Doers 008 – Jason Brennan on Succeeding in Academia, Writing Well and Often, and Using Reverse Induction

Academia is a place where many go and few succeed. Thousand of new grad students matriculate into programs every year and, save in the sciences and economics, there simply are not enough jobs for everybody. There is a path to succeeding in academia, though: doing. Those who are successful produce original, quality content at a higher rate than their competition.

Professor Jason Brennan is one of the most prolific academics I know. He has produced a book-per-year for the past several years, regularly presents his ideas through public media, and has succeeded in a space where many try and fail — academic philosophy. His most recent book, Against Democracy, still garners public attention following the 2016 political season in the United States and Europe.

Jason joins me today to discuss his background — how he got interested in academic philosophy and went from a kid working in a factory to a tenured professor at an elite university, how he discovered the path to success in his field, the tools he uses to keep himself on that path, and what he’s learned along the way.

One such tool is reverse induction. This is a common tool among the successful doers in this series. We discuss what it is and how to use it in the interview.

All episodes of Doers are produced by Lacey Peace. 

Doers 008 – Jason Brennan on Succeeding in Academia, Writing Well and Often, and Using Reverse Induction

Doers 007 – Salem Marrero on Self-Educating in Data Science, Japanese Cinema, and Baseball

Can you become a professional data scientist without a college degree? Can you get a better education in data science on your own than at one of the world’s top universities? Can this education actually be applied to the workplace?

Salem Marrero argues yes to all three points in this week’s Doers podcast.

Ever since he was a young child, Salem Marrero knew that he loved statistics. He knew that he wanted to do something with numbers and making sense of them and the world around him and set out on a path to understand stats. Applying his statistical knowledge to baseball brought him a whole new level of understanding of the game.

Salem left Carnegie Mellon University in early 2017 to join a high-growth tech company in Pittsburgh, PA as a data scientist in a full time capacity. I join Salem at Carnegie Mellon in the Fall of 2016 after a class he teaches on classic Japanese cinema.

All episodes of Doers are produced by Lacey Peace.

Doers 007 – Salem Marrero on Self-Educating in Data Science, Japanese Cinema, and Baseball

Doers 006 – Aaron Watson on Launching a Podcast, Using Snapchat for Your Brand, and Dominating Ultimate Frisbee

A lot of people talk about starting a podcast — they may even buy a microphone and line up a few guests — but very few follow through on it. A select few can stick to launching a podcast and getting regular guests. Aaron Watson has done exactly that while building out his own set of interviews with some of the biggest movers and shakers in the world. His guests include entrepreneur Tucker Max, WIRED editor and authorKevin Kelly, and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.

Aaron joins me to discuss how he got started podcasting, his advice for those thinking about doing it, and how to get guests on your show. We also discuss how to use Snapchat for your brand, his tips for learning sales, and ultimate frisbee.

Aaron Watson is the host of Going Deep With Aaron Watson, an advocate of Snapchat for marketing and branding, and a master of sales. He hails from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

All episodes of Doers are produced by Lacey Peace. 

Doers 006 – Aaron Watson on Launching a Podcast, Using Snapchat for Your Brand, and Dominating Ultimate Frisbee

Doers 005 – Taweh Beysolow II on Learning Machine Learning, the Shift to Finance, and Self-Driving Cars

Data science and machine learning are all the rage, but how do you actually learn the skills required to get into these fields when you have little background with the knowledge? Taweh Beysolow II joins me to discuss how he learned data science and machine learning skills after completing his formal education in economics, why he chose to study these areas instead of mere statistics, and how he got started in these areas. If you are flirting with the idea of picking up these skills or find them interesting, this conversation with Taweh provides good background and practical advice for how you can get started.

We also discuss the shift from hardware to finance in the 1980s, the shift from finance to software today, and how machine learning plays into the development of self-driving cars. Taweh is the author of a forthcoming book on machine learning and a consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton.

All episodes of Doers are produced by Lacey Peace. Special thanks to Aaron Carter for audio-assistance. 

Doers 005 – Taweh Beysolow II on Learning Machine Learning, the Shift to Finance, and Self-Driving Cars

Review of Square One: The Foundations of Knowledge (Steve Patterson)

Ayn Rand once wrote that no mind is better than the precision of its concepts. If that is the case, then Square One is the sharpening block for the concepts of the mind.

Patterson’s short little book is exactly what it claims to be, the *foundations* of knowledge. Useful to the philosopher and the novice alike, Square One provides a handy guide for reexamining our conceptions of the world through the clear, crisp lens of logic. I would highly recommend it to anybody interested in developing a better understanding of the concepts that shape reality. The book might seem a bit basic or slow at first to those familiar with the rules of logic, but it is well-worth sticking through to the end.

The core claim presented by Patterson is that objective truth exists and is discoverable. At first glance, that such a claim could be defended in a mere 125 pages might seem haughty but Patterson proves to do so masterfully by cutting away the superfluous and going to the core tool in his philosophical utility belt: logic.

Foundations of Logic

The foundational analogies from which Patterson opens the book are those of a castle and of a tree. Both of these represent beliefs and concepts (and the systems from which they spring) of the world.

A castle that is built on a swamp, no matter how beautiful, complex, or impressive its heights might be, is not a good castle. It is at risk of collapsing at any time and its complex, admirable heights are structurally compromised. This is how many existing belief systems in the modern era exist. We work from what we want to see in the castle and find the section towards the top that justifies our ways of thinking. But finding a room in the castle at the top would be useless if that castle is going to collapse at the slightest disturbance.

Most adherents of beliefs and concepts don’t realize the castle is built on a swamp, though. They aren’t actively ignorant of its compromised status because the foundation of the castle is obfuscated in a cloud of fog.

Logic is the tool by which we clear away this fog and discover whether or not the castle is built upon stone or upon a swamp. Patterson does not conjecture as to why so much of the world’s castles are surrounded by fog but it doesn’t take one much work to understand that, given the realities of the academic nature of modern philosophy and the politics involved in supporting and perpetuating such a system, the incentives are set up in such a way to focus on the heights of the castle rather than its foundation. Patterson’s own rejection of this system is a refreshing approach to how philosophy ought to be done.

The confused understanding of the world is one in which knowledge and reality has no foundations. We exist merely in a web of interconnected concepts and beliefs playing off of each other — a struggle between powers and subjective half-truths. There is no hierarchy of truth in this confused world. This is the postmodern ideal against which Patterson’s book implicitly argues.

Rather than reality existing as a web of concepts (in which one may find logic, confusingly implying that there exist elements of the web where logic does not exist), Patterson’s analogy for truth, concepts, and beliefs is that of a tree. Every leaf is attached to a twig attached to a branch, attached to a trunk, attached to the roots. Without these roots, the trunk cannot support the branches upon which the leaves sit.

Logic is the roots of reality.

Introductions to Logic

“Logic can be understood as the rules of existence.” (32)

“Existence without logic would be existence without existence — i.e., non-existent.” (41)

The meat of Square One focuses on lessons in logic. Patterson makes a case for the necessity of logic & the reality of objective truth and quickly turns to what the three basic rules of logic must, by necessity, be. These are the laws of identity (“A is A”), non-contradiction (“It is not the case that A is not-A”), and the excluded middle (“Either P or not-P”).

Having established the core laws of logic, Patterson then moves to run through exactly why deductive reasoning, axiomatic argumentation, and propositional logic carry the weight they do. This might seem out of place in the book at the time it is read but couched in Patterson’s core thesis and desire to defend the objectivity of truth, he needs to set the stage that there exist tool kits (i.e., deduction, axiomatic argumentation, and propositional logic) that can be employed against the core counterexamples of objective truth: paradoxes.


Having equipped the reader with a proper understanding of the basic laws of logic and out to prove his main thesis that objective truth exists and is discoverable, the last section of the book focuses on the most obvious counterexamples to the objectivity of truth. Patterson swiftly shows that most paradoxes are mere linguistic errors and do not violate the laws of identity, non-contradiction, or the excluded middle. Here he addresses classic paradoxes like the Liar’s Paradox and the Bittersweet Paradox, showing them to be linguistic errors that show the imprecision of language more than any flaws in logic, and addresses the Copenhagen Interpretation’s understanding of particle physics.

Applications to Other Fields

“Ideas do not need to be walled off from each other.” (81)

Although only briefly addressed in Chapter 4, the most damning and far-reaching implications of the rescue of logic is the affect it has on other fields. In a time when it is considered heresy against the Grand Poobahs of Science to argue that theory must precede data, Patterson makes such a claim and goes forward to demonstrate the necessity of theory (with some understanding that it must be clear that both parties are playing the same game). Just as logic is the roots of philosophy, philosophy is the roots of all other disciplines. Science without theories to inform hypotheses is merely the collection of data; economics without theories to inform studies is just counting dollars and cents; English literature without theories of human action and struggle is just the recounting of stories. At the root of all of these is the need for theories that make sense and are discernible to the mind.

This is where the real power of Square One comes out. If the reader has a moment of clarity (and hope) when understanding just how important it is for other disciplines to be informed by crisp, clear philosophy — and how dangerous it is for them to reject logic for obfuscation or reject philosophy entirely — and gets nothing out of Square One, they’ll have gained more than most students gain in four years at a university.


Ultimately, Square One is just the corner piece to the puzzle of Patterson’s pursuit to clear the fog from around the castles of our minds. I look forward to the next piece in the puzzle.

You can purchase a copy of Square One here.

You can follow Steve Patterson’s work here.

You can support Steve Patterson here

Review of Square One: The Foundations of Knowledge (Steve Patterson)

Doers 004 – Hannah Phillips on Being a Professional Artist, Skipping College, and the Doer’s Mindset

Hannah Phillips is a 19 year-old artist-entrepreneur in Pittsburgh, PA and has run her own business since before most people have even held a job. She’s one of those people who knew from a young age exactly what she wanted to do — she wanted to be an artist. Through high school, she focused on growing her photography and design business, all while holding down three other jobs as as things such as a server and a tennis coach.

Hannah and I discuss everything from how she knew at such a young age what she wanted to do, how she got started with her business, how she told her teachers and peers she was going to bypass college altogether (and their general shock), and what’s next for her. She’s an excellent example of what being extremely focused and having definiteness of purpose can result in.

Since we spoke, Hannah has broken off from her Praxis business partner and gone 100% in on her business, HP Media. The business partner, a creative ad and digital marketing agency in Pittsburgh, has hired her as a freelancer and she’s able to devote her attention entirely to building the business she’s dreamt of since a young age.

You can follow Hannah at her blog here and visit her portfolio site here. You can learn more about the HP Media Scholarship and support it here.

Big thanks to Lacey Peace, by whom all episodes of Doers are produced. 

My books, Freedom Without Permission and The End of School are available on Amazon Kindle for free until Wednesday. Go download your copies now. 

Doers 004 – Hannah Phillips on Being a Professional Artist, Skipping College, and the Doer’s Mindset

What I’ve Been Reading

I’ve made it more of a focus over the past few months to be consuming more content while I am producing (or at least, publishing) less content. Specifically, to consume content from related, but different, fields and subject matters. It is developing an ability to read one book while making connections to other books and using information in one to analyze or synthesize information from another that contributes to the development of original thought. In an effort to promote intellectual flexibility, for lack of a better term, I’ve been pushing myself to read more than 3 books at once, something that would have been difficult a few years ago.

Currently Reading:

Recently Read (finished in last 60 days):

I used to push myself to finish any book I was reading, even if I found that I wasn’t getting value out of it. Not anymore. Instead of getting the pang of guilt at putting down a book that I am not yet enjoying, I remind myself the other books and content I could be consuming while reading that book and the opportunity cost of continuing to read that book. This makes putting the particular title down much easier.

My books Freedom Without Permission and The End of School are currently free on Amazon until December 28. Pick them up on your Kindle or give them as a gift.

What I’ve Been Reading

Merry Christmas! My Kindle Books Are Free on Amazon

Merry Christmas! Take this time to enjoy time with your family and be grateful for the bountiful wealth that we experience today.

I’ve made Freedom Without Permission and The End of School free in their Kindle formats until Wednesday, December 28, 2016. Consider them a Christmas gift (and a great gift for friends or family, too!).

You can get your free copy of Freedom Without Permission here.

You can get your free copy of The End of School here.

Merry Christmas! My Kindle Books Are Free on Amazon

How School Undermines the Self-Efficacy of Recent Grads

Self-efficacy is one of the core concepts in developing a healthy sense of self-esteem. At its basic level, it is a competence and sense of competence about one’s ability to handle life and to navigate it intelligently. A healthy sense of self-efficacy develops through overcoming specific challenges and mastering things at which others may just give up. Self-efficacy is foundational to a healthy sense of being able to navigate reality. Without it, people feel like they are at the force of things and are mere sail-ships blowing in the wind instead of feeling like captains of their own fate.

Continue reading “How School Undermines the Self-Efficacy of Recent Grads”

How School Undermines the Self-Efficacy of Recent Grads

Doers 003 — Mathew Pregasen on Learning to Code, Starting Companies as a Student, and an Entrepreneurial Family

Mathew Pregasen is the cofounder of Parsegon (, an ed-tech company that can translate typed language into symbols in live-time, and a student at Columbia University. Mathew and I discuss everything from his entrepreneurial familial background as the son of an immigrant-entrepreneur to his decision to learn how to code only after graduating high school.

Mathew provides some useful insight for young people interested in following in his steps, what he looks for when hiring talent at Parsegon and his other projects and companies he’s started, and where he sees Parsegon going in the near future.

You can check out Parsegon here.

Today, I tried a new format where I just hop right into the interview with the guest instead of offering my own introduction separately. Given that we open the conversation asking what the guest does, I figured this to be appropriate. If you disagree, leave a comment on the Soundcloud page letting me know!

Doers is now available on the iTunes store/the Podcast app on iOS. You can download it here

Doers 003 — Mathew Pregasen on Learning to Code, Starting Companies as a Student, and an Entrepreneurial Family

Doers Episode 002 — Isaac Morehouse on Starting a Business With a Family, Habits for Doing, and Life as a Game

“There’s no such thing as cheating in real life, that’s only in school.”

Isaac Morehouse is the CEO and Founder of Praxis — a nine-month startup apprenticeship program taking on the traditional path of higher education.

Isaac started Praxis with no outside capital, no grand plans to raise millions and take on the establishment, no buy-in from “experts” and “leaders” in education, and no back-up plan. He took the leap into a totally unexplored space with a wife and three children to support at the age of 30.

Isaac explores his background, upbringing, and the ideas that influenced him — and how he doesn’t naturally consider himself a Doer and had to train that into his habits around work.

Isaac’s philosophy on shipping to ship and treating life as a game has personally influenced me and is a big reason why Doers exists today. The End of School grew out of a Morehouseian challenge to write once a day for a given period of time. Since doing that, I find myself regularly producing content (whether blog posts, articles, books, or podcasts) at a higher frequency and at higher quality than before.

Books mentioned in the podcast:

How they Succeeded, Orison Swett Marden
The Act of Creation, Arthur Koestler
Finite and Infinite Games, James Carse

Isaac is on twitter @isaacmorehouse and writes at

Doers Episode 002 — Isaac Morehouse on Starting a Business With a Family, Habits for Doing, and Life as a Game

Doers Episode 001 – Tim Chermak on Marketing, Sales, and Succeeding in Business Without Really Trying

Tim Chermak is the embodiment of the Doers mindset. Having read about marketing and sales dozens of times over, Tim didn’t stop at just reading books and listening to podcasts. He went shop-to-shop in his hometown and began offering the services he read about. After plenty of rejections, he stumbled into success with real estate marketing and sales.

Tim and I discuss marketing (where most people go wrong and how to do it right), sales (how to get started in asking for money for your services), stumbling into success (Tim never planned on doing marketing for real estate), and investing in yourself.

Tim is also a contributor to Why Haven’t You Read This Book? His chapter, “Why Haven’t You Flown First Class?” is a great way of thinking about rationing your time and investing in yourself.

You can connect with Tim on Facebook here.

Doers Episode 001 – Tim Chermak on Marketing, Sales, and Succeeding in Business Without Really Trying

Announcing Doers, The Podcast Exploring People Who Do

I hold a deep-seated belief that there are really only two types of people in this world: the people who do things and the people who watch people do things.

Most people fall into that second category. They get so caught up in making a living and going through the motions of life that they end up living in the world of the people who do things.

They say how great it would be to try something out or to start on a new project or to pick up a skill or jump into a career, but when push comes to shove, they don’t act.

These people live in the world of the Doers. They buy the products of the Doers, they admire their art, they read their books, and they watch their athletic competitions.

The Doers have a disproportionate impact on the lives of everybody else.

Ever since I was young, I have been fascinated by the Doers. These people seem to run on a different wavelength than everybody else, whether that’s in business, art, ideas, health, or any number of other areas. When others get caught up in “what if’s,” they decide to try things out.

I’ve purposely designed my life to be around these people. In my job, I get to interact with entrepreneurs and CEOs who started companies and with young people doing things now. I interact with intellectuals and artists who didn’t wait for somebody to tell them they should become leaders in their fields — they just chose to act.

And I want to share these people’s stories.

Doers is a weekly podcast exploration of the stories, habits, and visions of people who show an unusual bias for action. I’ve already interviewed intellectuals, entrepreneurs, artists, athletes, data scientists, and craftsmen who are leaders among their peer groups. We explore what makes them tick, what helped them develop their bias for action, and what ultimately sets them apart from everybody else.

Episodes are released weekly and are 45 minute- ~1 hour interviews.

You can find the feed on SoundCloud here. Coming soon to the Podcast app.



Announcing Doers, The Podcast Exploring People Who Do

Three Virtues of Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving and Christmas. These two holidays capture everything I find inspiring about the human spirit and the culture around them has a tendency to bring out the best in people.

Between the two of them, Thanksgiving is too often dismissed as the beginning of the Christmas season or, even worse, the “opportunity” to come together and argue with distant relatives about the outcome of some political Hunger Games over which nobody at the table had a significant say. The idea of being grateful or giving thanks for the time together is referenced sarcastically or not at all.

This is a disappointing state of affairs because there is so much potential in the concept of Thanksgiving and this potential is actively within the control of the people who dread the holiday.

Continue reading “Three Virtues of Thanksgiving”

Three Virtues of Thanksgiving

Why I Forced Myself to Become a Morning Person (and How You Can, Too)

I am naturally a night-owl. Some of my biggest moments of productivity and inspiration used to come late at night, working at my desk, while everybody else was asleep. I would work furiously at the computer in the dark, knowing I was less likely to be disturbed or distracted by others and knowing that, if I just squeezed in that moment of great productivity before the day was over, I would sleep better that night. I remember days during high school and college where I would start on a project around midnight and finish it around 2:30 or 3, with 1:30-3 being the most productive hours of the day. The rest of the world seems to stop at this time and you can focus on what you need to accomplish.

Eventually, the wheels come off — and they did in my case.

A combination of factors just did not make night-owl work sustainable for my life. Working with people on the West Coast and some other night owls meant that my hours of productivity could be interrupted by emails, Slack messages, and phone calls. Spending a sizable chunk of my time as a professional emailer meant that I needed to be up and working before the start of business on the east coast, lest my email response time slip. Travel between different time zones sapped energy from me. Throw in a few family crises and trying to run two startups at once and I found myself reacting to the world around me more than creating it. I barely had energy when the day ended to squeeze in that productivity, even in a day that was “productive” for work. Not to mention that I had no opportunity to maintain and improve my health.

I found myself in a state of reacting to the world around me, losing the power and energy that has brought me so far and fueled much of my drive. All the productivity hacks and time management tools in the world couldn’t save me.

Why? The issue wasn’t too little time, the issue was too little control over what was happening in my life. Time was just a secondary factor. 

What I needed was an opportunity to assert control and to remind myself that I am the one who determines my day-to-day — that my life is designed by me.

I could have just done anything crazy to assert this control (and this is, I believe, what drives a lot of seeming-mental breakdowns in people who are really stressed — their unconscious knows they need to re-assert control and looks for the easiest way to do that).

The secondary element that this assertion needed was an element of discipline. I’ve noted the importance of asserting discipline through small actions before here and tested this theory on myself. I find it useful to remind oneself every day of the power that the individual has over his own life, even if that is through little things like waking up early or abstaining from certain food or drink.

Through discipline comes freedom.

— Aristotle

The easiest way for me to assert control over my life, rebuild my strong sense of personal discipline, and regain those hours of the day where I can work without interruption is simple: wake up early. For extra discipline and emphasis, wake up really early.

The Transition

It wasn’t like I am somebody who slept until 9 AM, anyway. I woke up at a health 7:30 or so after ~7 hours of sleep. I relished in those hours of the day when I could work, read, or write without interruption, though, and the only way to gain those was to wake up before all of my colleagues or business partners.

I remembered one successful businessman in particular with whom I work and the feeling I had when I saw that he replied to my emails at 5 AM in the morning. At first, I was a little shocked that a man who ran three profitable businesses could wake up that early with ease. I then realized that this sense of discipline was what made it possible for him to run these businesses. 

I committed to waking up well before anybody I work with (or, at least, wake up before they start working) and set on giving myself buffer time, so I chose 4:00 AM. 

4:00 AM was early enough to let me get moving on my day without having to stress about, “oh, can I squeeze in a workout?” or, “oh, will I have time to read today?” or, “will I have time to get through my emails from the night before before new ones roll in?”

Knowing that I am most productive with 7 hours of sleep, I tried to get to sleep by 9 PM for about a week. Even with the use of melatonin, this wasn’t easy. I got up a few days around 4:30 without the energy I was hoping to find.

After focusing on forcing the transition with sheer force of will, I decided to alter my diet. I wasn’t eating unhealthily, but I experimented with reducing my net carbohydrate intake to fewer than 60g/day and found that I could get as much energy from 5.5-6 hours of sleep as I got from 7 hours when I was consuming my usual diet. This let me get to bed at 10 PM and get up around 4 with the energy I needed.

I threw in anaerobic and aerobic exercise (with ~30g of carbohydrates) between 4:15 and 5:15 to give me a burst of energy and start the day in a productive state.

An unintended consequence of this has been a reduction in my coffee consumption. I used to drink coffee after the first 15 minutes or so of waking up. Now, I get the energy that coffee simulates through physical exercise and don’t find myself wanting a cup until 10:30 or so, and usually to accompany food.

This has by far been the best change I have made to my day-to-day life in years. This small physiological change positively impacts my mental and psychological drive and energy throughout the day and makes me resilient to busy days that take up a large chunk of my time and schedule.

Typical Morning Schedule

4:00 AM — Wake up

4:05 AM — Eat (oatmeal with heavy cream)

4:10 AM — Leave to gym (walk/jog)

4:15 AM — Aerobic exercise (jog)

4:35 AM — Anaerobic exercise (weight circuit or HIIT)

5:15 AM — Return home

5:30 AM — Read or write

6:05 AM — Shower (I didn’t think was necessary to add, but some comments on social media made me think otherwise)

6:15 AM — Respond to Emails/Send Urgent/Important emails

6:45 AM — Go to beach and/or office

8:30 AM — Begin “work day”

Again, by far the most useful change I have made in my life. I get that not everybody “needs” to be a morning person, but if you are struggling to find the drive and energy in your day that you know you have, I recommend trying this out for a few weeks.



Why I Forced Myself to Become a Morning Person (and How You Can, Too)

Learn More, Go to School Less

Originally, I was going to talk about optionality and education, but most of the discussion focused on the example of going to medical school as a way of planning way too far into the future and actually closing off doors that you could have left open to yourself.

As I’ve written before (see “optionality” in search bar), people confuse school with education and more schooling with more options in their lives. I meet dozens of young people every quarter who are continuing their schooling in the hopes that it will open up more doors for them in the future. What those doors are, they do not know.

Education does open up opportunities — if you don’t know how to do things, you can’t do them — but school and education are not the same thing.

For example, in the amount of time it takes you to go to medical school, do your internship, residency, and land a job, your field will have changed so much that you will be entering an entirely different realm than you thought you were. All the while, you could have spent that time, money, and energy learning other things that would open up doors for you in the interim period. You end up falling behind on your education in your pursuit of school.


You can listen here.


Learn More, Go to School Less

Advice to Young People: Be More Ambitious

I wrote a somewhat-cathartic blog post over at the Praxis site yesterday about why young people should be more open and honest about their ambition.

I think young people who can otherwise be more ambitious like to hedge their ambition for a few reasons, none of them particularly good upon examination:

  1. If you don’t show your hand, nobody can know when you fail. This is probably the most common reason that high-achievers don’t broadcast bigger ambitions; they aren’t used to failure. They may have a goal to build a billion-dollar business or to publish a number of best-selling books someday, but if they announce that to people before it happens and then it never materializes, they end up looking like idiots.
    1. I don’t like this one because, although it makes the most sense to me, I think that downplaying your ambitions has an adverse psychological effect on yourself. As you continue to repeat that your ambitions aren’t as high or aren’t as big as you’d like, you will start aiming for those lower ambitions in time. If you contradict those lower ambitions in your thought and behavior, you still have to deal with the fact that you are actively contradicting yourself, which has confusing psychological effects.
    2. Even if you don’t hit those goals, ask yourself, “What’s the big deal?” Lots of people fail at the first few attempts at anything (failure is a necessary condition for learning quickly and effectively). Instead, ask yourself, “What’s the worst and best that could happen if I set my goals high?” and “What’s the worst and best that could happen if I set my goals low?”
      1. In the first case, the worst that could happen is that you swing for the fences and miss. You are allowed to take more than one swing, so you correct course and try again. If you swing for the fences and hit, you achieve something very few people ever achieve.
      2. In the second case, the worst that could happen is you swing and miss. The best that could happen is you swing and achieve something most other people achieve.
        1. The point of this analogy is that setting big goals is not a necessary and sufficient condition for success but it is a necessary condition. Nobody has ever accidentally become successful.
  2. Broadcasting ambitions before you have achieved anything else comes off as arrogant and cocky. Nobody wants to look like they think they can actually build that billion-dollar business (or whatever the goal is).
    1. The best way to think of this one is to ask yourself, “Do I really want the approbation of people who think that ambition is generally cocky?” We grow up being taught these stories of great men and women who moved mountains and achieved so much in their lifetimes and are then taught that it is haughty to want to model them. “Better lower your ambitions, kid, because life will beat you down.”
    2. At best, this is a cynical approach to the world. At worst, it crushes the human spirit. Even if the world can be harsh on people and even if everybody doesn’t achieve their goals, that doesn’t mean that once we fail to achieve those ambitions our lives are over and we are complete and total failures. People who are psychologically spritely know how to shift their goals at failures and take them as learning opportunities to move on to the next ambition.
  3. Big ambition implies the chances for big failure. Young people are insulated from and avoid failure for the first 16-22 years of their lives and want to avoid rejection when possible. Applying for that exclusive job or going for that big deal means that you could lose them. Nobody wants to experience that, so they hedge.
    1. Like 1 and 2, the question here needs to be asked as “compared to what?” Yes, losing that big deal does hurt, but the deal can never be had or lost in the first place if you don’t go for it.
    2. Failure is a natural part of learning and, while it should be minimized within reason, is a process through which you can learn, correct course, and move forward.
    3. Big failure is not debilitating. Even complete, total failure in the modern United States isn’t that bad. The bottom isn’t that far and you can always pick yourself back up and get moving again.

Cherishing the ambition you have as a young person is a powerful tool. It is the spark that sets apart all of the hard-working young people with whom I am excited about working. If you want to set yourself apart in the long run, don’t like that spark die out.

Advice to Young People: Be More Ambitious

Work Out Your Discipline Like a Muscle

A lot of the most successful people I know have habits that appear odd at first glance. They may eat an inordinate number of pistachios and eat no carbs (or, even odder, somehow eat only carbs and maintain great shape), they may wake up two hours before the sun comes up, they may consume only certain drinks, they may only use a certain type of pen, etc. These odd habits are not a function of their success — being successful probably didn’t make them odd — and they are not the cause of their success.

Instead, I think peculiar habits are a product (and at the same time, a creator, of) discipline.

The one common theme I have noticed among all of the successful people I know is that they are more disciplined than their less-successful peers. This may not be in every part of their lives — Marc Andreessen talks on the Tim Ferriss show about how he shows up to work at 9 and filled full of coffee for the rest of the day. But he is surely more disciplined when it comes to investing and to building a tech company than most people who try.

If you want to develop that sense of discipline that unites the successful, start small. Decide you’ll write once a day (recommendation from my friend Isaac), go to the gym once a day, wake up an hour earlier, or change your eating habits. You’ll find that as you do these little things more often, doing things that require more discipline become easier.

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Work Out Your Discipline Like a Muscle

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