Outside of School There Are No Rules

Schools have taught us that neatly defined paths are the only ones worth taking. That there’s only one way to learn. That you have to wait for orders before you can even think about creating something. That you have to study before you take action. That you can’t delve into a subject seriously unless you are getting a credential for it.

That may be true while you’re in school. Outside of school however, there’s only two things that really matter: that you find value in whatever you do or that others find value in whatever you do.

However you can fulfill that is all fair game.

Pocket Casts: My Favorite Podcast App

When the podcast industry was at its infancy, you had to go through the iTunes music app in order to subscribe to podcasts.

Now that the podcast industry has blown up, there are many ways you could listen to podcasts. If you go to your app store and search for "podcast," what you'll see is a seemingly never ending list of options. On top of that there are things like Spotify or Soundcloud. Even video recordings on YouTube are becoming popular. 

Over the years I have tried more than a handful of podcast apps. I wouldn't say that one app is objectively better than all the rest since they are designed to meet different needs for different people. But the one that I like the best is Pocket Casts.

It's funny, this is an app that I tried a few years ago but immediately abandoned because it was too simple for me. Recently it won me back when I discovered that they now have a desktop version that seamlessly syncs up with the mobile app. That was the deal-maker for me. 

This tool is very convenient for me because, while on my computer, I often find a certain podcast episode that I want to listen to. Now I don't have to locate and open up my phone, look up the name of the podcast and put that episode on my playlist. Instead I can go straight to the desktop app and start listening to it. And if I decide to stop, it'll be waiting for me on my phone with the progress synced up. 

There are many other features that make this app great. Some of my favorites are that it gives you stats about your listening history and it has a feature called trim silence, which automatically reduces the length of the podcast. 

It also has a smooth and elegant UI. 

Pocket Casts is available both on android and iOS. 

The mobile app costs $3.99 and the desktop service is $9, but with a 14 day free trial. Both are just a one time payment. 

One interesting thing about Pocket Casts is that it recently got acquired by a couple of big podcast networks. This is usually a scary thing because it could mean other interests might mess with the quality of the product, but after I listened to an interview with the creator, who is still leading the company, I am actually excited for the future of Pocket Casts. 

Aim Higher

If my goal for the day is to run two miles, I feel exhausted by the time I finish. If my goal is to run four miles, I don’t feel exhausted at two.

This reveals to me that it’s all about the mindset. Obviously I’m physically doing the same amount of exercise by the time I finish two, so I believe that the difference is in my expectation.

My brain is constantly looking for an excuse to stop pain. If it is convinced that the pain will not stop at 2 then it’ll do whatever necessary to cope. And it copes by telling itself that this pain is normal. But if it knows I will stop soon, it will stop trying to cope.

Lesson: whatever your goal is, always aim a few notches above it because it’ll give you the mindset of a person who sees the original goal as normal.

Be Mindful of the Invisible Reward

Sometimes we don’t experience the result of being diligent as a reward. This is unfortunate because it means we have poor incentives to do what’s best for us.

What do I mean?

Well, take driving for example.

Let’s say you drive completely safe — no unnecessary lane changes, no speeding etc.

So what is the reward for doing that? The reward is that nothing bad happens. Your life goes on as it always has, which is something you already take for granted.

From an intellectual perspective you can see the value of driving safe, but still the result of driving safe doesn’t feel like a reward. It takes a good amount of imagination to be able to see the alternate scenario where you weren’t as careful.

So What is the Solution?

I have two solutions: set up your own incentive and/or make being diligent as convenient as possible.

If you want to be diligent with driving safe, maybe throw your phone in the back seat so it doesn’t distract you. If you want to be diligent with working out, maybe get a work-out buddy. With eating healthy, get rid of all the junk food in your house.

You get the idea.

Sometimes it is very hard to find a solution like that. In that case you just have to keep thinking about it and eventually something will come up.

Instead of thinking this as a problem, think of it as an opportunity.

If you’re competing with other people, say in a sport or in the job market, this is an easy way to set yourself apart. All you have to do is be mindful of the invisible rewards of being diligent. By doing this you will run into less mistakes and inconveniences in the long run.

The fact that we live in a reality where these poor incentives exist means that there are opportunities for clever entrepreneurs to fill in the gap of making it more convenient to do the right thing.

Hey, maybe you could be one of those cool entrepreneurs, so get to solving some problems.

A Year of Blogging

Today, I just realized that I’ve been writing on my blog for over a year.

Writing publicly was something I had wanted to do for years, but it took me some time to get over the fear of being judged over it.

It’s remarkable how much I’ve grown as a result of this endeavor. A year ago I would have been deadly afraid of putting my thoughts and work out for anyone to see.

I used to be paralyzed by perfectionism. Now, I feel good every time I ship something out to the world, even when I know it’s far from perfect.

Well, at least this is the case when it comes to writing. I still can’t imagine shipping something in audio or video form.

At some point I’ll have to tackle that.

Finding Advice That’s Effective

You’re not going to make much progress by listening to big-picture advice from Tim Ferris or Seth Godin. There’s certainly a time for that advice, but not until you’ve had some success. That’s because you need to start doing things before you try to improve them. So just do work first.

If you are going to look for advice, look for people who are not too far removed from your position. Maybe even search for people who are in your level and who are learning out loud.

Reach out to them.

Advice is so much more valuable and effective if it comes from someone that’s right above your level of success, not someone who is miles above you and who gives out general advice that can be applied to everyone. What you want is advice that can only apply to you.

Book Review: Reach Out by Molly Beck

I got this book after seeing Zak Slayback show it on an Instagram post. I decided to read it because I wanted to know a bit more about how to create and cultivate relationships.

This book gave me solid advice on effective email etiquette, but perhaps more importantly it made me realize how many opportunities I’ve been leaving on the table by not reaching out regularly. I always felt it should be a rare thing to reach out, especially when it came to people you had no connection with.

I was shocked when I read that Molly advocated reaching out to 5 new people a week! Then I thought about it and realized, “why wouldn’t you?” Why not make it a routine to reach out? I could see nothing but upside if you do that.

Here are some of the benefits if you do it regularly:

  • You will increase your network
  • You will become a killer email composer, and a more effective communicator overall.
  • You will get less hung up if someone doesn’t respond or if you get rejected after making an ask.
  • You will make other people feel good, since every email should include a compliment and a gift. (a gift could be a book recommendation, an invitation to an event, some sort of e-favor etc.)

There are four types of reach outs (or ROs):

  • The Re-RO: Reaching Out to someone you already know from the past or is on the edge of your network. This one has the highest response rate.
  • The Follow-up RO: Reaching Out to someone you have met in passing in real life and want to build a deeper connection to
  • The Borrowed Connection RO: Reaching Out to a friend of a friend who has suggested you two should know each other
  • The Cool RO: Reaching Out to someone who you have no direct connection to at this time, formally known as the cold email. This one has the lowest response rate.

The thought of reaching out is very scary, especially when it comes to meeting someone person-to-person. Looks like it’s about time to face my fear though. Wish me luck.


Favorite Quote:

“You have to reach out to get noticed. You have to volunteer to stand in the spotlight. You have to raise your hand. You have to send the first email. You still might fail to be noticed if you do these things, but you definitely won’t be noticed if you wait for somebody else to reach out to you. So what are you waiting for? Reach out!”

Christians and Me

Here's something that has happened a few times: I meet someone who is exceptionally friendly and helpful to me, then later on I find out that they are a devout Christian. 

By devout Christian I mean people that genuinely think about God every day, which you can see through the conversations they have or the stuff they post online. They go to church every Sunday and listen to nothing but Christian music.

Even though I'm an atheist, I think that I've grown to have a bias towards Christians. In many ways I feel "safer" around them. For example, I feel more comfortable talking to them than I do talking to atheists.

Perhaps because I feel less judged, or because they don't seem to worry about small stuff. 

It’s probably also because I hold a lot of the same values that they do: I'm not judgmental, I don't like swearing, I don't like tattoos and drugs, I strongly believe in the importance of tradition and having a nuclear family, and more.

The important thing I'm missing is the belief in God. 

It's too bad I don't see myself ever changing in that respect. 

This leads me to a tragic predicament, which is that I love hardcore Christians but because I'm an atheist,  I don't think a close friendship or relationship is possible. 

Pursuing a Goal vs Pursuing an Identity

I don’t want to run an ultramarathon, I want to be the type of person that runs ultramarathons.

I don’t want to make a lot of money, I want to be the type of person who is competent and has valuable skills.

I don’t want to get married and have kids, I want to be the type of person whom girls would like to marry and have kids with.

If you focus on changing your identity through small habits, it’s more likely that you will get what you want.

Podcasts > School

Podcasts > School

I remember when I discovered podcasts as a medium. One summer day in 2009, I found that the iTunes store had a category called podcasts. It was content that I could download for free! I thought that was amazing.

I was very excited by the possibilities. Podcasts were a window to anything I wanted to learn. It was not limited by a place, time or a generic set of subjects. It was a medium that truly gave me the freedom to learn.

Notice that I made this discovery during the summer, when I had time to explore. 

First, I listened to podcasts about comedy and unsolved mysteries (ghosts, aliens, Big Foot, Mothman etc.). My favorite two podcasts were Comedy Death Ray (now called Comedy Bang! Bang!) and one called Universe of Mystery. Then I slowly moved towards more intellectual stuff like The Joe Rogan Experience, Stefan Molyneux’s Freedomain Radio and Dan Carlin’s Common Sense.

This was happening while I was juggling school. At the time I thought of school as a necessary burden, but now I realize how useless it was in terms of shaping my future for the better. I would echo George Bernard Shaw's experience when he said,

From a very early age, I've had to interrupt my education to go to school.

Flashforward 9 years since I found the magical world of podcasts. Now, almost everything I've learned that has made a tangible impact in my life has come from them.

To show you what I mean, here are just a few life-altering things that happened because of podcasts:

  • It was a conversation between Joe Rogan and Stefan Molyneux that made me realize the extent to which my childhood experiences have governed my behavior. This lead to a long road of understanding my past so that I could better control who I could become.
  • It was hearing countless of call-in-shows on Freedomain Radio that taught me how to think critically and how to acquire self knowledge. It is also why I’ve become a big proponent of peaceful parenting.
  • It was through a couple of Tom Wood’s interviews  that I first learned about online affiliate marketing. I immediately wanted to try it and so I taught myself how to build a website. With his many episodes, Tom Woods ignited the entrepreneurial spirit in me.
  • It was the great conversations between Isaac Morehouse and TK Coleman in Isaac's podcast that taught me the importance of having my own public blog, as well as the courage to actually write in it. And that's just one of the many ways they've impacted me.
  • When I first heard of it, I was very skeptical about the idea of unschooling. But after I listened to a few episodes of Exploring Unschooling with Pam Laricchia, it finally clicked in me that it just might be the best way to raise children. I've been learning about it through her podcast ever since. 
  • It was this conversation between Derek Magill and Isaac Morehouse that gave me the idea to make a website for my running club for free in order to gain experience and build my portfolio. It was a great success and now I’m using it to create more opportunities for myself.

These are clear learning moments I can point to that have broadened my horizons. I think it's safe to say that most of the meaningful knowledge I've acquired has come from the podcasts that I've listened to, not from school. When you compare the amount of time I've spent listening to podcasts to the 15,000+ hours which school had me for, plus a few years in college, this should bring some alarm. 

Maybe other people were different. Maybe they actually learned some meaningful things in school, but even then I think there remains a problem. And that problem is that schools are inherently inefficient at cultivating meaningful learning.

Perhaps I'll elaborate on this in a future post.