Quora: What got you motivated to start working out for the first time?

Prior to my first time working out I was 16 years old, 155 lbs, 6’1, with minimal muscle content. At the time my reasons for starting were mostly because I wanted to improve my physical appearance. All of my friends were athletes, and I dreamt of looking something like Brad Pitt in the movie Fight Club.

I am now almost 27 and since first starting I have only taken breaks from working out for 1-3 weeks a year. My reasons are now different as to why I continue to do it, but I am glad that once upon a time my main motivation was because I wanted to look like a shirtless movie star. I have included a narrative to my first workout to what my mindset about exercise is today.

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I still remember my first workout in a gym. I was sixteen years old and my best friend convinced me to join him for his workout. It was a rather terrifying and embarrassing experience. My friend was on the football team and had been weight training for the previous year and a half (we were sophomores in high school). Needless to say, his strength and technique were much more impressive than mine, and I followed him around the gym like a weak lost puppy. I struggled to bench press 75 lbs eight times (the bar with 15 lbs per side), my arms wobbled with every lift I did, and I could barely turn the steering wheel when I drove myself home. The experience was far from enjoyable, and I had a better understanding as to why most people give up on their fitness based New Year’s resolutions.

But there was a magical feel to the gym. Just from looking around you could tell that the people in there were a little bit different from the people who didn’t spend any time exercising. Some were fat, some were fit, some were somewhere in between. But they were all there, which was an act of will. A conscious decision. Right away it was pretty obvious that in order to look like the 1999 Brad Pitt I was going to need to develop a powerful will.

Eleven years later I still have the willpower, but I no longer care whether or not I look like Tyler Durden. Over the years it has become just as much as a spiritual thing as it is a physical one. The definition of physical itself has shifted as well. It isn’t so much about the physical appearance, it is about the physical capability. The most appropriate description I can think of would be functional fitness. It is about having the strength to do the things that the human body has evolved to do. I can sprint, pull and push my body weight, lift objects of various weights, whenever and wherever I need to. You don’t feel alive by sitting in an office chair for eight hours a day. You feel alive by moving. A regular dose of feeling alive is vital to the mental and physical well-being of everyone. I won’t get into too much detail, but if you want more depth I mentioned exercise in another one of my answer’s on Quora.

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The point I want to make is that whatever your reasons are initially, if you don’t give up and quit, over time there is a good chance that your reasons for continuing will change and perhaps contain more depth. Maybe today you say that you want to lose weight. Five years into it you might tell people you do it because it makes you a better person. Because it is a great way to live in the moment. Because you want to be able to play every chance you get.

Book Review: The Golden Spruce – John Vaillant

Overview: John Vaillant opens readers up to the forestry world using the tale of a man who grew up in the middle of it. The story itself revolves around this man, Grant Hadwin, and Vaillant reveals all aspects involved in the logging business. You get a grasp on the evolution of the industry itself, how the tools and techniques have advanced, and the type of people who historically had the most success at the job (and staying alive). Ultimately Hadwin ends up finding logging and forest clearing to a terrible and unethical thing, and he ends up cutting down a rare tree in the Pacific Northwest known as The Golden Spruce. The tree was unique because it had golden colored needles and was a very meaningful part of history of a native tribe in the area, the Haida. After the incident Hadwin disappears before his court-date (for cutting down the tree), and hasn’t been seen since. He has been presumed dead, but being a successful survivor in the outdoors no one is certain of his true fate.

After reading this book I have a new appreciation for the beauty and mystery of old-growth forests, a better understanding of both the history and the dangers of the logging industry, and how intense the climate can be in and around the Queen Charlotte Islands (thirty foot walls of water regularly bounce off of walls and create a lasting turmoil in and around all of the surrounding area).

Lesson: With human progress there will inevitably be an insatiable amount of widespread human greed. Often it is only in hindsight that we realize the extent of damage that our actions can cause to our natural environment. Just as it has historically been with all booms, silver, gold, lead, oil, even nuclear power, the logging industry is no different. The giant trees in this story told by Vaillant may never again be replaced, and if they do return it will likely be long after humans have vanished from the earth.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

Until about a thousand years ago, temperate rainforests could be found on every continent except Africa and Antarctica.

It has been estimated that a square meter of temperate forest soil can contain as many as two million creatures representing a thousand species.

Sitka spruce is the world’s largest and longest-lived species of spruce; it can live for more than 800 years and grow to heights exceeding 300 feet, which is tall even for a redwood. Despite the colossal end result, their beginnings are almost unimaginably humble: a single Sitka spruce seed weighs only 1/ 13,000 of an ounce, and yet it contains all the information needed to produce a tree that can weigh more than 300 tons— about as much as three blue whales.

Few people alive today have any notion of how it might feel to pull worlds up from beyond the horizon by faith and muscle alone.

From the vantage point of the twenty-first century, it is hard to say who was more inebriated by greed: the Europeans who were seeing profits in the hundreds of percent, or the natives who were suddenly able to leapfrog their way to the top of the social hierarchy and put on spectacles of largesse hitherto unimaginable by any potlatch host on the coast.

The quick and dismal failure of trading relations on the Northwest Coast can be traced to a pair of lethal ingredients: the fact that both parties brought extremely violent cultures to the bargaining table, and that neither side was willing to see the other as fully, “legitimately” human.

They cut the forest the way they breathed the air— as if it were free and infinite.

Accidents were so common in the early days that if a man was killed on the job his body would simply be laid to the side and work would continue until quitting time, when a boat, plane, or runner might be sent to notify the police.

The Haida narrative canon has a lot in common with the Bible in that both contain stories that serve a variety of functions: some are creation myths ; some keep track of family and tribal lineage; some are histories of the region and important local events; some are prophecies and others are told to instruct the young and remind the old. The golden spruce story, as it survives today, falls into the last category; it is a parable

Oral traditions are not so different; each version of a story is highly dependent on a given teller’s memory, integrity, agenda, and intended audience, but it also depends on the current needs of the teller, the listeners , and the times.

The truth is often somewhere in the elusive middle, and yet billions of people continue to be guided in their lives by just such liminal figures, most of whom—like Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, and Brigham Young— are long and safely dead. Were they alive today, they might be languishing in a heavily medicated limbo, or, if they were lucky, they might be sent to Dr. Lukoff.

What’s inside is knowledge, experience: the past. What’s outside has yet to be experienced. The knife’s edge is so fine that you can live either in the past or in the future. The real trick,” says Davidson, “is to live on the edge.”

Trees are simultaneously photo-and geotropic; that is, they are programmed not only to seek out the shortest path to the noonday sun, but also to directly oppose the downward pull of gravity. This is why most trees tend to be straight, well-balanced, and, relatively speaking, tall. What is more, they pursue these radical objectives tirelessly, in some cases for millennia. Viewed in this way, it could be argued that trees represent aspiration and ambition in their purest forms. Simply by daring to take root and grow, they bellow: “We refute gravity and entropy thus!”

historian John Perlin: “Civilization has never recognized limits to its needs.”

In theory, then, a 200-ton tree that has stood, unseen, for a thousand years and withstood wind, fire, floods, and earthquakes can be brought to earth, rendered into logs, and bound for a sawmill in under an hour— by just three men. In 1930 it would have taken a dozen men a day to accomplish the same thing. In 1890 it would have taken them weeks, and in 1790 it would have been a matter of months— assuming they were even able to fell the tree.

It seems that in order to succeed— or even function— in this world, a certain tolerance for moral and cognitive dissonance is necessary.

 

Quora: Do you read? Why is reading so important?

I provide a brief summary of why I think reading is important on my book reviews page, but I’ll get a little more into it in this post.

It is pretty hard for anyone to make a case that for the average person not reading is better than reading.  Reading is the easiest way to gain access to the thoughts and minds of people who have done/thought/experienced things that you never have. It is a way to relate to fellow humans, sympathize with them through their struggles, come to “ah-ha” moments when they say that thing that you could never put into words, and discover worlds that you never knew existed. Reading is a tool for you to expand your mind and become a better thinker. Without the ability to read what other people have written, life would be significantly duller.

As an example, I just got done reading Into Thin Air, a book about the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster. The book enabled me to become in touch with a side of life that I will never experience. I am not insane enough to want to summit Everest, but through reading I was able to gain a much better understanding of what climbing the mountain entails, what happens to the human body at high altitude, and how a series of small mistakes lead to a gigantic tragedy. With reading this book I not only learned a lot of new stuff, but I was able to feel similar emotions to what the author felt as he was there on the day of the disaster. The human mind is a powerful thing, and the fact that I am able to sit in a chair and have my heart start pounding while imagining being caught in a storm at 27,000 feet, is fucking amazing.

It doesn’t take much to explain why reading is important. Who wouldn’t want to be a little smarter? Why wouldn’t a person want to fine-tune their thinking? Why wouldn’t someone want to escape into a brilliant world that was painted by someone who put their creative talents out there for the world to see? Fiction or non-fiction, reading should be something that everyone tries to incorporate into their lives if they want to add a little depth.

Good reasons to start smoking cigarettes (Asked on Quora)

Here is the Quora answer for the week. A curious individual asks: What are the good reasons to start smoking cigarettes? Yeah, I couldn’t believe someone asked it either.

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There are so many good reasons to start smoking cigarettes that it is hard to narrow the list down to just a few. After a lot of in depth thinking, I found that these are the ones that I think are especially good.

If you are interested in lowering your physical capability

Smoking is a great way to limit the capability of your lungs. After a solid commitment to the nicotine sticks over a period of time, you will notice an increase in the difficulty of everyday tasks, such as walking up a flight of stairs.

Eventually you will be able to use your smoking as a reason not to do things. Say your friend asks you to go for a hike, you could respond with, “No thanks Tim. This smoking thing has made it so I can’t walk more than a hundred yards without feeling like I am going to have a heart attack.”

If you want to wake up in the morning and have to clear out your lungs

For some people morning wood just isn’t enough of a perk to start their day. If you become a seasoned smoker you will have the opportunity to start your day off with a solid bout of coughing in order to clear out your lungs. This might be ideal for people who like to check off as many things as possible on a daily to-do list. It is just another thing you could add to it, and it is something you can get done first thing in the morning.

If someone asks you what you did this morning, “I got a lot done actually. I cleared out the tar from my lungs, brushed my teeth, and swung through the McDonald’s drive-thru.”

If you want your voice to change

I know, puberty happened a long time ago. It can be hard to remember what it was like as your voice transitioned into its adult version. If you start smoking and work hard at it, you will get another opportunity to have your voice change.

There is something magical about the carcinogens found in cigarettes. They are one of the few things that over time can give you a hoarse, perhaps raspy version of your current voice. If you don’t really like the way you sound, you might as well give cigarettes a chance.

“I’ve been smoking like a train for three years now. I think I like this new voice. Makes me feel more rugged.”

If you want to be a part of a club

Smokers have their own designated areas where they can smoke with people who are also in the club. If you want to feel like VIP everywhere you go, join the smoking club.

The best part about the club is that you will almost always be able to find other people who are also in the club. Even at a bar in the middle of the winter, someone else will be standing outside freezing their ass off just to get another dose of nicotine.

A lot of darker things came to mind while I was writing this post (if you want to commit suicide slowly) but I tried to keep it as light as possible.

Some honorable mentions are: having your clothes/house smell like cigarettes (a natural air freshener), having an excuse to leave/take breaks at work, and having another item on your monthly budget.

Of course, there is no intelligent reason to start smoking cigarettes, but if you are really interested in any of the negative (positive) things I listed above, then perhaps it is enough to talk yourself into taking up the terrible habit.

Book Review: Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer

Overview: This is the third book I have read by Krakauer within the last year (Where Men Win Glory, Under The Banner of Heaven), and once again I wasn’t disappointed. Into Thin Air is the story of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster in which a brutal storm hit during the ascent to the summit for several groups of climbers. Krakauer himself was one of the survivors on the mountain that day. His story opens your eyes to a world you probably have very little understanding of. Life at high altitude is more difficult than I previously imagined, and the quest to climb Everest is an insanely dangerous thing to attempt. In the matter of weeks Krakauer experienced all magnitudes of the human experience. From adversity, to triumph, to confusion and disaster, everyone on the mountain on May 10-11 was pushed to/past their limits.

The 1996 disaster resulted in the loss of life for a handful of the people on the mountain that day, including the leader of Krakauer’s expedition, Rob Hall. (Scott Fischer, another expedition leader, also died in the 1996 tragedy).

I highly recommend this book. I read it in a matter of days and found myself experiencing tons of emotions. Shock, surprise, sadness, anger. Even if you have no interest in climbing mountains yourself, it is a great story.

Lesson: Even when risks are calculated and controlled by the best people in the business, things can still go terribly wrong. When people chase dreams that by all logical and reasonable standards are completely insane, there will always be the risk of the ultimate sacrifice.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

There were many, many fine reasons not to go, but attempting to climb Everest is an intrinsically irrational act— a triumph of desire over sensibility. Any person who would seriously consider it is almost by definition beyond the sway of reasoned argument.

Hornbein and Unsoeld arrived on the summit at 6: 15 P.M., just as the sun was setting, and were forced to spend the night in the open above 28,000 feet— at the time, the highest bivouac in history. It was a cold night, but mercifully without wind. Although Unsoeld’s toes froze and would later be amputated, both men survived to tell their tale.

Achieving the summit of a mountain was tangible, immutable, concrete. The incumbent hazards lent the activity a seriousness of purpose that was sorely missing from the rest of my life. I thrilled in the fresh perspective that came from tipping the ordinary plane of existence on end.

It seems more than a little patronizing for Westerners to lament the loss of the good old days when life in the Khumbu was so much simpler and more picturesque. Most of the people who live in this rugged country seem to have no desire to be severed from the modern world or the untidy flow of human progress. The last thing Sherpas want is to be preserved as specimens in an anthropological museum.

“Some people have big dreams, some people have small dreams,” he penned to a girl named Vanessa. “Whatever you have, the important thing is that you never stop dreaming.”

and there, at the head of the Cwm, fifty yards off the main track, I came upon another body in the snow, or more accurately the lower half of a body. The style of the clothing and the vintage leather boots suggested that the victim was European and that the corpse had lain on the mountain at least ten or fifteen years.

I quickly came to understand that climbing Everest was primarily about enduring pain. And in subjecting ourselves to week after week of toil, tedium, and suffering, it struck me that most of us were probably seeking, above all else, something like a state of grace.

“With enough determination , any bloody idiot can get up this hill,” Hall observed. “The trick is to get back down alive.”

Unfortunately, the sort of individual who is programmed to ignore personal distress and keep pushing for the top is frequently programmed to disregard signs of grave and imminent danger as well. This forms the nub of a dilemma that every Everest climber eventually comes up against: in order to succeed you must be exceedingly driven, but if you’re too driven you’re likely to die. Above 26,000 feet, moreover, the line between appropriate zeal and reckless summit fever becomes grievously thin. Thus the slopes of Everest are littered with corpses.

The ordinary pleasures of life at home— eating breakfast with my wife, watching the sun go down over Puget Sound, being able to get up in the middle of the night and walk barefoot to a warm bathroom— generated flashes of joy that bordered on rapture. But such moments were tempered by the long penumbra cast by Everest, which seemed to recede little with the passage of time.

 

Book Review: Flash Boys – Michael Lewis

Overview: Michael Lewis once again dives into the realms of the stock market. This time the subject revolves around the world of high frequency trading (HFT). HFT is essentially a way for traders (typically large banks) to use speed as an advantage to game the market and make gains while exploiting investors. HFT revolves around lines of fiber optic cable and strategic positioning close to the exchanges. Lengths of time in this world revolve around microseconds, small fractions of the time it takes to blink your eye.

Lewis uses Brad K as the protagonist of the story. It revolves around Brad’s discovery of HFT, how and why it is used in the markets, and his determination to shift the moral layout of the market and his quest for the creation of regulation to eliminate HFT trading.

This book is worth reading for anyone who has any sort of knowledge about the stock market. HFT really is a mind boggling thing, and it is hard to believe it event exists.

Lessons: Smart people will find ways to game/take advantage of any system that exists. Especially systems where there are large sums of money to be made. More importantly though, corruption can exist at levels that you never even thought possible. When I first read about the tactics used to gain an advantage in the marketplace my jaw dropped. It made sense why I never heard about it even though I studied it in college, most of the people in the market had no idea how it worked, and the few that did had no interest in telling other people about it.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

The 1987 stock market crash set in motion a process – weak at first, stronger over the years – that has ended with computers entirely replacing the people.

The U.S. stock market now trades inside black boxes, in heavily guarded buildings in New Jersey and Chicago.

“When something becomes obvious to you,” he said, “you immediately think surely someone else is doing this.”

Morgan Stanley wanted to be able to trade for itself in a way it could not trade for its customers; it just didn’t want to seem as if it wanted to. Of all the big Wall Street banks, Goldman Sachs was the easiest to deal with. “Goldman had no problem signing it,” the Spread employee said.

The best way to manage people, he thought, was to convince them that you were good for their careers . He further believed that the only way to get people to believe that you were good for their careers was actually to be good for their careers. These thoughts came naturally to him: They just seemed obvious.

What people saw when they looked at the U.S. stock market— the numbers on the screens of the professional traders, the ticker tape running across the bottom of the CNBC screen— was an illusion. “That’s when I realized the markets are rigged. And I knew it had to do with the technology. That the answer lay beneath the surface of the technology. I had absolutely no idea where . But that’s when the lightbulb went off that the only way I’m going to find out what’s going on is if I go beneath the surface.”

Dark pools were another rogue spawn of the new financial marketplace. Private stock exchanges, run by the big brokers, they were not required to reveal to the public what happened inside them. They reported any trade they executed, but they did so with sufficient delay that it was impossible to know exactly what was happening in the broader market at the moment the trade occurred.

Someone out there was using the fact that stock market orders arrived at different times at different exchanges to front-run orders from one market to another.

Brad knew that he was being front -run— that some other trader was, in effect, noticing his demand for stock on one exchange and buying it on others in anticipation of selling it to him at a higher price.

“I’m doing something I always dreamed about doing, and it was about the most depressing moment I’ve ever had in my life,” said Ronan. “I’m thirty-four years old. I’m thinking it’s never going to get any better. I’m going to be fucking Willy Loman for the rest of my life.” He felt ordinary.

The orders resting on BATS were typically just the 100-share minimum required for an order to be at the front of any price queue, as their only purpose was to tease information out of investors. The HFT firms posted these tiny orders on BATS— orders to buy or sell 100 shares of basically every stock traded in the U.S. market— not because they actually wanted to buy and sell the stocks but because they wanted to find out what investors wanted to buy and sell before they did it. BATS, unsurprisingly , had been created by high-frequency traders.

Ronan, for his part, couldn’t quite believe how ordinary the people on Wall Street were. “ It’s a whole industry of bullshit,”

“At that point I just got very, very pissed off,” he said. “That they are ripping off the retirement savings of the entire country through systematic fraud and people don’t even realize it. That just drives me up the fucking wall.”

“There’s fucking fat kids everywhere. When I was growing up there was no fat kids. It’s lost its charm.”

Chi-X was paying him more than $ 400,000 a year. And yet, with no idea what he wanted to do with his life, he up and quit. “I don’t want to say I’m an idealist,” he said. “But you have a limited amount of time on this planet. I don’t want to be twenty years from now and thinking I hadn’t lived my life in a way I could be proud of.”

It was astonishing, when you stopped to think about it, how aggressively capitalism protected its financial middleman, even when he was totally unnecessary. Almost magically, the banks had generated the need for financial intermediation— to compensate for their own unwillingness to do the job honestly.

“What does negative demeanor give you as a person? It doesn’t give you anything. You know that something happened . Your life happened to go in that particular route. If you know that you’re innocent, know it. But at the same time you know you are in trouble and this is how it’s going to be.” To which he added, “To some extent I’m glad this happened to me. I think it strengthened my understanding of what living is all about.”

If the incarceration experience doesn’t break your spirit, it changes you in a way that you lose many fears. You begin to realize that your life is not ruled by your ego and ambition and that it can end any day at any time. So why worry? You learn that just like on the street, there is life in prison, and random people get there based on the jeopardy of the system. The prisons are filled by people who crossed the law, as well as by those who were incidentally and circumstantially picked and crushed by somebody else’s agenda. On the other hand, as a vivid benefit, you become very much independent of material property and learn to appreciate very simple pleasures in life such as the sunlight and morning breeze.

Once very smart people are paid huge sums of money to exploit the flaws in the financial system, they have the spectacularly destructive incentive to screw the system up further, or to remain silent as they watch it being screwed up by others.

What can you start doing now that will help you in five years?

I’m going to start going for the gold again. I’m gonna get those 10,000 views in a single day just like I used to. I’m going to try to reverse the atrophy that has occurred on my writing muscle.

Okay, I never was getting 10,000 views in a day. It was more like 10,000 views in five months (and I think the statistics were overstated). What I am actually going to start doing is giving myself a weekly deadline. I have to write and post something by the close of business each Sunday. For now my topic of writing is going to be in the form of answering a question posted on Quora. My goal will be 400 words minimum and no limit for the max.

Without further ado, here is the first attempt with the question, What can I start doing now that will help me a lot in about five years?

There are a lot of things that you aren’t doing that you probably should be doing. So many that I could just write a cluster fuck blog post with a lot of fluff and very little content. Instead I will just say three things. One of which is something I need to start doing myself, two of which I have been doing for the past five years and they are the main things that keep me sane day in and day out.

You should exercise

If you aren’t exercising, you aren’t being human (okay, you might be a modern human). Most of the jobs we end up having create a situation where we spend huge portions of our days sitting on our asses. Human beings didn’t evolve to thrive in this sort of arrangement. This is why when you are out in public, the majority of the people you see over 30 are overweight. Their lifestyle revolves around being sedentary, and they combine it with a terrible diet (I won’t go into this, but eating healthy is something you should also start doing).

Oh, and when I say you need to exercise, I am not talking about the fifteen minute walk that your neighbor does each morning, the same neighbor that complains that they aren’t losing weight even though they are exercising. When I say exercise I mean sweating, working your ass off, doing reps until you can’t do another rep. When you are actually exercising, you feel alive. Sure, it might suck, it might hurt, but I can guarantee you that you will feel more alive in those moments than even the least mundane times in your cubicle.

If you really need a list of benefits of the type of exercise I just described then use Google. It isn’t just about looking better physically, it is being able to functionally be a human. It is about developing your mental capabilities. If you start today and don’t quit, in five years you won’t be able to imagine a life where you didn’t exercise.

You should read

If you don’t read, or more broadly, don’t actively try to learn things on your own during the next five years, you aren’t going to be all that much different/smarter than you are today. It is depressing to me when I see the statistics about how few people read in America, and even more so how there is this idea that all learning comes from school, and once we are done with school the learning pretty much stops.

People way smarter than you, people who have experienced things you can only imagine, people with amazing insight and ideas, have recorded their thoughts into places that you can access. Why would you choose not to tap into this giant resource that has been developed for you?

Absorbing the thoughts of others will help you formulate thoughts of your own. It can help you refine your interests and discover things about life that you never would have known otherwise. There is really nothing bad that can come from continuously reading and learning. Say you read a book a month for the next five years. That is sixty books more than someone who doesn’t read. The odds are in your favor that you will be a better version of yourself at the end of five years if books are a part of your life.

*Check out the books I have read since December 2012

You should learn how to program

Right now there is a good chance that someone out there is writing the computer code that will make your current job obsolete. Technology isn’t going to go away in our lifetimes. We don’t live in a world where every process is done as efficiently and effectively as possible. This means that people are constantly working to solve problems and create efficiencies. People who are able to integrate with technological advancements are going to be the people who find the most success in the future. Twitter wouldn’t have been a success if it involved sticky notes and a pen.

There is a good chance that computer programming will be the basic math of the future. If you can, start to learn it now. There are tons of resources online where you can learn to program for free or for very little cost. Last year I took a nine week intro to Python on Coursera, and since then have taken some HTML and Java classes on Udacity. I plan to continue learning programming, as I really do believe that the best thing someone can do to benefit themselves as we continue to make technological advancements.

After five years of learning programming you could probably write some software that could eliminate a common task. The possible upside is almost unlimited if you come up with an idea that solves a common problem for millions of people.

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As I said, there is a lot of stuff you can start doing today that will help you in five years. I can pretty much guarantee you that these three things will make your life better at the end of five years. That is unless you tear all of your abdominal muscles trying to do a Turkish getup on your first day of working out. Or blow up your house because your reading material consisted of a manual for a DIY meth lab. Or you write a bunch of software in an outdated programming language that has no scalability into the future.

Hopefully you already have the common sense part down before you start to do anything you haven’t done before.