Hit Rock Bottom? Don't Waste It

Don’t Waste Your Rock Bottom

On August 1st, 1976, Formula One racing legend Niki Lauda crashed at the Nürburgring. In an instant, his car burst into flames, his helm flew off, and he was trapped in the wreckage.

Other drivers were able to pull him from the car, but because of the burns he suffered and toxic fumes he inhaled, he fell into a coma. A priest showed up to perform his last rites but, luckily, Niki survived.

When he woke up, he was in pain. He had lost half his right ear, and his face would never be the same. Just shy of a miracle, Niki recovered in six weeks — and got back into his car. He missed a mere two races of the season, and yet, to add insult to injury, he lost the title of world champion to his arch nemesis, James Hunt, by one point.

Imagine how that must have felt — to nearly die and then come back — and lose by one point. For Niki Lauda, this was it: rock bottom. He had been destroyed physically and psychologically. What did Niki do?

On the first day of the next season, he showed up for practice. He drove. He studied. Niki tweaked his car. And by the end of the 1977 season, he became world champion.

The universe works in mysterious ways. Common sense will tell you: Wow, here’s a guy who succeeded despite his setbacks. Here’s an interesting question: What if he succeeded because of them?

It’s nearly impossible to see it when you’re in the middle of it, but there’s true beauty in hitting rock bottom: It’ll break you into a thousand pieces, but then, you’ll be on solid ground — maybe for the first time.

You won’t need further dampers. There’ll be no more uncertainty. You’ve lost. In fact, you’ve lost so much, you’ve got nothing left to lose — so you might as well start building.

In 2009, after decades of hard work, late night talk show host Conan O’Brien achieved his dream: He took over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno. It took just nine months for the network to fire him. It was a PR disaster of epic proportions. Leno came out of retirement and grabbed the show right back. Can you feel the humiliation?

Two years later, O’Brien gave a commencement speech, in which he said:

“There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized.”

After his failure, O’Brien shunned the spotlight. He went on tour, made an album, and filmed a documentary. He claims he never had more fun or conviction in what he was doing. O’Brien used rock bottom to completely reinvent himself. “No specific job or career goal defines me, and it should not define you,” he told the students.

Don’t have such a fixed idea of where your career should go. This is very common in high achievers. Accept your dreams will change. Sometimes, they might have to — and so will you. It’s great to shoot for the stars, but you can’t let your identity drift through space when you miss.

You know who else hit rock bottom? A woman who, in her 2008 Harvard commencement address, said:

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me.

Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea.

And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

In 1994, J. K. Rowling was broke, divorced, a single mom, living on welfare, and had just filed a restraining order against her ex-husband. She was the biggest failure she knew.

Whether it was despite or because of everything that had happened, she decided to turn rock bottom into fertile ground. She watered it, sowed some seeds, and slowly built new footing to start from. A “solid foundation,” as she called it. After all, rock bottom is made of rocks.

Rowling put all her energy into the one thing she cared about beyond her daughter: the Harry Potter books. Eventually, she didn’t just find greener pastures; she became the first billionaire author in history. All because she accepted rock bottom.

So here you are. Another weekend sacrificed at the altar of alcohol. Another afternoon wasted in front of the screen. Maybe, you’re embarrassed to tell your children you can’t afford a nicer place. Maybe, you feel ashamed you’re late on paying back a friend.

Whatever your big failure that stings right now, in the long run, it will set you free. Once you’ve given up your expectations of yourself and the ones others put on you, you’ll finally be able to genuinely try new things. No more fake attempts. Truly break with convention, and create a new self-image.

You can’t envision it right now, but the next iteration of you is the exact person you need to be to reach new heights.

No matter how harsh your rock bottom feels, don’t punch it until your fists bleed. See it for what it is: Rough terrain, sure, but one that won’t give way beneath your feet. Don’t waste your rock bottom. Let it be the foundation of something new; the start of better.

Be grateful you’ve arrived, and then start climbing.

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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.

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Choose Hard Problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why We'll Never Know the Origins of Success Cover

Why We’ll Never Know the Origins of Success

You can do anything. I know because I have no idea what you can’t do. You might, but in my book, anything is possible for you.

The funny thing is most people think that way about other people — it’s just us who do the self-limiting. We choose to focus on our shortcomings. But the truth is, as long as you keep doing things, anything could happen.

Take Andreas Illiger, for example. In 2011, he released a game on the iTunes App Store. It was called Tiny Wings. Helping a chirpy bird fly through an endless landscape with upbeat music was fun — so much fun that it generated millions of downloads and dominated the charts for weeks. At 28, Illiger became an overnight millionaire.

You can do anything.

Mark Cuban shared a 3-bedroom apartment with five friends when he was 25. All of his clothes were in one big pile on the floor. He was working as a bartender and living off beer and happy hour food. Then, he started selling software for PCs. He was fired after less than a year. But he stuck with selling software. He started his own company. He sold it a few years later for $6 million. He used the money to fund a company that broadcasted college basketball, which he loved. That company grew. He stuck with it. Eventually, that company sold to Yahoo! for $5.7 billion right before the dot-com crash.

You can do anything.

In 2016, I started a website called Four Minute Books. I further condensed 365 existing book summaries in a year. It was a stupid, harebrained idea. I made about $5/hr doing it. After that first year, I spent less time on it, but it kept growing. Now, I have someone helping me, and it makes a full-time income with about one hour of my work each week.

Do you see a pattern emerge here? No? Well, neither do I. And that’s why you can do anything. Life is random. All you can do is to keep trying your best. Some things will work out. Others won’t. It is only in hindsight that you’ll get to attach the label “success.”

We define success by outcomes. We see those outcomes — a fancy house, a cool car, a big company — and they feel like a specific result, created with fixed inputs over a fixed period of time. But they’re not. They’re the result of an entire person’s life, meshed with luck, timing, and other people’s lives.

Outcomes may happen suddenly, like for Andreas, or gradually, like for me, or first one and then the other, like for Mark Cuban. But there’s no such thing as fixed inputs or fixed periods of time.

All there is is your life and everything that’s in it.

Everything matters. And because it does, you can do anything.

Andreas made everything in his game himself. The graphics. The music. The mechanisms. The code. He’d been a developer and designer for ten years, dabbling in all these different fields beyond app development. It just so happened that, in this one game, at a time when everyone was looking for fun little distractions, it all came together.

Mark took a series of steps, constantly choosing to follow one path and abandon another. Was it his knack for trends? His gut? Coincidence? Whatever it was, he stuck with the right path at the right time several times and, in a historic moment of technology breakthrough, ended up winning big. He rode a huge wave all the way to the top, and then he picked up his board and went home right before it crashed. What all went into it? Who knows. Mark just kept doing things.

So did Harrison Ford, by the way. You know, the carpenter we all know as Han Solo. And Elton John. Henry Ford. Rihanna. Jackie Chan. J. K. Rowling. There is no straight line to success.

You can do anything.

Tolkien published Lord of the Rings at age 63. Ray Kroc franchised McDonald’s in his 50s. Judi Dench first showed up in a Bond movie in her 60s.

Success can only be measured and felt after it’s done, but it can never be judged in its entirety, because we never have a complete picture of any single human’s life.

Whether it happens suddenly or gradually, one day, someone will say something, and you’ll realize: “Oh. Yeah, I guess that did work out for me.”

You won’t know how you got there or why you got there or why you hadn’t seen it before. All you’ll know is that you kept doing things and that, yes, this is success.

You had never imagined it, but now you know it’s true:

You can do anything.

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Your Gut Knows What You Need

“The man is obviously crazy. Are we just here to watch him die?”

That’s what his friends asked themselves. The man is Philippe Petit.

On August 7th, 1974, he and his crew raised a steel cable between the two towers of the World Trade Center and then…he walked on it. For 45 minutes, 1,300 feet in the air. It was extremely dangerous and highly illegal.

But today, he is a legend. An idol. An inspiration to millions.

Uncertainty sucks. Big time. We hate it. Hate it. But we also know it’s what stands between us and the things that make life worth living. That’s why we celebrate those who conquer it. Who persist in the face of uncertainty.

Philippe withstood an incomprehensible amount of uncertainty, compressed into 45 minutes of life or death. That’s why he’s a hero. But most of us aren’t meant for such crazy dares — and it’s a good thing we aren’t. Yet, the same principle applies.

What about his friends, for example? What about their uncertainty? For months, they helped him plan the coup, not knowing if he’d survive. That’s terrifying too, and equally worth commending.

The longer uncertainty is drawn out, the harder each next day becomes.

Maybe you’ve been waiting for important test results for months. Approaching the birth of a child, not knowing if it’ll go okay. Working towards an important deadline, unsure whether the judges will like the result.

When the mountain is high, every day is a new chance to let it get to you. You look up, see the peak and think, “My god, how am I supposed to move this?” Of course, our only job is to carry away small stones. But it’s easy to forget.

To focus on the smallness of the true task — the first date, the first case, the first page — it helps to trust your gut. But you have to take time to listen to it.

Let the clock run. Allow other matters to fly by. Direct your attention to what’s in front of you. And let your gut figure out the rest. If you feel tired, sleep. If a coffee sounds refreshing, go get one. And if you crave air, take a walk outside.

Sometimes, it takes a while to know what’s what. To tell what’s necessary from what’s ego and desire. So tune in to your gut. Don’t rush. Listen. Separate duty and surrender. Hack away the inessential. And keep doing it every day.

For each impulse, ask: “Will this help me return to the mountain? Is it the next step to carry away another stone? Or just a distraction? Am I shielding my eyes because I glanced at the peak?”

It is better to sit with these questions than to choose a path in haste. Wait. Let the answers trickle in. Don’t act before you feel strong enough to lift the weight. All of this is training. Learning to remain calm despite instability.

You won’t always nail this balancing act. Some days, you’ll fall. But you can get better. And before you know it, the mountain shrinks. A glacier turns into a peak. A pike becomes a hill. A hill turns into a plateau and, eventually, you’ll be walking through a valley, surrounded by creeks and meadows.

Sooner or later, the deadline comes, the test is returned, the man walks on the wire — and balance is restored. The uncertainty fades away.

Philippe Petit had an incredibly strong gut. Deep down, he always knew he had to walk up there. There was no alternative. So he learned to deal with the unease. Until it faded away.

Your gut may not point you to such lofty feats, but it still knows what you need. Whatever mountain you’ve set out to climb, it can help you reach the highest heights. But only if you take the time to let it speak.

You Don't Need Authority Cover

You Don’t Need Authority – You Just Have to Care

Remember when you first learned how to draw? Oh, the artworks that you made! You didn’t even need a model or a scene — you made it all up from scratch, using nothing but your imagination.

A dragon looked how you thought a dragon should look. A house was a house in your image. What’s more, nothing had to be perfect, because you could always explain your picture to the audience.

“That’s you, mom!”

“Ah, of course, I see it now!”

The best thing about the pictures we paint as children, however, is that because they’re so self-evidently not about us, we’re happy to give them away. Every one is about something, but also for someone.

As a result, and I’m sure you remember this as well, we would regularly toddle over to our parents and say, “Look! I made this for you.”

“Aww, that’s so cute honey, this’ll go right on the fridge!”

The fridge?! Are you serious?! Ohmygodthankyousomuch!

We may not have shown it, but seeing our work “up there” felt special, didn’t it? Yeah, I definitely remember now. Good times.

What happened to this feeling? Actually, what happened to us?


Last week, I spoke to my friend Luke. When I told him about my daily mini-newsletter, he said he wanted to make one too. We even brainstormed a name: Better Parent. Sounds cool, right?

But then, somewhere between the excitement of starting something new and the joy of a self-paced, autotelic endeavor, Luke said something like this:

“Who am I to talk about parenting?”

I don’t know if my answer was any good, but it was meant to sound like this:

“Well, you’re a parent and you care. So why wouldn’t you?”

At some point between age 4 and 40, we get lost. We forget what our inner artist knew the day we were born — that creativity is an end in itself. There is no prerequisite for it, no list of required credentials, no “ you must be this tall to ride.”

All we have to do is care enough to make. Make something. Anything, really. A fortress out of mud, a picture done in chalk, a statue formed with clay. But instead, we turn to authority.

We ask, “Who will give me permission to make? Who do I have to please? What credentials can I go and collect? Please, tell me! I’m willing to go!”

That’s not how it works. That’s not how it ever worked.

Life will always be about the pictures on the fridge.


My friends don’t read my articles. At least most of them, most of the time. But every once in a while, someone will confide in me, usually after a few drinks, that they really connected with one of them.

One person phrased it in a way that struck me: “It feels nice to be seen.”

Ultimately, that’s what your most important work will always be about — and it’s the exact same message we send when we present some of our early scribblings to our parents.

“I see you. So I made this. Hope you like it.”

Your work is never just work, of course. Seeing isn’t a skill. It’s a decision. An attitude. A way of life. If you carry it, no matter where you go, you’ll show up with a picture — and hope it goes on the fridge.

When you talk to a stranger at the bar, if they feel seen, they’ll connect with you. When you send an email to a parent, if they feel seen, they’ll open the next one. When you explain the code to a colleague, if they feel seen, they’ll remember your name.

Waiting for authority is tempting. But it’s a cop-out. An excuse we like to hide behind. Because in our capacity as humans — not managers, painters, singles — humans, we waste little thought on demanding credentials. We’re not looking for authority. We don’t care where the pictures come from.

We want to feel seen. You made this for me? Wow! Let me put it on the fridge.

We want to feel humbled and cared for and trusted. We all need you to take the first step. Isn’t that our secret wish? That someone would reach out to us?

Now, you might ask, who really likes their children’s paintings? Weren’t they just doodles? Wasn’t the email kinda clumsy? Wasn’t the guy a nerd? Of course — but that’s not the part that matters.

The part that matters is that you cared. You cared enough to make, to show up, and to take responsibility without asking. You showed up and saw me and then you dared.

You dared to be vulnerable. To go out on a limb and make something for me. A joke, perhaps, or a painting, or even just a tiny moment of connection. But that was enough. And I can’t wait to put it on the fridge.

No, you don’t need authority. You need to keep drawing. And to do that, all you have to do is care.

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Struggling Is Not The Only Way You Can Grow

Hawthorne is as American as it gets. Smack dab in the middle of California, the little town of 90,000 takes its name from world-famous writer and novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne — who was born on July 4th, Independence Day.

Today, it hosts what may be the country’s greatest entrepreneur and his most magnificent endeavor: Take a right on Crenshaw Boulevard, turn into Rocket Road, and you’ll hit SpaceX headquarters, one of Elon Musk’s companies.

In June 2012, that’s exactly what VC rock star Tim Draper and his 40 students did. The pilot class of his now highly acclaimed startup accelerator took an in-depth look at Elon’s moonshot, including a Q&A with Musk himself.

Standing way in the back is a scrawny French kid, hoping, like the other 18-year-olds, for the most inspiring speech they would ever witness. “But instead,” Thomas Brag explains, “we got a brutally honest Elon-answer.”

And it wasn’t one any aspiring entrepreneur would want to hear.

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How to Communicate Better: 7 Simple Lines to Express Your True Thoughts, Beliefs & Feelings

Good communication is always simple.

What’s hard is having the courage to let it be. To say “I don’t love you,” rather than concoct some elaborate web of intricate, lesser truths — or even outright lies — hoping the other will stumble into it, trip, and fall over all on their own.

In the movie Hitch, titular character and communication expert Alex says:

“60% of all human communication is nonverbal; body language. 30% is your tone. So that means 90% of what you’re saying ain’t coming out of your mouth.”

It sounds intriguing, but I think it grossly underestimates the importance of truth. Even our subjective one. If you’ve ever sheepishly confessed something, shaking like a wet poodle, you know what I mean: A powerful sentence uttered poorly may be weaker than it could be, but it doesn’t turn the truth into a lie. People can tell what we tell. And they’ll react accordingly.

When I fail to communicate clearly, to say what I want to say, it’s almost never because of some complex combination of circumstances. It’s that I’m too afraid to say what I really — like really — think and believe. I have wiggled my way around questions, nodded my head when I should have shaken it, said “yes” when I meant to say “no,” shied away from asking for help, neglected giving compliments, and hated saying “sorry.” All in hopes of the truth magically finding its way to the light, which, of course, it never does.

Because it’s my job to take it there. The job, really. A job for all of us. The only one that matters. I’m not sure how much of what we’re saying comes out of our mouths, but I know that 90% of what does is a weak version of the truth. We may soften it to be polite, censor ourselves to maintain our image, or ask for less than we want because it’s more than we think we deserve, but, at the root of it all, there’ll always be fear.

There’s no way for me to bestow the power to act in spite of this fear upon you or even myself. It’s a war fought in countless battles over one’s lifetime, and you’ll need to summon the courage to be honest time and again. But it helps to keep some truths at hand. A little vial filled with beacons, all but ready to release. You’ll still have to uncork it each time, but at least it’s close by.

I’m only 27, but I’ve had — or would’ve had — to use all of these hundreds of times already. Here’s hoping that, in the future, you and I both will.


1. When you don’t know something, say:

“I don’t know.”

People will respect you for it. It’s a chance for them to say “I don’t know” too. And then you can figure it out together. We think of this line as an admission of defeat, but it’s actually the beginning of taking your power back.

2. When you don’t understand something, say:

“I don’t understand.”

People will explain again. Actually, most of the time, they’ll be happy to. It means they can double-check that they understood what they told you themselves. If you think about how comfortable you are with explaining things multiple times yourself, you’ll see why others will likely be too.

3. When you don’t agree with something, say:

“I don’t agree.”

People will respect your opinion. At least tolerate it. At least most of the time. Don’t launch into an immediate defense. Just plant your flag. Stand your ground. Stay still and watch what happens. Will they stand theirs? Start an attack? Or even join your side? Very few things in life can neatly be separated into right and wrong, which means very few ideas really need justification.

4. When you don’t want to do something, say:

“No, thank you, I don’t want to do this.”

People will find a way without you. They always have in the past and they always will in the future. No one is indispensable forever. Just like time heals all wounds, it makes everyone replaceable eventually. Spouses. Neighbors. Parents. Bosses. Leaders. Friends. You’re never too important to say no.

5. When you have a hard time going it alone, say:

“Excuse me, can you help me with this?”

People will be happy to give you a hand. Like “I don’t know,” asking for help makes people more likely to trust you, not less. After Benjamin Franklin borrowed a book from a rival legislator, they became lifelong friends. In fact, showing vulnerability is probably the only way to truly overthrow animosity.

6. When you like someone, say:

“I like you.”

People will like you back. Maybe not as much. Maybe more. But, when in doubt, most people opt to be friendly. They might not like you enough to kiss you, or to give you a job, or to go on holiday together, but they won’t stand in your way. And even if they thought about it before, now, they won’t cross you.

7. When you know you made a mistake, say:

“I’m sorry. That was my fault.”

People will forgive you. The word ‘default’ is made from ‘de,’ which means ‘out of,’ and ‘fault,’ which means ‘guilt.’ When we ‘default’ to doing something, that’s a safety mechanism meant to cover us in advance. We hate admitting mistakes more than making them and so our default reaction is to shamefully sweep them under the rug. True guilt, however, is too painful to just shake off. So we fess up and fix our mistakes. Therefore, it’s a feeling worth embracing.


In a world full of information, sending signals through the noise is more important than ever. In a world full of devices, it’s enough that the medium twists the message. And in a world where technology dominates everything, communication is a uniquely human differentiator. But only if we keep it real.

May the above sentences help you do just that. Oh, and whenever you find the courage to speak them, leave some room for one more thing: listening.

I don’t think the following communication expert had as much research as Hitch to back up his statistics, but then again, the numbers of nature never lie:

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” 

— Epictetus

Everything in Life Happens for You Cover

Everything in Life Happens for You, Not to You

When I was six years old, I learned how to ride a bike. As soon as the training wheels came off, I felt like I was flying, zipping up and down our little alley.

One day, just as I drew a circle to head back to the dead end, a white van turned into our street. Looking over my shoulder, I didn’t get the feeling it was slowing down — and got really scared. I tried to make a run for it, spinning the pedals as fast as my tiny feet allowed.

Right when I thought I’d made it to safety, I slipped. My hands lost control, my feet missed the ground, and, in seeming slow-motion, I flew straight over the handle to land face first on the asphalt. When I came back to my senses, my chin felt warm. It was bleeding. A lot.

Somehow, I got myself up and staggered to our house. 30 minutes later, I was sitting in the hospital, pressing a tissue against my chin. Instead of stitches, the doctor would sort of glue my wound shut. You can still see the scar today. But that wouldn’t happen for another two hours.

It was a busy day in the emergency room. Right after we’d arrived, the paramedics wheeled in someone on a stretcher. I couldn’t make out the person, but people were talking about an accident. A biker had hit a tree and sliced his machine in half — and himself right with it.

I learned a lot of lessons that day, but the most important one was this:

No matter how bad life gets, someone always has it worse than you.

A Little, Big Question

Day 12. I don’t remember what it feels like. To get up full of energy. To want to exercise it. To want to run and think and get things done. Funny, how fast we forget. How fast we adapt. Waking up in sweat, coughing, being in a constant daze, it’s all just part of my day now.

Yesterday, I finally saw a doctor. A virus. Probably the flu. And the only thing you can do with a virus…is to wait it out. Patience, he said, patience.

For the first five days, I was raising all hell to get better. Meds, supplements, tea, lemon, spicy food, ginger, you name it. For the next five days, I fooled myself into believing I already felt much better. Now, I’m past all that. I’m beyond trying and beyond complaining. I’m accepting. Finally.

When life bans you to the sidelines, acceptance is a wonderful state. It takes a while to reach, but it provides room for asking a short — but big — question:

What is it for?

Age Isn’t Lethal

Did you know there is no such thing as a “natural death?” We don’t really die of old age. We die when a specific part of our body fails.

And while the consequences of aging — slower cell renewal, worn out organs, a weaker immune system — increase the likelihood of such a failure, of an internal one over an external trigger, they’re not ultimately responsible. At the end of the day, the same things that bug us now, like infections, diseases, malfunctions, or chronic health issues, will also send us on our final journey.

This is as creepy as it is comforting. Don’t quote me on this, but I once heard there’s a 50% chance you’ll deal with a six-month health issue by the time you’re 40. Given that 40 is the halfway point for our life expectancy in many countries already, it’d make perfect sense to me. If you’re death and want to keep people in check, why not send a strong reminder at halftime?

Whether we like it or not, we’re all forced to take the occasional break. Health problems are just one of life’s many ways of giving us one. And since we all share this varying portion of our lives we spend immobilized, watching from the outside, the question is not what to do about it. It’s what to do with it.

What do we do with this time now before we’re banned to the bench forever?

Just Another Cheesy Quote

Everything in life happens for you. Not to you. For you. To some, this may just be another cheesy, pseudo-inspiring quote. To me, it’s one of many attitudes we can choose. And, since I get to, I’d rather choose meaning than misery.

We know meaning is an important component, maybe the most important, of human contentment, happiness, our ability to function and even survive. Ascribing meaning to his life is what allowed Viktor Frankl and others to survive the atrocities of World War II, and it’s also why Frankl dedicated his life to spreading the message that meaning is something we can choose.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

When you’re sick or down or beaten or depressed, deciding that life happens for you is not a way to force-feed yourself back to happy. It’s not even about gratitude for what you usually have or that the pain becomes easier to bear, although those are part of it. No, choosing this attitude means you’ll start looking for learnings instead of relief. You’ll start using your time.

You won’t figure out the real meaning right now. That often can’t happen until weeks, months, years later. But you’ll give your experience meaning by getting something out of it. By making it part of a bigger picture instead of seeing it only as a bump in the road.

Given the choice — and we all are given the choice — I’d rather ascribe too much meaning to life than too little.

Never Powerless

On the day I had my accident, I wasn’t worried about the van or my bike or the motorcyclist. All I wanted was for my wound to heal. And just like that took time, so did the bigger lessons that transpired.

But every time it came up since, that biker was part of the story. Until I started wondering if he was the story. If I was a guest in his, rather than he in mine.

And now, to this day, whenever I have an accident, no matter how minor, it’s a little easier to remember that people are rolled into hospitals every day. In way worse conditions. And some never make it out. But I did. And that’s a lesson — a story — worth keeping.

I hope you’ll rarely feel defenseless. I really do. But I know you’ll never have to feel powerless. Because there’s always something you can do: make meaning. Just create it, and it’s there. It might take you a while to find the acceptance you need to seek it but, once you do, there’s real comfort in learning. In taking lessons where others take offense.

Before you know it, you’ll be back out there. Riding your bike, doing big things, flying through the streets. Until then, it pays to listen to the doctor:

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

 — Viktor Frankl

Why You Should Trust People First Cover

Why You Should Trust People First

We used to be best friends. Now, I hadn’t heard from her in six months.

My last “Hey, how are you?” had disappeared in the vast nothingness universe of unanswered WhatsApp messages.

Eventually, I thought she didn’t care anymore. That she had silently deleted me from her life, just like we now nuke our relationships by unfriending people on Facebook. You know, without ever telling them.

I was sad for a bit, but these things happen. Friendships die. Connections fizzle out. The shared culture you’ve developed takes on a life of its own and, once you stop tending to it, spins out of control. It slowly circles from meaning into emptiness, ultimately landing right next to that last WhatsApp message.

Ironically, one of our last talks had been about just that. The fact that losing touch is a sad, but sometimes healthy and necessary, part of life.

Then, two weeks ago, I stumbled over some old Tinie Tempah songs. Instantly, my mind slingshotted into a nostalgic flashback. I remembered the time we spent raving in clubs with the gang. I remembered how we yelled “tsunami!” all the time for no reason. I remembered how we blasted his songs driving around in the summer.

And so, in a moment of vulnerability, I sent a message:

You’ll always be the first person I think of every time I hear Tinie Tempah.

She replied:

That’s the best message I got all week!! So glad to hear from you!

We started chatting and caught up. Before I could even start to wonder why she didn’t message me all this time if she were so excited about talking to me, she said something that perfectly explained it.

That same week, she had met a mutual friend of ours, who, like her, had recently entered the workforce. After the usual “how’s your job,” “fine,” and “what else is new,” my friend confessed she was having doubts. That not all was great at work. That she was having second thoughts about her choice.

Suddenly, the girl she talked to opened up. She too wasn’t happy.

And then my friend said the sentence that stuck with me: “I think she just needed a trust advance.”

As it turns out, so did my friend.


A trust advance is reaching for a stranger’s heavy bag on the bus and saying “let me.” They might flinch, but they’ll usually be thankful for your help.

A trust advance is shouting “hold the door” and hoping the person in it won’t take your out-of-breath-ness as a threat. They’ll rarely shut it in your face.

A trust advance is admitting that you just don’t feel like it when someone asks you to join their spontaneous soirée. That you’re not in a good place.

A trust advance is not deflecting the “why” that follows. Because the only way to find out whether they meant it or not is to give an honest answer.

A trust advance is being the first to say that “some things about my job really suck,” to deliberately turn off the highlight reel and start with the real stuff.

A trust advance is picking up a loose end even if someone else left it hanging.

A trust advance is saying “I’m sorry” before you’re sure you screwed up.

A trust advance is texting “I miss you” without context because feelings don’t need one. They’re true the second you have them.

A trust advance is choosing to show your private self in public, even if it means you’ll be exposed. But maybe you’ll get others to show theirs.

A trust advance is tearing down a wall without knowing what’s on the other side. You might be carried away by the wind, but you also might make a new friend.


By and large, we live in a world where our biggest concerns are our careers, our relationships, and our happiness. Most of us are not running through the wilderness trying to survive. More people in the world die from too much food than too little. More from self-harm than violence.

As a result, cooperation now carries disproportionately greater reward than competition. It’s what allowed us to create this world of abundance in the first place. We haven’t figured out how to allocate it best, but we’re getting there. And while the world isn’t perfect and never will be, cooperating humans win.

Therefore, most of the risks we take are risks of rejection, of being exposed and vulnerable. But they’re not risks of survival. They’re problems of ego, not existence. Being laughed at, being told “no,” being rejected romantically—these are not matters of life and death.

Trust advances multiply. You hand out one, and they’ll hand out five more.

We forget this. Our brains haven’t caught up. They still equate “I’m sorry,” “I miss you,” and “I need help” with “I’m gonna pet this tiger.” But they’re not actually dangerous. We fear these things because we can’t control them. That they’re really unlikely to happen doesn’t register. We’d rather have a definitive threat we can respond to than a vague improbability that’s out of our hands.

When I reached out to my friend I felt weak — but actually, I was the strong one. Sending that message felt like caving, like giving in. In reality, I was the one showing up—the one saying “here I am.” Yes, I exposed myself. Yes, I was vulnerable. But it was an act of courage, not defeat. And in today’s world, at least most of the time, courage is rewarded, not rejected.

The best thing you can do to be of service; to be a good friend, partner, parent, even stranger; to be the person we all want to be around, is to be vulnerable.

There’s this popular line that “everything you want is on the other side of fear.” But fear is nothing I can act on. I think everything you want is on the other side of being vulnerable. That’s something I can do. I can always hand out more trust advances.

No one spends their day obsessing about having to buy toilet paper. We’re all thinking about deep stuff, all the time. Let’s use our time to talk about these things. You might still get hurt, but the risk pales in comparison to the reward.

Being vulnerable tears down walls between humans. Behind those walls are trust, love, honesty, joy, resilience, friendship, and lots of other magical things. What’s more, each wall that crumbles hands more people a hammer. Trust advances multiply. You hand out one, and they’ll hand out five more.

Give trust first, and the world will shower you with trust in return.