A Real Estate Career: Lessons Learned (2004-2005)

I graduated from Penn in 2004.  I had no job or any prospects to speak of, so I moved back home to LA after spending a summer in Philadelphia fruitlessly looking for a job.

Back home, I saw that the majority of my high school class had become loan brokers at names like New Century Financial, Countrywide, and Washington Mutual.

I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, which among other things was famous for suburban pot farms, and I also noticed that a not-insignificant percentage of my high school class had gone in the marijuana business.

One guy I knew from high school told me point blank that he liked the mortgage business because it “was like drug-dealing: you give people a fix, and they keep coming back for more.  They can’t resist.”  I remember that he used to drug deal in high school, too.  I guess he had chosen the more lucrative route.

It’s hard to express the sentiment of that time.  Everyone was getting rich off real estate.

I remember the fact that some of my friends who hadn’t even gone to college, were giving no down payment loans to people and making $20,000 a month, did give me pause about how the world wasn’t the way I had learned it to be.

But I liked the idea of real estate because it was tangible.  My senior year at Penn, I had interned for the largest campus housing landlord, and they all seemed like a bunch of easy-going, Philly wiseguys.  I liked that.

When you graduate from Wharton, half the class goes into banking.  I heard stories about how you worked 120 hours a week in banking.  And I didn’t like that.

And with a lack of prospects, no interviews, and no jobs to speak of, I made the decision to go into real estate.

At first, I thought I might like going into the public sector.  I interned at Senator Feinstein’s office in San Diego and researched the economic impact of military bases.  The internship paid no money, so I worked as a picker in a t-shirt factory part-time.  In the other remaining time, I surfed.

But most importantly, I rented a room from a woman, who I’ll call Lucy, who had no discernible job.

My lasting memory of her was of her sitting on a couch, eating ice cream, and watching tv – both when I left for work, and also when I came home.  And it was during one of her ice cream-eating sessions that we struck up a conversation and she mentioned to me that she was in real estate.

When I asked what she did, she said she bought houses.  She had three already, she said.  It was so easy, she said.  She was planning to buy a few more.  Because all you had to do was take out loans and wait for the prices to go up.  In fact, her agent was one of her best friends and later moved in to my room when I moved out.

Midway through the internship, I decided that the public sector was not as fast or impactful as I had imagined.  I wanted to see some action.

So, I applied for a job at Marcus and Millichap, the real estate brokerage.  Almost immediately, I was invited to an info session where I was witness to a presentation that should be enshrined somewhere in the historical annals.

My lasting memory from that presentation was towards the end when the agent put up a slide.

The slide was a grid whose rows were Years 1-5, and whose 3 or 4 columns represented duds, high performers, and rockstars.  In the cells were numbers that represented the incomes that each of these categories of people in the world, stood to make at Marcus and Millichap.

I noticed that the duds started at $80,000 and climbed their way north of six figures in the second year.  The rockstars started in the mid-six figures and were making millions by year three.

These numbers all sounded great, and I decided to sign up.  But there was a catch.  Unfortunately, they said, the job was commission-only so they recommended that you have a savings fund of at least six months to live off of, while you “learned”.

This sounded a lot like school, so I passed on that opportunity and told myself the numbers were probably all fake, anyway.

I moved up from San Diego and stayed with a friend who was in his final year at UCLA.  There, while looking for jobs, I opened the newspaper and spotted a posting with Marcus and Millichap in the El Segundo office.  It was paid.

That paragraph makes me sound ancient, but trust me, there were online job posts and applications back in 2004 too.  Maybe it was dying out, but still.  That’s just how things happened.

I interviewed and got the job.  My salary, if you can call it that, was $12/hour with no benefits, and my job was to maintain the internal database.

At the end of 2004 and during 2005, money was falling from the sky.  And that’s what the theme of those years was: money.  Money, so much of it, that numbers became meaningless.  Hundreds of thousands, millions, and NBA superstar money, being earned by agents in their 20s and early 30s for essentially, making phone calls.

And before you get the wrong idea, the money wasn’t going into my pockets.  I was still at $12/hr.  I was poor enough and without benefits that sometimes in restaurants, if people at the tables next to me left food untouched, I would eat it.  Sometimes after they left, and other times I asked nicely.

My job at the Harris Group of Marcus and Millichap was to maintain and ensure the integrity of the database of leads.  This meant a lot of searching online through other databases to validate information.  It was boring, so I quickly asked for other things to do.

And so over the next year, while helping maintain that database, I also helped underwrite and package deals totaling maybe more than a billion dollars in nominal value.

For a long time afterwards, this entire experience working on the “sell-side”, so to speak, at a real estate brokerage, made me skeptical almost to the point of cynical, about actually investing in real estate.

In my naivete, I first thought that the prices we were going to sell buildings for, were what they were worth.  So I pored over rent rolls and looked up market averages for rates and prices.  What I learned instead, what that there is no such thing as anything actually being ‘worth’ anything.  The sales price is what a broker wants to sell it for, and all the numbers surrounding it are the supporting props that have been artfully arranged to convince you that this price is the right and true one.

And if you think the price is too high, based on the market comps, you are entitled to your opinion, and may be mathematically correct – but if someone else comes by, who is using a tax advantaged scheme to roll out of a previous property and is under a time crunch to park their funds in something else and so snatches up this expensive property, at or higher than listing price because of a false perception that they are competing, then…what was it actually worth?  Who’s right?  You or them?

On our packages, we sometimes photoshopped gangsters out of the roof of some of our building photos, and photoshopped luxury cars into the streets in front of them.  And sometimes I would discover mistakes I had made in the modeling, much later – and it didn’t matter, because the deals had already sold anyway with the buyers scarcely looking at the cash flow.

During a bubble, money becomes divorced from the effort required to earn it.  In our office, there were agents who worked an average of two hours a day, three days a week.  There was one who was making a million dollars a year from having landed a single big-time client on a lucky phone call.  And sometimes these agents would go into the offices of the harder-working agents and steal leads off their desks and make six figure commissions.

Even though my job was to maintain a database of leads, that last reason is why sometimes people sabotaged my work by trying to pay me on the side to not do my job, or to give them contact information for their own use.  In reality, not many people wanted me to share the hard-won contact information for potential leads across the whole office.  They wanted it for themselves.  This is when I learned about misalignment of incentives.

I don’t want to give the impression that no one in the office worked.  The Harris Group was named after Greg Harris, who was and probably still is, a legendary superagent.  Greg’s stare was of the laser beams shooting out of his eyeballs variety, and he was always on the phone, always in that rapid-fire staccato voice that hammered poor clients down out of their illusions of paying less for a building than it was ‘worth’.

One of my lasting impressions of Greg is a time I walked into the men’s room and saw, under the stall doors, someone sitting on the toilet with pants around his ankles, doing a real estate deal at full volume.  It was Greg.

His work ethic was legendary, and when he was first starting out, I heard he hired interns even younger than he was to drive him from his home to the office at 4 am – no one else was up at that time, except the elderly landlords and investors who he would be calling, and who would remember that he had been the first to call them that day.

And this is also when I learned about money.  They say money makes you more of what you already are.  That is true.

I also think money, in some deep way, also reveals your deepest held beliefs.

The agents in our office were split into two camps.  The ones who worked two hours a day, bought nice cars and homes, partied mid-week in Ibiza and Miami, and had no compunction or even deep thought about living through a bubble of historical proportions.

We had other agents who made just as much money but who were deeply terrified of the state of the world and felt that something was deeply, utterly wrong, and sought to serve penance for it, in a way, by working even harder.  These agents, I think, sometimes felt guilty.  Like when they did deals that caused market rents for an entire town to double.

But if I really think about it, the two camps weren’t so different, fundamentally.  The first camp spent their money as soon as it came in, like they were laundering it.  Perhaps from feeling like it wasn’t really theirs.

During this job, I also learned about the power of sales.  Selling is storytelling, and sales is an art form that needs to be taught in school, because the basis of our shared reality as humans exists as a series of beliefs and stories.

I learned that during a bubble, the best salesmen are the people who deliver their message with absolute conviction, no matter how outrageous it is.

Actually, the more outrageous, the better to catch your attention.  Because during times like that, peoples’ beliefs are being tested.  And during periods when peoples’ beliefs are being tested, they want to listen to people who sound like prophets.

At the time, real estate cap rates of 4-5%, even on trophy properties, were considered unbelievably low.  And sales prices of $200,000/unit on multifamily residential were considered high.  In any case, the actual figures don’t really matter.

What matters is that the best agents in our office were the ones who could talk about cap rates of 4% and prices of $250,000/door as if they were universal constants like e or pi – and often, I noticed, the less the agent actually knew about market conditions, the lower his doubt, so the higher his conviction, the higher his credibility, and the higher his closing rate.

Meanwhile, those who overanalyzed (like me), stood by in disbelief.  In times like those, the best storytellers don’t even need a firm grasp of English.  Just belief.

And my last point is that when you’ve worked around people in real estate for a long time, you’ll pick up a pattern of speaking.

This pattern of speaking is whereby crazy claims are stated boldly as to make others doubt, waver, to ultimately put them at a disadvantage.  This is a variation of the anchoring effect/bias.

This technique absolutely ravages weak souls, conciliatory/nice people, and those who are unsure of themselves.  Let’s say you’re trying to sell me a car and we meet, go through the pleasantries, and after I look at your car, the first thing I say at the top of my lungs is that I’m going to offer 20% of your list price for it because the bumpers of your car model cause cancer.

Now if you’re inured to this type of speaking then you’ll just shake your head no or tell me to GTFO.

But if you’re a nice person, or out of practice with this type of aggression, you’ll start doubting yourself.  Your initial reaction to the 20% was shock and disbelief, but you’ll start thinking…maybe I did price it too high.  Your initial reaction to the cancer claim was the same, but now you’re thinking about it – maybe the metal or the paint in it does cause cancer, but the incidence of cancers from bumpers is very, very low.  What you’ll do is start to explain this it depth and try to argue it logically.  Now you’ve lost because you’re playing my game.

You’ll try to bring reason into, and analyze/dissect a fundamentally illogical and absurd claim.  Congratulations, you’ve lost.  The discussion will go into the finer points of airborne carcinogens and colors – and you’re in a hole because you’re tacitly implying there may be some truth to the cancer claim instead of making ground in the other direction.  And with the doubt of the price lingering over your head, the price will slowly creep down to my target.

I mention all this because this was the prevailing way we all talked to each other in the office, whether discussing foods, sports, real estate, or even pets, the latter of which actually led some people to start believing that such a thing as a pig-dog (a cross between a pig and a dog), existed.  And this is the way of speaking that during a bubble, or times of distortion and change, lead people to believe insane things, like that prices will keep going up forever.

The only way to counter this technique is to: a) recognize it immediately, and either b) counter with an equally insane, but opposite claim so the discussion grounds still stay somewhere in the middle, or c) drop it and walk away.

I also note that our current president (who is a real estate guy, by the way) has taken this technique all the way to the top.  He says outlandish things and has the other side/media actually take it seriously and try to refute his claims by logic.  If you do that, you start playing the other person’s game so you’ve lost.

As I see it now, the Democrats seem to have stopped their full-fledged losing campaign, and moved from c) the outraged dismissal phase, to b) full communism.

What You Get in a Homogeneous Society

Culture, not ethnicity, is the determining factor of a society’s outcomes.  Korea has a homogeneous culture.  Policymakers in the US will often cite Scandinavian countries or East Asian countries to rationalize their opinions, but usually these statements have miniscule merit, as what you get in a homogeneous society is not what can be gotten in a free-for-all like the US.

Here are some notes from being in Korea for over a year now.  In a homogeneous society, you get:

  • Lower crime, and kids under the age of 10 riding the subway or bus by themselves, and walking home after leaving their tutoring academies at midnight.
  • A social problem with people inflicting physical violence on police officers, ambulance workers, firefighters, and medics.
  • Informal credit systems where neighborhood grocers will tell you to pay them for groceries later, with no mention of when or even of a deadline.  This extends to modern restaurants when the POS system is down, and they tell you to come back later to pay them back.
  • Less of a litigious society, with personal lawsuits over bodily injuries, medical malpractice, etc., not very common or pursued – mostly, these types of things are settled out of the courts or person-to-person over the phone.  Correspondingly, a lower cost of social services like child daycares ($100/mo.) or medical care.
  • A society/major city with a higher average level of service for most things.  A city that is so prosperous, that sometimes it gives out bus and subway rides for free.
  • The culinary custom of serving an entire table-full of side dishes for free, which can be refilled to your stomach’s content.  This has been going on for decades, if not centuries, and abuse has not caused it to stop.
  • An inherent-not-explicitly stated business oligarchic class that has implicit societal objectives such as high employment at the expense of productivity and margins and ROE, although none of the Korean conglomerates would ever admit to this.
  • Rampant double-parking on the street, with cars put in neutral and their owners’ cell phone numbers either printed or otherwise left on the dashboard.  If a car is blocking another driver, then the other driver is expected to push the car (which is in neutral) out of the way – and if it doesn’t work, then to call the owner, whether at 6 am or 6 pm.

But what you also get is:

  • An invisible pressure to conform to social norms and mores, including that of physical beauty, and a huge plastic surgery and aesthetic care industry.
  • Rampant copying and gauntlet-style jousting as the prevailing method of competition in every facet of life, from education, to restaurants, to business in general.
  • Highest average spending on education in the OECD, with high average test scores on math and science to match, but limited innovation and creativity, a lot of which is directly related to the oligarchic business complex that stifles / crushes SME’s and mom and pop stores.
  • An entertainment-industrial complex that churns out pop stars as if on an assembly line, with artists at the mercy and whim of their producers, who create, produce, prettify, write the songs, house, feed, and choreograph the dances for them.
  • High rates of suicide as people who don’t feel they have succeeded along the narrow metrics of defined success, feel they have failed in life.
  • Barriers to immigration that are causing the society to age, and die – with deaths outnumbering births, the population will soon plummet.
  • Insane FOMO, as evidenced during the cryptocurrency boom and bust within a span of a few months last year (2017), that drives speculative bubbles.  See 1997, 2007 as well for eerie rhyming.

Elements – Philippines Edition

1. This rooftop garden in the foreground, at bottom, hovering above Makati.  So lush and alluring.  I’ve decided that my company’s future office will be located in such a setting.

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2.  In most developed countries, furniture has become disposable.  Of course there’s a role for disposable furniture, but there’s a role for solid, permanent furniture too.  I present this picture of a table setting in El Nido to introduce a single thing – the sheer mass of the table and chairs.  These chairs were at least 40 pounds each and were difficult to move just with an arm.  And no, I didn’t even try moving the table.  This is the kind of furniture that will stock the office in our rooftop garden.

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3.  Bedside tables/reading desks built right into the bedframe.  Why is this not more of a thing?  And as expected, solid.  Could probably have supported by weight as a chair.

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4.  This is where I stayed in El Nido, and I moved the desk from the corner to here.  I tried for many years to work out of minimalist virtual offices where my desk was nothing but an empty surface surrounded by nothing but blank walls.  And while that might work for some people, I couldn’t work more than an hour before needing refreshment or a walk outside.  Eventually I moved out of the private offices to cheaper hotdesks where I was surrounded by ambient conversation, open space, and windows.  This, is a natural extension of the ‘office’ setting that works for me, and will serve as inspiration for my eventual rooftop garden office.

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Wrong End of a Telescope

Multiple times during my early twenties, I tried to destroy all remnants of my past.

I purged emails, I tossed journals and letters, burned pictures.  This was usually after great disappointment, during periods when I learned that life was not going to follow my Grand Script.

During these times, I wanted to change everything about myself, because I didn’t like the person I had become.  But now I regret it, and I would urge any person of any age to keep a journal.

There are lots of reasons to keep one.  It’ll remind you of the person you once were.  In recent years I’ve been searching for who I was at 20, 25, even 30.  It’ll remind you of why you made certain decisions – so you can make better ones in the future.  It’ll keep you honest, even if you sometimes don’t like the memories.

Another important reason is it’ll give you hope for the future – because of how much things change, and that in many ways, the present is beyond the wildest imaginings of our past selves.

At some point for everyone, you’ll wake up one day and feel old.  This has officially happened to me in the last few months.  There’s a lot to this I’ll discuss later.  But in the meantime I’ve been doing a little reminiscing…

  • In my elementary school during the ’80s, I remember having emergency nuclear war drills.  They were kind of like earthquake drills, where you had to crawl under your desk.  In the event of a war with the USSR, who I always remember was this weird figment of an enemy, imbuing things with a malaise I couldn’t quite name.
  • In elementary through high school during the ’90s, there were gangs everywhere and you couldn’t wear certain colors: red, blue.  In elementary school I remember it was a little more strict, and there were even more colors like purple and black, because some of the gangs wore Raiders gear.  I remember our sixth grade teacher telling us all these salacious stories of older kids murdering each other in terrible ways.  Those older kids, to me now, are just kids.  I remember going through junior high and high school always with a low level of terror about getting jumped or tailed somewhere and jumped because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I remember some kids I know getting stabbed, shot, hit with baseball bats, going to jail, overdosing, etc.
  • I remember as a kid not having to wear seatbelts, and falling asleep standing up in the center back seat.
  • I also remember the seatbelt law taking effect in LA, and hating it, as I chafed and sweated under it.
  • I remember when I was a toddler, my dad telling me to wait outside a liquor store as he went in and bought something.  I was 3, and this was Koreatown, LA.
  • I remember living in that neighborhood, on Mariposa, and hearing gunshots all the time – pop, pop, pop – and being terrified whenever my dad went jogging.
  • I remember on flights there being a ‘smoking’ section, and hating having to fly to see family because where there were smoking sections, there is no such thing as the ‘non-smoking’ section.  I remember smoking sections in restaurants too.  How idiotic.
  • I remember that growing up, in our home, the phone line was the scarcest resource.  Not only did my sister and I spend hours talking to friends on it, it was also the only way to log onto AOL – and the internet.
  • I remember first using the internet and chatting with people.  I remember distinctly feeling like the access to information was changing my brain.  There was a point, as I chatted on AIM and surfed the internet at the same time, that I remember thinking that my old ways of writing letters by hand, of doing research using encyclopaedias, taking notes, etc., were gone and had been erased.
  • I remember some of my closest friends getting suspended or expelled for having marijuana at school.  Now it’s almost banal.  I remember when dealing was a lucrative and highly illegal trade, and sometimes there were kids who all of a sudden came to school with nice cars, dropped with rims and insane stereo systems that would pop your eardrums out, new jewellery, all from this trade.
  • I remember when Facebook first came out, and my friends and I being confused about what social network to go all-in on: Myspace, Friendster, Facebook.  It was too much trouble trying to update all three at the same time.
  • I remember learning, in the supposed best business school in the world, about the neat way that interest rates and the economy were managed by the Fed, about neat formulas on how to value things, about supply and demand curves, and a lot of discussion on Japan, and nothing on China.  Right now I use almost nothing I learned there, except accounting.
  • I remember 2001 when the planes hit the WTC, I was in finance class and a kid ran in and shouted that a plane had taken out one of the towers.  Blankly, the professor looked at him and kept talking.  Some kids shuffled out.  Later, I turned on the tv and watched the smoke billowing out of the tower, thinking it was surreal.  But classes still went on.
  • A few months later, after a rash of suicides, a malaise settled over campus and I remember a group of my friends sitting in my dorm, all talking.  The two girls huddled next to me were my friends who I regarded/regard as sisters.  I remember the service guys coming in to install unopenable windows to prevent the aforementioned suicides, seeing me in particular, chuckling, and saying that they wished they were still in college.  I didn’t think of it as any big deal, but now I know what they meant 🙂
  • At my graduation, I remember seeing a fairly big celebrity who happened to be the father of one of my classmates, as he posed for pictures in front of Huntsman Hall.  Who would have thought he would be our current president.
  • I remember the real estate bubble.  When I returned home after graduating college, all my friends were either loan officers in Orange County or directly/indirectly involved in the marijuana trade.  I remember when LA/South Bay/Westside buildings used to trade for 6-8% cap rates and the astonishment in our office when things traded at 4-5% because it was “expensive”.
  • 12 years ago when I started my first job, I remember spending a lot of downtime downloading videos from all over the internet for my colleagues’ amusement.  I remember Youtube coming out, and thinking it would fail because it had none of the videos we wanted to watch.
  • 11 years ago I remember looking at my friend’s iPhone and feeling that the world had changed.  This is an appropriate time to use the phrase mind blown, because it is one of the few times in my life I actually felt this.  The time before that was the internet.
  • I remember taking my first international business class flight around this time and thinking it was so cool, feeling smug and satisfied, and wishing that flying around the world could be my job.  Now I hate traveling.
  • 10 years ago I used to drive 40-50 minutes to travel 3 miles to work.  If I still had to do that hellhole of a commute again, I would Uber.
  • 8 years ago I remember in Silicon Valley, thinking that my bschool classmates who wanted to go work for Twitter and Zynga and companies like that were making a crazy choice.  I remember Uber first coming out and thinking it was the dumbest thing I had ever heard of.

I wish I had kept a journal.  Keeping one is probably one of the best habits I could have had.

Besides that, I’m positive that the next 10 to 20 years will be beyond anything we’ve ever imagined.  In a good way.

Elements – Korea Edition

1.  This is a ‘study library’ in Jamsil, near where I’m staying.

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This is a study hall+library+coffeeshop, where you pay a little over $3 to read or work for two hours, and drinks like tea and coffee are free.

I especially like the lighting and the colors.  The windows actually face an elevated train platform and a mess of wires, but the dark wood shelves do a good job in covering it up – while still letting the light in in abundance.

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The warm lighting is especially nice against the dark wood motif.  Elements will be taken from this for my future library.

2.  The National Museum of Korea.  The overhang creates a nice shaded canopy that reminded me of La Defense, in Paris.  La Defense made an impression on me when I visited it in high school almost half a lifetime ago.  I remember that because of the large open plaza and the shape of the arch, it created this nice breeze all around it, especially at the top of the stairs.  Like you were under a tent.

It was the same here.

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Inside, the building is like a cathedral.  Love the color, I love the materials.  Elements will be taken from this building for my future Museum of Chocolate.

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Not sure if these trees in the courtyard were intentionally placed like this, or were in transit to a planting, but noted as elements for my future avocado or cocoa tree groves.

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3.  This restaurant in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt in Incheon had an element I’ve never seen before.  Carved like a cave into a sinuous wall, it supported an extra layer of lighting  – and was very inviting, also inviting of a certain mystery.

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4.  The courtyard behind the Lotte World Mall – this picture does not do it justice.  Just to the left of this photo is an aerial walkway between two wings of the mall.  Standing under it, you have the same kind of tent-like effect as in the museum above, but it also feels like a gate.

You enter the gate, and see this wide, sprawling courtyard and greenery – and the fact that the building curves around the grassy area made the whole area seem much less expansive, and more intimate.  That latter part struck me.

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Stealing the Peach

I was in a small store in Fukuoka.  It sold organic products and local delicacies and specialties.

I was walking the aisles when, wafted by the breeze of a light air conditioner, and presumably my own movement, came this tropical scent.  It was just perceptible, a smell of coconut, an evocative, sweet aroma.

And also agonizingly transient.  It was there, and disappeared as soon as I sniffed again.

I stopped in my tracks and tried to figure out what it was.  I picked up the bottles of olive oil and local sweets.  Sniffing, it was there, and then not there again.

It smelled like strawberry fields, like a pina colada, like something both floral, fresh, new.

I turned around.

I saw these.

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Unsure, I leaned down to test the scent.  It was it.  Luscious, sweet peaches that smelled so good, smelled of the happiness of childhood, smelled plump and like spring.

These were 3 dollar peaches, but I should have stocked up on more.

We took it outside to eat, and the first bite, as I punctured the thin skin, was just of juice.  These peaches are juice, in peach form.

The juice burst all over my shirt and pants and I didn’t care, because most of it exploded down my throat in the most satisfying and delicious way to communicate laying in a spring meadow of flowers under a blue sky under a gentle breeze with a lover, exploding head sensation I’ve ever felt from a fruit.

I vacuum-slurped the whole thing and at points was chewing it with the roof of my mouth because these delicacies were so soft, these flowers of Japan.

Why are these not more well-known?  Why are they not being sold in every supermarket in every corner of the world?  Why is Amazon not drop-shipping these from the sky like manna?

Of the many pictures I took, the one above is my favorite.

What Jiu-Jitsu Teaches You About Life (Part I)

Some notes from a white belt.  More to follow from the journey.

I find core concepts in BJJ readily translatable to my daily life.  Here are some of the core ones.

There’s time, don’t panic

When you’re first starting out, every guard pass, every mount, side control, beginning of a choke or other submission, even a hand on a lapel, however loose and untechnical, is reason to panic.

You just don’t have the ability to distinguish tight, real attacks from wrong ones.  What I’ve learned so far in this particular journey, above all, is the value in cultivating clarity.  And you can only have clarity when you don’t panic.

This is a general life lesson applicable to all activities and practices like investing or business.  You can work for a day in a state of heightened anxiety and get less done than an hour of complete clarity.  This is another way of saying work smart, not hard.  Although both is better.

Staying calm gives you room to think, and it’s often the case in BJJ that you have a lot more time than you think.  It’s when you’re spazzing or panicking that you make yourself more prone to random attacks and armbars.

There are situations in jiujitsu where nothing but technique will get you out of it.  And a methodologically executed action, even if slower, is superior to doing things at random.

Cultivate mental clarity above all else.

Attack/defend the center

You realize this doing most other sports, but still.  The core is your literal and metaphorical center.  Your escapes emanate from your core.  Your core is your hips and ass, and move your core, and every other part of your body follows.  Leave your core exposed and under the control of your opponent, and there’s little you can do.  Move the core to escape, control the core of an opponent to control them.

This may be common sense, but I find it amazing how there are parallels with this in every physical activity I know.  In weightlifting, your clean/snatch power emanates from your legs and back.  In muay thai, your kicks emanate from the torque and power of your hips and core.  Calisthenics, gymnastics, surfing, everything.  Lifting something off the ground.

In most activities in life, there’s the meat, the priority, the 1-2 core things that obviate or solve all the secondary issues.  This is true in executive decision-making, investing, event planning, even baby-rearing 🙂

Everyone has core values, a core rhythm or pattern to their day, core components of happiness, etc.  Throw these off even for a day and it’s easy to become disoriented, that’s how important it is.  Preserve and protect your core.

Don’t take things head-on, approach things laterally

Both submissions and escapes only happen because you move your own, or your opponent’s limbs in a path outside of the typical range of motion.

It’s hard to throw or sweep an opponent that is digging in.  Same with a submission.  But this rigidity along a particular angle opens up opportunities to throw or attack them, usually perpendicularly or outside the normal range of motion.

This is a good reminder for any type of activity.

Technique beats raw strength

A practiced, 120-lb woman can submit a savage 200-lb bodybuilder.  A nimble company can disrupt a conglomerate with an order of magnitude more resources.  A dozen hackers can throw an election of another sovereign nation.

Attack, not withdraw

Defense doesn’t win, only action and aggression wins.  In my first few months of jiujitsu, all I did was try to pull out of closed guards and escape submissions.  It made me better at escaping, but did nothing in terms of helping me win.

My instructor’s constant admonishment was that instead of my constant withdrawals, I needed to get in closer.

BJJ is the opposite of striking arts in this respect, in that you can’t defeat someone from a distance.  You have to be in close, committed, in the game.

Whatever game you’re playing, if you’re playing the game, play to win, you can’t be halfhearted, you can’t be withdrawn.  If you play to not lose, you will actually lose.

Trust the process/muscle memory

For the first few months; actually, even now, I can barely register perceptible improvement.

The process, according to my instructor, was to show up and roll on a consistent basis.  And after being on the receiving end of what seemed like magical attacks, I was ready to trust whatever he said.

It’s only after a few months where I began getting submitted much less, and actually submitting others, that I realized that my subconscious was stronger than I knew.

This is scientific fact, by the way, the power of the subconscious.

Don’t be rigid

Being rigid makes you prone to takedowns, sweeps, throws.  Rigid arms are targets for armbars, and rigid game plans make you predictable and easily defeated.  There is a time for rigidity and raw strength, but this must be interspersed with absolute flexibility.

A relaxed body is harder to lift than a tense one, a flexible plan of attack that counters counters, will win against a one-trick opponent.

Be humble

Losing, in a physical activity, to a 13-year old kid 30 pounds lighter than you, is enough to humble you.  But also, you’ll realize that everyone gets caught.  Everyone.

The first principle and this one might be the most important of all.