Escaping Puritan Roots

I remember a book I read for a college elective that discussed how the various waves of English migration to the United States helped shape the culture and norms of regions in America. Basically, when the wealthy landowners had stability in England, the working-class protestants came to America and settled in the north. And when the working-classes gained power in England, the wealthy Catholic landowners came and settled in the south.

The topic was fascinating but not particularly useful in my chosen major. However, I did gain a takeaway that continues to provide me with context on my own heritage. For example, most of my ancestors fall into the “working-class puritans” who settled in the northern states during the 1800’s. They were predominately Welsh/Irish on the paternal side and English/German on the maternal.

There are two stereotypical attributes of these ancestors that I internally rebel against today. First, the idea that hard work is one of the noblest pursuits. I don’t believe this to be true.

Hard work is certainly worthy of respect. However, I think that with some ingenuity, focus, and yes, appropriate hard work, one can set themselves up with sufficient income to not have to grind out 60+ hour weeks to make a living. Especially in the information age!

In addition, hard work alone is not enough. It needs to be focused work on the items that are most effective in accomplishing your goals, and the work must be completed as efficiently as possible. Accomplishing your goals in the minimum amount of time should be the goal. If you complete everything in under a 20-hour week, more power to you!

Again, practically I know this to be true. I have seen it proven in case studies and by testing in my own life. Yet I still struggle with stopping when I reach a defined goal: my natural inclination is to keep doing something, and I must consciously question the value of what I am doing to get myself to stop.

The second stereotypical attribute is the view of sex: namely that it is something for a husband and wife, never to be discussed, and certainly don’t mention enjoying it (else you might be mistaken for a witch). My own beliefs are not that, but there is enough of that structure engrained in me that I am not going to elaborate further here.

And that is what I mean about escaping puritanism. I know that there are healthier ways of viewing and approaching life, but it takes reflection and vigilance to escape the unconscious biases I have on these facets of life and exercise anything close to free will.

Stoicism & EQ

I have been learning about stoicism from William B. Irvine’s lessons on the mindfulness app, Waking Up. The other day I was listening to a lesson that talked about the parts of the brain and how they evolved. It dove into this because part of stoicism, and mindfulness in general, is about working through the first two parts of your brain commonly called the “lizard brain” and “mammal brain” and getting to the “human brain” which allows for rational thinking.

For those of you not familiar with these terms, the lizard brain encompasses the brainstem, cerebellum, and hypothalamus. This is our most basic functions including the fight or flight instinct.

Next up is the mammal brain which includes the limbic system and hippocampus. These parts of the brain include memories, communication, and emotions.

Finally, we have the human part, the cerebral cortex, which governs our rational thought and higher reasoning.

Because the brain evolved with humanity, the older parts are what all new inputs go through first. Which means whenever anything happens to us, we first decide to fight or flight, then we have an emotional response, and then we can think clearly.

(At this point, I find myself questioning whether I am more in awe of the brain itself, or the evolution of the brain. Regardless, sublime.)

Back to the lesson from Dr. Irvine. He discussed how our goal as humans should be to acknowledge that each part has its own role and limits. We shouldn’t make large decisions without consulting all three. Therefore, you must ensure your thought process gets past emotions and engages the rational part of the mind.

Around this point, I started thinking about my study of Emotional Intelligence (EQ), primarily through the work of Dr. Travis Bradberry. And the connections between stoicism, mindfulness, and EQ began to appear.

  • All are about managing your thoughts and emotions
  • They all acknowledge the different parts of the thought process and recognize that each has merits
  • The goal is not to only use one, but rather draw from each where appropriate
  • They all embrace reflecting on one’s actions to improve in the future

I think we all owe ourselves a higher degree of self-awareness; therefore, I would challenge anyone reading this to dig a little deeper into whichever methodology speaks to you.

And if you have tried studying one of these and failed, that is perfectly fine. I think it took me two reads of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 to put anything into action, and my first attempt at a meditation habit was a failure. And who is to say whether stoicism will have a lasting impact on me?

The point is, that something will eventually click, and you will be better off for it. Good luck!

Defending Selfish Behavior

I imagine the title of this post will be polarizing to many. After all, what possible justification can one have for behaving selfishly. All I ask is that you read the rest with an open mind.

I was listening to an interview with a famous actor last week, and in it, the actor stated that many of us would be better off if we behaved a little more selfishly. He admitted that his is a minority view, and even his close friends and family who he talks to about his view equate convincing others of it to pushing a boulder up a mountain. Regardless, his view resonated with me, and I am going to try to make my case.

I believe that happiness must come from within. If you are not innately happy, no external forces can make you happy. This includes money and all the things it can buy or the love of others. The visual I have is that if you are already without happiness, there is a void inside of you that acts as a black hole. And unless you seal up that void, every external bit of happiness gets sucked inside and does nothing to fill the void.

That is why it is important for us as individuals to take time for ourselves. First, we must know ourselves. We need to explore our dreams. Our emotions. What brings joy to us, and what takes it away. We need to make sure that we have goals that we are working towards which align with our values and bring joy.

After that, we need to be intentional about carving out that time for ourselves. This reserving of time and space likely needs to be done with a partner or your family. Outline some windows where you can get this time so you can be the best version of you. This shouldn’t be too big of an ask if these people love you and you articulate your needs. The goal is to give a little and gain a better you in return. (And ideally, the people in your life get their own blocks.)

After that, it is on us as individuals to deliver. Don’t squander those blocks of time with distractions that lack meaning. Be intentional about what you are going to do during your time to further your own goals. Plan it out ahead of time. After all you made the agreement, so honor it for yourself and those in your life.

This is what I mean by being selfish. We all need to recharge ourselves. We need to create the time and space for the activities we need to remain sane. And then jealously (and yes, selfishly) defend those time periods. Only by being a little selfish from time to time can we become the best version of ourselves.

Excerpts from “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry”

This is my second time reading this book by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I have decided I was in a more distracted state during my first pass, as I recall having to reread paragraphs regularly. That is less common during this round two.

And it isn’t that the passages themselves are overtly complex, I think it was my ability to focus. In fact, the author does an incredible job of using analogies and other literary tools to make it understandable.

I finished the chapter 8, “On Being Round”, earlier today and found it so rich in these literary tools, that I had to share some of them. All of these are direct quotes:

  • … Earth, as a cosmic object, is remarkably smooth. If you had a super-duper, jumbo-gigantic finger, and you dragged it across Earth’s surface (oceans and all), Earth would feel as smooth as a cue ball.
  • The stars of the Milky Way galaxy trace a big, flat circle. With a diameter-to-thickness ration of one thousand to one, our galaxy is flatter than the flattest flapjacks ever made.
  • To picture a pulsar, imagine the mass of the Sun packed into a ball the size of Manhattan. If that’s hard to do, then maybe it’s easier if you imagine stuffing about a hundred million elephants into a Chapstick casing.
  • Under such conditions, a neutron star’s mountain range needn’t be any taller than the thickness of a sheet of paper for you to exert more energy climbing it than a rock climber on Earth would exert ascending a three-thousand-mile-high cliff.
  • There’s a variation of the ever-popular multiverse idea in which the multiple universes that comprise it are not separate universes entirely, but isolated, non-interacting pockets of space within one continuous fabric of space-time—like multiple ships at sea, far enough away from one another so that their circular horizons do not intersect.

As I said, that is from one chapter of about 13 pages. Pick up a copy of the book and give it a try. Or if you find visuals helpful, try the show Cosmos.

The universe we live in is endlessly fascinating. Which makes sense, as we don’t know whether the universe has an end, or if the laws of physics merely prevent us from seeing this limit.

Review: 4-Hour Work Week

and other musings

This week, I finished my second pass of “The 4-Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss. In the novel, the author outlines his story along with the tools and tricks that he used to “Escape the 9-5, live anywhere and join the New Rich.”

(Aside: If it were me, I would include the Oxford Comma in that tagline, but that is another post. However, enjoy this graphic related to it.)

There are a few questions that I believe one must face upon finishing the book:

  1. Do you believe that the New Rich lifestyle is possible given the model that the author puts forward?
  2. If you believe it is possible, is your own personality a match for the level of uncertainty you might have to experience to get there?
  3. Assuming the first two are a yes, what is your muse that you can turn into profit?

Number three is what I am working on. I have a couple of possibilities that I am actively pursuing, and one that is in my back pocket.

The author outlines several ways to find your muse which I have used. In addition, he talks about niching down. After all, the goal is to not necessarily be a millionaire, but rather to decouple yourself from the norms of modern society to allow you to take advantage of the benefits that come from going left when others go right.

There are two additional notes I would offer for those who are trying to discover their muse. The first comes from Tim Ferriss himself through a recent LinkedIn post. I have linked that here.

The second, related idea comes from James Altucher. He talks about the concept of “idea sex” in some of his work. In short, take two (or more) great ideas that have been done, and combine them. An example of this is the iPhone. iPod + cell phone + camera = iPhone.

For my brief review of the 4-Hour Work Week, see my goodreads post. And the same for James Altucher’s recent book, Skip the Line.

And finally, I will say that even if your answer to the 2nd question about uncertainty is a resounding “no”, I would still recommend the 4-Hour Work Week. The author outlines tips for those who never want to leave corporate America, but still live like the New Rich.



I am a fan of Star Wars. Not a convention going fan, but whatever is one step below that. I enjoy sci-fi in general, so the combination of the Force, lightsabers, and the wild west nature of many settings is spectacular. Oh, and space travel.

What does this have to do with moderation? The light and dark side of the force obviously.

It struck me that many of the Jedi struggle to maintain this pure mindset. They struggle with the teachings of their chosen Order, and who can blame them when one of the requirements is essentially no outside attachments outside. That is not natural for social beings.

To overcome their struggles, they focus so much on being all the way light, that a single chink in their armor is like a crack in the dam that releases the flood. I think they would be better off if they tried moderation and stopped trying to be holier than the masses. As would we all.

I know that moderation is hard. Because moderation allows for vices in your life, you must continuously manage them. Therefore, one must constantly reflect on their choices to ensure that they align with their goals and morals.

The good news for Moderation is that because it is all about the gray area, it allows for mistakes. When one starts to lean in a direction they don’t like, there isn’t some fallout. Instead, the individual can merely make a slight course correction and continue: no large collapse and no permanent harm.

The alternative is all or nothing. Completely removing something from your life can also be challenging but is typically easier to maintain once you have extracted the problem. After all, once whatever the concern and all associated triggers have been removed for a sufficient period, then it is no longer a habit, so the maintenance is easier.

However, the potential downside is also significant. This is where you hear about someone going on a low sugar diet for years, and then they turn 40, have some cake, finish the cake, and then the next day they are so disappointed, that they keep right on eating sweets.

That is why I am a proponent of practicing moderation. Have your cake and eat it too! (But not too frequently or in too large of quantity.)

Work to Live

“So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it. I’m saying, I’m the proof that you can ask the universe for it…please!”

Jim Carrey, 2014 commencement address.

The quote above ties directly into what I have been pondering. The bulleted version of my current musings is below:

  • 65% of people are satisfied with their jobs per a study from HR Daily Advisor; therefore, about 1/3 of people are dissatisfied. Benefits are a key factor per the same study.
  • The system, at least in America, incentivizes one to join the corporate world. College leads to job/career which provides benefits including healthcare and a 401k (with a contribution amount 3x that of an IRA).
  • The healthcare is nice because many jobs will also degrade your health in some manner (stress or sedentary lifestyle).
  • Most jobs will take 40+ hours of your week.
  • Many of the wealthiest individuals have multiple streams of income (job, interest, dividends, rental properties, business ownership, etc.). Seven sources of income is mentioned a lot.
  • People frequently define who they are by what they do, which is great if you are pursuing your passion, but what percentage of the 65% who are satisfied is that true for? I assume that the remaining 35% aren’t passionate.

I am working on is my own alternative. I have the investments. I have done the job and might again, but for now, I am exploring all others. Work to live, don’t live to work.

If anyone wants to share their own story or point me towards a relevant post, I would love to hear your thoughts.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

George Bernard Shaw

“Excess” Savings

I read an article the other day which stated, “Americans have socked away $1.5T in excess savings.” I have seen similar statements, and I get progressively more disturbed every time I read them.

First, what is “excess savings.” It isn’t like saving money is a bad idea. We could debate the sanity of various investments, but the idea of saving is not a negative. I would prefer if the line stated, “Americans have saved $1.5M more since COVID started than they did the previous year.”

The revised statement paints a more accurate picture but doesn’t carry with it the idea that all of us must go out and immediately spend this excess. After all, it isn’t like Americans need encouragement to spend money.

And the other piece that is missing from that quote is the who. Depending on what article you read, anywhere from 63 to 78% of American households are now living paycheck to paycheck since the start of the pandemic. So obviously, that extra $1.5T is not in their bank accounts, but in the hands of the wealthy.

I guess I hold out some vain hope that a pandemic side effect will be more responsibility with money. But of course, to do that people need to be making money again and, to some extent, that requires people to spend money. Unfortunately, the ultra-rich are not those people. Private flights to expensive places don’t create enough jobs.

The erosion of the middle class has long been a problem in America, and unfortunately the pandemic has only exacerbated the situation. Perhaps more of us will realize that since we never saved, lived within our means, or were responsible with debt, we weren’t in the middle class in the first place. And we certainly cannot return there unless we adopt those practices.

And thus, an appropriate action coming out of COVID is to adjust our savings to prepare for the next “rainy day.”

In Defense of Science

“For a very long time everybody refuses and then almost without a pause everyone accepts.”

Gertrude Stein

For generations, humanity has progressed through the contrarian. The individual who when everyone else says, “this is the way,” they say, “yeah, but I think there is a flaw there, so I am going to try something new.”

These people still exist today, but unfortunately some of them look for a different result despite scientific evidence. They decide on their own conclusion prior to reviewing the evidentiary facts and the subsequent conclusion. Then they go about trying to prove their conclusion, and when they fail, it is an issue with the experiment, not their conclusion.

I use conclusion intentionally because these individuals are not testing a hypothesis. They are seeking validation for something they already “know.” They might rerun the original tests, get the same results, and still stick to their now disproven conclusion. As examples, I am going to use the fact that the earth is an orb and that our solar system is heliocentric. I will focus on the timelines of the western world.

The earth being a sphere was first proposed around 2500 years ago in ancient Greece. This belief continued to propagate and was spread en masse by the Roman Empire in its later years. It took circumnavigation in the early 16th century to prove it, and then Newton’s subsequent work showed that the earth is slightly elliptical, but definitely an orb.

Regarding heliocentricity, the theory was likely first hypothesized by Aristarchus of Samos over 2200 years ago. But it took the work of Copernicus and Galileo in the 16th and 17th centuries, in defiance of the Catholic church, and finally Newton to prove it out.

Back to the quote I led with: it took a few contrarian minds continuing to push their theory in defiance of the establishment. And then suddenly, it seems to have been accepted. (Though I doubt those that were persecuted felt acceptance was quick enough.)

Yet I fear we are regressing as a society. There is plenty of mystery left in the universe without going back and rehashing beliefs that have been proven through the scientific method. Science is not opinion or beliefs. Science is developing a hypothesis, conducting a test related to that hypothesis, and drawing conclusions from the evidence. In that order.

For anyone who has doubts, I ask that you start with the work that has been done by brilliant people throughout the ages. Or find an expert on the matter and learn from them.

To quote astronaut Scott Kelly on the first example, “I have seen it [the earth] from space, and it is pretty round. It is not flat.” He has been in space for more than 500 days. I trust him.

Creating vs. Consuming

Why do I write? I frequently ask myself that very question. I know it would be easier if I consumed someone else’s work instead of taking the time to share in this blog and other places. And for the first 30+ years of my life that is mostly what I did: consumed information.

Being an information consumer has served me well. First and foremost, I learn and grow. Second, my thoughts are challenged as I gain new perspectives. And selfishly, being well informed is a way I have personally defined my value to those around me. (Though I am unsure if others would say the same.)

Through this blog and other mediums, I have started creating and sharing. I am unsure of the value in what I write to readers and can almost guarantee some of it is garbage. However, I think that is acceptable as there are other rewards.

For one, creating/writing helps me organize my own thoughts and opinions. Whether through a keyboard or pen and paper (reference my post on journaling), I must articulate thoughts and the feelings around those.

It also helps me get comfortable with putting myself out there; sharing myself with the public does not come naturally to me. But I have found that, like anything, facing those fears is the only way to push through.

And last, mixed amongst the mediocrity there is bound to be some new and original concepts: sometimes one must sift through the dross to find the gems. And the only way to get to those gems is to keep working at it, refine the craft, and persevere.

So I will continue to create new content. Or at the very least share my views on the happenings in the world and whatever occurs to me. Because we all owe it to the world to not just consume knowledge, but also to freely share.

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