Here are SIX things I learned, thought were interesting, or found useful.
The Power of Pacing
Up to 1911, no human had successfully reached the South Pole. In The Last Place on Earth, Roland Huntford writes about the many attempts by the great polar pioneers in the later part of the 1800s. Sir John Franklin, for instance, set out with a crew of 128 aboard two ships—none of them lived to tell their tale. This, Huntford writes, was the state of Polar exploration as two “rivals or the pole” found it in 1911. In November of that year, Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott set out in a race to be the first to reach the South Pole. Huntford details their contrasting approaches. On bad weather days, Scott and his crew bunkered down in their tents where Scott would lament in his journal, “Our luck in weather is preposterous.” On good weather days, Scott pushed his crew to cover as much ground as they physically could. Amundsen, on the other hand, took the weather out of the equation. His crew aimed to travel fifteen miles every day, whether it was a sunny day or white-out blizzard. “They were spending up to sixteen hours a day in their sleeping bags, by Amundsen’s design,” Huntford writes. “He would not allow the daily fifteen miles to be exceeded, and insisted on plenty of rest.” On December 12, 1911, he and his team made it within forty-five miles of the South Pole, the closest any human had ever made it. “Going and surface as good as ever,” Amundsen journaled. “Weather splendid—calm with sunshine.” They could have made it to the Pole that day, but Amundsen reminded his crew: 15 miles a day, no more, no less. So it was on December 14 that Amundsen and his crew arrived at the South Pole. Thirty-four days later, Scott—who insisted on a level of “inhuman exertion” throughout the journey—and his team made it to the Pole. They lost, but it was on the trip home that their all-or-nothing strategy caught up to them. All five members of the team, Scott included, got frostbite then froze to death. Amundsen and his guys made the some 1400-mile trip home to Norway without any issues, at a pace of fifteen miles a day, no more, no less.
Spike’s Gotta Go
Spike Lee went to film school at NYU in the early 1980s. At that time, all first-year students made and screened a film at the end of the year. The faculty watched each film. If they liked it, you were good to stay for years two and three. If they didn’t like it, you were dismissed from NYU. Done. Kicked out. Gone. “It was like the Roman Empire,” Spike said. “Like at the Colosseum—thumbs up or thumbs down.” In his first year, Spike made a film called “The Answer.” After the screening, the lights shifted…Thumbs down. “They were like, he gotta go,” Spike recalls. But then one of the family members spoke up, “We can’t kick Spike out.” Another said, “Why not? We don’t like this film. He gotta go.” The other replied, “We already gave him a teaching assistantship for next year.” Spike got the teaching assistantship “because I worked in the equipment room, and I was the hardest working motherf*cker in that equipment room. I was busting my a** in that equipment room… That’s how I stayed my second and third year.” And in his third year, Spike won the student Academy Award for his film, “Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop”.
A Simple Two-Word Description That Accurately Describes How Everything in the World Works
To try to learn all “the big ideas from all the different disciplines,” Peter Kaufman read 12 years of interviews conducted by Discover Magazine. At the end of every issue, Discover includes an interview with some expert from some field of science. “It’s all in layperson’s terms,” Kaufman explains. “And [the expert] would never fial to get all their big ideas into the interview.” He printed them out—144 interviews total, filling three 3-ring binders—and every morning for six months, he read them for an hour or two. After continually noticing patterns and commonalities and overlap among the different disciplines, he separated everything into three buckets. 1: the inorganic universe—physics, geology, anything that’s not living. 2: the biological universe—anything living on planet Earth. 3: recorded human history—”that’s our story. That’s who we are.” From these three buckets, Kaufman said, you can get “a simple two-word description that accurately describes how everything in the world works.” Take (from bucket #1) Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action there will always be an equal and opposite reaction. Or take (from bucket #2) Mark Twain’s example of what happens when you pick up a cat by its tail: it tries to attack you, “it says, ‘you escalated on me pal, I’m going to try to escalate back on you.” Or take (from bucket #3) what we find when we interact with people: by and large, they treat us the same way we treat them. “Now is there a good word, a catchall word to describe what we’re talking about here?” Kaufman asks. “Yeah, it’s reciprocation,” he answers, “but it’s not mere reciprocation. It’s perfectly mirrored reciprocation…That’s how the world works…If I act in a disagreeable way to the cat, the cat acts in a disagreeable way back…Every interaction you have with another human being is merely mirrored reciprocation…We looked into the three largest sample sizes that exist and they all said exactly the same thing.”
How To Be Cool Under Pressure
John Wooden coached teams were famously cool under pressure, hard to rattle. He had talented players who were well-conditioned, but lots of teams had and have that. Wooden said his teams performed under pressure the way they did because of the way he defined success for himself and his players. “Success is peace of mind,” Wooden taught everyone he coached, “which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” But the key, Wooden writes in The Essential Wooden: A Lifetime of Lessons on Leaders and Leadership, was getting his players to not just agree that effort matters more than outcomes, but to believe it. Once you believe it, you don’t fear losing, you don’t think or care about what the fans or the media might say, you don’t get nervous about what the opponent might do. A team full of players that define success this way “will not break down, get rattled, or succumb because of nerves.” It can’t. They are in control. And to be in control is to be steady.
Think You’re Someone You’re Not
Jason Bateman asked Paul McCartney if he has someone in mind when he writes songs. Bateman meant in terms of audience—does he have a specific someone he’s writing to or for? No, McCartney said. “I’m writing for me. But you’re right—I often have someone in my mind who I’m imitating, whose style I’m imitating. And it’s a great trick because it never turns out like them…I use [imitation] as a trick. I like to [imitate]. When I was writing ‘The Long and Winding Road,’ I though I was Ray Charles, but I wasn’t.” Recall that John Mayer said when he makes music, he’s often trying to be his favorite musicians, “which is a wonderful technique for being yourself.”
Fall In Love With Boredom
James Clear was on a weightlifting team. One day a coach who trained elite athletes visited Clear’s gym. They got talking about what it takes to be great. “What do the really successful people do that most don’t?” Clear asked. “At some point it comes down to who can handle the boredom…doing the same things over and over and over.” This flies in the face of the popular push to ‘find your passion’ or ‘say hell yes or no’. Successful people, Clear adds in Atomic Habits, don’t “have some bottomless reserve of passion…Successful people feel the same lack of motivation as everyone else. The difference is that they still find a way to show up despite the feelings of boredom…You have to fall in love with boredom.”