The end of a long cruise always feels a bit unfair. It doesn't seem right that tomorrow morning I'll be unceremoniously dumped onto the pier in Yokohama, Japan. Over the past fifteen days I've become accustomed to my new social circle of nine friends and a couple thousand senior citizens. The new routines we've made feel normal and I'm not ready to give them up.
I've wanted to go on a transpacific cruise for a long time. Transatlantics are my favorite, but going across the pacific affords more sea days and brings me to my favorite continent. There are only one or two that leave each year, though, so it's not as easy to schedule as a transatlantic.
Over the course of a few months I brought the cruise up with a bunch of friends. Ben Yu, Nick Gray, Jimmy Hayes, Doug Barber, and Dick Talens all agreed to come. Ben brought his friend Adrienne Tran, Nick brought Amit Gupta, Jimmy and Doug brought Jodi Ettenberg, and Dick brought Debra Romer.
Having met everyone but Debra, that gave us a crew of ten with me at the hub. Most others hadn't met each other before. It's a great testament to my friends that no matter what large group I combine them into, everyone seems to become best friends instantly.
From across the world we came together in Vancouver and boarded the boat two weeks ago. We had lunch together, got to know each other a bit, and then began to explore the ship. It didn't take us long for us to find the empty conference room, hook up the microphone, and begin talking.
Nick and I held a mock seminar about sardines, answering softball questions with funny answers. An old man poked his head into the door, and he was quickly hustled into a seat, where he confusedly listened to me ramble about the ethics of eating sardines. He stayed for the whole seminar, and even applauded at the end. He did bolt pretty quickly, afterwards, though.
Nick, ever prepared for group activities, brought ten green bandannas, a bunch of trophies, some kites, masks, and a watercolor paint set. The green bandannas were handed out and rules were put into place. When asked about the bandanna, you must explain that you're a member of the first ever cruise gang. If you are caught not wearing your bandanna, you must do ten pushups. If you are late, you do a pushup for each minute you're late.
From what I understand, no cruise has more consecutive sea days than a transpacific. Our first nine days were all sea days, which are always my favorite.
I'd have to go back and look, but it seemed like every single day had a time zone change. So we had twenty-five hours to make a schedule every day. These extra-long days are my favorite luxury in the world. You stay up late, yet magically wake up early every day.
At ten, I'd make tea. I had my friend Jody from Tap Twice Tea make individual servings of all of his teas, and I shipped a water filter, pitcher, gaiwan, ten cups, and immersion heater ahead. Not everyone came every day, but those who did would sit around for an hour or so. By the end we were sitting on the back deck of the boat, which is an amazing time for morning tea.
We'd often work out after tea. Dick, co-founder of Fitocracy, started a Green Gang program called "Dick Training", where he would take us to the gym and give us a routine to do.
By the time we finished training, we'd have lunch. The first few days were normal lunch, but very quickly we invented Business Lunch, or BLunch for short. Each person was assigned one day for their BLunch. They'd present their business, take questions about it, and then present the biggest problem they were working on. Then for the rest of the two hour lunch, there would be a dialog about how to solve the problem.
The quality of feedback and advice was the highest I've ever seen anywhere. I got tons of clarity on Sett, and from a third-party perspective, I thought that everyone else got phenomenal advice. This quickly became most people's favorite part of the day.
After lunch, the three o'clock poker tournament began. They actually had three tournaments every day, but two were during BLunch, and I never wanted to miss it. I played eight times and won five of them, which says more about the competition than me.
Following the tournament, most of us would congregate in the wine lounge, where we never once drank wine. It was all about the comfy chairs, power plugs, and relative low traffic. Sometimes we'd work, sometimes we'd have long conversations notably absent of cell phone interruptions.
Dinner was at the formal dining room all but one time. Half the time was spent talking, and the other half was spent on increasingly intense games of Werewolf (also known as Mafia). I always order a ton of food on cruises, but I was routinely put to shame by other people at the table. Almost everyone was doing triple appetizers and double entrees every night.
From pretty early on, we dominated cruise life aboard the ship. The overwhelming majority loved us, but we did make a few enemies in people who thought we were too rowdy and not tuxedoed enough. There may have also been a complaint about a Green Gang member bringing watercolors to dinner and painting a lot of portraits.
We came up with a call-and-response gang salute, which I'd estimate was adopted by 20-25% of the passengers. They'd come up to us, hold out their forearm and say, "Cruise Hard!". We'd cross our forearm with theirs, and say, "Cruise Life". It's very rare to walk anywhere on the ship without hearing chants follow us.
Near where we'd hang out all day was a large knitting group, so in a formal procession we proposed a peace treaty between "the two largest gangs on the ship", and offered a combined salute of "Knit hard!" "Cruise hard!".
Using Nick's trophies, we began giving out awards. We'd walk single file into the dining room, Nick playing the harmonica, snaking around the tables. When we finally found our target, I'd yell, "Hear Ye, Hear Ye!" and begin a short speech about the recipient. We'd then ceremoniously pass the trophy from member to member and present it. Tears of joy were shed.
On our first night, we roped one random passenger into joining our procession. He was really great, so we awarded him the trophy the next day. He continued to join our procession on following days.
In order to communicate better, I built a quick webapp that would run on the intranet so that we could all chat from our phones and computers. Ben then took that and built a whole site around it with news, photos, information, and a gossip section. Gossip poured in from passengers.
We held a small meet and greet informational session, which sixteen passengers joined. We printed over one hundred newsletters and distributed them to passengers.
Describing the takeover wouldn't be complete without a brief description of what happened at karaoke. Debra and I got there early to sing a Jay-Z and Beyonce song. Reactions were mixed and lukewarm. Then Doug, Jodi, and Jimmy each sang songs that blew the audience away. I tentatively put in "Baby Got Back", sure my group would like it, but that the crowd wouldn't.
When my song came on, Debra, Jimmy, and Doug faced away from the audience and began shaking their butts. Inspired, I knew that I had to go one hundred percent with Sir Mix-A-Lot's classic. I gave it everything, running up to old ladies and singing to them, pointing, and dancing. My backup dancers also gave it 100% the entire time. The audience loved it. Then a couple songs later Jimmy and Doug belted out a Backstreet Boys song with full romance and emotion, bringing the audience to their knees once again.
For the rest of the cruise we had people coming up to us telling us how much they loved us at Karaoke.
Port days are always less exciting to me than the sea days. I love seeing new places, but the appeal of cruises is the magic of the isolation in the middle of the ocean. However, this cruise had four awesome days at port.
Our first stop was Petropavlovsk, Russia, which gave the impression that it wasn't frequently visited by ships. Russia doesn't allow independent travelers without visas, so we booked a custom tour through Sokol Tours. Our tour guide, Olga, was awesome. She took us to the fish market, where we sampled a bunch of caviar, and then to Partunka hot springs.
The springs were aesthetically amongst the least impressive I've seen, but the two pools were perfect temperatures. Better were the locals, a dozen or so Russian kids who were thrilled to encounter foreigners. They joked around with us, tried their English, listened to my Russian, and then took about a million photos with us. For me, that was the highlight of the tour.
Afterwards we were dropped off near the ship, but still had a few hours to go. We walked around a bit, saw a big hill with an amateur path running through it, and started climbing. When we reached the top we were rewarded with a really great birch forest, and a cliff extending more than a hundred feet from the ocean, looking over the bay and our ship. We took the long way back down, passing wild dogs and families strolling their kids around.
Our next port was Otaru, Japan. We hustled to a train station and headed for Noboribetsu. Todd and I first found Noboribetsu seven years ago when some fishermen on an overnight train recommended it to us. It's a valley called "Hell Valley" painted all sorts of colors by its mineral-laden geysers. We hiked around, took pictures, and sat with our feet soaking in the foot bath for a while.
We could only stay for about three hours before heading back by train, but it was nice to walk around outside and soak in some Japanese culture.
Hakodate was less structured. We didn't have anything in particular to do, so we wandered around a bit. We found a cool public foot bath being used by a salaryman, a worker, and a schoolgirl, which seemed to paint a perfect picture of Japan. We sat there, too, and marveled at how such a thing could never exist in an American city.
We then went on to a proper onsen, and soaked in some of the hottest tubs I've seen. Onsens were new to most of the group, but everyone really enjoyed them and didn't seem to mind that our trip was quickly becoming onsen-centric.
And, finally, we reached Tokyo today. I got to rush everyone around to my favorite spots in Tokyo, and we tried a couple new things, too. We had sushi, soba, and weird Japanese snacks. We saw a temple, a park, and a few of us did Karaoke for an hour.
Thoughts on the Cruise
This cruise has felt like a strange wonderland that exists in a parallel universe to the one my normal life takes place in. Friendships were formed and deepened, and I feel like I got a lot of perspective on things thanks to my fellow travelers. One group of people said to us, "You guys are having a lot of fun, but it's obvious you take life seriously." I thought that summed the atmosphere of the trip well.
Maybe most encouraging is that everyone who went on the cruise not only wants to go again next year, but wants to do a longer one. We have our eyes on several 20-40 days cruises. At dinner tonight we talked about what we'd change, and everyone was motivated to structure it so that we got to share more knowledge with each other.
Older people seemed stunned that we liked cruising, but as I sat in absolute luxury surrounded by awesome peeople, while traveling across a huge chunk of the globe, I couldn't fathom why more people aren't doing this. Cruising is easily my favorite way to travel, and this was one of the best cruises I've been on.
Top photo is a group shot of all of us but Dick, taken by Nick. The other photo is a Russian Orthodox church in Petropavlovsk.
I'm in Tokyo now, about to start my weeklong train trip tomorrow. Feels great to be in Japan!
Today I got selected as one of the first Amtrak residents. The original pool was narrowed down from sixteen thousand to just over one hundred, and then again to twenty four. This event makes it increasingly difficult to push away the idea that I might actually be a good writer.
I was flattered, but not all that surprised, to find that I was one of the semifinalists. It was easy to believe that most applicants weren't even writers, and that the hook of me being a Time Magazine top blogger was enough to make it to the next round.
Looking at some of the others in the pool, though, I couldn't help but be proud of the company I was in. Besides little old self-published me were highly distributed published authors and columnists for major magazines. Even a lot of the people disappointed they weren't chosen were really impressive.
Time Magazine chose me as one of the best bloggers. Amtrak chose me as one of the best writers. Derek Sivers, whose book list I look to for inspiration, emailed me to tell me that he loved my book and was going to publish a good review of it on his list.
Some of the most interesting attributes are those that are both good and bad. A simple prescription of elimination of the attribute or building it isn't sufficient. Instead we must learn to manage it, blunt the negatives and channel the positives.
Stubbornness is one such attribute, and it's one that I'm perhaps too intimately familiar with. Observing something like stubbornness within oneself is to see it through muddy water, though. Only in others is it really clearly seen, and that's often when it's best to apply the lessons learned to oneself.
When I'm being stubborn, it's so easy to believe that I'm right and that external resistance is only due to other's stubbornness. Stubbornness is glorious when you're right; it's the process of believing in yourself, not being swayed by those with a less perfect view than your own, and finally triumphing.
And in that way, stubbornness is a good. Many great ideas, inventions, and breakthroughs have come by way of stubbornness. Some of my biggest accomplishments are really the children of stubbornness.
There are some skills you have to build only because you're so bad at them. Mediocrity can go overlooked, but we're reminded of our biggest weaknesses constantly, either directly or through the reactions of others. For me, one such weakness was the inability to empathize.
I may have realized that my way wasn't always right if I had stopped to consider the idea for even a moment. That consideration never happened, though. Obviously my perspective was the only correct one, and anyone who strayed from whatever I thought was right was in jeopardy of being called an idiot.
Ironically, it took me becoming the idiot to learn. Only when I changed my mind on things could I look back and realize that whether I was the idiot now or then, I was indeed the idiot at some point. Of course, I could always have compassion for my old idiot self. I didn't know better. I was trying my best. Things sure looked that way from where I was sitting...
And that's the unlikely route that helped me develop empathy. I became at least aware enough that, after thinking someone is an idiot, I'll always try to find a good reason they're not. That reason almost always exists. I try to see it in people with whom I'm at odds. I try to see it in those who are pitted against my friends. I even try to do it for religious extremists, criminals, and bullies.
Since you're reading my blog, it's probably fair to guess that you're not content to coast through life, and that you've got ambitions that you're chasing. Maybe, like mine, these ambitions are beyond your current scope. They're things that will require years of effort to achieve, and maybe the feasibility of ever achieving them is in question.
How will you do this? You'll need to level up. Your skills or access or resources or maybe all three will have to increase.
The common fantasy is that you'll meet the right person who can carry you there effortlessly. Maybe I'll meet Zuckerberg, he'll decide he needs a blogging platform, and he'll buy Sett for millions, give me a huge team, and allow me to use Facebook's resources to usher in a new era of blogging.
Or maybe I'll have to do it on my own, like everyone else.
After many months of being deprioritized due to Sett and other obligations, I've finally finished my new book on habits, Superhuman by Habit. It's available right now on Amazon.
I've been writing for nine years now, and a good portion of that time has been spent focused on self-improvement. How can I get the most out of life? Out of myself? As I've gone down this path, the answers I've found have coalesced around habit building. Get your habits right, and everything else falls into place.
Doing things when they're the most fun and exciting things to do is easy. Those are the gains that everyone gets. Once we move beyond that, we have to rely on willpower. The problem with willpower is that gains are slow and incremental.
Habits, on the other hand, are the mechanism by which we can leverage our willpower. Rather than relying on willpower for everything, we use it only to build new habits. Once a habit is installed, it uses little to no willpower. That's why I called the book Superhuman by Habit-- habits let us expand our capabilities exponentially. Things that were difficult become easy, and stay that way.
As I write, I'm flying over Wyoming on my way to Kansas City, Missouri. I'll be there for approximately fourteen hours, just long enough to watch the Invicta FC 8 Women's MMA fight and then get some sleep. Such opulence! To fly across the country just to go to a sporting event.
The truth, though, is that this flight isn't costing me anything. In fact, other than crazy deals I've come across, I haven't paid for a flight in quite a while. In a year exactly, I've racked up 750,000 frequent flyer miles. That's enough for 30 domestic round trips or 8-20 international trips.
There's a hustle going on that isn't exactly underground, but isn't quite mainstream either, that allows you to build up huge stores of frequent flyer miles very quickly.
In order to entice you to sign up for their credit cards, credit card companies offer huge sign-up bonuses of frequent flier miles. Some of these miles are airline specific, some can be converted to a few different airlines, and others are used as cash to offset travel expenses.
I think that the way most people spend money is absolutely nuts. I see people buying things they can't really afford, or things that will have no lasting impact on their lives whatsoever, and I cringe. Be frugal, I want to yell.
On the other hand, there are people who go way out of their way to save a dollar, even When spending that dollar would really make their life better, or create some lasting memory that would impact them long after the dollar was gone. Don't be cheap, be frugal, I want to yell.
Maybe a better phrase for frugal, at least the way I think of it, is financially-efficient. And just like most mistakes I see people make, this one stems from not actually thinking about decisions and just going with the flow.
Money should only be spent if you have it, first of all. Just because everyone else has a car doesn't mean that you are somehow entitled to one, too. If you don't have money for a car, don't buy one. Never finance anything, with the possible exception of a house. Even then, I think it's usually a bad idea.
I'm always interested in finding blind spots or misconceptions in common knowledge. Most people don't seem to really get what they want out of life, and while this is partly fueled by society pushing wants on people, it's also due to blind spots. Sometimes big problems go unsolved not because we're incapable of solving them, but because we have no idea they exist.
One I've been thinking about recently is that of preparation vs. execution. Every day I have to write a blog post, something I've been doing for half a year now. This sometimes feels like an enormous task, but never takes more than half an hour. Usually it's more like twenty minutes.
The reason it feels so difficult, I realized, is because the preparation is the hard part. Writing is easy and doesn't take all that long. The hard part is coming up with a topic every single day. That I've mashed my fingers on a keyboard every day doesn't seem so difficult, but coming up with 180 different things to write about in a row? That's another story entirely.
The difficulty in a lot of other endeavors is also in the prep. Cooking is mostly tedious because you have to prepare. Even programming is the same way. Once you know what problem you're going to solve, and roughly how to solve it, the actual coding is quite easy.
It's been nearly a year since we bought an island near Halifax. We went in being completely clueless, our only salvation knowing that we were completely clueless and would have to learn a lot. And boy, have we. I've spent more time on the island than in my RV over the past couple months, and it's begun to feel like a second home. The rhythms of the island and the environment around it have become familiar.
When we bought the island, it was nearly completely wild. The previous owner had cleared a small area where he'd intended to build a small cabin, but otherwise the island was so dense that it was nearly impenetrable. Our first night there we were excited to venture into the woods, and gave up immediately upon seeing how close together the trees were.
We now have a trail system so extensive that it's hard for me to keep it all straight. In fact, yesterday we ended up widening the wrong trail, and were surprised to end up at the tide pools rather than a 15 foot tall rock we call Eagle Rock. On our first trip we carved a trail from the clearing to the center of the island, going north. Since then we've expanded the trail system to branch from the center point to the east, and to the west. There's a half-finished trail that goes north to the ocean, a half finished trail that goes south on the west side, and a finished trail that connects the clearing and the fire pit area.