"We are defined by what we choose to reject." -Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
More broadly stated, rejection of something is a choice--an action. And we are defined by our actions and choices.

If we say "yes" to everything, we end up running around chaotically with no time and no energy and way too much shit to do.

In this quote from Manson, he makes it seem like we default to "yes," and saying "no" is the exception rather than the rule. Instead, it appears to me that maybe we should default to "no" and by so doing, be jealous and protective of our time, our space, and our margin in life.

The line quoted above also doesn't make sense in relation to a previous paragraph of his, which reads:
"The point is this: we all must give a fuck about something in order to value something. And to value something, we must reject that which is not that something. To value X, we must reject non-X."
But then he goes on to say that we are defined by what we choose to reject. Manson characterizes what we choose to reject as non-X, which means that rather, what we choose to reject is itself defined by what we choose to accept. Which is, in this example, X.

Again, more broadly and accurately put, we are defined by our choices, whether that choice is a rejection or an acceptance. And that, I think, is the key.

Acknowledging that we are out of control in many areas of our lives is, I think, a crucial realization. It is a critical step in understanding and accurately interpreting the world around us. Yet to some people, being “out of control” is a dirty phrase. They do their damnedest to control and manage everything in their lives, yet ultimately, they fail.

Over a Beer: Learning To Live While Out of Control

Getting some out-of-control practice in Moab. Photo: Aaron Chamberlain
"Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well-ordered mind than a man's ability to stop just where he is and pass time in his own company." -Seneca
Many people run to and fro in a mad rush to distract and entertain themselves to death. Sitting and thinking, being still and quiet with one's own thoughts, is largely uncomfortable if you've never done it before.

If you have never taken the time to sit quietly and think and work through what it is you believe and why you believe it, then the first time you try to do so, you will have a veritable storm of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings to process and deal with.

I think the first response to this line of reasoning might be, "oh yeah, I've done that before." If you've done it once upon a time, or one day long ago, or even one day last week, it's been too long. Sit and think, today.

"Additional knowledge of the minutiae of daily business can be useless, even actually toxic." -Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan
Oftentimes we think that by gathering more and more information that we become more knowledgeable and capable of living well and making good decisions, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

I guess this quote hinges on exactly what you define as "minutiae." If you're gathering important, high-level, non-minutiae information, then that could be a good thing.

Unless you're avoiding taking action.

What amuses me is the widely-accepted idea that somehow "being informed" about what's happening in the world makes us more equipped to handle the onslaught of events outside of our control. That because we know the latest news, we're more equipped to deal with the ever-present threat of a nuclear apocalypse.

Even on a micro level, being informed about what has happened in no way equips you to know what will happen in the future. One day, a change in legislation seems like a certainty. The next, the legislation has failed to pass, and no change has taken place. The next, it's back on the table. When will it end? Nobody knows.

Being tied to the ups and downs of the day-to-day minutiae is undoubtedly taxing and I would agree with Taleb: toxic.

Photo: (Mick Baker)rooster, via Flickr Creative Commons

As you think about stepping outside of your comfort zone, just remember: even if the haters aren’t screaming at you from the sidelines, your brain can be your own worst enemy, generating more than enough reasons to not try something risky. It’s called the resistance. The question you have to ask is: what are the reasons why you WANT to do something new? And which reasons are more important: those for, or those against?

So get out there and make your dreams come true, and remember: the most effective way to silence the haters is to succeed despite the resistance.

Read the full column on Singletracks.com

Photo: Aaron Chamberlain

"The question each of us has to ask is simple (but difficult): what can I become quite good at that's really difficult for a computer to do one day soon? How can I become so resilient, so human and such a linchpin that shifts in technology won't be able to catch up?" -Seth Godin
Computers and robots have replaced so many jobs that frankly, they could be coming for all of us. If we are not asking ourselves these questions, we could be in danger of being replaced by a machine.

Just because your job has never been under threat in the past doesn't mean that it won't come under fire in the future. I mean, AI is already writing basic news stories. WRITING!! How long will it be until AI is writing ever increasingly complex news stories? Where will the thousands of reporters who type ho-hum news and regurgitate press release go then? What will they do?

Are the journalists preparing for that eventuality? Not likely. They (we) are happy where they are, so happy with the status quo that they are blind to the change happening all around them.

This applies to everyone, though. Everybody thinks that their job is immune to technological outsourcing... until it isn't anymore.

So what can you add to the equation that a machine will never be able to contribute?

Photo: Steve Jurvetson, via Flickr Creative Commons

"The many speak highly of you, but have you really any grounds for satisfaction with yourself if you are the kind of person the many understand?" -Seneca
I think the core of Seneca's point here is that if you dilute your message so far that the many understand it, then you have diluted it to the point that it is so watered down that it lacks any meaning whatsoever.

Seneca's discussion of crowds and their many ills in this passage brings to mind this line from a very different source:
"You can either fit in or stand out, not both." -Seth Godin, Linchpin
In Seneca's address to Lucilius, it seems like this is what Lucilius is trying to do--stand out and fit in, which is an absurdity and an impossibility.

The choice is clear: stand out.
Make a ruckus.

Be willing for some people to not understand you and what you are about in exchange for connecting ever more deeply with the people who do understand. Who do get it. Who are your tribe.

As Seneca said earlier in the passage:
"Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those whom you are capable of improving." 
The first step in freeing your mind is to ask questions.

The moment we move from simply reading and ingesting the information that is given to us, accepting it word for word, and we start to ask, "is what I'm reading or hearing true? Is it correct?" we have taken a massive leap towards the goal of being a free and independent thinker.

But some people that think they are free thinkers may not be as critical as they believe. They may not know what they do not know. They may, instead, ask questions about some things, but not about others.

The person who questions one party in a conversation or debate and not the other has already chosen his side.

I'm personally resolving to ask more questions. To think more deeply. To seek more truth. Hopefully along the way, I'll find some answers, too. But even if I don't, it seems to me that the asking of questions is still intrinsically valuable and important.

Photo by Benjamin Reay via Flickr Creative Commons

If there is one thing that can be said that applies to the entire human race, it is that we are all different. We look different from one another, we act differently, we live differently, we make different choices, and we think differently.

If you are not willing to be wrong about your beliefs and preconceptions, you have failed as a thinker and, even worse, as a human being.

A key part of being human is to acknowledge your own fallibility, to acknowledge that we don't know everything, and that we are oftentimes, simply, wrong.

We don't know everything, and even when we do decide that we believe something, we must also consider the multitude of people that believe the opposite of what we do, and that many of those people are not unintelligent cattle simply following a charismatic leader. Many of them are also intelligent and critical thinkers who have happened to decide that the evidence points in a different direction than you think it does.

That said, it's difficult to live a life not mired in depression and inactivity if you are constantly in a state of questioning even the most basic of your beliefs. At some point, once you've examined the evidence (as much evidence as possible), you must make some decisions about the nature of the world around you. Personally, I also think you must arrive at a metaphysical framework for the world that you believe in, to keep your mind from spinning out of control

The stronger and more well-considered the position you hold is, of course the more difficult it would be for some outside source to change your mind at some point in the future. However, if you are not even willing to change your opinion no matter how convincing the argument to the contrary is, your failure as a human being is complete. Because we are all different.

Photo by Hansel and Regrettal, via Flickr Creative Commons

". . .and if it seems too hard to understand, it is because we are brainwashed by notions of causality and we think that it is smarter to accept because than to accept randomness." -Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan
Perhaps it isn't as much that we think it is smarter to accept causality, but rather it is easier for our brains to process and deal with a causal link than just to say, "there was no damn reason for this horrific event that happened--it just happened."

We as humans want to think that there is a grand narrative, or that at the least, if we act in a certain way, that other things will necessarily happen in response.

Randomness is a tough pill to swallow.

I still am not 100% sure what I believe in this respect--if chaos reigns, or if the order and narrative is just so complex that our human minds can't process or make sense of it, or we just don't have the temporal perspective necessary to make sense of the world.

An even more difficult position to hold would be that there is a grand narrative at work, but acknowledging that perhaps some things are seemingly random. Try piecing those two viewpoints together in your head.

Your comfort zone is dangerous. Your comfort zone promotes conformity. It keeps you in line. It keeps you from trying something new that you might fail at.

The problem is, that which you might fail at could also be a massive success. It could be the key to a transformed life that you never conceived of before.

The key to getting comfortable with the uncomfortable is to shatter your comfort zone by doing something that you've never done before in your life. And then finding something else that's totally new, and doing that as well.

Check out my latest Over a Beer column for my full take.

I am a firm believer in absolute truth. But just because absolute truth exists doesn't mean that the statements that we make to each other, the words that we speak to each other, are absolutely true.

In fact, there is a long stretch of ground between the complete, unabridged, unedited, unrestrained truth... and a lie. In this middle ground is where (most) of our discourse happens. (As long as we aren't outright lying to each other.)

All truth that we share with another human is not the absolute and complete, unabridged truth. It is always, out of necessity and out of our human limitation, the filtered truth.

Voluntary Filtering

The main type of truth filtering that we naturally think of is voluntary filtering. This could be leaving out facts, or not saying anything at all.

The more common type of truth filtering is when we smooth out what we say to each other. If we actually told one other the first thing that pops into our heads when we're in the middle of conversation, we wouldn't have very many friends. And often times, the first things that pop into our heads aren't even what we believe. The brain is a funny and flawed machine.

Involuntary Filtering

But the most common type of truth filtering is the filtering that we do without even thinking about it. If we're relating an event, everything that we're relating is colored and influenced by our perspective of that event--where you were standing, what you were doing, what you noticed.

Our perspective is then sifted through the weight of our past experiences--our biases, our upbringing, our world view, and more.

Finally, when have you ever remembered anything--even something that happened yesterday--in 100% detail, with no error and with nothing omitted? Telling the details of the passing of a minute--one single, solitary minute--in such a way that the truth is unabridged and unaltered in any sense would occupy the course of a day, if it were possible at all!

Asking for Truth

If we ask for the truth and expect to get the unfiltered truth, we'll be sorely disappointed. And if we ask for that, we are fools for thinking that we'd receive otherwise in return.

Emily Dickinsen said, "Tell all the truth, but tell it slant."

I say, we can't tell all the truth.

And what truth we tell, we can't help but tell it slant.

I think the key to her famous quote is to simply help us realize the unavoidable slant of truth in all things.

Photo: Death Valley. Taken by yours truly.

"It is often said that, 'is wise he who can see things coming.' Perhaps the wise one is the one who knows that he cannot see things far away." -Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan
The Black Swan, more than any other book I've read, has the ability to transform the way you think about planning and the future. As in, it seems to be utterly pointless in many ways.

We don't have any idea what will happen five years from now, much less what will happen tomorrow.

An injury, an accident, the loss of a job--these are all unexpected Black Swans that are still relatively minor on the scale of randomness, and yet each one of those things can massively change the  trajectory of your year, and even your life.

Another way to rephrase the quote above is:
"The wise man knows what he does not know."
A corollary to this statement would be:
"The foolish man thinks he knows what the future holds, but he actually knows nothing."
This realization is scary, but just because it's scary and uncomfortable doesn't make it untrue.

"Consider that two people can hold incompatible beliefs based on the exact same data. Does this mean that there are possible families of explanations and that each of these can be equally perfect and sound? Certainly not! One may have a million ways to explain things, but the true explanation is unique, whether or not it is within our reach." -Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan
This is such a strong support for the existence of an absolute truth. Especially the final idea: that there is undoubtedly one true explanation, even if we don't have access to discovering what that explanation is.

Even if we ourselves don't know the explanation, that doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. That lack of explanation isn't evidence for relativity and a plurality of explanations. And even if we do have a plurality of possible explanations from the available data, that doesn't mean that all those possibilities are equally valid (as Taleb has shown) or indeed that any of the options are valid.

Another quotation:
"Such insight should warn us that the mere absence of nonsense may not be sufficient to make something true."
So often it seems like we attempt to disprove a statement or an argument by pointing out the nonsense that it contains, but as Taleb points out, just because a statement is devoid of nonsense doesn't mean that it is right. There are even plenty of arguments that at first blush sound pleasing to the ear and attractive, yet they too turn out to be false.

The Moral: Judge the veracity of everything you hear with the utmost care and wisdom.

Photo: Filippo Minelli, via Flickr Creative Commons

In an attempt to bring a more conversational tone and the ability to analyze more creative topics--sometimes merely tangentially related to mountain biking--on Singletracks.com, I recently started a weekly column titled "Over a Beer."

By recently, I mean back in April 2016, so this weekly column has been going for quite a while now, and has seen 38 installments (as of the beginning of February, 2017). 

In my opinion, it's been one of the best projects I've launched in a very long time!

Here's some more background on this column:

Introductory Post 

You may have clicked on this article while asking yourself, “what the heck does he mean, ‘Over a Beer?’ I’m so not “over” beer—give me all the beers! I need more beers in my life!” No, you’ve got it all wrong. By “Over a Beer,” I’m referring to having a conversation, over a beer.

So often a person I am “friends” with posts something hyper-political, opinionated, or otherwise incendiary on Facebook, but instead of commenting back angrily, if it’s somebody that I actually care about, I ask them, “hey, do you want to go talk over a beer?” Because I would always rather sit down and get face-to-face with a friend and have a true heart-to-heart discussion, instead of exchanging context-less Facebook comments. It’s been my experience that those conversations are almost always interesting, beneficial, and end with the two of us still friends. A Facebook battle, on the other hand, rarely ends well.

I would personally love to chat over a beer with the amazing members here in the Singletracks community! I’ve corresponded with so many of you for so long that I consider you friends, even if we’ve never met face-to-face before.

But the reality is, I may never get to talk one-on-one with many of you—after all, there are about a million of you that use this website every month! So, I decided that I wanted to sit down with you all virtually, and talk “over a beer,” so to speak.

To achieve this dialogue, I’m launching a weekly column titled—you guessed it—“Over a Beer.” In this column I’ll share my opinions on various topics in the world of mountain biking, my observations, and my ruminations. Basically, I’m going to tackle any and every mountain bike-related topic that we might actually talk about if we met up and had a beer.

Fair warning: these columns probably won’t be fully-developed opinion pieces like this one. They probably won’t be well-argued dissertations like this one. Rather, you’ll be getting my thoughts and opinions in a raw, unfettered, conversational tone. So if you read an Over a Beer column that you think is missing something—guess what? That’s where you join the conversation! Share your insight, expand on what may be a brief or—let’s face it—simply shoddy discussion of a topic, by chiming in with your own insights, thoughts, and opinions in the comments section.

We are having conversation over a beer, after all.

Oh, and by the way, I totally encourage beer-drinking as you read these columns. And I’ll try to crack a cold one myself before reading through the comments section.