A Lot Can Change in a Year
It's only been a year since my last birthday, and it simultaneously feels like a brief blur and 5 years.
I thought a lot about the Bill Gates quote this year: "Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years."
While that's certainly true—think about the person you were 10 years ago—I think the same holds for smaller time scales.
Most of us overestimate what we can do in a week, but underestimate what we can do in a month. Or a month vs. a year, etc.
I know people that moved halfway across the world, broke up with long-term partners, committed to one person after a short period of time, quit their jobs, started a new business, bought a house, had a new child, and all kinds of other things.
A lot can change in a year.
If You Want To, Change It
We can change things a lot more often than we think.
Not happy at your job? Figure out what would make you happier, and ask for it. Or explore what else is available and talk to some people that are hiring.
Not happy with how your pants fit? Get them tailored. Or buy a new pair. Or get some custom-made.
One of the issues most of us have in making good decisions is that we don't consider enough options.
Big or small, there's always something you can change.
There's Only So Much Time in the Day
Productivity culture is about finding an extra 10 minutes in your day, fitting more work into 10 minutes, and building a slightly more efficient system for getting things done.
But there are only so many hours in the day.
Many workers have realized how many hours they spent commuting, and found out how much else they could fit into their day if they worked remote.
I try to continue pushing the limits of what I can fit in a day, but I've realized I do have to make choices.
Am I going to go golfing today? That means sacrificing something.
It might be the side project I want to work on, or my sleep, or going out with friends. But it does have a cost.
We only have so much time; adding something always means subtracting something else.
There Will Always Be Ups and Downs
This might seem obvious, but for many people, myself included, long periods of feeling meh or unmotivated aren't the norm.
Sometimes they seem seasonal; other times they seem like a symptom of something larger, like maybe the stresses of a global pandemic.
Whatever it is, it's rarely easy to figure out, and can be extraordinarily frustrating.
These lulls are like obstacles: if we think about them ahead of time, and have strategies for overcoming them, they'll be much easier to deal with when they arrive.
For me, it seems to be about accepting things, turning my focus to other activities, spending more time with friends, and reflecting on why I might be feeling that way.
"Working through it" is simultaneously recommended and disliked, but it can be helpful too, as long as you're conscious of it.
At the same time, when motivation hits, you need to be able to recognize it and surf the wave.
It's just as important to take advantage of high motivation as it is to get through the lulls.
Motivation is always going to come in waves; discipline can make up some of the difference, but it's important to be able to push through the lulls.
People Are What Make Living Somewhere Good or Bad
The pandemic changed what "normal" life looked like.
Often, it meant a restriction of what activities were allowed. Sometimes it meant a restriction of who you could see.
In both cases, one thing that became clear to me was that the people are the most critical ingredient.
Being surrounded by friends and family makes it easy to make the most of a bad situation.
Being without them makes it very difficult.
Communities Are How To Meet People (and Change Them)
I got involved in a number of online communities during the pandemic, to a level I'd never reached before.
We'd interact online, chat and follow each other, and eventually move to something like calls or Zoom meetings. Virtual friendship moving to (sort of) real life friendship.
I also spent a lot of time on the golf course, playing with people I didn't know.
In both cases, I was part of a community.
Whether online or on the golf course, we always had something in common: the activity we were participating in.
That shared activity created a bond. We were members of an online forum, or of a golf club, or the broader community of writers and golfers.
Sharing this kind of community is how you make friends, but it's also how you hear different views. Or convince others that maybe your view is better.
In an increasingly polarized world, I'm convinced that becoming friends first is the only way to change someone's perspective.
Communities are how you make those friends.
There's Always a Limiting Factor
I first learned about limiting factors in chemistry.
In chemistry, the limiting reactant (or reagent) is the one that is completely used up during a reaction. Other materials might be left over if there wasn't enough reactant.
The same thing applies to almost every other part of our lives.
The factor limiting the time you have to pursue your side project might be your full-time job, or your social life.
The limiting factor in your professional development might be a bad communication habit that strikes everyone you work with the wrong way.
The limiting factor in your outfit might be the old shoes you're wearing.
Wherever you look in life, there's a limiting factor.
Sometimes, it doesn't make sense to fix.
If the poor habit you have at work is merely an annoyance, or comes up occasionally, it might make more sense to hire someone who is good at it.
If it's a big limitation—a tendency to be negative in every meeting, for example—it might be worth fixing.
Whatever situation you're in, there's always a limiting factor.
Optionality Isn't Always Good
When I finished school, I chose not to go into a Master's program, despite being accepted.
One of the reasons was that I wanted options. I wanted the freedom to do what I want.
Optionality is often good. It gives us an alternate path when the thing we did didn't work out. It can limit the cost of failure.
But the constant pursuit of optionality comes with a cost: never committing to anything.
Choosing the path that gives the most optionality often means taking a job you don't like.
It's partly why college graduates go to work for consulting companies, or big banks, or name-brand tech companies. Sure they pay well, but the bigger benefit is the name on your resume, which buys you options in the future.
It causes people to avoid commitment in relationships, instead choosing to date as widely as possible.
It also weighs on you; when you always have alternate options, you always think about when you should exercise them—when you should quit and pursue another path.
Committing to a path frees you of the constant consideration of other options, and the self-doubt that comes with it.
Commitment spurs focus.
Options can be great tools. But commitment can be too.
These days, I think carefully about whether I want to keep some options open, or whether I want to commit.
Everything Is More Interesting When You Learn More About It
I got back into golf and cycling during the pandemic.
It reminded me of one of the main reasons I love learning so much: the more you learn, the more interesting something is.
I used to think golf was boring to watch on TV, even as someone who enjoyed the sport.
But as you learn more about golf, you start to understand different shot types. You start to understand the decisions pros are making on the course.
You may know the individual tendencies of specific pros, and what advantages they may have against their opponent.
If their sponsor has marketed well, you'll know the clubs they're playing, and you may have tried them yourself.
The main point here is that most things are interesting if you dig deep enough. But you don't find out what's interesting until you learn more about it
If you find something boring, you probably need to learn more about it.