What advice do Bruce Lee and Richard Feynman have for you?

What do Richard Feynman, Bruce Lee, Jerry Seinfeld, and Robin Williams have in common? The way they talk about their life and work.

Jerry Seinfeld had a short interview where he deconstructed his process for writing a joke, then a designer found wisdom in it applicable to UI Design.

Bruce Lee portrait thanks to biography.com Bruce Lee talked about life and martial arts like a programmer about code (or an artist about.. pixels and such.) It comes down to a shared topic: continuous growth. Be creative, fluid, create your own style, avoid dogma and doctrine. “Be water, my friend.”

Skip to 7:25 to hear him talk about style/dogma vs expressing yourself honestly, 15:40 for his famous water quote, and 21:30-ending for his response to racism.

Richard Feynman portrait thank to Wikipedia Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize physicist and author of *THE* books on Quantum Mechanics, had an ode to a flower and spoke at length on the beauty of finding things out. Expounding discovery and learning as core aspects of joy. “I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose.” He gets deep about learning, teaching, and living with uncertainty.


Robin Williams, a fairly funny guy, talked about the endorphin high of creating. At the end of his interview with James Lipton, he did a Q/A with students about creativity. You would think he is talking directly to you, regardless of what your craft is.

“Obi-Wan Kenobi Teaches Cooking”

No discipline has a monopoly on creativity. It belongs to everyone; even to those whose creative output isn’t easily accessible by the mainstream.

10-20 years ago things like the Tao of Programming and Unix Koans were very popular. Apparently programmers liked lessons presented by Yoda/Zen Master/Kung Fu Master type characters.

Thus spake the master programmer:
“A well-written program is its own heaven; a poorly-written program is its own hell.”

This was programmers expressing themselves through the appropriation of popular culture. One day people will make programming metaphors to explain something else, like painting or cooking. There are cooking books for programmers already, so that day is near!

There is kinship between all human disciplines.

The point is that the lessons we teach one another may be specific to a language, culture, activity, or a medium, but the really good parts break out of these narrow bindings. Each discipline has masters that provide their students with words of encouragement and slow-burning wisdom. What is amazing is how how similar these golden nuggets of wisdom are, and how applicable they are to everyone.

Craft as an expression of what it means to be you.

Bruce Lee and Richard Feynman couldn’t be more different, but they followed the same urge to learn, understand, and express themselves. Neither set out to be the best at understanding the physics of beating people up or the quantum world. They set out to grow as individuals without taking the shortcut of prefabricated personalities, styles, or dogmas.

Robin Williams and Feynman in front of an audience, armed with different skills and knowledge of different domain, made people laugh and gasp all the same. They expressed themselves through their ideas. It was in their DNA to do so. And it is in your DNA too.

What I’ve gathered from all the various masters from philosophy to martial arts is that learning, creating, and honestly expressing yourself are core components of happiness, just as honesty and curiosity are core virtues of great relationships. This is true for programmers, body-builders, engineers, ninjas, designers, teachers, and everyone else.

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