Are You Inventing Problems?

Ryan Holiday:

Of course, Odysseus isn’t unique. He is us. He’s the human condition in a nutshell. As Blaise Pascal put it, “all of humanity’s problems stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room.” Because we cannot be happy, because we can’t just be, we waste years of our life.

We go begging for trouble. We invent problems. We busy ourselves. We neglect our families. We flee, as Seneca once put it, from ourselves. Then we justify it, pride ourselves on it, point to our restlessness and call it ambition or responsibility.

“People try to get away from it all,” Marcus Aurelius said, “to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: you can get away from it anytime you like. By going within. Nowhere you can go is more peaceful—more free of interruptions—than your own soul.”

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Killing Your Old Self

Seth Godin:

Each of us has a chance to be new tomorrow, if we care enough.

The only way to get better is to walk away from what you used to believe. And the person you become can’t possibly be the same as the person you were.

Steve Pavlina:

I have the freedom to create a present moment that is disloyal to my past in a purely linear sense. I do not have to identify myself based on my history if I see that it no longer serves me to do so.

Ryan Holiday:

“One has to kill a few of one’s natural selves to let the rest grow — a very painful slaughter of innocents.” – Henry Sidwick.

You, the ambitious young person, how many of your natural selves have you identified yet? How many of them are suffocating? Are you prepared for the collateral damage that’s going to come along with letting the best version of you out?

My victims:

Ryan, college student 1 year from graduating with honors
Ryan, the Hollywood executive and wunderkind
Ryan, director of marketing for American Apparel

All dead before 25. May they rest in pieces.

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Write down your philosophy of life.

Some of my favorites from Ryan Holiday’s 32 Thoughts From a 32-Year-Old:

– You need a philosophy and you need to write it down. And re-write it and go over it regularly. Life is too hard (and too complicated) to try to wing it and expect to do the right thing.

– Try to think less about results. Just try to make contact with the ball. Give your best effort, make contact with the ball. The rest takes care of itself.

You gotta know what you want your day to look like. That’s how you build a life.

The world breaks all of us, Hemingway said, and those who won’t break, it kills. Be willing to give up. To fail. To admit you blew it. To try it a different way in the future. That’s the only way to survive…and to get better.

– The real benefit to wearing the same thing everyday (or having some set clothing rotation) is not actually the time or decision fatigue it saves you. It’s that you never go shopping. I went to maybe five stores in the last year? And one mall?

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Ryan Holiday:

A CEO calls her staff into the conference room on the eve of the launch of a major new initiative. They file in and take their seats around the table. She calls the meeting to attention and begins, “I have bad news. The project has failed spectacularly. What went wrong?”

The team is perplexed: What?! But we haven’t even launched yet…!


The technique that the CEO above was using was designed by psychologist Gary Klein. It’s called a premortem. In a premortem, a project manager must envision what could go wrong—what will go wrong—in advance, before starting. Why? Far too many ambitious undertakings fail for preventable reasons. Far too many people don’t have a backup plan because they refuse to consider that something might not go exactly as they wish.

Tom Bilyeu:

“Paul, we’re here to answer exactly one question: Why am I going to fail?”

And if you start with that, instead of “Tell me how to succeed” — which is what most people do — you can start to eliminate some of the obvious paths, or at least understand why they’re dangerous paths, why most people fail as they go down those.

Looking at that, what I’m trying to do is rapidly iterate through all the possibilities. There’s a 1000 doors before you. 999 of them aren’t going to work. So the question is: how do you find the one that’s going to work?

And the answer is, you go through one — “Did this work?” No. Back up. Next one. Back up. Next one. Over and over and over. The goal is to fail rapidly. The question is, what are you learning when you’re failing?

Scott H. Young:

If you can endure the worst case, the best cases take care of themselves.

All of my plans are pessimistic. I focus on what might go wrong, not speculating about what might go right.

This may seem like a mindset doomed to fail, but I’ve found quite the opposite. When you manage and control the worst case, fear and anxiety are less likely to overwhelm your thinking. Since you know you can endure the worst outcome, then anything becomes tolerable.

Part of this is asking whether I could sustain a failed outcome. What if a new project completely goes bust? What if I make no progress? Could I keep going, or would failure to reach a certain outcome be a disaster with my plan as it is now?

But an even bigger part of this is expecting a certain amount of behavioral failure. What if I get sick? What if this takes me longer than I had anticipated? What if this turns out to be harder than expected?

When you take this mindset, you start to feel a lot luckier. Why? Because when you’ve planned and prepared for the majority of negative possibilities, then the “random” events you tend to encounter are biased towards the positive. You get a lucky break, or something succeeds more than you had expected.

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Just work on your act.

Ryan Holiday on the importance of working on your craft, and how “your work is the only thing that matters”:

There is a story about an exchange between Jerry Seinfeld and a young comedian. The comedian approaches Seinfeld in a club one night and asks him for advice about marketing and getting exposure.

Exposure? Marketing? Seinfeld asks. Just work on your act.


No one pursuing an artistic career wants to hear what sits at the core of Seinfeld’s advice: Your work isn’t good enough. Keep your head down. You still have a long way to go.


An artist’s job is to create masterpieces. Period.

Everything else is secondary.

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