35 Lessons from 35 Years

When I saw I had an article due on my 35th birthday, I gave myself permission to be a bit selfish. While the list below has very few references to fitness, I have learned many of them inside the walls of CrossFit gyms. Every single one of them translates back to the physical realm just as much as the mental. None of these came easy, and the battle to embody them is a daily struggle, to say the least. Creating the list was a journey on it’s own. A cathartic trip that I hope leaves you with at least a few nuggets of wisdom. Without further pre-tense, 35 Lessons from 35 Years:

  1. Build – Listen – Repeat
    • Buddy the Elf voice* I just like to build – building is my favorite. Programs, products, designs, businesses — you name it. Identifying this has been a significant factor in my career and adult life in general. When you’re building for an end-user other than yourself, it’s imperative that you keep your ear to the ground and not only listen for feedback but welcome it. Positive feedback, success, and even just a bit of momentum tend to leak into updates and new products. You’ll never be too successful to listen to your customers.
  2. Hard Work is Patient
    • I rarely find people that are unwilling to work hard. What I see often are people who believe all hard work is done at a blistering pace. This results in massive swings from happy and motivated to depressed and immobile. A mile run done strategically consists of some serious hard work. In contrast, a mile run done in multiple bouts of sprints and walking produces poor results and a distorted view of what hard work really means. Aiming for consistency and patience has made for the hardest working periods of my life.
  3. Everyone is a Genius
    • One of my favorite quotes to call upon in conversation is this gem from Albert Einstein: “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Testing this hypothesis requires you to uncover your own genius and to actively search for it in others. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and rather than letting the ego take over what that means to you, take pride in yours and learn from others.
  4. Influence over Control
    • It only took me 30+ years to realize that setting an example goes a hell of a lot further than telling people what to do. If you’re passionate about something and hope to share it, be a living embodiment of it rather than setting expectations for other people.
  5. Share Your Gift – Steal Others
    • The moment you realize everything you create is a hodgepodge of what you’ve experienced, you can begin to let go of ownership over your ideas. While it stings a bit at first, it opens you up to be inspired by others more often. I also firmly believe that we get what we give in life. Don’t be stingy.
  6. Feel the Wind
    • Coming around a corner into a strong headwind during a run is a genuinely demoralizing feeling. While the next turn is sure to provide some relief, the positive reaction to a tailwind rarely matches the inverse. After logging quite a few miles in the past few years, I’ve tried to evaluate how this translates to life. Consistently recognizing the privilege in my circumstances and the value of the support others provide me has been a powerful tool.
  7. Assertive and Open-Minded
    • Stolen from an important influence of mine, Ray Dalio, the idea of being both assertive and open-minded has completely changed the way I communicate. Asking yourself to uncover why they’re not mutually exclusive and what it could mean to embody both in a given situation is an excellent thought exercise.
  8. Guide Your Energy
    • The more you sit back and observe, the easier it is to see the robust energy reserves in most people. These energies present themselves in a wide range of ways, powered by many different emotions. Only when your energy stays bottled up and festers can it truly take on a negative connotation. Don’t judge it. Direct it.
  9. Experiencing is Believing
    • This lesson deserves it’s very own blog post/website/book/billboard/you get the idea. The passion we feel in the wake of a profound life experience should be proof enough that you have to go through it to completely understand it. Coaches, teachers, mentors, partners, friends, and the like should always keep this in mind when giving advice. They won’t have the opportunity to feel that same thing until they go through it for themselves.
  10. Fluidity of Mind
    • In today’s day-in-age, everyone is terrified of the social ramifications of being deemed a hypocrite. So much so that we have a skewed understanding of what that means. Evolving as a person throughout your life requires you to consistently entertain new ideas, especially ones that contradict previously held beliefs. It’s ok to be wrong. It’s ok to make mistakes. True hypocrisy is deceitful. Improving as a person is noble.
  11. Reduce – Reduce – Reduce
    • If I was done with this lesson, there would be a lot fewer words in this article. One of the surest signs of a deep understanding of any topic is the ability to explain it to anyone. Memorizing vast amounts of data can make you feel like an expert (trust me). Still, without synthesis, it’s nothing more than information. No matter how far you make it down the rabbit hole of a passion, keep going.
  12. Strength is Medicine
    • Spending the first 25 years of my life chasing physical performance made for a complicated transition to pursuing mental performance. For years my go-to therapy when things weren’t feeling right was some form of conditioning. Without fail, I came out the other side ready to get back to work, until the next day. In 2016 I was in a car accident that messed me up enough to take squatting and pulling from the floor off the table. Until recently, that just meant a steady diet of met-cons, intervals, and aerobic work. It wasn’t until I stopped feeling sorry for myself and incorporated the strength work I was fully capable of doing that I realized the profound and lasting effect strength had on my emotional state and mental performance.
  13. Feel Small
    • Things get heavy now and again for everyone. Remembering you’re a speck of dust on a rock flying through infinity provides some much-needed perspective when the drama feels a little too real.
  14. Health is Happiness
    • Sometimes I have to remind myself that replacing the word ‘happy’ with ‘fulfilled’ does a lot for setting me off in the right direction. Many of the prerequisites to the personal elements of feeling fulfilled in life are baked into our DNA. Sunlight, personal connections, sleep, free time, movement, and good food go a long way towards feeling happy fulfilled.
  15. All in is Easier
    • We’ve already covered the power of experience, so I’ll do my best to persuade you here. When you completely give yourself to a pursuit, it’s a much easier path than half in, half out. I believe the actual obstacle is the mountainous vulnerability you have to get over before committing to something that stands in your way. Once you’re all in, there is nothing else. The grind is second nature.
  16. Always Build
    • As implied in #1, I’ve always preferred construction over maintenance. For the longest time, I fought the idea of improving upon my willingness to maintain. So much so that I realized I don’t have to! Improvement and advancement are the things that live underneath my ambition to build, and chasing those indefinitely more than scratches that itch.
  17. Find Your Scoreboard
    • In other words, gamify what motivates you. For some, it’s money or status. For others, it’s the success of your peers or competition. What matters is that you identify it and consistently measure it.
  18. Resist Overcorrection
    • About a year ago, many of us quickly realized that we needed to slow down a bit. A few days/weeks/months later, we realized we didn’t need to slow down that much. The takeaway is a nod to balance. Often times we introduce something so powerful into our lives that we forget just about everything is dose-dependent.
  19. Seclusion is a State of Mind
    • The human condition is a powerful phenomenon that is at least partly brought on by our inability to transmit emotion. Words, gestures, and physical signs rarely do our feelings justice when they’re heightened. This leads to a feedback loop that creates even more intense emotions surrounding how isolated we feel. In reality, you’re not alone. There are people out there who will understand. People who will help. People who would love your help in return.
  20. The End is Never Near
    • This was intentionally placed after #2 and #15. With those lessons in mind, we move on to the liberating fact that there is no end! When you come to terms with that, you can really give in to the process and stop worrying about the immediacy of where you’re currently at.
  21. Empathy is Synthesis
    • In covering the idea that understanding requires synthesis, we can begin to connect why we must empathize with each other to understand each other. Forming an opinion of someone and/or their beliefs should never be based on a snap judgment. Walk a mile in their shoes. Find the roots of what you’re judging. You might run into some compassion along the way.
  22. Fear is the Mind Killer
    • It’s only fitting that I quote Dune after reading all six books in the series during the pandemic. I cannot even begin to do the quote justice, but I will present the metaphor that I see each time I’m reminded of it. If I don’t want to do something or have even made the connection that I am indeed afraid, I picture the fear as a door, and I open it to see what’s on the other side. We have to open those doors.
  23. Weakness is a Gift
    • There’s a really good chance that if we met and got to know each other, I would think you’re a pretty powerful human. That’s why I believe weaknesses are a gift. They’re an opportunity to be even more powerful. Find them, realize the potential waiting after them, and seek to destroy.
  24. Keep Your Identity Small
    • Another stolen gem that I won’t be able to synthesize like Paul Graham, but I can tell you what it means to me. The fewer topics and pieces of information I completely make my mind up on, the more new information I will be open to. This information I become open to entertaining creates more opportunities to grow and learn.
  25. Passion Obliterates Talent
    • The only requirement of excellence is passion. Talent is a coulda woulda shoulda without passion. I am reminded of this daily in both my own actions and the actions of others. Put that lens on and have a look.
  26. Walk. Walk. Walk.
    • A. One of the single greatest movers of physical and mental health is a good old-fashioned walk.
    • B. If hard work is patience, it’s ok to walk before you run. Learn without pressure.
    • C. Walk the walk. We already covered why 🙂
  27. Pretty Good is Pretty Great
    • I grew up in a place where your kid being the best at something (anything!) was a social currency for parents—what a double-edged sword. On the one side, I tried like hell to find what I was great at and got pretty damn good at a lot of things along the way. On the other side is many people who don’t believe in themselves because they’re not a specialist. As an adult, pretty good at many things is pretty great.
  28. Culture is Everything
    • The development and preservation of culture is another one that deserves its own time in the spotlight, so for today, we’ll keep it short and sweet. Culture is everything, and you’re much more responsible for the culture of your groups than you want to admit.
  29. What Before How
    • Another quote that always stirs the pot for me has been, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood… make big plans, aim high in hope and work.” This is essentially permission to put the cart before the horse. Of course, you need to figure out how you’re going to slay the dragon. Still, the courage to step up to your dragon requires that vulnerable declaration that you’re going for it.
  30. Skipping is not Advancing
    • On a micro level, there is a natural order to things that can rarely be manipulated. On a macro level, skipping over or neglecting pieces of the puzzle will always create obvious holes. Even just the implication that you’re skipping something is misleading. Rather than using the metaphor of physical steps, treat them as their own individual entity. Essential pieces of your puzzle, whatever that may be, will be tedious, frustrating, seemingly impossible, and so on. You still have to check those boxes off.
  31. Sneak out of the Skirmish
    • Prior to uncovering the power of most of this list, I had some issues with finding myself in physical altercations from time to time. On two separate occasions, a moderate sized group of people had me on the ground for a little kick and punch party. Both times I was able to essentially sneak out without them noticing. The lesson built into my ridiculous adolescent behavior is to remove yourself from the madness from time to time. Rise above the minutiae and bullshit regularly to get a clearer picture of your circumstance.
  32. Use Reminders to Restore Balance
    • We’ve addressed the dangers of overcorrecting already, so with that in mind, I think it’s worth reiterating that life is full of some vital reminders. Keep your eyes and mind open for the things that nudge you to restore balance in your life.
  33. Give it a Rest!
    • In the year 2021, I understand entirely why “Hard Work is Patient” is a lesson that needs to be shouted from the mountain tops. Your mind, body, and soul are not meant to be redlined regularly. If you’re wondering why you’re stressed out, not producing at work, training yourself into a shell of your former self, or just not feeling as creative as you used to — give it a rest! You need space to think and dream and recover.
  34. Pursue Earned Prizes
    • It’s always fun to dream up your life as a lottery winner, the recipient of a lost inheritance, or even showing up to a competition that feels like you programmed it yourself in secret. You know what feels better? Building your own fortune or dominating a competition riddled with perceived weaknesses. This is why so many people quit early. They haven’t seen it through to the part of their story where they win something they gave everything to get. Once that happens, the grind becomes a gift.
  35. Head Down – Head Up – Head Down – Head Up
    • Congratulations, we made it to number 35! The final lesson brings us full circle. The balance between deep work and planning is very delicate but one of the most important things I’ve learned. To do great work, you need to disappear both literally and figuratively into the work itself. When you come up for air, re-evaluate and plan next steps, but do your best to stay away from the trap that is “multi-tasking”.

Thanks for joining me on this ride. At the end of the day, I hope at least some of these hit home and make the kind of impact they have for me. All 35 are a work in progress, but if the end isn’t near and we know the value of patience, that’s a good thing.

– Drew