Be Water, My Friend Cover

Be Water, My Friend

Water is balance. That’s why Bruce Lee’s “Be Water” analogy is popular to this day. His metaphor captures the balance we all need in our lives.

Water doesn’t look left or right. It just makes its way however it can. It adapts, but it always perseveres. Even at rest, water still slowly eats away at its surroundings. In Striking Thoughts, Lee expanded on the short recorded clip:

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

Water is a slow judge. It asks: “What shape do I need to be?” It conforms to whatever it’s in touch with, one drop at a time. However, you can only ask that question if you come to any situation with an empty mind.

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

Despite having no form on its own, despite being infinitely soft, water is one of, if not the strongest element on earth. It can trickle, it can flow, or it can rage. If water drops on a stone long enough, it’ll hollow it out. If water forms a wave the size of a skyscraper, it can crush an entire ship. Water does whatever it needs to do to keep moving forward.

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

Thanks to its never-ending balancing act, water always finds its way back home. Sooner or later, it will reach the sea. You too should keep flowing. Have plans, but don’t force them on life.

Life is unpredictable. Sometimes, it throws stones in your way. Sometimes, a new door opens up. When you’re water, you’re ready for either one of the two. Whatever happens tomorrow, you’ll adapt.

When the universe says “Yes,” go. Flow downhill. Move fast. Leap. Ride the momentum, take the opportunity, and make the most of your advantage.

When the universe says “No,” listen. Take a different path. Adjust. Persist slowly instead of failing spectacularly.

When a crisis hits, summon your strength. Form a towering wave. And when the sea is calm, enjoy the cruise and take in the view.

When you’re water, you’re always exactly where you’re meant to be.

Be water, my friend.

12 Core Values to Live By Cover

12 Core Values to Live By

Who are you?

As we grow up, we’re taught different ways to answer this question. When we’re kids, we’re told to introduce ourselves with our full name. “I’m John Doe,” you might say.

On the first day of high school, our teacher might suggest we tack a hobby on top. “I’m Daisy, and I like dancing.”

After we graduate and go to work and college, we drop the hobbies and replace them with achievements. “I got a BA from Stanford, where I ran the debate club, and I now work at Google.”

None of these are good answers. They all focus on a tiny part of your life, usually some externality, and then enlarge it to the point where it looks like your name, your job, or your accomplishments are all you are. That’s not true.

No matter how impressive you can get your introduction to sound over the course of your life, at the end of the day, you are not defined by your résumé. You are defined by your character. What shapes that character isn’t your work history or even any set of traits in particular — it’s your values. “Values are our fundamental beliefs informing our thoughts, words, and actions,” Darius Foroux writes.

If you don’t make an effort to define your values, no one else will do it for you. You’ll just passively adhere to a blend of the values of those around you. Worse, without values, your life has no direction. You’re moving, but where? Nobody knows — not even you.

Last year, I reflected and wrote about my values. Here they are, briefly summarized and explained.


Calmness

If you’re not calm, you can’t do anything the right way, let alone do the right thing. First and foremost, breathe, pause, think, and start from a position of poise in all things.

Rationality

Base your decisions in logic, ethics, and common sense. As a result, they might not always look sensible to the outside world, but that world mostly wants you to not change. Change is the only constant there is. Embrace it, try to see the world clearly, and then make sound choices with your sound mind.

Commitment

Whether it’s in your career or relationships, once you find what you believe in, commit to it with all your heart. The only thing that makes us miserable is committing to nothing at all. Use dedication to cut through fears, doubts, and criticism like a laser, and let it empower you to drop all distractions.

Restraint

Doing the right thing won’t always be easy, but choosing to do the right thing can be if you value restraint. Restraint sounds like a bad thing, but if it’s attached to a commitment you believe in, it’ll not just come easy, it’ll actually feel liberating. Give in to fewer temptations, and you’ll gain space and peace of mind.

Humility

Don’t pretend to control more than you do, which is very little and always less than you’d like. Be humble. Show up every day, do your best, and patiently wait for the results, even if it takes longer and you feel like nothing is working.

Vulnerability

Being yourself is scary, but in a big world that doesn’t care, you might as well show us the truest version of yourself. Don’t be afraid to expose the parts you’re scared we’ll judge you for. Those are the moments we really connect with others because we finally realize: they’re not so different than us.

Patience

Whether you get hurt or not, surviving provides the best form of reassurance: You’re still here, and you’ll live to fight another day. No matter how bad reality gets, turn the fact that you’re still around today into more fuel for tomorrow.

Empathy

Everyone is struggling with something. Most of the time, you have no idea what it is. But you can imagine it. You can mentally place yourself in their shoes, and no matter what you find, it’ll help you understand them. You’ll be less likely to judge people, communicate better, and remember we’re equal.

Compassion

Be kind and forgiving. Don’t hate people. Lend a hand where you can. Empathy and compassion are related. When you understand people, it’s easy to feel sympathetic. Life is short. See it as a big journey we’re all in together.

Acceptance

You’re human. You’ll make mistakes, some of which you’ll never be able to fix. So will other people around you, sometimes to your detriment. All of this is survivable, as long as you accept it. Accept yourself too. Your good sides. Your bad sides. And extend that same courtesy to others.

Hope

When times are bad, imagine different times. Have faith. Remember that you’re not alone, and trust that you’re part of something bigger than yourself. You might not be able to see it right now, but whatever you’re going through will make sense down the line.

Love

Combine all the above values, and you get love — a catch-all for our best traits. It’s also a verb. Don’t just say that you love people, show them. Your family, your partner, your friends, the little gestures you use to show you appreciate them are what makes life worth living. Cherishing these little moments is how you create the memories that’ll stay with you till the very end of your life.


Whenever I struggle, feel lost, or am disappointed myself, I think through my list of values. Which one do I need right now? What am I lacking? Every time, I find an ideal I can aspire to that’ll help me get back on track.

Your list may be shorter, longer, or completely different, but I’m confident it’ll allow you to do the same. Not all days are great, but even on the worst ones, you’ll never feel directionless. Plus, you’ll finally have a good answer to that all-important question: Who are you?

Tomorrow Can Be a Good Day Cover

Tomorrow Can Be a Good Day

The last note on Avicii’s phone reads: “Spread positivity through my music and message.”

Robin Williams once remarked that, “Comedy is acting out optimism.”

In his last speech to fans at a concert, Chester Bennington said: “The one thing that can’t be defeated is love.”

I’m a writer. Every day, I structure my thoughts and emotions. Each session is therapy. The articles are just the reports. I take the result of my self-treatment, package it how I think will be most helpful, and release it to the world.

I wish everyone could do this. I wish it’d work for anybody. Sadly, that’s not the case. For Robin, Chester, and Tim, one day, the therapy stopped working.

Even before I started typing, I’ve always held this one belief. I’ve known it for as long as I can remember, and I don’t have any other lens to view life through. It’s as simple as it is powerful, and I can describe it in one sentence:

Tomorrow can be a good day.

If I had to erase everything I’ve ever written, if I had to go through my archive, pick one idea, and decide that’s the only one I’ll leave behind, this would be it.

Tomorrow can be a good day.

I can’t tell you how desperately I want you to believe this. I wish I could hold your hands when you feel at your worst, look you in the eye, and say it:

“Tomorrow can be a good day.”

When I was six, I fell off my bike and tore my chin. We had to wait at the ER for hours. A guy was wheeled in on a stretcher. Motorcycle accident. I don’t know if he made it. But as I was licking on my ice cream, I wholeheartedly believed that — both for him and I — tomorrow could be a good day.

When I was 13, a girl broke my heart. Then again at 14. And 15. And 16. It happened again and again and again. Sometimes, I thought I’d die alone. That I’d never find a girlfriend. I cried over it. But I always believed that, no matter how sad the music I was playing, tomorrow could be a good day.

When I was 26, I lost faith in myself. I wasn’t sure if I could go on working so much. If I could complete both my degree and get my business off the ground. I was burned out, desperate, and didn’t see the point of it all. But I still believed that, even if it all went to hell, tomorrow could be a good day.

I know these are laughable stories. They’re nothing against rape, war, drug addiction, abuse, and depression. I don’t know what those feel like. I can only imagine, and I know imagination doesn’t quite cut it. But I think daring to imagine without having lived through it is exactly where my strength is.

If being free of life’s heaviest burdens allows me to spread positivity, act out optimism, and remind you that love can’t be defeated, then that’s exactly what I’m gonna do. The only thing I will do. The reason I was put on this earth.

Tomorrow can be a good day.

Writing it makes me tear up a little. I believe in it so much. I can’t tell you how it works. I can’t tell you where I got it from. I just know that, as long as you want me to, I will be here. Repeating it for you. Again and again and again.

When your boyfriend breaks up with you, I’ll tell you that tomorrow can be a good day. When your doctor says you need surgery, I’ll tell you that tomorrow can be a good day. When your boss fires you, your landlord kicks you out, and your dad won’t lend you 50 bucks, I’ll tell you: Tomorrow can be a good day.

Please keep going. Just a little. One more day. One more night. One more time. Sunshine is coming. No matter how dark it feels right now, the light is not far away. It might be right around the corner. Keep walking. Talking. Take one step at a time. One step is enough for today. And tomorrow?

Tomorrow can be a good day.

12 Lasting Personal Values for an Uncertain World Cover

12 Lasting Values For an Uncertain World

On May 1st, 2019, an event took place in Japan that hadn’t happened for over 200 years: The Emperor abdicated in favor of his son.

When a new emperor is crowned in Japan, he is presented with the Imperial Regalia as part of the ceremony. The regalia are three sacred treasures, meant to both legitimize and empower the ruler of Japan. They consist of the Sword of Courage, the Jewel of Benevolence, and The Mirror of Wisdom.

The ceremony isn’t public, and only priests and the emperor see the regalia, so no one knows what they look like, and no known photographs exist. However, when Emperor Naruhito succeeded his father this May, the press was allowed to document a brief, silent, public-facing variant of the handover process.

Emperor Naruhito takes possession of the jewel, sword, and two state seals — Image via NBC

If you look closely at the image, you’ll see one of the three holy items is missing: The Mirror of Wisdom, Yata no Kagami. As with their appearance, no one knows the exact location of the regalia, but the mirror is guessed to be hidden in a shrine some 300 miles away from Tokyo.

There are over 150,000 shrines in Japan. According to the 22 ranking system, the Ise Grand Shrine in the Mie Prefecture is the highest, holiest of them all. Supposedly, this is where the Mirror of Wisdom resides.

As if all this wasn’t fascinating enough, the shrine itself is also shrouded in mystery — and a singular tradition: Every 20 years, the people of Ise tear down the shrine’s two main buildings and rebuild them. The underlying idea is that “rebuilding renders sanctuaries eternal,” and that the impermanence of everything is nothing to be feared.

Of course, such a monumental undertaking comes with a plethora of problems. For one, there are only 500 miyadaiku — the kind of carpenter who can build such ancient structures — left in all of Japan. Then, there’s the issue of getting not just enough wood, but the right wood and having it available in time. In times of economic crisis, financial aid is a problem, as are criticisms of the whole thing being a waste of time and money.

Most of all, with 20 years between each reconstruction, a whole new set of problems will have arisen by the time the shrine is next rebuilt — and a whole new group of people will have to deal with them. It all begs the question: When will it end? When will the people of Ise reach a point where holding on to their tradition just isn’t possible anymore?

The answer — and this is where you and I can learn something — is never. As long as the people choose tradition, they will find a way. They have done so for the past 1,300 years. Until today, the Grand Shrine of Ise has been rebuilt 63 times. Every rebuild was different, and each came with its own set of problems, but the process is not about rebuilding some wooden hut — it’s about the values the people of Ise uphold and how there’s always a way to do so if they’re flexible in how to live them.

This is why having values is so important. Why you and I must choose our values. Values provide us with a sense of continuity in a world where none exists. They allow us to make sense of, form, and tell a story bigger than ourselves, and that story fends off the chaos of a world that attacks us with unfairness, irrationality, and lack of meaning.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about my values. I’ve come up with 12 that are dear to my heart, that provide me with a sense of stability in both the best and the worst of times.

I can spot many of them in the good people of Ise and their tradition, and, while each of them stands on its own, stacking them together creates a foundation that makes it easier to embrace all of them at once.

Courtesy of Japan’s most fascinating tradition, here are 12 lasting values for an uncertain world.

1. Calmness

Earth has always spun around its own axis at the same speed. Time doesn’t accelerate, but we do. Life feels much faster than it did 10, 20, 30 years ago. This is a function of both our own age and civilization. As the two progress, more and more unknowns pile up in our lives, and it feels less and less possible to keep up.

The answer, I think, is to not try to keep up at all. It’s to celebrate slowness. Revel in it. Cultivate it as an antidote to the modern cult of busy. Sure, there will always be situations demanding you act quickly and decisively. But those are far and few between.

What’s more, even fast moves are best prepared in a moment of calm. Calmness is where it all starts. Always. In Ise, the wooden logs used to rebuild the shrine rest at the bottom of a pond for two years in a process called “underwater drying.”

Likewise, focusing your energy, breath, vision, and thinking on a daily basis will set you up for better decisions. It’ll also provide an aura of peace — and that’s invaluable in a restless world.

2. Rationality

Rebuilding the Ise Grand Shrine is a $500 million undertaking. With much at stake and a long time horizon, whoever calls the shots better think straight.

Being calm alone won’t always lead to rational decisions, but I rarely manage to do what’s reasonable if I’m not calm to begin with. Note that being rational is not the same as being consistent.

Most people are risk-averse. They confuse habit for common sense. Seeing the world clearly, however, is different from seeing it as it used to be. “Be reasonable,” they might say when, actually, they mean, “Don’t change.”

Many forces work against our rationality around the clock, but continuing to fight them is one of most noble, rewarding, and meaningful pursuits you’ll ever engage in.

3. Commitment

It takes a commitment to rationality to see what else is worth committing to. Study where the world is headed and figure out your place in it. Once you do, you’ll feel confident, happy even, to let everything that doesn’t match your narrative fall by the wayside.

The only guaranteed path to misery is committing to nothing at all. We fear missing out so much that we let optionality toss us about like a small sailboat at sea. If we don’t snap out of this meandering rhythm, we’ll one day find the river of life has carried us to a destination we never wanted to visit — but by then it’ll be too late.

In a world of endless possibilities where whatever we master will provide us with passion and meaning, committing to the wrong quest is near-impossible. Often, it’s that we give up too soon, that we fail to bring purpose to our task, not that we weren’t compatible with our aspirations.

A commitment is empowering. It resolves many of our fears and doubts and gives us the confidence to stand our ground, even in the face of criticism.

Many have called out the Ise tradition as a waste of time, money, and precious resources, but for centuries, the large bill has been footed by a combination of private donations and tax money. As long as the Japanese government and its people believe in the tradition, it’s a price they’re happy to pay — and they don’t care what you and I think.

4. Restraint

Commitment feels liberating, but it’s not always easy. Time and again, you’ll have to choose what’s right over what’s convenient. As long as you believe in your commitment, however, deciding to do the right thing will come easy even when the act of following through is hard.

In the rebuilding of the Ise shrine and its treasures, the same methods have been applied for 1,200 years. Power tools are forbidden on holy sites in Japan, it’s all manual labor and ancient craftsmanship. The artisanal skills required are passed down from generation to generation, so each next group must acquire them anew. The young must practice discipline and restraint in learning from their older, more experienced peers to keep the tradition alive.

I’m sure many a Sunday was, is, and will be spent studying woodwork that might have been spent otherwise. But, at the end of the day, the people of Ise take comfort in knowing their sacrifice allows them to be part of something bigger than themselves. It’s the right thing to do — and that’s why it’s worth it.

5. Humility

When I set out to write 365 pieces for Four Minute Books in one year, I didn’t know whether I’d succeed nor if my efforts would bear fruit. Despite my commitment, restraint, and conviction that I was on the right path, stuff went wrong all the time. I put in 3–4 hrs of work each day, but momentum took months to kick in. I tried many promotion techniques that failed. Everyone told me I was wrong.

Success looks good in hindsight, but building it is a humbling experience. We control much less than we’d like, sometimes too little, and often nothing at all. Realizing this while doing your very best can be frustrating, but it’s the foundation of both: True success and true humility.

The Ise rebuild is one big humble-cycle. No one can really achieve anything on their own in such a big construction project. Everyone must work together. No individual stands above the mission; it’s all in service of the shrine. Even the sanctuary itself is only a vessel. A symbol with a 20-year-expiration date. Soon, it’ll be cleared away and have to make room for the new.

6. Vulnerability

With the world looming so much larger than you even when you’re at your best, all you can do is show up and be yourself. That’s scary. Every day, you’re exposing some part of yourself that you’re worried someone else might see.

What will they say? Will they laugh at you? Judge you? Detach? Sometimes. Most often, however, people will be too busy worrying about their own flaws to even notice. Better yet, a select few will take your courage as an invitation to be vulnerable themselves. They’ll see you for who you really are and offer you the same chance in return.

Tradition is always vulnerable, never perfect, and constantly under attack by younger generations. But it spans a bridge across the ages, all to connect humans with one another. That bridge is worth crossing, even if we have to tread lightly.

7. Patience

On a 20-year journey, nothing happens fast. As one lucky guest in the Ise traditional events recounts:

I saw one elderly person who probably has experienced these events three or four times, saying to young people who perhaps participated in the event as children last time, “I will leave these duties to you next time.” I believe that this is how traditions, culture and skills are preserved over time.

Imagine an 80-year-old’s smile when her daughter leads the parade that transports the timber to the renovation site. Or the pride of a father whose son will be on the on-site team of carpenters. Think of the disappointment if their children hated the festivities. Every time the elders put themselves out there, they have to wait for the youth’s reaction. Handing over tradition is a slow endeavor — and might not always work.

Being vulnerable and living to tell the tale is what enables patience. Whether you hit rock bottom or the highest highs after revealing your true colors, each time you do, you’re reaffirming your ability to survive, learning to wait what tomorrow will bring in the process.

8. Empathy

Once you’ve accepted that life is long, and that, in spite of our smallness, we’ll live to see a good future if we show up honestly, dutifully, and with reason, you’ll find you even have time to contemplate the fortunes of others. With all of us riding in the same boat, why not get to know your fellow travelers?

Without ever talking to them, you can imagine what people feel. You can think their thoughts, visualize their experiences, and see the world through their eyes. None of this has to match reality to be valuable. Sometimes, it is even more so if it doesn’t.

Beyond getting to know their neighbors, elders, and youths, with each iteration of the Ise tradition, every participant gets to ponder the lives of their ancestors, some dating back over 1,200 years. What did they do? How did they feel? What were their struggles?

We’re all humans facing the same demons. Empathy is how we remember.

9. Compassion

The procession moving the logs to the rebuilding site takes several hours despite covering only a short distance. The carrier carts are connected with ropes, and children and participants walk in between them. Every few meters, a good-natured tug of war erupts.

People push the ropes from either side, trying to force the other party to move away from them, the younglings scurrying about in the middle. People sing, laugh, and compete. It’s a resilience exercise.

Of course, sometimes, people get hurt. A child might fall over, a cup of tea might spill. These are chances to practice compassion. To help keep the parade going, to lend a helping hand.

Like the ropes tying the carts together, empathy and compassion are deeply connected. Once you make an effort to know someone, you’ll see they’re not so different from you — and that makes it easier to be kind and forgiving.

10. Acceptance

Rebuilding the Ise Grand Shrine takes about 17 years. Preparations start 6–7 years before the ceremonies, renovations take another 8–10 years after. That means there’s only a brief period of time with no preparation or construction before the next renewal begins. Along the way, countless things go wrong.

After WWII, the rebuilding had to be delayed for four years due to bad economics and uncertain politics. 90 years ago, shrine officials had to craft a 200-year forestation plan to combat the declining supply of wood. Finally, each member participating for the third or fourth time must face the fact that this might be their last rebuilding.

The only way to deal with all this is acceptance. Empathy and compassion are two great enablers of this value. Understanding that everyone else is similar to us in one way or another is how we forgive. And only if we learn to forgive others can we start forgiving ourselves. Our values form in cycles. Similarly, outward compassion makes it easier to turn that same virtue inward.

At the end of the day, we’re all human. We all make mistakes, and we can’t fix everything. Remembering that we share this vulnerability is comforting.

11. Hope

The symbol on Superman’s chest means ‘hope.’ As his father once told him:

“Embodied within that hope is the fundamental belief in the potential of every person to be a force for good.”

Acceptance breeds hope. Once we acknowledge the status quo, no matter if it’s good, bad, or we can’t put our finger on its meaning quite yet, we can imagine something different.

Hope is another word for ‘faith.’ When you value hope, you trust that you’re not alone, and that whatever you’re going through is part of something much larger than yourself, even if you can’t see it.

Hope is the highest value of religion. Different religions have different ways of getting there, but, ultimately, they all aim to provide hope.

In case of the Ise rebuilding, roughly 30 Shinto rituals span an arc of hope across a 20-year-period. It’s not about rules or beliefs or even tradition. It’s about embracing the circle of life, the impermanence of everything, and trusting in a beautiful tomorrow, even if you might not be there to witness it.

12. Love

Calmness, rationality, commitment, restraint, humility, vulnerability, patience, empathy, compassion, acceptance, hope.

Love is an amalgamation of all the above. It’s a single word, noun, verb, that contains all of the best concepts a human can embody. Why does love rest on top of hope? Love allows you to see future versions of yourself and others and cherish them even though they’re not here yet.

Love is not loud, yet it is our greatest strength. Love is invisible, but everyone can feel it. Love transcends time. Love is when we take our memories and our imagination and use them to reach out. Forward. Backward. And then, as a species, we chain it all together to create a forever forward-stretching motion.

Love extends the circle of life. Love is the best thing we do.


Soon, the 2013 rebuild of the Ise shrine will be completed. Not too long after that, preparations for the 2033 rebuild will begin.

We don’t choose lasting values to stay rigid. We choose them to instill a sense of continuity in a world that demands constant change.

Change happens with or without our consent, but if we want to thrive — not just survive — in a dynamic, often even chaotic environment, we must embrace that environment. Welcome it. We must learn to love change.

Values are the foundation of managing this transition well. They’re a tapestry on which you can pin your many transformations.

Choosing your values is picking your own story. Once you do, you can weave everything that happens in your life into one, coherent, infinitely extending thread — even the parts that don’t make sense, defy logic, or feel unfair.

Whether you choose a really old story, like the people of Ise, or a brand new one, like the list of 12 values I just gave you, does not matter. All that matters is that you choose.

Like you, your list of values will keep changing. The point is that you uphold them to your best knowledge and ability at all times.

As long as you do that, like the people of Ise do with their shrine, you’ll gladly rebuild yourself again and again. You won’t even want to wait 20 years each time you do it.

Aristotle on Friendship: 3 Kinds, 1 Lasts a Lifetime

Aristotle on Friendship: Only 1 of 3 Kinds Will Last a Lifetime

When was the last time you hung out with your best friend from grade school? The one you told all your secrets to, had inside jokes with, even did a blood oath with? It’s probably been a while. Maybe a couple decades. Despite all the #rideordie hashtags and our massive collections of Facebook “friends,” most of the friendships that we form throughout our lives will dissolve. It’s inevitable, but why? To answer that question, I looked to a 2,000-year-old text.

The writings of Aristotle have shaped the course of history, influencing everything from political theory to economic systems to Western aesthetics. But the Greek philosopher also had profound thoughts on matters of everyday life, like our friendships. In Book VIII of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle described “three kinds of friendship” that people form under different conditions, and why some bonds are stronger than others. Here, he laid out the first two: utility and pleasure.

“There are therefore three kinds of friendship, equal in number to the things that are lovable. Now those who love each other for their utility do not love each other for themselves but in virtue of some good which they get from each other. So too with those who love for the sake of pleasure; it is not for their character that men love ready-witted people, but because they find them pleasant.”

Friendships of utility and pleasure are similar — and they’re both fleeting. Aristotle observed that friendships of pleasure are most common among the young. Today, we can see that these friendships often form as a byproduct of shared phases — high school, college, or the first job search. As the next life chapter arrives, these friendships come to an end.

Friendships of utility often form between people who are more established, those who have learned that life consists of many tradeoffs, those who accept relationships that are more transactional in nature. A couple with small children might form a friendship with another young family in their neighborhood, and trade babysitting duties, for instance. Or a first-time founder might rely on a seasoned expert in his field. These relationships are also short-lived in nature because as soon as the benefit disappears, so do we. Aristotle writes:

“And thus these friendships are only incidental; for it is not as being the man he is that the loved person is loved, but as providing some good or pleasure. Such friendships, then, are easily dissolved, if the parties do not remain like themselves; for if the one party is no longer pleasant or useful, the other ceases to love him.”

I’m in my late twenties, and can already feel my relationships becoming more utilitarian. People are busy, or they don’t want to overstep their boundaries, and it takes much more effort just to go grab a beer. People think: There better be a good reason for this.

There is nothing wrong with these kinds of friendships. But if they’re all we ever experience, two things will happen: 1) All of our relationships will eventually fade because our wants, needs, desires, and wishes keep changing until the day we die. 2) We’ll always crave something more — a deeper, more honest, more meaningful connection.

This deeper connection is the third kind of friendship that Aristotle described. He called it “perfect friendship:”

“Perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good and alike in virtue; for these wish well alike to each other qua good, and they are good themselves. Now those who wish well to their friends for their sake are most truly friends; for they do this by reason of own nature and not incidentally; therefore their friendship lasts as long as they are good-and goodness is an enduring thing.”

Writer Zat Rana penned a great piece about this type of relationship, which eloquently sums it up: “In this kind of friendship, the people themselves and the qualities they represent provide the incentive for the two parties to be in each other’s lives.”

These special kinds of friendships aren’t based on what someone can do for you or how they make you feel — they simply exist because you value who they are. Maybe you love your friend’s dedication to hard work. Or perhaps you deeply respect their courage to step up during conflict. Whatever pleasure and utility you get out of the relationship are merely a side effect of that love.

“Perfect friendship” is rare — even Aristotle believed this to be true. So how does this kind of friendship form? With time.

Writes Aristotle:

“Further, such friendship requires time and familiarity; as the proverb says, men cannot know each other till they have ‘eaten salt together;’ nor can they admit each other to friendship or be friends till each has been found lovable and been trusted by each.”

There is no hack or shortcut to accelerate the formation of true friendships. Think about it: Your closest friends are likely the people with whom you’ve shared the most intense phases of your life. All-night study sessions in college. A cross-country road trip. New jobs. The loss of loved ones. Bouts of depression. Moments of joy. If you’ve shared a series of experiences like that someone, and stayed friends throughout ups and downs, you’re on your way to perfect friendship. Only with time do we learn to appreciate people as they are. Aristotle writes:

“Those who quickly show the marks of friendship to each other wish to be friends, but are not friends unless they both are lovable and know the fact; for a wish for friendship may arise quickly, but friendship does not.”

If we never venture beyond utility and pleasure, we’ll miss the relationships that give us real meaning and happiness. The only way to build these rare friendships — the perfect friendship — is to spend time together, traverse our ups and downs, and learn to value each other as human beings along the way. It won’t always be easy and it won’t always work out, but if we commit to valuing virtue over comfort and pleasure, we’ll look back at the end of our lives and see the faces of a few people we’ll call true friends.

All Suffering Is Desiring or Resisting Change Cover

All Suffering Is Desiring or Resisting Change

A man was gifted a plate by his wife. It had beautiful drawings. The man was an antique dealer. Every day at the market, he would eat lunch from his plate.

Soon, his wife passed away. The man was grieving, but he still ate from his favorite plate every day. One day, the plate fell down and broke into a thousand pieces. The man was devastated.

A fellow stall owner told him: “I know someone who can teach you how to fix it. But he lives far away.” The man went to seek the plate fixer. After one year of traveling, he found him. The plate fixer helped the man reassemble the pieces and the man returned home.

At first, he was happy. But the plate never felt quite the same. One day, it broke again and, again, the man was devastated.

Another stall owner told him: “I know someone who makes plates just like this one. But he lives far away.” The man went to seek the plate maker. After one year of traveling, he found him. The plate maker taught him how to make his own plate and, with it, the man went home.

At first, he was happy. But still, the plate never felt quite the same. One day, it broke again. Again, the man was devastated. But he was tired. He could not travel far anymore.

A fellow stall owner told him: “I know someone who sells plates just like this one. He has a new stall on the market.” Happy that he wouldn’t have to travel far, the man went and bought a plate just like his.

At first, he was happy. But that plate, too, never felt quite the same. One day, it broke again.

As the man looked at the broken pieces on the floor, a stranger passed by his stall. He said:

“You are lucky. It was just a plate.”

At that moment the man was enlightened.


The first of the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism is suffering. They call it ‘dukkha.’ It has many definitions, including pain, grief, sorrow, stress, unsatisfactoriness, and misery, but I think the simplest term that captures it in our modern times is ‘unhappiness.’

Our suffering isn’t physical, at least not most of the time. It’s emotional. One way or another, things don’t go how we want them to, and we face emotional pain because of it. This pain isn’t random. We inflict it upon ourselves. That’s the lesson of the above story.

All suffering is resisting or desiring change.

When change wants to affect us and we reject it, we suffer. When we wish for change and none occurs, we suffer.

Like the man in the story, we fight the current of events instead of floating in it, and each time it carries us away, we scream. We go on symbolic journeys to preserve what can’t be preserved — or to change what can’t be changed.

The man held on to his wife’s plate because it gave him a feeling of permanence in an impermanent world. He resisted change. When it broke, a change occurred without his consent, and he suffered from that too.

The great lengths he went to in order to fix and replace his plate are a series of escalating commitments in this fight. But each time he succeeded, he found permanence still wasn’t restored. Something always felt off. Only when he was too tired to continue fighting and a random stranger pointed out the vanity of his efforts could he see clearly: the only way is acceptance.

Everything in life is transient. Every human, every animal, every building, plant, and inanimate object. Every element, every atom, every speck of dust is a tiny traveler going a small distance in a long, universal journey that’s much larger than any of its individual parts.

Nothing lasts forever. Not just the material, the intangible too. Feelings change. Relationships end. Attitudes evolve. Our feelings, thoughts, opinions, they all meander through our lives and might end up opposite of where they began. Cities collapse. Conditions turn. People die.

All we have is impermanence and it’s depressing. We also rarely control when change occurs. We desperately want to, but all we can do is give our best and hope for the result we desire. As soon as we become attached, we’ve set the gears of suffering in motion. Instead, we should bend with the wind.

“Notice the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survive by bending with the wind.”

— Bruce Lee

The Buddhist life is a life of practicing acceptance. Acceptance is the only thing that works because change is the only constant of life. It comes when it comes, and you’ll meet it when it does. This applies to the trivial in life as much as it does to the substantial.

You slept poorly today? Okay, accept, move on. Your new job sucks? Okay, accept, move on. You missed the bus? Okay, accept, move on. Your grandfather died? Okay, accept, move on.

This isn’t to say you’ll always accept easily and move on quickly. It’s to say you can learn to always do both eventually. Accept life’s permanent impermanence and odd timing of uncomfortable change, and suffering disappears.

At the end of the day, remember you are lucky. For you’re still here, and it was just a plate.

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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.

Responsibility Is Freedom

Responsibility Is Freedom

Derek Sivers built a business empire by accident.

In 1997, he was looking for a place to sell his music album online. When he couldn’t find one, he set up his own little website with a buy button. Soon, friends wanted him to put up their CDs too.

Then, friends of friends came along, buyers started asking for new arrivals, and, ten years later, CD Baby had 85 employees, two million customers, and distributed 200,000 musicians’ work online.

Never having set out to be an entrepreneur, Derek felt done with it in 2008. He sold the company for $22 million in cash, most of which he gave to charity, and went back to his solo artist life.

Whether he was happy with this “little detour” or not, it worked out in the end. But that’s why, in a free class about the whole experience, Derek encourages us to start our own journey with a question:

Why are you doing what you’re doing?

And even though he outlines several options, it’s not an easy one to answer. Because the devil is — as always — in the details.

The Three Forces That Drive Us

In his book Running Down A Dream, another business owner turned independent artist, Tim Grahl, remembers the time he heard Sivers talk about our three strongest motivators: fortune, fame, and freedom.

None of them are right or wrong. You can get more than one. However, only one will drive you. I knew I wanted freedom. Not freedom to travel. I still don’t go many places. Not freedom to work whenever I wanted. I still work set hours [each] day. I simply wanted the freedom to make those decisions myself. I wanted to live a life where nobody could make a claim on my time without my approval.

That’s already a huge step up from how most people live their lives, which is by mere imitation. Who of us hasn’t seen someone doing things that impress them, and instantly started piecing together a poor copy of that person’s life? Often, the copy is not poor because our idol’s life isn’t worth living, it’s poor because we don’t question any of its parts. If we don’t at least adapt it to our own wants and needs, that’s an almost guaranteed descent into misery.

That makes freedom a viable alternative. It’s also the theme Derek chose when he sold his company:

“I really liked the idea of setting up my life in a way that, at any point, I could just disappear. Or I could just be antisocial and go read books for a month, or whatever it may be. So I had to set up my career in a certain way to delegate almost everything, make myself unnecessary to the day-to-day running of my company, so that I was free to go do other things.”

As he explains this, he shows a little slide that says:

Refuse responsibility. Delegate everything.

I think that’s where we should start splitting hairs. Because I don’t believe true freedom is the absence of responsibility. I think it’s something different.

And I’m not alone. Just ask my friend Shaunta.

Rejecting the Zero-Task Lifestyle

I first watched Derek’s class in 2015. Now, next to money, stardom, and independence, he also mentions prestige (try getting a table at Masa) and legacy (there are 2509 Carnegie libraries) as purposes we can choose.

Still, like Tim, I felt freedom spoke the most to me, and so I chose to adopt Derek’s definition of it wholesale. I spent all of 2016 building a passive income business and I’m glad that, today, I control my time, who I work with, and what projects I tackle. But I also have more responsibility than ever. Now, thousands of people expect me to deliver. Readers, partners, customers.

That very much contradicts “not having to do anything,” but I still feel free. Maybe, there’s more nuance to it than “delegate everything.” Reflecting on these same ideas, Shaunta Grimes can’t imagine the zero-task lifestyle either:

Sometimes I think about the possibility of a totally passive income and what it would be like to spend the day on the beach, doing whatever the hell I want to do. But the absolute truth is that I wouldn’t last very long. I’d attract responsibilities like a magnet. It’s just how I am. And, I also find myself rebelling against the idea that freedom only means fewer responsibilities. I guess I’d say I’m partially driven by freedom — but my own interpretation of it. But the truth is, I often willfully make decisions that restrict my freedom.

I think this is true for most, if not all of us. We get bored when we idle for too long. We need a purpose. We want to solve problems. And so, the further I go in my own journey as a solo creative, the more I realize:

Freedom is not about shedding your responsibilities, it’s about choosing them.

When I first struck out on my own, I wasn’t worried so much about the pressure to deliver, to get clients, to make money. I was running away from having a boss, being bored at work, and owing my time to one person, one place. Because those were responsibilities I couldn’t stand having.

I felt much more comfortable with setting my own deadlines, coming up with ideas, and asking people for work, despite having to first learn all of those things. This distinction of what you’ll feel comfortable shouldering might have external consequences, but it comes from an inner place.

Responsibility is freedom, as long as you choose a labor of love.

A Burden We Can’t Shed

Why do people become soldiers? Because they love serving their country. It’s a responsibility they don’t just feel comfortable with — they enjoy bearing it.

Now, passion is tricky because it’s part talent, part love, and part just sticking with it. But if your recurring duties at work constantly make you feel like you’re bouncing around in a pressure cooker, they’re the wrong kind of duties.

The obligations of being a mom are different from the accountability of a CEO and have little in common with the burdens of a remote freelancer. No, you won’t get insta-rich from nailing this choice, but making it will make your life easier. Because we’re all good at being responsible for different things.

We often underestimate the negative impact a responsibility mismatch can have. A lot of us are running around like chickens, work always feels like work, and oh the stress of it all. But if we don’t learn to love the boring days, the exciting ones can never fill this huge hole in our everyday happiness.

The question, “why are you doing what you’re doing?” has many complex answers. But even if we aggregate them into high-level themes like fame, fortune, and freedom, at the end of the day, they all come down to this: “Because my goal comes with responsibilities I feel good about carrying.”

Think about it. Everything is accountable. And — for better or for worse — you’re the one getting all the credit. At the end of your life, you’ll either regret many things or just a few, but it’s all a reflection of how much responsibility you took in deciding what you did with your time. That’s a burden we can never shed, no matter what goals we dedicate ourselves to.

And so it’s not the absence of responsibility that makes us happy, but choosing the right set at the right time — picking duties we love fulfilling and that we feel confident we can deliver on. Maybe, why we do things isn’t as important as those things feeling light enough for us to not crack under their pressure.

Maybe, the better question is:

What kind of responsibility feels the lightest in your mind?

If we answer it correctly, we’ll always feel free. Regardless of our obligations.

Freedom From Within

Socrates supposedly said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” If all we do is imitate those we admire, we might one day wake up and wonder what it’d feel like to truly be ourselves.

But nowadays, a lot of us pondering this idea associate it with complete and utter freedom — financial independence and a total lack of responsibilities. This isn’t just unrealistic, it’s delusional. Because the concept of responsibility itself will never vanish from our lives.

Only once we accept that we’ll always carry some degree of duty — that, as humans, we’re meant to — can we start choosing our obligations deliberately. These choices will dictate what we channel our energy into and how we design our lives, but they should ripple from the inside out.

Whatever we stand for should make us feel proud, and we should want to approach it with love and care, because when we do, we won’t mind the pressure our goals often put on us. We’ll enjoy our routines and our pace.

Most of all, we’ll learn to be happy and free, no matter how many hats we wear or whose expectations we need to fulfill.

And there’s nothing accidental about that.

Finding Yourself Won't Make You Happy Cover

Finding Yourself Won’t Make You Happy

I have spent the last seven years finding myself.

It all started with my semester abroad, which created two breaks. One voluntary, from my emotional connections, the other necessary, from my material possessions. My usual environment of friends, school, and family turned into a small room, space to think, and a blank social canvas.

Thus began my journey of self-discovery. First I weeded out some bad behaviors, then I explored new ideas. I dove headfirst into blogs, books, travel, and events. I learned random skills like Persian, SQL, and the Gangnam Style dance. Like on a scatter plot, each dot shaped the line.

The line was my life, and the more I tried, the clearer its trajectory became.

At a fairly young age of 21, this turned out to be one of the most productive things I’ve ever done. Having a purpose is important, and finding it is one of the biggest challenges most of us face in life. But I also became obsessed with it. I used to think the line was all that mattered. That, as long as I knew who I was, I could care less about the rest of the world. Now, I’m not so sure.

Finding myself has helped me in countless ways and I wish I could’ve embarked on this adventure even sooner. But, ultimately, it’s not what contributes most to my happiness.

That requires something else.

An Intuitive Promise

Years ago, Kamal Ravikant was down in the dumps. He’d built a track record as a successful entrepreneur, but then his last company failed. Too depressed to leave the house, he spent weeks in the dark, bed-ridden and barely moving.

Eventually, however, he got sick of himself. His chosen helplessness and resignation. He decided he’d get out of the hole or die climbing. On the day he did, he wrote down a vow: the promise to love himself. Without an idea of what it meant or how it felt, he built a practice around this vow.

Kamal’s life improved. First slowly, then surely, but at an ever-accelerating pace. His mind cleared. He took care of his body. He engaged with the world again. Over time, Kamal’s good thoughts, decisions, and habits compounded.

Good things started happening, some of which he couldn’t possibly have controlled or anticipated. I can only judge from afar, but today, he seems calm and happy. A thriving author and investor, but one with few wants and needs.

When now asked why he thinks his simple idea worked so well, he says he intuitively built it around the best piece of advice he ever received:

“Life is from the inside out.”

Miraculously, both science and philosophy agree.

Unraveling the Existentialist Brain

One of my favorite German words is “Trampelpfad.” It describes a path in the woods that’s not quite a paved road, but well-trodden enough to make it the obvious choice. I like this word because it resembles neuroplasticity — your brain’s ability to physically change throughout your entire life. Donald Hebb summarized how you can use this to your advantage with a simple rhyme:

“Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

For every action you perform, your brain takes a picture with vast amounts of information. Which neurons fired, what was the context, how did you think of yourself at the time? Keep choosing the same actions in similar situations and your brain will start remembering it took a similar picture before — and make another one just like it. Actions become reactions, efforts become habits.

Neuroplasticity — the trampelpfads in your brain turning into highways — is what makes habits hard to get rid of. But it’s also what allows us to change them in the first place. All you need is to create new snapshots. You might not believe the line “I’m not a smoker” the first 100 times you use it to decline a cigarette but, over time, your mind will make it so. Until your brain is rewired.

That’s exactly what Kamal did. By insisting on loving himself long enough, he literally altered his mind, updating it with a new belief. Life is from the inside out. Beyond making biological sense, this idea is right up an existentialist philosopher’s alley.

For over 5,000 years, going all the way back to Plato, essentialism dominated our view of philosophy. It suggests we’re born with an inherent purpose, an ‘essence’ we must align with. But in the 20th century, a few bold individuals, like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and others, challenged this notion, asserting that:

“Existence precedes essence.”

Existentialism rejects the inherence of meaning. It says that first and foremost, you are. You exist. Discovering your essence, figuring out a purpose, all that comes second. In fact, doing so is not just your job, it’s the whole point of life.

So while both philosophies agree that “life is from the inside out,” only one leaves you with a say as to what that inside is. One is bent on finding yourself, the other allows you to invent yourself.

An essentialist Kamal would likely have concluded that, after a big failure, being an entrepreneur wasn’t who he was. And only an existentialist Kamal could have chosen to love himself in spite of not believing it at the time.

In a way, existentialism, like neuroplasticity, is the ultimate move towards gaining agency. If you believe you can create meaning from nothing, meaning is always just one thought away. That’s all fine and wonderful, but how does it contribute to your happiness? You’re right. It won’t. At least not on its own.

Life may be from the inside out. But happiness is from the outside in.

The Final, But Never-Ending Destination

Today, most people know Kamal as a founder and venture capitalist, but his first self-paced endeavor was to publish a book. A memoir of what he learned traveling the world after laying his father’s ashes to rest. Of course, no one wanted to read an unknown, unpublished author, so he kept rewriting it ten times over the course of a decade, collecting rejection letters along the way.

After his last, colossal failure as an entrepreneur, however, a friend urged him to self-publish a short account of how he’d recollected himself. Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It became an instant bestseller. Funny enough, he now had the credibility to tell his other story. Rebirth was published in 2017.

Kamal has a third book, published in between the other two. It’s called Live Your Truth. The title perfectly encapsulates not just the story of his life, but also its biggest lesson: Finding yourself is the starting point, but continuing to share your discoveries is the final if never-ending destination of a happy life.

Life is from the inside out. Before he could enjoy the externals, the accolades, relationships, financial freedom, Kamal had to rework his inner wirings. But only when he shared his self-created essence did his bet on neuroplasticity really pay off. There’s finding your truth and there’s living it. Two sides of the one coin that is your life. “Live Your Truth” is pulling from both directions.

Managing your mind, loving yourself, confidence, keeping your promises to yourself, minimizing regrets, all of these are important. But once we have them, once we find self-love, self-belief, self-compassion, we must share them with others. Turn back outside. Return to the world. Live your truth.

And you can’t do that in a vacuum.

Don’t Forget the Second Half

At some point in our lives, self-improvement catches most of us. I get it now. It’s attractive. Immediate. Change one thing, one habit, one pattern, and you might change your whole life.

But learning to live from the inside, to reassemble the infrastructure in our mind, is just the first step. Rewiring our brain is a waypoint on our larger path.

As the existentialist worldview takes over, we slowly learn to deal with the vastness of freedom we’ve been afforded. To be less trapped by religious dogma or political doctrines. But as empowering as it is to infuse your life with self-created meaning, it’s still one step shy of happiness.

Because unlike life, happiness is from the outside in.

Whatever we find inside ourselves that brings us joy, only sharing it can get that joy to multiply. Seeing our truth is not enough. We must live it. That’s a job that lasts a lifetime, but one with infinite space for new discoveries.

Change your habits, but let them serve something larger. Find a purpose, but fit it to something larger. Live your truth, but live as part of something larger.

Dive into yourself. May life flow from the inside. But do it with an open heart. Allow happiness to visit. Don’t forget the second half. Don’t forget…

…to engage with all of us.

The True Purpose of Productivity Cover

The True Purpose of Productivity

There’s a reason why most productivity advice fails to make any meaningful difference in your life over the long run. It’s not that the hacks and tricks and techniques don’t work. They do.

It’s that we see this kind of advice as the best possible way — the pinnacle, really — of improving our productivity. But it’s not. It’s based on a set of false assumptions. It misses the true purpose of being productive because it neglects how humans function at a biological and psychological level.

Imagine the perfect week. A seven-day stretch where you manage to do not just everything you aspire to do, but all the little things you conceive of along the way. The “I need to call mom”s and “I should pick up milk on the way home”s too. Where your plans fit into your calendar like a key into a lock, and your work assembles itself like a neat puzzle, perfectly abiding by the ever-looming deadlines of the ticking clock.

If you’re like me — a human being subject to their own, chemical reward system and a host of cognitive biases — this week has never happened in your life. And it never will. Because it’s a myth.

But that’s exactly what endless time optimization strategies are chasing. They pretend this week exists. If only we could chase it down once, we’d know how to catch it again and again. That’s nonsense, and its underlying assumption is deeply flawed: If you can hack yourself to do ever more, you’ll eventually reach a point where you can do everything you need to in any given week.

If you’ve ever had even a great week, you know that’s not how humans work.

First, our brains are wired to seek problems. Calm isn’t exactly our default state. So whenever we’re done fixing one thing, we naturally look for the next. Second, we love the dopamine hit of hitting even the tiniest goal way too much to just pass up on the opportunity to complete another one. Finally, we tend to think that all our time is ours, that life won’t interrupt, and that we know not just how much we’ll be able to do in advance, but also how long any given task will take. None of these are true, all victims of the planning fallacy.

Clearly, the do-more-until-you-can-do-everything approach can’t work. And that’s why gimmicks and tactics can’t possibly be the best productivity advice.

But what happens if we reject it? If we flip the basic assumption on its head? Maybe, we’d find an entirely new purpose of productivity. I think we would.

If you assume you can never get everything done, that you have no way of knowing how much time you’ll have available, and that you’ll often misjudge your own abilities and the hours required along the way, going for the maximum number of tasks instantly becomes a wholly futile effort.

By imagining the opposite, you’re forcing yourself to come up with a new definition of what being productive even means. To me, it means making good-enough progress on what I care about the most amidst the chaos of life.

The way you do that is by managing your expectations of time, much more so than managing your time itself.

Once you accept that life is riddled with chance, coincidence, luck, you’ll see productivity in a new light, with a new purpose. You’ll feel incentivized to build a different system. One with lots of buffers and room to fail. A system that’s optimized for minimum stress instead of maximum effort.

You’ll still have your goals, your to-dos, your milestones, but you won’t throw a tantrum every time you fail to check every one of them off your many lists. You’ll have compassion for yourself. More for others, too. You’ll learn to flow with life, around life, through life, rather than compartmentalizing it. You’ll be happier, less prone to burnout, and taste more of that elusive state of calm chasing checkmarks can never bring.

True productivity happens in your mind, not the outside world.

It happens when we learn to sit with our pattern-seeking machines without acting on them. When we say “thanks for the dopamine” and choose not to chase another hit. When we begin to find true comfort in the fact that we are imperfect beings acting in an imperfect world, rather than fighting the truth and the time we have so little of.

Only if we build our idea of this important concept on the fundamentals of what it means to be human can we erect a construct that lasts. An understanding that’s not sprawled with flawed assumptions.

Maybe, at the end of the day, we’d even get more done. Not that that matters.

Because that’s not what productivity is about, is it?