I’ve read well over 100 self-help books in my life—to little to no avail.
My disappointment with self-help boiled down to the fact that when life
got serious, when I was facing existential issues like a business on the verge
of bankruptcy, self-help credos didn’t really help. I went down into the depths
of negative human emotions. Self-help, whose messages largely revolve around
turning negativity into positivity, was no use to me in the depths.
I needed something more. So, I turned to the philosophy that I’d read as an
undergrad—but that never felt practical here in the “real” world.
But after tons of philosophical reading, I’m now confident in my ability to deal
with the ebbs and flows of life.
The cliche of philosophy is that it makes sense in theory but has little practical value.
The truth of the matter is that tons of modern thinkers—entrepreneurs in
particular—base their worldviews in philosophical concepts. Ryan Holiday
has created a platform out of stoicism(which dates to the third century BCE);
Naval Ravikant’s Twitter feed reads like a philosophical scroll. Ancient wisdom
has held up for a reason: Its truth is timeless, and applies the same, regardless of era.
slates: no mental content, totally subject to the demands of our worlds. It dates
to Aristotle, who wrote about it in his treatise, De Anima.It’s useful to me because it
reminds me that nothing—no concepts, events, expectations—have any intrinsic value.
They only have value inasmuch as we decide they do. Of course, humans living in a
common society are subject to common value frameworks, but it’s liberating on some
level to know that they’re less-than-absolute.
2. Cogito ergo sum. This is a well-known quote from French Philosopher René
Descartes,translating to, “I think, therefore I am.” To me, this means truth comes
from awareness. Being aware that our thoughts build our reality is very powerful.
Realizing the same is true for every person we surround ourselves with is even
more powerful. For founders, this means everything can—and should—be
3. Memento mori. Put simply, memento mori translates to, “Wake up and smell
the coffin.” Death feels distant, making time feel abundant, and making us waste
it by the truckload. But remembering that death is just around the corner helps
push you to pursue your obsession— despite fear of failure or embarrassment.
Memento mori reminds you that those fears mean nothing. There really is nothing
to lose, so go all in.
4. The unreality of emotion. Because they’re visceral, emotions feel like the
realest form of experience. But emotions are really just signals—signals that are
often mis-calibrated. At very least, we should understand emotions to be about
half-real; and really, we should view them as outright enemies when facing big
5. Hidden truths. If someone calls you an idiot, you might automatically feel angry
because something within you at least partially entertains or accepts the idea
that you are an idiot. But if someone calls you a giraffe, would you be offended?
Probably not, because no part of you entertains that idea, so there’s no emotional
reaction. What other areas of your life have you held onto triggering unquestioned
beliefs? How have they influenced your life? It’s important to shine a light on these
areas and become aware in order to reduce suffering, not only in the moment
but into the future.
6. Freedom from thoughts. Our culture presents the mind as the solution to nearly
every problem. We use our intellect to earn power (make money), establish order
(daily routines), shape the next generation (teaching, parenting), and just about every
other challenge we face.Over time, this creates a cycle in which we never leave our
minds—rarely engage with our bodies, rarely engage with our senses, become prisoners
to our thoughts. Human experience goes beyond the intellect; happiness depends
on engaging the full range of experiences.
These concepts are touchstones in my life as a founder. They help me turn negative
emotions into fuel: not insist that they turn positive, but find ways to channel them
into progress. In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing more about the fruits of my
philosophical inquiries —stay tuned for more maxims and more recommendations.