Books Proteus Read in October 2019

Happy Halloween! I read 8 books in October! Now that the month is over, it’s time to give a short review for each book, and then post all of these reviews to my big list of reviews.

simulationAre You Living In a Computer Simulation? by Nick Bostrom

Rating: 10/10

An essay about advanced/post-human civilizations and “ancestor simulations” (high-fidelity supercomputer simulations that are advanced enough to simulate previous historical eras and all of the human brains of those eras – overly simplified, think Sid Meier’s Civilization meets The Matrix). Bostrom argues that one of three things is true: 1. all advanced civilizations go extinct before making ancestor simulations, 2. all advanced civilizations decide not to make ancestor simulations for mysterious reasons, or 3. there is an absurdly high chance (I infer it’s something like 1 in a trillion or a 99.9999999999% chance) that we are currently living in an ancestor simulation right now. One of the most influential essays of contemporary philosophy – and one of the most interesting. Most probably won’t count this as a book, but 1. Goodreads does, and 2. this little essay is arguably more thought-provoking and influential than 99% of books being written. The problem I’ve seen is that most people don’t understand probability very well (or at all) and can’t wrap their head around why Bostrom gives such a high chance to you and I living in a simulation – as long as you understand probability even just a little bit, you should absolutely read this essay.

5lovelanguagessecretThe 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman

Rating: 8/10

A simple book about a simple idea: people in relationships express love in different love languages – Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Keeping the “love tank full” in a relationship requires speaking your partner’s love language, and your partner speaking yours back to you. Mark Manson calls this the “Harry Potter of relationship books” for a reason: it’s a simple idea, everyone’s read it (or says they’ve read it), and you can find this book in every airport bookstore in the world. If you’re in a relationship, read it. Even if you’re not in a relationship, it might be a good idea to spend an afternoon reading it to figure out your own love languages.

radicalhonestyRadical Honesty: How to Transform Your Life by Telling the Truth by Brad Blanton

Rating: 7/10

Brad Blanton wants you to tell the truth – all the time, about everything. Blanton lays out the case that lying is the major cause of all human stress and illness, and for the sake of your health (and literally the survival of humanity), you should adopt radical honesty. Honestly? I’m not sure I fully buy it. I agree that lying will destroy you inside, and it’s best practice to tell truth. I’m skeptical of lies causing all illness and stress though. I’m skeptical of other stuff: Blanton tirades against moralism, resulting in moral-relativism-in-everything-but-name – which is followed by a 14 part political agenda that basically combines Bernie Sanders with Eckhart Tolle (which seems a little moralistic to me). Even if I think Blanton is a bit of a hypocrite (Blanton also thinks he’s a hypocrite), I think Blanton is onto something, and Radical Honesty is a thought provoking book.

unlimitedpowerUnlimited Power: The New Science Of Personal Achievement by Anthony Robbins

Rating: 5/10

Tony Robbins’ first book, written right at the beginning of his career as a self-help juggernaut. It has a lot of interesting ideas (some of which match other good advice I’ve read), plus some unique advice (he’s the first I’ve read recommending trampolining for superior health). Make no mistake though: Unlimited Power is a deeply flawed book. There are many references and quotes, but few citations. The book is unmistakably a product of the 80s, and many parts are severely outdated. Plus, the book is dominated by Neuro-Linguistic Programming, a form of psychotherapy that isn’t widely respected outside of self-help books. From what I can tell, Robbins’ later books are better (or at the very least contain less NLP), and you should just skip Unlimited Power unless you love Tony Robbins.

datalovestoryData, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match by Amy Webb

Rating: 9/10

An absolutely riveting tale of a woman on a mission: stop having bad online dates, define exactly what she wants in a husband (from height and build, to his opinion on cruise ship traveling), and crack the code of online dating to find the Jew…ish Prince Charming of her dreams. While this book is mostly aimed at women, it combines three things I love reading about: data science, relationships, and neurotic smart people solving problems. I’ve been fascinated by this book ever since I saw Webb’s TED Talk, and read it in an afternoon (not because it’s short, but because I couldn’t put it down). You’ll laugh, you’ll be embarrassed for her, you’ll learn something about the algorithms that dating sites rely on (which might not apply as much to recent swiping apps), and if you’re like me you’ll facepalm over Webb stress-smoking after bad dates (to be fair, these were some really bad dates). The book probably won’t be for everyone, but I absolutely loved it. Spoiler: She finds her Jew…ish Prince Charming.

luciddreamingExploring the World of Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge

Rating: 9/10

A classic book about being conscious during your dreams, and even learning to control them, from the pioneer of lucid dreaming. This is not a book about dream interpretation, Freudian psychology, or about anything magical like astral projection or souls: this is a book about lucid dreaming. LaBerge keeps his book focused on scientific information and practical steps for achieving lucidity, drawing from his PhD work in lucid dreams and from ancient texts related to lucid dreams. Even if there are newer or better books about lucid dreaming (this was written in 1990), this seems to be the classic book on the subject, and one I plan on rereading.

jlscompleteJonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

Rating: 8/10

A novella about individuality, self-perfection, and the willingness to be different – told with seagulls. I *suspect* a lot of people who know me wouldn’t expect me to like a book like this – it grew on me. The first part wasn’t very promising – Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a special seagull! He doesn’t want to spend his days working for food! He wants to be free, and master the art of flying! The other seagulls don’t understand him, and then they kick him out of seagull society! And then he spends the rest of his days flying until he dies. But then it turns out he *didn’t* die, and things get way more interesting. It’s deeper than it sounds, at least to me. I can understand the mixed opinions people have about this book, but I liked Seagull – I just hope I don’t reread this later, and react to it the same way a lot of people react to rereading Catcher in the Rye.

greatestmindsThe Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time by Will Durant

Rating: 8/10

A collection of essays by master historian Will Durant, covering a handful of topics from the most important thinkers in history, to the 100 books to read for a complete education. After reading The Lessons of History (which is a masterpiece), I’m now dedicated to reading as much of Durant as I can get my hands on. There are parts of Greatest Minds that are incredible – Durant’s soaring rhetoric about humanity and heroes, the list of 100 best books (I’m attempting a similar project), and the brief inclusion of Marquis de Condorcet (who in my opinion is the most underappreciated thinker in all of western philosophy). There were parts I didn’t like as much – while I love how Durant talks about humanity in general, I’m not as enthusiastic about how he talks about “savages/primitives.” And while I love Durant’s book list, I’m not as interested in Durant’s long chapter about the best poets. With all that said, read Greatest Minds with an open mind, right after reading The Lessons of History.

24 Life Lessons from the Past Year (and a Half)

It’s safe to say that the past year and a half has been some of the most eventful months of my life. I paid off my student loan debt in full. I began an intensive course of self-education. I quit my job. I’m planning to start a business by the end of the year, or at the very beginning of next year.

During this time I’ve reflected on past events in my life and done some self-examination – both by choice, and out of necessity. I’ve done a lot of reading, in an attempt to do all of the above. I’m doing even more reading in the future.

This isn’t every lesson from the past 18 months, but I’ve tried to pull together the most interesting/significant ones. Some of these lessons reflect my own actions, actions of someone towards me, or are simply based on observing other people. Some of these are relatively minor lessons, others are major themes that have a lot to unpack. I’ve tried to be concise wherever I can – each lesson will be true or false regardless of whether you know the full backstory behind it.

A final note: these life lessons reflect my outlook right now, at 23. I’m sure some of these principles will have been revised in future years.

24 Life Lessons

Every day, every interaction, and every person carries the possibility of a life lesson.

But only if you’re willing to learn.

This is one of the major things I pulled out of Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio. I don’t agree with him on everything (let alone any other author), but I value a lot of the same things he does: Embrace reality. Be radically open-minded. Pursue meaningful work and meaningful relationships. Debate a person’s ideas on merit, not just on status.

Most importantly: Pain + Reflection = Progress.

We all have goals, and we all have strategies for achieving those goals. Sometimes, those strategies don’t work, and we fail. This failure is likely to be painful and frustrating – in response, we can feel sorry for ourselves, or we can learn from our failures. We can reflect on what went wrong, and figure out a better strategy for achieving our goals.

Every failure and setback holds the possibility of a life lesson. But I say it’s not just failures we can learn from – every interaction, and every person we encounter, has the possibility of holding a life lesson. The key is to be open to whatever life has to teach you, and have enough humility to know that you don’t know everything (and never will).

People will limit themselves according to roles and stories they came up with years (or decades) ago.

Most people have stories in their heads about who they are, what they’re capable of, and most importantly, what they’re allowed to do. “I’m just a mom, I could never start a business.” “I’m an artist, I don’t need to vote.” “I’m a scientist, why would I support the arts?” “I’m not a reader, and books aren’t for me.” “I’m a nerd, and women aren’t attracted to nerds.” “All of the richest people are [group I’m not a part of], it’s impossible for someone like me to be successful.”

People made these stories years or even decades ago, often in early childhood. These beliefs might have made sense at the time, if they ever made sense at all. They’re how the person has made sense of the world, and they’ll have a hard time believing or doing anything that contradicts these stories.

When dealing with another person, and you want to persuade them to your point of view or tell them about your ideas, you can’t just talk to them logically – you need to work with, or work around, their stories.

When dealing with yourself, you need to ask – what are my stories? What are the roles and self-concepts I’ve had for years, and are they limiting my growth as a human being? When did I decide what I was and wasn’t allowed to do? What trauma have I been holding onto?

Unresolved trauma is the greatest barrier to open-mindedness and concern for others.

People can have a shocking amount of trauma in their past – trauma that feeds their stories. This trauma can, depending on the severity, influence everything they say and do. Under certain circumstances, a person with unresolved trauma will lash out at the people around them, in an effort to protect themselves from threats (real and perceived). They become incapable of understanding complex ideas, or caring about the challenges facing other people, due to the self-protection that their trauma demands. Talking logically to someone in the middle of trauma isn’t possible, their trauma is causing them too much pain.

When a person reliving their trauma lashes out, this can range from something minor like insulting you, to something far more serious like threatening you with violence. The episode passes – the memory of their behavior doesn’t pass so easily. They may want empathy or understanding – that’s the easy part. But any amount of understanding you provide won’t make their behavior ethically justified, or make their trauma-based arguments logically justified.

There is a difference between something being understandable, and that same thing being justified.

An action or attitude being understandable is a matter of empathy. That action or attitude being justified is a matter of ethics or logic.

It’s understandable that you flipped someone off on the highway for cutting you off – that doesn’t make it justified. It’s understandable that you distrust or hate [large group of people] because individuals from that group bullied, harassed, or discriminated against you – that doesn’t make it justified. It’s understandable that after your breakup you think all women are cheating whores, or all men are abusive misogynists – that doesn’t make it justified. It’s understandable that you lost your temper at someone and called them names – that doesn’t make it justified. It’s understandable that something reminded you of a past trauma, you lost control of yourself, and threatened someone with violence – that doesn’t make it justified.

When people do unethical things, it’s possible to be empathetic and understanding – we’re all human beings, and we all make mistakes. But if a person does something unethical, it will remain unethical no matter how many “understandable” reasons they have for it. We all have reasons for our poor behavior – it’s a question of whether we will rise above the temptation to do unethical things, and instead do the things we would want to do as our ideal selves.

But in the end: there are a lot of people in the world who are going to behave unethically. Deal with it. Make a plan, and move on.

A bad plan is better than no plan.

This is something that was going through my mind when I started this blog, and it’s something that was further reinforced by reading Zero to One by Peter Thiel.

Just start. Whatever it is you want to do, whatever your ambition is, just start. Make the best possible plan that you can, and only abandon it once it’s clear that the situation has radically changed – if you can’t make the best possible plan, a bad plan is better than no plan. Whatever things that could go wrong with your venture, you can deal with it – mistakes can be fixed, skills can be learned, and methods can be changed.

If you fail, you can figure out what went wrong with your plan and try again. If you fail, but don’t have a plan to reevaluate, you know why you failed.

If you don’t have time, you don’t have priorities.

Or put another way: if you want to know what your priorities are, look at what you’re spending the most time on.

Every human being has the same 24 hours in the day – and unless you work 18 hour days, you probably have at least some control over how you spend your time. You can choose to educate yourself. You can choose to watch TV. You can choose to exercise. You can choose to play video games. You can choose to plan for the future. You can choose to watch anime. You can choose to volunteer your time. You can choose to smoke weed and go clubbing. Most of these aren’t either/or – you can do some or all of these things, prioritizing a mix of things that you know will (mostly) improve your life, or things that will (mostly) waste it. Even if you’re tired at the end of the day and can’t focus on anything “difficult,” you can still choose a better option – such as watching podcasts or educational interviews rather than game shows.

You can choose your priorities, and act in ways that fulfill them… or make daily choices that aren’t as good, and have your priorities revealed to you.

The choice is yours.

You can have anything you want – but not everything you want.

All ambition requires discipline and sacrifice.

Having ambitions and goals is the easy part. Anyone can write down goals, or think up a big ambition that will take years to accomplish. You can literally dream up millions of goals, and choose to pursue any of them.

But you can’t pursue them all.

On a smaller level, in every moment you have a million possible actions you can take, to pursue any of the million possible goals.

But you can’t choose them all.

If you want to do anything – at least, anything that matters – you need to prioritize. You need to make some hard choices about what you’re going to do, or not do. You need to have the discipline necessary to avoid making choices you know are bad for you. In order to have the freedom to make the choices that are actually important, you need to sacrifice every other choice that is limiting you.

Choosing weakness and hedonism is easy. Ambition, virtue, strength of character – all of these things are hard, and require intentionally limiting the things that you know will distract and destroy you.

You’re free to do anything – but you can’t do everything.

Leaders are readers – literally.

It doesn’t take long to realize that many of the most intelligent and successful people you’ve ever heard of are voracious readers.

Elon Musk learned rocket science from textbooks, and spent his childhood reading sci-fi books for ten hours a day. Oprah Winfrey escaped poverty in part through the power of reading. Alexander Hamilton was a voracious reader as a child, and used his literacy to escape the Caribbean island of Nevis where he was born. Napoleon Bonaparte was also a voracious reader, especially of warfare and military history – that put him on the path to conquering Europe. Barack Obama was a prolific reader in his 20s, and even while President still read more books a year than most people read in several. Warren Buffett is a famously voracious reader, to the point where people claim that he reads 500 pages a day. Bill Gates spends his vacations reading books, and is widely claimed to read 50 books a year. Mark Cuban reads for three hours a day. Tony Robbins read 700 books on human psychology at the start of his career.

Obviously, not every leader is a dedicated bibliophile – Genghis Khan was an illiterate barbarian who nearly conquered the planet. I’m going to say he’s the exception to the rule – leaders are readers.

One of the most destructive things you can do to someone is convince them it would be a bad idea to have children.

Note the wording here: it’s not about telling them to not have children, or making them unable to have children, or persuading a person that there are benefits to being child-free. I’m talking about a person being convinced that they wouldn’t be able to give a child a good life, or that the future is bleak enough that their future children would inevitably suffer.

Having children is an optimistic act. It’s an act that simultaneously says that the future is good enough that your children will prosper, and (to a lesser degree) that your genes are good enough for your child to have a fighting chance in that prosperous future. And while there are people who genuinely don’t want children, and choose to be child-free, children provide a huge amount of meaning to most people.

Convincing someone that the future would be bleak for their children – whether from poverty, discrimination, or environmental catastrophe – is an inherently pessimistic outlook. When a person becomes convinced that the future is so bad that their hypothetical children would suffer, depression and nihilism become easy. If the future is so bad you shouldn’t have children, what’s the point of anything? What’s the point of doing anything useful or good? Why not just smoke weed and get laid before civilization collapses?

This isn’t a hypothetical concern of mine. I’m the guy who did my final university presentation on human extinction – and I’m an optimist compared to many of my peers! My generation is being told that either we’ll be too poor to support our future children, or climate change will get so bad it might be unethical to reproduce either way. In addition to my regular worries about the future, I’m very worried about the effect that a generation/multiple generations of depressed and nihilistic people are going to have on America – and the world.

People exist on a spectrum of how likely they will support you, like you, agree with you, or be persuaded by your ideas.

One of the things I learned about in my reading these past 18 months is something called “The Law of Diffusion of Innovations.” For any innovation – any new idea, concept, or technology – it will go through different stages of acceptance with different groups of people, and it is pointless to target the majority before your innovation is widely accepted by the first groups. You might not have heard of the law, or know these groups, but you probably intuitively understand them:


For any innovation…

2.5% of people are Innovators. They are the ones developing this innovation, and investing the most in its success.

13.5% of people are Early Adopters. They may not be actively developing the innovation, but they are the most excited about it, and will accept huge risks at the beginning that no one else will.

68% of people are either Early Majority or Late Majority. The 34% in the Early Majority are a bit more open-minded, but both groups are highly practical-minded and won’t take risks that Early Adopters would.

The last 16% are Laggards. They don’t like your innovation. They don’t want it. They don’t need it. It scares them. They will either avoid your innovation until it’s risk-free, or oppose your innovation until there’s no other option. (“The only reason these people buy touch tone phones is because you can’t buy rotary phones anymore.” – Simon Sinek)

Different people are in different groups for different areas. Some people are Innovators in technology, but Laggards in fashion. Someone else might be the opposite. The important thing to remember is this: if you’re presenting new ideas to people, or trying to persuade someone to your point of view, you need to be aware of this spectrum. Some people will be in the 10-20% who immediately “get it.” Some people in the majority just need a little convincing to sign on. Others in the majority need to see more popular acceptance.

…and then there is 10-20% of the population who will never accept your ideas, or not for a very long time. Don’t focus your efforts on these people at all, let alone the majority. Focus on that 10-20% who immediately understand you, and who will do far more to convince the majority then you probably could by yourself.

It’s not enough to be nice, honest, and ethical – you need to be high-status and powerful.

I have been living my life under a delusion.

I have been living under the delusion that the only things I needed to be concerned about were being a good person – being an ethical person, an honest person, and a person who acts ethically toward others regardless of their status/power. I’ve been living under the delusion that I could ignore things like social intelligence, power dynamics, and status games while still achieving my goals.

When put like that, it really does sound delusional. How in the world did I maintain this delusion for so long? I’m not sure – I think part of the issue is that for a very long time, I’ve been searching for some sub-culture or group where petty status/power games aren’t played. I could then join this group, and work with them to create a world where people are judged by their merits and ethics, rather than their status and power.

Humans, for all of their “civilized” tendencies, are still fundamentally cavemen playing tribal power games. The vast majority of people are very concerned about their status – and saying that you don’t care is itself an incredible power move.

While there are a few kinds of people that claim to either not care or be actively opposed to status/power games, there are four major ones:

  1. Highly developed moral individuals, who have taken incredible efforts to resist status/power concerns and treat people ethically regardless of status. The only reason you hear about them is because oftentimes these people are already high-status, and can afford to lose a little status if their principles require it. This group is very rare (I’d love to claim I’m part of this group, but I’m really not – not yet anyway).
  2. High-status people who aren’t primarily motivated by ethics, but are playing the status/power game. Not only can they afford to lose a little status by behaving ethically towards low-status people, but they do it in such a way that they actually gain status by being seen as ethical. This group is fairly common.
  3. Autistic people who reject status/power games because they don’t understand them to begin with. This group is somewhat common.
  4. Low-status people whose only chance at gaining resources/power/etc. is either (claiming) to be against power hierarchies in general, or by specifically opposing power hierarchies they find themselves at the bottom of. If they can, this group will replace current power hierarchies with ones where they are at the top. This group is extremely common.

I want to be an ethical person. I want to live by my principles, and create a better world for all people regardless of race and nation. But changing anything in the world requires working with other people (social intelligence), and requires that people consider you important enough to listen to (power/status). You need to know how things like social intelligence, power, status, and social hierarchies work in order to get anything done.

That doesn’t mean becoming an amoral power-seeker in the name of your goals. If anything, I say it means becoming a moral power-seeker in the name of your goals, in whatever ways that’s possible.

Arguments aren’t about ideas for most people – they are about status.

I’ve been aware of this, but it became clearer this year. The vast majority of people are not evaluating arguments or ideas based on their logical merit – they are evaluating them based mostly on the status of the person arguing for the idea. Most people will happily ignore the arguments of “low-status” people, even if understanding that person’s argument would give them a more accurate picture of reality. In fact, I’ve come to believe that most people don’t want an accurate picture of reality if it would require associating themselves with the arguments and ideas of a lower-status person – that would lower their own status, and status is more important than truth.

By status, I don’t just mean social respect, money, celebrity, etc. I also mean group status. Most people have a list of groups or identities that they are a part of, and a running list of arguments that they must support to continue being a part of those groups or identities. Most people also have a list of low-status groups in their mind, whose ideas and arguments are to be systematically condescended to, rejected, or ignored. This list of groups is different for every person – it might mean religious people, atheists, black people, white people, liberals, conservatives. It won’t necessarily help if someone of a higher-status group then supports that same idea or argument – the argument has already been “tainted” by the low-status group, and the high-status person will have had their status lowered for supporting the low-status idea.

What’s the revelation here? This isn’t a problem specific to one group of people. This isn’t a problem specific to any race, gender, religious group, political group, or economic class. This is a human problem. No matter what argument you have, and no matter what group you’re sharing your ideas with, you will run into this problem over and over. Having the right ideas is half the battle – the other half is persuading people that accepting your ideas either won’t lower their status, or persuading them that accepting your ideas is more important than their status concerns.

Since most arguments are about status rather than ideas…

Most arguments aren’t worth it.

You need to pick your battles.

There are a lot of things people can potentially disagree about. Every word someone says has a potential premise to argue about, and every action has an implicit justification. There are people who literally spend every hour of every day arguing with the people around them. Some do it because they’re fundamentally disagreeable people, some do it for sport.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to argue, they probably aren’t worth it. By all means, disagree and argue, especially about the important things – but if you do disagree with someone, you need to be prepared for the consequences. Disagreement carries inherent risks, ranging from dislike to outright violence – some people are that close-minded, or find disagreement that traumatic. While there are ways of mitigating the risks of disagreement – persuasion, diplomacy, the skills of winning friends and influencing people – the risk never truly goes away.

Most arguments aren’t worth it, especially if you’re not skilled in persuasion, your status isn’t high enough in their eyes, or the other person isn’t skilled in open-mindedness. Most arguments aren’t that important, having marginally positive effects at best, and radically negative effects quite frequently.

If you’re going to argue, you need to pick your battles, fight them carefully, and only argue with people you can productively argue with. Many people are too closed-minded to productively argue with – similarly, many people find disagreement too traumatic, or don’t have the tools that philosophers (professional arguers) use to argue productively.

…and that’s if the person doesn’t believe that Philosophy, logic, science, or epistemology are conspiracies to serve the powerful. Or something.

On the other hand, there is a case for not going with the flow…

Don’t be popular – be controversial.

This was a recurring theme in a lot of the books I’ve read these past months.

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss talks a lot about something called the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 Principle – 80% of one thing is often caused by 20% of something else (80% of sales come from 20% of customers, 80% of peas come from 20% of pea pods, etc.). Sometimes the number is 90/10, sometimes it’s 75/25. The point is: the majority of your results come from the minority of your efforts.

Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss introduced me to the idea of “1000 True Fans” – to be an individual success, you don’t need everyone to like what you’re selling. Instead, you need a small group of dedicated fans who absolutely LOVE you, and are willing to purchase anything you produce.

Models: Attract Women Through Honesty by Mark Manson describes how the most attractive men don’t fall into the pickup-artist fantasy of trying to be attractive to all women. Instead, they express themselves authentically and honestly to the point of being controversial; they don’t attract all women, but are extremely attractive to the minority of women that they’re most compatible with.

Dataclysm by Christian Rudder introduced something similar from the opposite angle. Women on dating sites who get the most attention (not to mention dates and sex) aren’t those who are universally attractive and appealing. Instead it’s women who have massive disagreement over how attractive they are – she’ll have a rating of 3/5 or even 2/5, because the consensus is split between men who absolutely HATE her and men who absolutely LOVE her (and therefore send her lots of messages). (“Beauty is looks you can never forget. A face should jolt, not soothe.” – John Waters)

Zero to One by Peter Thiel talks about a lot of things, but spends some time on founders of startups, and other people who create innovative things. They tend to have extreme personalities, extreme traits, and tend to get extreme reactions from people (think about Elon Musk, or Steve Jobs). We need founders – and we need to be tolerant of just how extreme and controversial they can be.

Most people want to be popular – but being successful often requires being controversial, in action or belief. It can require being disliked, even hated, by large groups of people. In return, you have the possibility of receiving support and loyalty from people who love what you’re offering – regardless of the the people who hate you.

Besides, boring people have never changed the world.

Getting upset is natural – and pointless.

Things are going to go wrong. People will accuse you of things that are unfair, don’t make sense, are clearly projection, and more. Your life will change, sometimes for the worse. People will reveal that they are not the person you originally became friends or partners with. Your plans will sometimes not work out. People will be unreasonable or act in unethical ways. You will sometimes fail. People will leave your life through no fault of your own. “Black swans” and other disasters will happen far more often than you think you deserve. People will reject you, or insult you, or misunderstand you (sometimes intentionally). One day you might wake up, look at your life, and say “This isn’t what I wanted! I’m entitled to more!”

Get over it.

Getting upset over setbacks in life is completely natural – but getting upset over any of these things will not improve the situation. In fact, it will most likely make things worse. Stop. Look forward rather than behind. Make a plan to improve your situation. At the very least, don’t make it worse. Stay calm, cool, and collected. The world might be trying to destroy you, but your emotions will strike the final blow.

Empathy can be bad, and selfishness can be good.

I wrote a few essays related to this topic this year.

Obviously there are huge benefits from empathy, and huge drawbacks from selfishness. You know them just as well as I do. But the downsides of empathy and upsides of selfishness need to be acknowledged.

There are lots of people looking to hijack your empathy; they want to use your empathy, your concern for others, and your ethical principles for their own benefit. They don’t need to lie about their problems – just use them in a way that benefits them at the expense of you and your family. After gaining your empathy, the next step is to gain your agreeableness – your support, loyalty, and resources they wouldn’t be able to gain otherwise.

These people are not victims, even if they pose as one. They are vampires, looking to drain you (or people close to you) of everything you value. At best they are people without integrity, demanding your empathy and offering none in return…

…while finding creative ways to justify exploiting you.

Help those who need your aid. Help those with integrity, who will treat you with the same kindness you have given them. Help those who will work with you to create a better world for both of you.

Don’t give sociopaths and abusers an inch – they will take a mile. Don’t enable them. Recognize that although people like this might be identical to people who genuinely need help – due to trauma, discrimination, or injustice – abusers deserve nothing. Exploiters deserve nothing. Sociopaths deserve nothing.

Look out for your own well being. Take care of yourself, and those closest to you. Recognize that your ability to help others is dependent on your ability to help yourself. Train yourself, and improve your skills. Put on your own oxygen mask first.

In the face of a world filled with people looking to drain you dry, you need to be selfish – at least partially. Selfishness, even more than empathy, is a double-edged sword. Selfishness has motivated acts of destruction the world over – but also motivates incredible acts of creation. What unites these contradictions is that selfishness, at its root, is about prioritizing your vision of the world over someone else’s – even if that world is simply you getting the parking space at the mall.

Selfishness as a drive for creation is incredibly good – many billions of people have been helped by those who prioritized their visions of the world over others. They didn’t need to have pro-social motives either – just the desire to see their innovation, their technology, or their ideas in the hands of more people than someone else’s innovations or ideas. There’s a saying I picked up sometime in the past 18 months: If you want to make a billion dollars, solve a problem for a billion people.

The key to persuasion is describing your views in ways the person already agrees with.

Chances are that there a dozen ways you can describe one of your beliefs – some will come more naturally to you than others. Some of the descriptions will give you a ping! of good feelings. “Yeah! That sounds right to me!” Others will be technically correct, but you’d never be convinced by that, let alone choose to emphasize that.

But people are different from you. They have different priorities. They have different backgrounds. They have different beliefs. You need to match your ideas to the person as much as you can without outright lying. Don’t lie – but be smart about it. State your ideas in the context of things they already believe, things they already value, or ideas they already understand. You’ll have a much easier time persuading people than if you just used the arguments that convinced you.

People will resent you if you’re late to arrive, or late to deliver.

“Calvin Coolidge once said that nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent; I would add that the second most common is smart people who think their IQ or resume justifies delivering late.” – Tim Ferriss

I need to get this quote engraved on a plaque or something.

There is a difference between playing the game and winning.

When attempting to do anything with one winner, don’t do it to “compete.”

You’re not here to compete. You’re here to win.

You’re not here to fight. You’re here to win.

You’re not here to “do your best.” You’re here to win.

Not every competition has one winner. For those that do, recognize the objective. Don’t fight. Don’t compete. Don’t play. Don’t try.

You’re here to win.

Making enemies is easier than making friends.

Making friends, influencing people, gaining cooperation – these things are essential for doing anything requiring multiple people, and each of them is hard. They often require careful thought, patience, keeping your emotions in check, working with people who might (initially) disagree with or even hate you, and avoiding saying things that will make the other person dislike you (especially if they have no reason to dislike you at first).

Making enemies is easy – especially if there is already some preexisting difference to build animosity off of. Insult the person – especially their intelligence, but just about anything else will do. Insult the group they are a part of, and do it repeatedly. Vocalize your mistrust of them, especially due to the group they are a part of. Use guilt by association to blame them for actions they did not commit, or actions that cannot possibly be their fault. Use your own feelings of insecurity (psychological, financial, or physical) to justify making them feel unsafe. Stereotype them, and find creative ways of justifying your stereotyping. Accuse them of various kinds of unethical behavior, and then hypocritically engage in those same behaviors towards them. Reject their attempts at friendliness and cooperation due to your own insecurities, prejudices, and stereotypes. Hold them (and any groups they are a part of) to a much higher standard than you would ever hold yourself (or your own group) to. Be unwilling or unable to recognize your own mistakes. Blame the other person for their mistakes in your interactions, while taking little-to-no responsibility for your own mistakes. Regularly forgive yourself (or people similar to you) for mistakes that you would never forgive in this other person. Declare them your enemy. Threaten them with violence. So on and so forth.

The above isn’t based on any one person – it’s based on far too many examples of people I’ve observed over the past year or so. When you see this kind of behavior, don’t model it. Don’t use it to justify your own poor behavior. Respond appropriately to however people treat you, but aim to be a better person than them. Take the high road, if the high right still exists in the future.

If you don’t have anything nice to say…

…you have a couple options.

Don’t say it at all (the safe and polite option). Say it as a question (the implied option, might come across as merely curious, might come across as passive-aggressive). Say it indirectly (the socially intelligent option, good for making them think the critique is their idea, but this depends on the person). Or bite the bullet, say it directly (the option that implies you’re either principled-but-foolish, or powerful/confident enough to not have to care about the consequences).

Each carries risks, and each says something different about you.

The most important things take the longest to build.

This applies to many things: writing books, starting a company, building a lasting relationship. These things take time. You need patience. You need a long-term vision. You need to be willing to put off short-term rewards, even if it doesn’t seem worthwhile.

But it is worthwhile. Every human being has the potential to build something that will not only last a lifetime, but in some cases last far beyond their lifetime. Earlier I talked about the view of founders in Zero to One, who are often extreme, bizarre, controversial figures who end up changing the world.

Maybe you’re not an extreme, bizarre, controversial person. But every human being (unless they’re in the deepest poverty or the bottom 15% of intelligence) has the potential to be a founder of something. Maybe you’ll found a company, or a school, or a new way of looking at the world. Or maybe you’ll found something in your community that will outlive you. Or maybe you’ll just found an excellent, loving relationship with an amazing human being.

Don’t just passively consume the products of others. Go be founder. Try to create something. Build something. Make the world reflect your vision, even just a tiny bit.

Maintain a sense of humor.

Laugh. Embrace absurdity. Find the irony in the situation. If you don’t, especially in the face of all of life’s twists and turns, you’re going to have a rough time dealing with life.

Keep a journal.

This is more of a revelation from the past days and weeks that I’ve been putting together this essay. While I was writing this, I looked through things I’ve posted on social media, book notes I’ve written, and reflected on some of the major events over the past 18 months. However, making this post would have been far easier if I had a central place where I had written reflections on what has happened and what I’ve learned. Therefore: start a journal, and write in it regularly. Reflect on the things you’ve learned, the problems you’re facing, your goals, and everything else.

It’s safe to say that I’ve learned a lot these past 18 months. It’s also safe to say it’s time to close this chapter of my life.

I wonder what I’ll learn in the next chapter?