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A reader emailed me recently and asked how I'm able to have such a great group of friends who are so adventurous and into crazy ideas like buying an island and other properties around the world. I certainly don't take my friends for granted, but because I'm surrounded by them constantly I do sometimes forget just how unusual those types of people are.
I've said it a million times, but I do feel as though my greatest assets in life are my friends and family. This is, or at least should be, true for almost everyone because no other part of your life has the potential to bring as much joy as other people.
And yet... people don't really think much about friendships or put all that much effort into them. Think about how much proactive time and effort people spend on their careers compared to the people around them. Career is important, but not as important as people, and yet most people are far more eager to work on their career.
If you want to have an excellent group of friends, you must commit to that goal and be willing to work towards it, not just hope it happens (spoiler: it probably won't).
I've written a whole book on the topic, as well as many other blog posts, so I won't get too into the mechanics of what that work looks like, but the key points are that you decide to take responsibility for your social life, work on it consciously, and make sure that you are improving your friends' lives in a tangible way as often as possible.
That's how you make friends... but how do you make excellent friends?
First, in the words of Bill and Tedd: be excellent. If you aren't the type of person that excellent people would want to be friends with, then you need to work on that first. This requires the ability and willingness to self-assess honestly. What do you bring to the table? If you don't know, then that's a problem. Would someone be lucky to have you as a friend? That answer must be a clear yes, and getting there is a combination of working on yourself and also having the self-esteem to see your own worth.
I understand that this sentiment may not sit well with everyone, as it's not entirely politically correct. Yes everyone has value, yes everyone deserves to have good friends, etc. But still... let's not pretend that some people haven't developed their character and social skills to higher levels than others.
So... be excellent.
Next, understand what it is you actually want in friends and screen heavily for those traits. You can be kind to everyone and respect everyone, but you cannot be a great friend to everyone. Being a good friend is an active process which requires time and effort, and we each have those in finite supply. Any friend who is taking up a slot in your roster is precluding other people from taking that spot.
Be intentional about how you spend your time. If you find that most of the time you spend is with people who aren't the types of people with whom you want to be friends, you are making a mistake. If you aren't seeking out the types of people with whom you want to be friends, you are making a mistake.
It is better to be alone than to be around the wrong people. In the same way that boredom spurs creativity, some degree of loneliness can fuel the process of building a great friend group. You don't have to totally cut everyone off and be a hermit, but don't fill your social calendar with the wrong people.
This process, by necessity, is a slow one. It is much easier to find the wrong people than the right ones. When I went through this process I remember feeling like I had a few great friends floating around the world, not a rock-solid friend group. But as I added people and introduced them to each other, that slowly congealed to feeling like I have an amazing worldwide network of incredible friends. Be patient, because the results will be worth it.
Your time and focus is an extremely valuable resource. If you don't feel that that is true, then you should look inwards and maybe use your time and focus better. When you're around people, be excellent to them no matter who they are, but also treat your time like the valuable commodity it is, and spend it with those people with whom you'd like to grow closer.
Photo is Lake Mead at sunset. Did you know Vegas could be so beautiful?
Beginning around high school, one of my major core values was paying the least possible amount for everything. I was always trying to figure out how to get things for massive discounts or to orchestrate some complex trade so that I got whatever I wanted for free in the end. I got so good at it that my first real income-producing business was in high school when I was buying and selling Palm Pilots and Apple Newtons. I started that business with the purchase of a $70 Newton and never invested more outside money into it.
Being frugal can be good. At it's best, being frugal is the practice of deciding whether you actually need something or not, whether it will be worth it to you, and carefully stewarding your money. Most people should probably be more frugal.
Over time, however, I realized that my frugality had turned into something different. I felt as though I didn't win unless someone else lost. When I went to a buffet, it was important to me that I ate so much that the casino lost money on me. Either I was the sucker or they were the sucker, and I didn't want it to be me. One of the best things at the Bellagio buffet was the pesto mashed potatoes, but I would only allow myself tiny amounts of them because I didn't want to fill up on cheap potatoes.
My business immediately after the Newton trading business was professional gambling, which was very much a win-lose situation. The casinos were trying to force me to lose and I was trying to do the opposite to them. The experience of being a professional gambler was very valuable to me, both financially and mentally, but I wonder if it helped ingrain into me that idea of not wanting to enrich companies.
I don't keep very close track, but last year I went through emails and discovered that I had purchased about 100 plane tickets for that year. Many were short hops to reposition and sometimes one trip would be three different tickets, but still-- that's a lot of travel. And now, I've flown twice in the past three months. Once to help my mom move across the country and once to visit some quarantining friends in Florida.
If you'd asked me a year ago what the chances were that I would fly only two domestic trips in three months, I would have said about zero. And yet... here we are.
It's rare to get such a big change in behavior, so I thought I'd write about a little bit, as much for future me as for you.
The biggest surprise is that I really like it. The first week or two was novel. The next two weeks had me searching the map to see if there was anywhere I could justify going, knowing that the answer was no. And since then I've been loving it. Paradoxically I can't wait to travel again and know that I will as soon as I can, but I also sort of hope the lock down keeps going for a while.
Before getting into this post, I should come clean: there was actually one friday about 450 days ago where I thought that I had already done the day's puzzle but I hadn't. So far that reason I haven't actually done the puzzle 800 days in a row, but rather 800 days with one day missing. Ok, it feels good to get that off my chest.
Three years ago my family came to visit me in Budapest. My younger cousin, with whom I tend to be both cooperative and competitive with on just about everything, had printed out a few crosswords to do on the plane. I immediately felt that if she was getting into crosswords I should also get into them, so we started doing puzzles together. The New York Times puzzle ranges from Mondays (easy) to Saturdays (hard). We were doing Tuesdays and Wednesdays with some difficulty, but it was a fun challenge.
Fast forward a few years and we both do the puzzle every single day (except that one Friday) and we share our times with each other. The rules are simple: no cheating, no using the built-in check or reveal feature, and the puzzle must be done before midnight EST. At first my extra ~15 years of experience on this earth played to my advantage and I would beat her almost every day. Now her intelligence and quickness has overcome that advantage and I win 1-2 times per week average. Some weeks I don't win at all.
Even if I'm not able to beat my cousin, I'm pretty good at crosswords these days. The last time I wasn't able to solve the daily puzzle was over two years ago, and my median times range from around 3 minutes for a Monday to 10-15 for a Saturday (lots more variance there, so I'm not sure). Besides being a lot of fun to do the puzzle (just like my daily Chipotle, I look forward to it all day), I've learned a lot through doing the puzzle.
There was a time in my life when I was singularly obsessed with output. I rated my days in terms of how much output I had produced that day and tried, within reason, to limit anything that did not produce output. It felt great to do this, as I had previously not been particularly good at producing output, and it was completely within my power to make any day into a good day.
Over time, both in myself and others, however, I noticed that high output didn't always lead to achieving goals. It was certainly better than not producing output, but I had a persisting feeling that my results weren't as good as they should be. I now have a more balanced approach and I my results towards goals now seem disproportionately good compared to my output.
If you don't feel like your results reflect your output or you are trying to figure out how to get started at being more productive, I have some suggestions based on my own experience.
It's important to realize that what you create when you are at your best will be many times more valuable than what you create at average or worse. Sometimes work created can even be a net negative. For example, if I force myself to write a blog post when I'm not at my best, maybe it will be unclear and actually turn people off from reading future posts. If I write some crappy code, maybe I'll have to spend hours in the future chasing down a bug that could have been avoided in the first place.
Just a few months ago I was talking to a new flight attendant about her job. I remarked at what a stable job it was, since people always need to fly, they have strong unions, and the airlines are big. Now she's waiting to be furloughed once the conditions of the bailout money allow it. Luckily she has a very stable financial situation and life, so being furloughed won't have a huge effect on her, except for putting her career on pause.
Life is full of people chasing the ghosts of things that used to exist. Just look at those who want things to be like they were in the 50s. One such ghost is a stable job. There are relative degrees of stability, and I'm sure there are some jobs that are still mostly stable, but the average job in the US these days is not stable. If you value stability there's nothing wrong with looking for the most stable job you can find, but you must accept that it may disappear.
Before you join the ranks of those who want to go back to the 50s, think about what this loss of stability has given us. Now we have way more flexibility and the ability to create our own jobs through entrepreneurship or gig working. It's not good or bad, it's just different.
Most people build lives around the presupposition of a stable job. They save very little money and think of their salary as monthly credits which they can use to pay off financing for whatever it is they want to buy. This works pretty well as long as they keep their job, because it's a very easy formula (money in = money out) and it allows them to maximize their immediate pleasure.
When I first began quarantine I was extremely productive. I rewrote some big parts of CruiseSheet and got a lot of work done. Then after a week or so I had cleaned out my backlog of tasks and, with cruise sales down about 100%, wasn't coming up with any pressing tasks to add to my list. I needed a new project.
For over a year, way on the backburner, I've had a project of building the world's most realistic LED candle. Over the past few years I've bought just about every possible contender on Amazon and found them to be pretty bad. Some have good color tone but flicker to much, others flicker appropriately but are orange, some have little movable wicks but cast weird shadows. I have one I programmed and built myself, but it's just a circuit board with wires dangling off of it. Maybe, in quarantine, it was time to build the exterior shell of it.
I've been interested in 3D printing for a while but was worried that if I bought a printer I would use it for a few days to print some of the standard stuff others had already made, and then it would just sit on my desk forever. The only friend who had one did exactly that and had only recently thrown the thing away. But I figured with at least one concrete project to do and a luxurious amount of free time, it was a good time for me to give it a try.
At the same time I saw a deal for a Monoprice Ultimate Maker (which is a rebranded Wanhao Duplicator 6), so I bought it. At the time I figured that any 3D printer would be good enough to make such a basic little project, so I didn't do much research.
I have almost no interest in politics, but I am interested in our country and society, so I inevitably get dragged into various political topics. If there's one thing I'm certain of in that area, it's that most people's interaction with politics is both harmful to themselves and counterproductive for society. At the risk of making many readers furious, I'd like to share my thoughts on politics.
First, though, watch my favorite video discussing politics that I've ever seen. It's the interview between Ben Shapiro (very conservative) and Andrew Yang (very liberal). Whether or not you agree with any of either of their positions is not relevant. Look at how they communicate. Both are clearly very intelligent, very respectful, and were looking for areas where they agreed. When they came across areas in which they disagreed, they tried to tease apart the underpinnings of why they disagreed. Sometimes they found common ground, other times they didn't.
I would love to see more conversation in this style. Just how refreshing it was made me realize how starved of intelligent debate our society is. I also found myself agreeing with both of them in ways I didn't expect I would.
Most people agree that division is one of our biggest problems in society. But how many of us can admit that both Trump and Obama did some positive things as well as some negative things? That's such an obvious and basic true statement, but almost everyone will bristle at it. If you cannot concede that a candidate you didn't vote for has done some positive things, and that someone you did vote for has done something negative, you are part of the problem.
In 2018 I wrote 52 blog posts on a cruise and scheduled them for the following year. They actually ended up lasting more than a month longer because of other posts I wrote in real time throughout the year. I originally did this because I wanted to find a way to eliminate the weekly pressure of having to come up with a topic and write, but I've continued it for a second year because, in addition, I think it produces better quality posts.
Last year when I did this I didn't have any posts I was burning to write. When I revealed what I had been doing, a couple people gave me the feedback that the posts felt a little bit forced and not written out of excitement. I could see their perspective and I think that it was the result of having to come up with so many ideas in such a short time.
This year was the opposite. I had so many posts that I was dying to write all year, so I put them in a text file. When time came to write them I was bursting at the seams to go. I hope that the enthusiasm has come through this year.
I really liked that I could go over my entire year and see what topics I hadn't covered enough and which ones I'd written too much about. I haven't looked through previous years to verify, but it feels like these years, especially this one, have been pretty well balanced.
Common knowledge says that buying a boat is a pretty dumb financial thing to do, and yet I find myself on the precipice of buying one. I'm in a familiar holding pattern where I haven't actually made any committment to doing something, but I also realize I've done enough research to know I'm probably going to do it. Normally I research, do the thing, and then write about it, but this time I thought I'd talk about it before I did it.
About a year ago I realized that you could ski in Las Vegas. I hadn't thought to look before, for obvious reasons. Skiing was a ton of fun, especially with my wife and friends, and it actually increased how much I like Vegas by a couple percentage points.
That realization made me think about what other things Las Vegas might offer that I've never even thought about, especially outdoors things. People who live in Las Vegas often say that the nature is their favorite aspect, which was totally counterintuitive to me at first. I spend all of my working time indoors, so it makes sense to look for outdoor activities for recreation.
The big obvious attraction is Lake Mead. You always hear people talk about it and you see it from above on certain flights. It looks amazing and unlike any other lake I've ever seen. I searched and the marina is under an hour away from my house.