Living Life in Airplane Mode

For the last 2 years, I have been experimenting with disconnecting. This meant:

  • For about 1-2 years, I didn’t own a phone
  • After this period, I used phones (Xiaomi and iPhone) for around 6 months without a data/phone plan.

The basic notion was this:

By not owning a phone or a phone plan, can I live a more zen, focused, productive, and happy life?

My lessons thus far:

1. Phones without a data plan are very useful

Google maps works well without a data plan. Also, using an iPhone in airplane mode is a great tool (imagine a mini iPad that fits in your front pocket). I also consider the iPhone a great camera— probably the best in terms of ability to use a “full stack” photography solution.

But having a phone with a data plan — this might be a net negative. You end up checking your phone or mindlessly surfing the internet and social media when you technically don’t need to.

Thus the first lesson:

It seems the optimal solution is to own an iPhone without data/phone connection. Just use Google hangouts when you must make phone calls with WiFi (WiFi is ubiquitous nowadays).

2. Internet is good, but always being connected is bad

I’m quite convinced that always having internet connectivity is bad for your brain. Inability to focus, or let your mind wander. This also means bad for your creativity.

I propose this “barbell” connectivity notion. The basic idea is:

When you wanna use the Internet, use it intensely with a laptop or computer device. But if you desire to maximize your productivity, don’t get a data plan for your phone.

3. I can finally think again

The upside of all this:

I’ve been able to think more clearly, I’ve been able to wander and dream again, and I’ve been able to focus on people, conversations, and my work again.

Furthermore, I’ve become far more creatively productive — increasing my artistic output.


I might or might not get a phone plan in the near future. If so, maybe I can experiment getting a “dumb phone” with a phone plan if I want to make phone calls. Or perhaps I can try to program my iPhone with a data plan in a way which I usually keep in airplane mode. Or I can try to figure out how to optimally configure it to not be distracted by it.

Test Your Limits

# Test Your limits

Dear friend,

A fun idea to ponder: aren’t you curious what your limits are?


I had this idea while at the gym when I got a new personal record for my “one rep max” for 95lbs Dumbell press (before my maximum was 90 lbs).

This is what is fun for me in powerlifting: I’m just curious to see what my limits are, and whether or not I can surpass *above* what I think I’m capable of.

For example, when I was in college and started powerlifting at age 18, I could only do 135 pounds. I then wondered whether I could Deadlift 200 pounds. I then did it. Then the next goal was 300 pounds. Hit that. Then 400 pounds. Hit that when I was 28 years old.

The interesting thing is this:

> Whenever I thought I hit a limit, I was somehow able to surpass it.

Which made me realize:

> We can achieve more than we think we’re capable of, and we’re much stronger than we think we are.


I think about this a lot in business, life, photography, art, fitness, etc:

> What are my limits?

I’m just curious to see what my limits are.


## What does it mean to test your limits?

To me, testing your limits means pushing *beyond* your maximum-perceived limit, or your prior limit.

For example in powerlifting this is quite easy; you just try to increase your “one rep maximum” per exercise. If you can see you can lift heavier stuff week-over-week, you’re going *beyond* your limits and maximum.

Now with art and life, this becomes more difficult to judge.

For artwork, I think it means to take bigger risks with your artwork. This can mean taking more risky photos in street photography (of “scary” people), or it might mean taking more ambitious compositions by getting closer, integrating more layers, and more action, while keeping it simple and elegant.

For business, testing your limits might mean increasing your rates or prices, or perhaps going into new or unknown territory. To try out a new niche, or to create a new niche/category of your own.


## Memento mori

Remember, you will and must die. Knowing this, don’t you want to see how high you can fly before you get pulled into the depths of hades?

Don’t worry about flying too close to the sun, your wings won’t burn and fall off. Just use some superglue, steel your courage, and take flight!


How to Live a More Meaningful Life

Dear friend,

If your life goal is to live a more meaningful life, here are some ideas.

## You make the meaning in your life

Meaning: I don’t think life has an ultimate meaning. I think we are put on this planet (against our own will, after all — we never asked our parents to give birth to us).

Therefore, **you must create the meaning in your life.**

## Control is everything.

To me, I’m excited by this idea that I can create the meaning of my own life. This means, I can pave my own path.

For me, **I have meaning in my life by empowering others.**

Therefore, the purpose of my life is simple. I do research and study empowering concepts and ideas, and my purpose is to communicate that to others.

## Why is photography useful?

In photography, the biggest purpose I have is this:

> Using photography as a tool of self-empowerment.

I even see street photography as walking meditation — a way to soothe and calm the soul.

## Meaning and purpose must be social

Personally, this is my philosophy:

> To find more meaning in your life, figure out how you can better help empower others.

Meaning: socially constructed. Therefore, to find meaning in life, it must somehow be social.

Philosophers strive their entire life for the pursuit of wisdom and truth, but ultimately to empower future generations of humanity.

Photographers make pictures to inspire their viewers, and future generations.

Artists wouldn’t have meaning in their lives if they didn’t have anyone to share their artwork with.

## Empower Yourself and others

Some practical ideas:

1. If you’re a photographer, consider — to find more meaning in your photography, how can you make photos that inspire, or change the thinking of your viewer?
2. How do you help empower others? Do you teach others, do you share your ideas, thoughts, and philosophies? Do you help young people or old people?
3. Write down your wins: if you’ve done something personally meaningful today, write it down, or at least mentally account for your wins.

## Empower others daily

What can you do today to empower others? Just do that everyday, and you will wake up everyday with zest, enthusiasm, and passion.



Dear friend,

I want to write you a letter on the EGO — how we can kill our personal ego (in a negative way), but also let our ego flourish (to become the best version of ourselves):


I think if you want to live a super epic life, full of creative joy and expression — embrace both extremes. My buddy Nassim Taleb calls it the ‘barbell’ strategy. We avoid the middle.

For example, don’t be ‘average’ in life. Rather, have a fucking massive ego (like myself) and be extremely humble (like [Jesus](

I feel this is the best way we can express the ‘Apollonian’ (rational) and the ‘Dionysian’ (wild and crazy) — something that [Nietzsche]( taught me.


So for me, I am very greedy about my free time and private time. I value it above almost everything else. If I don’t have creative time and freedom — I feel like I am dying. I feel like I am dying of thirst, or drowning.

So if I need to shut out distractions, I become an anti-social recluse. I lock myself up in coffee shops, and don’t check social media, emails, or messages from the outside world. I need to go into my Zen-like monk stage— in order to create.

However when I am not working on creative projects (writing, photographing, meditating, philosophizing, thinking) — I LOVE LOVE LOVE to be extroverted and around other people. To me, I live to be with other humans— but I prefer to go 100% social *after* I am done with my creative work. So I usually stop working at around 5pm, and enjoy a leisurely 3-hour dinner with Cindy— chatting about life, or meeting friends for dinner.

## III. Either ‘whole ass’ something or don’t do it

For me, I only want to ‘whole ass’ everything. No half-assign.

For example, if I am having a conversation with Cindy or a friend, I will either totally ignore them (headphones on), or I will shut off my smartphone and close the lid of my laptop, and give them 100% of my attention. No 50% attention — I don’t want to be the guy half-checking my phone while talking to someone. To me, giving someone 50% of your attention is more rude than giving someone 0% of your attention. Better 100% attention or 0% attention.

## IV. Don’t be fake humble

So I don’t like fake humility. If you are fucking awesome, just say it. Don’t decrease your accomplishments— but at the same time, don’t increase your accomplishments. Just say it how it is. Tell me the #FACTS. If you are a Hollywood movie producer making millions of dollars, no need to hide it from me. If you are a rock star producer and known all around China, no need to hide it from me. Just say it how it is.

The worse is when people act ‘fake humble.’ To me that is fake.

Even worse when people try to over-hype their accomplishments.

## V. Write with your soul

For me, I try to say what I really think. 100%. No filter. All killer.

I have censored myself for too long. No more. I want to really say what is on my mind— for the greater good and the collective. I want to have the courage to speak up for my fellow friends, humans, and society.

But the funny thing is that when I write — my ego disappears. The words write themselves. Like now, I am looking into the blinking cursor on the black screen, and the words are flowing out of my fingertips like water. But once the words have exited my fingers and onto the screen— the words no longer belong to me. They belong to you, and society as a whole.

So this is the strange parallel extreme dialectic — I write with 100% of my soul without a filter. But I don’t see my words as belonging to me. So I write with a massive ego, but once I have written something, I have no ego or connection with the writing. The writing exists by itself.

## VI. ‘My’ photos don’t belong to ‘me’

For my photos, I don’t see them as ‘my’ photos— but ‘the’ photos. I keep all the photos that I make open-source. You can download full-resolution images and do whatever you want with them. To remix them — and the reason I do it is as an educational tool, and to make images and share them openly and freely, hopefully to inspire, uplift, and motivate others.

I don’t think that as artists, we can ever ‘own’ our work. Rather, our duty is to our fellow human beings. Art (in my mind) should be 100% communal.

Of course I don’t think everyone should be forced to give away 100% full-resolution images for free. But it is an ideal that I believe in for myself— and I like to practice what I preach. Or else my beliefs are false.

## VII. MAKE COOL SHIT (and share it)

The reason I’m writing you this letter is to encourage you to build up your ego. To become stronger. To overcome yourself, and to fucking do some really cool epic shit.

But at the same time, to detach your ego from your work. Once you create it, just let it be. Don’t worry about your reputation (you cannot control it) as my [Stoic]( teachers have taught me.

So in your photography, shoot whatever you want — and no censorship. But once you share your photos, let go and detach.

Be strong,