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Your Problems Define You

People fear what they cannot categorize, which is another way of saying what they don’t understand. You will feel lost for a time without a solid category to belong to. Don’t let that fool you into choosing an identity prematurely. There is no one way to be a traveler, an artist, a scholar, a superhero, or a philosopher. You accept other people’s definitions when you are too weak to make your own. Keep going until you arrive at you.

Any time you try something new, you must first learn the parameters of the system you are now part of. You cannot start with the same giant conclusions you see more practiced people display. Change is so intimidating that most people never even get started, and their goals remain forever unrealized. You are scared to change yourself to fit into a system you don’t fully understand. That is why you must be willing to pick apart any new knowledge you encounter. Break it down to its axioms so that you can use its own governing principles for your mastery of it.

By default, we define ourselves by the problems which consume our time. These are our attachments. Without attachments, our identities would be indistinguishable and formless. Without problems imposed into our lives, we create them ourselves. Something must always hold a place of importance in the mind. If our survival is not in jeopardy, we project problems onto something trivial. Total stress remains the same. Things can never be at peace for long. Boredom is not sustainable.

Freedom is choosing for yourself what problems you want to place within your sphere of attachment to solve. You alone are the arbiter of what deserves space in your life, or what is worth facing stress over. If you must have problems, make them problems worth having. Choose your attachments wisely. Figure out for yourself exactly what is worth fighting and dying for – a principle bigger than yourself.

When you know what that thing authentically is for yourself, you will be on your way to knowing the principle of you. It is the push back against pain and drive toward accomplishment which leads to great change. It is a state of being ordinary people are terrified to discover about themselves because they resist the depths they must trek to arrive there. It is what will show you the new skills and abilities you need in order to do what you now know must be done. This realization is where your life truly begins.

 

The Advantages of Being an Outsider

Throughout my childhood, I struggled to adapt to the ways others expected me to act. I felt that I lacked what others had naturally – an automatic understanding of what I was supposed to do next. I had to begin analyzing human behavior, always looking for subtle clues in speech and body language to reveal a person’s unconscious expectations. This is part of what started me on my obsession to understand the many ways people could live with each other on our planet. Eventually, I learned that I could beat them at their own game, mastering social adaptation and targeted communication.

Those born at a disadvantage respect the details that others take for granted, bringing greater perspective. This is the unique power of the human race. We can expand our psychological selves through knowledge and practice. Through conscious death, the social, emotional, and mental obstacles to expansion are removed. Then comes rebirth. When you make it a point to learn as many of the rules of life as possible, you stop being slave to them. They start to work for you because you can pick and choose how to apply or ignore them. You gain a freedom of choice beyond that of ordinary men and women. You are liberated enough to begin to shape the world around you the way you want it, instead of it shaping you for its own needs. That is the power that lies on the other side of death and rebirth. You become a creator.

It’s often said that people die shortly after retiring. When they retire from the tasks they’ve spent their life performing, they lose their place in the narrative of life. Maybe they take a year or two to loaf on the beach or play golf at their leisure. But with nothing left to make demands upon their time, their assumed identities start to crumble. They cannot figure out what to do with the freedom life affords them. They’ve never had to choose what to do without any other obligations.

Lifestyle design is about taking the control you have and forging a path tailored to your own satisfaction. To be a conscious designer of your environment, you must know what will enable you to thrive. You must know the fundamental limits to who you are. These are the limits we test time and again through inquiry into ourselves and exploration outward to the unknown. When you survive your worst, you have a perspective that very few ever achieve. You have freedom that is rarely ever known.

The Paradox of Adulthood Learning

As children, we had unlimited ideas about what we were going to do with our lives. But by age 25, most of us will have resigned ourselves to repetition and routine. It grows easier with each passing day to perpetuate the familiar. Our tastes grow ever more narrowly confined with time. We have forgotten discovery as an active state.

Peak discovery is intimidating to normal humans because they define themselves by their limits. They have forgotten how to look beyond what they know. There was a time when you didn’t stop to think about how foolish you might feel if you were not immediately good at something. Trying new things was once endlessly exciting for each of us. Adults lose this freedom with age because they rigidify their concept of self into their environment. To display any weakness at all is to murder the conception of self – a fate worse than actual death.

There is nothing wrong with specialization in life, but left unchecked it prematurely closes the mind to new experience. Our specializations become our jobs, our hobbies, and how we describe who we are to the world. We get so used to labeling ourselves by a certain set of terms that we automatically disregard any others. Who you are is nothing more than an unconscious script you carry with you.

Cultural dogma tells us that identity expansion ends in early adulthood. New skills and abilities are acquired when we are young, or not at all. Common knowledge convinces us that who we are when we finish schooling is who we are destined to be for the rest of our lives. This extremely bleak outlook is accepted all around the world. In fact, in my observation it is one of the most universally shared traits of humanity.

Young children get away with errors that adults do not because no one expects someone with such little life experience to perform well at anything. As adults, we learn to be ashamed when we hit a wrong note on the piano, or make an inaccurate remark on an esoteric subject. There’s far less forgiveness for the grown man or woman who ought to know better. Grown-ups are not given the leniency they need to attempt something they cannot necessarily accomplish.

The paradox of learning in adulthood is that we have greater abilities, resources, and experience than ever before, but we cannot take in new information as readily as we once did. We go narrower and deeper into knowledge, but are easily overwhelmed by anything outside our familiarity. Because children have no strong familiarity, they forego this resistance. That is their unique advantage over us. Their natural enthusiasm makes all the difference. They don’t fear the discomfort of pushing personal boundaries. When people stop learning, they exist only to perpetuate the way they have been trained to see until now. Their actions preserve the world by the standards of those who came before them. They learn the rules of life and spend every moment being used by those rules – a slave to their own knowledge. Overcoming the belief that learning is difficult can be a bigger challenge than actually learning. But it is vital to the continued growth of a person.

It is often complete newcomers to a subject who most readily adopt the principles of adeptness. Prior experience creates predisposition. We inherit biases from those who already know what they are doing. Experts are limited to old information because the mind is already occupied. They cannot entertain multiple ideas within the same category without accepting one as absolutely true. This is how worldviews grow narrower with time. Regardless of the power of the intellect, emotions are not fluid enough to make perpetual change possible. Only blank slates don’t have to fight against the inertia of experience. If you’ve been working the same job, living in the same town, running with the same social circle, and generally dealing with the same problems, you have forgotten the thrill of childlike discovery.

Everything in life is constantly changing – in a state of advancement or decline. Without the impulse to explore, we lose ourselves to patterns of convenience. People cannot see what will move them toward bigger and more attractive goals – if they have any explicit goals at all. They have no trouble filling their days with trivial pursuits, but cannot plan their life out on a larger scale. By intentionally exposing yourself to new influences, you cannot help but make meaningful progress. You will mature faster through alternatives to what you already know.

The Most Terrifying Experience in the World

The most terrifying experience in the world is to not know who you are, where you’re going, or what you’re supposed to be doing. To travel without inhibition is to consciously embrace that fear. It is to accept that you do not always know what to do, because you do not even know the limits of what is possible. Until you have spent enough time exploring these limits, you cannot earn confidence in the validity of your life choices.

Many people are uncomfortable traveling on their own, but it is the best way to see things in a new light, unfettered and untainted by the perceptions of others around you. You will see the world without any filters, making the influence all the more meaningful. But that influence can also be destructive. There will always be something your mind is not ready to accept as real. It is something which lies outside the limits of your conception – something so awful by your standards of evaluation that it is antithetical to your existence.

You will want to run from it, because to let it take hold of you is to experience death. If you do not run, it will break you. To move willingly toward it is to enter the lowest possible point in your life: the dark night of the soul. It is your own personal hell, and the thing you have spent your entire life avoiding. It may make you nervous even thinking about it right now. You may now be putting up protestations to keep your consciousness safe from its intrusion. Sooner or later, one must reconcile the fact that there are parts of themselves which remain obscured by darkness and shadow.

How Normal is Born

When you were a young child, you learned in the moment which actions would cause pain, and which would satiate your desires. You had parents and countless environmental structures around you devoted to your safety – though you had no way of knowing all this at the time. There were safeguards beyond safeguards. Now you must act for the first time with no safety net or assurance of success. There are no governing bodies to protect you from what you do not know, or do not even know that you do not know. You must discover these things with each new footstep as you tread into increasingly darker territories. With each new discovery, you will grow more capable of taking on the next. You just need to learn the rules of each cultural system as you go.

Thriving in the natural world requires one must understand the ecosystem which has evolved around them. They must observe how other successful creatures have adapted to the resources and limitations provided. The survivor quickly learns what actions will help or hurt their situation. Add human beings to any system, and the variables for comfort become immensely more complex. The social domain is built upon the psyches of each individual participant interacting with one another. Their collective values manifest in everything from the way the architecture looks to the laws they enforce. This is how “normal” is born. Every society is a system, and anyone can learn how the system works, manipulate its variables, and find their place within it. Each of these systems perpetuates a pattern of values onto its children that sits at the base of the collective identity as something sacred and unquestionable.

Forgetting old ideas is intrinsically more difficult than taking on new ones. In the transition period between old knowledge and new knowledge is a terrifying void of unknowing. In that place, even unconscious certainties – the kind of knowledge most easily take for granted – disappear into unbearable nothingness.

The Ordinary World

The ordinary world is the set of conditions which support your homeostasis. You forget about it, like the fish forgets about water. You could remain forever comfortable there, except that we cannot prepare for every change before it occurs. Stress is just what happens when we cannot process these changes fast enough. The older people get, the more structure they need to mitigate the stress of change. New things are threatening. When big changes are sudden, like the loss of a loved one or another life altering event, we must choose how to react to it. We can fight the change, attempting to uphold our ordinary existence through willpower. Or we can welcome the change, consciously adapting to life’s new settings. The more open we are to change, the less difficult the transition will be.

Sometimes the greatest changes aren’t forced on us at all. Sometimes we intentionally leave our ordinary world behind in search of bigger things because we are so unsatisfied with what we have. The mind wanders from the confines of regular thinking, drifting far beyond reality’s accepted rules. This is a self-initiated kind of stress. These people struggle to stay small enough for ordinary worlds to contain them. Growth is an exciting challenge. Curiosity calls them to do something greater – to become something more. The present moment is always plagued by the awareness that there is more to know. There are still undiscovered ways to exist.

Most are not ready to wake up from the established pathways of their life. They are locked into a range of acceptable actions. Even traditional notions of counter-cultural behavior are part of the problem. When we deliberately try to be different, we look to examples of others before us. They’ve cleared the path, so that we can be conventionally unconventional. True originality – or true dedication to self – requires the abandonment of all previously trodden paths. No one has lived your life before. No one knows what it means to be you. No one can know all the things you will become when different parts of you are fully realized. Perspective is the mechanism for this change.

Explorers and innovators actively pursue discomfort. They rely on their ability to figure things out in the moment, and readily change themselves. They cannot know every detail that will aid this process. They can only prepare their minds to watch for new information and adapt in response. They can do this because their curiosity is stronger than the fear they have acquired of losing the life they know. My ambition is to promote the critical growth of your own curiosity and the utter demise of your fear.

Who Are You, What Do You Do, and Why Shoud I Care?

There are three questions I find very valuable for getting to the core of the values held by a business. There’s an endless diversity of responses that come from these simple requests, and the data gleaned by listening to responses is highly valuable to crafting a better brand identity.

The three questions are:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Why should I care?

The way someone answers the question “Who are you?” tells you an enormous amount of information about them, and not in the way they think it does. It can reveal their entire universe if you know how to listen. It’s not so much about what they’re saying as it is about how they make decisions about how to define themselves.

Whenever I ask someone this question, I’m looking for what they consider important, and what distinguishes them from other people. I’m trying to pinpoint the script they carry around with them that makes up their self-referential sense of identity in the context of their business. We are all composed of millions of bits of information in the form of memories, abilities, preferences, and tendencies that affect how we show up in the world. In that moment, when I ask a person to define themselves, they will self-select only the most important elements as they perceive them.

Your identity is nothing more than a series of thoughts you carry around in your head, some more important than others, many which we’re forgetting all the time, new ones we’re adding in, and ones we keep bringing back to life over and over again. When you ask someone who they are, they’re essentially just regurgitating the thoughts they consider important to the story that’s currently composing their conception of self. And that’s what I’m doing when I interrogate them in this manner: I’m picking apart what they consider important about themselves.

Out of all the infinite possible ways that they could put words together to answer that question, they might tell me about an important part of their childhood which still affects their thoughts and actions in the present. If somebody knows how to dance salsa, but they don’t immediately mention it, it’s probably because they don’t consider it an important part of what distinguishes them from everyone else. If it’s the first thing out of their mouths, it’s important to how they see themselves as an individual.

If you really listen when people talk about themselves, you’ll see they tend to talk in terms of subjective pain and pleasure – although they’ll very rarely actually phrase it that way. They’ll speak of past events which defined them in some way such as “Well I grew up in this city…” That’s history. Then they’ll talk about active principles, active patterns of change currently relevant in their life.

When they’re describing what they do, they’re talking about the vehicle through which value is delivered. What does this exchange look like? How does your vehicle combust gasoline to create forward momentum? Talk about the alchemy that goes into your ability to turn base metals into gold for the people who hire you. The next step is to take that ordinary factual information and spin it into a compelling narrative that actually gets people to listen.

Narrative is the answer to the eternal question, “Why should I care?” Most people have never had to seriously answer that question in a way that matters. It’s considered rude to question why someone should care about something else someone has shared. We are trained to automatically respect and give attention to other people when they talk. This is lethal thinking in the world of sales.

No one ever owes you an ounce of attention, least of all a stranger you are trying to convince to do something potentially injurious to themselves by giving you their time and money. The entitlement mentality we adopt in youth must be done away with if we are the succeed as entrepreneurial adults who earn the attention and respect of others with our identities.

“Why should I care?” is such a powerful question because it’s not one that people are used to hearing, and they don’t have a prepared response to it. That’s when they actually start to think about things, and they don’t just regurgitate the same old information on autopilot. It’s a bit rude, and that’s what catches them off guard. You may get several “Did you really just ask me that?” looks if you try this.

At first, most entrepreneurs will give terrible answers to this question because they are flustered and stumbling for an appropriate response that doesn’t make them sound weak. People’s first instinct is to defend their own ego and their appearance to the world. The unwillingness to look bad for even a moment is a major detriment to improvement. If they had a good answer to this question, odds are they wouldn’t need help in the first place. Why should your prospects take the action you want them to take?

If you are honest enough with yourself to get to the heart of what motivates your actions, you will also find it becomes a lot easier to sort out, among all the infinite business ideas you can pursue, which ones to follow. Genuine passion is what pushes entrepreneurs through periods of difficulty and uncertainty in the growth of their business. It is also what will make success the most emotionally rewarding beyond just the accumulation of capital. Knowing that you are making a very specific type of difference in the world is the most powerful incentive that exists for some people.

The answers you arrive at here are what will form the foundation of your brand identity and messaging strategy. When you understand yourself, you can hone your presentation in a way which generates action from others. You will appeal more strongly to others who share your ideals and reasons for doing what you do, regardless of the actual products and services you produce.

Can You Tell a Good Story?

It took me a long time to accept that merely being good at something was not enough to garner the attention, the respect, or the dollars of other people. The truth is that people’s actions are not affected by what is. They are affected by what they can see, and how they think it will affect them. So while the essence of business may be the creation of specific value, you can never expect a business to succeed on the virtue of its good ideas alone. It has to be presented in a way that answers questions people are asking, solves problems they are aware of, and is easily digestible.

This might sound obvious, but think of how many times you’ve been held back from getting what you wanted in life because people could not see the value you knew you had.

In my early twenties, I struggled to understand why I was considered virtually unemployable in conventional corporate environments. While I did pretty well for myself innovating independent ways to make money – from teaching music lessons locally, to helping retirees sell antiques on Ebay, to fixing up old violins and flipping them for a profit – I could never seem to stand out as someone worth hiring in a real company with a salaried position.

My own internal logic was flawless to me. I knew that, all other things being equal, I was a smarter-than-average person. From my point of view, if you assigned a task to me I would quickly figure out whatever pattern would lead to it getting done as efficiently as possible, making the optimal amount of money for myself and whomever had the privilege of adding me to their staff. So why did I continue to see myself passed over for jobs, which were given to people I was sure I could outperform?

It wouldn’t be until I accidentally stumbled upon my first corporate role as a copywriter that I would finally put the pieces together and see the bigger picture of how the hiring process worked. A music student of mine was thoroughly impressed with my teaching skills and my knack for clear verbal communication, and in passing she mentioned that the company she worked for was looking for writers to fill a temporary position as a content creator for their website. Because she personally knew me, she was able to get her foot in the door on my behalf, and after I passed the standard interview and skill assessment process, the job was mine.

What I gained from those two months working at a desk in a cubicle, surrounded by other desks in other cubicles, was a new perspective of business culture in America. The reason I had had so much trouble attracting the attention I wanted from the world of “real” jobs was I had not learned how to present my value in a way that matched what they were specifically looking for. Their job description was not “bright young man who’s good at figuring things out and putting down words”. It was a specific series of qualities combined with real working experiences which conformed to their work environment.

The irony is that as soon as I figured out how the corporate world worked, I had gotten over my interest in joining it. As of today, I’ve helped quite a few other people prepare their own résumés and cover letters to better match specific positions they had their heart set on. I can do this for them because it finally clicked to talk about the concept of value in a way that fit what others were looking for. I finally learned how to answer the questions people were actually asking.

My Unconventional Path

For certain types of people, the conventional path will never be a viable option. Even in early childhood, I knew there was something I didn’t like about the way most of the adults around me had structured their lives. I couldn’t understand how the majority of them could be happy spending their time working in jobs that had nothing to do with their passions, and which barely paid more than enough to cover their basic living expenses. I felt like it was the accepted social norm to give up on dreams, adventure, and curiosity so that we could better fit into the hole others had already carved out for us. I knew there had to be other ways to exist.

It wouldn’t be until I was a little older that I would finally have the power to explore my innate curiosity about the many possible ways a human could live on this planet. On my 18th birthday, I moved out of my parents’ house in southern California and lived comfortably in an oversized Ford Econoline van, finishing high school and supporting myself through freelance guitar lessons and other independent means in San Diego.

The lifestyle experiment didn’t end there. The level of freedom I experienced during that initial unguided adventure couldn’t possibly compare to the perspective I gained from international travel after high school. Building my profession as I traveled forced me to become adaptable and resourceful. It was difficult at times, but my desire to live and make money on my own terms kept me on my chosen path until I could become financially comfortable.

A multicultural lifestyle also showed me that the world was not how I had been told it was supposed to have been. I experienced extreme cognitive dissonance for years as I continued to experience things which contradicted my previous worldview.

Traveling the world on my own terms taught me that human beings make decisions based not on the reality of things, but on the stories that fill their heads about how things are. I’d been told that Latin America was a wholly dangerous and unstable place. Instead, I found some of the nicest and most functioning communities on earth. I learned, as well, that stories could be used to alter and manipulate the mentality of people for a specific purpose quite easily.

As part of my global journey, I worked as an educator in countries like China, Thailand, Iraq, Italy, and different parts of Latin America. Having this kind of direct exposure to the developing children of so many societies gave me a unique outlook on the many ways in which people are conditioned to think from a very early age. Volunteering in Ghana with the Africa Youth Peace Call Liberty and Entrepreneurship Camp, I helped the young adults and teens who attended learn to see the world through the eyes of an entrepreneur. This meant not just creating value, but learning to communicate it to a world which would be very unforgiving of foreign appearances.

The stigmas that they will face as young entrepreneurs rising out of poverty into a worldwide marketplace are the same stigmas you will face as you introduce any new product, service, or proposition of value to people who think they already know what they want. Communication is the bridge which will break down the default barrier others hold towards new ideas, and all that occurs as a function of your compelling brand identity. Education removes the resistance to new ideas inherent to each of us.

Shortly after I started my travels, I met a man in his seventies named John A. Pugsley, or Jack to those who knew him. Jack was a very influential writer on free market economics, his most famous titles including The Alpha Strategy: The Ultimate Plan of Financial Self-Defense and Common Sense Economics: Your Guide to Financial Independence in the Age of Inflation. At the time, I felt lost about the role I was going to play in the global human civilization I was gradually becoming more aware of. He was kind enough to spend much of his time mentoring me in the subjects that he understood would help me make sense of my life.

John Pugsley passed away only two years after I met him, but during those couple of years I learned a lot through his writings and the time we spent together discussing how large-scale human society did not have to exist as the random chaos I perceived it to be. It was all part of an elaborate order called the marketplace. This was the first functional filter through which I could make sense of the world of exchange. I realized that an entrepreneur was someone who created new processes for producing value, and could convince people to make beneficial decisions they hadn’t previously known were possible.

Before this pivotal paradigm shift, I had been struggling to understand how the human race could ever progress from its present state of political and economic adolescence. Despite my newfound perspective on human culture, I didn’t know what to do with my life, or what it meant to play an important role in the human world. I know now that every intentional human action is performed in the pursuit of happiness, or in the avoidance of unhappiness. We are all trying to make our own lives better. Everyone else is simultaneously doing the same thing in their own lives the best way they know how.

We all have different ideas about what happiness is and the best way to acquire it. That’s where we run into conflict, and it is only with respect to the larger system of free market exchange that a solution to that conflict becomes obvious. You begin to see the human race and every way we interact as a system of mutual happiness pursuit, irrespective of our subjective variations on happiness. It doesn’t matter if what you want is completely different than what I want, so long as there is a way for us to interact where we are both getting closer to our respective goals.

When you understand such a simple concept, you will see that money is just a vehicle through which people exchange happiness, and that businesses provide a method for people to do this in a tailored and systematic way.

The Narrative of Gregory Diehl

Early in life, I became bored with the boundaries I was given to examine my own existence. This set me off on a path of deep personal inquiry and worldly exploration as soon as I reached legal adulthood. I had to learn how to find myself.

What began as a spontaneous adventure in Central America evolved into a desire to see the Earth’s many human societies for myself and push the boundaries others had established.

Today, nearly ten years after I started my journey, I have lived and worked all over the world. The real world education I have received from traveling to over 45 countries showed me what I needed to become in the world as it currently stands.

Worldly exploration gave me a wide set of observational data about humanity. I use these experiences to form important principles for living. It shows me elements of my own potential I could never have known on a path of tightly controlled boundaries.

For years, I worked in education in unconventional international settings with children and young adults. I want to know how different cultures passed on knowledge and values to upcoming generations. It was also a chance to learn how to provide the support and guidance budding young people of all backgrounds need to thrive in their own identities.

I also learned about the importance of stories. We all use narratives to make sense of the enormous slew of information thrown at us in every single moment. If you can change someone’s narrative, you can alter how they interpret old memories and new experiences. This is the basis of my approach to helping others grow.

Intelligence does not run counter to emotion or humanity. It can be the tool that unlocks deeper levels of caring and humanitarian action. But the beholder must wield it effectively. I encourage people to develop their intellect to their furthest potential.