Drive by Daniel H. Pink

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The past couple weeks have been slow moving with writing new content so I decided to get back to the Road’s roots and read some new non-fiction.

Drive, by Daniel H. Pink, was a concise and straightforward look at the different types of motivation for individuals.

For years, businesses and governments have operated under the assumption that people do not want to work and need to be strictly controlled to maintain progress. Leaders developed principles based on the basic needs for survival. If you complete x amount of work, then you receive y reward. Older generations accepted this practice and the regular 9-5 routine was established as the foundation for a workplace.

Over the years, social scientists have studied the productivity of the carrot/stick system and found that after a certain baseline, extra money does not produce more or better work. The results were the opposite. Since the workers were distracted by the thought of a reward, they produced lower quality work. In the following sessions, they were much less engaged without the bonus incentive. Contrastingly, people that were not offered any compensation were more engaged and produced much better work for longer periods of time.

New companies have experimented with the expectations at work and found that the less rules they give employees the more efficiently they are able to complete their work on time. If a young mother has the option to leave work at 3pm to watch her child’s soccer game, then she feels more likely to make up the work during the rest of the week and as a result will produce more than if she had to adhere to a strict schedule. Not all workers are willing to commit to the new way of work, but the ones that remained were much happier and less likely to leave the company for a new job offer with more money.

Pink argues that people produce their best work when they are motivated by an internal drive to master something and are held accountable. Mastery, defined as an impossible level of perfection that cannot be achieved, as an end goal allows the individual to progress in slow incremental ways. Most people that have become very successful are masters of their craft. There is a reason why Meryl Streep is nominated for an Academy Award almost every year. She clearly seeks to master the different aspects of acting and incorporate them into her work.

Most people assume that artists and entrepreneurs should be driven and master their craft, yet most people don’t expect the same from themselves. It seems like the younger generation is changing this idea as more people pursue lives with meaning or businesses that partner with a charity. These ideals would have been very rare 50 years ago. Now it’s not too uncommon to hear about a friend of a friend that quit their Wall Street job to work for a non-profit or take off a year to backpack Southeast Asia.

We’ve started to realize that money really cannot buy happiness. Cliches are usually true! Exchanging your individuality and autonomy for a big paycheck doesn’t mean a lot when you don’t even have the time or energy to spend it at the end of the day.

Of course, it’s a generalization. There are still plenty of people that want the dream car, trophy wife, and white picket fence. Yet there are many more people seeking to make a difference in the world and expanding the idea of what a “dream life” looks like.

It’s the main reason why I started the Road Less Written. There are so many people that are unhappy on a a daily basis and I didn’t want to become one of them. I didn’t want to drown in a sea of knick knacks and overpriced fine china.

At the end of your life, what does it all mean? Are you going to remember how much you love that big screen television or the time you went on an impromptu road trip with your best friend?

Money should not be the main factor that drives us. As people we’re naturally inquisitive and creative. When I was tutoring, I never met a kid that wasn’t. It’s part of our DNA. And yet when most of those kids grow up they become adults that hate their jobs and resent their choices and smother the dreams of their kids.

You have to make a conscious decision to escape that cycle and pursue what really drives you. It can be something simple like having a family or big like inventing a new product that will change the world. Everyone has different values and goals for what they would like to accomplish.

 

What drives you?

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The Happiness of Pursuit

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Lately, I’ve been obsessed with the ideas of adventure and the hero’s journey. The call to adventure, the resistance, the mentor, the first step, the homecoming.

I want a quest.

Part of that has been trying to lose weight and posting on this blog. My dream would be to become the traveling, blogging history professor. To see every amazing historical site on earth.

That could be a quest.

To see all the wonders of the world and blog abut them. Capture them in photos and post it here.

After reading about Chris Guillebeau’s new book The Happiness of Pursuit, I quickly signed up for the “street team” even though it was vague about the requirements. A few days later I received the book in the mail with a letter asking all I do is write a review about it. I felt like I’d been sent a present from an old friend.

For the next 2 days, I was glued to this book, reading it cover to cover at any chance I could get on the subway or breaks at work. Guillebeau fulfilled his quest of visiting every country in the world by 35, but shortly after his blog seemed to lack the same punch it had before. Good news, he’s back to speed 100% with The Pursuit of Happiness.

It turned out that after years of pursing his quest, he had been introduced to a number of people that were chasing their own dream. From sailing around the world to knitting a million hats, each story was inspiring, interesting, and ultimately makes it seem possible to set out to accomplish something bigger than yourself.

Not only possible, but reasonable.

A quest is defined as something difficult to achieve, measurable, and easily understood. If it takes more than a sentence to explain it’s probably not that well constructed and if it’s not measurable then it’s more of a hobby.

Happiness came into my life at the best possible moment I could have hoped for because I’ve been fed up with the way my life is going and ambitious enough to do something about it. What I really want to do more than anything is see the Wonders of the World.

I’ve been obsessed with history ever since I was a kid and have dreamed about being a great adventurer like Indiana Jones. Sure it’s not as big as Chris’ quest, but it’s mine and I know I’ll regret it forever if I can’t experience it before my time’s up.

1. Pyramids of Giza

2. Great Wall of China

3. Petra, Jordan

4. Colosseum, Rome

5. Chichen Itza, Mexico

6. Machu Picchu, Peru

7. Taj Mahal, India

8. Christ the Redeemer, Brazil

Each day at a proper 9-5 job, I know that I’m getting farther away from the life I want to live. My dream is being a nomad, wandering through unfamiliar cities, taking photographs, and being immersed in a new culture.

For some reason, I’d been waiting for a sign to know that it was all right to pursue my dream. While it’s still not the proper or expected thing to do, now that I know it’s possible, not crazy, I can’t get the idea out of my mind. It’s the idea that gets me through my day and keeps popping up in my dreams.

Lastly, if I hadn’t made it clear before. I highly recommend this book! Beware though as it may turn you away from your safe comfortable life to a much bigger one. As we all know, well behaved people rarely make history.

 

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Book Review: Tribes

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Tribes is another one of those books that everyone on the internet references like Outliers so I assumed it was overhyped. Once again I was wrong. I thought this book was just going to talk about how great Twitter is now that everyone can shout at each other. Finding followers is the only thing that matters otherwise you don’t exist in the internet community. Yet the book was far from this. The main thing Godin writes about is being helpful and providing value to your community. Leadership is almost an afterthought because a real leader isn’t threatened by other people or innovative ideas. When I usually think of a boss, I picture Ricky Gervais or Steve Carrell in the Office. Every manager I’ve met is so similar to that characature. All the employees wonder how on earth they got to be in charge. The middle manager is actually much different than a real leader. All they do is follow the rules. They’re not really above anyone else. If anything it’s probably a worse job because you would have to enforce the rules no matter what you think or what is actually the right thing to do. The concept of leadership presented in the book is closer to mentorship or teaching. He says that a leader really does lead the members of the tribe to new places, new ides, better work, and broader horizons. That’s something I can believe in. Even though he does argue about the value of Twitter, which I don’t understand, the main points I tend to agree with. When he talks about fear of being the “heretic” that’s something I definitely can relate to. The town that I grew up in was small minded and conservative. At Church, if someone got divorced then all of a sudden a flood of gossip would wash over the congregation. Before they were a pillar of the community and after they might feel like an outcast. Godin says that this fear isn’t the worst thing that can happen and i would have to agree. Would you really care what the community thinks if they’re shunning you? What if you had a whole new community of supporters? Fear is a powerful motivator. Lately I’ve been way more afraid of being afraid. If the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself” then inaction is much worse than action. Fear paralyzes, but the world will keep moving so you have to adapt and change with it.

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Book Review: The Power of Habit

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About a year ago, I wound up at a TedX event at Columbia Teacher’s college on 122nd street in the Upper West side. Most of the attendees were students at the school. A few people like myself had turned up maybe because they had nothing better to do on a Friday morning. I was still looking for a job at the time so I was trying to find ways to distract myself from the fact that I was still looking for a steady job months after I moved to the city.

The event was amazing. One of the speakers was a real Life of Pi refugee from Vietnam that was left stranded on a raft in the middle of the ocean trying to escape the communist regime. His name was Home Nguyen, he walked out onto the stage with a stack of dollar bills in his hand and threw them into the air. Watching the money rain down was an uncomfortable experience. I realized how much attachment I had to money that I had never accepted before. Being unemployed for a long period of time makes a person constantly stressed about how they will survive.

The point he was trying to make was how little money mattered in the big scheme of the world. As a child alone on a raft, he had a life changing experience that the world was a large pulsating complex creature. Most people in the modern places forget how alive the earth is because they’re so far removed from nature. Away from all the noise, Nguyen could hear the waves crashing and the heartbeat of the world. There was a calm that came over him as he realized his life would be temporary and he could only try to give his best. If that meant dying out there he made peace with it. Because of the experience, he has always known the shallow nature of wealth.

The last speaker was a guy named Charles Duhigg, who came out with a smile on his face and joked about how he could never follow that story. He’s a writer for the New York Times that became known for a book he wrote called The Power of Habit. The talk stuck in the back of my mind for months until I bought the book about a week ago (Now that I have a job I can afford to waste money on books instead of waiting to get them from the public library).

The basic principle he explained is that most people’s habits are unintentional loops.

They go from:

CUE—->ROUTINE—->REWARD

The start of the loop is a cue brought on by a subconscious need for something. It can be something basic like craving a particular food or needing conversation.  The cue leads to a routine such as buying a candy bar or calling up a friend to get the reward (satisfaction) in the brain. It becomes more difficult to break a routine the more ingrained it is into a person’s daily habits.

The best way to break the loop is to recognize the craving and develop replacement habits. For Duhigg, instead of buying a chocolate chip cookie every day, he realized he was craving a break from work so he set a daily alarm to take 10 minutes off and chat with a friend.

I’ve been trying to change a lot of my habits in the past year. Some have been easier than others. In college I used to smoke cigarettes, which was a way to take a break from studying and hang out with my room mate instead. Now that I don’t live with the same person and I’m out of college that habit was fairly easy to drop. Others like eating junk food when I’ve had a stressful day at work have been a lot harder to break.

For the next two weeks I want to keep track of all my food habits. Any time I eat something I’m going to keep a log of it (without judgment) to help figure out if I’m eating something at the same time every day or if I’m just being lazy because I don’t have any food in the house. It should help with seeing any patterns that I’m doing unintentionally. I’ve been trying to “get healthier” for way too long without much result.

After two weeks, I’ll write another post to see if it’s helped me realize anything or if I’ve changed any patterns as a result of keeping the log.

I highly recommend this book if you have a habit that’s driving you nuts or if you’ve been trying to lose weight for an extended period of time with no success. It’s very insightful for the kinds of routines that you forget about because they’re so common. Most of us don’t think about our food choices because they’ve been ingrained since childhood. It’s the reason why children of overweight people are much more likely to be overweight.

There are thousands of behavior patterns that you don’t even think about on a daily basis. If you’re able to replace them with something else you enjoy doing then it becomes more likely that the good habit will stick because it doesn’t take much effort. Willpower is seen as a finite resource meaning that if you pick too many difficult patterns to break you’re more likely to fall off the wagon and give up on all of them. If you pick small habits, what Duhigg calls “small wins”, and cultivate them religiously then it becomes easier to build up the kinds of habits that you want.

Part of this I’ve already been using to develop the habit of blogging. I like reading. I’ve been reading about a book a week on my daily subway commute. So I’ve been writing about the books I’ve been reading in order to cultivate my blogging skills. It’s been the easiest way to start a habit that’s so unfamiliar to me by using other habits that are already a part of my life. For the next couple of weeks I want to see if I can apply this principle to eating better and exercising more, without freaking out too much if things don’t go according to plan. Part of changing habits is in the failure and persistence to find a way that works for the individual the same way “one size fits all” never seems to fit everyone.

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Book Review: The War of Art

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The War of Art was recommended to me by a friend when I explained how difficult it was for me to get started writing. Every time I sit down to get started, the voice of resistance has a megaphone projecting all the negative comments I can possibly think about myself. Not until recently did I realize that most people go through this and especially creative people are prone to the voice ruining their great ideas.

Pressfield says that most people have these internal patterns of resistance that are so ingrained they don’t even notice. Little by little they find ways of coping with alcohol, food, or sex. Some people attach themselves to a successful spouse and live in their partner’s sphere of influence in order to avoid responsibility for never following through with their own dreams. There are so many people that lose their interests as they get older. With each year they fill up their houses with stuff or gain another 10 pounds shoving junk down their throats.

One of the main themes of the book that I liked was the difference between the amateur and the professional. What makes a writer a writer instead of a person that sometimes writes? Pressfield argues that it is the commitment to wrestle with the muse and churn out new work every single day that makes a person a professional writer. If you make it a daily priority and get paid to do it, then you’ve become a professional, which can be applied to any type of artist.  For me, I know I’m in the amateur category right now, but I want to go pro!

The resistance is never going away. The way I choose to deal with resistance is something I do have control over. I choose to be a professional writer. Part of that means that I haven’t chosen an easy path so it’s going to be a struggle and I’ll have to recommit every day because the voice wants to see me fail.

Books have always been an important part of my life. Eventually if you read enough you start to believe you can write something yourself. I’ve been wanting to write for years and never got around to it for lame reasons like I was too busy or I had nothing interesting enough to say. It’s time to declare war on the voice and be on the offense for once. I’m not saying I’ll be any good. In fact probably most of the stuff I write will be terrible, but if I’m very very lucky maybe I’ll write something good one day.  It’s the type of struggle that’s important to me so I have to pursue it.

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Book Review: Outliers

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Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell is one of those books I’ve heard so much about I thought that I’d read it already. When I settled in to actually read it, I realized it was every bit as interesting as people had described to me and yet I wonder if anyone fully understood the argument.

The way people have been referencing Outliers as a justification for their own inadequacies seems like a misunderstanding. Gladwell illustrates that there are thousands of books that teach you the so-called secrets of successful people, but very few talk in specific detail about the background and steps taken by individuals to achieve their success.

One of the problems I have with “self-help” books is that anyone can write them and most of them are copying the information of their peers. Very few actually have practical advice that someone can implement on a daily basis to achieving their goals. The rest are only fueling the anxieties of people desperately searching for answers.

The case study about computer billionaires is something people should read before blindly idolizing Steve Jobs or Bill Gates as geniuses. Yes, they’re both very smart guys, but they also had the good fortune to grow up in towns that would become hot spots for technology. Along with intelligence, they also had the means and opportunity to pursue their interest early on in their career. Many people from their generation wouldn’t even know what a personal computer was for 20 plus years and everyone knows a year in technology is a huge amount of time. In the next year they’ll come out with a dozen new improvements to the cell phone that we suddenly won’t be able to live without so imagine a 20 year jumpstart.

When Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were experimenting with computers, most of us were told by our parents to “stop it” and focus on school (That it could be whatever it was for you; sports, art, movies, theater, or taking apart the toaster). My friend calls this “faulty wiring” meaning that the lessons we learn as a kid get downloaded into our brains and prevent us from having the same level of enthusiasm for life that we did as children. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that every child I’ve met has a natural interest in learning and yet most adults refuse to learn new things. They’ve been taught to stop.

The main argument that Gladwell makes is that the top 1% of successful people were born in prime conditions to surpass other people. As a mathematician he makes some fascinating calculations about the high percentage of first generation Jewish immigrants  in the 1930s becoming professionals and the culture of honor codes in certain areas of the South that I can’t even begin to do justice.

However, I don’t think his point was that anyone not born with these prime conditions should immediately give up because they’ll never be good enough. That’s more of the faulty wiring talking you out of pursuing your dreams. Although these people were born into prime conditions that doesn’t mean it was easy. Not every child of a Jewish immigrant becomes a doctor or lawyer and not every genius becomes a success. Even though talent exists about 10,000 hours of focused study are what sets apart the outliers from everyone else.

A child of musicians is more likely to get a head start on 10,000 hours of music the same way a child of engineers is going to get a jump on computers. That doesn’t mean that a child from the inner city that loves computers shouldn’t bother learning about them. It makes being a success less probable, but not impossible. The importance of dedication and hard work should not be overlooked.

jump

Most athletes are born with talent, but there are thousands of great players that get weeded out from playing at the professional level. The difference between these two is the commitment to a life around the sport. Olympic athletes spend hours training every single day. Instead of drinking at parties or traveling with their families, they are in the gym constantly working to improve their skills by a fraction.

For me, I’m more inspired by someone willing to put in hours a day to work on their skill than someone that peaked in high school and quit when the competition got tough. I’m not sure if most people think this way though. They love to idolize the genius to be so high above them because it allows them to not be held accountable for their choices. Outliers argues the opposite. After a certain level of intelligence, there is no other quality more responsible for success than opportunity and willingness to put in the work. After 10,000 hours almost anyone could be an expert. That idea could change everything. Instead of putting your dream career on a pedestal, what if you put in the practice instead? There’s a reason people can’t stop talking about this book.

 

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Book Review: Cradle of Gold

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I’ve officially had this blog up and running for over 2 months and have managed to avoid posting anything on it so a couple friends suggested that I start with something simple like a book review to at least get things in motion. History has always interested me in the same way that a great movie is able to capture an audience. The stories we choose to tell often become bigger than themselves. Something that started out as an accident may become a tall tale or a legend.

hiram
Machu Picchu and the history of the Inca has been a story that has always captured my imagination. The Inca civilization was at the height of its power when the Spanish first stumbled upon it. Through major miscommunication and a greed for gold, an amazing culture was destroyed almost overnight. Most artifacts were lost and along with it many great stories that might have been told. The last book I finished captured the tragic end of the civilization and the relevance it still has today. The Cradle of Gold:The Story of Hiram Bingham, A Real-Life Indiana Jones, and the search for Machu Picchu by Christopher Heaney is a brief history of the end of the Inca empire when it was conquered by the Spanish and the rediscovery of Machu Picchu during the early 20th century by Hiram Bingham, who would later become the inspiration for Indiana Jones as you can see above.

One of the biggest misconceptions in Early American history(by which I mean the 1500s before the United States was even an idea) is that the Native Americans in general were naive and backward before the Europeans arrived. During the 1500’s, there was more than one empire in Latin America and they were highly advanced civilizations. The two major empires were the Aztec, which dominated the entire region of what is now Mexico, and the Inca which spanned across the entire mountain range of the Andes (about 2,500 miles of territory). The breakdown of Native American groups was very complicated and there were subdivisions within these groups, but for simplicity I won’t get into that.

The Inca developed an extensive road system that rivaled the Roman empire and established a tribute system which enabled them to literally pave their roads with gold. When the Spanish first arrived, they were in awe to see mountain temples built with gold plated sides gleaming in the sunlight. They immediately sought out to collect as much gold as possible and were far enough away from home to do so by any means necessary. One of the biggest misunderstandings between the Inca and Spaniards was over the value of gold. To the Inca, gold was decorative. It did not hold value the same way it did in Europe, where it was a rare luxury. Gold is too malleable to make weapons out of and changes shape when heated so it can’t be used for home goods like pots and pans. At first the Inca freely traded gold for the new things Spaniards brought with them, but they soon realized that allowing them into their empire was a huge mistake.

Even though the empire crumbled relatively quickly, it was not as obvious at the time. The Inca were proud and brave, believing that the descended from the Sun, and fought until the bitter end when they were defeated. In Cradle of Gold, Heaney does a great job explaining the Inca culture and events preceding their conquest. The last ruler, Tupac Amaru, was a great leader that was loved by his people and fought the Conquistadors until they captured and executed him and his family. Even at his death Tupac Amaru promised to rise up again and defeat the Spanish (It was a common belief that the dead could haunt the living for wrong doing and that it was possible to be raised from the dead). When Hiram Bingham first travelled to the area, many of the indigenous people he encountered told stories of the Inca and Tupac Amaru with reverence hundreds of years later.

peru emperors

Hiram Bingham was the son of a famous missionary that first brought Christianity to the natives of Hawaii. At a young age, he rejected religious life and studied at Yale University in the hope that he would be able to climb the social ladder. He was one of the few students without a rich family to support him so he often felt like an outcast from the high society he desperately wanted to be a part of himself.

Bingham decided to become a history professor as a way to distinguish himself and hopefully be accepted by his peers. During his studies, he realized that the history of Latin America had never been formally recorded and hoped to make Yale the preeminent expert on the subject. With financial assistance from his wife’s family, heirs of the Tiffany fortune, Bingham organized the first expedition to Peru for the purpose of collecting artifacts from the Inca empire.

When he first arrived at Machu Picchu Bingham did not realize what the expedition had stumbled upon. It was covered in weeds and plants since the nearby villagers used the land for farming. Upon further investigations they discovered that the site was significant because of the elaborate stone work and design of the city. Bingham hypothesized that it was the last city of the Inca civilization. Later this was proved false, but the story quickly became popular in the United States and Bingham became famous for the “discovery” of Machu Picchu. It was technically not lost since the locals knew of its existence. The expedition did bring the city to recognition for a much broader audience and expanded the study of Latin American history in other countries.

The Cradle of Gold tells the story of the Inca and Hiram Bingham in a concise clear way that makes it easily accessible to any audience. Toward the end, Heaney describes his own experience in traveling to Peru and visiting the Espiritu Pampa (the real final refuge of Tupac Amaru) to scatter his friend’s ashes. It’s very uncommon for a history book to include any personal information about the author let alone a very personal story such as that one. Historians are taught to remain as impartial as possible yet it is a well known fact that each era has its bias and each person has his own understanding of the material. For me, the story added a lot about the effect history can have. Often people get so caught up in the minutiae of unfamiliar dates, names, and places that they no longer see the bigger picture. Great events in history shape the world in a broad way, but it can also effect people on a personal level the same way a great movie or novel stays with you long after it’s finished.

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