On February 2, 2019, I got the opportunity to present at the inaugural TEDxUTEP conference. The theme of the event was “Access and Excellence” which is the dual mission set by our long-time University President, Dr. Diana Natalicio. I’m incredibly grateful for the experiences I received at UTEP, and I love El Paso, so I decided to speak on the growth mindset imparted on the people of the desert. Friends have been asking for a video of the presentation. I don’t know when that will go live, so in the meantime, I thought I’d share the transcript I wrote to prepare my talk. This isn’t 100% what came out on stage. I’m less eloquent in speaking and memory isn’t perfect. But the message I wanted to deliver is here.
I feel compelled to admit that I wasn’t as interested to read about Leonardo Da Vinci as much as Walter Isaacson’s other biographies. To my uncultured mind, Da Vinci was a painter, and I had an insufficient understanding of art to know of his contributions to the field. I ultimately read the book based on Isaacson’s name, not Da Vinci’s, but Isaacson’s admiration of the ultimate renaisasance man is contagious. Da Vinci was not only a brilliant painter, he was a brilliant scientist, engineer, and entertainer. Like Isaacson’s biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs, the biography of Da Vinci chronicles a life of immense innovation. Da Vinci’s life of curiousiuty and creativity left me with a few lessons that I feel apply to this age of boundless access to information and unprecedented ability to create.
I teach an undergrad business law course at UTEP's College of business. The focus of the course are the legal issues faced by startups, but I end up teaching a lot about starting a company as the business context is relevant to the legal issues. Most of my lectures comes from personal experience, but I quote and refer to several books. For any past or future students, here's the list of all the books I use in Business Law 4391.
One of the most common questions I get as a teacher and mentor is around being exceptional. People want to be special or they want to be interesting and they don’t know how to get there. There are infinite self-help books on the subject of working hard and tons of new marketing schemes on developing a "personal brand," but my personal take is that they start with the wrong assumption that setting yourself apart begins with doing something special. I think the simplest first step to being exceptional is in not doing things.
"New growth cannot exist without first the destruction of the old." - The Guru Laghima
The idea of creative destruction isn't new. The creation of anything new entails the destruction of something old. This is especially true for individuals. Every decision made is not just a selection or a choice, but rejection of all alternatives.
Keeping that in mind, I don’t start each new year with a resolution to achieve something new. Instead, I identify the things that I know I spend too much time on and work to reduce the amount of time I spend on them.
Our time is finite, and rather than cram in more stuff into an already busy schedule, it may be more productive to find where you can do more with less. If your 24-hour day is already full, you won’t succeed in doing something new unless you clear time for it first.
One of the most glaring cultural problems I’ve found in the city is that few people seem to be proud of being from here. I must’ve felt the same sentiment as a youth, but the more time I’ve spent outside of the city, the more fondness and respect I develop for the upbringing the city afforded me.
Manifestos for their own sake are stupid. This isn’t that. Rather, I think it's important for people to level with who they are so they can track a course for who they want to be. Unfortunately, there’s an odd disconnect between what the city is and what every local campaign claims it to be.
It was recently the 15th Anniversary of the Halo series. It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the games, but it’s been something of a dirty secret that I’m also a big fan of the mythos. To celebrate 15 years, I thought I'd write a bit on how the unlikeliest of books changed my outlook on our entire species.
I've noticed that good people tend to have good friends. Many people chase the friendship of people who are rich and famous or entertaining and lavish and loud. But good people don’t seek the same thing. Good people simply enjoy good people.
This has left this vague curiosity in my mind: Why do good people end up surrounded by other good people?
Last year I wrote myself a short letter reflecting on the important lessons I’d learned at 25. It was a useful way to memorialize a year’s worth of learning, and I found myself going back to it often, so I decided to repeat the activity for year 26.
When I graduated from law school, I wanted to start making contributions to my college. I didn’t have any money, but I’d just spent a few years in Silicon Valley learning about startups. So I contacted some people at my college to see if there was any way that I could share some of my experiences with current students. One thing led to another, and I ended up with an offer to teach a business law course.
Yes, law school classmates, I know it is unbelievable given my class attendance, but I am an adjunct professor.
I was excited to start. I thought it would be fun to talk about all these interesting things I knew. I’d waltz into the room and inspire the class with my words and intellect. But instead, I seriously got my ass kicked. Not by the students, but by the sheer amount of work that goes into teaching. It’s a huge investment. During my courses, I lecture five hours a day for two weeks, spend all afternoon preparing for the next class, and use the night to catch up on my day job. I lose weight, fall behind on work, and end up exhausted. Despite the amount of work and the challenges teaching creates for me, I’ve likely benefitted more from the experience than anyone else.
Today I turn 26. I get oddly depressed and introspective every year around my birthday. There’s something heavy about having the clock tick off another year. As my 20s wane, I’ve become worried that I haven’t been learning or developing as much as I should. So in an effort to determine whether I learned anything in the last year, I sat down to write to me from one year ago to tell him what it is he would learn at 25. Some of the lessons are things that other people have picked up earlier in life, but they’re things I didn’t internalize until this past year. While these lessons are deeply personal, one of the big lessons I’ve learned is that should I share interesting learnings with people. So now I’m following my own advice to myself. It’s really meta.
I’ve written a lot about being fit lately, and one of my friends chidingly shared with me an article which discusses being "swole for no reason.” “Swole,” if you don’t know, is slang for being jacked, which is slang for being buff. The author, a writer, recounts his experience trying to get swole. After failing to achieve swoleness, the writer experiences "the delusion of getting out of shape as a form of martyrdom.” Writers don’t need to be swole. Wouldn’t it be silly for him to go out and get fit? How shameful it would be if he was swole for no reason.
From the perspective of evolutionary history, there’s a whole host of reasons for being swole, or for at least exercising frequently; even if you’re one of the intellectual martyrs who doesn’t care about how looking fit because only the inner-mind is beautiful or whatever. We evolved to use our bodies, and our bodies evolved to require use. Without activity to challenge our physical structure, humans become susceptible to debilitating diseases.
Some people find reminders of their death depressing, but thinking about death can actually make you happier. I first heard about this idea in Jane McGonigal’s book, Reality is Broken. Jane McGonigal designs and researches games, and in her 2011 bestseller, she explores the ways in which game mechanics positively influence human psychology. McGonigal proposes that we apply the structures and mechanics of games as solutions to problems in reality.
One particular problem McGonigal discusses is depression. The World Health Organization calls depression “the leading cause of disability worldwide.” Being unhappy is a big issue, and thinking about death is one simple, although non-obvious, solution.
At some point in my life, I began to feel concerns for self-preservation and I eventually had a rare moment of awareness where I realized I should start taking care of my health. I must have gotten half-way decent at addressing the health issue because I've had friends, acquaintances, and even students ask me what it is I do to get in shape.
I always dodge the question and promise to follow-up with some helpful knowledge resources. After years of making this promise, I’ve finally delivered. Here are the top 5 resources I’ve used to get in shape and stay in shape.
If you like science fiction and work a desk job or study long hours, you should check out my epic Spotify playlist below. I thought I'd include a bit of background on it because I think music and science fiction pare particularly good at inspiring and empowering people.
Upon graduating from Stanford Law School this past June, I had the privilege of joining the team at Knotch, a StartX alumni company and the first to receive an investment from the new Stanford-StartX Fund. Several students have asked me how they, too, could land a job at a startup. While the exact steps (and missteps) I took are far from a formula, I do believe there are some repeatable lessons.
Altering your blue light exposure is a relatively easy way to hack your sleep and energy, especially since it doesn't require ingesting anything. If you're skittish about doing weird things to yourself, this one is pretty safe.
Blue light has been shown to be highly influential to the circadian rhythm, the biological cycle that makes us sleepy and wakeful. Blue light helps stimulate certain biological processes that make us energized -- this is great during the day, but horrible when you're hoping to get a night of good rest. Studies have shown that exposure to blue light can delay sleep onset (the period of falling asleep) by up to an hour.
That’s the lesson I’ve learned this week after I posted the “Life by Months” tool which lets people enter their birthday and get a quick glimpse of the months they’ve lived and a view of the months ahead. Many expressed that the spreadsheet made them feel unnerved.
I got a few people who responded with “memento mori,” or “remember your mortality.” As important as that is, I don’t think the awareness of mortality is what unnerves people. More than death, it seems to be the quantification of a lifetime that is unsettling. It’s an unusual insight. Time is quantified every day – we’re dominated by clocks and schedules and we’re paid by the hour. Why is this schedule more disturbing than the others
Time is difficult to grasp, especially when we think about it in months or years. I couldn’t get a solid idea of how long my life has felt, so I decided to make a visual to show me just how long of a life I’ve had and how much time I have left.