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Part of the philosophical life is simplicity. Variety, despite the saying, is an overrated spice. (There’s a reason that most successful diets reduce the different types of foods you eat to set of standard meals). Look at your closets and your drawers. Chances are they are marked with little consistency, and too much variety. And by extension, waste and weakness.

Pierre Hadot deduced from the Stoic writers the concept of the “inner citadel.” It was a protected core that could be depended on, counted on for protection and strength. For a philosophy, that meant a series of robust principles that provided guidance in every situation. I try to expand this metaphor in my daily life. Our routine, our choices about what we do and what we own, can be pared down and turned into a source of strength. It’s not about compulsive regulation. On the contrary it’s about reducing the needless varieties so you can introduce novel ones without hesitation. (Like quitting a job the second you’re unhappy with it.) Experiment with important things, not how you look.

When you stock your life with things you can depend on and things you can trust, it frees up precious resources. You can say, this is who I am and what I do, I don’t need to put any stock in all that other nonsense. You don’t need to read Hypebeast or those other sites. You don’t need a car to say anything about you because you’ve got one that works that you’re planning to drive into the ground. You can look yourself in the mirror and have no problem with the choices you make or products you endorse. I don’t recall the last time I went shopping. Not because I don’t need things, I do, it’s that I don’t need to look for things. I know what I want. I may go to stores, but I don’t shop.

This is a critical difference and one that is often lost in discussions about sustainability. The real waste is not in materials but in the pointless consumer cycle—that each season or year, companies turn over their entire product offering. They design, produce, market and sell anew constantly. This is redundant and incredibly costly. The slate is wiped clear. Most of the equity earned with last year’s products is discarded and reacquired.

It’s costly for customers too. The real waste is externalized to us, and we are the least equipped to deal with these loses. Hidden in the array of our things were the seconds you spent thinking about them; hidden in the few dollars you saved in price was the unreliability and the unfamiliarity; hidden in it all was the opportunity costs. To be jerked around this way and that way is to be worse than a sheep (who at least is led rationally by a shepherd). It is to be an inanimate object, complete subject to outside forces beyond its control, never allowed to focus on what is important.

The question inevitably becomes well, what is important? The answer: basically everything else. When you limit your choices and variety down, you not only fore a more resilient core—an inner citadel—but you can prioritize further still. (It’s why Seneca and Montaigne practiced poverty on a monthly basis, it allowed them to see clearly what was necessary and what was optional.) You also have more time for others. For your duties. For doing nothing if not to reflect on the fact that you can take none of this when you die—and that that death is not so far away.

Inspired partially by Ben Casnocha’s list, here are some of ‘my things,’ all of which I’ve owned dozens of by now*:

Morning Ritual: I take 8-10 1,000mg fish oil pills (which help with a million things, including depression), gummy vitamins (seriously) and eat 3 eggs, Niman Ranch sliced ham and black beans. With my drink, I usually do two spoonfuls of Mila Chia Seeds.
Food: I do a modified paleo diet, with one cheat day (more on why here)
Pants: American Apparel Schoolboy Pant (for dressier, Bonobos makes a good men’s pant)
Shorts: Lulu Lemon Run Response Short
T-Shirt: Tri-blend or Power Washed
Outerwear: Dov’s Hoody and Winter Jacket from American Apparel
Shoes: Sperry Top Sider
Running/Working Out: Nike Free’s 5.0 (I hate how they keep changing it.) Lulu Lemon Run Response Short. Lulu Lemon Metal Vent Shirt (kills bacteria that smells)

Books: Amazon, always, with Amazon Prime (if its an old book or translation, I stick with Penguin or Modern Library)

I don’t want to hear any bullshit about how I can wear or only afford these things because of my job. Only someone trying to rationalize their own situation would claim it was so black and white. We’ve talked plenty about making your own rules. I make mine.

An Interview with Me

October 25, 2011 — 77 Comments

Andrew McMillen posted an email interview he did with me. You can read it here.

At 24, Ryan [pictured right] is a year older than me. I’ve viewed his blog as a kind of counsel since I first became aware of his work. His thinking and writing has, in turn, shaped my thinking and writing. It is fair to say that I wouldn’t be on the path I am now if I hadn’t been closely studying another young male on the other side of the world, fearlessly kicking down doors in search and pursuit of his goals. For a couple of years, Ryan’s ambition, persistence and confidence all directly influenced my day-to-day thoughts and actions. Which is another statement that will make Ryan blush, because it’s a pretty fucking weird thing to type, let alone think.

I am having to put a press kit together and prep for some media stuff anyway, so if anyone wants we can do an open Q&A in the comments. It’d be helpful to me and I know a lot of you have questions since you email them to me. We can talk about anything that is on your mind or anything you feel like I haven’t addressed before.

Rules as Excuses

October 20, 2011 — 36 Comments

The opening sequence of the movie 50/50, shows the main character Adam, out running. He comes to a traffic light and stops. The soundtrack stops too. There are no cars anywhere nearby. Another runner blows past him through the light. Yet he waits, refusing to go until the light turns. The soundtrack cheerfully starts again. The implicit message in the movie: this guy follows all the rules, he doesn’t deserve anything bad to ever happen to him.

I have no respect for people like that. When I see someone waiting at a light when they could easily and safely cross, I think ‘what a loser’. I see it for what it really is: an excuse to not do what is obviously more logical because an arbitrary rule says otherwise. In this case, it’s a pretty convenient excuse to get a break from running too. To me, it is an excuse to not push themselves as hard as they could.

The other variation of this is the jogger who runs in place while they’re stopped. Their logic is just as self-defeating. The reality is that if you have to artificially keep your heart rate up during a 30 second stop light, you’re not running hard enough. You may as well just go for a long walk next time. But no, jogging in place makes you feel dedicated, like you’re superior to all those other people who have to rest and that is why you do it. (My philosophy, earn the opportunity to rest, so that when it arrives you don’t feel guilty taking advantage of it. Earn it by truly exerting yourself.)

There is something worse than breaking the rules—following the utterly pointless ones.

Compared to the selfishness and greed endemic to our time, people who follow the rules seem quaint, earnest. When things are bad enough, they almost start to seem like silent heroes. Especially when they stand up for rules the rest of us take for granted. But this is dangerous, because you find yourself wrongly conflating an excuse to not utilize your full potential with “doing the right thing.”

The reality is that most rules are dumb. And poorly thought out. And an impediment to action. They tell us how to dress. How to think. Make us be like everyone else. The more banal the rule, the more likely it is to have these effects—less reason for existing for smart people. These rules steal our time and our lives, cutting us off from shortcuts, secrets and creating change. Of course, we never get to ask Adam if, after finding out he has potentially terminal cancer a few days later, he regrets wasting so much time at pointless traffic signals.

Doing what you’re supposed to do does not make you a good person. There’s no one keeping track, ready to award you a special ribbon for staying inside the most lines. There is not. But you know what there is? A good chance at any moment that something could come along and render the past irrelevant and the future non-existent. And at that time, all your notions about rules and waiting and feeling superior aren’t going to matter.

You’re going to wish that you did what needed to be done. That you didn’t let restrictions restrict you.