80 Life Lessons From Richard Feynman

Steve Glaveski
21 min readMay 2, 2020

“You must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

This is perhaps one of Richard Feynman’s most celebrated quotes, and one that speaks volumes as to the nuanced way he thought about both scientific problems and life more broadly.

Feynman (1918–1988) was one of the most decorated minds of the 20th Century, a theoretical physicist and professor known for his work in quantum mechanics, quantum electrodynamics, and particle physics, winning him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965. He also worked with Robert Oppenheimer on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos.

But more than that, he was an incredibly curious cat. Among other things, he played drums at street parties in Brazil, he learned how to draw and subsequently tried selling his artwork to the brothels of Pasadena,and frequented many a nightclub where he worked on the art of picking up women.

“I must understand the world” he said.

His fascination took him beyond the realm of physics, to hanging out with and learning how poker playing cats like ‘Nick the Greek’ work tables in Vegas — why is it always Nick, and why is he always Greek?

In his book, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (1985), he presents a collection of reminiscences — anecdotes based on recorded conversations that Feynman had with his close friend and drumming partner Ralph Leighton.

Aside from being an entertaining read, it offers insights into how one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century worked — how he thought about problems, made decisions and navigated the world around him, both in his personal and professional life.

I’ve taken the time to export key ideas from the book and present them here. I’ve attempted to categorise excerpts, and put them in bold italics. Any additional commentary or analysis I saw fit to provide can be found underneath.

On Doing What You Love

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Steve Glaveski

CEO of Collective Campus. HBR writer. Author of Time Rich, and Employee to Entrepreneur. Host of Future Squared podcast. Occasional surfer.