I had a whole intro written with all sorts of words in it. But since we’re a month late with this thing, let just get it rolling.
Here are the 5 biggest lessons I learned in 2021:
1 - Play more Wiffle Ball
“I can’t wait to get to the real world.”
Maybe it’s me, but everyone I know said this all the time from the time we were 8 through Senior Year.
There was this “real world” that we were all aspiring towards where teachers and parents didn’t control us. We could stay out late, eat cereal for dinner, and play Wiffle Ball in the house.
And when we got our first apartments, we did exactly that.
I can remember with great detail my first real apartment. It was our very first day. We had some paper plates, a few air mattresses, and a Wiffle Ball set.
So we played in-door Wiffle Ball - smashing line drives off windows and moonshots off the ceiling.
It was the culmination of years of expectation. We were finally free! We were young and untroubled. We went to the grocery store in the middle of the day. We played Guitar Band until the cops came. We had Christmas decorations up for 2 years straight.
Then our jobs got a little bit harder. Our relationships got a little more serious. We bought houses. We got married. Some of us had kids.
The Wiffle Ball bat made it’s way to the garage. The Garage Band guitar moved to a box. The 2am laughter was replaced with 3am feedings.
The real world got real.
All of a sudden people were sighing for no apparent reason. Gray hairs were popping up. Parents were getting old. Death became more obviously intertwined with life.
For some time now, this all weighed on me. I could feel it pulling me down.
And then, like a lightbulb going off in my brain, I realized something:
The desire to be successful and productive and supportive and available doesn’t have to weigh us down. We don’t have to be so serious. We don’t have to treat life like a chore.
We just need to remember the joy of the real world. We need to dust off our kid glasses and have some fun.
Who cares if the TV cost a grand? Let’s go play some wiffle ball!
2 - Books are like people
I read a few books per month, moving from one to the next as my appetite desires. I make sure to include novels into my mostly non-fiction diet, and I don't finish everything I start. I've adopted these reading methods slowly over time, and they serve me well.
They form the basis for how I read.
This year I learned a new lesson about what I should read.
Midway through 2021 I began to feel like reading was dragging me down. It didn't make sense.
Knowledge is wonderful.
Reading is joy.
Eventually I was able to uncover the correlation between what I read and how I feel. I learned that my consumption has a direct impact on how I interact with the world.
My worldview is shaded towards whatever I've been reading. My mindset is swung by the teachers on the page.
But when I read too much about time hacking, or efficiency, or the future of technology, I begin to view the world as if I and it were different. My mind races nowhere, fettered, clouded, and cold. The beauty is drained from the day.
The tricky part is that I like these books. Many of them are valuable. I just need to tread lightly, keep them spaced out, and surround them with books that bring out my best.
(Such as Radically Condensed Instructions for Being Just as You Are , which is pretty great.)
3 - Chaos and stability must be carefully balanced
I thrive on chaos. I'm best when things are moving fast and I don't really know where they're going. One second I'm here, the next I'm there. A chicken with his head cut off if you will.
My best ideas are spontaneous. They come at the 11th hour. I'm the lightbulb guy. Ideas pop into my head. I can't explain where they come from, and I can't sit down and purposefully manufacture original things.
But I do need some structure. Without a deadline, there is no 11th hour. Without a meeting, there's not an opportunity for a creative idea to bubble out of someone else's structured thoughts.
Chaos thrives on a structured foundation.
That's the first piece of this lesson.
The other piece comes from understanding that my optimal chaos/structure ratio is different from most. I need to be comfortable creating structure for those who need more of it, even if it's not necessarily what I'd prefer.
This realization brought clarity to my most successful and unsuccessful working relationships.
The best have come when I'm paired with creative, forward thinking, organized, and systematic co-workers. The creative and forward thinking part gives us commonality. The structured, systematic part creates symbiosis.
The worst have come when I'm in a group that requires me to be the structured one. I do this poorly, and in attempting to do it I sap myself of energy, passion, and the spark that makes me me.
I'm lucky to have been part of almost exclusively great groups, but this will need to be a consideration whenever I'm in a position to choose partners in crime.
4 - Prioritize time away
This sounds like a lazy and privileged position, but in 2021 I re-discovered the value of time away from... everything.
I get scared to take a day off work, away from obligation, and disconnected from modernity.
But every time I find a way to get away, I return refreshed, rejuvenated, reinvigorated, and ready to dive back into my day-to-day with increased excitement and passion.
Leaving makes me better.
This year I learned to do this in doses big and small. I started playing in a men's baseball league, turning my Sunday mornings into true play.
I chilled for two weeks after the season ended, leaving me fired up to attack the off-season.
Laura and I took a trip to Death Valley. We grounded ourselves in nature. The enormity of the mountains and the vastness of the terrain made me feel small and unimportant. My daily stresses melted away. My mind found peace and my life found perspective.
It’s easy to get caught up with work and the seemingly important tasks of daily life. But life is short and the world is large. I need to remember to explore it.
5 - Optimistically accept failure
Growth comes through failure. But our interaction with failure can impact how that growth occurs.
To grow, we must accept failure. We need to admit our thing didn't work.
This is hard, and lots of people get stuck here. Being wrong sucks. It feels bad.
Or at least it can.
We have a few options in how we accept failure.
Option 1 takes a pessimistic slant. It says, "I'm not good enough. I did a shitty job. I need to get better."
Option 2 is more optimistic.
It says, "That was a strong effort. And with more info I’m getting closer to figuring this thing out! This next one is going to be amazing!! Watch out!!"
This is light, energetic, and fun.
It's sustainable not for a long time, but for a lifetime.
Optimism has always been my default. But someone messed with my settings these last few years. This year I’ll work to stay factory fresh and actively choose optimism.
I find reflection both productive and centering, and I'm going to try to do more of it in 2022.
Hope you're having a great start to the year!