As the year (2018) looms to its end, it is worthwhile to self-reflect on critical lessons learned during the year. Personally, I find no better way to appreciate the escaping finite time than to extract lessons learned from it.
I find that such reflection allows us to see the big picture (instead of just the highs and lows of the year) and go into the next year informed on what worked last year.
For 2018, here are the critical personal lessons I have learned (or re-learned).
1. Beauty of Constraints (Scarcity) over Abundance
“to achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time [resources]” – Leonard Bernstein
The status quo is often that there are not enough resources (time, money, etc.) to achieve the goals we have in life. Despite the seductive nature of that explanation, I find that constraints (and necessity) is responsible for fueling most of the goals that I have been able to accomplish.
If you have ever crammed for an exam, winged a presentation, or have set challenging deadlines – you have most probably experienced the gift of constraints. It allows you to focus and discover creating solutions to get to your goal.
For example, l began writing out of necessity of wanting to articulate myself – making sense of ever-increasing questions that popped up with life. Similarly, bootstrapping my business (constraint of money) allowed me to discover effective ways to launch a business without breaking the bank.
Looking ahead, I hope to give myself constraints for almost all the goals that I set for myself – health, professional, or personal. This will allow me to not get spoiled by the luxury of time (which is finite), money, or other excuses that are simply a distraction from getting your goal accomplished.
2. Power of small changes (experiments) over big changes
“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” – Bill Gates
Overnight success stories are mostly only true in Disney fantasies – the prince defeats the bad guy (professional goals), is flawlessly handsome (health), has lots of money (finances), and marries the most charming princess (relationships) – all within a few days if not weeks.
However, real life success stories take significantly longer and I believe can be equally rewarding for those who can persist. Our bias of planning fallacy makes us think that we can accomplish our master plans within a short amount of time. In planning as such, many of us fail in these grand plans and end up making no marginal improvements in any area of our life.
For example, don’t set yourself the big unaccomplishable goals of starting a multimillion dollar business or getting a lean athletic look like Bruce Lee in 2019. Rather, focus on getting one paying customer for your business or going to the gym once a week. From there fail forward, and make small improvements until you get to your goal – even if takes many years.
Looking ahead, I plan to continue make small improvements in various areas of life – aka personal experiments. With time, I realize that these small habit changes and improvements are what makes it possible for me to attempt a large goal I would have otherwise been intimidated by.
3. Having strong principles and self-awareness to guide decision-making
“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
One of the beauties of being human is that we are emotional and not always logical. Thus, many decisions we make are at the risk of being poor – short sighted, pessimistic, or too optimistic. Now, the goal is not to make perfect decisions (which I believe don’t exist), but to make our best educated decisions – guided by our principles and self-awareness.
For example, are you going to be an average performer at work or will you seek out incremental improvement in your craft? Now, here is the case-in-point, all of us make this decision explicitly or implicitly – but what differs amongst people is their level of self-awareness and principles guiding them along the way.
Looking ahead, I plan to strenghten my principles and self-awareness (see point #5 below) so that I can make educated decisions about not-so-trivial aspects of life – personal to professional.
4. Ability to focus and do the (important) work
Because if you’re worrying about yourself—if you’re thinking: ‘Am I succeeding? Am I in the right position? Am I being appreciated?’ — then you’re going to end up feeling frustrated and stuck. But if you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path. There’s always something to be done.” – Barrack Obama (Source)
To do anything of value, we are hard-wired to feel insecure about it. Will people like what I write? Will I get customers for my business? Am I built to do this? In the face of these invisible fear, we end up deserting the work.
As the quote above suggests, we need to simply focus on doing quality work and not our insecurities (which are separate from the work). Its better to put out work that you may feel insecure about rather than not do it at all.
Going forward, I hope to focus more on important work and try to be comfortable with the fear or challenges of doing creative work. As Steven Pressfield puts it, it’s a journey and it takes a while to master (paraphrased).
5. Carving out time to reflect and plan ahead
The unexamined life is not worth living. – Plato
I believe a lot of unnecessary anxiety and anxiousness can be eliminated if we take the time to attend to our brain. Brain, like our bodies, accumulates dirt (thoughts, fears, unresolved issues, to-do list etc). Yet, we don’t give our brain a shower (reflect and plan ahead).
During the year, I have (once again) realized the value of maintaining a journal, meditating, going for walks, swim, exercise, blogging (including this post) and getting quality sleep. Many areas of life are unpredictable – especially health and relationships – thus, with constant self-reflection and planning ahead we can have a plan that adjusts with our life.
Going forward, I hope to try my best to defend this time to reflect and plan ahead – especially when schedule “appears” busy (which inevitable always does).
Lastly, credit and thank you goes out to my friends, mentors, family, and subscribers who have contributed to the above learnings and growth in 2018. All of you know who you are. I could not have simply learned these lessons alone.