3 life lessons that I take away from 2016


This is it, 2016 is coming to an end. Another year in the books. Admittedly, it wasn't the best – partly because of all the shit that happened in the world (Trump, terrorism in Germany, Syria, brexit, etc.), and partly because of a long list of personal disappointments.

While 2014 was the year of “enlightenment", and 2015 was the year “unlocking myself" – both years of immense personal growth – 2016 will go down in the books as one in which I felt life was decelerating. A year of seeing the limitations to my #cantstopwontstop-lifestyle, that I can’t always get what I want (no matter how much I try and push for it), and of admitting to myself that at times I have been pursuing the wrong things in life. If this year had a theme, I would call it the year sobering up.

There were many highlights that I look back up: I visited China for the first time and was so impressed that I decided to learn Mandarin, I took 10 friends from school to Iran, I became part of an artist collective of photographers with which we have had two successful showings, visited 16 countries (5 of which I had never been to), bought a car, cut down alcohol and meat to a fraction of what I used to consume, and emceed a 1,500 person charity gala which was a very rewarding experience.

But along all those highs, there was a number of lows: my apartment building in San Francisco caught fire while I didn’t have any renter’s insurance, my car got broken into and I got valuable worth $2k stolen out of it (again without insurance), twice I was offered a publishing deal by Apple for my pictures to appear on the global #ShotoniPhone6s billboards, and both times I was removed from the final creative, I got my heart broken, I was rejected from a number of programs and courses at Stanford that I really wanted to take, and I had to cancel one of my summer internships 6 days prior because I was being offered an insultingly low salary of $10/h on a 25-hour work week. 

Despite its many “FML”-moments, 2016 was full of lessons learned, three of which I would like to share in the following.

Learning not to give a fuck

My story: For too long in my life, I cared about what others think of me. I cared about their opinions and judgement – to the extent to which I would sometimes change my behavior to please and to be liked. Not always, and not always consciously, but it happened. Probably more often than I am comfortable to admit to myself.

One turning point I had this year was a brand survey that I had participated in. A recurring piece of feedback I got was that people who do not know me, can perceive me as disingenuous. At the same time, those people also said that this perception gets disproven once people do actually get to know me.

Somewhat unsettled by that feedback, I went to get advise from one of my professors. And the key question he asked me was: why do you care about the opinion of people who don’t know you? And as simple of a question this was, it was one that kept me thinking for days – until I reached the point at which I concluded to not give a fuck. To become more confident in who I am and what I want, and to care less about what others will think of it.

The lesson: Not giving a fuck doesn’t mean that I don’t care about anything anymore, it means that I don’t care about the unimportant things in life. And that I am reserving my fucks for the things and people that truly matter and that make me happy. Extended, it means that I don’t care about the adversity in the face of my goals, and that I don’t care about pissing some people off along the journey as long as I feel what I am doing is right or important.  Ever since I reached that conclusion, I feel liberated. I have stopped trying to be friends with the wrong people, I have become more confident in who I am as a person, and I am more determined to pursue the things I actually want to pursue.

Ain't got no more time for excuses

My story: For very long in my life, I found excuses. I found excuses for everything. For why I shouldn’t do something. For why it’s not the right time. For why I am not the right person. For why I am not ready. Or why it’s too hard. As opposed to just going out there and fucking making it happen. Especially int the areas of dating and entrepreneurship, I would excel at finding 571 reasons why something would not work as opposed to just making it work.

The key point for me this year was turning 30. Even though I approached the new decade with vigor and positivity, it did have an eye-opening effect on me. I suddenly realized that time is running out – that I didn’t do many of the things that I wanted to do because of lazy excuses. Sure, I got so many more years ahead of me, but the 20s that I so loved, are gone. And the same thing is going to happen with this decade or any future decade of my life. So what’s the point of finding excuses if time is running out?

The lesson: A big lesson for me this year was to acknowledge that excuses are just coping mechanisms to protect myself from things that I actually feared, like failure or rejection. That excuses are just creating the illusion of protection like a pain killer, but that they are not actually solving the underlying fears That excuses are just limiting me from reaching my full potential, and that they limit my learning. And that confronting those failures and rejections head on is exactly the type of learning that I need for that underlying fear to be defeated.

The why behind the what

My story: This year I took a lot of courses at the GSB that had a strong introspective character. One of the things I sort of knew but never really practiced or investigated was understanding the why behind my whats.

I think it all started with my application essay for Stanford in which I had to talk about what matters most to me and the why behind it. For the first time I really dug deep and unearthed the reasons and motivations behind some of the decisions I had taken in life.

And especially this year I have learned to do this more often and to "feel my pulse." I don't want to do something? I ask myself why, why, why until I find the real reason for what bothers me. I enjoy someone's company? I ask myself why, why, why until I fully understand why that is.

The lesson: In today's world we are so stimulated – from the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep. And in between it all, there is very little time for introspection or the opportunity to pause and understand our motivations. I feel we are acting on impulses without fully understanding what drives us to act a certain way. Asking "why" multiple times really helps uncovering the real drivers. And asking why of others also really helps understanding them better. Someone might say they love skiing, but ask them why multiple times and you might learn it's less the activity they enjoy but more the opportunity to be in touch with nature.

2016, thanks! 2017, bring it on.

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