Steve Jobs on the Secret of Life

When you grow up you, tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

Steve Jobs, 1994

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Start Before You’re Ready

If there’s one thing successful people and businesses seem to have in common, it’s that they start before they’re ready. This means taking immediate action and just going for it.

Richard Branson is a prime example of this. He recounts the story of how he started Virgin Airlines:

In ‘79, when Joan, my fiancee and I were on a holiday in the British Virgin Islands, we were trying to catch a flight to Puerto Rico; but the local Puerto Rican scheduled flight was cancelled. The airport terminal was full of stranded passengers. I made a few calls to charter companies and agreed to charter a plane for $2000 to Puerto Rico.

Cheekily leaving out Joan’s and my name, I divided the price by the remaining number of passengers, borrowed a blackboard and wrote: VIRGIN AIRWAYS: $39 for a single flight to Puerto Rico. I walked around the airport terminal and soon filled every seat on the charter plane.

As we landed at Puerto Rico, a passenger turned to me and said: “Virgin Airways isn’t too bad — smarten up the services a little and you could be in business.”


That was it. Everyone on the cancelled flight faced the same dilemma, but only one person saw it as an opportunity and took action. By all standard definitions, Branson wasn’t ready at all. He had no knowledge about the aviation industry and wasn’t prepared or qualified in the slightest to start that business. Yet he did it anyway, by just going for it.

What’s interesting is that Branson has since gone on to say that if he had known about the low-profit margins airline companies face, he never would have started Virgin Airlines. “If you want to be a millionaire,” he says, “start with a billion dollars and launch a new airline.” He’s made it work, but if Branson hadn’t taken immediate action and instead deliberated and extensively researched the industry, been more ready, he never would have created one of the premier airlines today.

Many of us hesitate to do that which we desire the most by claiming we’re not ready. To start the business. To ask the girl out. To create music. To write. Some of us spend our entire lives waiting for the opportune moment.

Sadly, it seems the longer we wait to do something, the more likely we are to never do it. We’re our own worst enemies. So we must constantly struggle to quiet our lizard brains.

In the world of pick-up, there’s something called the 3-second rule. The idea is that if you see someone you’d like to meet, you must introduce yourself within three seconds. No hesitation, no scripts. It’s simple, but very effective because you just go for it. You have no time to overthink, get anxious about what to say, or psych yourself out.

We could all benefit by implementing a version of the 3-second rule into our own endeavors. To take action before we’re fully ready, and to just go for it.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing more research or adding another page to the business plan. These things are useful, but they don’t produce results. Likewise, brainstorming and planning is good, but doing so for too long often leads to a never-ending spiral of analysis paralysis.

This is understandable, of course; we all want to be fully ready before we take the leap. Unfortunately, it’s akin to striving for perfection. In the words of David Foster Wallace, “If your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.” The stars never align perfectly and conditions are never optimal. You’ll never have everything figured out. And that’s OK. It’s much easier to start small and figure things out along the way than it is to hit perfection the first time around.

Talk to anyone at the top of their game and you’ll hear something like this: “When I got started, I was a mess. I had no idea what I was doing, I just kept putting stuff out there. After a while, everything came together.”

We ought to trust that everything will come together. It’s impossible to connect the dots looking forward, but very possible looking backwards.

So start now and take the leap. You’ll grow your wings along the way.

“The fool did not know it was impossible. So he went ahead and did it.”

Charlie Munger’s 2007 USC Speech

Every year, tens of thousands of people fly in from all parts of the world to attend Berkshire Hathaway’s annual conference to listen to two of the greatest minds today: Charlie Munger and Warren Buffet. So when Munger speaks, you should listen.

In 2007, Munger gave a commencement speech at the University of Southern California School of Law. He shared some words of wisdom and imparted advice on what it takes to succeed.

A key theme was the importance of continual learning and self-education.

Wisdom acquisition is a moral duty. It’s not just something you do to advance in life. It means you’re hooked to life-time learning.

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 Warren Buffet and Berkshire Hathaway as a testament to the importance of being 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.

The skill that got Berkshire through one decade would not have sufficed to get it through the next. Without Warren Buffet being a learning machine, a continuous learning machine, the record would be absolutely impossible. The same is true in lower walks of life.

How, exactly, do you begin on the path of self-education? Munger suggests to learn all the big ideas in all the big disciplines to create a mental latticework in your head. It’s not enough to memorize them so you can prattle them off on a test, but to learn them in such a way that you automatically use them for the rest of your life.

When I talk about this multi-disciplinary approach, I’m really following a very key idea from Marcus Tullius Cicero. Cicero is famous for saying, “A man who doesn’t know what happened before he’s born goes through life like a child.” If you generalize Cicero, as I think one should, there’s all these other things you should know, in addition to history. And these things are all those big ideas in all the other disciplines.

I went through life constantly practicing (because if you don’t practice it, you lose it) the multi-disciplinary approach and I can’t tell you what that’s done for me. It’s made life more fun, it’s made me more constructive, its made me more helpful to others, its made me enormously rich.

If you do this, I solemnly promise you that one day as you walk down the street and look to your right and left, you’ll think, “My heavenly days, I’m now one of the most competent people in my whole age cohort.”

Success doesn’t come easily though. You must have an intense interest in the subject to truly excel at it, a familiar phrase to Steve Jobs’ “find what you love to do.”

Another thing that I found is that an intense interest in the subject is indispensable if you’re really going to excel in it. I could force myself to be fairly good in a lot of things but I couldn’t be really good at anything where I didn’t have an intense interest. So to some extent, you’re going to have to follow me. If at all feasible, drift into something where you have an intense interest.

The most important ingredient of all, however, may be assiduity.

Another thing you have to do, of course, is to have a lot of assiduity. I like that word because it means: sit down on your ass until you do it. Two partners that I chose for one little phase in my life had the following rule when they created a design, build, construction team. They sat down and said, two-man partnership, divide everything equally, here’s the rule: if ever we’re behind in commitments to other people, we will both work 14 hours a day until we’re caught up. Needless to say, that firm didn’t fail. The people died very rich. It’s such a simple idea.

Along the road to success, Munger stresses the importance of keeping an open mind, to avoid espousing extreme ideologies, especially when young.

When you shout the orthodox ideology out, what you’re doing is pounding it in, pounding it in, and you’re gradually ruining your mind. So you want to be very, very careful of this ideology. It’s a big danger.

I have what I call an iron prescription that helps me keep sane when I naturally drift toward preferring one ideology over another and that is: I say that I’m not entitled to have an opinion on this subject unless I can state the arguments against my position better than the people who support it.

He goes on to say that self-pity and the self-serving bias must be removed from your way of thought. Doing so will provide you an advantage over those who wallow in self defeat.

Self-pity gets fairly close to paranoia, and paranoia is one of the very hardest things to reverse. You do not want to drift into self-pity. It’s a ridiculous way to behave and when you avoid it, you get a great advantage over everybody else or almost everybody else because self-pity is a standard condition, and yet you can train yourself out of it.

Of course the self-serving bias is something you want to get out of yourself. Thinking that what’s good for you is good for the wider civilization and rationalizing all these ridiculous conclusions based on this subconscious tendency to serve one’s self is a terribly inaccurate way to think.

And while life can ultimately be unfair, it’s how you react that will determine your standing. In fact, anticipating trouble can actually be of great benefit.

Life will have terrible blows in it, horrible blows, unfair blows. And some people recover and others don’t. And there I think the attitude of Epectitus is the best. He said that every missed chance in life was an opportunity to behave well, every missed chance in life was an opportunity to learn something, and that your duty was not to be submerged in self-pity, but to utilize the terrible blow in constructive fashion.

You can say, who wants to go through life anticipating trouble? Well I did. All my life I’ve gone through life anticipating trouble. And here I am, going along in my 84th year and like Epectitus, I’ve had a favored life. It didn’t make me unhappy to anticipate trouble all the time and be ready to perform adequately if trouble came. It didn’t hurt me at all. In fact it helped me.

He finishes by saying that our society is not at the highest form a civilization can reach. The highest form is rather a seamless web of deserved trust, where totally reliable people correctly trust one another. This is what a perfect society should look like, and what we should strive for in our own lives as well.

[Still curious? Charlie Munger’s USC speech can be viewed here.] 


Quotes, May 2014

Interesting quotes and passages from texts I’ve read this month.

The best way to get good at something is to practice. You probably already knew that. Here’s the twist: The best way to practice is to do it publicly. Musicians become professionals by playing a hundred live shows. Likewise, writers become authors by publishing a lot of bad work (until it’s no longer bad). -Jeff Goins

Your income can grow only to the extent that you do. -T. Harv Eker

No thought lives in your head rent-free. It will either be an investment or a cost. It will either move you toward happiness and success or away from it. It will either empower you or disempower you. That’s why it is imperative you choose your thoughts and beliefs wisely. -T. Harv Eker


The statement that people end up where they deserve does not imply any moral judgment, nor does it imply any form of entitlement. In particular, it’s not meant in the modern marketing sense, that people “deserve” anything they can imagine. Rather, it means that attitudes combined with actions lead to habits which, over time, tend to deliver certain deserved outcomes. -Jacob Lund Fisker

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth. -Marcus Aurelius

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking. -Marcus Aurelius

Effective people are not problem-minded; they’re opportunity-minded. They feed opportunities and starve problems. -Stephen R. Covey

Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious. -Paul Graham

When you grow up you, tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again. -Steve Jobs

We live in a culture where one of the greatest social disgraces is not having an opinion, so we often form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or the borrowed ideas of others, without investing the time and thought that cultivating true conviction necessitates. We then go around asserting these donned opinions and clinging to them as anchors to our own reality. It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself. -Maria Popova

Create something. Most people buy the life that others created for them. Build something beautiful instead of accepting something average. -James Clear