The secret to thriving was staring right at me this whole time
I used to be a shy introverted guy, only good at building software and video games. Fast forward to today and I have a hard time describing what or who I am.
The transformation from shy guy to ambiverted logi-creative person (totally made that up) was one that happened a lot faster than I could have anticipated.
Today, the best way I can find to describe myself is with the following labels (I hate labels): Technologist, Polymath, Entrepreneur, Engineer, and Educator. Last year, I would have told you: Entrepreneur and Engineer.
What the heck changed?
The truth is, it was very much an accident. I didn’t aim to become what I’ve become today. At least, not directly.
My “resolution” for 2018 was to “fail” as much as possible. What that really meant was experimenting with anything I could. Here are the results in a nutshell:
I learned 33 new valuable skills, started 3 businesses (which mostly failed), worked on 24 projects, lived in 4 countries — travelled to 6, became a professional photographer and writer, wrote 330+ articles and 3 books (I only started writing in January), received money from 9 different sources, got featured in at least 6 publications, etc.
I’m not saying that to brag. I’m saying that to show you that it is indeed possible to go from nothing to something. And I’m not the only one who completely changed their life in a similar fashion. Prithviraj, a friend and member of my SkillUp your Life program has a most inspiring story.
So, with all that experimentation, I was able to narrow it down to one key aspect that made it possible to thrive as I did in 2018:
I learned to learn.
Close runner-ups include Getting to Action and Being Adaptable.
I go deeper in the subject in The Single Most Important Skill to Learn to Thrive in 2019.
How does learning to learn change one’s life?
This is not an obvious one when you first hear that but I assure you it’s key, especially in this day and age. The more easily you learn new skills, the more and the faster you’ll thrive.
When I started my SkillUp method (learning 3 new skills every month, practicing for 30 minutes each every day), I had two reasons for wanting to learn new skills:
- Because they’re useful; and
- Because they’re fun.
These are perfectly valid reasons and likely to be the most common ones.
As Brandon Burchard mentions it in his latest book, High Performance Habits, necessity is one of the greatest motivation for getting to action.
What I found through learning so many skills in such a short amount of time is that there are many more benefits I didn’t originally think about. And the following results have been observed by Michael Simmons with his 5-hour rule, which isn’t that different from the SkillUp method.
The following list is not necessarily in order; all these benefits are incredibly important.
You will become more interesting
Surprisingly, I didn’t expect this at all but it makes so much sense in retrospect. When you learn a diverse set of skills, you broaden up your knowledge.
No longer can I just have deep conversations with software engineers (my main profession). I’m now at least 33x more relatable. I made friends because I knew about eCommerce, video editing, photography, drawing/art, Spanish conversations, music composition, web development, and more.
I used to be a shy & introverted guy who had a hard time fitting in when I was not around engineers or game developers.
How that has changed in the past 12 months!
New people I meet would never guess that was ever the case about me. Much to my demise, I now know too many people at the co-working that I have a hard time concentrating on my work haha…
Overall though, making deeper personal and professional connections is never a bad thing.
Don’t we all want deeper connections?
You will learn faster
Another surprising fact for me, which again completely makes sense in hindsight, is that the more you learn, the faster you learn.
Just to give an easy example: isn’t it true that once you know a romance language, it’s easier to learn the others. Being a native French speaker, it’s much easier for me to learn Spanish than it is for an English speaker, simply because it comes from the same root, Latin.
Don’t we all want to learn faster?
You will be more motivated
A lot of the reasoning behind this fact is that when you consistently practice a skill, inevitably, you progress.
And progress = win.
The more wins you get, the more dopamine your brain produces. Without going into details, dopamine is a key factor to life satisfaction. The more satisfied you are, the more motivated you are.
By practicing three skills every morning, on average, I get three wins right at the start of my day. Imagine how pumped I am to keep going!
Don’t we all want to be more motivated?
You will have more energy
All the other writers and interviewers I meet over video comment on my high energy levels. It’s simple, I’m fucking passionate about this stuff (sorry I needed the emphasis)!
Don’t you have more energy when you do things that you like doing?
Skill development can be a lot of fun. I never thought I’d ever love Salsa Dancing but it turns out it just might be the most fun skill I’ve ever practiced. Knowing that I have a class every morning gives me so much energy.
Then I finish it and look back at the progress I’ve made for the day or since I started and I’m pumped.
If you learn a skill out of necessity, don’t neglect the fun aspect to it. If you can’t find fun in the progress, think about what it can bring afterward. Higher salary = more activities with the family. Doesn’t that give you more energy to think about the benefits?
Don’t we all want to have more energy?
You will thrive more
“The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.” — Robert Greene, Mastery
I love this quote and can fully attest to its truth. I’ve had so much more opportunities since I’ve become a polymath. More choices opened up and I can truly do the things I care most about.
I now have the freedom the work from wherever, whenever.
But thriving isn’t just about freedom. Thriving has a different meaning for each individual. It means having a good balance of health, wealth, love, and happiness.
Don’t we all want to thrive?
You will be more confident
The simple explanation is that because you will get more “wins” than you used to, you’ll be more confident in your ability to do things outside your comfort zone.
I never thought I could draw or dance, but by being consistent and keeping at it, I realized that I’m a lot better than I thought I could ever be.
Imagine the confidence I earned once I was able to do my first hard Salsa moves! We’re almost always better than we think we are.
Don’t we all want to be more confident?
How do I make this happen for myself?
The key mostly lies in consistent effort and forming good learning habits. It’s always better to do a little than nothing at all. This, of course, applies to most things in life, but especially so with skill development.
The first step, however, is to understand key concepts to help you learn and retain what you learn. My favourite resources are the Learning to Learn course on Coursera, by Barbara Oakley, and the How We Learn book, by Benedict Carey.
For a little extra motivation, check out Josh Kauffman’s TEDx talk.
Once you’re familiar with the theory above, it’s time to put it in action. My SkillUp approach is about practicing 30 minutes per skill per day.
The reasons for 30 minutes is that 1) it has been proven that you can become good enough with 15 hours of practice in a month, and 2) we can all find a block of 30 minutes for learning things we care about.
I personally learn 3 new skills every month, but I don’t think there’s a magic number.
The key is to understand how to break a skill down into smaller components. Here’s an example of a skill I want to learn in January 2019:
I already know a bunch of photography techniques but now I want to learn to become really really good at a specific subset: portraits.
Here’s how I’m breaking my learning into:
- Controlling lighting
- Posing/directing model
- “Entertain” model
- Understand all equipment needed
- Learn to give compliments to models in English and Spanish (my models speak Spanish)
- Post-production editing in Lightroom
- Research what consists of a good and a bad portrait
- Learn psychology of relatability
- Find environments that go well with certain types of clothing
With any skill, for added clarity and motivation, always try to break it down into smaller components.
This is obviously only scratching the surface but should be a good stepping stone in replicating the “success” I’ve had in 2018.
I call this my un-epiphany because it wasn’t a sudden moment. I realized it in hindsight.
By learning to learn and being consistent in learning new things, you will become more interesting, you will learn faster, you will be more motivated, you will have more energy, you will thrive more, and you’ll be more confident. All key components for a better 2019.
So get started now and get ready for your best year yet!
You can do this!
Thanks for reading, sharing and following! 🙂