36 Principles To Celebrate Turning 36
“Tell me who your heroes are and I’ll tell you who you’ll turn out to be.” Warren Buffett
I was sitting there staring at 8 years of hard work sitting in 5 legal-paper file sized cardboard boxes. In those boxes were my prized possession…
When I was 20 I’m pretty sure I had no real skills in life. Up until that point I had been a net-taker on society. Yet, somehow, along the way I had people that were patient enough with me to try and get advice into my thick skull.
And one of those pieces of advice that somehow crossed over and stuck, was the idea of reading a lot of books from great thinkers.
And for 8 years, I built a huge collection of books, and read like a maniac. I was looking for a silver bullet. I grew up without having a lot of money, and I was determined to change my stars in life.
Books are magic. For $15 you can get access to someone’s body of work — their best thoughts and ideas. And even a single idea acted upon can change your life.
Fast forward to 2010, and I was moving back to Santa Monica from Irvine. I was a shell of a man, having preceded over the crashing and burning of my 2nd startup. I needed to travel light. I wasn’t sure where I was going to land ( The answer to that, ended up being on my buddy, Conrad’s, sofa. But that’s a story for another time).
I packed up the final cardboard box, and shipped it off to Amazon. And they sent me a check for $138. I was devastated. My prized collection was gone.
“Search men’s governing principles, and consider the wise, what they shun and what they cleave to.” Marcus Aurelius
Life turned around, and I started building my collection back up. And one of the 1st books I bought was Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
Marcus Aurelius was an amazing human being. He presided over one of history’s greatest empire’s during one of it’s toughest times. Rome was in the middle of a 25 year war to expand her empire. And Marcus Aurelius lead the charge. And back home, things were falling apart. Needless to say, he dealt with quite a bit.
Yet when we read his private journal (which is what Meditations is) we see a deeply reflective and well tempered man. He lived his life with a set of principles. He believed in doing his duty for Rome and for his people. He acknowledged the hand he was dealt, and didn’t complain. He was a stoic, who did his duty diligently.
This idea of having a governing set of principles to live by appealed to me. And I started collecting a set of principles from the men and women in history I admired. And to celebrate turning 36, I thought it would be fun to share the 36 principles I’ve found to be most impactful in my life. Feel free to borrow any of these you feel are helpful.
- Via Negativa — It’s usually better to subtract before adding. The removal of something is usually better than the addition of something.
- Protect the downside. The upside will take care of itself — This is closely tied to the above. You ever wake up and everything is just going your way? What happens? Things just take care of themselves, right? It takes no effort when things are going well. It’s the downside you need to protect. Take out the downside risk. Protect yourself from the train that you don’t end up seeing coming. Longevity is the name of the game.
- Build small stressors into the system — Probably one of the best insurance policies for protecting the downside. This will help absorb the inevitable big stressor, when it comes
- I am 100% in control of everything that happens to me— I don’t know if this is objectively true, but I believe it and take ownership over everything in my life. Almost to an extreme. I believe that there’s nothing outside of my control. If something happens it’s either because I’m directly responsible for it, or indirectly by not asking for help, letting someone know what I expected or some other variation of that argument. Period. There’s no such thing as being a victim in my world. And I never outsource my happiness to someone / something else. No exceptions.
- I’m not right or wrong because someone agrees with me. I’m right because I’ve thought through the problem and my thinking is correct — It doesn’t matter if the crowd agrees or disagrees with me.
- Actively seek out dissenting opinions — Always question my assumptions and try and kill my best ideas. It’s the best insurance policy for making a dumb mistake.
- Skin in the game — Architects during the building of roman structures, had to stand under the arch as the scaffolding was pulled away. There’s something I love about this. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. I always want to have something at risk. Not only does it juice me, but it assures I make the best holistic decision for the entire ecosystem (as best as I can).
- No complaining — Either do something about it, or shut up. No one wants to hear me complain. And complaining doesn’t do any good. In fact it can bring other people down. And I’m only interested in solutions. Look at the problem, assess potential solutions, and get to work.
- Focus — Probably one of the biggest contributors to successful people. That and…
- Persistence — If the path is closed off, go around it, over it, under it, or back up and run through it. But whatever you do, keep moving forward.
- How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time — It’s a marathon, and the key is putting the left foot in front of the right day in and day out.
- When in the eye of the storm, relax, look around, make a call and batch, prioritize and execute.
- Never trust my emotions — They’ll fool me every time. And in fact, is probably just a cognitive bias running on autopilot. I have an old reptilian brain who’s OS hasn’t been updated in awhile. It’s hard to catch it in the moment, but I think it’s important to try. Instead I try and slightly disassociate myself. If I’m really going through an emotional upheaval and need to get to problem solving, I’ll literally start talking to myself and giving myself advice as if a friend had come to me.
- The mission is more important than my ego — Learn to objectively criticize myself and make sure I’m making progress on the mission, not my pathetic little ego.
- Be a Mayor not a President — Mayors get their city’s trash taken out, and don’t start wars. Within this is the idea of small decentralized and autonomous teams being better than large hierarchical structures. There’s a natural scale problem in nature. As organisms get too big, they become less able to maneuver and adapt.
- Invert stupid… Always invert — Learn to look at the problem in reverse and from upside down. Charlie Munger (Warren Buffett’s business partner and probably one of the greatest minds alive ) once quoted the famous Mathematician, Carl Jacobi, and added a little “Munger twist”. This quote is a helpful way for me to remember to problem solve from different angles.
- Be a relentless tinkerer — Endless experimentation and tinkering > strategizing, thinking and pondering. Doing > Talking. It’s better to ship a shitty V1.0 than to never ship. Just keep tinkering. Experiment A LOT more.
- Never take advice from someone worse off than me — The world is filled with people's opinions. But if someone isn’t accomplishing the thing I’m after, I kindly say thank you, and disregard the advice.
- Love deeply, kiss slowly and dance every once in awhile
- Let go of the story in my head of who “Me” is — “Me” isn’t really me. It’s the collection of stories I’ve been told through my life. Only I get to define me, and it’s constantly changing, growing, evolving and (hopefully) improving. As soon as I get a story in my head about who I am, that process stops. And for me, that would be equivalent to death.
- Collect experiences, not things
- In God We Trust. Everyone else must bring data — Data, is simply information and we live in a world where objective information and the study of that information, is how you get closer to the truth. And I want to know what’s true. There are two small caveats with this principle…
- When working in the unknown be distrustful of data, and use heuristics instead — Data only tells me what happened after the fact. But when I’m working in a body of work that doesn’t have a lot of precedence (i.e. a lot of data over a long period of time) I’m distrustful of it. Instead I use the old “rule of thumb” that society has built over time. I’ve found those are typically rooted in wisdom.
- Always leave room to experiment outside of what the data says
- Creating data > analyzing data — The engineer has my heart. Because the engineer looks at the world, and sees nothing but problems w/ potential solutions. And then they get to work using the Engineer’s Methodology to create solutions to those problems. And those solutions, are the things that end up creating the data that can be analyzed. For centuries we thought the Earth was at the center of the universe, until Copernicus engineered the telescope and saw the moons of Saturn. With this new data, the world completely changed (eventually)
- Building people > building skills — People are everything. People are the game. And investing in people will always pay a higher ROI (for me and them).
- Always spend time upfront to explain “Why” — Answering why is the single best question to answer for people. When people understand the “why” they’ll figure out the “how”.
- Look for tiny hinges that swing open big doors — This is all about finding those small leverage points that create momentum. I tend to look for the small leverage points that can create momentum. And momentum is self-fulfilling… it tends to just keep going (Thanks Newton!)
- I won the ovarian lottery in life, and have a duty to make the world better, for others, today — The fact that I have access to clean drinking water, food, shelter, can read, have access to the internet and live in America, puts me in the Top 1% of global citizens. Don’t believe me? Go type in your income and see for yourself where you rank in the world. And I acknowledge I did nothing to deserve the circumstances I was born into. I was simply born. But there are others that weren’t so lucky. And I can do more.
- “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect” — This is, of course, a Mark Twain quote. It’s also a brilliant discourse on the value of Counter-Intuitive thinking.
- Sometimes it’s best to be proactive. Sometimes it’s best to drift — There’s value and magic in just wandering aimlessly. It’s important to know when to let go of actively planning, and just wander for a little.
- Reflection is the key to self-awareness. And self-awareness is the key to happiness — I’ve personally found it extremely helpful to journal on a regular basis.
- The only two skills that matter in life, are the skills of (1) How to think (2) How to learn — Everything else is details
- Things are never as good or as bad as people think — The pendulum always swings back in the other direction.
- “Everyday you should do your duty to dishelve your responsibilities” — Another quote from Marcus Aurelius, and is a quote that sits on my desk. It’s a solid principle on how I think about approaching work.
- Enjoy life — Travel, read, spend time with great people, have great conversations over great food, have plenty of sex, get sleep, move your body, make things, create art, build a body of work. Didn’t anyone tell you? You die at the end of this.
That’s it! I’m headed off to see Kanye West with one of my best friends, then we’re gonna head out to The Honky Tonk Central and listen to some country music. Because life.
I wish you all the happiness, love and joy I’ve been lucky to have in 36 years alive. I’ve had more than my fair share, and I’m grateful.
P.S. Here’s a list of some of my favorite books that made their way back into my physical books collection. I’ve enjoyed these quite a bit, and hope you do too
Poor Charlie's Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger, Expanded Third Edition
Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger, 3rd Edition
Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger, 3rd Edition [Peter Bevelin] on Amazon.com. *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers…
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind - Kindle edition by Yuval Noah Harari. Download it once and read it on your…