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Codifying Life

An Operating System for Living with Purpose

The great-grandmother of my 2 daughters turned 100 a few weeks ago in Taipei, but my wife got a message last night to say she's in hospital, and this might be it. She flew out last night.

It gave me some perspective these past few weeks about the years I've lived and the years I have left. Especially given I’m almost halfway to 100, had my children late in life, my wife is 10 years younger, and she will probably live to be 100 as well!

Based on my own life experience and synthesizing the wisdom of others, I’ve started applying my 'Read. Write. Execute' framework to 3 major phases we go through in our lives, from birth to old age.

It’s a macro view where we pull back to see the larger picture, but it also zooms into the micro-actions, which can propel our growth and keep us on track.

In parallel, a ‘macro’ in computer programming is a rule or pattern that specifies how a certain input should be mapped to a replacement output. Applying a macro to an input is known as macro expansion. So, let’s code this macro view of our lives... let’s run the input of our basic human needs through it and expand our view of what’s possible.

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Growth Hack for Life: Read-Write-Execute

If you've followed my newsletters so far, you'll know I regularly come back to this framework, which is based on command line code in the old-school Unix operating system (the precursor to the more well-known Linux OS, which Android phones run on).

I learned the foundations of Unix when I lived in Scotland, working in the IT department of a Human Genetics Unit during the early era of the Internet. I ran daily backups of research data and managed permissions for users to access various files and folders.

Read-Write-Execute refers to the permissions a user has to those files and folders. To change permissions you run Chmod (Change Mode) then numbers which apply varying levels of access. 777 is the top level giving full permissions to r-w-x. The SU or SuperUser in the system has 'root' access to make all of these changes.

My personal 'Read-Write-Execute' framework is metaphor for personal growth and autonomy. It's about giving permission to ourselves to become Superusers in our own life and work toward a permissionless future where we take full control. This leads to my theoretical command line Chmod 888 - a hidden command for infinite and permissionless ownership of our future! The ultimate growth hack of our very DNA.

You should know I like building a narrative!

Before we delve into these 3 phases, let's see them alongside the basic human needs that weave through our lives.

Lifeline of Needs

'Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs' is a well-known model of human needs. It's usually depicted as hierarchical levels. Instead, I've taken influence from this and aligned it to our age brackets that show a progression between each. This is usually shown as a pyramid but I've shown it as a timeline... or a lifeline!

Just a note: as always, there is overlap, but this helps to consolidate the hierarchy of needs as they take precedence through our lives.

Initially, we concentrate on fundamental physiological necessities such as sustenance, hydration, respiration, and rest. As we age, the pursuit of stability and responsibility becomes prominent, encompassing aspects like healthcare, financial security, and domestic stability. In our youth, these fundamental needs are typically met by caregivers, which allows us to focus on growth and learning. As we mature, we begin to independently address these needs, though they often center around our personal benefit.

Progressing through life, our psychological needs intensify, particularly the need for love, belonging, and establishing deeper connections with others. During this stage, we not only take care of ourselves but also begin to nurture relationships with partners and for some, our own children. Approaching middle age, our focus shifts towards realizing personal achievements and gaining esteem, with an emphasis on earning respect and acknowledgment from our peers.

Beyond the age of 45, as we embrace the concept of freedom as a mental construct, our aspirations turn towards seeking a deeper sense of purpose, fulfillment, and self-actualization. This phase of life is about reaching our highest potential and making a lasting impact in the world.

The progression through the stages of human development can indeed be paralleled with the evolution of internet eras and the permission levels in Unix-based systems. Here’s an explanation of each stage:

Intro to the 'Read' Phase of Life: 0-25 years

During this phase, spanning from birth to young adulthood, we are predominantly in a macro state of learning and absorbing information. Just as we 'read' or gather data from our environments, people in this age group are gaining experience in a sort of 'read-only' practice mode for life. On a micro level, we are of course writing all this information to our memory and executing through behavioral development all the time. In terms of our overriding mode at this stage of life, we are learning foundational skills, understanding social norms, and receiving education.

Web1: Known as the 'read' era of the internet, Web1 was largely about consuming content without the capacity to contribute or interact with it. This is reflective of the 0-25 age group where individuals are primarily learning from the world, acquiring knowledge and skills that will later enable them to contribute meaningfully to society. They are preparing for more interactive roles in life, just as the early internet prepared us for a more participatory future with Web2.

Intro to the the 'Write' Phase of Life: 25-45 years

As we grow as individuals, we seek psychological needs such as love and belonging. In adolescence and early adulthood, people start forming deeper relationships and taking on responsibilities that require interaction and contribution.

The 'Write' permission in a Unix OS allows users to modify the contents of a file or folder. This is akin to the 'read-write' era of the internet (Web2), where users could not only consume content but also create and modify it – think social media, blogs, and wikis. The 'read-write' era of web2 opened up the internet to user-generated content and interaction. This mirrors our personal development in adulthood, where we begin to contribute to society and build more significant personal relationships.

Intro to the the 'Execute' Phase of Life: 45+ years

In later adulthood, people often seek fulfillment and self-actualization, striving to realize their full potential and leave a legacy. This mirrors the 'execute' phase, where actions are taken to bring about significant change or results.

In the Unix OS, 'execute' permission allows a user to run a file as a program. In the context of the internet (Web3), this can be seen as the ability to execute or engage with decentralized applications (dApps) and smart contracts, which carry out specific actions on the blockchain.

As individuals in this stage of personal development, we are looking to make a mark and effect change, Web3 users are empowered to be part of the governance and decision-making processes of the platforms they use and we are empowered to own the value we build.

So to boil that down: the 'read' era of personal development and Web1 is primarily about consumption of information, the 'write' era of Web2 corresponds to contribution and interaction, and the 'execute' era of personal growth parallels the deeper values, empowerment and legacy building of Web3.

Let’s dive even deeper into what we can do through these stages of life to take advantage of this ‘Permission Paradigm’.

Permission to Live - (In Depth)

The 'Read' Phase of Life: 0-25 years

Read (r) Permission: In computing, the 'Read' permission allows the contents of a file to be viewed by a user. For directories, this permission allows a user to list the contents of a directory.

We can also align this to what is commonly referred to as the ‘Read’ era of the early internet. Web1 was characterized by content consumption rather than interaction or content creation. Users would “read” information with little opportunity to contribute, offer feedback, or interact with others in real-time.

In much the same way, the read component in my framework starts with learning through the consumption of information. This encompasses everything from reading books to blogs and formal education if you want to practice the 'discipline of learning' in an institutional environment. But nowadays it's the self-driven learning that has the greatest potential, from short courses and e-learning to YouTube and ChatGPT!

But there are two types of learning in life, studied and experienced. Combined, these equal knowledge. They're both equally important, but in our younger years, learning to deep-dive for information and apply critical thinking, is the skill that will prepare us for life.

I'm not going to assume everyone has the privilege of higher education, or even the luxury of free time in their youth. The reality is many young people have it damn tough and are out there doing it on their own. Generally speaking though, the responsibilities from our teens to early 20's are for jobs you can mentally 'clock-out' from. They're good life experience but typically serve to earn a buck. Hell I was cleaning offices after school as a teen, or washing dishes in cafes. These responsibilities are to fend for yourself. Not to diminish the importance of that but it allows a greater degree of mental and emotional capacity compared to the responsibilities of starting your own family or a career-job where you never fully clock-out.

That's why those who end up with a family in their late teens or early 20's and have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, have it particularly tough. It allows little time to educate yourself and break out of survival mode. Interestingly enough, the ones who take on responsibility for others from a younger age such as siblings or even their own parents, tend to have a high degree of potential for success. The circumstance that put them in that position in the first place, can come with emotional baggage, but the ones who use that to fuel their purpose have gone on to be the strongest and most capable people I know.

"When Adversity and Diversity look in the mirror, they see their future selves smiling back... Capability and Adaptability". ~mrJK

While the emphasis in this phase is on consuming knowledge, begin to document it for yourself. That might be a personal journal, or a Notion account to document and link together your sources of information and to process ideas.

By all means execute and put ideas into action too, but treat it as a project or an experiment to test out what you're learning. Some of the greatest inventions came from experiments and the garage enthusiasts are often trying things that 99% of the population just won't understand yet. So keep at it but don't expect it to happen overnight.

So if you do start a business under 25, go into it with some perspective and tell yourself;

"This probably won't be what I do for the rest of my life, it's just the beginning of what I'll do with my life".

No matter how much potential your idea has to succeed, view it as a stepping stone to greater things. The right balance of confidence, enthusiasm and realism will earn you more respect than anything.

Finally, my biggest piece of advice for those under 25 is to realize that experience in these years is also like a practice run for life. I would highly recommend getting involved in interest groups and clubs, whether it's for music, hobbies, cultural groups or sports... learn the art of participation from a young age. If you're willing to take it further, become a youth leader and join the committees of these groups. I always put my hand up for committees when I was younger, whether it was the Youth Choir, the Psychic Research Society or the body corporate for the apartment building I lived in. Getting an understanding of governance principles at a young age is invaluable!

This combination of documenting and experimenting starts introducing our 'write & execute' disciplines which will take precedence in later years.

The 'Write' Phase of Life: 25-45 Years

Write Permission (w): In computing, the 'write' permission allows the contents of the file to be modified or deleted by the user. For directories, this permission allows the user to add, remove, or rename files stored in the directory. It's the ability to change the contents or state of a file or directory.

Aligning back to the history of the internet, our write phase also parallels Web2. This second era in contrast to web1, was marked by the rise of blogs, wikis, and social media platforms, which empowered users not only to consume content but also to curate, create, share, and interact with each other.

Just as 'write' permissions allow for the alteration of files and directories, this phase is often marked by a greater capacity to modify our lifes path. This is a period where many of us take significant steps in our careers, start families, establish homes, and engage more deeply with our communities. The ability to "write" our narrative becomes more pronounced, with increased resources, skills, and the confidence to make impactful changes.

Just as the Web2 era democratized content creation and participation, we find ourselves in a position to contribute and participate more in society. This era of life mirrors the interactive nature of Web2, where the emphasis shifts from mere consumption to active contribution in the form of ideas, leadership, innovation, or community engagement.

This period is also marked by the sharing of our knowledge, skills, and experiences, and contributing to collective growth and learning. So if you started documenting just for yourself in the younger years, now is the time to begin publishing it if you haven't already. No matter what your profession is, the practice of giving back through mentoring and training is a massively undervalued skill in life. It sets us up for phase 3 where the greater purpose of giving back takes on a lot more meaning from 45 year onwards.

The 'write' permissions also symbolize the ability to edit and refine one's personal and professional identity. This phase is often a time of significant growth, where experiences and challenges lead to deeper self-awareness, skill development, and a clearer sense of direction. The empowerment to "write" our own story is closely linked with the pursuit of personal and professional fulfillment.

Just as the Web2 era empowered users to leave their mark on the digital landscape, the later years of this phase are a crucial period for establishing one's influence and beginning to think about the legacy we wish to leave behind.

Life Experience: If you ask a 25 year old what has been a seminal life experience... a majority will say it was getting out and seeing the world. They're not wrong, so long as they got off the tour bus and immersed themselves. Experience is taking part in life, not just observing it. That means making emotional connections in the world and experiencing the highs and lows of love and loss, taking calculated risks, being afraid to lose but still doing it anyway. In another 20 years if you ask them again, I guarantee they won't give the same answer.

The 'Execute' Phase of Life: 45 year+

Execute (x): In computing, the 'Execute' permission allows the file to be run as a program by the user. For directories, this permission allows the user to access the directory's contents and execute files within it, assuming those files also have execute permission for the user.

To continue our parallel with the development of the internet, we can also look at this period as web3, where users can take ownership of their digital footprint and secure a legacy on decentralized networks.

You might think you have it all figured out at 30 or 40… but 45 onwards is when you take all that experience and put it into real action. In the leadup to 45 we start to crave the freedoms of youth and we remember that there is more to life than the status quo. In a world that has conditioned us to believe there is meaning in money, we are starting to wake up to the reality that fleeting achievements based on short-play status games are just not enough.

This doesn't mean we stop trying to make money, we just realize it can be done as part of something greater than our own needs. We start to seek a deeper purpose to what we do and the provide value back to the world. The trigger can be anything from kids flying to coop to career changes, burnout or health scares. An awareness of our own mortality sets off a dormant part of our psyche, coded in us from ancient times. Like inscribing stories on a wall, we too need to leave our mark on the world.

How do you want to be remembered? Who will remember you and why?

You've been writing your executable program from the start, even if you didn't realize it. You were laying the foundations and wire-framing the interface in your 20's, you were coding it in your 30's, then you did the beta-testing and debugging in your 40's. Now you're ready to execute and totally Change Modes to Superuser.

The purpose of your program is up to you, so make it count.

Why Wait?

But why wait until your 45+? I never said you have to wait. If you have the self-awareness to work through all this earlier in life, go for it. This is just a natural progression based on the societal norms we operate within, particularly in western society. Just be aware that the genuine experiences of living life are what drive the strength of our resolve to make change for the better. You can't fake experience and you can't manufacture knowledge.

Impact & Success

For most of us, there may be a 3-5 year leeway either side of these phases, and there will always be the outliers who achieve significant impact in their younger years. I say impact rather than success, because throughout life, success tends to take on different meaning. Something that feels a like a huge success when we're 20, may pale in significance to what we deem as success at 40.

Considering my own journey through this timeline, I don't entirely fit the mold... but I didn't produce this for myself. I was a late starter in many respects and an early adopter in other ways. I did my share of "life experiments" between 25-35 including 3 failed businesses alongside a mixed career between web development and television. But the experience and knowledge I gained propelled me into what I consider a successful career in Marketing from 35-45 that I may never have landed without the stepping stones to get there.

Those 10 years also introduced me to what a late starter can achieve. The founder of the brand I worked for started his business at 65 with an incredible level of purpose from the start. He was the perfect example of building your belief system from experience in an industry that desperately needed change. He even told stories of his formative years which taught him about giving back to those less fortunate. That brand went on to become one of the 10 biggest tea brands in the world and he died last year (2023) at age 93 years old with his sons and their grandchildren taking over the family owned business. His life would probably match this timeline to a tea!

No Regrets

I used to go to sleep as a teenager listening to vinyl of Edith Piaf singing "Non, je ne regrette rien" (btw - watch my video for an embarrassingly bad rendition). I live by that and have no regrets in life.

I launched several of my own businesses, but I was always too early. I was importing craft beer from Australia to New Zealand before there was a market for it. I was building a gamified tourism business in 2004 before we had the funding and resources to scale it further. I bought the Master Franchise license for a designer retail chain and launched the first store just before the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.

The businesses failed, I didn't. I learned a lot from those ventures and even now if I went back and did it again I don't believe they would have worked in the circumstances.

Throughout all 3 of the life phases we've covered, the principles of read-write-execute continue to spin like a whirring flywheel of growth. Each supports and amplifies each other. You'll always be learning, you always be engaging and you'll always be putting your knowledge into action.

Don't be afraid to fail, the only failure is not finishing with your best foot forward.

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