2019 was a bittersweet year. While taking stock of the year, I began to identify the big realizations I had in the past 12 months. The books that I read and the articles I wrote helped me zero down on the lessons that had the most impact on me. I believe these are not specific to my situation alone but will resonate with many more people. Hope you find them useful too.
Ask yourself what you really want
We chase after things that we are supposed to want, rather than those we truly want. Behind the quest to do well lies a deep intrinsic desire that we are dimly aware of, if at all. We are not exactly chasing after bigger salaries, cars or houses but the feelings they generate within us. After many false starts and dead ends, I realized that the feelings of accomplishment and gratification that I want are entirely possible by doing things that I want to do, and am uniquely suited for.
Find a pond where you are the big fish
Success depends on many variables, only one of which is effort. The notion of success being entirely dependent on your toil is misleading and drives people to undertake quests where they have a disadvantage right from the start. A better strategy is to relentlessly seek the things we are good at and double down on them. Success is a game of probabilities, rather than absolutes. By finding the one space where we are in the top percentile — whether in talent, resources, or sheer intensity of interest — and directing our efforts there, we can rig the odds in our favor.
Quality comes from quantity, especially in creative work
Trying to get it absolutely right on the first attempt is foolhardy and a waste of time. Nobody just gets out of bed and produces the next great novel. To get better, you just have to produce more work and put it out for the world to see. Not only do you get more feedback, but also gain the confidence to keep going. Creating is like compound interest — the more work you do, the more momentum you build.
To be successful, solve a problem
Nobody except your mom gives a damn about your passion. They have neither the time, nor the inclination to pay attention or money for the thing you have so lovingly made. Unless, of course, it solves a real problem for them. This advice, while seemingly simple, is also the most ignored. We are easily enamored by the quality of our work because few of us have the mental discipline to objectively assess our own creations. Stop obsessing about yourself and ask how your work helps others.
Most arguments are not worth having
Arguments happen because we become emotionally invested in an issue and find it difficult to dissociate ourselves from the position we have publicly taken. In other words, our stand on the topic becomes a part of who we are. Most debates happen because everyone is trying to justify their pre-held position. That’s why there is simply no point getting into arguments unless all parties are genuinely interested in exploring an issue and hearing out the other side.
Resist the news like the plague
News media is a business. And what is the ultimate aim of every business? To earn more profits. That is why media companies will try every trick in the book to get you hooked onto their supply. Fear, outrage and tragedy are deep human emotions, but for them they are just marketing strategies. They want you to believe that ‘being informed’ is the duty of every citizen, and while you’re getting informed, here’s an ad for an underwear brand. Unless it’s about the issues you really believe in, just resist the news, because most things happening in the world JUST DON’T MATTER.
Fear lies underneath every negative emotion
Fear, at the very basic level, means that we expect something to not go as desired. In a specific moment, we might feel any of the negative emotions we have different names for — anger, anxiety, frustration or sadness — but at the core is always fear. This can be a powerful realization because while it is overwhelming to understand and process multiple emotions, acknowledging the underlying fear is far more manageable. I’ve found that owning up to your fears is the first step towards becoming free of them.
Comparisons with others are futile
Shane Parrish of Farnam Street calls it comparing others’ best to our average. We compare so obsessively because at some level we are not sure of what we truly want. That’s why we fall back to measuring ourselves on easily available metrics such as money and fame. Moreover, everyone (and I mean literally everyone) has problems that we don’t know about. The external markers of success that make us jealous might be hiding illness, grief, or other emotional upheavals that we’ll never know of. Hence, the only comparison that is valid is the one we make with ourselves: are we better than who we were yesterday, last month or last year?
Problems take center stage in our lives because they activate our survival instincts and focus our attention narrowly. Our brain’s default mode is to detect threats, real or imagined, because evolution has shaped it that way. This means that we need to make a conscious effort to see what is going well for us. Regularly reminding ourselves that life is not so bad has been shown to scientifically improve the sense of well-being. Practicing gratitude, in other words, is simply a wise thing to do.
…But also be ambitious
Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.
Big, audacious goals are not always more difficult to achieve than the more ‘realistic‘ ones. We get only a few chances in life, so why not use them to go after the big game?
Have a great 2020!