Girish Joshi

The Almanack of Naval Ravikant

7 min read

Naval Ravikant is an American entrepreneur and investor. He is the co-founder, chairman and former CEO of AngelList. He is also a podcaster who shares advice on pursuing health, wealth and happiness. I was first introduced to him by my friend Vijay who shared Naval’s podcast and tweetstorm on the topic — “How to Get Rich (without getting lucky)”. When I heard him, it felt as if he was speaking directly to me, and in a lot of ways, it was like he was speaking everything I needed to hear. Two years passed, and I almost forgot about it. Until I stumbled upon this book. Naval himself hasn’t written any book yet, so there wasn’t any other option. This book was a collection of all the knowledge Naval had dissipated on the internet in different forms in a systematic manner. Here’s an attempt of summarizing what I have learnt from him:

Life is a game. We all are playing different games. The satisfaction in life depends upon what kind of game you are playing and with whom. These games can essentially be divided into three categories: wealth creation games, money-making games, and status games. Wealth is having assets that earn while you sleep. Money is how we transfer wealth and time. And status is your rank in the social hierarchy. If you are playing status games then you are going to slander those who play wealth creation games because that adds to your status. If you are playing money-making games, then you are essentially just renting your time to make money, while this can make you money but this will not make you rich. It’s when you give to society what it cannot get on its own right now, and when you give that thing on a scale you begin to play the wealth creation game.

Naval recommends that if you are going to play then you might want to play the wealth creation games. And if you are going to play, then you might just want to play it right. That means playing the long-term game with long-term people. Also, play iterated games, because all returns in life whether in wealth, relationships, or knowledge, come from compound interest. Making money is not a thing you do—it’s a skill you learn. It’s about knowing what to do, who to do it with, and when to do it. It’s about understanding than purely hard work.

Wealth can be broken down into Accountability, Leverage, and Specific Knowledge. Accountability means getting your skin into the game. It means to risk failure under your own name. It means to risk humiliation. Without accountability, you don’t have the incentive. So embrace accountability. Leverage basically means an advantage, a fulcrum to say. It comes in form of labour (people working for you), money (capital builds more capital), or products with no marginal cost of replication (books, media, movies, and code). The third form of leverage is permissionless, you don’t need anyone’s permission to have them, they are very egalitarian. Specific knowledge is knowing how to do something society cannot yet easily train other people to do. It is something you were doing as a kid or teenager almost effortlessly. It is found by pursuing your innate talents, your genuine curiosity, and your passion. Hustle, and you might find. Hard work is overrated. Judgement is underrated. Wisdom is knowing the long-term consequences of your actions, and wisdom applied to external problems is judgement. Work hard to develop judgement and leverage. Learn to think clearly. Build knowledge from the first principles. Understand the basics at the very, very fundamental level. On any subject, prefer to read fundamental books.

Suffering is the moment when you can no longer deny reality. This is the moment when you see things exactly the way they are. You cannot see the correct answer even though it might be right under your nose as long as you are in the moment of suffering and pain, as long as you are wishing that reality was different. Your problem is that your desire is colliding with reality and preventing you from seeing the truth. The more desire you have for something to work out a certain way, the less likely you will see the truth. This is applicable to business as well as relationships. What you feel tells you nothing about the facts—it merely tells you something about your estimate of the facts. There is a Buddhist saying, “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” To be able to think, you need to have empty space. It’s only after you are bored you have great ideas, allow yourself to get bored. Make the time.

A game involves making decisions at every point, so if we really want to get good at the game that we are playing, we will have to get good at decision-making. The classical heuristic is to optimize for the long term. Remember to be honest, but use honesty with caution. Apply Buffett’s old rule, ‘praise specifically, criticize generally’. If you can be more right and more rational, you’re going to get nonlinear returns in your life.

Don’t take yourself so seriously. You’re just a monkey with a plan. Happiness is a highly personal skill that can be learned. For some people, it’s a flow state. For some people, it’s satisfaction. For some people, it’s a feeling of contentment. Happiness is really a default state. Happiness is there when you remove the sense of something missing in your life. Happiness is not about positive thoughts, because every positive thought holds within it a negative thought (Tao Te Ching). Happiness, to Naval, is about the absence of desire for external things. Happiness is mainly not suffering, not desiring, not thinking too much about the future or the past, and really embracing the present moment and the reality of what is, and the way it is. Richard Feynman said, “I never ask if I like it or I don’t like it. I think this is what it is or this is what it isn’t.” The world just reflects your own feelings back at you. Reality is neutral. Reality has no judgements.

You can practice believing in the utter insignificance of the self. If you thought you were the most important thing in the universe (which by the way most people think), then you would have to bend the entire universe to your will. This is to think that you are fixed and the world is malleable, but the reality is that the world is largely fixed and you are malleable.

Happiness is basically staying in present. You can destroy your happiness if you spend all your time living in delusions of the future. A lot of unhappiness also comes from comparing things from the past to the present. Happiness is more about peace than it is about joy. And the sad part is that peace and purpose don’t go together so well. The purpose would bring into your life some sort of desire. And desire is a chosen unhappiness. Desire is a contract you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want. Happiness is being satisfied with what you have. And success comes from dissatisfaction. Choose. “All of man’s troubles arise because he cannot sit in a room quietly by himself.”

Peace is not a guarantee. Peace is not a certainty. It’s always flowing. It’s always changing. You want to learn the core skill set of flowing with life and accepting it in most cases. You can get almost anything you want out of life, as long as it’s one thing and you want it far more than anything else. Peace is happiness at rest, and happiness is peace in motion. You can convert peace into happiness anytime you want. But peace is what you want most of the time. Happiness is built by habits. To be happy and stable: don’t drink alcohol, don’t intake sugar, don’t engage in social media mindlessly, and “Stop asking why and start saying wow.” Build habits that make you happy—meditate, exercise, stay aware of the moment, get more sunlight on your skin, drop caffeine intake, be nonjudgemental (that might make you feel good in the short term, but in the long term it would make you feel lonely), and tell your friends that you are a happy person.

Take deep breaths, and muster the courage to “accept”. There is happiness in acceptance. Remember that the present is all we have.

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