10 Things I’ve Learned by 29

Today I turn 29. Last year of my 20’s. Last year I wrote this post coming off the high of quitting my job, traveling through Asia, and pondering the possibilities that lay ahead of me.

This year, I didn’t travel to any new countries. I did quit a job, but for different reasons. I am still pondering the possibilities ahead of me, but more than just thinking, I am taking a step towards one of them.

Before I get to detailing that step, I wanted to revisit some of the lessons I learned over this past year.

I spent a majority of this year living back home with my parents. I applied for jobs outside the restaurant industry. I applied to graduate school. I found myself back in the restaurant industry. I had days where my enthusiasm was through the roof, and days where I needed a pick me up. While that quick synopsis does not lend itself to life changing lessons, sometimes you don’t have to go as far as you think to learn about yourself.

Most of these lessons are things I thought I knew before this year (or maybe should have). However, it never hurts to relearn. Here we go:

“The Universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.” – Came across this quote while reading Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil Degrasse Tyson. We strive to make sense out of everything that happens in our lives. The world doesn’t have to make sense, be fair, or whatever other cliche lines our parents told us when we were kids. Last year I wrote that we are the authors of our own lives. I still believe that. The lesson here is that obstacles will most certainly get in our way, most of the time those obstacles won’t make “sense.” We can complain, get upset, shrink from the challenge, or rise to the occasion. We should all choose the latter.

Everyone operates with different sets of information. – This concept seems so obvious when written down. However, it has helped me deal with all the advice and counsel I have received (and sought) while making these changes in my life. Everyone we meet has different experiences and knowledge that power their opinions and decisions. You can either let that frustrate you or accept it, and learn from it.

“Pain + Reflection = Progress” – This was the major theme of investment extraordinaire Ray Dalio’s book, Principles. We are bound to make decisions that lead to pain (physically and emotionally). Pain is a signal that you have a problem to solve. Mistakes are part of the game. The biggest mistake is not learning from it. You have to build in time to reflect on the mistake and the pain to really achieve what you want.

“Everything around you that you call life, was made up by people no smarter than you.” – This quote by Steve Jobs is something I constantly remind myself of. It is easy to look at “successful” people as if they are perfect, never make mistakes, and know something the rest of us don’t. That is clearly not the case. Everyone has issues, everyone has demons, no one is perfect. Remember that applies to our heroes in business and in life. Those heroes have been able to accomplish amazing things despite those defects. So can you.

It’s hard to not complain – Twice this year I tried a “No Complaint Diet” for 7 days. Both times I failed. That shit is hard (see? I can’t even talk about not complaining without a complaint!). No whining about getting cut off in traffic, the line to get coffee, that difficult customer or client, etc… You have to start with gratitude. 71% of the world population still lives on less than $10 a day. It’s all about perspective.

“Because in your twenties you’re becoming who you’re going to be and so you might as well not be an asshole.” – Cheryl Stayed. Just a reminder. Be nice. There are enough assholes out there.

“Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” – Oscar Wilde. I read “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, this year. Did you know everyone thought he was crazy for importing sneakers made in Japan? Frank Sinatra sums this lesson up best with the famous lyrics, “I did it my way.” Do it your way.

Stop Overthinking – In December, I stepped on the scale and saw 200 pounds for the first time. I started reading about workout plans and different diets I could try. A couple weeks passed and while I learned a lot about fitness and dieting, I hadn’t dropped an ounce. This urge to overthink and over plan everything in our lives often thwarts progress when what we really need to do is lace up our sneakers and go for a run. I started playing basketball twice a week. I began lifting weights or doing body weight exercise at home. I have not followed any of the routines I read about, as of this writing I am at a fighting weight of 180 and feeling great. Don’t overthink. Just do it. (Thanks, Nike).

Don’t predict the future – We humans are notoriously bad at predicting the future. We are even worse at predicting how we will feel when that future arrives. This is the subject of Stumbling on Happiness by psychologist Daniel Gilbert. Gilbert explains how our imagination fails us when thinking about the future. Our brain loves to add and remove important details to any story without us realizing. Furthermore, we often think about the future in terms of the past. In other words, have you ever got all worked up over something that hasn’t happened yet? And then that thing you were worried about happens and it was never as bad as you thought? Yeah… me too. Gilbert suggests we utilize the experiences of those who have gone before us instead of leaving predictions up to our tricky little brains.

“Busy is a Decision” – This idea and article by designer Debbie Millman was very thought provoking. I am super guilty of using the “I am too busy” excuse. I am confident I am not the only one. Millman says this excuse is lazy. She also points out that when we say “I am too busy” we are really saying “this isn’t important enough.” “We are now living in a society that sees busy as a badge.” This doesn’t mean our lives won’t get busy and hectic. However, when life does get busy, it is worth taking a moment and thinking about your priorities. If you are busy with the things you love doing, fantastic! If you are busy with things that you find a burden or that just aren’t really important, you should ask yourself why you are making excuses and avoiding what you really want to do.

So anyway, Happy belated Birthday to me! Happy belated regular July 31st to you! I hope we can do this again in 365 (345) days.

For the next year, you can find me in Boston where I will be pursuing my MBA. (Don’t worry, I still hate the Red Sox).

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing. – Theodore Roosevelt

“Tribe of Mentors” Review

First time trying this book review business out.

I have become a rather big fan of Tim Ferriss, his books and podcast. Naturally, his new book “Tribe of Mentors” was right at the top of my holiday list and is my first book 2018.

In the intro, Tim writes about finding himself in a bit of a life crisis turning 40. The questions he was asking himself certainly hit home for me as I have been experiencing a quarter-life crisis of my own this past year. He talks about questioning his goals and motivations, how he can be kinder to himself, and what he may have missed out on due to underplanning or overplanning. Thinking about his goals and desires, he decides to email out a list of 11 questions to his “tribe of mentors.” When I first read that the whole book was a variety of people answering the same questions, I was a little turned off. I am glad I got over that brief hesitation, because the rest of the pages were filled with so many ideas, tactics, books, quotes, and mental exercises that I made a note or highlight on most of them.

Ferriss describes the book as a “create your own adventure” book. Many of the profiles and answers were impressive, some did not resonate, but at least 20% really hit home for me. At the onset, I thought I would skip some of the profiles if the person did not pique my interest. After reading the first 10 or so profiles, I realized I was definitely going to be reading every page. I thought I wouldn’t be interested in some of them, but a couple mentors really surprised me and I was hooked.

While there are so many highlights, I want to sum up my main takeaways.

1) “Life is 25% finding yourself and 75% creating yourself” – Time and time again, the reader is reminded that you have the power to control the story of your life. So many of the limits put on us by others and by ourselves are made up. So many of the mentors in this book made drastic changes in their lives, professionally and personally. It is a nice reminder that we are the authors of our lives. At the same time, we can’t sit idly by and wait for life to happen to us, we have to make life happen. This can be a tad intimidating, but leads right into the next lesson…

2) “Focus on the next 5 minutes.” –  Over the last year, I have made a lot of changes in my life and I have put a lot of pressure on myself to “figure everything out.” The idea of “figuring everything out” is wildly overwhelming and often leads to frustration and inertia. Tim encourages all of us to plan, but focus on what is right in front of us. We can’t think our way out of a situation. The only way out is to take one step at a time. We can’t change the past, however, we can control how we approach any situation in the next 5 minutes, we can choose to be happy in the next 5 minutes. When we have this perspective, it is comforting that we can recover from any misstep. I am already reflecting on times that I didn’t “get what I want” that led to a far better opportunity down the road. Comedian Patton Oswalt wrote, “my favorite failure is every time I ever ate it onstage as a comedian. Because I woke up the next day and the world hadn’t ended.” Amen.

3) “Life punishes the vague wish and rewards the specific ask.” – Oh man, this one punched me in the face. Tim writes this in the introduction, but I am reminded of it constantly throughout the book. Often, “What should I do with my life?” is an awful question (and one I have said to myself, and others, many times… admit it, we all have). It is way too broad and gets you out of that “focus on the next 5 minutes” mindset. It is massively overwhelming to consider how you are going to lay the building blocks that make up your lifetime. In addition, we all know those blocks are going to move, disappear, slide, and more blocks will show up when you least need more blocks. This may appear at odds with creating the life you want to lead and not letting life happen to you. However, if you do you best to focus on making the next 5 minutes the best you can, and you are actively taking steps to create the life you want to live right now, then you will be better prepared to go with the flow when the building blocks of life don’t line up exactly according to plan (which they certainly will).

I am confident someone else will have a different take than me, and I think that is the beauty of a book like this (and any book in general for that matter). After reading 140 different takes on the same high level questions, I am reminded that there is no “right way” to go through life. Success means different things to different folks. While this is a liberating notion, I feel like it lights a little fire under my butt to do the things I want to accomplish, be the person I want to be, and live the life I want to live. We all have the power to write the next chapter of our lives even if it seems out of context with the rest of the story so far.

Dream big and start small.

Final Take: 4/5 Stars. If you have not dabbled in the Tim Ferriss collection, I would recommend starting with last years book, “Tools of Titans.”

Learning to Learn and Confronting the Uncomfortable

When I graduated college, I got promoted from my job waiting tables to being a manager for a new restaurant the company was opening.

At 22, I was beyond excited to get an opportunity to be in a leadership position. Like most young folks getting promoted, I had a lot of confidence in myself.

At 22, I knew I had a lot to learn, but I assumed I would be great right off the bat.

“It doesn’t look so hard,” I thought.

As many of us are at 22, I was very wrong.

I remember my first dinner shift like it was yesterday. I was wearing a brand new suit and was projecting a lot of confidence. In reality, I had a solid stream of sweat dripping down my back. Brand new restaurant, brand new employees, brand new everything, and the staff was looking to me for help and guidance. If a customer asked to speak to a manager, they were getting a baby face 22-year-old trying to get his sea legs in a new position.

As we picked up steam in the middle of the shift, I remember the kitchen not getting orders out on time, I remember servers not being able to get drinks from the bar fast enough, I remember the brand new computer system not working smoothly. In the world of restaurants, it was a nightmare.

Every server needed help, every host needed help, everyone seemed to need help. So, I helped. I started helping servers take orders, bring drinks to tables, refill waters, run food from the kitchen. I was grooving, my confidence was on the rise. I thought I was really making a positive impact.

In the middle of this mayhem, I remember one of the members of the corporate team, Shane, asked me how many tables I had visited. I started listing all the things I was doing to support the staff. He was not impressed with my list of accomplishments. He told me I needed to go to every table in the dining room and make sure they were happy.

I went to a couple of tables as instructed. My goodness it was awkward. I had gotten used to chatting with guests as a server, but walking up to a table cold scared the ever-living shit out of me, even when things were running smoothly. Anyone who has opened a restaurant or started a  business knows that things do not run smoothly on opening night. After a few visits, and more sweat, I fell back into helping all the servers and busboys running around the dining room.

Shane came back a little later and asked how all the tables were that I went to. I told him I was so backed up helping everyone and that I had only gotten to a couple of tables. He reminded me – in no uncertain terms – that my job was not to be an extra set of hands, but to make sure the guests are happy and the only way to be sure is to talk to every table.

At 22, I took the critique and carried on. I went to more tables, but I was annoyed. I remember thinking that I had been working my ass off, but that clearly that was not enough. I was helping get all these guests fed, and if I weren’t there, it would have gone slower! How did he not realize how much I was doing?

I still remember this first shift vividly, not because it was a messy opening night. Not because I had my confidence knocked down a peg by a superior. Not even because I had a harsh realization that I knew far less than I thought. I remember that night because Shane was 100% correct. My job was to support the staff, but that was only one part. As a manager, I needed to see the big picture, not get bogged down in the weeds, and get comfortable dealing with customers who are having less than a stellar experience.

When I was overwhelmed, I fell back on what was comfortable for me. In an effort to look like I knew what I was doing, I focused on the easier tasks I knew I could handle. Shane helped push me out of my comfort zone and I have learned that what makes you the least comfortable is probably where you need to focus your energy the most.

“Fear cuts deeper than swords.” – George R.R. Martin

This lesson plays out in business and in life, far beyond the restaurant industry. It took a lot of awkward table visits before I felt any type of confidence in a crucial part of my new job.

We all fall victim to reverting back into comfortable habits when things get tough. We might even have the attitude I had to start. We think we know everything, we think it’s easy. The reality is, sticking to tasks that seem easy to us doesn’t promote learning and it doesn’t encourage growth. Often we don’t surround ourselves with people who will give us blunt feedback the way Shane gave it to me.

We also fall into the habit of feeling accomplished because we feel busy. I was pissed that Shane seemed to be busting my balls while I was busting my ass trying to please guests.

The reality was that I did not know how to best serve the guest and fell back on what I was comfortable with instead of developing new skills.

These are not easy lessons to learn, 22-year-old Jeff certainly did not internalize this lesson for some time.

Maybe you are very well tuned to your own strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you know which areas in your life need some attention and improvement. However, I personally, had no idea how much I didn’t know and was patting myself on the back for a job well done in my state of oblivion.

So, what can we do about this?

It is good to have confidence in our abilities, trust that we will do the right thing. But, it is just as important to recognize where we can make strides to become well-rounded in the work place and outside of it.

If I could go back in time, I wish I had sought out someone like Shane to ask for advice about the components of what makes a good manager. It’s not easy to ask for someone to critique you, but if we leave it up to ourselves, that lack of constructive criticism can lead to staying busy with menial tasks and patting ourselves on the back (like I did) for not pushing ourselves to be the best we can be.

In case it isn’t obvious by now, I learned a lot from that early professional experience. It was humbling.

I learned I needed to seek out feedback and mentors since they are fewer and further between when we leave the safe confines of college.

“True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes” – Daniel Kahneman

And, just like how you have to lift weights that are a little heavier than you are used to to get stronger, I learned that I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone and tackle situations with challenging customers to get better at it.

These are lessons that can be applied right away and that I wanted to share with you.

When was the last time you asked a supervisor, friend or colleague to give you some honest feedback about your performance?

When was the last time you pushed yourself to do something that caused the sweat to run down your back the way it did for me during the restaurant’s opening night?

Drop a line in the comments. I’d love to hear about it.