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Can’t Buy Me Refinement

Merely surrounding oneself with, or acquiring the trappings of refinement or culture does not impart either.
Peter Berg

Refinement, culture and education are characteristics which cannot simply be bought. Just as having a gourmet meal catered does not make one an expert chef, similarly acquiring cultural objects or “refined” articles does not magically impart their owner with their characteristics. These things must come from within. One must understand why these things are considered items of culture, and one must internalize these realizations.

Learning Is Your Responsibility

Learning is the responsibility of the student, not the teacher.
— Unknown

I have often seen people who went to relatively unknown or “average” schools and universities become highly accomplished and educated, while students at very prestigious schools fail to learn half as much and end up destined for mediocrity. What determines the difference? Ultimately, the most important factor is not where one studies or who the teacher is, but rather how vigorously one applies oneself to learning. It is the student, not the teacher, who matters most in the learning process.

Truth be told, this is a lesson I wish I had embraced more fully and a bit earlier in life. Although I am very fortunate to have had an excellent education, looking back in hindsight (which is always a bit more clear a view than the present) I can see plenty of times where I wish I’d applied myself just a bit more; times where I could have stayed in and soaked up every last detail of some mathematical concept or philosophical idea, instead of perhaps cutting things short to hang out with friends or go for a drink. Certainly, studying relentlessly is almost never the more entertaining or fun option, but in the long run, it will pay off in spades. It’s an investment in the future, and the returns are great.

Start Them Young

I’m hesitant to admit this at my relatively advanced age (late 20’s as of this writing), but I keep getting presented with more and more evidence which seems to support the notion that the most productive years of a person’s life are the years between their teens and twenties.

Especially in business and entrepreneurship, the most productive and valuable years are the teens and twenties. It’s no accident that most of Silicon Valley’s hottest companies were started by college students or recent graduates. At that age one has so many advantages over older people. To name a few: (Continued)

Small, Medium, Large

Eleanor Roosevelt once said “Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.”

So true. It’s important not only to focus on thinking about ideas larger than oneself, but also to understand that it’s usually a waste of time to worry too much about what anyone thinks of you.

The people who are gossiping about you or others are rarely ever the ones who make a big difference in life. So don’t focus on gossip and hearsay. Focus on yourself, on pursuing your interests, and on making something of yourself. Don’t let small minds drag you down. Most of the time, your detractors are people who couldn’t do what you’re doing and are simply jealous. It’s much easier to criticize than it is to innovate.

Predicting Events

Humans are notoriously bad at accurately predicting future outcomes, especially if the prediction involves low-probability events. For example, many people would estimate the likelihood of a major terrorist attack to be significantly higher than it actually is (assuming the “actual” probability is calculated based on the most current available data).

In general, people are much better at looking at past events and discerning a pattern than they are at looking at past events and predicting future outcomes. We are built to recognize patterns and identify repeat occurrences, but we are rather bad at prediction.

Of course, that’s why statisticians and actuaries have a job in the first place!

How Women Think

It’s a mystery as old as the existence of the female gender. Women don’t even always understand their own motivations, so how the hell are we men supposed to understand them? Well, I’ve been taking notes over the years, and here are a number of observations to help us poor saps understand the fairer (and much more complicated) sex.

Read on for some sound advice regarding women, much of which, I’m sorry to say, was learned the hard way. (Continued)

Winning Friends and Influencing People

So you want to be a smooth operator, eh? Or maybe you just want to be more effective at carrying on conversations and directing them to get what you want out of them. Well, you’re in luck! Over the years I’ve done a lot of talking… and even more listening.

The result?

Some hard-won tips gleaned from countless interactions. (Continued)

On Leisure Time

Leisure time is critical. When one is running around like a chicken without a head, it’s difficult to reflect on life properly. And with reflection come all sorts of other benefits. When one slows down and takes stock of things, one has thoughts and realizations that might never otherwise occur. It’s also good for mental and physical health.

In Ray Bradbury’s book, Fahrenheit 451, there’s a reference to the fact that houses aren’t built with porches anymore. The book doesn’t make a really big deal about it, but I think this is a critical observation. The implication is that the powers in charge do not want people taking time to take time out of their hectic life to sit on the porch, think, talk to their friends and neighbors, and have independent thoughts. But this is precisely what we need more of.

As our lives speed up, electronic devices make us available at all hours, and more demands and stresses are placed on us, it becomes increasingly important to make time to reflect and/or meditate. Meditation specifically has a number of proven benefits for both mental and physical well being.

Beyond health benefits, however, taking time to reflect is important because only by slowing down can one see the big picture. When one is consumed with running from one place to another, or knocking out task after task, it’s almost impossible to have deep, meaningful thoughts, or see connections between things.

It’s no accident that Bill Gates, one of the richest, most powerful, and presumably busiest people in the world, intentionally takes two weeks off a year (see pages 2 and 4) to do nothing but read and think. He doesn’t reply to email. He sequesters himself with books and articles, and all he does is read and reflect. And in the process, he comes up with lots of ideas that he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Say what you will about Bill Gates, there’s no doubt about the magnitude of his success. And if he recognizes the value of reflection time, perhaps so should we all.

How Men Think

Men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Right. We get it. But for the most part women still don’t seem to understand how men think. (Then again, we don’t always understand ourselves, either.)

So we’ve established that men think very differently from women. But what the hell does that mean for you women in the real world? Well, below are several hints for the ladies out there to better understand men. (Continued)


Welcome to Mind Waste. For a while now I’ve felt that for all the wonderful collective wisdom available on the Internet, there’s no particular place that really consolidates general life advice. There are sites like Wikipedia which have a ton of great facts, and other places like Lifehacker which help you be more productive or get more utility out of certain things.

But I have yet to find a repository of general life advice and observations which help people learn to navigate life in general. At times we all feel like life should come with an instruction manual, but since it doesn’t, I’m endeavoring to write one.

This is my attempt.