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Don’t Pursue Promotions: Contrarian Career Advice from Ancient Sources of Wisdom


An Innovative New Voice in the Advice World

For the past six months, my friend Dale Davidson has been executing an epic project.

Eager to optimize his life, and frustrated with much of the advice he encountered online and in contemporary books and magazines, Dale decided to go back to basics and start drawing lessons from humankind’s most ancient and enduring philosophies and religions.

To do so, he focuses on one ancient philosophy or religion per month. During this month he chooses a core ritual to practice. He then extracts wisdom relevant to his  modern life from these ancient prescriptions.

The logic driving his project is simple. These systems have undergone centuries — and in many cases, millennia — of brutal cultural evolution. The ideas that survived this competition must have done so for a good reason: they work.

Why start from scratch in finding answers to life’s challenges, big and small, when you can reference the solutions human civilization has already painstakingly developed and tested?

I’ve been fascinated by Dale’s progress with this project, which he details on his Ancient Wisdom Project blog. I think more people should know about what he’s up to, so I asked him to write a guest post for me.

Below is the (epic) result. In the guest post that follows, Dale briefly summarizes the structure of his project, then identifies five contrarian tips he’s learned so far. To keep the article relevant to our recent discussions, I asked Dale to focus on tips relevant to career issues.

Some of the ideas below you may agree with and some you may not. But they should all get you thinking more deeply about how you approach success and happiness in your career…

Take it away Dale…


[Note: From this point on the text is written by Dale. — Cal]

Returning to Ancient Wisdom

During college, all I wanted to do was become a Navy SEAL. I won an NROTC scholarship, got accepted into training, and was ready to start my career as an operator.

Unfortunately, once I got to training, I realized I didn’t want to become a SEAL, and I quit.

Not knowing what to do with my life, I looked to bloggers for help. I discovered Tim Ferriss, and decided that what I needed to do was build a passive-income web business and travel the world.

So I did. I started a (unsuccessful) web business, took off to Egypt to teach and travel, and tried to create the life I thought would make me happy.

The thing is, I wasn’t happy. None of the standard blogger advice worked for me. I felt like I would never have a meaningful career or professional life, that there was something fundamentally wrong with me.

So a few months ago, I changed strategies. I started to look outside the blogosphere for help. I began studying and practicing ancient religion and philosophy to figure out how to live a meaningful life. Over time, I added some structure to this project and began to blog about it: calling the whole endeavor the Ancient Wisdom Project.

Ultimately, I settled on the following rules to structure my efforts:

  1. Every month I identify one positive trait or quality I’d like to cultivate in myself (tranquility, compassion, etc.).
  2. I then choose an ancient religion or philosophy that I believe will help me develop that particular trait. These philosophies or religions must be sufficiently ancient (at least 500 years or so) and must still exist in some form today.
  3. After I match the religion with the trait, I select one practice from the religion to adopt for a 30-day period that I feel will be particularly useful. Ideally it’s a practice that I can perform on a near daily basis.
  4. Then I do the practice for a one-month period and study the ancient philosophy or religion in order to maximize the effectiveness of the practice.
  5. Finally, I write about the experience on my website.

For example, the first trait I wanted to cultivate was tranquility. After a bit of research, I decided that Stoicism would be perfect for helping me develop this trait.

I then decided to adopt one physical practice and one mental practice.

For the physical practice, I decided to take daily ice baths, (to expose myself to physical hardship), and for the mental practice, I chose negative visualization, the act of imagining all the ways your life could be worse.

Dale in an ice bath.
Dale attempting to look upbeat in a Stoic ice bath.

Over that 30-day period of ice baths and negative visualization, I learned the importance of managing my perceptions of external events and observed noticeable improvement in my daily anxiety level.

Over the past few months, I’ve explored many sources of ancient wisdom (e.g., in addition to Stocism, Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam). In this blog post, I want to identify several unexpected pieces of advice from these experience. I will focus, in particular, on advice relevant to your career.

These ideas are not what lifestyle designers will tell you to do, and they aren’t always as easy to follow as what you might find in the standard Business Insider click-bait story.

But they’re based on insights that formed over thousands of years of cultural evolution, and therefore  represent some of humankind’s best thinking on these issues.

I hope you find this advice as useful as I have…

Contrarian Career Advice from Ancient Sources

Tip #1: Don’t pursue promotions

Promotions are wonderful tool for companies to motivate its employees. They’ll say that if you work hard, you can get a raise and a fancy new title.

For many employees, this is a worthwhile pursuit. There is nothing like external validation and more money to make you feel good about yourself.

But there are two problems with approaching your career this way:

First, promotions are not within your control.

There are a few reasons for this. There are a limited number of positions and titles in any given company. You are restricted by the inherent supply of positions that are available to you.

In addition, someone else will ultimately decide whether you receive a promotion. It might be your boss, it might be a committee, but it’s not you. You can’t waive a magic wand and give yourself a promotion.

Stoicism, an ancient Greek philosophy, teaches that you should only desire things within your control. Otherwise, you are doomed to be unhappy.

And what is within your control? Here’s what Epictetus, a slave turned Stoic sage has to say [Note: All cited passages in this section are from Epictetus]:

Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.

Promotions don’t fall into the list of things you can control, therefore, you shouldn’t desire promotions. If you receive one, you’ll soon get used to the new title and larger salary and begin desiring the next promotion. If you are passed over for one, you will be unhappy.

The second major reason you shouldn’t seek promotions is that it is likely you will have to compromise something you value in order to attain one.

Are you a creative type in a conservative company? Well, it’s unlikely that you’ll get a promotion without hiding your creativity to some extent.

Do you like to work on your own but your company emphasizes teamwork? If you stop showing up to meeting, people will question your dedication to the mission.

The pursuit of a promotion will come at a price, and it will sometimes be a price you shouldn’t pay.

Is anyone preferred before you at an entertainment, or in a compliment, or in being admitted to a consultation? If these things are good, you ought to be glad that he has gotten them; and if they are evil, don’t be grieved that you have not gotten them. And remember that you cannot, without using the same means [which others do] to acquire things not in our own control, expect to be thought worthy of an equal share of them. For how can he who does not frequent the door of any [great] man, does not attend him, does not praise him, have an equal share with him who does? You are unjust, then, and insatiable, if you are unwilling to pay the price for which these things are sold, and would have them for nothing.

Cal says that you should become so good they can’t ignore you. I agree that you should become “so good,” as that is in your sphere of control, but I say you should be indifferent to whether or not others ignore you. The Stoics would say instead:

“Become so good and stop worrying if others ignore you.”

If you happen to win praise and recognition for your good work, great! Just don’t let it get to your head. If you do good work and no one cares, be indifferent.

But, for your part, don’t wish to be a general, or a senator, or a consul, but to be free; and the only way to this is a contempt of things not in our own control.


Tip #2: Cultivate humility

If you’ve ever taken part in a workplace gripe session with your friends, you know that the conversation usually includes complaints about “idiot coworkers” or “clueless management.”

The universality of these comments would make you believe that all employees and bosses everywhere are clueless or evil idiots whose only purpose is to make your work life miserable.

We know this to be false, so what explains this phenomenon?

When you say your co-worker or boss is an idiot, the hidden assumption is that you are better than them as human beings. You are not conducting a dispassionate analysis of their behavior and coolly explaining how they can do things better, you’re just being arrogant.

This arrogance is making you miserable.

The word Islam, means “submission [to God’s will].” Implied in this definition is that you are not the center of the universe, that you shouldn’t follow your own desires, you should follow God’s desires.

Dale learning islamic prayer techniques.
Dale learning Islamic prayer techniques.

Focusing less on yourself is a key component to humility. Islam reinforces humility by requiring Muslims to pray five times a day (the practice of Salat), which includes a physical act of prostration.

Islam didn’t just teach people to practice humility towards God; they also taught that it was important to be humble in the way you relate to others.

Rumi, a famous Sufi poet, once said, “The fault is in the one who blames. Spirit sees nothing to criticize.”

Criticism of your co-workers is not really about them, it’s about you and your own issues.

In my own experience, I found that by practicing humility, I became happier at work, or at least, less frustrated. If a co-worker did something I thought was dumb, I would ask myself “Am I capable of making similarly stupid mistakes? [Yes I am]” When I thought senior management was making a stupid strategic decision, I asked myself, “Do I know how to run a company better than they do? [No I don’t]”

Cultivating a humble attitude towards others at your work will yield better emotional and psychological results than venting at happy hour with your friends.


Tip #3: Ditch work-life balance in favor of sacred rest

Work-life balance is a hot topic at the moment. We live in an age of distraction and fluid boundaries between work and the rest of our life. We answer work e-mails at home, personal e-mails at work. “Leisure” doesn’t even seem that relaxing. I’m guilty of binging on Netflix for hours and hours on the weekend. When I’m done, I feel sluggish and unhappy. I’m not working, but I’m not quite resting either.

Modern advice that advocates work-life balance doesn’t go far enough. Even the term “work-life balance” doesn’t convey the importance of what we need to truly flourish as human beings.

What we need is something like Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest.

Shabbat begins on Friday night and ends on Saturday night. If strictly observed, you are not allowed to cook, write, or really do anything that would be considered work. You are also prohibited from using electronic devices, as that would be considered “igniting a fire,” (due to electrical sparks in the circuitry of the device).

Does this seem outdated? Overly strict?

I don’t think so. To truly rest, you need to commit yourself to activities that are meaningful and rejuvenating, and ruthlessly cut out those that aren’t.

When you can’t use your iPhone, buy anything, or even drive, you will naturally do activities that are inherently meaningful. You will spend time with your family, go out for long walks, have fun conversations over long meals (with food you prepared before Shabbat), etc.

It reminds you that you have a life outside of work, that humans aren’t “beasts of burden,” that our purpose here on Earth goes beyond your career or job.

Consider these words from Abraham Joshua Heschel, a famous Jewish theologian,

“The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. Man is not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of his work. ‘Last in creation, first in intention,’ the Sabbath is ‘the end of the creation of heaven and earth.’

The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of the Sabbath. It is not an interlude but the climax of living.”

Instead of complaining that your work is taking over your life, make some portion outside of your life sacred, so you can truly feel rejuvenated.

Cal says that to achieve a remarkable career, we need to learn the art of deep focus at work.

Judaism would say to achieve a remarkable life, we need to learn the art of deep focus at rest as well.

Tip #4: Pay close attention to your feelings

I’ve been a slave to my emotions about my work. During particularly boring work assignments, I’ve fantasized about quitting my job to start a passive income business and traveling the world. In moments of anger, I’ve wanted to yell at my boss, make a dramatic speech to my co-workers, and storm out of the office.

I found that most lifestyle design bloggers play upon these (normal) feelings and use it to promote bad advice that will lead you to make bad decisions. If your job is boring, they will tell you to quit for an exciting life as an entrepreneur. They will tell you to find your passion or travel the world regardless of what your individual circumstances are.

Your feelings are important, but you need to learn how to correctly assess your feelings in order to make good decisions.

For this, you should follow the Jesuit (a Catholic order) process called the “Discernment of Spirits.”

Father Kevin O’Brien, a Jesuit priest, writes:

In discernment of spirits, we notice the interior movements of our hearts, which include our thoughts, feelings, desires, attractions, and resistances. We determine where they are coming from and where they are leading us; and then we propose to act in a way that leads to greater faith, hope, and love.

We pay attention to feelings of consolation, “…an experience of being so on fire with God’s love that we feel impelled to praise, love, and serve God and help others as best as we can,” and desolation, “an experience of the soul in heavy darkness or turmoil.”

There are a number of rules to follow when practicing discernment that are unexpectedly sophisticated for a practice that is 500 years old.

For example, take the Third Rule:

“With cause, as well the good Angel as the bad can console the soul, for contrary ends: the good Angel for the profit of the soul, that it may grow and rise from good to better, and the evil Angel, for the contrary, and later on to draw it to his damnable intention and wickedness.”

What this says is that just because something your doing feels bad or painful, it doesn’t mean the activity itself is bad.

Say you’re on a particularly stressful project at work. You feel exhausted and frustrated, and you think you should quit your job.

A lifestyle design blogger would say, “of course you should quit! A job you love would never feel stressful or difficult.”

A Jesuit, on the other hand, would ask you if maybe these feelings are temporary, and that if the project is a good one, maybe it’s worth completing. It asks you to consider that maybe the “bad angel” is trying to trick you into abandoning a worthwhile effort.

You may protest that you don’t believe in angels or God or spirits, but that’s not the point. The point is that the Jesuits had an advanced process for paying attention to your feelings that will help you make good decisions and avoid bad ones. The process is careful, methodical, and more importantly, tested over centuries of human experience.

I’ve used discernment when assessing whether or not I should stay at my job. My job generally leaves me with feelings of desolation. It may seem obvious that I need to quit, right?

Wrong. Using discernment, I discovered what I needed was to do something meaningful and that it didn’t have to come from my job.

So what did I do? I started volunteering at a homeless-services organization. I spend a few hours every month serving meals to the homeless. This has provided an immense boost to my happiness.

Do I still have negative feelings about my job? Of course, but I found a way to make it tolerable, which gives me time to assess what I really want to do for my career.

If a 500-year old Jesuit practice can help me, an agnostic, it can certainly help you too.

Conclusion: The ancients were wise; you should listen to them

None of this advice is as easy or as sexy as the standard, “quit your job, follow your passion” advice that Cal has quite smartly pointed out is nonsense.

It’s not that lifestyle design bloggers are purposely trying to lead you astray; I believe they are really trying to help people have meaningful lives and careers.

However, their greatest weakness is that their advice is not time-tested. Careers are fairly new inventions, and we’re all trying to figure out how they fit with our lives, so the fact that there is lots of bad advice out there is not surprising.

The ancients did not attempt to provide career advice per se (though some did), but they did teach people how to live good and meaningful lives in a world that is often cruel and indifferent to our desires. This same advice which has helped billions of people over thousands of years is still relevant to our modern lives and, can help us navigate even modern artifacts, like our careers.

To live a good and meaningful life, you’re better off following the example of philosophers like Epictetus, Catholic heroes like Saint Ignatius, or Islamic prophets like Mohammed than you are of following advice from the latest lifestyle design blogger.

But what do I know? I’m just a 26-year old blogger.

41 thoughts on “Don’t Pursue Promotions: Contrarian Career Advice from Ancient Sources of Wisdom”

  1. Great article!

    This shows that not all adage is useless. I’m excited to know when Dal will take up Buddhism and Hinduism.

    PS – At the start of the blog entry , it says “Be the first to comments” as no comment has been posted as yet. Shouldn’t it be “Be the first to comment” ?

    • I’ve noticed that grammar mistake as well (e.g., “ne the first to comments.”) I don’t know, however, where one would go to fix that. If someone knows…let me know.

      • Cal, I can help you out with that. It’ll take a bit of WordPress PHP editing through the backend though and can be tricky depending on your theme (as they often use different file names.)

        The editing I’m talking about would be in the WordPress admin panel under “Appearances” >> “Edit.” You would need to go through each file and figure out where it’s pulling the front-end text from.

        I’d be happy to give a hand.

        Shoot me an email: vincent [at] empireflippers [dot] com

  2. Recently I have spent a lot of time thinking about how Native Americans in the past thought and what kind of wisdom and insight could learn from their experience. The more I think about Hozho, the Navajo concept of balance, harmony, and beauty, the more modern the concept seems to become and how sorely such a philosophy is needed especially in such an anxiety-ridden and ambition-driven society like NYC.

  3. I very much enjoyed these five contrarian tips. I especially loved TIP #5, which I presume came from his examination of Buddhism and represented the wisdom of emptiness. 😉

  4. Awesome post! Really rich with so many useful principles and insights. Firstly, the idea of going back to what you know works and sticking with it is something we are sorely lacking. We flit from one hot quick fix to the next, never giving anything a chance of bringing about meaningful change. As as we know about the brain, we need to be consistent and focused for changes to last.

    Your last two points are also particularly meaningful for me, and so intertwined. So often people move towards the “rest” activities as a result of some kind of emotional trigger, so the motivation is more about numbing as emotional management than it is about deeply replenishing and healing.

    Thanks for a great post. I’ve signed up to your blog for further updates.

    And thanks Cal, win topic!

  5. Making me look back and recall the things I learnt when I was younger, about legends and philosophies. A lot of about good deeds, karma and the rift of the good and bad comes to mind.

  6. Making me look back and recall the things I learnt when I was younger, about legends and philosophies. A lot about good deeds, karma and the rift of the good and bad comes to mind.

  7. Great post, Cal. Really inspiring to read this morning. (I’m especially interested in the slant on not seeking promotion, as I’ve been thinking a lot lately about motivation, intrinsic/external motivators, etc., but the stuff from Ignatius was truly moving.)

  8. What a curious thing it is that we are created with a hunger to pursue wisdom. In the Bible, the book of Ecclesiastes “blogs out” Solomon’s journey. Dale does well to consult ancient wisdom for ways to live a better life. The crucial difference among religious approaches is that there are two kinds: one kind of religion teaches the seeker what he/she must do to attain wisdom, the other kind teaches the one aware of their poverty of spirit what has already been done, Who did it, and how to receive the blessings gained as a free gift. “d.o.n.e” versus “d.o.” It’s the difference between propositions describing wisdom and a Person who by relationship offers Life and progressively all the relevant wisdom necessary to live that Life. This Life offered is received by faith in the Person.

    Romans 8 is a highly condensed description. The Gospel of John gives framework and detail. The Sermon on the Mount describes the Life of wisdom that can only be lived by virtue (pun intended) of a new quality of life that comes in the moment called being “born again.” The Beatitudes (at the front end of the Sermon on the Mount) lay out a completely counter-intuitive view of how Life is to be lived. The poor are rich. Those who mourn are blessed. People in submission gain much. Persecuted people gain it all.

    Dale (and Cal), you’ve done well seeking. Eventually, everyone needs mentors who can describe the road not yet travelled and give encouragement. I’d be glad to dialogue.

    • Hi Robert,

      I didn’t dive too deeply into the Gospels, but I’m intrigued by your comment about the two different religious approaches: seeking vs. cultivating awareness.

      Do you have an example of someone applying each approach to his or her daily life?


    • This post was really cool in that I’ve never seen anyone take this approach of looking through multiple religions for modern advice. I agree that the Gospels are an excellent source if you have someone to guide you through them; in fact, you may find it beneficial to consider that there could be more to learn from diving deeply into them than from skimming the surface of many different religions. The Beatitudes shocked the people of Christ’s time since they seemed to go against all conventional wisdom and still bring deeper happiness. I wish you the best of success in your learning and hope you will come to know the Truth.

      Also, humility and Discernment of spirits FTW.

  9. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who prefers older texts over newer ones . . . I’m currently interested in a few books by Samuel Smiles. He’s not necessarily a theologian, but his thoughts on what it takes to improve your life are refreshing because they come from a different time period (late 19th century).

  10. I’m extremely skeptical of pursuing ancient wisdom just because it’s ancient, and would disagree with the statement that this knowledge has endured and been honed by ‘brutal cultural evolution’. The history of religion is indeed a brutal history. I would argue that that brutality is a large part of why these ideas endure. I would also argue that these ideas endure independent of a cultural error correction mechanism. That said, the guest author seems to be doing a good job of picking and choosing and experimenting with what works, and I commend him for that experimentation. Just keep in mind that the signal to noise in something like the bible is quite low, and proceed with caution.

    My personal opinion is that (luckily) we live in a time when the understanding of human happiness exceeds that of the ancients. The answers for the guest authors questions are out there and they have been produced by science – with a slightly higher signal to noise ratio.

    • This assumes that psychologists (to whom I assume you refer) are actually capable of measuring happiness, and that pursuing this happiness (or whatever they’re measuring) is actually worthwhile. I think the author, and the ancients he’s talking about, were after something deeper than “happiness”.

    • @Brian
      Thanks for the thoughtful comments. Some thoughts below:

      -Re: Brutality, religion has certainly been associated with brutality, but it’s hard to separate that from the other socio/political/economic factors at the time.

      – Re: cultural error correction mechanism, Nassim Taleb makes a smart point that it’s not that ideas survive, it’s the people that hold those ideas survive. So I think you’re onto something. However, over thousands of years, I doubt that people keep doing things that don’t provide any benefit to them. At worse, the practices must have a neutral effect.

      – Re: signal to noise, I’m not so sure about this. I’m certainly not an expert, and have only scratched the surface of these philosophies or religions, but I’m finding a lot of the rituals and stories and mythos don’t really make sense until you immerse yourself into them. As an outsider, the noise level may be high, but as an insider, it may all be valuable “signals.”

      – Re: modern understanding of happiness: Jesse makes a good point about the ancients being after something more significant than happiness. But I also think the value of ancient wisdom lies in the rituals and institutions surrounding the wisdom. It’s one thing to understand brain chemistry and psychology, but putting that understanding into practice with a social support structure is a different activity altogether. I think (surviving) religions and philosophies do that much better than scientific institutions.

      Thanks for reading!


  11. Very, very wise advice.

    One of the biggest things that I’ve learned is that to be really, really happy, you need to focus more inward and less outward. A lot of times people who appear “successful” really aren’t even that happy.

    Seek what authentically works for you and let everyone else live their lives as they please.

    To your brilliance!

    • The question can be asked whether life is really about happiness, which is a transient emotional state after all and by all human accounts, cannot last, or about purpose and sense.

  12. I don’t think that one month of any practice is enough time to extract real benefits or to transform yourself in a substantial way. It makes for interesting blog posts though.

    • One month is definitely a short period of time, especially considering these religions and philosophies are designed to be life-long practices.

      However, I’ve been surprised that I’ve been able to benefit in some way from each of my experiments, even if it’s not as deep or permanent as I would like.

  13. Dale, I really appreciated the principles you presented. You mentioned in your criteria that you only focus on religions with at least 500 years of history. I would be interested to see you spend a month with the doctrine from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). While the church was founded in 1830, as members we believe the church to be the restored church of Jesus Christ, which would fit your age restriction.

    • I’ve thought about it, and it would certainly be interesting. The problem I’m finding with Christianity is that the older the particular branch is, the more it looks like the Catholic Church (which I’ve done already). And if I choose a practice from a newer sect of Christianity, like LDS, I’m not sure it would have undergone significant cultural evolutionary pressure.

      I’m still mulling it over, so maybe I’ll change my mind in the future.

      • The New Testament is a complete fabrication, from start to finish. It was written by Josephus Flavius, a Jew who went over to the Roman side, in order to undermine Judaism, which was a thorn in the side of the Roman Empire. He wanted to create an alternative religion for people to flock to, in order to prevent people from converting to Judaism, and he succeeded hugely. The alternative religion that he devised (birth in a manger, a last supper, etc.) was based almost entirely on something known as Mithraism.

  14. To Dale and Cal, first off, I want to say “Thank You” in your attempt to do a blog post that in some way gives folks advice. Now, I sent you Dale an email, because as a retired military guy, there is one word that is hard for me to see anyone do and that is QUIT.

    Whether you are happy or not, you should never QUIT anything you start in life. That is a strong principle to live by and like religions, that is a test of your character as a man and I am sure along the way of your young life or if you ever have kids, you don’t want to teach them to QUIT anything they start.

    Secondly, to Cal, you have written your book lately and are giving folks “career advice”, but I am having a problem with someone that is more of a ACADEMIAN than some type of career advisor or counselor to folks. I don’t see how going to college and then being a teaching assistant, thus leading to your professors job at Georgetown leads you to give career advice.

    To me, as a retired military guy, MBA, taught college marketing, had a couple businesses, done recruiting and counseling, I believe I have the “skills” like you mention in your book, which I have acquired and earned since 1986 and I have seen how now, social media (twitter, FB, blogging, etc…) and folks like you doing research and writing books, is getting people to think you are “experts”, but you Cal even have to agree, don’t you have to have gained over 10,000hrs as some sort of businessman, career counselor or advisor or consultant to give folks on your website or even in a book advice on having a career?

    Don’t you have to have a HISTORY of some sort of career? Dont you or David have to have a history of JOBS on a resume in order to give folks advice?

    I will have to say “HELL YEAH YOU DO”. Our society is so jaded and even times gullible that if someone puts out a fucking book or info product and starts peddling it all over the internet and gets an interview on the radio or TV, somehow they are an expert on the topic? Hell no they aren’t.

    If it sounds like I am a little preturbed with both of you, I am guys. If you Cal want to give advice about college and schooling, which you did in your first three books, HOOAH, great, you are skilled and have the aptitude to do so, but don’t generalize or try to tell people they shouldn’t be passionate or love what they do to be successful, that’s is just plain ignorant. You being the computer scientist you are and well versed in academia, you should know that your one book and the small sampling and variables that you came up with and put in your recent book doesn’t make your argument valid and it sure in the hell doesn’t give you any creditability and make your points valid from a career advice standpoint.

    Now to you Dale, you are still young and you should get your ass back on the saddle and finish what you QUIT…..get your ass back to the Navy and finish what you intended with becoming a SEAL…’s the RIGHT THING TO DO and you will no longer have to tell yourself you are a QUITER. The word FORGE is used a lot in the Special Community and for some reason you felt many years ago you couldn’t forge through and complete BUD’s and one day become a SEAL. I would hate to see a young man have regrets in life, I see it all the time and I now in my 40’s, have a few too.

    Don’t make the same mistake that many other young men like yourself do, become confused and unsure with where your life is going. The finding your life’s purpose through religious studying and practicing is very commendable and I really appreciate what a young guy like you is going, but FINISH WHAT YOU STARTED many years ago and somehow someway, try to finish your obligation to the NAVY, they paid your ass through college and you owe them. Plus, you QUIT BUD’s and you owe it to yourself to try again and let the BUD’s instructors kick your ass to the curb or tell you that you aren’t cutting it, but don’t ever QUIT IN LIFE…..I hope you hear me Dale, QUITTING IS NEVER AN OPTION IN LIFE …..HOOAH !!!

    Good luck to both of you and I hope this old military retired Sarge has taught you both something that will help you in your lives, I really do. The best career advice I can give both of you…..DO WHAT YOU ARE GOOD AT, LOVE WHAT YOU DO, DON”T BE A FOLLOWER, and like Dr. Michael Porter from Harvard Business School has always taught since the 80’s, create a Sustainable Competitive Advantage against your competition, this way you will always be steps ahead of them and create that niche market that is unique and satisfies a NEED or WANT of your consumers.

    That’s my 2 cents, tips, and overall opinion, so take it, use it, or leave it and hope you all succeed with whatever career path you continue to go down.



    • Hi Tom,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I feel some of the advice you left is a bit circumspect (as you feel my advice is circumspect).

      My response:

      Re: Never quitting. Are you saying to never quit anything? Or to not quit anything without good reason. I’m more inclined to agree with the latter. I’m also more inclined to agree if you follow Cal’s advice of carefully selecting the things you start. For example, if as a high schooler I decide I want to be a circus clown, and I start down that road, should I not quit until I have a successful career as a circus clown? [No offense to any happy circus clowns here.]

      Re: Having experience before offering advice. I agree with your point, mostly. The advice I offer is based on my experience and should be taken with that context in mind. Specifically with my project, however, my premise is that we can rely on the experiences of billions of people over thousands of year to extract wisdom that is applicable to our own lives. I merely transmit these ideas to interested readers. Under your argument, if your parents told you not to touch a hot stove, and you never have, you are not qualified to tell other people to not touch a hot stove, even though that is good advice. I think it would be foolish not to learn from the experience of others and transmit those lessons to other people, even if we haven’t had those experiences ourselves.

      Re: Me returning to BUD/s. Aside from the logistical problems of doing so, I don’t have an interest in doing so anymore. That part of my life is over, and while I sometimes have regrets and still question whether I made the right decision, it doesn’t make sense to fix a “mistake” I made in the past by returning the past. I’m extracting whatever lessons I can from that experience and applying it to my life now. It would be like quitting your high school football team, having regrets about doing that, and then trying to fake being a high school student again so you can join the football team and not quit. Regrets are most useful as guides for present behavior, and not an excuse to return to the past.

      Thanks for commenting.


  15. The core ideas of this excellent post resonated with me. After a hiatus, I’m eager to resume reading the diverse and intriguing subjects that you cover in your blog. Keep up the great work, Cal! The premise of this post, which you mention at the outset (i.e. “These systems have undergone centuries — and in many cases, millennia — of brutal cultural evolution. The ideas that survived this competition must have done so for a good reason: they work.”) makes total sense. Also, I really appreciated “Tip #2: Cultivate humility” that the featured writer (Dan Davidson) shared. Finally, I’d like to mention an eminently readable book that also covers some of these, and related, topics: It is Jonathan Haidt’s “The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom” (Basic Books). I’ve read only portions of that book, and it’s pretty cool.

    • Hi Akram,

      I read the Happiness Hypothesis not too long ago and included some of Haidt’s ideas in my posts. It’s a great book! I think he does a good job of using modern psychology research to back up ancient ideas.


      • Hi Dale – I’m delighted to hear that you’ve enjoyed and appreciated Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis; it stands out in my mind as having a high Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) of ideas-to-pages. I’ll be sure to revisit and check out your posts that touch on some of Haidt’s ideas! Thanks for pointing that out.

  16. Excellent post Dale, and I have been closely following the Ancient Wisdom Project. The key aspect that resonates very strongly with me is the application (and associated reflection) to everyday situations that you share that are derived from these principles- which we often don’t actively take the time to think about or consider. I look forward to continuing to read your future posts, and to personally engage more actively in reflection.

  17. Dale, thank you for this article. Your point on promotions certainly struck a nerve. I’m still interested in growing through challenges and developing more skills. But promotions per se are less attraction (especially when large companies have a forced bell curve ranking method for performance).

    P.S. I really liked the article (and shared it on Facebook) but I felt that there were some vague parts. Who exactly is “lifestye design bloggers”? Do you mean Tim Ferriss? Some specific examples and quotes would have improved this already very strong article even more.

    • Thanks for the kind words Bruce.

      To your point about defining who lifestyle design bloggers are, Tim Ferriss is a good symbol of the movement (because he pretty much started it).

      Some characteristics of lifestyle design philosophy are:

      – Excessive focus on not working a day job
      – Excessive focus on productivity to free up a large percentage of your time
      – A cliche vision of the “dream lifestyle” which usually involves working from an exotic beach
      – Prioritizing above all else your personal desires for your life
      – Minimizing the role of hard work while focusing attention on the results of hard work (having a successful business that runs itself)

      I agree that the article could have been stronger with a few quotes, but I think lifestyle designers fall into the “I know it when I see it” category.

      Thanks for the suggestion!


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