Book - Zero To One by Peter Thiel

Great book. I really enjoyed this one. It’s kind of a combination of entrepreneurship, history, philosophy, and self-help. I guess all great books transcend their one genre. I don’t think you can classify a Dostoevsky or Hemingway novel as just fiction. There is certainly more to those books than a fun story.  Anyway, back to Zero to One.

 

It was a fascinating read, and I’m not really involved with business or entrepreneurship or technology or really anything to do with Silicon Valley. It was just a cool insight into the mind of an incredibly smart person who thinks about the world in a different way than I do (and probably different than most people). I suppose it’s a bit cliché to say someone “thinks outside of the box,” but it certainly applies to Peter Thiel. You probably don’t become a billionaire and start several extremely successful companies in different industries without thinking differently than everyone else. Though the book has tons of interesting information and insight, what I loved most was how quick and to the point it was. There are so many non-fiction/business books that drag on for dozens, if not hundreds, of additional pages just to fill space. Thiel doesn’t do that. He gets to the point quickly and the entire book can be read in a weekend.

 

Excellent read. Definitely the best business book I’ve read in a while.

 

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0804139296/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

Book - Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Excellent read. Not surprising that it spent 4 years on the New York Times Bestseller list. Though its fairly long, I got through it in a few days. Didn’t want to put it down. The author, Laura Hillebrand, does a great job making this read like a fictional story (and most of the accounts and experiences make you think it would be). She’s the author of another New York Times Bestselling book, Seabiscuit, so she’s pretty good at writing compelling stories from true accounts.

The book is a non fiction life story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was drafted into World War II. Before ever hitting his peak as an athlete, he shattered many records and was clearly on his way to Gold Medals, world records, and numerous other milestones when he was called to duty and forced away from the world of track and field. He goes to war, somehow survives a plane crash in the middle of the ocean, somehow survives being on a tiny raft for over 40 days, and then has to experience a prisoner of war camp in Japan for several years. Its an insane story and got me quite choked up a few times. It was also great because I started the book on the same weekend that I was doing a 2 day water only fast. Every time I felt sorry for myself I just kept reading. It made my fast feel like nothing. I may read a story about human survival every time I fast from now on.

Great read. Definitely worth it.

https://www.amazon.com/Unbroken-World-Survival-Resilience-Redemption/dp/0812974492

 

Vincent Van Gogh Was a Bum

Something about Vincent Van Gogh has always bothered me. Van Gogh killed himself at age 37 and died poor, alone, depressed, and having never received any praise or recognition or money from his art. 

I don't agree with the romanticism around the struggling, yet super talented, artist that doesn't understand people or economy or business. I think having some social intelligence and understanding how to market your work and interact with others is just as important as pure creativity. Van Gogh was gifted, extremely talented, and knew he was talented. But he also holed up in his parent's house and borrowed lots of money he never paid back and did nothing but feel sorry for himself and paint. 

A super talented artist who does not know how to cope with people or business or the economic landscape of his art is the same as an extremely gifted athlete that doesn't know how to work hard or is not coachable or continuously gets arrested and in trouble and kicked off the team. I just find it hard to feel bad for either type, and there are hundreds of thousands of examples in each category. 

Important to be talented and smart and know how to attack the industry or field you are in. 

Free Money

When people use cash or debit cards or credit cards that don't accumulate points, they are literally throwing money away. I've been a big proponent of earning cash back and/or miles on credit card use ever since I learned about it back in college. 

Even at the most basic level, there is a card that just gives back 2% in cash on everything you spend, Capital One. And people would be shocked to know how much a coffee, a lunch, a newspaper, and everything else adds up in expenses over the year. So if you spend only 10,000 during the year, you get back $100. That's 100 for free. In reality, with travel, gas, groceries, cell phone bills, and everything else, most people probably spend well over 50,000 a year. This is a free $500. 

And this is the most basic approach. if you maximize the benefits of these points and use them for travel and other things, you can literally get tens of thousands of dollars in value for free. For example, I fly all over the country and internationally for free all the time because of credit card points. Anyway, below is an interesting podcast on some of the basics revolving around credit card points:

https://www.kevinrose.com/single-post/chris-hutchins

Book - Moby Dick by Herman Melville

I'm currently ready Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Its a classic and one that I had never read before, so I figured I'd tackle it. It is a whale of a book (pun intended) and is super long. Its definitely interesting but is so long and gets so dry at times. The author spends whole chapters on minute and seemingly irrelevant details, such as how to coil a specific type of rope in a ship. He spends numerous chapters discussing various types of whales and their characteristics. At times, it feels like you are reading a Wikipedia page (I first wrote encyclopedia instead of Wikipedia here, and realized that encyclopedia is quickly becoming outdated and may not even be a common term in 10 years). 

What fascinates me more than anything, is the authors knowledge on whales, history, literature, and humanity. Not only did computers not exist when he wrote the book, but libraries practically didn't exist either (there were some, but certainly not the way libraries are today). I find this to be the case with many classic novels. It becomes more about respect for the work than actual appreciation and enjoyment of reading. 

With that said, still an interesting story and certainly glad to have it checked off the list. 

Interesting Podcast

I just listened to this podcast and really enjoyed it, so I figured I'd share on here. 

https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/slate/the-moment-with-brian-koppelman/e/52902707

 

Amidst the constant noise and chaos and irrational anger of political conversation, this was refreshing to hear. I stay away from politics and tend to dislike both sides of the insanity, but I do enjoy when people just discuss things calmly and are willing to listen and learn and agree/disagree. 

Book - Antifragile by Nassim Taleb

I'm currently reading Antifragile by Nassim Taleb

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto)

It's a really interesting take on the importance of chaos and unpredictability. It applies Nassim's theories to all kinds of areas, including economics, biology, politics, technology, culture, and many others. He argues that being antifragile (to a degree) is the key to prolonged success and longevity because unpredictable events and chaos are inevitable. 

Excellent read and well worth the time. 

 

Don't Do

Below is a link to an excellent article on the importance of doing nothing and resetting and going on walks, and most importantly, reading books. Social media is so aggressive with making people feel like they constantly have to work, grind, hustle, do. This is an interesting and refreshing counter point to that philosophy. 

http://www.jamesaltucher.com/2016/08/i-miss-nothing/

Book - Benjamin Franklin Biography

Currently reading Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, by Walter Isaacson    

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

Great book. Pretty long, but very thorough and interesting. Isaacson is a very accomplished biographer. He has national best selling biographies on Einstein and Steve Jobs as well. He does a great job covering all sides and details of the person, including the darker and negative sides. Ben Franklin is no exception. The guy was pretty extraordinary. He had dozens of fascinating inventions, helped establish America as an independent nation and its constitution, was a very talented writer, created the first library, the first fire station, the first police force, one of the first colleges in the country, and many many other incredible things. Its pretty wild what he was able to accomplish in his life. He also had a penchant for women and was not an ideal husband, to put it mildly. 

Either way. Excellent book. Always motivating to read about such powerful and influential historical figures. 

Wanting to Want

Do I want to give, or do I want to want to give? I'm not sure. I guess if I have to ask the question, that means it's the latter. That's sad. Well, I suppose that's still better than not wanting to give. 

Let me clarify. By "give" I mean the broad idea of giving back. Whether it is in the form of charity, time, money, experience, helping a lady across the street, giving up my place in the grocery store line even when I'm in a hurry, etc. 

Just about every piece of literature says that giving back is the ultimate form of happiness and freedom. There have been hundreds of studies done and thousands of anecdotal experiences that all point to the same result, giving back increases happiness. Not only that, but the counter side to this theory has also been heavily tested and studied. Selfish acts and forms of life generally tend to result in various psychological impairments, depression, shorter life, etc. Well, this seems pretty easy then. Why not just give more of oneself in the form of time and money and receive happiness and longevity in return. Isn't that the key to life anywa? 

I suppose like anything else, it just isn't so simple. We are also pre-wired and programmed through millions of years of evolution to be selfish. Otherwise we wouldn't have survived and made it this far. And capitalism, which I'm generally a fan of, doesn't necessarily promote a philanthropic lifestyle. Not that it is against charity by any means, it's just a selfish system by design. Which is great because it forces competition and equal prices and opens up wonderful opportunities for all classes of people and many many other things, but it also instills a certain level of cutthroat drive/persistence/work. 

As great as giving is, we still have to survive first, and then make sure our family survives. So there is definitely some inherent selfishness to life. But how much? And that brings me back to the beginning. I want to give based on everything I know and read and heard, but I also want to compete and win and get rich and save for retirement, etc. So I guess I want to to want to give. Maybe the act of doing it will provide the level of happiness that is so often written about, which will create a positive feedback loop and eventually result in wanting to give back instead of wanting to want. 

So I just need to start. Get over my selfish ways and excuses and justifications and just start. Something, simple, something small, every day. 

The Investment Banker and The Fisherman

My first job out of college was working for a huge public accounting company. And I was miserable. It was considered a great job, hard to get, excellent pay, etc etc etc. I hated it and became very negative towards the entire corporate world. At this time I heard a parable about an investment banker on vacation in a Mexican village and his need to monetize and corpratize everything he sees. The story is in the link below:

https://davidcummings.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/jimmy-johns.jpg

When I knew for certain that I was going to quit and just finishing out my last couple months with the company, my parents, being naturally concerned, tried to talk me out of it. I remember telling them this story and it making my dad smile. He agreed. 

10 years later, my friend sent me the story (not knowing that I already knew it) and told me it reminded him of me. : ) 

Made me smile. 

Its the little things. Quick message like that to help keep me on my journey and not waver. Thanks Bobby! 

Balance is Bullshit

Balance is Bullshit

This is a quote stolen from Keith Ferrazzi's "Never Eat Alone."

https://www.amazon.com/Never-Eat-Alone-Expanded-Updated/dp/0385346654

Its an excellent book and definitely worth the read. I read this in my first year out of college and loved it. Everyone was preaching balance now that I was in the working world and gearing up for what seemed like a monotonous 40 year trot on a treadmill. I loved getting permission to have no balance, to be passionate beyond convention, to go against the grain of corporate rhetoric and philosophy. 

I had a chance to meet Keith and even had dinner at his house one night a few years after I read the book. I told him the impact that one line had on my life. It was a great experience.

However, as I sit here now, I think about this entire concept from a slightly different perspective. Balance is such a subjective, undefinable term when it comes to one's life. Saying people should have balance is like saying people should be happy. What does it even mean? Balance is individual and it is therefore up to each person to figure out what the proper balance is through trial and error. This balance may be 40 hour work weeks and the rest family time, it may be 110 hour work weeks, and the rest exercise time, it may be anything in a billion different scenarios. The key is finding your own balance and being honest with yourself. What is mine? Who knows. I try to figure it out every day. I know I have a need for creativity, competition, exercise, reading, and traveling. How those balance, I'm not quite sure. To make matters more complicated, most of those things can overlap (competition and creativity in acting auditions, or competition and exercise). Maybe happiness is just the opposite side of the true balance equation. Whatever the right balance is for you results in happiness? 

Overproductivity

I posted about productivity a few days ago, and then came across this article, "Habits Can Make You Stupid, And Then Kill You." 

http://www.jamesaltucher.com/2016/11/habits-make-stupid/

Its another one by James Altucher. I know I know. I been reading him a lot lately. He's smart, and different, and interesting. But I read other stuff as well. Just have been reposting the stuff I think is pretty interesting. 

The idea is that there is such thing as over-productivity, and too many rituals and habits. Hard work is great, but spinning your wheels for the sake of action is not efficient or smart. I guess, like everything else, there is no answer. The key is being happy and making sure we aren't doing it at the expense of future happiness either.