Values to virtues

Ever since learning about the Samurai code, I’ve been fascinated by the difference between values and virtues. Values are what we believe, virtues are what we do.

So, how do they relate to one another? Our values become virtues when we take action and when that action costs us money (or something valuable).

Our virtues are the pillars of our personal strategy. That strategy only comes alive when we have to make trade-offs.

Transition words

The logic of writing as you learned in school
Turns out to mean little more than an obsession with transition
And the scattering of rhetorical tics – overused, nearly meaningless words and phrases.

In fact.
On the one hand.
On the other hand.
In one respect.

These are logical indicators. Emphasizers. Intensifiers.
They insist upon logic whether it exists or not.
They often come first in the sentence,
Trying to steer the reader’s understanding from the front,
As if the reader were incapable of following a logical shift in the middle of a sentence,
As if the sentence had been written in the order the writer thought of the words,
Without any reconsideration.
These words take the reader’s head between their hands and force her to look where they want her to.
Imagine how obnoxious that is,
The persistence effort to predetermine and overgovern the reader’s response.

I have vivid memories of being coached to use more transition phrases in my final year of high school. I have used them in plenty in my posts over the years. So, Verlyn Klinkenborg’s admonitions hit home.

I hope to use fewer transition words going forward.

4+ books that might change your mind – 2020 Edition

It was hard to narrow the list down to 5 books this year. So, I thought I’d share my top 4 and a collection of books that share 5th place.

1) Debt by David Graeber (Amazon): An anthropological dive into 5,000 years of human history from the lens of debt. I wrote an ode to the book recently – so, I will minimize repetition. In sum, this is a special book thanks to the audacity of what it attempts and the elegance with which it delivers it.

2) Range by David Epstein (Amazon): An important read because it is an antidote to the “start early and specialize as quickly as possible” advice that is often peddled. While it might appear that David Epstein is against the notion of deliberate practice and specialization, I didn’t take it as such. Instead, his push is for us to appreciate breadth and the meandering path we might take to figure out what we want to specialize in. He makes the case (repeatedly – my only quibble with the book) that the meandering path gives us the range to make the specialization count.

3) The Socrates Express by Eric Weiner (Amazon): If you haven’t read much philosophy and are curious about great philosophers and their schools of thought, this is the book for you. Eric brings together a witty travelogue, stories about the lives of great philosophers, a summary of their work, and insights about his attempts at applying their lessons. It made philosophy accessible – thank you, Eric!

4) The Ride of a Lifetime by Bob Iger (Amazon): This book is to corporate leaders what Shoe Dog is to sports entrepreneurs and The Hard Things About Hard Things is to tech entrepreneurs. Surprisingly candid, incisive, and insightful. A phenomenal read – the sort of book that should be mandatory reading in every graduate school of business.

I had a collection of books that all made it to 5th place.

The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel (Amazon) was an insightful take on how to think about thinking about money.

Upstream by Dan Heath (Amazon) tackles an important subject – how to solve problems before they happen.

Reboot by Jerry Colonna (Amazon) is a book built on the idea that “better humans make better leaders.” Jerry notes on leadership, insecurities, and love make for a beautiful read.

Several short sentences about Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg (Amazon) is a masterpiece on writing. It also packs plenty of wisdom about skills, practice, and life.

Becoming by Michelle Obama (Amazon) – I was curious about Michelle Obama’s memoir thanks to her grace and charisma in her speeches and interviews. This was a fun narration of the Obama story from her perspective.

Past editions of “Books that might change your mind” –20192018201720162015201420122011

My reviews of these books (and more) are on

10 questions – Annual Reflection 2020

The 10 question annual reflection is a longstanding ALearningaDay tradition. I recommend doing it in 3 steps:
i) Carve out an hour in the coming days to “look back and look forward.” It helps to do this in a quiet place with no distractions or interruptions.

ii) Work with a list of 10 questions that make you think. For a starter list, I’ve shared the 10 questions I asked myself below (also available to print as a doc or PDF on this folder).

iii) Archive your questions and notes for next year. Check in with them over the course of the year and read them before you start next year’s reflection. Looking at what was top-of-mind a few years later is also guaranteed to make you grin. :-)

“Sometimes, we need to just take a step back and look back at how the pieces fell. When we do that, we see what was important and what never was.”

(1) What are the top 2 themes/memories/moments I will remember 2020 for?

(2) What were the 2 biggest lessons I learnt in 2020?

(3) We learn from a mix of 3 sources – i) taking action and reflecting on our experiences, ii) people, and iii) books/synthesized information. What did my mix look like in 2020? How do I plan to keep this going in 2021?

i) Action + reflection:

ii) People:

iii) Books/synthesized info:

“Show me your schedule and I’ll show you your priorities.”

(4) Looking back at how I spent my time in 2020, what were the top 2-3 areas/buckets + processes/outcomes I prioritized (Examples: Career – prioritized ABC project or getting a raise, Health – prioritized more outdoor exercise or losing 10 pounds)? Did what I prioritize align with what I intended to prioritize/were there any surprises?

(5) What are the top 2 areas/buckets + processes/outcomes I intend to prioritize in 2021?

(6) What do I most need to learn in 2021 and how do I plan to do this?

“How we hope it works: Commit → Take action
How it actually works: Commit → Fail → Recommit x 20 → Fail x 20 → Recommit → Take action”

(7) What are habits/checkpoints I have in place to recommit to my priorities? (E.g. weekly/monthly check in)

(8) What have I got planned in 2020 to prioritize rest and renewal (e.g. holiday plans, weekend activities, hobbies)?

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

(9) Health, money, and relationships are foundational to the quality of our lives on this planet. What are my guiding principles or habits as I think of these dimensions in 2021?




(10) Do I have a personal philosophy, a set of principles or virtues that I want to live my life by? If not, would I consider putting together a first version?
And, if I do have them, what have I learnt about them in my attempts to live them? Do I plan to evolve them in 2021?

– “What I value” can be a way of stating our personal philosophy/principle.
– Virtues are values we actually embody. Inspired by the code of the Samurais, the difference is what we believe (values) vs. what we do (virtues).
– Our values become virtues when living them costs us money or something valuable that we need to trade-off)

I’ve been sharing my list of 10 questions since 2010. Changes in past editions have been minor/evolutionary. That wasn’t the case this year – perhaps it is fitting given the year we’ve all had. I hope you find the exercise/questions valuable.

Stoic camp

I’ve not read much philosophy. So, I’ve been enjoying Eric Weiner’s “The Socrates Express” – a bird’s eye view of the life and work of various philosophers and their schools of philosophy.

As someone who has been curious about stoicism (without knowing much), I enjoyed his notes on stoicism from his experience at “Stoic Camp.”

On day one of Stoic Camp, I discover that everything I thought about Stoicism is wrong. The stereotype of the stony, heartless Stoic is as erroneous as is the one about the gourmand Epicurean.

The Stoic is no cold fish. He does not suppress strong feelings, putting on a brave face
as he trembles inside. Stoics do not jettison all emotions, only the negative ones: anxiety, fear, jealousy, anger, or any of the other “passions” (or pathe – the closest ancient Greek word to emotions).

Stoics are not joyless automatons. They are not Mr. Spock They do not endure life’s bad bits with a stiff upper lip, or any other body part. “It’s not bad and there’s nothing to endure,” says Rob.

Stoics are not pessimists. They believe everything happens for a reason, the result of a thoroughly rational order. Unlike grumpy Schopenhauer, they believe we are living in the best of all possible worlds, the only possible world. Not only does the Stoic consider the glass half full; he finds it a miracle he has a glass at all—and isn’t it beautiful? He contemplates the demise of the glass, shattered into a hundred pieces. and appreciates it even more. He imagines life had he never owned the glass.
He imagines a friend’s glass breaking and the consolation he’d offer. He
shares his beautiful glass with others, for they, too, are part of the logos,
or rational order.

“Joyful Stoic” is not an oxymoron, says William Irvine, a professor
of philosophy at Wright State University and a practicing Stoic. He ex-
plains: “Our practice of Stoicism has made us susceptible to little out-
bursts of joy. We will, out of the blue, feel delighted to be the person we
are, living the life we are living, in the universe we happen to inhabit.” I
confess: that sounds appealing.

It resonated.

The password audit

Over the past few years, I’ve made an audit of our passwords a part of the end-of-year check in routine. I’ve gone through 4 stages:

1) Ensure all important accounts have strong passwords. Strong passwords = lower case letters+ upper case letters + numbers + symbols. The most common passwords found in data breaches are still variants of 12345, password, qwerty, iloveyou. So, strong passwords are a good first step.

2) Set up password breach monitoring. I have set up breach monitoring across multiple services and have found Spycloud (free) to be the best so far.

3) Set up 2 factor authentication across all important accounts. 2 factor authentication adds an extra layer of protection in case of breaches.

4) Stop reusing passwords across accounts. As steps 1-3 focused on key accounts, I was still stuck with nearly a hundred old internet accounts with reused passwords. Lastpass reminded me of this a few months ago and I started a weekly routine of cleaning up 10 accounts/passwords at a time.

This was an eye-opening exercise. I ended up closing ~50 defunct accounts and cursing another 15 services profusely for making it very hard to close accounts (requirements include live chatting or calling) before closing them anyway. I also cringed a few times when I saw how often I reused passwords. I’m glad to have done it and became a Lastpass “Security Dashboard” fan* as part of the process.

None of these steps ensure complete safety. But, in the event of a worst case scenario such as a breach or a scam, these are steps we can take to make sure damage is limited.

*This feature was free when I started on this journey. Mid-way through, it became a premium feature ($36/year). I wasn’t sure if this was in response to how often I was using it. If it was, hat tip to a smart paywall!

Notes on blogging

3 things I’ve learnt about blogging for folks who are either considering it or started writing recently:

1. The biggest challenge folks face is a lack of clarity on why they’re doing it. This happens because of a lack of clarity on the question – are you writing for yourself or writing for others?

I’ve written a longer post on the difference between the two approaches here. The illustrative graph below shows the difference between the two. When you write for yourself, you spend all your time on the thinking and writing and ignore any investment in attempt to grow your readership. When you write for others, you spend as much time as you write on growing your readership.

This isn’t to say it is impossible to grow your readership while writing for yourself. Or vice versa. It is just unlikely.

It helps to be honest with yourself on what your goals are. One approach isn’t better than the other. It is just about figuring out what you are in it for.

A related note: If you’re one of those analytical folks prone to optimizing numbers and seeking to write for yourself, find ways to not forget about any admin dashboard that shows counts of subscribers or traffic.

(Update: After a few exchanges and questions, I realize it wasn’t clear why I advocate “writing for yourself.” Here’s a follow up post on that – Notes on writing for yourself.

2. Pick a blogging stack that works with your goals. My experience is completely on the “writing for yourself” side. So, the only piece of insight I have for folks who aspire to monetize their writing is to try Substack. I don’t use them but I’ve heard good things.

If you’re writing for yourself, there is an assortment of free tools available to try. As I started writing as a 19 year old student, I’ve tried my fair share of these – various hosting providers, Blogger, free WordPress, and Feedburner. They’re all fine in isolation. But, free also means inevitable issues and maintenance overhead.

I switched to paying for my blogging stack five years or so ago. I pay for a domain ($22/year) and hosting ($48/year). And, I pay Feedblitz for sending emails ($319/year). For ~$400/year, I can just focus on clicking my “post” bookmark, publish, and not worry about the rest. A gift that keeps on giving.

3. The final challenge is to get started and not break the chain. There’s no magic to this part. Just get started.

If it helps, I’m happy to be your first reader and accountability buddy. As some of you know, I’ve been writing every day for eleven and a half years now. Deciding to do this is among the best decisions I’ve made. So, if I can be of help on your journey, just send me a note on rohan at rohanrajiv dot com and we can get started on the program. :-)

PS: Merry Christmas to all of you celebrating!

Why David Graeber’s Debt is an special book

Every 6 months, I share my notes on all the books I’ve read in the period on As part of these notes, I share insights that resonated. The quality and quantity of these insights typically determine the intensity with which I recommend the book.

This wasn’t the case with “Debt” by David Graeber.

There are a few special books that change our perspective by telling us the story of our past. “A Splendid Exchange” and “Guns, Germs, and Steel” do so from the lens of trade and conquest. “The Accidental Superpower” views the past from the lens of changing superpowers. “Sapiens” does so from the lens of human evolution. And, “Debt” does so from the lens of… well.. debt.

With every one of these books, we may not agree with everything the author says. That’s expected when you’re attempting to synthesize thousands of years of human history. But, these books are worth reading because understanding what came before us helps put into context what we’re experiencing today.

And, every once in a while, they also helps provide clues about what might lie ahead. History doesn’t repeat but it often rhymes.

Debt is a special book thanks to the audacity of what it attempts and the elegance with which it delivers it.

Global currency reserve system 101

Lyn Alden’s post on “The Fraying of the US global currency reserve” is fantastic. If you’ve ever been curious about the global currency reserve system, Lyn has you covered. It will take 20-30 minutes to read and is effectively a free top quality course in macroeconomics.

I’ve shared her summary below – but, I’d strongly recommend reading it in full.

Thank you for the education, Lyn.

Petrodollar System Peak

The world goes through periods of geopolitical order and disorder, and with that, comes the construction and subsequent fraying of the global monetary system each time.

More troublesome, the inherent flaw of having the global reserve currency, in a theme that goes back to economist Robert Triffin from over half a century ago, is that in order to maintain the global reserve currency, the country must supply the world with its currency via structural deficits in one form or another.

At first, the hegemonic benefits of being the reserve currency nation outweigh the costs, but as the benefits stay relatively static and the costs compound over time, eventually the costs outweigh the benefits and the system becomes unsustainable.

In addition, a system constructed around the US dollar decades ago when the US was 35% of global GDP, doesn’t work as well when the US is only, say, 20% of global GDP. It’s not about how big the US military is to keep its hegemonic status; it’s about whether the global monetary system as currently structured is still mathematically viable, and whether it even still supports the interests of the United States.

Put simply, there is a natural economic entropy to global reserve currency status, because inherent flaws in the system continue compound until they reach a breaking point. The challenge, of course, is identifying ahead of time where that breaking point is. A change in the global monetary system doesn’t necessarily mean bad things for the United States (indeed, the United Kingdom had an economic boom in the post-war years after it lost reserve currency status), but it does mean making a trade-off between international interests and domestic interests, and re-aligning trade as needed to obtain the desired balance.

My base case is that going forward over the next several years, the global economy will, more likely than not, encounter the third dollar bear cycle of this current petrodollar system. If so, assets such as global equities, quality residential real estate, precious metals, industrial commodities, and alternatives such as Bitcoin, are likely to do well.

From there, the global monetary system is gradually becoming more decentralized, in the sense that alternate payment systems and alternate currency settlements among trading partners are growing in use. This is indeed a more structural shift towards a new system. It could happen slowly, as it already is, or it could accelerate if the US itself also shifts out of the fraying system.

Patience, flexibility, and tact

I made it past my four year mark as a parent a few weeks ago. I was reflecting on the biggest lessons I’ve learnt/attempted to learn over the past years. The three words that came to mind are patience, flexibility, and tact.

It is fitting that patience was the first area that popped to mind. This is an area I frequently come up short. The good news is that I’m far more aware of how impatient I am. The bad news is that I still lose my patience a few times a week. I’ve made progress from “Always” losing patience to “Often” to “Sometimes” over the years. But, there’s a chasm I need to jump to get it down to “Rarely.” That’s the goal for 2021.

Flexibility is the area where I’ve made the most improvement. I started our parenting journey hoping to juggle parenting with a bunch of other things I wanted to get done. I am under no such delusions now. I understand now that work life balance is a myth. Instead, we just have work life trade-offs. These trade-offs are real and are best made consciously. I’ve become better about making consciously conscious trade-off decisions and then making peace with them.

Finally, tact. This is an area I often come up woefully short. I’ve shared an analogy a few times over the years – “When you try to fight fire with fire, remember that the fire department uses water.” The challenge with tact is that it runs counter to how I solve problems (I run toward them). That turns out to be a horrible way to solve problems with kids. As my wife frequently demonstrates, there’s often a creative detour you can use to diffuse the situation.

The good news is that I have become more aware of this. But, if I had to grade my progress – I think I have graduated from “Always” lacking tact to “Often” lacking tact. My hope is to get to “Sometimes” in 2021.

Here’s to making progress.