Whose Fault Is It?

You’re 6 years old, playing with the class teddy bear. Your friend, who is also 6, comes up to you and asks to play with you. You don’t want to share your toy, so you say no. He grabs Teddy and begins tugging. You do the same. As the laws of physics would have it, Teddy rips.

The teacher comes running in and yells, “Whose fault is this?” and you and your friend both point at each other. Both of you concoct stories of the event, and the teacher spends an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out whose story is more true.

Whose fault is it? It’s a classic question parents and teachers ask children whenever something bad happens.

What purpose does this question serve – and could it even be a hazardous thing to say to a child? Seemingly, it trains children to find faults in anywhere but themselves, assigning blame to others and external factors. As these kids grow up, they continue along this path, blaming others for their own shortcomings. Personal responsibility is shunned.

Asking whose fault something is is almost like unnecessarily dwelling in the past. In the example above, it makes no difference who actually broke the class teddy bear. Both parties were probably responsible to a degree. It’s much more effective to consider the options going forward. What can you do to prevent this from happening in the future? What lessons can be taken away from the incident? Why did the mistake occur?

Thinking along these lines can save you a lot of energy trying to frivolously figure out who was right or wrong or good or bad. You also begin to stop looking for the victim in every situation, instead assigning everyone some degree of responsibility.

Taking personal responsibility for things gone awry, owning up to your mistakes, and being vulnerable are rare traits in people, precisely why those that exhibit these traits actually garner respect.

Just imagine these scenarios. If the CEO of your company took responsibility for the company’s problems instead of blaming others, wouldn’t you like him more? If your doctor told you she had screwed up a procedure, instead of trying to cover it up, wouldn’t you appreciate her honesty? If a politician revealed that their policy proposals had failed, wouldn’t you be more likely to trust him?

Objectively examining our own mistakes isn’t easy. Because we see the world from our own perspective, even our mistakes make sense from our perspective. When we screw up, it’s because of XYZ reasons. When others screw up, it’s because they’re stupid.

Instead of looking for faults and trying to blame the government, society, or your parents, look within yourself. Try to take the outside view. Embrace your failings. It’s much better to accept you’re bigoted and try to improve than sleepwalk through life ignorant to the fact. Failure to take responsibility for your own life almost guarantees your staganation in life.

How to Make $1 Million in Four Years After University

There’s an amazing answer on Quora in response to a question of how to make $250k/year in income.

Anonymous writes:

2010 (90k/yr):
Graduated from uPenn and went to work for Bloomberg (80k base and 10k bonus). Decided that was not enough at all so I started creating websites on the side. One site I made was called biteads.com, barely made anything out of it but the site introduced me to affiliate marketing.

2011 (105k/yr):
Quit my job in Bloomberg and went to Amazon (85k base and 20k bonus) because I was sick of fortran (30% of bloomberg’s code base). Bought a half completed vacant wreak house for dirt cheap with the intention of finishing it up and selling it.

2012 (200k/yr):
Still at amazon (90k with 20k bonus). Still building the house. Continued making websites, I used my affiliate marketing experience in biteads.com to make another site called mutex.me. Mutex was a small hit generated (5k-8k) a month which added up to around 90k a year.

2013 (215k):
Still at amazon (100k + 25k)
Mutex still making money (90k)
Finishing up the house.
Bought another house to finish and sell.

2014 (1.18MM)
Still at Amazon (110k + 30k)
Mutex still making money (90k)
Selling house with projected profit of 250k.
Nearly completed 2nd house with projected profit of 700k.
Using that money to buy/build 3rd house. Which based on the market should make around the same as the 2nd house.

It’s a great answer because of how frank he is revealing his path to creating wealth. These are relatively clear action steps that others can take themselves to replicate it. Obviously it takes a great deal of time to learn how to actually execute on them, but anyone could theoretically learn how to. Under this light, making $250k/year, which very few people ever do, seems much more attainable.

It’s worth the note that he did this all while maintaining his full-time job, which I think is great. Our society seems to admire the “all or nothing” approach to success. We love hearing stories of college dropouts who went on to achieve great success. We revel in stories of those who laid it all on the line by quitting their full-time job or mortgaging their house to start their entrepreneurial journey.

What’s hardly ever touted, arguably the less sexy route, is holding your full-time job while working on a side hustle. I’d argue that this route, however, is probably better suited for most people. The job provides you with a source of income that you can use to reinvest elsewhere (paying for the down payment of real estate, for example). It gives you much needed time to validate your idea, test the proof of concept, and acquire early leads and pre-sales, all while maintaining your current lifestyle. This mitigates risk early on in the business, which is conceivably when risk is highest.

The problem with working full-time and managing a side-hustle is if holding a safe corporate job inhibits you from taking any further risks or trying new things outside of work. We all know people who continue working jobs they hate while doing nothing about it because they’re complacent with their steady paycheck. I experienced this through a drop in dedication on my side projects immediately after I began work (although I’d like to think I’ve picked it back up now).  All else equal, the person with the job providing a steady income is going to work less hard on his time off than the entrepreneur who has to work just to pay the bills. This increase in risk-aversion can be profoundly  negative to future success. As late billionaire Felix Dennis said, the ability to live with and embrace risks is what sets apart the financial winners and losers in the world.

So the way around this complacency is to view your full-time job as a means to an end, rather than a permanent position. This doesn’t mean you can slack off at work. Ideally you’d work as hard as you can in your job, and then work just as hard at home (I’ve found that laziness has a way of easily seeping into everything you do, so it’s best to be avoided in general). But the idea is to one day have the freedom to quit the job and work full-time on your side-hustle-turned primary business.

This approach will essentially require you to work two jobs, resulting in 60-80+ hour weeks. This is what it’ll take if you want financial freedom though. Nobody ever gets rich working forty hours a week. Nobody ever gets rich complaining they don’t have time or don’t feel like working after a long day. While everyone else heads home from their 9-5 and turns on Netflix, people like Anon spend their nights coding side projects and closing real estate deals.

It’s a great story of hustle and one worth emulating.

Writing Should Be Personal

For a long time, I’ve struggled to write anything too personal because I was afraid of the consequences of doing so. What if someone I know reads this? What if my boss finds out? I avoided publishing any of these posts, or when I did, I distorted them in a way that reflected positively on me.

But how can writing be good without a personal element? Writing is the process of turning the inner thoughts in your unconscious mind into concrete, coherent words on paper. Good writing should therefore be one of the most personal things you do.

They say that everyone has a unique voice and ought to be sharing their story. I believe this, and also believe everyone has something interesting to say.

The problem is most people are afraid to share the inner workings of themselves to the public. We’re so used to hiding behind the facade we put out to the world that we’ve lost the ability to be ourselves, even on our own blogs. We fear the judging eyes of others as we lay ourselves bare on paper. Coming to terms with this fear, however, may be a necessity.

In the fabulous book If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland encourages writers not shy away from using “I” in their writing.

Now to have things alive and interesting it must be personal, it must come from the “I”: what I know and feel. For that is the only great and interesting thing. That is the only truth you know, that nobody else does.

The most interesting kind of articles to read are those that show vulnerability. I look to James Altucher for advice here. He says he never publishes a post unless he feels scared to do so. Sometimes he’s even afraid he’s shared too much to the world. He tries to bleed every time he writes by sharing the darkest and worst moments he’s experienced.

Ultimately, this is how people relate to you through your writing. Everyone has gone through their own struggles, and everyone is simply trying their best to be happy. The feelings that make us human are universal. Conveying these feelings in your writing is how you get people to care.

You can learn a lot about someone through their writing, perhaps more than you ever could through conversation alone. I’ve been able to learn more about some of my friends through their blogs, and it’s strengthened our relationship. I’ve even met people solely through reading their blogs because I knew we operated on the same wavelength. This was only possible because they put themselves out there.

At the end of the day, good writing has to be a reflection of your inner self. Good writing can’t be faked. Beneath any words you read is the personality of the writer himself. Whatever that personality is will eventually shine through. Even if the words themselves tell one story, you can tell if the writer’s true self does not coincide with their message. You can deceive people vocally and even in-person, but you simply cannot deceive people for long through extensive writing.

Internet Scams

When I was 13, I saw a post on a forum about an easy way to make $20 a day in 20 minutes. I figured why not. I downloaded the free pdf, read it, and got to work.

The method was essentially me pretending to be a female looking for desperate men. It worked like this:

Post an ad on Craigslist pretending to be a girl looking for a date. Setup an autoresponder email to reply to anyone who messaged you forwarding them a link to some dating site with your profile. When they signed up and paid, hoping to land a date with you, you’d get paid a commission.

Surprisingly, it actually worked. I spent about five minutes a day just posting ads up on Craigslist for a couple weeks. At the end of the month, I actually passed the threshold point to receive a check for my earnings.

I came home from school one day, and my dad handed me a check for a couple hundred bucks. He looked at me weird. Eventually he asked why it was from “XXX Entertainment Inc.” or something along those lines – and yep, there it was, bold and center. I lied and said it was just an edgy company. I don’t think he believed me, because a week later he cautioned me about watching porn.

Why did I just tell you that story?

To caution you about getting scammed. I’ve come across a lot of “lifestyle design” blogs recently. These blogs all espouse the themes of living abroad, working remotely, earning passive income, and living the dream. Nothing new, but these types of blogs have always irked me.

Most of them are frauds.

Maybe they do live abroad, work remotely, and yes, even earn a little passive income. But my estimate is the vast majority of them are not living the dream. They’re faking it till they make it – which is fine. But they’re selling people products that promise “the dream” when they themselves aren’t living it.

The funny thing is the secret formula of many of these products is to start your own website selling “the dream” for others. So you have all of these people selling information products about how to teach others how to sell information products. Very meta.

Some of these “passive income” methods are so shady they border on fraud. An example includes selling books that you’ve outsourced the writing process to India for. You hire cheap labor to write 10-20 pages on how to lose weight, package it up, and publish it on Amazon. You do this for a hundred different topics, and let the dimes (literally) roll in.

The above method would really only provide you enough money to live in a developing country, which is why so many of these lifestyle entrepreneurs live abroad. They have to.

Like all get rich quick methods though, this method of selling outsourced books won’t work anymore after a period of time. So these same entrepreneurs will then create another product describing their secret formula on how to earn passive income, describing the now obsolete method. The launch of this product is the real money-maker

There are a million of these kooky ways to make money online. Most of them are scams, looking to take advantage of you.

So be careful who you listen to online. It can be very easy to fall in love with a dream someone is trying to sell you on. The love of your life might even turn out to be a 13-year old boy.

Some Much-Needed Brutal Honesty

My girlfriend just called me out.

She said I wasn’t hustling or working hard enough to achieve my goals, specifically waking up earlier.

I couldn’t deny it. It’s true, I have been slacking. And it’s clear that my girlfriend has a front row seat to my current lack of integrity. I said I would do something, and I haven’t. I’m not being true to my word. And if I haven’t been true to my word in this case, it’s unclear what she can count on me for in the future.

So what’s the consequence? Well, I feel shame, for one. Not only to myself, but to her, who wants to see nothing but the best for me. And when she saw that I hadn’t made enough of an effort, she was bold enough to call me out on it.

It’s not easy to objectively look at ourselves, but it’s absolutely essential if we want to improve. It’s tough, though, hearing something like that about yourself. The words sting at you. All sorts of mental barriers came up and excuses instantly popped into my head about the external factors that prevented me from doing what I said I would. I ignored the temptation to justify my lack of integrity, however. I simply allowed the pain of knowing I was in the wrong wash over me.

I needed the tough love, and I appreciated hearing it. It’s not often in life that someone will directly tell you about your personal weaknesses, allowing you to improve on them. We hate hearing bad news about ourselves, and our first instinct is to avoid it. Even when we do confront it, we try to explain it away or downplay it, like I almost did with my excuses ready at hand.

When my girlfriend finished her spiel, we were both relieved. Of course I knew that I hadn’t been achieving my goal of waking up earlier, but I hadn’t realized the impact of not staying true to my word. I came to terms with the fact that I had failed thus far, knew what I had to do going forward, and had an accountability partner. My girlfriend was relieved that I had really listened to her, and saw that I wasn’t going to take the easy way out by abdicating from my word.

No one said NY’s resolutions were easy. Here’s to leaning into the pain.

Why Do Anything If We’re All Going to Die?

I was watching a TED talk on YouTube when I scrolled too far down and ventured into the comments cesspool, coming across the following heavily upvoted comment.

“To be honest, we’re all dead anyway, it doesn’t matter what you achieve in life at all, the second you die you’ll instantly become unaware you ever achieved it or that you ever existed and lived your life in the first place, so stop taking it so seriously, ultimately you’ll forget it ever happened, in just six decades most of the people this talk is directed towards will be gone, their achievements might remain, but they won’t be aware of them remaining so why should they care?”

This commenter was trying to convince us why we shouldn’t bother striving for success. Why bother doing anything if in the end we’re all going to die and no one will remember us? Life is meaningless, so why exert effort into achieving anything?

I’m sure most of us have entertained similar existential thoughts at some point in our lives, however briefly. The problem is, if you hold this belief and and truly believe it, you’re almost guaranteeing a life of mediocrity and complacency.

If you don’t believe something matters in life, you’re pushing it out of your life. If you don’t believe flossing matters, your dental hygiene routine won’t include flossing. If you said to your girlfriend, I don’t think you’re important, you won’t have a girlfriend for long after. So when you say, it doesn’t matter what you achieve in life at all, you’re essentially distancing yourself from achieving anything in life. You see this in practice when people say, I don’t think money is important. Chances are, the person saying that has a lack of money and always will.

If nothing matters in this world, if no one will remember you eventually, in a sense, does that not provide you with the reins to do anything you want? If nothing is worth doing, then something is just as easily worth doing as well. And if something is worth doing, then you might as well make that something extraordinary.

Perhaps Chuck Palahniuk said it best when he said, “We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, it’s to create something that will.” An honorable goal would be to leave the world in a better place than you found it. Sure, maybe you won’t actually ever achieve historical greatness in your life. Few people do. But to give up without trying and asking why bother guarantees your insignificance.

Finally, consider this analogy: if you were given a piece of cake and told you could eat it, would you question the purpose of eating the cake if it would run out eventually? Of course not. Scarcity doesn’t make it any less enjoyable – in fact, it may even add to the pleasure. And so it is with life.

Why Ideas Are Worthless, and Why Competition Is Good

In university, a number of friends and I got together to start a business. We didn’t have any idea what we’d create, but we figured we could collectively brainstorm something. We called our little project Project Alpha. Looking back, it’s humorous how little we knew and how unprepared we were.

We never made it past the first hurdle, because we kept stumbling over this one issue: all our supposedly unique and innovative ideas we’d brainstormed had already been done. There were already other products out there that did the same thing we wanted to do.

We scrapped every idea we looked at, and continued moving down the idea list. To no surprise, pretty soon we had exhausted all of our ideas. We had completely failed in our minds, and we thought it wasn’t meant to be. The group never officially disbanded, but it gradually faded away thereafter.

We were clueless.

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8 Takeaways From Hiring People

I recently posted a job on Indeed.com looking to hire someone for a portfolio company of our firm’s. I was responsible for going through the applications, whittling them down, and conducting the initial interviews.

I learned quite a bit from this experience. All of a sudden, many aspects of the traditional hiring process made sense to me. Here are some of my takeaways.

It’s true, employers are flooded with resumes.
For this job, I received over 200 applications in less than a week – and I posted the job around Christmas. There was no way I could have sifted through each resume carefully, trying to find golden nuggets. I had to create a system to filter through them quickly. For this position, I quickly looked at the applicant’s current and previous job titles – if it matched, good. I then narrowed down candidates by determining if they had any experience in the particular industry we were hiring for. Finally, I looked to see if the candidate showed any creativity in their cover letter or resume (important for this position, not always true).

This is why you want your resume to be free of typos, formatted correctly, and look presentable. You want to give yourself the best chance possible, and all else equal, a poorly formatted resume with typos will be rejected over a more pristine one. I’ve heard that the average employer only looks at a resume for 7 seconds, and I found this to be relatively true. It’s crucially important for applicants to make it clear why they’re perfect for the position and how their experience backs that up as quickly as possible.

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What Reading 80 Books in 2014 Taught Me About Reading

This past year, I decided to instill a new habit to my life: reading. I realized it was probably the most important improvement I could make that would pay the greatest dividends. I started the year off at a frenetic pace, reading upwards of ten books a month to start, but gradually found a happier medium settling at 5-6 books a month (I was also still in school for the first half of the year, giving me more time to read). In total, I read 80 books in 2014 and more non-fiction books than I’d read in my entire life previously.

You can see my reading list here along with my thoughts on some of them.

Here are 10 things I learned about reading this past year:

1. It’s OK to give up on a book
I finished 80 books this year, but I also dropped 20-30 other books because I wasn’t getting any value from them. I used to feel guilty about doing this, following the mantra I had to finish what I started, but I quickly realized this was a waste of time. I accepted that it’s fine to quit books you don’t like or aren’t doing anything for you.

The timing of when you read a book is sometimes everything – there’s no shame in shelving it to read later, when it may be more applicable to your life. I felt this way while reading many business books. Such books were often targeted towards senior managers or people who were already at the helm of thriving businesses – not so relevant for my present situation. Some books I picked up were simply bad. For these books, I generally gave it 50 pages, then skipped ahead to see if there was anything useful I could pick up from skimming it. No one says you have to read a book from start to finish, either.

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Do the Opposite

“But everyone else is doing it!”
“But everyone else has one!”
“But everyone else thinks so!”

I would whine and use these phrases as a kid whenever I tried to convince my parents to let me go to a party or stay up later or buy me a new toy. They were my go-to phrases, in fact, because I thought if all my friends were doing something, it had to be right…right?

I’ve since realized how wrong (and bratty) I was, and how bad of a general principle this is. If my future kid ever used the same argument, I would 100% not agree to whatever his demand was.

The fact that everyone else is doing something means you should be very hesitant about following suit. Mark Twain once said whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect. I would add to that, to say pause, reflect, then strongly consider doing the opposite.  Continue reading