Whirlwinds, Forest Fires, Comets

The following is an excerpt from the novel Boy’s Life. I have not yet read it, but I will after reading and being moved by the following passages.

See, this is my opinion: we all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. Told to act our age. Told to grow up, for God’s sake. And you know why we were told that? Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and youth, and because the magic we knew made them ashamed and sad of what they’d allowed to wither in themselves.

After you go so far away from it, though, you can’t really get it back. You can have seconds of it. Just seconds of knowing and remembering. When people get weepy at movies, it’s because in that dark theater the golden pool of magic is touched, just briefly. Then they come out into the hard sun of logic and reason again and it dries up, and they’re left feeling a little heartsad and not knowing why. When a song stirs a memory, when motes of dust turning in a shaft of light takes your attention from the world, when you listen to a train passing on a track at night in the distance and wonder where it might be going, you step beyond who you are and where you are. For the briefest of instants, you have stepped into the magic realm.

The truth of life is that every year we get farther away from the essence that is born within us. We get shouldered with burdens, some of them good, some of them not so good. Things happen to us. Loved ones die. People get in wrecks and get crippled. People lose their way, for one reason or another. It’s not hard to do, in this world of crazy mazes. Life itself does its best to take that memory of magic away from us. You don’t know it’s happening until one day you feel you’ve lost something but you’re not sure what it is. It’s like smiling at a pretty girl and she calls you “sir.” It just happens.

-Robert McCammon

The Importance of Keystone Habits

Habits create the foundation of our lives and shape who we are. They either lead us to success or detract us from it.

Some habits, however, are considered more important than others. They have the ability to start a chain reaction of other good habits. They influence other actions and routines such as how we sleep, eat, live, and think.

These habits are aptly called “keystone habits,” because they lock all the other habits in place.

It’s clear upon reflection that for me, exercise is my keystone habit.

I’ve noticed that following workouts, I eat more (I’m trying to gain muscle), eat healthier, sleep better, feel calmer, and am even more productive. Everything else seems to fall into place easier. On days where I don’t workout, or don’t exercise at all for multiple days in a row, I feel sluggish, eat terribly, and feel like my head is clouded with fog.

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Advice to High School Students: Take a Gap Year

My sister is in her final year of high school and is applying for colleges right now. I’ve thought about what kind of advice I’d give to her, or what I would tell myself at 18.

I’d say it boils down to just one thing:

Delay your college acceptance, and take a gap year.

I didn’t do it myself, but it’s what I would do knowing what I know now.

When I was in my last year of high school, I was eager to leave. I was sick of studying, excited at the prospect of living by myself in a big city, and desperately wanted to meet new people. However, I thought attending college immediately after was the only option. It was just what you do after high school. I had heard of a gap year before, sure, but I wasn’t aware of anyone who had actually done it.

I also had a deep fear of missing out. All my friends were headed straight to college, and much of our conversation that year revolved around who got in where, which classes we were going to take, and how cute the girls would be at various schools. Not going to college would mean that I would be left behind by my friends, that I’d graduate a year later, and that everyone in my classes would be younger than me. These thoughts further prevented me from considering any other option but to go to college right away.

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Why the “College Grads Earn More” Statistic is Flawed

There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

It’s a statistic everyone has heard of at some point in their life: college graduates earn more than high school graduates. A Google search of the phrase ‘college grads earn more’ leads to over 1 billion hits. Numerous studies have been conducted, and they all seem to reach the same conclusion. The most recent study as of writing this is from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, which alleges that college graduates earn $800,000 more in their lifetime than high school graduates. The study does come with a caveat, though. College grads won’t see the fruits of their labour until age 40 – when their student loans are paid off and they begin to amass enough work experience that their earnings elevate above their high-school grad peers.

I had some free time, so I decided to actually take a closer look. There are a number of issues I have with this study.

1. Most apparent, the study was conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. This is an institution that literally makes its money by issuing student loans, which is over a $1 trillion market. It would be naive to believe that the Fed would ever tell prospective college students not to take out student loans. Similarly, I’ve found that other studies of this nature are almost always presented by an institution that benefits from kids going to college. A 2011 report from Georgetown University titled “The College Payoff” proclaims that college is indeed worth the payoff. But again, this is a university that is issuing the study. It’s akin to an alcoholic citing the numerous benefits of drinking alcohol. There is an enormous bias before these studies are even conducted. It is very easy to manipulate numbers in a way that presents a certain side of a story, and it’s evident some of this was at play when you look at the models, as I explain below.

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Cultivate Your Gratitude Muscle

Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.
-Oprah Winfrey

It’s Thanksgiving here in the US, and that means there’s an air of gratitude and thankfulness.

It’s one of the best holidays, but being happy and grateful shouldn’t be limited just to Thanksgiving. Gratitude and thanks should be given year-round.

The gratitude muscle is like any other muscle. If you don’t use it often, it’ll wither and be weak.

Focusing on the negative is easy. The average person supposedly complains 30 times a day. It’s like this Louis C.K. video where he says “everything is amazing and nobody’s happy.”

It helps to take a step back in these situations and look through a different perspective.

  • Unhappy with the taxes you pay? Be thankful, it means you’re employed.
  • Unhappy with the alarm that goes off in the morning? Cool, it means you’re alive for another day and your ears work.
  • Unhappy with the rain outside? Great! You live in a place where water is abundant.

Gratitude is one of those things that sound wishy-washy, but I’ve noticed when I write down or think of things & people I’m grateful for, I’m noticeably happier after. I feel more present when I do so, and it’s given me the inner perspective to treat others with more kindness and respect. There’s some science to support this, too, as gratitude has been linked to the feel-good hormone oxytocin.

Wherever you are in the world, even if it’s not Thanksgiving, take some time today to exercise your gratitude muscle. Think of five people you’re grateful for right now. Better yet, let them know.

You Are Not Too Old

A common question I see frequently asked online is: “Am I too old to learn or do X?” where X is anything from programming to painting to starting a business. The weird thing is I’ve seen kids as young as 14 ask this.

It’s an odd question, because it implies that past a certain age, we’re unable to adequately learn new things, as if our brain becomes static and who we are is who we’ll be forever. This notion is supported by proverbs like “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and the idea that it’s impossible to learn a new language past a certain age.

Modern neuroscience has made it clear, however, that these assumptions are false. The brain is not a fixed structure, but a highly dynamic structure that is always adapting and changing itself in response to new experiences, regardless of age. You also can, in fact, teach an old dog new tricks (I’ve seen it happen!).

So the literal answer to the question is, no, you aren’t too old to learn X.

What I really think people are asking from the question, though, is, “Will I achieve success in this field, given my late start?”

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One Simple Way to Maintain Good Habits

This past week, I worked close to 80 hours at my full-time job. While I’m sure my friends in investment banking would scoff at those hours, it was a new experience for me. It’d be a stretch to say that I loved every single hour of it, but for the most part I got through it relatively unscathed (although I’m sure this won’t be the last time I pull these hours).

That being said, spending 80 hours a week on work does make it more difficult to find time for the rest of one’s typical routine. I’m sure you’ve been there at some point yourself – those days where you’ve spent all your energy and the only thing you want to do, or perhaps are capable of doing, is flopping on the couch and watching TV.

We feel guilty, though, because we know better. We have goals to achieve and habits to stick to, and we know we should be pursuing them for our greater benefit. So how do we do it?

For me, my personal priorities are fairly simple: hit the gym at least three times a week; spend quality, silent time reading books every day; and write and publish a post at least once a week.

I’ve been able to stick to this routine successfully by keeping in mind one simple idea, even amid this past 80-hour work week.

The idea is this:

Reduce the scope, but stick to the schedule

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Millennials: Get Rid of Your Victim Mentality

Here’s my hypothesis: our generation overwhelmingly suffers from victim mentality, and it’s holding us back from truly enjoying a successful future.

The formal definition of victim mentality is the acquired personality trait in which a person regards him or herself as a victim of the negative actions of others, and to think, speak and act as if that were the case. In other words, it’s to blame everyone else for what happens in your life. In psychology, it’s known as having an external locus of control.

In some way, it’s understandable. All our lives growing up, we were told that we would have a lot of cleaning up to do. We’ve witnessed natural disasters, political disasters, and corporate disasters. We’ve lived through an entire decade of turmoil, from 9/11 to the tech bubble to the global financial crisis and everything in between from global warming to the war in Iraq to ebola.

As a result, tuition rates have multiplied exponentially. Healthcare and insurance costs have risen. Unemployment rates are higher. Ocean levels are rising. The income gap is widening. Gender and race inequality is still prevalent. Life looks like it’s stacked ever against our favor, and woe is us…right?

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How to Live a Remarkable Life – The 10 Pillars of Success

I’ve been thinking recently about how I define success, and what a life well-lived encompasses. I’ve come up with ten pillars that I believe create the foundation for how I wish to live my life. My goal for outlining these is to help myself define my beliefs, but more importantly, to amplify the success of you, the reader, who may share the same values.

Below are the ten pillars I have defined as the keys to success. If you like these ideas – great – you’ve found a community of like-minded people.

1. Be the gladiator in the arena, not the spectator in the sidelines

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
-Teddy Roosevelt

To be the doer and not the critic. This distinction defines how you spend your days and how you tackle the inevitable problems life will throw at you. It’s easy to remain on the sidelines and judge those in the arena from the safety of the crowd. It’s easy to watch their vulnerability, their failures, their missteps with guilty pleasure. In fact, this seems to be how most people live their entire lives.

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How Reading Impacted Warren Buffett, Mark Cuban, and Malcolm X

I’ve written before about how reading is the key to success. But it can be hard to see the causation because it doesn’t just happen overnight. So below are three firsthand accounts from influential people who have “made it” highlighting how reading has impacted their lives.

1. Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger

I group these two together because of the extent to which they share the same ideologies. The duo is legendary for their longstanding business and investing prowess through investments at Berkshire Hathaway, which has consistently outperformed the market since its inception.

The result has spawned an army of devoted followers and has earned Buffett and Munger titles of two of the richest men on the planet. As a testament to their influence, thousands of people fly in from across the world to spend just a day listening to Buffett and Munger speak at their annual shareholder’s meeting.

So when Buffett or Munger give advice, we should listen. The two largely share the same philosophies on best business practices and investment styles, and they also happen to agree on the same method for success. In a 2007 commencement speech given at the USC School of Law, Charlie Munger said:

I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines.

They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up and boy does that help, particularly when you have a long run ahead of you.

He goes on to reference Buffett as an example of such a learning machine:

If you watched Warren Buffett with a time clock, I would say half of all the time he spends is just sitting on his ass and reading. And a big chunk of the rest of the time is spent talking on the phone or personally with people he trusts.

Buffett echoes his partner’s sentiments. When asked how to get smarter at a conference, he held up a stack of papers and said:

Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will.

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