Everything We Do Is Not For Today Cover

Everything We Do Is Not For Today

When the town’s crime boss wants a precious piece of land, he sends some of his goons to terrorize the school that’s built on it. First, they threaten the principal, then they torch a classroom.

Luckily, the local Kung Fu master saves the day. When he tries to acquire more help in form of the police, however, the chief says his hands are tied. His boss took the case. Corruption. After listening patiently, the master starts talking:

“The world’s not fair. But moral standards should apply to all. Those who rule aren’t superior and those who are ruled aren’t inferior. This world doesn’t belong to the rich. Or even the powerful. It belongs to those with pure hearts.

Have you thought about the children? Everything we do, they’re watching. And everything we don’t do. We need to be good role models.”

And then, master Ip Man says something important. Something we forget. Something that, little by little, seems to fade from the human story:

“Everything we do is not for today — but for tomorrow.”

How Proverbs Come To Be

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell captures the idea from Ip Man in an analogy: Freedom tomorrow comes from discipline today.

He explains the stereotype that Asians are good at school, particularly math, partly with the fact that they have been rice farmers for centuries.

Unlike Western farmland, rice paddies are built. Constructed. Not just in the landscape, but each unit too. They’re painstakingly assembled, complex systems of dikes, channels, and various layers of clay, mud, and fertilizer. Transplanting seeds, weeding, grooming, harvesting, it’s all done by hand.

What’s more, with a hotel-room sized paddy carrying a family of six and neither mechanical tools nor more land available, skills, choices, and dedication have always been the name of the rice farming game.

Unsurprisingly, Gladwell concludes:

“Throughout history, the people who grow rice have always worked harder than almost any other kind of farmer.”

Now, before you object with the lifestyle of European peasants back in the day, Gladwell did too — and found out it was less intense. Looking at some of the last remaining hunter-gatherers in Botswana and farmers in 18th-century France, he found they worked about 1,000–1,200 hours a year, spending most of their days idling and hibernating, especially in winter.

“Working in a rice field is ten to twenty times more labor-intensive than working on an equivalent-size corn or wheat field. Some estimates put the annual workload of a wet-rice farmer in Asia at three thousand hours a year.”

That’s eight hours a day, every day, compared to 5–6 hours for 200 days a year. With the same amount of time off, rice farmers would work 15-hour days.

There are multiple reasons for this difference, one being that rice paddies don’t require fallow periods. To the contrary, they become more fertile the more they’re cultivated. Another is that it’s a complex, autonomous task, a little business if you will, where inputs correlate closely to outputs, more so than in Western farming. Finally, Asian rice farmers’ efforts weren’t in vain, as they paid fixed rents and kept the extra, unlike the lowly paid victims of a greedy, aristocratic landlord.

The result is that today, a Russian proverb is “If God does not bring it, the earth will not give it,” whereas the Chinese equivalent goes “Don’t depend on heaven for food, but on your own two hands carrying the load.”

Most of us could use more of the latter and less of the former. And while Westerners often mock their Asian friends for their stereotypical work ethic, Gladwell says it’s at the heart of literally every case study in his book. As he puts it, “a belief in work ought to be a thing of beauty.”

Besides inspiring us to be more patient in our own lives, the other lesson from all this is that there’s another kind of tomorrow other than the’ literal one we know. It’s the kind the Kung Fu master was talking about and it reminds us:

We’re standing on the shoulders not of giants, but generations.

Shortsighted Tweets

I saw a tweet this morning from my fellow German Dorothee Bär. She said:

“Go to Twitter — see Germans tweeting in my feed — wish to be back in Austin — close Twitter.”

There’s nothing wrong with this tweet, unless you’re a Member of Parliament and Minister of State for Digitization. Unfortunately, she is. Ms. Bär isn’t thinking about tomorrow. She isn’t even tweeting for today. She wants yesterday back when her whole job is to create a better future. That’s sad.

In our modern world built for immediate gratification, there’s a lot of shortsighted thinking like this. Politicians, CEOs, entertainers, everyone is obsessed with surviving the next release, the next earnings call, the next election. But what about tomorrow? What about those who aren’t yet born?

That’s why I’ll always root for Elon Musk. Yes, he too tweets nonsense and has his antics, but a man dumping his entire $180 million fortune into a triad of companies dedicated to better energy, better transport, and to explore a planet he’ll neither live nor die on is, clearly, thinking about tomorrow.

Most of us aren’t politicians, CEOs, or entertainers. We don’t want to make it our life’s mission to ensure survival for the human race. That’s fine. But even in our own lives, it’d help if we did more things for tomorrow. Technology is now greatly compounding the returns.

Talking about her first month making over $8,000, Shannon Ashley said:

“The earnings were finally as large as I first dreamed about 10 months ago.”

She deserves every penny, but it’s a line few people will ever get to say about that figure. Whether we asked a European peasant from 1700, an ancient Asian rice farmer, or a Kung Fu teacher from the 1950s, none of this was possible for them. They couldn’t just swap careers, grow a movement from their couch, or quadruple their earnings in a year. We live in amazing times.

And yet, without those peasants, farmers, and teachers, none of us would be here. What they did for tomorrow is the foundation of what we can do today.

Discipline Is Freedom

My great-grandma lived through two world wars. She walked seven miles to work — one-way. My dad’s grandpa delivered and installed curtains in a 30-mile radius around his town. On a bike. My job is to sit on a chair or couch or bed, drink coffee, and write things like this. How could I not be grateful?

And yet, I know, it’s easy to forget. To get lost in the everyday adrenaline rush. I wish there was a Kung Fu master in my town. Or a rice paddy across the street. But there isn’t, and so it’s my job to remember when I see shortsighted tweets: discipline is freedom.

Sometimes, it won’t be our freedom, but the freedom of those who’ll follow us. It might not be freedom from strife, unfairness, or adversity. But from arrogance, from taking things for granted, and from self-pity.

We might not always benefit ourselves, not always reap the rice from the seeds we sow, but as today so on our final day, we’ll lay to rest in peace.

After all, whoever’s tomorrow it is, it will be slightly better than today.

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:


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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How To Unlock Your Confident Self

On July 16, 1926, Donald Mellett was shot in front of his home. The editor of Ohio’s Canton Daily News had picked a fight with the wrong people.

Over the past 18 months, he had exposed multiple issues of corruption among the Canton police, eventually forcing the mayor to suspend the police chief. But the underworld’s ties ran deep. So deep, that three local gangsters and a detective conspired to get rid of him. Of course, the first official investigation turned up nothing. Eventually, an outside, private investigator cleared the case and all culprits were sentenced to life in prison.

And while it barely registers as a sideshow next to one of America’s most publicized crimes in the 1920s, it’s another life that was at stake which is of interest to us today.

Shortly before his death, Mellett had struck a deal with a visiting lecturer. He’d been so impressed with the man’s ideas that they’d decided to publish them come January, when Mellett was to resign from his editor’s duties.

The morning after Mellett’s assassination, the man received an anonymous phone call, telling him he would leave Canton. He could leave on his own within the hour or wait longer and do so in a pine box — but leave he would.

Terrified, the man got into his car and drove for eight hours straight, not resting until he reached his relatives in the remote mountains of West Virginia. There, he went into hiding. Nobody would see him for months.

The name of that man was Napoleon Hill.

Seven Minutes

Joanna is in her early 30s. She’s tall, blonde, and hyper-competitive. She was a national rower, worked for the FBI, and trained Middle Eastern police forces. At the time she grabs dinner with her friend Kamal in late 2013, she’s already sold two companies, with her third about to go public. He tells the story:

She’s sitting against the wall and I’m facing her. We talk about our lives, things that have really formed us, who we are. Out of the blue, she tells me that, when she was 24, she had a heart attack and she died for seven minutes.

I was like okayyy and so I leaned forward: “I gotta ask: What happened?”

She goes: “I don’t remember.”

She was in a coma afterwards. They brought her out of it and [then] she was in this bubble. She was the Bubble Boy for, like, a month. And Joanna being Joanna she was just working away in the bubble.

But she said what changed there was after that, everything she wanted in her life — like anything — whether it’s love, how she met her husband, her career, whatever she wants to do, it just happens. It comes to her.

So I’m like: “Alright, you know, I don’t wanna have to, uh, die to get that. How do you do it?”

She leans forward and she goes: “You’re gonna think I’m crazy, but…”

“What if this is heaven?”

Ten Days of Dishes

Steven Pressfield published his first successful novel when he was 52 years old. For many decades before, he wasn’t just not writing, but actively avoiding it. In The War of Art, he tells the story of the moment everything changed:

I washed up in New York a couple of decades ago, making twenty bucks a night driving a cab and running away full-time from doing my work.

One night, alone in my $110-a-month sublet, I hit bottom in terms of having diverted myself into so many phony channels so many times that I couldn’t rationalize it for one more evening. I dragged out my ancient Smith-Corona, dreading the experience as pointless, fruitless, meaningless, not to say the most painful exercise I could think of.

For two hours I made myself sit there, torturing out some trash that I chucked immediately into the shitcan. That was enough. I put the machine away.

I went back to the kitchen. In the sink sat ten days of dishes. For some reason I had enough excess energy that I decided to wash them. The warm water felt pretty good. The soap and sponge were doing their thing. A pile of clean plates began rising in the drying rack.

To my amazement I realized I was whistling.

The Other Self

In the fall of 1927, over one year after his disappearance, Napoleon Hill finally left his relatives’ house. On a clear night, he walked up to the local public school, which sat on a hill overlooking the town. For hours, he paced around the building. There had to be a way out!

After all, he’d long done the hard work of compiling his ‘philosophy of personal achievement,’ a task for which he had interviewed hundreds of people over the past 20 years. Suddenly, he remembered something the man who sent him on this quest — none other than Andrew Carnegie himself — had told him during one of their earliest conversations in 1908:

“Along toward the end of your labor, if you carry it through successfully, you will make a discovery which may be a great surprise to you. You will discover that the cause of success is not something separate and apart from the man; that it is a force so intangible in nature that the majority of men never recognize it; a force which might be properly called the ‘other self.’ Noteworthy is the fact that this ‘other self’ seldom exerts its influence or makes itself known excepting at times of unusual emergency, when men are forced, through adversity and temporary defeat, to change their habits and to think their way out of difficulty.”

Hill’s heart leapt into his throat. This was it. His testing time. His turn to prove that his own ideas worked. He would either see it through or burn the manuscripts. This breakthrough came with a weird, but empowering gesture:

When this thought came to me, I stopped still, drew my feet closely together, saluted (I did not know what or whom), and stood rigidly at attention for several minutes. This seemed, at first, like a foolish thing to do, but while I was standing there another thought came through in the form of an “order” that was as brief and snappy as any ever given by a military commander to a subordinate. The order said, “Tomorrow get into your automobile and drive to Philadelphia, where you will receive aid in publishing your philosophy of achievement.”

For the first time in his life, Napoleon Hill had experienced his ‘other self.’

Choosing Sides

Joanna is at least 70% sure Kamal will recommend she see a therapist. But she says it anyway:

“What if this is heaven?”

Kamal’s reaction, however, is just as surprising as her question:

And then she leans back and it was like — you ever see in the movies when
the camera just spans back and things get really slow? And I was like “oh my god!” and I swear there was a homeless man behind her in the window and he kinda like winks at me and “oh my god!” And, for a few moments, I got it.

She’s like: “I died. How can I prove I’m not on the other side? So, because this is heaven, given what heaven is about, I can have, be, and do anything I want.”

And she’s living that.

On another day, in another time, Napoleon Hill would’ve said Joanna is in sync with her other self.

A Harajuku Moment

What Steven Pressfield learned from his lovely evening writing crap and washing dishes is that even if his work would remain a miserable experience for a long time, he’d turn out okay. That his becoming a writer was inevitable.

This moment, this singular incident of first unlocking your other, confident, determined, relentlessly driven if patient self, is called a Harajuku Moment.

In The 4-Hour Body, Tim Ferriss’s friend Chad Fowler, who coined the term, tells the story of having his own while fashion shopping in Tokyo. Sitting on a wall in the July heat waiting for friends to return, he complained to a buddy:

“For me, it doesn’t even matter what I wear; I’m not going to look good anyway.” I think he agreed with me. I can’t remember, but that’s not the point. The point was that, as I said those words, they hung in the air like when you say something super-embarrassing in a loud room but happen to catch the one random slice of silence that happens all night long. Everyone looks at you like you’re an idiot. But this time, it was me looking at myself critically. I heard myself say those words and I recognized them not for their content, but for their tone of helplessness.

For the first time in his life, Chad realized he was an incomplete person. A man who always saw himself as “someone with bad health.” And that one moment of piercing clarity was enough to spark a drastic change. Harajuku Moments aren’t just for our bodies, but for all walks of life, according to Tim:

It’s an epiphany that turns a nice-to-have into a must-have. There is no point in getting started until it happens. No matter how many bullet points and recipes I provide, you will need a Harajuku Moment to fuel the change itself.

In the year following his flash of insight, Fowler lost 70+ pounds. He maintains a good health regimen to this day.

Orders From a Strange Source

For the next two days after his Harajuku Moment, Hill continued to receive “orders” from his “other self,” which he followed to the letter.

As a result, he not only found a publisher for his books but also landed a big, local contract with General Motors to train 15 employees in sales. The money was more than enough to pay for all his expenses, including the expensive hotel his gut had told him to book upon arrival.

Past that point, Hill describes his life in words Joanna might have used too:

From that time right up to this very minute everything I have needed has come to me. Sometimes the arrival of the material things I needed has been a little late, but I can truthfully say that my “other self” has always met me at the crossroads when I have come to them and indicated which path I should follow. The “other self” follows no precedents, recognizes no limitations, and always finds a way to accomplish desired ends! It may meet with temporary defeat, but not with permanent failure. I am as sure of the soundness of this statement as I am of the fact of being engaged in writing these lines.

Lucky for us, Hill didn’t leave it at that.

Not a Miracle Drug

As great as it sounds, so far, all this ‘other self’ talk feels a little esoteric. Magical. Almost too good to be true. While he repeatedly admits he doesn’t quite understand it in its entirety, Hill makes an effort to capture what he knows. In Outwitting The Devil, he describes the “orders” he received:

The instructions were given through the medium of thoughts which presented themselves in my mind with such force that they were readily distinguishable from my ordinary self-created thoughts.

That’s simple. I get that. It’s a powerful gut. A feeling that one course of action is decidedly better, paired with a strong sense of faith that it will work.

We’ve all experienced this. Scientists call it flow. It may have been in sports, a video game, or a great day at work, but, somehow, we strung together a series of gut decisions that just worked and executed them with perfect confidence.

While flow isn’t something we can maintain all the time, Hill suggests our other self is a version of ourselves that can capitalize on it much longer:

You are entitled to know that two entities occupy your body, as in fact two similar entities occupy the body of each living person on earth. One of these entities is motivated by and responds to the impulse of fear. The other is motivated by and responds to the impulse of faith.

Whether you call them ‘entities’ or not, this, too, makes sense. Fear has always been our number one motivator because, for millennia, it had to be. The fear of death is what kept us alive. Nowadays, however, that doesn’t make so much sense. Most of us live in an environment where survival is, mostly, ensured.

But, since so few people do it, acting out of faith and going for what you want often works easier and faster than we’d expect it to. This doesn’t make it a miracle drug or state of enlightenment — just a much better way of doing things, according to Hill:

  • You should know that the faith entity performs no miracles, nor does it work in opposition to any of nature’s laws.
  • Your ‘other self’ will not do your work for you; it will only guide you intelligently in achieving for yourself the objects of your desires.
  • Physically you are the same as you have always been; therefore, no one will recognize that any change has taken place in you.
  • Your ‘other self’ will remain in charge and continue to direct you as long as you rely upon it. Keep doubt and fear and worry, and all thoughts of limitation, entirely out of your mind.

Again, this all sounds wonderful, but, like Kamal asked Joanna: how do you do it? How do you change a fundamental aspect of how the human brain naturally works? You don’t.

You let your mind do it for you.

The High Agency Person

The very nature of epiphanies is that they’re not controllable. This is, in part, why we have so many different stories for people who’ve gone through the same change. Joanna, Hill, Pressfield, Fowler, they’ve all made a similar shift in mindset. But because it was such an emotional experience, something so hard to label with language, they’ve all used different labels.

And while there’s no way for me to influence when and where you’ll have yours, Harajuku Moment, that is, stories like theirs are our best shot. Because they prime your subconscious to look for the same in your own life.

In our case, when looking for our confident, faith-based self, the stories we seek are those of what George Mack calls ‘high agency:’

High Agency is a sense that the story given to you by other people about what you can/cannot do is just that — a story. And that you have control over the story.

A High Agency person looks to bend reality to their will. They either find a way, or they make a way.

Mack picked up the concept from Eric Weinstein on Tim Ferriss’s podcast:

When you’re told that something is impossible, is that the end of the conversation, or does that start a second dialogue in your mind, how to get around whoever it is that’s just told you that you can’t do something?

Weinstein says that most of us pride ourselves in the fact that we’re “grounded in reality,” when, actually, that’s just a different way of saying we’ve settled for average, boring, and conventional.

Most of us who wind up using these sort of strange high agency hacks to negotiate the world have some kind of traumatic birth. We may flatter ourselves that we’re in touch with reality, but in fact, reality is a second-best strategy. If you’re lucky, your family works pretty well and you never leave social reality. It’s only when something goes wrong that you discover: “Okay, the world doesn’t work in any way the way I was told. Here’s the underlying structure.” And what you then have to realize is if you want this at scale, you’ve got to stop relying on these traumatic births. It’s like you’re waiting to get bit by a spider to become Spiderman.

Sure, you could wait for your life to back you up against the wall. Or, you could expose yourself to lots of high agency stories until one kicks in.

You could learn about Steve Jobs’s reality distortion field

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

…Arnold Schwarzenegger’s strange career path from weightlifter to movie star to governor — all in a country whose language he’s terrible at — or Peter Thiel’s unorthodox approaches to investing and business:

How can you achieve your 10-year-goal in 6 months? What great company is nobody starting? What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

Ultimately, there’s only so much you can do to unlock your confident self. To find your Harajuku Moment. But, once you’ve had it, you can never go back.

Bigger Than You Think

In 2014, Jim Carrey gave the commencement speech at Maharishi University. He shares a lot of wise aphorisms, but none quite like this one:

You will only ever have two choices: love or fear. Choose love and don’t ever let fear turn you against your playful heart. Because life doesn’t happen to you. It happens for you.

This distinction between life happening for us and to us is the same thing Kamal has noticed in Joanna and all the folks that most inspire him:

For all of them, I’ve noticed one pattern — including her — that whatever happens, it’s never like this is happening to me. They all look at life as if it’s happening for them. They fall down, they lick their wounds, they get up, but it always makes them be better.

And then Kamal says something remarkable: It’s an attitude you can choose.

They’ve internalized this attitude and it is an attitude. All of us who try to live this, none of us are unique in that sense. We’re all humans, right? The same minds walking around with the same dramas and same fears. But that attitude that life happens for them I’ve noticed consistently in all the best people I’ve ever met in my life.

We may not be able to unlock our best parts, like confidence, faith, and flow at will, but we can choose to live with an attitude that attracts them, rather than shut ourselves off from the possibility. Of course, this is one of the first things Carnegie taught Hill too:

Let me call your attention to a great power which is under your control, said Mr. Carnegie. A power greater than poverty, greater than the lack of education, greater than all of your fears and superstitions combined. It is the power to take possession of your own mind and direct it to whatever ends you may desire.

Carnegie was a well-read man. When he was a young boy, a local colonel opened his personal library of some 400 volumes every Saturday night — an opportunity Carnegie always took. It’s not hard to imagine he read a few Stoic texts, which, over 2,000 years ago, already harnessed the same idea: the one thing we control, the only thing, really, is our mind and its perceptions.

I’m no expert on the ‘other self’ and I’ve only ever caught glimpses of it myself. But, once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it. And so I wish nothing more for you than to find your Harajuku Moment. To see this distinction between faith and fear. To learn to live your life with courage, confidence, and the relentless spirit it takes to get whatever you want. Until then, I wish you the attitude that will help you find all of these things. You’re a lot bigger than you think.

“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

— Marcus Aurelius

Zen Stories for a Calm, Clear & Open Mind Cover

Zen Stories for a Calm, Clear & Open Mind

My theme for 2019 is ‘focus.’ Focus on the work and projects that matter, the people I really care about, and, most of all, focus of the mind. If you’re anything like me — an overthinking introvert with a mind that’s always on — that last one is especially difficult.

Part of it’s just human nature. Our brains are wired to look for problems. To obsess over an issue we can fix. Until we create a solution, which gives us a short burst of relief. Then, it’s on to the next thing.

But for introverts, it’s particularly easy to get stuck on the obsession part. Our default response to almost anything is to think up a maze in our mind, then zip through it until we’ve explored every corner. Like a mouse looking for cheese, even if there’s none to be found.

One of the few things that’s helped me stop spinning in circles in my own head is Zen stories. I’m not sure why. Maybe, I can relate to the imagery associated with Buddhist monks. Maybe, I’m a sucker for allegories. In any case, while some people might think they’re cheesy, they work for me.

When my mind is cloudy, a Zen story can clear it up. When I’m frantic, it calms me down. And when I’m too close to the trees to see the forest, it helps me see.

You may not be an introvert or compulsive thinker, but I hope you’ll still benefit from the following seven stories. I know they’ve done wonders for me.

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How To Avoid a Life of Regret Cover

How To Avoid a Life of Regret

I’m sitting alone in my apartment. It’s Sunday night. Too late to be productive, too early to sleep, and I’m too hungry to do either. A flash of insight reveals my immediate fate: dumplings.

I don’t know where the gods of culinary inspiration sent it from, but the thought instantly grows roots. As they wrap around my stomach, squeezing it ever tighter, I message some friends to see if anyone wants to go.

One said he was out of town. Another on a date. Some didn’t reply and one already ate. With “no”s piling up faster than even the speediest cook could fold and fry the delicious dough bags, I began to think.

“Maybe, I should just stay in.”

“I still have food at home.”

“It’s cold out anyway.”

But then, another observation — not sent by a god but my gut — hit me. It took some mental debating, but, eventually, I snapped out of it.

“Screw it. I’m getting dumplings.”

I got dressed, walked to the restaurant, went inside, sat down, ordered, and, within a few minutes, I was munching on a dozen of a Chinese delicacy called wonton. The owner even gave me a free mango pudding for dessert. Score!

I won this round, but the conversation that had to happen earlier in my head for me to do so was just one of the many encounters we all have with a dire, devastating force called ‘potential regret.’ What was really going on was this:

I was afraid of doing what I wanted because I was alone.

A Feature We Can’t Turn Off

Being alone is a weird state for a social animal. First, there’s the physical discomfort, from the silence to the goosebumps to the sensory triggers our brains begin to manufacture. Then, there’s the psychological toll.

If you’ve ever sat with emptiness for a while, you’ll have noticed that, at first, your mind continues to tell the story it always tells. Maybe, it’s the one about work or the one about the friend you just dropped off or the one about what you should eat. Maybe, you’ll even flick through a couple of those. But soon you’ll realize — and this rarely happens in everyday life — that you are telling yourself a story. That most of what you do is just fighting your inner silence.

We’re having this big, public discussion about our technology fostering a culture of escapism, but if we’re honest, that’s nothing we needed devices for. It’s built into the human experience. A feature we can’t turn off. We say we ‘think,’ but mostly we’re just letting whatever thoughts come wash over us.

To some extent, this is normal. Permanently squeezing your gray matter with pressing questions — “Who am I? Why am I? What is life’s purpose? What’s mine? Who am I meant to be? And why am I not there yet?” — only drives you insane. But if we shut them down every time they creep up, we stand to lose our minds just the same.

The way we architect this second, equally inevitable collapse, however, is a lot more fascinating.

Agency Over Accomplishment

When she asked 90-somethings what they regretted most, Lydia Sohn made a fascinating discovery: old people don’t get nearly as much satisfaction out of their past careers than young people expect out of their future ones.

“Their joys and regrets have nothing to do with their careers, but with their parents, children, spouses, and friends.”

As it turns out, it’s not their work, but their relationships that contributed most to their happiness. They didn’t crave a longer list of accomplishments, but more quality moments with their loved ones. This finding contradicts the popular idea that our life’s happiness curve shapes like a U-bend, with spikes early and late and a big trough in the middle. People felt their best while being hard-working fathers and busy housewife mothers (and vice versa).

Bronnie Ware, a palliative nurse, regret researcher, and author of a popular book on the topic, identified a different, but equally powerful source of remorse: living a shadow-life.

“Of all of the regrets and lessons shared with me as I sat beside their beds, the regret of not having lived a life true to themselves was the most common one of all. It was also the one that caused the most frustration, as the client’s realization came too late. ‘It’s not like I wanted to live a grand life,’ Grace explained in one of many conversations from her bed. ‘But I wanted to do things for me too and I just didn’t have the courage.’”

Everyone is different and no one person’s experience can dictate your own best path of action, but when it comes to aging, the advice of those who’ve done it already is sure worth considering. These two insights are interesting all on their own, but if we piece them together, we can learn even more:

  1. We may be our best self when we’re not focused on it all that much.
  2. In order to feel like we are, we need to decide some things on our own.

Whether they were happily married or not, these people’s relationships with their partners took a back seat as their family grew. But for those where either ended up suppressing their own desires altogether, a busy life turned into an estranged one — and that’s not something we’re fond of looking back to.

Now I’m really glad I decided to go eat those dumplings.

Miserable Always Does The Job

A friend of mine is currently trying to settle on a topic for her thesis. But, as she says of herself, she’s not very decisive. After researching multiple angles and approaching several faculty members, it came down to two options. When she got accepted for only one, I congratulated her. I was wrong.

Having had no clear preference for either topic before, she was now sad about one road being blocked — and back to brainstorming more options. This may sound silly, but it’s not uncommon. A very real struggle for a very real group of people, particularly those around my age. We know we have a wealth of options, so we try to look at them all, and, without ever deciding, feel bad about the ones we miss, the ones we might have missed, and the perfect ones we think should exist somewhere, even though they never do.

We know abundance does this to us from science. Barry Schwartz wrote The Paradox of Choice about this. The more choice, the harder it is to choose and the easier to make mistakes. And even though finding ‘perfect’ is as impossible as it ever was and we know it, we’re still disappointed if we don’t.

What my friend is doing — what most of us are doing — is not distracting ourselves with meaningless entertainment or existential problems.

We do it with an abundance of good options that don’t reflect who we actually are.

For a lot of us, life is too easy. We know we’ll get dinner. A date is just a swipe away. Our work may be boring, but it pays. At worst, we’ll cancel Spotify. But instead of using all this amenity and time to figure ourselves out, instead of saying “this one feels like me” and running with it, we choose whatever outcome we get to be the one that makes us feel miserable.

But, as we learned from those senior to us, being happy is not about choosing the best, but about loving what you have chosen. How much you dictate the outcome won’t matter nearly as much as having had a say. Whatever agency you have, as long as you don’t second-guess yourself, you’ll likely be content.

And sometimes, that is as simple as eating the first food that comes to mind.

Everything Starts Small

Maybe, you really want to try a new style of pasta. Or to go see that movie. Or just get ice cream. But then you ask around and find out no one wants to go. They might be busy. Maybe, they’re not around. Not hungry. Or they don’t want to hang out today. That’s okay.

What’s not okay is what we usually do next: we stay at home.

We choose to feel sorry for ourselves instead of doing what we want, even if no one’s stopping us.

We do it because moving in a state that’s already uncomfortable when you’re still is extra disconcerting. We do it because we pressure ourselves to optimize among a sea of options despite secretly knowing most of them are irrelevant to us. And we do it because of what people would think; what they would say if they caught us being happy on our own.

I love sharing. I love doing things together. But when your support goes down the tube, you can’t just throw your life right after. Don’t stop living when no one’s watching. Have pride. Get dressed. Show up. Not for others. For yourself.

The person who should be most excited about everything you do in life is you.

But if you can’t live true to yourself when no one’s around, how do you expect to do it in the face of a growing set of responsibilities? How do you expect to do it with more and more agents thrown into the picture? A partner, two kids, an elderly parent. A team you’re leading, a host of fans, or a stubborn boss?

What we want is rarely impractical. Eating alone doesn’t make the food taste worse. But sometimes, it is uncomfortable to be authentic. To act on what you know you want. And yet, we can’t let that prevent us from going after it.

Because it starts with dinner or a movie, but that’s not where it stops.

One day we resort to frozen pizza, the next it’s going back to our shitty job. All because we were too scared to be the lone fighter for the right cause. Yes, your friend should not have chickened out on that startup idea. Yes, finding a great job takes time. But you were never meant to face those struggles unprepared.

Because staying true to yourself, like everything, starts small. It’s not about nailing your Ph.D. or choosing the perfect partner. It’s about listening to your gut when you want to eat dumplings.

Even if it means that, sometimes, you’ll have dinner by yourself.

College Library Career Cover

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.


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.


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.


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.

Will Smith: The Semantics of Success Cover

Will Smith: The Semantics of Success

In the summer of 1985, the king of Philadelphia’s DJ scene threw down at a house party. That night, his hype man was missing. You know, the dude shouting around, getting folks excited, and prompting chants. Luckily, a local MC lived just down the street and offered to fill in.

The name of that MC was Will Smith. He and DJ Jazzy Jeff instantly hit it off. So much, in fact, that Jeff sent his former sidekick packing and the two joined forces. Less than a year later, they dropped their debut single “Girls Ain’t Nothing but Trouble” just in time to take the 1986 prom season by storm and allow Will to graduate high school as a rap star. Jeff recalls:

“Once Will and I made a record, we killed Philly’s hip-hop and ballroom scene. Nobody wanted two turntables. Now they wanted one turntable, a drum machine and some guy rapping. It wasn’t about Philly anymore. It was about conquering the world.”

And conquer the world they did.

Changing the Game

As sudden megastars often do, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince broke through because they reinvented the game they were playing. First, they redefined what makes a cool party. Then, they updated the meaning of the word ‘rap.’

With their light-hearted, comedic, curse-free songs like “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “Summertime,” the duo took rap to an upper middle class, even prep school level and made it fashionable. So fashionable, in fact, that Will and Jeff received not one, but two Grammys for ‘Best Rap Performance’ in 1989 and 1991 — a category that didn’t exist before they first won it.

And even though the two eventually split up and went their separate ways, none of these developments are entirely accidental. This tendency to reimagine things is part of Will Smith’s identity. It’s who he is. He may have started as an MC juggling words, but, as it turns out, it’s not just his music career that’s built on semantics.

A Dedication to Linguistics

What’s the one thing all rappers love? Language. And while it’s right at the intersection of what both they and actors need to succeed, almost no one seems able to make the jump. There is no shortage of rap stars attempting to act, but next to Will, only Mark Wahlberg made it to the majors.

Maybe it’s because no actor other than Will makes it as clear that he is a man of words. His characters are often outspoken, almost blubbering, and they’re always full of clever lines. Like Alex Hitchens, Will’s character in Hitch.

“Never lie, steal, cheat, or drink. But if you must lie, lie in the arms of the one you love. If you must steal, steal away from bad company. If you must cheat, cheat death. And if you must drink, drink in the moments that take your breath away.”

In his own life, he loves to learn new words

“In this film, I read an interesting quote. Siddhartha Gautama — the Buddha — he said that ‘good people have to get out of the bed every day and try to empty the ocean with a ladle.’ I knew that was profound and I paused for a second and I said ‘alright, what the hell is a ladle?’ So then I touched it on my iPad and ‘oh, it’s like a big spoon.’ A big spoon, okay. So like a soup spoon. So trying to empty the ocean with a soup spoon, you know, as the the mentality of how you wake up every day to try to do good in the world.”

…connect existing ones…

“Loss is bound to joy. Pain and suffering are bound to joy. Being able to survive something is actually a big part of being able to find that next wave of joy.”

…and writes a mission statement every year. Basically, whenever he’s in front of an audience — live or on screen — he plays jumprope with semantic lines.

“Confucius said one time: ‘He who says he can and he who says he can’t are both usually right.’”

— In his NAACP Image Award acceptance speech

But Will Smith’s dedication to linguistics goes even beyond all that. If you look at his chronology of films, you’ll see that almost every single one is an attempt to reformulate either its own genre or a fundamental aspect of human life.

Independence Day took the scale of the word ‘disaster’ to a new level. I, Robot made us question what it means to be ‘human.’ Hancock broke the mold of the ‘superhero’ genre. Sometimes, the word at the heart of the movie is obvious, even makes the title, like in The Pursuit of Happyness or Focus. Sometimes, it’s a little harder to find. I Am Legend, for example, wasn’t as much about ‘death’ as it was about ‘loneliness.’ The word for Seven Pounds was ‘sacrifice.’ But even when it’s hidden, it’s always there.

And while this is representative of the insane work ethic he openly claims to have, Will Smith’s commitment to connotation runs deeper still.


Words to Mend Our Mental Health

Besides giving new meaning to old words and using them to wow audiences, Will also draws linguistic lines to sort out the biggest mess we all face: the one in our own head. For example, while he realized very early that he had a lot of talent, he also knew it would not get him anywhere without skill.

“The separation of talent and skill is one of the greatest misunderstood concepts for people who are trying to excel, who have dreams, that want to do things. Talent you have naturally. Skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.”

What’s more, clear distinctions allow him to deal with even the strongest of headwinds in the industry.

“My wife and I were just having this conversation and we were going to the dictionary for prejudice versus racism. Everybody’s prejudiced. Everybody’s prejudiced. Everybody has their life experiences that make them prefer one thing over another. But there’s a connotation in racism of superiority. That you feel that your race, generally, just based on your race, is superior. And I have to say, I live with constant prejudice, but racism is actually rare.”

Beyond picking better sides, such demarcation lines also give you the freedom to pick no side.

“I was just having a debate with a friend of mine and we got stuck on the difference between fault and responsibility. She kept talking about how something was somebody’s fault. It somebody’s fault! And I was like, it really don’t matter whose fault it is that something is broken if it’s your responsibility to fix it. Fault and responsibility do not go together. It sucks, but they don’t.

Taking responsibility, accepting responsibility is not an admission of guilt. You’re not admitting that you’re at fault. Taking responsibility is a recognition of the power that you seize when you stop blaming people. It’s not like you’re letting somebody who wronged you off the hook. Taking responsibility is an act of emotional self-defense. Taking responsibility is taking your power back.”

If you put fault on one side and guilt on another, responsibility ends up in the middle. This allows you to stay in your lane, the lane that’s not just the most useful to deal with the situation, but that even leads to feeling peaceful, rather than powerless and angry.

But the most fascinating word Will Smith gets real granular about is fear.

A Safe Space in Language

If anyone’s ever taken Franklin D. Roosevelt’s quote about the only thing worth fearing being fear itself to heart, it’s Will Smith. It’s easily the word he’s built the most synonym-fences around. There’s fear as motivation…

“I live in complete terror. Everything about this business and what I’ve been trying to build and what I’ve been trying to do with my life keeps me in terror. I am deeply motivated by fear.”

…fear vs. failure…

“It’s always a little bit frustrating to me when people have a negative relationship with failure. Failure is a massive part of being able to be successful. You have to get comfortable with failure. You have to actually seek failure. Failure is where all of the lessons are.”

…and even the fear of his own power. On the first day of ninth grade, he provoked a kid into knocking him out with a combination lock, which led to said kid being arrested and expelled.

“I was laying in my bed that night and I was just feeling like sh*t, and I had the recognition that I had caused this kid to throw his life away. He was kicked out of school and I never knew what happened to him, but I have a sense that it didn’t go well beyond there. And I felt a deep sense of regret and a deep sense that I had caused an emotion in a person that made them do that. And that feeling of regret turned into a sort of a fear of how much power I had. I was like ‘everything I say and do has that kind of effect on other human beings?’ And in that moment I decided that I would never walk into a room and do anything other than inspire and uplift and enlighten people.”

In addition to motivation, failure, power, and regret, Will has contrasted fear with danger, humility, loss, and even death. What he’s done here is build a safe space in language, with pillars holding off fear on all sides. Whenever he’s afraid, he can withdraw to that space, look around, and figure out which of the pillars fear is hiding behind this time. Is he afraid the movie will flop? That the next success might go to his head? That he might die? Whatever the reason, he can then replace the word ‘fear’ with another one and attack the problem from a new angle, one from which it may be easier to pass.

For all the benefits of mastering language, mastering your fears may be the most important one. But even that pales in comparison to one other thing.


Your Entry in the Dictionary

One of the few patterns Will Smith didn’t break is that of the unexpected, 21-year-old, millionaire rapper being an expected, 22-year old, broke rapper. But even after the IRS took all his stuff, he remembered that the words ‘rich’ and ‘famous’ usually go together. So he leveraged one into getting the other back. That’s why the show was called The ‘Fresh Prince’ of Bel-Air. It made use of the name he’d already established for himself. Semantics.

From 2008 to 2012, he had a rough patch and didn’t star in any movies. Eventually, he realized he needed a new definition of the word ‘acting.’

“I’ve always been really product-oriented. I want to win. When I do something, I want to win. I have a daughter and she really shifted my focus from product to people. It took a couple of years, but as soon as I’d gotten knocked off product and started shifting to people, the whole world opened up for me again. And acting opened up in a whole new way. To not go into day one of a movie, trying to figure out what everybody has to do so we win. I fell in love and then I couldn’t imagine what else I could do that could add so much to my life, other than acting.”

There’s one last, big lesson in that: all the definitions in the world don’t help if you don’t know who you are.

The Semantics of Success

When I look at Will Smith’s progression throughout the years, it seems to me his attention spotlight really has shifted inward. His mission statement has remained the same for the last few years. It’s ‘Improve Lives.’ And what better person to start with than oneself?

“In retrospect I’ve realized I had hit a ceiling in my talent. I had a great run that I thought was fantastic and I realized that I had done everything that I could do with the ‘me’ that I had. I really dived into me and then all of a sudden it was like ‘oh!’ and I found the connection. Your work can never really be better than you are. Your work can’t be deeper than you are.”

I think the work he’s done post-2012 reflects that. He seems happier, much less focused on outcomes, like box office numbers, and more fearless than ever. The themes of the movies he chooses are even more powerful. Themes like ‘truth’ in Concussion and ‘home’ in Bright. As with words, not every film has to hit its mark perfectly to mean something.

Lately, he also started a Youtube channel, posts Instagram stories, and documents his life in the occasional vlog. Finally, there’s new music on the horizon. I think it’s no coincidence that after 30 years, Will Smith is coming full circle, right back to rapping. Because he never really stopped. He’s on the same journey he started way back when. My guess is it’ll remain his true purpose to the day he dies. A mission to redefine himself.

A mission to reinvent the meaning behind the words ‘Will Smith.’

Why Silver Linings Playbook Is One of the Best Films About Love Cover

Why Silver Linings Playbook Is One of the Best Films About Love


She almost runs into him as she cuts him off, then chases him down the street.

“How do you know when I run?”

“I wanted to clarify something. I just want us to be friends.”

He keeps running.

“Did you hear what I said? Why are you giving me such a hard time?”

“No, I’m not giving you a hard time.”

“I don’t know how to act with you when you do this shit.”

After a few more strides, he finally stops. On the building in front, it says ‘Llanerch’ in bright, red letters. He turns around.

“You wanna have dinner at this diner?”

The first time I watched Silver Linings Playbook, I was alone in my room. The second time was yesterday. Once again, it was just me, myself, and I.

In the five years between now and then, a lot’s changed. I’m about to finish my second degree, I make my own money, and I’ve finally upgraded the room to an apartment, even though it took moving eight times. The fact that I’m single is one of the few things that’s stayed the same.

Not that I didn’t have any relationships. There were some short ones, some long ones, and a great deal more that never really left the ground. It’s just that after this part of the journey, I’ve landed back in a familiar place. And yet, I’ve come a long way.

When I first saw one of 2012’s biggest surprise hit films, I was instantly swept away. But I couldn’t have told you why. Now I know. By taking us through the love story of two people with mental problems, Silver Linings Playbook lets us view the world through the eyes of the ideal lovers we all aspire to be.

More so, it shows us the price we’d have to pay: the world thinks we’re insane.


The Delusional Optimist

Pat Solitano is the embodiment of the American Dream. He’s sharp, he’s honest, he’s upbeat. He’s a perpetual optimist and he always has a plan. Striving ever higher, even his personal motto is engraved on the official New York coat of arms: Excelsior!

Sadly, Pat suffers from bipolar disorder. In a fit of violent temper, he beat his cheating wife’s affair half to death. And so he returns from his stint at a mental hospital with a massive stigma: society has branded him insane. But Pat isn’t swayed. Neither this, nor his wife’s restraining order are going to keep him from making things right. From getting the love he deserves.

Pat is the hero of the movie because as lovers, most of us start out in his place.

We indulge in all these delusions about what we’re gonna do, about who we’re gonna be. How we’re going to be united with people we barely know and how our lives will play out. I know I sure did. I would fantasize about life with a girl I had a crush on and then go to bed high on that feeling. Even though most of the time, I never actually did anything.

The one thing Pat’s got going over most of us is that the world already knows he’s out of his mind. He’s free to say what he wants, to live his crazy plans, and to call out everyone else on their own. Because he’s the purest form of the delusional, optimist lover we’ve ever seen.

Until he meets Tiffany.


The Broken Realist

Tiffany Maxwell is a more grown up version of Pat, who’s hopelessly lost in his dream. Her bubble popped just as suddenly, but in a more definite way. After her husband died, she became depressed and went on a hookup spree. She was fired and force-medicated, so now people believe she’s deranged.

Having been broken ten ways to Sunday, Tiffany is so sick of love, she doesn’t even want to try. Zero expectations. That’s why the second Pat meets her, his optimism cracks. From that moment on, he clings to his plan like a tempted child. Because he too feels the chemistry, but her realism pulls his focus away.

Tiffany is the lover we become when life strikes us down.

We learn the same, hard-earned lessons. Maybe not as rapidly, but also through countless mistakes. And sometimes, we get so frustrated that we too resign. That’s it, I’m out, no more dating, I’m sick of this game. But at least, because of her stained reputation, Tiffany is also free. If you have no expectations, there’s no one you need to please.

She’s the broken realist that’d rather live with nothing than die for a lost cause. Despite her capitulation, Tiffany knows true love is built, not found. So while Pat keeps talking about a silver lining that’s not there, she can see he’s hers.

That’s why she starts literally chasing him down the street.


The Fine Line Between Genius and Madness

Watching these two crazies is marvelous, because their social outcast status allows them to do and say everything we’re afraid to let ourselves be.

We’d love to swear whenever we feel like it, live our sexuality, call others on their bullshit, ignore people’s opinions and bluntly, relentlessly demand what we want. But we don’t. Because what would our friends and families say?

If even just for a few brief moments, Silver Linings Playbook allows us to escape. But that’s not what makes the movie so great. Its message is bigger than that. Occasionally, the two even allude to it. Like when Tiffany says that they’re “not liars, like they are.” Or when Pat suggests that “maybe we know something that you guys don’t know, okay?”

As it turns out, they do.


Catching Up

To top the madness off, Pat and Tiffany briefly switch roles near the end of the film. Hope carries the broken realist away, while reality finally punches Pat in his face. The key scene, however, is not what you’d expect it to be.

After achieving a self-imposed, somewhat arbitrary score at a competition, the whole Solitano family celebrates. It’s when the puzzled looks of observers extend beyond our two heroes that we’re given a chance to understand:

Every character in this film is already insane. Crazy. Every single one.

There’s Pat’s friend from the hospital, who’s obsessed with his hair and constantly tries to escape. His OCD, choleric, superstitious, illegally bookmaking dad. The neighbor suffocating in a needless, crushing debt spiral. His wife, Tiffany’s consumerist sister. Even Pat’s mom, his straight-A brother and his therapist. The list goes on and on.

I fell in love with this movie not because of who it showed me I could be, but because it gave me the comfort that, in a world where everyone’s an idiot, staying true to yourself isn’t such a big deal. Life itself is mental. It is an absolutely crazy experience that no one survives anyway. Silver Linings Playbook reminds us that regret, not being different, is what’s insane.

We must love with all our heart and live life to the fullest. Because there are no normal people. Just those, who are crazy in similar ways. That’s the big lesson. One everyone — the characters, the audience, even the film’s creators — can take away. It’s also why in the end, it’s Pat’s turn to chase Tiffany.

Like him, the only thing I’m sorry about is that it took me so long to catch up.