[Note: If you're in San Francisco or Austin, read the bolded part at the very bottom!]
For most of my life, at least until my late twenties, I was a slacker. I did almost nothing to help around the house, choosing to procrastinate on things assigned to me until someone else just did it themselves because that was easier than goading me into doing it. Even in friendships, I would rely on my good friends to come up with plans or invite me somewhere, and then I'd join. The only reason I got into college was because my best friend at the time, Phil, pushed me into filling out an application. I wouldn't have done it otherwise.
There were exceptions, of course, but in general I was probably a burden. I was a good friend and family member in other ways, but in terms of carrying the weight of those relationships, I wasn't putting in my fair share. It's embarrassing to say that, but it's true.
A couple years back, Todd wasn't as invested in Sett as I was. We had started it as a side project, but it seemed like there was enough potential that it was worth going full time. I wanted to do so, but Todd's priorities were elsewhere, so he worked a lot less than me. If Sett was going to continue, I would have to take full responsibility for it.
The first example I can remember was when my friends and I, nineteen at the time, bought a forty foot long school bus. The idea was so absurd and without precedent, that it seemed impossible. It was like being at a zoo, where you know that you're standing two feet away from a fully grown lion, but the invisible glass separating you prevents it from feeling real. We were ready to hand over cash and sign papers, but it seemed impossible that we would actually own this huge bus. It seemed as though some authority figure would appear out of nowhere and say, "Come on guys, this is ridiculous. Go back to school."
We bought the bus, and the world didn't come crashing down on us. In fact, the normalcy of the transaction, handing over cash for a title and some keys, was striking. What seemed like a big deal really wasn't. Buying the bus turned out to be a fantastic decision, despite everyone else thinking it would be otherwise.
We're a species that thrives on patterns, which is mostly a good thing, but it sometimes prevents us from looking outside society's canon of acceptable patterns. We all fantasize about things that we'd like to do, but then accept that they must be bad ideas because others aren't doing them. We mistake things that aren't being done for things that can't be done or shouldn't be done.
That school bus was a huge lesson for me, and not just because of what we had to learn to remodel it into a road trip vehicle. I learned something more fundamental and important, which has largely guided my life since then. My friends and I had an idea, it was derided as crazy by everyone else, but we did it and it worked out perfectly. For the first time I realized that I could do whatever I wanted to do, and it would be okay.
In poker, you make money whenever your opponent plays differently than he would if he knew what cards you have. When you do the same, you lose money. In other words, whenever you act in a way that you wouldn't if you knew the truth, you're making a mistake.
The same could be said for a lot of life. The more of the truth you face and accept, the better off you're going to be. Sometimes it's hard to hear the truth and sometimes it's even harder to accept it, but we're always better off when we do. This is one of the reasons my good friends and I always give each other harsh criticism: it helps us see and accept the truth.
There's one counterpoint to this idea that I'll suggest: sometimes you're better off intentionally believing things that aren't true, even when you know they aren't true. This is a special sort of of belief, though, because you know that it's not completely accurate, but you decide to act as though it is, and to truly try to feel as though it is.
I'll give you a few examples that I hold:
About eight months ago, I had the idea that maybe I should be doing something to work on flexibility and posture, like yoga. I've taken yoga in the past and liked it, but never really loved it enough to stick with it. Maybe I'll try ballet, I thought.
A lot of members of my family and extended family have taken ballet, as have a disproportionately high percentage of girls I've dated. Through them I've been exposed to it in bits and pieces, and I always admired the discipline of it. Ballet is so exacting and precise that even after years of work it's still near impossible, but ballet dancers press on despite that. I always admired the tenacity it seemed to build.
I also like going to ballets, as long as they're not modern ballet. Between seeing all the good things that came out of others doing ballet and thinking it may help me appreciate watching ballet more, I figured I'd take one class and try it out. The fact that it was weird for a straight guy to take ballet probably factored in, as well.
I was pretty much hooked at my first class. In life I like the idea of working as hard as humanly possible but still trying to make it look good on the outside, and ballet was the dance form that reflected that. It felt great to wake up on Sunday morning, ride my motorcycle downtown, and then slip on ballet shoes, stretch out, and learn something difficult and physical.
I have a favorite type of hand in poker. I like it because it makes up a huge chunk of my winnings at poker, is good solid play, and looks idiotic to bad poker players. It's the kind of hand that pulls hundreds of dollars in your direction, and sometimes a couple angrily-thrown cards from your opponent when he's beaten, too.
Technically the hand would be called a plus-EV underdog draw, or something like that. In plain English, it's a long shot where you have the right odds to take it.
An example might be if I have four cards to a straight and I'm missing one from the middle. So maybe I have 4 5 6 8 of various suits. Let's say that there's still one more card to come. There are forty-six remaining cards (just trust me on this one), and only four of them, the sevens, will help me. I have less than a ten percent chance at winning the hand.
And yet, sometimes it's worth calling to see the next card. If it costs me thirty dollars to see it, but there's six hundred dollars in the pot, then mathematically I'm way ahead.
If there's one long-term state that I won't tolerate for myself, it's treading water, putting out effort just to stay where I am. I want to either expend effort to move something ahead, or triage it and let it sink. If it's important enough to me to do, I'll put everything into it and do it right, otherwise I'll make the hard decision and reserve that energy for something else.
All forward momentum requires your effort and attention. Want your business to grow? You'd better be dedicating a huge chunk of your time to making sure that happens. Want to get healthy and in shape? Then you've got to be in the gym moving metal. Want your relationship to be more satisfying for both of you? Then you have to actively think about how to make it better and put that into action.
Autopilot is awesome on airplanes, terrible on humans. We each have a limited well of time, attention, focus, money, and other resources. When we go on autopilot, we tend to expend resources just to keep the status quo. We put enough thought and effort into our relationships not to get dumped, we earn and save just enough money to pay our bills, and we watch our diet just enough that we only get a little bit fatter every year.
That's what autopilot gets you. Scared to lose anything we have, regardless of how important it may or may not be to us, we spread out resources so thinly that we never have time to really surge forward in any way. When something great comes our way, we don't have enough in reserve to take advantage of the opportunity.
I've never been a big fan of the phrase, "Live Every Day Like Your Last". If I was going to do that, I would book the most ridiculous multi-leg flight possible, and go try to see my loved ones one last time. On the plane I would work on my will and write people tons of letters.
That would make a fine last day, but doing that every day would leave me broke and leave my friends and family very confused. On the plus side, I bet my penmanship would improve considerably.
I get the sentiment, though: life is short, and if you put things off for too long, you may never get around to doing them. Maybe there's a better cliche to follow, though: "Live Every Day Like Your First".
Imagine that you just now gained consciousness of this person you call you. You get to keep all of this person's previous memories, knowledge, and experience. You poke around this person's head and quickly assimilate all of his or her desires, goals, fears, and ambitions. Because you're a smart and rational consciousness, you know that you've got some time to work towards those things. What do you do?
Have you ever noticed that adversity is often a good thing when spoken about in the past tense? I wrote a story a long time ago about how I got in way over my head exploring a cave in Austin. Being stuck in that cave was probably the hardest thing I ever had to do. When we reached the end of the cave after eight hours, our muscles were failing, we were out of water and food, and could barely move. And we had another eight hours to get back out. I assumed I'd make it back out-- I just couldn't imagine how.
From the bowels of the earth, it didn't feel glorious. I was in pain and mentally and physically exhausted. I didn't want to be there and would have done anything to magically be whisked back to the surface. But as soon as I got out, I was very glad that I had done it. Not just glad to be out, but glad that I was there in the first place, and glad that it was difficult. Triumph over adversity is intrinsically appealing. Without adversity, triumph doesn't really exist.
When you look at it critically, adversity is actually a good thing to have. It's a method to bring out your best. At the end of that cave, I remember thinking that I didn't have the strength to make it back to the mouth of the cave. But I did have that strength. Adversity gave me no choice but to find it. Even today, nearly ten years later, I draw upon that memory to remind myself that I'm capable of pushing myself farther than I know.
Things happen in our lives that we recognize as being good. When that happens, nothing is required on our part to benefit. Something happened, it was good, end of story. Bad things are different, though. A bad thing happens, and then it's up to us. We can use that adversity as an opportunity for triumph, or we can be passive and allow ourselves to be run over by it.
Before going to Romania, I decided I'd try to learn a bit of Romanian. By almost any measure it's sort of a pointless language to learn, but I figured I'd get a kick out of pretending to my I didn't speak any for a couple days, and then all of a sudden surprising my friends by speaking it.
My friend Brian did me a huge favor by going to the library, checking out the Pimsleur Romanian I series, ripping it, and then sending me the MP3s. After finishing the first lesson, I was struck by just how much I enjoyed doing it. I've used Pimsleur tapes to learn Chinese, Japanese, and French (which I never finished and consequently don't remember), but it had been six years since I'd started one.
The returns on learning the first bit of a language are huge. While I don't have nearly enough vocabulary to have an actual conversation in Romanian, doing one half-hour tape every day for a month left me with enough to be able to ask directions, order things at a restaurant, exchange pleasantries with strangers, and buy things. I think I successfully made a joke in Romanian, too.
So after all that, I decided that I'm just going to learn every language. Pimsleur has a list of over fifty that they support. I'm going to start with the ones I'm most interested in that have ninety tapes instead of the thirty that they had for Romanian. I did the full ninety in Japanese, and it got me to the point that I could have actual, if a bit kludgy, conversations.
Two months ago I was on a cruise ship making its way through the Mediterranean towards the Atlantic. My friend Brian and I sat down to dinner and were surprised when we were joined by two girls our age, Lucia and Andreea. Cruises aren't exactly known for hosting people under forty, let alone pretty Romanian girls.
Fast forward two weeks and we say our goodbyes without remembering to exchange contact information. There's a dreamlike atmosphere aboard a cruise ship that makes you forget about practical things like that.
I visit a friend for a few hours in Miami, and then he drops me off at the airport. I've got about ten minutes to kill before boarding, so I fire up my web browser and start digging through sites I'd been neglecting on the ship. TheFlightDeal is one of them, and there's a huge headline about an obscure European booking site charging about half what it should for all flights between the US and Europe.
I hate to see a good deal go to waste, and Romania is on the mind. There are questions that could be asked, like: will I be able to get in touch with the girls before I get there? Is Bucharest miserable in the winter? Will they even be in town? Will they want a visitor they've only known for a couple weeks?