Life Will Always Be Chaotic & Uncertain — And That's OK
Good morning, friends.
They say the greatest lottery in life is where you were born. For my family, that lottery was much more literal.
In 1999, my parents and I were living in Bulgaria. My dad had picked me up from school, and as we approached our building, a neighbor called out to him that some of our mail was delivered to their apartment instead. She handed him a thick envelope, and his eyes widened until he opened it and yelled, “Yes!” approximately one hundred times.
We had won a green card to come to the United States. The U.S. green card lottery has been called “the unwinnable lottery” because only one quarter of 1% of applicants actually end up with the golden ticket. Without that absurd stroke of luck, my life would’ve turned out quite differently.
Friday marked 20 years since we set foot in America. Never once did I think I’d celebrate this anniversary quarantined in my apartment, but there’s something right now that’s very reminiscent of that day in April 2000: A gnawing sense of uncertainty about the future.
And let me clarify: I’m not talking about the uncertainty we were used to feeling on a daily basis pre-COVID-19. I’m talking about an avalanche of uncertainty. It’s a complete feeling of overwhelm — there’s too much information, there are more questions than answers, and no one knows when the discomfort will end.
I still remember how on the first day of school, my dad walked me to my classroom several minutes late, and the other kids had already stood up to say the Pledge of Allegiance. I asked him what was going on, and he had no clue so he just told me that’s how they “welcomed the new students.” I felt the weight of foreign information, too many questions, and lots of discomfort.
So when COVID-19 hit, it felt like whatever illusion of control we had built into our lives was ripped from us overnight. The security blanket was gone, and we were suddenly all that wide-eyed kid standing at the door of the classroom being like, “What the hell happens now?”
It’s amazing how quickly your brain can catapult you to the past. I’m feeling the familiar blade of that uncertainty again. I was supposed to get married this weekend, my family from Bulgaria had plans to be in New York, and I’m in the beginning stages of building a business. Life ahead feels like one big question mark.
Here’s what I try to remind myself though: You’ve faced this level of disorienting chaos before, and the puzzle pieces fell into place. It wasn’t by accident.
James Clear has an excellent piece about how there are infinitely more ways that things can go wrong than right. The future is always unpredictable and life always seems to get more complicated. The odds are against us, and it’s an absolute miracle that we can overcome disorder and bend the universe to our wills in the first place. “Optimal lives are designed, not discovered,” Clear writes.
None of us can accurately predict what the next few months or years have in store. The important thing to keep in mind is that your life has been stress-tested before. You’ve likely been in seemingly impossible situations — tight on money, failed in business, or lost a loved one. And here you are today, still alive, still breathing, still hopeful.
So if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last 20 years is that we’re not fragile. We can handle the unexpected whether we’re 8, 28, or 88. The only thing we know for certain is that life will continue to be random and chaotic, but we can lean on the fact that we’re capable.
On April 17, 2000, I couldn’t speak, read, or write in English. Today, I make a living by playing with the same words I once couldn’t spell. The ability to build (and re-build) our lives deliberately is what gives us confidence in the face of uncertainty. We could all use a reminder that pain begets growth.
THE DOSSIER: On Wednesday, you received The Profile Dossier, a comprehensive deep-dive on a prominent individual. It featured Chris Voss, an FBI hostage negotiator who spent 24 years of his career interacting with some of the world’s most dangerous criminals. Read it here.
— The brilliant coder who lost himself (**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**)
— America’s doctor
— Kanye West’s vision for the future
— The woman fighting America’s other epidemic
— The politician giving up politics for a higher cause
— The disease modeler sidelined by scandal
— The goat farmer who built a doomsday machine
— The royal rebel
— The heroes on the frontlines
— The lab hacking your dreams
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PEOPLE TO KNOW.
The brilliant coder who lost himself: This profile raises the elusive philosophical question: If a person isn't himself, who is he?Lee Holloway was the third co-founder of tech firm Cloudflare. He programmed it into being. But then things started to become strange. His personality would warp and twist until he became almost unrecognizable to the people who knew him best. This is a tragic and devastating story that will stay with you for days. (WIRED)
“There are no tight anchors to your sense of self anymore, and the boundaries of self become loose.”
America’s doctor: Anthony Fauci is the country’s leading expert on infectious disease and a member of the Trump Administration’s coronavirus task force. Americans have come to rely on his authoritative presence, and his willingness to deliver the facts in a pragmatic, no-nonsense way. As someone who has advised several presidents, Fauci has developed a method for dealing with political leaders in times of crisis: “I go to my favorite book of philosophy, ‘The Godfather,’ and say, ‘It’s nothing personal, it’s strictly business.’” (The New Yorker)
“You stay completely apolitical and non-ideological, and you stick to what it is that you do. I’m a scientist and I’m a physician. And that’s it.”
Kanye West’s vision for the future: Kanye West has revolutionized music, fashion, and sneakers. Now, he’s turning his attention to the building blocks of family life — food, clothing and shelter. The writer spent three months following Kanye across three countries to talk to him about his next album, his “altered ego,” and his renewed faith in God. This is a great one. (GQ)
"Life is a song that’s already been written, that takes your entire life to hear."
The woman fighting America’s other epidemic: Nikki King grew up in an area of eastern Kentucky where the opioid problem rapidly turned into an opioid crisis. A decade after she left her hometown to go to college, King has become one of the leading voices on the opioid crisis in rural America. She has created a treatment program to help people in remote, underfunded areas, and its results are promising. Can it be replicated on a large-enough scale to turn back the tide? (The Atlantic)
“At 14, I could’ve pointed out everybody who would be dead of overdose today, and I would’ve been right. If I can do that at 14, how are we letting them fall through the cracks?”
The politician giving up politics for a higher cause: Ready for this? Cyrus Habib has been blind since he was eight years old, but that hasn’t stopped him from achieving more than most of us ever will in our entire lives. He’s beaten cancer, he trekked to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, and he became the lieutenant governor of Washington at 35. But he ultimately decided politics wasn’t for him. His next challenge? Become a Catholic priest at age 38. (The New York Times)
“Look at what we’re going through now. Something that you can’t even see with the naked eye is ravaging us.”
The disease modeler sidelined by scandal: Over the years, mathematician Eva Lee's expertise has been tapped to help predict the course of MERS and early iterations of SARS. She has also worked with the CDC in combating the Zika, H1N1, and Ebola outbreaks. She had recently turned her attention to the coronavirus, but there’s just one problem: In December, she was charged in U.S. District Court with two felonies to which she pled guilty. Lee’s talents are in high-demand, but at the moment, her hands are tied. (Undark)
“My wings are clipped.”
The goat farmer who built a doomsday machine: Mark Spitznagel capitalizes on catastrophe — and he’s waited 12 years for one to occur. Spitznagel’s $4.3 billion (assets) firm Universa Investments and his team of PhDs, mathematicians and trading experts earn their money by making trades that nearly always lose small sums — but very rarely generate astronomical payouts. Until one day a black swan appears — terrorists ram jets into skyscrapers or a global pandemic freezes the global economy — and then the tables turn. So far in 2020, the hedge fund has returned 4,000%. (Forbes)
“We exploit properties in markets that take years and years, and even decades, to show themselves.”
The royal rebel: Princess Anne is the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth. Her stoic nature, sharp wit, and occasional defiance have earned her worldwide respect. She broke with royal tradition by choosing not to give her children HRH titles when they were born, she’s the only royal to have a criminal conviction, and she was banned from driving for a month after repeatedly speeding. Here’s a profile of a (relatively) down-to-earth working royal. (Vanity Fair)
“I don’t think this younger generation [of royals] probably understands what I was doing in the past.”
The heroes on the frontlines: During the coronavirus outbreak, workers across a vast array of industries have found themselves essential parts of the machine that keeps the world in motion. They include physicians, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers. TIME featured 12 people whose stories detail the triumphs and fears they face on a daily basis. (TIME)
“I also learned especially going to war that a smile can go a long way to making people feel better about everything that’s going on.”
COMPANIES TO WATCH.
The lab hacking your dreams: We spend one third of our lives sleeping, and during that time, our minds take up residence in the unknown regions of the subconscious. We dream, but we don’t fully understand why. Rather than simply exploring the role of dreams in our lives, the researchers at MIT’s Dream Lab want to see what happens when they interfere with them. The lab’s goal is to prove that when dreams are hacked, augmented, and swayed, our waking lives will benefit. (WIRED)
“The unconscious, it’s another kind of intelligence. We can learn from it.
— Mark Cuban’s presidential ambitions
— Alicia Keys on the art of being herself
— Ramit Sethi on accepting reality
— Kanye West’s newfound peace
— Jane Fonda’s final act
— Scooter Braun’s talent discovery secrets
— Bethany Hamilton’s life of persistence
AUDIO TO HEAR.
Mark Cuban’s presidential ambitions: Mark Cuban has been on a media blitz lately, talking about his ambitions for political office. And he has some strong opinions on the future of capitalism. In order for it to thrive post-COVID, capitalism will have to be a lot more compassionate, he says. Cuban believes that how you treat your employees and customers during this crisis will define your company brand forever. If you’re an entrepreneur, this is a must-listen.
“You’re going to have to put employees first, you’re going to have to put shareholders last and that’s going to be good for business.”
Alicia Keys on the art of being herself: In this podcast episode, Alicia Keys opens up about her journey from self-censorship to full expression. “The craziest part is that it’s taken me so long to peel down the layers, the armor, and the masks,” she says. She discusses growing up in Hell’s Kitchen and Harlem, how she grappled with private heartaches, and the courage it took to find her own voice.
“I found myself in so many positions altering small pieces of myself to either please someone else or fit in better to what I thought they wanted me to be.”
Ramit Sethi on accepting reality: Personal finance expert Ramit Sethi says the worst thing you can do during a crisis like COVID-19 is to freeze. “You have to move right now because being stagnant is too dangerous,” he says. Sethi recommends accepting reality and making a personal finance plan as soon as possible.
“You need to build safety and security first.”
VIDEOS TO SEE.
Kanye West’s newfound peace: In this candid conversation, Kanye West discusses how he thinks about making music, why he chose to move to Wyoming, and how the public perceived his battle with mental health. It’s a really interesting conversation, and it gives you a glimpse into how Kanye sees the world and why exactly he believes the things he’s come to believe.
“You make plans, and God laughs.”
Jane Fonda’s final act: Jane Fonda had lived the majority of her life seeking validation from the public because, well, she’s always been in the public eye. She took on many different personas — the sex kitten, the fitness star, the outspoken activist — but she’s finally discovered who she is. This documentary takes a deep dive into the controversial life and work of one of Hollywood’s most iconic stars.
“I’m proud of most of what I did, and I’m very sorry for some of what I did.”
Scooter Braun’s talent discovery secrets: Scooter Braun is the talent manager of some of the world’s most famous stars, including Ariana Grande, Kanye West, Psy, and Justin Bieber. In this interview, Braun talks about conflict resolution, standing up for your values, and the importance of taking big risks. He also explains in detail why he refused to quit on Justin Bieber during his chaotic episode even when other people were walking away.
“You don’t quit on people because they’re down. That’s how you find out if you’re actually there for somebody.”
Bethany Hamilton’s life of persistence: At age 13, rising surf star Bethany Hamilton lost her left arm to a 14-foot tiger shark, which seemed to end her dream career. Four weeks after the attack, however, she was back in the water and went on to win a national surfing title. This is an incredible story of just how far determination and self-confidence can take you.
“It takes a whole lot of determination to get that one success.”
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