How to Live by Derek Sivers

July 13, 2023

A buffet of distilled, self-contradictory words worth considering.

This read like a long fortune cookie and a daily devotional had an exceedingly well-educated baby.

It’s organized into chapters that are basically movements, centered around a succinct statement about how to live that doesn’t concern itself with those before or after.

I loved the format because it distilled ideas I’ve often read elsewhere: Bill Gates, Buddhism, philosophy, poetry, and a pile of business and self help books.

It left me to consider contradictions and find what resonated with me and what challenged me.

I appreciate this because it’s how life works. It’s not marketing, where all ideas neatly converge on the single truth that you need to buy the product to achieve happiness. It’s a messy, hard-won, eternally-shifting muddle where it’s work to challenge and refine your beliefs and make room for what you observe and experience.

I highlighted passages I agreed with, and also ones I grimaced at so I could circle back and consider why.

All misery comes from dependency.

Not a new idea, but put this way it made me think of node_modules/ and chortle.

Someone says life is hard.
The comedian says, “Compared to what?”
Comedians are philosophers.

This is why comedy is more than jokes and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is underrated.

Understand that there is no “them”.
It’s just “us”.
Feel those connections.

This is a variation of “we are each more alike than we aren’t” I hold dear. Particularly in the U.S. in 2023, reading my daily timeline, I’m tired of what seems like a popular rejection of listening and empathy if it’s for the right cause. It’s much easier to label, demonize, and ignore than it is to find commonality and compromise.

Maybe outrage and war is the way to go, but I think not. My problem is that I’ll listen and argue with you all day, but I have no interest in fighting with you. Is that privilege? Decency? Cowardice? Shortsightedness? I’d love for you to write me about it if you bring a sense of humor.

Change the world as much as you can. (…) If you go through life without changing anything, what have you done? Just observed?!

I struggled with this, pulled out of a context that advocated being an agent of change and making a difference. I immediately thought of Brian Doyle and his gift for seeing and delighting in details and sharing them with warmth and love in a way that’s inspiring to me. That makes a difference for me, gives me another lens I’m better for having.

I’m a little burnt out on people and companies revolutionizing things and arguing about how other people should behave, when I want to revolutionize myself and focus and leave something better than I found it every day. Is that a pointless existince, not changing anything?

I wrestled with this until I realized that changing the world doesn’t have to be leading social change or preventing a war or starting a company that creates or transforms and industry—it can be making a difference in individual peoples’ lives or supporting others with a shared idea of how the world could be better.

But it doesn’t matter where I land on this, I’m grateful for the prompt and subsequent rumination.

There’s no warmth or distinctive voice from the author, which was disappointing until I realized that Sivers stripped away anything that could distract from sitting with clear thoughts to consider. No spoon feeding, no prevailing argument that forces it all together. Definitely not a random AI-generated soup of self-help summaries either, though.

The book was easy to read quickly, and satisfying to read slowly and put down and let my mind wander.

It’s an excellent bundle of thought provocations and writing prompts.

If you’re the type person that’s going to be drawn to the idea of this book, it’ll easily be worth any attention you give to it.