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10 Things Learned in 2020- Life Edition

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

Disclaimer: Some vulgar language included

Despite the unmitigated disaster that became 2020, I think we can all move forward with our fair share of lessons learned. Perhaps even, with a little bit of a chip on our shoulders. Irrespective of how you were affected this year, I think if we take one thing and one thing only from this year it’s to be a little quicker to find empathy than judgement. But I digress, I’m not here to preach.

While it’s come with quite a bit of turbulence, this past year also taught me a hell of a lot. I think on a macro level, the primary thing I learned is that the amount of damage incurred is predicated on the amount of preparation that was invested beforehand and how you choose to see it in the moment. Sure, some things are entirely out of our control, leaving us with our hands tied behind our backs while taking the beating. But, even with unforeseen events like a global pandemic, we must work to stay ahead of the curve across all aspects of life.

1.) Do your part.

I came across a quote a few months back that said “nobody can help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” Unfortunately, for the life of me I can’t recall where I saw this or who to attribute it to. But nonetheless, this really struck me. As an extremist, I tend to gravitate towards either “ALL IN” or “eh, fuck it.” So true to form, I used to get really bent out of shape about wanting to, but not being able to make what I felt was a “tangible” difference in the world. But thinking about it as outlined in that quote, it makes it much easier for me to feel inclined to make small gestures as I can. What ended up happening was Nicole and I would do something small here or there and over the course of several months, we’ve accumulated a much greater impact than were even initially aware of.

Doing your part may not feel, or seem like much, at least in the early phases. But in your own way, and by whatever means you can spare, just find little ways to help someone else out every now and then. An addendum to this is “doing your part” isn’t just a tangible act of helping when you can, but really it becomes a mindset. You don’t even think twice to give the person who just cut you off the benefit of the doubt, holding the door for others, remain patient with the overwhelmed barista, and so forth. Do your part, be a decent person.

2.) Fuck cancer.

I know 2020 has been the year of COVID, but sadly, the presence of COVID doesn’t mitigate the unprecedented rise in cancer rates that we’ve seen over the last couple decades. Like most, I’m someone who’s had numerous loved ones afflicted by cancer. This past year I lost a friend (and nearly my dog) to cancer. Rob Strasburger, or “Straus” as I knew him, was someone I worked with during his final months after an unbelievable 18-year fight with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Working with Straus was really fucking difficult for me. And despite how selfish I feel even typing that (considering what he was going through) it took much more of a toll on me than I was aware of in the moment.

Working with someone terminal is a really strenuous endeavor. You can’t help but to think about how literally every single second of their day is dominated by challenge and frustration. Not being able to just hop outta bed and into a shower, not being able to run or lift like you used to, knowing that an untimely death is eminent. It really makes you start to think about the prospect of your own longevity, the quality of the years you have left, and, for me at least, why in the hell do only some people have to suffer through this? It will never make sense to me, and it most certainly won’t ever be “fair”. It pains me every day that we don’t have more viable treatments, more accessibility to early screening, more consciousness with how we produce and preserve food. It feels like we should be so much further than we are. But until we do get there, I encourage you to do your part. Doing your part here starts with taking your own health and wellness very seriously. Be very mindful of what you eat, how you sleep, manage stress and the unhealthy habits you have. Don’t be overwhelmed by this if you’re someone who’s not a model of health, just be aware of where you’re at and start slowly working to get incrementally better. Beyond yourself, I also encourage you to help others when and how you can. Below are some links to charities we’ve supported over the years.

3.) Recalibrate your priorities.

If we spent even half the amount of time we focus on others and redirect it to our own situation, I swear to god 90% of the world’s problems would evaporate overnight. While this may sound like hyperbole, I honestly feel that the number one issue in today’s world is being far more invested in what other people are doing in lieu of navigating our own ship. We always seem so sure of direction, action, and intervention when it’s other people we are talking about. Yet when those conversations become introspective, nobody seems to have concrete solutions. This is an undeniable problem with the infrastructure of today’s world, and from what I can observe, is only continuing to trend in the wrong direction.

Something I’ve tried to live by is “look in the mirror before looking out the window.” Whether your situation is good or bad, it’s always important to calibrate your reference, because good and bad without context are meaningless. Before growing envious of the neighbor with the nicer car than you, ask yourself what you can do to get your own upgrade. Before judging the person in a worse situation than you, remind yourself what it was like for you at your low moments. The point is, we’ve all seen highs and lows, just as everyone else will experience their phases in life. Stay committed to yourself- your progress, your growth, your health. Stop being so obsessed with what everyone else does, believes or thinks.

4.) You only know people based on what they choose to show you.

This is one that has been of particular importance for me over the last year. One thing I feel like I’ve been reasonably good with is assessing character (cliché thing to say, I know), but I do pride myself on being perceptive. While this is a good trait to develop, it’s important to recognize that no matter how “good you are assessing character” people have differing abilities to hide who they are, and who they want you to see.

No matter how close you are with someone, there is inherent reservation as to how transparent they will be. Even the ones we deem closest to us will always have some part(s) of them they will never be willing to show. For all intents and purposes, this is a good thing; there should be select barriers for what we open people up to. But outside of our close circle, this concept becomes magnified. I think it’s very important to understand that no matter how influential you think you may be someone will always be playing chess to your checkers. It’s vital that you stay perceptive and aware of behavior shifts. Know when to take a step back and try to understand what someone’s big picture goals may be, and how they could be leveraging you to attain said goals/motives. No, not everyone is out to screw you over or one up you, but you’d be surprised where some people’s motives lie- no matter how well you think you know them.

5.) Difference between knowing and understanding.

We know that smoking can cause lung cancer, but we don’t understand the prowess of what lung cancer really is until we ourselves, or someone we love has gone through it. We know that racism is globally problematic, yet we don’t understand it until it has been directed at us. The list goes on and on, but no matter the example or select topic of interest, the case remains- knowing is not understanding, and the difference between the two can be vast. I think 2020 has been, unfortunately, a premier example of this concept.

Not even a month into an international pandemic and all of the sudden your social media pages are flooded with epidemiological experts… the economic downfall of COVID begins to set in and boom… now we’re all finance experts. I think the underpinning difference between knowing and understanding is simply experience. Think of it no different than being “book smart vs. street smart”, where one person can go to school and learn every historical fact and every theoretical model for any subtopic in the world, while the other person can live out that particular lifestyle. Both people will come away more knowledgeable, but only one will truly understand the concept.

With today’s fast paced world of quick hitter information, we need to take a step back on feeling empowered through information. Information is great, but again without context, there’s a hard cap on how much you really know or understand about something. Don’t ever be shy to say, “I don’t know.” Don’t be too prideful to tell someone that you have no idea what their situation could be like. Like you, nobody is equipped with all the answers, so don’t feel the need to placate someone just so you don’t look uninformed. It’s ok to be human.

6.) Don’t ever pass up the opportunity to hug your dog.

I think people assume I’m being facetious when I say things like “I’ve never met a human I enjoy more than my dogs” but frankly, I’m usually quite serious in saying such. Dogs hold a very sentimental place in my heart. As someone who had a less than ideal early childhood, it was through my dogs growing up that I was able to develop emotional stability- someone I could always rely on for support, no matter the day or circumstances. What this did for me was create an irrefutable emotional bond between me and my dogs. And over time, began to teach me fundamental concepts such as empathy, unconditional love, and genuine care for someone other than myself.

As we’ve shared in recent months, we had the scare of a lifetime this year with our boy Rudy. After detecting a lump at the base of his tail back in October, we had to rush him into surgery to have the mass (and tail) removed. What was initially an extremely daunting situation, we are beyond grateful to report that we appeared to have found it just in time, and he has resorted right back to his normal self since.

While I will always dearly love and fondly remember every dog I have, none will quite hold the place that Rudy does for me. He was the only companion I had for a few years in my “darkest days” during my early 20’s. Rudy is truly a special component to my life, having been with me every step of my adult journey, and I can’t put to words how much his presence has helped me. He’s helped me to break from the hollow person I was at 21, helped teach me how to care for others and beyond myself, and, maybe most importantly- shown me what true joy feels like. Don’t ever, ever, pass up the opportunity to give your dog love. Hug them, hold them, love them. Take exceptional care of your pets and let them be the driving force towards you becoming a better person. Their time is so short in this life, do not waste a single second.

7.) No flinch.

When everything came down in March, we, no differently than everyone else, were stunned. It was confusing, scary, chaotic, and disconcerting to say the least. How much of a threat was this virus? What were we going to do with work? Were/are we on the verge of some apocalyptic shit?? With so many questions and so little answers, any rightfully rationale human will be bewildered with direction.

One night in the office, Nicole and I are having some preliminary discussions about our plan of action. I started to notice her voice growing a little timid and sensed her uncertainty with the matter. After she began panicking and fumbling her words I quickly interjected “There isn’t an ounce of flinch in this household.” While this wasn’t intended to be angry or “militaristic”, it was an imperative turning point for us. I didn’t know what the hell we were going to do, and in truth, I had no idea how much of a threat everything posed. But I did know one thing- no matter what the circumstances were, or how devastating the events may become, we were not going to be scared or intimidated.

Life throws curveballs, and as we’ve all continued to see, these can hardly be prognosticated or anticipated. You can’t prepare for everything while still maintaining a normal life. However, you can always decide how you’re going to respond to events. And for us, irrespective of the situation, that initial decision is to acknowledge that we will not be timid in our steps. It’s not audacious to be bold, it’s not irresponsible to meet fear with fight. No matter what happens to you, you can always influence how you prevail from it.

8.) Forget the problem, find the solution.

The best skill any professional can hold, in my opinion, is being a highly effective problem solver. Everything looks great on paper- strength and conditioning coaches know this as well as anyone- but what happens when that pretty little plan gets blown to shit? Or, as Mike Tyson once said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Plans are great, but what often separates good from great professionals is those who can take the plan off script and create in the moment solutions. In order to be proficient with this, we can’t become vapor locked on the problem itself. When things go awry, how long does it take you to find an alternate route? How much time does it take for you to control and suppress the feelings of being overwhelmed? It’s difficult to be pragmatic, or even effective, if you can’t get passed the simple fact that things have gone wrong. You must be able to isolate your focus and concentrate on finding the solution. Being enveloped in what went wrong, or why it went wrong, only delays the time for you to implement solutions-based applications.

9.) Take the chance.

Here’s another quality cliché for you that’s much easier in theory than in practice. Taking chances is an inherent part of life. What happens as we mature is “taking chances” slowly evolves into “assuming risk”. As we get older, I feel like it’s common for us to stop seeing the potential reward in taking chances, because we’re overtly focused on the potential risks associated. Well, here’s my message to you now- there’s always a tradeoff, with every decision you make, so increased magnitude in risk (normally) means increased magnitude in outcome.

Where we can all make improvement is by ignoring the secondary factors that deter people away from taking risks. Those being fear of failure, vulnerability, public humiliation, etc. Look, you’re going to fail, and if you aren’t swinging and missing every now and then, I’d say you’re not taking enough chances. Don’t have any concern for these things. Why? Well because I promise you, you’re not publicly famous enough for anyone to really give a shit. What may feel catastrophic for you, is a drop in the bucket for everyone else. Don’t let the lingering thoughts of failure impede the potential for success. You must keep chipping away and be comfortable with the setbacks.

10.) Be diverse in your perspective but deliberate in principle.

I leave you with this- be diverse in your perspective but deliberate in principle. I’ve always (paradoxically) considered myself two things- an extremist, and indifferent. Wild, I know. While I felt somewhat fraudulent living this way for several years, it finally occurred to me that these two traits can be mutually exclusive- depending on the context. I’m very rigid and often a bit extremist with standards and routine for myself… but equally, I’m very patient and understanding for others. I think for me it reverts back to a lot of what’s been outlined above, in that I know exactly what I want for myself… and with big goals comes high, rigid standards and expectations. Conversely, with others, I constantly remind myself that I don’t know their story, I don’t know who they are or how they got to where they are, so it’s probably in my best interest to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I feel that perspective is ever-growing, and principles are ever-building. We should always live our life as if we are in the “buffering” stage, or more literally- recognizing that we are a perpetual work in progress and inherently adaptive. In order to build, we must gather, in order to gather, we must be open and willing to do so. This means, fundamentally, that our perspective needs to be calibrated. When you feel like you’ve got everything figured out, you need to either change your setting or your expectations for yourself, because I assure you, you don’t.

On the opposite end, the worst thing you can be in most situations is a bystander. Our principles, while malleable, should be firm as we presently know them. You can’t continue to be indifferent and expect to make any tangible impact. Don’t look to agree or disagree, look to add value. When someone challenges you on your principles, be firm in your stance, but remain open to their side. When taken collectively, this is the perfect recipe for genuine discourse. And discourse, is precisely what’s needed from us all, more so than ever. You don’t know everything, but you are very confident in what you believe in this present moment.

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