Today is my 28th birthday. In the past year I’ve traveled to Mexico and Columbia, moved from Vermont to California, learned to salsa and (almost) surf. Here are a few of the most memorable lessons I’ve learned throughout the journey.
#1 — Big changes aren’t scary once you make them.
I bought a one-way ticket to London, changed it to Los Angeles at the last minute, moved across the country with a backpack, started a business partnership with someone I barely knew, and broke that same partnership when our goals were no longer in alignment. Each time I was faced with the need or opportunity to make one of these decisions it was met with the same feeling of terror. These decisions will never be easy, but you can take comfort knowing that they’re far less scary once you make them.
#2 — Your gut is a muscle and, like any other, it needs to be exercised.
For as long as I can remember, I have operated on more logic than emotion — often to a fault. (link) In reading ‘Start With Why’ I learned that humans have three brains — the Reptilian Brain, the Mammalian Brain, and the Thinking Brain. The Mammalian Brain, otherwise known as the Limbic Brain, is responsible for memories and emotions, but lacks the capacity for language. It’s also the origin of our “gut feelings” and I figured that, like any other muscle, with exercise it would become stronger. Whether it was following the feeling to talk to someone, take a detour, or start a business I have spent the last year exercising that intelligence. I document my gut feelings and, whether I follow it or not, check back in to see if it was right. Over time it’s gotten strong — really strong actually.
#3 — The easiest way to get help is by offering it to others.
Last year I had the opportunity to interview Neil Patel of KISSmetrics and QuickSprout. In the process of scheduling the recording I noticed that he ended most of his emails with “let me know how I can help.” It was an amazing feeling to know that someone so successful would even make the offer. Realizing how much that little statement had excited me I started to play with it myself. The more I ask “how can I help?” the more people tell me (often very easy) ways to win them over. It doesn’t matter whether or not you think they need help, what matters is that you offer it and fulfill your commitment to the best of your ability if they cash in. Along with acquiring clients, partners, and friends; this is how I got interviewed by Ryan Holiday and featured in The Observer. It’s powerful.
#4 — Dating is an exercise and, like any other, should be done in reps.
I’ve probably downloaded and deleted the same dating apps fifteen times over the past three years. If you’ve ever been single for an extended length of time you know how frustrating dating can become. After moving to Los Angeles and doing a thirty day ‘Dating Diet’ I learned how energizing and enlightening it can be to take a break. I’ve recently started practicing one week reps — one week in the dating pool, one week out. On my weeks out I act as if I’m in a relationship… with myself. I compliment and chat, but don’t ask for numbers or schedule dates. Think of dating as working the biceps and focusing on yourself as working the legs.
#5 — Don’t substitute, supplement.
Many of my friends use recreational drugs, but not of them would (by any means) be considered addicts. In a conversation some months ago I realized that there are two types of people. There are those who turn to drugs and alcohol because they want to fill an emotional void, these people are substituting and in the frame of mind where they are likely to over-indulge or begin to rely on the substance. Alternatively, there are those who use drugs and alcohol to supplement an occasion. I have made it a point to avoid using substances anytime I was in any kind of funk and have learned a great deal about myself and the world as a result.
#6 — Genuine enthusiasm is infectious.
Inside every adult, there is a child. I discovered one of my favorite ways to make friends by learning how to excite the inner child of those around me. A night out at the clubs can seem like taking kindergarteners on a field trip, but when you (secretly) help people release the stresses of being an adult from time to time they’ll become some of your best friends.
#7 — Some things are worth the money.
Four months after moving to the west coast I left my $1,995 p/mo apartment — more than double what I had been paying back east — and into a $3,775 p/mo apartment. It was more than I would have every spent on myself, but it’s been worth every penny. It’s not because of the location, the space, the view, or the amenities. While all of those are absolutely wonderful, it is the amazing people that populate the massive 504-unit complex (playfully dubbed ‘cruse ship’) that make me happily pay rent. I have to work harder to make that possible, but I’m able because of those relationships. Make smart investments in yourself and you’ll see the returns.
#8 — Exploration through travel is one of the fastest ways to change your life.
Drop the excuses. For years I had constantly manufactured new reasons to postpone travel and finally called myself on my bullshit. The decision to make travel a priority resulted took me all across the United States, but my trips out of the country were the ones that truly transformed. Traveling to Medellin, Colombia, when my Spanish is conversational, broke more paradigms than I can count. Don’t wait to explore, travel now — even if it’s just to a new neighborhood. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
#6 — Don’t teach, model.
While in San Diego for a mastermind I had the realization that teaching others, something I had spent years saying I loved, was draining my energy. I didn’t want to teach, I wanted to model. Every time I taught something I wasn’t actively practicing it made me feel fake. You can teach by modeling, but you can’t model if you spend all your time teaching. There’s nothing more powerful than the feeling you get when you show a friend something you’ve created. Don’t get lost in academia, get out there and do something.
#7 — The most powerful advice you can take is your own.
I’ve always loved the adage ‘when one teaches, two learn’ as by sharing my knowledge and experiences I have learned and acquired many more. It’s easy to give advice, but it’s hard to take it. In an effort to overcome my barriers I constructed an experiment: document all the advice I would give myself in the second person tense (i.e. “you need…”). I write in a journal at night and re-read it in the morning as if I had a mentor following my every move. Calling myself on my own bullshit has proven to be a powerful skill.
#8 — 10 minutes in the gym is better than 0 minutes in the gym.
Last year I was in the best shape of my life (so far) and spent 5-10 hours working out each week. Since moving to California it’s been hard to find the time and, but I wanted to re-establish the habit of hitting the gym (especially since I now have one in my building). When I planned to workout and didn’t I would feel lazy the entire day. By spending a few minutes in the gym I felt better and made it easier to get in gym the next day. Mini-sessions made the habit, full-sessions made the muscle.
#9 — Making drugs is better than taking them.
No, I’m not suggesting you start a meth lab in your basement or start growing weed in your garage. Your brain is a factory for drugs. For example, taking ecstasy increases the production of dopamine — so does hitting the gym. Alternatively, smoking marijuana triggers a release of serotonin — so does meditating. I’m fairly certain this is where the term ‘high on life’ originated.
#10 — Have a regular date night with yourself.
This is one of my favorites. The idea originated from Kate Northrup’s book titled ‘Money: A Love Story‘ when she used this technique to trick herself into enjoying the process of paying bills at the end of the month. As an extremely extroverted person there are occasions when I need a recharge. When I hit that wall, I’ll find time to shut off my phone and treat myself like a prince. I might make myself dinner, go for a massage, or see a movie (sometimes all three) — I know how to treat myself right.
#11 — One of the biggest pains hits you when you break a promise you’ve made to yourself.
I’m a pretty ambitious dude and I push myself hard, but this year I learned a lesson about taking on too many challenges. You can challenge yourself to change (i.e. ‘write every day for a month’, ‘hit the gym every day this week’, etc.) but you only have so much bandwidth. The feeling of disappointment when I committed to doing something was immense so I decided to channel my energies. Focus down and level up.
#12 — Call your mother more often.
Dad needs some love too, but mom… she had to deal with this for nine months…
I don’t think I will ever claim that I do it enough, but calling my mother to thank her for everything she has done for me is a great little pick-me-up. The way she (and my dad) react knowing that I am happy in my life and work is something I know excites us both. After all the shit I’ve put them through, the least I can do is call every once in a while to say hello.
#13 — Open yourself to support from others, but don’t fall into the trap of reliance.
In the weeks after the break from my business partners I started to spool up my own projects. Without a team in place I rolled up my sleeves and started doing the work myself. Whether it was graphic design, web development, or marketing — I stumbled my way through out of necessity. It made me realize just how much I had allowed myself to rely on other people throughout my life and I’ve made a big change since. As the saying goes, “all that you will ever need is within you right now.”
#14 — Everyone around you is fighting the same fight through a different story.
Through my adventures and mis-adventures in dating I began to realize just how much we, as humans, fall into a battle mentality. We look at others and attempt to judge whether they will serve us or hinder us in whatever goals we are trying to reach. Seeing myself fall into this trap I started working to spend more time in other people’s shoes. Developing a greater sense of empathy have greatly developed my abilities to communicate.
#15 — Nothing bad every came from giving a compliment.
Compliments are like pickup lines, they’re scary to deliver because they can be accepted just as easily as they can be shot down — do it anyway. By learning to recognize an opportunity, craft a compliment, and deliver it effective I’ve been able to make more than a few people smile. I have vivid memories of compliments people gave me years ago and their effects are just as powerful as they day they were delivered. I realized that I have the ability to deliver the same experience to anyone I encounter and put forth a lot of effort to hone my ‘complimenting skills’ — I’d say it’s paid off.
#16 — Don’t let ‘Plan B’ distract you from ‘Plan A’.
The more you focus on Plan B, the more energy you’re not spending on Plan A. The easiest way to fail at anything is to try to do everything. If disaster strikes, you’ve got to trust that your instincts will take over and save you from a pile up.
#17 — Doing something (even poorly) is infinitely better discussing it endlessly.
Run at your goals. Even if you crash and burn you’ll be able to pick yourself up, learn a lesson from the experience, and start again. I love sharing stories and discussing ideas, but at a certain point realized how much energy was going into the process. This year I refocused that energy to ensure what was said — would be done.
#18 — You can win a lot of respect by standing your ground.
Determination and decisiveness have been themes for me this year and I’ve felt people looking at me in an entirely new light. I only stick to my guns when I know they’re loaded and I only fire when it’s absolutely necessary.
#19 — Qualifying yourself to others is a sign of weakness.
Everyone does this, it’s just a matter of why and how much. When you feel the need to prove yourself to someone you’re essentially telling them that you need their approval. Whether you’re trying to sell carpet or secure a hot date — it’s a surefire way to fail. I’ve been playing with the boundary between confident and cocky in a number of ways and it’s yielded some interesting results.
#20 — Expressing gratitude amplifies it exponentially.
Last night I went to dinner with friends and was seated in the section of my all time favorite waiter. His name is Steve Lively and he’s absolutely hilarious. He’s also kind, considerate, and truly genuine. While the dinner alone was enough to make me leave happy, I left a $20 tip on my $28 bill. I wanted to attempt to repay him an equivalent amount of value that he had delivered to me. It felt pretty wonderful to see his face when he opened the check — worth every penny.
#21 — Hobbies are like sneakers, even the ones you love need to be replaced.
Over the years I’ve fallen in love with climbing, biking, running, photography, and sailing — to name a few. While I looked for a climbing gym when I moved to California I ended up opting to try something new — surfing. Nothing is more rewarding than those initial successes in the pursuit to learn something new.
#22 — Fixing things is fun.
I’ve always been of paying the experts with it comes to anything mechanical, but before I left Vermont I asked the mechanic to show me how he was packing my bike into the box. By watching him deconstruct it I was not only able to put it back together, but also have fixed it myself several times since. It’s a great feeling of self-reliance to be able to fix something yourself.
#23 — There’s a delivery service for everything these days.
It’s not super insightful, but I’ve literally furnished my entire apartment through Amazon — even my bed was delivered… two-day shipping… for free. There are loads of services like Instacart, Uber, and PostMates that make your life infinitely easier. That’s not to say I condone laziness, but I do enjoy having some extra time at the beach.
#24 — Dating apps are just as dangerous as they are useful.
How often do you see people swiping, messaging, and discussing dating through technology? I’m not against it, but I did become overwhelmingly aware of how much time and energy it can suck away if you allow it. I recommend taking the advice of #4.
A few months ago I fostered a puppy and, while I knew I couldn’t keep her, was intent on finding her a good home. Everyday I as she sat next to me the cafes and people would come pet her I would tell them how she’s up for adoption. In the end, I met the couple that ended up adopting her while taking her for a walk at our apartment complex. She now lives with an older brother across the courtyard and couldn’t be happier.
#26 — When you live in California, don’t underestimate the necessity of sunscreen.
It doesn’t matter if you’re just going to the beach for a few hours. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to “even out your tan”. It certainly doesn’t matter if you rotate consistently. If you leave the house in a California summer and don’t wear sunscreen — you will regret it.
#27 — True fulfillment comes from within.
By acknowledging the ability you have to care for yourself (financially, physically, emotionally, etc.) you negate the need to pull from others. This practice of recognition has enabled me to be more decisive and… seems to have helped me land a few hot dates.
#28 — Lists documenting everything you’ve learned in a year take a long time to write.
However, this one is now complete. Time to celebrate with #10.