The Next

 

There’s this proclivity amongst ambitious people. In those that like to go somewhere and make the proverbial ‘dent’. I call it ‘The Next’.

There’s always a next. Day done? Prepare for the next day. Finished your task? There’s 10 new waiting. All urgent, at least seemingly so. This industrious mindset, this insidious cultural conditioning, this perverted afterbirth of the devious shadow side of the industrial revolution, will burn us out in the end. It will happen to everybody. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. We’re not meant to be constantly producing. Our minds, and our bodies, function much like the ocean. Ebb and flow. Ebb and flow. Action, repose. Action, inaction.

Yes, I know you take some time off. You go to parties and dinners and movies and dates. But do you really spent time with yourself, by yourself, to recharge emotionally, energetically and creatively? Proper time sans media or other digital appliances to distract you. Do you ever engage in what Brigid Schulte calls ‘uncontaminated time’, that is: time that isn’t perturbed by thoughts, worries and thinking about anything productivity and work related.

 

Shibuya Square by Luke Zeme

Shibuya Square by Luke Zeme

 

Do you ever allow yourself to be properly bored? Bored out of your skull, to the extent that your mind subtly reinforces it’s natural tendencies upon your mental state: calmness, patience and mindfulness. Do you ever, as Josh Waitzkin so eloquently stated, allow presence to teach you how to life? Do you ever feel like you’re getting closer to this aspiration of presence:

“Once a simple inhalation can trigger a state of tremendous alertness, our moment-to-moment awareness becomes blissful, like that of someone half-blind who puts on glasses for the first time. We see more as we walk down the street. The everyday becomes exquisitely beautiful. The notion of boredom becomes alien and absurd as we naturally soak in the lovely subtleties of ‘banal.’ All experiences become richly intertwined by our new vision, and then the new connections begin to emerge. Rainwater streaming on city pavement will teach a pianist to flow. A leaf gliding easily with the wind will teach a controller to let go. A house cat will teach me how to move. All moments become each moment.”

We’re moving like a freight train on an infinite loop, passing by stations without slowing down, let alone to even think about stopping to smell the proverbial roses. We’re always concerned with the next. Next day. Next meeting. Next project. Next vacation. Next lover. Next cupcake.

Have you ever had that supposedly empyrean sensation of finally diving into that tropical sea, with the sun out in full force, and the softly-massaging sand of the white, pictoresque beaches swirling through your toes, only to think, ‘ok, well that was nice. Now what will I have for dinner? Where should we go? I think we need to head out soon, otherwise we’ll miss out.’

It’s this mindset that leads us to produce so much. But it also puts the blinds on us, leading us to ignore that exquisitely blissful sensation that is available to us, in each and every moment. This mindfulness of the present is the deciding factor of your joy, not the experienced thing itself. For Thich Nath Hahn a simple cup of coffee is infinitely more rewarding than whatever we do half-mindedly, I can guarantee you that much.

We have everything we need to be content. And the sooner you realize that the better. Here’s a first step: close down your laptop. phone or tablet.

 

 

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Breaking Rad is an ad-free labor of love. The research, reading, writing and especially the editing takes me a lot of time each month. If you get any value out of my writings, please consider buying me the proverbial cup of coffee (black, no sugar), to help fuel this project.

A Note On Superstitions, And Why Everything Is Always On The Line

 

“I get up, take a shower, have breakfast. I read the paper, brush my teeth. If I have phone calls to make, I make them. I’ve got my coffee now. I put on my lucky work boots and stitch up the lucky laces that my niece Meredith gave me. I head back to my office, crank up the computer. My lucky hooded sweatshirt is draped over the chair, with the lucky charm I got from a gypsy in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer for only eight bucks in francs, and my lucky LARGO name tag that came from a dream I once had. I put it on. On my thesaurus is my lucky cannon that my friend Bob Versandi gave me from Morro Castle, Cuba. I point it toward my chair, so it can fire inspiration into me. I say my prayer, which is the Invocation of the Muse from Homer’s Odyssey, translation by T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, which my dear mate Paul Rink gave me and which sits near my shelf with the cuff links that belonged to my father and my lucky acorn from the battlefield at Thermopylae. It’s about ten-thirty now. I sit down and plunge in…”

This very particular, elaborate to the point of bizarre, pre-work routine is courtesy of Steven Pressfield, famous author of books like Gates of Fire  and Turning Pro. I recalled it when I was pondering about the perverted interplay between superstitions and pre-work routines, after starting to read Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman , in which she discussed a surprising insight into animal behavior:

“B.F. Skinner wrote about superstitious animal behavior in 1947, when, after putting a group of pigeons in a cage with a machine that dropped food pellets at regular intervals, the birds began to behave oddly. A few of them turned in circles but only a specific number of times, or swung their heads to and fro like dizzy pendulums in sequence, apparently convinced that by repeating whatever they were doing when they were last fed, the pellets would again drop into view.

Animal magical thinking is, of course, not limited to animals [.red]. Professional athletes may be the most fitting equivalent to Skinner’s birds: the olympic swimmer Michael Phelps swings his arms exactly three times before hopping in the water to race, Michael Jordan wore his college basketball shorts under his pro basketball shorts on game days, and tennis star Serena Williams refuses to change her socks once a tournament has begun. These lucky charms may work for the athletes because they keep their confidence up and make them more comfortable. Superstitious acts by human and nonhuman animals are a function of otherwise unrelated events becoming associated in meaningful ways […] relying too heavily on one’s own limited perspective can encourage someone to ascribe meaning where it might not exist.”

It thus seems that superstitions aren’t solely the domain of the human animal, instead it’s a phenomenon that can be found in various kinds of non-human animals, like birds and dogs. A superstition is ‘an unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to certain consequences of an action or event, or a practice based on such a belief’. In plain terms, a superstition is when one beliefs that a certain thing – whether that’s an action (swinging your arms thrice) or an event (a crow at midnight spelling disaster) – will influence future events, without there being evidence of it being so.

A pre-work routine is basically a ritual, a habituated set of actions, before starting to do your work. It’s whatever gets you ready to ‘get psyched up’ to engage in a particular task, from competitive sports to painting. A pre-work routine often includes certain superstitious behavior, but not always so. Sometimes it’s loaded with the superstitious, and over time can transform into a superstition in and of itself.

Deviating, or rather, loudly and vocally eschewing any sort of superstitious behavior is Irish breakout-superstar Conor McGregor, who is a staunch opponent of such nonsensical ‘lucky charms’:

 

Conor Mcgregor -On Superstitions

 

It makes sense for an athlete in particular to oppose superstitions because the stakes are so high. Game day, or fight day in this case, is the accumulation of months of hard work and almost singular dedication, with the necessity to perform at your peak at fight time. The top combat athletes train around 2-3 months for a fight in which everything can be over in a matter of seconds, and often is. To have such an important moment hampered by superstitions, by silly nonsensicals, is illogical at best, profoundly stupid at worst.

But the truth is the stakes are high for everyone who is dedicated to a certain craft. It does not matter whether you’re playing in the Superbowl or whether you’re an ambitious creative attempting to do any culture-uplifting, work of quality. Everyday we sit down and we try to tap into a deeply hidden genius of sorts. Everyday we play with the edges of our capabilities, hoping to etch just that bit further towards something that stands the test of time. Something that hopefully even just a single person will look back upon in an inspiring ball of awe and wonderment. As Josh Waitzkin, the former-chess prodigy turned into mixed martial arts wizard, said in his deeply profound book ‘The Art of Learning‘, “the secret is that everything is always on the line. If we have any hope of attaining excellence, let alone of showing what we’ve got under pressure, we have to be prepared by a lifestyle of reinforcement.”

 

waitzkin- on the line

 

It’s a sentiment evoking Aristoteles famous “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” And that’s why, even for us mere mortals, shunned by the heroic limelights of our modern-day gladiators, it’s just as important to devise our own, personalized pre-work routine, one that does the job, yet ideally devoid of superstitions. No lucky boots, no lucky jocks, pens or whatever. A belief in superstitions is inherently fragile, as you allow part of your confidence to be determined to an arbitrary, uncontrollable factor: a piece of cloth, a silly bobblehead, or a lucky pen.

Yet, if superstitions work, they work. I don’t think anyone was admonishing Michael Phelps to get rid of his particular superstitional peculiarities. However, do realize that they always entail you releasing part of the control of your creative outcome to chance, to the arbitrary. What if, the day before the Women’s Wimbledon finals, the hotel maid had accidentally washed Serena Williams’ lucky socks. Would she’ve been put off her game by a sudden fear that the stars, this time, aren’t aligned in her favor? A profound competence, shaken by a pair of dirty socks. The mere possibility of which seems, to me at least, a disturbed balance of power. It’s fragility at its very essence.

What superstitions are in essence is objectified, unfounded faith. Putting belief in arbitrary objects or actions, while hoping they’ll connect you to some unknown supernatural force that’ll place the odds in your favor. A remnant of our pre-scientific past, when we had no explanations for bad crops, disease and falling stars.

And that makes them essentially unnecessary.

 

 

Like what you just read? Consider repaying me in kind

Breaking Rad is an ad-free labor of love. The research, reading, writing and especially the editing takes me a lot of time each month. If you get any value out of my writings, please consider buying me the proverbial cup of coffee (black, no sugar), to help fuel this project.

On The Folly Of Ignoring Reality To Follow Your Passion

 
Don’t worry about money, follow your passion instead.‘ If there’s a single overused credo swirling around in the spheres of career coaching and personal development it might be this moral precept, which has become dogmatic for most young, budding creatives. Yet, cliches exist for a reason, for they harbor a kernel of truth, in this case arguably best articulated by Alan Watts, the great British philosopher, in his “Do You Do It, or Does It Do You?” seminar:

 

“So I always ask the question: What would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life? Well it’s so amazing as the result of our kind of educational system, crowds of students say ‘Well, we’d like to be painters, we’d like to be poets, we’d like to be writers’ But as everybody knows you can’t earn any money that way! Another person says ‘Well I’d like to live an out-of-door’s life and ride horses.’ I said ‘You wanna teach in a riding school?’

Let’s go through with it. What do you want to do? When we finally got down to something which the individual says he really wants to do I will say to him ‘You do that! And forget the money!’ Because if you say that getting the money is the most important thing you will spend your life completely wasting your time! You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living – that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing! Which is stupid! Better to have a short life that is full of which you like doing then a long life spent in a miserable way. And after all, if you do really like what you are doing – it doesn’t really matter what it is – you can eventually become a master of it. It’s the only way of becoming the master of something, to be really with it. And then you will be able to get a good fee for whatever it is. So don’t worry too much, somebody is interested in everything. Anything you can be interested in, you’ll find others who are.”

Here, Watts provides an impressively sturdy argumentative undergirding to the ‘forget about money, just follow your passion’-argument. Yet, as often happens when discussing these deeply inspiring, yet ill-nuanced sayings, the phrasing itself subtly forces people to account for only two alternatives. One: follow your passion, and eventually you’ll get paid for it. Two: Don’t follow your passion and descend in existential despair in a job you hate, living a lifestyle you loathe, all of which resulting in you buying more stuff you don’t really need, a vicious, soul-sucking, vitality-leeching system that you’ll ultimately take with you into your regretful grave as a broken, disillusioned shell of your former self.

But that’s the ill-nuanced version. And the problem with similar fancy one-liners is that most often our world is infinitely more nuanced than mere black and white situations, best illustrated by the fallacy of ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ Tell that to Michael Schumacher, the great racing driver who’s now living his life with locked-in syndrome, the result of a recreational skiing accident. I don’t think he agrees.

The ‘always follow your passion’-argument also paints the idyllic picture that if you do follow your passion, money will sort itself out. In doing so it ignores the practical reality of being able to subsist. It seduces you in a distorted, hyper-romantic sense of reality, a creative fairytale of sorts, yet unfortunately that’s just not the way our society operates. In a world where, to paraphrase the iconic designer Massimo Vignelli, the vulgar and morally corrupt commercial interests rules over culture-uplifting, highly qualitative creations, the stark reality is that if you’re ever going to be paid for producing something that will raise our culture even a mere inch higher out of vulgarity, chances are that this will take years to accomplish.

Designed by Vignelli (by Paul Songco)

Designed by Vignelli (by Paul Songco)

I’m not saying this to crush your dreams or to steer you away from pursuing your passion. I’m merely admonishing you to not disregard the practicalities of life.

The truth is that a lot of accomplished creatives never followed their passion at first. They all had to work for a living. Some also did it so they would lead an interesting life, allowing them to actually have something interesting to say. Ryan Holiday, for example, always knew he wanted to be a writer, but before he could accomplish this he first had to go through some formative years of labor, rising the ranks of the diabolical online media industry, a detour to his eventual goal, writing wonderfully wise books on (Stoic) philosophy. Sam Sheridan also comes to mind, who held an eclectic palette of odd jobs, from wildland firefighter EMT and working construction in the Antarctic to circumnavigating the world’s oceans, before sitting down to write the amazing A Fighter’s Heart.

Image by Anoldent (Flickr)

Image by Anoldent (Flickr)

Charles Bukowski struggled for many years as a viciously scornful mail man, until a publisher saw something in Bukowski, and offered him a monthly stipend of $100 so he could fully focus on writing. Two years later, he produced his first novel, The Post Office.

And Steven Pressfield, author of The War Of Art and Turning Pro hauled trucks across the country and worked a variety of odd jobs, like strenuous seasonal labor, just so he could afford himself the six months of solitary confinement he needed, isolated in a remote log cabin, to finally ‘turn pro’ and finish the book he had in mind.

Same goes for Chuck Palahniuk, who wrote Fight Club in his spare time, while working as a diesel mechanic, again hauling trucks across America (hmm, I’m noticing a trend here…)

These icons didn’t just follow the impractical, unnuanced folly of ‘just follow their passion no matter what’. They all understood, and likely begrudgingly so, that following you calling oftentimes means sacrificing a part of your life at first, so that you have the financial buffer to start fully focusing on your creative pursuits. It didn’t mean they put off their dreams, it merely meant that they sacrificed the short-term for the long-term; losing the initial battle, but winning the war (of art).

Sometimes it’s good to follow the money, as long as your focus remains clear: cultivating your creative calling, whether that’d be painting, designing, writing or making fancy origami.

Full-time jobs suck, yet oftentimes they are a necessary obstacle. If you’re truly a budding, talented creative, you will eventually create. Over the centuries, plenty of great artists have found a way to create, despite their difficult circumstances. Despite their lack of time. Despite the death-stare of the empty canvas, the empty page, or the unsculpted rock.

And if you find a way to not create, most of the time this means that your priorities simply lay elsewhere.

And that’s ok. Just don’t delude yourself.

 

Like what you just read? Consider repaying me in kind

Breaking Rad is an ad-free labor of love. The research, reading, writing and especially the editing takes me a lot of time each month. If you get any value out of my writings, please consider buying me the proverbial cup of coffee (black, no sugar), to help fuel this project.

1

The 40 Hour Work Week, And The Greatest Paradox Of Our Culture

 

My good friend, and iconoclast-in-crime, Rutger van der Zee brought my attention to an essay by David Cain, titled ‘Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed [The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)‘. A hidden gem in our blogosphere of listicles and ill-thought-out opinion-venting, which at times is pretty darn profound in its incisive critiquing of our Western culture of busyness, although at times Cain arguably stretches his argumentative reasoning a bit too far in an attempt to blame everything on ‘big corpo’. I say arguably, but I tend to agree with him on mostly everything. For more about David Cain, check out his blog, Raptitude.com

Cain starts things off with a simple, yet unfortunately all too familiar observation for most, as he transitioned from a long period of travel, discovery and leisure back into our society’s status quo, the dreaded full-time employment:

“Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months of traveling.

Because I had been living quite a different lifestyle while I was away, this sudden transition to 9-to-5 existence has exposed something about it that I overlooked before.

Since the moment I was offered the job, I’ve been markedly more careless with my money. Not stupid, just a little quick to pull out my wallet. As a small example, I’m buying expensive coffees again, even though they aren’t nearly as good as New Zealand’s exceptional flat whites, and I don’t get to savor the experience of drinking them on a sunny café patio. When I was away these purchases were less off-handed, and I enjoyed them more.

I’m not talking about big, extravagant purchases. I’m talking about small-scale, casual, promiscuous spending on stuff that doesn’t really add a whole lot to my life.

[…]
What I’m doing isn’t unusual at all. Everyone else seems to do this. In fact, I think I’ve only returned to the normal consumer mentality after having spent some time away from it.”

 

The reason for this “lifestyle of unnecessary spending“, Cain concludes, is an economy-wide system in which “companies in all kinds of industries have a huge stake in the public’s penchant to be careless with their money. They will seek to encourage the public’s habit of casual or non-essential spending whenever they can.” Or, in more popular phrasing, courtesy of the brilliant Chuck Palahniuk:

Chuck Palahniuk on advertising
Following this, David Cain argues that the truly previous things in life actually don’t take up that much of our financial resources (if at all), but while they lack in monetary prerequisites they are quite voracious with, perhaps, our two most important currencies: time and energy. And having the time, and not only having the time but also the mental and physical energy required to properly engage in these soul-satisfying activities with the exuberance and enthusiasm they deserve, is what the forty-hour workweek taketh away from us.

And as a consequence of our lack of time and energy, we instead try to satisfy our deep-psychological longings by spending more on passive, superficially entertaining distractions, which at once can be seen as a sort of cognitive dissonance for the masses as well as a socially-accepted avoidance of spending your life away on trivialities. As the great Stoic philosopher Seneca quipped in his profound essay ‘On the shortness of Life’ , “It is not that we have so little time but that we waste so much of it.” Cain takes his scathing critique even further by arguing that the forty-hour workweek conveniently addresses the corporations’ need for a hyper-consumeristic public:

“The ultimate tool for corporations to sustain a culture of this sort is to develop the 40-hour workweek as the normal lifestyle. Under these working conditions people have to build a life in the evenings and on weekends. This arrangement makes us naturally more inclined to spend heavily on entertainment and conveniences because our free time is so scarce.
I’ve only been back at work for a few days, but already I’m noticing that the more wholesome activities are quickly dropping out of my life: walking, exercising, reading, meditating, and extra writing.

The one conspicuous similarity between these activities is that they cost little or no money, but they take time.
[…]
But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.

We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.”

Here, Cain arrives at what might be the greatest paradox of our times, at least for most affluent Western societies, postulating that our need for ‘happiness’ – a need which isn’t just inherent to our nature but one that’s also been severely magnified and distorted by the near-constant bombardment of advertising – ultimately keeps us in dis-ease, because our modern capitalist economies are, in essence, driven by the demands for cures for our disease, our discomfort of the body and the soul. Cures that our economies can’t properly solve, because the biggest cure of all – the removal of chronic stress and an increased allotment of free time  – would be to abolish the forty-hour workweek, or at the very least significantly redesign our society’s concept of full-time employment.

“All of America’s well-publicized problems, including obesity, depression, pollution and corruption are what it costs to create and sustain a trillion-dollar economy. For the economy to be “healthy”, America has to remain unhealthy. Healthy, happy people don’t feel like they need much they don’t already have, and that means they don’t buy a lot of junk, don’t need to be entertained as much, and they don’t end up watching a lot of commercials.

The culture of the eight-hour workday is big business’ most powerful tool for keeping people in this same dissatisfied state where the answer to every problem is to buy something. “

Is the primary driver of our economies, human dis-ease, paradoxically the very thing that most corporations pretend to solve?

 

Like what you just read? Consider repaying me in kind

Breaking Rad is an ad-free labor of love. The research, reading, writing and especially the editing takes me a lot of time each month. If you get any value out of my writings, please consider buying me the proverbial cup of coffee (black, no sugar), to help fuel this project.




The Nature Of Creativity, And The Essential Skill For Cultivating It

 

“A great artist is but a conduit for an expression that resonates with something that is greater than him or herself,”

the late, great Lebanese-American poet and writer Khalil Gibran proclaimed. This notion is at the heart of one of Jason Silva’s recent Shots of Awe, bite-sized audiovisual espresso-shots-of-intellectual-awesomeness – each just long enough to go deep, but short enough for my generation’s widespread Attention Deficit Disorder – titled ‘What is Creativity?‘ In the video, Silva uses Gibran’s quote as a springboard to ponder the nature of creativity, expanding on the possibility that creativity is not so much an individual quality of producing but more so a way of us mortals gaining access to a sort of divine, hyper-intelligent cosmos and that creative production, or creative output, is that which we bring back to earth whence we’ve detached our minds from this divine stream. (Video below)

It’s a beautiful, romantic view of creativity, likely undergirded by some strong religious convictions by whoever first conceptualized this notion. It’s beautiful, but wrong. Contrastingly, I put more faith in Maria Popova’s (of Brain Pickings fame) hypothesis on the well from which creativity springs forth. Popova, in her signature eloquence, beliefs that human creativity is a combinatorial force:

“It’s our ability to tap into our mental pool of resources — knowledge, insight, information, inspiration, and all the fragments populating our minds — that we’ve accumulated over the years just by being present and alive and awake to the world, and to combine them in extraordinary new ways. In order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these pieces and build new ideas.

I think of it as LEGOs — if the bricks we have are of only one shape, size, and color, we can build things, but there’s a limit to how imaginative and interesting they will be. The richer and more diverse that pool of resources, that mental library of building blocks, the more visionary and compelling our combinatorial ideas can be.”

Yet ultimately, for any creative out there it doesn’t really matter who’s more likely to be right. While opinions about the nature of creativity and originality are divided, most of the important artists – whether it’d be painters, musicians or writers – agree about what it takes to ‘do’ creative, original work. And whether this is due to us tapping into a cosmic stream of higher consciousness or due to the cognitive capabilities of our own minds and making LEGO based on our experiences, the recipe stays the same, best verbalized by Steven Pressfield when he elaborates on the single most important skill for any artist:

“The ability to sit down and do her work.”

After all, as Thomas Edison once said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” And like most skills, learning it is pretty straight-forward: You start doing it, you continue doing it, and then you find out you’re actually learning it.

It’s simple, but not easy.

And as I’m growing older, and have read more books, studied more and more creative routines of successful artists and even businessmen, and have seen more people in my environment succeed and fail, I’m now more convinced than ever that consistency is what sets the very good apart from the mediocre.

The only thing for us to ask ourselves each and everyday is: Which path am I taking?

 

Like what you just read? Consider repaying me in kind

Breaking Rad is an ad-free labor of love. The research, reading, writing and especially the editing takes me a lot of time each month. If you get any value out of my writings, please consider buying me the proverbial cup of coffee (black, no sugar), to help fuel this project.




1

Ryan Holiday, and the importance of the Grand Strategy

 

I imagine Ryan sitting alone behind his desk, smirking contently, after he signed the deal for his third book, The Obstacle is the Way, confabulating with himself, ‘You did it, man. We have arrived. Here, where we’ve wanted to be all along.’

Ryan who? Ryan Holiday, who rose from the obscurity of being a college dropout to becoming the Director of Marketing for American Apparel and publishing consultant to Robert Greene, Tim Ferriss and many others. Prodigious reader, ardent stoic advocate, pet goat owner and 3-time author of, respectively, Trust Me, I’m LyingGrowth Hacker Marketing and The Obstacle is the Way.

A few years ago many saw him as a young, hot-shot upstart with questionable business-ethics. A brass, cocky ‘media manipulator’ who’s now, ever so smoothly, metamorphosed into a voice for his generation.

Yes, Ryan Holiday. Who once connived with his client, Tucker Max, to spray-paint their own billboards to get more publicity for his book, ‘I hope they serve beer in hell’ – and somehow also managed to get their money back from the billboard owner. Holiday, the notorious marketing genius behind most of the controversial publicity campaigns of American Apparel, ranging from spicy billboard campaigns with half-naked porn starlets to ‘leaked’ pictures of private company parties. That guy.

From controversial media figure to author of one of the premier books on Stoicism. From extolling shady tactics to trick the online media monster to educating his peers on the importance of using actionable philosophy to gain perspective, clarity and purpose in one’s own path.

And here’s the kicker: This was his plan all along.


In hindsight, it was’t that surprising. Ryan’s been on my radar for years. A role model of sorts, but not primarily because I wanted to make it in the online media world as well, as some of my friends assumed. Mostly, it was because of his own blog, where his writing, even going back as far as seven years ago, emanates a certain wisdom and maturity beyond his, our, years.

Right off the bat I found myself agreeing with him on some of the more subtle but important notions that occupies the mind of a young man trying to go places, ranging from using stoicism as the bedrock of one’s own personal philosophy to wearing mostly the same clothes everyday and eating the same breakfast over and over in order to minimize decision fatigue. But what we share on the intellectual sphere, we differ(ed) on the societal plane. He was going places, I wasn’t (stuck in academia, by lack of better excuse). He already had his things figured out, I didn’t.

One of the articles that most stood out for me was about the necessity of a Grand Strategy, a relatively obscure piece in which he highlighted the importance of always being aware of the big picture, in terms of your career and life in general.

Re-reading this again recently made me realize that the ‘media manipulator’ and the ‘growth hacker’ were just stepping stones. Obstacles in his way towards fully realizing his vocation: a writer.

It explains why he wrote ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying’, a thorough expose on the contemporary online media industry – and their penchant for likes over journalistic integrity, facts and real, human lives. Why would anyone write such a book, when you’re so successful and deeply entrenched in that industry yourself? Why burn the bridges that lead to your own estate?

It’s because it was never his intention to stay there. It was the first obstacle in his path and instead of avoiding it, he used it to the fullest – fully embodying Marcus Aurelius mantra: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way” – by extracting all the necessary resources from it to become a writer. He befriended very well known entrepreneurs like Tim Ferriss and Ramit Sethi and he made sure he was set – financially and experientially – to start focusing on his books.

Looking back at it, it makes a lot of sense, although I don’t doubt there was also a pretty significant improvisational aspect towards his path. But, even from the first time of reading one of his articles – way, way before his first book came out – I always saw a much more compassionate, intellectual person than the typical advertising exec, forever chasing better deals and superficial advertising awards.

It took me until recently to finally understood his reasoning – his ‘why’ for starting in the advertising industry – and it is what I believe to be the writer’s dictum: Good writers lead interesting lives.

And while Sam Sheridan “did a bunch of fun shit” and then started to write about it, Holiday always wanted to be a writer and figured out he needed to live an interesting live first:

 

quotation-mark

“Trying to be successful isn’t exactly a goal or a motivation. I always wanted to be a writer—books specifically—but when I looked at other writers I admired I realized that they’d had these amazing, interesting lives. So I went out and tried to live that. It drew me to business and marketing and unusual controversial people and that made me successful (financially at least) and then put me in a position to write books and have something to say.”

For me, Ryan Holiday is one of the greater success stories amongst my peers. Sure, there are others with more money or with more sellable business assets. But success isn’t about your bank account, the car you drive or the clothes on your back. Real success, real wealth, is about autonomy and influence. And Holiday has both, in ample amounts.

Ryan Holiday is faced with the unfamiliar position of being a twenty-something that has already achieved what he set out to do; becoming a successful writer. To be more specific, a triple-time author with a recurring book deal, well-connected with a good reputation, wife, house, pets and a devoted fan following.

This is more than 99% of writers will ever achieve.

‘What now?’ doesn’t seem like the right question for a devout stoic like Holiday. I don’t assume him to be a slave to his own career, forever wanting to one-up his latest project, forever chasing more achievements without reflecting with gratitude on what he’s already accomplished. No, Seneca would brandish him for that. I’m sure he’s well aware.

No, I’d like to ask another question: What’s next, Ryan?

 

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Breaking Rad is an ad-free labor of love. The research, reading, writing and especially the editing takes me a lot of time each month. If you get any value out of my writings, please consider buying me the proverbial cup of coffee (black, no sugar), to help fuel this project.




1

Sam Sheridan and the writer’s dictum, gameness and advice for the freshly graduated

 

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“Oh yeah, life advice: Be curious. Savagely.”

‘Interesting writers lead interesting lives’, so goes the well-known dictum about (non-fiction) writing.

And none more so than Sam Sheridan, author of A Fighter’s Heart, The Fighter’s Mind (both tremendous books about the martial arts and their accompanying life philosophies) and The Disaster Diaries (an inquiry into the survival skills necessary to survive various apocalyptic scenario’s – some very real, some far fetched).

As I’m writing this I’m struggling to recall someone with a more eclectic list of experiences than Sheridan: Joined the Merchant Marines straight out of high school. Circumnavigated the world by boat. Did construction work at the Antarctica. Lived for months in a traditional muay thai camp in Thailand (before it was hip), a transformative period that culminated in a professional fight with a Japanese karate champion/probable Yakuza gang member (video here), which resulting in a profile piece for National Geographic. Former wildland firefighter. Wilderness EMT. Trained with a wide array of the worlds premier martial – ranging from the Brazilian Top Team, the infamous Miletich Fighting Systems to Virgil Hunter & Andre Ward – in research for A Fighter’s Mind. Did a 10-day silent retreat in a Buddhist Monastery (tried this myself and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done). Built iglo’s and hunted seal with the Inuit in north, north, nooorth Canada. Spend weeks in the Amazonian rainforest with a bunch of local indios (…que no hablan ingles, nada) just for kicks.The list goes on and on.

Did I mention he majored in art at Harvard?

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Sam Sheridan & Son

Sheridan ain’t no phony, that’s for sure. Few other contemporary writers research and live their books to such excruciating, vivid and often tormenting extent as Sam does in his experiential prose. As such, it becomes easy to perceive Sheridan as an ordinary, run-of-the-mill, ‘life fast, die hard’ dare-devil. Yet, underneath this superficial facade of thrill-seekery and seemingly unbridled adventure Sheridan repeatedly touches upon a deeper subject in his books, an alarming societal development that is more and more become a pressing issue in the psyches of modern men (and women): our estrangement from our natural habitat, as brought forth by the technological advances of modern society.

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“It’s almost impossible for modern man to realize how soft he is. […] “I’m a big fan of misery, otherwise you just don’t appreciate the good stuff. When [after some kind of crazy escapade, ed.] you get into a hotel room and that feels like just the greatest thing that has ever happened, and you’re like ‘oh my god this hot water, this is the best thing ever!’ […] In order to appreciate the good you have to suffer a little bit.” 

For Sheridan, this isn’t about checking off a collection of semi-arbitrary items from a personal bucket list, it’s about being prepared, for whatever. Or, using his nomenclature, it’s about ‘gameness’. Being game for the unexpected, yet very real, curve balls that life throws in one’s way. For when a burglar enters your home, for when you’re stranded in the wild with a broken car and in desperate need of food and shelter, for when you wake up at night in a cough of smoke and realize your house is on fire, and your loved ones need rescuing.
And one becomes game by preparation. And preparation, properly preparing, means stepping outside of your comfort zone. That awkward, insecure mental space were the keys to unlocking one’s true potential lie hidden.
 
Sam in the jungle, doing his best philosopher's pose.

Sam in the Jungle

Mundi ex igne factus est.

The world is made of fire.

It’s Sheridan’s governing precept, forever to be reminded of by way of a prominent tattoo on his arm. It captures the idea that the good life is born out of struggle and discomfort, that advancements – whether societal or individual – are made when we pioneer into unchartered territory. Safety and comfort are the true dangers of the soul; our conditioned ‘softness’ is what prevents us from real joy and content.

It’s only when we step into the unknown – that fiery pit, where ‘the night is dark and full of terrors’ – and make it our own by becoming comfortable with it, that we’ll ultimately arrive were we want to end up in life. We expand what we can handle by becoming familiar with it. And as a result, we start doing what we dream of doing.

But while we might not all be made for similar extreme endeavors as Sheridan, his body of work does provide us with a stark reminder, a beacon of both inspiration and aspiration, that we should explore our own limits and chase our own inherent curiosity, instead of slowly wilting under society’s pressures to shape ourselves into fitting cogs in our society’s capitalist machine of hyper-consumerism, existential boredom and superficial, ephemeral entertainment. As the ever prescient Henry David Thoreau once remarked:

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“All men are not equally fit subjects for civilization; and because the majority, like dogs and sheep, are tame by inherited disposition, this is no reason why the others should have their natures broken that they may be reduced to the same level.”

To preserve this human sense of ‘wildness’, Sheridan advices people to follow their own curiosities and not worry about a ‘career’ for the first ten years after graduating:

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“I do things out of a genuine interest, a desire for knowledge, a deep and abiding curiosity that I think is the birthright, the God-given duty, of a citizen of the world.”

I’d recommend any of Sam’s books, perhaps especially so for people that have little affinity with subjects like martial arts and doomsday prepping. Sheridan is a great storyteller and will make you laugh, make you think, and provide you with fascinating insights that you can apply to your own ‘struggles’ in life.

 

Like what you just read? Consider repaying me in kind

Breaking Rad is an ad-free labor of love. The research, reading, writing and especially the editing takes me a lot of time each month. If you get any value out of my writings, please consider buying me the proverbial cup of coffee (black, no sugar), to help fuel this project.




A Declaration (of sorts)

 

Looking back at it, it’s been an inconvenient moral principle that has, slowly but steadily, been creeping its way into my ethos ever since I graduated from high school. Like a seed that was planted in my subconscious many years ago, but one that has been growing ever since, all the while accumulating more evidence and forming more robust arguments, waiting to present itself at the right time.

A feeling that emerged stealthy at first – breezing its way in and out of my thoughts like a light summer breeze – but over time shedding it’s innocent demeanor and transforming itself into a near-constantly tormenting hurricane of existential stress that could no longer be denied.

And it was in the midst of this quarter-life crisis – likened by a friend of mine as ‘that big, black hole’ – that I read some very timely advice: ¹

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“You will NEVER have the energy that the people whom you compare with have. Because they are being themselves, and are connected to the natural wellspring of motivation that comes from genuine interest, while you are the salmon swimming upstream, aping societal ideals and trying to be someone you are not.

Choose the opposite for a while: stop doing things that don’t motivate you. Find out what motivates you. Be spontaneous. If you find a small plant at the roadside that you want to water, do it. Observe that absolutely no effort was required in this action. This is the mark of genuine flow: you will not feel the effort. If you chance upon some project which you execute in this natural state of interest, you will not feel tired.”

For all this time of finding out what I was supposed to do with my life, it was always influenced by the pink elephant in the room: money. Because you need money to live. But what if I followed this contrarian advice, this slap in the face of almost anything our modern productivity fetishizing society stood for?

And so I did. I dropped my well thought-out plans for my (freelance) career in online advertising and started doing only things I felt like doing. Well, not only as I still have bills to pay and groceries to fetch. But mostly.

So I started reading more. Having coffee with friends. Doing yoga or strength training. Binge watching my new favorite show. Multi-hour long conversations with friends, without feeling the urge to break away in order to do something ‘productive’. In short, whatever I felt like.

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The Tree Of Life. Image By Jim Nix.

 
And over the period of a few weeks of valuing presence, spontaneity and fun over productivity and ‘making money’ a realization started presenting itself. First as a vague romantic notion, then ever more clearly and more fully formed:

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‘Even if you’re going to do something just for the money, you’ll still have to get the hours in to become good at it. And even then you won’t be where you want to be, you’ll only be making decent money. So why not start with something you like. Something that you’d do if money was no concern?’

Cliches exist for a reason, for they harbor a kernel of universal truth about the human condition. And while you may have heard a similar cliche being uttered, as have I, many times by all kinds of new-age gurus – e.g. “do what you love” – there’s a profound difference in hearing versus clearly perceiving something, akin to a buddhist monk, deep in meditation, finally directly experiencing what the Buddha meant by ‘the illusion of the self’.

What starts of as a vague, idyllic notion at first gets internalized, through direct experience, until it becomes part of you.

And then, there’s no going back.

I feel, deeply, that when you’ve found something that doesn’t feel like work you should strive to make it your work. A somewhat similar remark was uttered by Paul Graham – in a brilliant, short essay about work: ²

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“What seems like work to other people that doesn’t seem like work to you?”

It’s a simple question, but hard to answer.

Through observation of my environment I’ve come to the conclusion that all the people I know that are (very) good at something have achieved their level of skill by an inherent curiosity for, and joy in, their craft. From championship baristas and musicians to highly skilled data scientists and Strength & Conditioning coaches.

And the undeniable truth is that if you want to earn a living that makes a difference you have got to become very good at something valuable, whether it’s painting or becoming a doctor.

And in doing so there are no shortcuts. At least not when it comes to doing anything remotely creative and skillful. As Joe Rogan once discerningly proclaimed: ³

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“Everybody wants to win the lottery but the lottery will fucking ruin you. You have to earn the whole thing. In order to be a real man or a real woman you have to earn the whole thing.”

What he is alluding to is that it’s the process that counts, not the end goal. It’s the process that builds character and will enrich your life with valuable experiences and life lessons. It’s being engulfed in the process that’ll lead to a full life. ‘The good life’. The ‘trophy’, so to speak, is just the by-product of your work. An artifact. It’s little more than an acknowledgement that you’re on the right track.

And while a small part of me still feels a sense of obligation to start working for a large firm – most likely a notion that’s been impregnated by my masters program in Business Administration and the commencement speech of our rector magnificus, who was extolling on our duty to use our specialized knowledge to help the worlds largest firms with their most pressing problems – I think this more likely is a classic case of cultural conditioning, instead of some deep, enlightening internal realization.

In the end it boils down to what I want and what fits my personality. This moral principle is exactly what Josh Waitzkin was describing at when when he stated: 4

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“Listen deeply, internally, to the core of your being and build your game plan from there. Trust your gut. Build the lifestyle around listening to that. Cultivate the love.”

And when it comes down to brass tacks, the truth is simple. What I ultimately want to do is to observe, to learn, to write and to teach.

And thus, the journey begins.

 

Sources:

¹ Credits for the find go to Pieter Levels, the smart mind behind Nomad List. Original source is:  Credits to levels.io, who tweeted this out after he found it here on Hackernews.
² http://paulgraham.com/work.html
³ Joe Rogan & Bryan Callen on Haters and Inspiration. The entire video is worth a watch.
4 Josh Waitzkin (exact source unknown, but likely quoted from the Tim Ferriss podcast).

 

Like what you just read? Consider repaying me in kind

Breaking Rad is an ad-free labor of love. The research, reading, writing and especially the editing takes me a lot of time each month. If you get any value out of my writings, please consider buying me the proverbial cup of coffee (black, no sugar), to help fuel this project.