Are You Free to Abstain? Cover

Are You Free to Abstain?

French scientist Pierre Fouquet was an early researcher of alcoholism. He broke the illness into three categories, two of which describe the circumstances of people we now describe as “alcoholics,” such as drinking in secret with the goal of blacking out.

The third, “alcoholitis,” is “the most common form of alcoholism in France, particularly among men,” Fouquet noted. The subject has a high tolerance and lacks serious psychological complications — they mainly drink beer and wine in social settings, just in too large quantities for it to be healthy.

“We drink to drink with others,” Fouquet said, but “the toxic effects of consumption are still felt.”

Our sneakiest addictions are those we don’t consider to be problems at all. If you drink with coworkers four nights a week and everyone has two beers, that seems like a perfectly normal thing to do.

The question — and this may be Fouquet’s greatest contribution to the world — is:

Do you have the freedom to abstain?

The loss of this freedom is the mark of an addict, Fouquet claimed. When we no longer feel free to abstain, when it seems as if there is no choice to be had, that’s when we should scratch our heads — because we always have a choice.

I love coffee. I usually drink two cups every day. Yesterday, I just had one, and occasionally, I’ll skip an entire day. Not because I want to, but because I must remember that I can.

It is nice to give yourself a break, even from things you love, especially if the break will prevent the thing from becoming a chain around your ankles.

It is also profoundly liberating to sit in front of a foregone conclusion, like “I will drink this beer,” and realize, “You know what? I’m free to abstain. I can just say no.”

Don’t let harmless habits become dictators. Innocuous addictions can secretly run your life. Use your freedom to abstain. It is something you’ll always have — even when you think you’ve already lost it.

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.

Choose Hard Problems Cover

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.

Assiduity Cover

Assiduity: Work Hard and Don’t Quit Too Early

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is Assiduity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Macro-Assiduity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Micro-Assiduity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I heard Naval say these things, I realized:

Noticing is not the same as processing.

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

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

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

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

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

So, how *do* you meditate properly?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are 7 things I’ve learned so far.

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

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

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

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

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

2. Meditation is cleaning your brain in real-time

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

3. You will get glimpses of nothingness

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

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

4. Every impulse has a thought attached to it

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Good decisions become larger, bad ones smaller

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

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

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

7. You’ll have more energy

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you’ll give it an honest try.

The Best Things in Life Are Self-Paced Cover

The Best Things in Life Are Self-Paced

The 7th most popular TED talk of all time covers an issue that affects us all:

Procrastination.

In a funny, all too relatable analysis of the human brain, Tim Urban breaks down the interplay of three driving forces in your mind.

  • First, there’s the rational decision-maker, who’s long-term oriented and gets things done, but can rarely grab the steering wheel, because of…
  • The instant-gratification monkey, who’s entirely engrossed in doing fun and easy things, especially when it’s no time to do them, except when…
  • The panic-monster wakes up, who sends the monkey packing for brief periods of time so we can barely get our work done to meet the deadline.

Recapping this ménage à trois, Tim says:

“And this entire situation, with the three characters — this is the procrastinator’s system. It’s not pretty, but in the end, it works.”

To his surprise, readers of his blog, where he shared this theory, did agree, but weren’t nearly as comfortable nor even remotely satisfied with this system.

“These people were writing with intense frustration about what procrastination had done to their lives, about what this Monkey had done to them.”

Reflecting on the discrepancy between his and readers’ perceptions, he found:

“Well, it turns out that there’s two kinds of procrastination. Everything I’ve talked about today, the examples I’ve given, they all have deadlines. And when there’s deadlines, the effects of procrastination are contained to the short term because the Panic Monster gets involved. But there’s a second kind of procrastination that happens in situations when there is no deadline.”

As examples of this second variant of the “let me do this later” game, Tim mentions launching a creative career, founding a startup, seeing your family, working out, managing your health, and getting in or out of a relationship.

“Now if the procrastinator’s only mechanism of doing these hard things is the Panic Monster, that’s a problem, because in all of these non-deadline situations, the Panic Monster doesn’t show up. He has nothing to wake up for, so the effects of procrastination, they’re not contained; they just extend outward forever.”

It is this second, long-term kind of procrastination that’s the source of true unhappiness and regret, and thus, by extension, also our more superficial frustration with the first. Tim made people realize they were wasting years.

“It’s not that they’re cramming for some project. It’s that long-term procrastination has made them feel like a spectator, at times, in their own lives. The frustration is not that they couldn’t achieve their dreams; it’s that they weren’t even able to start chasing them.”

Now if this second kind of more expensive procrastination affected only a small number of extreme, extraordinary goals, all of this wouldn’t be too much of a problem. But that’s not the case. The set of desirable things that aren’t naturally deadline-based is much, much larger than its counterpart.

All of the best things in life are self-paced.

Finding a partner, starting a family, creating your dream career, excelling at a sport, specialized skill, or art, even just learning to be more mindful or open-minded or content with what you have, there are no deadlines and no urgency around any of those things. And so most people never begin to work on them.

I think the first step is realizing that we’re everything. We’re the rational decision-maker, the instant-gratification monkey, and the panic-monster.

No one does anything to us. We’re doing everything to ourselves. The teasing with pleasure. The surrender to the impulse. The dreaded last-minute course corrections. It’s all us, all in our heads. If we let that go, we could just start.

But what I find most fascinating is that it’s the exact same force that brings down the heroes that defy the odds — the Tim Urbans and Sara Blakelys and Usain Bolts of the world: a lack of compassion for ourselves.

There are millions of blogs out there, floating around the web like a bale of hay in a ghost town; lifeless, outdated, dead. All of these people had done the hard part. They got started. They built some momentum. They overcame their lack of deadlines. And then they stopped. Not good enough. Not fast enough.

Think about it for a second. Think about how many people have stopped chasing their dreams, the things they most want in life, for the sole reason that they weren’t getting them fast enough. That’s crazy to me. Because if that’s the alternative, why not keep going and learn to be okay with being slow?

Learn to like your pace and you’ll learn to love your place.

If you’re okay with having started, if you can settle for slow, you’ll always feel like you have enough time. If you can take solace in the fact that you’re working towards getting what you want, you’ll enjoy where you are on the journey. You won’t need to have it all tomorrow. Most importantly, you’ll find something no procrastinator ever can because of the hectic, bouncing triangle in their brain: true peace of mind.

You’ll still lose much of your precious time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. But at least you’ll fully exercise the power that separates us from monkeys: a sense of self-awareness for where we are in life and the choice that that’s always worth being kind to ourselves.

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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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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

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I Spent My 20s in College Libraries and Came Out With a Career

I’d love to tell you that, to me, the library has always been a magical place – but it wasn’t.

Having grown up in a pile of books in a home where the walls were already lined with literature, library visits were rare and, often, disappointing. Our local, small-town book collection didn’t feel as refined as the one we had at home and due to funding issues, the place itself always seemed to teeter on the brink of foreclosure.

Today, you can get most books rather cheaply right from your couch, but there are still many reasons to go to the library beyond selection and price. Sadly, I never found those reasons when I was younger.

But when I started college, all of that changed. I’ve spent the majority of my 20s in campus libraries and, to this day, they’re the only kind of office I know. As it turns out, the library is more than a place of knowledge and wonder.

If you want to shape, even invent your own career, it’s a factory of dreams.


I had known I wanted to be an entrepreneur long before college, but I had no idea how to make that fantasy come true and no one close to me who did. And while it may not seem like the most logical next step, eventually, going to college taught me exactly what I needed to know.

Not the professors or the books or even the friends I found there, but the time I spent at the libraries of my academic stations. Each seemed to have its own theme, but they all welcomed me while I was figuring out yet another challenge in my quest for meaningful self-employment.

Here’s a short chronology of the ones that caused the biggest impact.

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The library at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology is open 24/7/365. It has over 800 work stations on three vast floors, a live feed of how many spaces are currently available, and a fully automated lend-and-return system. It is a testament to German efficiency as much as it is a breeding ground for workplace camaraderie.

My first-semester friends and I all joked about who could possibly be studying at 2 AM on a Saturday until, a few weeks later, we were. And even though no one seemed to make the choice voluntarily, everyone was always there, committed to not give up before even the first round of exams. Sometimes, the only comfort you need when you’re struggling is knowing you’re not struggling alone.

When you’re trying to understand complex algorithms, the basics of macroeconomics, or the behavior of liquid bodies, most of the answers you seek won’t be in books but in the people around you, studying those same topics. At the college library, there’s always someone you can ask. Someone slightly ahead of you, with just enough margin to remember what they needed to hear for things to click into place.

By the third semester, most of us had passed the initial terror of uncharted waters and with our library radius, so expanded our understanding of not just these college institutions, but our place inside them. We explored the math branch, the chemistry branch, the informatics branch, and with them the dynamics of each of these somewhat specialized working environments.

We made the library our office of choice, and with that we developed a sense of awareness of how we work.

You can’t professionalize your visits to the library without optimizing your own behavior, and so analyzing visitor traffic, break times, and the energy levels of those working around us ultimately not just made our time among textbooks a more pleasant experience, but also a more productive one.

Before I could build things, I had to figure out how to get things done. How I could get things done. When I work in teams. When I work alone. Whether I’m under pressure, or whether no one holds me accountable but myself.

The workload of those first few semesters may have provided the fabric of personal productivity, but the library was where I could sit down, pick up a pair of needles, and knit it into a methodology that works.

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The Claire T. Carney Library on the UMASS Dartmouth campus is a winding maze of glass, concrete, and bright yellow lights. Lined with red carpets and chairs, the color contrast makes for a fine, common thread. A guide not just to its many differently themed work areas, but to your own thinking process.

I studied abroad in my fifth and sixth semester and it was then and there that part of my desire to start something turned into regret about not having started anything already. As a result, the time I spent at the library was a time of intense brainstorming; a time full of ideas. My Bachelor’s program was coming to an end. I needed a plan and I needed it fast.

Academic culture in America is more encouraging to self-starters than its German counterpart. The bustling energy of student groups solving problems — often real-world problems — through fruitful discussions was just the vibe I needed to grow the seed I was cultivating into something that would soon push me over the edge. It was refreshing to see people go to the library not only to read or study or do assignments, but to lay the foundation of what might become their career and ask important questions about their future.

Even more so than great sounding boards and encouragement, though, what I found in that space was the comfort to dare ask these questions myself.

One of the many potential answers I tossed around in my head back then was to become a writer. Guess what I am today.

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Mannheim’s humanities library branch truly offers room to think. The large, centered stairway with its modern, airy design counts over 100 steps across three floors. Little desks fan out left and right while the book shelves are neatly tucked away into the hall’s giant wings.

You can truly feel everything being ‘under one roof’ and even though I was only a guest there for about a year, I still found you could carve out your own space. I was trying to make self-employment work during a two-year college break and the modern, somewhat cold architecture added to the isolation I felt, probably needed.

I was an antibody among students and yet we were flailing all the same. Like the lockers in the lobby, the bathrooms on various floors, and the tables with PCs and without, everything was optional, but, without decisions and discipline, wouldn’t amount to a thing. Here, I learned to do things the hard way even when I didn’t have to, because great careers don’t fall from the sky.

I chose the locker on the bottom, the seat on the top floor, the bathroom in the basement and, with those things, the path of the lonely freelancer over that of the comfortable employee.


When you say ‘library,’ you might think of a place hosting leathery covers, stacks of old classics, and a neat filing system. To me, that place is home.

When I say ‘library,’ I think of wide, open spaces full of desks, rattling keyboards breaking the silence, and textbooks. I think of colleges around the world, of fun times, of shared times, of good times and of hard times. I think back to the stages of my career, and I think about what each of those stages meant.

When I remember the fact that I spent most of my 20s tucked between books and bathrooms, between people and PCs, between knowledge and work —I smile. The library — the institution, not the building — is my universal staple of meaningful work.

Even if it’s the only office I’ll ever know, from now on, it’ll be a magical place.

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Why It’s Important to Say No to Free Stuff

Last week I got hoodwinked. Walking out of the school canteen, a friend and I passed a guy standing next to his car’s open trunk, handing out free drinks and note pads. Except they weren’t free. As soon as he’d offered us his ‘gifts,’ he made us sign trial subscriptions to a newspaper. To his credit, we didn’t need any payment info and he was a nice guy.

But he still blindsided us. Most of the time, however, I do it to myself.

Free Lunch All Over the Place

Whoever says there’s no free lunch has never been to a German college. We don’t pay insane tuition, yet there are still more freebies than anyone could handle. Drinks, food, events; young people will build the future and these are the things they covet. But that doesn’t mean we want our lives to be a 24/7 pitch fest in which we’re the prize.

So when yet another poor devil hands out flyers, the result is often the same: trash cans full of paper, littered floors, and shreds of parchment flying through the streets. 19 out of 20 times, 19 out of 20 people aren’t interested. And yet, we end up with an ad in our hands anyway. Why is that?

Sometimes, we get blindsided. We’re too startled to say no and boom, we agreed. Sometimes, we don’t want to be rude. And sometimes, it’s straight pity. It speaks volumes about your product if the best buyer motivation you can hope for is people wanting to eliminate some of the inherent discomfort in your sales process. A friend says she often takes flyers to make the other person feel better and help them get on with their unrewarding job.

That’s a noble goal, but I think there’s a hidden price we pay for it. Because now, the joke’s on us.

The Scales Inside Your Mind

Taking some stupid flyer doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is. Now you’re not just responsible for the piece of paper, but unless you really wanted to take it, which, let’s face it, almost never happens, you’ve also just broken a previous deal with yourself: “I will do what I trust is best for me.”

This deal isn’t explicit. It’s not one we sign and one we rarely voice out loud. But it’s built into us from birth and rightfully so.

Acting in our own best interest is, on a long enough timeline, the only way to act in everyone else’s best interest also.

Deep inside your mind, there’s a scale. Every time you break or live up to that deal, you throw a small stone in one of its trays. One side is confidence — complete and utter trust in yourself. The other is insecurity. A constant scratching at your decisions, full of self-doubt and second-guessing yourself. And whichever side is heavier tends to make your next decision.

Throwing the First Stone

Also last week, I went out to grab drinks with friends one night. Around 10 PM, our metaphorical Thursday night camel train wanted to move on. There was a midterm party hosted by the school, but the group wanted to go pregame at another place first.

I fancied the party, but what I didn’t wanna do was drive all across town to sit in someone’s apartment and drink first. Especially since I’m not in the mood for alcohol these days. So I decided to go home. Of course the usual ‘come on’s and ‘just an hour’s ensued. You know how it goes, you’ve been in that situation before.

See how similar this is to the people handing out flyers? Except it’s all intensified. Because now you’ve made an actual deal with yourself and it’s not a stranger pitching, but your friends. The scale in your mind, however, remains the same. It doesn’t matter what’s reasonable or what’s fun. The only important question is:

Which tray of the scale will you throw the next stone on?

Another friend says she once met someone who’d always joke she was “a weak person” when it comes to going with the group consensus. It’s a fun anecdote when you’re actually indifferent about an outcome, but I told her I’m worried about what happens if she tells it too many times. Humans work in funny ways. The more you tell yourself you’re the type of person who throws stones on the doubt-side of the scale, the more you’ll end up actually doing it.

For 99% of our decisions, it doesn’t matter all that much, but in 1% of moments, the state of the scale is everything.

Seconds of a Lifetime

There’s one last thing that happened last week. We were watching the Germany vs. Sweden world cup match at a burger place. For every goal Germany scored, we got free shots. I passed on the first one, because again, I don’t feel like drinking these days. But since we won in the last minute, we got another round.

Once more, I declined when the waiter offered, but as we were all about to toast, a friend noticed I didn’t have one, while another friend had ended up with two. I said it was alright and that I didn’t want it, but my buddy was adamant I take it. After a short, but suddenly intense “YES!”-“NO!”-yelling-match, he handed the shot over, I set it down and saluted with my Sprite.

Imagine how awkward that is. Twelve people with raised glasses, with two dudes arguing over who takes the last shot in the middle. Moments like these only take seconds, but unlike listening to sales pitches or deciding where to eat, they fundamentally impact who you are. And yet, the shots are just like flyers. You either cave and take the damn thing or stick to your guns and make things awkward.

No one will even remember, let alone care about the situation two weeks down the line. But you will. Because taking the shot, or the shitty job offer, or forgiving the asshole boyfriend who cheated is like ripping that trust contract you have with yourself to shreds. With a snap of your fingers, you’ve dropped an anvil on the scale. Self-doubt all the way.

What all of this comes down to in the end is this:

The reason I can say no to drinking in a room full of people with raised glasses is that I’ve practiced saying no to people with flyers for the past 10 years.

Getting ambushed by a guy selling newspaper subscriptions is bad. But blindsiding yourself is much worse. We tell ourselves these little, mundane decisions aren’t important, but they are. Because everything you do matters. Life isn’t a collection of fragments. It all ties together into who you are.

The choices you make when no one cares are the ones that determine what you’ll do when you care the most.

So, I’m sorry if you ended up with one of those crappy promotion jobs. I feel for you. But no, I don’t want your flyers.