Why You Should Trust People First Cover

Why You Should Trust People First

We used to be best friends. Now, I hadn’t heard from her in six months.

My last “Hey, how are you?” had disappeared in the vast nothingness universe of unanswered WhatsApp messages.

Eventually, I thought she didn’t care anymore. That she had silently deleted me from her life, just like we now nuke our relationships by unfriending people on Facebook. You know, without ever telling them.

I was sad for a bit, but these things happen. Friendships die. Connections fizzle out. The shared culture you’ve developed takes on a life of its own and, once you stop tending to it, spins out of control. It slowly circles from meaning into emptiness, ultimately landing right next to that last WhatsApp message.

Ironically, one of our last talks had been about just that. The fact that losing touch is a sad, but sometimes healthy and necessary, part of life.

Then, two weeks ago, I stumbled over some old Tinie Tempah songs. Instantly, my mind slingshotted into a nostalgic flashback. I remembered the time we spent raving in clubs with the gang. I remembered how we yelled “tsunami!” all the time for no reason. I remembered how we blasted his songs driving around in the summer.

And so, in a moment of vulnerability, I sent a message:

You’ll always be the first person I think of every time I hear Tinie Tempah.

She replied:

That’s the best message I got all week!! So glad to hear from you!

We started chatting and caught up. Before I could even start to wonder why she didn’t message me all this time if she were so excited about talking to me, she said something that perfectly explained it.

That same week, she had met a mutual friend of ours, who, like her, had recently entered the workforce. After the usual “how’s your job,” “fine,” and “what else is new,” my friend confessed she was having doubts. That not all was great at work. That she was having second thoughts about her choice.

Suddenly, the girl she talked to opened up. She too wasn’t happy.

And then my friend said the sentence that stuck with me: “I think she just needed a trust advance.”

As it turns out, so did my friend.


A trust advance is reaching for a stranger’s heavy bag on the bus and saying “let me.” They might flinch, but they’ll usually be thankful for your help.

A trust advance is shouting “hold the door” and hoping the person in it won’t take your out-of-breath-ness as a threat. They’ll rarely shut it in your face.

A trust advance is admitting that you just don’t feel like it when someone asks you to join their spontaneous soirée. That you’re not in a good place.

A trust advance is not deflecting the “why” that follows. Because the only way to find out whether they meant it or not is to give an honest answer.

A trust advance is being the first to say that “some things about my job really suck,” to deliberately turn off the highlight reel and start with the real stuff.

A trust advance is picking up a loose end even if someone else left it hanging.

A trust advance is saying “I’m sorry” before you’re sure you screwed up.

A trust advance is texting “I miss you” without context because feelings don’t need one. They’re true the second you have them.

A trust advance is choosing to show your private self in public, even if it means you’ll be exposed. But maybe you’ll get others to show theirs.

A trust advance is tearing down a wall without knowing what’s on the other side. You might be carried away by the wind, but you also might make a new friend.


By and large, we live in a world where our biggest concerns are our careers, our relationships, and our happiness. Most of us are not running through the wilderness trying to survive. More people in the world die from too much food than too little. More from self-harm than violence.

As a result, cooperation now carries disproportionately greater reward than competition. It’s what allowed us to create this world of abundance in the first place. We haven’t figured out how to allocate it best, but we’re getting there. And while the world isn’t perfect and never will be, cooperating humans win.

Therefore, most of the risks we take are risks of rejection, of being exposed and vulnerable. But they’re not risks of survival. They’re problems of ego, not existence. Being laughed at, being told “no,” being rejected romantically—these are not matters of life and death.

Trust advances multiply. You hand out one, and they’ll hand out five more.

We forget this. Our brains haven’t caught up. They still equate “I’m sorry,” “I miss you,” and “I need help” with “I’m gonna pet this tiger.” But they’re not actually dangerous. We fear these things because we can’t control them. That they’re really unlikely to happen doesn’t register. We’d rather have a definitive threat we can respond to than a vague improbability that’s out of our hands.

When I reached out to my friend I felt weak — but actually, I was the strong one. Sending that message felt like caving, like giving in. In reality, I was the one showing up—the one saying “here I am.” Yes, I exposed myself. Yes, I was vulnerable. But it was an act of courage, not defeat. And in today’s world, at least most of the time, courage is rewarded, not rejected.

The best thing you can do to be of service; to be a good friend, partner, parent, even stranger; to be the person we all want to be around, is to be vulnerable.

There’s this popular line that “everything you want is on the other side of fear.” But fear is nothing I can act on. I think everything you want is on the other side of being vulnerable. That’s something I can do. I can always hand out more trust advances.

No one spends their day obsessing about having to buy toilet paper. We’re all thinking about deep stuff, all the time. Let’s use our time to talk about these things. You might still get hurt, but the risk pales in comparison to the reward.

Being vulnerable tears down walls between humans. Behind those walls are trust, love, honesty, joy, resilience, friendship, and lots of other magical things. What’s more, each wall that crumbles hands more people a hammer. Trust advances multiply. You hand out one, and they’ll hand out five more.

Give trust first, and the world will shower you with trust in return.

What Is the Future of Learning?

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.” 

Bruce Lee

In the past four years, I have asked a lot of foolish questions:

Can I be a professional translator without any credentials?

If I want to be a published writer, should I still ghostwrite for money?

Do summaries of existing book summaries make any sense?

The seemingly obvious answer to them all is “no,” yet I did all those things anyway. And while some led nowhere, others now pay my bills. Often, the only way to get satisfying answers is to try, especially with foolish questions. The beauty of daring to ask them, rather than accepting the answers society gives you, is that you’ll have many more unexpected insights along the way.

Like that, today, the answers are always less valuable than the questions.

The Half-Life of Knowledge

In 2013, we created as much data as in all of the previous history. That trend now continues, with total information roughly doubling each year. Michael Simmons has crunched the numbers behind our knowledge economy:

You probably need to devote at least five hours a week to learning just to keep up with your current field—ideally more if you want to get ahead.

Bachelor’s degrees in most European countries consists of 180 credits (EU schools tend to use a quarter credit system as opposed to the semester hour system typical in the U.S.), and each of those credits is worth about 30 hours of studying time. That’s 5,400 hours. Sadly, what you learn from those hours starts decaying as soon as you’ve put in the time. Scientists call this “the half-life of knowledge,” a metric that’s decreasing fast.

A modern degree might last you just five years before it’s completely irrelevant.

Since new information is now generated more and more rapidly, it takes less time for said information to lose its value. Back in the 1960s, an engineering degree was outdated within 10 years. Today, most fields have a half-life much less than that, especially new industries. A modern degree might last you just five years before it’s completely irrelevant. Even with a conservative half-life estimate of 10 years (losing about 5 percent each year), you’d have to put in 270 hours per annum just to maintain those initial 5,400—or about five hours per week.

As a side effect of this global, long-lasting trend, both the time we spend attaining formal education and the number of people choosing this path have increased dramatically for decades. Years of schooling have more than doubled in the past 100 years, and in many countries, it’s common to study for some 20-plus years before even entering the workforce. In the U.S. alone, college enrollment rates have peaked at over 90 percent of the total population in the age group around secondary school completion already.

The larger our ocean of information, the less valuable each fact in it becomes. Therefore, the knowledge bundles for college degrees must get bigger and, thus, take longer to absorb. But the ocean also grows faster, which means despite getting bigger, the bundles don’t last as long. It takes a lot of time to even stay up to date, let alone get ahead of the increasing competition.

Instead of flailing more not to drown, maybe we should get out of the water.

A Scary Future to Imagine

While it’s important to dedicate time to learning, spending ever-increasing hours soaking up facts can’t be the final answer to this dilemma. Extrapolate the global scramble for knowledge, and we’d end up with 50-year-old “young professionals,” who’d retire two years into their careers because they can’t keep up. It’s a scary future to imagine but, luckily, also one that’s unlikely.

I saw two videos this week. One showed an unlucky forklift driver bumping into a shelf, causing an entire warehouse to collapse. In the other, an armada of autonomous robots sorted packages with ease. It’s not a knowledge-based example, but it goes to show that robots can do some things better than people can.

There is no expert consensus on whether A.I., robotics, and automation will create more jobs than they’ll destroy. But we’ll try to hand over everything that’s either tedious or outright impossible. One day, this may well include highly specialized, knowledge-based jobs that currently require degrees.

Knowledge is cumulative. Intelligence is selective. It’s a matter of efficiency versus effectiveness.

A lawyer in 2050 could still be called a lawyer, but they might not do anything a 2018 lawyer does. The thought alone begs yet another foolish question:

When knowledge itself has diminishing returns, what do we need to know?

The Case for Selective Intelligence

With the quantity of information setting new all-time highs each year, the future is, above all, unknown. Whatever skills will allow us to navigate this uncertainty are bound to be valuable. Yuval Noah Harari’s new book asserts this:

In such a world, the last thing a teacher needs to give her pupils is more information. They already have far too much of it. Instead, people need the ability to make sense of information, to tell the difference between what is important and what is unimportant, and above all, to combine many bits of information into a broad picture of the world.

The ability Harari is talking about is the skill of learning itself. The 2018 lawyer needs knowledge. The 2050 lawyer needs intelligence. Determining what to know at any time will matter more than the hard facts you’ll end up knowing. When entire industries rise and fall within a few decades, learning will no longer be a means but must become its own end. We need to adapt forever.

Knowledge is cumulative. Intelligence is selective. It’s a matter of efficiency versus effectiveness. Both can be trained, but we must train the right one. Right now, it’s not yet obvious which one to choose. The world still runs on specialists, and most of today’s knowledge-accumulators can expect to have good careers.

But with each passing day, intelligence slowly displaces knowledge.

The Problem With Too Many Interests

Emilie Wapnick has one of the most popular TED talks to date—likely because she offers some much-needed comfort for people suffering from a common career problem: having too many interests. Wapnick says it’s not a problem at all. It’s a strength. She coined the term “multipotentialite” to show that it’s not the people affected but public perception that must change:

Idea synthesis, rapid learning, and adaptability: three skills that multipotentialites are very adept at and three skills they might lose if pressured to narrow their focus. As a society, we have a vested interest in encouraging multipotentialites to be themselves. We have a lot of complex, multidimensional problems in the world right now, and we need creative, out-of-the-box thinkers to tackle them.

While there’s more to it, it’s hard to deny the point. After all, some of these thinkers work on some of our biggest problems. And we love them for it.

Jeff Bezos built a retail empire and became the richest man in the world, but he also helped save an important media institution and works on the infrastructure we need to explore space. Elon Musk first changed how we pay and then how we think of electric cars, and now how we’ll approach getting to Mars. Bill Gates really knows software, but now he’s eradicating malaria and polio. The list goes on.

The term “polymath” feels overly connoted with “genius,” but whether you call them Renaissance people, scanners, or expert-generalists, the ability they share stays the same: They know how to learn, and they relentlessly apply this skill to a broad variety of topics. In analyzing them, Zat Rana finds this:

Learning itself is a skill, and when you exercise that skill across domains, you get specialized as a learner in a way that someone who goes deep doesn’t. You learn how to learn by continuously challenging yourself to grasp concepts of a broad variety. This ironically then allows you to specialize in something else faster if you so choose. This is an incredibly valuable advantage.

Beyond learning faster, you’ll also innovate more, stay flexible, stand out from specialists, and focus on extracting principles over remembering facts.

To me, that sounds exactly like the person an unpredictable world needs.

A Curious Boy

In 1925, one year before he entered school, Isaac Asimov taught himself to read. His father, uneducated and thus unable to support his son, gave him a library card. Without any direction, the curious boy read everything:

All this incredibly miscellaneous reading, the result of lack of guidance, left its indelible mark. My interest was aroused in twenty different directions and all those interests remained. I have written books on mythology, on the Bible, on Shakespeare, on history, on science, and so on.

“And so on” led to some 500 books and about 90,000 letters Asimov wrote or edited. Years later, when his father looked through one of them, he asked:

“How did you learn all this, Isaac?”

“From you, Pappa,” I said.

“From me? I don’t know any of this.”

“You didn’t have to, Pappa,” I said. “You valued learning and you taught me to value it. Once I learned to value it, the rest came without trouble.”

When we hear stories about modern expert-generalists, we assume their intelligence is the result of spending a lot of time studying multiple fields. While that’s certainly part of it, a mere shotgun approach to collecting widely diversified knowledge is not what gives great learners special abilities.

What allowed Asimov to benefit from his reading, much more so than what he read or how much, was that he always read with an open mind. Most of the time, we neglect this. It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of how we learn.

In order to build true intelligence, we first have to let go of what we know.

The Value of Integrative Complexity

Had Asimov learned to read in school, he likely would’ve done it the way most of us do: memorizing or critiquing things. It’s an extremely narrow dichotomy, but sadly, one that sticks. Rana offers thoughts about the true value of reading:

Anytime you read something with the mindset that you are there to extract what is right and what is wrong, you are by default limiting how much you can get out of a particular piece of writing. You’re boxing an experience that has many dimensions into just two.

Instead of cramming what they learn into their existing perspectives, people like Asimov know that the whole point is to find new ones. You’re not looking for confirmation; you’re looking for the right mental update at the right time.

With an attitude like that, you can read the same book forever and still get smarter each time. That’s what learning really is: a state of mind. More than the skill, it’s receptiveness that counts. If your mind is always open, you’re always learning. And if it’s closed, nothing has a real chance of sinking in.

Scientists call this “integrative complexity”: the willingness to accept multiple perspectives, hold them all in your head at once, and then integrate them into a bigger, more coherent picture. It’s a picture that keeps evolving and is never complete but is always ready to integrate new points and lose old ones.

That’s true intelligence, and that’s the prolific learner’s true advantage.

A Matter of Being

Your brain is like a muscle. At any moment, it’s growing or it’s deteriorating. You can never just keep it in the same state. So when you’re not exercising your mind, it’ll atrophy and not only stop but quickly reverse your progress.

This has always been the case, but the consequences today are more severe than ever. In an exponential knowledge economy, we can’t afford stale minds. Deliberately spending time on learning new things is one way to fight irrelevance, but it’s not what’ll protect us in the uncharted waters of the future.

The reason the wise man can learn from even the most foolish question is that he never assigns that label in the first place.

Beyond being carriers of knowledge, we need to become fluid creatures of intelligence. Studying across multiple disciplines can start this process. It has many advantages—creativity, adaptability, speed—but it’s still not enough.

If we focus only on the activity of learning, we miss the most important part: Unless we’re willing to change our perspective, we won’t grasp a thing. It’s not a matter of doing but of being. The reason the wise man can learn from even the most foolish question is that he never assigns that label in the first place.

And so it matters not whether we learn from our own questions or the insights of others, nor how much of it we do, but that we always keep an open mind. The longer we can hold opposing ideas in our heads without rejecting them, the more granular the picture that ultimately forms. This is true intelligence. It’s always been valuable, but now it’s the inevitable future of learning.

Bruce Lee undoubtedly possessed this quality. By the time he died, he was a world-renowned martial artist, the creator of an entire philosophy, and a multimillion-dollar Hollywood superstar. All at only 32 years old. Long after his passing, one of his favorite stories captures both the essence of his spirit and how he became the cultural icon we still know and love today:

A learned man once went to visit a Zen teacher to inquire about Zen. As the Zen teacher talked, the learned man frequently interrupted to express his own opinion about this or that. Finally, the Zen teacher stopped talking and began to serve tea to the learned man. He poured the cup full, then kept pouring until the cup overflowed.

“Stop,” said the learned man. “The cup is full, no more can be poured in.”

“Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions,” replied the Zen teacher. “If you do not first empty your cup, how can you taste my cup of tea?”

College Library Career Cover

I Spent My 20s in College Libraries and Came Out With a Career

I’d love to tell you that, to me, the library has always been a magical place – but it wasn’t.

Having grown up in a pile of books in a home where the walls were already lined with literature, library visits were rare and, often, disappointing. Our local, small-town book collection didn’t feel as refined as the one we had at home and due to funding issues, the place itself always seemed to teeter on the brink of foreclosure.

Today, you can get most books rather cheaply right from your couch, but there are still many reasons to go to the library beyond selection and price. Sadly, I never found those reasons when I was younger.

But when I started college, all of that changed. I’ve spent the majority of my 20s in campus libraries and, to this day, they’re the only kind of office I know. As it turns out, the library is more than a place of knowledge and wonder.

If you want to shape, even invent your own career, it’s a factory of dreams.


I had known I wanted to be an entrepreneur long before college, but I had no idea how to make that fantasy come true and no one close to me who did. And while it may not seem like the most logical next step, eventually, going to college taught me exactly what I needed to know.

Not the professors or the books or even the friends I found there, but the time I spent at the libraries of my academic stations. Each seemed to have its own theme, but they all welcomed me while I was figuring out yet another challenge in my quest for meaningful self-employment.

Here’s a short chronology of the ones that caused the biggest impact.

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The library at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology is open 24/7/365. It has over 800 work stations on three vast floors, a live feed of how many spaces are currently available, and a fully automated lend-and-return system. It is a testament to German efficiency as much as it is a breeding ground for workplace camaraderie.

My first-semester friends and I all joked about who could possibly be studying at 2 AM on a Saturday until, a few weeks later, we were. And even though no one seemed to make the choice voluntarily, everyone was always there, committed to not give up before even the first round of exams. Sometimes, the only comfort you need when you’re struggling is knowing you’re not struggling alone.

When you’re trying to understand complex algorithms, the basics of macroeconomics, or the behavior of liquid bodies, most of the answers you seek won’t be in books but in the people around you, studying those same topics. At the college library, there’s always someone you can ask. Someone slightly ahead of you, with just enough margin to remember what they needed to hear for things to click into place.

By the third semester, most of us had passed the initial terror of uncharted waters and with our library radius, so expanded our understanding of not just these college institutions, but our place inside them. We explored the math branch, the chemistry branch, the informatics branch, and with them the dynamics of each of these somewhat specialized working environments.

We made the library our office of choice, and with that we developed a sense of awareness of how we work.

You can’t professionalize your visits to the library without optimizing your own behavior, and so analyzing visitor traffic, break times, and the energy levels of those working around us ultimately not just made our time among textbooks a more pleasant experience, but also a more productive one.

Before I could build things, I had to figure out how to get things done. How I could get things done. When I work in teams. When I work alone. Whether I’m under pressure, or whether no one holds me accountable but myself.

The workload of those first few semesters may have provided the fabric of personal productivity, but the library was where I could sit down, pick up a pair of needles, and knit it into a methodology that works.

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The Claire T. Carney Library on the UMASS Dartmouth campus is a winding maze of glass, concrete, and bright yellow lights. Lined with red carpets and chairs, the color contrast makes for a fine, common thread. A guide not just to its many differently themed work areas, but to your own thinking process.

I studied abroad in my fifth and sixth semester and it was then and there that part of my desire to start something turned into regret about not having started anything already. As a result, the time I spent at the library was a time of intense brainstorming; a time full of ideas. My Bachelor’s program was coming to an end. I needed a plan and I needed it fast.

Academic culture in America is more encouraging to self-starters than its German counterpart. The bustling energy of student groups solving problems — often real-world problems — through fruitful discussions was just the vibe I needed to grow the seed I was cultivating into something that would soon push me over the edge. It was refreshing to see people go to the library not only to read or study or do assignments, but to lay the foundation of what might become their career and ask important questions about their future.

Even more so than great sounding boards and encouragement, though, what I found in that space was the comfort to dare ask these questions myself.

One of the many potential answers I tossed around in my head back then was to become a writer. Guess what I am today.

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Mannheim’s humanities library branch truly offers room to think. The large, centered stairway with its modern, airy design counts over 100 steps across three floors. Little desks fan out left and right while the book shelves are neatly tucked away into the hall’s giant wings.

You can truly feel everything being ‘under one roof’ and even though I was only a guest there for about a year, I still found you could carve out your own space. I was trying to make self-employment work during a two-year college break and the modern, somewhat cold architecture added to the isolation I felt, probably needed.

I was an antibody among students and yet we were flailing all the same. Like the lockers in the lobby, the bathrooms on various floors, and the tables with PCs and without, everything was optional, but, without decisions and discipline, wouldn’t amount to a thing. Here, I learned to do things the hard way even when I didn’t have to, because great careers don’t fall from the sky.

I chose the locker on the bottom, the seat on the top floor, the bathroom in the basement and, with those things, the path of the lonely freelancer over that of the comfortable employee.


When you say ‘library,’ you might think of a place hosting leathery covers, stacks of old classics, and a neat filing system. To me, that place is home.

When I say ‘library,’ I think of wide, open spaces full of desks, rattling keyboards breaking the silence, and textbooks. I think of colleges around the world, of fun times, of shared times, of good times and of hard times. I think back to the stages of my career, and I think about what each of those stages meant.

When I remember the fact that I spent most of my 20s tucked between books and bathrooms, between people and PCs, between knowledge and work —I smile. The library — the institution, not the building — is my universal staple of meaningful work.

Even if it’s the only office I’ll ever know, from now on, it’ll be a magical place.

Don't Imitate Successful People – Learn From Your Mistakes Cover

Don’t Imitate Successful People – Learn From Your Mistakes

Do you feel let down by all the advice—books, articles, interviews, podcasts—from and about successful people? Of course you do. These people have an additional 10, 20, 30 years’ experience—even if you’re the same age. You can’t make up the difference by reading a few articles. You have to invest years of time and cultivate the right habits. But here’s the thing about habits: They are both causes and effects.

Take Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, who is known to start his day at 3:45 a.m. Maybe he has always woken up at this hour, and eventually that habit played a role in his achieving his current position. Or perhaps it’s a habit after the fact; simply a coping mechanism to stay on top of his 800 emails per day. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. Cook rose through the ranks and changed his alarm so he would rise earlier. Little by little, one day at a time. Sometimes it may have been a preemptive move and other times a more reactive one.

Our advice culture has imposed a singular, narrow view on a question that has as many answers as there are people on this planet: How should you live?

Life isn’t a straight line. Most relationships are bilateral. Two things that are connected tend to influence one another. It’s rarely as simple as X leads to Y. We see Banksy shredding their own painting and wish we had the courage to pull a creative stunt like that. But maybe bold Banksy is the result of hundreds of much smaller, less significant creative acts. Maybe Y led to X.

Our advice culture has imposed a singular, narrow view on a question that has as many answers as there are people on this planet: How should you live? This view is like looking at an iceberg through a telescope. You see only what’s on the surface, but it’s a focused picture, so you think you are seeing everything. The view confuses specificity for entirety. With habits, there is no entirety. You have to keep adapting, honing, changing.

There is no one uniform set of habits that leads to success. It has never existed and it never will. We can find many unique habit sets that correlate to success, but that doesn’t mean any one has a higher cause-to-effect ratio than another. Plus, whatever set you choose will continue to change and evolve. Instead of listening to the people who hand us a telescope, we must think independently. We must look at ourselves.


Striking Thoughts is a compendium of 825 aphorisms from Bruce Lee. It’s a collection because, unlike many sources of advice, Lee didn’t believe it was necessary to follow one correct set of ideas in order to live a good life:

Independent inquiry is needed in your search for truth, not dependence on anyone else’s view or a mere book.

This may sound daunting, as we tend to want simple solutions to difficult problems, but according to Bruce, neither actually exists. There are only questions and answers, both of which are hard-won products of thinking, and neither can provide universal solutions that last forever.

In science, all hypotheses must be falsifiable. If you can’t disprove a claim, you can’t test it. Even the best theories are just constructs made of hypotheses, waiting to be proven wrong, waiting for you to provide evidence that will make them collapse.

What’s unfortunate about mistakes is you have to make them.

In our lives, that evidence is mistakes. A mistake is valuable because it falsifies a prior assumption. Unlike a successfully cultivated behavior that may or may not lead you where you want to go, a mistake gives you a single raw point of actual data as to what not to do. Mistakes make you think.

What’s unfortunate about mistakes is that you have to make them. The only way to the data leads through failure. There is no way around this. We will all make many mistakes in our lifetimes. What differentiates us is whether we’re willing to learn from them. Are we willing to think? To sit with the mistake until we’ve extracted the data?

Lee describes the archetype of the person willing to think in “The Parable of the Butcher”:

There was a fine butcher who used the same knife year after year, yet it never lost its delicate, precise edge. After a lifetime of service, it was still as useful and effective as when it was new. When asked how he had preserved his knife’s fine edge, he said: “I follow the line of the hard bone. I do not attempt to cut it, nor to smash it, nor to contend with it in any way. That would only destroy my knife.” In daily living, one must follow the course of the barrier. To try to assail it will only destroy the instrument.

In other words, never learn the same lesson twice. You will only lose your edge.

The simplest way for a child to learn not to touch a hot stove is to touch a hot stove. The pain is powerful and immediate, and so is the lesson, but it also leads to a burned hand. If you hold your hand just above the stove, your hand might still hurt, but you’ll learn the lesson without burning it. This is following the course of the barrier.

To a certain extent, you can learn from other people’s mistakes. You can think about their burned hands and extract some data. But the further you move away from your own life, your own circle, the higher your hand lingers above the stove. At some point, you won’t feel any heat, so you can’t learn. While it’s better to study the failures of the people around you than the successes of distant or unknown people, nothing beats independent inquiry. Gather your own data. Falsify your hypotheses. Dare to make mistakes.

In his introduction to Lee’s book, John Little notes that we are encouraged—and often choose—to look outside ourselves, to anyone but ourselves, to find answers to our biggest questions. He points to one of Bruce’s aphorisms: “We have more faith in what we imitate than in what we originate.”

When it comes to the premier human inquiry, the issue of how we should live, imitation isn’t just a terrible answer. It’s a way to avoid asking the question. As long as we do that, it won’t matter when we get up. Even if it’s at 3:45 a.m.