15 years ago, on this day, I committed to writing a learning a day. This commitment has changed my life. When I share this, I’m often asked for examples of how it has impacted me. So, here are 15 things I’ve learnt from the act of writing every day:
(1) Discipline is a muscle. I missed many days in the first 2 years as I struggled with getting to consistency. I had to find shortcuts (e.g., sharing a quotes every weekday) to ensure I didn’t miss days. Growing up, I was often in awe of people who were disciplined. I just didn’t seem to have what it takes. Writing here taught me that it was just a case of making an effort.
(2) Today’s post will be #6318. Showing up every day to write has given me confidence in my ability to be disciplined about other things. When I make a commitment now, I know I can see it through. In fact, if I don’t see it through, I think there’s something wrong with my motivations for it. Why else wouldn’t I be able to follow through?
Making and keeping commitments is integrity. The word integrity comes from the word “integer” which means whole. This integrity has increasingly made me feel more consistent and whole.
(3) Learning is hard. To learn and not to do is not to learn. This means learning only happens when we change how we operate. I learnt over time that this blog would more accurately be described as a “reminder a day” instead of a “learning a day.” It has taught me that learning something new every day is challenging. We have to give ideas time to simmer before they get synthesized and applied to our lives. But, since learning is the goal, I’m good with the name “a learning a day.” It is, no pun intended, a good reminder of the goal.
(4) The biggest challenge with learning, the kind that changes how we operate, is synthesis. It is easy to summarize and hard to synthesize. When we synthesize, we boil things down to their essence and either create a mental or augment an existing mental model. Most good writing is summary. Great writing, on the other hand, is synthesis.
(5) Learning is everywhere. We just have to be willing to see.
(6) One of my bigger motivations when I started writing was to become better at dealing with failure. I vividly remember a moment a few years in when I made an embarrassing mistake and experienced some glee. It took me a moment to ask myself – why am I feeling this sense of glee? And the response that emerged was “No need to think about tomorrow’s blog post.” A win.
(7) Pausing to reflect on what worked during the day has been a great reminder of just how much I take for granted. It is what accumulated privilege does to you. Over these years, I’ve been fortunate to be educated at great schools and work at wonderful companies for great people. I’ve become significantly more privileged over time and it is so easy to take that for granted and falsely attribute all the good things to “hard work” or “hustle.” Both have played a role – but the biggest factor is simple that privilege leads to more privilege.
(8) Being happy doesn’t make us more thankful. Writing everyday has often been a gratitude practice and I have observed a causal relationship between how grateful I am on any given day and how happy I am. Thankful people are happy.
(9) Our ability to write is a reflection of our ability to think. As I’ve shared many times over the years, the word “essay” comes from the French word “essayer” which means “to try.” When we write, we try to figure things out. This practice is the biggest investment I’ve made to improve my quality of thought. Writing often helps us write better – like most other skills in this life.
(10) There are a lot of pithy quotes about the importance and impact of making a small improvements every day. It’s true. I’m still a person with many flaws. But I’m exponentially better as an individual and a human than I was then. Little drops of water do make an ocean.
(11) The benefit of reflecting every day is that you see some fascinating patterns about your own behavior. The most consequential is realizing the impact of good sleep. Good sleep is the single biggest driver of productivity and optimism.
Related, some days we’re the pigeon and some days we’re the statue. On these statue days, the most important thing we can do is go to bed. No point trying to salvage such days. Best to focus on making tomorrow great after some rest.
(12) I’ve written a lot about relationships over the years. The single best lesson I’ve learnt is that good relationships can last for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Don’t try to over extend a natural lifecycle. Put differently, the cliche that you have to let go of those you love is very true. It doesn’t have to be someone’s fault (though sometimes it is). Often, it’s just about the chemistry – it takes two to tango.
On the flipside, if the chemistry, do everything you can to share your appreciation and keep it that way. Great relationships and trusted partnership are a very special thing. We appreciate them more as we age.
(13) The biggest lesson I’ve learnt from my reflections as a parent is that every choice has trade-offs. As every strategy has trade-offs, attempting to manage my time and energy as a parent has been the best strategy lesson of them all. We have to say no to things that don’t matter to be able to say yes that do.
(14) Confidence is saying “this might not work, and that’s okay.” Confidence was the #1 reason I started writing here. My hypothesis was that writing about what I struggle about will help me develop my confidence in my ability to deal with them. That hypothesis has panned out. I don’t remember the struggle of the moment at this time ten years ago. But I do know from all that daily writing that I managed – with plenty of help from people around me I’m sure – to find a way through. That realization definitely helps put things in perspective.
(15) Very little is in our control in the grand scheme of things. And, yet, if we focus on our circle of influence and responding constructively, so much more “feels” in our control. We have to hold both thoughts at once. These kinds of contradictions are surprising. That surprise is the essence of learning.
(one last thing) A wise friend used to end his emails to me with a note to “be kind to yourself.” That might just be the biggest gift writing every day has given me. It has made me realize that we must live from wholeness, not from our wounds. And that comes from being kinder – to ourselves and others. The universe is unfolding as it should. We never know if a good day is a good day. So there’s no point over analyzing things. Instead, it’s best we just keep plugging away and be kind to others along the way – the universe will roll on just fine without us.