Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in a lighthouse? In a storm?


Ego Is Reptilian*

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Delray Beach, FL- The young woman sitting next to you on the plane is on the phone. She is not whispering. She doesn’t care if you hear her. She says, “Sure, I can go to the gym and work out like crazy and become a ripped bitch. But what does that get me? If you don’t love me for myself, fuck you!”

You smile. You sort of know how she feels. You get an idea about how you will “improve” yourself. Then you get to work on it, but it’s an uphill battle. At some point, you skip a workout or a class or eat an extra slice of pizza and your willpower disappears. You lose ground. You feel anger and shame. And then you decide the problem isn’t you. It’s the ambition.

You know – because you’re not a kid any more – that achieving that goal wasn’t going to give you the good feelings you were seeking. Wellbeing is not about striving for what you don’t have but in being content with what you do have.

All the sages knew that. Socrates, you recall, said, “He who is not contented with what he has would not be contended with what he doesn’t but would like to have.”

Screw those ambitions! They are false roads built by human ego. The better you will come from resisting them, from letting them go. You are going to be happy with how you are – fat or poor or stupid. What does it matter? You’re going to be a Stoic. Or a Transcendentalist. Or a Buddhist!

And there is good reason to support this view. Advocates of acceptance (i.e., opponents of ambition) are correct in pointing out the futility of chasing material goals. They advise letting go of such ephemeral desires, and of desire itself, and seeking spiritual transformation, The true path is a state of consciousness that exists in the here and now. A mindset that dwells neither in the past (depression) or in the future (anxiety) but in the present. “When you realize there is nothing lacking,” Lao Tzu says, “then the whole world belongs to you.”

But this is only half true, for we cannot escape our dual impulses. Even if we do become Stoics or Transcendentalists or Buddhists and commit ourselves to acceptance, we will encounter moments when we feel challenged or threatened or inspired. And when those moments arrive, we react instinctively. Our egos assert themselves. We contract.

This contracting impulse is located, in Freudian terms, in the ego. The ego, in biological terms, resides in two locations: the limbic and the reptilian brain. The limbic brain processes emotional responses.  The reptilian brain processes instinctual responses.

A life philosophy that advocates the elimination of limbic and reptilian responses is unrealistic. It is impossible to exterminate emotional responses completely and impossible to eliminate reptilian impulses at all.

One can make impressive progress refining thoughts and even training emotional responses. But one cannot change – not even a bit – one’s reptilian instincts.

Read MoreEgo Is Reptilian*

Temerity (noun) – Temerity (tuh-MARE-ih-tee) is rashness, recklessness, boldness. As used by Emile Zola in Therese Raquin: “There was a sort of brutal temerity in his prudence, the temerity of a man with big fists.”

What Makes a Good Life? James Altucher is a smart guy who has spent many years trying to figure out how to live a richer life. Recently, he published this little group of equations that are –  in my experience of trying to do the same – very true.

Persistence + Love = Success

Reality / Expectations = Happiness

Fear + Denial = Anger

1% compounded every day = 3700%

Great Idea * Different Great Idea = Unique Idea

Community + Mastery + Freedom = Well-Being

(My Wants > Their Wants) + Other Choices = Negotiation

Big + Safe + Easy + New = Sales

The 5 people you’re around most / 5 = You

Who you are + Why you are + Why now = Creativity

I was reminded of James’s formulae while watching this TED talk by a Harvard researcher…


I don’t know who this small guy is. He looks like he might be American. But he’s had an amazingly successful career a Sumo wrestler against opponents more than twice his size.


Breaking Up With William: A Misunderstanding of the Very Important Matter of Economic Fairness

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Delray Beach, FL- I knew that William was a potential superstar the moment we started talking. He was smart and funny and confident – real confidence, not bluster.

He wasted no time establishing himself as a valuable employee. He then worked in overdrive till he was put in charge of his own product line. He hired and trained a crew that grew that product line into one that was contributing nicely to the company’s overall profits.

As CEO of his division, William made a six-figure salary plus a bonus of 10% of the profits. As his business grew, the bonus was increased to 20%. And as part of his contract when he made CEO, he was also promised 20% of the purchase price if his division were ever sold.

Some years later, the division stopped growing. And because I had an interest in the business, I was called in by my partners to speak to William about it. He was gracious and appreciative of my concerns, but he ignored my suggestions. He was comfortable with the division running at that level of profitability.

I’m not comfortable with an idling business. Unless you are seeking to grow profits, entropy takes over and sales gradually recede (along with everything else). But when William’s sales began to recede, he didn’t seem bothered.

I was bothered. And my partners were bothered. So when an offer was made to buy William’s division, they thought: good timing. To be fair to William, I recommended that we allow him to have a voice in the negotiating process. That proved to be problematic, as he had an unrealistically high idea of what the division was worth.

Eventually, it was sold at the right price. And William received, as promised in his contract, 20% of the purchase price.

Instead of feeling good about it, he shocked us by asking for 40%. His rationale was that he deserved an additional 20% of the profits because, in his role as CEO, he had somehow “earned” an extra 20% in “sweat equity.”

“Sweat equity” is a term that is sometimes used with start-up companies. To persuade a CEO (or other key executive) to work for a salary much below market rates, they are offered the chance to receive equity as a trade-off. For example, instead of paying Sally the $150,000 she would normally make, she is paid $50,000 and receives (after the year ends) $100,000 worth of equity.

That is how sweat equity works. It is a deal the two parties make beforehand. And it is not merited simply because someone works hard or successfully. It is essentially bought with the compensation that the executive willingly gives up.

When both parties agree to it, it’s fair. What William was asking for was, in our view, completely unfair.

I’ve always said that what is fair in a business relationship is relative. It’s relative to the people involved and to the situation, which is always changing.

If, as things change, your view of fair is in a range that doesn’t overlap with mine, we have a problem. Sooner or later (in William’s case, later), we will be at odds. And because our views of fairness are so different, there is a good chance the relationship will be ruined.

If you are entering into a long-term business relationship – whether it be a partnership, a joint venture agreement, or an employment contract – it’s not enough to agree on terms and to put those terms on paper. You have to spend some time talking about how the terms might change in the future.

My partners and I never did this with William. We just assumed, since he shared our views on so many other things, that he shared our sense of what fairness would look like as his role in the business became more important.

Had we done so, we might have realized that, for one thing, he had a very peculiar idea about meriting sweat equity based on his own assessment of his work.

Read MoreBreaking Up With William: A Misunderstanding of the Very Important Matter of Economic Fairness

Feint (noun) – A feint (FEYNT) is a deceptive move. As used by Dani Shapiro: “Our minds have a tendency to wander. To duck and feint and keep us at a slight remove from the moment at hand.”