The Only Way to Find Success Is to Relentlessly Forgive Yourself Cover

The Only Way to Find Success Is to Relentlessly Forgive Yourself

Last week, my sister came to visit. It was awesome. We saw Mike Shinoda, got ice cream, and tried lots of great food. I love her and I’m glad we hung out.

But for some reason, whenever I go to an event, a friend stops by, or the week is just generally slow, I still feel like I should get as much done as I usually do. Like I should create the same output, regardless of the time I take off.

That’s impossible, of course. But it creates guilt and that guilt is the real problem. Guilt is a useful emotion. As opposed to shame, it makes us want to step up. To rectify what we did wrong.

But when it comes to being productive, there’s nothing to rectify. It’s not like a crooked picture you can just push back into place. Your life is continuous and each moment is a small dot on a long line. Work is such a big part of that line that it’s impossible to see how each dot shapes it day-to-day, week-to-week, often even year-to-year. Unlike other things we feel guilty about, you can’t just go back to the café, pay the bill you forgot, and reset the karma balance to zero. Because there’s always more work.

And so it may feel like focusing for one hour in the evening makes up for a bad day, but who wants to spend their entire life salvaging leftover scraps of time? That’s a surefire recipe for unhappiness. The solution lies on a higher level.

Who’s to say it was a bad day in the first place? Maybe you needed rest. Maybe you were affected by something in your subconscious. Why can’t we suspend that judgment altogether? Jim Carrey has a great metaphor for our moods:

“I have sadness and joy and elation and satisfaction and gratitude beyond belief, but all of it is weather. And it just spins around the planet.”

Shame, guilt, regret, these are also just weather phenomena. External conditions that’ll sometimes swing by your planet.

Of course, it’s hard to constantly practice this non-judgment in advance. To go into each experience without attachment or expectation. We’re human, after all. We fail. We let things get to us. And so we need to learn to pick ourselves back up. To realize when we’re complaining about the weather and stop.

The only way to do this over and over again, to keep moving forward no matter what happens, is to relentlessly forgive yourself. Forever and for everything. You won’t always do it immediately, but try to do it eventually.

Note that forgiving yourself is not about letting yourself off the hook. It’s not an excuse to not learn from your mistakes. It won’t guarantee it either, but without forgiveness, you can’t learn anything. Because regret is in the way. You must say: “Okay, that’s done, how will I move on and what will I change?”

This applies to all kinds of emotional weather you’ll experience, but when it comes to productivity, to using your time well, it’s especially important. Only forgiveness can remove the friction of guilt. The nagging that prevents you from picking up the pen again. From continuing to just do things.

We all have different definitions of success and that’s a good thing. For some, it’s raising their kids to exceed their own accomplishments. For others, it’s fighting for a cause or using art to change how we think. And some just want to live quietly and enjoy the little things.

But no matter what end work serves in your life, you’ll never do enough of it if you constantly kick yourself.

Forgiveness is the only way.

Why don’t we talk about this? When we’re looking for ways to move on, why do we encourage everything from resting to trying hard to having a purpose to proving someone wrong, but not loving yourself when all of these fail?

I don’t know. Maybe, it makes us feel like frauds. To say “alright, let’s move on,” when others had to pay stricter consequences. Maybe, forgiveness isn’t sexy enough. Not a compelling reason to continue. Or, maybe, it’s the hardest of them all to believe in. To actually mean it when you think it. Or say it.

I’d put my money on that last one.

It’s good to practice non-judgment. It helps me a lot every time I succeed. But often, I don’t. And then I’m wrestling with myself for forgiveness. I’d much rather learn to consistently win that second battle. The first one isn’t lost, but I know I’ll never reach perfection. Forgiveness, however, is always available.

It’s as if the healthiest option is right in front of us, but we’re too blind or stubborn to use it. Too scared to allow ourselves to move on. Well, I don’t know you, but here’s permission to forgive yourself. I hope you’ll exercise it. It’s time. Have courage. Move on. Turn the page. And don’t look back.

Maybe, life is not about finding the straightest path to success. Or the simplest. Or even the smoothest. Maybe, it’s about finding one, just one, that allows you to get there at all. But that requires letting go of our old beliefs.

Mike Shinoda is a lead member of Linkin Park. On his current record, he’s processing the loss of his best friend and band mate of 20 years. Imagine how much forgiveness that takes. It’s got sad songs, angry songs, desperate songs, helpless songs. But there’s also one that’s light. Optimistic. Forgiving.

Maybe, in our own quest for being kinder to ourselves, all we have to do is act on its lyrics:

And they’ll tell you I don’t care anymore
And I hope you’ll know that’s a lie
’Cause I’ve found what I have been waiting for
But to get there means crossing a line
So I’m crossing a line

Happiness Is Loving the Boring Days Cover

Happiness Is Loving the Boring Days

Out of all the great TED talks that exist, Barry Schwartz’s is easily the best. He talks about what he calls The Paradox of Choice. I’ve gone back to it countless times for countless reasons, but my favorite part is when he shows this comic:

Ask anyone how they feel about their life from ten years ago, and they’ll likely tell you that “those were simpler times.” Less to worry about, more to enjoy. Somehow, everything was easier. Today, it’s all complicated. Always.

“Everything was better back when everything was worse.”

It’s more than a good chuckle. So simple, yet so instinctively true. But why does our gut want to agree so badly when we hear this? Barry explains:

“The reason that everything was better back when everything was worse is that when everything was worse, it was actually possible for people to have experiences that were a pleasant surprise.

Nowadays, the world we live in — we affluent, industrialized citizens, with perfection the expectation — the best you can ever hope for is that stuff is as good as you expect it to be.

You will never be pleasantly surprised, because your expectations, my expectations, have gone through the roof.

The secret to happiness — this is what you all came for — the secret to happiness is:

Low expectations.


I turned 28 a few days ago. I thought about what lessons I’ve learned so far in life. Barry’s is one that’s stuck with me throughout the years. What’s changed since I first heard it, however, is how I’m trying to live it. There’s a twist to it.

“Low expectations” sounds daunting. Shouldn’t we hope for good things? Optimism being a self-fulfilling prophecy and all.

Sure, it helps to dampen your excitement before any event whose outcome you don’t control, like a presentation, job interview, or publishing an article, but if you demand so little of life that you don’t even attempt any of these, you’ll soon walk around with a perma-long face. Most of us aren’t saints, so wanting literally nothing isn’t a practical everyday solution.

Avoiding misery, however, is. That’s what I’ve made my happiness about.

Long-term, everyday happiness lies in not being miserable.

Each day when I’m not sick, not stressed, there’s no drama, and I don’t have to do a lot of things I don’t like, is a good day. We think we need to accomplish our biggest goals to find happiness, but the truth is having a life with enough room to obsess about and chase them is more than enough. And yet, when we use this freedom to obsess, we often forget taking care of the basics.

Am I healthy? Is something psychological causing problems with the physical? Do I have a fit mind and a fit body? Or is one breaking the other?

Am I living below my means? Or slowly veering off track? Is paying the bills becoming a hassle? Or does it work out okay if I don’t splurge too much?

Do I enjoy my work? Am I spending my workday with good people? Or do I dread getting out of the house? Am I commuting 2 hours into a toxic place?

As long as you’re healthy, like your work, have a few friends, and money kind of works out, there’s quite little you really should be worried about. If one of these implodes, however, you should raise all hell to get back to your baseline.

It’s the same idea, just flipped on its head. Sure, low expectations are great when you’re buying a pair of jeans but, when it comes to the big stuff in life, you’re better off cultivating a high aversion to misery.

Once you’ve achieved your own little standard, you can settle into your base camp of being healthy, calm, and not having to do stuff you don’t like. From there, you can explore, try, learn, fail — all in hopes of higher things.

I think that’s how you really win. By remembering you’re a finalist long before the end game has begun. Wanting to do more, better, greater is honorable, and achieving big goals always gets you a burst of endorphins. But they’re not everyday occurrences. And so they can’t serve your day-to-day happiness.

If you live to 82, that’s 30,000 days. 27,000 will be boring. Life is about learning to love those days. Happiness is enjoying the little things.

Finding Yourself Won't Make You Happy Cover

Finding Yourself Won’t Make You Happy

I have spent the last seven years finding myself.

It all started with my semester abroad, which created two breaks. One voluntary, from my emotional connections, the other necessary, from my material possessions. My usual environment of friends, school, and family turned into a small room, space to think, and a blank social canvas.

Thus began my journey of self-discovery. First I weeded out some bad behaviors, then I explored new ideas. I dove headfirst into blogs, books, travel, and events. I learned random skills like Persian, SQL, and the Gangnam Style dance. Like on a scatter plot, each dot shaped the line.

The line was my life, and the more I tried, the clearer its trajectory became.

At a fairly young age of 21, this turned out to be one of the most productive things I’ve ever done. Having a purpose is important, and finding it is one of the biggest challenges most of us face in life. But I also became obsessed with it. I used to think the line was all that mattered. That, as long as I knew who I was, I could care less about the rest of the world. Now, I’m not so sure.

Finding myself has helped me in countless ways and I wish I could’ve embarked on this adventure even sooner. But, ultimately, it’s not what contributes most to my happiness.

That requires something else.

An Intuitive Promise

Years ago, Kamal Ravikant was down in the dumps. He’d built a track record as a successful entrepreneur, but then his last company failed. Too depressed to leave the house, he spent weeks in the dark, bed-ridden and barely moving.

Eventually, however, he got sick of himself. His chosen helplessness and resignation. He decided he’d get out of the hole or die climbing. On the day he did, he wrote down a vow: the promise to love himself. Without an idea of what it meant or how it felt, he built a practice around this vow.

Kamal’s life improved. First slowly, then surely, but at an ever-accelerating pace. His mind cleared. He took care of his body. He engaged with the world again. Over time, Kamal’s good thoughts, decisions, and habits compounded.

Good things started happening, some of which he couldn’t possibly have controlled or anticipated. I can only judge from afar, but today, he seems calm and happy. A thriving author and investor, but one with few wants and needs.

When now asked why he thinks his simple idea worked so well, he says he intuitively built it around the best piece of advice he ever received:

“Life is from the inside out.”

Miraculously, both science and philosophy agree.

Unraveling the Existentialist Brain

One of my favorite German words is “Trampelpfad.” It describes a path in the woods that’s not quite a paved road, but well-trodden enough to make it the obvious choice. I like this word because it resembles neuroplasticity — your brain’s ability to physically change throughout your entire life. Donald Hebb summarized how you can use this to your advantage with a simple rhyme:

“Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

For every action you perform, your brain takes a picture with vast amounts of information. Which neurons fired, what was the context, how did you think of yourself at the time? Keep choosing the same actions in similar situations and your brain will start remembering it took a similar picture before — and make another one just like it. Actions become reactions, efforts become habits.

Neuroplasticity — the trampelpfads in your brain turning into highways — is what makes habits hard to get rid of. But it’s also what allows us to change them in the first place. All you need is to create new snapshots. You might not believe the line “I’m not a smoker” the first 100 times you use it to decline a cigarette but, over time, your mind will make it so. Until your brain is rewired.

That’s exactly what Kamal did. By insisting on loving himself long enough, he literally altered his mind, updating it with a new belief. Life is from the inside out. Beyond making biological sense, this idea is right up an existentialist philosopher’s alley.

For over 5,000 years, going all the way back to Plato, essentialism dominated our view of philosophy. It suggests we’re born with an inherent purpose, an ‘essence’ we must align with. But in the 20th century, a few bold individuals, like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and others, challenged this notion, asserting that:

“Existence precedes essence.”

Existentialism rejects the inherence of meaning. It says that first and foremost, you are. You exist. Discovering your essence, figuring out a purpose, all that comes second. In fact, doing so is not just your job, it’s the whole point of life.

So while both philosophies agree that “life is from the inside out,” only one leaves you with a say as to what that inside is. One is bent on finding yourself, the other allows you to invent yourself.

An essentialist Kamal would likely have concluded that, after a big failure, being an entrepreneur wasn’t who he was. And only an existentialist Kamal could have chosen to love himself in spite of not believing it at the time.

In a way, existentialism, like neuroplasticity, is the ultimate move towards gaining agency. If you believe you can create meaning from nothing, meaning is always just one thought away. That’s all fine and wonderful, but how does it contribute to your happiness? You’re right. It won’t. At least not on its own.

Life may be from the inside out. But happiness is from the outside in.

The Final, But Never-Ending Destination

Today, most people know Kamal as a founder and venture capitalist, but his first self-paced endeavor was to publish a book. A memoir of what he learned traveling the world after laying his father’s ashes to rest. Of course, no one wanted to read an unknown, unpublished author, so he kept rewriting it ten times over the course of a decade, collecting rejection letters along the way.

After his last, colossal failure as an entrepreneur, however, a friend urged him to self-publish a short account of how he’d recollected himself. Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It became an instant bestseller. Funny enough, he now had the credibility to tell his other story. Rebirth was published in 2017.

Kamal has a third book, published in between the other two. It’s called Live Your Truth. The title perfectly encapsulates not just the story of his life, but also its biggest lesson: Finding yourself is the starting point, but continuing to share your discoveries is the final if never-ending destination of a happy life.

Life is from the inside out. Before he could enjoy the externals, the accolades, relationships, financial freedom, Kamal had to rework his inner wirings. But only when he shared his self-created essence did his bet on neuroplasticity really pay off. There’s finding your truth and there’s living it. Two sides of the one coin that is your life. “Live Your Truth” is pulling from both directions.

Managing your mind, loving yourself, confidence, keeping your promises to yourself, minimizing regrets, all of these are important. But once we have them, once we find self-love, self-belief, self-compassion, we must share them with others. Turn back outside. Return to the world. Live your truth.

And you can’t do that in a vacuum.

Don’t Forget the Second Half

At some point in our lives, self-improvement catches most of us. I get it now. It’s attractive. Immediate. Change one thing, one habit, one pattern, and you might change your whole life.

But learning to live from the inside, to reassemble the infrastructure in our mind, is just the first step. Rewiring our brain is a waypoint on our larger path.

As the existentialist worldview takes over, we slowly learn to deal with the vastness of freedom we’ve been afforded. To be less trapped by religious dogma or political doctrines. But as empowering as it is to infuse your life with self-created meaning, it’s still one step shy of happiness.

Because unlike life, happiness is from the outside in.

Whatever we find inside ourselves that brings us joy, only sharing it can get that joy to multiply. Seeing our truth is not enough. We must live it. That’s a job that lasts a lifetime, but one with infinite space for new discoveries.

Change your habits, but let them serve something larger. Find a purpose, but fit it to something larger. Live your truth, but live as part of something larger.

Dive into yourself. May life flow from the inside. But do it with an open heart. Allow happiness to visit. Don’t forget the second half. Don’t forget…

…to engage with all of us.