A year in learning

Last Saturday I turned 34.

If you consider today’s life expectancy in Europe (around 80 years), I’m almost halfway through.

I thought about doing “a year in review”, but reviewing last year from the lens of the goals I’ve reached, I realized, wouldn’t tell me much.

Some goals require years of work and goals alone don’t make life fun. It’s the process of achieving them that does.

In a world that’s constantly shifting, where it’s becoming harder and harder to stand out because the barriers to entry for doing anything are so low, how do you measure success? How do you evaluate your progress?

For me it’s about what you learn.

That’s why I’m doing “a year in learning”, so I can make inventory  and next year I can see where the skills and lessons I’ve learned so far led me.

Scott Adams says:

…there are two ways to make yourself valuable. The first way is to become the best at some specific skill, the way Tiger Woods dominated golf. But not many of us can be Tiger Woods. So that path is unavailable to 99% of the world.

I recommend a different approach. Most people can – with practice – develop a variety of skills that work well together. I call this idea the Talent Stack.

Thinking about your progress as building your “talent stack” is very helpful because it takes the stress of reaching goals out of the equation and it naturally leads you towards the next adventure.

All while you get better in the process.

What I’ve learned in 2019

Shifting from conversion copywriting to UX design

It’s pretty crazy, up until 2017 I was a software engineer in the industrial automation field (10 years in). I started learning conversion copywriting two years earlier on the side and I launched my freelancing business right when I decided to make the jump and change profession in 2018.

In 2019 I joined Zeda Labs and shifted into UX design.

That makes it 3 different job roles in the span of 3 years. Adapt or die.

This shift came with a whole series of sub skills, like learning to use Adobe Illustrator first and then Sketch. Learning not only UX, but UI design and everything around both (research, heuristics, color, typography, accessibility, wireframing, prototyping, mockups etc.).

Most of all I’ve become better at big picture thinking and problem solving.

The interesting thing is that every path I’ve been taking feels closer to what I actually enjoy doing. This taught me to trust my guts, my intuition and see where it takes me.

Vipassana meditation

This was probably a turning point in my life. Attending a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat/course changed my view and approach to meditation completely. I used to meditate 10 minutes a day using apps, but I’ve never been able to keep it consistent. Up until last year.

Maybe it was the shock. I went from meditating 10-minutes a day to meditating 2 hours – before 6:30am! (and a total of 10 hours a day during the retreat).

Vipassana taught me to think of meditation not as something you do to merely calm your mind and de-stress, but as actual, practical work you to improve yourself.

It also simplified my view on what brings us “suffering” in life. It all comes down to cravings and aversions. If you’re able to maintain equanimity (self-control, composure, detachment) whenever you sense one of those arise, then, you’re really free.

Obviously  easier said than done.

I now meditate 30 minutes every single day and it doesn’t feel enough.

I’m an INFJ

Thanks to my coach Alasdair, I learned a lot about personality typing and about my type in particular, INFJ. There’s a lot more to it than people think.

The MBTI a great model for spotting patterns in your behavior and adjust accordingly. Understanding your type can help you save energy, become more confident and generally live a more authentic life.

The value in having a coach

I’ve always thought it was for the rich or for highly stressed, always-on-the-move business people.

But working with a coach or guide is for anyone.

Other than personality typing, I’ve learned a ton about energy management, relationships, communication, vision, life choices and generally about following a path that feels authentic and fulfilling. All while having fun and learning along the way.

Overall, having a trusted advisor who’s committed in your growth, providing an outside perspective on your life, is invaluable.

Re-discovering my passion for basketball

I started playing basketball at 11 and stopped when I was 22, then it was mostly summer pickup games.

In 2019 I got back into it again and gained a new perspective on the whole game, its nuances and the mindset it requires.

I started approaching it with the “beginner’s mind” I forgot about and the lessons have been many so far. Along with meditation I use basketball not only to recharge, and unwind, but to test the control I have over my thoughts and emotions.

Anything that helps me perform at my peak, I’ll take it.

Side hustling

I’m always thinking about side hustles whenever I’m working on one main project.

When I was a software engineer, I was studying copywriting. And while at the agency last year, I started my own affiliate business.

Multitasking makes my brain implode, but if you’re able to balance your time and invest it wisely, then I believe the returns are exponential.

When I look for a side project I ask myself:

  • Will I learn something useful?
  • Could it make me money?
  • Would it allow me to connect with new interesting people?

I’d say if the idea matches 2 out of these 3 it’s a yes.

By building my electric skateboard site, Concrete Surfers I’ve learned a ton about SEO and link building and also about managing a writer and a virtual assistant. It’s also a way of getting awesome free products and to meet cool people who are into a very cool lifestyle.

Yoga

I’ve started taking Yoga lessons around the end of 2019 and together with my meditation practice, it’s proved to be a gold mine of insights and a mindful ritual I can use to ground myself whenever I need it. And it feels great, especially for my screwed up lower back.

Dipping my toes into surfing

I’ve got a few surfing lessons in the freezing UK winter (summer was busy!) in Bournemouth. It’s definitely something I want to explore more and that promises a ton of potentially life changing mindset shifts.

The importance of relationships and location

Especially since I started to work online, I’ve got the chance of meeting really interesting people from all over the world.  Moving from Italy to the UK in Winchester, which sits an hour south of London was also a wise move as the chance of people traveling though the area is pretty high.

Last year I’ve visited Toronto for the first time and spent 10 days with a buddy of mine whom I’ve met in a business forum online (and had to spend 20 minutes under interrogation at immigration because that sounded suspect lol).

I’ve also visited Mexico City and Austin (for the second year in a row) where I’ve met tons of new entrepreneurs doing cool stuff.

Whenever you meet someone new, whether online of offline, it’s like you plant a seed and that seed has the potential to grow if you water it by keeping in touch and supporting the person however you can.

Overall the worst relationship investment last year, was using dating apps. Sometimes it turned out to be fun, others it was a mechanical process that just led to superficial and very brief relationships. Lots of lessons learned there too though!

Loving fiction

Lat year after getting a library card, I discovered a hidden love for fiction books. I’ve always been all about learning as you notice in this post, so everything I read in the past was non-fiction or biographies, mostly business or mindset books.

What I’ve learned by reading more fiction in 2019 is that you actually have a greater chance of learning and using your mind actively by thinking for yourself when you read fiction. Compared to non-fiction, these stories make your brain work in 3D, developing your imagination and making you fill in the gaps where you see fit.

There are also a ton of lessons between the lines that you can glean and connections you can make, if you pay attention. Plus you get the chance of figuring out what kind of writing you enjoy and to subconsciously improve yours.

Travels

Other than visiting family in Italy 3 or 4 times, last year I’ve traveled to a few cool places:

  • Austin, Texas, USA
  • Mexico City, Mexico
  • Toronto, Canada
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand
  • Barcelona, Spain

What I’ve learned by traveling is that you can use it to anchor a specific moment or phase in your life to it and make it memorable.

Plus you can collect tons of great stories (and tattoos) along the way.


The most important thing I’ve learned over the past year has been to keep an open and curious mind, wherever you go, whatever you do and with whoever you meet.

We’ll see what’s next on the list.