In Vietnam I recently learned a saying, “Cai kho lo cai khon” which means: from difficulty, emerges the wise. (Note I didn’t include diacritics).
Another saying in Vietnamese (can’t remember it) is “The resourceful man might go hungry, but won’t starve.”
Even Steve Jobs said, “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”
Similar examples (as the title of this post) is, “Hunger breeds sophistication” (forgot who wrote this, it might have been Publilius Syrus).
For my entire life I have always wanted more. More resources, more time, more money. I felt that the key to happiness would be having more.
Funny enough– the reality has been opposite. I find the more resources, time, and money I get– the fatter and lazier I get. It is only through hunger (lack of resources) in which I have a drive to do things which are great.
I think it is interesting that it is often the college kids who are living in their parents’ basements who often create the most innovative websites or start ups. Very rarely do huge companies with unlimited budgets and tons of cash make anything “innovative.”
Similarly, I find that my best working out is done when I’m hungry. Physically hungry. The same goes for writing. I get my best writing done on an empty stomach.
Why is that? The physical manifestation of hunger drives me.
I read in the book “Antifragile” a concept which totally transformed how I saw eating breakfast.
We are told that eating breakfast is good before having strenuous activity. We are told that having breakfast will give us energy for the day ahead.
However the fallacy with this thinking is that it assumes that our body is simply a mechanical and simple machine. We aren’t cars with gas tanks which run on fuel. We are organic and complex beings.
A lion doesn’t eat a granola bar and then hunts down a gazelle. No, a lion is prompted to hunt and “work out” by its hunger. The hunger is what drives him to move.
In a similar vein, it makes no sense that we should eat breakfast (or a pre-workout meal) before embarking on working out, writing, or even photographing. I think it is the hunger which drives us.
Recently I’ve been having some “first world problems” of having too stuff. Too many cameras, too many gadgets, too many clothes, etc.
I used to rationalize buying all this stuff in the sense that it will help me be more “creative”. But once again, I’m starting to realize the merits of having less in order to be more creative.
In Vietnam I made a new friend named Vu. He’s an incredible human being, incredibly smart, hard working, and resourceful. He recently quit his job, and therefore had to give back his company’s laptop. The last few weeks he has been without a laptop.
When I asked him about how it was not having a laptop (expecting a horror story) he surprised me. Vu told me that he was amazed how much he could do without a laptop. He did everyone on his iPhone. He realized the power and capabilities of the iPhone, and how much it could do.
Similarly, I’m writing this article on an iPad. Cindy recently gifted her laptop to Vu (in order for him to start his “Humans of Saigon” project) and similarly I have also given him one of my extra cameras. So Cindy has been using my laptop the last few days.
I’m quite amazed how much the iPad can do despite the limitations. But once again, the charm of the iPad isn’t the fact that it can do a lot of stuff. Rather, I find the limitations of the iPad to be quite liberating.
I’m currently typing this out on “iA writer” – a minimalist typing application for the iPad. When I type on a iPad, I can only type. I can’t multitask. I can’t have multiple windows open at once. So what do I do? I just focus on the task at hand.
It is also a pain in the ass to edit text on the iPad. However that ends up being a benefit. It forces me to just focus on writing, rather than editing while typing (which hurts my productivity and flow of ideas).
In fact, the only useful thing I’ve found the iPad good for is writing (and reading e-books). So that’s all I’ve been doing on it. And therefore my amount of meaningful work has gone through the roof. I’m not distracted by all the windows that can be simultaneously open on my laptop. I’ve learned to simplify.
I’ve heard stories in which writers lose their creativity and inspiration once they become famous. Once have a lot of money and time, they become complacent and lazy. They no longer hustle hard. I’ve even heard a story of someone who gave away most of his fortune, to start all over again, in order to have that hunger and thirst for adventure. Apparently this has worked out well for him.
Not I’m not advocating all of us to take a vow of poverty. I love all my material stuff, and I’m sure you do too. However what I’m suggesting is to re-consider the role of subtracting from your life, rather than adding to your life.
For example, I’ve found that subtracting the following things from my life has ultimately made me happier and healthier:
- Negative people
- Bread / carbs
- Social media
- TV / video games
- Cameras (either selling them, or giving them away)
- Electronics (selling them or giving them away)
Going back to my friend Vu again, he had one big problem (even when he had his laptop). He didn’t have enough hard drive space to store all of his stuff. But once again, this limitation helped him be more creative. He ended up storing all of his stuff on the cloud, on Dropbox, and Google docs.
Which makes me think: we no longer have any excuses for not going out and creating art. We have all the tools at hand, as long as we have an internet connection. We can theoretically start any business with little to no money. The internet is the ultimate democratization of creativity and production.
The next few months, I’m doing an experiment: continuing to shed my material possessions and activities which aren’t important to my life. I think ultimately the only things which matter to me include writing, reading, photographing, and spending time with loved ones. Nothing else really matters so much.
I hope by having less, it will make sure I don’t get fat and complacent.
Now I’m hungry.