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Guest Post: Greatness and Humility

A few days ago, I wrote an open letter to a good friend of mine - "I Think Greatness is Something You Are, Not Something You Do" - I said to him, I'm not a great man, just a normal man working on great things. Greatness is something you do, not something you are.

To give you some background, my friend Brendon is just one of the most amazingly good people in the world. He takes care of everyone around him, his mind, body, and spirit are sharp. He's a black belt, an excellent programmer, a philosopher, a Shodan in Go (actually, even stronger than that - he's a Shodan under the Asian rankings, so probably even higher in America), a hard worker, extremely loyal, a clear and free thinker, widely read and knowledgeable, and again - an amazingly good guy. I've learned a lot from him (notably, he taught me how to play Go, sysadmin Linux, understand basketball at a very high level, improve at martial arts, improve my fitness, and other good stuff - we'd usually go drink green tea and play Go at Samurai Restaurant in Boston, go fight in the park, talk philosophy out at nightclubs, do stuff like that).

He wrote back to me about greatness and humility. I think this is a really beautiful piece, so I asked him if I could gently edit it and put it up. He graciously agreed. It's long, but go ahead and just start it and give it whatever time you have - there's a lot of amazing insight in here.

A Quick Favor Request - if you learn from this or it helps you, please send Brendon a quick email to mail@bobz.in - he was actually a little gun-shy about having such a personal piece put up with such raw power in it. He only agreed when I told him how many people it could help - so please, drop him a short line to say thanks if this teaches you as much as it did me.

Without further ado...

Some loosely related concepts

On minimalift

Weightlifting doesn’t hurt that much.

I hear a lot of people talk about how hard they train and how difficult it is. I don’t perceive weightlifting as hard. When you walk into the gym, the work expected of you and the level of pain is quite predictable, and it can only be “so bad” in terms of load or volume. Compared to the martial arts study I underwent, weightlifting is like retirement. Consider walking into your school every day, knowing full well today might be the day you endure the worst pain of your life. Some days you’re the recipient of no pain, just movement and breathing. At other times you’re enduring protracted periods of sheer agony, and then some more for good measure. Most of the time, it’s somewhere in the middle, tending towards the pain end. I remember once I took two weeks off. After the first night back in training, I wasn’t able to lift my knife and fork at the dinner table. This wasn’t even a tough session. Weightlifting is good graft but it doesn’t hurt so bad.

Fixed length lifespan

A friend died recently. She was given 10 years max to live following a kidney transplant operation. She outlived this expectation by a fair amount. Being over 60 meant she was one of the outliers in terms of lifespan - so good that she was being studied by scientist in her final months. Imagine how having a fixed expiry date (which was accurate) alters your decision making process.

Imagine you’re in some Gattaca-inspired universe where everyone expires at a known time, regardless of how you live. What would your day look like? What life choices would you make? Would you still spend your time the way you currently do? Guess what! At the moment, unless you’re an outlier that date is somewhere around your 80th birthday - if you’re very lucky. Call it 100 if you’re an optimist but I think that’s pushing it given Jack LaLanne didn’t make it. A shiny fifty pence piece says your lifestyle isn’t as optimal as his was. If you’re making poor decisions, you’re likely trimming that number down.

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