Hello thoughtful humans!
A new year is upon us. Have you thought back to the past year and thought to yourself: what just happened? 🤔
Like an amorphous entity, memories and milestones poke through, but are blunted by the heavy cloud of uncertainty that characterized the year. We struggle to weave our life narratives into a timeline of sequential cause and effect. Instead they mingle and blend with one other so completely that they efface the seam that joined them, never to be found again.
As I sat down to do my annual review this past weekend, my mind was drawing blanks.
All I knew was that everything was different.
So on a Saturday morning - I rolled up my sleeves, poured a heaping cup of coffee, and meticulously read through 350 journal entries.
For each month I recorded:
- 👀 What objectively happened?
- 📸 A photo that represented that month
- ✨ What gave me energy? What drained my energy?
- ❤️ What was painful? (The good stuff and wellspring of growth 🌱!)
- 2-3 themes that characterized the month
- 🔮 and lastly, a mini letter to my future self that summarized the learnings for that month
What unfolded was the processing of a multi-month emotional backlog. In a few hours, a beautiful tapestry of learnings unraveled.
You can create your own annual review by copying my template here ✨
2020 in review
There were 3 major themes that came up for me: Creation, Alignment, and Openness.
Theme #1: Creation
Unable to control the outside world, I turned towards what I could control: the ability to create.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I created The Ultimate COVID Job Resource Stack for many who were experiencing lay-offs. Which prompted me to follow-up with The Wellness Wisdom Stack - a collection of my favorite wellness resources.
I then began to interview my friends on their wellness stacks, and shared them in the newsletter you’re reading now. A newfound interest in newsletters led me to building Newsletter Stack and a newsletter reader called FlowBox. I also started an art newsletter, to get more in touch with my right hemisphere.
A sampling of popular issues:
- My new definition of success
- 12 lessons i’ve learned from 25 newsletters
- On renegotiating your identity
- Idea sex & digital gardens
- How tools shape us & then change us
✨ Side projects in meditation and food
☕️ Weekend product studio
Eventually I created Welldom Studio, an open invitation for others to collaborate with me on wellness projects.
I didn’t set out to build anything at the beginning of the year. Instead I started with the smallest unit of creation - putting together resources in a google sheet. Through following my bliss and curiosity, the projects and skills to realize them came as an afterthought.
By starting laughably small, I found that, like interest, momentum compounds vulnerability into self-ability.
Theme #2: Alignment
Peace is when what we do, say, and think are aligned.
2020 was about getting aligned in many areas of my life.
🎓 Applying to grad school
Towards the end of 2019, I was going through a lot of change and convinced myself that it would be a good idea to apply to grad school. In reality, I was just a bit lost.
Throughout the application process it became apparent that the values and goals of grad school were increasingly misaligned to my current definition of success.
Ultimately, I went though with the application and interview process but decided to defer and not attend. This took a lot of ego-wrestling - as I was battling the desires of former selves and what society sells about higher ed.
Nonetheless, the essay-writing process was invaluable in helping me take inventory of my life to date and figure out what I wanted next.
💼 Changing jobs
Afterwards, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of me. I could work on whatever I wanted to with all the freed up opportunity cost.
My side projects in wellness helped me realize my desire to shift industries. Eventually, I quit Stitch Fix and found a new product role at Calm. I’ve never felt more aligned in my career than I do now.
That didn’t happen over night though, as it took me 6+ months of tinkering & reflection to realize it was time for a change.
I have a lot of admiration for people who are able to pivot quickly when they feel misalignment. The ability to rip off an old band-aid, despite sunk costs, is a skill I hope to increasingly improve in.
Theme #3: Openness
Ironically having a stronger sense of self, enabled me to more courageously explore new experiences, ideas, and people.
🌳 Moving to Eucalyptus
I moved into a lovely 15-person community called Eucalyptus in SF. From founders to creatives who hail from places like Morocco, Turkey, France, and Korea - my diverse roommates expanded my world views and challenged me to live slowly, embrace art & poetry, and question societal beliefs around gender, culture, and what it means to “live a good life”. They’ve taught me so much about both the past and present.
🌴 Moving to Tulum
Spending a month here taught me a lot about the future - as we explored future realities and the products that could vessel these visions. I was surrounded by people who had hopped off the traditional career ladder to chart new terrains into entrepreneurship. It was an invigorating month for my imagination.
📚 Books as travel
Because of travel restrictions, I dived into the world of books to understand new ideas and meet new people. 2020 was a phenomenal year for my inner book worm.
My favorite ones are starred below 👇
Some other themes and lessons that came up in my reflections:
- Surrender. The moment you surrender the outcome is the moment that the universe can truly get to work.
- Non-duality. It’s okay to mentally hold two contractions at the same time. As we are multi-faceted, so are the beliefs we hold.
- Intuition. Always trust that small quiet voice deep down.
- Being present. Focusing too much on the future, takes the joy out of today.
- Live in day-tight compartments. Instead of thinking about what will make you happy in a year. Think about what will make you happy today, this hour, this exact moment.
- Finding your why. What makes you the most angry? What magnifies your soul? go towards that.
- Resilience. “One who knows their why, can bear any how”
Overall, 2020 was generous in its learnings and humbling in its unraveling. I have a feeling I’ll be reaping the epiphanies of its fruits for many decades to come.
I haven’t started thinking about 2021 yet but self-care (in all its forms below 👇) continues to be top of mind for me.
Wishing you a fruitful reflection in the weeks ahead.
Obama shares the filters he uses to make decisions: bring in experts, hear the facts, weigh against goals, filter through values, and take breaks. Often times, people make decisions in the reverse and instantaneously.
So rather than let myself get paralyzed in the quest for a perfect solution, or succumb to the temptation to just go with my gut every time, I created a sound decision-making process — one where I:
- really listened to the experts
- followed the facts
- considered my goals
- weighed all of that against my principles.
- You also want to create space to think. Remember that dinner and haircut break I took during that marathon economic session? That mattered, too. That was part of making the decision.
In addition to my template, here’s another great template to help you start reviewing the year. I love the tips and tricks section:
A paper that goes over the current pipeline of digital therapeutics and offers a clinical perspective into the advantages, challenges, and barriers to implementation of this treatment modality for patient care.
US docs can now prescribe digital apps for mental health
Top co's in each vertical:
- @Pear_Tx: insomnia, schizophrenia
- @AkiliLabs: ADHD video games, depression
- @AppliedVRhealth: anxiety, chronic pain
- @HappifyHealth: multiple sclerosis anxiety
2 points I found interesting:
- Typically during disasters, barriers of class and race are temporarily suspended, and the benefit of the collective becomes priority. The adoption of social distancing practices by billions of individuals is interpreted as “perhaps the most populous act of cooperation in history”. However, this may not be the case with COVID. Instead of sifting through rubble to rescue those trapped in fallen buildings. We are in isolation. Thus the benefits of shared experience and mutual suffering may not hold when we are, for the most part, alone.
- Humans have not evolved to seek truth. And unfortunately, this has caused more polarization during COVID. A lovely buffet of our cognitive bias’:
- Unfortunately, most of us are terrible at weighing risks presented as abstract probabilities (61).
- We also heavily discount the well-being of our future selves (62)
- We’re highly susceptible to conspiracy thinking (65)
- Display an impressive capacity to deceive ourselves, before doing the hard work of deceiving others (66). .
- We look for evidence to support our current beliefs, while ignoring the rest (69).
Instead of regarding anxiety as something unnatural and to be squandered - what if we regarded as a healthy aspect of the human condition?
Anxiety is a fundamental human response to our finitude, mortality and epistemic limitation.
Anxiety and philosophy are intimately related because enquiry – the asking of questions, the seeking to dispel uncertainty – is how humans respond to this philosophical anxiety.
Anxiety then, rather than being a pathology, is an essential human disposition that leads us to enquire into the great, unsolvable mysteries that confront us; to philosophise is to acknowledge a crucial and animating anxiety that drives enquiry onward.
The more the commitment is part of a person’s identity in any context, the more it appears to cause personality change.
As someone becomes more invested in a job, they often become more conscientious; likewise, when someone becomes more invested in a long-term relationship, they tend to become more emotionally stable and have higher self-esteem.
Be critical of any self-development program that touts instant, or even radical, change. Just as it takes many years to develop patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, it will take some time—perhaps many years—to alter them. But the good news is that change is possible.
An interesting framing of consumer platforms as Catharsis-as-a-Service. Or in other words: self-expression or actualization-as-a-service. A shadow take on this could be Eugene Wei’s Status-as-a-Service.
Take Wikipedia for example - while many people make initial contributions for pleasure, they are more often motivated by an “internal drive to feel efficacious and self-confident”. The articles touts that this is at odds with the incentives of most consumer platforms i.e. ad revenue.
What would a self-actualization metric look like for business models or product teams of social platforms?
Over the weekend I watched a beautiful and mind-blowing documentary about the late Ram Dass, an American spiritual teacher. Some of the things that struck me:
From the moment we’re born, we go into “somebody” training. The spiritual path is to become “nobody”.
- Our consciousness exists on 2 planes: the self that’s doing things, and the one that’s watching the self do things.
- The game of human life isn’t to get higher - it’s to become free.
- In life we oscillate from awakening and going to sleep. It’s all perfect in its own timing. You are exactly where you need to be right now.
- When we suffer it indicates a certain “clingy-ness of the mind”. The suffering thus becomes a gift to alert you it’s time to let go.
- Say you take a picture of a cloud. You frame it with a small frame so that you can only see gray. That’s what most of us see: self-pity, grief, desire, ego, etc. Meditation enables you to zoom out of the cloud and see the sky. You realize it’s just a cloud, and they come and go.
- Every thing and person that annoys you is just “your guru in drag” - they are a project sent to you, to help you awaken.
- To be happy we shouldn’t push away sadness. To be free means there is nothing to turn away from.
- We are all crazy and neurotic in our own ways. The cure isn’t to change them, it’s to just stop identifying with them.
- If you are obsessed with your body, you only see others’ bodies. If you are obsessed with your status and social role, that’s what you see in others as well. In nature, we don’t say one tree is good or bad because it’s different from another tree. It just is. And it’s the same way with people.
- A human soul is neither good or evil. It just is. It’s the actions that are either good or evil. Once you see this, you can no longer hate any human.
- We live life wearing so many masks, because we think people love us for our masks. Once you take off your mask, you encourage others to. You attract the people who love you for you.
- The West has a preoccupation and strong fear of death because of our preoccupation with our identity & ego.
- See death as a dissolving of boundaries, or in other words “the taking off of a tight shoe” - an egoless experience and incredible transformation. As the nature of life is change, death is just another change.