"I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead."
That quote captures an essence of writing. In a shorter piece, every word does more work. There's nowhere for junk to hide. You can't cover up or caveat-away bad points.
Rambling is easier than succinctness. If you ramble on for long enough, eventually people get your drift.
But you waste people's time.
Wait. Maybe not. Let's think this through.
I just got an email from a reader. It's a variety I get a lot. It goes like this:
"I'm doing X-practical-thing, but I'm passionate about Y. I don't like that X takes up so much of my time. But... it's practical. WTF?"
It could be "college," but it could also be a stable salaried job or whatever. Actually, this particular email wasn't about college, it was about a really well compensated salaried job that wasn't the person's passion.
Mike Radivis just asked asked some good questions on "Chase Meaning, Not Happiness" -
How do you measure meaning if not in terms of happiness? Aren't things that create more happiness for a longer time for a larger number of individuals better than those things who lack those qualities but are proclaimed to be personal achievements anyway? Does the scope of happiness make happiness meaningful to you or not? What are achievements good for if they aren't good at facilitating happiness? Imagine you wouldn't experience any pleasant or unpleasant emotions and would have to decide rationally what to pursue (assuming that is possible at all). Then what you want to do with your life? (Another way to formulate this question maybe would be to ask what's your grand strategy in that situation.)
I'm quite interested in your answers. I like that your blog posts are so outspoken. It's just that the message of this post is hard for me to grasp, as I'm pretty much utilitarian in my thinking.
Good questions. I'll go through it line by line.
How do you measure meaning if not in terms of happiness?
I've set "clear email out" as a daily to-do objective every day for the last week, but haven't been able to do it. I'll spend a few hours answering and cutting down, and get even more while I'm doing it. The last few days, I've spent a lot of time with it and still wound up with more at the end of the day than when I started.
Some points to note:
1. I apologize if I miss something time sensitive. If it's short term important, please mark "URGENT" in the subject line. Normally you don't need to do that with me and I answer most of my email quickly, but I'm swamped. Mark urgent and don't feel bad about doing so if it's short term expiring.
2. If I haven't replied, it's not because I hate you.
3. If I'm terse, it also doesn't mean I hate you.
Question from a reader -
I'm reading The Book of Five Rings, and I have a question.
There's a lot of good stuff about acting decisively and immediately so that you can win while your opponent is hesitating, but I don't get why he emphasizes swords so much in particular.
Masters of the long sword are traditionally known as heihosha [strategists]. As for the other military arts, those who master the bow are called archers, those who master the spear are called spearmen, those who master the gun are called marksmen, and those who master the halberd are called halberdiers. But we do not call masters of the long sword "long swordsmen", nor do we speak of "short swordsmen". Bows, guns, spears and halberds are all tools of the warriors and each should be a way to master strategy.
33 year old man. Built a net worth of $2 million doing a variety of entrepreneurship, but a major asset he owned with leverage completely exploded in a crazy and unpredictable way. He's now got $500,000.
31 year old man. Had just decided to enter the stock market, and bought at a low. Doubled his portfolio from $250,000 to $500,000.
The first guy is at a similar place, if not a better one. He's been there before. The skillset of building businesses is usually more predictable than getting a huge stock market windfall.
But man #1 is probably feeling neurotic and upset and on edge.
Man #2 is feeling fantastic.
Every business has unique and interesting things happening around them.
Many of them neglect to tell that story.
I just read this excellent story by Jay Abraham, author of "Getting Everything You Can Out of All You've Got," on how Schlitz beer came to #1 in the United States -
Years ago Schlitz Beer boosted themselves from #9 in the market to #1 in six months through a simple process. Back then, everybody and their brother was a commodity. They were all saying, "Our beer is good because it is pure." And there was nothing distinctive about that.
Arbitrage and speculation get a bad rap sometimes, but they're incredibly useful.
I'm leaving Ulaanbaatar shortly and I'll be heading to Japan. I went to stock up on some basic supplies - personable consumables and work stuff.
Strikingly, paper is really expensive here for Western-grade, Western-style paper. The local shops literally don't carry it. Instead, they have this checkered sort of paper. It's like graph paper, but with thick black lines. I prefer black ink, and after trying out one of those notebooks, I couldn't read what I'd written.
I tried some of the upscale department stores (Sky Department Store, State Department Store) and there's literally no Western-style, 60 sheet lined notebooks in the $1 to $2 range like you'd see in the USA. They have high end notebooks for $6 to $12, and they have these thin flimsy 20-page booklet-type things for around $1. I settled for the booklet.
Now, if there was the demand to make it worth it, someone importing Western style paper from China at 20 cents a notebook and selling it here for $2 per notebook would be creating a lot of value. If this presented a large enough opportunity, eventually you'd see the margins go down towards cost, as happens in almost all industries.
My awareness is getting better. Last night, I'd been working in a restaurant near Sukhabatar Square until it closed at midnight. Walking home, I was about to pass through a group of three guys when suddenly this flash of danger kicked in. WarningWarningWarning!!!
I stopped, turned on my heel, and walked in a broad circle around them. One of the guys looked at me. I looked back briefly, but then kept moving.
I'm keeping an eye on these guys because they're kind of sort of in my way in the direction I'm going. I can circle around because I'm at the broad part of the walkway past Sukhabar, so there's two paths. But they're still near me.
As I'm watching, a random passerby walks through the three tough dudes. One of them grabs the passerby by the arm, and starts to try totally hold him. The passerby yells, shouts, shoves, pushes, shakes, and is able to get away and run off towards the night.
My awareness is getting better.