Conversation about life with a friend

Below is my email to a friend, I thought it was worth saving here for me to see again in the future at some point.
I was thinking about what you said that you sometimes wonder if you chose the right career path or maybe you could have considered going to a state school then going to live by a mountain town with a decent job or something. I felt the same way for a long time when I watched these gorgeous pictures of a buddy who did that show up on Facebook:
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He lived the life – had a camper that he went from mountain to mountain in, rock climbing and skiing and partying. Turned out though that after years of doing that, he was quite depressed. He felt like his life lacked meaning or purpose. He had fun, but he had nothing else he could do. He had trouble holding a girlfriend or job. He started doing more and more extreme stuff to get the thrill but usually felt more empty and depressed afterwards. He kept pushing it further and further, doing stuff that earned epic photos like skiing on one ski on the edge of a crevasse, or triggering a small backcountry avalanche and capturing it on his gopro, or jumping a 200 ft deep 30 foot wide crevasse (I can’t find that photo):
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Eventually, he pushed things too far and went in the backcountry a year and a half ago after the crazy heavy snows and was killed in an avalanche. When I talked to my buddy Fletch who was Adam’s best friend in grade school, he said Adam had been super depressed and just basically said he was going to keep pushing the limit as that was the only thing that he felt really got him feeling good again. He was a great guy and a good friend who took me to the summit of Rainier, and it was tragic to lose him.
I don’t know if you or I would have been happy just doing that completely live for the moment thing. I feel like you are a pretty happy guy and that having a balance of contributing to society while also doing fun stuff is a healthier balance. Your accomplishments are extremely impressive – the Air Force Academy and flying F-16s has been a big contributor to the security of our society and required incredible dedication and talent to achieve. You’ve been all over the world and made some awesome friends it sounds like.
It does sound like you feel like what you set out to do in that area though and are losing interest in continuing to fly. I think you are on the right path for you as you said you would either go work at the Air Force Academy or get a civilian job. My thought for myself is that taking some risk and making a change in your life is often something that is scary before you do it, and after you do it you realize it wasn’t as big of a deal as you made it out to be and that you just wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. For guys like us especially the financial concerns often end up leading to decisions that aren’t optimal. I still have been letting that control me too much and am trying to get outdoors and do what I love there more. We are heading towards our mid thirties and over half our lives are behind us now… I want to do some great outdoor climbing and skiing and camping before my body starts to break down.
Trying to balance the things that make me happy is tough… here is the current order of how I view this:
  1. Significant other. Nothing else is more important to your quality of life.
  2. Family & friends – quality time with these brings meaning to life and accomplishments don’t mean much when compared to these relationships.
  3. Career. Doing something you are passionate about and believe in is crucial.
  4. Fun life activities – I have been fortunate this year in that I have had a good amount of travel. I prefer being outdoors though and doing physical intense sports and miss this in my life.
  5. No commute. Research shows that one of the biggest factors in happiness is the length you have to drive each day… shorter the better.
  6. Hobbies… I’ve been reading a lot and working out and occasionally playing some video games.
  7. Avoiding the phone trap…. I haven’t figured this out. I literally get sucked into my phone reading articles I don’t care about, looking at ridiculous things on social media, and playing chess. It gets more addicting each day. It’s easy to sit down with it and look up and two hours have gone by. Painful.
What are your thoughts on all of this? I am always trying to make my life better and would love your insights – you are a thoughtful guy and willing to look at tough issues.

Anger / Frustration Resulting in Lack of Sleep

I have been dealing with a very frustrating client who refuses to read his scope of work or review the emails sent since then, and makes hostile demands. The first time he came to me, I helped out and bent over backwards and solved his issues. Now his project is more than 25% out of scope and he refuses to pay an invoice he owed months ago. He sends multiple drunk emails late Friday night and doesn’t read the reasonable responses or think through what he wants.

My difficulty is that I get sucked in emotionally to messes like this. My business has grown to be large enough where this client is just a drop in the bucket, but even one irrational and hostile person can throw my whole mood into the toilet. I woke up last night at 2 am and couldn’t sleep for hours because my brain was just going nonstop on responses to this client. I even knew logically that my responses wouldn’t matter – this guy was not actually looking at reality and was just reacting emotionally himself.

I have a hard time cooling off and letting angry emotions go. I think the best thing to do is to give this guy the weekend to cool off and send a simple and reasonable email Monday and let him think about it. Emotionally though I want to argue every point and present all my evidence immediately.

I think my challenge is primarily in finding ways to let angry / frustrated / anxious emotions go, especially when it is related to my business. When I have big problems in the business that don’t involve anger, I have no problem resolving them and sleeping easy. But even small problems that get me angry throw me for a loop.

How do I control my anger / frustrations? How can I actually get sleep?

Some ideas I am coming up with now:

  • Write a blog post like this
  • Exercise (but I already work out every day and that doesn’t seem to help in this scenario)
  • Talk to people about my feelings. Hard to do sometimes as a guy…. I am not embarrassed, I just don’t think about it.
  • Try to put things in better perspective in my head

Fixing Patents

Idea to fix patents: if you obtain a patent that is later shown to be invalid, you should be on the hook for damages you caused to the market.

College Is A Bad Decision For Most People

Student loan debt has skyrocketed over the last 10 years:

Once a student takes on this type of loan debt, they cannot get rid of it even in bankruptcy.

Everyone told me when I was a teenager that I HAD to go to college and it was incredibly important for my future. Everyone continues to tell American teenagers that college is the key to a good life. Unfortunately, everyone is wrong on this.

College was very wrong for me. I had started a business doing landscaping with a friend at that time and was seeing success with it. I closed it down and went to college, where I spent four years drinking and partying and majoring in business. During that four year period, I took only 3 courses that actually helped me in life (Intro to Law, Accounting, Microeconomics). The rest of my approximately 45 courses ranged from useless (terrible professor in Macroeconomics) to absurd (a class named Murder, that was about… murders). I even went to a pretty strong state school, the University of Washington. The Business School was ranked #11 in the world at the time I attended. I contributed nothing to society during this period and picked up an alcohol problem I struggled with the rest of my 20’s. According to the NIH, 60% of college students drank alcohol in the last month and 2 out of 3 of those binge drank in that time frame.

I don’t think my experience was unique… I actually think this is one of the better outcomes from four years of college. Most people I know who attended college had a lot more debt than I did, got worse first jobs, humanities degrees ** (which are basically just degrees in entertainment, about as helpful to the world as majoring in football or underwater basket weaving).

What should you do instead of going to college? Use the internet for your education. Every passing day shows better and better online courses for free. Any subject you would study at a university at any level is now online for you to learn in full completely free.  A few places to start: Udacity, Khan Academy, Laracasts, Wikipedia, and your Kindle. Those are just a few of my favorites I personally have used.  I also strongly recommend finding whatever career you want, then offering yourself as free labor – “unpaid intern” – for a year to apprentice with someone doing the job you want. You will learn all the practical skills of the work very rapidly and actually see if you like the field quickly.

But won’t you be missing out on the great networking of college? If by great networking, you mean hanging out with people with no jobs or purpose who spend most of their time drinking, sure. If you want a network of people who can actually help your career later, attend conferences / meetups / events and work internships within your field. If you do this for four years, you will develop a network of real professionals (many with years of experience in the field and senior positions) who can help you find a job. Who will be better at helping you find a job – a 22 year old friend who has never had a real job or a 46 year old senior manager at a major corporation?

But what if I’m not self motivated, won’t the structure of college make sure I actually learn stuff? Nope. If you’re not self motivated, you will have difficulty achieving anything in life. College will just delay the inevitable issues that will come up. The good news is you can build your self motivation incrementally and improve over time (mostly by building good habits). If you aren’t self motivated to learn by reading on your own, you will not be self motivated to properly do the coursework and learn in college either.

But isn’t that piece of paper extremely important for employers in vetting out job applicants? Unfortunately, this is the strongest argument against my idea of skipping formal college. Many employers do look at the university on your resume and use that to help filter candidates. I do think that more and more employers are like me though (I have 100 full time people) and completely ignore the university listed… I use actual skills tests to see who has the best ability to do the job in question. Further, the network you develop while doing unpaid internships and attending events will help you overcome the hurdle of not having a college listed on your resume.

So what are reasons I think someone should go to college? I think if you need access to incredibly expensive and regulated equipment – like nuclear reactors or industrial robots – college makes sense for you. If you want to do certain types of cutting edge scientific research, college will give you the opportunity to do so. If you want to teach others, you need to go to college and get certified so you can legally do so. I think this covers around 5% of people.


** – A lot of people insist that majoring in the humanities is a higher calling, far more important than the shallow capitalist goals of getting a job. I do agree that great literature, drama, art, philosophy, and music are important to society. Each of these though are forms of entertainment. People pay to read books or attend shows. People who are interested in these areas will be motivated to participate on their own time and don’t need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to do so.  Save your money and do this for free.


Pics from Germany

US Doctors Are Overpaid

Net Neutrality is Important

Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and other big companies want to use their monopoly power to hurt consumers severely to gain more profits. Their lobbyists are pushing hard to allow them to charge different prices for carrying different internet content. This is like your power company charging an extra $1 per hour to watch Fox News instead of CNN. The FCC is now headed by a former Verizon lobbyist named Ajit Pai who is going to ram this down your throat next month. I don’t think this can be stopped now, but take note of which politicians support it and make sure they don’t get re-elected.