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In 1894 there was a major crisis in London. It seemed that there was no solution in sight, and that the city was destined to be doomed. The problem was the incredible amount of manure being deposited onto the streets by the city's horses. Horses were the way to get around, no one wanted to get rid of them, and yet their manure was a real problem.
And then cars were invented, and the problem went away. Looking back in time this crisis seems silly, but back then it must have felt very serious. Society was on a march towards doom, and no solution was in sight.
I remember this whenever people are freaking out about any of our society's problems. On any given week you can find a headline talking about how unsustainable something or other is, and how we're doomed. Maybe it's pollution, population, or wealth distribution. These are all serious problems, but they will be solved eventually.
That doesn't mean that these problems will magically disappear, of course. It's human innovation that has saved the day every time so far. If you're in a related field or want to solve one of these problems, then you should probably worry about it intensely. Dedicate your entire life to solving it. That's how these things get solved.
As you may know, my friend Sebastian and I have a bet going where we must write a blog post every single day for two years. We ironed out the terms and conditions, but one area was left slightly fuzzy-- we both travel a lot, so what happens when time zones interfere? We agreed that no one would lose because of a time zone shift, but to be reasonable.
I went west on a cruise ship, which led to me crossing the international date line, and thus losing a day. I had the twenty-fifth, the twenty-seventh, but not the twenty-sixth. No big deal, though. I woke up every day, wrote my post, and checked that box.
But then, returning east by plane, I essentially had a 36 hour day where I woke up twice. It was a bit of a grey area-- I treated it as two days for sleep and meals, but the calendar never clicked over.
I wrote two blog posts that day. I wouldn't have lost the bet if I hadn't, but when applying external forces to habits, it's important to remember that you're doing it for the habit, not for the external forces.
It turns out that sometimes, in South America, four hour bus rides take seven hours. And sometimes the air conditioning doesn't work, and it's the middle of the day in the summer. Today all of those things turned out to be true.
Unpleasant as the ride was, I found it relatively easy to focus on the positives. We were traveling for no good reason, which is always a nice thing to do, and the memory of being saturated in sweat in a moving kiln would fade.
But, actually, it ended up being a great bus ride. Those annoying kids who were kicking my seat turned out to be a team of 10 and 11 year old Taekwondo champions. They had just finished a tournament and were on their way back home to Argentina. And they turned out to be hilarious, friendly, and really good kids. And, hey, it's not like I never kicked seats as a kid.
They asked us a bunch of questions, practiced their English, told us about their Taekwondo, teased each other, and listened to the music on our phones. I was hesitant to play Lil Wayne for them, until I realized they couldn't understand a word he was saying.
On the cruise a friend was asking me about my days in pickup. What was the worst rejection I experienced, he asked? That's a path paved with so much rejection that it's sort of like asking which leaf on a tree is the greenest, but one stuck out in my mind.
I was at a place called Dallas Nightclub in Austin, Texas. There was a large ice-skating rink shaped dance floor in the middle, and tables and chairs around that. The music would alternate between hip hop and country, bringing a different crowd to the dance floor every other song.
My friend and I walked around the perimeter, taking turns approaching groups of girls. It was my turn, and I walked up to three pretty girls and started talking. Very quickly, I started telling a story. I can't remember which story it was, but I remember how I felt telling it. It quickly became obvious that they were not interested in my story, and I was so nervous that I was helpless to do anything but continue.
Suddenly one of the girls broke eye contact and turned away, leaving me with her two friends. Okay, there are two of us and two of them, I thought. That's not so bad. I kept on going with the story.
A friend asked my yesterday why I do so many crazy things. What's my raison d'etre? He mentioned a few specific examples, and I had reasons for each, but those reasons weren't similar to each other. I've been thinking about it since then, though. Is there some universal motivator that's behind everything I do? If so, knowing what it is might be useful.
The more I think about it, the more I think that I don't do very many crazy things. At least not when you consider the scope of crazy things I could do. When it comes down to it, I think that my search space for actions to take is just a whole lot broader than most people's.
For example, sometimes I think about where else I could park my RV. I rent a spot now, but I know that eventually market forces will cause that space to be used by something more profitable. So where will I park next? I think about parking on the street again, the easy choice. Then I think about driving across the US and parking it in New York. I think about leaving it a few hours away at my mother's house and not even living in it anymore. I think about just going on the road and not staying in one place.
Then I think about moving to Japan for a year, or buying a tiny house in Las Vegas. Living on the island for the six months it's warm per year would be an interesting experience. The thought even crosses my mind to pick some random city somewhere in the world and disappear to it without telling anyone. I think about living on a cruise ship perpetually.
I used to think that it was a really bad idea to be a cog in the system. I thought this for two reasons. First, I was personally averse to being a cog in any system, and of course any preference I have is the right one to have. Second, there were a ton of visible examples of people who were cogs in the machine and didn't really seem to be doing much.
But then last week I was at my friend's house, and he was watching the Ben Heck show. If you haven't seen it, it's a show where a very unfunny nerd makes amazing things by hand. In the episode I saw, Ben was making a soda can crusher powered by a very small motor.
If the motor was just attached directly to a crusher, it wouldn't do anything to the can. It would move fast, but there wouldn't be much torque. So he had to make gears-- cogs-- to take the input of the motor and mold it to the needs of the project. With a series of gears, he adapted the input to go much slower but have enough torque to crush the can.
With different gearing, he could have done the opposite. He could have sacrificed torque and made the gears spin very quickly.
We've started a new tradition on our cruise called BLunch, which stands for Business Lunch. One member of our gang presents some background on their business, followed by the biggest challenge they're facing, and then receives feedback from everyone else. We all take it seriously, and the group is comprised mostly of entrepreneurs, so the advice has been excellent so far.
Today the guest of honor at the BLunch had an interesting problem. She wanted to expand to make more money on her business, but her avenues for expansion were limited. Each of the most obvious and promising options were vetoed for one reason or another.
As we dug deeper, it turned out she was burnt out by her business. Aspects of it sapped her energy and reduced her motivation on the rest of it. These parts of her business made no money, but she felt obligated to fulfill them anyway. No one else in the group thought that they were worth the effort.
One thing I noticed, that I've also seen in myself, was that she was willing to accept compromise in her life, but only a finite amount. It struck me that she was "spending" that compromise inefficiently. She could completely cut out the compromise that was really burning her out, and instead compromise a little by working an a venture that her customers would love but wouldn't be particularly inspiring to her. Same amount of compromise in her life, but less burnout and more money.
The other day Todd and I were sitting in a cafe. Next to us was a guy who appeared to be a typical San Francisco yuppie. I wouldn't have talked to him, but Todd is more extroverted than I, so pretty soon we were chatting away.
He had overheard us talking about travel, so that's where the conversation went. We learned that he traveled for two weeks every month, mostly to go places to hike. I imagined in my head what that must look like-- fly business class from San Francisco, check into a nice hotel, hike around, come back.
He asked us where we normally stayed when we traveled. Friends or AirBnB, we answered. Did we ever stay in hostels? No, not really. Why, we asked? He answered that that's where he usually stayed. In an instant my perception of him changed. I'd assumed wrong.
As it turned out, he was a prison psychologist. He worked two weeks every month, and did the credit card hustle to rack up a ton of miles. He'd pick some far away spot to hike, book a hostel, and do the whole thing as cheaply as possible. No stress, very sustainable.
As I've mentioned before, I'm pretty frugal. I like spending money on things like the island, travel, and good food, but I also like saving money. I spend very little money frivolously, and don't have an overwhelming appetite for luxury.
I don't make much money, either. I'm content to have enough income to fund my inexpensive lifestyle, to save a little bit most months, and to retain control of almost all of my time to invest in big future projects like Sett.
Relatively frequently, though, I'll have a small windfall. Sometimes I'll have a good run in poker where I make a few thousand dollars within a couple days. My new book, Superhuman by Habit has been doing really well, too. Thanks to my readers and friends, it's been in the top 1000 books on Amazon. For a while last year my bitcoins were worth a bunch of money.
In these sorts of situations, it can be tempting to spend more money. People bargain with themselves, allowing themselves to spend some or all of unexpected sums of money they come across.
Sometimes as a plane takes off, or a line for a bus inches forward, I occupy myself by making a mental list of things I'm grateful for. The list is never-ending, but the item on the list that I'm always most grateful for are the people in my life, my friends and family.
I don't think that I'm a grand expert of friend making, but I must have done a few things right to end up with such great friends, and I think I can tease out some core ideas.
The first is to not annoy. When I think about great people I'm not good friends with, the reason for the distance is always some level of annoyance. And it always seems to be a shame-- such a great person, but so hard to spend the time with them that it would take to become friends.
I'm sure I do plenty of little annoying things, but my time in pickup helped me develop a self-awareness to seek out those things an eliminate them as best as possible. If you have trouble making friends with people you think should otherwise be your friends, it might be time for some deep introspection and work on awareness.