How To Know When To Quit Cover

How To Know When To Quit

In 2006, Nike ran a series of ads called “Joga Bonito” leading up to the soccer world cup in Germany. It means “play beautifully.”

The clips showed world-class players like Ronaldo, Thierry Henry, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic performing soccer tricks, goofing off, and just enjoying the game. The ads were a smash hit, and my best friend and I spent hours watching them. We started downloading and collecting freestyle videos of all kinds, and, soon enough, we went outside and began to practice.

“How does Henry do this trick?” “What’s an ‘Around-the-World?’” Before long, we had a sizable repertoire of cool moves. Unlike my friend, I wasn’t on an actual soccer team, so instead of focusing mainly on that, I just kept practicing tricks. I trained outside for hours. I did sessions in our basement in the winter.

I also got more friends addicted to the fun, and, together, we discovered we weren’t the only ones. We hung out in forums. We started a local German freestyle group. We even had our own competitions. Everyone would film some footage, edit their best clips, add music, and, voilà, the trick-off was on!

By 2008, the movement had gained enough momentum to warrant its own world championship called Red Bull Street Style, which my then-practice buddy took part in. We also auditioned for Germany’s Got Talent, but neither of us made it to the show.

In 2009, I was gearing up for my A-levels and started having knee problems. That year, I shot my last clips. After graduation, I still dabbled with the ball on occasion, but when I went to college, I decided: That’s it. I quit. No more football freestyle. Today, all that’s left is grainy videos and a ball in my room.

In retrospect, this may sound like an obvious choice; the classic “giving up a hobby for something bigger.” Back then, it was a very painful decision.

Initially, there were less than 100 serious freestylers in Germany. I had peers from all over the world who respected my work. By being both early and dedicated, I had been, for a brief moment in time, one of the best football freestylers in the world. That’s hard to walk away from.

Ultimately, however, quitting was necessary. I wasn’t meant to be an athlete. I’m very happy with the job I have now — writing — and wouldn’t trade it for the world.

But how do you make these decisions? How do you know when to quit? Here are some of the factors I considered.

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No One Is Coming to Save You Cover

No One Is Coming to Save You

Your parents aren’t coming to save you. They’ve done that often enough. Or maybe never at all. Either way, they’re not coming now. You’re all grown. Maybe not grown up, but grown. They’ve got their own stuff to take care of.

Your best friend isn’t coming to save you. He’ll always love you, but he’s knee deep in the same shit you’re in. Work. Love. Health. Staying sane. You know, the usual. You should check in with him some time. But don’t expect him to save you.

Your boss is not coming to save you. Your boss is trying to cover her ass right now. She’s afraid she might get fired. She’s fighting hard to keep everyone on the team. She’s worried about you, but she has no time to save you.

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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?

Reach High and Hope You Don’t Fall Cover

Reach High and Hope You Don’t Fall

Yesterday, I went bouldering for the first time. Finally, the source of many scrawny-kid jokes in high school turned into an advantage. I’m 5’7″. I weigh 136 lbs. I’m neither tall nor strong — but my power-to-weight ratio is excellent.

I can easily do 50 push-ups or pull myself up some ledge. As it turns out, this kind of balance is exactly what you need when you’re trying to go from one set of tiny knobs to the next on a six-foot slanted wall.

After some basic, first-level trials and picking up the rules, I managed to climb some second- and even third-level problems. That’s nothing compared to expert climbers gliding up the impossibly-flat-surface elements of a level 12 wall, but, for a beginner, it’s not half bad. Still, my arms got tired after about 90 minutes, and it was almost time to go. Almost.

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The Four Burners Theory of Work-Life Balance Cover

The Four Burners Theory of Work-Life Balance

Imagine there’s an old stove in your house. It’s square and has four burners.

You know, the kind where you still have to light the gas with a match and pull your hand away really fast so you don’t get burned. Each of those burners represents an important area of your life:

  1. Family.
  2. Friends.
  3. Health.
  4. Work.

So far, so good. There’s only one problem. According to the original New Yorker article first mentioning the concept:

“In order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.”

Ouch. That hurts. But it makes perfect sense. It stings because it’s true.

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Why Rest Is Essential To High Performance Cover

Why Rest Is Essential To High Performance

On The Tim Ferriss Show, LeBron James said he sleeps eight or nine hours each night. Sometimes ten. And if he can’t get those, he’ll catch up with a two-hour nap. James is a prominent fan of quality shut-eye, but not the only one.

According to ESPN, sprinter Usain Bolt and tennis stars Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova also shoot for an average sleeping time close to the double-digits. Point guard legend Steve Nash told The New York Times that naps on game day are a common occurrence among NBA players — and they help.

The message is that sleep isn’t just beneficial, but essential to top performance.

This is easy enough to understand for physically demanding activities, like sports, but when it comes to knowledge work and creative professions, we have a much harder time accepting the importance of sleep.

And yet, all of us know how tough it can be to host a long meeting or how hungry we are after hours of creativity. So what’s going on here?

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Be Fast When It Matters Cover

Be Fast When It Matters

If you’ve ever watched a Kung Fu movie, you’ve witnessed a fascinating relationship: the unity of fast and slow.

Be it Bruce Lee, Ip Man, Mr. Miyagi or Jackie Chan, in day-to-day life, the master is always deliberate. Quiet. Almost lethargic. He walks slowly. He talks slowly. He eats slowly. He’s never in a hurry and no matter who bursts in the front door with exciting or distressing news, he remains unfazed.

But then, suddenly, as soon as the fight begins, he is swift like the wind. Each step lands lightning-fast and with surgical precision. His eyes capture even the tiniest twitch in his opponent’s reactions. He chains together split-second movements, every one of which counts.

And then, as fast as it came, it’s gone. The storm is over. The enemy lies on the ground. And the master folds his hands like a closing flower, retreating back into his zen. Back to unity, where another cycle stands completed.

Meanwhile, we’re not even aware this unity exists. We’re just in fast mode all the time. I mean what do we wake up to? An alarm. If that’s not telling, I don’t know what is. And alarmed we are. Getting ready in the morning feels like rushing to the fire truck, ready to race off, to put out the next inferno, to salvage whatever emergency must have waited for us while we were asleep.

Ding! Wake up! Shower! Get ready! Brush teeth! Faster, faster, faster. Only so we can end up missing the bus, idling in traffic, and forgetting our keys.

That’s the thing: Most of the time, being fast doesn’t matter.

We’re optimizing the wrong things. We raise all hell to drive a little faster, leave the house a little sooner, submit the report a little quicker. And then? Nothing changes. You don’t get a medal for reaching the office parking lot first, no one clocks your front door, and, usually, you don’t get promoted for beating a deadline. These are not the moments that make or break your life.

Of course, feeding the beast is fun. It’s satisfying to fuel the rush, to give in to anxiety. It feels efficient in the moment but, often, won’t make a difference in the end. This is something the Kung Fu master is acutely aware of:

Most of life is better lived slowly.

Everyday chores work better when you’re slower. Washing dishes. Folding laundry. Brushing your teeth. You’ll have to do them just once. You won’t break so many things.

Eating is better when you’re slower. We’re supposed to chew our food, not chug and potentially choke on it. You’ll feel full faster. You’ll enjoy the taste more. You won’t mindlessly gobble up junk.

Sex is better when you’re slower. It’s not a race. Either two people win or both of you lose. It’s about caring, communicating, exploring. Not power-humping to see who can finish first and leave the other in their dust.

Talking is better when you’re slower. Pauses allow you to think and help the other process what you’ve said. What’s more, they can help you summon the courage to say what you really mean. And, of course, there’s room to listen.

Making decisions is better when you’re slower. Especially the big, life-defining ones. Like what to work on, where to live, who to marry. Our gut really screws us on these things. We jump into them too fast. We tell ourselves it’s “just for now,” and then we wake up five years later, wondering where time went.

Yes, sometimes, it really matters to be fast. But those moments are few and far between. A life-changing opportunity. A physically dangerous threat. These are not everyday situations.

That’s why Bruce Lee’s “be like water” analogy has remained so popular to this day. It perfectly captures this balance, this default slowness we need.

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.”

Water is a slow judge. It presents itself like a blank sheet of gift wrap, asking: “To what surface should I conform?” As if slowly feeling the shape of an object in the dark. One touch, one brush, one tap at a time. Then, it adapts. But if we want to do this, adapt like water, we must question each situation anew.

“Empty your mind. Be formless. Shapeless. Like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or it can crash.”

Despite having no form and being infinitely soft, water is one of, if not the strongest element on earth. When there’s even a tiny path, water will trickle along. When there’s no path, it’ll silently, almost immovably wear away the stone. And if the terrain is wide open, it can transform into a raging torrent. Thanks to this never-ending balancing act, water always finds its way home.

“Water may seem to move in contradiction, even uphill, but it chooses any way open to it so that it may reach the sea. It may flow swiftly or it may flow slowly, but its purpose is inexorable, its destiny sure. Be water, my friend.”

Like water, the Kung Fu master is fast when it matters. And when it doesn’t, which is most of the time, his default is to stay calm. To move slowly.

The words ‘early’ and ‘late’ only affect us in extremes. Too early, too late, these can make all the difference. What falls in between barely registers. There’s always another bus coming, another task waiting, another deal to be made.

Be fast when it matters. When you are, be swift like the wind. But don’t spend life quicker than it already runs out. It passes fast for all of us. When there’s no need to rush, to fight, to struggle, to crash, be calm like a pond.

Remember that life is balance. Unity. And every spectrum has two ends.

If you practice it long enough, maybe, we’ll call you master one day.

What If Our Addictions Are What Makes Us Successful? Cover

What If Our Addictions Are What Makes Us Successful?

I have a theory:

Everyone’s addicted to something.

Not addiction in the clinical sense. I’m not talking about a chemical imbalance that might lead to substance abuse. That should be treated professionally.

When I say ‘addicted,’ I mean that you do something just a little more than you probably should. And even though sometimes that “just a little” isn’t all that little anymore, if you had a shrink, he wouldn’t recommend sending you to Shutter Island just yet.

Here’s an example: When I was 15, I was addicted to soccer tricks.

I would watch all the Nike commercials and try to copy the moves those guys had. For about three years, I spent three, four, sometimes eight hours a day outside or in our basement and practice. I found a community online and we had competitions. We filmed videos. And in Germany, we were the first few dozen people to kickstart this movement.

Always practicing.

Sadly, my knees are f*cked. Always have been, really. But putting constant pressure on my legs and jumping up and down on the tarmac didn’t help. So in 2008, I made a final video, then quit. I wasn’t forced to. It was a decision.

Here’s another example: When I was 18, I was addicted to video games.

I’ve been a gamer since I was 8. That’s when my parents gave me a Nintendo 64. I’ve played everything from Super Mario to Final Fantasy, from Pokémon to Call of Duty, from Warcraft to Blobby Volley. From 16 to 18, I spent my nights playing Counter-Strike on modded servers, trading items in Diablo 2, and kicking alien-ass in Halo sessions with friends.

But when I was 18, I really hit my stride. I bought an Xbox 360 and started chasing GamerScore. Every game had a maximum of 1,000 points you could score for achieving various things. Usually, that meant beating the story on all difficulty levels, completing side quests, pulling off certain stunts, kills, etc.

It’s the perfect system. On top of the flow experience you get from each individual game, you now have an incentive to play as many games as possible. What more, it allows for optimization, because you can focus on the 20% of tasks that give you 80% of the points, then move on. Sometimes, I would get 2–3 games from the video store on Friday, beat them all over the weekend, then return them Monday and pay 3–5 € per game. It was fun.

There was only one other guy in our city who did it as “professionally” as I did. I never caught up to him, but I was at 24,500 GamerScore before I quit. After my first semester at college, I realized it wasn’t a priority, so I sold my Xbox and that was that.

Do these things officially qualify as addiction? I don’t know. But in hindsight, I can tell you that’s exactly what they were. Because that’s what they felt like. They weren’t bad, crippling addictions. I enjoyed them. I was happy. But addictions nonetheless. From the outside, however, most people would have called them hobbies. Some might have called them excessive. But the one thing every person would have told you is that I was good at these things.

I was successful.

I have another theory:

All worldly success follows from channeling our addictions.

Let’s take your hypothetical friend John. John is the Fonz in your college class. He has the face of an angel and the tongue of a stand-up comedian. His hair falls in waves when he hops into his Camaro convertible and drives off. As a result, he always has two girls on every arm and a whole lot more chasing him. He gets more Tinder matches in a day than you get in three months.

As you would expect, John is constantly “going steady” with someone else. And when something does turn real, he disappears into his new relationship for a few months, only to emerge again at the fall term frat party with an empty passenger seat. In short: John’s got game out the wazoo.

To the outside world, John is successful. Men think he’s a hero, women desire him. Inside, however, John might be completely happy, completely miserable, or one or the other, depending on the time of day. We can’t know.

But even just looking from afar, if you strip away our various, often crooked definitions of success, you can see that John is simply addicted to love. Every aspect of it. No matter how much of this addiction is enabled through luck vs. conscious effort, it’s the lens he chooses to live his life through.

That’s not to say we can’t have multiple lenses. You can be a little addicted to love, a little to food, and a little to video games. As a result, you might be in a stable relationship, only slightly overweight, and halfway decent at Call of Duty. But it’s not as “productive,” to use the word in a perverted sense, as an all-out addiction to only one of the three.

Whatever messed up standard the world has to measure how successful you are at something, if you’re addicted to it, you’ll do just fine. The problem is that the world seems to have twisted standards for everything.

But is that really a problem, then?

I have one last theory: it’s all meant to be this way.

Addictions are the clips the universe puts on people’s wings, for if humans could fly, they’d be burned by the sun.

I don’t think people without these minor addictions exist. But I also don’t believe this mythical, balanced person is an ideal we’re meant to aspire to.

Excessively engaging with the world is our way of dealing with the ridicule of the cosmos. We’re dropped into this life knowing full well we can’t take anything out of it when it’s our time to leave — and we’re supposed to play nice? I don’t think so. I think we should cause all the ruckus we can.

What’s dangerous is when we let the world’s corrupted standards dictate where we spend our disproportionately allocated chunks of time. It’s okay for inner motivation to trigger our irrational dedication to something, but outer success can never be the reason to keep it around.

When I quit freestyling, that was me finding the strength to prioritize my health over being a pioneer. When I quit gaming, that was me forfeiting a competition where there was nothing to win except respect.

In the zone (2008).

These addictions were initially fueled by fun, but once the world pushed the right buttons, my ego took over and it became very easy to see my limitations. When that happens, the only answer is to let go. You’ll either find your way back or realize it was never the right addiction in the first place.

This isn’t meant to advertise this definition of ‘addiction.’ I’m not saying we should all dig our own rabbit holes. If you have your balance and like it, by all means, enjoy. What I am saying is that if you’re already down the burrow, don’t worry. Most of us are. Just don’t let the world shut you inside.

Me? Nowadays, I’m addicted to art. I work way more than I should and I can’t stop thinking of things I want to create. Sooner or later, the world will probably tell me that I’ll have to keep doing it in order to nail its definition of success. Whenever that happens, all I want is to remember why I started.

I hope I’ll be able to. I really like this one.

303 Life Lessons We All Learn But Keep Forgetting Cover

303 Life Lessons We All Learn But Keep Forgetting

I used to think beyond 7th grade math is only useful for physicists and statisticians. After the rule of three, which allows you to calculate discounts on prices, diminishing returns start to kick in fast.

I’ve remedied that view a bit; geometry and calculus have led to some of histories strongest philosophical insights, but I still like to imagine a world in which our high school table of subjects includes:

  • Human behavior.
  • Relationships.
  • Communication.
  • Body language.
  • Personal finance.
  • Etiquette.
  • Career discovery.
  • Work habits.
  • Creativity.

Until that happens, however, I’m grateful for people like Alexander J.A Cortes, who compile the curriculum of such a school of life for us to learn it now, as adults. On February 25th, he shared a tweet storm previewing his next book titled Untaught Truths of Adulthood, which went viral.

As I read through his nearly 100-tweet-long outpour of life lessons, many examples from my own life popped up in my mind. It’s only natural, for all of us learn many of these things, but we never articulate them. I reached out to him and asked whether he’d be up for a collaboration: The result is his treasure trove in long-form, with my experiences as backup to his insights.

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