From Moral Letters to Lucilius/Letter 59:

“The wise man is joyful, happy and calm, unshaken, he lives on a plane with the gods.  Now go, question yourself; if you are never downcast, if your mind is not harassed by my apprehension, through anticipation of what is to come, if day and night your soul keeps on its even and unswerving course, upright and content with itself, then you have attained to the greatest good that mortals can possess.  If, however, you seek pleasures of all kinds in all directions, you must know that you are as far short of wisdom as you are short of joy.  Joy is the goal which you desire to reach, but you are wandering from the path, if you expect to reach your goal while you are in the midst of riches and official titles, – in other words, if you seek joy in the midst of cares, these objects for which you strive so eagerly, as if they would give you happiness and pleasure, are merely causes of grief.”

Cape Fear

When it comes to self examination for almost all aspects of life, there are those we can take head on, and those that constantly are put off till tomorrow.

The ironic thing for me in particular, is that in my head I constantly think about the changes I have made. Lifestyle, diet, alcohol, caffeine, meat, dairy all have been either altered or removed from my life. And due to this, there has been one area of my life that I deemed almost immune from being adjusted or ejected.

Self medicating, for all intensive purposes, has always been an escape for me. It started as a way to change the mindset or thought process I was currently in. Then it modulated to the goto when dealing with stress, or the only thing I could lean on to assist me falling asleep.

Soon the lens in which I viewed smoking changed again, as it was the last piece of lifestyle that I could hold on to. I felt I had no choice in the other changes, but this was still fine to be left alone from criticism and reversal.

No one told me to go vegan, no one said stop drinking, stop using caffeine. I made these choices because I felt they were in the best interest of my health. But Mary Jane’s flowers were somehow not a problem worth addressing. So what is the cause of continued avoidance to address this?

Fear. Fear of being sober. Fear of giving up something that I “think” I need. Fear that I wont beas happy without it. Fear that once I give up this crutch I have nothing to fall back on as an excuse. Why I didn’t start that business, why I didn’t go out with friends, why I didn’t have the courage to go talk to the girl who caught my eye.

Beneath every addiction is an underlying story of the true issue at hand. Its time that I found out what is really causing this dependance and change my relationship with smoking.

Inspiration or Innovation

Time is a teacher. With age, fundamental shifts in my perspective have emerged that I neither anticipate nor ask for and that, ultimately, highlight how little I know about much of anything. Examples abound, but one such shift took place while viewing a 2005 Bezos recording about “taking on the challenge” of entrepreneurship.

We’re hopefully in agreement that Bezos is one of the greatest businesspeople in recent memory and, even in February 2005 — when Amazon was priced at roughly $35 (you do the math) — it’s apparent that he excels at something so common among the brilliant: namely, making complex ideas accesible to the layman.

His resonating point concerns how people approach the generation of new ideas. To many, myself included, the easiest way to frame or define idea generation is by attributing a new thought or concept to inspiration — the proverbial “light bulb” going off. We all have ideas, and chalking this up to some random inspiration multiplier that functions slightly differently from one person to the next makes it easier to rationalize that some will inevitably have better ideas than others.

Bezos describes this as people seeing a problem that annoys them, which then motivates them to find a solution; inspiration strikes to offer solutions to the annoyance. For as long as humans have been conscious enough to be annoyed, these moments of inspiration have spawned the creation of tools, technology, art, acts of charity, WD-40 and so on. But far more frequently, inspiration yields little more than a moment of self-congratulation and a passing “I should write that down” which we quickly forget once we’re confronted with the menu at Starbucks.

How Bezos continues is what struck me:

Sometimes you can work this from the backwards direction and, in fact, in high-tech I think a lot of the innovation sometimes comes from this direction. You see a new technology or there’s something out there, some new understanding in the world, and you work backwards from a solution to find the appropriate problem.

The process that Bezos identifies is the opposite of inspiration. He points to the conscientious and active channeling of brainpower to identify an annoyance before it strikes — in my mind, innovation. Where inspiration is fleeting and self-indulgent, innovation is pointed and educated. Understanding a market takes time, particularly from the outside looking in. To further bet on this market by inventing and investing in solutions to problems or annoyances that have not yet emerged: that’s vision, that’s insight, that’s innovation.

It takes but a few moments to connect the dots between recently notable founders and markets they upended through conscious and calculated innovation. Daniel wasn’t a record producer, Brian didn’t run hotels, the Jennifers weren’t dry cleaner franchisees. In each case, the market silently screamed for attention and they tuned in to the frequency before anybody else cared to actively listen.

Why so personally pivotal? Because it’s easiest to explain the success of our innovators by attributing it to a moment of inspiration that the divine weren’t kind enough to impart upon us personally. It acts as both an excuse — “well, the idea didn’t come to me” — and an exemption — “…so I didn’t do the work”. A naive avoidance of giving credit where credit is clearly due which also serves as a method for conveniently excluding ourselves from the ranks of the exceptional.

As a person who closely guards the idea journaling habit, this perspective gave me pause. The “billion dollar partnerships” formed over a few pints, the woodshed inventors that tinker for a lifetime, the silent genius that keeps her ideas hidden from the world are legion. While I doubt it was his intention, in just a few sentences Bezos sent a chilling message: maybe the majority of our most successful doers find themselves there because it was their exact intention. The partners wrote the business plan, the invention left the woodshed, the silent genius chose not to keep silent.

Waiting for the mythical “right idea” is just that, a myth. An individual with an authentic passion to change the way we humans interact with our world, despite best intentions, may wait on inspiration for a lifetime. But the hard-won progress of innovation, that’s available to us whenever we’re ready to hunker down and do the work.

Habits Not Goals

Gentlemen of no leisure,

As I sit here reflecting on 2016 and looking forward to my intentions in the new year, many thoughts pop in and out. We have all ran the gamut of health issues, work obstacles, and personal struggles (often if not always self inflicted) that are one of the many running ties that connect us. Our paths have crossed for a multitude of reasons, but in our current standing, DMR is not only a sounding board with no judgement, but a source of pride. In everything I have dealt with, or listened to, our Stoic Xanadu has provided a platform for discussion. My gratitude for this, and both of your insight, cannot be easily measured. It can, however, be felt and seen in the way we live our lives. To that extent with the first month of 2017 nearly at completion, here is where I stand on tackling the new year.

What should I stop doing?

Using (insert excuse here) as a crutch to not move forward and evolve. Be it fear, marijuana, health I constantly find reasons to avoid the things I need to do most. There have been good reasons for me to use these excuses. Ulcerative Colitis is at its worst so I cant go out and meet new people. My stomach feels off so its fine to just smoke and stay in tonight. While these may not seem like a big deal at a glance, over time they have pushed me into semi hermit-hood and has castrated many opportunities to grow. Whether meeting peers, finding a mentor, a girlfriend, a business partner, just saying “why not” and going can lead to amazing experiences and connections. With the health issue and reliance on weed, I know that I have missed out on these types of experiences. Last year went by in a blur. This month is basically over. Now is all we have and I need to be living fully vested in that moment. The life I want to create for myself will not be found through Postmates and Netflix, TRUST ME, I have the data to make that hypothesis a theory.

What should I continue doing?

Keeping a positive outlook and attitude throughout all situations. One of the biggest skills that I have refined from our work is keeping a positive outlook on life. The great irony in our group is that we all look at each other as goals we would like to have. Dan you have a wonderful family, and are a true entrepreneur. Rory you are rising fast in an amazing company, and are moving towards adding a lil Gallagher into the mix. I have the freedom to do whatever I want, the world is my oyster.

But in reality Dan may need to split the business, Rory is entering an unknown world with unknown outcomes, and I have the stomach to travel to Whole Foods and back. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but it is usually greener wherever you water it. I love that we each can view the exterior socially acceptable lives, as well as the nitty gritty real shit..WITHOUT JUDGEMENT. #VeryRare.

Knowing these truths, combined with the maelstrom of reality that is 2016-2017, I have been able (all be it with small swings up and down) to keep a smile on my face, and keep carving my way in the world.

What should I start doing?

Habits not goals. One of the many nuggets mined from our conversations, this one recently stuck out. I am constantly judging myself on where I stand, why have I not done something, and how far away from my goals I am. When you view things through this lens, it becomes a massive undertaking to even get out of bed and try. But DMR is about defaulting to action. Scared to get back into the blog because you haven’t done it in so long you think your time for success has passed; log in. Don’t like where your workout habits have been, but are too tired from the day to think; put on the sneakers and go. Tired of being lonely, but the thought of a Friday night in sounds like the easy way out, take a shower and put on your most obnoxious Ed Hardy shirt from a decade ago. WE GOING CLUBBING BABY.

My focus in the new year is to establish good habits. They will all tie into my goals, but the focus is on consistently sticking to habits that will create success. First habit hit with only a day left to go, but monthly posts in this bad boy are just the start.

-Matt

 

Bottled Up

So to kick off my first post of the year, I wanted to share this with you guys. There is a group called The Narrators that I have been following for about a year or so. By their own definition, The Narrators are an organization dedicated to promoting the art of true storytelling and providing community access to storytelling events. My friend put me on to them, and was pushing me to do a story. I decided to get out of my comfort zone maybe 8 months or so ago, and do one. The theme for the month was bottled up, and for whatever reason, it reminded me of my bottled up emotions from not being able to cry at my Grandfathers funeral. Below is the piece I wrote from that experience.

I stand there, surrounded by loved ones draped in obsidian garments. The crisp New York air cut through everyone but me. Shivers, tears, and unequivocal sadness abounded. But I felt nothing. As prayers were said and religious texts quoted, I saw the agony engulfing my mother and grandmother into deeper depths of sorrow. I stood there nothing more than a manikin enveloped in flesh. I couldn’t fucking cry. I wanted to cry, and I was pushing myself to.

I tried channeling my most loathed childhood recollections: breaking my arm slipping in the mud in front of my entire gym class, my failed fully vetted business plan to my parents as to why I deserved a boa constrictor as a pet, friends rounding bases with their girlfriends / as I / rounded the corner to the cash register buy more Pokémon cards / all were failed efforts.

Not a single tear made its way to my rosen chubby cheeks. I stared into the ground hoping no one could see the fraud I was. Loving grandson, apple of his eye…these thoughts were hard to fathom if his passing moved me no closer to the misery I could tangibly feel from my family.

This was baffling to me. I felt I was a sensitive and open person, NO I knew I was. With the wealth of knowledge, perception, and emotional wisdom acquired by a 15-year-old boy in a small Northern California town, surely I had the answers.

But there I stood emotionless. I knew it was not a lack of love or compassion. I truly loved my Grandfather. My middle name was in honor of his first. There were too many stories of his adventures, and our experiences for his passing to affect me this way. My eyes closed with fervor, desperately grasping at straws of memories to evoke heartbreak.

I jumped back to the reminiscence of Grandpa Chip and I’s most beloved pastime. It was a day like any other in the legendary town of Sun City West Arizona.

Truly the West Coast Boca Raton for elderly Jews / what it lacked in humidity / it made up for in dry heat.

With a dwindling AC unit and an adolescent boredom unmatched in its time, there was only one course of action.

“Lets go to the pool Matt”, he uttered under his pot-roast and potato latke laden breath. We were having left overs from last night and my Grandmother lovingly walks up, states “Matthew when are you going to lose some weight” and then proceeds to drop a veritable clash of titans between meat and starch somehow contained to a porcelain plate.

By the way just so everyone is aware, as my Grandma started to slowly lose her mind she would ask me only 3 things: A Holy Trinity of Jewish Guilt if you will

  1. How are you doing in School?
  1. When are you going to find a girlfriend?
  1. When are you going to lose some weight?

Nothing can break the anxiety of body issues quite like the guilt of a Jewish Grandmother. “Lets go Grandpa Chip” I exclaim, and we were off at the pace of retirement home speed limits, as the orthopedic shoe hit the gas pedal.

We had traversed the desert and made our way to the oasis in the senior center. Entering the locker room there was a dust and dampness only found in hospitals or retirement homes. I used to hate it, but now found comfort in the musk.

Chip loved to swim. I never asked why. Maybe it was to ease his joints, but I thought it was just something we always did together. We changed into our swim trunks, made our way to the edge of the grainy concrete, and dipped our toes in…

My eyes broadened and I came crashing back to brown and green ryegrass below my black dress shoes. The bereavement still abounded, so I shut them once again to dive into even deeper chasms of my minds eye.

My consciousness is blurry, but the feeling is somehow tangible. Sitting on my Grandpa’s lap he is thumbing through a book as I place fingerprints on his military medallions. He was a cartographer in World War 2. The honor and admiration I felt for him at the time was comparable only to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I don’t know what his exploits were in the military, but he was a hero. I knew that…

My eyes open slowly as I am once again jettisoned back to reality. This has to be the one that will get the tear ducts pumping. If not now when??

When came and went as the service concludes, and we made our pilgrimage back to the car. The camel colored dirt powders our shoes, passing by graves gilded with kaleidoscopic flower bouquets to draw attention away from the bitter despair adorned by everyone but me.

In the car my uncle is fidgeting with the radio, complaining about the signal, and opining on past days of glory for the New York Mets. My mother and aunt seem to come to terms with the situation as each minute passes. My grandmother is shattered, the love of her life is gone, and now with daughters on each coast the deluge of utter loneliness begins to drown her.

I sit staring out the window analyzing the details of the suburbs. Cracked concrete waiting to be walked on in scorching sun adorned with Italian ice in hand. Brownstone apartments brush shoulders with Victorian homes like passerby’s inching their way through a subway stop. Cobblestone footpaths leading to porches that scream Americana, but denote the delusion they represent. There are so many things to ponder on. None more than why I couldn’t cry at my Grandfathers funeral. 

Success = failure

If we have a true authentic purpose, and remove ego from the equation, is there any difference between success and failure? Can we not be ambivalent about making the money, getting the recognition, securing the legacy if we are in the pursuit of something real?

Endeavoring to make the world a safer, friendlier, more sustainable place presents us with an interesting goal: the goal of impact. The goal to motivate and act as a catalyst for some kind of change. If we fail in this endeavor, the loss is not money / recognition / legacy…it’s a of loss impact. The change doesn’t happen.

But if we were truthful in our pursuit, in our purpose, then failure is a hiccup. Similarly, unless we plan to bask in our greatness, success offers a comparably brief respite.

There’s really no time to dive in failure’s pools of sorrow or to linger in the throne of praise presented by success. Unless the plan is to be consumed by our ego and to preserve the narrative structure of our success story (“I’m a genius”) or failure story (“I’m an idiot”), it’s right back to purpose. Right back to the authentic cause that keeps our spirits roiling and our eyes from shutting at night.

It’s worth considering if there’s any difference at all between success and failure if our plan and purpose is clear. Either sequence of events seems capable of expediting our demise if ego takes control.

Hopes and Reality

After reading Ryan Holiday’s powerful books The Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy, my interest in Stoic philosophy is at an all-time high.  Sometimes a quote enters your world at the perfect time, and last night I came across this beauty by Archilochos.

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”

How true, and what a freeing concept.  We can dream about success and achievement all we want, but the reality is – action is the only thing that gets us there.  In my business, I’m leading a group of young sales professionals who are building customer bases – but just as important – they are building themselves.

Visions of opening up new accounts, landing large Purchase Orders and breaking sales records are a daily occurrence in our office, but the only thing that will get us there is taking a hard look at ourselves as professionals, improving our abilities and then executing with those skills.

My takeaway – anytime we think or write or plan about our expectations, immediately look to what needs to happen from a training/self-development stand point and get busy in that department.

Do we really need more “support”?

Stretching without support

One of the fundamental equations of our self-narrative is: If I only had more support, I could accomplish even more.

Part of this is true. With more education, a stronger foundation, better cultural expectations, each of us is likely to contribute even more, to level up, to make a difference.

The part that’s not true: “If only.”

It turns out that every day, some people shatter our expectations. They build more than they have any right to, show up despite a lack of lucky breaks or a cheering section. Every day, some people stretch further.

You might not be able to do much about the support, but you can definitely do something about the stretching. It’s under your control, not someone else’s.

And practicing helps.

Dangerous Billionaires Read…

Picking a new book for DMR often feels like a Sophie’s Choice of sorts. We’re overcome with joy to jump into something new, and consumed by sorrow that we can’t read everything.

…So it comes as no surprise that our reading wish-lists have ballooned to grotesque lengths. To add insult to injury, we consistently discover reading lists of other mentors / achievers / thinkers that we feel inclined to attach to our own.

One such list was recently published which collects all of Marc Andreessen’s tweet-endorsed reads. We’re big fans of his colleague Ben Horowitz’s Hard Part About Hard Things — turns out so is Marc — but otherwise this list is fresh territory for the DMR crew.

Topics span business, politics, history, finance, art, fiction, and more.  Happy reading.

Andreessen’s Favorite Books

Hustle Con 2016 – Takeaways

HustleCon2016

Hustle Con is the anti TechCrunch Disrupt.  It’s not about crushing code in a dark room while you slurp down cup-0-noodles.  (Okay, maybe there are cup-o-noodles involved.)  Instead, it’s a conference designed for non-technical founders that are striving to build physical world businesses.  These are hungry entrepreneurs in the worlds of fashion, food, furniture, and beyond…all coming together in a 1-day sprint to learn from the best.  And go figure, there are actually a few entrepreneurs who built / are building massively successful business without using Sublime Text.

You can check out the full guest list for Hustle Con 2016 here, or just dive right into the recordings on their YouTube page.  In the meantime, here are my notes and three key takeaways that have kept me up for the last few weeks:

(1)

You are the guardians of simplicity in your organization.

David Bladow, BloomThat

Successful entrepreneurs build their businesses around one core idea, only expanding once they’ve validated a simple concept that appeals to an identifiable market.  New ventures can so easily spin out of control as founders attempt to pack on new products, designs, pitches, etc…but scaleability cannot be reached through complication.  If you think focus is challenging as a small company, the conditions only get more worse as you grow.

(2)

The evolution of mankind, starting with pants.

Andy Dunn, Bonobos

Even if your soon-to-be unicorn company is still an organization of one, have a mission.  A one sentence, no frills statement that characterizes your business and all it hopes to accomplish, that explains the “why”.  This is important not just for you, not just for maintaining focus (see takeaway 1), but also for attracting purpose-driven people as you scale.  For an entrepreneur, not having a sense of mission is crippling.  For a team, it’s fatal.

(3)

We set out because we believed in something…there’s no fear, nothing to lose when you’re passionate about something.

Andy Puddicombe, Headspace

Authenticity is a secret weapon of all successful entrepreneurs.  While it’s intoxicating to believe that a great idea can sustain you through the inevitable trials of an entrepreneurial venture, it’s a falsehood.  Without an authentic purpose, without a true meaning and momentum behind your venture, you’ll find that you’re faking it, that you’re operating without real passion.  And without passion, no success can there be.  Yoda said that, right?

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