What Did I Learn in the 2010s?

January 12, 2020
Confidence: highly likely

Not only is it a new year — and therefore a new me — but it’s also a new decade. Having been born in 1990, new decades for the world roughly correspond to new decades for me. I thought it would be interesting and nostalgic to look back at the last ten years to see what I’ve learned.

The most important thing I learned in the last decade was confidence. Interestingly, in my earliest blog post, I give the advice to “trust yourself. I mean, really trust yourself.” Apparently I thought I was already confident — I wasn’t. In particular, I learned to be aware of Dunning-Kruger, and that most problems are effort-constrained. I learned that there is nothing magical separating me (or anyone else) from geniuses. I learned to separate the person I am from the person I want to be, and to focus on the latter. I learned about the importance of knowing the people around you, and of having good social support structures in place. Along those lines, I started being very selective about the people I was spending time with. I learned about dating, and how to be attractive, and how to make moves — it turns out people aren’t mind readers, and if you don’t tell them you’re interested, they don’t know.

But in general, what I really learned here was to stop being so fucking scared of everything all the time. I learned to just go do things. Sometimes they’ll go poorly, but more often they’ll go well. And if you’re smart and trust in yourself to be able to handle the failures, well, that’s most of life right there. I learned about how I failed, and to reflect on those things, and to promise myself to never do them again. One particular tactic that came out of this new understanding is to always say “yes” to thing.

The second most important thing I learned over the last decade was strategy. I learned to build up momentum in roughly the right direction, even if I wasn’t entirely sure where I was intending to land. I used this technique to systematically put together an amazing CV, and arguably an even more impressive set of skills. I learned about the notion of career capital, and accumulated enough of it to turn it into a successful book. I learned about the value of publicly committing to doing something that sounds hard and scary1. After some talks at work that went very badly, I learned the importance of playing to your audience. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that I need very specific goals and metrics if I want to have successful years.

The third most important thing I learned was how to get a sense of my limits and capabilities. I learned that that feeling of “omg I am already working at full capacity” is usually wrong, and that real burnout feels more like carrying physical weight. I successfully identified abstraction as being a worthwhile tool to study in its own regard. I realized that Haskell is the best vessel for exercising those abstraction muscles. I learned to put my money where my mouth is and to always be willing to bet on my beliefs. I further learned that this makes everyone else very very uncomfortable. I learned how to focus my zen, and how to be responsible for how I feel, and to not try and shirk it off onto other people. I learned a lot about my common failure methods. I realized the importance of having uninterrupted attention, and threw my phone into a large body of water not once, but three times, during the last decade.

Fourth on the list of big things I made progress on is my sense of purpose. In the early days of the decade, I spent a lot of time talking about saving the world without knowing what that meant or what it would look like. I think I have made some good progress on this, and to be specific, I think that climate change and late-stage democracy are big problems that could be solved by a few smart, technical people working evening weekends. I intend to spend the next decade being one of those people. I learned to start taking responsibility for my failings, and for problems around me.2 I learned to question authority, and that the people in charge don’t know any better than I do,

Finally, I made a lot of progress on my lifestyle. I learned that the traditional Western path is definitely not for me. I learned that I need very little to survive, and that realization has afforded me the ability to pack up and leave whenever I feel like it. These days, my total worldly possessions weigh about 7kg. I’ve learned how to travel, and how to put myself in uncomfortable situations in which I need to YOLO my way out. Through lots of trial and error, I learned how to move to a new city.

In addition to all of this, I learned lots of things. After all, I spent five years this decade in university, another five teaching myself Haskell, and one year actively doing research. As a programmer, I’m several orders of magnitude better than I was ten years ago. I’m also ten times a better musician, much better at speaking French, and infinitely better at skateboarding, improv, electronics repair, building IKEA furniture, and miming in languages I don’t understand.

Everywhere I've been

Everywhere I’ve been, as of 2020

All in all, it’s been a great decade. I’m happy with how much progress I’ve made, but it’s clear that I need to get better faster if I want to tackle everything on the bucket list.

Thanks for staying with me over the last decade. Let’s strive, and collectively make the 2020s our best decade yet.

  1. Which, as it happens, is why I’m writing this post today. I promised my friend Ciara that I would. Thanks Ciara!↩︎

  2. In particular, my good friend Austin Dobrik has been a huge role model on this front. I’ve spent the last ten years constantly amazed at his bravery in calling out bad behavior and helping people in dire situations.↩︎