8 simple steps to handling negative emotions


Emotions can be the best things in the world, especially when you are feeling love, happiness, and ecstasy.

But they can also be your living nightmares when you experience the worst of the worst: anxiety, depression, anger, absolute loneliness.

When we are children, we are taught to seek out for the positive emotions and hide away from the negative emotions.

This leaves us emotionally stunted as adults, because we end up without knowing how to handle negativity in a healthy manner.

We lose jobs, partners, relationships, and everything we’ve built at times, simply because we didn’t know how to handle negativity the right way.

So the next time you experience negative emotions, here are 8 ways you can make the most of your situation:

1) Identify the Emotion

The first thing you need to do is identify the emotion that’s causing you stress.

After all, if you don’t know what the problem is, how can you ever figure out how to solve it?

In some cases, this might be easy: you might understand right away that your pain is caused by loneliness or grief or stress.

But in other cases, it might not be so straightforward. You might have caused a thunderstorm of chaos in your life, but you still need to find the single emotion where everything started.

2) Ask Yourself: How Has the Emotion Changed Your Life?

Now that you have identified the emotion, it’s now time to figure out exactly what it has done to your personality and behavior.

Maybe you have become more subdued and quiet, or maybe you now lash out at friends and push away anyone who tries to help.



We all handle and react to emotions differently, and there is never a set formula for this.

The way you might react to sadness could be different to the way your partner handles sadness. Figure out how you are behaving differently because of the emotion.

3) Repeat to Yourself: This Will End

The one great thing that any emotion can do is convince you that it will last forever.

Whether it’s happiness or sadness, the brain has this odd ability to believe that the current emotion will be your state of mind for the rest of your life.

In some cases, this isn’t an issue: a bout of excitement might only last for a few minutes, and then you can move on.

In other cases, this can ruin your entire life; depression might last for weeks or months, and in that time it could feel like a lifetime has passed before it goes away.

So repeat to yourself: this will end. This will pass. Like every other emotion you have ever felt, this will eventually blow over and you will be able to live without it once again. When? That’s up to you.

4) Find the Source of the Emotion

You know the emotion, and you know how it is changing your life. You have convinced yourself that it will someday end.

Now it’s time to start your journey towards that end, and the first step is to identify the source of the emotion.

While it might seem like abstract chaos going on in your head, there will always be a physical source for your stress.



It might be the death of a loved one, getting fired from a job, or a bad break up, but one way or another, there will always be something.

Find out what that “something” is. Don’t pretend that it isn’t affecting you just because you want to feel strong. Only until you find the source can you start working on it.

5) Accept

You now know the source of your pain. It’s time to get over it and accept. Accept that your life went in a direction that you didn’t expect and you didn’t like.

But time won’t stop for you; the world isn’t going to go on pause just because you feel emotionally fragile.

It’s time to pick your pieces up and put yourself back together, because what’s happened has happened, and the longer you let it get to you, the longer you let it continue to exist.

6) Again, Remind Yourself: This Will End

Once more, take a deep breath and say to yourself: This. Will. End. Do this for as many times as you like, until the weight in the chest begins to lighten up and until the clouds over your head begin to part.

7) Get Back in the Present

Here is one thing you won’t realize until you snap out of your negativity: for all this time, you have been living in the past.

You’ve been tied to that single, terrible event that rocked your world, and you haven’t been able to live in the present since then.

Your mind has been obsessed over it, whether you are aware of it or not.

Only by getting back in the present can you begin to leave it behind. Do whatever it takes: go out and party, read a book, enjoy yourself for the first time in a long time.

8) Learn and Move On

This is it, the final step. Just because you know the emotion and you’ve snapped back to reality doesn’t mean your work is done.

Just because you are feeling good again for the first time in weeks or months doesn’t mean the lesson is over. The truth is, the lesson has just begun.

It’s time to learn. Take the time over the near future to understand what happened. See yourself in retrospect: the terrible event that set off your negative emotions, how you lost yourself in the storm of negativity, why you lost yourself, and how you picked yourself up again.

How can you handle yourself better next time? How can you prepare yourself? What was missing in your life that made you collapse so suddenly to this negativity?

Ask yourself these questions, and do your best to learn from them. Now it’s time to move on, with the knowledge that you can take anything the world throws at you.

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The Three Stages of Life


The Three Stages of Life

There is one life. However, there are many philosophies and spiritual studies that divide life into many stages. Obviously, we can divide life based on physical stages like a new-born, adolescent, adult and so on. But here I am trying to dissect life, based on the ego or mind, so to speak. I have noticed, we go through three stages in life. Let’s see how in each stage, we cope or are open to life.

The Three Stages of Life

These three stages can happen in one lifetime, or maybe not. However, the day you lose all resistance to the isness of life, that’s when you’ll reach the ultimate state of a human being. 

Stage 1: I Want It All

We are born into this world and is amazed by its people, the love showered on us and all the beauty of nature. Then we start thinking. This programmed device we call mind starts talking to us day after day. We are given a name, a family, friends and so forth. Soon we assert that this is me. Times goes on as it always does.

Then we are intimidated by other human beings and their capabilities. Society tells us to be this, be that. Achieve this, you will be complete. We start running behind ‘becoming something’. That’s when we realize ‘I am not good enough’. If I was talented, I will have added something to me. We start comparing with others. It strikes hard on us that we are not talented as our friend, our neighbor, that film star, that face on the magazine and so forth.

We get depressed by the fact that, life isn’t going the way we wanted it to. For those of us who have tasted success in the early years, those of us who are appreciated and adored, also feel a lack that only that individual know of. I am being appreciated, but that’s not enough, I need more. When life fails to cater to our interests, which is true for everyone on a longer timeline, we feel disheartened.

Stage 2: I AM Unique

“How will I add to my being?”, comes to mind.

Then starts the second stage. ‘I am unique’. I am unlike anyone else. I did not get that favorable remark from that Mr. someone because they failed to recognize my potential. ONE DAY, I will make it and those who said you can’t make it will line up for my autograph, photograph, what not. We will find ways to affirm our superiority over others. For those of us who are recognized, our egos start inflating and confirm the assumption that ‘yes, I am greater than anyone else’. 

Those of us who aren’t recognized yet, confirm their superiority by their UNIQUENESS which makes them stand apart or alone from the crowd of limelight-seekers. This is the stage of the understanding of distinctness that’s misunderstood as superiority.

Stage 3: I Accept Everything

As life isn’t a smooth road, you go on to bumps and gutters. There comes a point in life when we lose something valuable to us. A position, a place, a loved one, health. Our identity is at loss.

What we thought we are, is no longer there to serve us. If you flip the coin, sometimes it also happens that we gained everything but still feel the incompleteness. The void keeps on burning a hole in our existence. This is when we re-evaluate our priorities.

The things that we thought will complete us, are no longer doing their job. Crushed in the void of nothingness and loss, we search for the meaning of life. The contemplation over a period of time will take us on a journey where we will see clearly that, the important things in life are not to found in stuff. our job or our status or possessions. This is the period when we embark on self-discovery. A journey that leads us into our inner core.

Soon we realize, everything out there is a mere projection of what I am. It was all an inside job, it never was outside. From the thoughts of inferiority to pseudo-superiority, we have reached a stage where we see everyone as equal.

Our search for the truth

We remember the days when we used to be awed by flashy cars, intellectual conversations, beautiful women and what not. Out of the suffering bloomed something that was always a part of us, but we were too busy to notice compassion. Once we realize the equality of humanity, it’s our job to foster compassion. It’s a clear sign, we are progressing as human beings. Once we start seeing everyone as equal, no matter, sinner or saint, we have arrived. It’s the threshold of existence.

We have more to go, dive deep within ourselves to find that, the whole universe is but the projection of our mind. It’s also a time when we feel gratitude towards existence, for giving us a place and system to flourish. Gratitude for those who helped us when our world was shaken, roots tore apart.

Gratitude then flows towards those who hurt us, because, without them, we will still be living in our self-created dilutions. Dilution of grandeur so to speak. We will thank existence for nothing really, for no apparent reason. Because, if there was a reason, it wouldn’t be thankfulness in its truest sense. it’s just a trade, where you get something and you return back something else. If there is anything more to say, it will be that one day, we will bid adieu to this big wide world we called our home.

We came here empty handed and will leave the same way. But this time with lessons that nourished our souls. What will be left behind of us that we call a legacy? Maybe there will be a statue on the corner of the street. But with time, that too will wither away.

So what’s left?

The same point that was there before we were born. Nothingness.

10 things highly authentic people never, ever do


Whether you are authentic or not depends on a set of actions and behaviors that you do (or don’t do), and how strictly you abide by these rules.

If you are trying to become a more authentic person, it’s all about the way you act.

Here are 10 things you will never see authentic people do:

1) They Don’t Let Fear Dictate Their Paths

Fear is a universal constant. Each and every one of us experiences what might be or what might not be, what we can and cannot change, and how the world will see us after every choice we make.

Because of these fears, you may be tempted to wait it out; see if the decision will ever get easier, wait for the best moment, prepare a little more before making the jump.

And while you’re waiting, life is passing you by. Because the world doesn’t care whether you jump or not; time isn’t going to stop ticking.

Authentic people know this truth. They know fear is all in the mind, and that their dreams and plans should be fought for consistently if they are ever to have any chance at success.

2) They Don’t Tell Others How to Live Their Lives

No one likes being told how to live their life. Successful people may fall into this trap where they think that everyone will want to hear what they have to say about everything, just because they are successful.

But this couldn’t be further from the truth. If your words sound more like preaching than teaching, no one will listen.

Authentic people don’t speak; they listen. They understand that everyone can teach them something, including you.



3) They Don’t Complain

Problems are a part of life, but complaining is a choice. Complaining only makes things worse, dragging you down a path of negativity and regret.

Like any action, complaining takes energy. Instead of wasting energy complaining, likable people know that the only way to go when you hit rock bottom is up, and the only way to go back up is to fix your situation.

Stop wasting your breath about what went wrong or how things messed up. Start concentrating on improving. And when your friends are down, don’t go down with them—pull them back up.

4) They Don’t Hold On

The more fear you have, the tighter you hold on to your status quo. But holding on to your status quo means your world will never change or improve.

Authentic people inspire us by letting go of their fear and insecurity, and instead trusting themselves enough to know that they can get something better. And even if you fail, the act of trying is better than never trying at all.

5) They Don’t Try to Control Everything Around Them

You may be the CEO, owner, and founder of the greatest company in the world, but at the end of the day the only thing that you have complete control over is you. Inauthentic people try to impose themselves on others, and have made the decision that their concerns are greater than the concerns of those around them.

But control doesn’t last. You can’t force others under your control forever, which is why it’s a counterproductive solution.

Don’t control; instead, inspire people to move and work with you.



6) They Don’t Dwell on the Past

The past is the past. What has happened can’t be undone, no matter how much you mourn over your mistakes. The only thing you can do is learn, move on, and let go.

All you have to do is focus. When an embarrassing or humiliating situation happens, just take a deep breath, learn from it, and move on. Think of your past as a training session for your future. It doesn’t define who you are—it defines where you will go.

7) They Don’t Put Blame on Others

Others may make mistakes, but how much of the fault really falls on them? Is any of it on your shoulders?

Did you give your employees enough training? Did you overwhelm your friends with too much to do? Were your expectations higher than their capabilities?

Learn that a mistake is just a mistake and nothing else, and move on.

8) They Don’t Overcompensate to Impress

Some people may buy fancy cars and big houses as soon as they reach success, showing everyone just how much money they have in the bank. Sure, you may impress people with your things, but you won’t impress them with you.

Authentic people create genuine relationships based on shared histories and fun memories, because these are the friendships that truly matter. Superficial ones built off the back off your latest sports car? The moment your car is gone, the friendship is gone, too.

9) They Don’t Interrupt Others

Listening is the best thing you can do for a person. Not only does it show that you are giving them the time and respect to hear their thoughts, but it also shows them that they matter to you and your input is important. And the more they respect you, the more this will count.

But when you interrupt them, all of this goes down the drain. It shows them that what they are saying doesn’t matter. It devalues them and makes them feel less of a person, and it makes it seem like you don’t care at all.

10) They Don’t Put Others Down

You may have more money, more education, more experience, and more accomplishments, but that doesn’t mean you have the right to put others down.

You are not a better person; you are just unique and different, and everyone else is equally unique.

Remember this: there is no better or worse when it comes to people. Just different. The moment you see shortcomings and flaws as differences that may add value to your own experience is the moment you’ll start seeing people for what they are—people.

How to Get to the Root of Your Arguments


wpid-conflict.jpgEvery couple has disagreements – from squabbles about leaving dirty socks on the floor to battles over spending too much money. Frequently, each person pommels their partner with “the facts” and finds it maddening when their partner does not agree with them. You can save yourself from this common scenario by learning to address the issues that are fueling a current situation rather than focusing on situation itself.

Too often, when couples target a current problem, they fail to address underlying problems. So, despite sincere attempts at problem solving, they remain emotionally locked in battle (or quickly return to it). Some of the most common underlying themes include feeling unloved or unimportant, criticized or demeaned, or that the person’s efforts are un- or underappreciated.

For instance, when Sam came home from his incredibly stressful job each night, he needed time to decompress. However, Lisa also had her hands full with their children and with taking care of Sam’s mother, who was showing signs of dementia. When Lisa angrily complained that Sam did not help around the house, he responded with angry complaints of his own that she did not make dinner, or even keep the house stocked with much food. Though they argued about who was busier and how the other one could find time to do more, each felt hurt and unappreciated for their contributions to the family.

You and your partner can avoid needless and destructive arguments by choosing to listen differently to each other. Rather than focusing on the facts of the situation, begin by attending to your partner’s feelings and the underlying message about their feelings.

One day when “the craziness” of Lisa’s day slowed about 20 minutes before Sam was home, she had enough time to calm her inner swirl, though not enough time to fix dinner. When Sam walked in the door with the same tirade about no food being in the house, Lisa was able to hear his distress. She let him know that she understood that he worked hard. She could see how he would be frustrated. She spoke calmly and earnestly. This calmed Sam down a bit. Later, after they had eaten, Lisa explained that she understood how he felt because she felt similarly. She said that when she raced through the day trying to make sure everyone’s needs were met (including visiting his mother), his anger about her not making dinner made her feel that he didn’t appreciate her efforts. He could feel her struggle and let her know that he thought she was a wonderful wife, mother, daughter-in-law, and person.

After you feel like you and your partner are emotionally on the same team, caring about each other rather than at odds, you can work together to solve your problem. It is important that your solutions recognize both of your struggles.

After Lisa and Sam’s heartfelt talk, they felt more love than anger. They still had a problem, but they wanted to find a way for them both to be happy. They ultimately decided to cook together on the weekends so that they had dinners ready for the week. Not only did this eliminate the tension around weekday dinners, but they enjoyed cooking together on the weekends, and so this helped them to feel closer.

Even when you cannot find a solution that meets both of your needs, taking the time to understand and empathize with each other will strengthen your relationship. Whatever you were fighting over will become just a problem to be figured out rather than a glaring example of what is wrong with your partner or your relationship. In the end, you will find solutions, make compromises as needed, and feel closer as a couple.

These 20 brutal truths about life will help you get your shit together


When someone finally sits you down and tells it like it is, it can be a hard pill to swallow.

But if you want to really enjoy life, you need to get to the nitty gritty fast and cut the crap out of your life so you can spend time on the things that matter to you.

Here are 20 brutal truths about how to get your shit together that no one wants to admit.

1) You’ll stop living some day.

We all want to think we are invincible, but we aren’t. Stop wishing away your days and start enjoying what is going on right now.

2) Everyone around you is going to die.

Hug your mom and dad and tell your sister you love her. They won’t be there someday when you finally look up from that smartphone. No one lives forever, right? Tell people that matter to you that they matter.

3) Money doesn’t make you happy.

No matter how hard you try, money will not buy you happiness. Life is about living, not accumulating. Stop spending your money on crap.

4) Searching for happiness prevents you from finding it.

Unless you are living in the here and now, you are wasting your life. Stop chasing tomorrow and start enjoying today.

5) Spending money is less effective than spending time.

If you want to make a real difference in the world, donate your time and save your money for a rainy day. Spending time with people impacts them in ways you cannot even imagine. There is always more money, but there is never enough time.



6) Making everyone happy is for the birds.

Don’t worry about trying to make people happy. People will never be happy. You do you before your time runs out.

7) Trying to be perfect will kill you.

Standing in front of the mirror pointing out your flaws will make you old before your time. Don’t waste another second trying to be anything except what you are right now.

8) Feelings are important too.

If you think thoughts have all the power in your life, think again. Feelings cause us to do some pretty amazing things, and some not so amazing things. Pay attention to how you feel instead of trying to trick yourself into hiding from your feelings.

9) You are responsible for yourself.

No one is going to live this life for you. We all know a talented 40 year old living in their mom’s basement. Get out and do something with your life.

10) Nothing matters when you are gone.

Someday, you’ll realize that all the stuff you spent your life worrying about doesn’t matter anymore. Hopefully, you’ll realize that while you still have time to do the things you actually wanted to do.



11) Talent goes to waste if you let it.

If you have a God-given gift, or you want to learn a new talent, don’t wait. Nurture it and be proud of it.

12) Now is all that matters.

You might wake up dead tomorrow so don’t put off what you can do today until tomorrow. You might not get the chance.

13) Stop complaining: no one cares how hard your life is.

Guess what? Life is hard for everyone. It’s not supposed to be easy. If you want a different life, go out and get it. No one is going to change it for you.

14) Share your wisdom with people.

If you know something and it could help others, share it with the world. Don’t let your ego get in the way. Say your peace before you can’t.

15) Invest in yourself or lose out on life.

Stop living on the sidelines of your own life. If there is something you want to do with your life, make the decision to do it. Spending time with yourself is never a bad decision.

16) Reactions are all that matters when things go bad.

No matter how bad things get, it’s how you react that’s important. Giving up is a bad idea; pushing forward is always a good idea.

17) Have better relationships.

Work to show people you care. Don’t assume they know.

18) Look for the deeper meaning.

Life is about exploration and discovery. Don’t take it at face value. Ask questions and be curious.

19) Ambition is useless, do the work.

You can have all the great ideas in the world, but if you don’t act on them, they are just useless ideas.

20) Time is the most precious thing in your life.

You will never have enough time. Do the best you can with what you have.

Here are 6 signs your personality is so strong it’s intimidating others


You know the saying, “don’t judge a book by the cover”, but when it comes to sizing people up, first impressions can be hard to overcome.

For people with strong personality types, like those who have been branded “alphas”, it can be difficult for people to get close to them. Not because they are hard to get close to, but because of the way they come off when you first meet them.

Often thought to be overbearing and aggressive, alpha personalities have a lot more going on beneath the surface that we realize.

What’s more, many alphas don’t realize their personalities are actually making others feel uncomfortable or intimidated.

Here are 6 signs that your alpha personality is intimidating others.

1) You Always Say What’s on Your Mind

While people say they want to hear the truth, it can be hard to hear when someone is actually giving it to you. Alphas are known for their “straight to the point” personality, and sometimes their bark is worse than their bite.

strong personality is intimidating quote

2) You Are Wise Beyond Your Years

While alpha personality types are often very outgoing and extroverted, they also do a great deal of introspective reflecting and know themselves well.

This can make others uncomfortable when they realize you know your stuff, and can figure things out faster, better, and in a more efficient way than other personality types.



alpha personality is intimidating quote

3) You See Solutions Where Others See Only Problems

While everyone else is running around like chickens with their heads cut off worrying about the world’s end, you are over there getting things done.

You can see a problem from a 30,000 foot level and know the path to success within minutes.

4) Your Tolerance for Ignorance is Non-existent

Because you say what you think and mean what you say, you expect people to do the same. This means that people who are ignorant don’t stand a chance with you. Even if they are being ignorant without purpose.

You’ll call them on their crap and expect them to change their ways if they want to enjoy the pleasure of your company.



5) You Love New Things

Alpha personality types have a strong desire to try new things. Their confidence enables them to try and fail repeatedly without being knocked down. This is why they love first dates.

This also means that they are more likely to be single, adventure alone, travel the world by themselves, and enjoy taking risks. This can be a lot for people to process and can result in people keeping their distance from alphas.

6) You Cut to the Chase

Strong personalities exert a lot of energy on moving their lives forward, which means that they don’t have time for small talk. They know what is important to them and they don’t waste time doing things that aren’t on that list. So if you find yourself face to face with an alpha personality, don’t take offense to their standoffish ways. That’s just who they are.

Here are 7 hobbies that science says will make you smarter


Most people believe that your intelligence is inherent—if you were born a smart person, then you will forever be a smart person.

But this kind of thinking holds people back, as it serves as an excuse for people not to improve themselves intellectually.

In the nature versus nurture debate, the dangerous thing with the nature side of the argument is that it makes us believe that we can’t change who we are.

But recent studies continue to confirm that the opposite is true: you can increase your potential and general intelligence.

Through certain hobbies and techniques, we can spark our brain into building new neural pathways, allowing it to work at a faster and higher level.

Here are 7 hobbies scientifically proven to make you smarter:

1) Meditate

Meditation is well-known for its calming effects. When you take the time out of your day to actually just sit down, think, and breathe, you unbind yourself from the stresses of the world and give your mind and body the opportunity to stretch out and relax.

But meditation has also been found to help people have control over their own brain waves. Not convinced? In 1992, scientists were invited to study the Dalai Lama’s brain waves while he was in a state of meditation.

The researchers found that, when focusing on a certain emotion such as compassion, the Dalai Lama and the other monks could enter into a state of emotional being that was at a higher and deeper level than what most people feel.

Through meditation, they had attained full mastery of their thoughts and emotions. Since then, people have practiced meditation to help control their mind. Imagine having the ability to stop feeling fear or sadness in a tough situation, replacing them instead with confidence?



2) Pick Up Another Language

One simple way to raise your brain game that can directly add value to you through real-world application is learning a new language. Studies have found that bilingual people are significantly better at puzzle-solving than their monolingual counterparts. When you adopt a new language, your brain performs better with mentally strenuous problems and activities, even if those activities have nothing to do with language itself.

It has also been found that having at least two languages under your belt gives you better spatial awareness, and equips you with a stronger and fuller concentration. Why, exactly? Every language has its own structure and way of thinking, and exposing your brain to this different thinking naturally expands its capabilities. Languages can influence us so directly that speaking in a new language can even change your personality.

You’ll also make more friends and have fun more things to do! 

3) Read Anything and Everything

Whether you are reading Leo Tolstoy’s epic masterpiece War and Peace or the latest young adult series to follow The Hunger Games hype trail, the overall positive effects that come from reading are generally the same: stress reduction, better self-happiness, and a significant increase in emotional intelligence, fluid intelligence, and crystallised intelligence.

These are the parts of your intelligence that enable you to understand the world around you—understanding and responding to people’s emotional needs at a higher level, and piecing together puzzles and finding solutions in everyday life.

4) Exercise

A healthy way to keep your mind as fit as your body is through regular exercise. The problem some people have with exercise is that they try to do too much too fast, which results in having a few sporadic intense work-outs which does little good for the mind and body.

The key is consistency. With regular exercise, your cells are regularly exposed to BDNF, a protein released by the body during exercise that strengthens concentration, learning, memory, and focus.



5) Exercise Your Brain

There are so many ways to work out or exercise your brain—with any smartphone, you have instant access to millions of puzzles, video games, Sudoku, riddles, and other activities that force your brain to actually think.

And while it may seem to be just fun and games, forcing your brain to overcome the mental obstacles offered by these activities increases your neuroplasticity. In simple terms, neuroplasticity is your brain’s ability to reorganize and rearrange itself. When your brain is introduced to new and unfamiliar concepts, it forces it to find different and innovative ways to find solutions to these problems. This opens up new avenues and pathways in the brain, and strengthens your general cognitive ability.

6) Stretch Your Musical Talent

Whether you used to play a musical instrument as a kid or never picked up an instrument in your life, regularly learning and playing a musical instrument is one of the best ways to strengthen your brain. Multiple studies have found that musicians have better cognitive functions, from creativity to motor skills and many more.

When we play musical instruments, the brain is stimulated in the corpus callosum, which is the part which links both hemispheres of the brain and creates new connections. No matter how old you may be, you can still experience mental improvements from strumming a few keys.

7) Cumulative Learning

The problem with most traditional education today is that much the basis on which we are graded comes from final exams and tests which have little to do with anything other than mass memorization.

Students in high school and college have become accustomed to cramming for tests, learning an entire semester’s worth on the night before the exam. This leads to us forgetting everything as soon as it is no longer needed, resulting in zero growth in knowledge and intelligence.

Cumulative learning is the proper learning technique that ensures that you not only learn what you are studying, but you remember it long-term as well. This is done through short but frequent acts of repetition—which is exactly the way we learn languages.

If you are truly looking to learn a new skill or topic, cumulative learning has been proven to be much more effective than traditional learning.

Becoming Smarter: A Lifelong Journey

Increasing your intelligence and learning shouldn’t be something you do with any end-goal in mind. Rather, you should think of it as a lifelong journey of continued learning. Slowly and gradually over the years, you will find yourself mentally growing with these exercises and others like them.

When you begin to notice these changes in your mental toughness and thoroughness, these habits will have long ago become a natural part of your life.

How to Pick a Career (That Actually Fits You)


Hey readers! Quick note before we jump in:

This is a post about something I’ve been wanting to write about forever: careers. Society tells us a lot of things about what we should want in a career and what the possibilities are—which is weird because I’m pretty sure society knows very little about any of this. When it comes to careers, society is like your great uncle who traps you at holidays and goes on a 15-minute mostly incoherent unsolicited advice monologue, and you tune out almost the whole time because it’s super clear he has very little idea what he’s talking about and that everything he says is like 45 years outdated. Society is like that great uncle, and conventional wisdom is like his rant. Except in this case, instead of tuning it out, we pay rapt attention to every word, and then we make major career decisions based on what he says. Kind of a weird thing for us to do.

This post isn’t me giving you career advice really—it’s a framework that I think can help you make career decisions that actually reflect who you are, what you want, and what our rapidly changing career landscape looks like today. You’re not a pro at this, but you’re certainly more qualified to figure out what’s best for you than our collective un-self-aware great uncle. For those of you yet to start your career who aren’t sure what you want to do with their lives, or those of you currently in the middle of your career who aren’t sure you’re on the right path, I hope this post can help you press the reset button on your thought process and get some clarity.

Finally, it feels very good to put this post up. It’s been way, way too long. The last year has been pretty frustrating for me and anyone who likes Wait But Why—a lot of build-up of ideas with none of the satisfying release of those ideas on the blog (most of my last year has been spent working on another, way longer post). I’m hoping this WBW Dark Ages era is nearing its end, because I miss hanging out here. Thanks, as always, to the small group of ridiculously generous, ridiculously patient patrons who have stuck with us through such a slow period.

– Tim

PDF: If you want to print this post or read it offline, the PDF is probably the way to go. You can buy it here.

Your Life Path So Far

For most of us, childhood is kind of like a river, and we’re kind of like tadpoles.

We didn’t choose the river. We just woke up out of nowhere and found ourselves on some path set for us by our parents, by society, and by circumstances. We’re told the rules of the river and the way we should swim and what our goals should be. Our job isn’t to think about our path—it’s to succeed on the path we’ve been placed on, based on the way success has been defined for us.

For many of us—and I suspect for a large portion of Wait But Why readers—our childhood river then feeds into a pond, called college.1 We may have some say in which particular pond we landed in, but in the end, most college ponds aren’t really that different from one another.

In the pond, we have a bit more breathing room and some leeway to branch out into more specific interests. We start to ponder, looking out at the pond’s shores—out there where the real world starts and where we’ll be spending the rest of our lives. This usually brings some mixed feelings.

And then, 22 years after waking up in a rushing river, we’re kicked out of the pond and told by the world to go make something of our lives.

There are a few problems here. One is that at that moment, you’re kind of skill-less and knowledge-less and a lot of other things-less:

But before you can even address your general uselessness, there’s an even bigger issue—your pre-set path ended. Kids in school are kind of like employees of a company where someone else is the CEO. But no one is the CEO of your life in the real world, or of your career path—except you. And you’ve spent your whole life becoming a pro student, leaving you with zero experience as the CEO of anything. Up to now, you’ve only been in charge of the micro decisions—”How do I succeed at my job as a student?”—and now you’re suddenly holding the keys to the macro cockpit as well, tasked with answering stressful macro questions like “Who am I?” and “What are the important things in life?” and “What are my options for paths and which one should I choose and how do I even make a path?” When we leave school for the last time, the macro guidance we’ve become so accustomed to is suddenly whisked away from us, leaving us standing there holding our respective dicks, with no idea how to do this.

Then time happens. And we end up on a path. And that path becomes our life’s story.

At the end of our life, when we look back at how things went, we can see our life’s path in its entirety, from an aerial view.

When scientists study people on their deathbed and how they feel about their lives, they usually find that many of them feel some serious regrets. I think a lot of those regrets stem from the fact that most of us aren’t really taught about path-making in our childhoods, and most of us also don’t get much better at path-making as adults, which leaves many people looking back on a life path that didn’t really make sense, given who they are and the world they lived in.

So this is a post about path-making. Let’s take a 30-minute pre-deathbed pause to look down at the path we’re on, and ahead at where that path seems to be going, and make sure it makes sense.

The Cook and the Chef—Revisited

In the past, I’ve written about the critical distinction between “reasoning from first principles” and “reasoning by analogy”—or what I called being a “chef” vs. being a “cook.” Since writing the post, I notice this distinction everywhere, and I’ve thought about it roughly 2 million times in my own life.

The idea is that reasoning from first principles is reasoning like a scientist. You take core facts and observations and use them to puzzle together a conclusion, kind of like a chef playing around with raw ingredients to try to make them into something good. By doing this puzzling, a chef eventually writes a new recipe. The other kind of reasoning—reasoning by analogy—happens when you look at the way things are already done and you essentially copy it, with maybe a little personal tweak here and there—kind of like a cook following an already written recipe.

A pure verbatim recipe-copying cook and a pure independently inventive chef are the two extreme ends of what is, of course, a spectrum. But for any particular part of your life that involves reasoning and decision making, wherever you happen to be on the spectrum, your reasoning process can usually be boiled down to fundamentally chef-like or fundamentally cook-like. Creating vs. copying. Originality vs. conformity.

Being a chef takes a tremendous amount of time and energy—which makes sense, because you’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, you’re trying to invent it for the first time. Puzzling your way to a conclusion feels like navigating a mysterious forest while blindfolded and always involves a whole lot of failure, in the form of trial and error. Being a cook is far easier and more straightforward and less icky. In most situations, being a chef is a terrible waste of time, and comes with a high opportunity cost, since time on Earth is immensely scarce. Right now, I’m wearing J. Crew jeans and a plain t-shirt and a hoodie and Allbirds shoes, because I’m trying to conform. Throughout my life, I’ve looked around at people who seem kind of like me and I’ve bought a bunch of clothes that look like what they wear. And this makes sense—because clothes aren’t important to me, and they’re not how I choose to express my individuality. So in my case, fashion is a perfect part of life to use a reasoning shortcut and be a cook.2

But then there are those parts of life that are really really deeply important—like where you choose to live, or the kinds of friends you choose to make, or whether you want to get married and to whom, or whether you want to have kids and how you want to raise them, or how you set your lifestyle priorities.

Career-path-carving is definitely one of those really really deeply important things. Let’s spell out the obvious reasons why:

Time. For most of us, a career (including ancillary career time, like time spent commuting and thinking about your work) will eat up somewhere between 50,000 and 150,000 hours. At the moment, a long human life runs at about 750,000 hours. When you subtract childhood (~175,000 hours) and the portion of your adult life you’ll spend sleeping, eating, exercising, and otherwise taking care of the human pet you live in, along with errands and general life upkeep (~325,000 hours), you’re left with 250,000 “meaningful adult hours.”3 So a typical career will take up somewhere between 20% and 60% of your meaningful adult time—not something to be a cook about.

Quality of Life. Your career has a major effect on all the non-career hours as well. For those of us not already wealthy through past earnings, marriage, or inheritance, a career doubles as our means of support. The particulars of your career also often play a big role in determining where you live, how flexible your life is, the kinds of things you’re able to do in your free time, and sometimes even in who you end up marrying.

Impact. On top of your career being the way you spend much of your time and the means of support for the rest of your time, your career triples as your primary mode of impact-making. Every human life touches thousands of other lives in thousands of different ways, and all of those lives you alter then go on to touch thousands of lives of their own. We can’t test this, but I’m pretty sure that you can select any 80-year-old alive today, go back in time 80 years, find them as an infant, throw the infant in the trash, and then come back to the present day and find a countless number of things changed. All lives make a large impact on the world and on the future—but the kind of impact you end up making is largely within your control, depending on the values you live by and the places you direct your energy. Whatever shape your career path ends up taking, the world will be altered by it.

Identity. In our childhoods, people ask us about our career plans by asking us what we want to be when we grow up. When we grow up, we tell people about our careers by telling them what we are. We don’t say, “I practice law”—we say, “I am a lawyer.” This is probably an unhealthy way to think about careers, but the way many societies are right now, a person’s career quadruples as the person’s primary identity. Which is kind of a big thing.

So yeah—your career path isn’t like my shitty sweatshirt. It’s really really deeply important, putting it squarely in “Definitely absolutely make sure to be a chef about it” territory.

Your Career Map

Which brings us to you. I don’t know exactly what your deal is. But there’s a good chance you’re somewhere in one of the blue regions—

—which means your career path is a work in progress.4

Whether you’re yet to start your career or well into it, somewhere in the back of your mind (or maybe in the very front of it) is a “Career Plans” map.

We can group map holders into three broad categories—each of which is well-represented in the river, in the pond, standing on the shore, and at every stage of adult life.

One group of people will look at the map and see a big, stressful question mark.

These are people who feel indecisive about their career path. They’ve been told to follow their passion, but they don’t feel especially passionate about anything. They’ve been told to let their strengths guide them, but they’re not sure what they’re best at. They may have felt they had answers in the past, but they’ve changed and they’re no longer sure who they are or where they’re going.

Other people will see a nice clear arrow representing a direction they feel confident is right—but find their legs walking in a different direction. They’re living with one of the most common sources of human misery, a career path they know in their heart is wrong.

The lucky ones feel they know where they want to go and believe they’re marching in that direction.

But even these people should pause and ask themselves, “Who actually drew this arrow? Was it really me?” The answer can get confusing.

I’m pretty sure all of these people would benefit from a moment of career path reflection.

The Okay But Why Do You Think You Can Help Me With My Career Reflection You Draw Stick Figures for a Living Blue Box

Extremely fair question. One thing I always ask myself as I pick topics to write about is, “Am I qualified to write about this?” Here are the reasons I decided to take on this topic:

1) I have spent most of the last 20 years in a perpetual state of analyzing my own career path.

2) My path has taken a lot of turns—from wanting to be a movie star when I was 7 to wanting to be the president when I was 17 to wanting to write film scores when I was 22 to wanting to be an entrepreneur when I was 24 to wanting to write musicals when I was 29 to most recently wanting to be a writer-ish guy.

3) After being pretty all over the place about my career path for most of my life, I actually love my job now. That’s always subject to change, but being able to look at the decision-making processes that led me to confusing or frustrating places, side by side with the decisions that led me to a more fulfilling place, has offered me some wisdom on where people tend to go wrong.

4) On top of having my own story to look at, I’ve had a front-row seat for the stories of my dozen or so closest friends. My friends seem to share my career path obsessiveness, so between observing their paths and talking with them about those paths again and again along the way, I’ve broadened my views on the topic, which helps me to distinguish between the lessons that are my-life specific and those that are more universal.

5) Finally, this isn’t a post about which careers are better or worse than others or which career values are more or less meaningful—there are lots of social scientists and self-help authors out there with good data on that, and I’m not one of them. It’s instead a framework that I think can help a career-path reflector better see their own situation, and what really matters to them, clearly and honestly. This framework has worked really well for me, so I think it can probably be helpful for other people too.

Now that you’ve taken a fresh look at your Career Plans map, along with whatever arrow may or may not be on it, put it down and out of sight. We’ll come back to it at the end of the post. It’s time now for a deep dive—let’s think about this from scratch. From first principles.

In the cook-chef post, I designed a simple framework for how a chef makes major career choices. At its core is a simple Venn diagram.

The first part of the diagram is the Want Box, which contains all the careers you find desirable.

The second part of the diagram is the Reality Box. The Reality Box is for the set of all careers that are realistic to potentially achieve—based on a comparison, in each case, between your level of potential in an area and the general difficulty of achieving success in that area.

The overlapping area contains your optimal career path choices—the set of arrows you should consider drawing on your Career Map. We can call it the Option Pool.

This is straightforward enough. But actually filling in these boxes accurately is way harder than it looks. For the diagram to work, it has to be as close to the truth as possible, and to get there, we have to lift up the hood of our subconscious and head down. Let’s start with the Want Box.

Deep Analysis, Part 1: Your Want Box

The hard thing about the Want Box is that you want a bunch of different things—or, rather, there are a bunch of different sides of you, and each of them wants—and fears—its own stuff. And since some motivations have conflicting interests with others, you cannot, by definition, have everything you want. Going for one thing you want means, by definition, not going for others, and sometimes, it’ll specifically mean going directly against others. The Want Box is a game of compromise.

The Yearning Octopus

To do a proper Want Box audit, you need to think about what you yearn for in a career and then unpack the shit out of it. Luckily, we have someone here who can help us. The Yearning Octopus.

We each have our own personal Yearning Octopus5 in our heads. The particulars of each person’s Yearning Octopus will vary, but people also aren’t all that different from each other, and I bet many of us feel very similar yearnings and fears (especially given that I find that Wait But Why readers tend to have a lot in common).

The first thing to think about is that there are totally distinct yearning worlds—each living on one tentacle. These tentacles often do not get along with each other.

It gets worse. Each tentacle is made up of a bunch of different individual yearnings and their accompanying fears—and these often massively conflict with each other too.

Let’s take a closer look at each tentacle to see what’s going on.

The Personal Yearnings tentacle is probably the hardest one to generalize here—it’s pretty particular to each of us. It’s a reflection of our specific personality and our values, and it bears the burden of probably the most complex and challenging human need: fulfillment. It’s also in the shit dealing with not only our current selves, but a bunch of our past selves too. The dreams of 7-year-old you and the idealized identity of 12-year-old you and the secret hopes of 17-year-old you and the evolving passions of your current self are all somewhere on the personal tentacle, each throwing their own little fit about getting what they want, and each fully ready to make you feel horrible about yourself with their disappointment and disgust if you fail them. On top of that, your fear of death sometimes emerges on the personal tentacle, all needy about you leaving your mark and achieving greatness and all that. The personal tentacle is why you don’t find very many billionaires content to spend the rest of their life sipping cocktails on the beach—it’s a highly needy tentacle.

And yet, the personal tentacle is also one that often ends up somewhat neglected. Because in many cases, it’s the ickiest set of yearnings to really go for; because the fears of this tentacle aren’t scary in an immediate way—they creep in out of the background over time; and because the personal tentacle is always at risk of getting bowled over early in your career by the powerful animal emotions of the other tentacles. This neglect can leave a person with major regrets later on once the dust settles. An unfulfilled Personal Yearnings tentacle is often the explanation, for example, behind a very successful, very unhappy person—who may believe they got successful in the wrong field.

The Social Yearnings tentacle is probably our most primitive, animal side, with its core drive stemming back to our tribal evolutionary past. On the tentacle are a number of odd creatures.

As we’ve discussed before on this blog, we all have a Social Survival Mammoth living in our heads who’s earth-shatteringly obsessed with what other people think of us. This means he craves acceptance and inclusion and being well-liked, while likewise being petrified of embarrassment, negative judgment, and disapproval. He really really really wants to be in the in-group and he really really really doesn’t want to be in the outgroup. He’s quite cute though.

Then there’s your ego, who’s a similar character but even more needy. Your ego doesn’t just want to be accepted; it wants to be admired, desired, and fawned upon—ideally, on a mass scale. More upsetting to it than being disliked is being ignored. It wants to be relevant and important and widely known.

There are other characters milling about as well. Somewhere else on the social tentacle is a little judge with a little gavel who gets very butthurt if it thinks people aren’t judging you fairly—if you’re not appropriately appreciated. It’s very important to the judge that people are aware of exactly how smart and talented you think you are. The judge is also big on holding grudges—which is the reason a lot of people are driven more than anything by a desire to show that person or those people who never believed in them.

Finally, some of us may find a loving little dog on our social tentacle who wants more than anything in the world to please its owner, and who just cannot bear the thought of disappointing them. The one problem with this adorable creature is that its owner isn’t you. It’s a person with so much psychological power over you that, if you’re not careful, you may dedicate your whole career to trying to please them and make them proud. (It’s probably a parent.)

The Lifestyle Yearnings tentacle mostly just wants Tuesday to be a good day. But like, a really pleasant, enjoyable day—with plenty of free time and self-care and relaxation and luxuries.

It’s also concerned with your life in the big picture being as great as possible—as far as your lifestyle tentacle is concerned, you should be able to do what you want to do in life, when and how you want to do it, with the people you like most. Life should be full of fun times and rich experiences, but it should also roll by smoothly, without too much hard work and as few bumps in the road as possible.

The issue is, even if you place a high priority on your lifestyle yearnings, it’s pretty difficult to keep the whole tentacle happy at the same time. The part of the tentacle that just wants to sit around and relax will hold you back from sweating to build the kind of career that offers long-term flexibility and the kind of wealth that can make life luxurious and cushy and full of toys. The part of the tentacle that only feels comfortable when the future feels predictable will reject the exact kinds of paths that may generate the long-term freedom another part of the tentacle longs for. The side of you that wants a stress-free life doesn’t get along very well with the side of you that thirsts to be hang gliding off a cliff in Namibia like Richard Branson.

The Moral Yearnings tentacle thinks the rest of the tentacles of your Yearning Octopus are a real pack of dicks—each one more self-involved and self-indulgent than the next. The parts of you on the moral tentacle look around and see a big world that needs so much fixing; they see billions of people no less worthy than you of a good life who just happened to be born into inferior circumstances; they see an uncertain future ahead that hangs in the balance between utopia and dystopia for life on Earth—a future we can actually push in the right direction if we could only get our other tentacles out of our way. While the other tentacles fantasize about what you would do with your life if you had a billion dollars in the bank, the moral tentacle fantasizes about the kind of impact you could make if you had a billion dollars to deploy.

Needless to say, the other tentacles of your Yearning Octopus find the moral tentacle to be insufferable. They also can’t begin to understand philanthropy for philanthropy’s sake—they think, “Other people aren’t me, so why would I spend my time and energy working to help them?”—but they can understand philanthropy for their own motive’s sake. While the moral and lifestyle tentacles tend to be in direct conflict, others may sometimes find common ground—the social tentacle can get very into philanthropy if it’ll happen to win you respect and admiration from a highly regarded social group, and some people’s personal tentacle may find the meaning or self-worth it so craves in a philanthropic endeavor.

That’s why, when you do something philanthropic—or anything altruistic, really—there are a few separate things going on in your head. The part of you determined to get proper public credit for the deed lives on your social tentacle; the part of you that thinks “God I’m a good person” lives on your personal tentacle; and the part of you that really loves seeing the person or group you helped be better off lives on your moral tentacle. Likewise, not doing anything for others can hurt you on multiple tentacles—the moral tentacle because it feels guilty and sad, the social tentacle because this may cause others to judge you as a selfish or greedy person, and the personal tentacle because it may lower your self-esteem.

Your Practical Yearnings tentacle thinks all of this is fine and great—but it would also like to point out that it’s March 31st and your rent is due tomorrow, and the funny thing about that is that it logged into your bank account and saw that the number of dollars in it is actually less than the number of dollars that your landlord will need from you sometime in the next 34 hours. And yeah it knows that you deposited that check on Thursday and that it’s supposed to clear tomorrow morning, but your practical tentacle also could have sworn that just last month, all the tentacles promised that they’d make some sacrifices in order to build up at least a little bank account cushion so that simply paying the rent wouldn’t have to be really fucking stressful every month. Your practical tentacle also can’t help but notice that your social tentacle offered to buy a round of drinks for all nine people you went to the bar with last Saturday so those people would think of you as a classy, generous person, and that your lifestyle tentacle chose to rent what sure seems like a pretty nice-ass apartment for someone now living check to check, and that the updates have gotten real quiet from your friend about that bagel delivery service he started six months ago that your moral tentacle happily invested $2,500 in to help it get off the ground, and oh also that meanwhile your personal tentacle has everyone sweating their dick off working at two comedy-writing internships simultaneously that somehow manage to bring in less money combined than you made dressing up as an Egyptian enchantress to wait tables at Jekyll & Hyde sophomore year of college.

At its basic level, your practical tentacle wants to make sure you can eat food and wear clothes and buy the medicine you need and not live outside. It doesn’t really care how these things happen—it just wants them to happen. But then everyone else on the octopus makes your practical tentacle’s life super hard by being fucky about things. Every time your income goes up, your lifestyle tentacle decides to raise the bar on what it wants and expects, leaving your practical tentacle continually in the shit trying to cover it all so you don’t have to run up your credit card debt. Your personal tentacle has all of these weird needs that take up a lot of time and more often than not aren’t exactly big money-makers. And while your practical tentacle would be totally down to just ask your rich uncle for money to help out, your social tentacle outlawed asking others for money because “it’s not a good look,” with your personal tentacle chiming in that “yeah, we’re better than that.”

So that’s the situation. You’ve got this Yearning Octopus in your head with five tentacles (or however many yours has), each with their own agenda, that often conflict with each other. Then there are the distinct individual yearnings on each tentacle, often in conflict amongst themselves. And if that weren’t enough, you sometimes have furious internal conflict inside a single yearning. Like when your desire to pursue your passion can’t figure out what it’s most passionate about.

Or when you want so badly to be respected, but then you remember that a career that wins the undying respect of one segment of society will always receive shrugs from other segments and even contemptuous eye rolls from other segments still.

Or when you decide to satisfy your urge to help others, before realizing that the part of you that wants to dedicate your life to helping to mitigate humanity’s greatest existential risks has palpable disdain for the part of you that would rather make a tangible positive impact on your local community—while the part of you that can’t stand the thought of the millions of today’s humans without access to clean water finds both of those other yearnings to be pretty cold and heartless.

So yeah, your Yearning Octopus is complicated. And no human in history has ever satisfied their entire octopus—that’s why you’ll never find it fully smiling. Human yearning is a game of choices and sacrifices and compromise.

Dissecting the Octopus

With that in mind, let’s return to your Want Box. When we think about our career goals and fears and hopes and dreams, our consciousness is just accessing the net output of the Yearning Octopus—which is usually made up of its loudest voices. Only by digging into our mind’s subconscious can we see what’s really going on.6

The cool thing is that we all have the ability to do that. The stuff in your subconscious is like stuff in the basement of a house. It’s not off-limits to us—it’s just in the basement. We can go look at it anytime—we just have to A) remember that the house has a basement, and B) actually spend the time and energy to go down there, even though going down there might suck.

So let’s head to the basement of your mind to look for the octopus. Unless you’re one of those people who’s really practiced at analyzing your subconscious, it might be dark in the basement, making it hard to see your octopus. The way to start turning the lights on is by identifying what your conscious mind currently knows about your yearnings and fears, and then unpacking it.

Like if there’s a certain career path that sounds fantastic to you, unpack that. Which tentacles in particular are yearning for that career—and which specific parts of those tentacles?

If you’re not currently working towards that career you supposedly yearn for, try to figure out why not. If you think it’s because you’re afraid of failing, unpack that. Fear of failure can emerge from any of the tentacles, so that’s not a specific enough analysis. You want to find the specific source of the fear. Is it a social tentacle fear of embarrassment, or of being judged by others as not that smart, or of appearing to be not that successful to your romantic interests? Is it a personal tentacle fear of damaging your own self-image—of confirming a suspicion about yourself that haunts you? Is it a lifestyle tentacle fear of having to downgrade your living situation, or of bringing stress and instability into a currently predictable life? Or maybe that fear of a living situation downgrade isn’t actually emerging from your lifestyle tentacle, but more so from your social tentacle—in other words, is it possible you’re indifferent about the apartment change itself but super concerned about the message a lifestyle downgrade sends to your friends and family? Or are there financial commitments you simply cannot back out of at the moment, and your practical tentacle is in a genuine panic about how you’ll make ends meet should this career switch take longer than expected to work out, or not work out at all? Or are a few of these combining together to generate your fear of making the leap?

Perhaps you don’t really think it’s fear of failure that’s stopping you, but something else. Maybe it’s a dread of the change in identity—both internally and externally—that inevitably accompanies a career move like this. Maybe it’s the heavy weight of inertia—an intense resistance to change—that seems to exist in and of itself and overpowers all of your other yearnings. In either case, you’d want to unpack the feeling and ask yourself exactly which tentacles are so opposed to an identity shift, or so driven by inertia.

Maybe you pine to be rich. You fantasize about a life where you make $1.2 million a year, and you feel a tremendous drive to make it happen. All five tentacles can feel a desire for wealth under certain circumstances, each for their own reasons. Unpack it.

As you unpack an inner drive to make money, maybe you discover that at its core, the drive is more for a sense of security than for vast wealth. That can be unpacked too. A yearning for security at its simplest is just your practical tentacle doing what your practical tentacle does. But maybe it’s not actually basic security you want as much as a guarantee of a certain level of fanciness demanded by your lifestyle or social tentacle. Or perhaps what you really want is a level of security so over-the-top secure it can no longer be called a security yearning—instead, it may be an impulse by the emotional well-being section of your lifestyle tentacle to alleviate a compulsive financial stress you were raised to forever feel, almost regardless of your actual financial situation.

The answers to all of these questions lie somewhere on the tentacles of your Yearning Octopus. And by asking questions like these and digging deep enough to identify the true roots of your various yearnings, you start to turn on the basement light and acquaint yourself with your octopus in all its complexity.

You’ll also come to understand which of your inner yearnings seem to speak the loudest in your mind and carry the most pull in your decision-making processes. Pretty quickly, a yearning hierarchy will begin to reveal itself. You’ll identify yearnings that speak loudly and get their way; yearnings that cry at the top of their lungs but get continually elbowed out of the way by higher-prioritized parts of the octopus; yearnings that seem resigned to their low-status positions in the hierarchy.

Searching for Imposters

We’re making good progress—but we’re just getting started. Once you have a reasonably clear picture of your Yearning Octopus, you can start doing the real work—work that takes place another level down in your subconscious, in the basement of the basement. Here, you can set up a little interrogation room and one by one, bring each yearning down into it for a cross-examination.

You’ll start by asking each yearning: how did you end up here, and why are you the way you are? Desires, beliefs, values, and fears don’t materialize out of nowhere. They’re either developed over time by our internal consciousness as observations and life experience pour in, or they’re implanted in us from the outside, by someone else. In other words, they’re the product of either you the chef or you the cook.

So the goal here in your creepy interrogation room is to tug on the faces of each of your yearnings to find out if it’s authentically you, or if it’s someone else disguised as you.

You can pull on a yearning’s face by playing the Why Game. You’ll ask your initial Why—Why is this something I want?—and get to some kind of Because. Then you’ll keep going. Why did that particular Because lead you to want what you now want? And when did that particular Because gain so much gravity with you? You’ll get to a deeper Because behind the Because. And if you continue with this, you’ll usually discover one of three things:

1) You’ll trace the Why back to its origin and reveal a long chain of authentic evolution that developed through deep independent thought. You’ll pull on their face and confirm that the skin is real.

2) You’ll trace the Why back to an original Because that someone else installed in you—I guess the only reason I actually have this value is because my mom kind of forced it on me—and you realize that you never really thought to consider whether you actually independently agree with it. You never stopped to ask yourself whether your own accumulated wisdom actually justifies the level of conviction you feel about that core belief. In a case like this, the yearning is revealed to be an imposter pretending to be an authentic yearning of yours. You pull on its face and it’s a mask that comes off, exposing the yearning’s original installer underneath.

3) You’ll trace the Why back and back and get kind of lost in a haze of “I guess I just know this because it’s true!” This could be an authentic you thing, or just another version of #2, in an instance where you can’t recall the moment this feeling was installed in you. Somewhere deep in you, you’ll have a hunch about which it is.

In a #1 scenario, you can be proud that you developed that part of you like a chef. It’s an authentic and hard-earned feeling or value.

In a #2 or maybe #3 scenario, you’ve discovered that you’ve been duped. You’ve let someone else sneak onto your Yearning Octopus while you weren’t looking. When it comes to that particular belief of yours, you’re a cook following someone else’s recipe—an obedient robot reciting desires and fears out of someone else’s brain.

There’s a chance you’re an unusually wise person whose examination reveals an octopus developed mostly by you and kept readily up to date. More likely, you’re like me and most of my friends—your interrogation room reveals some definite imposters, or at least a lot of ambiguity. Like, underneath one mask, you’ll find your mom.

You’ll pull off others to reveal the values and judgments of broader conventional wisdom, or the viewpoints of your more immediate community, or what’s considered cool by the dominant culture of your generation or the immediate culture within your closest group of friends.

Sometimes you’ll get to the end of a Why-Because pathway only to find the philosophy in a famous novel, or something a celebrity hero of yours once said in an interview, or a strong opinion one of your professors always repeated.

You might even find that some of your yearnings and fears were written by you…when you were seven years old. Like a childhood dream that was etched into the back of your consciousness as the thing you believe you really want, when you’re being truly honest.

The interrogation room probably won’t be that fun a time. But it’s time well spent—because you’re not your 7-year-old self, just like you’re not your parents or your friends or your generation or your society or your heroes or your past decisions or your recent circumstances. You’re Current-Age You—the only person, and the only version of yourself, who is actually qualified to want and not want the things you want and don’t want.

To be clear, this isn’t to say that it’s wrong to live by the words of a wise parent or a famous philosopher or friends you respect or the convictions of a younger you. Humble people are by definition influence-able—influences are an important and inevitable part of who each of us is. The key distinction is this:

Do you treat the words of your external influences as information, held and considered by an authentic inner you, that you’ve carefully decided to embrace? Or are your influences themselves actually in your brain, masquerading as inner you?

Do you want the same thing someone else you know wants because you heard them talk about it, you thought about it alongside your own life experience, and you eventually decided that, for now, you agree? Or because you heard someone talk about what they want or fear, and you thought, “I don’t know shit and that person does, so if they say X is true, I’m sure they’re right”—and then you etched those ideas into your mind, never again feeling the need to question them?

The former is what chefs do. The latter is what you do when you’re being an obedient robot. And a robot is what you become when at some point you get the idea in your head that someone else is more qualified to be you than you are.

The good news is that all humans make this mistake—and you can fix it. Just like your subconscious is right there for viewing if you want to view it—it’s also there for changing and updating and rewriting. It’s your head—you’re allowed to do with it what you want.

So it’s time for some evictions. Masked imposters have to go. Even mom and dad.

At the end of this, your octopus may look a little barren, leaving you feeling a little like you don’t know who you even are anymore. We usually think of this as a bad feeling, or even an existential crisis, but it actually means you’re doing better than most people.

The drop from naive over-confidence to wise, realistic humility never feels good, but pausing the roller coaster while it’s still on that first cliff and avoiding the pain—which turns out to be a lot of people’s move—isn’t a great strategy. Wisdom isn’t correlated with knowledge, it’s correlated with being in touch with reality—it’s not how far to the right you are on the graph, it’s how close you are to the orange line. Wisdom hurts at first, but it’s the only place where actual growth happens. The irony is that the cliff-pausers of the world like to make the wiser, braver valley-dwellers or continual-climbers feel bad about themselves—because they fundamentally don’t get how knowing yourself works. They haven’t reached that stage yet.

Getting to know your real self is super hard and never complete. But if you’ve tumbled off the cliff, you’ve gone through a key rite of passage and progress is now possible. As you climb up the orange line, you’ll slowly but surely begin to repopulate your Yearning Octopus with your real self.

At the moment, it probably won’t be obvious what those missing yearnings of yours are exactly—because they’re on an even deeper floor of your subconscious. They’re in the basement of the basement of the basement—in a place called Denial Prison.

Denial Prison

Our brain’s Denial Prison is a place most of us don’t even know is there—it’s where we

How I Quit Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon


A reflection on my month without Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon, plus a how-to guide if you want to quit the biggest companies in tech.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE BIG FIVE:
EVERYTHING WAS UGLY AND NOTHING WORKED

It was just before closing time at a Verizon store in Bushwick, New York last May when I burst through the door, sweaty and exasperated. I had just sprinted—okay I walked, but briskly—from another Verizon outlet a few blocks away in the hopes I’d make it before they closed shop for the night. I was looking for a SIM card that would fit a refurbished 2012 Samsung Galaxy S3 that I had recently purchased on eBay, but the previous three Verizon stores I visited didn’t have any chips that would fit such an old model.

When I explained my predicament to the salesperson, he laughed in my face.

“You want to switch from you current phone to an… S3?” he asked incredulously.

I explained my situation. I was about to embark on a month without intentionally using any services or products produced by the so-called “Big Five” tech companies: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. At that point I had found adequate, open source replacements for most of the services offered by these companies, but ditching the Android OS, which is developed by Google, was proving difficult.

Most of the tech I use on a day-to-day basis is pretty utilitarian. At the time I was using a cheap ASUS laptop at work and a homebrew PC at my apartment. My phone was a Verizon-specific version of the Samsung Galaxy J3, a 2016 model that cost a little over $100 new. They weren’t fancy, but they’ve reliably met most of my needs for years.

For the past week and a half I had spent most of my evenings trying to port an independent mobile OS called Sailfish onto my phone without any luck. As it turned out, Verizon had locked the bootloader on my phone model, which is so obscure that no one in the vibrant Android hacking community had dedicated much time to figuring out a workaround. If I wanted to use Sailfish, I was going to have to get a different phone.

I remembered using a Galaxy S3 while living in India a few years ago and liking it well enough. I ultimately decided to go with that model after finding extensive documentation online from others who had had success porting unofficial operating systems onto their phones. So two days and $20-plus-shipping later, I was in possession of a surprisingly new-looking Verizon Galaxy S3. The only thing that remained to do before loading Sailfish onto the device was to find a SIM card that fit. SIM cards come in three different sizes—standard, micro, and nano—and my nano SIM wouldn’t fit in the S3’s micro SIM port.

By the time I explained all this to the Verizon employee, he had found a SIM card that would work. As he navigated the Android setup menu he asked me if I wanted him to link my Google account to the phone. “Oh that’s right,” he said, looking up from the phone and laughing. “Sorry, it’s just a habit.”

I could hardly blame him for the slipup. I’m probably the only person who has ever come into the store who didn’t want to synchronize the Google services they use with their phone. It’d be senseless to resist that kind of convenience and Google knows this, which is why Android prompts you to enter your Google credentials before you’ve even reached the phone’s dashboard for the first time. But what I wanted to know is whether there was another way.

Want a more in-depth explanation of why you might want to quit the Big Five? Check out my introductory blog post on how this experiment came about

By now, it’s common knowledge that Google, Facebook, and Amazon are harvesting as much of our personal data as they can get their hands on to feed us targeted ads, train artificial intelligence, and sell us things before we know we need them. The results of this ruthless data-driven hypercapitalism speak for themselves: Today, the Big Five tech companies are worth a combined total of $3 trillion dollars. When I started my month without the Big Five in May, Google’s parent company Alphabet, Amazon, and Apple were racing to be the first company in history with stock worth $1 trillion. In August, Apple became the first to reach this milestone and just a few weeks later Amazon’s market cap also briefly passed $1 trillion.

With the exception of Microsoft and Apple, these fortunes were not built by selling wildly popular products, but by collecting massive amounts of user data in order to more effectively sell us stuff. At the same time, this data has also been abused to swing elections and abet state surveillance. For most of us, giving away our data was seen as the price of convenience—Google and Facebook are “free” to use, after all.

Although Amazon now sells its own products, its rapid growth was fueled by selling other people’s products. This gave the company unprecedented access to consumer habits and data, which it used to spin out its own consumer goods brands and gain invaluable experience in logistics and web hosting. Both its in-house consumer brands and Amazon Web Services are now core parts of Amazon.

The widespread adoption of Microsoft and Apple products over the past 40 years, meanwhile, was no accident, but the result of monopoly-focused business tactics. The end result was that their products appear to be a natural default. You’re either a Mac person or a Windows person and you stick to your brand because that’s the way it’s always been.

 

As the open internet was swallowed whole by the megacorporations of Silicon Valley, however, a revolution was occurring in free, open source software (FOSS). Although FOSS can trace its roots back to the crew working at MIT’s artificial intelligence laboratory in the early 1980s, it broke into the mainstream in a big way largely due to the creation of Linux, an open operating system developed in the early 90s. These days there’s a galaxy of free and open source software that offers adequate alternatives to most Big Five services, and much of it is powered by Linux. In fact, a lot of the Big Five services you use on a daily basis are probably also based on Linux or open source software that has had some proprietary code grafted on top of it before it was repackaged and sold back to you.

My goal with going a month without the Big Five was to see if I could rely solely on open source or independent software without compromising what I was able to accomplish with proprietary code. Basically, could I live my normal life with open source alternatives?

Going into the experiment, I realized that there was a good chance I’d come crawling back to some of the Big Five services when it was over. Yet as I discovered over the four weeks, switching to independent alternatives didn’t negatively affect most parts of my life, but it did take a little getting used to.

Before diving into the nitty gritty of what worked and what didn’t, however, let me explain the limits of the experiment.

LIMITATIONS

After announcing my intention to relinquish Big Five services for a month, People On The Internet pointed out that my experiment would fail because I would almost certainly visit a website hosted by Amazon’s cloud service at some point, thereby indirectly putting money into Jeff Bezos’s pocket. This is, of course, true. Amazon Web Services hosts a number of popular sites that I use on a regular basis, such as Netflix, Reddit, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Yelp, all of which I visited at least once during the month.

Unfortunately, avoiding this kind of indirect support of Big Five through their back-end services will become even more difficult to avoid in the future. For example, Google is beginning to lay its own undersea internet cables, creating the infrastructure for totally networked homes, and developing self-driving car services. Microsoft is aggressively pursuing cloud computing platforms and recently acquired GitHub, a code repository I frequently use while teaching myself how to program. Amazon moved into the space data business and is also working on networking your home with devices like Alexa, and Facebook still controls how much of the world communicates through its website, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

Yet even if I did scrupulously avoid visiting sites hosted on Amazon Web Services, the experiment was designed to be temporary. This meant that rather than shutting down my work Gmail accounts, I had them forward my email to an alternative email provider that I would then use to send and receive emails. There were also inevitably important files that I neglected to transfer from my Google Drive to an alternative hosting service when I was preparing for the experiment, so I had to log in to my Google account to retrieve those files and move them over. Or there were times when I was attempting to change a YouTube link to a HookTube link and accidentally landed on YouTube.

I don’t think the handful of lapses alluded to above undercut the spirit of the experiment, however, since I wasn’t intentionally using any services offered by the Big Five. If I were permanently planning to leave the Big Five I would have transferred all my files from Google Drive, deleted my Gmail accounts, and so on.

So with these experimental limitations in mind, I present the Motherboard Guide to Quitting the Big Five, based on my own experience in May 2018.

THE MOTHERBOARD GUIDE
TO QUITTING THE BIG FIVE

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Image: Motherboard

HOW TO QUIT FACEBOOK

My experiment in leaving the Big Five arguably began back in March, when I deleted my Facebook account in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Of all the companies I abandoned for this experiment, Facebook and its subsidiaries were by far the easiest. I have tried and failed to start an Instagram account several times over the years. I find Instagram unbelievably boring and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll never understand its already large, and still growing, appeal.

Quitting WhatsApp was more difficult since I used it to keep in touch with my friends abroad, many of whom live in countries where WhatsApp is the default communication tool. With friends and family in the US, I switched over to the encrypted chat app Telegram or just stuck to normal SMS and email. As I soon learned, the ideal messaging platform doesn’t exist. If security is your thing, WhatsApp, Messenger, Signal, and Telegram all have their flaws and all offer comparable services. The main advantage of WhatsApp is that nearly a quarter of the world already uses it.

I have been off Facebook for a few months now and my only regret is that I didn’t leave sooner. Although there is admittedly something of a phantom-limb effect right after leaving—pulling out my phone in response to imaginary pings from Messenger or reflexively navigating to the Facebook login page only to realize I no longer had a profile—the feeling that I was always missing something quickly subsided. I go out with friends and attend events just as much as I did before. I have no qualms about missing events that I would’ve received a mass Facebook invite to because now I live in blissful ignorance of their occurrence. Contrary to my expectations, my FOMO is at its lowest point in years.

“Contrary to my expectations, my FOMO is at its lowest point in years”

Admittedly, leaving Facebook is a privilege. In many places, Facebook and Messenger are people’s only links to the outside world, or people may depend on Facebook to run their business. It can also make it challenging for people to contact you if you leave. Although I made a point of collecting contact information from my friends before I deleted my account, there were inevitably some I forgot.

During my month without the Big Five, I received an email from an Argentinian friend I hadn’t seen in years who was passing through New York. When we met for dinner, he mentioned how hard I had been to track down without Facebook. Fortunately, I’ve listed my email publicly on my website and still had a Twitter profile at that point, so he was able to find an alternative method of contacting me. But for people who don’t work in industries where it’s normal to make your email public or to have a personal website, these types of missed connections are bound to happen.

As for the actual process of deleting your Facebook profile, it’s pretty simple. I’ve covered the process in detail in another article, but there are a few points you’ll want to consider before taking the plunge. If you’re the type of person who signs up for other apps such as Tinder or Airbnb with your Facebook account, then deleting your Facebook profile is going to be way more of a pain in the ass because you’re going to have to switch all those accounts over to an email login first. Second, if you have hundreds of photo albums dating back to 2008 that you want to save, be prepared to spend a few hours scraping them off of Facebook. (There are scripts that help with this, but I didn’t find any of them to be that efficient.) Other than that, there’s a button on Facebook that will allow you to download all your data in one fell swoop. It includes every like, comment, and event invite from the past decade so you can cherish these internet minutiae until you grow old and die.

Read More: Delete All Your Apps

There are a number of legitimate reasons you might want to consider leaving Facebook. In my case, I left due to my discomfort with the idea that I was giving away huge amounts of intensely personal data to a company that had a history of mishandling its users’ information. I was also getting tired of wasting so much time endlessly scrolling through status updates from people whom I hadn’t seen or talked to for years. I had managed to convince myself that clicking “like” on digital simulacra of people’s lives was socializing and, to borrow Mark Zuckerberg’s favorite word, being part of a “community.”

There’s no doubt that humans are social creatures and that human interaction is a critical part of an individual’s wellbeing. How strange, then, that a mounting body of evidence shows that reducing social media use actually decreases loneliness and feelings of unhappiness. To make matters worse, sometimes Facebook makes us unhappy on purpose.

But even if you have more free time than you know what to do with and don’t mind forking over your data to a multi-billion dollar company that just “runs ads,” you might consider ditching Facebook because it is a breeding ground for disinformation. In the past three years, evidence has emerged that Facebook was a primary vector for sowing political discord in the United States and, so far, Zuckerberg hasn’t demonstrated that his company has the faintest idea of how to stop it. Maybe one day it will figure out an effective filter for fake news, but until then, there’s a good chance that meme your racist uncle just posted was generated by a Russian bot.

Read More: The Impossible Job: Inside Facebook’s Struggle to Moderate 2 Billion People

During Zuckerberg’s testimony before the US Congress in April, Senator Lindsey Graham asked him point blank whether Facebook was a monopoly. Zuckerberg danced around the question and was ultimately unable to provide an example of alternative services offering a similar product to Facebook.

Although there are lots of alternative social media platforms out there, none of them are used by half the world’s population, which is exactly what makes Facebook so valuable. Still, if you want to keep social media in your life, you might want to use an alternative platform, such as Mastodon (a decentralized Twitter imitator) or Ello (a privacy-oriented, ad-free Facebook alternative). You won’t find anyone you know on there, probably, but at least your social media fix won’t come at the cost of your privacy.

HOW TO QUIT APPLE

I’ve only owned two Apple products in my life. One was an old 120 gigabyte iPod classic that I still miss dearly. The other was an iPhone 4 that I got in 2010 and had for a year and a half before I switched to Android and never looked back.

Since I didn’t have any Apple products to relinquish for my monthlong experiment, I used the time for a little introspection on why I dislike Apple products. The main reason is that I was raised using Windows, so I was disincentivized to learn the quirks of a new OS. As I grew older, however, I also found Apple’s “walled-garden” approach to its device ecosystem infuriating. (For many people, however, this closed ecosystem and interoperability between Apple devices is exactly what makes its products attractive.)

Apple’s obsession with total control is perhaps best exemplified by the release of iPhone 7 in 2016, which got rid of the ubiquitous headphone jack that has been used by literally every other digital device since forever and replaced it with a proprietary dongle. This was an affront to Apple’s devout followers, sure, but that didn’t stop the company from selling more than 200 million iPhones last year at around $600 a pop. And yet here we are, years after Apple adopted the dongle, and people are still mourning the loss of the headphone jack.

I know why I don’t use Apple, but even after a month of thinking about it, I still couldn’t rationalize why anyone would spend a night sleeping outside an Apple store to get their hands on one of its overpriced products. People love to justify their purchase of iPhones by appealing to the superior security of iOS compared to Android. But recent updates have significantly closed the security gap between Android phones and iPhones.

After a month of thinking about it, I still couldn’t rationalize why anyone would spend a night sleeping outside an Apple store to get their hands on one of its overpriced products

Unfortunately, there are no independent studies about what motivates most people to buy Apple phones, but I suspect that security probably wouldn’t top the list. Besides, as the fallout between the FBI and Apple over backdoors reminded us, there’s no such thing as an unhackable device. In fact, there’s a relatively cheap hacking tool that can be used by cops to bypass iPhone encryption. Even when Apple tried to fix this with a patch, iPhones got hacked again anyway. C’est la vie!

Okay, but what about Macs? Apple’s laptops and desktop computers are usually adored for their performance specs and native applications that are geared toward creative types (GarageBand, iMovie, etc.). Apple knows this, which is why a recent commercial campaign for MacBook features artists making art while a Daniel Johnston song called “Story of an Artist” plays in the background. Very subtle. The thing is, you can build a custom PC that matches or surpasses the technical specs of a high-end Mac without spending $5,000.

Despite what you may have heard, building a custom PC is not as hard as it sounds. It’s basically just an expensive and delicate form of electronic Lego. I don’t have any formal experience in computer science and I was able to build a decent PC with 2 GPUs, 16 gigs of memory, two terabytes of storage, and a quad-core CPU for around $1,000 by using handy tools such as PC Part Picker. My PC has way more power than I’ve ever needed and still costs less than a new MacBook and far less than a Mac desktop. As for the Mac’s native applications, most of these have fine Linux equivalents. For example, here’s an extensive list of free sound and MIDI software for Linux; Ubuntu Studio is great for most video editing needs; there are even several open source alternatives to Siri.

HOW TO QUIT AMAZON

Depending on how you look at it, Amazon is either the hardest or the easiest company to quit of the Big Five. On the one hand, its consumer-facing business is mostly predicated on the idea of convenience, as evidenced by products like the Dash button or Alexa. This should, in principle, make it easy to quit since it would only require going back to the old ways of buying things from an actual brick-and-mortar store or visiting websites that sell specific goods.

When I started my experiment, I had an Amazon Prime account, but really only used Amazon to regularly buy three things: Books, cat food, and cat litter. As someone who exclusively uses public transportation, these items are a pain to buy at a store and transfer to my house because they are large and heavy. Of course I could just order the cat products from another site, but Amazon Prime offers free shipping and the ability to set up recurring automatic orders.

Read More: How To Get Amazon Prime for Free for Life

During my experiment, however, I was determined to patronize my locally owned pet store since this seemed to be the most antithetical to Amazon’s dominance of all things retail. Carrying these items the few blocks to my house sucked (a box of cat litter weighs 40 pounds), but what blew even more was the price difference. The same cat food I always buy on Amazon cost more than twice as much at my local pet store. While this was fine for a month, I couldn’t afford this large of an increase in my expenses in the long term. My best bet, then, would be to still buy the pet items I needed online from websites such as Chewy, which still provide most of the convenience offered by Amazon.

It wasn’t convenience alone that made Amazon into the behemoth it is today—there were plenty of online book retailers around when Amazon hit the scene in 1994. What made Amazon successful was that its catalog included books not carried by other (online) bookstores. Over the past two decades, it has expanded this logic to every type of consumer good and this is precisely what makes “the everything store” so difficult to quit.

Whereas a brick-and-mortar store can only carry a finite inventory, Amazon’s inventory is effectively limitless. This combination of infinite selection and total convenience is exactly the type of selling point that appeals to America’s workforce, which is increasingly strapped for both time and money. For people living in rural areas or with disabilities, Amazon’s rapid delivery services can also be a lifeline.

I am able-bodied and live in one of the largest cities in the world, so quitting Amazon is arguably a privilege. I didn’t mind calling my local bookstore to ask it to order a particular title or popping into the local pet store every few weeks if that’s what it took to cut the company from my life.

Then one day I was making a recipe that called for pine nuts, only to discover that none of the three grocery stores in my neighborhood carried them. The only other grocery store remotely close to me was Whole Foods, which was recently acquired by Amazon and definitely carried pine nuts. So I caved, dear reader, and bought some overpriced seeds from an Amazon subsidiary.

Although shopping local or going to other online stores is an option for quitting Amazon, some of its other subsidiaries are far more difficult to replace because they are unique. I don’t game, but if I did it would be hard to find an adequate replacement for Twitch because so many gamers already use it. Likewise, the Internet Movie Database for movie facts and Goodreads for book reviews are two online destinations for which there isn’t an adequate alternative and are basically the go-to sites for their respective domains. Finally, as mentioned earlier, many major websites such as Netflix and Spotify run on Amazon Web Services, so if you use these services you’re also indirectly supporting Amazon.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of good reasons to limit your patronage of Amazon and its subsidiaries. For starters, Amazon has become notorious for its mistreatment of workers. A 2015 New York Times expose detailed the grueling expectations placed on Amazon’s white collar workers, and story after story after story keeps bubbling up that details the inhumane conditions faced by Amazon’s warehouse employees.

You may also take issue with Amazon’s development of facial recognition software that is used for predictive policing and the company’s support of similar products made by companies such as Palantir that use its cloud hosting service. Even if Amazon’s Echo and Dot are ostensibly benign, they are also liable to be hacked and turned into spy devices.

Finally, Amazon has developed a reputation for steamrolling local economies and may end up killing over 2 million jobs as it increases its dominance over traditional retail and other market sectors.

HOW TO QUIT MICROSOFT

I have used Microsoft’s operating system for as long as I can remember. My family’s first computer ran Windows 95, but the first experience I can recall with a computer was Windows 98 and the boot theme must’ve imprinted itself on my impressionable, 5-year-old brain because I’ve exclusively used Windows ever since. The Vista and XP years were rough, I’ll admit, but it’s always darkest before dawn. Windows 10 certainly has its flaws (especially when it comes to privacy), but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t dreading swapping it out for Ubuntu, a popular Linux distribution.

Developed as an open source operating system by Linus Torvalds in the early 90s, Linux has grown from a nerdy curiosity to a defining feature of modern computer systems. Indeed, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook are all major donors to the Linux foundation, which underscores their reliance on the kernel. These days the Linux kernel powers around 75 percent of cloud platforms and is also found at the core of many consumer-facing devices, including every phone using Android, which is the most popular mobile OS in the world by a huge margin.

Although Linux is prized by system admins everywhere for its versatility, it’s been slow to catch on as an operating system for average PC users who mostly use their computers for web browsing, word processing, and other simple tasks. In the beginning, Linux was still very experimental and didn’t offer equivalents for many of the standard programs found on Windows PCs or Macs. Further, many popular programs didn’t bother to create a version of their software that could be used on machines running Linux.

Today, things are much better in this respect. There are Linux equivalents of everything from Microsoft Office to Adobe’s Photoshop, and popular applications such as Spotify usually offer a Linux version of their software.

Prior to this experiment, my only experience with Linux was setting up a cryptocurrency mining rig that ran a custom operating system called EthOS specifically designed for mining. This familiarized me with some basic terminal commands, but really I was a total Linux noob.

Fortunately, getting Linux up and running on my laptop and home PC was pretty easy. For the laptop, I used a colleague’s 2010 Alienware gaming laptop. Rather than partitioning the hard drive, which is a way to have multiple operating systems on a single computer, I opted to erase Windows and have the laptop only run Ubuntu.

To do this, I downloaded Ubuntu (there are plenty of different Linux distributions to choose from, but Ubuntu is one of the most popular distros for casual users) onto a USB drive. If you wanted to try Linux before fully committing to replacing your OS with it, it is possible to run any distribution from a thumb drive. Since I was going to be doing this experiment for a month and wanted to have access to the computer’s storage space, I opted to wipe the computer and install Linux.

On my home PC, I have two terabytes of hard drive space, so I had more than enough room to host two operating systems side by side and still have a decent amount of storage allocated to each OS. When partitioning a disk to run both Windows/MacOS and Linux on the same computer, you can choose how much of your hard drive you want to allocate to each OS. In my case I chose to split it evenly. Now, whenever I reboot that PC, it will automatically boot into Windows, but if I enter the boot menu after restarting the computer, I can also choose to boot into Linux instead.

In spite of the easy of installation and compatibility with most software programs, Ubuntu and other Linux operating systems still haven’t really taken off in the mainstream. The reason for this, I think, is that using Linux actually feels like using a computer—as in, the remarkably complex network of transistors, logic gates, and the other stuff ensconced whatever device you’re reading this on. Linux violates the first rule of getting people to use a technology, which is that it shouldn’t feel like you’re using technology at all. To paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke, it should feel like magic. Linux does not feel like magic; it feels like a pain in the ass—at least until you’ve figured out how to use a command terminal.

We’ve gotten so accustomed to graphical user interfaces that most of us have forgotten that prior to the mid-80s, most computers didn’t have application icons that could summon advanced programs with a double tap on a mouse. Instead, pulling a document from a file or launching a program required the user to actually enter the desired command as text. The latest version of Ubuntu has a sleek graphical interface that isn’t that much different from what you’d find on Windows or MacOS, but after a few days of learning command terminal it’s hard to go back.

It’s possible to do basically everything from a Linux terminal, but just because it’s possible doesn’t necessarily mean you want to. Learning to effectively use the terminal was definitely the most gratifying part of my experiment. Although I am still a novice, I really liked that it allowed me to tell the computer exactly what I wanted it to do, without having to navigate endless menus or other superfluous features. It felt like I had real control over my computer, as opposed to being forced to use applications based on what the designers thought their users wanted. I also learned a great deal about how an operating system actually works by having to think through directory structures and follow logical sequences of commands.

Still, the first few days of using Linux were incredibly frustrating. It felt like I had to Google—ahem, query on DuckDuckGo—the answer for the simplest things, such as how to download an application. At this point, Ubuntu has a pretty extensive package repository, so many programs you use on a regular basis are probably one-click downloads. But if you want to run a more obscure program, you’re going to have to compile it yourself from the source, which includes learning how to make a directory and all that good stuff.

Other than my initial difficulties with the terminal, the Linux experience with Ubuntu was quite pleasant. There are alternative open source programs for pretty much everything you’d find on a Windows system. For example, LibreOffice is a perfect substitute for Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, GIMP is a more than adequate substitute for Adobe Photoshop for amateur photo editing, and Pidgin is a great instant messaging app. If you absolutely need to run Windows programs on a Linux machine, there’s an app called Wine that will let you do just that.

There are also a number of other “hidden” advantages that come with Linux. For starters, it is arguably the most secure OS—you probably don’t even need an anti-virus program. Ubuntu, along with and other Linux distributions, is generally an ultra-efficient and lean operating system, so if you are using an older computer like I was, you shouldn’t have any trouble running it. Best of all, it’s entirely free. This was a breath of fresh air after using Microsoft, which will charge you an arm and a leg for Windows ($139 for the home edition) and then still more for its defining features, such as Microsoft Office ($70 for a single user home edition).

HOW TO QUIT GOOGLE

Google was without a doubt the hardest company to purge from my life, but for this reason, also the most necessary. I am dependent on Google products for almost everything in my personal and professional life. At work, my editors and I workshop stories in Google docs; our company email system is hosted on Gmail servers; my contact with people at VICE that don’t directly work with Motherboard is almost exclusively through Hangouts; I organize calls with sources on Google Calendar; all my documents and photos are automatically synced to Google Drive; I frequently write about videos I find on YouTube; Google Maps is only way I know how to navigate New York City; Google’s Authenticator app secures many of my most important online accounts; Chrome has been my web browser since it was released a decade ago; and most importantly, my phone, and 75 percent of all the other phones on the planet, run Android, which is mainly developed by Google.

In some cases, Google’s products are far better than anything else out there (Google Maps) or are seemingly irreplaceable because that’s what everyone else uses (YouTube). Yet the real attraction to Google is that all of its products are seamlessly integrated across devices. The idea of unlinking all these vital aspects of my professional and personal life was off-putting, and trying to find adequate replacements for all these services seemed nearly impossible. But I am here to tell you that there is life after Google.

GMAIL

The easiest Google product to ditch was Gmail because there are plenty of good alternative email providers out there. I opted to go with Protonmail, a Swiss email provider that encrypts every email sent through its service. The only downside I noticed was that I used up approximately half of my allotted 500 MB of free storage space in the month.

It is, of course, possible to do a paid subscription and upgrade to get more storage, but this costs significantly more than Gmail’s storage upgrades, which also allows for file hosting through Google Drive. For the sake of comparison, 5 GB of storage on Protonmail costs a little over $5/month, whereas Google charges $2/month for 100 GB. This is the economics of scale at work.

Although it is possible to set up your own email server, this process is quite complex, though there are a few startups that are trying to streamline the process. If you haven’t set up a web server before (more on this below), try doing that first before making the leap to hosting your own email.

Rather than going through the hassle of deleting all my Gmail accounts for a month, I set up my Gmail accounts to automatically forward incoming mail to my new Protonmail accounts, so technically Google was still processing my email. For anyone looking to permanently ditch Gmail you’ll still probably want to forward your emails to your new email account at first so that you don’t end up missing anything important while your contacts catch up to your new email address. Another option is to send out a mass email informing your contacts of your new address.

GOOGLE DRIVE

My professional and personal life is such that I have amassed a substantial collection of documents, voice recordings, photographs, and other digital flotsam. To help keeps tabs on data distributed across several devices and to guard against data loss through hard drive destruction, I used a paid subscription to Google Drive. This got me a whopping 100 GB of storage space on Google’s servers for a couple bucks a month, but the real cost was a substantial loss of privacy. Google automatically scans the contents of its user documents stored on Drive to prevent violations of its terms of service and serve up targeted ads. Up until last year it also scanned personal Gmail accounts.

Although I always had the option of moving my personal documents to a different hosting device or to a local hard drive, this always seemed to be more hassle than it was worth since half of my job takes place in Google Docs, which my editors and I use for collaborative editing. Google Drive was convenient because it allows for collaboration on documents and storage in the same spot.

There are several great alternative cloud hosting services available, but far fewer alternative web services for collaborating on documents. One of the best known open source collaborative editors is Etherpad, which launched in 2008…and was almost immediately acquired by Google.

I opted to try Piratepad, a fork of Etherpad that was created by the Swedish Pirate Party. Although I loved the spirit of Piratepad, its barebones format made editing articles difficult because it was harder to leave comments and make suggestions on articles. Instead, you had to make changes directly in the document.

Moreover, whenever I tried to copy an article from Piratepad into VICE’s content management system, the format was totally wonky and reformatting the article added a substantial amount of time to the publishing process.

The solution my editors and I eventually landed on was far from ideal. I would write an article locally using LibreOffice Writer (the Linux equivalent of Word), send the document in Slack to my editors, who would upload it to Google Drive on their own computers, edit it, re-download it as an ODT file—the file format for text documents in LibreOffice—then send it back to me on Slack for rewrites. Despite how wildly inefficient this was, it allowed for all the editing amenities found in Google Docs without messing with the article’s format. Although this worked well enough for the month, it’s hard to imagine that this would be sustainable long term. As far as I could tell, when it comes to collaborative editing software there’s still no good replacement for Google Docs.

As for the hosting platform, I decided to use NextCloud, an open source fork of the file hosting service ownCloud. I was pleasantly surprised at how intuitive NextCloud’s interface was and how easy it was to integrate across my devices, including my rooted phone. NextCloud is run out of Germany, but because it is open source software, anyone can host their own file storage server locally and not rely on it. This only requires about $40 in set-up costs for a Raspberry Pi, a storage medium such as an external hard drive, and an ethernet cord. This sounds complicated, but there are plenty of easy-to-follow tutorials to set up your own “cloud” storage system at home.

MAPS

There was a point in my life where I knew how to use a compass and read a topological map, but whatever part of my brain was reserved for storing this information started to atrophy the day I discovered Google Maps. This app is, without question, the best map app in existence, which makes sense given how much Google has invested in mapping technology. The company has fleets of cars with cameras mounted on them that roam the world’s streets, but its most important data is anonymously submitted by millions of users whose smartphones deliver movement data to Google as they navigate a city.

At this point I couldn’t locate my own ass without consulting Google Maps, so the prospect of trying to navigate New York City—a city I had moved to only a few months prior—without this cartographic crutch was daunting. Last year, a cartographer named Justin O’Beirne published a fascinating deep dive into why Google’s maps are so good and why every competitor, including Apple, has found Google Maps to be basically impossible to replicate, so I knew going in I was going to experience a serious downgrade in navigation capabilities.

Despite this, there are plenty of alternative map apps to choose from. The three best alternatives, Apple Maps and Waze were off-limits because they are owned by Apple and Google, respectively. (I was also under the impression that Here was still owned by Nokia (Microsoft), but have since learned that it was sold to a consortium of German automakers in 2015.) I remembered the days when MapQuest was still considered the go-to for navigation, so I opted to use its service, figuring it probably got better over the years. If it has, it was hard to tell.

One of the most convenient things about Google Maps is that it integrates various forms of transportation into its directions. You’ll get different directions depending on whether you’re biking, taking a car, walking, or taking the subway. MapQuest, however, only offers driving and walking, which is less than ideal in a city where public transit and biking are major modes of transportation.

Throughout the month, I found myself getting frustrated with little things like having to figure out the crossroads of a subway stop, rather than just typing in the name of the stop to get MapQuest to understand where I was. Likewise, I ended up taking a lot of inefficient bike routes because the MapQuest app couldn’t tell me which streets had bike lanes. There’s something really nice about only having to type in “library” in Google Maps to get directed to New York Public Library a few blocks away. Unless you type out the full “New York Public Library” in MapQuest, you’re liable to get directions to a library in another state.

CHROME

Abandoning Chrome was more of an annoyance than anything. I’ve surfed the web using Google’s browser for a while now after years of being a devoted Firefox user. Although I still had Firefox installed on my laptop, it wasn’t nearly as perfectly tuned as my Chrome settings were. I mostly kept it around to use when I had to visit a site that insisted I turn off my various ad blockers and anti-tracking plugins I use on Chrome. The main reason I left Firefox a few years ago was its lackluster security, which is slowly improving.

Although I also briefly used Opera and Brave for this experiment, I ultimately settled on Firefox as my go-to browser. Opera and Brave are both based on Chromium, the underlying engine for Google’s Chrome browser.

Despite being open source, Firefox is not entirely Google-free, either. For the past decade, Mozilla has had an off-and-on agreement with Google to use its search engine by default, which is quite lucrative for Mozilla. Still, it wasn’t running Google’s engine, so I opted to use it for the majority of my experiment. As far as user experience was concerned, switching to Firefox was hardly a noticeable change.

GOOGLE SEARCH

There are plenty of alternative search engines out there, but the two leading candidates—Bing and Google Search—were off limits. For my experiment, I opted for DuckDuckGo, a privacy-oriented search engine. DuckDuckGo doesn’t track your searches nor serve you targeted ads. It’s hardly any wonder, then, that it is the default search engine for the TOR network.

DuckDuckGo also replicates a lot of features found in Google search, such as autocomplete and a command that allows you to directly search a website through the browser. For instance, if I were to type “!imdb the most unknown,” I’d find myself on IMDB’s page for Motherboard’s first documentary, The Most Unknown. Of course I wouldn’t have done that, however, because IMDB is owned by Amazon.

While I appreciated these features, I couldn’t help but notice a remarkable deterioration in the quality of my search results compared to Google. With Google, I can type in a loose collection of keywords and usually find my desired result. With DuckDuckGo, my searches would have to be painstakingly exact. This made things difficult when I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, and constantly made me wonder if there were better search results that I wasn’t seeing. In any case, DuckDuckGo was still pretty impressive and it felt good to know I wasn’t being tracked every time I put something in the search bar.

Despite its best intentions and willingness to call Google to task for its monopolizing business practices, DuckDuckGo is not entirely free from the grips of the Big Five. According to the company, DuckDuckGo makes money by serving ads from the Yahoo-Microsoft search alliance. While these ads are based on the search query, rather than data about the user, at least a portion of DuckDuckGo’s revenue comes from Microsoft’s pockets. DuckDuckGo also is part of the Amazon affiliate program, so if you purchase Amazon products using the search engine the company earns a small commission.

YOUTUBE

A significant part of my job involves watching YouTube videos, so I had to figure out a way to still get access to them without routing my traffic through the website. In May, there was a really convenient service around called Hooktube that could do just that. To use HookTube, you simply replaced the “youtube” portion in any YouTube video link with “hooktube.” That’s it. When you used HookTube, you wouldn’t be routing traffic through Google’s servers, giving views to the videos, or seeing any ads.

Of course, all these videos still exist on Google’s servers and HookTube would be useless without them. This is yet another case where there is really no real replacement for YouTube in terms of the sheer amount of content hosted on the site. There are plenty of other video platforms (Vimeo, for example) but they have different—and vastly smaller—video libraries.

I really fell in love with HookTube, but unfortunately the service is no more. As detailed in HookTube’s changelog, on July 16 the service was ended due to increasing pressure from YouTube’s legal team. Although HookTube still exists, its links are routed through Google’s servers.

“HookTube is now effectively just a lightweight version of YouTube and useless to the 90 percent of you primarily concerned with denying Google data and seeing videos blocked by your governments,” the changelog reads. “Rest in pieces.”

In the meantime, others have attempted to make replacement versions of HookTube. Some of these appear to work well, but as HookTube demonstrated, it’s only a matter of time before they attract the attention of YouTube’s legal department. While it’s certainly possible to create an endless array of mirror sites to avoid censorship from internet service providers, similar to how torrenting sites such as Pirate Bay continue to operate despite a crackdown on torrenting, no one appears to have done the same with HookTube yet.

AUTHENTICATOR

If you’re thinking of ditching Google and you use two-factor authentication to secure your accounts, make sure you have your recovery code for every account secured using Google Authenticator. If you do not have these, you will be locked out of your account. I cannot emphasize how important it is to triple check that you have a backup way to get into accounts secured with two-factor authentication when leaving Google.

While I wouldn’t suggest reverting to SMS-based verification, which can be spoofed by attackers, there is a good alternative two-factor authentication service out there called Authy.

Read More: What Is a Two-Factor Authentication Recovery Code?

Authy can be used on any site that supports Authenticator, but it comes with a few distinct advantages, the most notable being that it has multiple-device functionality. Authenticator is tied to a single device, so if you want to use it on your phone and tablet at the same time, you’re out of luck. You’ll have to transfer all of your accounts to the new device.

Authy allows you to have the service on multiple devices, so if you lose your phone and haven’t backed up your seeds like I told you to, you’ll still be able to get back into your devices. (Importantly, you can also disable Authy on the lost device.) Moreover, Authenticator only works on mobile devices, whereas Authy works on desktops and laptops as well.

ANDROID

When I arrived home from the Verizon store with my Samsung Galaxy S3, I immediately set to work trying to figure out how to get Sailfish OS on it. Sailfish is perhaps the last truly independent mobile operating system available—Firefox OS, Windows Phone, and Ubuntu Mobile have all bitten the dust in the past few years. At this point, only about 0.1 percent of all smartphones aren’t running iOS or Android. If I were going to truly ditch Google, I was going to have to ditch Android as well.

Android is nominally “open source,” but it is far from “free open source software” in any meaningful sense. Google has maintained the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) since it acquired Android in 2005. Google’s software engineers are responsible for new releases of the Android operating system.

Android is based on the Linux kernel, the part of an operating system responsible for interfacing with the device’s hardware and managing the computer’s resources such as CPU and RAM. This source code is released for free through AOSP, so anyone can take the Android code made by Google developers and use it to make their own version of Android.

When you buy a phone, the Android OS that comes with it also has a bunch of services grafted on top. These are the Google Mobile Services (GMS) that many users take to be defining features Android: Google search, Maps, Drive, Gmail, and so on. These services are definitely not open source.

So why does this matter if anyone can modify Android code, or “fork” it, any time they want? Even if someone managed to fork Android and clone all its best apps, they’d be hard-pressed to find a manufacturer to build a device for this Android clone. As Ben Edelman, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, explained in a 2016 paper, device manufacturers are free to produce phones running “bare” versions of Android, but this means no Google apps are allowed to be pre-installed on the device.

If the device manufacturer wants to include Google Mobile Services on its Android phones, it must sign a Mobile Application Distribution Agreement that requires it to pre-install certain Google applications in prominent places, such as the phone’s home page. Google search must also be set as the default search provider “for all web access points.” Google also requires that its Network Location Provider service be “preloaded and the default, tracking users’ geographic location at all times and sending that information to Google.”

More troubling is that Google makes all device manufacturers that want to run Google Mobile Services on their devices sign an “Anti-Fragmentation Agreement” (AFA). This is a legal agreement that states the manufacturers won’t fork their own version of Android to run on their devices. As Edelman notes, no copies of this agreement have ever been leaked to the public, even though the existence of the document has been confirmed by Google. This is justified on the grounds that it will ensure that all apps work across all versions of Android, rather than having apps that only work with some Android forks.

Similar limitations bind members of the Open Handset Alliance, a group formed by Google in 2007 to bring together companies committed to developing products that are compatible with Google’s Android. According to Ars Technica, OHA contractually binds members from building non-Google approved devices that run competing Android forks. This is acknowledged by Google in a 2012 blog post: “By joining the Open Handset Alliance, each member contributes to and builds one Android platform, not a bunch of incompatible versions.”

As the venture capitalist Bill Gurley wrote in a particularly prescient blog post from 2009, Google’s tactic ensures it dominates the mobile OS market and drives everyone to use its real money maker—search. The reason search is so valuable is because it can gather data on its users and use it to sell them targeted ads. Android, Gurley writes, is not a “product” because Google is not trying to make a profit on it. Instead, “they want to take any layer that lives between themselves and the consumer and make it free (or even less than free). Google is scorching the Earth for 250 miles around the outside of the castle to ensure that no one can approach it. And best I can tell, they are doing a damn good job of it.”

The results of this tactic speak for themselves. Today, approximately 88 percent of all smartphones on the market run Android, and most of them are running Google’s version of the OS. Nevertheless, Google makes it a point to remind people that Android is open source so any company can put the bare AOSP version on their devices. This is technically true, and a few foolhardy companies have tried.

Perhaps the best cautionary tale is Amazon Fire, which was launched in 2014 on a bare AOSP version of Android. The device was widely panned for lacking Gmail and other basic apps, and Amazon discontinued the device the following year after racking up $170 million in losses and a surplus of $83 million worth of unsold devices.

In recent months, Google has moved to further its grip on uncertified Android devices. Previously, it was possible to buy a bare AOSP phone and side-load Google Play to download other Google apps so you could use it like a normal Google-certified Android. In March, however, Google started to block all uncertified Android from accessing any Google services or apps. The vibrant Android modification community was shit-out-of-luck if it wanted to use any Google services or log into its Google accounts.

In short, that left people with three options:

  1. If they wanted to use any Google services, they had to use Google-certified Android devices and an unmodified version of Android released by Google.
  2. They could use a bare AOSP or modified version of AOSP Android, but not access any Google services.
  3. They could use Sailfish OS, open source mobile operating system that is still being actively developed, but they still wouldn’t be able to use any Google services as applications. (They could still visit Google maps or Gmail through their browser, although the mobile versions of these services are less than stellar.)

I opted to use Sailfish OS, which is why I found myself in a Verizon store in Bushwick downgrading my phone to a Samsung Galaxy S3. The Sailfish OS is developed by Jolla, a small Finnish company that was started in 2012 by a group of former Nokia developers who jumped ship just prior to Nokia’s acquisition by Microsoft.

Initially, Jolla aspired to create an alternative phone that would pair with its open source, alternative operating system. Yet after years of setbacks and failed launches, it scaled back its ambitions to work exclusively on Sailfish.

Jolla has recently changed its focus to enterprise customers, but a small dedicated group of die-hard Sailfish fans have kept the consumer Sailfish OS alive and continue to drive its development.

Read More: Meet Sailfish, the Last Independent Mobile Operating System

Motherboard Editor-in-Chief Jason Koebler had a Nexus 5 that he had flashed with Sailfish. Before the experiment began I messed around with it a bit to familiarize myself with the operating system. I liked Sailfish a lot—its interface was close enough to Android to be familiar, but had enough idiosyncrasies to make it distinct. The most noticeable difference is that Sailfish is far more gesture-oriented.

Although Sailfish is an open source, alternative OS, you’re not limited to open source apps. Sailfish supports Android apps, which can be side-loaded onto the phone by downloading the app’s APK file from the internet and loading it onto the phone manually. Still, Jolla’s documentation for Sailfish says, “We always advise against installing Google Services on SailfishOS, as it is known to potentially cause a multitude of problems ranging from serious to trivial.”

Despite really liking Sailfish, I was ultimately unable to use the operating system for my experiment. I couldn’t use Jason’s phone because, though the Nexus 5 was manufactured by LG, it was developed in partnership with Google.

Although Samsung has recently embraced the Android modification community and there’s plenty of documentation available for how to install Sailfish on a Samsung Galaxy S3, Verizon does everything in its power to make sure its customers can’t get root access to its devices.

Verizon and other carriers, such as AT&T, have emerged as the biggest threat to the modification of mobile operating systems in the US by shipping all their phones with locked bootloaders. A bootloader is low-level software that is the first thing to start up when you turn on your phone. It makes sure all the software is working properly and in certain cases prevents users from installing unauthorized software.

Locked bootloaders prevent users from gaining the type of deep access to their phone to be able to swap out a stock Android OS for custom operating systems. Ironically, Microsoft’s Nokia phones and Google’s Nexus and Pixel phones make it super easy to unlock the bootloader on many carriers and are thus easy to customize. This isn’t the case with any phone on Verizon’s network. (Enterprising Android modders have figured out how to unlock the bootloader for some Verizon Android phones, but these are few and far between.)

After days of trying and failing to unlock my bootloader to flash Sailfish OS onto my Samsung Galaxy S3, I admitted defeat. Instead, I opted to run SuperLite, a lightweight version of Android, a ROM developed as part of the Android Open Kang Project (AOKP). (“Kang” is developer slang for stolen code.) AOKP is free open source software based on the official AOSP releases, but it is modified with third-party code contributed by the AOKP community and gives its users even more control over how the Android software interacts with their phone’s hardware.

Since I was unable to unlock my bootloader, I couldn’t “flash” a new ROM to my phone, which would have completely removed the stock Android version and replaced it with a custom ROM of my choice. Instead, I had to install the SuperLite AOKP ROM side-by-side with the stock version. Once it was installed, I could choose which version of the Android I wanted to boot into—basically the equivalent of partitioning your hard drive on a laptop or desktop.

The first step to do this is to enable developer mode in from the Android settings menu. Then, I downloaded and installed the file for a custom recovery system. In my case, I opted for Team Win Recovery (TWRP), one of the most popular recovery systems among Android modders. Once I had installed this on my phone (I just plugged my phone into my computer’s USB port and dragged the TWRP file to the SD card in my phone) I booted into the phone’s recovery mode and restarted my phone.

Next it was time to install the SuperLite AOKP ROM. After installing the SuperLite ROM on my phone’s SD card, I rebooted the phone. From the TWRP menu, select the “Boot Options” menu and then “ROM-Slot-1.” Select the option to create the new ROM slot. Once the ROM slot is created, go back to the main TWRP menu, select the “Install” option and then the zip file for the AOKP ROM you want to install. This will install the AOKP ROM on the ROM slot you just created. Once it’s done installing, reboot the phone and you should boot into the custom AOKP ROM.

It’s worth mentioning here, I think, just how much of a pain in the ass this was for someone who was unfamiliar with the process of rooting phones. Although most of my problems ended up being because of my phone’s locked bootloader, it still took several nights of trial and error to figure out what was going wrong and how to fix it. Ultimately, my difficulties with flashing various ROMs would delay the start of the experiment by several days.

So what was life like using a bare bones, AOKP version of Android without Google? Overall, I didn’t notice much of a difference. I could still link my Protonmail to my phone as well as my cloud storage through NextCloud. I side-loaded Spotify and Lyft by downloading their APK files from the internet and moving them to my phone. (I later learned that Lyft uses Google Maps and so was limited to using Uber.) The only real difference was when it came to using maps, as I mentioned above.

POST MORTEM: 6 MONTHS LATER

It’s now been six months since I finished my experiment, which was plenty of time to see which Big Five services crept back into my life. I resumed using pretty much every Google product the day after the experiment ended. This was mostly due to the nature of my job, which depends on access to my company Gmail account and collaborative editing in Google Docs.

Yet even in my personal life I continue to use Google Maps, Google Drive, and Google Search, although I try to limit my personal searches to DuckDuckGo as often as possible.

In June I also upgraded my phone to a Samsung Galaxy S7, which is currently running the latest version of Android.

A few months after the experiment ended, I swapped out my crappy laptop at work for a homebrew PC. If there was ever a time to fully make the transition to Linux, this was it, and yet I still found myself paying for Windows 10 and partitioning my drive so I could have access to each OS. Old habits die hard, but I now use the terminal in Windows quite regularly whereas before I didn’t use it at all.

Although I still use Amazon on occasion I have ended my Prime subscription and make a point of shopping local or buying from alternative websites whenever possible. So far, this change hasn’t made any noticeable difference on my quality of life.

I still think Apple is a ripoff and Facebook continues to get pwned by lawmakers for its mishandling of user data and disinformation. After I left Facebook, however, I found that I liked being off of social media so much that I also deactivated my only other social media account—Twitter. I have often heard that leaving Twitter when you work in media is a recipe for career suicide. For journalists who depend on it as a tool, this may very well be true. In my case, however, I’ve found that now that I have excised social media from my life I am far less stressed and have a lot more free time. I read more books and devote more time to my actual hobbies rather than scrolling endlessly through timelines.

It’s hard to say whether this experiment could scale to the point of becoming a sustainable way of existing. It was a success insofar as it is definitely possible to use open source replacements for pretty much every major service offered by the Big Five. It was a failure in that it was slightly less convenient and often resulted in an burden on others who were still using the Big Five services, such as my editors.

There was also something of a social burden, too, since I wasn’t able to use most major messaging apps. This was mostly a problem when it came to WhatsApp, which I use for international communication. Within the US, however, relying solely on SMS wasn’t an issue. Although it seemed like leaving Facebook would put a dent in my social life, this remained pretty much the same.

Finally, the experiment failed in the sense that I had to make compromises during the experiment, such as visiting websites hosted on Amazon Web Services or using an AOKP version of Android instead of Sailfish.

I’m certainly not the first person to forsake the Big Five and I’m sure I won’t be the last. There are dedicated communities of people who are determined to not use Google at any cost, however they remain the “preppers” of online life. This raises a disturbing question, however. Is a widespread migration to alternative services possible or, for that matter, even desirable?

It is certainly possible in principle, but a lot would have to change before the mass adoption of alternative services became realistic. Society would have to create the infrastructure for a more sustainable open source ecosystem. As Nadia Eghbal details in the report Roads and Bridges , free and open source software is built on the back of unseen and often unpaid labor. Some of the most popular open source projects in the world are developed and maintained by a few dedicated individuals. If we really care about their projects, we need to find a better way to support their work, other than relying on their goodwill. No one is really incentivized to keep these projects afloat, even if they’re found at the core of many Big Five services.

Whether ditching Big Five services is desirable is a much more difficult question to answer. There is no question that each of the Big Five companies has built incredibly valuable tools that have fundamentally changed the world. The reason most of us would be reluctant to abandon these tools is because they are usually free, useful, and convenient. Yet we are quickly learning the hidden costs of this digital convenience.

Since starting this experiment, #Deletefacebook has grown from a small protest to a sustained and widespread boycott. Google is now facing scrutiny from US and European regulators for mishandling data and monopolization, as well as its work on a censored search engine for China. Amazon continues to be criticized for its treatment of employees, reliance on government tax breaks and handouts, and willingness to sell surveillance tools to law enforcement agencies. Apple is in the middle of a US Supreme Court case about whether it used unlawful business tactics to monopolize its app store.

The social value of the tools developed by the Big Five is what we make of them—they are neither good nor evil by default. As DuckDuckGo demonstrated, it’s possible to create a great search engine that is still supported by ads, but doesn’t harvest user data. Linux has shown that its possible to make an incredibly robust operating system by drawing on the talents of thousands of developers. Android hackers have illustrated no lack of creativity when it comes to pushing the boundaries of what is possible with mobile operating systems, only to be thwarted by Google’s insistence on total control.

Perhaps our lawmakers will be able to reign in the worst inclinations of the titans of Silicon Valley. Or maybe people will get so fed up with the overreach of the Big Five that they will seek alternative services on their own, which seems far more unrealistic to me, given the general lack of understanding about how these companies operate and why it matters.

Nevertheless, I think it is a highly instructive experience to try to see how many Big Five services you can cut from your life, even if it’s just for a few days. Not only will you learn a lot about how servers, personal computers, and mobile phones work, but you might find some open source replacements better than what you were using before.

The important thing is to realize that none of these services are necessary. We may have come to develop a deep reliance on them, but that’s not the same thing. Being an “Apple person” or a “Windows person” is a marketing gimmick, not a personality trait. Amazon is just a version of Walmart that collaborates with cops. Your community existed before Facebook. Google wasn’t always a verb. We have the ability to change these companies by the way we interact with them—but only if we want to.

How to Prioritize Your Work When Your Manager Doesn’t


 

Prioritizing work can be frustrating, especially if you work for a hands-off manager or a company that doesn’t give you clear goals. Most of us face this reality each and every day. The frequently cited research of Robert Kaplan and David Norton shows that more than 90% of employees don’t fully understand their company’s strategy or know what’s expected of them to help achieve company goals. Compounding the problem, recent research shows that global executives say they have too many conflicting priorities. In a world where conflicting and unclear priorities are the norm, how can you learn to prioritize your own work and still feel satisfaction from a job well done?

First, check your mindset when it comes to setting priorities. Don’t assume that prioritizing your workload is someone else’s job, and don’t choose to see yourself solely as a “do-er” or a “worker bee.” It’s easy to point blame at our managers and organizations when we experience high levels of stress or an overwhelming amount of work. Recognize that consciously setting priorities is a key pillar of success. You can start by assessing how well you’re handling the increased workload that comes with being a leader today.

Select a couple of areas to set priorities in; this can help the brain to manage information overload. Researchers have found that it’s the overload of options that paralyze us or lead to decisions that go against our best interests. Two criteria I use with clients to filter for priorities include contribution and passion. Consider your role today and answer the following questions:

  • What is my highest contribution? When we reflect on contribution, we consider both the organization’s needs and how we uniquely bring to bear strengths, experience, and capabilities. The word contribution captures a sense of purpose, citizenship, and service.
  • What am I passionate about? Motivation and energy fuel action, so when setting priorities, get clear on what brings you inspiration in your work today.

We can put the two criteria of contribution and passion together to create an organizing framework. The framework can help you to sort priorities and define subsequent actions. Consider this chart:

Quadrant I: Prioritize those areas of your job that hit this sweet-spot intersection of bringing your highest value-add and making an impact that you feel excited about. Look at the answers to the two questions above and see which projects, initiatives, and activities show up on both your high contribution and high passion lists.

Quadrant II: Tolerate those parts of the role that are important but drain your energy when you’re engaging in them. What are the possible discomforts, and what can you do about them?

  • Tolerate and accept that you aren’t going to love every part of the job. For example, you may be excited about having a larger role and team but less excited about the increase in managerial processes and administration that come with it.
  • Tolerate the fact that you may be on a learning curve. Perhaps a key part of the job includes something that isn’t yet a strength, such as presenting at town hall meetings or being more visible externally. Keep a growth mindset and push yourself out of the comfort zone.
  • Remember that there is a tipping point in this quadrant. For example, your highest contribution in a strategy role may never offer you the passion you feel when coaching people. The quadrant could highlight that it’s time for a change (which was my situation more than 15 years ago, when no amount of prioritizing was ever going to overcome the fact I was in the wrong career).

Quadrant III: Elevate those tasks that give you a lot of energy but that others don’t see as the best use of your time. Where are the possible points of elevation?

  • Elevate the value-add. Perhaps you see a hot new area, but the impact is less clear to others. Share what you are seeing out on the horizon that fuels your conviction, and explain why it’s good not only for you but also for the company.
  • Elevate yourself. Be mindful of areas that you still enjoy, perhaps from a previous role or from when the company was smaller. Maybe you love to fix problems and have a bias toward action, which leads you to get involved in things your team should be handling. Hit pause before diving in.
  • Ultimately, if the disconnect grows between what keeps you motivated and what your organization values, it may be time to move on.

Quadrant IV: Delegate the daily churn of low-value and low-energy-producing activities, emails, and meetings. If there’s no one to delegate to, make the case for hiring someone. You can also just say no, or eliminate those tasks altogether. The irony is, as we progress in our careers, things that were once in quadrant I now belong in quadrant IV. If people still come to you for these tasks, redirect them graciously by saying something like, “It’s so great to see you. I know how important this is. I’ve asked Kate on my team to take on those issues, and she’ll be able to get you a more direct and speedy answer.”

Operationalize and Flag Priorities in Your Calendar

Look back on your calendar over the last month to see how much time you allocated across the four quadrants. I personally use a color-coding system in my calendar to quickly and visually see how I’m doing. (QI = yellow, QII = purple, QIII = blue, QIV = no color). At the start of a week, flag all QI priorities and give yourself a little extra preparation time on them.

Don’t settle for the status quo. As Greg McKeown, the author of Essentialism shares, if you don’t prioritize your time, someone else will. And it won’t always be with your best interests or the greater good in mind. So take ownership and reclaim decision-making power over where you can best spend your time and energy. By doing so, you set yourself on a trajectory to produce meaningful results, experience more job satisfaction, and have increased energy.