The Best Time to Chase Your Dream

It’s today. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not after you’ve gotten the promotion, renovated your kitchen, or made a million dollars. Today.

“I don’t believe in the deferred life plan,” Sam Altman says, criticizing people who say some version of the following: “‘My life’s work is to build rockets. So what I’m going to do is make $100 million in the next four years trading cryptocurrency with my hedge fund, because I don’t want to think about the money problem anymore, and then I’m gonna build rockets’ – and they never do either.”

2020 was the year I made the most money so far, but it was also one of the years in which I was the furthest away from my dream. For a few years now, I’ve wanted a life where I get up, write, do a few admin things in the afternoon and clock out. Back then, I was doing all kinds of random stuff to make money, but my writing wasn’t going anywhere.

Now I make less than half of what I made that year, but I’m finally graduating to writing books. I spend my time working on the projects I care about, building the career I want to build, rather than some proxy that supposedly will make my dream come easier down the line.

“Doing anything worthwhile takes a long time,” Sam reminds us. “It takes a lot of emotional trauma, a lot of people telling you you’re an idiot, or wrong, or whatever, and if you’re not willing to sign up for that, you’re not gonna succeed. And people can also kind of sense when you’re not willing to sign up for that.”

When I talk to my writer friends, many of whom make enough money to sustain themselves one way or another, they often tell me they “just want to write.” They want to spend the majority of their time writing, and they want to write what pleases them, what excites them, what they are passionate about, even if it might not be the most commercially viable or popular piece of text.

That’s a fair dream to have, but especially given that it’s hard to get paid to “write what you want,” why don’t they start right away? What follows is often some explanation of how they’re only doing this online course business, or coaching business, or freelance work to make enough money to retire – and then write what they want.

Do you see how backwards this is? How can you expect to achieve your dream if you treat it like a second-rate hobby, if that? When it comes to your dream, success is a much of a trap as failure is, maybe even worse.

Going back to the “$100 million vs. rockets” dilemma, Sam says: “I believe if these people would just pick one thing or the other, they would succeed at either.” But if you’re not committed, if we can’t feel the authenticity of your dream, why would anyone support you in accomplishing it? If your dream is one you can’t achieve alone, the deferred life plan goes from bad to impossible.

But even if your dream is a dream you can chase all on your own, I suggest you stop delaying. Stop telling yourself a story that doesn’t serve you. There is never a good time to go after your dream, which makes today the best day there’ll ever be. Don’t wait. Start today.

Double Sinks

When people build a new house, at least in Germany, they often choose double sinks for the master bathroom. His and hers. Simultaneous teeth-brushing. That’s the idea, at least.

In my family, we’ve tested double sinks in practice for over 20 years. Even with four people, we’ve only used two sinks at the same time a handful of times. Realistically, two people will rarely have the exact same schedule, let alone the exact same routines – and yet, it is still double sinks all the way.

Is this a trend from 300 years ago? The emperor and his empress, washing side by side? Or a wistful illusion young lovers fall for, successfully peddled by bathroom marketers to sell more sinks? Whatever its source, the standard has become one we no longer question, and that is the challenge.

In fact, building a house in and of itself holds a similar status in German society. It is many people’s ultimate dream, and yet, after a decade or so, they’ll find the same gripes with their custom-built house they would have found in any preexisting one.

The standard is not to be rejected merely for being the standard, but it deserves your thorough examination. We live in a world ready to accustom to almost any individual tendency. Make use of that freedom. Don’t follow the standard just to comply, especially where compliance yields no added benefit.

The next time you make a heavily socialized decision, ask yourself: Is this truly the way to go – or are those just double sinks?


We go to doctors to preserve and repair our health – but who can we go to in order to maintain and restore our happiness? There is no equivalent profession.

A therapist is not responsible for your happiness. In fact, it is someone most people only go to when they are already miserable. They associate the word with pain and suffering. You could go to a therapist before you are depressed, and they would likely help you maintain your emotional balance. But beyond a baseline of mental stability? That’s uncharted territory.

If there were someone professionally responsible for our happiness, I dare suggest we call them “felicus,” from the latin “felix” – happy.

You would go to your felicus for your annual check-up, and they’d ask you: “How happy have you felt on average this year?” They would prompt you to remember moments of joy, how often you laugh in any given week, and which factors contributed to you feeling calm and content amidst the busyness of everyday life.

Whenever you feel like your life is just trotting along, you’d go to your felicus and ask: “Felicus, what can I do to bring more happiness to my life?” They would suggest a gratitude practice, a slight change to a routine, or perhaps give you a creative idea that could bring the fun back to family time on weekends.

Where a doctor might help you survive, and a therapist might help you endure life when it gets tough, a felicus would make sure you enjoy life as much as possible while it is going reasonably well, which, hopefully, will be most of the time.

Until we have one in each village, however, that task will stay with you. You are your own felicus, and make no mistake: It may sound less urgent than your health, but when it comes to the one life you have, your happiness is serious business.

You Don’t Need the Past to Learn

A few years ago, I called upon Bruce Lee to remind myself that it’s better to learn from my mistakes than to halfheartedly imitate what successful people are doing. What’s unfortunate about using mistakes as your primary source of data is that you have to, well, make them. Worse, you then have to stare at them until you learn your lesson.

Based on Bruce Lee’s parable of the butcher, in which a meat preparer follows “the line of the hard bone” so his knife may stay sharp, I concluded that you should “never learn the same lesson twice.” Whether it takes placing your hand on the hot stove, holding it over the open flame, or only reading about someone else getting burned, do whatever it takes to extract and remember the lesson. That was my conclusion.

With the hindsight of an additional four years of life experience, I would slightly amend this advice, based on yet another idea from Bruce Lee: “Knowledge is of the past; learning is in the present. A constant movement in relationship with the outward things, without the past.”

While it’s true that we should always learn from our mistakes, I doubt said analysis takes an entire college semester to perform, at least in most cases. For the big ones? Sure. If you get divorced, go bankrupt, or lose a million dollars, you should probably spend some serious time thinking about what went wrong and how you’ll change your behavior.

When it comes to most everyday mistakes, however, your memory won’t let you down. Like everything that happens in your life, they’ll wander right down into your subconscious, ready to reappear when needed. In that sense, most of the time, you don’t need to dwell on the past in order to learn from it. It is enough to continue your journey in the present – to focus on learning more so than on knowledge.

My mom once accidentally made “milk rice,” a sweet dish, with salt instead of sugar. I bet even to this day, whenever she makes it, she double-checks which container she takes off the shelf. I know I do. See how powerful a tiny lesson can be? No extensive rumination needed.

This is the marvel – and entire point – of the human mind: It’ll remind you of relevant memories when you most need them. There’s no need to neatly file and catalog every single thing.

Most of the time, the past only weighs us down. It distracts us from the present. It is a breeding ground not just for occasional nostalgia but lots of negative thoughts. Gather your lessons, sure, but don’t let them add to that weight.

Stay in the now. Keep moving. Learning. Dance with reality as it unfolds. Trust that your lessons will always be with you. Nothing you’ve experienced is ever lost. Have faith that it’ll all reveal itself whenever you need it. That is the true path of “independent inquiry,” as Bruce Lee called it. I hope he would agree.

The Big Fish

In The Comfort Book, Matt Haig relates the story of the gold-saddle goatfish, a beautiful, golden fish with two large barbels, home to Hawaiian waters.

Local divers started noticing a fish of similar color, albeit much bigger. As it turns out, “when divers swim right next to this big fish, it stops being a big fish altogether, breaking up into eight or so standard-sized gold-saddle goatfish:” The fish had learned to swim in perfect, fish-looking formation in order to appear larger and scare away potential predators.

Besides an increased sense of inner peace and less resistance to change, be it elected or forced upon us, dropping our identity like a fish would drop its birth certificate has another benefit: When we’re not occupied with our own labels, we can focus on what we all have in common. We can join a cause and serve it selflessly. We are free to mingle with the crowd, no matter how diverse or unfamiliar it might be. “Oh, you like samosas? I like samosas!”

Life is better when we swim together. Not just to fend off external threats, but also to feel less alone. We are rarely the only ones chasing a certain goal or having a particular dream. Why not seek together instead of getting picked off by some predator along the way?

Why Fish Don’t Have Birth Certificates

In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle defines tragedy as follows:

“If a fish is born in your aquarium and you call it John, write out a birth certificate, tell him about his family history, and two minutes later he gets eaten by another fish – that’s tragic. But it’s only tragic because you projected a separate self where there was none.”

The fish doesn’t care about its name. It is a fish and will forever behave as such, until nature takes it back and replaces it with another fish.

The interchangeability of fish does not make any individual fish less valuable. In fact, it is the interchangeability of not just fish amongst each other but between all things – stones, flowers, rivers, mountains, meteors, planets, humans, and, yes, fish – that makes life an invaluable whole and each individual a precious representative.

We would never go to a river and write birth certificates for all the fish in it. What for? The fish have no use for them! They do not aid them in the business of being a fish.

While we might occasionally need a birth certificate, for example to become president of the United States, we should afford ourselves more of the freedom we give to fish, be it the ones in the river or the ones in our aquarium at home: Don’t project more of an identity onto yourself than you need to manage your daily affairs!

Don’t make the impermanence of life more tragic than it is by covering yourself in layers upon layers of history. “I am a CEO, working mom, skier, Starbucks-lover and ventriloquist.” The more of these labels you try to hold, the sadder you’ll be when one falls down and breaks.

I use the phrase “you are not X” a lot. You are not your job. You are not your money. You are not your thoughts. It’s an important reminder, one we need often, but what happens if you play this game all the way to the end? What is left if you take away everything external? Well, you. You’ll still be you. In fact, you might be you for the first time. Your true self, the one that requires neither name nor birth certificate.

Loss, change, evolution – these things are not tragic. That’s merely nature continuing on the same eternal path it has always been on. The real tragedy is identity. That’s our source of self-inflicted suffering.

By all means, name your fish if it brings you joy, but don’t tell yourself too much of a backstory about who you are. You are you. You are valuable. And you have everything you need to be human.

Pick Up Where You Left Off

Last week, I had a great editing session while listening to a particular song. It’s been several days, but if I crank up the same tune and afford myself some time, I’ll be back in the same flow soon enough.

When we drop an activity for a long time, we often want to begin from a different angle than the one we last approached it from – but why? There’s no rule that says you can’t continue right where you left off, even if the leaving-off part happened a considerable time ago.

Hemingway did this with his writing, and granted, it’s a little more obvious when you do it from one day to the next. But who says you can’t practice the same song on the piano you last played when you were 17? Who says you can’t write invoice #143 after two months of not looking at your taxes?

“I have been out of this for quite some time. Therefore, it must be a struggle to get back in.” That’s a lie your brain tells itself to keep you from doing any work. Just pick up where you last ended. The struggle will reveal itself should it be needed. You’ll be surprised that, often, it is too lazy to reappear – and you’ll be off to the races much faster than you’d imagined.

Your Sorting Hat

When new students of witchcraft arrive at Hogwarts in Harry Potter, they are assigned to one of the four houses of the school. The chief selection officer? The Sorting Hat. Placed on a person’s head, the Sorting Hat comes to life. It is a confident, talkative, opinionated being – but it is rarely wrong.

Beyond its assignment duties, however, the hat makes several appearances at critical points throughout the series. In one instance, it presents himself to Harry as he is trying to fend off a basilisk, a deadly, snake-like creature that turns whoever looks at it to stone. In a magic trick as proverbial as it gets, Harry manages to pull a famed sword out of the hat and beat the creature with it.

How handy would that be? A magical hat from which to pull whatever you need to deal with any situation. Well, if you ask Eckhart Tolle, you’re wearing that hat already. In The Power of Now, he writes: “You can always cope with the Now, but you can never cope with the future – nor do you have to. The answer, the strength, the right action or the resource will be there when you need it, not before, not after.”

If you reduce whatever daunting, impossible-seeming challenge you might face to “right now,” it becomes incredibly small. Definitely small enough to be manageable.

Do you have to pay back $100,000 in debt? How about right now? Oh, you’re sitting at breakfast? Well, I’m sure you can handle that. One step at a time. And whenever the next repayment is due, I’m sure you’ll find a way to survive that day too.

Whether you’re trying to write a book, juggle family responsibilities, or run a 100,000-person organization, if you go back to what is needed right now, you’ll see it’s never the challenge as a whole. The challenge as a whole doesn’t exist – nor need its weight on your shoulders – for even Stephen King, a stressed dad, and Google’s CEO live their lives one day at a time, one page, diaper, and email after the other.

You already have everything you’ll ever need. Your best source of confidence, creativity, and accurate snap judgments is already inside. Or should I say on top? Your Sorting Hat is always on your head. Whatever you need to deal with the now, all you have to do is pull it out.

The Photos You Don’t See

There was a photo album in one of the AirBnB’s kitchen drawers. The host family had made it in 2013. Inside, hundreds of photos documented the adventures of the couple and their five kids.

Just from looking at this album, you would learn that the host mom has a sister, and that she plays in a band. You would see the husband playing ice hockey, mining for gold with his eldest son, and remodeling the garden of their home. There are hiking trips, birthday cakes, and friends and family everywhere.

As I was flipping through the pages, I couldn’t help but think: Every family, even every individual, has a story as rich as this one. It might not always be one filled with laughter and holidays, but it is a story you cannot capture in even a million pictures.

We can’t see this story when we interact with a stranger at the coffee shop, but the world is a better place when we trust that it’s there. Choose kindness.

Which One Is That?

When my girlfriend and I went to a Thai restaurant while on holiday, they had several appetizing pictures on their menu cover. We were wondering about one dish in particular, and, after scouring the menu for a good while, we both made a guess, but neither of us was certain.

So, to make sure, when the waitress came around, we pointed at the dish in question and asked: “Which one is that?” She showed us in the menu, and I was happy to find out I had guessed the right one – but the lesson here is not the guessing, it’s the asking.

In the past, this might have been the kind of situation in which I would be too shy to ask or tell myself it wouldn’t really matter, pick another dish, and move on. But why? When children want to know something, they just ask. They never concern themselves with the appropriateness of the question, let alone if it might sound embarrassing.

The thing is that, even after we’ve grown up, most questions are still appropriate, and almost none of them are embarrassing. It’s only in our heads that every tiny bit of ignorance seems like a big deal.

If you want to know something, just ask. And if you can’t guess the food from the pictures, just point to them and ask: “Which one is that?”