When I was younger I used to constantly reflect about whether other people would experience things the same way as I do. I was grappling with what I now call subjectivity; the fact that we’ll never be able to transcend the cage of our consciousness. This reflection would sometimes escalate to the point of paranoia; I would start thinking that only I exist and that the rest of the world is fake and merely a projection.
This youthful reflection is, I think, one of the main reasons that I’m so much into reading and writing. This is so because reading allows me to enter other people’s minds and writing allows other people to enter my mind. It liberates me of my cage of subjectivity. But this exchange is only worth it if the other has something of value to offer. Entering the mind of someone who has something valuable to offer, such as crazy experiences, wise insights or soothing advice, can be something very powerful and allows you to take your life to new levels.
That’s why I want to introduce you all to five great minds that you should get acquainted with.
All these five persons have had a considerable impact on who I am to this day and altered my life for the better.
Mark Manson from markmanson.net
Back in 2011 Mark was still an ex-professional dating coach who wrote Models: Attract Women Through Honesty because he saw all the deficiencies of the Pick-up community and thought he could do better. Over time he started writing about general life advice, politics and travelling and his reader base grew from men wanting to score women into a gender-neutral community of people wanting to know how to live a full-filling life.
Mark is quite an intelligent dude. Most of the stuff he talks about he backs up with scientific research (which is sometimes a bit outdated, but still, he’s not an academic). The topics he discusses are also very diverse. He’ll write about anything from why young americans should work abroad to 5 toxic relationship habits to the ‘do something’ principle. Yet the way he writes is very down to earth and easily understandable. I think that’s his biggest value; his ability to take difficult concepts and transform them into something that the majority of people can understand.
Sounds like pop psychology to you? Well it is in the sense that the way he writes is understandable to most people. But what he writes about it is not easily digestible at all since some of his writings can be quite confrontational. His article 10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America rubbed up the wrong way with many (he is American himself). But also his article in defense of the average, 6 toxic relationship habits that most people think are normal and Shut Up and Be Patient will not temporarily boost your state of mind but will most likely stir up some serious reflection.
Another reason I like him is his writing style. The way he writes is quite polemical, which engages you with what he writes. He says he’s influenced by David Foster Wallace and when reading some of his longer articles this influence becomes quite clear. I regard him not only as a self-help author but also as a great writer.
Hidden Gem: Screw Finding Your Passion
This article is about why you shouldn’t search for your passion. In today’s ocean of mantras about finding your passion and searching for meaning, this sounds counter-intuitive. His main point is that everyone already found there passion because your passion is what you spend most of your time on. Basically what he’s saying is that you’re awake at least 16 hours a day and that in those 16 hours you’ll likely spend most of your time on something you’re passionate about it.
I think that this can be quite liberating and allows you to shift your perspective from constantly searching for something that’s not there to focusing on what you already have and working with that. It partly inspired me to start this blog since I looked at what I spend most of my time on and figured that it’s reading and writing.
A memorable quote captivating the article:
Look, here’s another slap in the face for you: every job sucks sometimes. There’s no such thing as some passionate activity that you will never get tired of, never get stressed over, never complain about. It doesn’t exist. I am living my dream job (which happened by accident, by the way. I never in a million years planned on this happening; like a kid on a playground I just went and tried it), and I still hate about 30% of it. Some days more. Again, that’s just life.
Wade Shepard from vagabondjourney.com
Everybody dreams about travelling perpetually. Wade actually does it. Wade is the author behind http://www.vagabondjourney.com and has been travelling for 20+ years without a break. His website is basically one huge archive filled with articles about the gazillion different cultures around the world, global politics, practical travelling tips and philosophy.
It is on this website where you can find an answer to any question you have about travelling; how to get the money to be able to travel, how to travel on a tight budget, how to hitchhike, where to go to, how to get cheap plane tickets and so on. If you have a vague dream of one day travelling the world or you just want to get a sample of what it’s like on the road, his articles on travelling tips are an excellent way to get started and realize your dreams.
But it’s also academic; Wade majored in Anthropology. So naturally there is also a lot on different cultures, the difference in norms and values in different places, ethnocentrism, social development, etcetera. It differs, however, from what you learn in uni or in books because it is based on first-person experiences. Especially China and South America are well-documented.
Other than that there is also some philosophical stuff and introspective musings on the value of travelling.
This article made a deep impression on me and stuck with me for a long while. It really influences my outlook on life and every now and then I go back and read it to refresh my perspective. It is about our conception of death and life and how it is so intertwined with travelling. The main thesis is that in our Western culture we look at death as something that should be feared and loathed and put us down but that death can also be seen as something liberating and a source of meaning.
It is best summed up in the following quote:
Life is just a game, you play around for a while, maybe reproduce, smile, fight, laugh, hump, discover, cry, and croak. These are very easy words to say, but far more difficult to put into practice. But when you meet someone who does live like this it’s obvious. Their eyes are bright, their aura radiant, and they seem satisfied enough just to have waken up in the morning alive. Life is a daily gift, anyone who sees it otherwise is insane.
Chris MacLeod from http://www.succeedsocially.com
Most people run into problems in their social life at some point in their life. But because of the stigma on not having a fulfilling social life (which is also a social issue), we tend to deny it and get ourselves entangled in a complex emotional web of shame and anxiety. This website has a down-to-earth, rational approach to basically any social problem there is. The author is Chris Macleod, a man in his mid-thirties who graduated in Social Work.
On the website there are articles on making friends, how to make conversation, overcoming self-defeating thoughts, the process of improving your social life, improving confidence and working on your overall personality. If you are someone that had a fairly ‘normal’ youth, most of the stuff on here will seem like common sense. Nobody’s perfect, however, and I’m sure that there are some articles on here that will give you novel insights.
I think the real value of this website is its authenticity. In the about section Chris describes himself as someone ‘contentedly average’ that is ‘happy with the results his improved people skills have gotten him’. This honesty is, in my eyes, what makes this site so valuable. It takes away a lot of the pressure surrounding social skills and turns it into something humane and manageable. In a performance-driven society obsessed with extremes, it feels like a fresh of breath air to have someone tell you that being average is okay and that one can be perfectly happy while embracing one’s imperfections.
Furthermore, he dears to dive into subjects that are usually considered taboo. He will write about how there are no shortcuts and that any progress is going to come at a slow rate, how people who seem exceptional are just very good at the basics, how most of your improvement is going to come from going out there and actually practicing and facing your fears, how some of the best conversations can be about mundane topics or how it’s impossible to win with everyone. All of these things seem counter-intuitive but can be very liberating when grasped.
In this article he writes about how it’s never too late to have a successful social life. I think this article is very powerful as it appeals to something people of all ages struggle with but nobody ever discusses it in such an honest, straightforward way. The bottom line is that it’s possible for anyone from any age to build a social life that satisfies their needs and that, moreover, as one gets older it becomes easier to improve social skills as one already has other life skills that will spill over into one’s social skills. 40 and feel like partying but you’re afraid that people will look at you strange? Plenty of bars and lounges in mid-size cities that will cater to an older crowd. Are you 15, unpopular in high school and feel like your whole life is ruined? Plenty of social opportunities and fun to be had in college or university.
I think this quote properly captivates the essence of this article:
There’s no critical window for learning social skills. Like with any skill there are benefits to getting an early start, but you’re not locked out if you start working on them later in life. You can catch up to everyone else too because people’s social savvy starts to level off at a certain point. So while many people are slowly improving at their higher proficiency and refining the groundwork they’ve already laid, you’ll quickly move up the more basic and intermediate ranks. Before long you’ll be on fairly equal footing.
Alain de Botton from http://www.theschooloflife.com
It would be an offence to all the talented people that worked hard to make the School of Life a reality, but the main visionary behind the project is Alain de Botton. The School of Life is, as one can induce from the name, about the art of living. It covers a broad range of topics varying between sex, work, education, art and politics; basically anything that you’ll encounter in your life. It does so from a philosophical perspective but remains very practical and concrete. This can be seen as a big achievement as philosophy is notorious for being abstract and inaccessible.
That philosophy has this bad reputation is a pity because it has a lot to offer and, when used in the right way, has the ability to transform your life. The School of Life is like a key to the gated community of philosophy and presents it in such a way that is both entertaining and engaging. Especially their Youtube channel, which brings out new content three times a week, is very valuable. Obscure topics such as transference amd bad faith, philosophers famous for their esoteric writing style such as Hegel and Spinoza and the writers Tolstoy and Goethe; they are all explained perfectly clear in 5 minute videos with cool graphics and explanatory artwork.
Moreover, they have a few projects running which are also quite interesting. One of them is their Porn as Therapy, which, as the name says, turns porn into a therapeutic medium. By means of erotic HD photos of beautiful men and women and an almost poetic script, the viewer is being educated about psychological concepts such as loneliness, responsibility or authority. This combination of sexiness with philosophy is something which I think is quite novel and has a lot of potential for the future. It can also help you access the world of philosophy in a more entertaining way.
Hidden Gem: Honest Communication
I think that in a world where it is common to bottle up anger and frustration, this video hits a nerve. It is about honest communication and how communicating emotions instead of letting them bottle up can significantly improve your relationships and life. The origin and reasons for bottling up emotions are traced back to one’s youth and one’s relationship to one’s parents. The main message of this video is that communicating your needs in a clear, calm way to those who deserve to hear it can break one free from persistent habits that stand in between what you want and whether you are getting it.
We can endure the risk of being disliked in the name of a cleansing confrontation.
David Cain from http://www.raptitude.com/
David Cain describes his blog as ‘a street-level look at the human experience’ and I could not have come up with a better description. Of all the websites discussed, this one is the most practical AND the most philosophical at the same time. How is that possible, you ask? Well, read on.
Most of the articles on his website revolve around practical ways to enhance your well-being. How to get good at what I’m bad at? How to worry less? How to get yourself to do things? How to make bad days okay? These are but a few of the things he discusses. He does so from a philosophical point of view combined with personal experience. Often times, he’ll tap into existentialist or Buddhist thought and then intertwine this with how he himself actually experiences those things. He is like a scout, in the sense that he goes out there and experiments and then reports his insights to you.
His writing style exudes a certain calmness that is rare and also a reflection of the content; it is clear, down to earth and practical.
What attracts me most to this blog is the ‘experiments’ section. Here David writes about 20+ life experiments he conducted ranging from living one month on Soylent to training with Russian kettlebells for 6 weeks to logging all his activities for one week. All the difficulties he ran into, the things that went through his mind and the new insights he gained; he recorded them all and put them in reports accompanying the experiment. Also, he invites his readers to join him in his experiments and share their insights.
I think that this concept of engaging in life experiments and being so transparent about it is very powerful. It has a lot of potential as it couples the powers of philosophy and pragmatism by enhancing people their well-being but also gaining new theoretical insights.
Hidden Gem: You Life Is Always Just Beginning
This article is about why your life is always just beginning. In it, David uses film as an analogy to explain the feeling of ‘beginning in the middle’. Basically his point is that you don’t know whether something is valuable until you can imagine it not being there, and that the experience of our own existence is easily forgotten and overlooked, precisely because it’s always there.
He illustrates his point by referring to a liberating thought he had while sitting at a dinner table with his family but also by referring to literary geniuses such Ray Bradbury ( Dandelion Wine) and David Foster Wallace ( yes, yes second time this guy is being mentioned).
After reading this article my whole perspective of existence had temporarily shifted. The world felt like my playground and everything had a certain air of novelty. In David’s words:
It was fascinating, but not disorienting—I knew how to speak and act, and I could remember what had apparently happened earlier in the day, and earlier in life. But life itself seemed like a brand new proposition, as if I’d been waiting on deck for a thousand years, and I finally found myself at the plate. There was so much detail to be noticed, so much possibility to be explored. The world felt like a playground, and to be alive in it felt like an unexpected gift.
What I think makes these people so special is that they are so ordinary. The Internet is flooded with extravaganza and superlatives, yet these people are very normal and average, just like you and I. They don’t hide their flaws and that’s like a fresh breath of air.
As for the impact they had on me, I can say that they all most definitely transformed my life. Not in an ‘oh-my-gawd-now-Im-enlightened-oprah-winfrey kind of way but in a very slow, gradual kind of way, step by step deconstructing and reconstructing who I am in the direction of who I want to be.