On Formal vs. Informal Attire

I’m a pretty casual guy.  Not because I have some deep philosophy of clothing.  Just because it usually suits my needs best.

My friend Jeff Tucker recently made the case to me for more formal style.  I didn’t agree with his case, but I didn’t disagree with it either.  I’m pretty agnostic on this stuff.

To me the way you dress is one of many social games.  You can choose to play the game, defy the game, opt out of the game, or fight to change the game.  Most of the time I play or opt out, with rare moments of playful semi-defiance (I sometimes joke that it’s fun to be the second most under-dressed person at a banquet, but never the first).  I have no interest in trying to change the game with regard to dress norms and expectation.

I don’t care how others dress and I’m not interested in starting a movement.  (I dislike movements in general, except the ones I get after morning coffee.  Too far?  Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)  If the cost of dressing down is too high and interferes with my other goals, I’ll dress up.  If not, I’ll wear what I’m most comfortable in, usually a T-shirt and jeans.

I spent many years early in my career wearing a suit every day, and many more wearing business casual.  Now I hardly have occasion for either and it feels great.  I like a nice T-shirt and feel more fresh, confident, and classy in one that fits well with some jeans and sandals than anything else.  But I wear appropriate attire to funerals, weddings, and meetings or other events that would be too disrupted if I wore jorts. (Sadly, I got rid of my jorts when they fell to pieces and my wife has seen fit to prevent me replacing them.)

I’m not going to fight for some set of values in clothing, because I don’t have one myself.  I try to have as few values as possible.  I have deeply held philosophies on the things core to my being and will never compromise without a change in that philosophy based on reason.  But the fewer those things, the better.  The more things about which I don’t have to pretend to have a position, the better.  Clothing is one.

‘Watchmen,’ and Why Love is More Dangerous Than Fear

I like the idea that all emotions can be reduced to two: love and fear.

This reduction suggests that love is good, fear bad.  That simple breakdown worked for me.  Until I read the graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore.

I don’t pretend to know Moore’s intended moral, if he had one, but when I closed the cover and went for a walk to process what I’d read, an unexpected one smacked me in the face.

Love, not fear, is the cause of the most horrific acts in the world.

Fear is too cowardly an emotion to lead to really massive atrocities and deeply sickening deeds.  Fear is the root of all petty, passive aggressive, shady, slimy, duplicitous, and lazy acts.  But the really awful stuff – war, genocide, grotesque murderous plots – are motivated by love.

The idea that love could be behind evil unsettled me.  But it’s not love in general, not just any kind of love.  One kind of love is the root of all heroism, courage, innovation, exploration, progress, and growth.  Another is the root of the darkest acts.

Watchmen’s parallel plots all revealed the same kind of love as the foundation for the greatest evils.  Love of anything other than self.

Stick with me.  I didn’t say loving anything other than yourself always leads to bad things.  But if the most foundational love you have is not for yourself, your identity, your values, you can quickly become a monster.  Any love beyond love for your uncompromisable core must be built on top of it.  When love for something else supplants it, blindness and madness have an entry point.

Love for family, country, ideals of justice or fairness, the good opinion of others, fame, progress, or anything else are at bottom of the great crimes.  No one starts a war or ethnic cleansing campaign based on fear alone.  It’s not strong enough.  Unfettered devotion to some collective identity or ideal outside oneself is the only thing strong enough.

The doers of the really vile deeds in Watchmen were those most deeply motivated by a love for something noble, driven in singular pursuit of it to commit heinous things.  When love of self – a commitment to the values that make up that self – is supplanted by love of something else, the foundation is lost and there’s no telling how far you may stray.  You only break eggs if your love of omelets is greater than your love of being true to your belief that you ought not break eggs.

To truly give of yourself, you must first have a self to give.  A commitment first and foremost to love yourself and not compromise what you know you are at your core is a prerequisite to other kinds of love that won’t go bad.  Unrestricted sacrifice of the self to something else may lead you to commit things you’d never imagine.

At the end of the day, you are the only thing you can really control, hence the only fate you can be fully responsible for is your own.  If you weigh yourself down with the fate of other things, you may lose yourself in the process and be left with nothing but the Nuremberg defense.

For this reason, Rorschach emerges as the closest thing to a hero in Watchmen.

What You Focus on is Less Important Than What You Ignore

Importance is subjective.  Nothing is inherently important.  It’s important if you assign it importance.

I’ve heard that success is directly related to the number of tough conversations you’re willing to have (Tim Ferriss I think?).  It’s also related to the number of seemingly important things you’re willing to ignore.

It’s important to choose to make a great many things unimportant.

If you get really good at ignoring big, dramatic, energy-filled, time-consuming, mentally taxing, worrisome, exciting things that aren’t firmly within your zone, you’ll get really good at whatever you have in that zone.  What it is matters less than what it isn’t.

Every time you choose not to assign importance to something everyone else deems important, but that is outside your zone, you get a little stronger in your zone.  The effect compounds as you move up, because the level of importance for the unimportant things ratchets too, and the difficulty of ignoring them.  A lot of flattering or fearful things come up and vie for your attention.  Most of them are unimportant wolves, but it’s hard to see through the important sheep’s clothing.

It helps me to start from a default assumption that everything is unimportant.  It has to prove that it’s important to helping me achieve my narrow range of goals.  Few things pass the test.

I get more productive the more things I decide to make unimportant.  I get sharper on the few things to which I choose to assign importance.  Plus, I’m happier.

Here are two posts that go a little more in-depth on Importance Snares”

Drama is the enemy of progress.

Two ways people try to control you (insults and flattery…both unimportant).

In Defense of Both Extremes: Concrete and Abstract

There’s an old saying that you can’t be a little bit pregnant.  You’re pregnant or you aren’t.  Pregnant and not-pregnant are both great states – optimal states – depending on person, circumstance, and timing.  It’d be weird for someone to ape the tendencies and social status of both at the same time.  A person who pretends to be pregnant when they aren’t, or the reverse, to gain some kind of emotional edge in a given circumstance is unhealthy.

This happens with ideas.  Abstract and concrete ideas are both wonderful.  What’s weird is a muddled middle incapable of either raw pursuit of abstract truth or concrete application toward a specific end.

Many young people are capable of neither abstract nor concrete interaction with ideas.  The rule of the day is to have an opinion on every idea.  Not ignore it, be inspired by it, or act on it – all of which would be better – just have an opinion quickly knowable to the mainstream or contrarians, whatever group you’re gunning for.  Maybe the trend has grown, maybe I just notice it more.  It makes people intellectually impotent, uninteresting, and sometimes insufferable.

Concrete radicals care about everything only insofar as it contributes directly to their goals.  I know successful people like this, shrewd as vipers at eliminating chaff and demanding value from every idea they entertain.  They are practical philosophers.  They have a massive appetite for learning new things, but a laser-like focus keeps them out of the clouds.  They know who they are and so does everyone else.  They don’t pretend to know what’s true, just what works for them.  There is a beautiful and transparent logic to their approach.

Abstract radicals care about everything only insofar as it leads them closer to truth.  I know successful people like this, gentle as doves, openly exploring every idea for that spark of insight that might open their mind to new aspects of reality.  Their head is in the clouds, they know it, they own it, they love it.  They get the basics of life handled however they can so they can focus on their pursuit of ideas, unconcerned with potential applications.  There is a beautiful and transparent logic to their approach.

Some people can switch between both extremes based on their preference and circumstances.  I know successful people like this.  In some areas at some times, they are concrete as it comes.  In others, they throw practicality to the wind and get lost in abstraction.

It’s that flabby, flimsy, floppy middle ground that’s useless.  Those incapable of dealing with big abstract ideas playfully or fruitfully, and incapable of putting ideas to use for them to achieve concrete goals.  Equally afraid of discussions of truth claims and environments with accountability to specific outcomes.  It’ a mode of thought geared at social signalling and desire to appear cool or normal, rather than attain an intrinsic goal, abstract or concrete.  Those might end in failure, terror of terrors, while moderation between abstract and concrete is too slippery to win or lose.

One manifestation of this inability to take either extreme is the perpetual critic who never creates.  Raising a hand to object to an author’s presentation of an idea scores quick points as a thinker, while not demanding original thought or accountability for the value of your opinion.  This proof-of-paying-attention-while-playing-too-cool-to-be-inspired is common in classrooms.

A manifestation in the work setting is the meeting lover.  If you hold a meeting with lofty sounding objectives and trendy buzzwords, you toe the line between abstract vision and concrete production, but accomplish neither.  In almost every case, sitting at your desk entering data into a spreadsheet or going for a walk to contemplate your target market would be better than a muddled meeting to pontificate about both.  To paraphrase Ron Swanson, better to whole-ass one thing than half-ass two.

One more example, popular in the last decade or so, is the non-profiteer who tries to mimic the culture and incentives of a for-profit startup.  Rather than seizing their unique advantage of not needing market demand for their mission, this middle-of-the-roader wants to be both shielded from the accountability of profit and loss and enjoy the innovation, fast pace, and coolness factor of a hip tech company.  It ends up a parody of both.

I don’t know if this inability to be extremely abstract or extremely concrete is really on the rise, but I see more of it every day with young people.  I sometimes think they read every popular book while reading none of them.  They post a quick, tepid endorsement, or glib dismissal on the abstract ideas or concrete application, but don’t seem to radically embrace or reject anything as either a tool for their advancement or a morsel on their quest for truth.

It’s hard to look beyond the simulated half-world of school as explanation.  This is he most schooled generation in human history.  I can’t think of another place where the lack of concrete and abstract is so prominent.  Students must engage abstract ideas just enough to prove it on a test.  Tests are a phony foam concrete, like a bad Star Trek prop.  They have tangible enough outcomes, but grades are an end product utterly disconnected from the real world or any intrinsic student goals.

Contrast the way you have to engage a book in order to pass a test with the way you to do either, a) stay awake all night contemplating its claims because you must know, or, b) get someone to pay you to do something you don’t yet know how to do.

Learning to the task is infinitely superior to learning to the test.  Problems, your problems, whether the need to know how the world works or the need to feed yourself, are the best thing to drive learning.  They enable both extremes depending on time, preference, and circumstance.

The school-test-grade system is a sloppy mess you’d expect to generate a bunch of people with knowledge tuned for sending a minimum acceptable social signal.  It saps the real interest and drive that accompany a radical abstract or radical concrete thinker.

But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! — Revelation 3:16

122 – Creating an Exceptional Career, with David Veksler

David Veksler is the Director of Marketing at the Foundation for Economic Education, a futurist, software developer, free market radical, and father. He has a fascinating life story that spans three continents and is an instructive example of how to build a great career.

David has built a successful career in technology and marketing by consistently solving problems, pursuing new opportunities, and creating value in and outside of his job responsibilities. He shares some great stories that highlight how he learned new things to grow at work and find new opportunities.

But marketing and software are just part of what David does well. He is also passionate about personal finance and investing, and has written some great blog posts on the topic at davidveksler.com.

If you’re interested in technology, finance, financial independence, and creating a great career, then you will get lots of value out of this episode!

In this episode:

  • Immigrating to Texas from the USSR (Ukraine)
  • Discovering free-market economics and early intellectual influences
  • Beginning in software development
  • Taking opportunities vs. long-term career planning
  • “Why not me?” Mindset
  • Deciding which organization challenges are worth taking on
  • Documenting your work
  • Personal finance and investment strategy
  • The point of having a job
  • Paying for daily expenses with freelance work
  • Bitcoin
  • Not following the news
  • Learning skills with deep dives to a point of competency
  • Creating vs. consuming


If you are a fan of the show, make sure to leave a review on iTunes.

All episodes of the Isaac Morehouse Podcast are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

How is This College Racket Normal?

I spoke with a business owner today who said he has reviewed over 1,100 resumes so far this year.  He’s hiring for an entry level role.  Only six of them were good enough to schedule a call.  One of those turned out to be a disaster, and one more is still in the mix.  The other four were meh.

Nearly every one of them had a college degree.

The skills needed for this job could be learned in six months, and the basic communication, professionalism, and judgement needed for any job can be learned just by being around business and customers for a while in the real world.  Those are not difficult or costly things to obtain…unless you’re stuck in a classroom most of your life.

Over 1,100 people paid five, sometimes six figures to get a piece of paper that’s supposed to help them get a good job and just one half of one percent of them were good enough for a phone interview.  It’s a scandal.  They were swindled.

And no, they did not go to college to gain enlightenment or even for the social experience, because they could’ve moved to the same college town, attended the same parties, even attended classes and gotten all of that without registering or paying a dime in tuition.  But they didn’t.  They paid for one thing only: the magic ticket to “$1 million in additional lifetime earnings”, a stat they’ve been force-fed for a decade or so by professional educators who designed the whole system.  Few of these educators have any knowledge or experience in the real, non-subsidized market, so it’s no wonder five years and lots of debt later, just 0.5% of these 1,100 grads are worth an interview for an entry level role.

And people think payday lending is a racket.

Why Email is Better Than Phone

TL:DR not all units of time are equal.

I posted about the horrors of someone asking if they can ask you something, and trying to call before defining why.

Some people on the Facebooks objected.  “But sometimes a call is faster!”, and, “Is this just about status, forcing people to email you?”

I don’t really understand the status objection.  Scarcity can’t be avoided, so rationing must occur.  If a stranger comes to me and wants input, I’ve got to give something up to provide it.  I can get to what they want more efficiently if it starts with email.

Notice I said more efficiently, not necessarily faster.  This reveals the flaw in the objection that calls can be faster. Efficiency and speed are not the same thing, because not all minutes are equal.

Even if something could be handled in 2 minutes on the phone, 10 minutes of emailing may still be more efficient.

Phone requires a double coincidence of availability.  Not only do both parties need to be around at the same time, they both need to have the cognitive capacity to handle the call.  If you email me a question about sales leads, I can scan it and respond immediately or wait until I’m in a better frame of mind to provide the best answer.  If I’m in the middle of crunching numbers, flipping the brain switch to a totally different kind of thinking is costly.  It will take me a lot more time and energy to switch back and finish the task.  Writing, planning, budgeting, and other tasks all take very different kinds of thinking.  A phone call forces you to switch modes on someone else’s time, whereas email lets you preview then batch your tasks with those of similar type.

If the conversation begins with an email that lays out exactly what’s wanted, a call may be required, but now it can be scheduled and planned for to optimize results and minimize cognitive cost.  A cold call with no context is the worst.  I have no idea which frame of mind to bring, and if you ask me spur of the moment while I’m distracted by a stressful interview coming up, you’ll get a lower quality version of me.

The risk factor of phone-first is very high too.  Even if the call is short, taking a call with someone you don’t know for something ill-defined is a huge unknown.  They might be a crazy.  You might be walking into a call from which you can’t wait to escape.  Or it could be a delight and you’d wish you had more time.

Email first.  Ask your question up front and directly.  If it requires a call, schedule one.


A Note to Myself on Writing

I love words.  An editor told me that to really love words is to use as few as possible.  It maximizes the impact of the focus word in each sentence.

He said true logophiles work to find one perfect word instead of three good ones.  He was right.

It’s hard to love words with dignity.  At first, we’re like a boy in love with a girl.  Too eager to do too much, sacrifice his identity, and throw everything at her, hoping something sticks.  Pathetic.

Confidence.  No neediness.  Those reveal a deeper kind of love on a firmer foundation.  Movies praise desperate grand gestures, but that guy is too unstable in the real world.  He doesn’t get the girl.  He’s too excitable.

Focus your words.  Respect them and yourself enough to reign in the crazy.  Don’t spatter the page.  A scalpel is better than a shotgun.

Don’t Ask to Ask, Just Ask

Person: “Can I ask you something?”
Me: “Yes”
Person: “Can we chat on the phone?”
Me: “Email me what you want to ask”
Person: “It’s too hard to explain in an email, can we talk?”
Me: “No, sorry. I don’t take open-ended calls”
Person: “OK, it’s this” (easily explained in two sentence email)

This happens all the time. All could have been done in a single email. Instead four vague asks just to get to one.

When Complex Business Problems Are Simple

I want faster growth, so many new systems and processes internally, so many new product advancements externally, new marketing channels, new sales efforts, and on and on.  I have so many new ideas, plus so many current things moving in all directions it can get overwhelming trying to map out and make sense of it all in my head or on paper, let alone trying to tackle them.  The more the business grows, the more complex the problems seem.

Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself that business problems are all really simple at bottom.

When it comes to product development, what problem does the product solve?  Solve it better.

When it comes to marketing, get more leads.

When it comes to sales, close more leads.

That’s it.  Solve customer problems better, get more leads, close more leads.  Everything else is in service to those and matters in proportion to how well it serves them.

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