28 Things I Borrowed and Am Building on For 2021

Truths, tidbits, and time-tested advice

Photo by Charl Folscher on Unsplash

Five and a half years ago, inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci and his prolific journaling, I started a habit that has since changed my life. I started tracking and writing down one thing that I learned every day.

I know that sounds simple, but as Nielson explains, “American adults spend over 11 hours per day listening to, watching, reading, or generally interacting with media.” As such, we have become expert consumers. We intake ridiculous amounts of content and data each day. But for me, the vast majority of that content was going in one ear and out the other. I was struggling to adapt and apply anything I was learning.

Enter the habit of writing down one thing I learned each day.

Over the last five and a half years, I’ve streamlined the process. I’ve gotten in a rhythm of watching and listening for things that hit differently. That matter. That are impactful. Sometimes I record quotes of others. Sometimes I synthesize my own thoughts and processing on a certain topic. Most things are borrowed, some are new. But overall, they are tips and tidbits for me and for you that could impact or shift your day, your week, or maybe even your whole year.

I call them Pieces of Gold.

In 2020, one of the most volatile years in recent history, I recorded 366 things. I went through my list and pulled out 28 things that I thought could be sturdy and strong supports for moving forward.

If you like one of these, take it. As Austin Kleon would say, steal it. Borrow it and adapt it to your life. Then pass it on.

  1. 1.08.20— There is a difference between low expectations and loose expectations. I’ve learned that there are few things more deadly to relationships than putting your expectations of how you would act on someone else and then using that metric as a standard for giving grace or anger.
  2. 1.25.20— In 2019, I feel like a major buzzword was “rest.” We were told to get rest, find rest, and be more rested. We didn’t have any idea that 2020 would push our limits on rest, but I found myself last year coming back to this maxim: Mental recovery happens when rest creates relaxation. In other words, my habits of rest shouldn't be centered around productivity.
  3. 1.31.20— Roy T. Bennett said, “A smart person knows how to talk. A wise person knows when to be silent. The wiser you get, the less you speak.” I take this to mean that the more you learn, the more content you have to “not” share. What sets apart the quality from the mediocre leaders is the ability to “not” say something about the common thoughts while reserving the words you do say for what truly matters.
  4. 2.10.20—Kim Scott’s thoughts on how to stand up for yourself while still being a team player in her book Radical Candor: “Andy Grove have a mantra at Intel that we borrowed to describe leadership at Apple: listen, challenge, commit. A strong leader has the humility to listen, the confidence to challenge, and the wisdom to know when to quit arguing and to get on board.”
  5. 3.05.20 — Understanding the difference between an avalanche and a glacier as said by Larry Osborne in his book Sticky Teams: “An avalanche is full of power and fury. It looks impressive. But 10 years later, you’d never know it happened. Glaciers, on the other hand, are boring. They look like nothing is happening. But 1000 years later, they leave behind a Yosemite. Avalanches make a ruckus. Glaciers change the world.”
  6. 3.10.20 — When quarantine hit, I re-discovered the importance of creativity and imaginative thinking. I was inspired by this quote by Cal Newport in his book Deep Work: “We who cut mere stones must always be imagining cathedrals.” What magnificent creations are you picturing when you’re working through the mundane?
  7. 4.17.20 — Like a lot of people last year, my wife and I, with no former experience, started a garden at our house. I quickly learned that nutrient-rich soil is costly. There is no such thing as cheap healthy soil. If you want to give yourself the best opportunity to thrive, you must be willing to pay the cost of the value you want to reap.
  8. 4.25.20 — I found this line and, though I’m not sure who it originated from (I saw it from Brooke Hampton), it might have been the single-most-important sentence for me of 2020: “Admire other people’s beauty and talent without questioning your own.”
  9. 5.12.20 — I spent a lot of time in 2020 going back and more deeply learning about the craft of writing. There are so many great tidbits on writing, but this is one of my favorites, by the legendary Ernest Hemingway: “My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.”
  10. 6.05.20 — The imagination is one of the most amazing and extraordinary things in the world. I spent most of June debating the idea of writing a fantasy fiction novel and thinking through this idea by Andrew Peterson about the concept of integrated imaginations: “Somewhere out there, men and women with redeemed, integrated imaginations are sitting down to spin a tale that awakens, a tale that leaves the reader with a painful longing that points them home, a tale whose fictional beauty begets beauty in the present world and heralds the world to come. Someone out there is building a bridge so we can slip across to elf-land and smuggle back some of its light into this present darkness.”
  11. 6.07.20– When we were four months into quarantine and I was desperate for a change, I was stunned by this quote by Machiavelli that I stumbled on when reading Atomic Habits by James Clear: “Men desire novelty to such an extent that those who are doing well wish for a change as much as those who are doing badly.”
  12. 6.15.20 — In a world dominated by short terms gains, I learned two valuable lessons reading Simon Sinek’s latest book The Infinite Game. The first big takeaway was about getting the best work out of people. He writes: “how do I get the most out of my people?” is a flawed question by faulty leaders. It assumes the goal is output. Instead, we should be asking, “how do I create an environment in which my people can work to their natural best?”
  13. 6.26.20 — The second thing I took away from Simon Sinek and The Infinite Game truly disturbed my summer. We tend to think that making more money will cement our legacy. But in an eerie truth, Sinek points out that “none of us want on our tombstones the last balance in our bank account.” This lines up with thoughts by Celeste Headlee when she says that “more money won’t make you happier.”
  14. 7.26.20 — Over the summer, I spent some time soaking in one of the greatest science fiction books ever written: Dune by Frank Herbert. It was my first time through it and this quote stopped me cold when I first came across it: “Grave this on your memory lad. A world is supported by four things: the learning of the wise, the justice of the great, the prayers of the righteous, and the valor of the brave. But all of these are as nothing… without a ruler who knows the art of ruling.”
  15. 7.31.20—The British philosopher Alain de Botton said: “Anyone who isn’t embarrassed by who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.” I’m not sure I entirely agree with this but it is a fascinating and challenging thought.
  16. 8.03.20 — More gardening advice. I read this fascinating piece in the NYT about the little known Master Gardner, Timothy Tilghman. He is the head gardener at Untermyer Park and Gardens in Yonkers, N.Y and in his interview, he said, “If you can’t enjoy weeding, you won’t be a happy gardener. It was good life advice for me at the time and continues to be. Learn to like the small work.
  17. 8.20.20 — I was convicted by this Neil Gaiman quote, both in how I give critique and in how I accept it from others: “When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” I also really loved the other 7 rules found in Maria Popova’s article on Neil Gaiman linked above.
  18. 8.30.20 — Somewhere in my mid-twenties, I starting working to shift my desires from popularity to legacy. As a result, I started learning that longevity is something that cannot be bought or swindled. It is only the result of hard work over great spans. Longevity belongs in a world far different from our own, a world of hundred-year-old trees and stars that burn for a millennium.
  19. 9.13.20 — In August, my wife and I celebrated our 5-year anniversary. As we dreamed for the years ahead, we talked about how we wanted to grow up together, not just grow old. We were inspired by this quote by Maya Angelou: “I am convinced that most people do not grow up. We find parking spaces and honor our credit cards. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old.”
  20. 9.18.20 — Another Hemingway quote because it’s just too hard to not include multiple of his tidbits. I got this from reading Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday:The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills.”
  21. 9.28.20 — Maybe the most surprising self-improvement book I read last year? Think Like A Rocket Scientist by Ozan Varol. I got turned on to this book by Adam Grant and Daniel Pink, but I loved the science and simplicity that Varol writes with. Here’s a quote from the book that impacted my thinking about investment and work: “As Warren Buffett put it, the five most dangerous words in business are: “everybody else is doing it.”
  22. 10.06.20 — On distinguishing between talent and genius, I thought that this brief summary by philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was brilliant. He says, “Talent hits the target no one else can hit, genius hits a target no one else can see.”
  23. 10.19.20 — Obviously, 2020 was a difficult year for many reasons, but one of the biggest was the overt racism brought to light across the United States. I read many books on this topic but I thought that this quote by Austin Channing Brown from her book I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness was stunning and a good short summary: “Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origins than we are worried about our comfort.”
  24. 10.29.20 — It’s strange when books you read overlap. In his book Stamped From the Beginning, Ibram Xendi gives a long, helpful history on Cotton Mather and his involvement in prolonging slavery and racial injustice. However, I read this quote of Mather speaking to Benjamin Franklin in another book and thought it was still worth remembering and pondering on: “Stoop, young man, stoop as you go through this world, and you’ll miss many hard thumps.” For me, this means that however important you think your advice is, take it down 2 notches.
  25. 11.05.20 — Over the Fall of 2020, I spent a significant amount of time drafting a fantasy fiction novel, in large part due to my learnings and musings from over the summer. I realized in early November a primal truth of writing that many veteran writers can attest to: you never have a finished draft without a first draft.
  26. 11.13.20 — I know I struggle with impatience so this quote from Paul David Tripp in his book Lead was helpful and enlightening: “The soil in which impatience grows is: 1. our pride of accomplishment 2. our identity in success and 3. our idolatry of power. From that soil, impatience will always grow to result in a harvest of bad fruit, and that impacts both leaders and those they lead.”
  27. 11.28.20 — If you haven’t read Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee, do yourself a favor and add it to your booklist for 2021. This quote from that book by behavioral scientist Nicholas Eplee changed my entire perspective on the art and necessity of initiation: “few people wave but almost everyone waves back.”
  28. 12.02.20 — Lily Tomlin’s short but splendid thought on what it means to truly embrace a lifestyle of forgiveness: Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.”

Creative Engineer writing working hypotheses. Husband. Dishwasher. I write what I wish I could have read when I was younger. For more visit jakedaghe.com

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