25 Lessons that Changed My Life

December 19, 2020

I've just turned 25 this week. Around this time in last year, I was just finishing my master's degree, started working at an auditing firm. Then I quit the job to become a full time creator.

Like many people, this year has been crazy. It has been incredibly stressful but at the same time, I learned so many things.

So, in this article I want to share 25 things I learned in 2020.


1. Showing your work is individual's ticket to wealth and opportunities

I've already talked how important this is in my channel before, but by showing your work, I mean sharing what you know, what you learned or your interests with people on the Internet. It could be on your blog, Youtube channel, newsletter, podcasts or Twitter.

A few months ago, I had a corporate job where I was miserable. I wasn't enjoying my job at all and felt like I was dying inside. But, what saved me from that horrible situation was showing my work.

I was sharing what I learned with people on Youtube, which led me to tons of new opportunities. And the people I met online helped me quit my job and become a creator. Now, I'm not making as much money as before, but I'm making enough to survive. And most importantly, I feel alive again. I'm genuinely enjoying my job.

So, show your work online. It might save your life someday.

2. Build the plane as you fly it

The second one is kind of a principle that I live by – that is, build the plane as you fly it.

What it means is that you don't wait until you have every single detail figured out before you take some actions towards your goal.

If there's something you want to do, just get started. Nobody knows what they are doing at the beginning and that's fine because you will learn so much once you get started.

As the famous saying goes, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

3. Action cures fear

Speaking of which, starting something new always looks scary.

One year ago, before I started my Youtube channel, I was terrified of putting myself out there and talking to the camera.

But the best medicine for fear is action. If you're scared of something, go do it because you will probably realise that it's not actually as scary as you thought.

4. Go smaller

This is another thing about getting started.

Mark Twain said: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret to getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks and then starting on the first one.”

I think breaking things down into smaller ones is a very important skill in many aspects of your life.

For instance, if you're struggling to understand a concept, you should break it down. If you're struggling to learn an exercise, you should reduce the range of motion.

In general, if you're struggling with something, it's useful to ask yourself "how can I break this down into smaller pieces?" And then start working on each piece.

5. Follow your obsessions

The next one is about "passion". I think many people, including myself think about their own passion or purpose in their life.

But, I don't think it's a good idea to think in terms of passion or purpose because they sound like such overwhelming things. Many people tend to think passion is like love at first sight. Like something that's clear the moment you see it. But I don't think that's true. Oftentimes, your passion is probably just a tiny thing that excites you or something that you hate not doing.

So, I'd say, stop trying to find your passion. Just follow your obsession, things that excite you or things that you hate not doing.

6. Do the thing that doesn't feel like work for you

I think our ultimate goal in life is to find a hobby that as a byproduct, makes you rich, healthy, smarter and creative.

And a hobby, in other words, is something that doesn't feel like work for you.

Find that thing in whatever you do. If it's a sport, find the sport that you enjoy playing the most.

If it's a diet, pick the healthy food that you actually find tasty.

If it's a book, read the ones that you actually find interesting regardless of people's recommendations.

Whatever it is, choose the one that doesn't make you feel like work because it'll help you stick to it for long term.

7. Create to learn, not to impress someone

What it means is that creating something, like writing an article or making a video about an idea is actually the best way to deepen your understanding of the idea. Because when you write or talk about an idea, you're testing your knowledge about it. Then you get to know where you don't understand and you can learn more about it. This is actually the idea behind the Feynman technique.

The point of creating like writing or making video should be about helping yourself understand ideas better instead of impressing someone.

And, if someone finds your work valuable, then that's a good bonus.

As Nat Eliason says, "The best writing is the writing you don't care if anyone reads"

8. Assume you're below average

In my experience, one of the biggest obstacles to growth is thinking you're better than other people because when you do, you stop listening and you stop learning.

So, I think it's a good practice to always assume you're below average because that encourages you to talk to as many people as possible to learn and helps you think there's always something you can learn from anyone.

9. When you try to be different from others, you will face social pushback

Doing something different and unique is scary partly because you know you will face pushbook from people around you.

It might be starting your own company, switching your career, starting your Youtube channel and so on.

But then people around you like your friends or even your family say you can't do it and you won't succeed.

Some people are well-intended and they're genuinely worried about you, but other people just want you to stay in the same lane and don't want you to succeed.

So, don't listen to them. You don't need anyone's permission to start something different because we now live in permissionless society where you can start pretty much anything on your own.

10. Treat books like your date

Reading books is the best way to learn something new and some books can literally change your life.

So, ideally you want to read as many books as possible. But I used to struggle with this because I insisted on reading every book that I bought till the end. So, even if I'm not enjoying some book, I'd still read till the end.

But, this idea of treating books like your date by Morgan Housel helped me overcome this perfectionism.

The general idea is that you wouldn't go to the second date if you didn't like the first date. Similarly, why should you read the second chapter if you didn't like the first chapter of a book?

If you read a book for 10 minutes and you're not into it, it's okay to close the book and move on to the next one.

11. Stoic trichotomy of control

You probably know this concept if you're familiar with Stoicism, but the idea of Stoic trichotomy of control is really helpful in figuring out what you should be focusing on and what to ignore.

In Stoicism, things can be divided into three categories; Things that are outside of our control and things that are inside our control, and things in between.

The Stoics say that our unhappiness and emotional suffering come from worrying about the things outside of our control, like how other people think about you.

So, whenever you find yourself being anxious or stressed, just ask yourself, "is this something within my control?" If not, there's no point in worrying about it and just focus on what you can control, like your own actions.

12. You're always a slave to what you're not aware of

I think awareness is one of the most important abilities in life. By awareness, I mean being aware of your emotions and thoughts because if you're not aware of them, they will control you.

For instance, if you want to stop getting angry so often, you need to be aware of the emotion; you need to catch yourself getting angry before you can correct it. Then you can say, "okay, I'm getting angry. I need to calm down". But if you're not aware of it, it will control you.

So, how do you improve your awareness? I think journaling and meditation are the best ways to do that.

13. Life is too short to spend it in a state of anger

Speaking of anger, anothing thing I learned from Stoicism is that life is too short to spend it in a state of anger.

Who wants to hang out with someone who is constantly angry or complaining about something all the time? At least I don't.

A person who gets angry often is just a torment to other people.

Your emotions are something you can control. So, why not instead make yourself someone to be loved?

14. Our default is to react to everything that happens around us

This is something I learned from Buddhism that helped me reduce my stress in a way. I think our default is to always react to everything that happens around us. If you get a notification on your phone, you'll react. If you get a breaking news, you'll react. If someone says something annoying, you'll react to it.

But, then I realised that we don't have to react to everything. Frankly speaking, most of the things that happen to us are not worth reacting to. Like when someone insults you on Twitter, it's almost never worth reacting.

So the next time something happens, it's useful to ask yourself, okay, is this worth reacting to? And the answer is no almost all the time.

15. You can change, leave or accept

I learned so many things from Naval Ravikant. One of them is that you always have three options in life; you can change it, leave it or accept it.

Our unhappiness or stress comes from wishing to do one of these, but not doing it.

For example, if you don't like someone, you can try to change the person, leave the place or accept it.

And oftentimes, the easiest option is to accept.

Like Naval says, the secret to happiness and peace is to say Yes to everything that happens. Just accept.

Of course, it doesn't mean you should accept any thing. Sometimes, you have to fight. But you have to pick your fight carefully, instead of fighting everything.

16. Happiness is not just about adding, but also about subtracting negatives from your life

Speaking of happiness, I learned that happiness is not just about adding, but also about subtracting negatives from your life.

When we think of happiness, we tend to think in terms of adding: "okay, I'll be happy if I get a girlfriend, if I get a new car, if I get PS5 etc."

But, I think subtracting the negatives might be more important.

By negatives, I mean bad habits that make you poor, unproductive, unhealthy and people who drain your energy, those who don't want you to succeed.

I think it's important to identify what the negatives are for you and slowly try to remove them from your life.

17. Don't compare yourself to others' highlight reels + look at the gain, instead of the gap

We love comparing ourselves to other people. Before we had social media, we only had handful of people that we could compare with. But now, we have social media where we can compare ourselves to infinite number of people.

But the problem is what we see on social media is just other people's highlights. Nobody wants to share their failures or embarrassing stuff.

So don't compare. It's just useless.

What's more helpful is comparing yourself with yourself in the past – look at the gain and the progress you made, instead of looking at the gap between you and other people.

18. Whatever scares you, go do it

This is something I learned from Derek Sivers, and it's a principle that I try to live by.  

The idea is that we have to get out of our comfort zone to grow. And the best way to do that is to find something that scares you, and go do it.

He says, fear is a form of excitement, and you know you should do what excites you. And then, once you've done it, you're not scared of it anymore. If you repeat this for your life, you'll fear less and less in the world.

Once a week or a month, I try to write down what I'm scared of, and then try to do the things. A simple, but great exercise.

19.  When reading, the author is doing your thinking for you

Oftentimes, when I finish reading a book and try to remember what the book was about or what I learned from the book, I can't really remember it.

That's because when you're reading a book, you're just following the author's mental process. In other words, the author is doing your thinking for you.

So, if you really want to internalise the knowledge, reading alone is not enough. In fact, reading and rereading are the most ineffective studying methods.

What's more effective is to test your understanding by trying to explain about what you read or write about what you read. Perhaps, you might want to try the Feynman technique.

If you want to learn something for the long run, you have to write it down. If you want to really understand something, you have to translate it into your own words. Thinking takes place as much on paper as in your own head.

20. Writing is thinking

Speaking of writing, the next one is writing is thinking.

It's really simple. I think writing is the thinking process itself.

Also, writing forces you to think through concepts because we can't write about an idea clearly if you don't understand it well.

An empty white page is like a mirror into your mind. If you don't understand something well, you're not going to be able to write clearly. The mirror gets clouded.

So, it's really the best way to test your understanding and develop your knowledge.

I think writing is one of the most underrated things in the world.

21. Compound small wins over the long-term

Compound Interest is arguably the most important mental model.

It doesn't only apply to finance, but also applies to trust, relationships, fitness, knowledge, creating content online as well.

The basic idea is that if you build up even tiny things every day consistently, the benefit will compound over the long run.

The point is, you want to get a small win each day. It doesn't have to be a huge win. That means, if you want to get fit, you don't have to run like 10 miles from the beginning. Instead, start with like one mile.

Similarly, if you're trying to build an audience online, you don't have to make every article or a video great because what makes you great is being good enough over and over again.

Brad Stulberg said: don't try to be consistently heroic, but rather try to be heroic at consistency.

And that really had a huge impact on how I think about making Youtube videos.

22. Aim for "Good Enough" instead of "Perfect"

Speaking of which, the key to consistency is aiming for "good enough", instead of "perfect".

If you try to make everything perfect, you'll never going to be able to finish any project or publish any work.

It's important to know that "perfect" or 100% is just a construct of your mind. It's not obtainable.

So, instead of aiming for 100%, try to get around 90%. Then, you can say, okay this is good enough and move on to the next project.

23. Productive people plan their life so that they don't have to use self-control rather than exerting more willpower

I know this is still debatable, but we all have a limited amount of willpower, ie self-control. And we have to use it to execute tasks and make decisions.

We tend to think successful people have more self-control than normal people, but the trust is that they are really good at designing their environment and surroundings so that they don't have use self-control in the first place.

What it means is that normal people like myself have a Nintendo Switch in my office so I have to use my self-control to resist the temptation to play it. On the other hand, successful people would just remove the Nintendo Switch from the room, throw it away or don't buy it in the first place so that they don't have to use self-control.

So, the ability to design your environment to optimise for your willpower preservation is really important.

This is also why I'm not getting PS5 even though I really really want to.

24. Be intentional about what you consume, instead of mindlessly browsing

In free time, we often open social media and mindlessly browse without purpose, which can be a huge waste of time.

So, I decided to make it a rule to ask myself "what am I trying to learn here? What am I trying to achieve?" whenever I'm consuming content.

And if I don't have a clear, meaningful goal, I can stop and get back to work or doing something actually meaningful.

25. A rising tide lifts all boats

Finally, I want to end with my favourite quote, that is "A rising tide lifts all boats".

It's kind of a stupid saying, but it helps me to think in positive-sum instead of zero-sum.

In other words, it helps you think other people as your comrades, rather than competitors.

We're all working together to increase the size of the entire pie, instead of trying to steal other people's portion of pie.

What this all means is that you should help other people as much as possible. Share everything you know with other people because when you do, they will do the same for you. And that's a win-win.

Shu Omi

Hi! I'm a writer/videographer. I make videos on Youtube and write articles about productivity, lifestyle, Stoicism, passive income, data science and education.

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