Many people think that getting closer to 30 is being old. Countless articles are talking about what one should have by the age of 30. However, I always think that being 30 is just the beginning. Given that most of us spend our 20s being clueless, time after 20s is the time we truly start to learn.
I’m 29 this month and approaching 30 in a year. Inspiring by many articles about life lessons on the internet, I figured I should also keep track of what I’ve learned so far.
And here are the nine lessons I learned from both the amazing experiences I had and the smart people around me so far.
1. Simplicity is hard but pursuing it is worthwhile
Even when I pride myself as a minimalist, it’s not easy to keep things simple. I used to think it was easy but what I experienced and learned in recent years taught me otherwise.
Things get more and more complex over time by nature. And it takes effort to keep them simple but ultimately, it worth the effort. An effort to erase filler in an article makes its message more powerful. An effort to eliminate secondary priorities allows me to focus my energy on the primary goal. An effort to live a simple life teach me what truly matters to me and the people around me.
Keeping things simple doesn’t mean keeping them the same as they used to be. It’s a process of refining the definition of what’s essential and trimming what isn’t.
2. Be a generalist, for the most parts
Being a specialist pay well sometimes. But for most things we do—being an artist, running a business, and even living a life—requires us to be generalists. We won’t do great at them with limited knowledge and skillsets.
We live in a world that is hard to make it to the top by being the best at one thing. Putting “making it to the top” aside, being the best at anything alone is close to impossible. I came to realize very early in life that there’s always someone better than I am, so being the best isn’t a good strategy to win in life.
The alternative is to be good at many things and get great at a few of them. The way to stand out isn’t to be the best, but to combine a few domains that we’re good at in creative ways that help solve meaningful problems.
3. Things that matter will always take longer
As Bill Gates said, “most of us tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in a year but underestimate what we can achieve in ten.” Based on my personal experiences, good outcomes usually happened when I was least expected them.
We can do all the right things and make the right moves but not seeing results. Because in many cases, time is the key ingredient we tend to miss.
Improving our health takes time. Growing a business takes time. Building meaningful relationships takes time. Investing for retirement takes time. Instead of rushing any of them, I make it a habit to check it with myself to find out if what I’m working on still matters. If yes, get back to work.
4. To change your outcome, change your identity and your standard
Our identity is how we see ourselves and our standard is how we measure ourselves. I realize that our full potential usually lives within our identity. If I believe something is true about myself, it is, in most cases. And our behaviors live within our standard. If I accept a certain behavior as the best I could do, it is, in most cases.
This is especially obvious when I look at my fitness level. My body fat percentage never gets below 15% and above 23% because that’s the identity and standard I have. When it was close to 15%, I lost motivation to keep pushing further. And when it got close to 23%, I became very uncomfortable with myself so I was more aggressive in losing weight.
There are many ways to get the results we want and change our outcome. But fundamentally, it always boils down to how we see and measure ourselves again and again.
5. The goal of an investment is to make life better
I steal this from Tim Ferriss. There are two ways to see it. First, it made me realized that there are other types of return on investment (ROI) worth considering. And second, like there are other types of ROI, there are other types of resources, other than a monetary one, I can invest or waste.
Instead of asking a simple question like “what much money I can get out from putting X amount of money into this?” now I ask better questions that reveal the true ROI other than money and the true capital or cost other than money. It could be time, peace of mind, happiness, relationships, health, status, convenience, integrity, and more.
It’s worth thinking about them so I don’t over-optimize for monetary gain and ignore the other areas of my life.
6. Our beliefs are made up by our environment
Our beliefs are powerful because they dictate what we see and how we behave. And when I dig deeper, I realize that there is another layer of driving forces behind our beliefs and behaviors—and they are our environment and experiences.
When we spend the time to understand other people’s environments and experiences, we could see why they think and behave a certain way. While I don’t necessarily agree with how the other person thinks and behave, realizing this makes it easier for me to practice empathy and give me new perspectives about a topic or issue.
I use this on myself too whenever I want to question certain beliefs I have. I would start by looking at my environment and past experiences and compare them with other people who have a different but better belief.
7. Feedback is the key to growth and improvement
Machines learn a lot better and faster than humans do because they receive more inputs (and feedback) than us at a faster pace than us. While it’s impossible for us to collecting feedback at the same scale and rate as a machine, it’s essential to speed up the feedback loop as much as we could.
An easy way to get more feedback often is to simply ask for them. But before I do that, I’ll make sure I get them from the right people and then visualize hearing the most uncomfortable feedback ever. The goal is to train me to stay open-minded and not to react to them immediately. It makes other people more comfortable giving me feedback when I do that especially when I need some tough love that helps push me to the next level.
I also create a routine of daily and weekly self-review so I can give myself feedback regularly. These reviews let me check in with myself and the progress of priorities I’m working on.
8. An obsession with big goals is not effective
I tend to set big goals like growing a $100,000 business, getting six-pack abs, writing a book, and more. I was moderately obsessed with them but there were pretty much what I do.
I realize that these big goals are like the BOSS level in a video game. Instead of fighting the boss right out of the gate, I should start with weaker monsters to level up myself first. More often than not, there are always things we don’t see until we get to the next level. So instead of obsessing over the big goals, it’s more effective to do our best at what’s in front of us right now.
Besides, big goals are often too big that we won’t know how to get started. Even if we know it, what we need to do now seems trivial in comparison with what we need to accomplish. We then convince ourselves to start next month or next year, waiting for the perfect timing to do what we wanted to do.
I resolve this by jotting down ideas immediately whenever I have them and then, find a way to take the first step within a week. So that I don’t wait for the new month or the new year to start, but instead start small and start right away.
9. Do interesting stuff and stay energetic
One of my long-time goals is to expand my network and meet more interesting people. I went to networking events, joined certain communities, reached out to people with work that I like. These methods work fine but not very effective.
I then come to realize that the best way to connect with more interesting people is to first be interesting myself. Or better put, don’t be boring. Pursue a project we’re passionate about, document it, and share it is one way to get begun. I also found writing about topics I care deeply about work well.
Another key is to stay energetic. When I observe people around me, energetic people tend to attract more people into their circle.