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It’s sort of a tradition at this point for me to do a post around my birthday (see: 30, 29, 28, 27, 26. This year, I decided to write down 31 lessons I’ve learned in the past few years. Anything older than that tends to become a “known fact of life” and stands out a lot less.
These were initially written with modifiers like “most”, “often”, or “tend to”, but since that makes the points less pithy, I’ve taken them out. However, know that I don’t mean these lessons literally to be true in all circumstances and situations. The universe is messy and the right answer is always: “it depends”.
So without further ado:
1. Life comes in two speeds: too slow, and too fast.
2. No matter what you’ve achieved in the past, it’s what you’re going to do next is what people often care about.
3. Related: everyone has a boss. Everyone’s boss wants more out of them.
4. Getting a few minutes of quality face time with someone important is worth the time and effort if you care about building a relationship.
5. Two signs you have a really good friend: they let you crash at their place anytime. They’re comfortable with lending you a lot of money.
6. Media-free commutes are a great place to do some thinking.
7. People don’t read/finish books. Which means reading can be a real advantage.
8. The best writing provides the most clarity with the fewest words.
9. People have a hard time with change. Accepting that change is inevitable is not intuitive.
10. Things take time to permeate the world. Keep at it.
11. In larger organizations, it’s worth developing an alternative plan to put in your back pocket should you be called to propose something new.
12. While in reality, everyone is complex and messy, developing a crisp personal narrative helps create opportunities.
13. When people dislike X or say “X is bad”, what they really mean is “X is bad for me”.
14. You don’t really know how much power you have in a situation until you try to assert it.
15. Related: Bluffing can take you a long way.
16. Humans are visual creatures. Never forget that a picture/diagram/whiteboard drawing can be 10x more effective than a write up.
17. Related: well-executed designs are another 10x improvement against basic wireframes.
18. A strong network/community is one of those things that doesn’t seem super useful until it does. Then it seems like magic.
19. When you win, people come up with all sorts of reasons (accurate or not) for why you were better. And when you lose, the opposite happens.
20. Brands matter because our attention spans are limited, so we jump to what is known and familiar over something new and potentially unsafe (thus requiring further investigation).
21. People don’t actually want feedback or advice—they just want to feel validated and praised about what they’ve already done or are planning to do.
22. There will always been a desire to experience live performances people: plays, concerts, speaking engagements. We crave human connections.
23. People would rather defend their beliefs and protect their egos than be wrong, even when they could reap benefits of course-correcting.
24. Breakthrough technologies often have uncomfortable implications. Cryogenics. Strong AI. Autonomous vehicles. Lab grown organs.
25. Happiness is adequate rest, daily workouts, meaningful work, friendship, and physical touch.
26. Long-term planning can actually work if you stay flexible but focused.
27. No system is completely meritocratic—status, gender, race, and other factors are too hard for people to totally separate. Doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile goal to strive for.
28. We crave leadership most when times are tough or uncertain.
29. On one hand, people all pretty much care about the same few things—safety, progress, love, novelty, connection. On the other hand, we have a really wide range of ideas about what will get us there, and just opinions on things generally.
30. Myths are more powerful than facts.
31. There are many more ways to get things wrong than to get them right.