The following is an excerpt, Chapter 2, from my new book — Real Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement
“The distant future is small free cities with drone armies and skill-based immigration policies, surrounded by a sea of failed socialist states. — Naval Ravikant”
The year is 2077. The divide between the haves and the have nots has grown so wide that the aristocracy has fled from all developed nations. What happened? See, over time, the world grew more chaotic, outraged, and pretentious, even though in relative terms, societies and nations had never been so abundant.
Political infighting increased. People got more restless, depressed, addicted, etc. With each election year came more extreme populism from all sides. Kennedy’s quote “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” would be laughable in this era’s populace. To the masses, the equation has flipped entirely.
The self-actualized people in these societies wanted to help. Really, they did. They pointed to technological progress, opportunities, and resources people could use. Their message was turned away. Sure, there were some who got lucky and inherited their wealth, but there were also many who simply worked hard, stayed optimistic, and used available resources to create the lives of their dreams. Those dreams turned to nightmares.
The people began to revolt. Anyone who had anything of worth or consequence was the enemy. The self-actualized, left with no other resource, stashed everything in crypto holdings and went to start their own societies.
The Pointless Culture War
I’m only half-joking about the dystopian future I just described. I published this book in 2020 with the hopes that it would sell for years. In a way, I actually hope it won’t prove prophetic, but I’m pretty sure it will. The sanity in our discourse has left the building permanently, all because of this “culture war.”
Often, the conversation in the culture war revolves around inequality. I agree that inequality is a major problem in today’s society, but the problem isn’t (just) inequality of resources. Many people suffer from an inequality of mindset. They are so negative and entrenched in mud-slinging contests that they can’t see the vast opportunity in front of them. Sadly, their self-fulfilling prophecies will come true.
You can’t be happy and successful if you think the sky is falling.
The way you think is your reality, in a sense that’s more real than people give credence to. Your definition of how the world works, and your role in it, has a deep and profound impact.
People don’t just disagree on facts. We live in different realities.
The Movie Theater Called Life
Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip and philosopher of sorts, talks about a concept called “two movies on the same screen.”23
Imagine a group of people are in a theater watching a movie. Everyone is watching the exact same film, but they have different beliefs. After the movie ends, when you ask people to describe the movie to you, you don’t just get slightly varied accounts of the movie. You’ll swear the people in that theater had watched different films altogether.
This is why our discourse is so messed up, and why some people are extremely optimistic and others extremely pessimistic. Both sides of any said aisle don’t “disagree with each other”; they genuinely live in different realities.
I can’t overstate how important it is to understand this concept. People live in parallel universes. And the most important divide right now is between extreme optimism and extreme pessimism.
Which side is right? Both. We will continue to live in our parallel realities unless they crash together (more on that later). The side you choose isn’t a trivial choice at all. It could mean the difference between having the life of your dreams and feeling very low levels of self-esteem and sanity.
You already know which side I lean on, but let me give both their justice.
The Steelman Argument for Negativity and Pessimism
When you make a strawman argument, you argue against a fake point someone didn’t actually make. When you make a steelman argument, you’re making the best possible argument for a point you disagree with.
There’s a clear argument for the “sky is falling” narrative. I want to provide a steelman argument for this narrative because I want to show you that I understand where you’re coming from if you see things this way, even if only partially. Once I honor this reality, my argument for optimism will have more weight. You can take a look at both sides and make the judgment yourself. Allow me to elaborate:
- Many think the president is clinically insane.
- In the future, the political discourse and candidates who run will likely err toward the extreme rather than the sane.
- We’re almost always on the brink of war with multiple countries
- Regardless of your political leanings, we all agree that the health insurance is an absolute mess and shows no signs of improving.
- The real value of minimum wage peaked more than 50 years ago.
- The cost of tuition is skyrocketing, student debt is at an all-time high, and you can’t declare bankruptcy on it.
- Automation is eating jobs.
- Amazon is killing retail.
- Some believe civil rights are moving backward in this new political era.
- Wages have remained flat while expenses have gone up.
- A large number of Americans can’t afford a $1,000 emergency.
- Climate change is an imminent threat to us all.
You can’t turn on the TV without hearing about a school shooting, an unarmed minority getting shot, a woman’s right being taken away,29 or a hate crime being committed. I don’t want to date myself with these statements, but I don’t think I will. This negative view of society will persist because all the incentives point to it.
I respect other people’s realities. I agree with people who believe this narrative because I know that belief is reality. What someone believes, regardless of the objective truth, is reality to that person. It’s stupid to impose my view on someone who thinks this way because in a way, I’m wrong to do so; their perception is that deep. They live in a different reality than I do. And their reality is just as real to them as mine is to me.
Add on an algorithmic world where people continue to increase their level of confirmation bias because the algorithms only show them what they want to believe, and you have a recipe for pessimism in perpetuity.
Some people are buried so deep they can’t be saved. Add this onto the pile of harsh realities this book mentions. Other people are on the fence, can be swayed, and can change their reality. But that will only happen if they see the right example.
There is undoubtedly a lens with which you can see many negative aspects of today’s society. Opportunities are limited. But they’re only limited for a certain type of person.
Unfortunately, most people are that type of person.
If you want to thrive, you’re going to have to become an outlier, an anomaly. You have to join the smaller and higher portion of the pyramid because in a way, the pessimist is right; the inequality is going to continue to get worse.
Are you ready to ascend? Let me show you a new reality you can become a part of immediately by simply deciding to.
How I (And a Small Handful of Others) View the World
I choose to operate on the corner of the internet and society at large, where the possibilities are endless, where there are countless examples of free and autonomous individuals doing whatever the hell they want.
I woke up today without an alarm clock. Instead of commuting, I started my workday by walking 10 feet from my bedroom to my desk. When do I start? When I want to. Often, instead of getting straight into my morning routine, I screw around on Twitter.
Here are some of the things I saw today:
- A high school senior who just got a notification that he made $400 from his Shopify store
- Tweets from fellow writers who figured out how to make a full-time living online just like me
- A step-by-step thread on how to build a side business
- Wisdom, ideas, collaboration
This is the same social media app where you can find tons of political outrage, sadness, and negativity. Think about the way you view the world, the way you consume media, and the views it causes you to have. If you think deeply about it, you’ll understand that your powers of perception aren’t strong enough yet. You still believe in rigid, concrete notions of “reality.” You still believe that upward mobility is limited instead of infinite.
You’re not at the point where you realize that you can create income from thin air. Your mind is stuck in “wage earners” thinking, and the idea of earning money in your sleep seems so foreign to you that you don’t think you can pull it off. When you venture onto this side of society, this side of the media, and this side of the internet like you’re doing right now, you’ll begin to see.
Now, I won’t make income guarantees in this book, but from personal experience, I can tell you that the people I follow and the information I’ve learned in the past few years has led me to believe that dreams are not only possible, but much easier to accomplish than you think, if you change your perception. You’ll have to do the work. I did the work for five years and now, finally, I’m doing things that my old self would deem impossible. You can get there. Over time, as you combine working hard with developing an optimistic attitude, the idea of what seems normal to you will change so drastically that you won’t even believe the old you ever existed.
Let’s go deeper into this world and look at all the amazing benefits our current technological landscape has to offer.
Extremely Low Barrier to Entry and Capital Requirements
For $30, you can start a Shopify store and begin selling products online without carrying any inventory at all. If you want to spend a bit more but still not break the bank, you can buy a custom brand from companies that will set up your entire operation for you.
I make a living writing by using the website Medium.com. I signed up for free and started with zero followers. My colleague, Shannon Ashley, did the same and went from making $10/hr at a social media company to making $10,000 in a single month.30 Did I mention she’s a single mom? Medium is one of the top sources of income for me. My overhead? Zero dollars. Zero. Nothing.
Throughout the day on YouTube, I watch videos by people who built a full-time living doing what they love, either for free or with the help of a camera and a microphone that don’t cost a ton. You can read The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau,31 which talks about many businesses you can start for little to no money.
You don’t need money to start a business. Period. And this barrier to entry has been obliterated, permanently. Opportunity will reign abundant forever — or until we all destroy each other with a nuclear bomb, the planet explodes, or we live in an Orwellian fascist state we must flee from.
Alternative Sources of Education
Imagine if you could go from minimum wage to learning a six-figure skill without having to pay any money up front.
You can, at Lambda Lamba School. As I explained before, at Lambda school, you learn how to code and get placed at a job. You pay Lambda a portion of your income for the first few years of your employment, but if you don’t land a job that reaches a certain salary level, you pay nothing. You don’t need to be a genius to learn how to code, nor do you need to be privileged. Visit the founder’s Twitter account, and you’ll see stories of people who used to be janitors, Walmart employees, call center workers — who 5-and-10x their income by going through the program; people of all races, colors, creeds, and education levels.
You can take classes from Ivy League universities for free. Granted, you don’t get the credentials, but you no longer really need them. More and more there are alternative routes to education and employment that don’t require you to become an indentured servant. Use them.
I took paid online courses on self-publishing, blogging, and marketing. Total cost = $1,000 or so. Then I used YouTube and free blogs to supplement the information. I’ve gotten a 100x return on my investment.
You don’t need money to get an education. Period.
Vertical Technological Progress
In the book Zero to One, Peter Thiel talks about “vertical progress,” which is just a fancy way of saying brand-new technologies that shift what’s possible.
Many of these technologies could solve future problems.
- Bill Gates is working on nuclear energy solutions.
- Desalination could help solve the drinking water problem (although it’s a work in progress).
- We can now 3D-print organs, homes, cars, and more.
- Thanks to technology, extreme poverty has fallen sharply.
- Automation could liberate us (or enslave us … it’s up for debate).
The world has continued to get better. Societies as a whole have gotten more wealthy, not less. Rid yourself of the sky is falling narrative so you can focus your energy on changing your own life. Vertical progress doesn’t always affect you directly, but it can put your mind at ease that there are people trying to work on major problems in the world. Let them take care of that while you build your life, projects, and tribe of people who you can help.
Endless Opportunity and Serendipity
When you start to connect with smart and creative people both online and offline, who value freedom as you do, you run into all sorts of opportunities.
I wrote a blog post about self-publishing and mentioned the name of an author in it. Said author found that post and reached out to me for a Skype session. He owns a company that helps run ads for authors online. He set up a bunch of ads for me, and I pay him a cut of the profits he generates for me from thin air.
Just by putting myself out there and sharing my ideas, I’ve gotten opportunities I never thought possible, such as high-paying freelance gigs, speaking at TEDx, being in online panels and podcasts, and working with startups.
In the next two chapters, I’ll show you how to get started with finding your strengths and using them to start a side project or business. You’ll want to start there. But to expose yourself to more opportunities, put yourself out there more in general. Go to the local clubs and events in your town. Go to online events. Reach out to people on social media with similar interests.
Document what you’re doing on social media. Start a blog no matter what your chosen industry is and share tips. Make videos and post them. Talk about what you love with people who are willing to listen.
My favorite business guru Naval says:
“Embrace accountability and take business risks under your own name. Society will reward you with responsibility, equity, and leverage. People who are stamping their names on things aren’t foolish. They’re just confident.”39
My websites are titled ayotheauthor.com40 and ayothewriter.com.41 I put my name on all my social media handles. I don’t use pen names or pseudonyms. When I do something, you’ll know it’s me. Do the same, be public with your efforts. Not to your personal group so much, as they don’t care, but to the public.
All of my success has happened because I have a positive, optimistic, and abundant mindset coupled with doing the work to turn my dreams into reality. That’s the recipe. Follow it.
The Bottom Line for Both Camps
Who’s right? The self-actualizers or the arbiters of outrage? Both of us. Are you getting the point yet?
It saddens me to see so many people feeling helpless. I’m not saying it’s easy to just lift yourself out of your circumstances. It’s quite hard. I’m also not saying they don’t have valid arguments; they do. Ultimately, though, it’s your choice to decide what reality you’re going to live in, and there are consequences for your choices.
Do yourself a favor and read The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant.42 It talks about the inevitable cycles and patterns of human nature that appear throughout history. He talks about the fact that power concentration and too much inequality cause revolts. This is true. We’re revolting right now because of the inequality we see, but the inequality is being misdiagnosed; a large amount of the inequality is mental along with the material inequality we see, and at a ratio more than you might think.
Here’s what the future will look like for the pessimists. When you believe the sky is falling and feel helpless, you’ll want someone to save you. So you’ll rush to the voting booth to vanquish your enemies. But even if your side wins, something strange will happen: Your life won’t get any better.
After realizing this you’ll only have two options — the tough path of personal change or the path of fatalism.
Sadly, many will choose the latter.
The gap will grow wider and wider and wider. Income inequality is a serious problem. There are people called “rent-seekers,” who do essentially siphon money from the system without contributing anything.
But there are also people who will earn a great living simply by being optimists and seizing opportunity. Unfortunately, many people in today’s society can’t tell the difference between a rent seeker and someone who earns their way through the world. Or they do know the difference and just don’t care. The tall poppy gets cut down first.
Everyone’s a soldier in the culture war. But the right side to fight for is … no side. Become a deserter. Get out now and forever. Stop reading the news. Stop following the discourse. Figure out how to move the needle in your life. Because it’s the only way through.
There are still many, many problems in the world. It doesn’t take a genius to point that out, by the way. But we’ve always had problems. You don’t have a coin-flip chance of surviving because of the bubonic plague, nor do you have to involuntarily storm the beaches of Normandy, nor do you live in a tribe while having to keep an eye out for saber-toothed tigers.
We’ll always have problems. How you deal with them matters more than anything else. And the future is very bleak for the pessimist.
I’m not going to pull up all the data, but all the negatives are on the rise: obesity, opioid addiction, suicide, anxiety, depression, general stress, and malaise. Why? I think it’s hard for someone to wrestle with the fact that while in absolute terms, the state of life itself is better, the life of the individual isn’t getting any better.
We all have access to material goods for the most part: TV, car, decent clothes. We have comfort: abundant food, A/C, running water, and electricity. But many of us don’t have meaning.
A lack of meaning can cause a real downward spiral, and I fear for the fate of people who continue to live their lives as pessimists. I’m not being glib. I’m dead serious. Allow me to paint a caricature of the average pessimist in society.
They’re in poor health and stressed out constantly, they read too much news, and they are filled with outrage. Moreover, they are addicted to their phone with no attention span, and they are hooked on Netflix — or even on their own personal cocktail of substances to make it through the day. They’re going to work daily, living a metaphorical form of Chinese water torture, with the weekend, alcohol, and drugs to serve as their only refuge. This is not good.
Contrast this with the archetype I like to call the freedom fighter. They are fit, mindful, ambivalent toward societal discourse because they’re working on themselves. They love to learn in whatever format they prefer: books, audio, video, etc. Of course, they have time for fun, but they’re mostly mission-oriented. They have a side-project, a business, a vocation, a set of hobbies that engage their minds. They’d love to help change society and participate on the front lines of the culture war, but they see how useless that is.
Instead, they understand that by improving their life, and sharing with others by their example, they help society in more than one way.
First, addition by subtraction: One less outraged and sad person in the world equals a better world. Second, self-actualized people: While they do stir envy in some, they also inspire other people to do the same. They don’t coerce people to be this way. Instead, their example shows the attractiveness of improving one’s life, and others follow suit.
If each individual in society became a freedom fighter by fighting for their own freedom, we’d collectively all become a free society. Of course, this will never happen, but the thought experiment is fun. A world full of self-actualized people would be so insanely productive that there would be an abundance of resources to help those who truly cannot help themselves — innovation that made life itself “too cheap to meter.”
If we first looked out for ourselves, then our local community, and then finally, under very small circumstances, “society” or “the world,” things would fall into place on their own. They’d emerge.
Alas, most people don’t understand how emergent properties work. They think the opposite. That the only way to fix society is top down, by relying on mostly incompetent bureaucrats to solve our problems. I wanted to avoid making any part of this book political, but come on. If I could think of the worst possible way to fix society’s problems, it would be placing the power in the hands of a bunch of dumb ass politicians.
Yet, many people want that because it’s easier than looking in the mirror. Almost anything is.
But if you want to create disproportionate rewards for yourself, and thus the world from your contribution, there is no other way than to join the small yet powerful group of optimists who want to change reality as they see fit.
You are the protagonist. The hero in the beginning arc of the journey. And the playing field we currently exist on is very very very much like the fictional tales involving the hero: The Matrix, The Odyssey, The Alchemist.
The divides are distinct. On the one hand, you have the pessimists, but then you have a small group of people who not only don’t buy this fixed and limited version of reality but leave reality up to interpretation about a hundred times more than the average person.
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