Saturday, April 20, 2013

Is passion overrated?

Post from MR about an Ivy League grad who asked "what should I do with my life?"

From a young age we're taught to follow our passions. The myth goes, just follow your passions and you'll live a happy, fulfilling, wealthy life. But Max brings up a good point - what if you don't know what your passion is? It seems like you either have a passion or you don't. Tyler admits he doesn't have a good answer to the question. The best he can do is tell Max not to worry about it, "passion isn't a value in and of itself." At first this answer sounds like a cop out. But the more I think about it the more I like Tyler's answer. Why are we assuming that having a passion is a good thing?

As I started writing this post I browsed some quotes about passion. After reading a few dozen quotes something struck me, this whole idea that passion is a good thing is a relatively modern idea. When talking about passion modern writers and thinkers usually say something along the lines of Hegel: "Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion." But classical writers and philosophers write about passion very differently, usually something along the lines of Cicero: "He only employs his passion who can make no use of his reason." Clearly these two writers have very different views of passion. To what extent these reflect social values of the time, I'm not sure. But I would guess that modern thinkers embrace passion, or at least view it more highly, than the Greco-Romans did 2000 years ago.

So has this passion thing gone too far? Are we teaching too many children to follow their passions? Is there more to life than finding and living your passion?

I've never had much of a passion. I certainly do a lot of things with passion but I have yet to find that one thing that I feel I was put on the Earth to do. And I suspect I never will. For a long time I've viewed this lack of passion as a problem. What if it isn't a problem? If I was following a singular passion I might have never explored music, economics, Roman history or the writings of Montaigne. What if my lack of singular focus has resulted in all my intellectual and social exploration? As Cicero wrote, passion requires irrationality, a certain lack of reason. No doubt the world certainly needs people who see the reasonable thing to do but decide to do the opposite. But if too many people follow their passion and decide to be writers or artists or play sports who will run our factories, build our bridges? Perhaps Hegel is correct, nothing great is accomplished without passion, but I would add that plenty of good is accomplished without passion.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Happiness as a byproduct

Great title for an article in the Atlantic: "How to Land Your Kid in Therapy"

All about how parents' good intentions can (and often do) have a negative impact on their children. Barry Schwartz has a great line in this article, "Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing, but happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster." Barry Schwartz also gave a great TED talk on the paradox of choice, about how too many options lead to feelings of discontent and creates the fear of missing out.

Another good  quote from the article, from Jean Twenge, "Narcissists are happy when they’re younger, because they’re the center of the universe... [but] instead of feeling good about themselves, they feel better than everyone else." In other words there are two ways to get high self-esteem (1) by thinking you're better than everyone else or (2) by feeling good about yourself. I'm reminded of my first (of 52) weekly resolutions of 2013 - Don't Compare Yourself to Others. If self-esteem and narcissism often go hand in hand then while you gain from one you lose from the other. So perhaps its just as important to ask "how does this make me feeling about myself?" as "how does this make me feel about others?"

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Jesse Litvak

Now I normally don't take anything on zerohedge too seriously, but I've gotta say they've got this story down.

I'm imagining these quotes being read by Jesse Pinkman:

yo yo yo….if there is any color you can share on your wfmbs 06-ar10 4A1 from yest…maybe i can use that as leverage to go beat the guy up that owns the 06-ar12 1a1 bonds
Someday, hopefully soon, investors will demand an end to these shenanigans and move all fixed income and derivatives trading to exchanges.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dating Redux

Another article about dating, however what I'm really impressed by here are the comments. This must be the most well written and thought provoking comments section that exists on the internet!

I've never been a fan of the hookup culture, not that I have a moral objection to it but its always felt to me rather empty. The author gives a few explanations for it, the still not so great economy, the now higher status of young single women or just plain old fear of commitment. But all of these explanations are grounded in fear. Relationships can be scary, relationships can hurt. Keeping things casual or low-key or unofficial is safe. To each his own, as Homer Simpson once said, "I want it all: the terrifying lows, the dizzying highs, the creamy middles."

John Cacioppo

An expert on loneliness and professor at the University of Chicago. Somehow the two flow very well together. Anyways, today I read an article (about a book) in the Atlantic with a different take on love:

I've always taken a "I'll know it when I feel it" approach to love. One thing that has always struck me about falling in love is how much I internalize the other person and how I see myself reflecting aspects of their personality. On the flip side for the past two months I've been working on a blog post about falling out of love. This article puts that post into a different perspective.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Absolutely brilliant example of outsourcing. A programmer at a company in the US paid a Chinese company 20% of his salary to do all of his programming work. He would then spend most of the day in the office essentially doing nothing and kept the remaining 80%. To top it off according to his performance reviews he was considered one the firm's leading programming experts. Besides the dishonesty I don't really see anything wrong with this, who is to say the company (and not the worker) should capture the benefits of outsourcing?

Monday, January 14, 2013


Thanks to John Mauldin I've become convinced that the next big boom will be in biotech. Stories like this only further support this hypothesis. If you've ever wished for more hours in a day then your dream might come true - and sooner than you think. A lot of people like to say "we'll never again create something as innovative as electricity or indoor plumbing. Things like Facebook don't even come close." And yes Facebook doesn't come close, but what about reducing your need to sleep by 75%? That sounds pretty revolutionary to me. If 1/3 of your life is spent asleep then it would be the equivalent of living 19 years longer.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

My 20 Favorite Songs of 2012

Got an early start this year, so here goes...

1. Some Nights ~ fun.
2. Take a Walk ~ Passion Pit
3. Climax ~ Usher
4. Phone Sex ~ Blood Diamonds
5. Little Talks ~ Of Monsters & Men
6. Thinking About You ~ Frank Ocean
7. I Love It ~ Icona Pop
8. Hold On ~ Alabama Shakes
9. Gangnam Style ~ Psy
10. Ho Hey ~ Lumineers
11. Swimming Pools ~ Kendrick Lamar
12. Call Me Maybe ~ Carly Rae Jepsen
13. Fuckin Problem ~ ASAP Rocky
14. The House That Heaven Built ~ Japandroids
15. Oblivion ~ Grimes
16. Change the Sheets ~ Kathleen Edwards
17. Five Seconds ~ Twin Shadow
18. Adorn ~ Miguel
19. Teenage Icon ~ Vaccines
20. Everything Is Embarrassing ~ Sky Ferreira

It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness

Interesting article in the Atlantic about Nazis, happiness and finding meaning in life. The author makes an interesting point that happiness and meaning are inversely related, the things that give life meaning often make us less happy. She clearly has a pretty low opinion of happiness, describing it as an empty and fleeting emotion. However I don't think she really provides any satisfactory definition of meaning. Perhaps, like happiness, the pursuit of meaning thwarts meaning. Frankl found meaning in his experiences, however I can't "find" his experiences.

Some 450 years ago on his deathbed Montaigne wrote "Life should be an aim unto itself, a purpose unto itself." So perhaps its not about where you end up but how you get there.

Monday, January 7, 2013

It was the best of times...

Chicago man wins the lottery, dies a month later - the medical examiner determined it was a natural death. After pressure from relatives the case is reopened 6 months later. Turns out the cause of death was actually a lethal dose of cyanide. Scary stuff.

Too Many Options

8 years ago Barry Schwartz wrote a book titled, The Paradox of Choice. The premise of the book being that when we have too many options to choose from we end up spending way too much time weighing our options and ultimately less satisfied with our choice. A recent article in the atlantic takes this same premise and applies it to dating. With online dating there are so many options you can spend forever looking for that perfect person. And even if you find somebody great along the way the prospect of meeting someone new, someone better is too alluring for some. Consequently commitment and happiness with that commitment becomes weaker. I'm not as pessimistic about the future of human relationships as the author is but I can empathize with Jacob. Its not easy and commitment is always scary. However last Friday I was out to dinner with Liz and she said something very wise. It was along the lines of "listen, no one is perfect so don't beat yourself up over it." Being with someone less than perfect has a cost but so does not being with someone at all. Overall a very thought provoking read.

Resolutions Week #1

So far I've learned that Facebook is shockingly easy to avoid, after uninstalling the app from my phone last week I haven't checked it yet. Google Finance is proving much more difficult to avoid. I swear its an addiction. Its like checking the score of your favorite sports team - except this team plays over 250 games a year and each game lasts 8 hours. Its a work in progress.

My other resolution is also going reasonably well so far. Instead of going through the zenhabits list in the order it was written I've built a spreadsheet and randomized the list. Each week I will write one random item from the list on the home screen of my phone to remind me. For week 1 my lesson is:

Don't compare yourself to others. Much easier said than done. There are some obvious ways that I do this but over the past week I've noticed some more pernicious ways. The obvious ways are the ones that create envy, "oh that person is so lucky they have X,Y and Z, I want that too." The less obvious ways are the ones that create a sense of superiority, "oh I have X, Y and Z and therefore am better/smarter/more attractive than the people who don't." Usually when people write about comparing yourself to others they write about envy. It makes sense, only the people who feel something is lacking will seek out help, either to acquire what they feel they lack or to lose the feeling of lacking. Those who already have what they want probably won't seek out help, but perhaps these are the ones who need to learn this lesson most of all. As humans we're hard-wired to seek out relative status, to feel superior to some and envious of others. To me this sounds like a miserable path through life. Don't compare yourself to others.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Years Resolutions (so far)

I'm always looking for more New Year's resolutions so suggestions are always welcome.

So far my resolutions are:

1. Check Google Finance and Facebook no more than once a week.
2. Each week make a concentrated effort to follow one of zenhabits 52 tips for Happiness and Productivity

New reading for the new year

I discovered a great blog this morning called Brain Pickings. Only a few posts in but I've already learned a lot from it about knowledge, creativity and work. One anecdote from a post on Combinatorial Creativity:
Picasso is sitting in the park, sketching. A woman walks by, recognizes him, runs up to him and pleads with him to draw her portrait. He’s in a good mood, so he agrees and starts sketching. A few minutes later, he hands her the portrait. The lady is ecstatic, she gushes about how wonderfully it captures the very essence of her character, what beautiful, beautiful work it is, and asks how much she owes him. “$5,000, madam,” says Picasso. The lady is taken aback, outraged, and asks how that’s even possible given it only took him 5 minutes. Picasso looks up and, without missing a beat, says: “No, madam, it took me my whole life.”
I have never thought about work and value in that way before. You're not paying $5,000 for 5 minutes of Picasso's work, rather you're paying $5,000 for the cumulative wisdom of his lifetime.