How To Live Without Regrets Cover

How To Live Without Regrets

If you could vanish from society and start a new life, what would you do?

At 83 million viewers in the first month, 6 Underground is Netflix’ 4th most popular release of all time — and it asks us this very question.

Directed by Michael Bay, the movie sees six self-appointed action heroes toppling a cruel dictator in the fictional country of Turgistan. Led by a nameless billionaire, played by Ryan Reynolds, they do so in Bay-typical fashion: with lots of guns, cars, one-liners, and explosions.

Despite its over-the-top action and straightforward plot, there’s a deeper meaning behind the films flashy facade: It’s a movie about what it means to live your one life right.

To carry out their operation without getting nabbed at the first airport, the team must first fake their own deaths. Sitting in a diner, they muse over the benefits: No more DMV lines, Christmas shopping, or work email addresses. No more taxes, criminal records, or getting arrested for being drunk.

Having already faked his death in a plane crash, Reynolds’ character then schools them all: “You’ve got it all wrong, you know. When you’re young, you lock yourself into all these bad decisions. Marriages, mortgages, all that kind of stuff. But you die, it’s all erased. Poof! Gone.”

And then, casually inserting a profound insight into a charming yet obscene rant like only Ryan Reynolds can, he delivers the punchline:

“The best thing about being dead is the freedom. From that point forward, all that matters is what you choose.”


You’re not a sniper, stunt driver, or parkour virtuoso. No genius billionaire will recruit you for his spy unit. Your bad decisions will never be erased. If you let them pile up, they’ll keep piling up, and each day, the mountain of regret will grow a little taller.

Regret is saying, “I’m not ready to launch my startup,” and then hoping one friend agrees. Regret is backing out of the tournament at the last second and then finding you can’t laugh it off. Regret is missing your son’s first table tennis game and then realizing there’ll be no more firsthand firsts the day he moves out.

Regret is everything that you could, would, and should have done, were it not for [insert reasonable but invalid excuse].

I have many regrets. Do you? The weight of that mountain won’t go away.

It never feels like it in the moment. This decision? Nah. We couldn’t heap rocks onto Mount Everest! But we do. We do every day.

A tiny hill of sand — that’s how it starts. “Wow! It’s so light, this decision. What’s a little more sand?” Time feels good when it runs through your fingers.

Soon enough, one day becomes ten. One year becomes five. Before you know it, you’re shoveling opportunities into the fire — and what feels like air in the moment will later drop like a stone.

A train at full speed wants to keep going. The beast needs coal, and it will devour everything you offer. It won’t crash like a prop car, but the trail of regret it leaves behind? That can stack to the skies. In the end, you’ll only cower in its wake.

A clear slate is a fantasy. You don’t have the means to fake your own death. No dynamite to blow up the mountain.

What you do have, however, is the freedom to choose. It’s something you’ve always had, always will have, and what you choose is all that matters.

That’s the true lesson of the movie: Forget the rules! You don’t need to erase your past to take charge of your future.

The only way to live without regret is to realize you’re already free. You have one life and one life alone, and in that fact, you’ll find all the freedom you need.

The freedom to start before you feel ready. The freedom to try something new. The freedom to show up when you decide it counts.

Stop piling up regrets. Start living! Don’t wait for a chance to start over. Don’t wait for critics to change their minds. We all make mistakes — but we can decide to not let them define us.

What you choose is all that matters. Choose what matters every day.

Don't Forget Your Light Today Cover

Don’t Forget Your Light Today

The Drink of Despair is an ingenuity of evil. Parching whoever drinks it until they’re desperate for water, this nasty potion will nearly kill its consumer. Naturally, it must be drunk to be overcome — and dark wizards use it to protect their important belongings.

When it comes to dark wizards, Lord Voldemort is the poster child rather than the exception, and so, in one of the series most tragic moments, Harry Potter must feed his headmaster and mentor, Albus Dumbledore, the nefarious concoction. The pair succeeds in sipping the cup, but their victory is short-lived: What they hoped to acquire is no longer there, and they now find themselves weak and defenseless — surrounded by, of all things, water.

It’s a trap, of course. An army of Inferi — spellbound corpses — is hiding beneath the surface. Inside the dark lake of what on any other day would be a welcome source of refreshment, they’ve been waiting to “welcome” the two intruders all along — and drown them.

Since Dumbledore is too frail to fight and Harry isn’t quite strong enough, the inevitable happens: The boy trips, the Inferi grab, and into the depths he goes. Just as it seems Harry’s number is up, with the last blink of his eyes, he spots a flash of red. It cuts through the darkness above. Warmth fills the water, and a second later, he can no longer feel the Inferis’ grasp.

Harry swims to the surface. When he pokes his head out of the water, he can see but one thing: Fire. Raging, burning, darkness-crushing fire.

A pale Dumbledore stands in a tornado of light. Wielding his wand like a lasso, the all-powerful magician directs the fire from its center, raining wave after wave of scorching inferno upon their opponents. Harry manages to reunite with his savior, and, together, they fend off the attack.

The boy can consider himself lucky: Dumbledore brought his light today — and it made all the difference.


I’m dancing with my demons
I’m hanging off the edge
Storm clouds gather beneath me
Waves break above my head

I’m not sure he ever saw the Harry Potter scene, but given these lyrics, Chester Bennington from Linkin Park may as well have been in it. Nobody Can Save Me is the first song on their album One More Light, the last record to feature Chester as lead singer before he died by suicide.

The song is upbeat, the lyrics encouraging. Walking on the edge between light and dark, it reminds us to bring our sunshine — to conjure our ring of fire:

If only I can save me now
I’m holding up a light
Chasing out the darkness inside
And I don’t wanna let you down
But only I can save me

Chester struggled with depression all his life. One day, he simply forgot his light. Having listened to him since I was 13, I’m glad he brought it for so long.

We all have a light. We are One More Light. That’s what Chester taught me. The light is deep inside ourselves, and only we may ignite it.

Been searching somewhere out there
For what’s been missing right here

It’s a beautiful gift he left for us. Thank you, Chester. One More Light. Don’t forget.


“Home,” the candle in our bathroom reads. “No matter when and where, it is a safe place. Whatever happened, it is a warm harbor.”

When I see the flame flickering in the glass, I remember: Home is where the light is — and the light is something we carry.

Wherever you go, let there be light. Hold it every day, be it a tiny spark on your shoulder or a wall of fire against the dark.

As long as you bring it, there will always be light. Put it in your pocket. Let it do its thing. But remember to take it with you.

Don’t forget your light today. It might make all the difference.

You’ll Never Love Your Past as Much as You Love Your Future Cover

You’ll Never Love Your Past as Much as You Love Your Future

A 15-year-old’s greatest wish is to be 18, and yet, most 21-year-olds will say their 18-year-old selves were kind of dumb — even though both are just three years away from that age.

No matter how you change the numbers, this phenomenon will apply almost universally in one form or another.

When I was 8, I desperately wanted to be 10, like my neighbor who seemed so much stronger and smarter than I was at the time. When I was 10, I didn’t feel any different — maybe because I had no 8-year-old neighbor to compare myself to.

When I was 20, I thought by 30, I’d have life figured out. It was only at 23 that I looked around and wondered: “Why is nothing happening?” Nothing was happening because I wasn’t doing. I started right then, and, seven years later, I’m still going. I will turn 30 in two months, and now my 20-year-old self looks like an idiot.

I’m sure in my 30s, I’ll think my 40s will be much better, only to realize I’m still nearly as clueless about life at 45, yet not without that same patronizing smile back at my 30-year-old self that I now hold whenever I think of my early 20s.

Why is that? Why do we enjoy looking forward so much yet can only laugh and shake our heads when we look back? Well, in a nutshell: You’ll never love your past as much as you love your future. No one ever does.

In your future, the perfect version of you always exists. Everything is wide open. You feel as if you can achieve anything and everything, probably all at the same time. Your plans are intact. Your goals are in reach. Time is still flexible.

In your past, everything has already happened. There are no more pieces to be moved around. They’re all in place, and no matter whether you like the puzzle you’ve pieced together or not, you’ll always spot many places where you could have done better.

The perfect version of you never materialized. Most plans went to hell. Many goals fell out of reach. And time is just gone altogether. That can be demoralizing, but it’s just part of life.

Retirees don’t get as much satisfaction out of their past careers as college graduates expect from their future ones. Twenty-somethings don’t feel as autonomous as their teenage selves would have hoped to feel. Stressed moms don’t have it together as much as they believed they would before they gave birth.

This is a frustrating game you can play all your life — or you can realize that “all this looking back is messing with your neck.” At the end of the day, it matters not how well your past stacks up against your once imagined future. It only matters that you were content with the present as you lived through it.

At what age are we the happiest? That’s an impossible question, highlighted by the fact that you can find a theory for each major age bracket to back it as the answer.

There’s “the U-bend of life,” a theory that suggests happiness is high when we’re young, declines towards middle age, bottoms at 46 on average, then goes back up and reaches new heights in our 70s and 80s.

The idea is that family stress, worries about work, and anxiety about how our peers perceive us peak when we’re in the thick of life. As we get older, we care less about opinions and find contentment in what we have rather than what we hope to achieve.

When Lydia Sohn asked 90-somethings what they regretted most, however, she found the opposite: People were happiest when they were busy being the glue of their own social microcosmos — usually in their 40s.

Every single one of these 90-something-year-olds, all of whom are widowed, recalled a time when their spouses were still alive and their children were younger and living at home. As a busy young mom and working professional who fantasizes about the faraway, imagined pleasures of retirement, I responded, “But weren’t those the most stressful times of your lives?” Yes of course, they all agreed. But there was no doubt that those days were also the happiest.

At what age are we the happiest? It’s not only an impossible question, it’s an unnecessary one to ask. The answer will be different for every person to ever live, and our best guess is that it’ll be a stretch of days on which you felt fairly satisfied with life rather than a singular event or short period of exuberant bliss.

What we do know is that your best shot at stringing together a series of such “everything is good enough” days is neither to get lost in future castles in the sky nor to constantly commiserate how unlike those castles your past has become. You’ll have to abandon both the future and the past in favor of the present.

Imagine you have two choices: You can either be happy every day of your life but not remember a single one, or you can have an average, even unsatisfying life but die wholeheartedly believing you’re the happiest person in the world.

It matters not which one you choose because in both scenarios, you’ll die on a good day. One sacrifices the past, the other the future, but the present is what counts.

You’ll never love your past as much as you love your future, but that’s okay because life is neither about tomorrow nor about yesterday. It’s about today — and if you make today a good day with your thoughts, actions, and decisions, the idea of age will soon fade altogether.

The Meaning of Life Cover

The Meaning of Life

Why get out of bed if you don’t have to?

Why have a different breakfast than yesterday?

Why go to work when you could be fired?

Why take the train if you have a car?

Why say hello to someone you see every day?

Why stay late when your salary is fixed?

Why try sushi if you might not like it?

Why ask her out when she’ll likely say no?

Why read a book when you have a TV?

Why plan a vacation when it might not happen?

Why go out when it rains?

Why ask the doctor for his opinion?

Why write a diary if no one will read it?

Why celebrate when it’s just another day?

Why buy a new notebook when your old one’s not full?

Why finish today if you can do it tomorrow?

Why take a plane when it could crash?

Why make a video no one might watch?

Why call when he may not pick up?

Why try a new recipe when you know what she likes?

Why cook if you can just order?

Why write an op-ed when no one asked for your opinion?

Why work out when your tracker is broken?

Why play board games when your kids soon move out?

Why do it now when your idea is four months old?

Why sing if no one can hear it?

Why dance if no one will see?

Why kiss your wife when you’ll still be married tomorrow?

Why smile when wearing a mask?

Why think when each thought is fleeting?

Why laugh when no one gets the joke?

Why repair a car that keeps breaking?

Why protest if you’re the only one with objections?

Why make a sign nobody may read?

Why hold her hand if she’ll forget your name?

Why send a letter that may get lost in the mail?

Why catch a fish if you’re planning to release it?

Why compete when you’re unlikely to win?

Why help the customer after hours?

Why pay extra to change the color?

Why make a deal with nothing to gain?

Why keep the shares when they’re losing money?

Why hold on to old photographs?

Why remember what’s not on the test?

Why do it if your boss said no?

Why hit send when you’re afraid of the response?

Why propose an idea they might laugh at?

Why quit a safe job to start your own business?

Why suggest a law most people won’t like?

Why give a speech when no one might listen?

Why plant a tree whose shade you won’t sit in?

Because life is about taking chances.

How to Not Waste Your Life Cover

How To Not Waste Your Life

If you’ve wasted your whole life, can you make up for it in a single moment?

This is the question at the heart of Extraction, Netflix’s latest blockbuster and, at 90 million viewers in the first month, biggest film premiere ever.

Following Chris Hemsworth as a black market mercenary trying to rescue the kidnapped son of India’s biggest drug lord, the movie is full of car chases, gun fights, and a whopping 183 bodies dropping at the hands of Thor himself.

At the end of the day, however, it is about none of those things. It’s a movie about redemption.

After freeing his target, 15-year-old Ovi, from the hands of a rival Bangladeshi drug lord, Hemsworth’ character Tyler shows true vulnerability in a brief moment of shelter.

When Ovi asks him if he’s always been brave, Tyler claims he’s “just the opposite,” having left his wife and six-year-old son, right before the latter died of lymphoma.

Sharing the kind of wisdom only children tend to possess, Ovi replies with a Paulo Coelho quote he’s read in school:

“You drown not by falling into the river, but by staying submerged in it.”


You’re not an ex-special forces agent. Your life is not a movie. There will be no obvious signs. No excessive violence. No rampant drug abuse.

Just a slow, steady trickle of days, each a little more like the last, each another step away from your dreams — another day submerged in the river.

The river is pressing “Ignore” on the reminder to decline a good-but-not-great project request. The river is saying, “When I’ve done X, I’ll start writing.” The river is postponing asking your daughter about her dance hobby because today, you’re just too tired.

The river is everything that sounds like a temporary excuse today but won’t go away tomorrow.

Trust me. I’ve been there. It really, really won’t. No matter how much you’d like it to.

At first, it doesn’t feel like you’re drifting. You’re just letting go for a bit. You’re floating. The river carries you. It’s nice. Comfortable. Things happen. Time passes. It’ll keep passing.

Eventually, the river leads into a bigger river. You’re in new terrain. You’ve never seen this place before. Where can you get ashore? Where will this river lead?

Soon, you don’t know what’s ahead anymore. You can’t see what’s next. The river could become a waterfall. It might send you right off a cliff. You’ll stay submerged forever.

There won’t be a big shootout at the end. Just a regretful look out the window. A relative visiting. “Oh yeah, that. I never did it. I can’t tell you why.”

All rivers flow into the sea. If you don’t push to the surface, if you don’t start swimming, that’s where you’re going.

No one is coming to save you. You won’t get an extraction. No one will beat you into writing your book or asking her to marry you or being a good mother. No 15-year-old boy will serve you the answer in a quote from a book.

The only way to not waste your life is to do your best to not waste today.

Write a sentence. Make a hard choice. Pick up the phone.

We all fall into the river from time to time. But we can’t stay submerged in it. Don’t let small regrets pile up in silence. Take one step each day. One stroke towards the surface.

You’re not a soldier, and no single brief can save you. No standalone mission will define your legacy.

Don’t hope for a shot at redemption. Redeem yourself with your actions.

Redeem yourself every day.

Bill Gates' Most Important Lesson Cover

The Most Important Lesson We Can Learn From Bill Gates

Bill Gates is fascinating for many reasons: his wealth, his habits, his ideas.

The new Netflix documentary Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates covers them all. It follows his extraordinary journey, from globalizing office software to building one of the world’s most influential companies, becoming its richest man, and now, leading its largest foundation.

But the reason I’m fascinated by Gates has nothing to do with any of that. It’s not his success, or his way of thinking, or his approach to solving the world’s most critical problems with tech. To me, the most interesting thing about him is what he teaches us about what it means to be human.

Throughout the Netflix series, an interviewer asks Gates silly, get-to-know-you questions in quick succession: “What’s your favorite food? What’s your favorite animal? What do you eat for breakfast?” But every now and then, he throws in some curveballs, maybe to catch Gates off guard and get him to veer from his canned responses. Or maybe the show is just edited to make it look like Gates is getting a low-stakes grilling. Whatever the reason, at one point, the interviewer asks this question: “What was the worst day of your life?”

Gates is a composed man. He’s reserved, but seems at ease answering all sorts of questions. But this one is different. He squints. He looks down. He appears to be thinking, but not really. He knows what he has to say — he just doesn’t want to say it. No one would. But finally, he says it:

“The day my mother died.”

There, sitting in the library of his $127 million mansion, is a man who’s achieved everything there could possibly be to achieve, whose life — at least to us outsiders — is defined by his business success.

And yet he didn’t say, “The day Steve Jobs accused me of stealing from him.”

He didn’t say, “The day I was humiliated by getting hit in the face with a cream pie during a visit with Belgian business and government leaders.”

He didn’t say, “The day we were forced to pay $1.3 billion in antitrust fines.”

No, the worst day in the Microsoft billionaire’s life was the day his mother died.

No matter who you are or who you aspire to be, at the end of the day, life is not about money or status or power. It’s not even about legacy.

Life is about people; the people you meet, the people you miss. Even the people you hate. Most of all, life is about the people you love. Some of them will die before you do. Nothing will ever bring them back.

Every one of us has limited time. But when it comes to spending it with those we hold dearest, we might have even less. Gates reminded me of this fact. It’s his greatest lesson of all.

You’re Not Lazy, Bored, Or Unmotivated Cover

You’re Not Lazy, Bored, Or Unmotivated

I don’t know you, but I know this: You have internet access and enough time to spend some of it reading.

This is obvious to you and me, but this non-observation tells me two further, much more interesting things about you:

  1. You are in the top half of humanity’s wealth distribution. That’s right. You may not live in Singapore, Dubai, or even the US or Europe, but access to this all-powerful tool alone puts you in the top 50% — because the other half isn’t even online yet.
  2. You are fighting the modern human struggle. Since you’re here, reading, you’re not busy surviving. You’ve got the basics covered. Food. A roof over your head. It may not be great, not what you dream about at night, but, where you live, the basics of civilization are in place. You know you’ll be around tomorrow. You’re fighting to thrive, not survive.

In this fight, this lifelong battle to fulfill your potential and build a life that makes you happy while also giving you a sense of meaning, you’re not dealing with physical obstacles. You’re trying to defeat abstract enemies.

There’s no one blocking the road to riches. Anyone can get on there. There’s just the market, and, yes, it’s a tough place. But people pay for things every day. Good products, good services, good people win.

There’s no obscure cult guarding the secret to happiness. It’s all in your head. And your hands. Happiness is a consequence of the decisions you make and the people you choose to engage with. Your actions, your emotions, your choices are what you have to work on.

Even if you are facing challenges with physical constraints, like excelling at sports, overcoming a disability, or moving to a place with more economic opportunity, these real-world barriers aren’t what’ll stop you from living the life you want. It’s the hypothetical, made up, self-conjured concepts in your head that will ruin you.

Concepts like laziness, boredom, self-doubt, procrastination, and everything Steven Pressfield would subsume under the term ‘Resistance.

I’m here to tell you: All these concepts are one and the same and there’s only one way to deal with them.

You’re not lazy. You’re not bored. You’re not unmotivated. What you are — what all of us are — is afraid. And the only thing we can do that really helps — the only line of motivation we’ll ever need, the only piece of self-help advice that actually works — is a three-word sentence Nike turned into the most successful marketing slogan of all time after slightly tweaking a serial killer’s last words in 1988: Just do it.

You’re Not Unmotivated

“I’m not motivated” is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. What does that even mean? Not motivated to do what? Work? In that case, aren’t you motivated to avoid it? You’re always motivated! Every action human beings ever take is driven by some kind of incentive.

It may not always be an obvious one, like money, but it’s always there. It could be a social incentive, some form of status among your peers, or an ethical incentive, the relief of feeling like you did the right thing, but behind every action lies a driving force, whether it’s happiness, or peace, or satisfying your conscience.

So if you work the counter at a sneaker store and hate every second of it, you’re not unmotivated to change. Heck, I bet you wish you could change much more so than the annoying corporate hack who’s on his third side hustle and pseudo-spiritual journey to inner peace already. But there’s something holding you back. For some reason, it feels like you can’t change no matter what you do. So you don’t even try. But that’s entirely different from not being motivated and it’s only a sign that it’s time to dig into this feeling.

You’re Not Bored

I talked to a girl on Tinder. She was a scrum master and physiologist. She was in business school, but, really, she wanted to study fashion and launch her own creative company. As soon as we touched upon her dream, the conversation tapered off.

Messages took days to come. She was “busy.” On vacation. Didn’t feel like small talk, but wasn’t interested in real talk either. Or getting coffee, for that matter. When I asked her why she even used the app, she spoke the most common lie in the world: “I’m bored.”

She wasn’t bored. Just like you aren’t bored. No one is ever bored anymore. Why should we be? There’s no reason to. We’re 100% connected, 100% of the time. You couldn’t even be bored if you chose to. And that’s the problem: We don’t even try to choose to be bored.

We just pretend we are so we can keep filling our days with meaningless little distractions, like empty conversations on Tinder. Not because we love our entertainment so much, but because we know what lies beneath the stillness: existential dread. Go through the door of boredom, and that’s what you’ll find. The great scientist and mathematician Blaise Pascal once said:

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Zat Rana has a wonderful interpretation of what he means:

At its core, it’s not necessarily that we are addicted to a TV set because there is something uniquely satisfying about it, just like we are not addicted to most stimulants because the benefits outweigh the downsides. Rather, what we are really addicted to is a state of not-being-bored.

Almost anything else that controls our life in an unhealthy way finds its root in our realization that we dread the nothingness of nothing. We can’t imagine just being rather than doing. And therefore, we look for entertainment, we seek company, and if those fail, we chase even higher highs.

We ignore the fact that never facing this nothingness is the same as never facing ourselves. And never facing ourselves is why we feel lonely and anxious in spite of being so intimately connected to everything else around us.

So no. You’re not bored. You’re terrified of being alone with yourself in your own head.

You’re Not Lazy

Laziness is the scapegoat of everyone who’s trying to capitalize on your claim of “being bored.” “You’re not bored — you’re boring!” is what they’ll tell you. You need a hobby or a calling or a $250 fitness program with a personalized meal plan.

Of course, this too is nonsense. Laziness, like boredom, doesn’t exist. Psychology professor Devon Price explains:

If a person can’t get out of bed, something is making them exhausted. If a student isn’t writing papers, there’s some aspect of the assignment that they can’t do without help. If an employee misses deadlines constantly, something is making organization and deadline-meeting difficult. Even if a person is actively choosing to self-sabotage, there’s a reason for it — some fear they’re working through, some need not being met, a lack of self-esteem being expressed.

People do not choose to fail or disappoint. No one wants to feel incapable, apathetic, or ineffective. If you look at a person’s action (or inaction) and see only laziness, you are missing key details. There is always an explanation. There are always barriers. Just because you can’t see them or don’t view them as legitimate, doesn’t mean they’re not there. Look harder.

Once again, it’s not a lack of motivation, an inexplicable unwillingness to act that obstructs your path to success and happiness. It’s the invisible boundaries in your head that you’re tripping over — sometimes without ever moving at all.

Medicating the Symptoms of Our Only Disease

Laziness, boredom, procrastination, these are all excuses. Not as in “we suck because we succumb to these,” but as in, “we accept these as real problems when they’re just the symptoms.” Because that’s what they are. Surface-level phenomena that all lead back to the same root cause: fear.

My dad once told me this story: A colleague was driving to an appointment with a customer. As he was overtaking a truck, the truck moved into his lane. Seeing his car get crushed from the passenger side and compressing towards him, his animal instincts kicked in. Unleashing an ancient roar at the top of his lungs, he ripped out the gear lever of his automatic gearbox with one hand.

This is an automatic gearbox:

Image via Wikipedia

Clearly, we’re not talking about breaking off a knob on your radio. It’s a heavy piece of machinery, and the lever is properly fixated on it with multiple layers of further constraints built around it. That’s the power of fear. It can make you do unimaginable things.

Luckily, my dad’s co-worker survived the incident unscathed, but now imagine turning this same power not onto your physical environment, but against your own mind. That’s what you’re doing. That’s what you, and I, and everyone you know who’s struggling to realize their dreams is doing.

We’re taking this unbelievable source of raw power and, in lack of real-life threats to hurl it against, we turn it on ourselves. Of course, we don’t do it in outright, uncontrollable fits of rage — at least not most of us and not most of the time. We do it by self-medicating. By concocting and treating symptoms, like laziness, boredom, and other seemingly minor, but actually soul-crushing patterns.

John Gorman calls it “building around fear:”

Fear doesn’t manifest itself like you think, because often times we don’t give it the chance to. Fear isn’t always the sweaty palms that stop us cold in a job interview — fear is generally what prevents us from applying in the first place. It’s so subtly limiting that we often build around it without even noticing it’s there.

That’s why our long list of symptoms is so widely condoned and accepted. Society is playing a big, global, silently agreed upon game of “let’s hide the truth and move on with our day.” We want the cover-ups. And so in our day-to-day, it all looks the same; it all looks harmless.

The thing with fear is on a surface level it’s indistinguishable from laziness. 90% of the time it’s the former, and 90% of people will assume it’s the latter.

So instead of seeing everyone rip their gear levers out of their cars, we see them staring at their phones on the subway. We see them eating 4,000 calories in a single meal, playing 12 hours of video games in a day, or consuming weed, alcohol, and potentially worse drugs in the span of a few minutes. We see their outraged comments on social media, their finely curated highlight reels, their long or short list of small or intense vices, and we think, “Hey, these must be valid issues I have! After all, they have them too.”

No. The one true problem we all share is fear. We just choose to medicate it differently.

The Dog That Keeps on Chasing

Just like there is no reason to be bored anymore, there is no need to have any other problem in your life than fear. I mean, geez, that list is long. The number of things you can be afraid of is endless.

You’re afraid of dying early despite having no factual indication whatsoever that warrants believing you actually will. You read about plane crashes and armed robberies and natural disasters and newly discovered parasites and it all feels like it’s out to get you when, in fact, they’re all 0.01% incidents spun perfectly by the media to drill into your not-very-thick-skinned amygdala.

You’re afraid of being alone because well, existential dread, but also because it looks weird and gets weird looks, and if your parents haven’t asked why you’re still single yet, your friends most certainly have. You’re afraid of not meeting social expectations even though we all keep telling each other there are no more social expectations, afraid of talking the way you want to talk with your boss, your customer, and especially the dude you keep staring at at the café because for all you know, he’s your boss’s boss.

You’re afraid of writing chapter one of your book because who thinks that’ll ever work out, but you’re also afraid of wasting ten more hours watching Game of Thrones, especially now that you’ve already seen the whole thing twice. You’re afraid of never being rich, but not nearly as much as you’re afraid of losing whatever little you have, because how are you supposed to live without your IKEA living room table, your $500 iPad, or your custom-design wall decal of a world map highlighting all the places you’ve visited already?

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I could keep going all day. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of looking stupid, fear of losing something or someone, fear of fear, fear of wasting time or not having enough, fear of not being good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough, or inadequate in any sense whatsoever — your mind is littered with fear.

There are real fears, fake fears, the kind of fears you can neatly convert into boredom or laziness and dismiss at the surface, and the kind that makes you freeze right down to your bones in front of your computer screen despite absolutely nothing happening at all.

Now, here’s the thing: In order to deal with all these fears, you could spend thousands of dollars to further support the billion-dollar self-help industry which lives off reaffirming all your irrational jitters and nods along fiercely whenever you talk yourself into yet another cover-up. You could buy a new book from a new guru each week, collect a stunning array of probably-placebo supplements on your shelf, and attend a new seminar with a new pyramid scheme that is totally going to work every six months. Or, you can wake the hell up.

Wake the hell up and realize: it’s all the same thing. It’s all. The same. Thing. Fear. There is nothing else and there never was. Never will be. It’s the same, godawful, rotten, dark creature that’s always plagued us, and it will continue to invent new tricks till kingdom come. But, at the end of the day, it’s all fear.

You have to find a way to live in spite of fear.

That dog is going to keep chasing you until you die. And some days, it will get to you. But it can never — never — stop you completely. You have to keep moving. Always. Forever. The day you run into the bright light at the end of the tunnel, I want you to look back and give the finger to that dog trailing behind. Smiling. “Screw you, I won this! I made it. And I did it my way.”

The Cure

Now, I’m not qualified to talk about fear any more than the guy at the corner store. I hold no degree in psychology, no certificate from some brain research institute, heck, I have zero formal training as a writer. But, like you, I have lived with fear my whole life. And, somehow, I’ve still arrived here. I have a job I love, lots of time, few complex structures in my life, and would describe myself as a happy, positive, optimistic person. I don’t know much and have my own issues to resolve, but I sure feel okay taking life one day at a time. And I think that’s what it’s about. Beat the dog. Again. And again. And again.

My theme for this year is ‘Focus.’ Across all areas of my life, I’m trying my best to drill down to what really matters. Projects. People. Parts of those projects and how I talk to those people. How I manage my time, my energy, my life.

The one thing that has helped me show up consistently in spite of fear, particularly with writing, but in other places too — and I have thought long and hard about this — is some version of Nike’s glib, cliché, annoyingly obvious slogan: Just Do It.

Because besides being glib, cliché, and annoyingly obvious, it’s also universally, inescapably true. “Just Do It” isn’t an elegant solution and certainly not a perfect one. It’s not dismissive or snobby but empowering and humble. It’s motivation. Inspiration. Action. Energy. And truth. And that’s why it’s the most brilliant piece of marketing of all time.

People don’t realize how deep this slogan is. I don’t think the creators did when they came up with it. They didn’t mean it to be. But it is. However, you can’t see that when you get hung up on its immediacy. “If it were that easy, don’t you think everybody would ‘just do it?’” No, no, no. You’ve got that all wrong. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about something a guy named Marcus Aurelius told himself 2,000 years ago:

“You must build up your life action by action, and be content if each one achieves its goal as far as possible — and no one can keep you from this.”

If all we did was focus on the task right in front of us, we’d accomplish 99% of our goals and then some.

Sure, we’d still have to pause and reflect on occasion, and not all goals would turn out to be worth chasing in the first place, but we’d just…get there. Don’t you get it? This is everything. All you need. The whole strategy. But it’s more than that still. It’s also a tactic. Because another consequence of a relentless bias towards action is that there’s no room for self-doubt. You don’t have time for big picture concerns when you’re doing. And I don’t mean running around all day like a rat in a maze. I mean steadily engaging and re-focusing on the task at hand. Even if it’s relaxing. Whatever the next small step is. Because the next small step is always doable.

Let’s talk a little more about what living “Just Do It” means.

“Just Do It” as a Strategy

A strategy is a long-term approach to getting what you want. A set of behaviors you’re committed to, a line of principles you’re unwilling to compromise.

Amazon’s strategy is to be the most convenient place on the internet to order stuff from. That’s “the way they do business.” Almost everything they do serves that strategy. The whole point of a strategy is that it can’t possibly work out tomorrow. It’s only efficient if you stick to it, and, because it’s a fundamental guideline in how you make decisions, it’s hard to change. If Amazon changes their strategy, all their hard work goes out the window. If they started being hell-bent on quality, they’d have to shrink their product range to the point of inconvenience. So they don’t. The strategy is set and maintaining it all these years has served them well.

Using “Just Do It” as the strategy, the operating system of your life, means committing to figuring it out on your own.

No more gimmicks. No more wholesale adoption of get-rich-quick schemes, diets with pointless rules (“never eat celery!”), and fake silver bullets you know can’t possibly keep the promises they make. You chase your goals based on what you believe in. If you think art should be free, then make art for free and get sponsors or donors. If you don’t believe in remote work, rent an office and hire locally. If you see the people in your country just not getting what you’re trying to do, move.

“Just Do It” is the best advice because it’s the only advice that works.

When I started writing, I gave lots of specific tips in my articles. “Here’s how to set goals, have a morning routine, be productive.” But specifics are full of hindsight bias. I’m only giving you the final 10% that worked and that worked for me in particular. The last iteration of all the cycles I’ve gone through. The messy 90% of the journey that led me there? I left those out completely. I might have tried 15 different things over the course of two years to finally nail my morning routine — but now I’ve turned that last, functioning process into a pattern and am telling you how to do just that step by step.

Am I even talking to the right person? Who is it for? Because if I’m talking to “me-from-two-years-ago,” then I’m talking to the wrong crowd. And if I do catch you at the point where you’ve covered the 90% of your own journey, well, then what do you need me for? My specific advice is only going to work for a tiny fraction of people who happen to be in the right place at the right time and for whom it will click immediately. Everyone else who still needs to go through the random 90% in their journey will be left out in the cold. Still feeling alone, still stuck with their fears. Except now, they’re disappointed too.

“Just Do It” may not be perfect, but at least it clears the air from the start: Yes, you are alone, but you also have everything you could ever need to figure things out. You will make many mistakes, and you’ll have to take responsibility for each and every one of the countless choices you’ll make on your own dime. But since no one on this planet can give you the perfect answers to the questions created by your unique, once-in-a-lifetime circumstances, choosing proudly and continuing to move forward is not just the best thing you can do, it’s also the right thing you should do.

That’s why I now keep saying things like “just start” and “get off your butt” and “go do things.” Because specifics won’t help. Fear or no fear, for each next challenge and next chapter, you’ll have to get through that messy, random part. You have to make your mistakes. Forget the advice. The empty promises of “proven plans you can follow.” There is no such thing. Summon your confidence. Be proud of who you are. Have faith in yourself. Pick your own battles and how you’ll try to win them. Commit to “Just Do It” as your strategy of getting everything you want out of life.

“Just Do It” as a Tactic

A tactic is a short- to medium-term course of action that serves as an attempt at living up to your strategy. “Given our strategy, this is the next thing we’re going to try.”

Going back to Amazon, Prime is a tactic. Launching a program that offers faster delivery, exclusive products, and extra discounts at a fixed price per year gave them the answer to the question: “Will people pay us to make ordering online even easier for them in a predictable, calculable way?” Based on the revenue they made from the new service, they concluded the answer was “yes.” Had it been “no,” then Amazon would’ve shelved Prime and that would’ve been the end of it. Compared to the commitment required by a strategy, a tactic is just a wet wipe. If it’s not enough, you toss it and pull out the next one. No hard feelings.

“Just Do It” as a tactic is refusing to let everyday hurdles get to you while relentlessly focusing on the next, smallest action you can control.

Your boss didn’t like the presentation? Fine, you do it over and show her again. You’ve run out of clients and your freelance business never really got off the ground? Fine, you shut it down and start from scratch. The girl behind your dream profile ghosted you for no apparent reason and made you feel miserable? Fine, you delete the app and try another way of meeting people.

All professional athletes ever do is to focus on the next play. How do we convert this move? How do we recover these inches? How can I get the ball out of the bunker? All year you worry about minutes, inches, seconds — and by the end of it, you’ve won the championship without ever thinking about it. Michael Jordan’s so-called “next play speed” was less than a second. He’d score, run back to defend, steal the inbound pass, lose the ball, then run down the opponent.

A “Just Do It” approach to managing your day-to-day brings down your next play speed, and you’ll be happier because of it.

The faster you can re-center after you complete something or get rattled, the better. Having a high next play speed also leads to improved happiness because it simply leaves you with little time to even worry about the picture. There’s no wiggle room to dance around your fears, but also not enough space to let them get to you. What’s the next play? What’s the next play? What’s the next play? That’s all you’re ever asking.

Again, this isn’t to say you should never rest or that you’ll never have moments where the dog creeps back around the corner and stares at you with unblinking eyes. It’s to say that, with this focus, it’ll happen far less often and you’ll feel more confident in handling it when it does. Once you’ve chosen a strategy, a set of long-term plays you want to make, forget the big picture. Keep your head down. What’s the next play? Figure it out. And then just do it.

Make a Promise to Yourself

I don’t know you, but I know this: You’re fighting the modern human struggle. You have been equipped with everything you need to accomplish everything you’ve ever dreamed of and a whole lot more. You’re not scraping around the bottom of human existence. You know you have it in you, and the only thing that can make it all come crashing down are the ghosts inside your mind.

Those ghosts are here to stay in all their nefarious, despicable, irrational forms, but you and I both know you can’t let them stop you. You won’t let them stop you. You’re going to use your gifts and use them to the best of your ability to fulfill your potential.

You’re not unmotivated. You’re not lazy. You’re not bored. In a world where you walk around without blinders on, these things don’t exist. You are afraid. Like me. Like your neighbor. Like all of us. We are all afraid. And yet, we are still here. So every day, choose to be here. To hold a flashlight in the face of your demons and say, “I’ve played your games before. I know who you are, and you all look the same to me.”

Nike’s simple, mainstream, maybe even trite but genius mantra is the perfect reminder of how simple and straightforward, yet how demanding and strenuous this lifelong battle is. “Just Do It” is the song we grew up on, the ad that made us smile and clench a fist in fierce resolution. It may be a corporate marketing ploy, but it’s also the spirit of human potential, of the original American Dream.

Using this motto as both your strategy for living your best life and the tactic to see it through will accelerate and clarify your personal growth in ways no self-improvement gimmick ever could. It’s a contract, a promise to yourself to live life on your own terms and not be swayed by the events in it or the tricks your mind plays on itself. It’s not a miracle drug and it won’t lead to a guaranteed happy ending, but I think it’s our best shot at looking back on the brief time we spend on this earth with pride instead of regret.

And if that’s not a cause worth fighting for, a promise worth keeping, then I don’t know what else to tell you. Except “Just Do It.”

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

Everything I Know Is True Cover

Everything I Know Is True – My Entire Life in 55 Lessons

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke once said:

“Death is being alive and not knowing it.”

I guess until 2012, I was dead. It’s not like I wasn’t living. I was trying my best and, most of the time, I was happy. But I didn’t realize it and so I was unable to appreciate the vastness of this incredible experience called life.

I didn’t know who I was. How much I could change. That I could shape life as much as it could shape me. So when I read something that hinted at these things for the first time, I began a lifelong journey: the quest to know myself.

Seneca said it takes a lifetime to learn how to live, just like it takes a lifetime to learn how to die. But with each new piece of the ever-changing puzzle you find, you get a little closer to your true self. To being alive and knowing it.

More importantly, you’ll develop the confidence to express that self. To not be trapped by dogma and societal doctrine. I’ve only just begun, and there’s infinitely more to discover, but here’s everything I know to be true right now.


  1. The most important part of figuring out how to live is asking the question.
  2. “I don’t know” is not an admission of defeat, it’s the start of empowerment.
  3. Most of the solutions to life’s challenges lie in sitting with yourself.
  4. The only person you’ll spend the rest of your life with is you.
  5. Imagination is our most powerful ability. It is also the most dangerous.
  6. If you run out of kind words for yourself, stop talking.
  7. Empathy is learning to look in the mirror and not hate what you see.
  8. The truth about ourselves is what we choose to believe.
  9. Freedom is always internal. Whether ‘to’ or ‘from,’ it starts in the mind.
  10. Having a choice matters more than whatever choice you make.
  11. Love is not a noun, it’s a verb. And it starts with loving yourself.
  12. We should believe more in what we create, less in what we emulate.
  13. We can’t choose what we’re raised to value, but we can choose to change.
  14. What we learn alone is what we carry into our interactions with others.
  15. All relationships in life have mutual effects. Everything is connected.
  16. Comparison is not just the death of joy, it is also the birth of misery.
  17. It’s better to be curious than judgmental and impossible to be both at once.
  18. Study the failures of those around you, not the wins of those far away.
  19. Our fixed point of view is an individual limit, but a collective strength.
  20. Changing your perspective is hard, but let it always be your first try.
  21. How much we learn is limited by how open-minded we are, not time.
  22. Aging won’t free you from stupidity. Only learning will.
  23. A mistake is only as valuable as the time you spend thinking about it.
  24. Minimalism is not about physical space, it’s about making room to think.
  25. Every lesson in life comes at the expense of unlearning another.
  26. Seeing clearly is holding different truths in your head at the same time.
  27. The more you listen, the smarter you get. Listening leads to learning.
  28. The smarter you get, the more you listen. Learning leads to humility.
  29. The best tools always put you in control, even when you’re not using them.
  30. Books are infinite. If you treat them right, they’ll keep on giving forever.
  31. We can’t delegate our responsible use of technology to technology itself.
  32. When we make technology our ideology, we let our tools form our identity.
  33. You don’t need an identity to have a life.
  34. The only way to stay true to who you are is to change every day.
  35. There is no right set of habits. Just the ability to adapt at the right time.
  36. Know how to build and break habits and you’ll always flow with change.
  37. Reality consists of subjects and verbs. We supply all the adjectives.
  38. The only place where we can truly live is the present. It all happens here.
  39. Peace of mind relies on having faith in present-you.
  40. Often, the easiest way is the hard way. More effort, but less competition.
  41. Few things that are risky are actually dangerous.
  42. Social acceptance is a bad metric for making choices and tracking success.
  43. When the outside world is loud, be quiet inside.
  44. Your work should reflect who you are, not what you want your life to be.
  45. Detachment bears authenticity, expectations cloud your thinking.
  46. The easiest way to attract what you desire is to deserve what you want.
  47. Wanting what makes you happy requires wanting the right things.
  48. Half of happiness is learning to love everything you don’t have.
  49. If you travel because you’re unhappy, you’ll never reach your destination.
  50. Happiness is a spontaneous byproduct, not a permanent state.
  51. Death will be an interruption.
  52. Your legacy will be determined by the perception of others. Not you.
  53. Everything that’s part of the grand circle is destined to die. Including us.
  54. What you do in your one life will be everything you ever do.
  55. If we act accordingly, life is long enough for most of us.
How To Deal With The Adversities Of Life Cover

How To Deal With The Adversities Of Life

On July 19th in 64 AD, a fire broke out in Rome. Within just six days, the world’s most prosperous city was almost completely destroyed. Ten out of Rome’s fourteen districts burned down to the ground, leaving dozens of buildings in ruins, hundreds of people dead, and thousands more homeless.

To this day, historians argue whether emperor Nero ordered the fire himself to take credit for the splendor of a rebuilt Rome. Regardless of the disaster’s origins, rebuild the city he did, in part thanks to a big donation from Lyons.

Just one year later, Nero had a chance to return the favor: Lyons, too, burned down. While he sent the same sum, Rome’s premier philosopher thought about the irony of it all. Remembering when he stood in the rubble of his own city’s decimated remains, Lucius Annaeus Seneca shows empathy for a friend:

“Sturdy and resolute though he is when it comes to facing his own troubles, our Liberalis has been deeply shocked by the whole thing. And he has some reason to be shaken. What is quite unlooked for is more crushing in its effect, and unexpectedness adds to the weight of a disaster. The fact that it was unforeseen has never failed to intensify a person’s grief.”

You may not have had to mark yourself as ‘safe’ on Facebook during a fire, an earthquake, or a tsunami, but you’ve surely had things go very wrong very suddenly. Maybe you got fired instead of promoted. Maybe a loved one died unexpectedly. Maybe an illness disabled you for three months out of the blue.

We’ve greatly reduced the toll on human life taken by natural disasters since the Roman age, but as individuals, we’ll all encounter surprising twists of fate at least a few times over the course of our life. If these twists are unfortunate, their suddenness adds to our pain. At worst, it might incapacitate us for years.

When adversity is all but guaranteed, how can we stop it from paralyzing us?

The Jurisdiction of Fortune

Never one to point out a problem without a solution, Seneca offers multiple comforting alternatives. The first and most obvious is preparation:

“Therefore, nothing ought to be unexpected by us. Our minds should be sent forward in advance to meet all problems, and we should consider not what is wont to happen, but what can happen.”

Humans aren’t perfect. Our brains are flawed and as individuals, we all have a unique, but limited perspective. Nonetheless, being the simulation machines that we are, few things are inconceivable to us. We might never be able to expect everything, but we can make a lot of accurate projections.

We can ruminate on the duration of the good times we live in and consider what’ll happen if they end. We can extrapolate some of the bad eventualities bound to come and make guesses where they will come from. Finally, we can acknowledge that, contrary to Murphy’s law, not everything that can go wrong will — but it might. As we make plans and execute them, this helps.

The second thing Seneca offers to his friend Liberalis is perspective:

“Therefore, let the mind be disciplined to understand and to endure its own lot; let it have the knowledge that there is nothing which fortune does not dare — that she has the same jurisdiction over empires as over emperors, the same power over cities as over the citizens who dwell therein. We must not cry out at any of these calamities. Into such a world have we entered, and under such laws do we live.”

It’s true that life may sometimes render even our best efforts useless, but in this powerlessness, at least we are not alone.

Even nature itself is no match for a universe governed by the forces of change, Seneca says. Mountain tops dissolve, entire regions perish, hills are leveled by the power of flames, and landmarks are swallowed by the sea. And yet, not one of these events can live up to the rumors about it we indulge in. Especially because often, setbacks are actually the beginning of something better.

While these are all formidable coping mechanisms, somehow, none of them seems to capture the true essence of the problem. Lucky for us, Seneca did.

Finding True Equanimity

Despite Seneca’s various attempts at providing relief, when it comes to fate’s toughest blows, there is a sense of discomfort that’s hard to shake. The mere thought of losing a friend or watching our house burn sends shivers down our spine. That’s because at its core, all adversity reminds us of a dark truth:

“It would be tedious to recount all the ways by which fate may come; but this one thing I know: all the works of mortal man have been doomed to mortality, and in the midst of things which have been destined to die, we live!”

We live in a world in which everything has been designed to die. Including us.

As a result, it matters not so much if our misfortunes are unpredictable or if they happen to someone else rather than us, for these modalities merely determine the intensity of the underlying, universal reminder: all things die.

It’s painful to watch anything crumble, knowing full well we’re bound to meet the same fate one day. Every dried plant, every dead animal, every decaying building, broken chair, and crumpled piece of paper; they’re all constant little notices that, one day, our time too will be up.

Facing this truth is uncomfortable, but it is exactly in this confrontation where true equanimity lies. According to Seneca, death is the equalizing constraint allowing us to “make peace again with destiny, the destiny that unravels all ties:”

“We are unequal at birth, but are equal in death.”

Emotional suffering is a subtle complaint about the unfairness of life. Why didn’t your relationship last? Why weren’t our career expectations met? Why do fake news, armed robberies, and disturbing videos exist? All of these are moot questions once you accept that everything eventually comes to an end.

We can’t predict all of life’s eventualities, but we also don’t need to, because every possible outcome is still an outcome that will pass. Life has always consisted of both creation and destruction, the universe’s balancing forces.

If anything, we are the ones beating the odds. Our very existence is defiance. Maybe that’s why we’re so easily upset by it. We’re the ones who get to live the longest, to witness the world and what’s in it, to contemplate the circle of life.

This is the condition we lament when, actually, we should be grateful for it.

A Strange Fact of Life

Earth has always wreaked the occasional havoc on its inhabitants. And while our grasp on fortune’s worst calamities gets stronger and stronger, no one can dodge all of life’s curveballs.

Because abruptness adds emotional anguish to our many challenges, Seneca suggests we should prepare for all imaginable possibilities. Like setting the dinner table every night, it won’t protect us from uninvited guests, but it’ll allow us to welcome them when they show up at our door and at once begin.

We are also not alone in facing our ordeals, for fate makes halt for none. Neither our cities nor our neighbors will be spared; even nature must remake itself. Luckily, every rock bottom we hit is a chance to build something better.

Unfortunately, none of Seneca’s great advice can shield us from the true source of adversity’s paralyzing discomfort: we live in a world destined to die. The transience of life is tragic and we don’t like being reminded of it.

At the same time, it is this very fragility that unites all things in the universe.

Only if we embrace it can we move past the expendable questions that make our lives miserable. There is no need to prepare for every case, because all cases are subject to change. Mortality is the great equalizer, but what prelude could offer more cause for gratitude than the experience of being human?

It goes back only to medieval Persian poets, but the old adage might as well stem from our favorite Roman philosopher himself: this too shall pass.

It’s a strange, but also rather beautiful fact of life, don’t you think?