Here are SIX things I learned, thought were interesting, or found useful.
Forget To Think About Success
47 years after publishing Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl wrote about the book’s paradoxical success. In 1945, he wrote the book in nine days with a conviction that it would be published anonymously. The first printing didn’t have his name on the cover. He wanted the book to “gain a hearing,” not to “build up any reputation on the part of the author.” That’s not to say he didn’t want to build up a reputation as an author—he published dozens of other books with his name on the cover. “And so it is both strange and remarkable to me,” Frankl wrote, that Man’s Search For Meaning became the book he’s known for. For the rest of his life, Frankl would share what that taught him: “Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication…In the long run—in the long run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”
How To Resurrect A Species
Beavers almost went extinct because beaver hats were so popular. Before the Fur Trade got legs in the 15-and-1600s, some 400 million beavers roamed the globe. Then the mid and late 17th century experienced a kind of golden age of beaver hats. And by the end of the 1700s, in Britain, beavers were gone. Trappers went to North America to keep up with demand for beaver hats. The beaver population continued to decline. In 1843, John James Audubon was working on an illustrated book, The Mammals of North America. For eight months, he travelled nearly 2,000 miles up the Missouri River looking for a beaver. He never saw a single one. The doomsayers were saying complete beaver extinction was no longer a matter of if; it was a question of when. They were wrong. Because a frenchman took his beaver hat to a hatter in China and asked the hatter to make the same hat but with silk. The frenchman returned home to Paris with his silk hat and the silk hat craze began. The silk hat made it’s way to London where on January 15, 1797—as legend has it—an Englishman was first seen wearing a silk hat. “The man had such a tall and shiny construction on his head,” a police officer said, “that it must have terrified nervous people. The sight of this construction was so overstated that various women fainted, children began to cry and dogs started to bark.” London’s The Times broke the story the next day. “The man’s hat points to a significant advance in the transformation of dress. Sooner or later, everyone will accept this headwear.” Silk hats were in, beaver hats were out, and the beaver population rose. By 2000, the population was back up somewhere between 9 and 50 million beavers. “The resurrection of Castor canadensis (the beaver’s scientific name),” Frances Backhouse writes in Once They Were Hats, “is undeniably one of North America’s greatest conservation success stories.” It just goes to show—if you want to resurrect a species, set a new fashion trend.
The Virtue of Constraints
The experimental electronic music duo Matmos starts every album with a “a commitment to a frame,” a boundary inside which the sounds can only come. “A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure,” for instance, uses sounds only from medical procedures. One song’s from a liposuction procedure. One’s from plastic surgery. One’s from a laser eye surgery. They convinced a surgeon to let them record their friend’s Lasik surgery. Their composing then was contingent on whatever sounds came from that. My favorite is their album “Ultimate Care II.” It’s an album made entirely from the sounds of the Whirlpool Ultimate Care II washing machine in their basement. They said they get asked a lot, why make it so much harder on yourselves? Why force these restrictions and limitations on yourselves? “What they don’t see is it’s incredibly freeing to be restricted,” they said. “It makes it much easier. We don’t have to work with anything and everything. We only have to work with things that are bounded by these silly ideas…Sorry, theses ingenious concepts.”
It’s Simple Math
When Kobe Bryant was 12, he played a 25-game basketball season without scoring a single point. “I was terrible,” he said. “Awful.” Not a single point. Not a free throw, not a lucky bounce, not a breakaway layup—nothing, zero. When asked if that was the season that instilled in Kobe the work ethic he became legendary for, Kobe said no. He said that season taught him to take the long view. “I wasn’t the most athletic,” he said. “I had to look long term. Because in the here and now, I couldn’t compete with other kids’ athleticism…I had to look long term because I wasn’t going to give up on the game. So I had to say, ‘Ok, this year I’m going to get better at that. Next year, this.’ And so forth and so on. And patiently, I was able to catch them.” Patiently, he stresses. “It was piece by piece. It was the consistency of the work. The consistency of the work: Monday, get better. Tuesday, get better. Wednesday, get better. You do that over a period of time—three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten years—you get to where you want to go.” “It’s simple,” he said. “It’s simple math.”
The Most Important Aspect of All
My dad was telling me about a client who got poached by a competitor. The competitor promised they were less expensive and faster. My dad said he’d been in the business long enough to know that the client would eventually come back to him. “It’s like anything,” he said. “You get what you pay for.” I coincidentally ran into that client two nights later. She told me about how she started using this new custom apparel company, and they botched her order—the fonts were off, the colors were wrong, the sizes weren’t the sizes she ordered, and so on. I was reminded of a passage from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “there is no manual that deals with the real business of motorcycle maintenance, the most important aspect of all. Caring about what you are doing is considered either unimportant or taken for granted…I think we should notice it, explore it a little, to see if in that strange separation of what man is from what man does we may have some clues as to what the hell has gone wrong in this twentieth century. I don’t want to hurry it. That itself is a poisonous twentieth-century attitude. When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other things. I just want to get at it slowly, but carefully and thoroughly.”
You Can’t Avoid Getting Some Of That Mud On You
I replied to tweet asking, “What’s your favorite quote from Stoicism?” Mine is a quote I refer to in one of the lessons I learned from Ryan Holiday: You Can’t Avoid Getting Some Of That Mud On You. The tweet was well-received, so I thought I’d share the quote here: “It is inevitable that if you spend time with people on a regular basis…you will grow to be like them…Remember that if you consort with someone covered in dirt you can hardly avoid getting a little grimy yourself.” And that’s from Epictetus‘ Discourses and Selected Writings.