Birthday Ideas to Live By

“My wish for you, Kalistos, is that you survive as many battles in the flesh as you already have fought in your imagination. Perhaps then you will acquire the humility of a man and bear yourself no longer as the demigod you presume yourself to be.” — Dienekes in Steven Pressfield’s The Gates of Fire

Yesterday was my birthday. I started to put together a post pulling together a highlight reel of my social media posts from the last 8 years together.

Then I started hating myself. In 2009 I was reading Atlas Shrugged, so I was a real jerk.

Then I started seeing posts from old friends that forgot I exist.

Then I saw a string of arrogantly assured libertarian posts that were responsible for me losing a bunch of friends on social media and off.

Some mix of “studying” delusional self-help gurus, early successes, being seen as a “golden boy,” being a virgin to the harshness of fate, and knowing just enough to be annoying (more than nothing, not enough to doubt) caused me to be a little shit-wit dinkle-head.

After looking back on at my personal blog and social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr) I can find a clear divide between the Kyle I like and the Kyle I don’t.

I like myself when I’m curious, trying to understand, sharing, questioning, and open.

I don’t like me when I’m preaching, proving, or positioning.

I cringe, or even experience low-grade nausea looking at some of my political or Ayn Rand-inspired posts.

At 27, I’m sure to continue saying things I’ll regret. Just maybe, in less annoying, alienating ways.

In 2014 I basically stopped my social use of social media.

Here is my last Tumblr post in October 2014:

An expert is a normal man away from home giving advice. — Oscar Wilde

At the time I was working on an ecommerce entrepreneurship program with my partner Will at StartupBros. We were beginning to be known in the ecommerce world as experts. The guys on the internet giving advice.

My last Instagram picture was in December 2014, it’s my sister reading in some Seattle coffee shop:

My online presence was taken over by business, which is great, but I wish I had created a place to capture memories. There’s a big gap in my memory of events now. These social media accounts are like modern photo albums, it’s worthwhile filling them in.

This reminds me of a dumb idea I had.

At some point I started thinking that taking pictures separates us from the present. This might be true for the selfie-obsessed, but it’s generally the opposite.

I’ve done a ton of cool things that I’ll never remember again because I didn’t take a picture. Pictures help our memories access pieces of our lives that would be forgotten. And, done well, taking a moment to take a picture can actually heighten our experience of the present. It’s like highlighting a moment in life, adding meaning by taking a little effort to save it.

Anyway, I don’t think we should be shy about saving moments to savor later.

After all that, I want to put a few ideas down. Ideas and patterns that I want to remember moving through my 27th year. Things that seem to make life better for those that can remember them:

  • Quality of life is determined by external and internal. It’s near 100% internal for a sage, saint, monk, or madman… but I’ve tried real hard and haven’t gotten close.
  • So eat well. My emotional and mental life is created in part by the things I put into me.
  • Meditate and otherwise train the brain to be a friend instead of an asshole.
  • Exercise you chump. Remember that time you let yourself get chubby?
  • Basically, for a someone who knows depression as well as you, you know doing everything you can to have a decent chemical balance is going to payoff.
  • Be too picky about the people you surround yourself with.
  • Work towards wanting what you want to want so you don’t end up working for something you didn’t actually care about.
  • Focus on the process (taking action) instead of results.
  • This will help keep balance, facing bad and good luck.
  • Not to mention sanity in the midst of uncertainty.
  • Remember that little deaths must be little births. It’s that ouroboros lifestyle.
  • Kindness beats clever every time. (Actually, kindness beats pretty much everything.)
  • Tiny compromises inevitably become huge compromises.
  • Love isn’t soft.
  • You can’t truly care for something or someone you have a rigid vision for.
  • Advice sets the giver, not the receiver free.
  • You don’t need to be at your final destination to feel at home. Euthymia!
  • Knowledge without experience hangs loosely and doubtfully.
  • Life is made up of attention. Choosing not to give something your attention does not necessarily mean you’re naive.
  • Never underestimate how differently the world can be experienced. See Roman Honor.
But the categories of explanation that we find most stable and satisfying, most “concrete,” had, for that very reason, little motive power for the Romans. We like to isolate and fix our motives; the Romans liked them to move. Our motives can be dominated and engineered; those of the Romans were elusive and unstable. Europeans, and perhaps even more Americans, believe that human beings can be operated on — but only if they hold still long enough! Only from a stationary point can we move the world. (We are always looking to “nail down” that point.) — Carlin Barton, Roman Honor
  • Ego is the Enemy
  • A good replacement for ego: Caring.
“Through caring for certain others, by serving them through caring, a man lives the meaning of his own life. In the sense in which a man can ever be said to be at home in the world, he is at home not through dominating, or explaining, or appreciating, but through caring and being cared for.” — Milton Mayeroff, On Caring
  • Maintain a frugal heart through gratitude, attention, and creation.
I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast of chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else. And all that is required to feel that here and now is happiness is a simple, frugal heart. — Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek
  • Make money your wings, not your master.
  • Meaning is often created with effort. The more of you you put into relationships, work, or anything else, the more meaningful it becomes.
  • The world probably doesn’t need the change you’re trying to make to it.
  • Also, most social organizations imposed on people for their own good end up in suffering for a lot of people.
  • Don’t confuse enthusiasm for feeling energetic. It’s more about the willingness to “keep buggering on.”
  • Related: Remember that motivation follows action.
  • Books about what the world will be like or about problems we’re facing are caricatures almost by definition, stay engaged in the present and chill.
  • The best in the world often have a high failure rate (most hedge funds and VC funds are practically scams): paying for something isn’t always a guarantee.
  • Respect your experience. This is already your life, there’s nothing to wait for. “Envy is ignorance,” says Emerson.
  • When looking at another’s life, consider the sacrifices made (the life as a whole, not just the one shiny aspect).
  • If you’re using a substance to feel a certain way, stop using it. (Caffeine, alcohol, whatever.)
  • Don’t compare yourself with those running a different race. (Better: don’t compare at all.)
  • Predict less, position more. (Aim for antifragility.)
  • “Take a simple idea and take it seriously.” — Charlie Munger

I want to believe that life is up and to the right.

It’s nice to think that hard work pays off. That we’ll reap what we sow.

Sometimes we do.

Other times we get cancer.

Or the market falls out from under us. Or we watch a crazy person and a criminal compete for the presidency. Or we’re served cold french fries.

Things have gone well that I didn’t deserve. Things have fallen apart that I could never have held together.

Sometimes trying mattered for the result, sometimes it didn’t.

It always mattered to me, though. If I don’t try I get depressed. If I don’t try I lose hope, vision, and grounding.

If I do my life well in the next few years, it’s going to be that I let curiosity, kindness, and faith in process lead my efforts. It will be because I was able to fend off ego, ambition, and pleasure-seeking.

It will be, in part, because I remember the list above. Especially picking the right people to be around. Speaking of, I’m going to go give the girl I spend the most time with a big fat kiss.

Godspeed!