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The Only Path To Success Is By Being A Dork

There are some subjects that people always seem to spend money on, year after year. How to get in shape. How to get rich. How to be successful. Every year new research is done, new people publish more books on these topics, and people keep buying them. However, each of these topics is easily answered.

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How to get in shape?

Get some exercise.
Eat healthy.
Keep it up.

How to get rich?

Spend less than you earn.
Keep it up.

How to be successful?

Figure out what you would define as successful.
Work consistently toward that.
Be nice to others and help them toward their goals.
Keep it up.

“Psh, I knew all of that trite cliché crap,” you might sneer as you buy another fad diet book. “I want cutting edge details that get me there quicker!”

Unfortunately, nothing will. Every book that is released that has any decent information just rephrases these concepts in new ways, possibly introducing some fine-tuning aspect that doesn’t really matter.

One example that everyone seems to know: “Don’t eat after 8pm!”

That’s ridiculous fine-tuning that will only make a difference if you are already in olympic-level shape and need to shave off an extra 0.025 pounds for an edge over the competition. Forget it.

“Never eat eggs!”
“Eat more eggs!”

If people relentlessly argue about whether something is good for you, that means it’s fine and people want to argue about something. Go ahead and eat eggs, just don’t gorge yourself on them. Or anything, for that matter.

However, what I’m saying right now is not what people want to hear. It isn’t sexy. You don’t get to say “I followed Paris Hilton’s all-hot dog diet and lost 485 pounds in a week!” and then go right back to gorging on eggs with it magically staying off. You have to make little life changes over long periods, adding in exercise and changing your meals slowly as you figure out what you think is fun and delicious while still being healthy.

People love the details. They think it makes them look smart to spout random research studies that contradict common sense. Those studies were likely sponsored by people who wanted certain results, which is how they defy common sense. These same research-spouters tend to constantly find new information that keeps contradicting old information, and they never actually do anything.

Never listen to anyone who has lots of information but never does anything with it. The only reason that ever happens is because someone wants to seem smart, cool, or make other people jealous. None of these are good reasons, which is why the person never gets anything done.

One of my favorite stories is about Henry Ford. Yes, the famous one who invented the assembly line and brought cars to the masses. I’ve heard a lot of people make a fuss about how Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and other famously successful people dropped out of college. Henry never even graduated from high school.

At one point during his career, a big newspaper started saying horrible untrue things about him, and he sued them for libel. During the court proceedings, the lawyers tried to leverage his lack of education against him, asking him questions about history and math, trying to make him seem ignorant and uneducated.

When Henry decided he had enough, he leaned forward and said “If I should really want to answer the foolish question you have just asked, or any of the other questions you have been asking me, let me remind you that I have a row of electric push-buttons on my desk, and by pushing the right button, I can summon to my aid men who can answer any question I desire to ask concerning the business to which I am devoting most of my efforts. Now, will you kindly tell me, why I should clutter up my mind with general knowledge, for the purpose of being able to answer questions, when I have men around me who can supply any knowledge I require?”

Now that’s an answer.

The courtroom went silent after he said that, and the attorney had no more questions.

Henry Ford was a man who knew his goals, and worked relentlessly toward them. He didn’t let the details bog him down, or people who thought he was wrong. He knew what he wanted, and just kept working toward it. He wasn’t concerned about being cool, sexy, or trendy. He just cared about what he knew needed to be done, and he did it, one step at a time.

Now, what are your goals, and what is the next step you are taking to get there?

Stop thinking the right way!

Logic will get you from A to Z. Imagination will get you everywhere.

-Albert Einstein

So much cookie!

As a child, everything is new and the world seems like nothing ever stays the same.

“Food is always delicious!”

“This shoe looks like food!”

“I was horribly mistaken about that! Bleargh!”

This is why children are always testing limits and seeing what happens, because they genuinely don’t know and are trying to learn. This is also why children’s television is full of repetition. It reinforces that what they are teaching is something that isn’t changing. (See? It’s the same this time, too. And the next time. You can learn this and rely on it.) Anything else, however, is up for grabs. Slowly, we learn which things we can rely on, and they fade into the background so we can forget about them and focus on all the constant new stuff. (Some things can fly? Woah!)

During childhood, the process of discovering which things change and which things don’t is called “play”. Because you have such little experience and never know what will happen, it is full of surprises and new opportunities to learn and discover more. As more and more of the world falls into our understanding as a routine, we discover that we can get responses we like from the world by repeating those routines the same way every time, with slight variation. We find the right answer, and we learn how to repeat it.

The fancy terminology for this is “developing habits”.

We begin to value winning over playing, and we nestle ourselves into a comfortable routine that provides a steady IV drip of success. Nothing too crazy, nothing too risky, just making sure that everyone around us doesn’t nag us about doing the wrong thing. Go to school, get a safe job, buy a house, have kids. Your function as a human is complete, and you succeeded in not rocking the boat.


A significant part of my professional career has involved stepping into ridiculously big corporations full of people wearing suits and “teaching them to innovate”. This has involved lots of games and adventures, and I’m telling you right now you haven’t lived until you’ve gotten a room of high-powered corporate executives excitedly telling stories with clay and crayons.

Everything I got those executives to do were just tactics or techniques using psychological triggers and other complicated things to teach people to play again and think in ways they normally don’t. What it all really boils down to is one thing that “successful” people have long since forgotten, even though it used to be the only way you interacted with the world.

You need to think without there being a right answer.

The reason people are “successful” (in the sense that your mom would use when talking about your classmate who went to medical school and has a wife and eight adooorable children, oh dear goodness!) is because they figure out how to consistently get the right answer and focus in on it. They don’t do things that don’t have a point, and aggressively strip things out of their lives that don’t propel them toward their goals, whatever they may be.

This is a great tactic for Getting Things Doneâ„¢, and I’m not disparaging it in any way. It’s very useful for its purpose, but you should be aware of the downsides that come with it. By ruthlessly stripping away all other possibilities aside from the ones that have worked in the past, you are removing all potential for finding a better way to do things. A more productive way. A more fun way. Perhaps worst of all, you are removing the possibility of discovering that perhaps your goals aren’t the best goals for you.

Sunny days, sweeping the clooooouds away...

Take some time to sit down and let your mind wander. Doodle while you do it. Feel free to think about big, important things. Also think about little, funny things, and things that make you happy or sad or excited. You don’t need a point, or a goal. What you want is to be productive, not efficient. Take the longest route possible to get somewhere, stopping at every flower and animal along the way to play and rediscover what it had to offer that you hadn’t considered before. Really get to know what inspires you in life, and what energizes you the most. Make drawings, not lists. Describe experiences, not results. Focus on truly understanding things, not just getting them done to get that little rush of checking another box on your to-do list.

Don’t just do it now, either. Make it a habit. Do this on a regular basis. Start thinking in colorful images, not in bullet points projected in a dark room. If you can make this habit part of your routine, suddenly things won’t be as routine anymore, because you will be playing on a daily basis and not always taking the shortest, most efficient route, burning yourself out trying to be “successful”. I guarantee you will find more success in your life if you start enjoying the path on the way there.

What this all comes down to is that everyone needs a balance in their life. Yes, find goals and dedicate yourself to them. But don’t let other people’s definition of success drive you down a path that where you are safe, sound, and miserable. Take the time to explore and discover what would really make you feel successful in life, and what things it turns out you actually don’t care about. Do you value having a large family? Traveling to new places and going on adventures? Having time to yourself to curl up and read? Helping other people out? Amassing a huge fortune and laughing at people from inside your castle? Visiting every water park in the United States? Cookies?

Odds are there are some things that really make you happy, and some that kind of do, but you would be fine without. Make a list of the things that make you happy in life, the things you value, and focus on them. If you do the above exercise, I guarantee you will come up with a list of things that are important to you, whether or not you realized it before.

Here’s where the balance comes in. Hold onto the things that make you really happy and do whatever you can to make them a bigger part of your life, aggressively thinking less about the “kind of happy” stuff. It will be fine without you worrying about it.

Once you bring this sense of increased happiness and accomplishment into your life, it will snowball into the rest of your life, letting your real goals in life shine through as you slowly discover you are already working toward them.

Just don’t forget to develop this kind of thinking as a habit, because you don’t want to be 5 years down the road before you suddenly realize your biggest passion in life has shifted while you were working so hard. Nobody wants to be that far down the road before they realize their passion isn’t cookies, it’s puppies.

Additional resources to help you bust your cycle and learn to play again:

ZeFrank – Bust That Cycle

Ahmed Riaz – Design Play For Kids In Extreme Environments

How To Live A Great Life in 5 Simple Steps

All we want is to be set free. To live life and to make it special. To see the real beauty in ourself and others. To know that, when it all comes to an end, we somehow made a difference and brought light into the world. Unfortunately, all the rambling pseudo-philosophical intros in the world won’t make one bit of difference, and being on random substances in an Ibiza nightclub probably won’t help, either.

Knife Party

Something that everyone wants is to live a meaningful life and feel like they had an impact while they were here. Unfortunately, for some reason most people spend their lives just going through the motions in a job they can’t stand while finding inventive new ways to let off frustration, then calling it a day. While I am far from the universal standard of success, I get told “I want your life” enough to want to write a concise guide to success on your own terms.

Building change

1. Strong beliefs, held loosely.

After spending his life studying which creatures thrived in the world and which ones faded away, Charles Darwin did not write “only the strongest survive” or “only the smartest survive”, despite what your high school gym teacher may have shouted at you. He wrote “only the most adaptable survive.”

This is the biggest key, before trying anything else. The only constant in the universe is change, and you need to change with it. When you gain knowledge, don’t just be content in knowing it, use it. When you find out something you held dear is wrong, let it go and adopt the new correct answer. Don’t be passive and let the world do what it wants, because it always will, but if you find conflicting evidence, don’t be afraid to put yourself under a microscope and find the truth.

2. Be appreciative

Humans are scared, self-centered creatures. This isn’t an insult, just a fact of life. Most people are just trying to get by day to day, on autopilot for all but the most important things. When you stop someone to thank them genuinely, you break their autopilot in a surprisingly great way, causing them to appreciate the world in return. For the most part, people don’t want to risk being nice to someone, because they might get hurt. If you are appreciative first, it allows them to be nice to you back without fear.

Each and every time someone tells me how my work or my writing has impacted their lives, I am appreciative. I know it takes a big effort to write someone out of the blue or go up and talk to someone new, and I want them to know they should do it more often.

3. Be generous

It’s a cliché that you should give as much as you can to charities, but for me, donating money is the easy way out. It’s good to donate money, but donating yourself, your skills, and your time is much more valuable. The time I’ve spent feeding people and talking to them at homeless shelters, starting a line of toys to help out artisans in rural India, and even just helping people out with projects at Burning Man have created some of the best memories and stories of my life.

Not everything has to be a big cause. Pick up something when someone drops it. Hold the door for a stranger. Surprise a friend with a cake. I guarantee it will make more of an impact than you expect.


4. Smile

I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth saying again. If you smile at someone genuinely, it relaxes them and makes them happy. Generally, I like being surrounded by happy, relaxed people. Don’t walk around with a Joker grin on your face, but if you make eye contact with a stranger, smile. You will likely brighten their day.

Here’s a psychological trick, as well. If you find yourself in a situation that makes you nervous, but there’s nothing you can do about it, just smile. The only physiological difference between excitement and nervousness (increased heart rate, more energy, heightened reactions) is whether or not you are smiling. Doing that part on your own short circuits the feedback loop and switches it over in your brain. I’ve used this trick to help people get through big situations with gusto, and it’s always surprising how effective it is.

5. Make your own rules

Once you are good at consistently doing the previous four steps, you have set the stage for the big step that really changes your life. It’s the one you can’t just make a decision to do. You have to consistently work on this one for a while before you start to work it out.

Everyone has their own definition of success that has been constructed through a combination of society, family, friends, and their own past successes and failures. Unfortunately, it’s easy to think your concept is entirely self-defined when you have actually just learned them through repeated exposure. Having a job. Having income. Having nice possessions. Having stability. Over the years, I’ve experimented with variations of all of these, and it has become evident that none of them are requirements for success, and most of them can even hold you back from it.

Ask yourself some serious questions about what defines success for you. Fame? Fortune? Marriage? I am and will continue to be happy with or without all of these. What I couldn’t live without, however, are great friends, adventures in new places, and delicious food. It took a long time and a lot of trial and error to figure out that I am happier sleeping in a cramped bus curled up next to a dear friend after a meal of fresh mangoes from a street vendor than I would be coming home to a mansion after leaving my high-paying stable job yet again.

What I want out of life is to help people while sharing knowledge and beauty. On the occasions I achieve that, I feel truly successful in life. Thank you to each and every person who feels like I have, and has helped me do that.