Byron Wien’s Notes on Life in His Eighty Years on Earth

Byron Wien, of Blackstone Group, has published a list of twenty tips on living the good life. Presented in its entirety, here, this is some of the best life advice I’ve read in a single blog post:

1) Concentrate on finding a big idea that will make an impact on the people you want to influence. The Ten Surprises, which I started doing in 1986, has been a defining product. People all over the world are aware of it and identify me with it. What they seem to like about it is that I put myself at risk by going on record with these events which I believe are probable and hold myself accountable at year-end. If you want to be successful and live a long, stimulating life, keep yourself at risk intellectually all the time.

2) Network intensely. Luck plays a big role in life, and there is no better way to increase your luck than by knowing as many people as possible. Nurture your network by sending articles, books and emails to people to show you’re thinking about them. Write op-eds and thought pieces for major publications. Organize discussion groups to bring your thoughtful friends together.

3) When you meet someone new, treat that person as a friend. Assume he or she is a winner and will become a positive force in your life. Most people wait for others to prove their value. Give them the benefit of the doubt from the start. Occasionally you will be disappointed, but your network will broaden rapidly if you follow this path.

4) Read all the time. Don’t just do it because you’re curious about something, read actively. Have a point of view before you start a book or article and see if what you think is confirmed or refuted by the author. If you do that, you will read faster and comprehend more.

5) Get enough sleep. Seven hours will do until you’re sixty, eight from sixty to seventy, nine thereafter, which might include eight hours at night and a one-hour afternoon nap.

6) Evolve. Try to think of your life in phases so you can avoid a burn-out. Do the numbers crunching in the early phase of your career. Try developing concepts later on. Stay at risk throughout the process.

7) Travel extensively. Try to get everywhere before you wear out. Attempt to meet local interesting people where you travel and keep in contact with them throughout your life. See them when you return to a place.

8) When meeting someone new, try to find out what formative experience occurred in their lives before they were seventeen. It is my belief that some important event in everyone’s youth has an influence on everything that occurs afterwards.

9) On philanthropy my approach is to try to relieve pain rather than spread joy. Music, theatre and art museums have many affluent supporters, give the best parties and can add to your social luster in a community. They don’t need you. Social service, hospitals and educational institutions can make the world a better place and help the disadvantaged make their way toward the American dream.

10) Younger people are naturally insecure and tend to overplay their accomplishments. Most people don’t become comfortable with who they are until they’re in their 40’s. By that time they can underplay their achievements and become a nicer, more likeable person. Try to get to that point as soon as you can.

11) Take the time to give those who work for you a pat on the back when they do good work. Most people are so focused on the next challenge that they fail to thank the people who support them. It is important to do this. It motivates and inspires people and encourages them to perform at a higher level.

12) When someone extends a kindness to you write them a handwritten note, not an e-mail. Handwritten notes make an impact and are not quickly forgotten.

13) At the beginning of every year think of ways you can do your job better than you have ever done it before. Write them down and look at what you have set out for yourself when the year is over.

14) The hard way is always the right way. Never take shortcuts, except when driving home from the Hamptons. Short-cuts can be construed as sloppiness, a career killer.

15) Don’t try to be better than your competitors, try to be different. There is always going to be someone smarter than you, but there may not be someone who is more imaginative.

16) When seeking a career as you come out of school or making a job change, always take the job that looks like it will be the most enjoyable. If it pays the most, you’re lucky. If it doesn’t, take it anyway, I took a severe pay cut to take each of the two best jobs I’ve ever had, and they both turned out to be exceptionally rewarding financially.

17) There is a perfect job out there for everyone. Most people never find it. Keep looking. The goal of life is to be a happy person and the right job is essential to that.

18) When your children are grown or if you have no children, always find someone younger to mentor. It is very satisfying to help someone steer through life’s obstacles, and you’ll be surprised at how much you will learn in the process.

19) Every year try doing something you have never done before that is totally out of your comfort zone. It could be running a marathon, attending a conference that interests you on an off-beat subject that will be populated by people very different from your usual circle of associates and friends or traveling to an obscure destination alone. This will add to the essential process of self-discovery.

20) Never retire. If you work forever, you can live forever. I know there is an abundance of biological evidence against this theory, but I’m going with it anyway.

What an incredible list. I hope you share this wisdom with your friends. There isn’t one bullet point above with which I disagree.

###

(hat tip: @ritholtz/@explore)

Freddie deBoer: Discouragement for Young Writers

In what may be one of the most cynical but tell-it-like-it-is posts I’ve ever read, Freddie deBoer offers some “Discouragement for Young Writers”. It’s a must-read, in my opinion. First, a cautionary note:

A third of this is tongue in cheek. You’ll have to decide which third yourself.

I’m not a writer; I’m just someone who reads and writes a lot. So you may take all of this in a “credit only to the man in the arena” sense, and I wouldn’t blame you. But I’ll tell you: there are advantages. Not being a writer is a wonderful salve for your writing. I sometimes read things that writers have written and say to myself, if only s/he wasn’t a writer, s/he’d be going places.

I don’t think this is the one third that’s meant tongue in cheek:

You probably can’t make it as a writer. That’s the very first thing you should understand. Start every day by looking into the mirror and saying: I’ll never write that novel. I’ll never write that novel. I’ll never write that novel. Hopefully after you’ve gotten it through your skull you can get to work on something that will put money in your pocket. (Spoiler: it won’t be a lot. Within a rounding error of $0 is a nice, conservative assumption.) You might, if you aren’t too hung up on writing that novel, write a novel. There’s a small chance someone will buy it, once you’ve written the one that isn’t the one that you think about writing that gets in the way of your work. There’s even a remote possibility it’ll be good. Even really good. But probably not.

But this most likely is:

Buzz is nothing. Getting your name out there is nothing. All of the positive mentions and trackbacks and Facebook hits from that piece you did for somebody’s vanity project website are nothing.

The best thing to do, sometimes, is to ignore the vapid advice. Spot on:

It’s a fact of life that writers, who always aspire to speak with specificity and go in fear of abstraction, tend to give the most vague, useless advice on writing. “Use concrete language! Write about what you know! Listen to criticism!” Thanks, coach. They mean well. They really do. But “be specific in your writing” has as much content as “make a profit in your business” or “score more points in your football game.” Useless. All useless.

This part is definitely tongue in cheek. Some people do care.

Nobody gives a shit that you used to cut yourself. Nobody gives a shit that your parents divorced. Nobody gives a shit that you have cancer. Nobody cares.

But this is a good sound-off. I do think writing is worth trying (I’ve tried and failed):

So do it for awhile and if you don’t make it find something else that’s good enough. Then you can get all nostalgic about when you tried it out. I’m a romantic at heart, and it’s a beautiful thing to attempt.

Again, a must-read. Especially if you need a dash of reality to go with all that enthusiasm you’ve been inhaling.

###

(hat tip: @fmanjoo)

Pay Your F**king Dues

A great post by Paul Jarvis on paying your dues:

Doing what you love isn’t good enough. It’s not even close to being a recipe for success. You have to do what you are really fucking good at, know it inside and out, and have worked at it for a long time. Going freelance right out of school or right after you learn a new skill can be both a comedy of errors and extremely egotistical (and you’re smarter than that).

Past having the necessary stone-cold expertise dialled in, business is relationships. These relationships take time to cultivate (a lot of time). Your business will come from people you know and people they know, so if those connections aren’t there, the business you need to survive won’t be there either.

Running a business is also an incredible risk. Most of them fail and fail quickly. Even the ones that were started by extremely passionate people.

My advice is always the same—pay your fucking dues first. And in a world of positivity, encouraging Rumi quotes and the mentality “if you’ve got passion, your business will succeed”, I sound like a meanie and total buzzkill.

These thoughts echo what Cal Newport spoke at WDS on building a remarkable career.

Why Developing Serious Relationships in Your 20s Matters

I’m not an entrepreneur, but this post by Elizabeth Spiers resonated with me:

There was this girl. This guy.

Eh, fuck it. You’re busy. You have more important things to do. Changing the world is a full-time job and if you don’t do it now, when will you?

Here’s the thing: I know you. You’re probably one of the many people I’ve mentored or hired. On multiple occasions, you’ve explained to me (as if I were your batty old aunt, but I’m not taking it personally) that you have no time to get to know anyone because you’re busy doing your work.

This is a complete fallacy. Work and relationships are not incompatible…

Ang Lee and the Uncertainty of Success

Jeff J. Lin writes a great post on the success of director Ang Lee (most recently of Life of Pi fame). The highlight is that Ang Lee went through a period of six years of where he had nothing, being rejected over and over:

From age 30 to 36, he’s living in an apartment in White Plains, NY trying to get something — anything — going, while his wife Jane supports the family of four (they also had two young children) on her modest salary as a microbiologist. He spends every day at home, working on scripts, raising the kids, doing the cooking. That’s a six-year span — six years! — filled with dashed hopes and disappointments. “There was nothing,” he told The New York Times. “I sent in script after script. Most were turned down. Then there would be interest, I’d rewrite, hurry up, turn it in and wait weeks and weeks, just waiting. That was the toughest time for Jane and me. She didn’t know what a film career was like and neither did I.” It got so discouraging that Lee reportedly contemplated learning computer science so he could find a job during this time, but was scolded by his wife when she found out, telling him to keep his focus.

Put yourself in his shoes. Imagine starting something now, this year, that you felt you were pretty good at, having won some student awards, devoting yourself to it full time…and then getting rejected over and over until 2019. That’s the middle of the term of the next President of the United States. Can you imagine working that long, not knowing if anything would come of it? Facing the inevitable “So how’s that film thing going?” question for the fifth consecutive Thanksgiving dinner; explaining for the umpteeth time this time it’s different to parents that had hoped that film study meant you wanted to be a professor of film at a university.

The uncertainty of success. So this advice is worthwhile:

If you’re an aspiring author, director, musician, startup founder, these long stretches of nothing are a huge reason why it’s important to pick something personally meaningful, something that you actually love to do.

Add to that: a photographer.

The Value of Self-Awareness

Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield write on the value of self-awareness for success:

The successful people we spoke with — in business, entertainment, sports and the arts — all had similar responses when faced with obstacles: they subjected themselves to fairly merciless self-examination that prompted reinvention of their goals and the methods by which they endeavored to acheive them.

The tennis champion Martina Navratilova, for example, told us that after a galling loss to Chris Evert in 1981, she questioned her assumption that she could get by on talent and instinct alone. She began a long exploration of every aspect of her game. She adopted a rigorous cross-training practice (common today but essentially unheard of at the time), revamped her diet and her mental and tactical game and ultimately transformed herself into the most successful women’s tennis player of her era.

The indie rock band OK Go described how it once operated under the business model of the 20th-century rock band. But when industry record sales collapsed and the band members found themselves creatively hamstrung by their recording company, they questioned their tactics. Rather than depend on their label, they made wildly unconventional music videos, which went viral, and collaborative art projects with companies like Google, State Farm and Range Rover, which financed future creative endeavors. The band now releases albums on its own label.

This is great, but it all comes with the benefit of hindsight. This kind of advice isn’t useful to the person still struggling with their business, personal goals, or indeed anything worth pursuing. But if you found the advice useful, the authors have a book to sell you.

Fiona Apple’s Poignant Letter about Her Dying Dog

Last week, singer/song-writer Fiona Apple posted a handwritten letter addressed to “a few thousand friends I have not met yet.” In the letter, Fiona Apple announced that she is postponing the South American leg of her tour because of the ill health of her beloved dog, a pit bull named Janet. Janet is a 13-year-old rescue dog suffering from Addison’s disease (as well as a tumor on her chest), and Fiona Apple, acknowledging the inevitable, wants to be there for Janet’s final breath.

Fiona Apple’s heartbreaking letter to her fans.

The letter is one of the best things I’ve read ever read on the love humans have for dogs. A must-read in its entirety, presented below:

It’s 6pm on Friday, and I’m writing to a few thousand friends I have not met yet. I’m writing to ask them to change our plans and meet a little while later.

Here’s the thing.

I have a dog, Janet, and she’s been ill for about 2 years now, as a tumor has been idling in her chest, growing ever so slowly. She’s almost 14 years old now. I got her when she was 4 months old. I was 21 then — an adult, officially — and she was my kid.

She is a pitbull, and was found in Echo Park, with a rope around her neck, and bites all over her ears and face.

She was the one the dogfighters use to puff up the confidence of the contenders.

She’s almost 14 and I’ve never seen her start a fight, or bite, or even growl, so I can understand why they chose her for that awful role. She’s a pacifist.

Janet has been the most consistent relationship of my adult life, and that is just a fact. We’ve lived in numerous houses, and joined a few makeshift families, but it’s always really been just the two of us.

She slept in bed with me, her head on the pillow, and she accepted my hysterical, tearful face into her chest, with her paws around me, every time I was heartbroken, or spirit-broken, or just lost, and as years went by, she let me take the role of her child, as I fell asleep, with her chin resting above my head.

She was under the piano when I wrote songs, barked any time I tried to record anything, and she was in the studio with me, all the time we recorded the last album.

The last time I came back from tour, she was spry as ever, and she’s used to me being gone for a few weeks, every 6 or 7 years.

She has Addison’s Disease, which makes it more dangerous for her to travel, since she needs regular injections of Cortisol, because she reacts to stress and excitement without the physiological tools which keep most of us from literally panicking to death.

Despite all this, she’s effortlessly joyful & playful, and only stopped acting like a puppy about 3 years ago. She is my best friend, and my mother, and my daughter, my benefactor, and she’s the one who taught me what love is.

I can’t come to South America. Not now. When I got back from the last leg of the US tour, there was a big, big difference.

She doesn’t even want to go for walks anymore.

I know that she’s not sad about aging or dying. Animals have a survival instinct, but a sense of mortality and vanity, they do not. That’s why they are so much more present than people.

But I know she is coming close to the time where she will stop being a dog, and start instead to be part of everything. She’ll be in the wind, and in the soil, and the snow, and in me, wherever I go.

I just can’t leave her now, please understand. If I go away again, I’m afraid she’ll die and I won’t have the honor of singing her to sleep, of escorting her out.

Sometimes it takes me 20 minutes just to decide what socks to wear to bed.

But this decision is instant.

These are the choices we make, which define us. I will not be the woman who puts her career ahead of love & friendship.

I am the woman who stays home, baking Tilapia for my dearest, oldest friend. And helps her be comfortable & comforted & safe & important.

Many of us these days, we dread the death of a loved one. It is the ugly truth of Life that keeps us feeling terrified & alone. I wish we could also appreciate the time that lies right beside the end of time. I know that I will feel the most overwhelming knowledge of her, and of her life and of my love for her, in the last moments.

I need to do my damnedest, to be there for that.

Because it will be the most beautiful, the most intense, the most enriching experience of life I’ve ever known.

When she dies.

So I am staying home, and I am listening to her snore and wheeze, and I am revelling in the swampiest, most awful breath that ever emanated from an angel. And I’m asking for your blessing.

I’ll be seeing you.

Love, 

Fiona

What a testament to Fiona Apple’s character. These are words to live by: “I will not be the woman who puts her career ahead of love & friendship.”

###

(via Letters of Note)

Seth Godin on Initiative and Starting Out

Seth Godin offers this piece of advice on initiative and starting out in this The Great Discontent interview:

There’s a picture that I just saw online two days ago… It’s a picture of someone graduating from college. You can’t tell, but you can guess that they’re probably $150,000 in debt. Written on the top of their mortarboard with masking tape it says, “Hire me.” The thing about the picture that’s pathetic, beyond the notion that you need to spam the audience at graduation with a note saying you’re looking for a job, is that you went $150,000 in debt and spent four years of your life so someone else could pick you. That’s ridiculous. It really makes me sad to see that. The opportunity of a lifetime is to pick yourself. Quit waiting to get picked; quit waiting for someone to give you permission; quit waiting for someone to say you are officially qualified and pick yourself. It doesn’t mean you have to be an entrepreneur or a freelancer, but it does mean you stand up and say, “I have something to say. I know how to do something. I’m doing it. If you want me to do it with you, raise your hand.”

The entire interview is excellent.

I am a big fan of Seth Godin’s books, especially Linchpin, which I reviewed here.

###

(hat tip: Tina Ross Eisenberg)

Stop Waiting

From one of my favourite photographers (and writers), David duChemin writes a superb post titled “Stop Waiting”:

My own soul is so sick of this culture of pragmatism that has people locked into their fears and their anxieties as though staying safe will guarantee them immortality. Live forever, but live in fear without ever reaching higher than the cookie jar; that doesn’t sound like a life to me, even if it were possible. There will always be reasons we think we can’t do what we long to do. Few of them, if any, are good. Amputees climb Everest. People with children travel the world. And talentless hacks make a decent living selling kitsch they call art. If they can do it, so can you. So can I. Not easily. Not cheaply. Not quickly. It might take a lifetime and cost us more than we imagined. But we can do it. It’ll be a little easier if we stop being so damn patient, if we stop waiting, get up and try, risk, fail, and repeat.

A must-read in entirety.

David’s book, Within the Frame, is the best $25 investment you can make if you’re into photography. It’s one of the best books I’ve read on the subject of photography. As David says: “Gear is good; vision is better.”

Your Parents Don’t Want What Is Best for You

Charles Wheelan has a message for the graduating class of 2012, and it is wonderful. He writes that he became sick of commencement speeches when he graduated. In the decades since his graduation,  he has studied happiness and well-being, and dishes out ten bits of wisdom to the graduating class. It’s a great read.

I completely agree with this advice:

Don’t make the world worse. I know that I’m supposed to tell you to aspire to great things. But I’m going to lower the bar here: Just don’t use your prodigious talents to mess things up. Too many smart people are doing that already. And if you really want to cause social mayhem, it helps to have an Ivy League degree. You are smart and motivated and creative. Everyone will tell you that you can change the world. They are right, but remember that “changing the world” also can include things like skirting financial regulations and selling unhealthy foods to increasingly obese children. I am not asking you to cure cancer. I am just asking you not to spread it.

This one sounds way easier to say than to carry out:

Marry someone smarter than you are. When I was getting a Ph.D., my wife Leah had a steady income. When she wanted to start a software company, I had a job with health benefits. (To clarify, having a “spouse with benefits” is different from having a “friend with benefits.”) You will do better in life if you have a second economic oar in the water. I also want to alert you to the fact that commencement is like shooting smart fish in a barrel. The Phi Beta Kappa members will have pink-and-blue ribbons on their gowns. The summa cum laude graduates have their names printed in the program. Seize the opportunity!

I embrace this strategy/advice daily:

Don’t model your life after a circus animal. Performing animals do tricks because their trainers throw them peanuts or small fish for doing so. You should aspire to do better. You will be a friend, a parent, a coach, an employee—and so on. But only in your job will you be explicitly evaluated and rewarded for your performance. Don’t let your life decisions be distorted by the fact that your boss is the only one tossing you peanuts. If you leave a work task undone in order to meet a friend for dinner, then you are “shirking” your work. But it’s also true that if you cancel dinner to finish your work, then you are shirking your friendship. That’s just not how we usually think of it.

And this one was my favorite:

Your parents don’t want what is best for you. They want what is good for you, which isn’t always the same thing. There is a natural instinct to protect our children from risk and discomfort, and therefore to urge safe choices. Theodore Roosevelt—soldier, explorer, president—once remarked, “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” Great quote, but I am willing to bet that Teddy’s mother wanted him to be a doctor or a lawyer.

Worth reading in its entirety. What do you think the author missed?