I’m very lucky that my place here in Barcelona is on the top floor of a building. The apartment has access to a huge terrace (basically the whole roof). When you’re on the roof, you have great views of not only the main square below but also the famous La Sagrada Familia building. And, if you squint really hard, you’ll even see the beautiful blue Mediterranean Sea on the horizon. (If you still want to know why I left my soulless job in a human zoo called the Silicon Hell, then here’s your answer.)
The roof has a large table and a bunch of chairs. A friend and I like to invite other people over for some late night discussions. We talk about various things: politics, economics, traveling, women, making money, life, etc. We philosophize about the past, the present, and the future. The conversations are intelligent and thought-provoking.
However, the more time I spent discussing various topics, the more I recalled a popular Russian saying: “You can either be a lifelong philosopher or you can be happy.”
When I first heard it, I wasn’t really sure what it meant. Did it mean that happy philosophers don’t exist? Did it mean that happy people don’t philosophize? Did it mean that philosophers are all sad and confused individuals? Then again, what is philosophizing anyway? If I’m not talking about the meaning of life, then does it mean that I’m in the clear and can still be happy?
Over the years, however, I’ve gradually grasped the meaning of that phrase. The reason I was able to do that was because I started dabbling in philosophy myself. And I needed to stop being a philosopher. I needed to kill the inner philosopher before it ended up killing me.
The reluctant philosopher
One thing I learned about motivating other men to become stronger and overcome their obstacles was that it’s very easy to go from a bold and fearless maverick traveler who’s busily trying to explore and conquer the world to a pontificating philosopher whose only love is to talk about all that.
There’s really no other way: you cannot explain different beliefs and mindsets that could lead to improvement without philosophizing; you can’t teach someone something without first explaining to them how you believe the world really works.
When I say “philosopher,” I’m not talking about guys who study the works of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. I’m not referring to the different existentialist schools of thought. I’m referring to guys who love discussing things expressly for the sake of generating more and more discussion that, in turn, leads to more and more things that could be discussed.
Long ago, before I even had this site, I was a frequent visitor on a popular travel forum which consisted of other mavericks who loved traveling and living in foreign countries.
One day, a new guy joined the forum. There was something different about him. He just didn’t fit in. He wasn’t a hardcore traveler nor was he interested in becoming one. What he really enjoyed doing was talking. He loved discussing things for the sake of discussing them. He loved asking very open-ended questions that never had a concrete answer. One of his favorite questions was: “What’s the best country to visit?” His other favorite questions were, “How would a guy like me do in rural Brazil?” or, “Should I visit Chile or Australia?”
What was most interesting about all this is that he didn’t really care about getting an answer. The answer didn’t really matter. He wasn’t a man in pursuit of anything. He was a man in quagmire who wanted to talk and talk and talk as a way to fill the empty void in his lackluster life. Or, as he put it, he wanted to “get the ball rolling” and open up a discussion on top of other discussion.
I’m sure you know exactly the type of person I’m talking about. These are the guys who will dogmatically tell you that there’s something called “trying” because you can “try” to do something without actually “doing it” because while you were “trying” to do it, you stopped and decided against “doing it.”
Initially, I didn’t mind discussing stuff for the sake of discussing stuff. I enjoy having an intelligent discussion about all kinds of topics. I also figured that by discussing something with another like-minded person, I would gain knowledge and improve in the process. I thought that discussing something very abstract and hypothetical would actually help me embark on some action that I’ve been delaying for a long time.
I was wrong. It didn’t change a damn thing. No matter how many hours I spent discussing a topic, it never affected the outcome. Why not? Because there’s usually no connection between philosophizing about the action and the action itself.
Making it happen
What I eventually realized is that discussing the action and actually doing the action are two entirely different things. That took me a long time to get because I was tripped by faulty logic; I naturally assumed that the precursor to action is the intent of doing this action. It seems very logical, doesn’t it? As it happens, logic doesn’t always lead to greatness.
There’s discussing all the different ways of approaching a woman from the comfort of your couch and then there’s going out and talking to a girl you want to get to know. There’s discussing the pros/cons of an array of countries you want to visit, and then there’s actually getting on the plane and seeing them for yourself. There’s discussing a myriad ways of making money online and then there’s actually putting the steak in the ground, rolling up your sleeves and making money (via endless failing). In each case, the first action can bear absolutely no relation to the second.
For instance, one of my favorite activities is working out. It’s 100% physical activity. I come in, pull and push my own body or free weights. Then I go home. Easy. Simple. No thinking. No discussing. No philosophizing. Action. Action. Action. Result: I feel phenomenal and gradually become stronger and bigger. That’s how everything should be.
The absolute last thing in the world I’d want to do is to have a discussion about working out. That’s off limits. I’ve lived long enough on this planet to understand the physics of working out. There are weights. You push or pull them. Your body hurts. Then you go home. If the muscle you’re trying to work doesn’t feel pain, then you increase the weight. If you can’t pick up the weight, then you decrease the weight. It’s common sense, right?
Maybe not. Because it seems like common sense isn’t so common. The problem is that you can take anything and create a philosophical topic out of it. Just recently, while I was searching for an image for my “Get Your Ass In The Gym” post, I stumbled on the perfect image: a guy (probably Eastern European) is hitting a truck tire with a big hammer. It’s a very “old school” type of workout. That image was actually from a discussion thread on some bodybuilding forum. In that thread, one of the guys appeared confused and was asking others if this kind of “unorthodox” workout “is effective at getting you in shape.”
Well, let me ask you: what do you think? Do you think picking up and driving a heavy hammer into a tire helps you become stronger? Do you think it’s more beneficial than sitting on a couch and watching TV or playing video games? Do you think your arms, shoulders or some other body will hurt? Do you think the affected body parts will grow in size?
I mean, come on. Don’t be an idiot. Use your brain. Of course, it’ll make you stronger. It’s common sense. But, yet, instead of going out and working out, these guys are sitting behind their computers on their couches at home and are busy discussing the “advantages” and “disadvantages” of doing this workout compared to some other workout. These people aren’t serious about becoming bigger and stronger. They’re more interested in talking about becoming bigger and stronger. That’s an enormous difference.
Philosopher vs. the man of action
I hate meaningless talk. I really do. As someone who’s trying to make a dent in the universe, it makes me very anxious. But I also realize that I can’t help it; I was born with an introspective and analytical mind. I realize that I have an “amazing” gift to take pretty much any topic and discuss it to death without ever taking the corresponding action. And if you’re reading this now, chances are, you’re the exact same way.
That’s fine. Just accept it. There’s nothing you can do about possessing an analytical mind that’s always ready to introduce an opinion whenever a topic that you may be familiar with is being discussed.
So, if you’re someone who loves discussing things, but actually wants to do something about it, then your first order of business is to realize that regardless how much time you discuss some topic, it won’t necessarily lead to an action. Point. Full stop.
Just because you’ve been sitting on Latin American travel boards for more than five years, it doesn’t mean that you’re any closer to getting on that flight to Brazil. Just because you’ve been sitting on “game” forums for two years, it doesn’t mean that you’re any closer to fixing your approach anxiety. Merely discussing various things that you want to do or plan on doing is a really poor predictor of actually doing them. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no relationship between the two.
And here lies the beauty of the solution to this dilemma: you must separate this philosophizing aspect from the actual action itself. You must view these two things as fully independent. Of course, this doesn’t apply to those who have absolutely no desire to physically do anything (they can keep philosophizing), but it applies for those—like myself—who have a list of things that they must eventually conquer.
Best of both worlds
Okay, so back to the discussions some friends and I have been having on the apartment’s roof on these balmy Barcelona nights. The old me would’ve considered any of these discussions as a stepping stone to the actual action. But the new me now realizes that nothing should (and will) happen once the discussion is over.
The new me realizes that the actual hard work lies in doing—not in the endless yapping.
Separating the real action from the process of merely talking about action allows me to have the best of both worlds. I satisfy my analytical mind by discussing interesting topics with very intelligent and capable people, but I also satisfy my hunger by doing the action—whether it’s making money or going after a beautiful woman. There’s time for talking and discussing. And then there’s time for action.
I don’t have a problem meeting someone for coffee or drink and talking about practical things like traveling around Brazil or abstract things like the meaning of life. But I also know that there’s real work waiting for me once all the talking is over. And that work isn’t going anywhere no matter how much we discuss and philosophize about it. That work is not substitutable with mere words.
The irony is that, for those of you who have a philosophical mind and are eager to take what’s yours, the only way to make serious changes is by reading a philosophical article such as this one, an article that shows you how your philosophizing side is cannibalizing the other side, the man-of-action side—you know, the side that’s actually responsible for living your life instead of abstractedly pontificating about it without making any concrete moves.