One Good Sentence Cover

Can You Write One Good Sentence?

In the early 20th century, the most important man in the world of American literature wasn’t an author. His name was Maxwell Perkins.

Perkins was an editor at Scribner, a publishing house in New York City. In 1919, he signed a young, unknown author, making a big bet on aspiring talent against the will of his seniors at the company. The author he signed was F. Scott Fitzgerald, who would go on to write and publish The Great Gatsby in cooperation with Perkins.

One year after Gatsby, which wouldn’t sell well for the next 15 years, Perkins met and signed another author of questionable status: Ernest Hemingway. After the two books they worked on together — The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms — found commercial successes, Perkins became the most sought after editor in the country.

The 2016 movie Genius tells the story of Perkins and another prodigious discovery of his: Thomas Wolfe. Wolfe was the son Perkins, who had five daughters, always longed for. He was poetic, passionate, and notoriously incapable of cutting a single word from his flowery prose. In other words, he was a writer through and through.

As an editor, one of Perkins’ main responsibilities was to cut the inessential. He did so for all of his writers but for none more than Wolfe. His first novel, Look Homeward, Angel, went from 294,000 words to 234,000 under Perkins’ guidance — and it sold like hotcakes. Taking the feedback of “write more” a bit too literally, Wolfe turned around and produced another manuscript: The 5,000-page draft for Of Time and the River, which him and Perkins fought over for two years before it finally saw the light of day.

Then, despite the book’s success, a trauma befell Wolfe that catches every writer at some point: Wolfe got writer’s block. For months, he was unable to put pen to paper. Eventually, he took a long, solo trip all the way to California, where, among other things, he visited Fitzgerald. I doubt the scene played out as depicted in the movie, but the advice he gave Wolfe — no doubt inspired by Perkins’ dedication as an editor — is priceless nonetheless:

Thomas Wolfe: “More and more I trouble myself with that, the legacy. Will anyone care about Thomas Wolfe in 100 years? 10 years?”

F. Scott Fitzgerald: “When I was young, I asked myself that question everyday. Now, I ask myself, ‘Can I write one good sentence?’”

For any writer, there are more ifs and thens and whats and whens to obsess over than hours in the day. What if no one cares about my idea? Will the book sell once it’s out? When can I make a living from my craft? What does it all amount to? Will I leave behind a legacy? There is no quicker way to obliterate your ability to chain words together than to hop on this never-ending merry-go-round of hypotheticals.

Instead, as Perkins drilled into his authors when fighting with them over every word, as Fitzgerald finally realized after years of failure, dedicate your obsession to the micro. Forget the book, the chapter, even the page and the very next paragraph. Ask one question and one question alone. The only question that matters: Can I write one good sentence?

Even if the encounter was fictional, even if Fitzgerald never said these words, there’s a high chance he had internalized them regardless. How do I know? Well, the other grand disciple of Perkins, Hemingway, left us with the exact same advice. It’s a famous line that’s been quoted countless times: “Write the truest sentence that you know.”

What did this mean for Hemingway? He explains it to us in the paragraph the quote is from — the majority of which most quoters omit:

Sometimes when I was starting a new story and could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.

As Nick Wignall notes, it is the throwing-orange-peel-into-the-fire part that is most crucial to understanding the advice. “That was his one true sentence that lead to his now famous ‘Write one true sentence’ quote,” Wignall writes. It was the only thing he knew to be true at the time: When I have writer’s block, I toss fruit into a fire. So that’s where he began.

Your next, first, final sentence being true is all nice and well, but, going back to Fitzgerald’s version of the tip, we now must ask: Is it also a good sentence?

Undoubtedly, Hemingway’s messy eating habits meet those criteria. There’s color, there’s fruit, there’s fire. Fire is dangerous. Fruit is a symbol of life. The colors change, and so does the situation. Feeding orange peel to the flames is not an everyday occurrence. See how many more metaphors we already extracted from this one line? You can imagine the scene as funny — an enraged Hemingway hurling oranges into his fireplace — or deeply thoughtful — the mindless flick of a finger causes a blue spark and loud crackle as Hemingway turns back to his desk. That is one heck of a sentence. Did Hemingway know when he wrote it? Doubtful. But he trusted the truth, and he deliberated on it long enough to stick with his decision — and that made all the difference.

Unfortunately for Wolfe, he never got to practice the advice he received from Fitzgerald. Weeks after his visit, he died of tuberculosis at just 37 years old. He did, however, leave behind a legacy — and a letter to his former editor, Maxwell Perkins:

I shall always think of you and feel about you the way it was that Fourth of July day three years ago, when you met me at the boat, and we went out on the cafe on the river and had a drink and later went on top of the tall building, and all the strangeness and the glory and the power of life and of the city was below.

Now that’s a good sentence. I think you should write one.

Assiduity Cover

Assiduity: Work Hard and Don’t Quit Too Early

In 2010, I dropped myself into a 60-hour workweek by accident: I started college with no idea what would hit me.

I remember adding all my lectures, tutorials, and seminars to my schedule and realizing: If I attend all of these, I’ll spend 40 hours a week just getting input — and I won’t have done any studying or assignments yet.

In our first semester, we had seven subjects, ranging from math to economics to programming to materials science and business, each with a big final exam that determined 100% of our grade. The pressure was on. While my friends and I didn’t know the first thing about these topics, we also had to code a new mini program each week, hand it in, and present it to a tutor. It was a lot.

None of us knew what to expect, and, facing such a crazy workload, we were, quite frankly, scared shitless. In order to cope, we did what most cornered animals do: we fought. Luckily, in Germany, attendance isn’t mandatory for most classes, so we skipped what we could and, instead, focused on getting things done.

Every day, we went to the library, sometimes as early as 6 or 7 AM, and worked like hell. We studied 13, 14, 15 hours a day. Alone. Together. Working on the same problems or completely different ones. We compared our notes, shared solutions, and stared at the programming console until the code finally worked. It was a nightmare, but in the end, we passed all of our exams.

That first semester was a real wake-up call. In the words of German singer Farin Urlaub: “Life is not Home Depot, and there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Having cruised through high school on little to no studying and with good grades, I had finally arrived in the real world — and it was tough.

If you had listed everything I would do and accomplish that year in advance, I would have said, “Impossible!” Looking back, however, as hard as it was, I feel incredibly proud of overcoming all these obstacles. With each long work day came a sense of accomplishment, and the more days I racked up, the more I started seeing myself as a gritty person.

Ultimately, I gained a lot of confidence from all this hard work, confidence that then helped me achieve bigger goals and exceed my own expectations — and that I rely on to this day.

What Is Assiduity?

The word ‘assiduity’ made its first appearance in the 16th century. It describes an attitude of great attention, care, and effort to what one is doing.

Unlike words such as ‘diligence,’ ‘concentration,’ or ‘ambition,’ it includes a sense of stubbornness. Imagine a dog fighting to keep his bone — he’s unrelenting. He just won’t give up.

Merriam-Webster defines assiduity well with a three-word catchphrase: persistent personal attention.

The late talent agent and movie producer Jerry Weintraub provides a good example: For 365 days in a row, he called Elvis’ manager, asking to take the King of Rock ’n’ roll on tour. Eventually, he did, and the shows in large arenas he subsequently organized became the innovation that made his career.

Jerry mostly prided himself in his persistence, saying that, “The person who makes it is the person who keeps on going after everyone else has quit.” That’s true, but I think Jerry did more than that: He also showed great care and attention to what his target’s needs were. When you call someone for 365 days in a row, part of the magic is getting them to keep picking up — and that takes more than brute force.

Assiduity is deciding to do the right job the right way and then committing to stick with it until it’s done. Assiduity comes in two flavors: There’s the kind that makes you see through the first semester when you want to quit after the first week and the kind that lets you finish each slide deck, exercise, and class in order to do so.

Macro-Assiduity

Charlie Munger is the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett’s company. He’s 96 years old, a billionaire, and the person Buffett credits most for his success.

In a 2019 interview, he recounts a story he frequently tells young people who come to him, asking for advice on getting rich:

A young man goes to see Mozart, and he says, “Mozart, I want to start composing symphonies.” Mozart asks, “How old are you?” and the guy says, “22.”

Mozart tells him, “You’re too young to do symphonies,” but the guy retorts: “Yes, but you were 10 years old when you were composing symphonies.”

“Yes, but I wasn’t running around asking other people how to do it.”

What Charlie is trying to tell us with this snippy comment is: Don’t quit too early. If you don’t invest serious effort into mastering your craft, no advice from even the greatest in your field can make up for it. Until you’ve done so, don’t give up!

It’s the cliché millennial dilemma Simon Sinek frequently bumps into:

I keep meeting these wonderful, fantastic, idealistic, hard-working, smart kids. They’ve just graduated school. They’re in their entry-level job. I sit down with them, and I go: “How’s it goin’?” They go, “I think I’m gonna quit.” I ask why. They’re like, “I’m not making an impact.” I’m like, “You’ve been here eight months.”

Charlie began his career as a lawyer. Thinking he didn’t like it, he started working on investment deals in his spare time. Once he’d settled into a career as an investor, however, he realized he could’ve just stuck with being a lawyer:

I think this flitting-around business is something not everybody should try. I think if I tried it again, it might not have worked as well.

Passion for your work isn’t a one-way street: Any job will become more fun as you get better at it. Yes, you might have to make a big change later, but be honest with yourself: So far, have you even tried? Like, really tried?

Humans are bad at understanding the concept of time, but we’re even worse at estimating and managing it, especially as the numbers get larger. If you count back one million seconds, you’ll land 12 days ago. A billion is 1,000 times larger. You know the difference, right?

Well, if you turn the clock back one billion seconds, you’ll arrive… 30 years ago. In the same way, we tend to overestimate how much we can do in a year but underestimate how much we can pull off in ten. “As a result of our short-sightedness, we are overfeeding the present by stealing from the future,” Jim Brumm writes in Long-Term Thinking for a Short-Sighted World.

Don’t quit too early. Have some macro-assiduity.

Micro-Assiduity

In 2007, Munger gave the commencement speech at the USC Gould School of Law. Among many other bits of wisdom, he shared the following:

“Have a lot of assiduity. I like that word because it means: Sit down on your ass until you do it.”

Sounds real simple, doesn’t it? You have the work. You know what to do. So you get on your ass, sit down, and do it. Ass. Sit. Do it. As in Jerry Weintraub’s story, however, I think there is a second part to this: You don’t just sit until you start. You also sit until you finish.

In college, we didn’t know how long we’d need to get our algorithm to draw a Pythagoras tree. We just sat there until we figured it out. We even have a word for this in German: “Sitzfleisch.” Taken literally, it translates to “seat-meat,” the metaphor being that you have a strong butt — a butt that can stay in a chair for a long time. Ass-sit-do-it-y.

Analyzing the science behind this staying power, Thomas Oppong writes:

Finding the ability to embrace your work, no matter how difficult, as a challenge instead of a threat can be one way to overcome the emotional challenge of finishing what we start.

Next to sound, music, and managing your internal and external triggers, reframing problems as projects can help you convert at least some of your stress into inspiration. Furthermore, the same long-term thinking that’ll allow you to stick with a one-year project can also make the short-term decision to keep working on a strenuous task easier.

For the most part, our day-to-day tasks are well-defined. If you have a job, are getting a degree, or have been freelancing for a while, chances are, your list of objectives is long enough.

For more nebulous, self-driven career paths, a good rule of thumb is to follow the verb that goes with the noun of what you’d like to call yourself. That’s the part that can’t be compromised. A writer must write. A speaker must speak. A runner must run. And so on.

Find the tasks essential to your long-term goal, sit on your ass, and do them.


Life is not a straight line. Sometimes, you have to work late to deliver on a promise you made to a customer. This isn’t to say you should sacrifice your health for your job, but if you’re unwilling to show up when you’re needed the most, especially if it’s uncomfortable, you’ll never be able to take on the amount of responsibility required to also gain the benefits that come with it: self-determination, unlimited financial upside, and freedom of time.

While your attitude to work directly impacts these tangible results, it also builds a set of strong, indirect benefits over time. Sitting with tasks until they’re done comes with a sense of accomplishment and trust in your ability to overcome obstacles. You’re proving yourself to be gritty, one day at a time. Eventually, you’ll form genuine confidence and achieve more than you ever thought possible.

Life may not be Home Depot, but it’s a great feeling to take pride in your work — even without a free lunch.

Yearly Theme Cover

How to Set a Theme for Your Year

You’re an ambitious person. You set goals for yourself, and then you hustle to achieve them. You’ve never shied away from working hard to get what you want.

But maybe this sounds familiar: For some reason, despite all you’ve accomplished, you still feel unsettled. The milestones that were supposed to bring you a sense of contentment never did — and now you’re worried that whatever you do will never be enough.

You can put your worries to rest. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not wired to be unhappy. You’re just using the wrong system.

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Your Habits Will Determine Your Destiny Cover

Your Habits Will Determine Your Destiny

I don’t know you, but I know this: You have habits. There are certain behaviors you repeat every single day of your life.

One of them I can guess right off the bat: Reading. But I know even more about you, despite you and I never having met.

Every day, you wake up, get out of bed, brush your teeth, get dressed, open a window or leave your house, eat and drink, use the internet through your phone or laptop, and then, later, repeat some variation of that sequence in reverse.

Whoa! That’s a lot of data for someone halfway around the world who doesn’t know your name. And even though the picture gets blurrier from there, it’s enough data to tell me something else about you, something you might not know about yourself or at least not be acutely aware of all the time:

The outcomes of your life are determined by your habits. Your behavioral patterns dictate your destiny. They’re patterns of action, patterns of emotion, and patterns of thought — but they’re all patterns. They repeat.

It’s this repetition that steers you, like a pair of invisible hands, towards certain destinations but not others. Your habits can lead you to fame, fortune, and success. They can carry you to meaning, love, and happiness. Your habits can also drive you into depression, loneliness, and anxiety. They can drop you into poverty, darkness, and push you right off a cliff.

You might not think much of your habits, not think much about them at all, but your habits don’t just matter — your habits are everything.

How happy you are is a result of your habits. How much money you make, have, and keep is a result of your habits. How healthy you are compared to how healthy you could be, how many friends you have, to an extent even how long you’ll live — it’s all a result of your habits — and if you don’t pay attention to them, if you don’t observe, assess, and consciously shape your patterns, they will drive you off that cliff.

Understanding this takes more than nodding and saying, “Okay, I get it, routines matter.” It’s about grasping, accepting, and truly living by the one thing I’m here to tell you:

Your habits are your only weapon in your lifelong struggle for meaning, happiness, and making the most of your time.

That’s a pretty big statement, and it comes with big implications. Yes, the breadth of challenges we have to address through our habits is stunning, but, thankfully, they’re also the only weapon we need.

Once you see the magnitude on which they operate, I’m sure you’ll understand.

Voting for Who We’ll Become

In the movie Yes Man, Jim Carrey plays a bitter divorcé — Carl — who stumbles into a self-help movement that’s all about saying “yes.” The leader of the movement forces him to make a vow to say “yes” to any and every request.

Instantly, it gets Carl into trouble. First, he must give a homeless man a ride to a remote place. Then, the guy drains his phone battery and asks for all his money. After walking miles to the next gas station, however, Carl’s luck begins to turn. A cute girl offers him a ride on her scooter — and even leaves him with a goodnight kiss.

In Atomic Habits, James Clear says, “True behavior change is identity change.” We don’t think of habits this way because, usually, we’re focused on goals — a certain outcome or measurable result. The reality, however, is that, first, we have to become the kind of person who can achieve said outcome.

“The goal is not to run a marathon, the goal is to become a runner.”

— James Clear

Over the course of the movie, that’s exactly what happens to Carl. There are 103 variations of the word “no” in the script, most of which drop in the first half of the film. What follows is a series of 94 yeses, by the end of which Carl has become a different person: A guy who says “yes” to what life has to offer.

We don’t expect our small choices to have much of an impact, let alone change who we are, but they add up. “Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you want to become,” Clear says in an interview.

Having a cigarette once in a while isn’t bad because of the pinch of tobacco, it’s destructive because each one sends a tiny signal that says, “I am a smoker.” Sooner or later, you might find yourself buying a pack a day. In the same way, it doesn’t matter if you only write one tweet a day for a month when, actually, you want to write a book. The tweets turn you into a writer and, at first, that’s all that matters.

Just like new habits slowly change your self-image, slowly changing your self-image will lead to new habits. That’s why, initially, it’s best to focus your energy on a small identity change rather than a big behavior change.

When Carl seeks out the leader of the movement for guidance, that’s exactly what he tells him:

“[Saying yes to everything], that’s not the point. Well, maybe at first it is. But that’s just to open you up, to get you started. Then, you are saying ‘yes’ not because you have to, not because a covenant told you to, but because you know in your heart that you want to.”

Every action is a vote for who you want to become. You’re voting whether you like it or not. We all do. The habits we choose today will determine what actions we’ll take tomorrow. Make sure you use your right to vote.

Who Will You Be When You Can’t Help It?

At the beginning of the movie, Carl hates his boss, Norman. For one, he calls himself ‘Norm’ and Carl ‘Car.’ Also, Norm is way too upbeat for their boring jobs as loan officers. He’s quirky, full of bad puns, and invites Carl to cheesy costume parties all the time (which he never attends).

Once Carl starts saying “yes,” however, not just to Norm’s parties but also to showing up at work on a Saturday and taking on extra tasks, something inside him shifts. He starts joking around with Norm. He likes it. He likes Norm. Yet nothing about Norm had changed.

Carl hated Norm simply because he was “the kind of person who hates people.” In this case, Norm’s behavior had little impact on their relationship — it was Carl’s interpretation of it that dictated the outcome.

This goes back to our habits affecting our identity, and it has profound implications for how we interpret the events in our lives. If our habits change our identity, and our identity informs how we make sense of the world, our habits also decide how we see others, and how they see us.

By shutting himself in and avoiding work, Carl slowly became a loner which, in turn, made him perceive his boss as annoying. The small, daily actions he took ultimately decided how he explained to himself what was going on around him. Clear calls this “negative compounding,” in this case of thoughts:

The more you think of yourself as worthless, stupid, or ugly, the more you condition yourself to interpret life that way. You get trapped in a thought loop. The same is true for how you think about others. Once you fall into the habit of seeing people as angry, unjust, or selfish, you see those kind of people everywhere.

This sends an important message, a warning as well as a call to action: Even though it didn’t feel like it, through his habits, Carl was in control of his worldview — and so are we.

Your habits determine how you will interpret your life’s events. By the time they happen, it’s too late to throw in a quick change. You have to react based on who you are in the moment. If you’re not already “a non-smoker” when that Friday night cigarette is offered to you, you’re unlikely to turn it down.

On a long enough time scale, however, you can change what perspective you default to when confronted with any given situation — and you do so less by talking to yourself than by working on your habits. Riffing on a Charles Francis Potter quote, we could say:

What you do when you don’t have to will determine who you’ll be when you can’t help it.

Be the person you aspire to be when you can so you’ll continue to be that person even when you think you can’t. Or, in the words of Lao Tzu:

Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.

Without Attention, Time Doesn’t Matter

Every morning, Carl grabs a coffee at the same cafe. Each time he leaves the building, there’s a guy handing out flyers for a concert. Of course, Carl’s canned response is “no.”

After starting his deal with the universe, however, he grabs the flyer and agrees. Lo and behold, who’s the singer of the band? The girl that kissed him after he got stranded.

Zat Rana argues that our most important asset isn’t time but attention:

The quality of the experiences in your life doesn’t depend on how many hours there are in the day, but in how the hours you have are used. […] Although time is indeed limited, with attention, it can be diluted to expand beyond what most other people get out of the same quantity.

What’s better? A life of 80 years, spent in a half-conscious daze, or a life of 40 years, spent in intense focus on what matters to you? Time is just a measure. Having and spending more of it provides no indication of quality. Without attention, time doesn’t matter.

In Carl’s case, his habits had closed his mind to such an extent that he wasn’t able to see anything. Not the good. Not the bad. Even what was right in front of him. He just passed through time, indifferent and oblivious.

Only once he changed his habits did Carl start perceiving again. Everything before was just a muffled thump of pain. It hurt here, it hurt there, it hurt everywhere — because he never paid attention and could thus never identify what hurt him and why.

In the interview, Clear says, “Habits are the portion of your life you can influence.” They’re also the portion that determines what happens with your time while you don’t control your attention — and how much of the latter you even have.

“Good habits make time your ally. Bad habits make time your enemy.” 

Just like your identity shapes how you interpret what happens, your attitudes and beliefs — call them interpretation presets — shape what you perceive — and all three are greatly affected by your habits.

When Carl acted like an isolated atom, he couldn’t see life as something that contains opportunities and he couldn’t see his boss as a person. He had to accept his connection with the world, that he was an integrated part of it, as we all are, in order to get his attention back. This happened through many small acts — approving a loan, meeting his friends, taking that guy’s flyer — but it created an identity shift that rippled through his entire life.

The rest of the movie is really just one thing: Carl being mindful wherever he goes. He notices the stability of his tempurpedic mattress. He notices the offers to learn Korean, playing guitar, and flying an aircraft. He notices his crush having a hard time opening up, the wedding planner being sad, the guy on the ledge just needing a friend. His new habits maximized his attention to life and to watch it blossom is mesmerizing.

What’s more, instead of defaulting into pitying himself on the couch whenever nothing’s happening, he now follows through on his promises. He looks out for his friends. Even when Carl isn’t acting deliberately, he’s a better person, and that’s why time now works in his favor.

Pay attention to your habits because your habits direct your attention. Good habits maximize how much of life you can absorb and where you go when you’re not looking. Try to cultivate good habits.

You Go Where You Look

When I turned 18, my parents gave me a driver’s training along with my newly earned license. Little did I know that, a few years later, I would need it.

It was entirely my fault — I fiddled with my iPod — but, one day, I nearly veered off the road. As the tire hit the curb, I felt a vibration. I looked at the ditch, looked at the road and, instinctively, pulled the steering wheel to the left, returning to where I belonged.

Somehow, I had internalized it before, but, since that day, I have never forgotten the biggest lesson from my training: You go where you look.

It’s a little phrase that universally applies, as John P. Weiss recently noted in analyzing the work of Tim McGraw:

We go where we look. It’s such a simple truth. Just five words, but its wisdom holds the key to achieving greater focus. According to McGraw, we need to look ourselves in the eye, accept where we’re starting from today, push aside all the noise and negative self-talk, and go where we’re looking.

My near-accident was a literal reminder that, without attention, we can’t choose where we’re going — and we can fall off track pretty fast.

Identity, interpretation, attention. At the end of the day, your habits steer all three of these. They all work in tandem and mutually influence one another, but, together, they determine what you think, feel, and do — every second of every waking minute of your life. That’s why your habits are everything. Your habits will determine your destiny.

Clear called his book “Atomic Habits” because, like atoms, habits are small in size, part of a larger whole, and, yet, a source of tremendous energy. “Your outcomes in life are a lagging measure of your habits,” he says. Luckily, we have a great deal of control over our habits and, thus, all these lagging measures.

“You can be the architect of your habits rather than the victim of them.”

I wonder what Carl would have to say about this statement. Then again, I guess he’d only need one word: “Yes.”

Why You Can Do Anything Cover

Why You Can Do Anything

In the 1970s, there was an electrician in Philadelphia. The man’s job was to install freezing cases in supermarkets. You know, the long aisles with glass doors where you pick up your milk and frozen pizza. To set up his own little workshop, the man bought an old bakery.

One summer, he decided to rebuild the front wall. It was made of bricks, about 16 feet high, and 30 feet long. After he had torn down the old façade, he called his two sons to the site. They were twelve and nine years old. He told them they were now in charge of building a new wall.

The boys’ first task was to dig a six-foot hole for the foundation. Then, they filled it with concrete, which they had to mix by hand. Clearly, this wasn’t just a job for the summer holidays. For the next year and a half, every day after school, the boys went to their father’s shop to build the wall. To the young brothers, it felt like forever. But eventually, they laid the final brick.

When their dad came to audit what they had done, the three of them stood back and looked at the result. There it was. A brand new, magnificent, 16 by 30 feet wall. The man looked at his sons and said, “Don’t y’all never tell me that you can’t do something” — and then he walked into the shop.

The electrician’s name was Willard Carrol Smith. It’s the same name he gave his oldest son, the 12-year-old in the story. Today, we know him as Will Smith.

“Brick by Brick,” as we might call it, is a story about the value of hard work. It’s also a story about what it takes to sustain hard work in the first place. When Will told it on Charlie Rose in 2002, he said it affects how he works to this day:

I think, psychologically, the advantage that that gives me over a lot of people that I’ve been in competition with in different situations is: It’s difficult to take the first step when you look at how big the task is. The task is never huge to me. It’s always one brick.

Is single-mindedness a competitive advantage? Probably. But in a world of abundance with enough room for millions of creatives, entrepreneurs, and entertainers, it pales in comparison to the ability to win the fight with who you’re really up against: yourself.

The market won’t stop you. Fear will stop you. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of being feared and fear of fear itself. Fear will concoct all kinds of convenient, well-disguised symptoms, like boredom, laziness, and purely psychological fatigue. Those are the real enemies you’re up against. A set of abstract concepts in your head.

Just for second, imagine it was gone. Remove all fear from your mind, and what can’t you do? Barring physical limitations, I can think of few things. I guarantee you Will can’t either. Rapper, TV actor, Youtuber, Hollywood superstar — his many labels defy our expectations of what one person can do.

The way Will built this long list of achievements is one goal, one wall, one brick at a time — because when all you do is lay one brick, fear won’t bother trying to get to you. That’s exactly what Will’s been doing all these years:

You don’t try to build a wall. You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say, “I’m gonna build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built. You don’t start there. You say, “I’m gonna lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid. There will not be one brick on the face of the earth that’s gonna be laid better than this brick that I’m gonna lay in these next 10 minutes.” You do that every single day, and soon, you have a wall.


When I first started writing, I wanted to cover one topic in depth so people could come to know me for it. I chose productivity. It made perfect sense. I would learn how to write more and better while teaching people something they’re already interested in.

In the course of writing a 5-post series spanning some 15,000 words, I came across every productivity book and system you can imagine. Getting Things Done, The One Thing, Deep Work, Essentialism, Eat That Frog, you name it, I’ve seen it.

What I realized was that all these systems work — but only if you stick to them. Therefore, if a system was hard to stick to, it would be hard to make it work. That’s why the system I ultimately designed for myself and tried to teach people was mostly designed to be easy to stick to — and that’s why it greatly resembles the above story about the wall.

I used a set of questions to figure out the ONE goal — yes, just one — that mattered most to me. Then, I broke it down into little chunks, and from those chunks I derived a set of small tasks I could work on each day. These small tasks were the bricks.

With those bricks neatly lined up, I then optimized my routine for good nights, good mornings, and minimal distractions so I could actually “lay [each] brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid,” to quote Will again.

It’s been four years since I came up with my system, and my routines have changed countless times thereafter, but, at its core, the same idea remains:

Whatever goal I choose to go after, I build that thing brick by brick.

I’d like to think I can credit at least some of the millions of words I’ve written and some of the hundreds of thousands of dollars that have come my way to that system. I suggest you give it a go.

What’s your biggest goal? Can you imagine it? See yourself clearly as you hold the result in your hands? If not, think hard until you can. This is the first trap you might fall into: Thinking you can build more than one wall at a time.

Once you’ve settled on one, the only one that matters, don’t get lost in the mental image of the wall. It becomes daunting really fast. Instead, tear that fantasy down. Scrap it. Until there’s nothing left but a six-foot hole in the ground. Good. Now you can build your foundation.

The next trap that stunts wall-builders is choosing bricks that are too big. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. My first goal was to write 250 words a day. Often, I ended up writing 1,000. For you, maybe it should be to write one sentence. To send one email. To run half a mile. The task can never be huge to you. It always has to be one brick.

Finally, remember that it’s normal to feel like building your wall will take forever. Imagine how it must have felt for two pre-teen boys to work on one project for one and a half years. That’s more than 10% of their whole lives up to that point. In fact, Will remembers “standing back, looking at that wall, saying, ‘There’s going to be a hole here forever. There will never be anything but a hole here.’” Of course, eventually, there was.

That’s the final and worst mistake many people make in their quest to accomplish their dreams: they stop laying bricks. They have everything they need. The foundation. The vision. The right size for each block. And then they stop. Because they get tired. Or forget. But it’s just self-sabotage. Fear. Again.

If you have no idea whether your next brick could be the final one, then please, I implore you, keep going. Soon enough, you’ll be standing in front of a magnificent wall. Not because anyone told you to build it, but because you chose to. Just like you chose to send yourself a message — the same message a Philadelphia electrician once imparted to his two little boys:

“Never tell me that you can’t do something.”

7 Lessons From My First Week of Meditating an Hour a Day

7 Lessons From My First Week of Meditating an Hour a Day

I started working on my habits in 2012. That story is now seven years in the making. One of its side effects is awareness. Self-awareness, mostly, but also awareness about many other things.

For a few years now, I’ve considered myself a mindful person. I know my strengths and weaknesses, and I spend most of my day in a self-aware mode of operating. If I’m biting my nails, I’ll know. Sometimes, I’m so mindful I can’t not notice things, especially the flaws and perfections of other people.

Because I was so aware and mindful already, I thought, “I don’t need meditation.” Until I heard Naval Ravikant speak about it:

“It’s one of those things that everybody says they do, but nobody actually does.”

Naval said many people abuse meditation for virtue-signaling. They pretend to care about mindfulness to look like a moral person without doing any of the actual, hard work of properly meditating. That’s why we have thousands of meditation apps, head bands, cushions, and other gimmicks when meditation is literally “the art of doing nothing,” as Naval calls it.

No matter whether you’re a fake meditator or a skeptic who thinks they don’t need it, like I did, chances are, you’ve never done an actual meditation session in your life. The reason you haven’t, if you ask Naval, is that it’s scary, because once you start, you’ll inevitably have to deal with all your unresolved issues:

“It’s like your email inbox. It’s just piling up. Email after email after email that’s not answered, going back 10, 20, 30, 40 years. And then, when you sit down to meditate, those emails start coming back at you.

‘Hey, what about this issue? What about that issue? Have you solved this? Do you think about that? You have regrets there? You have issues there?’ and that gets scary. People don’t want to do that, so they’re like, ‘It’s not working, I can’t clear my mind, I better get up and not do this.’ But really, it’s self therapy. Instead of paying a therapist to sit there and listen to you, you’re listening to yourself. And you just have to sit there as those emails go through one by one.

You work through each of them until you get to the magical inbox zero. There comes a day when you sit down, you realize the only things you’re thinking about are the things that happened yesterday. Because you’ve processed everything else. Not necessarily even resolved it but at least listened to yourself. That’s when meditation starts.”

When I heard Naval say these things, I realized:

Noticing is not the same as processing.

The word ‘mindfulness’ is very misleading in that regard because being aware of what’s going on in your life and dealing with it are not the same thing, even if both require being mindful. In my literal email inbox, I get a notification for every email that comes in. But until I’ve opened it and looked at it, I haven’t really processed it, have I?

So actually, there are two kinds of noticing: the kind that nets you new inputs and more information which are then sent down to your subconscious, and the kind that processes those stimuli once they make their way back into your consciousness. One is downloading your emails, the other reading them.

Think of it this way: The most enlightened meditation guru will notice everything twice, once on the way down and again on the way up. There may be a delay in between, but, at the end of the day, everything is taken care of.

Often, that second kind of noticing is enough to deal with a problem because most of our problems don’t need to be dealt with in actions at all. They’re like notification emails. We just have to acknowledge them so they can leave our minds and not cause us stress. However, if you don’t make time to deliberately do this second kind of noticing, it never happens.

That’s why I decided to finally give real meditation a go. Today, I want to share with you what I’ve learned.

So, how *do* you meditate properly?

It’s not an excuse, but one of the reasons why I avoided meditation is that all these prescriptive practices I’d heard about sounded fake. Naval finally gave me a practice that sounded simple enough to actually feel like the real deal:

“It is literally the art of doing nothing. All you need to do for meditation is to sit down, close your eyes, comfortable position, whatever happens happens. If you think, you think. If you don’t think, you don’t think. Don’t put it effort into it, don’t put effort against it.”

Naval also explained that all concentration exercises, whether it’s focusing on your breath or something else, ultimately aim at letting go of whatever you’re concentrating on. Therefore, you might as well skip to the letting go.

“The problem with what I’m talking about, which is not focusing on your breath, is you will have to listen to your mind for a long time. It’s not gonna work unless you do at least an hour a day and preferably at least 60 days before you work through a lot of issues. So it’ll be hell for a while, but when you come out the other side, it’s great.”

Right now, I’m trying to get to the other side. Every morning after waking up, I set a timer for an hour on my phone. I sit cross-legged, lean against the wall, fold my hands in my lap, and close my eyes. Ideally, I remain in this position. If I feel my limbs falling asleep, I change how I sit but keep my eyes closed. Whatever pops up in front of my inner eye pops up. Sometimes I get dragged into it for a while, sometimes I don’t. That’s it. When the hour’s up, I’m done.

I set the goal to do an hour each day knowing full well I wouldn’t make it on some days. I’m on day eleven now, and, for the first seven in a row, I meditated one hour each day. Since then, I’ve also had days where I did 15 minutes, 25 minutes, etc. But whenever I can, which is about 80% of the time, I do the full hour.

Here are 7 things I’ve learned so far.

1. Your brain is fuller than you’ve ever imagined

When you die, supposedly, your whole life flashes before your eyes. In movies, this is usually portrayed in some form of montage, like a slide show or quick sequence of scenes. My first two sessions felt like that. Think the ending of American Beauty or the blackout phases in Limitless.

Except I didn’t black out. I just got scene after scene after scene. I jumped from a conversation eight years ago to a moment in kindergarten to recess in third grade to something that happened a week ago. It was like swiping through memories on Tinder, but I didn’t control the swiping. That was my first lesson:

Your brain is full. Fuller than you have ever imagined.

You won’t believe what you find once you start meditating. Actually, ‘find’ isn’t the right word. Things will just come to you. Your subconscious is like a fountain, always bubbling. But in your day-to-day, you’re too busy to see what comes to the surface. Meditating is taking time to sit and watch the fountain. Sooner or later, everything shows up again, if only for a few seconds.

2. Meditation is cleaning your brain in real-time

Especially in sessions where lots of memories pop up, I can sometimes feel my brain “pulsating.” Once in a while, it’s as if a wave of cold water runs down my head. I might get goosebumps, but it feels good. Like a weight is lifted. I can sense my brain getting “lighter.” The best description I can come up with is “cleaning your mind in real time,” but it’s enough to let me know it works.

3. You will get glimpses of nothingness

I can only assume these to be previews of what’s to come, but, occasionally, I found myself in a somewhat empty space. With so many thoughts racing through your mind, passing you by, eventually, you’ll wait for the next one, and it won’t come. There’s just…emptiness.

It’s like you’re pulling on a series of strings and are used to one following another. At some point, you automatically reach for it, and when all you grasp is air, that’s surprising. But it’s a nice surprise. It feels refreshing. A brief moment of silence in a sea of noise. It’s hard to describe, but I think, ultimately, meditation leads to regular visits in this palace of calm.

4. Every impulse has a thought attached to it

When you’re sitting there, literally doing nothing, your body will need some time to adapt. It’s physically uncomfortable, and you’ll receive physical signals that it is. A pang of hunger. The urge to shift around. An itch in your ear.

One thing I’ve realized is that every one of those impulses comes with a thought. And only if you jump on that thought do you reinforce that impulse. If you let go of the initial thought, the impulse quickly subsides. Take being hungry. You feel emptiness rise in your stomach. Maybe it even growls. And there it is: the thought. “I’m hungry.” This is where the rubber hits the road.

If you don’t engage with the thought, it won’t stick. But if you immerse yourself in it, it’s as if you’re grabbing an outside rail on a speeding train. In an instant, you’re swept away. Then, all you can do is hold on for dear life. The impulse is the train and being hungry will now dominate all your subsequent thoughts and decisions — until you let go or satisfy the urge. Of course, letting go gets harder each second you’re wrapped up in the idea. That’s why ditching the first thought is so powerful, and meditation helps with that.

5. You’ll let go of your urges more naturally

Science says meditation builds discipline and boosts willpower, and I won’t argue with that. So far for me, however, it has felt more like meditation makes it less necessary to summon these things in the first place. Letting go of the thoughts attached to my impulses feels like an act of compassion, not control.

This isn’t to say I don’t make any bad decisions anymore, just that when I manage not to, it comes more naturally. Before, I may have been self-aware, but would negotiate with myself and eventually give in to the desire anyway. Now, it’s utterly clear that going to bed if I’m tired is the right choice. I still don’t always make it, but it does get easier.

6. Good decisions become larger, bad ones smaller

Besides increasing your ability to make good decisions, meditation also seems to amplify them while dampening your bad ones.

This may be a placebo effect or wishful thinking on my part, but, over the past week, whenever I indulged in something, the indulgence was smaller. Instead of grabbing the whole bag of chips, I poured some in a bowl and ate just those. Instead of watching a movie because it was late, I slowly started on an important task but then did a solid two hours of work on it.

I’m assuming this is a side effect of the other benefits, but it still feels real.

7. You’ll have more energy

Whether meditation can replace sleep is under debate, but it can definitely support it. Since I meditate in the mornings, I might sometimes still be tired, but at the end of each session, I feel a surge of energy. For one, I’ve processed so many thoughts, I can’t wait to act on some of them or put new insights into action. I also frequently have ideas for my writing. But I’ve also just rested physically for an hour, so it makes sense that I now want to go, go, go.

Unlike energy from caffeine, however, which might be unleashed all at once (coffee) or gradually (green tea), I can control how I want to roll out this energy over the course of my day. Most days, I choose the green tea route and try to increase my pace gradually, but, sometimes, I also plunge right into a long, deep-work task, like writing an article.

In any case, more energy with more flexibility in how you spend it is a good thing.

Conclusion

At the end of my first week of meditating, I had a busy weekend. It was full of fun and events and meeting people, but on the drive home, I noticed I was getting anxious about all the work that was waiting for me. When I arrived, I meditated for 25 minutes. After that, it was easy to relax.

Processing my anxiety showed me that I needed some time to decompress by myself. So, instead of frantically trying to cram in two extra hours of work on a Sunday night, I decided to chill. This morning, I woke up rested. I meditated, worked out, showered, ate, and now, I’m happily writing this article. Then, it’s on to the next thing.

Meditation won’t solve all your problems, but it’ll solve the fact that you’re not dealing with your problems.

Don’t fool yourself. Your most important issues constantly get buried under a mountain of noise, emotions, and inner chatter. Meditation cleans out those things like a snow plow to make room for finding these issues and dealing with them. It’s a way of filtering your life and processing it at the same time. Learning how to do this filtering is easy. That part only takes two minutes. It’s the continued commitment to making time for this practice that’s hard.

Meditation isn’t about spirituality or wisdom or finding some elusive nirvana state. It’s about making peace in the here and now. Not finding peace. Making. Because that’s what we do with ourselves and others.

I hope you’ll give it an honest try.

How to Get Rich the Humble Way Cover

How to Get Rich the Humble Way

One in 185 people is a millionaire. Credit Suisse counted 42.2 million of them in the 2018 Global Wealth Report. Divide that by the 7.7 billion people currently inhabiting this planet, and you get to that number — about 0.5%.

And just like you “get” to that number, we think “getting rich” is an activity. That it’s about movement, action, struggle. It’s implied. Think about how we use the word “get.” We get coffee. A job. To the top of a mountain.

It’s true, of course, that getting rich requires years of hard work. You’ll have to learn a lot, build skills, make the right decisions at the right time, and have a whole bunch of luck in the process. But if that’s all we focus on, we miss the most important aspect of how wealth is built: through compound growth.

This compounding happens in your choices, judgment calls, and financial decisions — but it also happens in the assets you own and, often, without you being fully aware of it, let alone doing anything to contribute.

After spending 5.5 years on the rollercoaster of building her own startup, Danielle Morrill ultimately sold the company with no big payday. Before that, however, she’d been the first employee at Twilio, a company that went public in 2016, and the growth of her share of that single stock was enough to retire.

Reflecting on the experience, Danielle writes:

After making my detailed spreadsheet it was undeniable: at a relatively conservative compounding growth rate, I could stop working and cover my expenses with my investment income and I would have more money than I’d ever need to spend in my life. It was very disorienting to have my net worth climb from something I hadn’t worked on since 2012, while my current efforts were amounting to nothing in economic terms.

Understanding that you’re most likely to build wealth on the back of something that grows exponentially is a huge perspective shift, but an important one to make. Otherwise, you might always be working on something, but be so busy hustling that you forget to build and hold stakes in ventures that can still work out after you leave them alone.

As you can see, getting rich is equally as much, if not more, about what you don’t do as it is about what you say yes to. The stock you didn’t sell, the side project you held on to, the old buddy you stayed in touch with.

In the same vein, it’s much harder to point to a set of wealth-building patterns than it is to spot what keeps people from getting rich and rid yourself of these behaviors. Once you’ve unlearned whatever wealth-rejecting habits you might have, all that’s left is to take action and wait for exponential growth to kick in.

Here are five of those habits I’ve spotted in myself and others over the years.

1. Stop Telling Yourself Money Is Evil

Have you ever noticed that people who claim money is dirty never seem to have any? It’s as if by rejecting it, they could keep their hands clean. That’s nonsense, of course.

Money doesn’t come in different ethical flavors. It has no flavor at all. It’s like a shovel, or a computer, or a typewriter — a tool with no inherent intentions. A purpose, maybe, but no intentions. In order for us to judge something as ethical or unethical, humans have to be involved. Only their intentions matter.

In that sense, money is just a consequence and an amplifier. It can be a consequence of ethical behavior or of unethical behavior. And it can enhance a person’s already ethical or unethical intentions. Nothing more, nothing less.

When you think “this person doesn’t deserve their money” or “they must be doing something fishy,” that’s jealousy in clever disguise. In that moment, you’re the one with questionable ethics. Instead, you should be happy for them and get back to what you can do, who you can do it for, and how to do it the right way.

Speaking of focusing on yourself…

2. Stop Playing Status Games

Think of the most popular person in your high school. Where are they now? Chances are, they peaked early. They got stuck playing status games.

The problem with status games is that they’re zero-sum games: The only way you win is if someone else loses. Politics, fame, prestige, these are all ranked hierarchies. For you to move up a slot, another person must move one down.

Naval Ravikant explains:

“The problem is that to win at a status game, you have to put somebody else down. That’s why you should avoid status games in your life because they make you into an angry combative person. You’re always fighting to put other people down, to put yourself and the people you like up.”

Building wealth by making things people want, however, is a positive-sum game: the more people do it, the better. If you and I both build cars, chances are, we’ll figure out a better way to do it together.

Getting the life you want depends on you playing wealth games, not status games. If you’re always busy trying to look good, you’ll have no time and energy left to actually do good. Sometimes, doing good is a thankless job, but you’ll have to keep doing it anyway to succeed.

3. Stop Rejecting Responsibility

Exponential financial rewards are the result of taking on asymmetric risk. Asymmetric risk is when there’s a disproportional difference between how much you stand to gain vs. how much you stand to lose.

For Danielle, if Twilio had failed along the way, her stock options would have been worth zero. That would’ve sucked, but she could’ve just gotten another job. The upside, however, was only limited by how big of a company Twilio could become. Right now, it’s worth $17 billion dollars at $124 a share. The reason she received enough of them to retire is that she took responsibility for important work inside the company early on. It was risky, but not dangerous.

In contrast, many employees at big corporations only play games of shift-the-blame. Everyone wants to point to their boss when things go wrong, but this comes at the expense of their asymmetric risk. No responsibility, no rewards.

Most of the time when responsibility comes your way, it’s not dangerous to take it. It’s just uncomfortable. It takes effort. You must stand for something, and there’s a chance you might end up standing for the wrong thing. But it’s rarely something you can’t recover from.

Better yet, don’t wait for responsibility to show up on your doorstep. Just take some. Speak up. Say, “I’ll write two articles for you each week,” or, “I’ll make your shoes look brand new,” or, “this tool will save you 10 minutes a day.”

All of this is taking responsibility, and all of it has the power to come with asymmetric risk. Choose the right responsibilities and then live up to them.

4. Stop Wasting Your Leverage

Working hard is a requirement of getting rich, but it’s not going to be the deciding factor. In the end, your judgment matters more. Wealthy people are thinkers armed with leverage. I also learned this from Naval.

Leverage multiplies the results of your decisions. It comes in different forms.

Money is one of them. If I can invest $1,000 into a stock that doubles in value, I’ll make more money in return than someone who can only invest $100.

Labor is another form of leverage. If I can teach you how to sell two pairs of sneakers a day, you and I can sell more sneakers together.

The third and most powerful form of leverage is code. Next to software, this includes digital media, like podcasts, articles, and videos. Thanks to the internet, you can spread these around the world at no cost, and if people use them, you get paid in money or attention. This kind of leverage also compounds like wealth itself.

In the beginning, we all play without leverage, but if you continue playing without it, that’s on you. Most people can struggle to start accumulating leverage, but they also waste the little they have, which is however much money they make. Instead of investing it into podcast gear, books, or a writing course, they just spend it. If you want to be rich, that can’t be you.

You have to use your time to build leverage. Start compounding.

5. Stop Working on What’s Not Working

When someone else spends their time working for you, that’s leverage. When you spend your time working, that’s not. There’s no multiplier there. But it’s our most limited resource, and, therefore, you have to spend it well. Getting to a point where you spend the majority of your time building and acquiring leverage will greatly increase your chances of becoming wealthy.

Of course, working a lot to begin with helps, but you should do so at your own pace. What’s much more important — and much harder — is to let go of things that don’t work and to do so as soon as you realize it. Whatever is financially unfeasible or won’t lead to a meaningful jump in leverage in a decent time frame has to go.

This takes self-awareness and guts. You’ll regularly have to check in with yourself and ask: What’s actually working, and what am I telling myself is working because I wish it would? Harder still, you’ll have answer honestly.

Quitting enough of the wrong projects to work on a sufficient number of right ones is the only way to build up the array of assets and leverage you need.

All You Need to Know

It’s far easier to be patient and let a few good choices compound than to rush and be forced to compensate for a lot of bad ones. Clearing up your muddled thinking around money is one way to do just that.

Once your vision is sharp, you’ll feel comfortable working towards focused, specific goals, because you know they’ll serve the long game you play.

Stop vilifying money. Quit the status games. Take responsibility. Build leverage. Work as hard as you can and drop failures early.

Getting rich is a game but not a hectic one. Playing it the humble way is no guarantee you’ll win, but if you do, it’ll likely be from a move you long forgot.

The 22 Best Yoda Quotes Cover

The 22 Best Yoda Quotes: How to Master the Art of the Perspective Shift

If you don’t know, Yoda is one of the strongest characters in one of the strongest stories of all time: Star Wars.

Yoda is a tiny, green creature of an unknown species, over 800 years old, and Grand Master of the Jedi Order. The best of the good guys, if you will. He has an incredible ability to wield the Force — the invisible power all Jedi rely on — and is a brilliant fighter with a lightsaber, their weapon of choice. He’s also the head teacher of all young Jedi and the first person everyone turns to when they need advice.

Despite his strength, Yoda’s true power lies in his wisdom. He speaks a little backwards and often in riddles, but every word he chooses is placed exactly where it’s meant to be. He says little, but what he says hits hard.

Yoda is not just a Jedi Master, he’s also a master of the perspective shift.

Most of the time, what he tells us completely flips the angle from which we were trying to approach a problem. Often, he shows us we’ve been focusing on the wrong problem altogether. This is incredibly valuable.

Perspective shifts elevate our thinking. They allow us to overcome seemingly insurmountable barriers, move a lot faster, and see the world more clearly. They also help us lift others by sharing what we’ve learned with them.

Since he’s a quiet character, there aren’t that many Yoda quotes to draw from, but I’ve assembled his best ones to show you how he architects perspective shifts. He frequently talks about teacher-student relationships, fighting, and what it means to be a good person. To give you enough context and get the most out of these quotes, I’ve structured them into one coherent narrative.

May they teach you to change your own mind and that of others.


When Luke Skywalker is first sent to Yoda’s planet to learn from him, he bumps right into the Master, not knowing who he is. He tells him he’s looking for someone, to which Yoda only says:

“Looking? Found someone you have, eh?”

Picasso supposedly said, “I don’t seek. I find.” In a 1923 book called The Arts, he gave an explanation of what he meant:

“I can hardly understand the importance given to the word research in connection with modern painting. In my opinion, to search means nothing in painting. To find is the thing. Nobody is interested in following a man who, with his eyes fixed on the ground, spends his life looking for the purse that fortune should put in his path. The one who finds something, no matter what it might be, even if his intention were not to search for it, at least arouses our curiosity, if not our admiration.”

In the same vein, Yoda trusts the Force to guide our path in life. You can call it God, the universe, karma, or whatever you like — the point is to have faith. Keep your eyes open, stay present, and look, rather than obsessing over an idea in your head.

The next thing Luke says is that he’s “looking for a great warrior.” Once again, Yoda flips the notion on its head immediately:

“Ohh. Great warrior. Wars not make one great.”

There’s a saying that is often credited to US president Herbert Hoover in various forms:

“Wars are always started by men too old to fight in them.”

It depends on the country, but many have a culture of decorating their war heroes. It serves us well to honor these men and women, but it makes it easy to forget that the most honorable thing would have been to never send them into battle in the first place.

As Grand Master of the Jedi Order, Yoda also holds a position similar to a general. Most of his power in that position is spent trying to maintain peace and avoid fighting, because he knows wars only create losers on both sides:

“No longer certain, that one ever does win a war, I am. For in fighting the battles, the bloodshed, already lost we have.”

In that same spirit, being a Jedi is much like learning Kung Fu, Yoda explains:

“A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”

I can’t think of a more humbling thing than to learn how to fight in hopes of never having to use it. Rigorous physical training has many benefits, like discipline, fitness, and patience. But in order to attain them, you don’t ever have to raise your fist against another human being. The training is enough.

Of course, sometimes, war is inevitable. In case of the Jedi, they are usually hopelessly outnumbered by the vast armies of the Galactic Empire. But again, Yoda knows there’s more to life than physical strength:

“Smaller in number are we, but larger in mind.”

There are countless examples from history of small groups outwitting large enemies. The 300 Spartans. The Trojan Horse. Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps. A great strategy can make up for a big lack in firepower.

This lesson also applies at an individual level, and it’s one of the first Yoda teaches Luke when he becomes his apprentice. He tells Luke to use the Force to telekinetically lift his spaceship from a swamp. When Luke fails, claiming it’s too big, Yoda retorts:

“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.”

At first, Luke dismisses Yoda and walks away. But when he sees Yoda single-handedly lift the ship on his own and hover it to safety, he can barely trust his own eyes. He tells Yoda he can’t believe what he just did, to which Yoda says:

“That is why you fail.”

This is Yoda reiterating the very first thing he told Luke: it’s about believing before you can see. Not the other way around. This ties into what might be Yoda’s most famous quote of all:

“Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”

Yoda combines immense faith with a strong sense of realism, of grounding. Those two might seem like opposites, but they’re not.

If you surrender to life and are fully in sync with what the universe wants to tell you, you’ll rarely attempt anything that’s not already meant to become a reality. This is why Yoda spends so much time thinking and meditating. He needs to listen; tune in to the Force. Once he emerges, the path of action is so clear to him, it might as well be done already. This is Yoda’s job much more so than charging headfirst into every battle:

“Secret, shall I tell you? Grand Master of Jedi Order am I. Won this job in a raffle I did, think you? ‘How did you know, how did you know, Master Yoda?’ Master Yoda knows these things. His job it is.”

This job of knowing is what unites all of Yoda’s roles. Be it as a politician, general, or teacher. It would take Luke many years to finally understand this. In a conversation decades later, after Luke has become a Jedi Master himself, Yoda still needs to remind him that passing on his knowledge is his job. One of the best ways to do so is through failure:

“Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery, hmm… but weakness, folly, failure, also. Yes, failure, most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is.”

There’s a quote by Tom Bodett about the difference between life and school:

“In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.”

Great teachers know this, which is why they don’t lecture as much as they pose challenges to their students, then let them figure out the answers on their own. If they fail, they fail, but either way, they’ll truly learn something rather than just parrot the master’s words or follow instructions.

For example, when Yoda sends Luke into a dark cave to confront his fears, Luke asks him what he can expect in there. Yoda says:

“Only what you take with you.”

Luke is utterly confused and feels abandoned at first, but after he faces his demons, he realizes the only way for him to succeed was to rely on his own mind. Yoda couldn’t help him, just point the way. This theme ripples through every great teacher-student relationship until its very end:

“Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.”

Failure is not just the way great teachers teach — it’s the master’s own, ultimate goal. If their disciple surpasses them, it means they’ve raised them well. Besides the rigorous training, the number one way Master Yoda aims to accomplish this is through ethics. What he’s most concerned with, even more so than their skill level, is that his students become good people.

That’s why many of his lessons revolve around the subject of not succumbing to the dark side of the Force — the evil path some Jedi choose and thus become corrupted. These lessons always have a Buddhist flair to them:

“Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is.”

In order to practice his combination of faith and presence and dedicate most of his time to thinking, Yoda lives a very minimalist life. He can’t afford to be distracted or pulled around by every impulse and desire rising in his heart. Therefore, letting go is the most important skill each Jedi must master:

“Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”

Yoda knows fear is the true enemy of all Jedi. Fear is what pulls our minds to the past or the future. It is what creates attachment, and attachment leads to the emotions that, in turn, cause us to make dark choices.

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

The way we deal with our fears and return to the present is to face them and hold out as they try to penetrate our minds. We don’t fight them as much as we resist giving in to them. This is exactly what Yoda had Luke do in that cave:

“Named must your fear be, before banish it you can.”

Of course, this isn’t a one-time event. We must face many fears in our lifetimes and no one is immune to them. Not even Yoda. He, too, admits being afraid:

“Yes, afraid. Hmm, surprised are you? A challenge lifelong it is, not to bend fear into anger.”

In his famous inauguration speech, US president Franklin D. Roosevelt said:

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

This principle is a maxim of Yoda’s teachings, as he personally witnessed the terrible consequences of allowing fear to fill a Jedi’s heart.

Once upon a time, a young boy named Anakin was brought before the Jedi Council. He had great potential, but Yoda sensed much fear in him, and so he didn’t want the boy to be trained in the Jedi arts. Yet one of the other Council members said he would train the boy anyway, and Yoda let it pass. Over time, the boy’s fear of losing those he loved only grew. In Yoda’s words:

“When you look at the dark side, careful you must be. For the dark side looks back.”

Eventually, Anakin’s fear had such a strong grip on him that the only path he saw was that of the dark side of the Force. In the same way Anakin was pulled over one day at a time, so do our fear-induced choices cause a vicious cycle. We take a shortcut to get out of one jam which only leads us into a bigger one, which, of course, requires an even more extreme, even less ethical shortcut. Sooner or later, the person we once strived to be feels like our own worst enemy. Anakin literally became this enemy, and it is with great sorrow and anguish that Yoda reveals to Anakin’s former teacher:

“The boy you trained, gone he is. Consumed by Darth Vader.”

Of course, we’re not the only ones facing this danger. Others are affected by it too. And sometimes, we still chase after them. Still hoping, wishing we could get them back. But the person we once felt connected to is long gone.

This brings us back to the war the Jedi were about to lose. They didn’t see that one of the politicians among their own ranks had gone through a similar transformation, and when they relied on his help, they found out he double-crossed them. After retreating and meditating, Yoda once again emerges with a perspective shift that has the power to turn a hopeless situation around:

“Yet, open to us a path remains. That unknown to the Sith is. Through this path, victory we may yet find. Not victory in the Clone Wars, but victory for all time.”

By simply changing the timeline from “how can we win this war?” to “how can we achieve lasting peace for everyone?” Yoda has elevated everyone’s thinking. A more generally applicable version of this idea is this:

“If no mistake have you made, yet losing you are, a different game you should play.”

Focusing on a different aspect of the bigger picture is another very common move in both war and politics. A group on the defense might try to go around the enemy and attack their flank, and an old adage in strategic thinking is:

“When everybody’s playing checkers, play chess.”

But this extends to many more aspects of our lives than the conflict-driven ones. When you fail to get promoted time and again, maybe it’s time to look for a new job. When discussing a problem with your spouse doesn’t work, maybe it’s time to talk about how you talk to each other. And if writing two posts per week won’t cut it, you could try publishing daily or not at all for a while.

The point is — and this is the biggest lesson we can learn from Yoda’s way of thinking — there’s always something different you can do. Something else you haven’t tried. Learning how to shift your perspective is one thing, but, like Yoda’s reliance on the Force, it first requires having faith in new perspectives in the first place. That’s why I can’t think of a better line to end on, a quote that more encapsulates Yoda’s spirit than this:

“Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.”

Choose to See Projects, Not Problems Cover

Choose to See Projects, Not Problems

She was in her 50s, I think. A lady with red hair, seated across the aisle. For a brief moment in time, about 45 minutes, we shared the same destination — and thus the same train.

Except for her fiery mane, nothing hinted at her remarkable energy. She was plain and rather sturdy. But as soon as she talked, you knew she was fierce.

Unfortunately, she dedicated all of that ferocity to raising complaints, none of which her friend was in any capacity to solve. They might have been nurses; granted, a tough work environment by any measure. But the way she spoke of her workplace, it felt like a place wholly without solutions. Just problems.

“He promised he’d give us more people, but then he broke his word last-minute.”

“They can’t change the rules like that, that reporting policy is ridiculous.”

In many countries, mine included, being a nurse is a tough, underpaid job. There’s much to improve, no doubt. But in blowing off steam for the entire train ride, the redheaded caretaker fundamentally neglected her job: She merely exhausted both herself and her friend.

Often, venting is our habit of last resort. We feel helpless. As if we’ve tried everything. Like there’s nothing else left we can do. Of course, that’s never quite the case. There’s always something else we can do.

But, sometimes, we’re too close to the to-do list to see it. Sometimes, we have to take a step back — a step up, even — and find a new perspective.


Heidi Hetzer was a German entrepreneur, rally driver, and a symbol of empowerment. Long after her company was sold, her career done and dusted, she set off on a trip around the world — at age 77, in a car older than herself.

Source

For nearly three years, she ventured around the globe. She blew through not just two co-drivers, but countless breakdowns, customs issues, and language barriers. She also survived an accident in which she lost two fingers, her cancer diagnosis, and several robberies and threats.

As a result, she saw dozens of countries, connected with hundreds of people, and inspired thousands more. She had the time of her life. And at 81, she did it all again. After her passing on Easter Sunday, her final Instagram post reads: “I live no longer, but I have lived.”

The gap between Heidi Hetzer and the lady on the train is not a physical one. It’s not genetic and it does not depend on their financial background.

Heidi Hetzer had a growth mindset. The nurse’s point of view was fixed.

Whatever situation in life you look at, this distinction makes all the difference.


From 1980 to 1984, John McEnroe was the #1 tennis player in the world. He was also arrogant, entitled, and angry. His outbreaks on the court made half the show. He’d often yell at organizers over minuscule details, only for them to make the changes and then apologize to him.

“This is what it was like to be number one,” he says in his autobiography. In Mindset, researcher Carol Dweck examines his case further:

He goes on to tell us about how he once threw up all over a dignified Japanese lady who was hosting him. The next day she bowed, apologized to him, and presented him with a gift.

“This,” McEnroe proclaims, “is also what it was like to be number one.”

“Everything was about you… ‘Did you get everything you need? Is everything okay? We’ll pay you this, we’ll do that, we’ll kiss your behind.’ You only have to do what you want; your reaction to anything else is, ‘Get the hell out of here.’ For a long time I didn’t mind it a bit. Would you?”

As the saying goes, “better late than never,” but McEnroe’s insight sure would’ve been more useful back in 1980. Contrast that with Michael Jordan, an athlete known for his die-hard work ethic, and the the first billionaire basketball player in history. Dweck again:

“When Jordan was cut from the varsity team, he was devastated. His mother says, “I told him to go back and discipline himself.” Boy, did he listen. He used to leave the house at six in the morning to go practice before school. At the University of North Carolina, he constantly worked on his weaknesses — his defensive game and his ball handling and shooting. The coach was taken aback by his willingness to work harder than anyone else. Once, after the team lost the last game of the season, Jordan went and practiced his shots for hours. He was preparing for the next year.”

The difference between a fixed and a growth mindset is like the difference between success and failure, between winning and losing, between creation and waste: first and foremost, it’s a matter of perspective.

A fixed mindset will hold talent over everything. Whatever goes wrong, it’s genetic, it’s external, it’s permanent, everyone else’s fault, and can’t be changed. With such a worldview, anyone would try to look smart, avoid difficult situations, and seek approval rather than attempt to win big.

A growth mindset, however, is hell-bent on internalizing your locus of control. It insists that life happens for you, not to you. Therefore, even the bad stuff serves a purpose — and it is yours to turn into a stepping stone to some bigger thing. In this mindset, what goes wrong is just a detour, a distraction, a temporary setback you can handle. The only question is what you’ll try next.

If you have a fixed mindset, it may not feel like it, but, by definition, which of these two lenses you select is a choice. However, that choice is made one day, one habit, one small action at a time.

The best of those actions I found comes from a little farm in France.


After graduating college, Hannah and her boyfriend worked for a farmer in Europe. His name was Emmanuel. One day, this happened:

He took us to the greenhouse and showed us spots of brown mold that had begun creeping over the leaves on the tomato plants. “Ze tomatoes get sick sometimes,” he said. “It’s a big…how do you say…a big pr…”

“A problem?” I suggested in my mind, assuming that was the word he was looking for.

But then Emmanuel smiled and said, “Ah, project. It’s a big project.”

This slight change of language can lead to a profound shift in your trajectory. It might be just two words, but one leads to a fixed mindset, the other looks for growth and opportunity.

A project is a challenge. Something you can choose to tackle or not. A problem is a nuisance. Something you need to “make go away.” It’s not optional.

A project offers multiple angles from the start. A problem is a thorn in your thigh: before you can do anything, you have to talk yourself into even trying to pull it out.

A project is a game. It has levels. You’ll immediately look for milestones and ways to leverage what you already know. A problem is game over. You’ve already lost. You feel like you’re at square one, and so that’s where you start. You’re not considering your assets.

A project has stakeholders. There are several parties involved and if you get it right, everyone wins. A problem is yours and yours alone. “Oh no, why me?” It brings out your ego and makes you self-centered.

Completing a project allows you to advance. Resolving a problem only gets you back to zero.

Every time you want to say ‘problem,’ say ‘project’ instead.

Replacing this one word could change your whole life.


My unintentional travel companion came from a hospital full of problems. Heidi Hetzer lived a life made of projects. Two women, two perspectives.

No one loves to lose money on a business idea or enjoys the woes of chronic back pain. But it takes an open mind to deal with such setbacks.

Who would you rather be on the court? A furious McEnroe, who’s angry at an environment he can’t change, or a determined Jordan, who’ll settle for his best effort, nothing more, nothing less?

The best people I know aren’t those with the most success, they’re those with the most meaningful journeys. Not all of this meaning can be found inside ourselves, but what’s on the outside largely depends on your point of view.

If you look at the world like a game of Tetris, you can spot projects everywhere, choose the ones you care about, and then make the pieces fit. If you insist it’s a labyrinth someone else designed, you’ll constantly feel lost.

You can’t always pick who you sit next to on the train, but you can decide if that person’s a friend or a stranger. You can’t win every match, but you can decide what the loss means. You can choose to see problems or you can choose to see projects.

It’s up to you to make up your mind, but until you do, let the train be the one to blow off some steam.

We're All Just Diamonds in the Rough Cover

We’re All Just Diamonds in the Rough

Imagine you’re going to an art gallery. The exhibition is called “Unfinished.”

In the lobby, Schubert’s Symphony №8 of the same name swells in the background. You get your ticket and enter the first room. The strings mount into their first crescendo, and there she is: The Mona Lisa. Well, the Mona.

Because Lisa is still kinda missing. You can see her shape, her arms, and her hair, but only half her face. Only half of that mysterious, enchanting smile. The backdrop isn’t done either. A blurry mix of blue, brown, green, and grey.

In the next room, van Gogh’s Starry Night feels off too. There’s a town and a tree, but where are the stars? Where’s the brightly lit crescent moon? Where are the swirls and the clouds that make you feel dreamy and moved?

A little confused, you continue to make your way through the exhibit. Dalí, Monet, Picasso, they’re all there, but…their paintings aren’t done. Slowly, it dawns on you. This isn’t about up and coming artists. It’s about you.

The sole purpose of the exhibit is to show you: Once upon a time, everything was unfinished. Even the world’s greatest masterpieces. And so are you.


On September 3, 1783, the United States finally signed a peace agreement with Great Britain that recognized American independence.

Contemporary painter Benjamin West aimed to capture the moment on canvas. After he’d sketched the American commissioners, however, the British delegation refused to pose. The painting remains, to this day, unfinished.

Right in the middle of the incomplete action sits none other than Benjamin Franklin. In his biography of the man, Walter Isaacson calls him “the most accomplished American of his age.”

But Franklin himself would never have accepted that kind of praise. After all, ‘accomplished’ pretty much means ‘done,’ and with Ben, that was never quite the case. He treated his life like a perpetual work in progress.

Towards the end of his career, he was elected as the governor of Pennsylvania, a position he held for three years — longer than any other — and well into his 80s. Even in his last year of being alive, he wrote essays about the cruelty of slavery and lead the local society supporting its abolition.

This is a trait he shares with many historic figures we call genius today. Einstein scribbled equations on his deathbed, Schubert completed 50 works in his last year, and Dante barely finished the Divine Comedy before he died.

Some might look at these people and see an addiction to work, delusional grandeur, and exaggerated feelings of self-importance. I see quite the opposite, actually. A laissez-faire approach to life that surrenders to the fact that we’ll never feel like we’re finished. Because there’s always more to do.

At just 20 years old, Franklin wrote down 13 virtues he committed to keep practicing throughout his life. Again, what might seem like strict rules at first turn out to be rough guidelines. In his autobiography, Franklin noted that he focused on just one value each week, leaving the others up to chance, and admitted to failing many times.

But he wholeheartedly believed the mere attempt of following them made him a better, happier, more successful person. What a forgiving approach to self-improvement.

He also penned the following quote, recognizing what a tough job it was:

“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.”


When a diamond emerges from the earth, it looks bland at best and is impossible to recognize at worst. Without the long refining process — the cutting, the shaping, the polishing — no one would want to buy one. It may have been created under pressure, but now it needs a softer treatment.

I think our lives are the same. We’re all just diamonds in the rough.

The hardest part of being human is to be born in the first place. That’s where we need the pressure. That’s where we defy the incomprehensible odds.

But now that we’re here, applying more of it won’t help. It’s time to stop beating ourselves up. No matter what we do, we’ll always remain a work in progress. We’ll always be ‘unfinished.’ But we’re still diamonds.

Once we let go of negative self-talk and accept this, we can focus on what we really need: Refinement. Incremental progress. Polish.

Polish is sticking to your values in the chaos of everyday life. It’s letting go of the big picture to take the next stroke of the brush. Polish is rolling up your sleeves and saying: “What good can I do today?” It always feels small in the moment, but in hindsight, you’ll see it’s what makes your life shine.

Most of all, when we accept our roughness, we’ll learn to enjoy life regardless. Because if you never arrive, celebrating the journey is the only way.

I wish we could visit the houses of history’s greatest artists. The Da Vincis and Dantes and Franklins. If we rummaged around in their attics, I bet we’d find tons of partial works. What’s true for all of them is that, somewhere along the line, they figured out how to live with that burden. How to go on despite never being finished. At least some of them enjoyed what they did anyway.

I also wish we could ask them to show their drafts in an exhibition. Because knowing all of this, first they would laugh, and then they would agree.