A Christmas Present For You

Last Christmas, I wanted to share this with you.

But for some reason, I didn’t and vowed to share it with you this Christmas.

My bro has been an important person in my life. I’ve learnt so much from him and continue to. I’m sure my younger siblings feel the same way.

Ever since I was a small kid, he’d give me advice.

And even when we were apart, divided by hundreds and hundreds of kilometres, living in different countries – he’d still be there even though he wasn’t.

On Christmas in 2011, he sent me and my siblings an email which impacted me then as much as it does as I re-read it today.

In its most purest form – here is what my bro said:

This christmas i’m going to gift you with something much more valuable than any material possession: some well-intentioned advice.

I’ve lately began to wonder whether certain advice should be reserved for different stages of life; that at every stage of life certain secrets should be revealed to you.

That if you’re told too early, they lose their power or prevent you from enjoying those parts of life. Some of that may be true but i think it’s mostly an excuse to simply not bother.

One unintended consequence of this could well be that I f*** you all up psychologically.

If so, apologies.

“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

This is important and there’s a lot of wisdom in here.

The world as you know it is the result of a very small group of influential people.

This is why history is lauded as a subject.

Your lives have been shaped by people you’ve never heard of in the most amazing ways. Most obvious examples would be why you’re Catholic and why you believe in God or why you celebrate Christmas.

It’s because the Roman empire as it expanded adopted the various religions of the regions they conquered. At some point, they simply adopted the religion that was emerging from the Judeo-Arabian belt. You can look this up in  detail. It’s quite interesting.

Another example – Poland is a post-war ruin because of the Russians and Stalin’s communism.

But if you read more about communism, you’ll notice that there are interesting reasons and social pressures that made socialism an attractive alternative to the taking advantage of normal people by the aristocrats.

The world wasn’t so materialistic as it is today.

Today’s consumerism is the result of the second World War.

Marx came up with the idea that to keep the economy going, people need to buy s***.

And if people buy s***, other people will make s***.

And that’s the pattern we’ve been running for nearly 100 years.

So you see dear siblings, many of the choices in life have been predetermined before you’re even aware of them (and some people never become aware).

Be very weary of dreams and ambitions that have been pre-packaged.

Paths to happiness that are expressed in media.

A lot of it is bulls***.

True happiness is really not that hard to achieve.

The real difficulty is washing off the crap that is thrown at us to divert our attention from the important things.

It’s important that you spend some time reflecting on your lives as you see them now, wash away the external rubbish and look inwardly. Find what is important to you, question why, and take that journey with yourself.

Epicurous (philosopher) said that there a number of ways to be happy (he figured this out centuries ago). One of them was reflective thought. You can lookup the other ways. Think of these as easter eggs that you can discover as extra reading.

Know what is important to you and keep it that way. Otherwise you’ll fall for whatever is trendy e.g. fashion, then maybe being social and getting drunk, and then maybe you’ll find a girlfriend or boyfriend and neglect the rest, or maybe you’ll neglect the girlfriend or boyfriend for a career.

You don’t have to pick one. Be good at all these things 😉

Much easier said than done. But having meaningful relationships is paramount and having a sense of achievement is also.

“Things are not important.”

You merely need to satisfy your immediate needs and all other additional material possessions will not bring you any more happiness. You might not believe this yet because you haven’t met you’re baseline yet.

But don’t assume that more things will mean more happiness. Initially a few things will make a big difference and then any extra will make ZERO difference.

Money is a tool to get you where you want to go. Remember that Mexican story from 4 hour work week. Financial security is good. Expensive louis vuitton bags are bad.

“Now is the age to discover”

Now is the age for you to discover. You need exposure. You need to learn about all sorts of different things in life before you can truly decide and pick what you like.

Otherwise you’re just liking the things that have been picked for you by other people.

Explore.

Explore interests, explore places, explore people.

Get to know as many people as you can, from different walks of life. You’ll learn so much.

Being social is great if you’re around the right people and having the skills to interact with anyone is indispensable.

Get out of your comfort zone and meet new people.

There are lots of rubbish people but there are also very sincere and interesting folk.

And keep close ties with them. Obviously they can’t all be your best friend but always check-in with them. It’s good to have people who you know and they know you around.

“Education is the key”

And part of education is learning with and around people. I learnt just as much working in a new environment as i did at uni. Completely different skills and things i learnt but equally valuable.

Do well in school because that’s the key if you want to participate in society nowadays. Don’t let that ever be you’re failing. Don’t let doors close before they open because you haven’t met the grade requirements.

You might not realise it now because you’re told to learn but when the learning stops you’ll wish it would continue. And you’ll wish you took it more seriously.

I’m learning now, and I read so much to keep learning because the world and life is fascinating. And by being intelligent and educated, you get to make the most of it.

Because you’ll have good jobs and all the skills to navigate this complicated place called Earth.

Read about stuff you don’t even care about now. One day it’ll come in handy or you’ll remember it in a different context and realise that it’s interesting now.

I hate people who say “why am i learning this, how is this ever going be useful to me later?” It’s useful. and if you know it, you’ll know how to use it.

Conclusion

I’m not sure if i’ve missed anything out. I’m sure i have but those seem to be the most important things. They’re vague enough to be guidelines but without being restrictive i.e. telling you exactly what to do.

I trust you’re smart enough to use this well and not misread it.

And i hope it touches you in the way I mean it to. If you have any questions, you can always ask.

You have everything you need to be happy already. And discovering that for yourself (like they say, the truth cannot be told it has to be discovered) will be helpful to you.

As i once told my friend:

The book of your life is nothing but blank pages without any loose structure about how to live it limiting it you. Once you see it this way, you are free to paint the pages as you wish.

Here’s the advice that i gave to him when he was frustrated with uni still while his other friends were already working.

I know dude but here’s my advice: don’t wish it to be over. Whatever it is that you’re living now is your life. It’s what you’ll look back on in later years. Make the most of it. Being aware that you’re writing your own history has helped me to try and ‘write it’ in a way that I’ll be happy with when I’m old. Hopefully. For some reason people always aspire to the next thing and almost wish the present away. I think thats a destructive perspective to have.

 

Own It

Remember that rap battle in 8 Mile?

When Eminem went toe to toe with Papa Doc (“this guy is a gangsta? His real name is Clarence”) ?

Eminem was the underdog in the rap battle and if he were to stand any chance of winning, he had to strip Clarence of all his ammo. And he did that by owning who he was and where he was from.

In his rap, Eminem said “I know everything he’s got to say against me.”

He mentioned how he’s a bum and that he lives in a trailer with his mom.

He owned where he was from.

And because Eminem had owned where he was from, Clarence had no ammo to try and diminish his rap opponent.

In a sense, Eminem had diminished himself.

But at the same time, he garnered the support and admiration of the crowd.

All because he owned who he was, what he was about, and where he was from.

In short – he owned it.

Orangina

You’ve probably never heard of the story about the Orangina juice drink and you’ll be surprised to learn how this ties in with Eminem owning everything about himself.

orangina-products.png
Orangina

When Orangina first hit the market, people were quick to notice how residue accumulated at the bottom of the bottle.

People began to shy away from the product, not knowing what that residue exactly was (plus, it didn’t look too appetising).

The makers of Orangina had their backs against the wall with the whole residue issue.

They knew that if they didn’t accept the residue as an integral part of their product, they’d perish.

So what did the marketing/advertising team do to save Orangina?

They had to own it.

They owned the fact that there was a residue at the bottom of every bottle.

And because people didn’t like the residue, they actually made it a thing to “shake it to wake it”(they also claimed this would make the drink taste better.)

The “shake it to wake it” ad campaign was a hit and the beginning of a new trend that saw the residue problem become a thing of the past.

The Post-it Note

Sometimes things don’t quite work out as we hoped.

This automatically sounds like a bad thing but it doesn’t have to be.

And the 3M – the creators of the Post-it Note – showed us exactly that.

Because the Post-it Note, in the words of Scott Belsky in Making Ideas Happen:

“(…) [was] the result of a batch of poorly developed adhesive. The adhesive, concocted in 3M’s labs, was so weak and unreliable that it sparked the idea for a temporary adhesive-one whose weakness was, in fact, its greatest features.”

3M was able to turn a bad situation in a super profitable enterprise and introduced a revolutionary and now indispensable piece of stationary.

3M owned the fact that they had produced an inferior batch of adhesive and instead of throwing it away and wasting money, they rolled with it and owned it.

Behold, the Post-it Note.

“Oops! I dropped the lemon tart”

Another way of owning something is when you make a mistake.

And I’ve got the perfect story to illustrate this point.
Massimo Bottura, chef patron of the world renowned three-Michelin-star Osteria Francescana restaurant, tells the story of how a new recipe was brought to life because of a mistake that was made just before serving the last two lemon tarts.
Massimo and the sous chef were just about to start serving the last two lemon tarts when the sous chef dropped one of them in away that half was on the counter, and the other half was on the plate.
The sous chef turned pale and gazed in horror at what had happened.
Massimo on the other hand was intrigued by the beauty of this ‘broken’ lemon tart.
“I thought to myself – it’s beautiful,” Massimo recounts, as he tells the story, “Let’s rebuild that first broken lemon tart with the same precision, with the other.”
Puzzled, the sous chef trusted in Massimo’s vision and they intentionally dropped the lemon tart that was intact onto the plate to ensure that the ‘broken’ look was on purpose.
This is how the “Oops! I dropped a lemon tart” was born.

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 00.56.27

 

Massimo, similarly to 3M with the Post-it Notes, was able to turn a horrible situation into something great – an intriguing new recipe.

Closing thoughts

Sometimes, if you want to succeed at something – you have to come clean.

About who you are and what you’re about.

And instead of downplaying a weakness, leverage it as a strength and use it to your advantage.

You have to own it and own up.

Because if you don’t, it’s game over.

But if you do – who knows where it will take you.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it for you.

Give Yourself Permission

People always wait to be coddled and told it’s OK bud, you can go do that thing.

You don’t need permission and you don’t need approval.

Go do that one thing you want. Nobody is going to stop you.

Enter and act with boldness and you’ll be fine.

Don’t wait to be given permission.

“If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter with boldness.

Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one honours the timid.”

-Robert Greene, 48 Laws of Power

Everyone else is looking for permission

Realise that everyone else is looking for guidance and for permission.

If you act like an authority, the funny thing is that they’ll come to you. Fake it till you make it. 

And you’ll be thinking to yourself – who gave me this power?

You did.

Because you had the audacity to take it and assume it.

And it comes around full circle, that the only people who got what they wanted were the ones that went out and got it.

Nothing will come to you so assume your position and don’t ask for permission.

Give yourself permission. 

“The world is malleable. The only people that have been able to change it are the one’s stood up and said: I’m gonna do it.

And if you listen to all those people that told you that you can’t – you’re going to be just like them. 

Why give up on your dreams listening to people that gave up on theirs?”

– Jay Samit, author of Disrupt You

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6 Reasons Why You Should Find a Mentor

Having a mentor is an extremely valuable role that someone older and more experienced can play in your life.

Robert Greene, author of Mastery, describes the mentor-mentee relationship as follows:

“They like giving all of their knowledge to someone younger, like another daughter or son for them. They like seeing the ability to mold a young person and imparting upon them all of their knowledge.

You on the other hand admire and respect them. There’s almost a love between you two. And when you have that emotional connection, you will learn a lot faster.”

A mentor will give you all the value in the world as long as you are reciprocating value as a token of your appreciation.

Here are the 6 reasons why you should have a mentor.

mentor-coach

1.We humans learn the best by watching and observing others in the flesh.

It’s the superior form of learning and we are so primed for it.

It is an extremely valuable experience to have a mentor. You can gain so much from simply observing someone who is working in their element and fiercely passionate about what they do.

By being in the presence of your mentor, you are learning through osmosis and are gaining instant, immediate knowledge from them. This is called vicarious learning.

Your mentor’s traits rub off on you and you soak up intangible qualities such as beauty, emotion, truth, or wisdom.

Ultimately, by having a mentor you’re cutting your learning curve into the fraction of the time it would take you to learn by trial and error.

Robert Greene, emphasises how primed we as humans are for the type of learning we can benefit from apprenticing to a mentor.

Here’s Robert:

“The human brain evolved over millions of years in a certain way, a certain pattern. And over the course of these millions of years, we humans learn[ed] the best by watching and observing a person in the flesh.

Not on the Internet, not on a computer, not on your phone but by actually being there with a person; picking up their body language, their way of thinking… Not everything is done with words. We’re such a word-oriented culture.

But actually observing people, just seeing their style, their way of thinking; things you can absorb when you’re next to them. That’s the superior form of learning. We humans are so primed for it.”

2. Avoid making mistakes

Robert Greene suggests that apprenticing to a mentor gives you a short cut to mastery.

Not only are you taught in a condensed form, but also your learning experience is streamlined in a way that you avoid making mistakes.

You can learn a lot through mistakes. But the mistakes don’t have to yours.

There is a saying “if you wish to be young and wise you have to learn from the experiences of others.”

Your mentor surely made a lot of mistakes in his journey to becoming a master in his field. He will impart his knowledge upon you as well as the lessons he has heeded from his mistakes.

3. Learn about your lagging qualities & unfair advantages

Over time, your mentor will learn what your lagging qualities (i.e. weaknesses) are and what unfair advantages (i.e. strengths) you might have.

He will give you feedback on how to compensate for your lagging qualities and what you should focus on mastering to do so.

He will push you beyond your limits so that you capitalise on your unfair advantages.

By being a mentee, you learn how to best accentuate your strengths and how to downplay and compensate for your weaknesses.

Think of it this way. You are a rock and are naturally rough around the edges.

Your mentor is an expert sculptor. Under his tutelage, he will sculpt you into a diamond.

sculp.jpg
via markkitaoka

4. Receive guidance & direction

“In many ways, apprenticeship is an extension of the parenting process. 

For some, a mother or father figure initiated the transition from immaturity to maturity, but eventually someone else must complete the process.” – Jeff Goins, Art of Work

In our 20s, we are directionless.

Sometimes we focus on banal things and expend precious mental resources and energy on efforts that don’t yield much (if any) result.

Sure, learning through trial and error might be an effective way of learning. But it might not be of the same quality as if it were with a mentor by your side.

With a mentor, your efforts will be more focused and, most importantly, guided. We need someone to channel our enthusiasm and funnel our energy into laser focus.

A mentor will help you harness all these qualities that you bring to the table; guide you to focus on developing relevant skills and producing quality work.

Mentors speed up the process of learning. They make you more efficient in your efforts than if you were to try and learn by yourself.

5. Benefit from life advice

People often give unsolicited advice left and right hoping that someone will give some reflective thought to it and won’t just fall on deaf ears. Your parents know this all too well.

There is some advice to which you might not even give a second thought. You don’t register it because you simply don’t have the perspective (i.e. wisdom) to digest it properly.

You are so far removed, so detached from the reality of such advice that it sticks with you like a droplet of water does to a duck’s skin.

Here’s what my bro says about advice:

“Giving advice is often a pointless exercise. You can keep telling people the answers but they won’t listen.

That’s why I’ve learned to only give advice to those that come to you for it. The ones that ask you for it are the ones you should happily give it to.”

When it comes to advice, having a mentor is a special thing. Not only will he impart valuable wisdom onto you but will also put in the effort to drive the message home so that it sticks and you make the most of the advice.

Even though you might lack the perspective to fully grasp and appreciate the advice (i.e. because you are young, that phase of life is yet to come, and so on) have faith in the validity of it.

This advice will teach you valuable lessons that not only pertain to your work, but to many different aspects of your life.

Be smart enough to take it on board, internalise it, and make the most of it. Treat it as a secret that will enhance your development. You’ll be that much richer for doing so.

6. Gain immediate feedback

A mentor-mentee relationship is one based on loyalty but the central element to it is honesty. The honesty you get from your mentor is one of most precious forms of feedback because it’s comes from a good place.

It’s good willed, genuine, constructive, and is ultimately supposed to shape your character, build upon your skills, and develop you as a person.

A true mentor always has your best interest at heart. For this sole reason, a lot of the feedback will be critique.

You’re learning through negative reinforcement to weed out useless behaviours, habits, and elements of your mindset.

At the same time though, a mentor should – to quote Dale Carnegie – “be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise” to promote desirable behaviours.

The immediacy of this feedback is what makes the criticism sting. But pain equals growth.

You will get a profound sense of satisfaction from all that input when you realise that you are slowly becoming the well-rounded person you and your mentor have been trying to mold you into from day one.

***

For more information, check out Robert Greene’s talk.

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Enjoy the Phase of Life You Are Currently In

Life is lived in phases

Every single phase of your life exists to accomplish certain goals.

These goals vary from person to person but there will always be some commonalities.

For instance, teenage-hood is a strange transitional phase where you want to be somehow relevant in your social circle and be liked and accepted by others.

Your 20s is a time where you are put in challenging situations and faced with numerous opportunities; different areas of your character will grow and expand as a result of these.

Different goals are unique to different phases in your life.

Enjoy the phase you are in at the moment

Don’t wish it away.

And don’t put too much pressure on yourself if the gap between what you want and what you have is glaring.

When you think about it, there is only a finite list of wants one person may have.

Knowing that there will come a moment in time where most of them will be met is encouraging, through small incremental progress over time.

The most important thing is to enjoy the now, the present moment, and to have enjoyed the process of pursuing these wants and dreams.

In closing, here’s what my bro said:

“Whatever phase you’re in – don’t wish it to be over.

Whatever it is that you’re living now is your life. It’s what you’ll look back on in later years. Make the most of it.

Being aware that you’re writing your own history has helped me to try and ‘write it’ in a way that I’ll be happy with when I’m old. Hopefully.

For some reason people always aspire to the next thing and almost wish the present away. I think that’s a destructive perspective to have.”

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter for more life-optimising stuff.

6 Tips on How to Improve Your Writing

Quantity over quality

James Clear tells the story of a teacher that divided students in his ceramic class into two groups.

The students on the left hand side of the class were told they would be graded on the amount of pots they made. They had to focus on the quantity of pots to get a good grade.

The other half of the students on the right hand side of the class would have to focus on the quality of a single pot. They had to produce only one pot but had to ensure it was perfect to get a good grade.

At the end of the class, the highest quality of pots came from the groups that produced the most volume and not from the quality group.

The lesson here is that while students in the ‘quality’ group were debating about what perfection was, the ‘quantity’ group was learning from their mistakes and developing their skills.

They ended up producing better quality pots.

You have to create the quantity for your writing to get better – to get to the next level of writing quicker, you have to write consistently.

1. Write everyday

Here’s a useful way of thinking of it.

Let’s say that there is a fixed amount of sub-par writing/blog content that you will have to produce first in order to get to the next level of writing quality.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s say this fixed amount is 20 pieces of writing.

You can either choose to produce this writing once a week (i.e. taking you 20 weeks to reach the next level of writing quality) or you can write everyday (i.e. taking you just under 3 weeks to get to the next level at writing).

Which approach do you choose? You might not have the time to write everyday.

But try to make time to save time.

2. Write like you talk

“People often tell me how much my essays sound like me talking.

The fact that this seems worthy of comment shows how rarely people manage to write in spoken language.

Otherwise everyone’s writing would sound like them talking. If you simply manage to write in spoken language, you’ll be ahead of 95% of writers.

And it’s so easy to do: just don’t let a sentence through unless it’s the way you’d say it to a friend.”

– Paul Graham

Read Paul Graham’s fantastic article about writing how you talk.

3. Focus on simple writing 

The day you become a better writer is the day you write simple sentences.

This is what author of Dilbert and How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big Scott Adams attests to. In his eye-opening article, Scott says that 80% of the rules to good writing lie in the following: 

  1. Your first sentence needs to grab the reader
  2. Simple writing is persuasive. Keep it simple.
  3. Write short sentences.
  4. Get rid of extra words.
  5. Avoid putting multiple thoughts in one sentence.

4. Start a blog

It will be a step in the right direction to starting a new writing habit. There are many benefits to having a blog – check out the 10 reasons why I think you should blog.

5. Rewrite

Jeff Goins swears by the rule ‘all good writing is rewriting’.

Whatever you write, take a break and leave it for a while. Allow yourself to fully dissociate from the hopes and dreams that you’ve been dangling upon your piece of writing.

Later, look at it critically and put yourself in the shoes of the reader.

Imagine a reader who stumbled upon your blog (and quite frankly didn’t care about you much) – would he read your writing?

Give your reader a chance to care about you. Rewrite your writing.  

6. Read

Aside from actively perfecting your writing, read books on how to do it.

At his first ever seminar hosted in London, Mike Cernovich from ‘Danger and Play’ suggested during his Q&A that you read the following books to improve your writing:

  • “On writing” by Stephen King.
  • “On writing well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction” by William Zinsser.
  • “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation” by Lynne Truss.

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