Things I've come to believe thus far

40 lessons from 32 years

Last week, on my 32nd birthday, I opened my notebook in a small cafe in Kyoto, and wrote the heading: Things I’ve Come to Believe Thus Far.

What follows are the 40 things I wrote that day. These are the most salient truths I’ve been able to uncover in my life. Lessons I learned the hard way. Some are silly, some are serious, and all are unsubstantiated. They’re only backed up by my own lived experience, no facts, no citations, just 32 years.

I hope they can serve you, as they have come to serve me.

1. I’m mostly blind.

The world is a beautiful place, full of rich and nuanced meaning. Yet without a trained eye, much of it has passed me by.

I’ve come to learn that we are not born with this ability. Instead, we must cultivate our senses like a sommelier. We can refine our palate, study classical art, explore rhythm and dance, read widely, and in time, we’ll come to appreciate the world at its fullest extent.

2. Seek out quiet spaces.

I’ve yet to experience a transcendent or divine moment when it was loud.

3. Suffering is not optional, but you can choose your flavor.

Suffering can never be eliminated, only transferred. I’ve sought out white collar jobs, so that I can avoid physical pain of blue collar work. But in doing so, I traded physical suffering for something else. The suffering of meaningless work, of abstraction, and an endless hedonic climb.

Choosing how, and when, you experience suffering is essential.

4. Making things in the physical world feels good.

The more time I spend in abstraction (moving numbers on a computer screen, that only vaguely relate to the human being I’m supposedly helping), the unhappier I feel.

Living unobstructed by technology, and directly affecting the physical world, brings me a sense of purposefulness and joy.

5. Film cameras give me a greater sense of connection to the physical world.

Disposable film cameras help me be more present, while also capturing beautiful moments. Unlimited digital photographs beget endless photo captures. This leads me to try and create the perfect moment. I end up living more behind a screen, than I do contemplating beauty in real time.

6. Professional level tools, are the favorites of amateurs.

The allure of purchasing fancy tools has prevented me from achieving mastery.

Instead of spending a month searching for the best camera in your budget, spend one hour. Then use the remaining 239 hours that month, shooting on that camera.

7. Wisdom and wealth have rarely gone hand in hand.

The wisest people in human history lived simple, rural, and austere lives. They often lived in or near poverty. I don’t need everything to be perfect, or even comfortable, to find a deeper meaning to my life. I simply need to cultivate my ability to notice the universal in the mundane.

8. Despite my best intentions, I’ve rarely learned a lesson the easy way.

9. Ride the wave you’re on.

Sometimes I really enjoy audiobooks, and can binge them for months. Other times, I’m completely disinterested, and can only read physical books.

Ride the wave you’re on, and give up the desire to be on another wave. If I tried to force myself to read, during the audiobook phase, I’d end up frustrated and getting nowhere.

10. Man-made serenity is incredibly rare.

Japan is the only country I’ve ever been to that seems to have domesticated serenity. A quality of experience I previously believed could only be found in nature.

A Japanese tea ceremony should rank high on your bucket list if you’re interested in finding out what I mean.

11. If you can sing “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables, completely sober, in front of a packed karaoke bar, nothing will scare you again.

12. Be careful of making money online.

Making money online is one of the most thrilling, and utterly distracting, things I’ve ever experienced. You can easily lose sight of what really matters when money and effort are divorced.

13. Being a shitty beginner isn’t bad. Being average is excruciating.

Most people aren’t actually afraid of being bad at things.

Instead they’re afraid of being average. It’s thrilling to go from a bare bones beginner, to pretty average at something. It’s excruciating, however, to go from average to good. 

14. No one cares what you believe, they only care about why you believe it. 

This is especially true for writing. No one wants to hear trite moral judgements. Rather, we all crave stories. We all want a window into the author’s life, and the events that shaped their beliefs.

15. I refuse to emulate successful people who aren’t in a healthy relationship.

Don’t emulate someone who, regardless of their professional or material success, can’t seem to figure out healthy long term relationships.

They’re playing a game you don’t want to win. 

16. Avoid injury, and stay in the game longer.

After a certain age (younger than you’d think), exercise becomes less about optimizing growth, and more about minimizing risk of injury.

Strength, speed, and flexibility are all ephemeral. Injuries have a nasty way of sticking around.

17. Your body can do more than one thing.

I’ve been told for a while that I don’t have a “runner’s body”. Well last year, I ran my first marathon and my sixth half-marathon. So that turned out to be wrong.

Your body wasn’t built for just one thing. I promise you, you can run even if you’re not long and lean, and you can lift even if you’re not stout and sturdy. 

18. The best books I’ve ever read have had more to do with the time in my life that I’ve read them, than the actual contents of the book.

19. Fashion is, first and foremost, a signal to yourself.

Fashion is about signaling to the world, as well as yourself, that you care. When you go to a wedding, you dress nice, because you care about the bride and groom. When you go to a job interview, you dress nice, because you care about the job. When you go on a date, you dress nice, because you care about making a great first impression.

All the rest of the time, you should look as nice, and clean, and as fashionable as you reasonably can, simply because you care about yourself.

20. Tucking in your shirt is wildly underrated.

The biggest return on investment for a man trying to be fashionable is tucking in your shirt. It takes two seconds, and can radically change an outfit. Trust me.

21. Wear real dress shoes as an understated way to stand out.

The second biggest, is wearing nice shoes.

Not sneakers, but real shoes. Like the ones your grandpa used to wear when he was your age. Very few people take the extra time to wear great shoes, but when they do, it always gets noticed.

22. Walkable cities are overrated.

What people actually mean when they say walkable is the sense of awe, simplicity, and community they’ve witnessed when visiting an objectively beautiful European city.

These feelings can’t be boiled down to simply, “being walkable”.

23. Long stretches of travel, not short stints, will change you.

I’ve been more deeply effected, and experienced more instructive moments, on 6 week long penny-pinching trips, than on 7 day all out luxury vacations.

Nothing profound happens at a resort.

24. Travel in the future is going to be markedly worse.

The world is only going to get denser, and there’s only going to be more tourism in the future. Right now, is the least “touristy” the world will be for the rest of your life.

God forbid, you wait until you’re 65 to experience the wonders of the world.

25. The older I get, the harder it is to sustain discomfort.

The older I get, the harder it is for me to spend multiple months traveling. Not because of money or work, but from the mental stamina needed to be away from comfort for extended periods of time.

26. I’ve been drinking coffee wrong my whole life.

Coffee should never be served hot, only warm.

If you brew it too hot, you’ll lose all the flavor. You’ll also burn the the roast. Shoot for water that just started steaming. Never boiling.

Also, it broke my brain to learn that light-roast, has more caffeine than dark. So all this time, I’ve been drinking worse coffee, with less caffeine!

27. Invest in the best raw ingredients.

When cooking, you have to work twice as hard to make up for bad ingredients. Start with the absolute best you can get your hands on, and your work down the road will be much easier.

This is the premise of real Italian cooking. The recipes are simple, because the ingredients do the heavy lifting.

28. Go to every 3 star restaurant you can, skip most 1 and 2 star joints.

The one and two Michelin star designation for restaurants means very little.

Three star places, however, are no joke. These are consistently peak dining experiences. (Side note: It also seems that The World’s 50 Best list only really matters if it’s in the top 10.)

29. If you want to feel a sense of belonging, you need to stop moving around.

People need to stay somewhere for a long time, and critically, so do all of their friends, in order to reap the rewards of community. Trust, security, and belonging can’t be felt if you’re popping from coast to coast, whenever a new job beckons.

30. You’re not terrible with names, you just don’t care.

Remembering peoples’ names immediately elevates you as someone who cares about other people. It’s a superpower worth developing.

31. Hosting dinner parties will change your social life.

Eight people is the perfect size for a dinner party, of which, you should be hosting more.

I hosted 23 this year, and while I’m by no means suggesting that you attempt that, I do suggest you at least try your hand at one. There is no greater and more time-tested way to build a close group of friends, than regularly gathering around a home-cooked meal.

32. There are only two answers to an invitation.

People can respect rejection, but they can’t respect a flake. There are only two acceptable responses to any invitation. Yes, or no. 

33. Everyone I know who has stayed in my hometown, has gotten married, had kids, and bought a house. Everyone I know who moved to a big city for their career wants to get married, have kids, and buy a house.

34. For the first time in my life, I want to believe in God.

Every civilization, in every era, from every corner of the Earth, has believed in some form of divinity. Abstaining from this practice, disconnects you in a real way, from the whole of humanity.

35. Alcohol may be required for intimacy.

After spending all of 2023 completely sober, I believe there is a level of friendship that only alcohol can unlock.

For some reason, getting to this stage without sharing at least one night of intoxicated revelry, seems impossible.

(The act of cheers-ing your drink, was actually a ritual designed to build trust between two parties. The idea was, if there was poison in your glass during the cheers, a bit would spill over the edge, and into your counterpart’s glass. In this way, drinking has always been a way to prove kinship.)

36. Finding a partner is one of the most important things you can do.

Having someone to share chores with, double check your decisions, and split the bill with, only begins to scratch the surface of why relationships are important.

I’ve come to believe that the challenges of life were meant for two, not one.

Having someone show you love on a daily basis, through small physical acts, is also deeply comforting. I have yet to find anything that even comes close as a replacement.

37. Even if you had good parents, you’ll probably resent them.

If you had good parents, their goal was for you to turn out better than they did.

If they succeeded and you did in fact turn out better, then it’s only natural for you to experience some level of resentment towards them.

38. Someone very close to you, at some time or another, has seriously contemplated suicide. Someone you’d never expect. Act accordingly.

39. Great conversation is finding connection over a genuine shared interest.

I’ve hosted over 100 social events in the past year. Which means I’ve had my fair share of terrible, awkward, and irredeemable conversations. But it also means, that I’ve had a bit of practice finding what works.

The key to great conversation is digging around someone else’s brain until you find something that sparks your genuine curiosity. Once you do, the words will flow effortlessly from both of you.

Doing this in a way that feels natural, and nonintrusive, is the key. If you can’t find a shared genuine interest, no level of charisma can mask it.

40. If someone shares an idea with you, always support them.

When someone shares an idea, a dream, or a goal with me, I always support them. No matter how improbable, or unlikely I believe it to be.

The first reason I do this is because nothing was ever gained by diminishing someone’s sense of wonder. The second, is because I’m often wrong, so really, what do I know?

Also, if you become known as the guy who always gives “tough love” or always “tells it how it is”, people will eventually…stop talking to you.


PS. If you’ve made it all the way down here and don’t feel that you’ve just wasted five minutes, consider hitting the like button on this essay.

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