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40 things I’ve learned in 40 years.

Signpost showing the number 40

I turn forty years old today. Some people will be surprised at this, as my hair has been turning grey for the last 15 years!

A decade ago, I wrote a post entitled 30 things I’ve learned in 30 years. While I still agree with most of that, on reflection it just doesn’t seem particularly… deep? So, here, in no particular order are 40 things I’ve learned in 40 years:

  1. There are things you can control and things you cannot. There is no point in worrying about the latter.
  2. Inspire other people to be inspired yourself.
  3. Most people care less than you think about almost everything that you deem important.
  4. Get some therapy, even if you don’t think you need it. Especially if you don’t think you need it.
  5. Keep your options open.
  6. Sometimes it’s OK to burn your bridges and to do so in a way that other people notice.
  7. Resist the urge to suppress randomness.
  8. Nobody knows what goes on inside your head until you say it or write it down.
  9. Happiness is not something that you can find, but rather is something that you discover when you stop looking for it.
  10. Organisations are groups of people that can have a positive or negative effect on the world. Do not work with or for the latter.
  11. Money can only buy choices, not happiness, time, or anything which constitutes human flourishing.
  12. Life is too short to deal with adults who display little in the way of emotional intelligence.
  13. Listen to what people actually say.
  14. Read inspirational things often, especially quotations and proverbs. Dwell upon them.
  15. Education is not the same as learning. Nor are qualifications the same as real-world knowledge, skills, and experience.
  16. Focus on routines and rituals. Nail these and you’re (mostly) sorted.
  17. Practice eloquence. People like listening to those who have a way with words.
  18. At the end of it all, the only person who stops you doing something is yourself. Confidence is a preference.
  19. Stand for something bigger.
  20. Find somewhere that is completely quiet and you can be undisturbed. Visit it often.
  21. Ask. People can only say no.
  22. You are a human, not a machine. You don’t need to sound grown up, or professional, or ‘respectable’.
  23. Money is important only in the way that it flows (both in society, and at family/individual level).
  24. 90% of ‘success’ (as other people define it) is being in the right place at the right time, the other 10% is extremely hard work.
  25. Perfect is the enemy of done.
  26. How you do something is as important as what you say or what you do.
  27. Transparency is the best policy.
  28. Exercise more than you think you need to. When you’re young you think your body will be in peak condition forever. It won’t.
  29. Endeavour to be the least knowledgeable person in the room at any given time.
  30. There is no final authority. Seniority is a mindset.
  31. Try and explain complex things to other people as often as you can. It’s a valuable process for both parties.
  32. Travel, both literally and metaphorically. Go on journeys and adventures by yourself and with others.
  33. Let other people boast and do your PR (but don’t believe everything you see/read/hear)
  34. Writing is a form of thinking
  35. Know what you like, but don’t get stale; mix things up sometimes.
  36. Habits can make or break you, so create positive ones.
  37. Avoidance is rarely the correct option.
  38. Technology can free people or it can enslave them, so work to give as many people as much freedom as possible.
  39. Removing ego from the equation gets things done.
  40. We all will die and don’t know when, so act today in a way whereby people will remember you well.

Much of these come through my daily(ish) reading of Stoic philosophers but also come via therapy sessions, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s rules for living an antifragile life, Buster Benson’s Live like a hydra, and Dancing Fox’s Inappropriate Guidelines for Unacceptable Behaviour.


Image CC BY-NC-ND Jeronimo G+E

3 things I’ve learned from 200 weeks of sending out an email newsletter

Doug Belshaw's Thought Shrapnel

Every week, nearly 1,000 people receive my newsletter in their inboxes. Entitled Doug Belshaw’s Thought Shrapnel it’s an irreverent look at the intersection of education, technology, and productivity. People seem to like it, which is why this Sunday I’ll be sending out issue 200!

Here’s some things I’ve learned along the way. I hope it’s of use to those thinking of starting up their own newsletter in 2016. 🙂

1. You are the most important audience

Even if you’re productive and have great workflows, it still takes time to curate and craft a newsletter. You need to motivate yourself to do it every week, as consistency is key to developing an audience.

I’ve developed a few ways to ensure I send out a newsletter on a regular basis:

  • I only share links I find interesting. My single criterion is “would I like to see this in someone else’s newsletter?”
  • I take breaks. Every year I have one, sometimes two, months where I’m off personal email and social media. I’ve extended that to my newsletter. Having downtime makes your uptime more productive.
  • I’ve started allowing sponsorships. When there’s money involved, then there’s expectation and a contract. This pays for my time, but also means I’ve got another reason to get this week’s newsletter out of the door.

2. People like commentary

Every week I get people replying to my newsletters. Those replies go direct to me, and I respond to each one. What I’ve found is that people really enjoy it when I comment on the links that I’m sharing.

We’re often exhorted to ‘add value’ in life. I think this is one example where I can do so in a pretty simple way. For example, I might point out how X is similar to Y, or how an article is based on a false premise, or juxtapose it with something else to raise a smile.

True curation is about doing more than giving people a bunch of links. It’s about presenting them with information in a way that’s going to inform or entertain to the best of my ability.

3. A little bit of personality goes a long way

I’m a fan of long-form content on the web. I have a weekly podcast with Dai Barnes called Today In Digital Education (TIDE) that often runs to an hour and a half. We discuss lots of things during that time, but even so we could go on longer. The important thing is that we attend to what’s important.

Similarly, with my newsletter, I could literally list the hundreds of links I bookmark and come across each week. But that would be of little value to my subscribers. Instead, I sift through these for the ones that either resonate with, or challenge, my worldview. That means that my newsletter isn’t a bland read: it’s opinionated and biased. But that’s OK.

Conclusion

I greatly enjoy the discipline of curating and crafting a weekly newsletter to send out every Sunday morning (UK time). If you’re reading this and don’t yet subscribe, then I hope you’ll consider doing so at thoughtshrapnel.com.

I’m also looking for sponsors for 2016. I’ve already been fortunate to have some great sponsors last year, including Makers Academy, C-Learning, and Think Associates. Get in touch if you’d like to discuss this further: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com


Many thanks to my friend and collaborator Bryan Mathers for the great logo he devised last year! For more of his work visit bryanmathers.com or follow him as @BryanMMathers on Twitter!

30 things I’ve learned in 30 years.

I turned 30 last month. Not only that, but I’m now a father to two children meaning that, at some point, I’ll need to pass on what some might call ‘wisdom’. Here’s 30 things I’ll be telling them based on my experience:

  1. Don’t be the first person to leave a gathering. Don’t be the last.
  2. Try not to burn your bridges, you never know when you might need to return to them. But if you do decide it’s necessary, make it spectacular with proper fireworks.
  3. In the long run, people will always spot substance over style.
  4. Alternate alcoholic drinks and soft drinks for an enjoyable night and productive morning after. Do the same when drinking coffee to avoid dehydration.
  5. Find what you like, including brands. Narrowing down your options in any given situation saves time and frustration.
  6. Ask. People can only say no, and are usually polite about it.
  7. Focus on routines and rituals. Nail these and you’re sorted.
  8. Women really do like all of that romantic stuff.
  9. Practice eloquence. People like listening to those who can put difficult concepts in layman’s terms.
  10. At the end of it all, the only person who stops you doing something is yourself. Confidence is a preference.
  11. Most people care less than you think about almost everything that you deem important. Avoid echo chambers.
  12. Don’t let your school years define you.
  13. Nobody knows what goes on inside your head until you say it or write it down.
  14. 90% of ‘success’ (as other people define it) is being in the right place at the right time, the other 10% is extremely hard work.
  15. Just as your tastebuds are renewed every 7 years, so you are not the same person throughout your lifetime. Don’t be beholden to people who would tell you otherwise. Be ruthless in separating friends from acquaintances.
  16. Exercise more than you think you need to. When you’re young you think your body will be in peak condition forever. It won’t be.
  17. Make your first experience or attempt at something the best it can be. It will usually affect how you conceptualise that thing or person from then on.
  18. Don’t believe what someone tells you because of their personality or good looks.
  19. Never trust people who smoke or gamble regularly.
  20. Endeavour to be the least knowledgeable person in the room at any given time.
  21. Learn another language (including music). It’s not only a means of expression but a different way of thinking.
  22. Find somewhere that is completely quiet and you can be undisturbed. Visit it often.
  23. Defer to authority, but only if it doesn’t mean compromising your principles.
  24. Develop a firm handshake and look people in the eye when you meet them.
  25. Seek out liminal spaces. Although sometimes times of turmoil (moving jobs, waiting for confirmation of results, etc.) they encourage both reflection and future planning.
  26. Try and explain complex things to very old and/or very young people as often as you can. It’s a valuable process for both parties.
  27. Money is important but only in the way that it flows (both in society, and at family/individual level).
  28. You are a collection of interactions and experiences. Ensure that the collection is the best it can be.
  29. Let other people boast about you and big you up (but don’t believe everything you see/read/hear)
  30. Read inspirational things often, especially quotations and proverbs. Dwell upon them.

Image CC BY-NC 96dpi

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