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Life Lessons

In Forge. More on Medium.

If you’re wondering why you’re not happy, why things are always hard, try this thought experiment from the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius

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We can imagine that Marcus Aurelius was a busy man, perhaps the busiest man in the world. He had 14 children. He was living through a pandemic. He had a nagging stomach ailment. He was taking philosophy classes.

Oh, and he was the emperor of Rome. His domain stretched some 2.2 million square miles and included some 120 million people for whom he was both responsible for and in charge of.

How did he manage it all? How did he get it all done? Without losing his mind? Without falling behind?

We know that one question played a huge role.

To find your focus, learn to resist this self-sabotaging excuse

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Imagine this: You’ve been diagnosed with a rare and serious disease. In hopes of keeping you alive, the doctor recommends a new, experimental course of treatment. It works for some people — maybe 60%. But it’s covered by your insurance, and if you are in the 60%, you’ll be successfully cured in six months. What do you do?

Of course you say yes. Maybe you’ll get unlucky and it won’t work for you, but it’s worth a try. You’d probably try the treatment even with only a 10% success rate. …

It’s not: “Do you like it?”

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I recently wrote a pilot TV script with a girlfriend of mine. Neither of us had ever done anything like this before. As I sent out the draft to a few trusted friends, I was about to type: “Do you think this is any good?”

But I stopped myself. Instead, I wrote, “Can you please help us make this better?”

I’m a seasoned entrepreneur and a novice writer. I’m learning that the same rules apply to both roles. Whether I’m crafting a script or a business plan, it’s up to me to decide when it is “good enough” for the…

Understanding the distinction is the first step to managing your time

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Because I write about distraction and how to avoid it, I often get asked the question “Aren’t distractions sometimes a good thing? Don’t we all need some distraction in our lives?”


Distractions are always bad. Period. Diversions, on the other hand, can be good. This isn’t just hair-splitting: The two concepts are fundamentally different, and if you want to use your time productively, you need to understand the important distinction between them.

As I explain in my book Indistractable, distraction is an action that pulls you away from what you intended to do.

Distraction prevents you from living out…

One step to overcome impostor syndrome

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It happens to me more than I’d like: I finally finish a big, complicated story, or have an A+ parenting day where everyone’s happy and fed and no one has any meltdowns — and I’m so focused on the things I did wrong that I can’t even let myself enjoy the win. Well-meaning compliments from my husband or a close friend don’t help much, either, mostly because I don’t believe them. They have to say that, I think. They’re just being nice.

That’s just how impostor syndrome works: No matter how many accolades or compliments you collect, you still don’t…

A classic survivor test shows us the danger of abandoning your mission whenever things get uncomfortable

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Let’s try something. Imagine you’ve just crash-landed somewhere in the Sonoran Desert, deep in the American Southwest. Though the aircraft is now a smoldering wreck, you miraculously survived uninjured, and now find yourself all alone as the sole survivor. Temperatures are topping 110 degrees, and you’re stranded.

Thankfully, you’ve managed to find a few supplies in the wreckage. But while some of the things are vital to your survival, others are useless. To stay alive until rescuers arrive, you must decide which among these items are most important:

  • A loaded .45 caliber pistol
  • A book titled Edible Plants and Animals…

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Medium writer Darius Foroux has a slightly spicy take in his recent Stoic Letter: One way to ease the unhappiness we’ve all been feeling for the past year is to reconsider what happiness even means.

Foroux quotes the Stoic philosopher Seneca: “No one can live happily, or even bearably, without the pursuit of wisdom.”

The Stoics believed that we shouldn’t hitch our sense of well-being to anything that can be taken away: wealth, health, tipsy karaoke nights. Those things are great, and of course, we all want them. But our true, life-level happiness must come from what can never be…

It’s also a clarifying prompt when you just want to self-reflect

Woman looking out the window with reflection of outdoors.
Woman looking out the window with reflection of outdoors.
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I started going to therapy because I wanted to figure out who I was after leaving the company I spent a decade of my life building. Then I began feeling like I was failing as a parent. Then my husband was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Then Covid-19 hit.

Through it all, therapy was a huge source of strength and stability. My friends now see me as a therapy veteran, maybe because I’m always talking about the things I’ve learned from my therapist. One day, a friend came to me with a question: She was about to start going to…

You can override your less-than-helpful instincts by learning techniques from the persuasion business

Photo: John Macdougall/Contributor/Getty Images

The reason why you hate being micromanaged by your boss is the same reason why, as a kid, you refused to put your coat on when your mom told you to bundle up. We’re all wired with a knee-jerk “don’t tell me what to do!” response called psychological reactance — and it can kick in even when it’s you telling yourself what to do.

Saturday Night Live recently captured this tendency with a skit about the “Pelotaunt,” getting riders to workout not through encouragement, but through passive aggression. A woman in the spoof says, “If I hear the phrase, ‘You…

📖 Today’s tip: Ask yourself what your book would be about. Even if you have no plans to write one.

You have a specific purpose and value. It’s just hard to remember, sometimes, in the flurry of daily life. Here’s a simple thought exercise to get you back in touch with yourself: Figure out your book.

As Ross McCammon writes in Forge: “In some ways, it’s the central question of your life. What’s my purpose? What do I have to give? What’s my value? What am I worth? The answer is always singular, and it’s always revealing.”

What your book…

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