31 lessons learned in 31 years
In high school and college, I was a lazy, B-minus student who was generally disliked by teachers. I took every chance to skip class and was just happy to have graduated. When I left college, I realized that no one was coming to my apartment and forcing me to improve. So I followed two pieces of advice my dad gave me: “Work smart, not hard,” and “The choices you make will dictate the life you lead.” (The latter comes from Shakespeare, but I prefer to attribute it to my dad)
You don’t have to learn to code. It’s not for everyone. Yes, I love it, and it can be a lucrative career path, but it has the same ability to make you miserable as any other work that doesn’t suit your interests.
Money doesn’t make you happy, but it does make life a lot less risky. And when the risk fades away, you’re less fearful. It gets more realistic to move to a new city or spend more time traveling to exotic places. And please, do not use an inflow of money to make an outflow of purchases. One of the best money skills you can learn is the ability to hold your money without the urge to spend it.
In July of this year, my wife and I will hit five years completely debt-free. We’ve learned a few things about debt along the way. First, it’s not a useful “tool” until you can first live without it. Second, we learned the difference between Good vs. Bad Debt: Good Debt leverages other people’s money to generate wealth for you; Bad Debt leverages your money to generate wealth for other people.
Be careful around power, success, and money. Once you start getting everything you want, that little Want Monster likes to stick around and find new things to make you obsess over. I bought my dream 7-string guitar and, two months later, I was browsing Amazon for 8-string guitars. The sooner you can find a cure for endless wants, the happier you’ll be.
Please don’t get involved with Multi-Level Marketing schemes.
Every day, you have to remind yourself not to boast or flaunt or talk about yourself too much. It’s easy to overestimate your abilities and tell yourself epic tales of your success. In reality, you’re about 20% less skilled, powerful, mature, wise, likable, and promising than you might think.
Moving up in your career shouldn’t be about acquiring more power or money (sure, it can lead to those things); instead, it’s a chance to serve more people or a bigger mission. If you keep that in mind as you go, you’ll turn out just fine in the end.
You need a README. You need a living document that defines who you are—your core values, boundaries, and goals.
“If you want to be remarkable, you have to be worth remarking on.”
At this moment, you might be the only person thinking about you. And if other people are thinking of you, there’s a 90% chance they’re thinking something negative (and that’s okay). Spend more time with that 10% that thinks of you fondly.
If you make someone an enemy in your mind, then they become your enemy. Most people aren’t aware of the problems they have that make them unlikable. Spend more time talking to those people. An earnest conversation is a balm for resentment.
Everyone you meet is starved for praise. So, it can be fun to surprise people with it. I’ve seen people’s entire physiology change when I give them personalized praise. Once you get used to being earnest and honest with people, it becomes addicting.
Not counting my wife, I have three good friends—one that I talk to every day, one that I talk to every few months, and one that I talk to once a year. For me, this is enough (and beyond that, I’ve found it very hard to make deep friendships in adulthood).
In life, the things that affect you are the small, local things and the big, global things. Social media and cable news occupy the middle space where everything is debatable, and almost nothing can be solved. These outlets only added stress to my life, and I feel one thousand percent happier without them.
I sometimes struggle to get to sleep at night, but I’ve found a few techniques that help. One method involves thinking about a chalkboard and imagining that all my thoughts are on that board. I imagine erasing the entire board, then focusing on the empty space. If another thought appears, I erase that one as well. If that technique fails, I tell myself, “Nighttime is for sleepy time.” Seriously—it works for me. It’s a reminder that my only job at night is to sleep.
In March, I started tracking my daily mood with an app called Daylio, and I’ve recognized a few things: I’m happiest when I’m spending time with my wife, hiking, or riding roller coasters. I’m miserable during air travel and days with too many meetings. The results aren’t surprising, but the practice is valuable in giving me awareness. The biggest takeaway: in the end, it doesn’t take much to have everything you need.
I’ve been a middle manager for three years now, and I’ve learned a lot about leadership. In short, there’s no perfect method for doing it well. Leadership tends to yield good results when you put your people first, and the opposite is true when you put anything else first. You also have to be very careful about taking on that title of Manager because once you do, everything you say, do, and think will be scrutinized by the people you lead. This result is natural, but be ready for it.
I remember a terrible piece of advice I got early in my career. An older gentleman told me, “If you want to be successful, keep your jacket on, always be holding something, and walk fast. Always look busy.” I don’t like this advice, especially from a leadership angle. The great leaders I learned from never talked about being busy. It was always: sure; I’ve got time; how can I help you? One of those leaders gave me some better advice: “If you want to do well as a leader, take time every now and then to go somewhere quiet and just think.” This advice reminds me of Blaise Pascal’s quote, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
Saying “no” more often is required for a pleasant life. If you don’t have boundaries, you can’t expect others to set them for you. If you can say “no” to authority from time to time, it shows courage, character, and wisdom.
I spent twenty-nine years of my life being afraid. Most of those fears were dumb. When I turned 30, I decided that those fears were survivable, but failure to act on them would kill me. So, I decided to conquer my fears and enjoy the thrills of roller coasters, public speaking, and climbing gyms.
When you’re learning how to speak in front of a crowd, there are two phases of growth. In the first phase, public speaking is something you try to survive. You only want to get the words out as quickly as possible and not embarrass yourself along the way. In phase two, you’ve learned to manage your fear, but your focus becomes the presentation’s flow, content, and delivery. It took me thirty years to make it to phase two.
Being married can be a blast. A psychological change happens as soon as you say “I do” that you don’t get from spending years together unmarried. Here’s my favorite marriage description: Marriage is when you love someone enough to make them your family.
Anything you see on the news is never as clear-cut as it seems and should be viewed with a healthy curiosity and doubt. For best results, avoid the news entirely.
My wife and I adopted a cat four years ago. I never wanted a cat (I grew up with dog lovers), but my wife convinced me otherwise. Every night, our cat knocks something off my bedside table to wake me up. So I get up to go to the bathroom and she follows. When I leave the bathroom, she meows at me to say, “Pick me up.” I pick her up, tuck her into her bed, and she goes back to sleep. On cold nights, she’ll sneak under the blankets and snuggle against my stomach. Our cat is a needy child that will never grow up. And I couldn’t be happier.
There’s a special kind of perspective that comes from leaving home and having to start over with most of your life—exploring a new city, learning where the grocery store is, finding a new dentist, etc. It’s good to leave the familiar behind sometimes, and it’s good to be missed by the people that matter.
I agree with Michelle Obama that Hamilton is the best piece of art in any medium ever.
It’s possible to have a wholesome experience in Vegas. I live for Holstein’s hamburgers and shakes, the Mob Museum, and chuck sliders from Beauty & Essex. Pro tip: the David Copperfield show is pretty lame.
Imagine walking through a forest and coming across a friendly giant with hands big enough to palm an elk. That giant picks you up with both hands and gently twists and contorts your body, popping rigid joints and stretching unused muscles. Then he gives you a moment to breathe and starts over again, repeating this process for over an hour. That’s what yoga is like.
Take a walk in nature more often. It’s helpful for thinking. Sometimes you might even have pleasant thoughts. Nietzsche said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”
We all spend a lot of time thinking about money, success, and various other things that don’t matter, but the most impactful thing you can do with your time is to be helpful and treat others with respect at every opportunity.