20 Things 2020 Taught Me

  1. You can get in shape without a gym.
  2. Eating out is overrated.
  3. Life can change overnight.
  4. “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry” is the saddest song ever written.
  5. Contentment can be found inside your home, but you don’t always know this until you have to do it.
  6. Simple pleasures are the real pleasures: wildflowers planted in an unused patch of dirt; a robin bouncing around the yard; drawing dinosaurs in notebooks with your son, working out with a friend socially distanced in the quiet of the early morning.
  7. Music, as usual, helps get you through.
  8. Lennon Stella is incredibly underrated.
  9. There are hundreds of undiscovered sights in your own neighborhood that you’ll never see until you walk in it. Even on walk number 50, you might find something new.
  10. I have many kind neighbors, some of whom I never met until I walked when there was nothing else to do.
  11. Though we say facts are primary, emotions often lead our lives, from politics to social issues to matters of public health to religion. (Of course if didn’t learn this for the first time in 2020, but this reality became vivid.)
  12. We could have been more efficient long ago. (Think of the in person meetings that could be had over Zoom.)
  13. Some things are inefficient on purpose because they connect us as humans, and we shouldn’t let them go. (Think of in person meetings that do more to build camaraderie than get tasks accomplished.)
  14. Griddles are better than grills.
  15. Smashing burgers as hard as you can on a griddle mimics the restaurant style more closely than anything else. (I can’t tell you how many burgers I cooked on a grill that puffed up and came off as thick as a baseball.)
  16. Sports are kind of boring.
  17. Life is so much more than the experiences you can buy.
  18. Dollar store puzzles are missing a piece. (Not always, but it happened to me twice in a row.)
  19. Buffets are disgusting. (I know, most people already thought they were, but now I feel they will become a thing of the past.)
  20. Hard times eventually pass.

Choose Your Expensive

Last summer, my wife remodeled our tiny bathroom sink. I was out on a video shoot when I got a picture from her of a giant hole in the wall where our vintage medicine cabinet once was. The final result was impressive, the work top quality.

Since we did it ourselves, we saved a lot of money, but the project was still expensive. That picture arrived on a Monday morning, and the project wasn’t complete until the following Saturday. That means for 6 days this project took up our time and brain space as we studied videos, went back and forth to Home Depot 500 times, and fixed mistakes along the way.

We could have hired an experienced contractor to knock out that project in a day or two, but it would have cost 4x as much in dollars.

Everything that is good and worth having is expensive. You can go the short and easy route by paying money, or you can take the longer, harder route and spend more of your time. There is no right way. It depends on the situation.

It wouldn’t make sense for the President to spend 90 minutes cooking his dinner, unless he found that relaxing. It wouldn’t make sense for a person with $100 to their name and hours of free time to pay someone $40 to clean their apartment.

While this is something everyone should consider, freelancers and entrepreneurs should more so. At the beginning you have more time than money and it makes sense to do things yourself, but as things progress and you earn more, it flips. Next time you see a way to save money, ask yourself if you’ll be spending $10 of time to save $5 of cash and if that’s really worth it.

You Have Time to Read

I began reading The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and was struck by this passage in the prologue.

The President manages to get through at least one book a day even when he is busy. Owen Wister has lent him a book shortly before a full evening’s entertainment at the White House, and been astonished to hear a complete review of it over breakfast. “Somewhere between six one evening and eight-thirty next morning, beside his dressing and his dinner and his guests and his sleep, he had read a volume of three-hundred-and-odd pages, and missed nothing of significance that it contained.” On evenings . . . when he had no official entertaining to do, Roosevelt will read two or three books entire.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Edmund Morris

This was a regular habit, not a one time event. If he can keep such a rigorous pace as the President, couldn’t we manage to read at least 1 book a month without fail?

Endings

If the Christmas tree stayed out all year, it would become as common to our eyes as the table lamp. If the summer grass never faded and trees were never bare, spring wouldn’t be exciting. Some things would never come back to us if we didn’t let them go. Hang on to some things too tightly and you lose them.

Endings aren’t fun, but when we move through them we eventually see that they’re good for us.

Fresh Starts vs. Momentum

Is a new year fresh start? Yes, but in exactly the same way that every other day of the year is a fresh start. In fact, it may be a worse time to start because it’s a holiday, and of course on holidays you’re supposed to eat too much, sleep too long, put work off, not workout, and take no action on your goals at all, even if you’ve been doing pretty much that exact protocol since Thanksgiving.

Take the hype out of January 1. There is no magic in that day that will help you commit to a habit. 

Starting is overrated in general. It’s emotionally charged and feels exciting, but since there’s nothing of substance in it, it’s no big deal to let yourself down. Momentum is where the power lies. It has substance, it’s a record of action, it’s the building of trust with yourself. Once you have it, you’ll do a lot more to not let yourself down.

I wish you well with whatever goal you pursue this year, but I also want you to know it doesn’t matter what date you start something as long as it’s today and not tomorrow.

A platitude before you go: The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.