What I Learned in 2018
Know your priorities and don’t overwhelm yourself unnecessarily. With technology, it’s far too easy for others to get your attention and distract you from the task at hand. What’s important is knowing your priorities (for me: when I workout, when I take breaks, and anything related to my own well-being are non-negotiable) and learning to let things fall if you can’t or don’t really want to support them. In other words, let Atlas shrug. If some people think you’re an asshole because you’re not at their beck and call: that’s a personal problem for them, not you.
Know when your attention is focused on minutiae vs matters of real importance. By and large, politics are minutiae. Social status is minutiae. How to speak, what to consume, and any other “standards” by which you feel you need to guide yourself are minutiae. Matters of real importance include your health, how you spend your time on this planet, the strength of your relationships, and what you contribute to humanity before you’re gone.
Pay close attention to how people treat you over time and learn to recognize black holes. This year, I made a point to focus on whether or not I actually enjoyed being around certain people and to avoid them if I didn’t think they were adding anything positive. What I learned is that I was giving a lot of people a free pass they didn’t deserve. It hurts, but removing people who pull you back or hold you down (mentally, emotionally) is best for your long-term happiness.
You need to learn to listen to, and trust yourself. It’s easy to defer decision making to the opinions of the group, or more commonly “society.” What’s dangerous about this is that they are not you. When you apply the logic of the group to an individual, you immediately strip them of their uniqueness. Personally, I realized that there were a few areas in my life where I was blindly trusting groupthink without really considering if it aligned with my own thoughts (and complimented my own life). This is difficult because your gut reaction is “uh oh, now I’m an outsider.” In reality, there’s nothing wrong with being an outsider—uniqueness of behavior and thought is something to be cherished; not frowned upon.
It’s worth spending some time taking an inventory of your personality. This one sounds a bit odd, but has helped me to get my ducks in a row. This is an honest—potentially brutal—look at yourself in an attempt to understand where you may be off-base. After taking inventory, take time to sift through each problem you encounter, starting with understanding it and ultimately, working to correct it. When you realize where you’re being a piece of shit and consider how to correct it, life gets a lot lighter.
I’m most creative and most productive in solitude. The majority of my time during the week is spent working 1-on-1 with clients at Clever Beagle. Having now done this consistently for over a year, I’ve learned that I solve problems best in isolation. In a group (2+ folks), you’re often “on the spot” and vulnerable to judgment; whether that judgment exists or not. Because you’re conscious of this, you distract your brain from the task at hand (e.g., figuring out the best way to write a piece of code). I realized this is mostly subconscious by comparing the results of my work independently vs. working with someone else—without a doubt, the work I produce on my own is far better than while in a group.
Huge transformation takes time and patience. When I started focusing on my health ~2.5 years ago, I thought I’d meet my goals (being physically fit, with 15-20% body fat) far faster than I have. In order for permanent change to take place, you have to slowly correct your negative behavior. If you don’t, you easily slide back into old patterns. What I’ve learned is that when the goal is massive change, anticipate a slow process with plenty of plateaus peppered in. Slowing down is fine; stopping and/or reversing progress is a sin. Understand that if you keep moving in the right direction, eventually you’ll get to your destination. Remember: you’re on your own clock, no one else’s.
I had several blind spots that I needed to correct in respect to my behavior in relationships. Namely, I realized my habit of isolating myself randomly to focus on work (or because I wanted to be alone) bothered people more than I thought. I learned to be a bit more communicative during these times, letting folks know that if I go dark it’s not because I’m mad, I’m just focused (read: being a nerd and getting sucked into a project). I also learned to respect this behavior as a gift; I’ve accepted that a lot of people have trouble focusing for long stretches of time. I, fortunately, don’t.
Expect irrationality more than rationality. Especially with yourself. Humans are fucking crazy—some days we’re happy, some days we’re sad, some days we’re angry, etc. It’s easy to get frustrated by expecting rational behavior from yourself and others 24/7. If you invert this and expect irrationality, when you get it, you’re not surprised (and less frustrated) and when you get a rational response you’re pleasantly surprised.
Don’t involuntarily burden others with your problems. Said another way, if you’re feeling stress in another area of your life, be conscious of when you’re letting that stress leak into your relationships with others who aren’t involved. Remember to “reset” your mood before interacting with folks. This makes most interactions more pleasant and allows you to understand that you can control your own mood significantly.
Focus is essential to success and happiness. This applies not just to what you’re working on, but also who you work with and what you spend your time on. When you eliminate everything that’s inessential or a distraction, you can invest 100x in the things you keep. This produces work and relationships that are ironclad. Quality > quantity is a wonderful metric for all aspects of life.
Timidity is a waste of time. Anything worth doing is worth doing with full intensity. Don’t hold back.
Social pressure is a psychological disease that unfairly traps people in lives they don’t really want to lead. The reality is you can do whatever you want, but you have to be careful about your choices. Each choice you make has a ripple effect and developing an awareness for how far that extends out (and whether it’s positive or negative) is a superpower. Above all else, though, remember that the only opinion that matters of yourself is your own. If you’re comfortable and confident with your lifestyle, carry on. If not, adjust.
Don’t limit yourself at the behest of others. I spent a significant portion of my life denying my potential because I felt bad about outpacing others. This is unnecessarily self-limiting. This doesn’t mean you have to be a prick, but don’t feel bad if others can’t or won’t keep up. Teach them, guide them, and if they have it in them they’ll listen and you can help them. If they drop off or quit, don’t feel bad. Enjoy your gifts—no matter how big or small—to their fullest and use them to make the world a better place.
Thinking you “need” something is a noose around your throat. Physical items, money, status, women, etc. When you tell yourself that you need something, without it, you distract yourself and subconsciously knick away at your confidence. This doesn’t mean these things aren’t a nice accessory to life, but your own well-being is contingent on understanding that you don’t need a damn thing in this world but yourself. It’s okay to desire things, but don’t feel inadequate or “lesser than” if they’re missing. Work toward what you want, be patient, and learn to go without.
You have to learn and respect your limits. Knowing when to stop and knowing how to schedule around plentiful sleep are key. Never let another human being dictate this. Ever. Always put your health and well being above others and your work. As you age, the value of that increases 10x. You can’t escape death but you can make it a lot less painful when you’re older.
Being a weak man—physically and emotionally—is not something to be celebrated. The feel good “it’s okay” movements that nurtured my generation were well-intentioned but have produced some unintended consequences. Namely, weak men that cower at the earliest sign of provocation or difficulty. There’s nothing wrong with being and acting like a man (or aspiring to those things). Important: there’s no singular definition of what a man is—strength is unquestionably a fundamental component, though. Dealing with challenges head-on and overcoming them (or at least seeing yourself make the attempt) leads to an incredibly positive, addictive high.
There are people in this world who are threatened and intimidated by you (for your health, success, status, or other traits they desire). They will attack you in very subtle ways in an effort to chip away at your confidence and prop up their own ego. Learn to spot these people and eliminate them from your life immediately. Good company never behaves like this. Know the difference between folks who genuinely want what’s best for you vs. those who feel inferior in your presence and quibble as a reaction.
Be a friend. Some folks saw a shift in my behavior this year: I made a point to be a friend. I spent more time checking in on folks, making a point to see people I haven’t in a long time, and generally putting more time into relationships. I realized the importance of being present and working to find a balance alongside my work. I haven’t quite hit the sweet spot (what you consider “balance” is personal), but am definitely on the right track. If you hear from me more, don’t be alarmed—I’m just trying to be a better bud.
Watch others carefully and know when they need a break. Learn when putting someone ahead of yourself will take the pressure off of someone else even if doing so is at a slight disadvantage to you. This really tightens relationships and makes it easy to bond with folks. Coupled with this is learning to turn off your internal chatter and really listen to people. Remember their name. Remember what’s going on in their life and follow up. In short: give a damn and mean it.
I was more willing to put down books quickly if they lacked the tone or content I was after at the time. While I did read a handful of books this year, I started nearly 20-30 that are sitting in various places around my home.I realized that certain books are best read over a long time, letting the ideas gestate slowly—coming back when a book feels like it might have the “answer” to a current situation or fit my current mood. Also, some books are best left unfinished.
Focus on the process, not the result. The fun part is the work it takes to get “there,” not getting “there.” Doing this also chills you out and helps you to see details you wouldn’t if your thoughts are always on the future. Right now is the only thing that’s guaranteed—do your best in the moment, enjoy it, and have fun. The results will come on their own.
2019 is shaping up to be a really great year. Best wishes to you, your family, and friends.
A few last minute notes:
- I anticipate my output will decrease this year as I put more time into hanging out with folks, breathing, and reading.
- Get in touch about this if it makes sense.
- I’m also looking to do some speaking/traveling, so if you run an event or know somewhere I’d fit in, send me an email or tweet.
If you’d like to share some of the things you learned this year, I’d love to read them—I’m just an email away: firstname.lastname@example.org.