A Success Story in Tossing LC Dogma Aside; Thinking For Himself, Et Cetera

Who I am, what I do and what is my aim hopefully comes across in this cool email from Jake.

~~~

Long time reader, first time commenter yesterday, and first-time e-mailer today. I’m not sure if it was my comment that sparked you to post on Pope Francis, but I appreciate it all the same. I’ve long valued your perspective on everything, and figured it was an appropriate time to send a simple hello, a thank you, and to let you know how much I’ve learned from you.

I’m a former VLCer (Volek and Phinney style) who tried to be an athlete on <50 grams a day. During that time I was also living in Kenya, probably with some pretty awesome parasites, and biking forty minutes to work each day. Needless to say it messed me up, and it took a few months to get out of adrenal fatigue and underweight hell. Part of what inspired that was your further acceptance of carbs and non-paleo (or, more accurately: your rejection of the LC community). It’s interesting to consider the difference between ‘promoting carbs’ versus outright shaming of the LC and VLC proselytizers. I have to say that the latter might work better. Any way, I suppose what I like most about your blog is your openness. And maybe not so much openness but a willingness to always change your mind. The immutability of ideas is something that still fascinates me within the evolutionary health world, as if we could only ever get it right the first time we shifted a paradigm. It seems like there still exists a split on all spectrums between those who are willing to reconsider their opinions in the face of new evidence—data vs. dogma, etc.

…And frankly, half the time you come up with shit that doesn’t make the slightest sense to me on first reading. But I feel like you’ve communicated enough of your own thought process on your blog for me to recognize that you don’t really post anything without first considering it, and that you’re always willing to reconsider it. Doesn’t mean you change your mind, and I appreciate your ferocity and verbosity in the debate that can sometimes ensue in the comments. The key is the promotion of that debate.

Anyway, despite the fact that I don’t always agree with what you say or do, I always learn from it. And what I love the most about your blog is that everything is fair game. You’ve been previously pigeon holed as the no-soap guy (ex. HuffPo Live) and the fat bread guy, etc. etc., but I think your greatest asset to the public domain is the diversity of your opinion. I think you take it as far as you can, more into the life of the mind than simply how to live. No one else is going to comment in a unique way on money, hang-gliding and omelets within the same week.

A bit further on the Church: I agree with your comments about the Catholic Church being very smart—milking for the long term. I do think there’s a larger gap between their dogma and public opinion than there might be, but I suppose that also stems from part of their power base (or lack of power base) existing with the (more conservative) developing world. Not sure if you’re tuned into his work, but Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion echoes your point about the importance of ritual and other social aspects in some very poignant ways. Quick read, and worth consideration.

I’ve just entered a Master’s of Public Health program, predominantly to pursue my interests within evolutionary health from an academic standpoint. Part of our graduation requirement is an internship/practicum without the health sphere. I’m pushing to work with Paul Jaminet…what I’m trying to swing now. But, had I to choose a mentor from any field, you’d be damn high on my list. So with that, just a further thanks. Enjoyed all that I’ve read, and highly value everything you do.

~~~

By that last, I take it to mean that I would do a decent job of playing interference and challenging every damn thing he thought he knew, and he would never be able to tell if I was really serious or just fucking with him for exercise. That he aspires to work with Paul in terms of relevant practicality—rather than some Yoda challenging-fantasy lends credibility to both his message and his character.

It would be fun though, and I’m totally humbled that anyone could even consider it.

…My focus in life is simply to be as polymath as I can possibly be. Here’s my off-the-cuff accounting of myself, in chronological order.

  • Early grade school years marked by becoming obsessed with dinosaurs, volcanoes, motorcycles and cars, in that specific order.
  • In high school, I worked jobs for my dad’s painting contractor business and excelled to outperform any journeyman in productivity.
  • Switched out the engine in my first car in the garage with dad’s important help, using a block & tackle instead of a chain hoist (that was tough!).
  • Switched majors 2 times in college: mathematics to computer science, to business administration.
  • Toured the world by ship, becoming expert in navigation systems, ship handling (8,000 tons +), steam engineering systems, electrical distribution, Soviet weapons systems.
  • Lived abroad for 7 years—5 in Japan, 2 in France. Visited 30 countries and vacationed in a handful for up to a month at a time so you really learn something.
  • Learned to speak and read French fluently at the age of 29, the first language I ever studied.
  • Read many of the classics and philosophy, from Socrates forward, formed my own thoughts and ideas, and dumped the shitty stuff I was taught—by people who only ever learned if from other people and never seriously questioned it or gave it much rational thought.
  • Started 3 businesses and failed at all of them. Fourth time was the charm, and I grew it to 30 employees and over $3 million annual revenue.
  • Learned to fly hang gliders, such that on a summer day, I can launch from a mountain top at 4,000 feet and take thermals to over 12,000 feet and fly for hours, land, and drink a cold beer. Subsequently learned to fly both sailplanes and powered aircraft.
  • Remolded our house (much of the work done myself) with significant upgrades in the form of stone tile, woodwork, in-ground spa, pavers, gas fire pit, electrical and lighting, semi-commercial grade appliances…and sold it for a $1/2 million profit.
  • Started a blog. At over 3,600 posts and 72,000 comments, it’s doing pretty well at 80-100k visits per month and 150-200 page views.
  • Became rather proficient as a home chef.

The thing is, my bucket list is rather long, still. But I don’t regard such lists as a one-off affair. I wish to be proficient in everything I undertake and you should too. That’s not near the best list ever, but contrast it with the average person you talk to who, when asked, states proudly: “I’m [fill in a single blank].”

Two things for you to consider very seriously:

  1. How To Be a Polymath.
  2. Mike Rowe On How Many Are Following The ‘Worst Advice In The History Of The World’.

Until next time, folks.


Since Covid killed my Cabo San Lucas vacation-rental business in 2021, this is my day job. I can't do it without you. Memberships are $10 monthly, $20 quarterly, or $65 annually. Two premium coffees per month. Every membership helps finance this work I do, and if you like what I do, please chip in. No grandiose pitches.

16 Comments

  1. rob on November 13, 2013 at 14:11

    I had the same problem trying to be athletic on low carb, it was like trying to run through a brick wall over and over again.

    Re not being dogmatic, I wish I had tried the no ‘poo no soap thing years ago instead of scoffing at it, I’ve given it a try recently and the results have been very good. My hair looks good but the big surprise has been my face, I’ve used nothing but luke-warm water on it for a couple of weeks (no soap or cleanser whatsoever) after having been plagued with oily Mediterranean skin all my life, spent thousands over the years on the “best” face care products, and lo and behold my skin has never looked as good, no shine, no oil, skin as soft as a baby’s ass.

    So thanks for that, I was totally wrong to scoff at it.

  2. Richard Nikoley on November 13, 2013 at 14:40

    “scoff at it.”

    There’s a first time for everything. :)

  3. John on November 13, 2013 at 14:45

    This polymath concept rings with me. I jump on new interests every chance I can get, and often wonder if I’m spreading myself out too much, but once I feel like I’ve gotten to a point of diminishing returns where I’m not going to get much better at something, I seek out something new. Not including my present professional career…

    I bowled a 290 yesterday, can cook anything I want to eat, Installed a lift on my truck a few months ago, studied finance in college and helped manage the school’s $3 million student investment portfolio, studied nutrition and lifting rather than studying for exams while in law school, and am presently learning both drums (pretty decent) and guitar (they really cut into my competitive video gaming). Every time I get interested in something, I get addicted to it (its a good thing I don’t drink).

    I can’t figure out how to learn languages though, I studied French for 12 years growing up, never stuck; tried to learn Spanish and lost interest, spent 5 months in Romania and never got beyond the basics. Now I can’t speak any one without mixing in some of the other haha.

  4. Richard Nikoley on November 13, 2013 at 15:12

    John

    Too cool. You’re missing something, though.

    Think about it. In the first set of things, what happened? You became obsessed. This is the key to getting really reasonably competent. Everything else but essentials goes by the wayside and that’a what you focus on every minute.

    You didn’t get the languages because you didn’t do it like that. For me, it was forced obsession. I had to be competent in a job as the navigator of a French warship and could not speak a word of French. For 6 months, learning French was my exclusive job. I was sent to DLI, Defense Language Institute where they school the linguists, spooks, diplomats and us exchange officers.

    By then I was fa more mature than college days and so I took it seriously, studied my ass off, and failed my ass off for two solid months. It was the first time in my life where I was confronted with the possibility that I might fail no matter how dedicated I was.

    So I relaxed. What I did was simply listen to as much French as possible. I had cassettes (this was the 80s, still), so I just popped them in when home and listened all the time. I got French films and covered the subtitles with tape on the TV screen.

    I went to sleep every night with French Nouvelle and autres informations playing.

    And literally from one day to the next once day, about 2 months in, I could converse in French. It was rudimentary, but it laid the foundation. When I showed up, I was able to get everything done on my own, like rent an apartment, get all the utilities and services going, etc.

    Took a while, though, to get really proficient. But of course, working every day, 100% in French really helps. One problem, however, is that there were lots of Fench who wanted to practice their English. The big move forward came when Iraq invaded Kuwait and I was off on FNS Colbert to escort Clemenceau to Saudi Arabia to drop off a bunch of equipment. 60 days at sea, and I didn’t speak or hear a word of English.

    I still recall getting back and calling my mom, and finding it weird to difficult to speak English.

  5. John on November 13, 2013 at 19:37

    That’s an awesome story.

    I definitely see the lack of obsession as key. As you say, you had huge incentive to learn, and very real benefits from learning. Even if I learned a second language, I would have to derive a degree of satisfaction from the learning independent of use. If you learn music (lifting, cooking, etc.), you can put that knowledge to use at will, and there’s no getting around learning if you want to “play.” You learn a language, and you need another person and the right circumstances, which are rare as everyone speaks english.

    I suppose I need to develop a passion for foreign film or literature, or force myself to frequent the local Colombian supermarket to find some incentive. (Or request of any future english-as-second-language girlfriend that she only speak her first language with me!)

  6. bornagain on November 13, 2013 at 23:24

    Being a polymath is a great way to experience life. Focussing to long or too intently on one thing often leads you see/find things that are not really there – like a preacher who spends his whole life reading and speaking about nothing but the bible.

  7. Richard Nikoley on November 14, 2013 at 02:51

    I know the type, in my own family. It is literally the only thing they “know,” and paths have diverged so much that when I do have contact, like at a family gathering it’s like they’re speaking a different language and have zero sense of reality. They truly live in a mind created fantasy.

  8. EatLessMoveMoore on November 14, 2013 at 14:25

    Absolutely. This post begs the question, though, why you’re one of the few voices calling the dogmatic LC community out. Good for Mark, but why, for example, have there been no podcasts or ‘resistant starch panels’ moderated by certain born-again ‘face of low carb’ personalities?

  9. LeonRover on November 15, 2013 at 08:17

    I’m too humble to call myself a PolyMath – more a plodding PollyArithmetician.

    Obsession ? the Learned effects Dopamine reward.

    But Annie has a different cut on clitoral longing – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HW_Sm_iSoxY

    “I want you so inside , Obsession”

    I have found that topics,work, skiing etc. take hold of me; I get involved & have to work to get the subject out of my head, or be nerdy & code obsessively for 16 unpaid hours over a weekend.

    Rover

  10. Bill Strahan on November 15, 2013 at 10:22

    I like doing a ton of things as well! From the earliest age I can recall, I pursued so many different interests, and at the time I didn’t realize that everyone didn’t do that. It just seemed natural.

    Much later in life, I identified that I was pursuing a degree of experience in wildly differing pursuits and some lasted years while others lasted months. I just knew what made me happy, and it involved acquiring skills and knowledge on a variety of things.

    And finally, just this year I identified a few concepts that allowed me to codify it and understand what drives me in this area. Here it is:

    The fun in life is in the acquisition of knowledge and/or abilities. But in all endeavors there are stages. I call them competency, proficiency, and mastery.

    Competency can often occur as you become acquainted with the task or information. A simple sport, such as racquetball is a good example. By the time you know the rough details of the game, you’re most of the way to the lowest levels of competency. Handball is a much slower learning process. :)

    But, once competency is achieved, you are faced with the choice: Move on to something else, or pursue proficiency? Proficiency will take much longer, and (this is critical) you don’t achieve proficiency by doing more of what generated competency. It’s a different process, not just more practice. Proficiency is when you’re good at it, enjoy it at what would be considered high levels, and you know you’re good at it.

    And then the last choice: Mastery? Choose carefully, because I would estimate that mastery takes long enough in most cases that you will not be able to truly master more then 3-5 things in a lifetime. And, again, doing more of what got you to proficiency won’t generate mastery. It’s a different path.

    Once I got clear on all this, it freed me up to dump the things for which I only desired competency with no guilt whatsoever. I had intuitively taken this approach all my life, but people around me would complain that I would get good at something and then quit doing it. Now I know to tell them that I got what I wanted, and don’t want to pursue it further and I understand why.

    I achieved mastery in programming computers. I believe (though you’d have to ask my wife to be certain I’m not just bragging) that I have achieved a degree of mastery in sexual matters especially as it pertains to pleasuring my partner. So far, that’s it.

    I’m proficient at about 7-10 things. Flying, construction, starting companies, olympic weightlifting.

    I’m competent at hundreds.

    I will achieve mastery in flying, though I’m 25 years in and it’s probably another 5 years away now. I don’t yet know what else I will master, but I think I have room for a couple more before I’m done here.

    So I wouldn’t agree totally with the polymath approach as it is defined as having “expertise” in a significant number of things. I’ll go with proficient at a dozen to two dozen, mastery of a handful, and competent at a broad range.

  11. Richard Nikoley on November 15, 2013 at 10:52

    That’s a nice summary Bill. Different strokes, I guess. I’m not sure I could claim mastery in any one particular thing—perhaps the closest would be running an established business (starting one, to me, is too much of a crap shoot and depends on too many things out of one’s control) with various systems in place that require financial and human capital, organization, software applications, etc. And even still, things can go awry (tough to be in the buggy whip manufacturing business).

    I’d say that polymathism is more akin to your Proficiency, but in a rage, varying degrees.

    The reason I’ve never pursued mastery of anything consciously is because of the opportunity cost tradeoff and getting too deep into diminishing returns.

  12. Bill Strahan on November 15, 2013 at 11:00

    Richard,

    I do feel you have to choose very carefully on the mastery point, but not so sure about diminishing returns. Sure, you could call it that based on an absolute measurement, but if it’s a passion, a LIFE pursuit if you will, then the last little bit is where the real juice might be.

    Look at Japanese culture (one which readily uses the term “master” respectfully) and the attainment of the role of master.

    Also, consider that the small absolute gain can be a giant relative gain, and one which separates you from the masses while being incredibly rewarding. There are WAY more guys that you might initially realize that can run a 4:20 mile. But that little 21 second difference (in absolute terms) is a GIANT relative difference, one which generates a degree of acclaim.

    It’s all artificial in these scenarios, but we’re all playing a made up game anyway. It’s not like we get to the end and find out what the real game was.

    How long you been blogging? How much growth has FTA experienced? You piss off a bunch of people, attract activists, feminists, even whackadoos like me. Maybe you try on the role of master blogger? Might be closer than you think, and some of the best masters do so while saying they just do it for enjoyment, yet end up better than those who set out to master it.

    Just food for thought. And it would be super cool to see you listed at a speaking engagement with no credentials listed other than title. “Richard Nikoley, Master Blogger.” :)

  13. Richard Nikoley on November 15, 2013 at 11:28

    Yea, I see your point.

    Especially, kinda the implied idea that if you’re consciously pursuing mastery rather than simply engaging your passion, you’re doing it all wrong.

    Why do I blog instead of write a bunch of books to sell, create some sort of seminar deal or any number of other things? Because I like to get up every morning and ask myself what I really, really want to write about TODAY! And no more than a few hours later, it’s published and people are reading it and sharing it with others.

    If there’s anything about blogging I’ve mastered, it’s consistency in a domain many, many people find to be a total chore. My very first post was Nov 2, 2003, just over 10 years ago. This morning I published post # 3,662 so over 10 years and a few days (3,663), I’ve put up an average of a post per day.

  14. Bill Strahan on November 15, 2013 at 15:35

    And when you try to enlighten young beginner bloggers and they say silly naive things you begin your response with “Ah, grasshopper…”

    :)

    I’d say you’ve achieved mastery.

    On a related note, I recently sold my largest company. It really brought home to me the stages of life. I’m suddenly referring to this as the second half. Took me 46 years to make it through the first half, halftime apparently lasted about 2 months, and after a bit of mental and spiritual reset, I am now embarking on the 2nd half. Wonder what it holds.

    of course, at 46 I suppose if I’m a pessimist I might just consider engaging in a 3/4 life crisis. :)

  15. Bill Strahan on November 15, 2013 at 15:40

    Oh, and one other thing. Mastery is what you go after when you love something SO much, and are so passionate about it, that being damned good at it isn’t enough. When you’re damned good, it occasionally still escapes you. When you have mastered it, you own it. It’s now part of who you are.

    I’m thrilled that FTA is something you love doing! I don’t give much thought to world peace and all that, but it seems it would be a naturally emergent effect in a world in which everyone loved what they did.

  16. Leo Desforges on November 20, 2013 at 11:25

    As a fellow fledgling polymath, this post strikes a chord. Not suprisingly, it seems that the people I most surround myself with are also of this disposition. One of the attributes I find most off putting is a lack of interest in pursuing competency in many pursuits (not just “excellency” in one, which often seems a rarity, too).
    At the end of the day, it demonstrates a massive lack of integrity to live life uninterested, numbed and boring. How fucking sad.

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