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The story of “The Standing Man”

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Photo by Simeon Lesley on Unsplash

In 1957, US lawyer James B. Donovan received the most thankless task of his career: Defend Russian spy Rudolf Abel at the height of the Cold War.

Donovan was an esteemed insurance attorney and partner at his law firm. He was 41 years old, married, and had four young children. The last thing he needed was the publicity of defending the most hated man in the country — and thus becoming a close second.

Unlike the many other lawyers the government had asked before, however, Donovan did not shy away when duty came knocking on his door. …

You don’t need a high IQ to understand how the world works

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Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

There are two ways to be smart: One is to have a high IQ, the other is to be good at getting what you want.

The former contains an element you don’t control — genetics — and while you can read many books to make up for it, maximizing intelligence alone has little use in the real world. Being street smart, however…

In 1862, Mark Twain was stuck in a silver-mining town in Nevada. A notorious slacker, he was quickly fired from the only job available: shoveling sand. His buff roommate, however, hadn’t found work, and so Twain sent him to the mine, telling him to ask for work without pay. …

A career-defining question even presidents forget to answer

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Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

Right now, there is a journalist sitting on a panel somewhere, getting pummeled with audience questions. Unlike the panel’s discussion topics, he did not receive the questions on paper beforehand, and so he is utterly unprepared, stumbling from “umm” to “uhhh” and from poorly worded expression to hastily assembled phrase.

Meanwhile, his counterpart sits in an office, poring over a well-executed but scientifically demanding report on global warming. If only the undersecretary could explain it to her while she asked for some clarifications! With the document as her only counsel, she stands little chance of making the right decision.

If you don’t want to end up as either one of the two, according to Peter Drucker, you must answer a simple yet career-defining question: “Am I a reader or a…

From simpleton to schemer to zen, it’s all part of the plan

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Photo by Michael Weidemann on Unsplash

The more you advance in your career, the easier each working day should become.

Not easier in the sense that you won’t make hard decisions or accomplish big goals, but easygoing in the sense that each day is straightforward, calm, and devoid of pressure.

If your workday gets harder the more you achieve, you’re trading your expert status for the wrong rewards.

A partner at a big consulting company, for example, might work even longer hours than an associate. She may constantly fret about her partner status, the high stakes in each deal, and the ill-will among her peers. That’s not independence, that’s a shark tank: You get out or you get eaten. …

Self-awareness, not effort, determines our productivity

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Photo by Windows on Unsplash

Self-awareness rules productivity.

How much you can work is not determined by how hard you try, it is determined by how well you know yourself.

Hardworking people constantly fight their limitations. Smart people work with those limitations instead of against them.

The only way to maximize your output and creativity across your entire life is to do the most you can on the most number of days. …

A list of the 5 most common themes for self-analysis and growth

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Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash

“If you’re so smart, how come you aren’t happy?”

That’s Naval Ravikant’s challenge¹ to everyone bathing in the misery of their own intelligence. “Happiness is a choice,” he says; something you can work on, like your fitness, nutrition, or career.

Naval knows it’s a choice because he too had to make it for himself: “I was born poor and miserable, and I’m now pretty well off and very happy — and I worked at those.”

Naval also knows that’s an unpopular statement to make for two reasons:

  1. Some people are depressed at a molecular level and thus have a real, biological disadvantage. …

Two questions to eliminate dread and replace it with joy

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Photo by averie woodard on Unsplash

In 1902, Remington advertised its breakthrough appliance — the first commercial typewriter — with the following slogan: “To save time is to lengthen life.”

It’s a powerful phrase, and for years, Richard Polt thought it was true. Polt is a typewriter collector, but he’s also a professor of philosophy. Eventually, he came to the following realization: “The more time you save, the more time you waste, because you’re doing things that are only a means to an end.”

I don’t like email. For years, I’ve layered hack upon hack to minimize the time I spend in my inbox. I’ve disabled all email notifications. I’ve set up filters so certain emails never show up as unread messages. I’ve created snippets I can copy and paste. I even made a rule to never check email before 11 AM, and I try to batch-process it whenever possible — and yet, I still spend time in my inbox every day. I waste less time, but I’m still stuck doing something I don’t enjoy, because none of my measures got to the heart of the…

An easy-to-overlook principle of good business

A group stands on a street, with some holding stacks of newspapers.
A group stands on a street, with some holding stacks of newspapers.
Photo by Boston Public Library on Unsplash

Three weeks into studying abroad in the U.S., I started missing German bread. I love American food, but when it comes to “Brotzeit,” those pale, floppy slices of toast just don’t cut it.

I wanted a loaf. I wanted rye. I wanted the sour, moist-yet-crunchy freshness only German bread can provide. Unfortunately, it was impossible to find.

Necessity is the mother of invention, they say, and so eventually, I became desperate enough to decide to bake my own. Since my baking skills are on par with a nine-year-old, this was a much larger-scale effort than it might seem.

I scoured the aisles for flours of the right kind and the web for a recipe that didn’t look like the script for the next Mission Impossible. I looked for fresh yeast everywhere (no luck). I watched tons of YouTube videos. …

So what’s the point of waiting?

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Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

I don’t know if it was the American air or my stats professor going on about Tim Ferriss, but one day while studying abroad, I decided I would start waking up at 5 AM simply because I liked it.

I love the quietude of early mornings. The world is asleep, and there’s peace in knowing that alone. But it’s also a great time to read, to learn, and to get things done. There are no distractions. You can be slow and focused at the same time. There’s no rush, and by the time everyone you know has breakfast, you’ve already accomplished a good chunk of what you want to do that day. A half-done to-do list at 9 AM is comforting. Bottom line? …

“The body keeps the score,” she said, quoting the title of one of the world’s leading books on trauma. She is Debbie Millman, and she’s talking to Tim Ferriss about his (and her) childhood sexual abuse.

When I started meditating last year, one of the first things I learned was that your brain is fuller than you could ever imagine. Trillions of microscopic impressions have been imposed on it for decades, and every single one of them was recorded. The mind buries — but it never truly forgets.

That’s why meditation is one of the simplest yet most challenging habits to master: Sooner or later, it will send everything you’ve ever experienced back up into your consciousness, and there’s a lot there you don’t really want to see — which is exactly why you must. …

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