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In each of our minds is a gradient of activities, ranging from things we definitely won't do (finance a Ferrari), things we'll definitely do (drink water today), and everything else in between. There's something special about those things at the extremes, the things we will and won't definitely do. It's nearly impossible that theey won't be as predicted. Can we use that to our advantage?
It's not that we won't lease Ferraris because we don't want to. It would be a lot of fun to get a Ferrari, at least until I ran out of money and it got repossessed. We don't do it because we've drawn a hard line somewhere shy of that sort of expense. I'll buy an apple without thinking about it, a new camera after a bunch of thought and research, but a Ferrari is so contrary to my goals that it never gets thought about.
When we consider something to be impossible, by our own standards at least, not doing it becomes easy. When we consider something impossible not to do, doing it becomes easy. We get to bypass the whole thought loop of should-I-or-shouldn't-I, which invites temptation to the bargaining table.
The trick is to take things that don't have an impossible component to them and build that in. There are two ways to do that.
I was talking with a really accomplished photographer the other day. The guy is an immense talent, has been hired by all sorts of celebrities and productions, and has a very impressive body of work. And he was thinking about quitting photography.
He was also incredibly humble and open to advice, which I have to admit that I didn't expect from a high-profile LA photographer. He talked about his background, his goals, and his current situation. His problems were the good kind, specifically the too-many-good-options variety.
Ahh, I understand, I said. You're in the hustler's trap.
A hustler is someone who can create something from nothing, usually in a pretty short amount of time. If he finds an opportunity, he'll jump in head first. This photographer found a toy that was selling well before Christmas, so he started ordering containers of them from China and selling them on the internet. That was one of many of his hustler exploits.
When I was really young, I would occasionally take over my friend's paper route when he was busy. Not being much of an early riser, I never got to eat breakfast on mornings where I delivered the paper. That, of course, was a problem that could easily be solved, if I just had a toaster on my bike.
So I made one. I had no idea what I was doing, so it worked by shorting a 9 volt battery, which created heat. The bread would get a little bit warm, and then my automatic butter melter would melt some butter on the bread. It wasn't a Dualit, and it consumed a 9 volt battery every time, but it made my substitute paper-running a little more fun.
For as long as I can remember, I knew that if something you wanted didn't exist, you built it. One of my earliest memories with my very first friend, Brian, was scheming to build a spiderman-style web slinger.
And now, of course, I still do it. My ideal blogging platform didn't exist, so I'm building it with my friend Todd. Neither did my ideal RV, so I built that, too. Then there's Cruise Sheet, the island, and any number of other things.
Variance is a natural part of life, and it's not a battle that can ever be won. Some days you'll perform amazingly, and others you'll be a lot worse. We'd all like to have as many amazing days as possible, but focusing on those days too much can end up doing more harm than good.
In a sense, though, the good days will take care of themselves. On my worst days it seems like I need everything to be just right, but on good days almost everything can be wrong and I'll still produce good work. Good days are going to be good days, no matter what.
A common pattern you see people in is to have a few good days followed by abysmal days. Tons of work followed by almost nothing for days or weeks. This is particularly frustrating because they know they're capable of good work-- they're just not able to extract it from themselves.
On the other hand, some people are able to set a lower bound on how bad days can get. They have just as many bad days, but those days still move them forward a couple squares. That adds up to a lot over long spans of times.
Work is almost synonymous with stress in our culture. If you're working hard, you're exhausted, stressed, and stretched thin. So you only work a fixed amount of hours per day if you can manage, you get weekends off, and then once in a while when you need to restore what work has taken from you, you take a vacation.
Whenever I want something, I ask myself if there's a problem lurking behind that desire. Do I want that doughnut because what I really need in my life is a doughnut? Or do I want it because I crave stimulation, because I rely on novelty to keep my life interesting, or because I've eaten too little today and need calories.
Do I want to see this girl because I really like her? Or is it because I'm lonely or bored or need validation? Am I working on this project because I want for it to exist? Or is it because I need money or want recognition?
Behind every action is a reason, and some of those reasons point to larger underlying problems. What's the underlying problem behind these escape valves from work? Why do we need time off, vacation, and weekends?
A wild horse is a beautiful thing on its own, but isn't very useful to a person. To create a symbiotic relationship with the horse, the owner must break the horse, training it to give up some of its wild instincts and replace them with conditioned responses.
I rode a horse a few weeks ago in Chile. She was generally well behaved, but had her quirks. Sometimes, riding along in the desert, there would be a tasty looking shrub. If we were walking slowly enough, she would stop and eat it. I'd have to yank on the reins to prevent her from doing it, but that didn't stop her from trying again next time.
It feels like my brain is the same way. I train it over and over again, but it's never completely broken. There are battles that I fight every single day, knowing that winning doesn't mean eliminating those battles entirely, but just winning them more often than not.
One of those battles is the desire for pleasure. I can logically want to live a fairly ascetic life, can enjoy that life, but still there's some draw to temptation. I want to do fun things. I want to buy things I don't need. And after two of my good friends have met serious boyfriends/girlfrends on Tinder-- I really want to install that app, even though I'm not dating until WifeQuest begins next year.
A while back I wrote about how I was going to be neat and tidy henceforth. I'd clean my RV twice a day, keep my travel stuff organized while on the road, and basically be the opposite of what I was before.
I stuck with it for a few weeks, but then, in a hurry to pack, I left my RV messy before leaving on a trip. When I got back I never got back into the groove.
It's not like I didn't realize that I had abandoned this habit. I was fully aware of it. If you had asked me about it, I might have expressed that it was too bad, but it just never stuck.
A couple days ago I went through that mental cycle and was ever so slightly appalled at myself. Oh, really? I decide that I'm going to make a change, and it doesn't stick? And somehow that's an explanation that excuses me from having to do the hard work of getting back on the habit?
Right after I write this, I'm going to go eat at Chipotle.
On the train ride over there, I'll be doing Mandarin flashcards on my phone. The ride is less than ten minutes, but I usually have to wait five minutes for the train back, so that's twenty five minutes of flashcards.
It's usually cold at night. In the winter it gets down to the forties or so, but right now it's probably just the fifties. Most other people will be wearing jackets or hoodies, but I have no jacket, am wearing sandals, and have my sleeves rolled up. I'll be a little bit cold.
When I order my burrito bowl, I always get hot salsa. I don't really like hot salsa, but I get it every time.
You know that dream where you're at school with no pants on? I don't have that one, but I have one that's almost as terrifying: that I'm in school WITH pants on. I dropped out after a year and a half and am extremely glad I did so. I think that too many people are going to college these days, and that although everyone calls it an investment, no one is doing even the most basic cost/benefit analysis of it.
But even if you agree with me on school, you may find yourself trapped there. Some parents put enormous pressure on their kids to go to school, and I understand that it can feel like you have no choice. I think you always have a choice, but let's assume you don't. You're in school-- what should you do?
I'm going to assume that you're not going down a path like law or medicine, where you really do need to be in school. If that's the case, only a small part of this advice will apply. For everyone else, here's my advice:
1. Realize that your degree is worth nothing, but the process you go through to earn it can be worthwhile. If you coast or cheat your way through school, you will have wasted four years of your life and tens of thousands of dollars. All of your decisions should be made while thinking: what will put me in the best position four years from now.
Here's my theory: harsh criticism is one of the most valuable commodities out there, and you should be collecting as much of it as possible. Secondly, people enjoy giving harsh criticism, but only if they know it will be appreciated. If they think you might react poorly, you'll never hear it.
Sebastian and I pretty much have a relationship based on harsh criticism. I remember a year ago or so he was in San Francisco, it was after midnight, and we were circling this random patio in the middle of the park. And we were just unloading on each other. It felt like a boxing match or something.
And, you know, after the conversation we were both better off, and probably better friends, too. We both love giving and receiving harsh criticism.
I got an email from him last week, saying that it seemed like my focus on Sett was waning and that I was spending too much effort on learning languages, traveling, and being crazy. It was more eloquently written than that, but that was the gist.