104: Turning 36

104: Turning 36


12 lessons learned in my thirty-sixth year

Cultivating Resilience is a newsletter that helps innovators navigate change. It's published by Jason Shen, a resilience coach, product manager, 1st gen immigrant, ex-gymnast, and 3x startup founder.

I turned 36 last week. It's an annual tradition for me to write down birthday lessons I've learned or relearned over the past 12 months. So here's my latest batch.

  1. Celebrate more. Everywhere you look, there is tragedy and sadness [0]. And even as there is so much grief and injustice around us, there is also a lack of joy. As distanced / virtual experiences become a regular part of our lives, we need to offer time, space, and energy to imagine new ways of celebrating with our friends, family, and colleagues. Life is too short for just a celebratory text or Slack emoji reaction. [1]
  2. Whose desire is it? Many of our desires are mimetic in nature. We inherited them from our parents, our peers, the industry we're in. It's normal and expected to have these desires, but it helps to acknowledge their origin, and ask yourself—"Where did my desires come from? Which do I want to keep and which should I seek to discard?"
  3. Embrace your dreams. As you unpack these mimetic desires, you'll realize that you may have a few desires and aspirations that are truly your own, but you're afraid to own them. For me, I know that making an impact on people's lives through writing and coaching has always felt like my end game, but it's been hard to admit that and feel like I could actually go for it until this year. I see this question come up with my clients: "Am I allowed to want this?" and of course the answer is yes. The question then becomes, what am I going to do with this desire?
  4. Being successful does not necessarily feel good. We think success will make us happy and our lives better and easier. And the truth is, achieving the success you dream of may lead to greater suffering: your time is not your own, new demands are placed on you, people treat you differently (and oftentimes worse, assuming you have more than enough money or influence), you encounter even more successful folks that make your own accomplishments seem small. I've seen this to be true with my wife, who's artistic career continues to grow by leaps and bounds. That's not to say we should eschew ambitions goals, just that we should be realistic about how we'll feel when we achieve them.
  5. The universe can tell when you get serious about something. As my attitude towards something changes, it feels as though hidden forces begin to break my way [2]. I'm not trying to say that if things feel hard it's only a matter of attitude, but another way of putting it: when you commit to something with real intention, you start acting subconsciously in ways that enhance it's likelihood of success beyond your explicit efforts.
  6. If I'm blocked on doing something "I know I should do" then there's probably an unresolved emotional element to it. This is the corollary to the above statement. If I am having trouble getting something done (usually some kind of administrative thing), then I either don't really understand what I'm supposed to do (answer: seek clarity), or don't have a clear emotional motivation for doing it (answer: identify what your goal is).
  7. What are you setting yourself up for? We often get caught up in whatever we are doing and when things start going sideways, it can be frustrating to untangle ourselves from the immediate problem. When we remember that we're doing current thing A because it sets us up for future thing B, then we can simply adapt a new or better path to thing B.
  8. Well-told stories are unreasonably persuasive. We all ostensibly believe in making data-driven decisions. But our brains can't help but orient around stories. When I rewrote my About page this year to tell a story about resilience and saw how well it landed on Linkedin, I was reminded of how much people use narrative to make sense of things and persuade themselves of the truth.
  9. Great design is unreasonably effective at conveying quality. When we encounter a product or service that has a large investment in its exterior design, look and feel, and presentation, we're likely to believe that it's inner quality is good. Sometimes this fact is used against us, but for makers and builders who often obsess over the core product over its packaging, this can be a blindspot.
  10. Everyone should understand the dynamics of short-form video. Pioneered by Vine and perfected by Tik Tok, short form video brings new principles of media creation. 7 seconds to hook your audience. Quick cuts. Reward repeat views. I've started making Tik Tok and IG Reels clips and using them to share ideas and experiences. [3]
  11. Learn how to name and frame ideas. I've learned that one of my "special abilities" as a PM is being able to segment and categorize a bunch of ideas or projects into a set of 3-5 distinct groups (MECE of course), each with a short descriptive name. (A recent one: Author, Discovery, Improve). This skill, like design, makes things more legible and attractive to leaders who are not close to the work.
  12. Leverage the power of rituals. In our virtual-first world, a lot of events and activities feel less tangible because they're just "interacting with a screen". Much of our time feels like it's not spent in meaningful and intentional action. By designing or participating in rituals, we can reimbue our lives with a sense of community and purpose. [4]

[0] Two days after my birthday this year, 19 elementary students and teachers in Uvalde, TX were killed by a teenage gunman with a legally purchased AR-15 rifle. 6,529 miles away, a Greek taxi driver tells me as we head from the Athens airport that all of Greece is saddened by this horrific tragedy. The problem of gun violence in the United States is pervasive and multdimensional and yet plagues no other country like ours. Here are four great nonprofits I've found to combatting gun violence.

[1] And yes, I'm really still trying to work on this one myself. For instance, actually going through the effort to organize a birthday party. On the to do list!

[2] In particular I'm talking about my coaching practice, which feels like it's started snowballing in recent weeks and months. I'm now at capacity in terms of clients!

[3] [4] As an example of ritual and short form video: this Tik Tok video


Sneak peek at a summer of rituals at @Lincoln Center with Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya (IG: alonglastname)

♬ Nirvana - Official Sound Studio