Seven important things happened this year so far:
I changed jobs.
I started a newsletter.
I started a podcast.
I saw Seth Godin speak live.
I built new, meaningful friendships.
I quit my (new) job.
I started freelancing.*
*Actually, not yet, but I will in 2 weeks and a half.
Although it feels like the year just flew by, a lot has happened to get me here and I believe taking a moment to reflect on it and share it with you might be of some value to people who read it.
Making a habit out of publicly writing about what I’ve learned is a goal inspired by Ryan Holiday’s birthday posts (26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31), and it helps me in a number of ways:
- building commitment towards my goals
- maintaining accountability for my actions and their results
- providing the opportunity to get feedback from others.
Posts such as Ryan’s help me understand other people’s challenges and how they approach them. Understanding how people I respect and admire have built and improved their process over the years is one of the ways I learn and also part of the reason why I started the podcast.
This year’s birthday article is a lot about process and its power to transform.
A few weeks before this post, I asked people what I should include in this post and I got two very interesting ideas from it.
One was to evaluate and see which of the lessons learned before turning 30 actually help me today and what I want to learn from now on. I decided to address them both, as they provide complementary perspectives.
Lessons learned before turning 30 that are still relevant at 31
1. Everything is a result of making decisions
I stand by this 100%. In fact, the topic of decision-making has become so important for me that I’ve built the podcast and the newsletter to explore just that.
Living without intent, without self-awareness devoids life of its most challenging and beautiful moments. I’ve found that the more anchored you are in reality – as opposed to the illusions inside your head – the better you can make the most of the opportunities around you.
This is not about control, because that’s just an illusion (check out newsletter #18). Living intently enables you to avoid regret and focus on what actually matters in our short existence. As Cristina says:
Life’s too short to waste it doing things that we don’t enjoy or in the presence of mediocre people. Life’s too short to stay at a job we dislike. Life’s too short for attending boring, useless meetings or conferences. Life’s too short for bad books, TV series or podcasts. Life’s too short to mindlessly refresh the feed of a social network or news website. Life’s too short not to take that crazy vacation you’ve been dreaming about or start practicing an adrenaline-pumping sport.
Because I need this myself and I know it could help other people, I will keep exploring how others make decisions and keep sharing what they learn from them.
2. Define the guiding principles
If you’re unsure of what you stand for, what ideals help you cope with the worst and drive you to achieve the best, then others are going to decide for you.
Instead of feeling helpless, disoriented, manipulated, choose to live your own life. There are already too many influences that shape our thoughts, our behavior, our lifestyle. Figuring out who you are and what you want is an essential condition for living a meaningful life. Cultivate self-awareness. It will serve you well for the rest of your life.
3. Challenge assumptions
Our beliefs, our thoughts, our dreams – they all pack a hefty dose of fiction of our own creation (more on this in newsletter #21). This unpopular opinion is the result of years and years of studies by neuroscientists, behavioral psychologists, and many other specialists whose titles I’d need to check for spelling errors.
Without questioning our assumptions, we easily fall prey to all sorts of mental biases and cognitive distortions that cost us dearly when we make poor choices for our lives or other people’s lives. Here’s a list of 15 such cognitive errors to help you get practical.
4. Own up to it
The older you get, the braver you get at acknowledging your successes and failures. Naturally, this can’t be done without the self-awareness I keep mentioning.
For example, I’m lucky to have friends who have the guts to know what they need to do to focus on their mission, even if it means giving up a project they invested countless hours in.
When Cristina announced she’s killing hew weekly newsletter – Cristina’s Friday Read – many people wondered why she would do that, given how useful and important it had become to them. But she was honest about the whole thing:
Having a mentality of “I’m unstoppable and I can do whatever I set my mind to“, combined with fear of rejecting good opportunities for better ones, has kept me paralyzed. Instead of making sure I’m taking care of my priorities and giving all I can towards them, I chased too many rabbits at once. So now I need to recalibrate.
Owning up to your decisions and their consequences takes maturity. It also takes to let go of your ego and realize you don’t have to be right all the time, that it’s okay to change your mind, to make mistakes, as long as you learn from all of these experiences.
Also, you don’t owe people as much as you think you do. This is something I need to keep repeating to myself as well.
5. Ego is the enemy
I’ve had tons of confirmations about this in the past year. In fact, the latest newsletter I sent (#33) is all about that.
Here’s a relevant snippet in which I own my faults and the missed opportunities they caused:
I wish I had the courage to reach out to the people I most admired when I was younger. My fear was that I’d have nothing interesting to say and that was my ego talking. What experienced, humble people admire is the willingness to learn, to seek wisdom and growth. They’re definitely not impressed by witty remarks that serve no one.
6. Complain less
I wish I had more progress on this key issue in the past year, but I didn’t. Without planning, it seems that many of the ideas in last year’s birthday post transformed into the weekly newsletters I send.
For example, #31 is all about the polarizing effect that complaining has on our daily lives and the compounded effect it has on our decisions and health:
In the past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about my daily conversations, their general tone and what results from them.
What I noticed is that, in spite of our principles, of our (self-)education, in spite of people’s good nature and good intentions, banter and ridicule are often the main topics of casual conversations.
The more stressful the environment, the more frequent the banter.
In tense situations at work, people vent and build closeness based on making fun of the situation, bad bosses and each other. In stressful cities, in unstable environments (hello, world!) humor is a way of coping when life gets overwhelming.
But too much of this can easily build into an unhealthy habit of constantly criticizing everyone and everything.
I believe this habit has a polarizing effect on our relationships because it stunts our ability to practice empathy. We become defensive as a result, ingrained into beliefs and a lot less open-minded.
The worst part is that it happens gradually, even to the best people, and that it affects our decision-making process.
What followed is I made a commitment to changing my discourse and my focus, in spite of the challenges around me. I expect you to keep me accountable next year to share how it worked out. 🙂
7. Be in the moment
On the bright side, I’ve become a lot more engaged in the present moment.
Two things have helped me tremendously:
A. Giving up Instagram (it’s been almost a year) and quitting Facebook (2 and a half months and counting!).
B. Turning off notifications on my phone. I turned off almost all of them about 3 months ago and I haven’t gone back. There’s just one exception: the earthquake notifications for Bucharest, which are pushed through Telegram (a quick guide in Romanian for those who want it).
Reducing the time I spent on social media and making away with pestering notifications has been liberating, bringing much-needed peace of mind, reducing FOMO dramatically and giving me the clearheadedness I needed to work on things that matter to me.
I still have a lot to work on, such as scheduling specific intervals for checking email and working without being online all the time on Slack, but that’s about to change when my work dynamic becomes that of a freelancer.
There’s a wonderful post about this on the BaseCamp blog (one of my top 3 favorite of all time), called Real time vs. slow time – and a defense of sane work hours. Please read it and also read their latest book: It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work.
8. Enjoy life more fully
This year, like never before, I’ve managed to enjoy my holidays more, even though they were rare and short.
I learned to relax more while planning a getaway, to pack lighter, to eat more slowly and to appreciate the simple things a lot more than I did before.
Lucky me, I have the most wonderful partner who’s been advocating for the same since we met. He leads by example and catches me when I fall off the wagon, putting too much on my plate and getting swept up in my usual new-project enthusiasm.
Thank you, B! I wouldn’t be the same without you.
9. Be responsible (but not for other people’s decisions)
Once I made the decision to go freelance, around 2 months ago, I realized that, during the past couple of years, I’ve been sort of leaning on other people and the bigger structure I was part of.
Maybe I’m finally ready to admit to myself that I was scared to be on my own, to have no one to turn to but myself, fearing I might not be smart enough or capable of working hard enough to make a living as a one-woman show.
Following my own motto, I decided it’s time to break away and build my own business, starting with freelancing as a content marketer. We’ll see how that goes next year. 🙂
10. Do the work that matters
This altMBA credo has been literally glued to my desk, right where I can see it, ever since I got my started package for the workshop.
Based on the 17 ideas for the modern world of work, I kept asking myself if I’m doing what I truly believe in. When I could no longer see that I could be true to this principle, I decided to go freelance.
Having worked in or with startups for years, I didn’t truly understand why larger companies and structures couldn’t accomplish something that seemed easy from where I stood. However, the experiences in the past year have shown me how tremendous potential can go unrealized for lack of clarity and focus.
When you do the work that matters, you will see results. But you have to articulate your principles first, so you’ll know what drives you. (Go back to number 2 on this list).
11. Do the hard things first
Definitely still a relevant life lesson.
In the past months, I’ve had a lot of difficult conversations, I had to fire people, delay projects, give feedback on thorny issues, and say no to partners and job candidates.
It’s never easy, it never becomes easier. What helps is empathy, transparency, and respect.
Don’t postpone these decisions as it’ll only make things worse.
Giving and seeking negative feedback is one of the most difficult things to swallow, but one of the most valuable ones as well. Use it for growth, treat it with objectivity and, when giving negative feedback, be respectful of the other person. Don’t sugarcoat it but don’t make it your intention to hurt either.
12. Set aside “me time”
Even though they might work for some people, mani-pedis and shopping are not my idea of “me time”. Massages are though, so I’ve indulged in that a couple of times, especially since my back tends to get sore and crampy.
The habit that has made a big difference for me is dedicating Saturday mornings to writing the newsletter and some evenings to recording the podcast and preparing the episodes for publishing.
Spending time on reflection, on learning from others, on connecting with the people I admire and had never hoped to reach – this is what fuels me, what drives me and what makes me happy.
13. Avoid burnouts
I pretty much failed at following my own advice here. The past couple of months have been difficult and, as a consequence, I started having trouble sleeping again. With a weakened immune system came sensitivity to all sorts of external factors, which led me to battle viral conjunctivitis for almost 3 months.
Clearly, a sign of somatization, this physical and mental state of mine wasn’t exactly a burnout but it wasn’t far from one either.
But I did learn that I need a different form or working if I am to build resilience and work at a healthier pace for me. More on that at the end of this list, where I share some new lessons.
14. Get comfortable with change
At 31, I’m less afraid of challenges, of people, of administrative tasks like taxes and registering a company, and, I have to say, that makes me quite proud.
Practice is what helped the most here.
15. Seek new experiences
I definitely stand behind this, even though I haven’t been the best at following my own advice in the past year.
I miss going to meetups, I’d like to join a book club, and hike to one of the peaks in the Romanian mountains, but time is not lost! It’s all in the plans for next year.
What I did do new this year is take a diction course (Romanian article here) and visit the island of Madeira, a wonderful place worth flying out to (a few pics from when I last used Instagram here and here).
16. Ask questions
Use these 3 simple questions to better understand yourself and others:
Why? (Ideally, as it 5 times and see what happens.)
(And) what else? (The most powerful question from The Coaching Habit.)
Don’t only listen to the answers- pay attention to the process and how it changes your perspective.
Being part of a community to help and contribute without financial compensation can bring out the best in you and restore your faith in humanity, as they say. We can all use a bit more of both.
Ioana, a friend and ex-colleague of mine, is an example that always inspires me. She regularly donates blood, she gives away packages for needy children, she volunteers for events such as DefCamp, and generally is one of the most open, helpful people I’ve met.
So lucky and grateful to get the chance to volunteer and work with this awesome team! ❤️ Such an amazing experience!! https://t.co/UFEsrJQm28
— Ioana Rijnetu (@IoanaRijnetu) November 9, 2018
I feel lucky that I’m surrounded by people who drive me to be a better human each day.
18. Go the extra mile without expecting something in return
Speaking of great company, in the past year I’ve seen so much thoughtfulness, support, and generosity that it had changed me.
Colleagues doing wonderful work, always there to share, build, and contribute. Friends going above and beyond for each other. Parents trying to better understand their children’s needs a bit better. Strangers being vulnerable and kind to one another.
Men. Men of Twitter. What are the down-sides of being a man? We discuss the downsides of being a woman very frequently – but what’s going on with you lovely guys?
— Caitlin Moran (@caitlinmoran) October 18, 2018
Maybe it sounds so rosy because I choose to seek this kind of people, both offline and online. I don’t deny I’m in a bubble of my own making but it’s a support system that gives me strength.
I strongly encourage you to build yours because enduring, strong relationships can have a tremendously positive effect on a person’s life.
1/ If you have benefited from something, you have a responsibility to pay it forward. My biggest pet peeve is marketers who complain about requests from strangers for coffee meetings, career advice, marketing advice, etc.
— Shanelle Mullin (@shanelle_mullin) November 8, 2018
19. Learn to adapt
We can all see the effects of inflexibility all around us these days.
Being defensive about one’s beliefs, without trying to understand other arguments, is what’s led to the polarization we’re experiencing these days, one hugely amplified by social media.
I believe almost no one is absolutely right or absolutely wrong and that trying to find common ground will always improve our lives.
Next time you get fired up over an internet argument, take a breath and maybe avoid to engage or at least consider saving it for later when your full rationality is restored.
20. Reading is the best investment in self-growth
Whether you’re reading a psychology book about hapiness, discovering Terry Pratchett’s universe (I’m late to the party, I know), learning about public speaking from the best book I’ve read on the topic, or discovering how The Terminator’s life really is, reading is life-changing.
Choose the right books and you’ll tap into the wisdom, discipline, and creativity of the greatest achievers in history and today’s era.
21. Nurture meaningful relationships
Nothing has made a difference in my life as people have. Our identities are influenced and defined relative to other people’s.
The people we surround ourselves with, both offline and online, have an essential impact on how we evolve, on how we shape our worldview.
I’m incredibly lucky to have met extraordinary people but there’s no secret sauce to that. Good people are surrounded by other good people and meeting some of them leads to this self-reinforcing virtuous circle.
Nurturing these important relationships takes time and emotional labor. They take patience, involvement, and loyalty, no matter how things change and no matter how difficult the challenge ahead.
As years go by, it’s easier to make like-minded friends because – at least from my experience – and to see which friendships are enduring and which were just circumstantial.
For me, true friendship is one of the most valuable experiences in life, one that I cherish deeply.
22. Don’t expect others to know what you mean/want/think
Speak clearly and articulately.
Explain what you need calmly.
Send shorter emails. Don’t beat around the bush.
Write concisely and with intent.
Be specific – always!
Be human and let that shine through.
Don’t end your emails with the standard “best regards”.
We’re all caught up in an avalanche of information. Try to make it easier for others to communicate with you and many of your issues will disappear.
Small things make a difference.
23. Get a pet
Codiță makes our lives wonderful every single day without exception! He keeps learning new things and it never ceases to amaze me how we communicate.
Although we can’t accommodate another pet just yet, a dog will certainly become a part of our family in the future.
I have two older neighbors I see walking about every single morning with their elderly dogs and it warms my heart. Everyone should experience the joy of caring for a furry friend. It really changes you for the better.
24. Live alone
I haven’t changed my mind one bit since last year when I briefly wrote about the formative experience of living alone.
25. Be alone
One of the most helpful things that you can do for the important people in your life is to learn when they need space and give it to them.
Whether it’s physical or mental, space and a bit more time helps us make better decisions. When you’re alone, you can start probing your thoughts and go beyond automated responses, emotional reactions, and obvious conclusions.
Making time to reflect is a key driver for personal growth, in my opinion.
For example, my partner and I give each other space to be ourselves and this helps us grow and give each other feedback and advice in ways that aren’t restrictive or forceful.
26. Invest in your mental and emotional health
Therapy, coaching, meditation – engage in whatever helps you get clarity, build self-awareness and break old, bad habits while building new, healthy ones.
It’s a lot easier to get started than you think.
It’s a lot less uncomfortable than you think.
It’s a lot more powerful and transformative than you anticipate.
With coaching, therapy, and meditation, you always get more than you expect. I’ve seen it in everyone who’s ever engaged in these experiences.
So many of our physical ailments are the result of somatization (the tendency to experience and communicate psychological distress in the form of physical symptoms) and there’s so much we can do to ease the tension in our minds and bodies.
In the coming months, I’m going to invest in some coaching sessions, to regain my focus, after it’s been severely bruised and battered, and to better articulate my strategy for the freelance work I want to do.
27. Invest in your physical health
In all honesty, I’ve done a poor job at this in the past 7-8 months.
I didn’t prioritize my back exercises as much, and I fell off the wagon in terms of eating healthy. The consequences pilled up, but I’m not giving up.
Building lasting healthy habits is not easy but completely worth the effort. I know what I did wrong and how I can get back on track, which is what I’m working on right now.
The workshop I attended at the very beginning of September, held by Cristina (The CEO Library) and Andrei Rosca (entrepreneur and coach) equipped me with some essential knowledge about making and breaking habits.
I shared some of the insights in two of my weekly newsletters: #24 and #25.
28. Forgive, forget, let go, but learn
Letting go of things and practicing emotional detachment are underrated.
Stepping back provides so much clarity that I always keep wondering why I don’t do it more often. Us, humans, aren’t very good at rational thinking, as much as we’d like to believe the opposite is true for us.
As with all important things, it’s a habit worth investing the effort into building.
Constantly or periodically purging your home, closet, list of people you follow online or anything else that you use on a daily basis is a practice that frees up space for the truly important things.
I make it my mission to constantly filter, give away and throw away things and ideas. The essential life lessons are few and they’ve always worked (and I suspect that they always will).
29. Practice gratitude
My close friends and I have this habit of thanking each other for every little thing. It’s not because we’re trying to impress each other (or worse, others) by this – we do it because we believe in expressing gratitude.
Never take things for granted, no matter how small. Many people lack almost everything that you find normal and natural to have.
Practice gratitude and be outspoken about it. Remember how you felt the last time someone did that for you.
Acknowledge people’s efforts and kindness. They don’t have to be your best friends to send them an email and say that their work helped you in one way or another.
Do it often and follow what happens.
30. No one has it all figured out
In my early 20s, I thought titles and recognition only came with hard work, dedication, and professionalism.
Oh, man, was I wrong!
The reality of things is that (too) many decisions are made behind closed doors, by people with little knowledge of their field who are just winging it. Many of them ended up in a specific position based on circumstances, not through sustained effort and dedication. Some of these people have good intentions, others don’t.
When you’re around such people, it’s up to you to decide if you want to stick around. Their extreme self-confidence and assertiveness may be intimidating but give it some time and you’ll see that they’re baseless.
So, if you find yourself experiencing imposter syndrome, sit down and make a list of your accomplishments. Seek feedback from peers and people outside your close circle. You’re most likely beating yourself up for not knowing everything. But the thing is that you can’t. No one can.
You don’t need to figure it all out to be good at what you do but I firmly believe that you do need the right values to become better or great at whatever it is that you do.
We’re in a constant process of building ourselves and that’s okay. In fact, a student’s mindset is what helps us make the most of the opportunities around us. I try to keep this in mind at all times.
Phew, that was quite the recap, wasn’t it?
Hang on, I’m not done yet. I’m certainly no stand-up comedian but I do have new material!
Here’s what I learned from…
31. It’s really difficult to tear yourself away from a team you love. However, difficult as it may be, honest relationships survive if they’re based on the right values. I’ve stayed friends and kept in touch with many of my former colleagues and there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll do the same once I leave my current role.
32. Don’t dwell on a job if you feel stuck, even if it means taking on more risk, a smaller paycheck or fewer benefits. Doing what truly motivates you and getting out of your comfort zone provides much more value (and financial stability) in the long run.
Starting a podcast
33. People are incredibly generous. They’ll open up if you do. They’ll be vulnerable and honest if you give them a chance and if you’re asking them personal questions for good, honest reasons.
34. Hearing yourself speak is awful but incredibly necessary if you want to improve how you articulate your thoughts. Better yet, reading a transcript of your speech is enlightening. I highly recommend you try it, even if you don’t have a podcast or a specific reason for it. Use the free trial from Temi.com to give it a shot and sew what you can learn from it.
Starting a newsletter
35. Doing something you love at a steady pace is soothing, empowering, and builds confidence. Even shipping imperfect things, such as sending newsletters on days I didn’t feel well, gave me the energy and motivation to keep at it. For example, writing the newsletter each Saturday gives me ideas for other topics I could approach.
36. Constant practice beats working in intense sprints. Habits are not built by doing burning yourself out while giving it your all; they’re created by doing things at a steady pace, day after day, week after week until results start pilling up and feeding a positive, self-reinforcing positive cycle.
Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. They don’t seem like much on any given day, but over the months and years their effects can accumulate to an incredible degree. pic.twitter.com/izLkIyGHDg
— James Clear (@JamesClear) November 5, 2018
Seeing Seth Godin speak live
37. The man is a change-maker. He’s a legend. Seth Godin practices what he preaches. His speech at Brandminds earlier this year blew my mind even though I’ve read many of his books, did the altMBA and even though I was familiar with the ideas he discussed.
In spite of many not seeing how his ideas and leadership can be put into practice, I’ve seen how he helped change people’s lives, including my own. I wish you could’ve been in the room when he spoke. I wish I could share that enthusiasm, emotion, determination and willingness to build, to do, to grow. (I guess this is what I’m trying to do with this post after all. 🙂 )
Building new, meaningful friendships
38. Strong shared values create closeness fast. As a result, new friendships can come from unexpected places. Keep an eye out for good people and keep them close.
Quitting my (new) job
39. Stay true to your values. Check periodically to see if you’re still doing the work you want to do as opposed to the work others want to impose on you. It’s worth it! If you’re doing less of the work you love, it might be time for a change.
40. Speaking of the work you love. Self-awareness is an essential process for constantly filtering information and refining your ideas. It can help you see that, at different stages, you may seek different challenges and define the work you love in different ways. Keep an eye open for opportunities and don’t dismiss them without a proper evaluation.
41. The hustle, unrealistic growth patterns – they’re not for me. It may be because I’m an introvert or because I value focus and shipping, as opposed to burning yourself out to “make it big” – the reason is not important. The point is that I work better in small teams and I believe that you don’t have to be a unicorn startup to be successful.
This is why I admire the internal culture at Basecamp, MailChimp, Buffer, and Wistia.
This is also why you should read the best, most curated list of leadership books.
Also, make sure to read Rand Fishkin’s Lost and Founder for the same dose of realism and hard-earned wisdom.
For example, I can’t wait to read Paul Jarvis’s Company of One, in which he talks about “making your business better instead of bigger”.
this is precisely why i wrote Company of One (and thanks @dhh for endorsing it!) growth doesn’t have to be the byproduct of business success and it shouldn’t be the byproduct of “projected” business success. https://t.co/JfA56m1IT1
— paul jarvis (@pjrvs) November 12, 2018
42. Open spaces are evil. Ninety-nine percent of my colleagues are not annoying. They’re not intrusive, they don’t have irritating habits and they make good jokes. Still, it’s not like we all took a vow of silence. Plus, there are many of us, so, at any given point, someone is talking to someone else.
But, you see, 1% is made of people who talk loudly on the phone every day, for minutes on end. People who walk up to others and speak loudly while hovering over desks.
To all of this is going on, add 4 different types of lighting, meetings, interruptions and the FOMO I experienced each time I tried to break away to do some work (of my own doing, I admit).
I realized a few months in that the open space is not good for me. A day with 5 meetings, an unusually noisy office, and shot eyes because of an allergy is what it took for me to decide I would forever avoid open workspaces. I cannot stand the damage they do to my attention span, ability to focus and do deep work.
I agree with DHH (Basecamp co-founder): the open-plan office is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea. And if you’re not convinced yet that this is a legitimate argument, here are some other people’s experiences.
If you’re a decision-maker, please don’t put 30 people or more in the same office. It’s not healthy for anyone. Literally.
This is a chapter I’ll start writing soon enough. I’m equally terrified and thrilled and I know it’ll give me the even more challenges and opportunities to practice what I preach.
Someone asked me what I want to learn from now on and this was my first thought:
Looking back, I understood that the lessons we learn while setting goals are sometimes different from the ones learned while working towards them or achieving these goals.
Here’s to another year of a life well lived!