Life Learnings: Episode I

I think it’s always good to take a step back and take stock of life every so often. I suppose that’s what vacation is usually about, and it has done a fantastic job of that (more on that in a later post).  Also, I’m turning 26 next week, and I really wanted to figure out the things I want to focus on/take into my late 20’s.  What I’ve come to realize, at least for now, is that there are no hard and fast “rules” to live by.  I like what Duke head coach, Mike Krzyzewski (aka Coach K) has to say about “rules” in his book, Leading With Heart.  Paraphrasing here, but he essentially says that if you have too many rules, you kill creativity and thinking.  So all you can really have are guiding principles to live by.  Which is what I decided to try and summarize, the ones I feel are important to my life right now.

  1. Get Dressed in the Morning:  This may sound slightly superficial (and more than slightly strange), but when you are the boss (i.e. nobody is telling you, hey there’s a stain on that!), and you work at a small startup in a small town in India/you travel so much/sleep on so many different couches/ live out of a suitcase more than your actual home, it’s really easy to let yourself go. While on vacation, I have realized that I really enjoy getting dressed up for work (or fun) in the morning.  It’s a subtle expression of my creativity, and in a job that doesn’t quite use the right side of my brain as much as I’d like, it’s a welcome change.  It also helps me realize that no, this is not a dress rehearsal-  today is the first day of the rest of my life!  In more meta terms, it just makes my morning routine more deliberate, and helps me set the tone for the rest of the day.
  2. It’s Ok to be Boring: This idea was stolen from the book, Steal Like an Artist, but it’s one that I really jive with.  I have realized that I am an incredibly boring person, in the purely traditional/American sense of the word.   In that, I will probably never have stories of wild debauchery and really do not enjoy long nights out with little to no sleep, only to wake up the next day, sleep deprived, to do it again.  My work is my life, and my best work happens when I have had enough sleep.  Most of the time, my best ideas come to me during my vacation/downtime, so even on vacation/downtime, I prefer to keep  myself completely rested.  Have I officially turned old?  Yes, I believe I have.  But I have half a notebook of really awesome ideas from this vacation which makes me feel like it is all worth it.
  3. Good Fuel + Good Exercise = Good Life:  Very simply put, I feel a huge difference in the way I think/act when I am in shape and eating really healthy food vs. eating tons of crap and not exercising enough.  Why would I even spend a day not living up to my potential, when there is a really easy fix for this?
  4. Don’t Kill Any Part of You:  Again, stolen from Steal Like an Artist, but I want to make sure never to forget this concept. No part of you is extra, so make sure to feed all your passions, even if they seem totally and completely unrelated.  The dots don’t make sense now, but in retrospect, they will paint a complete picture.
  5. Presentation is Key and Words Mean Things:  I think this is the hardest thing I’ve learned over the past few months, and also when I realized I am way more of an engineer than I ever imagined.  I was talking to my old roommate (also an engineer), and we were both discussing how we found it so frustrating that people don’t look past “fluff” and understand the heart of the matter/value “content” over “presentation”.  However, after talking to another (non engineer) friend, who is a lawyer by training, I realized that what we engineers call “fluff”, other people call “communication”.  I’m being slightly facetious here, but I think you get the point.  Words mean things.  That’s the whole point.  Personally, I think the “truth” (whatever that means) is somewhere in between the realities of the engineers and lawyers of the world, but I have been burned enough times already to not take heed and pay attention to presentation and word choice.
  6. Work is Play:  This is probably the most important rule I hope I follow.  Work can be stressful, but because I love my work so much, I hope I have the courage to remember to make it feel like play.  I suppose that doesn’t make much sense because, I mean, wouldn’t that come automatically?  Not really. Running a startup is incredibly stressful, and most of the time, I forget to look up and realize how awesome it all is.  More than that, it’s almost like a state of mind. I want to channel the mind of an inquisitive scientist, just focusing on the day, and learning as much as possible.  The difference is emotion: if you think of yourself as the CEO, you are emotionally vested in the results of your experiments.  But the biggest thing I’ve learned from investing (yes I cheated and just read the cliff notes, i.e. Warren Buffett’s 3 Favorite Books: A Guide to the Intelligent Investor, Security Analysis, And Wealth of Nations) is that in order to be truly great, you have to leave emotions out of it.  I would tweak that to say that you have to know when to use your emotions, and when to leave them out of business.  I am good at the emotions bit, but now I want to master how to leave them out of business decisions.  I think that will take me to the next level as a leader, and also just…have more fun.
  7. Google It:  Yes, this was also stolen from Steal Like an Artist (can you tell this book influenced me greatly?) but it makes sense.  Always. Google it.  Don’t leave any question unanswered, because that generates a hundred new questions which may lead you down roads you never even knew existed.  I may get tired of this one, but so far, it’s proving incredibly useful.
  8. Write the Book You Want To Read:  But don’t just write the book you want to read, have the courage to build the company you want to work at, and create the life you want to live.  Even if nobody else is doing it and it’s incredibly unpopular, that’s even more reason you need to create alternate versions of current reality.

I think that’s about it for now. Of course as life moves on, I’m sure other principles will become more important, but I think these are the ones I want to focus on for the next year.  I suppose you work on internalizing these first, and then once that’s done, you pick new ones to internalize. I’m not exactly sure how that happens, but I think I have a year to figure that out.

Baby steps, right?

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