Do Self-Help Books Work? Cover

How Modern Non-Fiction Books Waste Your Time (and Why You Should Read Them Anyway)

When I first discovered non-fiction books, I thought they were the best thing since sliced bread. Whatever problem you could possibly have, there’s a book out there to help you solve it. I had a lot of challenges at the time, and so I started devouring lots of books.

I read books about money, productivity, and choosing a career. Then, I read books about marketing, creativity, and entrepreneurship. I read and read and read, and, eventually, I realized I had forgotten to implement any of the advice! The only habit I had built was reading, and as wonderful as it was, it left me only with information overwhelm.

After that phase, I flipped to the other, equally extreme end of the spectrum: I read almost no books, got all my insights from summaries, and only tried to learn what I needed to improve a given situation at any time.

So, do self-help books work? As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

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Hemingway Writing Tricks Cover

Hemingway’s 2 Best Writing Tricks

It might be Hemingway’s most famous piece of writing advice: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

Unfortunately, people always leave out the part that matters most. Here’s the full passage:

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

Without the throwing-orange-peel-into-the-fire part, we can’t understand Hemingway’s advice. That was his one true sentence, the sentence that led to the one we all quote today.

Ironically, the situation it describes is quite the opposite of how Hemingway’s brilliant quip makes him look: Ernest Hemingway suffered from writer’s block. Thank God.

It was the only thing he knew to be true at the time: When I have writer’s block, I toss fruit into a fire. So that’s where he began.

Without realizing it, long before any scientist had ever researched the topic, Ernest Hemingway had made a great discovery: If you want your habits to stick, make them ridiculously small.


“We do not rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems,” James Clear writes in his million-copy bestseller, Atomic Habits.

In the 21st century, we know a lot about habits. We know they’re automatic behaviors that help our brains conserve energy. We know they follow set patterns and that, if we adjust those patterns, we can make them work for us rather than against us.

“It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write,” Steven Pressfield says.

Let me guess: 90% of your procrastination happens when you’re supposed to start writing or when you’re supposed to finish.

That’s why Hemingway’s advice is so brilliant: It allows us to start without pressure.

If Ernest freakin’ Hemingway gave himself permission to start with one measly sentence, why don’t we?

Do we think we’re better than Ernest Hemingway? That we should have higher expectations? If one sentence will do for the master, it should definitely do for us.

Just imagine that, for 30 days in a row, you would write down the truest sentence that you know. The result would be impressive. Sure, you’d take a while each day to think about your sentence, but you’d end up with good quotes, starting points for new articles, and a bunch of solid ideas.

You would also — most likely — have more than just 30 sentences. That’s the power of starting small — and a law that goes back to Isaac Newton: Objects in motion tend to stay in motion.

James Clear has wrapped this idea into a simple concept he dubbed the 2-Minute Rule:

“To overcome procrastination, find a way to start your task in less than two minutes.”

If your daily goal is small to the point of being ridiculous, your ego will guilt-trip you into achieving it. “Write one tweet? Write 100 words? Write one true sentence? A monkey can do that! Let me get right to it.”

Ahh, the beauty of tricking yourself on purpose.


When a fellow author asked him for advice about leaving a legacy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote The Great Gatsby, simply replied: “When I was young, I asked myself that question everyday. Now, I ask myself, ‘Can I write one good sentence?’”

Focusing on one sentence a day is the ultimate antidote to overwhelm. There’s no time to worry about the height of the mountain when you’re looking at the ground to take your next step.

Fun fact: Hemingway and Fitzgerald had the same editor. Coincidence? I think not.

What’s also not a coincidence is that Hemingway used another, similar trick to both write better endings and have even more inspiration to sit down and write each day. In his own words, he always “left something in the well:”

I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it. I always worked until I had something done, and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day.

To end a writing session, stop when you know what comes next.

It doesn’t have to be a half sentence. It can be a half paragraph, an unfinished dialog, or a new character’s first action after they enter the scene.

Whatever you do, leave something in the well. Don’t burn yourself out completely each day.

Have the courage to walk away while you’re winning so you can get back to winning the next day.

Hemingway’s well will train you to remember your best ideas. You’ll also come up with new ones. Who knows how you might finish that line the next day?

Most importantly, it’ll teach you to trust yourself.

Creativity is not a bookshelf. You don’t take off all your ideas, and then you run out. You can tap into your subconscious whenever, wherever. The shelf is never empty. Behind the scenes, the gears are always working.

Creativity is like a river. You can walk to any part of it, at any point in time, and fetch a cup of water.

When push comes to shove, when you stare at the blank page and don’t know what to do, remember Hemingway’s advice: All you have to do is write one true sentence. And you don’t even have to finish it.

One Good Sentence Cover

Can You Write One Good Sentence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creativity & Breathing Cover

To Stay Creative, Remember to Breathe

“I sometimes disappear for weeks or even months at a time. When I do this, I’m not abandoning my work or being lazy. I’m just trying to breathe.”

So writes Matthew Inman, creator of the web comic The Oatmeal, in a post titled Creativity is like breathing. To explain the analogy, Inman writes: “When you make stuff, you’re exhaling. But you can’t exhale forever. Eventually, you have to breathe in. Or you’ll be dead.”

That’s why Inman spends lots of time reading books, being outdoors, and jumping from project to project, he says. They’re all forms of breathing, and they don’t just make him better at his job, they’re also reasons why he loves his job. It’s the beauty of being a creative: Everything you do is fuel for your work.

When your job is to make things, your whole life is your canvas. You can have a brilliant idea over a bowl of cereal, write about what happened on vacation, even the bad stuff, like going through a breakup, you can work into your creative output. In fact, you’ll both have to and want to.

Whatever happens in your life impacts your emotions, your thoughts, and, as a result, what the outcome looks like when you put those thoughts and emotions on paper — or any other medium. Why do you think I just used “a bowl of cereal” as an example? It’s because, for the past two days, I’ve been staring at a comic called The Oatmeal. That’s how the human mind works.

While there’s nothing you can do about your intelligence running under the influence of many biases, you likely won’t mind once you realize there’s an active benefit on top of this more passive dynamic when creating: You consciously get to work through the events in your life. Writing about a positive experience makes it better. Sharing your business failure on a podcast mellows the pain.

Soon, you’ll process your whole life in real-time through the lens of creativity — and it’s one of the most powerful forms of self-healing there is. You’ll constantly learn, evolve, and challenge yourself to accept your past by creating something others can use in the future. As wonderful as it is to find this kind of outlet, there’s a downside: Your work can become addicting.

When everything is input, it’s natural to consistently want to form output. You’ll feel like you should shape and release all your experiences and ideas, which, of course, is impossible. What’s more, not all input is created equal. Some stories will have more value to your audience than others. This is another, less appealing part of the artist’s job: You have to curate your work and select what’s most worth sharing. This is where it helps “to breathe.”

As Zat Rana put it in The Philosophical Argument for Working Less, part of respecting your work is accepting that it’s “just one part of life, not the whole thing:”

Even if you love your work more than you love anything else, you are likely to find it more complete and fulfilling if you step away from it, time to time.

Eventually, you have to breathe in — or you’ll be dead. If you’ve ever hit creator’s block after a long stretch of releasing a lot of work, you may have realized: It’s not that you can’t publish daily, it’s that your posts start to feel stale. You’re panting. Short, choppy breaths, out, out, out. You need time to breathe in — literally, and then figuratively. Beyond our own desire to insta-journal about our lives, there’s also a component of societal pressure, Zat says:

There seems to be a certain guilt in our current culture associated with just taking time to do nothing, to relax, to leisure, to waste time, and to simply have no plans. But the truth is that, without these things, you are not going to get the most out of your work anyway.

When you feel tired, sleep. When you lack good analogies, watch a movie. Don’t feel bad about taking a vacation from time to time. Leisure creates its own form of productivity. If you allow your experiences to ripen, more of them will mix. Your subconscious will add its own kind of seasoning, and, soon, it’ll send a powerful insight back to the surface.

Once that great idea strikes like lightning, you won’t be able to not act on it. A breath of truly fresh air is so empowering, you’ll have to direct it somewhere. Well-rested and fired up, you’ll rush back to your chair, ready to put out the next comic. Who knows what brilliant metaphor you’ll write about. Maybe something like, “Creativity is like breathing.”

You Don't Need Authority Cover

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

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

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

“That’s you, mom!”

“Ah, of course, I see it now!”

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

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

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

The fridge?! Are you serious?! Ohmygodthankyousomuch!

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

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


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

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

“Who am I to talk about parenting?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life will always be about the pictures on the fridge.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

Everything Popular Is Wrong Cover

Everything Popular Is Wrong

We remember Oscar Wilde as a poet, a playwright, a player who’d write. Most of us associate him with drama, both in his work and life. The Picture of Dorian Gray, a few pithy lines, an early death.

But when I look at the sea of thoughts that unravels when you click on the author of the most popular quote on Goodreads, I see none of that. I see a philosopher, full of contrarian ideas, paradoxes, and lots of new angles to look at life from.

They remind me of the beliefs of a philosopher we can still talk to: Naval Ravikant. After reflecting on an interview he did with Shane Parrish, I can’t help but notice that some of the most popular sentiments floating around Medium and the web are, well, just sentiments.

“Everything popular is wrong.” One of Wilde’s many polarizing statements. It may be hyperbole, but it’s a starting point for originality. In the echo chamber of self-improvement, some ideas have been circulating for so long, we’ve stopped questioning them.

What if we considered the possibility that these ideas are false?

1. Diversified Learning

The general consensus is that you should learn as much as you can, from as many sources as you can. When it comes to money, food, work, and material possessions, we all readily agree that more isn’t better. Why shouldn’t that apply to books? Illacertus thinks it should.

We rage against materialism, but we condone mental overstimulation. If you want to read 52 books each year, isn’t that just as much of a rat race as assembling a huge shoe collection? Why not pick your sources carefully and deeply understand them?

Maybe some of history’s greatest and time-tested books — the Bible, Tao Te Ching, Don Quixote, each hold all the advice you could ever need. Maybe, you just have to keep re-reading them. For almost all modern bestsellers, you can find a book that’s 50, 100, 500 years older and says the same thing – except it usually does it better.

The same applies to people.

2. Surrounding Yourself With Great People

We’ve all heard it a thousand times: “You are the average of the five people you surround yourself with.” We’re encouraged to keep running around, trying to find the best five people.

In reality, the only person you’re surrounded by 24/7/365 is you. Life is a single player game, as Naval puts it.

“Socially, we’re told, “Go work out. Go look good.” That’s a multi-player competitive game. Other people can see if I’m doing a good job or not.

When it comes to learn to be happy, that’s completely internal. No external progress, no external validation. 100% you’re competing against yourself, single-player game. We are such social creatures that we don’t know how to play and win at these single-player games anymore. We compete purely on multi-player games.

The reality is life is a single-player game. You’re born alone. You’re going to die alone. All of your interpretations are alone. All your memories are alone. You’re gone in three generations and nobody cares. Before you showed up, nobody cared. It’s all single-player.”

How many of your greatest insights, your most blissful moments, your most trialing challenges, how many of your “holy shits” and “oh my gods” and “I don’t knows” have happened in group sessions?

Mentors, teachers, motivators, these are all overrated. Learning to be with yourself and compete against yourself? That takes a lifetime.

3. Constant Growth

If you’re now scared because you think “Really? Living in my own head? Fighting my demons, all the time? Won’t I go mad?” then that’s an indicator for another common piece of advice gone awry. Because there’s so much motivation out there, we feel like we constantly have to keep working on ourselves.

But you know what? You don’t. You don’t need to move forward all the time. You can stand still, too. It’s just that no one tells you that’s okay. But maybe you want to take care of your kids, or your spouse, or help a friend. Or even do nothing for a while. What’s wrong with that?

What’s more, even when it comes to your bad habits, sometimes, you can just accept them. Make tradeoffs. I bite my nails while writing, all the time, but at least I write good stuff. I’m not gonna stop writing, even if it means I never stop biting my nails.

But maybe one day, I’ll stop both. It’s not like…

4. You Need an Identity to Have a Life

The reason we’re so easily sold on perpetual self-improvement is that we’re assembling a puzzle of who we are, and personal development feels like we’re filling in the gaps. With each new habit comes a new label you can put on yourself.

“What we do is we accumulate all these habits. We put them in the bundle of identity, ego, ourselves, and then we get attached to that. I’m Shane. This is the way I am. I’m Naval. This is the way I am.”

But that’s really all habits, goals, accomplishments are: Labels. The more proudly you wear them, the less you’ll be able to take them off when you need to.

Just because I’m introverted does not mean I can’t walk into any room and be the life of the party. I’m writing right now, but that doesn’t make me a writer for life. The more pieces you add to your identity construct, the easier it breaks. Identity is fragile. You aren’t.

If you put down the labeling machine, you can stay flexible and change your mind at a moment’s notice, if that’s the best option.

Who was this man? We’ll never really know.

5. Leaving a Legacy

Now, you might say “But who I am is important, because that’s what the world will remember me for.” It’s the ultimate reward for constantly growing, for shaping an identity worth admiring: legacy.

How ironic. We jump through all these hoops to get more control, to focus more on the knobs we can turn, to shape who we are, only to try and shoot for something that is completely out of our grasp. Isn’t that absurd?

No one cared about you for thousands of years before you were around and no one will thousands of years after you die. What difference does it make whether your book sells for 10 or 50 or 0 more years after you’re dead?

Imagine you couldn’t leave a legacy. Wouldn’t that allow you to focus more on what we need right here, right now? The only thing that’s guaranteed is the time that you’re here. Nothing that happened before, nothing that’ll happen after.

Maybe not even that.

6. Freedom Equals Happiness

If we’re not hustling for legacy, we’re hustling for freedom. Freedom to spend our time where we like, how we like, with whom we like. I’m guilty of this. We think all we need is money, health, and maximum choice, and then we’re free.

But maybe that’s just another self-constructed prison. Maybe there are diminishing returns to freedom. As Barry Schwartz explained, we experience anticipated regret whenever our pool of options grows too big. It hurts us even more than regretting a bad decision:

“Anticipated regret is in many ways worse, because it will produce not just dissatisfaction but paralysis. If someone asks herself how it would feel to buy this house only to discover a better one next week, she probably won’t buy this house.”

So mostly, we’re looking for the wrong kind of freedom. In the long run, travel won’t make you happier. First class seats won’t make you happier. An empty schedule won’t make you happier. But maybe not desiring those things will.

Naval says that’s because we can’t find true freedom on the outside:

“My old definition was ‘freedom to’, freedom to do anything I want. Freedom to do whatever I feel like, whenever I feel like. Now I would say that the freedom that I’m looking for is internal freedom.

It’s ‘freedom from.’ It’s freedom from reaction. It’s freedom from feeling angry. It’s freedom from being sad. It’s freedom from being forced to do things. I’m looking for freedom from internally and externally, whereas before I was looking for freedom to.”

You could be a wage slave or an actual slave, but still find happiness. Don’t put your discontent on a lack of external freedom. But maybe, even getting rid of that inner resistance is a mirage.

7. Happiness Is the End Game

I don’t like the word ‘happiness’ because it conjures such a distorted image. We connect it with excitement, with passion, with euphoria. It’s a state, a feeling, ‘happy,’ but turning it into a noun makes it feel permanent.

We now think we can reach a stage where we’re always in that state and that’s just not true, nor would we want to live that way.

“Happiness to me is mainly not suffering, not desiring, not thinking too much about the future or the past, really embracing the present moment and the reality of what is, the way it is. Nature has no concept of happiness or unhappiness. To a tree, there is no right or wrong. There is no good or bad.

Nature follows unbroken mathematical laws and a chain of cause and effect from the big bang to now. Everything is perfect exactly the way it is. It is only in our particular minds that we’re unhappy or not happy and things are perfect or imperfect because of what we desire.”

I think we should replace ‘happiness’ with ‘balance.’ It’s not about constant positivity, but about cultivating the belief that nothing’s missing. And there’s never anything missing.

The Only Thing That Remains

Sir Ken Robinson once explained why all children are geniuses:

“Kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. Am I right? They’re not frightened of being wrong. I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

“Everything popular is wrong.” No wonder we love kids. They misstep all the time, but they do it with bravado. What’s genius about this is not that they come up with so much original stuff. It’s that their default behavior remains the same in all of life’s situations: be true to yourself, whoever that is in any given moment.

What you learn, who you’re with, how fast you’re going, what people know you for, who will remember you, how free you are, and even whether you’re happy, none of these things matter.

What does is the one thing no one can ever take away from you: You are. Right here, right now. And it’ll always be this way.

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On The Art of Being Timeless

I’ve kept this line in my mind for a long time:

“Things of quality have no fear of time.” ~Unknown


Yesterday, I had a late dinner with one of my best friends, Matt. Matt is an architect and Munich is full of history, so when we met at Königsplatz at 9:30 PM, as usual, he had plenty stories to tell.

“King’s Square,” as you would translate it, is a huge, open space, housing several museums, one of which is the Glyptothek.

Timeless Glyptothek

Commissioned by the Bavarian King Ludwig I to house his collection of Roman and Greek sculptures, this building is a piece of art in and of itself. Like so many others in Munich, it casually rests in its place, timeless. For 200 years, many have stood awestruck before it, long before Matt and me and long after we’re gone, many a soul will.

Matt and my conversations are always very philosophical in nature and as the evening continued, so did its theme: what makes something timeless?

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How To Learn Faster In 4 Simple, But Not Easy Steps

I’m 100% done with my economics class for this semester, even though only 1o out of 24 lecture recordings have been uploaded so far. Each month, over a million people view my answers on Quora, though I started writing daily on there only on January 1st, 2017. I’m building an app with two friends on the side, yet I don’t know how to write code in Swift.

The list goes on. I’m always dabbling in at least 3–5 projects, all with varying degrees of experience and success. The one thing I refuse to let myself be guilty of is not learning fast enough so each of them won’t at least have a shot at working out.

This week, I thought about my learning process and asked myself what I could share with you about how to learn faster. I found four steps. Read More