Best Essays

Edit: Charles here. A lot of the stuff here is outdated. I'm working on an ebook that (a) takes the best of my first two years of writing and (b) updates with the best of what I've learned. 

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What follows are some of my most popular essays, organized (roughly) by category.

My writing is multidisciplinary and draws from disciplines like psychology, philosophy, evolutionary biology, complex systems sciences, religion, sociology, and much more.

I look everywhere, but I’m always trying to answer a single question:

How can we live a good life?


I read 150+ books a year. This isn’t hard. You can do it too if you cut out wasteful activities and replace it with reading. A few hours (or minutes) a day adds up to tremendous effects over a lifetime. Books change both how we see and experience the world. Take it away from us, and we lose something important.

Though there are too many books to ever run out of things to read, but sometimes we need help finding good options.


For many years now, I’ve owned only 30-40 things. Everything fits into one bag and weighs under 20 pounds.

Why do this? Well, many reasons.

I also believe in simplicity of information. I don’t read the news. I block social media for most of my day. I am picky about what I read. Why? Information, like sugar, is toxic in large quantities.

Learning, Autodidactism

School is broken.

Teachers teach to produce scores and rankings, not erudition. The “great students” often know nothing at all. Learning and curiosity are part of human nature. Yet, by age 18, most of us have that beaten out of us.

Still, it’s never too late to change. As adults, we can direct our education like we never could as children. Many learners use outdated, flawed methods, which means we are capable of learning much faster than we think. Even a small change can have enormous effects.

I and my readers have used such methods to master languages quickly (Japanese in 18 months), learn to write (like Hemingway or Ben Franklin), self-teach programming, and much more.


Over the years, I’ve learned to be 2-3x more effective than ever before. This lets me write, run a business and still make time for learning project and all the other important areas of life.

Productivity has many parts, but some of them are: rigorous time management, eliminating distractions, the discipline to avoid fake work, momentum, and goal setting. This doesn’t have to be complex. Plus, it’s important to have good role models, so you know what you’re truly capable of.

My pet peeve in productivity is when people focus far too much on the tools and not enough on themselves. Which brings me to…

Behavior Change

Some of who we are is innate, decided at birth. A lot of it is not. People who use genetics or words like “talent” often use it as an excuse to run from the responsibility.

Change is hard, though. That’s why we sit around, hide behind our “hobbies”, talk instead of act, and wait for opportunities that will never come. The better answer is to go break some pots. And when we do act, something amazing happens. We actually become different people. Our actions change who we are.

Work and Fulfillment

Many of us feel enslaved to the 9 to 5 and say we want to change.

Many of us wish to swap our careers, quit our jobs to travel or build something valuable that changes many lives. Some of us, especially the creative types, love what we do but would like for our work to support us. Others among us recognize that life is not all about money (indeed, many of the best things in life are worth doing badly), and wish to have our work interfere minimally with the rest of our lives.

Either way, most of us give up before we begin. Why? Because we are scared. Scared of risks, scared of discomfort, scared of the unknown. But these things, your fears, are something you can learn to manage.


We have little control over must of what happens in life. That’s why it is so important to manage what we do have control over. The greatest wisdom here comes not from cutting-edge research, but a philosophy that is nearly 2000 years old–Stoicism.

I try to read some Stoic philosophy each day (particularly Seneca), and it has taught me cultivate mental resilience,  manage risk, and learn from failure.


We all aim to be happy, but the word means ten things to ten different people.

Still, a good place to start might be to avoid the obvious mistakes.

Scientists define happiness as”subjective well-being,” and we’ve learned a lot about it. Both riches and illness affect it a lot less than we think. Community matters too. But, most importantly of all, happiness is an attitude.

Purpose and Excellence

There are many kinds of people, and your genetics, environment, relationships and experiences all blend to form who you are.

All of us must choose what path we wish to walk. And yes, not choosing is a choice too. We are forced to live with the consequences. Whatever our goals are, they don’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of work and a lot of failure. Sometimes this means having a powerful vision. Most of the time, though, it’s a lot of wandering, a lot of time spent feeling lost, and a lot of trial-and-error.


Done well, relationships can be some of the most fruitful and important things in our lives. Done poorly, and they can be some of the most painful and debilitating.

This is not easy. Many of us wear masks of inauthenticity and cultivate false friendships. We can live our whole lives without a single, genuine friendship. We make our relationships about power, not trust. Others quickly “befriend” us for our wealth and are gone once those things fade.

Talk is not conversation, and many of us (myself included) are not so good at establishing a real channel between ourselves and another. Part of this is because we care too much of what others think (here’s how I dealt with that). This is a great paradox because one of the best ways to be liked is to care less about what others think of us (and more about how they feel).


That’s a short tour of what I write about.

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