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.
It's day five of the fifth trip to our island. We don't yet have any sort of permanent structure, so even with cots, sleep isn't perfect. And there's the irregular meal schedule, the hard work, and the lack of good hygiene. All of these factors wear you down a little bit as the days go on.
Today we were all exhausted. We woke up early, but no one made a move to get done the things which needed doing. We punted around through the forest looking for good branches for torches, our latest obsession, but mostly we waited until it was time to leave the island.
We had scheduled a tour at 2:30 at Oak Island, which is just a couple hours away. The tour group was surprisingly large, maybe fifty people or so. We hiked all throughout the island, learning about it and seeing firsthand some of the strange clues pointing towards possible treasure.
As we hiked in the heat on the island, I noticed that I was really lagging. Mentally, I wasn't all there. Physically, I was tired. By the end, the three of us were sitting down while the guide talked. We were the only ones not to stand.