Death Will Be an Interruption Cover

Death Will Be an Interruption

19 weeks into their pregnancy, Keri and Royce Young found out their daughter suffered from anencephaly. It’s a rare, prenatal disease, which prevents the child from developing a big portion of its brain, skull, and scalp.

The odds of survival are zero. Lives with anencephaly are counted in hours, days at most. After 48 hours of deliberating the impossible decision to lose a child or a pregnancy, they decided to go through with the pregnancy, so they could donate their daughter’s organs and save another human being.

“We decided to continue, and chose the name Eva for our girl, which means “giver of life.” The mission was simple: Get Eva to full-term, welcome her into this world to die, and let her give the gift of life to some other hurting family. It was a practical approach, with an objective for an already settled ending point.”

As pragmatic as it looks in a paragraph, think about how much respect this choice deserves. Such a noble decision, one most people could never bear. But decisions, good or bad, have no say in how time works.

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” 

— Woody Allen

Right when Keri hit the two-week window for Eva’s birth, the baby’s brain functions gave out. After life had cheated them out of their initial plan, death cheated them out of the backup. No daughter, no hello, no organs to donate, no goodbye.

In a lucky turn of events, Eva’s eyes helped save someone else’s sight, but the story just goes to show: we can’t prepare for the unpreparable.

The Prison We All Share

In The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, one of Stephen R. Covey’s key tenets is “begin with the end in mind.” He suggests a thought experiment called ‘the funeral test,’ in which you imagine what four speakers would say at your burial. One is family, one a friend, one from work, and one from a community.

“What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life? What kind of husband, wife, father, or mother would you like their words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter or cousin? What kind of friend? What kind of working associate?

What character would you like them to have seen in you? What contributions, what achievements would you want them to remember? Look carefully at the people around you. What difference would you like to have made in their lives?”

These are all important questions. They’re great in helping us adjust how we behave today. What’s bad is that they inevitably trigger long-range planning and you can’t do that without estimating time. Even if we’re building our plans around the best intentions, they’re still built around a big construct of expectations.

In 2017, Scott Riddle was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. He’s a guy like you and me. A father, an employee, a husband, a friend. He is 35 years old. So far he’s recovering, but his plans? They’re all gone. Because no matter how smart it is to think about your own funeral, no one would put it just two, or five, or ten years into the future. That’s Scott’s big takeaway:

“Stop just assuming you have a full lifetime to do whatever it is you dream of doing.” 

The only guaranteed path we take in life is one we cannot control; we’re all hurling towards death inside our little cages of time. And to add insult to injury, life makes sure to knock on the bars along the way.

In 2008, we lost my grandma to lung cancer. She was 66. In 2016, my uncle died in his sleep. He was 52. Knock. Knock. Everyone loses someone. They need not be people we know, but they’re always people we care about. Like Chester. Or Tim. Time is the prison we all share. No reminders needed, but we get them anyway. Lest we forget.

A Stubborn Illusion

We go through life imagining that when death comes, we’ll somehow be ready. We’ll lie in bed at 103 years old, surrounded by our loved ones, say our final goodbye and then fall asleep. That’s a beautiful vision, and I wish it for anyone, but it’s really dangerous to get attached to it. We’ll never be ready. We’ll never be done. When the time comes, nobody wants to go.

This isn’t to say all long-range planning is useless. There’s a balance. But mapping out your life until the end, including the end, is a futile fight against time. Maybe a better way is to think of life in cycles, like Seth Godin does when he describes it as a series of dips:

“There isn’t just one dip. It’s not like ‘let’s get through that dip and we’re done.’ Steve Jobs helped invent the personal computer, helped launch the graphical interface, helped launch the mp3 business, helped launch computer animation at Pixar. He’s not done. Just like skiing, the goal is not to get to the bottom of the hill, the goal is to have a bunch of good runs before the sun sets.”

In 1948, Albert Einstein was diagnosed with an aneurysm in his abdominal aorta. A ticking time bomb, impossible to defuse. He chose to hold it patiently. Seven years later, just after his 76th birthday, his friend Michele Besso passed away. Aware of his own time running out, he shared an insight in his condolence letter to Besso’s family:

“He has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubborn illusion.”

Einstein himself died a month later. In Einstein: His Life and Universe, biographer Walter Isaacson describes his last moments:

“At his bedside lay the draft of his undelivered speech for Israel Independence Day. “I speak to you today not as an American citizen and not as a Jew, but as a human being,” it began. Also by his bed were twelve pages of tightly written equations, littered with cross-outs and corrections.

To the very end, he struggled to find his elusive unified field theory. And the final thing he wrote, before he went to sleep for the last time, was one more line of symbols and numbers that he hoped might get him, and the rest of us, just a little step closer to the spirit manifest in the laws of the universe.”

Einstein’s last equation

What Einstein showed us, both in his words and behavior, is that there is no such thing as time. Just a giant current of the unknown that carries us into the wind. And all we can do is live our lives, whether we surrender to it or not.

Even if you’ve made your peace with it, death will be an interruption.

One day, you’ll be out skiing, working, reading, writing, skateboarding with the other kids and changing the world. The sun will set and you’ll realize “oh, I won’t be able to finish this today.” The question is can you go to bed and say “I’ll do it tomorrow?”

In the end, the Youngs learned a similar lesson:

“None of it went as we planned. We’re trying to rest on knowing we did the best we could. We always said we wanted to limit our regret, and I think in 20 years or so as we reflect on this, there’s not much we’d change. Because anything we would change was already outside of our control anyway.”

The only thing we can really do is accept not being ready. Accept being naked. Prepared to be unprepared. And maybe, just maybe, letting go won’t hurt so much.

“It’s a weird thing to say that in probably the worst experience of my life was also maybe the best moment of my life, but I think it was the best moment of my life. The timing of it all is just something I can’t explain. It wasn’t what we planned or hoped for, but it was everything we needed in that moment.”

No matter when it happens, I imagine a peaceful death will be just the same.

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How To Survive as a Writer

Being a writer is hard. In an interview, storytelling legend and screenwriting teacher to the stars, Robert McKee, explains:

“Your job as a writer is to make sense out of life. Comic or tragic and anything in between, but you have to make sense out of life. You understand what that means? Making sense out of life? And this is why most people can’t do it. Because they can’t make sense out of life, let alone make sense out of life and then express it in writing.”

As writers, it’s our duty to live in our heads. And there’s no place more enticing, more exciting, yet at the same time more dangerous and more terrifying than the human mind. Time and again, we have to venture into this place from which some never make it back. Whatever we bring home we have to process, to shape, to form. Until somehow, something worth saying emerges, which often never happens. And so we have to go back.

For the times we do go “oh, that’s interesting,” we then have to chisel an arrow out of the marble block of messy information. An arrow loaded with emotion, dipped in reason, and wrapped in gold. Because otherwise, it’ll never land in the reader’s heart. And at the end of it?

After all the turmoil, the struggle, and the pain, the best we can do is fire the arrow into a sea of dark faces. Because even if we don’t play for the applause, in the end, our fate lies in the hands of the audience. Always. So the best we can do is show up, shoot, and pray.

See What I Did There?

If you’re a writer, there’s a good chance that whatever advice I was going to share next, you’d listen. You might not take it, but at least, you’d consider it. Why? Because from the first line, you empathized with me. I’m a writer too. You get that. You agree that it’s hard. You get me. And I get you. Empathy is the single most valuable reaction you can trigger in a reader.

We just established how tough a job writing is. Getting your reader to the point where they’d even consider what you have to say next? That’s the dream. In fact, if you can’t trigger empathy in the first paragraph, the first chapter, the first episode, your arrow will never hit its mark.

That’s the real lesson I learned from Robert McKee.

“You have to feel there’s a shared humanity. Without empathy, there’s no involvement. Empathy is so powerful, it builds in long form. Season after season, these people become your friends. You worry about them. You think about them more than you do [about] your friends.”


A Bed in a Corn Field

There’s an old, famous German pop singer. His name is Jürgen Drews. In 1976, he had his big breakthrough with a song entitled ‘Ein Bett im Kornfeld’ (‘A Bed In A Corn Field’). It was a cover of the Bellamy Brothers’s ‘Let Your Love Flow.’ Right after the original hit’s five-week #1 run, his German adaptation topped the billboard charts for another eleven weeks. He performed the song all over the place. A star was born.

In the 80s, Drews tried to break through internationally, but never took off. He had a few minor hits, but mostly, people still wanted to hear ‘Ein Bett im Kornfeld.’ In 1995, he re-recorded the song, and again, it was a big hit. Since 1999, he’s known as the ‘King of Mallorca,’ German tourists’ #1 party destination with lots of cheap beer, light entertainment, and forgettable events.

Drews still goes there every holiday season, where he performs ‘Ein Bett im Kornfeld’ every night. He gets up to $20,000 for as little as 20 minutes of showmanship. And he hates it. He’s 73, on his third wife, and he looks tired.

Jürgen Drews never managed to spark his audience’s empathy.

He built his entire career on one cover song. ‘Ein Bett im Kornfeld’ is the only thing we’ll ever remember him for. Jürgen Drews is famous, rich, and successful. But he’s also miserable. Because he couldn’t make sense out of life.

Divide and Prosper

Here are the first lines from some of my latest articles:

None of them are perfect, but all of them offer the reader a chance to empathize. They’re opinions, experiences, quotes. A few of which you may relate to, some of which you might recognize, but all of which you can agree or disagree with.

Rick Rubin says the best art divides the audience. The point is not to hook the most readers possible. The point is to not end like Jürgen Drews.

No Such Thing as Writing

McKee says his seminars are no walk in the park. He wants it that way:

“One of my missions in these lectures is to drive dilettantes out the door. There’s a certain kind of person who would teach a subject like this and pretend anybody can do it. ‘Anybody can do it, all you have to do is some formula,’ and that’s just bullshit. Hardly one person in a hundred can do it, truth be told. And I make that really clear to them. You’re in over your heads. You’ve got no idea how difficult this is. If you love the art in yourself, you will survive.”

To love the art in yourself is to have empathy when you look into the mirror. Because that’s where it starts. An old industry adage says there’s no such thing as writing, just rewriting. What it really means is forgive yourself.

Stephen King once wrote a sports column for his town’s weekly newspaper. When he submitted his first piece, the editor crossed out a few rumors, fixed some facts, and removed most of the adjectives. Then he gave King the best writing advice he ever got:

“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story,” he said. “When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

You can’t make sense out of life in a single story and you certainly can’t do it on the first try. It takes compassion to accept that. If you can’t do that, the best you can hope for is ‘Ein Bett im Kornfeld.’

Being a writer is hard. But it beats telling the same story for the rest of your life. Cut yourself some slack. Love the art in yourself. And if you don’t feel empathy in the first line?

Then you rewrite the intro.

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The Strange Law of Love

I met my ex-girlfriend on Tinder. We matched, we met, we were together for almost two years. We broke up two years ago and I haven’t been with anyone since. What I learned is that even when you feel ready, you can’t skip to the end.

You cannot find love by looking for it.

The moment you start searching, you’ve already twisted yourself into a pretzel that’s nothing but a poor copy of the awesome you you actually are. That’s why online dating rarely works out in the long run. Because from the beginning, something felt ‘off.’

In 1951, Alan Watts wrote in The Wisdom of Insecurity:

“I have always been fascinated by the law of reversed effort. Sometimes I call it the ‘backwards law.’ When you try to stay on the surface of the water, you sink; but when you try to sink, you float. When you hold your breath, you lose it — which immediately calls to mind an ancient and much neglected saying, ‘Whosoever would save his soul shall lose it.’”

The law of reversed effort is universal, but it feels beyond unfair that it applies to love. The harder we work for it, the less we get. Back then, Watts said about his book:

“It is written in the conviction that no theme could be more appropriate in a time when human life seems to be so peculiarly insecure and uncertain. It maintains that this insecurity is the result of trying to be secure, and that, contrariwise, salvation and sanity consist in the most radical recognition that we have no way of saving ourselves.”

There are no degrees to truth, but if there were, his words would rank higher up the ladder today than they did some 70 years ago. In a world that’s always connected, opportunities to feel insecure and uncertain are infinite. And what better way to a sense of security than to commit to a relationship. Forever.

Or so it seems. Maybe the marriages that take the most effort to build are the quickest to fall apart. I don’t know.

It’s a sick, cosmic joke, this strange law of love. Facing its truth, you’re only left with one of two reactions: you breathe or you break. What I do know, however, is that this reaction is a choice.

Love starts with loving yourself. Only then can you give it freely and receive more in return. It’s one of those “when the student is ready, the teacher appears” kind of things. Like attracts like. And if you don’t think you’re awesome, work on it. Do something for yourself. Go to the gym. Start a business. Buy a book. Paint. Whatever gets you closer to being someone you would want to date yourself.

The only person you are guaranteed to spend the rest of your life with is you.

Make sure you’re in great company.

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Habit Tracker: Which One’s The Best? + 100 Habits To Track

“What gets measured gets managed.”

That’s a quote from Peter Drucker, considered the father of modern management. Contrary to what you’d think, he wasn’t a big fan of complex business models or convoluted strategies. He mostly talked about habits. Businesses are run by people and people run on habits. That’s why managing our habits is important. Measuring them, however, is hard.

That’s where habit trackers come in. Read More

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The Cost of Being an Employee

“Give me a lever long enough, and I shall move the world.” That’s Archimedes. It would take us another 2,300 years, but eventually, we invented the lever. The internet has changed our economy and society more than any other technology before. In The End of Jobs, Taylor Pearson explains how it’s transformed the job market in the past 20 years.

The book is divided into five sections, the first two of which describe the demise of traditional jobs; the last three make a case for being an entrepreneur. To me, it creates a picture of a scale that’s slowly moving from very imbalanced to almost tied, maybe even slightly tipped towards the new side. As such, I think the central message is this:

The gap between entrepreneurship and traditional jobs is closing.

Broadly speaking, Pearson describes this gap in three aspects:

  1. Value for the economy. Large corporations still pull their weight, but add less and less to innovation, especially in the tech, software, and internet space. Meanwhile, one-man shops and small startups unlock value in markets that weren’t profitable before.
  2. Value for the individual. Manual labor is automated or shifted to where it’s cheap, leading to salary wars among traditional firms. But with an internet connection, anyone can run a small e-commerce business on the side, yet still make an extra annual salary.
  3. Risk taken on by the individual. Corporations require neat CVs, expensive degrees, yet often only offer temporary positions. The cost of setting up a website is less than $100 and you can get most resources and services on demand, just in time.

For traditional careers, value goes down, while risk goes up. The opposite happens to entrepreneurship, because after the dot-com boom (and bust), it’s become the limiting factor in pushing humanity forward.

“1. The limit is shifting from knowledge to entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurial Complex and Chaotic domains are the ones increasingly in demand.

2. The dominant institution is shifting from Corporation to the Individual (or self). What used to require large companies, technology, and globalization has now been made available to the individual or micro-multinational.

3. The dominant player is shifting from CEO to Entrepreneur.”

But what does that mean for you and me?

Not All Entrepreneurs Make the News

If Pearson’s right and if the trend he describes continues, a lot of people are building the foundation of their career in the wrong sandbox. The internet has driven down the cost of producing goods and distributing them to almost zero, while good jobs are increasingly rare and harder to get into.

Pearson recounts a conversation with a business owner:

“He’d always loved cars and spent time at the race track growing up. He had a moment of realization when he saw that the only way he could ever race consistently was if he became an entrepreneur. In order to race cars, you need lots of money and lots of time. While a high-paying job in finance may get you the former and a beach bum lifestyle may get you the latter, it was only entrepreneurs that had both money and time.”

While the rewards of successful entrepreneurship have always been lots of money, meaning, and freedom, the risk to become one has never been lower. The first part is plain to see. Idols of entrepreneurship are all over the news. But there are no reports about the stay-at-home mom who sells Pinterest marketing services for $100k/year. This second part, the absence of risk, is much less obvious, which is why most people stay on their traditional path.

But however quietly, entrepreneurship, both part- and full-time, becomes the more attractive option with each passing day. And the question isn’t really whether you should start thinking about your options, but how long you can still afford not to.

Walking Up the Stairs

If you’re a startup founder, solo entrepreneur, or freelancer, you’re already taking some or all of the steps Pearson suggests to help future-proof your career. But if you’re a traditional employee, or on track to become one, slowly wading into entrepreneurship may be more appropriate for you.

“The entrepreneurial leap has become the entrepreneurial stair step. The latent demand and lower barriers to entry have allowed more people to become entrepreneurs by easing their way into the process. That’s not to say it’s easy — you still have to climb the stairs, but no longer in a single bound. Stair Stepping lets you build momentum behind your trajectory by developing the skills you need to run an entrepreneurial company.”

The stair-stepping approach Pearson refers to comes from Rob Walling, who built several SaaS tools, until he founded Drip, which was eventually acquired by LeadPages.

The idea is to launch a simple product, like a WordPress plugin, for a fixed price, and promote it through a single online marketing channel. Once you’ve hit a certain revenue threshold, let’s say $1,000/month, you can repeat the same process until eventually, you’re making enough to quit your job. Slowly adding channels and products will also help you build your skillset one step at a time.

The final step is to use your time, once you have all of it back, and any excess capital from your mini businesses to build whatever you want. This is a much better position to launch moonshots from than diving headfirst into a VC-backed venture or betting on a line of work that might soon be obsolete.

It’s 2018. The lever is long enough, but you must stand in the right place to apply it. Only then can you move the world.

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303 Life Lessons We All Learn But Keep Forgetting

I used to think beyond 7th grade math is only useful for physicists and statisticians. After the rule of three, which allows you to calculate discounts on prices, diminishing returns start to kick in fast.

I’ve remedied that view a bit; geometry and calculus have led to some of histories strongest philosophical insights, but I still like to imagine a world in which our high school table of subjects includes:

  • Human behavior.
  • Relationships.
  • Communication.
  • Body language.
  • Personal finance.
  • Etiquette.
  • Career discovery.
  • Work habits.
  • Creativity.

Until that happens, however, I’m grateful for people like Alexander J.A Cortes, who compile the curriculum of such a school of life for us to learn it now, as adults. On February 25th, he shared a tweet storm previewing his next book titled Untaught Truths of Adulthood, which went viral.

As I read through his nearly 100-tweet-long outpour of life lessons, many examples from my own life popped up in my mind. It’s only natural, for all of us learn many of these things, but we never articulate them. I reached out to him and asked whether he’d be up for a collaboration: The result is his treasure trove in long-form, with my experiences as backup to his insights.

Here’s the full list of Alexander’s 303 untaught truths of adulthood, underlined with examples, comments, random quotes and thoughts from my life. Some of them are contradictory, some personal. Some are deep, others just funny. I put down whatever first came to mind.

Note: Corrected for spelling, duplicates, grammar and the occasional typo. All  bolded bullets are from Alexander, what follows is me.

This list is long, so feel free to scroll to a random section, jump around, open it, read one, then come back a day or week later, etc.

  1. Everything you do matters. In 2012, I applied to a US exchange program. I got in, but not at my preferred school. I was the only German going to that particular school. I went. Unlike the other participants, I had lots of time after finishing my assignments. I read a lot. A friend sent me a link. I clicked it. I fell in love with blogs. I kept reading. Two years later, I started my own. Random sequence or perfect order of events? Both. But everything you do matters regardless.
  2. Consequences have consequences. The above is also called ripple effect. See also: 1 > 0.
  3. Life never gets simpler. But that doesn’t mean it won’t get better.
  4. Rarely do you ever figure anything out fully. I think for most things, it’s better that we don’t. Knowledge is power, but power can lead to madness.
  5. (Almost) everybody is faking confidence. Cut the almost.
  6. Most people are compensating for high school. The rest is playing the same game they played in high school. Examples of games: My daddy is rich, I’m too cool to learn, I’m not built for school, I need everyone to like me because I don’t like myself, I’m trying to prove something. All of these might be true. That doesn’t make them good games to play.
  7. The sooner you begin managing your finances for life, the better. A few days ago I overheard a woman say she wants to buy a car for her daughter, but she doesn’t have the $1,000 bucks she needs. With a stable job in a Western country, how the fuck do you not have $1,000 at hand at all times?
  8. The people that live for the weekend are not the people you want as friends. Add to that everyone who celebrates ‘hump day,’ i.e. Wednesday, i.e. the halfway point to the weekend.
  9. No one is ever going to make you happy if you cannot be happy by yourself. Take this literally. If you cannot stand being alone, you’ll still feel alone when you’re with others.
  10. Most of the math you learned is useless. See my introduction to this post. Told ya.
  11. The math you should have learned is the same math that will make you rich. As I said: The Rule of Three.
  12. Everyone overestimates their expectations. You’d be surprised how much people are willing to compromise as long as they can see you gave it your best effort. Intent matters.
  13. When in doubt, pay your fucking bills first. I once went into the red because I lent my then-girlfriend money. That was a bad Monday. If your balance is green, never make it red to help someone else.
  14. Those who vacation constantly have the right idea about their work. Unless they wish they’d never have to return.
  15. Those who never take vacations will never ultimately be fulfilled by their work. “If you love something, let it go. If it comes back it’s yours.” I think this applies to work more than people.
  16. 80% of working is pretending to work, 20% is working to make up for the 80%. Young, motivated people do the 20% first. Old, tired people do the 20% last. Few people ever change the ratio.
  17. Few people are worth being friends with. But everyone is worth giving it a try.
  18. Networking is pretending everyone is worth being friends with. This is why I don’t like it. So I don’t do it. If you work hard enough, the network will form around you.
  19. If you need a business card, you are not truly successful. “Work until you no longer have to introduce yourself.”
  20. Beware of people that want to give you their business card. Take it, then ask if they remember your name.
  21. Managers want to get paid more, they don’t want to actually manage. If all a manager does is manage, they’re not right for the job anyway. True managers lead.
  22. People are lazy. In 8 years of living with roommates, I haven’t had one who keeps their room cleaner than me. Am I a neat freak? Absolutely. Does it still speak volumes? It does.
  23. The best boss is never your boss. Even if they are, they won’t be forever. And they’d never let you call them ‘boss.’
  24. The worst bosses love being bosses. When I was riding the school bus, the driver constantly threatened to throw people out along the way. He never did, because he wasn’t legally allowed. But he clung to his tiny shred of authority because it was all he had. That’s not worth your anger, just worth your pity.
  25. Anyone who introduces themselves with a title, but isn’t a medical doctor, they’re a phony POS. We were in a hotel in Austria once. Everyone approached my Dad with his title, even though he never explicitly mentioned it. It’s part of their etiquette. They chose to do so. But when you force your etiquette on others, it’s not etiquette. It’s bullying. Oh and doctors can be phonies too.
  26. Anyone who thinks letters after their name make them successful is never successful. I had an interview at LMU Munich for a different graduate program. One of the three other participants was a count. The professor called him Konstantin, his first name. He corrected him. “Count Konstantin.” I like to think that guy never got in and if he did, that move sure didn’t help.
  27. Freedom is how little you are able to work while doing what you want. That’s freedom. But happiness comes from finding the balance when to switch between the two.
  28. People that hate cats always miss critical details and are easy to fool, and get cheated on. Lesson: Don’t hate cats.
  29. People who have dogs instead of children are always easy to manipulate. Lesson: Don’t love dogs more than kids.
  30. People that own Lizards with names are people to do business with. Lesson: Don’t define yourself as a cat person, dog person, lizard person, or any kind of animal person. Just a person.
  31. Don’t choose to do anything you hate, regardless of the upside in doing it. The only way to learn this is by doing it many times. Until it hurts.
  32. When a child says you look sad, angry, unhappy, or fat, they’re right. That’s why I care more about children’s opinions than adult opinions.
  33. It’s never too early to buy life insurance. Or liability insurance. Or health insurance. Or insurance for anything you can pay to have covered, but is of infinite value to you.
  34. When someone is being self destructive, don’t try to stop them. It’s contagious. “Never wrestle a pig. You get dirty and the pig gets happy.”
  35. Help those who help themselves first. When I answer reader questions, I sometimes check on them a few months later. If they’re in the same place they were before, I might not answer their next question.
  36. Stay away from anyone over the age of 25 who calls their parents before making minor decisions. Stay close to anyone who calls their parents over major decisions. At any age. In fact, stay close to anyone who regularly calls their parents.
  37. Single people who own lots of unused dishes have hidden problems. When I moved to Munich to intern at BMW, I brought one plate, one set of utensils, one bowl, and one mug. You can always get takeout. Or buy more plates. Loneliness and consumerism usually aren’t that hidden though.
  38. Always hire a Jewish CPA to do your taxes. All clichés come from somewhere, but that’s mostly racist. The well-intended kind, but racism nonetheless.
  39. Better to be overdressed than underdressed. There’s a guy in the library who always wears a suit. Most people probably thinks he’s a douche. But it forces them to admit he’s a douche with style. Ironically, dressing up helps filter superficial people.
  40. You’re successful when you can dress however you want, and people envy you for being able to do so. Russian oligarchs like to show up to gala dinners in sweatpants. Underdressing can be a statement too.
  41. If you don’t make your health a priority by 30, you’re setting yourself up for a midlife crisis at 40. There’s a 50% chance you’ll have a major health setback take you out for 6 months or more by age 45. Don’t increase this chance.
  42. If you don’t make fitness a priority by 25, your dating prospects diminish considerably. Fitness = business. Girls under 25 like sexy guys. Girls over 25 like stable guys. Guys under 25 like hot girls. Guys over 25 like pragmatic girls.
  43. Being popular makes you appear more competent. But one day, you’ll have to back it up.
  44. Being too competent makes you unpopular. But one day, you’ll get your shot.
  45. The best way is to be highly competent, but never in an obvious way. Corollary: When you’re not competent, be highly transparent.
  46. People that don’t believe in God but believe in good vibes are always hypocrites. Or they’re just spiritually confused.
  47. Never trust anyone who doesn’t care about what they eat. But trust everyone who’s aware that they eat badly.
  48. People that lie to themselves will lie to you. And we all lie to ourselves. What does that tell us? The key to stop lying is to stop lying to yourself.
  49. The key to finding trustworthy people is being willing to trust. “Sometimes, you have to take a leap of faith first. The trust part comes later.” From Batman v Superman.
  50. Dishonest people always know each other. Therefore, dishonest people will always try to do business with honest people, not each other.
  51. Most of “good business” is simply good character while turning a profit. That’s why negotiations with upright people are always easy.
  52. Don’t loan money to friends or family. Give money, with no expectation of repayment. That was my mistake from #13.
  53. A house with a 30 year mortgage isn’t an investment. It’s a place you live and overpay for living there. A house is only an investment if you don’t move in.
  54. Don’t take health advice from unfit people. I only know one healthy doctor. And even he works too much. That’s a problem.
  55. Don’t take financial advice from poor people. But pretend to be poor every once in a while.
  56. Anyone who claims to understand “economics” or “the economy” but isn’t rich is full of shit. I routinely hear students solve global economic crises over a bowl of chili at the university dining hall. Then I remember they live in one of the bubbles they always talk about.
  57. People that judge you based on your car are always assholes. Part of my job as an intern used to be to drive flashy cars around or chauffeur people in them. The “what-a-douchy-rich-kid” looks can be an obstacle or an advantage. You choose.
  58. People that don’t take care of their cars always neglect critical relationships. The same holds true for people who don’t make their bed in the morning.
  59. The only real knowledge is learned by experience and proven by practice. Which is why the only path to knowledge leads through time.
  60. Don’t wait until people die to start appreciating people. Inevitably, you’ll remember this more vividly once people do. Sadly, they always do.
  61. Drink more water. Put a glass of water next to your bed. Don’t get up before it’s empty.
  62. Eat less carbs. Eat less overall. 80% turns to 100% after waiting 10 minutes.
  63. Get more sunlight. Everyone has a type of weather they like the most. Move to where that weather prevails 80% of the time. You’ll love most of the year, but hate enough of it to still appreciate the good weather when it comes back.
  64. Call people if they are truly important to you. Yes, calling people has become weird. Do it anyway. If you’re important to them too, you’ll get through.
  65. When in doubt, be calm. Note: It’s hard to be calm when you’re in doubt, which is why it’s so valuable.
  66. When uncertain, take time to think. Once certain, remember how you went from uncertain to certain. If you can’t, you’re not really certain.
  67. Sure or unsure, always attempt to speak clearly. And yes, “I don’t know” is a clear and acceptable response.
  68. A sense of humor will keep you young. Sometimes, a sense of humor will keep you alive.
  69. A lack of humor will age you. “Life is too important to be taken seriously.” — Oscar Wilde.
  70. Laughter is the ultimate form of disrespect and ego destruction. But it’s also the best medicine.
  71. Be swift in paying off debt. Better yet, don’t accumulate any debt at all.
  72. Be early in saving. And late in spending.
  73. The safest investment are those things that will always exist and always be needed. Invest in eternity. Ironically, those things aren’t practical, because practical items are always used. They’re things like art, books, memorabilia. See also: the Lindy effect.
  74. Always carry $100 cash in your glove compartment. It will come in handy. Especially if that $100 is $500 and robbers break into your car, but forget to steal it. Happened to a friend. Reminder: lock your glove compartment.
  75. Habits don’t improve of and in themselves, it’s the practice of doing them that improves you. This means your habits are important. But your habits are not you.
  76. Repeat anything for long enough, and it becomes a part of you. I’ve been biting my nails since I was 12. When my mom took me to the doc he said: “He’ll drop it by the time he’s 18.” I’m 27 now and I guess he was wrong.
  77. The actions you don’t think about are the ones that make and break you in equal measure. Therefore, the man who thinks about everything and the man who thinks about nothing both lose. Find the middle.
  78. Everything is going to take more work than you think while somehow requiring less work than you end up doing. This will never cease to be frustrating. They’re called hubris and paranoia and they always travel together.
  79. The best talkers & the best looking people get promoted, so be one of them. If you’re neither, take option C: Don’t wait to get promoted. Promote yourself.
  80. Never trust Human Resources. But go to lunch with everyone from Human Resources.
  81. People that want to be friends with everyone are never to be trusted. People with no friends may most deserve one. Extend a hand.
  82. Stupidly confident people are always lucky. Confidence is part of the skill it takes to get the job done, because confidence allows you to wipe off the times you’re unlucky until you strike gold.
  83. You become the people you spend the most energy with. Remember to always reserve some energy for yourself.
  84. You will never not hate your alarm clock. Side note: Never use your phone as an alarm clock. Then again, maybe hating our phones would be a good thing.
  85. The hardest work is the work you hate to do. Only do it until you get to choose.
  86. The easiest work is the work you are passionate for. And you can always choose to be passionate about something.
  87. Everyone is “inspired” when they are getting paid the big dollars. That’s why investment bankers say they love their job. They don’t. Golden handcuffs. They’re shiny. But they’re still handcuffs.
  88. Be very careful doing business with anyone who gives and expects favors. But only if they explicitly call it favors.
  89. Don’t sleep with coworkers. Or class mates. Or anyone you see every week.
  90. Don’t sleep with your boss. Especially not your boss.
  91. Don’t sleep with clients. Summary of the past three lessons: Don’t poop where you eat.
  92. Your work wife will probably know you better than your actual wife. So make sure you always tell your actual wife things only she will ever know about you.
  93. Anyone that mentions both their exe(s) and their parents in a negative light on the first date is not someone to see for a second date. Extension: Anyone that spends most of a first date gossiping has likely been going on many first dates for a reason.
  94. Car insurance is a racket. I’ve been driving for 10 years. No incidents. It’s not always up to you, but it’s not rocket science either. Of course you’re going to crash if you text and drive all the time. Drive safely. The best insurance is doing your job. And when you’re at the wheel, your job is to pay attention.
  95. Tip 20% or do not tip at all. Fun fact: In Germany, tips are really just tips. The waiters get paid adequately regardless. If you’re where people depend on them, don’t be a cheapskate.
  96. Always have a signature drink. I’m thinkin’ Slippery Nipple. “I’ll take a slip nip.” That should get the conversation going one way or the other. How about you?
  97. Single women past the age of 30 with multiple small dogs are single for a reason. They’re busy tending to the dogs. Don’t read too much into things.
  98. Be fit enough that you need all your clothes fitted and tailored. Corollary: Earn enough to have all your clothes fitted and tailored.
  99. Do not ever cross men with big shoulders who wear custom suits. You want to look like them, not be one of them.
  100. Wealth is waking up whenever you want. Happiness is looking forward to waking up when you go to bed.
  101. Don’t waste time explaining yourself to people who don’t understand context. In fact, don’t waste any time explaining yourself at all. Unless you did someone wrong. Explaining is draining.
  102. Learn how to orate, elocute, persuade, and convey. There are many opportunities in life to give presentations that don’t matter. Take them. For there will come a time when they do.
  103. Don’t try to outslick a slickster. Chances are, he’s been slicking longer than you.
  104. Don’t try to brawl with a brawler. See pig analogy from #34.
  105. Don’t try to hook with a hooker. In fact, avoid hookers altogether.
  106. Learn to box. But don’t use it unless you need to.
  107. Your employer doesn’t care if you quit or not. Any small to medium-sized company will survive any individual loss, no matter how tragic. Everyone is valuable, but no one’s irreplaceable.
  108. The only employees that matter are the ones that produce the big $$. Everyone else is disposable. Direct contradiction to #1. Everything matters. The big earners stand on the shoulders of the slow movers. Result? Hire more big earners, then hire more slow movers.
  109. The highest performers tend to make the worst leaders. Let race horses race and draft horses draft.
  110. Everyone hates chain emails. If five people who’re paid $100k/year spend five ours on a five email chain, that’s a lot of money down the drain. Email is more expensive than it seems.
  111. Beware of women who own multiple red dresses. Especially if they also own multiples of every other item of clothing.
  112. $$ alone does not keep a woman loyal. In fact, $$ alone are a great incentive for anyone to become disloyal.
  113. Whenever you can, get a room with a view. Marriott Waikiki Beach, 30th floor or so. I still remember the sunset vividly, five years later.
  114. Convertibles are fun to drive only in movies. ← Alexander does not own a convertible. Convertibles, balconies, a front or back porch. Open space is something you can pay for, a direct connection to the infinity of nature isn’t.
  115. Women with high tolerances for alcohol have a low capacity for sanity. And low incentive to develop it.
  116. Talk to your friends on the phone. Simple test: How happy are you when a friend calls you unexpectedly? How often do you call friends unexpectedly?
  117. Always give speeches at weddings. More free presentation practice.
  118. If someone is upset, take them for a walk and talk to them. Or just walk. They’ll start talking eventually.
  119. Managing people is managing personalities first, performance second. In that sense, all workers are managers.
  120. Most people don’t change past 25, they only become more of themselves. Character forms like an onion. Each year, a layer is added. The more layers, the harder it is to peel it away and start over.
  121. You know you’ve improved when people say they don’t even know you anymore. You know you’ve become better than them when they stop talking to you altogether.
  122. If you can’t explain it in 5 sentences or less, you don’t get it. “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” — Robert Frost
  123. Big words and numbers are the easiest way to lie. I knew a sales guy once, who’d return home from every customer visit and say: “They’re on board. This’ll make us millions!” Of course most of the time, they weren’t on board, and most of the times they were, the resulting revenue was negligible. Eventually, everyone called him ‘Mark Millions’ behind his back. But no one believed he could actually deliver.
  124. If you can strike an emotion and attach to it something that sounds true-ish, a person will believe it. A friend once made me believe dog biscuits were chocolates. They looked delicious to begin with, and he kept going on and on about how yummy they were. Since then I always read the label.
  125. The only way to develop intuition is by using it. “I. Will. Try. My life would have have been empty of so many things, if I did not think the words: I will try.” — Henry Winkler aka The Fonz
  126. Don’t ever make important decisions while you are angry or underslept. And yes, the decision to drive a car, potentially transporting other humans, is an important one.
  127. When in doubt, apologize to the person. Maybe it’s a boys thing, but I hated apologizing well into my 20s. It still feels like ripping off a bandaid, but I’ve gotten a lot better.
  128. Do not ever apologize to mass demands of apology. Tell them to get fucked and do what pisses them off 10x harder. Apologize for what you do wrong, but never for who you are.
  129. Learn how to learn. Here’s the only tool you need for it: Why?
  130. Always assume there is more that you don’t know than you do know. Insignificance is freedom.
  131. Obsession makes discipline easy. Don’t develop habits that drain all your energy. You’ll lose the ability to play on your strengths.
  132. Desire cannot be negotiated. It can only be dampened.
  133. A relationship is broken when sex is used for bargaining. In fact, it’s broken whenever sex is used as a means, not an end.
  134. Fit people do in fact have way better sex. And people who have more sex are way fitter.
  135. Don’t ever wear a cheap watch. I had 2 or 3 digital watches as a teenager. Then nothing for a long time. In 2014, I was gifted a $500 watch. It was stunning and I wore it every day, but it kept breaking. Eventually, I had to let it go last year. I haven’t worn one since. Now I’m looking to get a new watch. Just one. But one I’ll wear every day. This isn’t about being a prick, it’s about quality. Watches made by fashion companies like Armani, etc. aren’t watches. They’re conspicuous consumption. Only watches made by watchmakers are watches. If you get the right one, it’ll last a lifetime. And those are expensive.
  136. Don’t ever wear shoes that do not fit well. Or contort your feet into a shape where they leave you in pain every time you walk barefoot. Make sure you wear your shoes, or in time your shoes will wear you.
  137. Learn how to dress well. Like the guy from #39. He knows why.
  138. A custom belt buckle is powerful. I bought a belt at Desigual in 2010. Later, I realized the buckle was upside down. At first, I was upset. Then, I was glad. A lot of people have Desigual belts. Almost no one has a Desigual belt with an upside down buckle.
  139. Manicures and pedicures are for everyone. I’ve always wanted to try the thing where you put your feet into water with some fish and they eat off the dead skin. Does it tickle?
  140. A good barber and a good haircut are worth their weight in gold. Not a saying but it just as well might be: Lucky is the man with a bald head.
  141. There is nothing brave about being mainstream. I’m sure you have those moments too, where you think “I just want a normal life.” But then you see your neighbor, or a coworker, who has exactly that, and every time you turn around thinking “fuck, that’s depressing.” Because it makes you feel like a coward who’s given up. So you say “screw it, I can’t do it,” and go back to being weird. Thank you for being weird.
  142. Do the opposite of “you know what they say” say you are supposed to. You know what they say? They say you can’t do it. Whatever ‘it’ is.
  143. The wisdom of crowds is mostly bullshit. To every yin, there’s a yang. For this, it’s herd behavior.
  144. Experts on theory are not experts. You know how sometimes on TV shows ‘celebrity experts’ pop up? That’s when it’s time to turn off the TV. See also: #56.
  145. If its not tried and proven, to hell with it. If no one’s tried it before, it may be up to you to prove it.
  146. People will defend a narrative sooner than they will consider being wrong. Opposing evidence often only leads to reaffirmation of the previous belief. It’s called the backfire effect.
  147. People that never change their mind are the most ignorant people. Wisdom is inversely correlated to the number of times someone uses the words ‘never’ and ‘always.’
  148. If someone’s perspective has changed dramatically over time, listen to them. It indicates they’ve reduced the usage of ‘never’ and ‘always.’
  149. Politicians are as dishonest as the society they politic in. There has never been an honest society. And there never will be.
  150. The most honest leaders are the most like dictators. That’s why the best leaders can’t get by on honesty alone, but also need empathy.
  151. You’re only informed if you can predict outcomes. If you cannot, you know nothing. And if you can’t do it repeatedly, you need to start all over again.
  152. Family feuds are the most draining and no one ever wins. We stopped talking to my grandpa a few years ago. The reasons were valid, but that doesn’t make it less sad. Ripping out a thorn is better than leaving it in your skin, hoping it’ll vanish, but you’ll get a scar either way.
  153. You don’t need a lot of friends. Only a few good ones. My best friends I’ve known since elementary school. My second best friends I’ve known since high school. My third best friends I’ve known since college. See a pattern there? “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver, the other is gold.” — Kid’s song.
  154. Your best friend is the one that knows you’re going to change. Friendship is about shared history, not shared identity. True friends will never hold it against you if you change.
  155. Don’t be friends with people you don’t fully respect. The quickest way to determine if you do is to give anyone you meet respect and see what they do with it.
  156. Suffering is real. And it’s subjective. Now that’s something you should respect.
  157. You have the ability to act in a way that reduces suffering for yourself and those around you. “Everything you can imagine is real.” — Pablo Picasso. This goes for the good and the bad.
  158. You have no idea what the ripple effects of that might be. You not losing your cool over the waitress spilling coffee might prevent her from committing a crime later in the day. Or worse. Life is intense like that. We just glaze over it most of the time.
  159. Do not ever come between a person and their dog. Or a dog and their person. Wolves can bite through bones. Dogs are tamed wolves.
  160. Loneliness is a better alternative to losers. It’s just harder to bear.
  161. Solitude reveals who you are, friendship defines it. Take a walk by yourself. Bring back what you learned to your friends. That way you’ll find out if it sticks.
  162. A single good friend is worth more than infinite bad friends. I sometimes went to a guy down the street in elementary school to play video games. He was fat, nerdy, lonely, and ate way too much crap. But he loved video games. In the beginning, I still made fun of him behind his back. But whenever I went there, we could rave for hours about video games. Eventually, I started defending him whenever others talked about him. I was his only friend, and I couldn’t stand being a bad one.
  163. Sacrifice is mandatory for anything or anyone that you love. And the more you love it, the less often it’ll feel like sacrifice. It’ll still hurt, but it won’t bleed as long.
  164. Compromise works best when the outcome is equally unsatisfactory for both parties. That’s why compromise rarely works.
  165. Don’t ever cry around people who you wouldn’t want to remember you crying. Once at gym practice I got a ball straight in the nuts. It hurt so much I fell down. With everyone standing around me, looking down at me, I didn’t want to cry. So I blacked out for a few seconds. Not that it was a choice, but would do it again.
  166. Nice is the non insulting descriptive for boring. If you are called nice, radically rethink your life. I like being nice. I don’t like being used because of it. You don’t have to stop being nice, you have to stop others from feeding on it.
  167. Motorcycles are never not cool. Except when they’re wrapped around a tree with you underneath them. I once flew off my bike and ripped open my entire chin. I had to wait in the ER for 2 hours because of a motorcycle accident. That day, motorcycles weren’t cool at all.
  168. Sometimes it really is only about sex. Once you realize this, it’s important to remember that you can still choose.
  169. People for whom sex is only sex are broken people. Most people who claim sex is just sex still know the exact number of people they’ve slept with. Why?
  170. Cats are better judges of character than dogs. Dogs love almost everyone. Cats love almost no one. Dogs chase cats because they want to play with them. Cats run away because they fear dogs. Being smart doesn’t equal being happy.
  171. People that own parrots have above average verbal IQs. That’s because at least at home they have smart conversations.
  172. If you have small children, you should get them a dog. But only if they can ride the dog, yet the dog can’t eat them.
  173. Sunlight and exercise always make you feel healthier the more of them you get. Instead of coffee, try sitting in the bright sunlight for 10 minutes. It’s pure energy. You can tell.
  174. Hangovers are only worth if you wake up next to someone who looks as good as they looked the night prior. Even if it’s just yourself.
  175. Order one drink, or drink the flood. Moderation is for cowards. A good question to determine which one it should be is “how do I want to remember this night five years from now?” Occasionally, the answer will be “I don’t mind if I don’t, as long as I have the story to tell.”
  176. If you behave poorly while drinking, do not drink at all. Chances are, you behave poorly even while sober.
  177. Dark whiskeys turns regular girls into bad girls, and bad girls into VERY bad girls. Good girls only get sick, and then want to leave early. There is no drink that turns bad girls into good girls.
  178. Don’t fuck with any man who you know can fight and drinks his liquor straight with no chaser. It will end badly for you. Clubs are where ego can be lethal.
  179. Happy drunks are the most sincere people on earth. When I get drunk I get honest and blubbery. But I can still write grammatically perfect texts. Not the best drunk skillset to have, but could be worse.
  180. Mean drunks are the most miserable. Mostly because they were miserable long before they started drinking.
  181. It is when things fall apart that you find out, too late, how they really work. Sometimes, even saving just yourself comes at a terrible price.
  182. Loving someone for the sake of maintaining a facade is not loving them. It’s fearing them.
  183. Lies of omission cause more damage than lies of fabrication. We leave things out to protect ourselves. We make things up to protect others.
  184. Your children always know when you’re being a hypocrite. Never deny it when they call you out on it.
  185. Your siblings always know when you’re bullshitting. They’ve known you since you were kids, so they always know when you’re being a hypocrite. If you’re lucky, you have siblings who call you out on it.
  186. No amount of pre-marriage counseling, planning, or preparation fully prepares anyone for marriage. Because no one’s ever ready to commit their life to one thing. All we can is do it and see if it works out.
  187. The secret to healthy skin is sunlight (daily), sweat (frequently), and sugar (never). Our skin is the biggest organ that connects us to the world. It’s also the most sensitive. It’s underrated and paid too little attention to.
  188. Those who get winded walking are never to be relied upon for anything that tests endurance of character. He who runs out of breath will just as quickly run out of discipline.
  189. A strong body is one that finds movement effortless. And effortless movement leads to a strong body. See: Ido Portal.
  190. Idiots think in words and absolutes. Geniuses think of themselves as idiots.
  191. Non-idiots think in heuristics and concepts. When I was 8, me and the neighbor’s kids took most of our pocket money to the local store to buy Kinder Eggs. Each came with a surprise inside. The valuable figurines were heavier, so we put them on the scales. 32–34 grams was optimal. We were kids, but not idiots.
  192. Anti-knowledge (what is not/what not to do) is vastly more revealing than knowledge. Knowledge leads to arrogance, caution leads to respect. Warren Buffett calls it his circle of competence.
  193. The question of “how did I get here” is easily answered by “what were you doing yesterday?” #1 reason to keep a journal.
  194. One day of practice is worth more than a month (at least) of study. Probably a year. Only practice reveals anti-knowledge.
  195. Trying to control others is the easiest way to be hated. The more you try to control the world, the less in control you are. One feels like a substitute for the other, but it isn’t.
  196. Studying how “power” works and claiming to understand power is akin to studying how to lift weights and believing you will deadlift 500 pounds. Neither are happening. “Desiring a thing cannot make you have it.” — Mark Wahlberg in The Gambler.
  197. Action and experience > theorizing. The fact that this ratio is tipped in favor of doing is the reason that our education system is broken. A friend and I took an automotive engineering class in college. We knew all about gear sequencing, engine limitations, and friction coefficients. But we couldn’t fix a car if we tried. If I had to do it over again, I’d become a mechanic, then go to school.
  198. The mark of proper resistance training is pristine posture and beautiful movement. My spine has a slight s-curvature because I spent too much time sitting at a desk. I’m 27. How old are you? See also: Spinefulness.
  199. The mark of improper resistance training is poor posture and ugly movement. Lesson: You learn neither posture nor movement at the gym.
  200. Good girls can play at being a bad girl. “The advantage of intelligence is being able to play dumb. The opposite is quite impossible, however.” — Kurt Tucholsky.
  201. Bad girls can only lie about being a good girl. And the true loser is the guy who believes the lie, not the girl who tells it.
  202. Men that care about women liking them are repulsive to women. One of the hardest truths I learned about love from my last relationship: You cannot find love by looking for it. Goes both ways.
  203. Men that don’t care whether a woman likes them are always attractive. A cheesy, but insightful movie that explains both why this is true and flawed is Ghost of Girlfriends Past.
  204. Nice girls are always lovely. And always lonely.
  205. Nice guys are always losers. And always lonely. See a pattern here?
  206. Nice girls and nice guys have entirely different meanings. Which is why somehow, they can never seem to find one another. Thanks, society.
  207. You become unattractive the instant you began changing your behavior to get someone to like you. Hence #202.
  208. The worst thing a man can do to a woman is to not do what he said he was going to do. I think this extends to women.
  209. The worst thing a woman can do to a man is to not be who she pretended to be. I think this extends to men.
  210. Women want you to listen to them, not solve their problems. This, I also learned in my last relationship, even though a prior ex-girlfriend had told me this. Literally. The exact, same sentence. Apparently, we’re not only bad at listening, but also at remembering.
  211. Men want to solve problems, with a minimum of listening. Oh, that’s why. We’re focused on doing stuff to improve the situation. This is what I told said ex-girlfriend. The exact, same sentence.
  212. The lack of understanding of the above is why many stupid arguments happen. See also: Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. One of the underlying ideas is that women need to find solutions on their own, men just want solutions, no matter where they come from. Now that I think about it, the ex-girlfriend that told me about it mentioned this book. Goddammit brain.
  213. Every man wants a good girl who will be bad only for him. There was a couple like that at my high school. In the end, the bad rubbed off and there were naked pictures of her circulating all around the school.
  214. Every woman wants a bad boy who will be good only for her. There was a couple like that at my high school too. In the end, the bad rubbed off and she cheated on him.
  215. This rarely works out how anyone idealizes it will work out. Sadly, we keep trying it long after we’re done with high school.
  216. Mastery requires obsession, passion, and time. I’ve been writing for 3.5 years. I used to say I don’t mind what happens in the first 10, but I didn’t mean it. I was always looking for a new side hustle. A new gimmick. A new get-rich-quick-scheme to put in motion. Sometimes, I still do. No matter how much obsession and how much passion you have, accepting the time part is a lifelong struggle.
  217. You can only have one great passion at a time, but you can have many high level interests. The trick is to not let those interests eat away at your passion, but to funnel them into it.
  218. A transcendent master is who can teach as well as they perform. A great teacher is like a great Kung Fu master: they only perform if they really have to, but when they do, the world watches in stunned silence.
  219. Pedantic people are never worth dealing with, in any capacity. They’re the reason for #16. Because they make people work an extra 80% for the last 20% of the results. So most people don’t do it.
  220. Don’t do business with people you don’t like. When I was 12, a kid who I knew was the town bully wanted to make friends with me. He practically shoved some of his 18+ horror movie DVDs into my face. I didn’t want them. I didn’t watch them. But the whole weekend, until I gave them back to him, they haunted me nonetheless.
  221. Arguing with pedants is an exercise in futility and self-flagellation. Or a move to subconsciously sabotage yourself. In The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks has this idea of upper limits. Deep down, we don’t think we deserve to be extraordinarily happy, so we arbitrarily drag ourselves back down again if we reach too high. Arguing is one of the ways we do that.
  222. Coworkers rarely last as friends beyond the extent of you doing that job. My supervisor at my internship was only a few years older than me. We did lots of things outside of work and got along really well. But after the internship ended, at some point, he just stopped replying to my emails. Very few people manage to view work as a way to broaden your circle of friends. That’s also where #153 comes from. Ironically, it’s those few who tend to have the best careers. Work is an amplifier for life, not vice versa.
  223. High-anxiety men who cannot do push-ups are the most useless of all living creatures. Just did some push-ups. Wouldn’t wanna mess with Alex. Physically, that is!
  224. No one wins against gravity, they only have a good or bad relationship. The law of reversed effort from Alan Watts’s The Wisdom of Insecurity: “When you try to stay on the surface of the water, you sink; but when you try to sink, you float.”
  225. The “secret” of immense health is optimized hormones. I like to think of our body’s internal workings as perfectly matched to a mix of countries. For example, when it comes to food, skin reactions, energy levels, sleep, etc., you might require 50% Italy, 30% Brazil, 13% Sweden and 7% Turkey. You need to travel a bit to figure it out and you can never be certain of it all, but once you have a gut feeling, move to the place with the highest match and take vacations in the other places.
  226. It is easier to critique what you lack as being pointless than to admit to your uselessness. Especially when you’re asked in public.
  227. Physical and mental strength go together, separating them weakens them both. There’s a study in which participants imagined doing weightlifting exercises and became physically stronger as a result. Of course this can’t replace actual exercise, but it shows that mentality matters.
  228. When in doubt, choose challenge over certainty. Prerequisite: When in doubt, don’t doubt yourself.
  229. Wealth mindset is the mentality that value can be many magnitudes greater than the number of hours in which it was created. Henry Ford once called Charles Steinmetz into his factory to fix a broken machine. After 48 hours of non-stop examinations, Steinmetz made a chalk mark on the machine, told the workers what parts to switch there, and went his way. Ford was very happy, until he got the bill: $10,000. When demanding an itemized list, Steinmetz responded: “Chalk mark, $1. Knowing where to make chalk mark, $9,999.” Lesson: The skills with the highest hourly pay are never paid by the hour.
  230. Working hourly is how everyone starts, but it is not how you want to end. In Germany, interns currently getting a Master’s degree are often paid $15/hr, even at the biggest brands in the world: Siemens, BMW, McKinsey. On my first job as a self-employed writer, I was paid $15/hr. I had a Bachelor’s degree, but no qualification in the field. On my second job, I demanded $25/hr. On my third job, it was $50/hr. Then, I stopped taking payments by the hour altogether. Because it’s nuts. The lesson from the story above is that time and value are two completely independent issues. Always calculate your ballpark hourly revenue, but never bill it that way.
  231. Always create multiple incomes streams, the more the better. The average millionaire has seven sources of income. Whether any millionaire is average or this urban myth holds true, the principle remains: more income streams, more chances for one to explode, and less risk you’ll have a single point of failure.
  232. Your tolerance for risk is predicated by how much, or how little, you have to lose. Tim Ferriss calls this fear setting. Think of the worst case. Then what? And again. Then what? And again. Then what? Usually, you find you’ll neither lose freedom, nor family, nor anything else that’s important. Most of the time, it’s just money. And you can always claw your way back to more money. Define fears, set fallback plans. How much you have to lose is different from how much you think you have to lose. You need to look at it clearly to see one is usually much less than the other.
  233. Those that get “rich” through risky investments and games rarely stay rich. From my favorite King of Queens episode: “Sure, Douglas, you’re white hot. You rode the frog to the top, but lady luck can be a fickle whore.”
  234. 99% of people cannot think wealthy, and henceforth never will be. Corollary: 1% of the world’s people own 50% of its wealth.
  235. The only appropriate time to be obsessed with sports is if you have money on the outcome; this leaves players, gamblers, and owners. Only one of those can win even if the team loses.
  236. Competition is only honestly competitive when it’s your life or your reputation. Everything else is dress-up. That’s why I was never a good fencer. It was a noble sport, but I neither made it my life nor cared about my reputation.
  237. Life is always hierarchy, be it vertical or horizontal. Horizontal hierarchies are a lot messier, because you can’t see who’s above who and the pecking order constantly changes. Much easier to undermine a vertical one, because it’s more transparent. Better the devil that you know than the devil that you don’t.
  238. Those that wish to absolve hierarchies merely turn them sideways. This provides a cheery delusion whilst allowing everyone to backstab each other without being watched. As I said: Horizontal hierarchies are messy.
  239. The most noncreative thinkers love authority. Dyson Freeman put people into two categories: birds and frogs. Frogs are in the midst of the swamp, deep down in the thick of the grass. They have a detailed view of a small patch of life. Birds fly high above, seeing various patches of land and how they connect, but they can’t zoom in too much or they won’t see where they’re going. There’s a reason nature made both birds and frogs.
  240. The most creative are, by default, anarchists. “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people no smarter than you.” — Steve Jobs.
  241. The balance between the two is realizing order provides stability while chaos creates space for things to grow. If you’re orderly, make room for chaos. If you’re chaotic, find the thread of order.
  242. Everyone is addicted to something, except those who are not. Those people are not worth talking about though, as they are worse than boring, they are DULL. Being addicted to nothing is called nihilism. And that’s the worst addiction of them all.
  243. Anyone who schedules a meeting to talk about meetings should be fired immediately. Unless they want to take meetings off the agenda.
  244. Anyone whose job entails food and beverages, always treat them well and give them the benefit of the doubt. If you’ve ever walked into a shabby looking place, only to eat some of the best food you’ve ever had, you know this is right.
  245. Hole in the wall cuisine > Michelin stars. What good is food if it doesn’t leave you satisfied?
  246. An obese physician should never be listened to except when he is prescribing how not to kill yourself with the drugs he’s telling you to take. Once he’s done, go home, throw the drugs in the toilet, and call another physician. But remember the name of the drug.
  247. Surgeons are largely psychopaths who wanted an excuse to cut bodies open and play God. Nassim Taleb talks about preferring a surgeon that looks like a butcher over one that looks like a neat freak. Why? Skin in the game. The odd-looking surgeon will have had to prove his or her worth as a surgeon a lot in their career, as opposed to the slickster, who may have slipped through. See also: #103.
  248. Plastic surgeons know more about human psychology and behavior than most psychologists. A friend of mine had a tiny bump on the back of her nose removed. For 28 years, it made her feel uncomfortable and insecure. She’s been happier since it’s gone. I used to think plastic surgery is only a sign of lack of confidence. I’m starting to rethink that. See #156. Suffering is subjective.
  249. Women who have a bachelors in psychology possess anti-knowledge about human behavior. While they have sacred knowledge, they lack all manner of self-awareness. Knowing what not to do is different from knowing what to do.
  250. Exceptions do not disprove rules, and people who think they do are idiots. Do not have relationships with these people. People who read too much into exceptions tend to think of themselves as one. I know because I used to think so. I learned I was wrong when I got poor grades in spite of studying a lot; before, all my life I had been used to getting fantastic grades without studying at all. Mother nature is the teacher of last resort, but eventually, she always gets the job done.
  251. You make two impressions; what people think of you, and how they think you think of yourself. The latter informs the former. Lesson: Think highly of yourself, but higher of others. Both’ll shine through.
  252. Wealthy men who woo women with their wealth will also lose their wealth to a woman readily. In fact, they’ll most often lose both.
  253. Smart men have accountants. Dumb men have their wives handle their finances. Unless their wife is an accountant.
  254. If you are not tall as a man, be physically fit, very well dressed, rich, & charming. Order of attaining these things from easiest to hardest: charming, fit, well dressed, rich.
  255. If you lack appreciation for life, go volunteer at an animal shelter. You will change. Or spend a day at an old folk’s home. You’ll learn from everything they tell you they’ve done and everything they haven’t.
  256. Cynicism and selfishness always go together. So do nihilism and ingratitude. So do optimism and gratitude. Which bundle you choose is up to you.
  257. Irrational positivism creates a better reality than rational pessimism. In Zero to One, Peter Thiel outlines 4 perspectives of looking at the future: indefinite pessimism, definite pessimism, indefinite optimism and definite optimism. The indefinite is the equivalent to irrational, the definite equal to rational. He suggests three of them work, but only one works out well. Definite optimism: Aspire to something crazy that’s good, and set a fixed timeline to build it. Even if you fail, at least you’ll have done something.
  258. You’re tough only when you can show your weaknesses openly, and no one dares to attack you. The most common response to “I don’t know” isn’t “you’re an idiot.” It’s “I don’t know either.” Everyone knows Superman’s weakness is Kryptonite. But how many come at him?
  259. If you are honest about everything, it’s very difficult for anyone to hurt you with anything. In 8 Mile, the last scene reveals what made Eminem the greatest rapper of all time: he took everything his opponents could possibly have to say against him and confessed it up front. Like a great lawyer, he left his enemies not just without evidence, but without words at all.
  260. Don’t fuck with people who are beyond caring about their reputation. They really do have nothing to lose. See #232.
  261. A lack of gratitude will make everything you do worthless. A tad of gratitude will make everything worth something, no matter how little.
  262. Losing everything is the only reliable way to learn to appreciate anything. I was never thrust out of my comfortable lifestyle, but I still learned to appreciate things. I remember enjoying my first car as much as on the first day each time I opened the door two years later. The source, however, was the same: there was some level of discomfort in my life. Rock bottom always works, but that doesn’t mean you have to hit it in order to make it so.
  263. Believing you can learn anything is a superpower. So use it while you have it. With each passing year, you’ll believe it less.
  264. Fight like you are already dead, and you may come out alive. Some businesses switch to high risk maneuvers the closer they get towards going under. In 2017, Yahoo! sold most of its internet business to Verizon and only kept its stake in Alibaba and Yahoo! Japan, then rebranded. The stock is up 50%. Desperation doesn’t always work, but resignation guarantees failure.
  265. Confidence based on gratitude is infinite. Confidence based upon skill is limited, but easier to acquire for most people. Confidence without skill is the easiest to acquire, and hence the most common.
  266. Love is perfect, as it both creates and destroys in equal measure. “Love is patient and kind. Love does not envy or boast, is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its on way, is not irritable or resentful. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” — 1 Corinthians 13:4–8. See also: #143.
  267. You will fail more than you succeed. And you’ll most often do it before you succeed.
  268. You will succeed only if you are able and willing to fail. I once told a girl I had feelings for her knowing full well that it wouldn’t go anywhere. From the first second it was clear that the outcome would be failure. Going through it regardless felt like a success in itself.
  269. You truly fail only when you give up, or are killed. “The only time you mustn’t fail is the last time you try.” — Phil Knight, founder of Nike
  270. If failure doesn’t kill you and you are not being eaten alive, you are fine. Keep going. When life feels like you can’t go on, it usually just means you can’t go on that particular path anymore. But you can always turn left. Or right. Or back. Your life’s not a highway. It’s all off road.
  271. Life has no peak, the summit will continuously change. Satisfaction comes from the continued exploration, not reaching the “top.” More so, summits tend to flatten once you reach them. The high from reaching the top lasts for a few seconds. The memories of the ascent last forever.
  272. Perfectionists are the best at convincing themselves their inaction is for the “right” reasons.
  273. When a woman is upset, give her food, sex, cuddles, and listen. This solves 99% of problems. If it doesn’t solve the problem, you REALLY fucked up. From How I Met Your Mother: “True love means wanting the best for another person. Even if it means you’ll get left out.” Sometimes, it’s not your turn to solve a problem, even though you might have caused it. When she needs it, give her the space to talk things through with a friend. Move over and surrender to #3.
  274. The way to a Man’s heart is through his stomach. That means be able to cook, LADIES. Finally. I’m sick of hearing ‘guys have to be able to cook.’ Not that that isn’t a great quality, but when men say it about women, it’s supposedly sexist. How about we all cook together?
  275. A woman can be the most destructive force in a man’s life. And she doesn’t even have to date him. I was in love with the same girl for 3 years in a row, but I never stood a chance. There is no worse way of missing someone than to sit next to them, knowing they’ll never be with you. I lost so much time, so much emotion, so much energy through these years. But I still ended up with a lesson I’ll never forget.
  276. A man can be the most destructive force in a woman’s life. And he doesn’t even have to date her. I can only imagine, but especially at work men must block women’s ways all the time. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes by accident. By societal design. But it happens nonetheless.
  277. The right man or the right woman can transform your life in a way that nothing else can. If that’s true then you haven’t seen anything from me yet.
  278. Taking yourself too seriously gets you killed. A famous German politician sat in on a radio show. His name is Gregor Gysi. When asked about regrets through his long and successful career, he said: “You end up taking yourself too seriously. Everyone always tells you you have such an important job. You make all these important decisions so eventually, you start to believe you’re important too. It’s true, the decisions matter, but you can’t let your responsibility stop you from living your life. I wish I’d spent more time with family.”
  279. Fear makes you weak. Seeing through fear, however, doesn’t make you strong. Just more courageous.
  280. Giving into fear makes you a coward. But sometimes, being a coward keeps you alive.
  281. If you are too afraid to do it, someone else will.
  282. You cannot have everything that you want, but there is always a way to get what you want. The Stoics have a few sayings around desire. The gist of one of them is: the richest man is the man who desires what he already has. We don’t notice it, because we cling to our wishes so much, but wants come and go. I want a lot of things. I want to be a DJ, breakdancer, snowboarder, pro video gamer, freestyler rapper, jet pack inventor and hip hop dancer. But they’re all hay balls, floating by in the dust while I sit here, writing. The trick is to recognize them as hay balls.
  283. Deciding what you want has plagued human beings for millennia. It can be answered only individually, not universally. The physical consequences of choosing have become less and less severe throughout the years. Compared to 100, 500, 2000 years ago, food quality is up, clothing quality is up, hygiene is up, status of shelter is up, health support is up, and so on. The psychological burden, however, has gotten a lot worse. Barry Schwartz describes many new kinds of anxiety and regret we face when making decisions in our modern consumer culture in The Paradox of Choice: There’s the paralysis from having too many options, the pressure to make the perfect decision because we have so many options, and of course the blame for not having been able to make it in spite of so many options. The truth is not much has changed. We’re always faced with an imperfect list of options, so we should just choose and blame the imperfections on outside forces. But that’s tough to wrap our heads around.
  284. You know less than you think you know, and you can always learn more than you’ve already learned. Going back to #192 there are three important kinds of knowledge: Knowing what you know, knowing what you don’t know, and knowing how much you need to know. The last one tells you how much of the gap between the first two you need to close.
  285. What you don’t know can and will hurt you. And it might not even be your fault. Looking at you, #183.
  286. What you think you know but don’t will hurt you most of all. “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” — Epictetus
  287. The people that love you the most will, inevitably, be the greatest sources of pain in your life. Case in point: giving birth.
  288. The most generous acts of fortune, kindness, and luck will come from strangers. Why? Expectations. If we expected our friends to treat us like strangers, our loved ones to treat us like friends, and strangers to not treat us at all, we’d always be pleasantly surprised.
  289. Don’t ever lose any keys you are trusted with, both literal and metaphorical. Everyone carries a nuclear arsenal of knowledge around with them. Think about how many people’s lives you could destroy, simply because of what you know about them. And yet we’re still here. Mankind is better than we think. Hand out more keys.
  290. You can always make life worse and you can always make life better. Your attitude determines your life more than anyone readily believes. Happiness as a word is greatly overused. We confuse happiness with excitement, with ecstasy. We think of it as a state, not a mindset. Optimism might not be happiness, but it’s damn close. You can’t attain it, only cultivate it.
  291. Emotion, positive or negative, is contagious. So is yawning. Especially after you read the word yawn. I’ve yawned already. Even if you don’t see someone yawning. Picturing it is enough. Again. Have you? Rumor is it comes from times when most locations weren’t safe. Seeing someone yawn meant they secured the premises enough to relax. Three times now. Eventually, the gesture of calm emotion was hardwired into our bodies, so that we’d always use it to pass on this important information. Okay four times, enough yawning.
  292. The best way to ensure someone wastes their natural talent is to continuously remind them of how talented they are. Talent is leverage. But the lever is much smaller than you think. It might accelerate your learning by 1%, 5%, or even 10%. But no matter how big their lever, all winners will tell you what they’ve gone through to get where they are: hell.
  293. Excellence is an environment, so is mediocrity. Choose carefully where you invest your time. If you find yourself spending most of your time alone, you may be hiding from excellence or running away from mediocrity. Both mean it’s time to step up.
  294. You will be hurt and betrayed by people and you will hurt and betray people, even if you never intended to. Both times what matters most is not why you landed where you ended up, but what you do once you realize you’re there.
  295. Pain alone does not make you special, ever. That in itself is painful.
  296. Pain is special only if you make it useful. As a kid, Stephen King was in constant pain. His first memory is dropping a cinderblock on his foot, out of which flew a wasp and stung him. Then his babysitter farted into his face. Then gave him 7 eggs until he threw up. Then locked him in a closet. Then he developed an ear condition which he had to get his eardrums pierced for. Pierced. Repeatedly. Out came the tonsils and on came the rash from wiping his ass with poison ivy. None of that made him special. What did make him special was that he took all this pain and channeled it into over 50 novels.
  297. Do not ever waste pain. Be special.
  298. It takes urgency to begin anything, and it takes patience to finish it. In 2010, I had what I thought was a great idea: restaurants where you could order from iPads. You’d just have the iPad in front of you, swipe around, assemble a menu, hit submit, pay, and the food would be delivered to you. Was it any good? I wouldn’t know. Just that it was good enough to try, because in 2012, I saw that very system at the airport in Toronto as I was passing through. I sat down, ordered, it was flawless. Except it wasn’t mine. Without urgency, patience is useless.
  299. The thrill of victory is always temporary, and usually disappointing. Instead of trying to make the thrill of victory permanent, learn to make the pain of loss temporary as well.
  300. A system without a goal is organized nothingness. It’s also not going to stick.
  301. A goal without a system is simply a nice idea. Derek Sivers has this neat table of idea multipliers. He says they’re just a multiplier of execution. You need the execution as a baseline, then the quality of the idea only amplifies it. So with no execution, you get nothing. Reminds me of work and talent. See also: #292.
  302. Bad things happen to good people, and good things will happen for bad people. But no one gets out of life without a gamble.
  303. Nothing is fair, except that everyone eventually dies. And no matter who you are, death will be an interruption.
Use This Storytelling Framework to Craft Amazing Narratives Cover

Use This Storytelling Framework to Craft Amazing Narratives

There is a class of entertainment that is underrated, in spite of its external success: stories about telling stories. Hit shows like How I Met Your Mother, Suits, or Gilmore Girls and blockbusters like Ocean’s Eleven, the Bourne movies, and Fight Club all thrive on their characters’ abilities to launch into enchanting monologues at a second’s notice.

Whoever asks Barney Stinson about his playbook, platinum rule, or Valentine’s Day can expect a full-fledged fake history lesson. Despite what the gang might say, they love it. Because who tells stories like that?

Sometimes, life throws us the same opportunity to tell a story however we want to tell it. It might be an essay for a job application, a speech to your old class, or a new acquaintance asking about a childhood experience. But we’re not a character in a movie, so we never have those stories locked and loaded and often butcher them as a result.

How can we change that?

The Universal Principles of Storytelling

Steven Pressfield laid out a framework in Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t. He calls it the universal principles of storytelling:

1) Every story must have a concept. It must put a unique and original spin, twist or framing device upon the material.
2) Every story must be about something. It must have a theme.
3) Every story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Act One, Act Two, Act Three.
4) Every story must have a hero.
5) Every story must have a villain.
6) Every story must start with an Inciting Incident, embedded within which is the story’s climax.
7) Every story must escalate through Act Two in terms of energy, stakes, complication and significance/meaning as it progresses.
8) Every story must build to a climax centered around a clash between the hero and the villain that pays off everything that came before and that pays it off on-theme.

Since reading the book, I have run nearly all my articles through this framework. This has led to some of my biggest hits so far. I’ve gathered the cornerstone elements into a template you can copy:

Act 1 - Hook:
Inciting Incident:
Act 2 - Build:
All is Lost:
Act 3 - Payoff:

But how do you use it?

Photo by 贝莉儿 NG on Unsplash

How to Not Forget the Books

There’s a How I Met Your Mother episode in which Ted starts his own architecture firm, Mosbius Designs. One afternoon, Robin walks into Ted lost in thought, who responds to her prompt with the following:

“What if I don’t think of the books?”

“Excuse me?”

“There’s this famous architecture story about an architect who designed this library. It was perfect. But every year, the whole thing would sink a couple inches into the ground. Eventually, the building was condemned.

He forgot to account for the weight of the books.

This company, it’s just me. What if I don’t think of the books?”

Like the library in Ted’s example, any story that doesn’t rest on the foundational pillars of Steve’s framework is bound to crumble. And even though accounting for the principles of storytelling doesn’t guarantee it’ll be well received, a story built this way always ‘works.’

Case in point, here’s what the screenwriters might’ve put into the template for Ted’s five-sentence story:

Ted's Library Story
Theme: The flawed nature of human short-term thinking.
Concept: A project is never just about building what you set out to build.
Hero: The architect.
Villain: His narrow, short-term perspective.
Act 1 - Hook: An architect designs a beautiful library but forgets to account for the statics of the building once it's in use.
Inciting Incident: The plans pass all stages without the mistake being noticed.
Act 2 - Build: A year after the grand opening, problems begin to show up in the basement, which keep getting worse every year.
Escalation: Year after year, repairmen and investigators return to figure out the problem.
All is Lost: Eventually, a report shows the building is sinking into the ground.
Breakthrough: The architect realizes the sinking is caused by the weight of the books.
Act 3 - Payoff: The building is condemned and the architect is right back to where he started.
Climax: An official tells the architect the building will be shut down. This leads to the architect sitting over his original plan at night, all by himself, having a drink and facing the pain of his short-term thinking.

It might have collapsed into a few lines, but since this kind of thought went into it, intuitively the story still makes perfect sense. It feels right. And while there are no hard rules here, this is what I think about for each element:

  • Theme: The underlying topic of it all. The bigger the theme, the more powerful the story. Love, time, identity — every human has to deal with these.
  • Concept: Look at the topic from a new angle, one that few people would ever consider on their own.
  • Hero: Who rides the rollercoaster of hook, build, and payoff? This needn’t be a person.
  • Villain: Who puts the hero on that rollercoaster and tries to throw him or her off during the ride? This can also be a mistake or the state of the hero’s mind.
  • Act 1 – Hook: The overarching sequence of events that pulls the reader or listener into the story.
  • Inciting Incident: The event that officially kicks off the story. It usually involves the hero and the villain, and the climax will bring them right back to it.
  • Act 2 – Build: The overarching sequence of events that escalates the hero’s trauma, known to them or not, until they’re forced to do something.
  • Escalation: The villain’s main act of the show.
  • All is Lost: The hero’s lowest point.
  • Breakthrough: The moment of insight that forces the hero on the only possible path: to fight the villain. This could be a brilliant idea or a sobering realization. It doesn’t indicate the hero will win.
  • Act 3 – Payoff: The overarching sequence of events that resolves all the conflicts built up to this point by forcing the hero and villain to face one another.
  • Climax: The hero and the villain clash. Whatever the outcome, it must close all the boxes that have been opened up to this point.

Whether you sit down with this template before you even begin a story, think of it as you’re telling it, or use it to review one you’ve already shared, it will allow you to condense the story into one coherent web of reason and emotion that connects right with your audience’s soul.

For example, when I wrote Why Losers Will One Day Rule The World, I watched and read a ton about The Gambler. Then, I filled in the template before I started writing.

Why Losers Will One Day Rule The World
Theme: Learning to accept our insignificance so that we can start.
Concept: If you don’t know what you want, starting with something arbitrary will ironically help you get there.
Hero: The reader who says “screw it, I’m already a loser, I might as well go for broke.”
Villain: The voice in your head that wants us to settle for mediocrity.
Act 1 - Hook: If you’re not a genius, should you really just give up?
Inciting Incident: Gregor Mendel found out that genetics favor certain traits over others. As a result, life is naturally unfair.
Act 2 - Build: Some people win the genetic lottery twice, while others lose twice. That's depressing, but there is a stabilizing element that somehow makes life fair again for all.
Escalation: Examples of genetic lottery winners and losers.
All is Lost: In face of mediocrity and a sea of mediocre options, some people choose nihilism. That’s a bad solution.
Breakthrough: Both the genius and the generalist have to gamble to make it. No one really wins the lottery.
Act 3 - Payoff: If you have to gamble anyway, choose an arbitrary goal, so you can at least start going somewhere.
Climax: We all have to gamble, so we’re all losers in a way. Only when we accept our loser status can we be free.

For others, like You Don’t Need An Identity To Have A Life, I started writing with a blank slate. All I had was the theme. Then, I used the template to fill in gaps as I went, move around sections, and drop in ideas. I didn’t have a concept until the very end, and I didn’t use some ideas at all.

You Don’t Need An Identity To Have A Life
Theme: Identity is dangerous. You’re stronger without it.
Hero: Jason Bourne.
Villain: The voice in your head that says, “I am this way and I always will be.”
Act 1 - Hook: Howard Hughes wasted his entire life playing a genius inventor’s son when that role was never really his to play. And we all do that. Playing roles that we were never cast for.
Inciting Incident: Jason Bourne finds out his name, but he has no idea who the person behind that name is.
Act 2 - Build: Every day, we’re building more towards assembling a self and hardening our identity, only to ultimately find out we might not like what we’ve created.
Escalation: Bourne finds out he’s a killer.
All is Lost: Quote from Denial of Death. Wasting your life in service of building a conceptual self that may not last, nor be perceived in any way as what you set out to make it.
Breakthrough: We're like actors on a stage (Counterclockwise Study). Our identity is like the weather (Jim Carrey).
Act 3 - Payoff: Bourne’s fluid identity is his strength. Justin Timberlake’s too (muted). More examples? Frank Abagnale! How far he got! Ending: Bourne says “not really.”
Climax: Bourne abandons his former identity the second he finds out what it was, choosing his fluid self over any sort of crystallized version in an instant, in spite of having worked so hard to find out who this former self was.

I’m far from an expert in using this template and I’ve barely scratched the surface of everything there is to know about telling stories. But at least now I don’t forget the books.

Photo by Sylvia Yang on Unsplash

Everything Is a Story

We might not be film characters, but if you think about it, our opportunities to tell stories are not rare. They’re omnipresent. We tell stories all the time. In fact, we do little else. A phone call is a story. A sales pitch is a story. Dinner with friends is a story. And so is this post.

When Harvey Specter, Rory Gilmore, and Tyler Durden raise their voices, we listen. Not because they know how to talk, but because they know how to lead. That’s what storytelling really is. Human communication 101. We’ll never run as smoothly as characters on a script, but if we fail at the basics, if we forget to account for the books, we miss out on a whole lot more than the corner office. We miss out on making change.

And isn’t that all we’re here to do?