I made a startling discovery recently: all that video-game playing from age 8 to age 26 seems to have resulted in some permanent gains.
A few years ago, I basically swore games off. But similar to how meditation makes a person more resilient against all of life's absurdities, and how team sports instils a sense of how to cooperate and compete, it seems like the people that sought to master complex games from our generation are now able to take and build on them. The people who were mastery-oriented in playing a myriad of games seem to grasp a whole set of concepts faster and easier that are directly applicable to success today.
I had a phone call a few hours ago with one of the volunteers helping to make the GiveGetWin Tour 2015 a big success. He's already helped line up two of the dates between the coastal cities as we transit across America and I wanted to go beyond talking about Tour logistics and also make time to help him reach his goals.
His questions were a set of questions I get often: if I want to be able to work on interesting projects, with interesting people, and lots of freedom, how do I do it? How did you do it?
I could have, and eventually will, run him through the mechanics of getting to know people, how they come to trust you, how deals get struck and work gets done.
But on this call, I felt a need to emphasize some more fundamental points. His goals are good but broad: be able to make enough to support himself while traveling; he wants freedom.
My advice sums up to this:
First, figure out what you want.
Second, figure what you need to do that.
There's a lot more options and different timeframes of possibilities if you want to earn $500 per month or if you want to earn $5,000 per month. There's different possibilities if you want to make earned income where the transaction ends when you've completed the work, as opposed to the value in often-smaller transactions with established businesses that know and expect repeat purchasing.
Likewise, if you were just laid off and need income within two weeks or you're in trouble, you have very different options than if you're graduating in two years. In the latter case, you might engage in some actions that will be very smart to do but won't pay off until many months from now, or engage in a course of skill development that will take time to be worthwhile, or begin to form relationships with people that are not at all potential current buyers in the current form of their business or life.
So I encouraged this talented gentleman to really nail down what he wants, and then to figure out what he needs to do that. This is not original advice; many people have said it before me. But it is valid advice.
After that, I recommended strong expense control and getting a good credit scoring going, the former being advice I give everyone young, and the latter being advice I give everyone who is an American.
And yet, you know, this stuff isn't fun or sexy.
Sales and high-stakes negotiation seems, on the surface, to be very fun and sexy. I'll tell you, well, this is only sort-of true. Sales and negotiations might seem sexy from a far distance, but like anything else, as you get deep into the work, it just eventually becomes another set of moving pieces to navigate. There can be exciting moments and glory and you're certainly doing something important when you're working on sensitive and important things with other people -- but really, it comes down to being organized, thinking things through clearly, and do the right things at the right times.
Meanwhile, expense control and managing one's credit score often seem more trite and mundane, not fun, not sexy.
Now... perhaps I'm odd or something, but I actually find a lot of joy in managing the mechanics of things like a credit score, and I enjoy the times that I go rather deep into things like expenses and related details.
But let's say it's not naturally fun for you; fair enough; let's go a step further and say you're feeling stuck and suffering and aggravated that you even have to deal with this.
This is, by the way, a really common sentiment among the young ambitious people I know. They get aggravated at all the details that are coming at them that aren't the fun, sexy, amazing, gigantic stuff they want to work on.
And this is where I'd like to point you towards a video game that gave me a nice mental model, the game Final Fantasy Tactics for the original Sony Playstation.
Tactics is a tactical role-playing game. You start off controlling one character, and eventually wind up leading a small army.
The strength of your army is more-or-less the strength of the individual soldiers in it; you're able to choose different mixes of squadrons to employ in battles. For instance, during a raid, you'll be able to send one team onto the rooftops to neutralize the enemy castle's archers, and two teams to storm the main gate after that's done.
Here is where Tactics shines: your characters level up like a normal role-playing game, but they level up very specifically based on their "job."
"Archer" is a job, so is "Priest," so is "Knight," and so on.
As you get more experienced, you get abilities and attributes corresponding to your job. So Knights get stronger and get knightly abilities, Archers get more dextrous and get archery abilities, and so on.
Many of the better jobs in the game require prerequisites: you have to be a Squire before you can be a Knight.
Some lessons -- attributes, skills -- can only be learned in the lower-ranked jobs.
There's lessons you can only easily learn as a Squire.
I think life is like that, too.
It's no fun at all to be broke. That is completely and totally true. However, there are lessons and skills that are easy and necessary to learn when you have no money.
Railing against this is most likely a mistake, but it's a common mistake.
It's understandable, of course. If you're young and aggravated at being broke, it's hard to know what comes next. If you knew that three years hence you'd be doing very well for yourself, you'd probably calm down, learn what you can, and enjoy the process.
In fact, you'd get through the whole being broke stage faster if you do that.
But it's understandable why people don't do that.
Frankly, I like ambitious people. There's a predictable set of flaws that ambitious people frequently have, and I accept most those, even though they can at times cause friction.
So it doesn't bother me if someone young and ambitious that I know is chafing at their current position in the world and refusing to learn the Squire's Lessons from it. So be it. Controlling expenses? Bah, who wants to do that?
It would bear mentioning briefly what happens if you don't learn them, though: you've then got the awful position of needing to go through life without that skill, or needing to potentially go backwards when things are a lot more complex and highly leveraged.
I would firmly encourage you to look at your current situation as an excellent training, especially the most aggravating areas of it. John Rockefeller obviously took a lot from his time as a bookkeeper and clerk; Meyer Rothschild obviously took a lot from learnings about doing low-level money-changing in small amounts. Would Rockefeller have built Standard Oil if he'd been chafing at his time as a clerk and refusing to learn about shipping schedules, insurance, and the details of books and numbers? Would Rothschild have built the foundation of the modern international banking system if he hadn't mastered the state of changing the small coins of the fragmented European principalities?
I suppose it's probably seems preferable to be a Knight than to be a Squire, but rushing into "knighthood" only to be slain on the battlefield seems an error. Meanwhile, the diligent Squire who learns to polish and maintain armor and weapons, knows horsemanship and animal husbandry, knows about acquiring food and provisions, and treating wounds...
The castle is made of rocks? Maybe so. And Squire's Lessons seem well-worth learning.
I contend thusly:
"General Orders for Sentries" is one of the finest written processes of all-time.
You can read the orders here, if you like, for the various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces --
On the surface, it's a pretty simple thing, being a sentry. "Watch this area. Tell us if anything odd happens."
The Patterns That Emerge From History
There's often quick and immediate lessons in studying a narrow part of history relevant to your field. If you're the portfolio manager of a mutual fund, you should of course know the recent history of the various asset classes. If you're a Naval Admiral, you should of course know at least the history of naval warfare down cold. If you're a hostage negotiator, you should study a variety of hostage negotiation situations and how they played out.
This is all pretty obvious stuff. And indeed, most high-level practitioners study the recent history of their field at the very least.
It takes a bit more effort to explain why you should study the history of your country and how it emerged... but it doesn't take that much energy. Understanding the American Civil War, for Americans, has some obvious value. It still effects the modern day.
This still not a very hard sell. Most people learn something about how their country came to be where it is.
EDIT: I've got enough early reviewers, thanks!
I'm 50,000 words in, but I suspect I'll need to cut/re-write about half of them in addition to writing another 20k or 30k to get the core stuff complete. Whoever signs up for this, you're signing up for going through some very rough stuff.
Why do it? You'll get max-honest writing (I tend to remove things that could be misconstrued or arguments that the emotional impact would outstrip the benefits to thinking for final versions; you'd get to see the raw stuff), you'll be able to shape a work that thousands of people are going to read, and we'll be in touch to swap ideas/thoughts.
I don't need any proofreading or grammar yet -- the questions are very high level / structural / what's clear and what isn't / what's persuasive and what isn't. So it's not painstaking editing so much as noting when things are clear and when they're not.
Email is: sebastian at sebastianmarshall.com
Briefly, some updates:
*I've got some bonuses and downloads for Gateless, some really good ones coming. The book is getting great reviews -- if you miss the blog here and haven't gotten your copy yet, go get it.
*My next book, aiming for Q2 or Q3 2015, has "crossed the threshold" where it's definitely going to happen. I'm going to engage in a little less conversation and a little more action as a general rule, but my writing practice goes well and the quality goes up. I'll be more publicly involved sooner or later; for now, I'm enjoying my intense private work cycles and quality improvements.
*Thanks for all the well-wishes, emails, and the positive reviews/feedback of Gateless. Love you guys.
Ok, without further ado --
Happy Black Friday.
Gateless is up on Amazon right now.
If you're normally not doing the consumer-thing on Black Friday, maybe go get yourself a copy to celebrate.
Feedback and questions are of course welcome. Happy holidays.
Dashed off a quick piece about learning history at LessWrong --
Crossing the History-Lessons Threshold
Comments/questions welcome there or here.
Brief update: I'm working on longer-form writing that's more focused and deep. I've finished around a dozen pieces but haven't struck the tone I want yet. I don't know when the next iteration will come, but it's going to be terrific.
I've gotten lots of inquiries as to how I'm doing -- very well, thank you. Well, that's not 100% true. It's a difficult metamorphosis. Some days, things go exceedingly well. Others, it's frustrating. I'm studying technical materials and looking to seriously improve. There's been some results that are remarkable to me, but other days it's really tough.
My average time for writing a moderate-length piece used to be maybe 30 minutes, plus or minus 20. Now I'm up around 7 hours, plus or minus three. Lots of outlining beforehand, carefully citing facts and sources, footnoting, getting deeper points, and then editing afterwards.
Sometimes it's tough, because I'm putting a lot of work in, but I'm losing that natural free-flowing tone that I was able to strike when just writing.
The potential if I can nail this style is A+ work. But right now, I'm doing C- execution at that A+ style. The building blocks are all there, but it's slightly wooden and tough still. I think some of the core readers here will really love it, but the general public won't dig it. The stuff I'm writing is coming in at the 2500 to 7000 word range per piece, but doesn't quite move fast enough. Deep-thinking-love-to-critically-analyze people will dig it, but I can do better. I want to get that musical sense, that really grand and enjoyable tone.
A few notes --
1. Kai and I co-authored a book a while back. It’s basically done. I still keep wanting to do tweaks and edits, but I’ve got to send this baby off into the world. We’ve had some great early reviewers of which I’m grateful. Now, if you'd like to be involved, here's a good opportunity --
We’d like to have 15 small samples of the book get sent to people when they sign up via email.
I’ve been trying to do this, but I’m too close to the work — I can’t tell which samples/excerpts would be most interesting and relevant to people, in the right order.
So, if you’re interested, you get an advance copy, you read it, you get any questions answered you want, you pick out 15 sections that you think are relevant, you format them into Mailchimp. Pay is $100 for it.