What’s your motto?

sometimes we hear a quote and think “ooh that’s good, i’m going to remember it.” of course we don’t remember it, because soon after another clever heuristic hits our ears.

since buying my first non-fiction books after college and writing 100s of essays about the lessons they taught me, i may do a better job than most at documenting these one-liner bits of wisdom.

yet they never fully “stuck.” as the problem with someone else’s insight is self-evident: it isn’t yours.

work backwards

When you cite some old wisdom-style quote and add “important truth,” “to remember,” or “something to live by,” you are not doing so because it is good, only because it is inapplicable. Had it been both good and applicable you would not have had to cite it. Wisdom that is hard to execute isn’t really wisdom.
-Nassim Taleb, Bed of Procrustes

if you’re like me, ideas that have the power to change your worldview are exciting. and so you consider them like Ray Dalio: is this true? if so, why is it true? then you act.

Always check your shoes for scorpions, for example, seemed like plain good sense… yet no one knew precisely where the truth lay amid the whirling sand…
-Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

if we’re not careful, we allow our function to follow an idea’s form. remember: popular quotes sound good. nobody has data on their application.

think long-term

i’m definitely guilty of embracing aphorisms, motivational quotes, adages, whatever you want to call them, for short term purposes.

and it’s perfectly OK to channel David Goggins screaming “you’re a f-ing b****!” as you struggle to finish the last 2 miles of a marathon. but Goggins won’t help you build relationships with a boss or wife.

after filtering ideas for their application and usefulness, we need to simulate their impact over time.

make it yours

perhaps every author of every book i’ve ever read is smarter than me.

after all, they sold a million books and all i have a WordPress. but i’m starting to think custom-tailored suits aren’t the only way to give yourself a competitive edge. we need custom-fitted maxims.

to heavyhand William Wrigely, the creator of your favorite bubblegum: “when 2 people live by the same ideal, one of them is unnecesary.”

your aha moment isn’t hidden in the pages of a book or Joe Rogan interview. it’s in your DNA.

set bigger expectations

one reason i’ve latched onto dozens of expressions of the years is because each one satisfied a different part of my personality and mission at the time.

when i was fat, i liked anything that shamed me into eating less and sweating more. when i was broke, i loved rap lyrics that glorified the grind. when i started making money i embraced the “just say no,” quasi “be an asshole” advice.

in each case, the tagline reverberating in my thick skull had a half-life, eventually ceasing to be useful.

decipher core values

while living in Korea for 2 years (2020-22) i had a lot of opportunities to reflect on my life.

virtually daily i’d ask myself: why am i here now? why are there cameras in front of me instead of a text editor? why am i wearing makeup and singing a 500 year old Korean song for 3 judges?

i realized my hunger for new challenges, sure. but i also realized that public recognition of my “talents” drove me literally to the other side of the planet with zero friends and a language barrier. how pathetic!

it took awhile to piece together the underlying components of what matters most to me, when so much of my time was spent pleasing other people or feeding my ego.

the outcome of all this reflection is thus my new motto. i’ve been testing it for several months, and today i want to share it with you.

smarter, stronger, richer

these 3 words represent my life’s mission, or at least the secular aspect of it.

nearly every task on my list, invitation i receive, and project idea requiring my energy, gets filtered through these 3 lenses. if i can’t imagine growing in at least 1 area, i try not to do the thing.

then at night before i fall asleep i ask myself: how did i do?

implement the practice

life is just time, and time is just days. most days i read (smarter), work out (stronger), and build things people want to pay for (richer).

there’s work. everything else is bullshit.


i get deep satisfaction from learning, deep satisfaction from beating personal bests in fitness, and deep satisfication from making money i don’t need.

what i used to think was cool:

  • attention
  • Trump
  • bars

what i finally know is cool:

  • making art
  • eating meat
  • getting sweaty

funny how it took me a journey around the world, dozens of jobs, startup exits [1, 2], and millions of New York Times bestseller words to craft my perfect motto.

what’s yours?