Living Deliberately

How much of your life is dictated by external pressures?

Activation Energy

A newsletter to provoke thought, to inspire, and to catalyze action.

Getting Started…

I often find myself uncomfortable with the consequences of the decisions I make. This is largely due to the fact that most of my decisions are made with little information and lack precedence.

Many times when making a decision, we often default to the most obvious choice. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best choice. Depending on the context, one thing to note when making decisions is the degree to which external pressures influence them.

Questions I think about: Am I making a decision that the people closest to me will agree on? How will it make me look? How would others I respect make this decision? What is the norm?

One can argue that at a subconscious level most of our actions are predicated on gaining validation from others. This is natural, we’re all human. A good way to avoid this is thinking before acting; which is much easier said than done.

I had these revelations while reflecting on some of the decisions I’ve made in the past six months. In particular, deciding to leave a startup I was working at, reneging an offer to work at Amazon over the summer, and taking a semester off of school.

Although it was difficult to make these decisions, moving to Seattle has reaffirmed what’s most important to me:

  • Doing what comes effortlessly to me with the people I’d work with for life.

  • Spending time building relationships deeply with family and friends.

  • Being the influence I wish I had.

Contrary to popular opinion, I believe we work too hard without knowing why and don’t spend enough time thinking about what we want. There are pre-determined paths that we can all pursue and once we’re on them getting off becomes difficult.

These paths are not limited to what we study in college, they’re actually hidden in everything we do. For example, I once heard a story of a guy who absolutely loved going to the same coffee shop in NYC every day before work. It was a part of his morning ritual.

After a year of doing so, he moved to Boston with his wife and kids. When he moved he was disappointed to find that his morning ritual was disturbed. Instead, he started having breakfast with his wife every morning. Without realizing it, that small change brought him closer to his wife and brought him a greater amount of happiness.

What are the pre-determined paths that you’re following?

Providing a Catalyst

Every week I’ll share key insights from a conversation I had learned a lot from in a series called, Providing a Catalyst.

This past week a friend said something that has resonated deeply with me:

“Others are a reflection of who you are as a person.”

It reminds me of the following mental-model as described on Farnam Street.


If I push on a wall, physics tells me that the wall pushes back with equivalent force. In a biological system, if one individual acts on another, the action will tend to be reciprocated in kind. And of course, human beings act with intense reciprocity demonstrated as well.

To give some examples of how this may manifest in someone’s life:

If you’re a good friend, you’ll have more friends.

The opposite of this is also true…

If you’re a bad friend, you’re likely to have less friends.

I’ve realized that the things I wish to see in others are just deficiencies I have myself.

Lighting a Match

I hope something here inspires you to do something or learn something new.

Chamath Palihapitiya Keynote - Hack the North 2018 [Video]

“Palihapitiya, cofounder and CEO of venture capital firm Social Capital, has catapulted himself from a childhood on welfare to Gulfstream-level wealth by learning to take nothing for granted—especially not conventional wisdom or expert advice. Not coincidentally, he is also, colleagues and friends say, one of the most aggressively quantitative thinkers they have ever met. Palihapitiya made his first billion dollars by proving, as Facebook’s VP of growth during the pivotal years leading up to the IPO, that the social network could attract new users far faster than anyone else believed possible.” (excerpt taken from Fast Company)

In this video Chamath openly discusses how this past year has been one of the hardest years for him personally and professionally. In his talk he discusses the need to take care of oneself and the effects of psychological imprints left in one’s childhood.

There are many great points in this interview but one that really hit home is…

We all are suffering from or benefitting—both—from the legacy of how we were raised. It all really dictates your decision making. As much as you don’t really think it does—it does. At the root cause of all good and bad decisions is your sense of self worth and that really comes from, these really important years, when you were a child or adolescent where you were validated largely by your parents and peer group around you. - Chamath Palihapitiya

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You should probably care less about being technical

Instead of asking if someone can write code, we should be asking whether they have the drive and personality to learn and understand the tools necessary to make them independently successful. Remember that Sketch to a designer is the same as SQL to a product manager: it’s just a tool. The fact that one of them is considered “coding” and one is irrelevant.

This new definition of technical is also meaningful because it’s accessible. Technicality as a mindset is accessible because you can learn it – if you’re a designer, spend your nights learning Sketch. If you’re a social media manager, spend your nights understanding what sentiment is. When your technicality is domain specific, you can realistically focus on acquiring it.

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I can't get a job because I can't get a job

The tech industry as a whole assumes that experience is a crucial part of being successful at a new role or venture. In theory, experience should ensure that you can pattern match: when an issue comes up, you will have seen it before (or something similar to it) and will consequently be able to effectively solve it.

I’m not so sure. The nature of reality and the complex corporate system means that new experiences will rarely resemble old ones, and even if you think they do that may not be the case. As human beings, I’m not sure that we get that much better at knowledge-based tasks over time if we already have the skills to do them well, aside from concrete / basic stuff.

In general, it seems silly to assume that experience is required to complete most tasks successfully. That’s why this ends up being a risk vs. return decision.

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Ubiquity Illusions and the Chicken-Egg Problem

I enjoy thinking about chicken-and-egg problems. They lead to a lot of perception-refactoring. Some common examples include:

  1. You need relevant experience to get a good job, you need a good job to get relevant experience.

  2. You need good credit to get a loan, you need to get loans to develop good credit.

  3. You need users to help you build a better product, you need a better product to get users.

This post is about one particular way to solve the problem, using what I call a ubiquity illusion. It is one version of what is colloquially known as the fake-it-till-you-make-it method.

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Notes on The Elephant in the Brain

Here is the thesis we’ll be exploring in this book: We, human beings, are a species that’s not only capable of acting on hidden motives—we’re designed to do it. Our brains are built to act in our self-interest while at the same time trying hard not to appear selfish in front of other people. And in order to throw them off the trail, our brains often keep “us,” our conscious minds, in the dark. The less we know of our own ugly motives, the easier it is to hide them from others. Self-deception is therefore strategic, a ploy our brains use to look good while behaving badly.

The point is, we act on hidden motives together, in public, just as often as we do by ourselves, in private. And when enough of our hidden motives harmonize, we end up constructing stable, long-lived institutions—like schools, hospitals, churches, and democracies—that are designed, at least partially, to accommodate such motives. This was Robin’s conclusion about medicine, and similar reasoning applies to many other areas of life.

Other interesting links…

Thank you for reading this edition of Activation Energy.

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