27 Personal Lessons From This Year of Living

Today, I turn 27. Until relatively recently in our history as Sapiens, it was rare for our species to get old enough to be grandparents. So I’m just glad to have made it here in good health.

I wrote a list of things I learned when I turned 25. Today, I continue with more personal lessons and experiences learned this past year.

Are you ready for all 27?

  1. Same idea; new perspective. What’s different about this list is that many lessons reaffirm what I’ve already learned. Experience is the best teacher. Even if I’m already familiar with a concept, there’s many opportunities to re-learn something with a new perspective. This year I want to re-read some of my favorite books, and delve deeper into tracks previously crossed.
  2. Identify where the fear comes from Much of my resistance in life comes from fear, in some form. Identifying where the fear comes from has been hugely helpful to me to chill the fuck out and have less anxiety. This thought pattern has been helpful to me: “How am I feeling? Why am I feeling fearful? Where is this fear coming from?”
  3. Touch is communication. Touch can be deeply therapeutic even in small amounts. An arm around a friend, a squeeze on the shoulder. Trying to make sure I don’t go too far.
  4. Prioritization is the enemy of perfection – yes, I came up with this one all by myself :p  
  5. I no longer have a travel itch… but I still want to travel. My itch to travel in the past was often anchored in escapism – not wanting to be where I was at the moment. But now I want to experience different cultures at a deeper level, to be more of an explorer-local than a tourist. I feel like I’ve seen a good amount of the world and can die happy, but alas I’m alive and can see more.
  6. Revealing abs: Set good macronutrients and track them. That got me 80% of the way there. I recommend using MyFitnessPal.
  7. Invite Mara in for tea – Tara Brach shared a memorable parable in which Buddha invites Mara, “the Evil One,” in for tea. When I experience negative emotions, this is a good reminder to not reject those emotions, but sit with them instead. This lesson has helped me be a better friend to myself.
  8. Presence is the mother of connection – Being present helps me connect to myself, which then helps me connect to other people.
  9. Releasing & taking control: it gives me peace mind to focus on things that are within my realm of control, and to let go of things that aren’t. I’m not responsible for other people’s actions, emotions, or how they react to me. But I’m in control of what I learn, who I listen to, and where I go. Letting go of what you can’t control is very freeing. I guess that’s why one of my favorite quotes (whether you’re religious or not) is: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
  10. Psychedelic experiences – everyone should try at least once. Reintegrating learnings – even a small fraction – can have an immensely positive effect on your life. But be careful, “the only difference between a drug and a poison is dosage.”
  11. Meditation is awesome. It also comes in many forms. The past year, I subscribed to Headspace and started meditating. I meditated over 200 days in the past 365 days, and the level of self awareness has been beneficial. I also learned that meditative practices can take on different forms, whether it’s lifting weights, taking a run, or even sketching. Whatever puts you in a state of flow and full engagement can be a meditative practice. However, for the average person I can vouch for the benefits of guided meditation.
  12. Starting small + being consistent has always been more effective for me than trying to summon a heroic effort to pull something off in one go. Humans, we are creatures of habit. I should take better advantage of that.
  13. Accountability and social deadlines work if there’s something big that you have to get done, set a deadline and make yourself accountable to at least one other person. Even more effective if there’s a huge disincentive to not follow through, like giving up money or an event you’ve already committed to.
  14. Bars and clubs are low ROI for me If I turn down your invite to go out drinking, don’t take it personally. The first reason is that I simply don’t drink much alcohol. I average something like 1 drink every 2 weeks. The second is that I prefer intimate spaces where I can hear the person and have a good conversation.I would go to a house party or housewarming over a bar ANY day.
  15. AirBnBs make for awesome group trips – thanks @ProductCharles for introducing me to the idea of taking retreats every other month or so. Sharing a nice AirBnB with friends makes for such a memorable, adventurous time.
  16. The benefits of planning a trip extend beyond the trip itself – I love the positive anticipation of upcoming trips & events. Having stuff to look forward to in the future is the easiest happiness hack.
  17. I learned to be productive when my brain is dumb – There were many wasteful nights when I had no energy but still tried to tackle work. I now know to save my focus for deep work, the type that takes a lot of cognitive lifting and strategy. When I don’t have that mental focus, I have a list of secondary tasks such as reading books, watching tutorials or answering email. These secondary tasks help me feel productive when my brain is on “consumption” mode vs “executive mode.”
  18. Improv is fun, scary as hell, and a metaphor for life – Improv is a hugely underrated form of present-state training. The best scenes aren’t the ones in which someone has an idea they want to rehearse, but rather it’s built from two players being fully engaged with each other and allowing the conversation/scene to develop. One of my friends swears that improv has skyrocketed his skills with women.
  19. Facing myself is still the hardest – much of my life and personal growth is driven by the relationship I have with myself. It’s easy to be distracted by external things. Whether it’s relationship problems or trying to tackle a goal, the true battle always lies within. So does true peace.
  20. I can drink milk – I used to be somewhat lactose intolerant and didn’t drink milk for ages. When I decided to bulk up, I added milk to my diet and prepared for rough times on the toilet. Turns out it had no effect on me at all. I was pleasantly surprised, but there’s a chance that lactose intolerance is just dormant waiting to strike back someday.
  21. I can better appreciate fluid relationships – My perspective on romance used to be more binary. Either someone’s with me (girlfriend) or they’re not. This year I learned to better appreciate the spectrum of relationships that can happen, and not to force things and let each connection unfold on its own. It’s been an enlightening exercise for me in un-attachment and staying present – for example, enjoying someone’s company instead of worrying about whether or not we’ll continue dating.
  22. There’s a certain season for things This is a longer version of the productivity hack called timeboxing. It’s difficult to start something new when I put the pressure on myself that it’s going to go on forever. Instead, I try to think of things in terms seasons – like an experiment I’m going to run for a certain amount of time. I might lift weights with a certain programming for a season or two. I cycle off dating apps, especially when they feel too distracting. Or I pick up a new hobby/skill and dedicate the next couple months to it. Having this perspective helps me adapt to new situations faster and recognize that I’m sometimes bogged by down activities that don’t make sense for me anymore.
  23. Understanding women a bit more This year, through traveling, dating and experiencing some fluid relationships, I had the opportunity to see some things through a woman’s perspective. The things they have anxiety over. They’re feeling of safety (or danger) in a certain place. The things they have to consider, that I take for granted as a man. I will never fully understand women, but I’m willing to learn.
  24. Focus on feeling good – When around some women I’m attracted to, I try to act too cool. This is my ego’s defense mechanism against rejection. I learned that instead of trying to be cool, I should focus on feeling good (and making each other feel good). Warm is always better than cool.
  25. Seeing conversations as an exchange of energy – rather than simply facts and ideas.
  26. Niche communities are amazing way to test and validate business ideas. If you see the same pain points and questions being asked again and again in a forum, Facebook group or Slack group, that can lead to some good product ideas. 
  27. Accepting I’m not confident all the time… makes me more confident I also used to be too binary about this. I had this thought that I needed to be confident about everything I do, or I’m not confident at all. I realized this was stupid, and that sometimes I’m very confident about certain things, and other times I’m totally not. Giving myself the freedom to fail and suck once in a while (or often) has been so much better for my psyche, and counter-intuitively, it has made me more confident.

And one more just for good measure… Don’t get gum surgery on your birthday – ‘nuff said.

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