The big 2020 has been quite the year. I had some wins, some losses, but many lessons. At the end of the day, if you’ve learned, have you really lost?
1. The sum of all advice = zero
I thought I’d start this piece off with a little bit of irony.
Over the years, I’ve listened to thousands of videos and podcasts, and read thousands of articles and books, all in search for the keys to success. What I’ve realized is that for each piece advice I find from a credible person, I can find a contradictory piece of advice from another equally credible person. In the end, all the advice I was so voraciously soaking in cancels out to zero.
This year, I’ve learned the value of figuring things out for yourself. To get where you want to go in life, health, and business, you eventually have to do things in a way that make sense to you. You can follow someone else’s blueprint, but you won’t understand it because you didn’t design it. Whenever something goes wrong, you won’t know how to fix it because you didn’t create it.
It’s for this same reason that I think mentors are overrated. Yes, you should learn from people. Yes, you should take advice from people who are smarter and more experienced. But they can’t do everything for you. They can offer little nuggets of wisdom on your journey, but at the end of the day, you have be the one to lace on your boots, chart the map, and brave the storm. Nobody can do that for you.
Learning to solve problems is perhaps the most valuable skills you can acquire. The best companies, customers, and teammates don’t want yes-men who can follow directions. A computer can do that. They want people who think independently and figure things out.
If you want to go where ‘no man has gone before’ you’re going to have to figure out what no man has figured out before.
2. Lust is the most dangerous sin
Lust for money. Lust for a person. Lust for power. Lust for a feeling. It’s the worst sin because it’s the only one you commit against yourself. Giving into lust slowly, insidiously degrades you. It defiles your soul. It makes you believe nothing will ever be enough. It’s never satisfied. It will lead you down dark holes you never thought you could go. Lust promises heaven and delivers hell. Don’t be deceived.
Before the pandemic hit last spring, I was supposed to have a summer internship. It was cancelled. Not wanting to waste the summer, I worked the drive through at my local Burger King. I felt no shame about working there. It was a necessary job and it taught me a lot.
What I am ashamed of is the arrogance I displayed before COVID-19 made its debut. I was cocky. I bragged to my friends. I went on and on about how I was set for next year’s career fair because I had an internship as a freshman. Look at me.
Ironically, I did nothing to earn the internship, only securing the job through good ol’ fashion nepotism. It’s funny how we feel the need to brag about the things we didn’t earn. When you earn something, you don’t need validation. When you deserve what you get, you don’t feel the desire to shout it form the roof tops.
Humility can protect you from so much: delusion, embarrassment, arrogance. This year has been a needed reminder for me to stoop before the beam of reality smacks me on the forehead. As the Bible says, he who humbles himself will be exalted, and he who exalts himself will be humbled.
4. Real Work is Doesn’t Need Commentary
Another lesson on humility because my ego is that big. I often catch myself talking about what I’m going to do, imaging who it will impress, and fantasizing about the outcome. This is dangerous because it’s delusional. The real GOATs don’t talk. They do. They don’t comment. They create. When you’re legit, you don’t feel the need to talk or to be talked about. The work speaks for itself. I constantly have to remind myself, just do the work. Put in the time. Anything else is smoke.
There is no one to perform for. There is just work to be done and lessons to be learned in all that is around us. —Ryan Holiday
5. Territory vs. Hierarchy
In his masterpiece, The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield says there are two ways to orient yourself in the world: territorially or hierarchically.
When someone operates within a hierarchy, everything she does is for other peoples’ opinions of her. In her mind, success is based on her position within the hierarchy. There’s a pecking order, and she evaluates each person she meets based on their ability to elevate her position within that order. As a result, she’s constantly in competition. She’s been convinced that she needs to drive this car and go to that college and marry this person for people to love her. Achievement to her is being better than everyone else in every way. This works in high school because it’s small enough for everyone to understand their place in the hierarchy. In the real wide world though, it falls apart. This is the mindset I didn’t know I was trapped in my whole life, and it’s one I still struggle to change.
The real artist knows she can’t act within a hierarchy if she wants to make the change she seeks to make in the world. She knows that she has a specific job to do in her territory. She doesn’t try to compete with others because her work can’t be defined by a rubric. When all else fails, she turns to her territory. She turns to the lab, the gym, the concert hall. Kobe turned to the court. Steve Jobs turned to the office. Marie Curie turned to the lab.
Status symbols are for people who are still operating in the hierarchy, still seeking approval. I’ve realized if I want to fulfill the calling that’s for me, I have to step out of the hierarchy and into my own territory.
6. 2 Ears & 1 Mouth
Although I’m not the bubbliest person you’ll ever meet, if you get me comfortable, I can talk.Unfortunately, I can talk so much that sometimes (actually most times) I forget to listen. I need to get better at listening because it’s almost always better to listen than to talk. Through listening, you learn more about and get closer to the person you’re interacting with.
True listening can be difficult because it forces you to be completely present. For this same reason, it’s one of the most generous things you can do. Giving someone your full attention is so rare that anyone who does is a gift to be treasured.
7. Get an alarm clock to reduce screen time
I grew up with a device in hand. From my first iPod touch to my current smartphone, my device has always followed me to bed. The excuse I liked to use was that it was my alarm clock. It’s a dumb excuse and I wish I had squashed it sooner. Alarm clocks are $10. I made that much in one hour working at Burger King. I have lost so much sleep, scrolled through too many feeds, and cluttered my brain with so much bs because of bringing my device to bed.
One of the best decisions I’ve made this year was to start using a good ol’ fashioned alarm clock. Now, I have no excuse to keep my phone in my room at night. Every night before I go to bed now, I put my phone downstairs, out of reach, and on “do not disturb” mode. It’s been life changing. My sleep is better, I’m happier, and more focused. Don’t take your phone into bed. Get an alarm clock. It’ll change your life.
8. Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You
The key to a fulfilling career isn’t what you think. I used to subscribe to the notion that in order to have a fulfilling career, you had to have a noble job. You know, one of those Mother Teresa-type callings. I thought I’d have to be a part of Doctors without Borders, run a nonprofit, or become the governor to get a sense of purpose from my career. This isn’t only false, it’s misleading. One of the best books I read this year was So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. In it, he provides an alternative philosophy around creating a meaningful and enjoyable career. It involves picking a field, almost any field will do, and getting really good at what you do. When you’re really good at what you do, you gain access to jobs with rare traits that make them fulfilling such as autonomy, competence, and relatedness. These three characteristics take time and effort to develop, but they’re some of the biggest tell-tail signs of a fulfilling career. A “job” in this circumstance refers to more than the 9-5. The same ideas apply to freelancers, entrepreneurs, and artists.
The downside, if you can even call it that, is that it takes time. I know I won’t just hop right off the college bus and into a career I love. It will take time to build, grow, and develop. That’s fine with me. The best things in life take time.
If you want a life, a job, and a career you love, what some even call a calling, you have to become so good they can’t ignore you.
9. Champions are the best even on their worst days
I was first introduced to this idea while reading My Fight/Your Fight by Ronda Rousey. Like the heading suggests, real champions have to be the best even on their worst days. You can’t guarantee that you’re going to feel amazing the day you have to perform. In fact, the opposite is often true. Think Michael Jordan and the flu game. People who only prepare for optimal conditions will falter at some point because optimal conditions are rare. When you look at people who are world-class at their craft, you’ll notice they all train to be the best even on their worst day.
10. God is real
I know this isn’t a popular opinion. I know this one is going to make some people cringe. I know church hurt is real and it saddens me to see. But I also know the peace I have experienced in the past year is unexplainable. I also know the sin I’ve been able to overcome in the past few months was not by my doing. I also know there’s something bigger going on here. The voice of God doesn’t always come as a booming voice from the clouds. Sometimes you’ll hear it in the laughter of a child. You’ll see it in the stars on a beautiful clear night. You’ll feel it in the embrace of a loved one.
You might know how a speaker works. You might know exactly how it vibrates to create waves at just the right amplitudes and just the right frequencies to form a song. You may understand exactly how those waves travel into the canals of the human ear and vibrate the tiny hairs to light up the brain. You may even understand how these sounds activate parts of your brain that release chemicals that make you feel certain emotions. You may know the how of everything. But does that make a wedding song any less moving?
In matters of the soul, words fail. In matters of the soul, we can’t be spoken to directly. That’s why we need stories, we need songs, we need laughter. God speaks in symbols and metaphors because my human mind is not open enough to grasp even a sliver of the real deal.
I’ve observed that most people downplay the leap of faith it takes to believe in God. Don’t get me wrong it’s a Leap. Of. Faith. Surrendering is not easy, and it’s not an easy path to follow. But it’s a leap of faith that has made my life immeasurably better, deeper, richer.
2020 in Review
- Read 52 books this year: Yeah… this didn’t happen. I’m not sure how many I actually read, but it was probably closer to 30. I’m ok with it because looking back, that was kind of a terrible benchmark to measure. If my goal is learning as much as possible from these books, it pays to slow down. Plus, I want to pick books based off of quality and not based off of whether or not I’d be able to finish it in a week.
- Start a YouTube Channel in 2020 and publish 52 videos: I published 4 and deleted the channel. Maybe it’s the resistance talking, but I’m glad I didn’t follow through on this one. I would not have had the time to make the videos any good, and it didn’t feel like the right time or the right topics. Maybe someday, but not this year.
- Learn Animation and Video Editing: Along with the last one, it didn’t happen.
- Get straight A’s: This one surprised me a bit. Even while working part time this semester, I still managed to maintain a 4.0. GPA isn’t everything, but I’m impressed with myself. It goes to show, working while in school can give you the constraints you need to become more productive.
- Maintain commonplace book: It took me a while to figure out which medium to store this in (paper vs. digital, notebook vs. flashcards, Roam vs. Notion, etc.), but eventually, I settled on housing everything in Notion. Finally having one place to dump all the quotes, advice, and information I take in has freed up my mind immensely.
- I ended up getting an internship at a different company from the one I was supposed to intern at this summer. It has been amazing and I’ve learned so much. This time, I didn’t brag about it.
People to Thank (in no order)
- Mom – For teaching me selflessness.
- Dad – For teaching me what a real man looks like.
- Seth Godin – For inspiring me to start writing.
- Daniel Bourke – For inspiring me to start this blog.
- Ali Abdaal – For showing me the magic of the internet.
- Rob Bell – For opening my eyes.
- Ryan Holiday – For showing me what long-term consistency leads to.
- There are more – but I’m going to keep those private.
Favorite Books Read (in no order)
- So Good They Can’t Ignore You – On what to do to create a fulfilling career.
- Lincoln’s Melancholy – An insightful look into the personality of one of the world’s greatest leaders.
- Intuitive Eating – I personally have had a strained relationship with food. This book is a sustainable way to make peace with food hand develop a healthier relationship with it.
- Ego is the Enemy – I actually re-read this one this year. It’s been a good reminder to keep my ego in check.
- Grit – The secret sauce to success isn’t talent or flow. It’s grit. It’s deliberate practice. It’s stretching yourself to get better over a long period of time.