Make Something Crappy Today


Steve Jobs said make a dent in the universe.

Lots of people say follow your passion, make a difference, do big things.

I agree with them. But what does that mean I should do today? If my lifelong goal is to do stuff so big it changes the course of history, how do I make progress towards it today?

Lofty goals can make immediate action harder. Whatever you can do today will look like garbage compared to that lofty goal. I like to keep the lofty one in mind, repeat it every so often, write it down somewhere, and then file it away and focus on today.

One of my lofty goals is to make the world a freer place. How's that supposed to guide daily action? Some days I begin by writing down the phrase, "Today I will live free." That's it. Just try to live as free as I can today.

I want to build amazing things too. Another lofty goal. But anything I'm capable of making today is going to fall short. So instead, I command myself to make something crappy today.

Of course it doesn't have to be half-assed. Hopefully it's at least sort of good. But the point is, making anything at all is better than dreaming about the perfect thing.

Man, I Love to See People Learn Out Loud


Check this out.

That's a project created by a guy named Erick Muller.

It's really easy to read and listen to stuff and be done with it. Thoughts roll around in your brain and you hope it made you smarter. But playing with those thoughts in a public forum is so much more valuable!

It helps crystallize the learning, clarify the thinking, and creates a ton of goodwill and unforeseen benefits. I did a challenge one month where I wanted to write 20 Amazon book reviews for books I'd read and enjoyed over the years. I spent a few minutes each day writing a short review instead of just letting my thoughts on the book live in my head.

It felt good, I felt productive, I remembered things from the books again, it prompted me to give some books to some people, and something else happened. I started to get new authors emailing me every so often and offering free early copies of their books. They had seen I'd done a decent number of reviews in similar genres, and decided to see if I'd help get theirs some love. In fact, a few months ago a publisher sent me a brand new copy of Stephen Landsburg's newest econ book for free with a nice note saying I might enjoy it. I can only speculate that they pulled a list of people who had reviewed maybe five or more econ books on Amazon or had a certain number of "helpful" ratings and sent them a copy.

What's cool about Erick's project, besides the fact that it shows a lot of initiative, curiosity, humility, and eagerness to experiment and learn new things, is the way you can sort the content consumed. I thought the "People" tab was interesting (not only because I was on it...but partially;-). It's a way to spot patterns you may not consciously notice. It might turn out that you find yourself consuming stuff by a person a lot more than you thought. This could prompt you to dive deeper into their work, or Tweet at them, or see what other people are in their orbit you might like. You get to analyze your own big data and make your own "You might also like" recommendations, instead of trusting Amazon or Facebook or Google to find the good stuff.

You're already doing and learning interesting stuff. Take a few minutes to think about some ways you might share those learnings out loud!

What Does it Mean to Live Free?


It's hard to own every choice and respect others enough to expect the same from them.

It's easy to lazily slip into appeals to duty, what's "normal", guilt, or shame instead of relying entirely on mutual exchange of value.

If I'd like my wife to come on a walk with me, I can change my tone of voice to imply I'll have hurt feelings if she doesn't. I can say, "I always come on walks with you!". I can try to make her feel weird, like other normal people go on walks. I can appeal to the fact that we're family, and imply that she owes me a walk because of it.

All of these can be effective. But they're lesser versions of the person I want to be. I don't want to make choices in my life based on these things. Why should I ask her to? I want to live free and I want to treat her as a free person.

This forces me to get creative. It forces me to create value. It forces me to have a strong sense of self. I've got to ask her to join me in a way that makes it in her unmanipulated interest to say yes, but in a way that makes clear she can freely say no.

It doesn't mean I have to hide my feelings. It's the opposite. I can't allow myself to hide my motives and desires under layers of false reason. Living free and treating others as free people forces honesty.

Humans are good at adding layers of justification and passive aggression to our words and actions. Pretty soon, it's impossible to identify our own desires. Denying yourself the use of manipulative tactics forces you to come to terms with your thoughts and feelings. Why do I want her to go on a walk with me? How much do I value it? Why might she value it? What could make it more valuable than her alternatives?

It sounds cold and mechanical when broken down like this, but in practice it's clean and true. It's so much better than vague entreaties layered with ambiguous emotional consequences.

This is just one small part of living free. But it changes everything. Never accepting the role of victim. Never believing anyone owes you anything, or you owe anyone anything (except what you've freely agreed to). These force you to treat each interaction as between free people.

It forces you to break the shackles of your own bullshit.

Beware ‘It’s Getting Worse’ Narratives


They're too easy.

I'm skeptical of any argument that says X or Y are worse than they used to be. Not because things can't get worse. I don't hold to the Whig theory of history. I'm skeptical because the 'things are getting' worse framework is always accepted and no one demands evidence.

Whenever an assumption is universally shared and never plainly stated my skeptenna goes up.

I had an interesting conversation recently about how hard it is to find amazing people of high character and intelligence (part of the reason such conversations are enjoyable is because those having them get to silently assume they are among the few and feel warm about it). I was in full agreement that great people are rare. But I didn't agree with the claim that there are fewer amazing people today than ever before.

It's too easy for it to appear that the past had a higher percentage of amazing people, and too hard to know how to find the truth.

Think about your own life. What stories are you most likely to remember and retell? The good ones. What people will you best remember? The good ones.

We look back on the past and most of the evidence that remains is about extraordinary people and events. Your daily life, on the other hand, is mostly monotony with average people. You don't read histories of the nature and causes of boring people buying and preparing ham while talking about the weather. Ninety percent of history is about one percent of who and what actually happens. No wonder it appears there were more great people.

It is possible that people of high character and intelligence are fewer. But it would require evidence, and more than a cursory review of recorded history.

The thing I'm more wary of than the accuracy of the 'things are getting worse' story is what it does if I accept it. It's a comforting notion, but comforting in the dangerous way. It lets me off the hook for lacking imagination. Since everyone parrots it, you can go along without forming a view of your own. You can ignore the challenge of optimism. You can let the world be framed for you instead of creating a frame that best helps achieve your ends.

There is some value in thinking things are getting worse. For one, it may be true, and if so it can be good to see what's coming. It also might inspire you to act heroically if you feel you're in the End Times.

But it shouldn't be uncritically accepted that things are worse than they used to be. The evidence on most issues strongly suggests the opposite, and the dangers of mental laziness outweigh the potential gains.

Against Long Term Planning in the ‘Startup of You’


I have no backup plan. This relaxes me.

Optionality is stressful. It always sounds like it would relieve stress to know you have lots of plans and sub-plans to choose from. But I find instead it just creates existential overhead that makes it harder to be bold, deliberate, decisive, and really bet on myself with abandon.

I've written before how desire for options can blind you to opportunities.

As part of my general don't do stuff you hate paradigm, I put all the focus on removing bullshit and negative activities that make me feel less alive, and don't really worry about the details of what's left over. If I don't hate it and it doesn't make me less free, go for it. Over time this gets easier as the list of stuff I hate grows with self-knowledge.

I sort of hate goals, but I sort of have some too. They're more like big giant directional life goals. I want to live free. I want to make other people free. I want to help people discover and do what makes them come alive. I want to help launch 10 million careers by 2024. That last one is as close as I get to concrete, mid-term goal-setting.

I had a great conversation with Marvin Liao from 500Startups recently. He said every year he assesses the previous year, thinks about if he liked what he did, and thinks about what he wants to do for the next year. Then he does it. That's it. He doesn't worry about what that next year might parlay into five years down the line. He just takes the best opportunity available for the year ahead.

Turns out I've kind of done that same thing, on almost the exact same time frame (I've made a few 6 month decisions, and a few two year decisions, but I almost always think in year chunks). I liked the way Marvin approached it with some deliberate reflection. I'm going to add that to my mix.

I had another conversation last week too, about how to find product-market fit with a startup. I think product-market fit is a great way to think of your own career journey too. The guy I was talking to has done this dozens of times and is a shrewd startup thinker. You might expect him to have developed a twelve-step blueprint to PMF in his decades of experience. Instead, he said, "I'm a big fan of just stepping into the unknown and trying to get lucky."

He described his preferred process as a reverse timeline. You look at your runway and see how long you have to try stuff. In your career, this might be something like an honest assessment of how long you can afford to make little or no money, or how long you can handle not having a clear role or city to live in etc. Say it's a year. You work in two week increments. You've got 24 cycles to test stuff and find happy accidents.

The two week increments are focused and deliberate, and you pay careful attention to the feedback. But you don't think about something 2 or 10 years ahead, or even more than the next two week increment. You pick an assumption you're making about your product and/or your market, starting with the most fundemental, and you spend two weeks putting in the minimal effort and risk to find out if that assumption holds. Take in the feedback, adjust, on to the next assumption.

Two weeks is probably too fast for your personal career journey, but something like this might work well. You don't know when you begin what your product is. What do you offer the world that they want to buy? Or what your market is. What people in what industries value your unique skillset and at what price? So you try some stuff out.

You can do all of this while you have a day job to pay the bills. You could wait tables while you take a month to test out whether people value your writing. Blog every day, see if you can get anyone to read anything you post. Submit a few of the best to third parties. Maybe you get readers. Maybe next you could spend a month testing whether someone would be willing to pay you something for your writing.

The process should be fun. It's open-ended, but directional. You have a North Star, but you don't have a specific course to get there, just one segment at a time.

The analogy of you as a startup is a really good one. Take some time to learn a bit about the world of startups, how they try to go from idea to first version of a product, to first traction with customers, to revenue, to potential investment, to scale-ability, etc. Think about leverage, MVPs, entry points that are small but expandable, etc.

What the College Admissions Scandal Reveals


A Tweetstorm.

1/ The signaling theory of education is correct.

Except a degree is not a signal of employability.

It's a signal of adherence to the dominant social status religion of the day.

2/ Evidence is everywhere.

The mother who pressures her successful, happy, entrepreneur child to get a degree, while she proudly brags about her depressed, unemployed, basement-dwelling degreed child.

3/ The human capital theory of education is clearly bunk. Most people then conclude that degrees are bought because they are an employability signal.

This is also untrue, though it's easy to see why it can appear that way sometimes.

4/ Not only are there classic correlation problems (e.g people with sports cars/degrees have more money on average), but social status games play a part in other games, like workplace politics, etc.

5/ The signal of social status games has overlap with the signal of employability. Some people prefer to hire other people who play the same social status games.

But employment signal is not the fundamental, causal mechanism for why people buy degrees.

6/ This is proven in so many ways but it's hard to see until the blinders fall off.

People go into debt and suffer boredom for years "because I have to get a job" without ever asking what it would take to get a particular job.

7/ Imagine someone training for and running a marathon "because I have to to get customers for my artwork", without every exploring the market to see what customers would need to make it worth buying your art?

8/ That is precisely how 90% of students/parents approach college. They have no idea what they want to do and whether college will help or hinder, yet they go in totally blind to the employment signal ROI, and spend irresponsible amounts of money on the degree.

9/ Why? Because they cannot resist the shame/envy/fear of being outside the dominant social status doctrine.

Again, pride for unemployed degree-holders dramatically exceeds that for successful drop-outs and opt-outs. Not even close.

10/ Multimillion dollar athletes and entertainers go back and buy degrees later in life and get treated as heroes. The employment signaling theory cannot explain any of this, because it's not the dominate cause of degree buying.

11/ Degrees are a purchase made almost always for other people, not for you. They are made to make those around you feel comfortable with your opting in to their envy games.

12/ If an individual has a career goal and they plan the next few steps to it, if it doesn't involve a degree, everyone pressures them and tells them they are a loser.

It it involves a degree, no one demands any plan, or any successful outcome at all and they get praise.

13/ Those who opt out of status games are a threat to the herd. They cannot be manipulated, they are unpredictable, they are bold.

They are also the only ones who every create progress and improve the lot of the herd.

14/ Make each step your step, not the step that makes everyone clap and give you cheap praise.

Make your goals about you.

Go build the life you want, don't seek the badges that keep everyone happy.

15/ Your individual scoreboard is more important to your flourishing than your relative status on the collective status scoreboard.

16/ Fin.

Addendum:

I think it once was primarily an employment signal and status second. That became a religious belief and the social status part flipped to dominant.

Like buying a home was a good investment, that advice became religion, then ppl bought homes based on status.

(And subsidies and propaganda)

People Who Are Fully Alive


I got in the Lyft ride expecting Stephanie.

A cool looking dude with a big smile said, "Isaac?". I said, "Are you Stephanie?" He laughed and said in a high pitched voice, "Yes!" Then told me no, he was covering for his wife.

He mentioned all the traffic from protests and other stuff happening downtown. Then he said something awesome. "But I like it all. It's all interesting to me because I meditate."

A few questions later, and we were all-in on a raucous conversation about the extent of the individual's sphere of control, whether truth and freedom are the same thing, psychedelics vs meditation as a mind-opening process, whether you can be both transcendental and materially successful at once, and the role of the conscious and subconscious mind.

We exchanged emails. Even if we don't communicate more later, this ride lit up my day. When you're in the presence of someone who is fully alive, you just feel it. The energy from our conversation was greater than the sum of what we brought individually.

The thing is, I'm one of those people who wants my drivers to leave me alone. But that's because nine out of ten times they make boring small-talk, complain about weather or traffic, or spout off half-baked political rants.

Not Russ. He reminded me that it's not conversation itself that's exhausting when I'm traveling. It's not conversation with strangers either. It's mustering the will to interact with people who aren't alive. That kind leaves you less alive too. It's a net drain on your energy and sense of life.

But when you have an encounter with someone fully alive? You could talk about meditation, sports, geology, or airplanes. It doesn't matter. If they're wide awake and alive about it, you feel it too and leave the encounter with more fuel in the tank then when you started.

Here's to living fully alive and the Remnant who do.

Your Team Needs Bad Advice


It's easy to get into the weeds of your work and create an internal language and way of seeing things among the team.

That's when outside perspective is good. It's valuable to talk about what you're working on with someone who's not in the day to day grind, because they will come at it without all the shared assumptions. They'll provide a perspective you don't have and make you see things you didn't see.

When their ideas are an improvement over yours, this is great.

But when their ideas are worse than your team's?

They're still valuable.

When you and your team talk with someone who brings a whole new, and not very good, perspective, it galvanizes you. After the encounter you might vent your frustration with how incorrect this person was, and all the sudden you've got the whole team presenting answers, alternatives, and exciting reasons why you have something better than this outsider's approach. It shakes you out of taking it for granted, makes you defend your vision, and rallies you around an underdog, chip-on-the-shoulder, something to prove narrative.

That can be just as valuable as good advice.

Isaac Morehouse


Isaac Morehouse is the CEO of Crash, the career launch platform, and the founder of Praxis, a startup apprenticeship program. Isaac is dedicated to the relentless pursuit of freedom. He’s written some books, done some podcasting, and is always experimenting with self-directed living and learning.

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Make Something Crappy Today


Steve Jobs said make a dent in the universe.

Lots of people say follow your passion, make a difference, do big things.

I agree with them. But what does that mean I should do today? If my lifelong goal is to do stuff so big it changes the course of history, how do I make progress towards it today?

Lofty goals can make immediate action harder. Whatever you can do today will look like garbage compared to that lofty goal. I like to keep the lofty one in mind, repeat it every so often, write it down somewhere, and then file it away and focus on today.

One of my lofty goals is to make the world a freer place. How's that supposed to guide daily action? Some days I begin by writing down the phrase, "Today I will live free." That's it. Just try to live as free as I can today.

I want to build amazing things too. Another lofty goal. But anything I'm capable of making today is going to fall short. So instead, I command myself to make something crappy today.

Of course it doesn't have to be half-assed. Hopefully it's at least sort of good. But the point is, making anything at all is better than dreaming about the perfect thing.

Man, I Love to See People Learn Out Loud


Check this out.

That's a project created by a guy named Erick Muller.

It's really easy to read and listen to stuff and be done with it. Thoughts roll around in your brain and you hope it made you smarter. But playing with those thoughts in a public forum is so much more valuable!

It helps crystallize the learning, clarify the thinking, and creates a ton of goodwill and unforeseen benefits. I did a challenge one month where I wanted to write 20 Amazon book reviews for books I'd read and enjoyed over the years. I spent a few minutes each day writing a short review instead of just letting my thoughts on the book live in my head.

It felt good, I felt productive, I remembered things from the books again, it prompted me to give some books to some people, and something else happened. I started to get new authors emailing me every so often and offering free early copies of their books. They had seen I'd done a decent number of reviews in similar genres, and decided to see if I'd help get theirs some love. In fact, a few months ago a publisher sent me a brand new copy of Stephen Landsburg's newest econ book for free with a nice note saying I might enjoy it. I can only speculate that they pulled a list of people who had reviewed maybe five or more econ books on Amazon or had a certain number of "helpful" ratings and sent them a copy.

What's cool about Erick's project, besides the fact that it shows a lot of initiative, curiosity, humility, and eagerness to experiment and learn new things, is the way you can sort the content consumed. I thought the "People" tab was interesting (not only because I was on it...but partially;-). It's a way to spot patterns you may not consciously notice. It might turn out that you find yourself consuming stuff by a person a lot more than you thought. This could prompt you to dive deeper into their work, or Tweet at them, or see what other people are in their orbit you might like. You get to analyze your own big data and make your own "You might also like" recommendations, instead of trusting Amazon or Facebook or Google to find the good stuff.

You're already doing and learning interesting stuff. Take a few minutes to think about some ways you might share those learnings out loud!

What Does it Mean to Live Free?


It's hard to own every choice and respect others enough to expect the same from them.

It's easy to lazily slip into appeals to duty, what's "normal", guilt, or shame instead of relying entirely on mutual exchange of value.

If I'd like my wife to come on a walk with me, I can change my tone of voice to imply I'll have hurt feelings if she doesn't. I can say, "I always come on walks with you!". I can try to make her feel weird, like other normal people go on walks. I can appeal to the fact that we're family, and imply that she owes me a walk because of it.

All of these can be effective. But they're lesser versions of the person I want to be. I don't want to make choices in my life based on these things. Why should I ask her to? I want to live free and I want to treat her as a free person.

This forces me to get creative. It forces me to create value. It forces me to have a strong sense of self. I've got to ask her to join me in a way that makes it in her unmanipulated interest to say yes, but in a way that makes clear she can freely say no.

It doesn't mean I have to hide my feelings. It's the opposite. I can't allow myself to hide my motives and desires under layers of false reason. Living free and treating others as free people forces honesty.

Humans are good at adding layers of justification and passive aggression to our words and actions. Pretty soon, it's impossible to identify our own desires. Denying yourself the use of manipulative tactics forces you to come to terms with your thoughts and feelings. Why do I want her to go on a walk with me? How much do I value it? Why might she value it? What could make it more valuable than her alternatives?

It sounds cold and mechanical when broken down like this, but in practice it's clean and true. It's so much better than vague entreaties layered with ambiguous emotional consequences.

This is just one small part of living free. But it changes everything. Never accepting the role of victim. Never believing anyone owes you anything, or you owe anyone anything (except what you've freely agreed to). These force you to treat each interaction as between free people.

It forces you to break the shackles of your own bullshit.

Beware ‘It’s Getting Worse’ Narratives


They're too easy.

I'm skeptical of any argument that says X or Y are worse than they used to be. Not because things can't get worse. I don't hold to the Whig theory of history. I'm skeptical because the 'things are getting' worse framework is always accepted and no one demands evidence.

Whenever an assumption is universally shared and never plainly stated my skeptenna goes up.

I had an interesting conversation recently about how hard it is to find amazing people of high character and intelligence (part of the reason such conversations are enjoyable is because those having them get to silently assume they are among the few and feel warm about it). I was in full agreement that great people are rare. But I didn't agree with the claim that there are fewer amazing people today than ever before.

It's too easy for it to appear that the past had a higher percentage of amazing people, and too hard to know how to find the truth.

Think about your own life. What stories are you most likely to remember and retell? The good ones. What people will you best remember? The good ones.

We look back on the past and most of the evidence that remains is about extraordinary people and events. Your daily life, on the other hand, is mostly monotony with average people. You don't read histories of the nature and causes of boring people buying and preparing ham while talking about the weather. Ninety percent of history is about one percent of who and what actually happens. No wonder it appears there were more great people.

It is possible that people of high character and intelligence are fewer. But it would require evidence, and more than a cursory review of recorded history.

The thing I'm more wary of than the accuracy of the 'things are getting worse' story is what it does if I accept it. It's a comforting notion, but comforting in the dangerous way. It lets me off the hook for lacking imagination. Since everyone parrots it, you can go along without forming a view of your own. You can ignore the challenge of optimism. You can let the world be framed for you instead of creating a frame that best helps achieve your ends.

There is some value in thinking things are getting worse. For one, it may be true, and if so it can be good to see what's coming. It also might inspire you to act heroically if you feel you're in the End Times.

But it shouldn't be uncritically accepted that things are worse than they used to be. The evidence on most issues strongly suggests the opposite, and the dangers of mental laziness outweigh the potential gains.

Against Long Term Planning in the ‘Startup of You’


I have no backup plan. This relaxes me.

Optionality is stressful. It always sounds like it would relieve stress to know you have lots of plans and sub-plans to choose from. But I find instead it just creates existential overhead that makes it harder to be bold, deliberate, decisive, and really bet on myself with abandon.

I've written before how desire for options can blind you to opportunities.

As part of my general don't do stuff you hate paradigm, I put all the focus on removing bullshit and negative activities that make me feel less alive, and don't really worry about the details of what's left over. If I don't hate it and it doesn't make me less free, go for it. Over time this gets easier as the list of stuff I hate grows with self-knowledge.

I sort of hate goals, but I sort of have some too. They're more like big giant directional life goals. I want to live free. I want to make other people free. I want to help people discover and do what makes them come alive. I want to help launch 10 million careers by 2024. That last one is as close as I get to concrete, mid-term goal-setting.

I had a great conversation with Marvin Liao from 500Startups recently. He said every year he assesses the previous year, thinks about if he liked what he did, and thinks about what he wants to do for the next year. Then he does it. That's it. He doesn't worry about what that next year might parlay into five years down the line. He just takes the best opportunity available for the year ahead.

Turns out I've kind of done that same thing, on almost the exact same time frame (I've made a few 6 month decisions, and a few two year decisions, but I almost always think in year chunks). I liked the way Marvin approached it with some deliberate reflection. I'm going to add that to my mix.

I had another conversation last week too, about how to find product-market fit with a startup. I think product-market fit is a great way to think of your own career journey too. The guy I was talking to has done this dozens of times and is a shrewd startup thinker. You might expect him to have developed a twelve-step blueprint to PMF in his decades of experience. Instead, he said, "I'm a big fan of just stepping into the unknown and trying to get lucky."

He described his preferred process as a reverse timeline. You look at your runway and see how long you have to try stuff. In your career, this might be something like an honest assessment of how long you can afford to make little or no money, or how long you can handle not having a clear role or city to live in etc. Say it's a year. You work in two week increments. You've got 24 cycles to test stuff and find happy accidents.

The two week increments are focused and deliberate, and you pay careful attention to the feedback. But you don't think about something 2 or 10 years ahead, or even more than the next two week increment. You pick an assumption you're making about your product and/or your market, starting with the most fundemental, and you spend two weeks putting in the minimal effort and risk to find out if that assumption holds. Take in the feedback, adjust, on to the next assumption.

Two weeks is probably too fast for your personal career journey, but something like this might work well. You don't know when you begin what your product is. What do you offer the world that they want to buy? Or what your market is. What people in what industries value your unique skillset and at what price? So you try some stuff out.

You can do all of this while you have a day job to pay the bills. You could wait tables while you take a month to test out whether people value your writing. Blog every day, see if you can get anyone to read anything you post. Submit a few of the best to third parties. Maybe you get readers. Maybe next you could spend a month testing whether someone would be willing to pay you something for your writing.

The process should be fun. It's open-ended, but directional. You have a North Star, but you don't have a specific course to get there, just one segment at a time.

The analogy of you as a startup is a really good one. Take some time to learn a bit about the world of startups, how they try to go from idea to first version of a product, to first traction with customers, to revenue, to potential investment, to scale-ability, etc. Think about leverage, MVPs, entry points that are small but expandable, etc.

Isaac Morehouse


Isaac Morehouse is the founder and CEO of Praxis, a startup apprenticeship program making degrees irrelevant for careers. Isaac is dedicated to the relentless pursuit of freedom. He’s written some books, done some podcasting, and is always experimenting with self-directed living and learning.

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