About 2020 (Lessons)

Amongst the updates related to the Coronavirus and the lockdowns, 2020 will be remembered as the year of virtual meetings and yoga pants.

And although 2020 will be over soon, I’m sensing that the problems that emerged at the beginning of this year will haunt us for much of the next. Hopefully, I’m wrong and a vaccine will be soon distributed around the world so we can return to our normal existence of real-life social interactions and jeans-wearing.

In terms of lessons, I’ve learned a lot of things during this crazy year. Since going out was not only inappropriate, but also forbidden for most of the last 12 months, I had the opportunity to read and think a lot.

Here are 10 things I’ve learned in 2020:

Ten Things I’ve Learned in 2020:

Lesson #1: Every Marriage Requires Efforts To Keep It On The Right Track

Fewer office visits means more time spent at home with your spouse. More time to find faults in the behavior and overall existence of your partner. Thus, more opportunities to hate each other. No wonder that after the first lockdown, news sites reported that we are witnessing a record high divorce rate.1

Essentially, a marriage can be looked at like a long-term goal. The objective is to keep the relationship thriving. Making improvements and ensuring that things don’t fall below a certain threshold. Of course, this happens through hard work. You can’t expect that things will improve if you sit comfortably on your couch and complain about what the other is doing wrong.

To avoid divorce and save your marriage, ironically, you need to divorce your ego and focus on how the other party feels. And more importantly, find out what you’re doing wrong that leads to both of you feeling miserable. Because let’s face it, we all kind of suck. We simply don’t want to admit it.

Lesson #2: Avoiding Stupidity is Easier Than Trying to Be Brilliant

Trying to become a faultless know-it-all guru is surely something we all start to wish for at some point in our lives. We see the highlights online, the perfect homes, the nice clothes, the carefully designed desks. We read thoughtful articles and books, and we imagine that everyone else is better, smarter than us. These things are the only observable truths, though. Reality is quite different that what is shared on social media.

Instead of trying to sound like a clever scholar that has no flaws, focus on doing the opposite. Focus on avoiding stupid mistakes. Focus on being good enough at what you do. Perfection is the enemy of progress as you’ve probably heard. Why then beat yourself up when you fail on your first try?

Here’s a good way to look at projects: Instead of asking yourself, “How can I make this perfect?” ask this, “How can I avoid making this awful?” When we focus on doing perfect work, we not only condemn ourselves to sorrow and regret when the execution is not flawless, but we also forget to take care of all the little details that are what actually matters.

Lesson #3: Don’t Set Goals, Avoid Doings Things you Hate

This is controversial, I know. For example, a lot of times the work you need to do will require you to do things you don’t quite like. Things like: Spending hours talking with support about a tool you’re using. Searching for a better way to tailor your website. Getting up early in the morning and exercising for 20 minutes. Even writing a lot of times feels daunting to me because I feel tired this particular day and I simply want to lay on the couch and do nothing. Still, I have certain goals that I have set for myself that I do my best to execute – get up early, exercise, write.

Nonetheless, the power of anti-goals is worth observing.

In a universe where you don’t have goals, you don’t aim to reach ultimate success and happiness by doing soul-crushing work that demands from you to communicate with people you don’t like. You focus more on doing things you like. Things that actually make you happy and will ultimately lead to success.2

Or in other words, you structure your life in such a way so you can do only things you absolutely enjoy. Everything else you neglect. Or as the author, Derek Sivers put it, “If what you’re doing doesn’t make you scream “HELL YEAH!” don’t do it.”

Lesson #4: Choosing a Task is Choosing a Set of Problems

Everything you do comes with a certain cost. Reading this article, for example, costs you time. If you read the whole thing, it will take you approximately 10 precious minutes. Time, you could have otherwise used to play with your kid or read something else entirely.

Economists call these trade-offs opportunity costs. If you spend your cash on buying a new car, you probably won’t have enough money to pay the rent, for example.

When I started this site I wasn’t aware of all the “problems” that I’ll encounter along the way – regularly maintaining the whole setup, writing daily, searching for new topics to write, reading books daily, freaking out when I don’t know what to write about, freaking out when what I wrote sucks, etc. And while I love most of the things I do related to this online project, it’s important to realize that everything you do will bring some sort of problems with it. Absolutely everything. Even consuming articles, courses, videos, and self-help books come with certain costs and challenges – you need to buy the books, you need to block time for reading, etc.

So, the next time you see someone online telling you that his course will suposedly make you super rich, ask yourself, “What am I giving up by getting/doing this specific thing?”

Lesson #5: Knowing The Name of Something and Knowing Something Are Two Different Things

I know that Albert Einstein is the person who invented the theory of relativity. But do I know what exactly the theory of relativity is? Hell no! Sure, I can search online and read all about this topic and familiarize myself with the concept but I don’t really need to at this moment in my life.

This year I’ve read a lot about mental models. I can safely say that I know a lot about these thought processes. I can see the patterns at certain moments in my life and successfully label them in projects, people, and certain situations. Still, a lot of other times I can catch myself knowing that something is called X but not really knowing what X really means.

Realizing this flaw is a powerful way to upgrade what you know and improve your knowledge. Sure, stating that you know complicated terms and quote specific laws can make you sound like a total badass in front of others, but if you don’t really know what exactly these things mean, I can guarantee you that people will lose confidence in you. And more importantly, you’ll delude yourself into thinking that you’re somehow superior while you’re actually not.

Lesson #6: Flip Problems to Find Better Solutions

This is something I’ve learned from Neville Medhora. A guy who runs a great copywriting website where he shares tips and tricks on writing better.3

In essence, the lesson here is to look at problems differently.

Instead of focusing on “making more money,” you frame it like this: “Others want to give me more money.” And instead of saying, “I want a girlfriend,” you look at the situation like this: “Girl is looking for a boyfriend.”

Another great way to use this problem-flipping technique is if you’re looking for a job. Instead of blaming the government or the recession for your inability to get a job, look at it through the lens of the firms still recruiting: “Corporations are looking for talented people who can help them solve problems.” In this example, you’re no longer solely searching for a job, you’re the person who is going to help this particular company satisfy their needs. You’re no longer a narcissistic prick who is trying so hard to look cool. You can present yourself as a savior. The salvation for this particular company.

So, when you’re facing a problem, or when you’re looking for a new job, try to answer this question: “How my skills can be useful for this particular company?”

Lesson #7: Focus On Writing For Yourself

When my son was born, for a while, I thought that I should quit everything and devote all of my time, every second, on doing all possible to help him evolve and become a thriving adult. I thought that spending time reading books, writing articles, should be now replaced with doing complicated parent stuff.

Before that, I did something else. Instead of writing about things that interested me most, I focused on covering trendy topics that other people, not me, found intriguing.

And even before the above two, I spend most of my 20s trying to be the perfect friend. I responded to everything with yes. I was always there for everyone except for myself and my real desires.

Now, not that I don’t spend time with my son and not that I don’t help my friends when they need help. But I also realize that I should block time for myself so I to pursue my own self-satisfying goals without feeling guilty about it.

Neglecting your desires might not seem like a problem now, but if you do this for years, one day you’ll wake up feeling angry. Empty. Or even worse, feeling regret for not pursuing the things you feel most passionate about.

Lesson #8: People Are Irrational Beasts

We’re not creatures governed by logic, we’re creatures governed by emotions.

We steal and cheat not because we don’t know the bad consequences of these activities. We cheat and steal because we’re not emotionally satisfied.

When dealing with others, don’t focus so much on lecturing them, focus on understanding them. Think about how they feel, imagine what they are experiencing inside.

Do the same thing to understand yourself.

If you have a strong desire to engage with the opposite sex you’re most probably not getting enough emotional sensations from your current partner. But instead of throwing it all out, you can just talk with your spouse to correct things.

Lesson #9: Focus On Being, Not Having

The consumption of goods is of prime importance for society. We want more things because we see others having more things. But since more goods are constantly being produced, the desire for even more is never fleeting. We always want more and we associate what we possess with who we are as a person. We believe that the more we have, the more we are.

When this ideology is accepted by us, we never settle because there are constantly new things that appear on the horizon. New fashion trends. New tech stuff. New vehicles… We get caught up in a rat race. The more we own, the more we want to own.

But this form of existence steers us away from our real persona. Instead of exploring our inner desires, we focus our entire lives on satisfying outer ones that are serving us little purpose.

The solution is simple yet hard to implement. In, To Have or to Be?, Erich Fromm suggests focusing on being the person you really want to be without worrying about the outside pressure set by society.

Lesson #10: Devote Time to Signal To Others Your Qualities

We’re surrounded. Status updates and celebrities talking about irrelevant things rule the world and are now the norm of our daily consumption. Yet, we doubt ourselves. We admire others who are open and fully transparent about their achievements and struggles but we’re scared to do the same in public.

If you’re a great cook, and if you want to pursue a career in this particular field, it’s probably a good idea to show the world what you know.

The tools we have available online allow us to easily demonstrate our skills to others.

I know, it sounds kind of vain and selfish. We all know that social media is a place full of recycled entrepreneurial quotes and fake gurus. But that’s exactly what you can use as an advantage. To create a social image tailored around your desires and also do it in a sophisticated way.

This last lesson might seem totally against what I’ve been sharing on this site – don’t use social media and block it. Still, this is the world we live in. People judge us based on what we signal.

So, choose a noble craft. One worth dying for. One that will help others. Once you do, share it with the world.


Footnotes:

  1. The pandemic is causing spikes in break-ups and divorces, BBC.
  2. I first heard about the anti-goals approach in this article.
  3. You can read his article about handling problems here.