles from Charlamagne (Yes, He Spelled It Wrong)

Though I've already written a post inspired by Charlamagne Tha God's book *Black Privilege*, I am trying to make a habit of summarizing every book I read in a blog post and putting it on my site. There are many books I wish I would've outlined in the past, so I'll make sure to do it this time.

*Black Privilege* is organized into different chapters by the principles that Charlamagne represents. Each of the headings below is for a different principle in the book.

If you don't know who Charlamagne is, click here.

(None of these are Charlamagne's words. This may or may not even be what he wanted to convey with his book. These are the things I learned, so take them with a grain of salt.)

Small ponds are not excuses.

Charlamagne grew up in a tiny town of a few thousand people in South Carolina—the definition of a small pond. While the young men growing up in NYC or LA in the 90s were closer to the top of hip-hop culture, Charlamagne didn't make that an excuse not to chase his dreams.

Without spoiling too much of the book, the town Charlamagne grew up in sounds wack. I don't think it's my next vacation spot, but at the same time, if I grew up there, I would hope to achieve the same things I can accomplish being from Austin. Or, find a way to make sure I can get to the big cities to find the opportunity.

In one sentence: Don't use where you're from to dictate what you're going.

Passion, poison, or procrastination?

According to Charlamagne, these are the three things you are choosing from at any given moment. If I stop writing this article, I select procrastination. If I write this article, I choose passion. If I stop writing this article and start selling/doing drugs, I pick poison.

The choice is obvious.

Your dreams must be killed.

Though you may think you can be a rapper, the most valuable words you could ever hear are, "F*** your dreams."

You might have a passion for hip-hop, love the culture, and obsess over rap music, but if you can't flow, you're never going to make it.

This is what happened with Charlamagne. If you're reading this @cthagod, I heard you were *wack*. (Fun fact, I heard that from him.)

Luckily, someone told him the truth and allowed him to focus on what he was good at—radio. The rest is history.

Take losses as lessons.

After being fired several times in radio, Charlamagne knows that "losses" can lead to amazing wins later on. It's all a matter of perception. If you get fired and have to relocate to a new city, it happened for a reason. You might not even believe in a higher power who made it happen—but you have to believe there is something to be gained from the loss. If not, you'll wallow in your misery because things didn't go according to plan.

Put the weed in the bag.

I wrote an entire article about this, so check that out here.

Live your truth.

We all have plenty of flaws. We have defects. Some of us have big noses (yours truly), and some of us have receding hairlines. Everyone will age, and though some may do it gracefully, most will be afraid of it.

Living your truth means accepting these occurrences as reality and embracing them. Rather than hide your flaws (which reveals insecurity), bring them out into the open so nobody can call you out for them. You've already put it out there. You already know. 

Don't let anything like the color of your skin or the shape of your face control you.

Stupid people deserve credit, too.

Honesty and transparency seem to be core values of some of the best entertainers. I'm about to put Charlamagne in the same sentence as Patrice O'Neal because they both believed in the same form of raw, unfiltered reality.

When people are stupid, give them credit. If you're like Charlamagne, that might mean calling them out on the radio. It'll get you into some trouble, but it's real. And it keeps everyone else real, too.

You're privileged.

No matter who you are—man or woman, black or white and everything in between—you've got some privilege. Black privilege is even a thing. 

(There's an awesome Patrice O'Neal clip where he talks about the one "reparation" that black people got after slavery: language. You can click here to check out that clip of the greatest comedian to ever live.)

If you're poor, you have the freedom of having nothing to lose. If you're rich, you have the privilege of having money. If you have a small army, you have the power of mobility. If you have a big army, you have the power of numbers.

Every situation has power or privilege with it—it's up to you to leverage and take advantage of it.

This Space Intentionally Left Blank

Among the many requirements on school projects, one always stuck out to me as plain wrong:

"Don't leave any blank space on the page."

As a kid, this rule was annoying for the reason my teachers intended it to be—it made me work harder and put more effort into my task. I thank them for that.

However, it was a concern of practicality to me. To cover up all the white space, I had to color in *everything*, even when it should've been blank. I had to "get creative" and find ways to decorate all the empty parts of the page. After everything was said and done, though, I didn't have a better project. I had a more decorated project.

I've had to stop and look at many real-life situations where my instinct was to fill up all the blank space. Times in which my only goal was to distract myself from the emptiness around whatever I was focused on.

Leaving no blank space isn't just a symptom of how we like to color in our notebooks—it's a matter of how we live. For example, I've had an aversion to "taking a break" or "relaxing" for a long time. Meditation? What a waste. Going on a walk? Horribly unproductive, avoid at all costs. It's blank. There's nothing to it.

(Walking and meditating are awesome now. I still can't figure out "going swimming," though. How is standing in a pool relaxing? I guess some things are a matter of preference...)

But activities like these serve a purpose. They are the margins of the page in which the rest of my life exists. If those margins didn't exist, I would be an amalgamation of activities and checklists that serve no purpose and have no mission. The blank space in the margins gives the body of my life shape.

Only recently have I been able to confront myself about why I want more. Why do I want more money? Why do I want more friends? Why do I want more recognition?

What are all these things good for, or am I just filling up blank space in my life?

Rather than add a bunch of decoration to your life to make it seem more abundant, embrace the blank space. Cherish the things you do that don't contribute in any way to your "work." Take a break. Rest. Anything but work.

PS—I might be preaching to the choir with this piece, but I sure do need to learn this myself. Maybe one of these days, I'll take a break and embrace the non-work, too.

40 Lessons from "Never Split the Difference" by Chris Voss

I finished reading Chris Voss's Never Split the Difference, and I learned too many awesome tactics and techniques to remember, so here's a list of short sentences summarizing some of those lessons.

Some of these will not make sense unless 1) you have a background in negotiating or 2) you have read the book. I highly recommend you buy the book. I found it enormously valuable and exciting to read.

(And it's already changing the way I deal with people on a daily basis.)

1

Be ready for surprises and don't commit to your assumptions.

2

Negotiation isn't a battle, it's a learning experience, so learn as much as possible.

3

Actively listen by actively listening—and only actively listening.

4

Slow it down, because rushing is tangible to the other party and creates discomfort.

5

Smile: it changes your tone and puts you in a better mental state to negotiate from.

6

Be intentional about your tone, whether you're a late-night FM DJ, positive/playful, or direct/assertive.

7

Be a mirror by repeating what the other side is saying, and you will make them feel more safe in the conversation.

8

"Clear the road before advertising the destination."

9

Use "What's that?" "I hear you," and a little bit of silence to keep the other side talking and make them comfortable.

10

Label fears to diffuse them and label happiness to emphasize it.

11

Put yourself in the other side's shoes and be mindful of what they want.

12

Talk about why not more than you do the why because it shifts your focus to the other side.

13

Silence is often more powerful than your words.

14

Do an accusation audit to reduce negative emotions and label their responses before they come at you.

15

Elicit more "no" because it helps the other side feel in control of the negotiation.

16

Use "It seems/sounds/looks like..." to label emotions.

17

"Have you given up on this project?"

18

Aim to hear "That's right," instead of "You're right."

19

Use summaries to build tactical empathy and elicit mutual agreement with "That's right."

20

Bend realities of the negotiation by setting concrete anchors.

21

Use the F-word (fair) strategically to draw concessions, and if it's lobbed at you, mirror.

22

Don't split the difference—it's like wearing one black shoe and one brown shoe.

23

Give your counterpart something to lose rather than something to gain, taking advantage of loss aversion.

24

Find the Black Swan(s)—the underlying motivations that aren't apparent at first.

25

Ask calibrated questions with "How?" or "What?" to draw out more information and asking the other party for help, thus, giving them control.

26

Be careful when asking, "Why?" because it's an accusation in every language.

27

Develop the ability to bite your tongue when you are emotionally charged.

28

Acknowledge not only the person on the front-end of the negotiation but also the people influencing his/her decision behind the scenes.

29

According to the 7–38–55 Percent Rule, most of any message is conveyed by tone and body language.

30

Test the "Yes" by making your counterpart validate it with more questions, giving summaries, and labelling it.

31

Pay attention to pronouns (I and me vs Us and we) to gauge the power of the person in the negotiation.

32

Introduce your name into the conversation to be more of a human and less of an adversary.

33

There are three main types of negotiators—accommodating, asserting, or analyzing—and dealing with each of these is a different ball game. Adjust.

34

Prepare so that  when you get "punched in the face" you will be able to fall back on your goals and plan.

35

Use Black Swans to get leverage, either positive leverage, negative leverage, or normative leverage.

36

The other side's belief system or "religion" can be powerful leverage to make them consider options in light of their own beliefs.

37

Don't let known knowns blind you to new possibilities.

38

Find common ground on which to stand on with your counterpart.

39

Don't dismiss the person you're negotiating with as crazy—take time to analyze their situation, constraints, beliefs, or misinformation.

40

Negotiating in person allows you to pay more attention than any other option and will give you a better chance of figuring out the "Black Swans."

What I Learned from "Poke the Box" by Seth Godin

This is a short reflection of what I learned from Poke the Box by Seth Godin. The book is very short (less than 90 pages) and I highly recommend you read it.

. . .

Poke the Box is a short manifesto about starting. There are plenty of books that talk about the imperatives that you need to start a project. You need an idea, a plan, a way to gauge success, et cetera. There's a lot less focus on the one imperative that matters: getting started.

For one, there's fear involved with starting a project. When you begin, you commit to finishing as well. If you don't push to completion, you failed. There's also fear of failure if you do complete the project.

What if I write my book and nobody likes it? What if I release a song that sucks? What if I start an entire professional football league that fails? The final example really happened, and it was called the XFL. A very rich man (Vince McMahon) failed on a very expensive project, but he survived it. I'm sure that you and I haven't failed with as much money and pressure on the bet as he has, but we're still afraid so we don't begin in the first place.

That needs to change.

. . .

We become too attached to our creative work because we treat it like we would our offspring. Generally, this is a good thing because it pushes us to protect our children and raise them to be safe. It's a natural tendency.

To start and ship work, you have to get over that protectionism. Unlike children, you can (and should) produce as much creative work as possible. Even if it's terrible at first. What does it cost you? Not hundreds of thousands of dollars like a kid would.

Dandelions release around 2,000 seeds into the air in hopes that a few of those seeds turn into something. The dandelion knows (or would know, metaphorically) that many of those seeds will amount to nothing. They'll be failures. But that's okay.

That's not how we produce offspring at all. But we should produce creative work like dandelions produce offspring.

. . .

Is all this to say that quality is negligible? Of course not. Failure isn't a good thing in itself. In fact, failing on purpose is a form of resistance. If you do a lousy job, nobody will ask you to do it again and you can get out of the work.

If you write a lousy book and fail, you might use that as an excuse to stop writing and give up. That's what you wanted to do in the first place—not start. Now, you have an excuse.

Don't fail with the intentions of giving up. Put in your best effort, and if you still fail, then it's okay. So long as you get back up and learn from your failures, you'll be on the right path.

Put the Weed in the Bag

"Learn how to put the weed in the bag first, then you get the money."

That’s a line from Belly, a 1998 film starring DMX and Nas, two legendary names in hip-hop. The movie is about the drug-dealing life of crime so common in Queens (and all of NYC) during the nineties.

There’s a scene where two young drug dealers are fantasizing about the abundant lives they'll live through crime. DMX stops them in their tracks and tells them to focus because they're still at the bottom of the game. They're putting the weed in the bag, and that's what they should focus on. Nothing else.

(Charlamagne Tha God describes that scene in his first book, and his point is simple. When you're starting out, don't worry too much about the end result. It doesn't matter yet—focus on whatever your task is now, do a good job, and then move on.)

You'll hear a similar sentiment from great coaches like Bill Belichick when he instructs his team, "Do your job." For a team that wins so many Super Bowls (Go Pats), they're not focused on that. Instead, they focus on the next play. During the next play, are you doing your job, or are you off in dreamland thinking about a Lombardi trophy?

There are too many factors that determine if the Patriots will win another Super Bowl. The one thing an individual player can control is doing his job on the next play. Whether it's training camp in the offseason or the final snap of the Super Bowl, that's all that matters. Don't worry so much about the outcome; do your job.

That's fantastic advice for a football player. Tom Brady already knows his job. Throw good passes, take care of the ball, score touchdowns—simple enough. What about me? What's my job?

It's unfortunate, but the answer is, "If you don't already know, you can't know."

For the past few weeks, I've written ~1,000 words on average each day. That's a ton of practice. Why am I doing it? Is it because I want to get a seven-figure book deal and hang out with J.K. Rowling? That might be why, but I don't know yet. I can't know yet.

The only reason I get up and write is that I know the consequence of not doing so. If I don't write today, I'll never be able to look back and say, "It all makes sense—that's why I did all that work." I can't tell you where I'll be when that happens, but I can tell you that it will happen. That's faith. There's no other way to describe it.

Most of us are lying to ourselves. When we wake up and decide not to write/draw/dance/do the right thing, we say it's because we don't know where we're headed. We claim doing any work would be useless because we don't see the master plan.

It's much easier to lie to ourselves and say we have a plan. "I'm writing this because I want to be an author," sounds way better than, "I know I'm supposed to do this, but I have no idea why."

Though it might hurt my pride to say it, I don't know what I’m doing this for. I have no idea. There shouldn't be any shame in that.

Steve Jobs didn't know he would be the CEO of the most innovative tech company ever. Bill Gates didn't think he would become the wealthiest man alive. Coco Chanel didn't know she would be the most influential woman in the history of fashion.

Jobs, Gates, Chanel—none of them got anywhere by being frustrated about the uncertainty of their future. They woke up and did what they felt they were supposed to do. Something drove Jobs to go work at Atari as a teenager. Something magnetized Gates to programming as a young boy. Something pushed Chanel to run her own business.

They listened to their hearts—as cheesy as it sounds—and did what their hearts told them to do. If Chanel never decided to make hats, would she have decided to build a fashion empire for the ages?

If you don’t have a plan, don’t worry. There's no shame in no idea. Listen to your heart. Do the job it assigns you. Put the weed in the bag. 

(I hope that's not what your heart tells you to do.)

Daniel Coyle's "The Culture Code" in a Few Sentences

Synopsis: Successful groups share some common characteristics, primarily safety. A person's sense of belonging and security inside a group are huge determinants of success. Things that undermine this not only undermine the happiness of the team members but also their success. Our goal as leaders should be to create this sense of belonging and safety and encourage the interconnectedness of our team members.

Below are one sentence summaries of the book organized just like the book is in the table of contents. The sentences are not copied from the book but are in my own words, so take them with a grain of salt. (Larger headings are sections and smaller headings are subsections.)

Skill 1: Build Safety

In order to lead a successful group, make sure everyone feels safe.

The Good Apples

Bad apples (people) can singlehandedly destroy a group, but a good apple can singlehandedly maintain the group's connectedness, even in the face of a bad apple.

The Billion-Dollar Day When Nothing Happened

Jeff Dean works in a company that encourages him to experiment and innovate and he turns Google into Google.

The Christmas Truce, the One-Hour Experiment, and the Missileers

If we're connected, if we share a future, and if we're safe together, we'll build a successful culture.

How to Build Belonging

Belonging is created with cues, so pay attention to them and give them with intention as the leader.

How to Design for Belonging

Design for collisions and aim for clusters of communication.

Ideas for Action

Say thank you, even for criticism, be fallible, think about a shared future, and make sure everyone has a voice they're comfortable with using.

Skill 2: Share Vulnerability

Successful groups are comfortable enough together to be vulnerable because they're not worried about whether or not they appear strong or to be an authority.

Tell Me What You Want, and I'll Help You

Three pilots walk into a cockpit and tell each other they need help, and magic happens.

The Vulnerability Loop

Hey, I'm vulnerable, you're vulnerable, too, but we're both okay—this is a safe group to be in.

The Super-Cooperators

Be shameless in your interdependence with the rest of the group and support the group with all of your being, knowing they will do the same for you.

How to Create Cooperation in Small Groups

Flatten the hierarchy, allow people to speak up, and create forums for everyone to be active in the decision making—you should be able to leave your group as the leader and they should still be able to function without you.

How to Create Cooperation with Individuals

Be a Nyquist by asking questions that connect people and open possibilities.

Ideas for Action

Be okay with discomfort, be intentional with language, develop and coach rather than being single-mindedly focused on metrics.

Skill 3: Establish Purpose

Shared purpose brings people together—start with why.

Three Hundred and Eleven Words

Johnson & Johnson discussed their Credo, decided to stick with it, and it aligned the entire company in a time of crisis.

The Hooligans and the Surgeons

High-performance environments send lots of signals about a shared purpose, whether that's being peaceful or learning a new surgical procedure.

How to Lead for Proficiency

For proficiency, you want to outline values in clear and succinct heuristics that are easy to follow.

How to Lead for Creativity

For creativity, heuristics are still great but it's important that they encourage the group to be open-ended and cooperative.

Ideas for Action

Set the bar with small  behaviors, measure what matters, display artifacts and symbols, embrace catchphrases, and be clear in definitions of proficiency and creativity.

Bringing It All Back Home

I'm paranoid about learning.

Not that I'm paranoid about what happens if I learn; I'm worried that I won't learn at all.

I recently finished reading a book that took me 23 hours to read. Twenty-three. That's almost a day of my life spent in one book over the course of several weeks.

What if I don't remember any of the facts and stories I got from the book?

Worse, what if I read the entire book and none of it’s useful? What if nothing connects to what I’m doing now or what I’m going to do later?

Information today is a consumable rather than a treasure. With around 6,000 tweets sent per second and 150m+ bloggers on the internet, there’s a wealth of information. How much of what you consume can be made useful?

Though synthesis might not help you turn a meaningless tweet into a spark of genius, it can help you create a network of knowledge that applies to all aspects of life. (Later on, it will start to generate more sparks of genius.)

Billions of neural pathways in your brain find ways to converge on high-order ideas. Information once separate now comes together. Synthesis is a form of mastery. It feels like a superpower when you're synthesizing, and hopelessness when you're not.

Learning isn't about memorizing quotes or statistics. In fact, it's not about remembering anything. It's about connecting information; creating a large, cohesive community of knowledge.

Your brain is a massive house party, and new knowledge walks in like a friend who recently moved from another city. Your new friend is looking for similar people to talk to.

If you're a mediocre host(ess), the new friend will feel lonely. They won't come to your next party because you haven't introduced them to anyone. No connections, no return.

Your goal is to make new knowledge feel welcomed. Introduce it to new people. Find the common threads between it and the other knowledge, even if they're hard to find. “Oh, your great-uncle had a pet hamster, too? Wow, you guys should so be friends.”

If you fail to do that, new knowledge will leave—never to be seen again.

(Some knowledge owns the room. It’s intriguing and demands attention. It’s rare, though when it comes around, you remember it.)

If you rely only on memory, you trap information inside. It’s less of a house party and more like the Hotel California. For that reason, it sticks around but it never interacts with other information. It doesn’t create connections, it just exists. What good is that?

Synthesis is intangible and hard to describe, but it’s real and the most powerful function of the brain. It’s the only reason that any one piece of information impacts the rest of our lives. When we connect what we know to what we don’t know, we expand our horizons.

After reading this article, take a second to reflect on some things you’ve learned in the past couple of days. Write down 3-5 big ideas or insights that you’ve gathered, and ponder them. Ask yourself three questions about each insight:

  • How is this valuable information for me and others?

  • Does this indirectly connect to my work or my life?

  • How can I take action on this knowledge?

I call this practice a “creative review.” I do this every Friday by looking through my commonplace journal to see what items stick out. I’m deliberate in taking time to ponder ideas and how they can apply to my life rather than write them down, never to be seen again.

Since I started doing this, I feel a lot less paranoid about my learning. I don’t think of reading as a chore where I have to write and remember everything. Now, it’s a practice. I read to reflect and connect fresh ideas with other ones. The words are meant to make me think, and that's a much more enjoyable experience.

That's how learning is supposed to feel.

 

Lorica Segmentata

This essay was the basis for a talk at Hill Country Bible Church in July of 2018.


There are three images we’ll use to remember today’s lesson. Our icebreaker is for you to draw these three images on the piece of paper in front of you.

  • Draw the breastplate of righteousness (lorica segmentata)

  • Draw Phil Hellmuth

  • Draw Chirrut Imwe from Rogue One

Show your groups once you finish.

Lorica Segmentata

Lorica segmentata (segmented cuirass) was personal armor used by soldiers in the Roman Empire. Since it’s a breastplate, it covers up all your vital organs.

It’s notable that a lot of the weight from the breastplate ties to the belt, which is mentioned first by Paul in Ephesians 6. Lorica segmentata would have been horrible armor if it wasn’t for the belt, as it would be too heavy and unfastened.

The belt is the belt of truth, which is our foundation and ties the rest of our armor together. It’s important to start there, as you would with real armor; otherwise, the rest of the armor becomes ineffective. This metaphor makes a lot more sense when you take into consideration how the armor was applied.

I want you all to discuss the significance of Paul calling for righteousness as your breastplate rather than another virtue.

Phil Hellmuth

One of the best poker players in the world is named Phil Hellmuth. He’s won more bracelets in the World Series of Poker than anyone else in history. He was the youngest to win the WSOP Main Event, which he did against Johnny Chan, the reigning champ in 1989. Phil did it at age 24, a record that nobody beat for two decades.

As good as Hellmuth is, he’s one of the most outspoken and angry players in the game. He’s known to blow up on other players when they get lucky and beat him. He’ll insult and laugh at them for playing an inferior game.

Poker is an excellent metaphor for life in this way. Phil Hellmuth can get dealt pocket Aces and play a perfect hand, but that doesn't mean he'll win.

A bad beat is when you have a better hand, but your opponent wins because of a lucky draw. Bad-beats are brutal—just because his chances of winning are over 90%, it doesn’t mean that he still won’t lose. If you ran the hand 100 times, the opponent would win about ten times. It happens.

Here’s how Phil Hellmuth teaches us about the armor of God. (Ephesians 6)

[If you’d like to see the hand on video, click here.]

Phil put on his armor and still got attacked.

Although Phil Hellmuth played a perfect hand, he still got beat. You might say that poker is all a game of luck, but let’s dive deeper into this hand:

When you have aces, it’s best to bet big before the flop. That makes it expensive for anyone who calls, so you get more money in while you have the best chance of winning. In a perfect world, you would be all-in before the flop every time you have Aces.

Since Phil knows he has the best hand (or equal to the best hand, as Tom could have AA too), he immediately calls. Either it's a bluff, and he's ahead, or Tom has AA too, and they'll split the pot.

As we know, Tom only had tens. That means he's way behind when Phil calls before the flop. He's even further behind when the flop comes 2, K, 7. Phil has a 92% chance of winning.

The turn comes a T and Phil loses. Everything went right until that moment. He didn't do anything wrong in the hand, he played his best possible poker but still lost.

Interpretation

Phil playing well is the equivalent to us waking up, spending time in the Word, and still facing temptation later. We know that the day will have trials and tribulations, happiness and frustration. But we show up and do our part to make it the best day possible.

By learning to play well, Phil acknowledges the nature of the game, and that’s what we do when we put on our armor. We recognize the fact that the lives we live will challenge us, tempt us, and attack us in many ways.

Putting on your armor or playing great poker does not mean you won't get attacked. There is no easy way out of life, and there's no way to avoid the spiritual warfare that surrounds us. We have to confront it and show up to battle.

When you get attacked, your armor alone will not suffice. Luckily, we as Christians have more than the protection we put on ourselves. God tells us to put on his armor, which is of a much higher quality. We have two forms of armor—our own, and the protection of our creator.

(Phil Hellmuth has two forms of armor that he can put on, which we’ll take a look at later.)

Hellmuth should be delighted knowing that he did the right thing either way.

Phil Hellmuth’s first piece of armor is his decision making. He can control his decisions in the game and give himself the best odds possible. He can lay down his cards at the right time, play premium hands, understand ranges, etc. That improves his chances of winning more hands, his end goal.

When he loses hands, though he made the right decisions, he has to rely on the second piece of armor. He fails to do that, and that's why he's known as "Poker Brat."

The second armor is reason. Phil can keep from getting tilted and delight himself in what is right.

Tilt in poker is when you play while you're frustrated or angry about a previous hand. If you lose a big hand, the best thing is to lay low for a while and let yourself calm down. If your emotions govern you, you’ll make bad calls because you want to win all your money back. You'll gamble instead of playing poker—the exact opposite of where you want to be.

That’s what Phil does for a short time. Since he gets so mad when he loses, he can't play the rest of his hands with a level head. He still experiences plenty of success because he's able to stop his frustration. But if he wouldn't get tilted in the first place, he'd be much better off.

Interpretation

Whether things go right every time is out of our control. You gambled by waking up this morning and coming to church. Who guaranteed you would make it here on time or that your car would start this morning? You might take your car in for every oil change, and you could still hop in, turn the key, and get nowhere.

We don’t control a whole lot of what happens to us. That isn't supposed to be depressing. In fact, it means that the little effect you can make on your life involves a whole lot more. Why make your chances any worse when so much is out of your hands?

The one thing we can always control is how we react. If our car doesn’t start, we decide to get up and kick the car door and give it another dent. We choose to get up from the poker table to insult others because we lost when we “deserved” to win.

We know that Phil insulting other players is not a righteous thing to do. We should also know that when we react angrily to a situation, that’s not a moral thing to do, either.

If you don’t have the breastplate of righteousness in Phil’s situation, you’ll fall to anger (as he does). You’ll get tilted and fall to more sin in your frustration. That will lead to more failure. One, anger didn’t solve your problem and, two, you know you were wrong to fall to anger in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle.

The remedy to this anger is to delight ourselves in the Lord more than anything else:

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. - Psalm 37:4

A great non-example is when people feel bad because they see an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend posting up on Instagram living their best life. Why is it that we're so angry when they do that? It's because we're not delighting ourselves in the Lord but in appearances. It appears that we're not living our best life, and they are. "Life is unfair," we say.

A quick, actionable item: Don't pay so much attention to the endeavors of others and look inwards. Are you seeking God’s righteousness above all and acting accordingly?

That isn’t to say that your primary goal should be good deeds because that’s what will bring you righteousness—that’s not the case. However, there is a clear call not to abuse God’s grace in Romans 6:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? - Romans 6:1-2

As I scroll down Instagram during the summer, all I see is a massive competition of “whose life is cooler.” Unfortunately, the game is actually “whose life looks cooler.” Instead of waking up to delight in the day itself and the people God gave us, we delight in attention from others.

That’s a problem, and it’s no wonder many of us are so miserable.

Hellmuth is too focused on results rather than what’s right.

Hellmuth should still be happy after losing this hand. He knows he played the hand better. If they played the same hand again 100 times, Phil would win ~92 out of 100 times. Those are great odds—why is he frustrated?

Interpretation

The entire reason Hellmuth plays well is to win the hand and win money. He's not playing great poker for no reason. It's to win.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. - Psalm 91:1

Psalm 91:1 describes a shelter in the Most High, not of the world. When we shelter in things of the world, we satisfy ourselves by buying, eating, and obtaining. Those are worldly solutions to spiritual problems.

When we believe in God, are we doing it because it will give us some positive result? Or are we doing it because we know that it's right?

That's a tough question to ponder honestly.

We see people around us indulging in bad things all the time, but they appear to be happy. It seems like they're having all the fun in the world and experiencing no consequences.

We also see people around us doing immoral things yet receiving rewards for them. For example, someone who steals and gets away with it obtains something new. If you see someone steal over and over without getting caught, it's hard not to say, "I'll do it, too." It seems like there's nothing wrong with that.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. - Matthew 6:33

There's a distinction between cause-and-effect that's difficult to make. Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Since you gave to charity, I’ll make you rich on Earth.” His reward goes much further than what we experience on earth.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed. - 2 Cor. 9:8

When God promises us abundance, he means eternal life. That's incomparable to the riches we want to experience here.

It's also dangerous when we think the right thing is the wrong thing. If we're focused on outcomes, mistakes like this will happen:

Let's say you don't know that Aces are the best hand in poker. You might get unlucky and lose three times in a row with AA. You’d then proceed to think, “Wow, aces are a horrible hand. I’m never playing these.”

That's not true, and you'd lead yourself down a dangerous path of playing based on superstition.

That's the same temptation we experience when we act righteously, and life doesn’t seem to go our way. If we’re charitable, it doesn’t mean we’ll be rewarded financially for that generosity. If that's why you give to charity, you'll stop doing it when you realize it doesn't lead to that.

When you put on the breastplate of righteousness, you are seeking God above all else. You don't seek mere results.

If you seek results only, you should do what gets you results. If your desired future state is to be rich and powerful, then you'll do what's necessary to get there. You’ll also get the consequences and cost that come with that, too.

If you seek God and his righteousness above everything, it won't be hard to deal with negative results.

Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. The righteousness of the blameless will direct his way aright, but the wicked will fall by his own wickedness. The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, but the unfaithful will be caught by their lust” - Proverbs 11:4-6

Chirrut Îmwe

(If you've never seen Rogue One, this is a spoiler. I don't feel bad for you though, because if you truly cared, you'd have seen it in theaters.)

There's a scene where Chirrut Imwe walks through the heat of the battlefield to save the day. He walks out of his cover repeating, "I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me." He seems divinely protected as he walks to a lever that activates a shield to save the day.

Chirrut seeks the Force above all else in that scene. He’s not seeking survival or even life. He desires nothing more than to be one with the Force. At that moment, it calls him to walk through the battlefield to push this one lever to save the day. Since he was one with the Force and the Force was with him, it led him in the right direction.

Right after he does this, the control station he walked out to gets shot, blows up, and he dies. That's as much as we hear from Chirrut Îmwe.

Interpretation

It was an exceptional scene, and I can't help but think about "the Force" that we’ve been gifted through Jesus. His sacrifice allows us to walk through the battlefield of life and come out unscathed.

Putting on the breastplate righteous requires focus. (Matthew 6:33) Instead of looking around to all the bad that tempts you, stay focused on the good that Jesus has given to us and exists in you.

When the Force calls Chirrut to risk his life to say, that's a big calling. If God called you to move to a new city amidst immense uncertainty, would you do it? If he didn’t tell you why you were supposed to do it, only that he calls you to do it, would you? Most of the time, we don’t. It’s a matter of lacking faith.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. - 2 Cor. 5:21

One Week with One Tab

I didn't expect to learn so much from one computer program.

A week ago, I found a browser extension that limits the number of tabs you can have up at a time. If you set the limit to 10 tabs and try to open 11, it won’t open anything new. For those of you with 50+ tabs open right now, this is the solution.

Up for a challenge, I set the limit to one. If I try to open a new tab, it pops up for a split second and immediately disappears, preventing me from opening anything else.

There's a maxim that goes something like,

"If you can't do it with one monitor, you're not focused enough."

One tab (and one monitor) forces me to stay on-task. Before, I would open up Twitter to respond to a message, not because responding was urgent, but because I didn't want to face the difficult task of writing.

It also forces me to be intentional about my clicks. The other day, I spent an hour reading about polyphasic sleep. I wanted to click on all the extra links in the articles, but I couldn't. Instead, I took the time to finish the piece I was on before I moved to the next one.

It all comes down to focus. Using one tab is a test in being single-minded. If I've opened my email, it's the only thing on my plate. If I'm reading an article, there are no other things to distract me. One at a time.

I don't remember where I heard the story, but there's a proverb about a donkey between two pails of water. He looks to the first and wants to drink from it, but he sees another pail in the opposite direction.

He stands for a while between the two pails looking back and forth, trying to decide which to drink.

And then he dies of thirst.

Dedicating yourself to on one option, even when another is equally enticing—that's focus. You have to give up good ideas for great ideas. That's what's required to execute on great ideas in a brilliant way. Focus is sacrificial by nature.

How many things have you said no to?

And of those, how many did you want to say yes to? If you said no to things you didn't want to do in the first place, you didn’t sacrifice anything.

Sacrifice isn't a bad thing because everything comes with a cost. Turning down a promotion isn't so crazy when you think about the attention and stress a higher position might require. Plenty of people want to be wealthy like Warren Buffett, but do you want to do what he did to get there?

Focus goes a lot deeper than productivity apps and browser extensions. It's much more than finding a better task manager or journaling system, though those things are good, too. It's about focusing.

Take a look at your life's task right now and don't let anything else get in the way. Maybe it's to come home and focus on your children. Perhaps it's your spouse. Or your writing, drawing, dancing...anything.

That's your one browser tab. If I were there in front of you, I'd slap everything else out of your hand and tell you to stop opening new tabs. (In the friendliest way possible.) Stay on one until you've done what you need to do for the day. Only then can you move on to other things and make meaningful progress.

5 Writing Tools I Use Every Single Day

I write for a living, and I've come to rely on a small suite of tools that help me produce better work. No amount of devices or tricks can make me a better thinker, but these do help me in other ways. These fit into my writing workflow and are tools that I use every single day. 

You'll find, at the bottom of this article, a link to the checklist that I use to go through any writing project, including where these tools fit in. My process varies depending on what I write, but generally, it's the same. You can download that as a PDF below.

Hemingway (Free & Paid)

Hemingway is more than a tool for me; it’s a writing coach. 

The tool itself is simple. You paste your writing into hemingwayapp.com, and it will highlight:

  • Sentences that are difficult to read
  • Sentences that are very difficult to read
  • Adverbs that you might want to delete
  • Complicated phrases that could be simpler

I’ve built this program directly into my process of writing. Once I have a solid first draft of an article, I paste it into Hemingway and read through it to revise. As I read it, I pay attention to Hemingway’s highlights and fix (most of) the problems it highlights. 

It’s a somewhat similar experience to working with a real-life editor. For my book, I worked with an excellent editor that helped me improve my writing skills by a mile with her feedback. Lots of the help that Hemingway provides is similar to what this editor told me.

(A real editor is much better than this program. In no way can I replace the judgment of that editor with an app.)

The more I use Hemingway, the more I pay attention to concise writing in the first place. Use this tool for a couple of weeks, and you’ll start to get much better at writing—or at least much more aware of your habits.

Grammarly (Paid)

For a long time, I’d heard of Grammarly but was hesitant to try it because I thought it would be another freemium service with minimal value add.

However, this too has also become an integral part of my workflow, but only once I pulled out my wallet to pay for a year of Grammarly Premium.

The free version isn't too helpful, as most of the mistakes it highlights are simple. Premium goes way more in depth and is a real help for my purposes. I make some basic errors that are genuine misunderstandings on my part. If I didn’t have Grammarly, these would litter all my articles and blog posts.

(Side note: I never revise or edit my daily reflections. Those are fresh off the press, and I never come back to alter them unless there is an unfortunate typo or if a word is left out that obscures the message.)

Grammarly goes much further than Hemingway does. For example, if I use the word "example" too many times in an article while giving examples, it will tell me to find a similar word. It will even give me suggestions for a different word. With a click, I can replace the word with the suggestion by Grammarly.

Editing with Grammarly is an excellent experience, and I couldn’t recommend it more.

WordCounter.net (Free)

When I write my daily reflections, I use WordCounter.net to check whether I’ve met my word count goal. It’s much quicker than importing the entire text into Grammarly or Hemingway. It’s also lightning fast.

If I’m in Squarespace writing my post, I can stop at any time, press:

Cmd+A, Cmd+C, Cmd+T, type WordCounter.net, Cmd+V into the WordCounter text box.

(Ctrl instead of Cmd if you’re on a Windows machine)

Within two to three seconds, I know my word count. In Google Drive, you can press Shift+Command+C to pull up a window that shows your wordcount, which is also quick.

It’s a simple tool that I use every day for small bits of writing here and here.

CapitalizeMyTitle.com (Free)

Capitalizing post titles can be confusing. For every single article I write (not daily reflections), I use CapitalizeMyTitle.com.

When you go to the site, all you have to do is type the title of your piece, and it will automatically capitalize it. That’s it. Nothing fancy. Nothing to pay for. 

I’m sure that I could learn what is supposed to be capitalized and what isn’t supposed to be capitalized on my own, but I’d still make mistakes. This is another tool that I’ve built into my writing checklist to guide me through the process of writing.

xTab (Free)

xTab is less of a writing tool and more of a focus tool. xTab is an extension for Chrome that allows you to limit the number of tabs open at a given time. I have it set to allow one tab open. Yes. One.

Anytime I try to open a new tab, it immediately closes it and returns me to the tab I previously had open.

I love this tool because it keeps me focused. I have a maxim that goes:

If you can’t do it with one monitor, you’re not focused enough.


Having two monitors is useful, but for me, it complicates the issue. It’s the same thing with multiple tabs open. At any given moment, I only need to be looking at one tab. Why have the other tabs open when they shouldn’t be distracting me at all? Sometimes, I’ll stop writing and open a new tab because I want to check my email. (Well, I want to distract myself from the writing I'm supposed to do...) I end up clicking links in my inbox and checking my calendar and staring at my to-do list and not writing a single word.

That’s horrible. 

xTab keeps me on one tab and reminds me, every time I try to open a new tab, to get back to work. Laziness is not an option.

Bonus: My Writing Checklists

I've mentioned my writing process in this article, and I’m sure you’re wondering what that looks like. I’m very interested in hearing how others go through their writing, so I want to share my process with you as well.

Below you’ll find a link to a PDF of the outline/checklist I use for pretty much every writing project I do. It’s very specific, and maybe you’ll add a thing or two to your writing process. 

(Or shoot me an email and help me add something to my process, too!) 

Benevolence and the Three Pauls

You’ll win by doing good.

You won't win by being in it for yourself.

You won't win by searching only for money.

You won't win by endlessly seizing power.

You won't win by paying attention only to yourself.

You’ll win by doing good. Being benevolent.

Doing something insanely great is much more difficult than just making money. Anyone can make money because the path is so simple. Show up to work, do your job well, and money will follow. The unethical path is pretty clear, too: strive for promotions and focus on climbing the ladder. Be a little ruthless, throw somebody under the bus every once and a while, and...voila! You're doing well, even if you got there the wrong way.

Nobody is foreign to the idea of cheating your way into more money, but we know it isn't right. Most of us don't do it because money isn't that important. We wouldn't hurt others in the process to get it. Those who do have a perverted view of money as a whole.

You could compare it to a drug addict. They don't see the effects their actions have on others or even themselves. They're only looking for a way to maximize the next high—maximize the next payday.

That's what we do when we take greedy and evil action to make more money. Luckily, most people aren't this greedy. Most of us don't like to cheat and steal for financial returns.

I would argue that our reluctance to cheat and steal for money comes from one fact. We all know, at least intellectually, that money doesn't make you successful. It surely doesn't make you good in the sense of having done anything beneficial for others. Yes, money might make you the wealthiest man in the cemetery. The path you take to get there might also put you in the cemetery. That's no way to go out.

Maybe this is optimistic to believe, but you don't show up to work every day with the sole purpose of making money. You enjoy the job. You enjoy the lifestyle it provides. It might even make you feel better to show up. That's why you continue to show up. Good!

One step further, you might show up because you're benevolent. You're the opposite of the greedy, self-interested moguls you see portrayed on television. You care for the people you serve. You’d be letting someone down if you didn’t show up.

That may or may not be true for you.

I want it to be true before you finish reading this.

When I started thinking about benevolence for this piece, I immediately gravitated to these three examples. Later on, I realized that they're all named Paul. Hence, I call this piece, "Benevolence and the Three Pauls."

(Steven) Paul Jobs

Of all the people that I could mention in a talk about benevolence...Steve Jobs? Yes, the man who has been vilified time and time again for his treatment of employees. The man who refused to acknowledge the birth of his first daughter for a decade. He implied that the mother of his (first) daughter was a whore, parked in accessible parking spaces (without permission), and scolded waiters for no reason.

That guy.

Steve Jobs wasn't benevolent at all, but he was crazy successful. Well, at least in one category—his products. His products saw extraordinary success, though his personal life was not so.

When you separate Jobs's life into two distinct camps, a pattern emerges. Let's divide them into his "product development" life and "everything else" life.

(Judging from the way he lived his life, that's how Jobs would have categorized it, too.)

In his product development life:

  • He cared more about the customer than anyone. The end user of his products was the boss.

  • He made decisions based on what would be best for the customer. (Even when engineers and technologists disagreed with him.)

  • Result: He made revolutionary products that we all love and use.

In everything else:

  • He didn't care about the feelings of people. Whether it was his kid, an employee, or a waiter at a restaurant.

  • He made decisions based only on his interests. Again, he didn't care if his interests conflicted with the interests of others.

  • Result: He left a trail of tears and an unfortunate legacy in his personal life. For many, this overshadows his accomplishments as an innovator.

What made him successful in creating products was his care for the customer. That's not to say that he was kind to his product development team or his designers. He wasn't kind to them, either.  Steve Jobs was benevolent, however, towards the end user. It was his care for the end user that made him disparage anybody he thought would hinder the product for you and me.

That success immediately disappears when he was self-interested. There are countless stories about him scolding a waiter or insulting someone needlessly. What was in it for them? Did he stop to ask how this was helping the other person?

Of course not. If Jobs would've paid as much attention to them as he did his customers, this would be a different conversation.

Be benevolent by focusing on the customer.

In a live Q&A at WWDC in 1997, Steve Jobs was asked an unexpected and insulting question by an audience member. The question had to do with Java, OpenDoc, and Apple's treatment of those two. I know nothing about those things, and the questioner didn't think Steve Jobs did, either.

(The question was very hostile. It ended with: "And when you're finished with [the question]...tell us what you personally have been doing for the last seven years.")

It was a question from someone who cared more about technology than the customer. They were more worried about a technology standard that, to the end user, has no meaning. On the other end of this question was Steve Jobs, who cared solely about the customer in matters like this. He answered:

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology. I’ve made this mistake probably more than anybody else in this room. As we have tried to come up with a strategy and a vision for Apple, it started with ‘What incredible benefits can we give to the customer? Where can we take the customer?’...I think that’s the right path to take.”

Jobs didn't care about the technology they had sitting in some lab if it didn't mean anything for the customer. The entire purpose of developing a product is to make something people want.

A couple of years later, Steve was being grilled on more issues of technology when Apple refused to support Flash for iPhone. Technical information aside, there was a feature missing on iPhone that Apple had no intentions of adding. Technologists didn't like this, not because it was terrible for the consumer, but because it was a standard technology.

For Steve, that didn't matter. He knew that Flash would kill the iPhone's battery and run slow. He didn't want to give the customer that experience, no matter how cool the technology was. If people want a smartphone with this technology, they'll buy our competitor's over ours. If they do, then we'll find a way to build the thing they want.

It's as simple as being benevolent—how do I make the best thing for our consumer? If you're asking that question first, then you will do great things for the customer. They're the person on the other end of your decisions, not the critics.

Paul Jarvis

Benevolence brings benevolence (and business)

In an article by Paul Jarvis about how he would rebuild his web business from scratch, Paul gave advice that you might not expect from a modern marketer.

(For context: Paul Jarvis started his business as a web designer and now helps people to build better—not bigger—businesses through online courses and articles. He’s awesome.)

“I’d start by listening to people who were looking to hire web designers or who had already hired web designers...

And then I’d offer to help. Did they have questions? Did they want a second set of eyes to look at anything? Did they want a second opinion? Was there anything they wanted to know about the industry? And I would help them without offering my own services or charging them... a free consult.”

The result of this is two-fold:

For one, by helping others, others also want to help you. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the main one is the principle of reciprocation.

An example will illustrate best:

The Hare Krishnas struggled for a bit to figure out how to get more donations from strangers. At one point, they stumbled upon a fantastic principle: reciprocation. They would first approach people with flowers and give the flowers as gifts. They used too get immediately denied because they directly asked for a donation. Here, they start by gifting their mark with something. A gift, they say, with no strings attached.

Of course, they follow up with a request to donate to their society. This principle of reciprocation is powerful, and people pulled out their wallets to give..

The flower worked. The Krishnas used this technique to get staggering amounts of money in donations. All of a sudden, people seemed willing to donate. Why was this?

Once the mark accepts the gift, the instinct to return the favor kicks in and makes it difficult not to reciprocate. It's what Robert Cialdini terms a "click, whir..." response. It's almost entirely automatic when receiving a gift. We want and like to reciprocate. When we're asked to reciprocate, we do it, often whether we like it or not.

It's like your brain has a checkbook of all the things you have given and received. With every person, your mind is keeping track. Has this person been unyielding in their generosity? Have you given more to them than they’ve given to you? When there as an imbalance, your brain tells you to fix it. If they've given more to you than you've given to them, you want to correct that imbalance by reciprocating.

All this to say, if you decide to make your life about helping others, they will want to help you in return. That isn't always the case, but it's a good rule of thumb.

A note on artifice

You can't game the system of reciprocation. If you recognize the flower as a fake gift, you would either refuse to accept the gift or refuse to reciprocate. Either way, the ploy will fail, because it wasn't a real gift. It was a way to get you to comply.

When you are trying to deceive with "tricks" like reciprocation, people might not catch on for a while. In fact, they might never catch on. You could extract millions and millions of dollars from the gullible and vulnerable.

But that wouldn't be very benevolent. In fact, it would be pretty evil. That’ll weigh on you. Benevolence is supposed to make you feel good. We'll take a look at that soon.

Learn to help

The second result of helping others as Jarvis suggests is that you learn how to help them best. This is the core of any good business venture. You start by identifying a problem and then solving it. How can you solve anyone's problems if you don't know their struggles?

Focus on helping someone, and it will become apparent to you where your help is needed and where it isn't. Only once you're attuned to problems can you solve them. Not a moment before.

Mike Michalowicz' wrote an excellent book building on this concept called The Pumpkin Plan. Michalowicz calls for business owners to focus on their top two or three clients and "fire" the rest. There are many reasons that this is a great idea, and one of those has to do with benevolence.

When you fire your worst clients, you have more time to serve your best clients. Now you have time to pay attention to them exclusively. You give them VIP treatment. It's like they're your only client.

As you develop the relationship, you can be direct and ask them what they like and don't like about your company. You ask them what they'd like to see and how you could improve. You focus on making them happy. You build your service around their industry-specific problems. They love you for it.

Since you're able to help them so well, you start getting more referrals. The client has never experienced anything like this because so few businesses are as focused on benevolence as you are. Of course, you never tell them that they're VIPs. You let them think that this is normal for all clients. (It will be.)

You also develop a much clearer product roadmap. You gain direction, because you’re getting feedback from the few clients who matter most. It guides your entire organization.

Why weren't you doing this before?

The entrepreneur who can't fire a bad client and focus on the good ones is too worried about themselves. He'll hang on to every little client he can get his hands on because it'll make money. It's pretty greedy to think of clients only as a way to make payroll. Your business begins to suffer because you're keeping bad clients that waste your time, money, and energy. All because of the small paycheck they give you at the end of the month.

Get back to basics and focus on helping people again.

Paul Graham

Benevolence increases morale

When you're benevolent, you do things for others, and it feels horrible to let people down. When you know there's a person on the other end of your decisions, you make better decisions because of it.

Paul Graham, the founder of YCombinator, gave a fantastic talk at Startup School in 2008. He spoke about benevolence as applied to startups. One of the most important points he made in his speech was on morale. Being benevolent—having a good cause—increases enthusiasm and keeps everyone on the ship.

Running a startup is hard. If you're lucky, you'll face a moment of truth where your startup is on the verge of death. Yes, you heard that correctly—if you're lucky. If you're not lucky, there will be multiple times where the business is on the verge of death. You'll be close to burning out, and you'll want to drop everything and give up. That's tough.

When you start by serving people with your product, those times become easier. You have a user-base that relies on your company. How could you let them down? You know there's someone on the other end of your decision, and if you don't show up today, they're not served.

It's a lot like having a family. You know that you have to make money and feed your kids, so you'll work that much harder to make sure you don't fail them.

When your startup has a benevolent goal, you wake up with purpose. People are relying on your platform to work today. There will be more of these people tomorrow. You have a big ol' family that you have to take care of. Customers turn into family members.

You'll hear lots of companies use the term "family" now. They want to focus on making you as a client or customer feel part of their organization. It's a great goal and beautiful language to use, but most of the time, it stops there. The benevolence ends with words.

Much rarer are the companies who, through their actions, show you they care. Their customer support staff is always happy and gracious—even when you aren't. Every email you get feels like someone made sure it would be useful for you—and they did.

On the other end of your correspondence with great companies like these, there’s an employee who thinks about you as a customer and not a number. Again, you'll hear plenty of big companies trumpet lines from the rooftops about how they treat you like more than a number. That's only true when the entire company's vision is to do good.

In a startup, if you only have the goal of making a lucrative exit as soon as possible, that's all you'll do. (If anything at all.)

You won't worry about the user as much as you should. This is especially so when the going gets tough—, and the money seems farther away than ever. You'll quit. You'll quit because you're self-interested and sane. If your goal were to get rich, no sane person would put themselves through this. They would take an easier route than trying to start and run a company.

In a sales organization, if all you care about is meeting sales numbers, that's all you'll do. (If that.)

You won't worry about the customer as much as you should. When a deal is shaky, you'll give up quicker. Why not chase volume and pay less attention to how you treat people?

Game over.

This isn't to say that you should create a nonprofit or stop trying to make money. In fact, you should be trying to make money, but only in light of your efforts to reach your broader vision. If you want to make money in the long-term, you'll be benevolent. It’ll be the only thing to keep you going even when the money is distant. Otherwise, you’d never reach the end goal.

There are people on the other end of your decisions.

Frank Blake, a former CEO of Home Depot, told a story about a store they were building that would be his son's Home Depot location. At the time, Home Depot was opening around 200 stores per year. His son also worked for the company and would be leading this brand new location in Colorado Springs.

Frank decided to make a rare visit to the actual construction site to see the progress of the building. As he goes out to check on it, he can't even find the store. It's not in the right location. The disappointment gets worse. He walks the site and notices there are beams where there shouldn't be beams—even the building itself isn't going right.

At that moment, Frank realized something. This was his job. He was treating the new store like another number on a checklist. He didn't seem to understand that those numbers represent something real. He gave himself good advice:

“…pretend that there are people at the end of these decisions and focus on that, and don’t check a number box.”

I'll add to that, "...because there are people at the other end of your decisions."

In Daniel Pink's book on motivation called Drive, he cites an experiment done at a call center. The employees in this center were telemarketing for a university fundraising operation. The psychologist leading the investigation (Adam Grant) split the employees into three groups.

The first group was given brief stories from former employees. They talked about the benefits they experienced personally from working that particular job. (Money, career development, etc.)

The second group was given stories as well, but from people who had been helped by the work done in the call center. They were students who received scholarships and improved their lives because of the fundraising.

The third group was a control group and heard no stories, self-interested or benevolent.

So, the first group is conditioned to be self-interested. The second group is made aware of the benevolent nature of their work. The third group shows up to work as usual.

You won't be surprised to hear that the second group's results more than doubled that of the first group. (The self-interested group showed no improvement over the control group.)

Group two understood why their work mattered more than the others and performed better because of it. Their purpose had to do with benevolence—helping others. That's a natural purpose to feel right about. The stories they read made this much more clear and, thus, increased their performance.

Great leaders understand the power of benevolent stories in customer service. There’s a well-known resort & casino that instituted a practice among all the staff to share stories of exceptional customer service. These aren't random "kudos" that happen every week for someone at the office. These are extraordinary stories of someone going truly above and beyond.

One such story was of a family that had come to a hotel after driving 5 hours from their California home. They were there for a short time before they realized they had left vital medications at their home hours away. The weekend trip would be completely ruined if they had to spend an extra ten hours to get back and forth to their home to get the medication.

An employee at the hotel thought he could solve the problem. He first asked the couple where they lived in California. He recognized the town and said that he had friends there. He called a friend that lived in the area and asked the couple to tell their housekeeper that he would be stopping by to get their medications.

The employee then drove to meet his friend halfway and bring back the medications for the couple. All of this effort was expended by hotel employees to make sure this couple's trip wasn't ruined.

At the hotel, stories like these are plastered on the walls of their break rooms and other places for every employee to see daily. The idea is to celebrate the things you want to get. Here, they celebrate customer service that goes above and beyond. It's not surprising that there are many more stories where that came from.

“Whatever it is you want, celebrate and highlight it and tell stories about it.” - Frank Blake

There's another, side-lesson to be learned here: Being benevolent towards people with money is helpful. In a business sense, it's much better to be charitable to the California couple with a housekeeper and can afford to stay at a luxury resort than it is to be benevolent towards someone who can't afford what you have to offer.

However, that's no excuse to disparage people who lack money or influence. True benevolence doesn't care who you are or what you do; it cares that you are treated right. Benevolence is about doing the right thing. It just so happens that when you do the right thing for people with lots of money, there may be financial implications. That's not a bad thing, but don't focus on it. If you're focused on being benevolent for some reward, that will show and it won't be perceived as benevolence, but deception.

There's also the possibility that the people you're benevolent to now may soon have plenty of money and influence to pay you back. LeBron James' manager did not become his manager after LeBron made it. His manager has been with him since day one. Long before any championships or MVP awards. Now, that man shares a massive portion of LeBron's wealth simply by working for him and being his manager. It all stemmed from benevolence, even when no return was immediately apparent.

Perhaps he was a reasonable investor and saw that LeBron was going to be a player with one-of-a-kind abilities. Maybe he has an eye for basketball talent like no other, and he saw the potential from a mile away. That's probably part of the story.

The other part of the story, however, is that he had a longer-term view than his (the manager's) immediate success. Even if he did recognize that LeBron would one day come to be a basketball legend (not better than Michael, don't get me wrong), he also knew that it wouldn't happen overnight. It seems like common sense that if you see a massive payday two years in the future, you'll stay around until the payday. But how many times have we quit right before the big payoff came? We don't know, because we quit before we could ever find out!

How many athletes could have pushed for an extra step or three and won a big race? The problem is that in the short term, it's difficult. It's discouraging. It might feel like it's all for nothing.

The best way to deal with that is to realize that it is all for nothing. You're doing what you do for no other reason than that you know it is right. Yes, in a practical sense, you've got to make your money and stay afloat, but benevolence isn't about big returns. It's about doing the right thing.

You've got to have faith in that.

A test of benevolence

Who have you helped today?

In the past seven days?

In the past month?

To make these questions a bit tougher, who have you helped intentionally? You could create a narrative to turn something questionable you did into something positive. It might even be true, but that doesn't mean you did it with good intentions from the outset. (It might even signal the opposite.)

If you're having trouble with these questions, why?

Becoming benevolent as an individual is different than institutionalizing benevolence in a company. If you lead an organization, first you have to hire ethical people. Then, you have to put them in an environment where they're not incentivized to be self-interested. I'm not sure that you can teach benevolence, but you can try to instill it—or, bring it out—in your people. Create a safe work environment, and they'll do good things for you and the people around them.

As an individual, you don't have to wait until you show up to work to be benevolent. If you wait until you show up to work to invent an air of niceness, that's a bad sign.

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a woman who is about to enter her forties and is disappointed with her current job. She feels her strengths are wholly ignored and under-appreciated. She's generally unhappy with her career as it stands. She wants change, and I don't blame her—she should be in a different position doing different things.

However, the dissatisfaction with her workplace went more in-depth than it appeared at first.

After a long conversation, it became clear to me what the problem was. She was not showing up to work to help anybody but herself. Even in her current position, she wasn't going out of her way to do that position in a benevolent way. It wasn't that her actions were evil, but she hadn't helped anyone or even thought about it.

This isn't her fault.

The companies we work for are influential environments. If nobody is celebrating benevolence in the workplace, it feels like there's less of it. And there is. Through more questioning about company culture, I found out that the company "felt different than it used to."

Previously, there was a focus on ethical values. An emphasis on benevolence. Family. Care. As the organization grew, nobody made an effort to champion these causes anymore. That's the responsibility of the leaders of that company.

However, she can't fix that, and neither can I. Some of you might work in not-so-benevolent environments sometimes, and you've got to make an effort personally to bring these values back to the forefront.

I asked who her favorite person to work with was. She answered she enjoyed working with the woman she sat across from in the office because of how good of a person she seemed to be.

I told her,

"Tell her how awesome she is. Don't just tell her, show her. Wake up a half-hour earlier for work tomorrow and buy her flowers and a card, because why not? You won't get anything in return, and that's not why you'll do it. There should be no such expectation. This is you showing genuine appreciation in a way that you haven't in a long time.

It will feel wonderful."

It's not a wild conjecture on my part that it will make her feel good. When you do good things for other people, a hormone called oxytocin is released.

Oxytocin is related to helping behavior. Oxytocin helps cells repair themselves, store nutrients and grow.

Translation: Being benevolent releases oxytocin, and that's a good thing for your mind and body.

Your actionable item

Your actionable item is simple: help somebody. Out of pure benevolence. That might come in the form of:

  • Thinking of their interests before your own (Jobs)

  • Helping them by offering your advice or expertise (Jarvis)

  • Re-realizing why you started doing what you do (Graham)

  • Telling someone you appreciate them

  • Deciding while thinking about the person on the other end

These are all ways to make benevolence one of your core values. It's at the core of all of us as humans to do good things. We survived for thousands of years based solely on our ability to help each other survive. There were no lone wolves in our packs. We developed an instinct to reciprocate for others because it works.

It builds trust. It makes you feel good. It makes other people more willing to help you. It keeps you going when times are tough.

Benevolence is your compass.

The Whole Story of How I Left School

For the last couple of years, I spent the majority of my waking hours in an American high school. I’ve known for a long time that I wouldn’t go to college after high school. I also knew for a long time that I wasn’t thrilled about spending my days in school.

Just a few weeks after releasing my first book, I decided to exit school. I didn’t exactly drop out, as the title of my book might suggest, but I did leave an entire year early to pursue my career. Here’s a timeline of how I did it.

Sophomore year (of high school)

Through many years in school, I had told parents, friends, and teachers that I didn’t want to go to college. At first, this was because a long-time hero of mine, Steve Jobs, dropped out of college. In elementary and middle school, that was the only reason I didn’t want to pursue "higher education."

By my sophomore year of high school, however, I was disillusioned with school. I was taking all the advanced classes and paying for AP tests that I knew meant nothing. I felt frustrated at the amount of useless work I had to do. None of it led to real learning, and I was only progressing when I wasn’t in school. The second I left the school building, I would immerse myself in all sorts of learning endeavors. I learned all kinds of awesome things like the strategy of poker, how to play better chess, and how to program.

The summer after my sophomore year, I was lucky enough to score an internship at a homebuilder here in Austin. This internship taught me a lot of valuable things, but the two most important takeaways:

  • A belief that I was as capable as an adult in the workplace.
  • I didn’t want to stay in school anymore given the possibilities of making money and succeeding in a real career.

These were the roots of a much larger movement to leave school and start my career quickly.

Junior year

From the beginning of the school year, I was not happy to be back. I came from working 40 hours a week with real adults doing real work with real implications. Now, I would be filling out graphic organizers and notes pages to get a grade that didn’t matter. Wonderful.

Right before my summer internship had ended, I bought a domain name. It was thirdbreath.com, and I decided that it would be a company for me to practice graphic design. I would market myself as the designer behind thirdbreath and build a portfolio. The hope was that even if I never scored much freelance work, I would have a collection of work to show to design studios in Austin. From there, I hoped that someone would take a chance on me and give me a job.

Once school started, I knew that thirdbreath presented a meaningful opportunity to learn a lot of new things. Priority: become a much better designer. As I explored Dribbble, a site where some of the best designers share their projects, I could tell that my work wasn’t up to par. That wasn’t discouraging, though. In fact, it motivated me to learn as much as possible and give it a shot.

Taking advice from Tim Ferriss podcasts, I decided to reach out to some designers and ask them for help. Around the same time, I began sending cold emails to local companies to ask for graphic design work.

For the first three months of prospecting, I heard absolutely nothing.

Nonetheless, I was lucky enough to have two adult friends pass some design work along to me. Between these two projects, I made nearly $2,000 before the end of 2017 doing graphic design. I could tell that there was a real possibility to continue designing and make it into a career.

Though my cold prospecting emails weren’t doing so well (yet), my outreach to possible mentors did great. I reached out to talented designers in Austin and around the world. All that responded were friendly and warm in speaking to me. They were more than happy to talk to a seventeen-year-old who wanted to design for a living.

I even decided to go to a Dribbble meetup in Austin. I knew that there would be some excellent designers there and that if I made one or two good connections, it would be a worthwhile experience.

That was an understatement. The meetup was hosted by Funsize, a product design agency here in Austin. I was sitting next to one of their designers during the talk at the event, and he was friends with one of the speakers. After the presentation, I decided to talk to him and ask if he could introduce me to his friend that had spoken.

I ended up in a conversation with two of the speakers and the owner of Funsize. I had plenty of questions and asked them about their experiences with design agencies and how they got started. They were also plenty interested in me when I told them what I was doing and how old I was.  By at least a half-decade, I was the youngest person in the building, so the novelty helped a lot.

They were impressed that I decided to start networking at such a young age. I exchanged business cards with them and went home, knowing that I had changed my life forever with this one encounter.

Following up

I waited a few days before I decided to email these people and re-introduce myself. When I did, I was paranoid about my writing. What should I say? What do I want from them? Will I sound stupid? Will they respond?

Alas, after a long time spent poring over these short messages, I hit send. I also kept on prospecting via email in hopes to find design work.

Through small solo design projects, I was building up a modest portfolio. It gave me a small amount of experience that still serves me well to this day. At one point, I created a logo a day for nearly two months. That was my crash course in starting, working on, and executing design ideas. That’s something you can only do through working on projects. They weren’t great, and few of the things I created at that point were worth anything—but it was work.

That’s one big piece of advice that I followed, and I would recommend others follow:

To be the noun, do the verb.

I wanted to be a designer, so I decided to do the verb, design. To further grow as a designer, I would need to get experience working under much better designers than me. They could critique my work at a high level, and that would be my real design education. But at least at this point, I had something to show for my ambition. I could now show someone that I was willing to put in the work required to become better. Maybe, I thought, someone would hire me, and I could get that further growth from them.

Becoming a writer

Since I knew I wasn’t going to college and would have to start my career some way else, I dropped out of all my advanced classes in school. Now, I could pass my classes without any homework and focus on the real learning I was doing outside of school. I also attended some classes a year early to get enough credits to graduate six months early.

(I was supposed to graduate in June of 2019. Graduating early would have allowed me to graduate in December of 2018. Apparently, that wasn't early enough for me...)

As I did this, I got many questions because my peers realized I was serious about not going to college. I suppose at first it seemed like fiction. “You’re really not going to college? But you could get into any school you want!” That was true, but it wasn't the path for me.

In the meantime, I was also learning more about marketing in hopes that I could market my business as a designer more actively. At one point, I attended a local meetup for entrepreneurs that I expected, again, to change my life in one way or another.

I met a man by the name of Omari Broussard. At first, I didn’t expect much from him. He was quiet and reserved as the rest of the group talked about content marketing and personal branding.

At one point, he interjected, grabbed a marker, and started drawing on the whiteboard.

He drew a map of how influencers make their money, generate leads, and grow personal platforms on their expertise. Sparing you the details—too many of which I don’t precisely remember— he said one thing that changed my path forever.

There are two authorities in the world: doctors and authors.

I still remember sitting in that room and immediately grabbing my pen to write down that bit of insight. I knew it meant a lot, but I wasn’t exactly sure how, yet.

He continued to describe how a book, either through self-publishing on Amazon or an ebook, could completely change your marketing efforts. It would add to your credibility and become your new business card.

Around the same time, I had listened to a podcast with the author of one of my favorite books, Blair Enns. Blair talked about the process for writing his book, The Win Without Pitching Manifesto. It was a different book and presented a unique viewpoint on the creative services industry. He said something that resonated with me as well, which went something like:

Don’t have something to say, have a point of view.

As I put these two—and many other dots—together, I thought about writing a book on the one thing I had a viewpoint on: school. Everyone seemed to care about what I had to say on school because they asked. Not only that, they asked for advice on how they could either do better in school or avoid college. Somehow, I was answering these questions.

This would be my side project.

I had scored two other design projects for my design operation, thirdbreath. I'd made a little bit of money and learned a whole lot in the process, which is all I could ever want. Also, my prospecting emails started to pay off. Agency owners, CEOs, founders, Presidents, and VPs began to respond to me. Important people at important companies. I developed relationships with many of these people that I will continue to keep in touch with for years.

I was still in school going into 2018, so I couldn’t focus all my efforts on working for these people. Many had offered me jobs for the summer and expressed interest in what I was doing. Nonetheless, I did have a side project that would turn out to be more significant.

On May 7, 2018, I released my book, The Dropout Manifesto. The book had been in the works for at least half a year and was finally coming to a close in May. As you’ll read in the book, I was in a messed up school system until the very end. Days before the book came out on Amazon I was still getting in trouble at school for not being compliant with every petty request of my teachers. It made for the perfect introduction to my book, which many have told me was their favorite part of the entire piece.

15 days later, I left school. I still graduated, though I tested out instead of graduating in the traditional sense. It's as close as you can get to a GED in the United States without obtaining a GED. You can call me a dropout, in that sense.

In dropping out of high school, I had a plan. I had four job offers that I was contemplating, and I went into one of those companies to do an interview. I already planned on working for them over the summer, but I told them that I could start a bit earlier because I was leaving school earlier than expected.

They had no qualms and were more than ready for me to start.

I now work at that company here in Austin, Texas. I am in marketing, and my primary role is copywriting. I’m working under people that are much smarter than I am and genuinely growing as a writer and as a businessperson.

The opportunity came from the email outreach that I've mentioned throughout this story. I developed all sorts of new techniques that I outline now in a video course called Hijacking Mentors. I got much better at writing email copy (though I'm still not amazing). I sent lots of emails and tried not to get discouraged. When the emails weren't doing so well, I stopped and tried to learn why. The reply rates began to rise, and I got in touch with more new people in that short time than ever. It's the entire reason I was able to leave school and have a job immediately, even as a high school dropout.

My peers, who still have another year of high school left, will continue in school and make small amounts of money with part-time jobs. Many of them will not gain real work experience until well into their 20s. Some of them will, of course. That’s why I wrote the book after all, and I hope to connect some of those kids to other people here in Austin to help them get jobs. I want them to succeed because the school system doesn't seem to.

The point still stands, however, that I am ahead on the path to a career. It’s funny to hear my friends tell me to have a great summer. This isn’t a summer break for me—it’s life. I work now and have a full-time job for the foreseeable future.

To some, that might be depressing.

For me, it couldn't be more refreshing. I'm excited about the work I do and equally enthusiastic about the prospects of doing other things in the future. I know that work doesn’t have to be a burden, and I’m also confident in my ability to change course if it ever becomes one. Just like I did with school.

Here’s to dropping out.

Here’s to starting somewhere.

Here’s to a bright future. No matter where it takes us.

Start Networking Without Leaving Your House

At seventeen years old, I've made an entrance into a real career very quickly. I won’t be going to college, a topic I talk about a lot in my book, The Dropout Manifesto. That's four years of "preparation" for my career that I should have had, if I had chosen to go. This means there is a lot of pressure to get a job and build a career path for myself quickly. 

Foregoing college means that I have to develop an extensive network in my hometown of Austin, TX completely on my own. So, that's what I did.

In the past six months, I’ve developed relationships with partners at one of the most prestigious design firms in the world, creative directors, talented independent designers, nonprofit founders, founding principals at architectural firms, residential and commercial real estate brokers, CMOs, CTO, CFOs, CEOs, Vice Presidents and Presidents at regional and national banks, founding principals of law firms, tech startup founders, New York Times bestselling authors, agency owners, and plenty of other interesting and influential people.

I knew none of these people beforehand, and none of them are connections of my parents, friends, or teachers.

Essentially, my strategy was to 1) find their email addresses and 2) email them with an interesting email that they couldn’t help but respond to. The first challenge, of course, is finding the email addresses of influential people that I wanted to talk to. Usually, they were executives or employees of very large companies, so their emails are not listed in easy-to-find places.

 
architecture-ceiling-contemporary-295047.jpg

Over an hour of video content on Hijacking Mentors.

Click the button above to watch it now.

 

Below is an excerpt directly from The Dropout Manifesto that lists out all of the tools that I use to find email addresses and gather information on prospects:

Email

Email is the promised land, and some of you have spent 40 metaphorical years wandering in the desert without getting in touch with any of the people who you want to get in touch with. Let’s change that.

First of all, if your email address sucks, then change it. I don’t want to see ‘johnnysmiff4551@yahoo.com’ in my inbox, and neither do any of the people who you want to get in touch with.

There are a couple ways to solve this problem:

You could get a new email address with a free email provider like Gmail. Just make sure that your username is simple and try not to use any numbers if you can manage. Make it simple, for Pete’s sake.

If you have your own website (which you should, if this is how you plan to build a network), then create a custom email on your domain either with G Suite (if you’re not technically inclined, ask for help) or another email program. It’s way cleaner to show up as ‘diego@diegodoes.com’ than it would be to have any variation of a Gmail address.

Email will be the primary tool you use to get in touch with people, especially if you want to hear from people in a certain business space or industry. If you want to get in touch with a mega famous musician or athlete, that might be difficult due simply to the fact that they aren’t touching their email, social media, or fans at all once they get to a certain level. That’s okay, you can still use these techniques at a smaller scale to get in touch with people that are more accessible.

Google

Oftentimes, for small-time targets (authors of relatively unknown or niche books, small local companies or startups) I can simply use Google to research the company or author and sniff around their website and look for an email address.

To test your internet sleuthing skills, try it now: go to my website and find both of my email addresses. There are two that you could use to contact me. You might have to use Google to find other sites or media platforms, but if you’re good, you’ll be able to shoot me an email at both of these addresses.

When you do, shoot me an email and I’ll respond to you! I look forward to getting in touch, even if you only ever find one of them. Sometimes, finding an email really is as simple as exploring someone’s website!

Crunchbase

If you’re trying to get in touch with people at a tech startup, Crunchbase.com might be a good resource for you. You can look up all sorts of startups and people on Crunchbase for free, and find out how much money these startups have raised or not raised, their key players inside of the organization, news about the companies, and more.

LinkedIn + Sales Navigator

Though LinkedIn Sales Navigator is $70/month, you can do plenty without it just by using LinkedIn itself. Sales Navigator allows you to search through any person on LinkedIn and view their entire profile whether or not they are in your network. In addition to that, you can perform highly targeted searches in a certain geographic area, for certain job titles, certain types of companies and industries, certain company size, etc. This is amazingly valuable when you’ve exhausted your immediately available network and want to look for people to reach out to in an industry you’re particularly interested in.

 Sales Navigator's advanced search features.

Sales Navigator's advanced search features.

Sales Navigator does cost money, but you can use it for free for 30 days. If you read this and take action swiftly, you could use the 30 day trial up and immensely build your network by doing lots of outreach before the 30 day trial is up, and never pay a dime.

Skrapp.io

Skrapp (https://www.skrapp.io/) is a tool used to extract sales leads from LinkedIn. I use this tool to get an email address from a LinkedIn profile. It is free up to 150 emails per month, which is more than enough for our purposes.

Skrapp is not always reliable, and sometimes it will simply fail. This is why it’s important to use LinkedIn and Sales Navigator if you can to find lots of different candidates for you to reach out to in a certain field. Out of 25, you can expect to find at least 7–10 of their emails.

Interseller

Interseller (https://www.interseller.io/) is another tool that can help you extract leads from LinkedIn, and I’ve found that it is significantly more reliable than Skrapp. Interseller is a full fledged email outreach system, but for our purposes of reaching out to mentors, only part of that suite is necessary.

interseller.png

Without going through an entire tutorial of the program, the short explanation is that you can create sequences and add contacts to these sequences. (I highly recommend you start a free trial to see exactly what this means.) When you add a contact to this sequence, Interseller will find their email address and thus you can go ahead and email them. I would avoid automating emails or using Interseller to send hundreds of emails at a time unless you know what you’re doing and have a good reason for doing so. Stick to using Interseller for the same purpose that you might use Skrapp for.

The Harvester

The Harvester (https://github.com/laramies/theHarvester) is a program that scours a variety of sources to find information like subdomains (say what?), virtual hosts (say who?). The part that matters to us is that it finds email addresses. To use this tool, go ahead and install it from the GitHub repository on to your computer and open up a terminal to type:

theharvester -d <website>.com -b all -l 500

Having these tools is only half the battle of email outreach. In addition to that, you have to be able to craft great emails, tell a story with the subject line, and have a purpose for contacting your prospects, which are all difficult ventures in themselves.

You can learn more about using these tools in The Dropout Manifesto, which is where this article originally came from. You can buy the book as a paperback on Amazon or as an ebook on Gumroad.

Good luck—go get in touch with people that you would have never imagined speaking to, develop relationships with them, and build your network from there!

My Dream School

This is a super weird answer to a fairly simple question.

This question was a question that I answered recently on Quora, and the answer was considerably longer than I expected it to be. So, I decided to post it here on my blog. Here is that answer:

What’s my dream school?

The school of solitary confinement.

What? Like, prison? Yes, like prison. But not prison.

I think the best example of why prison is a dream school is Malcolm X. I quoted him in The Dropout Manifesto when talking about the importance of reading books to your education.

In his autobiography, he says that books are his alma mater. He ended up spending lots of time in books due to his stay in prison.

The school of being alone in a room for hours at a time is probably not a pleasant place, but it does afford you the opportunity to simply learn for hours on end and not think twice about it. There are no distractions, there sure as hell isn’t anything else to do, and there is no better use of your time than to simply sit, read, and think.

How can I do that? Could I go to solitary confinement voluntarily?

Well, I just looked it up on Google, and no, I can’t go to prison voluntarily for a quick vacation…

I’ll just commit a big crime and spend some time in solitary. Wait, no, that’s a horrible idea.

How about I commit a small crime? Maybe I’ll jaywalk until I get arrested...no, I’ll be in a weird holding cell with some weird people, and I won’t even get time to read. Jail sucks.

There is a way to take advantage of solitary confinement without actually going to prison.

Ask yourself this: What is distracting me currently from spending hours and hours doing deep learning?

  • Social media
  • Email
  • Text messages
  • Work/school
  • Other obligations

Yes, some of these are pretty unavoidable on a daily basis, but I could very well avoid them for a day or two. How about this weekend? Here’s the plan:

  • Turn off my phone. This solves the social media problem and text messages problem
  • Turn off my internet. This definitely solves the social media and email problem.
  • Don’t make any plans. Simple, but effective. No, I can’t go hang out with you guys this weekend. I’m in solitary confinement. What? Yes.
  • Set aside a weekend of solitary confinement. You’re probably not working on the weekends or at school, and if you are, take a day off so that you can make yourself an artificial weekend.

Okay, but what should I do during my little stint in solitary? That’s an excellent question, but it’s all up to you. I personally would like to:

  • Read a book (or seven). Again, with lots of time, you can just get out a book, read, and take notes forever. Easy! No distractions, nothing else to do.
  • Think. Just think? Just think. That’s all it takes to get back on track sometimes! Of course, think about good things. Take some time to think about your short term and long term goals. Decide what you are going to do when you get out of prison. Contemplate existence, or whatever. And while you’re at it,
  • Write. You could write reflections on all sorts of things that have happened to you, things you’ve learned, goals you have, plans you make, anything. Put it on paper. Start journaling. Write a muscle draft of a book you’ve always wanted to write. You’ve just got to put the pen to paper.

A warning on all of this solitary confinement, however:

Your stay in solitary should not be a long stay. You shouldn’t be spending days on end completely alone and isolating yourself from the world, though a couple hours at a time can be extremely helpful and enlightening.

Let’s summarize:

  • Solitary confinement is a really good way to get educated
  • You don’t have to go to prison for solitary confinement
  • There are plenty of things to do when you have nothing to do
  • Don’t go crazy

 

Ego Is the Enemy: Book Summary, Key Lessons, and Best Quotes

Two prominent tattoos that you’ll find on the arms of Ryan Holiday, the author of Ego Is the Enemy, read “Ego is the enemy,” and “The obstacle is the way.” Those two tattoos came before he wrote the books and they aren’t just ink on the Ryan’s arms. They are philosophy.

Centuries of philosophy that guides the way we should live our lives today. Thought that keeps us sober and focused. It shows us the way. It helps us triumph through trials. It makes us who we are.

More than a useful mantra, understanding that ego is the enemy of our aspirations, successes, and failures is a guiding cautionary light to keep us level-headed in the face of our upward and downward trajectory through life. This book isn’t about self-help, it’s about truth. Truth that pervades all races, colors, and creeds.

Summary

Simply put, ego is the enemy. It is your enemy as you aspire, as you succeed, and especially while you inevitably fail. It can and will appear in every aspect of your life if you are not meticulous about managing it. As ego follows you, you must follow it, and become self-aware of the effects that it might have on you at any given moment.

Unfortunately, ego has come to be seen as a necessary evil rather than an evil. After the death of Steve Jobs in late 2011, the tales of his egotistical reign over Apple over the years seemed to glorify egotism. Rather than see ego as an evil that will destroy your success, as it did Steve’s, egotism became cool—even admirable. Jobs, having achieved once in a generation levels of success, had plenty of ego. However, the correlation is not between ego and success. For every egotistical success like Jobs, there are countless failures of the same mental makeup who failed because of their ego. That’s what we must learn from.

Aspire, Success, Failure & Key Themes

Ego Is the Enemy is split into three sections: Aspire, success, and failure. These three sections correspond to the three ways you and I will experience ego and it’s potentially detrimental effects: while we aspire, while we are successful, and when we have failed. The challenges posed in the three stages are distinct and specific. They all come from ego. They all must be recognized and battled in order for us to lead lives worth living and not simply fall into a rat-race for rank and status.

Aspire

Yield to others in your search for success.

William Tecumseh Sherman, one of the best military leaders and strategists that the United States has ever seen, had a slow and steady rise to the legacy that he would leave behind. With little expected of him by those around him as a young man, Sherman’s rise was entirely unpredicted. After the Civil War, he had gained considerable renown and had every opportunity to use his newfound recognition to chase higher office. He would end up rejecting the Presidency—not a rejection that many have been able to make.

One notable story about Sherman is a situation with Ulysses S. Grant where Sherman was actually ranked superior than Grant and could’ve taken control of the situation on his own. He opted not to, waived his rank and gave the show to Grant at the the Siege of Fort Donelson. This is a deliberate effort to curtail ego and yield to another general rather than take all for himself.

Yielding to others applies in a couple other ways as well, such as being a student. In order to be a student, you have to yield to your teacher. Telling yourself you know better is pure ego and will stunt your growth, so in order to overcome that you must actively attempt to yield to others—other generals, other teachers, even other coworkers.

Analogous to yielding to others is the canvas strategy: find canvases for others to paint on rather than paint on your own canvases. It’s an excellent analogy for being a part of greatness by supporting greatness. Too often, we refuse to support others in their endeavors because our ego tells us we are too good for that or that it is no longer worth our time. Bill Belichick never seemed to be afflicted by this entitlement early in his career. He sat and studied film four hours on end and delivered valuable insights, at first unpaid, doing the work that nobody else was willing to do.

He delivered value for others before looking out for himself, and the value inevitably followed later on in his career as the people he served paid him back in support and positions where he would have more responsibility. Now, he may or may not be the greatest coach in all of football.

To be or to do

The difference between being and doing was clearly outlined by another military genius by the name of John Boyd. His legacy was largely left by the pack of proteges he mentored and left to the world. To each of his pupils, Boyd posed the question: Do you want to be somebody or do something?

There’s a big difference between the two according to Boyd: to be somebody, you will have to compromise on your values along the way and make sacrifices that make you less of who you are and more of the person you want to be. On the other hand, you could also simply focus on doing the right thing. Instead of participating in endless amounts of talk and chatter about what you will do, you could just do. You will then be less focused on who you are, and your ego will subside.

This is echoed later on in the Aspire section in a chapter called “Work, Work, Work.” Ideas are not sufficient, as much as our brains may try to convince us otherwise. Our ideas only become truly valuable when we begin to execute on them. If we spend all our time talking about our great ideas and the things we’re going to do, it’s easy to feel like we’ve already accomplished something. We haven’t! Progress only comes by doing the real work, and we must actively make the choice to do rather than to simply be.

Success

Success must not change you.

It’s easy to achieve a small level of success and feel like all of the work that got you there is no longer necessary, especially when that success feels like a big break. Once success hits your bank account or your mind, you have to remain sober, continue to be a student, and keep your eye on what’s important to you rather than what you now have access to. We saw this with William T. Sherman as when he got to a position where he was able to chase the Presidency, he simply refused. Success as a general did not make him any more capable of being the President, and he knew that better than anyone.

Kirk Hammett got his big break and was thrown into stardom when he was hired as a guitarist for the already well-known Metallica. It would have been easy to sit back and enjoy the life of a rockstar and cease to become a better musician. That’s not what he did at all. In fact, he became an eager student, understanding that his new position meant that he had a lot to live up to. He seeked out an excellent teacher that would mentor him over the years to improve his skills dramatically despite the fact that he had already reached the top. Success did not change the fact that he was an aspiring musician.

Don’t overplay your importance.

The challenge of success comes especially strong in what is described as the “disease of me”. When we become successful, it’s fairly easy to reverse engineer the story of how we got there to make it seem like we were a big part of it. Though that might be true in a some respect, a whole lot more had to go right in addition to our own actions. Just because we have been successful at something once does not immediately qualify us to recreate it time and time again. Nonetheless, ego will tell you otherwise, and you will quickly become disappointed that your ego was lying to you.

The narrative that is so easy to create must be completely abandoned, and we have to get out of our own heads when we feel good about our achievements. That’s not useful to us for next time around, it’s only useful to our ego. It’s only useful for our personal brand. It’s only useful to puff ourselves up to sell more books or get more votes. But none of it is reality.

It’s no coincidence that so many successes have spent time in the wilderness for a couple days or weeks only to come back with an amazing sense of self. Spending time in nature made them realize their inferiority to the universe as a whole! Ego is comfortable when it believes that it is the center of the universe, but it won’t be comfortable for long once the success disappears due to ego taking over.

Failure

Failure must not change you.

In order for failure not to drastically change you when it comes, it’s necessary that you avoid ego in the aspiration and success phase. Unfortunately, once you’ve hit failure, it already hurts. This can be summed up as narcissistic injury, and happens because the reason you were chasing your success was for your ego rather than simply doing the good work. In the aspiring lead-up to these testing moments of failure, you were aiming to be somebody rather than do something as John Boyd would prescribe. That’s why it’s so difficult, and the failure sends you on more than a downward spiral.

When faced with adversity

We’re all going to confront our “Fight Club moments” in which everything has blown up in our face and we are left with nothing. Sometimes this is described as an abyss. A downfall. A trial. If ego prevails, it will also be called the end.

This is only because ego is a weak motivating force for your work. Once the recognition and validation disappears when you inevitably fail, how will you continue to justify the hard work that you put in every day? All of the sudden, nobody cares. Whose scorecard will you be paying attention to? How will you continue to compete?

The concept of an internal scorecard is important, because it allows you to circumvent ego entirely and rely solely on your own self-awareness to judge your progress.

Katharine Graham, who took the helm at the Washington Post after her husband died, faced strenuous circumstances that anyone would have been unprepared for. In the midst of these very public struggles that the Post went through, she remained steadfast in her ability to keep the company afloat. The financials weren’t glorious, and the stock price sure didn’t reflect confidence, yet as everybody else sold their stake in the Post, she had the company buy back their own shares. This was a sign that she and the Post believed in themselves. While her ego must have been in major pain at the circumstance, she felt solace. She focused not on talk, but on work.

10 Best Quotes from Ego is the Enemy

  • “We don’t need pity, or anyone else’s, we need purpose, poise, and patience.”
  • “It’s about the doing, not the recognition. In this course, it is not ‘who do I want to be in life?’, but ‘what is it that I want to accomplish in life?’”
  • “Humble and strong people don’t have the same trouble with these troubles that egotists do. There are fewer complaints and far less immolation. Instead, there’s stoic—even cheerful—resilience.”
  • “The only real failure is abandoning your principles.”
  • “Get out of your own head.”
  • “... especially in a world that tells us to keep and promote a personal brand. We’re required to tell stories in order to sell our work and our talents, and after enough time, we forget where the line is that separates our fictions from reality.”
  • “Find canvases for other people to paint on.”
  • “... [Eleanor] Roosevelt was above passion. She had purpose, she had direction. She wasn’t driven by passion, but by reason.”
  • “All of us waste precious life doing things we don’t like, to prove ourselves to people we don’t respect, and to get things we don’t want. Why do we do this? Well, it should be obvious by now—ego leads to envy, and it rots the bones of people big and small. Ego undermines greatness by deluding it’s holder.”
  • “Hate defers blame. It makes someone else responsible. It’s a distraction, too.”

Call Me a Dropout

15 days after releasing The Dropout Manifesto, I've officially made an exit from school. I was supposed to graduate in one year's time, but all that has gone to the wayside.

Here's the rundown:

  • I've "graduated" a year early.
  • I'm still getting a diploma. (Which I'll probably never use.)
  • I begin working on June 1, 2018.

Graduation Ceremony

No, I didn't get a graduation ceremony. I didn't walk a stage. I was not actually handed a diploma, either. At least not yet. It's supposed to come in the mail. Not sure where it's supposed to go after that...

My "graduation" was remarkably... unremarkable. I showed up at a small office in an old and quite frankly dingy office park. It was no modern school building, and didn't really seem like a school building at all. It was the sort of place that makes you ask yourself, "How the hell did I end up here?"

Nonetheless, I walked in, checked in at the front desk, and I was taken into a very small room with five other students like me who were taking this test to get a diploma and get out of high school as quickly as possible. 35 minutes later, I finished my test and left the room. Voila! I'm a high school graduate.

It is truly remarkable how easy it is to graduate and get a diploma of some sorts. I'll admit, this is a tier 2 diploma and it's about as close to a GED as you can get without getting a GED, but it's a diploma nonetheless. 4–year universities won't look at it with bright eyes, but community college won't look at it with scorn!

In a half hour, I obtained a diploma approximately equivalent to the one I was going to stay in school for another year for.

Needless to say, I saved myself some time.

Next steps

Some might think I've "dropped out of school" with no plan and only a couple ounces of raw ambition to fuel me along. That's the usual image of a dropout, after all. I suppose you can call me a dropout at this point. This was definitely not the path I was supposed to go on. But I'm here anyways.

Luckily, I do have a plan, and at least some skillset that I hope will be valuable to my future employers. I start working on June 1 at a tech company in downtown Austin, TX, and I'll be working as a copywriter for the next three months.

If you're wondering how I got this job, it's simple:

I am living what I preach in The Dropout Manifesto.

Hijacking mentors, arguably the most valuable section of that entire book, has afforded me countless opportunities. I seriously dropped out without dropping out a long time ago. Yes, my grades reflected it, but I sort of knew this was coming. The stakes were low once I realized that I actually could make it without school. Teachers no longer had the leverage of failing me, because I wasn't worried about failing their class. (That was a good feeling.) I realized that I had educated myself enough (and been blessed with the mentorship and teaching of others) to truly not need school.

About 8 months ago, I showed up to school 30 minutes early and walked into my art teacher's classroom and asked to use the whiteboard. I drew up this elaborate plan to educate myself on graphic design, practice the skill, and build a portfolio worthy of getting me a job by the summer of 2018. I then asked my teacher what she thought. She seemed to give it a nod of approval.

In the 8 months since then, I've learned a whole lot. I became a much better designer and even started a small operation to do design work under. That practice has pivoted significantly after 4 paid projects, and I learned a lot in the process. I'll be the first to admit I'm not of Pentagram pedigree, but I built a modest portfolio of design projects and met a lot of awesome people in the process.

I was also introduced to a world that I never thought I'd be a part of: writing. I wrote a book, for one, which was the most meaningful project I've ever taken on. I sharpened my skill as a writer throughout that project and churned out thousands and thousands of words to get it done. I met some awesome people that helped me through it, and before you know it, I've ended up here.

I've written more words in the last 3 months than I probably have in my entire life, and this skill is how I'm making an entrance into my career. I thought it would be design, but alas, it isn't. The beautiful thing is that I very well may end up doing something completely different in the next year or 5, and that's exciting. A lot more exciting than another year of the classroom.

I get to learn quickly and fail quicker, if that's how it's destined to go. Rather than wait and see, I get to go and play the game. Sure, there are plenty of reasons that I should've stayed in high school and prolonged my childhood, but perhaps the fact that I still think of adult life as a fun and exciting game rather than a burden to be delayed is what will make the experience worth it.

At least that's the hope.