The roller coaster

Life is not ever going to be content. Life is never going to be normal. For the rest of your life you’re on a journey that has ups and downs and ups and downs, it is a roller coaster that never ends. Until one day you close your eyes and you’re off the roller coaster. And I think for me, I just want to be on as many different journey’s as possible, so at least if I’m on a roller coaster, there’s a new zigzag and a turn that I didn’t know about before.

~ Scooter Braun

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What room for an abject mind?

When you have acquired a contempt for things that are external and lie outside the sphere of choice, and have come to regard none of them as your own, but only this as your own, to judge and think aright, and exercise your impulses, desires and aversions aright, what further room is there after that for flattery, what room for an abject mind?

~ Epictetus

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And sometimes panic sets in

Inspired by a reader’s question to me, I thought I’d ask our followers on Facebook and Twitter for an answer to the question: What books would you recommend someone read to improve their general knowledge of the world.

I must say the number and quality of the responses overwhelmed me. The box Amazon just delivered reminds me that I ordered 9 books off this list.

~ Farnam Street from, https://fs.blog/2016/09/books-recommend-someone-read-improve-general-knowledge-world/

I know there are too many books—old books, new books, red books, blue books … A friend of mine just published a book, Before You Say Anything, and Jiminy Cricket I’d love to read it— I hovered on the add-to-cart button. But I paused, managing to trigger my habit-change “wedge” of repeating: “simplfiy. simplify. simplify.” I digress.

I skimmed that list of books from Farnam Street and felt I should probably read every one of them. Instead—simplify. simplify. simplify.—I noted I’ve read several, have several more already in my possession, and several others on the wishlist. With a life-is-short shrug, I’m passing it along to you and moving on with my morning.

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Men who are mortal

But what if my friends there should die? What else could that signify except that men who are mortal have died? Do you at once wish to live to be old, and yet not to see the death of any one you love? Do you not know that, in a long course of time, many and various events must necessarily happen? That a fever must get the better of one person, a highwayman of another, a tyrant of a third?

~ Epictetus

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Mastery, purpose, and autonomy

A highly influential book for me in designing Automattic was Daniel Pink’s Drive, where he eloquently introduces the three things that really matter in motivating people: mastery, purpose, and autonomy. Mastery is the urge to get better skills. Purpose is the desire to do something that has meaning, that’s bigger than yourself. These first two principles physically co-located companies can be great at. But the third, autonomy, is where even the best in-office company can never match a Level 4 or above distributed company.

~ Matt Mullenweg from, https://ma.tt/2020/04/five-levels-of-autonomy/

I’ve read and listened to a bunch of stuff from Mullenweg and he’s consistently someone with his head on straight and his priorities—particularly those related to the many people working for his company—in order. If you just went, “Matt who?” definitely read that little post, and then, perhaps, dip into his podcast, Distributed. (Maybe try the episode, Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg on building a fully distributed company, to get a good taste.)

Also, yes, more autonomy for everyone.

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The modern struggle

The modern struggle — Lone individuals summoning inhuman willpower, fasting, meditating, and exercising, up against armies of scientists and statisticians weaponizing abundant food, screens, and medicine into junk food, clickbait news, infinite porn, endless games and addictive drugs.

~ Naval Ravikant

Silent majority

The great biographer Robert Caro once said, “Power doesn’t always corrupt, but power always reveals.” Perhaps the same is true of the most powerful networks in human history.

Social media has not corrupted us, it’s merely revealed who we always were.

~ Mark Manson from, https://markmanson.net/social-media-isnt-the-problem

There’s a lot of good—writing, concepts, anecdote, data—in this article. But the thing that leapt out at me was something I’d already known, but seem to have forgotten… or, if not fully forgotten, I’d failed to connect it to other things in my model of the world: The idea of the silent majority.

About 90% of the people participating on social networks, are not even participating. They’re simply observing. It turns out that the other 10% are the people with extreme views; not “blow stuff up” extreme, but simply more towards the opposing ends of whatever spectrum of views you care to consider.

Two things to consider: First, boy howdy guilty as charged! I’m on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn— but the only content I post is related to my projects. I don’t engage with anything, reshare… or even, really, participate unless it’s related to a project. *face palm* Woa! I’m literally a member of the silent majority. Perhaps you are to? If 10 of you are reading, then 9 of you are just like me.

Second, because math! If you look at the stream we all like to say, “it’s endless!” Right. There must be thousands of posts, right? I’ll pause while you do math… right. If there are only thousands of posts for me to see, I’m clearly not seeing all the activity from the millions of people. Sure, some of that is the platform filtering, but I have the feeling that the numbers hold true: If everyone posted a lot we’d have thousands of times more stuff flying around.

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The security of your condition

Somebody has arrived from Rome. “I only hope there is no bad news.” Why, what harm can happen to you when you are not there? — Somebody has arrived from Greece. “I only hope there is no bad news.” Why, at this rate, every place can be the cause of misfortune to you. Is it not enough for you to be unfortunate where you are, but must you be unhappy on the other side of the sea also, and by letter? Such is the security of your condition!

~ Epictetus

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Just one good idea

I believe the standard how-to book contains too much new stuff for a human brain to take on board once, or at least it does for my brain. Implementing a single habit – flossing before bed, for example – is something most people can do if they’re really focusing on it, but even that is hard. Converting your workday into the full-bore Pomodoro system, or (God help you) the GTD system, represents a dozen or more habits that all have to come online more or less at the same time.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/06/how-to-get-things-done-when-you-have-trouble-getting-things-done/

This is an unusual post from Cain. It is very much nuts-and-bolts material—ending in a pitch for a book of his own—rather than his usual philosophical pontifications. To his observation quoted above I’d like to add the following: If I am able to find just one good idea in a book which I can implement, then I get very excited.

For example, one can read many books and come away with new ideas. (Man’s Search for Meaning, or Leaves of Grass, spring to mind as examples.) But the vast majority of books do not contain actionable things that can be implemented to make a difference in your life. An idea like, “be the change you want to see in the world,” is sublime. But how—be specific in your thinking here—do I do that? There are many examples: “Practice gratitude.” How, exactly? And compare that to the same idea, in actionable form: “Begin each day by writing down three things for which you are grateful.”

I’m not trying to denigrate great ideas. I’m trying to explain my sheer delight when I do find a great idea which is readily attemptable. Many of those actionable ideas still fall by the wayside, but a few of them have really stuck and served me well.

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