"I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines.
They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up and boy does that help, particularly when you have a long run ahead of you." - Charlie Munger
I first heard of Naval Ravikant from his appearance on the Tim Ferriss podcast. It was an onslaught of knowledge. Just as you hear one nugget of wisdom, another one smacks you on the head, and you completely forgot what you were thinking about.
It was almost too much to take in. So I wanted to slow the conversation down and focus on his philosophy.
Naval is the CEO of AngelList, a company designed to help entrepreneurs get funding and find talent. He wants to help entrepreneurs create something they want, how they want. In other words, he wants to help them live the lives they want to in the area of business.
He is the former co-founder of Epinions. He also known for his skill as an angel investor. He has invested in many unicorn companies from Twitter to Stack Overflow to Uber.
Like Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger, Naval is a prolific reader. As a child, books were his best friends. They introduced him to the wisdom of the greatest minds of the last few thousand years. In this interview, he talks about the wisdom he's accumulated from these books and his own life.
Our conversation covered suffering and acceptance, how our human ancestry conflicts with the modern world, love, happiness, death, and self-actualization.
Here are the other three parts of the interview:
I really enjoyed this conversation, and I hope you guys do too!
How did you first hear about Killing Buddha?
You reached out to me first. So I went to your site to check you out, and I ended up reading the Steve Maxwell interview top to bottom multiple times. It's one of my all time favourite things anywhere. I was so turned on to it that I then went to Steve's site, and I literally read every thing he's ever written. What was shocking was how little of it was about his philosophy. His life philosophy was fascinating. I couldn't get enough of it.
I thought to myself, 'This guy is doing something really unique. He's taking people and he's approaching a different side of them.' That was very impressive.
The type of interviewee that I think is ideal is someone who has a lot to say about life but doesn't necessarily have that information out there. A good example is Steve.
Another good example is my interview with Firas Zahabi.
I think one of the greatest philosophers of the last century is Bruce Lee. But he was known as a martial artist first. So people didn’t necessarily approach him that way.
Can you talk a bit about how you grew up? What impact did your mom have on your success?
I actually don't talk about my childhood much because it wasn't that great.
I grew up in a single parent household with my mom working, going to school, and raising my brother and I as latchkey kids. We were very self-sufficient from a very early age. There was a lot of hardship, but everyone goes through hardship. But it did help me in a number of ways.
"Everyone that ends up becoming an extreme winner in society starts off as a loser."
We moved to the US when we were very young. I didn't have many friends, so I wasn't very confident. I spent a lot of time reading. My only real friends were books. Books make for great friends because the best thinkers of the last few thousand years tell you their nuggets of wisdom.
My mother uniquely provided, against the background of hardship, unconditional and unfailing love. If you have nothing in your life, but you have at least one person that loves you unconditionally, it'll do wonders for your self-esteem.
As I get older, I look for that same expression of love in other people, and I express it with my family and friends. Now I'm very happily married to an incredibly amazing woman. She's just the love of my life. I fell in love almost upon meeting her because she had that same ability to provide love that my mother did, not necessarily towards me, but towards her loved ones.
Everyone that ends up becoming an extreme winner in society starts off as a loser. If you're a popular kid, good looking, and have money, then you're just going to party and date a lot. Why would you stay inside and do pushups or read books? Make incredible art? To create anything great takes some suffering. And a bad hand early in life can turn out to be a good hand later on.
"Only through suffering do you have change and self-improvement."
It's ironic because we want to give everything to our children. But sometimes hardships can help you grow as a human being.
Yeah, it's a tough. Giving your kids everything prevents them from finding themselves.
I refer to your incredible Steve Maxwell interview. He said something along the lines that sometimes what you think is helping somebody is actually preventing them from learning their own life lesson. I can trace back all the truly great things that I am thankful for in my life to some incredible hardship.
Only through suffering do you have change and self-improvement. Maybe it's just me, but only through suffering do I make big changes. I think without suffering there isn't much progress because there isn't an impetus for change.
I spoke to Dr. Monika Ardelt, a psychology researcher who studies wisdom, and she said that the more negative experiences you have in life, the more opportunity you have to develop the skill of acceptance.
I think she is right. Some of it comes from acceptance, but some of it comes from change.
Our egos get constructed in our formative years, our first two decades. They get constructed by our environment, our parents, society. And then we spend the rest of our life trying to make our ego happy. So anything new that comes our way we interpret through our ego. How do I change the external world to make it more how I would like it to be?
"Usually when we suffer, we suffer twice."
There are two attractive things about suffering in the long term. One is that it can make you accept the world the way it is. The other thing is that it can make your ego change in an extremely hard way.
So maybe you're a competitive athlete and you get injured badly like Bruce Lee. Maybe you have to accept that being an athlete is not your entire identity and that you can forge a new identity as a philosopher.
What is suffering to you?
Actual real suffering is very rare. I would characterize real suffering as being experienced in the body, when you're sick or you're starving.
However, most suffering is mentally created. It's our thoughts and emotions. One overly technical definition of emotions is that you can think of them as the net present value of the future impact of the present moment as calculated by your genes.
Whereas I think of thoughts as the net present value as calculated by your mind, your memes.
Usually when we suffer, we suffer twice. Once through our emotions and once through our thoughts. So for example, when your loved one passes away, you suffer mentally because you think of all the great times you had and the great times you were going to have. But then you also suffer emotionally because of your genes.
It's very hard to keep that in mind when it's actually happening. That's where things like meditation and just getting older and wiser help you to distinguish between real suffering and mind and emotion made suffering.
So having practice of meditation can help you accept suffering whether it's a thought or an emotion?
Yeah. But it's amazing how little it helps [laughs].
You can be a long term meditator, but if someone says the wrong thing in the wrong way, you go back to your ego-driven self. It's almost like you're lifting one pound weights, but then somebody drops a huge barbell with a stack of plates on your head.
It's absolutely better than doing nothing. But when the actual moment of mental or emotional suffering arrives, it's still never easy.
"We don't always get what we want, but sometimes what is happening is for the best. The sooner you can accept it as a reality, the sooner you can adapt to it."
What does acceptance look like to you?
It's to be okay whatever the outcome is; to be balanced and centred about it; to step back and to see the grander scheme of things.
We don't always get what we want, but sometimes what is happening is for the best. The sooner you can accept it as a reality, the sooner you can adapt to it.
Achieving acceptance is very difficult. I have a couple of hacks that I try, but I wouldn't say they are totally successful.
One hack I try is stepping back and looking at previous bits of suffering I've had in my life. I write them down. 'Last time you broke up with somebody, last time you had a business failure, last time you had a health issue, what happened?' I can trace out the growth and improvement that came from that years later.
I have another hack that I use for minor annoyances. When they happen, there's a part of me that will instantly react negatively. But I've learnt to mentally ask myself what is the positive of this situation?
'Okay, I'll be late for that meeting. But what is the benefit to me? I get to relax and watch the birds for a moment. I'll also spend less time in that boring meeting.' There's almost always something positive.
Even if you can't come up with something positive, you can say, 'Well, the Universe is going to teach me something now. Now I get to listen and learn.'
To give you the simplest example: I was at an event and afterwards someone flooded my inbox with a whole bunch of photos they took.
There was a tiny instant judgment saying, 'Come on, couldn't you have just selected a few of the best? Who sends a hundred photos?' But then immediately I asked myself, 'What is the positive?' The positive is that I get to pick my five favourite photos. I get to use my judgment. I get selection and variety.
Over the last year, by practicing this hack enough, I've managed to go from taking a couple of seconds to think of a response to now my brain does it almost instantaneously. That's a habit you can train yourself to do.
What about handling a very difficult situation? Do you have any hacks that help you deal with them?
There is no end point to self-awareness and self-discovery. I think it's a lifelong process that you hopefully keep getting better and better at.
There is no one meaningful answer and no one is going to fully solve it, unless you're one of these enlightened characters. Maybe some of us will get there, but I'm not likely to, given how involved I am in the rat race. Best case is that I'm a rat that might be able to look up at the clouds once in awhile.
I think just being aware that you're a rat in a race is about as far as most of us are going to get.
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