[Book Review] The Art of Gathering

My ratings of the book
Likelihood to recommend: 3.5/5
Educational value: 4/5
Engaging plot: 3/5
Clear & concise writing: 3/5
Suitable for: anyone interested in how to host better gatherings, be it a birthday party, a family dinner, or a business meeting

Me: “I am reading a book called The Art of Gathering – it’s about tips on how to be a better host of gatherings.”

Response: “I like how you are reading about gatherings when we can’t have gatherings during social distancing. :)” Fair point – this may not be a good time to host a gathering, nevertheless it doesn’t hurt to think about how to become a better host. The learnings from the book will become especially handy when we resume normal social activities (and fingers crossed the situation would improve soon).

Before digging into the key takeaways, general comments on the book – I gave this book 3.5 stars out of 5:

  • What I like is the insights on gatherings – the book is less about what to do at gatherings (though there is a fair share of that) and more about how to think about gatherings (a mindset shift). This is not the typical logistical advice you would expect (e.g., how to arrange seats or dinner recipes). Instead, Priya Parker tells us how to re-imagine our roles as a host and the meanings of a gathering. This book reads like a combo of instructional manual + philosophy – that’s worth a 4 stars on educational value.
  • What I don’t enjoy as much is the narration style – some examples shared in the book feels a bit too wordy and could be slimmed down. For this reason, I find myself flipping through some chapters where I feel I have captured the main points, yet the examples shared are too detailed for my taste. Hence only a 3-star rating on plot & style.

And now to key takeaways from the book:

1/ Figuring out the real reason that matters is halfway towards a successful gathering. Importantly, a category is NOT a purpose, e.g., the purpose of a birthday party is NOT “to celebrate my birthday. A better but bland purpose would be “to mark the year,” and even better purposes could be along the lines of “to surround myself with the people who bring out the best in me,” “to set some goals for the year ahead with people who will help me stay accountable,” “to take a personal risk/do something that scares me.”

2/ Gathering that please everyone are rarely exciting – great gatherings are not afraid of alienating, which is not the same as being alienating. It is about taking a stand with a purpose of the gathering that stands out; it is about saying “no” to someone who want to join the gang; it is about enforcing rules to honor the purpose of the gathering and not succumbing to so-called etiquette.

(Some purposes) fail at the test for a meaningful reason for coming together: Does it stick its neck out a little bit? Does it take a stand? Is it willing to unsettle some of the guests (or maybe the host)? Does it refuse to be everything to everyone?

A good gathering purpose should also be disputable. If you say the purpose of your wedding is to celebrate love, you may bring a smile to people’s faces, but you aren’t really committing to anything, because who would dispute that purpose? … A disputable purpose, on the other hand, begins to be a decision filter. If you commit to a purpose of your wedding as a ceremonial repayment of your parents … that is disputable, and it will immediately help you make choices. That one remaining seat will go to your parents’ long-lost friend, not your estranged college buddy.

3/ A good host is never a chill host who sits back and lets guests organize themselves. I love how Priya Parker puts it: “Gathering well isn’t a chill activity. If you want chill, visit the Arctic.” Or in the words of Isaiah Berlin: “Freedom for the wolves has often meant death to the sheep.

“The chill approach to hosting is all too often about hosts attempting to wriggle out of the burden of hosting. In gatherings, once your guests have chosen to come into your kingdom, they want to be governed – gently, respectfully, and well. When you fail to govern, you may be elevating how you want them to perceive you over how you want the gathering to go for them. Often, chill is you caring about you masquerading (instead of) you caring about them.”

“Behind the ethic of chill hosting lies a simple fallacy: Hosts assume that leaving guests alone means that the guests will be left alone, when in fact they will be left to one another. Many hosts I work with seem to imagine that by refusing to exert any power in their gathering, they create a power-free gathering. What they fail to realize is that this pulling-back, far from purging a gathering of power, creates a vacuum that others can fill. These others are likely to exercise power in a manner inconsistent with your gathering’s prupose, and exercise it over people who signed up to be at your – the hosts’s – mercy, but definitely didn’t sign up to be at the mercy of your drunk uncle.”

4/ Hosting a gathering is not a democratic activity, so don’t be afraid of being the boss if you are the host. Be assertive in introducing your guests to each other a lot. Be assertive in seating guests next to people who are from different walks of life yet still complementary. Be assertive in setting your own rules, e.g., break up two friends who are talking with themselves in the corner and encourage them to mingle with everyone else.

5/ A gathering starts when your guests first hear about it, and don’t waste the time from then until the date of the gathering to prime your guests for the event. Priya Parker calls this “pregame window” a chance to shape the guests’ journey into the gathering – it is about priming the guests to get them in the right mood & mindset before the event, so that they could exhibit the behavior you would like.

The pregame should sow in guests any special behaviors you want to blossom right at the outset. If you are planning a corporate brainstorming session and you’re going to be counting on your employees’ creativity, think about how you might prime them to be bold and imaginative from the beginning. Perhaps by sending them an article on unleashing your wildest ideas a few days beforehand. If, for example, you are planning a session on mentorship in your firm, and you need people to show up with their guards down, send an email out ahead of time that includes real, heartfelt testimonials from three senior leaders sharing personal, specific examples of the transformative power that a mentor had on them.

In my own work with organizations, I almost always send out a digital ‘workbook’ to participants to fill out and return to me ahead of the gathering. I design each workbook afresh depending on the purpose of the gathering and what I hope to get guests to think about in advance. The workbooks consist of six to ten questions for participants to answer…The workbooks aren’t so different from a college application in that sense … they also help the person think through the things they value before they arrive. I then design the day based on what I see in their answers. I also weave quotes from their workbooks into my opening remarks at the convening.

6/ Quit starting or ending with logistics, such as where you should go next. It is extremely anti-climatic.

“I’m speaking, in short, of every gathering whose opening moments are governed by the thought: ‘Let’s first get some business out of the way.'”

“Just as you don’t open a gathering with logistics, you should never end a gathering with logistics, and that include sthank-yous. I am not suggesting that you cannot thank people. I simply mean that you shouldn’t thakn them as the last thing you do when gathering. Here’s a simple solution: do it as the second-to-last thing.”

“Goldman is a much-beloved teacher and singer-songwriter…To close (his classes) he strums the first note of the final song, his version of the last call, triggering the expectation of a closing in the kids, and then he pauses and makes announcements while still holding the note: Please turn in your check to me if you haven’t already. No classes next week. Someone left their jacket. He technically does these logistics between the first and second note of the final song. Once he’s finished with the logistics, he resumes the goodbye song. It’s subtle but quietly brilliant.”

7/ A soft close tactic, if done well, gives some guests the freedom to leave if they wish while lets other guests who want to stay feel welcome to linger around. Priya Parker shares a tip of inviting guests to the living room for a nightcap as a soft close for her house gatherings.

“The trouble for the host is that, for every person who is tired or checking out, there are presumably others who look as if they could keep going for hours. One of the most interesting – and divisive – dilemmas in hosting is what to do in this situation.”

“Once I can see the conversation petering out after dessert (at a home gathering), I pause, thank everyone for a beautiful evening, then suggest we move to the living room to have a nightcap. I give the guests who are tired the opportunity to leave, but both my husband and I emphasize that we’d rather everyone stay.”

“That invitation to the living room is a soft close; in a sense, it’s the equivalent of the last call. You can ask for the check, so to speak, or you can order another round. Those who are tired can leave without appearing rude, and those who want to stay can stay. The party, relocated and trimmed, resumes.”

And to heed my own advice, I should close this post with a thoughtful closing – at least somewhat thoughtful. I would like to share with you what Priya Parker wrote in the introduction of the book: there are no pre-requisites to being a good gatherer. No, you don’t have to be talkative, you don’t need to have a fancy venue, and you don’t need to hide a dozen jokes in your sleeves to entertain your guests. The magic recipe is some deliberate thought into why you are gathering, which identities of you the gathering is enforcing, and what spirit you are bringing into the gathering – it is likely to go well (or better than you imagined) if you have “the curiosity, willingness, and generosity of spirit to try.

The Best Relationship Advice: “When People Tell You Who They Are, Believe Them”

The golden rule for relationships – any type of relationships – is encapsulated in 9 words: “When people tell you who they are, believe them.”

Such are the words of wisdom shared by Dr. Maya Angelou in a conversation with Oprah Winfrey. Oprah added onto what Dr. Angelou said: “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time. Don’t wait until the 29th time. When a man doesn’t call you back the first time, when you are mistreated the first time, when someone shows you lack of integrity or dishonesty the first time, know that this will be followed many many other times, that will some point in life come back to haunt or hurt you.

Here is a great story to illustrate this Golden Rule for Relationships. In the memoir Educated, Tara Westover shared her struggles living with her abusive brother Shawn. A brother who called her a whore. Broke her toe. Dragged her on the floor. Pushed her head into the toilet.

Tara recalled the day when she was assaulted again by Shawn:

That night, with a heavily wrapped wrist (hurt by Shawn), I scratch out a journal entry. I ask myself questions. Why didn’t he stop when I begged him? It was like getting beaten by a zombie…like he couldn’t hear me.

Educated, memoir by Tara Westover

Tara struggled to find an explanation for Shawn’s abusive behavior:

I began to reason with myself…I decide that if I had asked (him to stop hurting me) differently, been more calm, he would have stopped. I write this until I believe it, which doesn’t take long because I want to believe it. It’s comforting to think the defect is mine, because that means it is under my power.

Educated, memoir by Tara Westover

Such is the paradox of fabricating an excuse to explain why someone mistreated us: on one hand, excuses serve as a painkiller – by telling lying to ourselves that he/she is neither crazy nor hurting us on purpose, by telling pretending to ourselves that he/she still cares about us, we numb the pain with a false sense of control. We feel as if we could not control what happened to us in the past, we could at least control how we feel about it at present – even at the cost of ignoring the discrepancies between reality and our perception of it.

On the other hand, the excuses we fabricate are the deadliest poison that kills our self-esteem, the tightest chains that defines our slavery. The excuses are the reasons we stay, even though we would like to be treated better. Because somehow we tricked ourselves into believing the pain of staying & withering a little every day is better than the pain of leaving & tearing apart. We think we are hiding in a safe haven by staying, but in reality we are digging our own graves by not leaving.

As Tara continued to reflect and replay the assault scene in her head, she had a sudden revelation:

His expression is unforgettable: not anger or rage. There is no fury in it. Only pleasure, unperturbed. Then a part of me understands, even as I begin to argue against it, that my humiliation was the cause of that pleasure. It was not an accident or side effect. It was the objective.

This half-knowledge works in me like a kind of possession, and for a few minutes I’m taken over by it. I rise from my bed, retrieve my journal, and do something I have never done before: I write what happened. I do not use vague, shadowy language, as I have done in other entries; I do not hide behind hints and suggestion. I write what I remember.

Educated, memoir by Tara Westover

And here comes my favorite part of Tara’s reflection. She wrote in her journal: “It’s strange how you give the people you love so much power over you...He had defined me to myself, and there’s no greater power than that.” The illusion of empowerment brought by our excuses always dies down. In its place, at its core, is the erosive power that feeds on our self-esteem.

It is not easy. It is damn hard to walk away from the people you love and care about. But to get the relationships we deserve, we must abide by the 9-word rule: “When people tell you who they are, believe them.” Believe that they are not who you think they are (or would want them to be). Believe that they are not meant for you, nor compatible with your identity. Believe that leaving is an easier & better option than you imagine it to be.

It is the truth – truth of the world, truth with ourselves – that always sets us free.

I end with this quote by Dr. Maya Angelou:

When a person says to you that “I’m mean” or “I’m selfish” or “I’m unkind” or “I’m crazy” – believe them. They know themselves better than you do.

Dr. Maya Angelou

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“All models are wrong, but some are useful”: Man’s Journey to Make Sense of the World

All models are wrong, but some are useful.

George Edward Pelham Box, British statistician

This quote by a British statistician is, arguably, not limited to describing statistical models. Every thought we have shapes our map (mental model) of the territory (how the world works).

An article on the rationalist blog Less Wrong believes the “abstract concept of ‘truth” is better thought of as “the general idea of a map-territory correspondence“.

The map is not the territory” is a core mental model:

The map of reality is not reality…If a map were to represent the territory with perfect fidelity, it would no longer be a reduction and thus would no longer be useful to us.

Farnam Street blog, “The Map Is Not the Territory

This is the paradoxical takeaway: the flaw & value of the map both lie in it being a reduction of reality. On one hand, every reduction is a conscious decision to be imprecise – some information is inevitably lost. On the other hand, compression is what makes it of use to us: focusing on what is the most important (or per the 80/20 rule, focus on the 20% that yields 80% value) allows us to maximize the value density of information we have, i.e., think of it as value per “unit storage space” of information.

I could not attribute the source of this – but someone said: the world always makes sense. If you think something “does not make sense”, what really does not make sense is your model of the world.

For those who are into rationality & critical thinking, I highly recommend this fanfiction: Harry Potter & the Methods of Rationality – after all, what could be a more fun way to learn about something than mixing it with magic? 🙂

Here is a quote from the fiction: “I ask the fundamental question of rationality: Why do you believe what you believe? What do you think you know and how do you think you know it?

As the author wrote in another post: “We need the word ‘rational‘ in order to talk about cognitive algorithms or mental processes with the property ‘systematically increases map-territory correspondence‘(epistemic rationality) or ‘systematically finds a better path to goals‘ (instrumental rationality).

Striving to be rational means striving to improve map-territory correspondence, while acknowledging we could aim to be less wrong but never completely right. This recipe of curiosity plus humility combo is what powers us to build a model that is inevitably wrong, but hopefully helpful.

Enjoyed reading this? Apart from publishing articles on this blog, I also send out a newsletter with original content and curated ideas. Subscribe here or view past issues here. Stay tuned for more articles in the “Big Idea” series!

Witch Hunt 2019 Version: On What Grounds Do You Stand?

“What if everything we are taught in economics 101 is not only wrong, but may even be setting us up for populism, dictatorship or revolution?”

Find this question provoking?

Check out the eye-opening answer of Professor Timur Kuran in an interview with Eric Weinstein on “The Portal” podcast. I don’t think the show notes are exaggerating too much by saying “(t)his could well be the most important economist you’ve never heard of.” This episode is especially relevant given the current political discourse & climate.

Note: For podcast lovers, I highly recommend The Portal – I have found each and every episode thus far to be of consistently high quality. The podcast is thoughtfully named “The Portal”, to refer to different portals (ways) of looking at the world.

The 1st guest on the show was Peter Thiel, who spoke highly of the Mimetic Theory proposed by French philosopher R. Girard. I have written about it in Life is the Ultimate Imitation Game.

Fake Your Ground via “Preference Falsification”

Question: You go to your friend Emma’s birthday party. She greets you at the door with a hug, takes a step back and spins in her green dress with gigantic, yellow polka dots. Emma smiles up at you and asks: “My brother bought this new dress for my birthday! What do you think?” Honestly, you find the dress to be shockingly hideous (or hideously shocking). How do you react?

Multiple Choice: Your response is

(A) Honesty Brutality is the best policy. Say it to Emma’s face that you find this dress to be an utter disgrace, and she should dump it in the bin right now and change before more guests arrive at the party – so as not to embarrass herself.

(B) Be the best lying friend you think you should be. Say it with a forced big smile that you find the dress to be gorgeous.

(C) Bring out your dark human side. You remember Emma told you last Christmas that pair of purple socks with snowman icons were adorable. You wore that to your first date with your crush, and she found it absolutely incredible laughable. It is time for revenge. You tell Emma with the most sincere smile and starry eyes you could put on, and encourage her to wear the dress all the time.

I would wager most people would go for option (B), i.e., what you say is different from what you really prefer. This is what Timur Kuran refers to as preference falsification, i.e., “misrepresenting one’s wants under perceived social pressures“.

Fake Ground Protects You in the Modern “Witch Hunt”

Question: You live in a neighborhood where durian is treated as a sacred food that everyone should love. Durian is everywhere, e.g., durian flavor is the only flavor of ice-cream allowed. However, you secretly find its smell vomiting. One day, a tourist new to town stops you on the street and asks you about what this “durian” thing is, as she has never heard about it before.

Multiple Choice: Your response is

(A) Tell her (in secret) that while everyone else says durian is awesome, you find it disgusting, and she should run away from it.

(B) Exclaim with enthusiasm that durian is the best food out there – just like what all of your community members would say – and recommend her to check out the durian ice-cream shop around the corner.

Before you decide, you weigh your options carefully. If you go with option (A), you are aware of the risks that words get out – if any of your friends know that you whispered slander against durian, they would immediately cut all ties with you. They would unlike all your Instagram pictures, and unfollow all your social media feeds. You risk your date dumping you. You risk your parents signing you up for “durian acceptance” workshops. You risk opening up your mailbox and discovering 10 books on durians, sent from “Durian Anonymous” group.

As Professor Kuran illustrated, a common type of social pressure that leads to “preference falsification” is the presumption of one & only one orthodox preference – and the rejection of the rest as heresy.

Durian is tasty and everyone loves durian. Case closed. You are simply not allowed to have a different preference. By claiming yourself openly as a “hater of durian”, you immediately declare yourself as the “enemy of the people”.

The minute you voice a different preference, you subject yourself to a modern version of the Witch Hunt – and be prepared for “reputational violence” as punishment, if not something more severe. Just like those labelled witches in the Middle Ages, expect yourself to be the outcast in your circle and consider a cold shoulder as the mildest form of sanction you would get.

Preference falsification – applauding the orthodox view in public while rejecting it in private – is a tactic to stay safe in the modern version of witch hunt. A milder tactic is to remain silent – and saves you the pain of the schizophrenic pressure to balance between a fake voice vs. your true self.

Note: There are two concepts related to preference falsification – chilling effect (i.e., self-censoring for fear of backlash) and strategic silence (i.e., purposefully silencing others or information, usually with the intent to control the narrative). I’ve written about these concepts in What Silence Quietly Says: On The Chilling Effect & Strategic Silence. In this case, the chilling effect is in sharp contrast to preference falsification – the former keeps silent, the latter shouts out loud though in a “fake” voice.

And speaking of being open-minded to different opinions, I took a stab at what the word “open-mind” means in this article (that features delicious pictures of ice-cream & durian): “Are you open to durian ice-cream” & an Open-Minded look at Open-Mindedness.

The Witch Hunt in the Middle Ages scarred communities – people lived in fear and dialogues were stifled. Likewise, the modern version of Witch Hunt has its negative consequences. When a large percentage of society practices preference falsification, our political system could produce an outcome that “very few people actually want”:

You open up the possibility that because people are not openly expressing what’s on their mind, the system of knowledge production & knowledge development…(the system) of solving problems…that gets corrupted.

Eric Weinstein

When preference falsification is prevalent, you end up with the weird scenario where everyone in the room wears a pink shirt, although the majority actually prefers the blue one. The irony here is everyone thinks they are wearing pink because everyone around them prefers pink. Hence you are stuck in this weird lose-lose “equilibrium” where as if the collective solved for the wrong problem (or opted for the wrong solution) of how to “minimize utility”. We end up with a schizophrenic world where everyone struggles with the conflicts between their private preferences vs. public preferences.

Middle Ground = Underground?

The two extremes, both are playing this game of “you are with us or against us”, reinforcing each other. They are completely agreed on that.
* * *
There is no middle position. And having a middle position, having the media pay attention to people in the middle, would hurt them (the extremes) both.

Timur Kuran

In this “Economy of Deception” littered by falsified preferences, the middle ground – a nuanced and open-minded stance – has to seek shelter underground. As Professor Kuran points out above, the extreme ends on either side of the spectrum do not want to entertain the possibility of a 3rd option, i.e., seeking compromise and resolution.

Eric Weinstein calls this a “black market (in the marketplace) of ideas“, i.e., underground concepts, ideas, fears that “can’t be discussed in a curated market managed by institutions“. Going back to the durian-lover-community example, think of this as forming a secret club that meets discreetly underground every month to discuss your shared detest for durian.

Occasionally, you have seen brave friends who declare their distaste for durian in the open and advocate for plurality-of-fruit-choices. You admire their bravery, and you relate deeply to this quote:

“We are dependent on people of integrity who risked everything, when it was least popular to do it. We could hold these people in reserve, so that when the madness becomes too great, we could turn to them.”

Eric Weinstein

Where We Go From Here

I leave you with this excerpt from the preface in Professor Kuran’s book Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference:

(D)espotic government is not the only source of fear the only obstacle to overt and candid discourse. A more basic factor is public opinion. For one thing, despotism is unsustainable without at least the tacit consent of public opinion. For another, public opinion is itself a determinant of people’s willingness to reveal their innermost selves.

To be sure, time and again the courts have ruled that unpopular views, no matter how outrageous, are protected by the law. Yet a person may be free under the law to enunciate despised views without enjoying the same esteem, in the eyes of others, as people with widely accepted views. However strictly enforced, freedom of speech does not insulate people’s reputations from their expressed opinions.

My preoccupation with the darker side of human nature was not without reward. I became more sensitized to the independent streak in the human character, to the spirit that gives on the courage to say ‘no’ when the pressures of the moment demand a ‘yes.’ With a heightened appreciation for the complexity of the human personality, for the tensions we all endure in trying to mediate between our needs for social approval and those for self-assertion, I gained more respect for the nonconformist, the pioneer, the innovator, the dissident, even the misfit. It is my hope that the reader will come to share in this appreciation.

It is also my hope that the reader – you – will come to share in this appreciation. The consistency in aligning one’s public preferences with one’s private ones. The audacity in listening to one’s innermost self and reach peace with the outer world.

May we all have a mindful journey.

What are some good materials you’ve come across on public discourse? I’d love to hear from you – please reach me at fullybookedclub.blog@gmail.com or on LinkedIn

Enjoyed reading this? Apart from publishing articles on this blog, I also send out a newsletter with original content and curated ideas. Subscribe here or view past issues here.

[WTH & LOL] Episode #001: WTH should you listen to this podcast?

You’ve asked, I’ve listened: “WTH should you listen to this podcast?”

I get it – you are busy, you are easily bored, and you have standards. You have asked this question because you have every right to as a listener. In this very 1st episode of the WTH & LOL podcast, I present two reasons on why this podcast is worth a try – judge for yourself whether they are convincing enough (I hope so)!

Other relevant info:

Fantastic Lives & Where to Find Them – Tips from a Comedian (Chris Gethard)

I confess the (first half of the) title was inspired by Ms. J.K.Rowling’s awesome “Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them“. And I also confess I loved how Johnny Depp portrayed Grindelwald in the 2nd movie of the series.

P.S. If you guessed the 1st sentence above or agree with the 2nd sentence, I feel like we’d become good friends! Write to me at fullybookedclub.blog@gmail.com or on LinkedIn.

Otherwise, I feel like we’d potentially have a nice debate! Also write to me please.

Okay, enough starry eyes 😀 – it’s Friday, time for some FUN! Why don’t we look at tips from a fun comedian on Fantastic Lives & Where to Find Them? Below are my takeaways from the interview of comedian Chris Gethard on the James Altucher Show podcast.

Hack #1. How to Be Bulletproof

Me: Drink bulletproof coffee. HAHAHA! #dry-laughter#

You: Lame joke. BAHHH! #throw-eggs#

Lesson learnt: long way to go before I qualify as a comedian. Here’s what Chris Gothard actually suggested: “Whatever field you’re in, the bar has been set…and when you get there, what you get is a pat on the head – great, so you’ve learned how to do this thing that other people have figured out, but the sooner you can find these alternate avenues or those things nobody sees coming that you can weave into your version of it, this is how you super-cede the bar…when that becomes a comfortable thing, you become a little more bulletproof.

To sum it up:

You are bringing things to the table that they don’t have and they haven’t seen elsewhere. THAT makes you bulletproof.

Chris Gethard

So don’t just aim to reach the bar others have set for you. Aim to super-cede the bar and better still, set a whole new bar that is defined on your terms. And people will start to measure themselves against your terms. Isn’t that more bulletproof than adding oil & butter to your coffee (I think that’s the standard recipe for ‘bulletproof coffee’ – not saying it’s mutually exclusive to being actually bulletproof)?

Hack #2. How to Make Others Jealous of You

This piece of advice technically comes from Chris’ dad, who once said to Chris that he was jealous of his own son. Chris was shocked by one of the rare emotional statements from his usually-tough-no-BS-style dad.

His dad explained the source of his jealousy – and this is one of my favorite quotes from the interview:

When I take a step back and look at you, you’ve never accepted money for a thing you didn’t believe in. And I’m really jealous of that.

Chris Gethard’s dad to Chris

Let that sink in for a moment. It is so important that it is worth repeating – “you’ve never accepted money for a thing you didn’t believe in“. I love this quote – I think it is a much more specific, measurable saying than cliches in the likes of ‘follow your passion’ or ‘do what you love’.

Ask yourself bluntly and answer yourself truthfully: can you say that about yourself? Can you declare that about yourself, to the whole world, with pride and without shame? Can you shout at the top of your voice: “Yes, this is who I am?”

It is okay if you cannot. Most people cannot. Some people have never been able to reject money for something they did not fully believe in.

Make sure you are not taking the money and selling a piece of you.

Hack #3. You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do for the STAGE

Why are you here? Why are you on the stage – the stage of stand-up comedy and the stage of life?

Here is advice from two comedians:

You gotta do what you do for the stage. The seats owe you nothing.

Chris Gethard

Brian Regan (comedian) said when the audience is silent and not responding how he would like, he reminds himself he’s on stage for himself. He wants to make himself laugh and have fun, and then he pictures himself in the audience, because at least he seems himself laughing.

James Altucher

This reminds me of what US former president Roosevelt said about “the man in the arena”: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and bloodif he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

And be in the arena for the arena itself. Picture yourself patting yourself on the back for the best blow you’ve given out and feeling proud. Because you are here to grow strong.

And be on the stage for the stage itself. Picture yourself sitting in the audience and laughing. Because you are here to have fun.

To conclude, I leave you with these motivational lyrics from the you-know-which-song:

Buddy, you’re a young man, hard man
Shouting in the street, gonna take on the world someday
You got blood on your face, you big disgrace
Waving your banner all over the place
* * *
We will, we will rock you
We will, we will rock you

Happy Friday everyone – go ROCK & ROLL!

What are some moments that inspired you? Please share with me at fullybookedclub.blog@gmail.com or on LinkedIn.

What motivational music do you listen to? I really like this workout remix of We Will Rock You. Drop me a comment on your favorites or write to me – let’s get the beats rolling!

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A Tale of 3S: Self-Esteem, Selfishness, Sexuality

Ayn Rand’s Three “Hallows” of Life

Ayn Rand, a 20th-century philosopher known for championing Objectivism, proposes three hallows that one must hold “as the supreme and ruling values” of life:

  1. Reason: as the “only tool of knowledge”;
  2. Purpose: as the “choice of happiness” that reason serves;
  3. Self-Esteem: as the “inviolate certainty” that one’s mind is “competent to think” and one’s person is “worthy of happiness”.

Elan Journo summarizes Rand’s definition of self-esteem into two key questions: Am I able? Am I worthy?

Selfishness = What Defines Self-Esteem?

What do selfishness and self-esteem have in common?

Other than they start with the same first 4 letters – this does not count.

Check out this answer given by John Galt, a key character in Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged“:

“The first precondition of self-esteem is that radiant selfishness of soul which…seeks above all else to achieve its own moral perfection, valuing nothing higher than itself.”

For Rand, selfishness is the fundamental prerequisite for self-esteem:

The attack on “selfishness” is an attack on man’s self-esteem; to surrender one, is to surrender the other.

Ayn Rand, “The Virtue of Selfishness”

It is common yet unfortunate for us to measure our self-esteem based on how much esteem (we perceive) others to accord us. Thus, it is ironical that we have dropped the first half of “self-esteem” – the values of the “self” are lost, contrary to what Rand suggests. We measure our self worth based on external factors such as exam scores, salaries, praise from others etc., Yet, the more emphasis on we put on pleasing others, the more vulnerable our self-esteem is to collapsing, and the more difficult it is to break free of the puppet strings of (imaginary) societal pressure that are tightening.

Of course, Ayn Rand’s advocacy of selfishness has been under attack. The word “selfish” itself has negative connotations – when we say someone is selfish, we often mean it as a vice of being insensitive or inconsiderate of others’ needs. Rand acknowledges this:

In popular usage, the word “selfishness” is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.

Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is: concern with one’s own interests. This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.

Ayn Rand, “The Virtue of Selfishness”

Rand goes on to critique altruism & altruistic acts. For one thing, she sees it as contradictory with the rule of “everyone watchout for himself” in the “survival of the fittest” game of evolution:

Since nature does not provide man with an automatic form of survival, since he has to support his life by his own effort, the doctrine that concern with one’s own interests is evil means that man’s desire to live is evil—that man’s life, as such, is evil. No doctrine could be more evil than that.

Ayn Rand, “The Virtue of Selfishness”

In addition, Rand makes a nuanced point that we must pay attention to the “difference between a man who sees his self-interest in production and a man who sees it in robbery”:

The evil of a robber does not lie in the fact that he pursues his own interests, but in what he regards as to his own interest; not in the fact that he pursues his values, but in what he chose to value; not in the fact that he wants to live, but in the fact that he wants to live on a subhuman level.

Ayn Rand, “The Virtue of Selfishness”

To paraphrase, Rand argues that every man has a moral duty to oneself to be “selfish”, i.e., prioritize one’s values and live up to one’s moral code. However, being “selfish” (in Rand’s definition) does not prevent us from forming a value judgment on whether a value system is justified. We could still say that a robber’s selfish pursuit of seizing other’s property by force is morally wrong. However, what is wrong here is the robber’s underlying moral code, not the fact that the robber was going after his code.

For Rand, being relentlessly selfish means relentlessly going after one’s goal, and this desire to act is to be applauded. Going after one’s goal (selfish) is a different ethical question from whether the goal itself is an honorable one. What Rand is really applauding by applauding selfishness is the audacity & perseverance in working hard towards one’s goal – she is not arguing that all goals are equally honorable. Viewed in this light, the word choice of “selfish” could mislead us in understanding Rand’s arguments.

How is Sexuality Tied to Self-Esteem?

A man’s sexual choice is the result and the sum of his fundamental convictions. Tell me what a man finds sexually attractive and I will tell you his entire philosophy of life.

Francisco in Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand

Frank Underwood said (in)famously in the show House of Cards: “Everything is about sex. Except sex. Sex is about power.”

Image result for frank underwood power

Whereas Frank looks outwards at what sex reveals about our relationship with others, Ayn Rand looks inwards at what sex says about our view of ourself. Whereas Frank believes sex is about one’s desire to dominate others, Rand argues – or rather her fictional character argues – that sex is about one’s drive to control & gain self-esteem.

Rand distinguishes between two types of men – those with low vs. high self-esteem. The first group aims to “gain self-esteem from sexual adventures”, which Rand thinks is a futile attempt, “because sex is not the cause, but an effect and an expression of a man’s sense of his own value.” The second group with higher certainty in their self-worth “will want the highest type of woman he can find, the woman he admires, the strongest, the hardest to conquer – because only the possession of a heroine will give him the sense of an achievement ,not the possession of a brainless slut.”

(Man) will always be attracted to the woman who reflects his deepest vision of himself, the woman whose surrender permits him to experience – or to fake – a sense of self-esteem.

Francisco in Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand

To conclude, according to the Rand school of philosophy, self-esteem is defined & rooted in “selfishness” (stay true and devoted to one’s moral code), and manifested & reinforced in sexuality. Together, the 3S form an intricate web and help us answer two questions core to our identity: Am I able? Am I worthy?

“It will be waiting and it is yours”: The Atlantis in Your Eyes

It’s Real. It’s Possible. It’s Yours.

Picture someone with whom you feel understood and connected.
Picture that someone standing behind you, hands on your eyes, saying in “a voice with no sign of emotion except in the spacing of the words”:

Go out to continue your struggle…But in your worst and darkest moments, remember that you have seen another kind of world. Remember that you can reach it wherever you choose to see.

Remember that it will be waiting and that it’s real, it’s possible – it’s YOURS.

– John Galt in “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand

It is real, it is possible, it is yours. This other kind of world. IT is your Atlantis, your Garden of Eden, your mind palace – shaped by and shaping your world view at the same time. It is a sanctuary of your moral code, a witness of what you hold dear, a blueprint of what your future holds.

It is what the world looks like if you were to establish every rule, uphold every principle, enjoy every encounter.

It is who you are, who you want to be, and who you want to be with.

What is a World View?

Dear reader, what is IT for you? What is the world view that propels you through moments of highs and lows?

But before we go there, you must be challenging me: “what does IT even mean, to have a world view?” (Or to put it more bluntly in the words of Rusty Guinn: “In the face of overwhelming complexity and the constant exogenous shock of human stupidity, what does it mean, then, to have a World View?”)

Having a World View means having a center – a core set of philosophies about how the world works, what is objectively true & false, and what actually matters.

More importantly, it means internalizing these philosophies so that they are second nature – and so that they become a natural lens through which we judge the world, and which we can describe succinctly to those who ask.

– Rusty Guinn, “A Man Must Have A Code

But of course!

We have all been there – we view the world through the lens of our moral code, and are let down at times by what we see, and its gap with what we expect.

Meanwhile, we have all been there – encountering a phrase, a scene, a tune, a dialogue, a person…something that reflects and completes us, something that makes us scream in ecstasy: “That is what I have been looking for!” And that alone is enough for us to keep believing in the Atlantis in our eyes.

This blissful feeling was beautifully described in the words of Dagny Taggart:

When she opened her eyes, she saw sunlight, green leaves and a man’s face. She thought: I know what this is. This was the world as she had expected to see it at sixteen – and now she had reached it – and it seemed so simple, so unastonishing, that the thing she felt was like a blessing pronounced upon the universe by means of three words: BUT OF COURSE.

…This was her world, she thought, this was the way men were meant to be and to face their existence – and all the rest of it, all the years of ugliness and struggle were only someone’s senseless joke.

– Description of Dagny Taggart in “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand

But of course IT is real – close your eyes and you will see it, search your mind and you will locate it.

But of course IT is waiting – a gift waiting for you to discover, to unwrap, to hold.

But of course IT is yours, yours fully and yours alone.

The Atlantis in your eyes.

You have seen the Atlantis they were seeking, it is here, it exists – but one must enter it naked and alone, with no rags from the falsehoods of centuries, with the purest clarity of mind – not an innocent heart, but that which is much rarer: an intransigent mind – as one’s only possession and key.

You will not enter it until you learn that you do not need to convince or to conquer the world. When you learn it, you will see that through all the years of your struggle, nothing had barred you from Atlantis and there were no chains to hold you, except the chains you were willing to wear.

– John Galt in “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand