33 realizations in 33 years
A lesson on contentment, the problem with saying ”I don’t understand”, the genius of Tears for Fears, and more
I quit my job and took a career break in August 2020, and it terrified me at first. I worried I’d never get another job offer. But when I started interviewing, I discovered that employers didn’t care and even admired that I took time off. In the end, after months of hiking, writing, coding, and playing video games, the break was the most fun I’ve had as an adult.
It’s so satisfying to travel somewhere exotic without alerting social media. It's perfectly okay for others to ask, “what are they up to?” and the answer be a mystery to them.
I learned a lesson on contentment from my dad. On his 70th birthday, we sat together and talked about life. He’d retired a few years earlier, and I asked him how he—after a lifetime of hard work—was acclimating to a slower pace. He said, “I spent my whole life believing I could never stop or even slow down. I had to keep working myself to the bone, or else I’d fall apart. But now I’m retired, and I have my morning walk with the dogs. I have coffee with my church buddies every Wednesday morning. I look at my children and realize you all turned out pretty well. And for the first time, I’ve found some real contentment.”
I’ve grown to love living in small spaces and having few possessions. There’s a unique bliss that comes from knowing the exact location of every item in your home and avoiding clutter.
Writing can be a lot of fun if you stop taking it so seriously.
Keeping a list of enemies invites a curse.
I like this line by George Saunders about the current state of “positivity” culture and the people who preach it: “Happy, fortunate people, to whom everything has been given, preach positivity to sad, unlucky people, who were given nothing. We push the button labeled ‘I Need Help’ and one of those boxing gloves comes out and hits us in the face as the machine lets out a comic farting noise.”
A lot of career success can be boiled down to three steps: show up when you’re supposed to show up, deliver what’s due when it’s due, and pursue quality work every time.
Feedback is a gift, and some gifts suck.
Lockdown taught me how satisfying it can be to exchange long, thoughtful emails with someone you care about.
Reading and/or watching the news will put worms in your brain. I’m convinced that most news cycles report only the most shallow, petty, and inarticulate version of what’s actually happening.
We’ve learned to weaponize the phrase, “I don’t understand,” as if a thing has merit only if we understand it. “I don’t understand why someone would go and do that,” and “I don’t understand how they could be so dumb.” Every time a person begins a protest with “I don’t understand…” there’s an unheard little voice out in the universe that responds, “Well, try to, dummy.”
I think that most of us don’t actually know what we want in life. So, we pick someone we admire (or envy) and do what they do, then realize too late it’s not what we wanted. One way to avoid this is by asking “why” five times. “I want to start a business.” Why? “To make more money.” Why? “So I can be rich.” Why? “So I can have more free time.” Why? “So I can take long walks in the park,” and so on until you realize that you might be pursuing what you already have, or there’s a better, less convoluted way to your goal.
I’ve found that no work or hobby is better than waking up feeling rested in the morning.
It’s hard to view your own art objectively or know how it’ll be received. While painting the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo wrote a despairing poem to a friend, saying, “My painting is dead…I am not in the right place—I am not a painter.”
It can be insightful to spend time with your “five-years-ago self.” What did that person think and feel, and what did they want out of life? What would they think of who you are now?
Self-control is underrated.
In a world that can’t seem to shut up, being the calm one in the room is kind of remarkable.
Three skills I’ve found helpful in life: learning how to manage and invest money, learning how to write, and learning how to confidently say, “I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out.”
I’m eating less meat, and beyond the health benefits, I’ve realized how ignorant I’ve been of all the delicious, exotic meatless meals in the world.
It’s all made up—our jobs, that is. Don’t forget the reason you do your job is because someone made it up. Don’t be afraid to invent new work for yourself or find a new way to do your current job.
I’ve driven across America twice now (everyone should do this at least once). I’ve learned that middle America is awash with milk propaganda billboards.
Most ills can be cured by drinking less, reading more, and taking deep breaths.
Group workout classes aren’t nearly as intimidating as they seem.
I realized a long time ago that everyone comes to different conclusions about different things at different times for different reasons.
You’re never too cool for Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in Times Square.
My wife taught me that one of the best ways to combat stress is by singing karaoke loudly in your home while holding the TV remote like a microphone.
The second season of Fleabag is perfect television.
There’s a line in the song “Weird Fishes / Arpeggi” by Radiohead that I’ve always loved: “Everybody leaves if they get the chance, and this is my chance.” The high points in my life have always come when I’ve left cities, opportunities, and sure bets behind for something uncertain and risky.
Tears for Fears is an incredible pop duo (how could you not love Songs from the Big Chair?), and “Woman in Chains” is a shockingly good song.
John Steinbeck said, “New York is an ugly city, a dirty city. Its climate is a scandal, its politics are used to frighten children, its traffic is madness, its competition is murderous. But there is one thing about it—once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough.”
You’d probably enjoy visiting a chiropractor even if you don’t think you need to.
I’m learning to not be afraid or angry, to stay sharp, to keep my cool. There are people committed to making sure we’re always fearful and furious, but across all of history, religions, and philosophy, fear is something to be conquered, not cultivated.