12 Core Values to Live By Cover

12 Core Values to Live By

Who are you?

As we grow up, we’re taught different ways to answer this question. When we’re kids, we’re told to introduce ourselves with our full name. “I’m John Doe,” you might say.

On the first day of high school, our teacher might suggest we tack a hobby on top. “I’m Daisy, and I like dancing.”

After we graduate and go to work and college, we drop the hobbies and replace them with achievements. “I got a BA from Stanford, where I ran the debate club, and I now work at Google.”

None of these are good answers. They all focus on a tiny part of your life, usually some externality, and then enlarge it to the point where it looks like your name, your job, or your accomplishments are all you are. That’s not true.

No matter how impressive you can get your introduction to sound over the course of your life, at the end of the day, you are not defined by your résumé. You are defined by your character. What shapes that character isn’t your work history or even any set of traits in particular — it’s your values. “Values are our fundamental beliefs informing our thoughts, words, and actions,” Darius Foroux writes.

If you don’t make an effort to define your values, no one else will do it for you. You’ll just passively adhere to a blend of the values of those around you. Worse, without values, your life has no direction. You’re moving, but where? Nobody knows — not even you.

Last year, I reflected and wrote about my values. Here they are, briefly summarized and explained.


Calmness

If you’re not calm, you can’t do anything the right way, let alone do the right thing. First and foremost, breathe, pause, think, and start from a position of poise in all things.

Rationality

Base your decisions in logic, ethics, and common sense. As a result, they might not always look sensible to the outside world, but that world mostly wants you to not change. Change is the only constant there is. Embrace it, try to see the world clearly, and then make sound choices with your sound mind.

Commitment

Whether it’s in your career or relationships, once you find what you believe in, commit to it with all your heart. The only thing that makes us miserable is committing to nothing at all. Use dedication to cut through fears, doubts, and criticism like a laser, and let it empower you to drop all distractions.

Restraint

Doing the right thing won’t always be easy, but choosing to do the right thing can be if you value restraint. Restraint sounds like a bad thing, but if it’s attached to a commitment you believe in, it’ll not just come easy, it’ll actually feel liberating. Give in to fewer temptations, and you’ll gain space and peace of mind.

Humility

Don’t pretend to control more than you do, which is very little and always less than you’d like. Be humble. Show up every day, do your best, and patiently wait for the results, even if it takes longer and you feel like nothing is working.

Vulnerability

Being yourself is scary, but in a big world that doesn’t care, you might as well show us the truest version of yourself. Don’t be afraid to expose the parts you’re scared we’ll judge you for. Those are the moments we really connect with others because we finally realize: they’re not so different than us.

Patience

Whether you get hurt or not, surviving provides the best form of reassurance: You’re still here, and you’ll live to fight another day. No matter how bad reality gets, turn the fact that you’re still around today into more fuel for tomorrow.

Empathy

Everyone is struggling with something. Most of the time, you have no idea what it is. But you can imagine it. You can mentally place yourself in their shoes, and no matter what you find, it’ll help you understand them. You’ll be less likely to judge people, communicate better, and remember we’re equal.

Compassion

Be kind and forgiving. Don’t hate people. Lend a hand where you can. Empathy and compassion are related. When you understand people, it’s easy to feel sympathetic. Life is short. See it as a big journey we’re all in together.

Acceptance

You’re human. You’ll make mistakes, some of which you’ll never be able to fix. So will other people around you, sometimes to your detriment. All of this is survivable, as long as you accept it. Accept yourself too. Your good sides. Your bad sides. And extend that same courtesy to others.

Hope

When times are bad, imagine different times. Have faith. Remember that you’re not alone, and trust that you’re part of something bigger than yourself. You might not be able to see it right now, but whatever you’re going through will make sense down the line.

Love

Combine all the above values, and you get love — a catch-all for our best traits. It’s also a verb. Don’t just say that you love people, show them. Your family, your partner, your friends, the little gestures you use to show you appreciate them are what makes life worth living. Cherishing these little moments is how you create the memories that’ll stay with you till the very end of your life.


Whenever I struggle, feel lost, or am disappointed myself, I think through my list of values. Which one do I need right now? What am I lacking? Every time, I find an ideal I can aspire to that’ll help me get back on track.

Your list may be shorter, longer, or completely different, but I’m confident it’ll allow you to do the same. Not all days are great, but even on the worst ones, you’ll never feel directionless. Plus, you’ll finally have a good answer to that all-important question: Who are you?

You Can't Uncut This Corner Cover

You Can’t Uncut This Corner

Maybe you were in a hurry. Maybe you were desperate for a win. Maybe everything on that day already went wrong, so you decided to take one for yourself.

Whatever it was, you knew you were taking a shortcut when you did it. You knew that wasn’t the end of the line. That the right ticket would’ve been more expensive. The answer you gave wasn’t supposed to help, it was supposed to get you off the hook.

I get it. The world’s too big. It’s easy. Too many opportunities. Too many corners to cut. Sooner or later, we all do. I know I have many times.

It feels good at first, doesn’t it? “Ha, I got away with it!” Soon though, it feels icky. Like a stain you can’t get off your shirt. It’s true. What’s done is done. That smudge won’t go away.

No matter how small they are, each of those stains stays forever. We all carry them on our backs. But if we don’t add any new ones, with time, they begin to fade.

If you wash your shirt often enough, only a remnant will be left. A little reminder of a stain that once was. You’ll still see the outline, but you won’t remember how it got there. You’ve successfully forgotten how to cut that kind of corner.

There’s no fast track to stop cutting corners. Being slow is what it’s all about. The only way is to be mindful of each one when you get there. That takes slowness. Deliberation. Patience. These are attitudes we must practice. Not just once but every day.

Yes, the world is big. So many corners you could cut. But it’s also big enough to go around them. There’s always room to take the right path or forge one if you have to. Slow down. Take it easy. Don’t hurt yourself.

You can’t uncut this corner. But you can not cut the next one.

5 Thought Experiments to Upgrade Your Thinking Cover

5 Thought Experiments to Upgrade Your Thinking

Einstein said we can’t solve our problems with the same thinking that created them. Science estimates we have between 30 and 50 thoughts per minute. That’s a lot of chances to change our thinking.

Widely regarded as the smartest man to ever walk the earth, Einstein made good use of these chances. He loved thought experiments. In fact, a thought experiment became the first seed of his theory of general relativity.

Einstein imagined himself riding on a beam of light towards the sun. Looking at another beam right next to him, he should have perceived it as stationary, but, according to the laws of physics, that was impossible. Years later, thanks to another thought experiment, Einstein concluded the only possible answer: time itself is relative.

Although this wasn’t the insight that won him the Nobel prize, decades of science have built upon it. 100 years later, researchers finally verified the most important chunks of his theory as unequivocally true.

There’s something to be said here about vision, about genius, and about daring to imagine, but the real point is this: A question opens the mind. A statement closes it. You can’t upgrade your thinking with statements. You have to ask better questions.

Read More
Take the Stairs, Not the Escalator Cover

Take the Stairs, Not the Escalator

When there’s an escalator with stairs next to it, which option do you take? I take the stairs. It seems like a small thing, but it’s a big deal. Embedded in this little, seemingly innocuous decision — do you walk or do you stand? — is a whole way of looking at the world.

People on the escalator lose time, momentum, and energy. They choose to wait then they could be choosing to do something. Of course, at times waiting is the right choice. Sometimes, you can use a bit of rest. Or enjoy the moment of quiet with your partner.

Most of the people on the escalator, however, don’t stand because it makes sense to stand right now. They stand because it’s their default to wait. They stand because they hope the world will magically carry them to where they want to go.

Meanwhile, the people taking the stairs know every minute counts. They see a set of steps that leads up a mountain and say, “Okay, bring it on!” They take the obstacle head on and do what they can to overcome it. Instead of losing momentum, they build more. They charge — and their metabolism kicks in.

Of course, there are times to slow down. To assess the challenge ahead, weigh your options carefully, and form a plan together with others. Nothing is black and white, but the question remains: What is your default?

Even if you do your very best, you might not get what you want. So actually, your very best is the least you can do.

Zig Ziglar once said, “There is no elevator to success, you have to take the stairs.” It’s cheesy, but it’s true. There is also no escalator. If there is, it’s going the wrong way — and you have to run up to get to the top.

Casey Neistat once put it like this: “Life is like going the wrong way on a moving sidewalk. Walk, and you stay put. Stand still, and you go backwards. You have to hustle to get ahead.”

Taking the stairs instead of the escalator may seem like a silly little decision, but the mindset shift may last forever. Whatever uphill battle you’re currently facing, which one is it going to be? The escalator? Or the stairs?

5 Good Things That Will Follow From This Pandemic Cover

5 Good Things That Will Follow From This Pandemic

The best way to stay calm amidst the coronavirus madness is to focus on the present moment. Accept reality as is, realize you’re okay, and then handle the challenge at hand with direction and resolve.

The second best way is to time travel to the future. What will happen after all this is over? Can you imagine a more peaceful tomorrow? What good will come from this? There will come some good from this. It’s hard to see it now, but making the effort will give you something to aspire to in these dark times.

Of course no one can predict the future, but when I think about what positive, long-term consequences we could see from this pandemic, I spot a lot of potential. Here are 5 predictions to provide some comfort while we’re all stuck at home.

Read More
The Stoic’s Response to Corona Cover

The Stoic’s Response to Corona

At its core, Stoicism is about one thing and one thing alone: separating what you control from what you don’t. There are other good habits to practice, beneficial attitudes to pick up, and many concepts to study, but, at the end of the day, they all follow from this one commitment.

Imagine looking at everything in life through this filter. Your thoughts, your emotions, the events that transpire. It all comes down to a single question:

What do I control here?

Read More
Choose Hard Problems Cover

Choose Hard Problems

The restroom has been closed for months. There are others, of course. One downstairs. One upstairs. Which one do you go to?

Upstairs is nicer. Downstairs is closer. And, well, you walk down, not up. At least initially.

Most people go down, and it shows. The towels are empty. The room smells. In times of global sanitary crisis, it’s not where you want to be.

You decide to go up. Just once. Just to try it. You’re surprised. No one’s here. The sink is clean. There’s a window. It’s open. What a breath of fresh air.

If that’s the prize for going up instead of down, what else might be out there? You wonder — and then you venture. Endless hallways stretch in front of you. Here’s another nice restroom. And another. And another.

One day, you turn a corner and find a completely renovated part of the building. Whoa! Shiny white tiles, 15-foot-ceilings, fragrance sticks, what lavatory luxury is this? And all it took was another five minutes of walking.

“The long way is the shortcut,” Seth Godin says. We shy away from the extra mile because we think it’s long — but it’s just another mile. Plus, there are no traffic jams on it, according to hall of fame quarterback Roger Staubach.

Four years ago, I went to a library every day. The lockers were public, you chose at random, but I could always rely on mine being empty — it was at the bottom. The rewards for solving harder-than-average problems are often extraordinary, making them well worth the additional effort.

Another reason to go a little further, work a little harder, stay a little longer, is that it brings its own form of motivation.

The more time you spend on your application after everyone has sent theirs, the more used you’ll get to having — and satisfying — higher expectations — both your own and those of others. It’s a positive, self-reinforcing loop. Shoot higher, do more, want to shoot higher, want to do more. Meanwhile, the exponential rewards keep accumulating.

In The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss said: “99% of the world is convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre middle-ground. The level of competition is thus fiercest for “realistic” goals, paradoxically making them the most time- and energy-consuming.”

There’s a third reason to tackle hard problems, and it might be the most compelling: The easy ones are already solved.

We have AirBnB. And Uber. And Netflix. There are enough electric scooter startups. We don’t need another one. We don’t need another bubble tea store, another listicle, another dieting hack. We need someone committed to doing the work. We need you to show up — and not just when it suits you.

Once your ass starts to hurt, how long can you stay in the chair? How crazy are you willing to look before we realize you’re right? “Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life,” Jerzy Gregorek says.

The hardest part of solving a hard problem is rarely the problem itself. It’s deciding to go where no one else will. Because how’s that gonna look? How’s that gonna feel?

You might be lonely. You might be ridiculed. But you might also find the comfiest restroom in the building. You might feel more empowered than ever. And you might change the world for all of us.

Choose hard problems. Venture off the beaten path. You never know what you’ll find, but it’s the only way that can lead to true growth.

If You Only Write Listicles, You’ll Never Be a Great Writer Cover

If You Only Write Listicles, You’ll Never Be a Great Writer

After writing my first three blog posts, I decided it was time for an experiment. Something new. Something bigger. I would create the ultimate guide on using Google to find what you need.

I dove in. 1,000 words. 2,000 words. 3,000 words. By the time I hit 5,000, I decided to turn it into a book. I spent a week writing it. It came in at 14,000 words and over 200 screenshots.

The information was great. The examples solid. When I put it on Amazon, I sold zero copies. Of course. I had no idea about covers, descriptions, and marketing. But I’d written a book. I’m proud of it to this day.

My Google guide was a fluke. I didn’t plan for it. I had an idea, got excited, and ran with it. Still, the experience taught me an important lesson early on:

If you don’t break your own patterns, you’ll never be a great writer.

Read More