Slowness

The rise of technology has meant that any time we are bored or in need of something to do, we can go on our phones and check out social media, or watch a part of a television show. Whenever we get bored, we default to doing something else; doing nothing does not come to our mind. When we are asked “Are you free tomorrow to review my latest blog post?” most people would say that they were “very busy” but would try to “review it quickly”. In actuality though, if a person were to take stock of what they had planned for that day, they would most likely realize that they had enough time to review the post in depth. The truth — one that we continuously ignore — is that 24 hours in a day is enough, but we are always looking for distractions. “How many likes did I get on my latest Tweet?” “The next episode of X is out — I should watch that now!” are things we consider all too often.

The rise of these constant distractions has meant that we have adopted a culture wherein doing something is better than doing nothing. I have written about this in previous essays, but the quick summary is that our society believes that if you are busy, then you are viable and making a positive contribution to society; if you are not doing something, you are not reaching your full potential. The always-on nature of technology has made most people adopt a mindset where when they get bored, they go do something else just so they can say that they have “been busy” that day. Most of the things they do are just distractions — they add very little value to their lives.

Our desire for being busy and our proclivities to search for distractions whenever we get bored means that we are often not staying fully focused on what is going on in the moment. When we are reading an op-ed and get bored, our first reaction is to check our notifications. It is more difficult for us to persevere and actually finish the article. Even when finish the article, we are always looking for the next thing to do. We are going to fast that we are not taking the time that we need to actually understand what we are reading.

It is from truly understanding something that we can derive value from it. Understanding requires us to be totally focused on the task at-hand — to be thinking about the task, synthesizing information, and evaluating each decision we make. It requires us to explore different paths, reach dead ends, and recover and find a better path to advance our knowledge. Understanding does not integrate well with the fast-paced culture which we are used to. We need to be slow — deliberate — and think about what we are reading and doing.

Reading a blog post is not enough to understand its contents, but yet we think that when we have finished, we should move onto the next thing. If we say that we read ten blog posts in one day, it makes us sound significantly more productive than if we say that we read and thought about two blog posts in one day. We move onto the next thing; then the next thing. We do not take a moment to think about what we have read — to make internal connections — and ensure that we truly understand the topic we have read about.

One major impact of our culture of being fast is on how we form opinions. In order to form our own independent opinions about a subject, we need to spend time thinking about it. Yet most of us seem to be able to come up with some opinion about anything after reading a few sentences. We have been conditioned to believe that reading an article means that we have read all of the information we need to master the subject — this view is dangerous though. This is especially prominent in politics. Most people read an article quickly — or even just the headline and a quick description — and then quickly form an opinion on the subject. Perhaps there are facts in the article which contradict their original stance, but because they have not spent time reading the article in full and digesting the information, they will not know any better. If we don’t truly understand what we have read, it is impossible to render an informed opinion. It takes a lot of work to create an opinion and to be confident in what we have been thinking about.

Being fast has also made it more difficult for us to experience our world and each individual event. We are always looking for the next thing to do — what will we watch on television, what emails we need to respond to, or who we need to meet with next. If we take the slow approach, then we can spend more time reflecting on each individual event. If you are writing a blog post, rather than writing the article and forgetting about it as soon as you are done, you should instead take some time to reflect on your work. Recognize a job well done. Make any necessary edits. Think about how you can improve the article. After all, slow is about appreciating quality over quantity, and quality is usually best in the long-term. Being slow makes it easier for you to truly experience life and make the most out of every moment. You can also make better memories when you take the slow approach — you are focused on every little detail, and want to experience what is going on in the moment over what may happen in the future.

Before we proceed onward to discuss how we can fight the culture of fastness, we must first ask: what does it mean to be slow? Slow means being still, calm, reflective, analytical, and focused on doing the best job that you possibly can. Slow means that you are focused on producing quality work over quantity. Fast, on the other hand, means that you are always looking to do something, you are stressed, focused on quantity, and attempt to multi-task to balance your busy schedule. If we compare these two side-by-side, we realize that being slow sounds like a more effective strategy — we are focused on being deliberate and producing quality work. Our culture of moving fast has meant that we have lost our grasp on the benefits of being slow, but upon further reflection, moving back to a slow approach would be prudent for most people.

How do we fight the culture of fastness? This is not an easy question to answer; after all, being fast is engrained into our culture. However, the best way to get started is to stop after doing something. If you have read an article, stop. If you have just finished writing an essay, stop. If you have just watched an interview or lecture, stop. Think about what you have experienced and process it. Don’t worry about what is next — worry about making sure that you can get everything out of each experience. After all, the next thing can wait, and there will be plenty of time to take notes on it — the thing you are doing now is already happening, and if you move onto the next thing too early, you will never get all of the value from what you are doing right now.

Finally, being fast means that you are more likely to make mistakes, especially when making decisions. Indeed, in many cases we are pressured to make a decision. However, there are very few cases wherein taking five minutes to evaluate a decision — or even apply a decision-making framework like a SWOT analysis — would be considered an unproductive use of your time. Taking time to evaluate decisions in-depth before committing to a single path reduces the likelihood that you make the wrong decision, and will allow you to be more confident in your path. Further, choosing a bad decision is never a one-time deal — bad decisions always come back later. Thinking slow allows us to mitigate this risk, and focus on doing the best job possible.

Prioritize fast over slow. Stop and reflect after doing something; don’t move onto the next thing. Be slow.

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The Importance of Ethics in Building Great Products

Being ethical is a critical part of being a successful maker. Especially for indie makers, maintaining an ethical presence allows them to develop strong customer relationships, and cultivate a culture of trust around their product. One common misconception about ethics is that it is a subject you study, and does not necessarily apply to startups or products. Indeed, the “hustle” and “move fast and break things” cultures which have become popular in Silicon Valley reject the notion that being ethical is the most important part of building a product. However, I would argue that being ethical is indeed the most important part of building a product. Naval Ravikant, co-founder of AngelList, recently remarked on ethics by stating “Ethics isn’t something you study; it’s something you do”.

Every individual has their own ethical code — the set of principles by which they live their lives. For some people, they value integrity above all else: they are not willing to compromise their beliefs for the benefits of others. Some people value community above all else: they want to do what is best for the community at all times. These values are developed from within, rather than from a textbook. In startups especially, the specific ethical codes which founders use vary, and there is no specific guideline for how to be ethical. That being said, it is still incredibly important for founders — and makers — to ensure that they have a strong moral code, and integrate that into their product.

Before exploring the benefits of ethical building, it is first important to explore why people default to being unethical while building products and startups. Many founders act in an unethical manner — even if it is just for one decision — because it seems like the easiest decision to make in the moment. Perhaps a founder raises a new round of capital because they don’t want to fire their team, even if the capital will not help them achieve their goal. If most people are presented with an immediate solution and a solution that will take a long time to implement but will be better for the project over the long-term, most people would choose the immediate solution. Many founders make decisions that are not in compliance with their own personal moral code because it is easier to do in the short-term — their problem is solved. However, this method of short-term thinking has a few significant impacts on a company or side project.

Ethics and Solid Foundations

This leads us to the first benefit of being ethical: it is better for the company in the long-term. Indeed, making a bad decision that will help resolve a problem immediately may seem more favorable in the moment, but bad decisions always come back and have unintended consequences. To use the previous example, if you raised capital just so you could save your team, you would likely be in the same position a few months later because you have ignored the cause of the lack of capital, in favor of saving your team — if your sales funnel was bad, raising capital will not assist you in improving it, but hard work will.

Peter Thiel famously said, “As a founder, your first job is to get the first things right, because you cannot build a great company on a flawed foundation.” That is to say, if you build a culture on being unethical, your project or startup will suffer in the long-term. You will have to deal with your bad decisions in the future, and they will likely cause even more harm to your growth than you thought. Simply put, making an ethical decision is best for the company in the long-term because it is more likely to stabilize your company and help you build a strong foundation, especially in the early stages. A great example of the long-term benefits of being ethical can be found in Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett firmly adheres to his personal set of principles — his “inner scorecard”. The investor Guy Spier wrote in his book “The Education of a Value Investor” about Buffett’s scorecard, stating “Indeed, he has told Berkshire’s shareholders that there are things he could do that would make the company bigger and more profitable, but he’s not prepared to do them.” For example, Spier stated, “he resists laying people off or selling holdings that he could easily replace with more profitable businesses.” Buffett was willing to sacrifice immediate growth and profit over being unethical — he wants to build long-term relationships based on trust.

Being ethical is also a major competitive advantage, especially for makers. Most people are short-term thinkers and care more about immediate gratification than a big payout in the future. Although Silicon Valley runs on making promises about future compensation — stock options are a great example of this — founders are often more concerned about what will help the company solve a problem now rather than put the company on a good track in the future. This mindset is easy to adopt because, after all, founders and makers are presented with difficult decisions every day. Ravikant is also famous for saying “Ethics is what you do despite the money. If being ethical were profitable, everyone would do it.” In sum, being ethical is about ignoring the short-term payoffs, and focusing on the long-term prospects. Most people aren’t ethical because they care more about instant rewards, but making decisions that compromise a project’s values in the name of making a profit can harm the project in the long-term. Those who adhere to their ethical code at all times, however, are distinctive, and because most other people are playing a short-term game, they have a lot more to gain.

Ethical ads companies, for example, can compete with Google because — among other reasons — they are focused on maintaining quality and building trust with their consumers. Many people prefer ethical ads over endless tracking offered by platforms such as Google Analytics, and so the people pursuing the ethical ads project are at a major advantage. Ethical companies can compete in already saturated markets by appealing to people’s innate ethical standards.

Trust and Relationships

To explore this further, being ethical allows you to build better relationships based on trust, which can have a number of benefits. Business is all about trust — making promises and following through on those promises. If you are ethical from the start, then you can build solid relationships with customers, prospective employees, current employees, investors, and more because there is an inherent state of trust. These people know that you will always do what is right, rather than what solves a problem immediately.

Trust compounds, and as you continue to follow your ethical code, you will realize significant benefits. Perhaps the most notable product of building relationships based on trust would be that it will help them attract new customers. If a consumer is faced with the choice of an ethical product versus an unethical product, most will choose the ethical product because it appeals to the values they feel are important. This is a prime example of the competitive advantage of being ethical in action — if you show you care about your customers, people will be more likely to use your product.

Further, building relationships based on trust will allow a company to increase customer retention. If the company is faced with compromising their ethics to make a quick profit over maintaining a strong relationship with its customers, then making the tough decision to stick with customers will be admired. Customers will want to continue using your product over competitors’ products because they know that the company is always looking out for them — making decisions in the best interests of the company and its customers, not immediate profits. The trust built up by being ethical will also increase the likelihood that existing customers will recommend the product to others. Most people care a lot about personal recommendations. After all, a lot of the products we use today have been sourced through personal recommendations. People will be more likely to recommend a product to their friends or family if they know they operate ethically and put the customers first, which will help the company expand their customer base and cultivate new relationships with prospective customers.

Another benefit of being ethical is that it allows products to build a better quality team. Building a business based on ethics and putting the interests of customers first will encourage more ethical people to join the business. People who are ethical want to work with others who value ethics and building positive customer relations. A great example of this is in the programming industry. Good programmers looking for a new job usually have a lot of offers available to them due to the lack of talent available in the market, and so good programmers usually choose the company working on the best product with the best culture — they want to work with “A” players. Building a solid reputation of being ethical will make it easier for you to close the best people for that reason, and bringing on more ethical people to the team will have significant benefits in the long-term.

On the same note, being ethical also makes it easier to retain employees. If an employee is working for a company that practices the values they care about, they are more likely to stay with that company for longer. This is because of the aforementioned rule that ethical people want to work with ethical people. Even if an ethical employee is presented with a great job offer at a larger company, they may be more likely to stay with their existing employer because they value their ethics more than a large bonus on their paycheck. This is especially important when you are building a startup, where losing critical team members early on can be seen as a poor signal to investors, and can indeed cause the company to fail. Being ethical reduces the likelihood of this scenario, and allows the company to cultivate and maintain more positive relationships with their customers.

Ethics for Makers

How can I build an ethical product? As aforementioned, the way in which you build an ethical product will be based on the specific values that matter to you. Therefore, when you are starting a new project or company — or are looking to embody more ethical values in your existing project or company — you should take some time to reflect on what values matter to you. These will be different for everyone: there is no rulebook to being ethical. However, when you have these values written down and you know why they are important to you, then you will have a clearer understanding of how you should approach building your company.

Building an ethical product makes decision-making easier. If you are presented with a decision that is unethical but immediately profitable and a decision that is ethical but unprofitable in the short-term, then having your personal values defined beforehand will make it easier for you to make an effective and informed decision. If you are presented with bootstrapping your company versus raising money from a VC who doesn’t share your values, then you would know that bootstrapping would be the best decision. Perhaps it would be more difficult in the short-term — VC money can help a lot in growing companies — but if they didn’t share your values, it would be likely you would end up making a lot of unethical decisions in the future to earn a profit that would make you feel uncomfortable. Ethics are the foundation of your moral compass; after you reflect on what values matter most, it will make it easier to make tough decisions because you know you are making them in alignment with your values.

Another key element of being ethical is correcting your path when you notice something is wrong. Sometimes our moral compass does not detect a problem in a feature that we have developed, but other people may notice an issue in that feature. A great example of this was the recent negative PR that Superhuman received after a long essay entitled “Superhuman is Spying on You” was written, which highlighted privacy concerns around their read status trackers. Various news outlets started to publish stories about the feature shortly after the essay was posted. The feature was initially designed to help people know when their emails had been read — a feature valued by enterprise customers, investors and founders, which Superhuman was targeting.

Despite the fact many people liked the feature, the fact that it tracked the location where an email was opened concerned many users and resulted in Superhuman receiving a lot of negative publicity. After this happened, Rahul Vohra, the founder of Superhuman, corrected the issue and made changes to the feature to make it more ethical, and published an article about the problem within 24 hours. Superhuman cared about building strong customer relationships, and so when they realized many customers did not like their read status feature tracking locations, then they stopped offering the feature. They may have made a bad decision implementing the feature in the first place, but their commitment to their ethics and adopting a customer-first mindset allowed them to quickly correct course and regain confidence from their customers.

Being ethical in building a product is all about doing what is right, irrespective of the rewards presented to you if you compromise your values. The early decisions that you make will have a significant impact on the future of your project or company, and so it is critical that you make them in alignment with the values that you want your company to embody. It is important to note that being ethical is not a one-time event — it is a continuous process. Although it may seem more lucrative making a decision that would compromise your ethics but result in a major profit, those decisions normally don’t work out in the long-term. If you want to stand out in a competitive market, be different than everyone else. Be ethical.

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Journaling

I have recently been considering what the best way to measure personal growth is. One such solution was to evaluate my shareholder questions — the decisions I have allowed people to vote on — every few months, and reflect on the success of the decisions after they have been implemented (or not implemented, for that matter). Although long-term retrospectives of your life are important — they allow to you see your rate of change, and how habits compound — I think that evaluating day-over-day growth is also very important. The best way to keep track of this is through a journal.

Every evening, before I read a few dozen pages of a book and fall asleep, I take some time to journal. The goal of my journal is to reflect on what I have accomplished throughout the past day, and evaluate what tasks I may need to complete tomorrow. Further, I also take some time to reflect on whether I acted in accordance with my personal principles, and how I can become a better person tomorrow. In order to effectively capture my day, I ask myself three questions. These questions were designed to help me track my day-over-day growth, and provide a starting point to help me when I don’t know what to write about.

The first question I ask myself is “What good did I do today?”. This question is based on Benjamin Franklin’s journaling habits, where he would ask himself this question during the final hours of his day. This question is not asking me what I accomplished — although my accomplishments are important — but rather what I did to have an impact on the world, however small. In this section, I often write about interviews I have hosted, calls I have had with friends, blog posts and research I have written, and more. These are all activities which allow me to have a positive impact on society, and are things which I value highly. By writing them down at the end of the day, I am able to measure whether I did a lot of good that day — my overarching goal is to have a good answer to this question by the end of the day.

I also ask myself “What could I do better?”. This question is asking me what I perhaps did which I shouldn’t have, and what I could do to be the best version of myself. For example, if I watched an hour of television more than I should have, I would write down that I could watch less television in the next day. One recurring trend I have noticed is that my answers to this question are often based on my doing too much of something — watching television, using social media, worrying about things outside of my control — which I know is already bad for me. The goal of this question is to help me analyze in more depth the impact that these things are having on my life, and measure how they influenced my success for the past day.

Finally, I ask myself the question “How could I be the best version of myself?”. This question integrates well with the previous question — it asks me to set actionable points about how I can improve. In the previous question, I was focused on what I did wrong in my day, and what I could do better. This question, however, is about reflecting on those and setting goals for the next day which will allow me to be the best version of myself. If I watched too much television that day, I may write “In order to be the best version of myself, I shall watch less television tomorrow and report back”. This is a simple statement, and I will often think more about how to implement this in more depth after writing my overall goal. In this case, perhaps restricting my television usage for one hour a day would be a good way to reach the set goal. In this section, I write about ways in which I can improve myself, what habits I can and should adopt, and what feedback I have received from others about how to be a better person. This question is all about personal growth — what can I do to be a better person.

I find that these questions are optimal because they are simple, and expect very little in terms of mental energy. Because I journal at the end of the day, making these questions simple is critical in ensuring that I continue with the habit. Although I have been journaling for a few months consistently, perhaps I would not have even started if the questions were too complex. Further, these questions allow me to compare my growth on a smaller level. When I am analyzing my decisions and shareholder questions, I am often comparing my current life to where I was a few months ago — before I made a decision. However, journaling gives me the opportunity to compare my progress over days, which will make it easier for me to make positive changes to make better decisions, and implement them more effectively.

Evaluating my life day-over-day has made me adopt a new way of thinking: I am not competing with others; I am competing with who I was yesterday. If I answer the question “What could I do better?” with the same answer as the previous day, then I know that I have either not set the right goals, or have not worked hard enough to reach those goals. Journaling daily helps me realize when there are problems in my life and routines and immediately make changes to ensure that I stay on track toward my goals. Further, journaling helps me stay accountable to the decisions I have made with the goal of becoming a better person. I want to be able to say that today was a better day than yesterday. I don’t care if one of my friends wrote a long-form essay that day; I care that I am a better person. As I become a better person, I will be able to have a more positive impact on the lives of others, and society as a whole. This sounds like a more effective goal than beating other people.

Journal daily. Reflect on what good you have done, what you could do better, and how you can be the best version of yourself.

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Solitude

Most of our days are spent with other people. Whether we have to attend a meeting, grab coffee with a friend, or just work in an open office, we have to be around other people. Spending time with others is a great investment of our time: it allows us to learn from other people, develop relationships with people who can help us (and who we can help), and also allows us to get in touch with what it means to be human. We spend most of our days talking with others because it feels great — catching up with a friend is a very liberating experience.

The position of technology in our lives makes it easy for us to talk to anyone at any point in the day. If we need to talk with a co-worker about a sales lead, we can call them. If we need to ask a friend to help us move, we can call them. Most people have their phones on for the entire day, and so reaching these people is not a problem. However, the rise of technology has also made it easy for us to find people with whom to speak when we actually do not need to speak to anyone. We can scroll through Twitter for a few minutes, find someone to talk to, and spend the next hour exchanging DMs — indeed, something of which I am guilty. This type of interaction is harmful for both parties.

If you are only talking to someone because you are bored, then it is likely that the quality of that interaction will be low. If you have no intentions — you want to catch up, ask them for a favor, check-in on their progress, etc. — then the exchange will likely not be very constructive. The person who is receiving your messages will likely be happy to chat, but if there is no intention to the message thread, then they will quickly get bored. Conversations where no party derives any value from their contents are not worth having. Yet our culture of always being busy has made us constantly in search for a new conversation.

Over the last few weeks, I have started to make time in my day for solitude. Rather than thinking of someone with whom I can speak when I am bored, I instead spend some time in solitude. Often times in the evenings, I take some time to just be present. I don’t talk with anyone, I don’t write, and I don’t work; I do nothing. Initially, taking out time in my day for solitude felt like a waste of time. I did not feel productive, and I found little value in what I was doing. However, upon further analysis, there are a lot of benefits to finding time in your schedule for being alone.

Spending time alone gives you the opportunity to do some introspection and evaluate your life. In the evenings, I often reflect on the work I have done in my day, and whether I have acted in accordance with my values throughout the day. Having time to evaluate my life in peace allows me to explore my thoughts in more depth, and be more intricate in analyzing my actions. In addition, reflecting on your days helps you develop more insight into who you are as a person — what makes you a unique and great individual. This level of self awareness makes it easier to make decisions that are more likely to help you become a better person — you are more aware of what is best for you.

Spending time alone also gives you space to do some short-term and long-term planning, without having to worry about the opinions of others. You can think in-depth about who you are, where you want to be in the future, and consider exactly what steps you will need to take in order to reach your goals. Our always-on culture often distracts us from setting goals for our lives — we are too busy working in the moment to focus on the distant future — although long-term thinking is an important part of growth. In solitude, it is only you, and so you can control exactly what you think about.

Spending time in solitude also helps you become more detached from your work. Our modern society has developed an image where if you are busy, then you are valuable. Consider this: how many times do people respond “I have been busy” when you check-in with them after a week or so of talking? I bet that most people use that answer, because we naturally want to be busy.

Being in solitude allows me to take a step back and focus on life in general, rather than my work. I am alone with my thoughts; there is no work in front of me to complete. Being in solitude helped put my life into perspective, and realize that there is more to life than work. Solitude also allows you to analyze whether or not the time you are spending on work is worth it. Are you working just so you can say that you have “been busy”, or are you working because you love your job and are able to make a difference?

Spending time in solitude is difficult to start with, especially for people who default to finding someone else with whom to talk when they are bored. At first, I became conscious of a lot of thoughts I had buried because I did not want to deal with them. However, as I spent more time in solitude, I was able to work through these problems and become a more thoughtful and intentional individual. The best way to get started is to schedule some time at the end of your day and say that you will do nothing during that period. Perhaps that time is five minutes before you go to bed, or immediately after you finish eating your final meal of the day. Either way, schedule a time, and stick to it. By doing this, then you know exactly when you need to be in solitude, and are less likely to avoid the exercise.

Further, the time you choose should be when you are most able to be alone. If you have family commitments, perhaps taking a walk in the park alone during your lunch break would be most appropriate; if you live alone, perhaps reflecting after you get home would work. There is no specific place where you need to be to be in solitude, although I have found that being at home is more effective as I am surrounded by familiar items.

Plato is famous for saying “The unexamined life is not worth living”, and while this sentiment may be more extreme than I think it should be, it still conveys an important lesson: examining our lives can help us become better people. Spending time in solitude makes it easy to examine our lives and determine our strengths, analyze our weaknesses, and understand how we can improve various elements of our routines. As we continue to spend time in solitude, we can work toward becoming a better person.

Make time in your day for solitude. Reflect. Introspect. Evaluate.

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Stories

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post on advice, where I explored the reasons why advice is inefficient, and why you should listen to as much advice as possible, then ignore it. In summary, I advocated for the fact that advice is based on the experience of others, and so it is very difficult for people to relate to the advice. If a parents tells their child to read a few pages of a book every day, the child will likely derive little benefit from that advice because they do not have the benefit of hindsight that the parents have. The parents may give their child that advice because they understand the importance of reading as they have matured, but the child does not have that experience, and so will find it very difficult to see the value in following the advice their parents gave. In this post, I failed to offer an alternative to advice. Upon further contemplation, I have a good alternative: tell stories.

I believe in telling stories. Stories are more constructive than advice because they give the listener additional context into the topic. When someone shares advice, it is often only a few sentences long, and the listener will only have a limited understanding of the nature of the advice. Indeed, the listener will not know how much of an impact that advice had on someone else’s life, so it will be very difficult for them to evaluate whether the advice is useful and applicable to their own life. If the parent were to tell the child the story of their career, and explain how reading helped them achieve their goals, the child is more likely to find value in the advice because they can see the benefits of following the advice. The child may still not read a few pages of a book every day, but telling them a story about the parents’ experience will give them more to think about regarding the advice, and may encourage them to follow the advice in the future.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of stories over advice is that stories are engaging and thought provoking. If you can tell a story well, then people will likely be fully engaged in the story, and want to know as much as possible about the story. Indeed, often times people ask questions at the end of stories so that they can gain further context into the experience or tale. Because the listeners will be fully engaged, they are more likely to remember elements of the story and the advice that it conveys. Rather than giving someone advice — which would be a sentence or two — you can instead tell someone a story and give them the context they need to better understand the advice they have received. The best stories are relatable, and people are more likely to listen to the advice the story includes because they are more invested in the story.

Stories also allow people to choose what advice is best. Indeed, there is often a “moral” to a story, but because stories are dynamic — they are not single sentences or conversations about advice — then people can select what advice they think is true, and then follow that advice. Therefore, even if someone does not agree with the main advice conveyed in the story, there is still an opportunity for them to learn something new, or receive some other advice which will help them improve their life. The listener is not told what to follow — they can follow whatever advice they found in the story. Advice, however, requires the reader to follow a specific way of thinking, which may not be applicable to their life. Further, because stories are dynamic, they can be interpreted by the listener in any way they want — listeners can think through the story critically, and reflect on the parts of the story they find most interesting. This is unlike advice where there is little context for the listener, which makes it more difficult for them to reflect on the lessons they have been told.

Stories bring people together. Most people enjoy listening to stories, and so when one story is being told to someone, it is likely that other people will join as well. People can also connect over their shared interest in a story — someone’s experience in exams; someone’s experience starting a failed company. Those who have all heard the same story can strengthen their relationship by discussing the lessons they learned, and what they thought were the best parts of the story. Also, the person telling the story will be able to develop a closer relationship with the listeners because they are sharing their personal thoughts and experiences or something they care a lot about.

To use a personal example, earlier this week I received an email from someone about a shareholder question I had recently posted. The person who sent the email, rather than giving me a list of advice, told me — briefly — the story of their professional life, and shared some personal details in the story as well. I will perhaps always remember this email because the person told me an entire story rather than giving me short advice, which was immensely useful and changed my way of thinking on a few different things. If the email was a list of advice, I would likely not have as much comprehension over its contents.

Everything is a story in some way. Your experience in high school; the books you have read; your family; your most recent trip with your friends. Products are stories as well, especially when you reflect on how companies got started. In the context of startups, the most useful advice given in the industry is through stories. Founders prefer advice from founders who have been through it all before and who tell their stories than from other people who have little experience and who tell them exactly what to do and how to do it. Everyone has a different experience in building a company, so most advice will be useless for most entrepreneurs. Stories, however, give the listener access to a plethora of wisdom on which they can reflect at any time. I bet that any founder would prefer to hear the story of Airbnb’s founders being called a “cockroach” by Paul Graham after taking in a box of homemade cereal to their Y Combinator interview than being told simply “work hard; don’t give up”.

Listen to advice; ignore it. Don’t give advice; tell stories. Be a storyteller.

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Do I have control over this situation?

One of the fundamental components of Stoicism is that there are things that we can control, and things that we cannot control. Stoics believe that the main thing over which we have control is our mind, and almost everything else — our career, our health, our relationships, etc cetera — is outside of our control. At first thought, this may seem trivial. “I do have control over my career” you may think. However, your boss one day could dismiss you due to the firm downsizing. You may think you have control over relationships — indeed, you need to put effort into them for them to continue — but someone may move away and your relationship will suffer, or your romantic partner decides to break up with you. These are outside of your control — there is nothing you could have done.

I have been working over the last months to try and adopt this mindset. Indeed, it seems rather cynical, but actually, it is very realistic when you think about it. We have control over very little in our daily interactions. The key lesson to take away from this idea is not that we do not have much control over our lives, but rather that most of the things we worry about are outside of our control. We may worry that our romantic partner will break up with us, but ultimately, that is outside of our control. We can invest time in the relationship and be the best person possible, but the relationship still may end — we do not have control over the decisions of others, or outside circumstances.

This is an important fact to internalize because most people use a lot of their energy worrying about matters which are actually outside of their control. They do not have the ability to change what is going to happen. In the situations over which we have no control, we should stop worrying about what will happen — we will not be able to do anything anyway. This is a common state of mind for one main reason: we don’t want to think that we have very little control over our lives. We like to stay in control, because the more control we have, the more we can shape our life to be in our favor. It may be a difficult mindset to adopt, although there are a few major benefits of investing in developing this mental model.

Not worrying about what is outside of our control allows us to save mental energy, and therefore focus more on the things over which we have full control — our mind. Focusing more on what we can control gives us the freedom to invest more resources in the things that we can influence, rather than the things outside our control. This significantly increases our chances of success in a particular situation because, rather than focusing on what we cannot control, we have used our time and limited mental energy contemplating what we can control.

The Stoics teach that because we have full control over our mind, then we have the ability to control how we see every situation. Let’s say you were fired from your job due to the company eliminating your department. You could indeed wallow in despair and spend weeks trying to think about what went wrong. Or you could spend those weeks thinking that it wasn’t your fault, which would give you the ability to focus more on finding a new position. Why should you blame yourself when your losing your job was outside of your control? I try to spend as much time as possible focusing on the things over which I have control at that time, rather than the outside factors which I will not be able to control, no matter how hard I try.

Adopting this mindset has made it easier for me to stay in the moment because I am always able to focus on the things which matter most — the things that I can control. I am present and can control everything that happens to me because I can control my mind. If my regular coffee shop is closed, I could get angry because I miss out on my favorite coffee, or I could just go to the one next door that I have never been to and get my morning fix there. I would have wasted a lot of energy being annoyed at the fact my regular coffee shop was closed, but it wouldn’t have done anything. Rather, I could divert my attention toward where else I could go, and end up with a better outcome.

This is a difficult mindset to adopt, as aforementioned, but I think it is worth the investment. On occasion, when something is particularly stressful, I tend to worry more than I perhaps should. This only demonstrates the need to practice this model — nobody will be able to ignore every bad thing that happens outside of their control at the very start. Epictetus, a famous Stoic, asked himself one question when deciding how to react to a situation: “Is this something that is, or is not, in my control?’ And if it’s not one of the things that you control, be ready with the reaction, ‘Then it’s none of my concern.”

Stop worrying about what you can’t control — outside circumstance. Focus on what you can control — your mind.

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One Thing

As I have mentioned before on this blog, I like to live in the moment. I find that living in the moment allows me to get more out of my life, and makes me feel happier and more positive. As part of this mantra, I abstain from long-term planning. Indeed, I try to adopt a long-term mindset in terms of decisions, but I do not like to plan my life far in advance — doing so would remove an element of serendipity in which I find great pleasure. On a daily level, I use one heuristic to help me be productive: accomplish one goal.

On some days, I feel highly motivated and am ready to take on a few major tasks. On others, however, I lack the motivation to work through all of my big tasks, and instead end up doing a few smaller tasks. This has resulted in me aiming to complete one task a day. I don’t measure my success by the number of to-do list items I have crossed off, but rather I measure success based on whether I have completed that one thing. If I have completed that one thing, I have done what I wanted to do in the day. Perhaps I wanted to write a blog post. Or record a podcast. Or write an essay. Or do something else. It doesn’t matter what I want to accomplish — I just want to accomplish that one thing.

For example, today’s one goal was to write a blog post. I have other work that I would like to get done, but publishing a new post on this blog as often as possible is important to me. And so I aimed today to write this one blog post. My goal was not to write an excellent blog post, but rather just publish this one article.

There are a few benefits to adopting this model. Firstly, I have found that by setting one goal per day, I am less likely to feel disappointed in my progress for the day. Perhaps there was more that I could have done, but I will feel a lot better if I have completed the one major task that I set out to do that day. I will always have the next day to do anything else that needs to be done. In addition, this model gives me a great boost of energy in the morning. Often times, I set my one goal to be relatively small — writing a blog post, for example. This gives me the motivation I need to invest my full attention into the other tasks that I want to get done, and makes me feel more productive from the get-go.

I have also found that this model has helped reduce the mental burden associated with managing a long to-do list and constantly thinking about your tasks. Each day, I am always thinking about how I should accomplish my one thing to the best of my ability. There may be other tasks that I need to complete, but they don’t have to occupy my mental headspace as much. The goal for the day is to complete that one thing, and so I should spend most of my time thinking about that one thing — all the other tasks don’t matter until I have accomplished my one goal.

A few months ago, I got heavily invested in the “productivity hacks” culture, and what I found after a few weeks was that most of the tips that were shared online were mostly useless. Indeed, most guides offer advice on how to optimize your day to the point where you start to miss out on the experience of life. Rather than trying productivity hacks and becoming invested in that ecosystem, I instead use this one tip: set one goal for each day.

The essence of this mental model is the fact that it encourages you to just work, rather than worrying about planning how you will do something in-depth. Everything starts somewhere, and setting out one goal for each day can help you do what you want to and get started with your new project. Every day I want to accomplish one thing. Just one thing. Today I wanted to write a blog post. Tomorrow I want to do the same. What will I be doing next week? I don’t know — that is too far in advance for me to plan what I am going to do.

If you have a task that you really don’t want to do, setting it as your one thing will help ensure that you get it done. Even if you complete everything else, you still need to finish that one task for the day to be considered a success. Rather than deferring the task you don’t want to do indefinitely — and allowing it to occupy a larger space in your mind — you should set it as your “one thing a day”. When you are done, the day has been a success (and you have a source of motivation to help you keep going if you have more you want to accomplish.

I still have a to-do list. Indeed, I rely on my to-do list to help me stay on track with various commitments across my projects and work. But, I still focus on accomplishing one goal per day. If I complete that one goal, the day has been a success. This model is particularly effective if you celebrate your success as soon as you accomplish your one thing. As soon as I finish writing this post, I will have a mini celebration and reflect on my work, and will then progress onto the other tasks that I need to complete. This celebration helps me stay motivated, and also helps me make my work more memorable — when I am reflecting on my day before I sleep, thinking about the celebration will help me better evaluate my work.

Set one goal per day. Don’t keep long to-do lists. Celebrate your success.

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Independent Thinking

I have been thinking a lot about the topic of knowledge-based labor markets, where you are rewarded for developing the most creative solutions to difficult problems. One of the things that strikes me as odd is that even though the value of an idea is increasing, the notion of thinking for oneself appears to be less common. Most people are basing their thoughts on the information provided to them by others, rather than spending time alone to develop their own unique insights.

In order to be seen as “wise”, one needs to have experience in something specific that they have derived a lot of value from. The other component in being wise — which a lot of people neglect to think about — is the amount of time these people spend synthesizing their experiences, reflecting, and developing thoughts based on their own experience, rather than outside opinions and influences. Stoics would carefully articulate their thoughts and spend long periods of time considering something they were writing about because they understood the importance of incorporating one’s experience in writing — it is what made them so prolific.

In today’s society, independent thinking is becoming more of a rarity. Sure, there will be people who say that they think independently, but most of them actually work on the opinions of others. I would like to see more people who think for themselves, and spend time reflecting on their own experiences in solitude. Their thoughts are the byproduct of their knowledge and experience, not outside factors.

The thing about independent thinking is that it is really difficult. We think that thinking by ourself is easy, but in actuality, we are always considering lectures and ideas we have already seen when making a decision, pursuing an idea, or conveying a thought.

If society were to have more independent thinkers, we would start to see more people being referred to as “wise” in our culture — people would be evaluating their thoughts in the same way that the Stoics did. From a personal perspective, I often base my thoughts and essays on a Tweet or a conversation someone has had with me, but I try to spend time writing about everything else that has not been inspired by outside people. I prefer to share my honest and raw thoughts, and seek being wrong, than reading the thoughts of others and using that to help me make a more informed argument. That is not to say I don’t value the opinions of others — they are incredibly important, and help us gain more comprehension over a subject matter — but rather I see them more as a guide than full inspiration.

Steve Jobs famously stated “Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you.” Most of our institutions have been developed by people who are no better than us, which means that we should reconsider their exact value in our lives. We should be thinking about how we can improve our lives and society, based on our experience and instinct, rather than merely going with the grain in pursuit of full social acceptance. If there is a meaning in life, it is to make a difference, and the best way we can do that is to use our independent thoughts to make the world a better place — even if our thoughts are only read by a few people (like you are doing here in this post, right now!).

There are a few reasons I attribute to society valuing independent thinking less. One reason that is specific to ambitious people is that they are looking for validation in their path, especially if they are subverting cultural norms in pursuit of their idea. It is easier for someone to say “X person has pursued this path, and learned Y”, than for someone to say “I am the first person to ever pursue this specific path”. Yet it is in pursuing those unique paths where more wisdom lies — independent thinking would yield invaluable insights on less certain and established paths.

Another reason I think has caused this is the rise of social media, which has exposed us to more “micro-thoughts” from experts. Experts are like an API now — we can go on Twitter and see their thoughts on almost everything, without having to talk with them directly. Access to these short snippets of information makes it easy for you to work on the opinions of others, rather than considering our own thoughts. I think that validation comes into this in a different way as well: people would rather work from an established opinion with traction than think for themselves and risk their work receiving no recognition. The always-on nature of society also makes it more difficult to synthesize and develop independent thoughts. We consume so much now and don’t take any time to reflect on our own thoughts.

The nature of our education system also impacts the way we think. Schools value your ability to comply with the system, rather than to act on your own curiosity and develop your own perspectives. Students are taught to a specific syllabus which schools believe will help people prepare for the “big, bad world”, and independent thinking is not integrated into the syllabus. Indeed, in a classroom environment, if someone has their own thought that does not comply with the syllabus, most teachers would be hesitant to provide a forum for thoughtful discourse because it may confuse others and cause students to deviate from the syllabus that will dictate their grade.

Independent thinking is about developing your own thoughts, and speaking your mind, rather than working from an established opinion developed by someone else. Successful people are often those who are willing to seek social disapproval — at least in the interim — and in exchange be able to share their idea, rather than those who work with the already accepted norms. Society needs more independent thinkers. As Steve Jobs said, “think differently”.

This post was originally written on June 16th, 2019, and published on July 10th, 2019.

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Why I Am Not Going to College

A few days ago, a friend of mine asked me a simple question: “What gave you the confidence to carve out your own path at such an early age?” My friend went on to describe the fact that it takes a lot of courage in order to proclaim that you are not going to pursue the same path as everyone else. Indeed, my friend was not alone in asking this question.

In recent years, I have never indicated an interest in attending college for a variety of different reasons. As soon as I mention that I am not willing to prescribe to the traditional “one-track” system, people ask me why and outline a list of reasons why taking control of my own work is a bad idea at such a young age. In most conversations where college comes up, people feel the need to justify why they attended college in order to try to subconsciously allow me to gain further context into the benefits of attending college. I have a lot of thoughts about traditional education, and I have refrained from discussing them in public for a variety of reasons. The first being that I am comfortable telling my friends this fact because we share a social dynamic and they would likely always be there to support me, irrespective of my choices. The second reason is that I feel as if the topic has become part of people’s identities, which makes it very difficult to impart upon people my perspective without seeing fierce rebuttals. [1]

In this essay, I intend to address some of the common arguments that people have given me in support of college, as well as my general thoughts on the value of college education. This essay has been inspired by the dozens of people, as aforementioned, who have questioned my path, and I believe that compiling my thoughts into an essay will help me address this argument with those who decide to ask me about college in the future. The natural starting point for this essay is to describe my path, and to address the initial question: what gave me the confidence to pursue my own path?

Paths

When someone asks me what gave me the confidence to ignore all of the advice that I have heard about college and pursue my own path, I realize that this is not the perspective I have chosen to adopt. I have never considered my choices to be a bold move of confidence that was strategically planned in order to convince other people that I was better off outside of traditional institutions. Rather, I have been driven by my own passion for learning. I have dedicated the majority of my life to learning — whether that be through speaking with people, reading essays, analyzing books, or through another medium — because I am interested in gaining a broader understanding of the world. Over the last few years, I have started to develop a set of questions that I want to answer in my life, and my choices have been made based on what would allow me to answer those questions.

As I was maturing, people tried to justify attending college with a variety of different reasons, which I shall cover in more depth as this essay progresses. On a macro level, people believed that college was the only way to become successful — or at least the easiest way, which is in some respects worse to think about — and was a necessary part of life. I was lucky enough to be able to access the internet from a young age and read a lot of content that challenged the traditional path, and that said there were opportunities out there in the world you could access without having to go to college. As I learned about coding bootcamps, independent research, and more, I realized that the people who think college is the only way to become successful think that way because they have been a subject of the system, and have not pursued these non-traditional paths. The majority of the people who tell me that I should attend college are either an alumnus of a college, where they have been surrounded by people who believe in the institution or young people who are planning to go to college, because their parents have told them how important it is in order to attain a certain level of success.

Today, as I write, I am about to finish high school and pursue my own path as an independent researcher. In my position, I shall be conducting retrospective analyses of the life capital space and compiling my general thoughts about various aspects of the space into essays. I do not feel the need to justify why I have chosen this path, although for the benefit of this essay I shall do so. I made the conscious decision to pursue the path of being an independent researcher because I want to serve the public and make meaningful contributions toward a space in which I am deeply interested. Benjamin Franklin, who had but a few years of institutional education, never patented any of his inventions, for the reason that he believed his work was to benefit the public and to encourage more thoughtful discourse about the issues that affected society. I see myself in this position, driven not by specific paths other people have developed, but rather by my desire to have a real impact in the world.

When you are driven by your own learning, you do not recognize institutional gratification or the value of credentials — you work out of a passion for making the world a better place. The one way that I think about skipping college is that work that I do could have a real impact on the world, even if it is small, and I want to dedicate my life toward performing that work. I believe I am the first independent researcher in the life capital space, which further attests to the fact that I do not recognize any specific level of “confidence” in myself to say that I am pursuing this unconventional path. Rather, I understand the value of life capital solutions — to democratize access to opportunity and improve traditional institutions — and want to spend as much of my time as possible contributing meaningfully to the space. The validation that keeps me going on my path is simple — when one person says to me “in your essay, you mentioned…” If someone is willing to ask me about my work, then that means that I have had some impact on their life, and makes me realize that what I am doing is worth it.

Reasons

There are a variety of different reasons that people cite in their argument that college is a necessary part of life. I must first say that I do not blame people for using arguments that I shall outline further below, because most of them are only acting on the information that is readily available to them. The majority of people who say that you should go to college are either a subject of the system or have not succeeded because they did not attend college and do not want to see you make the same mistakes. Indeed, parents only want what is best for their children, and so they recommend the path that everyone else seems to have succeeded in — although they have not spent enough time researching alternative options.

The most common reason I have heard for attending college is that obtaining an accredited degree is necessary in order to apply for most jobs. I have a lot of thoughts on credentials which deserve their own essay, but the best way to address this argument concisely is to say that the world of work is changing, and credentials are becoming less relevant. In the programming space, there is a vast amount of coding bootcamps who provide high-quality computer science education taught by industry experts. One of the main reasons that these bootcamps have been formed is that there is a significant lack of talent in the computer science industry, and as technology becomes increasingly important in our lives, we need to start training more people in these critical skills. Bootcamps have started to offer their own form of credentials that are backed by their reputation, which they maintain by providing a high-quality service to their students. If a bootcamp does not help a student succeed, then they may find it harder to recruit students in the future. If a college does not help a student succeed, people will discard their experience and continue to attend that college anyway.

The second reason for the change in the value of credentials is that they serve one critical purpose — to predict one’s future performance. Final examinations are developed by institutions in strict alignment with a specific syllabus that is designed to reflect some of the main aspects of pursuing a career in that industry. Employers have historically looked at examinations as a way to predict how someone will do in their organization. Indeed, exams also signal to an employer the individual’s ability to conform with societal and institutional norms and to continue to study an area, irrespective of what other people may think about them. These credentials have been especially important for large businesses, who use them to ensure that they will introduce a certain type of person into their teams which they believe will be a good fit because they were able to complete a university degree.

However, as small businesses and technology startups continue to become more popular, the value of credentials has decreased. The primary reason for this is that tech startups, for example, simply cannot afford to wait for people to join their company — they need talented people to join now. Therefore, startups are not interested in the ability of a person to obtain a college degree. Successful startups grow at a rate where it can be difficult to keep up with demand, and the people they hire will have a direct impact on the core functions of the business as soon as they join. In large companies, however, the impact of the individual employee is smaller, and therefore they can afford to wait for them to get a college degree. Further, startups also value creativity and talent over everything else. If an individual is able to contribute meaningfully to the core operations of the business and bring the skills the business needs to grow, then they will usually ignore the fact that they have not attended college. Startups cannot wait for talent — they need to hire now. Startups are also competing with other startups for the same pool of talent, and the most flexible of them will likely be able to attract the best candidates. [2]

Another thing about credentials is that as more of them are issued, they start to become seen not as one’s rapid pursuit in academia of a certain subject, but rather as a necessity in order to succeed. As this happens, employers will start to look more for people who can provide value to the business, rather than those who have a degree — if so many people have them, what actually differentiates one candidate from the other? This ties very well into one major problem I have with institutions: they teach everyone to comply with certain principles which results in all students thinking the same way. I shall write about this in more depth further in the essay.

My friends have also made the argument that college is a “four-year deferment on life.” In essence, people believe that college affords you the opportunity to stay young for an additional four years, and prevents you from having to go to work straight away after graduating high school. The reason that I do not support this argument is that it leads to a corrupted perception of society in our youth. If young people see college as a fun experience where they can party, and also learn, without having to worry about the specific intricacies of being an adult, then when it comes time to transition, they are going to find it more difficult.

Indeed, as people go through college they mature and become more familiar with the specifics of living life as an adult. However, why should we wait for this to happen? I want to spend my time doing meaningful work and supporting myself as an independent, and going to college will merely delay me from my end goal. I have dedicated my personal time to developing skills such as personal finance and retirement planning — two skills that I believe schools should teach more prominently — because I am ready to move on, and I want to experience life to the fullest extent possible.

This will perhaps be the most controversial part of this essay, but I feel I should highlight the cost of attending college. My research in the Income Share Agreement space has allowed me to gain a firm insight into the fact that there are alternate ways to finance education, and that in the future there will most likely be more capital available for those interested in pursuing an institutional education. My problem lies not in the general access to capital, but rather for what you are being charged in order to attend college in relation to the specific value-add that they provide you. I agree that colleges can provide people with useful and in-depth lectures taught by experts which can help advance one’s own learning. However, those same lectures are often accessible online — or similar alternatives are available in the worst case scenario. Colleges used to be valued very highly for their libraries and access to academic resources — but you can find most books in a searchable format, or for purchase, online. The specific value that colleges offered has become less clear as technology has evolved to increase our access to information.

In sum, there are a lot of different ways to acquire knowledge without attending university. In fact, if one pursues their own education, then they are able to develop a more unbiased view of the subject matter because they are not confined by a traditional curriculum. Although many people choose to ignore this, colleges filter out a lot of useful information. [3] One can acquire a lot of information about a subject merely by using the internet to watch courses or listen to podcasts, to read books and essays, and to spend time producing work based on their findings. There is no rule book on how to learn — people should learn at their own pace based on their personal interests.

Interestingly, if you are driven by your own curiosity and learn in your spare time, you are more likely to retain the information that you have learned. This is primarily because you have voluntarily decided to learn that information, and you have spent time discovering it yourself, thus allowing you to develop greater neural connections between different areas of the subject. If you were to ask a college student a random question about what they had learned in their second year, they would likely have to do a lot of thinking before yielding an answer.

Culture has also been an argument commonly used to justify attending college. Many people say that there is no substitute for the college culture — it brings people who are passionate about learning together. There is indeed no adequate substitute for the college culture, and I don’t believe that there ever will be a direct substitute to the college experience either. I believe in order to understand this argument further, it is important to first break it down into its two major components: environment and; networking and community.

Most college alumni describe there is a unique environment in colleges where people all share such a desire for learning that it inspires people to do more with their lives. The fact that colleges bring together curious young people who are all interested in a specific subject matter is the main reason that this happens. I do believe that the environment in colleges can be intellectually stimulating, and the commitment to learning makes other people strive to learn more about their subjects and try to impart their newfound knowledge on other people. Walking around a college campus has a unique feeling because everyone is committed to a common goal — mastering a certain subject.

My main concern with the culture of colleges is that people have all been exposed to the same syllabus that contains the same information, and so there is less room for “contrarian” opinions. If you were to interject into a discussion between college students about what they were learning with a fact that was not included in their course, they would be quick to find some reason why you were wrong and to exclude you. This is because, ultimately, colleges teach people to think the same way and force people to acquire a set of mental models regarding education that make it difficult for them to step outside of their comfort zone and explore new perspectives toward what they have learned. There is also a subconscious pressure for people to comply with what everyone else is doing, and most college students are scared of being socially excluded if they are unable to see eye-to-eye on a specific topic that their college friends hold a firm opinion toward. [4]

As I shall write further in this essay, while colleges can teach people important life skills, they also impart upon people a skewed vision of being an adult and creates some artificial social constructs. The fear of exclusion present in colleges prevents people from taking the calculated risks that could pay off and allow them to have a meaningful impact on the world, and so a lot of economic value is actually stimulated in colleges. To analyze this from a different perspective, diversity is one of the main reasons why the U.S. has succeeded — the country has welcomed people from all backgrounds who were willing to challenge the status quo. Attending college has the potential to make people comply with these artificial social constructs that make it more difficult for them to transition to adulthood. Indeed, many successful people have been unorthodox and peculiar in some way. One example that comes to mind is that an investor who had a meeting with Steve Jobs once remarked about how he did not care how he presented himself. Colleges have the potential to create a singular view of what is socially acceptable and what is not, whereas if you do not attend college, you are not subject to such social constraints — you have the freedom to be yourself. Authenticity has been downplayed lately, and I think a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that being yourself is not nurtured in institutions like colleges to the extent that it should be.

The second aspect of culture is the network and community aspect of colleges. This differs from the environmental factor because it does not refer to the specific pressures that people face and reiterate due to the general environment. Rather, people believe that colleges are the best way to acquire a strong network of interesting and intellectual people. I will address this argument by stating the fact that I have cultivated a strong network of people from around the world who occupy various occupations — professors, investors, authors, neuroscientists, and more — through my writing and general research work. Colleges act as a magnet for smart young people who have a passion for learning, but your potential scope of networking is limited. Indeed, one can also network with the professors and the teaching staff, but that is still a limited scope of people. One can acquire better networks if they set their mind to it merely by making positive contributions to their field of interest. If you have a unique insight on a particular issue, people will want to talk with you, irrespective of whether or not you possess a college degree.

On a similar note, I have also heard a lot about college being the best place to gain inspiration for your work and to discover what you are truly passionate about. I have written about what you should do with your life in some depth in previous essays, and I firmly believe that college is not the right way to discover what you are passionate about. College is a means of acquiring more information about what you are already passionate about, rather than discovering yourself and finding what you want to work on. [5]

Colleges can be very intellectually stimulating and help people find a specific niche that they could explore in more depth, but their purpose is not to help people find their passion — it is to teach people about what they are already interested in. The most effective way to gain inspiration for your work is to explore by learning — spend as much time as possible reading and writing about things that interest you. It may be difficult for you to accurately articulate exactly what you want to work on in your life, but nobody expects you to have a clear vision of what you want to do with your life. Your best ideas will be developed by thinking about what you have learned and what you are curious about, irrespective of whether you have been the subject of your own educational pursuits, or a specific educational institution.

Colleges are often attributed to being the best way where you can acquire critical life skills — understanding relationships, working in a collaborative environment, for example. While college indeed is a good way to acquire life skills — your peers will hold you to account for your actions and expect certain things from you (i.e. cleaning up your dorm room, or being prepared for a group project) — it is not the only way to acquire life skills. In fact, college may not be the best way to acquire life skills because of the artificial environment that students live in — their main priority in life is not to earn money, but rather to keep up with their assignments and stay on track in school. Skills like relationship building, working in a team, and cultivating virtues such as frugality are developed over time.

As you experience new things, travel to new places, embark on new projects, and work for someone else — or indeed start your own company — then you will acquire these skills over time. I have acquired strong communication and literacy skills, for example, through hosting productive discussions with others on subjects that we both care about, and writing essays and long-form content, respectively. Interestingly, if you decide not to attend college, then you will be forced to learn these life skills at an accelerated rate because you will be working in the real world, not the college incubated version of the world.

To put these reasons into perspective, you should ask yourself the following question: what would you miss by attending college? Would the culture really be worth it, or are you ready to pursue your own path? What unique knowledge could college provide for you that would be difficult to acquire otherwise? Does college really constitute a unique experience now so many people hold degrees? These are only a few of many questions you could ask yourself regarding the true value of education in your life.

Expectations

The very fact I felt it necessary to compose this essay shows that non-conformists are subjected to additional expectations. Many people consider college to be a “safe” route in many respects, primarily fueled by the fact that they see a lot of successful people have attended college, and assume that every individual who attends college will attain a certain level of success.

The prima facie reaction toward those who decide against attending college is that they are taking a big risk, and so must meet certain outside expectations. I believe this to be caused by the fact that our opinions on college — as much as we like to deny it — have become a part of our identity, and so it is difficult for many to comprehend the fact that some people decide not to pursue college. Interestingly, most of the successful people in the world are those who have taken calculated career risks knowing that if they fail, they will lose everything, but if they succeed, they have the ability to realize significant upside. The main expectation that other people will have of you is that you will need to succeed, otherwise they will forever cite the fact that you did not attend college as the reason that you were not as successful as you could have been. Before I continue, I feel that success should not be measured in terms of money or wealth, but rather one’s contributions to their field of interest and personal advancement.

The best way to live up to the additional expectations imposed on you if you have not attended college is to continue to output your work, irrespective of its nature. The main advantage that you have over those that have decided to pursue college is that you are not constrained by institutional boundaries, and thus you can work more swiftly. People who avoid college should try to make public as much of their work as possible, even if it does not seem material to the overall development of the industry. The time and energy that you have invested in doing work — however small — will be recognized by others, and it is almost certain that at least one person derives some benefit from your work. Indeed, the more work that you put out, the more that you can shape the industry you are pursuing as a whole. To start, your contributions may be minimal, but as you continue to acquire knowledge, you will start to develop your own set of unique insights which other people will be interested in discussing with you. In sum, always produce, and iterate as you learn.

In addition, not being subjected to institutional boundaries means that you have full autonomy over the nature of your learning. You have the ability to take whatever direction you think will provide you with the most value, which means that you are more likely to discover a vast array of perspectives because your learning is self-driven, rather than dictated by a syllabus. It is important for you to step outside your comfort zone as much as possible and expand your interests into different subject matters. By doing so, you are able to gain further comprehension over what you are learning about which will allow you to draw connections between different subjects and apply your knowledge more effectively. In college, however, it is very difficult to study other subjects in addition to your core major because of the time commitment required, and the restrictive nature of the syllabus. Use your curiosity to your advantage and acquire as much knowledge as possible, which will help you meet the external expectations imposed upon you.

The expectations of you to succeed should also push you into producing high quality and noteworthy work. In addition to the aforementioned advantage of the speed that you have by not attending college, stating your intentions to not attend college means that your peers will hold you to full account. You will always be compared against college students, and therefore there is a strong pressure for you to yield a good result. You should use this pressure to your advantage and consider it as a way to stay on track towards your goals — because if you don’t succeed, others will see you differently. Oftentimes, this pressure is invisible, because even the people that say they support you are often hiding the fact they are scared of the risk you are taking. The incentive for college students to perform and output high-quality work is to earn a degree, but if they fail in one endeavor, they likely still have years before they need to write their dissertation. However, for those who have decided not to attend college, every piece of work matters and will have an impact on your career.

Parents are also an important factor to consider when contemplating expectations for your future. All parents have something in common: they want to see their children succeed. They want to make sure that their children have a full life filled with exciting ventures and the ability to make a difference. My parents have been very supportive of my choice to not attend college because I have been upfront and clear about my thoughts on the topic for a while. However, they will likely still feel that college is the best option, even if they are not willing to say such. I think that a lot of this is because, in conversation, it is easier for parents to say that their child is going to college than their child has left high school to become an independent researcher. The culture of attending college also affects parents — if your children don’t pursue college, people will ask why. Your parents will hold very high expectations if you do not attend college, which introduces a new pressure for you to manage. This is a great source of motivation: prove to your parents that your individual path was the best possible option for you.

At the start of this essay, I mentioned two reasons why I decided to write this essay. Upon further contemplation, there is a third reason I feel merits mentioning: I do not want to see ambitious people being told that pursuing a non-traditional path is a bad decision. Indeed, I have been told by many people that my intellectual nature and desire for learning would make me a good college student. However, for the reasons mentioned in this essay, I have chosen to ignore that sentiment and continue on my path. My thoughts on education have become part of my internal compass — I understand that going to college will not have a substantial impact on allowing me to achieve my goals. For others, however, they may feel like the pressure for attending college is so great that they should do it anyway. If you are an ambitious young person who is driven by their own learning, you should spend some time introspecting and ask yourself: will college allow me to achieve my personal and professional goals?

Before concluding, I should highlight the fact that I believe that in some circumstances, pursuing college is the best path for an individual. For example, if you are interested in pursuing a career in law or medicine, then I recommend that you attend college because degrees are traditionally required in order to advance in those industries — and with good reason. In addition, college can also be a good path for people who are interested in conducting academic research in the future and do not mind being subjected to some institutional constraints. Researching in a college will provide you with access to a variety of great resources that can help you advance your work — assuming that academia is truly the path you want to pursue. I should note though that most young people with whom I have spoken have not been interested in pursuing a career in academia.

I do not know what is going to happen in my future, and perhaps in twenty years, I will reread this essay with a different perspective on education. There is one thing that I will know for certain though: my work has already had an impact on others. This year alone, I have spoken with dozens of people who have read my essays and research, and have been inspired by the words that I have penned. What makes me truly happy in life is being able to contribute toward the public’s understanding of the life capital space, hence my decision to pursue independent research. I made my decision about avoiding college based on the fact that I can make more of an impact outside of traditional institutions. My work has inspired dozens of people to think about life capital differently and has allowed me to expand my network to include many of the people who I formerly idolized, and now consider to be my friends. To answer my initial question, what gives me the confidence to subvert the norm and pursue a non-traditional path is simple: I am driven by having a positive impact on others, and feedback gives me the validation I need to continue.

Notes

[1] I think that a lot of people feel the need to do this because they are so used to the system that they believe that attending college is almost mandatory. They do not understand that there are other paths available because they have not pursued another path, and indeed, they have been immersed in an environment with people who think and feel the same way as them in college.

[2] There is also the argument to consider that many startup founders have not attended college themselves, or indeed have attended and then dropped out. They would find it very difficult to hire talent if they required college degrees from every employee, even if they themselves had not earned one. I also think that a lot of startups are starting to value non-conformity as a useful skill for their employees to have — they will not be afraid to go against the status quo if it results in a better outcome for the business.

[3] I will not blame colleges for this because they are constrained by time — they have to teach a lot in the space of four years. However, colleges should still do more to expose people to new — and also contrarian — perspectives of the subjects they teach so that people are more prepared to engage in an argument about what they are studying. In addition, doing so will also make it easier for people to justify their college education more articulately because most people thus far have resorted to a set of reasons which I have been able to summarize in this essay.

[4] Previously, colleges were a unique experience because it gave a select few of those passionate about learning a refuge away from society and the ability to focus on learning. As college degrees have become more popular, the experience of going to college has become less unique — most people are going through it now.

You will go through more unique experiences by not going to university. The first reason for this is that because so many people are going to college, you will be the outlier and therefore will go through a different path than people are used to seeing. Secondly, you will be forced to interact with more people and produce more work in order to stay competitive, which will lead you to even more unique and exciting experiences that college could not have provided to you.

[5] You can get a 4.0 GPA without coming up with an independent thought, but rather learning and reciting the content you have learned. If this is true, then why are colleges seen as the best place to gain inspiration for your work?

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Self Retreats

I feel lost. As I write, this is my emotion, and I have some thoughts on this topic that I would like to convey. This is not the first time I have felt lost — indeed, I feel like this often when I have finished a big project and am looking for my next venture. In general, the advice I hear from people when someone says they are lost is to either: (a) go on vacation or; (b) discover yourself by trying out new things. Why does going to a different place help you find yourself? Why does doing new things help you find yourself? In my opinion, neither of these things help you when you feel lost.

Let’s address these responses individually. Firstly, going to a different place will never help you find yourself because your true self is not in that different place — it is with you everywhere you go. Your true self is not in another city or country, it is inside of you. Many people say that going on vacation will help you find yourself because you will be surrounded by new things, and you do not have to worry about everything that previously made you feel bad.

The problem is, though, that as soon as you come back from vacation, everything will still be there — you will have the same problems to address. The Stoics thought that going on a retreat or vacation was “unphilosophical” because finding yourself occurs from within. There is no greater place to think about one’s self than inside their own mind. When someone feels confused or lost, the best thing to do is to address the problem head-on, and carefully consider one’s own existence and why they feel the way they do. Vacations only allow you to defer this consideration for a few days.

The second response — that trying something new will help you find yourself — is also largely unhelpful. Consider this: if you feel lost, why will exploring new territory help you find your way back? Let’s say you were an explorer in the jungle. Would you take a new path to find your way back when you are lost, or would you retrace your steps until you found your way back? I assume that you would do the latter. The same thing applies in the context of “finding yourself”. If you feel lost, then the best thing to do is to reflect on your life, and what made you feel great before. This is because your past experiences are part of you, whereas exploring new paths and imagining the person you want to be is artificial — it is a thought.

I find that often when I am lost, it is because I have let other people get too involved in my life. When someone says that my contrarian path will never work, or disputes research or starting a company as a legitimate path for a young person, I sometimes start to think twice about my own decisions. I know that I should not do this; I am internally driven most of the time. I am merely stating that this is one of the propellants of my feeling lost. There is a quote by Emily McDowell which is very appropriate in this context: “’Finding yourself’ is actually returning to yourself. An unlearning, an excavation, a remembering of who you were before the world got its hands on you.” Suffice to say, most of us feel lost because we let other people get too involved with our lives — it’s an easy mistake to make.

A lot of us feel lost because we have let another person make our decisions for us, or internalized someone else’s opinion on our own decisions or life. The thing is that someone else is not you — they have no idea what is best for you. Your parents, for example, may think it is best for you to go get an internship for a local business, but if you are a programmer who has a job offer in front of them, then you know that your parents advice — while helpful — does not apply to your circumstances. This is one reason why I don’t like giving advice: I am not uniquely qualified to help anyone. Indeed, I struggle to make my own decisions (and many of those are deferred to my shareholders anyway!). The point is that if we try to live a life that is based on the decisions others have made for us, then of course we will be lost — we never get the opportunity to express our true self, and be who we want to be.

When I feel lost — as I do right now — I do not schedule a vacation or try something new. Rather, I reflect on my life. I think about what has made me happy in the past — what has given me a sense of purpose — and what makes me feel as if I have made an impact on the world. I go on a self retreat, where I consider all of these things and more in my own mind, and where I have the benefit of being able to analyze anything that I want. I walk around my own mind and try to figure out what has made me feel like a great person in the past. After some introspection, I realize that my self was not in fact lost — it was with me all along. Rather, I had simply become detached from the sense of self I have worked hard to cultivate because I have let what someone else has said interfere with my own thoughts.

Even when I do not feel lost, I frequently go on self retreats to evaluate my life, my progress, and my habits. These frequent evaluations allow me to gain a firmer insight into what is working in my life, what I should stop doing, and what should be changed in order to allow me to be my best self. At first, self retreats can be very difficult — it is just you by your lonesome. You have to train your mind to become comfortable with being itself. Sometimes your thoughts will get distracted, but that is a good thing — your mind is exploring its old thoughts. Sometimes your mind will travel to a place you have been trying to ignore. That is a good thing too — being conscious of your problems makes it easier to address them, and understand whether they are even a big problem anymore.

Don’t go on vacation or try something new; go on a self retreat. Think about your self, your interests, and your passions. You will find that you were never lost — your self was with you the whole time.

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