Three Lessons Learned in 2023
Yes, you are getting a listicle.
This week I’m sharing three big lessons I’ve learned this year. I’m also celebrating that there are now over 200 🎉 of you that have subscribed to this newsletter. I don’t take you interest for granted. Thank you!
Here are 365 lessons I’ve learned over the past 365 days. If you apply them dutifully, you will become as cool as me.1
Ok, I’ll spare you 362 of them, but just know that you are missing gems like:
Make sure you lock the door of the public bathroom stall. It becomes a cheeky situation otherwise.
Never spend more than 30 minutes at Costco.2
Don’t creep Instagram profiles. You will accidentally like one of their pictures, promptly “unheart” it, and spend eternity wondering if you’ve been discovered and imagining all the scenarios you would be dead by now if you were a spy.
I do have three lessons I learned this year that I know will be helpful to share. Here we go:
Watch out for your hero bias
Do you want to be Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker? Voldemort or Harry Potter? Scar or Mufasa? The guy who almost hit my car last week in the Trader Joe’s parking lot or me?
You probably chose the hero (and me) in every scenario. We have a natural disposition for seeing ourselves as good, virtuous, heroic.3 I call this our hero bias.
Our hero bias serves to give our life purpose, to steer us towards virtuous actions, and to see the good in ourselves when we need it the most. But if we are not aware of our hero bias, it can lead to plenty of conflicts.
Back in my sales days at Google, you could say I was a bit intense. I relished the opportunity to help customers with their problems and acted with urgency to solve them. I wanted to be their hero.4
One time, a customer needed help setting something trivial, but important, on their account. It seemed like a no-brainer to me that my Sales Engineer would be able to guide this customer, they would see us as valuable partners, and we would have a stronger relationship (hooray!). The Sales Engineer said it wasn’t part of his job. I fumed. In a very terse tone, I let him know that 1) This wasn’t acceptable 2) We were paid a lot of money to support customers and 3) I would find someone else who wanted to help customers.
My hero bias led me to an adversarial situation with a co-worker. Had I checked my bias, I would have been curious as to why he could not support our customer, and understand how he was seeing himself as the hero of the story. We could have reached a better outcome sooner had I pulled my head out of my cape.
Eventually, I understood his valid reasons, and we took care of our customer. But our relationship was never the same.
Our hero bias can be useful. But we need to ensure it doesn’t cloud our vision, and see the hero bias that others bring to avoid unnecessary conflict.
Sometimes you have to be the villain
Sometimes you have to be Darth Vader. Sometimes you have to be Voldemort. Sometimes you have to be Scar. Sometimes you have to be Trader Joe’s Rupert.5
I tried dating earlier this year. I met someone. She was cool. She was pretty. We were getting along. No red flags in our interactions. But the more time I spent with her, the more I felt that this was not the time for me to be in a relationship. Because, you know, I had just jumped out of the career skyscraper with what felt like a bedsheet parachute.
Could there be a deeper reason why it didn’t feel right? Sure. But let’s get back on track.
I didn’t want indulge in the preferred method of romantic severance of my generation (ghosting), and a text message felt sheepish. So I decided to be sheepish in person. Our conversation was as awkward as someone doing the Macarena at a funeral. She took it well, but I’m certain if she had to sort me in one of two columns, “hero” or “villain,” I know where I would land.
I’ve written ad naseum how I’m a chronic people pleaser in recovery. This was a hard conversation for me. But this was about me being clear and honest with someone. It was about minimizing harm and setting boundaries via prioritization.
Whenever I replayed that conversation, I still felt like an asshole. That’s until I read The Courage to be Disliked.6
After reading this book, I realized that it is not our job to control other people’s opinion of us. Self-acceptance is knowing that it is not our job to influence how others feel about us. People will form an opinion of you, but trying to shape their opinion by pleasing them is a foolish recipe.
So you have to risk being perceived as the “villain” to preserve you sanity, your values, your integrity. Just please, don’t use this as an excuse to actively harm or be an asshole to people. Run it by me first.
Make the mundane interesting
My creative goal this year has been to make the mundane interesting. It’s not easy to do well.
It requires presence–you have to be willing to become enthralled by something as simple as a napkin.
You have to learn to notice the details: The way its pores look like goosebumps, how it shrivels once it touches liquid. Or ask yourself questions like: Who was the first person who decided to make a ton of these and sell them for money?
Even if you do all of this, you have to find the words to transfer your wonder unto others.
One of my favorite essays is called “An Ode to Pull-Ups” by James Parker. It’s an article about pull-ups. Read the essay’s opening:
Who do i think I am, dangling off this bar?
I think I’m an ape. I think I’m an aerialist. I think I’m Jason Momoa. I think I’m a 54-year-old man with a dodgy shoulder, experiencing—to the pound, to the ounce—the precise terms of my contract with gravity. That’s one thing you can always say for the pull-up: You’re lifting your own weight.
When you make the mundane interesting, it infuses your life with richness and presence. You fill the world with wonder. You challenge yourself to observe, to romanticize, and to find gratitude in the small details.
My friend Ava’s Instagram is full photos of chairs. Just chairs. She walks around and takes pictures of chairs that she finds interesting. It’s amazing to see through her eyes how chairs come in all shapes, sizes, and they are everywhere.
How many times today have you walked past a chair and barely noticed it?
Finding the beauty in the mundane also helps insulate us against the comparison itch caused by social media wormholes. The grandiose party, the exotic trip, the cool restaurant–they all stand tall and imposing, casting a shadow over our lives. And in that darkness our anxiety pounces and makes us believe that our lives are boring and that we are failures as a result.
But if we expand our presence and find the beauty in the mundane, we light up our lives; we realize our lives are full of magic and worth living intensely.
We are more interesting than we give ourselves credit for.
These are three important lessons I’ve learned over the past year. There are days I forget them. Many days, actually. And that’s another lesson itself: A lesson will repeat itself as many times as necessary.
It can be easy to wallow in a pit of frustration when we face the same lesson over and over. “When will I learn?” is a common reproach.
Frustration won’t get us anywhere. It is better to see the recurrence of a lesson as a sign that we may need to go deeper and understand why the lesson is being repeated, as well as think about what we need to do differently.
Personal growth takes acceptance, awareness, and persistence.
Acceptance that we are worthy today and always. Acceptance that we are fallible, but it is on us to own our flaws.
Awareness of the world and its richness. Awareness of our virtues and our flaws.
Persistence in learning life’s lessons. Persistence in following our dreams.
I couldn’t think of a worse endorsement for any self-help book.
The samples are overrated. And they hold the shopping cart traffic. Move along people, this isn’t the 405 in Los Angeles.
Humans are so quirky. We somehow manage to have the duality of seeing ourselves as the heroes of the story, while also having an inner critic that never wastes an opportunity to tell us we are dimwits.
If you immediately thought of this song when you read this sentence, then you are my kind of person.
That’s right. We’ve given this idiot a name. Also, did I check the email addresses of all my subscribers to ensure that I wouldn’t piss off a random subscriber named Rupert? Yes I did. No Ruperts here.
Shout out to my brother and my sister-in-law for getting me this book. Hi! (waves)