J.D. Moyer

sci-fi writer, beat maker, self-experimenter

Tag: Tim Ferriss (Page 1 of 2)

How to Think About Your Career

It’s possible to have a career without really thinking about it. Nothing wrong with that. I’ve had at least three-and-a-half accidental careers so far.

  • I started doing computer support and database design right out of college, just a few hours a week, at my dad’s friend’s company, learning as I went. Ten years later I was the Senior Database Administrator for the San Francisco Symphony, and I still do freelance db work to this day as my main source of income. But none of my friends ever remember this, because it’s so boring that I never talk about it.
  • My record label business partner wanted to start a weekly happy hour at an art gallery. I thought it was a terrible idea. The ayahuasca-snorting gentleman he initially partnered with to throw the event got a little squirrelly and they parted ways. I reluctantly stepped in, and under our management we had a decade-plus run as one of the biggest dance music events in San Francisco, lines around the block, written up in international guide books, DJs from around the world eager to play to our crowd.
  • I had no interest in DJing. But we needed to promote our album. So I learned to DJ at my own party, trainwrecking mix after mix. Spesh put me through DJ bootcamp and I got a little better. Soon we were headlining the biggest dance clubs in San Francisco, voted among SF’s Top DJs in the Nitevibe poll, on the cover of The SF Weekly, and touring in Europe. But eventually I quit because I don’t like travelling, or listening to hundreds of promo tracks to find the few good ones.
  • I started a blog in 2009. I can’t remember why. Probably to practice writing, to express myself, to share my ideas. Eventually some of my health posts (about sleep and artificial light, about the paleo diet) got popular. The blog hit a million views. CNN interviewed me. A TV show The Doctors flew me to Hollywood to be a guest. I experimented with advertising. Then I wrote a post about how I regrew some of my hair by intensively massaging my head, and things went crazy. Views through the roof, readers begging me to make instructional videos, asking for personalized advice. Should I take up hair regrowth coaching? I thought about it. Maybe I could help Tim Ferriss regrow his hair, or Prince William. But I’m not patient enough to be a coach, and I didn’t want to be the hair guy. Or another paleo guy. So I made it clear to my readers that though while I would still write the occasional health post, the content of this blog was much broader (systems for living well, self-experimentation, the creative life).

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Living On One Dollar

Living On One Dollar (now available on Netflix streaming)

Living On One Dollar (now available on Netflix streaming)

Recently I watched and enjoyed the documentary film “Living On One Dollar” (available on Netflix streaming). Four American young men (two researchers and two filmmakers) live in rural Guatemala for a summer, strictly committing to a budget averaging US$7/week per person (randomized day to day to $0-$9 for the group). As you might predict, they have a hard time of it, and suffer from hunger, malnutrition, parasites, fatigue, and demoralization. On the brighter side, they form friendships with the locals, help others and are helped, learn a great deal about rural poverty, and produce a film well worth seeing.

Some things are cheaper in rural Guatemala than they are in the U.S. and Europe, but not by much. The men spent their meager budget on rice, beans, firewood, and transportation to and from the market. Bananas were an occasional treat. After weeks of near starvation the locals taught them to buy a small plastic bag of lard and add some to their mashed beans. They slept on a dirt floor and were bitten by fleas every night. At least one of them contracted both Giardia and E. coli. from contaminated water. For much of the time they were uncomfortable or miserable.

The locals seemed to live a little better. Some had saved up (by way of savings groups) to purchase wood stoves. One man in the village had a janitorial job in a nearby city and had used his regular income to improve his house and help his neighbors. Still, many of the locals suffered from this extreme poverty. One man described how when he had no money he witnessed his children stop growing. Some families had enough money to buy food for their children but not enough to buy them supplies for school. The film reminded me in a visceral way of something I already knew intellectually but had not considered in depth: very poor people have more choices, and much more difficult choices, than the top 80% (about 1 in 5 people around the world live on a dollar a day or less). A wrong decision has more serious consequences (like death); the very poor just can’t afford to take risks the way wealthier people can.


Many of the Guatemalan villagers had benefited from small microfinance loans (the local organization was Grameen). One woman borrowed a small amount of money to start a weaving business, and was thus able to resume her studies (she wanted to eventually become a nurse).

I was left with the impression that microfinance is a powerful and effective tool for alleviating poverty, especially when complemented by local savings groups. Any kind of financial flexibility is a huge boon for the extreme poor.

What Can the Top 80% Do To Help?

The four young men who made this film are big-hearted types, and care about the plight of their neighbors. During their time in the Guatemalan village they teach both English and Spanish (many of the locals speak only a Mayan dialect) and have since committed to continue making films to expose the plight of the extreme poor. This kind of film-making is important because it provides viewers the opportunity to get to know individuals who live in extreme poverty. We tend to feel more empathy when we get to know fathers, mothers, and children by name, people with their own dreams and aspirations, people just like us (as opposed to a monolithic group: people who live on less than a dollar a day).

So what can the rest of us do? At least four things:

1) We can support/vote for safety nets in our own country.
2) We can support/vote for universal benefits in our own country.
3) We can support microfinance organizations like Grameen and Kiva if we want to help internationally.
4) We can buy goods and services from poor countries (“Fair Trade” goods don’t necessarily help the extreme poor any more than goods without that label, but exports in general can truly boost national economies).

Poverty and Priorities in the United States

In the United States, many people are considered to live in poverty. However, we are a rich country, and most who are considered impoverished have a roof over their heads, have enough to eat, have access to emergency healthcare, and own a television.

After the Great Depression, the U.S. implemented safety nets, and they worked. Extreme poverty (living on a dollar a day or less) does not exist in the United States. Some among the chronic homeless in the United States arguably have a lower quality of life than the rural poor in Guatemala, but even the homeless in the U.S. have less food scarcity.

Our challenge in the United States is one of massive income inequality, and poor services for the most disadvantaged (such as the mentally ill). Some of these problems can be alleviated with expanding universal public services (such as preschool, higher education, and healthcare). Though the United States lags in these areas compared to Europe, there is reason for optimism. Oklahoma leads the way in terms of providing universal early education. Utah is solving homelessness with its “apartment first, questions later” strategy (drug and alcohol treatment programs turn out to be more effective if a person has a roof over their head). Even though our healthcare system ranks last among wealthy western nations, many U.S. citizens receive affordable healthcare via Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal programs.

Are we heading in the right direction in terms of social welfare for the poor? Conservative Americans are concerned about the immorality and unfairness of “government handouts,” but investing in early childhood education, making sure everyone can get basic healthcare, and getting homeless people off the streets are no-brainers; such “handouts” raise quality of life for everybody. We should prioritize these kinds of universal benefits; they are the low-hanging fruit in terms of alleviating suffering, investing in our nation’s future, and being the kind of country that inspires pride and patriotism.

Cult of the Individual, Cult of the Free Market

There is a brand of individualism and extreme libertarianism rampant in Silicon Valley, but also in other parts of the United States, fueled by the author Ayn Rand.

Ayn Rand’s books are like Lord of the Rings for conservatives. They are pure fantasy. Utopian political fantasy, but fantasy nonetheless. Ayn Rand’s fiction exalts the power of the individual and the free market and vilifies collectivism to such an extent that residents of the fictional settlement Galt’s Gulch in Atlas Shrugged never even lend things to each other — instead they negotiate a rental agreement. Everyone must pay their own way. Rand’s books fuel the philosophies of dozens of influential U.S. capitalists and conservative politicians, including Peter Thiel, Rand Paul, and Paul Ryan.

I bring up Rand because many people influenced by her actively campaign against social welfare programs that alleviate poverty. If they had their way, safety nets would be abolished and life for the poor in the United States would much more resemble life in rural Guatemala.

The free market creates wealth; few dispute that. What it doesn’t do is distribute wealth, and as it turns out the wealth doesn’t “trickle down” at all. Instead it tends to concentrate at the top. Technology accelerates that process; technology increases productivity and makes most jobs redundant, but that productivity boon only benefits business and capital owners (not workers). The Ayn Rand fantasy of pure individualism and an unregulated free-market, once conceived as a bulwark against totalitarian communism, now does more harm than good.

To hear how the average European perceives this insanity, listen to Tim Ferriss interview British polymath Ed Cooke (I think the Ayn Rand exchange is in part 2 but both parts are worth listening to). If the libertarian conservatives increase their political power (and they might), the United States could see a dangerous acceleration of income inequality, a gutting of social safety nets, and a dramatic rise in homelessness. Cooke deconstructs the “cult of the individual” quite eloquently.

Let Them Eat Cake

Yesterday on my way to the bank I walked through an intersection in Oakland. Every lane divider was occupied by a man with a sign asking for spare change (if you’re curious about the demographics, two were young and white, one was middle-aged and black). Later I drove to San Francisco and saw at least half a dozen people sleeping in doorways.

The local situation is mirrored globally. 80 people now own as much as the world’s bottom 50% (each of those extremely rich people owns as much as about 44 million other people in the bottom half). According to Piketty the situation is heading towards even more dramatic wealth concentration.

How does it end? There are two ways … the wealthy and middle classes find ways to push opportunity and quality of life down the economic spectrum, or …

Take your pick!

How To Trigger Super-Momentum

Super-momentum: life in the productivity fast lane

Super-momentum: life in the productivity fast lane

No more than a dozen times in my life, I have experienced a state of what I call “super-momentum.” For days, sometimes weeks at a time, I operated at a extremely high level of energy, excitement, and creativity. I became so absorbed in my work that becoming distracted wasn’t an issue; I was distraction proof. I slept less and ate less, but had more energy. At times ideas came so quickly that I struggled to capture them, getting up in the middle of the night or pulling over in traffic to write them down.

There’s a clinical word that describes aspects of this psychological state: hypomania. But whereas hypomania is often associated with distractibility and thrill-seeking behavior (gambling, shopping sprees, sexual promiscuity, etc.), I associate super-momentum with extreme focus in a single work area, and the application of 100% of the excess energy to the work in question.

There are multiple advantages to having a singular focus. With project immersion, the subconscious mind is always engaged with the material (though other life areas may suffer from lack of attention and processing power). Project progress increases because there is less “loading” time; since the mind is continually engaged, you don’t have to “remember where you were” when you start working. You already know! This also reduces initial resistance/willpower expenditure for starting each work session. Instead of knowing and dreading the mentally strenuous work of reviewing your work for half an hour (or longer) to “get back in the groove,” you just pick up right where you left off the night before. You’re already in the groove — you never left.

Super-momentum is similar to Csikszentmihalyi’s flow, but I consider super-momentum to be more agitated, more based on heightened physiology (dopamine, sex hormones), and less reliably triggered. And while flow is characterized as “enjoyment in the process of the activity,” I would describe super-momentum as an ecstatic, near-frantic, inspired, completely focused work hustle.

It’s a great drug, and I’d like more of it. But it’s not something money can buy.

So, the questions:

  • Is super-momentum worth triggering? Does it actually result in value being created? Or is it just another high to be chased?
  • Is it possible to trigger super-momentum, and if so, how? What circumstances lead to this explosive burst of energy, enthusiasm, motivation, and productivity?
  • Are there negative effects of super-momentum, in terms of psychological strain, physical stress, and general wear-and-tear? Is the comedown painful? Is “project completion letdown” inevitable?

Is Super-Momentum Worth Triggering?

Absolutely yes. While not every period of super-momentum in my own life has paid off in every way, all have paid off in some way. To list just a few examples:

  • I spent weeks in a state of super-momentum writing an artificial life emulation program that took my programming skills to the next level. I still sometimes reference the source code of this application when solving similar problems.
  • For at least a full month I became complete absorbed in Minecraft, sleeping very little and thinking about the game constantly. My brain was so “activated” that I made major breakthroughs on completely unrelated problems (client work) during this period of time.
  • Momu and Grayarea collaborated during a very short window of opportunity. A sixteen-hour work session led to a week of very intense follow-up work, resulting in the track “One” which has generated thousands of dollars in royalty income.

In the long-run, these brief periods of super-momentum are mere blips when compared to productivity and results from consistent daily disciplined work. But still, these blips interest me. Not only are they fun when you’re in them, but many artists and writers I respect and admire seem to be able to consistently generate super-momentum, dramatically increasing their productivity during focused periods of being completely ON.

Is it Possible to Trigger Super-Momentum? If So, How?

Since flow is a possible subset of super-momentum, what have psychologists already determined are the prerequisites for the former?

In order to achieve flow, Csikszentmihalyi lays out the following three conditions:

  1. Goals are clear
  2. Feedback is immediate
  3. A balance between opportunity and capacity (the task is sufficiently challenging but not overwhelmingly difficult)

On most days I can enter a flow state (as characterized here) for at least a few hours. But I don’t know if I can consistently generate the heightened physiological state I associate with super-momentum. As a start, in terms of reverse-engineering, here are the factors (in addition to the above) that I associate with super-momentum:

  • a great idea
  • competition (personal, not abstract)
  • a crush/a muse
  • hunger for success and recognition
  • decent tools and working environment
  • an inflexible deadline
  • powerful collaborators or helpers
  • creating something that will really help or inspire other people
  • breaking new ground (in terms of knowledge, style, or genre)
  • some drugs (modafinil, bromocriptine, caffeine, etc.)
  • being in good physical shape and generally healthy
  • incremental success (power-ups)
  • emotional intensity (including heartbreak, joy, grief, love)
  • working hard, playing hard
  • terrible consequences if I don’t succeed
  • a big payoff if I do succeed
  • getting “amped” because of excitement around an activity or an upcoming event or release (anticipation)
  • extended hyperfocus (for example videogame immersion)
  • an extended period of quiet solitude or near-solitude, time and space to completely relax, decompress, reflect, and even become bored

I have personal experience with all of these factors except for modafinil (which I am curious about, but wary of). Some of these factors are within personal control, but just as many aren’t. Part of super-momentum might simply be utilizing the enormous energy that comes with momentous life events (births, deaths, falling in love, getting dumped, etc.).

Drugs are within one’s personal control, but to me that seems a dangerous route (for example, I could imagine quickly and efficiently writing an absolutely worthless one-thousand page novel under the influence of modafinal).  I once tried bromocriptine (which increases dopamine levels) as an experiment, and  once was enough. I consume a moderate amount of caffeine from dark roast coffee, but medium roasts leave me dehydrated and jittery — I’m not interested in increasing my caffeine intake.

What other factors are controllable?

  •  Setting an ambitious but achievable goal
  • Agreeing to a tight, inflexible deadline, such that other people are depending on you to deliver
  • Choosing subject matter than can potentially have a real impact or break new ground
  • Maintaining and optimizing your infrastructure and work environment so that when inspiration and energy do strike, you are not slowed down with mundane “fixit” tasks and distractions
  • Underscheduling and undercommitting, so that you end up with “empty space” in your life (and not filling that space with distractions like television — get bored enough so that your mind starts racing for its own entertainment — see Oates tweet above)
  • Engaging in a rich social life (ideally centered on or related to your work area) so that you increase your potential exposure to mentors, muses/crushes, rivals, and collaborators, all who can dramatically spur your motivation and amp up your nervous system.

This is the first time I’ve thought about this analytically. I’m surprised by how many super-momentum associated factors are potentially controllable. Maybe super-momentum can be engineered.

Can you Create Your Own Motivation and Excitement?

According to Neil deGrasse Tyson, yes.

“The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.

– Neil deGrasse Tyson’s response on Reddit when asked “What can you tell a young man looking for motivation in life itself?”

What Tyson doesn’t explain is how. How do you go from sitting on the couch feeling blah to firing on all cylinders?

Well first, get off the couch. As Tony Robbins likes to say, “emotion is created by motion.” [Tony Robbins “Ultimate Edge — Hour of Power” mp3, link borrowed from this Tim Ferriss post]

Exercise generally stimulates dopaminergic systems, which generally increases motivation (though the neuroscience is complex; higher dopamine in some brain areas increases motivation, while higher dopamine in other brain areas increases awareness of the costs of certain behaviors).

So daily exercise is a must if you want to boost your “get up and go,” with the caveat being that you don’t want to overdo it and end up in a state of chronic inflammation. Lifting heavy weights or going on long runs every day will just exhaust most people. Walking or bicycling or yoga everyday plus short bursts of more intense exercise (sprints, weights) is probably a good balance.

But brisk walks won’t get you to super-momentum. You need to be excited about your work.

Well, what if you aren’t excited? Can this be changed?

Author Rachel Aaron has a good perspective on this. In this blog post she describes how she went from writing 2000 words a day to 10,000 words a day. She breaks her approach into three core requirements:

  1. Time (track productivity and evaluate)
  2. Knowledge (know what you’re writing before you write it)
  3. Enthusiasm (get excited about what you’re writing)

She has valuable insight into all three areas. I’d recommend her post to all writers. But for the more general purposes of this post, her insights into generating enthusiasm are the most relevant. From Aaron’s post:

The answer was head-slappingly obvious. Those days I broke 10k were the days I was writing scenes I’d been dying to write since I planned the book. They were the candy bar scenes, the scenes I wrote all that other stuff to get to. By contrast, my slow days (days where I was struggling to break 5k) corresponded to the scenes I wasn’t that crazy about.

This was a duh moment for me, but it also brought up a troubling new problem. If I had scenes that were boring enough that I didn’t want to write them, then there was no way in hell anyone would want to read them. This was my novel, after all. If I didn’t love it, no one would.

Fortunately, the solution turned out to be, yet again, stupidly simple. Every day, while I was writing out my little description of what I was going to write for the knowledge component of the triangle, I would play the scene through in my mind and try to get excited about it. I’d look for all the cool little hooks, the parts that interested me most, and focus on those since they were obviously what made the scene cool. If I couldn’t find anything to get excited over, then I would change the scene, or get rid of it entirely. I decided then and there that, no matter how useful a scene might be for my plot, boring scenes had no place in my novels.

This applies to all creative/innovative pursuits — not just fiction writing. If it’s boring, why are you working on it? Skip ahead to the good part or the interesting part.

You may need to come back to the “boring bits” of the project later, but if you’re already in a state of super-momentum, you’ll blast through them effortlessly.

Are There Negative Effects of Super-Momentum?

Obviously, being amped up physically and mentally for an extended period of time (even if drug free) is going to take its toll. More free radicals, more stress hormones, and accelerated aging are probably inevitable to some extent.

Super-momentum is not the fountain of youth. It’s burning the candle at both ends. Even if the high is natural, all highs are followed by a low.

In addition to physical and mental stress, focusing all your energy and attention on a single life area means that other parts of your life (household, relationships, children, eating well, sleeping well, other work areas) are going to be temporarily neglected.

In addition, when you come down (and you will eventually come down), you won’t have the energy to energetically deal with these neglected areas. You’ll be drained. After expending an enormous amount of energy and delivering or otherwise completing your project (or possibly abandoning it), you’ll experience letdown. While life coaches and therapists might distinguish physiological depression from post-project depletion, they feel about the same.

The advantage of going through the latter is that you know why (you just pushed yourself like a maniac, and now you’re out of gas), and you know that with rest and recuperation, you’ll bounce back and regain that life spark.

So pursue super-momentum at your own risk. There will be downsides. A near constant state of super-momentum without corresponding periods of rest and recuperation might lead to gigantic leaps in terms of career success, but long-term health life effects might include:

  • obesity, from sleep deprivation and circadian disruption
  • insulin resistance, see above
  • chronic inflammation, manifesting in joint pain, back pain
  • chronic depression
  • drug and alcohol abuse
  • damage to personal relationships, from neglect and/or volatile emotions
  • self-doubt, loss of sense of purpose, “Why am I doing this?”

To these risks you might say “So what?” In the famous words of a super-momentum enthusiast:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

– Hunter S. Thompson

He was a man true to his word.

On the other hand, there are equal or even greater risks to not pushing yourself, to eating and resting too much, to not discovering and stoking your inner fire. These risks are both physical and psychological. Chronic stress is terrible for health, but acute stress is necessary. A sedentary life devoid of all challenges is a fast track to obesity, heart disease, cancer, and dementia. Consider:

Work “sprints” (via super-momentum) are not necessarily bad for your health as long as you take some downtime to recover. Here are some basic life and health precautions to take if you are chasing the dragon of super-momentum:

  • stay super-hydrated
  • get at least five hours of sleep a night
  • eat at least one healthy meal a day
  • don’t use stimulants stronger than tea or coffee
  • rely on “natural” sources of motivation (see above) instead of drugs (including all so-called “smart drugs”)
  • start with “money in the bank” (literally, but also in terms of relationships, core infrastructure, etc.)
  • take extra care to be polite, patient, respectful, and considerate to your loved ones (your agitated, hypersensitive, hyperactive state will make you prone to snapping and snap judgements)
  • when its time to come down, come down gracefully (sleep more, eat well, decompress, pamper yourself, recuperate, thank everybody who supported you during your sprint, return the favor)

This cautionary tale from author-turned-cocaine-and-videogame-addict Tom Bissell is worth reading. It’s possible to amp yourself up into a state of hypomania and hyperfocus that feels like super-momentum, but moves your life backwards instead of forwards. While I’ve never gotten into recreational drugs, I can relate to the lure of videogames. These days I have a simple rule of “no entertainment during the workday” (including web browsing) that keeps me from falling into false “feeling productive while doing nothing productive” traps.

So Who Wins, The Tortoise or the Hare?

Well, we all know that slow and steady wins the race. There is no substitute for establishing rock-solid daily habits that inch you closer to your goals, day by day.

But there is a place for sprints, for extremes. Especially to reach the heights of artistic or innovative greatness, these sprints might be required.

So the tortoise wins the horizontal race, but the hare gets more air.

Or maybe, once in awhile, the tortoise bursts into a sprint.

The Pursuit of Happiness Is Meaningless Without the Pursuit of Justice

Where’s the Justice League when you need ’em?

Ambushed By An Article

Yesterday morning I was happily drinking coffee and reading the New York Times, when I came across this disturbing article by conservative think tanker Arthur Brooks.

The piece starts off as a bland rehash of “the latest” happiness research (trotting out studies from the seventies). Nothing new, but nothing offensive either. Towards the end, the piece takes a sharp right turn as Brooks champions free enterprise as the solution to both personal happiness and global poverty. The bogeymen of socialism and collectivism are trotted out as the usual enemies. Perhaps as an apologetic concession to liberal NYT readers, Brooks does acknowledge that social mobility and economic opportunity are on the decline in the United States (at least as compared to Canada and the Scandinavian countries — ironically all collectivist social democracies). The whole piece is a confused mess.

Personal Development Hijacked by Corporate Ideology

So why am I writing about it?

This blog is subtitled “Systems for Living Well.” I agree with many of Arthur Brooks’ conclusions about personal happiness (a spiritual life, strong relationships, meaningful work, and connection to community are all important). But I want to distance myself from Brooks (as well as bloggers like Steve Pavlina, Gretchen Rubin, Tony Robbins, and Tim Ferriss) who approach personal happiness and life satisfaction in a “bubble” context, ignoring social and political issues as if they didn’t exist.

Too often, self-help philosophies function as a justification for right-wing ideology. Ignore the bad cards life has dealt you, and pull yourself up by your own bootstraps! Pursue your passion and beat the economic odds! Be a winner not a loser! A credo of personal accountability ties in neatly to ideals of free enterprise and anti-welfare sentiments.

In a similar vein, advocating gratitude and forgiveness as spiritual practices is usually good advice (in terms of emotional health and personal empowerment). But the same philosophy can be twisted to imply that workers should be happy with (and feel grateful for) whatever is doled out by their employers, instead of negotiating for better wages, benefits, and working conditions, or fighting against corporate crime and corruption. It’s one thing to forgive the CEO of a Wall Street company that swindled tax-payers, so you don’t have to live with hate in your heart. But it’s another thing to lie down and let them do it again.

I believe in personal accountability, the value of hard work, establishing effective habits, practicing gratitude — all the same things that the Pavlina/Rubin/Robbins/Ferriss types are pushing. But I also believe that if we truly want to live well, we should fight against the injustices that prevent others from living well.

So what are the injustices we should be fighting against? Well, for starters:

Maybe, if I’m not happy, it’s because my conscience isn’t clear. Maybe I’m not working hard enough for the right for others to get a fair shot at the pursuit of happiness. Yes, we’re all responsible for our own happiness and sense of meaning in life. But if we ignore injustice, others may not even get the chance to pursue happiness.

Call To Action

To writers, bloggers, economists, psychologists, and social scientists who are exploring the topic of happiness, here’s what I’m suggesting:

  • Don’t be a tool for corporate ideology. In the discussion of personal happiness and life meaning, don’t ignore oppression and injustice, wherever you see it.
  • Allow for the possibility that the concepts of personal accountability and social inequity/injustice can co-exist.
  • Don’t only look at happiness and life satisfaction on a personal level, but consider social and economic factors that affect us collectively, and call people to action to fight against injustice, greed, corruption, oppression, and other realities that hurt all of us.

I do understand why self-help writers want to steer clear of these topics. If you write about political issues, you potentially lose half your audience (or more). And I want to give credit to Ferriss and Robbins especially for raising money for schools, fighting poverty, etc.

But it’s delusional to think that we can *all* pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and visualize (or optimize) our way to an ideal life, when income inequality is so high, and social mobility so low, and we live in an age of rampant unchecked corporate irresponsibility.

Please share your thoughts below.

The Learning Tax (pay it, instead of working around your ignorance and weaknesses)

Learning the Hebrew alphabet, one of my current study areas

Learning the Hebrew alphabet, one of my current study areas

For about a decade, for most of my thirties, I lost touch with active learning.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t learn anything for those ten years. I learned passively, reading nonfiction and news. I had hundreds of fascinating conversations. I worked, and learned by doing (LBD), acquiring new skills by throwing myself into unfamiliar activities (screenplay and novel writing, DJing) and learning on the fly.

Still, my approach to acquiring new skills and knowledge was haphazard. The few times I did dedicate time and resources to active learning yielded large dividends (for example my “DJ bootcamp” experience), but this was the exception, not the rule.

For the most part, I ignored:

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Penelope Trunk Makes Me Think Hard About What I’m Doing and Why

Brazen Careerist’s Penelope Trunk

I’ve been reading Penelope Trunk’s mindfuck of a blog, and learning a few things in the process.  Listening to this podcast, in which Penelope gives brutally blunt career advice to hapless blogger Steve, was sort of a wake-up call.  Penelope asks Steve some hard questions about why he is blogging, and what his goals for his blog are.  When he’s evasive, she rips him a new one.  It’s not pretty, but it’s honest, and to Steve’s credit he posts the whole thing unedited.

Penelope can be thought of as kind of an anti-Tim Ferriss.  Where Tim looks for simplicity and optimization, Penelope looks for conflict and doubt.  Tim polishes his image and generally presents his best side, while Penelope shares her angst, personal failings, and relationship problems.  Tim offers advice about how to minimize work and maximize play, while Penelope takes as a given that adults need to put in 8 hours of daily work, and focuses on the question of “Whose working life do you want?”

So, who do I want to take advice from?  A borderline-narcissistic tango-spin record holder, or a neurotic Jew with Asperger’s syndrome?  Well, both actually, but I’ll focus on Penelope’s advice in this post since I talked about Tim Ferriss last week.

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