You’re not that smart
Growing up, I had relatively little experience with religion. I went to a Christian elementary school when I lived in Korea, but when my family moved to the US, my interaction with religion ended.
In high school, I read a few philosophy books and thought I was pretty smart. I challenged a Christian friend of mind to explain how you can have free will and an omniscient God. After trying to refute it with logic and failing, she got upset. Of course, I thought I was particularly clever and “disproved” Christianity.
Really, I was just a jackass.
I didn’t learn until I started AWP that illogical or irrational is not the same as wrong.
Escapism is not a life plan
Fast forward a few years later. I had just left the Navy after dropping out of SEAL training and finished reading Tim Ferriss’ book The Four Hour Work Week. I felt lost and aimless and Tim provided a whole vision for the future that was so incredibly compelling, I just went for it. After all, who doesn’t want to have easy money coming in every month from an online business and work remotely from an exotic beach somewhere?
I brainstormed different online business ideas, almost all of which were horrible. I came up with an idea for cat pajamas. Yes, cat pajamas. I was pretty certain people want to buy pajamas for their cats and take pictures of them.
Eventually, I chose to work on a travel product called TrekDek that was a deck of cards with different travel challenges, or “treks,” that you could accomplish while you travel in order to increase the chance of having a serendipitous travel experience. For example, one Trek challenged you to take the local transportation and get off at a random stop. Who knows where you’d end up? Maybe you meet an interesting local who invites you to eat dinner with their family? Or maybe you just end up lost.
I was certainly passionate about it and I still think it’s a good idea, but as time went on I saw very little success, and became demotivated by the whole process. I learned that starting an online business was much more difficult than Tim implied in the book, and that if your sole motivation is to escape the trappings of a “mediocre” cubicle life, you will most likely fail.
[Note: If you run a successful online passive income business, I’d love to know how your life actually changed after you became successful]
Don’t trust anyone under 500
By this time I was working a regular job as a government consultant, which was perfectly fine, but very boring. I once again looked to blogs and the interwebs for advice on how to make my life less meaningless. But 99% of the advice was terrible, especially the lifehacker or lifestyle design blogs written by twenty-somethings who preach that you are a two-week notice and a few productivity hacks away from living the dream life you want.
I realized I was falling into escapist fantasyland again, so I knew I had to try something different. Instead of looking for the newest thing that could change my life, I chose to dive into the most durable and time-tested advice: ancient wisdom.
After finishing eight different 30-day ancient wisdom experiments focused on traditions that are over 500 years old, I have learned a few things that have been far more helpful in my day-to-day life than any life hack I’ve ever tried.
Taking daily ice baths, praying five times per day, adopting minimalist strategies, meditation, hosting Shabbat dinners, and reading philosophical and religious texts have led to the following insights:
- Progress and setbacks are not easily distinguishable.
- Focusing on improving your own happiness, ironically, can make you less happy. Serving others has the reverse effect.
- Subtracting displeasure is far more important than adding pleasure
- Meaning must be cultivated, not sought.
- Doing leads to “believing,” not the other way around.
- Your identity is dependent on your enemies
- Nirvana is not an end goal; it’s now
Now, instead of constantly dreaming about the day I win the online business lottery, I take things in stride, try to focus on less on myself and my ego, and ignore most lifestyle design advice. I also ended up leaving my job to become an independent consultant in the same field by implementing ancient Taoist principles. Now I make more money and have more freedom. If I had only been focusing on the lifestyle design advice, I wouldn’t have been able to seize the opportunity to leave that job. It was unplanned and fortuitous.
My goal in sharing this with you is not to show how unique I am, but rather, how common some of my experiences are and how you can use ancient wisdom to improve your life.
I love to hear from readers so feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and while you’re at it, sign up for my mailing list so you can have ancient wisdom sent directly to your inbox.