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My Must Read Book List

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.”

George R.R. Martin (1948 – )

Here’s a list of all the books that had a massive impact on my life and would bring tremendous value to everyone else too – in no particular order:

Laws of Human Nature (2018) – Robert Greene

This is hands down one of the best books ever written. When I read the title, I thought it was too ambitious to try to capture human nature in a book but Robert Greene was the perfect man for the job and he did it fantastically. Greene beautifully outlines the underlying forces that control our behavior and gives us the tools to recognize them within ourselves and others. After reading this book, I was given new insights on what really drives human beings and the pitfalls that we should be aware of as we navigate life. I was especially impressed and surprised with the chapters on narcissism and envy. Greene opened my eyes to how deep those two forces run in our society today and how dangerous it can be. I went to a book signing when it was first released and Robert said it’s important to read this book as as insight into ourselves rather than as insight into other people. I cannot say enough positive things about this book. Right now, it’s my #1 most recommended book for everyone to read. Buy a copy for yourself. Buy a copy for someone you really care about. Then buy another copy for someone they care about. This book is too important to skip over.


Outwitting the Devil (1938) – Napoleon Hill

Napoleon Hill is the O.G. when it comes to writing about success. OTD isn’t as popular as Hill’s best seller, Think and Grow Rich, but it shares many similar themes. The concepts that Hill uncovers in this book laid the foundation for a majority of my own personal development. Styled as an interview between an intelligent human and the devil himself, Hill captures how the devil is very much alive and well in our world — just not in the way that we think. Idle hands truly do the devil’s work. He cautions us of the dangers of being a drifter, the power of definitive purpose, independent thought, and hypnotic rhythm. A fantastic read for anyone who wants to get into reading and doesn’t know where to start. This book really helped me out when I first got out of college. It really gave me the tools to outwit the devil that I didn’t even know I was battling.


Tao Te Ching (~4th Century BC) – Laozi

This ancient Chinese religious text details the common principles of Eastern thought. A must read if you want to live well. The wisdom written in this book is timeless. The book itself is a practice of minimal necessary effort. So it’s a short, easy, but deep read.


Show Your Work! (2014) – Austin Kleon

This book is so great for creative types who have trouble putting their work out. It’s also great for those wondering how to get their creative endeavour started. It’s given me new and fantastic perspectives about creativity and what it means to make art. We should all strive to be amateurs – Sharing my art inspires others and contributes to the culture around me – No one artist or genius was created in a vacuum. This book has shown me countless ways to be inspired by and inspire others. It’s also filled with creative methods from so many unique creative types. If you want to unleash the creative side of yourself – read this book.


Lord of the Flies (1954) – William Golding

Lord of the Flies is a masterpiece. It’s about a group of boys stranded on an island and their attempt to govern themselves. Golding perfectly nails the complexities of the human spirit. He captures the everlasting struggle between our desire for order and tendency for chaos. This book is gripping and perfect for anyone looking for a good story. Even putting the themes aside, the plot is interesting and the characters are lovable. This was one of the first books that opened my eyes to the power of reading. For the first time, I saw that characters in a book can be as complex as people in real life. I used to think characters in books were just representations of the author, but Golding showed me that people can put enough thought and care into a book and create a literary mural that represents humanity.


The 48 Laws of Power (1998) – Robert Greene

I think about this book at least four times a week. This is the book that Andy from The Office should have read to truly win over Michael Scott. This was Robert Greene’s first book and it took the world by storm. He explains each of the 48 laws of power with examples from history of how each law can be used to one’s advantage and disadvantage. In his early days, similar to Benjamin Franklin, Robert Greene found himself getting the short end of the stick on many situations. He took his intense frustration and anger and articulated each and every trick that his superiors would use on him. This book helped me understand the power plays used on me in the past but the best part, is being able to spot the power moves others try to pull on me now. The world belongs to those who read.


Poor Richard’s Almanack (1732) – Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin is one of my favorite people in history. He’s accomplished enough for 10 men and in Poor Richard’s Almanack he lays out his basic principles which set the foundation for his success. I love this book because the principles are so simple and, for the most part, common sense. It’s essentially a list of 670 nuggets of wisdom. Most people link the famous idioms “Early to bed and early to rise makes and man healthy, wealthy and wise,” or “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” with this book. One of my favorite quotes was “Keep thy shop, and thy shop will keep the.” It’s one of those books that you can go back to and always find something new. The best part is it’s free and you can probably read the whole thing over your lunch break.


I Will Teach You To Be Rich, Second Edition (2019) – Ramit Sethi

Yeah, the title is sounds scammy but it’s legit. Ramit Sethi goes over all the financial knowledge necessary to build an automated money machine that can help you live a rich life. This book gave me a solid understanding of financial fundamentals to take control of my own finances. Since I didn’t study anything financial in my formal education, it was really helpful to learn about credit card optimization, 401(k)s, Roth IRAs, Health Savings Accounts, Target Date Funds, stocks, and bonds. He even includes scripts to negotiate down interests rates, remove banking fees, and asking for raises. Admittedly, I read the book in two weeks and applied the principles over a four week period but by the end of it, I established my own automated money machine equipped with an emergency fund, multiple savings accounts and a retirement investment portfolio. However, the most important thing I learned from this book is that we can learn how to do anything if we decide to go out and look for the information. Investing my money and learning all the financial jargon seemed out of my depth, but this book showed me that everything can be learned.


On The Shortness of Life (49 AD) – Seneca

I first heard of this book from Maria Popova. She is a fantastic writer and runs a blog (there really should be a different word for what she does) called Brain Pickings. It’s a huge archive of the deepest ideas from an extremely well articulated writer. Maria recommends people to start with her post about this book. I read her post and loved it. Then I read this book and it changed my life. Seneca talks about how there is more time than life. So much more that we actually waste it. How much of our lives are spent trying to answer the question at a dinner party, “so what do you do?” We give most of our time to others and much of the time dedicated to ourselves is in the service of impressing others. It’s no surprised life is exhausting. The key is to take the time back for ourselves. Seneca suggests that if we were to give all the time we were allotted on Earth to ourselves then we would greet death with open arms. This book has given me a damn good reason to let go of the idea that life is short.


The 4-Hour Workweek (2007) – Timothy Ferriss

Oh boy. To be honest, I’m not sure where to start with this book. Read it. It’s literally a manual to escape the 9-5 and live like the new rich. This is the first book I’ve read from Tim Ferriss and I fell in love with it. Tim breaks down what it means to start and automate a business that gives you the money and freedom to live your dream life. Tim started a mega successful online business in his 20s which gave him a pretty solid fortune. However, he was spending literally all of his time working (specifically replying to emails). Tim, being the unique thinker he is, found a way to restructure his business to maximize his efforts and run his company with only a few hours of work a month. This book isn’t literally about cutting your workweek down to 4 hours, its about maximizing the output of the work so you can free yourself up to do the things that really matter. He has ways to increase productivity with lower levels of stress and effort for all types of jobs. Whether you own your own business, work for an idiot boss, or are looking for a way to escape the rat race, this book is a must read. He’s included little “life hacks,” mindset switches, and resources that you may need to start an automated business. Pair this with Ramit Sethi’s just as scammy sounding book I Will Teach You To Be Rich and you have the tools necessary to design and live out your rich life.


Mastery (2012) – Robert Greene

Robert Greene is a powerhouse and heavy hitter when it comes to writing damn good books. This book is a guide to mastering anything. Robert researched masters from all walks of life throughout time and found the common threads between each of them. He covers everyone from Mozart to Charles Darwin to Temple Gradin to Freddie Roach. My favorite person he writes about in this book is Benjamin Franklin. I love how Greene outlines Franklin’s journey to mastery in writing and social interactions. Robert goes above and beyond for this book (as usual) and takes things much further than the typical skill acquisition advice like the 10,000 hour rule or practicing every day. I saw Robert Greene at a book signing and he said that he writes books out of anger. When he wrote this book, he said he was angry that people couldn’t make things well anymore. So I like to think of this book as a guide to learning how to do things well.


The Art of War (~5th Century BC) – Sun Tzu

Perfect reading for learning war strategies on a battlefield. Also perfect reading for MBA types about to enter the business world. Also perfect reading for anyone who finds themselves in adversarial situations. This book is pure wisdom when it comes to war, or anything that can resemble a war. Sun Tzu’s philosophy on war is to win without fighting. Running in head first into a battle is a sure way to get yourself killed, lose resources, and cause long term damage to the state. It’s better to cultivate your defenses, fortify your plans, and only fight when you know you are going to win. This is a quick and short read. The Art of War was originally written for military strategy but that doesn’t mean it can only be applied in the literally battlefield. Much of our encounters and challenges we experience today are war-like and the principles discussed in the book are worth applying to other areas of life. I have a thing for books written mad long ago but are still relevant now. This was written around 5th century BC but the lessons have been true throughout time. Timeless books are the best books.


The 4-Hour Body (2010) – Timothy Ferriss

One of Tim’s main goals in life is to learn something once and never have to learn it again. To make this happen, he takes meticulous notes on his diet, work out, habits, etc. so when he sees a picture of himself years prior he knows exactly what he was doing to get the body he had. He also keeps journals too, so he can do a similar type of assessment with his mental health as well. The combination of his meticulous note taking, years of experimentation, and hours of consulting physicians has given us this unconventional guide to healthier and easier living. Similar to The 4-Hour Workweek, this book is about getting the maximum results for the smallest effort. This book is filled with Minimum Effective Dosages (MEDs) for fat-loss, muscle gain, better sex, better sleep, reversing injuries, and much much more. I highly recommend this book for anyone that wants a guide to the human body.


Letters From A Stoic (65 AD) – Seneca

This book came up in the afterglow of reading On The Shortness Of Life. It’s a collection of letters Seneca wrote to his friend Lucilius. There are 224 letters and each one is on a profound topic. Reading these letters made me feel like I was getting to know Seneca personally. I love his humor and his unapologetic fanboy attitude towards Epicurus. What I loved the most about this book is that it explains Stoic philosophy within the context of something relatable which made it easy to see the usefulness of stoic practices. Wisdom is an art and this book is filled with it. Each letter is short but the ideas introduced will have you thinking about them for years to come. Every time I pick up this book it’s an absolute mindfuck. Seneca was able to articulate some of the most complicated thoughts I have ever had but never been able to say. This book was simultaneously a justification and condemnation of my perspectives and value structures and I love it. This book has wisdom beyond my years and I’m excited to see what else I’ll learn as I read the book with older eyes. This book has an extremely high reread value. Similar to Robert Greene’s The Laws of Human Nature, this is a book that you study – not read.


12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (2018) – Dr. Jordan B. Peterson

Let me start by saying if you haven’t checked out Dr. Jordan B. Peterson’s work – check all of it out. This is his 2nd book and it’s more than worth the read but diving into his hours of lectures on YouTube will really take you for a ride. Peterson is a clinical psychologist from Canada who taught at the University of Toronto and Harvard. He’s spent decades studying the world’s best thinkers and reading some of the most complicated and influential texts. And through those studies, he’s articulated the true importance of meaning and responsibility. This book is a small part of that perspective. It originally was a list of 40 rules Peterson wrote in response to a post on Quora: “What are the most valuable things everyone should know?” Peterson cut down the list to 12 and wrote this book. Peterson said that these 12 are not necessarily the most important rules, but they do make a cohesive narrative together.


Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers (2016) – Tim Ferriss

Another Tim Ferriss masterpiece. Tim Ferriss is to me what Epicurus is to Seneca. Tools of Titans was written after Tim’s 4-Hour trilogy. The book was created from a plethora of interviews from The Tim Ferriss Show. Tim interviews the world’s highest performers about their habits, mindsets, and personal quirks that make them successful and put that in this book. He interviews everyone from Jocko Willink to B.J. Novak to Rick Rubin to Sam Harris to Maria Popova. Since there are so many people in this book, it’s easy to look up people that you already admire as well as discover new people to learn from. He breaks up the book in 3 sections (I love that it’s inspired by Ben Franklin): Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise. My favorite chapters were in the Wise section, but that’s just me. There is enough information in this book to build empires and has an extremely high reread value.


Updated October 20th, 2020
The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer: The Wisdom of Life (1851) – Arthur Schopenhauer

Probably my favorite piece of work from the Great pessimist. I thought the title was too grandiose at first, but Artie delivered. This book truly contains the wisdom of life. There are some things he was pretty off on, but for the most part he was on point. He captures the beauty, rarity, and absurdity of life in a way that doesn’t play them up or down.

I also think this book is great because it’s like a collection of blog posts Schopenhauer would have written if blogs were a think in the 19th century. I’ve already written things in my blog that I don’t completely agree with and I could imagine that if Schopenhauer wasn’t bounded by his time that he would redact some of what he said. When we write down what we know, we are sure to be wrong but I believe it’s worth it to capture the things we got right.

Schopenhauer is a thinker for the ages and I highly suggest this book is someone who wanted to check out his work. He wrote it later in his life so his words carry the wisdom of his past works and it shows.


Games People Play (1969) – Dr. Eric Berne

This fantastic book goes over something called transactional analysis which is the study of how humans interact with each other. Berne suggests that everyone had 3 primary ego states — Child, Adult, and Parent and those ego states communicate with each other. The “games people play” are dependent on which ego state is communicating with what and how they do so. For example, there’s a game refers to as NIGYSOB (Now I’ve Got You Son Of a Bitch) is a game played between one’s parent ego state and the other’s child ego state. I might do a post on the different games mentioned in this book (at least the one’s I’ve found most prevalent) sometime because it’s almost unbelievable how much of human interaction are simply games.

On top of the incredibly deep analysis of human interaction, he sprinkles in humor throughout the book with smart ass comments and witty names for the games. This is book spelled out many ideas that I knew existed, but couldn’t articulate for myself and having access to these ideas gives me a greater understanding of human interaction and a special peace of mind.


The Seagull (1896) – Dr. Anton Chekhov

This is the first play I’ve put on this list and admittedly, the first play I’ve read since my appreciation for literature blossomed. I read this when I was at a point in my life when I felt like I had to choose between pursuing medicine and being creative and I was shocked to discover Anton Chekhov, famed playwright/physician. I first heard of Chekhov in Robert Greene’s Laws of Human Nature and I was so blown away from his story that I had to check out his work.

This play is super short and can easily be read in a few hours. The characters are brilliant and the story is beautiful. It’s a fantastic dramatization of the violence that occurs when a beauty is misplaced. One of the ideas I took from this play was “beautiful creatures in beautiful places will lead to destruction if things are not in their right place.” Chekhov created an excellent depiction of the realities of true rage, the struggles of the creative spirit, and the dangers of not being seen in the hearts and minds of others.

This play also gave me insights into what I was feeling as a creative person. If a Russian playwright could perfectly write about a similar struggle and capture my feelings perfectly, then what I was feeling must have been universal and archetypal. This realization lifted a huge burden on me because I realized that what I was dealing with could be surmounted by man and didn’t have to crush me.

If we’re not careful, we can all be like Treplieff.


The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (2009) – Dr. Atul Gawande

I wouldn’t suggest this book to beginner readers, as most things written by doctors are long-form and operate at a certain level of complexity, but if you’re comfortable reading lengthy texts, then this is a great book.

I originally didn’t want to put this book on the list, but as I continued to write my blog and work with my students I’ve noticed how much this book changed my thoughts and actions. Any book that changes how I act and think on a daily basis for the better is worth putting on this list.

I guess that’s precisely what Dr. Gawande was referring to in the book as well — the idea that checklists are so easily overlooked, but also so effective.

Checklists are my primary go-to method for organizing the chaos and getting things done right. They are too simple and too effective to ignore.


Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Part 1): Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (1959) – Dr. Carl Gustav Jung

This is the deepest book I’ve ever read. On top of that, Jung is the smartest person I’ve ever had the privilege of reading. He accurately sums up the most abstract and complicated ideas in a concise way that’s easy to understand. Jung believes that humans encounter the experience of the unknown in similar ways, through archetypes. These archetypes are patterns of behavior coded in us from millions of years of human evolution and are the same no matter what society we’re from. The archetypes give us access to the collective unconscious which allows us a greater understanding of the human psyche.

Jung puts this way better than I could and has been a MASSIVE contributor to everything I do. The way I teach and conduct myself in the world is informed through my knowledge and understanding of the collective unconscious.

He doesn’t go into as much detail as I’d like in this volume, but he touched upon his famed archetypal ideas in a way that provides a rudimentary understanding to those who aren’t familiar. He talks in depth (by not deep enough) about the Shadow, the Anima (Great Mother), the Animus (Judgemental Father), and so many more.

This is the only book (so far) that I haven’t finished yet, but I’ve gotten through a good chunk of it. It’s so dense and rich with knowledge and wisdom. I knew that I had to put this book on my list when I was just a few pages in.

This guy sees the edge of human knowledge and goes there. Jung is probably my favorite author of all time. Read this book and get your mind blown.


Man’s Search for Meaning (1946) – Dr. Viktor Frankl

This book changed me life and I cannot understate it’s value. Everyone needs to read this book. It details the horrors of the Holocaust from the perspective of Jewish psychiatrist, Dr. Viktor Frankl. He is an incredible writer and captures such powerful images despite being traumatized himself. The images he describes were vivid and dark, but the lessons he learned about human beings are both beautiful and tragic. This book also outlines a method of created for his medical practice – logotherapy, which is based on the premise that meaning is our fundamental driving force as human beings.

This book is one of the most beautiful pieces of work ever created. Frankl showed us how people can really find meaning, even in the most hopeless situations. Meaning will carry us through any and all suffering.


Self-Reliance (1841) – Ralph Waldo Emmerson

This book is so dope. It’s written in a slightly outdated language, but the message is evergreen and powerful. He talks about the importance of self-reliance, giving to yourself, and the morality of only involving ourselves with the things which concern us.

In a weird way, this book was able to give me the reasoning I lacked to only concern myself with matters that concern me. I used to feel like I couldn’t act purely in my own interests, but this book has shown me that it isn’t only okay to act in my own interests but a moral duty, especially if my interests can make things better for me, my family, and my community.

One of the most amazing parts about it is that this was written while Emmerson was away from society locked up in a cabin in the middle of the woods. Then fast-forward almost 200 years, I’m reading it on an iPad in the comfort of my own bed. This realization had nothing to do with what he wrote, but it speaks to the power of writing. After I read this book, I was able to find the strength within me to write more vigorously and focus on myself and that led to incredibly important groundwork.


The Practicing Mind: Bringing Discipline and Focus Into Your Life (2006) – Thomas M. Sterner

Everything worth achieving requires practice and Thomas M. Sterner gives us techniques to develop the focus and discipline necessary to practice successfully. I’ve written an entire blog post based on the principles from this book that highlights some of the ideas that I thought were the most worth knowing.

Reading this book gave me a much-needed perspective on what it means to practice effectively. It’s so easy to see practicing as work, but after applying the methods Sterner talks about in the book, practice becomes a time full of meaning and purpose. Focusing on the process and intentionally staying present are highly underrated ideas that will bring out the best in anything.


The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business (2010) – Josh Kaufman

This is a fantastic book on business. Honestly, it could be THE book on business if there was one. It’s cool to see all the fancy business jargon wrapped up all nice and neat and it’s doubly cool to see a book that’s kind of like the book I’ve been writing but in a completely different field.

It’s been a huge influence on me and how I run my business and is a must-read for anyone who’s interested in entrepreneurship. It goes over everything from value creation from marketing to sales to finance to the mind to creating systems and so much more.

I’m constantly finding myself going back to this book. It’s full of amazing information that is extremely useful when starting a business, especially since I never had any formal training. I read it shortly before starting my 1st official company and while I was reading it, I knew that I was going to be going back to it for years to come.

Whether you’re an expert or a beginner in business, this book is a must-read if you want to be intentional about your business.


The Slight Edge (2005) – Jeff Olson

When I first read this book I didn’t think the slight edge could be true because of the sheer simplicity of it, but then I started trying it in my own life.

I think everyone should still read this book (obviously because it’s on this list), but the slight edge as a concept is pretty simple — small disciplines over time is what determines our life outcomes. The good things we do make our life better, the bad things we do make our life worse. These outcomes work on an exponential basis so over time, the successful win more often and the losers lose more often.

The slight edge really is what separates the successful from the failures. Olson says the slight edge is what’s the difference between a beach bum and a multimillionaire because he’s been both.

I’ve also seen Kobe Bryant talk about this being the reason why he was so much better than everyone else in the NBA. He kept pushing when everyone else didn’t. It’s probably a cognitive bias thing, but after I read this book I’ve noticed it in so many places.

Like everyone – this list is forever in a state of becoming.

2021 Yearly Review: Joining the Human Race

“Is it not possible (even though it may not always deliver us from the terrible situation that we find ourselves in) that we would all be more able to deal with uncertainty, the horrors of nature, the tyranny of culture, and the malevolence of ourselves and others if we were better and more courageous people?”

Jordan B. Peterson (Beyond Order)

Every year I try to track my life through monthly themes.

The process is relatively simple – I pick two weaknesses that I feel like need to work on and I give those two themes a little more attention each month.

At the beginning and end of the month, I write down my thoughts on the process.

I started doing this halfway through 2019.

I did it completely in 2020.

As much as I wanted to do an entire year, I missed two months simply because I forgot. In October, I had the wonderful privilege of welcoming my daughter into the world. (Easily, the best experience of my life.)

Unfortunately, I was already overloaded and reaching near my maximum capacity. I just started a job as a chemistry teacher in a pretty rough school and I was working on my Master’s and teaching credential at the same time.

As much as I wanted to keep up everything I was doing, the transition got the best of me and I missed two months of recording and reflecting on my themes. I ended up dropping a lot more than just recording and reflecting on my themes, but that’s for another post.

At first, I thought that because I missed the two months my entire yearly review tradition is ruined. But then I realized that I was making an excuse to relieve myself of the responsibility of admitting that I wasn’t able to achieve what I wanted, picking up the pieces, and continuing on.

So I asked myself – is there a way I can turn this loss into something beautiful?

The answer of course is yes. Dare I say that the answer to that question is always yes.

This year, I will reflect on my themes as usual, but for October and November I will reflect upon the events that created so much disarray, but much more fulfillment.

All journal entries are in italics and my comments from today follow CM:

🛠 January – Organization & Presentation

Beginning of the month: I ended last year trying to organize myself and my life so I can start this year extremely productive. Turns out that once I started to open that box, there was so much to unpack that I’m going to need another month. Organizing this way will help me stay on top of my current complexity and add more later. I also felt pretty guilty about spending so much time organizing so making it the theme for another month will (hopefully) let me off the hook and I can keep diving in. As far as presentation is concerned, I feel like I’ve spent enough time incubating and cultivating and I need to start sharing (or as Seth Godin says shipping) my work. Art isn’t art until it’s been shipping and I’ve been stopping myself bc nothing is in its final form, but I need to get over that. First, I need to prepare my work so it is functional, useful, and most importantly something I can look on with pride. I’ve met too many people who could benefit from the work I do and I’ve been selfishly keeping it to myself. The unveiling is near.

CM: Looking back, I can see that Chris before he was a parent, had a lax sense of time. That guilt I felt for wasting time was properly founded. Ever since becoming a parent, I see how much of a luxury time is. I did start showing my work to people this year, specifically my students. Things are moving, just much slower than anticipated.

End of the month: This month has been a fun one. I revived my interest in social media and I’ve taken a few more steps to focus on presentation. I’m nowhere near where I want to be, but I’m much further. The progress this month in each of these domains has been measurable, at least I feel like I’ve made solid progress. I didn’t revamp my website like I wanted to, but I’ve been putting that on the back burner because I’m finding that I may need to put a similar kind of energy elsewhere. Focusing on organization again has helped me dive deeper into database creating. I’ve taken it much further than just with Notion. I’ve been able to tap into my engineering training and build spreadsheets for the new business I want to start. My ability to organize and present turned my failing business model into a profitable one and now all I need to do is execute. I know I’m usually pleasantly surprised by the improvements I make by doing these themes, but this one was insane. My new systems for journaling, creating, task managing, and now budget optimizing are so valuable to me and I’m so happy I focused on these two this month. Hands down the best call of the year so far. I want to continue organizing in a way that values presentation, it’s so important.

CM: Wow. Looking back at this, I can still agree. The time I spent organizing this month was pivotal to my survival later this year. That task manager I built helped me survive as a first-year teacher, dad, student, etc. Plus those builds I made for the business are now vital tools we use every day to make the process easy. I can see that organizing and having systems in place, help brace us for the intense winds of life.

🧭 February – Leadership & Persistence

Beginning of the month: This month I want to focus on my leadership abilities and boosting my persistence. I’m about to start a new company and I want to make sure this one runs well. No one is going to ensure that but me so I will need to tap into my leadership abilities and enhance them if I want things to work out. I’m starting to see that I need to have an extremely clear vision and I need to be able to enroll other people in that idea and that all comes with leadership. Like Elon Musk said, organizing people better gives you access to more spending power. That’s what I’m looking for. As for persistence, I know I’m going to be dealing with some intense days and I’m going to need to be able to persist through those rough conditions, but also I’m going to need more persistence if I want to sell lotion to an extremely complex society. I’m hoping this month will bring these traits out of me in a way that allows me to keep improving later.

CM: I was so unsuspecting.

End of the month: This month I was thrown for the biggest loop of my life and I lost sight of my themes for a while. Despite the turbulence, Leadership and Persistence have definitely been developed. The new information I got this month unlocked a new level of everything inside of me. While I was trying, half-assed I admit, to develop myself in leadership and persistence, this new jolt has given me everything I need to be an effective leader. Not just of a company, not just of my life, but of my family’s life as well. I’ve also learned how to push myself much further than my perceived capacities. I’ve accomplished things this month I never thought I could. Again I’ve been confronted with the impossible and again I contend with it. This time it is voluntary, and this time the stakes are high. In this case, I have accessed something much deeper than mere persistence. It’s like I have direct access to the fire of humanity inside myself. I am reborn. I was worried that I was going to lose my ability to write and be creative through the new changes, but now I see that staying connected to them in the midsts of the chaos is what will enrich life further. I can see I am even more capable of what I was capable of before. It is almost like constraints allow us to access more of our potential, but only after a certain time. I don’t want to be too specific in this entry in case I make it public, but I’m happy with the developments I’ve made over the years and I’m excited to see where this takes me.

CM: Reflection is so important. It keeps me on the path, and I need to stay on it more than ever because my daughter needs me. This is the month I found out I was going to be a father, and I learned that I have a hell of a lot more in me than I ever imagined. I didn’t mention the pregnancy directly because we weren’t telling anyone yet. But I’m very happy that I caught my feelings about the moment when I had them.

🐢 March – Stillness & Planning

Beginning of the month: This month I need to learn how to be still. I tend to spin out of control and I destroy the order I work too hard to create. When I come from a place of stillness, I obtain access to intentionality and I can craft the world in my image. This is more crucial than ever. More depends upon my ability to pay attention and sublimate, both of which are accomplished through accessing stillness, Internal stillness. On top of that, I need to develop my planning abilities. I have too much to get ready for and not a lot of time. This month I can spend working on how to plan, while developing a plan so I can keep my boat afloat, so to speak. I was worried that I would not be able to get everything done, but I can see that by using the practices I’ve been learning I can overcome anything. Take uncertainty and turn it into order through stillness and planning. Fear will shrink with understanding. I always have a moment to regroup.

CM: I still believe this is how I got myself from spinning out of control to actually designing my world. I remember a lady saying that my chances of teaching in a classroom this year a 0%. Hah. Turns out I was right – at least that is what it seems to me. Approaching the world from stillness helps to craft the world in my image.

End of the Month: This month has been a wild ride, but I feel like the stillness and planning have seeped in a little deeper. After spending almost $2,000 on Sione, I realized that I can create cheaper prototypes if I just took the time to plan every little detail. Everything can be thought of first before a single action is taken. It is not just with creating prototypes for business. It’s also the case with trading, packing, eating, everything. Taking the time to plan in stillness gives me an opportunity to properly use my prefrontal cortex. I’ve even been able to quell some of my anxiety. Maybe it’s because I went in on this whole job thing (getting a job with Nanobiologics, taking the CSETs and CBEST, and hitting Sione harder) might have helped, but I do believe part of it was because I was intentionally trying to plan in stillness. Practicing these themes helped me fine-tune more “rich life” stuff for my future as well – planning and stillness give me an opportunity to improve and reflect which allows me to improve current lifestyle choices. For example, Kyra and I took a vacation to Palm Springs and spent a significant amount of time preparing food, grocery shopping, etc. Since I was practicing these themes, I realized that I could make things better by planning. Lost resources are a result of poor planning. So next time, I want to schedule grocery pick-ups in the destination city where I am vacationing so I can just drive to the store, pick up exactly what I want, and move forward. Eventually, I want to have an assistant do that. These themes were fantastic and I’m definitely going to do it again in the future.

CM: That prototype lesson was an expensive one, but an important one. Moving forward, I will be able to do proper product launches without spending insane amounts of money. So many little lessons came out of this year.

⭐️ April – Endurance & Faith

Beginning of the month: I’ve noticed that I can’t do anything for as long as I’d like, or as long as I used to. That needs to change. Especially now, when stakes are getting higher. I can’t afford slippage due to a small attention span or lack of endurance. I need to be able to do things for longer stints of time, not just so I can be more productive, but because I feel like it’s what’s necessary for success in the domains I’m in. The second theme isn’t so much a characteristic or quality that I have, but I do believe faith is something I need to pay more attention to. Faith is a necessary component when doing something difficult or different and often I feel as if I am not capable of doing those things. Faith is the necessary first step before anything else. It’s what fuels initial action and keeps me going during hardships. I feel as if I need to exercise more faith in myself and the things I’m pursuing. I need the faith to know that I’m not in over my head.

April 20th: I’m feeling like I always find myself on losing teams and I’ve spent this period of time trying to bet on myself. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I have the time to do that anymore. I need to get on a winning team. I need to be a star player. One of the two. I only really feel like I have control over one, and it’s being a star player, but that’s exhausting.

CM: There was a lot of uncertainty during this time. I had no idea if my other ideas would be enough to sustain a family and it didn’t seem like I was going to find a teaching job. That faith was critical though. I see why faith is a pillar in all world religions. It is truly the first step in changing your life.

End of the month: This month was tough. I know for a fact that I just did some things just purely because I was trying to “prove to myself” that I have faith. My faith in things is constantly being testing and because I don’t have faith in many things, my endurance takes a hit. I never get a chance to develop my endurance because I don’t believe in anything enough to stick with it. This month I finally paid enough attention to realize how much energy I dedicate just to “keep the vision” alive within me. When I was younger, I used to think that was the challenge, but now I see that I just have a problem with having faith. This also makes sense, because I like to know things and to be able to predict and faith, by definition, means to hold a belief without knowing for sure. This did give me an interesting lens through to see the month. I noticed certain phrases and quotes would stick out to me, perhaps because my orienting reflex is attuned to “faith and endurance” or maybe it’s because of divine intervention. One quote was something like “It’s easier to say in motion than to start” and that is something that’s been buzzing in my head the entire month. Some crazy things did happen though – I ran my first 3-mile run and I PR’d again this month. I don’t know how much I can keep doing this, but I know it’s a direct result of me testing my faith in my physical abilities and my desire to develop my endurance. I also wanted to take down the Sioné website and I felt like the entire lotion idea was silly, but in time Uncle Jr ended up saying that he would be the biggest fan in the lotion works. He was the last person I’d expect to enjoy the lotion. He said he sees multi-millionaire potential in me. I’m glad he can see that too. I bring this up because it’s something I lost faith in. I actually felt on some level like my themes didn’t apply to that portion of my business. But, it does. I learned that faith is necessary and if I can’t keep it, there are more things it’s costing me like my endurance. A lot of what I believe makes me weak stems from my lack of faith. I’m happy to have learned this and I’m excited to see what happens moving forward.

CM: Thank God I didn’t. The things I staked my faith on this year, Sione and teaching, are the things that were foundational to my ark, so to speak. There were a lot of small events that gave me just enough juice to keep going. Crazy.

🔎 May – Awareness & Integrity

Beginning of the month: This month I’m going to focus on awareness and integrity. I want to tap into a deeper awareness of myself and my surroundings. I want to be able to pay attention in a higher capacity. Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’m not paying attention to the most important things, maybe it’s just hindsight haunting me. But regardless, I want to be able to pay attention and notice things better than I do now. I’m hoping it will help me unlock part of what’s keeping me down. Additionally, I want to work on my integrity this month. Integrity as defined as I would back in 2014. Being in integrity is a state of being whole and complete. It’s an intense state, but it’s also peaceful. It requires intense responsibility and….awareness!, but I know it would be nice to have things whole and complete before things get really crazy this year. I want to define some of the things I want to strive for this month, just so I know. All commitments to myself will be kept. All commitments to others will be kept. My workspaces will be orderly unless they are in the process of creating. My calendar will be respected and updated. My conscience will be obeyed. These are high ideals, but I think they are worth striving for.

CM: Little did I know that I would spend the next 5 months trying to do exactly this. haha! I wish I could tell myself that I make it out perfectly fine on the other side.

End of the month: This month, the themes weren’t as present and forefront as they have been in the other months. I’ve paid a little bit more attention to integrity and I might have been doing better in maintaining integrity with my things. I say might have because I haven’t been really been paying attention. That being said, I have been trying to maintain some of the entropy that builds in my environments and digital spaces. I think spending just a little time and making things nice so they can work FOR me later instead of AGAINST me. If I don’t keep up with the maintenance, the systems I have put in place become sources of stress. Keep thy house and thy house shall keep the becomes more and more relevant as I get older. I have been using my awareness to tap into more than what I normally pay attention to. I’m using my awareness to illuminate new pathways and the fire inside me from becoming a new parent helps me walk down these paths. Overall, this month wasn’t too crazy but I do think my themes helped keep things relatively organized.

CM: Still battling with this today. I am doing better though. My environment is slowly becoming more conducive to my life. Slowly.

🦄 June – Gratitude & Consistency

Beginning of the month: I want to practice gratitude and consistency because I’ve been terribly inconsistent. I’m worried that my inconsistency is ruining my life. My streaks app is becoming some of a hassle and it’s annoying resetting everything all the time. It’s also difficult to constantly make new rules so I’m “rigging the game to win.” I’ve taken this too far and now I don’t even know if I’m playing the same game anymore. My hypothesis is that I am not consistent because I am not grateful. Although I practice gratitude every morning, I believe I lose sight of it because I don’t act consistently. If I was truly grateful, I would see the moment in front of me as an opportunity to “get the bag” as Jordan would say. I’m hoping this consistency is good practice for fatherhood as well.

CM: The slippage was just beginning, consistency a common challenge for me this year. I’m just now grappling with this breakdown, 6 months later. haha!

End of the month: I did better with gratitude. I had some slip-ups, but the pressure is starting to really turn on. I feel like my age and my accomplishments aren’t matching up and it’s messing with my ability to stay consistent. I suppose I’ve been consistently procrastinating and avoiding making music, but I wanted to be consistent in the practices that I deemed positive and good. I don’t think my hypothesis is correct regarding consistency and gratitude. I suppose there is a connection, but what’s blocking my ability to be consistent is much deeper than that. I did spend some time trying to clean my space and optimize for consistency, but that’s taking longer than I expected and it’s starting to feel like another way of procrastination. This month was rough for my themes to be honest.

CM: I really started to lose my grip in June. The craziest part is that it was going to get much harder.

🌆 July – Patience & Faith

Beginning of the month: I’ve been having a tough time picking the themes this month. I sat on it for a few days and I’m settling on “Paciencia y Fe” from In The Heights. Love the music, hated the movie, to be honest. But Patience and faith are going to be the themes I’m going to call upon this month. Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’ve been patient enough and it’s been making me really upset. Things aren’t looking anyway that I’d hoped, but perhaps it’s not my time. Maybe I’m asking the wrong questions, looking at it from the wrong angle. Perhaps I still need patience and faith. Perhaps I’m not at the end, or even the middle, but still at the start. I need to believe in patience and I need to keep the faith so I can move forward at all. Admittedly, I’ve lost faith and it probably has been showing. Hopefully paying attention to this will give me that little push I’m looking for.

Side note: I’ve also been reading Kierkegaard and faith is a big theme that I noticed he liked to talk about too. Same with Jordan Peterson. They both talk about faith in the context of the Biblical Abrahamic stories and I feel like I could take a lesson or two (or three) from it.

CM: I usually try to not repeat themes, but I remember things were looking pretty bleak for a while. It’s just what I need though! I need to remember this time in my life in case I ever encounter another time I am feeling helpless and hopeless. “Perhaps I’m not at the end, or even the middle, but still at the start.” – a possibility that I intellectually knew could be true but I didn’t believe it could be.

End of the month: I was at the start. Talk about a miracle. I got a teaching job and it took all the patience and faith I had. I felt like I was cutting it so close this year, but I just needed to give it time. I had more interview offers than I expected. I even turned some down! Plus I’m at a school that I believe I fit pretty well in. Perhaps it’s luck, perhaps it isn’t. I learned that faith is a tricky beast. It’s so easy to not have it, but it’s so necessary for everything. If you want a better life, you need the faith to take the first steps of a long journey. Now that I’m at my “big boy” job, I can see a whole new future in front of me. It’s easy to lose faith when we’re in a tough. It’s easy to believe that life will always remain bleak. But if we can do the harder thing, if we can choose faith, we at least have a chance for something better. And if Fortune smiles upon us, then we may be able to move to where we intend. This month is proof that is true. This month has changed how I see faith forever. Paradigm shifting.

CM: I’ve been keen on keeping possibilities open after this month. Anything is possible. What I am convinced to be true, isn’t necessarily true. Beneficial or detrimental. I had to keep faith that my plan could work…and it has been. Incredible. For the first in my life, things were going exactly as I wanted them to. It’s given me the necessary confidence going into fatherhood.

🎒August – Prioritization & Balance

Beginning of the month: This month is crazy. My first year as a teacher has put me in a position where my work truly never ends and there are consistent deadlines. While I tried to adopt this lifestyle into my creative outlets and I’m familiar with how this does, I never felt the pressure like I do now. I can see that the only way I’ll make it through is clear prioritizing and execution. As long as I hit the priority tasks, I can keep my head above water. That being said, I need to have balance in my life too. I can tell the balance is starting to escape me, so I need to be a little more intentional with incorporating balance into my life.

CM: Adjusting to teaching was so hard. Everyone says being a first-year teacher is brutal, and they are 110% right. Teachers should get paid more, it’s not a job that anyone can do and it requires an extremely specific skill set. I can say now that those first few months gave me much-needed experience that is difficult to refute and fruitful to my creative projects.

End of the month: I’m learning to balance and prioritize better. I’m not sure if the school year just chilled out or if I’ve gotten better at these skills. I’ve learned to set hard time deadlines or hard accomplishment milestones to mark the end of the workday. Sometimes it’s tough and leaks into the weekend, but I supposed that’s the nature of the beast. I know for a fact that I need to keep practicing this skill and I can see my life getting better as a result of that. Prioritization and balance are two meta-skills worth exploring. I can tell that even just paying attention to these two skills I’ve elevated my performance by years. Psychologically it makes things easier too. I feel like running helped me get used to pushing through mental barriers to reach goals. There’s always a point when you want to quit and my relationship with running helps me choose to keep going at least a little bit further than I thought.

CM: I think it’s so cool that all the lessons I’ve learned in every part of my life help all the other parts. Looking back, I believe that I got better at the skills. The school year didn’t chill out, it just kept getting more and more intense.

🏗 September – Restructuring & Compassion

Beginning of the month: I feel like all the systems I’ve developed have been neglected and the only thing that’s been carrying me through the never-ending stream of chaos and novelty is my knowledge of how to develop systems to manage the chaos. As a result, there are insufficiencies in everything. I was planning on only dedicating a day or an afternoon to restructuring but I think it’s better to give it a month. Hopefully, I can get myself back to a place where I just need to “press play” so to speak. As for compassion, I feel like it’s easy for me to hold myself to tough standards and as a result hold others to tough standards as well. It’s easy to dismiss others’ shortcomings as either incompetence, ignorance, laziness, or malice, but I cannot so easily justify my own. It’s easy to accept that other people make those choices, but it’s not easy to accept that I make those choices because I don’t believe I do. I cannot say that about ignorance. And so I’m going to experiment with compassion and see if I can faster restructure my life having compassion for myself rather than contempt. I’ve found that holding contempt for my “lower” self sufficiently motivates me, but I do feel tired and I need to rest and stop thinking. Maybe these things are connected, maybe not. We will soon find out.

CM: I was stressed and overwhelmed this month. In some respects, I still feel like I’m picking up the pieces from earlier this year. I didn’t have an end-of-the-month reflection for September. This was the beginning of the “dark ages” I’ll call them. Even looking back on this journal entry, it was hard to identify exactly what I was saying but one thing is for certain: things were crazy for me.

A meditation on the major events of 2021

The original plan for this year included:

Finishing my book. Launching my courses. Launching my first physical product. Releasing original music.

Kyra was planning on starting medical school as well as her book.

Instead, Kyra got pregnant.

I’m hoping to capture my experience of becoming a parent in a future post.

This was the craziest and most productive year of my life. If you know me intimately, you would know that that’s really saying something.

When Kyra got pregnant, I had to stop and prioritize. All the plans I had were incongruent with becoming a father, mainly because they all take so much time, energy, and attention.

Admittedly, I was extremely stressed. I cried for 3 days straight and went through a transformative emotional experience, which was in part what motivated me to want to start writing my blog post on becoming a parent. Another motivation for that post was that I had no where to really look to explain what I was feeling. Part of that experience was captured in my monthly theme for February.

Despite the emotional experience, I also knew I needed to provide a level of stability that I have never been able to access before. I found myself completely in chaos. When I have too much chaos around me, I have a hard time creating and sticking to routines. I dedicated 150% of my attention and energy to finding a way to provide the kind of stability necessary for raising a child.

This led me to a bunch of crazy places – all dead ends. (day trading, e-commerce, consulting, etc.) All of these things could theoretically sustain a family, but not at the level that I was playing. However, I did learn that I can use all of these things over time to create serious wealth. I just need a solid foundation to build upon.

I reached out to a mentor who told me about schools in neighboring school districts have a science teacher shortage and there is no reason why anyone with a science degree shouldn’t have at least a 50k salary with full benefits. Some people see a salary as a death wish, but it has its uses – that is a post for another time.

I told him that I didn’t have a credential and the baby is due in November. Then he told me about the intern programs and that changed everything.

Turns out, you can work as a teacher with a full salary while getting your credential if you come in as an intern teacher. Now that I’ve completed about half of my program, I see that it’s actually a fairly common way for teachers to get in the classroom. At the time, I had never heard of anything like this.

This section isn’t going to be about all the steps of becoming an intern teacher, but I did have to jump through several hoops to get to where I am now. Maybe I’ll write a post on how I became a teacher, but I think it’s useful to reflect on the events here.

I had to take out student loans again…I really did not want to take out loans to pay for the program, but the ROI is hard to ignore. I took out 30k in loans to get access to a 56k salary plus benefits. It pays for itself.

Emotionally, it was difficult to pull the trigger on taking the loans but it’s what was able to kick off a wild adventure, to say the least.

However, there was more there for me than just a salary.

Getting a traditional job wasn’t ideal, but maybe I could turn this into something where I am still able to work on all the things I’ve been planning.

Working in a classroom gives me an opportunity to put my ideas in front of live students and get feedback. Plus, I can develop the muscle of writing lesson plans and planning curriculums. PLUS, I add to my education credibility as a teacher.

I immediately signed up for the CBEST and CSETs. At the time I didn’t know if I was going to get a math or science gig so I signed up for all of them. I spent about $400 in tests. I felt like I had no time to waste so I took them all within a 2 to 3 weeks with the exception of the CSET calc test which was taken a little later. I wanted to take them early, just in case I failed I had time to retake them…I later learned I didn’t need to take the tests, but they were an experience worth having.

I figured since I tutored all the time I would be able to take these tests no problem, that was true to an extent…a few days before each test, I took some practice tests and did some active recall just to make sure I was in good shape.

All of these tests turned out to be much more difficult than I anticipated…this was the first sign that being a teacher was going to be more difficult than I was expecting. The first practice test I took was for math and I got a 40% on the test. I was also shocked to see so many concepts that I never heard of.

This was my chance to use all of these study techniques and student success skills that I’ve been writing about for myself.

I studied and used every technique that I knew – I passed all of them super quickly and on the first try…reminds me of when I took the FE, but with a lot more pressure. Except for the calculus math test, that was surprising and humbling. All teachers are wicked smart and there is not enough credit given to our teachers, especially the ones who have passed the CSET in their respective subjects.

Next, I enrolled in an online credential/Masters of Arts in Education program. I found a school that gave me the flexibility I needed.

This was also humbling – I always saw myself as someone who was going to go to an Ivy League and do great things, but my life took very different turns.

This experience taught me that it’s much better to find the spaces and places in this world that align with my values and give me access to the life I want rather than picking some prestigious institution and forming my life to their standards.

I was able to do everything from my laptop and if things got too crazy then I could always take a leave of absence. I’m proud to say I didn’t need to do it, but it was nice knowing that I could. This was also a great opportunity to put on the student-hat one more time and battle test all of my study skills and student success strategies for myself. I learned from my experiences in high school and college, I’ve helped many students, and now I get to try it out for myself after doing relatively more intentional research.

I’m hoping to get my grad school experience documented some how in the future, there’s been a lot that I’ve learned through this experience that didn’t necessarily get from the curriculum. [For example, it probably helped me be more compassionate towards my students this year because I’m also a student too.]

So far, I’m proud to say I have a 4.0 GPA in my graduate program and while I was expecting it to be easier than undergrad, it’s still been challenging.

I had to job hunt and interview with so many schools – I was nervous when it started getting closer and closer to the school year but eventually, I interviewed at a high school, was offered the job immediately after the interview, which I accepted.

Teaching is an entirely different blog post – life-changing for sure. It took a few months to get the hang of teaching there, and thankfully I was able to get my footing by the time my daughter was born.

This year was also filled with renovations and constantly working to get my house, and my life, in order for when the baby comes. We changed everything.

My daughter was born on October 28th, 2021. One of the best days of my life, probably the best day to date. When my daughter was born, I felt a rush of different feelings but one of the most memorable was the immense amounts of compassion that I had for all people. For the first time, I felt like I was part of the human race. I am connected to all people in a way that I never knew existed.

The newborn state was one of the most trying times of my life. 0-2 months was intense, mainly because I already felt maxed out from being a first-time teacher, working on my credential and master’s, and NO SLEEP. Sleeplessness made this time extremely hard, my decision-making was compromised and I couldn’t stick to my systems.

It was stressful, and like any stressful situation, I shorten my time horizon. I stopped looking at my life on a macro scale. I zoomed in and just focused on getting through the next hour.

I did this for 2 months.

Now, I’m trying to slowly introduce my routines back into my life. Things are still changing so quickly, I feel like the world that existed before working as a first-year teacher, grad student, and becoming a father is different than the world I’m in now. Maybe I’m just different, maybe it’s both.

🎄December – Vulnerability & Courage

Beginning of the month: I’ve missed the past two months. I was hoping that I could maintain everything while becoming a parent, but I could not keep it up. I’m learning that as a father, my actions matter more than ever so I’m getting back on the horse and paying attention to the systems I’ve developed to build myself into a better person. Starting with the themes – this month I’m trying out vulnerability and courage. One of the biggest realizations of becoming a parent is accepting the vulnerability that comes with having a child. After spending my whole life trying to make myself tougher, I discover that strength comes from accepting vulnerability and having the courage to not let it destroy you. Additionally, I need to have the courage to do a bunch of things to build a stable and fruitful world for Myla. I need the courage to start asking for what I need and relentlessly pursuing what I want. While those seem like simple things, I’ve had immense trouble being able to do those things and I see now that the price of omission is expensive and painful. Not being able to ask what I need and not being able to pursue what I want leaves me weak and I have to make up for the sins in payment that always resembles time away from my daughter.

CM: These are great lessons that I hope I can continue to call upon in 2022.

End of the month: Just like all the months before this one, I am happy to have taken the time to develop these themes. While I’m not as developed as I’d like to be, I’m in a better place than I was. Most of this year was spent running around frantically trying to find acceptance of myself so I can be a proper foundation for my daughter, and these two themes are at the heart of that. I’m learning to love my vulnerability and be unapologetic about my courage. This year was huge for me, and while I felt like there were times when all my creative pursuits were dead in the water, I learned that the human-animal loves a challenge. The human-animal needs challenge. And in those trials and tribulations, grows more to call upon when creating. So many times I felt like I was going off course, I was actually going deeper than I could fathom.

CM: Reflecting on this year showed me that reflecting on my year is crucial for my mental health, but also how I get most of my internal gains. All of the best lessons I’ve learned this year (and the ones that I attribute to my survival) have all come from serious reflection. This was a beautiful year, and I hope I can keep the growth going in 2022.

First Principles Thinking

“I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. [With analogy] we are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. [With first principles] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there.”

Elon Musk (1971 – )

First Principles Thinking is a powerful mental model for creating non-linear outcomes.

Big thanks to @SahilBloom for sharing these ideas on Twitter.

First Principles Thinking is how people like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Bill Gates make good, long-term decisions without needing to know everything about a complex situation.

It requires a willingness to ask hard questions.

It also requires a willingness to answer hard questions.

First Principles Questions

If you’ve read my post on The Importance of Questions, then you’ll know that I believe questions are the keys to unlocking the knowledge to get whatever we want. Access to everything we want is locked up in someone else’s head, and questions are our keys.

If we can ask the right questions, we can get anything we want.

That being said there are some questions that we can ask to get us primed for First Principles Thinking.

Here are a few of those questions:

What is the problem I am trying to solve?

We waste a lot of time and energy trying to solve the “wrong” problem. If we can identify exactly what it is we need to do, then we can eliminate a lot of that waste.

Focus is powerful when applied correctly.

Identify the right problem, before trying to solve it.

What do I know to be true about this problem?

Write down everything you know to be true about the problem. (Don’t just run through them in your head.) Writing them down allows us the judge the ideas accurately.

It wouldn’t help to include things about previously attempted solutions too.

Why do I believe these “truths” to be true? How do I know they are true?

Clearly identifying the source of our beliefs is key to understanding the beliefs. It also allows us to analyze our thought habits on a deeper level.

It’s crucial to be ruthless in their validity and integrity. If we lie to ourselves here, we won’t be able to make sound decisions later on.

How can I support these beliefs? Is there real evidence to support them?

Find hard, tangible evidence that proves these beliefs to be true. If you can’t find it, or the sources aren’t reliable, then you’ve learned something about those beliefs – they’re shoddy.

Are my emotions clouding my judgement and reasoning?

Emotional decisions typically produce bad (and expensive) outcomes. Remove the emotions from the process. Emotions have a place, but not when making long-term, complex, and important choices. Intentional and planned decisions are what’s needed to push things beyond what they currently are.

What alternative beliefs or view points might exist?

Acknowledging and understanding other viewpoints is a skill that cannot be cultivated enough.

So much lies beyond what we understand. Everything has something to teach us.

Seek out other beliefs. Embrace them. Let them enrich you.

But also, evaluate them on their merits. Ask the same fundamental questions about them.

What are the consequences of being wrong in my original beliefs?

There’s risk in everything, even what we already know. It’s important to understand the stakes and manage risk. Otherwise, the downsides can wipe us out unexpectedly.

We have to know what will happen if we’re wrong.

First Principles 101

First principles starts with questioning our beliefs.

Asking the above questions will us help drill down to the fundamental truths of a problem and ultimately identify a better solution. (Assuming there is one.)

If this starts to seem like we’re thinking like insatiably curious children, then we’re on the right track.

Let’s start with some definitions:

First Principle – a foundational assumption or proposition. It’s foundational in that it cannot be deduced from other assumptions or prepositions.

First principles are like elements. They can’t be broken down any further.

First Principles Thinking – a problem-solving technique that requires breaking down complex problems into their most basic, foundational elements.

The main idea is to take a bottom-up approach; ground ourselves in foundational truths and build up from there.

Typically, when we encounter difficult problems, our inclination is to rely on base-level assumptions that we’ve been told are true, or believe to be true.

We do this because it’s quick and easy, but also because those ideas have probably been true in the past.

This leads to unimaginative, linear solutions that just mimic what has been done before.

This is known as “Reasoning by Analogy“. It leads to solutions that are the same as something else. It has its place, but it’s not great for solving complex problems in need of imaginative solutions.

“Reasoning by Analogy” is a great rule for dealing with problems in which speed is paramount and novel solutions aren’t the goal.

Solutions are to problems like foundations are to houses.

If the foundation is unstable, the house will collapse. If the foundation is sturdy, the house will stay up.

First principles help create a sturdy foundation.

Elon Musk & Space X

Let’s check out the case of Elon Musk and Space X to see First Principles Thinking in action.

Complex problem: how to send a rocket to Mars.

First logical step: obtain rocket.

Musk, as rich as he is, discovered that buying rockets wasn’t a feasible plan. He found that they go for a whopping $65 million each.

Now now the complex problem is getting more complex and we’re further from the solution.

It’s time to apply First Principles thinking – let’s start with asking why do rockets cost $65 million?

The answer to this question is pretty much – because that’s how they’ve always been built and how much they need to cost. Tradition essentially.

Not exactly an iron clad answer.

But now we know that we can think of rockets in an entirely different way.

Time to ask even more basic and fundamental questions – What is a rocket made of? What are the value of these materials on the open market?

Musk finds out that rockets are made of Aerospace-grade aluminum alloys, titanium, copper, and carbon fiber. All of which cost about 2% of a typical rocket.

Musk decides that he can build his own rockets, for much less than $65 million.

Rather than accept the truths that he’s been told about rockets, Musk grounded his problem-solving efforts in First Principles.

Today, Space X has rockets that are safely delivering humans to and from space and the dreams of colonizing Mars are closer to being realized.

Methods of First Principles

There is no set way to establish First Principles.

However, there are a few methods that work pretty well. One is known as Socratic Questioning. It’s a technique where we use systemic questioning to drill down to fundamental truths.

Some questions that can be used for Socratic Questioning are as follows:

Why do I believe this to be true?

How do I know this is true?

How can I support this belief?

What alternative viewpoints might exist?

Question everything. Never stop asking why. Become an endlessly curious child.

The world is already full of unimaginative, copycat solutions and this only leads us to predictable linear outcomes.

Using First Principles Thinking is difficult and time consuming, but it’s also a solid path to conjuring creative solutions that lead to non-linear outcomes.

Aristotle defined First Principles as “the first basis from which a thing is known.”

The world’s greatest thinkers and problem solvers use the same methods when solving complex problems: grounding themselves in first principles and building a solution from there.

Origins and Influences of Western Education

“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.”

Aristotle (Greek Philosopher)

People who want to do well in school usually feel that way because they’ve been told that it’s the primary route to doing well in life.

Performance in school is usually measured by grades and those who get A’s are considered the cream of the crop. It’s no surprise that students tend to fall in love with A’s.

I know plenty of students who will do anything for the A. It’s so prevalent in society, I was able to make a profitable tutoring business based on this need with little business experience and marketing. Some students genuinely needed help, most just want the A. My tutoring is what helped me pay for college, as well as inspire my writing.

Those who are interested in a fancy career, a nice house, and respect from others are the most likely to fall in love with the A’s. Mainly because they believe that having the A’s will get them a fancy career, a nice house, and the respect they desire.

However, sometimes it doesn’t work out like that.

Sometimes people who succeed in school, fail at life.

And other times the people who failed in school, succeed in life.

The Issue with Curriculums

There are many reasons for this, but I’m going to start with the school curriculums.

Most curriculums were created for students to succeed in The World of Academics, not reversed engineered to help students succeed in The World Beyond.

The typical school curriculum is not tailored to The World Beyond and the skills needed to succeed within those curriculums are not necessarily the skills we need in everyday life.

Many students pick up on this well before they enter the job market, and educators have to dedicate a lot of energy to prove they’re teaching relevant information. Students are asking me at younger and younger ages why they have to learn what they’re being taught in school.

The worst part (in my opinion) is that as time goes on, more of the curriculums become harder to justify.

Origins and Influences of Western Education

To understand why this is the case, we’ll have to look into what influences these curriculums and why are they even being taught in the first place. After all, all institutions were brought about through tremendous effort and intentionality, and to carelessly denigrate an institution without understanding its purpose or origins increases our chances of undoing valuable work.

The education system has roots in the Industrial Revolution back in 1760. The West had a massive transformation turning their textiles, agriculture, and handcrafts into large-scale factories with machines ran by factory workers. Since there was a high demand for factory workers, the school systems were designed to educate as many people as possible with the goal of employing them at the factories.

At the time, this was a great thing. Factory jobs provided people with a higher quality of life (believe it or not) and were highly sought after. Nowadays, most people get higher education specifically to avoid those kinds of jobs.

We can still see echos of this influence just by looking at a typical school schedule:

  • Start in the AM.
  • Take your 10-minute break roughly 2-3 hours in
  • Back to work
  • Lunch around the 5th hour.
  • Work again
  • Go home.
  • Repeat.

It’s just like working at a 9-5. Just like working in the factories. (Except breaks and lunches were monitored in the factories.)

It’s not like this system wasn’t good. It was wonderful at the time. It was effective and helped launch the Western world into the marvel it is today. We would not be here without industrialization.

Without industrialization, we wouldn’t be in the Information Age – when not knowing something is a matter of choice.

Today we have the ability to learn anything at any moment and talk to anyone in the world at any time. We can know almost everything that everyone else knows in mere moments.

But the education system hasn’t been updated for this. There have been small improvements here and there, but not enough to address the issues that many students are dealing with today.

The same teaching methods are practiced year in and year out and are becoming exponentially irrelevant, especially with the growth of accessible technology and information.

There are almost no efforts to teach students more effectively and efficiently.

There have been some curriculums that are updated and more tailored to today’s dynamic and complex world, but traditions from the industrial revolution carry the most weight.

The industrial revolution wasn’t the only influence on our education system. The content which is taught has a long line of historical influence that worth’s paying attention to also.

Much of today’s school curriculums are based on the curriculums of medieval monasteries, the ideas of 19th-century German educationalists, and the concerns of aristocratic court societies.

This is why the underlying assumptions of most school curriculums are that:

1) The most important things are already known.

2) What currently is is all that could ever be.

3) Being original is dangerous.

Wrong Messages

Students are implicitly being taught that the only way to go about life is to ask permission and beg for acceptance.

Ask permission to use the restroom.

Ask permission to answer questions.

Ask permission to work at a job.

Ask permission to make money.

Ask permission to buy something.

Ask permission to make something.

Ask permission to live.

Too many people believe that you aren’t successful until someone else has given you permission to do something.

So many people believe that they’re limited by the income approved by their “boss.” Many people think their boss intrinsically knows their value and compensates them accordingly.

Too many people believe that we cannot create opportunities for ourselves.

We’re taught to deliver on expectations, not change them.

We’re taught to regurgitate ideas instead of originating them.

We’re taught to respect people in authority, rather than honestly contemplate the possibility that no one else really knows what’s going on.

There are liberating perspectives that can enrich the experience of our lives. If we search further than what our current systems are spoon-feeding us, then we will find a new and beautiful world where we can exercise our will to our fullest expression.

Critical Targets

Now, I’m not just bashing the education system with no respect or regard for its miraculous achievements. It’s incredible that we have an institution that educations its young so they can go out and be enriched and powerful.

However, there are cracks and imperfections, and given the nature of a youth’s education, the consequences are not trivial. School teaches us so much, except for two critical subjects:

How to Work – how to choose the right job for us and work in a way that doesn’t take away from our lives.

How to Love – how to form satisfactory relationships with others and ourselves.

A great education trains us to:

read well – this way we can learn and expand our understanding

write well – so we can learn to think and communicate powerfully

think critically – to think about thinking and see past the obvious

develop our characters – which determines our opportunities

build our best selves – so life is worth the pain

There is a huge need for a reversed engineered curriculum that allows students to develop skills needed for The World Beyond. Something that shows students how to be outwardly obedient, but inwardly independent.

From Build Once, Sell Twice

Build or be billed.

Jack Butcher (Founder of Visualize Value)

I recently returned to Twitter (follow me @sippinonchris).

I spent some time recalibrating my feed. I unfollowed the trash and followed accounts that I thought were worth my time. I stumbled upon one of the greatest gifts the internet has ever given me:

high-quality Twitter threads.

For those that aren’t familiar, you can create a thread on Twitter by replying to your own tweet and it provides a particular reading experience, but also makes the character limit (almost) infinite.

I love this because it’s changed the quality of the type of information that can be shared on Twitter. I believe we need more bandwidth to communicate more complex ideas and Twitter threads do just that! Suddenly we’re no longer limited to the 280 characters.

Big thanks to @jackbutcher for sharing these ideas on Twitter and for having an account that spreads good and valuable information.

Here are some concepts from Jack’s fantastic online course, which I highly recommend.

I posted this because I needed to revisit these ideas for myself and I hope you find some value out of it too.

10 Concepts from Build Once, Sell Twice

1/ Build once, sell twice.

Move from selling your time to storing your effort in digital assets that you can sell twice.

This is something I’ve recently been taking seriously. I’ve been spending a lot of time turning what I do and know into digital assets. For some people this is effortless, for me, it’s heavy lifting. This blog is just one piece in a much larger puzzle I’m putting together. I’m hoping these posts can lay the foundation for online courses and other digital assets in the future.

I’m also trying to do this with my music. Since discovering this idea, I focused my music-making energy on creating digital assets. I’ve been slowly building my portfolio. As time goes on, my collection of digital music grows and grows and it’s there to sell to any artists looking for a music producer.

2/ Focus

The more frequently you interrupt the compound curve, the longer time-freedom will elude you.

This is something I have to learn over and over again, but it’s true.

Interrupting a compound curve stops growth.

I saw this clearly with my YouTube channel. When I uploaded consistently, each beat I made pushed me forward a little more in the space. But when I stopped and picked it up again, I didn’t see nearly as much attention. It’s simply because I interrupted the compounding curve. If I stayed with it, my channel would definitely have a lot more subscribers and engagement. I’m working on building the momentum back up, but I have to accept that the results I’m used to aren’t coming and I have to start slow.

This is true with anything. The more we interrupt the focus, the harder it is for us to do the deeper and more difficult work. It’s often the deep and difficult work that makes the difference.

3/ Iterate

Get going, then get good.

This is key to getting anything done. As I get older, the power in letting time be an ally becomes more and more attractive.

Aiming for doing something perfectly right out of the gate is the perfect plan for disappointment. More often than not, perfection creates no action. When it comes to making something of high quality, it’s all about getting it started and improving over time.

I’m sure the first time you had Coca-cola wasn’t the first version of the soda. Everything great started out bad and got better over time.

I experimented with this theory with my YouTube channel. I just focused on getting a beat out every single week and over time everything about my beat-making process got better. From the mixing to the mastering, to the arranging, to the rhythms. I got much further putting out “bad” music than I ever did when I “only released songs when they were perfect.”

4/ Productize

Move from selling time to building systems that generate results repeatedly.

This is hard, but I’m sure it will become easier the longer I hold it as a goal.

Initially, building systems takes time and care, but if the system is built correctly then the results will speak for themselves. When I’m not selling my time for money, I’m spending my time building systems.

5/ Solve problems

Identify a need and develop a treatment

This should is one of the first steps of doing anything valuable.

6/ Get your reps in

Building anything valuable and defensible takes time, effort and energy.

I’m not sure why, but sometimes I have an aversion to this. Sometimes I’m able to convince myself that reps aren’t necessary, especially when they feel unnecessary. But in anything substantial, we have to accept the process, show up and get the reps in.

Time, effort, and energy all are subcomponents of sacrifice. Sacrifice and commitment are the same things. If we’re committed to something, then we are willing to sacrifice for it. This means dedicating time, effort, and energy to it today, in the present.

7/ Use tools for leverage

Build an ecosystem for attracting and retaining customers.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. It’s better to stand on the shoulders of the giants who’ve come before us so we can see even further than they could.

That being said, there are so many tools for us to use that we’re made specifically to make things easier for people blazing the same trail later. Entrepreneurship is a great example of that. 50 years ago, even 10 years ago, starting a business seemed like a dangerous and risky venture, but now it’s almost the norm. A huge part of that is because of the technology!

When you encounter a problem, chances are there something already made that can help you through it. If not, then you have a new business idea! (See Concept 5)

8/ Practice content leverage

Use media to stop doing things twice that can be done once.

I tried to experiment with this idea when I was making Whip it Up Wednesday, videos of me showing the behind-the-scenes of beat making. The idea was that I would have an episode of WIUW filmed and I could chop it up to make as content later. I didn’t execute, but I’m definitely going to use that method for something in the future. This is how content creators create weeks, or even months, of content in a day or two.

9/ Build value ladders

Expand into every segment of your market.

Ah, this is something I’ve discovered with trying to monetize beat making. When I started selling beats to artists, I realized that I could go further and sell samples or drum kits to music producers too! The market has levels to it and there’s nothing stopping from putting our hand at each level.

After starting Sioné, I’m starting to see the real value is in distribution, not product creation. The value ladder is seemingly endless, and there’s nothing stopping us from getting our hands on each rung.

10/ Keep going

What feels futile early is foundational later.

This is so true. I know that every word that I typed in the rough draft of my book felt futile, but they have been my guiding light in actually writing the book.

It’s almost like the ultimate battle is with the idea of futility itself.

Ignore the thoughts in your head that try to stop you from laying a foundation. If it feels futile, chances are it’s foundational.

The Ocho System

“That which is not good for the swarm, neither is it good for the bee.”

Marcus Aurelius (Meditations)

I got this wonderful idea from American athlete and writer, Joe Holder. The Ocho System is a powerful framework based on the principle:

One helps others. Others help one.

Improving one area will prove all of the areas. Holder presents these areas in the context of wellness and fitness, but I can see this being a broader life philosophy.

Part of what makes this so powerful is taking on the possibility that:

None of them are well, until all of them are well.

Like I said earlier, this can apply broadly across life. So this can apply to our families, communities, and different parts of ourselves.

I had a few experiences in college and shortly afterward that helped me see the world in a different light. I personally discovered the interconnectedness of everything and it’s had a profound impact on me. If my actions affect everything around me, then my actions matter. Suddenly, everything became meaningful and important. As opposed to my semi-nihilistic worldview before — everything isn’t connected and some things don’t matter at all.

Holder has integrated the fact that everything is interconnected with The Ocho System.

There is no one, there is just all.

It is impossible to ignore the effects of one thing on another.

Holder said that The Ocho System is about taking control of physical health and allowing that to bleed into other areas of our lives.

Personally, I think this goes much deeper than our physical health, but the physical is a nontrivial aspect.

It plays off the number 8 and is designed to create an infinite feedback loop of wellness and gratitude. Working on The 8 makes us well, which makes gratitude easier, which makes being well easier. It’s a great way of creating a success spiral.

8 Core Components

Physical Health

Emotional Health

Intellectual Health

Environmental Health

Spiritual Health

Occupational Health

These are developed in the context of our bigger life purpose. Simply working on these parts of our lives isn’t enough, they have to be developed in service to something bigger.

How do we know what the context is?

Just ask why.

Why develop physical health?

Why develop emotional health?

Why develop intellectual health? And so on, and so on…

Answering why will help us when we’re not feeling as motivated to keep up the work.

Developing each of these areas takes time, effort, commitment, discipline, and drive. However, it gets easier the longer we work on them. Like I said earlier, working on these areas creates an infinite feedback loop of wellness and gratitude which makes upkeep much easier too.

I recommend writing down the goals that improve each component. People who write their goals down tend to accomplish their goals more often than people who don’t. Writing down our goals provides a smaller scale clearly articulated purpose.

For me personally, I try to do something every day that benefits each of these areas. I have daily goals that, if met, would improve or maintain my current levels.

A few of these goals are as follows:

Running and Kettlebell Swings for Physical Health

Journaling and Creating Music for Emotional Health

Reading and Writing for Intellectual Health

Cleaning and Responsible Networking for Environmental Health

Meditation, Reading, and Writing for Spiritual Health

Working on my Businesses for Occupational Health

These are just the things I try to do every day. I also try to keep these areas in mind when I’m doing most things. I want the actions I take in the day to benefit me in the best way possible and I can do that by ensuring my actions benefit one of the 8 areas.

I also want to include another way of looking at the “one helps others, others help one” principle. The Ocho System can be applied broadly and works well for health, but if you really want to zero in on improving your physical health check our the Five Core Biomotor Skills.

5 Core Biomotor Skills

Coordination

Strength

Endurance

Agility

Balance

Improving one of these will improve the other 4. This is a great framework for starting to take control of your physical health. Just focus on improving one of these things a day and in time you will transform yourself.