This passage from the beginning of Conrad's Heart of Darkness struck me. This passage happens on the Thames river - and at the height of the British Empire. Keep that in mind for context, the swamp rivered to as the very end of the world is the Thames -
His remark did not seem at all surprising. It was just like Marlow. It was accepted in silence. No one took the trouble to grunt even; and presently he said, very slow--"I was thinking of very old times, when the Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago--the other day . . . . Light came out of this river since--you say Knights? Yes; but it is like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in the flicker--may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday. Imagine the feelings of a commander of a fine--what d'ye call 'em?--trireme in the Mediterranean, ordered suddenly to the north; run overland across the Gauls in a hurry; put in charge of one of these craft the legionaries--a wonderful lot of handy men they must have been, too--used to build, apparently by the hundred, in a month or two, if we may believe what we read. Imagine him here--the very end of the world, a sea the colour of lead, a sky the colour of smoke, a kind of ship about as rigid as a concertina--and going up this river with stores, or orders, or what you like. Sand-banks, marshes, forests, savages,--precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink. No Falernian wine here, no going ashore. Here and there a military camp lost in a wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay--cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death--death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush. They must have been dying like flies here. Oh, yes--he did it. Did it very well, too, no doubt, and without thinking much about it either, except afterwards to brag of what he had gone through in his time, perhaps. They were men enough to face the darkness. And perhaps he was cheered by keeping his eye on a chance of promotion to the fleet at Ravenna by and by, if he had good friends in Rome and survived the awful climate. Or think of a decent young citizen in a toga--perhaps too much dice, you know--coming out here in the train of some prefect, or tax-gatherer, or trader even, to mend his fortunes. Land in a swamp, march through the woods, and in some inland post feel the savagery, the utter savagery, had closed round him--all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men. There's no initiation either into such mysteries. He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. And it has a fascination, too, that goes to work upon him. The fascination of the abomination--you know, imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate." He paused. "Mind," he began again, lifting one arm from the elbow, the palm of the hand outwards, so that, with his legs folded before him, he had the pose of a Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a lotus-flower--"Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency--the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force--nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind--as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea--something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. . . ."
Amazing how things change, eh? You read about the Roman legions and various officials in Britannia, and it's very possible to wonder what the heck they felt like when they were there. You could interpret it all sorts of ways, but it's fascinating to think that the "end of the world" - Britannia - eventually became the British Empire, with its "The sun never sets on the British Empire."
I was going through some writings and and analysis of Aristotle's work recently and came across the most fascinating distinction - exoteric and esoteric knowledge.
There's a few different meanings of the words, but exoteric can mean "external / outside / knowledge that's easily ascertained by anyone" and esoteric can mean "internal / secretive / knowledge that's not easily ascertained."
One thing I've started doing in the last year that I've gotten a lot of gain from is trying to find writing by authors and people I respect that were written for a friendly audience.
There's a huge difference in the tone and content of friendly-audience writing (which can be more esoteric) and general-purpose writing (which is frequently exoteric).
Exoteric writing tends to be more sanitized, more generalized, more politically correct, laying out basic premises and assumptions more (instead of assuming skill/background on the part of the reader), and frequently aims to be less offensive.
Last month, I had a unique opportunity - I was able to sit down with two guys who had done high end sales in the past, and have now since moved on to running their own companies.
I met them separately about two weeks apart. One used to sell high end audio equipment, the other raised money from accredited investors for some kind of fund.
Sales is one of those things that's crucial to everyone's lives, but rather hard to nail down. There's lots of literature available on it, but much of it is outdated - or was never even correct in the first place.
I asked both guys their favorite books on sales. Both of them replied, right away, with "SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham" - they each had separate other recommendations, but when the first book recommended on a topic by two people who have succeeded at a really high level in unrelated parts of the same field... well, you're probably on to something.
I got a copy, read it, and I'm blown away. I'm also kicking myself - Judd Weiss gave me a copy a few years ago and recommended it to me then, but my reading list was too long and I didn't get to it. Man, reading this earlier would have saved me a lot of trouble.
I read your post "The Million Dollar Question". It was very good. Thank you for sharing it. I can see myself in the friends you mentioned. I have these dreams of ways to increase my income. I have an internet side business that makes about $1500 a month. I know that there are many different ways I can scale it. In my mind I see the way, the things I need to do. But then I sit down to do those things and I freeze. I believe I am frozen by fear. I fear that if I do these things and they don't succeed, I have wasted my time. Or, I sit down and think of all the things I need to do to get to the endpoint and I think "that is a whole lot of work". So I don't do anything. I waste an hour reading HN and playing solitaire. It is really stupid.
Anyway, your post really made me think about it. I think I will write a plan of all the things I need to do to scale in one direction. Then I will break down the plan in small enough steps that can be accomplished in an hour or two. I'll write each step on a Post-It note. When I finish the step, I'll put it on the wall so I (and my wife) can see the progress. What do you think?
I think it's a good idea, and I empathize with where you're at. A few thoughts -
First, I think it can be helpful to start thinking in terms of expected value (EV) - I learned it from playing poker. If you play poker, you're often in a position where you make money on average by doing a good play, but you'll still lose a lot of the time. For instance, if you have an 80% chance of winning a hand and you get a big bet at you - of course you call. But 20% of the time you'll lose. Which sucks, but you've got to just shrug and not get upset because you did the right thing.
A few days ago, I wrote "24 Hours of Training Per Day" - my goal is to gradually build it so that all of my life is spent devoted to the things that are most important and valuable to me.
That doesn't mean having no fun, because fun is important. That doesn't mean no relaxing, because relaxing is important. That doesn't mean no socializing, because socializing is very important.
You know, I don't differentiate between work and play. I think my time is spent in either excellent, good, okay, or bad fashion. If too much of my time is just "okay" or "bad" - I'm doing something wrong.
Creating, enterprising, thinking and planning, and serious exercising and conditioning are all excellent time for me. Socializing, reading, doing maintenance, walking, research, relaxing, and daydreaming are all good. Okay is general-life type stuff or being semi-productive. Bad is submerging my mind entirely - this could be being stuck in a commute/transit without anything I find worth doing (doing business, socializing, listening to audio, or reading while commuting would move the category to excel, good, or okay) - and bad time is giving in to distraction against my will.
Again, that doesn't mean all work and no play. Consciously choosing to play games or socialize or relax isn't distraction, consciously choosing to watch a good movie or program and enjoy it isn't distraction. Giving in to low level crap is distraction. I've got a copy of Conrad's Heart of Darkness in my Kindle for PC reader - choosing and reading that isn't distraction. Researching a new investment (I bought HP stock a few days ago, I think the stock price is under the liquidation price of the assets + patents of the company... disclaimer: don't listen to me about investing because I don't know what the hell I'm talking about, do your own research, etc, etc.) isn't distraction. Surfing the net mindlessly, without choosing to do - distraction. Bad time.
I love Lewis Quartey's Bucket List - it's a set of goals he's got. It's massively inspiring. Here's his list of things he wants to do:
Give A TED Talk Make £1000 a day for a week At one point in my life, have a six pack Live in another country for a year Do a cart wheel, hand stand, front flip or back flip with no assistance Write a book and have it published Complete a 26 (or more :-s) mile marathon running/jogging the whole thing Bench press 200kg Complete a comedy stand up routine in front of a crowd of more then 10 people (who I don’t know) Own a restaurant or hotel Own a car worth more then £50,000 (Ideally a used Audi R8 a few years down the line) Be featured in a movie or TV show, or record my own film Learn to ride a 250cc or more motorbike
Now, when I see a list like this, the gears start turning and whirring in my head. This is the sort of thing I love, figuring out how to systematically do and achieve things. I mean, that's basically what a strategist is, y'know?
I start thinking, hmm, what's required to do these things? What could Lewis check off first? I wonder if there's any ways I could assist at all, hmm. I like assisting virtuous and enterprising people. It's what I do instead of play video games, and Lewis seems like a strong and enterprising dude.
So I think, hmm, what's required for each one of these goals? All of them might require a bit of skill, but additionally there's primary things that are needed - connections, resources, or consistent application of time. Let's categorize a little -
...but volume is really, really high, especially since two days ago's post got really, really popular.
As always, I'm honored and flattered you'd drop me a line. It'll be a while before I answer them all. Also, I'm still working on the CRM piece and will reply to everyone who kindly wrote in with recommendations in due time - I underestimated the research/testing time on that.
As always, put "URGENT:" in the subject line of a message if it's time sensitive and you'll get a faster reply. Thanks to everyone who reached out, it's really an honor to correspond with so many smart and cool and enterprising people.
Lewis Quartey just wrote an entry on his blog called "Life's a Circus."
He quoted an old post of mine on writing more -
Life’s a circus.
Now, some people have this attitude of, “Well, all this doesn’t matter, so I’m just going to party, or do nothing, or whatever.” Me? No way! I think, “Well, most of this doesn’t matter, so I might as well found branches of science, do great works, build amazing things, make art, write, fund things, build things, fix things, serve people, and otherwise do amazing stuff.”
It's a nice post by Lewis and I'm grateful he liked that post and shared it. Since then, my views have updated a bit on doing big things, so I commented on his site -
August 11th, 2011. Chiba, Japan.
A mix of confusion and awe as I step off the platform.
I must have made a mistake. But maybe a good mistake.
Birds caw and cicadas click gently, filling the warm afternoon air with sounds of nature. The train platform is open to the air and on the other side of the tracks is a high fence. Beyond it, a bicycle and walking path leading to a park.
Children are running around and playing in the park, but surprisingly quietly. Very Japanese.
It's like I'm not in a cafe any more, but rather receiving a diplomatic corps from a nation I'm at war with. The woman has a "stern and serious fucking business" look on her face, and another waitress is standing alongside her right flank with arms crossed.
I shake my head and try to wave them off, doing the universal "I'm on the phone" gesture, holding up a thumb and pinky finger.
She starts speaking anyways. She's loud and insistent.
"Hold on, Marcus."
I take my headset off. "Yes?"