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Counting the cost (1 + 1 = 2)

Counting the cost (1 + 1 = 2)

The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand. – Sun Tzu

Like I mentioned a few blog posts ago, I had this little success formula I ‘came up’ with in high school. I say ‘came up’ with dramatic air quotes because obviously it’s not a new formula and many before me have expressed it in some form or the other across the ages. But bear with me…

To get what you want, all you have to do is three things:

  1. Know what you want
  2. Count the cost
  3. Pay the price

So far, I have talked about knowing what you want, and how you need to know yourself first so that all you seek comes from a deep authentic sense of self. Once you have figured all of that out, you have to figure out what it would take to get what you want.

This step is what separates dreams and wishes from true goals and desires. To get what you want, you must pay the required price.

To get what you want, you have to deserve what you want. The world is not yet a crazy enough place to reward a whole bunch of undeserving people.”

—Charles T. Munger

What will it take to get what you want?

There is the gulf between where you are now, and where you need to go. How will you bridge the gap?

Some costs are easy to figure out. Want a summer body? The cost is regular exercise and a healthy diet. Others are a bit more complex. Want career success? Learn more about your field and industry, make a career plan, invest in gaining new skills, get a mentor, and be on the lookout for opportunities.

1 + 1 = 2

Sometime around 2015, a few friends and I are busy working to get a fledging startup off the ground. We are hustling our asses off, taking two steps forward and five steps back. We are going to meetings, pitching to clients, investors, and being very busy. In the midst of this flurry of activity, and after a few years of dealing with all sorts of business people, it finally dawns on me.

1 + 1 = 2

There is a deep sense of wishful thinking that is so difficult to keep at bay. Hollywood has conditioned us to think that someone is coming to save us. That by some stroke of luck, or magic, things will somehow work out. We see it in the ‘so-called strategies’ of companies. We see it in the hopeful entrepreneur eagerly pitching his idea blissfully oblivious of the holes in his logic and product. If you are to get what you want, you have to work hard to shed this warm blanket of delusion. You have to know no one is coming to save you. It is all on you.

1 + 1 = 2

Which means that there must be a clear logical sequence of things for you to get what you want. Getting what you want will not happen by magic. It will happen by respecting the amount of work, the amount of time, and all the factors involved in actually making it happen, and then executing 100% against that.

To make the MacBook I am typing this on right now, teams of people at Apple had to work together to create the software, design and manufacture the hardware. It took incredible coordination to finance the deals, make the product, package it, market it, and ultimately sell it to me at the iStore. None of it happened by magic and none of it happened without due deliberation.

You’ve got what it takes, but it will take all you’ve got.

I want to build the company of my dreams. I respect what it takes to do that. The entrepreneurial spirit, the leadership skills, the communication skills, the sales skills, the deal-making skills. I understand the cost, the potential decade or two or three it would take me to get there. I understand that I have to become a dramatically different person to achieve this. I respect the lessons I must learn about design, about culture, about finance, about process.

I think I’ve got what it takes, and I’m sure it will take all I’ve got and more. It is what I want. I’m prepared to pay the price.

So, think about what you want. What will it take to get there? What are the steps you must take? What are the gaps in your knowledge you must fill? What commitment must you make? Will you respect the law of cost? That 1 + 1 must equal 2.

You must pay the cost to get what you want.

“The first step to getting what you want is to have the courage to get rid of what you don’t.” —Zig Ziglar

The cost is not just the things you must do. It is also the things you must not do or stop doing.

Every choice comes with an opportunity cost. Sometimes, getting what you want will need you to make dramatic changes in environment or associates. Sometimes you must give up something you hold dear, to get something even better.

All of this is incredibly hard, but it can be easier, if you cultivate burning desire…


Book Spotlight: Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown

Book Spotlight: Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown

I read this book for the first time back in early 2015, and I even blogged about the core idea here and a related idea ‘Deliberatism’ here. This is a crucial book, and it holds a hard-to-live-up-to idea that has the ability to transform your life, if implemented well. It pairs very well with ‘The One Thing’ which I will blog about sometime soon.

Too many times, we take on too much and we try to do everything. This is an excellent strategy when starting out. When you are new or young, try everything out, try different things, taste the berries, like Gary Vee would say. It’s this being open and saying yes to everything that will open doors and fuel your success. But once you get to a level of success, to move to the next level, you have to evolve and change your approach.

In every endeavor, there are the small proportion of factors that disproportionately affect the outcome. It is basically the 80/20 principle. There are the trivial many and the vital few. It is a profoundly important skill to be able to delineate between the few and focus your efforts on the things that really matter.

Imagine being able to accomplish more by doing less. This is the promise of Essentialism. How can you be more focused, more effective and less stressed?

Check out my selected excerpts below, and you can buy the book here.


My Highlights from Essentialism

In this example is the basic value proposition of Essentialism: only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.

… Less but better. A more fitting definition of Essentialism would be hard to come by.

Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.

It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at your highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.

The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default.

Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.

If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.

The pursuit of success can be a catalyst for failure. Put another way, success can distract us from focusing on the essential things that produce success in the first place.

To embrace the essence of Essentialism requires we replace these false assumptions with three core truths: “I choose to,” “Only a few things really matter,” and ‘I can do anything but not everything.”

When we forget our ability to choose, we learn to be helpless. Drip by drip we allow our power to be taken away until we end up a function of other people’s choices – or even a function of our own past choices.

Is there a point where doing less (but thinking more) will actually produce better outcomes?

To discern what is truly essential, we need space to think, time to look and listen, permission to play, wisdom to sleep, and the discipline to apply highly selective criteria to the choices we make.

…and the noisier things get, the more we need to build quiet reflective spaces in which we can truly focus.

When there is a serious lack of clarity about what the team stands for, and what their goals and roles are, people experience confusion, stress and frustration. When there is a high level of clarity, on the other hand, people thrive.

We do a similar thing in our personal lives as well. When we are unclear about our real purpose in life – in other words, when we don’t have a clear sense of our goals, our aspirations, and our values – we make up our own social games. We waste time and energies on trying to look good in comparison to other people. We overvalue non-essentials like a nicer car or house, or even intangibles like the number of our followers on Twitter.

Creating an essential intent is hard. It takes courage, insight and foresight to see which activities and efforts will add up to your single highest point of contribution. It takes asking tough questions, making real trade-offs, and exercising serious discipline to cut out the competing priorities that distract us from our true intention. Yet it is worth the effort because only with real clarity of purpose can people, teams, and organizations fully mobilize and achieve something truly excellent.

Don’t ask, “How will I feel if I miss out on this opportunity?” but rather, “If I did not have this opportunity, how much would I be willing to sacrifice in order to obtain it?”

We all have some people in our lives who tend to be higher maintenance for us than others. These are the people who make their problem our problem. They distract us from our purpose. They care only about their own agendas, and if we let them, they prevent us from making our highest contribution by siphoning our time and energy to activities that are essential to them, rather than those that are essential to us.

Whoever it is that’s trying to siphon off your time and energies for their own purpose, the only solution is to put up fences.

The way of the Essentialist is different. The Essentialist looks ahead. She plans. She prepares for different contingencies. She expects the unexpected. She creates a buffer to prepare for the unforeseen, thus giving herself some wiggle room when things come up, as they inevitable do.

What is the obstacle that is keeping you back from achieving what really matters to you? By systematically identifying and removing this “constraint” you’ll be able to significantly reduce the friction keeping you from executing what is essential.

…highly creative individuals use strict routines to free up their minds. Most creative individuals find out early what their best rhythms are for sleeping, eating, and working, and abide by them even when it is tempting to do otherwise,” Mihaly says. “they wear clothes that are comfortable, they interact only with people they find congenial, they do only things they think are important…personalizing patterns of action helps to free the mind from the expectations that make demands on attention and allows intense concentration on matters that count.

Focus on the hardest thing first.

They know that execution is easy if you work hard at it and hard if you work easy at it.

Essentialist never attempts to do more than one thing at a time.

“I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many tribal affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day;…so simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real” – Henry David Thoreau

The way of the Essentialist isn’t just about success; it’s about living a life of meaning and purpose.

Do you even know what you want?

Do you even know what you want?

“This is a fundamental irony of most people’s lives. They don’t quite know what they want to do with their lives. Yet they are very active.”—Ryan Holiday

From the moment you were born, you were thrust into a world and a system that automatically pulled you along. You spent some time chilling, drinking milk, and discovering the wonder of being alive then suddenly you were plucked from the warmth of your mother’s arms and put into a room with other kids.

And so it began, you moved up to bigger rooms as you grew older, choosing subjects from your limited options and looking forward to being an adult. After 18 years or so, you were spat out into the wild west of the real world. Now things are a little different. The rules are ambiguous, the expectations even more so. All this choice frightens you, so it’s easy to give in to someone, anyone who can give some direction. Usually that is your job or societal expectations at large. Between those two there are no shortage of metrics and KPIs to chase after. Soon enough you are running around frantically, chasing points and achievements and accumulating stuff without any real thought to what you REALLY want.

The first step in getting what you want is knowing yourself. The next step is perhaps even more critical, as you would imagine. It is knowing WHAT you want in the first place. Sounds easy enough, but it really isn’t.

Desire is a very tricky thing. Sometimes we have to peel back layers of conflicting ‘wants’ to really find the core of what we truly desire. Discovering what you want is not easy, it takes some work.


What do you want?

The cardinal sin in answering this question, which is the one so many of us are guilty of, is the sin of vagueness. We only have a vague impression of what we want. We know we would kinda like to be rich, kinda like to be happy, kinda like to do something we love. But vague desires lead to vague action which leads to vague results. You will never get what you want if you are not very clear about what you want.

It is so hard to know what you want, because there is already so much that conditions us if we are not woke to doing the internal work. Deciding what you want is making a decision, to choose one thing over another. We by nature are very social creatures, our likes and preferences get shaped by the forces of our environment. We get taught what to want. But what we are conditioned to want may not be what we REALLY want.

How many times have you chased something, really wanting it, and then getting it and realizing, “fuck, I actually don’t really want this”. You spend all that time and energy climbing to the top of the mountain, only to find out that you are on the wrong mountain.

If I asked you what you wanted, your answer would most likely fall into one of these broad categories. You want a degree, more money or you want to be rich. You want cars, or houses, or clothes, or a loving relationship, or a family, maybe you even want to make an impact. It is fine to want those things. It is also easier to want those things because they are always in-our-face as part of culture. Never doing the self-examination of our desires means that even deeper, more fulfilling desires are left unmet because they are never considered.

If you are an entrepreneur, you know ‘success’ generally means getting tons of money and building a massive and impressive company. And so, you decide that is what you want. So, you spend time and energy, building, breaking your back over this thing that you ‘want’, when truly what you want is just enough to ensure your day to day freedom.

In a world that tells you want to want every second of the day, it is important to check in with yourself and find out…what do you really want?

Knowing what you want starts with knowing your values. You have to figure out what is important to you. And this comes from knowing yourself and diving in. If you don’t know what your values are, you are like a rudderless ship with no direction. You can easily get shifted into things that are not for you. You can end up wasting your life.

It is said that we don’t really want the thing we say we want. What we truly want is the feeling that thing will give us.

We don’t just want the nice sports car with the plush interior, what we really want is the feeling of accomplishment, of pride, or being envied or respected that comes with it. There is nothing good or wrong with wanting things, just also know why you want them. You don’t want to waste your time trying to fill your inner holes with the wrong things.

If you know what is important to you on the inside, you are better equipped to make decisions and choices. Now you would know what you truly want.

If you would like to dig deeper into values, Steve Pavlina has a great 2-part piece on Living your Values here.


What do you want to give?

Knowing what you want is not just about knowing what you want to get. It is also about knowing what you want to give, what you want to contribute. If you want to get something, you need to know what you are willing to give for it. How are you willing to serve the world, the people around you?

These questions are not the type that are easily answered. Sometimes you can come to an answer in a few minutes, but usually, it takes a long time. These are the questions you wrestle with, the ones you live with. You might find the answer today, and then tomorrow have to come with a new answer. We are human, the world is chaotic, things change. The goal in all this is to become a little more intentional, more conscious in our pursuit.

Once you have figured out your values, what is important to you and what you seek to contribute in the world, your who, your what and your why begin to align. And when you are aligned, you start to work, hustle and move with purpose. You become unstoppable.

How to become who you are

How to become who you are

To thine own self be true. – Shakespeare

Know yourself, that is the First Step to Getting What You Want.

Long time ago, while I was in high school, I ‘came up’ with this formula to success. Very simple stuff, nothing fancy. It was a quick 3 step process:

  1. know what you want,
  2. calculate the cost,
  3. pay the price.

Simple. My entire spiel on getting what you want essentially boils down to that 3-step process.

But it is difficult to know what you truly want if you have not come to terms with who you are.

In a world that constantly tries to pressure you to conform to a box, or put up a front, understand that you are incredibly and wonderfully unique and you have something to contribute.  It is ultimately your responsibility to journey inward and connect with your true self.

A tremendous amount of our problems come from the fact that we hardly sit down to connect with ourselves. We get too busy acting, too busy chasing – a goal, an object, a person, a relationship. We seek to become complete or find some sort of fulfillment in all these things. And yet, the one thing we need to do is to go inward.

In all of time, no one else can or will be ‘you’. The combination of the times, your environment, your DNA, your soul all work together to this specific expression. You are a miracle worth celebrating, worth exploring.

On the long road of growth, self-awareness is the first step. You have to be able to recognize your thoughts, emotions, motivation and beliefs. Once you can observe what’s going on inside you, you are able to change your perspective, and then in turn change your actions.

The alternative is going through life without understanding yourself, how you tick, what belief systems and patterns are running amuck in your subconscious. You become essentially enslaved to your emotions and environment. You fall into a state where your efforts to move forward are perpetually frustrated, because you have not done the internal work to know yourself and clear the internal obstacles.

That is the typical state of things for most people. We want to rise up to new levels, and grow, and achieve and be successful, but we are held back by so many internal demons, so much conditioning, the bonds of our environment that we end up taking a few steps forward and multiple steps backward. We remain resigned to mediocrity.

It’s only with self-awareness that one can journey closer to a state of “self-congruence” — in which what we say, think, and feel are consistent. – Anthony Tjan

You have to know yourself. There is still a small voice inside, you know it, the one that somehow truly, deeply knows what you are meant to become. It is comforting to want someone else to have the answers, it is nice to follow a guru. Learn from others, but you must also connect with and nurture that core within, that inner voice.

When you are in tuned with what you are feeling, with what inspires you, you begin to form a kind of internal guidance system that leads you towards your true goals and your greatest contribution.

This inner voice is hard to hear sometimes. It tends to get drowned out. If not by the world around us and media, it gets drowned out by our own beliefs and insecurities. It is too easy to go through life with ambitions that we have absorbed and carry around that are not really ours. They are the imprint of society’s programing; the whispers of the dreams other people have placed on us. In the midst of all this input, you have to do the work to coax out that inner voice.

Know your strengths and weaknesses, know your personality. Know what makes you come alive, know what you want, what you REALLY want. Know who you are, and what you want. Then you can start making moves in that direction.

Not that you will always be right. We are prone to error. You can completely feel something right now, an emotion that is overwhelming and is your absolute truth in that moment and still not be right. But being acutely aware of it, of what is going on, you are at least able to make a conscious choice.

Becoming more self-aware is really an increase in consciousness. If you want to win, if you want to grow, you have to become more conscious. Your sphere of awareness must start with a knowledge of self, and then expand to knowledge of the people around you and your environment. When your consciousness and awareness increases, you can start to wake up, stop drifting and make concrete bold decisions towards your aims.

As you become more self-aware, you learn to love, embrace, accept and affirm yourself. Media always makes us feel like we need to be someone else. Self-awareness allows you to become you.

Of course, it is not easy. It is never easy. We are not very logical, we are messy complex creatures. We have so many biases, so many shortcomings, so many ways we deceive ourselves. Sometimes that self-delusion is healthy, it can spur us to action, to attempting things we really have no business attempting.

However, a lot of that is dangerous. We’ve all seen people who are so convinced they can sing that they end up rocking the wooden mic awards at Idols. Self-awareness allows you to must clear the fog of self-deception and get to know yourself for who you are…warts and all. Then you will have a chance of winning.

So enough of all that, what are some practical ways you could deepen your self-awareness:

  1. Meditation

It is amazing the lengths people would go to avoid stopping and listening to themselves. It is important to sit down, journal, meditate, do whatever you need to slow down, quieten the noise in your head and get to know yourself.

Every now and again, especially when you are distraught and stressed and in emotional turmoil, sit down in a quiet room alone, dim the lights if you can, sit comfortably and just be with yourself. Let your thoughts bubble up and subside. Sit and observe your internal environment. Get to know what’s going on inside you.

  1. Journaling

Get a notebook, or an app and every day write down a few pages of just stream of consciousness or considered reflection of your day. As you do this over time, you start to observe themes or points of concern emerge.

  1. Therapy

Working with a qualified practitioner can be a great way to get to know yourself, heal repressed trauma and change your behavior. I know there is a stigma around seeking therapy and admitting you need help sometimes, but the investment would be well worth it.

Experiment, try out things. You would never discover new things about yourself like the depths of resources you possess without putting yourself in new and alien situations. That’s why travel and exploration are so important. It is hard to know, truly know yourself without the fire of experience. 

  1. Seek Feedback

Talk to the people around you, and get some feedback of what they think about you. Ask them what they think your strengths and weaknesses are. More often than not, our friends and colleagues have a perspective on us that would be completely oblivious to us otherwise, or allows us to frame a personality trait more effectively.

  1. Personality Tests.

As unique as you are, there are general archetypes to the human psyche. Taking any one of the various personality tests available out there can be very powerful and at least give us frame works to understand our behavior and the behavior of others.

“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.” ― C.G. Jung

Want to be happy and successful? Learn how to suffer.

Want to be happy and successful? Learn how to suffer.

“Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” – Scott Peck

It is counter-intuitive to think of suffering or pain in the same breath as happiness. When we think of happiness, we think about ease, pleasure and euphoria. Our basic nature as humans is to seek out comfort and pleasure. We want to increase our pleasure and minimize our pain. But deep, lasting happiness is more complex than simply optimizing for pleasure.

True happiness is born from the pursuit of purpose. When we are driven by a goal, pulled to pursue something bigger than ourselves, we are called to new levels of action and struggle. We are forced to go through this hard and uncomfortable journey and come out the other side.

In-between where we are now and where we want to go, there is the gulf. There is our inertia. There are all the things we don’t know. There are all the mistakes we will make. There is all the fear and self-doubt. There is the past trauma. There might even be the boos and jeers of the people around us. But if we want to reach our destination, if we are to get what we want, we have to cross this gulf, we have to embrace the suffering.

Now, there is bad suffering. The millions of people living in abject poverty kind of suffering. The suffering brought upon by disaster and tragedy. And that is terrible, but not that is not what we are quite focused on here. We are talking about the everyday struggle, the general angst of living, the ache and pains and complexities of being human. The fact that anything worth doing usually requires some form of effort, some level of suffering, of pushing out of your comfort zone into unfamiliar territory. And we can never run away from that. If we are to live well, we must learn to suffer well, and suffer with purpose, suffer in the right things.

Suffer well, but do not suffer needlessly. Suffer in pursuit of your calling and your vision. Don’t suffer fools, complainers or the tyranny of your own mind and emotions. Suffer for the right reasons.

Suffering comes in the form of the extra hours spent on the side hustle after a long day at the office. Suffering comes in delaying gratification and saving or investing money instead of balling out. Suffering comes in the fatigued thighs and burning lungs while pounding away on the treadmill. Suffering comes in stepping up to bat and doing the work when all you want to do is stay in bed and watch Netflix.

Suffering is not just the hard thing though, it’s not just the ‘hard work’ the ‘hustle’. Suffering is also facing the thing you usually try to ignore. Suffering is facing ugly truths and making tough decisions. It is doing the small but important thing you have been avoiding. Suffering is just as much pulling an all-nighter working on a project, as it is taking a step back to really think and decide if you should be working on this project at all.

The suffering that matters is the suffering that comes from stepping out of your comfort zone, from facing the thing you avoid, doing the thing you fear or have decided is too much for you to do. Because those are the things that usually matter the most. They are the things that could change your life.

The world is tough, you must build resilience. The tougher you get, the more adept at handling suffering, the more your endurance will increase, the more second nature it will become and the easier the pursuit of your dream will get. In fact, you might even start to welcome it, to relish it.

We always want to escape pain, that’s why we drive ourselves to distraction – social media, drugs, liquor, sex, whatever your poison is. But instead of avoiding the pain, we should lean into it. We embrace the suffering because the promise of what is to come is so much greater than where we are now, or the pain we must endure to get there.

Like the buffalo that runs to the storm instead of away from it, we can lean into the pain and find that it not only passes quicker, it leaves us stronger, more resilient, fulfilled and ultimately happier.

More often than not, the seed of suffering bears the fruit of happiness.