This, You Cannot Escape

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When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.

For it isn’t your father, or mother, or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.

He’s the fellow to please – never mind all the rest
For he’s with you, clear to the end
And you’ve passed your most difficult, dangerous test
If the man in the glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass


I have this poem attached to my bathroom mirror. It’s by a guy named Dale Wimbrow.

It captures a defining lesson of every person’s life. You, and you alone, are with you always. When you compromise your values, you will always know. You can suppress it, hide it, crowd it out, but at the deathbed, the knowledge will remain.

Every person on the planet may praise you as a saint and if you slimed your way to the top, you will hate yourself. Your lie will poison all the glamour you could have enjoyed. If you live as a fraud, you will feel like a fraud.

You can try as hard as you like. You will never escape yourself.

 

Defaults are Bad

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I don’t like defaults. A default is a position taken in itself, as an assumption, not a position concluded upon after critical analysis.

An example of a potential default: capitalism is awesome. If a person is told capitalism is awesome their entire life, regards the idea as fundamentally true, and never reaches the conclusion with their own mind, they’ve “defaulted” to the idea.

At the same time, if someone reaches a conclusion with their own mind and then closes their mind to all alternative possibilities, they’ve defaulted. In this circumstance, the person will not change their held idea even when presented with contrary evidence.

Defaulting is a plague. It can be found in every corner of every group of every flavor.

The only cure appears to be constantly questioning and relentlessly valuing the mind as a means of attaining knowledge. If we periodically check on our ideas and trust ourselves to reach conclusions within our pool of information, we can avoid defaulting on individual basis.

The Wonderful Music I Collected From Different Places

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I visited nearly every corner of the United States this year. When I hung out with someone, I let them play their music. I was stunned by the diversity and quality I discovered. There is so much good music out there, of so many different genres.

In Texas, I learned that the French make some of the best eargasm electronic music. Some of this is goosebump-inducing if listened to loud, in the car, at 2 AM.

The rural Texan desert (Google “Marfa”) gave me some of the best “alternative music.” I’d heard a lot of it before but never identified it or added it to my library. I like this kind of music for road trips.

Virginia showed me awesome modern folk-country and brought classic folk to my 2017 collection.

Virginia also introduced me to the best music I’ve ever danced to. Modern Tango. This stuff is a blast. You have to be compleely soulless to not at least tap your foot.

 

 

In the South I found this soulful stuff and some cool anti-authoritarian rebellious rap.

Detroit is the most abundant goldmine of good music I ever discovered. The greatest beats come from Detroit. The best music to work to, the best music to drive to, the best music to lounge to. If you like any of this, I encourage you to dive into the albums.

Honorable Mentions

I can’t tie these to any specific place, but I know I acquired them on my travels. Just good sounding music.

 

This post is barely a tenth of the wonderful music I came in contact with just this year. I always thought people all over the country listened to relatively the same stuff. Nope. I used to be unhappy with my music collection. Now I love it.

The Balance of Self-Acceptance and Self-Control

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I remember going through a depression or two in the past year. I didn’t want to kill myself; I just found less motivation to do most things. I lost interest in my creativity and felt intense anxiety over my position in life.

I tried a few things. The first was a declaring total war on the demon. I started exercising, got up early, listened to absurdly positive music always, got into Buddhism, and worked to just grind through my misery to get things done.

It worked for a while and I got things done. But deep down, I always had this teeny tiny little irritable suspicion that I was lying, that I was somehow hiding from the truth.

I became depressed again and the suspicion evolved into a belief. I wasn’t sure what to do so I ended up in limbo. I was still productive enough to maintain my own existence and to keep people from hating me, but I felt more like a jar of jello than a person enjoying life.

Someone mentioned “radical self-acceptance” to me. A stage where you experience only what you feel immediately inclined to experience. If I was miserable, just exist in that state of misery. If apathetic, feel the apathy. Anything, allow it in and engage in zero denial of it.

It was also important to not use radical self-acceptance to ruminate on negativity and call it authenticity. It was about having a 100% accurate relationship with my internal condition.

I tried it. It had interesting effects. It didn’t make me happier or more joyous, or more satisfied. But it made me feel less psychologically constipated. That was great so I kept going.

Fast forward months and I actually got more done in life, but I hadn’t actually experienced joy. I wanted that emotion desperately. I thought that by being radically self-accepting, I could “accept the joy” that would inevitably come. It didn’t, and I got frustrated.

It seemed my new practice wasn’t the solution to everything. I wasn’t emotionally clogged but I didn’t feel great either.

It was time for a change, but what? I was obsessed with not doing something “inauthentic” and I was terrified of the possibility that efforts to feel better would only be running from misery, not toward joy.

That’s when my mentor and friend TK Coleman introduced a powerful idea: experiments.

“You know, I understand why it’s hard to commit to a significant new practice by saying, ‘Alright, I’m gonna do this for the rest of my life!’ But you can approach things experimentally, with a mindset of, ‘You know what, I’m gonna try this for just a few weeks. If I notice it causes me to be in self-denial, I just can just stop.'”

Boom, I had my answer.

I could simply try more healthy practices in my life. If I didn’t like the outcome or if I felt I was hiding from reality, I could stop.

I don’t know why, but this was revolutionary to me. I immediately started eating healthier, exercising, stretching, meditating, and more.

Some things (like overly motivational music) made me feel fake as a wooden nickel. So I stopped. Other things (especially proper nutrition) made me feel more real with who I am. I felt more liberated to be who I am, not less.

Looking back, my stage of radical self-acceptance was a necessary step. The first time I tried to get over my funk, I felt like I was hiding from my emotions.

But the second time, I was so familiar with what I felt that I didn’t have any resistance toward self-improvement. I wasn’t hiding from depression because I already bathed in its fullest potency.

Now I can do both. I’ve attained optimal self-honesty and it feels amazing. At the same time, I consciously promote and improve my own wellbeing.

Going through the sharp trenches of emotional processing was necessary for me to improve myself without a subconscious anxiety. Perhaps it can be done at the same time.

Either way, improving while living a lie sucks, and having self-honesty but being miserable sucks. Both are necessary.

The Best Tools Aren’t Required but Make a Big Difference

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I’m a video editor. For the past several years, I worked on a $400 ASUS laptop from Walmart. I pushed it to its limit.

Editing videos was a long and laggy process. Anytime I edited, I knew I’d be waiting on my computer, having it freeze, and constantly having to reset it. If you’ve worked with video, you know how damaging this time loss is.

Now I have the most powerful MacBook Pro money can buy. It blazes through any task with ease. Doesn’t take a second to load anything. My productivity has doubled or even tripled.

I’ve always said I don’t believe equipment shouldn’t hold anyone back from creating. I still believe this. You can make engaging videos on a phone without any computer.

However, there are two important things that actually change with an equipment upgrade.

The first is simple productivity. When I have a fast computer, I work faster. Waiting on a slow computer makes it take longer to get things done.

I don’t think this rule just applies to video. Companies have a productivity boost when they upgrade to Slack from texting, Trello from marker boards, or Salesforce, Hubspot, Shopify, and so many others.

It’s definitely possible to be productive without the best tools (that’s how most startups begin) but I’m thoroughly convinced they make a huge difference when it comes to getting things done.

The second is more important: creative motivation. After years of waiting on my caveman computer, I saw the process of creative expression as a chore. I didn’t look forward to editing; I dreaded it. What a terrible relationship to have with something so important!

My sister’s a painter. I asked her how she’d feel if her paintbrush broke in half every ten minutes. Like me, she said she’d keep creating but that it’d take a toll on her long-term motivation.

I wasn’t expecting what happened with my upgrade. I woke up the second day of having my new computer and realized I was genuinely excited to make videos. I didn’t dread all the lagging frustrations of my old computer. I simply started creating and got lost in flow.

To be clear, I believe in creative endurance. A lack of tools is rarely (if ever) an excuse to roll over and not create. But there’s no denying the benefit of having the right tools. Even more, there is no glamour in using garbage equipment just to have a narrative about grinding through equipment blocks. If you can afford the right tools, get them.


Good tools make a difference. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible to create without them, but it’s always a good idea to upgrade when it’s rational to do so.

Edit: I think it’s worth mentioning being over-equipped. It’s important to have the right tool for a job, not the most expensive one. There’s nothing inherently special about any brand or the price of equipment. Nobody wants to work with the person who annoyingly boasts about the unnecessary specs of their stuff.

We Will Die

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I was on a shuttle to the airport and there were two old ladies talking about being old ladies.

“Oh, can you believe how fast it went by?”

“Goodness, no. Like the snap of a finger!”

It made me think about death and the fact that I’ll die. We all will. I don’t think that’s a tragedy but it’s worth having the conscious knowledge in our minds.

It makes me think of a conversation I had with an old friend. He started at a university last month. After our conversation, I knew he didn’t know precisely why he was there.

I texted him about it and he said, “I’m not paying to be here so it’s not really a huge investment.”

I responded, “Time is more of an investment than any amount of money.”

“I’ve got plenty.”

I’ve got plenty. Those three words are responsible for an incalculable amount of suffering, regret, and longing.

The idea behind them is inaccurate. At this age, we have the freedom to do anything we want almost without consequence. It’s much easier to try random and potentially catastrophic ideas when you’re 18 and single, rather than 30 with a house and children.

It’s easy to cover this with worry for the future, but in reality, it’s true. You can try anything when you’re young and if it doesn’t work, you can try something else. You’ll be happier, more interesting, and without regret, but this opportunity only lasts so long.

To illustrate the idea that we really don’t have plenty of time, think about fractions.

If you’re about 20 and your heart stops at 80, you’ve used a quarter of your life.

One year is about 2 percent of the rest of your life.

Four years is 7 percent.

If you think of it like this, are you consciously willing to spend two percent of your life at a job you hate, with a person you don’t love, or doing something that doesn’t make you come alive?

Are you willing to spend 7 percent of your life preparing to enter the real world, rather than 7 percent experimenting and learning and trying all kinds of exciting things in the real world?

Are you willing to burn any percentage of your life in a way that doesn’t get you closer to your goals, however abstract they may be?

I know I’m not.