The Opposite Of What I said Before

Thoughts

I was sat on the passenger seat. We would have a serious conversation about what I was about to do. “Some people take what is built and established and want to deconstruct it. They want to take everything out and see if they can build something different out of it. By doing so they completely distort the paramount characteristics of the thing, ending up with something that opposes what it was at first.” I couldn’t disagree more. It is easy to stick to what we are used to doing, but change is sometimes hard to accept — mainly when it is a super radical change.

Adam Smith was an open minded guy who in the beginning believed the market would regulate itself without much need of government intervention. But during his last days he was bold enough to admit his mistake and state that government intervention is crucial to the healthy functioning of markets.

Adam Smith was an open minded guy who, in the beginning, believed the market would regulate itself without much need of government intervention and wrote an extraordinary and super thick book explaining why. Nonetheless, during his last days he was bold enough to change his mind, admit his mistake and state that government intervention is crucial to the healthy functioning of markets.

There is a song in Portuguese that says “I’d rather be this waking metamorphosis, than have that old formed opinion about everything.” Isn’t that great? Isn’t that hard? He says he’d rather change his mind over and over again than have that same old opinion that may be based on stuff that made sense back then, but now do not make all that sense anymore. But he goes on to saying the most daring thing, “I want to say the opposite of what I said before.” As if it was not hard enough to change your mind, but stand up and proclaim the exact opposite of what you previously so surely stated takes a lot of guts.

I invited a friend of mine to write on the blog. I told her, ” posts must have more than 600 words. Preferably, more than a thousand.” She accepted, but three months later she has still written nothing. My blog posts are so large not even I have the patience to proof read what I write.  It’s time to change! I want to say the opposite of what I said before. New rule on the blog: From now on no post will ever have more than 500 words! It doesn’t matter how great ,or interesting, or complex, or exciting is the subject, no ultra-long posts anymore —I know no one has half an hour to read posts on random subjects anyway.

Also, there is another new rule. On past posts I tried to say a lot of stuff in one single text, that’s not happening anymore. From now on each post will transmit one simple idea. Dr Mike Murdock always says, “when you are sick and tired of repeating something, then people are beginning to understand.” Nothing personal guys, I don’t think you are dumb — actually, if you read this blog, chances are that you are amongst the most intelligent independent thinkers of all internet — it’s just our human brain doing its information selection process.

Be ready for a new It’s All About Focus. A faster, more flexible and concise website. I’m working out my thinking and doing some 180 degrees change, I don’t know everything and when I discover something new I may have to review some concepts. What about you? Can you say the opposite of what you said before on something?

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Now You Are Going To Die

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My friend fell to the ground and the thug was going to shoot; he was unstoppable. That was it. With the gun in his hand, he had no option. The shots were heard from afar. Now there is a body lying on the floor. Two years after that, my friend is leaving prison. “A police officer should be prepared to deal properly with this kind of situation”, they said. I bet they were never about to die.

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Death sentence was quite common almost everywhere in human history. It was well accepted and taken as a fair way of punishing those who were unworthy of life. The definition of what, if anything, could make someone unworthy of life and who, if anyone, could decide someone’s worth have come to discussion mainly since the last century. That discussion inevitably led the parties to argue if capital punishment was ethically acceptable at all, under any circumstances. With people’s heads rolling down public squares’ stairs, both parties did their best to make their arguments highly convincing.  Attempting to win the debate, strong and weak arguments were brought up but, with the exception of a handful of insightful ones, most of them fall on one of the three shady categories: Religious, Emotional or Misleading/Based on deceitful information. Regardless of my religious convictions, my emotional attachment to random criminals or wronged families, and my disavowal (or convenience, depending on the situation) of  biased information, I will try to be as impartial as possible and analyse the best arguments in favour and against such a practice. But first, let’s see how bad the bad ones are, and then we move towards more reasonable ones.

“Have you ever thought about how many criminals escape punishment, and yet, the victims never have a chance to do that? Are crime victims in the United States today the forgotten people of our time?  Do they receive full measure of justice?” (cited in Isenberg, 1977, p. 129)

The idea here is that if you kill the guy, justice is being done. Can anyone see the error on that? Justice is just too broad of a concept. Plato wrote Republic, a book composed of other ten books, and couldn’t explain properly and without ambiguity what justice was. Justice is too subjective, something may seem fair for me and at the same time be an outrageous, inhuman barbarity for you. It is as if a threw a party at my house and put a sign on the door saying “Only good-looking people allowed”.

Maintain a prisoner for the rest of his life is way more costly than killing him.

Specifically in the United States, this information is false. But it really doesn’t matter; you could kill people spending just one bullet. This argument is misleading not because of its veracity, but because of its focus. It emphasises an irrelevant area in an ethical debate, finances. That makes people waste a lot of time discussing things that take them nowhere.

We don’t rape rapists or assault assailants, why would we murder murderers.

The uniqueness of capital punishment is always cited in debates, and is weak because if different crimes are suddenly regarded as worthy of death it doesn’t make sense any more. In addition, it does not contribute in anything to the discussion of whether or not is ethically acceptable, being unique or not.

Death penalty provides a sense of closure for victims’ families.

Every family reacts differently. Some families do not think that another death would make things better. It is a weak argument if you think that there is no standard reaction from the families, and that those who were wronged shouldn’t decide the punishment of their wrongdoers because of the strong emotional connection involved. But on the other hand, there is no completely logical explanation for everything in our system and most of things we do are done this way because that’s the way we collectively agree that is more pleasant to us. Why should a robber get three or five or eight years of imprisonment? Because for us that’s what seems more or less ok depending on what else he did. It is no more than a guess. We guess, and if we feel good about it we make it a law.

“Therefore if any man is dangerous to the community and is subverting it by some sin, the treatment to be commended is his execution in order to preserve the common good… Therefore to kill a man who retains his natural worthiness is intrinsically evil, although it may be justifiable to kill a sinner just as it is to kill a beast, for, as Aristotle points out, an evil man is worse than a beast and more harmful.” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae)

Saint Thomas Aquinas, and apparently Aristotle too, approved death sentence as a punishment to those deserving it. Here you see the authority fallacy. We believe a view just because it is expressed by someone regarded as an authority in a certain field. “President Richard Nixon should be re-elected because he has a secret plan to give an end to the war on the South East of Asia”; given that the plan was secret, people couldn’t assess its feasibility and thus the argument was reduced to “We should trust Nixon because he is the president”. I used it up there when I said “justice is super hard to define because Plato couldn’t do it”; just because he couldn’t it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to. These “authorities” committed errors in the past, and they will as surely commit more in the future. Because someone said so is not a good argument.  

If we have death sentences people will think twice before killing someone.

hummmmm…. I don’t think so, but that’s tricky to prove. You could argue that in the USA states adept to death penalty do not show lower homicide rates than states averse to it. But that’s a fallacy; you are taking a casualty for a causality. This rate is not influenced only by one variable, but by thousands. Things like culture, climate, city policing, the set of laws for the specific state and many other things deeply influence on the homicide rate. Saying that the sole adoption of death penalty keeps murders’ index high or low is to be too pretentious. On the other hand, I would say that what makes people think twice before performing a barbarian act is more the probability of being caught than the terrible punishment that would be waiting for them.

You are punishing the person twice

This argument is specifically aimed at the USA. There prisoners usually wait for more than a decade for their execution, meanwhile they are kept isolated from other prisoners and are sharply restricted in terms of visitation and exercise.

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Prisoners on death row spend as much as 23 hours alone in their cells.

The psychological terror and the years of loneliness are more than enough to destroy anyone’s mental health. That raises the question of whether the prisoner is not being punished twice, and also what is the real purpose of death sentence. The purpose cannot be deterrence, for its unproven effectiveness, it can’t be to free society of the evil by eliminating its propagator, because if society can take 10 years with him caged it can take any amount of time whatsoever, and it can’t be to give families a sense of completion, for it would make a family suffer for 10 years before releasing it of its unfinished matter. Is the purpose of the sentence to give a fair punishment to the convicted criminal or to give him the worst punishment possible, thus combining utter isolation with death sentence?

We don’t have the  right to take lives.

Again, that’s too subjective. We take lives every day; we kill flies and ants and most of us are ok with killing cows, chickens and fishes so we could have a nice meal. But ok, let’s stick to taking human lives. Know that friend I spoke about in the beginning of the text? Had he hesitated he wouldn’t have lived to tell me that story. Do you think he didn’t have the right? But if he acted rightly we have to change the initial statement, add an “if”. Let us make a concession: “a person loses their right to life if they start a murderous attack and the only way the victim can save their own life is by killing the attacker”. What if someone started a murderous attack and the only way the victim could save their own life was by killing the attacker, but the victim couldn’t kill the attacker and died. The attacker lost his right to life, does he gain it again when he finishes? Still, it is a super subjective statement. People killed people before, why can’t we do it now? What changed? Or it may be that nothing changed and people never had the right to take other people’s lives but they did it anyway. I didn’t find any completely logical argument for that; it is more an agreement than a rational conclusion.

You could kill a decent person

Although it doesn’t help with the discussion of if it is ethical to kill someone under any circumstances, it is an important point against capital punishment. Death penalty is irreversible and could be applied to an innocent party. People against death penalty like to highlight that many people on death row had their sentences overturned or sent back for review. That sentence gives the idea that someone innocent was about to die. In fact, what generally occurs is that reviews are brought up due to procedural errors instead of uncertainty regarding the accuracy of the conviction. But supporters of death penalty also highlight that no innocent was ever executed. That’s partly because of the long process of appeals and reviews, specifically designed to prevent mistakes, and partly because once you killed the guy no one keeps investigating.

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The big problem is that judgements and sentence decisions are made based on evidences and testimonials, and testimonials are rather tricky. Our mind is beautifully designed to fill every void space it finds. And if there is nothing to put there, it makes something up. We have a blind spot in our eyes, one in each; our brain uses the combination of both to make it look like there is no blind spot (here, do the test). The same happens with our mind, if we don’t remember something very well it will make something up to fill the void. I don’t even need to tell you how dangerous it can be when someone’s life is at stake. When your mind is in a greatly stressful situation it can behave quite oddly. You can mistake a black guy for a white guy just because while he was pointing the gun at you, you  couldn’t look at anywhere else than the gun. Your brain was was shouting “GUN! DANGER DANGER, GUN, DANGER DANGER, GUN!!”. It is serious business and not all the juries have guys as sensible as this one.

Our minds really play tricks on us. If you don’t believe me, why don’t you do this awareness test and show the world how well your mind works?

The religion paradox

The idea was to think of the subject as a solely rational matter, using only logic arguments. Religious views are not considered valid in this kind of argument because many people have many different religious views, and the basis for a religious argument is only faith; and you could have faith on anything. But here comes the curious thing, without religious connotations death penalty makes no sense at all. Capital punishment is intrinsically based on the assumption that by dying,criminals will have a worse punishment than living in prison. I don’t know if you noticed but there is no logical basement for that. We don’t know how it is like on the other side, except for the information that comes from the three categories we regarded as shady in the beginning of our analysis. Religion, that almost all agree bad people will be punished in the afterlife; Emotions, people generally feel better when something bad happens to a bad person; and Dubious information we get from people who have near death experiences (no resentments, I just don’t believe you guys).

As Master Miyagi said n Karate Kid II: “Daniel-san, for person with no forgiveness in heart, living is worse punishment than death”

Is it necessary?

Just because people did it in the past, it doesn’t mean we can do it now. Life imprisonment is an alternative if you really think this person could never ever go back to society again. And with life imprisonment you could at least make that person contribute to society in some way (through supervised work). As you may notice, arguments opposing death penalty are much more solid and thoughtful that those in favour of it. That’s something to take into consideration.

Know that friend of mine? I spoke to him about jail and what he went through. He told me how prison is not the best place to learn how to love society. He told me how rehabilitation and the importance of a human life are not really the main topics they learn on their day to day in jail. Maybe if we were better at rehabilitating, we wouldn’t need to get rid of people.

Adding a Little Something to Time Management

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It took me one week to scan a document and send it by email. As any teenager, I was the worst time manager ever! In my list of things to do, the minimum time of each task was one hour. How long does it take to get ready to leave? One hour. How long does it take to have lunch? One hour. How long does it take to write an email? One hour. It is no surprise that I hardly got anything done.

Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA, said something like “Ten minutes are not just a sixth of your hourly pay. Ten minutes are a piece of yourself. Divide your life into 10-minute units and sacrifice as few of them as possible in meaningless activity.” He probably got much more done in a week than I did in all my teenage years.

Time management is the flavour of the era. Are you taking the most of your time? Are you reaching your full potential by making time your ally and not your enemy? Or are you one of those who foolishly wish the day had more hours? Well, you probably are one of those, and you probably think you suck at time management as well. Shame on you, you should feel bad about that. In fact, you may be a disaster managing your time, or you may manage it quite decently. Either way you will always think there is a lot of room for improvement. Thus, at the end of every day there is this voice in your head saying “look at aaaall the time you had… and you only did that! You waste so much time.” This voice exists because you want to have maximum efficiency. If being just efficient were enough, you would certainly feel better at the end of the day. But this post is not about making you feel good for what you have (this one does that), it is about teaching you to have more of whatever you get when you do more stuff.

Here is the first big problem with time management: fungibility. Money is a fungible good. That means, the twenty pounds note in my wallet is exactly equal to any other 20 pounds note. On the other hand, although you could argue that every hour has 60 minutes, not every hour is equal. Our bodies have energy cycles, our energy cycles up and down during the day. So, not every hour is the best hour to do some stuff. In the end, time is not what needs to be managed; time will pass anyway.

We may feel super motivated to do something, and then some hours later we just don’t feel like doing it anymore; it is the energy cycle working. People often try to hack their bodies. They want to work more, party more and do more stuff, so they look for all the dirty tips for being alert during more time through the day. But here is the thing: rest is the real deal. Depriving yourself of enough rest will only do harm for you. If you don’t rest appropriately your down cycle will be longer, resulting in more time that you can’t do stuff well.

Have you found yourself in a situation where you need to do something and at the same time, you need some rest. Then, what do you do? You procrastinate! We choose exactly the worse alternative. When you procrastinate, you are neither doing what you have to do nor resting. It’s the worst of both worlds. Having enough sleep and relaxing time allows you to be more effective, more alert and do a better job.

Not even the clocks can take it anymore.

Salvador Dali – The Persistence of Memory (Not even the clocks can take it anymore).

So, let me suggest you an alternative time management system. In this system, you allow lots of time for resting and relaxing, and a restricted time for doing important stuff. I know it doesn’t look right, but let me explain. When you have only so many hours to do stuff, and you are rested and alert, you will be much more able to focus entirely on this activity because you know it will be just for a couple hours. If you know it is for a short period of time and that is the only time you will have to do it, you will not procrastinate. You will not lose your focus, get distracted or bored by the task; exactly because it is just a couple of hours.

When you are rested, the world around you changes. You are a thousand times more alert, intelligent, creative and, inevitably, more productive as well. Let me tell you my experience with that:

While studying Information Systems Engineering in Argentina, I had 5 hours classes every day. Sometimes twice a day, and sometimes on Saturdays. It was 5 hours of a single subject. Many times we spent classes doing boring exercises with a class that asks the stupidest questions EVER. Things like “can I call this X variable Y?”; yeah at that level. It was profoundly tiresome; I had one and a half hours commute and I couldn’t read because I was just too tired. And, when I got home I still had to study, because it is only doing things yourself that you make knowledge stick in your brain. It was indeed full time education; I had time for university and nothing more.

That's looks a lot like me doing productive work in Argentinta.

Looks just like me doing productive work in Argentinta.

Now I study in England. I’m in a full-time course of Computer Science. I have classes only three days a week, I have up to three classes in a day (normally two). It is always a one-hour class on a subject and a two hours class on another subject. You could say “ah but they are not transmitting the same amount of content in these few hours”. The thing is that they really are. Classes are summaries and commentaries on subjects that students have already read about before going to class (they give plenty of time so that that is possible). With lots of free time studying, revising, and advancing fast on subjects is very easy and feasible. No class time is ever wasted; because we have just that couple of hours. And in the end, I am reading a lot more, because now I am rested enough to stay awake during my commute.

Time management is critical to your life and determines how fast you are going to get to your goal, or if you will ever get there. I sucked at it on my teenage years, hated it whilst studying Engineering (too much effort involved in doing stuff while tired), and I am slowly making peace with it now that I have lots of resting time available. Some time management techniques may work for you, many will not work, but one thing is certain: rest always works for everyone.

How To Be Happier, Work Less and Have More Extra Money At The Same Time in One Easy Step

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And then he said, “If you work too much you won’t have time to make money”. My dad laughed but I kept thinking about that. A month later I doubled the number of people willing to read my book in one hour and my website hit a new record of views in a single day. But nothing of that matters because today I saw an adviser to help me with my curriculum and she said it was “too broad”. My life is written in there. Maybe my whole life is too broad. Am I doomed for that? Maybe I am, but it doesn’t matter either, because one year ago I was sitting at the edge of a fountain in front of the Buckingham Palace in a beautiful sunny day with my girlfriend, we were talking about our expectations for the future, and then I told her, “I feel that it doesn’t matter where I will go to. It doesn’t matter if I will be in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, or here in the UK, I feel that I will be successful wherever I go”. Then she kissed me and nothing else mattered any more.

In the film In Time people had watches in their arms. When they worked they gained time and things were priced in minutes, hours, days, etc. If they ran out of time they died. Awesome idea.

I don’t have a written book but I doubled the number of people willing to buy the book I’m thinking of writing. James Altucher said something pretty interesting. He said you should never work full-time, always part-time. Then you would have time to do other activities, and side activities always bring benefits to us. Actually, if these activities provide enough value to enough people you can make money with them. And this money has a potential to be much more than what you would get selling your work time to someone else. Because money comes in when you solve a problem, when you deliver value.

My book will be written in my free time (time I am not working or at University. There is no such thing as free time. Time is valuable), and I believe it will open a bunch of new doors for me. You see a lot of people who make their living with something that began as a hobby. Many of today’s huge companies started that way. Have you heard of Facebook, Digg, Youtube, Google, threadless, LinkedIn or eBay? Well, they all started as a hobby and then became a money machine. That happened because all of these hobbies created value to other people in some way.

We have this pre-conceived idea that we should get a job and work as much as we can so we can make more money and then we can buy more things. It looks like it’s all about buying more things, or better things. But it isn’t really about that, is it? If we stop for a minute and reflect on that, we will notice that the whole idea of it all is that, supposedly, if we have more, or better, things we will have more comfort, and then we will be happier. But look around you. Do you really need more? Aren’t you comfortable at your house? I have a proposal to you. Actually, it is a dare! Why don’t you try to live with less instead of with more?

Why don’t you throw away all these credit cards that only give you headaches? You always feel bad when you use them anyway. Why don’t you try spending less than what you make. Try spending only half what you get in a month. It won’t hurt if you try, you won’t lose any money if it doesn’t work. And if it works you will be saving a lot of money, and I bet that in the end you will, in fact, feel very good.

“Happiness is not having all you want. It is wanting what you have”. If you are trying to spend less, you will start to appreciate more the things you already have and stop thinking about the things stores have to sell you. In the end, you know you don’t really need most of them anyway. Liking the things you have is a big step towards a happier life. Not only material stuff, it is the same with friends, partners, etc.

When you spend less than you get, you start saving, and saving is never bad. Tell me, how often do you hear someone coming to you and saying “I shouldn’t have saved all this money, I really regret that” or “Saving money was the worst decision I ever made”? I bet you never, ever, heard anything close to that. But on the other hand it is quite common to hear people saying “Oh I spent too much”, “Ah I shouldn’t have bought it”. No one ever regrets having saved money, people regret spending it. Moreover, when you save money, you feel more secure, because you know that in an emergency you have money to back you up at the bank.

In the beginning it can be tough, but after some time you begin to notice that, as a matter of fact, you need much less than you thought you needed to live. In a post some months ago, when I was moving from Argentina to Brazil, I wrote “my books, my guitar, my Buzz Lightyear toy, the photos and songs in my hard drive and the picture frame my girlfriend gave me. If I can take that with me I will be satisfied”. These are the things I picked as must haves from everything I have ever had in all my life. In the end, I gave my Buzz Lightyear to my brother and left the picture frame with my dad in Brazil, so he doesn’t forget me. The reality is that I needed even less than I thought. And you too.

When you become unattached to things you become grateful and enjoy much more what you have. That makes you happier and attracts all kinds of good things. For instance, look at Bruce Willis and Nicolas Cage. Bruce Willis is an unattached guy, he is confident and grateful for what he’s got. When he noticed he was going bald, he didn’t go crazy for that. He understood it was time and let his hair go. Now, Nicolas Cage is totally different. He is attached to his hair, he don’t want to lose it, he can’t accept the situation. As a result, Bruce Willis still looks pretty badass and Nicolas Cage looks, at the very least, weird with this chunk of hair coming out of the back of his head.

Bruce Nicolas

Nicolas Cage looks like the Red Queen of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland

Once you get used to using less money you may be able to reduce the amount of hours you work every day. “But then I will get less money, and then I’ll be saving less money than before”. Yeah, that’s true. But although you will not be making as much money, you will have more time in exchange, and during this extra time you can do whatever you want. You can do things like: living. I believe people work for two reasons: 1) to make money 2) to accomplish something , to be useful to society. If you spend your whole day home you will soon be into some kind of depression. We like to conquer, to accomplish, to build, to feel needed and useful. Grandma wasn’t wrong when she said “Work ennobles the soul”. Three things give pleasure to people: birth, progress and accomplishment. When you work you have these things going on, each to a certain degree.

Now, back to working less hours, when you have more free time you can dedicate yourself to personal projects. These can be nice things that add value to people’s life in some way, or just something that makes you give birth, make progress or accomplish things. Writing a book, taking on a hobby, spending more time with your family, these are all things that can be done in your newly free time — which is not free, you are paying to have it, but just because isn’t free it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. Making these things, you are improving your life. You are more relaxed, which makes you more creative, which makes you more productive, which makes you give birth, make progress or accomplish things, which makes you happier.

But what if it doesn’t work with me? What if it goes wrong? Well, if it goes wrong you get the money you didn’t spend and do whatever you were used to doing when you used your whole salary. No side effects.

Know the book audience I doubled? It went from one person to two. Know the website visiting record I talked about? It was 20 people. It’s kind of pathetic. But these things didn’t look so bad when you didn’t know the numbers. Maybe I will never be widely known. But what is wrong with being anonymous?  A thousand visitors would be awesome, but the lack of them don’t make it bad. Writing relaxes me, makes me more creative, more productive, happier. And that’s the whole point of everything.

Enough

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“At your age they are graduated”. That gave me the chills at the moment. After finishing High School I spent a year doing absolutely nothing and then I left Brazil and studied Engineering for three years in Argentina, then I quit and started again from zero the following year, which is this one, here in England. I learnt a bit about music and learnt to play some three or four classical songs in the piano, just enough to impress an amateur. I learnt a bit of acoustic guitar and studied theology for two years before quitting. I learnt something of public speaking and some people even think I can sing. I read a bunch of books on many different subjects, from economics and philosophy to raising children and building self-confidence, but acquired deep knowledge on almost nothing. In the end, I am not graduated, I have no experience whatsoever in any job and I am not even specially great at anything. Until leaving Argentina, I was at least the son of someone in evidence, now I am just another immigrant trying not to run out of money.

Road to nowhere

Must that be the path of the losers?

But again, I am not even graduated yet. They have it all planned, and have also loads of discipline. Studying to be the best, always playing to win. They are the heads of society, leaders of the world, commanders of this era. They are the top 1%. Prepared from the crib, always eager for more. The new breakthrough is just some effort away. Everyone admires them and everyone wants to read their books. They are true leaders, opinion formers. And I am not even graduated yet. What have I got on them?

Well, I will tell you what makes me special too. My difference from other folks is that I have something very few people have in this world. Something that is getting harder and harder to find. Something so rare that, even at the top 1%, only a few can afford. I have enough. I’m happy with what I have got. Enough doesn’t mean I don’t want anything else, it means that the things I want in the future, I want them in the future. It makes no sense being sad in the present because I don’t have something I expect to have in the future.

If you go to the “About” page of this blog you will see the following quote from James Altucher:

“There are a lot of time travellers. People who live in the past, people who live in the future. But if you can live right now, then you can do anything.”

He is completely right. If you only think about the future, you are not living your life. Because you are never here, you spend every moment in somewhere else, and when you get to the place you are dreaming of right now you will already be dreaming of some other place. Then you never live, you are always trying to skip to the next scene.

I spent almost a year doing everything on my reach to see my girlfriend (who lived in a different country) again, then last week I got here. Saturday we went to the cinema. We were there, watching a movie, I was holding her hand. At that moment I was thinking “What comes next? what are we going to do next week? How to have a great valentines day next Thursday?”. Then I stopped. I stopped and realized that all I have waited and fought for for the last year was right there at my side. It was happening, was happening at that moment, that was the second I had waited for. But we are so used to focusing on what comes next that we miss what is happening right now.

Happiness is not having all you want, it is wanting what you have.

Those people at the top 1% of society at my age were certainly much better prepared than I am. I am not even graduated yet. But they were better prepared for what? Is the preparation I need for my life the same as they needed for theirs? And if it is, should I be sad because of that?  Let me give you shocking statistics: 99% of society are not at the top 1%. 99% are not super special. you don’t have to stand out to be happy. You should try to be the best , but if you can’t what’s the use of being miserable because of that?

Look at all these losers. Only one guy will be the winner, the other thousands are all losers.

Look at all these losers. Only one guy will be the winner, the other thousands are all losers.

I am not half as qualified as many people around the world, and maybe I will never be, I don’t have millions at the bank, I don’t date a super model, I’m not famous and my hobbies aren’t extreme or super interesting.  But I am amazed by the things I learn in my books, I am grateful for the money I get, enchanted by the songs I can play on the piano and completely convinced that the hottest super model out there ain’t got nothing on my girlfriend.

That’s the secret. Love people around you, be grateful for what you have, stop comparing to other people and have a terrible memory. Stop trying to have it all and start trying to make all you have enough.

The New Currency

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He would go to a little store somewhere in India and for a rupee the owner would randomly get one of the copied DVDs in a pile hidden behind the balcony and rent it to him. It could be anything, from the top american production that was still in cinema, to trashiest low-budget Vietnamese rereading of the Trojan war, and he couldn’t choose. That’s how Akshat Verma, the Indian screenwriter who wrote the great Indian comedy Delhi Belly, got a taste for cinema. At least that’s what Daniel Scheffler, a writer for The San Francisco Chronicle  told me the other day. Well, it sounded very true to me —mainly because before I entered that room, to apply for my visa to the UK, I had never heard of Daniel or The San Francisco Chronicle or Akshat or the film Delhi Belly itself.

As Mahatma Gandhi used to say: "You idiots, cant you see that people are more important than money"  —that may not be an accurate quote,

As Mahatma Gandhi used to say: “You idiots, can’t you see that people are more important than money” —that may not be an accurate quote.

You just have no idea of how many good stuff you can learn when you interact with people.

When  was the last time you did something for the first time? Well, today I watched an Indian movie for the first time. Actually, not. I watched Slumdog Milionaire some years ago. But it felt like the first time. Mainly because this movie showed a side of India that I didn’t pay much attention in Slumdog. One thing I was told, and that is very true, is that every Indian movie has dancing and a wedding. But what really caught my attention was the economic aspects of India that the movie unveiled. Old cars and old motorcycles, old houses and precarious water pipes. In the movie three guys lived together and divided the rent. All of them had normal middle class jobs. One was a cartoonist, one was a journalist, and the last one was a photographer. And nonetheless they had problems to pay the rent of an old and terrible apartment without proper water supply.

Brazil will eradicate poverty there in three years. The Indian President Abdul Kalam said at the first press conference after his election that India would do this in twenty years. I’m an optimist, today we are far better than fifty years ago, and I believe that in twenty years we will get a lot smarter. I believe in a better future. But I will leave that for another post, now let’s go back to meeting people.

Today was my first day at University here in London, and as opposed to many other environments, although I wasn’t speaking my native language and I was a foreigner I didn’t feel like an outsider at all. I met a lot of people with a bunch of different backgrounds, people from all over the world, and my first Indian friends. I was looking forward to making some Indian friends, I have a lot to ask. I’m thinking about starting to study the Indian economy. Sounds like a very interesting subject and has a lot to do with Brazilian economy. But as I was saying, I also met a couple of professors and some people from the student union. They were all very nice and thanks to this interaction I already have a couple of meetings to go to, and I was invited to show my piano abilities at a musical branch of the University. All that sounds like a lot of wasted time, but in fact it isn’t. You never know who knows who, so, by getting to know everyone you may be opening an unexpected door. For example, I am planning on taking on a job, being acquainted to professors and people with knowledge can be excellent to gain some indications. If they look at me and see some qualities in me, and if they like me they may help me finding a better than average job.

It is said that we are six people away from anyone in the world, and that is completely true —actually I guess we may be even closer to everyone. This connection, although seemingly lousy, can be quite beneficial for you if you know how to use it. I will give you a quick example:

Summer holiday, my girlfriend and her family were going to Recife – Brazil. They made a connection in Rio, got there at night and would leave the following night. The question was where to spend the night for cheap? Well the cheapest they could get on a hotel room for two was about 150 pounds, that would be 300 pounds the night for the four of them. But luckily she is my girlfriend, and thus she can partake of my contact list. Having lived 17 years of my life in Rio I still had a bunch of contacts. The outcome: thanks to my “influence” they spent the night for free in a nice house, had free meals and a free tour around the city. All of that just because she knew me and I was willing to help her and her family.

Best book about networking I've read so far.

Best book about networking I’ve read so far.

So the idea is: get to know as many people as you possibly can, make them like you, do something for them —don’t be a vampire, if you just take you aren’t adding any value to the cycle, and besides, no one wants to help a vampire— and then you will have your way to the top. But also, don’t get to know people only wanting to get something from them, otherwise you will tend to pay attention only to people who can benefit you in some way. And then you turn into an ass-kisser—not good for your image. You don’t get ahead by kissing asses (well sometimes people do, but don’t be this kind of person), you get ahead by adding value.

Oh, and additionally, I firmly believe that your attitude towards a situation highly influences the outcome. So, every time you say something will go wrong, you are actually contributing to its failure. Just as every time you have a positive attitude your winning chances go up.

Keep that in mind, people are the new currency. People are the real deal.

Brazil Is Doomed

Uncategorized

I almost cried today. I didn’t expect that. I’m not emotionally tough, but I am not very sensitive either. I watched a drama-romance with a tragic science fiction story behind it called “Never Let Me Go”. It dwells the top 10 most boring things I’ve seen in my life, but yet I almost cried today. Definitely not during the film but hours before that. “E agora, vai?” (What about now, will it go?) is my newest acquisition, it is from André Torretta and it talks about Brazil’s current development situation, how it got here, and what’s the perspective for the next 10 years.

Rio de Janeiro, my home-town

Rio de Janeiro, my home-town

And is this dull-at-first-sight book that brought tears to my eyes. But don’t be fooled by the sight, these tears didn’t arise from sadness, these are tears of joy, tears of love, tears of compassion and gratitude. The truth is that Brazil is doomed, but doomed to succeed! I’ve read only 7 pages of it, but it was enough to squeeze my heart in a way that seven volumes poems couldn’t do it. Because it talked about what I love in economics; about what no news program, no gossip magazine and no technology website talks about; stripped of rumours, myths  and everything one would love to add as a little spice just to make it a little more interesting, just to  increase the sales.

It talked about the preoccupation with real life, about real people living in real misery. It’s concern wasn’t about how to sell them something, it was about how to feed these people, how to keep them alive, how to give them a dignified life. That’s the beauty in economics; that’s the captivating insight, the heartbreaking truth that will make you look at society with different eyes. Then you will stop saying things like “the system that dominates everything”, “we are puppets of the evil system”, these bunch of conspiracy theory stuff backed by poor misconceptions that mean nothing and start looking at our world as a society, composed by citizens, each with an individual task that adds to the welfare of society itself. Then you understand that your role in the city is to bring value to people’s life. When you begin to make the life of someone else better, you then improve your own life.

The first and critical preoccupation is with people that have no idea of when their next meal may be. We are accustomed to this view of cities and cars, computers and restaurants, buildings, pavement, electricity, piped water, toilet. We don’t even imagine that there are people, and I am not talking about a small minority, a lot of people, who have NEVER SEEN anything like that. We live in the future but we have no idea of the absurd number of people who have never left middle ages, some didn’t even get there yet. They are the target, they must be reached now.

Brazil is one of the leading countries in income inequality, but during the last two decades a great distribution of wealth has taken place. The country is growing, unemployment was cut in half and in 2008 more than half the country was already part of the middle class. But the piece of news that almost made me cry, that touched my heart and moved my soul, wasn’t any of these ones. It was the one that stated that by 2016 misery will be extinct from Brazil. We still have three years to go, but isn’t it wonderful? Isn’t it breathtaking? Isn’t it a marvellous piece of news? What an exhilarating moment this of the extinction of misery in my fatherland!  Blessed be this day!! The day all these people portrayed in Brazil’s classic literature won’t exist anymore, at least not in that way.  The day where in Brazil no man will die of thirst or hunger.

It made my day. I was leaping on the inside. That’s a stupendous achievement, but the work is far from finished.  According to Goldman Sachs, two billion people in the world will leave the misery line until 2030. It is good because in 2013 things will be better for a lot of people. But how sad it is to know that right now much more than a quarter of the world population live in misery, and know that it might take more than 15 years for their help  to arrive.

It was sad, but nonetheless I am an optimist. I couldn’t stop thinking of the world of 2030, where misery would be on it’s way to be extinct from the world. I couldn’t take out of my head the image of a Brazil free of misery in three years. I was so excited I had to talk to people. I had to tell them the good news, it was beautiful! But then people don’t always think like you. I ran to tell someone about it and the person’s response was “O yeah? What do they say they are gonna do? Who are they? Are they God to perform such a miracle?”, “But the government is working, things are getting better!” , “The government is too corrupt”, “But look, the country is going forward! It will mean a lot for these people who were in the state of misery”, “It is said that now the world is worse than ever, and that it is getting worse every day. Back then society wasn’t like this.”, “Misery will disappear and you are saying that the good old times were better?!”, “Look, the problem is that very few people really care for those who are in misery, so nothing will ever be done here”.

No need to say I was about to explode. But today I learned that if people have their mind made up, it doesn’t matter how good you argument may be, it just won’t convince them. If you look carefully you will notice that none of the arguments that were used to discredit the information were  neither accountable, measurable nor backed by any fact or reasonable statement. The arguments are all assumptions based on nothing more than opinion (Even the corruption one. The proposition was “Government is corrupt, so it will do nothing”. But that’s a fallacy. The fact that there is corruption in the government doesn’t mean the government does nothing in the country). But there are pessimists everywhere. Their pessimism make them blind and unable to see the advances, unable to see the change.

There is a quote in the book that is very well worth quoting here. It touches exactly the point that the person said government’s help would be insufficient.

“We should not minimize in any way the inclusion of people as consumers. The help of these social programs [of the government] isn’t small. It is only small for those who already eat three times a day.”

Denis Mizne

Brazil approaches the misery problem with social programs. “Bolsa família” (Family Bundle) is a pack of social benefits for families in state of poverty and extreme poverty. It guarantees families an income, productive inclusion and access to education, health and public services. It is saving people. When you include people in the race track you give them a whole new horizon. “Work ennobles the soul”, grandma used to say. And it is very true. When people are working they move the gears of the country, their contribution to society creates it’s welfare, and then it’s capacity is increased, because as John Maynard Keynes concluded: in business there is no stagnation, whatever doesn’t grow will fatefully fail, and I firmly believe that in countries the matter is unfolded likewise. Work does ennobles the soul and Abraham Maslow had something to say about it.

Maslow's Pyramid

Maslow’s Pyramid

Maslow’s psychological theory on the hierarchy of needs was eternalised in the famous Maslow’s Pyramid. It portrays man’s most basic needs at the bottom, and more sophisticated necessities at the top. Maslow said that more basic needs have to be met first before the individual will be able focus on higher desires. In other words, if you don’t know for sure if tomorrow there will be any food at all on the table, you cannot have interest in education, political conscience, freedom of prejudices, despise for violence or philosophical contemplations of any kind. A good country is a country of good people, and people will fail in every aspect they are not taught. Once a person can eat —oh my God, how many people can’t even do that— then she can receive education, can be included as an important member of society, achieve public recognition, creativity and self-esteem.

Brazil isn’t the country of the future anymore, this future has come. Middle class is growing and misery has it’s days numbered. There is still a lot of work to be done, but let me tell you why everyone should stop with this good old times bovine excreta: My girlfriend lives ten thousand kilometres away from me, nonetheless I see her every day. My mum travelled to Costa Rica when she was young, there she wrote letters to my grandmother, she came back and got here before the letters. Back then there was no electricity, forget reading at night, forget alarms, forget air conditioning and conserving any food in your freezer or illuminating your street for safety. There was no bathroom with flushing toilets, people got diseases from their own faeces, and they died of these diseases! Ah, a whole bunch of diseases had no cure nor treatment at all. In Victorian times half, I said half, the children died before 5 years of age. Landlords commanded everything and slavery was in full swing (there is slavery still today, imagine how it was 20 years ago), not to mention  racism and prejudice against women. In the 90’s near half Brazil’s population was in state of absolute poverty (43,4%).

Now in Brazil, 52% of the population is part of the middle class; in the last 10 years the number of Universities grew 56%; an enormous number of people who have semi-literate parents have finished university studies; women’s salary grows at twice the rate of men’s, just as black people compared to white people; the percentage of women  activity raised from 13% in 1950 to 44,1% in 2000; only between 1993 and 2011 60 million people left the line of misery, and the list can go on and on and on.

Sometimes it is hard to notice the development of your country. It is a gradual process, happens every day, not overnight. As Martin Lousteau (ex Argentina’s finance minister) said in his book 3D Economics:

“The development of a country is like the growth of a child. You can’t say “that was the day the child grew”, just as you can’t say “look, that was the day this country became developed”, or point out a single measure that turned the country into a developed country.”

The Single Sentence That Changed My Life

Thoughts, Uncategorized

A hundred times a day, seven days a week, all the weeks of the month and all the months I go through. That’s the frequency at which I think about success and failure.

I was home alone. My parents had gone to Brazil for three weeks and it was July, so I was on holiday. I moved the computer to the living room, by the fireplace, and when I wasn’t there I was in the kitchen, because you just can’t live without eating. If I was awake I was either playing an MMORPG or eating something, just so I don’t die. No supervision, no rules, no tasks, no time-tables. At the time that was my definition of YOLO. Every day I went to sleep a little later, until the day I woke up at 6pm. The sun was setting. It gave me a feeling of depression, a sensation that the day went away and I did nothing out of it. There was I, scruffy and unkempt, waking up when the day was almost over while millions of people had done an unimaginable number of great things with their day. The day wasn’t over yet, in the end there was still 6 hours to go, but at this time I couldn’t do nearly as much as I would be able to had I woken up at 6am.

Then, I decided I didn’t want my life to be like this day. I don’t want to wake up and notice I spent my life sleeping and accomplished nothing. I was unsatisfied, I wanted to change and I wanted to change immediately! Well, that didn’t happened, I still spent some of my days doing nothing, but an attitude towards change is the beginning of the change itself. I already longed for the change, and that’s the first step. If you really want to change you’ve got to be mad at what you are. Then you will take action.

But how can you accomplish something that looks just so big that it s overwhelming? Well, elementary my dear Watson (Sherlock Holmes never really said that). As it is always said, and well said, you do it the same way you eat an elephant! A bite at a time.

I know it can look tedious and slow, but big things just can’t be build overnight. Else everyone would be successful. But if you are indeed passionate about it, it will be worth it.

The single sentence that changed my life, was a sentence that blew my mind and changed the speed at which I move towards my goals — that otherwise would never even be achieved.

It’s a calm and normal day. I’m watching one of Dr. Mike Murdock’s videos on the computer when suddenly he says:

“You are one daily habit away from every future you want”

My head went like “BOOOOM”. It’s just so true! To do something big you have got to do it little by little. Then, why not make it a daily habit to advance a little bit? Do you want to write better? Write every day! Do you want to get in shape? Exercise 40 minutes every day! Do you want to be an expert on something? Study about it every single day, and don’t you dare to miss a day. You do what is possible, and do it every day, then, when you realize, the impossible will be happening.

May seem basic to some, but can change the life of someone else.

But a daily habit implies discipline. There is no way around it. If you can’t manage a day you can’t manage your life. You either suffer the pains of discipline or suffer the pains of regret. And if you choose not to be disciplined you will certainly regret it. Because nowadays we live in a world where opportunities are everywhere. If you can come here and read this, it means you have access to an unlimited amount of opportunities. The problem is that you are probably not ready for them. I like a definition of luck that says: Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. The opportunities are out there, but you must be prepared and preparation requires discipline.

What are your goals? What are you doing daily to move closer to achieving them?

I want to accomplish big things. I have my list of goals. I want to build great stuff. Build my company, build relationships, build a network of people. My goals are all written down and placed in a place where I see them daily. Every single day I look at them, read them, and think “that’s where I want to go, I’ve got to do something about it today”.

Your goals must be clear and easily understandable. If you set a clear and specific goal, your mind thinks of a way to reach this goal. If you say “I want to get richer” you are just not being specific. I give you ten pounds and Tchanan! You are richer than before, but I don’t think ten pounds richer was what you had in mind when you set the goal. Do you want a car? What car? What year? What colour? Is it a trip? To where? For how many days? A University degree? On what? … And critically important: When do you want it? Remember this: Goals are dreams with deadlines. If you don’t set a time to accomplish your goal, then it is not a goal — and also, you will probably never really do it.

You must write down the goal, and how you want to achieve this goal. If you say “I want to leave a seven digit patrimony to my kids”, you should also say something like “I want to accumulate this amount selling lollipops”. Well, you will have to be a hell of a lollipop salesman, but at least you can build a plan upon that. The lollipop example can sound funny, but that’s exactly how you accomplish things. You decide what and how, then you go for it! “I want to get rich selling greasy chicken!”, sounded silly some years ago, I don’t think it sounds silly anymore.

But there you are, maybe sitting in chair with a hand on your face thinking “yeah, sounds like a good idea, I hope he can make it”. Come on, I’m here opening my heart and telling you one of the greatest insights I ever heard, is that the best you can do? What I’m telling you is the real deal! Nobody ever told you this before, did they? So, listen! If you do this it will work, and when it works you will be happy, and then you send me an email and make me happy too.

I learnt that if there is something I should try to be good at, it is at making people improve (see How To Be Smarter Than Anyone Else). The other day I woke up and went to check my email. There I found an email of a friend of mine saying he read something in my blog and liked it, and that it was useful to him. I didn’t even know people read my blog!  And there was I, seeing a friend saying that what I wrote was of some use to him! It was mindblowing and you just can’t imagine how happy I was.

So, back to the subject: Do it! Think of what you want to accomplish, think of a plan and do something about it. You have to prepare yourself. You are not ready for your future, else you would be there already. Is it hard? Everything of value is, get used to it. Do you know what’s the great insight of physical exercise? It’s summarised in a small sentence “No pain, no gain”. While doing exercises you improve when your body starts to hurt. When your arms can’t lift the weight any more, or your belly aches and you feel like it’s hard to keep running, that’s the moment in which you are expanding your physical capacity. Because if your exercises don’t make you sweat, then they are doing nothing. It is something that is true not only for your body, it is true for life. While you stay in your comfort zone you will not improve at all. I know it hurts to think, and people would do anything to think less. But if you don’t think, you will not advance. You have to become a thinking machine! Every time you see you are just repeating stuff, or that you are not advancing, change something! Because when we do new stuff our brain ignites again. When was the last time you did something for the first time?

I will tell you some of my daily habits, and how they are making me a better me. Perhaps this can make you move your lazy bum to stand up and do something. You don’t have to read this text to the end, if you know your goals and how to get there, stop reading right now and go plan your daily habits! And if you don’t know your goals that’s an even better reason to stop and go think about some targets. And don’t you dare to forget to write them down.

So, these are some of the things I do every day:

Write: I fell in love with the most wonderful person I ever met. There was just one problem: She kind of lived in London and I in Buenos Aires. I just had to go there. But I was studying, I couldn’t leave it all behind and go to live like a hippie there — I won’t say I didn’t think about it, but I’m just too bad with handicrafts. So, one day I woke up, went to take a shower, and, while in the shower, I fell and from above shone a light that came as a train and suddenly I saw it… The Flux Capacitor!!!.. no! But without having to actually fall in the bathroom I had an Idea: Why not study in London? I started a long and dull process to do my application. To apply for UK universities you have to write a Personal Statement — which is nothing more nothing less than a text in which you explain to the universities why you are just the perfect candidate, and you basically have to convince them that it would be folly not to accept you instead of the other better qualified students.

No need to say that I totally panicked. Although I firmly believe I was gifted with a good mind, my teachers often times disagreed with this belief of mine. Hence, given the fact that they would assess me based on my college history and my Personal Statement, if I ever wanted to see my beloved girlfriend’s face again I should better write a hell of a good text. I studied Information Systems Engineering, all my subjects where almost pure mathematics. I wasn’t used to writing words, I was good at writing numbers. I hardly ever wrote a text, much less in English. It hit me as a huge challenge, I had absolutely no idea of where to begin.

After drafts and more drafts, writing and rewriting, wording and rewording, I finally finished it. In the end it was a very edifying experience. All went well and I was accepted by the universities I wanted (YEAHHH). I had put my brain to do some workout. It had to sweat but after all done I look back and see the great value this exercise provided me. It taught me a whole lot of things. One of them was that I didn’t know how to write at all. So, a month ago I decided to do something about it. Now I write every single day on this blog. Some days I write more than others, but I always write a little bit. Sometimes I have no idea of what to write, then I just write whatever is in my mind. I discovered why I should put the title only after I have finished. It is because given that I don’t know what to write, I can change subjects in the middle of the post, and if I put a title that relates to how the post ends you readers don’t even notice that I had no clue where to go in the first paragraph. See, practice leads to perfection.

Read: That’s an easy one. I have to admit some years ago I didn’t have the habit of reading, but when I finally realized the  great fountain of knowledge it could be, it became one of the most important and pleasurable parts of my daily routine.  It is great the fact that, as opposed to classes and lectures, books can explain any subject at length, and go through all of its nuances with no hurry. I don’t really think that reading by itself has great value, I believe the value is strictly on what you read (see my critic on books in So, What’s The Way To Decide?).

My books allow me to go deep into any subject of my interest. I know what I want to know a lot about, so I study it. If you read about it every day it starts to stick to your brain; you gather knowledge. Now, you don’t want to know about everything. Most of the knowledge on earth is useless to you. It’s great to learn about turtles reproduction, or how candies are packed, but that’s just useless knowledge if what you want to be good at is not related to it. I’m not saying you can’t learn it for fun. I am just saying that without focus it will take much longer to get to the finish line.

The books you read will change you, change your personality, your outlooks; read consciously.

Exercise: It just makes you feel good! I know it can be kind of boring, but you have to do it. I like an allegory Warren Buffet used in one occasion, he said:

“Imagine you get a Cadillac as your 18th birthday present. But there is a little rule, this Cadillac will be the only car you will ever have in your life. You can’t sell it or by another one, you have to use it your whole life. I bet you would treat it very well. Always do the check-ups, and have all the care in the world for it. Well with your body is the same thing, you get just one, and its for your lifetime.”

I will give you some reasons to exercise:

1 – It gives you disposition- When you exercise you have more energy, more disposition. Even your mood gets better.

2 – It is healthy – If you don’t exercise all your chances of having all the diseases in the world raise. It’s scientifically proved by everyone.

3 – You get in shape – Come on, be honest with yourself; it doesn’t matter how detached from society you think you are, it is great to have a healthy body.

4 – It relieves you from the feeling of guilt – You know you should exercise. You know a sedentary lifestyle only does harm to you. And you know that every time you take off your clothes to take a shower you think “it would be good if I did some exercise”. When you actually do them, they take away this feeling of guilt and you feel satisfied, relieved; you feel you accomplished something.

5 – It just feels good! – Is it boring? Go with a friend. Don’t have a friend? Put your ear-buds on and listen to some good music you like and you feel that motivates you, or a funny podcast. I assure you, time will pass and you won’t even notice. And in the end, you will be feeling awesome! Because you did it! At least that’s how I feel.

No money to go to a gym? Run on the street and do some push-ups and sit-ups. No contraindication.

Pray: I am a Christian. I believe there is a God and I believe he listens to us. You can say “but if there was a God, why have he abandoned us? why is there so much hatred, and pain, and suffering around here?”. Well, I believe God does exist, and he hasn’t abandoned us, we have abandoned him. When was the last time you prayed? When was the last time you asked God’s opinion before doing something? If you don’t ask what he thinks about something before you do it, you cannot blame him for the consequences of it later.

But you may say “well but He doesn’t talk to me”. Yeah, maybe He doesn’t, but he talked to some guys about his opinion on things some time ago and said to these guys: “Yo, write it down”. And then, about forty people wrote what He said to them. Some years later, another group of fellows gathered it all together in what we know as the Bible. So, if we want to know God’s opinion on something we can go there and read it. And well, if you read it carefully you will notice that He likes it when we talk to him. He even says we should always do it. So, praying is something I pay a special attention to every day. And if you do it as well, you will see that, in fact, God has very creative ways to answer questions.

Well, I hope this text was of some use for you. I hope you can prepare your daily routine, and don’t give up when it looks hard. If you always choose to endure the pains of discipline and go on, the sky won’t be the limit.

It can be frightful at first, but remember: To change the world start with one step. However small, first step is hardest of all.

9 Life Lessons Warren Buffett Gave Me

Books, Thoughts

Robert Kiyosaki was the first person to make me think about my financial future. I was very young and I didn’t have the habit of reading. In school they always make you read some books to try to make you interested in reading. The main flaw in their approach is that they choose totally inappropriate books. I know they are books that have a social and historical importance, but when you are 13 the last thing in your mind is history and society. If they want to make children interested they should try giving them something really interesting. Teenagers won’t get the depth of complex issues. You have a bunch of 13 year old kids in your class, give them some spaceships, monsters and semi nude woman, that will make them read it to the end. Well, back to the topic. At 15 I had never really got to the end of a single book, not even the school ones. Preparing to go on a 6 hour bus trip and browsing through some comics at a book store, I saw Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich dad, poor dad”. I saw it and thought “why not?”. Bought the book and read it during the trip. It fascinated me at the time. Now, I don’t know what you think of Kiyosaki, and I know his books present a distorted vision of many things, but I must admit that, at 15, his book gave me an insight that changed everything for me, and I recommend it.

Many books after that I bought Warren Buffet’s biography, “The snowball: Warren Buffett and the business of life”. A magnificent work of art from Alice Schroeder.

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett

As almost anyone who bought it, I wanted to discover how did he get from almost nothing, to richest man in the world. These are some of the things I learnt:

Thrift – Every penny counts. Sometimes it looks like it doesn’t, but in fact it does count. If you can get the best price on something, get it! Don’t be afraid of asking for a discount, it is your money and you probably didn’t get it easily. Now, there is a book called “Economia 3D” from Martin Lousteau, Argentina’s former financial minister, which cites a curious behaviour of ours when we buy stuff. In the biography, sometimes it looks like Warren is excessively tight-fisted, bargaining for a sixteenth of a cent at the price of stocks, an amount that, at the quantity he was buying in this specific occasion, wouldn’t save him more than 100 dollars (out of millions), but he knew it still was 100 dollars. Lousteau says that when you go buy a pair of shoes, and at a store 2 blocks away it is 10 pounds cheaper than the one near you, you would probably walk the 2 blocks. But if you are buying a 50′ TV, and it is 10 pounds cheaper at a store two blocks away, you certainly wouldn’t go there to save the 10 pounds. Why is that? It happens because we see the money as part of a total. So, if 10 pounds represents 1% of the total amount, it doesn’t matter, but if it is 30% of the final price, then it becomes really important. It is an illusion, money is a fungible asset. It means that if I have a 10 pounds note, and you have another 10 pounds note, regardless of the fact that they are two independent notes, they both have the same value. 10 pounds is worth 10 pounds if it is part of a million or part of twenty pounds, learn to save it.

Business people are not heartless evil bastards – The economist Thorstein Veblen, in his book The Theory of the Leisure Class, depicted a gloomy bourgeoisie. At his sight business people were cheaters, liars, dodgers, always trying to take advantage of everyone, people who lacked character and sense of ethics. A view that, as well pointed out by Robert Heilbroner, was in fact true in most of the cases at his time (1899). In late nineteenth century that wasn’t that true anymore. Nowadays business people greatly value good character, honesty and trustworthiness. To be a respectable business person you can’t lack these qualities. Indubitably, there are still lots of cheaters and dodgers gaining lots of money, places like wall street are proof of that, but their number is getting smaller every day.

Warren Buffett and his life are proof of this truth. One of the main factors that led him to better places, bigger deals, and good connections was his honesty. His honesty was witnessed by his partners and passed forward by them. He built a reputation, and by his reputation was recognised and rewarded. No one likes dishonest people. No one likes people who are not trustworthy. Plato in his dialogue The Republic, masterfully demonstrates the advantages of justice, as opposed to injustice. It is stressed that the unjust will act unjustly with both just and unjust, and that if two unjust try to relate to each other, each trying to take advantage of the other, they will reap separation as consequence of their injustice, and separation from everyone will lead to stagnation. It is also shown that even a group of unjust people set out to perform unjust acts, like pirates in their piracy or a country in the attempt to enslave another country, would never have success in their enterprise if there were not justice between themselves. Thus concluding that no goal can be achieved without justice. True in life, true in business.

If you are smart, you can do anything – Warren, the man of simple tastes, often asked his employees for hard things. They maybe didn’t have a clue of where to begin, but he wasn’t bothered by that. As he says, he believes that if you are smart, you can do anything. And that’s completely true. Louis Jacques Fillion has a famous definition for “entrepreneur”, he says “The entrepreneur is a person who creates, develops and accomplishes a vision”. I have a simpler version which I like better, it is “The entrepreneur is a person who makes things happen”. In my short experience trying to set up a micro company and make its business plan, I faced a scenario very unlike those presented to me in high school and university. There was no guideline, I had to go and do stuff, if it wasn’t possible I had to find a way, everything was hard and subjective, I could do things anyway I wanted, but I should have in mind that every single wrong choice I made would cost me a lot. Facing this sight I felt like I was the worst and less prepared person on earth, that I was useless and that there was no way I was going to make it to the end. I was lazy, a bit shy and had no negotiation skills at all, I thought I was doomed and I thought it 10 times a day. But one thing I didn’t think; I never thought I was dumb. If there was anything my family got to stick to my mind, was that I am intelligent. They repeated it so much that I wound up believing it. And here is one of the richest men in the world saying that if I am smart I can do anything. It motivated me, and in the end I really finished the business plan.

Chicó and João Grilo (Selton Mello and Matheus Nachtergaele, respectively), characters of the film O Auto da Compadecida. In the film, João Grilo accomplishes the impossible just using his brain.

If you are smart you will find a way. And you don’t even have to be truly smart, it is enough if you believe you are smart, and you’ll be able to do anything.

Be good at what you do – Buffett bought his hometown newspaper, the Omaha Sun, and with it he won the Pulitzer prize. In one occasion a friend wanted him to manage his company, Warren was reluctant but in the end he accepted to do it in his spare time. The friend was happy anyway, he knew that if Warren was going to do it at all, he would do it well. Be like this! Warren Buffett didn’t get where he are because he was lucky, he got there because he was great on what he did. Let people say they know that if you are going to do something, you are going to do it well. It doesn’t matter if you want to play with puppets, if you do it well you will have success.

People sometimes look at rich people with a certain envy , maybe even stating that they are not worthy of all that. But the fact is that those who got there by the work of their hands are in fact worthy of their achievements. They are people who are good at what they do (of course there are those who are born rich and are good for nothing, but if you want to improve you should stop looking at them and pay more attention to those who built fortune out of nothing. Because in the end, if you are envy you are probably closer to nothing than to rich).

What is that that you do better that anyone else? If you don’t know you should start thinking about that.

Entrepreneurship – “Entrepreneur is a person who makes things happen”. When Warren wanted something, he found a way to do it. In his time he didn’t have internet to search for things, but still he went through the darkest lists to find the more underground companies in a price that was good to him. He found them, he went to their headquarters and talked to people there, he searched and found important information about them, everything without a single computer. Sometimes it was hard, sometimes people didn’t want to pay attention to a weird tight-fisted boy from Nebraska. But still he kept going on and insisting and trying, again and again. That’s entrepreneurship. You don’t have to be a founder of a company or a CEO to be an entrepreneur — In fact Warren Buffett himself never found a company, only investment partnerships. Entrepreneurship is to go and change things, make things better. If you take action and solve a problem, or improve something, without anyone ask you to do it, then you are being an entrepreneur.

Remember, your salary is determined by the problem you solve. If you want a promotion, show your boss you can solve more, or bigger, problems. Or you may want to start a business; starting a company is not for everyone, it is a risky venture. But remember, who takes more risks gets bigger profits. It is completely possible, and certainly easier, to get ahead and have a good money in a normal job, but if you think there is a problem you can solve better than anyone else, if there is a business in your mind that burns in your chest, go for it!

Once in an interview for PBS, Steve Jobs said something that is indeed an ode to entrepreneurship. Amazingly motivational. Deserves to be quoted ipsis-litteris, and here it is:

“When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

Unbending meritocracy – Uoh, this guy can be unbending sometimes. In the book there is a term that is often used — to buffett. To say that someone was buffetted meant that the person had to give in to Warren’s insistence, be it in stock negotiation, child raising or anything. He had strong opinions about money and inheritance, he didn’t agree with dynasties, he believed that everyone should work hard to achieve their goals. He was totally against people who made money and left everything for their children. Children should make their own money. Later on in life he did give in a little bit, settling with the following idea: “Give your children money enough to do anything, but not enough to do nothing”. He did pay his children education, but little more than that. In the end he donated most of his fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In formal studies, never forget the big picture – Warren graduated on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln but was little worried about his diploma. Afterwords he went to Columbia Business School and got his Master of Science in Economics diploma, but did this just because his admired authors Benjamin Graham and David Dodd gave classes there. He wanted to learn stuff, not to have a paper saying he studied 3 or 4 years somewhere. You see some CEOs and business people who are very successful and don’t have a undergraduate degree, and also see a lot of people with a bunch of degrees unemployed. It happens because people lose focus, they forget that the purpose of a determined course in university is to teach you something, and that what these institutions in fact offer you is a set of information they gathered that they believe are important and could help you to perform a specific office. Let’s give a special attention to the part that says “they believe are important”. Many universities, mainly in very dynamic fields like computation, teach obsolete stuff, that can’t help much and could be learnt much faster and better outside the classroom.

I am not in any way against universities, but I think that the way people look at them should be tweaked a bit. James Altucher has a different opinion, he thinks parents shouldn’t send their kids to university at all. He has a small book called 40 alternatives to college (click to read the ebook).

The early bird catches the worm – The other day on twitter I asked Marco Gomes, a young entrepreneur, founder of a Brazilian publicity company called boo-box,  if he woke up every day at a specific time. He said he religiously woke up every single day at 7:30. Another manager of a big company (Which I really don’t remember who. But believe me, it is true) said in an interview that he woke up at 5 every day to read the newspaper before everyone else. Warren also woke up very early in the morning during his whole life. If you want to do stuff, to make things happen, you’ve got to wake up early. You have to be awake before the world’s gears begin to work.

Shepherds don’t think like sheep. If you think like everyone else, the best you can be is like everyone else. Wake up early, be ahead of everyone else when the word open his eyes in the morning.

Simple is better – If you are in charge of people in your company, or if you own a company, or if you want some day to own a company, or if you are just curious, or if you are neither of these things, you should read Jack welch’s book Winning. The content of the book is marvellous, but the way it is written is just enchanting. It looks like a friend of yours is talking to you in a barbecue about things that happen in businesses. He uses informal language, and is very clear and concise in his points. He stresses that candour and clarity are critical to the functioning of every part of a company. I’d like to go further and broaden this idea, stating that candour and clarity are indispensable not only in companies, but in every part of our life. The way he achieved such clarity was saying things in a easily understandable way, trying not to use complicated words or constructions that could be misinterpreted in some way. Warren Buffett did exactly the same during his whole life. Everywhere you see a quote from Warren you will notice that the language he used wasn’t any far from that we use in our day to day. It is very easy to complicate things, but it’s laborious to make it simpler.

As for my financial future, God only knows. One thing is sure, Warren Buffett’s life taught me these and many other things, but I don’t remember all of them now and I don’t have the book in my hands to give it a look and remember everything — and you wouldn’t read a ten thousand words post anyway.

I hope these principles can be of some use to you, just as they were of great use to me, made me improve. We are changing every day, and our future is determined by what we do today.

warren-buffett

Plato’s Resolutions For a New Year

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That which has been, is that which is to be, and that which has been done, is that which will be done, and there is no new thing under the sun.

King Solomon – Ecclesiastes 1:9-10

 Solomon was a wise guy. He noticed that people are curious and naive, and these qualities make it hard for them to learn by mentorship. They prefer to learn by their own experience, which makes things much harder, with big consequences, and slows down the life of everyone. Imagine if no one repeated old mistakes. If we made only new mistakes we would go much farther, much faster. But by going through the same errors we have always the same outcomes, and then we are stuck here until we learn to think differently. What Solomon noticed was that people always did the same things that were done before them, and because of that he says there is no new thing under the sun. It is always a repetition. The girl gets pregnant at 16 just as her mother. The guy doesn’t value his time and wastes it just as his dad once did. The brand new idea which will certainly lead to a secure life of 10 years ago is not the same as today’s secure idea. Actually, last year’s secure future is not the same as today’s. So, was it ever a secure future? The great new thing of today makes everyone act just like the 80’s great new thing. Cazuza, a famous Brazilian singer, said “The world is a museum full of news”. And Plato also knew that.

School of Athens (Which never really existed) by Raphel. In the centre there are Plato and his student, Aristotle.

School of Athens (Which never really existed) by Raphel. In the centre there are Plato and his student, Aristotle.

More or less 2435 years ago Plato was born. He grew up and became a pretty clever fellow. He studied 8 years with Socrates, burned all his poetries, and started to philosophise. Plato’s main idea is that there are two worlds, the one we can see, which he calls the sensible world, a world that is always changing and that can trick our eyes and by doing so it also tricks our thinking of it. But there is also another world, the world of the forms, where nothing changes because everything is perfect —they don’t change because being perfect it can’t get any better than that, so any change would be for the worse. Imagine you draw a circle in a sheet of paper. It doesn’t matter what kind of magic tool you use to draw it, it will never be a perfect circle, it is only an attempt to represent the ideal circle. It is a shadow of the “real thing”. Your drawn circle is not the real circle, it is only a copy of it. And that’s the way Plato thought. He called the world of the ideals the real world, and the world we live in, a fake world, where things are not really what they seem. He constructed an allegory, which got very famous, to illustrate that.

The Cave

Imagine there is a big cave, and in the cave there is a people who is chained since birth and the chains hold them in a way they can only look to the wall of the cave.  In a high place behind them there is a fire which reflects in the wall (like a cinema room) and people pass in front of the fire, some carrying stuff, some just walking, some talking, others quiet, but the chained people can only see their shadows in the wall. They have never seen anything else than the shadows, so they don’t think the shadows are a silhouette of some other thing, or that they are caused because of something else, they think the shadows are real deal, the real stuff.

Well, that’s us. That’s us looking at our ever-changing world and thinking that the lights and movements we see are in fact reality. That’s us thinking that an act of courage is courage itself, or that laws are justice itself, or that something beautiful is beauty itself. But then he says, imagine you take out the chains of one of  these cave-landers. He will now be able to look around and see the fire, and see the things that pass by the fire. He will be able to walk and go out of the cave. Obviously it will hurt him in the beginning, hurt his eyes because they aren’t used to looking directly to light, hurt his body, because it isn’t used to moving so much. He will walk out of the cave and see the sun and all things that he illuminates, he will be amused.

Here Plato is talking about the Philosopher. The things he sees outside of the cave are the “real world”, the world of the forms and ideals. He sees all that and notices that all his life he was looking at just shadows.

And then it gets even better, he says that the ex-cave-lander goes back to the inside of the cave to tell his friends all he had seen and to tell them that all they are seeing is nothing more than representations of real stuff. But when he get’s there no one believes him, they think he is crazy and they mock on him. People are hard to be taught. People where hard to be taught then and they are still hard to be taught now, just as before. You still eat this shitty stuff even though everyone knows it’s going to clog your heart veins.

Plato’s Republic is an attempt to define justice. At some point in the book he says that justice is when there is agreement on everything. And injustice, in the other hand, is when you have disagreement. He depicts a city-state and says that for it to be just there must be agreement in the government. You can’t have a parties, each one with a different opinion. You should have just one party, and this party shouldn’t take measures based on opinion, but based on the truth, and being it the truth no one would argue against it.

In his city, the King and the high leaders of the city (which he calls guardians) should all be philosophers. They should have been freed from the chains and should have already gone out of the cave and looked at the real world, seen the real things, and thus should know the truth.

In a very interesting passage Plato explains what is the opinion. He asks “Does he who has knowledge know something or nothing?” Adeimantus says “Knows something, of course”. Then he asks “Something that is or something that is not?” “Something that is, how could someone know something that is not”. Then he associates knowledge with things that really are, and ignorance with things that are not. After that he asks “What about something that is and is not at the same time?”. This something is the opinion.

The leaders of the city wouldn’t argue because their opinions would be rationalized analysis proved to be true, and not an opinion. And being so, there would be justice in the city. Of course he points out many other things that make the city a just city, but that’s the centre of the idea. He knew he put the stakes too high, and no real city would ever be able to work exactly as he proposed. But it doesn’t matter. The idea is that cities would try to get as close as they could to this city, because that was an ideal, a perfect form of his “real” world.

Plato’s idea of a different world, a place of perfect things is more usual to us that it firs appears. Our modern world is completely immersed in the concept of ideals, things that we can never reach, but our mission is to try to get as close as we can. Be it in poetry with Dirceu’s Marilia, be it with Jesus, be it in your day to day life, where you are constantly struggling to get to this ideal of a happy person, even though the happiest person in the world still have hard moments, it doesn’t matter, the ideal is always happy.

And what did Plato want from us? he wanted us to think a little more, to try a little harder to understand things instead of keeping vomiting our prejudiced opinion on everyone else. If we get our reasoning right we will eventually arrive in a coherent and rather sober conclusion, not just a poorly backed opinion. Have you noticed that when you are arguing with someone, most of the times, it doesn’t matter how good your arguments are or how much you proved the person wrong, you will never convince him? The other person already has his mind made up and nothing you say will change that. People’s ego is just too big to admit they are wrong.

But I have good news, if you are ever wrong don’t worry that’s a good sign. It means that you just discovered a new opportunity to improve yourself. As soon as you notice a flaw, correct it right away! People spend a whole lot of time grumbling about stuff, don’t do that! Correct it right away, and then move on. Plato had a thought of that:

 “..And, instead of stumbling like children, clapping one’s hands to the stricken spot and wasting the time in wailing, [we should] accustom the soul to devote itself at once to the curing of the hurt and the raising up of what has fallen, banishing threnody by therapy.”

Republic 604c-d

People usually have a hard time admitting they are wrong. They think that if the person who is exhorting them is also wrong, it means they aren’t wrong at all. That’s a great, but nonetheless common, mistake.

Plato and the Posers

In Plato’s time there were a group of teachers who were called sophists. Sophists were teachers of oratory who taught the pupils to win an argument. Notice, they weren’t teaching them to think and to reason as to get to a good solution for a problem, neither were they trying to put the truth in first place, they were only teaching people to be good debaters. By that time, sophists were often mistaken by philosophers, and vice versa. That confusion were outrageous to Plato, and during his work he put a lot of effort into clearly differencing them both.

Plato taught using elenkhós. A method of teaching using dialectic. As opposed to the dissertation, where one person makes a monologue explaining something, in the dialectic method the teacher leads the student to the knowledge through questions, making him think and thus making him get to the answer himself by his own reasoning. Doing that, they built a chain of propositions, all of them agreed as truthful, and the main goal was to get to the truth.

I think women are kind of sophists too. It doesn't matter how good is your argument, they always win.

I think women are kind of sophists too. It doesn’t matter how good is your argument, they always win.

The moral of Republic is that if we base our viewpoints on opinions and suppositions we are very likely do diverge in many things, and thus create disorder, which leads to injustice. But if we think well, if we don’t get too attached to a thought or a tradition, if we become willing to discover the immutable truth and from this truth we change our ways, then we will be happier and live in a just and happy place. The book concludes saying that intrinsic in the idea of justice, is happiness. If you are just, you will be happy.

That’s Plato’s resolution for 2013. That was his resolution for years before Christ. But surprisingly, even though our society and our knowledge have evolved in a way that couldn’t even be described, our inner self is still the same. We are just as insecure as people were in Plato’s days. We cling to an opinion because we are afraid of being wrong, of being regard as ignorant, of having no importance. We try to be right always, and we try to justify ourselves and give excuses. Plato wants us to be happier, to free ourselves from the chains, let we all make a toast to knowledge and to discovery, to change and to redemption. Because once we all agree to change, then we will arrive in the beloved just and happy, Republic.