Dear teacher: from a student

Dear Mr. Gugick,

It’s crazy that it’s been a year.

Your death hit us hard. And it doesn’t really seem to get easier.

It’s 2 a.m. and I can’t sleep because all your words are running together in my mind.  

I never had a teacher like you, and I don’t expect I’ll ever have another one. I remember the first time I met you. You solved a Rubik’s Cube behind your back and then told us you’d forgotten all of our names during your sabbatical. I remember thinking I was in for a strange year.

I had no idea. Sometimes I’ll be sitting in class and laugh, thinking about how you would repeatedly tell us it made you anxious when we stood up before the bell rang, how you were banned from the state of Florida because of your reaction to a student who stood up too soon. Or about how you would tell us to have a good weekend and go “run around with sticks and burn things or whatever it is that you do.”

As time goes on, I’ll forget your jokes. I’ll forget your stories. And I’ll definitely forget the math. But there are some things you taught me that I will never forget.

The words that will always stick with me the most were the ones from the last time I ever saw you. The most important lesson you ever taught me had little to do with math. 

I remember when you stopped class and started going on a tangent. Just from the tone of your voice and the change in the atmosphere of the room to a more serious one, I knew this moment was going to be one that I’d think about for years. Before you even started speaking, I knew your words would change my life.“

You said that our friend groups were like tribes and that tribes were instinctively fearful of opening up to newcomers. It was human instinct. But we had to be brave and defy those instincts and the status quo. You said the way to welcome someone into your tribe was through a shared experience. You urged us to reach out to people and bring them into our tribes.”

You said that our friend groups were like tribes and that tribes were instinctively fearful of opening up to newcomers. It was human instinct. But we had to be brave and defy those instincts and the status quo. You said the way to welcome someone into your tribe was through a shared experience. You urged us to reach out to people and bring them into our tribes.

I don’t know if you could tell the future when you said that or what, but I know that you created a whole new tribe in Beachwood. It was almost ironic how we were brought together through the shared experience of your death.

I remember after you spoke about tribes, the person next to me said, “Mr. Gugick should be president. There would be no hate.”

I wish you could be president. I think the world would be a lot better off.

You taught me other important things, too, though. To go outside, to not worry about grades so much, to put down my phone, to speak up. 

I feel like I took for granted what it meant to have a teacher like you. What an honor it was to learn from one of the smartest people I will ever encounter.

I always struggled with math until your class. But somehow, when you taught it, it all made complete sense. And it seems like that’s how it was for everyone.

I struggle through math now; it doesn’t click. But for some reason, when you plugged in your calculator to the board, it did. You made the hardest questions on the ACT into simple arithmetic. You made me not dread numbers and math.

Above all, though, you didn’t only teach through giving answers. You made me question things. How much I’m capable of (more than I think); what counts at the end of the day (the way you made others feel about themselves); and what matters more: the number of people who will remember you or the people who will do something with what they remember (I’ll let you figure that one out).

They say the best teachers teach you the skills you’ll need outside of the classroom, and you definitely did just that.

I hope you’re up there right now, laughing at us, sharing a drink with Leonard Euler, and jamming out to the Grateful Dead. 

Because of you Mr. Gugick, we stand a little taller. We smile a little wider. And we try a little harder.

All I can say now is thank you. Thank you for all you taught me. Thank you for helping me expand my tribe. Thank you for making me someone who can honestly say, “I learned from one of the greats.”

I think The Wonder Years summed it up best. “Teachers never die. They live in your memory forever. And you never really knew them, not any more than they knew you. Still, for a while, you believed in them, And- if you were lucky- maybe there was one who believed in you.”

Thank you for believing in us. Tal Rothberg

Life: Not sugar coated

You are screwed and I’m not going to sugar coat it.
(Literally, I will not put sugar on anything.)
Everybody today faces an impossible predicament.
You’ve been catapulted into this world (literally shot out of a human body) without an instruction manual.
For 9 months you grew inside of a human body….then all of a sudden you were expected to figure sh*t out on your own.
It’s almost like you woke up in a ferrari going 100 miles an hour headed for a cliff and you’re expected to stop the car.
But you have no clue what a ferrari is…you don’t even know what a car is
You don’t know what a cliff is and you sure as hell don’t know what a brake is
You don’t even know that you’re a human being
You just feel sensations
You’re totally lost and helpless
You know nothing.
This state is what the Greeks called aporia.
The problem is that most people are not in it…
They know nothing, but think they know everything.
They are constantly bullshitting themselves and bullshitting others.
The human body & brain is the most powerful machine in the world, but similarly you have no idea how to operate it. 
In some ways, you’re not totally helpless — you have genetic programming and DNA that learns & adapts.
You’re programmed with the capability to learn to speak, walk and survive in social environments.
Your body knows how to grow into a full human being (imagine if you needed to mentally grow all your limbs…). But that’s about it.
The problem is that these SAME adaptive mechanisms also open you up to DECEPTION from others and from yourself.
Your body adapted to find certain things salient that would increase your chances of survival.
Like a barricuda, you’re attracted to shiny objects.
You think you know what you TRULY want…but instead you’re just following what your genetic code finds SHINY.
All of us have innate and adaptive mechanisms that increase chances of getting your genetic material passed on.
Things like conformity, status seeking, wealth accumulation and cravings for sugar.

Happiness is not a priority for your genes…all they want is to procreate and survive. On the serengeti this wasn’t a huge issue.
There was a concordance with these behaviors and the environment.
The drive for sugar was okay because there wasn’t much sugar available, for instance.
But with modernity all of that changed.
Companies created hyper normal versions of stimuli and realized that they could tap into these evolutionary drives.
The drive for sugar was translated into recommendations to eat literal dessert for breakfast…
The drive to accumulate fat turned into a massive rise in obesity…
The drive to accumulate wealth led to the worlds richest people in history while much of the world starves
Because these urges are adaptive — meaning they used to increase survival chances — they are almost impossible to resist.
This was a huge business opportunity.
Another level higher, culture conditioned people to crave these things too.
In fact, culture became a mechanism to justify + glorify them.
For instance, someone who eats just steak is now considered weird compared to someone that eats practical dessert 3 meals a day.
Your brain’s adapted computer code has been hijacked and hacked by these modern stimuli. Hackers found these vulnerabilities and attacked.
These aren’t just problems you can just think your way out of.
Even willpower alone is moot…It’s like your computer has been hijacked and you just shut the volume off.
The virus doesn’t go away.
You need an antiviral software.
You need institutions and practices to fight this hedonic tendency.
Over the course of human history, people realized that humans needed more than mere consumption and survival. 
They realized the potential for you to DECEIVE YOURSELF into dedicating your life to these base desires to the point where you can’t pursue anything higher
Your ancestors knew that life was more than just eating, drinking & having sex and created things like religions, philosophies and rituals to instill that wisdom.
(If these religions existed today they’d say to stop wasting all your time on porn and tik tok for instance)
They outsourced this to the cultural layer because they realized that this wasn’t just innate.
Unfortunately human beings don’t come out of the womb yet in a meditation pose with the wisdom it takes to live a good life…
But pretty much all of that wisdom has been extirpated from society over the last few 100 years.
Everybody has forgotten how to operate a human body and live a good human life.
Without consciously defining your values and what makes a good life for YOU it ends up getting programmed by cultural conditioning
But as I discussed cultural conditioning can be corrupted by what’s in vogue…
Corrupt humans –> corrupt culture –> even more corrupt humans
The nuclear family, religions and the schooling system were important to help people resist being overwhelmed by their base desires.
But we’ve destroyed all three, removed the katechon…the lid is off…and now base desires run rampant.
We’ve separated knowledge from wisdom.
The schooling system teaches you random encyclopedic knowledge, but not how to live a good life.
Most parents today weren’t taught this either, thus are in-equipped to teach their kids.
Nobody knows:
– How to eat- How to be happy- How to find meaning- How to be fulfilled- How to live a good life- How to be a good citizen- How to love
Instead, people just defer to culture & politics to answer these questions.
Another layer down, we don’t even have the capability to DISCUSS MORALITY. 
Instead morality has become mere preference justification.
You think things are good for society because YOU WANT THEM. Not because they are inherently good.
Morality is just a battle of wills…
More and more, everything is answered by someone’s beliefs and political affiliations than their actions.
The nuclear family has been destroyed. The education system is propaganda. Religions are gone. Nobody philosophizes (in the socratic sense).
Instead of becoming wise, people simply vote for the “right party” and assume that makes them good & virtuous. 
If you hashtag the right thing or post the right instagram photo you’re a good person. 
If you don’t, you’re not.
It doesn’t matter what you do in your day to day life — it only matters what you believe.
Life is more than voting left and being a hedonist. But that’s how everybody is living.
And frankly, it’s also more than having a 6 pack and healthy body.
Eating by itself cannot make you live a good life (but I think it is an important part nonetheless).
Once you realize that you too have no clue what a good life means, that’s when you can start actually living one.
There used to be a human operating manual. But it was burned to ashes. 
Like after a wild fire we can scavenge a few of the remains. 
There’s a page here and there about meat I think I found…There’s another about community and love. 
But there’s nothing cohesive.
We’re stumbling around in the dark putting together a manual that was burnt to crisps.
Can it be resuscitated? I think so.
Let me know what you think is part of this operating manual…
Thread inspired by the work of @vervaeke_john

Holocaust remembrance

I find these stories remarkable. As a father, as a husband, and as a human being. The courage and perseverance is nearly incomprehensible.

Letters of love: ‘Our father wrote every day as he waited to be sent to Auschwitz’

❤️At 40, Franz Kafka (1883-1924), who never married and had no children, walked through the park in Berlin when he met a girl who was crying because she had lost her favourite doll. “She and Kafka searched for the doll unsuccessfully. Kafka told her to meet him there the next day and they would come back to look for her. “The next day, when they had not yet found the doll, Kafka gave the girl a letter ‘written’ by the doll saying ‘please don’t cry. I took a trip to see the world. I will write to you about my adventures.’ “Thus began a story which continued until the end of Kafka’s life. During their meetings, Kafka read the letters of the doll carefully written with adventures and conversations that the girl found adorable. “Finally, Kafka brought back the doll (he bought one) that had returned to Berlin. “It doesn’t look like my doll at all,” said the girl. Kafka handed her another letter in which the doll wrote: ‘my travels have changed me.’ The little girl hugged the new doll and brought her home happy. A year later Kafka died. “Many years later, the now-adult girl found a letter inside the doll. In the tiny letter signed by Kafka it was written: “Everything you love will probably be lost, but in the end, love will return in another way.”

Advice list for my teens

  1. Having good friends is a blessing. Being a good friend is obligatory.
  2. Females have a better sense of smell, need I say more?
  3. Covering your tracks uncovers a faulty character. Real men own up to their mistakes, apologize and try to put things right.
  4. Do not photograph your private parts. The picture will end up in your grandmother’s Facebook feed and I promise you, you do not want to go there.
  5. You are not what you eat, or what you drive or where you live. You are you. And if that is not working out for you, changing your diet or car or home will not fix the problem.
  6. Clean is sexy. Thoughtful is sexy. Being blindingly drunk is pathetic.
  7. Video games may not make you violent, but they certainly do not make you a better son, student or friend.
  8. Sleep will not solve all of your problems, but not sleeping will create new ones.
  9. Make the home page on all your devices. You will be smarter for it.
  10. Junk food is for teenagers, by the time you are twenty you will find your body wants real food. Give it what it needs.
  11. Playing sports will make you happy and healthy. Keep games in your life.
  12. Choosing a spouse is the most important decision you will ever make, do not let your heart ignore your head, nor vice versa.
  13. If you are shopping for clothes and wondering if you are the kind of guy who can get away with a certain trendy style, then you most certainly are not.
  14. Saving a few dollars on a bad haircut is something you will regret instantly.
  15. Your girlfriends, the women who befriend you, love you, and will never sleep with you, will be some of the most important people in your life. Treat them beautifully.
  16. Never let your siblings down, they are irreplaceable. They will be your longest friendship in life and, one day, will be the only people who remember your childhood.
  17. When you have the nagging feeling that your parents would disapprove of what you are about to do, pause, make sure you are completely sure you have answered for yourself all the questions they would ask. Then proceed, using your own judgment.
  18. Your 20s are the time to discover your tolerance for risk, don’t pass up the opportunity.
  19. Spend the extra few dollars to buy decent shampoo. And deodorant.
  20. Own two perfectly pressed white shirts. You never know when a job interview or a girlfriend’s parents will arrive.
  21. Own lots of underwear, it will ultimately determine your laundry schedule.
  22. If you sleep with a girl, contact her the next morning, even if it is just an emoticon. And if you even think of pretending you don’t know her, envision my face.
  23. Buy gifts for Valentine’s Day, birthdays, and any other special occasion that arises. Little nothings, bought with care and thought, go a long way to making a woman feel like she is on your mind. However, if she shows a hint of disappointment that you did not spend more money, drop her.
  24. When you get the chance, be the kind of boss, teacher, father and friend that you had, or wish you had.
  25. Finish what you start. That goes for tubes of toothpaste, expensive entrees, and commitments you have made to others and yourself.
  26. You are only as good as your word, anyone who says otherwise has proved my point.
  27. Technology will not make you happy. The people it connects you with will. Do not confuse the two.
  28. When a woman sets out to change you, head for the hills, unless it is on matters of hygiene, exercise or diet, then hear her out.
  29. Your manners will say everything about you and will reflect on your parents every day. Don’t make us look bad.
  30. Life will disappoint you. People will disappoint you. You will disappoint yourself. That’s why you have parents, to help you deal with those disappointments.
  31. Tattoos will go out of style, if they haven’t already. Don’t be fooled into believing otherwise.
  32. Aspirin, water and black coffee solve a multitude of problems. Either together or apart.
  33. When clothes shopping with a woman do not tell her that she looks great in everything, it destroys your credibility. Do not tell her that she looks terrible in something, it destroys your relationship. Tell her what makes her look great, it is a message that few women tire of hearing.
  34. If your friends are jerks, you will not be far behind. Choose wisely.
  35. Be nice to your parents, it will be a long time before you can afford your own ski vacation.
  36. Answer your mother’s texts promptly, or as long as you want her to keep paying your cell phone bill.
  37. With shoes, quality always wins over quantity. Ditto suits.
  38. Toothbrushes do not last forever.
  39. Learn to swing a golf club, shoot a pool cue and cast a fishing rod, it will come in handy.
  40. Do not ever use your physical size to intimidate anyone, male or female, unless it is in an organized game of sport. If you do, I will send you back to the cave where you belong.
  41. Drugs will make you stupid, waste your money, introduce you to people you do not want to know, get you in trouble with the law, and become a habit you might find hard to break. Am I clear?
  42. Smile in all photos and show your good side, you never know where the picture will end up.
  43. If you get a rash or a cut or a burn, photograph it and text it. Moms diagnose, even digitally.
  44. When you come back for a home cooked meal, your old bed and laundry service, remember to bring a good attitude. These things are not your birthright.
  45. Calling your parents for no special reason is always, always a good idea.
  46. If you only share the good and never reveal the bad, no one will really know you.
  47. Never assume anything about another person’s wealth, health or happiness, all too often we are mistaken.
  48. Put the seat down, don’t argue, just do it.
  49. Your girlfriend or wife may be your best friend, and I sincerely hope she is. But living with her will not be like living with your other best friends, behave accordingly.
  50. The Social Network was right, the Internet is written in ink. Remind yourself of that every time you touch a keyboard.
  51. If you think you are ready for children but are not sure, get a dog.
  52. No one is ever completely ready to be a parent, it is always a bit of a leap.
  53. It is best to have children within 50 miles of at least one grandparent. In parenthood, emergencies are the rule rather than the exception.
  54. House gifts will always be remembered and appreciated so never accept a dinner invitation or weekend’s stay without a small token of gratitude.
  55. Soon enough you will be in a position to help those younger than you. Offer a hand up quickly and generously.
  56. Remember that you are a product of your upbringing and schools. Show gratitude and loyalty for the teachers and institutions from which you graduated.
  57. Check your mail! As old-fashioned as it may seem, there are some letters that must be opened. Letting things pile up only creates nasty past due surprises. Grappling with paperwork is one of adulthood’s biggest but unavoidable headaches.
  58. Be the kind of person others turn to with their troubles. People in pain seek out those with good hearts.

Our survivor Rachel

Our friend Rachel has given it a tireless go against cancer. May the force continue to be with her. Here are her musings, and her art, thru the battle. Lots to learn in here.

Mzungus, “Only In America”

We had the pleasure of hosting Patrick and Joanita Mulondo at our home here in Rancho. Patrick is the artist we met in Jinga, Uganda who makes amazing sculptures welded from scrap metal collected by local street kids. Scrap metal he pays 4-10 USD per kilo because Patrick pays 2x normal street price, which he overpays because he is fortunate. He used to be one of them.

Parick grew up orphaned, after losing both his parents from AIDS at 4 years of age. He was found on the streets by a family friend, had his art talent discovered by a Christian organization who put him thru art school. Today, he is 30, and a successful sculptor.

While Patrick has been to the US 3 times, his new wife Joanita had never left Uganda. What made our friendship and interaction on their visit so special was seeing Americs through the eyes of a person who had only ever seen our country through whatever bits are shown on Ugandan television, be it news or select TV shows. And what an innocent, and eye opening lens she has. The number of times I heard, “only in America”, and for what reasons, was fascinating. It was a lesson in humility, appreciation, and discovery of things we cannot fully understand. In no particular order, here are the anecdotes from our day about.

The notable differences between California and Uganda range from how clean the streets are, to how good a life the Mzungu dogs have! Huh? (Reminder, Mzungu is the East African generic name for “white guy”)

Yup. How good Mzungu dogs have it. As they entered our house Joanita recoiled at our little Shiba Inu dog. I asked if she was afraid of dogs? “No, not Mzungu dogs.” Whaaat?!?!

Mzungu dogs apparently “sure have it good.” That they “would never make it in Africa where they must live digging thru garbage and hunt for food in the streets.”

I casually asked Joanita why she married Patrick. “Because he is not like other African men…he’s more like a Mzungu. Kind, helps with cooking and cleaning. Not running around.” We laughed at that one.

One of my favorites was when I took them to visit the school the boys attend in LaJolla and we passed thru security. Get this…”Why is there security…at a SCHOOL?”, came the ask, with puzzled faces. “We don’t have that in Uganda.” I have often quipped that many of the supposedly scary places we’ve traveled in the world are far less spooky and dangerous than in the US. Exclamation point on that.

One really great moment was taking our Ugandan friends to the beach in LaJolla. Get this. At 29 years old, Joani has never set foot in sand, or the ocean! It was like being with a young child; the discovery, the joy, the smiles. “Way past our view, across the Pacific, is Mozambique.”

Another big difference was that “in Uganda, your nose fills with dust and dirt, and after one day you could never wear the same clothes again. But here, everything is so clean. What you wear today, you can wear again on Thursday.”

Prior to arrival in San Diego, they had been at a benefit in Sacramento where Patrick’s art was sold at auction. While there, they were in a 4 car pile up (with no one injured), they were in the first car. They marveled at the way everyone got out and shared their information with the police and other drivers. When Stacia asked why that was so amazing? They howled, “In Uganda, everyone involved would get out and run away to disappear!”

Getting into the Tesla, after unplugging the power cable. All the goodies: no gasoline, large GPS screen enabled, great acceleration…”WHAT is this thing?!?! Only in America cars like this. You could never have a car like this in Africa. Would get destroyed by the roads!”

Final anecdote. They told me the performer SHAGGY was big in Africa. All Jamaican/Reggae base music is in fact. I just happened to have on my playlist the album by Sting and Shaggy. 44/876. I put it on and it was very popular with my guests. They had not heard it. But the confusing part to them? WHO is this Sting?!?! Shaggy is known all over Africa but they had never heard of Sting! Even after I played Roxanne and Message in a Bottle, I got completely blank stares.

It’s a small world indeed, punctuated by little differences that make one smile, and again appreciate how lucky we all are…

T. Boone Pickens letter after death


The following message from T. Boone Pickens was written prior to his passing September 11, 2019.

“If you are reading this, I have passed on from this world — not as big a deal for you as it was for me.

In my final months, I came to the sad reality that my life really did have a fourth quarter and the clock really would run out on me. I took the time to convey some thoughts that reflect back on my rich and full life.

I was able to amass 1.9 million Linkedin followers. On Twitter, more than 145,000 (thanks, Drake). This is my goodbye to each of you.

One question I was asked time and again: What is it that you will leave behind?

That’s at the heart of one of my favorite poems, “Indispensable Man,” which Saxon White Kessinger wrote in 1959. Here are a few stanzas that get to the heart of the matter:

Sometime when you feel that your going
Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow these simple instructions
And see how they humble your soul;

Take a bucket and fill it with water,
Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining
Is a measure of how you’ll be missed.

You can splash all you wish when you enter,
You may stir up the water galore,
But stop and you’ll find that in no time
It looks quite the same as before.

You be the judge of how long the bucket remembers me.

I’ve long recognized the power of effective communication. That’s why in my later years I began to reflect on the many life lessons I learned along the way, and shared them with all who would listen.

Fortunately, I found the young have a thirst for this message. Many times over the years, I was fortunate enough to speak at student commencement ceremonies, and that gave me the chance to look out into a sea of the future and share some of these thoughts with young minds. My favorite of these speeches included my grandchildren in the audience.

What I would tell them was this Depression-era baby from tiny Holdenville, Oklahoma — that wide expanse where the pavement ends, the West begins, and the Rock Island crosses the Frisco — lived a pretty good life.

In those speeches, I’d always offer these future leaders a deal: I would trade them my wealth and success, my 68,000-acre ranch and private jet, in exchange for their seat in the audience. That way, I told them, I’d get the opportunity to start over, experience every opportunity America has to offer.

It’s your shot now.

If I had to single out one piece of advice that’s guided me through life, most likely it would be from my grandmother, Nellie Molonson. She always made a point of making sure I understood that on the road to success, there’s no point in blaming others when you fail.

Here’s how she put it:

“Sonny, I don’t care who you are. Some day you’re going to have to sit on your own bottom.”

After more than half a century in the energy business, her advice has proven itself to be spot-on time and time again. My failures? I never have any doubt whom they can be traced back to. My successes? Most likely the same guy.

Never forget where you come from. I was fortunate to receive the right kind of direction, leadership, and work ethic — first in Holdenville, then as a teen in Amarillo, Texas, and continuing in college at what became Oklahoma State University. I honored the values my family instilled in me, and was honored many times over by the success they allowed me to achieve.

I also long practiced what my mother preached to me throughout her life — be generous. Those values came into play throughout my career, but especially so as my philanthropic giving exceeded my substantial net worth in recent years.

For most of my adult life, I’ve believed that I was put on Earth to make money and be generous with it. I’ve never been a fan of inherited wealth. My family is taken care of, but I was far down this philanthropic road when, in 2010, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates asked me to take their Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world’s wealthiest to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. I agreed immediately.

I liked knowing that I helped a lot of people. I received letters every day thanking me for what I did, the change I fostered in other people’s lives. Those people should know that I appreciated their letters.

My wealth was built through some key principles, including:

A good work ethic is critical.

Don’t think competition is bad, but play by the rules. I loved to compete and win. I never wanted the other guy to do badly; I just wanted to do a little better than he did.

Learn to analyze well. Assess the risks and the prospective rewards, and keep it simple.

Be willing to make decisions. That’s the most important quality in a good leader: Avoid the “Ready-aim-aim-aim-aim” syndrome. You have to be willing to fire.

Learn from mistakes. That’s not just a cliché. I sure made my share. Remember the doors that smashed your fingers the first time and be more careful the next trip through.

Be humble. I always believed the higher a monkey climbs in the tree, the more people below can see his ass. You don’t have to be that monkey.

Don’t look to government to solve problems — the strength of this country is in its people.

Stay fit. You don’t want to get old and feel bad. You’ll also get a lot more accomplished and feel better about yourself if you stay fit. I didn’t make it to 91 by neglecting my health.

Embrace change. Although older people are generally threatened by change, young people loved me because I embraced change rather than running from it. Change creates opportunity.

Have faith, both in spiritual matters and in humanity, and in yourself. That faith will see you through the dark times we all navigate.

Over the years, my staff got used to hearing me in a meeting or on the phone asking, “Whaddya got?” That’s probably what my Maker is asking me about now.

Here’s my best answer.

I left an undying love for America, and the hope it presents for all. I left a passion for entrepreneurship, and the promise it sustains. I left the belief that future generations can and will do better than my own.

Thank you. It’s time we all move on.”
-T. Boone Pickens