What I Learned in 2017

It’s that time of year folks. A good point for reflection on what new ideas and understanding the past year has brought. This one went quick, but it was arguably one of my most positive on the personal evolution front. Unlike previous years, I’m just writing all ideas together here (not separating personal from business).

Hope you can learn something from this! Best of luck and well wishes in 2018.

Do not let the poor decisions of others effect your own mental or emotional state.

It’s far too easy to work yourself into fits of anxiety when you contemplate the negative behaviors of others. Asking “why don’t they do it differently?!” is like asking why your puppy won’t stop shitting in its crate. Disconnect your emotional state and decision making from the actions of others and reconnect it with your own actions.

Life improves significantly when you realize that you are not other people and that you have a choice in how you conduct yourself and respond—emotionally and physically—to events. When you deliberately choose a positive, well-considered path for yourself, it’s difficult for anyone or anything to shake the happiness it creates. In turn, that happiness makes it far easier to ignore the misgivings of others.

Thinking long-term is a superpower.

When you realize that today and tomorrow’s actions add up to what exists three days from now, you start to live a more considered life. By thinking long-term, you can make better decisions in any arena of life: health, business, relationships, etc. Learning to avoid tunnel vision and deliberately consider how your next steps will impact your future is a few inches away from invincibility. Put aside time to think of where you’d like to be—or where you think things might lead—and consider what steps you can take now to influence positive outcomes. Most importantly, don’t be pessimistic when results aren’t immediate; be patient.

Get your own shit together before you worry about other people.

Two years ago I was a mess. I worked incessantly (feeling guilty or shameful if I took a break), was in terrible health, and was generally unpleasant to be around. Having made a serious effort to change things like my health and general conduct, now, I can say that life is on a far more positive path. In all of this, what I realized is that being selfish—here, completely disconnecting from the needs and wants of others and focusing on your own happiness—is absolutely imperative before caring about what other folks want.

In less ambiguous terms: when you’re in a good place, you can help people and contribute positivity in far greater ways than you can when you’re in a bad place. Trying to “fix” yourself while helping others isn’t sustainable; both require energy and only one will keep you from curling up in a ball. If you’re in a bad place, you have to go all in on you until you’re at a point where the anxiety, fear, and malaise of life become tenable, if non-existent.

It took me nearly two years to start to feel like I had it together again, so don’t expect this transition to go quickly. It takes time, patience, and a boatload of humility to pull yourself together. But, if you’re willing to recognize mistakes and get on the path to correcting them, eventually you’ll find yourself in a much better place.

Avoid any form of groupthink.

Over the course of 2017, my political and economic point of view took a 180 degree turn. In the process, I took in a lot of information, mostly opinions, and spent a fair amount of time trying to understand and sort them out. Through this exploration, though, I’ve seen many examples of mindless groupthink, a la “well we got that right so of course this other thing is right too!”

It’s an easy trap to fall into because factions and tribalism are innately human (and boy does it feel good to be “in” on something). At all costs, though, learn to think independent of a single narrative. See the power that comes from being able to understand both sides and pick out ideas from either to form your own opinions.

Understand that it’s okay to disagree with something even if it’s popular. Do not let other people set your belief systems for you simply for the sake of fitting in.

Just ask!

A lot of great things can be learned—and initiated—simply by asking. Don’t know something? Ask someone who might for an explanation. Want to meet that hero? Send them an email and see what happens. Whatever the scenario, recognizing that these choices are always a 50/50 is key. You will either get what you want or you won’t. It’s that simple. If you’re nervous, contemplate what happens if the answer is “no.” Does anything truly bad happen? Probably not.

Exercise regularly.

This was one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever learned. It may be easy to sit around like a slug and make it day-to-day, but both the literal and figurative gravity of that choice will eventually squash you. A simple, one hour workout three times a week (5 lifts, 3 sets each, 12-15 reps plus 100 situps or dips to finish the workout) has completely changed my psychology and physiology this year. I look and feel completely different. Speaking as a guy who got to upwards of 260lbs about two years ago (now hovering around ~165lbs), the fix is really as simple as watching how much you eat (calories in), working out (calories out) regularly, and being patient.

No special diets. No insane investments (I lift a 30lb kettle bell and have a set of 25lb dumbbells that I lift at home—I even use my damn coffee table as a weight bench). It’s incredibly simple, but not easy. You have to really work to set a narrative in your mind that makes exercise and eating within your body’s caloric requirements a must in your day-to-day. Once you do, though, it’s scary how habitual it becomes and how the results add up significantly over time.

Quit buying all of the bullshit about your weight being genetic, or “being overweight is positive,” or other mindless babble. It’s you. It’s your decisions. And it’s your responsibility to change it. Quit looking for a scapegoat. No, it’s not easy but it’s the difference between living a quality life and not. Hint: keeping a workout count helps (started this around April and it made the process far easier).

Form opinions, speak your mind, and don’t cower in the face of disagreement.

As I wiggled my way through becoming a full-time leader this year, I’ve had to work at better asserting my opinions. I’ve never really been one to keep quiet—much to the dismay of those around me—but I have on more than one occasion doused an internal fire for the sake of fitting in. What I learned this year, though, is that when you’re leading others, you absolutely must be able to form and speak your own opinions (even when doing so can be alienating or isolating). Doing so is what separates you from the pack and makes others willing to follow your lead. Developing a spine for espousing convictions is imperative if you want to convince others that you’re not leading them off a cliff.

Most importantly, when forming opinions: know why you’re right (or at least, why you believe you’re right). There’s no easier way to disarm trust—and with women, attraction—than to hold an opinion and then promptly discard it at the first sign of disagreement. Learn to stand your ground and plow the road for others.

Execution is the secret.

Most people are too lazy and impatient to follow through on their ideas. The more consistently you show up and do the work, the more likely you are to see positive results in the long-term. No matter what: keep going. Over time, you’ll see the bulk (if not all) of your supposed “competition” falter and disappear because they’re not willing (or able) to relentlessly execute.

Embrace input/output phases.

This year I was decidedly in an output phase. I only read a few books this year and wasn’t terribly focused on other forms of consumption, either (TV, movies, podcasts, etc). What I learned here is that while it’s good to learn from the output of others, in order to really find success, you have to eventually put the ideas you’re learning into action. From what I’ve experienced, these phases naturally come into play when they need to (e.g., last year called for a lot of introspection and input, this year didn’t).

Remove your personal opinions from your business.

You are not the market. Just because you prefer something or dislike another thing does not mean that others will agree. The market dictates what it will pay you for, whether you like it or not. Not focused on something the market wants? Switch to something else. This was the simple logic behind moving focus from The Meteor Chef to Clever Beagle this year.

Meteor has waned in popularity and interest over the last few years, resulting in less desire and willingness from others to spend money on it. Mentorship, however, is something that others are consistently willing to pay for as long as the information you’re providing can help them to achieve more than they could on their own.

Hint: by removing your own bias, you have less tunnel vision and can plan far better for the future. Andy Grove got this 110% correct. Watch trends, understand how they fit into your plans, and adapt or die.

Be honest with yourself and what you want.

Going with the flow is great advice until the flow goes over a waterfall. It’s certainly one of the hardest things I’ve ever learned, but you have to at all times be in tune with what’s going on inside. If your inner voice is saying “I don’t agree with that,” your external voice should be saying the same.

This will not always win you friends or find other folks in agreement, but in order to keep yourself level you have to stay in tune with what you want. A good example: I’d like to be a father one day and have been prone to relationships with women who dislike or frown upon children (the why is probably a bit too provocative to disclose, so feel free to ask privately). Instead of staying inline with what I wanted, I “went with the flow” because it was easy. Big mistake. It took awhile to pinpoint, but the internal pressure I’d felt for years was due to this one point. As soon as I started to steer my ship toward what I wanted? Life got far better.

Don’t overthink it, just do it.

At the start of 2017, I made the conscious decision to focus solely on living on the proceeds of my business (before I was doing a mix of contract and freelance work alongside my own business to make ends meet). What I learned through this year was that you get far better results when you just shut up and execute on your ideas. Don’t debate. Don’t wonder. Don’t give the anxiety or fear of things not working out any time to set in. Just go, measure the results, and adjust as necessary.

A simple adage: it’s hard to waste time worrying when you’re working hard.

Pencil in some breathing room.

One of the biggest mistakes I made over the last few years was never giving myself a chance to stop working. Instead of working hard and then taking a break when I felt exhaust setting in, I’d keep going to absolute mental and physical failure. Of course, the problem with this is that if you do it too many times you can knock yourself out of the game permanently. This year, I’ve been far more forgiving about taking time off to just exist and it’s proven to be quite helpful. Making a point to have deliberate time away from the work has made life far more enjoyable and actually improved my ability to solve problems and be creative.

It’s not permanent.

Coupled with the point above about long-term thinking, it really set in this year that most problems, fears, life situations, etc. are temporary. Storms passing by, knocking down a few trees and power lines but not decimating the entire town. I’d learned this during the meditation retreat I attended last summer, but it didn’t really work its way into my day-to-day until this year. The overwhelming majority of crises in life are just itches that don’t need to be scratched. Solve it if you can, otherwise let it pass. No need to get all worked up about it and send your day into a spiral.

Acknowledge the good stuff and be grateful for it.

When you’re moving at 100mph, it’s easy to neglect all of the positive, good things happening in life. Every once in awhile, make a point to stop and think about the good stuff. What’s going right? What are you doing well? Not only does it tend to brighten things up, it also helps to see what you got right (and how) in the past. In the midst of building up Clever Beagle this year, I had a few moments where I stopped and realized “holy shit you’re running your own company” which helped me to enjoy the hard work that made that possible.

Have a happy and safe 2018

That’s the big stuff for this year. Make sure to keep an eye on the principles page I added earlier this year and quotes for day-to-day thoughts and ideas I’m attracted to. I can’t say whether I’ll pick up a writing habit again this year but I’ve had a few ideas itching to get out recently, so we’ll see :)

Happy New Year!