It’s almost the time of the year where we look back, reflect and count our blessings. I would say achievements if that’s not offending anyone. Because pandemic or not, I make no excuse in going after the life I want.
I know it has been really tough for most people. So much happened this year. That’s why it is more important than ever to cultivate resilience and growth mindset. How good are we dealing with stress? How comfortable are we facing uncertainties? How mindful are we enjoying the little moments in life?
Before we jump into the 20 lessons I learnt in 2020, here’s a list of milestones I reached this year, in no particular order:
- Ditched my corporate job before pandemic
- Went back to full time studies
- Relocated from Hong Kong to Sydney
- Pivoted my career from accounting to music therapy (work in progress)
- Maintained distinction average in my first year of studies
- Started seeing a psychologist
- Weekly YouTube videos, blog posts
And here’s the 20 life lessons I have learnt in 2020, categorised by topic.
On success and goal-setting
1/ Measure the gain, not the gap
The journey to success can be miserable, if you focus too much on the grind and forget to smell the flowers.
To be happy along the journey, Dan Sullivan pointed out that we should measure the gain, not the gap. We should look back and see how far we have come, not constantly measuring our current state against our ideal self.
We would never be satisfied if we kept thinking what we didn’t have yet.
Don’t discredit yourself for all the achievements you have made.
You deserve to be happy.
2/ What you focus on manifests
Have you ever noticed when you set your eyes on something, suddenly it’s everywhere? Say I want to buy a car. After deciding I am going to get a BMW, suddenly all I can see on the street is BMW. Artists see colours in life. Farmers see plants. What we see depends on what we look for.
How do we apply this to our lives?
When we want something, we pay attention to the surroundings. We will find out all the resources to help us achieve what we want. When we shift our focus to achieving the goal, we start finding opportunities everywhere.
In order to be more inspired and connected to our creativity, we need to get into the flow states more. That means we need to eliminate the distractions and focus solely on the things that matter. Create moments where you put undivided attention to you work. Reach out to people that inspire you. Take a walk in the nature. Tune into what matters to you most, and work on it.
3/ There is no “accidental” success
Everything is planned and carefully designed.
I learnt that I didn’t get into music therapy by sheer luck. I had the bare essential skills, the right attitude and I did my preparation.
I did not get good grades by luck. I had a plan, and I measured progress.
While luck definitely plays a role in your life, you can increase luck through practice, networks and increasing your status.
Pearson’s law states that, “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates.”
Set your goal, and do the work.
Read my blog post here on effective goal-setting.
4/ Staying consistent is a superpower
There is no overnight success.
Success is a series of small wins – that means taking one step at a time instead of jumping to level 80 from 0. It’s much easier to take baby steps every day than to accomplish a difficult task towards a goal.
I have experienced a few full circle moments this year due to the fact that I have been posting content consistently since 2018. I have also learnt that it wasn’t sheer luck that I was able to enter music therapy field without standard prerequisite. I have been learning music since I was 5.
Everything is about consistency.
Want to build muscles? Train every day, not to do 100 sit ups every quarter. Want to write a book? Write 500 words every day, not to churn out 10,000 words in 2 days.
Baby steps will get you a long way.
5/ Show your work
Invite people in your journey. They would want to witness your success, and to know HOW you achieve your goals.
Put yourself out there. Don’t wait until you reached a certain point to start boasting about your achievements. What matters is the experience. Show your thoughts, failures and milestones. We are all human and we are always a work in progress.
I am constantly sharing my thoughts, small wins, frustration and struggles online, whether through blog, newsletter, instagram or twitter. There is literally no downside of putting yourself online. No one reads your stuff? It’s all good. The Internet is a good place to store all my memories of building something great.
Read a tweet here that says it all.
6/ What’s stopping us from being great
We would be so much better off if we stop feeding ourselves excuses. Despite the unemployment rate rising, many businesses bloomed during pandemic and lockdown. Many people started their own businesses during this isolation period.
Obstacles are unavoidable.
But the major thing that’s holding us back from achieving our goals and reaching our full potential isn’t obstacles.
It’s the lesser goals.
It’s the ordinary life.
What are you focusing on?
Are you chasing after shiny objects?
We want to be great, not good.
2020 has been a year of trial and error. If you haven’t figured out your priority, it’s time for you to listen to your inner voice and get clarity.
7/ Your brain loves figures
Learn to understand yourself before you set goals. Particularly, understand the fact that our brains like seeing figures and absolute numbers in order to determine our behaviours and next actions. Set goals that are in your control. Set concrete goals using figures. For example, “meditate for 3 minutes at 10pm every day” is a much better goal than “unwind before I sleep”. Likewise, set finance, fitness and other personal goals using numbers. Your life’s gonna change.
On Mental Health
8/ selective ignorance
The world is chaotic. In times like this, we easily get distracted and stressed due to information overload. Setting our priorities and tuning our attention back to what matters are crucial. As outlined in “4 Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferris, we should all practise selective ignorance. We can even go beyond social media and apply that on larger scale. Read my blog post here about that.
9/ Get better at reading yourself
Self awareness and understanding form the basis of personal development.
There’s no use to read all the self help books in the world if you can’t read yourself.
When are you performing your best? When are you the most “motivated?” How resilient are you? What is your trigger? How tolerant are you when it comes to stress and uncertainties? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Understand yourself first before you know what to change.
10/ Meditation isn’t what you think
Throughout my whole life I have never tried any form of meditation. Or yoga. I labelled myself as someone who can’t sit still. Someone who can’t stop her brain from spinning.
2020 changed everything.
We had time and space to face our own voices.
Whether you lost your job or worked from home, undeniably it had been a great time to reflect on everything you were doing – career goals, life goals, or better – purpose of life.
Meditation isn’t about shutting up your inner voices.
In fact, meditation is supposed to help you think clearer and achieve a calm state of mind.
It simply means to unplug.
Or do some deep breathing for 2-3 minutes.
I had been trying free meditation from headspace and their approach regarding our messy thoughts is interesting – it’s like just looking at cars pass by on the street. You allow your thoughts to come and go. Meditation doesn’t mean to think of nothing. That’s almost impossible.
I like the sound of unplugging.
It creates space for me to breathe and reset.
And I have learnt to look forward to the winding down process every night.
11/ Long term planning is utterly useless
I don’t want to include this in 2020 because I already learnt it the hard way in 2019 given all the chaos happening in Hong Kong, but since the impact of the coronavirus was huge I think I still need to address this in a different context.
In 2019 I thought my life would never be the same after suffering from PTSD (self-diagnosed). but in 2020, it’s about life or death, it’s really full of unknown ( I don’t believe people would 100% recover without having any permanent effect). Your career, wedding and travel plans all got held up, and you were even asked to stop socialising.
Conclusion: focus on your goals, but be open to any opportunities.
I think 5 years are considered to be long term. The world changes too fast. My current approach is to get closer to my vision as soon as possible by doing 3-month sprinting. The vision shows me the direction and I take quick actions. A good question to ask yourself is what’s your 5-year goal, and how you can achieve it in 6 months. It sounds insane, but in most occasions we are just procrastinating telling ourselves “we are not ready” or “it’s not the right time yet”.
Do it anyway.
Know your direction, sprint towards the goal, but be open to any paths that can get you there.
12/ Everything is a skill that can be mastered
This one is underrated.
I’m not only talking about computer skills or learning how to ride bicycle.
Skills that are like superpowers that I have learnt this year:
- how to spend time and money
- understanding yourself
- stretching comfort zone
These are skills that are crucial to everything that you do.
Specifically, your brain has muscles that you can train and stretch. Everything can be learnt, practised and perfected.
In the end it all comes down to how well you understand your strengths and weaknesses and what you are going to do about them.
13/ Go the extra mile
To build meaningful relationships, make great first impressions and stand out from your peers, think about what you can do for others.
Often it requires taking the extra mile.
Listen to other people’s needs. Send more cold emails. Leverage social media. Do things others are not willing to do.
14/ Creativity takes courage
This is actually a quote from Henri Matisse. And I think it kinds of link to showing your work as well.
Often times we think we are not “creative” because we don’t have original ideas. And sometimes we are afraid to face our inner voices and subconscious feelings. That’s why we don’t write, and don’t make music and we don’t make art.
I believe human beings are meant to be creative. If you really think about it, it is quite hard to be “original” given the long history of human existence. Who are you do come up with 100% new ideas that haven’t been thought about more than 2,000 years ago? Get over it. We describe someone as “creative” because they find new ways in doing old things. Because they give interesting perspective and narration to stories.
Being creative also means you are willing to think outside the box for new pathways to achieving goals. Are you waiting for “green lights”? Are you seeking approval before you take actions? Are you playing safe, or being aggressive?
You can be in charge. Face you inner voice. Look at things from different angles. Share ideas with others. Everything starts from having the courage to change.
15/ Most regrets in life come from not doing something
You must have heard about the regrets people have when they’re on deathbed.
People rarely regret about things they have done (I could imagine things like drug dealing.. but you get my point). More often, they regret putting their dreams aside and let “reality” take charge.
How many excuses have you given yourself on things you really want to achieve?
How many years have you postponed on taking the first step?
Pandemic is a double-edged sword. Some people found the time to finally tick off their wish list, while some had to delay their plans because the world “stopped”.
What are you choosing today?
Do you have the courage to pursue what really matters relentlessly?
“In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.”
On career and business
16/ Being employed is as risky as starting a business
Life is full of surprises.
As an employee, what you get is FIXED income, not a STABLE life.
Your income is predictable. As long as your company doesn’t collapse.
2020 taught us that being an employee isn’t as stable as you think.
And starting your own business isn’t as risky as you think.
The world is always changing.
Lucky for us, human beings are highly adaptive.
The question is, are you willing to change?
17/ Vocal is a type of instrument
This one is more academically related. I kinda knew it but my brain didn’t really process this until I started my music therapy course. And I wanted to treat this more seriously. I used to just brush it off when someone said he’s a vocalist, but actually it takes as much effort to be a professional vocalist as an instrumentalist. And more importantly, vocalists need extra care about their instruments – I can replace my piano if it breaks, but vocal cord can’t be replaced.
18/ Never stop learning
It is true when people say real learning starts after you graduate.
It’s 2020. You don’t need to get into university for proper education to learn a skill.
There is free knowledge everywhere.
Play a new instrument. Learn a new language. Study marketing. Learn how to code.
There is literally gold everywhere.
There is so much in life that we have yet to explore. Don’t get a graduate certificate stop you from learning.
19/ The importance of reading
Confession: I have never been an avid reader. I enjoy reading novels from time to time, but it’s only from last year I started to read more seriously.
My life has changed since I devoted time learning about personal development.
Now as my interest expands, I explore books about finance and entrepreneurship.
Reading is the best way to learn and reflect.
The smartest people ever existed are probably dead. But we can all read their stories and theories from their books. We can learn from their success and failures. We can imagine living others’ lives that we would never have lived.
20/ There are no assholes in life
The general idea is that you think someone’s an asshole mainly because his or her values/goals don’t align with yours. But everyone is selfish in some way. For example you might think that playboys are assholes, but if you’re one of them, you obviously won’t think so. Once your values align with others, assholes don’t exist. The same applies to any form of relationship. Your manager is not an asshole. Your brother is not an asshole.
I’m aware that my perspective will change. As we are all work in progress, our worldview and thinkings will change. I am grateful for all these lessons I learnt this year and I can’t wait to be a better version next year. The idea behind writing all these life lessons is that we are all students and creators of life. Keep that mindset, and enjoy the ride.