27 Lessons for 27 Years

What I've learned so far.

Here are a few reflections on some things I’ve learned in my first 27 years. They are in no particular order:

  1. Thinking in probabilities–instead of absolutes—is useful for decision making.

  1. Compounding, whether in character, habits or money is immensely powerful. It helps to understand it and use it. “The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” – Warren Buffett

  1. It doesn’t cost anything to be kind, but your kindness can change the day someone else is having. Compounded over your lifetime, this default habit of kindness can have a huge impact.

  1. Life is too short to make small plans and settle for less than your best. Make big plans for yourself that make you want to jump out of bed in the morning to work toward. “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die…” – Daniel Burnham, 19th century architect

  1. Remember what really matters and be intentional about not mixing up priorities. It’s best to remind yourself frequently to prevent a gradual slide toward prioritizing the wrong things. I’m reminded of the quote: “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.”

  1. The best way to learn about something is to write about it to others.

  1. Everybody you meet has something to teach you, but It takes humility to be able to learn from anybody.

  1. If you want to get better in life, you must be able to change your mind when presented with facts. You may have a beloved idea that is difficult to discard even in the face of evidence, but to hang on to it is to delay reaching your potential.

  1. Don’t work out to just get fit, but also find physical activities that allow you to build mental toughness. Once you break through mental barriers in sport, you start to question yourself: in what other realms of life do I have imaginary mental barriers that are keeping me from my potential?

  1. Not many things are more beautiful than seeing someone passionately pursuing their calling, fully engaged in an activity they love.

  1. Travel can open your eyes to what other cultures and countries are like, and empathy is an important quality to develop. Travel helps put into perspective the immense blessings I have just living in the US.

  1. Perspective. You can never have enough. Learning from as many people as possible about their perspective in an endeavor and how they reason through decisions is a great way to become a better decision maker.

  1. I fell in love with the idea of mental models a few years ago. The idea is that you collect many, multidisciplinary frameworks (models) for decision making that allow you to view problems from several different angles and minimize your chances of making bad choices. I like to think of myself as a mental model collector now. More good choices = a better life. Charlie Munger, the 60-year investing partner of Warren Buffett and a person of very high integrity, says: “Wisdom acquisition (that is, acquiring a robust set of mental models) is a moral duty.”

  1. Singing can make a good day great and a bad day better.

  1. Be kind to yourself. You will make mistakes. It’s important to understand that everyone does, and it does zero good to spend energy lingering on past failures. If you can learn from it, do so quickly, incorporate the lesson into your mental models, and move on. Train yourself to notice what feelings come up the instant after you realize you’ve made a mistake or failed. Are they feelings of shame and disgust? Or of acceptance, compassion for yourself and determination to improve next time? Practice delaying or eliminating your negative reactions and accelerating the positive ones. I really like the illustration of the concept this golf coach uses with his student.

  1. Life is easier if you know who your heroes are. When faced with tough decisions, you can just think: “what would they do?” and go with that.

  1. Ballroom dance can be playful, thrilling, and good exercise. It helps when your partner is way better than you (mine--my wife--is).

  1. Life is more interesting when you are curious about the people and the world around you. Ask the question. Who knows what interesting thing you might learn?

  1. Peer group matters. Seek out people better than you and who want to lift you up. Don’t tolerate negative relationships.

  1. Golf is a wonderful game. It puts you in nature for several hours, always provides a series of challenges, and recovering from bad shots is an opportunity to demonstrate levelheadedness.

  1. Reading is the best way to learn the best of what has already been discovered. It allows you to learn from the mistakes of others and make new mistakes, not old ones when pursuing excellence. There are million and billion dollar ideas in $15 books. Who wouldn’t take a deal like that?

  1. Leadership is about serving others, seeing their potential and calling out that potential in them. Not many things are more rewarding than seeing someone achieve something they once did not believe possible.

  1. Find a fun activity you can immerse yourself in. By having a creative outlet outside of work, you can be more productive at work and have a more interesting life with your hobby. This is not to say work cannot be interesting – it can and hopefully is.

  1. Pick something (a goal, career, etc) to work on and run with it. Often, having backup plans can waste energy you need to pursue your true calling. Better to make it a mile in one meaningful direction than an inch in fifty different directions. (Idea originally from Joel Sampson, and then formally written about in the book “Essentialism” by Greg Mckeown.)

  1. Words are to thinking what colors are to painting. The more colors a painter has, the more options she has to portray the perfect image she is thinking of. So too, with vocabulary. The more words you know, the more detailed and precise your thinking, writing and speech can be. The book 1984, by George Orwell, paints a picture of how you could minimize complexity of thought and dampen imagination by vastly reducing everyone’s vocabulary. Take advantage of the opportunity we do have to learn and seek to expand your vocabulary. One way is to read books that are just beyond your current ability. I love how this idea is expressed by Fred Kofman in his “Systems Journal,” as reprinted in Donnella Meadows’ book, “Thinking in Systems:” “Language can serve as a medium through which we create new understandings and new realities as we begin to talk about them. In fact, we don't talk about what we see; We see only what we can talk about. Our perspectives on the world depend on the interaction of our nervous system and our language --both act as filters through which we perceive our world ….the language and information systems of an organization are not an objective means of describing an outside reality --they fundamentally structure the perceptions and actions of its members to reshape the measurement and communication systems of society is to reshape all potential interactions at the most fundamental level. Language …as articulation of reality is more primordial than strategy, structure, or ... culture.”

  1. Cookies and cinnamon rolls are always worth making well. That said, if someone offers you your fifth cookie, you might want to say no. Moderation is important.

  1. Goals are great, but enjoy the journey and appreciate the special moments along the way. Any experience in life is more meaningful if you can share it with someone you love (family, friends).

Here's to another year of learning and getting better.