I turned 26 yesterday. Here’s a quick post on five things that I learnt whilst I was 25. They’re not in any particular order and they probably won’t be related (I haven’t decided yet – this is going to be a real stream of consciousness).

 

Trying hard is a battle, but also fun

I spent much of the 25th year of my life trying really, really hard to learn how to be a great poker player. This led me down a series of learning-related rabbit holes (like Josh Waitzkin’s awesome rabbit hole), figuring out how the learning process actually works.

The cliff notes? You have to exert a ton of effort if you want to really learn. You know that feeling where you try incredibly hard at something and your brain really, really wants to stop the strain? That’s learning. The great thing about it is that once you’ve got over the initial battle with your brain, it’s really fun. Trying hard can be really fun. That was news to me.

 

Learning from books isn’t everything

Books are a great place to learn. But I doubt any of the things that I’m going to write about in this post will be things that I’ve learnt directly from books. Books can plant seeds and build bridges in your mind between seemingly separate ideas. They can affirm ideas you already have and give you the confidence to follow through on them. But the real learning happens when you play with the ideas yourself, figuring out what the moving parts are and then moving them in every direction possible.

This playing with ideas is particularly fruitful when you’re doing it with other people. In the past I thought of learning as a solitary, book-based process. Now I don’t.

 

Nothing is ever perfect

However hard you try, complex plans will never execute perfectly. By complex I mean anything other than the most basic of plans. I’d count planning events for a single day as a complex event.

There’s just so much stuff that’s outside of your control. There’s obvious things (the weather, other people’s actions) and less obvious things (your own actions in the future; in reality you really can’t tell your future self how to act). Almost entirely outside of your control.

Does that mean I think planning things is pointless? Nope. By planning you identify the things outside of your control and how they’re likely to affect the result. You can predict events, often with a decent level of certainty. So planning is valuable, it’s just not perfect.

Why do I find this insight helpful? Because it shows that everyone who claims to be perfect or anything close to it is full of crap. Don’t ever feel bad because you’re not getting the perfect results that someone else is getting. If they appear perfect, you’re just not getting the whole picture.

I have to remind myself of this one many times a day. It helps a lot when I do.

 

You decide whose opinions matter

If somebody has an opinion on something that you’ve done, that opinion only survives if you let it.

Generally, people fire off opinions on any subject and then forget about them. The only reason that most of those opinions are remembered beyond the moment they are uttered is because somebody else is affected by that opinion (and therefore it sticks with them).

To the person affected, it often feels like that opinion is an indication of the opinion-maker’s deepest feelings. If it’s an opinion that disagrees with something fundamental that you believe in, it can feel like they’re taking a jab at your heart.

Does this mean that people should take more care in the opinions that they throw around? Maybe (but I don’t see how that’s ever going to happen).

Does this mean that people should be a little more thick-skinned when listening to opinions? No, I don’t think so. I think careless opinions are often so sharp that even the most thick-skinned of people are deeply affected by them.

So what does it mean? It means that you decide what matters. There are too many people and too many opinions floating around to reconcile them all. If you try to bend yourself to cater for someone else’s opinion, you’ll find a week later that they’ve switched to the opposite side of the argument. People are fickle. Opinions are mostly worthless. They only survive if you let them.

 

It’s fun to make up posts as you go

Because when you get tired of writing, you can make your last point really short.


Also published on Medium.