Two of us - Joe and Luke - decided to take a trip to Norway during the last week of October. It was a wonderful experience that gave us a chance to spend some serious time reflecting on our personal and professional goals, as well as continue to cultivate our strong friendship.
We chose Norway for two reasons:
From an economic standpoint, Norway is one of the most interesting countries in the developed world.
Tiny Norway, with a population of 5 million, is home to the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund which has a total AUM of just under $900B USD. Funded by Norway’s large amount of oil revenue, the fund invests in 9,000 companies and has investments in 75 countries, according to their website.
What is also interesting is the huge role Norway’s “Council of Ethics” plays in how the fund is invested. Excluded on their long “black list” are tobacco companies, producers of nuclear arms, creators of severe environmental damages, and human rights violators to name a few. This enormous amount of wealth also allows Norway to be extremely progressive in the department of providing subsidies to its citizens for the use of clean energy such as electric vehicles. For a while the bestselling car in Norway was California’s own Tesla Model S.
Norway is also one of the most beautiful countries on the planet.
These two reasons were more than enough to spend some quality time stepping away from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life to take a deep (cold) breath.
Oslo is Norway’s capitol and largest city. We spent two days exploring this city, where we had a few drinks and made some friends.
One aspect of the trip that went well in particular was the balance between planning and spontaneity. We had a general plan as to where we were headed: from Oslo to Bergen then a bit further north, concluding the trip back at Oslo. There were a few fjords we wanted to see; however, we also left a few days unplanned. This allowed us to take advantage of recommendations by our Airbnb hosts and explore things that caught our attention as we were going along. This balance between uncertainty and planning is a tricky one. It is natural to want to eliminate uncertainty. Traveling to a foreign country where we didn’t speak the native language and had limited cell phone use certainly involved risk. Despite this, several of the most interesting sites we saw were possible because we did not plan everything out.
While in Oslo we were also fortunate to visit the Viking Ship Museum. It was very humbling to see these colossal boats that traveled incredible distances across the bitter cold Atlantic.
Naturally, probably trigged by the enormous amount of passion the Vikings had, a fair amount of time on the trip was spent discussing career and personal development. It is helpful to reflect on these ideas in a different setting than one is accustomed to because it allows one to think from a different perspective. As we have written on this blog before, bringing about change involves three things: changing one’s environment, changing who one spends time with, and changing one’s routine. Traveling results in all three. In particular, changing one’s environment allows one to have a more objective view and can bring about thoughts that might not occur otherwise. It was helpful to think about career and personal development from a bit of a different viewpoint
Bergen is Norway’s second largest city and is surrounded by mountains and the country's longest and deepest fjord, Sognefjord.
We were in the city of Bergen for three days. Our first day started with a wonderful hike to the top of Fløyen, one of the city’s mountains that overlooks Bergan city centre.
Throughout this hike we discussed a lot pertaining to the concept of uncertainty.
Just like with traveling, uncertainty involves risk but also can offer potential rewards. It is a natural tendency to want to eliminate risk. In the past risk represented life-and-death danger. While this is no longer the case – most of us don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from – the fear of uncertainty is still there. As a young person, however, certain risks are worth taking for the potential reward. The entrepreneur and investor Gary Vaynerchuk notes the following about this:
One of the fundamental principles of the world is that risk and reward go hand-in-hand. More importantly, there is no such thing as a risk-free reward, even if the only risk is the opportunity cost of something else. The key is to take calculated risks when the potential reward makes it worth doing so.
We also took a day trip to an old secluded village by the name of Undredal. Like many cities in this part of Norway, it was virtually inaccessible, apart from boat, prior to the completion of a series of tunnels punched through the mountain ranges. Some of these tunnels are over 10 miles long.
Undredal has a population of 100 people and 500 goats. They make cheese and is home to the smallest Stave church in Northern Europe. A Stave church is a medieval wooden Christian church; this one was built in the year 1147. Old here means something completely different than it does in the United States.
Several days of the trip were spent exploring various fjords. A fjord is created when a glacier carves a sharp narrow valley which is then filled with water. The steep sides of the land around the fjord and the stillness of the water were particularly noteworthy. The magnitude of the fjords are tough to put into words, but they are remarkable.
Alexander in India encountered some gymnosophists (literally “naked wise men”) yogis, sitting in meditation in the sun on the banks of the Indus. Alexander’s party was trying to get through the busy street, but the yogis had their spot and they wouldn’t move. One of Alexander’s zealous young lieutenants took it upon himself to chase the holy men out of the king’s path. When one of the wise men resisted, the officer started verbally abusing him. Just then, Alexander came up. The lieutenant pointed to Alexander and said to the yogi, “This man has conquered the world! What have you accomplished?” The yogi looked up calmly and replied, “I have conquered the need to conquer the world.”
-The Warrior Ethos, Steven Pressfield
This is one of our favorite stories. We discussed a great deal on this trip the importance of self-awareness before focusing on any external goals. This anecdote is especially powerful because the exchange is occurring between two individuals that from the outside perspective could not seem more different, further separated by all imaginable measures of success, brilliance, and power: Alexander the Great vs. some naked Indian yogi.
This trip provided a tremendous opportunity for self-reflection and acknowledgement of weaknesses in order to identify areas for improvement. We spent a great deal of time engaged in conversation but also a good amount was spent self-reflecting. Joe continued his streak meditating (he has meditated for 283 days consecutively), Luke had the opportunity to read a write a great deal while completely removed from his routines and comfort zone. We continued our quest towards identifying our own version of “conquering the world”.
We discussed the following books:
- Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut
- Jesse Livermore - Boy Plunger: The Man Who Sold America Short in 1929 – Tom Rubython
- Secret Life of the Mongols – Anonymous
- A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
- The Power of One – Bryce Courtenay
- Moonwalking with Einstein – Joshua Foer
We listed to the following music:
- The Life of Pablo