Lessons Learned – “The Everything Store” by Brad Stone

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I recently finished the audiobook version of Brad Stone’s “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.” Not only is the story of Jeff Bezos and Amazon an exceptional one, Brad Stone proves to be an engaging storyteller as well.

Jeff Bezos is undoubtedly a controversial individual. His aggressive leadership style, while obviously effective for him, probably isn’t something the average person should model, and his success seems to be the result of his ferocious nature combined with his brilliance. The same could be said for famous entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. Without their genius, their temperaments likely would have resulted in disaster (and they sometimes did).

The Lessons

I’ll admit, reading books like this can be a bit discouraging. Most of us aren’t blessed with the genius of a Bezos or a Musk, nor do we want to emulate their aggressive personalities in order to achieve success. Even so, I think this book contains several powerful lessons that can benefit all of our lives, genius or not.

1. Long-term vs. Short-term Thinking

A common thread throughout the book was Bezos’ aversion to short-term thinking. Almost from the start, he was determined to build Amazon into the world’s foremost online retailer. This might seem like a reasonable idea today (since we are deep into the “age of Amazon”), but the boldness of that goal was pretty spectacular back in the 1990s. The internet was just blooming and the world had yet to embrace purchasing things online.

Bezos consistently showed his commitment to that long-term vision by not letting Amazon’s numerous setbacks discourage him. While other people were freaking out about profit losses and failed product launches, he viewed every one of Amazon’s “losses” as a valuable lesson for the future.

He also committed to long-term thinking in Amazon’s business strategy and product development. While others were concerned about short-term gains, he was thinking years and even decades in the future. This allowed Amazon to outlast its competitors and become the giant it is today.

I think this mindset can be readily applied to our personal lives. Specifically, we should commit to a long-term vision for the future, even if we aren’t completely sure how to achieve it. This allows us to look past all the trivial problems that usually distract us, and instead focus on the big picture. No matter how slow our progress is, we can find joy in the fact that we are moving towards our larger vision.

2. Disrupt Yourself

Here is a quote from one of Bezos’ colleagues that really sums up this lesson:

“It is far better to cannibalize yourself than have someone else do it.”

One thing Bezos constantly did with Amazon was force it to change before the environment made it necessary, even if it caused short-term pain. He saw that many large companies were devastated by the constantly evolving business and technology landscapes. They made important changes only when it was absolutely necessary, which either put them out of business or left them far behind more prescient competitors.

How can this business-based concept be applied to our personal lives?

It’s simply a matter of being proactive instead of reactive. We may not be competing against other businesses, but our lives are changing at a faster rate than ever before. By constantly putting evolutionary pressure on ourselves, we can be better prepared for whatever changes come our way, whether they be in our jobs, our relationships, or our physical health.

For me personally, this means constantly reading new books, exploring new subjects, and pushing myself to attempt new creative endeavors. It’s a philosophy of constant, never-ending growth (something Tony Robbins talks about a lot).

Note: If you’re interested in this idea, check out “Disrupt You!” by Jay Samit. 

3. Only Be Bound by the Laws of Physics

In reference to Bezos’ disregard for doing things in the traditional way, someone who worked closely with him said:

“…he is not tethered by conventional thinking. What is amazing to me is that he is bound only by the laws of physics. He can’t change those. Everything else he views as open to discussion.”

All of the innovations that Bezos spearheaded, many of which we all benefit from today, would never have happened if he followed the “rules.”

Nobody thought there could be a successful online bookstore 20 years ago. Now we can buy books for ten dollars a piece and read them on an electronic screen that looks like paper. No one thought amazon could be profitable if they constantly lowered prices and made shipping as fast as possible. Now, people around the world shop at Amazon because of low prices and speedy delivery.

When considering our own hopes and dreams, there are probably years of conventional thinking that tell us what we can and cannot do. Voices, both in and outside of our heads, tell us not to try new things, not to deviate from the norm. But if the success of Bezos and Amazon is any indication, deviation is exactly what is needed to accomplish great things.

This leads me to the last lesson…

4. Be Willing to Try Everything…and Fail

The story of Jeff Bezos and Amazon is not just one of massive success. At times, it seemed like the book was chronicling the downfall of a brilliant but misguided entrepreneur. But this story of trial and tribulation demonstrated an ageless truth: in order to succeed we have to be willing to repeatedly fail in pursuit of our goals.

This is a lesson everyone can benefit from. By embracing failure, we can transform even the greatest of setbacks into opportunities for growth. Our failures then become the foundation for our future success.

Thanks for reading! I hope these lessons can benefit you in some way. And if you enjoy stories about innovation and entrepreneurship, I definitely recommend picking up a copy of this book. 

Lessons Learned – “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz

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I was pretty skeptical of this book at first. One cause of my skepticism was the section I found it in at the book store: New Age and Spirituality. While I had discovered a few gems in that section before (“The Power of Now” being my favorite), most of the books left a lot to be desired in terms of credibility.

Then there was the book itself. Its subtitle read, “A Toltec Wisdom Book.” What the hell was Toltec Wisdom and how could it apply to my very non-Toltec life? Still, I heard a lot of great things about the book online, so I decided to give it shot. Losing ten dollars was the worst that could happen.

It ended up being ten dollars well spent.

The Basics

If I had to describe this book in one word, I would choose simple. The Four Agreements are:

  1. Be impeccable with your word
  2. Don’t take anything personally
  3. Don’t make assumptions
  4. Always do your best

They really are as basic as that. Looking past some of the more esoteric spiritual parts, this might be the most straightforward self-improvement book I’ve ever read. I suppose that’s what has made it so popular.

To be honest, this is a difficult book to write about in detail because the lessons are pretty much stated in the agreements themselves. So what I’m going to do is talk about the two agreements that have helped me the most.

Don’t Take Anything Personally

 Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.”

Thinking back on pretty much all of my problems when dealing with other people, the main cause of my unhappiness was taking things personally. This agreement is a counterbalance to that destructive habit.

When I first read this book I was working at a women’s clothing store. Anyone who has ever worked in customer service knows just how rude customers can be. Patience is something I’ve never had much of, and it took every ounce of self-control for me not to snap back at every rude or dismissive customer I encountered. But even when I didn’t react externally, my days would consistently be ruined by the continuous onslaught of negativity.

Reading this simple agreement made a huge difference in how I felt about rude customers and my personal relationships in general. Instead of treating every bit of attitude as a personal attack, I continuously reminded myself that the rudeness was a reflection of the customer’s own internal state.

Negative people are negative because they’re unhappy.

Heck, I see it all the time in myself. When I’m in a shitty mood, being polite to others isn’t my highest priority. I might snap at friends or forget to say thank you to a barista. But when I’m in a great mood I wouldn’t dream of being rude to anyone.

I’m not saying that a bad mood justifies being rude to others, just that rudeness is almost always a result of some kind of internal turmoil.

Always Do Your Best

Under any circumstance, always do your best, no more and no less. But keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next. Everything is alive and changing all the time, so your best will sometimes be high quality, and other times it will not be as good.”

This is the agreement I come back to the most. It’s so cliché, yet so true.

Maybe it’s just the way Ruiz describes it, but his words made me realize that I usually aim for perfection instead doing my best in each moment. But the crazy thing about perfection is that, well, it’s impossible to reach. So chasing it only ever leaves me feeling discouraged, sometimes before I even start taking action.

Reminding myself that all I can do in each moment is my best – whatever that may be – helped get rid of a lot of stress and anxiety in my life. There are ups. There are downs. There are days when I feel like I could conquer the world, and others when I feel like I can barely get out of bed. But by asking myself what my “best” is in each moment, and then DOING that, progress seems to happen naturally.

~

I hope these lessons can be as valuable to you as they’ve been to me. I definitely recommend picking up a copy of this book. It may be elementary compared to other self-help books, but I’ve found it to be a great reminder to just relax and enjoy the journey that is life.

 

 

 

 

Lessons Learned – “First Things First” by Stephen Covey

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Time management is something I’ve always struggled with. No matter how productive I am, there never seems to be enough time for the things that really matter. Plans change. Work gets in the way. Distractions are abundant. It’s almost as if I’m being pulled along by the moving stream of life, unable to free myself from its current.

In the three weeks since I started reading “First Things First” by Stephen Covey, that feeling of being “pulled along” has practically vanished.

How I discovered this book was pretty fortuitous. I was coming home from Starbucks one day, driving through a residential neighborhood close to the beach, when I saw a red wagon full of books with a sign that said “FREE BOOKS!”  It just so happens that ‘free’ and ‘books’ are two of my favorite words, so I pulled over and had a look.

Riley's Red Wagon Book Swap
Riley’s Red Wagon Book Swap (Definitely check it out if you live near Long Beach, CA)

In the pile were quite a few religious books, some novels, and a few self-help gems. I naturally went for the self-help books, grabbing two that stood out to me. The first was “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” by Richard Carlson. I had seen this book a few times growing up, and I figured it would be worth a read.

The second book was “First Things First.” When I saw the author’s name I immediately got excited. Stephen Covey is the author of the hugely influential book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” which I had just finished reading a few months ago. I knew instantly that this would be a great addition to my library.

It took me about three weeks to finish the book, though part of that was because I took notes on each chapter.  It’s by no means a difficult read, and you could probably gain some value from it if you just skimmed through a few of the chapters. Of course, I think it’s worth reading from start to finish.

Here are what I consider the top three lessons from this book:

1) The Importance of Principle-Based Living

Covey talks a lot about principle-based living in both “First Things First” and “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” While this idea isn’t directly related to time-management, it’s the foundation on which Covey’s time-management philosophy is based.

We all have things we want to accomplish in our lives. They are based primarily on what we value. If we value fulfilling friendships, then we might want to make building a great social circle a goal. If we value physical health, then we could make it a goal to get in great shape. How we go about achieving these goals is where what Covey defines as true north principles come into play (I’ve also described them as universal principles in previous blog posts). He explains this concept in the following quote:

“What we are talking about are the true north realities upon which quality of life is based. These principles deal with things that, in the long run, will create happiness and quality-of-life results. They include principles such as service and reciprocity. They deal with the processes of growth and change. They include the laws that govern effective fulfillment of basic human needs and capacities.”

He mentions the principles service and reciprocity in that quote, but here are some more I noticed throughout the book:

  • Patience
  • Thinking win-win
  • Process orientation
  • Empathy
  • Proactivity

Some of these are principles that make up Covey’s “Seven Habits.” According to him, acting in accordance with these principles will not only help us achieve our goals but give us peace of mind as well.

At first glance, these principles seemed like common sense to me. Of course things like service and proactivity are good. Yet when I considered what methods I was using to achieve my goals, there was clearly a disconnect. How often had I procrastinated on my goals instead of being proactive? How many times had I been completely focused on my own feelings instead of practicing empathy? The fact of the matter was that I was not acting in accordance with true north principles.

This is because true north principles usually don’t produce instant results.

Covey emphasizes this when he talks about the Law of the Farm. This law basically states that we can’t have a successful harvest without first planting our seeds and cultivating them over time. In other words, we cannot get the results we want without following the correct principles. There is no such thing as a quick-fix. (Here’s a link to a more detailed explanation of this law, straight from the book: http://www.theteamvision.net/the-law-of-the-harvest.html)

After reading this, I was encouraged to think hard about what principles will bring me closer to my goals, and then commit to living by them.

2) Goal-Setting by Roles

All of us play a variety of roles in our lives, whether it be as a parent, employee, or even a world-traveler. A great suggestion this book gives is to organize our goals based on those different roles.

Covey advises we try to narrow our roles down to around seven, with the addition of physical, mental, spiritual, and social roles.

I considered this and decided on seven basic roles for myself. Some of them are roles in the traditional sense and others are just areas of my life that I feel are important. Here they are:

  1. Writer/Creator
  2. Dating
  3. Wealth
  4. Traveler
  5. Friend
  6. Family Member
  7. Employee/Teacher

I then looked at these roles and figured out what I wanted to accomplish in each. As someone who has a tendency to set very broad goals – most of which never get accomplished – this really helped me get specific about what I wanted.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been setting weekly goals in each role and then working to accomplish them (following true north principles, of course). Maybe it’s just a placebo effect, but I’ve accomplished more in this time than I have in months. I feel way less scattered and a lot clearer on what actions I need to take.

What’s even cooler is that my roles tend to build off each other. The more I accomplish in one role, the more clarity I tend to gain in others.

3) The Difference Between Urgent and Important

In my opinion, effective time management really comes down to this one concept.

Covey explains that most people live their lives with an addiction to urgency. This means they prioritize activities and tasks that are urgent, but not necessarily important.

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He categorizes how we spend our time according to four different quadrants. In the image above you can see what activities each quadrant contains.  According to him, most people spend the majority of their time in either Quadrant 1 or Quadrant 3. Quadrant 2 is where they should be spending their time. This is the quadrant where true growth happens. In it, we prioritize the long-term over the short-term.

This was a revelation for me. Thinking about how I spent most of my time, I was a little ashamed to admit it was primarily in Quadrant 3 and 4. Aside from dealing with the occasional visa issue or job application, I had very few “crises” in my life. Yet I was always more than happy to spend hours dicking around on my computer or watching Netflix. In the rare moments that I felt like I was being productive, I was really just spending time on things in Quadrant 3, running errands and completing inane tasks.

For me, Quadrant 2 activities include things like writing new blog posts, reading, researching investing, and going to yoga. These are all things that don’t have to be done today or even tomorrow, but would make the biggest difference in my life.

To Illustrate this whole concept, Covey gives the analogy of trying to fit a bunch of small and large rocks in a bucket. If we put all the small rocks in first, there won’t be enough room for the large rocks. This is what happens when we prioritize activities that aren’t in Quadrant 2. We get so busy focusing on unimportant things that the truly important stuff gets left undone. But if we put the big rocks in first, there’s usually more than enough space for the little rocks to fit in the gaps. (Here’s a link to Covey’s full explanation http://www.appleseeds.org/big-rocks_covey.htm)

I’ve noticed some pretty awesome results since I started implementing this advice. By becoming conscious of what activities are really important to me, and then making them my top priority each day, I end up with plenty of time for them AND many of the less important things I want to do.

A Conscious Approach to Time Management

Underneath all the different time management strategies, I think the main message this book offers is the importance of living consciously.

As I read, it became clear that most of my issues with time management were a result of not really thinking about how I was spending my time. Sure, I was adept at making to-do lists and checking them off, but my days never felts like they were moving me towards the life I wanted. I was accomplishing things, but there never seemed to be any progress. It wasn’t until I took the time to connect with the vision I had for my life – and really consider what actions I needed to take in order to move towards that vision – that I started to gain that feeling of progress.

Now, I take time each Sunday to sit and consider what I want to accomplish, both long-term and in the coming week. I then organize my week based on Quadrant 2 activities, filling in my extra time with everything else.

So far this has worked well for me, but I definitely recommend you read this book and see if it can have similar effects in your life.

 

Freedom from Outcome Part 3: How to Cultivate It

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Note: This is the final post in a series on freedom from outcome. You can find the first two posts here:

Part 1

Part 2

In my last two posts I discussed what freedom from outcome is and how it can benefit our lives. Now I want to talk about a few of the best strategies I’ve found for cultivating it.

Selfless Service

This is something I touched on in Part 2. Selfless service – Seva in Sanskrit – is the underlying theme of the Bhagavad Gita, though it is encouraged in most religions as well. It means acting to benefit other people or society as a whole.

What fascinates me most about selfless service is the idea that it can be performed in every part of our lives. Pretty much any action can be done in the spirit of selfless service, even if it’s something that appears to be done for our own gain.

This idea is emphasized in the line, “Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. Do your work with the welfare of others always in your mind.” (Chapter 3, Verse 19)

How exactly would this look?

In my previous post I gave the example of how I tried to act selflessly in my job as a recreation leader. With every action I took, I did my best to focus on how it could benefit the children I worked with or society at large. I applied this from everything from planning summer camp activities to setting up tables and chairs. Having a job that dealt directly with helping people, this ended up being easy to do.

Of course, there are plenty of actions that don’t seem related to serving others at all. How can we brush our teeth or read a book selflessly? I try and solve this conundrum with some mental yoga. I think about how, by brushing my teeth consistently, I will have a smile that can help brighten someone’s day. Or I imagine how reading a book will give me a little more knowledge that I can pass on to others. It probably sounds like a stretch (hence the mental yoga), but so far it’s worked pretty well for me.

What makes selfless service so effective at cultivating freedom from outcome? The Bhagavad Gita explains it best: “They are forever free who renounce all selfish desires and break away from the ego cage of “I,” “me,” and “mine” to be united with the Lord.” (Chapter 2, Verse 71)

Attachment to outcome often stems from the ego’s habit of making everything about “me.” Selfless service helps get us out of our heads and away from our egos. When we are working for the sake of others, our concern is no longer “me, me, me!”

I know it’s not a perfect strategy. It’s possible to still be attached to outcome when doing things for others. There’s even the risk of building an ego around selflessness. But I look at selfless service, not as the almighty solution to attachment to outcome, but as a useful tool to hammer away at it.

Process Orientation

Accomplishing anything in life, no matter how small, requires that we go through certain processes. To clean our cars we have to hose them down, scrub them with soap, and then dry them off. In order to write a great essay we must sit down, draw up an outline, create a first draft, and then make edits from there. Skipping steps in any process may work on occasion, but it won’t produce consistent results.

Process orientation means focusing on the processes instead of the results they produce. It’s a concept I was first exposed to in the book “Mastery” by George Leonard, though I don’t think it ever uses that exact term (I actually don’t remember where I heard it). The main premise of “Mastery” is that, in order to master anything in life, we must embark on the “master’s journey.” This journey is full of ups, downs, and plenty of plateaus, and it’s only by learning to enjoy the process that we can make it through.

This illustrated in the line, “How do you best move toward mastery? To put it simply, you practice diligently, but you practice primarily for the sake of the practice itself.”

The parallels between this concept and the advice given in the Bhagavad Gita are pretty remarkable. In fact, I like to think of process orientation as the mindset of freedom from outcome manifested in action.

I’ll use the process of creating a blog post as an example. Starting out, I know I want to write a great post.  So I stop and consider what steps (to the best of my knowledge) will allow me to do that. Usually it starts with me coming up with an idea and getting a basic outline on paper. Then I have to type out a couple of pages, trying out different ideas, structures, and tones. Only after I’ve done that for an hour or so will my writing start to flow. Once I feel I’ve written enough, then comes the slow process of editing and restructuring my post until it’s ready to publish.

If I had the choice, I would happily skip the first two or three steps of that process and go straight to the part where my writing is flowing. But  that’s not possible. It’s only by going through those initial steps that getting into a flow is even possible.

The only logical thing to do in this case is surrender to the process. So I go about creating my outline, writing a rough draft, and so on. I’m not thinking about the end result or how much I can’t wait to get to the next step. This is because I fully accept that completing the current step is the only way to move on to the next.

This probably doesn’t seem like an attractive concept, let alone an easy way to cultivate freedom from outcome. It takes a lot of discipline to be consistently process oriented. But I think it pays off.

I’ve found that looking at life from the perspective of processes takes a lot of pressure off myself. I no longer have to worry about being “good enough” to accomplish something and I stop attributing my failures to weaknesses in my character. Instead, when looking at any goal or task, I ask myself what steps are necessary to accomplish it and then surrender to them.

Massive Action

Much of our attachment to outcome is a result of too much thinking and not enough action. We think about the results we want, who we want to see them, and all the things that could go wrong along the way. Then we think some more. We become paralyzed by this endless cycle of thinking.

The simplest way I’ve found to stop all this thinking, and thus gain freedom from outcome, is to take massive action towards what I want. This is something I’ve really tried to implement in my life recently. Whenever I find myself procrastinating, worrying about how things will turn out, I just start taking action.

This applies to big and small anxieties. If I’m worried about how a blog post will turn out then I simply go and write more. If I’m concerned about my future financial situation then I start learning how to budget and invest my money. So far this strategy has been very effective for me.

Massive action serves the dual purpose of getting us out of our thinking minds while also bringing us closer to the results we want. It’s as if we are so busy taking action that we simply don’t have to think, let alone worry about outcomes. And more often than not, taking massive action leads to the outcome we want. If it doesn’t, then we learned a valuable lesson that only taking action could have taught us.

 

To sum up, selfless service, process orientation, and massive action are three strategies that have helped me cultivate more freedom from outcome in my life. I sincerely hope they can do the same for you.

If you give any of them of try, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments. 

 

A Battle With Ambition – Freedom From Outcome Part 1

Note: This is the first of three posts on a concept I refer to as “freedom from outcome.” This post will serve as an introduction, while the other two will go more in depth on the concept. 

To Strive, or Not to Strive…

I’ve struggled with the idea of ambition for a long time. When I was growing up it always had mixed connotations depending on who I was talking to. Sometimes people would call someone overly ambitious as an insult. Other times ambition was praised. More often than not, it seemed like people judged based on what someone was ambitious about, with some ambitions being superior to others.

This ambiguity towards ambition has stuck with me in my adult life. At times I see my own ambitions as a source of pride. During others I view them as chains that will ultimately lead me to an unfulfilled life.  I’ve usually just erred on the side of having little ambition.

Despite the occasional desire for extravagant things, I’ve been able to convince myself that I don’t want too much out of life. All I really need is the ability to travel and have new experiences. Things like wealth and extreme success (in any area) just seem superfluous, like things that will only distract me from what really matters in life.

But do I truly not want a ton of money or amazing levels of success? Do I not want to explore the heights of what I can accomplish? Because deep down I see the potential I have to do great things and live a really amazing life.

My lack of ambition is starting to reveal its true identity: fear. It’s the fear of trying to get get these things and failing. It’s the fear that I don’t have what it takes to succeed. It’s the fear that I will become miserable by going after things like money and success.

But isn’t not thinking big out of fear just as damaging as expecting money and success to make me happy? Aren’t both situations just two sides of the same coin?

As someone who loves to read, especially about self-development and spirituality, I see that I’ve fallen into a mental trap. I’ve read tons of books about how true happiness is purely internal and I’ve bought into that idea. That’s not necessarily a problem by itself, but I’ve been using it as an excuse to not take any real action in my life. I reason away my stagnation by saying, “What’s the point of pursuing any challenging goals if it won’t make me happy in the end?”

This is bullshit logic though. Sure, happiness does ultimately come from inside, but if I were to truly take that to heart I would give up all my possessions and go live in a cave. Yeah…that’s never going to happen.

The truth of the matter is that I want A LOT of things. I want success. I want money. I want passion. I want adventure. I want to have my cake and eat it to.

Lessons From the Past

This situation reminds me of a lesson from the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Hindu scripture that I read last summer.

The Gita takes the form of a narrative, with the young prince Arjuna as its protagonist. Arjuna is preparing for the Mahabharata war, in which he must fight against members of his own family. Unsure of how to proceed he asks his charioteer, Lord Krishna (an incarnated form of God), for guidance. The rest of the scripture offers wisdom in the form of Lord Krishna’s advice to Arjuna.

A large part of this advice centers around Arjuna’s conflicted feeling towards fighting his own family. In order to guide him toward the right course of action, Krishna introduces a few different concepts, namely the different paths to self-realization (enlightenment) and the role of dharma.

According to Krishna, there are three main paths to self-realization: karma yoga, bhakti yoga, and jnana yoga. I’m going to focus on the first and last paths. Karma yoga is essentially liberation through action, specifically action without attachment to results. Jnana yoga is liberation through wisdom and contemplation. It means renouncing all desires and action (think living in a cave).

There is no exact translation of Dharma in the English language, but it roughly translates to one’s personal duty, or “right action”. I liken it to the different roles we play in our lives, like that of a parent, teacher, doctor, or even a member of a community. Fulfilling your dharma means performing that duty to the best of your ability.

One must follow his or her dharma in order to reach self-realization. This is how dharma and the different types of yoga tie into together. Whether you choose karma yoga or jnana yoga depends on your dharma. The dharma of of young man who wants to live an active life would be different than that of an old man who wants to live a quiet life. Thus, the young man would take the path of karma yoga in order to achieve self-realization. The old man may be best suited retiring away from the material world in order to gain self-realization through wisdom and contemplation.

Concluding his advice, Krishna tells Arjuna that the best way to self-realization is through following his dharma as a warrior and fighting in the upcoming battle. In other words, he must take the path of karma yoga, taking action without being attached to the outcome.

How does this relate to my struggle with ambition? While I don’t necessarily believe in self-realization in the way it’s described in the Bhagavad Gita, I think it can be interpreted as the highest degree of fulfillment you can experience in life. From this perspective, the concepts of dharma and the different types of yoga offer a kind of guide for living a truly fulfilling life.

The attitude I spoke of above, in which I claim that happiness can only be found internally, is similar to jnana yoga. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with it, yet as a young man who enjoys living in the material world – not secluded on a mountain – it would make very little sense for me to follow that path towards happiness. Instead, my dharma would be that of someone who has material desires and wants to achieve success.

Maybe when I’m old and broken down I’ll find happiness through inaction. But at 24 years old, taking action is the only way to go.

Freedom from Outcome: Balancing Action and Desire

I’m starting to realize that happiness doesn’t come from not pursuing my ambitions, but from taking action towards them and enjoying the process. It’s a balance between inner and outer fulfillment.

This has been a great realization, but how do I manage to go after the things I desire without falling into the trap of basing my happiness on them?

This is where freedom from outcome, the main theme of this series of posts, comes into play. Freedom from outcome (or detachment from outcome) is a concept that I first came across in the Bhagavad Gita. However, I’ve noticed that it’s a core principle taught in almost all of the spiritual, philosophical, and self-help resources I’ve come across.

So what does is mean to be free from outcome?  It means taking action while simultaneously being unattached to the result of that action. On a deeper level, it means finding satisfaction in the process of taking action instead of the result that comes from it.

I truly believe that, if applied even a little bit, freedom from outcome is the solution to my own dilemma regarding ambition, and also a myriad of other problems that most of us face in our daily lives. These problems include stress and anxiety, creative blocks, and extreme emotional ups and downs.

In my next post I will go into detail on freedom from outcome, examining what it looks like, some of my favorite sources that encourage it, and the benefits it can have in our lives.

 

5 Books That Helped Change My Life

Books are the compasses and telescopes and sextants and chartwhich other men have prepared to help us navigate the dangerous seas of human life.” –Jesse Lee Bennett

Ahhh….the joy of reading. There are few things more pleasurable to me than sitting down with a cup of coffee and getting lost in a good book.

A latte and a "libro". Oh, did I forget to mention the chocolate filled napolitana? That's a necessary part of the equation.
A “libro” and a latte. Oh, did I forget to mention the chocolate filled napolitana? Those go quite well with books too.

Many people are often surprised when they see me reading a book during my lunch breaks or in my free time. “You like to read???” they always ask.

I’m never completely sure if the emphasis is on ‘read’ or on ‘you’, but I get the impression that a lot of people view reading as a chore. Maybe school is to blame for that. God knows nothing takes the fun out of something like being forced to do it. Yet, outside of the occasional required reading for class, sitting down and putting my nose in a book has never been something I’ve had to force myself to do.

Reading always came easy to me, even in my early childhood, but I think my true passion for it started with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Ironically enough, my mom actually had to force me to read past the first few pages (thanks Mom!), but after a chapter or two I was addicted.

Since then, reading has been one the most important parts of my life. I try to spend at least 30 minutes doing it every day. Up until the end of high school my reading preferences consisted purely of fiction. I read everything from fantasy novels about dragons to some pretty disturbing stories by Stephen King. You could say that reading fiction was my greatest escape.

In the past few years my interest in fiction has waned quite a bit. Maybe it’s just a result of getting older, but it’s getting harder and harder for me to fully engage with those kinds of books, the only exception being more classical literature (Jane Austen and Ernest Hemingway are two of my favorites).

However, that doesn’t mean my love for reading has dampened in the slightest. Lately I’ve found myself most captivated by books on spirituality, mindfulness, philosophy, and self-improvement. Anything I feel can help me live a more fulfilling life. It’s those types of books that will be topic of this post.

So without further ado, here is a list of the 5 books that have had the biggest impact on my life so far. These aren’t necessarily my favorite books from a literary standpoint (I’ll save that for another post), but they have contributed the most to who I am today and what I want out of life.

1. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

I can honestly say this book is the most important thing I’ve ever read. Prior to finding it in 2013, I felt completely at the whim of my very erratic thoughts and emotions. The information I found in this book helped me achieve whole new levels of self-awareness and inner peace that have continued to grow in the years since.

What is The Power of Now about? In essence, it’s about learning how to be completely present to the moment. Eckhart Tolle, who I guess many would describe as a spiritual guru of sorts, lays out very clearly an idea that Eastern religions have talked about for centuries: the distinction between the “self” and the “ego.” To put it in less esoteric terms, he basically challenges you to start observing your thoughts as opposed to letting them control you.

I understand that this can sound a little too New-Agey  for a lot of people. I’d be lying if I said I bought into everything that Eckhart Tolle talks about.  However, what I did resonate with added a ton of value to my life and I always encourage people to at least give the book a shot.

2. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

This amazing allegorical novel is a super easy read that packs a powerful message. If you’re having doubts about your purpose in life or just need some extra motivation to follow your passion, definitely check this book out. It always seems to give me inspiration when I need it the most.

The Alchemist
On a side note, this is only book I’ve ever read in both English and Spanish. I love it that much.

3. Walden by Henry David Thoreau

I think of this book as my introduction to minimalism. While it was published way back in 1854, Thoreau’s account of his two years living alone in a forest still feels relevant today. What I loved most about this book was how Thoreau was able to perfectly capture a sentiment that many of us still feel today: the feeling that our possessions control our lives. Walden has helped me gain a lot insight into what is truly essential in my life.

4. The Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Hindu scripture. No, I’m not a follower of Hinduism. I’m not even religious. But I do think there is enormous wisdom to be found in this book, and many of the other ancient religious texts. This wisdom often comes in the form of “universal principles.” These are basic principles that pretty much govern our lives; things like “treat others how you want to be treated” and “you reap what you sow.”

The Gita emphasizes a ton of these principles. One of the biggest insight I’ve gained from it has been the principle of detachment from outcome, something it talks about quite a bit.  If you’re able to look past the surface layer of religious names and concepts, you might find something in it that resonates with you as well.

Bhagavad Gita
This specific translation by Eknath Easwaran is great. Each chapter comes with an in-depth, but easy to understand summary.

5. The Alabaster Girl by Zan Perrion

A book about beauty, romance, adventure, and seduction. While entirely about one man’s perspective on life, love, and women, this book is the spark that ignited an appetite for beauty in my life. Everything  from the way it’s written to the message it contains inspires me each time I read it (I think I’m at four times now).

Let me know what you think of these books! Also, I’d love to hear about any books that have impacted your own lives.