I’ve really been into ancient Greek and Roman Mythology as of late— because I feel all the lessons are timeless about what it means to be a human.
1. Eating your own flesh
I want to tell you a story of this guy named Ersichthon. He was an incredibly greedy and rich king, who upset Demeter (the God of grain, and food). Demeter decided to punish king Ersichthon by giving him an appetite so strong, that he ended up eating all his food he had, selling off all his possessions to buy more food, until he exhausted his wealth.
Then in order to have more money (in order to buy more food, to fulfill his appetite) he sold his daughter into slavery for food.
King Ersichthon then falls into poverty, and loses all his wealth and influence. He loses everything — his home, friends, and family. And eventually, he dies by eating his own flesh.
2. When is enough ‘enough’?
To me the moral of the story is simple — our unending appetite for money, wealth, power, expansion of capitalist structures, companies, followers on social media, whatever— is like King Ersichthon. If we have an unquenchable thirst or never-ending hunger— we will end up eating ourselves to death, and losing our lives.
With food, we have a natural limit. For example, I love sushi. If I eat 3 pieces of fatty Salmon sashimi (no rice), I gain immense pleasure. I eat another 3 pieces, I still get pleasure. But after my 30th piece of Salmon sashimi — no amount of soy sauce is going to help me feel more pleasure or happiness from the food. In-fact, I start to feel sick. I want to throw up. If I were hypothetically on my 50th piece of Salmon Sashimi, and someone offered me $500 to eat another 30 pieces, I would most certainly say no.
The same with water. If I were in the Sahara Desert dying of thirst— I would give all my money for just a cup of water. But if I drank 10 gallons of water, drinking more water would bring me insane amounts of pain — worse than water-boarding. I would therefore beg not to have more water forced down my throat.
3. Can we ever have ‘enough’ money?
The strange inconsistency is that with things like money, wealth, and power— we can never have enough. Like King Ersichthon, we have an unquenchable appetite. We keep sipping the water from the river, except our stomach never feels full. We keep eating those fatty Rib-Eye steaks, yet our stomach never feels full.
4. Nothing unlimited is good; nothing good is unlimited
Nothing unlimited is good. Unlimited food (like unlimited Korean BBQ) causes pain after the 30th piece of pork belly. Unlimited alcohol (20 shots of Jack Daniels) will give you the worst hangover known to man. Unlimited weed will probably kill you. Unlimited coffee would cause your heart to explode. Unlimited sex would cause you to go flaccid for weeks on end, and would actually be painful.
But strangely— we like the concept of ‘unlimited.’ We like unlimited internet— yet we end up eating junk food blog media like we do bottomless bowls of spaghetti. We love unlimited news feed on Facebook or Instagram — constantly scrolling for newness and novelty to stimulate our eyeballs. We love unlimited music on Spotify and other music streaming services— no longer having the patience to listen to a full album more than once. We love this idea of unlimited money — we think it would bring us happiness.
5. What video games have taught me about life
I grew up pretty poor. $1 was a lot of money. 3 lives in Time Crisis (shooting game) at the arcade was four quarters. I played the game like my life were on the line. It was fun, exhilarating, and thrilling.
Yet one day for my birthday, I was able to play at this arcade (Peter Pan arcade in Bayside, Queens, New York) unlimited for 1 hour. I rushed to Time Crisis, and was determined to beat the game. The first 15 minutes or so were fun (I was in God mode, with unlimited lives)— but soon it got boring. There was no thrill, if I knew I could just hit ‘continue’ with no skin in the game.
6. Practical life lessons to apply
We can apply this philosophy in many ways.
- First of all, life is only meaningful because we will die. If our lives were unlimited, life would have no excitement or zest. No risk means no reward, means no fun.
Secondly, adversity is what makes like fun. If you started a video game at level 99 and everyone else was level 1, and you can kill everyone with 1 hit, it would be boring. Video games are only fun when you have a challenge or difficulty.
Thirdly, to be happy, we need to put a LIMIT on our lives. For example, we need to limit the amount of material goods we have. For example, at a certain point— owning 1,000 Lamborghinis is more stress than happiness. Similarly, having 100 pairs of shoes and 500 jackets would cause more stress than happiness. We need enough — but after ‘enough’, having ‘too much’ is stress. I know for me, for example— I prefer having 1 camera and 1 lens (less stressful) than owning 1,000 Leicas.
7. The beauty of ‘Creative Constraints’
But we are always told to be limitless. That we shouldn’t put any constraints on ourselves.
But I believe in the idea of ‘creative constraints’. The idea that we need constraints in order to be creative.
Kendrick Lamar has a tattoo on his left arm that says, ‘Hustle like you’re broke.’ A lot of artists who become rich, end up losing their artistic edge. This is because they become complacent and lazy.
For example, I grew up poor, but now I have a lot more money than in the past. I have more money than I need. I have actually found this to hurt me— because I think I can buy away my problems, and be more creative just by buying more shit on Amazon Prime.
In photography, I have gained more creativity through shooting “P” (program) mode with a point-and-shoot digital camera (Ricoh GR II) that cost me $600, compared with my old $8000 Leica M9 camera. The Ricoh had limitations (slow autofocus) which made it frustrating— but I learned to use it to my advantage. Also not to knock the Leica— it is a great camera. The beauty of a rangefinder camera is that it doesn’t have autofocus— by not having autofocus forces you to be more creative (you have to rely shooting at ISO 1600 at f/8, and ‘zone focusing’ by pre-focusing your lens to a certain distance, like 1.2 meters).
In art, the best artists are the ones who have a limited palette. I am constantly amazed by how much art you can create from just a black and white palette. I have seen great new book covers of Albert Camus, rendered in this simple, elegant, and expressive monochromatic spirit.
Even Picasso— he went through phases where he only painted with Rose-colors, or Azul(blue)-colors and tones. By limiting yourself to just monochrome or a few color tones, you are more creative.
8. Innovation is born out of need
We cannot give a billion dollars to an organization to be ‘innovative’. Rather, we need innovation from hunger, from difficulty, and from NEED.
For example, let me tell you a story from Aesop’s Fables.
There was a crow, that was dying of thirst. He found a can of water, but the water was all the way at the bottom of the can. The crow’s poor beak couldn’t reach the bottom of the can, to drink the water.
The crow then was contemplating his fate, thinking to himself, “If I don’t come up with something good, I’m going to die of thirst.” He then has an epiphany moment. He flies away, and carries over a rock in his beak. He starts to fill the can with rocks. And with every new rock he adds, the water rises. Eventually the water rises to the top of the can, and the crow drinks the water with holy delight. He lives and flies away to live another day.
9. How to be an entrepreneur
I find the best entrepreneurs are the ones who grew up poor, or with little. I know for myself, because I grew up poor and getting nothing from my parents, I learned that I could not depend on anybody else but myself. Therefore, I learned to hustle— to build PC computers, and sell them for a profit to kids at my high school or on eBay. I made my first $1,000 and used it to buy my first car (1991 Nissan Sentra XE).
I also was forced into starting my own business, with photography and this blog after losing my job at Demand Media in 2011. It was the best thing that happened to me — honestly, if I didn’t get laid off, I wouldn’t have had the courage or the balls to quit my job. I am so thankful for fate, and God for helping me push me in the right direction in life.
So the lesson is that in order to innovate or be an entrepreneur— you need difficulty in life. You need a problem to overcome.
For example, even if you were born privileged or rich — you can be an entrepreneur by taking risk in life, in order to fix a problem that personally bothers you.
You can also be an entrepreneur by taking risk for your ideas, by betting your own money on your own ideas. To sacrifice yourself for the collective, by creating a business or pushing forward an idea that will drive the entire human race forward.
10. Unlimited art; limited possessions
Sorry friend, I got a bit off-topic.
To return to the beginning of this letter, I just want to encourage you — don’t eat yourself to death.
Know when to add limits in your life in a creative and positive way.
Add limits to your money, material possessions, and the activities you do in life. Limit the amount of loved ones and friends in your life.
But— make your creativity unlimited. Make your innovation unlimited.
And when in doubt, make more art.
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